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PM: Secret meeting talk a load of rubbish

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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has dispelled claims that he went to a secret meeting in Venezuela last week.

Commenting on the issue at a press conference, last Tuesday, Dr. Gonsalves said on Monday, June 19, he and Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica went to Venezuela for a one-day visit to address both regional and bi-lateral matters.{{more}}

Prime Minister Gonsalves told the media following an OECS caucus six weeks ago, he had made it public that a decision had been made by the OECS that he and Prime Minister Skerritt should go to Venezuela to speak with President Hugo Chavez about the status of the Petro Caribe and the matter of maritime delimitation between Venezuela and the respective member states of the OECS.

Dr. Gonsalves said the duo were set a time frame to meet with President Chavez before the OECS Heads of Government meeting which concluded in St. Kitts a few days ago.

“So that the idea that Prime Minister Skerritt and I went on some secret visit to Venezuela and I hurried off not telling anybody anything and then went to St.Kitts. That’s a load of rubbish,” said Dr. Gonsalves expressing disgust.

Dr. Gonsalves said that coming out of the meeting in Venezuela was an agreement that the issue of the maritime delimitation should be taken up by the OECS Foreign Ministers and the relevant technical persons at the OECS Secretariat who should arrange a meeting with Venezuela.

The second issue at the table related to Petro Caribe. Dr. Gonsalves said he and Prime Minister Skerritt reported to their Venezuelan counterparts that matters have been moving too slowly. This factor Dr. Gonsalves said was even acknowledged by President Chavez who “gave very expressed instructions for there to be expedition”.

Dr. Gonsalves made it clear that the Petro Caribe Initiative remains a very important link of the overall Energy Policy of the Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

Petro Caribe, a Caribbean oil alliance with Venezuela to purchase their oil on conditions of preferential payment, was launched in June of 2005. The payment system allows for nations to buy oil at market value but only a part payment is made upfront; the remainder can be paid through a 25-year financing agreement at 1% interest. The deal allows for the Caribbean nations to purchase up to 185,000 barrels of oil per day on these terms. In addition, it allows for nations to pay part of the cost with other products provided to Venezuela, such as bananas, rice, and sugar.

Twelve of the 15 members of CARICOM plus Cuba and the Dominican Republic signed the agreement on September, 7, 2005. The only countries that chose not to sign on were Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti was not invited to the talks, since Venezuela did not recognize its US-installed government. More recently, however, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has discussed the possibility of Haiti’s entry into the project with president-elect René Préval.

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