Just how ill is Hugo Chávez? That is the question of the moment for Venezuelans, and today they got another clue.

Their normally energetic leader, also a fierce nationalist and staunch anti-imperialist, declined to make an appearance at what for him was a hugely important event: a civic-military parade commemorating the 200th anniversary since Venezuela declared its independence from Spain.

The man notorious for speeches at such events that can drag on for hours and hours limited himself to a 12-minute message broadcast via loudspeakers at the parade from the presidential palace. It must have been very hard for him to resist – Chávez, by his own admission, frequently flaunts doctors’ orders.

The answer to the question has critical implications for the future of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution, as well as for his opponents, who are bracing themselves for presidential elections due before the end of next year.

But there is another great mystery in Venezuela, which is almost as important. How much oil does it produce? This being the lifeblood of the OPEC country’s economy, it is of no small significance.

Ever since Chávez took control over state oil company PDVSA after a three-month long industry strike that began in December 2002, Venezuela’s oil production figures have been hotly disputed.

Less so now: after adopting a new methodology, the International Energy Agency has revised up Venezuela’s production numbers by an average of 393,000 barrels per day (bpd) for the past four years, now putting it at 2.5m bpd. That may still be 350,000 bpd less than the official figures, but it makes a big difference.

Barclays Capital, in a note today, explains the remaining discrepancy as follows:

Part of the difference could be due to the inclusion of condensates production in the official data, which accounts for slightly more than 100k bpd, and other exports to non-OECD countries, such as Cuba, that could be hard to verify.

In any case, it’s good news for Venezuela, not least because it increases the market’s perception of its ability to pay its debts. As for Chávez’s health, and who it benefits, that is a rather thornier issue.

Related reading:
Chávez: the people’s president, beyondbrics
He’s back, but in what state of health?, beyondbrics
Venezuela’s other problems, beyondbrics
Chávez: what next for Venezuela? beyondbrics
Chávez: still MIA, beyondbrics
Hugo Chávez’s sickbed governance, FT World blog

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