Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is heading a high-level team of Jamaicans who will travel to Caracas, Venezuela, today to attend the funeral for that nation's late president, Hugo Chávez.
Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell and Foreign Affairs Minister A.J. Nicholson are accompanying the prime minister. Also joining the delegation are Senator Angela Brown Burke, mayor of Kingston and vice-president of the People's National Party; Senator Robert Montague, opposition representative and chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party; Clifton Stone, former ambassador to Venezuela, and the prime minister's support and security team.
Paulwell's ministry is most closely associated with Chávez's generosity to Jamaica under the PetroCaribe agreement between Jamaica and Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.
The agreement, which has benefited Jamaica in a multiplicity of ways, has been the focal point of high praise and harsh criticism since it was first established in 2005.
It remained in place despite several changes in the leadership of the Jamaican Government and has made it back into the news after it was disclosed during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last August that the PetroCaribe Development Fund would be granting millions in funding to assist marginalised communities across the island.
HOPING FOR CONTINUED AGREEMENT
Nicholson, the point man on international relations in the Simpson Miller administration, has also expressed hope that the agreement will remain intact.
Chávez, regarded as a close associate of successive Jamaican administrations, died on Tuesday after a bitter battle with cancer.
The attendance of other world leaders at the funeral signifies the magnitude of the personality of the Venezuela president, who was as popular in his and other countries as he was unpopular in the United States.
With Iran constantly at loggerheads with the United States since the 1970s diplomatic impasse between the two countries over the late Shah, it has hardly come as a surprise that one of the first persons to arrive in Venezuela to attend the funeral of his ally in life was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad is the head of an Iranian delegation that flew out of Tehran yesterday.
The Iranian leader has praised Chávez, comparing him to a saint, saying he would return on resurrection day.
OBAMA TO SEND REPRESENTATIVES
But the Americans who wrestled with Chávez in life will not be left out. The Obama administration on Wednesday said it planned to send a delegation to Chávez's funeral and wanted to soon begin a dialogue on the countries' overlapping interests.
A day earlier, Venezuela accused the US of trying to destabilise its government. On Tuesday, Venezuela expelled two American officials for allegedly "destabilising" the state and appeared to hint that the United States might have been responsible for Chávez's death that same day after a nearly two-year battle with cancer.
In Caracas, Venezuelans filed past Chávez's remains yesterday, crying, making the sign of the cross and giving military salutes as an era ended and elections loomed in the oil-rich nation.
Chávez lay in state in a half-open coffin in the Caracas military academy, with eyes closed behind glass, wearing his olive green military fatigues, a black tie and the iconic red beret that became a symbol of his 14-year socialist rule.
Thousands stood in line for hours through the night to get a glimpse of the former paratrooper, whose oil-funded socialism earned him friends and foes at home and abroad.