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May 15, 2017

Reassessing Belize’s Relations with Venezuela

Dean Barrow

Fuel from Venezuela, refined in Curacao, is Belize’s main source under the Petrocaribe program. But because of continued unrest in the South American state and ongoing issues related to world fuel oil prices, questions have been raised about whether Belize is ultimately being compromised by its close relation to this troubled state. Three weeks ago, the Permanent Council of the O.A.S. approved a resolution to convene a meeting of O.A.S. Foreign Ministers to consider the situation. Venezuela and its supporters described it as interference in the country’s internal affairs. The vote was close, with several Central American and Caribbean countries ultimately voting against the motion, while others, including Belize, abstained. But the motion carried and Venezuela decided to begin the process of leaving the Organization. So where does Belize stand? On Friday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow took care to specifically condemn a decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court to attempt to dissolve its Congress, which was quickly reversed following protests. But at the same time, he said Belize cannot afford to turn its back on one of its important friends in the region.

 

Reporter

“Are we compromised because we are so in hock to the Venezuelans?”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“No, we are already in hock and making nice to the Venezuelans who make us any less in hock, and if it were up to me I would like to become more in hock. You cannot beat that PetroCaribe money. We’re not getting it now – look, am I not allowed to tell you I told you so? When the social partners were kicking up I said: listen man, let us borrow endlessly because it is so cheap. We could use it to pay off the Superbond if it were to continue that long. Now we are missing it. Anyway, the fact is that we get some dribbling still, but as I explained, because they are having problems with security of supply, stability of supply, and because the prices are so low, what we get doesn’t amount to much more than a pittance. However, I believe in gratitude, and I can’t forget that we benefitted handsomely from their largesse when things were good. I, as a human being, as a politician, greatly admired Chavez’s vision. I recognize that things have since moved on. So what I want to do, and what I asked the Government and the Cabinet to do, is to try to steer a middle course. For example, the Supreme Court in Venezuela made that ruling in which it appeared it was saying it would, as it were take over, would substitute itself for the Congress: I had no difficulty saying to the Venezuelan ‘charge: That, we don’t support; that, we cannot agree with; and if it’s a matter that one is called out to comment on it that would be our position – fortunately, the decision was reversed the next day, and that is where we are. Belize is a democracy; Venezuela has been a democracy; what is happening now in terms of the scarcities and the protests and the response of the government is extremely complex. We in Belize, I think, need to consider our position very carefully, so that we don’t at the first sign of trouble turn our back on our friends. But also, so that nobody takes us for granted in feeling that no matter what, Belize will support any and all actions of the Venezuelan government, no. So we really on a case by case basis, on a moment by moment basis, on a day by day basis, on a week by week basis, we keep our position under review.”

 

The withdrawal from the O.A.S. is a process likely to take two years.

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