Saturday, July 30, 2005

To vote? not to vote? but marching again in Caracas

The news was rather good today, in a sick way perhaps, but rather satisfying. First the news.

The opposition did his best march so far this year. At least number wise according to what one can see from Miguel's pics, Globovision or the newspapers blurbs. Probably on state VTV the march did not even happen. Indeed in the ABN, the bolibanana press agency, the news did not appear at all, but we can read the declaration of Izarra as "the impartiality of Telesur". I am not even going to bother to watch Telesur who is already showing signs of total ridicule. Incidentally, AboliBanaNa did show the pics of a MegaMercal that was hastily assembled today downtown Caracas on the path the march was supposed to follow. It certainly gave the opportunity for chavismo to assemble a few red shirts to throw stones and insults to the pacific marchers. Not to mention that it helped the now repressive Metropolitan Police block all accesses to the CNE, even to the ones that were previously agreed.

The march of course failed to reach the CNE where it was supposed to protest the unacceptable voting conditions already exposed by Sumate just to name the principal critic. (1)

However a few scenes were quite revealing of the mood of the country. In no particular order.

The opposition energies are gathering again. This was not the glorious marches of 2003 and 2004, but at least it was a decent one and probably the best so far this year. With a good motivation, and no old politicians directing, people seem to be willing to consider hitting the streets again. Noticed that BBC?

The red shirts screaming showed that chavismo democratic tendencies are not only not improving and iota, but are becoming worse and worse. A few days ago the PPT did a similar type of march, but it seems that the opposition is barred from accessing downtown services. It is good that embassies and foreign wires see that "reconciliation" remains a chimera, that chavismo project is never going to tolerate dissent, that recent repression is just the start. Got that Carter Center?

The CNE, more arrogant than ever if possible, refused to receive a delegation of the marchers. Instead, supposedly, they sent a general. What the heck was a general doing there? Could not one of the 5 rectors come? One of the 10 sub-rectors? The CNE doorman? Of course, the head of what would have been the protesters delegation tore down the document and threw it at the face of the general. This would have been unthinkable as recently as 2003. But the subservient role of the army since 2003, its now obvious moral and ethical corruption has degraded its image so much that we can now expect to see scenes as today more and more frequently. Did you catch this Reuters?

The Metropolitana Police, who until October last year was trying to hold separate the two sides no matter which march was taking place is now showing that the "reorganization" of Caracas new Mayor "at large" Barreto is transforming it fast into yet another governmental agency, readying itself for repression and more repression. Got that AFP?

The alleged pro opposition 5th rector, Sobella Mejias, decided to go and meet the protesters. She was so late in her decision that by the time she reached the area, tear gas and water cannon had dispersed whoever came. It is hard to accept that she was late and acting on good faith. Why not move your ass faster if you are supporting free elections? But to see her one could not help notice how much chubbier she had become, and how unconvincing she sounds now. Gone where the pre referendum days where she stood her ground and denounced all the twisted maneuvers of the CNE. Now, she is calling for people to vote, even as she expresses that the conditions are still not good. Did you ever consider quitting Sobella? Did it ever occurred to you that by staying there, pigging out at every party and wearing silly CNE hats you are looking like a fool, or worse, an apologist of the regime? Write that down on your list of "impartial" folks to interview Telesur!

That is why I feel strangely satisfied tonight. In a few hours today it was possible to see a refresher course of all what is wrong with Venezuelan electoral system, what a joke (fraud?) the system has become. Who could think objectively tonight that elections are fair and honest in Venezuela?

I bet the "to vote or not to vote" debate will speed up this week as we are a few days away from the municipal elections. Meanwhile the AFP photographer who got injured by a chavista agitator might start rethinking about where AFP sees democracy in Venezuela.

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(1) a round up of Venezuelan electoral problems has been recently offered in this blog for those needing more background

Friday, July 29, 2005

Cuba as a Venezuelan "chulo"

The Word "chulo" in Venezuela is a slang word that is used to describe all shorts of shades of the pimp activity. From the mild taking advantage of a friend or lover, to the outright pimp activities. Of course, for those who follow Castro and his desperate efforts to survive in Cuba, it has not escaped notice that Castro has become Chavez's chulo. Before Isaias Rodriguez, the general prosecutor sends a squad to get me, I suggest that he reads the following article published in Spain's ABC yesterday of which I translate some choice parts. In case ABC links expire I have placed this article of Montaner in my section "Documents on Venezuela".

EL CABREO UNIVERSAL
(The universal piss off, difficult to translate and keep the original flavor, sorry)


By Carlos Alberto Montaner

The brief Castro speech (barely four implacable hours) in commemoration of yet another anniversary of the Moncada assault of July 26 1953, has managed the strange miracle of pissing off everybody: the diplomatic representatives who were hoping, one does not know why, a sign of tolerance towards the democratic opposition, [...] and even the members of the apparatus, condemned to stay in the premises, to whom it had been promised that the speech would last only 45 minutes.

But those were the most upset were the Venezuelans and the Cubans themselves. The first ones because Castro announced that since 2004 a few mysterious Magi, that is, Chavez, who he did not mention, were subsidizing Cuba very generously, which now allows Havana to buy from China a thousand bus, restore and equip with sophisticated technology 50 large hospitals and more than 800 dental cabinets, while electric power plants are been rebuilt as well as a large section of the health structure of the country.

In total these Venezuelan donations to Cuba, masked as unrecoverable credits, are calculated at 4 to 5 million USD daily, a astounding number that can only be understood through the high oil prices.

At the same time, this help explains the scorn with which Castro treated the European Union and the US when they tried to offer help after hurricane Denis went by. Why a few USD or Euros when [Castro] disposes of the check book of Chavez?

Naturally Venezuela, where everyday there is more poverty, and where public services have an African level, the Venezuelans are asking themselves why do they have to be taxed by the Cuban disaster before solving first their own situation?

Within Cuba that speech was a stream of cold spit. Not a symptom of rectification or common sense: exactly the same ridiculous ritornello of almost half a century, with the same suspects ever (capitalism, the US and the democrats from the opposition).

Also, nobody believed that there will be relief to the infinite problems that the country suffers, because experience has shown [Cubans] that socialism is an implacable machine for destroying infrastructure and services.

Within a year and a half, all these structures now under repair will be again a dusty thing, destroyed by the neglect of the bureaucracy.

The unfortunate Soviets buried 100 thousand dollars along three decades for Cuba to go from one of the most advanced countries of the Americas [at the time] to one of the last ones. Unfortunate Venezuela will not fare better. Castro will end up tearing from Chavez even his loquacity of tropical parrot. He will leave him without feathers and without cackle.

A Venezuelan Army shame

Let's close this post with one of Thursday's news. Finally an armed force officer class (a sort of Masters for Majors and up only) did reach graduation, a class named after Castro who, it must repeated over and over, sent guerilla to battle the Venezuelan army in the 60ies.

To say that this is an outrage, an historical insult and a moral sin is understating the event. But when the new defense minister, Maniglia, comes along to minimize the insult to the good name of Venezuela one wonders if he is really thinking we are that stupid. Then again, the outrage imposed by Chavez (who else could have approved if not forced such an "honor" on Castro?) must have created ripples strong enough that Maniglia announced that he would not attend the ceremony, strangely trying to distance himself as much as possible from the event. Interestingly he "admitted" that ignored whether the graduates will receive a free trip to Cuba with 1000 dollars in hand, or whether Castro would attend!! The defense minister does not know whether Castro is coming? ¡A otros!

Meanwhile we are left pondering whether punishment severe enough will come to those who wasted our country resources on Castro and on those that let it happen. Because history teaches us something: punishment always comes, even if we have only their names left to execrate.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Attacking press freedom in Venezuela

Today's incident with Tulio Alvarez in Venezuela had the misfortune for the government to coincide with a few events that taken all together seem to indicate that the patience of the government with freedom of the press is reaching its end.

Tulio Alvarez

His job lately has been to criticize, with founded reason that millions in Venezuela today share with him, from Sumate on, that the Venezuelan electoral system is deeply flawed. Among many of his activities he calls for abstention in any coming election, he warns international possible observers that if they wish to come they better be prepared if they do not want to lose all credibility as happened to the Carter Center, etc...

