Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Fairness in Venezuelan state controlled news

Yesterday press conference of Lorenzo Mendoza was widely covered. Below there is actually a picture of the event with the main media covering it.

You can see who was there, from the logos of the microphones.

Venevision, Radio Caracas and Televen, the three private nation wide networks. Plus CMT, a Caracas local TV, RCR, a radio station and Globovision a 24 hours news TV station, our CNN of sorts. Links can all be found at Venezuela Today. There is also an unidentified mic that is probably the audio system of the room.

Observe that there is NO state owned network taking this very important press conference about a pitched battle between the state and the largest private company in the country (and largest private employer). Something highly newsworthy anywhere else.

Now let´s look at this picture of the labor minister announcing an extension of the firing freeze for an additional 6 months for low wages. Also a very newsworthy event, a few hours apart from the press conference above.

What is missing in this picture? Minister Iglesias is declaring from Miraflores Palace where the private press has limited access but where pro Chavez media find all sorts of "chance" encounters with public officials. One can identify the microphones of RNV, the state nation wide radio network, VTV, the state TV and three other unidentified mic and tape recorders. Missing was VIVE TV and TELESUR, the latest media network creation of the regime. Missing also any non Chavez controlled media that could, God forbid!, ask tough questions about a measure which is only a populist prop with little effect.

I think the contrast speaks volumes. I did take the pain to check the state news web pages of the Minci and the Bolivarian News Agency, in addition to the ones already mentioned. None of them mention the Mendoza press conference. All private media that I mentioned did mention the Mendoza press conference AND the Iglesias announcement.

Now, please, would the people complaining about poor Chavez not getting a fair break with the opposition hysterically controlled media shut up? Chavez arsenal on TV nowincludes VTV, VIVE, Telesur, and the ANTV. Plus the only true national Radio coverage with RNV (no private radio network is allowed national coverage). In none of these networks supported, at tax payer expenses, and which broadcast propaganda all day long, has anyone opposing Chavez a fair hearing. If you do not agree, please go and talk to Walter Martinez, the very latest casualty of someone who dared to speak his mind in VTV.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Polar does not back down

One would have thought that stunned by a huge loss of property the directors of Polar would have taken a couple of days to reply to the unjustified seizure of Promabasa. But no. In a press conference that could have taught a few lessons in civic duties and political deftness to a few spineless opposition leaders, Lorenzo Mendoza came this afternoon, barely 24 hours into losing Promabasa, to give a press conference (video free for a while only).

In a paused tone, but without conceding an inch, Lorenzo Mendoza made his case. And he made it well, certainly much better than the senile governor of Barinas or the hot air producing Chavez.

He reminded all of the historical importance of Polar, a company with more than 60 years history that has weathered any regime, worked with all, including the present one when it collaborated extensively to provide essential food stuff during the 2002 strike, with the support of the army that he not only duly acknoweldged but reminded folks in case they had forgotten. Deliberately restating the facts and denouncing the "black legend" woven around those days and against Polar.

Polar will continue to work as if nothing. They are the biggest tax payer in the country and the biggest employer. If the government refuses to recognize that, it does not stop Mendoza to owe it first to his employees.

Polar will not negotiate. It will go to court. Polar considers that it has done nothing wrong, that the expropriation is simply baseless and unjust. In other words, principles cannot be negotiated.

Bravely, with a class and purpose that I was not expecting considering the moment, with a poise that was even unsettling, Mendoza threw the gauntlet to a group of people that, well, basically only deal in hysterics. But if chavismo crassness was exposed by the contrast, the so called leaders of the opposition would be well advised to take a cue from Lorenzo Mendoza as to how make one's point.

We shall see.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chavez, the highway robber

The stunning news tonight is that the Polar/Remavenca plant of Barinas was expropriated, after all. Indeed, after an initial political battle (there was nothing about adequate judicial procedure during the whole drama) one was led to think that Polar, the owner of Remavenca in turn the owner of the Barinas plant Promabasa, had reached an agreement with the government in order to stop the conflict, reopen the plant and allow the crop to come in before it gets lost on the fields. But apparently it seems that the government just "negotiated" while it was deciding how to best take over. Will there be economic compensation? Your bet is as good as mine.

The expropriation decree reads:
presuntamente pertenecientes a la empresa refinadora de maíz venezolana Compañía Anónima Remavenca, anterior Amabasa, y posteriormente denominada Promabasa
presumably belonging to the Venezuelan corn refinery Remavenca, known before as Amabasa and then renamed Promabasa
It is stunning that a decree on such a grave matter would have such a loosely worded sentence. How can you expropriate something if you do not even state the legal owner properly, if the legal owner is complaining loudly in the press?

Now, there might be perfectly valid reasons, political or economical or even social, for why the Barinas state (the front for Chavez administration in this case) might want to "nationalize", "force buy", "etc" Promabasa. But the hard and harsh fact here is that it is done BECAUSE Chavez said so. Justice has been nowhere to be found, EVEN THOUGH we all know that the judicial system is fully in the hands of Chavez. But apparently this is not enough as Chavez wants now his orders executed just as he utters them. He is the law now and he cannot wait for a judge to write even a favorable sentence. ¡Viva la revolución!

Let's not be shy with words here: this is plain highway robbery, just as his Maisanta forefather used to do early this century.

And if you have any doubt look at how Chavez last Sunday did aliquot the lands of La Marqueseña, a land grab that still has not been able to reach justice but which fate has already been decided by The Autocrat cum highway robber.

Yesterday in yet another lengthy blabber Chavez announced from la Marqueseña (after having ignobly patronized its former owners) that he would divide as follows the former lands of La Marqueseña:
President Hugo Chavez is to launch two social projects in 6,900 hectares out of a total of 8,490 in La Marqueseña ranch. The Azpuruas, who claim ownership of the property, were offered 1,500 hectares.

During his TV and radio show "Hello, President!" last Sunday, the ruler offered the Azpuruas a deal. "Otherwise, they have the right to appeal to court," he clarified [sic].

He proposed to develop in 2,700 hectares under special management regime, an ecological agricultural project.

A second project includes a plot of land for genetic agricultural development of seeds and plantation of basic commodities in an area comprising 4,200 hectares.

"All over the area, a state company called Florentino Genetic Center [sic] will be established. Funding is secured already." [note of the writer: as a PhD in the field I can assure you that such a project is not generated in a couple of weeks in the bowels of a ministry. This is truly pulled out of someone's ass]

The government intends to use 2,900 hectares for cattle genetic improvement. A portion of 800 hectares will be used for the project concerning seeds. Additionally, 500 hectares will be used to plant commodities for human and animal consumption.

Also, the ruler proposed to use an area in La Marqueseña for army exercises [no surface specified? Will that be the private ranch of Chavez in his ancestor lands? Conveniently masked by the army?].
Does anyone has any doubt left as to what is really going on in Venezuela?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

La Marqueseña and Don Giovanni

As I am typing Chavez has taken his Alo Presidente road show to La Marqueseña.

When a couple of weeks ago the hacienda La Marqueseña was taken manu militari from its owners some where not only amazed at the brashness of that attack on private property, but even thought that it might be the work of over zealous Chavez lackeys. How wrong were they all! Today, by berating the country from the seized farm, Chavez demonstrates that it is his real intention to slowly despoil the Venezuela people of its way of life. Today La Marqueseña. Soon enough, my home.

But the legal reasons behind all this mess were not in my mind this morning as I was fixing breakfast. After all, for all what I know the Azpurua family might have acquired these lands illegally and should be made to pay for them. Though there is no possible way that this fact, so far unproven by the administration, could justify the way the seizure has been done, nor the disrespect to the owners and the workers. Fascism is just that, fascism, even if it tries to cover itself as the defender of the people. Let's not forget that Hitler was National Socialist while "XX1 century socialism" is acquiring strange racist undertones. No, what I had in mind as I was heating up my frozen croissant bought a few weeks ago at Caracas's St. Honore was what music I should pop in my CD player.

I happen to believe that many answers to daily life questions have been written inside the music of great composers. Quite often I do get great insights as I listen to some piece who I truly believe my subconscious made me seek within my collection. I felt at 9 AM like opera, but not the whole thing. So I picked up one of my favorites collection of arias, the Mozart recital of Placido Domingo (1). A rather unexpected hit of Domingo better known for his heroic Verdian roles (his Otelo is the one for our lifetimes).

Later as I was chewing my delicious imported from Caracas croissant, reading El Universal (I like to read El Nacional at tea time) and smelling a pot of the best Venezuelan coffee (I get it from a producer at three times the controlled price, but it is worth every penny) the CD reached the Don Giovanni tracks. Namely the tenor part of Don Ottavio.

I happen to think that Don Giovanni is the greatest opera ever written. Which does not stop me from naming Otelo and Così fan tutte as my favorites. But no other opera compiles so completely the misery of the human condition, describes so well how weak and easily corruptible we all are. This with a number of astounding arias and duets unmatched anywhere else.

In Don Giovanni, Don Ottavio, Donna Anna's fiancé, swears to avenge her in the most florid terms. She was seduced (?) and her father killed shortly after by the title role. So she can certainly not be blamed from seeking revenge from the Don while maybe refusing to realize she is in love with him. So she blithely tries to use Ottavio to that end. Sensing the possibility of glory, Ottavio plays the game.

He "feels" her pain
È mia quell'ira, quel pianto è mio;
(her anger and her sorrow are mine,)

He vouches he cannot be happy if she is not happy herself
Dalla sua pace la mia depende;
Quel che a lei piace vita mi rende
(On her peace of mind depends mine too;
What pleases her gives life to me)
But he reveals himself pusillanimous and of course all the way through the opera fails to carry any action to that end, waiting for the statue of the Commander to drag Don Giovanni to Hell. At one point Donna Anna must remind him of his duty and sure enough he regales the audience with yet another aria promising revenge:
Ditele che i suoi torti
a vendicar io vado;
Che sol di stragi e morti
nunzio vogl'io tornar.
(Tell her that I have gone
to avenge her wrongs,
and will return only as the messenger
of punishment and death.)

