Inside, confidential and off the record
Where is the Petrocaribe Money?
Police in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince clash with thousands
of anti-government protesters angry about the high cost of fuel .
Not only has Petrocaribe been a horrid deal, but it also appears to have fuelled massive
corruption, leaving poor countries like Haiti in even worse shape than before.
Right now revelers are preparing to take to the streets to chant songs, jump up and mash up the place. I’m of course talking about the ongoing mass violent riots in Haiti. Which shouldn’t be confused with Trinidad’s Carnival, because Haitian riots are far more creative.
Haiti is that country Trinbagonians love to pretend to care about but pay little actual attention too; like the speed limit, the environment and steel pan music outside of Panorama. Hence there hasn’t been much local interest asking why is it that Haitians are rioting. And it's not a complex issue, disgruntled rioters have made their motives abundantly clear in their chant which has become the road march of their protests; “where is the Petrocaribe money”?
Petrocaribe is the energy agreement created in 2005 by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It was intended to bribe, sorry I meant “supply” Caribbean nations with cheap oil. Twelve CARICOM nations signed up to Petrocaribe, including Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and of course Haiti. Under the agreement, these countries would buy Venezuelan oil at market prices but make repayments in loans with interest rates as low as one percent. Mr. Chavez made these generous deals because he was a kind, caring man who was looking out for his fellow Caribbean brothers and sisters, and certainly didn’t want anything in return; like flowers or chocolates, or votes supporting his brutal regime at the Organization of American States.
For our part, Trinidad and Tobago never got involved in Petrocaribe, thanks to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Now Mr. Manning was a lot of things, but the one thing he wasn’t, was Keith Rowley; hence Mr. Manning had this funny feeling that a brutal dictatorship didn’t make for trustworthy business partners.
And in 2006 he warned Caribbean countries that Petrocaribe was an attempt to undercut and drive out foreign oil companies which would make the region dependant on one supplier. To which Caribbean countries responded “sorry I can’t hear you under all this money we’re now able to funnel to government projects”.
To hear the usual suspects of Caribbean intellectuals, socialists and unemployed hippies at the UWI speak of Petrocaribe, you might think it was a phenomenal initiative that benefitted the Caribbean. In truth, it was as sensible as taking out a Carnival loan, from a loan shark.
“Petrocaribe reduced a lot of its members to debt-laden countries,” said Professor Emeritus Anthony Bryan, at last years Sixth Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum. Adding “By 2015, more than one-third of the external debt of Caricom members of Petrocaribe was owed to Venezuela”
By 2017 Haiti alone owed two billion Dollars to the Chavistas.
Another aspect about Petrocaribe that tends to get glossed over is the terms of the agreement which gave Venezuela the right to change rates or terminate the supply unilaterally with just 30 day’s notice. As Francisco Toro, editor of Caracas Chronicles wrote about the deal, this meant that Petrocaribe countries had a “fiscal gun” constantly pointed at them. Also, there was the gentle reminder by Nicolas Maduro that “any country that intervenes in Venezuelan affairs will go dry, sink and pay a high price”. Which of course has nothing to do with the “principled” stand Caricom is taking with the current situation in Venezuela.
Another aspect of Petrocaribe was its alleged money laundering, sorry I mean “joint ventures”. Take for example Venezuelan state oil company Petroleous de Venezuela. S.A. (PDVSA) 49% stake in Jamaican Oil refinery Petrojam. Last December Jamaica’s Auditor General published a report into Petrojam that makes Petrotrin look like Apple Computers.
Among the findings were the fact that Petrojam had no way of actually measuring the volume of crude they were buying and were simply paying what was invoiced to them. Oh and the little matter that over 5 years Petrojam had used 1.5 million barrels of oil valued at US12. 8 Billion but that half of those barrels valued at US5.2 Billion was unaccounted for. Petrojam’s company motto was evidently ‘no missing barrels of oil no cry’.
This brings us back to Haiti. The country’s Superior Court of Auditors has claimed that nearly US 2 Billon dollars have been embezzled from the Petrocaribe fund. This coming at a time when Haitians are struggling with government cuts to fuel subsidies.
Not only has Petrocaribe been a horrid deal, but it also appears to have fuelled massive corruption, leaving poor countries like Haiti in even worse shape than before.
As the Maduro regime continues to crumble and more revelations about the Chavistas come to light, its likely that Haitians won't be the only ones demanding to know where the Petrocaribe money is at.
Darryn Boodan/ Trinidad Express / Feb 21, 2019