Thursday, January 29, 2004

A quick note from foreign work obligations

Wednesday 28, January 2004

I am attending a professional activity loaded with people from South America. Two interesting subject of discussion for my fellow Latin American in this Us activity.

1) consternation about Chavez, about the economical downfall of Venezuela, about the fact that I had to buy my very few dollars on the black market, etc, etc... And even more, real, really real consternation that the minimal wage at street dollar rate is down to less than 100 USD a months!! General comment: "how can you raise up the economy a country where people are making less than 100 bucks a months?"

2) other very interesting comment. Brazil decision to demand a visa and finger prints and pic to US citizens since the Us decided to demand it. Based on the "reciprocity" principle on foreign relations. Almost verybody I talked to about that approved!!! Meanwhile Chavez did not dare do what Brazil did and people are surprised. Chavez for all his bragadoccio against free trade and such stuff, will not dare to actually act on it the way that Brazil does. But Lula seems to be growing into a real leader while Chavez is sinking into ridicule in people's opinion.

Oh well...

Monday, January 26, 2004

Jimmy Carter in, I am out

Monday 26, January 2004

Jimmy Carter arrived yesterday and has been making the rounds. His visit, about one year ago, did help unlock a little bit the stalemate of the strike. This one might be as important as there are now open criticism from within the Electoral Board of unscrupulous activities. But I really cannot say much tonight as I have not watched the news or read today's papers. Bad blogger, bad, bad blogger.

The reason? I am on the road again until sometime early next week. So blogging will be erratic, in particular considering that I will be out of the country. This by the way was rather interesting source of experiences: trying to get 500 dollar cash in a country where currency exchange is forbidden and where people that have dollars are trading them at almost twice the official rate. Yet, airports still have a lot of activity, dollars still manage to be exchanged. And the high cost of the dollar of course will have to be recovered for people that travel for business, as it is my case. What will we do? Well, for one thing we might have to pass the cost on customers. Does Chavez care? Not a bit, since he can get all the dollars he wants at 1600, instead of the 3000 I had to pay! This is no way to run a country! But of course, I have written a one year blog already (January 6th was the official first post!) trying to demonstrate that Chavez is not running the country.

At any rate, I will be out of this mess for a few days. Even if I will not be able to afford much more than McDonald-like joints, at least it will be something to take my mind away from all the misery and drudgery that sometimes is just too much too bear. And I am a privileged one, with a job and food on the table. I really feel bad when I think that just for cheap hotels and cheap food I will be spending one month of minimal wage in 2 days!!!! If only people that support Chavez would realize how deep in shit he is taking them down! I really do not think that a few Cuban doctors are really compensating for the harsh inflation that they have experienced in the last two years. Oh well...

Anyway, I will try to watch the news and Carter's results. If any. But posts will be brief, which might be a relief for some :-)

One real regret is that I will not be able to do my usual provision of books. But who knows, if I have a few dollars left, there is a decent bookstore on my return airport.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

A view from the marches of yesterday
Dedicated to TransAfrica Forum and Greg Palast
(and all those that desperatly try to apply cliches to understand Venezuela)


El Nacional has a gallery of pics from the marches of Friday past. I have selected three to play a little game. The first one is from the opposition march.

The second one is from the chavismo march.


The game? Find the ethnic differences!

And a third picture from the rallying point of the opposition. Just for the sake of it.
More on PDVSA

Gustavo Coronel kindly saves me lots of trouble and time in writing about PDVSA in English. The slow, and predicted, sinking of PDVSA in yet another bureaucratic nightmare of inefficiency and corruption. I like his use of "fights among brigands" to describe what I just posted a few minutes ago.
More on the latest PDVSA scandal

Saturday 24, January 2004

I did report that a legal eagle of PDVSA, the state oil holding, had been fired and was talking. Well, finally an article/interview on a non-subscription page. In El Universal today Fabian Chacon, the fired lawyer reports that his firing was due to the fact that he confronted the interests of the PPT administration in PDVSA.

The PPT is one of the chavismo coalition partner, a secession of Causa R, the leftist party that almost made it to Miraflores Palace in 1993, and whose remains are among the most vociferous Chavez opponents. After a fight with Chavez in 2000, the PPT only managed one representative in the new National Assembly. But opportunistic as none, after a reconciliation it managed to gain some of the most strategic positions in Chavez administration with the head of PDVSA, the labor, education, environment ministries among its plum harvest. PPT has become one of the great patronage dispensers in Venezuela!!!

Anyway, the interview would indicate that Fabian Chacon, erstwhile lawyer of Chavez after the failed 1992 coup (!!) was forced out for defending the Chavez interests in PDVSA against the PPT rapacity who even included hiring back some ex-PDVSA workers... He supposedly ha

Friday, January 23, 2004

El 23 de Enero: the 2004 scorecard.

Friday 23, January 2004

Globovision showed the pics from both marches today in downtown Caracas. The opposition one looked as usual, perhaps smaller but definitely significant and comparable to many of the previous marches. In spite of months of pinata gifts from Chavez, no significant result is observed in his aim at demobilizing the opposition supporters.

The chavismo march shots were actually a surprise: we had aerial views! Since the opposition started hitting the pavement early 2002, the government banned aerial surveys on marches days for "security and safety reasons". A misnomer by any standards... Since chavismo rallies are usually held at night, aerial views are not very useful for propaganda purposes (not to mention that overflight of Caracas at night is forbidden).

Today, the state TV, VTV, showed a tight packing of about 2-3 blocks next to the High Court building where the chavismo march was supposed to start. Interestingly it was quite clear that many stands had been set up in the middle of the street and that it had all the characteristics of a street fair-rally rather than the starting point of a march. The first conclusion of course is that it takes them quite some time before gathering critical mass to start marching, and in fact the chavismo march started late, almost AFTER the opposition march finished. Possibly that way no direct comparison could be made. Or am I again seeing evil in the wrong places?

Regardless. State TV did not broadcast aerial views of the opposition march although this one had been surveyed. How come?

Enough said. We know the comparison results without having to ask for the numbers.

23 de Enero

January 23, 2004

This is the 1958 date that marks the departure of our last full fledged dictator, Perez Jimenez. Through the years it has been more or less fervently commemorated, though the present occupant of Miraflores Palace would like to celebrate February 4 1992 when he tried to overthrow the results of January 23 1958. Actually the present holder tried to ignore that date until he realized that people did care for it, even though it is not a National Holiday. So since 2002 he has got back to celebrate 23 de Enero though of course in a separate march and rally from the opposition, claiming that "he" is the real heir of 23 de Enero. Some people have jut no shame whatsoever.

Anyway, today opposition and chavismo held their separate march. Although at work in San Felipe, I managed to gather that the opposition march beat hands down in attendance the chavismo march which was "downgraded" by a chavista on the radio to a municipal march instead to a national commemoration... Another one without shame, nor fear of ridicule.

