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Chavez wants `long-term relationship' with India on oil

By Our Special Correspondent



HUG FROM HUGO: The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh; the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, with the Venezuela President, Hug Chavez, at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan in New Delhi on Friday. - Photo: V. Sudershan

NEW DELHI, MARCH 4. Without mincing words, Venezuela's visiting president, Hugo Chavez, told a gathering of top industrialists here today that he was looking for new markets such as India to sell his country's oil because its single biggest customer — the United States — was hell-bent on destabilising his Government.

"They are still pursuing a policy which does not respect the truth... We sell 1.5 million barrels of oil per day to the U.S. and they still complain," he told a luncheon meeting organised in his honour by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry. "In Venezuela we have a saying, `They go to heaven and still they cry,'" he said, producing a ripple of laughter from an audience not normally used to any dignitary — visiting or Indian — openly criticising Washington.

Diversification

Mr. Chavez said that one of the most important aspects of his visit to India would be the initiation of a partnership in the energy sector. "Did you know that for more than 100 years, we never sold our oil to countries such as Argentina, Cuba or Brazil — only the U.S.? But now, we are diversifying. We are selling to our Latin American brothers, we are selling to China and we would like a long-term relationship with India." Venezuela, he said, wanted to help India, to "support its industrial growth... This is very important for us too."

(Earlier in the day, Mr Chavez repeated his warning that if the U.S. continued its policy of hostility, Venezuela would stop exporting oil to it. "If there is any aggression, there will be no oil," PTI quoted the Venezuelan President as saying after his ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. "We want to supply oil to the U.S. We're not going to avoid this supply of oil unless the U.S. Government gets a little bit crazy and tries to hurt us," he was quoted as saying).

Pointing out that Indian oil consumption was set to rise very fast, Mr. Chavez told the industry meeting that his Government had "decided to speed up the process" of reaching out to India. "I hope that soon India will start to drill in Venezuela. Indian companies will operate by themselves or in alliance with PDVSA (the State oil company)."

In a reference to Venezuelan heavy crudes such as orimulsion, he said that India too had heavy crudes and that PDVSA, which has developed technologies to exploit this crude, was willing to extend its help. Venezuela also had technology to convert crude oil underground, obviating the need for certain types of refining.

Calling for the development of South-South cooperation in this, the 50th anniversary of the historic Bandung Conference, Mr. Chavez said he wanted India to help his country develop manufacturing capability in pharmaceuticals, textiles and vehicles.

Import duties

When an executive from Ranbaxy, which has a presence in Venezuela, asked him to speed up the certification process for drugs and reduce import duties, Mr. Chavez said that while he would ask his Ministers to look into the matter, the Indian pharma firms should consider investing in his country too.

Venezuela, he said, was importing a huge amount of medicine "because for the first time in the history of my country, the people are receiving free health care. There are 20,000 Cuban and Venezuelan doctors who live in the poorest neighbourhoods and who provide this health care. So we import medicines, but we would like companies like yours to also study the possibility of manufacturing medicine in Venezuela."

Mr. Chavez said that he wanted Indian companies to be involved in the development of Venezuela's off-shore gas fields. "We have the largest gas deposits in Latin America — 120 trillion cubic metres of proven reserves... Companies from France, England and the U.S are already there. Why not India?"

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