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US ready to help

American Gov't promises to 'free' Jamaica from Venezuelan oil ties

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, February 08, 2018

UNITED States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday assured Jamaica that Washington would assist the Government in overcoming any fallout arising from supporting efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela.

Tillerson, who was speaking at a press conference following a meeting with Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness and several top members of his Cabinet at Jamaica House, said that the US Administration is about to undertake a study to identify areas of cooperation which are more easily accessible, including energy.

“We are going to undertake a very quick study to see if there are some things the United States could easily do with our rich energy endowment, with infrastructure we already have available to see what we can do to ease the impact of it,” the US official said.

Tillerson was answering questions from both the local and foreign media at a short press briefing at Jamaica House.

Holness, at the same time, noted that Jamaica was about to severely reduce, or even end, its flirtation with Venezuela's huge oil reserves which the Nicholas Maduro Administration has been accused as dangling as a carrot for the Caribbean Community's (Caricom) support of his Administration, and establish new links with the United States to fill the void.

Holness and Tillerson had been asked by a visiting reporter whether Jamaica was willing and able to stop importing Venezuelan oil, and what would the United States do to fill the energy gap, as the US steps up sanctions against the Maduro Administration, which Tillerson accused of dismantling Venezuela's democracy “before our very eyes”.

Holness responded that Jamaica's position was always to seek the best for the people of Venezuela. He also indicated that Jamaica could benefit from the US becoming a net exporter of energy, if its remaining energy ties with Venezuela are cut by its stance against Maduro's Government.

“This has always been Jamaica's position. It is a not a new position. Jamaica wants to see the people of Venezuela being able to enjoy their democracy and this is a principle that has nothing to do with any other country. We wish the best for the people of Venezuela,” the prime minister said.

Holness also noted that Jamaica does not currently import oil from Venezuela. However, Venezuela still owns 49 per cent of Jamaica's only oil refinery, Petrojam.

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley confirmed in a brief comment with the media after the briefing that the Government was already making plans to repurchase Venezuela's 49 per cent share of the refinery, as soon as possible.

“With the new dynamics in the global energy trade and with the United States becoming a net exporter of energy resources, Jamaica can, in this paradigm, benefit from it,” Holness said.

Tillerson, in his opening comments pointed out that the Caribbean region was an important region to the United States, and actually made up its “third border”.

“Jamaica has the largest stretch of that third border with the United States, which is very important to future economic opportunities, as well,” the US official said.

He added that the United States sees many opportunities for future cooperation with Jamaica in trade, strengthening security and combatting trans-national criminal operations.

“That's why we are really excited about Jamaica assuming the chairmanship of Caricom, and that's one of the reasons why I really wanted to meet with him (Holness) today,” Tillerson admitted.

However, he said that his visit was not limited to bilateral arrangements between Jamaica and the United States but would involve all regional countries.

Tillerson also admitted that the US Administration had not yet adopted a new policy for the region, but insisted that the US was positive about the region.

“I think there is great unanimity in the region, and certainly in the hemisphere, that we all want to see some progress on the situation in Venezuela, which only gets worse every day,” he added.

Tillerson, a former Exxon oil executive, was concluding a six-day visit to the Latin American and Caribbean region during which he visited Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.