Thursday, August 17, 2006

Definitions that need redefinitions: a Venezuelan portrait of sorts

As the electoral campaign starts almost coinciding with the recall election of two years ago, I thought it would be a good time to revisit briefly some of these issues.

Carmona and Rosales

The first one, and longest in this serie of definitions, that comes to mind is the association that chavismo is already doing between Rosales and Carmona. Pictures of Rosales signing the infamous Carmona decree are peppering many a state TV show, at tax payer expense must I remind folks. What would chavismo say if Globovision where passing again footage of the 1992 coups? Or Llaguno shooters?

But let’s go above these silly tits for tats as Rosales was a provincial governor a little bit overcome by the events of April 11, which I must remind folks involved a very selected Caracas and military group into which Rosales was more than likely not included. I remember myself watching the scene wondering how come Rosales was there and whether he would actually sign since he seemed ill at ease (note, chavismo shows the picture of him signing, not the video of Rosales going to the table). And let’s go further: for all its threats AFTER 4 years we are still waiting for a real investigation and a real trial on April 2002 events. Why? Because chavismo is the one most interested in not ever making clear what happened these days.

But I can go even further. Chavismo accused Carmona to have wanted all power by firing the National Assembly, governors and majors and supreme courts and what not. Well? What do you think chavismo has been doing since 2002? Strengthening democracy? Bull! In the last 4 yeas Chavez has replaced all judges that were not unconditional to him, has removed all but two governors of the opposition, has made sure he got a 100% membership of the National Assembly, has got a huge majority of town halls, mayor and councilmen included, has purged all of the army of anyone that is not an active supporter of the regime, has purged the public sector with the first Apartheid instrument of our history, the Tascon/Masiant lists. Gim’me a break! Chavez is accusing Rosales of wanting to do what Chavez has just done. Beautiful!

The recall election fraud

After two years there is no more doubt that there was fraud during the Recall Election. Even the Carter Center has lowered its defense, stays coldly away from the debate when it should be defending what they condoned. Thus the Carter Center by its silence allows that something was wrong but they prefer to stay away. Chavez and Venezuela stink and nobody wants to get burned again.

Maybe the definitive evidence that Chavez lost and reverted by cheating the result is not out, might never be found out until one of the dozen or so people involved in it speak. They will, someday, but it will be too late for us. But no one sane and moderately intelligent will doubt that at the very least Chavez fattened up his margin of victory, assuming he won. The consequences for the electoral life of Venezuela will last for decade, or at least as long as Chavez is in office.

Can we vote in Venezuela?

This follows from the above fact and the answer today is still no. Recent observers have compiled an impressive list of electoral problems in Venezuela which have for the most part not been addressed. But the solution is clear: if all ballots are counted by hand, it does not matter if we vote by machine, if they place finger printing machines, if the army looks nastily at you while you vote, all is irrelevant, people will go and vote and we will see the real result.

This is now a strictly political issue: chavismo is deliberately instigating abstention so as to get a large victory margin in any election. Anyone not seeing that is not understanding at all what is going in Venezuela. The CNE is political branch of the government, NOT the impartial umpire it should be.

The oil industry

The failure of the oil industry cannot be hidden anymore. The economist even dedicate an unusually long article at detailing how ill advised are the “commercial” strategies of PDVSA. The recent sale of a huge Texas Venezuela owned refinery can only be explained by the increasing difficulty of Venezuela in providing a sustained amount of oil to the US. This is due to three things: 1) the US seems to embark on the road of less and less Venezuelan dependency (political reason) 2) Chavez wants to sell elsewhere EVEN if Venezuela loses benefits along the way (even more political reason) and 3) Venezuelan oil production fails consistently to increase and show signs of going down again (bad management and strategy).

But the looming disaster is masked by the hyper high price of oil and futures speculations. Anyone thinking otherwise is only fooling itself and refuses to see that the lack of PDVSA investment and continuous mismanagement as witnessed by the increasing amount of “accidents” will come home to roost someday soon.

The economical revival

The economy is experiencing an artificial boom strictly driven by the high price of oil and the willingness of the government to distribute its undeserved revenues favoring consumption over investment. The private sector is indeed benefiting up to a point from this increased consumption of the public at large, in particular the poor who get cash grants and the public servants who never got such pay checks in their lives. But fine screening of investments and exports data show that most investment is still only in the oil sector (and lower than what it should be to be able to maintain production at current levels). Local private investment is limited in maintenance of operating manufacturers, automation to limit exposure to increasingly punitive labor laws, development of communication and distribution network to assure the distribution of the huge imports that the state is promoting. But investments in brand new industries is rather limited. And even investment to reopen industries that closed during the 2000-2004 period is almost inexistent. In spite of a heralded 9% growth for the past two years you can drive through the Barquisimeto or Valencia industrial zones and see still dozens of plants closed or working at very low level. Only business that survived, malls and warehouses are thriving. Nothing new is coming.

Corruption cannot be hidden anymore

Volumes could now be written. Just let’s say that the problem must be enormous for Chavez to even admit that he must do something about it. What is graver is that at private life level it is starting to become an issue. For example this blogger cannot get a passport through the normal ways and will have to resort to pay for someone to get him one. But what is worse corruption generate incredible delays for folks that cannot afford under hand payments. Thus installing a new business, getting a permit to build a house can be now things that can last more than a year. These delays represent costs and decreased income and quality of life. Thus whether you participate in corruption or not, you are a victim anyway.

The corpses along the way

I could elaborate al lot here. I could start but the skyrocketing crime statistics (which leave to the imagination the real numbers). Even this blogger has been robbed inside his own home while he was asleep in spite of bars on the window. He lost a camera and lap top. Street crime has even taken place in front of his building, as his neighbors could watch horrified from their windows someone got shot to steal a purse.

Or I could go on at how the opposition has abandoned its heroes such a political figures now in jail or the ex PDVSA workers now outside the country working to enrich other countries, or limited to informal or menial work in Venezuela.

And I could include all of the chavistas that believed in the original goals but who have been discarded along the way, abandoned by their co-religionaries that did not want to be seen with people that El Supremo fired under a tantrum temper.

We are now a society of frightened people, hiding at home, abandoning all of the people that dare to confront abuses. Only the poor masses are increasingly defiant of Chavez since after 7 years they start to realize that an occasional handout is not enough for their survival, to pull them away from their misery. Then again they are the main victims as they must stand in long lines at Mercal or banks to cash in their modest handouts only to go home where their humble abodes to not offer enough protection from the increasingly aggressive neighborhood thugs.

And more I could write but I will stop here as people are getting the idea loud and clear. Those are the main "definitions" or facts that we will have to keep in mind as the weirdest and perhaps toughest campaign of our history will unfold.

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