MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for greater South American integration and touted plans for a vast natural gas pipeline before stopping in Uruguay on Friday as part of a re-election victory tour of the region.
Chavez arrived at a military base near the capital of Montevideo and was to have lunch with Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez before heading to Bolivia for a South American summit.
Chavez, fresh from his landslide re-election to another six-year term Sunday, traveled from neighboring Argentina after visiting Brazil. During his tour, he has called for regional integration and promoted plans for a US$20 billion natural gas pipeline stretching 5,600 miles from Venezuela's huge gas reserves to Brazil, Argentina and other countries.
The project has interested many in an energy hungry region, but critics have expressed doubts it can really ever be carried out. No date has been set to begin the project.
Chavez pushed the plan while in Argentina's capital, saying, "We're here to work quickly to reactivate the project to bring gas from Venezuela here to Buenos Aires and to guarantee the energy needed for the future development of Argentina and all South America."
And in Brazil's capital of Brasilia, he called it "the most important project ever contemplated for the continent."
The Venezuelan leader also seeks to advance Latin American integration as a counterweight to U.S. influence. He has been a fierce opponent of the U.S.-promoted Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would extend from Alaska to Patagonia.
During his tour, Chavez has visited three of a growing group of leftist South American presidents: Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Argentina's Nestor Kirchner and now Vazquez. Chavez will also meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is hosting the regional summit.