Colombia and Venezuela set aside differences to work on pipeline project

Nov 10, 2004 01:00 AM

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his visiting Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, set aside the problems along their border to discuss a joint energy project.
Uribe and Chavez met in this Caribbean port city to work on plans to build a gas pipeline between the countries and another pipeline to give Venezuela access to the Pacific through Colombia.

The meeting between the two presidents, each flanked by seven ministers, was scheduled for Nov. 2 in the northern Colombian city of Monteria and slated to include the participation of Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, but it had to be postponed due to a scheduling conflict on Chavez's part.
Upon his arrival in Cartagena, Chavez denied charges that his government backs Colombian insurgents, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, describing the allegations as a "great lie" perpetuated by Washington.

"We want peace for Colombia. We want brotherhood and integration among us all, and for South America to unite in a great effort for peace and brotherhood, such as (Simon) Bolivar wanted," Chavez said, referring to the Venezuelan-born general that led the region's fight for independence from Spain.
Chavez said he travelled to Colombia "to give President Uribe a greeting of brotherhood and solidarity and to continue working together," adding that "South American unity is very important."

The last visit between the leaders took place in July, when Uribe visited El Tablazo petrochemical complex near Maracaibo, capital of the north-western Venezuelan state of Zulia.
The conflictive border relations between the nations were stoked last September, when alleged Colombian irregulars gunned down an engineer and five Venezuelan soldiers. At that time, Chavez called on Colombian authorities to keep the illegal armed groups from crossing into Venezuela and announced the purchase of 40 Russian helicopters to patrol the border.

The heads of state had a working lunch at the Casa de Huespedes Ilustres (House for Illustrious Guests) inside Fort Manzanillo on Cartagena Bay and subsequently met together with their delegations before signing a joint declaration and holding a press conference.
The presidents also discussed the highway between the Colombian city of Cucuta and La Fria, across the border, the state of border bridges and renovations to the migrant centre along the frontier, as well as the navigability of the Meta River, which turns into the Orinoco River in Venezuela.

Uribe and Chavez examined plans to build the 177 km (110-mile) Zulia-Guajira gas pipeline, scheduled for completion in 2005, and the pipeline spanning more than 1,000 km (620 miles) that would transport Venezuelan fuel to deep-water ports on Colombia's Pacific coast for subsequent shipment to Asia.
The projects carry a price tag of $ 130 mm, which according to Uribe may be put up by China.

The meeting came as trade between the nations continues to grow, climbing toward levels prevailing before the opposition strike that paralysed Venezuela in 2002. Trade between the countries could reach $ 2 bn this year, still far below the $ 2.5 bn posted before the strike, but a significant improvement from 2003.
Colombia's exports to Venezuela in the first eight months of the year exceeded $ 900 mm -- nearly triple the figure posted in the same period in 2003 -- while Venezuela exported $ 640 mm worth of goods to its neighbour.

Source: EFE
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