What Venezuela can learn from Norway



The passing-out of El Commandante, the all-beloved Hugo Chavez is surely a dolour unimaginable for most of the Venezuela’s population. A leader long rhapsodized by his populace, Chavez’s providential touch and fame has been elevated into something, something so well-revered and eulogized, as though he were a demigod assigned on Earth by the glorious Heaven.

But who could no more discern clearly at the country’s situation than the hangers-on themselves?

In reality, we have to be honest that even Venezuela itself has become, unofficially, ‘the Saudi Arabia of petroleum’. The answer lies on its extensively leviathan oil reserves – exactly the largest on the planet. Orinoco Belt may be the nation’s touch of Midas – it is estimated as many as 513 billion barrels of oil may be deposited throughout the territory. Enumerating that amount, it is almost twice as abundant as Saudi Arabia’s 265 billion barrels. Assume that oil production be maintained at similar output – approximately 2.45 million barrels a day, using 2011 standards – Venezuela should have held on as a prosperous country for 6 centuries.



With reserves estimated at 513 billion barrels of oil, Venezuela could possibly surpass Saudi Arabia – if the country were well-prepared to invest more in improving extracting technology currently existing in the industry.


Even under Chavez’s leadership and superintendence, Venezuela should have stricken the hot iron better than Middle East did.

Truth be told, as of today, nearly 30 percent of the country’s 30 million are critically poor. Crime rates in Caracas, the capital, are exceedingly high, that nearly 120,000 homicides were reported from 1999 to 2010. Transparency International, meanwhile, placed the country’s corruption perception index (CPI) on an average scale of 1.9 out of 10, and ranked the nation on number 164, in 2010 (compared to Indonesia’s 110th rank, our country is, slightly gratefully, better than the former).

Peter Maass, author of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil, recounted his experience while covering the city for his book:

Caracas had a booming business in luxury cars and the highest rate of gun violence in the world for cities not at war. The capital’s infrastructure, ignored during decades of economic doldrums, continued to be ignored during the boom. A highway to the airport had to be rerouted for months due to a bridge that was in danger of collapsing; what had been an hour-long commute to the airport required three to four hours over a zigzag of back roads.

In addition, there was a mismanagement in managing the oil revenues. Not that the bulk went to tower cranes and more skyscrapers; human fallacies accounted for the occurrence. It was good that PDVSA, the country’s sole state oil authority, was obliged to provide much of the perquisite to social programs, ranging from building schools, providing cheap healthcare, subsidizing fuel prices and costs of basic items, and setting up cooperatives. Yet, Chavez made a great mistake: instead of placing such responsibility on the ministries involved, all these tasks were instead accomplished by PDVSA. Peter Maass noted as follows:

Chavez calculated that PDVSA’s revamped staff would be more loyal and more capable than the civil servants whose uninspired presence lent government ministries the aura of early retirement homes for bureaucrats.



One of the PDVSA’s oil refineries.



Worse, Chavez had fired nearly 18,000 managers and engineers working for PDVSA, human resources needed to operate and administer the company’s daily operation, due to 2002-2003 workers’ strike. In consequence, PDVSA encountered numerous difficulties in sustaining their business practices. The situation even festered when most of the social responsibilities were on PDVSA’s hand, not the ministries’. Peter Maass wrote:

Chavez did not just order PDVSA to boost its community spending by a few percentage points; he turned the firm into the engine of revolutionary change. PDVSA allotted more to its social projects in 2006 – nearly US$ 10 billion – than to its operations (US$ 5.9 billion). In a sense, it became a development agency with oil wells. No other oil company, whether publicly-traded or state-owned, spent nearly as much on non-core programs. In Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other oil countries, state-owned firms tend to have modest social programs. Their surpluses are transferred to the Treasury and distributed to ministries that chase the holy grail of sustainable development. Usually they fail. You can build colleges, as Saudi Arabia did, but that doesn’t mean the degrees will count for much or that jobs will await the graduates.

A point well noted.

Much of the oil revenues also went up into subsidies of basic items’ prices; Chavez’s administration had even set up Mercal, a chain of supermarkets ‘extraordinarily’ dedicated to selling all basic items at a cost 50% lower to all Venezuelans. But even the mushrooming number of such stores – numbered at thousands throughout the country – could not help solving the country’s long-term problems.

