South Pacific: Venezuela expands oil aid

Venezuela has initiated plans to extend its solidarity-based oil deals to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as signalled by Venezuela's deputy foreign minister Vladimir Villegas, at the 38th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders meeting in Tonga, held October 16-17.

According to the Energy Publisher website, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in South America and was the world's sixth-largest oil exporting country in 2006.

"The oil was a blessing given to us by the universe, by nature. We have a choice: either to use it and be selfish about it, or to use it and help with it", Villegas told reporters at a press conference in the Tongan capital of Nukualofa after the PIF summit.

The October 20 Sydney Morning Herald reported Villegas as saying: "Before President Hugo Chavez came to power, oil was used as a weapon of domination. Now oil is used in Venezuela as an instrument of liberation."

Venezuela is not just offering cheap oil to the poor island nations of the south Pacific. Villegas said Venezuela would consider helping with a regional fuel depot, matching the forum's interest in joint bulk-buying of oil to lower costs for its power generators, fishing boats and other vehicles.

Thus the proposed oil deals would also be aimed at boosting energy infrastructure of the partner countries, increasing their energy sovereignty as a means of severing Third World countries' dependence on the big Western oil corporations.

The public discussion of the proposed agreements at the PIF followed a July invitation of ambassadors of member countries to visit Venezuela to see its oil refineries, hydro-electric programs and other energy programs.

Venezuela already provides crude oil at preferential, below-market prices, as well as energy development infrastructure assistance, to a range of South American and Carribean countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Panama and Guatemala.

The PetroCaribe arrangement, for example, enables countries to pay for oil on low-interest loans or in exchange for goods and/or services. These agreements apply only to state enterprises, excluding privately owned corporations.

In sharp contrast to Venezuela's aid policy, "aid" provided by Australia, the richest country in the PIF, has deepened, rather than reduced, the island nations' dependence on Western corporations.

Increasingly, the term "aid" is being used to disguise the intervention of Australian corporate interests in the region. Much foreign aid is tied to the purchase of goods and services from Australian companies or government organisations. For example, Canberra used $734 million of its allocated $800 million in aid to Papua New Guinea in 2004 to fund the Australian Federal Police's presence in the country.

Other Australia aid is used to promote neoliberal "free market" policies. AusAid, Canberra's overseas aid agency, refuses to fund food security programs in the Pacific that reinforce local agricultural development, instead favouring trade liberalisation that helps Australian food exporting companies gain greater access to Pacific island markets.

Likewise, World Bank "aid" preferences the private provision of services in Third World countries. It has refused to support the East Timorese government's request for assistance in recreating rice fields, public storage silos and public abattoirs to boost internal agricultural output.

The guiding political ideas of the proposed Venezuela-Pacific oil agreements are directly opposed to the neolibera economic agenda.

Socialist Cuba, a close ally of Venezuela, already provides a solidarity-based aid program to East Timor, paying for 286 Cuban doctors to staff clinics and help train East Timorese medical personnel. A similar program has been recently taken up by Papua New Guinea.

The oil agreements are one way in which Venezuela, since the beginning of its socialist revolution, is using its oil and oil revenue to aid other undeveloped countries' non-corporate-dominated economic development.

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