Meet the Academic 'Hitman' Who Infuriates Venezuela's President

Harvard University professor and former Venezuelan minister Ricardo Hausmann at the World Economy Outlook panel discussion before the 2012 G-20 Summit Photograph by Cris Bouroncle/AFP via Getty Images

Ricardo Hausmann sounds like a scary guy. Last night, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called him a “financial hitman” and “outlaw” who is part of a campaign “that has been initiated around the world against Venezuela.”

Who is this supposed international assassin? A bearded, 50-something professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who wrote a recent opinion piece saying Venezuela should default on its international debts. Traders in the bond market already consider this a possibility given the country’s financial straits, but Maduro seems to have taken it hard because Hausmann is himself Venezuelan and served as planning minister in 1992-93.

Maduro, like his late mentor and predecessor Hugo Chávez, presents himself as the champion of Venezuela’s poor. Hausmann attacked that image in his opinion piece by writing that many of the bonds on which Venezuela is paying interest “are held by well-connected wealthy Venezuelans,” while “severe shortages of life-saving drugs in Venezuela are the result of the government’s default on a $3.5 billion bill for pharmaceutical imports.” He said that the choice of Maduro’s government not to default “is a signal of its moral bankruptcy.”

That clearly did not go over well with Maduro, who instructed the attorney general and public prosecutor to take unspecified “actions” against Hausmann.

In an interview today with Bloomberg, Hausmann said Maduro’s speech was “the despotic diatribe of a tropical thug.” He added: “This is Exhibit A in how Venezuela is not a democracy. He uses his position as head of state to intimidate people who think differently.” Hausmann denied receiving payment for his comments or having links with investors interested in driving down Venezuelan bonds.

Barry Eichengreen, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written papers with Hausmann, posted a message on Twitter in his defense:

Here’s how Hausmann describes himself on his personal website:

I am the Director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University and Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. I am also George A. Cowan Professor of the Santa Fe Institute. My research includes issues of growth, structural transformation, macroeconomic volatility, international finance, gender gaps and aid coordination.

And here’s his bio on the website of the Kennedy School:

Ricardo Hausmann is Director of Harvard’s Center for International Development and Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at the Kennedy School of Government. Previously, he served as the first Chief Economist of the Inter-American Development Bank (1994-2000), where he created the Research Department. He has served as Minister of Planning of Venezuela (1992-1993) and as a member of the Board of the Central Bank of Venezuela. He also served as Chair of the IMF-World Bank Development Committee. He was Professor of Economics at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administracion (IESA) (1985-1991) in Caracas, where he founded the Center for Public Policy. His research interests include issues of growth, macroeconomic stability, international finance, and the social dimensions of development. He holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University.

This semester he’s teaching two courses: “Development Policy Strategy” and “Why Are So Many Countries Poor, Volatile, and Unequal?”

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