Monthly Archives: September 2011
Richard Miniter, Contributor
When Venezuela’s strongman Hugo Chavez announced plans to move virtually all of his nation’s overseas gold stock—211 tons of gleaming bars stored in vaults in New York, London, Zurich and elsewhere—back to South America, investors were stunned. Why make one of the largest physical transfers of gold bullion since the end of World War II?
Here and now, I will solve this mystery—and the solution will spark new doubts about Venezuela’s bonds and about President Obama’s foreign policy. The solution hits two populist presidents with the same sad stone.
It is not that investors don’t believe the official story; there is no official story. The Central Bank of Venezuela announced the extraordinary move in a short memo, in Spanish, that is entirely silent on the regime’s reasons.
So speculators speculated wildly. Did Chavez need collateral to secure his loans from China? Did he plan to steal the treasure if he lost the 2012 presidential election? Was Venezuela about to devalue its currency? Does Venezuela believe that, like Ethiopia, some of its holdings are actually gold-plated steel? Was he following the lead of ideological forebears, the Spanish communists, who, in the 1930s, shipped their nation’s entire gold reserves to Moscow to keep them from Franco? Every sleuth had a different theory.
Veteran observers of Venezuela’s central bank were equally puzzled. Reached on the streets of Caracas, economist Richard Obuchi bluntly told me: “I can see no economic reason for this move.” Moving vast stores of gold away from world markets, especially at a time when gold is testing new highs, he added, just doesn’t make sense.
The mystery only deepens the more one thinks about the costs and risks. An insurer, if one can be found, could easily charge 4% of the market value of the stockpile, plus security and shipping charges. All told, that could be almost $100 million. And moving the gold will almost certainly lower Venezuela’s credit rating, which Moody’s Investors Service puts at B2—well into junk-bond status. Standard & Poor’s also rates the nation’s creditworthiness as junk. Making Venezuela’s government assets more opaque will only lower their value. So shipping bullion makes matters worse and means Venezuela will pay even more in borrowing costs.
Don’t forget the risks. A bold pirate could seize tons of gold in a single brazen raid. Or a storm could take it to the muddy bottom of the Atlantic.
So why is Chavez moving his gold? What’s the strongman’s real reason?
First, some facts. Venezuela was once a growing economy that exported food, welcomed and rewarded foreign investment, and maintained the rule of law. Twelve years into Chavez’s socialist experiment, the South American nation imports food. Indeed, food imports have risen 442% over 2003 levels. Nationalizing farms and food distribution firms has meant long lines at supermarkets with half empty shelves due to the constant shortages of basic goods, including corn, coffee and sugar. Since 1999, Chavez’s troops have seized some 2.5 million hectares of land; only 50,000 hectares remain in use. Under the gaze of government managers, these lands have not become more productive.
Foreign investors are harassed and work under the ever present threat of expropriation. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhilips and more than a dozen other publicly-traded American companies have seen their assets seized. The total value seized tops $23.3 billion, according to Ecoanalítica, a Caracas-based research firm. Since 2007, the rate of nationalizations has climbed 924%, according to Coindustria, the equivalent of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce. The World Bank, in its 2011 Doing Business Report, finds that Afghanistan is a better place to do business than Venezuela.
Meanwhile, a Spanish judge has found that Chavez’s regime is linked to two terrorist groups, ETA in Spain and the FARC in Colombia. When Walid Makled, a drug lord with family roots in the Palestinian territories, was arrested in Colombia, he admitted to paying some $40 million to the Chavistas. He is also suspected of financing terror plots.
Finally, at the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), American and European companies have filed at least 18 claims against Venezuela for illegally seizing their properties. Those claims total more than $14 billion.
The value of Venezuela’s overseas gold reserves? Roughly $12.3 billion.
So let’s connect the dots and solve the mystery of the moving gold.
Chavez knows that ExxonMobil and ConocoPhilips will eventually prevail before the World Bank’s arbitration panel and win roughly $14 billion in compensation. If Chavez balks at paying his debts, court orders could be secured to seize Venezuela’s only real asset under American and European control—the gold in their vaults.
Even if Chavez could somehow hold the World Bank at bay, the growing evidence of human rights abuses and links to international terrorism boosts the likelihood of international sanctions. And the most effective sanction is holding Venezuela’s gold reserves until it reforms.
