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Latin America market round-up: Hugo Chávez watch

“The most important project ever contemplated for the continent”

Fresh from his presidential election victory, Hugo Chávez has announced plans for a $20 billion, 5,600 mile natural gas pipeline to run from Venezuela’s own gas reserves to countries throughout South America. Chávez is calling the scheme “the most important project ever contemplated for the continent” but critics wonder if the ex-soldier’s vision will ever become a reality. Chávez is also rolling up his sleeves for a showdown with several big oil companies for control of the Orinoco belt, allegedly the world’s largest petroleum reserve. Chávez wants the companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, to sell part of their $20 billion stake in four Orinoco projects. The response of the oil companies is not certain. Some believe they will pull out of the region entirely, so denying Venezuela the capital and expertise to operate the projects, while others feel that the huge investments made by the companies, as well as the potential returns, will dissuade them from such actions.

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