While continuing the commercial and financial embargo and the systematic attack on PDVSA, it was revealed at the start of November that imports of Venezuelan oil to the United States this year have declined to 56 percent compared to last year.
This multi-pronged attack that this state industry is facing as the main foreign exchange earner of the country, has been run by a network of internal allies, many of whom have been detained by the Public Prosecutor's Office in recent months. This was after the former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz became a key factor in allowing the continuity of these mafias to operate within the company.
In addition to corruption and internal sabotage, PDVSA is facing a series of sanctions for the issuance of debt, which has also complicated transactions with U.S. refineries for the purchase of crude oil. In recent months America's banks, under pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, have restricted credit notes that U.S. refineries need to pay for Venezuelan oil. The result is that imports and dividends in dollars have been reduced by half in comparison to 2016.
Trump did not dare take the measure of prohibiting imports from Venezuela, given the many interests of U.S. companies involved, but this multi-pronged attack is making any explicit prohibition unnecessary. The measures taken have managed to make a dent in exports of oil to that country. All this is with the objective of continuing to strangle the Venezuela's economy and force the nation into a debt default by restricting purchases by U.S. refineries.
Forecasts in respect of servicing PDVSA bonds for these dates have been varied. According to Kapital Consultants, between October and November PDVSA must comply with payments of US$3.525 billion for a total of approximately US$9 billion paid in debt interest and capital for the year 2018. As usual, the partial information in this report was used as a means of propaganda by the Venezuelan opposition to confuse and sow doubts about the payment capacity of the company.
According to President Nicolas Maduro, the Republic and PDVSA have paid more than US$71.7 billion in the last four years for capital and debt servicing.
These maneuvers against PDVSA are not isolated and form part of a framework of actions imposed since the Barack Obama administration issued an executive decree which declares Venezuela as a "threat to the national security" of the United States, behind which were the major U.S. oil corporations.
Reports from Reuters and other national media about PDVSA’s alleged inability to pay are part of this plan, adding fuel to the fire of financial terrorism directed from the Rating Agencies against Venezuela as well as from some opposition leaders such as Julio Borges who continues pushing for sanctions.
The U.S. is betting on the default of Venezuela affecting its financial credibility and hampering its debt repayments, as part of a maneuver to force a default on payments that would allow the violation of PDVSA’s international assets and partially block its oil income. However, the timely payments by Venezuela have prevented the default from happening, even if the rating agencies, the treasury department and some Wall Street banks keep pushing in that direction.
But given that this action in the financial war has not yielded the expected results, the U.S. looks as if it will take the road of the oil embargo as its ace card. The objective of pressuring banks and U.S. refineries from buying Venezuelan crude seeks to restrict the flow of dollars into the Venezuelan economy which are used for various purposes – such as debt repayment and imports of basic goods.
Venezuela remains the third largest supplier of oil to the U.S. In 2016, it exported approximately 736,000 barrels per day, what resulted in – if measured at an average basket price of US$30 per barrel – more than US$700 million a month in oil revenues for Venezuela, just from the U.S. market. Due to the financial blockade on purchases of Venezuelan oil imposed by the treasury department on U.S. refineries, that figure has dropped to 255,000 barrels a day, reducing foreign currency income by more than 50 percent.
A few weeks ago the fifth largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, PBF Energy, suspended purchases from PDVSA due to these pressures, while other refiners are struggling to make payments to the Venezuelan State Oil Company.
With these underhand actions by the Trump administration being institutionalized as financial sanctions, the U.S. is forcing Venezuela and PDVSA to have fewer dollars to meet their debt commitments in 2018 (protected at US$8 billion approximately) and in this way is pressing the country to fall into default. Add this to the sanctions preventing the issuance of new debt by PDVSA and Venezuela in the U.S. for refinancing purposes, then this has obliged Maduro to call the holders of debt to start a process of restructuring.
The various corporate maneuvers that aim to make the Venezuelan state pay for its decision to recover its sovereignty over PDVSA, is due not only to the economic implications but also to the geopolitical consequences of this decision. Moscow has begun a restructuring of the Venezuelan debt in a friendly, conversational tone, while Beijing has supported the sovereign decision of the Venezuelan state to refinance its debt. In turn, this cooperation has generated a geopolitical counterweight to the pressure exerted by the U.S. Treasury Department on holders of debt which has resulted in their non-recognition of the negotiations with the Venezuelan government.
What can be observed is that sanctions imposed by the government of Donald Trump against PDVSA, and in particular against Venezuela in general, as well as against other major producers of oil such as Russia and Iran, is that this policy has backfired and had a negative effect on the petrodollar. This could lead to the weakening of the United States role in the world oil trade with very serious, predictable consequences for its economic hegemony in the world.
First published in Mision Verdad on Nov. 3, 2017.
Translated from Spanish by Arturo Rosales from Axis of Logic.