The appointment of Rodolfo Medina as Finance Minister was – understandably – overshadowed from the get-go by the appointment of The Undertaker, the shockingly looney tunes minister-sans-portfolio Luis Salas.

Yet Medina’s promotion was remarkable in a very Venezuelan way: he’s the first real Economist in charge of the Finance Ministry since at least 8 years, and the first economist of any description in any cabinet post at in the Maduro era. Just based on his career path, he seems like a huge improvement over his legendarily clueless predecessor, Rodolfo Marco Torres. 

But don’t get too jolly just yet. I can tell you a thing or two about Rodolfo Medina, because some years ago I sat in a stuffy UCV classroom week in and week out struggling over the equations he was scribbling on the blackboard.

Yup, my old prof now runs the Finance Ministry. Imagine that.

Coffee and Medina Gossip

I called around to some old friends from those days to get their take on the appointment. One of them, I remembered, had even been his “preparador de laboratorio,” a kind of UCVized Teaching Assistant to the guy.

“Háblame mano, did you see Profe Medina yesterday? So crazy seeing him as FinMin…”

“Yeah, man,” he replied, “that good-for-nothing, greedy Marco Torres lap dog seized power…shocking!”

LOL man, I couldn’t believe it. Do you think he’ll last? He was your boss at ONAPRE, right?”

“Yeah, but let’s get real. He’s nothing more than a figurehead for Marco Torres. He’s there just to bring coffee, sign paperwork, take the credit for the hard work of his employees and preach false humility.”

That blows, man,” I say. “I thought he was ok as a professor…”

He gives me a bemused look, like a parent correcting a horribly misguided child. “Trust me,” he says “I had him in grad school taught, that guy doesn’t know shit. And working for him was hell.”

Rodolfo Medina taught my undergrad Econometrics class at UCV. It was one of the toughest and most technical subjects in our pensum. For the uninitiated, econometrics is all about applying rigorous statistical methods to the study of economic phenomena. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it was one of the hardest filtros us undergrads had to ace in order to get our degrees. Prof. Medina had been teaching it for several years and a reputation for failing a sizeable percentage of each classroom way before then; so yeah, I was a bit scared.

I call a friend who took that econometrics class with me and invite him out for coffee to prod his recollection. 

“Econometrics is an instrument,” he says, sipping his marrón grande. “A real manager has to go beyond that.”

Coño, well sad,” I reply, “but the guy also teaches Capital Markets at grad level, though, so who knows?”

Well, everybody deserves the benefit of the doubt,” my friend allows “but Medina’s the architect of the newest budget, with the absurd inflation and oil prices and all that stuff, remember?”

Question is, whether he did it out of his own initiative, or whether he was forced to. But yeah, it says a lot about the guy.” I say, with a grin.

But do you even realize how enchufado he is with Rodolfo Marco Torres?” he asks. “I think that says even more about him,” he adds with an ever wider grin.

“But was he basically competent? I thought he was,” I say. 

Please, Daniel,” my friend scoffs, “Rodolfo was a first rank pirata as a teacher. His knowledge of econometrics was limited to the first five chapters of the Gujarati textbook. I still remember when he proposed to make a regression for GDP explained by public spending, private consumption, investment and net foreign trade in the middle of the class (Economist-English translation: that’s really stupid!) Let’s not mislead people saying “he knows his stuff.”

Schooled,” I admit, “I take your point. It’s not like I hold him in highest esteem or anything like that, but I do consider him minimally competent. He has the intellectual tools to understand that the stuff Luis Salas & Co. are proposing is completely insane. In that sense he’s competent, right?”

No idea,” my coffee partner replies. “I think he’s more pendiente of some other mi$$ion$, like when he was at the ONT and at Banco de Venezuela.”

We pause.

“That fucking stinks. De pana.”

I strain to remember more details about my class, which suddenly seems to hold the keys to understanding the future of Venezuelan fiscal policy. I distinctly remember Medina’s irrational emphasis on textbook theory (Red flag in hindsight.. Econometrics is all about practice!)