Of course, the very best way for the CNE to respond to Alvarez would be to accept a few of the truths he and millions claim, such as extended audits, revision of the electoral rolls, manual vote counting, even if it takes place after the electronic counting, etc... But of course, it is better to try to put Tulio Alvarez in jail so as to shut him up.

Telesur

Today Izarra, the communication minister, resigned so as to dedicate himself exclusively to the new baby of Chavez propaganda, Telesur (in English here). Apparently somebody finally realized in the government that pretending to create an "independent" news service and combining the head of that service with the minister of a government did somehow question the credibility and impartiality of the new outlet. Imagine that!

However, apparently nobody has realized that the fact that the propaganda minister of the major shareholder who made sure to own more than 50% of the stock of Telesur, has quite a credibility gap, just by jumping so fast into the job. But chavismo is far from pretending impartiality anymore, knowing full well that nobody is fooled by what Telesur is all about.

And the first test is already there when US officials claim proof of Venezuela and Cuba involvement in the recent Bolivian troubles. Geee, I might even start watching Telesur for a good laugh!

At any rate, Chavez is making sure that Telesur is tightly controlled from the very first broadcast. It could have quelled any misgivings by naming a new figure, even a non Venezuelan, but no.

Isaias Rodriguez and El Universal

But if any new news outlet will from now on be controlled by chavismo, it still does not solve the problem of those who have been opposing Chavez. Today we got a clear indication of what is in store for them.

Apparently the Attorney General cum Official Opposition Prosecutor has decided to sue/investigate El Universal for an editorial it did not like (accusation in English here, editorial in English here so the reader may judge).

The regular reader of this blog will realize that it has been a long, very long time that Isaias Rodriguez has been finger pointed for his close ties to Chavez (he was his first vice president). The reader also will recall the numerous irregularities, failures and general incompetence associated with Isaias Rodriguez office. Not to mention that Tal Cual among other papers has challenged on its front page Rodriguez.

So, why suddenly be offended by a rather lame editorial of El Universal? Could it be because EL Universal is so thorough in reporting the REAL numbers of the Venezuelan economy? Could it be that El Universal asks too often where the monies of the republic went?

El Universal editor meanwhile is unmoved and goes as far as saying that all that was alluded to in the editorial is already in the public domain (translation: nothing in that editorial can be used for that case and if Rodriguez dares to press charges, they probably will be delighted to go to court and expose him further).

Of course the thing to do for Isaias would be, for example, to offer the results of the Danilo Anderson case. Or perhaps expose some of the corrupt judges and public pseudo-servants. Or simply speed up the cases brought against chavistas to the same standards applied to the cases brought against the opposition. Isaias Rodriguez is a pathetic figure, that has long sunken into a ridicule that it will not be able to shed by closing up El Universal or this blog. People, even in the chavista side, know perfectly well why Isaias Rodriguez has been placed where he has been placed. And it is not to administer impartial justice. There! I said it! You can slam me with the new penal code Isaias!

No, instead Isaias Rodriguez even goes further in ridicule and declares that the campaign against him is orchestrated by the CIA. Well, maybe, but no one would deny that the CIA can be extremely grateful for the help that Isaias Rodriguez has been providing along the way.........

So?

Well, the implications are quite obvious: chavismo has reached such a point of moral decomposition that it only can try to hide its putrefact stench by closing our nostrils. Not realizing of course that this is the best way to demonstrate that its critics were right all along: there is something rotten in the bolibanana republic. (Hat tip to William S.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tulio Alvarez detained by the National Guard of Venezuela

A few minutes ago, lawyer Tulio Alvarez has been detained (arrested?) as he was trying to board an airplane to go back to Caracas. No reason given so far, and the reader may note that it was the Nazional Guard, not just the cops that were trying to arrest him, in a very intimidating manner (as far as this blogger can tell so far). Info is still sketchy, but Mr. Alvarez being a good lawyer, he is refusing to surrender or to allow to let the guard search him until someone from the attorney general office shows up. That is right, in this now military regime we live under, the army feels that it can arrest whoever it wants and whenever. But Alvarez has shown some mettle in the past and he is not about to surrender like that to Nazional Guard thugs.

Updates here, later as needed.
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Update 1

No reason advanced yet. But readers of this blog will already know that Mr. Alvarez was the one leading the group of people that established the claim of electoral fraud in August and September 2004 after the Recall Election. He published his report, but that report was not used by the opposition parties who preferred to run in October 31 2004 for the regional elections and who met the disaster that Alvarez had predicted they will get into in September. That report, by the way, can be consulted PDF here.

Thus we know already which is the real reason behind this aggression, no matter what charges the government will try to pin on Mr. Alvarez.
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Update 2

The motive advanced was that the car in which Tulio Alvarez was being taken to the airport was a car "reported missing". Right...

So, if I get this right, Mr. Alvarez, who was told by hotel personnel that he was being followed, called a friend to give him a ride to the airport and the friend would take his wife and 4 year old kid in a "missing vehicle" to take dangerous international terrorist Tulio Alvarez on a commercial flight to Caracas. Not even, I should point out to try to escape to Miami, which he could have tried from Maracaibo had he wanted to escape. But Tulio Alvarez, like Maria Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz have that nasty habit of not leaving the country, or coming back to it, and be willing to stand trial which greatly infuriates chavismo that has no real charges to accuse them.

No wonder Tulio Alvarez was adamant in refusing to be searched until a public prosecutor showed up, declaring calmly that he was not going to allow the Nazional Guard plant evidence in his personal belongings as it has become its habit (Carlos Melo and the Lopez Castillo being two of such notorious case where "evidence" was planted to jail the accused folks, even if eventually the maneuver failed).

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Update 3 (and last for the day)

The news came in that Tulio Alvarez was eventually released and could board his airplane. The people that accompanied him had to go to the Nazional Guard post but were eventually released too. TV tonight showed a few governmental characters with some egg on their face. Even Jesse Chacon declarations were rather hollow trying to insinuate that Tulio Alvarez was going to be investigated for some kind of illegal weapon possession. Gee... Tulio Alvarez would be THAT stupid as he knows he is a primo target to walk around, at airports, with illegal weapons.... Pleaaaase....

So, what was this show all about? Tonight Tulio Alvarez declares that it is just a stepping up of the continued harassment he has been enduring lately. Rumors run that initially there were informations as to the arrest of Tulio Alvarez on some charges on the web pages of the administration, web pages promptly removed when the airport show started failing. And more. but no need to specualte too much. We have already seen this type of actions and this blogger for one thinks that they tried to get Alvarez but this one has been ready for a long time and knows how incompetent chavismo is. You should just listen to the declarations of the head of the commando when he sarted accusing the driver of cowardice in attacking the pure National Guard! Yeah, the driver was in front of a dozen Nazional Guard and the Nazional Guard feels like a victim, not the arrested guy! Sometimes one wonders whether to laugh or cry.

No more secret voting in Venezuela?

In the Sumate Files I have written something to explain how the Venezuelan right to vote risks to be severely curtailed. Hat tip to K. A.!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The lapse of Caracas

These days Caracas was celebrating its 438 birthday. Or was it?

First, the, literally, mayor at large of Caracas, Juan Barreto, decided that Caracas was not founded on the day tradition says it was founded. As if it really mattered. In 1567, the glorious "foundation" of Caracas was actually some kind of agreement between a few straw hut and mud dwellers to sort of cooperate in defending the hamlet against encroachment of the natives. Most of the hamlet dwellers being themselves native or mestizos, for that matter. As Manuel Caballero pointed out, the conquistadores had a knack to project their delirium in the names of the "cities" they founded: Santiago de Leon de Caracas or Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto are such examples of pompous names for places that were scarcely better than rat holes for the first decades of their history (1). Caracas was no exception, though its favorable site and climate helped it to win the best position in Venezuela within little more than a century.

