Latin America?s leftist duo defy Europe

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The clash over Latin America?s left turn intensified on Friday as Tony Blair, UK prime minister, called for the region?s energy-rich states to act responsibly, while Brazil called for compensation from Bolivia in the wake of the Andean country?s nationalisation of its natural gas sector.

The confrontation came barely 48 hours before a ?private? visit to London by Hugo Ch?vez, Venezuela?s leftwing president, who has built an intimate alliance with Cuba and Bolivia.

?What countries do in their energy policy when they are energy producers like Bolivia and Venezuela matters enormously to all of us,? Mr Blair said at a summit in Vienna of European, Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

?Everyone is concerned?. My only plea is that people exercise the power they have got in this regard responsibly for the whole of the international community.?

?It would be a mistake to believe that the decisions by those leaders don?t reflect opinions held by their people,? added Lord Triesman, the British foreign office minister responsible for Latin America. ?But it?s also a mistake for them to believe that the decisions that they take won?t influence investors.?

At the same event, Mr Ch?vez said that Venezuela had taken control of four heavy oil ventures in the Orinoco belt, with a total foreign investment of about $17bn ? even though the country?s Congress has yet to agree such a step.

The previous day, Evo Morales, Bolivia?s new president, said that his country would not compensate foreign investors for the loss of natural gas concessions, although they could be indemnified for the loss of equipment. Companies affected include Britain?s BP and BG Group, Petrobras of Brazil and Repsol of Spain.

Mr Morales also said Bolivia that would consider joining Opec after completing the nationalisation of the gas sector.

?Europe should understand that there?s a change in Latin America.. the people who have been taken advantage of are rising up, but through democracy, not with violence,? Mr Ch?vez told the Financial Times ahead of his visit to London, where he will be welcomed by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, and Labour MPs.

?I am going to defend Evo [Morales] because now they are attacking him from all sides. [By nationalising gas] he has met a promise he made when he was a candidate?

But Celso Amorim, Brazil?s foreign minister, demanded that Bolivia provide compensation to Petrobras ? which has invested more than $1.5bn in the country since 1996. ?There are legal instruments which support the investments of Petrobras in Bolivia and those will be used if we don?t arrive at a satisfactory solution,? he said.

Mr Amorim also highlighted a joint push with the UK to canvass opinion for a meeting of heads of state and governments to break the deadlock over the Doha round of world trade talks. Such a meeting could take place at the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July.

On Friday at a separate meeting of European and Latin American business leaders Enrique Garcia, head of the Andean Development Corporation, tried to reassure foreign investors in Bolivia.

?I am telling all my Spanish friends: be patient,? he said.

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