Petrocaribe outlines special economic zone

AFP, MANAGUA

Mon, Jul 01, 2013 - Page 15

Caribbean-Venezuelan oil alliance Petrocaribe has announced plans for a special economic zone, following a summit in Nicaragua with heads of state and representatives from 19 countries.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday cheered the summit’s accords, which he said will build “a powerful economic zone.”

The group proposed to expedite the process with five immediate actions, including signing an agreement with Venezuelan airline Conviasa SA to facilitate air communication via Caracas.

Under another measure, Venezuela will facilitate maritime trade by providing ships.

Other topics covered for the special economic zone were tourism and fair trade, as well as social issues including health and education.

Economics must go hand in hand with social improvements, Maduro said, explaining the approach aims to create a “poverty-free zone” with Petrocaribe funds.

Venezuela’s proposal, accepted by all member countries, called for investment in literacy and other education programs to ensure access for all.

Bolivian President Evo Morales — attending as a special guest, since his country is not a Petrocaribe member — proposed the economic zone also be extended to countries in the Americas’ Bolivarian Alliance, or ALBA. His proposal found support from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

Petrocaribe was founded in 2005 and includes 18 Caribbean nations and Venezuela, representing a combined population of 85 million people, most of whose economies rely largely on agriculture and tourism.

According to official statistics, the 18 countries receive 3.5 percent of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company’s exports.

The alliance agreements allow for these countries to pay a portion of their oil bill in very low-interest installments, and the rest in trade, mainly food and livestock. In the case of Cuba, part of their payment comes in the form of 30,000 doctors serving in Venezuela.