JLP shifts stance on Venezuela

However much they may attempt to spin it, Bruce Golding, the Opposition Leader, has retreated from his previous position on Jamaica’s burgeoning economic relationship with Venezuela. That is decent and mature.

Mr. Golding apparently forgot to tell his energy spokesman, Clive Mullings about the policy shift, with the resulting spectacle of Mr. Mullings raising doubts about the plan for Petroleos de Venezuela SA to take a 49 per cent stake in the Petrojam oil refinery and the scramble by JLP spokesman Dwight Nelson to declare that there was no inconsistency between the positions of party leader and energy spokesman.

The truth is that we had found it demeaning of Mr. Golding when he suggested in mid-June that Jamaica was bartering its foreign policy with Venezuela “for a few barrels of oil”.

The JLP does not believe that Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, is worthy of the seat on the UN Security Council, for which it is vying with Guatemala, so deals, such as, the one for the expansion of Petrojam and PetroCaribe initiative, under which Caracas provides oil on a concessionary basis to Caribbean countries, was a vulgar purchase of Caribbean votes by Mr. Chavez. Moreover, the Opposition claimed to be fearful that by backing Venezuela for the Security Council seat, Jamaica would face a backlash from the United States.

The JLP has been forced to reassess its position on two counts. The first, and less consequential, is the fact that the Caribbean Community, as a group, has endorsed Venezuela’s candidacy. Barbados, which is more likely to pursue a conservative foreign policy, and Trinidad and Tobago, which has commercial concerns over PetroCaribe, were unhesitant in their support. The Opposition, in effect, chose a bad foreign policy issue on which to hitch its star with its implied support of Guatemala, a country’s whose recent actions have not been in the interest of the Caribbean.

The JLP’s second mistake, which it is now seeking to correct, was its apparent rejection of economic opportunities for Jamaica. Its action was perceived as pettily political and bloody-minded. Who, in this period of rocketing oil prices, can sniff at a scheme that turns 40 per cent of the payment into long-term loans at one per cent interest, or over US$270 million in development credit at a rate less than half what Jamaica could accomplish on the international money market?

This newspaper has concerns about some of President Chavez’s domestic and foreign policies, in particular the weakening of the private sector and the accumulation of power by the Venezuelan state and into the hands of President Chavez. They pose dangers to democracy in Venezuela. Indeed, we believe it is responsible to declare these concerns, and to insist that the democratic space is kept open in Venezuela. We should ensure, for instance, that the coming presidential election is free and fair.

It is important that Jamaica be pragmatic about its economic development and the relationship between this and its foreign policy. We are sophisticated enough to manage a foreign policy that welcomes Venezuelan investments without undermining our friendship with the United States. That is a point that Mr. Golding now seems to embrace, rather than appearing to be churlish about economic inflows.

From the Jamaica Gleaner