BUENOS AIRES -- China has poured billions of dollars into Venezuela's oil sector to expand its claim over the country's massive oil reserves. But Beijing is getting relatively little for its investments, and Chinese officials are increasingly frustrated with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to energy analysts and former managers of the state oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela, or PDVSA as it's known by its Spanish acronym.
Sucks to do business with incompetent communists, eh Mr. Ho?
Mr. Chavez, who is battling a life-threatening recurrence of cancer, said his goal is to send 1 million barrels of oil a day to China, which has given Venezuela more than $30 billion in loans and promised billions of dollars more in energy investments by 2016.
PDVSA claims to send 410,000 barrels a day to Chinese markets, the bulk of which is used to pay back the loans.
Already this year, PDVSA has announced that Citic Group Corp., China's largest state-owned investment company, will acquire a 10 percent stake in the Petropiar heavy-crude project held with PDVSA and U.S.-based Chevron Corp. It also said that the China Development Bank will spend $4 billion to help boost production in a joint venture with China National Petroleum Corp., or CNPC.
The Chinese bank and the Venezuelan government also have agreed to renew a $6 billion bilateral investment fund, of which $2 billion will help boost PDVSA production.
But Tom O'Donnell, an oil analyst who teaches at the New School University and writes an oil-industry blog, the Global Barrel, said the payoffs of China's loans amount to a "consolation prize."
He said China's goal is not to get oil for loans, but to have its own national oil companies contract for major oil-production projects in Venezuela's Orinoco Tar Sands, the largest single known petroleum reserve in the world, with 513 billion barrels of heavy crude oil.
"The Chinese have not gotten the kind of preferential access they want [to the tar sands], and my sources tell me they are extremely unhappy," said Mr. O'Donnell.
In 2010, CNPC signed a deal to help Venezuela develop a major Orinoco oil field known as Junin 4, which includes the construction of a facility to convert heavy oil to a lighter crude that could be shipped to a refinery in Guangdong, China.
"Although the contract was signed in December 2010, not one barrel of oil has yet been produced, much less upgraded," said Gustavo Coronel, a former PDVSA board member.
But don't worry, Hugo's spent the money...
"So far, nothing much seems to be happening, except for the arrival of a large group of Chinese staff to the CNPC's Caracas office," he added, referring to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
"Apart from money, there seems to be little that China can offer Venezuela in the oil industry," he said, adding that a "culture gap will make working with China very difficult for Venezuelan oil people, who were mostly trained in the U.S."
Plus China doesn't have the technical know-how, so all they have are hands and cash.
Erica Downs, a former energy analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency now with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the Junin-4 project could be key to China's future in Venezuela.
"If all that happens, China will be in a position to take substantial volumes of Venezuelan oil," she said. "The problem is that the project hasn't gotten off the ground."
Ms. Downs said Venezuela is far from living up to Mr. Chavez's export goals for Beijing and that PDVSA's claims of sending 410,000 barrels a day do not match Chinese customs data, which show 322,000 barrels per day of crude and fuel oil imported from Venezuela last year.
"Although Venezuela's oil exports to China have grown along with the volume of oil-backed loans extended by China Development Bank to Caracas, the delivered volumes still fall short of Chavez's goal of eventually shipping 1 million barrels per day to China," she said.
Critics of the loans say Mr. Chavez is using the so-called "China fund" as his personal piggy bank.
The Chinese also seem to be increasingly wary. Internal PDVSA documents released by a Venezuelan congressman show that the Chinese balked at a $110 billion loan request by Mr. Chavez in 2010, after PDVSA officials failed to account fully for where the money would go.
The Chinese are now pressing PDVSA to let them list some of their investments in the Orinoco region on the Hong Kong exchange, a move analysts say would increase transparency and accountability in PDVSA's spending.
"Development of the Orinoco oil belt is only slowly taking place because most of the companies -- excluding Chevron, Repsol and China National Offshore Oil Corp. -- either do not have the cash or the technology," said Oliver L. Campbell, a former finance coordinator at PDVSA.
