CASTRIES, St Lucia, Wednesday March 6, 2013 – Caribbean Community leaders were Wednesday paying tribute to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who died Tuesday after a prolonged battle with cancer.
St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said that the significance of Chavez’s death “looms very large” for several Caribbean states especially those that shared a close working relationship with his administration.
“He will be remembered for a long time, he accomplished so much in the short fourteen years he was in office and all of us have reason to celebrate the friendship and memory of his accomplishments,” Anthony said.
He described the 58-year-old leader as a “wonderful friend of the Caribbean, who sought to build bridges” and that St. Lucia “will obviously be distressed by the death of the President, but I certainly share the pain and anguish of the Venezuelan people at this time.
“It is indeed unfortunate for St. Lucia that we were unable to maximise our relationship with Venezuela during his tenure.
“We had several conversations about the future and he was very anxious to assist St. Lucia through the PetroCaribe oil agreement and through our joining ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), if we chose to exercise that option,” Prime Minister Anthony said.
He said that the future of the current relationship with Venezuela would depend on the outcome of the presidential elections in the next few days.
But he said he was confident that if Vice President Nicholas Maduro is elected he would continue the policies of his predecessor.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer described Chavez’s death as a “huge blow” noting he was “a true champion of not only the working class people of Venezuela but of the entire Caribbean.
“Being in his presence and interacting with him was always uplifting and was a positive symbol of great hope for Latin America and the Caribbean,” Spencer said.
“His contributions to the development of Antigua and Barbuda and the Caribbean in general will always be remembered. The Caribbean owes a debt of gratitude to Venezuela for sharing with us a son of the soil, whose imposing physical presence was equalled only by his exceptional intellect and compassion.”
CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said President Chavez demonstrated solidarity with the Caribbean throughout his tenure and created avenues for co-operation and strengthening relations with the Governments and improving the lives of the people.
“His vision of bringing together the people of Latin America and the Caribbean was driven by his deep sense of concern for the well-being of the disadvantaged in society, not only in his own country but in the wider region.
“His struggle with the disease that finally claimed his life epitomised the heart and spirit which he brought to bear in his attempts to raise the standard of living of the less fortunate in his homeland, in the Caribbean and the wider region,” he said extending the region’s condolences to Venezuela.
“I am confident that the strength and spirit of the Venezuelan people, so strikingly exemplified by President Chavez, will sustain the country in its time of grief,” he added.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, who had been critical of his country’s close relationship with Caracas under Chavez, said the death of the South American leader, who was elected to a fourth six-year terms in October, “has implications for us here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I know we have to sit down carefully and contemplate what the implications are. We in the New Democratic Party have not had such a good relationship with President Chavez but when death enters on the scene one has to recognise and deal with that reality,” Eustace said.
“When it comes to death, one had to put these things aside and I want to extend to his family and to the people and the government of Venezuela our deepest condolences,” Eustace said.
“Death is not an easy thing to deal with and very often one has to put aside what differences you may have,” he said.
Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza said “it is a time of great sorrow for Venezuelans, and we stand with them, together with all the peoples of the region.
“We are certain that Venezuelans will know to come together in difficult times like these, and move in peace and democracy toward the future,” he said, adding that the flags of the OAS have been placed at half mast and a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council will be convened in memory of Chávez.