Venezuelan President Maduro (L) meets with Haitian President Michel Martelly
By Joseph Guyler C. Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- Haiti's government is seeking to boost the agriculture sector through an agreement that would allow the impoverished Caribbean country to invest funds owed to Venezuela for fuel imports in massive food production projects and pay part of the fuel bills with food exports, officials say.
In 2005, then Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, initiated the PetroCaribe agreement that allowed Latin-American and Caribbean member-countries to pay for 60 percent of the oil immediately, while the remaining 40 percent is financed at a one percent interest rate over 25 years.
Haitian President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe have engaged in talks with the new Venezuelan leadership to allow Haiti to become part of a food-for-oil program, already negotiated by some other PetroCaribe members, such as Guyana.
"We've been talking with Venezuelan authorities to seek an agreement that will allow Haiti to pay fuel bills with food products made in Haiti," Lamothe told HCNN on Monday.
"So, the money we would have to pay Venezuela would instead be invested in the agriculture sector to significantly increase production, create jobs and export great bio food products to our creditor," Lamothe explained.
Earlier this year, Venezuela and Guyana renewed a US$130 million rice-for-oil agreement and Guyanese farmers exported last year more than 400,000 metric tons of rice to Venezuela at US$640 per ton.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who recently succeeded Chavez, visited Haiti on Tuesday to witness social and infrastructure works achieved by the Haitian government with PetroCaribe funds and to monitor progress made.
Following the death of Chavez, many Caribbean leaders had feared their countries could lose PetroCaribe benefits, but Maduro has promptly renewed his administration's resolve to honour commitments made by his predecessor.
Maduro was visiting Haiti before flying to Nicaragua, where he and leaders of PetroCaribe member-countries will discuss ways and means to establish a PetroCaribe Economic Zone to foster economic development and integration in the region. The summit will take place on June 29 in Managua.
In 2012, countries that are part of PetroCaribe received more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day, according to figures released by Venezuelan officials.