I wrote a piece for The New Republic earlier today about the state of the Venezuelan economy and the difficult issues that await the next president, which for now looks like it will be Nicolás Maduro following Sunday’s landmark presidential election.
I argued that although some of the economic reforms that Maduro could implement are relatively simple, he may well lack the charisma, the political capital (both within and outside the chavista camp) and the funds to pull Venezuela back from the brink of two devaluations in 2013, the threat of even higher double-digit inflation, increasing reliance on imports for basic staples, a crumbling oil infrastructure, an atrophied private sector and difficulty accessing international — and even Chinese — finance:
It’s now up to Maduro to sort all of this out in the background of a legitimacy crisis. Economically speaking, there are several options that could help. Venezuela could claw back some of its oil revenues by reducing subsidies to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean basin. He could reverse the trend of ad hoc expropriations under Chávez that left the public sector bloated with bureaucrats, the private sector fearful, and the non-oil industry atrophied. He could direct more capital to be re-invested into PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, to boost oil production that’s fallen by up to a third in the past 15 years, and to develop refining capacity, especially in light of the ultra heavy crude oil that’s increasingly being drilled from the interior’s Orinoco Belt. Venezuelans believe cheap gas is virtually a constitutionally protected right, and an attempt to eliminate it pursuant to an IMF loan package in 1989 is widely seen as the catalyst for the deadly Caracazo riots later that year, but Maduro could gingerly begin to reduce the domestic subsidy that keeps Venezuela’s gasoline the cheapest in the world at about six cents per gallon.