Unlike light and sweet crude from Saudi Arabia, oil from Orinoco is tarlike. It is laced with metals and sits beneath deep jungles. Getting to the oil field means building roads, electrical-power grids and other major infrastructure. Once the oil is extracted from the ground, it is technically difficult to process.
"One of the major problems is that there are very few refineries outside the Gulf of Mexico that can handle Venezuelan crude," said Jorge Pinon, a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America.
Years ago, U.S. companies such as Shell and Exxon invested heavily in U.S. Gulf Coast refineries capable of processing heavy crude after they saw that the world's supplies of sweet crude were diminishing, Mr. Pinon said.
"The Chinese don't have that kind of capacity," he said.
But they are looking to get it by investing in oil infrastructure off Venezuela's Caribbean coast. CNPC, for example, has extended a line of credit to Cuba to upgrade a Soviet-built facility jointly owned by Venezuela and Cuba.
The company PetroChina also has taken over Saudi Aramco's lease on a massive oil-storage facility at the strategically located Statia terminal on the Dutch Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. PetroChina also has tried to buy an oil refinery on the island of Aruba owned by Texas-based Valero Energy Corp., according to news reports.
Luis Giusti, a former president of PDVSA, said the Chinese market becomes even more relevant for Venezuela in the face of a projected resurgence of domestic production in the United States, which currently buys about 45 percent of all Venezuelan crude exports.
"The U.S. Energy Information Agency has estimated that the U.S. could reach a production of 20 million barrels per day by 2035, coming from shale oil in North Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Montana and others," he said in an email. "This would force exports from South America to look for other markets."
Oh, this is a great one. Investment goes in but nothing comes out. It's like the Chinese know what it's like to invest in China.
The real reason China does this is because it has no better alternatives. The rest of the world has everything locked up, and Venezuela is one of the few places with a friendly dictator willing to do business.
The Chinese get screwed, and Venezuela keeps the money and produces nothing? Boy howdy, that isn't likely to last. Do you seriously think the skinflint Mandarins are going to just let this pass. Man, look for bank trnasfers by hackers in Guangzhou PLA unit to start bringing the money back out of the private bank accounts all across Venezuela, plus, nasty accidents and not so subtle injuries. The history of lending by the Chinese is not full of Wesern style shoulder shrugs. Cultures don't change that much, and the Chinese are still just klike they were, just more technologically capable and with a very thin coat of civilized behavior painted on for show. Think I'm wrong, see how the west fares in Chinese courts about anything.
[Dawn] Three Pak police in the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti have been found guilty of sexual abuse and ordered tossed in the clink, the UN said Tuesday.
The three police were at the center of one of two new sexual abuse investigations involving UN police in the Caribbean nation announced in January.
UN front man Martin Nesirky said a court-martial had been held by the Pak military in Haiti and the three had been found guilty, ordered tossed in the clink and repatriated.
"A senior Pak official visited Haiti on March 8 and 9 to meet with Haitian authorities and informed them that three individuals were found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse through a court martial proceeding undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistain," Nesirky told a press briefing.
The three will be imprisoned and given a dishonorable discharge on their return to Pakistain, the UN mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, was told, according to the front man. Details of the prison term were not immediately known.
"The guilty parties have been repatriated and the United Nations ...an organization whose definition of human rights is interesting, to say the least... is further liaising with the Pak authorities to examine the formal details of the procedures and to ensure a followup," Nesirky added.
The three Pak police were based at a UN camp in the city of Gonaives. The UN said in January that it was also investigating allegations against UN police in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Details of that case have not been released.
[An Nahar] International credit ratings agency Moody's downgraded euro member Cyprus to junk status Tuesday on heightened concerns over its banking sector's exposure to Greece.
The agency cut its rating on Cyprus by one notch to Ba1 and assigned a negative outlook, meaning that further downgrades are possible.
Moody's is the second agency to push the island nation's credit rating to junk after Standard & Poor's in January. Fitch rates Cyprus a notch above junk.
