“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” – Tim O’Brien
An email from [email protected] snakes into Jose Guerra’s inbox, the subject line reads “LEAKED DOCUMENTS”. From his drab La Florida office, Jose Guerra opens it:
I spent two years compiling this dossier on how funds raised through PDVSA and Venezuela bond issuances made their way to helicopters and polo teams. I could leak this dossier to anyone in the opposition, but I’m leaking it to you.
You, more than anyone, understand that the debts that fuelled the most obscene corruption binge in our history must not be allowed to weigh on the backs of Venezuelans; that we have an obligation to uphold the constitution and repudiate illegal debts. Get the opposition to push for article 312 and I’ll keep leaking files like I’m Edward Snowden. This is just 4% of the dossier…
The leaks are legit. Page 6 of 105 has scanned UBS statements from Rafael Ramirez’s cousin. The balance: CHF 223 million. The source of funds: sale of earthquake insurance to Venezuelan national parks. There’s an email transcript where he authorizes a $2.14 million credit card swipe. To buy a pony.
Jose Guerra loosens his tie and reaches for his whisky. He knows the constitution’s Article 312 by heart, it rings in his head like a bell:
[…] The State will not recognize debts other than those debts contracted by legitimate State bodies, in accordance with the law.
In accordance with the law. In accordance with the law. Guerra’s done his research. He knows the chavista-controlled National Assembly didn’t bother with formalities, that half the bonds weren’t properly authorized.
All that’s been missing is a case for public opinion, evidencia contundente that most of the money was stolen. Pair the legal argument with a public-outrage campaign and it’s not just a political winner, it’s also a moral imperative: paying the debt would be sacrilege.
He gets on the phone with PJ’s leadership, PJ’s leadership gets on the phone with the G4 and the proverbial ball begins to roll.
* * *
Eulogio del Pino cranks his AC down to 17C. Maduro’s done nothing but sabotage his job as PDVSA’s CEO and the thought of the bastard keeps him up at night. Maduro named Cilia’s inept nephew as CFO and slashed PDVSA’s investment and maintenance budgets to feed CADIVI. Then he created Campineg, an oil company for the military, and now he’s threatening to fire him because of two tweets.
Del Pino is sick of it, and he’s been getting even for weeks. He grabs his phone and refreshes LaPatilla. Chuo Torrealba is front page news: “SIN ARTÍCULO 312 NO HAY JUSTICIA.” He laughs and prepares the 5th batch of documents to scan for Guerra. “I like what I’m seeing. Keep it coming and I’ll do the same” he writes.
Months and hundreds of emails later, del Pino offers to trade heinous info on Padrino Lopez’s Campineg exploits if the MUD holds a press conference to commit to Article 312 in two days, right after Maduro speaks. “We need to go public with this. Panamá papers se va a quedar pendejo,” he teases.
Two days later, it’s a quiet morning on Wall Street. Maduro’s on TV ranting about how PDVSA is barely earning any $$ thanks to the global oil conspiracy and that PDVSA’s partners are in cahoots with el imperio to cripple oil production. He rambles that PDVSA’s debt swap failed because of the international financial blockade from Miami and Bogota.
He gets to the point: Maduro admits that there’s not enough money to protect el pueblo from Economic War and pay bond debt in November. He looks into the distance and asks “¿Qué haría Chávez? ¿Qué haría nuestro comandante?”
It’s kind of poetic. “Chávez protegería al pueblo… ¡Chávez siempre protegería al pueblo carajo!” Bonds nosedive from as high as 70 cents on the dollar to 27. Read between the lines: Maduro announced default. Wall street panics, it came out of nowhere.
Meanwhile, the MUD kicks off its press conference. Chuo Torrealba reveals that they have 169 GB of leaked financial data exposing government corruption. He reviews cases in pornographic detail. Chuo reads and signs a pledge where the MUD unanimously commits to push for Article 312 and repudiate much of Venezuela and PDVSA’s debt.
Bonds tank to 22 cents. Wall street can’t believe it, it’s an avalanche of bad news. Alarms go off at investment firms: Sell everything. Stop losses.
Goldman has twelve sellers on the line, Barclays eleven sellers, Bank of America fifteen sellers. There are no buyers. 19 cents. Capriles signs. 17 cents. Ramos Allup signs. 15 cents. Freddy Guevara signs. 13 cents. A bond trader pops a Xanax, 11 cents, another sobs, 10 cents, another wets his pants, 9 cents.
Suddenly, a vulture fund blasts every Bloomberg terminal on Wall Street: “BUYING ALL PDVSA VZLA BONDS 8 CENTS”
Del Pino’s secretary calls him over the intercom, “…agarre el teléfono por favor, es el señor Jeymi…”
“So how’d it go?” the man on the phone asks. Del Pino bursts into laughter. It’s Jamie Dimon, J.P. Morgan’s CEO. They are talking about the most macabre debt buyback in history. “Well Jamie, we vaporized 44 billion dollars in debt with your $4 billion loan.”
“Best loan I ever made” says Dimon.
“Saved me from default, gracias” says del Pino as he hangs up.
Del Pino tricked Wall Street into selling Venezuela and PDVSA and Venezuela bonds at rock bottom and bought $44 billion in government debt for $4 billion. Now the government owes itself that money, meaning it doesn’t owe it at all.
Del Pino obliterated $25 billion in PDVSA bonds and $19 billion in Venezuela bonds with J.P. Morgan’s fresh $4 billion loan.
Jose Guerra gets one last email from [email protected]: “THANKS FOR PLAYING ALONG, MORON.” From his drab La Florida office, Guerra loosens his tie and drafts an answer:
Au contraire my friend, I’m the one who played you. If you think this whole thing didn’t reek of a massive, Ecuador-style debt buyback, you’re the moron. Your boss got some cash relief to buy last minute popularity, we got…
But he doesn’t send it, why bother? The debt reduction won’t save Maduro from the recall referendum, but it will make his job as finance minister 100x easier. Guerra sips on his whisky and smiles. It’s a small gain for the government and a huge gain for the country and the opposition.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.