Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported Goldman Sachs bought bonds issued by Venezuela’s state oil company, it has faced a firestorm of criticism.
There were protests outside of the bank’s New York headquarters, and Venezuela’s opposition lawmakers accused it of funding an oppressive regime.
All this, and we just learned that the deal didn’t even rise to the attention of top bank executives. In fact, the way WSJ’s Liz Hoffman tells it, buying the bonds for $0.31 on the dollar was a “no brainer” for fund managers.
Sure, it’s a no brainer in a vacuum. But Goldman doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Outside of the fact that Venezuela is currently defined by stories of extreme human suffering, Goldman is also under more scrutiny now that the White House is filled with its alumni.
Put in terms a portfolio manager might understand: If there was a marketplace for media hive and public outrage, then Goldman’s reputational risk premium exploded when Donald Trump became president and Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn (and Steve Bannon) took his side.
The Venezuela trade, though, shows that the bank might not have understood this.
Now, to be fair, a bank should be able to do whatever legal deal they want and — on paper — Goldman’s in the clear.
Venezuela didn’t even issue new debt for this, and Goldman will likely make money for its shareholders on the trade. Bonds of the oil company, PDVSA, are basically sovereign debt.
Goldman’s problem has to do with how we expect banks to do business after the financial crisis. We actually want banks to care about their reputations, especially when their alums help run the world from the White House. When they act like they don’t care, that’s now bad for business because we’re watching.
“Forget the moral and the ethics of it all… As a practical business model they obviously made a mistake,” Steve Hanke, an economist who advised former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, told Business Insider.
As you can see from the chart of Venezuela’s cash reserves below, the regime has wiggled out of tight spots before. Whether Goldman had bought those PDVSA bonds or not the carnage in Venezuela would continue, perhaps for quite a long time. Regimes that have seemed close to death for years still exist on the planet (think: Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe).
Here’s the good news though, the fact that there is an uproar about this shows we’re not sinking into a dangerous space of complete moral relativism.
Good job, guys.
We now live in a world where the president of the United States decided that the secretary of state should be the former Exxon Mobil CEO, who actively lobbied Congress to remove a rule that made his company unable to do clandestine business with authoritarian petro-states.
That rule was a part of Dodd-Frank, and a few months ago the Trump administration had it removed.
The message here from the great hive that is the media and the internet is that Goldman should be less vulgar, less greedy. The message that decisions involving brutal autocrats should no longer be “no-brainers.”
Maybe this is a new era in how we react to banks doing business around the world. Maybe soon enough every kid in American will know something about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Maybe bankers will catch themselves before they work with the bad guys because, frankly, it’s bad for business.
Wouldn’t be such a bad thing, to be honest. This doesn’t have to be the Wild West — not yet.
The U.S. government added Venezuelan Vice President Tarek El Aissami to its sanctions list Monday, saying he “played a significant role in international narcotics trafficking” and freezing his access to a fortune estimated at $3 billion after a lengthy investigation of his alleged links to drug traffickers and Muslim extremists.
The measure also covers Samark Lopez — accused of being the principal front man for El Aissami — and nearly a dozen companies linked to Lopez, including some in Miami.
El Aissami and Lopez were the latest of several Venezuelan government officials and supporters listed as alleged drug traffickers by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency in charge of enforcing U.S. sanctions. The sanctions were authorized under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.
“OFAC’s action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” OFAC Acting Director John E. Smith said.
“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” Smith added in a statement. “Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department.”
The sanctioned companies own three condos at the upscale Millennium Tower Residences at the Four Seasons hotel in Brickell. The companies paid nearly $7 million for the three units in 2012 and 2013, Miami-Dade County property records show.
South Florida’s real estate market is a known conduit for dirty cash. Since 2015, an anti-money laundering push by the U.S. Treasury Department has required extra checks on shell companies buying luxury homes in Miami-Dade County and Manhattan. (The heightened monitoring was later imposed on other pricey real estate markets around the nation.)
OFAC also identified and blocked properties held by 13 companies owned or controlled by Lopez or others “that comprise an international network spanning the British Virgin Islands, Panama, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela,” the news release said. Lopez oversees an international network of petroleum, distribution and other companies, according to the release.
