Ar­gentina moves into Chavez’s oil cir­cle

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Martin Arostegui

SANTA CRUZ, Bo­livia — Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Nestor Kirch­ner edged his coun­try closer to Venezuela’s en­ergy-based cir­cle of al­lies over the Aug. 11-12 week­end, join­ing Hugo Chavez and Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales at a rhetoric­drenched sum­mit in Bo­livia.

Stand­ing side by side at a huge rally in the hy­dro­car­bon-rich east­ern prov­ince of Tar­ija, the three an­nounced a se­ries of oil and gas deals, all the while pro­claim­ing plans to ex­tend so­cial­ism through­out Latin Amer­ica.

“The fu­ture of Latin Amer­ica is be­ing played out in Bo­livia,” Mr. Chavez told as­sem­bled peas­ants at an ear­lier rally in Mr. Mo­rales’ core con­stituency of Cha­pare, where An­dean In­di­ans voted over­whelm­ingly for Mr. Mo­rales’ Move­ment To­ward So­cial­ism (MAS) party. Bo­livia will have all the fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance it needs, he added.

In­deed, it was a lu­cra­tive day for Mr. Mo­rales, who re­ceived a prom­ise of $450 mil­lion in soft loans from Buenos Aires for a nat­u­ral-gas pro­cess­ing plant that will ser­vice en­ergy-hun­gry Ar­gentina. Mr. Chavez, mean­while, pledged most of the fi­nanc­ing for a new Venezue­lanBo­li­vian oil-ex­plo­ration com­pany, a deal val­ued by Bo­li­vian Vice Pres­i­dent Al­varo Gar­cia Lin­era at $600 mil­lion.

The Venezue­lan pres­i­dent has long used his na­tion’s oil wealth to ex­tend his per­sonal in­flu­ence through the re­gion, a pat­tern that ap­pears to be draw­ing in Mr. Kirch­ner.

He re­cently ar­ranged for the pur­chase of $100 mil­lion worth of Bo­li­vian bonds and then, on a visit to Buenos Aires two weeks ago, con­cluded a sim­i­lar deal with Mr. Kirch­ner for $500 mil­lion in Ar­gen­tine bonds.

Mr. Mo­rales used the rally to an­nounce that in­ter­na­tional oil com­pa­nies — which were na­tion­al­ized last year — must sub­mit sat­is­fac­tory in­vest­ment plans within 10 days or they will be ex­pelled from Bo­livia.

Mr. Kirch­ner, at that point, promised to pick up the slack if the for­eign firms are thrown out.

“My dear Evo, my tele­phone is wait­ing for your call,” he was widely quoted as say­ing. “If th­ese busi­ness­men don’t in­vest, just pick up the phone and we Ar­gen­tines are go­ing to come in­vest with you.”

An op­po­si­tion sen­a­tor, Car­los Bohrt, has ac­cused the Venezue­lan pres­i­dent of seek­ing con­trol over Bo­livia’s gas in or­der to gain po­lit­i­cal lever­age over Brazil and Ar­gentina, the re­gion’s two largest economies.

Bo­livia has South Amer­ica’s largest hy­dro­car­bon de­posits af­ter Venezuela.

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