Chile and Venezuela sign series of oil and cooperation deals

Apr 21, 2005 02:00 AM

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, signed a series of oil and cooperation agreements while deepening political ties.
Lagos made a ceremonial stop at the tomb of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar and unveiled busts of Chilean poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral in one plaza of downtown Caracas, before heading to Miraflores Presidential Palace to sign the accords.

After signing the agreements, Lagos said that both countries need to establish policies aimed at bring about social equality through regional economic growth and ‘‘more realistic and efficient’’ integration.
‘‘That’s how we can create a new hemispheric reality.’’

Chavez gave Lagos a replica of Bolivar’s sword, prompting an applause from government officials from both countries, before he thanked the Chilean president for cooperating with Venezuela and joining efforts toward Latin American economic and political integration.
‘‘Your visit is an extraordinary opportunity to relaunch and initiate a new phase... to put bilateral relations first,’’ Chavez told Lagos. ‘‘We think energy can be the most important resource for integration in South America.’’

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the two nations would sign an energy agreement in which Venezuela would eventually provide Chile with crude to lighten the workload at its refineries while expanding overseas markets.
‘‘They have a significant refining capacity and we have an increasingly higher number (of barrels) to put on the market, so we are working in that direction.’’ Ramirez said a joint committee, consisting of representatives from both countries, would be formed to define details of the accord.

Chile has had troubles with oil and gas shipments from Bolivia and Argentina, and appears to be looking for help from Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, said Carlos Romero, an international studies professor at the Central University of Venezuela.
Lagos (a former university professor with a hard-line Marxist past) is now a moderate socialist who leads a left-left government applying free market policies. Chavez (a former paratrooper with close ties to Cuba’s Fidel Castro) says he is leading a social ‘‘revolution’’ and is pumping oil money into programs for the poor.

Lagos made the brief visit between stops in Brazil and Colombia as he seeks to solidify support among members of the Organization of American States for Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza, Chile’s candidate to head the organization.
In 2003, diplomatic tensions arose between Chile and Venezuela after Chavez suggested that landlocked Bolivia should have access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost its coastline in a war with Chile that ended in 1883.
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said those tensions have ‘‘disappeared completely.’’

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