Cut Venezuela’s Oil Exports, and Cut its Tyrant Down to Size

(Washington Examiner, 1.Oct.2018) — Meeting with the president of Chile at the White House on Friday, President Trump pledged to continue confronting humanitarian suffering in Venezuela.

The president deserves credit for his sustained leadership on this issue, but the time has come for more dramatic action. Specifically, the U.S. should orchestrate a global boycott of Venezuelan oil exports. Only such a boycott will exert the necessary pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s despotic government to force it to change course.

Major change of some kind must come to the Latin American nation. Child starvation is skyrocketing, and prostitution is increasingly the only option for women who want to feed themselves and their children. Along Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Peru, tens of thousands of refugees are lining up begging for relief.

For those remaining in Hugo Chavez’s dystopian socialist paradise, medicine has disappeared and store shelves are empty. But the most damning indictment of the Maduro-Chavez socialist experiment is the fact that today, in the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves, the lucky few must lug vast bundles of worthless cash and spend hours in lines outside stores to buy their basic needs. The unlucky many waste away on the streets and in the slums of Maduro’s narco-state.

This is happening as Maduro, the great revolutionary, echoes Che Guevara, the Marxist thug of old, by smoking expensive cigars and dining at the world’s finest steakhouses.

This is a regime that must go. But how?

An American military intervention would be a grave error, as would instigating a coup. The lessons of Iraq and Libya are clear on this score.

We also recognize that many Latin American nations which support tougher action against Maduro nevertheless oppose military intervention. But nations such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru might support a strategy of economic pressure on Venezuela if engaged with honesty.

Maduro remains in power only because of the wealth he pockets by plundering his nation’s oil and exporting it. That’s why Washington has already restricted Maduro’s oil exports to America. That’s a good but insufficient step. President Trump could and should do far more.

Oil is a commodity sold in a global marketplace. Unilateral sanctions cannot work.

Trump should therefore replicate our policy towards Iran and announce that on a certain date in the next few months, the U.S. will introduce sanctions on foreign governments and businesses that buy Venezuelan oil or invest in the Venezuelan oil industry.

Given that China and India are Venezuela’s main oil export customers, the U.S. would have ample opportunity to drain Maduro’s wallet. After all, the U.S. is already engaged in a major trade conflict with China. By sanctioning its imports of Venezuelan oil, Trump wouldn’t simply put more pressure on Beijing, he would draw the world’s attention to the nature of President Xi Jinping’s regime, to the reality it cares nothing for the suffering of others or for international norms.

Referring to recent U.S. actions to earn favor in New Delhi, Trump could ask Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wean the Indian economy off Maduro’s black gold. If necessary, Trump could offer India special access to American oil exports to offset losses. Many other Venezuelan oil export destinations are located in western Europe. Nations here make up a relatively small fraction of Venezuela’s total oil export base, but Trump should nevertheless press European governments to match their human rights rhetoric with action.

Oil export restrictions will impose extra suffering temporarily on Venezuelans. But look at the country now. Only Maduro and his cronies are benefitting from the exports.

Without oil wealth to pay off supporters, Maduro’s power is nonexistent. As the Miami Herald notes, much of Maduro’s ability to constrain his people centers on oil-bought support of the Cuban government and its highly capable intelligence services. If that oil support disappears, Cuba may find less reason to sustain Maduro’s rule.

Nevertheless, Maduro’s government is persecuting the Venezuelan people. Unless dramatic action is taken, their suffering will only increase. We can stop it, and we should do so now.

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Venezuela Doubles Down on Chinese Money to Reverse Crisis

(AP, 20.Sep.2018) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that new investments from China will help his country dramatically boost its oil production, doubling down on financing from the Asian nation to turn around its crashing economy.

Already a major economic partner, China has agreed to invest US$5 billion more in Venezuela, Maduro said following a recent trip to Beijing, adding that the money would help it nearly double its oil exports to China.

“We are taking the first steps into a new economic era,” he said. “We are on track to have a new economy, and the agreements with China will strengthen it.”

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is gripped by a historic crisis deeper than the Great Depression in the United States. Venezuelans struggle to afford scarce food and medicine, many going abroad in search of a better life.

Venezuela’s inflation this year could top one million per cent, economists predict.

After two decades of socialist rule and mismanagement, Venezuela’s oil production of 1.2 million barrels a day is a third of what it was two decades ago before the late President Hugo Chavez launched the socialist revolution.

Maduro says that under the deal, Venezuela will increase production and the daily export of oil to China to one million barrels a day.

However, China is taking a strong role in its new agreements. Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela US$65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than US$20 billion.

FINALISING OIL PLANS

The head of the National Petroleum Corporation of China will soon travel to Venezuela to finalise plans on increasing oil exports.

Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at brokerage Caracas Capital Markets, said the influx of money appears to be investments China will control.

“The Chinese are reluctant to throw good money after bad,” Dallen said. “They do want to get paid back. The only way they can get paid back is to get Venezuela’s production back up.”

Venezuela also agreed to sell 9.9 per cent of shares of the joint venture Sinovensa, giving a Chinese oil company a 49 per cent stake. The sale will expand exploitation of gas in Venezuela, the president said.

Maduro also recently launched sweeping economic reforms aimed at rescuing the economy that include a creating new currency, boosting the minimum wage more than 3,000 per cent, and raising taxes.

Economist Asdrubal Oliveros of Caracas-based firm Econalitica said he doubts that Venezuela can reach the aggressive goal to boost oil exports to China to one million barrels a day, given problems faced by the state corporation PDVSA.

“Increased production I see as quite limited,” Oliveros said. “The Chinese companies alone have neither the muscle nor the size to prop up production.”

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Venezuela’s Retrogressing Economy — Exhibit 1, PDVSA

(Steve Hanke, Contributor to Forbes, 19.Sep.2018) — Two hallmarks characterize capitalist economies. Firstly, property is predominately in private hands. Consequently, goods and services are allocated via market mechanisms in which prices provide signals for businesses, workers, and consumers. Secondly, capitalist economies are highly capitalized. Indeed, the stocks of physical and human capital are relatively large in relation to the capitalist economies’ income flows.

On those two counts, Venezuela is retrogressing. With Chavismo, which commenced when Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, Venezuela has beaten a hasty retreat from anything that would qualify as “capitalist.” Today, it is clearly in the throes of a socialist-interventionist system.

With the transition to a socialist system, capital consumption becomes pronounced. Socialism consumes capital (read: eats seed corn). It fails to accumulate productive capital. And, this is why socialist systems retrogress into states of poverty. After all, capital consumption means that too much is consumed in the present at the expense of the future.

In his 1945 book The Economics of Peace, my professor, the great Ken Boulding, first presented his simple, but powerful, “Bathtub Theorem.” It is actually nothing more than a simple truism. The rate of accumulation is equal to the rate of production, less the rate of consumption. As Boulding put it, “Production may be likened to the flow of water from a faucet, consumption to the flow down to the drain. The difference between these two flows is the rate at which the water in the bathtub—the total stockpile of all goods—is accumulating.”

War, of course, drains the economic bathtub, as capital is destroyed (read: consumed). A transition to socialism also results in capital consumption—a lower level of water in the capital stock bathtub.

In Venezuela, the most important part of the economy is the state-owned enterprise PDVSA, the oil giant. Since Chavismo was ushered in, capital consumption has been the order of the day. Physical capital has been consumed at a rapid rate. In short, capital expenditures have been much lower than depreciation, plus amortization (properly measured). PDVSA hasn’t even been investing enough to maintain its capital stock, let alone add to it. Accordingly, the level of water in PDVSA’s bathtub has been falling. If that wasn’t enough, the quality of PDVSA’s remaining capital stock has also been reduced due to poor maintenance practices.

On top of the reduced PDVSA capital stock and its deteriorating quality, PDVSA has witnessed a dramatic drop in the stock and quality of its human capital. After the 2002 coup attempt on President Chavez, he purged thousands of “non-loyalists” from PDVSA and replaced them with political hacks. The purges have continued under President Maduro. In consequence, the stock of quality PDVSA management and workers has been depleted.

Not surprisingly, PDVSA’s production has fallen (see the chart below). Capital consumption has reduced its ability to produce. At present, production is at levels not seen since 1947. Even though it has the world’s largest reserves, Venezuela is producing less oil than the U.S. state of North Dakota, and the rate at which PDVSA is depleting its vast reserves is so slow as to render them worthless. In contrast to the major oil companies that extract a “median barrel” of oil from their reserves in 8-10 years, PDVSA takes 200 years to extract a median barrel.

The collapse in PDVSA’s production is a stunning indictment of the world’s worst oil company and of Venezuela’s socialist system. The bathtub is nearly empty.

Steve H. Hanke | Professor | Economist | Author | Currency Expert | White House Alum. Steve Hanke is a professor of applied economics at The Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Over four decades Hanke has advised dozens of world leaders from R…

Authored by Steve H. Hanke of the Johns Hopkins University. Follow him on Twitter @Steve_Hanke.

