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Cablegate: Dominica After Dean -- Venezuela Will Help Us

VZCZCXRO8173
PP RUEHGR
DE RUEHWN #1203/01 2571915
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 141915Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5486
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1795
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE PRIORITY 0928
RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J5 MIAMI FL
RUEHCV/USDAO CARACAS VE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRIDGETOWN 001203

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SAN JOSE FOR USAID/OFDA-CALLAHAN AND LEONARD
USAID FOR DCHA/OFDA-THAYER AND LAC/CAR-BOUNCY
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID EAGR ECON PGOV PREL VE DO XL
SUBJECT: DOMINICA AFTER DEAN -- VENEZUELA WILL HELP US

REF: STATE 126663

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Dominica has been promised assistance from
Venezuela to improve infrastructure, particularly roads and
retaining walls, in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean from
August 16-17. These pledges far outstrip the modest
assistance the USG has been able to provide to date, giving
Hugo Chavez another big win in the PR department and further
warming Dominica's relations with Venezuela. Additional,
heavily publicized disaster assistance from the USG would go
a long way towards countering some of the Venezuelan upper
hand in defining in the media who Dominica's real friends
are. Additional assistance would also increase USG
visibility in the region as a tangible deliverable following
the June Conference on the Caribbean in Washington. END
SUMMARY.

DAMAGE ASSESSMENTS GRAVE
------------------------

2. (U) Initial assessments have shown that Dominica is
suffering from both extensive agricultural and
infrastructural damage. Total agricultural damage was
estimated at USD 17.8 million, affecting 100 percent of
Dominica's crucial banana industry. Infrastructure damage is
currently estimated at USD 44 million, mostly to roads, sea
walls, and river walls. The extensive damage to
infrastructure, particularly to roads, poses a serious safety
hazard and a threat to tourism and investment due to the
difficulty in transporting people and goods across the
island. Hurricane Dean's effects also have long-term
consequences. The agriculture sector provides employment to
40 percent of Dominica's labor force, most of which remains
idle because of the destruction to crops. Before Hurricane
Dean, the International Monetary Fund reported that close to
39 percent of Dominica's population was living below the
poverty line. Although no post-Dean statistics have been
reported yet, this percentage likely climbed dramatically now
that 40 percent of the population instantly became unemployed.

VENEZUELA TO THE RESCUE
-----------------------

3. (U) The United Nations Development Programme recently sent
experts to Dominica to assess infrastructure damage, but the
donor community is only able to provide for immediate needs
and agricultural assistance at this time. As a result, Prime
Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has requested assistance from
Venezuela. In addition to providing food, water, and medical
supplies within days following the hurricane, and more
recently various tools (shovels, wheel barrows, picks) and
mosquito nets, Venezuela is also clearing roads blocked by
landslides and fallen trees and sending a team of 20
volunteers to further assess total damage.

4. (U) Venezuelan disaster assistance is in addition to other
forms of assistance promised to Dominica over the last two
years, which includes low cost oil, petroleum storage tanks,
and an oil refinery under the Petrocaribe program, as well as
funding the extension of the runway at Melville Hall Airport
to allow for larger aircraft. Venezuelan assistance has been
well-received in Dominica. Skerrit often praises Hugo Chavez
publicly, characterizing him as a good friend of the
Caribbean. In February 2007, Chavez visited Dominica and
then flew Skerrit to St. Vincent on his own aircraft to sign
the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin American (ALBA)
agreement. In June 2006, Venezuela announced a USD 29
million housing project in Dominica, just days after Skerrit
softened Dominica's claim on Bird Island, an small island
disputed between Dominica and Venezuela.

COMMENT: AN OPPORTUNITY
------------------------

5. (SBU) Additional assistance for Hurricane Dean damage is
needed if Dominica is to economically survive the destructive
effects of Dean. Although Venezuela's track record on
following through with its commitments is spotty at best,
Venezuelan promises of assistance are in any event having a
substantial public relations impact. While the USG should
not try to match Venezuelan assistance dollar for dollar,
additional USG assistance is critically needed to provide
life support to Dominica's economy. At the same time,

BRIDGETOWN 00001203 002 OF 002


additional USG assistance will share the spotlight as a
tangible deliverable of the joint White House-CARICOM
communique issued after the June Conference on the Caribbean,
which promised to recommit efforts of cooperation in the area
of disaster recovery (reftel).
FISHER

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