Monday, January 31, 2005

Dissenting with Chavez

In a previous post, I raised the issue of shaking up the tags and false clichés that have been successfully attached by the Chavistas to any dissenting person. The fact is that the Chavez movement is one that accepts no dissension, practical or philosophical. It is the negation of dissension what makes Chavismo such a dangerous and undemocratic political current. For the Chavistas, any dissenting voice is dangerous, anyone that disagrees with their politics must be ridiculed or set aside and, if it becomes a potential threat, persecuted.

Since Chavez took power, the government has infiltrated or changed every single democratic institution. This is a government that wants to have absolutely everything under control. Even non-political institutions like hospitals or research centers must be taken over by the Chavistas.

When AD or Copei ran the country, despite the flagrant partisan spirit that was present in the government, and despite the attempts by either party to try to have as much control as possible of the institutions, there was no intrinsic fear of dissension. We were far from having an ideal government, but one could find dissenting voices at several levels. The Universities, the Supreme Court, the Unions, are just some of the examples. More importantly, at that time, dissenting was something nobody had ever thought about. It was neither defined nor feared. If people did not agree with the government, they did not agree, end of it. Yes, some civil servant jobs depended on the color of your party, but the fact that that color was wrong did not bring intrinsic fear of persecution.

The situation is quite different now, especially after the Revoking Referendum. People are afraid, not in an extreme way like in old totalitarian regimes, but afraid noneless in a very subtle way. For instance, they are afraid that the well deserved promotion that should be given soon would not materialize because “they signed”. Afraid that they will not get the dollars to travel abroad or to import goods for their company because “they signed”. Afraid to lose their jobs, even if they were hold through different governments, because “they signed”. Afraid that a passport or an ID card will be denied if the “signed” light turns on. Afraid that their retirement benefits would not be approved because “they signed”. The act of signing for the Revoke Referendum, a perfectly legal act guaranteed by the Venezuelan constitution, has been considered by the Chavistas as a valid reason to blacklist those that exerted that right. Today, one blogger wrote about a personal example of this situation.

To understand how important that subtle fear is one must understand that in Venezuela almost everything depends on the government. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan economy depends almost exclusively on the oil rent. In Venezuela someone used to say that there were not “good or bad governments” but rather “high or low oil prices”. Thus, people’s jobs either depend directly on the government (civil servants, researchers, university professors, hospital employees, etc.) or indirectly (consulting firms, service companies, exporting and importing companies, etc.).

Now, where does this fear of dissension come from? In part the explanation can be found in the military background of President Hugo Chavez. We must not forget that Chavez is not an ordinary retired lieutenant-colonel. He was in the army when he tried to overthrow a legitimate government and was later forced to retire to get a presidential pardon and run for president. In the army, there is no room for dissension and I think that such military directive has been widely adopted by the government of Hugo Chavez. If one pays attention to Chavez words, it is indeed easy to realize that he very often uses military terms and that his political strategy equates to a military strategy.

Sadly, there is a large group of bright, prepared and entrepreneurial people among the Venezuelan dissenting voices. Unfortunately, Chavez confrontational style, dictatorial manners and fear of dissention have kept away those talented and dynamic Venezuelans. Chavez has not learned that in order to rebuild the country he needs those people. And to attract those people he needs let go of his fear of dissension. In order for the country to bounce back of six years of divisions, he needs to build a real democracy where dissension will be listened to and the opposition would not be set aside, but rather consulted.

A democracy where all the ballot papers will be counted.

A nice picture of El Supremo

While preparing my next post, I was browsing through the ministry of information web page. I found a picture that very much supports the thesis of “The Eternal Chavez” that I wrote about in a previous post. There is a problem linking to the exact page, so try to access the ministry of information page first, next click on “Alo Presidente” (first icon on your right), click on “entrar” and then click on “respuestas al pueblo” ( first item on the left column). I will not tell you what it reminds me of, but it was so striking that I think that it should be clear for everybody.

Special note. To the efficient MINCI guys: please do not remove the source like you did with “notas en positivo” after I reported some of your good news in my post. I would hate to have to take a snapshot of every single thing that I see in your web pages. Besides it is a very artistic picture. Many thanks!
Jorge Arena.

P.S. Thanks to JF for giving a direct link.

News item: Chavez tells Social Forum that "socialism is not dead"

This reads like bad satire, resembling something out of Mark Twain -- 'all tears and flapdoodle':

Porto Alegre, Brazil, Jan 30 (EFE).- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told activists attending the World Social Forum Sunday that "socialism is not dead" and announced an "agrarian revolution" in his country, with the seizure of 20 million hectares (49.3 million acres).

Chavez visited Lagoa dos Juncos, a ranch belonging to the MST Landless Movement in Tapes, some 174 kilometers (108 miles) from Porto Alegre, where the World Social Forum is being held.Lagoa dos Juncos is being run as a model cooperative by the MST.

"For those who say that socialism is dead, here are the people demonstrating that it did not die with the USSR," Chavez told some 300 activists, most of them bused in from Porto Alegre and forced to walk five kilometers (3.1 miles) cross country for security reasons.

"A failed model of statism died, which was slowly poisoned and there was no way to rectify it in time," Chavez said, referring to the former Soviet Union.

Chavez condemned capitalism and denied that it could solve the world's problems."Convince yourselves, those who still harbor doubts, that there is no solution to poverty or misery, because capitalism is the cause, it is at the root of the great problems of inequality in the world, of exploitation and misery," Chavez said.

Chavez delivered his address to an audience made up of MST leaders and activists, as well as representatives of peasant organizations from across the region.

The Venezuelan leader was accompanied on the stage by Brazilian agricultural workers leader Joao Pedro Stedile, the rightist governor of Rio Grande do Sul state, Germano Rigotto, and other local leaders.

Chavez told the audience that he too was a "peasant."

The Venezuelan president said the World Social Forum was "the most important political event held in the world each year" and that his country was "ready" to host the gathering in 2006, when it will be split up into parallel events on three or four continents.

The forum, the annual "summit" of the antiglobalization movement, opened last Wednesday in Porto Alegre.Some 120,000 activists from more than 100 countries converged on Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, for the 5th World Social Forum.The city also hosted the first three parallel gatherings to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. EFE ol/hv

Sunday, January 30, 2005

El Supremo Jets Off To Porto Alegre - and Juan Forero Follows

So El Supremo, according to this Alabama newspaper, the only one I see running the item, is off to Porto Alegre, Brasil for the 'reverse Davos' known as the World Social Forum, or, The Mother Of All Sandalista Festivals.

A friend told me last week he'd be there for only one day, at last plans, and he'd be talking about land reform. Given Supremo's reported propensity to trash hotel rooms, it's probably more than figurative damage control.

It will be an awkward place anyway. Porto Alegre's voters got a good look at these annual visiting political tourists, and all the garbage, graffiti and bad manners they bring, and voted to throw out the leftwing government that had the bright idea to host these creeps. In elections last October, they voted in some rightwingers who will be less accomodating to political tourists. The Brasilians' newfound lack of love for such meddlers gives some scope to the depth of citizens' loathing of sandalistas wherever they descend the globe. It's a different world now.

Land reform. Hugo Chavez isn't talking about property rights, the way cutting-edge economist Hernando de Soto does - and its primacy as a medium for establishing rule of law. Chavez is advocating Zimbabwe-style confiscations of working farms.

This trip coincides with a tightly-timed Chavez propaganda blitz in the U.S. media. Chavez's chief apologist, Juan Forero of the New York Times, was right on the job, timing his hideous 'land-reform' story exactly to the day his master in Caracas will advance his 'land-reform' agenda at Porto Alegre. He's Chavez's advance-man.

Forero's desinformatsiya is weeks late from when the actual news was being reported by reputable news organizations, but timed just right for Chavez's day at the podium. Forero dusts off old arguments we've not heard since the 1980s, claiming that land reform is the criticial issue of our day, and thousands of farmers everywhere are just waiting for the government to redistribute land from the efficient users of it. As if effienciency just kind of 'happens' and has nothing to do with efficient people.

To read this kind of Forero talk, you'd think the only solution would be to give land to anyone who's poor, regardless of whom you take it from. As if backbreaking labor, collectivization and tiny subsistence farms - care to cut Cuban sugar cane, anyone? - is the big aspiration of the world's destitute.

In Forero's out-of-it worldview, there is no such thing as urbanization, the great move to the cities seen from Lima to Port-au-Prince to Mexico City to Bogota (plus Africa's and Asia's megacities) which - yes, Hernando de Soto again - documented in his brilliant book 'The Other Path.'

