Caracas, January 26th 2010 (FOCUS News Agency) – President Hugo Chavez on Monday said that Petrocaribe, Venezuela's cut-rate regional energy alliance, will forgive quake-stricken Haiti's debt, AFP reported.
Haiti's debt with Venezuela is USD 295 million, about one-third of its global foreign debt of USD 1 billion, according to International Monetary Fund figures.
"Haiti has no debt with Venezuela -- on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti," Chavez said as he made the announcement.
Chavez was referring to the support that Haiti -- which obtained its independence from France in 1804 -- gave Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar in 1815 and 1816 in his quest to free his country from Spanish colonial rule.
Chavez made the announcement at the closing ceremony of a meeting of foreign ministers from leftist countries with the ALBA trade alliance, a Cuba and Venezuela-supported regional common market founded in 2004.
Petrocaribe provides preferential oil pricing for its Caribbean members, with Venezuela picking up 40% of the cost if oil is selling over USD 50 a barrel.
When oil prices are above USD 50, member states will have up to 25 years to pay the bulk of the debt at a one percent interest rate, with two years grace.
Haiti, struggling to recover from the January 12 devastating 7.0 earthquake, received in the past days 225,000 barrels of Petrocaribe oil sent through the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic are Petrocaribe members.
Other Petrocaribe members include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as founding member Venezuela.
Separately, ALBA foreign ministers approved an aid package for Haiti that includes sanitary, energy, financial and educational assistance.
The ministers also expressed their concern over the "excessive foreign military presence" in the Caribbean nation, with no clear parameters over its "authority, purpose, role and length of stay."
Their presence "threatens to further complicate conditions on the ground and... international cooperation" for Haitian reconstruction, the ministers said.
They called on United Nations to take a central role in coordinating emergency efforts, and emphasized that the Haitians must take the lead in their country's reconstruction.