The left-leaning leaders of three South American heavyweights – Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela – gathered in Brazil agreed Wednesday, April 26, to invite their counterparts from throughout the region to August’s scheduled unveiling of Caracas’ plan for a $20 billion continent-spanning natural gas pipeline
The agreement was one of the results of the one-day summit in São Paulo among Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
At a post-meeting press conference, Chavez said that the three countries agreed to hold another presidential get-together within the next three months to continue evaluating the project.
The trio also decided to invite all the other South American presidents to another meeting in August at a still-unspecified location to present the plan to them.
Chavez, who was the only one of the three leaders to speak to the press, said that the ultimate objective is to create an enormous network of pipelines traversing the entire continent connecting the gas pipeline running through Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina with the one carrying gas between Bolivia and Brazil and the Transguajiro conduit that his country will begin building soon with Colombia.
The Transguajiro pipeline could be extended to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
"They’re what we call the energy cones of South America, one in the Andean region and other in Mercosur," he said with maps in hand, adding that the aim is to sell Venezuelan gas at low prices to the other countries in the region.
"The gas pipeline must be the locomotive for a new integration process, the goal of which is to destroy poverty and exclusion," said the Venezuelan leader.
He added that the Venezuela-Brazil-Argentina line has several potential routes, according to different studies, and will be some 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) in length. It will be built between 2007 and 2017 and will provide more than 1 million jobs, requiring an investment of some $20 billion.
The resources, Chavez said, will come from the governments of the nations themselves and from private investors. "There are going to be too many resources for this project," said Chavez.
He said that some firms, like the Russian state-run gas entity Gazprom, have shown an interest in participating in the project.
Chavez said that the trio decided to invite Bolivia to join the project and later to do the same with the other South American countries.
"We’re talking about incorporating Bolivia and we agree that we must open up this project to all the South American countries," Chavez said.
"Incorporating Bolivia is a priority because of its gas reserves, which are the second-largest in South America after the Venezuelan ones," he said.
The former army officer remarked that the South American nations must prepare for the worldwide energy crisis he said was approaching and the gas pipeline is the best tool to confront such a threat.
The first phase of the pipeline, which will run from the Venezuelan city of Puerto Ordaz to the Brazilian city of Manaus, will be finished between 2009 and 2010, Chavez said.
The Venezuelan leader called the joint effort "the hope of the poor" and he added that it, in conjunction with Brazil’s policy of pushing the use of biofuels, creates an "energy guarantee for the development of the South American countries in the 21st century and possibly beyond."
Chavez said that the Venezuelan gas reserves amounted to 151 trillion cubic feet, which is almost half the total reserves in the Western Hemisphere trailing only those of the United States, which has known reserves of 189 trillion cubic feet.
"But with the rate of consumption they have, they will use them up in a few years," he said of the United States
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