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President Moise Wants Full Transparency in PetroCaribe Probe

(CMC, 19.Sep.2018) — President Jovenel Moise has called on newly installed Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant to ensure that there’s total transparency in the investigation regarding the use of funds under the PetroCaribe initiative.

“As I explained in my message of Prime Minister Jean Henry- Céant (and) to the nation, and included in the statement of the general policy statement presented to Parliament, Prime Minister Céant must allow the nation to see clearly what has happened in the use of PetroCaribe funds,” Moise said during the inauguration of the new prime minister and his cabinet on Monday.

“The people are asking for explanations on the use of this money. The competent services of the State, notably the Central Financial Intelligence Unit, the Anti-Corruption Unit, the General Inspectorate of Finance will be mobilised on the PetroCaribe file.

“Besides the work of the Court of Auditors and Administrative Litigation, it is up to these technical services of the State to provide answers to the request for explanation of the population,” Moise said.

He said institutionally, the State must provide answers to the PetroCaribe file, adding “I ask people to remain calm and wait for the results of the work of the relevant institutions.

“We must avoid making amalgams so that honest citizens are not victims or unjustly indexed in the PetroCaribe file. The State is there to guarantee everyone the right to life and honour. This is why, at the institutional level, the State must treat the PetroCaribe dossier with the necessary rigour and give explanations to the citizens,” Moise said.

Concerns as to how the PetroCaribe funds have been used by previous governments have resulted in Haitians taking to the streets in protest at the billions of US dollars that have been allegedly squandered from the Venezuela oil programme.

Haitians have launched the “#petrocaribechallenge” campaign that has already resulted in the removal of the previous government headed by Jack Guy Lafontant.

Following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Caracas forgave US$295 million in debt that Port-au-Prince had accumulated since joining the PetroCaribe programme in 2006. However, since the quake the debt has ballooned.

PetroCaribe is an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Venezuela to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment. The alliance was launched in 2005 and in 2013 Petrocaribe agreed to links with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, to go beyond oil and promote economic cooperation.

A Haitian Senate Commission investigative report last year alleges a significant amount of money had been embezzled under the programme.

In his address, Moise said that in search of a better being, the Haitian people demand more justice.

“More social justice, more economic justice, more transparency and rigour in the management of public funds. The Haitian youth wants to recover faith, confidence in the future. Accountability must now be a principle that cannot suffer from any derogation. There can be no excuses, no extenuating circumstances for those who have mismanaged state resources.”

He warned that no development is possible without justice, and that the greatness of a nation depends on the quality of justice.

“Justice must act independently. I ask your government to facilitate a fair and equitable distribution of justice.”

Moise said that Haiti “has everything it needs to live up to the glorious history forged by the heroes of 1804” and that by taking the right steps, “we can sustainably and positively change the living conditions of the population”.

He told the new government it must succeed in a number of areas including signing a pact with the private sector to promote jobs and growth, a sustainable solution to the minimum wage issue, as well as enabling the country to have universal and compulsory medical insurance.

Moise said there was also need to accelerate ongoing work in the field of infrastructure as well as to find the appropriate financial mechanism for the construction of the missing classrooms, so that all school-aged children attend school in good conditions and remain there.

He also called on the new government to supervise and continue the work undertaken in the framework of the reform of the State and strictly apply the decree on the reduction of the lifestyle of the State, take appropriate measures to resolve social crises in neighbourhoods and improve the working conditions of the security forces and ensure that the new army under construction is mobilized in the vast site of environmental rehabilitation.

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How Will Guyana Deal With Its Oil Windfall?

(CNNMoney, Talib Visram, 4.Sep.2018) — The South American country with the smallest GDP is about to burst with oil.

ExxonMobil found oil off Guyana’s coast in 2015, and believes the reserves are big. Conservative estimates project to about 4 billion barrels. Some experts think there’s more to be found in the country’s 6.6 million-acre Stabroek Block.

But how Guyana prepares for the windfall from a newly discovered fossil fuel repository will have big ramifications for its future.

For a country with a population of fewer than 800,000 and a GDP of slightly more than $6 billion, the discovery is life changing.

“There’s a realistic chance of this transforming the economy,” said Pavel Molchanov, senior vice president and equity research associate at Raymond James. “It’s particularly impactful for a small country like Guyana.”

When the first oil starts to flow, which ExxonMobil hopes will be in 2020, Guyana could reap billions almost immediately.

By 2025, ExxonMobil wants to produce 750,000 barrels of oil per day.

History contains numerous cautionary tales about countries that have squandered a sudden surge of riches.

Venezuela struck oil centuries ago, but in 1998 the government of Hugo Chávez installed political loyalists into top jobs in the nationalized oil industry and began diverting the revenues into social programs. The country failed to reinvest into its oil infrastructure and when oil prices crashed, so did Venezuela’s economy. Now, even basic goods like food and medicine have to be imported. Hyperinflation is soaring and the IMF predicts it’ll hit a rate of 1,000,000% by the end of 2018.

Equatorial Guinea’s also squandered its oil windfall, but through wanton corruption. Between 2000 and 2013, the small West African nation brought in $45 billion of oil revenue. But it remained one of the poorest countries because the dictatorial government went on indulgent spending sprees in France.

Corruption, infrastructure and unexpected market forces could present challenges for Guyana, too.

The democratic republic comprises two political parties made up of descendants of African slaves on one side and descendants of Indian indentured servants on the other.

The fear is that the government in power could unfairly favor its ethnic constituents.

At the moment, the Afro-Guyanese party, the PNC, is running the government. But there’s an election in 2020, which could decide who controls the purse strings.

“I wouldn’t discount civil unrest, even for such a small country,” said Eileen Gavin, senior politics analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

Guyana should also be aware of “Dutch disease,” a phenomenon in which existing industries are forgotten in favor of a new one. Guyana currently makes most of its revenue from exporting gold, bauxite, sugar and rice.

Some countries have handled windfalls well, and not spent everything at once. Notably, Norway set up an “oil fund” for investing surplus revenues to benefit future generations.

Most experts agree that Exxon’s contract with Guyana is favorable toward the oil giant. The IMF recently advised the Guyanese government to revise the contract for future deals, stating that its tax laws are “well below what is observed internationally.”

But some say that a contract in Exxon’s favor at this point is to be expected, given Guyana’s lack of experience and infrastructure for the extraction.

“Nothing had ever been found in Guyana before,” said Ruaraidh Montgomery, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “So, it’s high risk in a frontier area. They needed to offer appealing fiscal terms to attract investors.”

And as the oil is tapped and more is found — and the investment risks disappear — Montgomery said Guyana, a “world-class hydrocarbon basin,” would probably tighten its future contracts.

For now, Guyana is doing everything right on paper in preparation, said Gavin. It’s due to establish a sovereign wealth fund this year, and has joined the EITI, an organization that helps countries “manage hydrocarbon reserves in a fiscally responsible manner.”

But it’s still too early to tell. “The proof of the pudding will be in 2020, when the revenue starts to flow,” Gavin said.

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Scorch Earth Suicide in Venezuela

(EnergyNomics de Venezuela, Carlos A Rossi, 1.Sep.2018) — Nicolas Maduro has drawn the line in the sand: “Either you are with me and stay here living precariously with Chavism, or you are against me and get out. If you choose none of the above: Starve.”

Cornered by a hyperinflation over 33,000% and climbing, expected to reach a million percent at years end by the IMF, a cumulative fall in the GNP of 50% since he took office in 2013, oil production to 1.2 MMb/d or 1947 levels despite harboring the largest oil reserves in the planet, plus a myriad of human miseries in education, medicine, scarcity, spontaneous protest all over and unprecedented exodus to near and far away nations and a long etc, not to mention the scourge of its neighbors and a standing military threat from the most powerful country in the World, Nicolas Maduro has had enough and on 17th of August, hereafter to be known as Red Friday, he announced a string of economic measures with the sole intent of what can only be interpreted as “Scorch Earth Policy”.

Defined: Scorch Earth Policy is “a military strategy of burning or destroying buildings, bridges, crops, water holes, or other resources in your homeland that might be of use to an invading enemy force”. Example, what Russia’s Red Army was forced to do when the Nazis invaded them in 1940. In Venezuela’s context the enemy is already here, as 82% of the people who oppose his ruling. Since the failure of Chavism in his mind can only be explained by “national and foreign economic war”, scorch earth is his only remaining option.

In his speech this fateful Red Friday Maduro defined many measures of which 3 stand out:

1) A sharp increase in the price of gasoline to international levels,

2) A unified exchange rate anchored to the governments “Petro” virtual currency, and

3) A 3,500% increase in the minimum wage.

Other measures like modest increases in income and value added taxes are minor and will not be discussed here except to say that in an economy that is in clear depression mode the increase of any kind of taxes further deteriorates consumption demand, a prerequisite for recovery.

Lets start with the sharp rise in the price of gasoline. It is actually a step in the right direction and one that I have been urging over the years. As is, at U$0.01 per liter is by far and away the cheapest in the world, second place Iran is 25 times more expensive; neighboring Colombia is 77 times more expensive and in the USA a motorist pays a full 83 times more than Venezuelans pay. This means that for what each American motorist pays to fill the gas tank of her sedan Venezuelans fill it 83 times!

