Thursday, March 31, 2005

Zapatero leaves Venezuela with a trail of controversy

Poor Zapatero. The Spanish Socialist Prime Minister was hoping to improve his international standing but he leaves Venezuela with little else than a few defense contracts. And a rather embarrassing moment at the hands of the Spaniards in Venezuela.

The summary

Well, it was not too bad overall. Zapatero did get his defense contracts, mostly for coast guards. Even Colombia's Uribe backed them (though elsewhere he stated in front of the summiteers that he hoped Venezuela will control the "old" rifles discarded for the new 100000 guns to be bought. Good luck with that). Even the opposition did not complain too much as we all know that the Venezuelan shores are a dangerous place to sail. We are pretty sure that Chavez will not be able to secure the coast against pirates and drug runners, but at least if we give him the ships he will have no excuse (or so we hope).

However when El Mundo of Spain reports the inherent contradiction when a socialist head of state defends the sales of weapons under a specious argument "va en beneficio de los pueblos" (goes to the benefit of the people) one can only but wear an amused smile.

But ABC in Spain is much more critical. In an OpEd piece we can read:

The first of these dangerous elements is the totalitarian populism, repressive, irresponsible, undemocratic and invasive that has settled in some countries of Latin America. Populism by definition lacks any recognizable ideology, its unique and true desire is power, domination and perpetuation. When a few sectors of the left, in general the more radical, but unfortunately not only them, acclaim as an essential reference a doctrine empty and a philofascist in his methods and forms such as Hugo Chavez is, president of Venezuela, it is a mark that the ideological drought of the left was worse than what some had predicted. Chavez is the white hope of the failed castrism anachronic and near death who feels that its continuation is impossible in the Island and that it is only possible through the Venezuelan president and the MVR, its extravagant, radical and heterogeneous political movement.
If some terms are a little bit exaggerated it is still a delightful assessment. And it is assorted with another article describing the Spanish descent in the shadowy world of arm dealing.

The colorful moments

Well, let's pass on the fact that the Spanish opposition is waiting for Zapatero with a vote to condemn the Venezuelan "gag law". More interesting is that the Venezuelan opposition did give Zapatero a rather long list of petitions, in particular for European Union observers. The ones that did not come in August because they were not allowed to do their job. The title of that article, by the way, was the refusal of Venezuela PSOE correligionaries to meet with Zapatero.

But Zapatero did get a lousy pause in his routine. His people had scheduled a meeting with the Spaniards residing in Venezuela (several hundred thousand live in Venezuela). He did not stood them up but he was 2 hours late and lamely presented his excuses (Chavez certainly never bothers to give excuses so at least it shows that Zapatero is polite). Still he was booed several times which rattled him some, obviously not expecting such an un-welcome. Making fun of the way Spaniards speak El Ciudadano in Globovision said as a commentary "os aplaudieron y os pitaron" (not translatable).

Perhaps part of the Spaniards restleness was not due only to the fact that they had to wait for nearly three hours of Zapatero. Early on this one visited the National Assembly to give a rather disappointing speech where he reluctantly slid concepts about the separation of powers. That chavismo was delighted with the speech goes to tell you how lame it was. In fact the ineffable Maduro ordered its publication in every newspaper. 'nuf said!

Bloggers do have some "sources". In addition to the above report from Hermandad Gallega, where the all-Spain booing took place, I was told that last year about 50 000 thousand Venezuelans entered Spain but only 10 000 returned to Venezuela. In other words, there was an illegal emigration to Spain of perhaps 40 000 Venezuelans (the source of course does not want me to reveal the name but I can assure that it is a good source, not to mention that I personally know three people, two of them distant relatives, that settled in Spain last year, illegally).


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Zapatero and weapons in Venezuela

Well, the visit of Zapatero et al. in what was supposed to be a "new (unholy) alliance" between Spain Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela produced enough hot air, if no real results (well, Zapatero did get a few contracts, his payoffs from endorsing Chavez).

Gossips about the bungled organization of such a summit have been circulating. From a friend in the foreign ministry, it is due in large part that the people with experience in such things are relegated on the side while new amateurish bolivarianos have been put in charge. Nothing wrong with that except that the new people have basically no practical knowledge on how to organize such events. For example the microphones were put one at the wrong time, apparently as eager beavers were trying to show the glories of El Supremo as much as possible and nobody was around to tell them that on occasion reunions are private.... But the people with experience come from the cursed past, and yet keep cashing their pay check while relegated in some back office. Ah! Venezuelan labor laws! Even the glorious revolution flounders on them!

But Zapatero business deals have drawn quite an irate response at home as Chavez is providing good fodder for the Spanish opposition. Rajoy condemned the arms deal in unambiguous terms whereas we found amusingly the socialist party spokesperson defending mercantile policies instead of peace in the area. Meanwhile those who decided among the Venezuelan opposition to meet with Zapatero delivered a very critical note reminding that Spaniard socialist are supposed to be peaceniks and not practicers of "realpolitik" (sic). This coming from socialist MAS is rather ironic, and if socialist Zapatero thought he would obtain the consent of AD and MAS to allow MVR into the "internationale socialiste", well, he will be disappointed. Zapatero might have been a little bit more fixed about the local mood if he were to read Michael Rowan latest, simply titled Nazism. One wonders about the motivation of a Spanish government bent on legitimizing the chavista regime when they should know much better from their experience with Franco.

But Zapatero cannot claim lack of knowledge. The previous Spanish ambassador left quite a dossier, I am sure. And the arm deals of Chavez are being noticed as totally inappropriate for the Venezuelan military. We could start discussing the purchase of outdated rifles (in English), outdated perhaps but strangely compatible with the weapons used presently by Colombian guerrillas. This was certainly enough for the US to protest directly to Spain its sale of weapons to Venezuela. I am certainly aware that the US is protesting in part because, well, they are not the ones selling the said weapons. Still, the apparently clearly worded note to Spain seems rather unusual in diplomatic terms and probably signifies that Zapatero is quite far from being received at the White House. It will be interesting to observe how the role of Spain will evolve within Europe as Zapatero is outdoing the French in "autonomy" with even less results than these ones. Will Venezuela become to Spain what Iraq has been to France?

Zapatero also would be well advised to look at a recent study by El Universal summarized in English by Veneconomy. Why would a country suddenly buy so many weapons when its poverty rates keep climbing as the price of oil keeps going up? Not very socialist if you ask me, Mr. Zapatero. But it seems that Zapatero is an amateur, just as the people who organized the little party to receive him in Puerto Ordaz.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rodriguez Zapatero, el tonto útil (the useful fool)

The prime minister of Spain is arriving today for a State visit. In part to nail down some defense contracts. Chavez check book is backed up enough to help him buy a few goodies and "make friends". Zapatero is one of those "friends" only too willing to be bought.

Now, before people think that I am too mean, I must start by stating that Zapatero has good reasons to let himself be bought by Chavez. He has labor problems with some of his shipyards so any naval construction order put down by Chavez can earn Zapatero some social respite while he retrains shipyard workers. Also Spain has very, very large interests in Venezuela and surely he must avoid jeopardizing them. After all, 2 of the 4 top banks in Venezuela are owned by Spanish banks, and thus the reader can imagine what else comes behind as a banking support is a good way to spearhead other Spanish ventures such as the SEAT car maker or civil engineering contracts. Let's not forget that nations move by interest before they are moved by ideas.

However there is a certain indignity in the way Zapatero runs to embrace Chavez.

I will start by gossip. It was rumored that after Zapatero reached office, helped by the March 11 Madrid bombings, the new ambassador to Venezuela gave instructions to his employees not to meet with opposition members. Though apparently there was no restriction on meeting with officials. Was that gossip? Some events seem to point out that it was not.

