Two months after the death of revolutionary president Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan-propped Petrocaribe oil alliance is determined to continue growing even in the absence of its visionary and charismatic founder, who passed away to cancer on March 5.
Dispelling claims that the oil agreement would dissolve without Chávez at the helm, the 21 member nations of Petrocaribe met in Venezuela last weekend to back the continuance of the “Chavista” government under the polemic new leadership of Nicolás Maduro, and offer support for the creation of a Petrocaribe Economic Zone “based on the productive strengths of the region beyond oil.”
In addition to providing Venezuelan fertilizers and oil at preferential terms, the Petrocaribe alliance will now seek to develop into an economic zone to “strengthen the industrial infrastructure of our nations, establishing new areas of economic exchange with conditions that can be agreed upon by the governments.”
The agreement, signed Sunday afternoon near Chávez’s final resting place, also calls for the creation of a new bilateral fund to help facilitate the integration process of Petrocaribe, which this weekend added two new members: Honduras and Guatemala.
The summit also served as an opportunity for the irascible and truculent Maduro to tell others about the importance of his presidency. The Venezuelan president said Petrocaribe would have been killed if the “murderous, right-wing fascists” had won last month’s presidential elections, which Maduro won by hair.
Since being launched in 2005, Petrocaribe has built oil infrastructure capacity throughout the region, thanks to13 joint ventures in 10 countries, according to the organization’s website. The infrastructure ensures storage capacity, processing and transportation of Venezuelan hydrocarbons. In 2012, Venezuela exported more that 100,000 barrels of oil a day to its various Petrocaribe members.
In addition, Petrocaribe is working on four refinery projects in Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Petrocaribe’s announced expansion into a greater economic zone is being hailed by leftist leaders as a fitting homage to Chávez’s vision of a unified Latin America.
Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas this weekend heralded Petrocaribe as a project that is helping Latin America to overcome the inequalities and asymmetries resulting from centuries of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism.
Maduro, for his part, vowed to continue—to the best of his abilities—the revolutionary project started by his mentor. He says the unification of Latin America and the Caribbean is the only way forward toward an independent hemisphere.
“We will continue on the path toward a Latin American union,” said Maduro, whose own country is deeply divided following his contested victory in last month’s elections. “The struggle and project that was led by Comandante Hugo Chávez was worth it and today, more than ever, it will continue.”
The next Petrocaribe summit will be held in Managua on June 29.