This is not only beyond ridiculous but detrimental to Venezuela in many fronts:

First, it is a regressive tax on the poor who don’t own cars while the rich and middle class does.

Second, it fuels conspicuous driving consumption leaving less for exports, which would fetch tons of more money for the government.

Third, it provides irresistible incentives for contraband to neighboring Colombia and Brazil (114 times more expensive) (1).

The estimate of revenue losses to the nation for this practice has been estimated by the Venezuelan government to be anywhere between $18 billion and $20 billion per year. In fact, I strongly suspect that a big reason for this price hike is a vengeance move from Maduro to Colombia’s newly elected President Ivan Duque, who has taken a strong stance against the Venezuelan dictator.

Fourth, and finally, in other countries sharp gasoline price increases have absorbed excess liquidity from the public thus contributing to lowering fiscal deficits and inflation to normal levels (eg. Bolivia in 1980s). I said as much when I urged this policy years ago; but now I strongly doubt it would have much effect because Venezuela’s hyperinflation is foolishly fueled by the other policies of state production control, scarcity, and uncontrolled fiscal deficit of about 17% of GDP, all of which will surely exacerbate in the wake of Red Friday; even if the government successfully inoculates food transportation to the cities.

As I write these lines the government has not legally printed the new gas prices in the Gaceta Oficial, the official Gazzete that initiates the legality of any law or decree in Venezuela. To equate Venezuela’s current gas price with the international level, now at $1.16per Lt, it implies an increase of 11,500%. A much abrupt measure to be absorbed by anybody at once. But there is a caveat. Those citizens that own the “fatherland card”-the official identity card of chavism-will be exonerated from this increase by receiving at a “later date” a direct compensation into their bank accounts, or so they say, a clearly apartheid measure against most of us (>80%) that abhors what chavism has turned out to be. The experience of this plan in Iran has been reportedly good. The problem of course is that it’s hard to imagine any nation in the entire planet with a worst record of fulfilling a “Plan” than Venezuela.

But in conclusion, on balance this move is actually a plus, although it was done belatedly, much abruptly, and with clear intentions of apartheid.

Moving on, the unified exchange rate anchored to the Petro-Cryptocurrency has a so- so part and a terrible part. The unified part is good because as it stands, the complexity of 3 official levels far distant from each other plus a black parallel market exchange rate reported by a Miami private web site, where the vast majority of the transactions take place since the others are inaccessible and impractical (2). This time Nicolas Maduro did it, although again much belatedly, under much pressure, and surrendering to the Miami Web site; the level he put is almost exactly at the parallel market rate that they reported. But it is also, as my college and National Assembly member Jose Guerra reported, the single worst devaluation this country has ever experience in terms of magnitude. Maduro’s official rate devaluation this Red Friday was over 2,311%, by far dwarfing the previous 1989 mega devaluation of 134%. These sky high figures are dwarfed by the more deep space numbers of the parallel black market exchange rate: In 2018 alone this parallel exchange rate has devalued 2,332% and if you go back when Maduro started his administration, it has devaluated over 23,300,000%.

I call it so-so, a euphemism for mediocre, because it is good that Venezuela has a unified exchange rate that reflects the now market value of a strongly deteriorated exchange rate. However, what this is going to do to import costs of everything from food seeds to pharmacies, auto parts, PDVSA equipment and a long etc is downright horrible. The government has since announced that they will not auction dollars to the public because, as everyone knows, they don’t have any to offer (Venezuela’s external reserves are down to about $9.3 billion, about $1.5 billion of which is liquid and the rest are in Gold Bars that only the government is sure where they are-Middle East?). What they will auction is Petros. This leads us to the surreal and terrible part of this plan.

Cryptocurrency Petro

The anchoring of the exchange rate to a cryptocurrency Petro. The idea is for the State to link the Bolivar to the Petro and link that to the Price of Oil of 5,342mm of certified barrels of crude oil in the oil rich Orinoco Oil Belt (set at $60). So far so good because as opposed to Bitcoin that only depend on blockchain technology, the Venezuelan government is the only one allowed to mine this cryptocurrency that is linked to a tangible wanted energy source. But this is were the problem lies. First it breaks not 1 but 2 constitutional laws. The only currency that the Venezuelan Constitution allows to circulate in any form of exchange is the Venezuelan Bolivar which is also supposed to be anchored to oil exports and we already explained how the government managed that. Second, the only institution that can change this is the legitimate National Assembly which is majority controlled by the opposition, and since Maduro bulldozed their legality and ran most of them to exile, including its President Julio Borges, its hard to imagine any of them vouching for the Petro, let alone the required majority.

The second law that the Petro breaks is the guarantee, because again by constitutional law all mineral underground resources belong to the Venezuelan State, not the Government, and any deal that involves oil not yet produced must be agreed by the National Assembly, which will, again, never do. This means that if the government welshes on their commitment, as they have done numerous times, there is no way any Petro holder would be able to execute any guarantee. There is a further problem. The United States Treasury Department has formally announced direct sanctions on anyone dealing the Petro. So the Venezuelan government anchored its exchange rate on something that does not legally exist, that cant exist, and even if it does exists it will be quelled by international sanctions. This government is of course knowledgeable of all of these misfortunes but they went and did it anyway. This is Scorch Earth Policy, pure and simple.

The icing on the cake is the last policy, the outrageous and humongous 3,364+% wage hike of the minimum wage to what is today 180million bolívares per month, or in next month parlance, 1,800 Bolívares (1/2Petro) since the government also erased 5 zeros from its bills. This of course would create massive unemployment but since firing anyone is illegal here, what in all certainty will happen is massive private company closures thus creating massive unemployment. As companies shut down so will banks because they will not be able to recover their outstanding loans and will not be able to pay their own loans. As they collapse, a domino effect occurs were all privately owned pharmacies, clinics, insurance companies, food outlets, entire industrial and agricultural sectors will close shops, then the State will capture them and will thus nail down what it has always wanted, a full Communist nation. Judging from how the government has ran its already owned production and distribution facilities, its not hard to phantom what the only possible result of this will be.

Fiscal Deficit

The implications of this move to the fiscal deficit are clear. The government has about 3 million employees working in the Central Government plus an additional 3million retired people that earn the minimum wage and add a possible 600,000 people that work on contractual basis, including police in the nations municipalities etc, that also earn minimum wages. Where are they going to get the money to pay all these people? The only answer is the printing machine. But when they do this, they are either going to kill what’s left of the international reserves or destroy the Petro anchoring strategy in a month and create a black-markets for everything. In addition, the government has said that they will cover the PYMES (small and medium sized companies) payroll for 90 days. Are they really? Is a pharmacy in a far-out post in Delta Macuro State going to get this every fortnight? I don’t think so. And what about the large companies like Polar, how are they going to pay their people whom they need to produce the little people eat here?. The government is imposing price freezes in their products and raising their payroll 35 times!. GDP collapse and Scarcity galore. There is but one interpretation of this. “I am taking over everything.”

The final implication being, as stated above: “I know you are after me USA, Europe, Latin America, Canada, but if I am going down this ship is going down with me.”

Conclusions

So what are Venezuelan’s supposed to do?: Submit themselves to this hellhole quietly? Unlikely. Leave the country by sparking up what is already an enormous exodus? More Likely. Wait for a Pinochet style military coup? Possibly but only if an international threat is real. Worthwhile mentioning, these economic measures were announced the day before the legitimate National Assembly voted unanimously to uphold the ruling of Venezuela’s legitimate Supreme Court (in exile) to oust Nicolas Maduro and jail him for 18 years+ on charges of corruption. The importance of this measure cannot be overstated; for it means that a military push on Maduro cannot be seen as a constitutional break down or “coup”, since they would be fulfilling the mandate of the legitimate constitutional institutions, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court. On the contrary, if the military decides (as it looks like they are) to maintain Nicolas Maduro in power, that would be seen as a military coup by international observers.

What about an spontaneous social implosion? Likely too except that if history is any guidance the words spontaneous and successful do not go together in political movements. The memories of the 140 killed in last year’s uprisings are still fresh and create understandable fear. As it happened in India with Gandhi, South Africa with Mandela, Poland with Walesa and here in Venezuela with Betancourt in the late 1950’s and others Unified leadership and a Plan for the Day After is required; because the first identifies people with the movement and the latter assures them that they will not jump the plane without a parachute. But today given the disgraceful behavior and inflated egos of the Venezuela’s opposition parties any unity amongst them would be a miracle3. They even abstained from voting in the Constitutionally mandated Presidential Elections last May when they had Maduro on the ropes with 22% polling popularity and, at the time, over 100.000% inflation!4. What about creating destabilizing atmosphere through workers and owners strikes to breed the ground for a foreign coalition of humanitarian intervention, knowing well that whatever its results will be better than Chavism? Maybe. All of the Above? YES, Certainly, You Bet!!

Yes, the announced economic policies of Nicolas Maduro are scorched earth suicidal, just not for Venezuela.

