Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lauded a team of scientists on Sunday who will participate in Venezuela's first expedition to Antarctica, where his government hopes to establish a research station.
Chavez welcomed the scientists to his Sunday radio and TV program, saying the 15 specialists were about to leave later in the day for Uruguay, where they will board an Uruguayan navy ship for the 45-day expedition.
The scientists will study a number of subjects including the effects of climate change in Antarctica, Venezuelan Science and Technology Minister Hector Navarro said.
"What we hope is to be able to build a base ... a permanent Venezuelan scientific station on the Antarctic continent," Navarro said on Chavez's program, where the scientists stood up one-by-one to introduce themselves.
Chavez, whose country is South America's top oil exporter, often speaks of the threat of global warming and blames heavy US energy consumption as one of the main causes.
The expedition is being made possible through cooperation between the Venezuelan and Uruguayan navies, Navarro said. He said Venezuela is providing about US$558,000 to finance the expedition, along with fuel for the Uruguayan ship and supplies.
"This is something historic," Chavez said, calling for a round of applause for the scientists. "You are pioneers."
The expedition will include scientists from both the civilian and military sectors, with specialties ranging from marine biology to chemistry.
Navarro said the expedition should offer contributions to scientific knowledge about the continent, "which belongs to all of humanity."
Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System and designated as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science.
Seasonal and permanent research stations are operated by 28 nations on the continent and nearby islands.
But no single country has control over any section of the continent.
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