In Chavez's own country, 90% of the population is now urban. And the government owns 60% of the land. For the 10% who need land, it's quite solvable. Government land is right there.

But that's not what this is about. This is about Chavez targetting private farms, the kind that have put in running water and roads to markets, and declaring them 'idle.' Juan Forero follows this party line exactly, conveniently omitting to mention that these working farms' operations have been disrupted by chavista squatters.

The Forero argument about 'land reform' also ignores ten years' of economic discovery. Why are there fewer farms now? Globalization and what economists call 'competitive advantage' have driven inefficient subsistence farms out of business and enabled large operations (that can afford GPS systems, expensive tilling equipment, automatic harvesting, high-tech storage, effective fertilizers and insecticides, and fast access to world markets) to survive. Forero makes the specious argument that too few people own the land but in the U.S., it's a lot less than 1% of the population that owns the farmland - only 3% of our population is rural.

This rationalization of agriculture has driven down the cost of food for consumers worldwide and made food more readily available in places where food was scarce. That's food for poor people, I might add.

In the hyperefficient U.S. we grow so much food we burn it for auto fuel! In Castro's collectivized Cuba, people have so little food they freeze water into ice so that what they consume 'feels' more like a meal.

Tech advances in agriculture of course displace small farmers (and I have relatives in the U.S. who've been affected!), who must move to the cities where life is comparatively better, but that's why it must be discussed seriously is an URBAN issue, not a 'land-reform' issue!

Chavez's Zimbabwe approach is the only known guarantee of coming food shortages. Forero slyly brings up Zimbabwe in his propaganda piece, in an attempt to distance Chavez from it. He's lying, of course. It sounds like something Cuban propaganda specialists might suggest to him to do.

Forero also boldly advocates the chavista line that if Chavez could just forcibly redistribute land and end all private property rights, all would be prosperous in Venezuela. He quotes some chavista squatters as his 'authorities,' and attempts to sway us through emotion since his retro arguments about the worldwide need for 'land reform' at the top of the piece are so bad.

Now Chavez can happily cite the New York Times article and you can bet you'll see it appear on his chief propagandists' Web sites - Venezuela Information Office and Global Exchange soon as 'educationals.' Chavez can use this Forero propaganda at his speeches in Porto Alegre and hope he will not be dismissed as 'irrelevant' or 'a Froot Loop' as an earlier item I wrote put it.

This is Chavez's bid to re-frame the terms of debate on his own outdated 1980s arguments and not be a laughingstock. Juan Forero is more than a little happy to accomodate him, just when Chavez needs him.

It's propaganda, the real thing.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Nelson Feeling The Political Heat

Here's an interesting twist - today Senator Bill Nelson's come out with a defense of his embarassing political tour to Venezuela. Nelson's a Democrat who represents politically sensitive Florida, and could easily lose his seat over his coddling of the Venezuelan dictator. Given the negative news about Chavez in the US since his trip, he's bound to be worried. Chavez has confiscated farmlands, destroyed freedom of speech, screwed American oil companies, jailed opponents, stiffed bondholders and harbored Colombian terrorists. With news like that getting out, no wonder Nelson's decided to try a little spin control with the newspapers to reach voters.

Nelson is the most politically moderate of the three senators who went to see Chavez - Senator Christopher Dodd and Senator Lincoln Chaffee are far more to the left politically. But, like Dodd, defending his Chavez junket through the newspapers - local ones, a sign he's thinking of voters. He wrote one today to a local Vero Beach newspaper which apparently had criticized his trip.

In his letter, Nelson used the same dreary unconvincing arguments about Chavez's 'democratically elected' government as Dodd.

But Nelson's language is harsher, and this is probably a function of his being on a much hotter seat politically, as a political consultant friend detailed here, in 'Shilling for the New Castro.'

It may be a wasted effort. Look how desperate Nelson is to sound like tough on communism. Somehow I don't think it will wash with the Florida voters as easily as Dodd's item in the Washington Post will go over with the Beltway and Connecticut crowds. But here is what he writes (I highlighted his noticeably 'tough' language in bold italicized typeface, along with some notes of my own speculating on his thoughts in bold parentheses) See what you think:

..........................................................................................
Bill Nelson: Senator tries to bring Venezuela dictator to 'political center'

January 29, 2005

As a nation that values freedom, what should we do when a democratically elected leader, like Chavez, starts to dismantle his country's democratic institutions and threatens our economic security?

Your Jan. 22 editorial [first 'Thumbs Down' item] pointed out that in Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, there has been an erosion of democracy and constant America-bashing. And while the editorial correctly noted that I have been highly critical of Chavez's ties to Colombian guerrillas and Fidel Castro, the author very wrongly concluded I am "unfazed" or "turning a blind eye" to his more recent political excesses.

Let me set the record straight: There can be no tolerance of his dictatorial behavior. And what's in the best interest of the United States is to try to bring Chavez back toward the political center. Otherwise, we'll have a terrible mess on our hands with our country's fourth largest oil supplier.

So serious is the potential for such an economic mess that the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, recently asked the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress to examine our preparedness to deal with the very real possibility of a disruption in our oil supply from Venezuela.

Because I share the Republican senator's concern, I traveled to Venezuela with a bipartisan (read: there was a Republican among us, we weren't all the usual leftist sandalistas who drive away voters here!) delegation of lawmakers to assess firsthand the troubling political excesses by Chavez there, as well as the chances of improving our relationship.

And just one day after my return, during the confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state, I urged that the administration make it a priority to develop an energy policy that reduces our dependence on unstable foreign suppliers — a fact your editorial ignores.
Dr. Rice agreed with me (See? I'm not such a sandalista! Condi agreed with me on something!) and added that she hopes Chavez will not undertake actions that do further harm to the mutually beneficial energy relationship that the United States and Venezuela share. No one can deny that Chavez has been repressive toward his political opponents and irresponsible in his international conduct. (I heard the Alo Presidente tape and saw the cartoon.)

Unfortunately, he was democratically elected which you also ignore. The Venezuelan people, by solid majorities, have chosen him on separate occasions, including the recent recall referendum, which the Organization of the American States and the Carter Center judged to be legitimate.
As a nation that values freedom, what should we do when a democratically elected leader, like Chavez, starts to dismantle his country's democratic institutions and threatens our economic security?

Be assured that I, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, will continue to work with President Bush and the new secretary of state (See? I'm with Bush and popular Condi, not damn Dodd!) to have the U.S. vigorously stand up for democratic principles and American interests in Venezuela.

That's why, during my face-to-face meeting with Chavez, I told him we find some of his policies and actions unacceptable (I'll bet), and our relationship cannot help but be harmed if he continues down his current path.

Nelson is Florida's senior U.S. senator. The Democrat serves on the Senate's Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Commerce and Budget committees.

http://www.tcpalm.com/tcp/pj_edt_columnists/article/0,2546,TCP_1127_3505648,00.html

Rice gets the nod, a symbol for Venezuela

Now that I have shamelessly caught your attention....

Thursday I was caught by the CNN headline of Rice getting an 85 to 13 vote confirmation but with the highest NO since Henry Clay in the XIX century. This did bother me some: right there I sensed number manipulation for the sake of sensational headlines. Of course, further details confirmed that I was right.

The number first. When Henry Clay made it secretary of state he had 40% against him and there were barely 25 states. A comparison across the scale of time is ridiculous.

Second, those who voted against. Most of the true blue liberals in congress. Which is to be expected, Iraq being at the heart of the confirmation hearing. But what was more the point is that 70% of the democrats did vote for Rice whereas GOP Chafee did not have the guts to vote against her. Which should tell you two things: that 13 NO is pure posturing, and that the system worked.

The system worked? Would scream an anti Bush citizen! Yes, because the point of the confirmation hearing is that the senate decides if the appointee is fit to do the job, to follow the policies of the president that was elected. And any reasonable person even disagreeing profoundly with the policies of Bush and the unquestionable loyalty of Rice will realize that Rice can be a secretary of state.

The system also worked because there was an opportunity to contest, to expose in a public debate widely followed the Bush policies in Iraq, which is the main concern of the US (see a previous Mora post).

And now my point: in Venezuela we have a constant changing of ministers. At no point we have an opportunity to examine their qualifications for office, and even less to discuss the policies that they are supposed to defend. In Venezuela the only thing that matters is the word of Chavez. And amazingly, religiously like, people follow (read the Milagros Socorro article in Spanish posted in Vcrisis, or the Arena post) .

It is inconceivable today in Venezuela to have a minister go to the National Assembly and respond to tough questions the way Ms. Rice had to do (or any other nominee of Bush, Clinton, Bush 1, Reagan, Carter, etc...). That by itself speaks volume as to our supposed democracy.



