Saturday, October 18, 2003

Venezuela and Bolivia

There is really no way to escape the tension in Venezuela...

I am greeted in Rio by the news that Bolivian president has resigned in the face of street protests, that the VP has taken charge and that new elections are a distinct probability.

Regardless of the differences between Venezuela and Bolivia, one cannot help but wonder who is the democrat there. Chavez has faced demonstrations that were at least has important as the Bolivian ones, people were killed and all in all the numbers must be comparable to the Bolivian ones, numbers wise. Perhaps Sanchez repressed too much but when everything was said and done he knew when to quit. Even more, his allies knew when to tell him "time to quit". Are Chavez and his entourages as democrat as Sanchez de Lozada? Me thinks no.

If at least I could be left alone in Brazil for a few days.....

Thursday, October 16, 2003

A real Intellectual's debate in Venezuela (Los Semerucos) VENEZUELA

A REAL INTELLECTUAL’S DEBATE IN VENEZUELA

Friday 17, October 2003

A few days ago I translated an article of Milagros Socorro pondering what it would take to effect reconciliation in Venezuela after the Chavez tenure (1). Follow up was surprisingly fast and the main person she alluded has been responding. It is Eleazar Diaz Rangel, director of Ultimas Noticias (2) who has used his pulpit to justify the unjustifiable actions of the National Guard tear gas bombing of people in their sleep. There has been a series of exchanges and today I am translating the second installment of Ms. Socorro, again a brilliant article if perhaps a little bit too long for the non-Venezuelan reader. But I can assure you that for a Venezuelan concerned with where our country is headed to, it is a riveting read.

The second part of the article details very clearly, and briefly, the legal case against the abuses committed by PDVSA (3) on its ex workers, presumably on the direct orders of Chavez more concerned by revenge than by legal technicalities. And of course the second part demonstrates the shameful duplicity of Mr. Diaz Rangel that some thought fair enough to head the Electoral Board when it was named in August (4). In all fairness, I should perhaps post Mr. Diaz Rangel articles on this subject, but I will not translate them, chavistas can do it. To each its own, though I engage myself to publish the link of the eventual translation if any one of them sends it to me, and if they publish the link to my translations of Ms. Socorro telling articles.

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Of Semerucos and complicity (5)

The recent seizure of the Globovision equipment – which legality and relevance has not been demonstrated – has just served to strengthen the idea that at this development stage of mentalities and technical advances it is impossible to curtail freedom of speech.

The closure of a media outlet by the fiat of a ruler in our days is an eccentricity, a fancy of abortive completion. It is very simple: societies do not tolerate it. And simultaneously, the proliferation of media, and the increasing limberness of the message to spread through Internet, who against the grain of the economic crisis keeps gaining new users, constitute a very consistent technological rein against the repression of the freedom of expression and its corollary, the freedom of information.


This lucky tandem was not inaugurated in Venezuela with the abduction of the Globovision microwaves, of course, but we were offered an opportunity to see live how difficult it is to blind a TV station… with procedures that still display a legal fig leaf. My point: to close the transmissions from a TV station is not enough to snatch equipment and take it away. Much more is needed. With technology present state – and the pacts among TV stations – much more than the simulation of a technical operation is needed to pull out a signal; it is crucial that the Government loosen up on its way to authoritarianism and let fall the last institutional rhinestone that it still holds.

In the present context, freedom of speech is mediatized only when the collective surrenders that basic human right, because a certain menace of jail, assassination, torture, exile or any other type of persecution hovers over the collective. Or because an individual renounces this right through a surrender to idolatry, by complicity, by shamelessness, by business – or petty dealings, which is more common and pathetic – or by fanaticism. This has happened in Venezuela.

The truth is that the regime has not breached the freedom of speech of the Venezuelans who are in opposition, nor has it managed to intimidate a single communication organization. In fact Chavez has only confiscated the freedom of expression of his followers, from which subservient ensemble never a minimal criticism or divergence has been exhaled (which is another matter among the opposition, outstandingly pointed out and even ridiculed by its own members, many of them having going out of the way publicly proclaiming their condemnation to the practices and individuals of the opposition).

To be with Chavez one has to renounce criteria, perspectives and personal opinions. One has to pretend that one does not see, or hear or knows nothing different from what the Great Conductor disposes. One has to follow his designs and adhere to his positions (including his slang and verbal tics). One has to make one’s his enemies and his hatreds (proffering the same menaces and insults). One has to approve his lies and even repeat them, imitating his gestures, assisting his excesses and silliness... One has to swallow political aspirations if they do not coincide with his own and accept without a hint of dissent candidacies and programs that he imposes. To be with the regime you must sacrifice dignity and mental autonomy on the altar of the leader, who exerts in an autocratic form freedom of speech and takes the freedom of his followers as a little floral offering that those would be offering in their adoration.

This armistice of the souls – that must be thrown to the voracious jaws of the owner of the revolution – has operated with cruel intent on the intellectuals that still support the regime; and who to demonstrate their support must coin constantly texts to justify the unjustifiable or to give a new opportunity to a government whose defilements have been so many and have gone so far that one cannot give it the benefit of the doubt.

The evictions from the oil field camps at Los Semerucos (Falcon state), Campo Rojo (Punta de Mata in Monagas state) and Campo Norte (Anaco, Anzoategui state), perpetrated in the wee-hours and with the ominous participation of the National Guard, should have marked the “This is it” of many people that still fill up the carnival of the regime.

It was not to be. And far from drawing a line with a government that opts for such proceedings, some have tried to give it argumentation. It is the case of Eleazar Diaz Rangel, who with his column of Sunday October 5, in the Ultimas Noticias paper, states that “PDVSA has all the right to demand of its ex employees the evacuation of the houses that they inhabited while the labor relation lasted. It was a just decision to wait 7 months until the end of the school year to initiate eviction through the judicial way, in those cases where they obstinately refused to leave.” And only after having affirmed this, he adds “The National Guard had no right to use force”.

To repeat as a carbon copy the declarations of Ali Rodriguez Araque, president of PDVSA, Diaz Rangel has given up his freedom of speech and, what is worse and desolating, his duty to inform correctly. Diaz Rangel cannot ignore that PDVSA, in fact, has no right to evict these workers, since the firing has never been formal. The more than 18 000 workers that today are separated from their jobs in PDVSA were notified of this bossy decision through some newspapers (those that were not deemed coup mongers or terrorist by Chavez) and in Caracas the selected media was, of course, Ultimas Noticias directed by Diaz Rangel, who could not have failed to notice the large governmental paid adds for the said notification. None of the firings was dictated through a different manner. No one received a letter, a call or a memo stating that s/he was fired.

The truth is that the labor relationship between these workers and PDVSA is not over because this sort of firing is not stated in any law, code or contract as a legitimate form of separation from a job. The Legal Work Code and the Oil Exploitation law that cover workers rights state that to declare terminated a labor relationship it is necessary to go to a labor court within 5 days after the firing; and this was not done by PDVSA in more than 70% of the cases. The company, thus, does not have the right to evict anyone from its lodgings because it has not met any of its contractual obligations, and legally these workers are not fired and are waiting for a judicial decision (the courts have not handed a sentence, keeping alive the dispute between PDVSA that claims that the workers have been fired legally and the workers and their unions that reject the firings as illegal).

Diaz Rangel cannot ignore that today 6 000 minors, children of the fired workers, are out of school because they have been ejected from the PDVSA schools and that the local schools do not have the means to include them (PDVSA has 18 schools across the country, 9 of them on the Eastern shore of Maracaibo Lake, a critical zone for its shortages of school places). Thus he certainly is out of place when he writes “just decision to wait for the end of the school year”.

Of justice, nothing. Of silent complicity of a terrible injustice, a lot. To shut up, to avoid revealing it, to justify it, many have had to throw their freedom of speech in the Chavez’s bonfire. What else will they have to hand to keep the flame alive.


(1) See the post on October 5 , Reconciliation for the general idea.

