WSJ: Sin efectivo, el gobierno de Venezuela ofrece pagar medicinas con diamantes

A sparse medical cabinet at a public hospital in Lechera, Venezuela. PHOTO: MARCELO PEREZ DEL CARPIO/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Un estante vac´ío en un hospital público de Lecherías, Venezuela. PHOTO: MARCELO PEREZ DEL CARPIO/BLOOMBERG NEWS


Con los estantes de los hospitales al descubierto y el gobierno desconcertado sobre cómo liquidar $ 5 mil millones en deudas con las compañías farmacéuticas, Venezuela recientemente ofreció a algunos proveedores extranjeros una compensación alternativa: diamantes, oro y coltán, el metal raro utilizado para fabricar teléfonos celulares y Playstations, publica The Wall Street Journal.

Por Kejal Vyas/The Wall Street Journal

El intercambio propuesto dejó perplejos a los representantes farmacéuticos, cuyas compañías no tenían políticas para aceptar gemas y metales preciosos como forma de pago, de acuerdo con tres personas familiarizadas con la reunión del mes pasado donde el ministro de salud de Venezuela hizo la oferta.

Si bien no está claro si alguna de las firmas lo aceptó, la propuesta subraya cómo el colapso económico de Venezuela está forzando a la asediada administración del presidente Nicolás Maduro a improvisar para pagar bienes, ya que la grave escasez de dólares empuja al país hacia una sociedad de trueque.

El trueque también se está metiendo en las transacciones cotidianas de las calles en busca de productos básicos, en parte porque el gobierno está demasiado arruinado para imprimir suficiente moneda. El llamado Fuerte Bolívar, que el gobierno creó en 2008 al eliminar tres ceros de su moneda anterior, perdió el 97% de su valor solo en 2017, cuando el país rico en petróleo se sumerge aún más en la hiperinflación.

El ministro de Salud, Luis López, que se autodenomina un antiimperialista radical en su cuenta oficial de Twitter, no pudo ser contactado para hacer comentarios. Las llamadas a un portavoz del ministerio no fueron respondidas.

El uso de productos como pago no es infrecuente para las grandes empresas globales que comercian con la minería o el petróleo, pero es casi inaudito como forma de saldar las deudas con otros sectores como los farmacéuticos, según el consultor económico con sede en Caracas, Orlando Ochoa.

 The Wall Street Journal


El artículo completo en inglés:

Cash-Strapped Venezuela Offers to Pay for Medicines With Diamonds

Pharma executives express doubt over proposal in face of government’s past failure to pay bills; barter spreads among populace for lack of currency
CARACAS, Venezuela—With hospital shelves bare and the government stumped on how to settle $5 billion in arrears to pharmaceutical companies, cash-strapped Venezuela recently offered some foreign suppliers alternative compensation: diamonds, gold and coltan, the rare metal used to make cellphones and Playstations.

The proposed exchange perplexed the pharma representatives, whose companies had no policies on accepting precious gems and metals as payment, according to three people familiar with the meeting last month where Venezuela’s health minister made the offer.

While it isn’t clear if any of the companies accepted it, the proposal underscores how Venezuela’s economic collapse is forcing President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled administration to improvise to pay for goods as severe dollar shortages push the country toward a barter society.

Bartering is also creeping into daily street transactions for staples, partly because the government is too broke to print enough currency. The so-called Strong Bolivar, which the government created in 2008 by lopping three zeros off its previous currency, lost 97% of its value in 2017 alone as the oil-rich country plunges further into hyperinflation.

“Money was created so that we could avoid having to barter for basics,” said Caracas-based economist Omar Zambrano. “But we’ve fallen so far that we’re now going back in time.”

Health Minister Luis López, who calls himself a radical anti-imperialist on his officialTwitter account, couldn’t be reached for comment. Calls to a ministry spokesman went unanswered.

Using commodities as payment isn’t uncommon for large global companies trading in mining or oil, but is almost unheard of as a way to settle debts to other sectors like pharmaceuticals, according to Caracas-based economic consultant Orlando Ochoa.

Given the country’s opaque finances, it isn’t clear how much Venezuela holds in certified precious metals and stones. The Socialist government unilaterally pulled out of the international Kimberley Process, which certifies the origins of diamonds, for eight years until it re-entered in 2016. Much of the country’s mining of diamonds and other valuable minerals is in the hands of wildcat miners in the lawless, jungle-covered states of Amazonas and Bolívar.

Recently, aides of the president have also discussed the possibility of paying foreign suppliers with an oil-backed cryptocurrency that Caracas says it is developing.

As for the Health Ministry’s proposal to pharmaceutical suppliers, “It feels like a bluff,” Mr. Ochoa said. “It’s as if they want to show off their assets to give the illusion that there’s still an intention of paying even though they can’t pay.”

Lower crude prices and nearly two decades of profligate public spending have left Venezuela’s economy—once Latin America’s most prosperous—in tatters. Gross domestic product shrunk by more than 16.5% in 2016, according to the government, and there is scant evidence of improvement in 2017. The International Monetary Fund estimates inflation will top 2,000% in 2018. The government has defaulted on more than $700 million in bonds in recent months, spurring drastic cuts in imports that have resulted in chronic shortages of food and medicine.

Tito López, head of Venezuela’s Pharmaceutical Industry Chamber, says because companies in his sector haven’t received payments from the government in more than a year, 95% of medications that were available three years ago aren’t now. Antibiotics and treatments for chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes are among those hardest to find.

In the past pharmaceutical companies operating in Venezuela have considered accepting bonds or even oil as payment, but the government has never followed through, Mr. López said. “What we’re missing is a serious system that actually guarantees payments,” he added.

One pharma executive familiar with the health minister’s proposal at the Dec. 12 meeting said he would accept gold because “it’s better than nothing,” but noted he couldn’t get the government to commit to full payment. Two others who work for multinationals said they couldn’t accept commodities without approval from regulators in their home countries.

“I don’t think the Venezuelans understand the mechanisms and compliance issues at hand,” one of them said.

The national government is grasping at a recent tradition in considering bartering its way out of Venezuela’s economic troubles. A decade ago, Mr. Maduro’s late predecessor and mentor, the leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, urged his compatriots at all levels to shun money as a way to combat capitalism, which he deemed evil.

“The barter is a marvelous community experience,” Mr. Chávez said in a 2008 televised speech.

Today, many of the country’s millions of slum dwellers rely increasingly on exchanging goods instead of money as a survival method. The practice echoes the way barter markets popped up in other countries, from post-War World II Hungary to Argentina in 2001, when hyperinflation left citizens unable to pay for staples.

In this capital city’s sprawling Petare slum, residents like 25-year-old baker Norvis Bracho use Facebook groups—some with more than 100,000 members—to post pictures of sugar and corn flour offered in exchange for beans or blood-pressure pills.

“This is how we get by every day,” said Mr. Bracho, a member of 13 Facebook and WhatsApp networks where he trades everything from bread to computer parts.

On a recent day, Mr. Bracho’s family, thrilled to see hard-to-find Coca-Cola sold on the streets, rushed to purchase a dozen 2-liter bottles with a debit card.

“This will come in handy to exchange later,” his aunt, Ruth Villarreal, said.

Write to Kejal Vyas at [email protected]