Peter Maass summed up as follows:

In Venezuela, it was as though a well-meaning doctor [referring to Chavez] was using the wrong instruments and wrong procedures to operate on a sick patient. Even during the boom years, signs of failure were ample – price controls on foodstuffs were leading to shortages [due to excess in demand], and the government was spending so much on subsidies that it was running into deficit problems, which is a striking achievement when large amounts of revenues are being received from oil sales. Chavez’s policies, intended to break the resource curse, seemed likely to prolong it………They did an awful job, but giving away money is not going to solve people’s problems. We have a saying here: ‘Bread for today and hunger for tomorrow’.

And what can Norway offer to teach Venezuelan government? Allocate more of the oil money, instead of petty subsidies which only offer short-term solution, to sovereign wealth fund.



One of Statoil’s main refineries. Through The Government Pension Fund of Norway (GPF), the sovereign wealth fund is committed to maintain the integrity of being a pro-sustainability advocate; one of their regulations includes blacklisting companies which they deem ‘having pursued ecologically disadvantageous business practices’ for investment.



What is a sovereign wealth fund (SWF)? To make it easier to comprehend, just consider this analogy: every household, even a big nation, needs savings. When money is earned, it is important that some bits of the coming-ins are saved to appropriate adequate funds for future generations. Imagine that your dad toils in the office, earns a typical salary, say, 500 dollars a month, and makes use of one-fifth of the income for family savings. But what if your dad, rather than save 100 dollars to anticipate possible events in the future, instead spoil you and your siblings (exclude your mom) with ‘subsidies’ worth 490 dollars, where you can shop and buy whatever you need? That is the case Venezuela is being faced. Chavez is generous, but he’s been way too free-handed that he now spoils the citizens’ needs.

Norwegian government, in this context, is far much wiser. They realize that ‘oil boom’ is no more than a temporary, fast-come-fast-go phenomenon, that they need to save up such golden opportunity to entirely improve their nation’s living standards. But that does not mean they are overlooking the people’s education and healthcare needs. They do still fully pay the citizens’ education and healthcare fees, but unlike Venezuelan government, they are not subsidizing prices of consumer goods. They realize such policy only yields more kief among the citizens.

Here is their scheme: portions of Statoil’s – Norwegian state-owned oil and gas corporation – revenues will go to the The Government Pension Fund of Norway (GPF), the state’s sole SWF. When money is collected, the government hires individuals to manage those funds. But that also does not imply that the managers may run the money at their own will. The government sets up a conservative regulation – most of the funds shall not be invested into stocks, but obligation, as stocks tend to be more volatile and riskier than the latter.

As of 2013, the total funds managed by GPF, mostly from oil revenues, have surpassed nearly 716 billion US$. If it were divided equally among its 5 million Toms, Dicks, and Harries, every individual could attain an additional of nearly equivalent to 143,200 dollars. Even though Norway still primarily depends on oil production to account for its GDP (oil exports contribute to 45% of the GDP), Norway, also itself a socialist economy, shows virtually no signs of contracting a possible recession. While most of its counterparts in European Union are struggling against double-digits unemployment and possibly double-dip recession, most Norwegians remain calm, stable, and unaffected (except for the 2011 massacre, an ‘unlikely’ event).



In fact, the government of Norway does not only compensate its citizens for education and healthcare; they also provide all-expenses-paid tour overseas packages for the country’s elders.



Substantively, it is not that the Venezuelan government has no comprehension of what SWF is; they even have one, namely Fondo para la Estabilizacion Macroeconomica (FEM – Macroeconomic Stability Fund). Nevertheless, the funds accumulated reach no fewer than 800 million US$. If spread across its 30 million inhabitants, every person would procure only 26 dollars and 70 cents, an amount adequate enough to rear food supplies a full week. Even to reach a minimum level, the amount saved should be 100 billion US$ for an energy superpower wannabe like Venezuela.

With Hugo Chavez passing away and Nicolas Maduro, his vice, being sworn in as ‘temporary President’, such tasks prevail the government’s challenges to manage such abundance – whether it will be a mirage for its people, or worse, nothing more than a deadly, contaminating black liquid.



Qaddafi, game over.

