The Venezuelan Catastrophe

William Finnegan has a long article on the Venezuelan catastrophe in the New Yorker. The article is more of a look at what's happening to the people than an analysis of how this once rich country got into it's present state, but there is quite a bit of history too.

It would be hard to exaggerate the scale of the Maduro regime's failures. Massive corruption and catastrophic incompetence exist here on a scale that's probably unequaled outside of Africa.

And yet Venezuelan oil production is steadily falling. Since 1998, it has declined by thirty per cent—by nearly a million barrels a day. Corruption and lack of maintenance are the culprits most often cited. Crime gangs also exact a heavy tax. The state-owned oil and gas monopoly, Petróleos de Venezuela (P.D.V.S.A.), was Chávez’s piggy bank. Between 2001 and 2015, it poured perhaps a hundred billion dollars into his favored programs. Today, the piggy bank is nearly empty. Two-thirds of oil-export revenues go to paying the Chinese and other creditors. Until recently, the monopoly was able to use Citgo, its American refining unit, to obtain loans in international credit markets, but the government has destroyed its credit rating, and it is no longer able to borrow on international markets. With the recent collapse of the oil price, it is scrambling just to service its debts.

The oil won’t simply stop flowing. In the city of Maracaibo, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of money around. Fancy new high-rises line the lakefront on the north side of town. Massive banks with blue glass walls loom downtown. José Feliciano is coming to play in the convention center. I asked my driver, a local woman, about the lakefront high-rises. “Money laundering,” she said cheerfully. The apartments were investments, she said, owned by mafiosos, militares, narco­traffickers from Colombia, corrupt officials. The buildings were dark at night. Almost nobody actually lived there.


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