The Inter-American Development Bank is quietly circulating an analysis that foresees an up to $48 billion infusion of capital into the Venezuelan economy should President Nicolás Maduro be removed from office. A pair of confidential documents, both called “Venezuela: Challenges and Opportunities,” outlines a four-year plan to open the country’s beleaguered economy to foreign corporations through privatization, structural reforms, and public-private partnerships.
The documents — slide decks that were obtained by The Intercept — are circulating in an 11-slide summarized version and a 27-slide full version, both classified as “confidential.” The author is marked in the first slides of both presentations as the bank’s secretary, who is responsible for organizing discussions between the bank, governments, and private companies. The presentations, which are dated March 15, are addressed to executive directors of the Inter-American Development Bank and IDB Invest, the bank’s investment arm aimed at lending to private companies.
Founded in 1959, the IDB offers financing and technical assistance for infrastructure, health, and education projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The bank is owned by 48 countries: 26 borrowing member countries and 22 nonborrowing member countries. Currently, the five largest shareholders are the U.S., with 30 percent of voting shares; Argentina and Brazil, with 11.2 percent each; Mexico, with 7.2 percent; and Japan, which has 5 percent of voting shares.
The improvements in Venezuelans’ daily lives would allow self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó to claim a victory — by benefiting from international assistance that is being denied to the current leadership.
The dominant position of the U.S. has raised questions about the bank’s independence. Indeed, U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance on regime change helped urge IDB officials into pushing the analysis of a post-Maduro Venezuela, a source told The Intercept.
The Maduro regime has long claimed that the country’s economic collapse is the result of a capital crunch driven by sanctions and a coordinated financial assault by the United States for the purposes of undermining and overthrowing the socialist government. The emergence of the IDB-led plan will only heighten those suspicions.
The proposal for international largesse could be a boon to an incoming administration. If all went according to plan, the improvements in Venezuelans’ daily lives would allow opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó, or another incoming president, to claim a victory — by benefiting from international assistance that is being denied to the current leadership. Meanwhile, Venezuela would be stripped of its public assets.
The IDB documents were supposed to have been presented at the IDB’s annual meeting from March 26 to 31 in Chengdu, China. Controversy erupted, however, because the IDB had invited Guiadó’s economic coordinator and IDB representative, Ricardo Hausmann. Beijing — the meeting’s host, a Maduro ally, and a minority 0.004 percent shareholder with the bank — has not recognized Guiadó’s rule and denied a visa to Hausmann, a Harvard University economist and Guiadó’s representative to the IDB. The turmoil caused the cancellation of the China meeting just days before it was set to occur.
Another source, an IDB insider, told The Intercept that inside the bank, regime change in Caracas is seen as a question of when, not if, and many believe that it will happen soon. Nonetheless, the urgency around the plan apparently faded after the highly publicized failure of a plan by Guaidó and allies to bring truckloads of “humanitarian aid” over the Colombian border. The bank leaders, the source said, had hoped that the convoy would help trigger Maduro’s downfall. Bank leaders have since become less optimistic that he will be removed from power in the near term.
The documents do not delve into specifics about where the full $48 billion investment would come from. The Intercept arrived at the total number by adding up subtotals for the three “key recovery areas” listed in the presentation: “urgent needs of the population,” “basic infrastructure,” and “institutional reforms.” The presentation broke down these estimated investments into two columns: phase one on one side, and annual totals for phases two and three combined on the other. Because phases two and three are expected to last for three years, those annual totals were multiplied by three and added to the first phase investments, leading to the grand total of $48 billion. (The slides noted that the investment levels required for “basic infrastructure” exclude investments in the country’s “hydrocarbons and energy sector.”)
Though the slide decks do not state where the money would come from, $48 billion in loans would likely be unprecedented in the IDB’s 60-year history. In response to an inquiry from The Intercept, a spokesperson for the IDB said, “While I have not seen the document you mention, by the size of the number, it probably refers to a much larger lending or assistance package involving many institutions, not just to IDB-financed operations. It is almost three times what the IDB approves in a single year.”
Two sources with direct knowledge of the proposal — one in the U.S. and one in Brazil — confirmed the authenticity of the documents, and a third source told The Intercept that the plan exists. All three sources requested anonymity to discuss the proposal because of fears of professional reprisal.
The Intercept is declining to publish the documents out of concerns over source protection.
A parallel business forum to the China summit — coordinated by IDB Invest, formerly known as the Inter-American Investment Corporation — was also canceled. CEOs of major companies had been invited to attend, including electrical giants such as the U.S.-based AES Corporation and Italy’s Terna; construction firms like South Korea’s DOHWA Engineering and Mexico’s ICA; and energy players like Colombia’s Terpel and Canadian Solar. (An IDB spokesperson told The Intercept that the 2019 annual meeting has not yet been rescheduled and that the business forum will no longer take place.)
In March, the IDB was the first multilateral international organization to recognize Guaidó as interim president, less than two months after Trump did.
Hausmann, who served as the IDB’s first chief economist from 1994 to 2000 and more recently consulted for the bank, was instrumental in formulating the analysis circulated to the executive directors of the IDB and IDB Invest, according to one of The Intercept’s sources. (Hausmann did not respond to a request for comment.)