Chavez's Unrequited Desire for 'Engagement'

Senator Chris Dodd makes protestations to the Washington Post about its Venezuela editorials, insisting he knows more about Venezuela than either real Venezuelans or the Post, because he went on a congressional package tour to hobnob with The Thug of Miraflores, 'in the second week of January.'

Dodd you schmuck.

It'll take nausea pills for the rest of us to get though Dodd's letter, but I post excerpts here:

Mr. Chavez's rule highlights a broader U.S. foreign policy challenge: how to respond to democratically elected leaders whose actions challenge established democratic institutions. I believe that the institutions of democracy must be nurtured and encouraged, regardless of who is in office. They should not be relegated to the shadows simply because we don't share the political views of an elected leader of the moment. That means we must keep the door open to dialogue.

In the case of Mr. Chavez, dialogue may serve as a restraint on his most controversial policies. We know that isolating him has not. Mr. Chavez had encouraging words to say to us about wanting to reengage with the United States. We welcomed those words but told him that the course of our relationship will be decided by whether he lives up to the principles of democracy.


Chris you gullible fool. First of all, your hero of La Revolucion is not democratically elected, he's in office after a recall referendum dripping with fraud. And that's something well known among Venezuela's people, but not you. You'll 'get it' when Chavez's regime is over and a real democracy takes root. Maybe it's your background that blinds you. You're a charter sandalista, so as usual, you'll be on the wrong side of history. Happens to you a lot, doesn't it?

Your disingenous statement about 'relegated to the shadows because we disagree with their politics' is an unusually large slice of baloney. The U.S. under rightwing George Bush gets along famously with leaders like Lucio Gutierrez of Ecuador, Tony Blair of the U.K., President Lula of Brasil, President Lagos of Chile - all socialists of different flavors, but every last one of them a democrat! Every single one of them is willing to leave office when his term expires, and all of them are respectful of dissent and their country's opposition. Your strongman Chavez does not have a thing in common with them.

Why don't you ask these particular left-leaning leaders what they think of El Supremo, hmmm? Instead of insultingly lumping Chavez in with them, like gold and fool's gold, to accuse the U.S. of not getting along with anyone who's not of the same ideological stripe! Chris you don't even understand democracy, and you're supposed to be the Big Boy here!

But let's get down to brass tacks, Chris: Would that 'door open to dialogue' be the same kind of dialogue we heard broadcast on 'Alo Presidente'? You know, that dialogue small children listening to Venezuelan radio heard about 'sacrifices' for the country? (Never mind the 'gag law' in this case.) If that's your idea of 'dialogue' you've spent too much time talking dirty with Bianca Jagger, party boy.

And would that 'reengagement' you pontificate about be the carnal kind, as Chavez's newspaper Diario VEA suggested? Perhaps you'd like to tell that to Dr. Rice directly, bucko.

Dodd, you're either a naive fool in Jimmy Carter 's league or else you have wallowed too deeply in communism, unable to distinguish democracy from tyranny. What is the problem here? Is it your past? Is it a byproduct of those heady days of your own sandalistadom, partying on down in Managua in someone's confiscated house. It's no good Chris, it rots the brain!

Given what's come out of the mouth of El Sucio, this sanctimonious senatorial dupe lecturing the Washington Post on Venezuela once again makes a fool of himself. It's nothing new for him.

I bet there was laughter in the newsroom when the idiot's screed arrived.

Fox News Features Chavez's 'Greeting' To Condi Rice (Update)

I hear that someone at Fox got hold of some of this information that's been on the blogs, here, here, here, here, and here, and in a half hour will discuss it on a show called The Grapevine, with Brian Wilson substituting for Brit Hume. One just wonders what this will be like - as far as I know it will be on in about 15 minutes, 830 pm Pacific time and 1130 pm Eastern time in the states. Tune in if you can and if not, we'll try to fill you in. I am hearing this thirdhand and I don't watch television normally so I don't know precisely how correct this info is. Let's see....

UPDATE: Alek Boyd has gotten hold of the Fox News film clip. Go see it here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The eternal Chavez

Browsing through Chavista sites, I found this article, written by William Izarra, that has such a suggestive title that I knew I had to write about it. The article is quite difficult to translate because it is written in classical Chavista style using exuberant words and long pompous sentences. Therefore, I will translate just the end that, in my view, wraps up the essence of the message.

The beginning of the article essentially repeats the official line concerning the intervention of the United States in World affairs, and in particular in Latin America. According to them, the Plan Colombia, that was first put in place to fight against drug cartels, has been transformed, since 2004, into an “anti-terrorist” plan to be able to justify the presence of U.S. troops in Colombia and in the Andean region. The objective being to “finish with the revolutionary Venezuelan process”.

The author then explains that even though the process implanted in Venezuela is based on a peaceful revolution inspired by Simon Bolivar, the U.S. is using its power to get rid of Hugo Chavez. According to him, the latest declarations by Condoleezza Rice, those of James Hill, supported by general Bantz Craddoch, as well as those of senator Bill Nelson synthesize the real spirit of the plan Colombia: “to eliminate radical populisms such as the one in Venezuela”. He then uses the example of the Granda case that, according to him, constitutes a “direct intervention”.

The home-made translation of the last paragraph is written below.

“But it is that Hugo Chavez and his revolutionary process is in the phase of Jump Ahead, he is put in the blood of the Venezuelan people. The January 23 march demonstrates the popular will to reject even with their life the imperial pretension to settle in Venezuelan ground. Hugo Chavez, the leader, has been made want and love by the people that vibrate of emotion for Simon Bolivar. Hugo Chavez is now the essence of that feeling and is, therefore, the leader that has gathered the seedtime of the Libertador. That is why the empire will crash against the people that consciously follow, with unbreakable strength, the man that woke up the emancipating spirit of Bolivar and the revolutionary will of fight. We are grateful for the existence of Chavez and we must endorse him, we must follow him in fullness and we must transmit him our positive energies so that his mind will always be lucid and his spirit will be full of the love of the people that will love him forever”

What I found interesting in the above paragraph is the intent of sanctifying Chavez image, to elevate him to some kind of religious figure. This is a very Venezuelan trait, that has been, in part, the reason of our series of bad governments. Venezuelan people, indeed, need a leader, a caudillo, a benefactor, but they also need a magical element, one that would make forget the harshness of everyday life and save them in difficult times.

Bolivar constitutes one of those magical characters that excite the collective imagination. In many small towns all over Venezuela, the image of Bolivar is venerated like that of a saint. Another important example is Jose Gregorio Hernandez, a mythical doctor and great benefactor of the beginning of the century who died when he was struck by a car, one of the few cars in circulation at the time, in Caracas, in 1919. His image is almost as familiar as Bolivar’s and, all over the country, people of all social classes pray to “their doctor” in times of difficulty. Americans would be interested to know that there is a US president that was also elevated to the level of a magic character. In many small rural towns, people still have his image in their living room, often adorned with dried palms obtained at the beginning of the Holy Week. A friend told me how he remembered that, as a kid, he traveled to the llanos to visit some family. His uncle took him to a very modest living room and showed him a picture. Do you know who that is? A great man, John “Fiyeral” Kennedy.

So now, it is Chavez turn to be “eternal”. He has wanted that eternity all along. He has been extremely skillful in tapping into the collective imagination and understanding that the Venezuelan people do not like just a leader or someone that would provide for an efficient government. They want someone they can fell in love with, and pray to. They want that magic that has, all through history, been so unfortunate for Venezuela.

This time is no exception.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Why the U.S. media spiked Chavez's filthy ravings against Dr. Rice

A lot of people have seriously wondered why the U.S. news media ignored the weekend's flamingly racist sexually-charged attack against Dr. Condoleezza Rice from the mouth of Venezuela's president. As Miguel has pointed out, there was not a single news report in English devoted to the story, which under other circumstances should be dynamite.

I consulted editors at three major U.S. news organizations, who are responsible for making decisions about which news items to run in their papers or broadcasts. None were significantly ideological, at least, not on the job, and I knew all to be thoughtful, intelligent, detached people who make news decisions for specific reasons. I asked them to tell me frankly why an item of such incendiary quality - Chavez's trash talk against Condoleezza Rice - never made the U.S. print or airwaves.

I got some interesting responses. Number one, the content of the material itself was so repellent to the news agencies themselves that it affected coverage. Also, among them, Chavez is already perceived as a raving lunatic, so what he says carries little weight. Thirdly, U.S. newspapers are hesitant to cover anything out of Latin America because they don't see it as an important place where things are happening. All of those factors combined to create a news blackout, which is very unfortunate because it's likely to lead to worse attacks on women, coarsen the culture, and impel Chavez to do more outrageous things.

