Monday, October 17, 2005

Chavez in Rome, the FAO speech

Just heard on the news.

Chavez was speaking on world hunger at the FAO, Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (as Venezuela has increased its food imports since he reached offcie, just a reminder).

"The first Capitalist was Judas, because we all know he sold Jesus for some coins"

"Jesus was the first socialist"

Once you overcome so many worn out cliches in just a single speech, you are left to wonder which was the economical system before Judas. You can also wonder if in fact socialism did not precede capitalism since Jesus taught all of his teachings before Judas sold him. And here, all these years, I thought that socialism was a remedy to capitalism invented by Karl Marx.

But if you look at the news page of the FAO there is no mention of Chavez speech today. If you dig further you can find an audio section. Well, there is an MP3 clip from Chavez' speech (640 KB, 1 min 21 sec) and another one from Lula's speech (1043 KB, 2 min 10 sec). If you look at these numbers on length and audio quality as an indication of speech importance, it seems that at the FAO someone has a clue...

Good grief...

Homework for the readers of this blog

The BBC has a rather unfortunate initiative: to set upo a forum where "supposedly" Chavez will reply to questions sent to him. The LINK.

This is what I sent:

A few questions for you.

What about separation of power as the basis for democracy?

Why is it that in Venezuela 99% of public officials in the courts and elswhere, but more notably in the courts, swear allegiance to you?

Why has it been years since you have not given a real press conference to ALL of the Venezuelan media to account for your actions? I mean a real press conference where you MUST answer the questions, not one with only sycophantic journalists to interview you.

Why is it that your administration is blocking REAL investigation to a whole list of political murders, including to people that were following your leadership such as Danilo Anderson?

Why is it that we cannot have a real auditable tax return from any of your ministers?

Why have you not launched a serious investigation on this modern apartheid/fascism that is the Tascon list who segregates 3 million of Venezuelans to a second class citizen status just because they disagree with you?

Last but not least, how long do you think you will be able to keep fooling the people that support you overseas without knowing what is really going on inside Venezuela? In other words, what are you going to do to hide the mess you are creating in Venezuela once Bush and Iraq are not around anymore to serve as convenient whipping boys?

And I have more embarassing questions for you to reply if you wish it so.

So your job is to send your own questions, briefly stated and to the point. What I did is already too long, I encourage you to write less, if anything to contrast with all the flatterers of Chavez who have been very busy gloryfying their hero, without even asking questions for many of them, which goes a long way to illustrate the minds behind the words.......

Please, do not criticize Chavez too much, just ask the hard questions with a minimum of objective documentation. No recrimination please, we want all the questions to be approved by the BBC. The simple fact that the hard questions will be put on screen by BBC, and maybe even reach Chavez, should be enough satisfaction for us as the BBC does not erase what it publishes. Do not make it a personal moment to scream at Chavez, you have the comment section fo this blog for this :)

Now, to your keyboards!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

In the mail box of Venezuela News

Since it is Sunday and I have no inspiration, or rather, too much as the news are abundant, I am avoiding duty by choosing to write on some mail and comments I keep getting.

The first item is on an article of sorts by Justin Delacour that was sent to me by a reader. Justin has already made a name by associating himself tightly with the bolibananarian revolution. If memory serves me well he was even named by Chavez once. And he reached consecration when he engaged directly in a discussion with El Universal. This article is rather dismal though I felt that maybe some reply was needed, just to criticize the lack of intellectual input in it. But I remembered that Francisco Toro used to have Justin as a regular visitor. So, as a way to try to bring Quico out of retirement I did ask him to write a response and publish it in my blog. He refused but his reply to me was so long that at the end he realized that he had replied and just authorized me to post his letter. Thus it goes below. Note 1: The correspondence with Quico can be either in Spanish or English, so do not think it weird that he replies to me in Spanish. Besides, his computer probably has no accents and it is a pain to put them one by one… Note 2: the title of Quico letter was Justin Delolast which I am sure some of you will get as I prefer not translate it.

