Monday, September 04, 2006

Is fascism the new left?

This is not an idle question. We are observing more and more that supposedly progressive leftist parties in Latin America are acting as your average fascist movement, imposing their ideas regardless on how large the share of the popular vote they control. Three cases in point: Venezuela, Bolivia and Mexico.

Venezuela

The latest actions of Caracas Mayor at large, Juan Barreto, were particularly eloquent. This one in fact went as far as espousing Stalinism in Caracas to control the opposition mayor, even announcing that one of them will be jailed by December.

But we could also look at some supporters who are embracing an increasingly violent language. Last night one of the callers of Alo Ciudadano, the popular TV talk show on Globovision, was a woman saying that all in Cuba was fine and dandy and that people had no right to criticize the Cuban regime, that they were just liars. The host let her talk as long as she wanted and soon enough the unfortunate woman was saying that people against the revolution should be executed through fusillade. Interestingly the self declared profession of that woman was social worker, trained in Cuba. Some training she got.

But readers of this blog know very well that these are just a reflection of “l’air du temps”. In Venezuela the 1999 constitution has been violated so often that now all power rests in the hand of a single man, not of a single party, a single man, which is one of the hallmarks of fascism. At least communist regimes had the pretense to have all power in the hand of one single party. In fact, this blogger dates exactly the entry of Venezuela into a fascistic leaning system since February 27 2004. It has been downhill ever since, all on the name of the “socialism of the XXI century”.

Bolivia

We find the same type of situation. The new constitutional assembly was supposed to vote by a 2/3 majority, which makes sense when you draft a constitution that must serve all Bolivians. Unfortunately Evo Morales failed to gain a 2/3 majority. No problem, after a scuffle where one of the assembly leaders was seriously hurt, the Morales majority decided to do away with the 2/3 requirement. The “opposition” walked out, and certainly aware of the Venezuelan precedent, called upon the OAS to intercede. And justifiably so.

Mexico

There the situation is much graver. Now, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has decided not to recognize the election result. Even more, he has threatened with naming a parallel government and has decided to call for a constitutional assembly in Mexico. The catch here is that even without a putative electoral fraud, AMLO did not get 50% + 1 vote. That is right, he did not even get 40% of the votes. His fraud claim are so tenuous, though perhaps with some merit, that they cannot account for that 10% missing that would morally allow him to set the political mess he is setting. In fact, the PAN largely outscored the PRD of AMLO in congress! That is right, far from an absolute majority of the Mexican voters, AMLO still forges ahead and tries to impose his ambition on all Mexicans. The whole protest every day smacks more and more of a neo-fascism. AMLO will probably sink in infamy, but not without having inflicted grievous damage to Mexican institutions (which need to be reformed, of course, but that is another story, and not one to proceed as AMLO wants to).

Conclusion?

It would be too facile to equate these actions with fascism. Maybe some of these people do not realize it, maybe they confuse Stalinism and Fascism as Barreto did. But the fact of the matter is that at the very least we can say that Chavez, Morales and AMLO are showing themselves not to be democrats. In a democracy the majority rules as it pleases as long as the minority rights are preserved and the conditions for that minority to become someday a majority are enabled. Anything short of this basic principle starts at authoritarian and ends at Stalinism or Fascism, which are, in the end, pretty similar in results. Amazingly the Left that should be the most democratic expression in LatAm seems in its ambition of power and accessory hate of the US to be only too willing to forgo democracy, and violently of needed. Let’s just hope that other democratic and progressive governments in LatAm will not follow these examples of intolerance and naked ambition.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What is behind that reelection ad infinitum for Chavez?

Acute observers of the Venezuelan situation, a group where this blogger occupies the humblest ranks, have known long ago, or at least since the 1999 constitution was drafted, that Chavez had all intentions to remain in office as long as he could get away with it. For too long his speeches were peppered with allusions to leaving dates such as 2021 or 2030. Chavez supporters were quick in saying that Chavez meant his movement to stay in power until then, or some other lame excuse. But the fact of the matter is that as a president who has gone out of his way to ensure absolute control on as much as the state apparatus as he could reach, Chavez did not do all of that to surrender it to the winner of an election that would not be himself.

Just plain logic. Chavez is not a democrat and uses democracy only as long as it works for him, as a transition period of sorts.

So, I was wondering about the strange need that pushed him to announce Friday that he would call himself for a Recall Election in 2010, when his second term reaches the half way mark. Why would he do such a thing? To refurbish his image as a democrat as he arrives from Syria? To soften his now established authoritarian image? No, that would be too easy.

The part of him calling for a recall election is easy to get: after the Tascon list no one will ever dare to call for a Recall Election in Venezuela. This constitutional novelty has been pretty much killed in 2004. As far as I can see it will be used only by chavistas to kick out of office opposition figures or chavistas that need to get disposed of (such as Barreto?).

Thus we are left to try to figure out why Chavez made this single announcement. In fact, we must ponder this as it is, so far, the core offering of his reelection campaign. That is right, the rest of the speech were platitudes and pseudo-philosophical musings. The only concrete thing was that recall election promise.

I was thus wondering through the day why did Chavez offered such a wild idea. That he would call at the same time for a referendum to lift the two terms limit is not the issue: he could call that referendum tomorrow if he wanted to. That he would link such a referendum and a recall election is a gimmick of little significance. Thus, why?

I am pretty sure that there are many possible explanations, including Chavez being on drugs after yet another long and exhausting trip. But I came out with one that has a certain logic. The first thing is to review some recent changes in the political situation, and remember some facts.

Chavez does not have a good record to run on. The bloom of social programs has worn off. Some people did get benefits, many perhaps, but the tale now is that if you want to have access to them you better wear a red shirt. A new elite has appeared and people do not like it much. Social programs arguable success notwithstanding, inflation and lack of real jobs have remained a social curse, even increasing, with no reply coming from the government. The implication of a rising crime situation has become true: Venezuela has now top crime rates in the world, with a week end dead roll that competes with the one in Iraq, for example. And the major construction programs announced seem to be rather incomplete, and definitively too late to affect voter sentiment, long used to last minute inaugurations.

Thus running on record along is not enough for Chavez as his government approval rating is in the doldrums whereas his remain unaccountably good!

To this we can add the major political shift of August: the opposition unified against all odds. And not only that, but the unification was convincing, and Rosales had a good campaign start. Chavismo who was counting on a weak and divided opposition is obviously not ready for the sudden challenge ahead. Not that it is in great danger: chavismo holds too many cards still. But the fact of the matter is that chavismo has to suddenly devise a battle plan, a program, an organization, a voter outreach. We are all surprised at how little chavismo is ready when we were expecting a steam roller! This one might exist but it obviously having some ignition problems.

And that is how I got one possible explanation for Chavez “promise”. The translation of his promise is: “listen guys, I think that I did not do as much as you hoped me to do. I can understand that you are pissed at me. But that is OK, fear not, just give me three more years and you will see how great everything turns out to be. If you still do not like it, no problem, THEN we will have the real election to replace me. But this time forget about the other guy, just give me three years. Trust me, I am such a good democrat”.

Besides this proposal being yet another chavista con job, it is a surprising show of weakness from a candidate who 2 months ago seemed totally invincible. In politics fortunes can change dramatically. I still think it is an uphill battle for Rosales, but now he is facing a hill and not mountain range.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Chavez starts his campaign: price inflation and vote deflation

After driving 7 hours for what normally takes me 3.5 hours between San Felipe and Caracas, I arrived home to be received by Alo Ciudadano passing the complete campaign speech of Chavez (1). That is right, Chavez has decided to stop over in Venezuela for a few days to start his campaign in all earnest. After all, the Barreto episodes (2), the escape from Ramo Verde, the inflation above 10% (3), a recent poll showing a 7% drop in voting intention has sent a message to Chavez: his reelection is not a given, at least if the CNE allows to count votes as they should be counted (4). (note: most links to English texts today!)

