Before we get started with chapter 3 of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole I have a question for you. How many of you out there are familiar with the name Fatou Bensouda? What.. nobody? Here’s a hint, in her position she travels around wasting money and time and attends a lot of gatherings where they have meetings regarding the next meeting. No, she doesn’t work for the United Nations or the European Union. She has been the Chief Prosecutor for the ICC (International Criminal Court) and is stepping down after a lengthy tenure protecting authoritarian dictators like Nicolas Maduro.

 For years the ICC has been pondering opening an official investigation into Nicolas and his henchmen for crimes against humanity.Bensouda has effectively shielded Maduro through years of delays and to date has still not opened an investigation despite numerous calls to do so. It’s much the same as Michele Bachelet with the UN, who has already wasted a couple of years sending teams to Venezuela,having them return and subsequently  issue  troubling reports and recommendations regarding human rights violations etc., and then give them a year or so to address the situation(s) before repeating the process.

 Well,Fatou Bensouda will be leaving that responsibility to someone else now and we can only hope they proceed in a less glacially slow manner. What is being asked of them by groups around the world is to open an official investigation into what has happened and is happening in Venezuela hopefully leading to indictment(s) and trial(s).

 A sitting head of state being targeted  by the ICC is not unprecedented. Remember Slobodon Milosevic? He was finally put on trial although it ended without a verdict due to his death from ongoing health issues. The 1st prosecutor,Richard Goldstone, opened an investigation into Milosevic in 1994 and there were other prosecutors   along the way. The point is that the process carried on for 12 years and that was after an official investigation was launched. We’ll see what happens now that Maduro’s protector is gone although I’m hardly optimistic. Meanwhile Venezuelans continue to flee and die.

 Now we begin Chapter 3 of Venezuela : Down The Rabbit Hole ” Killing The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs”

 Venezuela’s government owned oil company,PDVSA, was once the envy of the entire oil producing world. They were a founding member of OPEC (Oil Producing and Exporting Countries), the cartel that controls production and therefore pricing for much of the world’s oil.Through years of savvy business administration,not to mention sitting on top of the world’s largest proven oil reserves, PDVSA became an economic powerhouse.The government was smart enough to,more or less, give them a free hand and just sit back and tax the profits which,as you might expect, were substantial.

 The government nationalized PDVSA in 1976, however,they were astute enough to allow the company to operate,more or less, autonomously and continue their partnerships and special associations with a group of large multinational oil companies.

 I liken the situation to that of Hong Kong when it was still under British control. When  the governor of Hong Kong,a Scotsman, was asked what his greatest fear was for the economy of one of the world’s most prolific financial hot spots he said ” I can only hope that the powers that be back in London won’t try to fix it.”

 In 1998 PDVSA was the largest company in Latin America and the 10th most profitable company in the world. It was the world’s 5th largest oil exporter with a workforce of approximately 40,000. It had a healthy contingent of experienced engineers, financial professionals, and outstanding operational support. All that would soon be put to the test,

 In December of 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. The former paratrooper was a man without much formal education,training,or experience in politics,business,or pretty much anything else but he was extremely charismatic. He swept in on a populist wave promising to lift the everyday people of Venezuela out of poverty and allow them to benefit from the oil riches as did the country’s elite. His “Bolivarian Socialism” was heralded as the “New Socialism For The Twenty First Century.” It was going to right the wrongs of the past and correct all the inequities and, truth be told, there were many of them.I won’t say he promised free everything for everybody,as you hear today to a degree, but he was definitely leaning that way. The Noam Chomskys and Sean Penns of the world led the parade of academics, celebrities, politicians,economists, and revolutionary wannabes fawning over how great this was going to be.

 The situation for the ordinary Venezuelan in 1998 definitely needed improving as is obvious when the poverty rate is in the 50% range.The news was not all bad though. We will get into a then versus now conversation later regarding society as a whole but it is important to note that, at the time, Venezuela had a growing middle class and the minimum wage was about $175 – $200 a month. That’s not much by our standards and admittedly it’s simply not that much but it did allow for the average Venezuelan to provide for the essentials and afford few luxury items as well. PDVSA employees fared much better. They had houses,cars,and took vacations. The higher up the food chain you got in PDVSA the better the lifestyle as is true in any company or developed economy. Keep that $175 – $200 number in the back of your mind as it will come into play not just in the overall societal conversation but in the PDVSA story.

 To be continued…..

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