China in Latin America
The Venezuelan government has announced an expansion of Chinese investment in the country's oil industry, with the aim of increasing production by 120,000 barrels per day. The investment, placed at $3 billion, will underwrite the construction of a new oil blending plant inaugurated this month as the first part of the two-stage plan. The "Jose" plant, in Barcelona, Anzoátegui state, is to be run by Sinovensa, a joint venture 49% owned by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and 51% by Venezuela's PDVSA state oil company. The facility will blend extra-heavy grades from Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt into the exportable Merey crude, primarily for Asian markets. Sinovensa currently produces 110,000 barrels per day, a figure officials say will increase to 165,000 bpd with the addition of the new blending plant. A second stage of the project is projected to increase this figure to 230,000 bpd, but details have been disclosed. (VenezuelAnalysis, Aug. 12)
Peru is to sign a memorandum of understanding to join China's Belt & Road international infrastructure initiative, Beijing's ambassador to Lima said April 24. Ambassador Jia Guide made the announcement at a private party in Lima alongside Peru's vice president, Mercedes Araoz. The soirée came as China kicked off a three-day summit in Beijing to promote the international project, which is also known as the New Silk Road. Peru's trade minister Roger Valencia attended the Beijing summit, where he announced that a revision of Lima's Free Trade Agreement with China will be implemented next year.
The Solomon Islands' caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou is threatening to "blacklist" the companies involved in a 100-ton oil-spill near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "My government is prepared to go as far as putting the companies on a black list internationally if they do not take on their responsibilities," he told a press conference March 7, without elaborating on how this would actually sanction the companies involved. He did say the lease for the Bauxite mine could be suspended. Hou, who faces an election next month, has called in Australia's assistance to clean up the spill, which he described as causing "irreversible damage," acknowledging his country's resources were inadequate for the task. "The impact on the marine life and the coral is already massive with much of it irreversible," he said.
US senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bob Menéndez (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." (Peru21, Feb. 1) Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election.
An international space venture called Satellogic was just announced, with headquarters in Buenos Aires, to produce satellites for the China Great Wall Industry Corp at a new plant in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is slated to deliver its first 13 satellites this year, to be launched on China’s Long March 6 rocket. China Great Wall was established in 1980 under auspices of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, and operates the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, the principal space facility in the People's Republic (MercoPress, SpaceNews, NASA SpaceFlight) But the announcement comes amid growing concern within Argentina about activities at the Chinese-operated "spaceport" at Bajada del Agrio in Patagonia—and the apparent role of the People's Liberation Army in the facility.
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.
A court in Honduras convicted seven men in the 2016 murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres on Nov. 29. Until her assassination on March 2, 2016, Cáceres had been leading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam in western Honduras, a joint project by Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese-owned Sinohydro. The dam was being built on the Rio Gualcarque without prior consultation with the Lenca indigenous community that depends on the river for their food and water. Cáceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous threats for her activism against the dam before she was killed by gunmen at her home in the town of La Esperanza. Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro was also shot, but he survived the attack. Two of those convicted are former DESA managers.
Venezuela has agreed to open at least seven oil-fields to private companies in contracts "similar to ones rolled back under late socialist leader Hugo Chávez," Reuters reported Sept. 10. The plan was revealed in a televized ceremony Aug. 28 in which representatives of the companies met with President Nicolás Maduro to sign "joint service agreements" with the state oil company PDVSA. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. But in a draft contract obtained by Reuters, PDVSA offers to turn over the fields for six years on condition that the companies provide the required investment to boost production. PDVSA president Manuel Quevedo said at the ceremony that the plan would require $430 million for an increase of 641,000 barrels per day. Quevedo said the plan involves 14 companies, although only seven were present for the ceremony and the others were unnamed. The seven include five Venezuelan firms: Petrokariña, Enfriadores de Venezuela, Consorcio Rinoca Centauro Kariña, Consorcio Petrolero Tomoporo and Well Services Cavallino. The remaining two are Helios Petroleum Services of Panama and Shandong Kerui Holding Group of China. The fields in question were formerly operated by Italy's Eni and the French Total.