Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Online exclusive | 12:41 p.m.

PANAMA CITY — Renewable energy and the promotion of biofuels in the Western Hemisphere have returned to the forefront of talks at the Organization of American States’ General Assembly, where regional leaders yesterday stressed the need to implement written plans on alternatives to oil.

“The words in the document should be translated into action,” said Grenada’s ambassador to the OAS, Denis Antoine, ahead of closed door talks to finalize the assembly’s energy plan.

Four nations, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti and St. Kitts, would be the first beneficiaries of the recently signed U.S.-Brazil alternative-energy agreement, which aims to increase ethanol production in the region.

“This declaration realizes that biofuels will be critical to diversifying the use of our energy in our hemisphere,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

“We seek to promote the democratization of energy in the Americas, increasing the number of energy suppliers, expanding the market and reducing supply disruption,” she said.

Rounding out the three-day talks in the Panamanian capital, leaders yesterday put the finishing touches on an OAS resolution that focuses heavily on the environmental and need to reduce the hemispheres dependence on fossil fuels.

Some observers, however, expressed concern about investing time, money and resources into a country like Haiti, where political upheaval is not uncommon, violence requires the assistance of international peacekeepers to control, and corruption is endemic.

“Its the chicken and the egg problem,” noted Peter Hakim, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “If you never do anything in [Haiti] to address the problem of stability, then you wont have stability … and youll never get it without taking a risk.”

Alternative-energy programs alone won’t help the poor rise out of poverty, said Uruguayan Foreign Minister Reinaldo Gargano.

“Energy is important for production and improving quality of life, but eliminating poverty depends on other factors as well, like the better distribution of wealth,” he said.

Other nations have been downright critical of the alternative-energy initiatives put forward by the OAS and spearheaded by the United States and Brazil, the worlds largest producers of ethanol.

Leaders from Venezuela and Cuba — which does not have an official representative at the meetings because the communist island is not a member of the OAS — have criticized the further expansion of ethanol production in Latin America and the Caribbean, claiming it would deplete food supplies in the region, where a scarcity of sustenance is not uncommon.

Yesterday’s session was a departure from the diplomatic war of words that broke out the previous day between Miss Rice and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro over Venezuela’s recent closure of a television network that was critical of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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