By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
PORT AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Some three months after Haitian prime minister, Jack Guy-Lafontante, and his entire Cabinet resigned following a botched attempt to remove a fuel price subsidy under the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which led to massive civil unrest and riots in Haiti, another round of protests occurred across the country within the last few days calling for full transparency and accountability in relation to the funds from the PetroCaribe oil sharing agreement with Venezuela.
Two are reported dead and over 25 people injured as protesters in several parts of Haiti called for the entire government to resign. A small crowd also gathered in the Little Haiti district of Miami-Dade, calling for the removal of the Haitian government.
Analysts estimate that close to US$4 billion has been left unaccounted for in the PetroCaribe fund that was supposed to accrue to the benefit of the Haitian people.
According to the Miami Herald, although protesters often referenced US$3.5 billion in misused PetroCaribe funds, the actual amount owed to Venezuela is about US$1.8 billion. All of it was accumulated in the past eight years after Venezuela, following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, forgave about US$300 million Haiti owed up to that point from when the Haitian government initially signed on to the agreement in 2007.
Haitian opposition groups claim that the current administration has been stalling and obstructing investigation officers from probing more deeply into the alleged embezzlement of the PetroCaribe funds, and want the entire government to step down if it cannot do what is needed to be done for justice and accountability on this issue.
Haitian president, Jovenel Moise, at the start of the protests on October 17 was seen celebrating the 212th anniversary of the assassination of independence hero General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, in Port-au-Prince along with his wife and new prime minister, Jean Henry Ceant
Moise later addressed the protestors directly.
“No one will escape justice,” he said, as he talked about the investigations into the PetroCaribe embezzlement allegations. He also mentioned that he has only been in government for 20 months and these things take time in the democratic process.
There were reportedly two separate senate investigations into a number of current and former government officials over the alleged embezzlement and misuse of the PetroCaribe money, but no one has been charged, fuelling more anger and resentment from protestors that were already heightened after the failed fuel price subsidy removal of July 2018.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) website describes the PetroCaribe deal as a series of bilateral agreements between Venezuela and the Caribbean countries that are signatories and not as a regional agreement, and to this extent CARICOM played no role in the process nor represents the region in this.
Of CARICOM members, only Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados did not join in the energy cooperation agreement initiated by the government of Venezuela to provide a preferential payment arrangement for petroleum and petroleum products to some Caribbean and Latin American countries.
The PetroCaribe organization was established on June 29, 2005, when the agreement was signed by 14 Caribbean countries during the first energy summit of Caribbean heads of government held in the city of Puerto La Cruz, in eastern Venezuela.
The payment system allows for participating nations to buy oil on market value with only a portion paid for upfront and the remainder to be paid through a 25 year financing agreement at 1 percent interest. A portion of the value of imports of crude oil from Venezuela is paid according to a sliding scale:
• The proposed financing scale is said to be between 5 percent and 50 percent of the oil bill, using current hydrocarbon prices as a reference.
• Interest rate to 1 percent if oil price tops US$40 per barrel;
• Short-term payment of 60 percent of the bill is extended from 30 days to 90 days; and
• A grace period of one to two years, with a payment period from 17- 25 years.
Under the arrangement, the participating countries purchase up to 185,000 barrels (29,400 m3) of oil per day on these terms. PetroCaribe has been hailed as the most extensive and all-encompassing scheme ever designed to meet the energy price woes of CARICOM countries.
PetroCaribe reportedly also provides cooperation support for efficient use of energy, technological cooperation, training, the development of energy infrastructure, and the promotion and use of alternative energy sources, such as wind, and solar energy, among others.