Chavez Deepens Petrocaribe Oil Pledges
Sunday August 12, 2007
By JORGE RUEDA
By JORGE RUEDA
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pledged on Saturday to meet Caribbean nations' oil needs for years to come, and urged the region to unite and seek greater independence from the United States. Chavez deepened past pledges to share his country's oil wealth as he addressed a summit of nations taking part in Venezuela's Petrocaribe oil initiative, which supplies fuel under preferential terms.
``If we truly unite ... the grandchildren of our grandchildren will have no energy problems,'' Chavez said. He predicted oil prices will soon hit $100 a barrel but said ``the Caribbean shouldn't have problems this century and beyond.'' ``Venezuela puts this oil wealth at the disposition of our peoples of the Caribbean,'' Chavez said. ``It belongs to all of us. We're going to share it like Christ. ... It will be enough for everyone.'' Venezuela still counts the United States as its top oil buyer, although Chavez has sought to diversify his clientele amid tensions with Washington by selling more to Latin America, the Caribbean and as far away as China. Since 2005, when Chavez created Petrocaribe, 14 countries have joined Venezuela's pact, which lets them finance up to half their oil bills over 25 years at low interest. That number expanded to 15 on Saturday with the addition of Nicaragua, whose president Daniel Ortega attended the talks.
Leaders of nine countries signed a treaty proposed by Chavez in which Venezuela pledges to guarantee energy supplies and help the nations develop alternative energy sources. Countries that signed were Haiti, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname, Dominica, Belize and Cuba. Under Petrocaribe, nations are generally allowed to pay off part of their oil bills in goods and services. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez said his country hopes to begin an exchange program offering hotel and tourism training to visiting Venezuelans. Caribbean countries have already financed nearly $1 billion in fuel purchases, and due to interest as low as 1 percent, have seen savings of $450 million, Chavez said. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Friday that Venezuela is also making progress helping upgrade or build refineries in Cuba, Jamaica and Dominica - an effort that comes as Chavez's government seeks to decrease its reliance on a network of U.S. refineries.
Chavez used the meeting to support his ally Cuba, saying the island is regularly excluded from other summits. Blaming the U.S., he recalled a 2005 gathering in Argentina and said: ``How is it that we accept Cuba not going to that meeting?'' ``I swear by my mother ... if there is another one of those summits and Cuba doesn't go, Venezuela won't go to that summit either because it doesn't seem fair,'' Chavez said. ``I know most of you talk with the U.S. government, the majority of our friends in the Caribbean, except Cuba and us,'' Chavez added. ``But I hope someday we can all sit down at the same table, as equals and with respect, with the president of the United States, whoever it is.'' He also proposed to one day build an undersea natural gas pipeline stretching from gas-rich Venezuela to Cuba and possibly Mexico. He said it would touch the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and added, ``When will Puerto Rico be free? The day will come.''