Venezuela's vice-minister of foreign affairs for Asia, the Middle East and Oceania, Vladimir Villegas, lead the Venezuelan delegation to the 38th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF — formerly the South Pacific Forum) meeting in Tonga on October 16-17.
The PIF is the coordinated annual meeting, organised along a concensus model, of the heads of states of the 16 PIF members — Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, NZ, Tonga, Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, PNG, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, with New Caledonia and French Polynesia being associated members, and Tokelau, Wallis, Futuna, the Commonwealth and the Asia Development Bank having official observor status. East Timor has had "special observer" status since 2002. With 33% of the world's total surface and 46% of its ocean area, the 25000 Pacific Islands comprise 17 independent nations – all of whom have a vote and representation in the United Nations (11 have achieved this status only since 1960). Green Left Weekly's Lara Pullin spoke with Villegas during the forum about Venezuela's plans to increase cooperation, on the basis of solidarity, with the region.
What is behind Venezuela's interest in the Pacific region?
The same principles that guide all of our international relations — respect for sovereignty and solidarity between peoples — underlie our relationships in the Pacific region. Venezuela has had formal diplomatic relations with many of the island nations for many years, but traditionally these were not acted on or developed, due to both geographical and political reasons. Now that Venezuela is acting for the benefit of the majority, we have expanded our relationships with countries traditionally considered to be of the "South", and looking to the Pacific we also want to extend our hand in friendship and solidarity.
In Venezuela, the Bolivarian revolution has allowed us to use oil as an instrument of liberation — because our policies in the oil industry are truly sovereign. We have the option to use this sovereignty over our oil wealth in a selfish way, but we reject this. We use oil revenues to fund education, schools, health clinics and research to benefit all people. That experience is something we bring to the Pacific nations, to commence a dialogue.
Not being a member of PIF, what brings Venezuela to this particular meeting?
Venezuela is at this forum as a special guest, invited directly by the prime minister of Tonga as the host country. Venezuela is very pleased to be here as the timing coincides with the intensification of our relationships with countries of the Pacific, and the expansion of energy cooperation. Venezuela has diplomatic relationships with many of the islands, but is keen to extend formal relations to all of the Pacific islands.
Venezuela had already established a presence and shown solidarity in the environmental arena, through funding assistance under the convention against desertification, for specific projects on various islands. Venezuela has also recently formed the Bank of the South (Bancosur) and announced the official launching of this new development bank [which aims to provide an alternative to the Internatinal Monetary Fund to the benefit of underdeveloped nations].
While I am here I will propose initiatives to the heads of states of the Pacific island nations. This is the first ever official visit of a Venezuela foreign minister to the Pacific, and we are hoping that it will consolidate our relationships.
Can you comment on the energy cooperation that may be under discussion?
Specifically in relation to oil, we already have experience in Latin America and with some of the Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, having already reached agreements where we are selling petrol on favourable terms and also looking at construction of refineries and diversifying our markets.
We recently received a delegation in Venezuela of the permanent representatives to the United Nations from various Pacific island nations and we commenced a number of discussions about options that we will continue here, including in the areas of health, energy and oil technology and infrastructure.
How would Bancosur, proposed by Venezuela and being formed by a number of South American nations, apply to the Pacific region?
Bancosur is a very new initiative among Latin American countries, however the vision is that it expand beyond the immediate region to other countries of the South. The idea is not to directly replace the existing North-South arrangements, institutions and obligations, but to offer a mechanism for South-South cooperation.
Venezuela respects the sovereignty of other nations — we don't comment on countries internal economic arrangements — but our doors are open for cooperation. Bancosur offers a mechanism for a new type of relationship, one in which a new relations of cooperation and solidarity replace the old types of multilateral relations with international organisations that might take advantage of the weaker nations in order to get ahead in more competitive models.
One thing Venezuela insists on is complete transparency in the financial dealings between nations, that they stand up to scrutiny as fair and just agreements, so that people on the islands do actually benefit from these projects.
Given the serious situations facing many Pacific Island nations in everything from sovereignty, development and imperialist exploitation, to climate change, are you optimistic about Venezuela's future relationships with the Pacific islands?
Venezuela is extending an honest hand in solidarity to the Pacific nations, a gesture which comes from our hearts. If our regions don't move closer together, then the rules of engagement in the international arena will not change, the current international order will not change. Providence gave us oil, and while Venezuela is a small and poor country, we also have a strong commitment to our brothers and sisters around the globe. We don't pretend to come and solve anyone's problems for them, but we do share initiatives in the spirit I have outlined, and that is what is behind the presence of the Venezuelan delegation to the Pacific islands.