Chavez is Don Ottavio. Today from La Marqueseña he is going to promise us yet again that all what he does is for us, to avenge all what was done to us by the evil seducers from previous regimes or Northern countries. After sending all his henchmen to do the deed he arrives when all danger is gone to figure in front. Just as Don Ottavio arrives at the end of the Opera once the Commendatore has taken Don Giovanni to Hell. Don Ottavio knows he is a coward and promptly tries to seek reassurance with Donna Anna
Or che tutti, o mio tesoro,
Vendicati siam dal cielo,
Porgi, porgi a me un ristoro,
Non mi far languire ancor.
(My beloved, now that heaven
Has avenged us all,
Give me some consolation:
Let me languish no longer.)
It is strange that Mozart gave such a lifeless character two of the most beautiful arias ever written. Irony? Just as it seems unfair that LatAm politics gave the language of redemption to such an ill prepared leader as Chavez, only able to promise a future that will only end in destruction and amorality. More irony?

But some of us are Donna Anna, and like her we are not fooled by Don Ottavio. We know that the only thing that will result from all this Marqueseña show is yet more land destroyed, or worse, land falling someday into the hands of a new cast of ranchers, but these ones approved by the Don as long as they sing his glory. By then Don Ottavio will have followed the course that will make him a new Don Giovanni, powerful enough to flaunt his amorality.

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

(1) I was quite surprised as I was looking for a reference to that CD that it can only be found used now as its issue date is 1991, the year I bought it. Now you need to shell off at least 79 USD through Amazon to get a used copy. Maybe my CD collection is worth much more than what I thought… Too bad chavistas full of money have not enough culture to appreciate Mozart and Domingo.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Chavismo internal problems

It would be a mistake to underestimate the internal problems of chavismo as a movement. Certainly it benefits of two things: a unique leader and a string of mediocrities to nonentities only too willing to follow. But if this is the bulk, there are still a few that are not willing to abide by any dictate coming from above, a few who have not surrendered every single neuron to El Surpremo.

But the casual observer of Venezuela, perhaps misguided by the abundant pro-Chavez propaganda found around the international media and web these days (courtesy of oil supply threatened by a variety of storms) might wonder how come a "democratically" elected leader is facing suddenly at home such problems, or how come he is taking such drastic measures against, say, private property when the money is flowing into the national cash register.

The root reason is quite simple: Chavez leadership is based on the hope that the state largesse will reach each and everyone who pledges allegiance to his rule. As people realize this, more and more flock to the leader, or pretend to flock to him. Soon, the natural consequence of nouveau Keynesian distribution reaches the unavoidable end: there is simply not enough money to go around and a few must be sacrificed. It is the eternal fate of any populist government who chooses facile solutions for complex problems which can only be resolved by actual creation of wealth. Let's look at how this applies in some recent and well publicized cases.

The case of the unsatisfied representatives

We have to meet Assembly elections in December. According to the much violated 1999 constitution and its derivative laws, political parties should have internal primaries and even sex quotas in their candidates. Chavez, mindful of how easy people can defect has decided to select personally only truly reliable candidates. Farewell internal democracy, something amazingly even criticized in some pro Chavez pages. Not that the opposition showed much of a democratic bent in selecting its candidates but at least it experienced a comprehensive internal consultation loosely based on rather meaningless electoral results. At least, a healthy discussion was for all to see, something that this blogger cannot remember happening inside chavismo since at least 1999.

The consequences of this candidate imposition on the chavismo base were not surprising. I will just name two notable ones. Some of the seating representatives that did not get the nod for reelection decided to run again anyway. They have been excluded from Chavez party, the MRV. The reelected Trujillo governor has decided to present his own list of candidates for his state, against the list imposed from Miraflores Palace. He has been promptly excluded from the MVR, a governor!

The case of the unsatisfied candidates

Of course, being there only 167 seats to furnish at the National Assembly, a whole bunch of people who have demonstrated clear popular appeal have been left aside anyway. Such as the leader of the Tupamaros in the popular 23 de Enero neighborhood, or Lina Ron, the bleached blond pasionaria who is the only true leader in chavismo after Chavez. That she is a real leader and to his left certainly did not please him and hence her placement toward "other functions at the service of the revolution". But Ms. Ron wants to make sure that if she is not allowed to run, she will at least be given "something". That she can blackmail the MVR (if she were to call her supporters not to vote, that would cost chavismo at least two seats in Caracas) is probably the reason why she feels her life at risk. In an obscure incident that involved her body guards and the mayor of Vargas state (where she could also bring down a seat) she was almost arrested and claimed that they tried to kill her. She did not stop at that, she also claimed that the state TV, VTV, which was present at her side and filmed everything, did not show any of it, and thus "censored" the truth, according to Ron.

The case of the unsatisfied anchorman

This Lina Ron declaration as to VTV applying censorship to her version of the events was indeed quite something: "I am ashamed that it is Globovision that is interviewing me when VTV has all the film". Globovision, la bête noire of Chavez, and the only media now carrying significant criticism of the Chavez incompetent administration cannot be blamed if disgruntled chavistas go more and more to its reporters to announce their grievances, duly transmitted by the open mic of "Alo Ciudadano" the only TV program who allows anyone to call in for three hours everyday!

But things must be really screwy at VTV when the only star reporter they had, Walter Martinez, slammed the door after denouncing corruption in the Chavez administration (and unbelievably that someone like Martinez can say that "the truth is hidden from Chavez by his entourage"). Mr. Martinez, who has made of his one eyed condition a bravely assumed trademark, was last June awarded a government prize for journalism. But those were the days. Now, he is on one side nearly excoriated by the official VTV position but gets in Aporrea rounds of applause and support. It seems that Chavez figured out that the declarations were grave enough and he intervened as usual: to quell any dissidence. In the lamentable Hojilla show of VTV, the surprise was Chavez himself as a caller to try to shut up the speakers from their support to Martinez. And thus Chavez himself signified the final disgrace of Martinez who, curiously, also emitted an opinion that is usually shared by the left of Chavez, people such as the Tupamaros or Lina Ron. Interesting…

It would be easy to gloss over this Martinez incident as the character himself was a rather arrogant journalist. But that Chavez himself intervened and that this incident also fits other censorship attempts, one even to pro Chavez Ultimas Noticias, are the telltales of the chavismo malaise: Chavez is preparing for a battle and he will not tolerate any dissidence, in particular as he seems to be surprised by it himself.

The case of the disgruntled public employees

These are just too numerous, and numerous enough that they managed to severely perturb Chavez trip to Bolivar state earlier this week. Simply put, the revolution is not reaching all those it is supposed to reach, and after 7 years of Chavez autocracy, people are getting tired of waiting.

Thus as a conclusion it is funny top observe that all the vices previously seen in populist governments, even in Venezuela (see CAP 2, for example) are happening here in spite of the most messianic leader we ever had. And all the repression mechanisms destined to preserve the autocrator are unavoidably put into place. Eventually when all is said and done, people do not want Socialism of the XX1 century and such crap, they want a stable job, be it Lina Ron at the National Assembly (which this blogger happens to think she probably deserves more than 95% of the Chavez candidates), be it in the public administration; and they all want a government who does not show increasingly obvious sign of unfathomable corruption, besides its inefficiency. Mr. Martinez, for all of the reasons he might have had and his not very pleasant personality, is the sign that people are tired of seeing the chavistas nouveau riche flaunt more and more, and produce less and less.

More to come, I can assure you.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Chavez administration inefficiency on display, once again

Yesterday there were a few hard rains over Caracas. Nothing outside the norm, as in general the September October rains might be less frequent but tend to be harder and heavier. Once again, an Agua de Maiz overflow trapped a few cars on the central Caracas highway. Something quite amazing, that in a mountain city people are at a risk to drown inside their car by a flash flood on a major highway. A real risk as it happened in 2003, duly reported by this blogger then.

Agua de Maiz is a "quebrada", a mostly dry torrent bed that has few or no water but that can fill up in a few minutes during a rain storm. Caracas, as a valley surrounded by high mountains has many of such "quebradas" so there is ample knowledge, historical and practical, of the causes and consequences of each and everyone. Yet as the picture below shows it seems that we are far from being out of danger from these violent streams, even while riding a modern highway.

Caracas main thoroughfare, giving a new meaning to rush hour. Tax payers can wonder about where does the tax money they give to the Seniat go while they observe their cars sinking

So, what is it? Impossibility to control nature? Or failure by the authorities to do their job in either control the problem or establish a warning system? The later is the likely answer.

El Nacional report from where the pictures above are taken has an article duly titled "Drivers shipwreck again on the Fajardo Highway". And it reports that:

September 1999 (Chavez in office for 8 months), 60 cars "shipwrecked", one death due to heart attack.

May 2001 (Chavez in office for 2 years and 4 months), 100 cars piled up by the stream, and 22 families of an upstream poor neighborhood affected.

July 2003 (Chavez in office 4 years and 6 months), dozens and dozens of cars piled up and submerged, one person DROWNED in his car! In the middle of the highway!

Now, I have a little question for Chavez: how come you dare speak about New Orleans flooding or to clean the Bronx river? I think it is about time you start doing your work at home, [suitable expletive erased due to the "gag" law, the kind of repressive crap that you have time to do!]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chavez makes a fool of himself

I have been on the road these past days and as usual, or so it seems, lots of interesting things to write and no time (or net at hand) to post on. Thus three items real quick until I can get back in gear.

