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Post-Harvey Houston: Years Until Recovery, Plenty of Costs Unknown

When the heaviest rain of tropical storm Harvey had passed, Kathryn Clark’s west Houston neighborhood had escaped the worst. Then the dams were opened — a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent upstream flooding and potential dam failures by releasing water into Buffalo Bayou, just a few hundred feet from the end of Clark’s street.

When she and her husband returned to survey the damage later that week, they entered their two-story home by kayak in roughly three feet of water. In the kitchen, a snake slithered past.

Nothing like that had happened in the nearly 11 years the Clarks have lived there; it got Kathryn thinking about their long-term plans, including whether to rebuild.

“What if they decide to open the dams again?” she asked. “But if you don’t rebuild, you just walk away, and that is a big loss.”

The Clarks ultimately opted to reconstruct, a process that will take another half-year before they can move back in. Elsewhere in the city, the waiting will be longer.

​A sprawling concrete jungle

In early November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters that Texas will need more than $61 billion in federal aid, to help fund a reconstruction plan that he said would curtail damage from future coastal storms. However, he added, there will be more requests: “This is not a closed book.”

Hurricane Harvey, the costliest storm in U.S. history, will affect Houston for months, and years. Apart from tens of thousands of ongoing home rebuilding projects, civil construction is in the evaluation phase.

“With Katrina, it actually took them 12 years before FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] made their final payment to the city of New Orleans,” said Jeff Nielsen, executive vice president of the Houston Contractors Association. “That’s how long it takes to really test and figure out where all the repairs and where all the damage occurred.”

Houston covers a landmass of 1,600 square kilometers, compared to New Orleans’ 900, and is much more densely populated. The impermeable concrete jungle experienced major runoff during the storm, and that translates to high civil construction costs in roads, bridges, water, sewage and utility lines that are difficult to determine.

WATCH: Post-Harvey Houston: Years Until Recovery, Unknown Costs

Nielsen explains to VOA the immensity of the task. 

“You may be driving down the road one day and, all of a sudden — boom — there is a 10-foot sinkhole underneath the road because there is a water line or a sewer line or a storm sewer line that runs underneath that road.

“There is no way to tell that that’s happening without going through and testing each and every line,” Nielsen said.

​Waiting, waiting

Rob Hellyer, owner of Premier Remodeling & Construction, says Houston has seen an uptick in inquiries for both flood and nonflood-related projects — good for business, but a challenge for clients.

“A lot of those people come to the realization that ‘If we want to get our project done in the next two or three years, we better get somebody lined up quick,’” Hellyer told VOA.

But industrywide, much of the workforce is dealing with flooding issues of their own, while simultaneously attempting to earn a living.

“It really has disbursed that labor pool that we have been using for all these years,” Hellyer said.

Labor shortages in construction-related jobs have long been a challenge despite competitive wages, according to Nielsen, who describes his field — civil construction — as less-than-glamorous.

“Outside, it’s hot. What could be more fun than pouring hot asphalt on a road?” he asked.

Networking barriers

With construction costs up and waiting periods long, the hands-on rebuilding effort is typically attractive for some lower-wage immigrant communities.

Among the city’s sizable Vietnamese population, though, that’s not exactly the case, said Jannette Diep, executive director of Boat People SOS Houston office (BPSOS), a community organization serving the area’s diaspora population.

“[Vietnamese construction workers] face not only a language barrier but that networking piece, because they’re not intertwined with a lot of the rules and regulations,” Diep said. “‘Well, how do I do the bid; what’s the process?’”

Overwhelmed with paperwork and often discouraged by limited communication skills in English, Diep says many within the industry opt to work only from within their own communities, despite more widespread opportunities across Greater Houston.

The same barriers apply to the Asian diaspora’s individual post-recovery efforts. BPSOS-Houston, according to Diep, remains focused on short-term needs — food, clothing, cleaning supplies — and expects the longer-term recovery to take two to three years, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods.

