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Tulane University

David Smilde speaks to PRI about Venezuela'€™s economic crisis

Listen to PRI’s The World speak with Tulane University professor David Smilde who lives in Caracas, where he also works with the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO. Smilde believes the immediate cause of the current crisis in Venezuela is the decline in oil prices. But he says at least 10 years of economic mismanagement are to blame, too.

July 06, 2016
By Daniel Ofman

Not too long ago Venezuela was an oil-rich nation, with a seemingly bright future filled with economic prospects and great potential for growth.

Now Venezuela has an 180 percent inflation rate ‘€” and there are shortages of food, basic goods and power.

Tulane University professor David Smilde lives in Caracas, where he also works with the Washington Office on Latin America, an NGO. He believes the immediate cause of the current crisis in Venezuela is the decline in oil prices. But he says at least 10 years of economic mismanagement are to blame, too.

‘€œNicolas Maduro inherited a set of policies from Hugo Chávez that were created during the good times. These were policies that were completely unsustainable, they were based on continual growth of income from oil,‘€ Smilde said.

According to Smilde, when oil prices were high in the early 2000s the national revenue was mismanaged through the so-called “Bolivarian missions,” a series of government-funded social programs which Chávez started and Maduro has continued.

The Bolivarian missions included anti-poverty initiatives, the construction of free medical clinics, educational campaigns, and the enactment of food and housing subsidies. Critics have called these initiatives irresponsible handouts that didn‘€™t account for potential recessions.

‘€œNow oil revenues have dropped and Venezuela has very little productive capacity, so it can‘€™t produce its own food really and it doesn‘€™t have enough money to import what it needs,‘€ Smilde said.

Venezuela is also suffering because it lacks economic diversity. During the years when oil prices were high, the country relied on oil revenues and imported most of its food. Declining oil prices took down the nation‘€™s economy as a whole.

Venezuela has also accumulated large debt, which is making it even more difficult for the country to climb out of the current crisis.

So far the government has been “making sure to pay its foreign creditors but it has really been reducing the number of dollars that are assigned to importing food and other basic goods. People are really suffering,‘€ Smilde said.

People are standing in lines for hours just to buy food at the grocery store. Others go to the streets and protest, carrying signs demanding food. “Bachaqueros,” nicknamed for carpenter ants which carry big loads on their backs, sell black-market goods to fill the void and turn a profit.

They may be making the crisis more tolerable, but the government doesn‘€™t approve of them.

‘€œThe government sees this as sabotage,‘€ Smilde said, ‘€œsees these people as traitors and so it has tried to clamp down on this bachaquerismo.‘€

Instead the Venezuelan government has promoted committees on local production and supply that are charged with taking bags of food directly to people. However, the system is incredibly inefficient.

‘€œThe real problem is that there‘€™s just not enough food,‘€ Smilde said. “It‘€™s not a distribution problem, it‘€™s a production problem.”

And Smilde says the committees makes supermarket lines worse by pulling merchandise from their shelves. Looting is becoming an increasing threat. Since May there have been an average of 10 lootings a day.

Smilde is fortunate to be able to visit the United States frequently, where he can pack suitcases full of goods to live on. Most Venezuelans do not have that luxury.

‘€œMy heart really goes out to them and it‘€™s one of the reasons that keeps me working on this issue,‘€ Smilde said. ‘€œThere‘€™s not a night that I don‘€™t think about this: ‘€˜What‘€™s going to happen in the next six months?‘€™ Because things are really ugly right now, but they can get significantly worse.‘€

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Latin American Writers Series: Luis Negron

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Ecuadorian writer and Tulane Visiting Scholar Gabriela Aleman interviews Puerto Rican writer Luis Negron about his life, interests, and influences. Their discussion will be followed by an open Q&A and an informal reception. Note: This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the author

Luis Negron was born in Puerto Rico and is a writer, film critic, and bookseller. The English translation of his short-story collection Mundo Cruel, a work originally published in Spanish in 2010, won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. Negron has also written a brief collection of chronicles, Los tres golpes (2016), and served as the editor of Los otros cuerpos: Antología de temática gay, lésbica, y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora (2007). His film reviews have appeared in periodicals like Boston’s La semana (Boston) and Puerto Rico’s Claridad and El poeta.