Why did Barreto suddenly worry about the exact date of Caracas foundation, something that has long ceased to be of any significant historical concern? Beats me! But it sure created a tide wave of criticism until it reached a humiliating red title on the front page of Tal Cual: Barre, Barreto (Sweep, Barreto). Indeed, Caracas has never been so dirty, so messy, so clogged with cars, trash, illegal vendors. There has never been as many street kids begging within the impossible traffic, both trying to avoid falling in the Moon like pothole coverage of the streets. At any rate if Barreto thought for a minute that canceling the festivities (until the "true date" is established) would distract us from the daily misery we must endure, he was in for a rude awakening. Better, no Caracas mayor intellectual deficiency has been exposed so crudely as it happened in the recent days. Barreto must be hurting these days as his absolute incompetence, his total lack of ideas on how to deal with Caracas problems (he as been in office for already 7 months) has been made pathetically obvious with the "birthday" affair.

Meanwhile, Bernal, the mayor of Caracas downtown (and historical) district showed this week end that even Barreto could not beat him where incompetence and nincompoopery is concerned. He decided that the birthday was fine and that he would go ahead and party. He even created a new medal for the city, to replace the old one named for Caracas founder Diego de Losada (though now Barreto thinks it is someone else). But the best part was his speech that I will try to translate as is, a difficult task as it is of the poorest Spanish, with cheap ideological pretensions:
For many years we gave medals with the Order Diego de Losada: founder of the city of Caracas, but in function that we are rewriting the history, revising and fortifying currents and specially relaunching the autochthon of the native, the blacks, the mestizos, today we decided not to give anymore the Order of Diego de Losada and we created the medal of Juan Francisco de Leon, who was a "compatriota" who in 1749 launched the first rebellion against the Spaniard Government... thus the Caracas municipality has decided to create this new order and from now on it will be given to men and women that for their contribution to the development of the city, of the arts, of the culture, deserve to get it

In front of such a crappy oratorical piece one does not know where to start. With the historical inaccuracy? With the historical misinterpretation? With the confessed wish to rewrite history to make the bolibanana revolution look better? With the list of this year awardees who reads as the who's who of revolutionary mediocrity requiring a new order so that finally they get to have a medal pinned on them?

Bernal, whose job is incidentally to pick up the trash in Caracas, has to be one of the very worst mayors in Venezuela's history. Amazingly, even though criticized by Chavez on more than one opportunity, hated by many chavistas, this corrupt ex cop has still been re-nominated for his job by Chavez for the October elections. Since then he has again been chastised by Chavez, and has been having his own little personal feud with Barreto while the city keeps sinking under the trash.

When one looks at Bernal one has got to wonder what is the card that he holds that forces Chavez to keep him even if his dislike for him is obvious, even if the polls are bad, even if his reelection is solely due to Chavez blessing, more than any other chavista holding office these days. Does he control Caracas death squads? Does he know who is corrupt and by how much? Does he know some dirty secret on Chavez? In some OpEd in November Milagros Socorro was wondering how could have Bernal been reelected. She could not hide her bitterness that so many people voted for him, knowing full well what a piece of work he was, voting for Bernal just because Chavez said so. Yes, indeed: of all the chavista office holder, Bernal is the yellowest of the dogs.

Meanwhile, while this insult to our common sense and intelligence take place, Caracas keeps adding a new layer of filth on it.



(1) In my very humble opinion the very best short story of Venezuela (and arguably one of the best historical commentaries on Venezuela) is: De la "Pequeña Venecia" a la "Gran Venezuela" by Manuel Caballero. Monte Avila Eds. 1996 ISBN 980-01-0985-4. A book that probably neither Bernal nor Chavez ever bothered to read.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The difficult art of Venezuelan polling

Whether we deem them worthwhile, there are elections around the corner, and pollsters trying to sell their wares. A couple of weeks ago I did discuss the problem of effective polling in Venezuela, and this week, while I had to drive many hours for work, I had the leisure to think about two recent polls that illustrate this point.

The first one came out last week end, and was from Datanalisis (1). I have expressed my concerns on this polling firm, be it from a likely weakness in their statistical and polling instrument, be it from the rather obvious political interests of its director. Still, that poll, with all due reservations, was interesting.

There was really nothing new. Chavez keeps above 70% though when asking a question about "trusting" Chavez (to rule, I suppose) this number dropped to 56%. The survey tried to look at the self qualification of Venezuelans in a right to left rainbow. A very large majority placed itself from left to center to left, yet an equal majority rejected "the socialism of the XXI century". Much more worrisome would be that barely more than 50% want a democratic form of government while more than 40% do not care as long as their needs are taken care of. Even if the data collection is shoddy, such numbers are really dangerous, even for Chavez.

I did find interesting the little table that accompanied the study. That table divides the social classes (on economic power division) in a not very convincing way. For example only 39 people of the wealthiest sector (A and B) were polled. 39 is enough for good statistics?????? How can they expect, with only 39 interviews, to reach some of the newly chavista rich that are now a common sight? At least in the poorest sector (E), the one that is most likely going to receive the positive effect of the social programs that Misiones (2) are, they interviewed 556 folks yielding the rather surprising result of still 1 in 3 not liking Chavez.

Another interesting detail, though right now of little consequence, is that in spite a strong pro Cuba campaign, Chavez seems to have attracted only a 12% pro Castro support and still has 63% against Castro. A referendum there? No fat chance!!! However it should still be a good weapon for the opposition to use against Chavez, and it speaks of its inefficiency that such numbers do not perturb Chavez high numbers.

The other poll came out in El Universal last Friday. I must confess that I tend to like Keller as a polling company, if anything because on TV its spokesperson is obviously trying to say less than what it could say whereas the one from Datanalisis seems to me to want to try to say more than what his data indicates.

The results this time show that Chavez dropped to 61% from 69% positive opinion a quarter ago while as expected the negatives went up from 22% to 28%. This is actually a plausible shift, correlating with 3 months of corruption charges in PDVSA, the inability to create jobs (the recent alleged increases, except for construction up to a point, seem to be a statistical trick to favor the government as "misiones" recipients are considered as fully employed), the aggravation of personal security perception, etc... There is no trickle down effect here from the sky high oil price: people are realizing that only a few really benefit from them, and suspiciously largely.

Still, after 6 years in office any president would be very happy with a 61%. Where the news are not too good is when the voting intention is examined. In this respect Keller does focus in its polling at likely voters only, which probably explains better the coherence of its numbers. Considering that the survey did not specify a name against Chavez, that "unknown" candidate would already score 41% to 49% for Chavez! Let's not focus on the drop from 60% voting intention early this year: Chavez has gone down to 30% in some 2002 polls to 70% early this year. What is significant here is that one would be led to think that the peripatetic president is starting to tire the electorate, an electorate that seems tired of constant campaigning, constant traveling, etc... as that poll seems to indicate: astoundingly, 71% would like a leader able to unite the opposition in a clear message!

I think that this study in contrasts shows the difficulty in doing good polling. They only seem to agree on the fading positive effects of the misiones on Chavez numbers. One reason for results differing between polls (avoiding discussing the obvious shortcomings of Datanalisis) could be simply that many people just do not want to say they oppose Chavez, in particular in lower classes, duly scared by the effects of the Tascon list. Not to mention that they see with their own eyes that the fastest way to get a Mision benefit is to apply for it while wearing a red T-shirt. Otherwise, how could we explain that still a third of "sector E" is not supporting Chavez after 2 years of the crassest populist vote buying that we ever witnessed?

Another reason is that the Chavez anti-Chavez battle is so emotional that some people seem to be able to love Chavez while being ready to vote against him if some credible offer was advanced. But so far, it seems that the message is not reaching the opposition leadership, at all.


(1) In El Nacional, no link, sorry! Subscription only.

(2) Misiones are chavismo social programs.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Honorable Venezuelans

With such a title the reader could be forgiven from expecting a list of the distinguishable honorable Venezuelan who dotted our history. Instead I will offer a gallery of rogues, recent ones at that.

It all started last Sunday when EL Universal published an interview of Rosalio Cardinal Castillo Lara, by Roberto Giusti (translated in English here). Not to elaborate too much on this subject, Cardinal Castillo has had a very distinguished career in the Vatican administration for which he obtained many years ago the princely title. Based, in large part on the trust he gained from both John Paul II and Benedict XV. This is a man that has seen it all, a man that has succeeded in life beyond any hope he could have had when he left his humble Güiripa decades ago to study for priesthood when Venezuela was still a rural country. And after so many years in the cultural splendors of Rome, he preferred to come back to his family house in Güiripa for his retirement where recites mass for his humble parishioners and neighbors.

