Venezuela And Jamaica: The Ties That Bind

Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, Dies In Caracas
Hugo Chávez, may his soul rest in peace

AFRICANGLOBE – In the moment of sadness and grief, not all identified with the starkness of it.

The classic irony was on full display in the Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday (March 5). Just as the House of Representatives prepared to engage in a marathon debate on the National Housing Trust (NHT), news arrived that a great friend of Jamaica, who generously used his country’s resources to lift Jamaica’s infrastructural stature in this hemisphere, had taken his last breath.

The contrast was clear. It was in 1991 that one of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s predecessors, with the use of his oil resources, helped the NHT to house thousands of Jamaicans.

As Chavez did in recent years, Carlos Andrés Pérez extended a helping hand to Jamaica that transformed the Greater Portmore Scheme [housing development in one of the island’s most densely-populated zones] into reality.

It was in 1991 that 14,000 housing units were scheduled to be constructed. Ten thousand were built out of the San José Accord – an agreement arrived at between the governments of Michael Manley of Jamaica and Pérez of Venezuela by which oil-price concessions were contributed to development projects.

The Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre
The Simón Bolívar Cultural Centre under construction in downtown Kingston

Most of the Government’s J$7bn (£49m) investment in Portmore came through savings from the San José Accord, contributions from the NHT, and the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

Since then, both sides of the political divide, during their tenures in office, have benefited from the generosity of Venezuela, prompting Michael Manley’s protégée, PM Portia Simpson Miller, to readily acknowledge that fact in Parliament on Tuesday.

Hugo Chavez Visits

More than 10 years after Greater Portmore emerged as the largest housing development in the English-speaking Caribbean, Chávez would visit Jamaica.

As Pérez met with Michael Manley, so did the successors meet – the net result was similar great things for Jamaica.

Don Mills, a former Jamaican ambassador to the United Nations, appeared prophetic at the time, characterising the visit as good news for this country despite Venezuela’s worsening relations with the United States.

In Montego Bay, Chavez and former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson moved to finalise a bilateral agreement under the PetroCaribe Accord, an energy-cooper-ation agreement, even as the Opposition frowned. The PetroCaribe agreement served to supply cheaper oil from Venezuela directly to participating Caribbean countries and replace middlemen in oil transactions.

Venezuela Jamaica
This statue of Simón Bolívar in Kingston was a gift from the government of Venezuela

With the mighty United States towering over small countries like Jamaica, successive administrations maintained a relationship with Venezuela. But then again, the ties that bonded the two countries started a long time ago.

It was Venezuela’s liberator, Simón Bolívar, who dedicated his life to the independence of the then Spanish colonies and the dream of Latin American unity.

Famous ‘Letter From Jamaica”

And it was while he spent time in Jamaica that Bolívar wrote the now famous Letter from Jamaica, in which he expressed his ideas for a republican government and Latin American unity.

Widely recognised as an important political doctrine, the letter was actually titled: ‘Reply of a South American to a gentleman of this island’.

It was Bolívar’s lengthy response to a letter he had received from an unnamed Jamaican, who empathised with Bolívar’s struggle for South American liberation and indicated a desire to learn more about the politics and people of each South American province.

Specifically, the Jamaican gentleman asked Bolívar to explain such technicalities as whether each province desired a monarchy or a republic or to form one unified republic or one single monarchy.

This sparked the Spanish-American patriot and general to launch into his treatise, an extensive description of the history of the different provinces (including the present-day countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru) and an exploration of his own ideas for their political futures.