Petrocaribe was born in June 2005 when 14 Caribbean nations signed on to the Energy Cooperation Agreement during the First Energy Meeting of Heads of State / Governments of the Caribbean on Petrocaribe. Since then its membership has expanded to 18, and today all but three members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are members of Petrocaribe.
Belizeans have become familiar with Petrocaribe as a consequence of the Barrow administration’s insidious embrace and carefree spending of the Petrocaribe loan funds — and because of the single greatest post-independence challenge to our democracy: the Petrocaribe Loans Act of 2015.
Petrocaribe, an initiative of the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, was designed, amongst other things, to counter American hegemony in the region. Comandante Chavez, a man with regional leadership aspirations, understood quite clearly the kind of political leadership that exists throughout the Caribbean. He understood that because of the failure of the said political leadership and their harmful developmental practices, he could buy influence within the Anglophone Caribbean. Enter Petrocaribe!
Caribbean scholars have been lamenting for years about the abject failure of neo-Caribbean political leaders to deliver upon the promise of independence. Comandante Chavez, however, in furtherance of his own ambitions, was prepared to offer those same political leaders cheap money in return for regional influence. In other words Comandante Chavez’s Petrocaribe was an investment. But what was to be the return on this investment?
On May 26, 2015 the Petrocaribe chickens came home to roost when President Maduro, the handpicked successor to Comandante Chavez, issued Decree No. 1.787 claiming maritime spaces that are currently under the sovereignty dejure of Guyana and which may have valuable petroleum deposits. On June 7, 2015 Guyana, in very strong terms, internationalized the fact that Venezuela had acted unlawfully and was a threat to regional peace and security.
Interestingly, almost four weeks after Maduro’s decree, CARICOM has not issued any statement in support of Guyana nor has there been any unilateral statement of support for Guyana by any other member of CARICOM for that matter. Belize, one of the few members of CARICOM in a unique position to understand the dilemma in which Guyana finds itself, has said nary a word on this blatant act of aggression by Venezuela. It appears that Petrocaribe has induced Belize, as indeed the rest of CARICOM, into diplomatic paralysis. Incredibly, it has taken Venezuela a mere decade for its strategic designs to bear the “Guyanese fruit”.
Petrocaribe, according to its architects, was supposed to help the region move away from a strategic dependence on Washington and its various satellites such as the World Bank and the IMF. But President Maduro’s decree may have laid bare the true intent of Petrocaribe: the recovery of territory from Guyana after having rendered CARICOM impotent.
This is a stunning state of affairs that requires further analysis, but neither time nor space permits me to do such an analysis here.
On June 11, 2015, when questioned by the media about the Barrow administration’s spending of the Petrocaribe loan funds, the Venezuelan Ambassador in essence said that Venezuela has no interest in how Belize spends the borrowed money. This is perplexing to me, because even as ordinary Venezuelans are subjected to the harsh economic realities in Venezuela their government seems unconcerned about the clear mismanagement of the Petrocaribe loan. Could it be that this is so because Petrocaribe is the price for Belize’s silence in relation to Venezuela’s aggression towards Guyana?
It is my view that even if the Government of Venezuela is unconcerned with the mismanagement of the Petrocaribe loan funds, it must be abundantly clear by now that the Barrow administration has made many in civil society complicitous in the mismanagement of the Petrocaribe loan funds. Those who have been tempted to partake of the Petrocaribe feast can no longer offer any meaningful criticism without appearing to be hypocrites. It appears that just as Petrocaribe has rendered CARICOM mute, so too has it rendered a great many Belizeans mute!
Eat, drink and be merry, Belize. You know the rest!
Mayor (Ret’d) Lloyd Jones