Category Archives: Institutions and rule of law

Venezuelan state’s economic response to protests: Rationing plus Chinese and Russian loans to float a liberal dollar market

The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police BBC
The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police. Three more died in widespread protests. BBC

As protests continue against Venezuela’s faltering “oil revolution,” the political strategy of the chavista administration is striking for its intransigence. President Maduro has refused to recognize any grievances by students or other protesters. He calls protesters “fascists” and blames them for all the ills of the economy.  Protests are attacked by the national guard and often by state-organized paramilitary gangs on motorcycles who are praised by the president.

The administration’s strategy so far appears to be that protests will burn themselves out if they can be delegitimized and contained within middle-class areas.  Accordingly, the president’s rhetoric aims at inciting poorer citizens against protesters.  All in all, this is a risky strategy.  Protests have constantly intensified, with perhaps 25 persons dead now.
After a month of protests, the administration has taken urgent economic measures it hopes will undermine the protests and prevent their spread to poor and working-class barrios.
1. Ramirez announces Chinese and Russian loans and the launch of a very liberal Sicad 2

A new syllabus: The USA & the global oil system: The formation of American energy policy

global_barrel_graphic_twodDuring Spring 2014, I’m teaching a post-graduate seminar in Berlin  on the USA and  the global market-centered oil system (a.k.a.”The Global Barrel”)–the syllabus sketch is below here.

While I’ve often taught seminars on “the Geopolitics of Global Oil,” the JFK Institute at Berlin’s Freie Universität had a special request: they would like their students to learn “how these policies are decided in the USA.”

For an American energy “expert”, the how of the USA’s policy-decision process is fairly familiar. However, not only for German students, but also for most US citizens, this process–whose outcome has such a profound impact on the entire world– indeed seems at best rather opaque, and, at worst, like an unseemly, vested-interest-driven and hopelessly partisan process. Continue reading

NYC Lecture: THE LEGACY OF HUGO CHAVEZ: Is ‘Oil-Socialism’ a Sustainable Alternative Development?

English: Hugo Chávez

I’m invited to deliver a public lecture Wednesday, 24 April, at 3:30 in New York City at The New School University‘s Graduate International Affairs. This will be a  critical examination of the legacy of Hugo Chavez’ “oil socialism” as an “alternative developmental model” for Latin America. Continue reading

Chavez’ Legacy for Venezuela’s poor & institutions: Watch my German TV News Interview

Deutsche Welle, the German international TV service, interviewed me on the
legacy of Hugo Chavez on  their live evening news broadcast Journal  from Berlin.  I tried to relate two, strikingly contradictory aspects of President Chavez legacy:

The outpouring of sincere affection for him from the poor and many others in Caracas, which the world is witnessing, as the embodiment of their liberating political awakening.  And, in contrast, the utter shambles in which Hugo Chavez, as a practical political leader of 14 years, left the Venezuelan state and economic institutions, including PDVSA.  My segment comes at 4:08 minutes into the video stream here:

Succession Crisis #2: Chavez’ non-inauguration: Why violate the “Chavez Constitution”?

The Supreme Court of Venezuela has just made a rather strange decision. Rather than deciding between the two possible scenarios described in the constitution for the case when a president-elect is unable to take the oath of office on the prescribed day of 10 January, they have instead pronounced a third scenario proposed by leaders of Chavez’ party: There is “no temporary absence” of Chavez, and there is “administrative continuity” (i.e., that there is no new administration since he was the previous president).

The decision by the TSJ [press conference 9Jan 2012] seems particularly amazing as it rejects the constitutional option of declaring Chavez  “temporarily absent” that would have kept Chavismo in the presidency without an election for 180 days.

This decision is just as transparently un-constitutional and invented as the rationals of the right-wing Honduran military and congress in 2009 for throwing the president out of their country in his pajamas, rather than pressing whatever grievances or charges they had against him within the framework of the constitution.  There is a habit growing in Latin America of “democracies” being unwilling to fight out political crises within the sphere of the constitution and the nation’s institutions.

Here’s the situation in Venezuela:  The vice-president and acting president, Continue reading

Chávez loses López human rights case. Part A: Venezuelan democracy & political power

Image of Leopoldo López, venezuelan politician...

Leopoldo López, former Mayor of Chacao, Caracas

(Note: this post was expanded and some corrections made 23 Sept.  Also, Part B will treat the “oil angle” – what are the policies of opposition candidates H. Capriles, P. Pérez and L. López as compared to the Chavista policies on PDVSA and on spending the nations’ oil income?)

This past week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturned the administrative disqualification (inhabilitación) of Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López from running as an electoral candidate. (see: decision of the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos,  and press release from Lopez’ organization. )

What might be the effect on the October 2012 election?   In polls till now, Lopez has run third behind top-runner Henry Capriles, his former political ally and governor of Miranda State, and behind Pablo Pérez, the governor of Zulia State. The Chávez administration has been actively shaping who may run for the opposition ever since President Chavez’ first electoral loss, in the December 2007 plebiscite.  This decision is clearly a setback for this policy.

Continue reading

Part II: Venezuelan heavy oil: China’s persistence is finally paying off

Major Chinese Faja heavy-oil-production contracts had not materialized till now. Why not?

(This is continued from Part I)    On the one hand, technical reasons would be given against closing deals with the Chinese. For example, it was thought by some in PDVSA that Chinese companies lacked the technology to efficiently implement the refineries needed to upgrade Venezuela‘s extra-heavy oil to a grade light enough to enable it to be accepted by foreign refineries. On this excuse, some top PDVSA executives had pressed Chinese firms to focus on making joint proposals together with, say, Total of France.  This was because Total had already proven the quality of its upgrader-refinery technology in one of the four proof-of-principle projects foreign companies had implemented during the previous government’s apertura period. (The apertura was the liberal “opening” of the oil sector to significant Continue reading

Venezuela: Anarchy in a prison reflects general weakness of institutions and rule of law

(Brooklyn, New York City)  This is my first blog here.  It will be short and rather disturbing.

The topic is the decline of institutions, especially state institutions, and of the rule of law in Venezuela.  I study especially the oil sector and the national oil company, PDVSA, and its relation to the rest of society.  It is not easy to see inside PDVSA, but here we have a rare window into the state of affairs in another Venezuelan state institution: a prison.

A Venezuelan friend sent me this video link  to the NY Times story filed by Simon Romero about the prison on Margareta Island.  

In passing this on to me, she drew two larger societal lessons from this report:

  • When thre is no the rule of law someone will surely impose rules (in this prison, it is El Conejo)
  • This lack of a rule of law–and of the institutions it requires–has fostered a culture of anarchy in personal life, in all social classes
  • I would add that this “anarchy” undermines trust between not only the state and citizens, but between individuals as well.  It undermines civil society and personal life.  It is part of what makes everyday life often so very wearing in Venezuela, despite the beautiful natural surroundings.

For example, take the insecurity and violence that citizens face. Venezuela appears to have the highest national homicide rate inthe Western Hemisphere,  about 75 per 100,000 persons are now murdered annually according to Roberto  Briceño-Leon, director of the Venezuelan Observatory on Crime, and professor at Oxford U. and UCV in Caracas.  This rate has shot up since 2002.  I have been reading a collection of essays by Venezuelan experts edited by Professor Briceño-Leon et al,  Inseguridad y Violencia en Venezuela, Informe 2008, and I will soon post notes and commentaries on this serious sociological work.  I must say, in a society where there is such extreme stress on individual lives, it is understandable for people to despair and of course this increases tension and polarization between and within all social classes.  To break out of these cycles it is necessary not only for the experts, but for civil society at all levels to reach a consensus on what can be done, and to support politicians who have the will and stamina to implement these policies over the long run.  Anyone who does not believe that Venezuela’s demoralizing decline of the rule of law and institutions, and the growth in anarchy this reinforces for everyone can be reversed, needs only look at neighboring Colombia, where a similar crisis in the 1980s and 90s has now been decisively reversed.    Briceño-Leon draws important lessons from Colombia´s experience for Venezuela, and I promise to discuss these here soon.