22 de septiembre de 1998

Orimulsión vs torre del terror

Esta semana la televisión reportó sobre un pequeño incidente en una de las atracciones de los parques de diversión de Florida (Tower of Terror) cuyas causas se están investigando. Algunos usuarios aparentemente sufrieron heridas menores, sin embargo, dudamos que esto reduzca el publico atraído por este tipo de recreación.

Imagínense la existencia en Venezuela de algunos dueños de parques de diversión que, molestos por la competencia de Florida y con el objetivo de formar un movimiento de apoyo, reclutan y seducen a un grupo de madres que todas sufren de ansiedad patológica. Imagínense a éste agresivo y vociferoso Grupo de Opinión exigir que las autoridades del Distrito Federal prohiban a los niños, viajar a los parques de la Florida.

Lo absurdo y pequeño del accidente, las protestas de Florida, las protestas de los niños todo haría imposible pensar que el Decreto de la Prohibición fuese aprobado.

No obstante si se nos permite suponer que: a.- existen otros parques tan buenos como los de la Florida "¡Mami, podemos ir a Disney en Francia!", b.- que a los administradores de los parques de la Florida no les importe mucho, "con menos visitantes trabajamos mas cómodos"; y c.- ni se solicita ni se recibe el apoyo de los ciudadanos de la Florida, entonces y de pronto, las posibilidades del Decreto no se ven tan remotas.

"Muchachos, aún cuando tengo familia en la Florida y les puede causar daño, como esto a nadie le importa, aprobemos la Prohibición, por lo menos así nos sacarnos estos locos gritones de encima".

De manera algo similar fué que el estado de Florida prohibió el uso de la Orimulsión. La Orimulsión que tanto significado tiene para Venezuela. Para una Venezuela que hoy necesita de cualquier ayuda que pueda recibir. Pero, para una Venezuela donde esto, aparentemente no le importa un comino. Para una Venezuela donde tomamos jugo de naranja de la Florida y leemos que de forma simultánea “las transferencias de divisas a Florida crecieron 400%.

Esta semana nos visita en Caracas una misión comercial proveniente de Florida. Su finalidad es la de vendernos productos y oportunidades de inversión. Ni un candidato o miembro del gobierno, ni una organización empresarial o sindical, ni un directivo, ejecutivo o empleado de PDVSA, ni un parlamentario, ni un universitario, nadie, probablemente nadie usará la ocasión para por lo menos indicar que estamos perjudicados y molestos por la decisión sobre la Orimulsión.

Nos debería dar vergüenza a todos. Si en Venezuela hubiese que elegir un dicho popular que fuese conocido y aplicado por todo nuestro pueblo, probablemente sería "el que no llora no mama". Aparentemente no lo usamos fuera de nuestras fronteras.

Durante largo tiempo he sostenido que uno de los principales problemas que tiene Venezuela para correctamente adaptar las políticas económicas de moda, tales como la de la apertura comercial, es que la gran mayoría de nuestros dirigentes económicos, del sector público y privado son conversos muy recientes. Como originalmente ellos mantenían otros puntos de vista y hoy les da pánico que alguien los reconozca en sus nuevas vestimentas, sostienen y aplican sus dogmas con el fervor que de vez en cuando podemos detectar en un nuevo rico, deseoso por el reconocimiento del "establishment" o en un creyente recientemente sometido a un llamado inspirador.

La verdad es que la globalización y la apertura comercial no disminuye en nada la necesidad de agruparse alrededor del concepto de nación para meditar y negociar las estrategias económicas convenientes para el país. Todo lo contrario. Antes con fronteras cerradas, con aranceles y prohibiciones de importación general, esto no importaba mucho. Hoy, con fronteras abiertas, es que de verdad necesitamos de inteligencia, voluntad y astucia, para evitar que el “mundo nos coma vivos”.

Yo no soy ni nunca he sido proteccionista. No obstante no me temblaría el pulso o la conciencia intelectual si al negociar por parte de Venezuela tuviese que recurrir un poco mas a la hipocresía. A esa hipocresía que todos los países aplican con maestría pero que Venezuela aparentemente considera de mal gusto.

Lo que si me resultaría difícil o casi imposible sería el de negociar a nombre de nuestro país sin poder, de forma concreta y como apoyo, hacer referencia a una voluntad, un clamor y una verdadera exigencia nacional. En otras palabras sin el apoyo de una buena y exportable lloradera colectiva. ¡Globalizemos el llantén!

Hablar de parques de diversiones me recordó una pagina completa que vi en un diario hace menos de una semana. En ella se describía un país que a diferencia del rojo deficitario sufrido por Venezuela era iluminado por un “azul; color del superávit”. Un país con recursos para generar microempresas (otorgados por “vías mas expeditas que los de Corpoindustria”) un país con recursos para cuidar el medio ambiente, desarrollar hospitales. Un país bello donde se “busca impulsar una nueva relación con la sociedad” estableciendo de manera espléndida “un motor de la inversión social, sin sustituir las responsabilidades de la comunidad y de ningún ente público y privado”.

En ése país, PDV-Land, y a juzgar por los “resultados”, deben haber perfeccionado el arte de la lloradera. ¿Como hace uno para conseguir una visa? ¡Todos necesitamos un curso en el CIED! ¡Así no habrá quien se atreva prohibir la Orimulsión!

Publicado en Economía Hoy el 22 de Septiembre de 1998

8 de septiembre de 1998

Del petróleo, la renta y la Constituyente

Absolutamente increíble, no hay antropólogo que lo pueda comprender. En un país tan dado a celebraciones de fiestas, nacionales, religiosas, paganas y otras no hay ni una, ni siquiera una fiestica parroquial, cuyo objeto sea el celebrar a lo que desde todo punto de vista es algo de lo mas importante para Venezuela, su petróleo.

