Venezuela owes Haiti, Chavez says

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez on Monday said that Petrocaribe, Venezuela’s cut-rate regional energy alliance, will forgive quake-stricken Haiti’s debt. Haiti’s debt with Venezuela is US$295 million, about one-third of its global foreign debt of US$1 billion, according to International Monetary Fund figures.

“Haiti has no debt with Venezuela – on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti,” Chavez said as he made the announcement.

Chavez was referring to the support that Haiti – which won its independence from France in 1804 – gave Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar in 1815 and 1816 in his quest to free his country from Spanish colonial rule.

Chavez made the announcement at the closing ceremony of a meeting of foreign ministers from leftist countries with the ALBA trade alliance (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), a Cuba and Venezuela-supported regional common market founded in 2004.

Petrocaribe provides preferential oil pricing for its Caribbean members, with Venezuela picking up 40 per cent of the cost if oil is selling over US$50 a barrel.

When oil prices are above US$50, member states will have up to 25 years to pay the bulk of the debt at a one per cent interest rate, with two years grace.

Haiti, struggling to recover from the devastating 7.0 earthquake on January 12, recently received 225,000 barrels of Petrocaribe oil sent through the neighboring Dominican Republic.

ALBA foreign ministers also approved an aid package for Haiti that includes sanitary, energy, financial and educational assistance.

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