By Jean H Charles
I attended the 11th meeting of the foreign ministers of the PetroCaribe group in Petionville, Haiti, recently. I was pleased to be invited to a family reunion. The host, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, adorning his red gwyabel (shirt) a la maniere of the Chavinists, was proud to wear the symbolic wedding gown that is referred to in the Bible by those who left their light on, waiting for the groom to arrive in the middle of the night.
The PetroCaribe movement, a legacy of Simon Bolivar incubated by Alexander Petion, is definitely taking roots in the region with the vision and the dream of Hugo Chavez. At the meeting, I was moved by the fervor of the Venezuelans to enrich the targeted nations with the passion of Bolivar, Petion and Chavez to create one family out of the Caribbean and of the Latin America. I have been teaching my children lately of the concept of patrimony. My slogan can be encapsulated in the following term: “My patrimony, I love it, I preserve it and I enlarge it! “This slogan should be reformulated and adopted by the PetroCaribe group: “My region, I love it, I preserve it and I will enrich it”.
The people of the Caribbean and of the Latin America region, descendants of the Inca, Mayan, Tainos and Africans uprooted from Africa, have a strong sense of the past. This connection with the past to maintain and enrich the legacy of the ancestors has been decimated and uprooted by centuries-old slave exploitation and mental degradation imposed upon them by the colonists and their descendants.
When Haiti, this proud daughter of Africa, chose to break the chain of slavery for her and for the rest of the world, one of its founding fathers, Alexander Petion, embraced the dream of Simon Bolivar to transport to Latin America this divine right that we are all created equal by one God. One man cannot subject his brethren to life duty of slave labor.
The strong arm of the United States
Through time, Latin America and the Caribbean have long been subjected to the influence of subversion and heavy muscle from the big brother the United States that has considered the region its backyard, which is subject to its financial and political interests. The Monroe doctrine in fact said so: America for the Americans. In spite of the profession of altruism and good brother friendship from the American side, the region was engulfed in internal strife, often ignited by competing business interests that fueled struggle between people of the same nation, compromising peace, growth and security.
The examples abound in Salvador, Columbia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico. Pax Americana did not bring prosperity to the region. Latin America and the Caribbean (along with Africa) remain one of the poorest global surfaces of the world where displaced people from their midst towards the West continue to pauperize each and every nation of the catchment areas.
Enter Hugo Chavez, who has been a toe on the American heel, but fiercely loyal to his nation and to the region. Enrobing himself with the mantra of Simon Bolivar and professing an eternal gratitude to Alexander Petion and to Haiti, he set himself and his people to revive the Bolivar/Petion Covenant and create not the Grand Columbia but the grand family of PetroCaribe, where nations would help each other to gravitate into wealth, peace and prosperity.
I have my own beef with the PetroCaribe concept, where money allocated to some nations can and has been diverted through corruption into makeshift projects that are not sustainable. The American dream of bringing prosperity to Latin America did not fare better. The big projects of yesterday, 50 years later can be regarded as utter failure. The Alianza para el progresso or Alliance for Progress under the John F Kennedy Administration had for its ambition in 1961 to “build a hemispheric alliance where all men can hope for a sustainable standard of living and dignity and in freedom.”
In fact, $22.3 billion was spent in the region by the United States, 50 years later the return was more to the profit of the United States than to the profit of the region. The policy has not been different whether under the Presidents Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan.
The OAS, the Organization of American States, established in 1890, redesigned in 1948 to promote economic, social and cultural development in Latin America and the Caribbean has been “a ship going down” to use the language of one of its officials that shall be nameless. Quasi bankrupt it has found its relevance only in electoral observation mission, quite often with dubious results that produce more political conflicts in the observed countries.
Last but not least, the big scheme conceived by President Bill Clinton, NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement to lift the region out of poverty, a free market movement from one end to the other of the hemisphere has profited only Canada and the United States. The big loser has been Mexico that saw its peso devaluated one day after the Summit of Miami, causing a horde of its citizens humiliating themselves through risks and perils to cross the border to earn a decent living in the United States.
President Barack Obama’s foreign policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean is still in its infancy, in spite of the fact that he is in his second term in office. Initiatives have been taken to visit Mexico, Trinidad, Costa Rica and Chile. A major reform in immigration (albeit blocked by the Republican aisle) has been undertaken to legalize the fate of millions of Latin American immigrants that constitute the bulk of the illegal immigration in the United States. The spirit of John F Kennedy has been called upon to revive the motto of the Alliance for Progress. No traction has been put in place yet to arrive to a fruitful outcome!
The PetroCaribe group can learn from all these mistakes to surge as a thorough economic force for the region.
What is the PetroCaribe concept?
The government of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela signed in October 2000 an agreement with 10 countries that became 18 in July 2005 to offer low interest delivery of petroleum products from the huge reserves of that country. Venezuela would receive outright 60% of payment on delivery and 40% would be paid in 25 years with a low interest of 1% in kind, services and money. In addition, the leaders of the group of 18 signed in Nicaragua in May 2013, an agreement to create a PetroCaribe economic zone that will promote trade, investment, tourism and development.
It was in this sense that the group held its first meeting of the economic zone in Haiti this past September 6 to 7, 2013, at the Oasis Hotel, symbolically in the town of Petionville, Haiti. The goal of the zone is to coordinate and articulate the energy policies so as to enhance transportation, promote effective citizenry participation, eliminate social inequalities and foster high standard of living.
While there was heavy discussion of the topics during the day, the evening was dedicated to show case the culture and the joie de vivre proper to Haiti. The delegates danced the night out to the cadence of Compa, Socca and Rara with several artistic and cultural presentations in between.
Three committees discussed several proposals brought out by the member group, on (a) transportation and communication; (b) production chain and commercial trades; (c) societal and cultural themes.
Haiti has signed a resolution for direct flight between Caracas and Port au Prince, reaping the first benefit of the group meeting. The economic zone will continue its work in progress showering each country with benefits depending on its needs and the articulation of these needs.
I urge the president of Haiti, Michel Joseph Martelly and his prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, to donate the land in Petionville for the construction of a building where the regional implantation of the economic zone of PetroCaribe in regard to the Caribbean will take place. It is fitting to the legacy of the founding fathers that one of the legs of PetroCaribe be located in Petionville, where the ghost and the spirit of Alexander Petion will continue to inspire solidarity, friendship and collaboration between the member countries.
I also urge President Barack Obama, in the spirit of the Alienza para el progesso of President John F Kennedy, to engage with the PetroCaribe group, especially concerning the economic zone, now that the diatribes of Hugo Chavez against America are moments of the past. The goals of America for Latin America and for the Caribbean are essentially the same with PetroCaribe: eliminate extreme poverty in the region, foster a high standard of living, promote trade and cooperation between nations. Good days for the region are ahead when the spirit of Simon Bolivar and Alexander Petion will be fully implemented!