Some Caribbean governments are beginning to complain about the effects of American sanctions against neighboring Venezuela, indicating that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do business with the South American nation.
Quite a few of the smaller nations in the Eastern Caribbean depend on Venezuela to supply them with concession oil under the 2005 PetroCaribe Initiative. Some maintain embassies in Caracas and are now experiencing difficulty servicing their missions because of the new set of American-led rules regarding business with Venezuela and the Nicolas Maduro administration.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent is among the first to loudly complain that trade with Venezuela is drying up because foreign exchange payments cannot be made through regular channels with Venezuela.
“It has an indirect effect on us in respect of the trade in fuel,” he said, noting that when the island imports fuel from Venezuela it is not done by a “big tanker.”
He added, “These are not tankers which have been contracted for and paid for in a number of different ways. They have to get small vessels to transport the fuel, especially designed to transport the fuel. The problem is that these vessels are not owned by Venezuela and you have to pay for them, as I have been advised, through a United States account. We have a small sum of money for Venezuela under the PetroCaribe agreement, but we can’t get it to them.”
When the region and Venezuela had signed off of the PetroCaribe deal in Jamaica back in 2005, many of the nations in the regional bloc had ceased buying oil supplies from fellow bloc member Trinidad or had drastically reduced orders, cashing in on the deferred payment system then offered by Caracas.
The situation is now being worsened by the fact that authorities in Trinidad are moving to close the PetroTrin Refinery in the south of the island because of a massive decline in daily oil production in the country, unpaid debts, a highly bloated employment scroll and the fact that government has to import approximately 100,000 barrels of oil daily to make the refinery useful. Trinidad is now only producing approximately 40,000 daily for a facility built to refine almost four times that amount.
The result is that there is a mad scramble by many of the very nations that walked away from Trinidad to now find a new supplier as both Venezuela and Trinidad are experiencing severe operational difficulties that are unlikely to be solved in the immediate future, a point Gonsalves was quick to point out.
He acknowledged that a concerted effort has to be made to ensure supplies are not cut because of the twin Venezuelan and Trinidadian problems.
“If you can’t get money to the shippers, the ships ain’t coming and the ships don’t come,” he said. “You don’t get the fuel, and we don’t get the financing component of the PetroCaribe, which pays for things like the poverty reduction program and some other specific thing. So, it affects us indirectly. Even our staff at our mission in Venezuela, we can’t get the money to them. Because you have to employ people to do certain things at the mission, your chauffeur, secretarial staff and these are people you employ from within the country. You have difficulty getting their money for them because of the sanctions.”