GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- The revolutionary PetroCaribe initiative that allowed signatory nations to benefit from subsidised Venezuelan fuel and the role its architect Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela played as a patron in Latin American and Caribbean integration, were among the highlights of an afternoon of reflection in Guyana, six days after his death.
Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh recalled being part of a delegation from Guyana that visited Venezuela as the Caracas Energy Accord, the forerunner to PetroCaribe was being conceptualised under the auspices of Chavez.
He said he was impressed with the way the Venezuelan leader went about undertaking the discussions, paying keen attention to the peculiar challenges of each small country representative at the discussions and advancing a suitable response for each.
The discussions, according to Singh, were being held at a time when oil prices had skyrocketed to more than US$100 up from US$40, posing a challenge for many countries to meet fuel import costs and simultaneously craft budgets.
“President Chavez took the time to sit down and devise with these small countries… an innovative arrangement that would subsequently come to serve all of our countries so well,” Singh said.
In June 2005, Guyana signed onto a PetroCaribe Agreement along with Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Suriname, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, that facilitates access to fuel from Venezuela on a credit basis that extends over a period of at least 25 years on an interest-free basis.
During a state visit by former President Bharrat Jagdeo in 2010, Chavez had offered to shore-up the quantity of oil shipped to Guyana under the agreement from 5,000 barrels a day to 10,000.
“The finance portions of our petroleum purchases were intended to create for ourselves a development fund which would be greater than all the funding that would have been flowing to Guyana and the Caribbean from multilateral institutions like the IDB,” Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who was also a speaker at the event explained.
In meetings with Chavez, Hinds recalled the Venezuelan leader sharing his vision to utilise wealth for the benefit of the people and less fortunate allies in the same way that others supply oil to the affluent.
A reciprocal component of the PetroCaribe initiative that facilitated exports from the PetroCaribe beneficiaries into the Venezuelan markets is another main feature. In Guyana’s case a rice exportation agreement was signed in 2011 that saw 30,000 tonnes of white rice at the cost of US$800 per metric tonne and 50,000 tonnes of paddy at the cost of US$480 per metric tonne going to Venezuela.
Rice farmers and millers across Guyana were able to secure a preferential market and the phenomenal growth that the country’s rice sector has made today is part attributable to the Venezuelan market under PetroCaribe, Singh said.
“Rice farmers and millers throughout the length and breadth of our country acknowledge the phenomenal impact that this initiative had on their own businesses. Oftentimes global and regional initiatives don’t touch people’s lives in a direct way,” Singh said.
The impact of the initiative has also been evident in the country’s energy sector, particularly the construction of the Kingston Power plant with Wartsila engines and the new 15 megawatt Vreed-en-Hoop generators.
Chavez died on March 5 after a long battle with cancer, attracting a large gathering of heads of state and government at his funeral in Caracas on Friday.
Excerpts of his ideals were read by Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee, including his perceptions of his political colleague, former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Included in Rohee’s remarks were Chavez’s efforts at constitutional reform, ten strategic objectives to address social, economic and political ills and becoming the first Latin American leader to attract a mass of followers on Twitter.