But the real surprise was actually the low tenor of the Chavez speech and the poor setting of the rally. For a first campaign rally it was a rather disappointing assistance. Yet the government had taken all precautions: El Silencio square, Plaza O’Leary, was chosen, much smaller than the Avenida Bolivar, with water fountains, trees, corners, etc,… which would allow for a better way to hide a poor attendance. In addition for the past two days we have been told over and over that public workers have been told to dress in red today and lien up the way from the Airport to O’Leary square to welcome the triumphant leader from his recent successful trip overseas. Indeed, his fabulous reception by such connoted democrats such as the Syrian and Angolan presidents must be seen as a triumph. Whatever the rally was, the cameras of Globovision was merciless: placed at a constant angle filming an area no more than a 100 yards from the main stage it showed a not very dense crowd, circulating among a few food stands and not paying much attention to the beloved leader. I remember the days were the O’Leary square was not an option for a chavista rally since it was considered too small. But yes, the crowds were dutifully dressed in red. This blogger has been observing lately that the redder the crowd the lesser the attendance.

The Chavez speech was not exciting at all although controversial. If we are to base ourselves on this speech it seems that Chavez has decided not to run on his record but instead run on a promising bright socialist (or is that neo-Stalinist?) future. Except for the solid group in front of the stage and lovingly filmed by the state media (A red tide welcomes Chavez!) the rest of the crowd seemed to neither care nor be impressed. They were just there. In the speech no concrete promises were offered, only general talk of socialism estheticism to rule the country, and the world. In fact the only unique concrete proposal was for Chavez himself to convoke a recall election in 2010, but with a twist: there will be two questions on the ballot, the second one implying a change in the constitution as ratification of this second question will allow Chavez to be reelected as long as the people “want” it. In fact, Chavez speech was a simple ideological plan until 2020. We suppose that the structural plan will have to wait.

At lest now we are fixed and no one will be allowed to plead misunderstanding: the objective of Chavez is to stay in power until he gets tired of it. There is no ambiguity at all. He spoke clear and loud on this. And along the way he will break the capitalist system to replace it by a co-dependent system. I suppose that for some it might be an improvement.

Thus I was thinking again on how come the San Felipe Caracas trip had become such an ordeal in the last 3 years and how the government is absolutely unable to even try to set up a plan to alleviate the horrendous situation of the main Venezuelan artery, the one that links Valencia to Caracas, the one on which the productivity of the whole country depends. But when I heard Chavez speech today I got it: he does not care, he does not get it. He is unable to do anything concrete: all is politics, all is about securing power, all is about out talking whomever is in front of him. He cannot understand that the number of executives bitching while stuck in the noon heat traffic are the probable main cause on why unemployment fails to abate in Venezuela. How can you think about expanding your business, hiring people when your brain fries for an hour at La Cabrera traffic jam? But worse, how can the masses of workers piled up in buses without air conditioning can be productive after spending an hour at La Cabrera? I have to accept the fact that Chavez has lost all contact with reality, with what matters the most in a country. He is so disconnected that he thinks his stupid speech today is going to carry him easy to December. But the polls are starting to come and Chavez mediocrity today is a sure sign that at least some low level panic is setting in, as illustrated by him trying such silly gimmicks as proposing his own Recall Election as an electoral cornerstone.

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1) El Ciudadano was careful to explain that since it was a Chavez as candidate speech Globovision had decided to pass most of it live, and thus was deliberately scoring points so as not to be accused of partiality when they start passing all of Rosales campaign speeches (which by the way we know will never happen on VTV). Thus it seems that the media are going to play tough and it might pay off handsomely if we are to judge from this first ridiculous Chavez speech.

By the way, Alo Ciudadano dutifully noted that the rally broke election rules as Chavez did State announcements such as naming Rodriguez Araque ambassador to Cuba, the most important diplomatic position of the regime since all the shady financial oil deals go through Havana (and where a large chunk of the loot is probably hidden).

2) A rather polite translation of one of Barreto's infamous speeches can be read here, but I can assure you that without the image, and adding the translator prudery, it does not have the same effect.

3) The inflation rate was above 2% for the second month in a row, in spite of price controls and the number fudgery already explained elsewhere in this blog. Thus the government aim at a single digit inflation is shot, and there are still 4 months to go.

4) Just as his election to UN security council seems far from assured, no matter how much money he lavishes overseas in his now incessant trips.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How stupid is CNN?

Or is it its evening anchor the really stupid one?

Daniel Viotto had again the dubious privilege to be totally manipulated by Castro (and Chavez) who are playing CNN as a fiddle, at least the Spanish language broadcast of the group, CNN en Español.

See, Chavez stopped in Havana on his way back from his latest vacation trip. He met Castro who seems to be indeed recovering. They had a nice chat. A video was made. The video was released when already Chavez was back in Caracas. The video was released to hit full impact the evening news. While the sound track showed us a Castro piling lauds high and deep on his pupil Chavez, Viotto, totally oblivious of the political game at hand was counting the liver spots on Castro's face (or some equivalent medical banality that I do not care to remember).

That is right, CNN is offering free of charge, once again, the full blessing of Castro on Chavez, while its anchor is looking at trivially irrelevant details on Castro's health. I mean, yes, the health of Castro is news, but what Castro is doing with Chavez is bigger, much bigger news and Viotto, or the CNN editor, or both, are totally unaware of it, are clueless. Or are Castro's supporters.

Someone should get fired at CNN really soon....

PS: live blogging by the way, the news on the video was not even on the CNN site when I started writing this post, I could only find this, but Globovision was showing it all.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rayma on Barreto


The cartoonist I usually use for this page is Weil, but that does not mean he is the best cartoonist in Venezuela. The other two are Rayma and Zapata, an institution by himself. But these last two have a "je ne sais quoi" of Venezuelan that does not come across as well to non Venezuelan audiences, in particular Zapata. But today Rayma summarizes all of the Barreto shameful affair in an almost impossible way.

The translation is of course very easy: sewer in Chacao, sewer in Baruta, sewer in Libertador.

Libertador is where the seat of Mayor at Large resides. For any doubt or questions you have, read the previous posts where the word Barreto appears. You will realize that Rayma does a much better job than any article written by anyone in any paper or blog.

Addenda: it seems that Barreto proposal to take over Caracas Golf Courses just because he felt like it is not meeting approval from the government. See, most embassies in Caracas are located close to, or even directly on, the golf courses, such as the spectacular house of the French Ambassador. These "homes" will cost a fortune for the government to take back once their security is threatened by whatever nincompoopy project Barreto might have. A bill to be added to the already expensive expropriations. Not to mention that La Lagunita links have not been taken over, and imagine this coincidence, many of the "nouveau riches" of the regime are building little palaces over there. Social pages have reported on the attendance of Barreto to some of these parties at La Lagunita.

Still, I am under no illusion that Barreto might have acted on his own alone. If anything this scandal is too helpful for the governrment: it hides all sorts of hot issues such as housing deficit DUE to governmental inefficiency and corruption, the escape of Ortega and three military with army complicity, the regular popular protests that dot the current landscape, the missing of sugar and other basic staples from the shelves of even Mercal, the more than successful Rosales start, just to name the recent ones.

After all, the MVR just needs to toss out Barreto (and send him to some distant embassy as payment) to come out clear and clean and moderate while people still keep discussing the golf courses defense. At least the opposition has not taken the bait: nobody has come out against taking over the golf courses IF, and that is a big IF, a real and meaningful proposal comes along. Apparently Barreto was expecting a heated reaction and he is getting more fire from the MVR than from the people he hoped to provoke. Interesting, no?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Golf course wars

Now, this is not about the latest on Tiger Woods, it is about the latest tantrum of Caracas Mayor at large, Barreto.

