Chávez hosts South America energy summit

Venezuela is advocating regional integration at a two-day, 12-nation energy summit of South American leaders that opens April 16 on the Caribbean island of Margarita. “Gradually, the US empire will end up a paper tiger and we, the peoples of Latin America, will become true tigers of steel,” President Hugo Chávez said on the eve of the summit. Chávez is expected to use the summit to promote his plan to build a 8,000-kilometer gas pipeline linking Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina.

The summit comes as a rift over ethanol fuel has emerged, with Brazil working with the US to promote its use. Chávez still wants to show unity with Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, taking him on a pre-summit tour of a petrochemical plant. But in discussion on ethanol later that day, Chavez insisted its production will increase world hunger.

Aides to Lula say ethanol is his “obsession”—despite being labeled “genocidal” by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who is considered Chávez’s political mentor. Venezuela, the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the US, has urged Latin American nations to pass over ethanol and instead rely on its oil reserves and co-operate in developing ways to reduce energy consumption.

Ironically, power outages have traditionally blighted Venezuela’s Margarita island, and its main city Porlamar. But with Cuban help, the government has installed millions of power-saving light bulbs in recent months that Chávez said can serve as an inspiration at the summit.

“This planet is in danger, the human race is in danger,” he said after railing about the destabilizing effects of high US energy demand. “Let’s do what we have to do to save mankind.” (AlJazeera, April 16)

Interestingly, Margarita Island is held by the Pentagon to be a hotbed of Islamist terrorists, and has also been the scene of large opposition protests.

See our last posts on Venezuela, Brazil, the ethanol question, and the struggle for control of oil.