By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” May 6, 2022)
Every cent our government gets that assists our further advancement as a nation is welcomed as good news. Therefore, the announcement that we gained permission from President Maduro of Venezuela to “borrow back” US$9 million which we owed the ALBA bank, but could not repay because of the American imposed sanctions of Caracas should be applauded. Except this: it amounts to unprincipled exploitation of the generosity of our well-endowed southern neighbour. It assists the bullying tactics of the illegal sanction that the American government imposed against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Early in the revolutionary experiment unfolding in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez launched two critically important initiatives: Bolivarian Alliance for the People of the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe. SVG became associated with both and has benefitted significantly. Over the last five years, Venezuela has forgiven loans amounting to close to EC$500 million. Last week we received debt forgiveness that wiped out all of our debt with the Bolivarian Republic. The most recent forgiveness of EC$189 million brought about a 9% reduction in our national debt. In addition, we received a commitment of assistance for asphalt for road construction, fertiliser and 150 pre-fabricated homes.
Every citizen will agree when he says, “this is absolutely an incredible package of support”. Those who pay close attention will know that the assistance does not flow in one direction. SVG’s support for Venezuela’s sovereignty, independence and right to choose its path to development has been unimpeachable. Without this quality support in CARICOM, led by the untiring and persuasive efforts of PM Gonsalves, the Americans’ plans for regime change in Venezuela might have succeeded.
Venezuela is a resource-rich country. It sits on the largest known reserves of oil in the world. It could and has given willingly to CARICOM and other countries in the Americas. Its expenditure through the PetroCaribe initiative is estimated at over US$50 billion. But that beautiful sister nation is being choked to death. America’s plan to strangle the country has caused tremendous hardship to the people.
We, therefore, should understand the limits to their generosity. President Maduro will be hard-pressed to say no to Gonsalves’ greedy eye on the US$9 million that sits at the central bank. “We had paid the money there because we did not want any challenges arising with the sanctions,” Gonsalves said.
Rather than comply with the illegal US sanctions, which violate international law, Gonsalves should have found creative ways to get around the sanctions and pay back the loan as it became due. In the broad scheme of things, US$9 million is small compared to the challenging economic situation in Venezuela. However, principles rather than opportunistic pragmatism should be our guiding principles.
For decades, the US government has used its economic and military might and hubris to dictate which country to target and destroy. Its policy of “making the economy of a country scream” is well known. First used in the 1970s, which resulted in the overthrow and assassination of Salvador Allende, the policy of economic aggression has been repeated and intensified in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and currently Russia. The policy is not guided by principle or law. Until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration’s approach to Venezuela was to isolate, sanction and apply pressure. With the invasion by Russia, this stance has softened a bit to allow Venezuela to sell its oil. Great news for Venezuela but yet another teaching moment from which we must learn to avoid being duped and tricked by US propaganda.
Our fisherfolks can use the Venezuelan money to buy boats to catch more fish, conch, and lobster. But wait, have we not heard this “road march” before about money for our fisherfolks? How many fisherfolks were assisted in the last 10 years? Are we getting the reward for our investments? Who administers the funds? Is there a proper accounting done to ensure that the money goes to those in need?
How much money do we owe to the ALBA bank? What projects did those loans finance? Have they been adequately administered?
In less than 15 years, the PetroCaribe oil facility allowed us financing of close to EC$500 million. We received debt forgiveness for all of this money. In light of the pressing economic difficulties, Venezuela’s generosity is truly exemplary. It is international solidarity at its highest. From a developmental standpoint, our country would be much better if the United States, the wealthiest nation on earth, could lend a helping hand. Instead, we get directives and pressures to fall in line or bear the consequences.
For these reasons, we ought to have found ways to get around the sanctions and return the US$9 million when it became due. This act of borrowing amounts to a cynical pragmatism. We should insist on transparency and accountability.
We spent EC$900 million on the Argyle International Airport. Venezuela forgave EC$500 million in debt. In 2015, we borrowed $86 million from the Kuwaiti Fund to carry out the “mother of all road repairs programme”. Was all of that money spent? When, where and how? Have our roads substantially improved? Have we taken off developmentally as promised, or are we still on the cusp of an economic leap forward?
We must find ways to propel our country forward while supporting our friends like Cuba and Venezuela, who assist us in times of need. We must bravely defend the rule of law in international relations to bring an end to unilateral, illegal sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela. While we do all of this, we must demand transparency and accountability in all areas of national life. As the people say, we have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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