But before I get into the story it is unfortunate that I must break my own rules of not criticizing the character before I criticize the action. But in this case it is a must as the reasons behind the latest Caracas golf course expropriations cannot be understood without taking the full measure, so to speak, of Barreto.

Barreto is a mediocre journalist. Barreto is an egomaniac. Barreto is obese. Obesity might not be his fault, most obesity seems to be a disease. But is important to note that in Barreto'?s case his obesity might be linked to some psychological trauma. There is no way for me to know that for sure, but I have been going around long enough to have met such people, heard of such people, where a metabolical pathology meets a psychological pathology. On Barreto, the psychological pathology is not to be doubted and there are enough reasons to suspect the correlation with the obesity one. Even in 1998, before Chavez pulled Barreto out from the void where he was sinking, Barreto was already a persona of rather ill repute.

I have met Barreto once, or rather seen him in action. This was January 2002, when he was a representative, when Chavez supporters could still hang out around, before social hatred gripped the country. He was standing in line waiting to get into a movie at the Paseo Las Mercedes. He was holding court in the line as he cultivated a certain intellectual pretension, as he also was teaching something somewhere. Some student like folks were having an animated discussion with him. At this point in time I did not have a particular aversion for the man, I thought of him as just another one on Chavez coattails. But there was something in his demeanor that night that struck me as rather irritating, arrogant and even aggressive. It was instinct perhaps, but my reflex was to steer clear of Barreto as much as I could.

Years went by, Barreto was stirring mobs in Caracas downtown from April 2002 (and earlier for sure), stirring confrontation in parliament, routinely starring in any witch trial and lynch mob he could manage to figure in. Of course the counter reaction was obvious: Barreto could not go anymore to a restaurant in Eastern Caracas, could not attend an exhibit or cultural event without generating a general booing from the crowds.

Eventually Chavez named him Mayor of Caracas for his work at stirring the shit. That 2004 election was without a contender for reasons not of this post, but Barreto then barely got 15% of the potential vote of the city if you consider the ~75% abstention. However Barreto committed the original sin of people of his nature, he thought that the election was actually meaningful, that Caracas saw in him its legitimate mayor, that he reached office for other reasons than Chavez naming him candidate. He could not have been more wrong. A few days after his election he was foolish enough to attend a concert where the crowds booed him so strongly that it created a minor commotion. That was the last time he was seen at a cultural event. Since then, as in your B series movie, Barreto has been plotting his revenge against the kings of the prom and those who cheer them. No matter what other political considerations one might think of, this personal flaw of Barreto is the main drive in his actions.

Now, simply, after all the events reported recently on this blog Barreto has decided to act and order the Caracas town hall to expropriate the golf courses of Caracas for public housing.

Before I get into this, I must say that the long endurance of Golf Courses in downtown Caracas is, today, rather odd, if not even a political mistake. Keeping one or two courses and have them pay heavy revenues from entertaining wealthy passing tourists might be OK, but Caracas is too crowded to hold the Country Club, Valle Arriba and La Lagunita. One of them at least should have become long ago a recreation park. There are plenty of sites less than one hour of Caracas that could host perfect golf courses, and already do. And this goes also for other large open spaces that have no reason to be but for the sole benefit of other privileged few, such as La Carlota Airport or Fuerte Tiuna. Besides a large section of these golf courses are close to flooding streams and not for habitation use, at least if an urban planning were followed. Caracas is in serious need to decide on ALL of its open spaces.

There are plenty of problems with these expropriations: besides their availability for little more than parks and exercise grounds, the legality of the expropriation is questioned (normally a well studied project should be presented first to justify ANY expropriation), the authority of Caracas at large office does not go above the authority of the local mayors on these matters, and the cost of expropriation is just too much at current real estate value. None of them did bother Barreto who obviously under pressure on such a momentous day only declared to the State TV avoiding more questionning private media, arguing that he had a plan and that the ownership of the grounds was questionable anyway. The implication was of course that he is intending to grab them one way or the other, even if he must send his hordes to build shacks on them.

What is an interesting side note here is that the other chavista mayor of Caracas, Bernal, did not jump on board with Barreto, in fact he said that his own expropriations were an example on how those things should be done, implying not the Barreto show. Even more, Calixto Ortega of the "moderate" wing of chavismo, if there is such a thing, went further and said that the solution of Caracas was not to take over Golf Courses, but to decentralize its activity, to convince people to move out of Caracas. In other words, inner chavismo troubles are brewing, too many are questioning Barreto, distancing themselves from his vituperance.

And this is the crux of the matter: all of these distasteful events of Barreto really serve to demonstrate two things, one is that there is still no general idea on what to do about Caracas, and two, and perhaps even graver, at the helm of the greater Caracas, the person who should concentrate on a vision for the city, we have someone totally unfit for the job, unfit at all point of views, moral, ethical, intellectual, emotional, professional and even political. But then again so was Goering, though a tad more efficient on occasion.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The first polls in Venezuela since Rosales became the unity candidate

OK, now that I have got your attention, it is not true, no comprehensive poll on the Rosales effect can be published yet as the ground work could only have started less than two weeks ago. However the evidence that Rosales is already giving headaches to chavismo can be sensed.

Keller speaks

Readers of this blog know that Alfredo Keller is the only current Venezuelan pollster that I credit: he has solid numbers and does not try to have his numbers say more than what they say. He is also keenly aware that since 2004 Venezuela is a very difficult country to poll for political elements. Too many people are afraid of the Tascon list, too many people are afraid of losing their little government benefit that they just cannot trust pollsters, preferring to support Chavez rather than having their real intentions be revealed to the local chavista boss. Or how can we explain that Chavez gets 60, 70, 80% while his administration institutions (his too) get a general failing grade?

Keller is aware of that and does not pretend to have a methodology to deal completely with this problem. Rather he tries to focus on tendencies.

Today he gave a short interview to El Universal where he says that no, he has no poll yet, that he is only working on focus group. Focus groups are what you use to create workable polls, in particular in Venezuela where the wording of the question is essential if you want to figure out if a given chavista is as hard core chavista as he would like you to believe.

But he says that there is a Rosales effect, that he is clearly perceived that he is the unity candidate no matter what other guys claim, that the race is clearly between Chavez and Rosales and that Chavez does not have the wind with him (even if he is still leading). In fact he goes further and states that the hard core Rosales vote is probably at least as high as the hard core chavista vote and that the rest of Chavez support is much softer and could erode fast with a good campaign.

Any truth of a weakening Chavez?

Plenty of it. It started early this week with the infamous Barreto act. The MVR actually seems to have decided to leave Barreto alone, waiting for Chavez to come back from Malaysia. This could actually be read as Chavez party already realizing that they should push much harder against Chavez as what they originally planned.

There was also an interview in El Nacional of Ameliach, the Chavez campaign director. He insisted elaborately in trying to dispel the “myth” that Rosales is the only opposition candidate. And he officially recognized that the famous 10 million votes sought will now not be more than 8. Lame excuses were offered such as the CNE not recruiting enough electors. But he said that no matter what, Chavez will get twice as many votes as the second running oppo candidate.

But that was not all from Ameliach. In an elaborate press conference today he attacked how sneaky was an add of Rosales and how it seemed that this one was using the resources of Zulia state for his campaign. This is of course hilarious as for any Rosales “fault” this blogger could report at least 10 Chavez fault, starting with the nightly mini cadena we are subjected every night since Chavez went on vacation in Asia. Rosales people laughed it off.

This is enough for me to infer that the pollsters of chavismo are not reporting good news (they do have some serious one working for them of course, they just do not report their result unless convenient). To add insult to injury, Leopoldo Lopez and Liliana Hernandez dared to brave some Caracas slums where they seemed to have been received better than anyone would have expected. Amusing, no? The more so that they walked in the strongholds of Gramoven...

What do people get about Chavez overseas?

