Latin American integration for sale (with a WSJ update)

Hugo Chávez was a man whose rhetoric could only be matched by his wallet. For example, he used to boast about how Petrocaribe, the financing scheme whereby Venezuela sold oil under favorable conditions to several Caribbean nations, was a tool of integration and “transforming union.” “Petrocaribe,” he would say, “is an instrument of liberation.”

I wonder how much “liberation” goes for on eBay.

Today, Miami’s El Nuevo Herald says that bankrupt Venezuela has decided to take the billion dollar debts that the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have with the country and sell them … to Goldman Sachs! The hefty discount is on the order of 60% of the debt’s value, an enormous hit for a country desperate for cash.

(In essence, for those of you less financially inclined, the Domincan Republic owes Venezuela $100, and Venezuela turns around and sells the debt to Goldman Sachs for $40. Now the DR owes Goldman Sachs $100 and, in theory, GS is making a profit of $60 while Venezuela loses $60 relative to book value. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

The paper also reports that Venezuela is planning on doing the same with Jamaica’s debt. According to Miguel Octavio, who knows about this stuff more than I do, the deal is being underwritten by the Dominican Republic itself, wishing to buy its own debt at a fraction of their value.

I’ll leave it to those of you more knowledgeable of the situation to discuss the details in the comments section. But I will say this: if this is true – and apparently it is, given how Goldman Sachs, in typical chavista fashion, has “declined” to comment – then we are looking at the end of Petrocaribe as we know it.

Because, deep down, we all knew Caribbean nations thought they could get away with never paying their Venezuela debt. But if Venezuela continues to sell them off, they will have Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs to deal with. And those guys are a tougher bargain than Maduro will ever be.

It could be that Venezuela is monetizing its debt from all other nations in order to be able to continue supporting Cuba, the only country they really care about. Regardless, that is a vastly different Petrocaribe than the one we have come to know.

Party is over, Caribbean neighbors. That giant sucking sound you hear is the last gasp of one of Hugo Chávez’s signature ventures.

Update: The WSJ’s Kejal Vyas and Justin Baer say negotiations with Goldman Sachs over the DR and Jamaica debt are ongoing, and that an agreement has not been yet finalized.

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