Item 1: Chavez suffers intoxication in the Bronx due to some toxic fumes. Or so it would read in a tabloid headline if one looks into the speeches and promises made by Chavez during his visit in New York last week. Tal Cual ofered us a great editorial that I post in Spanish. If some reader is willing to translate I will be most obliged to post it. Please, pretty please, it is really a good piece! (12 hours later: I just found out that the DJ does translate Tal Cual editorials now, saving me quite a lot of time in the future)

Mi delirio en el Bronx (my delyrium in Bronx)

El discurso en el Bronx de Nueva York fue la tapa del frasco. ¡Chávez Superstar! Chávez más allá de sí mismo.

Chávez Extra Large. Aló Presidente a escala galáctica. Va a limpiar el río Hudson, va a dotar de autobuses a los escolares del Bronx, va a vender gasolina más barata para los habitantes de la popular barriada, va a llevarles Barrio Adentro. ¡Qué no ofreció nuestro particular Don Regalón, nuestra versión tropical de Rico McPato!
Los filósofos tomistas del cristianismo medieval hablaban del ordo amoris, el orden en el amor; en el amor, decían, había que tener un orden. Comienza usted por amar a los suyos, a los que tiene más próximos, y de allí sigue, en círculos concéntricos, hacia los que están más allá y termina con los que ni siquiera conoce ni ha visto nunca pero forman parte de la humanidad. Claro, esos filósofos no conocieron este mundo interconectado de hoy, ni los prodigios comunicacionales que nos dan en tiempo real lo que está pasando en las antípodas. Hoy es más fácil sentir compasión y preocuparse por la suerte de los que sufren —por muy lejos que estén de nosotros— que en la Edad Media, cuando era difícil saber hasta lo que ocurría en la aldea vecina. Pero, aun así, la idea de que el amor comienza por los que tenemos más cerca no ha perdido vigencia.

Que un brazo del río Hudson esté horriblemente contaminado es un problema, ciertamente, pero más cerca de las preocupaciones de Super Hugo debería estar el río Guaire, de cuya limpieza tenemos siete años oyendo hablar al Gran Descontaminador. Chávez podría devolverle la pureza cristalina a las aguas del Hudson después, por ejemplo, de que recoja la “lenteja” del Lago de Maracaibo y lo deje como cuando se bañaban en él los indios que encontró Alonso de Ojeda en sus palafitos. ¿Y qué decir del Lago de Valencia? El Gran Ecologista no tiene que ir muy lejos para darle rienda suelta a sus inquietudes por el destino del planeta; aquí tiene campo de sobra para ello.

¿Autobuses para los niñitos del Bronx? ¡Por Dios, si en este país casi ninguna escuela pública posee transporte!
¿Barrio Adentro en la Gran Manzana? ¿Con médicos venezolanos? Porque será difícil que los gringos autoricen a los cubanos. ¿O será con galenos yanquis, entrenados por el ministro de Salud? ¡Qué lío! Pero lo más desopilante de todo fue la oferta de un enclave gasolinero en el Bronx, donde Citgo vendería gasolina más barata que en el resto de la ciudad. Un Mercal energético, pues. ¿Super Hugo pensará subsidiar a los concesionarios gasolineros gringos, pagándoles la diferencia entre el precio de mercado y la ganga bolivariana? ¿Y por qué sólo en el Bronx y no en toda Nueva York? ¿Por qué esa discriminación con el resto de la ciudad? Más aún, ¿por qué no en todo el país? Hay 14 mil bombas de gasolina con la marca Citgo en el territorio norteamericano. Podríamos derrumbar al capitalismo desde adentro, con una fabulosa operación de dumping, vendiendo nuestra gasolina a la mitad de su precio actual.

Lástima grande que los pobres habitantes del Bronx no van a ver nada de esto porque no hay razón alguna para suponer que Chávez va a ser menos ineficiente allá que aquí.

¿Y el Guaire qué?


By the way, one of the points of the article was an offer to finance a study on how to clean up the Bronx reader. The picture boxed along shows a river in downtown Caracas which is way more polluted than the Bronx river and could well use some clean up.

Item 2:
Chavez yesterday flew to Guyana. He is a frequent visitor there as his electroal fortunes are better there than elsewhere. Indeed, with a heavy state industry economy, Guyana depends more of Caracas than almost any other state in Venezuela. Words such as trade union and socialism do not sound quite that hollow in Puerto Ordaz.

Well, lo'and behold! Several avenues were taken in protest for promises unkept by the Chavez administration. And other places in Venezuela also saw people marching in protest. Today's Tal Cual editorial gives a good summary of people getting tired from waiting for Chavez promises while this one keeps lavishing Venezuela monies on wealthier friends... His reaction in Guyana? Ignore the justified protests and announce even more socialism. The arrogance! Thanks for helicopters that had to replace in a hurry the "popular" motorcade so he coudl go and make yet one more fiery speech.

El pueblo arrecho reclama sus derechos (not suitable for translation in this familiy oriented blog)

(note 12 hours later, as above. Translation here but the DJ shies away of the real force fo the words used in the title. Perhaps in the future I should do an "adaptation" of DJ editorials, for when Teodoro is really pissed?)

Ayer fue un día singular. La protesta social retumbó en varias zonas del país. “El pueblo arrecho reclama sus derechos”, como salmodiaban muchos antiguos encapuchados de las marchas de antes, que hoy son gobierno. Guayana, en las narices de Chávez, fue tomada por los trabajadores y vecinos, que trancaron todas sus vías y puentes; en Vargas, los buhoneros chavistas ( “Nosotros te pusimos, nosotros te quitamos”, gritaba una señora ya mayor, enfranelada de rojo) se trenzaron en batalla campal con la policía del alcalde chavista, acompañados por los pistoleros de Lina Ron, quien, por lo visto, ya comienza a pasar facturas por el ninguneo de que fue víctima a la hora de las planchas.

Aquí en Caracas, damnificados de Aragua, que llevan años esperando un trato igual al que se da a los damnificados de Pinar del Río y de Jamaica, tomaron la sede de Fondur y, por cierto, no de muy buenas maneras, pero es que gritaban lo del pueblo arrecho que reclama sus derechos.

Por su parte, el cuerpo médico se movilizó hasta la Asamblea Nacional, mucho más pacíficamente que los chavistas de Guayana, Vargas y Aragua, para protestar la Ley de Salud. Día de ira, pues.

En todas partes, el denominador es común: frustración y desencanto.

Las costuras sociales se le comienzan a ver al gobierno. El discurso se agota, casi siete años después. Se agota pero también provoca desconcierto y aprensión. En los barrios, los dueños de sus ranchitos se preguntan cómo es eso de que la propiedad privada no es sagrada. ¿Entonces la cacharrita y el rancho también pueden ser “intervenidos” como si de Polar se tratara? Para colmo, la nueva modalidad de la cháchara presidencial no ayuda a entender. “Los cooperativistas no deben producir para ganar dinero” ; “los obreros piden mucho en los contratos colectivos” ; “no puede ser que la clase obrera quiera vivir como los ricos”. Sin embargo, la moralina revolucionaria se estrella contra las 4x4 de los acompañantes del Gran Predicador y contra los quintones que recién estrenan.

La Revolución no es austera, no predica con el ejemplo. La gente siente que a Chávez le importa más ser Magnón, el Emperador de la Galaxia, aquel personaje de la comiquita Mandrake, que el modesto presidente de esta tierra de gracia. No tiene que extrañar, pues, que el “empoderamiento” popular, las nuevas formas de organización popular en las barriadas, comiencen a desbordar al gobierno. Son demasiados años de pura “muela”, en contraste con ingresos milmillonarios que se gastan sin que se le vea el queso a la tostada. Los legendarios “matanceros” de Sidor se sienten robados por la CVG, que no les entrega las acciones de la empresa ni les paga los dineros que sobre ellas les debe; los vecinos de Vista Al Sol y El Gallo, en San Félix, a las orillas de los dos soberbios ríos guayaneses, se hartan de no tener agua; los enfermos del aluminio se cansaron de acampar durante tres semanas ante la CVG sin que el patiquín con boina roja que funge de ministro ni el teórico revolucionario de la cogestión en Alcasa se hubieran dado por enterados. Decidieron, todos a una, entrompar a Chávez, quien estaba en Guayana. Pero el jefe no podía atenderlos; habría sido muy arriesgado: los obreros tienen que entender que Bush lo quiere matar.

Item 3: And to finish this post. Tal Cual got this nice picture of a thougtful Chavez ( thinking the socialism he wants to impose on us?), while his personality cult keeps going apace! Indeed the glorification of Chavez can be observed everyday more. All so predictable, as well as the ignominous end.

With apologies to Tal Cual from using so much of their material at once!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Electoral disarray in Venezuela

Today is the dead line to register the nomination for the National Assembly elections of December 2005. Chavismo has filed up its candidates and the opposition is trying very hard to complete the job today. All would seem somehow normal, but this being the bolibanana republic, you would be far from the truth assuming such a thing.

Chavismo candidates

As expected it is a large list of mediocrities whose main criteria for selection is that they are not thought to defect in the next five years. The defections that happened in 2001 to 2003 cutting a comfortable majority of 2/3 to a bare one which had to use illegal ways to impose many crucial laws is not something that El Supremo is willing to put with once again. Thus apparently he made sure that his orders were followed and made sure that there would not even be internal primaries, going against the laws of "popular participation". But I suppose that El Supremo is the embodiment of the "popular" so he gets to decide.

Thus El Supremo decided that 27 present seat holders would not run again. That is right, they served Chavez with servility for 5 years except for an occasional ember of self criteria. That was enough to have them crossed from the list. The new revolutionary parliament is expected to vote promptly as ordered from Miraflores palace. The socialism ideal of the XXI century looks everyday more and more than the XX century tired version.

Any surprise there? Actually yes. As far as I can tell the amount of military candidates does not seem as large as once it was thought. Then again I have not found a complete CV on the candidates. Since they are named for loyalty, I suppose that there is no need to publish their CV.

