GUATEMALA CITY – President Alvaro Colom, who last week completed his first six months in office, is hailing as a “success” Guatemala’s joining the PetroCaribe program, an initiative of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez to provide crude oil on concessionary terms to developing countries in the region.
Petrocaribe on July 13 in the western Venezuelan city of Maracaibo held its fifth summit of heads of state, at which Guatemala formally joined the organization.
Colom told a press conference here the following day that the next step is to get the Guatemalan Congress to approve the financing coming from PetroCaribe. The president added that his Venezuelan counterpart suggested that now only 40 percent of the crude Guatemala receives is paid for in cash and the rest will be in the form of loans so that the funds that otherwise would have been spent on it can be invested in the Central American country.
According to Colom, the resources will be invested in macroeconomic stability, in refinancing Guatemala’s foreign debt and in the creation of a fund to alleviate the effects of natural disasters.
Also, he said, the funds will go to a regional food production process that “Guatemala already is rather advanced on.”
“Guatemala could cover between $50 million and $60 million of the debt with Petrocaribe with beef exports from the (northern) province of Peten,” he said.
From now on, authorities will work on the logistics and storage of crude oil, he said. Colom added that another benefit for Guatemala of the program will be receiving Venezuelan technical assistance for exploiting petroleum, whereby local production – which presently stands at about 14,000 barrels per day – could be increased.
Additionally, oil-rich Venezuela announced a line of credit for $30 million, which could be increased to $50 million and will be allocated to cooperatives and food production, he said.
Venezuela will also give Guatemala a multispecialty children’s hospital.
“We are returning (from Venezuela) rather satisfied,” said the Guatemalan president.
Most Guatemalans, however, are not satisfied with Colom’s performance as president so far.
Public opinion polls published last week in Guatemalan dailies shows that some 68 percent of the population thinks Colom is doing a bad job as president.