Hace pocos meses la revista Debates del IESA publico un breve ensayo mío y donde con el fin de provocar un debate sugería la posibilidad de que todo la costumbre nacional de presentar al petróleo como algo malo y desagradable, llegando hasta un extremo de calificar de "excremento del diablo" a algo que en cualquier otra civilización sería considerado como un regalo de Dios, se deriva de una inteligente componenda para evitar que el país nacional sea mas severo en el momento de exigir una rendición de cuentas.

Mientras los ingresos petroleros sean "sucios" y además no han pasado por nuestros bolsillos (según dicen para no corrompernos) poca será la importancia que le damos a la función de supervisar el rendimiento producido por aquellos que gentilmente se han ofrecido para administrarlos en nombre nuestro.

Si en la misa dominical, el ingreso petrolero fuese merecedor de unas sencillas gracias. Si en la primaria se educase a los niños la necesidad de agradecer a Dios asumiendo correctamente la responsabilidad por estos ingresos. Si en el aeropuerto se vendiesen recuerdos alusivos al petróleo. Si al viajar a Florida desplegásemos con orgullo franelas que vendan los beneficios de la Orimulsión. Si de vez en cuando y junto con alguna doncella virtuosa sacrificásemos a algún Ministro de Energía y Minas para tratar de asegurar una temporada de buenos precios para el petróleo. Si todo lo anterior fuese realidad, entonces y como dicen por ahí: "¡otro gallo cantaría!".

Lo mas importante para desarrollar la solución de un problema es identificar con claridad los recursos con que se cuenta. En Venezuela parecería que esto no se aplica. Aquí colegas, planificadores sociales, notables y demás opinadores de buena intención, insisten en pregonar que el modelo de desarrollo óptimo para Venezuela debe tratar de ignorar la renta petrolera. Algo así como el suponer que dejemos el petróleo enterrado y acto seguido rezamos cien "ceteris paribus" para compensar el hecho de seguir explotándolo.

La renta petrolera sigue ahí y los esfuerzos de la apertura están dirigidos a incrementarla. En vista de esto expuse en mi artículo la tesis de que quizás el modelo que deba adoptar Venezuela es el del rentismo. Por supuesto no el del rentismo facilista y vagabundo sino el del rentismo responsable, el que obliga a la formación de un sólido carácter que de forma responsable asuma el manejo de la riqueza en pro de futuras generaciones.

Si uno fuese dueño de una empresa donde el gerente no sirve, fracasa y continuamente dilapida los recursos, el modelo rentista más sencillo indicaría de que antes de asegurar una verdadera reorganización de la empresa el dueño no debería aportar nuevos capitales ni permitir que el gerente siga endeudando a la empresa.

Consideren la falta que nos hace la sencilla sabiduría anterior para mejor poder enfrentar las actuales demandas de los expertos del FMI y de los políticos ávidos por recursos y que le recetan al país, en base a extraños modelos que creo mas de corte sadomasoquista que de corte macro económico, que se debe hacer caso omiso a la nefasta experiencia administrativa del Estado y seguir dándole mas y mas recursos al fisco.

Mucho se habla en la actualidad de una Constituyente. No soy experto pero si estoy seguro de que en algún lugar de esa Constituyente existe la necesidad de incluir lo relativo a como la Sociedad Civil pueda vigilar supervisar e influir en el manejo de su industria petrolera.

Cuando se redactó la anterior Constitución, el país si bien disfrutaba de ingresos derivados del petróleo, no estaba a cargo de la gestión de la industria. Hoy al presenciar programas de toda índole por parte de PDVSA y relacionadas, al contemplar como se llama a PDVSA a colaborar en la gestión gubernamental y al simplemente medir su significancia económica resulta claro de que existe un significativo poder, cuya actuación y forma de expresión puede que no se encuentre debidamente regulado.

Ni suficientemente regulado para asegurar que el Gobierno de turno no exprima a PDVSA los recursos necesarios que ésta necesite para asegurar su propio desarrollo y sobrevivencia. Ni suficientemente regulado para asegurar de que no se enquiste en ella una tecnocracia que implante una agenda propia a espaldas del país. Ni suficientemente regulada para asegurar que el Gobierno y la Petrocracia no se encompinchen contra el resto del país.

Al discutir sobre la separación de poderes, por ejemplo la del poder judicial, no nos olvidemos de la necesidad de también separar los poderes monetarios, PDVSA el generador de recursos y el FISCO el derrochador de estos. Una JUNTA PETROLERA NACIONAL realmente independiente y con miembros elegidos de por vida, funcionando tal como debería funcionar una real Corte Suprema de Justicia, pudiese ser una alternativa valida.

Publicado en Economía Hoy el 8 de Septiembre de 1998
PS. Perdón por hablarles en esa época de "la renta", cuando en realidad es "el capital" legado por la providencia la que nos estamos comiendo

25 de agosto de 1998

La Orimulsión - Una Bandera Nacional

Objetivamente hay pocas cosas que tienen tanta importancia para el futuro de la industria petrolera de Venezuela como el desarrollo de la Orimulsión. Hay muy pocas áreas del mundo con la cual Venezuela tiene relaciones tan estrechas como la de Florida. El 24 de Junio de 1998 el Estado de Florida, sin fundamento, ratificó una prohibición para usar la Orimulsión en la generación de electricidad.

