quarta-feira, fevereiro 06, 2008

306) Venezuela: diplomacia do talão de cheques

Venezuela politics: Chequebook diplomacy
The Economist Intelligence Unit, February 6th 2008


Windfall oil revenue has been a double boon to the radical left-wing government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. It has not only allowed it to accelerate spending on social programmes at home, but also to finance what some call "chequebook diplomacy"—whereby it has sought to use its energy resources as leverage in foreign relations. This has taken the form of cut-price energy deals, financial assistance to buy or forgive debt and development aid. But domestic pressures to curb overseas generosity are growing.
Efforts on the part of Mr Chávez to boost Venezuela's influence in Latin America—and at the same time denigrate the position of the US—have accelerated since 2006, when radical left-wing administrations also won power in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In May 2006, Mr Chávez pledged US$1.5bn to Bolivia to help finance gas-processing plants, as well as fund exploration for new natural-gas reserves. In Ecuador, the inauguration of Rafael Correa in January 2007 was followed by talks over an "oil-for-fuel" swap, as well as pledges from Venezuela to build a new refinery, at an estimated cost of US$5bn.
In early 2007, Mr Chávez also made a host of promises to Nicaragua, including financial support for the construction of an oil refinery and electricity generation plants. Meanwhile, the relationship with Cuba has remained close. In 2006-07 Mr Chávez pledged nearly US$11bn, mostly in the form of oil shipments and aid for the construction of the Cienfuegos refinery.
Such largesse has not been confined to those countries which share Mr Chávez's radical political vision. Caracas cultivated close working relations with the Argentinian administration of Néstor Kirchner (2003-07) and has continued to do so under the current government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Venezuela has purchased more than US$5bn in Argentinian sovereign bonds since 2005.
In the Caribbean, the PetroCaribe agreement was signed in 2005, offering concessionary financing to participating countries for oil imports from Venezuela. At the time Mr Chávez also indicated his intention to press ahead with similar agreements, PetroAndina and PetroSur, which he hoped would presage the foundation of a broader PetroAmérica. Such promises are not limited to the Latin American region; Mr Chávez has signed agreements providing cheap heating oil to the poor in Europe and parts of the US, as well as supplying cut-price diesel to the UK for use on the London bus network.

Empty promises
However, Mr Chávez's pledges have far exceeded his means. The Centro de Investigaciones Económicas (CIECA, a Caracas-based economics institute) has calculated that offers of overseas funding amounted to US$147.8bn between 2005 and the end of 2007, equivalent to nearly six times liquid reserves and four times central government revenue. Of this total, US$21bn was offered in 2005, US$46bn in 2006 and US$81bn in 2007. According to CIECA, the Venezuelan government has committed to help build 26 oil refineries abroad and offered preferential oil-financing deals to at least 17 countries.
Given such extravagant promises, it was inevitable that only some funding would actually materialise. The opacity of Venezuela's fiscal accounts makes it difficult to calculate which agreements are being honoured, but there are a host of initiatives that appear to have been abandoned, while many others have been subject to extensive delays.
Frustration with Mr Chávez's empty offers is emerging. Among the numerous beneficiaries of pledged Venezuelan aid, this sentiment is particularly marked in Nicaragua, where plans to purchase half-price oil from Venezuela have been slow to get off the ground. Opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre has accused Mr Chávez of failing to fulfil any of his promises, branding the relationship with Caracas as "much ado about nothing".

Strings attached

Although Mr Chávez has clearly over-committed state resources, substantial funding has still been made available to the region. Venezuela sent financial aid and personnel to Bolivia after serious flooding in 2007 and food to areas of Peru affected by an earthquake in August 2007. The Venezuelan state development bank, Bandes, has provided several Central American countries with low-interest credit to develop the agricultural sectors. Some oil deals have materialised, including Ecuador's oil-for-fuel swap, which involves Ecuador sending around 35,000 b/d of Napo crude to Venezuela in exchange for fuels including diesel and high-octane petrol.
Although Mr Chávez insists that such aid comes without the conditionality attached to support from the IMF and the World Bank, some claim that his benevolence nevertheless comes at a price. Aid recipients are not required to adopt Mr Chávez's revolutionary Bolivarian principles, but there is at least a tacit understanding that they will back Venezuela in the international arena. Indeed, in 2006 Mr Chávez stepped up offers of economic co-operation and assistance as he sought to win a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (a battle which he ultimately lost when rival Guatemala repeatedly secured more votes in several secret ballots).

Forced to look inward
While record-high oil prices have allowed Mr Chávez to commit funding abroad without hesitation, escalating domestic economic problems may rein in the Venezuelan leader in the medium term. The Economist Intelligence Unit envisages oil prices remaining high, but they will not be strong enough to mask increasing distortions resulting from the combination of price and exchange controls and an expansionary fiscal policy. This will keep Venezuela’s economy heavily dependent on the volatile oil market and vulnerable to continuing cycles of boom and bust. Shortages of basic goods are likely to persist, as will high inflation.
Further, there is evidence of growing public frustration with Mr Chávez's overseas charity. Efforts to improve delivery of basic services have often fallen short of government promises, partly because many of the social programmes are now being funded outside of budget and the jurisdiction of the relevant ministries. As a result, administrative capacity and oversight have deteriorated. There is a sense that Mr Chávez should concentrate on using the oil windfall to solve domestic problems first before offering financial support to neighbouring countries.

PDVSA politicised
Problems within Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA, the state oil company) could also constrain the number of preferential oil deals that materialise. Oil production has fallen in recent years and there is doubt about PDVSA's capacity to reverse this trend, given the loss of technical capacity to implement much-needed investment in production and exploration. This is heightened by the overt politicisation of PDVSA as the company has taken on a vastly expanded role in recent years, especially as a major financier of the government’s social programmes. Above-budget dollar revenue goes to the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo (Fonden, the National Development Fund) rather than toward productive investment, and there is a risk that Fonden will encroach further on PDVSA's production and exploration investment budget.
Given the likelihood of continuing high oil prices, the Chávez government will continue to use its wealth of energy resources to deepen diplomatic and commercial relations abroad. However, domestic problems could cause the president to become more selective in his offers of aid, or to demand more in return for his investment from foreign recipients. But with the Venezuelan government already over-committed in terms of overseas financial and logistical support, patchy delivery on aid pledges is likely to continue.

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