“When Hugo Chávez came to power it took four administrative steps to export a container of chocolate. Today there are 90 steps and 19 ministries involved ”. Venezuela has taken pains to show that extended bureaucracy and incompetence are branches of the same treeIt is impossible to suppose them separately.
A Venezuelan businessman, Jorge Redmon, an executive at Chocolates El Rey, in Caracas, made that comment about his tribulations to the Bloomberg agency. A perfect synthesis, that story, of the brutal inefficiency that has spread throughout the region along with other isms such as leftism or, its beloved relative, infantilism.
This panorama, however, seems destined to change in a radical way. driven by necessity and the chronic opportunism of the model. Without major ideological prejudices, nothing to be surprised about, the experiment that Nicolás Maduro commands has put a drastic reversal in everything that has been adorning the Chavista story.
From one moment to the next, price controls have been eliminated and subsidies cut, the Soviet tone limits that have governed the exchange market have also ended and the dollar has been allowed to reign liberated as a national currency. The effect of this turn to orthodoxy has been a brake on the soaring of prices, that remain at extraordinary levels, with an annual cost of living of 2,266% but well below the six-figure number that inflation showed in 2019. Now the monthly record shows an average of 20%, almost a success in the daily disaster of the Caribbean country.
On the other hand, if before the private company occupied a narrow place in the economic universe of the “Bolivarian revolution”, last year it already represented 92% of the import basket of raw materials and processed foods. A novelty that has served this neo-market Chavismo as a tool to reduce its extraordinary fiscal abysses. The latest piece of information is the signing by Maduro of a law full of guarantees for private investors.
In a recent interview, the Bolivarian strongman justified the turn by arguing that “They are tools of a war economy.” The truth is that the reforms are so orthodox that they could be confused with a classic stabilization program of the International Monetary Fund, says the aforementioned Bloomberg specialized in economic research.
Nicolas Maduro Guerra, “Nicolasito”, the son of the strong man and critical of the expropriations of the Chavista era. Reuters photo
In basic terms the scheme includes a formidable fit whose greatest effects are noticeable in cities, especially in Caracas, and among sectors linked to the regime, with differential income. The “capitalism of friends” in an extraordinary expression. Unlike the daily postcard of the recent past, supermarkets no longer show their gondolas empty, nor do people have to use a bag full of devalued bolivars to pay for purchases. Everything is in dollars. Two dollars, a haircut.
This novelty adds a higher degree of uncertainty in the poor interior of the country that was not well before and less now. As in the civic-military dictatorships of the 70s, Stroessner’s Paraguayan for example, which is a the one that most resembles the Venezuelan experiment, there is a blessed social sector and a vast unattended mass, with meager income, without health care, or possibilities for improvement.
The repression, which has not stopped, is multiplied to try to contain the frustration of those dispossessed where political alternatives grow that denounce that the government has “sold itself to imperialism” with its “neoliberal” policies, as pointed out by a recent investigation by The New York Times that detected how those critics are assassinated by paramilitaries or arrested by the political police.
Behind these changes, they have their political effect in a novel flirtation with the opposition, There is the hand of Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, who also serves as head of finances and who, together with her brother Jorge Rodríguez, are a decision-making power at the Chavista girl table, both protected by Maduro’s powerful wife, Cilia Flores.
The vice president operates with the participation of an external advisor, the Ecuadorian Patricio Rivera, who was Minister of Economy in his country during the administration of another “flexible” leader of the Bolivarian axis, Rafael Correa, whose government he joined in 2010 to manage the crisis due to non-payment of debt.
After implementing, with the guidance of Russia, the opening of the oil business to private companies, Caracas only thinks about attracting investment. Political signs serve the same purpose. Recently the regime announced the inclusion of two leaders, close to the dissident Henrique Capriles, in the National Electoral Council.
