Mérida, October 15, 2007 – The Presidents of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador met in northern Colombia on Friday to inaugurate a new transnational gas pipeline. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also invited Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to join the new regional development fund, the Bank of the South, which he accepted.
"The only way we can take off and get out of poverty, misery, and underdevelopment, is walking together towards unification," said Chavez upon opening a valve to permit gas to flow in the new natural gas line between Colombia and Venezuela.
"That is why it is essential that we design mechanisms of integration, such as the Antonio Ricuarte Trans-Oceanic Gas Pipeline," he said.
Near the Venezuelan-Colombian border, the three presidents inaugurated the first section the gas pipeline project that will eventually carry Venezuelan natural gas across Colombia and into Central America. This first section measures about 225 kilometers and required a total investment of around US$ 325 million.
The pipeline, which can transport up to 500 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, will eventually be extended to Panama, Ecuador, and the Pacific to facilitate Venezuela’s increased trade with Asian countries such as China. This first section was completed only 15 months from when Chavez and Uribe inaugurated its construction in July of 2006.
"The construction of this infrastructure that will first benefit Venezuela and Colombia and will later bring prosperity to the whole region took only 15 months to build," said President of Ecuador Rafael Correa. "That is an example that with political will for integration and unification, results can be achieved."
Initially the pipeline will actually bring gas from Colombia into northwestern Venezuela to supply Venezuelan communities where the gas supply is scarce. Later, in 2011, once Venezuelan gas production has increased, the direction will be reversed and Colombia will begin to import gas from Venezuela. Correa also expressed interest in connecting Ecuador to the transnational pipeline as well.
The Venezuelan president has announced plans to convert the country over to natural gas, instead of gasoline, and is planning to build a natural gas network to connect all Venezuelan cities to the cleaner fuel. Rafael Correa expressed interest in doing the same in Ecuador by connecting his country to the project.
"Tulcan (Ecuador) could be the first city, as the pilot project, in using natural gas piped to each house," he said, emphasizing that natural gas is "much cheaper and much friendlier to the environment."
According to the Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, about 10 percent of the total investment in the pipeline actually went to social spending in the communities surrounding the pipeline. The northernmost part of the long border between Colombia and Venezuela is made up of communities of indigenous people on both sides of the border known as Guajira, and has traditionally been a poor, isolated region.
The minister emphasized that besides employing some 1,300 people in the construction of the project, much of the money has been used to invest in surrounding schools, health clinics, water sources, and financing for agricultural and economic ventures in both countries. On the Venezuelan side of the border the construction of development projects for industrial and agricultural production was announced to bring economic development to the region.
Bank of the South
Chavez took advantage of the occasion to invite Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to join the Bank of the South, a new regional development fund to be officially launched next month. The fund already includes the participation of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The new Bank’s headquarters will be located in Caracas. Chavez emphasized that it would be very important in the development of the region.
"It is our bank, a South American bank, and I think it is going to be a very important factor in our economic independence and for the social and economic development of our populations," said Chavez.
Uribe accepted the offer and officially requested Colombia’s admission to the multinational fund.
"We are combatants of ideas, staunch enemies of terrorism, and deeply committed to integration with brother nations. There is no way that we can be left out of the Bank of the South," he said.
The new Bank of the South is expected to be officially launched in Caracas on November 3rd. The fund will have the objective of financing the economic development of the region with a focus on reducing poverty and promoting regional integration.