Chile, Argentina leaders pledge cooperation; express concern over Venezuela

Argentina's president Mauricio Macri speaks with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet during a meeting at the government house during his official visit in Santiago

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – The leaders of neighboring Chile and Argentina pledged on Tuesday to further integrate the countries’ economies and expressed mutual concern about the unrest in Venezuela.

In a televised press conference, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri and Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet said they were working on an accord to boost cooperation in mining, environmental regulation and infrastructure, among other areas.

“We hope to have an important, new, next-generation economic agreement that facilitates this (integration) process, and makes it more dynamic,” Macri said, while giving few details. The pact should be completed by October, they said.

The Argentine leader said that the two countries were continuing to integrate their energy networks. In 2016 and 2017, Chilean state-run oil company ENAP [ENAP.UL] agreed to send gas to Argentina in significant quantities for the first time.

Bachelet added that the two leaders had discussed the key Agua Negra tunnel, a landmark $1.5 billion project that will connect mining regions in the two countries by digging under the Andes Mountains.

The two leaders also expressed their joint concern about Venezuela, where residents are suffering from shortages of basic goods, such as food.

Opponents of Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro contend the leader has undermined democracy by canceling a key referendum and interfering with the functions of Congress, among other issues.

Maduro warned on Tuesday that he and supporters would take up arms if his socialist government was violently overthrown by opponents who have been on the streets protesting for three months.

“We share the pain of the Venezuelan people,” Macri said, adding: “we will continue working together to find a solution that means a return to having elections, that means there are no more political prisoners, and that respects the separation of powers.”

(Reporting by Gram Slattery, editing by G Crosse)