Nosotros los venezolanos hemos recibido una insolente y costosa bofetada pero seguimos, como si nada, haciendo maletas para beneficiar a Florida con nuestras visitas. En mi opinión lo anterior evidencia la ausencia de un ingrediente absolutamente necesario para lograr enfrentar y corregir la difícil situación por la que atraviesa nuestro país, el del sentido patrio.

De muy joven participé en desfiles donde en fechas patrias con himnos, escudos y banderas se promocionaba el concepto de nación. De ésto no me quejo y por el contrario lo agradezco. No obstante los tiempos cambian y hoy no creo que recomendaría exagerar con los desfiles si queremos lograr darle a nuestros hijos ese regalo que constituye el sentirse orgulloso de pertenecer a un país; ser venezolano.

Por cuanto a la Orimulsión, producto e invento venezolano, se le puede atribuir tantos elementos míticos como reales creo posible desarrollar alrededor de éste, una actualizada campaña de identidad nacional. En tal sentido basta visualizar unas imágenes donde la energía y el poder brotan en las turbulentas aguas de nuestro Orinoco.

Reconozco el riesgo que corro de que se me acuse de cursilería patriótica y muchos pudiesen preguntarme sobre lo que haríamos con un orgullo nacional. La respuesta es obvia. Estaríamos en capacidad de demostrarle al mundo que Venezuela, mas allá de ser una simple delimitación geográfica, representa una comunidad de voluntades que como tal hay que respetar.

Estoy absolutamente seguro que de existir la posibilidad de que la juventud de Venezuela reaccionase ante la decisión de Florida suspendiendo sus viajes a Disney y exigiéndole a sus padres el llevar su "está barato dame dos" a otros sitios, Venezuela sería un país con futuro.

En estos momentos donde se oye un clamor para declarar una situación de emergencia ante la reciente caída en los precios petroleros, la casi total apatía nacional que se nota ante la decisión de Florida me resulta más preocupante. Como ejemplo del silencio reinante basta notar que las discretas protestas expresadas por la Cámara Venezolano Americana, VenAmCham, único ente que de verdad posee el derecho al silencio del apenado, superan las protestas del Congreso, Fedecámaras, CTV, universitarios y candidatos presidenciales.

En el mundo de hoy es indiscutible que la presencia de una opinión pública vociferante es un arma indispensable para lograr resultados en negociaciones relativas al comercio internacional. Para bien o para mal, si hoy en día no nos asombramos ante las exageradas ventajas que artificialmente se adjudica la agricultura Europea es por cuanto sabemos del poder público que ejerce dicho sector.

Cuando entonces nosotros en un asunto de tanta importancia para el país, colocamos en manos de Bitor y de su gerencia (para mi desconocida), la responsabilidad sobre la negociación de Florida, sin asignarles ni el apoyo de influyentes grupos que pueden promover un fuerte lobby, ni el apoyo de una sólida opinión pública a que referenciar, se comete una infantilada, y pasa lo que tenía que pasar.

En casa cuando le comenté sobre este asunto a mis hijas, ellas expresaron al principio serias reservas; especialmente sobre la posibilidad de que esto llegase a implicar el no poder ir a Disney o el de que yo estuviese atribuyéndole una responsabilidad directa a Mickey. Cuando les explique que de verdad deberíamos escribir a Mickey para que nos ayudara ya que sin Orimulsión no hay dinero y sin dinero no hay como visitar a Mickey, regresó la armonía a la casa.

Si logramos unir el país alrededor de unos sacrificios que tengan un sentido real para nuestro país tales como: defender a toda costa la Orimulsión, imponer aranceles de emergencia que eviten una total atrofia de nuestra capacidad de generar empleo interno, extremar el cuidado de como asignar las prioridades de inversión en el país, habría posibilidad de armonía en el país.

Si por el contrario ignoramos la bofetada de la Florida, permitimos el contrabando en nuestras aduanas para garantizar el empleo en otros países, construimos (con dinero no totalmente privado) estaciones de servicio en un país con falta de colegios, fundamentamos un plan de emergencia sobre las bases de cobrar mas impuestos para financiar la indolencia y contratamos deuda adicional en condiciones escandalosas y para que la paguen nuestros nietos, no habrá país que armonizar.

Lamentablemente en este último caso no me quedara mas remedio que sugerirle a mis hijas que dejen de contemplar a Mickey como una fuente de recreación y lo vean mas bien como un futuro jefe al igual que lo ven tantos compatriotas que ya tuvieron que irse. Aprovechemos la Orimulsión para encontrarnos como nación.

Hace pocas semanas publique aquí un artículo llamado Wakapohane en el cual describí la tradición de los aborígenes de Nueva Zelandia de protestar desnudando el trasero. Cuando durante una reciente protesta universitaria observe el uso de un método similar no pude sino lamentar que el objetivo de tal protesta no tuviese un mayor significado nacional, tal como la Orimulsión. El Wakapohanear "contra el doble pasaje" o por una universidad gratuita aún para el que tiene recursos, en un país donde una razonable distribución de ingresos brilla por su ausencia, me parece es darle un pobre uso a tan noble tradición,

Pero si los estudiantes (quizás aún no se han ganado el derecho de ser considerados como universitarios) están equivocados en su enfoque, por lo menos no están solos. PDVSA en vez de aprovechar la oportunidad para solicitar el apoyo nacional para algo concreto como la Orimulsión, gasta una fortuna en una campaña publicitaria para en forma genérica (como vendiendo una marca de pasta dental) ilustrarnos a destiempo sobre los beneficios de la apertura petrolera.