Here in Venezuela, if we were to believe what the official media spins, or forces us to watch through cadenas (1), Chavez is the conquering hero, obtaining all sorts of support from all progressive regimes, including savage capitalist and hyper authoritarian China. Apparently all agree with Chavez that the US should be erased.

But on other media the news is not as clear...

Last night and tonight I watched, coincidentally, the TV5 French news (the French international channel, which I normally watch only a couple of times a week). I was highly surprised to see that Chavez trip to China made it twice in a row.

Unfortunately for Chavez the only thing that mattered for the French is how much oil the Chinese will get from Venezuela. The thing that was untold in the French news was the reasons for the French interest in Chavez: the Chinese will probably get all what the French were supposed to get through Total until last year. But once Chavez obtained (or was that conned?) from Chirac what he wanted, including a photo-op on the Elysée palace steps, he sent the French packing. Now, the Orinoco tar sands/heavy oil system are going to whomever will actively support Chavez ambitions and Total risks to lose everything it placed in Venezuela. I am not sorry for them as they were only too willing to play dumb to Chavez increasing authoritarianism. See, French think that they are about the only ones that can make democracy work and that local dictators are usually best to favor French interests. The French ambiguity and selfishness is getting every day more scandalous, be it the Middle East or Caracas. But I digress, back to the news.

TV5 dutifully noted the oil talks and agreements between China and Chavez (not Venezuela, Chavez). But it did not note any of the things that Chavez wanted us to hear such as his latest anti Bush attacks and other anti imperial gibberish. Or his other agreements(which are not clear to us anyway as he tries to hide the oil discount he is giving to China). However tonight TV5 added a note as to Chavez political intentions in China. Chavez has told us that China will vote for Venezuela for an opening at the UN security council (2). But TV5 notes that China has not made any official statement on this matter. Interesting, no? Are the Chinese manipulating Chavez that easily? Because, of course, I trust more TV5 than Chavez on such matters as Chavez takes all too personally to understand the real interests of the Chinese whose main market is the US, not Venezuela. Any hint that China would consider supporting Chavez is taken by this one unbridled ego as an open and public support. Chinese hyper discreet diplomats must be laughing their heads off behind closed doors.

So clearly overseas Chavez does not mean what he thinks he means. The clutter he surrounds himself with does not pass with people in the know. In fact I wonder if that particular TV5 broadcast was not a way to announce that Europe “en masse” will vote against Chavez who has taken so much oil away of European companies. Interestingly Chavez is not campaigning for his UN seat in Europe (not even Spain it seems), while Chile’s parliament has taken the unusual step to ask president Bachelet NOT TO support Chavez’s bid (note: again, it is important for the reader that we are discussing Chavez foreign policy, NOT Venezuela’s one).

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1) cadena, the forced simultaneous broadcast that Chavez doe sin Venezuela, where for as long as he feels he needs ALL TV and ALL RADIO stations must transmit his message SIMULTANEOUSLY.

2) For some crazy reason Chavez has decided to invest all of his international prestige (or rather renown) on obtaining a rather meaningless seat in the UN security council. He has spent hundred of millions of dollars to buy good will overseas for what is little bit more than an ego boost, as if Chavez needed an ego boost... Meanwhile our infrastructure rots.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The silly escalation continue

A diplomatic pouch

Sometimes I wonder whether the state department is not promoting the reelection of Chavez. With their local bugaboo about to croak across the Florida straits, Chavez could do. So now, at the start of a tough campaign they could not think of anything better to do but name officially a super spy for Venezuela. Or something of the sort. At any rate, Washington might make dumb moves but it can always count on a dumber move from chavismo. In a rather troubled event the Nazional Guard has intercepted the diplomatic pouch of the US. Apparently the Diplomatic Pouch included a few trucks with the move items of someone, among others. They also arrived in a military US plane.

Of course Venezuela was not going to miss such an opportunity. So they searched the pouch and are claiming all sorts of things, but nothing serious shown yet. The US denies any wrong doing and claims the Vienna convention. I am not going to get into the tit for tat except to note that I would doubt very much that the US would take such risk at this time. I am sure that if the US needs to smuggle weapons into Venezuela it can find better ways than Caracas Airport through a military plane... I mean, why not paint on the plane "Smuggling weapons vehicle".

Barreto insists

Far from apologizing, Barreto today went ahead and insulted again, though at a less strident level, the mayors of the other day. We are thus forced to accept that no excuses are coming , that El Nacional front page was a con job and that fascism is indeed one of the electoral tactics of chavismo. The Rosales effect must have surprised chavismo quite a lot for them to already react in such a desperate way. To be continued.

And in China...

As seen on TV. Chavez from China repeats, again, that democracy should start in the US before this one worries about Cuba. Now, nothing new in this scandalous statement. However there was a novelty: he is also accusing the US of McCarthysm. Yes, that is right, while Chavez sponsors not only the Tascon Maisanta lists, he is adding to it through the financial investigation on Sumate donors (many small ones in that list). That is, while in Venezuela there is an active McCarthy system, in expansion, Chavez attacks the long ago condemned US one.

Thus we reach this new paradox. Until now the favorite excuse for chavistas when you confront them with their abuse of power is that similar abuse were done in Venezuela before Chavez. Now they are looking for the US to justify their abuses. So, Huguito, when are you going to open a concentration camp and minimize it by saying it was done elsewhere, so why not here? Are you coming out of that fascist closet too?

At least, while Chavez is in China throwing good Venezuelan money away Rosales keeps centered promising not to give away a single Venezuelan penny as long as there are poor people in Venezuela. I wonder what will work better on the trail, Chavez stupid statements in China or Rosales down to earth, all Venezuelan, approach....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Astral signs

There was an election and Pluton lost. Now it has been demoted to the rank of non entity. We are down again to 8 planets.

I wonder if Chavez has an opinion. I wonder what would have happened if the CNE had run the Astronomic Society vote. Then again it was by raised hands... I guess you could have tried to see the finger prints from afar. If someone has the technology, a Hubble for long distance finger printing, it is our CNE.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Barreto asked to apologize?

Just got on the news tonight (I was not watching much today, preparing for a trip and waiting for the season finale of Grey's Anatomy :).

But it seems that Chavez's party has demanded that Barreto fix a time and place to make public and complete apologies to the mayors Capriles and Radonski. Otherwise the MVR will take sanctions against him. It seems that the largest part of chavismo could not stomach what Barreto did last Monday night and the party had to do something about it.

Nice to see that there are some embers of decency still within chavismo leadership.

Or is it part of the "plan"? How can we know for sure?

Chavismo has been ruling by pushing one scandal to hide another (Alvaray anyone?). How can we know whether the Barreto thing was the work of a free agent, a semi approved thing with few people in the know or a bona fide part of the electoral campaign of chavismo?

Again, let's Barreto apologize and while he is it at it let's keep focusing on all that is rotten in Venezuela keeping in mind that such outbursts are meant to distract us away from the reality.

Time to leave the Barreto thing: unfinished hospitals, deficient subways and high sugar price

A comment from Katy made me think that we had discussed enough the Barreto case. Indeed, what else could we bring on this study of human depravity and perversion that Barreto has turned out to be? He is a psychopath and those people are not discussed, they are contained. He is a bigger problem for chavismo than he is for the opposition.

Chavismo is a manipulating instrument. If the Barreto outburst was embarrassing for them, they soon will realize that the opposition will love trashing Barreto rather than trash Chavez. Same strategy as for the CNE: create a bugaboo that every one loves to hate while the real culprit runs around free giving Venezuelan money away for his own glory. If their first reflex might have been to consider demanding that Barreto at least apologizes, they might soon realize that he might as well not do it. Last night one of the reports coming of that reunion was of Barreto “demanding” to see the Globovision video, insinuating in his own inimitable way that it was all a fake of course… Perfectly in style with him because one of the gems he dropped Monday night was that if Capriles and Lopez continued with their Fascism he would fight back with Stalinism. I suppose that for certain sick people Stalinism is better than Fascism.

