Mérida, 6th May 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In its 7thsummit over the weekend, the Petrocaribe oil alliance granted membership to Honduras and Guatemala, and adopted a proposed link with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in a new “economic zone”.
The zone will encompass member states of both organisations with the stated objective of promoting investment, trade, tourism and international developmental projects, according to Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
According to Venezuelan oil and mining minister Rafael Ramirez, this initiative will expand the role of Petrocaribe beyond its initial focus of providing oil to member states at favourable prices.
“We believe it is a proposal that will allow us to continue to strengthen…Petrocaribe…[and develop] fair exchange between our countries,” Ramirez said in the opening ceremony.
Guatemala and Honduras Join Petrocaribe
“We are proud to be members,” Honduran president Porfirio Lobo told the summit on Sunday. He also described Petrocaribe as “an extraordinary alternative”, according to TeleSur.
Until former President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by a coup in 2009, Honduras was an active member of Petrocaribe, receiving approximately US$1 million worth of oil and other benefits under the initiative. Following the 2009 coup, however, the oil alliance suspended Honduras’ membership; it was only invited back earlier this year.
In January, the nation’s foreign minister Arturo Corrales said that the Honduran government intended to begin purchasing oil under the Petrocaribe program in the near future.
However, the other new addition, Guatemala, will not commit to any projects until a Venezuelan commission visits the Central American nation to provide more “technical” details, according to the country’s vice president Roxana Baldetti.
Guatemala first joined Petrocaribe in 2009, but was only inaugurated as a member state on Sunday.
Maduro: Petrocaribe is “Growing Stronger”
Welcoming the new members, Maduro praised the alliance for its continual growth since 2005, despite what he described as efforts from the “international right” to undermine the initiative.
According to Xinhua, he stated, “They look at us with absolute scorn, as if they would be happy to see Petrocaribe fall apart. But Petrocaribe is consolidating and growing stronger.”
As well as gaining its new members, the alliance also adopted a slew of new proposals, including to establish a permanent headquarters in Caracas, strengthen food security and distribute fertilisers among member states.
Member states also hope to develop regional tourism, agreeing to a proposal to improve international air connections between the nations of Petrocaribe.
Maduro cited the lack of any direct flights between Suriname and Caracas in his statement of support for the proposal. According to Maduro, all flights between Suriname and his nation’s capital currently pass through the United States.
“In the 21st Century, this is unforgivable,” he said.
Maduro continued by stating, “We are prepared to form an alliance with public and private ventures to establish [air] connections in the Petrocaribe zone.”
The summit opened on 4 May in Caracas, Venezuela with a series of tributes to Venezuela’s former president, Hugo Chavez.
“Today more than ever we are with Chavez,” stated Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega.
Along with delegations from Petrocaribe nations, the vice presidents of ALBA member states Bolivia and Ecuador participated in the summit.
Chavez established Petrocaribe in 2005 with the objective of providing Caribbean states with oil on preferential terms and developing regional energy infrastructure.
Under the initiative, member states can defer payment of as much as 40% of oil purchases at an interest rate of 1% over 25 years.
Last year, Venezuela supplied over 100,000 barrels of oil each day to Petrocaribe member states.
Petrocaribe members are also able to negotiate oil purchases with other commodities, such as the rice-for-oil deal between Venezuela and neighbouring Guyana. Renewed on Saturday, last year the agreement allowed Guyana to sell over 450,000 tonnes of rice to Venezuela at US$640 per tonne; a price higher than anything offered by other buyers in Europe or the Caribbean, according to Associated Press.
The organisation’s members now include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, El Salvador, Granada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Venezuela.
Maduro described the alliance as the “cornerstone of the union of South and Central America, and the Caribbean.”
“As Chavez said in the past, oil was a tool for domination and now it’s becoming an instrument of liberation,” he stated.