Publicado en Economia Hoy 25 de Agosto de 1998

11 de agosto de 1998

La urgente necesidad de un Ombudsman petrolero

El Ombudsman es un ente supuesto a ser un defensor de los derechos del ciudadano y en tal sentido debe ser totalmente independiente. Durante mucho tiempo he clamado por la creación en Venezuela del Ombudsman Petrolero. Por la importancia que esto tiene para el país corro el riesgo de ser tedioso. Para no enfrascarme en una discusión teórico histórica del significado del Ombudsman (como economista graduado en Suecia esto podría consumir todo el artículo) me limitaré a enumerar una serie de preguntas sobre petróleo y PDVSA que yo esperaría que este ente pudiese respondernos. Obvio debería contar con los recursos necesarios para cumplir con sus investigaciones.

Desde el momento de la nacionalización del petróleo y la creación de PDVSA el principal reto organizativo del país es como garantizar la necesaria autonomía de la industria - evitar que se politice, al mismo tiempo que se garantiza su competividad y eficiencia interna - evitar convertirla en una incestuosa monarquía destinada a degenerarse. ¿Cómo vamos en este sentido?

Inicialmente la industria estaba organizada alrededor de varias empresas petroleras y que si bien significaban la duplicación de costos, mal que bien era una forma de tratar que los expertos se vigilaran los unos a los otros. La reciente reorganización de la industria ha de significar una total y absoluta centralización del poder. ¿Que medidas se han tomado para evitar los riesgos inherentes a una centralización?

Por cierto, en el momento que se le vendía al país el Plan de Reorganización se reportó al Congreso que este plan produciría ahorros por la cantidad de 2.000 Millones de dólares anuales. Que falta nos hacia en ese momento el arbitrio de un Ombudsman porque, para ofrecer un ahorro de esta magnitud como simple resultado de una reorganización, o el grado del despilfarro era absolutamente increíble (se debería haber mandado a cárcel a la mayoría de la Junta anterior) o simplemente se mentía sobre la posibilidad de ahorros.

La apertura petrolera se fundamento sobre el hecho de que la industria no tenía los recursos suficientes para acometer las inversiones curiosamente llamadas marginales. Los ingresos obtenidos no fueron otorgados a PDVSA para ser reinvertidos y terminaron dilapidados dentro del gasto público. Así mismo hemos visto que se le ha pedido a la industria tanto colaborar en la lucha contra la inflación (retrasando como cualquier maula los pagos a los proveedores) como endeudarse con fines claramente destinados a apoyar las finanzas públicas (los 1.800 millones de dólares en Mayo). Un Ombudsman podría analizar y explicarle al ciudadano común, quien por cierto es el verdadero accionista de PDVSA, si tal actuación es el resultado de unas presiones indebidas ejercidas por el Ejecutivo, o simplemente un encompinchamiento del Fisco y PDVSA.

El papel del Ombudsman tendría una inmensa significancia en todas las discusiones relacionadas con la fijación de los precios locales para la gasolina y sus derivados. Se están cubriendo los costos de producción etc., etc.? No se le debe exigir a la industria el pagar y darse el vuelto.

Existen una serie de preguntas operativas que de forma muy normal pueden inquietar al ciudadano y donde un Ombudsman por no tener conflictos de interés puede brindar respuestas mas calificadas y por lo tanto mas tranquilizadoras que las provistas por genéricas y seguramente muy costosas campañas publicitarias. Entre estas:

¿Obviamente no es responsabilidad de PDVSA construir hospitales y colegios pero, por qué invierte en ultramodernas estaciones de servicio? El sector privado puede acometer la totalidad de estas inversiones. De todas formas la participación de PDVSA en el mercado de la gasolina en Venezuela estaría garantizado ya que sería muy difícil que nos lleguen a meter un camello en el tanque.

Hoy algunos candidatos cuestionan por ejemplo la inversión de Venezuela en la red gasolinera de Citgo. Si bien a primera vista parecería ser una inversión superflua para un país necesitado de recursos también pudiese ser, por su rol de garantizar el acceso a los mercados, una inversión mucho mas importante que la que hacemos localmente para extraer petróleo del subsuelo. Que tema tan delicado y tan necesitado de un Ombudsman.

Vía prensa e Internet hemos observado a PDVSA cumplir funciones y efectuar gastos en una serie de actividades que no parecerían de su directa incumbencia. Ejemplos: Cuando tuvieron que asignar a oficinas de control cambiario a ejecutivos y en los que habrían invertido ingentes recursos en su formación profesional petrolera. El CEID una filial de PDVSA ofrece cursos de toda índole, como el de Consultoría en Organización, de 120 horas por Bs.1.212.000 mas IVA, y lo cual aparentaría ser una función del sector educativo venezolano. PDVSA pago 170 millones de Bs. por un estudio técnico para un puerto comercial en Caño Francés (Monagas) el cual no tiene absolutamente nada que ver con petróleo. No hay duda, un Ombudsman tendría trabajo.

¿De que si la industria cumple con sus responsabilidades con el medio ambiente? ¿De que si el plan de inversión de la Petroquímica solo reabrirá el recientemente tapado hueco de Sidor? ¿De que si la industria mostró ineptitud en el desarrollo de los posibles escenarios usados para proyectar los precios petroleros? ¿De que si la industria cumple con sus responsabilidades fiscales? ¿De que si abrimos el chorro petrolero y ganamos mercado para justificar las inversiones que se están haciendo? ¿De que si cerramos el chorro en la espera de lograr mejores precios para un producto no renovable? ¿De que si vendemos o no al pequeño inversionista acciones tipo EPIC? ¿De que si se hubiesen vendido hace un año cuál debería ser la actitud ante su probable caída de precios? ¿De que si están dadas las causales, así sea por simple disciplina, para despedir a la Junta Directiva de PDVSA? ¿De como puede la sociedad civil apoyar el desarrollo de la Orimulsión y protestar la reciente y desfavorable decisión de Florida?