So Chavez is moving his gold to continue to cheat American shareholders out of their just compensation for their looted lands, plants, and oil fields as well as to continue to punish his own people with his miserable misrule.
Now consider the role of the Obama Administration. It has steadfastly refused to criticize the theft of billions of dollars worth of American property in Venezuela, let alone impose sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warmly greeted Chavez at a recent summit in Brazil. When reporters ask about the beleaguered American shareholder, the “on-background” guidance is always the same: the World Bank arbitration panel would put everything right. Let the process work. And so on.
So, when Venezuela announced one of the largest physical movements of gold in world history, the Obama Administration didn’t worry. Just routine. Nothing to see here, folks. The World Bank will straighten it all out.
Last week, Chavez’s regime began to formally withdraw from ICSID, the 157-member international body that will likely rule against him. Venezuela became a signatory State of the ICSID Convention in August 1993. Now Chavez is leaving before he gets stuck paying the tab for his illegal seizures. The Obama Administration, which was counting on the ICSID to do its work, is left holding an empty bag.
What does the Obama Administration say now? Crickets.
ExxonMobil’s shareholders can join Chrysler’s bondholders on Obama’s enemies list. If that seems a tad harsh, consider this: When made to choose between millions of American shareholders and one South American dictator, the Obama Administration chose Chavez.
Why is the Obama Administration sitting in paralyzed silence while Chavez removes himself from international accountability? Is it perceived ideological comradeship, a loathing of investors, simple dereliction of duty or some other reason? Now that is a mystery.
- Venezuela, Guyana to talk in territorial dispute (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- The Mottled Relationship: Iran and Latin America (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Chavez Wants Gold Holdings Transferred To Venezuela (npr.org)
- Chavez to nationalize gold production in Venezuela (cnn.com)
PlanetSolar‘s TÛRANOR is currently on its way to becoming the first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe. Driven by a silent, pollution-free electrical engine that is powered exclusively by solar energy, the PlanetSolar team has two goals in mind. The first objective is to show that current technologies aimed at improving energy efficiency are reliable and effective. The second is to advance scientific research in the field of renewable energy.
The world’s largest solar-powered boat has already been to Miami, Cancun, Brisbane, Hong Kong and just made its way to Vietnam. Measuring around 101 feet long and 49 feet wide, the $26 million TÛRANOR can comfortably transport 50 passengers.
The Swiss-designed, German-built ship is powered by over 5,380 square feet of solar paneling. The panels power two electric motors, which can reach 15 miles per hour. The panels can also soak up enough stored energy to power the boat in cloudy weather for three days. The excess energy is stored in a giant lithium-ion battery.
And, in case you were wondering how PlanetSolar came up the ship’s name, TÛRANOR is derived from the “Lord of the Rings” saga by J.R.R. Tolkien and translates to: “the power of the sun” and “victory.”
- Pictures: World’s largest solar yacht, the Tûranor PlanetSolar (digitaltrends.com)
- PlanetSolar Turanor: The World’s Largest Solar-Powered Boat (techeblog.com)
- Sealander Amphibious Camping Trailer Doubles as Houseboat (techeblog.com)
- PlanetSolar: World’s Largest Solar Powered Electric Boat. Green Designs Will Save the World (worldnewsrecord.wordpress.com)
- Green Column: Around the World on Solar Power Alone (nytimes.com)
- World’s largest solar-powered yacht arrives in Hong Kong on home stretch of around-the-world voyage (digitaltrends.com)
- World tour in a solar powered boat. (izitso.net)
- The fall and rise of the electric boat (ravcasleygera.wordpress.com)
By RICHARD STEGEMEIER
Asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton reportedly said, “Because that’s where the money is.” The American Jobs Act, which calls for collecting $40 billion from oil companies over 10 years, sounds a lot like Willie Sutton. This bill will take about $400 from the average American family, rich or poor. But is there any truth in White House advertising that this Act will create jobs? The Solyndra bankruptcy wasted a half-billion taxpayer dollars and created no permanent jobs. The ethanol subsidy of about $5 billion per year is now recognized as misguided energy policy.
We can assume that administration officials are either appallingly ignorant of how the oil industry works or they are deliberately trying to increase the cost of gasoline to reduce demand. But the latter flies in the face of President Barack Obama’s decision this summer to release 30 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower the price of gasoline.