Over the past several months, Hausmann has been making public remarks about the need for international loans and investments in Venezuela to spur its economic recovery in the wake of Maduro’s fall. Speaking to The Economist last January, he said Venezuela would need a loan in excess of $60 billion over three years. In another interview with the Harvard Gazette a few days later, Hausmann said the reconstruction effort would “involve international financial assistance, probably a significant program led by the International Monetary Fund.”
Hausmann’s involvement with Guaidó’s purported interim government suggests that he is optimistic about the collapse of Maduro’s government — a view that at this time has not yet been borne out by events.
On April 11, Hausmann spoke before an assembled group of international finance ministers brought together by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “Today, the Ministers reviewed steps taken since January to increase financial pressure on the Maduro regime and additional steps to support the democratically elected National Assembly and Interim President Guaidó,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “The Ministers then discussed plans for future economic support of Venezuela. We welcomed to this discussion Dr. Ricardo Hausmann, whom Interim President Guaidó has designated as coordinator of his economic advisors.”
Mnuchin said after the meeting that $10 billion in international financing to spark trade would be made available to Venezuela once a new government came to power.
The IDB documents provide an overview of Venezuela’s socioeconomic disaster under Maduro, describing a free fall in nearly every indicator from maternal mortality to soaring hyperinflation. The documents highlight that private investment represented a mere 0.7 percent of an already low gross domestic product in 2017 and that oil production fell by 60 percent over 12 years, reaching the lowest levels since 1949.
The oil factor has been crucial. Venezuela is home to the largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, which accounts for 92 percent of the government’s revenue. In 2011, oil was trading at over $100 per barrel but crashed in recent years. “Faced with declining external liquidity, the government has applied measures to ration hard currency and cut imports since 2013,” the full slide deck reads, noting that Venezuela produces only 25 percent of the food it needs.
Through the tragedy, the IDB sees a business “environment with opportunities,” particularly “abundant natural resources (minerals and oil)”; “commitment of support from the international community”; and a “resilient private sector committed to recovery.” The bank estimates that, with an annual investment of $14 billion, oil production could surpass 3 million barrels per day by 2029. By last December, the country was extracting 1.1 million barrels per day, according to data from the Organization Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The focus on ramping up oil production runs counter to many international institutions’ warnings about climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world economy has 12 years to move rapidly in the opposite direction — cutting down its reliance on fossil fuels.
Under current law, the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA must have a majority stake in all oil projects, a hurdle to foreign investment.
The United States, for its part, has always been keenly interested in Venezuelan oil. “That’s the country we should be going to war with. They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door,” Trump reportedly said in a private conversation in 2017, according to a book by former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. U.S. oil giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips filed billions in arbitration claims when Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez expropriated their Venezuelan operations in 2007. If Maduro were to fall, it would offer an opportunity for them and others to re-enter the Venezuelan market.
The proposed infusion of cash laid out in the IDB plan would serve as a carrot to induce foreign governments and business leaders to support the U.S.-led push to overthrow Maduro.
Notably, the IDB documents obtained by The Intercept lay out what the bank calls “priority actions”: eliminating obstacles for private companies, financing international trade, and establishing new legislation to re-privatize government-owned companies.
The proposed infusion of cash laid out in the IDB plan would serve as a carrot to induce foreign governments and business leaders to support the U.S.-led push to overthrow Maduro. The plan calls for $4.5 billion in the first year to repair basic infrastructure, such as electricity, water supply, and transportation. The figures, the bank stresses, do not include “private investments in the oil and energy sectors.”
The infusion of capital would have three specific goals, the documents say: “stability,” with the normalization of food stocks and health and education services; “execution” of basic infrastructure repairs; and institutional reforms aimed at “reversing the brain drain.” Professionals have been fleeing the country in droves and a recent nationwide blackout was likely exacerbated by the exodus of expertise needed to keep basic government services running.
Although it includes $11.5 billion for humanitarian aid, such as food distribution to 25 million people and unconditional cash transfers to 17 million, the bulk of the plan is based on the well-known neoliberal prescription adopted throughout Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, with dubious results.
The subsidies and direct support — even on electricity and basic sanitation — in the IDB proposal could help a new government gain popular support and alleviate suffering during a crucial transitional period. But the subsidies and direct support funding would be cut dramatically over the course of four years.
The deepest changes in the economy would come only in the medium- and long-term. In a slide titled “What can be done in the energy sector?” the IDB proposes legislative reforms to open the electricity market to the private sector within the first 12 months following regime change, to be followed by public-private partnerships (“key to financing,” in the words of the bank), rate revisions (frozen since 2002), and only targeted subsidies.
Among the “urgent priorities for public administration,” the bank’s proposal demands steps such as “a budget law,” “recovering the capacity to generate statistics for policy formulation,” and “mechanisms for the gradual dismantling of electricity, water, gasoline, and public transportation subsidies.”
According to the IDB’s 2018 financial statement, the Venezuelan government has been considered to be in default since last May. Currently, $233 million in loans are in arrears. Since 2012, the bank has not made any new deals with Caracas and since 2017, all loan disbursements have stopped.