Todas las preguntas anteriores tienen una mejor posibilidad de ser correctamente respondidas de existir un Ombudsman Petrolero que represente a los ciudadanos. ¿Que esperamos? Candidatos por favor háganlo parte de su verdadero compromiso electoral.

Publicado en Economía Hoy, 11 de Agosto de 1998

9 de julio de 1998

Mickey Mouse, please help us!

If we look at it objectively, there seem to be few things that are as important for the future of the oil industry of Venezuela as is the development of Orimulsion. Likewise, there are few places in the world with which Venezuela has closer ties than to Florida. On the 24th of June 1998, the State of Florida, without valid fundamental reasons, ratified its prohibition on the use of Orimulsion for its power generation.

We have thereby received an insolent and costly slap in the face. Venezuelans, however, continue to pack their bags to go spend their money on vacations in Florida as if nothing had happened. In my opinion, this simply proves that there is a total absence of the only ingredient necessary to confront and solve the difficult situation our country is in, that is, a sense of patriotism.

As a youngster, I participated in parades in honor of national holidays which promoted the concept of a nation by singing hymns and waving flags. I don’t complain about this, on the contrary, I’m proud and grateful for it. Times change, however, and I’m not sure we want to exaggerate with the parade issue if we wish to give our children the best of all gifts, the pride of belonging to a country, of being a Venezuelan.

Orimulsion is a product invented and produced in Venezuela, and it can be attributed both mythical as well as real elements and characteristics. I therefore believe it is possible to develop a campaign of national identity around it. In this sense (although technically incorrect) it should be enough to visualize images of energy and power bubbling up from the turbulent waters of the Orinoco to the sound of Enya's "Orinoco Flow".

I realize that I am running the risk of being accused of patriotic mumbling and many would ask me what we would do with national pride anyhow. The answer is obvious. We would be able to show the world that Venezuela, more than a simple geographical presence, represents a community of wills and desires that should be respected as such.

I am absolutely sure that Venezuela would be a country with a bright future should all of our youngsters react against Florida’s decision by threatening to cancel trips to Disney World and asking their parents to take their “cheap, give me two” shopping sprees elsewhere.

What worries me even more is the fact that this national apathy towards Florida’s prohibition on Orimulsion comes in the face of a widespread cry for declaring a national emergency due to the drastic fall in world oil prices. As an example of this silence, it is enough to note that the discreet protests emanating from the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce (VenAmCham), the only entity that would conceivably have the right to a pained silence, surpass those of the Congress, Fedecamaras, the CTV, universities and presidential candidates.

In today’s world, it has become evident that public opinion is a strong weapon that can be effectively used to obtain favorable results from international commercial negotiations. For good or bad, we are generally not amazed, for example, by the exaggerated advantages awarded agriculture in Europe because we recognize the power of public opinion wielded by this sector.

We have given Bitor and its management (a black box to most) the responsibility of negotiating an issue of utmost importance to the country without giving them either the support of powerful groups that could conceivably promote a strong lobby nor the support of solid public opinion to which they could make reference. This is infantile, and what happened was simply bound to happen.

When I broached the subject to my young daughters, specially the part of not going to Disney World, there seemed to be an immediate backlash since they thought I was insinuating that Mickey was responsible for our troubles. Harmony returned when I explained, however, that what we should really be doing is writing to Mickey to ask him to help us, since without Orimulsion there is no money and without money we cannot continue to visit him.

Harmony could also return to Venezuela if we manage to unite everyone around sacrifices that make real sense such as: defending Orimulsion at all costs; imposing emergency duties to avoid total atrophy of our possibilities of creating internal jobs markets and; prioritizing investments within the country.

If on the contrary we: a) ignore Florida’s slap in the face; b) continue to permit the contraband in our ports, thereby guaranteeing job places in other countries; c) keep building (mostly with public funds) gasoline stations in the face of a lack of schools; d) continue to base emergency plans on the collection of additional taxes in order to finance the indolence of others; and e) take on additional debt which will have to be repaid by our grandchildren, there will be no country left to harmonize.

Unfortunately, should this occur, I will have no other choice but to suggest to my children that they should quit seeing Mickey as a source of recreation and look at him as a future boss, as many compatriots who have had to leave the country actually consider him already. Let’s take advantage of Orimulsion and consolidate ourselves as a nation.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, July 9, 1998

21 de mayo de 1998

Treading deeper into red

As we all know by now, PDVSA has recently managed to successfully float a bond issue for US$ 1.8 billion in the international financial markets. Mr. Giusti, its President, as well as some external market analysts maintain that PDVSA’s asset base is immense while its debt load is relatively small. According to all of them, the company should be in a position to use more leverage.

As a Venezuelan citizen, father of three other Venezuelan citizens and therefore, at least in theory, a minority shareholder of PDVSA, I must admit that rarely have declarations by “people in the know” caused me so much anguish.

Venezuela used to be the target of the international financial community due to the existence of vast oil sector assets and reserves that ranked us among the wealthy nations of the world. This resulted in the contracting of loans that ultimately resulted in our overbearing external debt load. These resources have been poorly managed and have definitely not contributed to the well being of the country.

Should PDVSA now go out and contract debt and issue liens or mortgages on our petroleum assets without insuring that the resources obtained thereby are used to repay debt previously acquired, we are condemning the country to total ruin.

Evidently we all know about the fiscal bind we are in as a consequence of the fall in world oil prices. It is easy to argue in favor of new indebtedness as a transitory way of squaring our national accounts when the alternatives are 1) inflation as a result of fiscal deficits or 2) deepening recession due to an effort to balance the before-mentioned fiscal accounts.