Muammar al-Qaddafi is never an easy man. And has never been easy, until the time NTC combatants seized his hometown of Sirte, Libya. There, Qaddafi – having had both his feet wounded by ricocheting bullets – was stripped, had his neck-length, black, frizzy hair tufted, had his body kicked by dozens of able-bodied heavily-armed fighters, and had his life finished off with bullets on his stomach, and in the long run, his partially defoliate head. After the ‘Brother of the Great Revolution’ died, his body was humiliated by being dragged by the combatants, as if he were simply a lifeless mannequin. That’s what the video contained as we were watching from the Breaking News in Metro TV on Thursday night. All I could only conclude was this: history repeats itself. Qaddafi was not the only dictator in the world whose life ended miserably, and – as some claimed – beastly. Benito Mussolini, for instance, had his life ended by being hung outside down together with his wife, and more miserably, both their bodies were pelted with rotten tomatoes by hundred thousands of angry masses, who had suffered immeasurably during his rule. Yet the most notable example was shown by Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, who had their lives ended by decapitation over the guillotines, as watched by tens of thousands of toms, dicks, and harries.

If the world were a gargantuan political chess game, Qaddafi were both the player, and the defeated, as well. He had been check-mated by other more powerful ‘players’. What makes him come off second-best? This serves the answer as I suspect: oil. Libya is so well-off to have been endowed with 47 billion barrels of oil (its oil reserves are the 9th largest in the planet). If oil did not seem to exist in Libya, we would have never heard Qaddafi filling newspapers’ headlines on the whole world for more than 4 decades. We would have even never known what Libya really was. Only after Qaddafi bossed the global show of petrodollar-based geopolitics, Libya became one of the most prosperous countries in Africa (fourth after Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon). Yet, aside of all achievements his regime had contributed to the economic development of Libya, he had also channelled much of his country’s oil weath to fund hundreds of armed, rebel movements worldwide, in order to fulfil his grandiose dreams of bringing to life a ‘globular-scale revolution’.

If oil – the main enzyme in making his mind-befuddling dreams work – were never in a place as barren as Libya, Qaddafi would have never been as visionary as we conceived. Perhaps there would have never been news of his staunch friendships with other dictators, for example, Jean Bedel-Bokassa of Central Africa, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Idi Amin of Uganda, Haile Meriam Mengistu of Ethiopia, and etc. His mind was so lost in the seductive power of the power itself, dreaming himself as the king of all kings of Africa, and his dreams of establishing United States of Africa, unifying the entire Arab, Muslim, and anti-Western spheres as his gigantic political engines against Western world. But yet, it’s what that became his own tragedy. He was too deeply obsessed with his power that he was willing to do anything – even if he had to let go his own children – to maintain his power. Furthermore, psychologists, after performing a series of investigations, concluded that dictators, indisputably including Qaddafi, suffered from mental illnesses. (for full information, click here: http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/26/the-psychology-of-dictatorship-why-gaddafi-clings-to-power/ )

Here is a full list of ‘sins’ he had made, in his 42 years of ruling Libya – and attempting to provoke a ‘global revolution’ – iron-handedly:

