By Alexis R. Milan
A Venezuelan naval training vessel and its crew anchored in Belizean waters on Thursday for an official ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the PetroCaribe initiative, introduced by the Boilvarian nation in 2005.
The Governor General, Sir Colville Young, Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega and other government representatives along with the Venezuelan Ambassador, Yoel del Valle Perez Marcano, were on hand for the official ceremony, at which members from both nations expressed sentiments of continued partnership and cooperation under the PetroCaribe agreement.
The ship, which docked at the Port of Belize and shares the name of Venezuela’s “liberator”, Simon Bolivar is a steel class “A’ type ship with a length of 270 feet. It includes a 35-foot beam and utilizes a barque sail plan and 750 horsepower installed engine. The crew on-board the vessel includes 110 navy officers plus 87 cadets.
The ship is a training vessel for the Venezuelan Navy and a frequent participant in tall-ship events, having won the gold prize in the 1995 Americas Tall Ship race.
Marcano, on-board the Simon Bolivar, re-affirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring the survival of the PetroCaribe program, despite economic hurdles in Venezuela. He said his country continues to promote the principles of regional integration and cooperation under the program.
He also said Venezuela does not put stringent conditions on sovereign governments that access PetroCaribe finances the way the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) do. Marcano likened the practice of placing conditions, on the way independent government’s handle the funds to imperialism and said Venezuela loosely monitors the way the money is being used and makes recommendations.
The PetroCaribe initiative was introduced by former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez as his own interpretation of the ship’s namesake, Simon Bolivar’s political ideals. Bolivar, who is considered a great liberator of South American nations, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Peru, is the root from which the philosophy behind the PetroCaribe initiative stems.
PetroCaribe, however, is just one of the several initiatives that fall under the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA), hence the term ALBA PetroCaribe. ALBA is an intergovernmental organization based on the principles of social, political and economic integration of South American and Caribbean nations.
ALBA is based on the principles of Bolivar and is closely associated with socialist and social democratic governments. In fact, the organization was Chavez’ brain-child and its first two members were Venezuela and Cuba with Chavez and Fidel Castro signing the original agreement in 2004.
Since then, ALBA has welcomed Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname as a special guest country.
ALBA proposes to consolidate regional economic integration on the premise of social welfare, bartering for goods and services and economic aid, but most importantly, ALBA’s very formation was in rejection of the United States proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Chavez criticized the FTAA calling it an annexation plan and tool for imperialism to exploit the smaller poorer countries in the region. ALBA proposes to conduct trade among fellow member nations and the introduction of a new virtual regional currency known as the Sucre.
According to the official PetroCaribe website, “This initiative is a seed for the transformation of Latin American and Caribbean societies, part of ALBA’s project to sow these regions with the ideals of the Liberator, Simón Bolívar, in an effort to build a great nation.”
Bolivar, who lived from 1783-1830, was a Venezuelan military and political leader, who played an instrumental role in the establishment of six South American nations as sovereign states, independent of Spanish rule. Modern-day historians consider Bolivar to be a deeply polarizing individual, with criticism aimed especially at his belief that a strong presidency, maintained for life, is essential to a state’s survival. Nevertheless, most Latin Americans laud him as a meritorious liberator, whose revolutionary ideas and reforms continue to leave a lasting legacy today.