What is not, and cannot, be permissible is to allow PDVSA to take over roles corresponding specifically to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank. The nation also cannot allow the evasion, via PDVSA, of the few instruments still in place, which allow us to control national debt levels.

Until now, I figured there was a great national consensus about the need to keep PDVSA’s balance sheet basically free of liabilities. The evidence seemed to be there. To begin with, PDVSA’s current debt doesn’t reach US$ 4 billion. On top of this, the Oil Opening was justified on the basis of a lack of resources available in PDVSA for future expansion. Evidently, the company’s debt capacity was not taken into account then.

We can also clearly remember that during all the restructuring processes undertaken by Venezuela in the past and which finally resulted in the Brady Bond issues, any alternative which was to involve PDVSA’s assets in one way or another as a basis for the restructuring was rejected outright.

We feel that something seems to have changed. From one day to the next, we are told that an offshore company, PDV Finance, has been set up to facilitate the assignation of accounts receivable or to undertake factoring transactions. At the same time, we understand that Mr. Giusti has expressed his surprise at PDVSA’s capacity for leverage. This cannot possibly surprise anybody expect those that have never even contemplated it.

We remember that a few months back, when the Brady Bond swap came to light, we were witnesses to the debate related to the application of the Law of Public Credit. For a smaller amount, many protested the fact that Congress was not properly and directly consulted. Today’s silence, then, is outright baffling.

I sincerely hope, for the sake of my country, that things have really not changed radically and that someone has not decided to take the stick to the PDVSA piñata.

Some analysts have gone on record as saying that PDVSA qualifies for loans at lower interest rates, and that the country therefore has a good deal going. I remind these analysts, however, that the true final cost of any debt transaction depends on what the resources are actually used for. In this sense, our governments have been masters at converting even the most generous loans into expensive ones through sheer wastefulness.

I remind those that console themselves with the fact that the resources made available by this new debt are aimed exclusively at covering PDVSA internal requirements how fungible these resources really are. For example, the US$ 2 billion raised by the oil opening, which should theoretically have been applied towards PDVSA’s investment program, were really spent on our central “dis-administration’s” unproductive payrolls. If this permeability becomes a habit, we are merely allowing them to dig all of us deeper into the hole.

Therefore, as a Venezuelan, I also remind Mr. Giusti and his other co-Directors that their function is to be the custodians of Venezuela’s riches. Their function is not to raise the specter of generous credit lines and basically act as a croupier or as a Maecenas to the government of turn.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, May 21, 1998

14 de mayo de 1998

Learning to appreciate

It is absolutely incredible. There is no anthropologist who understands it. Ours is a nation that dedicates serious effort to the art of national, religious, pagan and other such festivities. However, there is absolutely no mention of any holiday, not even a minor municipal one somewhere out in the wilds of Venezuela, to celebrate what undoubtedly must be the most important single object for the nation, its reserves of black gold.

The magazine Debates IESA recently published an article in which, precisely to create food for thought and debate, I tackle the subject of oil. I forward the possibility that our usual habit of labeling oil as something bad and disagreeable, to the point of actually calling what in most other nations would be considered to be God’s gift, the devil’s excrement, is simply part of an intelligent plot to cover up mistakes and avoid a severe audit of accounts.

While oil income continues to be considered “dirty” and has not been channeled through our pockets as ordinary citizens in order to avoid soiling or corrupting us, we will not give any importance to the efficiency with which the administrators to which we have delegated the task of handling these resources actually go about it. It would be another story, however, if this oil income would be considered squeaky clean and be the object of devout attention every Sunday at mass.

I ask you to reflect on the value of an educational program that would instill in even the poorest child the need to a) thank God for the Bs. 200,000 of oil income that would correspond to every single Venezuelan citizen (and which all of us have subrogated to the government in 1997), and b) to assume direct responsibility for its clean and correct administration.

Tongue in cheek aside, I am an economist and have a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. During my career if have learned, and taught, the basic precept that the most important step required in order to develop a solution to a problem is the clear identification of the resources you have on hand. Here, the opposite seems true. Colleagues, social planning gurus, VIPs and other such well-intentioned people seem to insist on preaching a model based on the theory that Venezuela should try to ignore its oil income. Something like supposing we decide that we should really be leaving the oil underground and immediately thereafter begin praying one hundred “ceteris paribus” to compensate for the fact that we continue pumping it anyhow.

Our oil income continues to exist, and all the efforts being undertaken under the umbrella of the oil sector opening seem to be aimed an increasing the same. In light of this reality, I propose in my article the thesis that maybe the best model for Venezuela is exactly a rentist one.

Many people would label this as heresy, but I steadfastly maintain that in my opinion, a rentist model has nothing to do with having a laid back attitude or being a vagabond. On the contrary. A rentist model obligates us not only to save, but also to develop solid characters in order to assume the responsible management of our wealth to the benefit of future generations.

For example, experts from multilateral agencies and, of course, politicians thirsting for more resources to spend, seem to be basing their advice on models which are closer to being sado-masochistic than macro-economic. They advise us to completely ignore the horrifying experience we have been subjected to by our State administrators and to continue, in the name of fiscal deficit reduction, to pump more and more resources into our leaky fiscal system.

In stark contrast to this, we can well imagine the simple wisdom of the rentist model often used in the private sector and which motivates the owner of a company to cut off his capital contributions and avoid future indebtedness at all cost should his manager prove to be a useless failure after having misused the company’s resources.

I think, therefore, that an honest and simple application of a rentist model would allow us to identify with more clarity the true comparative advantages upon which to base Venezuela’s real development and which would in turn generate employment commensurate with our reality as an oil producing country.

