By Alexis R. Milan
United States President Barack Obama reiterated his country’s position that the Caribbean must seek energy alternatives to PetroCaribe during a CARICOM summit in Kingston, Jamaica on Thursday.
The summit was dominated with discussions about energy and security but Obama’s attendance has been viewed as an indication that the US is intent on influencing the region away from its rival Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program.
Belize was represented at the summit by Minister of Foreigh Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, who will later join the Prime Minister in Panama for the weekend’s Summit of the Americas, which Obama is also scheduled to attend.
Most CARICOM nations participate in the PetroCaribe program and rely heavily on the financed portion of the agreement, which comes in the form of a one-percent interest loan over a 25-year period, for various aspects of government spending including infrastructural works and social programs.
The Obama administration launched the Caribbean Security Energy Initiative last year, and in January Vice President Joe Biden hosted Caribbean leaders in Washington to discuss alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and natural gas.
Following that summit Belize’s Minister of Energy, Joy Grant said the message was clear and the country needed to start considering alternatives, although US recommendations may be several years away from even being feasible.
In recent months, Venezuela has been under pressure in the midst of an economic crisis and analysts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have predicted that the country may look to cancel the program at some point.
Venezuela, however, is adamant that the program will continue no matter what, as the funds they use for PetroCaribe is only a small portion of their annual petroleum exports.
Obama is the first US president to visit the Caribbean since Ronald Reagan visited Kingston in 1982.