Here are the details I learned from three conversations:

The three U.S. editors told me there was a 'disgusting' quality to this story that repelled them. "Sure, we understand the story, but it's not just how we see it - it's how our readers see it," one told me. "If we report sleaze, they're not going to be angry at Chavez, they're just going to see sleaze and say we're (reporting) it because we like it," he said. He explained that Chavez was not a significant character in the minds of U.S. readers, so they were unlikely to direct any negative sentiment at him. "What will happen is, they will say the newspaper is just trying to sink in the gutter to win readers. If Putin talked like this, it would be different, and we'd have to report it. It would be unavoidable. But they'd (readers) know why we had to, too. Chavez doesn't register the same way." Another editor, in television, voiced similar concern about getting mud on them: "If we report it, we have to repeat it (what Chavez actually said). I can't fairly ask a newscaster to repeat it. "

Two editors said Chavez was already considered 'crazy' so there was nothing really new in his sexist attack. "We had him over to the studio a few years ago and everyone thought he was a raving lunatic," another news person told me. "Bully, dope, idiot," - that was the impression he left in the U.S. to people with no predisposition about him one way or another. Since then, expectations remain low. Another editor said that Chavez's statements reinforced that. "Nothing he says is taken seriously, so he must resort to the bizarre to get attention." Which in itself is actual proof of his irrelevancy, he added. "We treat what he says about the same as we treat something from Castro," the first news person said. And a third put it this way: "What does what he says mean to our business readers? If it's about oil, ok, we'd use it, but if he's just a Froot Loop, we have no interest other than it's an oddball story we might use once in awhile. It really has to be about business."

Negative perceptions about Latin America also contributed to the decision to keep this filthy Chavez speech off the U.S. airwaves and newspapers, too. "We are Americans and we like stories about winners," one told me. "Latin America is a story about losers. We'd rather focus on China, another winner. We don't spend too much time on losers. Latin America always finds a way to fall further in our expectations." Harsh words, and not a pleasure to write, but that's their sentiment.

All told, a frank and sad commentary on why Chavez's trash talk shocks, but does not resonate beyond Venezuela. Unfortunately, this U.S. media corralito has mainly served to embolden Chavez, as today's filthy cartoon in the chavista newspaper (unprintable here) VEA showed, and it's clear we can expect more like it. The State Department won't say anything, because their priority now is to make Dr. Rice look tough. "They want to show that 'we don't blink,'" one editor said. But the net impact is very negative for women in general, and particularly to women in Venezuela who have to listen to this garbage from the state's standard bearer. The Afghanistan Taliban was famous for its sickening treatment of women, and now so is Chavez. Unfortunately, it probably means he will do a lot worse to get our attention in the U.S. than just talk dirty about Dr. Condoleezza Rice. We will see.

* * * * *

On a brighter note, there are a lot of people in the U.S. happy about Condoleezza Rice's success as the first Black American woman Secretary of State. One of my favorite writers, LaShawn Barber, is one of them.


UPDATE: Here is our take on the issue at The American Thinker.

On the diversity of Venezuela opposition.

The government of President Hugo Chavez has been incredibly effective in selling his figure as the champion of social justice, a modern Robin Hood that takes from the rich to distribute among the poor. The official spinners have even initiated a government sponsored campaign to nominate Hugo Chavez for the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile, the government has also been very successful in the way they market their portrait of the Venezuelan opposition.

First, anyone dissenting from the Chavista discourse is branded as an “oligarch”. This, of course, is a myth, but it is one that is quite difficult to remove. In fact, if all those millions of people that signed to conduct the Revocatory Referendum belonged to the “oligarchy”, Venezuela would be a very prosperous country, which is, unfortunately, not the case. Let us assume that the official results of the Referendum are correct. Then we would have 40% of dissident “oligarchs”. In that context, the notion of “oligarchy” loses all its significance.

The second tag that Chavistas usually assign to any dissenting voice is that of “right-wing”. When one tries to explain that among the opposition there are well known figures from the left, those that have bought the Chavistas propaganda have no idea how to rebuke that claim. Most people, especially from the international press prefer to overlook that detail and perpetuate the false tagging. The Chavistas have also capitalized on the radicalization of the world public opinion by selling an incorrect mathematical statement: since Chavez is against Bush and Bush is right-wing then those that are against Chavez must be right wing as well.

Another adjective that is quite often used by the Chavistas against the dissenting members of society is that of “fascists”. I have always had difficulty understanding what exactly they mean when they use that insult. A quick Google search indicates that a “fascist” is a “reactionary and dictatorial person”. Would that mean that anyone that opposes a regime that is getting closer to a dictatorship have to be coined dictatorial itself?

The truth is that the opposition is composed of millions of people from very diverse backgrounds and political beliefs. There are people from the left, from the right, rich people as well as poor people. Those are Venezuelans that are fed up of six years of divisions, attacks, persecutions and bad government. They are the ones that, despite their diversity, have one common belief: that a democratic system has to be “continuously” democratic and that it should never be transformed into an autocratic regime. They are the real opposition.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Notes from the road: China, the NYT, Banda Aceh and Colombia

I have a few minutes and a free access so why not drop for a hello?

I am traveling through the East Coast. The first observation that I wish to share is that I did not buy the New York Times. There was a time when arriving at any US airport from overseas I would buy the NYT before leaving it. I did miss it so much. But times have changed and after reading so many "interpretations" and strange observations on Venezuela by the Forero team, I really do not know if I can trust even the art section of the NYT.

Thus I am looking for something else. I have not drop to USA today but the Wall Street Journal is more appealing, at least I can look forward for an O'Grady article. No such luck this morning. But still two interesting articles. One was the effect of the China textile industry on the US and CAFTA (Central America) negotiations. While Chavez wants to open Venezuela wide open to China (or to anyone that would take him away from the US even if these "substitutes will probably supply themselves with US technology to provide Venezuela with goods).

Another article was on the skyrocketing prices in North Sumatra, a drive due to the incredible amount of money sent by relief agencies. And I was reminded of Chavez launching a relief effort from Venezuela. I surely will chose other ways than a Chavez initiative to help the Tsunami victims. After all, Chavez administration ill manages so much that who knows what money will eventually reach Indonesia. Second I am sure it would be sent as Bolivarian money. And third, one has to look at the irony of a Chavez asking everyone to put "un bolivar para la Indonesia" when he refused US help for our own Vargas disaster in 1999. I have low tolerance for hypocrisy.

In one of my activities this week I have to deal with many people from Colombia. I cannot tell you how awkward it is. Because Venezuelans look like fools outside of our apoplectic Venezuelan opinion. Colombians feel sorry for us when according to Chavez we should be outraged. Stupid jokes such as pretending not to talk to Colombians because we could be arrested for betrayal to the fatherland circulate. Other Latin that I meet are almost equally as consternated by the antics of Chavez. And of course, how can one explain Venezuela in a rational manner?

On the good side since Venezuela is not even a blip on the US press I have no need to "explain" the Rice affair to my US business partners. A small consolation not to have to discuss the embarrassment of Sunday words by Chavez.

But I must confess something. It is nice to be out of that mad house for a few days. And to see that I have left the blog in good hands, even if some do not agree. But there is no way to please all.

The Mike Tyson Essay

Whenever I see the words 'Mike Tyson,' I make sure I flip the page or change the channel. But I got a note from Daniel this morning that Michael Rowan's 'Mike Tyson' column Tuesday in El Universal is an interesting read - and looking at it, I think it is - a different take on the situation than I had imagined. Rowan asks: Is El Supremo the Mike Tyson of Latin American politics, making the same kinds of Tyson mistakes? If you haven't read it already, see what you think.

Some “Positive Notes” from the Bolivarian Government .

One of my favorite resources to know what the government of Chavez is thinking is the official web page of the ministry of information. There is a section that I particularly like that provides good news in Chavista terms that is called “positive notes”.

Here is a sample of two “positive” notes that I found today.

MVR will send missions to America in favor of Chavez

An international crusade will be launched by the MVR to support President Chavez position with respect to the diplomatic conflict with Colombia that has taken place after the kidnapping in Caracas of the FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Granda. This was announced Monday by the director of the government party William Lara.

He also indicated that the “Comando Tactico Nacional”, the highest directive instance of the MVR approved yesterday the creation of work groups that will travel to the United States and other countries of America to deepen the relationship with social and popular organizations of the continent and defend both the country and the president position.

So, get prepared for the MVR spinning visit. The latest declarations must have been very damaging if the MVR feels that there is the need to send their spin doctors up North. I wonder if among the social and popular organizations to be lobbied there will be some women’s group and if they can convince Condoleezza Rice that Chavez was "just kidding".

The government will provide training in military strategies to the peasants.

The intervention process in public and private lands will be the base for 147000 of the 300000 trained in the mission “Vuelvan Caras” to form agricultural and industrial cooperatives in the new regions that will be developed this year.

The minister of Popular Economy, Elias Jaua, announced that those people will not only perform a social work by developing the fields, but they will also will carry out the defense of the national sovereignty since they will occupy lands that have been abandoned and that are now in hands of armed paramilitary groups .

For this reason, Jaua expressed that the peasants will receive the necessary military training to be able to defend their lands.

One of the most damaging aspects of the Chavez government is the militarization of the democratic institutions and the fact that the government has been arming the Bolivarian circles and allowing groups like the FARC to operate freely in Venezuela. So now the “good news” is that even the peasants will get military training.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

How Dr. Rice Gets The News Out - And Why

I talked to someone who knows Condoleezza Rice yesterday. I mentioned there had been a spate of news out in the U.S. press about supposedly "tougher" U.S. policy toward Venezuela and greater engagement in Latin America and wanted to know whether I should be skeptical. After all, haven't we always been disappointed?

Columnists like Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in recent days had been either calling for tougher policy, or else like AFP and others, speculating that there'd actually be tougher U.S. policy. This happened in the days before Rice's gruelling Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of State.

I can't say if all of the stories that came out around this time are all related, but I learned that for at least some of them, the initiative was from Rice herself. Yes, Rice was the leak, and she got the word out early through these supposed leaks. "That is why so much of what was written resembled what she actually said," I was told.

It happened at several media outlets like this - a call came in from a senior State Department guy (high ranking, not a press guy), he said he had a leak on Latin America, he called the reporter in, and in the case of at least some, was taken to Rice herself, who gave the lowdown about how she wanted to do something about Chavez. I'm not aware of it happening for any other issue on foreign policy (though it might have), and perhaps it's significant that the reporters called in weren't necessarily Latin American specialists.

Apparently, leaking this was her strategy. It's not terribly unusual that this is the way news happens in Washington, but it helps to recognize news patterns to be able to read them. Not one of the recent news stories said it was her talking to them, but obviously, they ran with the stories because their source was good. And nobody made her do this, it's what she wanted to do.It's pretty clear to me that Condi Rice isn't going to be a reactive Secretary of State the way her predecessor Colin Powell was. She may well be the sort to move forward on Venezuela, not through megaphone diplomacy, but in that whale-under-the-surface way things move in Washington. Rice, after all, is a power player.

And Chavez, making adolescent noises about her last Sunday, could well be in for a surprise.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Granda Saga Continues

El Universal reports today the latest comments of President Hugo Chavez regarding the Granda affair. He affirmed that the crisis was provoked by Washington. He said that the kidnapping was not planned in Bogotá but that it is part of the “imperialist strategy to stop South American integration”. He warned President Bush that “if that trend continues he will bite the dust of the defeat, once more, guaranteed, they will not be able to beat us”. He also tried to make a bet with Bush and said in English “I bet, I bet, Mr. Bush. One dollar, is the following, who has longer here, that’s OK, no more, no more Mr. Bush” and then explained the bet in Spanish . “I have two years left before reelection and now he (Bush) has the advantage because he was elected for four years and I have two left and I am the candidate for the 2006 elections. I bet one dollar to see who will be the most lasting president, he in the White House or me in Miraflores”.

He threatened to freeze the relations with Colombia if president Uribe does not accept that he made a mistake and insures that the actions like the Granda kidnapping will not be repeated.

He also talked about Condoleezza Rice. He called her again “Condolencia” [Condolences] and suggested that he would send the alphabetization method “Yo si Puedo” [yes, I can] to her since “she is showing to be a complete analphabet”. Then , he added [this is verbatim] “it seems that she dreams about me. I am almost willing to invite her to a reunion to see what happens with me. She said that she was sad and depressed by Chavez. Ay papa! She better forgets about me. What a bad luck that lady has. I will not make that sacrifice for the country, someone else should make it, Cristobal Jimenez, Nicolas Maduro, Juan Barreto that is a bachelor”.


Today was supposed to be my first day as a bloghost, and I was wondering what should I write about. Fortunately, Chavez makes the job quite easy. What can I say? I think that his comments speak for themselves.

Jorge Arena.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Announcement

This blogger will be traveling for business for a while. Since so many things are going on and that I will not be able to blog more than once every couple of days at best,and briefly, I have asked two readers to step in and give me a hand. I have picked these two duqueteers for the following reasons (1):

AM Mora y Leon has been reading for a long time and posting comments quite often. Some people think that I am some rabid conservative just because I oppose the current Venezuelan regime. So I thought it would be interesting to see a true red conservative, one that makes me look like a pinko commie, post for a few days. Perhaps philochavistas will start missing me after that. Though I have been promised moderation, in the style of this blog :-)

Jorge Arena has been corresponding privately with me for a while and can read Spanish quite well, as the name would imply. Thus the day to day run of the news will be covered by Jorge who knows how to scan fast the Venezuelan news and sorts of knows the type of news that I tend to favor. Which of course does not mean that Jorge cannot post personal comments if wished.

I hope that with the three of us the blog will be able to cover all the events that are following fast in Venezuela, while bringing some novelty. The collaboration will end some time in February when I am finally back in San Felipe. I will let the "ghost bloggers" add whatever they wish to add about themselves, if they wish it so.


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(1) Sorry, no evil agent of the cardinal of Sabaneta could be hired, not behaved enough. Besides they probably charge the VIO fees to fill my absence and I cannot afford it; this is an all volunteer page.

January 23, Anderson, Granda, Dodd and the thin threads of liberty

Today we celebrate, perhaps more than ever if not in a flashy way, "le 23 de enero", January 23. This was the day in 1958 when we kicked out our last really real dictator. 47 years later, it seems that we are back to square one. After all, Perez Jimenez had won in a rigged election and could claim some legitimacy, though at least he had something to show for his years in power, more than our present wanna-be.

The situation of our democracy, and liberties, today is very complex. We have a president that *might* have won a recall election, who has won a regional election almost by forfeit, and with both elections now under even great questioning as a consequence of the Granda case. This case has had the indirect consequence of given the first firm proof of active electoral rigging by the government when it registered scores of foreigners to vote in key districts, many of these foreigners able to vote twice, with their old ID and their new ID. The impact of such manipulation now cannot be denied in the Tachira border state.

I can deal with the Granda case details fast thanks to the stupendous analysis of Miguel. The Venezuelan government is finding itself in perhaps its most delicate situation since it came into office, paradoxically even more delicate than in April 2002 where the spin was in its favor. But times have changed.

The Chavez administration certainly has been an expert at dodging issues long enough until it can find a way to slither out of tight spots. But these were mostly domestic situations which in appearance did not affect foreign observers directly. A skilful manipulation of the information ensured that the international press saw Venezuela as a classical liberation movement, thus who cared if our local liberties were trampled!?

But the Granda affair has brought a new look on things. And foreign interests have changed. Two things must be noted. In April 2002 the international fight against terrorism had just started. Now, thanks to the Bali, Ossetia and above all Madrid bombings, the whole world knows that they can be next even if the play nice to radical elements. The other new factor is that the US seems to have decided to get out of Iraq rain or shine, an odd but justified consideration if we consider the desert nature of Iraq. A newly sworn in Bush is working for history and he certainly will do his outmost to solve that problem least a Democrat administration takes the glory of the peace maker. The Venezuelan oil and the protection granted to terrorist groups by Chavez, now reported in exquisite details, have entered the direct gaze of the people that are planning the new world.

It is rather paradoxical when Chavez seems poised to become a target that Rafael Poleo in an interview for El Universal takes a most anti US pose.
Poleo: … in a Venezuela where business is collapsing due to the political mistrust.
en una Venezuela donde las empresas están derrumbándose por la desconfianza política.

Giusti: Isn't that a contradiction with the anti imperialist speeches?

Poleo: Paradoxically Chavez helps all that he pretends to oppose. He is making a tabula rasa with the economy, a wished for situation for foreign interests to buy the country cheap. International Capital is ready to step in when Chavez leaves.

And an even somber forecast
Giusti: Thus the Maisto thesis was wrong in the end [for John Maisto US ambassador when Chavez was elected first and who said that Chavez should be judged for his acts rather than his words, assuming that the US economical privileges in Venezuela would not be touched].