Spain's foreign minister Moratinos has pushed very hard to make Spain the Trojan horse of Cuba in the European Union. With some success it seems though I am not sure if it is really due to Spain or rather a certain lassitude of Europe which seems unable to stand firm of principles (the characteristics of loosely held confederations). One of the reasons why the new socialist administration of Spain might have done that was to distance itself as much as possible from Aznar wanna-be a big guy. In the Iraq war, Aznar looked a little bit like the useful fool of Bush and Blair, and Zapatero did campaign on that sensing that the Spanish people did not want the involvement in Iraq. It is not the objective of this blogger to discuss whether Spain was right or not in sending soldiers to Iraq. However this blogger can state with all confidence that after one year in office Zapatero is as guilty as Aznar in cheap grandstanding, and he makes it even worse by his rather poor results so far.

Moratinos and Zapatero got burned twice already. One, all their entreaties in favor of Cuba have met some echo in Europe but still Castro as to yield any significant measure to justify Spain semi humiliation in the process. European capitals are aware of that and are probably only too willing to use Spain as a scape goat if Castro tightens further his repressive regime, and it is a safe bet to do so.

But what is even more astounding is that Zapatero got already burned once by Chavez and he is coming for more! The only explanation is that Zapatero feverish desire to outdo Aznar (who by the way retired and is not even a political rival anymore) is bringing him to these shores where a summit will be held. And what a summit!

A "Latin American Alliance" is proposed. The summit will take place between Chavez, the host, and Colombia's Uribe, Brazil's Lula and Zapatero. If I understand well that initiative originated a couple of months ago when it was proposed that Zapatero mediates between Colombia and Venezuela during the Granda affair.

Now, I am no foreign secretary of Spain but I can predict that this Alliance will come to naught, except perhaps for a few contracts. Brazil has as many people as the three other guys put together. It has an imperialist vocation and it certainly will not take its cue from Spain. Colombia is there because Uribe gains more out of it than Chavez or Spain. Uribe, seemingly winning his war on the narco guerilla is losing the battle with the European intelligentsia who still think that the FARC are still a real popular movement and not a drug cartel. Thus Uribe does not miss a chance to look good in the international stage, already thinking about l'après guerre when Colombia will become, suddenly, a big player. So we will see the incredible spectacle of Zapatero giving stature to an ideological opponent, Colombia, and future political pariah, Venezuela, while the real big guy, Brazil will harvest any benefit in the affair.

Really, Zapatero is about to look once again as el tonto útil, and for more than one guy.

The Venezuelan opposition is not mistaken as already AD has refused to meet with Zapatero. A perfunctory meeting was called by the Spanish embassy. Normally in a state visit in serious country there is a substantial meeting with the opposition leadership (though we noticed that when Iran visits the opposition is not invited to meet, but Spain is a serious country, still). But the embassy called for a very brief encounter, enough for a photo op to make Zapatero look good, short enough that Chavez will know that the opposition leadership will have no time to make its case. AD, who knows in addition that Zapatero would love to include Chavez (and Castro?) in the Internationale Socialiste, will have none of it and prefers that Zapatero takes his circus or promoting undemocratic governments elsewhere. Inasmuch as I dislike AD, for once they are right and the rest of the opposition might be well advised to follow suit: as we say en Venezuela, Zapatero esta meando fuera del perol (Zapatero is not peeing on target).

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PS: Zapatero and Moratinos would be well advised in reading the rather perceptive assay by Miguel comparing the fate of Venezuela and Spain over the last three decades. One wonders what happened to the PSOE of Spain who under Felipe Gonzalez took Spain out of third world status with the today's PSOE who seems headlessly running into walls and possibly compromising the well being of Spain. Good thing that Aznar tightly linked Spain to Europe.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The resentido social: a key supporter of chavismo?

Few terms in Venezuela can draw so many angry debates than defining the resentido social. Books could be written on it, thus this article can only be limited in its scope. However before starting, it would be very useful to observe that similar social phenomena exist in other societies, sharing similar parameters perhaps built in Human Nature. "Resentimiento Social" could be translated as "social grudge" or "class resentment" though the richness of the meanings in the Venezuelan lingo defies accurate translation. (1)

Resentimiento social in the USA

Considering that this blog has a large portion of US readers, I could point out that many folks integrating the religious right of the GOP could qualify as resentido social. In their case they attribute their personal failure to others who do not follow the Bible percepts that they supposedly follow themselves. These are many of the people that picket abortion clinics, follow homophobic preachers, burn crosses in front of mixed race couples and fall prey to sleazy politicians who used to be Democrats in the South but who now are Republicans. Usually these people adopt on the surface a "purifying" approach to life that easily overflows to punish anyone who does not think the way they do. The root is basically a failure to adapt to the new, to make the American Dream work for them and to fail to seek in themselves what could explain their failure. Fundamentalism could appear to some as a way to vent their grudges, thus giving a bad name to the fundamentalists that really hold their faith.

And in France

Other countries offer their own variations. In France there used to be a strong Communist Party who eventually failed but who was "followed" by the National Front of Le Pen. That xenophobic movement managed to have a significant chunk of the French population believe that their jobless problems, the growing insecurity be it monetary or physical, was due to the large North African immigration. It is to be noted that the Communist Party tried to use xenophobia too but failed as the Socialist party won office and made such a language taboo for the left. The National Front basically preaches that the problems, and personal failures (?), of the French are to be attributed to the European Union, immigration, lack of faith and what not. The language of a Le Pen supporter can qualify very well as the one of a resentido social, if not outright fascist.

And let's not go into the historical examples of violence based regimes in Europe and elsewhere.

Which is a basic description of a resentido social?


In a very simplistic nutshell a resentido social is a person who considers that s/he has failed in life because of "others". The others can range from family and friends to society at large and the government. But what makes the resentido social different from the average frustrated Joe is that they seem unable to outgrow their frustration even if one day they get a lucky break. They still live for an eventual revenge that even if it comes never seems to be good enough. Thus a second way to look at resentido social is the inability to learn, to outgrow frustrations, to mature.

A consequence of that inability to learn, of that blinding deep seated resentment, of a strong sense of entitlement, can only lead to intolerance, sectarianism, abuse and even violence. It is all a matter of circumstances and social barriers existing to contain such "get back at" feelings. In short, the resentimiento social is about destruction of social structures, not building them.

The making of a resentido social in Venezuela

Venezuela had the bad luck to have created a social frame that has lead to a general social frustration in its population. People indeed have reasons to fear frustrated and without future since the late 70ies. The dream of a big and easy money Venezuela came crashing in 1982 and as a society we have never been able to come to grips with the real causes of our failure. Though since many a witch doctor has offered a quick cure with the disastrous consequences that find us so prostrated in 2005.

Many are the reasons a Venezuelan can feel frustrated: unfulfilled populist promises, deteriorating standard of living, growing inequalities, perceived corruption of the political classes, personal insecurity, continuous degradation of public services, etc... All of this must lead to the confused feeling that "somebody somewhere owes me something". From there to start acting on it only requires some messianic leader.

An example of a resentido social

A search in Google for "resentido social Venezuela" yields 2800 entries, a witness of the lively discussion of the topic (2). And these are usually associated with Chavez and his supporters. Though, of course, some resentidos sociales can be found in the opposition. Let's look at a recent example.

Mayor Bernal, one of the Caracas districts mayors could well be a prime example of "resentido social", now on his lucky break. In 1992, as a constable of the Metropolitana Police he was booted out for sympathies with the coup mongers of that year. But now, as a Caracas ruler and the boss of his own police department he is trying to get reinstated in the Metropolitana. Considering that justice for the 1992 victims was never done, one wonders why would Bernal want "justice" for him being fired "unjustly". After all, there is a much better career awaiting for him in politics than back with the cops. But it seems that a grudge is a grudge, and too bad for the 1992 corpses that cannot express their legitimate grudge.

How many "resentidos sociales" in Venezuela?

