Thursday, February 13, 2003

STRAIGHT AHEAD TOWARDS DOOM
Thursday February 13 (and previous days)

The wrath of Chavez did not wait long and was magnified out of all proportion with El Firmazo (The huge petition drive of last Sunday 2, see Vignettes from El Firmazo, February 8). Again, I will list in no particular order some of the hysterics that we were subjected to these past days. I used the term hysterics on purpose since even the governmental actions published this week reflect the chavista hysteria.

It is still very important to realize one thing as you read the following. Chavez and his cronies must have felt personally insulted at the lines formed in popular districts to support El Firmazo. There is no other explanation for their reactions. They already knew that they had gone down in polls, but El Firmazo must have rubbed their face in their own mess.

CADENAS AND MORE CADENAS

Since early last week we have been given two cadenas daily. A “Cadena” is the name we give to the government action of “chaining” all the networks signals, including radio signal, to simultaneously broadcast its message. This _right_ of the government was established in the 60ies to allow the government to send its message and make sure that everybody knew about it. The messages were supposed to be of national interests, from big economical declarations to commentaries on natural disasters.

Chavez has abused of this right. It started during the electoral campaigns for the new constitution when he freely used private TV time when the opposition had to pay for its allotted time. There has been no way to go against it since this would require a new law, something the Chavez controlled assembly is not likely to do.

Well this week we got several “cadenas” some of them retransmitted at noon, after having been premiered in some prime time evening slot the previous day. Describing a Chavez cadena is impossible, in particular these days. It is basically a stream of vituperations against the opposition, complemented by menaces and populist give away to its remaining followers. For example in one “cadena” Chavez, duly dressed in Mao jacket, was distributing land to some peasants somewhere that have been exploited since immemorial times. He forgot to say that he is not handing down private property but usage right, pre kholkhoze set up one would assume. The crowds seemed pleased. Another cadena was for Chavez to explain personally the modalities of the incoming currency exchange. He took the opportunity to announce that people that had plotted against the economical well being of the country will be brought to justice as terrorist. He said that properly dressed up in perfect business attire to assuage international finance one would think. I wonder who outside is going to trust his economical plan and invest here.

Cadenas are staged in such a way as to forbid access by private media that have to transmit the state TV signal. This way chavistas can make sure that the cameras will film from the right angle to create an aura of popular support, and to make sure that people in the background are not clearly identified. This because it has been widely reported and sometimes shown that some of the fill folks are soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, or the usual hanger on that are ferried to any Chavez show. The government would like us to believe that attendance is “spontaneous”.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Cadena are only a form of attack to the freedom of speech since you do not get the right to question and verify the presidential declarations. But this is not enough. These past two weeks the governmental minions have been visiting 5 private networks to issue summons. According to the law the networks have two weeks to present their defense as to why they have not fulfilled their public obligations. All networks have declared that the charges are trumped up and that if they were serious the state TV should be the first one to be shut. Details, details! Nevertheless, they prepared their dossier. While preparing a careful campaign in case the government would dare shutting up a network.

Undaunted, Chavez announced to the diplomatic Corp New Year reception (an indirect way to recognize the strike that Chavez has always denied) that within a few days “one, or possibly two networks will be sanctioned” and that the ambassadors “should tell the truth” about the corrupt and fascist networks that we have in Venezuela. Some ambassadors looked ill at ease learning that no matter what defense the networks would give they were already sure to be sanctioned. Some probably were aware that the networks defense had not even been introduced at that point.

Meanwhile the equipment of a couple of radio stations has already been confiscated on some “tax evasion” charges.

And to make sure that things move at a fast pace Chavez people at the national assembly have been pushing a “Law of Contents” aimed at regulating what can be said, and at what time, by private networks. As usual the aim of protecting kids from violence and sex is brandished as a lame excuse to control the amount of information that the networks can offer. Fortunately in a rare display of strength the opposition has used all the rules in the book to slow down discussion (filibuster it is call in the US Senate). The only question is will the law make it in time to justify the sanctions already written and ready for publication…

I DO NOT GIVE A DAMM ABOUT YOUR FIRMAZO

Chavez has announced that he did not recognize the petition drive. His minions have been questioning the methods of recollection and timing. One in his eagerness said that “we should go out and collect more signatures than they did to kick out from office their own representatives”. Easily an anchor woman retorted that since so many signatures were going to be collected why not go all the way and just go for a general election… The stupidity of some chavistas is truly astounding… (not that stupidity is lacking on the other side, mind you!).

BUT I WILL CONFISCATE THE SIGNATURES

The municipal assault squad of Petare township (in chavista hands) tried to intervene one of the buildings where the signatures are sorted and stored prior publication. The excuse? The civil engineer of town hall thought that the activity in front of the building hid an illegal bingo and she thought it fit to call the assault squad of police to go an investigate. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction… Of course, no search warrant was exhibited. Nevertheless, the people inside reacted swiftly and were not afraid to take on the goons that the woman took along. Furthermore, some of the female staff tried to have a fist fight with the official who had to be whisked away on one of the motor bikes… The neighbors came out “en masse” and the assault cops had to leave.

So, if the signatures are worthless, what was that woman inspecting there? Checking the area set up to decide how they could assault better the spot when the time comes?

JUST BECAUSE YOU DARED CHALLENGE ME IN MY TURF

The highlight of the week was perhaps the words of one of the chavista political hacks. He declared that the people that were hurt in Catia got what they deserved “How did they dare collect signatures in our turf?” The cue here is that chavistas are starting to close areas to press access, and opposition influence. Catia and downtown Caracas are the primary target. Violence is now prevalent around Bolivar square as chavistas hordes (this is as charitable an adjective one could use) tried once more to take over Caracas Metropolitan town hall, and once again were repelled. Unfortunately this time the cameras did an excellent work to film everything and display how the “spontaneous” attack was organized by people that now are proven to be the regular squad leaders.

AND YOU WILL GET NEITHER SIGNATURES NOR DOLLARS

Yet the greatest moment was Chavez cadena announcing the exchange control measure. This is so complicated to set up that it has been already three weeks that we cannot buy a single dollar. What Chavez announced was actually the general outline, pretending that it was the final set up. I suppose that the FMI and other organisms could not be made to wait any longer. We still have to wait a few more days to see how we will be able to get foreign currency. However we have been told that credit cards will not work for foreign currency. Goodbye Amazon!

The measures are actually punitive and are designed to make sure that only Chavez allies get dollars at the preferred rates. Black market dollars will be forbidden (which was not done in the past) so that the business that still want to work at an unfavorable exchange rate will be punished. Translation: whoever needs dollars and is not with me, I will bankrupt. This, I am sure, will do wonders for the investment climate in Venezuela. Somehow, I do not see that foreign investment is this administration goal. And the price control measures included are going to work wonders.

There is always the Kafka detail to be found. Apparently if you want to do a business trip you will have to register at some central agency and after a lengthy process, that could last up to 45 days, you might be allowed to purchase up to 300 dollars a day. Still, you will need to return the unspent dollars and show your airplane flight coupons to prove that you indeed traveled. 6 business trips will be allowed. Others, well you will be on your own as of currency needs. And of course make sure that you plan ahead.

This is where we stand as the government seems to get ready for its final bid to take over once and for all. It is definitely time to call your congressperson and report on Venezuela. I am understanding everyday better why South Africans were the main sponsors of economical boycott even though they were the ones suffering the most. O tempora, o mores.

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