Maybe then we could escape the mortal trap we have fallen into as a country by assuming that in order to initiate development we must substitute the traditional mix of incentives such as low prices for energy, communications and fertilizers with a salary structure almost comparative to a banana republic.

Certainly, it is not ethical to be poor rentists and to throw out our income in order to work with the sweat of our brows. It would be ethical and logical to simply become excellent rentists.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, May 14, 1998

4 de mayo de 1998

The Petroleum Ombusdam Revisited

Almost one year ago, I published an articled titled “The Petroleum Ombudsman”. In this article I raised the need to institutionalize the figure of a qualified entity that could satisfy the requirements of the Venezuelan citizens of objective and independent information and analysis related to the country’s oil industry.

At that time, my observations were initially driven by a desire to know what effects on the industry the vast restructuring of PDVSA’s organization would have. In my opinion, there was a risk of centralization of the company.

Today, upon reviewing the myriad of questions PDVSA’s actions have raised in the Venezuelan society over the past year, I am even more convinced that the matter of the ombudsman for the petroluem sector must pass from being a mere suggestion to being an outright and urgent requirement. Let us see some examples:

The Oil Opening was justified by a lack of availability of resources to continue PDVSA’s investment plans. All of the funds raised by the opening, however, went directly into the Nation’s fiscal coffers. Who can explain that?

Without the slightest remorse, the National Executive requested that PDVSA withhold or delay payment of its obligations to local suppliers in an effort to further fight inflationary pressures, thereby becoming just another poor payer. Could this have been the beginning of an interesting swap aimed at sending Mr. Guisti to the Central Bank in return for Dr. Casas?

We are continually bombarded by adds in the press, selling courses and seminars to be dictated by an educational affiliate denominated PDVSA Cied. One single session, from 8 AM to 5 PM costs Bs. 300,000, an evident divorce from the economic realities of the country. When was PDVSA authorized by the country to expand its scope of activities in this manner?

Everyone has been made aware of the dangers of lead in gasoline. The solution for this seems to be of lesser importance than the revamping of an immense amount of service stations which, in addition to dispensing gasoline, are also to sell snacks. Who establishes investment priorities?

If any market is to be considered a captive client for PDVSA, it should be the Venezuelan one. I find it difficult to visualize a supertanker from the gulf trying to pass gasoline through our port authorities with the aim of selling me the concept “Put a camel in your tank”. If this is so, and if PDVSA truly is short of resources, on what basis can they announce a plan to invest US$ 800 million over the next nine years in order to improve their service station network. Why aren’t these resources invested in countries who’s markets we should be conquering?

And while we are talking of PDV, how much did the changes in image and the marketing of a new logo and trademark cost us?

And speaking of logos and trademarks, I haven’t seen any of the large oil companies now coming into Venezuela to participate in the local markets make these changes in order to compete in our environment. In a world of global markets, global coherence would seem to be important. We are all aware of the PDVSA’s important participation in the US markets through its holdings in the CITGO network. Why, then, don’t we support this trademark and market it in Venezuela as well?

By raising these questions, I don’t wish to give the impression that I argue in favor of the Petroleum Ombudsman only to supervise PDVSA. It is also important to note that this office could also launch a vigorous defense of the industry’s interests at times when fiscal pressures are brought to bear by the National Executive. These pressures could ultimately lead to further indebtedness and/or endanger our goose of the golden eggs in many other ways.

If anyone still harbors doubts as to the need for the office of this ombudsman, it should be enough to reflect on the confusion and ado created by the question as to whether PDVSA has or has not legally complied with is fiscal obligations.

PDVSA is a State owned company, headed by Directors and Management designated by the State. We should therefore be able to expect a certain confidence an adherence by the same with the norms handed down by the State. If this were not so, it would seem to indicate a much more serious problem, one that cannot be solved merely by establishing a special SENIAT office within PDVSA.

In the Daily Journal May 4, 1998

20 de marzo de 1998

Should we abandon OPEC?

Alternative 1: Continue in OPEC, produce little oil and sell it at reasonably high prices. Alternative 2: Abandon OPEC, expand production capacity and sell oil at relatively low prices, while conquering new markets in the process.

Venezuela’s future oil policy should lie somewhere on the axis formed by these extremes. We, as citizens, should supposedly form our own opinion as to where this ideal point should lie.

Over the last 20 years, I have consistently questioned the logic of a policy under which the members of a cartel have turned a blind eye to the diminishing strength of the latter, almost as if on purpose. This is the case of OPEC, which has, year after year, lost market share. In this sense, the only plausible response to the proposal of going out and aggressively conquering new markets should be “let’s go for it”.

Unfortunately, it is not quite like that. Even though I support this proposal on technical terms, I can’t quite seem to drum up enthusiasm. Neither because of the possibility of revindicating myself with an egoistic but savory “I told you so”, nor because of the possible inherent promise of the plan itself. The cause of my indifference is none other than my conviction that such a decision is in itself of little importance for the future of the country.

It does not suffice to follow a coherent oil sector policy. What really matters to the country is its final result. A decision that is technically wrong but produces satisfactory results is clearly better than the opposite. As far as the future of my country is concerned, I am not interested in applying the medical phrase that certifies that “the operation was a success, but the patient unfortunately has died”.

In its initial phases, OPEC generated large volumes of resources for Venezuela; more than sufficient to set the country on the road to development. This did not occur and there is no reason to believe that the country will manage to reap the non-perishable fruits of this development even if the next oil policy is successful.

Even though I realize that it is not popular today, and feeling a bit like a prehistoric hippie predicating “Love is all we need”, I will risk whispering the statement “oil is a valuable natural, non-renewable resource”.