The bigger surprise came from Lina Ron not been nominated. Nor some left wing allies such as the Tupamaros. As of today it is still not clear whether they will form a dissident alliance among themselves and run as they did in August when chavismo ejected them. A rather messy primary process which did not always gave the results expected by the chavismo nomenklatura resulted in them kicked out of the lists. But one thing is certain, their exclusion cannot help chavismo, not to mention that it illustrates the lip service that chavismo pays to democracy.

Opposition candidates

Well, it is quite messy. But the opposition is certainly more democratic that chavismo who accepts the word of the leader without major contestation. Then again chavistas know that after 7 years they are more dependent on Chavez coattails than ever!!!! So the opposition has miserably been threading along this past month. But some positive results can be hoped for, even if they are rather meager.

As of yesterday it seemed that many of the "old" leaders would not run for parliament. Probably sensing that the people were not going to vote for them, folks like Ramos Allup have decided to run for the Andean Parliament, a basically ceremonial post and an end of career, not too dishonorable considering all the leadership mistakes that he should be punished for. Other have simply announced that they will not run again.

I am not too sure yet of what the new faces will be. There has been a lot of talk as to nominating political prisoners, dissident generals and even Carlos Ortega now in jail. The ex-CTV leader and the "paro/strike" of 2002/2003 main spokesperson might actually become much more of a hindrance for the opposition. For the lower classes unfortunately the memory goes much more to the cooking gas lines and food shortages that took place during these days than to the chavismo abuses of the time. A referendum on February 2003 would have seen Chavez out, but two years of misiones and they forgot all about it, just remembering the bad of these days. After all, when you are hungry, destitute and hopeless for an improvement of your personal situation, democracy is a very vague concept whereas a small mision check is, well, a bird in hand. This blogger is certainly not going to blame them: Ortega might have been right in accepting the long strike, but he did not managed it well and he should pay the political price even if he is already in jail. After all he was caught in a casino, not on a barricade! I have a hard time feeling sorry for him: he is not a hero and his candidature can only favor chavismo. Politics is a hard game and if you want one of the top prizes, you must pay your dues.

Still, the opposition found some local problems, ranging from local ambitions and the inability of AD to let go of its pretensions, to simply the forfeit announced by some local leaders. AD, dreaming of days past that shall never come back for them, still tried to force the issue in states where it did very poorly in the last two elections, such as Lara and Anzoategui. At the local level three states are left leaderless by the opposition: in Carabobo Proyecto Venezuela is not running; in Yaracuy Convergencia has also announced that it would not run since the electoral situation does not allow for a fair election; in Cojedes apparently they cannot find anyone willing to run against the Yanez Rangel mafia, admittedly a dangerous group that has had no problem in invading farms, burning down independent press etc…

We will see which is the final list that supposedly should be announced today before we can make a final opinion on how renewed the opposition might be, how much of an electoral alliance is there and what are its reasonable chances to get at least 1/3 of the assembly.

The reality

But no matter what, there is an issue that has not been solved: the CNE partiality. No matter how great the opposition list is, it might have to decide at the last minute to withdraw all its candidates if the CNE does not clean up its act some. If the electoral coalition does not show some spine on this matter, the disgruntled electorate might annihilate that nascent leadership by staying home as it did in October 2004 and August 2005. The next two months would be big test for these people to show that they can do something against the authoritarianism of Chavez. If they do not motivate the opposition electorate, a real 40% and perhaps much more, they will not even get 10% of the seats, those that Chavez will order the CNE to give them so as to wear his democracy fig leaf.

Important note that on purpose I do not include in the text

The list top be presented today is not a united opposition. It is simply an electoral front where all tendencies are represented in order to avoid a massive and unfair chavismo victory in December. One cannot expect a comprehensive program from such a front, nor is chavismo offering a program itself except for more power to Chavez and more unaffordable social programs. Here, the only issue at stake is whether Venezuela will accept to submit itself once and for all to the dictatorial tendency of Chavez or if a group of people will decide to fight back and stop the decline of democracy. The December election and its campaign must be seen under this magnifying glass.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A new link on news in English

The Daily Journal, a tabloid format daily with a long Venezuelan tradition as the English language newspaper of Venezuela has finally set up shop in the net. This way it joins El Universal English language section to provide a source of news for the English only reader. This is indeed welcome news: the Daily Journal has a more detached look on the Venezuelan news than Venezuelan newspapers as it tries to serve the large foreign population that lives in Caracas, be they from the US or anywhere in Europe. The stress in the news might be more to the US audience interest but the feel is certainyl not of a US paper (though it does provide some of the main comics :) After all, not only the Daily Journal serves the US expat community, but it also serves the very large Venezuelan group that studied or lived many years in the US (such as yours truly).

This blogger is quite happy to have now two reliable sources of news in English as it will help him greatly when he writes up his posts.

Visit The Daily Journal

Civil rights in Venezuela as a morality play

Yesterday we had Chavez making his little show as the wanna-be savior of the world (for which he got a stern rebuke on Tal Cual, once again reminding the reader that Vargas is far from being saved, and he would do better by starting at home). But Chavez after a couple of days of Comedy Cappers did go to New York where he made a speech that was closer to anti Bush and anti whatever itches his crotch than a real and for the occasion speech (video). It seems that he was rather decomposed again, suggesting reasons why he had to take a large significant staff along, while the US was refusing visas as these request came in just too late apparently. On TV last night someone was explaining that the foreign ministry of Chavez was simply incompetent as the UN 60th anniversary bash had been announced over a year ago and all the invitations, accreditations, et al. were supposed to have been sent, replied to, processed, months ago. But spreading the revolution around the world seems to have "distracted" the foreign minister and his staff: the request just came in too late while the rest of the world had already reserved its spot. Normally he should be fired for making his boss look bad, but this being the Bolibananarian Republic of Venezuela....

The reader might wonder why I am discussing this in such details after the title given to the post. Well, simply to contrast the self assumed role of Chavez as the liberator of the poor, the provider of all of the people rights, with what is really going on at home. Three internet articles, from the grass roots, and which can easily be documented extensively reading Venezuelan papers, even, should I say, pro Chavez papers if one knows how to read between lines, represent quite well the present mood of the country, the low expectation we have for our future.

One article reminds us, with luxury of details, of the Tascon list and how this one has found its way into a nifty bureaucrat computer program that allows easy discrimination of the Venezuelan people according to their political tendencies. In other words the Venezuelan government is now a private corporation which is destined to the sole service of its preferred customers, those who vote for Chavez. Thos who do not vote for Chavez must still pay taxes but do not even get pot-hole free streets. The good news here is that the CD ROM that carries the program has made its way to the Caracas embassies where now the fascistic inclinations of the Chavez regime are not only known, but well documented. Will they take action? We'll see.

Another article leads us to the mundane, to the degradation of our culture. Alexandra does detail the attempts at censorship towards the Venezuelan movie "Secuestro Express" which has become the first Venezuelan movie to reach some notoriety and public success in years. That movie simply shows the human degradation of Venezuela, the increasing violence to which our society is subjected to. And I am talking of social violence, not even governmental one. Apparently the Chavez administration, who one would have thought would have supported such a movie as to an example of why they wanted power in order to solve these problems, is pretty much incensed about the movie. See, it takes a scene, from the public domain as Alexandra points out so rightly, a scene from April 11 2002, a scene taboo for chavismo who only tolerates discussion on these days under its own version, never adequately backed up by the elements that they present themselves. The movie and the director have been taken to court simply because now one must follow the official story, and to scare away any other person who would use April 11 2002 for anything else but the glory of the UN ranter.

The third article, well, it is from this blogger on how private property is under attack in Venezuela. Certainly I would not comment on my own text, but I wanted to bring together these three articles as they illustrate how our values as a society have been decomposed under Chavez, how his regime is corroding our social system in order to establish his one and only power. Fascism? Castrism? The reader may chose, but all share the same basic principle: moral corruption of the people, division, privilege to a few only, degradation. All which are tools of absolute power, which we all know corrupts absolutely.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Venezuela round up

I have been a little bit overwhelmed with work and the amount of telling news that have been happening these past few days. No major news in a way, nothing that has not happened since Chavez in office even though the brazenness and intensity seems to indicate something else.

Tonight I found enough articles in English in El Universal to make a quick all English language round up on all of the subjects that if I were a paid for blogging or as a journalist I should be covering non stop. Alas, as I must work for a living, a quick round up will have to suffice. It is too bad that I am not like Sumate who got 107 002 USD from the NED. It is brave from them to accept that in the present situation. But it also demonstrates that they are sure of their legal right no matter what the official line will be. Meanwhile, I was wondering if I could get some grant too, as I really need a vacation.

If I need a vacation it looks like Chavez is not getting his off-Broadway own show in his planned New York vacation. Apparently the US embassy was deluged with the visa request of all of these anti American bolibananarian revolutionaries who seem to only dream of going to the Big Apple. Since they all request diplomatic passports and visas (looks fancy, allows you to skip immigration lines that this blogger must do) I can imagine the mess that the usual revolutionary improvisation must have caused. The Caracas Embassy has just claimed "delays" and I am willing to believe them. Diplomacy being what it is we only hear Chavez complaining that the visas are denied, that they are not letting in his medical staff (he travels with more than one doctor?) and his bodyguards (who needs body guards in New York these days, when the UN block is probably the safest block in the Americas during the UN summit?) Or was it that there was not parking space left at the Airport for his magnificent Airbus?