Before examining how could that diffuse sentiment been used by Chavez (and others before him but not to such extent) it could be good to evaluate how many "resentidos sociales" exist in Venezuela. Obviously it would be difficult to establish a questionnaire where people would respond to values that tend to be looked upon as negatives. But this has not stopped folks such as Datanalisis to look into the matter.

In the results of a 2001 study Venezuela was divided into three groups, and a rather bleak division at that:

The first group for an 18% share is what we could very loosely qualify as the entrepreneurs, the heirs of the 60ies and 70ies relative prosperity. If they show a certain dissociation with society at large, it is because they consider that they are the ones responsible in creating their own future or administer on their own whatever legacy they have. That separation from society realities is a strength and a weakness at the same time.

The second group is the largest of the three and with 59% represent the fatalists, those that live for the present. Materialists and ever so fashionable, they tend to believe in Lady Luck as the driver of their destiny. They are waiting for their break a nd when this one is late in coming, well, resentment could install itself.

The last group would represent the frustrated ones, the ones that feel that society owes them. With 23%, they are the more "tribal" group, the ones that need to belong to some unit and the ones that blame all governments for their lousy personal situation. The study also adds that they are the ones more likely to read horoscopes and consult astrologers. Almost but not quite the "resentido social" portrait.

It is not the objective to decide whether that Datanalisis study is a valuable representation of society in 2001; however it does describe the "phenotypes" that politicians and marketers love to play with (the study did look into the spending habits of the three groups which already indicate a sure bias). Still, the observant leader can detect that group 2 and, mostly, group 3 are a fertile ground for a politician that preaches entitlement, revenge while managing to convey the impression of finally distributing the goods. Which would not stop group 1 to jump in the band wagon for personal benefit more than any conviction. Populism is populism and it succeeds when it manages to charm a majority, even if a few see from the start the empty promises.

How was used "resentimiento social" in Venezuela?

One additional problem with Venezuelan society is that from our history we do drag a certain class division which is only overcome through the "viveza criolla". That is, our Creole street smarts, so to speak, were the only perceived way to get ahead in life, to overcome the odds set upon us from colonial times. One must outsmart the other side, cheating being allowed. The Venezuelan "hero", or rather anti hero tends to be violent and smart and get away with murder. See Doña Barbara to understand that archetype of Venezuelan dominant violence (3).

Such tradition, coupled with a powerful feeling of revenge and entitlement, aggravated by now 25 years of continuous crisis, are a godsend for an unscrupulous politician like Chavez. And he has made good use of it. Using the tone of the fundamentalist fire and brimstone preacher he built his 1998 campaign on "frying the heads" of AD politicians, and never looked back since. All is a battle for revenge, whether the grievances are real or not. In his speeches Chavez basically says that if people are in dire straits it is not their fault, it is someone else fault (feel in the blank) and that Chavez will make things right. But never will Chavez on the campaign trail say that people should work harder, stop spending their money on beer, should try to avoid getting pregnant, should be more responsible for their actions. No, instead we will invade Hato Piñero and with that all of our problems will be solved. The agrarian problem of course being the personal grudge of Chavez, just as the Metropolitana is the grudge of Bernal. It does not make any sense, it will not solve anything, but Chavez will have people pay off because maybe as a kid he was chased from some piece of land where he was trying to steal some mangoes. Most kids outgrow such an event, but Chavez will make the land his and thus pretend to erase the fault. Just as the 1999 constitution includes a civil rebellion cause whose only objective is really to retroactively exculpate him from the 1992 rebellion.

Thus is the fate of Venezuela, finally fallen into the hands of a group of people with grudges that need to be avenged. Thus we see the violent discourse, the aggravated social divisions, the constant verbal violence, the growing street violence, the inability to deal with issues, to deal with growing crime, with poverty. Construction of a new Venezuela can be only dealt with once revenge has been exacted.

Unfortunately we know from history that revenge is never satisfying enough for these people. And we are already seeing this today, as chavismo having all in hand is now only worrying about the US, putting more people in jail, erasing the opposition leadership, while nothing serious is done to put Venezuela accounts in order, to try to bring back confidence to build the country.

There is only more violence ahead for us.

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(1) I have been writing on and off this article and only thanks to Easter Holiday was able to pen it down. But procrastination pays. Francisco Toro in Caracas Chronicle writes more on the excellent book by Briceño Guerrero and reading that article is an excellent complement to this post, while allowing me to ignore a few things.

(2) This blogger actually figures among the first 10 entries displayed by Google with his own entry in July 2004 using the term Resentido Social describing Chavez. He would certainly not use it anymore considering the new repressive laws, but he is certainly allowed to consult archives.

(3) Doña Barbara is the "great Venezuelan novel" to use the cliché. Written by Romulo Gallegos it remains without equal to describe the different types of the Venezuelan society. Little seems to have changed in the minds of Venezuelans since that book was published in 1929.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter news in Venezuela

The news never stop, even if this blogger is busy with other activities. So, here is a quick rundown.

The hired pen scandal keeps expanding (and a blogger scores one with a main media)

El Universal has translated its Expediente on "paying for pens". Thus showing that the harsh words of Izarra are not having an effect at intimidating El Universal research work.

In his continuous battle for international recognition (or was that propaganda?) El universal states today that Patton Boggs hired in 2004 has cost a few millions to the Venezuelan state (without many results as far as I can see). And El Universal even uses a fellow blogger link to direct to the Patton Boggs summary! Good going Iruña!

Meanwhile for the next best thing...

Considering that hired pens are slow, the government was also installing restrictions to civil rights. Unfortunately people are noticing. So this Easter week we get two international organizations emitting condemnations to recent Venezuelan legislation. Human Rights Watch, now an usual critic of Chavez, points its accusatory finger at the modified penal code. The title of their English report is unambiguous: Venezuela: curbs on free expression tightened.

But to add insult to injury, Reporters without Borders chimes in. Their article title is equally unambiguous: Criminal Code amendments pose threat to press freedom.

Chavistas were not amused, as far as I could see....

And some good news too

During the holiday some people took opportunity to overthrow a corrupt and nepotistic regime in Kyrgyzstan. Apparently a president who recently claimed to have won elections with something close to 90% was suddenly on the run as the real voters would have none of it. Now parliament is trying to restore order and calling for REAL elections in June. Now that we know that the Carter Center does not cover Central Asia, the possibility of real elections might be a real possibility. And thus fall the third post soviet pseudo democracy as the people take matters in their own hands. One never knows who is next, and not necessarily in the old soviet empire.

All the goodies from a collective blog, and extensive comments from Publius Pundit.

And I cannot leave Asia without a word over the China Taiwan ethical wars, as Taiwan is edging closer and closer to declaring independence. Publius has nice pics and comments there, as I wonder what Chavez thinks of his Communist China friends showing again how undemocratic they are. Birds of a feather..........

Meanwhile back at the ranch

To end this post, a note on Val's Babalu covering yet 14 more cubans making it to Dry Tortugas.

So let's see if I get that one right: Castro is receiving enough subsidies from Chavez that he reevalautes his worthless peso by 8% while Chavez devaluates his soon to be wortheless currency by yet another 12%; Cuba is promoted as the source of all good, all health and all education, a model for Venezuela and soon more South American countries if Chavez has his way with it; and yet people risk their life again and again in spite of all the improving signs (including rice cookers now available) to reach the US. Must be the roaches at Cuban health care centers.


Friday, March 25, 2005

In search of the truth about VIO, Golinger and chavista monies....

It is quite interesting to observe that the Expediente "revelations" are having a wake in more than one place. Now Vcrisis is publishing "variations" in the content pages of some sites, a content evolving as revelations keep appearing. Not to mention evolving players.

I will let the reader judge with its own intelligence, but me thinks that fêted heroes of the revolution should be a little bit more careful...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Two different ways of saying/not saying that Venezuela signs an information accord with Cuba.-

Some news are the same, but are not quite presented the same way by the source that publish them. First, let us read the essence of El Universal version:

Venezuela and Cuba sign an accord of information cooperation.

EFE informed that Venezuela and Cuba signed an accord of cooperation in information thanks to which the Cuban Press Agency (Prensa Latina) will help restructure and reactivate the Bolivarian News Agency (ABN). The accord was signed by the PL president, Frank Gonzalez and the director of ABN, Freddy Fernandez, in the building of the Ministry of Information and Communications with the presence of Minister Andres Izarra. The accord will allow PL to advise ABN in the news information treatment, in the training of personnel and in the use of new multimedia technologies. Izarra also said that the accord will help to internationalize ABN since they aspire to have a network of international correspondents that will spread the truth about Venezuela and pick up information of interest for the Venezuelan people.

Now let us read the same news that appeared in the Information Ministry (MINCI) page:

ABN and Prensa Latina sign an accord of information cooperation.

The Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) and the International Agency of Latin Press signed this Wednesday an accord of information cooperation which objective is to route the Venezuelan agency towards a larger development and world projection. In the meeting were present the minister of Communication and Information, Andres Izarra, the president of Prensa Latina, Frank Gonzalez and the Director of ABN, Freddy Fernandez.

Izarra emphasized that this type of accord helps in the effort that the national government is undertaking to impulse ALBA. He also said that the accord strengthens ABN in the technological and information field as well as in the area of training of reporters and editors. “The accord between ABN and Prensa Latina helps us internationalize our Venezuelan agency”, indicated the minister.

It is expected that ABN will position itself among the first news agencies of the world, added minister Izarra.

My first observation is of course the fact that the word “Cuba” does not appear at all in the news provided by the MINCI. If you read carefully, you can see that even the PL agency, a Cuba based agency, is called an “International” agency. So why is that the MINCI does not want that the country affiliation of Prensa Latina appear in its main page?

The second observation is that Prensa Latina is going to help the Bolivarian News Agency not only in the training of personnel, but also in multimedia technologies (according to EUD) and in the “technological and information field” (according to the MINCI). So, in my view, that means that the Cubans must be much more developed in the technological and information field than the Venezuelans, right?

Well, this ghost blogger was a bit skeptic and wanted to check that out. I thought that if a country is really much better in technology and information, that should be correlated with good Internet and technology statistics. The more advanced you are in those areas, the more number of hosts and PCs you have per capita…. So I went to the page of the ITU, which is the International Telecommunication Union and found a page where the 2003 (the latest) Internet statistics per country are kept. They are here. Here is a comparison table between Cuba and Venezuela.

Country

Total nr. Of Hosts

Hosts per 10000 hab

Nr users (K)

Users per 10000 hab

Nr of PCs (K)

Nr of PCs per 100 hab

Cuba

1529

1.35

98

86.63

270

2.39

Venezuela

35301

13.74

1549.5

602.98

1536

6.09









So, with this table in front of me,I ask Minister Izarra how can he justify at all that Cuba helps Venezuela in technological and information matters?

There is no justification WHATSOEVER.

…No wonder the word “Cuba” did not appear anywhere in the news from the MINCI page.

Jorge Arena.

Easter break in Venezuela

We are in our annual Easter Holiday in Venezuela, which for some people started last Saturday and for everyone else except tourism and utilities (though do not expect to have anything fixed) starts today. Caracas will be a semi dead city today and tomorrow except that now we have movies and malls partially open. I suppose that this is the XXI century, but when I was a kid there was not even movie theaters open until Saturday night, and not all of them. But Caracas is of little concern for me, I only stopped for an overnight and I am taking the road again in a couple of hours for a long leisurely and touristy drive back home. Leisurely because you better not speed up as too many drunks drive, and too many security check points stop you along the way. Though there are already a few dozen casualties due to traffic accidents. Carababo state even put up a couple of coffins and a hearse in front of their main toll booth to try to infuse people with fear. I am not sure if that measure will be effective but it surely reflects the subtle diplomacy of the burping general now the anointed Carabobo governor. I'll try to take a picture as I drive in front later.

Thus it will be a low news week end, though with an hysterical chavismo one never knows. One who started his holiday in a bad mood is Izarra, the communication minister, complaining loudly against El Universal Expediente. Must have hit a raw nerve somewhere. He accused EL Universal of lies but I did not hear the word lawsuit. It would be difficult to prove anything one way or another as the recipients of the chavista generosity certainly did not keep a receipt, not to mention that the hired pen syndrome for chavismo has been hanging around for quite a while already. Where there is smoke... I am afraid that Izarra lost a precious opportunity to remain silent as his "performance" only drew even more attention to El Universal research.

Thus are things here, a supposedly triumphant revolution always in the defensive. One wonders why... See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Another Venezuelan Conference

The Forum Venezuela at Harvard University is pleased to invite you to their
first Spring Conference:

"The State of Venezuelan Democracy and the Rule of Law after the Recall
Referendum: Sliding towards Authoritarian Rule?"
by:
Ana Julia Jatar

Where : Land Lecture Hall, 4th Floor Belfer Building,
Kennedy School of Governement, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA
When : Wednesday, March 23th. Hour: 6:00pm

More about Hato Piñero

El Universal has a series of article today about the work done over the decades at Hato Piñero. In Spanish.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Chavez battle against international media: a blogger's satisfaction

I am traveling through the country side this week (Easter holiday is the whole week for many Venezuelans). Thus I am a little bit late in the news, and posting on them. For example, I had to wait for tonight to read Sunday El Universal's "Expedientes". That Sunday feature of El Universal is an in depth study of some important political issue, and it has the ability to stir quite a lot or ire from the chavista camp as it exposes many of the lies and misdeeds. This Sunday was particularly gratifying for Venezuelan bloggers, mainly those writing in English.

El Universal expediente titled "Pagando Plumas" (paying for pens) is a recap on how much money Venezuela is spending on hired pens to promote its cause outside. Of course many of those "independent" writers claim that they are not paid and that they do that out of the goodness of their heart. However a sentence later they also admit that chavismo brings them to Venezuela on occasion, all expenses paid. At the very least they keep adding frequent flyer miles, no?

Nobody of course is fooled as there are many ways to pay a journalist, if anything by having them called by name during a Chavez show, such as Eva Golinger. With that simple single moment, the woman that "denounced" the NED grants to Sumate got her more than 15 minutes of fame, amen of her doing just the same partisan activity that her "ethics" condemned when Sumate received money from another country. And, while at it, she got a book deal from a Cuban press with an Havana launch, and the improbable name of "Chavez Code". 'nuf said!

The article also acknowledges that there is a recognized budget through the Venezuelan embassy to fund the VIO (Venezuelan Information Agency), to the tune of already 600 000 USD for 2005. By itself this dwarfs ALL the NED grants put together as to Venezuela. Who gets that money and how has been illustrated in the recent happening in Boston, a happening that cost already 1.5 million USD even before the enlightened Venezuelan officials landed in Boston. The money was spent to repair a silly CITGO sign in Kenmore Square. Not only that sum seems outrageous for a billboard, but with half of that amount there is many a "Barrio Adentro" clinic that could get some needed improvement.

At any rate. I had an amusing thought while reading all of this, that English writing Venezuelan bloggers, all doing it for free as far as it is known, have contributed in forcing the Chavez government to speed up its campaign of self promotion. As far as this blogger knows the English language sites and people defending Chavez consistently over time seem all supported by his agents, directly or indirectly at least from what has been reported and even admitted by the government such as Sunday's expediente. However all the bloggers opposing his misrule are doing so from free sites or dirt cheap sites that they can afford themselves without any grant. And at the expense of their own free time. They do most of the work single handedly whereas chavismo has to line a battery of journalists (?). From the Expediente it seems that apparently Chavez is not getting his money worth...

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Urgent action to save nature preserve and biological station in Venezuela

For once this blogger will ask his readers to write.

To write to all of the addresses listed at the end of this important appeal from one of the people responsible for the success of Hato Piñero, the best private effort for ecological preservation in Venezuela, no matter what the propaganda machine of a power drunk chavismo might pretend to demonstrate. Without further ado, check Urgent action to save nature preserve and biological station in Venezuela and act as of your conscience. Let's hope that all the environmental organizations in the US, Canada and Europe or Japan and Oz notice the plight of Hato Piñero. If you are linked to one of them, please send them a forward of your letter. You can also use the envelope button at the bottom of this post to forward this blog page to your ecologically friendly friends.

Dios y la Patria os lo agradecerán.

Jennifer McCoy writes to Venezuela News and Views

Although I have strongly criticized the Carter Center this has not stopped me from trying to establish contact with them, in particular Dr. Jennifer McCoy to who I sent not only the critical posts I wrote but also some information such as my analysis of the results of the October 31 elections. She was kind enough to find in her schedule time to read them and acknowledge reception.

Thus, although no internet buddies, we have established a rapport sufficiently respectful that I have offered her to reply to my criticism in my blog or to add something to what was already said elsewhere. She replied that she was not sure that she should write to specific blogs since her reports exist in the net and it would be unfair to favor one venue instead of another. However since there has been a direct exchange between us she thought that it could be good to publish excerpts of a letter she sent me. I allowed myself to advise her to explore the use of blogs as an additional way of communication in the future but at this time I think she had a fair point.

This of course does not mean that I am any closer from approving what the Carter Center has done in Venezuela at the end. However I think that communication should always be established when possible, just as this blog would open to a pro Chavez official were s/he to show interest and respect for my opposing views, the basis of any democratic discourse. I do wish to thank her from her trust and understanding that my role as a blogger is to express the criticism I feel people have against the Carter Center, without making it a personal issue. A difficult task to achieve these days in Venezuela.

The letter is below. Any well written letter that you wish to send her I will forward, with of course no obligation from her part to reply. Also considering that it is a reply to my comments to the Carter Center, by courtesy and to avoid further discussion of little use at this time I will not comment on this letter. That is, I have already said what I needed to say and Dr. McCoy replied what she needed to reply. We will see if future exchanges can be useful.

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

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for sending me your blogs. I know it's difficult to follow what is happening by just reading the press. If you read several Venezuelan newspapers, you will find very different reports about the same event or what someone said. For example, El Universal fundamentally changed what I said upon leaving the CNE on Thursday during my visit (while others got it more accurately), yet El Universal had one of the more accurate reports of what I said on Saturday.

[With regard to confusions about the Carter Center's role in Ukraine and Iraq, McCoy clarified:] (The) Center never considered participating in either of those elections, as it does not work in Central Asia or the Middle East (except Israel-Palestine), and it tries to not to duplicate efforts when other organizations are present. The Center observed the Mozambiqan elections last fall, Palestine in January, and several others upcoming.

It's frustrating to me how hard it is to get a message out clearly and accurately anywhere, and particularly in Venezuela, so I know it must be doubly frustrating to so many of you trying to ascertain and evaluate what is happening. Of course, individuals who report to the press on the content of private meetings often give their own slant or partial information, so that it is very difficult for those depending on media reports to know the full range of opinions expressed in those private meetings, and thus to draw informed conclusions.

With regard to my trip last week and your desire to ascertain the true meaning of it, let me assure you it is much more mundane than you theorize. It normally takes the Carter Center about six months to write a full report of an election monitoring mission, including following the complaint process afterward. Very often, staff travel to the country to present the report and its recommendations, either in the format of a seminar or private meetings with election officials and interested parties. In this case, we considered organizing a seminar with some Venezuelan organizations for the end of February before our grants were scheduled to end, but decided on the advice of those organizations to postpone the seminar until they are ready to take the lead to organize such an event. We nevertheless finished the report, and as we needed to close our office on schedule with the grant, and present the report officially to the CNE, I decided to keep my originally scheduled trip dates (which was always three days in Caracas).

I did take advantage of the visit to meet privately with a number of organizations and individuals, some of whom I have known for a very long time, and to communicate some of my thoughts in a final press conference. Finally, The Carter Center wanted to communicate to Venezuelans that far from "declaring victory and walking away" or "washing our hands of Venezuela", as you [in one of my posts on the matter] assert, the Center remains committed to peace and democracy in the country, but will only re-engage if and when Venezuelan actors so desire -- which is always the practice of the Center.

Sincerely,

Jennifer McCoy--

Friday, March 18, 2005

Announcement on the future of this blog

People that have read me for a long time know that I am not one to dramatize my fate or to think myself of more important than what I am. I am just a blogger, one of those strange creatures that feel compelled to write and write, who had the immense luck to have hit a nerve with some people who enjoy reading my texts. I do not pretend to hold the truth, but I do hold my truth and I try to convey it as honestly as possible.

However things have changed in Venezuela. After the "gag law" passed a few months ago to muzzle the media, this week saw finally the publication in the official journal of new modifications to the penal code. Journalists are now routinely dumped from their jobs, when not sued. What does this mean?

Well, I will keep writing but I will have to watch more my words, at least until I understand better the implications of the new code. Not that this code was written for me, but anything that I write as of this week could be used against me years from today. Freedom of expression is indeed dead in Venezuela as auto censorship is already visible everywhere. We can still say a lot, enough actually to still bother the government and thus, inexorably, as it is inbred in this type of authoritarian regime, today's restrictions will become tomorrow "the good old days".

Do not worry, I will find a way to convey the message. But you will also need to read better in between lines, and to moderate your speech in the comment section as now "instigation to hatred" is a SUBJECTIVE notion that has become the letter of the Venezuelan legal code. I hope that I will not need to install full censorship in my comment section or to go to an all previewed forum to make sure that no one uses my blog to provoke his or her opposing side.

There is also something that you should know: I have detected an unusual pattern of people reading my posts. This has arisen in the last two weeks. In all truth I am not sure what it really means but I have consulted around and some people that are in the know have confirmed that it COULD be "people" doing more than just reading this blogger on occasion. That is right, it is possible that I am watched. Now, this should not be a surprise and nobody should dramatize this: I am quite certain that political blogs have been watched for quite a while in Venezuela (if anything because Castro has excoriated the Internet). After all, this blogger got media exposure, other blogs from Venezuela got even more exposure lately than this modest effort. So it was bound to happen. Let's just say that it is sort of official now and that I have to learn to live with it as it can only get worse with time.

Dear readers do not fret. What we sensed long ago is starting. Think instead about these places where it is much worse for bloggers, in Iran for example. Be aware, and if needs arise get ready to support Venezuelan bloggers. It will not happen tomorrow, perhaps even not this year, perhaps never, but it could happen anytime, and it could even happen first to pro Chavez bloggers who do not toe the line and who will need to be defended all the same. Venezuelan bloggers will not let this stand in our way to report to the best of our knowledge what is really going on in Venezuela.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tale of a Venezuelan in Boston

During my scientific career I did live one year in Boston. I would have loved to stay longer but the quirks of the work place made me move out barely 13 months after I moved in first.

Boston is one of my favorite US city, one of the 3 I would consider moving to the day Chavez sends me on the roads of exile. Even the harsh Boston winter did not bother me much then. I remember the long walks I took in the snow covered banks of the Charles, from old Waltham cemetery to Cambridge.

I cannot tell you the long afternoons and evenings spent in Harvard square. That is, the pre-GAP square where bookstores pullulated and I could afford to see the premiere of some new play, such as a Philip Glass opera, The Fall of the House of Usher. A Harvard square of which I knew where were all the lilacs bushes to make sure to walk in front of them each time I went there during the two springs I enjoyed in Boston.

These days were also my most Liberal days. Though never a bleeding heart liberal (I was always fiscally conservative, if not in my own credit cards), there is no better place in the US to be a Liberal than in Boston, a place where you are spared all the flakiness of the West Coast. Winter snow flakes have a way to filter flake out of you surroundings.