In the interview, the Cardinal replied to a question as follows:

Q: Do you think that all in all, there is still rule of the law in Venezuela?

A: Let me laugh. A long time ago, I have said that there is neither democracy nor rule of the law. This is just varnished democracy. The laws approved by a feeble majority, but majority in any case, against the constitution, according to which qualified majority should approve organic laws, do not represent justice or law, but the way to an oppressive end.

Readers of this blog of course will not be surprised by such an opinion, an opinion held by at least the 40% of the people who voted against Chavez in 2004, and certainly held by the chavistas in office who enjoy that privilege of not having to account for their administrative actions.

The answer came swiftly that same Sunday afternoon during the Chavez talk show. In declarations that matched any vulgarity he ever uttered, words or tone, he repeatedly used the words Pharisee, hypocrite, bandit, devil, enabler (in the pimp sense), coup monger, and immoral.

The Cardinal was promptly asked for his opinion, and replied magnificently: he would only be affected if those insults were coming from an honorable person. And in case the message was not clear he added "Things are noticed according from whom they come".

It is needless to say that the reaction to Chavez words was not very favorable. Though it would be useful to point out that according to the new "gag law" the Cardinal would be in his perfect right to sue Chavez for saying that live on TV. But of course the Cardinal knows full well who controls the justice and probably felt quite satisfied to have made a bull's eye on the president, who as usual replies with insults instead of arguments... Just as he probably used to do in the barracks that he should have never left, la soldatesca...

Instead of dwelling in news already one week old, I would rather look at the notion of honorable, so well used by Cardinal Castillo. A web search gives us the following:
1-honest: not disposed to cheat or defraud; not deceptive or fraudulent
2-showing or characterized by honor and integrity
3-used as a title of respect
4-ethical: adhering to ethical and moral principles
5-estimable: deserving of esteem and respect

Do we find any of this in the Chavez administration?

1-Hugo Chavez, who promised to change his name in 1998 if within a few months street kids could still be found in Venezuela. There are more street kids in Caracas than ever, at every major intersection, dirty, starving, trying to make a living out of acrobatic acts while cars are waiting for the green light, or with plain begging. No word.

2-Isaias Rodriguez, the nation's prosecutor, busy pursuing any opposition figure while accusations against chavista officials lay gathering dust in some distant shelve of the state prosecution building. No integrity.

3-Nicolas Maduro, the National Assembly president, declaring that he will rule the assembly as he pleases, and who has no qualms sending the guard to kick out anyone who dares oppose his pusillanimous decisions. No respect for institutions.

4-Jorge Rodriguez, the CNE president, who stopped hiding long ago his political preferences, making fun openly of the opposition complains while as the electoral umpire he should be the most impartial person in the country. No ethics.

5-Jose Vicente Rangel, the vice president, once upon a time a journalist in the search of truth and who daily tries to justify the unjustifiable. No self respect.

The reader will easily sense that I could write hundreds of examples, and list dozens and dozens of high ranking officials in this list.

Since 1958 this is definitely the administration most lacking in honor. And one would be hard pressed to find past administrations of our pre 1958 caudillo era as dishonorable as this one: many a caudillo allowed his political enemies to take a dignified road to exile even if he could have arrested and killed them. Even Gomez probably betrayed his own word and violated his own constitution in his near 30 years reign less than what Chavez has done currently since 1999, to the constitution he wrote himself.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Delenda Sumate!

Rome had already won two devastating wars against Carthage and had reached a compromised peace that lasted many years when senator Marcus Cato started a pro-war campaign with one persisting idea:

“Delenda Carthago!”.

It meant, that, no matter what, Rome would never be safe unless the rival phoenician city of Carthage was totally destroyed. For years, with a stubbornness that was noted even after centuries of history, Cato repeated over and over that Carthage had to disappear. He actually finished every intervention about any topic with the famous sentence.

Publicity is always effective. In the end, Cato’s message was heard and Rome decided to go for what was called the third Punic war. Once Carthage had finished paying all the old tributes to Rome, the latest imposed new and tougher conditions to provoke a new conflictive situation. As expected, Carthage’s inhabitants were mad of rage when they knew the new absurd conditions imposed by Rome and the war restarted again.

It was a tough and dirty war, even for those times, Carthage inhabitants resisted as much as they could but the Romans kept the fight. They had just one objective in mind: thoroughly destroy Carthage.

After three bloody years of continuous fights, Rome reached its objective in such an effective way, that there was nobody left from Carthage to formally surrender. Some say that they even throw salt to the defeated city so that it would never be born again. For the first time in their history, the Romans had failed to incorporate the culture of the conquered city, as there was no culture, history or customs left. To this day, we do not know more about Carthage and its inhabitants because of the unusual Roman will to destroy it..

Ironically, Carthage’s destruction did not prevent the decline of Rome, but rather accelerated it. Some historians claim that this was because it gave the Romans a false sense of security. Others say that the destruction of Rome had already started from within, with the decline of the traditional Roman values that were being heavily influenced by the greek ways of life. Some even say that Cato used Carthage as a diversion, consciously knowing that the real menace to the Roman way of life came from Greece.

After reading this fascinating story, I thought of the similarities between the Sumate persecution by the Chavez government and the insistence of Cato to destroy Carthage.

Chavez was a military man and it is still today a military man. In his quest towards absolute power, he has been treating Venezuelan institutions as if they were “the enemy”. An enemy that had to be controlled and beaten.

He has been extremely successful.

His success is due in part to the clumsy and inefficient opposition, in part because nobody believed that he could go that far and still pretend that he was a democratic ruler. Finally and foremost, because Venezuela had weak institutions to start with.

No matter the reason of Chavez’s success, there was a new type of enemy in town that Chavez was not used to fight: Sumate.

The origin of Sumate is, to say the least, unusual. In a country where the civil society was not used to have its voice heard, suddenly there was a civil group that organized itself to literally prevent a civil war in Venezuela. They found the democratic exit to the terrible polarization crisis that was lived in Venezuela.

It was an exit that any democratic leader would have welcome: a recall Referendum, guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution; let the people decide.

But Chavez government was not happy at all about it and did all the possible tricks to avoid going to a Referendum. Sumate organized a signature collection, not once, but three times! (see Daniel’s excellent summary here). They were systematic and efficient and used Chavez’s own weapon: the 1999 Chavista Constitution to lead the fight.

A few months before the Referendum took place, Sumate persecution started. It was Chavez itself who, like Cato in the Senate, initiated it by talking in his Sunday TV program about the NED funding. But the Chavista government is, in matters of political persecution, much more effective than the Roman government. It did not take years to initiate the “Delenda Sumate” campaign. The very next day, the Sumate directive was charged by the government attorneys.

I do not think that the funding was illegal. The money was a small grant to organize courses to promote democratic awareness. However, if the money had indeed been illegal, then the government should have fined Sumate and asked them to reimburse it. End of it.

But, according to Chavez, Sumate delenda est! The government had to put all its weight and influence to discredit Sumate and to take its directive to court for …no less than treason!

They dusted a very old article of the very archaic Venezuelan penal code to state that Sumate was destroying “the Republican form” of the government. Thanks to a convoluted interpretation that nobody in his right mind would accept, receiving the small grant from the NED resulted in being charged for treason and risking up to 16 years in jail.

And, by the way, we are talking about Venezuelan prisons.

The attack was not directed towards the institution. It was personally aimed at the four highest members of Sumate: Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Ricardo Estevez and Luis Enrique Palacios. The four young engineers that had dared to create a new form of resistance in Venezuela. Chavez idea must have been to kill two birds with one stroke: eliminate the head of the enemy and intimidate anyone that would ever attempt to carry out the type of dissension that Sumate was leading.

Delenda Sumate!

