Belize is unable to service its debt to Venezuela, believed to be close to half a billion dollars, by way of the now defunct PetroCaribe program due to international sanctions placed on the country in the wake of turbulent and unstable economic and political conditions in the troubled South American nation, according to Financial Secretary Joseph Waight.

According to Waight, due to the sanctions placed on Venezuela by the United States as political pressure mounts against embattled President Nicolas Maduro, the country has been unable to accept payments from the countries in the PetroCaribe program in US dollars and Euros. As such, Belize has been unable to make payments to Venezuela as per the terms of the PetroCaribe arrangement, which afforded Belize fuel at preferential rates and financing over a 20-year period at 1 percent interest.

In the meantime, Waight said, Belize has diverted those payments to an escrow account with the intention of making those payments to Venezuela at any point such sanctions are lifted and the country is able to receive the payments. He also said Belize has not purchased fuel from Venezuela in almost a year-and-a-half.

Puma, Belize's sole importer of fuel to the country, has since sourced fuel for local consumption from refineries in the US, mainly in Texas, Waight said. He added that the closing of the office was as a result of the continued problems Venezuela is facing. He noted that though the office has been closed to reduce cost, the company has not been dissolved.

The PetroCaribe arrangement, and more specifically, the government's use of the funds from PetroCaribe, have been the subject of much political scrutiny and controversy over the years. The program was originally started by the late former President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and was carried on by Maduro.

The Reporter