Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez appealed to Latin American unity during a ceremony in El Aramo, Ecuador to inaugurate construction of a big petrochemical complex.
The two heads of state signed an agreement Tuesday creating a 51 percent-49 percent joint venture between the respective state-owned oil companies, Petroecuador and Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.
Correa and Chavez also inaugurated an environmental monitoring center whose purpose is to minimize the refinery's impact on the dry and humid forest of Pacoche, where the town of El Aromo is located.
The petrochemical complex, which is due to come onstream in 2013, will require an investment of $6.6 billion and will be administered by the Refineria del Pacifico firm, Correa said.
The refinery in the Pacific coast state of Manabi will be able to convert 300,000 barrels of crude per day of Ecuadorian heavy crude into gasoline, diesel, oils, fertilizers, urea, agrichemicals and fibers.
Chavez said the complex will serve as a model of integration for Latin America and will allow Ecuador - which produces nearly 600,000 bpd of crude - to export crude derivatives and stop importing these expensive products, which currently cost Quito some $3 billion per year.
"We can't betray the hope" of the Latin American people, Chavez said, noting that the refinery project is part of a strategy by oil-rich Venezuela to promote regional energy integration.
In that regard, he mentioned the construction of a refinery in Nicaragua with the same capacity as the one in Ecuador, other projects in Argentina and Brazil, as well as Petrocaribe, an initiative through which Caracas sells oil on generous terms to developing nations in the Caribbean and Central America.
For his part, Correa thanked Venezuela for its support in developing Ecuador's oil sector and said that the Chavez government - despite having less need for energy integration than any other country due to the vast potential of its reserves - is the administration that "most supports" Latin American unity.
Correa said the El Aromo project may help Ecuador achieve annual savings of some $1.5 billion and that those additional funds could be invested in education, health, basic infrastructure and other areas.
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