Daniel,

Yeah, I read Justin Delacour's article, or, well, as much of it as I
could stomach. I think it's pretty much a waste of time to try to refute
it point-by-point: only people who know exceedingly little about
Venezuela could be taken in by his brand of rose-tinted disinformation.
And lets face it: people who know exceedingly little about Venezuela
don't read your blog, or VCrisis.

I do think Justin is savvy to latch on to the charge of censorship as a
central part of his argument, because what we've seen so far in
Venezuela is a particularly subtle kind of pressure on the press that
translates into lots of self-censorship, rather than any kind of
open-ended, mass scale suppression of dissident voices, let alone formal
censorship. From an outsiders' point of view - and notice that Justin
was originally writing for a purely gringo academic audience - it must
be a pretty hard dynamic to appreciate, so it's a promising issue for
someone bent on muddying the waters.

He's obviously on much shakier ground on the authoritarianism stuff,
but, again, his points are obviously meant for a pretty under informed
foreign audience. Even now, and hard though it may be for us to accept,
the Chavez government has kept enough ambiguity in its approach to
governance to make the authoritarianism charge quite confusing for
outsiders to evaluate. It's true that the opposition is still allowed to
protest, and faces minor harassment rather than long prison sentences
for its efforts. The veil of legality is so thin it's not likely to fool
anyone in Venezuela - even chavistas long ago accepted that Chavez's
whims trump the law - but internationally things aren't nearly so
clear-cut. And Justin is pretty good at manipulating this confusion to
his rhetorical end. Insofar as his role in all this is that of the
propagandist hack, I'd say that's to his credit.

Living in Europe, I've come to the conclusion that the reason pap of the
sort Delacour puts out is so effective is that people who live in
countries where institutions are robust and independent have a really
hard time appreciating just how frail Venezuelan institutions are. Of
course, Venezuelan institutions have always been weak - that's one
constant in the 180 years since we booted out the Spanish. But there's
"weak" and then there's "totally ravaged", and foreigners,
understandably, find it hard to grasp.

I say "understandably" because nothing in a North American's or
European's political experience prepares him to evaluate the kind of
reality Venezuela is living. In a first world context, if an institution
is nominally independent, then it's fair to assume it really is
independent. Naturally, this kind of "political common sense" gets
transferred to their evaluation of the Venezuelan situation - a context
where it's totally unsuited.

This, to my mind, is the basic confusion Justin continuously exploits,
and quite skillfully.

For instance, you and I (and 25 million Venezuelans) can only laugh when
Justin writes that the expansion of the Supreme Tribunal was perfectly
kosher because the elected National Assembly voted it. But that's
because years of watching these clowns operate has made it abundantly
clear to us that the Asambleistas are basically a collection of utterly
spineless yes-men (erm, yes-people) who are totally in awe of Chavez.
You and I know that if, tomorrow, Chavez decreed that the sky is green
and the sun rises from the west, the next day 167 chavistas in the
National Assembly would line up to approve a resolution swearing it's
so. But that painfully obvious (to us) fact is anything but obvious...to
them.

Once - but only once - you get an outsider to grasp the fantastic
debasement of Venezuela's institutions do our charges of
authoritarianism start to make sense to him. The prosecutions against
Sumate leaders don't strike foreigners as particularly authoritarian,
until they're made aware of the way the courts and the Prosecutor's
Office have been purged of all but the hardest of hardcore chavistas.
The land expropriations will even appeal to a number of leftish minded
foreigners, until they're walked through the gaping illegalities
involved and the impossibility of using the courts for redress. None of
the standard opposition complaints really make much sense to an
outsider, unless first you equip him with a grasp of the devastation of
the country's institutional fabric.

Which is why I think that, tactically, it's important for dissident
voices to keep hammering away on the topic of Venezuela's ravaged
institutions. Human Rights Watch's statement on the demise of judicial
authority really should get wide play. So should Cofavic's statement on
the pressure human rights activists find themselves under. What
foreigners find it hardest to grasp is the extent of the onslaught
against our institutions, the sheer gutting of the CNE, of the Attorney
General's Office, of the Contraloria and the Defensoria, the Central
Bank, all the courts, really of every nominally independent part of the
state. You and I know that only hardcore chavistas remain in these
institutions, you and I know that the dynamics of chavismo are such that
they will never in a million years contradict Chavez. But they don't. So
it's important to keep reminding them.