No, instead we should discuss other issues. For example how come Chavez is selling oil to China at discount when he could sell full price to Europe or the US. Any logical a logically financial explanation for this? And do not B.S. me with “expanding markets” when we have the biggest captive market, that pays cash, across from our local pond. What was the point from stopping discount to our best clients to give them to a new client?

But perhaps you might want to discuss the new Cardiological Hospitals for children. For all LatAm children at that. We could discuss why was the hospital inaugurated in great fanfare when most of its services are still not working. We could discuss the strange admission priority that will be given for this hospital, and how this will play when foreign children sign up. I would like very much to know whether ALL VENEZUELAN children will be served before a single foreign kid is attended. I have nothing against Peruvian heart sick kids, but I want all my Venezuelan kids helped first. After all, it is Venezuelan money alone as far as I know.

Or we could discuss how the new subway line is still not working properly, how the work has all but stopped in the installation of the missing escalators and station furnishings, how line 1 is collapsing forcing a restriction in the number of trains. And add on top of this that a majority of the cars now have no AC. In the subway of tropical Caracas, well, this is a major problem when the car is over packed.

Under Chavez Venezuela seems everyday more and more like a Potemkine Village where useful idiots like Barreto are sent to distract the crowds from gazing up close a the ill fitted props that serve as backdrop.

But it gets worst. The wonderful agrarian policies of the government are depriving the Venezuelan of their most precious food item: over sweetened coffee, the only thing we have that allows us to gather with our friends at the “panaderia” to commiserate on the ills of the country. Coffee has been on an off the endangered products list. Add now to this sugar that Venezuela must import from Brazil. That would not be too bad, except that Brazil sells its sugar at international price and that in Venezuela the present economic team has no better idea to control inflation than to block prices. Thus the imported sugar will sold at controlled price, in Mercal only and the government will pick up the huge tab (which could be spent, for example, finishing fitting the new children hospital). Of course, people like me will have to go to the “buhoneros” in the streets to buy sugar at 3 times the official price or be forced to go to Mercal and buy sugar ONLY if you buy a certain numbers of other items. Yes, in many Mercals sugar can only be bought in “bolsas” de comida as it is a recurring policy of Mercal to force people to buy certain items if they want to have access to other. And chavistas say that capitalism and feudalism are bad… anyway, good thing that being such a bitter blogger it has been decades since I have stopped putting sugar in my coffee or tea.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update on the preceeding post

The buzz today was of course the Barreto tantrum

Tonight Alo Ciudadano does the extensive analysis, including as guests Capriles and Lopez (Barreto could come of course, but he would have to accept the live call in feature of the talk show that chavistas dislike and have it banned from VTV).

As a summary
:

The cameras did not film the end of the event. Apparently right after Barreto ended his fascist tirade, the curtain fell. He stepped down from the podium and surrounded by dozenS of body guards (plural stressed) he tied to go and pick a fist fight with Capriles. This one refused to indulge the aggression and Barreto spat on him. Twice. In the scuffle Lopez was hit indirectly by Barreto. But their assistant managed to get around their mayors and the small group managed to leave the Teresa Carreño by the back door. Screams of "Kill the dogs" were heard from the crowd on the other side of the curtain, BUT ALSO from Barreto. "¡Maten esos perros!".

It seems that it was a set up alright. Alo Cidudano's anchor took the unusual step to reveal that Globovision sources from within the government reported to them that Chavez was furious by the rather low attendance ceremony when he went to register his candidacy for the reelection. He was told that the disgust with Barreto in Caracas is so big among chavistas (forget about the opposition of course!) that they were unable to rally as many Caraqueños as they would have wanted (hence the explanation on why the high proportion of chavistas from outside Caracas in attendance!)

It might thus be that Barreto shunned from the campaign has taken the initiative, on his own, to do something outrageous to get back into the Chavez campaign.

That might fire back badly for him. Globovision reports of an emergency meeting of the MVR in Caracas right now.

Globovision announces that Grado 33 will have a special show tonight at 8 PM Caracas time on yesterday's farce. Be sure not to miss it.

This post will be updated through the evening. Meanwhile I indulge in patting my back on my hypothesis of last night. I mean, you need not to be a rocket scientist to figure out some of the motivation of Barreto, but it is nice to see them confirmed in less than 24 hours :)

Update: So I listened to Grado 33. The normally 30 minutes program was lengthened to 60 minutes. We got the whole speech of Barreto, minus the "blips" there the vulgarity of Barreto had to be covered. I did today's SUDOKU to help me out with the chore of listening to it. Barreto is truly repulsive physically: anger does not suit him at all. At the end we got a short clip of the reply from Lopez and Capriles. The comparison is what allowed Grado 33 anchor, Norberto Meza, not to give too many comments during the broadcast: the images and the sound track spoke for themselves, even more when the dignity and poise of Capriles and Lopez is observed.

Right now as I type we are gettign a "cadena". Probably some violation of the electoral code as Chavez trip to China is glorified. Will he admit that he is selling oil to China at a discount instead of the full price he could be getting from the US?

Anyway, to conclude. I had the additional satisfaction to see Grado 33 point out at how fascist Barreto actions were, in particular when he said that he could not be accused of being one. Almost word for word in Spanish what I used to open my post last night. Again, no creativity on my part, just an observation what is obvious for whomever has a minumimn of general culture and does not use words lightly.

How this will end up? Well, I truly hope that Barreto is disowned by his own party. Otherwise, the slippery slope for all of us.

Barreto comes out of the fascist closet

Usually when someone says that “I have been accused of everything but they will never be able to accuse me of being a fascist” you can pretty much be sure that the fascist act is about to come. Well, today we got these words from Caracas Mayor at large, Juan Barreto, with the added detail that he was actually performing the most fascistic act I can think of happening in Venezuelan history.

The event was pretty simple: it was an entrapment of the mayors of Baruta (Capriles), Hatillo (Catalan) and Chacao (Lopez), political opponents of Barreto in a public act from which it was difficult for them to leave. That act had for public a large crowd of sycophantic chavista followers (or should we use the more appropriate term “hordes”?) who cheered on clue at any undemocratic and fascistic attack that Barreto had decided to hurl at his hapless hostages. Basically it was a public lynching except that there were no stones around to grab to throw to the aggressed mayors.

I have been so outraged by what I saw that I needed a few hours to think of it before I could write something. At least my esteemed colleague Miguel has already put something up. I will try to be brief.

The scene and occasion.

The Teatro Teresa Carreño which is our opera house and which is now used routinely for any chavista event (we have not seen the bills, by the way). The motive was the first session of the communal council, a chavista creation to enhance democratic participation but which is already demonstrating to be little bit better than mob rule, an extra parliamentarian assembly which real objective is to bypass representative democracy when needed. Today this was confirmed.

The action.

Barreto set a trap for the mayors. They might have come in good faith to try to work with the new organization but they found a chavista packed hall where the few helpers and assistants they might have brought with them probably could not even find a place to sit down. Barreto as Mayor at Large of Caracas was naturally the chair over the other 5 mayors of Caracas Metropolitan Area. He spoke first and after his speech there was no point for any other mayor to take the microphone.

The speech by Barreto: the modality.

The video is already out and if you can understand Spanish it is worth listening to it. A pure fascist speech, there is no other adjective that can be applied to it. The organization was there: constant crescendo. The strategy clear: progressively attacking and discrediting of the opponent. The sought effect was reached: to whip the crowd into a frenzy worthy of lynch mobs, be they hanging blacks in the US during segregation or preparing the Germans for Krystal Nacht.

The speech by Barreto: the content.

