Venezuela buys into Ja

Jamaica and Venezuela Monday signed off on a host of development loans, including a deal that will see Jamaica receive US$130 million upfront to construct a new leg of Highway 2000.

The multi-lane tolled motorway project will run from Spanish Town, St. Catherine, to Ocho Rios, St. Ann, and will see additional injections of US$65 million each in March and May next year.

Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, also announced during a press conference late Monday that the Venezuelans would be pumping in US$290 million to expand the Petrojam Oil Refinery to raise production from 35,000 barrels of oil per day to 50,000 barrels.

The agreements, which also include an amendment to the PetroCaribe Initiative, were initialled in Montego Bay, St. James, yesterday during a one-day working visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a team of government officials from the South American nation.

Mr. Chavez and a host of Venezuelan government ministers, including Energy Minister Raphael Ramirez and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, arrived about 1:05 p.m. at the Sangster International Airport in the Second City.

The Venezuelans were met by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Cabinet ministers, including Anthony Hylton, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Finance and Planning; and Mr. Paulwell.

The amendment to the PetroCaribe Initiative regularises the extra 2,500 barrels of oil supplied to Air Jamaica per day, adding to the original 21,000 with 40 per cent of the payments converted to loans for development projects such as those also signed yesterday.

Among the other agreements signed were:

The Petrojam commercial sales contract and a joint venture agreement with PetroCaribe Jamaica Limited in which Jamaica will have a 51 per cent stake;

A joint venture agreement between Petrojam and Petroleos de Venezuela, the Venezuelan oil refinery, that will enable it to take an equity position in the Petrojam refinery and facilitate its expansion and upgrading;

Social Development Bank of Venezuela loans.

The provision of financing under the San Jose Accord, the predecessor to PetroCaribe, to enable Phase Three of the Montego Bay Sports Complex and a line of credit for the Jamaica Mortgage Bank to finance affordable housing solutions.

A US$9.3 million loan to offset construction costs of Phase Three of the Montego Bay Sports Complex, which has a total cost of US$11.6 million;

A US$2.13 million loan to facilitate construction of Phase Two of the Port Maria Civic Centre.

Mr. Chavez had flown directly from Cuba where he visited his ailing ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro, for his 80th birthday.

The Venezuelan President also met with former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson for what one government official said was as ‘a private meeting’.

Under the PetroCaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement, Venezuela supplies oil and petroleum products on concessionary rates to 14 Caribbean countries.