June 21, 2017

Should/will the holders of Venezuela’s “Hunger Bonds” have priority over the hungry?

Sir, John Dizard, in reference to the current financial difficulties of the state of Illinois points out that Judge Joan Lefkow of the Federal District Court in Chicago made the point of “Bondholders do not have priority over welfare recipients”. That according to a muni portfolio manager would signify that the judge “is starting the process of reprioritizing the primacy of debt service under state law and the state constitution.” “Illinois’ journey to junk credit is sending shockwaves through the muni industry” June 17.

Let me apply that to Venezuela. Would that judge order that those many Venezuelans, including children, who die because of lack of food and medicines would have the same pari-passu rights as the holders of what Ricardo Hausmann has named “Hunger Bonds”?

It really does not sound so farfetched, or unjust, considering that the holders of those “Hunger Bonds” must be, as reflected in the risk premiums, perfectly aware of the tragedies in Venezuela resulting from widespread corruption and violations of human rights, including the current violent repression of those demonstrating against the government.

Sir, many have argued that the world urgently needs a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism, SDRM. I agree but for more than a decade I have held that must start by defining clearly what credits are clearly bona-fide, doubtful or plain odious.

Dizard writes: “One of the key questions to ask about distressed sovereign credits is whether the paper is owned by locals. Even during Nigeria’s troubles in the 1970s and 1980s, the central bank continued to pay its promissory notes, even as its bank loans went into default. Nigerian officials owned some of the notes.”

Clearly in a case like Venezuela the Venezuelans should have a right to know exactly who were the financiers of their malign regime, and of how they came into holding these credits.

The “need” for holding Venezuelan paper so as to conform to some Emerging Market portfolios might have entrapped some investment funds. In such cases no much shame falls on them but of course they should voluntary submit their investments to a debt to food and medicines conversion program, and the product donated to the poor.

Personally I am trying to motivate a constitutional reform in Venezuela that would assign the property of its natural resources directly to the citizens. I wonder what judges would then authorize the embargo of a tanker that carried oil to be exchanged for food and medicines for the hungry owners of the oil.

I do that not for the purpose of getting away from onerous financial commitments but for the much more important mission of not having future Venezuelan governments to have a chance to do, ever again, what this XXI Century Socialistic revolution has done to my homeland.

Whether this would make it “more difficult and expensive to sell bonds if the state wants to fund pension obligations or fix its highways” is of little or no concern to me. In fact, the more I look around in the world and read of unfunded pension obligations that might be satisfied with debt to be paid by future generations… those limitations sounds like great news.