Fri, Dec 08, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Chavez trumpets `megapipeline'

AP , BRASILIA

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that he and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will discuss a proposed South American megapipeline during energy talks in the capital of Brasilia.

Fresh off his re-election victory on Sunday, Chavez arrived in Brasilia on Wednesday on the first leg of a continental tour of ideologically friendly nations including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, which is hosting a South American summit.

Chavez told reporters that he and Silva will talk about "the gas pipeline of the south, and Venezuela's interest in strengthening the energy matrix of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and all of South America."

The proposed US$20 billion natural gas pipeline would stretch some 9,000km and link Venezuela's gas reserves -- the largest in South America -- to much of the continent.

Environmentalists warn the pipeline would be an ecological disaster because it would cut through the Amazon, and oil analysts say the price could come in much higher than initial estimates.

But Chavez has dismissed those arguments and is pushing the plan as a way to unite South America's energy needs without investment from traditional sources such as multinational companies. He says the continent's two largest economies, Brazil and Argentina, need Venezuela's natural gas for power generation and as fuel for cars and cooking.

The trip is Chavez's first since he cruised to re-election, the latest in a string of recent electoral victories for left-leaning candidates in Latin America.

South America's leaders are due to meet in Cochabamba, Bolivia, today for a two-day summit of the Community of South American Nations hosted by Evo Morales -- a strong Chavez ally who was elected last December as Bolivia's first Indian president.

Silva and Chavez enjoy friendly relations, though the Brazilian is widely considered more moderate. Silva is cordial with Washington, while Chavez frequently rails against the US "empire."

After meeting with Silva, Chavez heads to Argentina to meet with the left-leaning Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner before flying to Bolivia.

Chavez said he may also stop in Uruguay, home to left-leaning President Tabare Vazquez, before traveling to Bolivia.

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