It’s hard to imagine now but just decades ago Venezuela was the richest country in South America. The late President Hugo Chávez’s social programs thrived on record oil revenues; Venezuelan industry was left underdeveloped but poverty was glitteringly – yet only temporarily – relieved. Now that the price of oil has plummeted, the country’s hollow economy is dependent on imports it does not have the cash to buy. Normally reliable Chinese lenders are having second thoughts. Inflation has hit triple digits. Venezuela’s economy is in utter recession and is projected to contract eight per cent this year, making it officially the slowest-growing economy in the world.