Dominican Rep Pres: High Energy Costs Hamper Poor Nations
NEW YORK (AP)--The president of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday said rising world energy prices are having a disproportionate effect on the developing world, increasing the cost of essential goods and threatening the political stability of countries including his own.
With oil prices topping $65 a barrel, President Leonel Fernandez said it was also "unsustainable" for the governments of many small oil-importing countries to continue meeting their obligations. He was seeking support from other world leaders at the U.N. summit to address the global impact of energy prices, he said.
"We believe that until Hurricane Katrina, the international community had been slow to react to these escalated oil prices," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"If this situation goes unchecked, it could provoke serious social tensions and political instability," he said, adding that symptoms of a crisis were already evident in energy protests across the Caribbean.
"If there is not a rapid reaction, there will be a situation of instability that will overturn everything, including the concept of free trade. Everything will disappear because the countries simply would see themselves diminished by this crisis."
The Dominican Republic, a nation of 8.8 million that has long struggled with energy shortages, recently announced an energy-saving plan that includes closing gas stations one day a week and keeping public buses off the road every other day.
Earlier this month, the Dominican and 12 other Caribbean countries signed an accord to buy oil from Venezuela at preferential financing rates. The Venezuelan initiative, called PetroCaribe, is expected to save them millions of dollars. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says it is also part of a plan to challenge U.S. economic influence in the region.
"I should clarify that perhaps Hugo Chavez has been the first to take positive measures with the so-called PetroCaribe program which provides credit to Caribbean countries and in a way contributes to reducing the effects we're seeing," he said.
Asked whether he believed Venezuela and the United States were competing for influence in the region, Fernandez said he did not want to comment on a potential conflict between two other nations.
"We view both the United States and Venezuela as friends of the Dominican Republic," he said.
Fernandez also said a dispute with neighboring Haiti over attacks on Haitians in his country has been mischaracterized. Haiti recalled its top ambassador last month after three Haitians were attacked and burned to death, but the Dominican president said the violence has been overblown.
"It seems strange to us that in international public opinion, the impression is being created that Dominicans have a hostile attitude toward Haitian immigrants," he said.
Some of the unease between the countries, which share the island of Hispaniola, owes to the slaying of a Dominican woman who was attacked by a Haitian near the border two months ago, he said.
"Some residents of that area reacted to that, but it's not a policy of the Dominican state," he said.
He said attacks on Haitians resulted from the same poverty-related issues that are generally behind other violence in the country, including murders of Dominicans by other Dominicans.
"With such a large Haitian community in the Dominican Republic, it's logical that some conflicts will arise. But it's not a situation where hostility has been programmed or motivated by the Dominicans toward the Haitians. Such a thing does not exist."