(2) Ultimas Noticias I rated as a “moderately” pro Chavez paper in my three part media in Venezuela description a few days ago. Perhaps now I should accept the fact and amend my article to say that Mr. Chavez finally got the newspaper he always wanted. This is surprising since Ultimas Noticias was strongly criticized by Chavez last year (albeit not as strongly as El Universal or El Nacional). Perhaps there is a limit to what an editor can endure before he caves in?

(3) PDVSA, the Venezuelan State Oil Monopoly, totally into the hands of Chavez since last January, as if it were his cash box.

(4) One of my favorite editors and op-ed columnists, Teodoro Petkoff from Tal Cual defended Diaz Rangel whose critics at the time he compared to with hunters (or something to that effect). Perhaps it would be time for Mr. Petkoff to revisit the reasons he had to defend Mr. Diaz Rangel whose journalistic impartiality is apparently not of the stature of Mr. Petkoff, at least according to Ms. Socorro view of Mr. Diaz Rangel.

(5) This was published in El Nacional, unfortunately a pay site so I cannot offer the link. It was published October 9, 2003.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Fresh from the presses: Signatures late November?
Wednesday 15, 10/2003

It seems that the Electoral Board has decided to "allow" the opposition to collect the 3+ million signatures it needs during 4 days starting November 28. How generous of them! How democratic! With the degree of complexity imposed we might as well go directly to the referendum on November 28! But the sense of ridicule seems to be lacking among chavistas. Of course they hurriedly grabbed any mic at hand to state dead seriously that "they would respect the ruling".

I smell a rat.
ZEITGEIST
From a reading giving a good reflection on our reality
Wednesday October 15, 2003

Today my offering is the translation of an article published last Sunday (10/12) in El Universal by Carlos Blanco. Mr. Blanco is as close as we get to an analyst/politician/writer/op-ed columnist that could be classified as belonging to the democratic right. He used to host a TV show called Blanco y Negro (White and Black) with Aristobulo Isturiz, a very dark African Venezuelan who is now the education minister of Chavez. I wonder if they still talk to each other, though during the times when they explored the two political faces of the country they seemed to appreciate each other well enough. But Chavez went over all of us.

At any rate I got permission to translate the article and there it is. But be warned, there are some comments that are border line scatological. I deem them quite appropriate though as our climate as become quite scatological per se, not to mention the mounds of detritus that can be found in downtown Caracas these days. Zeitgeist.

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SUICIDAL SUCCESSES

The degree of destruction of society is very high, to the point that the emigration of Chavez would only be a small episode considering the task that the country has in front. Many wonder why the hierarchs of the regime facing such a gigantic disaster are so unmoved; but the truth is that they do not see the disaster and they might be proud with the results.

An extensive flaw of analysis is to assume that the vision of the critics of the regime is the same as this last one. When the opposition sees calamities it is thought that the universal gaze also sees them, and that is not always true; the relative positions are the ones that allow evaluation of successes and failures.

An essential victory of the regime has been the destruction of the social fabric; that is, the values, the institutions, the affections, the ways, with which the country built itself. Indeed a few of these elements had to be modified or overcome, but the larger part that constituted the canvas upon which was drawn the Venezuelan essence, today is destroyed. The country that we had, complex, contradictory, full of seductions and also of abysms, has been lost. Now it is a territory where loathing has set shop; where differences have become dilemmas and opposites enemies. The grimace produced by the Bolivarian hatred could last longer than the memory of this time.

The country has been taken apart. The Venezuelan business man, as a class, has disappeared. Not that the business people do not exist; they do. A few still powerful, a few less so, many ruined and a few fattening their accounts by their putrid adhesion to the government. But, the business class as a social group, diverse, able to influence and develop alternatives as a partner to the state, does not exist anymore. It is over. There are owners, directors and managers of business, but there is no social class able to share projects and exert their might. Many of those, that helped to dig the grave of the imperfect Venezuelan democracy, are today the victims of their works.

The Venezuelan middle class is another casualty; this one was the daughter and owner of the political system, the most powerful of Latin America. The one that decided the political line of Venezuela, that brought to the top AD and COPEI(1), was disenchanted with these parties and opened the door to Chavez. This class that made and unmade governments, that represented the prosperity of a society in expansion, today lays exhausted waiting for the 15 and last day of every month. It is impoverished, victim of the revolution’s greed, a revolution to which birth it assisted and to which demises it dedicates every minute.

The workers organized in trade unions are also the martyrs of the folly. Without a doubt, the CTV is the only institution that has withstood standing up the assaults of the autocracy, but the parallel Unions, the betrayal of the bought leaders and the shrinking of the productive structure have transformed organized labor into a minority.

The dynamics of the destruction of the business class, of the middle class and of organized labor are seen, from the perspective of today’s ruling class, as immense victories in view of the objective or a society of disjointed citizens, only linked to each other by the regime and its chief.

The essential achievement of the autocrat is to have dynamited the value of private property. This one has ceased to be a basic concept to organize a society, to become diluted in urban and rural squatting inspired in an accommodating concept of justice. All have a right to property provided that there is no group in front that thinks otherwise. It is a right that has become relative and it only depends of the humor of the chiefs of the local National Guard battalions. For the governmental chiefs there is no destruction of private property but the empire of the street justice. It is another victory that they believe they gained. One of the conquest of today exalted ones is to think, and made many think, including notorious opponents, that their raison d’être and essential objective is the fight against poverty. The revolutionaries worthies have managed to propagate with quite a success the idea that until the arrival of the Bolivarian Messiah there was no concern whatsoever for the poor and their fate. This vision is what prevents the measuring in all its scope of the massive devastation that has reproduced like a virus out of control, coming in the name of the fight against poverty.

When the street vendors appropriate for themselves as private heretofore public spaces, not only is society expropriated but a precise logic is built to obtain property: brute force; of which Sabana Grande, Baralt Avenue and the Los Andes building (1) are simple metaphors in Caracas of the revolution: streets, squares and buildings conquered for the Bolivarian Romance at the same time as they become public urinals. The result is not that the poor live better, but that the citizens are ensnared in the new social fabric that is being built in the name of a fake fight against poverty, which result is a decrepit social life for all. It is not that a collective ruin has happened but that those who are not in total calamity in their private lives, are besieged by the ruthless march of the catastrophe, in their neighborhood, in the street, in the square, where they are now estranged.

The democratic social tissue that Venezuela had built has been followed by another one, swollen, decomposed by hatred, with organs hanging without a single healthy membrane that support them. This one, and not any other, is the victory of the Revolution; it has destroyed Venezuela because it considered that it belonged to the rich, to the oligarchy or to the political parties. In its progress it brought down those that it pretended to free.

The task to come is not only to recover a political system, a relatively easy task; we have to rebuild, from its entrails, a country.

Are those that aspire to rule us up to the task?

cbgarcia@cantv.net

My notes

(1) AD and COPEI were the two alternating parties of the regime before 1993. Center left and center right, in theory. Equally populist in reality.

(2) These streets have seen their sidewalks colonized by street vendors that have set shop in front of the commercial venues that previously existed. To the point that they have driven to ruin the legal tax paying business, while avoiding taxes themselves, stealing electricity from illegal takes, dirtying all the area, destroying the side walk, making transit nearly impossible and what not. Two Caracas districts have been the main victims of this disaster, the two districts held by pro Chavez mayors.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

THE MEDIA IN VENEZUELA (part 3)
Spilling ink, on paper or electronically

Sunday 12, October 2003

Today is the commemoration of Columbus landfall on the Americas. In Venezuela this holiday used to be called “Dia de la Raza” (“day of the race”). The name was chosen for its symbolism, that we were all the result of the mix of three races, whatever the sufferings endured by the diverse groups. Last year the glorious Bolivarian Revolution decided to change the name to “day of indigenous resistance”. By this fell-swoop of cheap Orwellian talk the revolution dismissed the suffering of the African slaves, and denigrated the real history of Venezuela for a propagandist tale that had little to do with the truth (1). Indeed, this is a perfect example of the poverty of ideas that have made Chavez fail in his attempts at finding some significant support in Venezuela intellectual circles, and the media where they write.

