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Former diplomat says Petrocaribe safe

Friday, January 11, 2013    

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FORMER Jamaican Ambassador to Venezuela Clifton Stone thinks that as long as Hugo Chavez's socialist party remains in power there is no danger to the Petrocaribe oil agreement which benefits Jamaica.

"The danger would arise if the Opposition prevails and elections are called and they are victorious," Stone told the Jamaica Observer.

"[Henrique] Capriles and the Opposition have accused Chavez of selling out the country's patrimony to other countries, including Jamaica, and I believe that they wouldn't hesitate to end the arrangement if they were to come to power," Stone said.

However, he said that the fact that vice-president Nicolás Maduro, Chavez's most likely successor, was handpicked by the ailing president was a clear sign of continuity within the ruling party and an assurance to allies.

Stone went to Venezuela in November 2011, weeks after Chavez's reelection, to replace Ambassador Delrose Montague, who had been reassigned to Mexico. He returned home in January 2012 following the defeat of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government.

Although, as Stone admits, there is no significant Jamaican presence in Caracas, both countries have had very close relations for many years, primarily inspired by the Venezuelan-born South American liberator Simon Bolivar's 19th century exile in Jamaica.

Bolivar, the architect of South America's political independence, wrote his famous "Letter from Jamaica", in which he expressed his ideas for Latin America's independence and cooperation, in Kingston in 1814.

"Chavez likes to recall Bolivar's exile in Jamaica, and he has materialised his gratitude by financing the building of the Bolivar cultural centre, which is being constructed in downtown Kingston," Stone pointed out.

On the other hand, he thinks that Jamaica owes Chavez much more gratitude for the Petrocaribe arrangement, which allows regional countries to purchase up to 50 per cent of their oil imports at market value, and pay for the remainder through a 17-25 year financing agreement at one per cent interest.

However, Chavez's struggle with cancer since 2011 has been his greatest challenge since he was first elected in 1998 as a populist leftist.

After surgery and chemotherapy in Cuba in 2011, Chavez returned to Venezuela in October 2012 to defeat Henrique Capriles, and routed the Opposition in elections for governorships in December. However, since his December 11 cancer operation in Cuba, he has not spoken or been seen in public.

He should have been sworn in yesterday (Thursday) for another term, but had not returned to Caracas from treatment in Cuba, resulting in the postponement of his swearing-in.

Observers say that Chavez's unprecedented silence has convinced many Venezuelans that his 14 years in power may be coming to an end.

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