WikiLeaks Haiti: The PetroCaribe Files
Préval returned from Caracas with “Chavez’ promises to provide a combined total of 160 megawatts of electricity” to Haiti, after “parading with Chavez’ rogues gallery [sic] of ALBA leaders,” Sanderson fumed in a May 4, 2007, cable.
Leaked documents provide an extraordinary glimpse of US maneuvering in Haiti from before the 2004 coup through the devastating 2010 earthquake.
She outlined the essence of the Venezuelan/Cuban aid package: “The Cubans will replace two million light bulbs throughout Port-au-Prince with low-energy bulbs. The initiative will cost USD four million, but save the country 60 megawatts of electricity, which costs the country USD 70 million annually. Venezuela promised to repair the power plant in Carrefour, generating an additional 40 megawatts of electricity. Additionally, Venezuela will by December of this year build new power plants across the country to add 30 megawatts to Port-au-Prince’s electrical grid and 15 additional megawatts each for Gonaives and Cap-Haitian, all of which will use heavy Venezuelan fuel oil, a more efficient and less-expensive alternative to diesel.”
Meanwhile, as this broader energy package took shape, the tensions over PetroCaribe were still simmering.
On May 4, Sanderson sent a second cable explaining that “the head of Haiti's Petrocaribe office, Michael Lecorps, gave the four oil companies operating in Haiti until July 1 to sign the GoH contract on Petrocaribe,” hoping that “the four companies will sign the agreement voluntarily, instead of passing legislation obliging oil companies operating in Haiti to participate in the Petrocaribe agreement.”
After talking to ExxonMobil Caribbean sales manager Bill Eisner, the embassy reported that Eisner “was shocked when he realized that Lecorps expected the oil industry to coordinate the Petrocaribe deal on behalf of the GoH” which would “make the oil industry prisoner to two incompetent governments,” Haiti and Venezuela, in Sanderson’s words.
President Bush took up the issue of Préval’s relationship with Chávez during the Haitian president’s spring 2007 visit to Washington, after which Sanderson expressed “hope that President Bush’s clear message on Venezuela sank in, but only time will tell.”
Two weeks after Préval’s return, on June 12–13, 2007, a transport strike “gripped Haiti’s major cities and underscored a mounting crisis over fuel prices, which rose nearly 20 percent in just two weeks,” Inter Press Service reported at the time. Many believed that Haiti’s joining PetroCaribe “would alleviate high gasoline costs,” and word was leaking out that “the two large US oil companies that export to Haiti are said to have stonewalled negotiations” for PetroCaribe’s implementation. The July 1 deadline for PetroCaribe compliance was fast approaching.
The standoff over PetroCaribe would continue through the rest of 2007, with Chevron the most resistant to working within the PetroCaribe framework. Haiti needed Chevron to ship the oil from Venezuela.
“It was ridiculous because they had been buying and shipping petroleum products from Venezuela for 25 years,” Lecorps, the Haitian official who oversaw PetroCaribe, told the weekly Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté. “And you know, Chevron is an American company, so maybe there were some politics behind that too, maybe because of Venezuela and Chávez. But they never said anything about that.”
Lecorps’s suspicions that Chevron had political concerns were warranted.
After returning to Haiti on December 22, 2007, from a PetroCaribe summit, Préval announced that the negotiations with Chevron were nearing a close. “We're going to sign with Chevron and then we’re going to start ordering oil,” he said at the airport, according to the Associated Press, adding that Venezuelan technicians would visit Haiti to consult on the project.
But, as Sanderson noted in a February 15, 2008, cable, “Chevron management in the U.S. does not want to make a lot of ‘noise’ about the agreement because they do not want to appear to support PetroCaribe.”
Sanderson explained that the deal was sealed when “Chevron finally obtained its desired terms from the GOH,” whereby the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, “will sell to the GoH, which will then sell to private oil traders, who finally will sell to the oil companies in Haiti for distribution.... Chevron also agreed to ship the refined petrol on one of its tankers. The GoH expects to receive a PetroCaribe shipment in late February or early March.”
And PetroCaribe shipments, covering all of Haiti’s fuel needs, did begin on March 8, 2008, marking a victory for Venezuela and Haiti in surmounting the roadblocks thrown up by the US Embassy and Big Oil.
The extraordinary story that the Haiti WikiLeaks cables tell of the US Embassy’s campaign against PetroCaribe—which provides such obvious benefits for Haiti—lays bare the real priorities of “Haiti's most important and reliable bi-lateral partner,” as Sanderson calls the United States.
As for Préval and his officials, the cables indicate that, faced with Washington’s might, they employed a preferred form of Haitian resistance, dating back to slavery, known as “marronage,” where you pretend to go along with something but do the opposite. This dynamic of US pressure and subtle Haitian pushback has persisted under the Obama administration, which has moved to marginalize Préval’s INITE political party in favor of new president Michel Martelly and his group of pro-American Haitian business supporters.
Under President Martelly, the fate of PetroCaribe remains unclear. But those who appreciate what the program has done for Haiti see reason to worry. While Préval tried to walk the battle-line between Washington and the ALBA alliance, Martelly had a pre-inauguration meeting not with the foreign minister of Venezuela, but that of Colombia, whose US-oriented neoliberal development plan he has said he will emulate.