I will confirm the results tonight and post a nice pic if I can find one. Hopefully my predictions yesterday will be confirmed.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

This and that
Thursday 22, January 2004

I have been back for two days now. It has been a little bit unsettling to follow the news these past days, not having time to get all the necessary information, not having time to digest. Unfortunately in the weeks ahead I do not think that I will get that leisure. Oh, well, might as well give a resume, in no particular order of importance.

The US grants a record number of political asylum to Venezuelans

Today immigration report of the US CIS, as reported by El Universal, shows that during the last fiscal year 525 petition of asylum have been granted to Venezuelan that have been able to prove some form of political persecution. This is up from 155 (!!!) in the previous period. The current period, starting October 1 2003, is already at 327 grants. No comments needed, although conspiracy theorist might argue that the US is giving higher numbers for anti-propaganda purposes.

Need money? Raise taxes!

I am not like some of these US Republicans that only dream of Tax cuts, but the latest move of the SENIAT, our own taxing agency in more than one way, has decided to increase the Tributary Unit. These Units created a few years ago define most taxes that are paid routinely in Venezuela. For example when I file for income tax, my bill says xyz Units. Then I read the year value of the Unit and with a simple multiplication, voila! I know my tax due. The government just needs to fix the amount of the Tributary Unit and you will know everything you will have to pay, be it income tax or business patents.

Well, in spite of the prevalent recession, the SENIAT announced just as a matter of fact the value of the Tributary Unit for 2004: from 19 400 Bs. to 24 700 an increase of 27.3%. No debate, no nothing. Just a plain announcement. Even in European Social Democracies taxes are not raised so gleefully! Of course, most people that pay taxes are already against Chavez (probably more than 70 % of the population pay no tax except for park entrance fees, birth certificates and the like). By law the value must follow the official inflation, but one would have like to hear an I am sorry or something. Besides such a drastic increase will further restrict the SENIAT tax base as many salaries will drop below the threshold of taxation. Also the minimum income to apply for subsidized housing will increase, making it even more difficult for middle and lower income classes to acquire housing. Geez! I do tell you!

Have trouble passing laws? Modify the National Assembly debate rules

For the 7th time in barely a year the 2 votes chavista majority of the National Assembly is trying to modify the debating rules to approve new laws. In spite of already harsh debating rules, the ineptitude of the chavista parliamentarians has made the past year one of the lowest years in law making in our democratic period. With the incoming Recall Election and the need for muzzling the opposition one way or the other in case of a campaign, there is an urgent need for chavismo to pass crucial laws to establish "legal" control of the country. In particular the law to pack the High Court, the law to centralize the autonomous polices, the anti-terrorism law, and the law to control TV and radio. You can muzzle the opposition with that as access to courts is limited, marches are not authorized anymore, expression of protest against certain officials are banned, and media cannot transmit certain news most of the day.

The opposition assemblymen knowing that if this new debating rule passes there will be no point in attending debates, are making a possible last stand by creating havoc in the Assembly, menacing chavismo of the plain impossibility to even approve a budget. Filibustering to the highest level, the one that would require Chavez to send the Army to clear up rioting assemblyfolks from the Congress grounds. Who will blink first?

Tired of bad financial numbers? Erase them by firing your staff!

While we are in the National Assembly issues. There is a Finance and Economic autonomous forecast agency that is assigned to the National Assembly. The actual head, Francisco Rodriguez, an erstwhile supporter of Chavez, even mentioned as a possible finance minister as recently as 2002, has become a target of choice for the chavismo in the Assembly. His crime? Saying such things that the deficits happily voted by chavismo will come home to roost. The new rules that are to be voted, also include provisions to basically eliminate that office. From then on the National Assembly will rely on the forecasts that are sent by the people requesting money.

Yet another catastrophic report from PDVSA

El Mundo, unfortunately by subscription, reports that a resigning legal advice of PDVSA is talking of all sorts of bills due to PDVSA that have no hope in hell to ever be cashed in. He is talking of at least a hundred million dollars in bad purchasing orders, bad payment, big overpricing. Plain fraud, but what else is new? Where to go for investigation?

El 23 de Enero

Tomorrow we commemorate the end of our last official dictatorship, January 23 1958. The opposition started with a nice march in Zulia state, and tomorrow it will take again the streets of Caracas, for the first time since August 2003. We will see what spirits are moving the people. I will not be in Caracas unfortunately.

I do not quite know what to predict. The dithering in signature verification of the Electoral Board has a depressive effect on people. Chavez gigantic piñata is starting to show effect as his polls numbers have reached 40 % again (though they seem to be stalling there). But some people are, if possible, even more opposed to Chavez. Since it is a weekday and there has not been a due warming up period, I do not think that we will see more than 200 000 people in the street. But before foreign observers interpret this as a weakening I would urge them to consider that 200 000 people is more than most anti Iraq war marches, bigger than anything we had before Chavez, and probably bigger than any Latin American recorded rallies.

In other words, any count above 200 000 should be considered as a good success and the start of momentum building for the trying days ahead. After all, when one reads the news that I just reported, what better way to vent some anxiety but to hit the highways with the flag...


Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The slow agony of the Venezuelan Army
Or... is it already dead?

Wednesday 21, January 2004

I have already addressed the way Chavez has been effectuating a slow deterioration of the Venezuelan Armed forces, helped along by the own ineptitude of these forces, cosseted for too long in a false sense of security. Two events tell us that the process might have been rather successful and that Chavez might have now a useless force, but a submissive one.

Scene 1: Three suns for a general

The highest grade in the Venezuelan Army, conceived as a supreme honor for leaders that distinguished themselves in the field of battle, was invented by Juan Vicente Gomez, our longest serving autocrat. It consisted of giving "Tres Soles" or three suns ("Stars" or "Marshall" in other countries). If Gomes held that rank, he was wise enough to give it to only one other person, his heir, Eleazar Lopez Contreras. We had to wait for Chavez loud operetta to see that title revived. No battles necessary this time.

The first one to benefit of the revived glory was General Lucas Rincon of April 11 2002 fame (or infamy). The third holder of the title is the one who announced that Chavez had resigned. Apparently, this did not affect his career after the restoration of the Great Leader. Lucas Rincon made it to the Interior Ministry.

Now, a fourth general has made it: Jorge Garcia Carneiro. His merits? Not many unless you count a canine like fidelity to the Great Leader. Low ranked in his graduating promotion. Not a brilliant career by any standards. His star (our should I say "sol") started to rise when he hitched his fate to Chavez in April 2002 (and he has been rumored not to be the most ardent of Chavez defenders in April 11).

