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Chavez urges Jamaica to join FTAA ’alternative’

Jamaica Observer

Chavez urges Jamaica to join FTAA ’alternative’

By Mark Cummings, Senior staff reporter

14 March 2007

MONTEGO BAY, St James - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has urged Jamaica to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) - widely viewed as a counter to the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

In making his pitch for support during talks with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and on other senior government ministers in Montego Bay on Monday, Chavez outlined a raft of benefits which he said Caribbean countries such as Jamaica would receive under the initiative.

"We invite the Caribbean countries and specifically Jamaica in joining ALBA because of the economic benefits that you can receive," said Chavez, adding that already, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela had signed on.

Citing examples, he said, significant benefits could be achieved by member countries from the planned expansion of oil refineries, bauxite and alumina facilities as well as the petro chemical industries in the Caribbean and Latin America regions.

Under the initiative, member countries will also receive significant medical and sporting assistance.

One of the key aspects of ALBA - the brainchild of Chavez - is the Petro Caribe cheap oil deal which, in part, exchanges oil at below market price levels for a variety of services. The oil deal offers to defer payment and long-term financing for fuel shipments, in addition to fuel under preferential considerations to Caribbean nations.

Chavez first proposed the idea at Isla Margarita at the III Summit of the Heads of State and the Government of the Association of Caribbean States in December, 2001.
But while Simpson Miller on Monday endorsed the proposal, she informed Chavez that the Jamaican Government would give a formal response to the initiative after careful study of the plan.

"The principles underlying ALBA are sound," Simpson Miller said. "This multi- lateral approach that places people at the centre of development is one which Jamaica strongly supports, but we will have to study the proposal in greater detail and then we will have further discussions on it," the prime minister added.

Chavez has been fiercely critical of the US-led FTAA and sees ALBA as serving as a counterweight to it. ALBA advocates a ’socially oriented’ trade block rather than one strictly based on the logic of deregulated profit maximisation. By using more effective mechanisms to eradicate poverty, ALBA - as proposed by the Venezuelan Government - provides a counterweight to the policies and goals of the FTAA.