Archive for December, 2003

Happy New Year to all

December 31, 2003


Happy New Year everyone, let 2004 bring us peace, harmony and all our wishes (Including that one!)

Happy New Year to all

December 31, 2003


Happy New Year everyone, let 2004 bring us peace, harmony and all our wishes (Including that one!)

PDVSA reduced to rubble by Jose Toro Hardy

December 30, 2003

 


Jose Toro Hardy, who was an outside Director of PDVSA during the second Caldera administration, wrote this article today in El Universal that I think is worth translating. In very simple words Toro Hardy summarizes what everyone already knows about the state of the country’s oil industry (I wonder what his brother, the country’s Ambassador to Great Britain, would tell an Englishman that asked him about the veracity of his brother’s article):


 


PDVSA reduced to ruble by Jose Toro Hardy


 


PDVSA is suffering the consequences of a revolutionary cataclysm. After firing more than 20,000 workers with an average of fifteen years working for the company, the Government threw away in the waste basket some 300,000 years of experience and knowledge that those workers had accumulated. The results have been what was expected. Let’s see some details:


 


Production volume is falling in dramatic ways. Although the Ministry of Energy and Mines asserts that production is at 3.3 million barrels a day, the true numbers that come from abroad, from either OPEC, or the International Energy Agency. Production is currently around 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.


 


Curiously, private investors that arrived with the oil opening (so criticized by Commander Chávez) are what has saved the day for the Government. Production from those projects has increased some 600,000 barrels per day to reach close to one million barrels a day. Meanwhile PDVSA’s own production has fallen from 2.7 million barrels a day to 1.5 million barrels.


 


Production by those private investors comes from the strategic associations of the Orinoco Oil Belt and from the marginal oil fields. However, in the case of the first, royalties are only 1% during the first 8 years, while in the case of the marginal oil fields, PDVSA has to pay a fee per barrel produced by the operators. The result is that the production that is increasing is the one that adds the least fiscal contribution to the Nation.  The production that contributes the most, that of PDVSA, is collapsing.


 


Each year, due to normal production activities, the country’s oil production potential falls by approximately 25%. To replace these reserves, as well as expand the production potential according to plan, some US$ 5 billion in investments is required. Since those investments have not been made, PDVSA’s production is falling with giant steps. In the budget for 2004, the Government estimates a production of some 2.8 million barrels of oil a day. In the face of and absence of investments, that number may fall around two million barrels of oil a day.


 


The value of our exports is also falling abruptly. Our refineries are no longer capable of producing oil derivatives of higher value. As an example, last year 13 tankers of reformulated gasoline were exported monthly to the US. So far this year, there are news that only one such shipment has left, in the whole year. And it was returned when it arrived at its destination because it did not comply with all of the quality standards. But even less complex products and of less value, such as the case of diesel fuel, have been affected. Recently Shell returned a shipment of Diesel sold to Brazil because it did not meet specifications.


 


PDVSA was not able to meet on time the requirement that it present its annual report to the SEC in the US, which implies that financial markets are closed. And the fact is that no serious auditing firm wants the responsibility of auditing PDVSA’s finances. Moreover, facing an avalanche of accidents of all sorts, that have ended the extraordinary safety record that used to characterize the company, nobody wants to insure PDVSA either.


 


I am also informed that of the thirteen PDVSA tankers, six are broken down and others have lost their certification to navigate in international waters.


 


Many of our young and vital oil fields of Monagas State are suffering damage that may be irreversible, as a consequence of the fact that they are not being operated adequately in the reinjection operations with gas. Meanwhile, oil production in the Western part of the country has suffered a true collapse.


Such a situation is now affecting our affiliate CITGO in the US. To fulfill its commitments with CITGO, PDVSA had been mixing light crudes from the East of the country with crudes of less value produced in the West. But since the production of the latter has collapsed, PDVSA is trying to cancel supply contracts that had been in place for 25 years, since it believes it can obtain better margins selling those light crudes to third party clients.


 


And let us not speak of the brutal corruption that has taken over the “PDVSA of the people”. It is said that even whole shipments have disappeared. What a disaster!


 


The panorama is desolate. The revolution has managed to reduce to rubble what until recently was the second largest oil corporation in the whole world.

