CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Haitian President Michel Martelly says aid and fuel shipments from Venezuela are having a big impact in the Caribbean country as it attempts to recover from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.
President Hugo Chavez's Government is providing nearly all the fuel that Haiti consumes under preferential terms, including long-term loans and direct shipping that cuts costs. Martelly said power plants installed by Venezuela after the earthquake supply roughly one-fifth of Haiti's electricity and that Venezuela is also providing key financial support for rice farming and other programmes.
"The co-operation with Venezuela is the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact," Martelly told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday night after a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders.
"We are grateful to President Chavez for helping us from the bottom of his heart," Martelly said.
Chavez has made helping Haiti a priority since the magnitude-7 earthquake in January 2010 that reduced much of Port-au-Prince to rubble. His Government sent thousands of tons of food aid in the aftermath of the quake, and also set up several camps to temporarily house thousands of displaced Haitians.
Well before the quake, Haiti had already been a major beneficiary of Venezuela's Petrocaribe programme, which supplies fuel to Caribbean and Central American countries and allows them to pay part of the bill in goods such as rice and beans rather than cash.
Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said last week that the programme now covers 43 per cent of the fuel needs of member nations in Petrocaribe, shipping an average of 95,000 barrels of fuel a day at substantial savings to 16 countries.
The deal has helped Chavez cement relationships with a growing group of allies across in the Caribbean.
In Haiti's case, Petrocaribe also provides money to support social programmes, including government projects that are building housing and providing food to poor families, Martelly said during a speech at the summit on Saturday.
Martelly told the AP that a 30-megawatt power plant and two other 15-megawatt plants installed by Venezuela now "represent a good 20 per cent of our total consumption".
"With such rich support, we can — he can — bring some very important change to Haiti," Martelly said.
Venezuela pledged US$1.3 billion in recovery aid following the earthquake, the largest amount among 58 donors, according to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. It says Venezuela has disbursed US$118 million so far. The US pledged slightly less than Venezuela, US$1.2 billion, but has so far spent more — US$172 million.
Chavez's Government also said last year that it was forgiving US$395 million in debt through Petrocaribe.
Venezuela provides aid without many of the conditions imposed by the US and other donors, Martelly said.
He said he can't complain about Washington's aid, which is also important for Haiti, but that US assistance often takes more time to come through due to required procedures and controls.
"Sometimes for a simple project, it might take too long for the project to happen," he said. "If you're asking me which one flows better, which one is easier, I'll tell you Venezuela."
The former singer, who took office in May, said the previous Haitian Government had neglected and mismanaged portions of the Petrocaribe programme, and had apparently decreased the aid flow by failing to form a joint committee with Venezuelan officials to oversee spending. Martelly said he plans to change that.
He said that in addition to rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the quake, his top priorities also include attracting investment and jobs, and he said that Venezuela is playing a role by helping increase rice farming in Haiti's Artibonite Valley.
"In that programme there is a deal where you repay the amount owed with the rice, so this is good for us. Because the main thing for us is to create jobs," Martelly said. "This is one aspect of what Petrocaribe brings to Haitians."
Martelly said he also received promises of help from other leaders at the two-day summit, where they launched a new 33-nation bloc including every nation in the hemisphere except the US and Canada.
Chavez said a "troika" including Chile, Venezuela and Cuba will help co-ordinate the initial efforts of the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Martelly, who also met with Cuban President Raul Castro, said it remains to be seen what role the new group could play in Haiti's reconstruction efforts.