Still, no matter how hard we work at it, people who live in
institutionally-functional countries will always find it hard to intuit
just how far the debasement of our institutions goes. It challenges
their political common sense, it goes against their experience of
politics generally, and it's impossible to reconcile with the ostensibly
non-authoritarian aspects of chavismo that Justin is so keen to point
out.

Regrettably, only a very few non-Venezuelans have the interest or the
attention span to actually think through what it might mean to live in a
formally democratic society where, none the less, every decision from
every institution is subjected to the autocrat's discretion. So, my very
sad conclusion is that these are arguments Justin and his ilk are bound
to keep "winning" in the eyes of international public opinion, no matter
how wrong we may know they are. That may be incredibly frustrating, I
know (trust me I know!), but true none the less.

Well, I started off saying I wouldn't refute Justin's piece, and I guess
in the end that's just what I did. So, if you want to publish this
little screed on your site, go ahead.

saludos,
ft

Of course, there is nothing to add to it but my assent. It is indeed true that people who live in a semi functional country, where the government cannot get away with even moderate lies, cannot comprehend the state of outright permanent distortion and outright lies that come from official sources in Venezuela. With the aggravation that the people have no means to confront the perpetrators. The press shouts, and shouts, and only on occasion the government backs some, only to charge back a few months later.

Indeed, it is easy for the Delacour of the world to take advantage of this situation, and when eventually confrontation come, they will probably claim innocence as "they could not detect well what was really going on in Venezuela". But they will be safe at home and in Venezuela we will be screwed.

However there is some small consolation. Many of these Delacour type spend an inordinate amount of time harassing anti Chavez sites. To his credit Justin is not one of them, perhaps because he has some dignity or perhaps because he deems himself above the fray. But many keep going on and on, repeating and repeating the worn out clichés that are skillfully relayed through Venezuelan embassies and the numerous web sites working for Chavez.

And this brings me to the second item, the amazing number of pro Chavez web sites, most of them paid for it seems. Descifrado in this week print edition published a study on the Chavez media. From the air waves to the print editions going through the web. The media is covered by 4 national networks and a few local ones. The radio has RNV, the only one that will soon reach every corner of Venezuela. Plus a bunch of local ones. The print edition has progressed a lot. The list does not include the papers favorable to Chavez who predate him such as Maracaibo's Panorama and, up to a point, Ultimas Noticias. The web? Descifrado counts more than 70 sites!!!! And all is just starting as Descifrado reveals many more additions to that arsenal on the way, including forcing cable TV to drop a few of their broadcasts to accommodate for free that governmental onslaught.

The question is of course: does it pay off? Descifrado not only does not think so but predicts that it will not work as the line reported in the official media is just too different from the reality lived by the people in the street, even those supporting Chavez. This one seems to have adopted a strategy of drowning the people in news instead of only allowing for one TV, one radio and one paper, Cuba style. Awash in petro-dollars he can risk it, but I agree with Descifrado prediction. Further more two items convince me that it is already happening. For example, chavistas are going more and more to Globovision for their complaints as they are not received by the media set up by Chavez sycophants. But even at my modest blog level, the comment section of this blog is a great witness on how unsatisfactory the pro Chavez web pages as chavistas keep coming back instead of having fun in their own sites. Am I such a threat or are their sites so boring?

PS: and I take advantage of this post to welcome back Francisco Toro to his revamped blog. He seems bent on writing less and shorter articles but to write again regularly for a while. This leaves me as the only long winded English language blogger. But I suspect that before long Quico will go back to the dissertation mode?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Narcissistocracy

Thus the beloved leader of the masses decided at the very last minute to fly over to Salamanca for the Iberoamerican summit (Portugal, Spain and all of their ex American colonies, kind of a Commonwealth meeting, with King included). He let plan some doubt as to his trip but we never worried: El Surpremo blasts any summit that crosses his path but never misses any. Apparently the real hold this time was that Castro decided that it was better for him not to attend. There is talk for an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity that he has committed aplenty. Eventually our narcissist president, closer to a rock star than to a serious country manager, flew off to Spain.