Since then his ascent has been meteoritic (or is that shooting star/sol like?). The man of all situations he has been invaluable to Chavez for all sorts of cheap and denigrating activities such as selling subsidized produce in Avenida Bolivar or assaulting all sorts of targets that his master deemed to be assaulted, without looking at the legality of the event. Which probably made him think of himself an "expert" to the point of daring to express his constitutional opinion on the Recall Election in an infamous TV interview where it turned out that he did not even know what he was talking about.

This is the man that will supervise the Armed forces during the next crucial months, a man that has so sold his conscience, has been so scorned that he might be ready to do any foolish thing to preserve the power of his master. Even the nomination was yet another humiliation for Garcia Carneiro. Chavez announced it in his weekly peroration to an apparently surprised Garcia Carneiro that lamely could only utter a "Thank you President". I hope that it was an act, because if indeed it was a whim of Chavez to surprise him then Garcia Carneiro appeared to be even more a doormat than he might actually be.

What is really grave in this Chavez initiative is that it shows that he has stopped bothering with normal canals of the Army. If indeed it is the privilege of a sitting president to decide who gets the three suns, it remains that such an important nomination must be consulted and given to a meritorious individual and not a lackey. Has the Army been consulted? Has the Army indeed approved such a nomination? It is in these answers that we will fathom what is left of integrity and value in the armed forces.

Chavez is probably relishing the moment. He, the failed coup-monger, the Lieutenant in disgrace, is now the big shot deciding who gets what. Putting on the top a less than worthy candidate says a lot of Chavez cynical character.

Scene 2: a desolate Plaza Altamira

Tuesday morning I did drive around Plaza Altamira on an errand. Things are back to normal there, except for a large altar that props the surviving image of the Virgin Mary from the December rampage by chavista supporters. She is surrounded by fresh flowers, probably courtesy of town hall. People have lunch on the nearby benches as passer-by enjoy the fountains or just an outdoor space, clean and uncrowded. As I predicted December 8, it is now more than one month from the event and the dissident military have not returned. Nor is there any sign of them returning. Where are they? Into hiding? Arrested?

Long gone are the glory days of October 2002 when crowds thronged Plaza Altamira in support of the dissident military. From there they prodded actively the popular mood to initiate the general strike whose results are now more than questioned. As 2003 passed they petered away. Where they the elite of the Army that Chavez has destroyed? If they were so good, how could they commit so many political mistakes? How come they waited so long to oppose Chavez in a institutional way instead of waiting for April 2002 to come out of the wood works only to mess everything up when they handed down power to Carmona Estanga?

Where is the Army?

I am afraid that the Army of 1998 was the result of a major patronage program rather than a true professional force interested in the supreme well being of the Nation. Chavez did not have too much trouble weakening it to the point of giving us the sorry spectacle of the biggest barracks ceremony seen on TV, just to name a lousy three starred individual. An individual who, by the way, has gained so much weight since he is close to heaven that he did not fit into his formal uniform, almost as grotesque as his speech. If there were in such a rush to name him that they could not get him a new uniform, there was enough time to write a political discourse unbecoming in the voice of the army chief of a democratic country.

Clearly, the Venezuelan Army, as a political player has given a sorry image of itself, be it to remove Chavez from office or to keep him there. It is time to consider getting rid of whatever is left of the Venezuelan Army. Costa Rica has done it. Would it be that difficult to create a small defensive armed corps just to control the Colombian border? I think it is possible and desirable; I am a radical in my own ways.


Monday, January 19, 2004

A new attack in downtown Caracas

Sunday 18, January 2004

Still on the road but I had to mention at least this.

This sunday morning a group of MAS people (democratic left group) tried to have a flower offering to Simon Bolivar in Downtown Bolivar square, an average activity for any Venezuelan political party in a country that venerates Bolivar. Well, the group was attacked by a few masked men (and even some women) carrying big metal bars and guns. A few injured people icluding a camera crew.

Of course the assailants did not wear any pro Chavez signs. Unfortunately for those that might want to hold to the theory that the MAS sponsored that "self" attack to gain publicity points, I will note that the attack was a block from the Vice Presidency, and another from the security state police. None of these guards, supposed on duty 24/7, showed up. Interesting, no?

The fact is that 99% of the political assaults in downtown Caracas remain un-prosecuted and even less punished. And that does not mean that the remaining 1 % justice is actually done...

No, the truth is that chavistas have made all that is possible to make of downtown Caracas a no-man-s-land for anyone that is not in the Chavez camp. Be it by flooding it with informal street commerce (that offers excellent cover and support for violent groups on call to act in pro of Chavez), be it by creating real violence to scare people away. This is a well conceived and crafted strategy, one of the extrmely few instances where Chavez and his minions show some efficiency.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Blog Stability Back (I think)

Still on the road. But I think that the last problem is fixed. The blog should open fine for all now. Please let me know if some of you still have problems.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Concerns on the blog stability?

Since blogspeak died I had to edit back my template. Sometimes I get message errors when I check the page, sometimes it opens just fine. Since I did the corrections that I was supposed to do I am not sure whether my editing was wrong or if there is a problem with blogger.

Please, if you experience a problem with the site be kind enough to let me know.

And of course it is when you are on the road and cannot spend hours at a computer to check things out that problems happen...

PS: as for blogspeak. I just got a note that there is a substitute for it from a site called "haloscan" as a remedial rather than the real thing that could be improved with time. I am a little bit reluctant to set it up after the crashing of blogspeak that almost killed this site. Does anyone know anything about haloscan or any other blog dialogue program that I could include to re-establish the comment options?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

La Divina Pastora

To leave you on a good note until I can get back to post sometime this week end.

Today was the day of La Pastora, one of the many Virgin Mary cults in Venezuela, and as one can see from today maybe the main one!

Venezuela has many forms of devotion to the Virgin Mary, from its patroness, La Virgen de Coromoto, to local ones. But there are three that are particularly important, La Chiquinquira in Maracaibo, La Virgen del Valle in Margarita an La Pastora in Barquisimeto, which is the one for Yaracuy by association.

Today it was her day in Barquisimeto and plenty of people from across the country go to Barquisimeto to hang out in the streets for the longest procession in Venezuela. La Divina Pastora (the Divine Shepherdess) is a wood carving delicately painted, dressed like some bucolic shepherdess who is supposed to herd us to the redemption of her child, sitting on her lap. Her appeal might come in part from her image, a little bit like the native population of the area. The venerable image dating from the XVIII century goes out of her church on January 14 for a month of visits to the few chosen churches of Barquisimeto. That day people throng the streets for her first outing. More processions will take place during the month but more of the local nature. On January 14 all business stops in Barquisimeto and surrounding area.

Today, for her outing 148, it was beautiful, crisp and cool. TV images were great all through the day. And all records for street attendance, marches, rallies and what not might have been broken. Some TV mentioned more than one million marchers.

The day might have helped the amazing turnout, but the crisis and the desecrations of December in Altamira surely have something to do with the people going out en masse to find some hope.