Latin American Writers Series: Gabriela Wiener

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Tulane Visiting Scholar and Ecuadorian author Gabriela Aleman interviews Peruvian writer Gabriela Wiener about her life, interests, and influences. Their discussion will be followed by an open Q&A and informal reception. Note: This event will be held in Spanish

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin Americas most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reune a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the author

Gabriela Wiener, born in Lima, has published multiple collections of chronicles, including Sexografias (2008), Llamada Perdida (2009), Nueve Lunas (2015), and Dicen de mí (2017), as well as one of poetry, Ejercicios para el endurecimiento del espíritu (2014). The English translation of her first book, Sexographies, was released in 2018. Her writing also regularly appears in periodicals in Europe, South America, and the United States. In 2018, Wiener shared the IPYS Premio Nacional de Periodismo in Peru with Diego Salazar for Una historia de terror en París a piece exposing the sex crimes of poet Reynaldo Naranjo.

Latin American Writers Series: Andrea Palet (Editorial Laurel)

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Editorial Director Andrea Palet presents the history, philosophy, and ongoing projects of Editorial Laurel, a publishing house founded in Santiago, Chile in 2014. Her presentation sheds light on the changing landscape of literature in the Americas today. It will be followed by a reception. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Speaker

Andrea Palet is the founding editorial director of Editorial Laurel, established in 2014 in Santiago, Chile. Under her leadership, the house has released the works of more than 20 novelists, essayists, and chroniclers. Paleta also oversees the Master of Editing program at the Universidad de Diego Portales. A collection of her columns, Leo y olvido, was released in 2018 by Ediciones Bastante.

Latin American Writers Series: Power Paola

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Ecuadorian author and Tulane Visiting scholar Gabriela Alemán interviews Colombian writer and visual artist Power Paola about her life, interests, and influences. Their discussion will be followed by an open Q&A and an informal reception. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Powerpaola was born Paola Andrea Gaviria Silguero in Cali, Colombia. Writer, visual artist, and filmmaker, she has published the graphic novels Virus Tropical (2011), Por Dentro_ (2012), _Diario_ (2013), _qp_ (2014), _Todo va a estar bien (2015), and Nos vamos (2016). She also collaborated on the film adaptation of Virus Tropical, which won the 2019 Quirino award for Best Ibero-American Animation Feature Film. Her artwork has been exhibited in museums and galleries in Europe, Austrialia, and the Americas.

Latin American Writers Series: Martín Fernández (Casa Editorial HUM/Estuario Editora)

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Martín Fernández, editorial director of Casa Editorial HUM and Estuario Editora in Montevideo, Uruguay, presents the houses’ histories, missions, and ongoing projects. His presentation sheds light on the changing landscape of literature in the Americas today. It will be followed by an informal reception. Note: This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Speaker

Martin Fernández is the Editorial director of the publishing houses Casa Editorial HUM and Estuario Editora in Montevideo, Uruguay. He founded HUM in 2007 after leaving his previous project, the underground publishing house ArteFato, which he co-directed between 2004 and 2007. HUM and Estuario publish contemporary Uruguayan literature in high-quality, aesthetically distinct editions. They have collectively released more than 400 titles.

Latin American Writers Series: Alberto Barrera Tyszka

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Ecuadorian writer and Tulane Visiting Scholar Gabriela Alemán interviews Venezuelan writer Alberto Barrera Tyszka about his life, interests, and influences. Their discussion will be followed by an open Q&A and an informal reception. This event will be held in Spanish.

About the Latin American Writers Series

This series brings together Latin America’s most representative creative voices and the editorial entrepreneurs that publish them. By way of interviews conducted by renowned Ecuadorian writer Gabriela Alemán and presentations of various editorial missions, the guests will shed light on a literary world shaped by the contemporary issues of the continent. Moving forward, their conversations will comprise the centerpiece of a digital archive that introduces their ideas to a global audience.

Este serie reúne a los autores más representativos de la escritura continental y los editores que los publican. A través de entrevistas con la reconocida escritora ecuatoriana Gabriela Alemán y presentaciones de proyectos editoriales, los invitados explorarán los vínculos entre el mundo literario y la realidad continental. Sus conversaciones se convertirán después en el eje de un archivo digital que busca llevar estas ideas a un público global.

About the Author

Born in Caracas, Alberto Barrera Tyszka has published over a dozen works of poetry, short story, chronicle, novel, and biography. His most recent publications include the novels Patria o Muerte (2015) and Rating (2011), the poetic anthology La inquietud (2013), the collection of chronicles Un país a la semana (2013), and the short story collection Crímenes (2009). In 2005, he collaborated with Cristina Marcano to write the definitive biography of Hugo Chávez, Hugo Chávez sin uniforme: una historia personal (2005). Patria o muerte won the 2015 Premio Tusquets de Novela, and his novel La enfermedad, translated into English as The Sickness (2010), received the 2006 Herralde Award. Barrera also writes for television and has scripted soap operas for Venezuelan, Mexican, Colombian, and Argentinian networks.