Poleo: Maisto is not blamed because he was right in the core proposition: at the end of the road we will get the country, destroyed by Chavez and turned right wing. After Chavez comes a Venezuela where Rafael Poleo and Roberto Giusti will be very uncomfortable.

Even if Poleo tends to exaggerate things, this last comment deserves further examination. Rafael Poleo is not saying that he is living comfortably now, he has made quite a second career criticizing the mediocrity and authoritarian bent of the regime. What Poleo is saying is that the Venezuela that we will inherit from Chavez is not going to be a pretty place. Either a right wing military government will be in place, or a right wing government supported by the army, even if elected in a general election with an electorate repulsed by the excesses of the present psuedo-administration. The curtailing of liberties by such a new regime will not be frowned upon at all by the US, now the economic masters of that new Venezuela offered on a silver platter to US interests. A successful Iraq without the war.

And this would be the good hypothesis. Civil war is the other unmentioned one. The hypothesis of a stable and prosperous Venezuela under Chavez is not even considered thanks to what has happened since November first.

The Danilo Anderson martyrdom has now been revealed to be an account setting between extortion gangs in the judicial power where the only things left to determinate is if Anderson was cashing himself and what sector of the government decided his death. This has revealed the deep corruption of the civilian sector in at least some areas of the government, in addition to its sheer administrative incompetence very well established along these 6 years. Is such staffed regime viable in the long run?

And the Granda affair has established that Chavez will never be a good neighbor whose interests are not in the Venezuelan prosperity but in his international career.

Meanwhile we saw a few US senators such as Dodd coming here and becoming "el tonto util" of Chavez while demonstrating with an offer of Peace Corps volunteers that they probably have no idea of what is going on in this area of the world. I wonder if Dodd has any idea on how counterproductive his actions are in preserving Venezuelan liberties, assuming generously that he cares about us.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

The new Venezuelan electoral board, CNE

There is a piece of news that I have not dealt with yet, and which is of outmost importance: the high court (TSJ) has filled the two vacancies of the CNE. Now, the once solid 3 to 2 majority for Chavez has become a rock hard 4 to 1 majority. Not to mention that a "clean up" of the CNE personnel has pretty much left the opposition with no influence left in that organism, not even a watch dog.

Veneconomy editorial on Friday is a good summary and I will just post it adding a few footnotes for further explanations for those interested. Then my own comments.

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A revamped CNE

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice has, once again, awarded itself powers to appoint the Board of Directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE)[1]. This is a totally arbitrary decision and a clear violation of the Constitution of the Republic.It could be argued that, when the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ first took upon itself to appoint the members of the CNE’s Board of Directors in July 2003, there was some justification for it proceeding in this manner. The measure, constitutionally doubtful, was based on the alleged “legislative vacuum” caused by the fact that, after one year of sterile debate, the National Assembly had not appointed the CNE Board as stipulated in the Constitution. The board appointed on that occasion seemed, initially, to have a certain balance in terms of political groupings. Three to two in favor of the government side seemed acceptable to the general public and the opposition. But the unilateral, autocratic decisions taken by the government’s representatives in connection with the elections held in 2004 demonstrated how wrong this perception was. The results are public knowledge.

This time, the TSJ, now with a converted government majority [2] confiscated a right that, by law, corresponds to the National Assembly and, without giving the parliamentarians the right to complain, appointed the new CNE Board.This decision by the Supreme Court is illegal on three counts.

First, it is a decision that cannot be appealed; the appointments were made by the Constitutional Chamber, the court to which anyone wishing to bring an appeal against them would have resorted. [3]

The second is that it did not respect the right of the alternate members to opt for the vacancies left by the resignations of Ezequiel Zamora (2004) and Francisco Carrasquero (2005), which would have been the correct thing legally. [4]

And third, the appointment of Oscar León Uzcátegui, who, since he was member of the Electoral Nominations Committee, is disqualified to sit on the CNE Board according to the rules laid down by the National Assembly. In response to the criticisms over the selection of León, Justice Iván Rincón referred to the full autonomy enjoyed by the Chamber that made it, which, as he understands it, frees the Chamber from the National Assembly’s guidelines. In other words, he can do as he pleases.

The new CNE is now grotesquely tilted in favor of the government. It has four members who toe the government line and one who is inclined to favor the opposition, and the government has control over all the alternate members. The sole exception is Sobella Mejías, who is now vice-chairperson of the board. However, she was removed as chairperson of the Civil and Electoral Roll Committee, one of the most important posts in any elections.Is there still anyone naive enough to believe that there will be open, transparent elections in Venezuela from now on?

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

[1] Normally the 5 rectors should have been elected by a two third majority of the National Assembly. Chavismo unable to reach an agreement left the TSJ supply a "constitutional default", the only way it would be certain of a majority in the CNE as the TSJ was already sold out to chavismo.

[2] The new high court law has allowed for an unconstitutional packing of the court which ensures a safe and solid majority in every single chamber of the high court. All of the new 12 justices are known for their links, when not devotion, to chavismo and El Supremo; though most are not known their special judicial skills.

[3] One of the new justices, Carrasquero was the official president of the CNE. Now as a justice he can make sure that any appeal against his actions during his CNE tenure will have a favorable issue to his persona, and his master. Not to mention that as a justice he does not even need to give press conferences.

[4] Thus were eliminated the few critical voices that were left, such as Miryiam Kornblith who was the victim of false xenophobic accusations, for not using stronger terms due to her ethnic background.

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The conclusion of the editorial is exact. There is no way that fair elections can take place in Venezuela. Not only now we are sure, more than ever, that the new CNE will not criticize the strong arm tactics of Chavez when he campaigns, even less ask where the funds come from, but we also know that all possible cheating mechanisms will be put in place on voting day.

Conclusions must be taken by the actors.

Sobella Mejias. She was useless during the Recall Election. When Zamora quit, her inability to effect anything became pathetic. Now with a castrated vice-presidency as a consolation prize what could she do? It is time for her to take the appropriate decision and resign with a strong statement. But she will not do it. She is an adeca, and adecos cling to any parcel of power, as ridiculous as it might be. She will remain there because she gets a paycheck, not for the love of the people. She will become a pathetic figure and will end up worth of contempt.

The opposition leadership. Three electoral process are to be held this year. The opposition should do a considerable soul searching and wonder about the practicality of running in any Venezuelan election. And if they decided to do so they should be ready to fight and resort to energetic resistance. If they do no have the stomach for it, if they do not show resolve, then the disaster of October 31 2004 will be a child's game as even people like me will not even bother to figure out who is running. It would be good for them to remember the words of Churchill which I paraphrase "you prefered humiliating concessions to avoid electoral defeat in June-July 2004 instead of standing up; you got both humiliation and defeat in August and October 2004". The electorate will not have forgotten.

And two final observation on .

The TSJ. With that decision now we know that there is nothing for civility and respect to be sought your way. Justice *might* be given when it does not cross the interests of the regime. For the amateur historians among the TSJ: history shows that soon everything crosses the interest of such regimes. Your future is in a report that will someday be made, just as it was made and recently made public on the justices that allowed Pinochet to do as he pleased. Reckoning always come.

Jorge Rodriguez, the new CNE president. This abject personage is the same one who threatened to sue anyone who even dared to mention the word fraud. Yet his track record of deviance and publicly exposed lies through 2003 and 2004 has made him the least trustworthy CNE rector, a shrink visibly in need of a shrink. His actions, arrogance, contempt for all, including some from his side, make one wonder if he is not some tropical Quisling. I personally have no doubt that Jorge Rodriguez is one of the most morally corrupt character of the present political class. And the competition is tough.


Friday, January 21, 2005

A fabulous article by Mary Anastasia O'Grady

Mary Anastasia O'Grady has written a mighty fine piece on Granda, Uribe, Chavez and the implications of the dangerous game played. She shows with that piece that she is probably the US journalist that has the clearest understanding of what is going on in Venezuela. It has been quite a pleasure to see how she has acquired her enlightment in the recent months. If she keeps like that she is going to put us bloggers out of service ;-)

PS: sometimes I wonder what Carter and Jennifer McCoy think late at night when they are alone. I suspect that Ms. McCoy has some regrets.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Shame!



In a country who is now plagued by so many shameful social problems, the situation of the prison system is a particularly painful matter, a human rights calamity. After almost 6 years in office (February 2) the Chavez administration not only has not dealt with the most degrading human right abuse that our incarceration system is, but, as a matter of fact, has made it worse.