THE PRESS UNDER CHAVEZ

The indisputable Chavez charisma did play some with the press in the halcyon days of the 1998 campaign. Venezuelan newspapers do not endorse directly candidates the ways that the US papers do a few days before an election, but that does not stop them to hint strongly at who is the horse they are betting on. The only major paper that has continuously opposed Chavez since 1992 is El Universal (2). El Nacional was much less critical during the campaign to the point that many readers complained. In fact when Chavez won, one of his first protocol visits was to the editorial offices of El Nacional. The wife of the general editor owner of the paper was even named to a cabinet position although her tenure lasted a few weeks. In the provinces many papers actually supported Chavez. How come now perhaps more than 90% of the papers oppose Chavez?

One explanation is that many of the press journalists have experienced the same style of aggressions that the TV reporters have suffered. Unfortunately for Chavez the explanation goes well beyond simple aggressions.

The first striking fact is that no major paper directly support Chavez administration. The only one that is very moderately supportive is the tabloid format Ultimas Noticias (3) from Caracas, probably due to its working class readership which in part still supports Chavez. Or probably because the owners were involved in a long heritage dispute that was settled with the “good offices” of the administration, as idle gossip would have it. Outside Caracas the very few regional papers that support Chavez probably started doing so as much for sympathy for the cause as to local antipathies. For example Yaracuy Al Dia, one of my two local papers, has been engaged in protracted battles with the governor, Eduardo Lapi, a first hour opponent of Chavez. The “enemies of my enemies are my potential friends” might have had something to do in the leniency that Yaracuy Al Dia has for some inexcusable failures of the Chavez administration.

However, the real big mystery is how come Chavez has not been able to establish a newspaper that people would be willing to pay for? Certainly, he has not been afraid to pay for TV coverage. Certainly, efforts were made to create some kind of printed media (5). How come nothing resulted? Clues come from reading the latest chavista venture, Diario VEA, a daily that started printing a few weeks ago. Reading its pages one will find that most news are taken from dispatches of Venpres, the governmental news agency. A few AFP appear on occasion, and some Prensa Latina dispatches cover whatever happens in Latin America. The only advertisers are public institutions. Not surprisingly almost no private companies seem to pay for add space although one would suspect that chavistas still represent some market share. The letter to the editor section is full of praise. Quickly the reader realizes that Diario VEA is just a political tract sheet.

The answer of the mystery is that simply Chavez has not been able to lure durably any of the heavy weights of the Venezuelan intellectual set. The only ones that write favorable articles are the minor figures of pre 1998, and the Chavez system does not seem to have given them the wings of inspiration to become the bards the revolution so desperately needs. Without good and reputable writers that people like to follow, no pamphlet can flourish into a real newspaper.

THE DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHAVEZ AND INTELLECTUALS

The political and social reasons that brought Chavez to office are the stuff that supposedly drive intellectuals to produce some of their best work. Materialism, corruption, decline of institutions, need for renovation and what not are the elements of what op-ed pages are made. Some intellectuals indeed flirted with Chavez at first since he represented the best hope for a real change. Yet, his coup ringleader past and his military origin were never very reassuring and thus intellectuals never really embraced him. When the discussion of the constitution came, it was clear to see for all that the constitutional assembly was full of non entities put there to avail the master’s plan. Some intellectuals decided to start criticizing openly what was looking increasingly like a wasted opportunity to write a serviceable document for our future.

The Bolivarian Constitution was voted and finally the center of discussion shifted to the actual words of Chavez. Slowly but surely the incoherence of Chavez message, his undigested ideas gleaned from his hodgepodge readings while in jail after 1992 that were offered as the new truth to live by became intolerable to a class used to free criticism and some minimum of intellectual coherence. When Chavez authoritarian tendencies started becoming obvious, many intellectuals decided for frontal opposition. What are left now for Chavez are a few mediocre apologists, and the foreign press. Not enough to build a serious printed vehicle within Venezuela.

HELP FROM OUTSIDE?

At least Chavez can claim some success overseas. It is easy to understand why so many papers still support Chavez today, even if less than a year ago. Chavez has been able to sell himself well benefiting from the prejudices of racial and economical inequities held by the Western intelligentsia as to their idea of what drives South America. For them, Chavez is almost too good to be true.

In Venezuela we can see the difference in language when Chavez addresses us or an international stage. The language, the wording is not the same. But the foreign press is not going to spend time or money to hear the constant rants of Chavez on TV. They maintain the legend that Chavez, in spite of soon 5 years in office, is a victim of powerful economical interests that somehow manage to manipulate the million of people that hit the sidewalks regularly to protest against the regime. Chavez is the darling from a few folks form each side of the Atlantic. The Guardian or Le Monde Diplomatique are European samples. In the US it is more at the level of individual journalists like the ineffable Juan Forero, writing from Colombia for the New York Times or the CEPR free lancer Mark Weisbrot for Knight-Ridder. These people seem to write from afar, likely from reports from their chavista friends that they try to make palatable. In all cases what is striking for Venezuelan readers are the glaring factual errors, with the crucial and even unforgivable omissions that one looks for in vain in their articles. They certainly do not seem to get their news from the BBC or even CNN, even though this last one is far from being a paragon of perceptiveness (5).

At any rate, this type of press is regularly cited by Chavez as how the Venezuelan press should be. If some liberal and leftist writers are being fooled by Chavez, it is heartening to see that some writers with impeccable progressive credentials are not (6). Maybe these ones do listen to the BBC and actually follow Venezuelan news rather than hearsay.

VIDEO WARS AND INTERNET ALTERNATIVES

With the failure to create a favorable press, in spite of guiding success stories of the propaganda genre like Cuba’s Granma, chavistas have turned their attention to videos and the Internet. The latest weapon is an Irish video that has been getting several awards. This video, “The Revolution will not be televised”, pretends to illustrate how the media “complot” tried to help along the demise of Chavez in April 11, and how his fervent supporters single-handedly restored him. That might be so, but as a piece of objective journalism this cinéma verité is quite a con job. Perhaps the most crucial moment in April 11, when the Army Chief of Staff Lucas Rincon announced that Chavez had resigned, is not shown in the video. Yet this announcement still makes it on occasion to the news. And its star is now the Minister of the Interior… How could these people forget to include the very single element of April 11 that drove most of what happened in April 12 and 13 (8)? That does not stop some Venezuelan embassies to give away this video to whoever wants it. “The propaganda will be televised”.

The Internet is also the brave new world of chavistas. In Spanish some sites have already a distinguished career and even made the news, such as Aporrea (9). English sites have been slower to start, but this is currently being remedied as flashy and expensive all English sites have appeared since the December strike. The information in these sites, like Diario VEA, seem to come from the same limited sources, but at least the presentation is acceptable and clearly oriented to foreign consumption and propaganda. All is fair in war. There is still one place where chavistas have failed to produce anything significant: the blog world. So far there is no English blog favoring Chavez, and no serious blog in Spanish whereas these abounds that oppose Chavez, vehemently, or analytically like this one tries to do.

CHAVEZ IN THE NEWS, ALONE

One thing is certain, Chavez makes a lot of ink run, paper or electronic ink for that matter. However, the only one in the chavista camp that is able to score an occasional success is Chavez himself. After almost 5 years it is amazing that Chavez is still the only one on occasion that can defend effectively, if not honestly, his work and actions. When the history of these years will be written I am certain that long studies will be devoted on Chavez failure, or inability, at attracting local heavy weights for his cause. Perhaps the foreign observers could meditate on that.

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(1) Chavez has been courting all sorts of “indigenista” (native) movements across South America, in particular in Bolivia. Perhaps this renaming of October 12 is more within that plan than for our own reality. If this were true, then Chavez cynicism is all the worse.

(2) Its opposition to Chavez has not stopped El Universal to host for years regular opinion articles from, of all people, Adan Chavez, brother of the president and probably the only person he trusts. Other Chavez supporters have been able to see their words printed frequently, next to some of the most vociferous critics of Chavez. El Universal is perhaps a model of balance in spite of its editorial line, although lately there are less chavistas writing in it. Any reason?

(3) As mentioned in an earlier installment, links to the web pages of the cited papers and people can be found in Venezuela Today.

(4) The first effort was Correo del Presidente which was distributed free during the campaign for the constitutional convention. However gossip has that after a while people would not pick it up, even free… The paper folded soon after.

