Wednesday, January 08, 2003

RETURN TO CLASSES BUT NO GREEN PASTURES
Tuesday 7, January 2003

Today supposedly classes were supposed to start again. In Venezuela we celebrate Epiphany on January 6. It is a minor holiday compared to Christmas and New Year. However it is very nice since it allows people to slow down slowly after the excesses of the prior month. Something still to look forward. This is why in Venezuela many business close for up to a month between December and January. With so many holidays why fight it?

So return to classes it was. But a failed return. As far as I can tell the large majority of schools refuse to reopen. A few that tried to reopen were forced to close because parents did not want to be forced to send their kids. Many did not show up anyway since they could not go because of gas shortages. The government that had tried to make a point out of reopening the schools was quite frantic trying to prove that schools had reopened and that all was back to normal. A heavy propaganda campaign took place before trying to blame the opposition on jeopardizing the future of the fatherland by blocking education. Of course they forgot to mention that there was no guarantee that schools could be decently provisioned (public schools by law must provide lunch), that schools would be safe (with recent shooting and tear gas attacks this is not a small concern), etc…

To mark his point Chavez did another “cadena”, this primitive right of Venezuelan presidents to commandeer all the media for messages of supposedly national interest. A Chavez visibly shaken, visibly drugged, did one of his worse fire and brimstone speeches. He threatened to put to jail all of the traitors, all the bankers that are threatening to close, the teachers that remained on strike, the oil workers, etc… A big Gulag in perspective. He also threatened again the media, which probably means that pretty soon we will be gratified with nightly attacks on the media as it happened a month ago.

The scenery for all that was a public school that did reopen, in front of all the students. One wonders how such a violent speech that lasted over an hour contributes to the education of these children. And some teachers invited to talk shows said that the school was not that full as many students did not show up. So officials dragged students from other schools to fill in the gaps. Uniforms from other schools were seen apparently. Potemkine schools students.

But it gets better. While these took place an airplane (or helicopter, I did not get that quite clearly) was flying above Maracaibo lake and filming several important oil slicks that have appeared since the government has been trying to force the reopening of the oil fields. The images were really scary and depressing. The ecological damage is great. But the military were pissed off at that plane and closed the airport so the guys had to try to find landing somewhere else. Which is good because otherwise their film might have been seized. This is where we are now, the government advancing all sorts of numbers to prove that it is regaining control of the oil industry but there is no way to verify that. Not even CNN, assuming it would want to do so….

In Monagas, an Eastern state which account for more than 30% of the oil resources, another news steam was trying to inquire about another reported oil slick, which had been filmed form the air. These images show clearly a small river of oil flowing through inhabited areas. Well, when the chavista workers realized what they were looking for the journalists had to run away as they threw stones and tried to destroy their cameras. The National Guard watched and did not intervene. Did CNN show that?

Today the “war room” of the opposition reported all sorts of incidents in the installations that the government is try to reactivate. On one side you hear neighbors complaining of explosions and smoke. On the other the officials stonewalling, and of course not allowing any independent observer inside. And even less publishing verifiable numbers. We also had today a “cadena” from the oil minister announcing that it was a good time to break up PDVSA the oil monopoly, in particular to take out the gas sector, a long cherished goal of Chavez, but always opposed by the industry. As it turns out, there is quite a scandal about some gas concessions given without international bidding. You can draw your own conclusions.

But was really seems to freak the government is the latest moves of the opposition. A tax boycott is now openly discussed and today’s march was to our IRS version. Thousands of people were tearing tax forms in front of the building while directors and the finance minister was threatening with jail for up to 6 months people that would not pay taxes. And here we go for a second Gulag. Combine this with the bank worker union who is threatening to call for a 48 hours strike that will pretty much make it impossible for the government to pay public workers.

Of course since the shootings of last Friday the opposition is scaling up the ante. Chavez has refused point blank to celebrate the referendum of February 2. Gaviria looks more pitiful than ever. I think somebody should tell him that the government side of the negotiation table is making a fool of him ad perhaps it would be time that he made a stronger stand. But can he? Do the OAS members really want to intervene in Venezuela? I am afraid that the Americas is rather afraid of what is going on here. The only one that seems to have a clue is Toledo from Peru. Then again he had to deal with Fujimori.

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