El Aissami, who has not hidden his presidential ambitions, has been under U.S. investigation for many months because he is considered to be one of the top leaders of drug-smuggling operations in Venezuela.
He was appointed vice president in January by President Nicolás Maduro after serving as governor of Venezuela’s Aragua state fromm 2012 to 2017. The Treasury Department news release said he “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela” by plane. The statement also said he “oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms” from Venezuela with a final destination of the U.S. or Mexico.
The U.S. also said he received payment for facilitating drug shipments from Venezuelan “drug kingpin” Walid Makled Garcia, and officials linked him to Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. They said he provided protection to Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera and Venezuelan drug trafficker Hermagoras Gonzalez Palanco.
As vice president, El Aissami is first in line to replace Maduro if the president leaves office for any reason.
Most alarming for many Venezuela-watchers are his ties with radical Islamic organizations in the Middle East, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
El Aissami is one of the main contacts in Latin America for the extremist organizations, said Luis Fleischman, senior adviser at the Center for Security Policy (CSP) in Washington, D.C.
“He is one of Venezuela’s main contacts with Hezbollah,” said Fleischman, who keeps a close eye on the South American country. “He has been providing logistical and financial support to those organizations.”
A 2014 report by the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) highlighted allegations that El Aissami played a key role in efforts by Muslim fundamentalists to create a network in Latin America that would finance terrorism in other parts of the world.
“Over the years, Tarek El Aissami has developed a sophisticated and multilevel financial network that functions as a criminal terrorist pipeline for bringing Islamic radicals to Venezuela and its neighbors, and to send illegal funds from Latin America to the Middle East,” the report said.
The vice president “has used his political prominence to establish intelligence and financial channels with Islamic nations, especially Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran,” the report added.
The investigation also concluded that when El Aissami was minister of the interior, he issued Venezuelan passports and other documents to members of the radical Islamic organizations.
“The majority [of 173 individuals] had Venezuelan passports,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of SFS and one of the authors of the report. “Others had identity cards and others had Venezuelan visas. In some cases, these people had birth certificates.”
The individuals “were from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. But the majority were from Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Seventy percent of them came from those countries and had some sort of ties to Hezbollah,” Humire told el Nuevo Herald.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was among the Miami-area politicians who welcomed the sanctions.
“The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent,” Rubio said. “For years, I’ve talked about how Venezuelan regime officials are committing crimes in Venezuela, stealing from the Venezuelan people and then spending their riches living in the lap of luxury in Miami. Today’s announcement further confirms how true this is, and the extent to which corrupt and criminal Venezuelan regime officials have been allowed to freely travel and prance around U.S. soil with impunity.”
Since 2003, Cuba has been sending battalions of doctors to Venezuela in exchange for cash and crude.
The program, known as Barrio Adentro, offers free medical care to some of the nation’s poorest. It’s been credited with saving more than a million lives and is one of the pillars of the socialist revolution.
But according to health workers who have defected from the program, Barrio Adentro has been hollowed out by fraud. And they say they were under such intense pressure to hit quotas that they’ve been faking statistics for years.
As a dentist in the program, Thaymi Rodríguez said she was required to see 18 patients a day, but often only a handful would make their way to her clinic. Medical workers who didn’t hit their daily quota were threatened with having their pay docked, being transferred or, in extreme cases, being sent back to Cuba.
To make up for the patient shortfall, Rodríguez said she and her colleagues would routinely fake paperwork and reinforce the fiction by throwing out anesthesia, dental molds and other supplies.
“I worked for three and a half years as a dentist in Venezuela and it was horrible dealing with the statistics,” said Rodríguez, who defected from the program late last year and is in Colombia awaiting a U.S. visa. “I might see five patients a day but I had to say I’d seen 18, and then throw all that medicine away, because we simply had to.”
Trashing medicine in a country where it’s desperately needed was painful, doctors said. But if they were caught giving it away — or even worse, selling it — they would be kicked out of the mission and sent back to Cuba. And regular audits of their supplies meant they needed them to match their patient count.
Read More: Venezuelans, desperate for medicine, pour into Colombia
The claims are difficult to verify, and calls to Venezuela’s Ministry of Health seeking comment went unanswered. But the Miami Herald spoke to three different groups of health workers who had abandoned the program, and all told similar stories.
Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity.
Cuba, a communist country with a weak economy, has alienated itself from the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba to distance itself from the South American country.
So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by 19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top provider almost overnight.
Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive Havana closer to the U.S.
“Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle to Fox News Latino.
“Cuba’s opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don’t have another option if you consider Venezuela’s grim situation,” said Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.
Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.
Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential terms. In exchange, in 2003 Cuba started providing human resources to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which focused on reducing analphabetism.
According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.
This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefited both Castro’s and Chavez’s agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.
After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three years ago.
“The new economic scenario doesn’t mean that political relations between Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour,” according to foreign analyst Edgar Otalvora. “Ideologically, they will remain close,” he said, pointing at Raul Castro’s cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.
However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions that Venezuela’s deepening crisis is having on Cuba.
He said Cuba’s economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to “a certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill them.”
“Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy,” Castro told the National Assembly.
Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.
“Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil, Canada and China,” Arellano told FNL. “The down part for the Castro brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future.”
As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November’s election outcome.
Venezuela’s falling crude output and financial woes have left it struggling to maintain a 15-year-old oil assistance program to its closest ally, Cuba.
State-run oil firm PDVSA has slashed its exports to Communist-run Cuba this year, according to the company’s internal trade data, seen exclusively by Reuters.
The shift signals an unraveling of the oil diplomacy pioneered by Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez and helps explain why Cuba, which generates electricity from fuels, recently ordered some joint ventures and state-owned firms to reduce power usage.
It also comes as Cuba improves its relations with the United States after decades of antagonism and a U.S. economic embargo while Venezuela, mired in triple-digit inflation and acute product shortages, is in a prolonged standoff with Washington.
Cuba, long reliant on Venezuela as its top energy supplier, has received some 53,500 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from PDVSA this year, a 40 decline from the first half of 2015, according to the company’s data.
When it was flush with cash from oil exports, Venezuela’s socialist government won political support in Latin America and the Caribbean by sending oil on advantageous terms to allies.
Cuba, which receives some 4 percent of Venezuela’s total oil exports, has been the biggest beneficiary of the program and until this year was spared the fallout from PDVSA’s growing cash flow problems, which already undermined oil supplies to Uruguay, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Curacao.
Venezuela has partially offset the smaller crude shipments to Cuba by boosting exports of refined products such as fuel oil, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
But overall shipments to Cuba, including both crude and products, still declined 19.5 percent to 83,130 bpd in the first half of this year. 1/8Link to graphic on Venezuela’s monthly oil exports to Cuba: http://tmsnrt.rs/29kux9r 3/8
It is unclear if Cuba is looking to secure new sources of supply amid the shortfalls. The barter arrangement for Venezuelan oil has been a huge boost to Cuba’s economy and it would have to pay much more in the open market.
Meanwhile, PDVSA has been scrambling to limit its own purchases of expensive light crude and naphtha needed to dilute its extra heavy Orinoco crude, and is opting to keep more of a medium crude known as Mesa 30 at home to use as a diluent.
Mesa 30 has for long been the main crude received by Cuba. The oil now arriving is heavier, making it harder for Cuban refineries to produce the ideal mix of fuels for its economy, according to a source with the Cuba-Venezuela commission that oversees their treaties.
Venezuela has the world’s largest crude reserves though output has declined in recent years because of underinvestment. Given a slump in oil prices and a mounting economic crisis at home, PDVSA is straining to keep up investment and production.
Numerous oil analysts believe the OPEC country’s oil output this year will fall to its lowest level since a devastating strike at PDVSA in 2002 and 2003.
PDVSA said this month its sales revenue fell more than 45 percent in 2015. Despite Venezuela’s long track record of paying its foreign debts, there are growing concerns among Wall Street investors over whether it will be able to pay PDVSA’s and the country’s bondholders.
Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said there is no significant decline in production, but output is already well off a peak of 3.24 million bpd in 2008. In May, it reported output of 2.37 million bpd, almost 460,000 bpd less than two years ago, according to publicly-available OPEC data.
PDVSA did not respond to requests for comment.
Heavy oil makes up a growing portion of Venezuela’s ailing production while the output of lighter crudes that can be used as diluents to turn extra heavy crude into exportable blends is falling sharply.
