Again I would like to express condolences to President Nicholas Maduro, the family of the late President Hugo Chavez and the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Once in a while there arises a leader from among the people who understands the aspirations of the people.
Once in a while there arises a leader with the audacity to dream of a more equitable society, and has the courage to undertake the challenges and brave the difficult obstacles to pursue that dream.
Once in a while there arises a leader who is big enough to extend his benevolence across national borders and frontiers.
Once in a while there arises a leader whose generosity is expanded beyond his people to influence, inspire and positively impact the development of tens of millions of people from other nations.
Mr. Speaker, President Hugo Chavez was such a leader. His philosophy, and his way of doing things, admittedly, may not have been universally embraced. And yet, one thing cannot be denied: here was a man whose heart-beat pulsated for uplifting the poor.
Varied voices have spoken clearly and will continue to record their own tributes.
When millions of his own countrymen and women broke down and wept openly and uncontrollably; when political leaders from distant countries, from across the democratic and ideological divide heaped deserving praises on such a leader; and when people in far-away lands paused to mourn the passing and pay homage to such a leader; there can hardly be any better appreciation of the life and worth of such a leader.
These types of leaders never seem to live long enough to complete their missions, but somehow their missions never die.
Like Simon Bolivar, nearly two centuries before him, leaders like Hugo Chavez touched lives so profoundly and leave behind such a rich and tangible legacy, that they continue even after death to inspire generations yet unborn.
His legacy will out-live him and this legacy will continue to influence and inspire many for years to come.
Mr. Speaker, President Chavez was present in the development struggles of the Caribbean Region.
He responded generously to our most fundamental economic challenges.
He extended the gracious goodwill of the warmhearted Venezuelan people in times of natural disasters, and through him his kindness was felt in our homes, our hospitals, our schools and in our lives.
We are deeply grateful to him and to the people of Venezuela.
Mr. Speaker, Let us recall that when Chavez came to power in 1999, he inherited a sound history of state to state cooperation between Jamaica and Venezuela.
This state to state relationship remains rooted in the principle of south-south cooperation and has continued across successive administrations in both Jamaica and Venezuela.
It is based in part on the historical linkage that exists between Jamaica and Venezuela through the Great Liberator Simon Bolivar, who spent several months in our island in 1815.
Simon Bolivar wrote the famous Jamaica Letter which is considered to this day as the blueprint for integration and cooperation among the countries of our region.
Mr. Speaker, This history of cooperation between Jamaica and Venezuela provided a solid platform on which President Chavez could expand his vision of solidarity and integration.
In 1999 the G-15 Summit was held in Montego Bay. This Summit was the first overseas engagement by Chavez as President of Venezuela.
President Chavez formed the Caracas Energy Accord in 2000, which complemented the San Jose Accord that had existed from 1980.
The Caracas Energy Accord was on extremely generous terms. It proved to be of tremendous support to the Jamaican economy between 2000 and 2005.
Under that Accord, Jamaica purchased oil from Venezuela at world market prices and paid 75% of the purchase price within thirty (30) days.
The remaining 25% was paid over 15 years, with one year’s moratorium at an interest rate of 2% per annum.
As at July 31, 2012 resources of approximately US$1.6 billion from this Fund have been used to finance projects in the areas of mining, education, transport, governance, energy and to support the operations of certain public entities which provide critical services to the economy.
Mr. Speaker, Let us recall also that the resources under the San Jose Accord have been of tremendous benefit to the people of Jamaica.
Resources under the Accord have been used to finance the following:
· Refurbishing of the National Stadium and Arena;
· Construction of the National Gallery;
· Construction of a Multi-Media Centre at the Cultural Training Centre at the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts;
· Upgrading of the swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts at G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport;
· Montego Bay Sports Complex;
· Rehabilitation of the burnt out Port Maria Court House building as a Civic and Cultural Centre for the town;
· Improvement of existing facility at Frome in Westmoreland to include upgrading of the Club House; and
· The construction of over 10,000 houses in Portmore, St. Catherine.
Mr. Speaker, The people of the Caribbean and the wider Americas have lost a champion, a benefactor, and a brother in the development struggle.
In June 2005, President Chavez took this generous cooperation programme with Jamaica and the countries of the Caribbean to an even higher level, through the entry into force of the PetroCaribe Agreement.
Under that Agreement, Venezuela has undertaken to supply Jamaica with up to 21,000 barrels per day of crude oil, refined products and Liquefied Petroleum Gas.
The financing scheme for Jamaica’s supply quota of 21,000 barrels per day includes a grace period of up to 2 years for capital repayment, as well as an annual interest rate of 2 per cent on the applicable volumes, when the price of oil is less than US$40 per barrel.
When the price exceeds US$40, the interest is reduced to 1 per cent and the repayment period is extended from 15 to 23 years, plus a 2 year grace period for a total of 25 years.
The Inflows from PetroCaribe are supplemented by income from the Fund’s investments, which are utilized to meet debt servicing commitments to Venezuela and other obligations.
Mr. Speaker, As at July 31, 2012 resources of approximately US$1.6 billion from this Fund have been used to finance projects in the areas of mining, education, transport, governance, energy and to support the operations of certain public entities which provide critical services to the economy.
Additionally, the PetroCaribe Fund has financed grants for the construction of the Simon Bolivar Centre, numerous sanitation projects and for skills training. Perhaps one of the most important benefits to Jamaica has been the reduction in demand for US Dollars.
Since Petrojam was relieved of purchasing 40 to 50% of its foreign currency requirements for payment to Venezuela, the pressure on the Jamaican Dollar in the Foreign Exchange Market was reduced.
On behalf of the people of Jamaica, I once again extend my heartfelt sympathy to the family of President Chavez, the government and people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
We deeply regret the passing of this giant of a man; this great Pan-American leader.
We remember him fondly and stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela in this time of their great national sorrow.
May his soul rest in peace and long may his mission continue until it achieves completion.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you.
The Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller
Prime Minister of Jamaica