Justin’s note: Venezuela is in a state of despair.
The country’s economy has collapsed… inflation is through the roof… and food and medicine shortages are rampant.
But there’s hope. I say this because Venezuela has a new president. Well, sort of… You see, Juan Guaidó just elected himself interim president of Venezuela.
And many countries, including the United States, now recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s active president instead of Nicolás Maduro.
It’s a promising development, and not just for Venezuelans. As you’re about to see, a major crisis investing opportunity could be shaping up there…
Justin: Doug, how do you see the situation in Venezuela shaking out?
Doug: Well, it’s a bit of a complex question because Maduro is the “legally” elected president of a supposedly democratic country. Now, I say that with the proviso that I don’t believe in democracy as a way of organizing the world. Democracy is really just mob rule in a coat and tie.
Of course Maduro’s election was rigged, which is so very often the case in Latin America, Africa, most of the Third World. And even the United States, for that matter.
Since election fraud is the case almost everywhere, you can’t hold that against the guy. He’s really just working within the system. That’s just the way things are. He’s actually the president, like it or lump it. Venezuela isn’t Switzerland…
Justin: Interesting. And what do you think of Guaidó? Many Western countries have recognized him as the acting president of Venezuela.
Doug: Guaidó is conducting a coup d’état. Or a golpe, as they say here in Latin America. The army and the police – who have all the guns – have apparently declared for Maduro. Of course Venezuela has something like 2000 generals – an almost unbelievable number. I’m sure most of them, as well as thousands of colonels, are living high off the hog and don’t want to see a change.
On the other hand, the rank and file are likely sympathetic with the common people. They may desert if pressed. Or maybe some charismatic captain or top sergeant will rise up. Anything is possible. Including an actual civil war. Anything’s possible in a country suffering a total economic disaster.
Now, just to be clear, I despise Maduro. He’s a thug, a criminal, and a socialist with an IQ of – I’m guessing – about 90. But give him credit. He’s totally destroyed what was once the richest country on the continent, and that takes special talent. Even Clinton, Bush, and Obama in sequence couldn’t do that to the U.S.
If you listen to him talk, he uses very simple Spanish. Even with my very substandard Spanish I can understand him perfectly when he speaks. That’s because he uses very simple, bus driver-type language. You can easily imagine him in his bus driver’s uniform, piloting around the streets of Caracas. But he’s said some things that are quite intelligent.
Justin: What sort of intelligent things has he said?
Doug: Well, when Trump seemed to threaten an invasion, he said, “Are you going to repeat a Vietnam in Latin America?”
It was a very intelligent question to ask. Even people that hate Maduro may decide that it’s such an affront having American soldiers invade their country that it could easily turn into a Vietnam. They’ll figure the U.S. is there to steal their oil.
It’s quite stupid – not to mention illegal – for Trump to say, “We don’t like your regime so we’re going to send troops in to change it.” It’s just asking for trouble. It’s as if the U.S. learned absolutely nothing from trying to change regimes in a score of countries since the end of WW2.
Another intelligent thing Maduro said is, “Everything depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire.” He was referring to the United States, of course.
For many years the U.S. has, in fact, been acting like an empire. But not so much like the Roman Empire, which conquered and occupied places. Although, the U.S. does that, too. That’s why we have troops in South Korea, Germany, Japan, and scores of other countries. The U.S. is more like the Athenian empire, which was effectively a commercial empire, as opposed to a military empire.
Maduro’s quite correct. Americans are not always the good guys. If a visitor from Mars were to examine this planet, they’d have to say the most dangerous entity in the world today is the U.S. government. I know most Americans may be affronted to hear that. We’re used to thinking of ourselves as the “good guys.” And that’s true, when it comes to our culture and civilization. But the U.S. government has a life of its own. It’s different from the country. Just as Venezuela’s government, and the attached Deep State, isn’t the same as the average Venezuelan.
Maduro also said that, “It’s as if I told the European Union that I’d give it a few days to recognize the Republic of Catalonia.”
He was referring to when Catalonia attempted to break away from Spain in October 2017. And he’s absolutely correct. I was 100% on the side of the Catalans in that misadventure. Governments shouldn’t stick their noses into other people’s business. Major wars can start over trivial incidents. WW1 is the perfect example.