One purpose of the Act is to punish “Big Oil” over allegedly unfair tax breaks. There are several tax policy modifications that affect only oil companies. One is the partial repeal of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, which allowed a 9 percent tax deduction for companies that produce goods inside American borders. Oil companies were given only a 6 percent deduction, which under the Obama plan will drop to zero. In other words, there is a silent enticement for oil companies to invest in refineries, LNG plants and storage facilities abroad, say in Mexico or Canada.
Also repealed is the Percentage Depletion Allowance – again, only for oil and gas production. For coal and other minerals the 15 percent deduction from taxable income will continue. This will hurt only the little independents because big oil companies lost this deduction 36 years ago.
The third tax repeal will disallow oil drilling companies their Intangible Drilling Cost deductions (IDC’s). At least 75 percent of drilling costs are for consumables such as fuel, mud, cement, etc. But the new law will consider these expenses the same as machines that must be depreciated over many years thereby increasing current-year taxes. This will have a serious impact on small companies that drill 95 percent of all new wells in America. They are usually not rich and often rely on IDC’s to pay for the next well.
InterOil Corporation today announced that the Company has retained Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Macquarie Capital (USA) Inc. and UBS AG as joint financial advisors to assist InterOil with its soliciting and evaluating proposals from potential strategic partners in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project currently being led by InterOil’s joint venture entity, Liquid Niugini Gas Limited.
The Company anticipates that these proposals will relate to obtaining an internationally recognized LNG operating and equity partner for development of the Project’s gas liquefaction and associated facilities in the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea, together with a sale of an interest in the Elk and Antelope fields and in InterOil’s exploration tenements in Papua New Guinea.
InterOil has determined, in response to inquiry from potential LNG partners and in consultation with the Papua New Guinea Government, to engage in a formal partnering process. The considerable strengthening of the Asian LNG market, the increased interest in exploration and investment in Papua New Guinea, as well as the Company’s reservoir analysis and project design fundamentals lead the Company to believe that now is an attractive time to seek a partner.
The Company expects that successful completion of such a transaction will satisfy the objectives of complementing the Company’s planned LNG development capabilities with an internationally recognized LNG partner and generating a third party valuation for InterOil’s resources.
“We look forward to working closely with Morgan Stanley, Macquarie and UBS as they support us in this evaluation process and in reaching what will surely be a milestone for InterOil, its shareholders and Papua New Guinea,” said Phil Mulacek, Chief Executive Officer of InterOil.
- Paupa New Guinea: FLEX Updates on Gulf LNG Project (mb50.wordpress.com)
- InterOil, Pacific LNG sign supply deal with Noble Clean Fuels (mb50.wordpress.com)
- InterOil and Noble Sign Heads of Agreement on LNG Sale (prnewswire.com)
- Rudd to visit PNG (news.theage.com.au)
The field was discovered by Apache in 2009 during exploration and appraisal drilling in the Julimar-Brunello complex. Balnaves is a light, sweet oil accumulation in a separate reservoir in the Triassic Mungaroo formation, located adjacent to the large gas reservoirs of the Brunello gas field.
First production from the $438-million development is scheduled in 2014, with gross peak production of approximately 30,000 barrels of oil per day and estimated gross recoverable resource of 17 million barrels of oil and 30 billion cubic feet of gas. Two horizontal production wells will be connected to a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel via subsea tiebacks. One water injection well will be used to maintain reservoir pressure. Gas will be reinjected into another reservoir for later production as part of the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas (LNG) Project.
Apache has agreed to lease the Armada Claire, an FPSO owned by Bumi Armada with production capability of 80,000 barrels of oil and 50 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and storage capacity for 750,000 barrels.
“We are pleased to sanction our third operated oil development in Australia since 2007,” said Thomas M. Maher, Apache’s region vice president and managing director in Australia. “With the Van Gogh field on production and first output from Coniston expected in 2013, Balnaves will add to our position as one of Australia’s leading oil producers.”
The Julimar and Brunello fields are large gas discoveries that will be developed to provide gas for the Wheatstone LNG Project, operated by Chevron Australia Pty Ltd. Apache Julimar Pty Ltd is operator of the Julimar Development Project, the WA-49-L upstream component of the Wheatstone Project.
Apache Julimar Pty Ltd has a 65-percent interest in offshore license WA-49-L and a 13-percent equity interest in the Wheatstone project. KUFPEC Australia (Julimar) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co. k.s.c., owns the remaining interest in the offshore license and a 7-percent interest in the Wheatstone project.