Love thy neighbor

Loc Ngo, a mother of seven and grandmother from Vietnam, has lived in Houston for 40 years, but speaks little English. In Fatima Village, a tightly knit single-street community of mobile homes — comprising 33 Vietnamese families — she hardly has to.

“They came to fix the home and it cost $11,000, but they’re not finished yet,” she explained, through her son’s translation. “The washer, dryer and refrigerator — I still haven’t bought them yet, and two beds!”

Across the street, the three-generation Le family levels heaps of dirt across a barren lot that’s lined by spare pipes and cinderblocks. They plan to install a new mobile home.

At the front end of the road is the village’s single-story church, baby blue and white, like the sky — the site of services, weddings, funerals and community gatherings.

Victor Ngo, a hardwood floor installer, typically organizes church events. But for now, his attention is turned to completing reconstruction of the altar and securing donations to replace 30 ruined benches.

“At first I had to spend two months to fix up my house, and now I finished my house, and I [have started] to fix up this church,” Ngo said. “So basically, I don’t go out there to work and make money. Not yet.”

In the village, made up largely of elders, Ngo stresses the importance of staying close to home to help with rebuilding, translation, and paperwork, at least for a while longer.

“We stick together as a community to survive,” he said.

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Some Republicans Nervous NAFTA Talks Could Fail

Pro-trade Republicans in the U.S. Congress are growing worried that U.S. President Donald Trump may try to quit the NAFTA free trade deal entirely rather than negotiate a compromise that preserves its core benefits.

As a fifth round of talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement kicked off in Mexico on Friday, several Republicans interviewed by Reuters expressed concerns that tough U.S. demands, including a five-year sunset clause and a U.S.-specific content rule, will sink the talks and lead to the deal’s collapse.

Business groups have warned of dire economic consequences, including millions of jobs lost as Mexican and Canadian tariffs snap back to their early 1990s levels.

“I think the administration is playing a pretty dangerous game with this sunset provision,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from eastern Pennsylvania.

He said putting NAFTA under threat of extinction every five years would make it difficult for companies in his district, ranging from chocolate giant Hershey Co to small family owned manufacturing firms, to invest in supply chains and manage global operations.

Hershey operates candy plants in Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico.

Lawmakers’ letter

Nearly 75 House of Representatives members signed a letter this week opposing U.S. proposals on automotive rules of origin, which would require 50 percent U.S. content in NAFTA-built vehicles and 85 percent regional content.

They warned that this would “eliminate the competitive advantages” that NAFTA brings to U.S. automakers or lead to a collapse of the trade pact.

Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who has long been a supporter of free trade deals, said he disagreed with the Trump approach of “trying to beat someone” in the NAFTA talks. Texas is the largest U.S. exporting state with nearly half of its $231 billion in exports last year headed to Mexico and Canada, according to Commerce Department data.

“We need to offer Mexico a fair deal. If we want them to take our cattle, we need to take their avocados,” Sessions said.

Still, congressional apprehension about Trump’s stance is far from unanimous. The signers were largely Republicans, with no Democrats from auto-intensive states such as Michigan and Ohio signing.

Democratic support

Some pro-labor Democrats have actually expressed support for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s tough approach.

“Some of those demands are in tune,” said Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee.

“We don’t want to blow it up, Republicans don’t want to blow it up. But we want substantial changes in the labor, the environmental, the currency, on how you come to an agreement when there’s a dispute, and on problems of origin.”

Farm state Republicans are especially concerned that a collapse of NAFTA would lead to the loss of crucial export markets in Mexico and Canada for corn, beef and other products.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Lighthizer in a recent meeting agreed that a withdrawal from NAFTA would be hard on U.S. agriculture, which has largely benefited from the trade pact.

U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico quintupled to about $41 billion in 2016 from about $9 billion in 1993, the year before NAFTA went into effect, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

Grassley said, however, that Lighthizer’s approach was “taking everybody to the brink on these talks.”