Some of Maduro’s observations are intelligent and correct. But I’d still say he’s a borderline moron, the AOC of South America, judging by everything else he’s done and believes. That doesn’t mean that he can’t say intelligent things from time to time.
Justin: What are the chances Trump sends troops to Venezuela?
Doug: Well, Trump is a genuine loose cannon. He has no core beliefs, just gut feelings. He flies by the seat of his pants and seems to be capable of doing almost anything on the spur of the moment.
Trump likes to show strength. He likes to demonstrate that he’s a tough guy who can’t be bluffed. He’s quite capable of invading, on some pretense. There are plenty of precedents for that sort of thing. Don’t forget the U.S. actually invaded Grenada, which was about as illegal as Hitler invading Poland in 1939 or Japan invading Manchuria in 1931.
The U.S. also invaded Panama on the pretense of its president dealing in drugs. Another completely illegal invasion. It nearly invaded Cuba with Bay of Pigs incident in 1961. Haiti, the Dominican Republic – the U.S. treats countries in the Caribbean as satrapies in its empire. It doesn’t treat them like real countries. Which is ironic, because in most cases they aren’t real countries – they’re banana republics, run by kleptocrats. But that’s beside the point. It’s very bad policy to do this type of thing, on several levels.
So, sure. Trump is entirely capable of sending in the Marines.
Justin: Interesting. Doug, I’ve become friends with quite a few Venezuelans during my travels. They fled to countries like Colombia, Argentina, and Peru because the situation at home was so unstable.
And many of these people are very hopeful about the future of Venezuela in light of what’s happened lately, specifically Guaidó’s rise to power.
Do you share this optimism? Do you see things getting better in Venezuela?
Doug: Yeah, that’s a great question. Venezuela’s biggest problem is that it’s sitting on a huge amount of oil. Possibly the world’s largest reserves, although it’s mostly heavy, high-sulfur sludge – not light, sweet crude. However, the quality of the hydrocarbons isn’t the problem. The problem is that it’s all owned by the State. That means anybody that wants to be wealthy and powerful has to get control of the State. Or be a crony.
These people will continue fighting for it. They’ve totally politicized the country’s economy.
How would I solve the situation? It’s essential to get the power and money out of the hands of the State. The only way to defuse this situation is to probably take 100% of the State’s shares in the Venezuelan oil company, and divide them, pro rata, to all the people in the country.
In fact, do that with all the State’s assets. I’ve pitched a program like that to a dozen governments over the years. It’s become a hobby, and I’ve written about it [Editor’s Note: see here and here]. This would give the average Venezuelan a stake in the government’s assets.
Of course they’d also have to install an impeccable board of directors who wouldn’t use it as a vehicle to enrich themselves – at least, not too much. That’s unlikely, I know. Just a fun thought…
Justin: Doug, you’ve had a lot of success speculating in markets that the average investor wants nothing to do with.
Do you see a crisis investing opportunity shaping up in Venezuela?
Doug: Well, here’s the thing. Venezuela is a huge country. It’s 30% bigger than Texas. There are only 30 million people, including lots of European immigrants. It’s potentially immensely wealthy. Huge possibilities in every regard. The only thing wrong is the political system. Mining, tourism, ranching, farming. It should be an industrial powerhouse, too. But, like every country in Latin America, the labor laws, taxes, regulations, and currency debasement make real development very risky.
The good news is that Venezuela is still going to be there. Regimes come and go. Unfortunately, it’s still going to have problems because of the ingrained culture, and the oil situation.
Which brings us to your question. Is there any way that we can profit from all of this?
I’m reasonably familiar with both real estate speculation and Latin America, having been to every country in Latin America, in most cases a number of times. I’ve lived in three.
You can buy an apartment in Venezuela for very cheap now. It’s said real estate prices have fallen about 60% in just the past year. I’ve looked at the websites to get an idea of what prices are. They look very cheap for what you get. But the numbers are meaningless.
It’s going to depend on what you offer the guy and how desperate he is.
Justin: Where would you consider buying real estate in Venezuela? Caracas is one of the most dangerous cities on the planet these days.
Doug: Caracas would not be the first place I’d want to buy. Caracas has turned into your classic shithole. The city’s basically in a valley surrounded by hillsides covered with what they call “ranchos” full of poor people. In Brazil, they call these neighborhoods “favelas.” Every Latin country has its own name for the slums where people build their houses out of cardboard and flattened tin cans.
