Cablegate: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Visits Jamaica

Published: Mon 29 Aug 2005 12:46 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/26/2015
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Thomas C. Tighe. Reasons 1.4(b)
and (d).
1. (C) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Jamaica
August 23 to conclude a 16-point agreement with Prime
Minister P.J. Patterson, including a bilateral Petro-Caribe
accord. Chavez arrived the day after U.S. televangelist Pat
Robertson called for the USG to assassinate him, raising the
profile of a visit that Patterson would just as soon have
kept more discreet. At least one member of Patterson's
Cabinet expressed misgivings to the Prime Minister about
Chavez's motives, but Patterson evidently decided that
Jamaica could ill afford to turn down the PetroCaribe offer.
Senior Foreign Ministry officials insist that the GOJ's goal
in signing the accord is to ensure access to cheaper
petroleum, not make a political statement. At Chavez's
suggestion, the GOJ is considering playing host to yet
another gathering of PetroCaribe nations, this one on
September 6, in Jamaica, in part to commemorate the 190th
anniversary of Simon Bolivar's 1815 "Letter from Kingston",
in which the Libertador called for the political integration
of Latin America and the Caribbean. End Summary.
The Visit Shapes Up
2. (U) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Montego Bay
on August 23 to sign a 16-point communiqu with Prime
Minister P.J. Patterson (e-mailed to Desk per Ref), which
included finalizing their bilateral PetroCaribe Energy
Cooperation Agreement. In the days prior to Chavez's
arrival, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
Minister of State Delano Franklyn issued a statement
welcoming the Venezuelan leader and pre-emptively offered
that Franklyn saw no reason why the USG might object.
According to the joint communiqu of August 23, Chavez was
accompanied by an official delegation of 14, including
Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, Interior Minister Jesse
Chacon, and Minister of State for Integration and Foreign
Trade Gustavo Marquez. While in Jamaica, Chavez reportedly
planned to look in on the Venezuelan military construction
detachment in Brighton, Westmoreland, but he was hours late
in arriving from Cuba and unable to do so. U.S.
televangelist Pat Robertson's August 22 call for the USG to
assassinate the Venezuelan leader significantly raised the
profile of Chavez's visit, to the chagrin of the GOJ.
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Foreign Ministry: It's About Cheap Oil, Not Politics
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3. (C) On August 25, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign
Trade (MFAFT) Bilateral Affairs Director Courtenay Rattray
(Jamaica's immediate former DCM in Washington) told Pol/Econ
Chief that Jamaica's primary motivation in signing the
PetroCaribe accord with the GOV is cheap oil and favorable
terms of payment, not politics. He said that Chavez had
expressed a sense of obligation to help smaller, vulnerable
neighbors such as Jamaica and other Caricom states, and that
PetroCaribe is a concrete expression of that commitment.
Rattray acknowledged that fellow Caricom states Trinidad and
Tobago, and Barbados, had expressed concerns about
PetroCaribe, and implied that their reservations were largely
due to domestic petroleum/competition issues (in the case of
Trinidad) and to concern about potential negative U.S.
reaction (Barbados). Jamaica, he said, simply could not
afford to let pass the opportunity offered by PetroCaribe to
secure its energy future.
4. (C) Rattray said that the GOV was quick to provide
Jamaica with disaster assistance following Hurricane Ivan in
September 2004, sending a Venezuelan military construction
detachment to rebuild housing in Westmoreland. He also cited
a number of other building projects in which GOV financing
has been instrumental: the Montego Bay Civic Center; Port
Maria Civic Center (Phase I of II has been completed); and
the Greenfield Multi-purpose Sports Complex in Trelawny.
Unspecified work- and poverty alleviation programs have also
received GOV funding, said Rattray. Asked about the planned
activities by the "Bolivarian Institute for Cultural
Cooperation" (Point 12 of Ref communiqu), Rattray replied
that planning is well advanced for a building in Kingston to
house the Institute. He could not specify what the
Institute's primary purpose would be, but speculated that it
would include Spanish language instruction and serving as a
repository for information on Bolivar.
Another PetroCaribe Event on September 6?
5. (C) According to Rattray, Chavez suggested to Patterson
that Jamaica host PetroCaribe countries at another ceremony
(most likely in Kingston or Montego Bay) on September 6, to
mark the conclusion of the CARICOM PetroCaribe deals being
concluded bilaterally in capitals. The GOV-hosted
PetroCaribe event in Puerto La Cruz, he explained, had been a
"framework" ceremony after which individual states finalized
their bilateral accords with the GOV, which is why Chavez
visited Jamaica. The significance of the September 6 date,
he explained, is that it is the 190th anniversary of Simon
Bolivar's 1815 "Letter from Jamaica" in which the exiled
Libertador laid out his thoughts on republican government and
political integration throughout the hemisphere.
6. (C) Asked whether Cuban President Fidel Castro would
attend the September event, Rattray professed not to know.
Pol/Econ Chief raised the possibility that Chavez's petroleum
generosity might come with strings attached, such as GOV
expectations about how Jamaica should vote at the UN or OAS;
Rattray replied that there had been no hint of such
conditionality by the GOV: "We must take at face value" that
the GOV has no ulterior motives in offering PetroCaribe's
generous terms, he said. Rattray then asked the USG's
perspective on PetroCaribe arrangements. Pol/Econ Chief
acknowledged the seeming attractiveness of the agreement but
observed that it seemed highly unlikely that the GOV would
offer such favorable terms with no expectation of quid pro
quo. He then outlined USG concerns about Chavez's
destabilizing activities in neighboring states, and his
undermining of democratic institutions at home.
