By David Rowe
What be will the impact of Hugo Chavez’s death upon the Caribbean and the Hemisphere at large?
It’s likely that, eventually, the bilateral relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, which was predicated on the personal relationship between Chavez and the Castro brothers, will recede.
Without Cuba and Venezuela acting as a bilateral platform, the United States might be able to initiate a needed rapprochement with Cuba. Many State Department insiders have wanted to work towards normalizing relations between Washington and Havana and to restore diplomatic relations between Washington and Caracas. This could provide an opening.
Bilateral relations between the United States and Venezuela have been strained since Chavez assumed the Presidency of Venezuela in 1999. Chavez reflexively blamed the United States for all of Venezuela’s ills and for interfering in the country’s domestic affairs.
Despite the hostile rhetoric, however, the United States still was Venezuela’s major trading partner, and a significant supplier of oil.
The rest of the Caribbean is faced with the possible loss of the PetroCaribe Agreement subsidizing oil for Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada, Haiti and a number of Caribbean nations.
The mathematics of PetroCaribe play a significant role in Jamaica’s ability to close the recent IMF agreement.
Without PetroCaribe, the Jamaica Dollar would be put under tremendous pressure, as oil prices could increase significantly.
Jamaican Minister of State Julian Jay Robinson recently noted that, without PetroCaribe, Jamaica would have to find an additional $500 million annually to pay for oil imports.
The Island of Dominica, a recipient of PetroCaribe subsidies, has declared a state of mourning. Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller expressed deep and profound sadness at Chavez’s passing and called him “a leader with a helpful heart.” Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar called Chavez’s a “great friend of Guyana” and a “committed integrationist.”
For most Caribbean nations, PetroCaribe represented the largest, individual source of bilateral aid from any country or institution.
What’s next for the region in the post-Chavez era?
Political unrest in Venezuela is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Venezuelan Constitution calls for an election within 30 days of Chavez’s death, which will pit Chavez’s preferred successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, against Henrique Capriles Radonski, an opposition Governor.
The major speculation is that if Capriles wins, the pro-Chavez military will not tolerate a centre- right regime, although right now Maduro is favoured to win.
What will happen to Venezuela’s oil exports and the PetroCaribe Agreement while these issues are being resolved?
Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution was complicated and dependent upon his larger-than-life personality for practical operation.
He created a presidential personality cult, abolished term limits and controlled the Armed Forces, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the state oil company.
Most Caribbean leaders were happy to benefit from his munificent international policies, but must have looked at his domestic policies with silent trepidation.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.