Social activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong is questioning claims by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur that his successor as leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had tried to entice him to pursue a questionable election finance arrangement with then Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Comissiong issued a statement today seeking to discredit Arthur’s claim that Mia Mottley, who once served as the former Barbadian leader’s deputy, had attempted to persuade him to change his position on Petrocaribe – an energy cooperation agreement initiated by Caracas to provide a preferential payment arrangement for petroleum and petroleum products to some Caribbean and Latin American countries – in exchange for campaign funds from Chavez.
The social activist said in the statement that Arthur needed no persuasion because the former Prime Minister had made his intention clear at a meeting in November 2012 during the visit to Barbados by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan that he would sign the Petrocaribe deal if he won the 2013 general election.
“I attended that meeting as a guest of Minister Farrakhan. Owen Arthur informed us that he had come to the conclusion that he had made a mistake by not having Barbados sign on to Venezuela’s Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement when he was Prime Minister of Barbados. He went on to inform us that if his Barbados Labour Party won the general elections that were due in 2013 that he would be taking Barbados into Petrocaribe,” Comissiong charged.
Arthur today said he would not comment “on the things Comissiong says”, telling Barbados TODAY “you are wasting my time”.
However, he told a news conference yesterday, at which he supported calls by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for Mottley to give full account of a dubious tax write-off for her father back in 1998 and one for Barclays Bank in 2002, that the current BLP leader, along with campaign consultant Hartley Henry and a prime minister of another Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country, had invited him to a meeting “to get me to agree to go to Venezuela to meet Hugo Chavez to arrange to get campaign financing for the Barbados Labour Party on condition that I would change the position that I held as Prime Minister of Barbados on Petrocaribe”.
The former BLP leader said he dismissed the attempt because he had no intention of surrendering Barbados’ foreign policy “for a campaign contribution”.
However, Comissiong countered today, stating that it was “remarkable and bemusing to hear the same Owen Arthur now talking about signing on to Petrocaribe as being tantamount to selling the foreign policy of Barbados”.
Contending that he had an abundance of witnesses to support his account, Comissiong chided the former Prime Minister for “playing partisan political games with this issue”, going on to add that Arthur should be “ashamed of himself”.
“The fact is that as late as the end of November 2012 he was raring to sign on to Petrocaribe as a programme that was in the national interest of Barbados and did not need any further persuading on the matter. Fortunately, there must have been a good 20 or so people in that meeting room in November 2012, all of whom can verify the truth of what I say here,” he stressed.
Petrocaribe was established in 2005 with the signing of the Energy Cooperation Agreement by 14 Caribbean countries at the first energy summit of Caribbean heads of government in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela.
Under the payment arrangement, the participating countries would buy oil on market value with only a portion paid for upfront and the remainder paid through a 25-year financing agreement on one per cent interest.
Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago were the only CARICOM countries that did not sign onto the deal, with Arthur insisting at the time that such and agreement would have had a negative effect on the island’s debt ratio.
Both countries also maintained that with Trinidad and Tobago being an oil exporting country, the Petrocaribe arrangement would violate the CARICOM agreement, which made it clear that items produced outside CARICOM that are available in one of the member countries should attract a common external tariff. [email protected]