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“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.

Problems with Orinoco

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.

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