The sale this month of the Caracas-based newspaper El Universal to a little known Spanish private equity firm raised concerns that it may turn out to be yet another example of the dwindling space for government critics in the Venezuelan media.
The culling of some of the newspaper’s regular columnists this week has brought those fears back into the spotlight.
There has been an outpouring of bitter comments under the hashtag #GuisoChino – “Chinese Stew”, slang for fraud and corruption – in Venezuela sparked by this week’s visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping, who granted more financial support to the cratering economy of president Nicolás Maduro.
China has granted some $50bn in loans to Venezuela in recent years according to the Inter-American Dialogue/Boston University China-Latin America Finance Database, far more than to any other country in the region. Venezuela, after all, has the world’s biggest oil reserves.
With Venezuela’s economy in tatters, corruption allegations abounding and political infighting the name of the game, it may be time for changes at the top.
A fortnight ahead of the ruling socialist party’s third congress at the end of July, President Nicolás Maduro (pictured) is expected to make the first announcements of a government restructuring this week. What’s at stake in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, but where shoppers struggle to find basics such as toilet paper and powdered milk?
As your correspondent found out while visiting Caracas this week, it can be hard to take a shower there these days because of drought-fuelled water rationing. But it is also hard to find bottled water if you want to give yourself a splash instead. Of course, you can always just reach for the deodorant and hope it does the job in the heat of the Venezuelan tropics. Or rather, you can’t, because it is increasingly hard to find deodorant.
No hay – Spanish for “there isn’t any” – is a mantra often heard in today’s Venezuela.
By Samuel George of the Bertelsmann Foundation
When the presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru meet on June 19 and 20 for the ninth Pacific Alliance summit in Nayarit, Mexico, they’ll likely debate a proposal that could transform their quietly successful pact while boosting Latin American unity.
At the urging of Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, the gathering is expected to broach the potential integration of the Alliance, which was formed among the four countries in 2012, and Mercosur, an older grouping that includes the regional heavyweights of Brazil and Argentina. The issue would represent a crossroads for the Alliance, however, since Mercosur does not generally share the enthusiasm for international trade shown by its neighbours on the Pacific coast.
Should one laugh or cry over Venezuela? The answer is: it depends on who you are, and when. Usually, it is investors and businesses that do the crying. That is especially so since President Nicolás Maduro (pictured) took charge after Hugo Chávez’s death last year and struggled to control chavismo’s disparate factions. As a result, policy making was paralysed. Increasingly, though, it seems that Maduro and the pragmatists are gaining the upper hand, at least over the country’s more militant radicals. They now seem to be doing more of the crying.
Ticket offices may soon be pushing down their blinds at Maiquetia, the international airport outside Caracas, as civil aviation in Venezuela enters a downward spiral that is symptomatic of a broader economic vortex.
Last week, Italy’s Alitalia said it was temporarily suspending services “due to the ongoing critical currency situation” preventing it from repatriating funds. Germany’s Lufthansa followed suit, halting ticket sales in the country. Weeks earlier, Panama’s Copa said it would cut routes to and from Venezuela.
That’s tough on airlines and on Venezuelans keen to get away from it all. But the malaise runs wide and deep throughout the economy.
Venezuela’s state-run oil giant, PDVSA, is calling on bold bond-buyers in the financial sector – and traders say they have already been receiving calls.
The company announced on Wednesday it is to issue $5bn in new bonds, that will mature in 2022, 2023, and 2024 with a 6 per cent coupon, in a private placement with the public banking sector.
The International Pasta Association ranks Venezuelans as the world’s second-biggest consumers of Italy’s staple food.
But Venezuela’s foreign exchange controls have forced Empresas Polar, a giant food producer and the country’s largest private company, to close down its pasta production plant.
Venezuela’s central bank announcement of inflation data this week was remarkable more for its rhetoric than for the figures themselves.
Announcing the numbers a fortnight behind schedule, it said monthly inflation rose to 4.1 per cent in March, up from 2.4 per cent the previous month. But it did not mention an annualised rate, which hit 57 per cent in February. Instead, it launched a rhetorical broadside against the ongoing protests in the country, which it said have unleashed a “new concrete wave of economic war”.
There is no doubt that emerging market (EM) investors have cheered up considerably of late. Following a torrid January and February, virtually all asset classes in the EM universe appear – on aggregate at least – to be gaining in value.
The bellwether stock index, the MSCI EM index, is up 9.6 per cent from its low on February 5. EM sovereign bonds are yielding an average of 5.51 per cent, down 0.37 per cent since January 1. Local currency bonds are, in many cases, producing stellar returns sharpened by windfall currency gains. Indeed, some EM currencies are among the world’s best performers, with the Indonesian rupiah rising 7.81 per cent, the Brazilian real gaining 7.3 per cent and the Indian rupee climbing 2.8 per cent so far this year.
One of the world’s most complex foreign exchange regimes, in a country with some of the world’s cheapest petrol, is wiping out profits at some of the world’s biggest carmakers.
First, Ford said it would take a charge of $350m in the first quarter because of currency losses in Venezuela, adding to its woes after a $126m loss on its South American operations in Q4 2013 caused by downtime in Brazil preparing for new products and “limited availability of US dollars” in Venezuela.
That was then
Back in 2008, President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva boasted that the tsunami of the global financial crisis would register barely a ripple, uma marolinha, in Brazil. Bar Mexico, this was true for the rest of the region too. Today, though, Latin America is more vulnerable to a devastating “sudden stop” in international capital flows.
As Agustin Carstens, the head of the Mexican central bank, warned last week, such an event could be triggered by higher US interest rates. Or, more worryingly, it could follow a sudden collapse of commodity prices should China’s economy slow abruptly. But how much more vulnerable is Latin America today? About 20 per cent more, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.
Let me explain
By Andrew Rosati and Andres Schipani
The world’s most complicated foreign exchange regime got a bit more complicated this week. Venezuela now has four more-or-less-functioning exchange rates: three official ones plus the black market or innombrable (unmentionable) rate – so called because although its use is widespread among companies and individuals, merely to mention it was, until recently, a crime.
Confused? We’d love to say you won’t be after this episode of beyondbrics. Here’s our explainer.
Well, that didn’t last long.
Venezuela launched its long-awaited Sicad 2 dollar market on Monday, in what many hoped would be a step towards normalisation of the country’s dysfunctional foreign exchange market.