In­ter­net free­dom changes on list

Libya not one of ‘en­e­mies’

The Washington Times Daily - - World -

PARIS ( AP) | The Arab Spring is chang­ing the face of In­ter­net free­dom, ac­cord­ing to Re­porters With­out Borders, which re­leased its lat­est “En­e­mies of the In­ter­net” list Mon­day.

The an­nual re­port clas­si­fies as “en­e­mies” coun­tries that se­verely cur­tail free­dom of ex­pres­sion on and ac­cess to the Web. It also draws up a list of states “un­der sur­veil­lance.”

The group added Bahrain to its en­e­mies list, cit­ing a news black­out and ha­rass­ment of blog­gers in an at­tempt to quell a year­long Shi­ite-led re­bel­lion against the Sunni monar­chy. The coun­try pre­vi­ously was un­der sur­veil­lance.

“Bahrain of­fers a per­fect ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful crack­downs, with an in­for­ma­tion black­out achieved through an im­pres­sive arse­nal of re­pres­sive mea­sures: ex­clu­sion of the for­eign me­dia, ha­rass­ment of hu­man rights de­fend­ers, ar­rests of blog­gers ... pros­e­cu­tions and defama­tion cam­paigns against free ex­pres­sion ac­tivists, dis­rup­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” the Paris- based group’s re­port said.

But the Arab Spring — the name given to a cas­cade of re­volts across the Arab world — also has led some coun­tries to be­come more open.

Libya, where the re­pres­sive rule of Moam­mar Gad­hafi was thrown off in a vi­o­lent re­volt, was re­moved from the list of coun­tries un­der sur­veil­lance.

“In Libya, many chal­lenges re­main but the over­throw of the Gad­hafi regime has ended an era of cen­sor­ship,” the re­port said.

The group said the Arab Spring also high­lighted the im­por­tance of the In­ter­net and, there­fore, the im­por­tance of pro­tect­ing ac­cess to and ex­pres­sion on it.

The en­e­mies list con­tains coun­tries that are known for block­ing In­ter­net con­tent, such as China, Myan­mar and North Korea.

The list of those un­der sur­veil­lance con­tains some sur­prises, in­clud­ing Australia and France.

The group crit­i­cized Australia for per­suad­ing In­ter­net ser­vice providers to cre­ate a na­tional con­tent-fil­ter­ing sys­tem that blocks ac­cess to child pornog­ra­phy sites and oth­ers deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

The group is con­cerned that the gov­ern­ment also is still pur­su­ing a sys­tem of manda­tory con­tent-fil­ter­ing whose cri­te­ria are “very broad.”

France landed on the sur­veil­lance list last year for a se­ries of crim­i­nal indictments of jour­nal­ists for ar­ti­cles they wrote.

It re­mains on the list this year be­cause of a law that could cut off In­ter­net ac­cess to users who re­peat­edly down­load con­tent il­le­gally. will spend $4 bil­lion to help boost pro­duc­tion in a joint ven­ture with China Na­tional Petroleum Corp., or CNPC.

The Chi­nese bank and the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment also have agreed to re­new a $6 bil­lion bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment fund, of which $2 bil­lion will help boost PDVSA pro­duc­tion.

But Tom O’don­nell, an oil an­a­lyst who teaches at the New School Univer­sity and writes an oil-in­dus­try blog, the Global Bar­rel, said the pay­offs of China’s loans amount to a “con­so­la­tion prize.”

He said China’s goal is not to get oil for loans, but to have its own na­tional oil com­pa­nies con­tract for ma­jor oil-pro­duc­tion projects in Venezuela’s Orinoco Tar Sands, the largest sin­gle known petroleum re­serve in the world, with 513 bil­lion bar­rels of heavy crude oil.

Chi­nese dis­pleased

“The Chi­nese have not got­ten the kind of pref­er­en­tial ac­cess they want [to the tar sands], and my sources tell me they are ex­tremely un­happy,” said Mr. O’don­nell.

In 2010, CNPC signed a deal to help Venezuela de­velop a ma­jor Orinoco oil field known as Junin 4, which in­cludes the con­struc­tion of a fa­cil­ity to con­vert heavy oil to a lighter crude that could be shipped to a re­fin­ery in Guang­dong, China.

“Although the con­tract was signed in De­cem­ber 2010, not one bar­rel of oil has yet been pro­duced, much less up­graded,” said Gus­tavo Coronel, a for­mer PDVSA board mem­ber.

“So far, noth­ing much seems to be hap­pen­ing, ex­cept for the ar­rival of a large group of Chi­nese staff to the CNPC’S Cara­cas of­fice,” he added, re­fer­ring to the Venezue­lan cap­i­tal, Cara­cas.

“Apart from money, there seems to be lit­tle that China can of­fer Venezuela in the oil in­dus­try,” he said, adding that a “cul­ture gap will make work­ing with China very dif­fi­cult for Venezue­lan oil peo­ple, who were mostly trained in the U.S.”