Meanwhile, since the Referendum, the mighty Chavez government has been taking over whatever was left of the democratic institutions of the country. In particular, the judiciary system, that has never been a model of independence, has been revamped to have only judges blindly committed to Chavez. I hope that Sumate is cleared, but the hope is closer to wishful thinking.

So, there is a high probability that, in the end, Sumate will be destroyed, and that the Chavez goverment will have thrown salt to the Sumate office created by a small group of unlikely democratic heroes.

Maybe, like some historians suspected, Chavez, like Cato, is using Sumate as a diversion. Maybe he is really committed to attack this new type of enemy that resists his controlling expansion or maybe he just do not know how to govern without having an enemy in front of him. In any case, it is clear that Chavez has not learned the lessons from Rome.The Romans flourished while they incorporated the good features of the foreign cultures into their own. The anhilation of Carthage was the beginning of the end. Conversely, Chavez has not understood that he needs the culture of Sumate to be integrated to the democratic values of his government. He does not understand either that it is good for his government to have a democratic watchdog like Sumate in his backyard.

Chavez has not realized that his enemy is not Sumate. His enemy, like in Rome, comes from within: his own inefficiency and his own message of hatred and division that have transformed the country and led it to the brink of civil war.

He can ask his followers to “Delenda Sumate” as much as he wants and like the Romans, he might win the last Punic war.

But, in the end, like Rome, he will be defeated.

Jorge Arena

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The view from the left and the right

I am the writer of a niche blog. Indeed, writing in English about Venezuelan politics can be seen as an exercise in folly: who could really care that much when already California is population wise bigger than Venezuela and Miami Florida GDP probably compares favorably with Venezuela's one. The amazing number would not be how few readers one might have, but that one actually has readers. Granted, with our oil reserves and the price of oil happily lurking at 60 USD per barrel, some people must on occasion land on such a blog. But as a writer of a niche blog, one wonders what effect one has elsewhere, really. So, in an exercise in futility I decided to check out what the "main" blogs say about Venezuela.

In a totally unscientific experiment I went to the page of The Truth Laid Bear which has a counting system that rank blogs, according to traffic and people linking to these blogs. I took the top 10 as of today. The result below:

Higher Beings
1.Instapundit.com (2910)
2.Michelle Malkin (2331)
3.Daily Kos: State of the Nation (2167)
4.Power Line (1935)
5.Captain's Quarters (1833)
6.small dead animals (1827)
7.lgf: declear the crudase and be unite (1649)
8.the evangelical outpost -- Culture, politics, and religion from an evangelical worldview. (1627)
9.1st-Private-Krankenversicherung.com (1612)
10.Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall (1561)



The numbers are a representation of the pages linking to them. The "Higher Beings" is, well, the name of the category for the top ten (yours truly somehow manages to be an "adorable rodent" which considering what I wrote above, is not bad at all).

Then I applied, whenever possible, the word VENEZUELA in the search engine offered at the respective blogs.

The first an easiest result is for #9, in German, no search, and cannot read it anyway. I thought about taking in #11, Eschaton (1493) (Atrios) but when I saw that there was no search engine I could find there, I decided to operate on 9 blogs only.

To simplify, again based on a perfectly unscientific method, I divided the blogs among right or left according to the advertisement that appeared, or their self declared orientation. No investigation as to how far left or right is the blog.

The Left

Only two blogs out of 9 are from the left, 3, Daily Kos and 10, Talking points (though adding "searchless" Eschaton would give 3 out of 10, still surprisingly meager in the Internet wars).

The results for Daily Kos are difficult to evaluate as the search engine picks up comments, articles and what not. Most comments are of the nature "as long as Chavez sticks a finger in Bush's eye, I will support him!". But some, too few perhaps, show definitely some knowledge. For example at recent texts, a certain shockwave, concerned that Bush might send the marines to secure Venezuelan oil fields still writes:
I do not like Chavez at all. At best he is a populist demagogue, but he is not a fool.

Joshua of Talking points #10, an otherwise thoughtful and interesting writer, is rather disappointing when we see his search results. Several commentaries but all focused on the US role in Venezuela around April 2002. Not much inquiry as to why the April events, what happens in Venezuela. Just what was the role of the US there. And as later inquiries to this day have not been able to prove anything more than talk and encouragement from the US to overthrow Chavez then, this does not appear. Forgotten topic?

The Right

Should the right fare better on Venezuela as this one is an avowed enemy? Let's see.

The evangelical site (#8) has really only one post where Chavez is quoted as suggesting that Bush should kneel in front of the Pope. Obviously, not really interested in Venezuela.

The Canadian entry, Small Dead Animals, has Kate wondering once about who produces oil (so Venezuela figures by coincidence) and poking fun at election observers in the "fewer fail-safes than in Venezuela [elections]". We can see that awareness of Venezuelan electoral problems is seeping through! But still, no interest for Venezuela

Captain's Quarters, at #5, has no search engine but a foreign affairs section. Thus using there the "find" feature, I could see two articles on Venezuela, one on Venezuela arms purchase to Spain (quoting Barcepundit) and another one on Chavez pseudo assassination attempts. Interestingly not a single Venezuelan source although the articles are rather complete. But I know that Barcepundit checks with the locals....

With Power Line (#4) we find a certain amount of hits from their search engines, but most on oil needs and beauty pageants.

Little Green Footbals has a whopping 25 hits just from entries, some totally irrelevant but some totally to the point such as on Miguel exposing the photoshop montage of pseudo revolutionary crowds. The advantages of multi hand blogs? By the way, once upon a time a reader sent me a comment that appeared in LGF where someone was saying that I was way to the left to be taken seriously. Put that together with some of my reader that say I am way to the right....

This brings us to Michelle Malkin, the number 2 today. There are several entries about Venezuela from her search feature, and one can note that she is looking at the supporters of Chavez in the US such as Medea Benjamin from Code Pink, apparently a paid off agent of chavismo according to some sources. I have to say that Michelle might be onto something there.

But the number one, shows why he is number 1. Instapundit with about 60 entries over the last three years demonstrates that he has been keeping an eye on Venezuela and on a variety of Venezuelan topics at that.

Conclusions?

None of course, this is for fun. Not even as to whether the left is more or less interested by Venezuela. Most on each side, as seen on the comments to the posts, only care as to whether it favors or hurts Bush... That there is only two left wing blogs is only a reflection of ratings, not of political interest.

But one cannot fail to be impressed for example about the Karl Rove story which in Venezuela has not made more than a ripple and which is overflowing in so many US blogs. Of course, in Venezuela chavismo makes Karl Rove looks like the dream ethicist.... It remains that on the top 10 posts, only one, and of all of them arguably the one closest to the thoughtful center, is the one that values enough the importance of Venezuela for the US to drop by on occasion but regularly to observe our misery.

Venezuela is indeed only a blip on the US public opinion radar and my blog a niche blog as a reader once told me.

New Blog announcement

The Sumate trial is coming. In addition Sumate's name will reappear in the press a lot during the second half of the year due to its high profile at election time. Thus we have gathered (4 contributors so far) to manage a blog that will be active for the next few months only and whose mission will be to compile the articles published about Sumate, and to a lesser extent election topics related to the role of Sumate. In other words, a site where lots of info on Sumate will be available, picked up from blogs, the press, in different languages, etc... Please, feel free to send whatever you find around that you deem relevant.

The site is: The Sumate Files

Articles or testimonials pro or against Sumate will be considered for posting, as long as a verifiable e-mail address sends them and they are written in a reasonably objective way. But you guessed right, I will be the final judge of it if my co authors are divided on whether to publish it.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bombing the CNE but getting PDVSA erased from the map

Two little unrelated (?) events show again how low Venezuela is falling. These days the difficulty when writing a post is to chose which of the different symbolic events of the day illustrate better the corruption and inefficiency of the regime. But I digress...

A non-bomb at the CNE office of Carabobo

Well, not really a bomb, a small hand grenade that did not even manage to explode and was found by surveillance at day break. Still, the ineffable and totally sold out head of the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE, flew to the CNE headquarters of Valencia and made a dramatic show of it. I will pass on the bombastic words of one of the most ridiculous personages of the regime and rather go to the out of proportion reaction of Maduro, another one of those nullities that the regime is so richly endowed with..

Right on cue, and hysterically as usual, the president of the National Assembly Maduro accused the US to be behind that bombing. I am sure that it was a honest mistake Maduro, they meant it to drop over some Baghdad neighborhood and well, you know, UPS makes mistakes.... And while he was at it, he also linked Sumate to the bombings, might as well. Some of his words (or was that ramblings?) in no particular order (with apologies for being unable to convey the revolutionary fervor of Maduro):

"terrorists groups financed by the US government [nth time accusation to be put together to the nth time pseudo-assassination on Chavez, for the nth time without NO EVIDENCE whatsoever advanced]" "We have no doubt that the terrorism inside Venezuela is promoted by the US government [OK, I'll buy. So, who is promoting the terrorism against the Venezuelan opposition? Cuba? Yourself?]"
"Sumate, with its politics, its financing and its permanent campaign, together with its internal lackeys, simply responds to the internal interests of the empire to take over [our] the natural wealth through obstruction and political destruction against the country [the only permanent campaign I have seen in the last 6 years is Chavez one as I keep wondering when does he find time to rule the country]"
"...this Sumate campaign, financed from the US, has for supreme objective to try to destroy the democratic institutions of Venezuela [Any left?]" "What bothers Venezuelans is that group of people born in the country, in stateless [no good translation for apatrida], put themselves at the service of a foreign nation [I could not agree more Maduro! what about them Venezuelans asking Cubans to invade us and you voting the credits for such an invasion?].

Yes folks, this is the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, someone who would still be sweeping subway stations of Caracas if it were not for Chavez, and Chavez only. Somebody should tell him that the day the US wants to take out the CNE, this one will be blasted into oblivion with a real bomb in the Caracas seat directly, and not a silly low impact grenade in Valencia. Does he not watch war footage on TV?

But let's go back to the "attack" and try to see what is really going on here. The real problem of Rodriguez and the CNE chavista tight hold, is that people are starting to notice it. That is why we are expecting a record abstention on August 7, not really because there is a campaign to that effect by some political opposition leader trying to take credit for it (B.S. big time, of course), but because people, from both sides of the divide, see less and less a point in voting. Just look at the 20 something regional delegations of the CNE: not a single one is controlled by an independent appointee, and even less by someone close to the opposition.

The pressure is mounting as overseas publications keep reporting these electoral anomalies of Venezuela (The Economist, the Inter American Dialogue), the OAS and other folks show obvious reluctances at monitoring Venezuelan elections, but inside the country more and more NGO and non directly politician people are complaining and organizing, making it harder and harder to only point the finger at Sumate. Indeed, no matter how willing to fudge numbers is the CNE, after the August 15 2004 incredible lines, it would be nearly impossible to justify overseas empty polling stations one year after.

Thus I will go on a limb here and dare to speculate that the little Valencia show was just that, a show set up by someone within chavismo trying to stir some excitation for these elections where the only chavistas that will go to vote will be the relatives of the candidates and those ferried over by chavista rented buses...

The nuking of PDVSA

While the above described comics were taking place, another much sadder show was taking place as the once mighty PDVSA, figuring in the top section of any large company list has disappeared from the Fortune 500 list (last year it had already dropped to 76 from previous years). No word to the reason of this sudden drop. Really under 500 with oil at 60? Or is it that since 2003 PDVSA has not filed any SEC report nobody knows really how much PDVSA is selling, and earning?

But there is abundant evidence of the downward trend of PDVSA under the more than incompetent management of Ramirez, and the seemingly unstoppable looting of its revenues and assets. One is the change in tax rules to try to milk every penny of the foreign oil companies working inside Venezuela. Chevron was a recent target of SENIAT, Venezuela's tax collection agency cum avenging arm of chavismo. However the pickings must be still good at near 50 USD the Venezuelan barrel as they are all accepting the new tax regulations. And more analysis of the demential oil policies of Venezuela keep coming up, casting serious doubts as to the long term well being of the country, no matter how much chavismo uses CNE and misiones to remain in office.

The only real bomb that has been thrown in Venezuela is the nuking of PDVSA structure. It does not matter that the government slogan of "Now PDVSA belongs to all" when in a few years from now there will be not much to own there...

Friday, July 15, 2005

SUMATE calls it: no clean elections on August 7

What was expected happened: Sumate has declared that the conditions for the elections of August 7 are not good, that the integrity of the vote is compromised, implying that the vote result will not represent the true will of the country (in English here).

In its main site the NGO describes all that is missing in Venezuela to have free and fair elections:

NO Electoral Registry that can be trusted as to how many and who votes (and how often?)
NO independent audit have taken place as required by the laws (except of course the law of El Supremo?)
NO certainty/trust that the vote will be secret (a better and more expanded Tascon list?)
NO scrutiny or manual counting of all the ballots as the law requires (but a few selected box opened in front of "observers" who will be even more reliable than the Carter Center?)
NO serious international observation planned under acceptable conditions (except for Cuban observers?)

It does not require to be a rocket scientist to understand that there is a serious problem as to how the Venezuelan elections are now run. There is no point for me to go into the details as I have already explained in details all the electoral problems in Venezuela, and I can assure the reader that the situation is getting worse, no better. The Sumate announcement has to be seen as a declaration of confirmation, even as the end of negotiation, a call to action. So, what will do the political parties? After all, Sumate's role ends with that technical evaluation of the August 7 vote. Sumate is not running in any election, is not favoring a particular party within the opposition. Sumate is just saying to the political parties "now you know, take your responsibilities".

Sumate also adds that the CNE will be responsible for the more than usual abstention that will take place during this election (though as some already says, if the CNE can "recount" the votes it can also "verify" the number of voters). Indeed, the abstention debate rages but that will be the subject of a later entry.

Meanwhile elsewhere, at the Inter American Dialogue co chaired by Brazil ex president Cardoso, a recent report states that Venezuela and Haiti can barely be described as democracy. So goes the bolibanana revolution image in the world, and August 7 is apparently far from improving it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mision Cultura, the bolivarian cultural revolution

All authoritarian governments, and some not so authoritarian on occasion, have the need to become cultural "effectors", to launch a cultural revolution, be it from the extremes of Mao's ill named and disastrous Cultural Revolution, to the German Kulturkampf of Bismarck's Germany. There is always that need to regenerate the ideal citizen by a return to some old values that are more often imagined as having been that what they actually were. Thus it was only a matter of time for our local El Supremo to fool around with his own cultural revolution. However this being a bolibabanana revolution, any result far from the norm can be expected.

The latest initiative that Chavez pulled off his hat in his Sunday's comedy show is "Mision Cultura". Joining Mision Barrio Adentro that cures the body with aspirins, now there is a new mision to cure the soul, I suppose.

What is that "mision cultura"? From Chavez announcement:
The Revolution cannot limit itself to the economical transformations. A powerful shot of a transforming culture that gathers the strongest of our values [deficient translation of the impossible orwellian revolutionary language]

The Kultur minister gave us some more detailed explanations (accompanied by pictures of the attending culturees), the actual words from the minister in blue as per the official media:
…traditional institutions such as museums, libraries and the like “incapable to accompany the people in its cultural development as they just fall short” [this from the minister that sleeps well at night as public cultural treasuries are looted by the indigents in search of metal parts to build their shacks].

... to solve the problems "we have created an organic network of folks that are down there, that live with the people and that can reach everywhere" so as to compile, promote and lead the culture among the Venezuelan people [now, that is quite Kultural, as I suppose those people will be the arbiters of what is genuine popular culture].

"we need an army of people to prepare itself" he explained. Thus at first about 28 000 activators (students) will start preparing in “a novel university system, very economical” which in addition over time will give them an university degree: Bachelor in Education, mention Cultural Development. At the nation wide level, about 300 facilitators will be those who will direct their classes.

As of now, 9 515 activators have been selected through consensus in the popular assemblies at the base in their own communities.

The system will be very cheap, each student costing only 232 USD a year, compared to the Universidad Simón Bolívar, which has a cost of 5580 to 7440 USD per student. And no tuition. [except that the minister fails to mention that USB is the top public university in Venezuela and forms the best engineers, but why would a revolution need engineers?]

