Category Archives: corruption

Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? Berlin, 10 October

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Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? – Panel Discussion (bios follow):

  • Ms. Rita Bitar Deeb  PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Ivo Hernandez  Lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster
  • Dr. Manuel Silva-Ferrer  John Boulton Foundation Fellow and Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell -Moderator  Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program, FU/BEST at Freie Universität Berlin

WHEN: 10 October, 6-7:30 pm. LOCATION:  Hertie School of Governance,  Friedrichstrasse 180 – 10117 Berlin, Germany.  [To attend, please register online.] – Venezuela is currently unable to adequately feed its people, or to provide basic services such as medical care, education, and electricity. Polls indicate about 90% of the population would vote to remove its Chavista president, Nicolas Maduro, if his government allowed a recall referenda to take place this year, which is widely demanded. What will happen in Venezuela: Collapse? Chaos? Democratic renewal?  And, moreover, why is this occurring now?

Since the mid-20th Century, fueled by oil riches, Venezuela has veered from being the leading example of ‘democratic development’ within a continent rife with right-wing dictatorships, to a nation mired in its own economic and political crises. A ‘neo-liberal shock’ in the late-1980’s failed and was roundly rejected by citizens. At the end of the 1990‘s, Hugo Chavez broadly excited the hopes for development of not only Venezuelans but elicited significant sympathy worldwide with Chavismo’s ‘new resource nationalism’ and ’21st Century Bolivarian Socialism’. However, this leftward turn is also demonstrably failing, with the nation again on the brink of disaster. What comes next? Our panel of Venezuelan experts weighs in and will address attendees’ questions.


Rita Bitar Deeb is a PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her Master in Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh and Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests are democratization process, social development and gender policy. She has worked for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and several local NGOs as project coordinator in Venezuela (Atenea, Súmate, Red de Apoyo-HHRR). Bitar has taught at the University of Kassel in Germany, and at the Catholic University in Caracas.


Ivo Hernandez is lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster.  He studied at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, the London School of Economics (LSE), the University of Heidelberg and University of Tübingen in Germany and The National Defense University in Washington D.C. His research interests include oil politics, national oil companies, the logics of terrorism, and Latin American politics and political economy.


Manuel Silva-Ferrer is John Boulton Foundation Fellow – exploring oil, society and culture in 20th-Century Latin America – as well as Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin.  Born in Caracas, he is a graduate of the Institute of Communication Studies at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and earned his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.  He was Director of the state film foundation Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela and Head of Cinema and Media at the Ministry of Culture where his work included developing the National Academy of Film and Audiovisual.  Silva-Ferrer led ExtraCámara, a magazine for Latin-American photography, and was co-responsible for the creation of the Centro Nacional de la Fotografía, a public foundation for the promotion of photographic art. During his studies, Silva-Ferrer was Fellow of the Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, and awarded a PhD full scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


Moderation & comments:

Thomas W. O’Donnell is Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program (FU/BEST) at Freie Universität Berlin.  An academic, analyst and consultant in the global energy system and international relations, his work has encompassed especially the role of oil and gas in the EU, Russia, Latin America, Middle East, China and the USA.  His PhD is from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in experimental nuclear physics, and he previously studied Political Science and China Studies at the State University of New York and Canisius College.  In 2008-09, he was US Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Development (CENDES) at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and in 2015 AICGS (American Institute of Contemporary German Studies) & DAAD Fellow in Washington D.C. O’Donnell has taught post-graduate seminars on energy in international relations and development at The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, The New School University’s JJ Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (NYC),and Freie Universität, JFK Institute (Berlin). He is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and consults with other geopolitical and business-intelligence firms. Before his PhD, O’Donnell gained broad tech experience in U.S. automobile-manufacturing, railway-operations and power-generation industries.  He is author of some 40 peer-reviewed scientific physics papers.


If you wish to attend, please register online.

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

First, here is an outline of this and the next three or four blogs on this topic:

I. Changes on the Venezuelan side that are enhancing the Chinese role:

a.  Chavez’ recent interest in increasing national oil production 

b.  The existential crisis Chavismo faces from the slow collapse of dysfunctional state institutions, civil infrastructure, and nationalized enterprises

II. Changes on China’s side that enhance its role in Venezuela:

a.  China has now loaned Venezuela so much money, and Venezuela so badly needs continued Chinese financing (lately it  also feels a need for managerial and technical assistance), that Beijing has been able to insist Caracas not only begin to come through on long-awaited heavy-oil contracts, but that it also comply with certain  geo-political and fiscal-accountability conditions. A couple of these are pretty amazing.

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I. Changes on the Venezuelan side enhancing the Chinese role:   a. Chavez’ new interest in increasing national oil production

One reason for China’s deepening influence in Venezuela is that PDVSA‘s president and energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, is no longer alone in insisting that PDVSA’s level of production has to rise.  President Chavez now seems to have gotten behind the need to increase national production.  If the price of oil falls significantly (many feel six months at an average of $60/barrel would be ruinous) and PDVSA’s exports per day have not risen to compensate, Venezuela will be in real trouble.  Venezuela is extraordinarily dependent on imported goods, from food to machinery for which dollars are needed; and it also must keep up payments to foreign bond holders, for which a steady stream of dollars are also needed.  Chavez and Ramirez have every reason to expect that the world’s economic woes will lead to a decrease in oil demand over the next year or two, and this of course can lead to significantly lower prices.  These fears were not apparent in the recent past. It has been more or less a tenent of Chavista faith at elite-and-professional levels that the price of oil will never again fall significantly.  I have been told this many times.  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