But frankly, it’s hard to recollect with much detail at all. Medina didn’t stand out either way: he wasn’t some rock-star prof, but then neither was he in the running for most-mediocre teacher, either. He seemed nothing more than a slightly by-the-book, or caletrero as we say in Caracas, garden-variety professor (with a cuchi blog set up for the class that, amazingly, is still up.)  To be honest, I remember learning a lot more in the lab sessions run by Medina’s TAs than during the lectures themselves.

After a grueling semester, I ended up scoring the equivalent of a B-. Not bad at all, given the hallway legends proclaimed that a third of the class failed the semester.

When we were in school, Professor Medina moonlighted as a Research Associate at Banco de Venezuela to make ends meet, and employed students as interns there. One of my lab leaders was a sort of protegé of his during that time.

Suddenly I remember: he also was a football enthusiast, and bragged about going to play every weekend at Parque Del Este. Relevant? Possibly not, but I’m racking my brain here. All things considered, he seemed like a rather normal guy. A guy that – well, you could tell by thinly veiled remarks he made during class, and also by his generally heterodox economics – had a rojito heart.

Back at the coffee shop, my friend is getting more and more caustic.

“Dude, a guy who stupidly thinks he’s a better teacher because he fails more students than the rest knows what his role in this government is. He’ll be like one of those bobbing-head dogs on taxi dashboards. ‘Yes’ to everything his bosses tell him, that’s his game. He knows that, outside personal profit, there’s very little he can do for his country from a cabinet post alongside this band of jokers. This isn’t his first government job, so I wouldn’t appeal to his naiveté or his honesty. Remember his stint at the National Treasury? That’s the key to understanding him, not what he did or didn’t teach you and me years ago.”

Fast forward to early 2014: I’m now into my first job after college in a local financial institution, and one day I casually run into Medina in a hallway at work. The approachable professor I knew was hardly recognizable: black suit, red tie, binder full of official docs and a bitter face mixing exhaustion with smugness. Despite his pompous attitude, though, he recognized me from college and told me the reason he was at the bank that day.

He was now working as the personal adviser of Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres, “among other things” he said. He didn’t pause to explain more, of course: he had to rush off to a high-profile meeting with his powerful boss.

A quick Poderopedia search after the fact suggests Medina’s “other stuff” were at least seven different jobs in different public institutions since 2013 – all of them linked one way or another to the Finance Ministry: Banco del Tesoro, Bolsa Pública de Valores Bicentenaria, IVSS. In most cases, he held overlapping appointments in classic chavista apparatchik fashion. Article 148 is so last century, right?

I call a third friend who sat through Medina’s class, and she encapsulates the problem with Medina’s type of academic: “That’s the thing Carlos Escarrá taught us with his big, hypocritical example: when a teacher becomes a chavista official, you can count on him to forget everything he taught you in class instantly.”

I hate to agree. But I do.

Even if Rodolfo Medina the Professor seemed, on paper, more competent to run the Finance portfolio than his shockingly ignorant chavista cabinet mates, Rodolfo Medina the Minister acts and speaks like just another member of the Nomenklatura roja rojita.

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24 COMMENTS

      • Actually, this article did need some serious proofing to make the English work. Not just the typos, but the too literal translations. It also reads as if you were trying too hard to show you know all those English idioms. Btw, the tone of your reply doesn’t go well with Caracas Chronicles’ style. And why would you respond to a troll in such a trollish way?

        • Here’s a hanky, Nelly. Dry your little red tears, dear.

          I had no difficulty understanding Daniel U.’s English, the Venezuelan idioms clearly inserted in dialogue and in italics — a no-brainer for the well-read, specifically those from Venezuela. How weird that you and ES would have difficulties. But then again, that, too, is a no-brainer. If you catch my drift.

  1. The obnoxious pride of a college graduate Caracas’ kiddo brings a background education script with an ego-struggling trader story (all traders are alike). I do agree with the fact that Mr. Medina is a state-owned bureaucrat living his golden age for the know type. But all this writing feels like a beer loaded gossip bellow Caracas Chronicle standards. Take the criticism, it will enrich your writing and vocabulary.

    I will recommend to bring down the “funny” haughty section of the economic career of the article and be more informative on the track record Mr. Medina has with the previous Minister (section I found informative and interesting). It seems that Mr. Medina ended up being the executive assistant, confident and now representative of the ex-Minister.