But there might be other reasons. Chavez might actually be quite happy to have an excuse to skip New York. Apparently it would have been difficult to make the show he wanted to make at the UN. But also he had to make a show at home. Besides the land seizures, there was also the need to settle securely the issue of who will run for the legislative elections of December. Happily all was settled without primaries of any sort, Chavez deciding it all. His satisfied (?) supporters through a rather bitchy Diosdado Cabello on TV are not afraid to declare that they will take all of the 167 seats as the opposition seems unable to reach an agreement. But you see, there is democracy inside the opposition where nominations are at least openly discussed whereas in chavismo all offered their neck to the beloved leader (including 27 seating members of parliament who were denied the right to run for reelection by Chavez). Even Lina Ron was left outside: if there is one chavista that can be elected on her own, without the help of Chavez, it is Ms. Ron. Or is that what she was denied a nomination? Nah! I am such a ill intended blogger!

And in that show Chavez also announced that the new Assembly will have to modify the constitution. So again we will elect an assembly for constitutional amendments that will not be discussed during the campaign. But the readers of this blog are lucky, as this blogger is pretty sure which are the coming amendments: reelection ad infinitum of Chavez, suppression of article 350 for the right of civil disobedience, modification if not suppression of private property to welcome the XX1 century socialism, and a few other gems, including Recall Elections stricter standards.

While we are talking of private property, it looks that Chavez will not be able to wait for an amendment. Even FEDECAMARAS who was playing footsy with the administration since the Recall Election is rearing its head again. Also desperate to cut down the ratings of Globovision (who lately receives an inordinate amount of chavista callers complaining, of all things, of other chavistas not doing their jobs) Conatel wants to take back some of the airwaves allocated to private media. Censorship advances. In spite of the "gag" law, economic pressure, reaching a pact with Cisneros to silence Venevision, buying off Televen, projecting forced governmental propaganda for free, forcing cable to give up 8 lines for free, people are still not watching the TV networks with the ratings that are revolutionary desirable. In other words, under the lame excuse to reorganize the airwaves to give more room to Telesur and other monstrosities, the government will try to remove some of the networks from some provincial slots, and more if possible. The excuse of Conatel: airwaves belong to the public (that is, Chavez?)

So here we are, on the well traveled road to autocracy, just waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Chavez seizing his "homeland"?

Last week the Venezuelan army in a feat of high military prowess and courage invaded the property called La Marqueseña (and 4 others not as not worthy though one belongs to the Vestey group, thus adding a second important loss to that group). The invasion revealed that inside there were a few workers busily producing abundant agricultural products and apparently not particularly upset by the way the (ex-) owners were treating them. It was soon obvious for the public opinion that the assault had nothing to do with the new agrarian law which allows the state to force unproductive lands to be surrendered to peasant that want to work them. As far as I can tell I have not seen throngs of people trying to get the lands of La Marqueseña, and certainly not to the extent of the crowds that were wanting a take on, say, the Charcote farm, the first Vestey loss.

Thus from the very beginning that La Marqueseña, bought by the Azpurua family in 1949 (as seen on TV by one of the present owners showing all the titles that she held from her father) seemed like a very suspicious move, only understandable if one is willing to believe that the Chavez administration has decided to exacerbate political tension in an electoral move for December 2005.

Today a very interesting notice has come to the forefront and it is better for me to just translate the ironic editorial of Tal Cual from Simon Boccanegra.

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La Marqueseña

Regarding the intervention in hato La Marqueseña something started buzzing in my head. Somewhere, it seemed to me, I had read something on that farm and Chavez. Eventually the light bulb lighted up in my head. I went back to the famous book of Agustín Blanco Muñoz, "Habla el Comandante", (The Comandante speaks) (1). There I found the thing. Says the president (page 49): "Because it turns out that the lands of La Marqueseña belonged, at the beginning of the century, to my great grandfather, Pedro Pérez Delgado (I must note, before I continue to quote, that it is the official name of the ineffable Maisanta), who being a Gomez general rebelled and died in jail. That farm belonged to the Pérez Delgado (2).

Alter the year 1914, when my great grandfather left us, for the guerrilla against Gomez, those lands fell into the hands of the government. […] Today I believe they belong to the Azpúrua. These went from hand to hand. But my grandfather, the son of Maisanta, died fighting for those lands.

When he died, quite old, he got tired of going with lawyers and papers to try to rescue those lands. Those documents must be with the family". Well, I would not want to believe that La Marqueseña would fall into the hands of these peasants without land that the brothers Chávez Frías are (3).

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To make the reader understand this better a few comments:

(1)This book is dated from around the time was released from jail. Some sort of comprehensive interview which is used by chavistas on occasion although the author/interviewer is now solidly in the anti Chavez camp. This blogger has never read that book nor is he planning to.

(2)According to the Polar Dictionary of Venezuelan history, 4 books that I read constantly, indeed Maisanta was the named character. Originary of the Lara lands he somehow ended managing some lands in the Sabaneta area after the civil wars that brought to power Cipriano Castro and Gomez. Hence why the Chavez clan is from Sabaneta de Barinas (the state). But that Maisanta who seemed to have worked for the politician who offered the most, rebelled against Gomez once too many and ended up in jail where he died. Some historians consider Maisanta to be simply a famous highway robber who settled in Barinas state and tried to get some legitimacy for his booty by playing politics. Something which was, by the way, very frequent in Venezuela until Gomez finally brought some order through the country through the longest and bloodiest dictatorship of our history, so far…

(3)Of course Boccanegra cannot stop himself from pointing out that since Barinas state fell into the hands of his father as a governor, and under real management of one of his brothers, the Chavez family has become the happy owner of a considerable amount of lands. One would only need to look at the electoral add of Chavez one year ago, aired for his birthday, shot from a "family" farm with horse paddocks that looked more like manicured English Polo fields than a working farm of the Llanos.

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So? One might say?

It is rather interesting to see so many coincidences, is it not? Can Chavez have become so brazen in trying to recover lands that fell into the hands of the Azpurua family at least 20 years after Gomez took them away from his ancestor? Is he becoming a highway robber like said ancestor?

No matter what, it looks like this new land seizure episode is tainted with all sorts of irregularities, not to say violations of the law approved by chavismo itself.

Interestingly also, this week Chavez is hoping to visit New York and be celebrated by the intelligentsia of the Liberal/Left of New York who put their dislike of Bush against any ethical scrutiny of those who confront Bush. I recommend folks to read the excellent piece by Alexandra Beech on that subject.

My own piece of advice to the New York establishment from a Liberal blogger who opposes Chavez (and who lived in the New York area for 5 years): if you follow Chavez without questioning him, you risk to step on a lot of cow turds along the way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Industrial tissue of Venezuela

One indicator of the good health of an economy is the measure of its manufacturing capacity. Even when manufacturing is a small portion of the economy, that it grows, that it generates new jobs, is always a sure sign that the future prospects of a country are good.

In the past two years numbers have been thrown right and left to try to pass the effect on Venezuela of the amazing increase in oil price as a genuine economic growth. Indeed, early this year there was a sense, already fading, that things might be going a little bit better. Many reasons for it, but my own explanation was that all the government spending has been stimulating consumption and some sectors, well, they had to grow. But it is an artificial growth, very much threatened by other governmental polices such as the massive foodstuff import through Mercal to distribute subsidized governmental grocery stores. Food plans do work for a while but rarely, if ever, do they promote food stuff production. For example Venezuela which used to produce all the chicken or meat it consumed, now must import a fair share of it.

But I digress as for today's point. Tal Cual published the numbers from Conindustria (a manufacturers association) which simply count how many manufacturing plants exist in Venezuela, regardless of the sector they belong to. As usual I did not like the presentation in absolute numbers so I normalized it all to 1996 as 100%. A little bit of Excel and graphics and you can see the result below. I have included the three top political moments in Venezuela's recent history, those that conceivably would have affected the most manufacturing creation: Chavez election in 1998, the April events of 2002 and the 2002-2003 strike.

Now, before we interpret these results, we must realize that these cannot explain all of Venezuelan economical performance as it does not look at social programs or to the large creation of cooperatives (from which we have no hard data as to their economic input except unverifiable government numbers), nor does it include the public sector activity. We are here looking at this graph as a reflection on how the general economy confidence and diversity is affected. And the result is not good.

To simplify the data shown by Tal Cual I have limited myself to three lines, one from the total manufacturing plants (red), one from the large manufacturers (more than 100 workers, in fuschia) and one from the small manufacturers (from 5 to 20 workers, the seed for future medium and even large plants, in yellow). And I have added the ratio between small and large manufacturers, a ratio which should be increasing in a country which is experiencing development, exploring new economical options, and decreasing in a country where only established business survive and entrepreneurs are disheartened. Unfortunately for Venezuela this curve (dotted sky blue) tends to drop!

The striking result is that the decline has started before Chavez and was greatly affected by the recession of 1999 and 2000. During that time a combination of low oil prices and a pugnacious period for a new constitution conspired together to close a considerable number of business. However Chavez search of excuses for his management will not be satisfied with these numbers. The tendency to decrease has not been either dramatically exaggerated by the coup or the strike and is far from reverting by the end of 2004 in spite of the vaunted recovery: more production but no more private business creations! If the small business and the total numbers did seem to stop their decline, the larger concerns kept falling all through 2003 and 2004.

Clearly the private sector is not investing, is not generating jobs besides what it might do to recover its pre Chavez production. This graph is unfortunately yet again another example on how easy it is to destroy the economic texture of a country and how difficult it is to create it. The enabling law of 2001, the one which started all the political troubles of the recent years, is the main hindrance for a strong real manufacturing recovery.