Production of Mesa 30 crude and other grades used as diluents has fallen by 40,000 bpd so far this year to some 395,000 bpd, according to a source at PDVSA and companies monitoring Venezuela’s output.
That has forced it to drastically cut exports of lighter grades and import expensive diluents.
Some of the medium and light foreign crudes PDVSA imports at its Bullenbay terminal in the Caribbean have instead been redirected to Cuba, according to PDVSA’s internal data.
In 2015, PDVSA sent 2.6 million barrels of Angola’s Girassol and Russia’s Urals crudes to Cuba. This year, the firm has opted to send Cuba heavier Venezuelan grades, such as Leona and diluted crude oil (DCO).
Less Venezuelan supply means Cuba will have little or no surplus oil or fuel to export, as it has done in the past.
“Cuba has been able to produce a surplus of gasoline and jet fuel, which it can export to the international market to generate hard currency,” said Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Program at University of Texas at Austin.
“It would not have that luxury once it has to pay hard cash for the crude oil.”
Suicide Is One Option Venezuelans Are Taking to Escape Severe Crisis
“Children…Don’t be upset, even though I know it is difficult, don’t be sad. It is too difficult and I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, I know I have Non Hodgkin Lymphoma and it’s better to end this now.”
Mother of Augusto, 45, and Angela, 32, and grandmother to three girls of 4, 9, and 17, Perdomo, 61, hung herself on February 18 to avoid having to suffer the disease in Venezuela, a country that could have never supported her medically.
Perdomo’s one sister Josefina said the situation was depressing for everyone. The medications she needed were impossible to purchase at the prices available, or couldn’t be found at all.
The case of this 62-year-old woman reverberated throughout the entire country. The indignation on social media flared up, but in the end it was presented as an isolated incident.
The shortages in Venezuela have increased considerably. According to Datanálisis, it is now up to 80 percent. In September 2015, “conjunctural shortages” were at 22.2 percent; four months later it rose to 28 percent, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV).
Additionally, Datanálisis predicted inflation would increase to up to 450 percent by the end of 2016.
This reality is becoming increasingly depressing for the common citizen. The drop in purchasing power has been colossal, according to analysts. Monthly inflation for food is around 30 percent, meaning 1 percent per day, according to the Center for Social Analysis (Cendas). Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that the cost of living during 2015 went up 270 percent; this year, it will increase to 720 percent.
The latest numbers from the National Institute of Statistics at the end of 2012 ranked 32 percent of the population as living in poverty, 9.8 percent of which live in extreme poverty. Professor of Business and Political Science Jesús Conde said these numbers may not reveal the full picture.
“That was in 2013, and they are official numbers, which means they are coming from the government, for whom the truth is not convenient,” he said. “Imagine three years later, when shortages and inflation have increased to massive levels. The situation is critical.”
Never-ending lines stretch far out of supermarkets. The faces of people waiting to buy food with no signs of dignity: they are crestfallen. The people are tired and depressed from the critical situation in which the country is in.
“We are killing each other over a piece of food,” an activist said during a protest outside a Bicentenario market in Las Mercedes, Caracas.
“If you could see my children: skinny, dying,” wailed a man from the state of Táchira.
“Our children are dying from hunger,” another woman said.
“Nothing is right!” yelled a man during a protest against food shortages in the Avenue of Fuerzas Armadas in Caracas.
The testimonials that reveal the critical condition in which the country is in are just a few of the things that the country isn’t in shortage of. On the contrary.
Some say the situation is not so dire. The purchasing power of the middle and upper classes of the country have diminished significantly, but the reality is graver than it appears. The suicide of Ana María Perdomo could have occurred as an isolated incident. But the situation suggests otherwise. There are many other cases that prove how ordinary this phenomenon has become: in Venezuela, suicide is an option to escape severe crisis.
The road to crisis
About four weeks ago in the slum of Las Palmitas at the south of Valencia, Ana Pérez took her own life because she had nothing to give her children to eat. A neighbor, who preferred to remain anonymous, sai Ana Pérez had been depressed for several months.
“She would spend every night at the supermarket to try and buy whatever she could at an affordable price. The situation grew dire when she could not find food even if she woke up at dawn.”
