By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Embattled Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro left Wednesday for what he called a “very necessary” state visit to China as Venezuela’s oil production continued declining at the same time as the hyperinflation-wracked country has already defaulted on $6.1 billion of debt.
Local consultancy firm Ecoanalitica said Maduro is trying to get a fresh loan of $5 billion from the Chinese.
Maduro did not say how much he was expecting, but the head of state, who wears his heart on his sleeve, seemed upbeat and a tad needy.
“I am just leaving for the People’s Republic of China in a very necessary state visit, a very opportune one, full of big expectations that are very positive for Venezuela,” Maduro told state television network VTV Canal 8 as he was boarding a plane at the Simon Bolivar international airport, in Maiquetia. “Have the certainty that I will go with the moral strength of this fatherland of liberators to continue walking by the side of the great superpower of this century, the People’s Republic of China.”
“I will see you in a few days, with great achievements,” was the last thing Maduro said on TV.
Maduro needs the money badly in order to soften the blow of an ambitious economic adjustment program he undertook without International Monetary Fund assistance, and which involved a vast devaluation, new and higher taxes as well as a hike in gasoline prices that is already producing violent protests as it is slowly being implemented first in Venezuela’s border states with Colombia.
Besides having already defaulted on over $6 billion of foreign bonds, Maduro faces a slew of other serious problems: Venezuela’s oil production has continued dropping to 1.2 million oil barrels a day, oil producers’ organization OPEC reported Tuesday from Vienna. In direct reporting, Venezuela admitted to a decline, but claimed to be producing above 1.4 million b/d. The oil-poor nation was producing 3.5 million b/d in early 1998, before Maduro’s mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez took over.
The decline in oil production is crucial in determining Venezuela’s future relationship with China: already the South American nation is sending some 400,000 b/d to the Asian giant in order to repay the remaining $20 billion in $65 billion of previous loans.