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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Caribbean leaders sign oil pact
Caribbean leaders line up with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez
Leaders are feeling price pressures across the Caribbean
Caribbean leaders have signed up to Petrocaribe, an oil initiative put forward by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez aimed at offering cheap crude.

Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil producer and will offer oil at preferential rates to those countries. Signatories will be allowed to defer payments, as well as covering costs with goods like rice, bananas or sugar.

Caribbean economies have been hurt by record oil costs, and Wednesday saw protests against higher living costs.

Clashes

Demonstrators blocked roads in Kingston, about 110 miles (180 km) southeast of Montego Bay where leaders, including Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, were meeting.

Reports said that one man had been shot dead, while others were shot at and dozens of people were arrested in the disturbances.

We have the opportunity to break from the path of imposed domination and servitude
President Hugo Chavez

In an effort to keep living costs down, nine Caribbean nations signed up for the new oil deal, including the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Suriname and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Cuba and Jamaica had already signed up the agreement.

Under the plan, Venezuela would offer member states cheap oil, with Caracas picking up 40% of the cost if oil is selling at more than $50 a barrel.

President Chavez has promised further concessions to the Petrocaribe signatories if prices hit the $100 a barrel mark.

Venezuela's state oil firm PDVSA has created an affiliate, PDV Caribe, to implement the initiative and it has put $50m into a fund to kick-start the plan.

Caracas also will help pay for oil shipments and help with setting up storage facilities across the region.

Buying friends?

Critics of the plan have accused President Chavez of using his nation's oil wealth to buy influence and supporters.

Mr Chavez has clashed with the US over his oil policy and attempts to promote a more socialist political agenda in South and Latin America.

Oil pipelines in Venezuela
Oil is Venezuela's main source of foreign cash

"We have the opportunity to break from the path of imposed domination and servitude," Mr Chavez told leaders and representatives on Wednesday.

"The capitalist model...imposed on us is not sustainable," Mr Chavez continued.

Mr Chavez denies using oil to secure political influence in the Caribbean.

The talks were attended by representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Surinam, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Two countries - Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago (which produces its own oil)- have declined to join the agreement at present.

Venezuela is a leading oil supplier to the US, but Mr Chavez is seeking to develop diversified energy ties with the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.


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