WikiLeaks Haiti: The PetroCaribe Files
Lecorps, “apparently infuriated by Chevron's lack of cooperation with the GoH, stressed that Petrocaribe is no longer negotiable,” the chargé d’affaires, Thomas C. Tighe, reported in a January 18, 2007, cable. He also said that “ExxonMobil has made it clear that it will not cooperate with the current GoH proposal either.”
Leaked documents provide an extraordinary glimpse of US maneuvering in Haiti from before the 2004 coup through the devastating 2010 earthquake.
“Chevron country manager Patryck Peru Dumesnil confirmed his company’s anti-Petrocaribe position and said that ExxonMobil, the only other U.S. oil company operating in Haiti, has told the GoH that it will not import Petrocaribe products,” Tighe wrote in the same cable.
The embassy’s political officer reported that Chevron “refused to move forward with the discussions because ‘their representatives would rather import their own petroleum products.’”
Tighe continued that the Haitian government was “enraged that ‘an oil company which controls only 30% of Haiti's petroleum products’ would have the audacity to try and elude an agreement that would benefit the Haitian population.”
The Haitian government stressed that they “would not be held hostage to ‘capitalist attitudes’ toward Petrocaribe and that if the GoH could not find a compromise with certain oil companies, the companies may have to leave Haiti,” reported Tighe.
Enter Hugo Chávez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived in Haiti on March 12, 2007, to a spontaneous hero’s welcome by tens of thousands of Haitians, who jogged alongside his motorcade from the airport to the National Palace. The Venezuelan president came bearing many gifts.
“Venezuela pledged funds for improvement to provincial Haitian airports and airport runways (also previously announced) and experts on economic planning to help identify development priorities. Other pledges include Cuban commitment to bring medical coverage to all Haitian communes, Cuban and Venezuelan electrical experts to improve energy generation, and a trilateral cooperation bureau in Port-au-Prince,” Sanderson wrote.
In subsequent cables, Sanderson sounds increasingly cynical about Préval’s arm’s-length posture toward Chávez, which she clearly regards as disingenuous.
“To hear President Rene Preval tell it, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ visit to Haiti on March 12 was a logistical nightmare and an annoyance to the GoH,” Sanderson says in the “Summary” of that cable.
“Preval told Ambassador the evening of March 13 that Chavez was a difficult guest” and “did not have a GOH invitation but insisted on coming to mark Venezuelan flag day.”
Préval apparently tried to put Sanderson’s mind at ease.
“Responding to Ambassador’s observation that giving Chavez a platform to spout anti-American slogans here was hard to explain given our close relationship and support of Haiti and of Preval’s government in particular, Preval stressed that he had worked hard to stop much of Chavez’ proposed grandstanding,” Sanderson wrote. The ambassador reported that Préval said he is “‘just an independent petit bourgeoisie’ and doesn't go for the grand gestures that Chavez favors. Haiti needs aid from all its friends, Preval added, and he is sure that the US understands his difficult position.”
Sanderson concluded, in frustration, “At no time has Preval given any indication that he is interested in associating Haiti with Chavez’s broader ‘revolutionary agenda’” but “it is neither in his character—nor in his calculation—to repudiate Chavez, even as the Venezuelan abuses his hospitality at home.”
Despite Sanderson’s scoldings and Préval’s reassurances, the Haitian president kept angering Washington. On April 26, 2007, senior presidential adviser Fritz Longchamp told the embassy’s political counselor that “Preval will attend the ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas] summit in Venzuela [sic] as a ‘special observer’ for the express purpose of finalizing a tri-lateral assistance agreement between Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba, whereby Venezuela will finance the presence of Cuban doctors and other technicians in rural Haiti,” according to a cable Sanderson wrote the same day.
Sanderson said the meeting with the embassy was “specifically to raise our displeasure with Preval’s Venezuela trip” and that “Longchamp’s reaction probably reflects Preval’s own obliviousness to the impact and consequences his accommodation of Chavez has on relations with us.” Longchamp “betrayed a common trait among Haitian officials in misjudging the relative importance that U.S. policy makers attach to Haiti versus Venezuela and Chavez’ regional impact.”
The Haitians, in other words, were too convinced of their own relevance to grasp that the real concern for the United States was stemming the Chávez tide. Sanderson suggested that the United States “convey our discontent with Preval's actions at the highest possible level when he next visits Washington.”