A BIG oil producer unable to pay its bills during a protracted oil-price boom is a rare beast. Thanks to colossal economic mismanagement, that is exactly what Venezuela, the world’s tenth-largest oil exporter, has become.

At the end of the second quarter Venezuela’s trade-related bills exceeded the $21 billion it currently holds in foreign assets (see chart), almost all of which is in gold or is hard to turn into cash. Over $7 billion in repayments on its financial debt come due in October. The government insists it has the means and the will to pay foreign bondholders. Few observers expect it to miss the deadline. Even so, the dreaded word “default” is being bandied about.