Magazine article New Internationalist

Much Ado about Oil

Magazine article New Internationalist

Much Ado about Oil

Article excerpt

Venezuela's feisty president, Hugo Chávez, is a vocal critic of corporate-led globalization and a major thorn In the side of Washington. He may have few admirers in the Bush Administration but in Caracas he governs with a solid majority, while across Latin America he has strong support from other like-minded governments.

Aside from Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, Chávez has befriended Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega - as well as the leaders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Beyond Latin America, Chávez has developed close relationships with Vietnam, Libya, Syria, Iran, the Russian Federation and China.

In March this year, Venezuela signed a joint venture agreement with China's National Petroleum Corporation to develop oil in the junm-4 bloc of Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt. After the signing, Chávez noted that 'Venezuela wants to become a reliable, growing source of oil supply for China'. Last year, the country exported 300,000 barrels a day to China; this year's target is 500,000 barrels. The March meeting was the latest round of contact between China and Venezuela, which peaked when Chávez visited Beijing in June 2006 to meet with President Hu Jintao.

The previous month Chávez flew to Moscow to firm up a major arms purchase from the Russian Federation. Also of note was Chávez's trip last June to Belarus. In return, a Belarusian delegation, headed by State Secretary Viktor Sheyman, visited Venezuela. Twenty-two declarations were signed, including another joint venture oil project in the Orinoco basin.

Friendly relations have also developed with Vietnam. Chávez twice met with President Nguyen Minh Triet - once in August when the Venezuelan leader travelled to Vietnam, and then again when both leaders attended the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Havana in September. A Venezuelan delegation, headed by deputy foreign minister HeIy Vladimir Villegas, returned the visit in March. The most important outcome of this event, according to an article by Thai Press Reports, was that Venezuela affirmed its support for Vietnam to become a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2008-09 term. Venezuela may attempt to become a non-permanent member, too, and is already courting potential support from its new friends.

Chávez has also cosied up to several governments in the Middle East not known for their pro-US sentiments - namely Syria, Iran and Libya. The Venezuelan President travelled to Damascus last August, where he met President Bashar al-Assad. In November the two governments -along with Iran - signed a preliminary agreement to construct a $1.5-billion, 140,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery in Syria.

Chávez also met long-time Libyan leader Muammar al Qadhafi on a visit to Tripoli in May 2006. Chávez had met Qadhafi four times previously and their friendship is well known. The Libyan leader has presented Chávez with the Qadhafi Human Rights Prize, while Chávez often quotes Qadhafi's Green Book in his speeches. Both are leading members of OPEC -the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

With regard to Iran, several new initiatives have occurred during the Chávez presidency, the most symbolic being a weekly Caracas-Tehran flight, with a stopover in Damascus. The Venezuelan state-controlled airline Conviasa and Iran's national carrier, Iran Air, will operate the flights. 'Mr Chávez is much loved in our country and our people want to come here to get to know this land,' said Iran's ambassador to Venezuela, Abdullah Zifan, when the flights were announced.

Chávez has been working hard to firm up arms deals from non-Western sources. In 2006, he startled the world by announcing a massive $3-billion weapons purchase from Moscow: 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles (typeAK-103), 24Sukhoi (SU-30) fighter jets and 53 military helicopters. The first two jets were delivered last December to the Luis del Valle Garcia Air Base.

There is also a continuous two-way flow of military personnel between Caracas and Moscow. …

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