Apache Corporation is an oil and gas exploration and production company with operations in the United States, Canada, Egypt, the United Kingdom North Sea, Australia and Argentina.
- Australia: Apache Wins Environmental Approval for Julimar/Brunello Gas Fields (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Apache Gives Go Ahead for Wheatstone LNG Project in Australia; Apache’s Julimar and Brunello Fields to Provide Feedstock Gas (prnewswire.com)
- Apache, Partners Sign Agreements to Sell LNG from Wheatstone to Tokyo Electric Power (prnewswire.com)
- Australia: Tap Oil Selling Zola Stake (mb50.wordpress.com)
September 27, 2011
• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to visit President Hugo Chávez on September 24, but the trip was postponed as the Venezuelan head of state recovers from cancer.
• Ahmadinejad partially empties UN Hall with some of his harshest statements.
• Iranian influence in Latin America is sometimes more fiction than fact.
• Befriending Iran’s repressive regime is somewhat contradictory for Latin American governments that openly crow their respect for democracy and human rights. Does Brazil really mean to have a creditable relationship with one of the most disreputable players and human rights violators?
• In an ironic twist, Chávez is credited for mediating with the Iranian government to free two American hikers.
• The attacks against Israeli centers in Argentina in 1992 and 1994 continue to be a source of tension, but in Buenos Aires, business comes first.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and Latin America have been fostering closer relationships for more than a decade, working towards building cohesive diplomatic relations and strengthening economic agreements. These ties began with Cuba’s championing of the 1979 Iranian revolution, and today those connections also extend to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the ever-controversial Venezuela, with these amplified ties being sedulously cultivated by Tehran. Due to Iran’s internal politics, such as its controversial nuclear program, its contemptible human rights record, and its often tense, if not minatory, relations with the U.S., initiatives between Tehran and the Western Hemispheric states have come under heavy critique. As a result, there is speculation and differing interpretations over the existing level of influence that Iran currently enjoys in several nations of Latin America.
A Brief Overview
Ironically, as relations with the U.S. and European countries have deteriorated, Iran’s relations with the Global South have, if anything, noticeably progressed. Perhaps as a direct result of the U.S. placing Iran within the ‘axis of evil’, the Persian state began pursuing relationships with African governments and, within the last decade, an increasing number of Latin American countries, as a strategy to counteract U.S.-backed ostracism and efforts to diplomatically isolate Tehran. The apparent reasons for these alliances are:
(a) to gain economic advantage as well as much-needed relief and collegiality to cope with the consequences of U.S.- imposed sanctions;
(b) to counterbalance the geopolitical effect of U.S. policy in both the Muslim World and Latin America;
(c) to garner a sympathetic attitude and support for its nuclear program;
(d) to gain recognition in an increasingly prominent part of the Western Hemisphere, and in Washington’s sphere of influence, in order to achieve political prestige in the international community. This also helps, in part, divert the attention among the Iranian people, particularly in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian election fraud that prompted massive repression of the dissenting democratic opposition.
The most pertinent questions, however, remain to be answered: Has the long term impact of these increasingly intimate relationships, such as the one between Caracas and Tehran, been fully analyzed? Are the initiatives and maneuverings carried out by some Latin American governments solely due to their impetuousness and lack of long-term goals? Notwithstanding the immediate economic advantage of gaining new markets, the long-term political ramifications and disadvantages of doing business with what the free world considers a horrendously corrupt regime places the Latin American region into a precarious situation. Latin America’s good will initiatives and human resources could be more wisely expended in dealing with nations that do not carry out egregious abuses towards its own citizens.
Case Study: Argentina
In March 1992, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was the subject of a bomb attack. It has been established that a pickup truck loaded with explosives, and driven by a suicide bomber, smashed into the front of the embassy, killing thirty-three and wounding as many as 242 persons. In July 1994, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires was the target of an attack that killed eighty-five people, while scores more were injured.
The violent Islamist militant organization Hezbollah has been regarded as the culprit behind these attacks, but there have been rumors that the Iranian government, including some members of the current administration in Tehran, may have been more directly involved. The Persian state has repeatedly declared its innocence regarding its involvement in both attacks. In July 2011, Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, as one of the major victims of terrorism, condemns all acts of terror, including the 1994 AMIA bombing, and offers sympathy with the families of the victims of the explosion […] Iran’s Foreign Ministry expresses regret that 17 years on from the occurrence of this crime, the truth behind it has not been revealed yet and the identities of its real perpetrators are still shrouded in mystery.” Furthermore, an article published by Press TV (a semi-official Iranian news agency) in July argues that, “under intense political pressure from the United States and the Israeli regime, Argentina formally accused Iran of carrying out the attack on the Jewish community.” Most independent observers, however, dismiss this rhetoric merely as tactical method to confuse the subject.