The picture above was taken by yours truly in San Felipe this morning, around 10 AM. The people you see on the roof, who look miserable enough (I can send the full pictures for those who care for more detail), are part of the prisoners of the San Felipe jail who are on hunger strike (and I presume managed to take control of a section of the prison allowing them to spend their time on the roof). Their main wish? That the judicial system shakes its butt and either condemn them once and for all or free them. In addition of course to all sorts of valid complaints which, if not met, will result in an aggravation of the strike. Perhaps they might end up in a "blood strike" where prisoners among other activities injury themselves to force their evacuation to hospitals.

And this is going on in about 15 of the Venezuelan detention centers (it started yesterday in San Felipe). The very same type of scenes of occupied roof tops is seen in all jails, while all sorts of anguished relatives hang out in areas where they can have a view of their jailed dear ones. Even if you think that most of these people deserve perhaps worse than what they get, you cannot fail to feel anguished in turn when you look at the deep human misery on display.

Why this situation? Solving it does not yield votes to the Chavez administration even if supposedly most of these people comes from the natural constituency of the regime: the lower classes. In all fairness the regime inherited that attitude from the preceding ones. But unfortunately for Chavez, his tinkering of the judicial system had made it much, much worse, creating jails of abject squalor where in the XXI century people die of typhus. Even if not in the books, the death penalty exists in Venezuela: 5 years in jail usually take care of that, even if you did not get your trial yet.

And it is going to get worse. The military nature of the regime is certainly not going to bother about the nature of jails: no military regime EVER had a decent prison system. You need evidence? Look at the recent decision of the Supreme Court (TSJ). It concerns a case in Bolivar State ("Vista Hermosa") where apparently 4 Nazional Guards were in cahoots with 3 wardens and killed a whole bunch of inmates in a local jail on more than suspicious conditions. The pile of bloody bodies made the front pages. Well, due to "procedural matters" the 4 Nazional Guards have been released so as to go on trial as free citizens while the wardens will remain in jail during the trial.

The reader will agree that no further comment is needed.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Transitions

Jesus Soto, 1923-2005



Jesus Soto was the most famous Venezuelan artist alive, creator of the "kinetic movement in sculpture, an artist who had the honor to see in his lifetime a museum to his honor built in Ciudad Bolivar. He lived in Paris since 1950 so one can even wonder if he was still a Venezuelan citizen, though he certainly was at heart, giving many art works to the city. Some of these art works suffered quite a neglect by the recipients, in particular the completely ransacked monument on the Caracas main highway, a monument who has "lost" all of its parts to scrap metal collectors.

And then we wonder why he chose to remain in Paris.

Nul n'est prophète en son pays.

== == == ==
Articles and photo galleries here,here and here,unfortunately not very good as for his work representation. Actually I could not find a real good site, an art gallery here and there showing one of his works. If someone has a good link, please send. However the extensive collection of works made on commission for public buildings should grant us soon a decent book and web site. Death as a strange day in enhancing artists...


How Venezuela is seen in the US high echelons

I have always been fond of the great exercise in North American democracy that are the confirmation hearings. It has always been a true spectacle of democratic power when the Senate of the US of A decides not to confirm a nominee, and how the president always abides and drops the matter. But even when the confirmation is a given thing it is quite often very interesting to follow as important policies will finally be exposed and debated. Something of course TOTALLY lacking in today Venezuela where ministers come and go faster than in post war Italy without the people knowing their qualifications, without even accounting for their actions or telling us why they were fired. The autocrat rules.

The confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice are particularly important for Venezuela. As she is about to become the first African American woman to reach the top cabinet position of Secretary of State, one can wonder what the Venezuelan government thinks of the situation. After all, a few months ago Venezuelan president Chavez called her an illiterate (and probably is waiting for her to apologize the way he expects Colombia's Uribe to apologize, but I digress). But in addition of steering the secret cells of the Venezuelan high sphere of power, the hearings are also a unique opportunity to see what is Venezuela's image in the mind of the people who decide US foreign policy.

I was reading tonight one of the reports of the hearings and I found a few items worth picking up. As expected Ms. Rice had hard words for Chavez, words which had a strange effect on some senators. Thus I would like to start first with the perception that some senators have of Venezuela:

However, some senators criticized Rice for taking such a hard line on Chavez. "Repeating these statements over and over again only digs the hole deeper and deeper," Dodd said.

Mr. Dodd of course has a point. Though he does not offer much of an alternative, having been fleeced himself by Chavez a few days ago, though one wonders if he has realized that. He is just coming back empty handed from Venezuela. His mission with Florida Senator Bill Nelson was received by Chavez who played very nice and seem to have charmed them. Only to break with Colombia while the chair where Senator Dodd sat was still warm. At least Senator Nelson had the guts to declare on the matter, demonstrating that he does not believe a word from Chavez. But Senator Nelson has had a long career monitoring Venezuela and his mind seems quite made.

And Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said her comments were "disrespectful of the Venezuelan people" who last August ratified Chavez by a broad margin in a referendum.

This left me a little bit aghast, I must confess. Senator Chafee surely knows that the August election is contested, and I doubt he listens very closely to what Carter says on such matters. Even if he thinks that the election of August was fair and duly won, he should abstain for such comment. Either it shows ignorance of the Venezuelan situation, or disrespect for the "official" 40% that voted against Chavez. And if he really thinks that the election was won fair and square, the recent happenings that range from sequestering the judicial power to curtailing some basic Human Rights should at the very least give him pause so as not to put his foot in his mouth. Amazingly the words of next door Senator made more sense than the ones from Chafee!

Now let us look at what Ms. Rice had to say on Latin America.

First she knows quite well which are the world governments who have "problems".

But Rice [snip] suggested that the administration would be more forceful in dealing with governments that take an undemocratic turn.

"To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent: in Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Iran and Belarus and Zimbabwe," she said.

Not only Ms. Rice is quite direct in her message, but allow me to remind the reader that Chavez is the pupil of Cuba's Castro, has visited Iran twice(once "coinciding" with a raid on the Caracas Jewish school while complaining about the US in Iran), has received Zimbabwe' s Mugabe warmly, too warmly even when compared to other head of states received by him. Chavez position is not known on Burma and North Korea for absolute lack of interests of Venezuela there, but I bet Belarus through his "pal" Putin is not frown upon. After all, Chavez did try to help in avoiding the annulment of the Ukrainian election when he visited Putin a few weeks ago (that fraudulent election hit too close to home for Chavez? Heard that Senator Chafee?).

But the best part was this:

In the region she singled out Venezuela, a country she said was once a U.S. ally and had become what she called a "negative force in the region," citing Chavez's meddling in neighbors' affairs, cracking down on domestic dissent and muzzling the media - all criticisms denied by Chavez.

"I think it's extremely unfortunate that the Chavez government has not been constructive," she said. "And we do have to be vigilant and to demonstrate that we know the difficulties that that government is causing for its neighbors, its close association with Fidel Castro in Cuba."

She said the United States would work with other countries in the region and the Organization of American States to ensure that "leaders who do not govern democratically, even if they are democratically elected" are held accountable.

'nuf said!


We know her work will be dominated by Iraq, but at the very least we will also know that Latin American affairs will be overseen by someone that will not be easily fooled, be it posturing Senators or petty wanna-be tyrants.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Trouble In Our Back Yard (washingtonpost.com)

Someone that gets it at the Washington Post. Columnist Jackson Dielh in his Trouble In Our Back Yard (washingtonpost.com) article illustrates quite well the problems that the US is facing with a Chavez full of cash and bent in subverting democracy in Latin America. He is not afraid of words when he writes:

But even the strong democracies, like Brazil and Chile, have grown weaker: Both have leftist presidents who frequently strike poses against President Bush's policies but have little stomach for taking on a menace such as Chavez. Even if they were to challenge the Chavistas, the Latin democrats would find few followers in the OAS assembly. Venezuela has bought off a raft of governments with subsidized supplies of oil.

That is, enough Caribbean and Central American votes to avoid major trouble at the OAS. See for example the latest refusal of political asylum by San Salvador.

At least word is spreading in the US, even on the fake victory of August 15:

President Hugo Chavez has responded to his victory in a controversial recall referendum by aggressively moving to eliminate the independence of the media and judiciary, criminalize opposition, and establish state control over the economy.

