A giant banner with pictures of Latin-America's liberator, Simon Bolivar (left) and one of Haiti's founding fathers and former leader, Alexandre Petion (right)
By Rachel Belt
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- The Haitian government said on Friday that funds, collected as a result of the Venezuelan-sponsored PetroCaribe agreement have helped Haiti fight extreme poverty, build roads, social housing, airports and power plants, in the Caribbean country that is hosting the 11th ministerial meeting of the organization.
The Haitian prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, said PetroCaribe funds have helped Haiti build or repair more than 300 km of road, three power plants and 1,500 homes for the needy, while three airports and several government buildings are now under construction with resources generated by the oil deal.
"We are very grateful to the Venezuelan people and government for their solidarity in helping Haiti fight extreme poverty and social exclusion," Lamothe told HCNN on Friday.
The PetroCaribe agreement allows member states to pay upfront for approximately 60% of the oil bill while the remaining 40% is financed at a two percent interest rate over 25 years.
Lamothe said PetroCaribe funds have enabled the government to set up an unprecedented National Social Assistance Program, known in Creole as 'EDE PEP' (Help the People), which has benefited more than 1 million Haitians who have received cash transfers, food kits, hot meals, economic support and other social advantages.
More than 80,000 people have also benefited from a government literacy program which aims to help several dozen thousand more to learn how to write and read, while nearly 4,000 solar-powered streetlights have been installed, many in remote neighborhoods, off the electrical grid, where people had never seen light before.
"Our goal is to take as many people as possible out of poverty and offer them access to a more dignified condition of living," Lamothe told HCNN.
"And again, we thank the Venezuelan government for helping us move forward in that direction," Lamothe explained.
As of July 31, 2013, Haiti has imported about 26 million barrels of oil from Venezuela for a total of approximately US$2.758 billion.
About US$1.216 billion has been paid to Petroleo SA by the Haitian government, according to Haitian officials.
Haiti's accumulated long-term debt as of last month, payable over 25 years, amounts to about US$1.522 billion.
However, following the devastating 2010 earthquake that hit the country, the Venezuela government cancelled US$395 million of Haiti’s debt to Venezuela, which has been reduced to about US$1.127 billion
Ministers and other dignitaries of 18 PetroCaribe country members and three observer states launched on Friday discussions on the steps forward in the implementation of the PetroCaribe Economic Zone, during a summit that ended on Saturday in the Haitian capital.