When Governments simply don’t care…

December 30, 2003

 


Via the Instapundit I get to read a bunch of articles on the Iranian earthquake that remind me a lot of what happens in Venezuela. First of all, I find this thought on the comparison of the two societies quite insightful from an article in The Guardian:


 


“you would anticipate a culture of corporate greed in which safety and regulation came way behind the desire to turn the quick buck. Instead you discover a society in which the protection of citizens from falling masonry seems to be regarded as enormously important”


 


Because it turns out that the reason a weaker quake in Bam, Iran, killed 40,000 while a stronger one killed only three is simply neglect on the part of the Government and not, as many think, the fact that the houses are made of mud. In fact, it turns out that modern buildings and hospitals were the first to collapse as described here or as someone is quoted in the previous article:


 


“How many times have we reminded the ruling establishment that the first structures to fall during a major earthquake would be those dealing with emergency management and relief, such as hospitals, police and fire stations? The officials in charge are either deaf or simply don’t care.”


 


Or as Iranian blogger Derakshan says:


 


“Nothing could ever show the real sense of diconnectivity and distrust between Iranian people and the Islamic regime, and its deeply dysfunctionality better than a devastating quake.”   or


 


“When a government can run the whole country only by the oil and gas income, it doesn’t have to answer its people’s needs; it only thinks about its own needs.”  or


 


“So it’s not important for the government that tens of thousands of lives are lost in road accidents every year, or millions are living in homes poorly resistible against any earthquake bigger than 5 Richter, or millions are open to different kinds of cancer because of the poisonously polluted air of Tehran, etc.” or


 


“But they are pretty concerned about their own power and the threat from their own enemies; so they are always ready to spend a whole year of oil income, $16 billion, to achieve nuclear technology to use it as defensive weapons.”


 


It all seems so familiar. Traffic accidents are the third cause of death in Venezuela despite or because of its poor roads. The number of murders in Caracas has increased from 1400 in 1998 (which was too high already!!) to 2265 in 2003 (From today’s El Nacional). It makes you wonder whether if an earthquake like the one in 1967 hit Caracas, which had an intensity of 6.5 in the Richter scale and killed 300 people, more buildings built since then would collapse than the ones that withstood that quake.  In fact, many Venezuelans still remember how our current President was like Nero with Rome in flames, as mudslides killed an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people in 1999. The rains had been heavy for days and the warning signs were there. But the priority was to complete the referendum approving the new Constitution. It got done as the mudslides hit their peak in earnest. There is still no accounting for the funds earmarked for reconstructing the disaster area.


 


Thus, politicians, fundamentalists and corrupt Government officials are very much the same everywhere. Remarkably, so is the effect of The Devil’s Excrement on people’s frame of mind as demonstrated by an Iranian who is quoted as saying:


 


“disgrace that a rich country like ours with all the revenue from oil and other natural resources is not prepared to deal with an earthquake”.


 


This sounds so familiar, many Venezuelans think like that. Amazingly enough, Iran has oil income which is slightly below Venezuela’s, but it has 66 million people versus Venezuela’s 25 million. And whether we like it or not, both countries are indeed poor.

When Governments simply don’t care…

December 30, 2003

 


Via the Instapundit I get to read a bunch of articles on the Iranian earthquake that remind me a lot of what happens in Venezuela. First of all, I find this thought on the comparison of the two societies quite insightful from an article in The Guardian:


 


“you would anticipate a culture of corporate greed in which safety and regulation came way behind the desire to turn the quick buck. Instead you discover a society in which the protection of citizens from falling masonry seems to be regarded as enormously important”


 


Because it turns out that the reason a weaker quake in Bam, Iran, killed 40,000 while a stronger one killed only three is simply neglect on the part of the Government and not, as many think, the fact that the houses are made of mud. In fact, it turns out that modern buildings and hospitals were the first to collapse as described here or as someone is quoted in the previous article:


 


“How many times have we reminded the ruling establishment that the first structures to fall during a major earthquake would be those dealing with emergency management and relief, such as hospitals, police and fire stations? The officials in charge are either deaf or simply don’t care.”


 


Or as Iranian blogger Derakshan says:


 


“Nothing could ever show the real sense of diconnectivity and distrust between Iranian people and the Islamic regime, and its deeply dysfunctionality better than a devastating quake.”   or


 


“When a government can run the whole country only by the oil and gas income, it doesn’t have to answer its people’s needs; it only thinks about its own needs.”  or


 


“So it’s not important for the government that tens of thousands of lives are lost in road accidents every year, or millions are living in homes poorly resistible against any earthquake bigger than 5 Richter, or millions are open to different kinds of cancer because of the poisonously polluted air of Tehran, etc.” or


 


“But they are pretty concerned about their own power and the threat from their own enemies; so they are always ready to spend a whole year of oil income, $16 billion, to achieve nuclear technology to use it as defensive weapons.”


