A visiting delegation from the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) and Petrocaribe converged at the Prime Minister’s residence on Thursday November 14. The trip was a familiarization tour for Mr Bernardo Alvarez who is new to the position of Secretary General of ALBA Petrocaribe. Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, spent some time discussing plans for Petrocaribe along with St Lucia’s ambassador for ALBA Petrocaribe, his excellency Hippolyte Eustace Vitalis. For those who question the relationship, Anthony pointed out that there has always been a link between Saint Lucia and the South American country.
“Venezuela was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us and set up an embassy in our island. This new alliance has strengthened even more what already existed,” he said.
Anthony also shared his government’s efforts to alleviate the sting of potentially high gas prices.
“We spend the equivalent of 8% of our GDP on oil products, or over 110 million US dollars each year to power our country, to fuel our vehicles, to maintain our quality of life. This is subject to ravages of price fluctuations. This Labour Party Government has been sensitive of this and has tried all in its power to maintain a reasonable price of gas at the pump. The government can only do so currently by adjusting how much it obtains from excise tax. Despite all the political ads you may be seeing right now on your televisions, since this government has been formed, the average price given from excise tax and gasoline has been EC $1.81 per gallon and EC $2.35 per gallon for diesel. To be clear, for those from certain quarters who may say they did not hear it, since this government has been elected by the people from December to date, the average excise tax that the government of Saint Lucia collected from gas and diesel have been $1. 84 per gallon and $2.33 per gallon. We have also sought to preserve the ability of the commercial sector to plan by introducing a three month period before adjustments.”
Secretary General Alvarez was effusive in his praise for the Prime Minister’s dedication to seeking viable solutions and reminded those in attendance that the deal extended further than the provision of oil products.
“We are also, in the humanitarian form of ALBA, able to get the funds for helping you with bridges. And as members, Saint Lucia has to participate in all the programs that ALBA is putting together. When we go to some places it’s important, because some people they feel that Petro Caribe is a dream and it’s not true. So we are here because Petrocaribe exists. Everyday we supply to the Caribbean an equivalent of one hundred and seventeen barrels to eighteen counties through thirteen mixed companies,” he stated.
The newly appointed Secretary General responded to criticism that the agreement comes with certain conditions resembling a ‘ransom’ of sorts.
“When you go against what is established you get all sorts of critics etc. ALBA is simply a mechanism for political dialogue between countries that are seeking social and economic transformation. This is what we are. There are different models inside ALBA. We are not asking people to follow a certain model. We respect sovereignty, we don’t believe in conditionality so the money and the resources that are coming through PetroCaribe does not imply that the government of Saint Lucia has to sign anything. We have been demonized by trying to present an alternative model and trying to think outside the box.”
Alvarez also addressed the question of whether his fellow country were in favour of the Petrocaribe movement. He admitted that concerns were possibly biased.
“Venezuela has a huge potential for production and of course they way we market things moves up and down. People consider more and more that PetroCaribe is part of our domestic policy. There are some people of course in Venezuela that for more psychological reasons want to raise an issue. For example because we supply oil to Cuba. So they are not really aiming at the supply of oil from Venezuela but they want to hurt Cuba.”
Full integration of Saint Lucia and Petrocaribe will begin within the next few weeks with the supply of oil to the island. By next week a final agreement is expected to be completed.