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In Case You Missed It
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Mad Men not to be trusted
Politics of Lies & Deception
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Petrocaribe $ Bird Island
Nations Shall War No more
My Feeling of Insecurity
China, Admiration & Envy
Capitalism: Wounded ...
© Gordon Moreau
PETROCARIBE AND BIRD ISLAND
April 18, 2006
I recall some years before he took office, the late Rosie Douglas drew public attention to a matter that has again become current since his death. He accused Venezuela of attempting to take over Bird Island out of Dominica’s jurisdiction. He urged Government to do something about it. In his brief stay as Prime Minister (in 2000) I am not aware that he himself did anything about it. Perhaps it was then too unimportant to matter among the priorities of a busy political leader.
Below we assemble bits and pieces from sundry media and other information sources to better educate ourselves. Then we consider the PetroCaribe Agreement. We make some observations and offer a little analysis. Finally, we suggest a way ahead.
CLOSE TO US
The Wikipedia (online) free encyclopedia places Bird Island “70 miles west of Dominica and 340 miles north of the Venezuelan mainland.” The “NATION NEWS” (November 9, 2005) places Dominica 140 miles east of Bird Island, and also says that the latter is located 350 miles north of Venezuela.
At the time of writing I could not verify whether 70 miles or double that is more accurate. It is certain that the islet - some say a sandbar or a ten acre rock - is closer to Dominica, Guadeloupe and Antigua than to Venezuela.
Isla de Aves (for Venezuela), or Bird Island (for the rest of us) was probably discovered in 1584. It was not settled, yet it was at times claimed for Britain, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
From 1878 to 1912 the island was occupied by American guano miners until supplies were exhausted. In 1895 Venezuela’s President Joaquin Crespo included/counted it as Venezuelan territory.
“In 1950, a Venezuelan Navy fleet consisting of 2 patrol boats and 1 transport boat reached the island and a group of soldiers effectively took control of the island. Twenty eight years later in 1978, the Venezuelan Navy set up a Scientific Naval Base named “Simón Bolívar”, which was permanently inhabited by a group of scientists and military personnel.
The Venezuelan military in 2004 expanded the Naval base which was raised on stilts above water. No nations have officially contested Venezuela’s sovereignty over the island with the Americans. However, several Caribbean island states, including Dominica, have asserted to the UN that Venezuela’s claim to an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from Isla de Aves is illegal. They cite the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea provision that prohibits isolated, tiny islets from being used to make any claim beyond the 12 nautical mile
(22 km) territorial sea limit. Venezuela is not a signatory to that UN Convention.
With the joint-signing of the Petro Caribe S.A. agreement between Venezuela and many of the Caribbean states, there may be decreased pressure by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to continue the sovereignty issue.”
CARIBBEAN NET NEWS (CNN)
CNN printed (on March 16, 2006), “In recent times, the Venezuelan authorities have stepped up activities on the ten acre rock, including among other things, the conduct of weddings and baptisms.”
CNN went on to identify two major issues at stake for the OECS:
1) Ownership of Bird Island, and
2) the potential use of Bird Island to establish Venezuela’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Venezuela’s ownership would result in the country greatly increasing the area of its EEZ at the expense of the relevant OECS Member States.”
On November 9, 2005 the “NATION NEWS” wrote:
“Some Caribbean officials say that they are concerned that [Venezuela’s] 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone cold be considered to encompass several Caribbean nations, including Montserrat and Grenada.”
On November 10, 2005 the Barbados Advocate posted inter alia on the Web:
“The BBC also announced that Venezuela had upgraded its outpost there and dispatched a team of officials accompanied by military personnel, to impress on Dominica that it should surrender that tiny territory which is surrounded by sea teeming with fish, and reportedly also has potentially large petroleum reserves. Bird Island is much closer to Dominica, Antigua and Guadeloupe than to Venezuela. OECS leaders are displeased with Venezuela’s uncompromising position on Bird Island on one hand, and attempts by Chavez to form closer relationships with the region through PetroCaribe, his oil initiative.”
The Advocate continued:
“Guyana also signed on to PetroCaribe, But Venezuela has not given up its claim to more than 60 per cent of the neighbouring Co-operative Republic west of the Essequibo River.”
“Regardless of Venezuela’s professed interest in the economic welfare of Caribbean states, as expressed in the form of the PetroCaribe oil deal which the OECS eagerly embraced, its presumption of ownership rights to Bird Island is hardly the way to reinforce that interest. Quite the contrary. It tells small, military impotent states that respect goes no further than a powerful neighbour wants them to go.”
“Neither the OECS nor CARICOM has a credible counter to Venezuela’s military muscle.”
“Given what it has already done at its security outpost on the tiny island, in all probability Venezuela will eventually attempt to show that might is right, an attitude previously associated only with an often ill-advised US in this hemisphere.
