Death Spiral in Venezuela's Socialist Paradise

The only good news in Venezuela is that countryman Jose Altuve has a World Series ring, and that is literally the only good news. That, and I hear the weather is nice. I hope Altuve keeps his paper in the US for the sake of his net worth. How is baseball in general doing there? It sucks.

Juan Gutiérrez can tell something is wrong with baseball in Venezuela every time his team, the Caracas Lions, takes the field.

The Lions have won the championship 20 times since the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League was founded in 1945. But in a city of 2 million, only a handful bother to attend Lions games.

“We used to have a lot of fans in the stadium,” said Gutiérrez, a relief pitcher, as he sat in the Lions dugout before a recent home game. “But because of the situation in Venezuela right now, not that many people can come. It’s really sad.”

Venezuela’s economic meltdown, which has produced shortages of food and medicine, near hyperinflation, and a rise in crime, is now squeezing the country’s national sport.

And how exactly is the Venezuelan currency doing? It sucks.

A Venezuela bolivar note worth $2.42 on the black market will begin circulating as early as Thursday, lightening the load for people who carry backpacks full of cash for their daily errands.

 The 100,000-bolivar denomination, which will be the country’s largest, seeks to stabilize the cash supply, President Nicolas Maduro said on state television. He blamed Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos for the monetary “attack,” alluding to the black market trading of the bolivar on the countries’ shared border.
The inflation rate is pushing 2,300%. Doing the math, if I bring $24,200 to Venezuela and convert it to bolivars, I’d be a Venezuelan billionaire, which is about as rewarding as being the tallest person at a dwarf convention.
What is the state of the Venezuelan government? It’s illegitimate.
Aires Pérez Rodríguez traveled by canoe for three hours to deliver the paper receipts showing a total of 225 votes cast for state governor in this hamlet. Then he passed them to his aunt, who drove them a further 150 miles to the Bolívar state capital.

When the official count was released days after the Oct. 15 election, however, there were an extra 471 votes for the government’s candidate. It wasn’t just Mr. Pérez, the opposition party’s election monitor, who noticed. The ruling Socialist Party’s own election supervisor in El Casabe realized it, too.

“This is illegal,” said Luciano Mendoza, the election supervisor, who showed The Wall Street Journal the voting-machine receipts that counted just a third as many votes from the hamlet as reported by electoral authorities later. “They say they bring justice, but instead they commit fraud.”

Mr. Pérez’s evidence prompted opposition officials in Ciudad Bolívar to make more comparisons of voting receipts to an official tally on the National Electoral Council’s website. All told, in records reviewed by the Journal, they discovered that more than 2,500 votes were added statewide, flipping the winner of the Bolívar state election from the opposition candidate—briefly listed as the winner on the Electoral Council’s website—to the government choice.

The declared winner, Justo Noguera, a National Guard general from outside the state who never held political office, took office two days later in a surprise midnight ceremony.

Given that most Venezuelans are dissatisfied with the regime, how is the opposition doing? Awful.

Venezuela’s opposition is splintering, yet leaders of the Democratic Unity Roundtable agree on one thing: They’re better off boycotting Dec. 10 municipal elections than trying to beat President Nicolas Maduro’s regime at the ballot box.

What is their debt repayment status? Hanging by a thread.

The mere mention of Venezuela should make most investors shudder. Its president, Nicolás Maduro, says that capitalism has “destroyed the planet” and vows to build a socialist Utopia. The country’s economic output has shrunk by more than a third since 2014, and it is suffering from dire shortages of food and medicine.

Nonetheless, one class of Venezuelan assets has delivered returns in recent years that would leave any investor licking his chops: bonds issued by the government and by PDVSA, the state oil company. Since January 2015 they have risen in value by nearly 60%, while every coupon has been paid at sky-high interest rates. “There has never been a bondholder’s better friend than Venezuela,” says Ray Zucaro of RVX Asset Management, a Florida-based investment firm.

The spectacle of foreign creditors growing fat off Venezuelan debt while the country’s people go hungry—on average, respondents to a recent survey said their weight had fallen by 9kg (20lbs) during the past year—should eventually prove both politically untenable and financially unsustainable. Mr Maduro’s government is indeed teetering ever closer to the brink of default.

For a country with larger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, the situation is inexcusable. Payaso Maduro barely made his previous payment and none other than Vladimir Putin just restructured his debt.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told press Friday that his government had agreed to restructure Venezuela’s debt repayments to Moscow.

Though Siluanov did not give details, he indicated that the new terms would include the postponement of Venezuela’s USD$3 billion debt repayment.

“We are ready to make a two-stage postponement. The first part includes pretty favourable terms with a small sum due for repayment so that it’s manageable for our Venezuelan colleagues,” he said.

“The bigger part of the debt is put off until the second stage of repayment,” the minister added.

The Maduro Diet is a highly effective weight-loss plan, but not a viable export, so the economy will remain afflicted with Dutch Disease.

Hugo Chavez was able to hold it together with favorable oil prices, charisma, political chops, and a dysfunctional opposition. Every year in leadership, he continued amass more power unto himself, taking the country from a quasi-democracy to a quasi-dictatorship. Though his policies were counterproductive, he did help the poorest for a time, until inflation and governmental incompetence got away from him. Except for a dysfunctional opposition, Maduro has none of those things going for him. He makes Hillary look charming and politically astute, and low oil prices have further exposed the gross mismanagement at PDVSA, the state-owned oil company. And now he’s just a dictator, taking this failed socialist experiment to its logical conclusion.

What does Trump do? Four things, in my opinion. One, call it out. Two, sanctions on key figures in the Maduro government (we’ve started some sanctions already but they’re not terribly impactful). Three, encourage a return to democratic principles. Four, continue to push for American oil independence so that we’ll never have to depend on Venezuelan or Middle Eastern oil. If we can get all our oil from the North American continent, problem solved, at least for us.