    Better be more informative and less sassy, it sounds too “caraqueñito sobrado”. Keep writing mate.

    • Good feedback. Thanks. I’m more used to writing more technical stuff and this was a first time trying to bring a casual context. Appreciate that you went thru the facts of the matter.

      • Chronicles ha bajado el nivel. Ahora cualquier panfletero de urbandictionary.com viene y escribe algo haciendo gala de los slangs gringos que conoce y contandonos sus irrelevantes aventuras universitarias.

        Bueno, el hombre es “trader”. Se gana la vida haciendo lo que su ex profesor tambien hace: absolutamente nada.

        Quitando el estilo de un quinceañero en patineta, este articulo habria valido la pena de ahondar en el asunto de por que tenemos dos ministerios de finanzas/Economía

        • Hola James. Te agradezco el comentario, neto de ataques ad hominem que no vienen al caso.

          El estilo con que fue escrito el artículo fue deliberado, para sentar el contexto de las conversaciones con mis colegas de la universidad. Nunca tuvo la intención de abordar el tema con plena objetividad, así los datos que acá reseño sean ciertos y comprobables.

          Si no lo has hecho antes, te invito cordialmente a que revises los otros posts que han salido de mi autoría en este blog.

          PS: Lo que tú planteas es algo que no es meritorio de un post a mi parecer. El por qué es sencillo: el Poder Ejecutivo en Vzla hace y dice lo que le viene en gana; e intentar razonar una medida irracional es darles un mínimo de confianza que considero estéril. Por otro lado, si creo que vale la pena mostrar a la luz pública un recuento (deliberadamente informal) del ministro en área económica que ha pasado bajo el radar todos estos días.

          Saludos,

  2. Its obviuos that the appointment of Salas is a clear sign of what direction they want to take us, if they wanted to turn in the right direction they would get rid of someone who can only be an obstacle, can you imagine a seriuos meeting with that guy? I bet someone so deliriuosly wrong must be very vocal with his opinion.

    Or maybe we just made him untouchable…

    The strategy seems to get back the same ammount of power they had so they can get back on the same track they were before, it’s almost as if they actually believed what they say, and that is really scary.

    • I do think Salas is a wall picture to keep leftists happy. Real economy will surge and take the whole charade with a wave of reality. We are in deep sh…t with remaining debt only working on a 90USD barrel. IMF might be the only solution.

      Maybe they will try the Greek’s approach making a major TV show and referendum an then calling for IMF and economic restructure.

      • It’ll be interesting to ser them spinning an IMF deal as a revolutionary triumph over the capitalist interests of el imperio.

        I’d say that there’s no way they’ll even try to do it but, you know, revolución and stuff.

        Apparently oil prices are up a bit, so we can have that weird angry-relief of knowing we could maybe breath a little for a little while, but maduro also said he would buy like 11 of those sexy Mig-21 a couple of moths ago, so….

        • Dear, oil stocks are in historic high. We won’t see 100USD/bbl tag in quite some time. The shift comes from civilization and technology. If price goes high, fracking and energy alternatives will compete and fill the market.

          Energy ticket will plateau in +year @ around 55$. Remember that our debt was placed for an 80USD/bbl price. We will all have to work to pay our eleven-year “PIÑATA”. Ending the PIÑATA, we must clean the house.

          We have no future but calling IMF as a new “revolutionary” partner! I am telling, Venezuelans will eat the lie soup like a chicken soup!

  3. Every single one of the bureaucrats in the government is selected largely for their loyalty and reliability, not for their expertise. I suspect that most of them have something negative in their background or personal history that guarantees their loyalty. An example is the recent scandal involving Nelson Merentes and his penchant for underage girls. This was (of course) known by Chavismo all the time that he was in various positions of power. The implicit deal is that Chavismo ignores and/or covers up their peccadilloes, and they back up the government 100%… the prototypical Faustian Bargain.

    No doubt, Chavismo has all the leverage on Rodolfo Medina they need to ensure that he plays along, regardless of what his knowledge of economics tells him. If they didn’t, he wouldn’t be there.

