Venezuela has the world's largest proven reserves of petroleum. In 1998, when Bolivarian socialist Hugo Chavez was elected president, the country was producing about 3.5 million barrels of oil a day. As recently as 2013, when Nicolas Maduro ascended to the presidencey upon Chavez's death, the country was still pumping out about 2.8 million barrels a day. Since 2016, month daily production has dropped to 1.5 million barrels.
Venezuela's heavy crude oil needs to be diluted with lighter petroleum products so that it can be refined into fuels. The Independent reports that as a result of the ongoing collapse of domestic refining, the South American country is now obliged to import about 200,000 barrels a day of diluents from the United States. The Venezuelan government sells gasoline at 1 cent per liter (80 cents in the U.S.). Even with the fanciful assumption that all the petroleum in a barrel could be refined into vehicle fuel, a rough calculation implies a value of $1.60 per barrel. The diluents from the U.S. cost about $80 to $90 per barrel.
"One of the craziest things is that a part of Venezuela's imports is for the domestic market, but given its price, they practically give gasoline away for free," Francisco Monaldi, a fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University, tells The Independent. "They are importing barrels that cost $80 to $90 and selling them at $0."
Despite Chavez's dysfunctional economic policies, Venezuela's GDP ascended along with oil prices during the first decade of the 21st century. But since peaking at $334 billion in 2011, the country's GDP has dropped to $215 billion. The economy shrank by 16 percent last year, and the International Monetary Fund projects it will shrink by another 15 percent this year. Inflation, meanwhile, is nearing an annual rate of 9,000 percent.
As The Independent notes:
Oil makes up more than 90 per cent of the nation's exports, but a combination of government corruption, lack of investment and the migration of qualified staff have left the industry in ruins. It's a crisis that has directly hit the country's ability to import resources like food or medicine for the Venezuelan population.
It is a vicious spiral. It is estimated that 10 per cent of the population has emigrated. Almost two thirds of all households have at least one family member living abroad. And among those 3 million migrants are young and competent workers who have escaped from a country that sinks deeper into crisis.
This is what real socialism looks like.