Since oil is indeed valuable and because it is not renewable, prices have once upon a time been pushed up to nearly $ 40 per barrel and projected prices should probably be around $300 today. Since oil is valuable and non-renewable, it was also said that before liquidating it at low prices it would be better to leave it in the ground (for the benefit of our grandchildren).

If we were not all, myself included, simple egoists itching to get our hands on resources that would allow us to once again live an easy and happy life, we should really be leaving the oil in the ground today, thereby insuring the future of our country and our children. Not until the price is right (the current market price of US$ 12 may indeed be the right price), but until we can find prudent, reasonable and responsible destinies for the income our oil sales generate.

When oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970’s, the country went the route of mega-projects; duties to protect against imports, subsidies and all of the other ingredients which eventually proved to be wrong. At least, however, these were the result of a plan and a vision. Today, there isn’t one coherent statement, not even an incoherent one, with respect to a development model applicable to Venezuela.

These comments are not aimed at paralyzing the oil industry’s current plans. On the contrary. We have read in this week’s press about the need to isolate the country’s fiscal accounts from the ups and downs of oil prices. In my humble and probably validated opinion, we should probably be doing just the opposite in order to give our industry an even chance to fight for its markets. We should be isolating our oil industry from our fiscal appetite.

The previous strategy of reducing production and selling at lower prices represents, in addition to minimizing investment requirements, the milking of our cash cow, PDVSA. Today’s strategy implies that we must cover increasing needs for investment in the face of falling prices with drastic reductions in fiscal spending. We still have a long way to go before we can be convinced that the political will to reduce spending is really out there. To begin with, the US$ 2 billion the country reaped from the oil opening, which should have been earmarked for PDVSA’s own investments and expansion, have already been spent. As usual, there is nothing left!

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, March 20, 1998

5 de febrero de 1998

PDVSA’s shadow budget

Once again we read that PDVSA has been given instructions to purchase goods and services it requires to operate from sources outside national borders, limiting thereby local purchases. The reason for this policy is purported to be the fight against inflationary pressures. Although we have continuously heard declarations issued by Government sources to this effect, the official petroleum sector vehemently denies it.

Evidently, it did not take long for local suppliers of goods and services to raise the roof with severe criticism. The latter is obviously based on the outright injustice brought on them and the local economy by an evident preference given foreign suppliers. The brief observations that follow address other aspects of this initiative.

Above all, it is important to note that there is no direct link between local purchases and inflation, specially in the case of PDVSA. Should the oil industry purchase goods locally instead of importing them, the State always has the option of selling hard currency against Bolívares, thereby soaking up the possible excess liquidity caused by these transactions. By the way, in order not to be disqualified from the roster of possible suppliers of services to the oil industry, I am willing to invoice any services they could possibly require in US$ and from the location they prefer. The only thing left for me then is to make my peace with the tax man.

Evidently, it is necessary to import should PDVSA’s demand of local goods and services eventually result in such strain on supplies that prices go through the roof. In this case, imports would not be the result of the application of economic policy (hare-brained or not) but of a simple and usual business common sense that dictates that you buy where it is least expensive.

These observations bring us around to the real question about the real scope of the oil industry’s operative independence or, if we look at the other side of the coin, the scope of the direct influence exerted by the National Executive on PDVSA and its operations.

If it is true that the Government has the power to instruct PDVSA to direct it’s purchases towards one source or another, when to pay its bills, etc., etc., without being subjected to legal norms and regulations such as the Law of Safeguarding of Public Patrimony (Ley de Salvaguarda del Patrimonio Público) and running circles around the Central Bank’s independence without so much as a polite salute, then I’m afraid we are in the presence of a parallel government of some import.

I am not a public servant, but I feel that should I be one and be appointed to sit on the Finance Committee of Congress, I would definitely consider my job belittled. Should I be called on to collaborate with the development of the national budget, which is evidently based on the use of a few small printed bills, it is possible that the game of Monopoly would have immediately come to mind. In addition, I would surely be intensely jealous of those who, being directly in charge of budgeting the use of real resources such as PDVSA’s, have much more to say in the future of our country.

By saying this, I am not inferring that Congress should be the entity in charge of PDVSA’s budget. A democracy is based on the existence of a system of checks and balances. Therefore, if the National Executive, with or without reason, insists on intervening directly in the oil industry’s activities, it is clear that it is necessary to regulate the limits of this interference.

A few months ago for similar ends, I suggested the creation of the figure of the “Oil Ombudsman”. Initially this was aimed at simply informing the common citizen, objectively and truthfully, about the state of the national oil industry. In Swedish, the word “Ombudsman” means something like the spokesman and representative of public interest. It is a figure used in many countries in areas that are infinitely less important than the oil industry is to Venezuela.

Today, we are all trying to evaluate the consequences of the recent reorganization of PDVSA and would all like to clear up the issue of the instructions supposedly issued as far as PDVSA’s purchases are concerned. We all must feel the need to go talk to someone credible who could clearly answer our questions about matters related to the efficiency of the industry as well as about possible consequences of Government intervention in the same. If accusations of intervention are false, would it not be comforting to hear this from a neutral source as well?

It is probable that neither the National Executive nor the petroleum industry is keen about the possibility of having an external observer hanging around the halls. However, due to the all-important nature of the oil industry for Venezuela as a whole, it is our responsibility to request the existence of one.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, February 5, 1998

3 de febrero de 1998

El Rentismo: Un modelo viable para Venezuela

En la revista Debates IESA Vol.3 No.3 Ene.-Mar. 1998 escribí lo siguiente:

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