With Chavez gone, what will become of his PetroCaribe program? Photo credit: Valter Campanato, Agencia Brasil
Among the questions arising after the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is what will become of the PetroCaribe program he started in 2005 and upon which many Caribbean economies have become dependent. Since it began, PetroCaribe has become a much-needed lifeline to countries in the region that are overly reliant on fossil fuel imports to supply their energy and transportation sectors. However, it has also increased the unsustainable debt levels of these countries. What comes next is uncertain as Venezuela prepares to elect Chavez’ successor as president of Venezuela next month.
Chavez started PetroCaribe with the aim of helping neighboring countries bear the burden of oil dependence at a time when oil prices began to rise sharply. Touted on its Web site as a “shield against misery,” the program allows participating Caribbean countries to purchase Venezuelan oil under preferential conditions. At the outset, 50 percent of the payment was due within 90 days with the remainder being financed over an extended period, sometimes up to as long as 25 years. The interest charged on the balance was at 2 percent but fell to 1 percent once oil surpassed US$40 per barrel.
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The Worldwatch Institute has begun implementing a Low Carbon Energy Roadmaps project to help Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) transition to a low-carbon economy. Undertaking such a transition is an immediate imperative for these states. If they can capitalize on their indigenous, renewable resources they can reduce their oil imports, reduce exposure to volatile prices, and invest any saved money in other areas of their economy. Still, it’s always nice to have someone (or something) else burnish our argument.
In 2005, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez initiated the Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement, an arrangement that allowed 12 Caribbean nations, including the Dominican Republic, to purchase oil at a subsidized cost. Nevertheless fuel prices in the D.R. have jumped 50 percent in the last two years. Gasoline and diesel currently cost around $4.60 and $4.16 per gallon, respectively. Dominican taxi and bus drivers have recently begun taking out their frustration over higher fuel costs on Venezuela, protesting outside the Venezuelan Embassy and demanding more information on the details of the Petrocaribe program. In response, Alfredo Murga, Venezuela’s ambassador to the D.R., pointed out that Dominican authorities set their own fuel prices based on international crude oil markets. In other words, even Petrocaribe does not protect Dominicans from the vagaries of oil prices. These developments only reinforce Worldwatch’s position: such complete dependence on oil for electricity in addition to vehicle fuel is untenable for the Dominican Republic.
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