“The time came in which she would give her children the water for rice and pasta that was shared between neighbors. She could not handle the situation. Many times she would come crying to my house,” Pérez’s friend said.
With a rope tied to her zinc rooftop, the mother of three small boys took her own life by jumping off a table. Family members refused to comment about Pérez’s suicide, but another neighbor said the Pérez family was a happy one up until a few months ago, when the shortages became unmanageable.
In another slum in the south of Valencia, in Tocuyito, another suicide occurred: Roberto Fermín, a single man working in a pharmacy, decided to take his own life.
“Robert’s suicide surprised us all. He was a happy man,” María Blanco, Fermín’s neighbor, said. “He would say hi to everyone in the neighborhood. We all knew he had serious financial issues. Due to the medication shortages, he was rarely selling anything at the pharmacy, especially because no one could afford the high prices.”
“We all loved him,” Blanco added. “He didn’t leave any children behind, but he left a lot of friends.”
Gaining access to suicide rates in Venezuela is difficult. If you go to a morgue such as that of Bello Monte in Caracas, neither family members nor officials will admit there are any cases in which people ended their lives to escape their circumstances.
The last time official numbers detailed the amount of suicides in the country was in 2012, and it was an extremely low number. In fact, that year, the World Health Organization (WHO) placed Venezuela as the third country in Latin America with the fewest amount of suicides: 3.6 per 100 thousand inhabitants.
Additionally, the 2008 Guinness World Records gave Venezuela the award for happiest country in the world.
However, nine years later, the United Nations’ (UN) World Happiness Report ranked Venezuela as Latin America’s most unhappy country, and number 44 in the world.
According to an article published in Marcapasos, since the inauguration of the Caracas Metro in 1983 to 2009, the number of people that would jump on the tracks to end their lives has been multiplied by six.
Alarming suicide rates
Clinical psychologist and university professor Yorelis Acosta said she has received “a wave of cases” in recent months in which people have come to her wanting to end their lives.
“They are the most common cases I have treated recently. The increase in depression in this country is unbelievable. The main cause being the shortage of food, the second, medication,” Acosta said.
The psychologist said she knows of at least seven cases in which people have killed themselves due to the crisis in the country: “I received the data from a journalist. But aside from that, I know of three women, from the interior of the country, whom decided to take their own lives”.
After Ana María Perdomo’s case became known, a series of supposedly isolated incidents began to arise online.
This May, in Santa Rita, Zulia, Regina del Carmen Sánchez, 54, killed herself due to desperation caused by not being able to find food. According to information given by the newspaper La Verdad, the Venezuelan mother suffered from anxiety attacks and had been diagnosed with a stomach anomaly, which was a consequence from too much consumption of unregulated corn flour she bought on the street.
Sanchez’s family members assured a Zulia newspaper that “despite trying to option basic foodstuffs in commercial establishments, she could not. Last time she was beat up and taken outside because she had supposedly cut the line.”
Because buying regulated products became an impossible task, Sánchez decided to purchase them through the black market. She fell deep into debt as a result.
Her family members claim that the 54-year-old woman was truly depressed and constantly crying for fear of not being able to feed her children. One day, after a family discussion surrounding her emotional state, Regina del Carmen Sánchez look herself in a room and was found two hours later hanging from a beam.
Another case was that of Yorvi Yunior Gonzalez, 18. According to the website El Cooperant, the young student took his own life in October of last year because he did not have money to eat, let alone continue his education.
“Yorvi was depressed because he did not have money to keep studying and always talked about how at home there wasn’t, at times, enough to eat,” his sister Elulalia González told Panorama in tears.
The most recent case is that of Tony Almarza, who decided to hang himself in his own home, located in the town of Santa Cruz de Mara, Zulia.
The most important part of this case is that Almarza announced what he was going to do on Facebook, explaining the reasons that led to his suicide.
“Do you want to know why a person takes their own life? For several reasons: first, this damn government that is going to starve us to death, and second, the insolence of life. One has fought quite a lot for nothing.”
“This is the best way,” Almarza said while pointing toward the rope attached to the ceiling. He later asked. “Fight for what? And in this country? No way…”
Venezuelan society, a survivalist society
Sociologist Eudes Cedeño of the Central University of Venezuela explained that suicides are normally due to personal reasons, but in recent cases, society has played a key role.