“Tyranny cannot possibly reign but over the ignorance of the people”

Francisco de Miranda

NOTES:

1) Gas petrol stats from GlobalPetroPrices.com

2) Thru out Chavez-Maduro’s terms in office this official rates have been called, at various times, Cadivi; Sicad; Sitme and Ditcom. All of them failed for the same reason; none of them could have enough foreign currency to meet demand or deliver it quickly enough. So people were left with no choice but to deal at the much more expensive private black parallel market rate. The ultimate humiliation: that was controlled by a Miami based web page called DolarToday who daily set its official price from the daily average transaction of Vzla. Bolivar-US$ in Cucuta (a border Colombian city in the Andes).

3) EnergyNomics, in my person, has such a plan in the Venezuelan economic sectors that matter most. Including foremost Energy. The works of Albert Hirschman highly influenced this work, among others.

4) Please read this firms a detailed account of that fateful event here.

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Rosneft May Challenge Crystallex Claim To Citgo Shares

(Oilprice.com, Irina Slav, 23.Aug.2018) — Rosneft has asked a U.S. federal court to establish “a robust appraisal and sale process” of Citgo shares following Canadian miner Crystallex’ win at court against the parent company of Citgo, PDVSA, Argus Media reports citing documents submitted by Rosneft to court.

“Such a course of action is particularly appropriate under the circumstances given the multitude of parties and interests potentially affected by a sale of PdVH,” the documents said.

Crystallex was ruled the winner in a long-running case against Venezuela, which it has sued over the forced nationalization of its assets by the Hugo Chavez government. A U.S. federal judge last week awarded the miner the right to approach Venezuela’s U.S. oil unit, Citgo, to seek its compensation of US$1.4 billion.

Yet the Russian state company has priority rights over 49.9 percent in Citgo. PDVSA used the stake as collateral for a US$1.5-billion loan provided by Rosneft in 2016. The move at the time sparked a lot of negative comments in the United States, with some legislators worried that Rosneft could at some point take control over the U.S. company. The rest of the Citgo stock has been pledged as collateral to a PDVSA bond issue that matures in two years, Argus Media notes.

Now Crystallex wants to take control over the refiner, which operates a refinery network with a daily capacity of 750,000 bpd, and then sell the stock on to another investor or investors to get its US$1.4 billion. The sum was awarded to the Canadian miner as compensation for the forced nationalization of its operations in Venezuela by the Hugo Chavez government.

At the time, the Associated Press noted that the ruling by Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark is unique: government assets such as Citgo’s parent, PDVSA, are as a rule protected from lawsuits targeting a state. Yet in Stark’s ruling, the judge said that Venezuela had blurred the lines between the government and the state oil firm, with a military official at the helm of PDVSA.

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Rafael Ramírez Says Maduro Destroyed PDVSA

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 19.Aug.2018) – Former PDVSA President Rafael Ramírez says Venezuela produced 3 million barrels per day until December 2013. That figure has dropped by 1.8 million, according to his statements.

“When we were in the revolutionary government of Comandante Chávez, we had fiscal balance and enough income for all social programs, not because the price was 100 dollars a barrel, as the infamous say (we showed that we only had those prices for 4 years, the rest of the years prices were between 22 and 42 dollars a barrel, much less than now), but, precisely, because we charged transnationals and PDVSA all the taxes and royalties without exemptions of any kind. But, in addition, we had oil production of 3 million barrels per day until December 2013,” writes Ramírez in a blog post on Medium.

A PDV petrol station in the once popular Las Mercedes section of Caracas, Venezuela. Prior to its takeover, the station was controlled and run by Chevron Corporation. Source: Energy Analytics Institute (EAI)

“Now, the government has destroyed PDVSA, its production has fallen, in just 4 years (with a dramatic drop since Quevedo entered) to 1.2 million barrels a day due to the inability and irresponsibility of Maduro in the management of oil issues. In PDVSA, we have lost 1.8 million barrels per day, at an average price of 63 dollars per barrel, we are talking about 113.4 million dollars every day, which [is to say] they [have] stopped receiving, 4.139 million dollars a year!,” writes Ramírez, who also served as Venezuela’s Minister of Petroleum, among other posts during the governments of the late President Hugo Chávez and current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, until his departure and rupture with the latter.

“Now, the owners of the petroleum, that’s to say, the Venezuelan citizens, have to pay the international price for gasoline, as if [Venezuela] were not a petroleum country.” — Ramírez

***

Crystallex Can Go After Venezuela’s US Refineries

(Associated Press, 9.Aug.2018) – A Canadian gold mining company on Thursday won the right to go after Venezuela’s prized U.S.-based oil refineries and collect $1.4 billion it lost in a decade-old take-over by the late socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark of the U.S. Federal District Court in Delaware made the ruling in favor of Crystallex, striking a blow to crisis-wracked Venezuela, which stands to lose its most valuable asset outside of the country – Citgo.

Chavez took over the gold mining firm and many other international companies as part of his Bolivarian revolution that’s left the country spiraling into deepening economic and political turmoil.

Venezuelans struggle to afford scarce food and medicine as masses flee across the border. In a sign of rising political tensions, current President Nicolas Maduro threw an opposition lawmaker in jail this week, charged in a failed assassination plot using two drones loaded with explosives.

The latest order by the U.S. judge could set off a scramble by a long list of creditors owed $65 billion from bonds that cash-strapped Venezuela has stopped paying within the last year, said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.

“This was the most vulnerable low hanging fruit for debtholders to go after,” Dallen said. “It looks like Crystallex is the lucky lottery winner because they got there first.”

Chavez in early 2009 announced Venezuela’s take-over of the Canadian mining operations in Bolivar state, a mineral rich region with one of the continent’s largest gold deposits. He accused mining companies of damaging the environment and violating workers’ rights.

Crystallex spent years trying to negotiate a deal with Venezuela before making its case in 2011 to a World Bank arbitration panel, which sided with the Canadian firm, despite Venezuela’s vigorous fight.

U.S.-based Citgo, part of the state-run oil company PDVSA, has three refineries in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois in addition to a network of pipelines. If the order is carried out, Crystallex won’t get all of Citgo – valued at $8 billion – but Venezuela could be forced to liquidate it to make good on the court order.

Today, the gold mining region once operated by Crystallex is largely lawless and dangerous, run by rogue miners who blast the earth with water and mercury to expose gold nuggets and sell them to government forces, often leading to deadly conflicts.

The judge’s ruling is unique, because government assets, like PDVSA, are normally protected from lawsuits against a sovereign nation. But the judge found that Crystallex can attach Citgo’s parent because Venezuela has erased the lines between the government and its oil firm, now run by a military general.

Upon issuing the order, the judge delayed enforcing it for a week, which Dallen said could be a move to give Crystallex and Venezuela time to reach an agreement, such as returning to payment terms of an earlier resolution, Dallen said.

“This gives Venezuela the chance to honor its settlement agreement,” Dallen said. “Or they’ll lose Citgo.”

***

How Far Can Venezuela Go In Raising Gas Price?

(AFP, Esteban Rojas, 5.Aug.2018) – In Venezuela’s inflation-hit economy, a single US dollar can buy 3.5 million liters of gasoline — an absurdity that the government says it will tackle with a hike in the cost of state-subsidized fuel.

But just how far can President Nicolas Maduro go without getting his fingers burned?

Subsidized gas

Maduro announced on July 29 plans to adjust the price of gasoline and regulate sales based on the so-called “fatherland card,” an electronic card that provides access to subsidies. As a first step the government began a census of motor vehicles, set to end on Sunday.

A liter of 91-octane gasoline currently costs one bolivar, while 95-octane gas costs six. By contrast, a single egg in Venezuela’s hyperinflation ravaged economy — estimated by the IMF at one million percent in 2018 — costs 200,000 bolivars.

A dollar on the country’s black market is currently trading at 3.5 million bolivars.

Experts say the retail price of gasoline covers just between two and four percent of its cost of production.

Maduro has kept details of the fuel price adjustment under wraps, but he said that “we are paying to throw it away … we need to move to a rational usage.”

Yet talking openly about cutting the gasoline subsidy has been a taboo since the 1989 riots known as the “Caracazo,” which were triggered by a rise in fuel prices and left 300 people dead in Caracas and towns surrounding the capital.

Even though the iconic late leader Hugo Chavez questioned the rock-bottom prices of state-subsidized fuel during his term in office between 1999 and his death in 2013, even he never touched them.

In 2016, Maduro authorized the first price hike in 20 years, but only by between 1.328 percent and 6.566 percent, which made no impact on the derisory prices.

The new adjustment will come at a time of profound stagnation, in an economy that has not stopped shrinking since 2014.

Inflationary subsidies

Fuel subsidies have cost the Venezuelan government $10 billion a year since 2012, petroleum expert Luis Oliveros told AFP.

That has created a such a gaping hole in the budget that the government has tried to fill by printing more money, which in turn has created even higher inflation, Oliveros said.

“It is a lie that increasing the price of fuel is an inflationary measure,” he said. “The subsidies are hyperinflationary.”

The situation has only been made worsen by the drop off in oil production from 3.2 million barrels a day in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2018.

That is why the operating capacity of refineries has fallen and gasoline imports have risen.