There’s one partially completed skyscraper I know of. Probably 30 stories tall. It’s been abandoned, but it’s occupied to at least the 20th floor with squatters. No higher, I guess, because of the logistics of hauling water and such.
But the mobs of people are just one problem with Caracas. The electricity probably doesn’t work half the time. The water can’t be trusted at this point.
Fortunately, it’s a huge country. So I would go to one of the outlying cities and look to buy a farm – although I’m sure all the farms and ranches in the country have gone to seed, the cattle stolen and slaughtered by starving people. Most important, it’s probably very hard to get a good title to a piece of property once you give the owner money for it.
But I’ve always said I’ll buy anything if the price is right. You might find the right desperate seller who’s just totally fed up. And you may get the bargain of a lifetime. It happens all the time, all over Latin America.
This can be an excellent time to go shopping, if not particularly in Caracas, which is just too sketchy. You could find something good in one of the other cities, and particularly on Margarita Island, in the Caribbean. It has certain advantages because it’s not really connected to the mainland and its problems. It’s a center for all kinds of offshore activity, like gambling. It has the beaches. I’d look at that first.
But it’s something where you’ve got to put boots on the ground. Before buying anything, you’ve really got to spend a month there.
Justin: Why is that?
Doug: All kinds of problems are going to arise. For one thing, you should really occupy something once you buy it. In Latin America, there’s a big problem with squatters. If you own land but you don’t visit it or manage it, you could eventually find somebody else living there.
After a few years, they have a legal argument that it belongs to them. So, it’s a tremendous opportunity but one that has to be acted on carefully. Should you do it? Look, I should have bought that castle outside of Umtali in Rhodesia in 1979 for $85,000; it sold for $13 million five years later. But I would have had to live there. Long story.
There’s little question in my mind that Maduro is going to be out. If he’s smart he’ll grab his billion dollars and leave now. The new guy will seem like a reformer for a few years, then probably turn into a criminal who’s looking to steal his own billion dollars. Of course a renaissance is always possible, like Chile under Pinochet.
I’ve been to Venezuela four or five times, including out into the countryside and up the Orinoco River. It’s a great place. But you’ll have to live there for a while, and get connected, in order not to make a mistake.
I first went to Venezuela like 25 years ago. At the time, a mining boom was underway. But the Hugo Chávez government basically stole everything, all the assets of the mining companies. Now what’s left is vandalized, destroyed, and worth zero. Typical Third World stuff.
That’s the problem with a country like Venezuela. The usual suspects – socialists, populists, even common criminals – get control of the government. Foreigners put money in, and the government feels they can steal it with impunity – in the national interest, of course. And they’re right. They can.
This is why development is very hard in countries that don’t have a firm grasp of the basics of Western civilization and the rule of law. I’m afraid Venezuela’s shown itself to be in that class.
It’s also Indian country, and the natives are getting restless. That’s true of most countries in Latin America now. Indians feel they’ve been held down. They want to steal things from people of European descent, take over, and run their countries the way the Incas used to.
I’m not terribly optimistic for Venezuela’s future. But it could still be a very interesting speculation. As was Rhodesia in 1979.
My guess is that if you could find a nice cattle ranch in the hands of the right owner, you could probably buy 100,000 acres for $1 million. That would include whatever’s left of the houses, barns, cattle, machinery, and what have you. If you’re in a position to do that and defend your property, you could make a fortune.
And have the adventure of a lifetime. I kid you not.
Justin: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me today, Doug.
Doug: You’re welcome.
Justin’s note: Mark your calendars… on February 27, Doug and Strategic Investor editor E.B. Tucker will be revealing the top money-making strategy to use in 2019. This little-known strategy can generate gains 10x bigger than options. And Doug and E.B. say now is the perfect time to use it. It will be one of the most important events in Casey Research’s history.
Stay tuned for more details…
Today, a question about the world’s greatest safe-haven asset…
What is the outlook for gold? I own several gold coin sets. Should I just hold them?
Justin’s note: Thanks for writing in, Matt. Here at Casey Research, we always recommend holding physical gold for the long term. It’s the ultimate safe-haven asset and can protect you during crises.
We also see big upside in the gold price this year. If you haven’t yet, check out Strategic Investor editor E.B. Tucker’s piece on why gold is set to soar in 2019.
E.B. also recently shared a fun and obscure way to invest in gold, which you can read here.
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