By Marion V. Ali
Venezuela will keep its exclusive PetroCaribe arrangement with 18 countries in the Caribbean and the Americas, including Belize, despite a month-long spate of protests against President, Nicolas Maduro’s government.
The upheavals, according to Venezuela’s Ambassador to Belize, Yoel del Valle Perez Mercano, are a sustained effort on the part of elitist groups to regain control of the country’s petroleum industry, which was nationalized after the late Hugo Chavez was first elected President, to stimulate economic growth.
The diplomat assured Belizeans that all economic and political agreements with Latin America and the Caribbean remain in tact.
“We tell the nation of Belize emphatically that as long as the Government of Venezuela exists and there exists the need to promote the development of our brother countries in the Caribbean and Central America, the PetroCaribe agreement shall continue as is, and it shall fulfil its historic mission of offering energy for integration and development,” he declared.
This week, President Maduro used the military along with legislative and judicial powers to retaliate against his opponents.
Part of the effort to restore law and order to the streets is to jail dissident leaders, with two more opposition politicians sentenced on Thursday to serve time behind bars.
The street clashes in that country have so far claimed 28 lives, most of which came after Opposition hardliner Leopoldo Lopez was jailed on charges related to protests that sparked the unrest.
The Maduro government has also begun to look within its own ranks and is now investigating 17 of its own officials for alleged criminal wrongdoing for “communicating with criminals”.
On the diplomatic level, Perez said that his government urges the United States to delegate an ambassador to represent the US in Caracas, asiVenezuela has done in nominating a representative to the US.
He added that his government welcomes the US to sit down and hold talks toward working out their differences and to restore peace on the streets of his country.
Perez, however, also took the opportunity to lash out at US President Barack Obama, whose government he accuses of funding the elite groups in Venezuela.
He said that because the Obama regime has followed suit with his predecessors in attempting to end the Chavez/Maduro reign, the Venezuelan government has had to retaliate to restore peace to its streets.
In the process, Perez claims his government has unveiled the identities of four American officials whose function was really to coerce students to promote violence in Venezuela.
All this comes despite many years of diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries.
Perez said that the US is an important business partner that buys a million barrels of petroleum from his country daily, but he accused the US and the economic elite groups of promoting destabilization and of “trying to make Venezuela appear as a country in total collapse”.
He emphasized that his government has major qualms when the US (via translator) “tries to get involved in the internal political affairs of Venezuela and funds President Maduro’s opponents…they are financing these groups in the name of democracy.”
Venezuela, meanwhile, has seen challenging days of late, with inflation reported to be more than 50 percent, a downgrading by Moody’s and Standard and Poors of its bonds, and a weakening of its currency, the bolivar.
There are severe food shortages in its poorest areas, but the ambassador assured that the situation is nothing from which his government cannot recover.
The PetroCaribe initiative was introduced in June 2005 as a way to help its member countries invest in social programs and uplift the quality of life in their respective countries.
In turn, these countries would pay back the other percentage to Venezuela over a 25-year period at a concessionary rate of one percent per year.
In Belize, two of the projects that have been the direct result of this regional agreement are the recently-introduced Belize National Bank, with an initial investment of $20 million, the Belize Investment Limited.