In a perverse twist, there has been a decrease in the demand for fuel because 90 percent of Venezuela’s public transport vehicles are out of operation because there cannot buy spare parts to keep them on the road, according to unions.

Venezuela imports 33,600 barrels of gasoline and 36,000 barrels of diesel a day from the United States, according to the US Energy Information Agency.

Maduro has yet to explain what happens to consumers who do not have a state-issued “fatherland card.”

With wages ravaged by hyper-inflation, it is unlikely prices will get anywhere near international levels. If they did, however, filling a gas tank would cost a Venezuelan two years of their minimum-wage income.

“Prices are so far behind that no matter how big the increase in terms of percentage, they will still remain low,” said Henkel Garcia, director of the Econometrica consultancy group.

Social ‘blackmail’

Economist Luis Vicente Leon said the government will use greater subsidies in the “fatherland card” system to ensure that fuel is affordable for all cardholders.

According to the opposition, this card is designed for the Socialist government to broaden its support base, which has been weakened by the economic crisis and longstanding shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

The 12 million Venezuelans with the cards — a third of the population — systematically receive food vouchers.

“If they are already using food and medicine as a form of blackmail, then why not gasoline?” said Oliveros.

***

Venezuela Inflation to Hit 1 Mln Percent. Thanks, Socialism.

Oil pumpjacks are seen in Venezuela in May. (Isaac Urrutia/Reuters)

(Washington Post, Megan McArdle, 27.Jul.2018) – According to the International Monetary Fund, by the end of the year, the annual inflation rate in Venezuela will reach 1 million percent.

A number like that is hard to grasp. Simply put, a candy bar that cost $1 today would cost $10,000 at the end of a year. Anyone in that position would understandably rush to spend the money right now, on anything that might possibly hold its value. Everyone else would too. The entire economy becomes a giant game of monetary “hot potato.” Saving or planning becomes a sucker’s game.

Venezuela is not exactly a struggling undeveloped country; it has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. How the heck did this happen?

There are two answers, one technical and one political.

The technical answer is that hyperinflations occur because the government wants to spend much more money than it is collecting in taxes — so much more that no one is willing to lend it the money to cover the deficit. Instead, the government uses the central bank to finance the deficit. That puts more money in the economy, but since it’s chasing the same number of goods and services, prices rise to soak up all the extra cash. Unless the government manages to close its budget deficit, it must print even more money to buy the same amount of stuff . . .

Rinse and repeat a few times, and the inflation rate starts running into many zeros. The end generally arrives in one of two unpleasant ways: The government decides to stop the madness and implement a strenuous reform program, or the currency becomes so utterly devalued that churning out more of it is pointless. By the end of its hyperinflation, Zimbabwe was printing bank notes that ran into the trillions.

But it’s not a secret that this is where hyperinflation ends. Why did Venezuela embark on the road to destruction? And why does the government stay on it while the citizenry slowly starves?

In a word, socialism. After his election as president in 1998, Hugo Chávez pursued an increasingly aggressive socialist agenda, one that continued under his 2013 successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chávez nationalized foreign oil fields, along with other significant portions of the economy, and diverted investment funds from PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, into vastly expanded social spending.

Unfortunately, Venezuela’s heavy, sour crude oil was unusually hard to get out of the ground. Continual investment was needed to keep it flowing. So was the expertise of the banished foreign owners and the PDVSA engineers Chávez had purged for opposing this scheme. Production plunged; the only thing that kept Venezuela from disaster was a decade-long oil boom that offset falling production with rising prices.

Then came the 2008 financial crisis that crushed global demand for oil, followed by the onrush of U.S. shale oil, driving prices down further. And no one would loan money to Venezuela that couldn’t be repaid in oil. Meanwhile, unwilling to admit that socialism had failed, Venezuela made a fateful turn to the central bank.

Now, one could say that this is not an indictment of socialism so much as the particular Venezuelan implementation of it. But it’s striking how the precarious economics of socialism, including hyperinflations, are tied to petroleum. Many of the notable hyperinflations in history were tied to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the story of the Soviet collapse is also a story about oil.

Central planning had wrecked the Soviets’ grain production by the 1960s, and collectivized industry didn’t produce anything that the rest of the world wanted to buy, leaving the Soviets unable to obtain hard currency to import grain. Oil sales propped up the Soviets until the mid-1980s , when prices crashed as new sources of oil came online (sound familiar?). The Soviet leadership was forced to liberalize to rescue the economy. The U.S.S.R.’s collapse soon followed.

Socialism, in other words, often seems to end up curiously synonymous with “petrostate.” The new breed of socialists cites Norway as a model, but saying “we should be like Norway” is equivalent to saying “we should be a very small country on top of a very large oil field.”

Without brute commodity extraction, you need capitalist markets to generate a surplus to distribute, which is why Denmark’s and Sweden’s economies have more in common with the U.S. system than with the platform of the Democratic Socialists of America. And as both Venezuela and the Soviet Union show, even oil may not be enough to save socialism from itself.

***

U.S. Revokes Visa of Citgo CEO

Asdrubal Chavez Source: Bloomberg

(Bloomberg, Lucia Kassai and Fabiola Zerpa, 18.Jul.2018) – Being a blood relative of Hugo Chavez used to open doors. Now Asdrubal Chavez, cousin of the late Venezuelan socialist leader, is finding out it can close some as well.

In the most recent blow against Venezuela, the U.S. revoked the visa of Chavez, chief executive officer of Petroleos de Venezuela SA’s U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum Corp. and a former oil minister. He will be burdened with the task of commanding from outside the U.S. three refineries with a combined capacity to process 749,000 barrels of oil daily and an army of 3,500 employees.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, has seen its production slide by more than one-third since late 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its output may sink from 1.34 million barrels a day in June to just over 1 million, Torino Capital chief economist Francisco Rodriguez wrote in a note. U.S. sanctions have accelerated the decline, as have lawsuits by ConocoPhillips to claim assets as payment for an arbitration award.

The U.S. has sanctioned at least 48 Venezuelan nationals associated with economic mismanagement and corruption, including President Nicolas Maduro, and has provisionally revoked tens of thousands of visas in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Still, kicking out a C-suite executive of the country is rare.

The revocation “does not change anything at Citgo in terms of its management and operations,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The State Department declined to comment on individual visa cases.

It’s unclear to where Chavez, who used to work from Citgo’s headquarters in Houston, will move. One of the possibilities would be for him to be based out of Aruba, where Citgo is seeking to refurbish a refinery and convert it into an oil upgrader that will transform extra-heavy Venezuelan oil into refinery-ready synthetic grades.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams
***

Venezuela’s Ex-Oil Czar Sees Economic Collapse Accelerating

(AP, 27.May.2018) – Venezuela’s former oil czar said crude production in the OPEC nation will continue to plummet in the aftermath of President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election, as the embattled socialist leader takes the country down an increasingly authoritarian path that scares off private investment and leads to more international sanctions against his Government.

In a rare interview, Rafael Ramirez on Friday blasted Maduro, saying that in the wake of his recent victory he has showed no signs of reversing policies blamed for hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

“The demons have been unleashed,” Ramirez, who went into exile after a bitter split last year with Maduro, said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location. “Maduro keeps insisting on the same rhetoric, taking no responsibility for his own actions.”

Maduro coasted to another six-year term in an election last Sunday that was boycotted by the biggest opposition parties and condemned as rigged in his favour by several foreign governments. The Trump Administration responded by tightening sanctions on the Government, making it tougher for State-run oil giant PDVSA to raise badly-needed cash to pay off creditors and jumpstart production.

Ramirez, who headed the oil industry for a decade until 2014, said a purge that started last year and has led to the arrest of more than 80 PDVSA managers, including its president, as well as the arrest last month of two managers at Chevron, has paralysed oil production.

Since Ramirez was removed from his dual post as energy minister and PDVSA boss in 2014, production has tumbled almost 40 per cent, to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, the lowest level in seven decades. He predicts that unless Maduro changes course, it could fall soon to 900,000 barrels per day, the bulk of which is already sold at a huge loss domestically or used to pay off debts to China and Russia.

He also pointed to a recent decree signed by Maduro giving PDVSA’s newly installed president, Major General Manuel Quevedo, special powers to rewrite the terms of PDVSA’s joint ventures with foreign oil companies, circumventing the constitutionally-mandated oversight of the Opposition-controlled National Assembly.

“There’s a climate of terror inside the oil industry and everyone is afraid to make decisions,” he said.

PDVSA and Venezuela’s Information Ministry didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.

Ramirez, who was close to the late Hugo Chavez, quit as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations in December amid a public feud with Maduro over the direction of economic policy. Ramirez had been arguing for a more pragmatic course that included unifying Venezuela’s multi-tiered exchange rates while Maduro doubled down on policies to attack criminal “mafias” and going after opposition groups he blamed for waging an “economic war” with the backing of the US.

In January, chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced he would seek Ramirez’s arrest for allegedly profiting from illegal oil sales. Several close associates including his nephew have already been arrested in Venezuela and two former deputies were picked up in Spain last year on a US warrant as part of a separate probe led by prosecutors in Houston into corruption at PDVSA under Ramirez’s watch.