The government has no real plans, or at least no plan that make sense. Cooperatives can be a good solution but not when they are organized as ways to get government subsidies as is the case for many of those created these days, thinly disguised cash distribution programs. And the congestion proposals are only scaring the private sector (more on this some other day). In fact the only response is a threat to seize around 700 closed or underperforming manufacturing plants (in english here). As if these businesses, probably closed for economical reasons for now years as seen on the graph above, will just restart because the government wills it so. Or will it all be another cash redistribution program to Chavez newly rich friends that will benefit from the state forcing the sale on the cheap of under used installations? The more than likely unfortunate answer shall not be much delayed.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Venezuelan Pot calling black the US Kettle

"Cachicamo diciéndole a morrocoy conchudo" is a Venezuelan saying equivalent to "the pot calling the kettle black" or something like that. And it serves as a title for the mini editorial of Tal Cual today by Simon Boccanegra (Miguel is out of town, someone got to translate a little bit of Tal Cual this week :) [I have already mentioned some of the remarks on New Orleans by Chavez here]

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Speaking of New Orleans, our ineffable president allowed himself a series of criticisms on the US government actions. Criticisms, by the way, more than deserved from the mouth of others and who if someone has not shown restraint it is the very media of that country, who has beaten Bush to a pulp, whose popularity dropped during the last two weeks to 38%. But the pot of Miraflores lacks absolutely of any moral authority to call the kettle of the White House black. More inept than the Venezuelan government in addressing the Vargas mudslides not even Bush's administration would have been (1). There is Vargas State, as a monument to the laziness, the incapacity and the insensitiveness of the national government. Now, to top it all, six years after, according to a press note, the Seniat (2) has just found out in La Guaira docks two containers full fo food and water __ all decomposed these goodies __ that were sent by the international solidarity to help the refugees of the Vargas shore (3). How about that? The truth is that one can be inefficient, but in matters of inefficiency the government "saviour of the world" is abusing. (4)

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Foot notes for our non Venezuelan readers:

  1. The Vargas disaster was the catastrophe that happened in December 1999 in Venezuela and which proportionally to our country size was as bad as Katrina.

  2. Seniat is our tax agency which lately makes the IRS look as the good guys.

  3. La Guaira is the main harbour of Caracas. Together with Puerto Cabello they account for more than half of Venezuela imports. Since 2000 almost yearly containers destined to the Vargas refugees are uncovered. Apparently they cannot even have a good inventory system.

  4. The latest crusade of Chavez is that he is offering his economic model (?) to counter act the US model. That is fine if it were not for the evangelical tone used by Chavez who seems to start to believe that he is indeed the saviour of the world. At least he has worded the Bolivarian revolution as saving Latin America.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 11, its consequences are also reaching Venezuela

I do not feel like putting a post today. I have a strange melancholy looking back to September 11, 2001, a day that has changed our world, if you forgive me this cliché.

I just feel like stating that the ripples of September 11 are only now being felt in Venezuela in its true negative consequences. By distracting the US in its South America vision, democracy has been shaken deeply in more than one country. By increasing the price of oil as a consequence of all what came after September 11, Chavez has now a comfortable security mattress to spread mischief wherever he likes. The incredible amounts of money that Venezuela is squandering at home and abroad are only increasing the breach between Venezuelans, polarizing everything, ruining our productive capacity and making us more dependent than ever from the central state, thus consolidating the power for life of our XX1 century autocrat, dispenser of all favors and all blessings, using socialism as the perfect excuse to justify all of his abuses.

Few seem still to care. At home, despondency is the word of the day as the only serious contest is between branches of the government supporters fighting for the spoils. Abroad, a few thoughtful people are left who know very well that a tragedy is brewing in Venezuela. But right now, anywhere, nobody knows what to do, and has even less the will to do something about it. It seems that we are just waiting for something to happen, for this bad comedy to play out and reach its last act. There is no Oscar winning screen play artist that can write a happy ending for our "comédie de mœurs".

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A new evaluation of the Venezuelan situation?

On the morning of August 7, as the few of us who decided to vote got ready to do so, it seemed that the sequence of events for the year ahead was pretty much foreordained. That is, we knew that chavismo was going to win that day, win again in December to take the legislature, and more than likely get Chavez reelected in 12/2006. The only question was whether the opposition to Chavez would manage to recover enough to have a presence sufficiently strong to avoid some of the excesses of power that were foreseen.

But since August 7, things seem to be moving in a not quite expected way. Has anything changed in the chavista strategy to conquer all absolute power?

Conventional wisdom?

That interpretation of the situation stated that if the opposition did not manage 1/3 of the National assembly seats in 12/2005 then there would be no way to stop Chavez from establishing an autocracy, basically impossible to remove through the vote or peaceful means. The blue print is for all who care to see it. One could agree and cash in at the register at the price of one's individual liberty and rights, or one could chose considering ways to start resistance or leave the country. This is what has happened thorough such regimes, dramatically in Cuba, much less dramatically in other countries but still as damaging for the national society.

This appreciation was based on the following facts:

• Total demoralization of the opposition parties, with their almost inextricable divisions forbidding even a simple electoral alliance and even less a true untied front.

• Total demoralization of the electorate from the opposition, in spite of its recognized minimum of 40% as of August 2004, with fraud and all. More than half of them have come to believe, erroneously it seems, that abstention, alone, is the way to fight back.

• Absolute control of the electoral system where almost no opposition request is considered and where the pro Chavez parties do freely alter deadlines, electoral registers, voting times, when not the real vote total themselves. This of course aggravating the opposition party problems as they are unable to take an effective stand against such abuses, some only too willing to settle for the crumbs that Chavez is willing to give them.

• And a substantial purse in the hands of Chavez courtesy of oil price at 60 USD. Thus all sorts of social programs could keep going, even if some of them looked more vote buying than anything else.

Conventional wisdom was supported by these harsh facts.

But it is not playing like that. In fact since August 9 it seems that the glorious Bolivarian revolution has decided to pick up speed. More than ever Chavez is spreading money around LatAm to buy even more sympathies in front of the passive Venezuelan response. The socialism of the XX1 century is pushed forth and the Cuba Venezuela links are strengthened. Bush, the US and a nebulous imperialism are the whipping boy more than ever. At home the embers of the National Assembly are revived to pass yet more controversial major laws in a hurry, such as a new armed force law, new penetrations in the private media, centralization of health care, and a renewed frontal attack on private property. Why this sudden rush?

A new deal?

I had to think about this for a while. I am not too sure what is really going on (not that most chavistas are sure themselves…). But one clue can come by reviewing neglected facts pre 8/2005, and new ones post 8/2005.

• The shocker of the August vote was the high abstention ALSO in the chavista camp. Thus what should had been an ample victory and a major celebration turned out as a trumped event where not only the opposition failed to show up to legitimize the regime.

• To aggravate things, some at the left of Chavez (if that has any meaning) groups did go to protest loudly in the streets that their candidates had their votes stolen by the "official" Chavez candidates. The Tupamaros protest were a highly embarrassing moment for chavismo, even more embarrassing when suddenly their leaders called off the spontaneous street protests conveying a certain redolent air of "bought off".

• And the Cuban inheritance might be close at hand. Not to mention that Lula's troubles are an unexpected opening for folks like Chavez who love to fish in troubled waters.

How does this play? Well, one way to see that is to imagine an uncomfortable Chavez whose hoped for coronation as president for life wanna-be on 12/2006 with 10 million votes is suddenly far from assured. No, his victory is still all but assured, but there is another problem: he must reach a stunning victory in December, for two reasons. One is to erase the bad taste of the Recall Election once and for all, a bitter after-taste from having been subjected to such a humiliating experience. And the other the needed triumph to ensure his coronation as the heir of Fidel Castro. The health of Castro is clearly declining and his succession is now a matter of very few years, more than likely during Chavez second six year term. Thus Chavez needs to be in a position of maximum strength at home to be able to become the beacon of the Latin America left.

At home the consequence is that Chavez cannot wait for 12/2006 to consecrate the "socialism of the XX1 century". I suspect that the government program of socialist unmistakable hues will be running strong until December 2005 elections to make that December vote, whose victory is not in doubt, the validation of the new regime by the people, for the love of socialism more than for the love of Chavez. Chavez simply cannot wait for the plebiscite he is preparing for December 2006. He must at least secure the legal frame work now, the socialist label by a vote where he is not directly running himself, to show that result to the world who will not bother too much at figuring out how come such an outdated and unpalatable hash could be voted by a country.

With this business taken care, Chavez will be running on it fully for one year while the new parliament, once it clears some of the illegal actions taken between 2002 and 2005, and doted with a large contingent of military, establishes the new repressive laws as the will of the people, not the will of Chavez. This way in January 2007 Chavez will have no more business to do at home and will have all his energies to devote himself to the fusion of Cuba and Venezuela, with the hardened Cuban revolutionaries running the show in Caracas, in the face of Chavez obviously incompetent followers who amazingly will let it happen as long as they preserve their financial gains.

Crazy? In 1998 anyone would have thought it crazy to conceive a Venezuela as it is today, run down to the gutter by a group of people that barely reached on occasion 30% of the total electorate. But countries have ways to commit suicide.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Modern XXI century highway robbery in Venezuela

Thou shalt not steal

Se garantiza el derecho a la propiedad. [...] Solo por causa de utilidad pública o interes social, mediante sentencia firme y pago oportuno de justa indemnización, podrá ser declarada la expropriación de cualquier clase de bienes.
{The right of property is guaranteed. [...] Only for causes of public need or social interest, through a final [court] ruling and prompt payment of a fair indemnity, will it be possible to declare the expropriation of any type of property.}
Article 115 of the 1999 Venezuelan constitution!

Well, stealing is exactly what the bolivarian revolution has been doing, since its very beginning. However, after having spent years stealing the public coffers it seems that it is not enough and we are witnessing pure and simple expropriations of private citizens holdings.

Now, before I get into this it is important to point that most modern societies, even the empire of Capitalism, the good ole US of A, do preview expropriations for public interests with at least reasonable compensations. not even real market value but at least a value that does represent something. There is nothing wrong with that as collective interests on occasion goes above private interest, if duly compensated of course.

The constitution of 1999 does state this normal public policy, in a series of articles (113 through 116) which define the property rights and what to do when those are abused through monopolies for example. The article 115, cited above, is totally explicit on this subject. And it has been repeatedly violated since the constitution has been approved. It seems that lately these systematic violations are reaching a new level. A list follows, not necessarily in order of importance, though the first case is presented in detail for the reader to be able to understand the modus operandi of the regime.

A Polar/Remavenca plant in Barinas has been taken over

Polar is the largest private business in Venezuela and its family as a shareholder group (a la Walmart) are the wealthiest group of people in Venezuela (outside of the illegal fortunes that are being currently built on the public dole by the present administration). Polar is the number one brewery, the number one corn/maize flour provider and of many of other popular staple foods. And it is not a monopole even if it frequently occupies the principal share. It is oriented for mass production, and most of its items are price controlled anyway. It is also probably the company most closely followed tax wise.

However Polar has been suffering. It has been suffering because being a colossus it has a hard time to adapt to the fast changing conditions of Venezuela. It is suffering because of the missteps of the Venezuelan economic team which would have run the economy into the ground if it were not for oil at soon 60 USD the Venezuelan barrel. For those who do not agree with this blogger, I would like to remind them that when Chavez reached office the Venezuelan currency was around 550 for the USD. Now it is at 2150 officially and 2700 to the dollar on the parallel market. A 5 fold decrease in 6 years does not speak of economical mastery.

Thus Polar has been shifting its production centers in a more rational way, not only to face the normal economic cycles, but also to face the unfair competition offered by the government when it imports subsidized food at the expense of the Venezuelan worker who loses his/her job. One of these installations, a Remavenca subsidiary, is in Barinas state, where it was a collecting center for cereals and a processing center for oil and flour.

Polar in 2002 decided to stop production but still kept the center for storage and distribution, thus maintaining the agricultural importance of the area if not its productive capacity for processed product. Those did not have too far to come as the Chivacoa Remavenca center is located barely 5 hours drive and thus Barinas is fully provided with Polar products while its farmers can sell their crop, even though Barinas state is at the end of the road. I know all of this well as Polar is one of my clients and I have visited their installations more than once.

But that has not stopped the government, led by the minister of agriculture and lands, to seize last Monday the Barinas facilities. Antonio Albarran, a minister of limited capacity but whose loyalty to the regime cannot be questioned, lamely today stated that he was only following what the cues provided by the leader of the revolution on his Sunday comic hour. So we are expected to believe that a minister hears a talk show and acts, without even waiting for the cabinet meeting? We would be so luckily if Chavez ministers were so efficient on matters such as personal security or Vargas disaster rebuilding... Meanwhile Polar is trying to demonstrate the illegality of the move, if the High court pays attention.

The workers of Remavenca Barinas, on the left side, barred access to work by the Nazional Guard, are not amused since basically they are kicked out, as are their clients, to be replaced by pro Chavez workers and supposedly pro Chavez farmer providers who nobody knows quite well where they come from or what they can possibly provide. It would seem that this Remavenca facility was actually rented to some local producers that were discriminating against some other local producers. We could thus conceive the same picture but with pro Chavez folks protesting. That of course is not enough to justify the manu militari grabbing of the plant, as for the time being there has been no judicial papers showed by the governmental side.

No compensation has been offered as the government seems to be figuring ways to put up trumped charges to get it cheap or free if possible (Polar did slow down work in the 2002 strike but never shut down completely, the few shutting due basically to the lack of gasoline for transport, so even such charges would not stand in a normal court of law, something that has ceased to exist in Venezuela; and Polar is still seen as an enemy of the regime, even if its president travelled with Chavez to Spain a few months ago). Thus the mystery remains as to the real motives of the minister. Is it to favor one group of producers above another? Is it to allow acces to all producers? Is it to force Polar to sell cheap? Is it to incur favor with Chavez whose home state is Barinas? Is this really a Chavez expressed wish (it would be really hard to think that such an important move which would affect the economical climate would not be attempted without Chavez approval)? Is it the coming moves of the revolution which is announcing clearly its march towards communism to a people that do not understand it and will ratify communism through the vote thanks to a gigantic abstention? All speculations are open, but one sure is certain, at the very least Chavez has decided to replace the present business class with one of its making (whose skill outside of government credits is far from been proven).

Expropriation or confiscation?

A Heinz tomato processing plant has been taken. This plant located in Monagas state operated briefly and was closed as the area proved itself unable to provide for the amount of tomato required to make the plant break even. Heinz reports that it tried to sell it but could not find any taker. One is left to suppose that since tomatoes are red they will probably grow spontaneously to support the regime.

A slaughter house in Barinas state was also taken.

Early this year a paper mill and an auto part and bearings plant were seized. As far as we know nothing was paid to the ex owners. And let's not start with Hato Piñero and other cattle ranches just invaded at will. And we will pass on sudden change of fiscal code, applied retroactively to foreign oil companies to milk them further. They did accept since oil is so high, but a precedent of tax code modification in a retroactive ways has been set and it could apply whenever politics justify it.

And the future is not very promising. The government as announced a survey of closed plants and partially closed ones to decide which ones it will just give to the ex employees (or more likely chavista ex employees, let's not kid ourselves). 700 facilities would be targeted. Whether they closed for economical reason or for speculative reasons is not the question. Actually the official line is that the owners closed the plants to piss off Chavez. How cutting one's nose to spite one's face has become a capitalist law market is of course not explained by these amateurs who take their lessons from outdated economic books and outdated Cuba. Reason has nothing to do with this whole affair.

Invest in Venezuela?

Obviously it is highly risky as your business can just be hijacked anytime by disgruntled opponents, envious workers, politicos seeking a cheap point, etc, etc... Venezuelans know that very well as all the money taken overseas for decades is not coming back, at all. Oscar Garcia Mendoza, a neo liberal but lucid opponent is certainly not encouraging investment by pronouncing these maneuvers as a direct attack on private property. He also stresses that there are other ways the government is limiting property by forcing for example banks to dedicate 10% of their total loans to popular housing projects even if the targeted people are simply unable to satisfy the conditions imposed by the government itself. But the government is only trying to pass the buck on its incompetence in building public housing.

That the government uses its oil resources for all sorts of political projects overseas that do not benefit Venezuela present and hard needs is not helping bring investor confidence (the UNPD has dropped Venezuela a few positions once again in its annual index of human development, thus restating that the bolibanana revolution is not improving Venezuelans' lot). The latest is yet another oil agreement with central America and the Caribbean where discounted oil, is basically given it away for some sugar and plantain that Venezuela could well produce. But Chavez is more preoccupied with OAS vote buying in his favor than the well being of his people. why invest in Venezuela when you can do Venezuelan deals outside of Venezuela? Still there are some investments that the regime brags about but which are very hollow investments when one looks at them. These investments are only in two areas.

One group, such as communications, are too complex for such an incompetent administration. Thus they will have time to get enough return to recover their investment before the government eventually decides to take them over. One of these particularly hollow investments is the purchase of Telcel, the largest cel-phone comapny in Venezuela, from Bell South by the Spanish communication giant Movistar. Well, where is all the cash received by Bell South? Still in Venezuela? You can bet that Venezuela overall has not acquired much from this transaction.

But even that media/communication sector is targeted and might see its profits dwindle fast. Just today the National Assembly lead by the ineffable Maduro, a servilest servant of Chavez, has pushed through a law that will force cable companies to give the government free of charge 8 channels. Voila! Too bad for the expenses of these companies for carrying channels that probably few people will want to see. This is just another form of expropriation (not to mention censorship and force feeding of the government propaganda drivel) .

The other group of business where investment is observed is in those ones that have a high risk perhaps but also a high return, in the 20 to 30% order or more. That is, oil industry. The price of oil is big enough that enough US companies are willing to take the risk, no matter how nasty to the US Chavez is. But in general there is very little local investment, just enough to keep established business running and any expansion is made on borrowed money, not on repatriation of capitals. We know better: even chavistas are careful to stash their gains outside, as reported for example by the Miami Herald.

But all private investment in long term business with moderate returns and employment creation is very limited. Unless, of course, you like to be despoiled by a rapacious administration who first sends after you the Seniat, Indecu, Work Ministry, and then, when there is nothing left in your account simply invades the premises and takes your property away.

PS: I have modified a little bit the Remavenca story as new information was sent to me. If it nuances it some it still does not change the basic point of illegal property grab. It is thus possible that I might add an additional PS as more info flows my way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Chavez manipulation of Katrina tragedy

I have reported already that Venezuelan president Chavez has been manipulating the Katrina tragedy, the destruction of New Orleans, to gain political advantage in his war of words with the US. Although many people have already winced a lot at this mark of bad taste (predictable bad taste if you ask this blogger who is getting tired to point out the low cultural level of the people in office in Venezuela), Chavez again used the best part of his Sunday show (a whopping 7 hours this last Sunday) to keep harping on the US ineptitude in front of the Katrina tragedy.

Well, maybe, and there is a lot to criticize in the US government response, but before attacking the US the decent thing would be at least to let them pick up the bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans. There is always time to attack, to blame, but the time of grief should always be respected. However, when Chavez egoism does not even respect the grief of Venezuelan people, what can we expect from him on the grief of other countries people?

This combined with Castro own criticisms (at least more restrained but Castro has learned a few things in his long tenure), forces me to revisit this issue again. And I decided to make it a thorough job.

A) I am helped by today's editorial of El Nacional which I have translated. All the accusations of the Vargas tragedy mismanagement are well documented through the pages of any Venezuelan newspaper that is half serious. I will point out to the reader that it is an editorial and that if El Nacional did not feel it could defend such words in court, it certainly would not put them in an editorial. Original Spanish version here. There is also a strong Tal Cual editorial who gets much harder on Bush case but still accuses Chavez of the same unecessary meddling, perhaps in even stronger words.

