Venezuela Worries Aruba; Caracas Seen Flouting Pact with Russian Drilling Deal
Byline: Anton Foek, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- On a clear day, one can easily see Venezuela from the southern part of this tiny Dutch Caribbean island - and its flaming towers drilling for oil and gas.
Russia and Venezuela recently began a joint drilling project in the waters bordering Aruba. The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claims 28 fields holding an estimated 27 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
A Russian consortium that includes the state-owned Gazprom is exploring five fields. One of them - Cardon 3 - is less than 14 miles away from Aruba.
The project is causing concern in Aruba and the Netherlands, which is responsible for Aruba's foreign affairs, because Venezuela did not inform either in advance of its plans, thereby violating an agreement signed in 1971 and ratified in 1986.
They do not really need to ask us for approvals or permission to drill, but needed to inform us, said Jocelyne Croes, a political minister at the Dutch Embassy in Washington. We signed a treaty about that, and now they are generating new frictions in situations that used to be under control.
Mr. Chavez announced recently that Russia and Venezuela are strategic partners in oil and gas exploration. Speaking on television from a drilling platform in the Gulf of Venezuela, he said the exploration was an act of sovereignty, as we are liberated from the evil Yankee imperialism.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin smiled as the Venezuelan leader spoke.
Mr. Sechin said five of Russia's largest energy companies have taken a 20 percent stake in a national consortium formed to explore another oil-rich area, Venezuela's Orinoco River basin. Petroleos de Venezuela SA will have the controlling stake in the project.
Since World War II, when Aruba started to refine Venezuelan heavy crude, Venezuela has claimed possession of the Dutch Caribbean islands. Some here fear that the government of Mr. Chavez might invade the Netherlands Antilles and take possession of the islands.
One never knows, said Rudy Lampe, a member of the Aruban parliament and president of the RED political party. No one knows if or when, but there is a distinct possibility they may invade.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
Though few in this region seem to take Venezuela's claim seriously, it remains a topic of conversation on the island.
Augustine Vrolijk, director of Aruba's foreign affairs office in the capital, Oranjestad, told The Washington Times that a bigger fear is that drilling in the Gulf of Venezuela could lead to an environmental mishap, which would have dire consequences for Aruba's tourism industry. …