Internet freedom changes on list
Libya not one of ‘enemies’
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.
“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.
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.