ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) — Venezuela announced Saturday that its state-owned oil company will buy a 25 percent stake in West Indies Oil Co. and that it will establish a regional bank with the Antigua and Barbuda government to fund a new resort.
The announcement came during a visit to Antigua by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was on a whirlwind weekend Caribbean tour that included stops at three other nations — Suriname, St. Lucia and Grenada. He was meeting with their leaders to discuss economic and social development initiatives.
Venezuelan officials said the regional bank would finance the new Simon Bolivar Resort Hotel and other development projects using resources generated by the Petrocaribe program, which provides low-cost oil financing to Caribbean and Central American countries and invests in social development projects.
Executives at Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, said the purchase of a stake in West Indies Oil Co. was just the beginning of "joint investments" between the countries.
The Caribbean nations visited by Maduro are members of the Petrocaribe program, which critics say has lost effectiveness with the drop in oil prices. Last March, Barclays analysts estimated Venezuela had cut the program's daily oil shipments in half, to 200,000 barrels from 400,000.
Maduro defended the program Saturday, saying Venezuela is looking to increase cooperation with its Caribbean neighbors.
"Petrocaribe is a reality and it is our starting point, our foundation to build a powerful economic zone," Maduro said.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that he and Maduro "agreed to work in various areas of cooperation."