Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pursues energy treaties in South America

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is on a four-nation swing through South America this week, using his country’s oil riches to win friends and influence people. Yesterday, Chavez signed an “energy security treaty” with Nestor Kirchner, the president of Argentina; he will continue on to Uruguay, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where observers expect similar energy agreements to be cemented. The treaty with Argentina will see Venezuela buy $1 billion of that country’s bonds, provide as much as $400 million for a new natural-gas plant, and cooperate on initiatives including oil refining projects, power distribution, and alternative fuels. Kirchner, whose nation is suffering through a winter fuel shortage, welcomed the assistance; others disparaged his reliance on, as one political opponent put it, “his usurious Uncle Hugo.” As for Uncle Hugo, analysts say, he’s using this “frenetic petro-diplomacy” to push for Latin American unity against the U.S. — whose energy-sucking ways he compared to Count Dracula.