EDITORIAL: Chavez reached out to Caricom
THE NOT SO UNEXPECTED NEWS came on Tuesday night of the passing of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader for the past 14 years. He had become the standout figure in Latin America during his term in office, and forced many to either like him or hate him. There was no middle ground with Chavez.
Chavez suffered from cancer and despite the talk of having overcome the disease after extensive treatment in his beloved Cuba, it was clear late last year that things did not look good for an improvement in his health. The situation certainly became grim when he could not attend his own swearing-in ceremony, resulting in a serious divide among his supporters and opponents.
For us in the English-speaking Caribbean, Chavez did more than other previous leaders from oil-rich Venezuela. He obviously felt that the people of the Caribbean were important in his grand scheme of things, even if for geo-political reasons. The two examples of his reaching out to this region which stood out were: the preferential energy programme known as Petrocaribe and ALBA, the grouping which he had hoped would eventually be as important as the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Barbados did not join Petrocaribe or ALBA and in neither case was it a matter of hostility towards the late Venezuelan leader or because of our close relations with the United States for whom Chavez had great disdain. It was simply pragmatism on the part of Barbados.
We could not sacrifice our long-standing arrangements with Trinidad and Tobago for the new deal advanced by the Venezuelans even though our neighbours from Jamaica in the north to Guyana in the south felt otherwise.
ALBA, the international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, was able to attract some English-speaking Caricom nations to join Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela in the initiative. He was later able to spearhead the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, without the United States and Canada, as a counterweight to the OAS, which Chavez felt was dominated by the United States.
Despite denouncing the United States, Chavez was a realist who recognized that it was his neighbour to the north who purchased his oil, giving him the money to bankroll many of his projects.
The enigmatic late leader of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela leaves a legacy which many opponents and observers have described as polarising; but he must also be credited with transforming relations between Latin America and the Caribbean. There may now be doubts about the future direction of Venezuela towards this region. Whoever succeeds at the polls in the upcoming general election must recognize that Caracas has deep ties with the English-speaking Caribbean which should be strengthened to our mutual benefit.