I wish to thank the great folks at Blogger that kindly gave me a courtesy promotion to allow me to put up pictures of Venezuela on occasion. They understood that due to currency exchange control I cannot use Credit Cards for payment in the US. They are still not set up to re-open their paid plans but they allowed me to join anyway until they get back with their normal plans and I can pay for them. Let's say that I am a beta member ;-) This is the first one, to try the feature out.
Catch up posting!
Part 5 (and last): Transafrica and Danny in Yaracuy

14/01/2004

I really did not want to go back on the ridiculous trip by TransAfrica Forum and Danny Glover in Venezuela but I cannot help it. Last Sunday they were at the weekly Chavez show, Alo Presidente, laughing their heads out with his antics and insults, accusing Condolezza Rice of being illiterate. Condi can be accused of many things, but certainly not of illiteracy. I hope that when TransAfrica laughed at Chavez bad joke on Condi, arguably the most powerful Black woman in the US, it was because the translation was lousy.

It is interesting also to observe TransAfrica Forum schedule. The were taken to the only two areas of Venezuela where one could believe to be in Africa: Curiepe and Veroes in my very own Yaracuy. Now I feel a special link with Condi: we both like Classical Piano and she has been insulted from Yaracuy.

All was ended with the usual press conference where TransAfrica Bill Fletcher (where was Danny?)declared that racism in Venezuela was as bad as in the US. One argument was only too credible: the darker the skin the more likely to be living in a shanty. Another argument was just ridiculous: some Black men were denied entrance in discos. They came to Venezuela to find out that private discos reserve the right of admission? Too bad I could not let him know that once I was denied entrance in a Black disco in the US. Maybe there is a TrasnWesternEurope Forum somewhere to address my grievances.

Certainly there are racial problems in Venezuela, but I would suggest the group to stick to DC before moralizing us. In Venezuela "negro" is a term of endearment. Me thinks that TransAfrica was properly manipulated. By the way, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the US was in Veroes sitting next to Danny. Interesting coincidence, no?

Unfortunately for TransAfrica their home paper did not help today. The editorial from the Washington Post states the following:

Another test will come soon in Venezuela, where populist President Hugo Chavez hopes to avoid a recall referendum despite the opposition's recent collection of millions of voter signatures. The administration rightly has been pressing for a democratic solution to the country's growing turmoil, but it has to avoid allowing Mr. Chavez to pretend that his fight is with Washington, rather than his own people.

I wonder if Mr. Fletcher is able to comment. He did declare that his visit covered all grounds, including the opposition. I do not recall any opposition group talking of their meeting with Mr. Fletcher, but I might be ill informed.

But let the reader sleep tight. The real objectives there were self promotion for TransAfrica, and a magnificent surprise opportunity for Chavez to score cheap macho points. Mz. Rice recently called Chavez 's bluff and he cannot look weak in front of the macho portion of his electorate. There might be a price to pay for that insult later, but right now his focus is the Recall Election campaign. Sure enough he would not miss an opportunity to look macho and anti US. He can send flowers to Condi after the elections...
Catch up posting!
Part 4: A division between the opposition files?

14/01/2004

Last Monday I reported on Primero Justicia (PJ) move to re-center the Coordinadora Democratica (CD) priority on the Recall Referendum. It seems to work so far and certainly the newspapers and air waves are full of the CD diverse component irate declarations. The "traditional political parties" such as Accion Democratica, Copei and MAS just "cannot believe" that people will think that they would give priority to the regional elections of July rather than to the Recall Election in May! Besides there is no need to prioritize one or the other. I think the lady does protest too much!

The truth is that the old establishment was already showing too many signs of worrying more about which governor and mayor candidacies they will be able to get, under a single candidate form. That is probably what was going on through December. If this is fine for democracy, what was not fine was to sort of forget about the Recall Election through the holidays while Chavez was busy claiming "Megafraud!". The suspicion enter the people that if necessary some of the old parties might actually make a deal with Chavez for a few townhalls.

In a press conference yesterday the general secretaries of PJ, Proyecto Venezuela (PV) and La Causa R stated quite clearly that they would not avail closed doors shenanigans and that there was one and only one priority, the Recall Election on Chavez. Interestingly these "insurgent parties" have been born no more than 12 years ago, as a reaction to politics as usual.

PV is the only significant regional force that has emerged from the decentralization process of the 80ies, ruling the fate of the most industrial state of Venezuela, Carabobo.

Causa R was a rather leftist organization coming out from powerful dissident trade unions of Bolivar state that almost won the general election of 1993.

PJ was born under Chavez from a successful NGO trying to bring judicial redress to the less favored sectors of the population, carrying in their first run in spite of the Chavez high waters two of the Caracas town halls and the assemblyman elected with the most votes in the Assembly. Today they have become the "bete noire" of chavismo, becoming the choice target for any insult that can be hurled at them.

I do not think that the CD will break up, but a shaking up of its structure and actions will happen and that might be very good. Of course, traditional politicos never look favorably at political upstarts and that could be seen on their faces these last two days. One would think that they would get the message that the people hold them responsible for the mess that allowed Chavez to win office. Instead they look like ready to make shady deals with chavismo. Curiously, in his interview Chavez did target PJ and PV but praised Copei once and now current leader, Eduardo Fernadez. Imagine that!
Catch up posting!
Part 3: Chavez words on his way to the Summit of the Americas.

Chavez knows when to make a good move. El Universal has been an opponent of Chavez from before his 1998 election, arguably the only consistent oponent of Chavez. Guess what? On his way to the Summit of the Americas, Chavez grants an interview to El Universal! Nowhere else than in the (in)famous presidential plane!

That way he cannot be accused in Monterrey to refuse to talk to the opposition.

The link is to the English translation of the interview. I need not make any comments: contradictions in the Chavez discourse are obvious, as well as the chilling menacing tone. Read and weep!

Catch up posting!
Part 2: While we are talking of Cuba and Castro...

01/14/2004

In recent days Chavez has picked up a new battle with the Venezuelan Central Bank (see January 7). The excuse? To pick a "little billion" in the reserves that "the people need for devoleping agricultural projects", never minding the recently approved budget that probably "forgot" to include the monies...

While this charade takes place someone reminded the country that Cuba owes Venezuela perhaps as much as 891 million Dollars. Cuba, a notoriously bad client, has been subsidized by Chavez with oil (and all sorts of Cuban "workers" in Venezuela, who are paid in dollars by Venezuela, US dollars that find their way fast to Cuba). I am sure that Mz. Sanchez of the Post is aware of that. Isn't she? Perhaps she will understand better now why we are more and more rabidly anti Castro, without any help from Miami.