Thus I must confess that the announcement of the visit from Venezuela officials (see previous post) brought me back to these halcyon days of meager means but rich mind offerings. Well, it seems that Boston has changed and I am rather disappointed.

Not that I really mind that chavismo promotes itself by hypocritically restoring a famous sign at Fenway (of my baseball team, yes, I am a Red Sox type of guy). After all, how many Americans know that Citgo belongs to Venezuela? And how many do care as to whether Chavez want to sell it to sink the proceeds in the bottomless pit of his corrupt system? No, fair is fair and Chavez there is not doing anything different than the US does promoting its ways outside.

However I do take exception at the announced visit of Juan Barreto. All the other officials from Venezuela visiting I can deal with it, but Juan Barreto is among the very worse representative that we can have, perhaps the most insulting possible affront to what Boston represents to civility and education.

Now, I am fully aware that the fact that Barreto will be speaking at Harvard or MIT might not mean at all that he is officially received by these campus: it is probably some student group that reserved some hall and paid for it (or rather Citgo). Note that the invitation does not specifically say that "Dean so and so ask the pleasure of your company". Such information only appears for Mari Pili Hernadez at the JFK school, and it makes sense as she is a deputy foreign minister for North American affairs.

But do the people attending the Barreto thing know who they are listening to? Do they know his perfect track record of homophobic comments against his political opponents as he is about to speak in a city that is struggling with Gay marriage, a city always on the fore front of the struggle for Human Rights? Do they know about Barreto frequent misogynistic comments? Do they know about his frequent apparitions in front of the cameras promoting violence?

Barreto might have been elected, by default, Mayor at large for Caracas, but that does not make him a suitable representative. When I see that the mayor of Boston is opening his doors wide open or that representative Delahunt is writing a perfectly ill informed piece in the Globe, I wonder where the educated, civil and informed Bostonians have gone (Delahunt is from Quincy, close enough). It is rather appalling that Delahunt from a state that includes Barney Frank as his representative did not realize who really are the folks he is trying to "reach out" to. He would do well to read contrary opinions if he wants to have some credibility in the committee he might aspire to lead someday. No wonder John Kerry lost if he was supported by such non entities. At least Kerry did know about the evil taking place in Venezuela.

Announcement

Although you know that Jorge Arena had a standing invitation to post on occasion, there is a faster than expected return. The reason is that there is an interface problem with Salon on someone's computer and Miguel cannot fix it from the culinary paradise he is at now (no, I will not reveal the locale but be assured that we do not need to feel sorry for him).

So, in the spirit of cooperation I have reopened access to Jorge Arena for a few days but he will be posting as a Miguel ghost blogger, in communication with him. That is, they will decide whatever they want to post, according to parameters set by Miguel, in whatever style they chose and I have no responsibility whatsoever ;-) And if Miguel can find time to write he might do so through Jorge so as to see that "posted by" certification, for whatever it is worth.

End of disclaimer :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Bolivarians come to Boston

Since I has been unable to do the post in Miguel's blog, Daniel has kindly allocated space in his blog to post the Bolivarian events in Boston.

For those of you that did not know it, some important personalities of the Bolivarian Revolution will visit Boston to give the Bostonians their perspectives on Venezuelan matters. Several events have been organized by the Bostonian Bolivarian Circles as well as by the Venezuelan Embassy and CITGO (yes the same CITGO that the government wants to sell!). I am surprised, though, that both Harvard and MIT have invited only goverment officials, no one from the opposition.

Here are the scheduled events:

HARVARD UNIVERSITY, MARCH 17, 3 p.m.

Presentation by Juan Barreto (mayor of Caracas)

4:006:30 p.m.

Architects of the Bolivarian circles will explain the advances of the revolution.

61 Kirkland Street. Cambridge

MIT, MARCH 17, 6:30-10:00 p.m.

Exchanges with Juan Barreto (mayor of Caracas)and Aristobulo Isturiz (minister of education)

Walker Memorial Hall-142, Memorial Drive, Cambridge

BOSTON CITY HALL, MARCH 18, 9:00 a.m.

Public Breakfast

HARVARD UNIVERSITY, JFK SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, MARCH 18

3 p.m.

Presentation by Maria Pilar Hernandez.

The url to get the whole information are here and here.

Jorge Arena.

News round up from the Venezuelan dictatorship in the making

Sometimes it is really disheartening to read the news. Not necessarily for their gruesome content, but for what they imply in the general scheme of our unfortunate country. The hour must be crucial as El Universal shows an infrequent zeal at translating into English many of the news reported below (English text link in bold).

The burnt soldiers relatives will have nothing of it

The interesting development here is that the families of the two young soldiers burnt to death refused the army to be involved in the funeral, refused to have military honors rendered to them. This by itself is quite telling! And goes a long way to show the fast degradation of the army image in Venezuela among its people. Even after fort Mara the army was still linked to the funeral, but today, when the opposition is at its weakest to manipulate such an issue, the families of the victims take a rather courageous stand, if you ask me!

Meanwhile the family of the soldier accused to set up that new fire (the convenient scapegoat?) say the he was forced to confess a crime he did not commit, and even said that they had been threatened themselves. Government of course denies but it has a hollow ring to it. The fact is that even if the government operated well (at least they did turn investigation to civil justice instead of to military justice) the track record since Fort Mara is so dismal that credibility is lost.

What we are seeing is simply the fate that waits for any army that links its fate to an authoritarian government.

Private property is a thing of the past

There might be valid reasons to expropriate large tracks of lands to distribute among the landless peasants. However, in a judicial system where the rule of law is the norm, there must be a process of appeal and of indemnization at least for the work put into the land by the soon to be ex-owners. After all they built roads, infrastructure, prepared land for cultivation, etc... and this is the fruit of their labor.

But the INTI, fast sinking into the infamous status under the hack direction of bad boy Otayza has announced that it will not bother waiting for the appeal to take place and does not feel bound to consider indemnization. Now, in his expose Otayza even went as far as saying that the "republic" could not recognize property that dates from colonial times. Huh? Isn't that a way to say really that the present government will recognize only what it sees fit to recognize? Aren't we rewriting history here? But it got better. Otayza said that all final decisions will be taken by Chavez himself. We thus loop the loop and come back to El Supremo, now sole arbiter of all things in the land, just as under the times of Gomez when he was quietly and steadily expropriating the land of his political enemies to add it his own or his pals. Not to mention the said colonial times.

Thus endeth the concept of private property in Venezuela. I wonder who will be coming to invest in Venezuela after this round of land seizure only justified to satisfy the ego of El Supremo.

Freedom of expression officially curtailed

Readers of this blog are aware that the process to limit freedom of expression in Venezuela has started long ago, already when "bolivarian" mobs where attacking journalists or laying siege to newspapers or TV station that did not praise enough El Supremo. Well, I guess we can put an official date this week.

First, the IAPA issued its official condemnation, downgrading Venezuela freedom of expression barely above Cuba and Haiti. The communication minister, Izarra now far removed from his days as a journalist in the quest of truth, lashed in the only way left for the scoundrel: shoot the messenger. In his words, it is El Supremo the victim.

But he also went a step further and swore in yesterday the commission that will monitor the media expression. This commission, if I understood things right, has 7 members appointed by the government and only 3 appointed by independent sectors (one of them of dubious independence itself). Just in case there is any doubt about the partiality of this commission that will be involved in deciding violations of the law and the fines, one of the members was caught by the Globovision cameras dressed in white and chavista red, doing the chavista salute of the violent fist in hand, a repeated punching. I mean, geez, they are unable to even pretend...

The march to rewrite history


But all of these news of course are simply part to the effort to rewrite history. Now that the high court has begun to take down previous rulings not favorable to chavismo, it is easy for this one to rewrite rural history, or to decide who is the one saying the historical truth. Appointed hacks now have no rein to their desire to flatter El Supremo and collect at the cash register as I showed above. Thus it is good to leave this already depressing page with two articles.

