To Americans, Hugo Chavez (above) was a crazy revolutionary with ties to Iran and Cuba, but to the Caribbean islands, he was a godsend.
Chavez used Venezuela’s oil revenue to support his ideological allies around the world, and this has been a boon to the Caribbean. He launched the Petro Caribe arrangement in 2005 and has reportedly financed $2 billion worth of the oil exported to the Caribbean and Central America since that time.
As an example of Venezuela’s benevolence, these countries were allowed to pay for half of recent oil imports from Venezuela in 90 days and convert payment for the other half into a low-interest 25-year loan.
Chavez also pledged $50 million to kick-start a Caribbean development fund.
Next to Cuba, Jamaica has benefitted the most from Venezuela’s largesse. As Sir Ronald Sanders reported for the BBC:
With oil prices at US$139 per barrel, the initiative is a life line to governments that would otherwise be drowning.
Now that Chavez is gone, it’s doubtful that Jamaica and the other struggling Caribbean nations can count on continuation of his benevolent policies.
According to Sir Ronald:
Opposition groups in Venezuela have indicated that they regard Petro Caribe as ‘bribe diplomacy’, an attempt by Chavez to win the support of Central American and Caribbean countries against the United States which he calls ‘the evil empire’.
They have also argued that the money Chavez is lending to the Petro Caribe countries on very concessionary terms could be spent on projects in Venezuela and invested for the country’s future.
Chavez narrowly defeated centrist Henrique Capriles in the most recent Veneuelan elections, and his protege, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, might not be able to duplicate that victory. Capriles is young and popular, and he has promised to retain Chavez’s social programs while reviving the private sector economic growth that Chavez’s socialist policies have stunted.
You can bet Uncle Sam is not going to sit this one out. The history of U.S. intervention in Latin America provides ample evidence of that. How intrusive America will be under President Obama remains to be seen. But American foeign policy through the ages has favored hard-right oligarchs who take the lion’s share of their counties’ wealth, while doing little to help the poor. These are not the kind of people who would be concerned about the Caribbean islands’ financial problems.
Even if Maduro is elected in a wave of sentiment following the death of Chavez, Sir Ronald notes in a recent column for theJamaica Observer that:
Unless he balances delivering benefits to the people of Venezuela with keeping the military content, he will be hard-pressed by a virulent Opposition to continue Chavez’s programme of spending Venezuela’s oil revenues on foreign countries.
The death of Hugo Chavez might leave Americans rejoicing, but to Jamaicans it could mean “hard times” for a nation already deeply mired in debt.