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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Investment and insults mark Chavez tour
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC South America correspondent

Oil and gas, oil and gas, oil and gas. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, on his four-nation tour of South America, has spoken about little else.

A woman in Quito with a banner reading "Chavez, my town loves you"
The Chavez message goes down well among some sectors of society
In Argentina, he announced the signing of what he called an Energy Security Treaty, ensuring his southern ally would have ample supplies of gas and oil for "the next 100 years, and more".

"It's much more important than any free trade treaties," added Mr Chavez, in an implied criticism of the deals that the United States has been trying, and generally failing, to agree with most of Latin America.

In Uruguay, Mr Chavez announced plans to expand the country's only oil refinery. Next stop Ecuador and a $5bn plan to build a new oil refinery that would process 300,000 barrels a day.

The tour ends in Bolivia where the Venezuelan leader, President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and their host, Evo Morales, will sign a treaty pledging to co-operate in the production of natural gas.

'Count Dracula'

Wherever Mr Chavez went, he promised money - for instance, buying $1bn of bonds to help Argentina out of a difficult economic patch.

And wherever Mr Chavez went, he criticised and insulted the US. He said the country was like Count Dracula, with an insatiable appetite, sucking up energy supplies and promoting an unsustainable form of capitalism with its huge cars.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa (left) and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (right) in Quito
The tour is the latest by Mr Chavez to spread Venezuela's oil wealth
"If only there were just one," he said at a news conference in Buenos Aires. "But there are several Count Draculas."

He said the US had a serious problem.

"Its oil reserves won't last for many more years. It's got 5% of the world's population but it uses 20% of the energy reserves," he said.

Mr Chavez went on to lambaste the US for, over the past 100 years or so, imposing its will on its Latin American neighbours at the point of a gun whenever it didn't get its way.

President Chavez has made a habit of hurling insults at Washington. His main challenge is in trying to think up fresh attacks.

He revealed that his friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro, had advised him to cut back on the insults - but he does not appear to be heeding that advice.

"The empire of the north is a real assassin, a genocidal killer," he said at a news conference in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo.

Some analysts say the US has neglected Latin America while its focus has been on the Middle East.

In an effort to counteract that, President George W Bush made a quick tour of the region earlier this year, but was shadowed at every turn by President Chavez.

Cold winter

When Mr Bush landed in Uruguay, Mr Chavez addressed what was called an anti-imperialist rally in a football stadium across the River Plate in Buenos Aires.

The two countries are engaged in a battle for friends and influence in the region. President Chavez has won strong allies in Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia with his fiery brand of anti-imperialist rhetoric and generous handouts.

Washington has firm allies in Colombia and Paraguay. Meanwhile, Uruguay and Brazil are trying, and not always succeeding, to maintain friendly ties with both camps.

Critics in Argentina say its wish to remain neutral is looking flimsier with every huge financial handout it takes from Mr Chavez.

Many in Latin America are uneasy about Hugo Chavez's brand of what he calls socialism for the 21st Century and with what they call a hardline stance against opposition in Venezuela.

But with several countries in the region suffering a colder than usual winter, it is difficult for them to resist the advances of a friend, rich in oil and gas, bearing gifts.


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