“In the case of the woman in Zulia or that of Anzoátegui, it is the social conditions that make them feel backed into a corner.”
Cedeño points out that “the lack of food, medication and the stress generated by the food lines end up being … unbearable for some people, which makes them alienate themselves and retreat into private.”
“Imagine thinking that you would never be able to feed your children ever again. Or that, because of your condition, because there are no medications available, you will become a burden to your children. It is here where all the psychological and sociological problems start to arise.
“When something as simple as going shopping, or going out at night becomes so complicated, your position in terms of society changes,” says the sociologist.
“Venezuelan society has become a sort of ‘survivalist society.’ People here don’t live, they survive. And that is the problem,” Cedeño said. He emphasized “many people don’t even know that there are others killing themselves because of the situation in the country. This stops people’s sensibility … some people choose to rob, others to eat trash, others to beg and other decide they can no longer take it and choose to end their lives.”
“It is a very sad situation that needs to be addressed,” Cedeño said.
It’s Not about the Price of Oil: 21st Century Socialism Destroyed Venezuela’s Economy and Distribution Networks, Causing an Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis
A humanitarian crisis, the likes of which have never been seen in the Western Hemisphere, is brewing in Venezuela and it will be inevitable in a few weeks.
Much has been written recently about the crisis in Venezuela. During the last week, the world’s leading media outlets have amply reported the shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies in the country. Unfortunately, despite some great reporting by various journalists, the true extent and the reasons for the country’s desperate situation have not yet been clearly understood by the media and the international community.
The majority of those reporting on Venezuela still believe the current crisis has been caused by the collapse in the oil price. If that were true, other countries dependent on their oil export revenues, such as Nigeria, should be facing a similar situation. That is not the case. Nigeria is suffering a severe economic downturn, but it is far from suffering the extreme shortages of food and medicine that Venezuelans now face.
Apparently the world has forgotten that food lines first appeared in Venezuela in early 2014, when the price of oil was still over USD $110 per barrel. Venezuela first suffered an extreme shortage of toilet paper in 2013, nearly two years before the collapse of the oil price
Also, even now, with oil below USD $50/barrel, Venezuela has an export income larger than that of Peru, a country with identical population and where there are zero reported shortages of any kind.
The estimate for Venezuela’s export income this year would place it at an amount almost equal to that of Colombia, a country with nearly double the population of Venezuela. Thus, it is incontestable that the decline of oil income is not the cause of the tragic situation in which Venezuelans find themselves.
Venezuela No Longer Has a Functioning Economy
The fact is that Venezuela, while still pumping oil, no longer has a functioning economy. Seventeen years of nationalizations and confiscation of private industries, farms, cattle ranches, distribution companies, sugar mills, and even shopping malls have completely destroyed not only the local production, but the distribution networks necessary for the normal functioning of the economy.
Ninety percent of confiscated and nationalized companies and farms no longer produce anything. SIVENSA, a private steel company formerly with over USD $1 billion in sales, mostly for export, now has negligible production. A country that during the 1980s boasted about having Latin America’s highest levels of production of cement, which it exported to the USA, now has a shortage of cement, even with insignificant construction levels. For most of the 20th century, Venezuela was among the world’s largest coffee producers. Now, the coffee that Venezuelans drink, if they can find any, comes from Nicaragua.
In addition, a draconian system of price controls that forces most local businesses to sell their wares at a loss has halted any attempts by local entrepreneurs to keep their businesses alive. Thousands of businesses have been closing every week.
While the government intentionally tried to substitute private operators with government companies, which were almost always run by corrupt army officers who know nothing of the industries they were entering, shortages of every kind, not just of food and medicine, began to occur. Currently, there are no tires, no car batteries, no auto parts to be found, except through good connections with the military or in the black market.
The distribution fleets of Venezuela’s largest companies have been depleted to the point of no longer being worthy of the word “fleet.”
In 2004, Hugo Chávez dismantled the old 10,000 strong Caracas Metropolitan Police and other police forces in the country. Since then, crime has skyrocketed, but now it has reached a level unthinkable in civilized societies.
