Friday, January 23, 2004

This and that
Thursday 22, January 2004

I have been back for two days now. It has been a little bit unsettling to follow the news these past days, not having time to get all the necessary information, not having time to digest. Unfortunately in the weeks ahead I do not think that I will get that leisure. Oh, well, might as well give a resume, in no particular order of importance.

The US grants a record number of political asylum to Venezuelans

Today immigration report of the US CIS, as reported by El Universal, shows that during the last fiscal year 525 petition of asylum have been granted to Venezuelan that have been able to prove some form of political persecution. This is up from 155 (!!!) in the previous period. The current period, starting October 1 2003, is already at 327 grants. No comments needed, although conspiracy theorist might argue that the US is giving higher numbers for anti-propaganda purposes.

Need money? Raise taxes!

I am not like some of these US Republicans that only dream of Tax cuts, but the latest move of the SENIAT, our own taxing agency in more than one way, has decided to increase the Tributary Unit. These Units created a few years ago define most taxes that are paid routinely in Venezuela. For example when I file for income tax, my bill says xyz Units. Then I read the year value of the Unit and with a simple multiplication, voila! I know my tax due. The government just needs to fix the amount of the Tributary Unit and you will know everything you will have to pay, be it income tax or business patents.

Well, in spite of the prevalent recession, the SENIAT announced just as a matter of fact the value of the Tributary Unit for 2004: from 19 400 Bs. to 24 700 an increase of 27.3%. No debate, no nothing. Just a plain announcement. Even in European Social Democracies taxes are not raised so gleefully! Of course, most people that pay taxes are already against Chavez (probably more than 70 % of the population pay no tax except for park entrance fees, birth certificates and the like). By law the value must follow the official inflation, but one would have like to hear an I am sorry or something. Besides such a drastic increase will further restrict the SENIAT tax base as many salaries will drop below the threshold of taxation. Also the minimum income to apply for subsidized housing will increase, making it even more difficult for middle and lower income classes to acquire housing. Geez! I do tell you!

Have trouble passing laws? Modify the National Assembly debate rules

For the 7th time in barely a year the 2 votes chavista majority of the National Assembly is trying to modify the debating rules to approve new laws. In spite of already harsh debating rules, the ineptitude of the chavista parliamentarians has made the past year one of the lowest years in law making in our democratic period. With the incoming Recall Election and the need for muzzling the opposition one way or the other in case of a campaign, there is an urgent need for chavismo to pass crucial laws to establish "legal" control of the country. In particular the law to pack the High Court, the law to centralize the autonomous polices, the anti-terrorism law, and the law to control TV and radio. You can muzzle the opposition with that as access to courts is limited, marches are not authorized anymore, expression of protest against certain officials are banned, and media cannot transmit certain news most of the day.

The opposition assemblymen knowing that if this new debating rule passes there will be no point in attending debates, are making a possible last stand by creating havoc in the Assembly, menacing chavismo of the plain impossibility to even approve a budget. Filibustering to the highest level, the one that would require Chavez to send the Army to clear up rioting assemblyfolks from the Congress grounds. Who will blink first?

Tired of bad financial numbers? Erase them by firing your staff!

While we are in the National Assembly issues. There is a Finance and Economic autonomous forecast agency that is assigned to the National Assembly. The actual head, Francisco Rodriguez, an erstwhile supporter of Chavez, even mentioned as a possible finance minister as recently as 2002, has become a target of choice for the chavismo in the Assembly. His crime? Saying such things that the deficits happily voted by chavismo will come home to roost. The new rules that are to be voted, also include provisions to basically eliminate that office. From then on the National Assembly will rely on the forecasts that are sent by the people requesting money.

Yet another catastrophic report from PDVSA

El Mundo, unfortunately by subscription, reports that a resigning legal advice of PDVSA is talking of all sorts of bills due to PDVSA that have no hope in hell to ever be cashed in. He is talking of at least a hundred million dollars in bad purchasing orders, bad payment, big overpricing. Plain fraud, but what else is new? Where to go for investigation?

El 23 de Enero

Tomorrow we commemorate the end of our last official dictatorship, January 23 1958. The opposition started with a nice march in Zulia state, and tomorrow it will take again the streets of Caracas, for the first time since August 2003. We will see what spirits are moving the people. I will not be in Caracas unfortunately.

I do not quite know what to predict. The dithering in signature verification of the Electoral Board has a depressive effect on people. Chavez gigantic piñata is starting to show effect as his polls numbers have reached 40 % again (though they seem to be stalling there). But some people are, if possible, even more opposed to Chavez. Since it is a weekday and there has not been a due warming up period, I do not think that we will see more than 200 000 people in the street. But before foreign observers interpret this as a weakening I would urge them to consider that 200 000 people is more than most anti Iraq war marches, bigger than anything we had before Chavez, and probably bigger than any Latin American recorded rallies.

In other words, any count above 200 000 should be considered as a good success and the start of momentum building for the trying days ahead. After all, when one reads the news that I just reported, what better way to vent some anxiety but to hit the highways with the flag...

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