KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says Venezuela has agreed to cancel St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ debt under PetroCaribe, its oil initiative with Latin American and Caribbean countries.
He said as a result, this could result in the national debt declining by nine percent.
Gonsalves, who returned home on Tuesday evening after spending four days in a hospital in Venezuela, Caracas will half the debt of the other member countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) that are members of PetroCaribe, which will now be reset to offer fuel at 35 percent discount to participating countries.
Gonsalves, who spent 10 days in the South American country, said he met on Monday with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, who also pledged homes for people affected by last year’s volcanic eruption as well as fertilizer for farmers.
Gonsalves, speaking at a ceremony at the Argyle International Airport, said that in Venezuela, he spent four days in hospital, during which he held meetings with the country’s vice-president, Delcy Rodriguez and Raul Li Causi, president of the ALBA Bank and vice-minister for the Caribbean.
He said the discussions continued following his release from hospital and because of the nature of the discussions, he summoned Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, his son, to join the talks in Caracas.
The younger Gonsalves had been in Washington attending the annual spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and arrived in Caracas last Saturday.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said there were a number of detailed technical meetings in which Camillo had to participate, concluding on Monday night with talks with President Maduro.
“I outlined in Caracas not only the impact of COVID but also the terrible socio-economic impact of the volcanic eruptions last year followed by Hurricane Elsa, that President Maduro agreed to give 100 percent debt relief of our PetroCaribe debt.”
He said Kingstown and Caracas are tallying the precise size of the debt and that “it may be up to US$70 million, meaning EC$189 million”.
Gonsalves said this amounts to between eight and nine percent the national debt.
That act of solidarity by Nicolas Maduro will long be remembered by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“And this is a country that is under illegal universal sanctions by great powers. And that makes that act of solitary all the more touching and meaningful and we must recognise that across this entire Caribbean and the world.”
Gonsalves said there would also be “a revival of PetroCaribe, which has been brought to a screeching halt effectively by certain sanctions.
“And that revival will see a discount with the participating countries in PetroCaribe of 3 percent of the price of fuel. And that is going to mean relief for the persons who consume electricity in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a context in which the price of fuel is rising sharply since COVID and since the military activities in Ukraine.”
Gonsalves said he had explained to Maduro the hardships that farmers are enduring with the increased price of fertilizer and urea.
“They do not have the fertilizer but they have the urea and they will provide, on a monthly basis, to us free shipments of urea. And for the roads that have been damaged by La Soufriere and by bad weather, he has agreed to provide us also free asphalt.
“And when I told him that there are some persons still without their houses being properly repaired and some which we are building and we haven’t rebuilt all the houses which are damaged or destroyed because of the volcano, he has undertaken to deliver to us up to 150 pre-fabricated houses to help the people in North Windward and North Leeward.”
Gonsalves said Maduro had asked him to tell the Garifuna and Calinago people that he very much loves the indigenous people who have suffered because of the volcanic eruption.
“So, my dear brother, Canon Ashton, you see what I mean when I said on the night of Holy Thursday, I felt a terrible pain in my side and I had to go to the hospital here on Good Friday to do all the tests and when the doctors say I must go on to Cuba or Venezuela to do my usual check-up, you understand the meaning, and I understand it: the Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
“And I want the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to know, and especially those who have suffered from the volcano and all those who have had their lives disrupted by COVID that what is in your mind and in your heart but not in your mouth, the Good Lord has given me the words to express what is in your heart and in your mind, to your benefit and to God’s glory,” Prime Minister Gonsalves added.