Although unrelated I found this note in yesterday Tal Cual quite amusing and, as we say in French, fort à propos. The translated quote first (sorry, no links) and then a few comments for the better understanding of the unsuspecting reader.
People who are not Chavez followers, who for a reason or another had to get inside the hermetic Miraflores Palace, cannot overcome their shock as to the different changes and new designs that have taken place inside to please the president.

They thus revealed that the "Pantano de Vargas Room" has lost the portrait gallery of ex presidents from the democratic era painted by noted Venezuelan artists.

In their place there are pictures of president Hugo Chavez in different poses and in different trips. The secret on these changes was kept through these years due mainly that the private media representatives have been banned the access to the seat of the central government.
I am not familiar with Miraflores Palace, our White House, nor do I expect to become familiar with it for the years to come, but I suspect that there is a room where portraits of previous inhabitants are kept, in particular those of the democratic era who allowed Chavez to reach office. Sometimes reading some Chavez supporters overseas one would be led to think that before Chavez we were living under some sort of bloody dictatorship enjoying the subjection into misery the Venezuelan people. But the fact that Chavez is desperately trying to rewrite is that since 1958, 9 elections yielded 10 presidents reaching office through free and reasonably fair election, something that now has become a distant memory as we are on our way to an El Supremo for life.

The second fact is that if the private media had little access to Chavez since the mid 1999, this one has not subjected himself to a press conference at home since April 2002, the type of press conference that even Bush in the worst moments of the Iraq invasion could not avoid from holding. The only journalists that do manage to sneak a tough question on occasion are foreign journalists, and usually outside of Venezuela. Not that it really bothers Chavez as he bluntly refuses to either answer them or chalk it on the account of some international conspiracy against his pseudo policies. This of course would not be tolerated in their own country by people who find nothing wrong with Chavez dodging accounting for his actions.

Meanwhile, as any could have predicted, the bunkerization of Miraflores has kept apace. No interior view of where Chavez lives and hangs around is exhibited, be it Miraflores or his Airbus toy from which we only know a video snuggled out by somebody that probably got away with it by having his camera on while hanging it over his shoulder in front of unsuspecting guards. Meanwhile at the White House, even during the Iraq war and Bin Laden on the lose, visitors still can visit some of the rooms. Not to mention that guests can speak of their rides on Air Force 1.

Thus how could we be surprised at the announcement that either Chavez or the sycophants that surround him are rewriting history, at least on the walls of Miraflores Palace? Contact with reality is lost fast by people who attempt to become Cosmocrators, even if he visits the king of Spain barely two days after having excoriated once again the Spanish takeover of the Americas. Double standards, double talk, double personalities are usually associated with pathological personalities. Nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Panama and Venezuela, plus a shopping gossip

Though with some side travel, my main destination was Panama. Nice little country, very interesting and more so now with the very historical canal. If I may be forgiven from using cheap clichés, I think that together with Tikal and Machu Pichu it is the most significant human achievement in the Americas. Not the biggest, or nicest, or anything of the sort, the stress is on significance, before anyone gets upset.

But I digress. I had a good time there and I enjoyed the little bit I saw of the city. The contrast with Venezuela was rather startling. Very few potholes in the streets. Very few beggars, or street children for that matter (and I went to a seedy part of town to look for guayaberas in a specialty manufacture, a flop by the way). Food was great and cheaper than in Caracas, and with much better service. Tips could be left without afterthoughts. Good beer but lousy rum. People also seemed more optimistic about their future even though Torrijos seems to be sinking in the polls as they are tackling a difficult social security reform. All in all, Panama looked strangely like a Venezuela where things would sort of work out and where general improvement was on its way. Still very Latin, very messy Caribbean but nice, gentle with a method in their madness.

