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This article was posted on Stabroeknews.com on Sunday, March 9th 2008.

Dominica is preparing to establish a permanent diplomatic presence in Caracas, Venezuela very shortly to cement its ties with that country further, in the light of the social and economic programmes being undertaken between the two countries.

A source told the Stabroek News that the opening of the mission is to further the current friendly bilateral relations that exist between Venezuela and Dominica and to ensure that some 11 joint projects being undertaken between the two governments, to benefit mainly Dominica, are executed as planned.

Dominica is, today, the only Caricom country to join ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), an initiative of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, meant to replace the failed US Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) programme.

A report out of Dominica said Leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Movement William ‘Para’ Riviere is concerned that there could be implications for Dominica if Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is not careful about relations with Venezuela and that it was anti-American.

However, Dominica’s non-resident Ambassador to Venezuela, Lennox Lawrence has been quoted by the Antigua Sun as saying that ALBA was not anti-American.

The Caribbean Media Corporation has also quoted Dominica’s parliamentary spokesman Alix Boyd-Knights as saying that ALBA has presented a number of opportunities and advantages to his country. He said the assistance included a cooperation project to support the island’s infrastructural and economic development especially the recovery from recent havoc to the economy caused by hurricanes.

Lauding the creation of the bank of South America also known as the ALBA bank, Boyd-Knights said, “Dominica needs an injection of capital. Dominica has suffered the consequences of recent disasters such as Hurricane Dean.”

He said the government was supported by the country’s chamber of commerce to join ALBA, which includes Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

In recent years, Venezuela donated several million dollars to Dominica to improve housing on the island and to upgrade the agricultural sector. Venezuela has offered to increase the number of university scholarships available to Dominican students from 50 to 100. Last year, Venezuela provided aid to Dominica to help pave its roads.

Following the widespread damage to the country’s physical infrastructure and the agricultural sector that Hurricane Dean inflicted on the island last year, Venezuela was reported to be the first country to provide aid to the island. The destruction caused by Hurricane Dean was estimated at 20 percent of the island’s GDP.

Among the 11 cooperation programmes, Venezuela is offering Dominica $4.5 million to build houses and a school for the indigenous Carib people on their land. Chavez has agreed to set up a special credit bureau, which would extend US$3.2 million in loans to the Caribs for micro-enterprise projects. It is reported that 70% of Caribs live in poverty.

However, one of the major projects, which was to build an oil refinery at a cost of US$76 million on the island as part of the PetroCaribe agreement, to distribute Venezuelan oil to other eastern Caribbean islands has been stalled by Skerrit, who said Dominica needs more time to analyze the project. The oil refinery was criticized locally as being incompatible with plans to promote eco-tourism, a product that the island boasts.

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