Tensions between Iran and Argentina took a new twist in early June 2011, when Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi visited Bolivia. General Vahidi is wanted by Argentina for allegedly masterminding the 1994 bombing. Buenos Aires asked La Paz to apprehend the Iranian official, but he returned to Tehran before any decision by the Bolivian government could be made. As Iran continues to promote its influence in Latin America, the controversy over the Argentine bombings will continue to be a sore point for the foreseeable future. The Argentine-Persian relationship, or lack thereof, presents a fascinating case study of a state trying to improve relations with another while at the same time attempting to overcome a violent recent past that includes state-sponsored terrorism.
Trade and Investments
During recent years, Iran has expanded its economic cooperation with many Latin American states, entering into substantial trade agreements with Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and, somewhat surprisingly, Argentina. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated in a report issued in December 2009 that Brazil is Iran’s largest trade partner in Latin America. Last year, Iran’s state radio announced that bilateral trade with Brazil had increased to more than USD 2 billion in 2009-10, an increase from USD 500 million in 2005, and was forecast to reach USD 10 billion in the next 5 years.
Argentina is Iran’s second largest trading partner in the region, despite the fact that Buenos Aires has accused Tehran of the 1992 and 1994 bombings. Trade relations remained at marginal rates throughout the 1990s, but commercial activity never ceased entirely, and by 2008 bilateral trade had soared to USD 1.2 billion, dramatically overshadowing the 2007 figure of USD 30 million.
In addition, relations between Iran and Venezuela are a mixed bag of actual achievement and diplomatic rhetoric. According to the IMF report, and in spite of highly cordial political and diplomatic relations, bilateral trade between Venezuela and Iran did not advance in the same way as it did for other Latin American countries. For example, while Brazilian and Argentine trade with Iran has increased by 88 percent and 96 percent since 2007 respectively, Venezuela’s trade increased by only 31 percent in the same period. Following the increase in trade with Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela became Iran’s fifth largest trade partner in the region.
Moreover, Iran has pursued deeper trade and diplomatic relationships with Bolivia as well. Trade and energy agreements between La Paz and Tehran, signed in September 2007, confirmed the increasingly friendly nature of ties between the two countries. Iran’s involvement in the Bolivian economy extends to investment in and technological support for industrial projects such as dairy factories, agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric dam construction. Additionally, in July 2009, Tehran agreed to provide USD 280 million in low-interest loans to La Paz. Finally, Peru is also a growing importer of Iranian products, as is Ecuador. The expansion of trade ties follows an overall regional trade ‘offensive’ by Iran in recent years. IMF data analyzed by the Latin Business Chronicle indicates that Iran-Latin American trade skyrocketed by 209 percent in 2008, totaling a robust USD 2.9 billion. What this data tells us is that there is certainly a potential for trade to grow between Iran and several Western Hemisphere states, however Iran’s trade numbers are dwarfed by the region’s other trade partners, like the U.S., China and Europe.
To Washington’s increasing concern, the Brazilian Deputy Foreign Minister Maria Louisa met with her Iranian counterpart, Ali Ahani, in Brazil in early August 2011. The Brazilian official described Iran as one of “the important partners of Brazil” and an “influential” country. Louisa noted that Tehran and Brasilia would attempt to increase the level of mutual ties “considering the developments of the two countries in different fields.” The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, for his part, hailed “the friendly and good relations” between both states and said that the governments of Iran and Brazil are eager to expand ties. Given the grim status quo between Washington and Tehran, at some point in the near future, the White House is bound press the issue, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may have to choose whether her government will pursue closer relations with Washington, or with Tehran.
