Haiti President Sees No End for Venezuela Oil Aid Even Amid Drop

Michel Martelly
Haiti’s President Michel Martelly speaks during an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Riviera Maya, Mexico on Thursday, May 7, 2015. Photographer: Todd Baer/Bloomberg

Haiti’s President Michel Martelly said he sees no sign Venezuela’s shipments of subsidized oil to Caribbean and Central American nations will end, and that his country would be the last to see the aid curbed in the case of cutbacks.

Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Americas, is recovering from a 2010 earthquake by attracting tourism and investment, Martelly said Thursday. The nation plans to continue scheduled debt payments, including to Venezuela, its biggest creditor, rather than follow the path of the Dominican Republic, which settled its debt this year.

Under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, South America’s biggest oil producer sends subsidized crude to the region’s poorer nations, who pay half the debt up front and the rest over 25 years at 1 percent or 2 percent interest. Suffering from recession and the world’s fastest inflation rate, Venezuela cut shipments to members 13 percent last year from 2013, according to state producer Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

“They don’t seem to be slowing down Petrocaribe,” Martelly, 54, said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Riviera Maya, Mexico. “The money is being reinvested in Haiti, well invested. We are building houses for the poor,” as well as roads, schools and sports centers, he said.

Haiti depends on non-profits and foreign aid to provide many basic services. The country placed near the bottom in the World Bank’s 2015 ease of doing business ranking, coming in 180th of 189.

Quake, Recovery

Still, the $8.5 billion economy of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, grew 3.5 percent to 4 percent last year, the International Monetary Fund estimates.

Martelly, a former singer known as “Sweet Micky,” was elected in 2011, a year after a 7 magnitude earthquake toppled much of Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince, killing an estimated 200,000 people and leaving 1.3 million homeless. Martelly said that more than 95 percent of Haitians who were living in tents in the disaster’s aftermath are now in permanent housing, with only about 40,000 still in temporary structures.

Martelly’s administration has tried to rebuild the country by wooing foreign investors, including Carnival Corp., which plans to build a $70 million cruise port, and Bermuda-based Lazard Ltd, working to develop a Haiti investment fund. Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. plans next year to open its first hotel in Haiti, a Hilton Garden Inn near the renovated Louverture Airport in the nation’s capital. Marriott International Inc. also opened a hotel earlier this year with a ceremony that included Martelly and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

“Things are moving in Haiti,” Martelly said.

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