Ramirez rejects the accusations and said that his conscience is clear. Since leaving the US last year, he said he’s moved among cities around the world and avoided returning to Venezuela for fear of arrest.

“It hurts me because in the name of pursuing corruption Maduro has destroyed the industry so he can take control of PDVSA,” he said.

He said that none of the people running PDVSA today have experience in the oil industry, and coupled with the departure of thousands of oil engineers, the company that is the source of almost all of Venezuela’s export earnings is on the verge of collapse. A recent display of what he considers the current management’s incompetence was its failure to outmanoeuvre Houston-based ConocoPhillips’ attempts to collect on a US$2 billion arbitration award, which forced PDVSA to scramble and divert oil tankers from its facilities in the Dutch Caribbean for fear of seizure.

Ramirez said that he headed off a similar legal action years ago by Exxon Mobil in the United Kingdom.

“What’s surprising, and concerning, is that PDVSA didn’t anticipate this,” he said. “If the actions of a single company have jeopardised the entire country, imagine what will happen if the US imposes sanctions.”
***

PDVSA Completes Directional Work on 70th Well in Maracaibo

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 20.Jun.2016) – PDVSA’s Western Petroleum Services division has performed services on a total of 70 drilling wells with the recent completion of work on a directional drilling well located in Lake Maracaibo.

Work at the LB-2963-ST well where the PDV-142 rig is located, was completed with equipment and personnel from Venezuela. In previous years these services were performed by international companies, announced PDVSA in an official statement on its website.

PDVSA’s Western Petroleum Services division owns 12 directional drilling rigs, which were acquired from China under agreements initially signed by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. PDVSA completed 29 percent of its activities in the Western region of the country with these Chinese rigs and estimates this figure could increase to 50 percent in 2016.

***

Venezuela Seeks Disqualification of ICSID Judges

(Energy Analytics Institute, Jared Yamin, 26.Mar.2015) – Venezuela presented a letter to the ICSID court requesting the dismissal of judge Kenneth Keith.

Keith is the president of the arbitration tribunal in the case brought to the court by ConocoPhillips in its wrongful expropriation case against the government of Venezuela which nationalized the Houston-based company’s assets in the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt, also known as the Faja.

Venezuela is also seeking dismisal of another judge in the case, Yves Fortier.

ConocoPhillips was originally seeking compensation of $30 billion for its assets that were expropriated by the government of then President Hugo Chavez. ConocoPhillips interest at question were called Petrozuata, La Hamaca and Corocoro, now called Petroanzoátegui, PetroPiar and PetroSucre, respectively.

***

Q&A with Tudor Pickering’s David Pursell

(Energy Analytics Institute, Pietro D. Pitts, 18.Sep.2013) – Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. LLC Managing Director David Pursell spoke with Energy Analytics Institute in a brief interview from Dallas, Texas.

What follows are excerpts from the brief interview.

EAI: Are PDVSA’s CITGO assets along the US Gulf Coast strategic?

Pursell: They are strategic because they’re high complexity refineries that can handle the heavy Venezuelan crude grade. Plus, the products they make are going into the U.S., which is the most important refined product market in the world.

EAI: Could PDVSA’s CITGO assets be used as compensation if PDVSA were ordered to pay large lawsuit damages?

Pursell: You could probably take those assets in lieu of payment if ultimately there is a large damage award and the Venezuelans say they’re not going to pay you. The question is who’s going to buy those? If you buy cheap from Venezuela and a court later says we’re going to take them from you. Does this scare away a buyer?

EAI: Will Canadian crudes compete with Venezuelan crudes if the Keystone Pipeline is eventually built?

Pursell: Canadian crude will definitely compete with Venezuelan crude, as both are going to U.S. Gulf Coast.

EAI: How do you view PDVSA today?

Pursell: Venezuela before Chavez had three operating companies that were very good, they were clearly top quartile, Chavez came in, meshed them together and gutted technical expertise for political reasons and now PDVSA is a terrible company. He basically took PDVSA and made it Pemex, inept and not very good.

Editor’s Note:

Pursell holds a Masters in Petroleum Engineering. He has worked on a number of technical petroleum engineering consulting projects in Venezuela.

***

Journalist Round Table with Rafael Ramirez

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 31.Jul.2013) – PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez held a small round table with journalist in Caracas, Venezuela.

What follows are excerpts from the discussion.

Rafael Ramirez on the petroleum sector and the current government administration under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro:

Rafael Ramirez: We have firmly established our political strategy related to the oil sector.

We are currently entering a stage of production expansion and will concentrate all of our work and energies on reaching our goals and increasing production capacity in Venezuela.

If we look back, we received the petroleum sector (in late 1999) during a phase of privatization in the downstream, midstream, and upstream sectors, especially PDVSA.

But Venezuela has entered a new expansion stage of petroleum sector policies and PDVSA is entering into the Expansion Phase of the Faja development.

In terms of the sabotage that our oil industry has seen, we continue to feel the effects of these actions and damage mostly in Western Venezuela where we have experienced a drastic drop in production.

After the oil sector strike in 2002-2003, we established our petroleum sector plan. We oversaw the migration of operating contracts (of 33 companies with contracts we saw 31 of the companies migrate to the new contracts without problems, only ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips decided to exit the migration process and eventually exit Venezuela altogether). We also oversaw changes and modifications to laws, fiscal changes such as reestablishing royalties and taxes.

The year 2010 marked the beginning of the new expansion stage for the Venezuelan oil sector. From 2004-2010 we worked on nationalization, migration process to new contracts, and PDVSA regaining control of the oil sector by increasing its participation from an average 49% in JVs to a minimum of 60%. We are now in the stage of increasing the production of oil.

In all, we spent ten years (2000-2010) recuperating PDVSA, under the watch of late-President Hugo Chavez Frias.

Ramirez: We are employing many engineers from public schools here in Venezuela for various jobs, including rig operations.

On the petroleum sector expansion process:

Ramirez: In 2013, we have been concentrating our efforts on recuperating production capacity of 4 MMb/d by year end 2014 and 6 MMb/d by year end 2019 (of which 4 MMb/d will come from the Faja). For this to happen, it is fundamental that we move two elements: development of the Faja and development of an industrial base. [See also information on industrial meetings with private sectors across the country].

We need to construct a production capacity of 3 MMb/d in the Faja. This runs parallel with work we have been conducting in the Faja related to the industrial meetings with the private sector.

The government is working hard with the private sector for the second phase of the Faja development. Hence the Six National Productive Meetings we had to gauge interest in the private sector to participate in projects with the government and PDVSA.

We are working with private (transnationals) companies as well as the Venezuelan Hydrocarbon Association or AVHI but I must reiterate: “The companies that do not want to help PDVSA increase its production capacity can simply leave the country.”

We have received positive feedback from CNPC and Chevron and we are awaiting response from other companies such as Repsol, among others, in terms of new financing deals related to petroleum sector projects.

We plan to create investment funds for all the Faja JVs whereby “the Venezuelan citizens” will participate.

The government will create four investment districts in the Faja. In Sep.2013 the government will announce plans and create development schemes, special fiscal schemes for the four districts that are located in each of the four Faja blocks.

Ciudad Bolivar will be the main city that Venezuela will use for the development of the Faja since it already has an airport and universities.

Development of the Faja will be the most important prospect for Venezuela in this Century.

The government is working with private companies regarding funding and the use of money solely to increase production.

The government realizes that a number of private companies that have converted to JVs have had problems increasing production (operating costs around $12/bbl, including G&A). Regardless, the government wants the companies to maintain operations in Venezuela and increase production. However, private companies that cannot maintain these operating costs should be operated by PDVSA. We are looking to drastically reduce overhead costs. Again, we don’t want small operators to leave, but we want them to merge their operations to reduce overhead so that they can focus on increasing production.

We are starting a push for reduction of costs and more efficiency in our production. In the Western region of the country we have had a lot of success implementing this strategy and we have stopped the production declines in the region.

The government wants companies in Zulia in Falcon state to be more efficient and is trying to help them reduce their overhead.

On the Faja reservoir spanning into Colombia:

Ramirez: The Faja does not extend to Colombia, only to Guarico state in Venezuela in its most western extension. There are individuals in Colombia that are trying to convince investors that Colombia shares the same geology as Venezuela, which is not true. Pacific Rubiales has sold a lot of stock selling this story to investors. The Faja formation in Venezuela is different than the one in Colombia.

On the Chinese Fund and other financing issues:

Ramirez: Close to 94% of foreign income that Venezuela generates comes from the petroleum sector.

Venezuela will sign a $5 bln funding (Fondo Chino or Chinese Fund) in Sep.2013 in the presence of President Nicolas Maduro in China.

The amount of barrels that are sent to China to repay loans varies each month due to changes in oil prices. When oil prices are high, the barrels that need to be sent to China decline, while any excesses are returned to PDVSA.

We sold $21.9 bln to the Venezuelan Central Bank or BCV during 2001-Jun.2013. In 2013, we plan to sell $47 bln to the BCV.

In 2012, PDVSA paid down debt by about $4 bln, this figure stood at $34.4 bln at YE:12

Money on our Balance Sheet as of June 30, 2013 ($12 bln) includes investments (commercial credit) from Rosneft, CNPC, Gazprom, Chevron. Money from new JVs could be used in the SICAD weekly auctions when the companies need access to Bolivars. This will also reduce the companies’ needs to participate in illegal activities to obtain Bolivars.

PDVSA will not issue more debt in USA dollars but instead in Bolivars as it is easier to pay back this debt in the local market than in dollars.

On Venezuelan windfall tax scheme:

Ramirez: The following table (See Table 1) lays out Venezuela’s windfall tax scheme.

Table 1: Venezuela windfall tax payment to Fonden

Price of oil ——- Payment % to FONDEN

$80/bbl ——— 20%

$80-$100/bbl —- 80% of the difference

$100-$110/bbl —- 90% of the difference

>$110/bbl ——– 95% of the difference

Source: PDVSA

FONDEN is a national development fund which is similar to a fund that is run by the Norwegians. “I don’t see anybody criticizing the Norwegians,” but this government is overly criticized.

On oil exports, shale developments worldwide and other issues:

Ramirez: PDVSA is an operational company. We are constantly balancing things out. We have debts but we have revenues. We have financing but we have capitalization.

Increases in interest rates under the Petrocaribe initiative were not called for by PDVSA. The conditions remain unchanged.

Venezuelan oil exports are down due to increased use of diesel in the domestic market to generate electricity.

Shale oil developments do not affect Venezuela. We are not worried about shale oil developments going on worldwide. However, most of the shale resources in Venezuela are located in Maracaibo Lake area where they amount to about 13,000-19,000 MMbbls.

We are evaluating to what depths we have shale in the Urdaneta field. Venezuela has shale resources in Lake Maracaibo which are four times as much as those claimed by Colombia. We need to drive to deeper horizons where there are larger concentrations of oil. Although we have shale resources in Falcon state we will continue to look for convention oil and gas. There is tremendous liquids potential offshore Falcon state.

A $100/bbl oil price does not permit the development of shale oil. So we need a good oil price and $100/bbl is a good price, not just for Venezuela.

Oil price sensitivity: For each $1/bbl decline/rise in oil prices, Venezuela losses/gains $700 mln per year in revenues.

As a result of the Perla 3x offshore gas discovery which also unveiled large condensate potential, we have decided to drill offshore Falcon state in search of additional condensate potential.

Oil production at the Sinovensa JV is around 140,000 b/d but we expect this production to reach 165,300 b/d by year end 2013 and ultimately 330,000 b/d.

During 1992-1999, Venezuela’s 4th Republic reported fiscal revenues of just $23.5 bln, while the Revolutionary Government (under former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and now President Nicolas Maduro) has reported fiscal revenues of $448.8 bln during 2000-Aug.2013 (as of 1.Aug.2013), of which $310.3 bln came from changes in new laws (i.e. increasing taxes and royalties and increasing PDVSA’s participation in oil projects).

Venezuela’s oil production declines on average 700,000 b/d a year or around 20-25% per year. However, Venezuela adds an average 700,000 b/d of production to make up for the short fall and maintain production around 3,000 Mb/d.

In the Faja the production declines are not as pronounced since it is a newly developed area, but in Zulia state in Lake Maracaibo the declines are more pronounced.

On gasoline issues:

Ramirez: The government is working to install an automatic chip system and even GPS systems in Tachira state as there are reported cases of cars in Colombia with Venezuelan license plates that are crossing the Colombian/Venezuelan border each day to buy cheap gasoline in Venezuela to later sell it in Colombia.

The government is looking to implement the export of Venezuelan gasoline to Colombia to reduce the demand for gasoline in Colombia.

On refineries:

Ramirez: El Palito refinery will receive heavy oil from the Faja in the future while the Puerto la Cruz refinery will also process oil from the Faja. We will continue to use light oils for mixtures or for export.

Changes/upgrades at existing refineries are being done to increase the heavy oil processing capacity.

Plans to build three new refineries in Venezuela have not changed.

The government has proposed that companies convert upgraders into refineries or upgrade the oils to 42 degrees API so that it can be exported or mixed with other oils and thus avoiding potential bottlenecks in Venezuela.

Our agreements with Eni are to build a refinery and not an upgrader. The majority of the finished products from this refinery will be diesel with specifications established for European markets. The 300,000 b/d capacity refinery with Eni is a move by the Italian company to pay lower taxes.

On Ecuador:

Ramirez: PDVSA has reduced its interest in Ecuador’s Pacific Coast Refinery to 19% from 49% to allow entrance of CNPC with a 30% interest. Petroecuador will continue to hold a 51% interest in the project. Nonetheless, PDVSA still plans to send 100,000 b/d to the refinery for processing.

On the USA and potential divestment of CITGO refineries:

Ramirez: The US market has a large processing capacity for heavy oils. In regards to divesting of our interest in CITGO; it is not viable to sell individual refineries in the USA. It would only be interesting if they (the CITGO refineries) could be sold as a packaged deal.

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Ramirez Comments on Oil, Mining Sectors

(Energy Analytics Institute, Piero Stewart, 27.Jul.2013) – Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez comments on development of the Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt and the Venezuelan mining sector.

“The Faja project was a dream of Hugo Chavez and I swear that we will complete the project.”

“We have establish order in the mining sector and recuperate our mining production capacity.”

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Q&A with Tissot Associate’s Roger Tissot

(Energy Analytics Institute, Pietro D. Pitts, 19.Jul.2013) – Tissot Associates Consultant Roger Tissot spoke with Energy Analytics Institute in a brief interview from Canada.

What follows are excerpts from the brief interview.

Regarding the decision of Ecuador’s government to develop the ITT fields:

EAI: Ecuador has decided to move forward with development of the ITT fields: how do you view the decision?

Tissot: I am not surprised by President Rafael Correa’s decision of to drill the ITT Fields in the Yasuni National Park and for three reasons:

  1. Credibility: Ecuador’s international reputation is not that good do to contradictions made by Correa in regard to not honoring oil contracts.
  2. Timing: The recession in Europe came at a bad time for the ITT initiative as many of these countries no longer have the ability to make investments. The US’ green policies favored Ecuador but the biggest problem here has to do with the relationship Ecuador has with the U.S. which is not great.
  3. Need: The need for dollar revenues/income was not been met as Correa originally planned, thus necessitating a change of policy by the government.

As such, in terms of problems with Ecuador’s plan to increase revenues and Exploit ITT fields, we need to consider the following: 1. How will the fields be developed? 2. Social challenges and/or protests to come from indigenous communities? 3. Will the government try to attract investors via bidding rounds or will it engage in direction negotiations with potential partners?

I think bidding rounds would be the best way to develop the ITT fields but what would the production plans entail?

EAI: Would Chinese companies make a good fit in Ecuador in terms of partnering with the government?

Tissot: Chinese companies would be logical partners for development of the ITT fields as well as other projects.

Regarding Petrocaribe and rumors that Venezuela is looking to increase interest rates under the initiative:

EAI: Should the member countries be surprised if Venezuela decides to increase interest rates?

Tissot: None of the Petrocaribe countries should be surprised by the Venezuelan government’s decision or potential decision to tighten the terms related to the initiative due to the excess spending by the Venezuelan government under late President Hugo Chavez that was obvious to everyone.

Frankly, many of the Petrocaribe countries are addicted to cheap Venezuelan oil which their governments could sell on the spot market to assist them raise revenues that could be used to assist them to cover other expenses.

In my view, Venezuela is facing a very bad fiscal situation and a not so good economic situation. President Nicolas Maduro does not have the ability or support to implement policies needed to address fiscal imbalances in Venezuela.

EAI: Is Petrocarible a good initiative and will it endure?

Tissot: Petrocaribe was a good social-economic tool for Chavez. I believe it will endure under Maduro as he tries to maintain “the legacy of Chavez” in the region.

Simply put, there are not many options for the Petrocaribe countries and they will most likely have to revert to their old ways of obtaining oil and derivatives, before the birth of Petrocaribe.

On the other hand, I do not see many companies willing to send oil and derivatives to the Caribbean or pick up the void that could be potentially left my PDVSA.

In my opinion, Petrocaribe is like giving foreign aid to a poor country to help them reduce debt and poverty levels. In other words, Petrocaribe was like a type of foreign aid with an ideological slant.

Editor’s Note:

The Petrocaribe initiative, the brain child of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was inspired by independence and sovereignty of peoples in an attempt to alleviate the hegemonic influence of the U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Measures by Venezuela to potentially increase interest rates under Petrocaribe, coupled with the recent 32% devaluation of the Bolivar, the Venezuelan currency, hints that the government is facing mounting economic and financial problems.

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Venezuela Seizes Helmerich & Payne Rigs

(TulsaWorld, Rod Walton, 2.Jul.2010) – The action comes amid a payment dispute in which the company left the equipment idle.

Helmerich & Payne’s 52-year business relationship with Venezuela came to at least a temporary end Thursday as President Hugo Chavez’s government seized 11 rigs owned by the Tulsa contract drilling company.