 


It all seems so familiar. Traffic accidents are the third cause of death in Venezuela despite or because of its poor roads. The number of murders in Caracas has increased from 1400 in 1998 (which was too high already!!) to 2265 in 2003 (From today’s El Nacional). It makes you wonder whether if an earthquake like the one in 1967 hit Caracas, which had an intensity of 6.5 in the Richter scale and killed 300 people, more buildings built since then would collapse than the ones that withstood that quake.  In fact, many Venezuelans still remember how our current President was like Nero with Rome in flames, as mudslides killed an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people in 1999. The rains had been heavy for days and the warning signs were there. But the priority was to complete the referendum approving the new Constitution. It got done as the mudslides hit their peak in earnest. There is still no accounting for the funds earmarked for reconstructing the disaster area.


 


Thus, politicians, fundamentalists and corrupt Government officials are very much the same everywhere. Remarkably, so is the effect of The Devil’s Excrement on people’s frame of mind as demonstrated by an Iranian who is quoted as saying:


 


“disgrace that a rich country like ours with all the revenue from oil and other natural resources is not prepared to deal with an earthquake”.


 


This sounds so familiar, many Venezuelans think like that. Amazingly enough, Iran has oil income which is slightly below Venezuela’s, but it has 66 million people versus Venezuela’s 25 million. And whether we like it or not, both countries are indeed poor.

Are you flower eater?

December 28, 2003

Are you a flower eater or not? If you have no clue about what I am talking about or even if you do, you should read Fracisco Toro’s excellent post on the subject in his now revived (just pressuring him!) blog.

Oil, Oil, Oil

December 28, 2003

 


Even at quiet times (I will ignore Chavez asking to spend the international reserves again today) oil is always in the news in Venezuela, the latest:


 


-PDVSA signed a letter of intent with Russian conglomerate Alfa Group to sell the 50% it owns in the Ruhr refinery with Veba oil. The procedure is certainly unorthodox. Alfa will carry out a due diligence process, after which a price will be discussed. Now, this seems to be unusual and no explanation has been given as to why the process will lack so much transparency. The traditional way: you open a data room, everyone that wants can see the financial and technical information, this is followed by a bidding process with a minimum price and the highest bid wins would seem more appropriate. Of course, some may say I am just against the Government.


 


-El Nacional (by subscription) today points out the widening disparity between the numbers that PDVSA claims and those that the Central Bank publishes. According to PDVSA the corporation has sold US$ 17 billion in oil, but the Central bank reports only 12.6 billion. According to a source quoted in the article from within PDVSA, the US$ 17 billion is an “estimate” as the company no longer has the systems and controls to even verify its sales. Thus the difference between the two numbers PDVSA claims it will hand over the remaining US$ 4 billion during December.


 


-Alberto Quiroz Corradi in today’s El Nacional says that production is at 2.6 million barrels per day, the oil fields in the North part of Monagas state have severe damage that might force PDVSA to shut them down, western production is severely down and  all oil tankers owned by PDVSA require overhaul.


 


Of the above, the first two are facts; the third is an opinion from an expert. All three are cause for concern. Of course, given the title of this blog, maybe some may think it is a positive that we are managing to destroy the devil’s excrement too.

A look at a wonderful Venezuelan artist: GEGO

December 28, 2003

 


Given the piece and quiet I will take advantage of it and talk about Venezuelan things that people may know little about. I will start with GEGO a famous Venezuelan artist. A good friend gave me as a Christmas present a new book about the life and works of Venezuelan artist GEGO. The book is absolutely spectacular and beautiful (my friend is one of the authors) more so given the fact that I love GEGO’s work.


 


Most Venezuelans hardly even know who GEGO is. Her real name was Gertrud Goldschmidt. Born in Hamburg, GEGO had to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In 1938, she graduated as an architect-engineer in Stuttgart and left for London where she got a job offer for Venezuela. She got married soon after arriving here and had a shop in the 40’s where she made furniture and lamps, much needed, given the lack of imports due to the war. She divorces her first husband and her artistic career begins when she meets another immigrant from Lithuania named Gerd Leufert in 1952. She moves to a tiny town in the Coast near Caracas and begins her career in earnest. She is best known for her three dimensional sculptures. Geometric and non geometric structures which I have always found extremely appealing. I am no expert on GEGO, but her geometric sculptures can be divided into two stages. The first one corresponds to highly symmetrical sculptures. The second to more irregular geometrical figures. In 1969, she designs Reticularea a full room sculpture made from wires and through which one can wander through. While most Venezuelans don’t even know her, her work can be seen in many buildings around Caracas, like in the  Cediaz shopping center, Paseo Las Mercedes, Parque Central, IVIC, Banco Industrial de Venezuela and INCE. Slowly, GEGO is becoming more and more famous worldwide, with some of her sculptures now topping US$ 100,000. Her work is now present in most major Modern Art Museums. Her family still owns most of her works which I think adds to the current mystique surrounding her work. Below are some examples of her work I found in the net, including the famous Reticularea. You can see some more of her work in the Web, like Dibujos sin Papel , read more about her here or here or here. While not born in Venezuela, GEGO developed her artistic career here and benefited from the boom in art and architecture in Venezuela during the fifties and sixties.