(5) CNN run into trouble in April 11 2002 when it helped break the signal blockade that Chavez decreed while the march against Miraflores was shot at. Then it reported first on April 13 early that the Carmona coup was in trouble. Each time CNN managed to be seen as a partial party. Since then the Venezuelan opposition has distrusted the objectivity of CNN to the point that I witnessed at one January 2003 rally the CNN correspondent, Criskaut, booed off stage by the attendance! I did try to report this to CNN but I never received anything back. As far as I know, chavistas do not trust CNN anymore than the opposition, and the Iraq coverage has not helped. CNN in Venezuela has a big image problem amongst the people, though of course many politicians cannot resist a mic, be it from CNN.

(6) Elizabeth Burgos, born in Venezuela and living in France, is one of the best examples of an internationally reputed writer with an indisputable leftist past describing Chavez as just another authoritarian. Her latest review of a Castro biography is a must read!

(7) “The Revolution will not be televised”, in addition of its glaring omissions, has been analyzed for its incoherences. These range from shadows on the streets that do not match the time announced by the narrator to people that could not have been present when claimed. A hack work? The fact is that at this time no answers have come from the journalists or their sponsors to some serious claims made to them.

(8) Aporrea is a very interesting site that sometimes outflanks Chavez on the left by criticizing some of its supporters. It is perhaps the site that has the best “authentic” feel since it reads on occasion as a multi handed blog.

Friday, October 10, 2003

THE MEDIA IN VENEZUELA (part 2)
Chavez’s tools

Friday 10, October 2003


It is shortly before dinner time. You are drinking a cold beer checking your e-mail and Globovision is in the background with some newsy talk show. Suddenly a pompous little ditty breaks through and you know that the government will speak to you whether you like it or not.

You keep reading your e-mail while you hear in succession a welcome message from the chair of an international conference on poverty opening in a Margarita Island resort, then a chorus from local boys intoning the Venezuelan national anthem, followed with a tune written for the circumstance in the style of a “polo margariteño”, a tune that speaks of Venezuela’s illustrious past, some poverty talk and semi-cryptic lauds to president Hugo Chavez. By then you have shut off your computer and are in the kitchen fixing dinner and you hear that the said Chavez, as president of the host country will make his welcoming speech. That is OK, you have cable TV so when dinner is ready you eat it in front switching channels. Foreign channels such as Discovery that is, since all Venezuelan channels, including the sports one and the MTV like one are passing Chavez speech, right now on imperialism.

With dinner over you check back and Chavez still speaks, this time accusing Globovision of delinquency for using supposedly illegal wavelength. You get your desert, some juice, flip some more, Chavez is still speaking, this time attacking some international organization, making them delinquent by association for not condemning Globovision. There is nothing on TV so you decide to go back to your laptop. A last scan reveals Chavez now ranting against April 11 2002. At no point you caught him defending Venezuela record on the war on poverty, or congratulating the effort of one of the attending countries, or even proposing a new credible plan to fight poverty. It has been now nearly two hours since the little ditty announced the speech.

You have just seen what a cadenais.

CHAVEZ MEDIA

Presidents in Venezuela dispose of one powerful tool to communicate their messages, at least those that they deem important for the nation, the “cadena” (the ‘chain’). This allows any president to commander all the TV and radio signals at will, without financial compensation of course. This is accepted since traditionally the exercise was reserved for crisis announcements, New Year and 5 of July salutations, and occasionally a well placed political messages to bolster one’s sagging political fortunes. Chavez has changed all of this. Cadenas heretofore a monthly one hour occurrence have become almost daily events, sometimes marathonic events. With the abuse of this right Chavez has found a way to try to annul the effects of whatever propaganda the private media has tried. Effectively, all of the media is now partly Chavez media.

To measure the extension of Chavez use and misuse of cadenas, the following table lists the number of hours that either Chavez or his ministers, mostly Chavez, have occupied the entire broadcast spectrum of the nation since he reached office in 1999. The numbers for 2003 are until October 3 (1). The use of cadenas has been growing steadily until 2002 when after April 11, a semi chastised Chavez dropped the cadena intensity for a few months. But the December strike reactivated his fury to reach a total of over 3 hours a week, mostly prime time.



YearHours per yearHours per week
199969:271:20
2000107:562:04
2001 116:582:14
2002 73:271:24
2003136:383:24


WHEN THERE IS NO CADENA ON

The casual observer could be excused, when hearing the excessive tone of Chavez in a cadena, to think that this one is just defending himself from all the aggravations that are unjustly piled on him by private media. But that is not the truth as Chavez has several ways to emit his message all day long besides the frequent cadena.

Venezuela used to have two state TV networks, and never managed to have one work efficiently, BBC like (2). All were mismanaged and the prey of diverse experiments from political appointees. The survivor is VTV which has been very obliging in accommodating Chavez wishes. Slowly but surely VTV since 1999 has become a total propaganda network, unable to generate any significant programming besides a series of talk shows all, outbidding themselves to illustrate the virtues of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The crown jewel of VTV is “Alo Presidente” (“Hello President”, but a special Spanish hello for the phone). This Sunday presentation is Chavez weekly talk show (close to 150 last time I checked). It started on radio as a way to show that the people could call their president with their complaints. Today it has a very established format where very little room is left for spontaneity, and certainly none for phone calls which are always favorable to the president.

Alo Presidente” can be performed live from anywhere in the country Chavez fancies at the moment. It has the usual crowd of official hanger-on to provide adequate applause on cue, some ministers having made a habit not to miss even one. A choir of “the people” is provided for popular joy symbolism, and a few times conveniently has hidden some noises from the streets such as people banging pots and pans in protest. Early in its history the show had notorious guests such as Fidel Castro. These days Chavez does not seem to need guests and looks quite happy with his very own company and some minister to hand in talking material as needed. The total length varies from 2 to 5 hours. Ah! And most importantly it serves to give the clue of what the week reserves, some opposition politicians saying that they do not miss a broadcast as they know that way where the blow will fall. Chavez message does seem to get out.

Finally there is a last and very valuable set of resources. For starters, the government controls the only radio station allowed to broadcast country wide, RNV. And RNV is in no better shape than VTV, except that it plays a lot of classical music. But what might be more important is that dozens and dozens of “community” radio stations have sprouted freely, and probably illegally for the most part. Besides being fervent Revolution supporters (not necessarily of all the dramatis personae of said revolution as some get a beating on occasion), some might be serving as a neighborhood watch system of sorts to organize counter actions against the opposition initiatives.

IS CHAVEZ HEARD?

Clearly he has all the means to make sure that the people will hear his version of the events. So how come he is complaining that the private media does not give him space enough? Just a silly excuse for him to give cadenas. The problem is actually not there.

Chavez is the product of the media and he never looked back. It was on February 4 1992 that Venezuela discovered Chavez, courtesy of the media showing live his surrender for the aborted coup. It was the media that allowed Chavez charisma to reach the poor, the sorry, the unhappy. It was the thirst of news that made the media show Chavez during the campaign even if they did not share his vision for the country. Chavez truly understands TV. His silly jokes and out of tune singing in “Alo Presidente” seem to have thrown a spell over a large sector of the population.

The media that Chavez controls directly has become just a booster for his followers. Objectivity is unnecessary there. Opposition figures are rarely invited, and when so, second tier leaders preferably. Interestingly the opposition media still invites Chavez followers to attend its talk shows, but the no-shows are almost the rule now. And those that show up tend to be stone faced, or repeat endlessly the same line no matter what the question is. Perhaps trying to discredit the opposition talk shows by not deeming the questions worthy of reply? Perhaps implying that listening to Chavez on VTV is only what matters? I have met several chavistas that confessed that they only listen to VTV. Effective brainwashing through Chavez message or failure of the private message to find the adequate language? Unfortunately I have met some of Chavez opponents shocked when I tell them that still on occasion I watch VTV. Are we all brainwashed by now?

The communicational dice have rolled. The bet is the future of real information for Venezuela.

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(1) Numbers taken from El Universal which publishes weekly a “cadenometer” feature to tabulate the total cadenas according to a TV rating monitor organization, AGB.

(2) One state TV was Canal 5, which was handed to a Church related foundation in 1998. This became Vale TV which specializes in canned educational programs. Chavez complained about that when he got into office, but whoever has directed Vale TV has done an impeccable job to stick to the documentary format, without any political overtone. Chavez administration has decided for the time being to leave it alone.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

THE MEDIA IN VENEZUELA (part 1)
The story of the "opposition" media

Wednesday 8, October 2003

It is rather difficult to try to write an objective article on this subject these days. In particular after the Chavez administration last Friday maimed our largest news network, Globovision (1). Perhaps the best thing to try is to describe what is the situation of the media today. Since it would be a rather long article I will do it in three stages. First I will describe the “opposition” media, its roots and what it claims to have been suffering since Chavez has reached office in February 1999. Then, for the second installment I will describe what has Chavez done with the state media, and what he has done to affect the media that opposes him. The last installment will be dedicated to the written media, electronic or paper.

HOW THE “OPPOSITION” MEDIA BECAME THE “OPPOSITION” MEDIA

Last Friday CONATEL, the regulating agency in matters of broadcast permits, seized the microwave transmitters of Globovision, thus making it impossible for the all news network to transmit live, its “raison d’être”. As the days have been unfolding it seems more and more that there was few, if any, legality in the process of last Friday. Discussing the technicalities is not our point here, but rather how we came to this situation.

Chavez was elected on a show of popular support and initially the private networks of Venezuela did not overtly confront him, if anything because he was high rating material. Certainly, the owners were not likely supportive of someone like Chavez, a support that some papers did, papers that today are his bitter opponents. But in the first few months talk shows and opinion programs were dominated by the Chavez supporters. This is very important to note since there is a certain school of journalists, here and abroad (2), that have made a career of saying that the media always opposed Chavez, always blocked him, always obscured his message until eventually they led the April 11 take over. These apologists of Chavez must not have visited Venezuela the first few months of Chavez tenure.

The relationship with Chavez soured when the Constituent Assembly was convened. The electoral campaign was pushed hard by Chavez even though the political opposition was rather despondent. Chavez was not afraid to use the tool of the “cadena” during the campaign even though the legality was more than questionable. This caused not only disruptions in the networks organization, but loss of revenues. The situation became more tense as the Constituent Assembly addressed the articles that would define the role of the media in the new constitution (3). When the august assembly used words such as “Informacion Veraz” (“true information”), this words were seen as code words for censorship, or at least its lesser form, self-censorship. In a country that is difficult to cover, where people tend to let their imagination run free, it is not possible to certify fast veridical information. Only the right to reply or a legal time lapse for verification and correction can work.

December 1999 was tough on the networks. The referendum to vote for the constitution brought more “cadenas” and tensions as the opposition made its first attempt at reviving as Chavez charged head on. The natural disaster of Vargas and the difficulty to cover it, difficulties sometimes created by the government that perhaps did not want to show all of the disaster, the applications of some new constitutional measures that changed the old regime judicial staff in the middle of the holidays disrupted the system more than necessary.

The year 2000 brought the country to a new reality. First, Chavez retained his electoral bite as a new set of elections where scheduled for May 2000. Second, after a year of rule the first hints of corruption were noted and the evidence of the administration incompetence became harder to hide. Of course, the media started reporting on these things. As the opposition seemed unable to gain any momentum the media opinion talk shows slowly but surely became to be seen as the voice of the opposition. This role of the media is in a way universally true: private media, independent media is always somehow in the opposition. After all, its role is to report on what goes wrong within the country and whether they like it governments do usually bear a significant share of the blame.

The media-predicted collapse of the May 28 election can be considered as the definitive breaking point. An upset Chavez, facing the postponement of the elections until July 2000, might have decided to blame the messenger. We will never know. The fact is that it was during that 2000 campaign that Chavez started attacking the press, attacking the journalists “that were letting their conscience bought by special interests” (4). The results were not long in coming: excited Chavez supporters started throwing stones at journalists trying to cover political events. The rest is history.

THE COMPOSITION OF THE BROADCAST MEDIA TODAY

The private media in Venezuela comprises 5 national networks and several independent local stations. Directing a TV network today is an expensive proposition and all the private networks are linked to big business interests, one of them, Venevision linked to the first global media company originating from Venezuela, the Cisneros family. This of course brings the same type of claims that one sees North, such as the Murdoch group.

Three networks offer a mix of soaps, news and entertainment, and they try to differentiate themselves with their socio-economic targets. Thus, intuitively we could assume that at least the two major ones, RCTV and Venevision would try to avoid to upset the same social base that Chavez courts. Globovision is an all news network, CNN like. Some of the local stations are actually loosely tied to Globovision since they tend to be local all news station. Promar in Barquisimeto is such an example. Finally there is the State network, VTV who in theory should be a cultural and information vehicle.

The radio bands tend to divide along the same lines, some more or less affiliated with the TV networks, some being a large assemblage of local radio stations such as Union Radio. No radio system, like in the US, is allowed to reach every major market in the country. The government counts on the only radio system that extends across the entire nation, through FM or AM, RNV.

There is a plethora of “independent”, “community oriented” radio and TV stations that have been sprouting lately. It is not clear how this system is legally operating.

HOW DO THE MEDIA WORK TODAY

It is important to point out one thing: so far it is true that pretty much everyone can say whatever he or she wants, sometimes to excess. Be it the community radios, be it the constant private network drumming during the December 2002 strike. Or be it some rather improper material shown on children hours, either soap operas of dubious content, or the violent speeches of Chavez in an afternoon “cadena”. The State has definitely failed in providing some guidelines that could be respected and followed by all parts.

This being said, private networks have been suggesting for a couple of years now that Chavez would eventually counter their freedom of speech. Speeches where these menaces have been proffered are countless. And the recent intervention of Globovision might indicate that the moment has arrived.

Nevertheless, there is something very different about the media today. Venezuela is probably the only country where the daily work gear of the journalist on the beat includes a helmet, a bulletproof vest and a tear gas mask. You can see that equipment spotted from any journalist of the private media. Indeed, these days are tough for journalists working in for the private media. Since 2000, attacks to journalists have crossed the 200 cases, many of them resulting in injuries. Several TV cars have been burnt or trashed by Chavez supporters. Personally I saw live on TV three journalists and cameraman from Promar being attacked in a Barquisimeto square. This makes for impressive viewing at lunch time news. A newspaper photograph, Jaime Tortosa, was killed on April 11 2002.

INFORMATION SOMEWHERE?

Does the private media has reasons to complain? Assuredly. Is the media exaggerating its role in its opposition to Chavez? Possibly. Does Chavez bear a significant part of the blame? Likely. Can you get objective information from private TV? The images do not lie and one is always free to turn off the sound. Can you get good balance from the State TV? Read the next installment.

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(1) Links to many of the organizations mentioned here can be found in the one page portal Venezuela Today.

(2) One of the most notorious exponents of the networks as conspirators and “golpistas” is the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique through the pen of its editor Ramonet or one of its journalist Lemoine. This magazine should not be confused with Le Monde, the respected French daily which has had a considerably more critical approach on Chavez and its political movement. Other examples of this theory can be picked in Forero’s article in the New York Times. A recent visit by some US journalists shows how necessary it is to know the events of 1999 and 2000 to understand today’s situation. The Carter foundation sponsored a visit by two journalists, Ellen Dzik and Francis Rolt, who were quick to point out ways in how the media contributed to the escalating Venezuelan violence, but where not as convincing at demonstrating their understanding of Chavez’s role in that increasing violence.

(3) The Constituent Assembly was dominated by 95% of chavista representatives even though their total vote was around 60%. The fears of imposing certain unpalatable views in the constitution was not unfounded.
(4) One of the most known attacks by Chavez against a media celebrity was when he asked publicly Zapata, the decades long op-ed caricaturist of the prestigious El Nacional, how much he was being paid to draw unfavorable cartoons of the Revolution. Zapata, whose prestige is immense within Venezuelans of any political bent, has lampooned in his very personal style, every folly of every government for over 4 decades.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

NOT BUILDING A FUTURE (literally)
Tuesday 7, October 2003

Sometimes simple numbers can tell more about the sad state of the Venezuelan economy than whole treatises on it. Tal Cual publishes today the kilogram consumption per capita of cement. Cement in Venezuela is particularly important as it is used much more in construction than in the US. For example all walls in apartment buildings are in hollow bricks cemented together, and not in plywood.

