Monday, June 30, 2008

The Washington Post on the Russian list

As I was finishing the preceding post, Immaturity Politics, I received the latest OpEd from Jackson Diehl, someone who knows exactly what is going on in Venezuela. His article would not quite fit in the point I wanted to make, but it is too important to miss and deserves to be put in the "must read" section. It looks like Leopoldo US tour was successful.

-The end-

Immaturity politics

There has been a small scandal of sorts lately. Leopoldo Lopez, the Chacao Mayor running for Caracas Mayor at large went to the U.S. to explain to whomever would listen why the Russian/ruffian list was unconstitutional and strictly designed to bar him from winning the Caracas office (affecting a few other folks, but I am simplifying). Indeed all serious pollsters coincide for once: if elections were held tomorrow in Caracas, Leopoldo could be sworn in the next day.

There was also another small scandal when Leo came back to Venezuela as to how badly he was harassed at the airport by dumb security officers. No one should be surprised, sycophantic chavistas have learned long ago how to pick up the political line du jour and try to score brownie points with El Mucho Macho Supremo (Mucho Macho coming from a devoted reader of this blog). Last week we had such an undignified example when the National Assembly changed all its schedule on important law making to follow on Chavez cue and congratulate Russian, calling the folks on the list "ladrones", thieves, even though their only crime was to use some money destined to pay, say, street repairs, to pay wages because Chavez increased them by 30% suddenly.

But of course, anyone that does not support unconditionally Chavez is attributed all sins, including having breakfast with roasted chavista children.

These sad episodes, including Leopoldo pleading over at Obama who has yet to be elected president and who will have more pressing issues once at the White House, made me consider again how immature Venezuelan politics have become. The National Assembly unworthy display of last Wednesday is just another example on how all of our political class is now mostly a bunch of drama queens, an appropriate comparison today as it is Gay Pride around the world and some of the parade screaming queens have way more credibility and decorum than people like Carlos Escarra, Barreto, or even Leopoldo on his bad days. But then again the example for the whole country these past 10 years has been Chavez drama queen tantrums, sometimes in a variety of costumes and from the most diverse locales. Perhaps a little leather drag, harness and chaps would make Chavez more convincing when he threatens us?

I was wondering aloud what was worse, for Leopoldo going to seek Obama and look
all starry eyed at him from down below (Leo is very short) or Chavez going to Cuba, again, to seek, again, advice and comfort from old senile Castro (who he looks at as starry eyed as Leopoldo did gaze Obama). Yes, why is it that all our leaders must go overseas to solve their problems? How come Chavez cannot understand that the Castro's model has failed and that they use him to solve THEIR problems? How come so many in the Venezuelan opposition are waiting for the Marines to land and solve their problems, because they are too lazy to do something about it, not having time to march, to protest, to vote, to monitor polling stations, to etc...?

In all fairness I think that Leopoldo Lopez is way more aware than Chavez that the solution to his problems lies inside Venezuela. Yet this cannot excuse him from doing such a PDA towards Obama. At least we will get something out of this: Chavez will not be able now to use the fact that Obama is not white for his own political advantage: black or white, serious and skilled US politicians know Chavez is a creep.

However if the opposition is slightly more clear eyed than chavismo as to what they can get outside Venezuela, they have a knack at killing their own when they dare to try to do something positive for the cause, even if somewhat ill conceived. The biggest example of self destruction is of course the abstention movement created to abstain from voting without any alternate strategy or goals. Action and emotional reaction, for ten years Chavez has been playing us looking as a skilled strategist which he is not: his victories are due more to opposition errors and his fat check book than any real Machiavellian planning from his part. Doubt it? Then wonder come that after 10 years he still does not feel secure in power and he still resorts to infantile "us against them" strategy?

In fact no matter where we look from, political leaders are primitive, infantile and/or uncouth. With the few worthy exceptions such as Teodoro Petkoff (though his own failings barred him form ultimate success) we are all showmen, all seeking the immediate and easy solution, just like young kids. Chavistas prefer sycophancy and follow the leader with a hefty dose of violence to settle issues. Opposition followers use the now it's my turn and the mine-mine coupled to my Daddy is stronger than yours.

But this would be merely amusing if it were not made lethal when double standards are brought into play to confuse everything and transform childish poses into primitive warfare. This blog is made of the use and abuse of double standards by Chavez and chavismo to divide and conquer. The Russian list is just the latest avatar. But the opposition is far from being exempt. I should recall two famous visits to the White House held by Bush-Devil: one was Maria Corina Machado, the SUMATE leader and the other one by Tabare Vasquez, the left wing president of Uruguay.

When Maria Corina got to the White House of course chavismo got on such a great counter propaganda bonus. But Maria Corina was seriously criticized at home by some folks from her camp, including Milagros Socorro, a voice of conscience around here. These critics either confused Bush and the US (the interests of a State with the interests of an individual) or simply were jealous that she was received and they were not. Maria Corina is, contrary to most of her critics (vocal or not) someone who acted and who tried to do something to end our nightmare. But panning her success was necessary least she would become a Venezuelan political leader, something that could not be allowed by some. The fact of the matter is that since that fateful visit her star started to dim and today she is relegated to a rare back page tidbit of news. If Milagros Socorro was right to limit her criticism to poor timing and manners for Maria Corina, too many folks were only to glad to make Milagros the fall girl on their wish to remove Maria Corina from the front scene, chavistas and anti chavista alike.

The counter example would be the visit of an all smiles Tabare at the White House, followed by a return visit by Bush to Uruguay. Tabare Vasquez does not confuse the state interests of Uruguay and the US with the provisional holder of the presidential mansion. And yet where are the cries of outrage from either chavismo or opposition? I am pretty sure that Milagros Socorro did condemn that visit but after all the flack she took from those who will not hit with a rose petal an opposition leader, she probably did not contemplate writing another OpEd piece, even though such an article was badly needed to rub the vent into the face of chavismo!

The problem is not that we do the necessary criticism to Leopoldo or Maria Corina, is that we expect too much of them. The problem for chavistas is not the opposition criticisms, it is that too many of them see Chavez as a Messiah, and that even more of them see our criticism as a threat to their continued looting of the state. As long as a society we keep following the lead of Chavez and refuse to differentiate criticism from insult we will remain mired in our mediocrity.

I think that we have not learned our lessons from the school yard, pretending that we are still there at play...

-The end-

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Satisfaction!

The Euro Cup 2008 edition is over and the best team won. And we can mean it because only too often we have not seen the best team winning (e.g. Greece victory last cup!).

This very deserved Spain Victory works on many levels, beyond the "at last" that some might scream. Spain showed where football is headed and with Germany gave us a thrilling and outstanding game even if the score was a meager 1-0. But Spain's unfortunate adversary also played very well showing us all what is worth saving from football tradition. In this respect the defeat of France and Italy announced a new era, and a big crisis in these two countries football leagues. But let's not waste more time on that road kill and rather savor this great finale and welcome back officially Spain among the greats. I cannot see anyone right now defeating the Spain we saw today. Even though I started rooting for Germany, the Spanish team operated the miracle of turning me around and make me wish for them to score more during the second half.

But there was also something deeply satisfying during that match: the emotion displayed by the Queen of Spain and the Chancelor of Germany. If any one had a doubt as to the standing of football in the world, these two women showed how much of a cultural thing it has become, how far it has come in crossing sexual, racial, class and cultural barriers. Sorry US of A, but none of your team sports comes close to football, or soccer as you love to call it. The screams at Yankee Stadium might be impressive, but they were no match for the Vienna crowd tonight where most had nothing at stake.

Update: the pictures are in. Enjoy while they last up at Yahoo.




-The end-

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 1

And thus it is already time to do the first update on the 2008 regional election series. Fortunately it will be easy to write as nothing much has changed from what I wrote at first. Still, the new events are important enough to deserve an update.

The PSUV primary: how much of a sham it was?


Over the past three weeks it has become clear that the so vaunted PSUV primaries were after all an exercise in futility if not an outright fraud. Why should anyone be surprised? In retrospect I am certainly happy I did not waste much time discussing them because, well, it would have been a pure waste.

The PSUV of Chavez got off at bad start: it was designed to be the PSUV of Chavez. As it is invariably the case with political parties set up to support a strong leader rather than responding to true needs of the populace, it was destined to fail. The surprise here is that it took so little time for the PSUV to show signs of wear and tear.

Thus in a vain effort to boost its sagging fortunes Chavez decided (was forced to?) to hold primary elections to allow internal ventilation of issues in such a heterogeneous construct as the PSUV. But to make sure things did not get out of control, the "primary season" would be reduced to its strict minimum. That is, any possible internal campaign would be circumscribed to a couple of weeks at best. In addition, in places where Chavez was not sure to have his handpicked choice win the primary, he made sure to have plenty of candidates to minimize the chances that any would cross the magic 50% mark. If no one crossed that mark Chavez was all but certain to be able to pick his choice provided this one got at least 20%.

Initially it seemed that Chavez was going to get away with his scheme as he got pretty much all what he wanted except in Lara where he had to concede an early defeat to Henry Falcon. But within a week accusations of fraud started flying within PSUV. And in recent days some have decided to run on their own anyway or are making a true scandal to have the original "winner" resign. See, the polls have also started coming in and when candidates are named more because of their loyalty to Chavez instead of their local field work, well, you are bound to get problems. And let's not even get into the minority partners of the Chavez (PPT and other crumbs that are not even getting the little bit promised).

Last Tuesday Chavez's speech and his attacks on Acosta Carles, the Carabobo governor that Chavez refused to let run again, are the recognition of the inside PSUV troubles that Chavez has created for himself. Right now the nominees of several states and cities are so questioned that it is doubtful that they will become in the end the final PSUV standard bearers. These candidates in trouble, barely two weeks into their campaign, include: Libertador-Caracas (Jorge Rodriguez), Carabobo (Silva), Sucre-Caracas (Jesse James Falcon), Anzoategui, Barcelona, Tachira, Barinas (even the Chavez fiefdom cannot escape trouble), Bolivar, Portuguesa, and more.

The incredible paradox here is that chavismo who was supposed to be all set and running by late June has about half its candidates up in the air! The question here is whether Chavez planned it all, or if it just a plain mess. After all it is quite possible that Chavez previewed such a disorder and his strategy was to be called upon to solve the conflicts and get everywhere the man he wants, even if s/he loses. At this point Chavez hubris and paranoia have gone so far that he probably prefers an opposition governor than a chavista he does not feel comfortable with.....

The opposition crawl

The main beneficiary of the PSUV discomfiture is of course the opposition who finds itself with better electoral chances that are not of its own doing, but courtesy of Chavez errors.

The snail pace of the opposition to put together a list of united candidates is not becoming a problem because of the obvious failure of the PSUV primaries. What would have been a powerful political tool for chavismo, to accuse the opposition of being unable to hold "democratic" primaries as they did, has been voided. In fact, the system of slow debate and polls would have seem to be preferable for the PSUV and its unloved allies.

Still, the opposition is running into some local trouble that could hurt the unity image so required by its electorate. But if situations like Chacao are close to ridicule, there have been other instances where already candidates did the appropriate withdrawal of their name paving the way to a unity candidate (Maracaibo withdrawal of the PJ candidate in favor or Rosales was a milestone of sorts). Let's hope that the trends continues.

Polls

Polls are ridiculous at this time because, well, in three quarters of the districts we still do not know who will be the final candidates, and this for each side! This strange situation seems to be favoring the opposition as recent polls are now willing to give to the opposition a net pick up of ten governorships. I am not that optimist: after all Chavez has been unable to launch his full campaign mode as he is distracted by his internal PSUV woes (not to mention the need to mend the economy one way or the other so that it looks better 4 months form now, a new meaning for "¡Misión Imposible!").

Yet the signs are clear, from the meager Oscar Schemmel prediction of 5 to 7 states won, we have now the distinct possibility with other pollsters that the total could go as high at 10 states, including almost all the most populous ones. Some observers are even mentioning the number 14.

At any rate, I still hold by my predictions as I will not reevaluate them until I know which are the final candidates. Suffice for the reader to know that these days I am finding myself slightly more optimistic, but also somewhat more worried as I am sure that Chavez must be following polls closely, which seems to make him desperate and thus more dangerous.

-The end-

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fallen idols, we are littered with them

With the "acceleration" of the revolution it is noteworthy how many of the faithful have been happily discarded by Chavez. Today, on the occasion of yet anther Carabobo commemoration it is the turn of Baduel and Acosta Carles, the Carabobo governor, to be thrown to the wolves (1). I mean, we all knew that they were out of the revolution, in disgrace, but today it was their official vilification, the official start for the rewriting of the history manuals as Chavez used a state occasion to settle his accounts with two people to whom he owes so much, who he displayed as great heroes of the revolution (2).


Baduel was the guy who helped enormously to Chavez recovery on the April 2002 days of fright. On Sunday 14 April 2002, the first outing of Chavez outside of Caracas since his return to power, was to visit Baduel at the military base of Maracay. Since then the man became chief of the armed forces, defense minister, got his three suns and what not. But unfortunately he had the temerity to say that he did not agree with the post December 2006 Chavez and well, the rest was only to predictable. Now he has all sorts of state agencies after him, he is monitored constantly, he is attacked all the time and today Chavez opened his bilious heart on the subject. Of course, that Baduel was a major player int he failure of the 2007 constitutional referendum is something that a vindictive Chavez not only will not forgive but he will punish it. Thus is the nature of the beast.

The surprise today was that Acosta Carles, Carabobo Governor, was also thrown to the wolves. We already knew that the had not received the nod to run again for the Carabobo house, this honor now going to the vilest of chavismo rats, Mario Silva. But the recriminations of Chavez were surprisingly strong, and perhaps unnecessary unless he has other ulterior motives. See, Acosta Carles was the general who during the 2002-2003 strike looted private deposits to pretend that there was hoarding taking place, the general who personally jumped on gas trucks to force them to deliver gas to gasoline stations. His image of vulgar burping is etched into our collective memory when he was drinking warm beer that he had seized as a hoard when truth was that they could not deliver it because there was no gas anywhere. As a reward he got the nod for Carabobo state house in 2004. But even though he has been a lousy governor, that is not his major sin: he had the audacity to believe that he actually had legitimacy in his rule, and he had ideas of his own. It is irrelevant whether ideas of your own are good: within chavismo you cannot have any other ideas than those approved by the big boss. Period.

But there is more to it than these two spectacular public curses. First, we can see the personal anger of Chavez, whop having had to ditch the FARC and swallow hard has been looking for any scapegoat. His inner ugliness was for all to see today.

Second, that Baduel and Acosta Carles come form the soldiers that were considered faithful is not alien to Chavez anger. As he trusts less and less the army realizing that no matter how many free bees he gives them, there is enough professionalism left in many generals that they will only go so far in their support. This make shim very bitter towards them. Today outburst was a warning to the armed forces forced to parade in front of him. It is part of his growing campaign to replace the army with a militia directed by political hacks under control of the Cuban intelligence (let's not forget that it is the dream of Chavez, to create in Venezuela as many similarities as possible with Cuba, the only way he could pretend to remain in office forever).

But that was not all today: Chavez went out of his way to congratulate Clodosvaldo Russian for creating the latest apartheid instrument at his service. This is not accidental and reminds, for starter, the original endorsement that Chavez made about he Tascon list. Transforming citizens into second class citizens because they do not agree with Chavez is definitively a state policy under Chavez and he reminded all of that, in particular his PSUV underlings and his alleged allies at the PSUV and other minor players. See, there is a problem with the electoral campaign: the PSUV primaries have turned out to be a bust as half of the nominees are strongly challenged or are tanking at polls. And the list of nominees in trouble seems to be growing, without the opposition even having announced its final candidates. The Russian list which was designed to block from running for office notable opposition candidates was today glorified by Chavez as an instrument to fight corruption, even though the scandalous corruption under chavismo does not seem to be a matter of worth of inquiry for Russian the ruffian. The obvious implication is that anyone within the PSUV that would want to run in spite of not getting the nod by Chavez would be barred by Russian or public blame from Chavez. The immediate target of course is Acosta Carles who will be blocked from running as independent for reelection. Not that he would win, that is not the point, but because he would defy Chavez orders. (3)

And to round it all up with a flourish, a Chavez increasingly out of control stated that the opposition will never come back to power, a classic outdated "no volveran". That the majority of the opposition today had only minor positions at best in 1998, if any, that chavez after ten years of rule is now the establishment, that his regime is equally corrupt, equally egotistical as the pre 1998 situation does not seem to register with him. His Mugabization is taking place at a fast rate and today he told us, maybe not in direct terms, but certainly in direct implications, that he will not be removed from office through democratic ways.

Whoever refuses to understand that does so at its own risk.

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

1) Carabobo battle is our Yorktown equivalent, the battle that sealed the independence of Venezuela.

2) They just join in the dumpster of the revolution notable figures such as Miquilena or recent arrivals such as PODEMOS. The list grows everyday campaign one wonder who will remain when all is said and done...

3) The discretion of the state media deserves t be noted. RNV at this point chose to illustrate only the part where Chavez mentions that socialism is the only way for Venezuela. ABN is a little bit more forward but still shies for a full disclosure of Chavez word today. All underline that Chavez is goign to buy yet more weapons from Russia just as all is starting to collapse around us.


-The end-

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Zimbabwization of Venezuela

Every little bit help to stop Chavez slide toward naked authoritarianism. And trying to block his allies and source of inspiration also counts.

So please, sign this petition destined to the enablers of Mugabe, namely the South African president.

-The end-

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Delta Amacuro News and Views (conclusion)

Paradise lost?


This is not paradise

As readers might have gathered by now I have been very impressed by my trip to Delta Amacuro.

As soon as I arrived in Maturin I realized that I was going to learn more than what I was looking for, starting with my taxi driver explaining to me how PDVSA was the real power in Monagas State (and thus Delta Amacuro which is shielded by Monagas). This indeed is an area that chavismo has completely taken over, where it is almost running on its own and where political battles are among chavista factions. Besides nature gazing I was going to see the bolivarian Frankenstein working unfettered.

Within a day of having reached Caño Manamo I had understood that official life was all full of great feelings, not so good intentions and continuous Venezuelan indolence. The best example to illustrate that is the Warao school I visited: a brand new and expensive school, teachers from afar, and yet the forced acquisition of Spanish sounding names. The price for the Waraos to taste civilization would be in the short term a loss of identity, something that could subject them to chavista officials for a generation at least.

I am not the one to judge whether the sacrifice to be made by the Waraos is worth. However I must start by writing that no matter how magnificent nature is, it is not paradise. It is a sodden place, where you must built everything on stilts, were bugs and humidity and rain and heat will always torment you and where you cannot get easily what would help you to make the best of it, such as electricity to make AC run or efficiently purify water. With such an unfavorable situation to start with any real and coherent progress should be easily seen. It is not. What we see is yet another area of devil-may-care which is tempered by the harsh reality of the place which forces genuine collaboration among the people and a minimum of organization to survive.

The bolivarian revolution is not the solution for the Delta as the social programs I observed are useless to ensure long term survival of the culture, or even the permanence of the people (Caracas streets have been plagued for years now by Waraos as homeless folks). Since there is no question, at least for the time being, of transforming the delta in a rice breadbasket for the world, then social organization is useless as it cannot improve on the one formed over the centuries by the locals as they adapted to the place. It is not by coming and changing the architecture, the names, the needs, that things will get better. It is the same sad story all over again, where the natives are overwhelmed.

I would guess that only rampant capitalism through private initiative could change and improve the area, as long as it is the Waraos that become the new business people of the area. Besides the obvious health and education social programs, all the governmental actions should go to simple points: favor individual fisheries, favor individual catering to tourist willing to pay hard cash, organize a better production and distribution artisan system, protect and pay people to protect as much as possible of the delta. And preserve the Warao culture, make it a sort of bilingual area, truly.

Let's face it: the only possible source of hard cash in the Delta area is any oil that could still be found and tourists willing to pay for what can only be an expensive proposal. But the bolivarian mindset is unable to get that point, as we can hear form all the empty slogans of "democratizing" tourism, and making sure that all can "participate". The reality of the delta is the Occam's razor of such a system. Putting up lots of political billboards or changing the names of the kids is not going to change the reality of the delta. The type of tourists that go there is the hardy type, the one that is willing to pay big bucks and put up with significant discomfort in order to observe the wonders of nature. The bolivarian masses? Well, let's not be coy with words: most of these masses are more interested in hanging out at beaches or A.C. malls, Sambil style, than fighting bugs and spending hours sitting under the sun on a boat to get to see a few exotic birds.

But I suppose we cannot help it, Venezuelans have never been too much into that type of tourism and are even less able to understand it. The planes are full towards Miami and ten years of chavismo have not changed that. One night talking to my guide I asked him which were the more interesting tourists, or at least the most interested ones. He thought about it very little and said that the Germans were the best ones. The French tended to be a little bit more adventurous but the Germans were the ones that cared the most about all what they saw. I had to ask which where the worst ones. This time my native guide looked around to make sure no one would hear his reply. Then he leaned toward me "The Venezuelans: they only want to party and drink beer".

Thus I should not be surprised about all what I saw.

There is clearly no long term plan, no solid structure to trey to get the best of the area. Even at Pedernales which should be a well furnished base camp for excursions, you had trouble for running water. Tucupita and Caño Manamo have suffered from the dike crossing the Caño and so far, even though salinization is advancing fast, there is no talk of letting more Orinoco water spill to Manamo. There is not even regular flights to Tucupita, something that would be easy for the state to subsidize to attract more Venezuelan tourists that would content themselves with a visit at Tucupita and some local boating for a jungle experience. Instead the locals are offered motor boats and cheap gasoline whose ecological damage will appear sooner than later as the local river mammals numbers surely are starting to fall. Is there any agency monitoring them? The government could have started from the right foot by creating a river commuting system of sorts, but that would have required work and organization and commitment. Thus wild anarchy is paradoxically preferred on this respect!

I think that the Delta is still protected by its sheer size, even if burning land for ranches is advancing fast in the upper areas. But the danger to the Delta is clear and it is not necessarily at the Delta itself. Deforestation in the Andes, increasing pollution from the the growing population of the Orinoco and its tributaries are very likely to make their effect felt sooner than later. Right now the the real threat is for the Waraos to decide to chose a life of misery on the dry land as they realize that their original habitat cannot provide for them with the expectations that modernity offers them. Watching Direct TV on a sodden stilt house must have an effect when the government offers you mostly slogans and free aspirin.

--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
The Delta Amacuro series

The trip
From Monagas to Caño Manamo
Nature wonders
The Waraos: integration, acculturation, domination or extinction?
Pedernales, or the limit of a revolution.


-The end-

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday's random waste of your precious time

The perfect Cuba Libre

San Felipe is just too warm for Scotch. Thus for drinks I rely on other classics such as Gin Tonic (on the rare instances that I can find tonic water), Screwdriver (if by luck I get oranges or 100% orange juice, something that also has disappeared from the shelves) or the Cuba Libre, if it is really hot, really sunny, and if I have real Coke (not to be taken for granted in Venezuela).

It is not to brag, but I probably do the best Cuba Libres that you will ever find. It is a matter of being strict with ingredients. I will argue on many recipes but on Cuba Libre, as well as Chavez and Castro, my mind is made and will not change no matter what.

First, there are two ingredients that are essential, upon which no compromise is possible: real Coca Cola and real Angostura bitters. If you must use diet coke, or any other variety of the stuff, do not bother and please, serve me anything else you might have, even lukewarm cheap beer. I cannot tell you the trouble it was for me when Coca Cola did its new formula, which mercifully failed. When Coke returned under the "classic" label, life became worth living again (but by then I had gained a surprising craving for single malt Scotch, but that is another story).

So there is the recipe.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chavez needs more enemies: antagonizing all of Europe

We have to give it to Chavez: he always manage to outdo himself. However today for sheer ignorance, inflated ego, arrogant emptiness, bombastic delusion, sheer hypocrisy and plain dumb ass stupidity, Chavez has reached a high that will be difficult to surpass.

It all started with the European Union parliament voting a tougher law about illegal aliens and simplifying procedures to send them back home. I have no idea what that law is all about as I did not even know that the Strasbourg parliament was discussing such an illegal alien law. So maybe the law is a bitch, but one sure thing I know is that the law is designed above all for immigrants form Africa rather than those of Latin America whose integration
within Europe, for cultural reasons, is easier.

But apparently some South American head of states started to scream bloody murder. Noteworthy among then are those form Bolivia, Ecuador and of course today Chavez. Before I continue let me make this very simple observation: how come that those who have been complaining the loudest so far are those who are leading countries where there is a strong emigration movement due to the nature of the regimes they are presiding over? Curious, no? Could it be that they are afraid that Europe would force back home the people that sought betterment and democracy elsewhere. Those people have tasted how does
democracy really functions and will be less docile than the subjects that decided to remain home and put up with with the delusions of the glorious pseudo revolutionaries. But I am starting to digress...

The fact of the matter is that Chavez today decided to speak against the new European law, and prodded on by his sycophantic clapping crowd in front of him could not stop himself. The meeting was a reception of the president elect of Paraguay, Lugo, another client of Chavez. Chavez was exhibiting his latest trophy at a time where he is losing support all around, which probably did not help in smoothing his frail self control. So what did Chavez said?
That the law was awful, fascist, against Human rights [this coming form the guy who brought you the Tascon list, who threw out of jobs thousands and thousands of political opponents, who let the Anderson case simmer and rot, who just had 400 folks barred from their civil rights, and more, much more]

That any European country that decided to apply the law he would stop sending them Venezuelan oil [this form the guy that in spite of the Iraq horror keeps sending the bulk of Venezuelan production to the United States]

That any European country that dared enforce this law against Venezuelan nationals would see its assets in Venezuela expelled from the country [this from the guy who is upset when any other government dares to express a surprise about any of his decisions, never mind the tantrums he puts on if they actually criticize his decisions]
But these outrageous and uncalled for comments revealed even more about Chavez.
He ignores how democracy works.

He has no idea on how the European Union came about, what for and how it works.

He thinks that he actually can blackmail Estonia with Venezuelan oil, a fungible low grade commodity that Europe is ill equipped to deal with for starters.

He thinks that European companies depend much more on Venezuela than what Venezuela depends on them; or does anyone think that Chavez could expel at once Movistar, Banco De Venezuela, Banco Provincial without the financial and communication sectors of the country risking a collapse? Does anyone think that Venezuela could do without the food and pharmaceutical imports it receives from Europe?

He grossly misrepresent the Venezuelan people and he is an embarrassing vulgarity in his lack of respect for what other countries do.

And worse of all, he does not respect Venezuela and its people's fate.
Tonight I am embarrassed for my country as the European will have a field day tomorrow about the howling monkey from Venezuela, who failed to free Ingrid Betancourt, who runs shoddy elections, who is wrecking the productive capacity of his country, who is in bed with the FARC, who dares to talk about things he knows shit about and who is forcing the expatriation of his best and brightest to Europe and the US while his country is everyday running shorter and shorter of talent.

Chavez is certifiable.

-The end-

Petkoff on the implications of Isaias Rodriguez cover up

Today's Tal Cual editorial marks a new high/low in the "Anderson affair".

Teodoro Petkoff wearily starts by remarking that once again he is obliged to write on the case. But this time his editorial goes further than ever. If he repeats the question as to who was Isaias Rodriguez protecting, covering for, Petkoff gives an answer: high ranking political players.

See, the argument advanced by the Anderson case prosecutors was basically that Anderson was examining some bankers money and political deals and thus it was justified to go after them to look for "suspects". Hence the arrest of the president of the Banco Federal who has since been totally exculpated.

However the situation since has changed dramatically. The star witness, Geovanny Vasquez, has been shown to have lied through and through, and some of the prosecutors and judges of the case have been shown to have manipulated the evidence, going as far as making outright forgeries. Three now are under investigation.

What this editorial brings is a higher bidding of what lies behind the case. This time Petkoff writes that such a cover up, such an amount of personal risk that Isaias took then, can only be justified if the people being protected were occupying high political ranking in the government. Indeed, the extent of the misdeed is now so impressive that we are allowed to wonder as to whether Isaias would risk so much for some banker's payoff funds.

With this editorial Petkoff raises the ante and takes a personal risk: he is telling to the government that the people that Isaias was/is protecting are in the close entourage of Chavez and that the murderers of Anderson worked for the Chavez administration, not for the opposition. He does not give names but this blog will fill in the blanks: at that time two of the blokes that had the most influence in the day to day managing of the country were Jose Vicente Rangel and Diosdado Cabello. Both have left the government since though still involved in partisan inner warfare. I do not mean to point my finger to them, but you had to be of a comparable importance in government to be put in a position of requesting the elimination of Anderson. The list of possible suspects include personnel from the finance ministry of the time, or even associates or underlings of powerful people who might have commandeered the murder as free agents. Also we could add that it was a time when fast fortunes were made by the "boliburgues" new elite who was closely linked to the government. One thing is certain: whoever ordered the murder of Anderson had powerful motives, and access to considerable means, and the ability to pressure Isaias Rodriguez effectively. That should narrow the list of probable suspects, and all, starting with Chavez himself, have great interest in clearing up things before someone eventually talks. Otherwise, even if they had nothing to do with the said assassination, they will also go down as favoring the cover up this late by delaying any investigation and trying to shield Isaias from the prosecution he so richly deserves.

The rottenness of the Chavez administration seems to have been much older than what we thought, and probably started a few days after Chavez reached office. But all eventually comes to light and right now the Anderson affair could reach the foundations of Chavez power. Dangerous, very dangerous!

PS: the editorial is here in Spanish. It is not good enough to deserve translation as the main idea is quite simple and better explained above for those late into the story.


-The end-

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Exporting oil 'til we drop dead

The Economist had a cute graph where it described the countries with the most diversified exports. That is, the type of country that will export the pasta, the pan to cook the pasta, the sauce for the pasta, the stove to cook the pasta, the dishes to serve the pasta, etc....



