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  Number 384 | Julio 2013
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The eighth Petrocaribe Summit was held in Managua between June 27 and 29, and was attended by top officials and Heads of State of 18 nations representing 83 million inhabitants who benefit from this oil agreement with Venezuela. It was not publicly stated whether Venezuela will have to change the concessional conditions under which it is paid for the oil it sells to these countries given its own economic crisis. Nonetheless the central agreement of the summit was that the Petrocaribe countries will be turned into an economic trade exchange zone (ZEP), based on each particular country’s advantages. Venezuela’s oil minister, Rafael Ramírez, announced that five areas will be prioritized in the ZEP: air and maritime transport and telecommunications; tourism; productive trade and exchanges; food sovereignty; and social and cultural interchanges. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro proposed a special plan, financed by all Petrocaribe member countries, to make the ZEP a zone free of illiteracy and hunger and one that promotes and extends the scope of “Operation Miracle,” a project that has so far been dedicated to the free curing of eye diseases for the poorest populations of those countries.

In the Petrocaribe Summit, Rafael Ramírez also reported that Petrocaribe has already built a system for transporting, storing and refining oil in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. He also mentioned other refineries either planned or under construction, including “Bolívar´s Supreme Dream” in Nicaragua, promised by the late President Chávez in 2007, which was supposed to go on line by 2012. Given the lack of physical evidence that the project is actually underway and Venezuela’s own economic situation, speculation has been growing, particularly among Nicaragua’s opposition, that it’s a dead letter. However, economist Francisco Mayorga said on the government’s TV news program that “the refinery is going ahead at its own rhythm,” with construction currently focusing on storage tanks and under-ocean pipelines. Ramírez assured President Ortega during the summit that the refinery “will be built” and will be ready in 2017.

Vicente Padilla, a peasant coffee grower near San Ramón whose struggle against the owner of a huge neighboring coffee plantation called Santa Emilia Estates was chronicled in envío’s September 2006 issue, is back in the news. When we left the story, Padilla, a literacy crusade teacher, decorated war veteran, environmental activist and community organizer, had gotten his coffee certified as organic, but then the coffee magnate took over most of it his land and began using chemical pesticides and fertilizer on the plants, jeopardizing the certification. The latest blog by Padilla’s supporters, in 2008, reported that he had recovered the farm and was holding his own in his struggle to maintain ownership, but was still being harassed by the US-based State Street Coffee, which buys Santa Emilia’s coffee and bills itself as an “ethical” coffee company.
On June 20, in a rare piece of positive journalism, El Nuevo Diario reported that Padilla has added fruit trees, basic grains and a variety of farm animals and is often visited by university agriculture students and representatives of organizations who want to learn about his organic system combining crops and animals. He and other members of the Nicaraguan Agro-ecology Movement have also used composted fertilizers and applied other homemade products to their coffee bushes, thus avoiding the fungus blighting so many of the region’s coffee farms. Padilla says agricultural engineers have tried to persuade him to use chemical products to increase his yield but the movement members have found that farms using organic products do well. He admitted that converting to organic farming is expensive at first, but that the costs drop after a few years. Unlike growers who want to exploit their farms to the max and don’t care about the environmental damage, “we want our farms to be sustainable,” he explains.

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