 



Two Views of the room size Reticularea



Sphere #4                                                 Square Reticularea #6



Chorros                                       Drawing without Paper


 

A look at a wonderful Venezuelan artist: GEGO

December 28, 2003

 


Given the piece and quiet I will take advantage of it and talk about Venezuelan things that people may know little about. I will start with GEGO a famous Venezuelan artist. A good friend gave me as a Christmas present a new book about the life and works of Venezuelan artist GEGO. The book is absolutely spectacular and beautiful (my friend is one of the authors) more so given the fact that I love GEGO’s work.


 


Most Venezuelans hardly even know who GEGO is. Her real name was Gertrud Goldschmidt. Born in Hamburg, GEGO had to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In 1938, she graduated as an architect-engineer in Stuttgart and left for London where she got a job offer for Venezuela. She got married soon after arriving here and had a shop in the 40’s where she made furniture and lamps, much needed, given the lack of imports due to the war. She divorces her first husband and her artistic career begins when she meets another immigrant from Lithuania named Gerd Leufert in 1952. She moves to a tiny town in the Coast near Caracas and begins her career in earnest. She is best known for her three dimensional sculptures. Geometric and non geometric structures which I have always found extremely appealing. I am no expert on GEGO, but her geometric sculptures can be divided into two stages. The first one corresponds to highly symmetrical sculptures. The second to more irregular geometrical figures. In 1969, she designs Reticularea a full room sculpture made from wires and through which one can wander through. While most Venezuelans don’t even know her, her work can be seen in many buildings around Caracas, like in the  Cediaz shopping center, Paseo Las Mercedes, Parque Central, IVIC, Banco Industrial de Venezuela and INCE. Slowly, GEGO is becoming more and more famous worldwide, with some of her sculptures now topping US$ 100,000. Her work is now present in most major Modern Art Museums. Her family still owns most of her works which I think adds to the current mystique surrounding her work. Below are some examples of her work I found in the net, including the famous Reticularea. You can see some more of her work in the Web, like Dibujos sin Papel , read more about her here or here or here. While not born in Venezuela, GEGO developed her artistic career here and benefited from the boom in art and architecture in Venezuela during the fifties and sixties.


 



Two Views of the room size Reticularea



Sphere #4                                                 Square Reticularea #6



Chorros                                       Drawing without Paper


 

Rambling about these very quiet days

December 27, 2003

 


It is quite remarkable how everything simply dies for Christmas and New Year’s here in Venezuela. I worked yesterday, but the phones barely rang, it was very quiet. It was also quiet on the political front as both Government and opposition figures simply disappeared from the scene (feels great!) except for a few headline grabbers trying to take advantage of the absence of news. One of them was Antonio Ledezma who was trying to make an issue of the fact that 86 of the 250 boxes of the copies of the signatures had not been handed back to the Coordinadora Democrática. Essentially, each form and its copy had to be stamped as received, a laborious process. Then, you keep your stamped copy as proof that you indeed handed it in. Supposedly, the Secretary of the CNE had refused to let go of 86 of the 250 the boxes of copies. I am not too concerned about this, I am sure they had a Christmas party or something like that and closed down early.


 


It makes you wonder when a country needs growth and prosperity, how it can shut down so drastically for over two weeks. Basically, from Christmas day on there is no activity until January 5th. which happens to be a banking holiday. But traffic, a good measure of economic activity, really does not pick up again until mid January, as Venezuelans go to their home towns, visit family, go to Margarita and the lucky ones go abroad. I know this happens everywhere, but I have never seen anything like what happens here. In fact, yesterday, the eight or nine companies we work with in the US were mostly closed, with everyone taking Friday off. But I am sure most of them will be back on Monday in almost full force.


 


One person not taking the day of was Greg from the BBC, who is here in Caracas. Greg got in touch with me through the blog to interview me about why Venezuelans seem to be less and less involved with politics, despite what everyone may think and believe about it. (Any thoughts on this out there?) He came to my home in the afternoon with his Venezuelan girlfriend Ana, who is also a journalist. It was quite pleasant; it is always nice taking about Venezuela with someone from abroad, see how they view us, what their thoughts and concerns are. The interview itself was short, but we talked up a storm about quite a number of things for quite a while. Hope he reads this and we do it again with some glasses of wine in front of us next time!

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