Venezuelan officials estimated the economy contracted 7.2% in 1999. A steep downturn in international oil prices during the first half of the year fueled the recession, and spurred the administration to abide by OPEC-led production cuts in an effort to raise world oil prices. (The petroleum sector dominates the economy, accounting for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of export earnings, and more than half of government operating revenues). Higher oil prices during the second half of 1999 took pressure off the budget and currency. With the president’s economic cabinet attempting to reconcile a wide range of views, the country’s economic reform program had largely stalled. The reforms were mainly in microeconomics such as the reduction or abolition of education and hospital fees. The government sought international assistance to finance reconstruction after massive flooding and landslides in December 1999 caused an estimated US$15 billion to $20 billion in damage.
There was a sharp drop in investment and a general recession during 2002 and 2003. Total GDP decreased 18.5% during the first semester of 2003 compared with the same period in 2002. This is the steepest decline in Venezuelan history. The hardest hit sectors were construction (-55.9%), petroleum (-26.5%), commerce (-23.6%) and manufacturing (-22.5%).
In 2002, the Venezuelan economy, as measured by Gross domestic product (GDP), contracted by 8.9% compared to 2001. The petroleum sector, which contracted by 12.6% in 2002 as compared to 2001, was adversely affected by a decrease in exports of petroleum products resulting from adherence to an OPEC quota established in 2002 and the virtual cessation of exports as a result of a national strike by forces intent on removing Chavez from power,The non petroleum sector of the economy contracted by 6.5% compared to 2001. This situation was accompanied by a significant devaluation of the Bolivar during 2002, which resulted in an accelerated inflation rate. The inflation rate, as measured by the CPI, was 31.2% in 2002 compared to 12.3% in 2001.
In an attempt to support the bolivar and bolster the government’s declining level of international reserves, as well as to mitigate the adverse impact from the oil industry work stoppage on the financial system, the Ministry of Finance and the central bank suspended foreign exchange trading on January 23, 2003. On February 6, 2003, the government created CADIVI, a currency control board charged with handling foreign exchange procedures. The new exchange control regime fixed the U.S. dollar exchange rate at Bs. 1,596 = U.S. $1.00 for purchase operations, and Bs. 1,600 = U.S. $1.00 for sale operations, and established the compulsory purchase and sale of foreign currency through the central bank. The current exchange rate for purchase operations is Bs. 2,150 = U.S. $1.00.
The economy grew by a remarkable 16.8% in 2004 when compared to 2003, led mostly by non-petroleum sectors - the oil industry directly provides only a small percentage of employment in the country. International reserves grew to US$27 billion. Polling firm Datanalysis noted that real income in the poorest sectors of society grew by 33% in real growth in 2004.
While Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund (FIEM) decreased from U.S.$2.59 billion in January 2003 to U.S.$700 million in October, central bank-held international reserves actually increased from U.S.$11.31 billion in January to U.S.$19.67 billion in October 2003. Despite the slowdown in PDVSA output and resulting royalty payments to the central bank, reserves are currently 31.1% above their levels one year ago, as foreign exchange transactions remain suppressed.
There is considerable income inequality. According to official sources, the percentage of poor and extremely poor among the Venezuelan population increased from 39.4% in 1995 to 48.1% in 2002, but then in 2005 decreased to 34% .