Friday, July 25, 2003

July 24, 2003

One privileges that Venezuelan rulers have enjoyed since the beginning of the television age is the “cadena”. That is, for supposedly important reasons the President can commandeer the entire broadcast signals, TV and Radio, for a discretionary amount of time to communicate some important message to the Nation. This could go from military parade on National holidays, to declarations on the sate of the economy or the reception of foreign dignitaries. Chavez has used and abused this privilege with the flimsy excuse that the private media sabotage the transmission of his message for the betterment of the people. [Chavez and the media ]

But what happened the other day was perhaps a little bit too much.

Last Friday there was the swearing in of the newly “elected” (euphemism for mostly named) directory of Chavez ruling party. Well, this apparently deserved a cadena, just as if George W. Bush would force all the TV and radio signals of the US for an hour to transmit the swearing in ceremony of the Republican committee that would organize his re-election effort. Although this particular case was rather inappropriate, it was not the worst offense of the sort from Chavez. Unfortunately it coincided with a natural disaster at rush hour in Caracas, disaster that the TV networks could not transmit because of this political act taking place.

Due to particularly heavy rains, and possibly a blocked drainage canal, a stream of water erupted on the main thoroughfare in Caracas, pushing and piling up around a hundred cars, and even drowning one of the car drivers that could not manage to leave his car. … A freak accident by all standards, drowning inside your car in a city highway.

The controversy was huge since the networks and radio could not report and thus not fulfill their mission of information to make people avoid the area. Without mentioning help in warning the rescue crews. Eventually the “cadena” seems to have been interrupted, but the controversy has not stopped, with the information minister lamely stating a few misrepresentations that have been quickly debunked. The same official also said that once the media duly report the governmental generated information, cadenas would cease. Imagine that!

The statistics, so far this year, show more than 100 cadenas since January with more than half of them by Chavez himself, for a total of broadcasting time passing the 100 hours! And as usual there is no compensation for the media loss of advertisement revenue.

So goes the freedom of information in Venezuela, still going on but every day increasingly menaced, either cutting media airtime, or their revenues. Eventually one or two will go bankrupt and, after that, the other ones might behave more to the wishes of Chavez. Or so chavistas would seem to hope.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

A series since June 15
July 22, 2003

In this comedy of errors that the Petarazo has been, one would think that the Chavez administration would have tried to dampen the atmosphere. Well, no.

The ministry of public works took over the reconstruction of the Metropolitan Police that was destroyed by the rioting chavistas. And of course it needed to be re-inaugurated (by the way the construction was rather fast by government standards).

A ceremony of sorts, with the appropriately ferried crowds gave us the Vice “giving” the police station to the National Guard so it will be able to ensure the order that supposedly the Police could not do. I have this image of soldiers with long weapons, trellis combinations, darkened face perhaps, going uphill in the worst slums pursuing some robber. Discreet, efficient. Another high point was the ineffable William Lara, last years president of the National Assembly, declaring without a hint of self-consciousness that finally the people of Petare will not be subjected anymore to the abuses of the Metropolitana Police, to the continuos violations of basic human rights that this one seems to have perpetrated on Petare’s denizens for eons. Unnoticed for these years? Mr. Lara, could you explain us why as the president of the National Assembly you did not sponsor a bill to eliminate such an evil body? Or did you have to reach El Petarazo to realize the horror of the Metropolitana? And was the Petare police brigade the only one committing such atrocities?

Sometimes one wonders what is worse, the insults to our moral standards or to our intelligence.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

July 20, 2003

I have been away from posting for three weeks. I guess I needed a change after the political intensity of June and an unexpected short trip provided the excuse for a long break. I was fortunate to be sent on business to Brazil in spite of the currency exchange controls. With some left over travelers checks, a few dollars from the black market, and there I went. Just making sure to pay the hotel in full upon arrival in case I get mugged in the street. It is when one travels without a credit card that one realizes how these little bit of plastic are no luxury anymore. But in the Bolivarian Republic, one has to get used to many things.

It was my first time ever in Brazil, and even though it was a single one day affair in Sao Paulo, I could not let pass the chance to visit Rio for a long week end. It was quite an edifying experience to visit Rio coming from today’s Venezuela.

I know, I know, it is not fair to compare Rio with Caracas, or with anything else for that matter. But is it so? After all, many Venezuelans, including myself, say that the Latin American country closest in spirit and people to Venezuela is Brazil, even though we do not speak the same language. After all we come from that same mix of Native, African and Iberian. Our colonial histories do bear comparison. We both drink plenty of fruit juices, eat black beans and get drunk on sugar cane derived spirits. Thus, although our modern histories are quite different we are supposed to share comparable roots. But Brazil is way ahead from Venezuela, at least just based on what I saw. Not to mention that Venezuela these days seems to look back to its XIX century…

I was mostly in glitzy Ipanema. But the contrast was more vivid outside of the obvious displays of wealth of the area. To begin with, when you walk the streets of Ipanema you only need to lift your eyes to see a hill covered with a favelas. At the end of Ipanema, at the foot of its own famous twin monoliths, there is a precariously hanging favela: Vidigal. Yet all meet on the beach without any problem, and without the pests that we find in most Venezuelan beaches: street vendors every where, cars on side walks, trash everywhere, loud groups that think the beach is theirs, etc…

Other details were telling. Even in Margarita Island our most “pro tourism” area, you will not sense the relative security I felt at night walking in Ipanema or Copacabana. All the luxury condominiums on the beachfronts have open balconies, and no iron bars, even on the second floors. In Venezuela it is not infrequent to see buildings of 15 stories with protection bars at every single floor. And I saw, at night, peeking from below into the apartments of the beachfront several apartments with large libraries. A library in a beach front apartment? This strange observation made me understand how come that within 6 blocks of the Vizconde de Piraja avenue I found three very well appointed bookstores.

The last straw was the “hippie market” on Sundays in General Osorio’s square. This very handsome square on Sundays becomes one of the best, and most complete artisan market that I have seen. Clean, organized, no haggling, with neat, and appetizing, food stands at the corners only. Prejudice might make one thing that it should not be as neat as one is observing, in particular when one thinks at the buhoneros stands all over downtown Caracas, with the pervading smell of pee in the air. Even if I were to pick the best buhoneros in Venezuela I do not think I would be able to put together something as nice as a single quarter of the “hippie market”.

Definitely, Ipanema breathes a sense of education and self respect. Even if it is only a tiny spec of Brazil, it remains that Brazil has been able to produce such a spec.

What happened to us in Venezuela? Where did we go wrong? Why is it that in Venezuela we cannot on our own respect a little bit our surroundings? Respect even ourselves? Why do we put up with so much trash, abuse, neglect, and chaos?

This short trip did give me some insight in Venezuela recent unfortunate history. Somehow we have made conformity, neglect, abuse, and anarchy “virtues”; and these “virtues” are now enslaving us.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

June 30, 2003

In the series of events that seem to reveal the worn seams of the government legalistic disguise, we have been granted three “incidents” last week which are quite perturbing as to what the future holds for us.

Wednesday June 25. 10 PM

A few yards away from the door of Governor Mendoza’s official residence a car bomb exploded. No victims fortunately but enough damage to the building and neighboring stores. Had somebody walked at that time, that somebody would not have been here to tell the tale. ETA style.

Of course we were regaled with pious declarations of the governmental bodies in charge as to expediting the investigation. Once it was known that Mendoza, a notorious opponent, and a populist at that, was not home at the time, the bombing did not draw further headlines. After all, we know that nobody will be caught so why waste good ink and paper on that? It is true that we are very quickly becoming blasé on these bombing matters. The attacks on the Colombian and Spanish consulates are still unresolved even though Chavez in one of his bombastic speeches said that “We even have the pictures of the perpetrators”. We are still waiting for the first arrest, not to mention for a picture, any picture.

Simply put, we have noticed that if the “intellectual” suspects might be linked to chavistas group, we know that the judicial system will not act. We are still waiting for any serious inquiry on April 11 2002 events. Why should a car bomb be any different.

