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News: International

Venezuela, ALBA Countries Pledge $2.42 billion in Aid to Haiti

Merida, April 1, 2010 ( - The Venezuela-led trade bloc, ALBA, pledged $2.42 billion in reconstruction aid to earthquake-torn Haiti between the years 2010-2016 during a United Nations conference on Wednesday. Also, Venezuela called for Haiti’s foreign debt to be forgiven and advocated direct aid and services, not loans, for the Caribbean country.

The purpose of the conference, which was attended by 136 countries, was to raise funds for the reconstruction of Haiti, which suffered a 7.3-magnitude earthquake in January that left more than 200,000 dead and turned the millions of buildings to rubble.

"We are at the United Nations to re-affirm the commitment of the government of President Hugo Chavez Frias with coordinated and impactful action in Haiti," said Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Relations Francisco Arias Cardenas, representing the eight-member ALBA bloc.

ALBA stands for Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and was formed as a solidarity-based alternative to profit-driven free trade pacts. Its members include Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

The vice minister said half the money would be given as direct aid to Haiti, while the other half would be rendered in services to Haiti’s devastated housing, infrastructure, waste management, energy, education, health care, and agricultural systems. The majority of the money will come from Venezuela, he said, along with smaller contributions from the other seven members.

Much of Venezuela’s contribution will be financed through the Petrocaribe trade group, in which Venezuela exchanges discounted oil for goods and services from Caribbean and Central American countries. Venezuela will reinvest the proceeds from the oil it sells to Haiti into reconstruction projects in Haiti.

Cuba will manage the ALBA’s contributions to Haiti’s health care system, which include the construction of more than 100 public health clinics that will provide primary care, emergency room, midwifery, vaccinations, physical therapy and rehabilitation, public health education, and other services, according to announcements on Wednesday by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Venezuela has already sent hundreds of thousands of tons of food, 225,000 barrels of fuel, thousands of tents, water purification systems, and heavy equipment to remove rubble in Haiti. It has also donated $37.2 million in aid to Haiti as part of a pledge by the twelve-member Union of South American Nations. Since 2007, Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti have built houses, free health clinics, and electricity generators in Haiti through a tripartite commission.

During the U.N. conference, Arias Cardenas also advocated full debt relief for Haiti. He pointed out that Venezuela already forgave Haiti’s $295 million in debt following the earthquake, urged richer nations to "consider the quality and the proportion of the donation in relation to the size of the economy of the donating country."

Furthermore, the ALBA bloc denounced the influence of the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the U.N.’s Haiti reconstruction fund, arguing that the policies of these entities contributed to Haiti’s economic devastation in the 1990s.

"We do not think that in these moments we should give priority to recuperating the profits of private companies, nor that those who come to speak and direct things should be the World Bank and the IMF," said Arias Cardenas. These entities "should come and say, ‘We forgive all of Haiti’s debt’, but instead, they come to say that there will be more funds so that [Haiti] may become more in debt."

Venezuela has also accused the U.S. of attempting to take control of Haiti both militarily, through the deployment of 11,000 soldiers to Haiti shortly after the temblor, and economically, through private reconstruction contracts, since the earthquake struck. In contrast, Venezuela stationed 90 soldiers to assist more than 500 relief workers, including medics, disaster prevention experts, rescue workers, and firefighters on the Caribbean island.

"We have doubts about the military expenditure that is being made on Haiti. The spending is gigantic, and occupies a lot of money that could go toward hospitals," said Vice Minister Arias Cardenas on Wednesday.

These doubts have motivated Venezuela’s decision thus far to funnel its aid efforts directly through the Haitian government, rather than through the U.N.’s "cluster" system, a move that has garnered criticism for the South American country in large international media outlets.

The U.N. says $11.5 billion is necessary to rebuild Haiti over then next ten years. U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said countries at the conference pledged a total of $9.9 billion over the next several years. The United States and the European Union, two of the conference’s largest single donors, pledged $1.15 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively.

According to the New York Times, the donated funds will be managed by a reconstruction commission headed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti, and the Haitian government, and supervised by the World Bank. Donors of more than $100 million will have a seat on the board.

When asked about Venezuela’s motivation for donating to Haiti’s reconstruction, Arias Cardenas said, "First, because we believe in international solidarity, and then, because we have a debt to Haiti that we will never be able to pay back," referring to Haiti’s donation of rifles to assist with Venezuela’s war of independence from Spain two centuries ago.

Published on Apr 1st 2010 at 7.09pm