Category Archives: Latin America

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.

Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass

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Last week, Energy Intelligence (EI) quoted me on China’s continued appetite for oil and gas investments in Latin America even with its own  economic slowdown and LatAm’s many political upheavals. (Sincere thanks to EI for a PDF of their proprietary Energy Compass to share on my blog. You can access it below here.)

Some thoughts on China’s strategy: In the case of Venezuela, as the price of oil fell, Beijing quickly eased up on PDVSA’s repayment terms for its huge outstanding loans which are repayable in oil. This shows some willingness to help Venezuela cope with the falling market value of oil. Why? Because, mainly, it is the oil that China has always been laser-focused on – not making interest on these loans.

Generally, it is clear that new Chinese investments or loans are still possible in Latin America. In Venezuela however, Continue reading

[Spanish] Mi opinión en Petroquía: China se involucra en los principales proyectos de América Latina

Here’s my piece [in Spanish] in Petroguía 2015, the oil-&-gas sector catalog for Latin America  Note: Hemispheric integration (e.g., energy infrastructure) was endlessly promoted by Hugo Chavez.  In the end, he built none. The region’s resources continue going mainly to develop other regions, such as China. Continue reading

“Venezuela: Petroleum, Politics & Economics in the Post-Chavez Era”–My Columbia U. talk, with Luiz Pinto, 9 October

If you’re in New York:  Luiz Pinto and I speak at Columbia University’s Institute for Latin American Studies (ILAS) on post-Chavez Venezuela, 12-noon, Thursday, 9 October: ilas_venezuela_columbia_talk_09oct14

Estoy citado en “Dinero”: La caída en la acción de Ecopetrol de Colombia no se debe únicamente a los ataques guerrilleros

Javier Gutiérrez Presidente de Ecopetrol  - La compañía tiene la meta de alcanzar el millón de barriles diarios de producción en 2015. Es claro que esa cifra está lejos de ser cumplida.

Javier Gutiérrez Presidente de Ecopetrol – La compañía tiene la meta de alcanzar el millón de barriles diarios de producción en 2015. Es claro que esa cifra está lejos de ser cumplida. (Dinero)

English Summary (Resumen en Inglés): I am quoted at length by Dinero  (Publicaciones Semana,  Bogotá) on the steep fall in value of the stocks of Colombia’s national oil company and largest corporation, Ecopetrol.  This had been blamed on FARC and ELN guerrilla attacks on pipelines this year. However, while attacks are up versus 2013, they are significantly below the numbers in several prior years.  Others blame the fall on a failure to expand reserves. Indeed, Ecopetrol has a very low exploration-drilling success rate. However,  I stressed that discovery of new reserves is not so much the problem as is the need to begin employing enhanced oil production (EOP) methods to Ecopetrol’s existing fields.  The percentage of oil Ecopetrol extracts is low.  To get more oil out of existing reserves, Ecopetrol needs to learn how to do EOP.  And, in certain formations, it has to learn how to drill much deeper.  Here is the article …

DINERO | 8/21/2014:   No solo violencia

La caída en la acción de Ecopetrol no se debe únicamente a los ataques guerrilleros. El principal problema de la compañía es operativo: no ha podido encontrar nuevas reservas.

Continue reading

USA Oil Seminar 5.0 | USA as Rising Energy Superpower?

us_air_force_jets_oil_buring_iraqNote: These “USA Oil Seminar” posts are extra readings for my students to better understand how US energy policy is developed and to hear the views of US experts.  The seminar is: “The Global Oil System & US Policy” at JFK Institute of FU-Berlin. 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. This Friday, watch live (or the recording later on): Is the U.S. a Rising Energy Superpower? Implications for Global Markets and Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe.  CSIS upcoming talk by Fereidun Fesharaki.  FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2014 | 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM .  Moderated by David Pumphrey.
  2. Read the paper: Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy |April 15, 2014. By: Bruce Jones, David Steven and Emily O’Brien.  Brookings Institute; Washington, DC.

BACKGROUND:  This week, the class reading assignments are a couple conference papers I wrote a few years ago on the history and structure of today’s global oil system, and how it grew to replace the neo-colonial oil system. Continue reading

My AQ piece: Maduro’s Conundrum as UNASUR Starts Venezuelan Peace Talks

Venezuela Pres. Nicolas Maduro during first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talk with opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaking during the first UNASUR-and-Vatican mediated peace talks with the opposition in Caracas 10 April (Reuters)

Here’s my commentary at Americas Quarterly today, 11 April:

A delegation of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) returned to Caracas on April 7 and 8, securing an agreement to hold peace talks to calm political polarization and protests in Venezuela.  The talks are being mediated by the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, plus a Vatican representative.

The UNASUR delegation first visited in late March, recommending that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and leaders of the opposition’s Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) enter into a dialogue.  The U.S. State Department had expressed support, as had Organization of American States (OAS) General Secretary José Miguel Insulza.

However, UNASUR’s plan will be complicated by Maduro’s reliance on paramilitaries within his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), whose loyalty requires his polarizing words and deeds. This conundrum already wrecked a previous dialogue.

In early February, before protests broke out, a highly placed government official explained to me,  …  CLICK to Continue Reading at Americas Quarterly. Continue reading