The late President Hugo Chavez's dream of leveraging Venezuela's oil wealth to spread revolution across Latin America is crumbling under the weight of an economic crisis that is forcing his hand-picked successor to cut back on generous foreign aid.
Signs of the country's waning influence are becoming more apparent. In early November, Guatemala withdrew from the Petrocaribe oil alliance launched by Chavez, saying it didn't receive the ultra-low financing rates it had been promised by Venezuela when it first sought to join the 18-nation pact in 2008. Also in recent weeks, representatives of Brazil and Colombia have held meetings with their Venezuelan counterparts to collect overdue payment for food, manufactured goods and other imports.
As some wiseguy said, the world's largest holder of crude reserves has Egypt-like FX reserves due to spectacular mismanagement aimed at generating publicity for Venezuela as some sort of alt-globalization hero and not at competence in managing a resource-rich economy. Second, we now receive word that Venezuela is upping its police-state-like characteristics in attempting to ban public access to websites that list black market exchange rates for US dollars instead of taking scarcely believable "official" rates at face value which next to no dealers will sell you greenbacks at in exchange for the local currency (bolivars). These guys even outdo the Chinese in cyber-supression:
Venezuelans have been scrambling for dollars for weeks, taking refuge in the greenback as their own currency is in free fall. Rather than address the economic imbalances behind the bolivar's plunge, the government is going after the bearers of the bad news — it's blocking websites people use to track exchange rates on the black market.Cyber-activists say the crackdown goes to absurd lengths, even targeting Bitly, the popular site for shortening Web addresses to make it easier to send them as links via Twitter and other social media. For more than two weeks, access to the service has been partially censored by several Internet service providers in Venezuela, apparently because Bitly was being used to evade blocks put on currency-tracking websites.
The New York company says such restrictions have only previously been seen in China, which has one of the worst records for Internet freedom, and even then not for such an extended period. Opponents of Venezuela's socialist government say the controls are designed to obscure reporting of the nation's mounting economic woes.
Can you say "police state"? Despite the country's ongoing descent into socioeconomic hell, what's notable is that state-sponsored F1 driver Pastor Maldonaldo has actually upgraded his ride next season from Williams (which scored exactly zero points this year) to Lotus (which finished fourth in the constructor's tables). How did this happen? Maldonaldo did not get his Lotus ride on merit; rather, the hard-up team is banking on Venezuelan state cash Maldonaldo will bring. In contrast to its former driver, world champion Kimi Raikkonen who the team still owes money, Maldonaldo will presumably bring in cold hard cash for his paid ride:
Lotus’ financial predicament was recently laid bare by their Ferrari-bound Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who revealed in Abu Dhabi that he had been paid “zero euros” by the team all year. It is thought that he is owed around £15 million. PDVSA paid just under £30 million a year for the quick but extremely erratic Maldonado to drive at Williams where he was responsible for the team’s first win in eight years, in Barcelona last year, along with numerous collisions.It's odd that Venezuela will plump big cash on this bourgeois sport as one of the last few PR stunts it can still afford even if many folks back home live lives of not-so-quiet desperation. Like in Thailand, this is democracy in action for you for better or (much) worse.