RECIFE, Brazil (AFP) — The presidents of Venezuela and Brazil, Hugo Chavez and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, flew to this northern Brazilian city Wednesday to discuss energy cooperation and the creation of a regional defense council.
Chavez was also to raise his country's bid to join Mercosur, the South American free trade bloc grouping Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, officials said.
The two leaders were to begin their meeting with a tour of a four-billion-dollar refinery being built on the outskirts of Recife that, once completed, will produce 200,000 barrels per day.
The facility is jointly owned by the state-run oil companies Petrobras of Brazil and Venezuela's PDVSA, though the latter has yet to formally sign the contract.
A Brazilian presidential spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach, said there was an expectation that the Venezuelan delegation would ink the deal after the talks between Lula and Chavez.
Venezuela's ambassador to Brazil, Julio Garcia Montoya, said the accord would be sealed, but did not give a date for the signing.
The two presidents were to hold a working meeting later Wednesday followed by a dinner, during which they were to study Venezuela's Mercosur bid.
The congresses of Brazil and Paraguay have yet to give their approval to Venezuela's entry into the bloc.
An idea floated by Brazil for the creation of a South American defense council designed to mediate regional conflicts before they reach crisis point was also on the agenda.
That initiative gathered impetus early this month when Venezuela and Ecuador sent troops to their borders with Colombia in response to that country's March 1 raid inside Ecuador to kill a rebel leader.
Although the military confrontation subsided a week later with wary handshakes between the three leaders at a summit in the Dominican Republic, tensions have lingered, especially with the recent revelation that an Ecuadorian man was killed in the Colombian raid.
The defense council has the backing of both the United States, which has said it trusts Brazil as a regional leader, and Venezuela, which has maintained a strong anti-US stance under Chavez.
Garcia Montoya said the body "fitted perfectly" with Chavez's ambitions to one day see a Union of South American Nations created with regional institutions.
"Chavez himself has put forward the idea of an organization that would bring together defense policies in the region," he said.
The meetings Wednesday will include separate ones between the two countries' defense, energy, education, science and industry ministers. Accords in the fields of agriculture, education and digital television were expected to be signed.
Chavez and Lula arranged last September to see each other every three months to air bilateral issues. That decision came after Chavez vented his ire as Brazil's congress for holding up Venezuela's Mercosur membership.
Garcia Montoya told AFP "this is the best period of relations between Brazil and Venezuela for quite some time."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »