Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare read this morning’s headline describing the hardships ordinary Venezuelans are enduring as plunging oil prices deepen an already-deep recession. President Nicolás Maduro reflexively blames right-wing enemies, both internal and external, and especially the United States. But most economists blame policies, launched by the late and unlamented Hugo Chávez, which stifled private economic initiative and squandered one of the world’s largest gold reserves. The real culprit is oil. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven reserves, and oil constitutes 95% of its exports. Twenty-five years ago, when Venezuela was a very rich country, Ivan Maldonaldo predicted its future.
He was then an old man, one of the most interesting I’ve ever known. Convicted at 16 of plotting to overthrow the dictator, he was sentenced to a chain gang and later exiled. He ultimately got a veterinary degree in Czechoslovakia and returned home, on his father’s death, to take over his ranch in a remote corner of the country. He was a visionary who protected all wildlife as he built Venezuela’s largest cattle operation and went on to become one of its richest men. His politics shifted rightward, but he never lost either his curiosity or his empathy.
Ivan watched his country become addicted to oil – become an importer of food and other goods it once exported, a nation whose diverse and vibrant economy died while it giddily drowned in petrodollars – and he watched the return of the dictatorship he had sought to overthrow 60 years before.