26 de febrero de 1999

A Nation Guilty Of Innocence

In a European country (it does not really matter which it is since in this sense they are pretty much alike), out of every US$ 100 that a motorist spends on gasoline, $ 85 goes towards taxes, $ 5 to cover the cost of distribution and $ 10 or less to pay for the refined product itself. In other words, the amount that a country will be paid in order to extract this non-renewable resource is actually peanuts.

The 85% that goes to the European taxman is nothing other than a simple duty. In normal markets, a fall in oil prices of about 55% should technically result in an increase in consumption. In Europe, however, gasoline prices remain basically the same. This means that the tax authorities simply took advantage of the above-mentioned fall in prices to simply increase their collections.

I am among those that believe that the solutions to Venezuela’s current financial crisis will require much more than a simple increase in oil prices. Among other things, I feel it is necessary to develop a real national conscience which will allows us to properly defend our own interests. Ironically, I don’t see any other place to begin but with our own oil.

Should Venezuela have properly invested the resources obtained during the oil boom, it would definitely been in a better financial position. However, should it not have recycled this income it would have simply aggravated the global recession and would have been considered a pariah. There is no doubt that Venezuela’s crime was to spend and give away excessively. An example of this excess is that the overspending did not only include oil income but indebtedness as well.

However, neither the excess generosity described above, even if it borders on stupidity, nor the country’s masochistic streak (nobody can deny that our problems are self-inflicted) should result in the loss of fair and respectful treatment from the rest of the world.

Because of this, it angers me no end that in spite of the fact that Venezuela is suffering due to low oil prices, the country is not being offered other alternatives to restructure its debt other that suicide by way of the ingestion of 20 year credits at 20% interest per annum available in the marginal emerging market.

The taxes imposed by Europe on gasoline (while they also promote free markets), the prohibition on Orimulsion imposed by Florida (the entity that benefits the most due to its attraction for Venezuelans), and finally, the usurious demands made by the financial markets are sufficient evidence to prove that, even if it seems like a contradiction in terms and even when globalization continues to steam along, it is basically up to every man to look out for himself.

When we also note that the developed world spends huge amount of resources to co-opt those that ‘misbehave’, logic would seem to imply that one simply has to play hardball.

It would seem to me that something like a suspension of landing rights in Venezuela for flights from Florida as a response to that state’s continued imposition of its ban on Orimulsion simply in order to favor some particular local interests, is a fairly civilized level of roughness, specially when compared to what is going on in, for example, Kosovo.

It would seem to me that something like a special duty imposed by Venezuela (preferably backed by OPEC) on all products coming from countries that locally apply a direct tax on oil products is neither worse nor different than all the conflicts being debated today in the international commercial system.

It would seem to me that we would not be asking too much from the United States if we propose to restructure all of our external debt on 30 year terms at an interest rate of 0.5% over Treasury Rates to be repaid in advance if and when the price of oil goes over US$ 30 per barrel. Especially if we consider the expense the USA undertakes in order to build its strategic oil reserves by burying them in underground deposits or in militarily guaranteeing access to other strategically important areas. Especially if we consider that after such a restructure, Venezuela, with a fairly small debt, would immediately merit a much better credit rating than many of the other countries, currently favored by the markets.

Hunger is a violation of human rights. In my country innocent people are suffering from hunger, most of them as a direct result of populism. The battle against internal populism, however, often results in falling into the trap of innocently accepting imposed external economic populism, more often than not resulting in more hunger. It is high time Venezuela defends its own interests by not consistently bending over backwards.

In the Daily Journal, Caracas, February 26, 1999