Thursday, April 29, 2010

Venezuela hit hard by economic crisis as everyone isn't

How is that socialism experiment going there Hugo Chavez?

No matter that Venezuela is one of the world's great oil powers -- among the top five providers of crude to the United States. Economists say Venezuela is gripped by an economic crisis that has no easy or fast solution, even if sluggish oil production were ramped up and profligate state spending were cut.

"The government is paralyzed, unable to handle the situation -- and there are no fiscal plans to deal with the crisis," said José Guerra, a former Central Bank economist who directs the economics department at Central University in Caracas, the capital. "Our situation is unbelievable, because we have one of the biggest reserves of oil in the world, thermal-electrical and hydroelectric sources."

Chávez still hails what he calls his "21st-century socialism" as the answer to the American-style capitalism he calls an abject failure. But through his long tenure, the Venezuelan economy has expanded by an average of less than 3 percent a year, even as the price of oil hit a historic high of $150 a barrel in 2008.

Last year, the economy slid 3.3 percent. Some economists, including Guerra, predict a 5 percent contraction this year. The International Monetary Fund says the economy will probably shrink 2 percent.


Venezuela's performance stands in stark contrast to the rest of Latin America, where some central banks worry about overheating economies in 2010. In Peru, Chile and Brazil, all of which embrace globalization, growth could indeed go well beyond 4 percent, the IMF says. Venezuela, economists say, stands out -- its economic policies marked by the nationalization of industries and stringent currency controls.

"The reason Venezuela is contracting is because private activity is contracting," Augusto de la Torre, the World Bank's chief economist for Latin America, said in Washington last week. "What we're seeing in Venezuela is a phenomenon where productivity, private activity and private business is falling."

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