Mark Falcoff: Good news from Venezuela

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. Mark last reported for us on Code Pink’s helping hand to Hugo Chavez. Today he writes:

The long term prospects of Chavez’s “revolutionary” state in Venezuela are not good. A long report in the Spanish edition of today’s Miami Herald lays it out. Since the same story does not appear in the English edition I thought I’d offer at least a summary of this important article.
Everyone knows that Chavez’s “revolution”–his popularity with the poor of Venezuela and his influence in the region–is entirely mortgaged to the price of oil. But few realize that it is even more dependent on the efficiency (or lack of it) of his state oil company, which goes by the acronymn PDVSA.
Since Chavez took office in 1999 Venezuela’s oil production has dropped by 28 percent and PDVSA’s debt has risen significantly. Meanwhile, some major foreign oil producers have left the country and taken their cutting edge technology with them.
The Venezuelan government claims that between 2006 and 2012 it will reinvest $76 billion of its earnings to increase production, but analysts canvassed by the three reporters who wrote the story think that the figure comes closer to between $2 and $5 billion a year–a drastic short-fall. Moreover, many of PDVSA’s activities are now unrelated to oil–it has hatched subsidiaries to distribute powdered milk, or to mill corn, or even to build boats. (Anyone who knows Venezuela can imagine the lush opportunities this offers for illicit enrichment by the agency officials or the military who work with them.) Meanwhile, as oil production falters, the state company has decided to take on more employees. When Chavez took office PDVSA had 48,000 workers. It now has nearly 75,000, and the president-dictator has announced plans to hire an additional 30,000 by the end of next year. (One cannot help recalling the case of the Argentine YPF, which was the only oil company in the world that lost money in the go-go 1970s!)
This kind of crony capitalism is pushing Venezuela to the edge. Under these circumstances it won’t take much of a decline in oil prices to destabilize Chavez’s regime. Contrary to what the bloated dictator says on his radio programs every Sunday, the “empire” (that’s the US) doesn’t need to do anything at all to get rid of him. Fortunately he’s doing our work for us.

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