According to the Iranian International Newspaper Ettelaat, Iran has nearly doubled the number of embassies and cultural centers it maintains in Latin America. The number of embassies increased from six in 2005 to ten in 2010, and Tehran is building cultural centers in seventeen Latin American countries. Additionally, Iran has successfully negotiated no-visa agreements with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia. It can also be argued that although relations have been strained with Argentina since the terrorist bombings, the continued trade between the two countries is a signal that geopolitical interests have gradually taken precedence over efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the attacks. Argentina’s reaction to the visit of Defense Minister Vahidi to Bolivia does point out that Buenos Aires has not forgotten Iran’s alleged role, but that ultimately other initiatives have taken priority.
Nevertheless, if we consider Iran’s repressive regime, its brutal crackdown on dissenting voters, and the continued suppression of what most nations, particularly in the West, consider a wholly organic and legitimate uprising, it is difficult to comprehend the continued warming of relations with its Latin American partners. Nations are certainly free to pursue close relations with any states they wish, but it is baffling, considering the Iranian government’s repressive record when it comes to its own population, that Latin American governments, many of which repeatedly publicly proclaim their respect for human rights, want to befriend a thoroughly toxic nation like Iran. So what could be the reasons why Latin American countries continue to welcome the Iranian government’s overtures? Simply put, Latin American nations want an alternative to what some regional players see, at times, as U.S. imperialism. This is exemplified by the Chávez and Ahmadinejad pact signed in 2007 to formulate an “Axis of Unity”, particularly against the U. S.
In order for Iran to gain the geopolitical strength that its revolutionary leaders so fervently aspire to obtain, the country continues to play its U.S- as-an-imperial power card as aggressively as possible. It also plays a powerful role in pushing its Latin American partners into recognizing Palestine as a counterbalancing force against U.S. and Israeli influence. When it comes to assessing geopolitical gains, the common denominator between Latin America and Iran is economic advancement, rather than the counterbalancing of geopolitical power. Venezuela’s President Chávez is the exception to this rule, as, even though Venezuelan-Iranian economic relations are fairly robust, a major factor for this close rapprochement is that Chavez and the Iranian government are fairly ideologically aligned (at least regarding their views on Washington).
Support for Iran’s Nuclear Program
Venezuela, Cuba, and Syria were the only three countries that supported Iran’s nuclear energy program when the UN voted on it in 2006. However, there is little doubt that support has been increasing throughout Latin America due to Iran’s diligent pursuit of such backing. Now Bolivia and Brazil are also offering their measured support for Tehran’s civilian nuclear program. In addition, the ever-vociferous Venezuelan leader has officially stated that Iran has a legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports Tehran’s quest for peaceful nuclear technology.
The Future of the Iran-Latin America Alliance
Chávez’s present personal medical issues, and the recent U.S.-imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. – Venezuelan Petroleum S.A) for dealings with Iran, could serve to weaken the Venezuelan-Iranian nexus. This is because Venezuela’s current ideological views – particularly its foreign policy – ultimately derive from Chávez, and it is unclear what a post-Chávez Venezuela would look like. Would his political party maintain its unity and continue Chávez’s ideology, or would another course be taken? In addition, the Venezuelan military has declared its support for Chávez to the point that some organizations are concerned as to what would happen if another political party were to win the upcoming presidential election. What this means for Tehran is that its closest ally in Latin America is not Venezuela but rather its leader, and it is difficult to foresee how diplomatic ties would be affected by a transition of leadership.
Late September 2011 saw an interesting development, as the Iranian government recognized mediation initiatives by Chávez to free two American hikers held in an Iranian prison since 2009. According to statements by the Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Temir Porras, the Venezuelan government agreed to help Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal after receiving a request for help from the hiker’s friends. It has also been reported that Noam Chomsky signed a letter asking for Chávez’s help.
Although various news sources have reported an increase in the establishment of Iranian embassies in Latin America, a Latin daily source indicates that, at least in the case of Nicaragua, such plans have failed to come to fruition. This is particularly interesting as there had been rumors circulating that Iran’s embassy in Managua is, or was supposed to be, some kind of massive intelligence hub involving an unusually large number of staff, which, by default, would put U.S. interests in the region at risk. In reality, the Iranian Embassy in the Central American country may be nothing more than somewhat large.
