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Lula da Silva and Hugo Chavez to move forward with two joint ventures

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez on Thursday signed a series of accords to speed the projects that had been agreed upon earlier but had gotten bogged down in bureaucracy.

"We intend to sign the contacts in December in Caracas," Silva said. "With these partnerships we are showing that South America can resolve its energy problems."

Outlining the joint ventures between state oil companies, Chavez said one company would operate Carabobo I, an extra-heavy oil field in Venezuela's Orinoco Basin. Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA, will provide 60 percent of the capital for the Carabobo project, with the remainder coming from Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.

Another company would operate an oil refinery in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco with 60 percent of the capital coming from Petrobras and 40 percent from PdVSA.

In December 2005, Silva and Chavez laid the refinery's cornerstone but cooperation between the two companies stalled and Petrobras recently began talking about building it without Venezuelan help.

Chavez called the projects "the nerve of (South American) integration," adding that they would "shield (Silva) from an energy crisis."

Earlier in the day, Chavez said Venezuela wanted to share its immense reserves of crude oil and natural gas with Brazil and other countries in the region because "the world was entering an energy crisis" and that Brazil only had enough natural gas reserves to last 10 more years.

Silva also said they would soon select a company to develop a project for a natural gas pipeline from Venezuela to Brazil's northeast.

Silva also said he would work to assure that Brazil's congress would ratify Venezuela as a full member of the Southern Cone Common Market, or Mercosur.

The two leaders are opponents of U.S.-backed efforts for a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would stretch from Canada to Chile. But Venezuela's bid to join Mercosur is encountering resistance from lawmakers in Brazil who must ratify the expansion.

So far, Argentina and Uruguay have ratified Venezuela's entry in the group while Brazil and Paraguay have not.

Neither of the leaders made any mention of the idea floated Wednesday by Silva's spokesmen that Brazil may offer its territory as neutral ground to help Chavez mediate a prisoner exchange between the Colombian government and that country's leftist rebels.

Chavez is attempting to negotiate an exchange of imprisoned Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas for rebel-held hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa arrived in Manaus late Thursday, but did not talk to the press.

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