MIAMI–Antigua and Barbuda, still reeling from the fraud scandal surrounding Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, last Thursday found a new foreign benefactor in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer told the nation in a broadcast that the leftist Venezuelan leader was providing US$50 million in urgent financial assistance to the twin-island state, which was at the heart of Stanford's far-reaching business empire that collapsed in February.
"Today, I am pleased to advise the nation that at one o'clock this morning President Hugo Chavez signed the necessary paperwork to approve the immediate transfer of the full amount of US$50 million to the government's call account at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank," Spencer said in his address. Spencer, who led his Caribbean country to join Chavez's ALBA alliance of Latin American states just two months ago, said the funds would be used to help Antigua and Barbuda confront the effects of the global financial crisis.
He said the Venezuelan emergency help came "completely without precondition," but gave no details of the terms. Antigua and Barbuda Finance Minister Harold Lovell said in a statement the Venezuelan assistance would involve "some grant element and a loan on very concessionary terms," although he added the terms were being finalised.
Stanford, a flamboyant sports entrepreneur who was granted a knighthood by Antigua and Barbuda and was once its biggest investor, faces US civil and criminal charges related to an alleged US$7 billion fraud that prosecutors say was centred on certificates of deposit issued by his Stanford International Bank in Antigua. Venezuelan investors were among those who suffered losses. Acknowledging Antigua's financial woes, Finance Minister Lovell said US$35 million of the "generous and timely" Venezuelan support would be used for "budgetary support," US$7 million would be employed for "economic stimulus," while US$6.5 million would go toward improving administration of revenues and spending. The remaining US$1.5 million would be used to fund activities and programmes that provide social protection for the poor and unemployed, Lovell said.