Protesters demonstrate outside of Goldman Sachs headquarters after the company purchased Venezuelan bonds in New York, U.S., May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Goldman is Bad. The Government is Much Worse

Goldman deserves the heat it's getting for financing the Venezuelan government, but the real scandal is that the Revolution sold its soul to Wall Street. MUD should repeat that to chavistas like a mantra.

Everything you’re hearing about Goldman Sachs is true. Yes, they are amoral. Yes, they don’t hesitate to profit from suffering. And yes, they’ll keep doing so as long as there are desperate governments willing to bend the knee for cash. Venezuelans are right to be outraged, but the anger is somewhat misplaced.

Is Goldman at fault? Of course it is. They found in Maduro a cash-starved victim willing to cut them an obscene deal —$2.8 billion in PDVSA 2022 bonds for just 31 cents on the dollar— and they jumped on it. They deserve to be shamed for buying “Hunger Bonds” and giving Venezuela’s government fresh cash. Folks that claim this transaction was “on the secondary market” are misleading you with irrelevant technicalities. For all intents and purposes, this was a plain vanilla primary-market issue of new debt, at 47% interest in dollars mind you.

But if Goldman hadn’t closed the deal, some other Wall Street firm would have. It was too good for any vulture to pass up. What’s really at issue with this deal is that Venezuela’s Dictatorship once again put Wall Street above Venezuelans to raise money for a few months of debt service, imports, kickbacks or financing for the Asamblea Nacional Constituyente.

Venezuelans are right to be outraged, but the anger is somewhat misplaced.

MUD should focus on reaching out grassroots chavistas and hammering home a message they can vibe with: That the Revolution sold its soul to Wall Street. That the folks who call themselves the “sons and daughters” of Chávez are filling Wall Street’s pockets by impoverishing ordinary Venezuelans. That Maduro sold of Venezuelan asset to big time capitalists, and that he did so cheaply.

La Revolución se vendió a Wall Street”.

That’s a mantra right there. Put it in haiku, write songs about it, make memes about it, but direct the blame where it most belongs: the government. Aporrea, of all places, already took steps in that direction.

As part of this story, the MUD should continue to ask for probes and investigations in Venezuela and the US. Even as the National Assembly is powerless, it can still take symbolic action. Under the current legal framework, the National Assembly can’t remove the Central Bank president or Directors. Maduro reserved that power for just himself through an Enabling Law. But, at this point, who cares?

The assembly was already willing to “impeach” Maduro for “office abandonment”. If they’re willing to do that, why not call for the removal of the Central Bank president and Directors. Would that be symbolic? Sure. But the message is what matters most. What you don’t communicate… doesn’t exist.

Chavismo’s obvious and outrageous contradictions must be exploited, and this one is easy pickings. I mean, how can you possibly justify raising $864 million at a total cost of $3.65 billion? “We took money from our most notorious antagonist, but we have to pay over 4 times that amount by 2022”? Good luck! Even Aporrea agrees that Maduro should be called nothing less than a traitor.

La Revolución se vendió a Wall Street”.

And this Goldman deal is not the first horrendous disposal of assets, although it’s perhaps the worst one yet. Remember when PDVSA swapped bonds last year by pledging half of CITGO’s shares? Or when the regime pledged the other half of CITGO to Russia? Or the Fintech repo operation, which valued Venezuelan bonds at just 23 cents? It should be easy to slam the government for this. All it takes is some questions:

  1. After all these big time Wall Street deals, have the food and medicine shortages abated? No.
  2. Did the government massively cut imports at the expense of the people to honor the debt service? Yeah, to the tune 70% in the last three years.
  3. Has PDVSA’s financial black-hole been filled yet? No.
  4. Has the Government or PDVSA enhanced their credit rating, or managed to borrow at anything like a low rate? No.
  5. Is Venezuela’s or PDVSA’s amortization schedule getting smoothed out to make space for imports? No.

Goldman Sachs just gave a discursive mango bajito to MUD. Raising the reputational cost for banks that get in bed with Maduro makes sense. But let’s not lose sight of the biggest sinners: M.A.D.U.R.O & Co.

Javier Ruiz

is a Bond guy with an unnatural affection for a prospectus.