Erica Downs, a for­mer en­ergy an­a­lyst for the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency now with the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion in Washington, said the Junin-4 project could be key to China’s fu­ture in Venezuela.

“If all that hap­pens, China will be in a po­si­tion to take sub­stan­tial vol­umes of Venezue­lan oil,” she said. “The prob­lem is that the project hasn’t got­ten off the ground.”

Ms. Downs said Venezuela is far from liv­ing up to Mr. Chavez’s ex­port goals for Bei­jing and that PDVSA’S claims of send­ing 410,000 bar­rels a day do not match Chi­nese cus­toms data, which show 322,000 bar­rels per day of crude and fuel oil im­ported from Venezuela last year.

“Although Venezuela’s oil ex­ports to China have grown along with the vol­ume of oil-backed loans ex­tended by China De­vel­op­ment Bank to Cara­cas, the de­liv­ered vol­umes still fall short of Chavez’s goal of even­tu­ally ship­ping 1 mil­lion bar­rels per day to China,” she said.

Crit­ics of the loans say Mr. Chavez is us­ing the so-called “China fund” as his per­sonal piggy bank.

The Chi­nese also seem to be in­creas­ingly wary.

In­ter­nal PDVSA doc­u­ments re­leased by a Venezue­lan con­gress­man show that the Chi­nese balked at a $110 bil­lion loan re­quest by Mr. Chavez in 2010, af­ter PDVSA of­fi­cials failed to ac­count fully for where the money would go.

Prob­lems with Orinoco

The Chi­nese are now press­ing PDVSA to let them list some of their in­vest­ments in the Orinoco re­gion on the Hong Kong ex­change, a move an­a­lysts say would in­crease trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in PDVSA’S spend­ing.

“De­vel­op­ment of the Orinoco oil belt is only slowly tak­ing place be­cause most of the com­pa­nies — ex­clud­ing Chevron, Rep­sol and China Na­tional Off­shore Oil Corp. — ei­ther do not have the cash or the tech­nol­ogy,” said Oliver L. Camp­bell, a for­mer fi­nance co­or­di­na­tor at PDVSA.

Un­like light and sweet crude from Saudi Ara­bia, oil from Orinoco is tar­like. It is laced with met­als and sits be­neath deep jun­gles. Get­ting to the oil field means build­ing roads, elec­tri­cal-power grids and other ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture. Once the oil is extracted from the ground, it is tech­ni­cally dif­fi­cult to process.

“One of the ma­jor prob­lems is that there are very few re­finer­ies out­side the Gulf of Mex­ico that can han­dle Venezue­lan crude,” said Jorge Pi­non, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Amoco Oil Latin Amer­ica.

Years ago, U.S. com­pa­nies such as Shell and Exxon in­vested heav­ily in U.S. Gulf Coast re­finer­ies ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing heavy crude af­ter they saw that the world’s sup­plies of sweet crude were di­min­ish­ing, Mr. Pi­non said.

“The Chi­nese don’t have that kind of ca­pac­ity,” he said.

But they are look­ing to get it by in­vest­ing in oil in­fra­struc­ture off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast.

CNPC, for ex­am­ple, has ex­tended a line of credit to Cuba to up­grade a Sovi­et­built fa­cil­ity jointly owned by Venezuela and Cuba.

The com­pany Petrochina also has taken over Saudi Aramco’s lease on a mas­sive oil-stor­age fa­cil­ity at the strate­gi­cally lo­cated Sta­tia ter­mi­nal on the Dutch Caribbean is­land of St. Eus­tatius.

Petrochina also has tried to buy an oil re­fin­ery on the is­land of Aruba owned by Texas-based Valero En­ergy Corp., ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

Luis Giusti, a for­mer pres­i­dent of PDVSA, said the Chi­nese mar­ket be­comes even more rel­e­vant for Venezuela in the face of a pro­jected resur­gence of do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion in the United States, which cur­rently buys about 45 per­cent of all Venezue­lan crude ex­ports.

“The U. S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Agency has es­ti­mated that the U.S. could reach a pro­duc­tion of 20 mil­lion bar­rels per day by 2035, com­ing from shale oil in North Dakota, Arkansas, Ok­la­homa, Mon­tana and oth­ers,” he said in an email.

“This would force ex­ports from South Amer­ica to look for other mar­kets,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Venezuela’s Aban Pearl drilling rig sank in May 2010 in a sig­nif­i­cant blow to the na­tion’s oil in­dus­try. China has poured bil­lions of dol­lars into Venezuela’s oil sec­tor but has re­ceived lit­tle for its in­vest­ments. “The Chi­nese have not got­ten the kind of pref­er­en­tial ac­cess they want” to Venezuela’s Orinoco Tar Sands, oil an­a­lyst Tom O’don­nell said.

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