The conventional drilling rigs have been idle since last year because Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the national oil company, has not paid Helmerich & Payne Inc. for work, H&P has said.

The company says PDVSA owes it about $43 million. The amount owed once exceeded $100 million.

Venezuela had threatened to seize the rigs since last week, saying that “forced acquisition” was necessary because Helmerich & Payne would not put the equipment back to work.

H&P’s “long-lived” assets in Venezuela are valued at about $67 million, the company’s spokesman Mike Drickamer said in an e-mailed response to the Tulsa World.

The seized rigs make up all of H&P’s equipment in Venezuela.

CEO Hans Helmerich and other company executives initially downplayed the impasse, saying they simply wanted to be paid for past work. Venezuela’s National Assembly and Chavez followed through with the threat by issuing an official decree earlier this week.

Venezuela has been a financial thorn in the side of several companies in recent years.

Williams Cos. Inc. of Tulsa, a natural gas producer, lost two joint-venture compression plants to seizure last year and also was forced to take a $241 million write-down on its books because of nonpayment.

ConocoPhillips, the integrated oil giant with significant offices in Bartlesville, lost multibillion-dollar joint venture projects to seizure by PDVSA. The Houston company later sought international arbitration over the compensation offered by Venezuela.

Citgo, a Houston marketing and retail company once based in Tulsa, is the U.S. wing of the Venezuelan state oil industry.

Helmerich & Payne had no further comment.

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Bolivia’s Nationalization of Oil and Gas

(Council on Foreign Relations, Carin Zissis, 12.May.2006) — In a region seen as turning leftward, forging alliances would seem a natural course of events. But Bolivian President Evo Morales’ decision to nationalize the oil and gas industry is exposing tensions, causing experts to say there is more diffusion than alliance-building in Latin America.

Introduction

On his hundredth day in office, Bolivian President Evo Morales moved to nationalize his nation’s oil and gas reserves, ordering the military to occupy Bolivia’s gas fields and giving foreign investors a six-month deadline to comply with demands or leave. The May 1 directive set off tensions in the region and beyond, particularly for foreign investors in Brazil, Spain, and Argentina. Morales’ nationalization agenda has been described as another chapter in Latin America’s turn to the left, and fears are rising that the Bolivian leader has fallen into the fold of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But some experts emphasize there may be more infighting than cohesion overall in the region.

Why did Morales nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbon industry?

Morales, a former coca farmer and union leader, won a resounding victory in the December 2005 elections. As the Movement to Socialism (MAS) candidate, he campaigned in favor of nationalizing, among other sectors of the economy, the gas and oil industries with the cooperation of foreign investors. Experts say that, given such promises, the nationalization was no surprise. But Peter DeShazo, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Americas Program, says the move to occupy the gas fields with military forces lent a dramatic effect. “The confrontational nature of his move was certainly intended to get people’s attention,” he says, adding that Morales may be looking to garner votes in July elections for a constituent assembly that will redraft Bolivia’s constitution.

Nouriel Roubini, a professor of economics and international business at New York University, says one explanation for nationalization is ill will over encroachment on Bolivia’s territory by its neighbors. Since gaining independence in 1825, the Andean nation lost ocean access to Chile, as well as land to Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru. “There is this kind of historical resentment,” Roubini says, adding that Bolivians “are giving a slap in the face to Brazilians and Spaniards.” Morales echoed this sentiment at a May 11 summit of Latin American and European leaders, where he reaffirmed his energy-nationalization plans and signaled his government would seize large land holdings. Experts say this could also affect Brazil, whose farmers have major land holdings in Bolivia.

In spite of having the region’s second largest natural-gas reserves after Venezuela, Bolivia is among Latin America’s poorest nations. The landlocked country has also been marked by political instability; six presidents have held office in as many years, and one of them, Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, was forced to resign in 2003 after protests against plans to export Bolivian gas turned violent. Among the free trader’s opponents was Morales, who said foreign investors received too much in gas-sale profits based on the hydrocarbons law in place at the time.

How will the nationalization plan work?

Morales’ May 1 decree states that foreign companies, which have invested almost $4 billion since Bolivia opened up its energy sector in the late 1990s, must hand majority control over to state-owned Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB). Firms have 180 days to renegotiate energy contracts with the Bolivian state, which experts say will likely lead to price increases. During that time, the companies which own the two largest oil fields will absorb a 32 percent hike (82 percent total) in royalties and taxes. Bolivia, which has 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is expected to see a jump from $320 million to $780 million in annual oil-related revenues, and has installed new directors representing YPFB on the boards of foreign firms’ local subsidiaries. While negotiations occur, Bolivia will conduct an audit of the foreign companies. Morales recently warned foreign companies they will not be compensated if they have recovered their original investments.

Who stands to lose from the nationalization policy?

The firms with the largest holdings in Bolivia’s energy industry are the Spanish-Argentine venture Repsol YPF and Brazil’s Petrólio Brasileiro (Petrobras). Britain’s British Petroleum (BP) and France’s Total also have large investments. Repsol YPF has invested some $1.2 billion in Bolivia’s energy industry, and Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner, whose country faces double-digit inflation rates, is concerned about rising gas prices jeopardizing Argentina’s economic recovery. But Brazil is under the greatest pressure if prices go up, as Bolivia provides it with about half of its gas. In the populous economic center of Sao Paolo that figure is closer to 75 percent. Petrobras has invested $1 billion in Bolivia’s natural-gas industry. Morales’ move has put Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a vulnerable position in the months leading up to his October reelection bid.

What are the reactions to Morales’ plan?

While foreign companies said they hope for cooperation, Repsol YPF has said it will act to protect its investments and take legal action if necessary. Petrobras has made similar threats and frozen investments. Experts say Bolivia needs investors such as Petrobras, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 24 percent of its tax revenue. John Williamson, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, says Bolivia may see short-term gains but in the long term, it’s going to lead to less foreign investment. He also cautions that Morales’ move could cause divisions in the region.

Is Bolivia’s nationalization testing regional alliances?

Yes, say some experts. CFR Senior Fellow Julia Sweig says that Lula has been more silent in coming out against the nationalization than Spain’s President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero because Lula—a former trade union leader like his Bolivian counterpart—is “sympathetic” to Morales’ intentions. Diego von Vacano, assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University and a Bolivian national, says, “Lula wants to prevent a sort of face-off with Morales” because he “doesn’t want to destabilize the region.”

Yet, not all Latin American leaders who are leaning to the left are the same, experts say. “On one side, you have a number of administrations that are committed to moderate economic reform,” says Roubini. “On the other, you’ve had something of a backlash against the Washington Consensus [a set of liberal economic policies that Washington-based institutions urged Latin American countries to follow, including privatization, trade liberalization and fiscal discipline] and some emergence of populist leaders.” Among the latter group is Venezuela’s Chávez, an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration; DeShazo of CSIS calls Chávez Latin America’s “high priest” of economic nationalism.

What is Morales’ relationship with Chávez?

Just before the May 1 decree, Morales met with Chávez and Castro in Havana to sign a socialist trade agreement that made Morales a member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. The three are now calling it the “Axis of Good,” a pact originally signed by Chávez and Castro last year. Morales and Chávez threatened to pull out of the Andean Community if Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador sign free trade agreements with the United States. Castro and Chávez also said they would become Bolivia’s primary soybean importers. This plan may affect Brazil, because Morales has set a May 31 deadline for land redistribution in the Santa Cruz region, where Brazilian farmers grow more than a third of Bolivia’s soybeans and have invested heavily in land and agriculture.

But experts caution that it is not yet clear where Morales’ alliance falls. Sweig says “the embrace he’s getting from Chavez is getting harder and harder to resist,” but he also “understands that he has to function in a global context and not just an Andean one.” Sweig adds, “Bolivia is going to tack one way one day and one way the other.” There are also signs of infighting rather than a growth in alliances in the region. The Andean Community is not the only trading bloc with members threatening to bow out; in April, Uruguay warned it may leave Mercosur, the Southern Cone trading bloc, and suggested Paraguay is a partner on this. Williamson says the region “is more divided than I’ve ever seen it.” Sweig echoed this, saying, “I just don’t see the kind of diplomatic skill and institutional capacity to do alliance building. It’s not like the EU.”

What is the U.S. role in Bolivia and in the region?

Experts say the United States has paid less attention to Latin America after September 11, 2001, particularly as events have heated up in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Roubini says the situation in the region is “developing in such a way that is actually dangerous to U.S. interests.” According to Von Vacano, this period of crisis diplomacy between countries in the region would be a good time to become more engaged, and that the United States is “missing a chance to be a kind of broker, to get involved in South America without being heavy-handed.” Williamson says the United States should maintain an open hand to negotiate free trade agreements but “any U.S. influence is resented so much that it is counterproductive.” Sweig says the United States should tread carefully because intentions to influence outcomes can backfire. She points to Bolivia’s 2002 election, when the U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha urged Bolivians not to vote for Morales, who then surged in the polls and almost defeated Sánchez. The problem, Sweig says, “is when we say ’democracy,’ Latin Americans hear ’imperialism.’”

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