Haitian President Says Aid From Venezuela Having a Big Impact

Haitian President Michel Martelly

Haitian President Michel Martelly says aid and fuel shipments from Venezuela are having a big impact in the Caribbean country as it attempts to recover from the devastation of its 2010 earthquake.

President Hugo Chavez’s government is providing nearly all the fuel that Haiti consumes under preferential terms, including long-term loans and direct shipping that cuts costs. Martelly said power plants installed by Venezuela after the earthquake supply roughly one-fifth of Haiti’s electricity and that Venezuela is also providing key financial support for rice farming and other programs.

“The cooperation with Venezuela is the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact,” Martelly said in an interview on Saturday night after a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders.

“We are grateful to President Chavez for helping us from the bottom of his heart,” Martelly said.

Chavez has made helping Haiti a priority since the magnitude-7 earthquake in January 2010 that reduced much of Port-au-Prince to rubble. His government sent thousands of tons of food aid in the aftermath of the quake, and also set up several camps to temporarily house thousands of displaced Haitians.

Well before the quake, Haiti had already been a major beneficiary of Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which supplies fuel to Caribbean and Central American countries and allows them to pay part of the bill in agricultural produce rather than cash.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said last week that the program now covers 43 percent of the fuel needs of member nations in Petrocaribe, shipping an average of 95,000 barrels of fuel a day at substantial savings to 16 countries.

The deal has helped Chavez cement relationships with a growing group of allies across in the Caribbean.

In Haiti’s case, Petrocaribe also provides money to support social programs, including government projects that are building housing and providing food to poor families, Martelly said during a speech at the summit on Saturday.

Martelly said that a 30-megawatt power plant and two other 15-megawatt plants installed by Venezuela now “represent a good 20 percent of our total consumption.”

“With such rich support, we can — he can — bring some very important change to Haiti,” Martelly said.

Venezuela pledged $1.3 billion in recovery aid following the earthquake, the largest amount among 58 donors, according to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. It says Venezuela has disbursed $118 million so far. The U.S. pledged slightly less than Venezuela, $1.2 billion, but has so far spent more — $172 million.

Chavez’s government also said last year that it was forgiving $395 million in debt through Petrocaribe.

Venezuela provides aid without many of the conditions imposed by the U.S. and other donors, Martelly said.

He said he can’t complain about Washington’s aid, which is also important for Haiti, but that U.S. assistance often takes more time to come through due to required procedures and controls.