Reuters on Tuesday took a close look at the adventures of the Chinese state-run CAMC engineering company, which somehow managed to pocket over a billion dollars from the socialist government of Venezuela for an agriculture project that never produced any food, even as the people of Venezuela descend into abject poverty and starvation.
CAMC was hired by current dictator Nicolás Maduro’s predecessor, the equally monstrous Hugo Chávez, in 2010. The Chinese company was to undertake a sweeping renovation of the remote Delta Amacuro region, providing it with infrastructure such as roads and bridges, the biggest rice-processing plant in the region, and “rice paddies twice the size of Manhattan.”
“Nine years later, locals are hungry,” Reuters reported. “Few jobs have materialized and the plant is only half-built, running at less than one percent its projected output. It hasn’t yielded a single grain of locally grown rice, according to a dozen people involved in or familiar with the development.”
According to court documents the news organization reviewed, at least $1.4 billion went swirling down the black hole of the CAMC project – real dollars, not the worthless socialist scrip Venezuelans must proffer in duffel bags to purchase a loaf of bread, if they can find one for sale.
Corrupt Venezuelan officials appear to have pilfered a hundred million dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Among those charged or investigated in connection with the project are a Venezuelan oil minister’s cousin, the Venezuelan national oil company’s top representative in China, and a former ambassador to China who currently serves as Venezuela’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom.
As for CAMC, it was paid staggering sums of money for projects that it never finished, giving it roughly a tenfold return on the $100 million it sank into kickbacks and bribes. The company vaguely asserted to Reuters that the paperwork it saw contained “a large number of inaccuracies” but did not detail them.
Company executives universally ignored requests for an interview, as did the Venezuelan Information Ministry and the national oil company, PDVSA, listed as a partner on many of the CAMC contracts. The Chinese Foreign Ministry muttered about “obviously distorted and exaggerated facts with a hidden agenda” but did not describe either the facts or the agenda.
The Delta Amacuro debacle is part of a pattern in which Chávez, and later Maduro, spent lavishly on Chinese construction projects – often using money provided by Chinese loans against Venezuela’s oil – that never actually produced any benefits for the Venezuelan people:
After an ambitious 2007 agreement between China and Venezuela, Chinese companies were announced as partners in billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and other projects. Since then, China invested over $50 billion in Venezuela, mostly in the form of oil-for-loan agreements, government figures show.
In a 2017 speech, Maduro said 790 projects with Chinese companies had been contracted in sectors ranging from oil to housing to telecommunications. Of those, he said, 495 were complete. Some developments have stalled because of graft, people familiar with the projects said; others were derailed by incompetence and a lack of supervision.
In Delta Amacuro, even government officials say a mixture of both ruined the rice project.
“The government abandoned it,” says Victor Meza, state coordinator for Venezuela’s rural development agency, which worked with CAMC. “Everything was lost. Everything was stolen.”
Some of these boondoggles were power plants, which offers a far more logical explanation for Venezuela’s collapsing electric grid than Maduro’s paranoid fantasies about opposition saboteurs knocking out the power with super-advanced American weapons.
Scooping up a billion dollars here and there for half-hearted efforts at construction projects which are invariably ruined by corrupt and incompetent Chávez and Maduro stooges is hardly the extent of China’s game in Venezuela. The important thing was to get the Venezuelan dictators to take those huge Chinese loans and sign over the oil, which Chavez at one point boasted could meet China’s needs for two hundred years. That is the main reason China keeps pouring money into Venezuela after most other investors cut their losses.
The projects China agreed to build might have gotten closer to operational status if the bottom had not dropped out of the oil market in the middle of the decade, leaving both the Chinese and Venezuelan sides of the partnership with little reason to pretend they were still building anything useful.
China provided Maduro with enough money to keep his elites on board, and enough weapons to arm his troops, while Russia supplied some goons to keep Venezuelan military from defecting. Everyone who matters is getting what they want in Venezuela. Only a very small percentage of the population matters.