And also the folks living in the Country Club and the South East part of Caracas will benefit[main opposition lairs]: “This process is all inclusive: anyone of any tendency can join, hopefully disconnecting from the Miami culture, but they can make it

So there you have, a mixture of support group, folklore and reeducation camp.

Chavez completed the picture indicating that the influence of the United States and other countries through TV and other media tried to eliminate our cultural values, which this mision tries to revert:
"They tried to erase the indian, the black, the white too. We are a mix!” [I am not making this up, the textual words: "Trataron de borrarnos lo indio, lo negro, lo blanco también. ¡Somos una mezcla! "]

I need not comment a lot, this speaks for itself. My only question is what will happen to the 18 year old scotch guzzled at chavista parties? And what about baseball, our national game, such a vile and US identified sport that the Olympic Committee has dumped it form the games a few days ago?

On a personal level I feel intellectually quite insulted by this. I invite the minister to visit my home where he will be able to appreciate all the Venezuelan artisan pieces that I treasure, the 50 or so Venezuelan CD that do not include Salsa (another foreign Kultural import), my books on Venezuela arts and history, while I treat him to a choice of one of the 4 Venezuelan rums that I have in my shelves (as many as the different scotch I have, none more than 12 years old). And if he wishes to spend the night I can let him use one of my Venezuelan hammocks [I have both chinchorro and hamaca, his choice] while I discuss the very different merits of the Margariteño, Tintorero, pavilo, and moriche which I have all used and worn out through life (6 so far).

=== === === === ===
And for some real hammock culture.
The exquisite Wayuu hamaca (from the Colombian side according to the German site, though they are the same each side of the border).
How to use a chinchorro, with diagrams.
The Tintorero variant, with baby.
How we lived with chinchorros, 1848; or as a crib.
The Orinoco Bare chinchorro, the Ye'kuana, and the Hiwi.
And much more but no pic at hand (margariteño, Bocono, cocuiza, Monagas...)

Monday, July 11, 2005

The SUMATE summary

The trial of Sumate has started. It is important to summarize why this trial is a travesty of justice, a political vendetta under any angle that one might look at it. And, even if Sumate had committed an electoral crime, that supposed crime would pale in comparison to all the electoral crimes committed by the Chavez administration since the year 2000.

Now that I have given an early conclusion to this post, I can go into the details. First a brief history of Sumate and then a comparative table of the charges brought against Sumate and the government own electoral misdeeds. The reader will be able to decide on its own which one of the two should sit on the accused bench.

Brief Historical

SUMATE is a civil society organization, an NGO, which started as a group of young professionals seeking to help citizens demand their right to clean and fair elections. Already the Carter Center itself declared the 2000 elections flawed (though it seems to have forgotten its own words of 2000 in August 2004). The nature of the political process in Venezuela where the chavista legal steam roller started crushing any opposition attempt at obtaining redress through the ballot box made Sumate associated with the opposition parties, though some of its services could have been used by both sides.

Sumate was established sometime mid 2002 as the organization to manage the first signature gathering petition to take place. This one was the Consultative Referendum who gathered with a speed that surprised both opposition and government more than the 10% necessary for a consultative referendum as to whether Chavez should resign from office. That initiative which was received by the Electoral Board of Venezuela, CNE, under a rain of tear gas in November 2002, never prospered since by a legal trick it was declared non acceptable. However we shall see that the people who signed that supposedly illegal drive would suffer its consequences anyway.

The success of Sumate then made it the one coordinating the effort for the firmazo, that February 2003 signature drive that collected without any problem the 20% needed to ask for a Recall Election on Chavez. Again, thanks to legal tricks and the complacency of the Carter Center and OAS (and myopia of the opposition leadership) that collection was annulled. And again those who signed would still be punished for that exercise of their civil right to petition.

Once the agreement of June 2003 where signed, Sumate was again called to service to coordinate the December final petition drive to call for a Recall Election. But then things had become more complicated as the government had shown its true undemocratic color as it threatened to make good use of the fact that the names of the people that would sign would be known, made public. For example the Significant Other of this blogger, a public employee in a ministry, and fervent anti Chavez, decided not to sign that petition, with the agreement of this blogger who did sign as less subject to prosecution. Thus the beginning of the rendering of families and friends who many times could not understand why some did or did not sign.

But the Chavez administration came up with even more tricks (in spite of the now infamous "no tricks" of ex-president Carter). A large amount of signatures were declared void on shaky grounds and Sumate again had to show its efficiency by organizing a "repair" process that was successful in spite of now an outright frontal attack from the government. By then the people knew that the Chavez administration had established a list of people who had signed in all the previous signature collection. That list, embodied in one of its incarnations as the Tascon list from assemblyman Luis Tascon web page where one could check out anyone's ID number to see if that person had signed "against Chavez" was used to fire public employees and deny services from the state such as passports and ID card emission, or filter who would get a contract or a job for governmental work. Truly, a new apartheid that is still in application today as I write, and which is well documented for the fascist list it is and that is been decried overseas more and more.

But now Sumate was itself under attack as the government claimed that it had illegally received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. First the accusation is shaky even on Venezuelan legal grounds. Second the NED finances all sorts of NGO, even in Venezuela (curiously Sumate is the only one prosecuted...). And third it does not make any mystery of it, being a congressional organization which is controlled in a bipartisan manner by the US Congress. Sumate has on one of its web page the copy of the NED agreement if anyone cares to read it. As early as November 4th, The Economist was writing that under the manipulated Venezuelan judicial system, a Sumate trial could only be seen as a political prosecution. The Economist is only one of the many folks making the easy connection.

The trial that is opening against 4 of Sumate's directors has been maturing for over a year as it has been difficult for the government to make a case. First, on a public relations front, the hoped for departure to exile of Sumate's leaders has not happened as they have courageously not only stayed in Venezuela, but even left for short trips and came back each time. Second Maria Corina Machado has been received at the White House by President Bush, the only Venezuelan figure that has been received at the White House since Chavez came to office in 1998.

Summary of the charges

What Sumate is, does, represents...What chavismo is, does, represent...
Is an NGO who organizes efficiently some of the electoral needs of the opposition partiesAll rely on chavismo hold on the government levers, such as the CNE and the effect of the executive power to manage any electoral campaign
Has accepted a 51 000 USD grant from the NEDHas accepted millions from foreign companies such as the yet unsolved Bilbao Viscaya Bank 1998 campaign contribution
Has accepted a small grant which was used on voter education as to the agreement with the NEDSince 2000, uses all the power of the state and its monies to finance its electoral campaigns, without any check from any Venezuelan institution
Is efficientIs a mess, success based slowly on Chavez charisma and the grants he spreads around to buy votes when needed
Stands trial as of last weekWalks freely as all the accusations of electoral fraud are blocked from even the most elemental investigation
Has accepted foreign moneyHas accepted so much help from Cuba as to electoral tactics and organization that it is a joke
Maria Corina Machado has been received by George BushChavez is not only received constantly by Castro, who he supports financially, but has been received by Saddam, Qaddafy and the Iranian Mullas (1)
Sumate wants a clear electoral registerThe Chavez subservient CNE has Colombian guerillas voting in Venezuelan elections
Sumate wants a clear electoral registerThe electoral registry is not only a mess but the CNE does not want to give it to the political parties for them to be able to organize their electoral targets (which chavismo does, by the way)

And much more I could keep writing along these lines, but I am sure the reader is getting the point already



(1) It is fair to note that as an OPEC member Venezuela requires to have relations with Iran, Iraq and Libya. What is also fair to say is that the effusiveness of Chavez when he visited those countries and leaders was excessive, totally uncalled for and unnecessary, in particular the Baghdad junket where the car ride with Saddam driving was just too much.

But even if the charges were valid, let's not forget that the NED money was a drop in the bucket of all what the opposition received for its electoral campaigns, and even less of a drop when it is compared to the floods of public monies used by chavismo to secure the the vote for its leader. Hypocrisy!

Conclusion

There should be no doubt in the reader's mind that the only reason why Sumate is prosecuted is that it is at the heart of any opposition electoral organization. Its efficiency, its unquestionable message of free and fair election in front of the pathetic and shifty figure of the CNE through its most discredited president, Rodriguez, is something that chavismo and Chavez cannot forgive, nor forget. Sumate, in fact, is by contrast the constant reminder of all that is wrong with the Chavez administration, its inefficiency, the lackadaisical attitude of nearly all of its members, its moral corruption.

The reactions to the trial have already been numerous. The Sate Department condemned the prosecution in unambiguous terms. Human Rights Watch writes: “The court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting people for treason when they engage in legitimate electoral activities is utterly absurd.”

There is no need to add anything by this blogger as he is sure that international condemnation will keep coming from all quarters as chavismo takes a gamble on Sumate, a gamble that it will probably pay dearly.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Jorge Valero, professional liar at the OAS

Last night, in a fit of insomnia I was watching the Oppenheimer report on TV, a weekly TV feature from Miami directed by noted journalist Andres Oppenheimer. This show which should be mandatory viewing for anyone interested in Latin America politics, is unfortunately only transmitted after midnight on Venezuela's Venevision on Saturday (12:30 AM Sunday!)

The host was brand new OAS secretary Jose Miguel Insulza. The format is for the guest to meet from 3 to 5 people that can either agree or disagree with him but who offer a contrast or needed side commentary. One of the three guests last night was Jorge Valero, Venezuela's ambassador to the OAS.

The main topic was discussing the OAS role in helping democracy, threatened in many countries. Of course, an OAS theme which recently had Venezuela in mind during previous discussions at different OAS assemblies. At some point when Oppenheimer addressed Valero he reminded the audience that the nomination of 17 justices to the high court was the way which the executive, Chavez, gained control of the judicial power, thus breaking separation of powers, an expected democratic quality. Valero did not even bother justifying that take over in Venezuela, he just outright lied about it by claiming that the justices had been elected by a 2/3 votes of the National Assembly. This is false, it is a naked lie, as the 17 new justices failed to gain the 2/3 constitutional requirement, in violation of the constitution, a violation ignored by the sitting court at the time in spite of abundant denunciations, including from Human Rights Watch among others. The 17 new "justices" were thus named only by the thin chavista majority at the National Assembly.

I know that the role of an ambassador is to lie when needed, white lies that avoid confrontation among countries. But never had I heard such an outright lie by someone who should have known much better, in a place where he knew the host AND the main guest knew better (but would be too polite to set him straight?) As early as June 19 2004 this blog was describing the irregularities behind the new court nomination and the international outcry. This is not a matter open to discussion as even the new justices claim that their nomination serves the interes of the "revolution" (and so to hell with constitutional forms?)

Or is it that Valero has been away from Venezuela for too long? Or did he forget his lawyer background as poker faced he recited the same litanies that have become the Venezuelan speech of any Venezuelan pseudo diplomat sent on mission?

We must wonder how come Valero does not pretend anymore, does not try anymore to build up a semi plausible case that might stand partially a brief scrutiny of facts by the casual observer not too intersted in Venezuela. Now, it is all simply a collection of the crassest of lies and denials, the victimization discourse everytime. No more diplomacy (assuming that there was some diplomacy before).

The answer is the same as the one found when we discuss the foreign policy of the Eastern Europe countries of the Cold War; or of Cuba today and North Korea. It is the answer of countries that know that people are up to their games, their abuses, even if their international partners have decided not to act on it for the time being. It is the foreing policy of the "see if I care" construct, one that despises public opinion since they know that their position cannot be defended nor supported by the rational discourse.

Last night I realized with complete clarity that Venezuelan voice is still heard only because oil is at 60 USD a barrel. If it were for all the lies that flow from Chavez and his hack people such as Valero, nobody would pay attention anymore.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The incredibly shrinking Venezuelan private sector

I am quite happy to see that my long post on the Venezuelan situation is stirring some serious feedback (1). To the point of receiving this letter from "An Interested Observer". Quoting my post, he developped one of the ideas (calling it intuitive, accurately, but my intuition is good :) to sustain that idea. Namely, the Venezuelan private sector is not doing as good as what some people in the government would like us to beleive. Without further ado, you can read next this good economic explanation of what is in store for Venezuela.


Indeed, the petrodollar windfall is felt and there is an impression of economic growth as commercial activity has restarted and as, without question, the lowest income sectors of the population have benefited from the social programs developed since early 2003. It is possible that eventually this will translate in real solid economic growth but so far the signs are not encouraging. Venezuela seems intent on, again, increase the portion of the public sector, already huge, at the expense of the private sector. This has never worked anywhere.”

The above is part of our bloghost’s summary of the current state of Venezuela. While I gather that it was a rather intuitive assessment, the numbers certainly bear him out.

First, let’s talk about the good news in 2005. GDP (PIB) growth for the first quarter was 7.9% when compared to the first quarter of 2004. This is not nearly as large as the increase last year, but that was compared to a period that contained the end of the general strike. 7.9% is an excellent number, one that most countries would gladly trade for. Another piece of good news is that the price of the Venezuelan oil basket went up from $28.18 to $38.39 in the same period (again just comparing the two quarters), over a 36% jump. More money for oil means more money in Venezuela.

But since oil income is so fundamental in the Venezuelan economy, it raises a significant question: how much of the GDP growth is due to the increase in oil price, and how much would GDP have grown without it?

I’ll spare you the number crunching (if you really want to know, ask me in comments), but if you multiply the amount by which ordinary public spending increased in a year by the public share of GDP (all figures from the BCV, not private estimates), you find that the GDP increase from that alone would have been 6.7%.

This implies that growth from anything other than an increase in government spending (i.e., from extra money available due to price increases) was 1.2%. Unfortunately, the real news isn’t even that good.

In economics, there is something called the multiplier effect. Put simply, it means that each bolivar in the currency – including new ones – gets spent more than once over the course of a year. (Think about little time they spend in your wallet and bank account!) The only economics textbook on my desk to give a numeric value says an ordinary multiplier is around 2. (See also Wikipedia.)

If the multiplier is two, then the total effect of the increase in government spending should have been 13.4% GDP growth in the first quarter! The actual growth would be attributable to only the extra spending if the multiplier were only 1.18. I think two is an overestimate for a number of reasons: it’s the value for the US economy, and the Venezuelan economy is not so efficient and steady; since not all of the new money can be re-spent in the same quarter, the effect from prior quarters – when spending was lower – would be less; inflation may also have a negative effect, since each bolivar injected last year is worth less now; the government is currently importing loads of products, which makes the multiplier for that money exactly one, since it leaves Venezuela.

The real paradox about this is if the multiplier is very low (below 1.18), the private economy is generally in bad shape but is currently growing more. The better off the economy is right now (the higher the multiplier), the worse its prospects for the future. Regardless, without oil money, the private sector would not be driving up growth this year.

I’m not the only one who foresees a doubtful future for the Venezuelan private sector. Banco Mercantil just released a forecast (some of it is here, but the statistics I’m using were only published in a table in the print edition July 4) which implies (I had to calculate) that private sector GDP will grow 21% this year and only 10.6% next year – in nominal terms, i.e., before inflation. Even with the tremendous influx of oil money, private sector GDP growth will be less than the current growth rate – unless inflation ends the year at 12.1% or less. (It was 8% for the first 6 months.) According to Mercantil’s estimate, private GDP will begin shrinking next year if inflation is anywhere above 10.6%. I have a report that consolidates predictions from various analysts, and the average value from seventeen of them for 2006 inflation is 20.9%. With that result, the private sector GDP “growth” in 2006, even WITH new oil money, would be -8.5%!

Indeed, as Daniel says, the signs – especially over the longer term – are NOT encouraging, as it appears that the private sector will begin shrinking, not only relative to the rapidly expanding public sector, but in absolute terms, very soon. If it hasn’t begun already.

AIO

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1) Just a reminder. This blog is open to letters on relevant topics, even if they are only half this well presented :-) Even from pro Chavez people if they can sustain arguments this well. Of course I am the sole judge in my own little "ley RESORTE" world. AIO is the fith person to honor this blog with his/her work and I have no problem offering my blog for more good work from other folks.

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