Other Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach to the talks.

Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said he was willing to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on NAFTA talks, adding that farmers and ranchers in his rural district were strong Trump supporters in the 2016 election.

“The president’s a practical fellow. When push comes to shove, he understands the base,” Lucas said.

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Unions Take NAFTA Wage Fight to Mexican Senate

The head of Canada’s biggest private-sector union headed to Mexico’s Senate on Friday, promising to fight at the NAFTA trade pact talks for improved Mexican wages and free collective bargaining as a way of benefiting workers across North America.

The issue of tougher labor standards has emerged as a key sticking point in the talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, and has brought disparate groups of workers from across the region closer to U.S. populists.

“There will not be an agreement” until the Mexican team agrees to free collective bargaining, the elimination of so-called yellow unions that are dominated by employers, and fair wages for Mexican workers, Unifor President Jerry Dias said.

The event held in a side chamber of the Senate was organized by the umbrella organization Better Without Free Trade Agreements, which represents dozens of social organizations and unions.

Dias argued that low wages have not only hurt Mexican workers but have also prompted manufacturing jobs in Canada and the United States to leave for Mexico.

By including much tougher labor standards in an updated NAFTA, the issue could be dealt with head on, he said. “When you start talking about low wages, we can deal with that under the dispute mechanism as an unfair subsidy.”

The fifth round of talks NAFTA is being held in the upscale Camino Real hotel in Mexico City.

“What Mexico offers in this negotiation and to the rest of the world is cheap labor. That’s what Mexico puts on the table and how it presents itself as an attractive place for investments,” Senator Mario Delgado of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution told Reuters.

“It is a shame and it is unsustainable for Mexico. … Our salary policy is putting at risk the existence of the treaty,” said Delgado.

Mexican business leaders argue that integrating Mexico into North American supply chains has made the entire region more competitive. Recent studies have shown, however, that wages in Mexico have experienced significant downward pressure.

Given Mexico’s higher inflation rates, wages are now lower there in real terms than when NAFTA took effect, according to a report published in August by credit rating agency Moody’s.

While formally employed workers earn significantly more, the statutory minimum wage is a mere 80 pesos ($4.23) a day.

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How Much Is a Life Worth, Ask Activists Fighting Slavery?

From $7 for a Rohingya refugee to $750 for a North Korean “slave wife,” human rights activists have voiced concerns that it is becoming increasingly easy to enslave another human being as the cost plummets.

The average modern-day slave is sold for $90-100 compared to the equivalent of $40,000 some 200 years ago, said Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at Britain’s University of Nottingham.

“There has been a collapse in the price of slaves over the last 50 years,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference in London, which focuses on women’s empowerment and modern slavery.

‘Beasts of burden’

Pointing to a photo of boys hauling rocks in Nepal “like beasts of burden,” he said their parents would have sold them for $5-$10. Children are so cheap that if they get injured or fall in a ravine their slave master abandons them, Bales said.

“They understand it’s less expensive to acquire a new child than to call a doctor,” he added.

Bales attributed the fall in price to the population explosion which had “glutted the world with potentially enslavable people.”

40 million people trapped

Worldwide, about 40 million people were estimated to be trapped as slaves in 2016, mostly women and girls, in forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced marriages, with global trafficking estimated to raise $150 billion in profits a year.

North Korean defector Jihyun Park told how she was trafficked to China where she was sold for 5000 yuan ($750) to an alcoholic, violent farmer.

“He said I’ve paid for you so you must work. I spent six years as his slave,” Park said.

Thousands of North Korean women are believed to have been trafficked as wives and sex workers inside China where the one-child policy has skewed the gender ratio.

Natural disasters force issue

 In Bangladesh, Asif Saleh, of development agency BRAC, said Rohingya refugee women fleeing Myanmar and arriving in Bangladesh were being sold for as little as 5 pounds ($6.60).

Aid agencies say traffickers often exploit crises to prey on vulnerable people separated from their families and communities.

Nepalese nun and kung fu teacher Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, who helps families displaced by the country’s 2015 earthquake, told the conference that people were selling their daughters, sisters and mothers to traffickers after the disaster in order to rebuild their homes.

“Some men just see girls as a bunch of money,” she said.

In northern Kenya’s pastoralist region, lawyer Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan said child brides as young as nine were sold for eight cows or eight camels — worth about $800.

“Girls become commodities and they have no voice, no one asks what the girl wants,” said Adan, who uses football to help tackle child marriage and female genital mutilation.

But it is not just rich countries where girls are sold off.

Sarah, forced into prostitution as a child in Britain, said the gang who groomed her said she would have to have sex every day until she had paid off a “debt” of 75,000 pounds.

“They told me I belonged to them and until my debt was cleared I had to work for them,” she said.

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Experts: Puerto Rico May Struggle for More Than a Decade

Puerto Rico could face more than a decade of further economic stagnation and a steep drop in population as a result of Hurricane Maria, experts say.

The stark estimates were presented this wee to members of a federal control board overseeing finances of a U.S. territory that is already in the 11th year of a recession.

“The situation is dire to say the least, with destroyed infrastructure, lack of power and water, and an accelerated pace of migration,” economist Heidie Calero said.

She estimated that the hurricane caused $115 billion in damage, even without counting business losses.

“We believe that is very conservative,” she said.

The administration of Governor Ricardo Rossello said earlier in the week that it was seeking $94 billion in federal aid for an island where power generation remains at 40 percent and where nearly 10 percent of people are still without water almost two months after the storm. More than 20 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remain completely without power.

So far, Congress has approved nearly $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico.

Twin shocks

Economist Juan Lara told board members that the local economy could contract anywhere between 8 percent and 15 percent in fiscal 2018, depending on the restoration of power, with overall revenues falling by 30 percent.

“We are undergoing both a demand and supply shock,” he said, saying that 5,000 businesses could close permanently, representing 10 percent of membership of the island’s National Retail Federation.

Businesses that have reopened have been forced to reduce their hours or depend on costly generators.

“We need electric power to be back and to be reliable,” Lara said. “We need roads to be cleared. We need supermarkets to be able to replenish their inventories. … We need to restore basic operating infrastructure.”

Lack of power remains the biggest obstacle, with the island’s electric company struggling to maintain the 50 percent power generation it had reached Wednesday just as a major blackout occurred for the second time in a week.

Rossello has said the company will reach 80 percent generation by end of November and 95 percent by mid-December, goals that many have called ambitious. In contrast, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has said it expects 75 percent generation by end of January.

More migration

Before Hurricane Maria hit, Puerto Rico was trying to restructure a portion of its $73 billion public debt load amid a deep economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of nearly half a million people in the past decade. That migration will only accelerate because of post-hurricane conditions, with an estimated population of 2.8 million people by 2030, compared with the current 3.4 million, said economist Jose Villamil.

“What Maria has done in some ways is to exacerbate that situation, made it more intense,” he said.

The drop in population, coupled with a majority of young, talented people leaving, will hit Puerto Rico’s economy even harder, experts said.

Two more meetings remain as the board continues to gather information to revise a fiscal plan to adjust for the hurricane’s impact. It is unclear how much money, if any, will be set aside in the plan to pay off the island’s debt load.

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Probe Finds Ongoing Radioactive Leaks at Illinois Nuclear Plants

Radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found.

Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows.

No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company.

The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons (132,000 liters) occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon’s Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago. The same facility was the focus of a community panic in the mid-2000s after a series of accidents stirred debate over the safety of aging nuclear plants.

A 2014 incident at Exelon’s Dresden facility in Grundy County involved the release of about 500,000 gallons (1,900,000 liters) of highly radioactive water. Contamination was later found in the plant’s sewer lines and miles away in the Morris, Illinois, sewage treatment plant.

