Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blackout!

Yesterday we were subjected to a preview? reminder? of the consequences of an "everything" state regime. There was a major blackout that covered more than 50% of the country and which lasted several hours, some areas like San Felipe for over 4 hours according to my digital clocks. The official reason? Some problem at Guri dam which compounded with excessive temperatures in the country, a surge in consumption, combined with forest fires resulted in some local surge that melted down something and for safety reasons the whole central system was shut down until it could be fixed.

This might all be true or all be false, we will never know probably because by the time the folks in charge are finally audited, nobody will care anymore. We can at least be happy that the VTV first reaction claiming that it was a sabotage from the Empire or some other nonsense was not taken up when the ministers in charge finally talked to the country. But at least we could appreciate how trigger ready has become a chavismo now on the defensive. However there is one thing we know for sure: the largest share of the blame is due to governmental incompetence and political shenanigans.

Incompetence: ever since my return to Venezuela I have been hearing specialists, even from pre Chavez era, saying that there is not enough investments in the electric grid and generating plants and if that situation keeps going on, major blackouts will become the norm. In fact in some areas of the country today electricity is all but officially rationed. Here in San Felipe we now get at least a monthly blackout. They are not as long as the one we suffered yesterday but in the last 8 years they have tended to increase in frequency and length. At work we have been forced to buy very expensive surge protectors and heavy substitute battery systems for all sensitive equipment so that when a black out comes we have enough time to do a proper shut down. Even at home I have all on power surge protector and my computer with such a battery system which allows me 10 minutes to save all work and shut down. Needless to say that I have all sorts of candles ready to go as necessary.

But chavismo cannot be bothered with that: they had no problem spending billions for effect in buying Electricidad de Caracas early 2007, the private utility that had the best electrical system in Venezuela. There was no need for Chavez to order that purchase when he already controlled how much could the electrical rates increase in Caracas. The objective was strictly political. And of course the billions given to the share holders of EA&S left Venezuela, were not reinvested at home... How much improvement to the electrical grid of Venezuela with those billion sunk at EA&S?

But to add insult to injury YESTERDAY Venezuela has announced the shipment of an extra 50 000 oil barrels to Nicaragua to "alleviate" the energy crisis over there. A perfect example of the old saying "luz en la calle, oscuridad en al casa" light outside, darkness at home. The mockery continues....

"Mirror, mirror on the wall, which of the nationalized industries will be prettier?"

PD: of course the country was in total chaos as numerous press reports can attest. I happened to be in Barquisimeto and was stuck at Las Trinitarias where I was buying supplies for work at a famous hardware store, EPA. Since all cash registers are electric, a SENIAT obligation, there was only one of the exits that was open to leave the parking. The line was so huge that I went back inside the mall to loiter. Loitering was the only thing you could do anyway as no cash register was working. Finally when I left I had to face the Barquisimeto chaos (no traffic lights working) since I had to do another errand next to the Cathedral. I can hardly imagine the Caracas situation with the subway down at peak hours! Ah, and by the way, some areas of the country were totally cut of since some cel phone centers were out of commission. Half of my phone calls could not even hook.

-The end-

Monday, April 28, 2008

Paraguay, Chavez new client state?

I was meaning to write on the election of Lugo in Paraguay but I postponed it in part because truly I do not know much about the current state of the country (I know its history better but the post Stroessner period, well, I have not followed closely). Fortunately procrastination has a way to pay off and Gustavo Coronel has written all that you need to know. Maybe some might be turned off by the conservative site where he publishes but take my word for it, his article could be published anywhere, in any serious publication (and note that he is not afraid to criticize ALL US administrations role in South America, including the current one). Enjoy, and start counting the additional money that will be missing from Venezuelan coffers.

-The end-

The communal councils failure

Tal Cual in its editorial by Alejandro Botia looks at the failure of one of the essential programs of chavismo: the communal councils.

As the editorial explains, these councils which have been tried under different forms and functions and whose origins could be indirectly traced to the in-famous Bolivarian Circles had a noble theoretical concept: the small communities would be empowered to design themselves their own plans to solve their very local needs. Of course, the idea is good as long as it is limited to small local needs and does not require complex, multi community planning for larger projects such as mass transit or hospital construction. But the aims of the government were different and came clear during the constitutional reform project mercifully defeated on December 2.

Long time reader Virginia did write a critical review of that particular constitutional proposal where the real intentions of the government are exposed. In short, what the government of Chavez wants/wanted was to atomize local forms of government to make them completely subject to the central state and avoid the constitution of any federal association that could contradict in any way or form or shape the central control from Caracas chavismo. A new meaning for "divide and conquer". That many of the votes of these councils would be taken with raised hands would have also helped a lot in the total political control of the country as opponents of central decisions would have been easily spotted and counted, or reduced to silence. This is perhaps the real final aim of chavismo, circle and silence opponents, as former minister Isturiz, now one of the PUSV vice president so eloquently stated a few days ago when he asked the PUSV battalions to make lists of "enemies" of the PUSV. Not political opponents, "enemies" (El Nacional, last Saturday, by subscription, includes the numerous times that Isturiz, former education minister, used vulgar expressions not fit for this family oriented blog).

Anyway, below is the translation of the editorial whose original in Spanish can be read here.

FRACASO DESCOMUNAL (pun that cannot be easily translated, the closest would be uncommon failure, for uncommon-communal)

From whichever angle you look at the misnamed "revolution" of Hugo Chávez there is a monument to inefficiency, brimming with petty corruption, mismanagement, fraud and abuse of authority.

Where is the Park of La Carlota, or the University of Miraflores? What happened to the Socialists 200 factories, the 20 plants of the Iranian industrial project, or the city of steel? Where did end up the “engine Moral and Enlightenment” [Moral y Luces]? What happened with the presidential commissions for food, mass employment, Public Safety or the Economic Constituent Assembly? Well, nothing. Everything was in pledges, hot air nonsense at Alo Presidente, while looting the public purse increases every day with a shameful record track with such cases as the Central Sugar Ezequiel Zamora (Caeez), Fondafa, Fondur, Mercal and a long and endless list of Etcetera.

The Government keeps pretending to see the people as nincompoop and still uses the same pretexts to justify its buffoon incompetence: that the shortages are the fault of a conspiracy of the stateless oligarchy. That insecurity is the caused by the Colombian paramilitaries. That the social protests are part of a nefarious plan by the FBI and the CIA to overthrow Chavez.

There is one area, however, where the failure of Chavez is well known and extremely regrettable: the so-called People's Power. Nobody remembers the Law on Local Councils Planning adopted in 2002 to incorporate citizens in the design, implementation and monitoring of municipal budgets.

The initiative was abandoned early and never really applied. The Technical Support groups previewed to advise communities in project design were never created and when the period of the first delegates expired there was no election to replace them.

For all practical purposes today they are dissolved.

The final blow came in 2006 with the Law on Communal Councils (CC), which broke the link between municipalities and communities to make them depend directly from the central power. Since its inception, Miraflores had set as a goal to create 50 thousand CC and last year announced with fanfare funds of 3.7 trillion old bolivares to finance them.

At the closing of 2007 there had been formed the not insignificant number of 33,549 CC, but only 9,736 (or, less than 30%) received funding, according to official figures. Of the funds approved, barely Bs. 761 billion, equivalent to 20% of the total, were assigned and the rest (Bs. 2.8 billion) was transferred to a trust in the Bank Treasury.

This year the government has announced two new payment of resources in Bs.F.

842 million (old billions) to fund 4,348 projects. But what about the 19 thousand CC who have not yet received any funds? As part of the mission on April 13, Chavez now seeks to choose 74 municipalities and 381 parishes "in particular state of crisis" to direct state aid.

In conclusion, universal coverage without political conditions for social programs is over. Far from solving the needs in communities, the Government has created a sort of forced begging for townships and a new delusion in the popular sectors, with the aggravating factor of seeking to politicize social assistance.


-The end-

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Feature: flowers (pink apamate)


I have this new camera and I have been taking a lot of pictures of flowers, besides pictures of McDonalds or invasiones. I figured that I probably have enough decent pictures of flowers to start a flower of the week, posted on week ends. So there is the first installment: a pink apamate taken yesterday in the archaeological park San Felipe El Fuerte. Hopefully as I get a better grip of the camera (a Nikon reflex) and of the editing program I should get really nice pictures. Click picture to enlarge. Apologies for the overcast skies, but already today half the flowers were down.

-The end-

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The US versus Chavez: was it worth?


It has been almost ten years of continuous anti US rhetoric from Chavez. And in a few weeks San Felipe will be inaugurating its new Burger King, right across the McDonald that has been running for about 5 years. Thus this corner of deep Venezuela will look a little bit more like any US anonymous suburbia.

I took this picture just as a family was getting out of a "buseta", a rickety old truck converted in some form of bus, a picture which I took accidentally before the above shot (click pics to enlarge). As you will see there is absolutely nothing glamorous about the mode of transport that this family took to go to McDonald. They are what US/European clichés love to call the "downtrodden dark skinned masses whose better fate has been brought courtesy of chavismo". And yet? where are they going to have their Saturday fun meal? At McDonald.

That is right, it is true, they have more money than before and can afford more stuff. Including the ideological symbol of the hated empire: McDonald (and surely Burger King in a future week end outing). I wonder if thsi family belongs to some "mision", if they are public workers, if they attended electoral rally to support chavismo. Maybe they did, maybe they did not, but they end up at McDonald anyway.

Because make no mistake, the odds that their new acquired relative wealth are coming from some private sector activity is very low. The industrial park of San Felipe has still an abandoned look, half the land is still unbuilt or abandoned with some ruins in the middle. Since 1999 there has been only three new "business": a new experimental university (UNEY), a central MERCAL distribution area and the latest one, a cooking gas bottling facility from PDVSA. In the same period at least 6 private business have closed down. Elsewhere in the area the only thing that has grown is the commercial district. But you would be very hard pressed to find new and shinny production facility in the area...

Thus this picture is actually two symbols. First, the failure of chavismo to distract folks from consuming US products and US lifestyle, no matter what is their social background (pictures of chavistas visiting the US and shopping abound all through the Internet). The US invasion is already here, it fills up malls showrooms and the bellies of those who visit. And second the economic failure in spite of recent high growth rates. We import all, even our food, export less and less, and things get worse as the price of oil keeps increasing.

Meanwhile the little joint I used to patronize in my earlier days at San Felipe, Cachapas Coa, is near dead. It used to have some of the best cachapas in Venezuela (as read in the guides of Valentina Quintero). The owners are (were?) chavistas and they tried to keep cost down, to remain close to the people. Service suffered, the already rustic "decoration" could not keep up, people showed less and less and the quality of cachapas started to fall. Now, I rarely go and when I go for lunch I am one of the very few customers even though the cachapas are almost as good as they were before (when you go at jojoto season, that is). But McDonald always as a crow for lunch, with a simple Mac at four times a delicious, natural, Venezuelan Cachapa...

Qu'elle était belle ma revolution!


-The end-

Garry Kasparov on Chavez

It seems that the nature of the Chavez regime is crystal clear even in Moscow: Putin does brisk gun business with Chavez and Garry Kasparov calls Chavez for what he is:
Mr. Chavez, little more than an oil-empowered hooligan...

Precious! Even more so coming from somebody that has been beaten up by the Russian mafia (all mafias in Russia are pretty much the same, be they ordered by the KGB or by the bosses trafficking in women slavery, just to name one of the many specialties).

But the article of Kasparov is also full of irony: he congratulates Chavez for losing by 2% last December and Mugabe from having the nerve not to publish his electoral defeat. Using such examples he cannot be anymore direct in condemning the total electoral fraud that takes place in Russia. Sure enough if he had written his article after reading the latest in Zimbabwe arresting opposition leaders, Kasparov could have added some irony on his own personal safety.

The eerie similarity between the motives of Chaevz and Putin to remain in power are stated so well by Kasparov that it sent a shriver down my spine:
Mr. Putin and his gang really care about: total control inside of Russia and legitimacy outside of Russia.

Legitimacy in Western eyes is clearly important to Mr. Putin. Otherwise, why not simply change the constitution, or ignore it entirely, and remain as president for a third term? Why did he even bother with the rigged elections?

The answer: the hundreds of billions of dollars flowing out of Russia in the hands of Mr. Putin's oligarchs need a safe home.

Change Putin for Chavez and Russia for Venezuela and you can write exactly the very same sentences equally applicable to Chavez's regime.

Now the question that remains is will Chavez cheat as openly as Putin did in the latest electoral farce in Russia? Will the new reserve Chavez created act as the army thugs of Mugabe rounding up victorious opposition leaders? Worry not, the answer as early as late 2008. One thing is certain: the world will protest mildly at best and will keep cashing in all the dollars coming out of Venezuela. Who said that globalization of capitals was bad? Certainly not Chavez in private....

The rest of Mr. Kasparaov is equally good, read it all! You also get Olympics China and Tibet, as the perfect contours of the brave new world ahead of us.


-The end-

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chavismo upset at Goicochea prize

Well, whatever the merits of the Friedman's award are, the chavista crowd is surly. Normally I would not paid much attention but looking at who visits this blog I noticed a strange link from "Axis of logic". So I went ahead and found out that I was termed one of "whacky internet blogs" though the plural seems to apply to me alone, rather flattering if you ask me. I decided to check out what they said about Goicochea.

First, the main chavista media says nothing. That is, no mention at V-analysis, ABN or RNV at this typing. Obviously the line has not been decided yet and thus silence. A consistent response from chavismo who waits first to know about what Chavez and his camarilla think of a given issue before starting any necessary information blitzkrieg. The closest thing to an official response I could find at this time was a quote from Eva Golonger in an AP dispatch. As expected from her it is just another way for the US to finance the opposition to Chavez. I will pass on how little 500 000 is to unseat Chavez, letting Golinger sink in her woeful low grasp of numerology, but I will focus on the real question: could not the AP find anyone better to talk to than stringer Eva Golinger? Gimme a break! But worry not, some attack will come soon enough, perhaps as early as the first half hour of Alo Presidente this week end. If you doubt it you can read for preview the minor pro Chavez sites, those who are in charge of the first defense line on the web.

With pleasure I noticed that VN&V was quickly duly noted at Axis of Logic. I suppose that I am not cited in full because well, by the time they checked on blogS, I was the only one with a comment up on Yon's award. Their article is interesting by the virulence expressed against Yon, including select pictures to highlight a mad face and the violence it supposedly inspires. I will pass on the propagandist part of the article against Cato and Friedman, limiting myself at wondering in which way the Yon award is any less respectable than the Qaddafy one to Chavez...

What is more important is the instant character assassination at Yon, who is termed "represents the most privileged class of youth in Venezuela". This is followed by an alleged story on riches which is a misinterpretation of an original of Aporrea. Now, admitting that we are not in front of base slander from Aporea relayed by Axis, assuming that the numbers are right Yon would be rich by 36 000 BsF, a whopping 18 000 US Dollars, earned in 2005. Well, if this is rich, anyone owning a home in Venezuela is filthy rich.... Because the fact of the matter is that when Yon was interviewed by the New York Times' Romero we learned that he had to change cel phones frequently for security reasons and that he also had to keep moving around to sleep safely. This is hardly the sign of any one rich enough to afford safe housing. Besides the article of Romero shows also how removed from the rich elite the student leadership in Venezuela is: they are boringly middle to lower middle class. Those who know Venezuela well know that really rich kids, including chavista kids, tend to study overseas.

But I suppose all is valid to do proper character assassination when you are a chavista in the defensive. I am not too concerned about their effectiveness: since I was quoted in Axis of Logic, I got 400 visitors and only a couple of hits from Axis that I could detect :)

Other web sites are hardly any better. Aporrea came out with an article titled "the empire awards Goicochea". Of course, at Aporrea they know that all grants and favors come from Chavez so they assume that in the US the CATO will not give anything that is not cleared by someone at the White House. It would be funny it were not so pathetic... The article is full of paranoia that is worth reading if you can manage enough Spanish. BoRev, the sophomoric page who supposedly exposes the media manipulations is not above manipulation itself using a Playboy interview of Yon. This did not stop BoRev from terming Yon as "pudgy". Ironic no? Never mind that BoRev who has a bone toward Romero could not help himself from using a picture of Yon taken from the NYT interview...

To finish we can visit Oil Wars who, by the way, would be a more credible person to talk to for the AP than Eva Golinger. But I digress. There the editor titles his post, without an once of self consciousness nor any sense of ridicule "It sure does pay to oppose Chavez". Let's assume for a few seconds that indeed Yon will keep the 500 000 for himself. At least he did hard work for it! What kind of work, for example, Antonini did to be able to carry 800 000 USD in cash in a suitcase?

When chavistas reach such low levels in their argumentation you can clearly
see how bereft of ideas they are. And how upset they got with that announcement! I love it!


-The end-

The New York Times latest on Chavez

Sorry for the delay in posting this. The New York Times had yet another editorial panning Chavez. Sin desperdicio.

The New York Times hits it 100% in its understanding on why Chavez is holding yet another nationalization spree: to buy back the support of the poorest sectors who are starting to defect.... Long gone are the days when the Times still gave chavismo some credit: after the quote below you know they know:
Mr. Chavez’s cronies have proved that they don’t have the skill — or the honesty — to run these businesses.
In other words the NYT knows what is eating the beast from inside.

-The end-

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yon Goicochea gets the Milton Friedman prize

The Milton Friedman award is given every two years since 2002 to the person who has represented the best the fight for individual rights and freedom. This year in what can only be considered a stunning move, the winner is Yon Goicochea, the most prominent leader of the student movement through 2007 (shown on the right after being gassed at some rally). That movement was possibly the biggest factor in stopping the approval of the December 2 referendum in Venezuela, a vote on a proposal that would have been a step back to an obscurantist past where individual rights are sacrificed by the state in benefit of diffuse collective interests. Such diffuse interests, history teaches us, always end up being hijacked by a minority "elite" which controls the state in the name of the collective. OR as I mentioned in my post on Ayn Rand for Venezuela:

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

Surely Yon Goicochea is a deserving winner.

PS: And what better way to celebrate the award for yon than to sign a petition for Zimbabwe as Mugabe is showing the way to Chavez on to steal elections outright in front of compliant neighbors!

PS2: Of course this shows how pathetically Chavez has lost the P.R. wars outside. I will not speculate at this point on how the government is going to react to this, how they are going to slander Yon and probably prosecute him on any silly reason (probably asking him for taxes or accusing him of illegal financial transactions for starters). But Yon is a big boy and from the picture of him I chose I am sure he has the mettle to resist. Meanwhile what does the Qaddafi award winner do? He summoned his paid client state "leaders", Evo, Ortega and Lage (curiously Raul did not come) for a surprise ALBA summit to defend Bolivia against its "secessionist" provinces. Ah! The irony! Chavez attacking Santa Cruz while he defends the very same objectives coming from the FARC!


-The end-

The Bolivar Fuerte ain't so strong anymore: a devaluation under any name in Venezuela

[Updated with predictions]

[Warning: reading this post might constitute a violation of the Venezuelan law if you are a Venezuelan citizen.]

For the past few months there has been a recuperation of sorts of the "alternative" market currency in Venezuela. We closed the year with a 5.6 BS to the USD (on November 1 it was at 6.55!). Today it closed at a rather amazing 3.25. What happened?

The high exchange rates of late last year were due to several factors: uncontrolled budget spending due to the need of Chavez to win the referendum; the serious concerns as to the consequences of a Yes vote on the referendum; the Christmas shopping spree that was not sponsored by CADIVI (the currency exchange agency) and thus coming out of the parallel exchange rate; a quickening inflation rate; and more.

But January started with somewhat better conditions. The shopping spree of the last quarter was over, inflation traditionally is supposed to drop in the first quarter. The referendum vote was lost by Chavez. The government thus decided, too late anyway, to try controlling inflation by injection large sums of dollars to decrease artificially the parallel value of the dollar. A parallel value that another law made it illegal to discuss in public (article 14). I do not know how long it will take to see any effect on the inflation rate, but after spending (sinking?) a few billions, the government decided to move on to the next and last step before officially devaluing the currency: the dual exchange rate.

This is not such a crazy idea if you really need to do a currency control for valid economic reasons. But in Venezuela CADIVI is an instrument of control imposed much more on political reasons than economical. That is, CADIVI controls currency expenditure to sectors that oppose chavismo while sectors that support chavismo have no problem in getting all the dollars they need, in CASH, as the Antonini affair so well illustrates. In short, what the government could have done long ago, if it were a serious government, would have been to institute a controlled rate reserved for some specific imports in specific amounts and a free market rate for such stuff as credit cards, travels, imports of luxury cars and stuff like that. But no.... Instead a stubborn resistance at making CADIVI work, it created an impressive body of slimy opportunists such as our friend Oligarca Burguesito.

But creating an official dual system would have a high political cost. Not only it would admit the governmental failure in the objective to establish a durable exchange control system, but it would be a throwback to the somber era of RECADI during the Lusinchi presidency. Then again the corruption of these years now look like children play compared to what happens inside the bolivarian revolution who in one year probably steals more than what the "4th republic" stole in a couple of decades.....

So chavismo decided to try something else: the emission of special bonds designed in such a way that the most likely beneficiaries will be enterprises that have a hard time to reach CADIVI funds. I am not going to delve into the details of the bonds, our friend Miguel at Devil's Poop will return soon enough to enlighten us. However as a small importer fighting daily with CADIVI I can already give you the practical consequences of this governmental maneuver.

The value of sale/resale of these 3.5 billion bonds is expected to yield the "real" value of the bolivar fuerte: something between 3 and 3.2. I will pass on the fact that this rate is already too low, subsidized and circumstantial: from my recent trip to Mexico and the US, basing on eating lunch on the run, the real value is around 4 for an USD. But let's buy that 3-3.2 figure: by itself it means a devaluation of about 50%. Period. (1)

Through this new artifact, CADIVI is now going to send a lot of people to the new bond exchange system. Unfortunately for those who imported at 2.15 and that will now have to import at 3, it means that they will need to increase their prices by 50% or more. Add to this the upcoming minimum wage increase of at least 20% next May and you can see that the revised inflation rate, revised to a higher number a few days ago, will need to be revised up once again. There is simply no way that the inflation this year is going to be any less than 25%, no matter what the government pulls in measuring tricks.

But there are other consequences not as immediately obvious but very much present. The first one is new ways to effect corruption. Now all sorts of people will tempted to "sell" or "buy" access to the 2.15 exchange rate. Imagine that you need to import 1 million dollars of goods and to get the 2.15 rate you need the services of a "gestor" (negotiator? facilitator? the word is so rich and layered in meaning...). Well, the "gestor" could ask you for 200 000 BsF (about 100 000 USD). Your real exchange rate would be higher than 2.15 (about 2.4 to 2.5) but still below the 3.2 of the bond market. The "gestor" will get enough for a new car for the graduating son and everyone is happy except the final customer which pays everything through inflation and the tax payer who foots the bill of subsidizing exchange rates.

And there are other ways that inflation will be promoted through legal governmental robbery. Look at this possible situation. You imported last year for X-mas 1 million in video games at 2.15. CADIVI approved it but has not payed you yet the dollars you need for your providers. Still, you sold all your stuff based on the 2.15 purchase price. Now CADIVI could tell you that you need to get those dollars through the bonds. What choice do you have? To pay your providers you will need to shell out 50% more than what you were planning which implies that 1) you lose your probably 10 to 20% benefit margin but 2) you also lose 20 to 30% of your capital. If you can afford this through your reserves, you will pay but next import you will not calculate your prices at 3-3.2, you will do so at 3.5 or more to start recovering what the state stole from you through a devaluation. Who pays in the end? As it is always the case, the basic consumer who sees price going up and up and up...

UPDATE: I forgot to include my predictions. For the next 2-3 months the government will try, at great cost, to maintain the bolivar below 3.5. By June-July the polls will show that Chavez popularity is not increasing, in part due tot he slowing down of the import economy as chavismo is forced to make an unnamed neo liberal adjustment to its fiscal policies. These will be even more necessary as payment for the cement and steel nationalizations must start.

The June inflation will be above 1% anyway and the government will decide to go for it and try to buy the election: new and old social spending will grow as early as late June. By October we might be back at 4-5 Bs. per USD, an inflation again at a monthly 2%. After the election, no matter what the resutl is, the 2.15 exchange will die once and for all and the devaluation might give us a bolivar at 3.5 at the least. How high will the devaluation be will depend on two things: how oil production keeps up and how well the opposition did in November.

If income does not drop (a good combination of production and oil prices) and if the opposition wins less than 8 state houses, the government will try to keep currency at 3.5 until the legislative elections (3.5 representing the average of new special bond editions if the government persists in this latest strategy).

If oil revenue drops in any way and if the opposition wins more than 8 state houses then the devaluation will reach as much as 4-4.5 as the government might decide to put the devaluation behind it and cut its losses, so to speak.

The parallel market itself by December should be back at 6 or much more if the government tries desperately to hold the "official" rate at 3.5. But I sense that we might be back at 6 by early fall.

Update 2: Ooops! I forgot to mention the real beneficiary of all thsi mish-mash. They are the government favored traders and their friendly officials, the ones that issue and resell these bonds near instantly for a tidy profit. The profit they make is of course at tax payer expense since a normal government would put any bond directly at auction for the highest bidder. But of course I forgot to mention that because simply this has become such a common corruption practice in Venezuela that I am, in a sick way, starting to find it normal.

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

1) the chavista record: in 1998 the bolivar was o.5 to a USD. As of today it is officially above 3. Draw your own conclusions.

-The end-

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tropical Stalinism in Venezuela

Must be the day for editorials. After this morning readings, at lunch I read the latest one from Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual which deserves prompt translation below (here for the original in Spanish). The topic that bothers Petkoff, and this blogger, is the latest illustration on how Chavez and chavismo are constantly rewriting history, retaining only what is of use in the justification of Chavez abuses.

We see this rewriting everywhere, from the chavista supporters, in Venezuela or overseas. There is the very simplistic: "but they did the same thing before", even when this is not true, if anything by the scale at which these abuses are perpetrated today (think judicial system partiality and the new level which corruption is practiced). In this case history is used as an excuse, trying to magnify past errors to allow for present abuses.

The next level is Chavez himself inventing pages of history, such as his meditations on the Spanish invasion of the Americas where the indigenous world he thinks of only happened in his imaginary or those of ecologists cum New Age fantasist. I hope that the translation of books such as 1491 will soon hit the bookshelves of Caracas to bring some common sense to these prejudices.

And then there is the most sophisticated history rewriting. Currently we watch the satanization of Baduel, the man that contributed MORE than anyone else to ensure the return of Chavez in office on April 13 2002. Since the fallout between Baduel and Chavez last year, chavismo has been diligent in accusing Baduel of all sorts of crimes, such as him receiving millions for the CIA or the NED (uttered by figures lacking credibility like Iris Varela; the more credible chavista characters are more careful and use such folks as Varela for the dirty work, a long established character assassination protocol). That nothing so far has stuck to Baduel is irrelevant: the chavista dwindling masses are only too eager to pretend that they believe the exact contrary position to what they had been asked to proclaim for the past three years.

Next, the translated editorial.
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

The official chavista celebration of the April 2002 events this year had a precise objective: to destroy the figure of General Raul Baduel. The tons of B.S. discharged during those days, the ever redundant and empty cadenas of Yo-El-Supremo, the liturgy Puente Llaguno and the participation of General Garcia Carneiro, all had a common thread: to show that Baduel had nothing to do with the return of president to Miraflores and that the "Hero of the Revolution" in fact is nothing more than a traitor.

The procedure recalls the manipulations of history that took place in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era and which ended after a time, not only by death but also with the disappearance of the historical narrative of the people who were condemned by Stalin. The thing began with a campaign of insults against "enemies", which covered them in mud, and then, sufficiently destroyed politically and morally in the eyes of the population, not only shot them but also erase, with impunity, from history.

Stalin launched a special dedication thus destroying the entire elite who led the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. So were erased from history, including thousands of old revolutionary fighters, the big bosses of the assault of Bolsheviks to power: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and finally Leon Trotsky himself. The slaughter had one aspect that might seem comical had it not been so tragic: every time Stalin liquidated a member of the communist leadership in 1917, he was removed from the photographs where he appeared with the leader. Each year, therefore, officials had to retouch photographs. Fidelismo also has been given to this kind of exercises, but not the extent that was achieved in the USSR. There is a famous photograph of Fidel Castro with Carlos Franqui, director of Radio Rebelde in the Sierra Maestra and then one of the first dissidents, placed to his right. After Franqui left Cuba, he was also taken out of the picture.

This is one of the profound differences between a democratic conception of life and totalitarian one. A democratic vision of the story assumes its contradictions. No one would think to erase from our history general Piar. A totalitarian regime, however, tries hard to project a monolithic image. The part of history which he claims to be the heir, as well as its own, must not contain cracks or contradictions and even less arguments with the leader.

It makes us perplex to see the insistence in copying practices not only aberrant but frankly stupid, such as writing the story to please the boss. But on the other hand, if something is demonstrated through this Stalinist campaign against him, is the importance to be named Raul Baduel.


-The end-

In my mail box: Pacifism and Raul Castro

[Update: written fast this morning, I finally got around to turn it into more acceptable English]

Mail boxes are a good source of material when one has writer's block. Fortunately I receive enough "suggestions" to find one that on occasion is worth posting. Even more so when it strangely matches those received from newspapers summaries in one's e-mail.

The first item comes from American Thinker where a certain David Bueche wonders about the uselessness of pacifism as applied to Tibet. Truly a "Free Tibet " bumper sticker will not produce much results. I object, though, to the quotes from Gandhi about the Jews such as "The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife". At the time Gandhi said that, his unique pacifist liberation of India had been successful; but a then aged Gandhi probably did not realize that the world he had known in the XIX-XX century transition was undergoing an even major transition where blunt violence was becoming sophisticated violence. David Bueche might be right in rejecting pacifisms as useless but he fails to realize that any oppressed group must go through a pacifist period to establish its moral superiority over its oppressor. Sad but true.

We saw it in Venezuela, all proportions guarded. In 2002-2003 the Venezuelan opposition was justified in trying to throw out Chavez. When everything is said and done, since 2003 Chavez has done much worse to undermine Venezuelan democracy than what Carmona promised for a brief 6 months period. Since this last one did not last 48 hours we will never know whether Carmona would have fulfilled his promise to a return to full democracy within 6 months. But the state control achieved by Chavez since 2002 has demonstrated to be more extended and more pernicious by far than whatever the loonies that accompanied Carmona intended to do. In case somebody forgot, in 2002 there was still decentralization and genuine autonomy on some matters for State Governors. The Judicial system was already somewhat compromised but still retained enough independence to produce the famous August 2002 on the "power vacuum". The media and the press where not forced into self censorship. The economy had still the possibility to rebound through the private sector. The extraordinary military spending that came later was not even imaginable then. Corruption did not seem to be any worse than whatever it had been. Electoral results were still respected by all.

All of this is over now as Chavez has successfully created a one man state where as expected economic woes are slowly setting in place in a permanent fashion and where corruption has reached unimaginable levels for the 2002 sycophant of whichever side. This has been made possible as the outside world looked at the violence of the 48 hours Carmonada as representative of all Venezuelan opposition and gave the necessary blind eye to Chavez power abuses that followed and led us to today critical situation. Our pacifist credential building period, to give it a name, finally came in 2006-2007 when the Reelection of Chavez was accepted and thus the man became careless and finally exposed his violent nature to the world by shutting down TV and repressing peaceful student protests. By the time Chavez openly supported the FARC he was done anyway, that support being the last nail in the coffin for international opprobrium. What comes next, more pacifism or more active resistance, is anyone's guess. But certainly if force is needed this time it will be better understood outside.

The other item that made me think some is a new OpEd by Maria Anastasia O'Grady from the Wall Street Journal. She does not buy the recent measures of Raul Castro to allow Cubans to buy cell phones they cannot afford to begin with, nor to allow them to get into tourist hotels by another door than the employees door. After all, once inside the hotel if they are not consuming they will be promptly shown the way out. For her it is all a matter of gaining time while Raul gets his new economical elite securely in place to make sure that no serious challenge to its power comes. In a way Raul Castro is expanding this now truism, the gatopardian principle: something must change to make sure that everything remains basically the same.

Raul Castro is of course aware of the bad image that Castro has gained since his opposition does not come from Miami alone. With the Women in White and the new wave of political prisoners of the recent years, even the mighty Castro of lore is finally tarnished among some of his most faithful international supporters... Fidel also understood that, but he just could not bring himself to make the first cosmetic changes; and even today he tries from his death bed to chastise his wanna-be successors who probably look on his missives with indulgent smiles. They know that things are changing in the hope that they remain the same in Cuba, and Castro can get a nice mausoleum.

The article of O'Grady is also interesting as it is a reflection of the strategy of Chavez. We could indulge in saying that Chavez is changing a lot to be able to go back to square one, a gatopardian exaggeration. But square one for Chavez is the XIX century caudillo with a coterie of faithful who made their fortunes courtesy of the good will of the caudillo. In that Chavez has probably been the model for Raul (as Putin and China are for both). Giving up on efficiency and productivity but understanding that in the XXI century a democratic fig leaf is necessary Chavez is set on creating a new economical gentry of people devoted to him because they will know that they owe it all to governmental favors, and from a government who can take it all away with a snap. Putin is an expert on that and in Venezuela already Chavez has shown to be willing to get rid of former allies who helped him reaching power. I expect that soon we will see one of this nouveau boliburgues rich bite the dust to remind the other accomplices of Chavez power.

The latest business nationalization wave must also be seen under that light. One of tis aims is to create a new managerial class at the expense of good business practices so that the least mediocre of them will become de facto the owners of the taken over businesses. A novel approach for sure in gentry creation and not the stated goal, but the unavoidable one as chavismo starts aging. The new forms of property advocated in the failed reform have not been discarded in spite of the referendum loss of last December. But that might be a blessing in disguise as Chavez will be able to adapt them to allocate in the future part of the nationalized business to new capital formed out of the revolutionary big piñata. After all, why not form for example a cooperative of capital from several nouveau bolivarian riche and sell them, say, a 20% stake in a nationalized business that needs to raise cash? That way for 20% stake and political support, these people could effectively acquire control of 100% of the said business. Remember, you read it here first.

Be it in Cuba or in Venezuela, the wished for result is the same. Pacifism, moral students, Ladies in White will not matter much when you control all the
essential political levers and all the economical important ones. If pressure becomes too intense you can always allow them to buy new trinkets or buy in a rush a few containers of powder milk.

-The end-

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The case for Colombia: the Washington Post takes side for Colombia and against Venezuela

Today's editorial in the Washington Post is a must read because it marks a milestone in how a newspaper regards its role when the interests of a country are at stake, when faced with outdated parochialism from its top leaders. In this almost acerbic editorial the Post takes directly upon Speaker Pelosi and Union leader Sweeney, accusing them of false motives regarding their opposition to the trade deal with Colombia and thus favoring Venezuela. It cannot be any clearer. Below I post in full the editorial with my comments in between paragraphs. It is just too delicious to miss such an opportunity even if the editorial speaks for itself.

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

Colombia's Case
The intellectual poverty of a free-trade deal's opponents

The subtitle says it all from the start.

HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says the Bush administration's free-trade agreement with Colombia may not be dead, even though she has postponed a vote on it indefinitely. If the White House doesn't "jam it down the throat of Congress," she said, she might negotiate. Ms. Pelosi wants an "economic agenda that gives some sense of security to American workers and businesses . . . that somebody is looking out for them" -- though she was vague as to what that entails. Nor did she specify how anyone could "jam" through a measure on which the administration has already briefed Congress many, many times.

The Post calls Pelosi's bluff, if not lies. The lack of real leadership from Pelosi has been quite apparent and she has been a disappointment as a speaker. Her sole agenda seems to have been countering Bush. It is her right but not her duty for someone in her position. She could have started by realizing that Bush was a lame duck and thus think a little bit more outside the sand box keeping partisanship at home and not let it spill on the necessary bipartisan approach for foreign policy. Iraq, for all of its mistakes and horrors cannot cloud Pelosi's mind on other issues. That is her duty.

Still, in the hope that Ms. Pelosi might in fact schedule a vote, it may be worth examining once more the arguments against this tariff-slashing deal. Perhaps we should say "argument," because there is really only one left: namely, that Colombia is "the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist" and that the government of President Álvaro Uribe is to blame. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney put it in an April 14 Post op-ed, union workers in Colombia "face an implicit death sentence."

Because that is the only argument that is left for Sweeney and Pelosi now that all the other arguments have been made irrelevant. The Post implicitly recalls that it would actually benefit US workers as the trade deal FAVORS exports toward Colombia. The only advantage for Colombia is that its favorable status in exporting to the US will be made more permanent instead of being subjected to the vagaries of whomever is sitting in the Oval Office or Congress. In other words two Democrats are opposing the creation of more potential jobs for US workers that would be exporting to Colombia. Priceless! The third Democrat in the race must be be beaming!

Colombia is, indeed, violent -- though homicide has dramatically declined under Mr. Uribe. There were 17,198 murders in 2007. Of the dead, only 39 -- or 0.226 percent -- were even members of trade unions, let alone leaders or activists, according to the Colombian labor movement. (Union members make up just under 2 percent of the Colombian population.)

This hardly suggests a campaign of anti-union terrorism in Colombia. Moreover, the number of trade unionists killed has fallen from a rate of about 200 per year before Mr. Uribe took office in 2002, despite a reported uptick in the past few months. (Arrests have already been made in three of this year's cases, according to Bogota.) And evidence is sparse that all, or even most, of the union dead were killed because of their labor organizing. As Mr. Sweeney and other critics note, precious few cases have been solved, which is hardly surprising given that Colombia's judicial system has been under attack from left-wing guerrillas, drug traffickers and right-wing death squads -- a war, we repeat, that Mr. Uribe has greatly contained. But in cases that have been prosecuted, the victims' union activity or presumed support for guerrillas has been the motive in fewer than half of the killings.

The Post says it all briefly. Even crudely presented as that, it hardly seems enough of a reason to stop the trade deal when China children factories are allowed to export to the world, and the US. Apparently Colombia's evil are much greater than workers exploitation in China, in a scale that was not seen since the XIX century worst hours of US capitalism. where are the Union Leaders of China? How often they visit and sit down with Sweeney and Pelosi to ask them for help in protecting China's workers rights? Maybe next in line after the Tibetan monks....

An April 10 letter to the editor from Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch suggested that we would not make such arguments "if death squads with ties to the U.S. government were targeting Post reporters for assassination." We like to think that our criticism would be energetic but fair, especially if the government was responding aggressively to such a campaign and the number of killings was declining. No fair-minded person can fail to note that Colombian unionists are far safer today than they used to be.

This is kind of interesting. That the HRW Malinowski offers such an image is in fact perverse. We all know that journalists in Colombia and Mexico are routinely persecuted and killed by drug boss cartels and disgruntled politicians. The issue is completely different here and that Malinowski offers such a cruel and unnecessary comparison only proves the Post point: arguments against the FTA with Colombia have long ceased to be based on rationality.

There are two important countries at the north of South America. One, Colombia, has a democratic government that, with strong support from the Clinton and Bush administrations, has bravely sought to defeat brutal militias of the left and right and to safeguard human rights. The other, Venezuela, has a repressive government that has undermined media freedoms, forcibly nationalized industries, rallied opposition to the United States and, recent evidence suggests, supported terrorist groups inside Colombia. That U.S. unions, human rights groups and now Democrats would focus their criticism and advocacy on the former, to the benefit of the latter, shows how far they have departed from their own declared principles.

There, you have it, clear as water. The price the Democrats will pay for that is yet to be fully measured, but it will cost the US dearly. Trust me on that one. Again let me remind you that had Pelosi and her court in Congress be serious about their opposition they would have included time clauses or something to demand continued progress inside Colombia. But no, the objective was to sink a Bush proposal, one of the very few good ones he has had in 7 years. Partisanship at its worst.


-The end-

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ayn Rand quotes for today Venezuela

I have not read any book of Ayn Rand yet which has not stopped me from being exposed to this icon of Libertarians. I suspect perhaps because so many people have told me that "YOU MUST read her", that it would "change my vision", has made me diffident in attempting the lecture. After all I have a certain allergy to "salvation literature" and other messianic forms such as uncouth military self appointing themselves as the savior of the poor of the world.....

Thus out of character when I received a note from occasional reader S.C. with an ill translated quote of Ayn Rand I decided to check how badly it was translated (heck, her name was put as Any Rand which had an interesting promiscuity shade to it). It was quite bad, but that is not the point of the post. Checking through some of Rand quotes I found some that are particularly appropriate to today's Venezuela and I could not resist sharing them for fun. The case to refer to and the quote.

On Chavez motivations. His anti US stand as well as his "resentido social" approach to life which lead him to make us believe he hates money and rich people while his family is now the richest of Barinas.

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.

On Chavez economic policies and the future of Venezuela.

When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion - when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you - when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - you may know that your society is doomed.

On Chavez view of the world and human rights.

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

On the mediocrity of chavismo.

Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.

On the dangers of chavismo, in particular as it is creating a national police and increasing the numbers and functions of the indoctrinated militia at the expense of the more "controlled" armed forces.

A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.

On the Anderson case and the fraud to justice by Isaias Rodriguez

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.

On the legal system that allowed a monstrosity like Isaias Rodriguez.

There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers.

On the "misiones"? That is, all of the social programs whose benefit increase with your direct support to the government.

The difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time.

On the "boliburguesia"? That is, the chavista nouveau riche class versus the hoi poloi, be it opposition or pro Chavez.

Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future.

On PSF and other assorted fools here and abroad so willing to serve and justify chavismo actions.

The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.

Reason is not automatic. Those who deny it cannot be conquered by it. Do not count on them. Leave them alone.

There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist.

On the difficulty to be a blogger trying to express the reality of his country

The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see.

PS: readers that can find more quotes that can be linked to Venezuela today are welcome to submit them :)

-The end-

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Francisco Rodriguez, part 2

Still too busy to write anything meaningful, and oh boy!, how many things to write about!

Meanwhile I leave you with the second part of the Tal Cual interview of Francico Rodriguez (first part preceding post). Shorter and less interesting but still worth reading if anything to examine the evolution of the rational minds that supported at first the chavista experiment and who know have turned among its fiercest critics. By subscription only so I lifted it here in Spanish for your reading pleasure. Note that FR states clearly that a democratic transition in Venezuela will be difficult because of the quantity of crimes and larceny committed under chavismo. Quote:
I believe with reason that soon we are going to be faced with matters referring to human political rights violations, problems of fraud and corruption that society will demand punishment from and that will make difficult a stable transition.

There, he said it, the chavista orgy will result in years of political instability and violence! Unfortunately this blogger shares this forecast, the more so that the opposition is totally oblivious of what is coming, at least judging from its local election campaign...

-The end-

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Poor are not the priority

Life is busy and no time to write deep insightful posts. Fortunately I can always find something somewhere to palliate, such as this great interview of Francisco Rodriguez published today in Tal Cual and lifted here for those who do not subscribe. In Spanish, sorry, I have no time to translate it. However it should be mandatory reading for all of these PSF that actually think that after ten years in power Chavez cares about the poor. If he does, at best he does not care much more than what previous governments cared for.....

Among other little juicy items there is a prediction of a significant decrease in economic growth because the current neo-liberal policies of the government to restrict liquidity in cash in the streets is not accompanied by a cut in spending. FR did not need to add that in an electoral year spending is actually going to grow if anything. We all get it except hard core faithful chavistas :) (PS added later. Reader hhbv points justly that I shoudl have also added the FR paper which made Tal Cual request the interview. Here it is, to spare you the need to go to my previous post)

There is also an article on oil policy where chavismo is giving concession to China in conditions perhaps more favorable than those given to Western companies a few years ago. After all of these nationalizations, we are back to square one due to the incredibly bad management of PDVSA...

PS: on unrelated stuff. Venezuelan bloggers
in English are doing good. The latest incident is Quico now quoted in Newsweek. After the regular financial papers where Miguel appears or the censorship texts by yours truly, we can all be proud that we are contributing to better knowledge about the Venezuelan reality through the readers that keep prodding us. But no one is a prophet in one's country and we still are pretty much ignored inside Venezuela. But even there we see some change. Quico is being cited by Ibsen, Miguel speaks regularly with Marta and if lately I am discreet here I was still the first blogger interviewed by Milagros :)

Fortunately the Spanish blogosphere is increasing its exposure, though unfortunately it tends to be more interested in digital fist fighting, at least the political one. Counting now silent Alex who was the trailblazer in getting Venezuelan blogs known (we owe him a huge debt), other English language blogs are starting to get read and I hope that through us named above, they will have an easier time to get better known than we had to. As for the pro Chavez blogosphere, well, there is not much to say there: the creativity and originality battle has been won long ago by the anti Chavez side :)

-The end-

Friday, April 11, 2008

What would Homer Simpson make of the April 11 bash of chavismo?

So we have reached a new anniversary of April 11, the one of 2002, remember? I am not going to go into any panegyric of the date. By now it has become a totally ridiculous propaganda opportunity for chavismo. After years of stonewalling justice, of blocking true investigation of the events, Chavez and associates have granted a select amnesty and now feel free from ever digging at the dark secrets of the day, in particular the dark cloud over chavismo actions. Now they can say whatever they want about that fateful week: as long as they are in office the real truth will never be known. The permanent media show, if any. By the way, Geovanny Vasquez left Venezuela yesterday for Panama. Just like that in spite of the huge storm he unleashed early this week. Another case from which we will likely never get the truth, and even less from the dark chavista cloud of the murder of Danilo Anderson.

That is why I think it is a timely coincidence that my piece on the suspension of the Simpsons makes it out today on Index on Censorship. I get top billing right now and here is the link to permanent page. Fitting coincidence, no?


-The end-

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Washington Post supporting Bush?

In the "Now I have seen it all" series, the US president, George Bush, got as much support from the WaPo as he is ever going to get. The reason? The latest editorial of the Washington Post lambasting the Democratic Leadership in Congress.

The Post does not mince words in an editorial that will make it to the desk of Speaker Pelosi. The editorial ends questioning Ms. Pelosi integrity, even though it is cast and amusing and diplomatic terms. And a little before that we read a grudging support for Bush:
To be sure, President Bush provoked Ms. Pelosi. But he forced the issue only after months of inconclusive dickering convinced him that Democrats were determined to avoid a vote that would force them to accept accountability for opposing an agreement that is manifestly in America's interest. It turns out his suspicions were correct.
Yes, the apple of discord is again the FTA with Colombia. That agreement is one of the very few good things that Bush has done in his mercifully to be done eight years. Yet, Democrats are willing to jettison that, not even because it would spite Bush, it is too late for that, but because they are in bitter internal campaign where any tiny support they can get is worthy ditching the bigger interests of the country.

Thus not only Pelosi panders irresponsibly, and is justly exposed by the Post, but empty headed Obama even threatens to balk out of NAFTA while Clinton is willing to lose all of her credit as a respectable New York Senator to win Pennsylvania. It is staggering for me to see how the Democrats are toying with the future of the US in the Americas just because some disgruntled Union Worker in Scranton might stay home on election day.

Thus in the very same week I get to describe how the two sides of the US are equally tone deaf to what is really going on in Latin America. The United States, like it or not, is "the Empire", and even if today Empires are not supposed to send Marines, nor even send subversive money, they have a responsibility to set example and help as much as they can any democratic process, no matter how feeble that one is, when it is directly threatened by clearly established undemocratic actors. And this the more so when it happens not even three hours away by plane.

Let's not kid ourselves, what Mack and Ros-Lehtinen are doing from Florida trying to put Venezuela on a terrorist sponsor list is not any better than what Pelosi is doing trying to sink the Colombia trade deal. All of them, including Obama and Clinton, are making a big mistake on Latin America, to the point of making Bush look good and fair and knowledgeable!

If Pelosi and the trade union wing of the Democratic party were serious they would have negotiated a rider on the Colombia deal, to set some goals for Colombia to reach in a reasonable amount of time otherwise the deal is canceled. After all some Democrats such as Pelosi know and recognized that Colombia human rights have made some progress. But their problem is that they have accepted to become hostages to people who just want to eliminate any FTA, no matter what, and Human Rights is just too much of a convenient excuse to not look mean and petty. The hypocrisy is highlighted when Obama, to name one, calls for an Olympics boycott and yet does not say much about punishing Human Rights violations of China through stiffer import quotas from them. What gives?

If Pelosi and Mack and Ros-Lehtinen are let get away with their objectives the result will be extraordinarily simple: Chavez will be consolidated in power, Uribe will be weakened and eventually a permanent anti US group of countries will line the Southern flank of the US (even with a Democratic president, by the way). That group incidentally will support all sorts of terrorist actions against the US as well as against their only people so as to dominate them better. Where will be the people who "lost South America" when the truth comes home?

Is this Liberal blogger going to have to support McCain? I suppose that I should be grateful that Huckabee or another of those right wing weirdos did not make it tot he GOP nomination....


-The end-

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Danilo Anderson case collapses: who is going to pay for ALL the wasted lives?

[Update: for those who read Spanish and are late to this Anderson melodrama, there is a chronological account, long, here. Hat tip Alpha.]

Today we had an hallucinating moment.

At a book signing Isaias Rodriguez declared non-plussed that all what he did on the investigation of the assassination of Danilo Anderson was legit. Any new evidence that might come up today was just the latest media manipulation. Apparently CNN and other are now "transnational media" serving Bush and which main goal is to destabilize Chavez. Apparently chavismo thinks that high of itself....

In other words any information is disqualified because it comes form the US. And it is put out because this year is an electoral year (note: most years are electoral years with Chavez). Ah! and the FBI, yes, the FBI, has a plan for that called "shock and awe". I kid you not. When I was watching Isaias I could not get the words as he probably took perfect pleasure in massacring them (they are in English, you know, the language of evil). I had to wait to see it written to confirm the "awe" part.

Meanwhile the star witness, whose words were enough because Isaias
personallysaw sincerity in his eyes, was declaring at the prosecutor office. We had to wait until a few minutes ago when it was over to hear the first info on the deposition. Apparently the star witness, Giovanny Vasquez, was offered money then to say all sorts of things that today he denied under oath. In other words, the people that are in exile, the ones that have been prosecuted, the ones that have been jailed, the ones that got killed, all of these judicial decisions were prosecuted on false witness charges and are as of today void or need to be voided fast. Probably even including the Guevara brothers trial.

Of course, I never believed Vasquez then, I do not see why I should believe him today. But the credibility of his words come from the pretense of Isaias who knows he is done with, that a side of chavismo has decided to throw him to the wolves. We have seen that before, remember? Even Tascon, the ultimate blackmailer is a nobody these days...

Conclusion: the Anderson Case is over. Unless some new evidence comes front, it will now slowly but surely go into oblivion. Whoever planned that has had plenty of time to cover his or her tracks. More importantly, the corruption web around it is so deep that an omerta of sorts will take place.

The only suspense is how fast the charges will be lifted and whether the Guevara brothers will get at the very least a fair trial without the deposition of Geovanny Vasquez included. The other question is who will pay for that. Honorable people have been put at the index and have lost YEARS of their lives running for their life or trying to rebuild their reputation. Isaias Rodriguez has built one of the biggest judicial travesty of history and someone some day will have to pay for that. I suspect that people like Patricia Poleo will now go to international court to get Isaias ass. I think jail is too good for him. Then again he knows so much that do not be surprised that if he has an "accident" or is named to some embassy and never returns. Because if Isaias falls, a lot of people within chavismo are going to fall.

In a way evil triumphs: the murderer will never be known but that the innocent is released at the end will be a compensation of sorts and too many people will swallow it, fish, bait and hook.


-The end-

They never learn: Mack and Ros-Lehtinen want Venezuela as a terrorist country

I have been made aware of a rather curious, and definitely uncalled for, development taking place in the US: two congressmen want to put Venezuela on some list of states sponsoring terrorism. And of course, it could not come from anywhere else but Florida. Needless to say, if that resolution makes it through Congress it would be a God's gift to Chavez who would use it to root himself for ever and ever in Venezuela in a way that Castro would have dreamed of. I mean, imagine that, you are subjected to an embargo and you are sitting on a sea of oil at a time where all seek it desperately anywhere...

But before I get into some of the details let me make a single observation. There is an embargo against Cuba that has been lasting now several decades. There are definitely excellent arguments to justify or condemn the embargo. However there is a plain fact that is for all to see: Fidel Castro has managed to hand over power to someone else, is peacefully agonizing in Havana and will have state funerals and a nice mausoleum. In fact, by the time his heirs are replaced or even overthrown, Fidel will be history enough that folks might not even bother tearing down his mausoleum. And along the way Miami became the second Cuban city in the world... You can draw your own conclusions.

Now, the two folks sponsoring the measure are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, known for her genuine concern and support of anti Chavez causes and Connie Mack whose reasons might have more to do about his own promotion. Fine, I can deal with that, but I also must state clearly that they would be making a terrible mistake, that they will hand Chavez an unexpected weapon that he will use efficiently to rouse his sagging support in Venezuela. In fact it might be just what Chavez needs to get the support he lacks these days to complete his take over of the country. After achieving that, courtesy of US Congress, it will not matter if people get irreversibly tired of him: there will be no peaceful way to fire him from Miraflores Palace.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Mr. Mack deserve all due respect but it is about time they get out of the oxygen rarefied South Florida meeting rooms. The real resistance to Chavez is not done in Miami, it is done in Venezuela. It includes the brave students who challenged chavismo and helped greatly in the referendum defeat of December 2. It includes TV big names such as Marcel Granier putting his neck out everyday. It includes modest NGO Radar de los Barrios close to the barrios, conveying the despair of those who feel betrayed by Chavez. It includes brave journalists in Caracas that must go to work everyday carrying along a bullet proof vest and a gas mask. It includes this blogger writing from the country side, from ground zero of the Bolivarian revolution.

All of these people have chosen to remain in Venezuela as long as they can, they have not left for Florida to wait it out as some of the more vocal "new-contras" have done (note: as it is always the case in such situations, the majority of Venezuelans in Florida are true immigrants, who went there to rebuild their lives and who in their modest way help as much as they can the anti Chavez cause as they have left relatives and friends behind, thus knowing quite well what is truly going on with the little folk in Venezuela; as such they have little to do with these vocal "new-contra").

These days Chavez fortunes are quite compromised. His polls have fallen below 50% for quite a while now and even the Colombia "war" has not been able to stop the decline. Most of Venezuelan supporters of Chavez have no idea what the FARC are, do not care whether Chavez supports terrorism, have no idea who Mack is: they are in for the hand outs and they will stay in as long as the hand outs keep coming. Thus if Venezuela is declared a terror supporter those who will suffer will be these poor Chavez supporters along all the opposition that has roundly condemned the dealings of Chavez with the FARC, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lybia, and North Korea for starters.

In other words, those who will be punished through such a measure are those who have less to do with the crimes that Venezuela would be objected for. Those who actively support Chavez will have now a perfect excuse to actively embark in FARC support and destabilize Colombia, a most counterproductive action when one tries to visualize the goals of Mack and Ros-Lehtinen. And they will have the perfect excuse to oppress Venezuelans further under the pretext that we are under threat of the Evil Empire of the chavista lore: the US.

Chavez has had a problem: he does not have his heroic moment "Bay of Pigs" style. Giving him that propaganda tool is all what he needs to transform any of the moments where he was challenged into his very own imaginary "Bay of Pigs". Truth will not be a concern, we are talking effective propaganda here. And as his government is finally showing signs of implosion due to its incompetence surely a life jacking jacket thrown to him by Congress would help him reach the shores of permanent power.

So, for those at State or in Congress that wish to punish Chavez and help the cause of freedom, that is us, who do the day to day hard work, do not vote on such a foolish measure. Instead do it the hard way: inquire, follow the money, start withdrawing visas from these chavista public officials who love to visit Vegas and Orlando with their family, send the IRS investigate how some expensive real estate changes hands in Florida. Right now there is a perfect example of how things are done: the trial currently going on in Miami as a consequence of the Antonini money bag caught in Buenos Aires airport. True, less glamorous, less headline catching at election time but soooooo much more effective.

Referring to the Mack Ros-Lehtinen initiative, as we say in colloquial Venezuelan "No me ayudes tanto, amigo!" ("do not help me so much, buddy", in total sarcasm, of course)

-The end-

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday press review: the sweet rewards of sucking up to Chavez

In a felicitous coincidence El Nacional this Sunday published several OpEd and articles that illustrate the advantages of being a Chavez supporter in Venezuela, as well as the moral decrepitude that one surrenders when accepting such favors.

Before I get started with as brief as possible a review, I would like to point out that there is nothing new under the Venezuelan sun, that those associated with power have always benefited from the tendency of the petrostate governments to reward its followers with the easy money that gushes from under our feet. It is just that under Chavez we are struck at the proportion of the consciences bought out and the "desparpajo" (chutzpah?) at which it is undertaken. Let's start by remembering the Tascon List, amply documented on the right side of this blog, in the link section. This Tascon list became a CD, the Maisanta program which was amply used by Chavez supporters to secure the benefits from the state. With this any state employer (business or public administration, same difference) has since 2004 decided who to hire and who to fire, adding to the political apartheid of the Tascon list an economical apartheid.

Now there is a study to show the effects of such discrimination, at tax payer expenses, a burden that is disproportionately shared by those who oppose Chavez, who foot most of the tax bill that is spread to Chavez supporters just because they are supporters, not because they are any more productive or deserving. This study deserved a wide coverage in El Nacional Sunday (by subscription but I lifted the article in Spanish here), adequately titled "there is a price to be paid for belonging to the opposition". Before I get into the subject, let's not be naive: proximity to power has always meant some benefit, even in the fairest European social democracies. It is just that under Chavez a normal granting of a few favors has become a state policy.

The study was done by the a team led by Francisco Rodriguez, a Venezuelan who became a researcher in the US after having tried to work seriously with the "revolution" halcyon days. Now he is busy exposing the truth about what happens in Venezuela, debunking the shoddy work of propagandists such as Weisbrot. You can find a list of his work in his site. It is serious work, and is causing quite some grief among the sycophantic crowd that surrounds Chavez. It is most welcome as a serious work that goes beyond propaganda, the type of work that has been sorely needed as we cannot stay all our lives in the bitching mode only.

In this study, using the Maisanta database to check public records such as register and tax offices, it is not too difficult to follow the economic fortunes of some who have money or stable jobs and see how their career evolved during the past few years. I am not going to go into details because as it turns out Quico beat me shortly in discussing it as yesterday I was too busy to post on this El Nacional articles. However I will below just put up the results as in the graphs from El Nacional because those are what Venezuelans will see and because the Rodriguez paper is in PDF and I have no time to "take" the pictures. Click on pics below to enlarge. The pictures do not need much more comment besides the legends I attached to them. For details refer to the Francisco Rodriguez paper which is in English and from where these graphs come from.

The first one is how public sector and business associated with chavismo (banks? Wilmer Ruperti? the Antonini gang?) wages did better than the traditional private sector business.


The second one confirms that the easiest way to access riches in Venezuela is to be a chavista and apply for a public sector job.

And this last picture is the expected consequence of patronage policies: productivity in the public sector reaches new lows. It is not idle to note that this un-productivity is in large part paid by the taxes exacted from the private sector which is audited much more often than pro Chavez business, who in addition get much better access to loans and CADIVI currency. In other word, the lack of competitiveness of the chavista private sector is subsidized by the state! I stress taxes because they are the bulk of the national budget: a lot of the oil income is discretionary spending of Chavez, including his gifts to foreign countries.

To conclude this post El Nacional carried three other illustrative item which I add below.

There is a great interview of Alexis Alzuru from the UCV. He investigates how corruption affects public policies. He is not afraid to state that the Venezuelan state is deliberately transformed into a mob system to be able to control better the citizens. Of course, nothing that regular readers of this blog did not already know, but it is nice to see it so clearly stated as in this interview. A must read! (check back later for a partial translation, if time allows, meanwhile use Google translating tool which works reasonably well).

The moral consequences for the country are painted by Milagros Socorro who examines the educational objectives of the country and the example set by naming Isaias Rodriguez to the TSJ so that he can escape judicial inquiry for his misdeeds.

And finally there is a lovely piece by Pedro Llorens from which I retain the description of Chavez charlatanism. He looks at the lies of Chavez as to the freedom of the press as Chavez has built a communications empire as none can be seen in the rest of the Americas. The quote I liked:

El gastado y aburrido predicador de las cuatro raíces: fascismo, bolivarianismo, populismo y fidelismo, decidido a no creer nada de lo que se dice o denuncia, alcahuetea la terrofagia de los Chávez en Barinas, hace investigar al diputado regional que los acusa, repone en los puestos de mando a los derrotados del PSUV y libra a Isaías Rodríguez, acusado de manipular el caso Anderson.

I put it in Spanish first because it is so sabroso!
The spent and tiresome preacher of the four roots: fascism, bolivarianism, populism and fidelism, set on not believing anythign that is said or denounced, enabler of the excessive land appetite of the Chavez in Barinas, has the regional representative that accuse them investigated, puts back in charge those who were beaten in the PSUV [internal elections] and saves Isaias Rodriguez, accused of manipulation of the Anderson Case.
There you have in a single paragraph all the moral damage done to the country by Chavez, where his favoritism and his primitivism have led us.


-The end-

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Milking Venezuela, literally! Chavez buys Los Andes

As the chavista administration is slowly sinking, it is doing "patadas de ahogado", a semi-sweet Venezuelan expression about the desperate gestures that folks do when they are drowning. Thus for example, three weeks ago Chavez decided to nationalize the main private dairy company in Venezuela, Los Andes. After writing on the cement announced nationalization, I could not pass on this other take over. By the way, some of the pictures shown here are taken from my TV set last Thursday while Chavez commented on the Los Andes take over while announcing the cement industry take over.

The reason for such an extreme measure as taking over Los Andes might appear to be obvious to the casual observer: under a chronic shortage of milk and dairy products the government wants to ensure control of the main dairy producer to make sure that at least chavista voters get access to milk. This is the naked reason, if not officially stated. Inasmuch as the idea of dairy segregation is already repulsive, there is much more to this story than meet the eye. Readers will be glad to know that this blogger daily business activities have allowed him to get some inside information to this whole affair. Worry not, no names will given but I can assure that the few details next are either absolutely true or very close to the truth, as close as one can get to the truth in Venezuela these days where everything is thickly layered with obscure motives, and where people value anonymity above anything else.

Milk shortage

First, of course, we need to review the reasons for the milk shortage in Venezuela. Chavismo sycophancy tries to present this as an increase in purchasing power of the poor and huddled masses coupled to nasty capitalists speculating who in addition are incompetent at raising production fast enough to keep up with demand. The conjured image that comes from such a scenario should be of more and more happy cows dotting every corner of the Venezuelan landscape; but it fails to materialize when you travel around. Savvier chavistas prefer another argument for milk shortage. According to this school of thought the naughty Chinese increasing their consumption of dairy are creating a world shortage.

In a way both are right but quite wrong in that they do not go deep enough to really meet the true reason. What is going on is that years of farm demagogic seizures and failure to create stable cooperative or some other socialist mishmash is eventually taking a toll. True, purchasing power has increased and thus demand for dairy, but it is also true that production of milk still hovers around the 1998 level in spite of all the money thrown out at "socialist" producers. Not to mention that in ten years population also increased... If to this you add commodities prices all over the world increasing due to the large appetites of China and now India, well, no wonder there is a dairy shortage in Venezuela.

I do not know if you have ever worked in tropical farming conditions, but they are harder than in temperate countries, in particular if you want to hold cattle in stables to mechanize dairy production. Not to mention the needed investment in cooling devices whereas in Northern clime a good fan might do the job. In other words the required investment and the necessary work is not going to be undertaken by anyone who is not a guaranteed a fair return. If to this you add that at any time, for the flimsiest of excuses, the state can expropriate you without paying you the real value of your property, you can imagine that private investment in the sector has not been great over the past few years. Of course I will not discuss the public sector investment which has been considerable and seems to have evaporated into oblivion.

To this you can also add some inconveniencing situations, some not too big such as the locals stealing your prized dairy cows for some barbecue where half the animal is wasted anyway, to the kidnapping "industry" which has played true havoc with productivity as farm owners must spend as little time as possible at their farm in some areas of the country, areas which turn out to be the traditionally big milk producing areas. Dust it up with CADIVI controls and stupid price regulations and there you get it, the perfect milkless cocktail.

The real solution to alleviate milk shortage in Venezuela

There is a very simple way to bring back milk production in Venezuela to acceptable levels within perhaps half a decade (let's remember that you do not grow dairy cows in a few weeks by watering some seeds). The solution is to protect dairy farmers, their physical persona, their stables and the land they need to grow feedstuffs for the dry season period.

Period.

But that of course would mean challenging all the ideological economical polices of Chavez since 2000, something unacceptable, a potential Pandora Box for chavismo. No country has ever been able to create massive production of cattle, chicken, sheep, or other species under a state controlled system. It has never happened and it certainly will not happen in Venezuela were climate condition are rather unfavorable. I will point out that the hugely successful cooperatives in [Western] Europe were formed from peasants already owning their land and their cattle, never starting from zero as chavismo thinks it is possible to do with people coming from cities.

How not to solve the milk shortage problem

So chavismo took the very worst possible way: the nationalize the distribution circuit of milk, the only thing that still sort of worked for the bit of milk that was been produced.

The story of Los Andes

Los Andes was a rather small but growing dairy product concern in 2002. Then something happened: there was a national strike/lock out and the governor of Lara state, Luis Reyes, went to see the directors of growing Los Andes and convinced them (by conviction, force or bribery, does it matter?) not to follow the strike. They accepted and I remember clearly that in January 2003 only Los Andes products could be found on occasion. As I knew of this meeting a few days after it took place, I have been boycotting Los Andes ever since, unless of course, as it is often the case in Venezuela, there is nothing else to buy at a given store... boycotts are not easy things to do in Venezuela!

In all fairness their products are of good quality and contrary to Venezuelan taste they are not as sweet as their competition, which would please me, but I buy plain anyway as I love the tartness of yogurt. Thus, support from chavismo and good products allowed Los Andes to make a spectacular grow in the last 5 years. This has also been observed for those who sided by conviction or not with the regime, the "boliburguesia", the nouveau riche class of the revolution (you know, like the guys in jail in Miami, able to pass millions of dollars in bags here and there when in the 90ies they had a very modest life style).

But this is OK, I am not upset at Los Andes. Like many business they also owed it to their employees and they might have decided to go along, to protect their jobs, even if they did not like the ideas of Chavez; there is much more passivity than one might think... And contrary to other pro Chavez business, they did quality stuff at least, and it seems that at least they worked hard for their success, something questionable for some of boliburgueses close to power.

The Los Andes purchase

To many folks surprise Los Andes was speedily purchased to serve as propaganda fodder for an ailing revolution. That is right, to counter alleged speculation attacks Chavez bought the business that probably least speculated against the government during the last 5 years. But those subtleties are always lost on Chavez when he needs to put up a show: anything for a laugh. Along the way he risks ruining the image of Los Andes anyway, faster than what the quality will decrease now that it is state owned.

Because there is something that Chavez refuses to get: the lack of milk is not due to Los Andes speculation, or even to other dairy concerns such as Alpina or Parmalat. Price control makes very little milk available for fresh milk: cheese and other products which prices are not controlled get plenty of milk as under the table they are willing to pay higher price. Simply put, if you cannot sell your milk for a profit to the distributors of fresh milk, you will sell it to people who will give added value to your milk and share the profits with you. That is, you start making cheese or yogurt with your milk. And that is what most of the small farmers did and that is why the milk shortage eventually became so obvious while there was cheese everywhere to be found. Perhaps Los Andes was guilty of another crime according to chavismo: to buy milk at higher price than the fixed one and make it all into yogurt to compensate. Los Andes has long ago stopped producing milk in enough quantity but it never stopped producing yogurt. Though again in all fairness you were more likely to find Los Andes milk in San Felipe than Carabobo or Parmalat brands.

The information that I have obtained is that the sale of Los Andes was speedy. It seems to have taken less than two weeks from the time the owners were contacted by the government to the moment they received their first checks. Perceived as chavista sympathizers or at least neutral I was also told that they received part (or all?) of their payment in dollars, outside of Venezuela. And they received it at the official exchange rate from the local currency declared value, to sweeten the deal. The sum had three digits in millions and it might still be below the real value of the different processing pants and associated venues. However in the general decay of Venezuela productive tissue and increasing insecurity, even if they lost, say, 30% of the real value it was still a reasonable deal and they still have enough to retire outside of Venezuela.

Government lies

Of course, the indecent haste of the government was due to the pressing need that something be done to solve shortages problem. It is possible that the government will slowly but surely focus production toward fresh milk for the lower class areas, through PDVAL the latest invention to substitute a failing MERCAL. So poor areas might get, for a while at best, more milk. And the whole country will start experiencing a shortage of yogurts and other fresh dairy products as neither Alpina nor Carabobo will be able to increase their production fast enough as long as dairy farmers do not get better working conditions, better security, better revenues. The mid term consequences will be in the end an aggravation of shortages because as usual chavismo never attacks the root of the problem, preferring to settle for quick fixes that nicely allow for juicy commission. If you doubt that read Miguel post about somebody who made a cool 100 million dollars for a few weeks of work. Does any one doubt that in the financial transactions of Los Andes purchases someone did not get a "comisión" somewhere? And let's not start on all the governmental purchases without bidding that the new directors of Los Andes will be able to do... or what they can cash to supply to this Mercal instead of that Mercal.....

The propaganda blitz has of course started with this lovely add. But let me tell you about the different lies included in it and which have made any producer wince when reading.



Let's go line by line.

The first tow is a rather semi obscene word play to appeal to lower educated sections. And of course I pass on "A new socialist industry for the people". Whatever that means.

The only paragraph carries two lies, or at least outright manipulation. First Los Andes was not recuperated: it was working fine, thank you very much. Besides it had a track record of collaborating with the government. That the owners decided to take advantage of it for a best return is all OK, all very capitalistic if you ask me....

The next lie is the 37% of the market that Los Andes represent. According to FEDENAGA president, Los Andes can process at most between 10 and 15% of the total milk produced in Venezuela. Quite big already by the way.... This might be higher if we look only at milk processed for fresh milk production but it certainly does not represent 37% of the milk needed for Venezuela, probably not even half of that if you ask me. True, if you add failed Parmalat plants and what it claims it will get with the promised 12 Iranian dairy plants it might get close to that number. But where are the cows? Or is the government also going to force milk producers to sell to the government at a fixed price? In a few years form now, does 100% of nothing means anything?

And at the end, the silly slogan about winning against the "alimentary sabotage" is simply risible. After all, the real saboteur of milk production is the state which will not allow anyone to own a cow. Does any one care to search how much milk is produced by Cuban or North Korean farmers? Is the scarcity there due to world shortages? Last time I checked Colombia was busy exporting dairy to Venezuela, having surplus dairy products with a climate similar to Venezuela....

So there we go, another pathetic case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I have already been suffering for the lack of milk (yes, suffering because milk has always been a major staple of my diet, as I do not eat red meat). Now, yogurt an even more essential staple of my diet will soon become scarce. And let's not start worrying about how much this adventure will cost the country, in addition to CANTV, EDC and now the cement industry.

-The end-

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