In mid-June, an Iranian analyst published a piece in the Iranian newspaper Jaam-e Jam entitled “Failure of the United States to break relations between Iran and Brazil.” The analyst explains that Iran’s initiatives in Latin America “change the quiet backyard of the United States to a dangerous backyard for that country, because the expansion of Iran’s economic and political relations with the countries of that region is indicative of the failure of U.S. efforts to impose sanctions and threats on Iran.” The analyst also discusses how relations between Tehran and Latin America affect Israel:
Changing the United States’ quiet backyard to a dangerous backyard has also created major concerns for Tel Aviv, in addition to Washington. Such worries have intensified to the point that Shimon Peres, the head of the Zionist regime, left for a visit to Latin America, which is considered the first official visit of this sort to Latin America in the course of several decades, only a few days before the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The bottom line seems to be that Latin America sees Iran’s involvement in the region in terms of economic interests. Additionally, it may allow the region to gain a foothold in the Muslim world, with the secondary benefit (at least possibly in Venezuela’s case) of reducing U.S. influence in the region. Meanwhile, as interpreted by the aforementioned Jaam-e Jam analysis, Tehran sees its rapprochement with Latin America mostly in terms of its impact on Washington and Tel Aviv.
Finally, it is interesting to observe that Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse and a nation that is currently attempting to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nation Security Council, has also increased the pace of diplomatic ties with Iran. Brasilia has gone on record to declare its support for Tehran’s civilian – albeit controversial – nuclear program. It may soon become apparent to Itamaraty diplomats that they will have to choose between Washington and Tehran as their primary overseas partner.
In the interest of creating a just and prosperous hemispheric community, it is important for regional nations to continuously evaluate the scope and breadth of the burgeoning economic aid pacts and political gains being devised between Latin American countries and Iran. This survey must also include a gauging of the inherent merits of these gains and an evaluation of whether they are more fictive than real. A closer examination of the Islamic Republic of Iran depicts an undemocratic governing body heavily burdened by religious dogma, underdeveloped financial standards, institutional corruption and self-imposed non-transparency, a legal system hardly worthy of the name, the absence of any civil liberties, and atrocious human rights violations.
Iran’s current leadership can hardly be described as providing a suitable alternative to traditional U.S. domination and a sphere of influence. Even if counterbalancing U.S. power in Latin America can become more than a fantasy, and grow into a viable plan to amplify the resonance of democracy in the region, the advantages derived from an arrangement with Iran must be weighed against the costs of introducing another form of despotic influence into the democratically fledgling Latin American region.
- The Up-and-Coming Presence of India in Latin America (mb50.wordpress.com)
- *Yawn* Iran to send it’s MASSIVE Naval Might to US Waters (erickbrockway.com)
- Iran Mass-Produces New Missile, Rejects ‘Hot Line’ Idea With America (nytimes.com)
- Chavez supporting growth of Hizbollah terror network in Latin America (video) (creepingsharia.wordpress.com)
- Argentina Praises Iran Offer in Bombing Probe (time.com)
- Don’t put international cooperation on Iran at risk (thehill.com)
- Argentina praises Iran help offer in bombing probe (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
By Bernard L. Weinstein
Canada, not the Middle East, is the No. 1 supplier of oil to the United States, a symbiotic relationship that has existed for decades. What’s more, the Canadian province of Alberta is home to the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves. Viewing America as the most logical market for its expanding production, the government of Alberta and the TransCanada Corp. are proposing a pipeline called Keystone XL to bring crude oil from Alberta to refineries along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.
Although the State Department concluded in August that there would be no significant negative environmental impacts from the pipeline, it has hosted a series of hearings in communities from Montana to Texas in recent weeks. A final hearing is scheduled for Washington on Oct. 7.
The economic benefits from constructing the pipeline have been well publicized: $20 billion in new investment, 13,000 new American jobs in construction and related manufacturing, and more than 100,000 spinoff jobs during the two-year construction period. But more important than the short-term stimulus, which certainly is needed in today’s moribund economy, the completed pipeline will help increase America’s energy and national security.
Today, most of the crude oil processed by Gulf Coast refineries comes from Mexico and Venezuela. Production in both countries has declined in recent years, and while U.S.-Mexico political relations are friendly, U.S.-Venezuela relations are anything but. By contrast, Canada is a strong and reliable American ally, as well as a key North American Free Trade Agreement partner.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline certainly is not unique. TransCanada already operates a pipeline from Alberta to Cushing, Okla., and the XL would simply shorten the route while adding an extension from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. Lower transportation costs associated with the XL would save Gulf Coast refiners almost $500 million annually, which, in turn, could mean lower prices for consumers at the gas pump. What’s more, the planned route of the XL would link oil producers in the booming North Dakota Bakken region to the national pipeline network, providing efficiency gains of $36 million to $146 million annually, according to a recent study by the Energy Policy Research Foundation.