As my introduction would have suggested, Italy in 2005 was the most diversified country as far as the nature of its exports, with a whooping 4 percent for pharmaceuticals and 3% for car parts. So I went to the Venezuelan central bank pages to look at the numbers of Venezuela. I did not take the 2005 because, well, we were still digging our way out to a terrible recession. Instead I took the 2006 numbers, two years into the pretended Chavez economical miracle. I could have chosen 2007 but the price increase of oil was too much and it would be unfair. The result imitating the Economist format is below.



Of course, no surprise there. Venezuela after 7 years of Chavez rule depends as heavily or more form oil for its exports.

But heck, I went and looked at the results for the first quarter of 2008. With increasingly higher prices for oil. Well, the situation gets worse. Not only that, but with the disappearance of the private oil sector exports now we have a private sector portion of exports reduced to very little. Should I bother looking to figure out which of the 5 items which represent the largest share of exports, Economist fashion?
Houston, I think we have a problem.

-The end-

The end of France

Thus France left the Eurocup with one of its worst showings ever in a major tournament, and definitely the psychologically worst result. And somehow I am not too upset, in fact finding quite a silver lining for world football.

As soon as the French tied Romania I knew it was all over. This was THE GAME France had to win to ensure its chance in the "death group". Instead it announced that France would be the worst team of the tournament. I did not watch the other games. The only surprise for me was that Italy did manage to qualify though it did not deserve it. Well, it deserved it more than the French to qualify but still, brave Romania should have had the nod.

The lesson of this cup, so brilliantly demonstrated by the Netherlands, is that nothing can match a good and decided offensive game. Defensive games like Italy or France have been displaying (and since Zidane departure it is even more pathetic for France which has fallen into a "catenachio" of sorts) will have now to be reviewed after the Netherlands humiliated successively Italy 3-0 and France 4-1 in what has to be the most dramatic winning streak in world football history. You can have the best defense of the world but if you have a self-indulgent and uncoordinated attack you cannot hope for much better than 0-0 against Romania. Italy has managed to pull it off better because this strategy has been its football tradition, reflecting its international spirit of knowing that it was never the strongest country and thus only caution and guile would allow for it to win. That is why if many respect Italy's game, few love it.

But that does not work for France who has a more national dashing spirit.

There are also more negative things about the French team. That coach Domenech could not resist favoring stars was only one of the minor failings. But there were also psychological failings. See, football at this level also thrives on the psychological impact of being in the National Team, on representing one's country, or tribe if you wish. Silly for sure, but a reality. Thus a national team cannot be managed as a club team. Supporter of Chelsea or Real Madrid do not care if their players are green with little antennas: they want their city team to win. Supporters of a national team think differently. When you watch the line up of the 11 players representing your national team singing your national anthem you look for the one that looks like your neighbor, your coworker, your relative. It is part of the fantasy that maybe if things had been different you could have been the one singing on that field, before playing the game of your life. But when you look at he French team you are looking at an African team.

Now, I do not want this to be taken as a racist comment, not at all. The progress and integration of the sons of African immigrants in Europe is great and most national selections have now 1, 2 and more black/turks/north-african/elsewhere players, but no other country has pushed the envelope so far as having now token white players.

When France played the Netherlands in Bern a few days ago, the French nightly TV newscast was naively wondering about the streets of Bern so filled with orange shirts while the French drowned by that "Oranje" wave seemed almost absent. Look at an Europe map and you also will be surprised. Within a 3 hour drive of Bern you may have 10 million Frenchmen. By train? Way more than what the Netherlands could send for about the same trip. Yet the Dutch went and the French stayed home.

Sport psychology works in mysterious ways but there is one parameter that is always present: you are only a true star champion when you can connect with your crowd, whichever that crowd is. You feed from each other. McEnroe was a reviled brat and yet he filled the Tennis courts because he was such an American bad boy. Sampras or Federer have a more impressive resume but all remember McEnroe, or even Borg cold class.

France needs to look into why white kids are not playing football good enough. Football, like baseball in Venezuela, is in France a favored way to escape the ghetto. In Venezuela you will find many Venezuelans who claim to be fans of baseball but yet they will not be able to mention exactly the current standings of the major league. Yet, without hesitation, they will give you the statistics of the Venezuelan players up North, and how much money they are making.

I have always wondered if there was a Baseball true world cup how good Venezuela would fare? I am willing to bet that Santo Domingo would do better. The Venezuelan team would be comprised of fragile celebrities, more worried about preserving their arm for their club. The Santo Domingo team will be formed of Quisqueyanos.

This is what happened to France, it is an assembly of celebrities, much more worried about their chance to get into or remain in the Spanish league than to take risks to beat Romania. I cannot blame them, I would probably do the same if I were in their "crampons". Why should they have a wet eye in case they know the words of the Marseillaise? France has become such a class society that football is their only option for riches and fame and the heck with the snob French that could not be bothered to come.

Meanwhile as of now France has ceased being a world football powerhouse and its classification for the South Africa cup is not even a sure thing.

And as for this blogger, he can root happily for the Netherlands or Portugal.


-The end-

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ali Rodriguez Araque finance minister: a new defeat for Chavez

After almost two weeks of rumors Chavez finally named his new finance minister in the person of Ali Rodriguez Araque. What most people might fail to notice is that this nomination is yet a new sign of Chavez current weakness, an almost admission of yet a new political set back.

First, a new finance minister appointment was needed because the current holder, Rafael Isea, has been thrown to the electoral battle fields to try to salvage Aragua state. Isea was not someone easy to replace.

After a reasonably long tenure, by chavismo standards, at many financial posts Isea had become quite tied with all bond emissions, bonds of dubious values and of less than transparent management. Thus Isea became a darling of sorts to the chavista financial groups, someone who knew only too well how to make Chavez main backers happy. Whoever was to replace Isea must be of the utmost trust of Chavez , and utmost discretion to make sure that nothing would ventilate out of the ministry. In particular these difficult days, as Cristina Kirchner, just to name an example of Chavez debtors, is sinking fast. An everyday more likely Argentina debt default would call into question the more than 6 billions of Argentina debt that the Chavez government foolishly acquired. This time it will not be the IMF that will be left holding the bag, but the Venezuelan people.

Amazingly it seems that Chavez was not able to find anyone with any serious capacity willing to take on the finance ministry (that perhaps Isea was very relieved to leave). He had to postpone his now infamous address to the country to offer new economic measures because simply he had no one to sit on his right. Short of calling Giordani back he had to turn to a faithful, someone who would accept to bear with all hard times that seem to lie ahead. Thus Ali Rodriguez Araque, who for the sake of the revolution will accept to take the blame in a vain effort to protect Chavez.

One has to realize that Ali is a hard core leftist, an ex guerrilla that came down from the mountain in the last batches and always gravitated wherever he felt were the most radical political groups. He ended up with the PPT which has provided a disproportionate amount of civilian cadres to Chavez as the only party remaining inside his coalition who had people with a career of sorts before Chavez came to power. Even though the MVR outranked by very far the PPT in votes, this one almost achieved at times parity inside the government.

The many positions that Ali R. occupied were crucial for Chavez on two aspects: he always presided where Chavez needed to access funds that he would not normally have access to; and he would be placed where funds would be spent in ways that Chavez should not spend them. Ali R. presided over the transformation of PDVSA from an independently managed and accountable business into one business whose sole mission was to pass any buck it made directly to Chavez without going through any real legislative control. Ramirez just followed into the foot steps to finish the transformation of PDVSA into a disgusting political agency. Ali R. also was placed on foreign policy duties where he worked on the ways to provide money to all sorts of unsavory allies. And then, when older and sicker, he was dispatched to Cuba to monitor the crucial link of Chavez. The embassy at Cuba is crucial enough that he went there to replace no one else but Chavez brother himself, which tells you how essential that job is. Besides the ideological and political implications of the post, it is also the most likely conduit through which all sorts of corrupt and amoral deals go through.

I am not saying by this that Ali R. actually made rich from any of these positions, not at all. But Ali R. has this most precious of qualities sought by autocrats like Chavez: he is a believer and for the sake of the success of the revolution he is willing to close his eyes upon as many misdeeds he will need to close his eyes.

As for the possibility that Ali might encounter some success in his tenure? None.
He is there for the very short term. Comes December, depending on the electoral results, a new minister will be sent for.

No matter what he does he is inheriting an economic policy that has already failed and that shows no sign that someone is really trying to mend. When the inflation of Venezuela is the highest, by very far, of Latin America no analysis are required anymore, just a dramatic change.

At a time where creativity is required to ford the shoals of overspending and stuck production, he is an ideologue, stuck in the 60ies. He is also unbending and autocratic even if his demeanor is soft spoken.

Whatever pragmatism he has shown on occasion, it will be swept away by the needs that Chavez will display as the electoral campaign progresses.

And surrounded with creeps like El Troudi, there is no hope he will get advice worthwhile following.

And that is why we assist to yet another failure of Chavez. In his need he had to scavenge the bottom of the barrel to bring up a guy well past his prime, sick and weak, and this he did right after he once again he insulted the intelligence of the country alienating further its productive forces. That is, had Chavez wanted to sabotage the potential of his new finance minister, he woudl not have operated any differently.

Chavez has been unable for years to attract new talent, and even in his recycling he manages to fail.

-The end-

Friday, June 13, 2008

Delta Amacuro News and Views (5)

Pedernales, or the limits of a revolution

Pedernales sits at the end of Caño Mànamo where the murky waters of the Orinoco meet the muddied waters of the Ocean. All is flat, all is wide, all is far. For some of us, sensible to remote spots on Atlas that make us dream, Pedernales is almost magical, of that edge of the world magic.


Pedernales means "field of stones". There are not many stones there, but there used to be reefs hundreds of thousand of years ago far into the Ocean. The river one day reached and surrounded them with mud flats. Pedernales was named as such because they are the only rocky outcrops of the whole delta, and they offer the only place where houses can be built on ground. But not even that much, as the few rocky island are barely big enough, one for an airstrip, another for nothing except a rustic hotel and the largest one, at the strategic point, big enough for a Coast Guard station and a very few hundred souls.

Pedernales can only collect rain water and fish whatever swims in front. There is a single truck in Pedernales to carry the heavy loads that reach the pier as all must come from outside, probably even water (1). But that is OK, the streets can be gaily painted as only bikes can risk damaging the locals creations. (2)

And yet Pedernales could have been rich. Asphalt was found in the area and exploited in the XIX century. The Manamo was important enough a river road that Pedernales could have benefited from its privileged position, the one where the pilots would come on board to sail the liquid mud up to Tucupita. There they could seek oil in the first half of the XX century, or most of the timber that built cities like Cumana. All cruised in front of Pedernales.

But nothing came of it and Pedernales has remained a forgotten village, truly at the edge of the world. Still, it has failed to become miserable because PDVSA is there and because the coast guard has a nice and modern compound on what is perhaps the only tiny hill of the Delta. Just across the river there is a PDVSA set up, which by itself justifies the maintenance of the airstrip used for their own needs. But what a waste! There is huge gas torch that has been burning perhaps for decades while most of the Manamo lacks electricity. That gas is not even used to boil sea water to collect its dew, it is just a strange beacon that entertains folks seeking a fresh breeze on the river boardwalk at night.

Pedernales is a rather cheerful place. After all the climate is not unhealthy. True, it is humid, warm, but not unhealthy as the tides wash up all and the sea breeze reaches it. Three streets run through it with perhaps a dozen cross ones. It sits mostly on an isthmus between the Coast Guard hill and the swampy area. Its church is strangely attractive, in a naive way, paradoxically the only thing blue when one is surrounded by such brown water, and a gray sky.

Walking through Pedernales I quickly realized that it might a great laboratory to study how far the tentacles of the chavista experiment could reach. After all, it is as remote as possible, without roads to reach it, without regular flights, only boats from Guiria, Trinidad or Tucupita. And all depends from the state as only fisherman and artisans for the rare tourist would make a relatively independent living. Besides, Delta Amacuro is one of the three top vote getters for chavismo in percentage. And there was that fabulous PSUV house, so boldly presenting itself.

But our first surprise was to notice that if chavismo is strong there, it is certainly not overwhelming. Yes, for sure the PSUV house was for all to see and government posters where everywhere. But yet the old COPEI house was still up and was still showing that it had occasional activity, if anything to put posters for the NO.

Pedernales is reasonably clean and reasonably well kept if rather poor. Traditions have survived and even though chavista Venezuela has reached it, tradition is to be seen. These two Warao women were coming back from the market carrying a morocoy, a land turtle, of considerable size if you ask me. I did not talk to them but I talked to another one, a "criollo" woman, who was also carrying an even bigger live animal. They had just arrived that day and apparently it was a major event. The beasts will be settled in their backyard for a few days and fed it plenty. Then they will be killed to do a soup of sorts. I did not ask for the recipe.

But this picture also speaks on different levels. The Warao girls were well fed, well dressed, and yet they walked barefoot. The criollos you might see on other shots all wore shoes. The two cultures have still a long way to go to mix even if both enjoy morocoy sancocho, and even if both shop at the local and lone market.


That was that, the market. Inside only a stand that sold fish and a few vegetables and some dry goods. The fruits were sold on the left. All comes at high tide when the water reaches the market dock. And yet it was still better furnished than the competition: the Mercal located within the evangelical church. It is important to note that the Evangelical community in Venezuela is divided, congregations either support fervently the government or oppose it bitterly. Since I am not a religious person I cannot bother trying to understand the why of each, but it is still an observation worth noting.

At any rate, I visited that Mercal and it was rather bare. Oh, they did have a few things, laundry detergent, some canned stuff, even a fridge with some cold juices inside. But the fresh produce was at the water side market, morocoyes and all. By the way, you can also observe that some of the houses of Pedernales look like little villas, and all are equally fortified against thieves even though I am at a loss to imagine where they could go and hide their loot. Enough money to build small villas makes it there, somehow.

Chavismo has certainly taken root in Pedernales and many folks are not afraid of flaunting their preferences. We entered in what looked like the lone cafe of the island, placed next to a culture ministry sponsored joint that claimed to rent DVD. It was not open that early morning, but the owner did welcome us anyway. The place was pleasant though already quite warm, but there was no running water and no coffee could be offered. We had to settle later for the lone general store of the island where we gratefully found cold Gatorade to recover from our explorations.

We also saw that chavismo penetrates in the most unsuspecting ways. For example this "boutique", funded courtesy of some governmental grant, and paced deep inside the village. I suppose that location is not really an issue there: no one lives more than half a dozen small blocks from anywhere and thus the woman just needs to seat there, take care of her kids and wait for some one who at some point will have to show up, if anything to chat a bit. I doubt that she makes any money out of this venture, or if she will ever do. The little grant she gets will always be enough to cover her deficit. She is happy, and I can understand that.

But chavismo has also brought modernity in the form of the Cuban clinic, a massive construction for the place, and one without much windows, generically made, an A.C. compound where unless you go in as a patient there is little you will know about. The picture includes the Cuban medic, bored, watching the street go by from garage step.

I did ask a little bit about the Cubans there. Apparently they mostly keep to themselves most of the time, and they even have their own diner place, half a block away, el "comedor de los cubanos". That is, they manage the biggest construction of the village outside of the governmental installations, and they have the biggest eatery of the place, with an upper story, all nicely decorated with all sorts of political mementos, least we forgot what is the other reason they are here, besides offering health care. I could not figure out their numbers but at least judging for the tables at that spot, together with their Venezuelan handlers we are talking of a least a dozen guys.


In a way I understand why the exclusive eatery (next to a sort of bar by the way) : what could the Cubans ever discuss with the locals whose culture is so obviously still bon enfant, so removed from Cuba? Because in spite of ten years of social division, just as SD managed to take the red shirted guy above, I had absolutely no problem to have this lovely daycare center pose for a picture as they were crossing the street for some reason. And no, the red shirt was not political, it was just to make sure that the kids were seen from afar.


Here you have it, the beauty of Venezuela, where criollo and Warao kids mix as nothing, as they have always done since independence.

But not all Warao kids were at school that day. Walking toward the shrimp factories we reached a seedier side of town and we came across this laundry scene, directly on the street. What you see there is a Warao family that got enough money to buy a washing machine, a luxury in the Delta since only Pedernales seems to have enough electricity and water to allow for washing machines. Elsewhere in the Delta I was struck by the amount of laundry scenes done directly inside Caño Manamo.

The Styrofoam of the package has been kept and children always been children turned it into a mini pool where three of them manage to soak. There is no sewer and when the wash is done, it runs to the street.

And there this other family who a little bit further could not afford a washer but did their laundry on the side walk as usual...


So you have it here, with the good and the bad, the limits of the bolivarian revolution. Some are lifted up, but too many are still left behind, even if they have now a South Korea made cheap washer. Propaganda and gifts are not enough to make a real difference. Customs and religion are still everyday to be seen.

And yet the will to try exists, such as that woman opening a boutique or this guy who advertises on the main pier his "posada" for the errand tourist to stay at, with the blessing of Jesus. It is a cooperative, probably set with governmental credits, probably full of good intentions, plenty of will and love. But can it succeed? Why should tourist come to visit when the low tide reveals to you the sorry spectacle below? Certainly, we cannot expect a beach where mud goes up and down twice a day, but surely the tourism office could pick up the worse of the trash and paint with a fresher coat the edge of the concrete walk.


Again as it has always been done in Venezuela oil history: little grants to gain votes, little grants that are doomed to fail because the surroundings are not helping, are not taken care of.

And still I loved every minute I was in Pedernales. In my magical dreams I was not expecting anything but the feel to have gone as far as I could. I found more. Every detail spoke to me. Every corner had something that moved me, such as this strange add of someone selling a computer.

I was wondering if any of the inhabitants remembered when steamers sailed in front, if their parents lived there then, if they told them tall tales and if that is what makes them happy today. Or if I was the only one stupid enough to think about those things.

Or perhaps they are happy because they are at the end of things, and their peace cannot be disturbed by any political hurricane, any change in society, because they cannot even own a car if they could afford it, and because well, they do not even need a bike...

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

1) The paradox of Perdernales is that even though it is at the end of one of the second flow of the Americas, the tides make the water unusable.

2) Click on pictures to enlarge them.


-The end-

Tacky football video of the day

From the country who brought you ABBA, there is Rednex (I am not making up this Eurodance/Eurotrash thing). They have their unofficial Euro Cup video, a winner of the genre. Look for "Football is our Religion" (unless your browser allows for Yahoo pop up windows).

-The end-

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Economic news

One wonderful thing about Venezuela lately is that I do not need to write much on economics. After all it has become quite clear that things are not going well, and that it is plastered on all papers around the world, thus I need not to convince anyone.

Doubt me?

Should I mention that outside of oil industry private investment in Venezuela is lower than what some Central American countries receive? That the perception of mess, disorder and insecurity coupled to corruption had made Venezuela as one of the least desirable places where to invest?

And what about the increasing cost of doing business in Venezuela? Should we include inflation as a business cost? Heck, in May it was a stunning 3.2% in spite of an inflation control agenda set up earlier this year which is on its way to halve the growth rate. But when you look at the numbers from May 2007 to May 2008 we are told, with the already "improved" numbers of the Central Bank, that the wealthier part of the country suffered a total inflation of 29.6% and that the poorer part of the country suffered an inflation of 35.9%. That is right, in this socialistic wonderful revolution the poor suffer more than the rich. You gotta love the irony! And how come? Because food inflation was 47.3% in one year and of course lower incomes are the ones who spend relatively the most on food. Chavismo has dilapidated our oil fortune in massive food plans like Mercal and PDVAL, in food subsidies, in massive importations, and all for nothing.

No wonder that last night Chavez did again a marathon cadena to offer yet again a new economical plan. The only positive highlight would be a flexibilization of CADIVI requirements for some people (which probably will fire up corruption). The other alleged highlight was the elimination of the business transaction tax, but that effect has already been integrated in inflation and folks are not going to lower prices for that, much less after the disastrous May number. Unfortunately all the negatives remained, such as only helping business linked with the state: the same cronies who have been sucking as leeches from the state for the past 3 years will be the ones allowed in and we have seen how efficient they were, at leeching, not producing. Neither were words to offer people to have a little bit more security with their property. Electoral band aids all, and of dubious value. Expect no improvement from this plan except perhaps a little bit more stuff on the shelves, but at higher prices, and only until November....

No, the reasons why the economy keeps floundering are mismanagement and total lack of understanding of which are the factors that move the economy of a country. For that you can listen to Miguel's interview at NPR which will tell you, through the example of the stupid gasoline subsidy, why things are not going well in Venezuela, and why if if it were not for a barrel at 130 we would have collapsed long ago. If the government would have at least the courage the sell gas at cost, then maybe we would have a more realistic price structure and a better chance to bring down inflation at more reasonable figures.

All in all, do I need to translate this Weil cartoon today?



-The end-

Post 2000

I do not know what kind of milestone this might mean, but according to my "blogger counter" this is post number 2000.

It is perhaps as good an excuse to also say that I have received a recognition from the Spanish language blogosphere through Alexis Marrero, Premio al Esfuerzo Personal.

From its title, "Prize to personal effort", we can assume safely that it is a way for bloggers to recognize their colleagues who have been particularly consistent over the year. Well, since January 2003 and with now 2000 posts, I do fit at least the material part of the gratefully received acknowledgment.

I am supposed to name my own awardees but I am at a loss for that. To begin with I must solve the issue as to which language should I give the majority of the up to five awards I am supposed to give. And second I have a horrible confession to do: I read very few blogs because of a chronic lack of time. I spend already so much time in researching and writing that only on week ends, on occasion, I sit for an hour or two to read some blogs. Yes, there is not even a half dozen blogs that I visit at least once a week. The Venezuelan English anti Chavez ones do not count because when I am torn about what issue to write about I check on them first to see if they have not covered it already: I hate redundancy. Oh well, I think what I can come up with later. Meanwhile thanks for Alexis very opportune recognition, I am touched.

-The end-

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chavez and his Damocles FARC laptops

Truly, an image is worth a thousand words, as Weil once again shows us today.
Chavez: We need to create 1, 2, 3 Vietnams.
Chavez after been shown Reyes laptop:
It is time to put an end to the guerrilla.

Weil says more and better than what it took me to say it for Pajamas media (about 1300 words....). They were interested enough in my opinion to ask me to write an article for them.

-The end-

The virginity of the West

There are things that truly make one wonder about the future of the planet. There is for sure global warming, but there are things equally terrible in their social consequences such as the wave of Muslim women practicing hymenoplasty across Europe. This report from the New York Times should make any one of us concerned about separation of Religion and State, about individual will and about the elemental right to privacy shudder. I am not going to examine this article: it speaks for itself and should be mandatory reading. Instead I am wondering about the Western World being more concerned these days about putting gas in their cars for as cheap as they can, and thus allowing a new crop of lousy dictators grow more powerful by the day. Pedro perfectly describes our local basket case autocrat here.

But when you see that of all countries of Europe in France a Muslim man manages to have his marriage annulled because the bride was not a virgin, and the woman accept this, then there is something deeply wrong in the French legal system and in a society that is unable to make these people evolve outside of the medieval primitiveness in which their minds are still locked up. We are talking here of a country who not that long ago bravely put a bipartisan fight to stop girls from wearing head scarves at public schools, a country that we thought of well above such archaisms, even among its educated Muslim migrants.

I do own an autographed copy of Revolution From Within of Gloria Steinem. I got it when I attended one of her fascinating lectures in, I believe, 1993. It is amazing that 15 years later, in France, her feminist positions are perhaps more urgently required than ever. It is also rather inconceivable that today movements focused against the Iraq war of the global warming do not make more rooms to fight, say, female clitoris ablation in many third world countries, whose societies are trying to sneak such abhorrent practices in the West. Nobody believes that Bush daughter who got married recently arrived virgin to the altar...

A sense of perspective is needed by all of these leftist garden varieties who support ANYTHING against the US, thus indirectly tolerating sexual mutilation, gay hanging and localized genocide.

It is also inconceivable that Chavez espouses such countries when he leads a country where women have been liberated long ago, which was a pioneer in divorce (1904) and female real suffrage (1947). But chavismo is also a macho movement who has not been able to regulate abortion and keeps it in the back room of certain clinics. Any women empowerment is lip service since there is only one person with real power here, El Supremo. We have never seen him speak tough against irresponsible paternity and forcing fathers to take charge of their kids, we have yet to see him protect the deteriorating national parks, we will never hear him utter a work of condemnation about Darfur, we see him hugging presidents who hang gay folks, and more of such atrocities. But he is perceived as a hero by people who supposedly should be fighting against all of these issues. Oh yes! He gives free food and aspirin and subsidizes Cuba.

Going back to Gloria. In her speech she was very adamant about linking anti abortion groups, anti feminist groups together with anti gay groups to put them all clearly on a patriarchal level of male control, or rather top male control I should say. I also remember that in the audience there was not 10% male attendance and yet her speech resonated in us equally as in the women attending. Maybe in the US that ratio as improved as Obama is now the breakthrough standard bearer of the Democrats. But today in Venezuela, Gloria might not be allowed to talk at a PSUV meeting while creeps like Eva Golinger laud Chavez wherever people are willing to put up with her silly nonsense.

Sometimes I think the world is really screwed up and that energy search rules all. And thus the French do not want to upset the Muslim oil owners and the North-Americans do not lift a finger against Chavez as long as oil flows. They both enable these clowns to bring misery at home and to their neighbors. I am not sure how interested I am in such a world, even though societies like the Danes and Colombians refuse to let themselves be bullied. I certainly think that Bush has contributed greatly to this degeneration, and not only with his Iraq foolishness. But then again I also fail to detect in Obama the resolve to address what really matters, at least to me.

End of rant. Sorry, but sometimes one needs to take stuff off his chest.


-The end-

Monday, June 09, 2008

The 2008 election gambles; conclusion and perspective

I did not plan to write a conclusion to the series of posts on the 2008 election I wrote this past two weeks, but a declaration of Mendoza and the events of these recent days require a conclusion which is also sort of an update. Isn't it something how news in Venezuela seem to need an update so fast?

The first post tried to show how focused Chavez would be. More than any one else in Venezuela he knows that any future political career for him past 2012 depends on a convincing victory next November. Failure to confirm once again his populist ascendant, a must for any populist, will mean that at the latest he will leave his job in January 2013.

The second post tried to imagine what would be the Chavez strategy to make sure any losses in November will be limited. Considering the stakes, we can predict that he will pull all the levers he can even if they are illegal or unethical.

It is under the light of these two considerations that we must explain the stunning reversals that Chavez has been doing these recent months. They include the revision of the new education programs, the withdrawal of the security law and yesterday abandonment of the FARC. Clearly Chavez must have seen some polls that prove to him that not only these issues were not going to give him any advantage in gaining votes, but they also will offer the opposition powerful weapons. One thing is sure: Chavez has learned from his self inflicted wound with the RCTV closing which contributed greatly in his loss last December. He will try to avoid such mistakes. In other words Chavez has discovered that this time around he will have a real opposition in front and that he will need to run a real campaign. Thus he cannot afford to be saddled with issues that satisfy his ego but bring him only problems.

The third post looked at the opposition challenge. Considering the mood of the country the political opposition has its work cut out. It must speak to the real needs of the country, that is the general inefficiency of Chavez administration. It must convince Venezuelans that it can run better cities and states than a chavista administration, going as far as proving that even if the central government sabotage local opposition holdings, these will still be able to provide better service. It must understand that the wishes for unity expressed by the opposition voters are not a caprice, that they all want first the local chavista to get out of misrepresenting them and for that they do not care who is the unity candidate as long as s/he speaks to their root concerns. The candidates must realize that if they do not understand the stakes of the country, their voters do so very much. In other words successful opposition candidate will be able to have a local vocabulary with a national grammar.

The fourth post dealt with what possible meaning the results would convey. As we have seen from Chavez actions, he is quite clear about what he needs: popular vote victory and almost all of the state houses, including Caracas and Miranda. The opposition must understand once and for all that the true meaning of the November result is not how many districts it wins, but how damaged Chavez power is, that is, comes November, it is possible that the result in a few chosen key districts might become more important than the whole result. If there is one single reason that should make the political opposition see the light it is to realize that this one did not win the 2007 referendum: it was Chavez who lost it. Chavez does understand that, which explains why he is trying to push many of the constitutional reform provisions through barely legal ways, guessing, so far wrongly, that the opposition might not be able to counter a Chinese water torture proceeding.

The fifth post finally allowed me to post my first prediction, based on recent historical trends more than anything else. I predicted that the opposition should win 7 states, that 1 was leaning seriously in its favor and that up to three more were reasonably accessible. That is , I am giving the opposition a potential of 11 states, which is for me the best result it can hope for at this writing. Well, today Enrique Mendoza sort of confirmed my analysis by declaring that the opposition should make all possible efforts to win 10 states and 190 districts. Thus Mendoza set the bar to reach, as he also stated without ambiguity that the major obstacle to reach such numbers is individuals within the political opposition that think they can run on their own as if this was just a normal election.

I think the opposition can make it provided it follows what I have described in these posts and which I did not invent: you can read similar stuff everywhere in newspapers, I am not original at all. I will just add something: the candidates for every state and every district should be decided by mid July at the latest as chavismo is now running full speed and the opposition cannot leave the field open for too long just because they cannot decide who is the unity candidate. In fact all districts that do not have their main candidate snared by the Russian list should be decided by early July, leaving the rest of July to deal with the dozen or so controversial nominations. Three weeks are left which will be closely watched by public opinion which will be very critical if it takes any longer. The result of this watch will be more decisive to stimulate the opposition voter than any silly local program candidates will be able to present after.

Opposition wanna-be candidates, you did not even read it here first.


-The end-

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