Another leak was discovered in 2007 at the Quad Cities plant in Cordova. It took eight months to plug and led to groundwater radiation readings up to 375 times of that allowed under federal safe drinking water standards.

Exelon had threatened to close the Quad Cities plant, but relented last year after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed bailout legislation authorizing big rate hikes.

Representatives of Exelon and its government overseers — the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — say the leaks posed no public danger and did not contaminate drinking water. Exelon said to prevent leaks it has spent $100 million over the last decade on upgrades at all of its U.S. plants.

Michael Pacilio, chief operating officer of the power generating arm of Exelon, said no one in or around the plants was harmed by radioactivity from the leaks, which he described as minor compared with everyday exposures.

“We live in a radioactive world,” Pacilio said.

Critics say that’s little cause for relief.

“Best that we can tell, that’s more luck than skill,” said David Lochbaum, an analyst with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. “Leaks aren’t supposed to happen. Workers and the public could be harmed. There is a hazard there.”

Among the 61 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., more than half have reactors that are at or near the end of their originally expected lifespans — including the Dresden and Quad Cities plants.

Industry watchdogs and government whistleblowers contend oversight is compromised by a cozy relationship between companies and the NRC.

Government regulators concede they must balance the safety needs of aging plants, which require more maintenance, versus ordering cost-prohibitive upgrades at facilities that inherently are just a slip-up away from catastrophe.

No player in the nuclear industry is bigger than Exelon, the Chicago-based energy company that last year reported $31 billion in revenue and operates 14 nuclear plants in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Five of the six Illinois plants reported leaks over the last decade, records show. Clinton, in DeWitt County, had no leaks and Byron, in Ogle County, reported only one that contained low levels of radioactivity.

The accidents included in the BGA analysis are separate from government-approved releases into large bodies of water. The state allows Exelon to discharge controlled amounts of tritium into rivers and lakes, where radioactive material gets diluted.

Other releases of tritium, however, can be illegal and subject to fines and government lawsuits — though no accidents from the past decade resulted in either. Government officials say small amounts of tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen and a potential marker for more dangerous nuclear contaminants — are not harmful to humans but exposure to higher levels may increase the risk of cancer.

At least seven of the 35 documented accidents since 2007 involved contamination of groundwater. Other contamination was found in sewers and other water systems where it isn’t supposed to be.

The recent leaks echo the controversy in 2006 when it was revealed that leaks at Braidwood over many years spilled 6 million gallons (23 million liters) of radioactive water, some of which found its way onto private properties and at least one private drinking well.

At the time, Exelon and state regulators assured the public radioactivity levels in the private well were far below limits deemed a danger. Neighbors of the Braidwood plant were skeptical then and remain so.

“The NRC gets all its numbers from the nuclear plant. How can NRC trust the numbers?” asked Monica Mack, who lives in Braceville near the Braidwood plant.

The BGA investigation also found:

– Of the 35 documented incidents, 27 occurred at Dresden. Following the big 2014 leak, which emanated from an aboveground storage tank, Exelon asked a state inspector whether the public would have access to the incident report under open records laws, a state report showed.

– An NRC report on the 2007 Quad Cities leak noted radiation levels went “well beyond that seen anywhere else in the industry” and that plant staff estimated the leak had been active for years before it was discovered.

– In 2010, Exelon’s Marseilles generating plant in LaSalle County reported a spill from a storage tank, initially estimated at more than 150 gallons (570 liters) but later classified as “unknown.” Groundwater tritium tests later showed levels 59 times the EPA’s drinking water limit. Exelon said no tritium left the plant’s boundaries, but records show plant workers continued to monitor a body of highly contaminated groundwater sitting on plant property at least five years after the accident.

– In 2009, Dresden reported another hole in a storage tank led to a leak of as much as 272,000 gallons (1 million liters) of radioactive water. Onsite groundwater testing showed levels of tritium 160 times higher than allowed under federal standards for drinking water.

