The Political Economy of Gas Smuggling

El suero lo quiere de 87 o de 91?
Health care, bachaqueo-style

Caracas-based economist Asdrubal Oliveros recently estimated 130,000 barrels of gasoline are now smuggled across the border to Colombia each and every day.

That’s a big number. How big?

Well, assuming our men in uniform are bad at business and only make $65 per barrel sold (they’re wholesalers, after all), that would work out $8.5 million dollars every day, $253.5 million dollars a month, $3.08 billion a year.

You could make three thousand milicos millionaires for that kind of money, and still have spare change to cut another 843 of them $100,000 gifts. (Note: the government believes the amount is about $2.2 billion per year)

In some ways, the headline figure is actually quite small. It’s only a fifth of the $14-15 billion a year in foregone sales from subsidizing gasoline in the first place, and much less than the $25 billion a year we would be earning from extra oil produced in the Orinoco Belt if Chávez hadn’t muscled out our foreign partners in 2005-2006 and production had risen according to what was then the schedule, but hasn’t cuz, y’know, he did.

But the bachaqueo (the local term for selling subsidized goods at market prices in Colombia) loss is different. These aren’t losses that vanish in a puff of inefficiency. This is money that is pretty much stolen and very much deposited into the actual bank accounts of a few very real human beings, in sums big enough to give them very powerful reasons to ensure it keeps flowing.

So, keep that in mind the next time you get worked up over those 45% salary rises Maduro has approved for the armed forces. For the better connected of these guys, salaries are just retainers.

There are billions of real reasons they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the regime in power, and they probably lie in some vault in the Cayman Islands.

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