Haiti and the Geopolitics of PetroCaribe

February 27, 2020

By Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper

With collaboration from Nixon Boumba, James Darbouze, Sabine Lamour, and Mark Schuller

The 10-year anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake recalls the failure of NGO aid and that capitalism dispossesses and indebts the multitudes while enriching a few. The anti-corruption movement asks a new question, #KòtKòbCIRHla? Where is the Bill Clinton-led IHRC (Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission) money?

So, why did activists first focus on the PetroCaribe scandal?

This piece situates PetroCaribe and what is at stake in and beyond Haiti. It is not meant to defend or condemn the Bolivarians.

Exporting the Bolivarian Revolution

Echoing Mexico’s Zapatista challenge to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994 and noting the crisis in Argentina in 2001, Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro organized a summit of Caribbean states in Venezuela to reject the U.S. push for its expansion to the hemisphere. In 2004, they launched the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), including Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) members Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

In 2005, ALBA (excluding Ecuador and Nicaragua) and additional CARICOM members the Bahamas, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, and Suriname signed the PetroCaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement. Barbados, Montserrat, and oil-producing Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Venezuela excluded Haiti to protest the U.S-imposed transition government (2004-2006). After movements pressured the new president, Haiti signed in 2007. Nicaragua followed. Guatemala and Honduras entered in 2008; El Salvador in 2014. 

Under PetroCaribe, countries could purchase up to 185,000 barrels of oil per day. Venezuela required partial payment (5% to 50%) with a grace period of 1 to 2 years, the remainder paid over 17 to 25 years at 1% interest (if oil prices exceed $40 per barrel). Goods and services were forms of repayment. Cuba sent doctors to Venezuela. Nicaragua paid with meat and milk. Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) owned 49% of Jamaica’s PetroJam refinery and Dominican Republic’s Refinería Dominicana de Petróleo PDV, S.A. (Refidomsa PDV). With oil prices rising to $100 a barrel, PetroCaribe benefitted countries facing fuel shortages and increased food prices.

ALBA established the Bank of ALBA in Caracas in 2008 and developed a common regional currency in 2009, the SUCRE (Sistema Único de Compensación Regional), used in trade by Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua. South American states formed the Unión Sudamericana (UNASUR). In 2011, Chávez led “sovereign” America, excluding Canada and the U.S., to create the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC).

This regional bloc empowered “developing” countries toward independence through multilateral trade, building infrastructure, and providing social programs. The Bolivarian non-aligned approach respected state sovereignty, unlike the imperialist dictates of the IMF and the World Bank. Membership was not based on ideological affinity. This type of solidarity facilitated the Parti Haitien Tèt Kale (PHTK)’s squandering of almost $4 billion and foreshadowed its rejection of Venezuela.

Toward the Multiverse

The Bolivarians envisioned a multipolar world. With the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela is a co-founder and the only Latin American member among “Middle East” countries   Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), established in 1960 during anti-colonial movements to break the British and U.S. control of oil. In 2000, Chávez hosted the second OPEC summit since 1975, calling for production quotas to regulate oil prices.  

Chávez also facilitated the entry of China and Russia to the region. Since 2009, China is Venezuela’s second largest trade partner and since 2012, Venezuela is China’s fourth largest supplier of oil. China invested in the construction of a resort in the Bahamas and a highway in Jamaica. Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Dominican Republic are signed up for Belt and Road funding. China is the top trading partner of Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay and Chinese banks are the largest lenders in Latin America. Russian company RUSAL owned 90% of the Guyanese government-run bauxite mining company, and controls 65% of Jamaica’s alumina and operates three of four of its refineries. Russian firms invested in the oil and gas sector in Bolivia, Mexico and Venezuela. Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela are the leading purchasers of Russian arms.

In (re)making other alliances, the Bolivarians threatened U.S. “national security interests.”

The Empire strikes back

A “New Cold War” ensued. Following the death of Chávez and the election of Nicolas Maduro in 2013, the U.S. (with Saudi Arabia) crashed oil prices and supported anti-chavista protests. In 2015, Barak Obama declared Venezuela a security threat, normalized relations with Cuba, established a new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, and imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials.

In 2017, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru met in Lima with Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to address the “Venezuelan crisis.” In 2018, Donald Trump interdicted transactions using Venezuelan digital currency and related to the purchase of Venezuelan debt. In 2019, he banned all inter-national payments to PDVSA using the U.S. dollar. Trump met with defectors of PetroCaribe: Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia at his private resort in Florida. And 19 of the 35 states that comprise the Organization of American States (OAS) voted against recognizing Maduro and for Juan Guaidó. UNASUR members of the Lima Group formed the Foro para el Progreso de América del Sur (PROSUR) to counter “the dictatorship in Venezuela.”

Against this shift in the region towards right-wing militarism, resistance against U.S. hegemony continues.

After PetroCaribe

Dependent on the sale of petroleum for over 95% of foreign earnings that pay for the imports of over two-thirds of basic consumer goods, mostly coming from the U.S., Venezuela experienced inflation at 10 million percent and stopped sending billions in subsidized oil.Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba and Haiti suffer the most.

Jovenel Moise seeks new IMF loans to bankroll the state. Increased income taxes do not suffice, after removing tariffs on rice primarily from the U.S. Threatening to “cut off heads,” Moise, whose election was contested, now governs alone (with the Core Group’s support), with the terms of parliamentarians having expired.

Activist anthropologist, Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Davidson College. She is currently working on her monograph Development Contested in Occupied Haiti: Social Movements, NGOs, and the Evangelical State and has published in academic and political journals like Women’s Studies Quarterly and Commune Magazine. Dougé-Prosper is also the International Coordinator of Community Movement Builders.

Read other articles in the series!