Despite the strong economic and energy security case for permitting the Keystone XL, opposition to the project has been growing. Last month, several hundred protesters were arrested in front of the White House, including a number of Hollywood celebrities. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have expressed their opposition to Keystone XL (in full-page newspaper ads paid for by the Natural Resources Defense Council) as has New York Times food critic Mark Bittman. Both pro- and anti-pipeline advocates are back on the streets of Washington as the Oct. 7 hearing date approaches.
Although opponents argue the pipeline is inherently dangerous because of potential harm to farms, wildlife and water aquifers as it cuts across Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, in truth, the anti-XL campaign is aimed against expansion of the Alberta oil sands. Environmentalists claim production in the oil sands is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, destroying the arboreal forests and killing migratory birds. On a recent visit, I saw no evidence of these claims. Indeed, relative to both the geographic and carbon footprints of most onshore and offshore oil production, the Alberta oil sands compare quite favorably.
If the Keystone XL project is blocked, the pace of oil sands development in Alberta won’t diminish. Recent investments by Chinese companies suggest a growing alternative market across the Pacific. But without the pipeline, America will be unable to benefit from cost-efficient Western Canadian oil while Gulf Coast refiners remain dependent upon unstable suppliers.
Bernard L. Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute and an adjunct professor of business economics at Southern Methodist University.
- WEINSTEIN: Greens want terror oil in your gas tank – Washington Times (gds44.wordpress.com)
- For Keystone XL Pipeline, the Devil Is in the Details (usnews.com)
- Keystone XL pipeline gets North Dakota backing (cbc.ca)
- TransCanada pitches pipeline to energy-friendly Texas city (calgaryherald.com)
MODEC announced today that Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (“Petrobras”), through its subsidiary Tupi B.V., on behalf of Consortium BM-S-11, has signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the supply, respectively, charter, and operations of a Floating, Production, Storage, and Offloading (FPSO) vessel for the BM-S-11 block (Cernambi South) in the giant “pre-salt” region of the Santos Basin with its water depth of 2,300m.
The BM-S-11 block is under concession to a consortium formed by Petrobras (65%), BG Group (25%), and Petrogal Brasil S.A – Galp Energia (10%).The LoI was issued to the Schahin Group and MODEC, Inc., who have partnered for the latest leased FPSO. This is the second venture between the Schahin Group and MODEC, Inc.
The Schahin Group and MODEC, Inc. are responsible for the engineering, procurement, construction, mobilization, and operation of the FPSO, including topsides processing equipment as well as hull and marine systems. SOFEC will design and provide the spread mooring.
MODEC will convert the VLCC Sunrise J into the FPSO Cidade de Mangaratiba MV24. The FPSO will be capable of processing 150,000 barrels of oil per day, 280 MM standard cubic feet of gas per day and has storage of 1,600,000 barrels of total fluids. Scheduled for delivery during the 3rd quarter of 2014, the FPSO will be installed in the Cernambi South area.
This is the eighth vessel MODEC will provide and operate in Brazil. MODEC is currently operating the FPSO Fluminense, the FPSO Cidade do Rio de Janeiro MV14, the FSO Cidade de Macae MV15, the FPSO Cidade de Niteroi MV18, the FPSO Cidade de Santos MV20 and the FPSO Cidade de Angra dos Reis MV22. The FPSO Cidade de Sao Paulo MV23 is currently under construction and scheduled to be installed in the fourth quarter of 2012.
“We are very happy to be awarded the third vessel for the pre-salt discoveries. And we are committed to carry out the project by maximizing Brazilian local content in order to contribute to the foundation for the development of heavy industry in Brazil,” said Toshiro Miyazaki, President and CEO of MODEC, Inc.
The Schahin Group has a significant presence in the drilling services market and has been working with Petrobras Group and Consortia of which Petrobras has been participating since 1982. The Schahin Group is pleased to expand in to production services via the partnership with MODEC and Petrobras Group and Consortia in which Petrobras participates.
- Deep water Brazil: To venture where no driller has gone before (mb50.wordpress.com)
- SBM Offshore Signs Contract For FPSO Cidade de Paraty (gcaptain.com)
- Westshore Shipbrokers: Ultra-Deepwater, What is Next for the Shipowner? (Brazil) (mb50.wordpress.com)