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Eudomar Tovar is the Central Bank President in Venezuela and has taken the spotlight most recently for blaming a nation-wide blackout on sabotage. Accusations have been made that the Central Bank has been using their gold supply in a deal with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to increase hard currency.

Tovar vehemently denies that the Central Bank is doing any sort of business with either Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader, claims that Central Bank was involved in a value swap with Goldman Sachs for the equivalent of $2 billion dollars (USD) in gold ounces. Central Bank has also been accused of dealing with Bank of America to pay off debts owed to foreign governments. Tovar denied any such deals and claimed they were unofficial proposals, but did not elaborate or further explain the Bank’s position in regards to these claims.

The main problem is that Venezuela is experiencing a shortage of basic goods, and could potentially use its huge reserves of gold to procure a loan from such companies such as Goldman Sachs or Bank of America. Main Central Bank officials have complained that they are due a huge amount of hard currency from Washington, and that the red tape and delay in receiving this currency is causing inflation and product shortages.

Furthermore, a decrease in oil supply has caused tension on the dollar value, making some think that Venezuela is in desperate need of cash. The value of gold has decreased as well, putting a dent in the net worth of the country’s enormous gold reserves. As it stands, only government channels have access to the dollar due to harsh capital requirements, which often causes delays and bottlenecks day-to-day cash flow.

Leaders of the South American nation do not believe in free market capitalism and have tightly controlled the cash flow for decades. Consequently, the country falls more deeply into poverty every year, while the tyrannical government is not improving the situation.

President Maduro replaced the recently deceased President Chavez, who had a reputation for spending funds that could not be liquidated. Shortages have increased, inflation has risen to 55% and an inside Bank official claimed that Venezuela was indeed conversing with Wall Street. However, all three parties involved had no comment to offer on these claims. The economy is in a downward spiral, encouraged by the fact that stores cannot buy new inventory due to the cost of goods being higher than the retail price.

Questions are circulating about methods of intervention and whether American aid is appropriate, as well as questions regarding the depth of corruption in the Venezuelan government. Basic economics further show that public spending is good for the economy, when business have the right to compete with each other for capital gain.

The absence of a free market suggests that if Bank of America or Goldman Sachs loaned Venezuela the cash they need, it would just be reinvested into a corrupt system and exacerbate the problem. Solutions must involve correcting the dishonest practices of the government and its leaders so that the citizens will not continue to suffer, but instead thrive.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal: The Pope, State and Venezuela, The Wall Street Journal: Blackout
Photo: Vintage 3D

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The inflation in Venezuela has caused significant social turmoil. In September, after the toilet paper shortage, which was preceded by food shortages and electricity blackouts, an occupation of the Paper Manufacturing Company took place.

Troops were sent to monitor “fair” distribution of available stock. Earlier in November, President Nicolas Maduro jailed electronic vendors whom he accused of price-gouging, stating that this was only the beginning of what he was willing to do to protect his people. He has expanded this occupation to a variety of goods stores.

The inflation also led to the handing out of Christmas bonuses in November. While many saw this as political theater meant to sway people’s votes just prior to the December elections, it was thought necessary by some in a country with a 54% inflation rate. It is this climate that necessitates paychecks being distributed prior to prices having time to rise.

Like Chavez, Maduro has blamed speculators and the “parasitic bourgeoisie” however, his accusations will not be able to stop the collapse of the economy especially given the continued monetary expansion and debilitating price controls. Furthermore, his emergency measures might be too late given that Venezuela has been in steady economic decline since Hugo Chavez instituted his trademark socialism in Venezuela.
The nation has a massive social spending program, and when one combines this with costly prices and labor controls along with an ambitious foreign aid strategy, the oil revenues that have been keeping Venezuela afloat no longer seem to be enough.
Mari Sahakyan

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Market Place, National Post, Market Oracle, Trading Economics

isler_miss_universe
Last week, Venezuelan Gabriela Isler became the sixty-second Miss Universe. The twenty-five-year old won the title during the greatest economic downturn in her country’s history.

Venezuela possesses the largest known oil reserves in the world but nearly 60 percent of its population is considered poor. Inflation continues to plague the country, rising to over 50 percent in the last year alone. And the current exchange rate has fallen to 6.3 bolivars for each U.S. dollar.

In an effort to combat the economy, President Nicolás Maduro mandated that prices be lowered in stores around the country. The mandate is the result of the government’s recent decision to grant Maduro power to rule by decree without legislative support.

Moreover, the country’s national debt has increased in recent years. Recent figures estimate that Venezuelan business owners owe between $700 million and $1.2 billion to their Panamanian suppliers.

In spite of its economic woes, Venezuela has continued to lend support and resources to maintain its participation in the Miss Universe pageant. Isler became the seventh Venezuelan to win the coveted title on November 9.

Along with the other contestants, Isler stayed at the Crowne Plaza World Trade Centre in Moscow whose accommodations cost between 6,500 to 95,000 rubles or $197 to $2,900 USD per night. Several candidates arrived as early as October 21 to prepare for the event.

The 86 participants also enjoyed products from a variety of luxury sponsors including IMAGE skincare, Yamamay swimsuits and Chinese Laundry shoes.

As the newest Miss Universe, Isler was asked to unveil a $1 million swimsuit designed by Yamamay for the occasion.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, IB Times, Miss Universe

Venezuela_Food_Shortages
For residents of Venezuela, food and grocery shortages have become a part of daily life. Outside of many government-subsidized grocery stores, people line up before dawn hoping to purchase what they can before supplies run out. Items such as milk, meat and toilet paper are bought up quickly. The shortages have lasted for more than a year, prompting calls for President Madura to reevaluate the economic policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Though Venezuela is one of the most oil rich nations in the world, it is struggling to mitigate inflation and keep subsidized grocers stocked with products. Many experts say that strict price controls are to blame for the country’s economic problems, while President Maduro insists that it is all part of an effort by the opposition and CIA to destabilize the government and sabotage Venezuela’s oil industry.

Asdrubal Oliveros, an economist at one of Venezuela’s leading consulting firms, told the Guardian that the current crisis is the result of several factors, which include the country’s overreliance on imports and the government price controls. Another factor is the decrease in agricultural production due to the government’s recent land expropriations. “It’s cheaper to import than it is to produce,” Oliveros said. “That’s a perverse model that kills off any productivity.”

Many economists echo Oliveros analysis, saying that the Venezuelan government is not helping the problem by fixing prices so low. When prices are set low, companies and producers are not able to make a profit—this, in turn, leads to a cessation of farming, manufacturing, and production. Originally designed to help Venezuela’s poor and working classes afford food and staples, the price-fixing program has instead led to empty shelves and long queues.

After becoming President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and his ministers sought to reduce the growing wealth disparity in their country. To achieve this, they implemented price controls on certain goods so as to make them cheaper for individuals and families with lower incomes. This step and increased spending on social programs, however, may be contributing to the country’s current economic crisis.

Aggravating the problem is the fact that inflation is increasing at an alarming speed. In August, 12-month interest rates rose to 45.4 percent. This is the highest since Venezuela’s hyperinflation crisis in the mid-1990s. Officials in Maduro’s government have said that they will be considering changes in the country’s economic policies in an effort to combat the rising prices and food shortages in Venezuela.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal