PetroCaribe deterred focus on renewables – Caribbean academic

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) speaks during the 16th PetroCaribe Ministerial Council in Caracas May 27, 2016. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

(CMC) – A leading Caribbean academic says that while Venezuela’s PetroCaribe initiative helped participating Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries get through a difficult patch, it also deterred investments in renewable energy.

In 2005, Caracas developed an oil alliance with many Caribbean states to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment. Eight years later, PetroCaribe agreed links with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) to go beyond oil and promote economic cooperation.

“I think the record is clear: PetroCaribe reduced a lot of its members to debt-laden countries,” Professor Emeritus Anthony Bryan said, adding that by 2015, more than one-third of the external debt of Caricom members of PetroCaribe was owed to Venezuela.

Bryan told delegates attending the Sixth Caribbean Sustainable Energy Forum (CSEF VI) that in addition, Venezuela’s resource diplomacy had a telling impact on Caricom regional negotiation and regional cooperation.

“Some got deals, signed agreements which were better than others,” he said as he spoke on the topic ‘Geopolitics, Climate Change and Energy Governance within the Caribbean’.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) scholar, who is also an independent consultant on energy development, said that then Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, under whose leadership Caracas launched PetroCaribe, had noted afterwards that “oil is a geopolitical weapon”.

“… At that time, the Venezuelan largess was being distributed throughout the Caribbean and the hemisphere in the name of 21st century socialism,” Bryan said.

“I had a lot of trouble deciphering what that meant but then I came to the conclusion that it was this curious socio-economic theology located in an expansive void between Simon Bolivar and Santa Clause,” he said to laughter, as he chuckled.

“He was giving away the largess of the country,” Bryan said, adding that history is replete with belligerent leaders using humanitarian rhetoric to hide geopolitical designs.

Bryan, however, said the PetroCaribe experience is a forceful lesson for the Caricom region.

“And what I think was the worst part of it is that it lured the region into a false sense of energy security. Governments and private sectors should have been looking to advance the cause of renewable energy or, in the case of my country, Trinidad and Tobago, to at least invest in the cause of renewable energy in the future.

“But we didn’t do that. All we did was have a series of mendicant pilgrimages to Caracas. Every country was doing that. Going to meet with Chavez; going to get some honey,” Bryan said, adding that this was no vision for energy security.

He said that the region needs a clear vision for energy cooperation that will integrate energy policy with trade, economic, environmental, security and foreign policy while broadening dialogue with producing and consuming countries alike.

“In all of this, we still have to remember international relations 101: countries do not have friends, they have interest.”

The academic said that the world’s most highly concentrated deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal have helped to determine the global balance of power over the past century, giving a small number of energy-rich states, many of them in the Middle East, tremendous influence.