The numbers

 COUNTRY Kg per capita
 Venezuela in the late 70ies 380
 Venezuela today 110
 Dominican Republic 700
 Spain  680

Yet, the shanties keep multiplying in large cities and the government keeps bragging of all the social housing it is building. Clearly something is not right.

It is interesting to note that the Dominican Republic is using 6 times more cement than Venezuela. The big tourist development? New roads? Or just that it is an economy growing normally and slowly but surely satisfying the needs of its people? I do not have the answer but now I understand much better why the Dominican Republic did not seem particularly worried about Venezuela cutting its oil exports there two weeks ago. This cement consumption would suggest that the Dominican Republic can afford to buy oil somewhere else.

These numbers are really worrisome. Clearly it reflects that the construction sector is at a standstill with all the implications that this carries on jobless rate and the dynamism of the economy. It seems that construction today relies on the few drops of oil that the administration is releasing to build a bridge here and some social housing there, not on private investments, confidence in the future. But maybe this is what the current administration really wants, a country totally depending on it, even to fix the holes in the walls of our houses.

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Note: Tal Cual is a pay site and the article cites its source for these numbers from the Association of Constructors in Venezuela. I am thus taking these numbers at face value. But from what I can see in the streets, construction is definitely not doing very well in the country. Well, solid construction that is because shacks are sprouting right and left.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Another article on the oil field camps violence
October 6, 2003

Tal Cual had a mini editorial that I was planning to translate today but Miguel Octavio beat me to it. It is a very concise article that explains how the aggression at Los Semerucos cannot be justified. Not that an aggression is ever justifiable, of course, but this violence at Los Semerucos is becoming every day more and more the litmus test of what kind of people we are, are going to become or want to become. Read it together with my translation of Milagros Socorro yesterday to understand what you might have missed.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Reconciliation

RECONCILIATION
Sunday 5, October 2003

I am still under the shock of what is happening to our oil industry, the lies, the violence, the wantonness that is jeopardizing our common future. Although I have posted some things recently, I do not know yet how to make it all fit in a more complete report. Fortunately some people find the words for me and I just need to translate.

Milagros Socorro is a distinguished columnist from El Nacional, one of the two major daily in Venezuela. Unfortunately the web site is a paying one. But through a common friend I got permission to translate this excellent meditation on how the violence in the oil fields, in particular at Los Semerucos, is tearing the fabric of our society in a way that one wonders whether reconciliation is possible. My words could not match her passion, and her lucidity in describing our slow descent into tropical fascism.

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Reconciliation

Since that dead of night when National Guard soldiers decked up for war besieged the residential oil camp Los Semerucos and threw tear gas bombs against the walls and windows of the houses where families slept, I am waiting for the remains of decency that still exist within the Regime to break their ties and declare themselves sickened by such a savage action. We will not repeat the tale of events. I will not try this time to put a name that best fits the events that sometimes are seen through the bias of polarization.

We all saw what happened there --- and we saw it again in Anzoategui and Monagas, where cowardice in uniform has repeated its foul routine ---. It follows that Los Semerucos does not bear shades, does not tolerate spin interpretations, nor does it sustain inanities. We are not going, thus, to either do the catalogue of barbarity or detail with words what images have left sufficiently clear. At Los Semerucos --- and now in Oriente --- a savagery was perpetrated, a horror that Venezuela had not endured in times of peace. In this we are not going to be accommodating because the crime does not match with qualifiers that are not of its dimension. And the crime has a unique dimension.

This is why I really waited, with genuine confidence that pronouncements would not delay from fellow countrymen nauseated in front of such a felony. Of course, I thought of the President of Petroleos de Venezuela, Ali Rodriguez Araque; of the Nation’s Ombudsman, German Mundarain; of the Attorney General of the Republic, Isaias Rodriguez; of the commander of the National Guard, general Jesus Ramon Villegas Solarte. But also, and above all, I thought of certain intellectuals that still support the regime, with great pain I thought of friends… ex friends… people to who until now I granted sensitivity, solidarity, some sense of shame, a minimal understanding of greatness. And none did that step forward. None said, “I am not with this”.

None lifted up his hands to show that they were not bloodstained. None said to these children snatched from their sleep and their faith in their country: Venezuelan kid, son, look at my face, look at me well, I am not with these who torment you, with these who burn your house, with these that threaten your mother with raping her, with killing her.

The TV images brought us the smoke, the tense diligence of the women running to remove their children from the horror, the degradation of these officers from the National Guard. But they did not let us hear the spat out sentences from the guards to persecuted women: “We are going to fuck you”, “We are all going to fuck you, damned whore”. This we learned of later. We all learned this. And some continue to justify the regime that sponsors that abomination, continue doing business with it, continue scrapping cents tinted in blood, continue to tag along with the felon that gave the order.

Life gives very few occasions to show one’s mettle.

One… two, maybe three? Los Semerucos was one. And those that had to release themselves from the accomplice embrace did not do so. I wonder, after this, how are we going to be able to reconcile. How I am going to look at the face of the friend whose approbation I looked for, whose advice I sought, whose joys I celebrated and whose tune I accompanied, now that I see him darkened, commingled with the cruel one that shoots at the music box. How I am going to greet the one that so deeply disappointed me, the one whose image has shattered in my hands, among tears. Damn it, let it all be said. Do not count with me.

It is obvious that the regime pretends to make Los Semerucos into the metaphor of the whole Nation: if you rebel, if you pretend to recall me, if you exert your rights to kick me out of office, I am going to surround you with bogus soldiers, I am going to plague you and mark for ever your children with the scar of fright.

They will not accomplish it, regardless. They might cloud our eyes with this sorrow, with this monumental deception, but from the despondency we will garner the fortitude to expel the abject ones and console the little frightened kid from Los Semerucos: believe me, son, I am from this side of the fence. Your side.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

STRAINING BELIEF
Friday 3, October 2003

Late in the morning a commission from CONATEL (FCC equivalent in the US, the board that supervises how the media wavelengths are distributed and used) showed up at Globovision gates. Globovision is Venezuela's CNN type network.

The reason? Globovision was using "fraudulently" a given Micro Wave Frequency. The punishment? Just take away all the equipment that allows Globovision to do live reporting all across the country.

This is rather clever for the Chavez administration that has been threatening for ages to shut down the private media. If Globovision has no Micro Waves, then it looses any purpose even if the main signal is still on!

Now, let's think about this for a minute. Globovision has already been audited, sued and what not by the government trying to block, or at least disrupt its functions. Without any real success. Suddenly, after more than 4 years in office the Chavez administration discovers that for 10 years Globovision has been using a share of the radial spectrum "illegally". Let's assume for the sake of the argument that this is true. Then the conclusion: it speaks volume about the inefficacy of Venezuelan public administration. And even worse of the Chavez appointees that took 3 years to figure out what should have been figured out in a few days after the master barked his first attacks on Globovision.

But it is irrelevant whether Globovision broke the law. Any explanation will sound hollow at best. The point is that the Chavez administration has finally decided to take seriously the offensive against the media that it cannot allow to go unchecked when a perilous recall election looms. The kindest word that can be said is that it was a trial balloon, to see what the public and international reactions would be, at a time where perhaps the administration feels like it has a few cards in hand.

Well, they have not been disappointed.

The public reaction was great. Quickly a few hundred people showed at the gates of Globovision in spite of a strong shower. In other places within Caracas streets were blocked, pans were banged. And this happened in many a provincial city (not in San Felipe but we are behind the times in general although the governor at a local meeting used the event to whip up fervor). The ordeal lasted a few hours while the seizure acts were written up and signed by the various lawyers.

Meanwhile the other private networks gave extensive support and live coverage that Globovision could not give, in particular of yet another distasteful display of the National Guard, tear gas and all.

