Chávez returns to airwaves, spurning Exxon, World Bank

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks with journalists upon his arrival at a hotel in Montevideo, Uruguay on Dec 20.

Returning to the airwaves after cancer treatment, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said today his country would not pay billions in damages that a World Bank arbitration panel had awarded to Exxon Mobil, Reuters reported.

Chavez had not appeared on his weekly Sunday radio and television program Alo Presidente for seven months while he underwent treatment for cancer in Cuba and at home, according to the Associated Press. Often singing and recounting stories and monologuing for up to five hours at a time, Chávez has aired nearly 380 editions of the program, chiding and attacking his adversaries, particularly the United States.

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According to Reuters, Exxon had in 2007 brought Venezuelan authorities before the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID, seeking up to $12 billion in damages after Chávez nationalized the Cerro Negro oil project. The company said it had expected over 35 years to produce 1.5 billion barrels of extra-heavy crude from the offshore joint operation in the Orinoco Belt.

"I tell you we will not recognize any decision," Chávez was quoted as saying during the televised speech. Reuters said he had repeatedly accused Exxon Mobil of swindling the OPEC member out of its natural resources.

New discoveries of oil are becoming increasingly rare and prices have have steadily risen since October, with light sweet crude for February delivery closing up $0.12 in New York on Friday at $101.93 per barrel, about 13 percent higher than its price at this time last year. The price was down $0.25 today in after-hours electronic trading, according to CNN.