The downgrades have effectively shut Cyprus out of the international markets, prompting it to seek a €2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) low-interest loan from Russia to meet its financing needs for this year.
Moody's said that apart from their significant Greek government bold holdings, Cypriot banks' woes are compounded by their large Greek loan portfolios. It said those stresses on the banking system combined with weak private sector confidence and adverse external conditions will constrain the island's growth potential in the next few years and add to the fiscal challenges facing the government.
"Although the government seems well positioned to achieve significant progress this year, unfavorable economic conditions present implementation risks in 2013 and beyond," Moody's said.
The agency said that although Cypriot banks are looking to bolster their capital buffers through private sector investment, there is a "very material risk" that the government will have to step in to cover a likely shortfall that could amount to 5-10 percent of the island's gross domestic product. That could, in turn, deepen the island's debt load.
Cyprus Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias called the downgrade "unfair" because ratings agencies are factoring into their assessments possible losses that Cyprus may incur as a result of its banks' Greek exposure several years down the road.
[An Nahar] President Nicolas Sarkozy ...23rd and current President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra. Sarkozy is married to singer-songwriter Carla Bruni, who has a really nice birthday suit... pulled ahead of his Socialist rival for the first time in La Belle France's election race Tuesday according to a poll conducted after the right-winger took a strident anti-EU turn.
The survey forecast Sarkozy would lead in the first round but still lose out to Francois Hollande in the second, but it was a symbolic boost for the leader who had consistently trailed his rival for the past five months.
"It's true that it's better when things are going well," Sarkozy told news hounds when asked about the poll.
"Nothing is settled, nothing is finished. I campaigned before, I will campaign after ... let each say what he will do for the next five years and the French will decide," he said.
Sarkozy's spokeswoman claimed there was "panic" among the Socialists after the Ifop poll said the president would win 28.5 percent of the vote in the first round in April, against 27 percent for Hollande.
Hollande, who has never held a ministerial post and whose ex-partner Segolene Royal lost to Sarkozy in 2007, is still on course to win the second round in May with 54.5 percent against Sarkozy's 45.5 percent, the poll said.
"It's a turning point... but a nuanced turning point," Frederic Dabi of Ifop told Agence La Belle France Presse.
Socialist former minister Jack Lang played down the survey's importance, deeming it "abnormal" that an incumbent be as low in the polls as is Sarkozy.
"Let's not get taken in or too excited by this or that poll," he said.
The survey of 1,638 people was carried out by telephone, shortly after tens of thousands of Sarkozy supporters turned up in a Gay Paree suburb on Sunday for his biggest campaign rally so far.
Sarkozy's UMP party had billed that meeting as a key part of their bid to turn the tables on Hollande.
The president, who had initially campaigned as the self-styled savior of Europe's single currency, thrilled the cheering crowd with a surprise new Eurosceptic stance.
In a tub-thumping speech, he threatened to pull La Belle France out of Europe's 26-nation passport-free travel zone unless the European Union ...the successor to the Holy Roman Empire, only without the Hapsburgs and the nifty uniforms and the dancing... does more to keep out undocumented Democrats.
And he demanded the EU adopt measures to fight cheap imports, warning that La Belle France might otherwise pass a unilateral "Buy French" law.
The left was quick to attack what they saw as a populist stunt, with Hollande's team accusing Sarkozy of behaving like a Eurosceptic British prime minister.
Hollande's campaign manager Pierre Moscovici said the new poll results were nothing for his team to worry about.
"This poll must be taken with cool heads," he said.
"Nothing is settled, we can see that the outgoing president is ready to do a lot to keep power, in particular with a lot of lies ... and with temptations that could be perilous for the building of Europe."
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU National Front, meanwhile secured the backing of enough local government officials to run in the two-round presidential election, her party said Tuesday.
All French presidential candidates must have the signed endorsement of 500 elected local mayors and officials -- of which there are around 42,000 in La Belle France -- by a March 16 deadline.
