TAIPEI, Taiwan – The outcome of the presidential election in Venezuela in October could have implications for several projects and programme in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), including the Argyle International Airport and PetroCaribe.
The opposition in Caracas have said that they will rescind PetroCaribe — the Venezuela-Caribbean alliance that allows nations to buy oil at market value, pay a certain amount upfront and the remainder over 25 years at 1per cent interest.
Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told his compatriots in Taiwan on Saturday that a non-Chavez government in Caracas would be “perfectly in order” if it rescinds PetroCaribe.
The agreement itself, he said, allows for such a move.
“If somebody else other than Chavez’s political organisation wins, there is a provision inside of agreement itself for them to rescind it. If they rescind it, that is a fact of life,” he told a gathering of mostly Vincentian students.
“The point I want to make here, I can’t deal with public policy on the basis of probabilities outside of what I know presently or even fanciful possibilities,” he further stated.
But if a new government in Caracas also dissolves ALBA — the Bolivarian Alternative for our Americas — under which PetroCaribe falls, this might mean that Venezuela would not meet its commitments to Kingstown as far as the airport is concerned, especially in the absence of signed cooperation agreement.
The Chavez government, according to Gonsalves, has agreed to pay the wages of Cuban workers at the EC$652 million airport.
But as of last August, Venezuela was yet to repay Kingstown any of the monies paid in wages to the Cuban workers, Gonsalves told lawmakers then.
He told Parliament that from July 2008 to July 2011, his government had paid EC$8.78 million in such wages, even as he said that while Venezuela has promised to help build the international airport it does not owe SVG anything.
And with the monthly expenditure on wages for Cubans workers at the airport being EC$368,572, it is possible that to date Kingstown has paid EC$12 million in such wages as of May 2012.
“PetroCaribe has provided US$34 million in the last three years to the airport at Argyle while the government has borrowed US$40 million at 2 per cent interest over 20 years from the ALBA Bank,” Gonsalves said Saturday.
He further said Vincentian commentators and Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace are wrong in saying there are no agreements between Caracas and Kingstown.
“The PetroCaribe agreement was put in the Parliament. I took the ALBA agreement to Parliament. These things have been signed,” he said.
“It is not a mystery but there are areas, naturally, in which we will get assistance, because of the closeness of the relationship,” said Gonsalves, whose government has been criticised by the opposition in Kingstown over its close ties with the Chavez administration, which some see as authoritarian.
“You can’t expect to cuss the man them and then ask them for something,” Gonsalves further said in relation to the Eustace-led New Democratic Party (NDP).
“Now, it would be completely irrational to expect the government of Venezuela to give any assistance to the NDP … in the unlikely event that they (the NDP) form government because they say that they would unsign both PetroCaribe and ALBA,” he said.
Asked if Kingstown and Caracas had signed agreement in relation to Venezuela’s contribution to the airport, Gonsalves said:
“No, we don’t have a signed agreement in relation to the airport.”
He, however, noted that Kingstown also doesn’t have a signed agreement with Havana regarding the airport “except that the general agreement, cooperation agreement that they will assist with the airport.
“But the specifics of it, on every occasion, we go [and sign particular agreements],” he said.
“… the issue in relation to the airport is a purely moot point because the airport will be finished before the next general election [in SVG],” Gonsalves further stated.