By Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Panamanian President Martín Torrijos asked oil-rich Venezuela to include his country in a program that offers Caribbean and Central American nations the chance to purchase Venezuelan crude on very favorable terms.
After a meeting here on Tuesday with leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, Torrijos told reporters that he also discussed with his host plans to barter Panamanian farm products for fertilizer from Venezuela.
With Caracas’ involvement the Petrocaribe initiative, Panama will have “big possibilities open for striking accords and achieving ways to bring our countries closer together to seek mechanisms of integration,” Torrijos said.
Launched by Chávez in 2005, Petrocaribe now includes 18 countries.
Communist-ruled Cuba is the main party benefited by the initiative, since it permits Havana to receive about 100,000 barrels of oil and derivatives per day, whereas the remainder of the partner nations receive some 80,000 bpd each.
In the first three years of its existence, Petrocaribe distributed about 59 million barrels of oil and derivatives to its members, who thus saved $921 million, according to Venezuelan government data.
Petrocaribe members can defer payment on a substantial percentage – which varies with the international price – of their oil bill to Venezuela, and they have up to 25 years to pay off the deferred debt at interest of only 1 percent.
Venezuela “takes note” and accepts “with great satisfaction” Torrijos’ request, which “is understood to be a sovereign decision that will contribute to strengthening the ties of cooperation among the countries making up the initiative,” the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a communique released after the meeting.
"The possibility of help on the purchase [of oil] of Petrocaribe is a benefit for Panama and other countries of the world,” said Torrijos after the 3 hour meeting.
Torrijos also stressed that the meeting was useful to revise the bilateral agenda, world problems, the recession, and opportunities for cooperation and understanding.
“It was a very productive meeting. We revised the cooperation framework and explained the integration project of the Panama Canal,” said Torrijos.
Torrijos stated that the conversations regarding Panama's entrance into Petrocaribe were focused on “the open possibilities of get our countries closer.”
Both heads of state “reviewed ... common (issues) and emphasized with satisfaction their wish” that soon they will be able to sign “accords negotiated between both parties in the diplomatic, cultural, educational, aviation and labor areas.”
Chávez and Torrijos also agreed in their interest in shortly signing a pact to establish scheduled passenger air service between the two countries.
After his meeting with Chávez, Torrijos went to the headquarters of the Venezuelan Military Academy, where a bronze bust of his late father, Gen. Omar Torrijos, Panama’s strongman from 1968-1981, was unveiled at a ceremony also attended by Venezuela’s vice president and defense minister, Ramón Carrizález.
“We’ve come to express our thanks for this noble, generous gesture, which honors my father and ennobles our country,” said the Panamanian president. Torrijos' father negotiated the Panama Canal Treaty with the U.S. that led to Panamanian control of the Canal. President Martin Torrijos will leave office after the May 15 elections later this year.Joint Statement of Panama and Venezuela