If you can stomach it. In addition to uncalled for insults including patent lies, it included sexual commentaries as to the aggressed mayors being homosexual (which if anything reflected on Barreto own sexual repressions as any psychologist would tell you, not to mention that this is not the first time that Barreto has used such “arguments”). It also contained a wide array of threats that reached the grotesque when Barreto said he would not mind expropriating completely the townships of Chacao and Baruta so the inhabitants could remain there as janitors.

The immediate reaction.

I have to commend the mayors for sitting through it all with minimal reaction except pointing a finger to their head indicating that Barreto was crazy. That was the very least they could be expected to do. They did understand that the objective of Barreto was to force them out of the meeting, to break the institutional content of the assembly and simply put, purge it from all the non chavista people that have been named to it. They also understood that Barreto was seeking something else and that this needed to be examined with a cold head, the only way to confront fascism that preys on human emotions and deep seated vices.

Besides a general revulsion of the political class (I wonder who could shake hands with Barreto after this sordid event) the leader of Primero Justicia stated the obvious: Barreto has lost all self respect, all respect for the function of Mayor at Large and that for the common good he should resign. That is, there is nothing worth discussing with Barreto, when someone reaches such levels he must be disposed of. In civilized countries this is taken care by a resignation and possible indictment for public defamation.

Why?

This blogger must think hard to imagine such a scene in history. The only thing that comes to mind are Germany between 1934 and 1938, or Soviet Russian under the mass trials that took place when Stalin secured power in the mid thirties. As I was commenting to people tonight (my Skype and Phone were like crazy), not only I cannot think of such an event in Venezuelan past history, but even Chavez would not lower himself to such abjection. Barreto has become a pariah tonight and those who do not condemn him are lowering themselves to the status of society scum.

But there must be a reason for Barreto to do such a thing. Two hypothesis.

Barreto is a sociopath and acted on his own. The tenor of his speech and the visible hatred shown point to it. No doubt. The only question is what made him flip. The continuous accusations, even from Chavez, of his lousy work as Mayor? That chavismo pays less and less attention to him to the point of not incorporating him in the Chavez campaign (that I know of anyway)? A desire to come back on center stage with a bang now that Chavez is in China?

This was a planned even that counted on the blessing of higher authorities. The virulence and vileness of the Barreto speech defies any logical argumentation, at least by Venezuelan political standards. Appealing to lynch mobs might play in Cuba or Zimbabwe but that is not Venezuela. Thus, why? It could be that the Rosales numbers are already better than expected and chavismo suddenly feels the heat. A fascist movement, now dabbing even on anti Semitism and pro Iranian crap loses perspective and becomes quick to nip in the bud any tiny possibility that could threaten its hold on power. Honestly I cannot come up with another explanation as Jose Vicente Rangel, the V.P., is too smooth an operator to indulge in such an obscenity. But if he does not come out soon and distances himself from Barreto then we will have to accept that this is the start of a well concerted effort.

Conclusion?

If this is a deliberate event, we must wonder at the start of the campaign that if chavismo is doing acts such as the one presided by Barreto in this late August, to which depth of depravation it is willing to go by the time November rolls in.

Or as I have written in the past, Chavez does not want election in December unless he is sure he can win them big, with low abstention. If he cannot get this he will prefer to invent any excuse, indulge in any provocation to cause trouble in the country and use it as an excuse to cancel the election.

When someone does what Barreto has done tonight, you know that retribution has to come and that he knows it. This is a thug who has decided to stop pretending, to act as a thug and kill the other side as it knows that the other side is going to be forced to kill him. Tonight we have taken yet another big step toward civil war and there is only chavismo to blame for this TOTALLY UNNECESSARY PROVOCATION.

I hope I am wrong and I can be proven wrong very easy: chavismo must demand equally public apologies from Barreto, at the very least. Nothing less will do.

-- -- --

Update 1: to avod date confusion as to a reader request. This meeting took place on Tuesday 22 August at 6 PM.

Update 2: The view from London. Apparently Caracas is not the only major city who has a scum bag for Mayor. It seems that Ken Linvingston and Barreto would form quite a nice pair. We wish Alek well in confronting Red Ken. Recent info gives us hope that at least in England such behavior could be trumped by determined individuals.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A genocide Chavez could care about

A Washington Post editorial reminds us quietly this morning of what is going on in Darfur. I re-read it with even more interest as I realized that Chavez had never spoke of the Darfur-Sudan disaster.

Yet Chavez has already been several times to Africa (Venezuela has even opened this week a diplomatic representation in Sao Tome and Principe!). Well, yes, he was seeking votes to gain a Security Council seat. But surely Chavez who loves to use the word genocide for a few dozen deaths here and there could use it for Darfur where we are talking millions of displaced people and hundred of thousand of killed people. Black people at that. Hunger, willful starvation of a group of people by a group of people just because the former is "different" than the second. Ain't that a good definition for genocide? Is it not something that the Human Rights beacon the Bolivarian Revolution aspires to become could involve itself in?

But no, nothing... Forgive me if I am a tad sensitive this morning, but last night I was forced to face the fact that even Castro might be better than Chavez: after all there is no anti -Semitism from Castro that we can document. But if we cannot document Chavez kind words for Darfur downtrodden masses (I searched Google News) we can document Chavez growing anti Semitic disposition (try Chavez and anti semitism in google!).

Sometimes I wonder how come so many can fall for such a fake as the Bolivarian Revolution is. Hypocrites?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Venezuelan Economical Paradox: an economy that grows without growing

That is right, even if Venezuela is showing impressive signs of growth for the last couple of years, the real effect of the growth on the population and its effect long term is not very convincing. Trying to be as brief as possible I will try to shed some light on this paradox.

Before going into the details let’s state a few obvious factors that the casual observer might not get easily.

1) Should the Venezuelan economy grow? The answer is yes, the Venezuelan economy CANNOT not grow, if you forgive me the double negative. With now three years of record oil prices there is enough income for the government that this one by just spending the excess income has to create an economic boom, EVEN if the non governmental sector were not to participate deliberately in the boom.

2) Where is the economic growth? The extensive social programs and grant distribution has created a consumption oriented economy where the lower classes have a stake at. That is, large sectors that could barely afford food in 2001 can now afford more than food even if they do not hold a regular job. Such type of economical redistribution favors of course massive importations (Look at the Venezuelan food program through Mercal, importing even sugar now). Thus the sectors that grow are those that provide the goods for these people that were shut off the consumption circuit: retail, distribution, import, commodities.

3) How is the money distributed? Besides the social programs already mentioned which started for merely electoral reasons in 2002 after Chavez was already in office for 3 full years, the incoming 2006 presidential election has stimulated the continuation and acceleration of major public works that were started even before Chavez reached office. Thus through contracts to pro Chavez groups, this public work scheme has helped stimulate some sectors and reactive employment, to some extent. This started in 2004 and the effect are only now starting to be felt. It is not idle to observe that the government is limiting itself to complete what was started and there is no strong evidence of a general infrastructure plan for the country under study for when this big projects rech completion.

4) Are the reported economic numbers reliable? The answer is unfortunately no. By this, one does not want to convey the impression that there is deliberate cheating in the reporting of the economical Venezuelan performance. But the fact is that since 2002-2003 the Central Bank and the statistics institutes are directed by people faithful to Chavez line. The very least we can expect is that if these numbers are not altogether fudged, they are at least presented in a way that reflects as positively as possible on the government policies. In other words the advice is to look at trends and not to focus on the actual numbers. Assuming that even trends can be trusted.

5) Does this economic growth show? Yes and no. Yes in that there is renewal of building construction, and there are more cars than ever in the streets. Heck, I even saw a Hummer in San Felipe where half the streets are too narrow for such a vehicle. But no because it does not matter what car you drive: you still see more beggars at street corners than ever, and more guys willing to “look after your car” when you park it in the streets on the way to some errand. Grinding poverty after two years of near 10% growth is everywhere to see and remains unabated. The trebling of crime rate is a witness of this.

