Venezuela and Colombia discuss pipeline and border security
Plans to build a $ 200 mm natural gas pipeline from Venezuela to Colombia topped the agenda at a presidential summit
at a petrochemical complex. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe also were discussing security along
the 2,200 km (1,400-mile) border, gasoline smuggling, and trade in their first bilateral meeting this year.
The setting was El Tablazo, a petrochemical complex on the eastern coast of Venezuela's oil-rich Lake Maracaibo some 500 km (300 miles) west of Caracas. Amid tight security, Uribe and Chavez began talks at the plant after a brief tour of parts of the oil region by helicopter.
Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has recently stepped up its petroleum diplomacy, announcing plans
for a South American oil cooperative and a new company to deliver Venezuelan oil to Caribbean nations.
Initially, Colombia will use the pipeline to send gas from its north-eastern La Guajira region to western Venezuela, said Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez.Eventually, Venezuela will send gas to Colombia, and the pipeline will form part of a network delivering gas to Central America and Mexico, Ramirez said.
Other topics included building a bridge connecting Venezuela's Tachira state with Colombia's Norte de Santander
department; sharing electricity; a contingency plan for oil spills in the Gulf of Maracaibo; and growing numbers of
refugees fleeing Colombia's civil war.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco said that the presidents' opposing views on a proposed hemispheric trade pact won't affect bilateral ties. An advocate of regional integration, Chavez urged Colombia and other Andean nations to oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas, calling it "an imperial proposal that seeks to dominate us for 100 years."
Uribe, along with the leaders of Ecuador and Peru, are negotiating trade pacts with the United States. Chavez and
Uribe also were addressing rampant smuggling of cheap Venezuelan gasoline into Colombia.
Ramirez told that Venezuela would propose selling gasoline directly to Colombia's state oil company Ecopetrol, or another firm selected by Colombia, to guarantee prices and eliminate black market smuggling.