Michael Rowan writes on how Easter Island inhabitants used all of their resources until they died of starvation, something waiting for us as oil money is simply distributed. I picked one paragraph that is quite telling:
Freedom for the poor, like money for food, medicine or the bus, is scarce. The little handouts from government are like the dimes the gloved hand of the billionaire John D. Rockefeller deposited in the wretched palms of the starving children of poisoned coal miners in West Virginia last century -as John D. basked in their pitiful smiles.
Chavez as the new tycoon. Fascinating concept!

Last, the editorial from Venecomia, aptly named "The conqueror writes history", concludes with those chilling words:
With this double murder of the Rule of Law and the right to property, plus the pressure that is being brought to bear on the freedom of expression through coercion and sanctions, the country is now definitely under a dictatorial regime.
I wonder we will put a penny in Venezuela if they are not willing to morally compromise with the El Supremo. But from what I can see , there are many people willing to turn a blind eye to evil. Nothing new under the sun. Meanwhile, woe is us, the few people who believe in law, individual responsability and mutual respect.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The way we were: Lebanon now

At least from a country where the dark chavista night is setting, it is heartwarming to see that after Ukraine in another country the crowds in the street seem to be having an effect. After decades of civil war and Syrian occupation, there seems to be now enough unity among Lebanese folks to launch hundred of thousand of people in the streets. Publius Pundit who is making a specialty of describing the fight for democracy has it all covered.

May Lebanon become a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and may the Mullhas and other unsavory friends of Chavez in the area shake at the march for democracy.

And while we are in the area let's be happy that three Bahraini bloggers have been released.

PS: But all is not lost in Venezuela: last Sunday Tulio Alvarez held the first significant rally from the Venezuelan opposition in months, once again to protest against government undue intervention in higher education. Remember, it all started in a small rally in 2001, against school intervention, until by late 2002 we were a million in the street of Caracas. Desperation runs deep and there is only one sparkle needed. Money freely distributed can only buy "loyalties" for so long.

Meanwhile the IAPA condemned Venezuela for freedom of the press violations. Full Spanish text here with a detailed listing of the violations, for those who are in chronic disbelief and permanent suspension of conscience.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The two Venezuelan soldiers burnt died of their injury

Death visited army barracks again. The soldiers burnt in detention cell died this morning. The defense minister promised full inquiry. Just as Chavez promised the country one year ago after the Fort Mara burnt soldiers. We will of course never know the truth.

What I wrote in my previous post still stands. In a military regime, the army is untouchable, unless a convinient scapegoat can be found. We are testing this again and the result is only too predictable.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Requiem for Hato Piñero? Ecological mess in the making in Venezuela?

The government has decided that the owners of Hato Piñero do not have the required documents to justify their hold on the land and thus expropriation proceedings will be started against them. What strikes most in the news is that the land will be "distributed" among landless peasants but no mention as to the ecological value of the land. Elsewhere I had read a few days ago that some portion will be preserved, but not who will be preserving it and how.

I am not too sure about the legal validity of all of this. For all that I now, maybe the Piñero folks did "steal" the land. But a few things are certain:

1- They made their ranch an internationally recognized station for nature observancy, self sustained now but with lots of their own money at first.

2- The Venezuelan state has proven itself a most deficient steward of National Parks in general.

I fear for the fate of Hato Piñero as it will be the prey to the rapicity of pseudo revolutionaries who probably only want their own nature lodge and take it away from their political enemies. The rapacity of chavista officials for real estate is becoming public knowledge. It is not easy to speculate that they want their private hunting lodge, err, I mean nature observancy lodge.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Venezuela dysfunctionality

This last couple of days show again the psychotic dysfunction that Venezuela has become. Let's look at the government first

Chavez receives Khatami

Fresh from insulting people's intelligence in France, Chavez arrived in the same mood to receive Khatami, calling his visit a "blessing" for Venezuelans. Well, not this Venezuelan blogger who can hardly see how a theocracy ruling a country where it forces women to wear veils and limits all sorts of Human Rights can be a blessing anywhere. But it seems that in the Chavez new world order, enemity toward the US is the high mark of civilization. Indeed, Iran's Khatami, a failure in his promise of moderate liberation at home, eventually caving in to the conservative Mullah, is certainly not going to criticize the repression being installed in Venezuela where the press is getting its tchador as bloggers wonder if their fate will be like the Irani bloggers.

Nevertheless Irani (free?) press reports happily on a billion dollar series of agreements between the two countries. These include a tractor factory, Venirán Tractor C.A. (I am not making this bad pun up).



For this Khatami received the nice cordon of the Libertador, famous non religious person, to go with his dark clerical outfit (this photo is certified photo-shop free by this blogger). Plus the keys of Caracas and much more important, a full Chavez support for Iran nuclear program. Is Chavez expecting Iran to step up to nuclear facilities once tractors are running? One can only expect the worse from a guy who has the chutzpah of needlessly supporting Iran in the middle of an international debate where even Europe is edging against Iran. Al Jazeera promptly reports the good news.

The Venezuelan opposition tries out a new organization

While Chavez and Khatami played world trouble makers in the tractor factory, the Venezuelan opposition played yet another scene of its painful Hamletian tragedy. Unable to come to grips with the necessity of coming out clear as to what happened in August 15, its actors are trying to come up with ways to reactivate that 40% (as of Chavez numbers) of the electorate that supposedly belongs to them. From Quiros Corradi in Globovision saying that it is time to stop trying to settle accounts to AD pretending that they are the main party of the opposition, they all miss the point: the opposition electorate is not in any mood to trust its vote to the clowns that blew it on August. Or at least not until a convincing explanation comes forward. Today it is safe to say the opposition leadership is even more discredited than it was in the post referendum days.

Failing to renew its political leaders, a section of the left wing side of the opposition tried to do the next best thing: to create a new umbrella organization, hopefully as a prelude to a social democratic party. If the success of such venture, Polo Democratico, is to be wished by all, this blogger has serious doubts that a milder version of chavismo with the discredited leaders of the past will dent Chavez electorate (at least as long as oil price is high). In particular when people from AD or ex AD are haunting the halls of the gathering.

At least, in a more realistic approach, SUMATE decided to become more than just a consulting electoral group and joined the ranks of active grassroots. Indeed, it is probably a good move for the most technically proficient group in the opposition (and probably in the country) to use its skill to organize people politically. After all, if chavismo looks at them as political players, might as well try to get the benefits of being a political player. Their goal is simple: become a grass root organization to force the government to allow for clean elections. Back to the basics, what politicians seem unable to do these days (in the hope of Chavez providing them with a few crumbs?). It is recomforting that at least some folks like Sumate in Venezuela are thinking about the rights of the people instead of inflating further their distorted ego, or looking for one.

Friday, March 11, 2005

From Judicial Precedent to Judicial Activism in Venezuela: the official date is today

Today the newly appointed constitutional Hall of the Venezuelan High Court (TSJ) has taken its first major decision. There was no surprise as it was known for a long time that the "reform" of the TSJ had a major aim, to revert an August 2002 decision. The only surprise was that it was not expected to be so soon after its nomination. But to explain such a complex issue it is better to segment things.

The clear facts


The August 14 2002 decision was about declaring that there was no reason to bring to trial a group of military officers that were involved in the events of April 11 2002. The decision was not about whether there was a coup that day. A coup indeed took place, but on April 12 2002, in the afternoon when Carmona read his infamous decree. April 11 was a huge mess where all events played around the announcement of army chief Lucas Rincon that Chavez had resigned in the night of April 11 to 12. To this date there has been no satisfactory inquiry on the words of Lucas Rincon, or the events of April 11-13 for that matter. Lucas Rincon became an important player in the post April 2002 government and now rests comfortably in retirement, out of reach from any judicial inquiry.