It is clear that South America’s most assertive left-leaning state wants to flex its muscles. But if it does not relish being damned as a bully, it should first agree to hear what OECS leaders have to say during a meeting they are seeking with Venezuela’s president.”
PETRO CARIBE AGREEMENT
Barbados did not sign, neither did Trinidad/Tobago. The following countries signed in alpha order:
Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent/Grenadines, Suriname, and Venezuela.
The lofty ideals and stated objective of the agreement are not in doubt:
“ 5. REITERATE that the objective of PETROCARIBE is to help in the transformation of Latin American and Caribbean societies by making them fairer, more educated, participatory and harmonious nations. For this reason, PETROCARIBE has been conceived as an integral process intended to promote the eradication of social inequalities and to foster improved living standards and more effective participation by nations in their efforts to shape their own destiny;”
The query is how does one reconcile the attitude in PetroCaribe and that in the Bird Island matter.
PetroCaribe annoyed Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad & Tobago who expressed words of reproach to his CARICOM partners. It is of more than passing interest that Trinidad & Tobago had sent oil to President Chavez when a local strike, supported by the Bush administration had threatened his presidency.
Through this column I publicly supported President Chavez. He was a democratically elected leader. He took the position that the majority in so oil-rich a country should not be so poor. He was prepared to do land reform, subject to compensation for those who had valid land titles. What is wrong with that? I asked at the time. That same majority came out in record numbers and by referendum they saved his presidency.
I asked my professional colleagues in Port-of-Spain why Trinidad & Tobago did not inaugurate a program to assist its CARICOM partners in need long before Venezuela’s initiative. I acknowledge their contribution and their advice.
They advised me that prior (not subsequent) to Chavez, Trinidad and Tobago did establish such a facility to assist its neighbours. It collapsed because CARICOM partners kept taking oil on credit without making payment. Who says that Venezuela shall necessarily spare us – like Trinidad & Tobago did – if we accumulate heavy oil debt without paying?
On reading the agreement I did not get the impression that there was a grant component. The concession seems to be a credit or loan facility, albeit on a low interest rate of 1%. But loans must be repaid, however soft.
This leads me to Hurricane Katrina. No country in the world seems better capable of taking care of itself after a disaster than the U. S. A. By contrast, hurricane or no hurricane, few countries seem less able to manage than Dominica. But Mr. Chavez offers free oil to people in the U. S. Why not donate petroleum to Dominica and offer the U.S. the soft loan to acquire Venezuelan oil so that the U.S. would repay as soon as recovery has come about.
No wonder people in the Bronx expressed gratitude, but those in the media said President Chavez only wanted to make a political point. We cannot tell Mr. Chavez to whom to extend his largess. For Dominica, however, it would not be a matter of scoring a political point or kudo. It is a matter of survival and all Dominica and the world would appreciate it.
YEARS OF PLENTY?
Even with soft terms and conditions micro states like Dominica find problems meeting their liabilities as they become due. That is why economists advise that we should borrow only if the future looks good so that we shall be able to pay back. What is there in our current planning to suggest that seven years of plenty will succeed our several lean years….so that we will be able to repay?
What will Venezuela do if we cannot repay? Since they are seizing Bird Island well in advance it will not be available as a negotiating chip. And if its claim succeeds, either by conquest or by international fiat, the whole of Dominica, among others, would fall well within its Exclusive Economic Zone. In theory….and practice???....if not in law.
Now, if the old Trinidad & Tobago facility did not work, what has since happened that will make this PetroCaribe facility work? Should we not have sought a different formula? What was our compromise or counter-offer? Answers to these queries are humbly solicited and will be appreciated.
THE WAY AHEAD
The PetroCaribe Agreement reads in part:
“In order to guarantee the achievement of these objectives and given the dynamic nature and complexity of the energy issue, PETROCARIBE emerges as an organization capable of ensuring the coordination and harmonization of energy policies, including oil and oil-derivatives, gas, electricity and the efficient use of these resources, technological co-operation, training, development of energy infrastructure and the harnessing of alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and other kinds of energy.”
The emphasis is mine.
Dominica should say, “Damn right!! Since the agreement itself recognizes this, forget about the loan facility. Kindly give us funding for solar energy and/or wind energy, etc…, to make us less dependent on Venezuela and on petroleum from whatever source.” I do not believe it is at all too late for Hon. Skerrit to make this request.
For decades Trinbago fishermen were being captured and jailed “for fishing in Venezuelan waters”. I have been told that since Manning assisted Chavez in his hour of need such arrests have ceased. In this same spirit, Caribbean neighbors should seize the moment while goodwill is still in vogue.
President Chavez will not be around forever. It would be to his eternal glory should his legacy include amicable resolution of the Bird Island issue, the Venezuelan claim to lands in Guyana, and the 200 mile EEZ.