 

This story was provided to The Associated Press by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Better Government Association of Chicago: www.bettergov.org

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Tesla Adds Big Trucks to Its Electrifying Ambitions

After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs — and, more recently, solar panels — Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks.

The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, California.

CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of traveling 500 miles on an electric charge and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019.

“We’re confident that this is a product that’s better in every way from a feature standpoint,” Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling.

​One-fourth of transit emissions

The move fits with Musk’s stated goal for the company of accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation. Trucks account for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to government statistics.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered “megachargers” that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after 30 minutes.

Tesla, Musk stretched

But the semi also piles on the chaos at Palo Alto, California-based company. Tesla is way behind on production of the Model 3, a new lower-cost sedan. It’s also ramping up production of solar panels after buying Solar City Corp. last year. Musk has said Tesla is also working on a pickup and a lower-cost SUV and negotiating a new factory in China. Meanwhile, the company posted a record quarterly loss of $619 million in its most recent quarter.

Musk, too, is being pulled in many different directions. He leads rocket maker SpaceX and is dabbling in other projects, including high-speed transit, artificial intelligence research and a new company that’s digging tunnels beneath Los Angeles to alleviate traffic congestion.

“He’s got so much on his plate right now. This could present another distraction from really just making sure that the Model 3 is moved along effectively,” said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president and automotive analyst at Moody’s.

Uncertain market

Tesla is venturing into an uncertain market. Demand for electric trucks is expected to grow over the next decade as the U.S., Europe and China all tighten their emissions regulations. Electric truck sales totaled 4,100 in 2016, but are expected to grow to more than 70,000 in 2026, says Navigant Research.

But most of that growth is expected to be for smaller, medium-duty haulers like garbage trucks or delivery vans. Those trucks can have a more limited range of 100 miles or less, which requires fewer expensive batteries. They can also be charged overnight.

Long-haul semi trucks, on the other hand, would be expected to go greater distances, and that would be challenging. Right now, there’s little charging infrastructure on global highways. Without Tesla’s promised fast-charging, even a midsized truck would likely require a two-hour stop, cutting into companies’ efficiency and profits, says Brian Irwin, managing director of the North American industrial group for the consulting firm Accenture.

Irwin says truck companies will have to watch the market carefully, because tougher regulations on diesels or an improvement in charging infrastructure could make electric trucks more viable very quickly. Falling battery costs also will help make electric trucks more appealing compared to diesels.

But even lower costs won’t make trucking a sure bet for Tesla. It faces stiff competition from long-trusted brands like Daimler AG, which unveiled its own semi prototype last month. 

Fleet operators want reliable trucks, and Tesla will have to prove it can make them, said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with the car shopping site Autotrader.

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Venezuela, State Oil Firm Default on Billions Worth of Bonds

The Venezuelan government and its state-owned oil company PDVSA have officially defaulted on billions of dollars’ worth of bonds, the latest chapter of the country’s deep financial collapse.

 The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, a group of banks and brokers that determines whether an entity like Venezuela has failed to make on-time payments on its debts, voted Thursday to say that Venezuela had defaulted.

 

The vote will trigger what is known as a “credit event” on securities like credit default swaps, which investors buy as a type of insurance against a potential default. The 15-member group must now decide how it will settle the swaps.

Two rating agencies — Fitch and Standard & Poor’s — already determined this week that Venezuela’s government was in default.

PDVSA bonds were trading at 26.5 cents on the dollar, compared with roughly 30 cents back in September, according to FactSet.  

 

Venezuela’s debt skyrocketed to over $120 billion under the late President Hugo Chavez as the government spent heavily on social programs while oil prices were high. About half its debt is in the form of dollar-denominated bonds.

 

A drop in oil prices and mismanagement crushed the economy, leading to widespread shortages of food and other basics amid triple-digit inflation.

At a meeting with investors Monday, Vice President Tareck El Aissami tried to assure creditors that the country’s debts will continue to be paid. But those in attendance said they learned of no concrete plans for reorganizing the debt.

 

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