The US State department and the OAS among other foreign observers promptly expressed "preoccupation". Of course they cannot outright condemn the action since they must be certain of the legalities of what really happened. Still, Chavez has been served notice that he better come up with a good story. This really means that Venezuela is watched closely and that responses to attacks on liberties will not go unnoticed and unchecked.

Are today events reassuring in an odd way? We will see. Meanwhile Globovision tonight is struggling along, with only the phone lines as their "live" coverage. And the other Networks are probably wondering who's next. What is more certain is that a public opinion that seemed to be lacking spirit since the invalidation of February 2 recall petition probably got a shot in the arm today. We will see if that is good too.

Monday, September 29, 2003

THE WEEK IN REVIEW
September 21 through 28, 2003

Quite a week indeed.

The Nazi-onal guard strikes at Los Semerucos

I am not making this up, some press writers and caricaturists now call the Venezuelan National Guard, the Nazi-onal Guard since the eviction of the striking oil workers in Los Semerucos.

After the massive firing of oil workers through the first few months of the year (around 20 000) some of them kept using their regulation living quarters in the oil fields. The argument? The firing has not been properly done, the compensation package has not been given, they are still entitled to their housing.

The argument from the new political management of PDVSA says that they have been fired and that they have betrayed the nation so that they should be happy they are not in jail, and thus should be giving up their houses fast.

Unfortunately, when the strike started it seems that the workers gave notary statements as to the conditions of the working places and to this day the government has not been able to make a lawsuit prosper against the ex-workers, be it for sabotage, be it for crimes against the state. Even worse, the oil workers have won some preliminary injunctions that should eventually force the government to make good on its legal obligations.

That is no problem with the Chavez administration who has no qualm about sending again (Revenge in Paraguana) the Nazi-onal guard to vacate the Los Semerucos complex, even though judicial injunctions forbid it. But of course another judge refuses to consider these decisions and emits one that “legalizes” what was one of the most deplorable scenes that we have been subjected to. In the middle of the night, a tear gas attack inside houses that ended up with elderly parents and children running in the streets in their night attire . And 26 arrests for violence. The Nazi-onal guard that threw tear gas inside houses is fine, thank you. Its honor, or whatever was left of it, done for. I suppose that at some point they will claim “I was following orders”.

I wonder, if Chavez ever leaves, what we’ll have to do with the disgraced National Guard, this 4th part of the Armed Forces, responsible for internal security and who under Chavez has lent itself to all sorts of abuses and corruption, like your average S.A contingent…


Iris Varela, the new cat woman

Another obscure incident at the National Assembly. Iris Valera one of the Pasionarias of the glorious Bolivarian fiasco, probably upset by the blockade made by the opposition against the attempt by Chavez to control once and for all the Judicial system, scratched the face of one of her main opponents. The unfortunate victim (accused of having kicked her before) was for all to see on TV with a bloody cheek. For all her lame explanations people have not forgotten her use of pepper gas at different opportunities, even inside the National Assembly. She is a true democrat and has the means to convince you, whether you want it being irrelevant (The Political Fringes on Stage).


The Electoral Board (CNE) gives the rules

The rules on how to call for a recall election were handed down Thursday night . This would deserve an article by itself. It probably will be better to wait and see how the process evolves. What was surprising was that the CNE will involve itself closely in any signature recollection process, even controlling the time frame of the collection! This is almost risible as it looks almost like a real election!

But one should not be too fussy. After all, now there are rules, and these ones, if harsher than what the opposition would have liked, are not impossible to follow. If the opposition indeed has the following it claims to have we should be able to vote on Chavez by late February (a complete article by Roberto Giusti for El Universal on the electoral situation can be found in an English version)

Of course there is a problem: what will Chavez do? He is not going to sit tight. Considering that he has done all what he could to block any election since last year, it is to be expected that a rain of legal challenges and acts of violence is on its way. Even if ludicrous, they will at least postpone any election. A glimpse into Chavez state of mind came fast.


Chavez against the world.

In yet another memorable moment, Chavez managed to insult the US, the UN and the Spanish Prime Minister. While cutting oil supply to Dominican Republic on some alleged support for coup-mongers against his rule.

There is no point in repeating the inanities that Chavez uttered. What is really interesting here is the not so distant echo of Fidel Castro excoriating Europe because he put in jail a few dissidents a few months ago. Chavez is quite clear: all is just a conspiracy against the Venezuelan people. This is a very convenient excuse for whatever he is planning to do to block (destroy?) the opposition democratic tries at ending the crisis. Why give the legitimacy of an election to what is only a press and “foreign interests” conspiracy?


Remember, you read it here first.

Friday, September 26, 2003

ON THE ROAD AGAIN
and so much going on....

Friday 26, August 2003

Chavez insulting Aznar and Bush (making friends as usual).

S.A. like assault on family housing at Los Semerucos (The grand mother that could barely walk to a car in the midst of tear gas was surely a dangerous "golpista", as seen on TV).

The Electoral Board CNE handing down as from the Olympus the new referendum rules (apparently there is slight chance to make it, good news I suppose).

Assemblyman with a bleeding cheek (courtesy of Iris Varela who apparently not being able to have her amendment approved became Catwoman).

I wonder what a foreign observer would think watching Venezuelan TV these days. Wait! I know! I had one from Brazil and he is just speechless. And this is a businessguy that comes often enough to Venezuela to be able to rent a car and drive around in the country.

Embarrassment hardly describes it...

I will write as soon as possible on these lofty issues. Unless loftier material comes along. All is possible in this country of ultimate "realismo magico".

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

THREE EMBASSIES

Wednesday 24, September 2003

The Venezuelan plight has had interesting ripple effects on the diplomatic representations in Caracas, which of course cannot escape the turmoil of the Bolivarian Revolution. The problems faced by three of these institutions are quite telling.

The Embassy of the United States of America

Let's start by saying that the status of this embassy as the one from the "Empire" has not helped its dealings with the anti-globalization leadership of the "glorious Bolivarian Revolution". In the tradition of the yanqi go home Latin American leftist past, the US ambassador is critics's target of choice. In particular to distract the opinion from other unrelated uncomfortable topics of the Revolution own doings.

Until April 11 2002, the relationship although tense was not frayed. After April 13, things did change. In the all out effort to rewrite history at all costs, the US is regularly accused to have shouldered the alleged April 11 coup. Certainly the past interventionist history of the US does not help, and the avowed dislike of Chavez is on every one's mind. However, from likely US blind eye promises to anti-Chavez initiatives, to actively sending weapons, intelligence and advisers is quite a stretch. Chavez and his minions have no problem to bridge that stretch offering tomorrow all sorts of proofs, any wilder than the other. But tomorrow never comes.

Charles Shapiro, the US ambassador, seems to be a brave man. And a decent one too, with that naïve but implicit proposal that the US always offer: embrace our values, rewrite your laws to imitate ours, dollarize your economy and you will be a happy nation. In a country where the only values and law come from our great leader, and where the real currency is already the dollar as can be observed with capital flight, the US message can only be seen with contempt by the leadership. Mr. Shapiro keeps his smile no matter what vulgarity Chavez throws at him on his Sunday monologues. Chavez's opposition, some probably wishing the Marines to land soon, is not adverse to criticize the US ambassador for his lack of pressure on Chavez. Mr. Shapiro must be doing something right.

But sometimes he does some bad moves. One was on a reception May 13 when a humorist came to the embassy party with a show of dubious taste . Another one was the visit to the newly minted Electoral Board, offering US technical assistance. This initiative, worthwhile certainly, was ill timed. It showed undiplomatic eagerness to have elections A.S.A.P., and this from a country that
was the laughing stock of the Western World during the Florida electoral
debacle.

The Italian Embassy

The new Italian ambassador did not have the leisure of a honey-moon period. Within a few weeks of his arrival Mr. Carante was concerned with two major threats to the Italian interests.

The first was a fight between the minority partners of DIGITEL, one of the three big wireless in Venezuela, and the majority stock owners, Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM). Well, TIM did experience the direct effect of the twisted Venezuelan judicial system when the minority partners were able to subject the majority owners to actions that in normal countries are reserved to the parties that lost a trial. The beauty of the Venezuelan system is that you do not really need a trial to ask for redress. Trials are such a cumbersome procedure when there are "other ways".

