Will Curaçao ever see the refinery operating again?

WILLEMSTAD - Curaçao seems unable to find a company that wants to run the refinery. Will it still happen? The media is talking about a political failure.  


A lengthy and carefully planned process to get the Isla refinery back up and running has again come to a halt. That seems to be the conclusion after the announcement of a preferred bidder at the beginning of this month.  


On behalf of the cabinet, a special committee is looking for a company with which Curaçao can reach an agreement. More jobs, more income for the government and cheaper fuel is the wish.  


According to the cabinet, two members of the Supervisory Board of government-owned company Refineria di Kòrsou (RdK) have 'contaminated' the process. This is stated by the Minister of Traffic, Transport and Spatial Planning Charles Cooper of the MFK party. 


Hardly any smoke at the refinery in years 


The lease contract with Venezuelan PdVSA expired in 2019. Before that, the refinery was largely shut down. This is, for example, due to American sanctions against Venezuela, which the Dutch kingdom also follows.  


Politicians are still unable to conclude a deal with other international companies, despite the many negotiations in recent years. 

For example, there were far-reaching talks with Zhenrong Energy from China Motiva/Amraco from the US the international Klesch Group. Efforts have also been made to run the refinery through CORC via business owners on the island itself.  


In the background, there has always been contact with the Venezuelan PDVSA, but as far as we know, no negotiations have taken place with them. 


Committee members contradict each other 


The cabinet of Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas also of the MFK party started a new process last year to 'carefully' look at which international companies are interested. And: whether they have enough knowledge and money to run the refinery.  


A special headhunting committee was set up with four experts. After negotiations, they come up with the preferred bidder group-Giusti. This group is led by Venezuelan Luis Giusti, who lives in the U.S., who led PDvSA in the past and now heads Socap Corp.  

But the process of the selection committee has been steered by the supervisory board of government-owned company RdK. Two commissioners want the Viana group (Grupo International Kòrsou).  


Minister Cooper calls the announcement 'illegal', because everyone had agreed that only the selection committee would make a decision about the new operators. Commissioners Elvis Quarton and Randolph Camelia have since resigned from the committee.  

And now? 


The government in Curaçao wants to continue negotiations with the Giusti group in the coming months. The cabinet is thus sticking to the script it has drawn up itself. However, there is much criticism about the approach. 


Conspiracy: 'Elite and the Netherlands are trying to stop the refinery' 


Former Prime Minister Ben Whiteman, who ruled on behalf of Pueblo Soberano party in 2015 and 2016, thinks a game is being played in the background. He fears that eventually there will be no refinery on the island at all.  


According to Whiteman, an 'elite' in Curaçao and in the Netherlands would have great influence on the current government. This group wants to close the refinery. And to achieve that, a bad candidate is deliberately chosen.  


The result of that bad candidate, Whiteman's story, will be: more trouble, more chaos, more uncertainty, and ultimately no thriving refinery. 


“Because eventually, public opinion will turn completely against the refinery,” Whiteman said in a radio interview. And that, according to him, is also the goal of the elite.  


But is it also true? According to the former prime minister, there is a pattern. For example, the plan to do business with the Chinese Guandong Zhenrong has been canceled. The operator was proposed during his term, but it was later dismissed by his successor Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of the PAR party.  


The wealthy Chinese were a very suitable candidate, says Whiteman. But according to him, those were canceled by the Rhuggenaath cabinet for 'unclear reasons'. 


The official reason is the uncertainty whether the company was technically and financially able to modernize the refinery. 


Will the Curaçao refinery become the major polluter again? 


The installations – which are now hardly used – are quite outdated. Since the forced closure of the refinery, there is demonstrably less harmful substances in the air on Curaçao.  


The Curaçao cabinet wants a new operator to refurbish the refinery. Then the stench and environmental nuisance will be considerably less than in recent decades. 


The Clean Air Everywhere foundation is convinced that the government will give a new operator a free hand to start up the refinery far above international environmental standards. The previous cabinets barely intervened.  


The organization has announced that it will go to court before a new operator is found. 


Recipe for a headache file 


And with that, the headache file for the Pisas government seems complete: arguing about the desired candidate, going to court and conspiracy theories about secret agreements or not. 


Added to that: a large part of the population would like to see a running refinery. It is not only seen as important to create jobs on the island, but also to get some lower gas prices.  


Six trade unions, which represent many of the refinery's employees, and various interest groups support the Pisas cabinet. They have therefore said that they are 'glad' that, despite the criticism, the cabinet is opting for further talks with the Giusti group.  


But that seems to be the only positive news for Prime Minister Pisas in the increasingly lengthy debacle on the island. Like his predecessors, Pisas doesn't seem to be able to complete the Isla file without being left unscathed. 

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