Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro traveled to the People’s Republic of China hoping to get fresh cash to advance his populist agenda. Chinese President Xi Jinping received him during his five-day stay in September, signing 31 documents including pledges, agreements, and memorandums of understanding.
Upon his return, Maduro could only offer the promise that one day he will send an astronaut into space. When asked by the press if he had received the much needed cash from the Asian country to reduce the deep economic recession, he declared: “Where we’re heading is for the moon.” Among china’s offers is aerospace cooperation.
Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Trade avoided questions about the content and scope of the latest agreements. According to Venezuelan news site Banca y Negocios, the most important ones were nothing more than memorandums of understanding for cooperation and economic development and the construction of several works by Chinese companies in Venezuela.
Maduro also announced that one of the agreements may make it possible to export coffee, avocados, and seafood to China. The pro-regime media highlighted an agreement for the development of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) between Johan Álvarez, representative of the National Superintendence that supervises these areas; and Tao Yitao, director of the Research Center for Chinese EEZ.
According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transparencia Venezuela, from 2005 to 2023 China and Venezuela have entered into more than 500 agreements, but none of the commitments assumed on this occasion involved a direct disbursement to the South American country. The closest, according to Bloomberg, were talks of a possible “strategic association” between companies in the hydrocarbons sector, carried out by a delegation, headed by Delcy Rodríguez, that was in the Chinese capital three days before Maduro’s arrival.
Asdrúbal Oliveros, director of the Venezuelan economic consulting platform Ecoanalítica, told Diálogo on November 10 that this trip did not produce the fresh money that the Miraflores regime expected, not even through the reactivation of the China-Venezuela cooperation funds in effect between 2005 and 2015.
Oliveros recalled that Venezuela still owes $18 billion of those loans, which totaled $62 billion. He also said that there are allegations of irregularities in the execution of these programs.
“I believe that Venezuela for China is a black sheep. It’s not the best country with which to do business and maintain relations, but it is key because of the oil issue, because it is in America, and because it confronts the United States; I believe that in the end this is also valued in China,” he said.
Corruption and distrust
According to a study by Colombian NGO Andres Bello Foundation, a Sino-Latin American research center, 82 projects were financed through the three stages of the China-Venezuela cooperation fund. Of these, 57 percent “were not completed or are at a standstill.”
According to the same document, “in most of the cases of the completed works, activities were paralyzed.” Irregularities in the administration of funds were the most frequent reasons — and these controversies have carried on. In the 2020 extradition request made to Spain for Javier Alvarado Ochoa, member of the team of former Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez, the existence of a bribery scheme, which charged between 10 and 15 percent of the amounts contracted for works to rescue the electric system, was brought to light.
“[R]ight now they have no predictability with Maduro. They see him as weak, they do not see him as reliable. Venezuela is not a stable country, otherwise they would not have left unfinished a large number of works that China had started,” Oscar Hernández Bernalette, former ambassador to Egypt and former director of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s International Cooperation, told Diálogo. He added that the Venezuelan regime will clamor for the success of this trip, as it did in Maduro’s previous visit to Beijing.
“You cannot make a trip […] and say it was a failure. Sure, they signed documents, but the paper is hollow. So many have already been signed with the Chinese, I don’t know what added value those of now can give,” he concluded.