November 4, 2007

Hugo Chávez: Leader of Latin America populism

Who holds the world's oil? You might assume it's in the hands of big private oil companies like ExxonMobil. But in fact, 77 percent of the world's oil reserves are held by national oil companies with no private equity. And the percentage of oil controlled by state-owned companies is likely to continue rising, mainly because of the demographics of oil. Deposits are being exhausted in wealthy countries and are being found largely in developing countries, where oil tends to belong to the state.

Nationalization is also a political trend in some regions, mainly Latin America, where the populist presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador have made it part of their discourse. They are led, of course, by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. He has made private producers accept, by force, state control of their operations. When they wouldn't, as in the case of Exxon Mobil and Conoco-Phillips, he simply nationalized their holdings using illegal moves and violence in some cases. Chávez has also asserted his control over Venezuela's state oil company, firing employees not militant in his political party, which before him operated very much like a private, profit-driven enterprise. Now this oil industry is in decline and the corruption is the only rule.

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