Now the part that scared me the most was describing the Venezuelan situation to the Panama folks I met. They all understood quickly self censorship of the press, police and military privileges, Bolivarian Circles (dignity battalions under Noriega), organized corruption, etc, etc… Their words: Oh! It is just like it was under Noriega! And this went on from business acquaintances to an usher who refused my offer to trade Chavez for Torrijos. Even one of the cab drivers who used to be a Noriega guard that was even sent to Israel for training. He did miss the good old days (amazing that he would feel free to confess such a thing) but he was semi aware at least that it could not have lasted and he moved on with his life, not looking forward for an eventual release of Noriega in a couple of years. We would be so lucky if the chavistas in charge would go as "gracefully" when their turn come.

But the best was the gossip gathered by one of my friends shopping at some mall. There in Joyeria Apollo, if memory serves me well, she was looking at some expensive watches while she was waiting for some friends to purchase something. Aimlessly she asked for the price of one and was told it was 8 000 USD. Of course she gagged and cursed herself for her expensive tastes. But the store clerk noticed her accent and started talking with her about Venezuela. He said that he had a regular customer, a National Assembly representative that did actually bought the same watch a few weeks ago. Apparently the guy is very nice with him, very pleasant and has no problem with his credit card (while me, or my friend, or any "normal" Venezuelan, we are allotted only 4 000 USD a year on our card, the maximum allowed by the strict currency exchange control).

The name? I cannot give it directly as I could get sued for it. After all I was not a direct witness of the scene (nor do I have the means to start an in depth investigation) and there is no reason why I should be blamed for a "slander" that I would have no way to defend against. Let's say that it is the leader of a pro Chavez "willful and able" party, and he wears glasses. His brother has been accused of pocketing road building contracts. He was mentioned in the press as buying and building quite a little farm/countryside home in a state before Zulia; and when he was the mayor of a central municipality he was suspected of a few not very kosher dealings…. Thus him buying an 8 000 USD watches in Panama is really not hard to believe. Like many chavistas cashing in, well, Panama is a good place to wash ill acquired gains: we should look at the airport entries and the frequent visitors. Unfortunately when I go to Panama it is not to hide money I do not have, nor to spend the little bit I manage to scrounge, except for an IPod like gadget and some great sea food. Well, maybe someday when Chavez decides to buy my conscience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The tale of Chavez and his nuclear reactor from Argentina.

It seems that Hugo Chavez wants to buy a medium size nuclear reactor from Argentina. According to the article, the reactor is needed to be able to help liquefying the heavy oils of the Orinoco Belt. The news was confirmed by Vice president Jose Vicente Rangel here.

On the other hand, reading yesterday’s late news in El Universal, I learned that the president of PDVSA and minister of oil and energy, Rafael Ramirez, just denied that Venezuela would be interested in buying a reactor from Argentina. The news appeared today in Aporrea (see here) and on the ABN and was the first news this morning in the minci page. I was actually amazed that the face of the smiling minister had even replaced that of Chavez, which is quite unusual in the official news. But, if you link the minci now, you will see that the news about Ramirez’s declaration has disappeared from their site (that is why one always have to get a snapshot of any minci page! ).


The question is why? What is going on?

And who is right, Rangel or Ramirez?

Whoever is right, the decision of buying a nuclear reactor cannot be easily justified in Venezuela.

To put it mildly, it is quite strange that in order to produce extra power to liquefy some of the heavy oil of the Orinoco Belt, a country that produces so much gas and oil like Venezuela would need a nuclear plant. If, indeed, extra power is needed, why not build a non-nuclear thermal plant? Venezuelans have had several plants of that kind built, even in record time, during the oil boom of the 70’s, they have expertise in the management and operation of those plants and they have the raw material: oil and gas.

According to Cadafe, there are at least 16 operating plants of that type in the country.


On the other hand, if a nuclear reactor is bought, it would be a total novelty for Venezuela. There is, to my knowledge, only one experimental nuclear reactor at IVIC and, besides that, there has not been any other nuclear experience in Venezuela. Moreover, it seems that Chavez is not thinking of buying the reactor from a country with long experience in nuclear power either, like the US, Canada or France. He is having talks with Argentina!