By the way, there's most of the missing billion Hugo! You should make sure that your people cash the "balance due"! Geez... One cannot get good help these days...
Catch up posting!
Part 1: An article in the Washington Post

Wednesday 14, January 2004

I will not be able to post until Saturday or even next week. So today I will do a series of small posts to catch up with some recent issues that I addressed recently, or had in mind. I will start with an article from Marcela Sanchez, who I have already quoted a few months back. Although she has a rather a good understanding of the situation she still makes an occasional slip. Or is it that I am so jaded by what I read on Venezuela?

Venezuelans Get Sacrificed in Blame Game (washingtonpost.com)

One good paragraph:

This is mostly a challenge for the opposition that hasn't quite digested the fact that even if Chavez is recalled, Venezuelans would still be more inclined to vote for a candidate that is more like him and less like his predecessors. Furthermore, the opposition has yet to capture the hearts and minds of those who perceive that their priorities are still better addressed by Chavez, even if his efforts fall short.

Indeed! I am tired of addressing this subject either in Venezuela or through this blog. Perhaps there is something from that in the recent Primero Justicia blow up, but more on that in a later post.

A not so good paragraph:

A more inclusive, conciliatory leadership would be a better match for the country's own peaceful culture, which has shown considerable resilience during Chavez's divisive tenure. Such leadership would appeal to Venezuelans' pride and nationalism without antagonizing nearly the entire international community. The opposition certainly has greater cachet with powers abroad, but its decidedly anti- Castro posturing makes it appear more a Washington puppet and less a conciliatory Venezuelan movement.

I think she is confusing issues here. Elswhere in the article she criticizes the opposition to Cubans participating in social programs. She fails to realize that 1) Venezuelans have opposed Castrism since ever even though Venezuela had decent realtions with Cuba, 2) that many chavistas do not support the Cuban link and that it is more a result of a personal love affair between Chavez and Castro than a National wish among Venezuelans, and last but not least 3) that Chavez "deliberately" prefers Cubans to Venezuelans whenever he can get away with it, and that is what is criticized the most!

Nobody contests seriously that many Cubans are actually making a good job in poor neighborhoods. But Ms. Sanchez should know better and realize that many Cubans are also involved in covert activities and training chavistas to who knows what unholy end. That is the gut reaction that we express when we reject Castro intervention in Venezuela.

Monday, January 12, 2004

AN ELECTORAL RABBIT OUT OF THE HAT

Monday 12, January 2004

The president of Primero Justicia (PJ) has pulled out a fast one this week end, something that in my opinion can be quite important. Mr. Borges, president of Primero Justicia (Justice First) has brought forward what should have been public knowledge for all (including myself): legally there can be no regional and local elections until December 2004. Why is this so important?

Background.

According to the 1999 constitution and the laws that followed, regular elections can only be held in December, our election day being the first Sunday of December. With the constitutional change, and under the excuse of the transition period, once the new document was approved on 12/15/99, the electoral offices were put up for re-election in July 2000, instead of December 2000 as it should have been.

Furthermore, a ruling by the high court decided that the 6 months between 7/2000 and 12/2000 would be a ñapa, (a bonus) to the normal 12/2000 12/2004 term. This also applied to Chavez 6 year term, which became a 6 year + 6 months.

A Chavez trap?

By deciding to announce his candidates to prospective local elections in July 2004 Chavez set up a mechanism that until today was unchallenged. Amazingly we had to wait for four months of this initiative to find someone contesting the legality of it. Why? The urgent desire to see chavistas out of office? The general legal ignorance of people? I did wonder briefly about it a few weeks ago but I did not know the legalese of the case and I thought that some agreement had been made where from now on regional elections would be held every four years in July. But this is not possible apparently.

However Chavez by setting up the local election mechanism was slowly inducing the political greed of the opposition politicians to bloom. Indeed, if the opposition has much better numbers than in 2000, it stands to gain a few governorships and townships. For career politicians, suddenly, the recall election is not as important as their future career. And as a side bonus for Chavez it creates plenty of instances where the fragile opposition unity. This is due as the discrepancy between the unity wishes of the people and the lack of mechanism to decide the united candidates.

This malaise was part of the problem through December when the signatures collected it seemed that the traditional political hacks were more worried about how to decide the candidatures of July instead of defending the signatures.

The electoral surprise of Borges.

PJ might be a young party but it is learning fast. And of all the opposition movements it is probably the one that has its ear closer to what is happening in the streets. This is not a free declaration to stir the pot. It is likely that Mr. Borges is pursuing several things:

1) Have the movements within the Coordinadora Democratica (CD) face their immediate responsibility, the one that brought them together, the one that garnered them the people’s support, the Recall Election. No more dithering! This is what is killing enthusiasm since the signature drive!

2) Remind people that the problem is Chavez. His governors and mayors might be part of the problem but they are not the problem. The problem is Chavez.

3) Remind them that any talk of elections, of unique regional candidates is not only distracting but very complex, and plays into the hands of Chavez. If the Recall Election is held by late May, it will be much easier and less divisive to hold local elections in December, with probably even more votes to grab for the opposition as chavismo will be very diminished. But if local elections happen at or near an eventual Recall Election, without a mechanism of candidate selection, the infighting might turn off voters and allow Chavez to squeak by. A victory of Chavez at the Recall Election will demobilize the opponent electorate and perhaps allow him to regain most of the states and cities currently held by chavistas.

4) Bring back PJ to the front news, which seems to be working as can be heard tonight on TV when some of the apoplectic colleagues of PJ in the CD are making declarations to unity, declarations sorely missed through the holidays, and displaying their dislike of PJ incidentally (which might be a confession of PJ strength).

5) Force the CD to define once and for all how unified candidacies will achieved, in particular the one that matters, the one that will oppose the chavista candidate were the Recall Election be held and won.

I think that Mr. Borges was right to kick butt yesterday and tonight on TV. He might not reach the goal of elections in December 2004, but he might reach other more important goals such as reviving a somnolent CD. As days go it seems more and more that only PJ has a clue as to what is going on. Even old and wily Accion Democratica seems out of the loop. But the old coots might have the final trick, deal with Chavez directly. The PJ move might force that issue too, which might be a very good thing: it is time to know where the political class stand, with the people for the Recall Election, or for their own interests.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Danny Glover's vacation in Venezuela

Sunday 11, January 2004

Danny Glover, an African American actor, came to Venezuela this week. At first I did not pay much attention since I did not know who the man was. But in the papers, and in the blogosphere, his visit has created quite a stir. So I inquired further.

Mr. Glover claim to fame is to have starred with Mel Gibson in some rather violent cop movies, the ones you wipe away blood from your face when you leave the theater. No wonder I did not know the character, I tend to avoid these kind of entertainement. Interestingly for some people these type of movie acting can lead places, to the California Governor's mansion or to spokesperson of TransAfrica. This group, I understand, is a rather left wing African American group (radical chic even?). On the other side of the movie ticket, Mel Gibson is known for machismo, homophobic and anti Semitic controversies among others. Which goes to tell you that extremes have a surprising way to meet.

Mr. Glover arrived in Caracas this week announcing that he was here in a neutral visit to "observe" the fate of Venezuelan Blacks. A rather surprising statement when you land in a country where mestizo is the norm rather than the exception, where "pure Black" are counted in very few percentage points. Details, details. Surpises were not over: when the agenda was announced it turned out that Mr. Glover was going to meet with a whole series of chavista organizations and none from the other side. Mr. Glover cinematic career probably gave him a strange sense of neutrality.

But I will not go into the details, so many bloggers have got a field day on that: Guillermo "Open Letter to Danny Glover"; Miguel "Lethal Ignorance"; Scott; Gustavo "Danny Glover travels to Venezuela to show his support for Black Venezuelans" (and others that I might have missed).

My contribution will limit to two things, a comment on one visit of Mr. Glover, and something that I personally know of Transafrica.

Let’s start with Mr. Glover visit to Mr. Giordani, our minister of development, the very one that created the economic mess that triggered the 2002 devaluation and the unrest we live ever since. Fired in April 2002, reluctantly by Chavez who sees in Giordani a father figure cum guru, he was brought back to his position as soon as possible where he keeps plodding ahead in his fantasy economy constructs. Well, apparently he was only to happy to receive Mr. Glover. Rarely visitors to Mr. Giordani are reported, probably because few serious visitors come to his office, unless they try to get something out from him. Actually, now that I think of it I cannot remember of any major finance/economy minister visiting Venezuela in quite a while.

The result of that rather extensive visit are reported yesterday by El Nacional (subscription, sorry). Apparently Danny Glover got the full round up of the Venezuelan economy and prospects, something that even us in Venezuela are not granted by the minister who never speaks to the press. Imagine an economy minister never speaking to the press in the US or Europe!

But the best part was that Danny Glover was treated to the details of the Eje Orinoco Apure project. This nincompoopy project aimed at developing the least developed area of Venezuela through the Orinoco and Apure rivers has more to do with the (in)famous projects of the extinct USSR to drain rivers in some forsaken deserts rather than any serious scheme. If the area is lightly settled and only has a little bit of cattle ranching, there must be reason for it. Perhaps strengthening first was is already there would be a good way to start, but glorious revolutions are not known for gradualism. But after this famous visit WE KNOW NOW the real reasons for the Orinoco-Apure!!!! According to El Nacional, Giordani said that the implementation of this plan would allow Mr. Glover to star in action adventure movies filmed there!!!!!!! Glory Be!!!

To close this post I would like to mention some information about the TransAfrica Forum that I did get personally and that the local Venezuelan Press has chosen to ignore. I did get a letter from an African American that visited Venezuela late last year and that left the country without a particularly good impression of its authorities and the glorious revolution. This person, for the record, cannot be qualified as Republican Black since among other things he opposes the Cuban embargo. But he seems to have seen the light on his brief stay in Venezuela. Well, he wrote me a few days later of his attending the TransAfrica fund raising show using the movie "The Revolution will not be televised", a manipulation of the Venezuelan reality now plagued by scandal. Apparently he was not impressed with the motives of the attendance of the show in Washington DC and was kind enough to share this data with me. Although I do not share the mail that I receive (it says private, the "talk back" feature is for public comment), I will post an excerpt from one of his letters to me (and I will invite him to post further here if he wishes).

The event last night was put on partially by the TransAfrica Forum. A political group that I receive their event schedule. I was impressed by them and their standing up for disadvantaged people in the Caribbean, Central and South America and Africa. I just wish they and other citizens of the USA would call a wrong a wrong no matter who does it. I find we as Blacks in this country are far to willing to overlook wrongs performed by leaders we like. Don't get me wrong I like the fact that Fidel has stood up to the USA for all these years and I think the embargo against Cuba should be lifted but I don't like the fact that the Cuban people cannot speak their minds on fear of being imprisoned. So I say Embargo NO, Fidel NO. As the saying goes two wrongs don't make a right.

Clear and loud from Washington DC.

My personal interpretation when I put 2 and 2 together is that the intentions of TransAfrica are not necessarily all holy and like many of these groups, fringe or not, some of its members subconciously strive in perpetuating cliches and divisions, for their self-perpetuation in office. This does not stop Danny Glover from getting a big kick out of his visit here, at least seen from a picture of him dancing at the opening of the Martin Luther King school in Naiguata. By the way Danny, what would this unquestioned noble soul think of the violence promoted by Chavez?

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Qaddafi and Chavez
The school of left wing authoritarianism, Venezuela or Libya

Saturday 10, January 2004

A few months ago I did write about some perturbing similarities between the mess that Zimbabwe has become and the mess that Venezuela is becoming. Yesterday the New York Times had an article on the recent decision of Qaddafi to give up any suspicious weapon program that he might have. I have picked up a few sentences that feel too eerily close to home. The words from the Times article are adequately pasted as Libyan green.

These experts agree that the main factors underlying his decision [to give up his illicit weapons programs] are more likely to be his disastrous economic policies at home, the squandering of Libya's bountiful oil resources and a deepening isolation that threatens any hopes for the country's future.

Squandering oil wealth? What has Chavez done with 3 full years of high oil prices?

"Qaddafi has always had a messianic complex," one Western expert said of the unpredictable army officer, who seized power in 1969. "He feels that God has been unfair to him by making him the leader of a small country of five million people, and he always imagined himself walking on a larger stage, like president of the United States."

Messianic complex? We know all about that in Venezuela. Chavez wants at the very least to be the heir of Castro. Quite often his subconscious betrays him when he speaks of a reborn Gran Colombia, the short lived state that encompassed Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. His, fortunately tuned down, pretense to be the direct spiritual heir of Bolivar is in all memories.

Having failed to exert power as an Arab leader in a region that has largely shunned his erratic policies, Colonel Qaddafi has sought in the last decade to reinvent himself as an African leader, lavishing financial aid and oil supplies on a destitute continent, including some on pariahs like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Having failed to woo leaders of South America Chavez has turned to the trouble-makers. Evo Morales of Bolivia is the latest example.

But none of those attempts to find legitimacy have delivered what Libya needs most: an infusion of Western investment, especially in its oil industry, whose production has declined steadily from a peak of 3.3 million barrels a day in the late 1970's to about 1.4 million barrels a day now, industry experts say.

Venezuela own oil industry has dropped dramatically. Only the few fields managed by foreign contractors are maintaining the out put by dangerous overexploitation. Yet, we were above 3 million in 2002 but we are down to 2.5 and going down, according to all reports from foreign reception of oil. Seriously audited numbers from Venezuela are unavailable.

As a result, much of Libya looks like its poor neighbors. Its schools, hospitals and airports have deteriorated, and its national airline is dangerous to fly, Western pilots say. "They would like to have Boeing aircraft and rebuild their fleet," one Westerner said.

Venezuela as shown a marked pauperization, from the informal vendors taking downtown streets of most cities, to the ruinous state of hospitals and schools. Of course, a few showcase items are in the works such as a renovated airport for Caracas. Visitors see that first.

The arrival of satellite television and the Internet since the late 1990's - much later than they appeared in most Arab countries- has given rise to what professors call an "electronic perestroika," an opening to the outside world that has shocked many Libyans into a realization of the backward conditions they live in.

This is probably the reason why Chavez has not succeeded yet in taking over the way he would like to. There is something to be said for mass communication in the early XXI century.

Seven months later, Mr. Ghanim's claim to have privatized 360 state companies is more fiction than reality, foreign diplomats say, but he is trying to rebuild the institutions of public administration that Colonel Qaddafi spent years tearing down to prevent any competitor for power from emerging.

That tearing down of any potential competitor is what Chavez is doing. No institutions have survived the chavista onslaught. The very few, like the Central Bank, that somehow were revamped by serious minded pro-Chavez people are indeed turning against Chavez excesses and he is trying to sack the office holders. Only submissive organizations can be tolerated.

"This is a micromanaged country," said one diplomat. "If a light bulb burns out, no one dares to change it until he gets permission from the leader."

Well, it does not go that far in Venezuela yet. However it is well known that no minister will make any significant, not important, just significant decision without "consulting". The Venezuelan public administration, slow from the start, has got down to an ice age pace.

"He is the chief of his tribe, and he wants most of all for his family to be at the helm of the ship," a European diplomat observed.

Chavez tribe is extensive and well provisioned. One brother is close at hand on sensitive political positions. His father was elected to his home state, Barinas, in 1998 on the breath of Chavez. The Barinas administration is reported employing relatives of Chavez. And the tribe is quite extensive if you consider those faithful from 1992 that already then bowed to any wish and whim of the great leader, such as Diosdado Cabello, the multi-ministered acolyte, the closest to the big patronage positions.

It is not pointless to recall that Chavez is the only elected head of state to have visited the post Gulf War I Saddam Hussein. In that trip he also made a stop in Libya where Qaddafy personally toured him at the US raid bombing sites, museum like preserved. Whether the US bombing was justified is a different question, but Qaddafy and Hussein are/were heads of pariah states during that visit, and certainly they have no democratic credential, nor were democratically elected. The lack of regard for this fact speaks volume on Chavez real motivations for Venezuela's future.

We have a saying in Venezuela:

Dios los cria y ellos se juntan

(God breeds them and they find each other)

Indeed.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Back home!

Friday 9, January 2004

I finally drove back yesterday to Yaracuy to resume work. The dry season has started. When I drove to Caracas on December 20 late rains had kept all lush and green. But we got strong weird dry winds for several days between Christmas and New Year and the effect on the vegetation can already be seen as the seasonal dryness is catching up fast. On the other hand we do get cooler temperatures at night and luminous skies. Until late January that is, then comes the worse part of the year until rains come again, sometime in May.

Road traffic was still relatively light as about half of the country is still on vacation. One of the AC at work is broke and the service company is closed until next Monday... Other suppliers and clients are reopening this Wednesday as we did, or next Monday. It is quite amazing how many sectors of the country shut solid for three full weeks this time of year.

On the other hand Chavez's mouth is already working full speed. Conflict in the National Assembly has already started as the chavista side is pushing all the orders from above. They do have until April to secure control of the High Court to block a referendum. They need to produce money for vote buying ASAP to prepare the campaign just in case; and too bad for credit rating and inflation.

In addition some changes have been made in the Army commands to neutralize "unreliable" components. Or so go the analysts. But who knows what really is going on inside the barracks. As long as Chavez can lavish money on the Army I suppose that they will stay quiet, if not supporting deliberately Chavez.

The interesting news really is that Garcia Carneiro, the commander of the Army has been named defense secretary. This officer is not one of the brightest one of the armed forces, barely making the grade. But he was wise enough to tie his fate to Chavez and accept to perform all sorts of tasks from him, including selling produce on Avenida Bolivar at discount rates while the Colombian border becomes a Colombian guerilla freeway. He has no charisma whatsoever but he "looks" like the people and he has managed to convince Chavez of his loyalty. It seems that he is becoming an experiment of sorts: how to transform a mediocre soldier into an acceptable political candidate, as Chavez seems to be running out of acceptable candidates. Certainly Chavez has shown a consistent dislike of the civil sector, preferring any time he can to put soldiers in key public service position. Garcia Carneiro already known for spreading the revolutionary largesses to the masses is certainly a candidate for cross over to the pseudo civilian world that Chavez would like so much to create. A world used to follow orders blindly, even if the orders are ridiculous. Once a soldier...

It seems that while the country was enjoying the season's bounties Chavez was diligently at work on his cause. What was the oppositon doing?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Yet another wanna-be fascist moment

Wednesday 7, Janaury 2004

I am stuck in Caracas for work and actually had to learn the news of the day reading Miguel's post today.

In a nut shell, Chavez is still insisting on getting his hands on the day to day reserves of the Central Bank. Besides showing a total ignorance on how a monetary system is run, it demonstrates once again his utter disregard for the rule of law. It seems that today was yet another page taken from the "HOW TO" series, namely how to establish an authoritarian state. It came complete with "spontaneous demonstrations", threats "in the name of the people that want what is theirs" (don't I have some rights myself on that money?), emotional blackmail and what not. Plus a few assorted "cadenas" through the day.

But do not be fooled by Chavez rhetoric, the real objectives are:

1- bend to his will one of the last institutions that still try to work by the book
2- get some cash for distribution among his followers
3- distract the opinion from the Recall Election
4- try to provoke something, anything, that will allow him at the very least to delay any election that he cannot control.

Expect further actions in the coming days, from outright intervention of the Central Bank to a "spontaneous" workers take over of the Parmalat assets in Venezuela. Anything to occupy the front pages and pretend to be leading the country "for the people and against the ennemies of the people". Authoritarian characters (fascists?) are very good at inventing ennemies when needed to justify the unjustifiable. Even when they claim to be from the left political side, acting for the poor and the forgotten. Look at Zimbabwe! Same difference! Except that trains are still not running on time. Or whatever symbol of efficiency you pick if there are no trains.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Dia de Reyes
Reyes: The Kings (the magii or the three wise men)

Tuesday 6, January 2004

Today is the end of the holiday season when we commemorate the supposed visit to baby Jesus by the three wise men. Many homes get their presents today (which makes much more sense to me, the Spaniards got it right!). Those homes that do not get presents, like mine, still get a special pastry with something hidden inside. Whoever gets the prize is the queen or king for the day. This might be silly but the special pastry is anything but silly.

We will thus bury the holiday season with yet another nice cake. And the diet will start in earnest tomorrow. At my place it is the day we take down all Christmas decoration. But this is an European custom, many Venezuelan homes are not adverse at keeping their decorations for a week or two more, some until February 2! But this is overkill if you ask me...

It is also the day when all the TV Christmas jingles mercifully end (though they have been going down since New Year day).
Vacation almost over

Monday 5, January 2004 (blogger down again...)

Yep, soon I will be back to work in Yaracuy so I am trying to finish as many vacation projects as I can finish. Including a few hikes in the Avila Mountains to try to work out some Christmas damage.

Nothing much happening fortunately. This morning though was the official return of politics. And they were as usual but worse. That is, on Monday morning talk shows the chavistas attending seemed to have all the same language no matter what the topic at hand. You guessed right, the "megafraude" of the opposition. The discourse is now finely honed to an elemental "the massive fraud of the opposition will be uncovered finally" but we are still waiting for a serious evidence able to invalidate, say, 100 000 signatures.

It is so ridiculous that this morning I was wondering what would one of these Chavez agents would say if the journalist asked "Is the sky blue this morning?". Probably "It would have been bluer had the opposition not falsified the signatures". But perhaps I should worry, repeating the same leitmotiv over and over again might have some effect in a country where journalists are not very good at asking the tough and real questions. One full month after the signature collection some people might start forgetting what really happened. And buy Chavez line.

The other interesting item is that some recent polls give somewhat better numbers for Chavez. With the Christmas lull and the money spread over the last three months this is normal. However at least one poll reported that the numbers of other chavista officials were not improving. I have not been able to track that particular poll yet so I do not want to speculate too much on it. I heard on TV that the chavista office holder numbers represent the real hard core Chavez vote. Thus the bonus gained by Chavez might be very weak and hardly sustainable without an improvement of the economy, a real one that is, creating real jobs. We’ll see.

I probably will write from Yaracuy next.

Friday, January 02, 2004

The New Year’s post

Thursday 1, January 2004
(But posted on 2, blogger being down...)

If you are expecting big revelations from my New Year partying you will be very disappointed. I have always found New Year a particularly artificial holiday, with the aggravations of being noisy and expensive, noisy being the key word in Caracas. Thus, my New Year experiences have mostly been as an observer, with a drink in hand perhaps, but an observer rather than a reveler. But keep with me and I will let you know of one very unexpected and gratifying reward last night.

The day was strangely gloomy for the season, and for the first time since I have memory of December 31 in Caracas, the afternoon was cold and drizzly. Cold in the tropics is anything below 20C. I thought it to be a rather troubling symbol to say goodbye to the gloomiest year in our recent history. I did have to make an errand in downtown Caracas, and under that strange unseasonable weather (1) the mess, dirt and lack of upkeep of Caracas were put more in evidence than usual. Caracas looked almost like a bombed city! Rather depressing.

This year as usual I settled for a nice diner with some relatives. I did get asked to go to Plaza Altamira for the gigantic street partying that took place there. Really... I mean, I have nothing against collective street partying, but I find that my reserves dwindle real fast as noise and crowd size increase. So there we were at a little before midnight, barely done with diner, looking outside waiting for fireworks. Fireworks in Venezuela are big at Christmas and at New Years. Midnight can eventually become so smoky that after a while you cannot see anymore the weakest or distant bolts. Indeed, it is a source of amazement for me how many people do buy those incredibly expensive fireworks that would do proud a small US town on July 4th.

This year it was a little bit different. Usually between December 15 and January 2, there is no way you can have a complete night sleep: some jerk will blast something around 3 AM. Let’s just say that thanks to Chavez recession, this year we slept better than usual. However, fireworks might have been fewer this year but they were all saved for the New Year gap at 11:30-12:30, in as good a display as usual, if much briefer. I was actually very pleased by that. The holidays have been a little bit depressed this year. Few houses did outside lighting, and most of those that did were rather discreet affairs. Shopping was down considerably. The mood in the streets was not too hot. The Christmas fire works were nothing to write home about. When a country goes down 11.7 % down on its per capita income in one year cheerful folks are not to be expected. I do read this brief and unexpected sparkling outburst as a positive sign that people spirits are indeed looking forward. Venezuelans might have had a less than glitzy holiday, but consciously they all seemed to have targeted the year switch to show their optimism for better days.

The divine surprise came from TV of all places. Chavistas had announced some organized revelry in front of Miraflores to wait for a new and bright year with the great leader. On the other side of town opposition mayors tried to repeat what had happened last year for the first time: a Times Square like wait for the New Year. In the middle of the general strike, lacking gas and partying facilities it sort of made sense to go all out on foot to wait together for a the New Year as a gesture of defiance against Chavez. But this year? Surely people would go to their old partying habits. Instead the crowds were huge. A giant stage had been placed near Plaza Altamira and the Francisco de Miranda avenue became the latest salsa dancing arena. Close to midnight all but one of the networks switched to show the partying, waiting for midnight and following the very nice fireworks display, courtesy of Chacao town hall.

The lone dissenting network was VTV, the state network. Instead this one showed some kind of indoor concert featuring some Cuban group with a lousy Celia Cruz wanna-be. Rather pathetic. And no crowds to be filmed outside Miraflores (or anywhere else for that matter). Come on! Whenever there is any single meeting in front of Miraflores VTV cameras are right there showing the "incredible popular support to our president". For all the talk of megafraud for the signature drives, it seems that even chavistas went to Altamira for a good time, as the crowds shown on TV seem to indicate, by the way. This was precious, the vaunted chavista party nowhere to be seen.

Incidentally VTV was the news by its lack of news. In Venezuela all networks tone down their shows and talk shows, relying on old movies and a few specials which look strangely more like a party broadcast than a Christmas special US style. VTV in spite of the arrival of a new director was particularly dismal. Its fare for the last two weeks has consisted almost exclusively of re-broadcast of the "best" shows of 2003, meaning the opinion talk shows that best defended Chavez. Almost no paid advertisement, but instead all the ministries sort of put up a choral of their employees to transmit along the minister a holiday message. I will pass on the low technical merit. Unbelievable!!!!! This for a government that through the last few months promised a "Christmas that will count for two" as a clear reference to the missed holidays of last year. Well, if you ask me, certainly VTV did its best to dampen Christmas. It is in these little things that one detects the true despair of the administration, how scared they are running these days, how real the number of signatures against Chavez.

I find myself this January first in a much better mood than expected. Or is it because the lack of hangover?


(1) The rainy season ends late November and December rains are rare, in particular in the second half. Those are the most luminous, cool and dry days in Venezuela, the best time to visit as all is still green from the recent rains, but the humidity and heat are gone. By late February heat comes back, and all is brown and dusty.

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