7. (C) In an August 25 meeting with Charge and Pol/Econ
Chief, Ambassador Douglas Saunders, MFAFT Permanent
Secretary, described the Chavez visit as "largely bilateral."
Previous arrangements with Mexico governing concessional
petroleum financing under the San Jose Accord, he said, had
become so cumbersome that Jamaica and other prospective
beneficiaries find themselves unable to access the funding
set aside for their use. The GOJ raised this with Mexican
President Vicente Fox during his visit to Jamaica earlier in
2005, but PetroCaribe is a way of securing petroleum at
favorable prices, as well as development funding. Saunders
said that the GOJ is willing to send a representative to
Mexico City to testify before the legislature about the
importance of the Mexican petroleum agreement, and the
problems with it, and that PetroCaribe provides leverage for
changes in the Mexican oil agreement. Meanwhile, the GOV
deal will not only help to expand Jamaica's refining
capacity, but to expand the types of petroleum it can refine
PNP Loyalists Discuss Chavez Visit
8. (C) Balfour Denniston, a member of the ruling Peoples
National Party (PNP) National Executive Committee (NEC - the
party's highest decision-making body outside of the annual
convention) told Pol/Econ Chief and poloff August 25 that
Patterson was the driving force in the GOJ behind concluding
the PetroCaribe agreement with Chavez, overriding some in his
Cabinet who raised concern that the benefits of the deal with
Venezuela might come at the cost of worsened relations with
the U.S., something that Jamaica could ill afford. In this
regard, Denniston specifically mentioned National Security
Minister Phillips, although he implied that there had been
others who shared his wariness of Chavez. Like the MFAFT's
Rattray, Denniston cited favorable oil prices, not politics,
as the GOJ's primary motivation in concluding the deal.
Later in the conversation, however, Denniston implied that
Patterson might have had additional reasons for agreeing to
the deal with Chavez. According to Denniston, there are
"rumors" in some PNP circles that the USG greatly dislikes
Patterson and wants to be rid of his government. According
to the rumor, said Denniston, the USG "has cut a deal" with
the opposition Jamaica Labor Party to engineer a PNP defeat
at the polls during the next general elections, which must be
held by 2007. Emboffs pressed for specifics about the rumor
but none were forthcoming.
9. (C) Pol/Econ Chief emphasized to Denniston that the USG
does not have a party preference in Jamaica and that, in
fact, we have worked closely with the current GOJ on a number
of significant issues. USG interests are in strengthened
democratic institutions and in transparent processes in
Jamaica, not in which political party governs the country.
He also suggested that Denniston and others hearing such
rumors ask tougher questions of those circulating them rather
than accepting them uncritically. Denniston seemed to take
the point.
10. (C) In an August 24 meeting with Labor Minister Horace
Dalley on other matters, poloff asked the Minister for his
views on the Chavez visit. Dalley, a PNP insider who is
among the less ideological of senior GOJ officials, replied
that Mexico has been an unreliable partner in the San Jose
Accord, which is why Jamaica is looking more toward Venezuela
for preferential oil arrangements. Without offering
specifics, Dalley mentioned that Mexico "owes" Jamaica USD 95
million under the San Jose Accord, but has not delivered the
money. Dalley agreed that PetroCaribe is a very generous
deal that does not ask much of the GOJ, and explained for
that reason, the Patterson government was very keen to sign
it as quickly as possible, while the terms were still very
11. (C) Offering what he termed a personal assessment of
Chavez, Dalley said that he does not think the Venezuelan
president is a very strong or intelligent leader. When
poloff pointed out the problems the USG has with Chavez'
frequent anti-American diatribes, Dalley replied that PM
Patterson is also uncomfortable with Chavez's rhetorical
excesses. He suggested that Patterson looked a bit stiff in
the media photo of their encounter, which shows the smiling
Chavez with his arm around a seemingly reticent Patterson.
Dalley also mentioned that the governments of Trinidad &
Tobago, Barbados, and Curacao recently had all expressed
their concern that there has been an increase in drug traffic
from Venezuela to their respective countries. He also
maintained that he heard the Venezuelan army was overhauling
its stock of weapons, and observed that, while he believes
most of the illegal firearms arriving in Jamaica today come
from Haiti, many of the Venezuelan military's old weapons
could find their way to the Caribbean.
12. (C) Temperamentally, Patterson and Chavez seem polar
opposites, an impression unwittingly reinforced by the
photograph of their awkward "embrace" shortly after signing
the PetroCaribe agreement. Patterson is well aware of
current difficulties between the USG and the GOV, and of
potential downsides to concluding the agreement, particularly
as some in his Cabinet expressed unease about Chavez's
motives. Notwithstanding the rumored USG unhappiness with
Patterson as cited by Denniston, the Prime Minister likely
concluded that the expected benefits to Jamaica of an
attractive petroleum deal with Venezuela outweigh the
potential risks of making Jamaica overly reliant on Chavez.
Pol/Econ Chief is scheduled to meet on August 29 with a
senior Commerce Ministry official for additional background
on the PetroCaribe agreement and will report further at that
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