Brazil Warns Chavez: Keep Your Hands Off Mercosur

Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva warned Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that "interference" by Caracas in the Southern Cone could jeopardize plans for a major gas pipeline, Brazil’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

Summoned to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Brazilian Senate Celso Amorim was questioned about the impact for Brazil of Bolivia’s decision to nationalize its natural gas reserves and the growing influence of Chavez in the Southern Cone.

Several Senators criticized the Brazilian Foreign Affairs ministry for having included Venezuela in last week’s presidential summit between Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner, Lula and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

The one day gathering in the Argentine resort town of Puerto Iguazu was convened hastily by President Lula da Silva to address the implications of President Evo Morales’ decision to nationalize natural gas reserves and oil refineries.

Bolivia supplies over 50% of Brazil’s natural gas demand and is also a significant provider of Argentina.

Mr. Amorim told senators that Chavez’s presence in Puerto Iguazu must be seen within the broader context of South America’s energy integration, but "our discomfort, and President Lula’s personal discomfort, with some of his actions was certainly conveyed to President Chavez".

"That disappointment was conveyed unequivocally by President Lula, to the point of saying that it jeopardizes not just the gas pipeline, but the whole idea of South American integration," pointed out Mr. Amorim.

Chavez is pushing for what detractors call a "Pharaonic" project to build a pipeline to transport natural gas over 8,000 kilometers from Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina, at a projected cost of US$ 20 billion.

Brazilian Senators asked for confirmation regarding indications that Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA staff was training Bolivian personnel to run oil and gas facilities belonging to Brazil’s state-owned petroleum company, Petrobras, which has most at stake with President Morales’ nationalization initiative.

"I cannot confirm it. We don’t know what President Chavez’s intentions are but the fact is that when certain threats were being conveyed through the press (from Bolivia to Brazil), that happened parallel with a large presence of PDVSA personnel," on Bolivian soil revealed Mr. Amorim.

"It’s no secret that Chavez exercises influence over the Bolivian president at this delicate time," continued the Brazilian Foreign Affairs minister.

Mr. Amorim also recalled that President Chavez was present two weeks ago at another regional summit with leaders from Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay, an event that included strong criticism to Mercosur achievements and its two senior members, Brazil and Argentina. Strangely enough Venezuela is currently in the process of becoming a full member of the block.

Amorim said Brazilian officials have warned Chavez that "it’s not Mercosur that has to adapt to Venezuela, but Venezuela that must adapt to Mercosur. If not, we won’t reach an accord."

However Mr. Amorim was cautious about the results of the strong Brazilian position.

"We will see what happens," Amorim said.

Mercopress – www.mercopress.com

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