Although polls consistently put Le Pen in third place in the presidential race, there was speculation that few mayors or regional councilors wanted to take the political risk of associating themselves with her campaign.
Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen has repeatedly claimed in the past that he was struggling to garner the signatures necessary to stand for the presidency, but was able to do so at every presidential election since 1988.
Righthaven, a copyright-troll law firm that failed in its attempt to make money for newspapers by suing readers for sharing stories online, was dealt a death blow on Tuesday by a federal judge who ordered the Las Vegas company to forfeit "all of" its intellectual property and other "intangible property" to settle its debts.
"The copyright registrations to more than 275 works are in Righthaven's name, can be transferred by this court, and can then be auctioned," the judge ruled.
Stephens Media will likely have to take them off its own website -- or license them from the future owner -- if it doesn't buy the rights back itself. Yee-ouch! Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of @#$%^&*#.
The Orlando Sanford International Airport is among the top 30 highest volume airports in the world, and now that congress has said airports can opt out of using TSA screeners, and use private screeners instead, this could result in a stampede by other major airports to escape the TSA.
For its part, the TSA is seeing an increasing number of existential threats to its existence, and so is desperately trying to come up with ways to both justify itself as a huge bureaucracy, as well as silence its critics, by whatever means possible.
We've pulled out Iraq and soon out of Afghanistan. The time to start drawing down the TSA/Homeland Security troops is also at hand. If we can cut 100,000 from DoD, we certainly can cut those two agencies as well.
#3 We've pulled out Iraq and soon out of Afghanistan. The time to start drawing down the TSA/Homeland Security troops is also at hand. If we can cut 100,000 from DoD, we certainly can cut those two agencies as well.
Posted by Procopius2k
No can do! A large portion of TSA employees were recruited from urban cess pools of dedicated democratic voters. Take those rich boy Allen Edmonds off and step through the screener!
"The Islamic world is in crisis with the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Rushdie wants Pakistan, the stronghold of Islam, to fall. Determined to foil his plans are a trio of brothers who form a holy army to destroy Rushdie.
"Rushdie plans to drive the final nails into the coffin of Islam by opening a new chain of Casin*s and Discos, spreading contemptible vice and debauchery.
"Mustafa Qureshi, hen pecked to death by his demented wife, decides to call it a day with his day job at the Police station and induct his unemployed brothers to create a Mujahid (God's soldiers) trio whose sole aim is to seek out and destroy the despised Salman Rushdie before he manages to destroy all virtue and decency on the planet."
At various points in the movie, Rushdie's henchmen kill off various affiliated jihadis, and Rushdie dips his handkerchief into their blood so he can snort it. Among the assassination efforts includes several song and dance routines, and the "heroic" trio of assassins wearing Batman costumes.
Eventually, cornered in his stately mansion, Rushdie is confronted by the trio, who, when they finally have an opportunity to kill him, instead stand around praising Allan as flying UFO Korans appear in the sky and zap Rushdie with lightning bolt laser beams.
[Dawn] A woman told a judicial magistrate on Monday that she embraced Islam without any coercion and got married of her own free will.
Dr Lata Kumari, who was allegedly kidnapped within the remit of the Defence cop shoppe on Feb 2 this year, recorded her statement before Judicial Magistrate (south) Hatim Aziz Solangi under Section 164 of the criminal procedure code.
She testified that her former name was Lata Kumari but after embracing Islam she changed her name to Hafsa.
She stated that she married Nadir Baig, an engineer, of her own accord under Islamic laws.
She said that the case lodged against her husband regarding her kidnapping was baseless.
The magistrate recorded her statement in the presence of her husband, who is a suspect in the case.
Earlier in the day, when the investigation officer produced the woman in court, a lawyer appeared and, claiming to be her counsel, requested the court to defer the matter.
But in the meantime, another lawyer, who was standing for the suspect, approached the court and claimed that he was also the counsel for the woman and prayed to the court to record her statement.
The court recorded the testimony after completing legal formalities when the woman said that the second lawyer was representing her.