This being said we can now look at some recent numbers, in particular the spectacular economic growth but the stubborn unemployment figure. It should become clear as you read that whatever economic growth is taking place in Venezuela, this one has short wings.

The Central Bank reports for 2004 an increase of 17.9% of the GDP (PIB) from 2003. Normal considering that 2003 was a catastrophic year after the general strike. Good news kept coming from 2004 to 2005 when the increase was still a spectacular 9.3%. However per capita numbers were not still at the 1998 level. So far this year it seems that we will get yet another 8-9% growth. The first semester reported a 9.6% GDP growth.

All should be fine and dandy. Or is it?


This figure drawn from the numbers of National Institute of Statistics, INE, reports the unemployment as remaining stubbornly around 9%. What? We get a 9% GDP growth in a semester, right after a year at 9% and our unemployment does not go down even by 1%? What gives? Since nobody within the Chavez administration is volunteering to explain this paradox this blogger will not be afraid to advance an explanation. (Note: the INE graph was not clear enough to reproduce so I used an Excel sheet to redraw the graph).

The first thing that people should be aware of is that the INE considers as fully employed anyone who works at least 15 hours a week, even if it is selling coffee from a thermos jar to drivers in Caracas permanently gridlocked highways. In other countries “fully employed” means 40 hours week jobs, paying taxes or at least participating in social security system. Not in Venezuela. Consequently the real unemployment number is higher. But readers of this blog already knew that. We do not know the numbers on how those that are without a “real” job did during this last semester, if they did get finally a real job. I could not find this info in INE. But I suspect that if these numbers were good INE would find a way to measure them and advertise success.

Thus we are stuck with the mystery on how come two years of high growth have not dented unemployment better. Actually, the stagnation of these past 6 months is dramatic: the economy only generates enough jobs to absorb those who join the job market, barely at that. There is unfortunately only one possible explanation: the private sector is not hiring. We know from the extensive public works taken place for the last two years and for the bevy of “misiones” social programs that the public sector is hiring or at least giving 15 hours a week “activity” to lower unemployment rolls. Thus the bulk of hiring must come from the state.

The private sector paralysis in hiring

Why is the private sector not hiring as it should even though consumption is increasing? Very simple: restrictive labor laws did not allow for the normal ebb and flow of workers that are seen in developed economies. Many enterprises had inherited bloated payrolls from 2002 and 2003 which have to be fully made busy again before anyone thinks of hiring new people. And this situation is not about to improve as El Universal informs us that the productivity of the Venezuelan worker is still ONLY 73% of what it was in 1985! Clearly the need for modernization will not allow for sustained job increase in the foreseeable future. Not to mention that the INE recognizes that in June 2006 the Venezuelan industrial park production potential was used only at 77%! There will be at least the need for a new year at 9% growth before a majority of industry feel the need for expansion and hiring.

The regime's responsability

But the government is also largely at fault. It inherited already archaic labor laws, very punitive for the employer, without any incentive to create new jobs. The Chavez administration is diligently making the situation worse. You can read, in English though ill translated, a fearful catalogue on how the legal system currently built by chavismo is meant to control the private sector tightly, perhaps even to eliminate it whenever it will be politically necessary for the regime.

The graph above gives actually a dramatic example on how intemperate laws coming from some "spontaneous" declaration of Chavez can affect employment. A couple of months ago Chavez decided that pregnant women should get increased post maternity benefits, in particular the "lactation" benefit. In Venezuela more and more women stop lactation as soon as possible as it becomes very problematic to work and nurture. Still, the regulations were giving already to the mother plenty of time at home after birth and thus most of them had ended breast feeding before retuning to work. There is nothing wrong with the idea of extending lactation period if it were a choice for the woman, and if it were a new regualtion that would be established progressively over, say, a year. But as a result of Chavez big mouth suddenly women in procreation age are finding doors shut. In a country where it is allowed to specify the sex of the person sought in a want add it is easy to imagine how unjust for women resulted the fast and populist words of Chavez. You can see this crystal clear in the jobless jump for women for July, by more than one point while men jobless rate accelerates its decrease! I am eagerly waiting the August result. And by the way, as far as I know only this blog has observed that.

Business lack of trust in the future

In fact, let’s not be afraid of words, the environment for private investment is hostile. The first thing that attracts investors is return. Be they Venezuelans with money stashed away overseas or new foreing investors seeking good returns, Venezuela does not provide them with international levels of investment return. Why? The constant talk of socialism of Chavez; the rising insecurity be it personal (crime out of control) or juridical (invasion and seizure not only of agrarian lands but now of private buildings in Caracas); the mere fact that the judicial system is rigged in favor of Chavez and that in any litigation that you might have as a consequence of a contract with the government the odds are stacked against you; and more such as the bureacratic morass to start a new business. The only significant investments we can see (numbers are not clear in either BCV or INE) are on the oil industry where returns are big enough, or on other systems where Venezuela is too backward so that you are protected from the government to tamper with your business (communications and car manufacturing for example). The rest of business invests only what it must to keep the production facility running. More on investment risk in English here.

But there is something of a vicious circle with the lack of investment. In Venezuela money keeps coming from high oil prices but goods produced locally are not increasing fast enough for the new demand. As a result the government is having more and more trouble controlling inflation (a big jump last months trashed any hope of a single digit result this year). It is speculated that the BCV will soon be unable to control liquidity and inflation might spin out of control. Business people know these things and are certainly considering it if they plan to invest since high inflation requires even higher returns to protect the capital. In English here.

This lack of investment, of trust in the future of the country can also be sensed through telling details. For example Colombia which used to have Venezuela as it second provider of goods has it now as 5th. That is right, Colombia which is Venezuela natural export market due to our long border and highly settled areas each side of the border is now buying more from Mexico, Japan or Brazil! In fact a few days ago I was reading bemused that the INE director was reporting huge Venezuelan exports increase while the private sector (AVEX) was reporting meager results. Who was lying? I suspect that the INE director Eljuri for one simple reason: the Venezuelan currency is overvalued artificially as it is a government position to try to stem inflation by importing goods cheaper. The present minister Giordani was already in charge in 1999 to 2002 when the bolivar experienced its first devaluation under Chavez. He left and came back and is making yet again the same mistake, this time less noticeable courtesy of high oil prices. Investors will be wary of investing and getting into debt if a possible devaluation is in the wings.

Conclusion

The recovery that we see in Venezuela is mostly a consumption driven growth based on easy oil money, as we have already seen in the past. It is not driven by exports. It is not driven by creation of new production facilities. It is not driven by expansion of installed capacity. It is not driven by an increase in the demand from higher paying jobs.

It is driven by higher pay checks in the public sector and the military. It is driven by cash grants to the lower classes that pledge allegiance to the regime. It is driven by their pent-up material needs that are justly satisfied now, though unjustly acquired since they do not derive from their actual work.

But the regime constant attack on private enterprise and capitalism, the regime ever expanding threat against private property, the regime ill suited, ill designed, ill planned international agreements, the regime lack of general vision except lately "socialism for the XXI century" is killing any trust by the private sector to generate the investments that should be made to ensure a sustainable growth in the economy over the years, a real growth able not only to lower the unemployment figure, but more importantly, the number of the terrible underemployment in which millions of Venezuelan are stuck.

This post deserves an epilogue

Today’s El Nacional carried this great cartoon of Ugo. In it we see a Chavez biking real fast but helped with kiddy wheels in the form of oil barrels. This is a brilliant representation of not only Chavez conditional political success but on how fragile the Venezuelan economy is. One helping wheel fails and we all go crashing real bad considering the speed.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rosales registers

Today Manuel Rosales went to register his name for the December presidential election. I was rather busy with personal stuff today and could not follow much except for a few minutes at lunch time on TV. Crowds seemed to me larger than I would have expected this soon in the campaign, which is good. Chavismo stayed put, no Lina Ron hordes blocking access tot he CNE as they did in the past.

On TV supporters of Rosales who until a few days ago were preparing for a primary (that seems missed by none) fell over each other in pledges of unity and support for the Rosales candidacy. Thus, without even officially running Rosales managed the unity of what matters in the opposition and their pledges to support him sounded, believe it or not, as sincere as we could expect from politicians.

We shall see. But let's savor that the Rosales launch looked much better than the Chavez launch a few dasy ago, rose petals included. Read it all at Miguel's who attended.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A woman as a speaker of the house in Venezuela

Normally this blogger is very supportive of firsts: first minority to do this, first woman to reach that, first gay person elected there, first Latin person to achieve such record. Well, today Venezuela named its first woman to lead the parliament and I am not impressed.

Nicolas Maduro, the past speaker, was transferred to the foreign ministry. I have already highlighted how unsuitable for that post Maduro is, and how much disrespect for the function of speaker of the Venezuelan parliament his easy resignation meant. Well, on this last point, the regime has outdone itself once again.

Naming Cilia Flores, with her eternal tacky red leather jacket, is yet another slap at the office of speaker of the house in Venezuela (note that the vice president of the assembly, Desiree Santos is also wearing red in the picture to show that even though she was the natural heir of Maduro and the one who probably deserved it most, she was still a good revolutionary and followed the line from above). Normally there would have been some election, some debate as to who succeed Maduro. Instead it was announced that they would wait for some representatives traveling overseas to return before holding the vote. Cilia was one of them. When she arrived she was "spontaneously" nominated by Ismael Garcia and she was acclaimed unanimously. And that was that. This is the debating body that we have in Venezuela: there were rumors in the hallways as to Carreño deserving the chair, but when word came form above they all lined up sheepishly.

Thus now we have a hereditary chair of the Nationals Assembly as Cilia Flores, one of the most radical members of the revolution is nothing less but the spouse of Maduro. Even some claim that he forced her nomination to make sure that she would put some order in the messy "administration" he left behind, a detoured way to say that some funds were not used as they should have been. I have not much to say for her but I am pretty sure that her managerial skills can only be better than those oh her hubby.

But who is Cilia? Well, she was a third rate lawyer that rushed to Yare in 1992 when Chavez was in jail there to offer her services. Now she is the chair of the National Assembly. Nothing else needs to be added to describe the person. What kind of chair will she be? In an El Nacional interview she said that the National Assembly did not need an opposition, that they were already listening to the people in the streets and that was enough. Thus, if anyone still harbored the illusion that Cilia Flores was named to preside a house to debate ideas and laws, well, they were set straight: there is not a bone of democrat in Cilia Flores. The only surprise here is that she was so blunt, so undiplomatic in asserting her profound disdain to debate, to ideas, to original thinking. She comes across as more radical than Chavez is possible!

There was also the amusing moment, moments that such regimes so richly provide. When Ismael Garcia, the primus sycophant of chavismo, proposed the name of Cilia Flores he said "for the first time in 500 years a woman will president the National Assembly". This was too much even for Carreño who when his turn came to speak pointed out to silly Ismael that there had been a parliament for only 200 years in Venezuela. I will recall that Careño is the one that said that Direct TV decoder boxes had a camera inside so as to allow the Us to spy inside people’s houses in Venezuela.

So there you are, the legislative future of Venezuela in the hands of overzealous and inept Flores, inane Garcia and X-file minded Carreño. Words fail me.

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fun things you read in the Washington Post

Cynthia McKinney, the very leftist, very firebrand, black woman representative from Georgia has lost her primary for November. It is not idle to note that she was ousted by her voters once and manage to come back. Thus it is the SECOND time she is ousted. I am too lazy this morning to figure whether she is a Chavez supporter, but her track record certainly would allow us to suspect that her sympathies would go that way.

At any rate the Washington Post notes that Ms. McKinney is not happy with the Georgia voting machines and that she wants a manual counting, just like the Venezuelan opposition, just as AMLO in Mexico. Maybe Rosales should pay attention about these unexpected allies that surely could embarrass the CNE.

McKinney Is Anti-Machine

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), who also lost a primary to a fellow Democrat this month, is not running as an independent. Like Lieberman, however, she does not seem entirely at peace with the voters' verdict.

In remarks to the National Dialogue and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church, meeting in Georgia, McKinney warned that African Americans need to stand up against electronic voting machines, which she suggested may be responsible for her loss.

"You won't know who won as long as we have those electronic voting machines, with the problems that have been manifested by them," she said in remarks quoted by the Associated Press.

McKinney, known over six terms in Congress for her confrontational style, said she considers herself a "black political paramedic," and warned that the "black body politic is near comatose."

Former DeKalb County commissioner Hank Johnson won the primary by 59 percent to 41 percent. Like McKinney, he is black.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Some CNE gossip

Sometimes we bloggers do get some interesting bits of gossip. I do not know how true is the one below but it sounds so right, so in character that I decided to put it up. Without naming the source of course.

Jorge Rodriguez, ex CNE director, used to be a nobody, a colorless metro worker under Caldera, in charge of organizing the subsidized student fare tickets. Well, now, after a very few years of glorious Bolibanana Revolution he lives in a luxury condo, in one of those exclusive upper Altamira towers which have only one apartment per floor. His is about 500+ square meters. In Altamira this is probably worth at least one million bucks. Not bad, no?

Well, apparently some one's relative with significant cash at hand is living there and that person has a hired chauffeur. During day time this brave soul hangs around in the garage waiting for an order to drive Ms. Daisy somewhere. He also looks "from the people". Well, this chauffeur has seen several time Tibisay Lucena comes discreetly in a smoked glass vehicle and check around before getting off the car and go and visit Jorge Rodriguez. Just as some cheapo mistress. Apparently the look of the chauffeur is safe enough (chavista enough?) for her to get out of the car and go up. But the chauffeur talked to Ms. Daisy and she talked to my source.

No real crime of course, but an amusing observation: Jorge Rodriguez still influences the CNE and Tibisay does not want people to know. Silly, because we all know that she must call him often to receive instructions. Heck, even Humala received instructions from Rodriguez. Anyway, what is it that is so important that she cannot say it over the phone? Inquiring minds want to know.

Another type of Castro Birthday

Courtesy from Babalu we are treated to a celebration of Fidel Castro's birthday in San Francisco, as if the vile one with Chavez in Havana were not enough.

First, I have a problem with Val's entry: I am a Birkenstock guy and I do not support Castro.

Now, on that birthday "performance" reported by the San Francisco Sentinel. I think the pictures speak by themselves. Only in San Francisco would we find such a completely nonsensical performance led by a green party candidate defending an island which is "green" because the dictator does not allow for environmental damage evaluation. Priceless.

The words of that green person, Krissy Keefer:

"The actual Dear Fidel piece was originally created last year when we did the first Cuba-Caribe festival and I did it as a tribute to Fidel Castro because Cuba and Castro were being so heavily attacked by [Secretary of State] Condoleeza Rice and the Bush administration."

And this is the crux of the matter. These people hate so much Bush and co (justifiedly or not being another story) that they are willing to fogive anything, ANYTHING, to whomever attacks Bush and Co.

I do not know about you, but if I agree that the Bush administration has a lot to ask forgiveness for, it is hard to compare its evil with the evils of 47 years of Castro regime. For example there was a certain Cindy O'hara on behalf of the Cuban Five. However, I did not find anyone defending the hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba.

But that is all fine, these people are so out of it, so clueless, so unable to look beyond their navel that they are no threat to the US way of life, offering instead the gentle "native" touch for tourists in San Francisco. As for a threat elsewhere? I suspect that their propaganda value is not that great as the woes of rich San Francisco are something the the huddled masses of LatAm have a hard time to understand, and even harder time to relate to.

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