The second one was even worse. The Venezuelan oil monopoly, PDVSA, had developed a successful way to use heavy oil by emulsifying it in such a way as it can finally be sent through pipelines and tankers to be burnt, with minimum environmental concern, in power stations. Big contracts were written with Italy which invested heavily in retooling some of its power plants to accept Orimulsion, that emulsified shale oil.

Unfortunately for Italy the PDVSA strike resulted in firing most people that were involved with this high tech venture. The political hacks sent to replace the personnel are probably unable to keep the installation running. And even less to build new facilities to fulfill the contracts that PDVSA worked so hard at gaining (see Petroleumworld). The solution, in true Bolivarian Revolution spirit, was just to close down the facilities saying that it was a pet project of the corrupt PDVSA management that, thanks to our leader, has finally been fired.

The Italian Ambassador promptly visited the vice-presidency and from the podium of the Vice President press room, with the seal Vice Presidency in the background he demanded Venezuela to fulfill its contractual obligations. The Spanish was perhaps heavily italianated but the subliminal message was extremely clear for all: "Italy does not mix into your politics. Italy just wants to know if it is possible to do serious business in this joint. If not, Italy wants its money back."

The Italians might have invented Carnival and La Dolce Vita, but since the Medici bankers of the Renaissance, they have been dead serious with their money.

No official response so far from PDVSA except a lame "the decisions were not final" and "supply of Orimulsion is assured". Obviously the Italian ambassador did something right.

The French Embassy

Mr. Vandoorne had the misfortune to initiate his tenure at the helm of the French Embassy while the events of the December general strike were unfolding. He had another misfortune: his connections with some sectors of the intellectual left in France became public knowledge. But this might not be a misfortune. Apparently, France is doing brisk business with the Chavez administration. For example some French companies are getting some of the oil concessions that the Nationalist Bolivarian Revolution is giving away to private capital to try to bolster oil production in view of the troubled PDVSA production. If we can learn from the French experience in Africa, French have a gift to deal with unsavory regimes of all stripes. With the likely blessing of the Empire, of course, who cannot do everything everywhere.

But among the opposition to Chavez the embassy image is at its lowest. It all started during the December 2002 strike when the US, British, German and other embassies recalled their non-essential personnel. The French, according to an embassy communicate, were staying in solidarity with their Venezuelan friends, while Air France flights were full of families leaving for a longer than expected holiday break in France. Other faux-pas followed. A noted one came this last April 13. Chavistas called for a celebration of the first year of the restoration of Chavez's democracy. They invited a whole bunch of dubious intellectual and political personalities from the French left. This did not go down well since to this date the truth of the April 2002 events and its various crimes are far from solved, and the intention to clarify them even less certain than ever. One just needs to observe that suspicious acts of some of the April 2002 agents have been rewarded with high positions within the regime.

Press interviews were offered here and there by the Ambassador to clarify positions, only mucking them further. The lack of credibility by the French embassy kept growing as it is now deemed openly pro-Chavez. Incidents at the Bastille Day celebrations of July 14 at the French embassy hit the gossip columns with the same force as the US embassy May show hit the political columns.

This image degradation has even claimed an unfortunate victim. A "photography month" copied from the successful Paris similar event was organized by the French embassy in an attempt to at least play on the intellectual and cultural image of France. The noteworthy show, about to open all over Caracas, has been mired for two weeks in what is now the biggest cultural scandal in Venezuela since the subtraction of the Venezuelan Matisse last year. The reason was very silly. In their apparent desire to avoid controversy with Chavez and the opposition a few pictures from a photo-journalism exhibit were removed for being "too political" (imagine that!). And this after having been accepted by the curator. The screams of censorship of course have been littering the press, a censorship coming from France, of all places. This caused withdrawals from notable photographers, suspension of exhibit spaces, "alternative anti censorship exhibits", more murky press conferences, etc… and giving a perfect excuse for the Caracas Metro direction to exert its own censorship on the pictures of journalists from El Universal, a consistent critic of Chavez's policies that were going to be exhibited in some of the subway stations.

In the state of political excitement that Venezuela suffers, the French embassy seems to be digging a bigger hole for itself as days pass. The French ambassador surely is not doing something right.

Monday, September 22, 2003

IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT
(NOT by Cole Porter)

Monday 22, September 2003

We have had off track fireworks Saturday.

At around 1 AM a bomb exploded in the barracks close to Miraflores, in the parking lot of the military detachment that ensures the security of the presidential compound (and then more as we could see from the pictures but that is another story). The fire department was not allowed in and at 2 AM a group of soldiers was dispatched to clean up the street of any glass debris (and any possible evidence). Rumors of course went wild, not helped by the Interior Ministry whose head changed completely the “official” version through the day, none of them of course satisfactory whatsoever. The only thing that was discarded is the possibility that a passerby threw above the 10 feet plus wall a bomb powerful enough for the damage done. If that were true, Venezuela has at least one gold medal assured in Athens next year. Now the story seems to be that it was either of: “mishandling” of explosives (handling of explosives at midnight?) or a “terrorist” attack (at midnight, in one of the safest area of the compound? too far from Miraflores to do more than awaken the president? and with what kind of internal complicity to get there?). The reason is actually irrelevant since we will never know the what-s and why-s. After all we are waiting for the investigation results of so many more important explosions that have happened this past year….

The same day but at 11 PM this time a strange shooting happened at Plaza Altamira. The shots were exchanged between the DISIP (state secret police cum FBI) and the police department of the Chacao district. Plaza Altamira is of course the headquarters of the military dissidence that just never ends and seems everyday to serve less and less of a purpose. The curious aspect of this event is that the DISIP acted without a mandate to show, right after Chavez started one of his lengthy “cadenas”, thus making sure that no TV could show live the events from Plaza Altamira. Incidentally, this is not the first time that a “cadena” coincides with suspicious maneuvers from Chavez. At any rate, today still we do not know for sure what happened exactly and what were the reasons. The responsible official of the interior ministry. Mr. Azuaje, blandly said that the secret police did not have to justify its actions and covert operations needed not be reported, as if raiding the Plaza Altamira were a covert operation. From the other side the Mayor of Chacao the Chacao Police thought it was an abduction and that when everything was over, the DISIP promptly removed any evidence taking away officers hurt in a car crash while they were escaping.

What is interesting there is that the dissidents did indeed have a self defense plan that worked, that the DISIP came with a whole bunch of unidentified cars, that the neighbors got up and banged their pots and pan to make an awful racket, that the DISIP had no qualms to fire at the Chacao Police coming to the site to see what was going on, that the Chacao mayor came and was held at gun point briefly, etc… Many of these stories dressed with tales of Cuban accents among the DISIP guys.

And of course next day Chavez excoriated the Chacao Police and Mayor, obviously his next target after the Metropolitan Police has been done for last November.

What to make of all this? Clearly we have a government that does not even pretend to give credible accounts. In addition, the government is clearing testing the capacity of response of the opposition strongholds, which is the only way to interpret the Plaza Altamira events. At the same time it is trying to “create” events that will give itself some fake legal excuse to intervene organizations that do not agree with him.

If not glamorous, it is all quite simple.
ZIMBABWE AND VENEZUELA
a foot note for the preceeding post
Monday 22, September 2003

The New York Times has an editorial today on Zimbabwe, The Tyranny of Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe is asked to resign, and the South African president is cited as the main reason why Mugabe is still in office. Interesting. Another Castro/Chavez tandem of sorts?

A sentence in the editorial catches one's attention: "The collapse of Zimbabwe is affecting all southern Africa". Just as the troubles with the chavista regime are starting to affect Middle America. Chavez in his paranoia is accusing the Dominican Republic to help former president Carlos Andres Perez plotting against him. As a clumsy pressure move, in spite of all the denials of a government which seems more serious than ours, Venezuela has stopped delivering oil to the Dominican Republic. The first instance in our history when we use oil as a deliberate pressure tool!!!! A sign of diplomatic weakness, definitely, the Venezuelan bully against the Dominican weakling.

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