  4. There are ministers who aren’t there to giver orders but to follow them , who can act as technical advisers to the real bosses helping them to understand stuff that baffles them and to give their written decisions or announcement the technical varnish to make them look good . Romulo Gallegos created an iconic character in Doña Barbara , the barbarian boss hardly knew how to read and write so he was assigned an obsequious spineless minion who had completed high school (bachillerato) , known as ‘Bachiller Mujiquita’ to write in florid officialese whatever needed to be signed by the Boss.

    I m afraid that Mr Medina may fill the role of Bachiller Mujiquita to the bosses that really count inside the Economic Gabinet. Maybe he has the perquisite economic knowledge , but his dearth of character makes him into a Bachiller Mujiquita of the regime …

    I have the feeling that Salas is uncomfortable with being given the job he holds, that he is filled with inner doubts on whether he is capable of handling the hot potato of an imploding economy , he can spout the arguments that fascinate the fanatic ignorants , but doenst have the command of economics that would allow him to face the job he has ostensibly been given !! He looks so worried and unhappy that one cant but feel that he knows that he is not up to the job.,

  5. When I started studying Economics at UCAB in 1999, one of my teachers was Jesus Bermudez. He taught the equivalent to Economics 101, an introductory course in the first year. A very mediocre teacher. A few years later he was named Viceminister of Finance, under the über-corrupt minister Tobias Nobrega (infamous for the bonds-related corruption schemes, among other criminal talents). The next time I heard of him was in 2004 when he was arrested in an airport in Florida, with $37,000 in cash, which he didn’t declare to customs. He was tried and sentenced, I believe. Then he was charged in Venezuela for illicit gains (oh, what a surprise). I don’t know what has happened recently, but 2 years ago there was an active extradition request from Vzla to the USA to bring him here.

    http://historico.tsj.gob.ve/decisiones/scp/diciembre/159677-463-131213-2013-E13-87.HTML

  6. Although I consider the article pretty much gossip (as your sub-title clearly states), I find these articles interesting, intriguing, and highly informative. I believe the inside story provided by the author’s account along with that of fellow former students of Medina paint a clear picture. It is likely that the picture is only of “one side of the story”, but these are characters that are new to all of us and any information about them is welcomed.

    I had no issues understanding the language, perhaps because I’m a college educated “carajito del este” as well. This does not mean however that we are not entitled to our opinions and our ways of expressing these ideas or opinions. Too bad if some people don’t like it. They can take the content, or get stuck in the words… up to them.

    Keep up the good work Daniel, many of us don’t have the guts to be on the other side, you’ll polish with time and practice. If not, ask Kiko… he still faces some of those blunders. Nonetheless, your contribution is valuable, to me at least.

    The only other recommendation: be gentle on the trolls… or you’ll end up playing their game and it’s beneath you and this site.

    • re: your other recommendation. I disagree. Those who intentionally disrupt the flow of ideas on this and other boards that don’t pander to their opinions, opinions which have done more harm than good in the overall scheme of things, need to be electronically nuked. Cavalier attitudes be damned.

    • Part of the problem is identifying actual trolls from garden variety jerks. ES could well be the latter. But, time will tell. If they show up repeatedly, chances are they are trolls. The hardest ones to identify (at first) are the ones that seem anti-Chavista, but are actually charged with planting seeds of despair and killing hope.

    • @marmota, thanks for feedback! Yes, every day you learn something new, and there’s always roon for improvement. Appreciate the constructive criticism 🙂

  7. I was worried, but after today’s latest Presidential/Economic Commission TV cadena, I see the Pres. firmly has the horns by the bull–to combat the devastating effects of the international oil conspiracy and domestic guerra economica, there are 9 motores, 25 multiple-member commissions, and 50 product categories–as the Pres. says, we will now be “ganando, ganando”, as, I suppose before, “vivir viviendo”–and all of this, as he said various times, “a la Venezolana” way of doing things. The most-applauded speaker was a rep from the plastics/chemicals industry, who said we need a lower price for the poor, and higher prices for the wealthy (oblivious, of course, to the fact that Venezuela is 95% poor)….

  8. I am from western Cologne (Germany) and use English mostly in the context of IT projects with people from all over Europe and Asia. In that contex the authors command of the english language would be clearly considered as excelent. I find the article is pleasant to read.

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