The Venezuelan vice president, Delcy Rodríguez, the hand that leads the change. AFP photo
Hours ago, it was announced the reactivation of the electoral ballot of the opposition Democratic Unity Table, today very dismantled, and the termination of the “protectors” who are officials who act as parallel governors, especially where the ruling party does not rule. Five Americans were also sent to house arrest arrested in the prisons of the regime and the United Nations World Food Program was allowed to enter the country.
Among the gestures, a significant statement by Nicolasito Maduro, the economist son and deputy of the Venezuelan councilor, went unnoticed, who at a press conference with foreign journalists He gave a humiliating burial to the famous “expropriate” of the founder of the model, the former paratrooper Hugo Chávez: “The expropriations were a mistake,” he said, “They hurt us.”
The son of Maduro, together with other legislators, is promoting a law of imminent promulgation that gives rise to some so-called “Special Economic Zones”, such as the one that Cuba generated in the port of Mariel o they became famous in the China of the beginning of the capitalist test tube. There will be four areas on the northern coastal axis and on Margarita Island with a special tax and customs regime to facilitate import trade and tax relief for new investors.
This piling up of measures has already had an effect: The US and the EU released a document together with Canada in which they affirm their willingness to lift sanctions against Venezuela if progress is made on this path.
For Capriles, this happens because “there are people on Maduro’s side who have also realized that the existential conflict is not good in the position they are in either, because there is no way to recover the country economically.” This prestigious politician was the first to break with the tough opposition led by Juan Guaidó and he defended participating in the elections despite the bans and fraud.
In some way, his behavior reflected what the Venezuelan establishment itself was beginning to experience, which saw that the dictatorship with a flowery discourse of the supposed left of Chavismo was going mutating into a classic pro-market despotism, with the country in ruins but that opened an economic opportunity first and possible political change later.
The cherry on the cake is the privatization of the huge oil business. This project was designed by a Venezuelan commission and managed by the Russian Ministry of Economy. It’s what “Nicolasito” Maduro talks about. Moscow views this Caribbean space as its area of influence. A few days ago, the Kremlin Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigú, at the Moscow Security Conference, highlighted his country’s collaboration with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela “who face different forms of pressure and even threats of the use of force. ”.
The opposition leader Henrique Capriles. Photo EFE
That program included as one of its main chapters the reconquest of Parliament that until December of last year was in the hands of the opposition and Guaidó as the main dissident leader. The glassy election of that month and the decision of the opponents not to appear at those polls with the dissident Capriles, It resulted in a full victory for the ruling party, a condition that allows the regime to legalize the transfers of oil exploration and exploitation areas.
The mining companies are also in this area, one of the most profitable businesses along with oil. “We have to get Guaidó out ”, had asked the Russian Deputy Minister of Finance, Sergey Storchak, proposing a package of measures “to eradicate the distortions that occurred during the nationalization “ of oil by Chávez.
Maduro writhes bitter because he says that there are still no effective signals from the United States to his extraordinary invitation. Surely there will not be them in a forceful way before the North American legislative elections next year in which the State of Florida, seat of a Venezuelan diaspora twinned with the Cuban one, has a key role. The White House needs to win there and has to tiptoe.
But there are already efforts by both Democratic and Republican congressmen who propose to reverse the ban on US imports of Venezuelan oil and the forwarding of US fuel to Caracas. To a large extent, this is because European oil corporations are watching the turnaround in Venezuela and their North American colleagues with interest. “They don’t want to be left out of that lunch”, clarifies, eloquently, a diplomatic source.
Venezuela today produces just 500 thousand barrels per day, about 200 thousand more than in 2020 but far from the one and a half million to two million of the boom times. A leap in this line implies an extraordinary investment on the way to the reconstruction of the entire industry and an even deeper transformation of the regime, including the participation of the IMF.
More flags that would fall in exchange for a hope of survival. In any case, it will be interesting to observe how the loyal followers in the region of the supposed Bolivarian revolution will accommodate themselves to this novelty, seen now like this, without makeup, disguises and masks.
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