"Haiti has no debt with Venezuela...on the contrary, it is Venezuela that is historically indebted to that nation" - Hugo Chavez
The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, announced this week that his country is canceling Haiti's debt for the purchase of Venezuelan oil, and ordering the petroleum company that the Venezuelan government owns, CITGO, to make its facilities available for the provision of emergency supplies as well as cooperating with the general fund-raising efforts for the Caribbean nation. Chavez said Venezuela will be providing free fuel to those in Haiti who need it.
The ALBA group of countries, meeting in Venezuela, also announced a massive program of aid, with an initial funding of $100 million, and $20 million for health care help. This comes on top of existing large scale volunteer contingents in Haiti from the ALBA countries, including more than 400 Cuban doctors.
Meanwhile, a group of the wealthier countries and international organizations, meeting in Montreal, Canada, also put forth plans for Haiti. This "Friends of Haiti" group, which includes the United States, Canada, and Brazil plus the European Union, the UN and the IMF, was told by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive that the damage to Haiti is so great that it will take a at least five to ten years to repair, and asked for aid to the tune of about $575 million. As of Tuesday, the UN said that under half of that amount had been offered. Negotiations are ongoing about cancellation of Haiti's debt of $890 million to the wealthier countries, a measure which has been demanded by Oxfam and others. The Haitian government says it lost assets equivalent to 60% of its annual Gross Domestic Product in just a few seconds when the quake struck on January 12.
Chavez said that the cancellation of Haiti's debt should be considered a long-delayed payback by his country for the role that Haiti played in South America's independence. After Haiti won its independence from France in a bloody struggle that began in the late 1700s and ended with the expulsion of the troops of the great Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, Venezuelan patriot leader Simon Bolivar and his revolutionaries received massive support from Haiti, including thousands of troops and large amounts of military supplies. Bolivar also was give refuge in Haiti on two occasions. President Alexandre Petion, ruling the southern part of a divided Haiti at the time, told Bolivar that the only repayment that Haiti expected was for slavery to be abolished in the liberated territories. This was done.
The Bolivarian Alliance for the People's of Our America, ALBA, is composed of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Honduras was a member under the progressive presidency of Manuel Zelaya, but last week the coup government that overthrew him withdrew from ALBA. ALBA is an economic, aid, trade and political alliance which seeks horizontal integration of the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean as a means of getting out from under domination by the United States, the IMF and World Bank, and the other wealthy countries. Prior to the earthquake, there had been tentative moves by Haiti to affiliate with ALBA.
However, the right wing in the United States, including the Heritage Foundation, has been saying that the earthquake provides an opportunity for the United States to drive a wedge between Haiti and the ALBA countries, by using Haiti's great need for US earthquake assistance as leverage. How the United States will deal with Haiti's relationship to the ALBA countries going forward is yet to be seen. There have been some indications of US-Cuban cooperation on the ground in Haiti. Cuba allowed U.S. aircraft to overfly its national territory to get to Haiti quicker, and the U.S. has offered to help supply the Cuban medical mission in Haiti. But Cuba has also criticized the large U.S. military presence, as have other countries and non-governmental organizations.
At the end of the ALBA meeting, alliance announced a program of aid to Haiti which stressed the following points:
• The people of Haiti must be the principle protagonists in reconstruction.
• There should be coordination of outside efforts through the UN.
• The current heavy presence of the United States military is seen as worrisome.
• ALBA is willing to work with all other countries in the reconstruction (implying the group that met in Montreal and including the United States).
• ALBA's bank will establish a fund to help Haiti, composed of contributions from the
• PETROCARIBE, the ALBA related system of providing fuel to the region on generous credit terms, will ensure fuel supplies to Haitian generating plants at Cap Haitian, Gonaives and Carrefour.
• Attention to the needs of children will be prioritized, including reconstruction of schools and food for children.
• Food aid will be greatly increased.
• An immigration amnesty for undocumented Haitians living in the ALBA countries will be considered.