According to the Argentineans themselves, the nuclear reactor they would sell to Venezuela would still be a “prototype”… So here are my questions, Mr. Chavez:

1.-what is the business sense of buying a nuclear reactor when an ordinary thermal plant or an electric substation from the hydroelectric transmission can be installed? (see below)
2.- Why buy a technology that has not a proven solid record of reliability?
3.- Why buy a technology that Venezuela has no previous experience in deploying?
4.- Where/when are you going to form the highly qualified professionals to deploy that technology?

But for the reader to be able to grasp the magnitude of question number 1, I must recall that Venezuela not only has plenty of oil, gas and coal but also a lot of water.

Here in lilac, from PDVSA map page (click the section “maps” on your right), is the region where the Orinoco Oil Belt (Faja bituminosa del Orinoco) is located.






Below, there is a map, extracted from the Edelca page, showing where Venezuela’s huge hydroelectric resources are being exploited.




And, from the map below, one can see the transmission infrastructure from hydroelectric plant Guri to the important regions of the country using 765 Kv and 400 Kv lines.



If one looks at this map carefully and compares it with the one of the Orinoco Oil Belt given in PDVSA site, one can easily see that the power needed is right there. The generation, the transmission and the oil sands are quite close together. Moreover, exploring the PDVSA map a little further, one can even find the number of already installed thermal and hydroelectric plants.

So here is another question to Chavez:

Why don’t you use Venezuela’s existing hydroelectric and thermal infrastructure Mr. Chavez? And, if, by any chance, the energy is not enough, why don’t you build a gas or an oil plant….after all, you do have oil and gas, don’t you?

I have an answer. Chavez needs confrontation, and by buying a nuclear reactor he knows that he will be provoking the US.

So having explained all the technical details and having questioned the president about it, we still have to answer the first question of this post.

Who was right? The minister of oil and energy or the Vice president?

My guess is both. The Vice-president, as a savvy politician that exploits Chavez’s natural instincts, may have come up with the idea of stirring the waters to create a new confrontation Chavez-USA. After all, congress elections will take place in a short time and there is nothing like a good confrontation with the US to boost Chavez’s popularity. The minister, on the other hand, must know that the nuclear deal would be quite difficult to justify from the technical and economic point of view.

Having said that, I still find it suspicious that the minister’s declarations were removed from the Minci page today…

You know, like in all autocratic regimes, we are now dealing not only with news, but also with the interpretation of no-news.

Welcome to Chavez’s era!

Jorge Arena.

Note added: A reader from Argentina wrote to me stating that even though he sympathizes with the points made in the article, he regrets my denigrating comments about Argentina. He says that Argentina has more than 50 years of nuclear experience and he provided the following links to follow-up on Argentinean nuclear research:


http://www.na-sa.com.ar/index2.htm

www.invap.com.ar/

www.cnea.gov.ar/

I must say that my comment about Chavez’s choice of Argentina was never intended to be denigrating, and I am very sorry that it was interpreted that way. My intention was to underline that the choice of Argentina as a unique candidate to sell the first nuclear plant to Venezuela seems to be clearly political. Even though Argentina is one of the two only countries with a nuclear program in Latin America, it is not the first one that comes to my mind when I think of countries with extensive experience in building and managing nuclear plants. Before writing the article, I checked this link that seemed to confirm my perception.



Monday, October 10, 2005

Back in hell, the Catholic one that is

I am just back in Venezuela though not at home yet. Still a few days until regular blogging resumes.

But the news that got me today was Chavez invoking the Catholic church doctrine to justify land invasions. After having invoked any religion or practice, from feathered Native American rituals, to a crucifix next to his heart at all time, from having proclaimed himself and evangelical to all but travel to Mecca, in his Sunday comic hour-S he justified his land grabs with some Catholic church teachings.

I may die in peace now, I have seen it all.

Friday, October 07, 2005

CNN in hotel rooms

I have learned to dread CNN en español when I travel. At these times I usually do not read much the papers or watch TV but I feel compelled to turn on the TV in the morning while I shower and get ready for either business or tourism. The reason why I dread CNN en español is that whenever I hear the word "Venezuela" it is not for good news (not that CNN, under any of its forms, gives much good news anyway).