  1. He had waged war against Chad. The war lasted from 1978-1987 with more casualties on Libyan side (more than 7500 Libyan soldiers were killed during the belligerence, in contrast to 1000 in Chadian side). The reasons of the war: border dispute and the identities of the president Qaddafi considered as illegitimate; Francois Tombalbaye was a black African and a Christian.
  2. Janjaweed, the heavily-armed militia based in Darfur, Sudan, who had committed mass genocides which annihilated more than 300,000 lives for two decades, consisted primarily of combatants who were ex-fighters in Islamic Legion, a military organization formed by Qaddafi aimed to ‘Arabize’ the region.
  3. He trained and showed full support for Charles Taylor, then-President of Liberia now behind bars in International Criminal Court, and Foday Sankoh, leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, while a civil war was taking place in Sierra Leone, a neighboring country, in which Taylor provided thousands of soldiers from Liberia to wage ‘scorched-earth campaign’ on the country. Qaddafi was even reported to have designed the ‘persecution schemes’ for the victims of the war, one of them being ‘the amputation of legs and feet of women, men, and children’, frequently reviewed and even monitored progress on the process. 50,000 people were killed in the war. He also fully supported Haile Meriam Mengistu of Ethiopia, who had conducted a mass genocide which took off more than 500,000 civilians and 150,000 intellects in 1978.
  4. One of his most true-hearted allies was Jean Bedel-Bokassa, a fellow, co-equal dictator. Bokassa even converted his faith to Islam (it lasted no more than 3 months, before he converted back to Catholicism, and happened back-and-forth) in order to ensure that Qaddafi went on supplying aids to the impoverished resources-rich country. In 2001, Qaddafi signed a 99-year contract with Ange-Felix Patasse, the ex-President of the country, in which Libyan corporations were able to exploit its mining resources, particularly uranium. The contract remained officially null-and-void after Patasse fled to Chad due to an ongoing civil war.
  5. Qaddafi established World Revolutionary Center, based in Benghazi, well-known as ‘the Harvard of the dictators and notorious warlords”. Many of the ‘graduates’ were known as the world’s most notorious dictators and leaders of armed rebel groups, for example, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, FARC combatants of Colombia (rumor has it that FARC produces half of the world’s cocaine, and Qaddafi’s regime was reported to have supplied them with plentiful ground-to-air missiles), Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso (another leader proven to have dispatched troops and appropriated arms to Taylor and Sankoh’s soldiers during Sierra Leonese Civil War), and a long list to go on. Analysts and international organizations accused the school as having been producing ‘tyrants of the century’, who, rather than implement stability in Africa, had instead deteriorated the situation in the continent.
  6. Libya severed its relations with Pakistan in 1991. Reason: Pakistan’s prime minister, Navaz Sharif, refused to sell Qaddafi a nuclear bomb, and he snapped back at Sharif, accusing him ‘a corrupt politician’.
  7. Inspections from Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004 concluded that the country stored more than 20 tons of mustard gas the regime could harness in order to produce chemical weapons. All the chemicals were obliterated a few months later, under the assistance of US Government.
  8. Almost every Libyan diplomat in the whole world had been equipped with guns in order to anticipate any ‘opposition undertaking’ against anything symbolized with Libya. Climax: in April 1984, 11 demonstrators and 1 London policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, were killed in a shooting spree by Libyan diplomats. All of the protestors were Libyan refugees seeking political asylum in United Kingdom. The killings were immediately ordered by Qaddafi himself.
  9. Under Qaddafi’s order, all the Libyan embassies and consulates opened up registration for any yearling willing to volunteer themselves in aiding Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters. He also sponsored the 1972 Munich massacre, in which 12 Israeli athletes were mowed with bullets by Palestinian agents. More than 500 Palestinian soldiers also aided Libyan soldiers during Uganda-Tanzania War.
  10. 19 passengers waiting in El Al’s ticket counter (El Al is an Israeli airline company) died and 140 others were fatally wounded after two terrorist attacks carried out in Rome and Vienna airports. The attacks were carried out by Palestinians who had been funded by Qaddafi.
  11. He was the main financier of Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) and even supplied heavy machine guns for the combatants. As quoted by Qaddafi, “the bombs which are convulsing Britain and breaking its spirit are the bombs of Libyan people. We have sent them to the Irish revolutionaries so that the British will pay the price for their past deeds“. For decades, IRA had caused severe maelstrom in Northern Ireland and almost 2000 Britons died.
  12. Qaddafi showed full support for three armed groups in Philippines: Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf, and New People’s Army. He even provided training camps and financial assistance for the partisans. All the three organizations have been constantly embroiled in armed hostilities against government’s military forces for more than 3 decades, which killed more than 100,000 people.
  13. Qaddafi funded many Europe-based terrorist organizations other than IRA, notably ETA (Basque rebel troops in Spain), Red Army Faction (a Marxist armed gang operating in many West German cities, primarily consisted of ex-Nazi officials), and Red Brigades (another Marxist terrorist organization, based in Italy, which has conducted bank robberies, assassinations, and kidnappings throughout 1970s and 1980s). He also paid tens of millions of dollars to Jorg Haider, leader of anti-Semitic and xenophobic Austrian Freedom Party.
  14. There were 2 parties in UK which had ‘quite close’ connection with Qaddafi: Workers Revolutionary Party and British National Party.
  15. In Southeast Asian and Pacific countries, Qaddafi provided millions of dollars in forms of financial assistance on OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka), which aims to form an independent state of West Papua. Vanuatu’s ruling party also rejoices in Qaddafi’s en masse monetary aids. He was also reported to have trained Australian Aborigines and Maoris in New Zealand to conduct guerrilla warfare against both the governments.
  16. Qaddafi had close acquaintanceship with Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-President of Yugoslavia, despite the fact that Milosevic was the main architect behind the Bosnian War (1992-1995), which killed more than 150,000 Bosnians.
  17. Libyan intelligence services were reported to have developed ‘intimate cooperation’ with CIA and M16 to provide them full information about Libyan dissidents. As a result, thousands of anti-Qaddafi Libyans worldwide were confidentially captured by Libyan agents who had been informed by both agencies, and many of them were subjected to ‘extraordinary rendition’ in Libya’s well-known ‘castles of persecution’, the most infamous being Abu Salim (rumor has it that more than 1200 Libyans were executed en masse in 1996 in this penitentiary).
  18. Perhaps the most notorious incident was 1988 Lockerbie bombing, in which more than 270 American passengers were killed after a Pan Am aeroplane was blown up by Qaddafi-trained agents while it was aboard above Lockerbie, Scotland. 16 years later, Libyan government agreed to compensate the families more than 3.5 billion dollars. Nevertheless, the convicted were welcomed as ‘heroes of the revolution’. The incident was Qaddafi’s most predacious retaliation after a brief US-led military attack on Libya following a West Berlin discotheque bombing by Libyan agents which killed 3 Americans and fatally wounded more than 200 others.
  19. Between 10 and 20 percent of Libyans (between 700,000 and almost 1,500,000) work under the surveillance of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees, which indicates that all of their movements have been overseen by the committee members. Any single mistakes, no matter how small, are punishable by heavy sentences. Even a political conversation with a foreigner is punishable by 3 years behind bars. Criticism against the regime, even the slightest one, is punishable by capital sentence. This applies for all Libyans, even if they are overseas. Freedom of expression and free-flow information was severely restricted.
  20. Corruption was severe. Economy was heavily controlled by Qaddafi and his children. Although Libya is a prosperous country, unemployment percentage reached two digits. Rumor has it that the family has secured more than 80 billion dollars in assets, notably from oil & gas revenues.

