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The Venezuelan government will increase starting in October the interest rate it charges to finance oil purchases by Central American and Caribbean countries that participate in Petrocaribe supply agreements, a source with state-owned oil company PDVSA said Monday.

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The source, who agreed to speak only if he not be identified, said the increase was the result of higher administrative and maintenance costs of the loans.

Since it Petrocaribe was created in June 2005, 17 member countries enjoy an annual interest rate between 1% and 2%. Beginning in October, that will rise to 2-4%, the source said.

He said the increase will not be uniform across all countries and could be lower for poorer nations.

Under the program, Petrocaribe members can buy oil or refined products from Venezuela at favorable rates and through a long-term financing agreement at the low interest rates.

The source said the planned interest rates increases are permitted under the agreements Venezuela signed with the member nations. He added that no additional increases in rate are contemplated in the near term.

Venezuelan exports to Petrocaribe nations an average of 180,000 b/d, of which 143,000 b/d is oil and 37,000 b/d is refined product, the source said.

In the past two years, Petrocaribe countries' debt for oil purchases has risen to $5.7 billion, with Cuba and Nicaragua accounting for much of that total.

The source added that Venezuela is unlikely to reduce or suspend oil shipments to the debtor countries given the political value it sees in the oil alliance.

Petrocaribe members are Antigua and Barbuda, Honduras, Bahamas, Jamaica, Belize, Nicaragua, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Granada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guatemala, Saint Lucia, Guyana, Suriname, Haiti and Venezuela.

--Mery Mogollon,
--Edited by Jeff Barber,