Two mornings ago there was Maza Zavala of the central bank announcing that Venezuela had transferred 20 billon US dollars of its reserve to Euro bonds or something of the sort.

Now, I am pretty sure that there could be a lot of pretty good reasons to do such a transfer. Euro bonds, for example, could have higher yields. Or Venezuela suddenly starts importing much more from the Euro zone and needs better support. Whichever the case might be, as new reserves are generated and placed in Euro, old reserves are let to dwindle for payments of different forms of debt. The process could be as short as 6 months when one realizes that a country reserves tend to represent only a few months of imports, kind of a guarantee payment to the provider of goods.

But this time all was made in a hurry because Yo, El Supremo, Castro mini-me, decided that that was that. No studies shown, no cost evaluated, no nothing explained to us, except for the tantrum fit of the bad tempered spoiled brat that presides over our destinies.

However there is one thing that I am quite certain did happen: during this fast transfer a comission was payed somewhere to somebody. Let's assume that the comission was a mere 0.1%. That would still yield as much as 20 MILLION US dollars (or is that a little bit less numerically in Euros?). In other words, Chavez fit cost the country 20 million USD, at the very least, 20 millon that could have been used to refurbish one of the downtrodden Caracas hospitals that Chavez has so ingominously abandonned in his search of foreign glory for him (not Venezuela I need to remind the reader).

Now, would it not be interesting to know who received such a comission for a couple of days of work? And how much of that comission did find its way to some Venezuelan "operators"? I can tell you one thing, I doubt that we will ever be able to find out what chavista hack benefited form this, but we will see the luxurious expenditures at some point, while some suckers scream "Viva Chavez!"

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Zamorana pistol: an endogenous product development in Hugo Chavez revolution.

Reading this article in Bogotá’s El Tiempo, written by Valentina Lares Martiz, I learned that the revolution is now promoting manufacturing weapons.

The first product will be a 9 mm pistol called “Ezequiel Zamora” in honor of the colorful leader of Venezuelan Federal war that is one of Chavez’s icons. Some of Chavez’s friends have even said that the president believes that he is Zamora’s reincarnation (see here). So the choice for the pistol’s name is quite suggestive.

For the first time there will be fire arms 100% made in Venezuela. Actually, according to the article, the president of Cavim, the industry in charge of producing the arms, says that this will allow the substitution of foreign made weapons.

I am quite proud. Killing machines 100% made in Venezuela, a good legacy of Chavez’s revolution.

When facing the criticism because instead of producing medicines or food, Venezuela is investing in native weapons, the president of Cavim stated that his company is 100% private, although it is associated with the Ministry of Defense.

But you have to pay close attention to the next sentence, which is absolutely sublime. I will copy it here so that all its sense is not lost in translation or that you would think that I am making that up.

"Venezuela no está en una carrera armamentista. Cavim tiene un objetivo social y lo que está haciendo es trabajar, producir armamento, municiones y explosivos",

It says that Venezuela is not in an armament competition. Cavim has a social objective (you read it right!) and what is doing is working, producing weapons, ammunitions and explosives.

Gee! Thanks for explaining! Producing weapons, ammunitions and explosives must really have a profound social objective. Now, this ghost blogger is clueless. I wonder which social objective that could be. Unless it is getting everyone killed to get rid of social problems?

But, if you were still nervous about this weapon business, keep reading, this should make you relax:

..quien aseguró que las armas tampoco están destinadas a atacar alguna nación: "Esa no es nuestra filosofía. Cavim se adapta a la nueva doctrina expresada por el Presidente sobre la defensa de la soberanía".

Cavim’s president assured that the weapons will not be used to attack any nation. “That is not our philosophy. Cavim adopts the new doctrine expressed by the President about the defense of sovereignty”.

What doctrine are we talking about? The one according to which Chavez wants to create an army of two million people? (see Alo Presidente, April 3, 2005, page 37)

After all, this is the government that considers as a “good news” to arm and train peasants (see my article here).