Despite all the wrongdoings, it does not mean Qaddafi was entirely a mad dog. Or to be more precise, he was a three-quarter mad dog. His achievements have also been monumental, as seen from this list:

  1. Qaddafi had succeeded in unifying all Libyan tribes which often had tumultuous relationships against each other. Libya would have been a second Somalia if there were no strongmen like him to concatenate all the differences in his country.
  2. Libya managed to be a prosperous nation (for more than 40 years, oil production has stabilized at a rate of approximately 2 million barrels a day), with GDP per capita amounting to 11,000 US$. Hundred billion dollars have been poured into public projects, the most ambitious being Great Manmade River project, in which some parts of Libya were split over hundreds of kilometers in order to construct a gigantic aquifer to let water from the Mediterranean Seas flow into the excavated zones to fulfil agricultural demands.
  3. Age expectancy reached 77, only a year and a half less than that of United States. Libyans’ health standards are so far one of the highest in Africa, and in the world, altogether.
  4. Libyans enjoyed social welfare, obtained access to cheap public housing, garnered high health standards, and improved education. However, Libyan economy tended to be centralized, in which private businesses were almost entirely forbidden. As a result, between 50,000 and 100,000 well-educated intellects emigrated worldwide due to the monotonous economic system.
  5. There were ‘people’s supermarkets’, state-run workers-owned retail businesses in which Libyans could purchase all primary products at a very low cost. Which is why there was never, even a small famine, during Qaddafi’s rule.
  6. Poverty rates were head-over-heels low; this happened after Qaddafi introduced social stability to the societies. Almost all private businesses were taken over by workers’ committees, and they were provided high social benefits during his rule.
  7. Libyan companies had invested tens of billions of dollars in forms of financial assistance on many Third World countries, particularly those in Africa.

© Reuters

The only thing that I barely understand is why United Nations is too ‘swift’ in responding to Qaddafi’s inhumane treatments of the protestors (fighter jets shot rampantly at the demonstrators, in which more than 1000 were killed), at the same time the institution had a very slow progress in responding to other genocides taking place in less resources-rich countries, the most humiliating being the mass genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 until 2003, which took off more than 1,000,000 and 5,500,000 lives, respectively. It seems like there is an unfair treatment being given by United Nations on each country, as I hypothesize.

And what will the future of Libya be without Qaddafi? The nation will face internal obstacles. This far, only Qaddafi who has successfully restored unity – though seems brittle – towards all the tribes in Libya. Rumor has it that there has been internal conflicts between tribes who were affiliated under National Transitional Council (NTC), and worse, some analysts had prepared their worst-case scenario: an inter-tribal conflict and continual retaliation efforts by Qaddafi loyalists would take place in the near future, which would further shatter efforts on rebuilding the already smashed-to-smithereens nation. Afterwards, a nightmare of second Somalia is waiting to take over. The ‘liberation operation’ conducted by NATO, if not anticipated swiftly, would end up a disaster, like the ones the whole world has seen taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq.




Qaddafi’s last minutes, as shown here (warning: this video contains extremely disturbing contents).