by Kim Ives
& Dan Coughlin
Tens of thousands of Haitians
spontaneously poured into the streets of Port-au-Prince on the
morning of Mar. 12, 2007. President Hugo Chavez had just arrived
in Haiti, all but unannounced, and a multitude, shrieking and
singing with glee, joined him in jogging alongside the motorcade
of Haiti’s then President René Préval on its way to the National
Palace (later destroyed in the 2010 earthquake).
There, Chavez announced that Venezuela would
help Haiti by building power stations, expanding electricity
networks, improving airports, supplying garbage trucks, and
supporting widely-deployed Cuban medical teams. But the
centerpiece of the gifts Chavez brought Haiti was 14,000 barrels
of oil a day, a Godsend in a country that has been plagued by
blackouts and power shortages for decades.
The oil was part of a PetroCaribe deal which Venezuela had
signed with Haiti a year before. Haiti had only to pay 60% for
the oil it received, while the remaining 40% could be paid over
the course of 25 years at 1% interest. Under similar PetroCaribe
deals, Venezuela now provides more than 250,000 barrels a day at
sharply discounted prices to 17 Central American and Caribbean
countries, including Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Cuba,
Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
The cost of the program is estimated at some $5 billion
annually. But the benefits to, and gratitude from, PetroCaribe
recipients are huge, particularly during the on-going global
economic crisis. In short, Caracas is underwriting the stability
and energy security of most economies in the Caribbean and
Central America, at the same time challenging, for the first
time in over a century, U.S. hegemony in its own "backyard."
Washington’s alarm over and hostility to PetroCaribe is layed
bare in secret diplomatic cables obtained by the media
organization WikiLeaks. Then U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet
Sanderson rebuked Préval for "giving Chavez a platform to spout
anti-American slogans" during his 2007 visit, said one cable
a June 2011 article
which debuted a WikiLeaks-based series produced by Haïti
Liberté in conjunction with The Nation.
Reviewing all 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables which
were later released, one realizes that Sanderson wasn’t the only
U.S. diplomat wringing her hands about PetroCaribe.
"It is remarkable that in this current contest we are being
outspent by two impoverished countries: Cuba and Venezuela,"
noted U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Frank Baxter in a 2007 cable
released by Wikileaks. "We offer a small Fulbright program; they
offer a thousand medical scholarships. We offer a half dozen
brief IV programs to ‘future leaders’; they offer thousands of
eye operations to poor people. We offer complex free trade
agreements someday; they offer oil at favorable rates today.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Chavez is winning
friends and influencing people at our expense."
We can now expect Washington’s "contest" with Venezuela to
escalate dramatically as it attempts to take advantage of the
Bolivarian regime’s vulnerability during the transition of
power. Already Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom Chavez asked
Venezuelans to make his successor, has sounded the alarm. "We
have no doubt that commander Chavez was attacked with this
illness," Maduro said on Mar. 5, repeating a suspicion voiced by
Chavez himself that Washington was somehow responsible for the
fatal cancer he contracted. "The old enemies of our fatherland
looked for a way to harm his health."
Maduro also announced on national television on Mar. 5 "that
a U.S. Embassy attache was being expelled for meeting with
military officers and planning to destabilize the country," the
AP reported. A U.S. Air Force attaché was also expelled.
In short, just as the imperative to secure oil has driven the
U.S. to multiple wars, coups, and intrigues in the Mideast over
the past 60 years, it is now driving the U.S. toward a major new
confrontation in Latin America. With Chavez’s death, Washington
sees a long awaited opportunity to roll back the Bolivarian
Revolution and programs like PetroCaribe.
In recent years, Chavez has led Venezuela to nationalize
dozens of foreign-owned undertakings, including oil projects run
by Exxon Mobil, Texaco Chevron, and other large North American
corporations. The future of the hydrocarbon resources in
Venezuela’s Maracaibo Basin and Orinoco Belt, recently
recognized as the world’s largest, will soon reveal itself to be
the central economic and political issue, and hottest
flashpoint, in the hemisphere.
In the case of Haiti, Hugo Chavez often said that PetroCaribe
and other aid was given "to repay the historic debt that
Venezuela owes the Haitian people." Haiti was the first nation
of Latin America, gaining its independence in 1804. In the 19th
century’s first example of international solidarity, Haitian
revolutionary leaders like Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Alexandre
Pétion provided Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar, South
America’s "Great Liberator," with guns, ships, and printing
presses to carry out the anti-colonial struggle on the
And this was the dream that inspired Hugo Chavez: a modern
Bolivarian revolution sweeping South America, spreading
independence from Washington and growing "21st
century socialism." PetroCaribe was Chavez’s flagship in that
"contest," as Ambassador Baxter called it.
Ironically, it was former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide who first foiled U.S. election engineering in Latin
America in December 1990, but his electoral victory was cut
short by a September 1991 coup. Hugo Chavez was the next Latin
American leader to successfully carry out a political revolution
at the polls in 1998. His people defeated the U.S.-backed coup
that tried to unseat him in April 2002. Due to his strategic
acumen, his popular support, and the goodwill created with
PetroCaribe, Chavez’s prestige grew in Venezuela and around the
world during his 14 years in power up until his death today,
which will bring a huge tide of mourning across Latin America.
The eulogies will be many, but former U.S. Attorney General
Ramsey Clark, who personally knew and worked with Chavez, made a
prescient observation in January that stands out: "In my
opinion, history will judge the contributions of Hugo Chavez to
Latin America as greater than those of Bolivar."