In a communiqué released on Dec. 24, center-right Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa said his government intended to have the country return to Petrocaribe, a program through which Venezuela provides oil to other Caribbean countries at favorable terms. Honduras joined Petrocaribe in January 2008 during the presidency of José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), but the oil shipments were halted after Zelaya was removed from office by a military coup in June 2009. Talks have been underway for restoring the deal as part of Honduras’ improved relations with Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chávez Frias; the negotiations have reportedly advanced since President Lobo went to Caracas in early December for the founding of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Ironically, many of the rightwing forces that back Lobo justified the 2009 coup by claiming that Zelaya was too close to Chávez. Honduran business leader and coup supporter Adolfo Facussé, president of the National Association of Industrialists (ANDI), is now actively pushing for the return to Petrocaribe. “I invited the gentlemen from Venezuela to an ANDI session,” Facussé told the Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna. “There they explained the scope of this program, and we approved it, so that now we think it is a necessary matter.”
Petrocaribe’s economic benefits are obvious, and even the de facto government that ran the country from the time of the coup to Lobo’s inauguration in January 2010 tried to stay in Petrocaribe. But the Lobo government seems to be pushing for still closer cooperation with Venezuela.
As of Dec. 27, Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), was planning to pay 546 million lempiras (about $28.8 million) on a loan the Honduran government will set up to buy 5,700 hectares of land in the Lower Aguán Valley in the north, the site of a series of bloody land disputes between big landowners and campesino organizations. The land is being bought mostly from the major business leader Miguel Facussé Barjum to be turned over to two campesino organizations, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), in an effort to settle their disputes with Facussé and other landowners. Alba-Petróleos also wants to build an African palm fruit processing plant that would give MUCA and MARCA access to markets for their palm oil. President Lobo is reportedly in favor of these plans, although he still hadn’t made a final decision as of Dec. 27.
One reason for the rapprochement with Venezuela seems to be Honduras’ failure to qualify for the US government Millennium Challenge aid for next year. Along with the withdrawal of Peace Corps volunteers, this has left the impression that the US is losing interest in Honduras. “As the US withdraws, Hugo Chavez moves in,” the Honduras Culture and Politics blog wrote on Dec. 28. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Dec. 24; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, Dec. 28; El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Dec. 28).