Mas claro no canta un gallo.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

What happens when you talk too much

So Chavez did his Alo Presidente today. I waited until late this evening to hear what he said. Apparently he accepted the Colombian president offer to discuss the Granda situation but put his conditions: bilateral discussion, not the international forum that Uribe wanted and a previous apology from the Colombian government. As far as I can tell the only thing that matters for Chavez is "the aggression to the Venezuelan sovereignty". No word was said as to how come Granda had set house in Venezuela to the point of him voting in the elections... He also heartedly accused the USA to be behind the Colombian attitude since the USA wants to sabotage any South American unity. (1)

Unfortunately for Chavez as I watched him I was reminded of that old saying (from Lincoln I think?): you can fool all of the people some of the time and some people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

And that is what happening now, Chavez has talked too much about how Venezuela was not doing anything to protect terrorist while it was public knowledge that the Colombian border was not a border for the FARC, and to a lesser extent the ELN. And his loud mouth is getting to him. Let's see the growing evidence of that.

First at home where the opposition is quite far from any Union Sacrée around the president. All wisely condemn the Colombian intervention (whatever that might have really been) but they add in the same breath the inescapable question: how come Granda was at home and voted in Aragua?

Bill Nelson, the US senator from Florida is consternated by the Colombian spat with Venezuela. Even more so as he was in Caracas a few days ago and Chavez received him letting him know among other things that Venezuela was dealing with Colombian terrorists inside Venezuela. Just not the way Nelson understood it, or so it seems after the picture of Granda's house... Now Senator Nelson knows personnally how much can the Venezuelan government lie. He also added to the Miami Herald interview that the US should decrease its oil purchases from Venezuela. Trust is a scarce commodity it seems.

Another evidence was the expressed Colombian wish to deal with that issue in a South American forum. This way Uribe simply wanted to have Chavez say once and for all in public, in front of the other head of states, what does Venezuela think of the FARC and what does she plan to do, for real. Which is why Chavez quickly dismissed it today in his talk show. In a private face to face Chavez thinks he might be able to pull a fast one, but he knows in a public forum Uribe has a much better chance to convince than himself. With the Granda case, nobody is going to believe Chavez until he explains how come FARC terrorists walk freely in Venezuela, or vote there.

To nail this point Uribe replied to Chavez "performance" (that is what the new stage for Alo Presidente feels like) by announcing that they were going to publish evidence of Venezuela help for FARC terrorists. The communiqué is quite strong on some points (the numeration is kept, my translation):

2-Colombia does pay bounty for informers who help in the capture of terrorists. It doe snot bribe. Venezuela must present the evidence on the alleged bribes paid to its officials.

5-Colombia does not accept that representatives of terrorist groups be admitted to political events sponsored by official Venezuelan institutions. On thing is political opposition, another is terrorism. [reminder: Granda participated actively to a recent meeting sponsored by the Chavez government of "intellectuals to save the world"]

And my favorite and the one most damaging for Chavez studied ambiguity:

1-The right of the people to free themselves from terrorists requires the efficient cooperation and resolve of all democratic government [the stress on democratic is mine]

As I wrote earlier, whatever Chavez is saying on the Granda affair is dedicated to his constituency: the radical left and narco-terrorist guerilla like the FARC. He probably does not care what the rest of the world thinks as he tries desperately to repair his links with the FARC. But he probably also realizes the last part of the Lincoln sentence: you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. I bet that for once he is quite anxious, and probably will make more errors.

Stay tuned and keep popping some more pop corn.

=============================

(1) That the US is not in favor of unity anywhere is certainly true, just as the US tried to sabotage European unity. But the US sabotage was not military interventionism, rather commercial deals to try to favor some parts, or to create a "special" link with England. And it could not stop the will of Europe to unite, a union which now the US more than embraces as it simplifies transatlantic commerce quite a lot, all rivalries set aside. If Latin America has trouble to unite is due much more to prima donna like Chavez than any sabotage from the US: the US does not need to sabotage anything around here when the local leaders do such a great job on their own.

Venezuelan blogs in the local news

El Nacional had today an article on Venezuelan bloggers and yours truly is mentioned. For those interested you can go to El Nacional page (by subscription but that particular section is free). On the left side column look for the picture of "todo en Domingo" and click. A new page will open with the Sunday magazine. On the top left corner click the down arrow to go to page 5 (TD5) and start reading and clicking as needed.

It is a good article showing that the blog movement is progressing well in Venezuela and that it could become a thorn in chavismo's side as it would be very difficult to control that type of information source. The future is here.

One comment. One of my cited "qualities" is that I have been at it for two years. I would like to point out that Miguel has been longer then me at it, and has been a member of Veneblogs longer than me too. The journalist could have mentioned him as well. I just felt that I should say that for the friendship I have with Miguel and my deep admiration for Miguel's work.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Venezuela and Colombia enter a spat

Before dealing with this issue I will ask the reader to bear with me and allow for a digression.

I did not rush into reporting on today's event, still unfolding as I write. The reason? For one thing I had to try to figure out how serious it was. And second, and most important, with the new restriction on information and opinion expression, and the new penal code, what I write here could land me in jail. Yes, that is right, for the first time ever that thought seriously crossed my mind. Venezuela has changed.

The problem today is that we are dealing with international relations and a president who wraps himself in a flag just to get out of a tight spot. And a president whose followers are not necessarily quiet and thoughtful folks. For example today El Nacional publishes an interview of Eliezer Otaiza, head of the controversial land institute, INTI, that we all thought had for objective during the last two years to solve the latifundia problem. We have all seen last week end how little work the INTI had done...

Well, in that interview Mr. Otaiza (who should deserve a post for himself as a particular colorful actor) replies to a particular question:

Journalist: Also in the case of hato Piñero, which has an ecotourism profile, could we not recognize that there is a productive work [an argument for expropriation is to own land and not cultivate it]

Otaiza: This is a decision that the president must take. I must say that the only difference that I could have on the political aspects with the governors is that for me the decisions will be taken by president Chavez and not the governors.

Besides the extraordinary words which reflect why things are not working in Venezuela (does Chavez also decides who gets paper clips in offices?), it shows the true nature of some of the most "devoted" followers. With people like that Chavez does not need to order opponents taken out, this type of initiative will be taken spontaneously by such people.

End of digression, but necessary to explain my future reluctance at taking on some topics.

Well, today's events are quite simple to explain.

Chavez made a huge show a the state of the union address. We got all the usual ranting, not the actual account of last year and projects for the next year, or barely in passing. Chavez cannot use a tribune and not project again and again all his resentment and grievances. The difference today was that he ended by announcing the suspension of commercial relations with Colombia. Not suspension of relations, just suspension of business. All this screaming by the mountain to birth a mouse. The excuse was the unacceptable Colombian policy to pay people to capture folks who have been bleeding the country for decades.

President Uribe a little while ago told him to shove. Diplomatically of course.

I will not bother putting links, readers can find anything they want on the newswires and what not. I will limit myself to a summary.

First some simple facts

Granda, a big wig of the FARC was having a home in Venezuela, drove a fancy car, went around as he pleased, and even participate in public forums. He even became a Venezuelan citizen shortly before the referendum and voted (for Chavez one presumes). El Nacional even publishes the picture of the house and the surrealist description of the life of Granda and folks in that house. A nice house even with a pool, in a nice resort area.



No matter what spin is put on that, the Venezuelan administration looks bad.

The Colombian police/army manages to buy some Venezuelan soldiers who 6 years into the glorious revolution have no qualms in cashing some dollars to kidnap and deliver Granda to Colombian security in the border town of Cucuta.

No matter what spin is put on that, the Venezuelan administration (and its revolution to create a new man?) looks bad. And not only with the Uribe administration but also with the FARC and other terrorist organizations that are sympathetic to Chavez.

Finally and in all fairness the bribing and kidnapping does not look good at all for Colombia. Unfortunately for Chavez some spin can be put on that by Colombian officials since it is very dubious that Chavez would have surrendered Granda considering the administration track on such issues (Montesinos, Ballestas and what not, where Venezuela was dragged kicking and screaming to surrender those criminals who had bonds with some chavista sectors).

Trapped in a web of contradictions Chavez decided to do what he does best: mount a big show and hope that something else happen quickly in order to mount another big show to bury the last one. Same strategy except that the stakes implied in such type of game always keep mounting. When one day you call your neighbor a scoundrel, what will you call him next time?

In case you do not think that the chosen occasion, a state of the country speech at the National Assembly, was not picked for bombastic purpose I made the following montage (the presence of all embassadors is, by protocol, required, for the many hours it takes, which adds of course to the moment). On one side you have an US president (an ex one to avoid unnecessary controversy) that sometimes did talk too much, and who is shown at perhaps his most bombastic moment when he dared to address Congress during his impeachment trial. On the other side you have today picture of Chavez now routine state of the country speech, paraphernalia included (though others did like to wear the jewelry too). The reader can draw whatever conclusion is deemed fit.


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