Antigua urges Panday to offer special oil facility

Guyana Chronicle
October 20, 2000

PRIME Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr Lester Bird, who has come out against the Venezuela cheaper oil offer that excludes Guyana, is urging Trinidad and Tobago to look at making oil and oil products available to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states at concessionary prices.

In a letter to Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Mr Basdeo Panday, Bird says such a scheme would help member states better protect their sovereignty.

"...should this (Trinidad and Tobago) plan materialise, CARICOM would be less reliant on the favours of countries external to our community.

"In this way, we might be able to preserve and protect our sovereignty more effectively", Bird urges Panday in the letter, a copy of which the Chronicle obtained.

The letter is being interpreted as a creative initiative to get Trinidad and Tobago to institute its own special oil facility to benefit oil-importing states of the Community.

Bird's letter was sent to Panday yesterday and follows the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister's strong stand against the Venezuela concessionary oil proposal to some Caribbean and Latin American states.

Bird has openly condemned the Venezuelan discriminatory cheaper oil offer and urged CARICOM countries that have been identified to resist such a "benefit" in solidarity with Guyana.

Venezuela has officially informed Guyana about the concessionary oil deal it is offering some other CARICOM members but the Foreign Ministry here this week said it was not yet clear whether the offer extends to Guyana.

Guyana, which has been importing oil from Venezuela with which it has a longstanding border controversy, had drawn the attention of CARICOM to its exclusion from the proposed agreement because of a statement attributed to Venezuela's Foreign Minister, Mr Vicente Rangel, that "petroleum has been used as a political weapon throughout history".

Sources here felt that by excluding Guyana from the proposed oil deal for other countries in the region, Venezuela was using oil as a bargaining chip in the controversy over the Essequibo.

In his letter, Bird says when CARICOM heads met in Jamaica late last month, Panday talked informally about examining the possibility of the Trinidad and Tobago Government making petroleum and petroleum products available to member states at concessionary prices.

"I am aware that you were considering this possibility because of your own deep personal commitment to the development of the region and also because of the pivotal role that Trinidad and Tobago has always played in advancing the wellbeing of the Caribbean people as a whole", Bird says.

"I am equally aware that you may not have had time to give full consideration to the implications of such a possibility.

"My purpose in writing now is to encourage you to examine fully such a plan."

Prime Minister Bird argues that such a plan "would bring enormous relief to the countries of the region which are all now facing high prices not only for petrol and petroleum products, but also for all other economic and social activity that is heavily reliant on fossil fuels."

He said that to the extent "that each of our member states is able to maintain its sovereignty, to that same extent we guarantee the independence of the region as a whole."

Bird says his government would not expect the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago to devise a scheme to provide CARICOM countries a concessionary price for petrol and petroleum products "without some consideration."

"I would expect that any scheme devised by your government would include mechanisms that would deepen the economic relationship between Trinidad and Tobago and the beneficiaries", Bird says.

The CARICOM Bureau, made up of some heads of government, met in Barbados Monday and welcomed the Venezuela offer but remained silent on Guyana's concerns about oil being used as a political weapon.

President Bharrat Jagdeo had written CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on the issue noting that a reason for Guyana's exclusion from among impending beneficiary Caribbean states, is, according to Rangel, because "we have a conversation of a different kind" with this country.

"Guyana, as a matter of principle", said President Jagdeo, "has always been opposed to petroleum or food-exporting countries using these commodities as political weapons against importing countries, especially small vulnerable economies such as those of the Caribbean Community".

Mr Jagdeo further told Mitchell that in the context of deliberations at last July's CARICOM Summit at Canouan in St. Vincent, he decided to bring to the attention of heads of government this most recent development in Guyana-Venezuela relations.

The Foreign Ministry here said Rangel wrote Foreign Minister, Mr Clement Rohee on Monday "officially apprising" Guyana of the proposed Energy Cooperation Agreement of Caracas in the context of the San Jose Accord, under which Mexico and Venezuela offer developing nations oil on concessional sales.

It noted that Rangel stated that the beneficiaries of the San Jose Agreement are Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Rangel told Rohee that in light of the interest "expressed by other countries of the Great Caribbean to participate in a similar plan of cooperation, the (Venezuela Government) would be ready to examine the energy situation of each country and reach an agreement of this nature."

However, the ministry noted that Rangel "has not clarified Guyana's status (in relation to) to the new agreement which Guyana understands includes countries other than the original beneficiaries of the San Jose Agreement."

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