At the Caracas Country Club, the country’s most expensive, and formerly most exclusive neighborhood, home to dozens of ambassadorial residences, there are now at least three kidnappings per week. Entire swaths of Venezuela’s largest cities, particularly in poor neighborhoods, are now ruled by gangs under the control of no authority.
There’s No Capital in the Country with the World’s Highest Inflation Levels
Inflation has reached a level close to 1,000%. Prices fluctuate on an hourly basis. In a country that had a GDP of half a trillion US dollars in 2012, the total amount of lending that the entire Venezuelan banking system can offer, due to devaluations and bank regulations, now amounts to merely US$ 170 million. It would now take a pool of banks to finance the construction of a 20 unit apartment building
As a result, credit has become non-existent and companies without access to capital have closed in ever larger numbers. These are businesses that were essential suppliers of key products, such as pharmaceuticals or medical devices.
This week, after days of widespread looting around the country by desperate citizens going hungry, trucks have been assaulted by organized mobs waiting at the edge of roads for any sign of a delivery carrying anything edible. This has further disturbed the already precarious distribution system for basic goods as truckers prefer not to work rather than risk losing the main asset for their livelihood.
All this will only get worse unless there is an immediate change of government in Caracas. Venezuela desperately needs the immediate dismantling of all regulations devised by the communist clique ruling the country and their inept Cuban advisers.
Maduro’s Incompetent Regime Has to End
Even if the Maduro government were to try a 180 degree change and embrace capitalism overnight, the regime lacks the knowhow to improve and rebuild the country’s supply chain, and provide the needed security to achieve it.
The Maduro government, full of corrupt army officers, drug dealers, and communist apparatchiks, simply cannot even begin to tackle the problem they created
At the PanAm Post we warned about the consequences of Maduro’s actions nearly three years ago
Now, what we can see is much worse than even we imagined.
The leaders of all countries in the hemisphere, except for Castro’s Cuba, are meeting now in Washington DC. These leaders will be remembered as those responsible for the first mass famine in the Americas, and the world will not forgive them.
The crisis in Venezuela shows little sign of easing up.
Inflation is among the highest in the world, there are long queues for basic goods and the atmosphere on the streets is becoming increasingly agitated.
Meanwhile politicians on both sides are so hostile to each other, a political solution remains remote.
For years, the opposition in Venezuela has claimed the country was “becoming another Cuba” but such claims were rarely given much credence, or dismissed as hyperbole.
But the BBC’s Will Grant, who has lived in both countries, says there are growing parallels to a specific point in Cuba’s past.
Suffering and austerity
Etched into Cuba’s collective memory is its infamous Special Period.
A reference to the years just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is a time forever synonymous with suffering, austerity and hunger on the communist island.
Without its wealthier benefactors in Eastern Europe, Cuba struggled to provide enough food for its people.
The stories from those days are legion. People remember selling family heirlooms to buy food and even stray cats ending up in the cooking pot.
Whether the tales are apocryphal or not, Cuba was certainly on its knees economically, and largely remained that way until a leftist former soldier took power in Venezuela.
Once Hugo Chavez became the president of Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, things quickly started to look up for Cuba.
Mr Chavez aligned closely with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and began to fill the gap that the Soviets had left behind.
These days, though, Venezuela is the more troubled of the two socialist allies.
What’s gone wrong in Venezuela?
Having lived in Venezuela at the height of Mr Chavez’s power, when oil was worth more than $130 a barrel, and having last visited Caracas in April 2013 when Nicolas Maduro was elected president, it was quite a shock to see for myself how quickly things have deteriorated.
While the place was always chaotic, run by a sort of live-television ad-hoc form of policy making, I have never seen it quite like this.
We encountered the first queue, snaking back for over a block, almost as soon as we emerged into the west of the capital from the airport.
It did not take long to see lots more.
As in Cuba, the government subsidises and controls the prices of certain basic goods.
Now, with inflation spiralling, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans spend their days waiting outside stores for bread, flour, baby milk, cooking oil, nappies and toilet paper.
Worse still, many join those queues based on rumour alone, in the forlorn hope of finding those products on the shelves only to be turned away empty handed after hours in the blistering sun.
Blessing in disguise
Needless to say, in such circumstances, tempers can easily fray.