And to complete the picture, let us keep spreading the good news. The advantage of the Zamorana pistols is their low cost, they will be quite affordable. According to the article they will cost 372$, about half the price of an imported 9 mm Glock.

And if you, dear reader, are still not convinced of how wonderful this new Chavista enterprise is, here is the best part. The industrial plant will be able to produce 15000 weapons a year! Isn’t that great?

So, Venezuela, that has one of the highest crime rates of the world and an astounding number of deaths by fire arms, will now produce even more affordable weapons. Since we had not enough of them, with 15000 cheap extra weapons, we will now be able to reach a good level of development and social peace.

Why didn't we figure that out before?

Is this plain goverment stupidity or does it have the intentional objective of keeping arming the people to “defend” the revolution?

What can I say?I am speechless.

Jorge Arena.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brazilian agrarian imperialism?

So Chavez keeps (or was that kept?) talking about his good friend Lula and what an example he is. Well, he would be well advised to follow some of his realpolitik policies.

Last night I was at one of those festivities that close the days in these international trade fairs and I was talking with a group of Brazilians. One topic was the ranches of 30 K and more hectares (multiply by 2 for acres, I think, but I am on the road, cannot check). These ranches sprouting around in the Matto Grosso are fully mechanized, Great Plains style, with fronts lined with dozens of harvesters to collect the soy crop. Followed by a line of equally impressive machines to pick up the harvest or to plant the new one.

I will not discuss the ecological aspect of it, just limit the US reader to contemplate what did happen to the Great Plains before casting a stone to Brazil settlement of the Matto Grosso. However, one thing is sure, Brazil is continuously increasing its exprots of feed stuff. I even heard that poultry is sent big time to the US since Katrina et al. have wrecked chicken production in the South. I wonder if this will have an effect on the price of the chicken imported by MERCAL...

Meanwhile as Brazil is preparing itself to become the granary of the world, for better or for worse, in Venezuela Chavez declares that anything bigger than a few hundred acres should be retruned to the people, while creating a fake "sem terra" movement. He even resorts to import the real thing from Brazil to try to have the Brazilian leaders teach the few Venezuelans farmers to unite (which they will probabaly end up doing but against Chavez when all the promised help fails to materialize, a given if you ask me). And as Brazil keeps exporting more and more food, Venezuela will keep importing more and more...

Monday, October 03, 2005

Escape from Venezuela

Just a note to let you know how difficult it is becoming to leave Venezuela. When I left, it coincided with the departure of the European flights (and no, I unfortunately did not travel to Europe). Well, all the passengers for Europe, including the Air France 747, all passengers for the Caribbean from that section of the Airport, plus some South American and Miami, had to go through A SINGLE X RAY machine... The line to go through it lasted 1.5 hours........ On the other side I did not even had time to get a drink as I had to board almost immediately. Ah! And I forgot that I had to go first through a 20 minutes line just for the National Gurads to check my passport... Plus half an hour in front of my inefficient ticket counter where the conveyor belt was defective (not the fault of the airline, just ariport maintenance).

Hopes for a quieter return were promptly dashed as I was informed that the brand new belt of the brand new arrival terminal was already breaking down (the circuits) and waits of 2 hours to get your bags were not unheard of...

My passport was checked a total of 5 times.......... In the US they are so happy to see you leave that two passport checks are enough.

So, Venezuela keeps its descent into 4th world status (though sometimes one wonders if in the past we were even third world...)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Travel Announcement

I am travelling outside of Venezuela for business. Hence the already noticeable slowing down in posting. But I am trying to coax my ghost bloggers into stepping in for a couple of posts as things keep moving fast in Venezuela. So, you can keep tuning in (not to mention that in the past they made an outstanding job to liven up the site). In about ten days I should be getting back into normal mode.

And to tell you the truth, I could use a break too, these past three weeks have been exhausting in Venezuela as Chavez is trying to impose on us his crazyness. Thus a few days sort of away of the constant grind should recharge me for the legislative battle that will start in earnest by mid October. But I know myself, any free hotel internet service will find me trying to type something on the run.

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.

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