Friday June 27. 5 AM

Marta Colomina’s car is intercepted on her way to the Talk Show she hosts at 6 AM. Two cars block her car and the one from her producer who was following. From one car 4 masked guys with assault weapons jump out and throw one of these big 5 gallon water jugs against the car. The bottle crashes on the security windshield and releases its content: gasoline, as in a giant Molotov Cocktail. For some reason the gas fails to ignite and Colomina’s body guard manages to push the journalist to the floor and maneuver away bumping the second car. Meanwhile one of the assailants tries to light up the gas that is soaking the front of the car. The windshield was damaged but did not cave in and luckily the gas did not seep inside the car. Still, they do not shoot and Colomina and escort manage to run away and reach the TV station.

It turns out that Colomina is one of the earliest journalist to have engaged battle against Chavez. From even before his election in 1998. She has become quite famous but the clarity of her charges and it is known that Chavez is particularly upset with her. Death threats have been numerous enough against her that by international judicial mandate she got a protected car and a permanent body guard. That is why the windshield did not break and why she escaped without being shoot at. The body guard knew that the weapons carried by the attackers are restricted and using them would leave a trail difficult to hide. They thus tried to incinerate her and had their weapons only in case somebody would shoot at them. They had superior fire power just in case, it seems.

Now this “incident” illustrates quite well the boldness and preparation that characterize these criminal groups. They know that nothing will happen to them, as long as they do not leave an obvious trail. They know that they now outgun anyone except for the military (since the Metropolitana Police weaponry has been gutted). Fortunately for Colomina, they are not too competent.

Marta Colomina said the right things through the day. She went to every TV station talk show. Gave calmed and posed interviews, but mostly she said that she was no heroine, that this could have happened to any of her colleagues, and that it would not stop her, that she was in this fight for the freedom of her country and her children. And on Saturday she just shut up, went back to work and refused any further interview. Classy lady if you ask me.

Meanwhile the minister supervising communication suggested that Colomina “might” have created a self-attack to boost her poor ratings (without offering rating numbers, of course). Another TV journalist quickly suggested that he must knew what he was talking about since supposedly Chavez had been subject to 7 attempts so far, without a single person ever arrested. Was Chavez boosting his ratings too?

Same day, but late in the evening

After a confusing incident in which a military officer opposed the Metropolitana in an operation to stop illegal electricity takes to set up street stands, the said officer was briefly arrested by the police. Well, 40 of his soldiers came later on and tried in turn to arrest the police officer that was leading the previous operation. They actually got in the Metropolitana precinct and tried to just kidnap the officer. He cried for help while he was already handcuffed and dragged. His policemen fought back, and during the melee he managed to jump out of the car and run away. Meanwhile in the middle of the street shots were exchanged and had it been any earlier surely a few passer by would have been shot! Eventually the soldiers backed off and the police did arrest three of them. To avoid further political trouble they quickly tried to find a public attorney (fiscales), but none were to be found to take note that the soldiers were in good health. Apparently, all the “fiscales” on duty had their cel phones off. Friday night? Machination?

Today the minister of defense as expected accused the Metropolitana of abusing his poor 40 soldiers. Not explaining of course why 40 soldiers went to the police station and who gave the order, if anyone did. And why the only injured person happened to be the Police Officer (he claims that he got beaten in the car while they were trying to take him away). The minister claims that some soldiers were injured but no video, witness came forward. The Vice did not stay behind, declaring that it was inadmissible that the Metropolitana created public disturbance, video and witness notwithstanding.

Same usual stuff and denial of factual events. Except that the Army is becoming quite aggressive on its own. Omen?

Should we worry?

What is really scary is the banality in which these events are now reported. How the government denies everything in spite of all the clear evidence for all to see. How the judicial system stays put and how the common citizen feels that it is useless to report any abuse, any corruption act since it might result in a “nightly” attack.

Are we already in a dictatorship? Or is the government so convinced of his loss of support that it is rehearsing for the big day? What will happen when somebody really important finally gets killed?