Today, THAT DECISION WHICH WAS TAKEN BY THE COMPLETE TSJ and had in the Venezuelan judicial system an imprint of a final decision, HAS BEEN REVERTED BY ONE OF THE HALLS OF THE TSJ, a newly appointed out at that, under a new law.

An example to explain to the US reader (and others)

The United States has in its history many a controversial case in its judicial system. Arguably the most important one in recent history for its effects in US society and politics is Row vs. Wade which established the right to abortion for women.

What happened today in Venezuela is equivalent as an anti abortion president managing to violate the constitution and laws to pack legally the Supreme Court just to reverse that decision. And of course retaining after that a docile Supreme Court that will always rule in favor of the executive branch of government. I am sure that US citizens, no matter what side of Roe vs. Wade they stand, will appreciate the new meaning to "judicial activism" that the TSJ has written today.

The legal implications

Judicial independence was a thing of the past after the new law to organize the TSJ was voted last year. Packing of the court with political hacks soon followed. Seeing obviously unfit folks like Carrasquero or Alvaray reach the TSJ said it all. Today decision is just an "official" date for all citizens in Venezuela to realize what we are now facing. Judicial precedent yields to judicial activism now as any decision can be reviewed as needed. Even the decision of Caldera that forgave Chavez could be reviewed if the composition of the TSJ were to suddenly change again. In other words the government will be able to use judicial activism to take the speedy way to legislate when needed.

Now, the constitution in the famous blue book of Chavez is not worth the paper it is printed on.

If the implications for the Venezuelan citizen are indeed obvious, there are also implications for foreign nationals. Folks wishing to invest in Venezuela would be well advised to watch out: there is no way that they will win a legal fight in Venezuela if the executive power responsibility is involved. They might get partial redress or settlements "out of court" in order to avoid to go to international courts, but they will never win no matter how right they might be. As of today Justice is at the service of the executive and that much is crystal clear for all.

For those who already have investments in Venezuela it would be a good idea to limit their exposure as to their nationals residing in Venezuela, to review insurance policy placing policies outside Venezuela, and to get as business partners people directly linked to the regime.

In other words, as of today there are much better countries where to put your money, unless, for obvious reasons, you are in the oil business.

First reactions

As expected chavismo is gloating, including very, very unseemingly the new president of the TSJ who was not involved directly in that decision although we can be quite certain he orchestrated it. But in all fairness we must recognize that Omar Mora has dropped any pretense at impartiality since he has become the new TSJ head. He has announced "revolutionary" justice and now we are fixed as to what he meant.

The General Prosecutor was doubly pleased. His defeat in 2002 for his incompetent handling of evidence in August 2002 was reversed through politics and not good prosecution techniques. Today's decision distracts for his mishandling of the Danilo Anderson case. In normal countries his incompetence would have had him fired long ago. But it seems that in the bananarian republic it is a good career move to look dumber than the big chief. Even more, Isaias Rodriguez had even the bad taste to announce that the justices who signed the August 2002 ruling could be "investigated", one supposes insuring a 100% favorable court for the bananarian revolution.

Opposition figures simply point out that it was an expected development, that justice can only be found now overseas and that the 1999 constitution has been violated so often that it has become a joke. Even figures that defend that the August 14 2002 decision could be revised point out that today decision is unconstitutional as it places the constitutional hall above the full TSJ court something not in the constitution (there are indeed arguments to justify a reversal of the 2002 decision that would stand in an independent system, but prosecution did not even bother trying that way, preferring to wait for the politicians to change the court make up).

The reason behind it all

In the logic of a regime in its march toward authoritarianism (as a preliminary step toward full dictatorship) such a development is expected and the players know very well what is going on. The reason behind all of this legal chavista maneuvering to eliminate from the political scene any possible opponent to the regime. We saw that everywhere from Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany to Latin America Pinochet Chile or Castro Cuba. It might be so far a softer and more subtle way to do it, but the result will be the same and it could turn ugly anytime.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Chavez in Paris: an American in Paris it is not*

Chavez has been traveling around again. He dropped by Uruguay first to “offer” them 20% of Telesur. While he was there he did some shopping with Venezuelan taxpayer money: 500 million dollars of Argentinean debt. Each time he was helping countries with a higher standard of living, countries which by the way have better overall prospects for the future than Venezuela. I wonder if they will help us back when the chavismo economical lunacy comes home to roost.

Then it was off to India to outgandhi the sacred Mahatma memory. Communist ruled Bengal graciously offered a Calcutta stadium full of sympathizers for some speech to which Chavez arrived nevertheless 2.5 hours late. O Calcutta! it was considering the naked warnings to the US. A quick hop through Qatar and then it was off to Paris, a much more coveted prize for Chavez observing that the French are doing their best to pretend that chavismo is a democracy. But French need to sell their wares and they have demonstrated long ago that “scrupule” as a word was erased from the Petit Larousse Illustré special edition for foreign affairs offices.

There is really nothing much to say about the French visit except for this stunning account of a “press conference” given by Chavez, adding a new meaning to the phrase press conference. Without further ado, to close this post, the translation from the Cuba Si, Castro No communiqué(signed by Jacobo Machover, I kept the emphasis of the original in French here ). And by the way, Chavez was an hour an a half late, as usual. Even Clinton was quite on time compared to Chavez.

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He arrived 1.5 hours late, without apologizing surrounded by an improbable number of body guards, mostly Cubans, members of the Castrist secret services, who presided at their ease on the stage of studio 104 of Maison de la Radio, with their little suitcases, holding a machine gun or a bullet proof vest, for all to see. All around the few dozens journalists convoked (yes, convoked, dixit the press organizer) for the occasion, as many if not more thugs, all quite visible, ready to pluck manu militari the insolent who would dare to ask a troubling question to the “citizen president”. But there was little chance for this to happen. Effectively, only 5 questions were allowed. According to the organizer, the media had been drawn at random. Among the lucky chosen (imagine that!), there was the journalist from L’Humanité [French Communist Party newspaper].

Strange press conference, which seemed more like a meeting, with “spontaneous” clapping of the claque sitting on the front rows. Outside, chavistas strained to support their leader and its mentor, Castro, with lots of Cuban flags. A little bit further, pushed out of sight of the ruffianly soldier in suit and tie, a few protesters (too few), who were still saving the opposition honor in this France visit, which was as much propaganda as business, with a strong oil smell.

Inside the hall, a group of journalists, Venezuelan and other Latin American, had written a communiqué protesting the conditions evidently un-democratic of this press conference unheard format. But they were not allowed to read it, silenced by the barely veiled threats of the castro-chavista security personnel. The only thing they could do was to stand up and noticeably leave the hall (the only democratic reaction still possible) at the end of the first endless answer of the ex-coup-monger who was accusing, without the slightest evidence, Bush of wanting to kill him, which was without doubt used to justify the imposing protective apparatus and, mostly, intimidation one.

It still remains that fear is there. One can touch it with the finger, just as in Cuba. Venezuela is now (for how long? : let’s hope it is not for eternity) under the thumb, under the domination of a ridiculous but dangerous caudillo, who agitated a little blue book holding his “Bolivarian” constitution, just as in past times Chinese, constrained and forced, agitated the Little Red Book of Mao. Hugo Chavez has nothing of a Libertador, he is the poster boy of the apprentice dictator.

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*With my deepest apologies to George Gershwin, one of my very favorite composers even though an American in Paris I never liked. I find it a cacophony, though much less messed up than Chavez utterings.

PS: Tal Cual publishes a curious quote from Chavez in Paris, the country most Anglophobic language wise. At least someone at the Venezuelan embassy knew how to use that information:
“Yo, el ingles no lo hablo ni quiero hablarlo” (I do not speak English nor I want to)
Tal Cual adds the comment: You can’t.

Ah! Silliness has no boundaries!

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