The court also directed Mr Baig to cooperate with the police after the investigation officer complained that the suspect neither turned up nor extended cooperation in the investigation after getting interim pre-arrest bail from a sessions court.
[Dawn] The girl who has become embroiled in a conversion controversy was on Monday sent to a state-run shelter by the Sindh High Court with the direction to its administration not to allow her parents or the man who claims to be her husband to meet her till March 26 when she will be produced before the Supreme Court.
A single bench headed by Justice Shahid Anwer Bajwah was seized with the petition of Raj Kumar for the recovery of his teenage maternal niece, Rinkle Kumari, who, according to him, was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam before being married off to Syed Naveed Shah.
At the outset of the hearing, the court had to rise for a brief interval as a large number of relatives of the couple and lawyers packed the courtroom and raised slogans when the girl was produced in court amidst tight security.
The judge observed in his order that it did not need to be emphasised that the atmosphere was extremely charged. He said scores of people almost lost control when the allegedly kidnapped girl was produced in court.
The judge put off the recording of Ms Kumari's statement till the next hearing observing that it was difficult to visualise anyone exercising his or her free will in such an atmosphere.
The petitioner, represented by Advocates Rasheed A. Razvi and Noor Naz Agha, claimed that his niece was kidnapped on Feb 24 by Syed Naveed Shah and a case (FIR No 21/2012) was lodged against the suspect at the Mirpur Mathelo cop shoppe.
He said that she was produced before the area magistrate on Feb 25 and handed over to the SHO who was also directed by the court not to allow anyone, including the parents, to meet her.
The petitioner stated that his niece was again produced on Feb 27 before the judicial magistrate, who allowed her to go with Mr Shah.
The petitioner's counsel referred to the March 8 Supreme Court order directing the Sindh police chief to take all steps for the recovery of three kidnapped Hindu women, including Ms Kumari, and produce them in court on March 26.
Advocate Razvi contended that the real question involving the two parties was whether the petitioner was kidnapped and forced into conversion and marriage or whether she did so voluntarily.
He submitted that the judicial magistrate passed the order in a very charged atmosphere and there was a serious danger to the life of Ms Kumari as Mr Shah belonged to the community of a sitting MNA, also a Pir.
The counsel stated that the girl was surrounded by armed persons even when she appeared before the media during a presser.
Advocate Razvi said that an atmosphere of intimidation was created around the kidnapped girl when she was produced before the judicial magistrate for recording her statement. He said that it would not be appropriate to pass an order on the basis of her statement given in such an atmosphere.
Advocate Junaid Farooqi, counsel for respondent Syed Naveed Shah, submitted that Ms Kumari was the lawfully wedded wife of his client and it was not a clash between two religious communities. He blamed the media for blowing up the issue out of all proportion.
Advocate Ghulam Qadir appearing for the girl stated that as an adult and sui juris -- or independent -- she was entitled to liberties under the law.
The girl told newsmen during a presser on Sunday that she embraced Islam without any coercion and married Syed Naveed Shah of her own accord. She identified herself as Syeda Faryal Bibi.
Advocate General Abdul Fateh Malik submitted that in view of the charged atmosphere surrounding the case it would be appropriate if the girl was kept in state custody.
In his order, the judge observed: "In this situation of charged atmosphere it is difficult to visualize as to how any one can exercise his or her free will. Even an advocate stated that a particular religious seminary intends to file an application under Order 1 Rule 10 CPC.
Intimidation is not necessarily always a physical act but the ambience created could also have the effect of intimidation. Given such situation, it would not be appropriate at this state to record her statement and it would in the fitness of things if she is kept isolated from both the contending parties. Consequently, the alleged abductee is ordered to be lodged at Panah Shelter Home. Inspector General of Police, Sindh, is directed to ensure that she is provided full and proper security. It shall also be ensured that no one, not even either from parents' side or from her husband's side, is allowed to meet her during this entire period and she is directed to be produced before the Honourable Supreme Court as ordered by the Honourable Supreme Court on 26-3-2012."
A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.