B) After the editorial I have designed a little comparative table as to Bush and Chavez in front of the rain tragedy that has befallen their country. Or rather how Venezuela and the US lead in disaster management, through Chavez and Bushn or their administration.

C) To finish, an excellent cartoon of Weil from Tal Cual whose meaning should be clear to anyone after reading the texts below. The cartoon is based on the pervasive logo on everything which carries chavista propaganda, logo that I also reproduce. Whenever you see it, then you know that the words accompanying it are official propaganda. Nifty, if you ask me, as you know right there not to waste your time with whatever is offered to you.

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The rope in the house of the hanged *

"The rich could get out by their own means, the poor stayed there, holding on… and it is now, four, five days later, that they are evacuating them"…

There was time "to evacuate, if not all, at least the poorest ones, those who could not get out by their own means"… "How many children died there, that could have been evacuated!"… "How come such a powerful government, knowing that it has dozens of thousands of refugees, people dying, does not activate a rescue plan?" These words from President Chavez, pronounced in his show yesterday, do not reflect to an appraisal of the errors committed during the Vargas tragedy, but they could well be.

If in one thing presidents Bush and Chavez look alike, it is in their capacity to gain from tragedies of war or of natural catastrophes in function of their immediate political objectives. To excuse themselves, they go and hook up in a contest on who did what wrong, who would have done it better, or how many died because someone did not do this at a given time.

Without taking into account the great responsibilities that their people have laid on them through the ballot, without being aware that their electors expect a more rational and even exercise of their high functions, this pair of leaders go about the world shoving as if they were kids at the school bell. With the forgiveness, of course, of the kids of the world.

Refusing to recognize his role as a leader, who must take advantage of opportunities to put in practice our traditional spirit of unconditional help to other countries when these suffer catastrophes, the President concentrated, in a reckless manner, on criticizing the US administration, with this paranoid obsession that has been ingrained in him by Castro as to the "American Imperialism". He was this close to say that Katrina was fabricated to distract public opinion on how bad the war in Iraq was going, as if this setback was easy to hide. **

That which attracts the attention of us non-fanaticized Venezuelans is that a tragedy of this caliber (where at least 10 000 deaths are estimated, above the 3500 of 11 S) is used to attack publicly, and through the state owned media, a government with which we have normal diplomatic relations. If the US is preparing an invasion or an assassination of the president, why not accuse it formally in front of international institutions? Or is it a vulgar and cruel propaganda operation where they want to involve everyone, as if we were mere fools? When president Romulo Betancourt accused dictator Trujillo, of the Dominican Republic, he presented evidence that could not be refuted in front of the appropriate international instances.

He also did the same thing at the OAS with Cuba, when members of the Cuban army invaded Venezuela and left abandoned part of their weaponry and the body, floating on the sea, of one of their men. No propaganda: proof and real facts. ***

In his show, the head of state said that the majority of the victims were poor people that were not evacuated on time, and were neither helped by rescue teams. It was "an announced tragedy", said our president, as if the Vargas tragedy (that we still cry upon) was not a super-announced one, as if here we had rescued on time all the refugees and recovered all the victims bodies, as if the levees and protection barriers had already been constructed and were not on their way, as if the bridges were not keeping falling whenever bad weather arrives to push people to sea.

And as if he had not disappeared almost 2 days during Vargas, just as Bush now with the New Orleans tragedy. But at least the US leader has the advantage to count on the support of two ex-presidents (Clinton and Bush senior) who came to the White House to account to the nation.

The Venezuelan president accused the US authorities that they did not know that "New Orleans was under sea level". He said that the hurricane was able to lift 30 feet waves and that this was already advertisement enough.

"I saw that in CNN" he admitted. Well, wrong deed because he should have seen it through Telesur ****

* Venezuelan saying whose translation escapes me. Basically, you should not speak in a home of the skeletons hiding in the closets.

** the "unconditional" that the editorial alludes to is to the gas that Venezuela is sending as help. Which is good, but which alos seems to give Chaevz the idea that he can criticize as he pleases, just becasue of HIS gift, because we can be sure that he sees at HIS gift....

*** Indeed Chavez has made it a major issue of people wanting to kill him without EVER presenting a significant piece of evidence, without ever managing to bring someone to justice. Except, of course, if you consider Pat Roberston inane declarations evidence.

**** Ironic comment of the editor as Telesur is vaunted to replace CNN any time soon in Latin America. If Chavez keeps watching CNN, it says a lot on how little genuine information Telesur is expected to produce…

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Comparison table between two presidential, and administrative, leadership in time of crisis

A comparison of two disasters, but not with the objective to minimize any of them, just to show what each country and its leadership were facing when disaster struck. In other words the objective of this table is to show the reader that Chavez and his administration do not have a leg to stand on when criticizing Bush and his administration actions last week. His remarks are, simply put, ignoble propaganda where Chavez uses the misery of Katrina victims to serve Chavez and Castro's cause. The table represents what is known at the present time and in a few weeks certain elements will not be valid anymore. In both cases the writer does not spare the respective leadership, sort of to even up the playing field. Note: a painstaking chronological order of the events of December 1999 in Venezuela can be found here.

Event or parameterChavez, Venezuela and the 1999 Vargas disasterBush, the US and the Katrina 2005 disaster
Area affectedVargas state is a mere 1497 Km2. To this we could add about half of Miranda and Yaracuy for a total of 9 000 Km2The delta of the Mississippi and the coastal area of Mississippi state, perhaps as much as 50 000 Km2
The eventIncredible amount of rainIncredible amount of rain plus a hurricane force 5 when it came on land
The people affectedVargas was the only densely settled area with around 300 000 total people directly affected in all of Venezuela in December 1999 was perhaps 1 million.

Mostly poor, mostly African American.

New Orleans alone has around 1.5 million in its metro area. The Mississippi shore line 200 000 . And surrounding cities as far as baton Rouge or Mobile are a few hundred thousand more.

Mostly poor, mostly African American.

Death tollBetween 10 and 30 thousand. Never quite established as many were washed directly to sea and bodies were recovered as far as Paraguana. No evidence of serious evidence of a thorough government investigation.N/A. Speculations go as high as 10 000.
DestructionNearly complete in Vargas. Extensive elsewhere.New Orleans and Biloxi wiped out. The rest is still coming.
Role of the president during the disasterChavez disappeared for almost two days and his absence was never quite explained. Numerous speculations abound but no eyewitness has spoken.Bush was vacationing in Crawford and unaccountably delayed by 48 hours after the end of the hurricane for his first appearance.
Evacuation pre disasterNone in spite of dire warnings from in particular the governor of Miranda state, Mendoza. The reason was that a national referendum was scheduled for December 15 and Chavez would not hear of postponing it by a single day.

The reasons for such a egomaniacal determination to hold the referendum even in Vargas state remain to be accounted for.

Ample evacuations before the storm struck. People were warned and those who could and wanted did evacuate.

But no precautions were taken for those who could not leave. The Superdome was made available but no previsions were made in case people had to stay there for more than the storm. Some simple solutions such as making trains and buses available for free to at least Baton Rouge were not made.

The role of the ArmyBy order of Chavez the Army was dedicated fully to monitor the referendum process. Very few soldiers were immediately available to help in the disaster areas, even those which already were collapsing before Vargas such as in Miranda. It took days for the Venezuelan army to enter in full action, which it did quite well once it could get in gear.The Iraq War use of resources certainly has played a role in the rescue delay. Still, help has come, and effectively as it arrived. It remains to be examined what part played the Army and National Guard absence.
The leader actions

Once they came back, they dirtied themselves.

Prevention None, though this cannot be blamed on Chavez as none of the previous government had taken notice of the Vargas weather anomaly as a 2-3 times a century occurrence.Total failure. The vulnerability of New Orleans was well established. Even for a force 3 hurricane. If the federal government is responsible for not allocating the funds to reinforce the levees, the local authorities must be blamed for not establishing adequate evacuation plans.
Usage of help offeredCoordination of the received help was poor, at the very least.

Venezuela refused US help. This action has been intensely reproached to Chavez and is pointed out in part as the failure of his administration to reopen a viable road network.

A significant amount of foreign help never made it to the victims due to customs inefficiency and corruption. Years after containers were found with help that had never been inventoried or distributed.

Significant donations from several countries seem to have been misspent, though it seems that the countries have decided to hush the affair as if reflect badly on them too. Still, one wonders where these funds went...

The US has asked for international help and it is flowing. There is at least a central agency, the FEMA that should coordinate all the help and guarantee proper usage of most of it.

Still no word as to whether the US will accept Cuban help though it seems that it will accept the gasoline offer from Venezuela.

Present status of refugeesIn 2005, 6 years after the disaster of Vargas, many of the refugees of Vargas still live in camps, without a job, without hope to return to Vargas as the government actively tries to block their return.

Still, many have decided to come back and rebuild shacks in dangerous areas.

To this we can add a few thousand from the February 2005 rains!

Still, today Vargas refugees are a mostly unsolved problem!!!

Finally they are taken care of. However it should be kept in mind that we are talking of 500 000 from New Orleans without resources and more than a million that just cannot come back home even if they were able to leave with their car and clothes.

However the US has an effective system that will take care in a year or two of most of these people, if not as adequately as wished.

Recurrence and reconstructionAlready problems there as the bad weather of February 2005 showed that not only Vargas was far from being reconstructed, but the few things done were not adequate, not accounted for, not justifying the huge expenditures already laid upon Vargas. Large scale corruption with the help for Vargas has been repeatedly mentioned without the government taking action or even replacing the suspected culprits, if anything for their sheer inefficiency.Too early to tell, of course. But we know that force 5 hurricanes will be more frequent. So within a decade we will be fixed on that point.

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And now the perfect cartoon to summarize it all, the delyrium of the bolibanana revolution.

With KATRINA, the revolution goes forward!

And the ubiquitous propaganda warning logo :-)
"Venezuela, now it belongs to all"