Chavez makes world tour

Fresh from the Mercosur Summit in Argentina, where his country was admitted to full membership, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez left July 23 on a world trip to strengthen alliances, secure trade deals and gain support for Venezuela’s bid to join the UN Security Council.

The first stop was Belarus, followed by Russia, Qatar, Iran, Vietnam and Mali. It was Chavez’s fourth visit to Russia, his fifth to Iran. Plans to visit North Korea did not materialize.

In Belarus, after paying homage to the Soviet victory over Nazi fascism, Chavez and President Alexander Lukashenko pledged to cooperate within the UN and the Movement of Nonaligned Countries. On July 24, they signed seven economic agreements and agreed to share technology. The two countries shared trade worth $16 million in 2005.

Politics had a high profile. In Russia, at a July 27 press conference, Chavez declared, “The biggest threat which exists in the world is the empire of the United States. … It is a senseless, blind, stupid giant which doesn’t understand the world, doesn’t understand human rights.”

Reporters quoted an anonymous Russian official as saying, “The positions of Russia and Venezuela on the majority of international problems are close or coincide.” President Vladimir Putin gave backing to Venezuela’s run for a Security Council seat.

Russian companies will be exploring new gas and oil fields in Venezuela. Discussions took place on joint engineering, metallurgical and space programs.

The two countries also signed a $3 billion arms deal, intended to strengthen Venezuela’s defenses against the possibility of a U.S. military invasion.

After a stopover in Qatar, Chavez proceeded to Iran. The two countries have arrived at 86 commercial agreements since 1999, and Iran has put $1 billion into the Venezuelan energy, construction and tractor-building sectors. Now Iran’s state-owned oil and gas company plans to invest $4 billion more to develop oil and gas fields in Venezuela and to form two joint petrochemical ventures, one of them in Indonesia.

Iran will also construct a refinery in Venezuela and begin assembling automobiles there. Joint ventures have been set up for making bicycles, medicines and industrial molds.

Chavez’s visit to Vietnam was the first ever for a Venezuelan head of state.

Crude oil is Vietnam’s largest export. The Venezuelan guests said Vietnam could gain $2 billion in additional income from sales of finished petroleum products. Chavez offered assistance in building a refinery. Negotiators also signed cultural exchange agreements and devised a legal framework for future trade relations.

Chavez told reporters that “independence and freedom” depend upon unity. “If we waited for solutions to come from developed countries, we won’t be able to solve our problems for 5,000 years.”

The final stop on his tour was the West African nation of Mali, where he signed a bilateral energy agreement with President Amadou Toumani Toure. On a radio program, Chavez said the peoples of both nations share a common destiny and could come closer together.