Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Venezuela Oil Diplomacy: From Caracas To Cuba

April 12, 201312:00 PM

11 min 40 sec

The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez believed in sharing his

country's oil wealth with his Latin American neighbors. But now,

Venezuelans are electing a new leader, and there are questions about

whether the new president will continue those policies. NPR's Tom

Gjelten talks about the effects of Venezuela's oil diplomacy, from Cuba

to Connecticut.


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, we'll

speak with the Reverend Jim Wallis. He's a well-known evangelical

leader. He's known for stepping into the political fray on issues he

cares about. So we'll ask him why he chose to step out of the spotlight

during last year's presidential campaign. That's later in the program.

But first we want to turn to presidential politics in Venezuela. Voters

there are selecting a successor to President Hugo Chavez this weekend.

You probably remember that Chavez died of cancer last month. The

election is being watched far beyond that country's borders, though,

because of some of the policies Chavez implemented about the country's

most valuable resource: oil.

Chavez shared the wealth with the Venezuelan people and also with his

Caribbean and Latin American neighbors. But whether the country's next

president can or will continue those policies is another question. We

wanted to talk more about this so we've called NPR's Tom Gjelten, who's

been following the situation there. Tom, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So we understand that Chavez had designated Vice President

Nicolas Maduro as his successor. Is that about – am I phrasing it correctly?

GJELTEN: Oh, there is no question that Nicolas Maduro was Hugo Chavez's

choice. He made it very clear. He was, as you say, his vice president,

and while Chavez was sick he was actually made the acting president by

the powers that be in Venezuela because they knew that Chavez wanted him

to succeed him.

MARTIN: And why did he want him to succeed him?

GJELTEN: Because he was loyal. Because he believed in the Chavista

division. Because Chavez felt that this was the man that could carry on

the program, the ideology, the alliances that Chavez believed in. For

example, Maduro is very close to the government in Cuba and that

alliance between Venezuela and Cuba was very close to Chavez. Probably

there was no one else in the leadership, in the political leadership in

Venezuela, that was more closely aligned with Cuba, aside with Hugo

Chavez, than Nicolas Maduro.

MARTIN: So I think the question is, can he carry on these policies? I

mean one thing that a lot of people are talking about is that Maduro

lacks Chavez's charisma so just kind of as a leader he doesn't have one

of Chavez's kind of essential qualities. But there are other issues

beyond that. Could you talk more about that?

GJELTEN: Well, I think the big thing is that the environment in

Venezuela has changed a lot and it would've been even a challenge for

Chavez to maintain his popularity, which was phenomenal. I mean he was

really a very popular man. He defeated soundly Henrique Capriles, the

main opposition candidate in Venezuela in elections just last October,

almost without campaigning. Because he was already sick himself.

But Venezuela is facing just a series of really serious economic

problems. Inflation – we don't know how much inflation is. It's well

above 20 percent inflation. Also, for various reasons, even though

Venezuela is, as you said before, a rich country, there are shortages of

food. There are shortages of all kinds of basic items. There are long

lines, and that's obviously something that the Venezuelan people get

very upset about.

Crime is a terrific problem. So just generally the quality of life in

Venezuela has really deteriorated. And so, as you say, Maduro has to

confront a much more difficult situation than Chavez dealt with during

most of his 14 years, without Chavez's charisma.

MARTIN: And it's also true that one of Chavez's main sort of policy

tools, the oil prices or the oil wealth, is also in flux right now.

Isn't it too? I understand that oil production is going down even though

oil prices remain high. Why is that?

GJELTEN: Well, oil is by far the most important – really, the only

source of revenue for Venezuela as a country. I mean this is 90 percent

of its export earnings. The problem is that all of that oil wealth that

Chavez, you know, for political reasons, for ideological reasons, wanted

to share that wealth with the people. But that's not the way to really

ensure the future of your oil industry.

Any oil industry requires a lot of reinvestment. You've got to maintain

your fields. You've got to continue exploration. You've got to invest in

new technology. You've got to maintain your drilling infrastructure. You

need the technology and the expertise that foreign oil companies

represent. And instead of promoting that kind of reinvestment and

instead of inviting in the foreign expertise that Venezuela needed,

Chavez diverted a lot of that wealth to social programs.

You have ridiculously low gasoline prices in Caracas. We've heard from

NPR's Steve Inskeep, who's been visiting Venezuela this week, that gas

is 20 cents a gallon or less in Caracas. That is not a productive use of

your oil wealth. And, as you said before, he's been sharing this oil at

discounted prices with his neighbors.

So instead of reinvesting that money into – at least a portion of it –

into the oil industry, he's been diverting it to other places and that

means that oil production is going down. I mean in 2012, Michel, the

country earned $1 billion less from oil than it earned in 2011, and

already in the first quarter of this year oil production has gone down

by seven percent.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are talking with NPR's Tom

Gjelten. We're talking about Venezuela's presidential elections this

weekend. We're also talking about what it could mean for the country's

oil diplomacy. Well, among the countries with which Venezuela has shared

its oil is the United States. I mean I think many people will remember

some of these ads that have run in certain markets around the country

where it's subtle but it is made clear that Venezuela is making oil

available to low income people at steep discount or for free.

But that's just – I assume that that's just for – mainly for ideological


GJELTEN: Well, he's very – he was very clever politically, and you know,

the United States was making it very clear that U.S. governments,

whether it's the Bush administration or the Obama administration, made

it clear they did not like Hugo Chavez. They did not like the direction

that he was taking Venezuela in. They didn't like all the anti-U.S.


I mean he always talked about the empire, you know, and North American

imperialism. So they didn't like that, but Chavez found a way to stick

it to the Americans by providing fuel to low income people in the

Northeast. And even here in the Washington, D.C. area there are families

that benefitted from this fuel oil program. So it was very astute on his


MARTIN: Do you assume that those days are numbered, of a program like

that? But really, really more broadly, though, there are other countries

in the region who depended, I would argue, economically on this

discounted oil. Could you talk a little bit about that and what is the

future of those arrangements?

GJELTEN: Well, at the top of that list, Michel, is Cuba, which has

really – Venezuela under Hugo Chavez replaced the old Soviet Union for

Cuba as its main benefactor. Cuba has been getting something like 90,000

barrels of oil a day from Venezuela on steeply discounted terms,

actually reselling some of that oil on the open market for hard

currency, so earning money.

But not only Cuba. You also had 18 countries in the so-called

Petro-Caribbe Alliance, Caribbean and Latin American countries,

countries like Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua,

Guatemala. These are countries that are energy poor. They don't have

their own sources of energy. If they have to buy energy on the world

market at these high prices, that's terrible for those countries.

And they were getting very discounted supplies of oil from Venezuela.

And it would've been very hard for them to sustain their economies

without that oil. Haiti, for example, had its entire oil debt to

Venezuela forgiven after the earthquake. So it was starting from

scratch. That was a very important boon to Haiti.

Now, however, as you say, I mean you can't do it all. You can't hand(ph)

almost free gasoline to Venezuelans. You can't spend a lot of money on

social programs coming from the oil industry. You can't give oil away to

people in Boston and Baltimore and Washington D.C. and to Cuba and to –

at some point…

MARTIN: And reinvest in the industry to keep it productive.

GJELTEN: And reinvest in the industry when oil production is going down.

At some point you have to make some choices. And who knows? Your

question was, what's the future of these grants to people in the United


My guess is that, on the list of priorities, that's probably not very

high. He has to – Maduro, if he wins, and he's probably going to win. He

has to, first of all, pay attention to his own popularity at home, and

I'm not sure that homeowners in Washington, D.C. sort of rank that high.

MARTIN: That was where I was going to go next, and for the couple of

minutes that we have left, you know, I was wondering, in terms of the

voters in Venezuela, the people of Venezuela, what they think about the

strategy of oil diplomacy. I mean, you can imagine how, on the one hand,

it would be a source of kind of national pride for people, that they're

able to play this role in the region and kind of boost the standing of

the country and the region.

On the other hand, when there are shortages of food and basic goods – as

you've discussed, there is an exodus of skilled workers whenever people

can – if people can get out, they are leaving. Do you have a sense of

how the people of Venezuela, the voters, feel about the use of their oil

wealth in this way?

GJELTEN: I can't claim to have a firsthand sense of that, Michel. We do

know that Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate, has been gaining

a bit on Maduro in polls recently, and he has made it very clear in his

campaign that he would curtail a lot of that diversion of oil to other

countries. So, apparently – I mean, if you're a Venezuelan voter, and

you have to choose between, you know, cheap gasoline at a time when

prices for everything else are rising and support for social programs in

Venezuela, if you have choose between those things and a government

program that subsidizes consumers in Haiti or Washington, D.C. or

somewhere else, you're probably going to prefer that that money stay at


MARTIN: Before we let you go, tell us just a little bit, if you would,

about the opposition candidate. I mean, you've made it clear that Maduro

has kind of the imprimatur of Hugo Chavez, his – you know, Chavez

clearly designated him as his favorite successor, and his kind of

popularity has transferred to him, at least for now. But there is an

opposition candidate. Could you tell us a little bit more about him?

GJELTEN: His name is Henrique Capriles. He's a governor. He is, himself,

a fairly charismatic figure, probably more charismatic than Maduro. And

he recognizes the popularity of the Chavez program, and has actually

pledged to continue a lot of the priorities that the Chavez government

proposed. So he is, unlike some of the opposition candidates that

Venezuela has seen in the past, who just presented themselves almost as

kind of right-wing versions of Chavez, Capriles seems to be much

smarter, politically. He's still got the tremendous disadvantage of not

being the designated candidate of the machine. He has to really fight to

get air time and to get the kind of attention that Maduro, as the

government candidate, is getting. But he has run a fairly effective


MARTIN: NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on global security and economic

issues. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios –

our last broadcast, in fact, at our headquarters here.

Tom Gjelten, we'll see you on the other side.

GJELTEN: We'll see you on the other side, Michel.

MARTIN: Thanks for joining us.

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