Health Minister Nickolas Steele has dropped strong hints that Grenada will accept and not turn away Venezuelans who wish to come to the island in the face of massive unrest and uncertainty in the oil-rich South American republic.
Speaking to reporters in St. George’s on Tuesday, the senior Cabinet Minister pointed out that Grenada’s borders are not closed.
Several Venezuelans have fled the country to seek refuge elsewhere but more so in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia.
According to Minister Steele, Grenada cannot be forgetful of the kind of assistance that the island received from Venezuela in the aftermath of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“I am aware that we as Grenadians are neighbourly and we as Grenadians recognise when we were in a time of need, those that lent assistance – Venezuela and the Venezuelan Government did assist us greatly after Hurricane Ivan in our time of need”, he said.
“We did not have that kind of relationship where Grenadians went to Venezuela to ride out the storm, so to speak or post-Ivan issues, but Grenadians did leave and go to other islands in the Caribbean as is happening with Dominicans and others who are rebuilding”, he added.
Minister Steele went on: “…So, if there are Venezuelans who would want to ride out their current issues here in Grenada, I think like Trinidad has shown, we are neighbourly. There are challenges with that, we are a small developing country and as such as a health aspect, there are challenges that we would have to deal with, but our borders are not closed, no”.
The minister was asked if Grenada was receiving less assistance from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe arrangement due to the unrest in Caracas where embattled President Nickolas Maduro was facing a battle for power from Opposition Leader, Juan Guaido.
He assured Grenadians that the island’s arrangement with PetroCaribe is secured.
In 2005, Grenada along with 13 other Caribbean countries signed onto an Energy Co-operation Agreement with the Venezuelan Government called PetroCaribe, where a preferential payment arrangement for petroleum and petroleum products were provided to some Caribbean and Latin American countries.
The payment system allows for participating nations to buy oil on market value with only a portion paid upfront and the remainder to be paid through a 25 year financing agreement on 1% interest.
According to Minister Steele the relationship with PetroCaribe “remains strong as long as the government in Venezuela is willing to continue that relationship”.
“So, with respect to PetroCaribe providing LPG gas or any other arrangements continues, but what we do recognise is that right now the people of Venezuela are going through, I don’t want to refer to it as a transition, but they are going through a turmoil and as such we look and we observe and we are very patient and understanding with any changes that may be occurring with respect to PetroCaribe or so”, he said.
Minister Steele also told reporters that Grenada is sympathetic to the people and government of Venezuela in light of the current political unrest in the country.
He said: “So, yes, there have been some changes and some issues but we as a neighbour and a friend of the Venezuelan people are cognisant of that and we look forward to amicable solutions in Venezuela…. you will see that the public statements that have been made by the Prime Minister and I will continue with that too, is that we have concerns for our neighbours in Venezuela and … we have (the) understanding that they have our support – the people of Venezuela”.
“…So, to make comments about whether we have been receiving products or so, our relationship goes way beyond that. We are neighbours, yes part of being neighbours is a commercial deal that’s called PetroCaribe, but more importantly it’s the livelihoods, the peace and prosperity of our neighbours”, he added.
The current Grenada Foreign Minister, Peter David is considered as a close friend of President Maduro and the two had cultivated a closeness when the former served as Foreign Minister in the 2008- 13 Congress administration during which time Maduro was Foreign Minister in the then government of late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.