Jamaica monitoring conflict in Venezuela as oil imports fall

BY KIMONE FRANCIS Observer staff reporter francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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ANTI-Government protests in Venezuela have drawn the attention of the Jamaican Government, which yesterday said that it is closely monitoring the situation in the Nicolas Maduro-led South American country.


Days of deadly protests in addition to widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime have crippled the country, with opponents pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections.


Three people have so far been killed.


Yesterday, minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, disclosed that the number of barrels of oil per day provided by Venezuela under the PetroCaribe agreement has fallen "significantly" because of continued unrest in that country.


PetroCaribe, which was launched in 2005, is an agreement between Venezuela and some Caribbean territories to purchase oil on preferential payment conditions. It allows member nations to buy oil at market value and only pay a percentage of the cost up front, with the balance being paid over 25 years at one per cent interest.


Countries under the agreement are allowed to purchase up to 185,000 barrels of oil per day on these terms.


Johnson Smith said Jamaica’s approximate quota hovered at 23,000 to 24,000 barrels per day, but noted that this has since fallen to "close to 1,300".


"Production has been reduced in Venezuela and therefore our imports have been reduced as well proportionately. We continue to work through [dialogue], as you know, it’s a joint venture agreement and it remains in place at this time. Our receipts have been reduced but there are no issues at this point in time. We’ll source on the world market to fill the gap," said Johnson Smith, who was giving a quarterly update on her portfolio at the ministry’s offices in New Kingston.


The minster informed that Cabinet has appointed a special committee, chaired by her, to review matters related to the PetroCaribe arrangement and trade to ensure that "we are clear of all of the issues and exposure as we monitor the developments closely".


She said a presentation will be made to Cabinet on the matter shortly.


In the meantime, Johnson Smith said approximately 50 Jamaicans are currently in the embattled country.


"What I can assure you is that Jamaica is in close touch with our mission there and we are monitoring the situation closely and we will take such steps as are necessary to protect our nationals and to protect our staff as the situation unfolds," the minister said.


She mentioned that the situation continues to be one of international concern and given the historically strong friendship and relations between the two countries, Jamaica wishes, in the interest of the Venezuelan people, to see a peaceful resolution of the current situation there.


"To that end, Jamaica continues to engage with our colleague countries, with member countries of the OAS (Organization of American States), including Caricom (Caribbean Community) member States to promote dialogue," she stressed, adding: "Jamaica adheres to the principle of non-interference as a matter of policy, which means, fundamentally, that we do not seek to tell other governments what to do in their domestic space."

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