US energy initiative for Caribbean moves ahead

-MoU signed with Grenada

A US energy initiative announced in June by Vice-President Joe Biden took a step forward last month with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on energy security with Grenada.

Commentators see Washington’s move as a counterweight to Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil programme which has extended Caracas’s influence across the Caribbean and Central America.

A US State Department press release on September 3rd said that as part of the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, Acting Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein and Grenadian Ambassador to the United States E. Angus Friday on August 27 in Washington, D.C., sealed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote a cleaner and more secure energy future in the Caribbean.

“The United States will work with Grenada on a pilot program that seeks to develop and apply a visionary approach to improving its energy sector, which includes integrating policy and regulatory reforms, and encouraging private sector investment in environmentally responsible and economically sustainable technologies”, the release said. The MoU was announced by Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell at the Third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa, on September 1.

The cooperation will serve as an example to lead the way to a cleaner energy future for the Caribbean region and for small islands around the globe, the release said. The best practices and lessons learned in Grenada will be helpful to other islands looking to reform their energy sector in support of environmental, economic, and social objectives, the release said.

In a column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek on the initiative, columnist Andres Oppenheimer said that for years, US officials have been in a dilemma about how to counteract Venezuela’s influence in Central America and the Caribbean through its subsidized PetroCaribe oil exports.

Oppenheimer reported US officials as saying that the initiative will serve as a pilot programme to help 17 Caribbean and Central American countries to become more self-sufficient in energy, and less dependent on Venezuelan exports.

He said that while some critics say the programme is too little, too late, most agree that if it works it could change not only the Caribbean Basin’s economy, but also Latin America’s political balance.

“Thanks to its PetroCaribe oil agency’s exports at favourable financing terms, Venezuela has gained the loyalty of 17 Latin American countries in regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States, to oppose most US initiatives. Venezuela’s oil diplomacy has also allowed President Nicolás Maduro’s government to commit widespread human rights violations, including torture and point blank killings, without drawing virtually any criticism in the region”, Oppenheimer asserted.

He noted that the situation was beginning to change. With Venezuela’s oil production plummeting to nearly half of what the country produced when late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, Oppenheimer said that the the Maduro government has begun to demand steeper cash payments from some PetroCaribe members.

“Caribbean and Central American countries are getting increasingly nervous about being cut off from PetroCaribe’s easy credits. Meantime, the United States is benefiting from its own energy boom, and is seeing an opportunity to come to the rescue of energy-strapped Caribbean Basin countries”, the columnist said.

Oppenheimer said that according to US officials, the Obama administration began working on the plan in May when Biden visited Trinidad and Tobago and met with Caribbean leaders to discuss greater energy cooperation.

He said that in June, Biden visited the Dominican Republic, and announced that the United States would launch a “Caribbean Energy Security Initiative” to help the region become more self-sufficient in energy. The columnist said that the announcement was so vague that few paid any attention to it.

He added that the Sept 3 US-Grenada energy cooperation provides greater details about the plan. Oppenheimer said that US officials have described it as a “pilot programme” to help Caribbean Basin countries change their energy laws and improve their infrastructure to encourage private and international financial institutions to put money into wind, solar, geo-thermal, natural gas and other energy sources.

Oppenheimer said that Hochstein told him that the ultimate goal is to help these countries become more reliable in renewable energy sources, and less reliant on crude oil.

Oppenheimer said it was his view that the United States should do more than provide technical assistance to Caribbean Basin countries. Venezuela’s oil industry is in a free fall, he said, and Venezuelan oil-dependent Caribbean countries may soon find themselves in a major crisis, while US energy production is booming.

With as little as US$30 million per country, according to a recent Inter-American Development Bank study, Oppenheimer posited that Washington could help build regasification technology and off-loading facilities in the Caribbean. “That very little money, would help Caribbean Basin countries reduce their dependence on Venezuela, and would do more than a thousand speeches to improve US-Caribbean Basin ties”, Oppenheimer stated.




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