On the eve of last December's meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Jamaican President Michael Manley met with Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez to discuss the chances of another oil price hike.
Perez, whose country was a founding member of the oil cartel, was leading the forces seeking to boost the price of petroleum - which had already quadrupled since 1974 - by at least another 5 percent.
Manley, whose country was to buy its oil, argued that another increase would only add to what has become a crushing burden for many developing countries.
Perez and Manley ended their private talks in total disagreement on the oil price issue. Another Third World leader, Cuba's Fidel Castro, in which the soaring cost of petroleum has split the ranks of the developing countries.
OPEC nations, Castro declared in a burst of anger, are "reactionary sultans" who are "being fed with the sweat and hunger of hundreds of millions in the Third World.
"Underdeveloped countries - not only the oil-exporting ones - have the right to live," Castro said.
Rhetoric aside, Castro's outburst takes note of a very real divergence in the interests of the OPEC countries and the oil-importing nations of the rest of the Third World.
This year alone, the 13 members of the oil cartel will squeeze nearly $25 billion in oil payments from their fellow developing countries. This transfer amounts to more than half the official reserves of the oil-importing Third World nations.
Officials in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states understandably chafe at the suggestion of a rift in the Third World - the emergence, in addition to the North-South dichotomy, of a sort of South-versus-South split.
"There is no South-versus-South conflict," insists Ali Ateega, head of the Organization of Arab petroleum Exporting Countries. "The distinction between the nonoil developed countries (LDCs) and the oil LDCs is not helpful."
But helpful or not, the distinction is real. Bahrain's Yusef Shirawi concedes that, "To say there is no effect on the less developed countries from high oil prices is to close your eyes."
The Third World countries hardest hit by the oil price increases of the past four years have been those that were beginning to industrialize - the Brazils and Thailands.
Before the OPEC "shock," Brazil's oil bill was running $500 million a year. Today, it has jumped to $3 billion annually.
Thailand's plight is even more serious. In 1973, the purchase of oil accounted for only 4 percent of what Thailand spent on imports. Last year, oil represented 23 percent, and Bangkok fears that it will be spending $1 out of every $3 for petroleum by the end of the decade.
The result, in Thailand's case, has been an alarming shrinkage in that country's foreign exchange reserves. Nor does there seem much hopes that Bangkok will be able to boost its exports enough to offset the increased expenditures on oil.
"There's really not that much more we can do on the export side," remarked a foreign trade official this spring. "Last year, we sold abroad almost everything we've got except my underwear."
The OPEC countries, aware of the growing bitterness of nations caught in this squeeze, have attempted to pour oil on these troubled waters in the form of foreign aid.
At the Afro-Arab summit conference in Cairo last year, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, prince Saud, defused mounting criticism from such countries as Kenya and Tanzania with the surprise announcement of a grant of $1 billion in aid to the poorer black African nations.
Officials of the oil countries are quick to note that a number of them are now devoting a larger percentage of their budget to foreign aid than industrial nations like the United States.
Abu Dhabi, for instance, devotes nearly 25 percent of its total income to foreign aid. Saudi Arabia set aside nearly 10 percent of its total income last year for aid to developing countries. The comparable figure for the United States was .3 percent.
Most of the Arab oil countries, however, give the bulk of their aid to other Arabs in the form of "insurance" payments designed to reduce the threat to their conservative governments from radical quarters.
"The Saudis and others on the [Persian] Gulf are very skillful at passing out their aid," observes an American diplomat. "The Syrians, Egyptians, and Palestinians are never sure when the check is coming, or what the consequences of their actions will be on the next payments."
While Egypt thus gets more than $1 billion a year from the Arab OPEC countries in this kind of foreign aid, many nations in Africa, ASia and Latin America get little or no rebate on the higher petroleum bills.
But for all the beneath-the-surface grumbling, the South-versus-South split rarely erupts in open outbursts like Castro's because the financially strapped nations largely feel they cannot afford to alienate their richer brethren.
"They simply don't want to antagonize the OPEC countries, because they know they will be back asking for aid," remarks a senior economist at the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.
Many of the oil countris, for their part, have only a limited sympathy for the plight of the petroleum-poor Third World nations.
"After all," observed OAPEC's Ateega, "Indonesia and Nigeria - both oil exporters - are very much poorer than countries like Brazil and Argentina."
Saudi Arabia's planning minister, Hisham Nazer, has also expressed doubts about his government's policy of providing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to a country like Jordan, that has a more sophiscated educational system than his own.
Another Saudi official, Farouk Akdar, head of the Saudi Royal Commission, puts it more bluntly.
"We have almost all the characteristics of the less developed countries ourselves - low standards of living, and suffering we are trying to end," Akdar said.
"In one sense," he mused, "we have been too generous with the less developed countries, given our backgrounds."