Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has had a long-standing diplomatic relationship with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, that the opposition NDP has used consistently as political fodder to feed its base as part of its demonising agenda against the Comrade Ralph-led ULP government.
For years since the beginning of the tenure of governance of the ULP, the opposition and its spokespersons have sought to characterise the relationship between both countries as a type of ungodly association to drive fear in the minds of our people. Even though this country’s relationship with Venezuela has borne tangible benefits for our people, those concerned with the demonising of our friends are content to ignore the benefits of this relationships in pursuit of their anti-Venezuela agenda. SVG’s very progressive foreign policy has focused on strengthening our relations with traditional long-standing allies while expanding and building new alliances with countries based on mutual respect and common interests.
Over the years our friends, specifically the government and people of the Republic of Cuba as well as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela have constantly opened their arms of friendship in contributing to the development of our country and its people. Venezuela has contributed to the education of Vincentian students through scholarships, and was also a significant contributor to the construction of the Argyle International Airport, as well as other projects. The creation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the ALBA Bank of which SVG is a member as well as the Petro Caribe initiative, have both been sources of benefits to this country.
Even as we can identify the many tangible benefits that SVG continues to receive as a result of our relationship with Venezuela, the friendship between both countries goes further than material benefits to be received, but instead prioritises solidarity and our countries’ commitment to the principles of international law. The friendship between both countries continues to grow and deepen, and SVG’s latest challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, the explosive eruptions of La Soufriere, and Hurricane Elsa are excellent examples of solidarity at work.
Generous aid as our country rebuilds
Over the course of the last two years, this government has had to increase borrowing like most countries in the region to deal with the fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic, but SVG had the additional threat of the volcanic eruption. This has caused the debt to increase from its pre-covid level of about 75% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to approximately 97% of GDP. The current conflict in Ukraine that has resulted in rapid increases in petroleum products, as well as wheat and wheat-based products, could not have occurred at a worst time, having a debilitating effect on our recovery efforts. Recognizing the multiple challenges to our rebuilding and recovery effort post eruption, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has stepped up in a major way to come to the aid of our people.
In an amazing show of solidarity and generosity, the government of Venezuela has written off 100% of the debt that is owed to it by SVG, a debt that amounts to approximately $160 million (EC). This act will potentially reduce our debt to GDP by between 6%-8% but most importantly, it means that our government can focus on servicing other debt or fund other programs with the savings we will now realise. Additionally, the government of Venezuela has agreed to allow this country to use $9 million previously set aside in escrow for debt payment, to finance the fleet expansion program within the Fisheries department. To help SVG deal with the energy crisis, the government of Venezuela will provide diesel to VINLEC at a 35% discount, for energy generation and undoubtedly result in cheaper energy cost for its customers.
The Hugo Chavez storage facility in Lowmans Bay will allow for improvement of our country’s energy security as it can store up to 3 months’ supply of fuel at any given time. SVG will also benefit from the restarting of the Petro Caribe initiative that will see consumers benefitting from stable Liquid Petroleum Gas (cooking gas) prices, since Venezuela would offer us LPG also at a 35% discount. The specific initiatives geared at providing relief against the surging energy prices will do just that as stable gas prices would prevent a possible increase in bus fares at least for the time being, reduce the fuel surcharge on electricity bills (and possibly the entire bill) and stabilise the price of cooking gas, meaning that every individual, every household will be positively impacted.
Finally, the government of Venezuela has also offered to provide SVG with free asphalt, a product that is a critical component to the road repair program that the government continues to undertake, reducing cost and improving the availability of this costly and often scarce product. This open show of solidarity and generosity by Venezuela comes in the face of illegal and unjust economic sanctions imposed by neo-colonialists with hegemonic aspirations in an attempt to cripple that country and force regime change. Like the widow, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela continues to give, not from their abundance, but in-spite of their own needs, the purest form of generosity.
Even without this latest show of generosity by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is undeniable that relationship between that country and SVG has benefitted us in myriad ways. The opposition will no doubt continue to play politics with the relationship between SVG and Venezuela with the hope that it would scare enough Vincentians into voting the NDP into office, but it will not work.
The ULP will continue to pursue its progressive foreign policy that focuses on constructive engagement with like-minded countries that uphold the principles of the charter of the Charter of the United Nations and are committed to improving our world. Our relationship with Venezuela is one such engagement that continues to grow and provide many benefits to this country in our quest for sustainable development.