Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Weird hysteria attack

I am in Caracas these days, business and elections (the OUI won by 80% in embassies vote!). And I was also busy enough that I was completely oblivious of a rather weird incident taking palce in downtown Caracas. Apparently a few hundred supporters gathered under the gates of Miraflores palace to demand that Chavez shows his face. He has been missing since last Saturday and all sorts of wild rumors were flying. Well, he reappeared at a cabinet meeting, claiming that he was out of town visiting his daughter from his second marriage.

Maybe. It is weird because nobody came out to say such a normal and simple thing until Chavez himself did so. Why? Would had not been possible for the spokesperson of Miraflores to come out and say "The president is having a private moment with some relatives. All is fine and he will be back at work Monday afternoon"?

What was weirdest was the show of despair of his supporters willing to believe that he was dead or something. I, for one, was relieved that for 48 hours the president was not occupying the news. I was more than willing to enjoy the break, and suspected from the start that it was some strange show set up for some even more stranger reason. After all, the Supremos of history LOVE to checkout the love of their flocks....

Monday, May 30, 2005

The French NO to Europe: Exit polls revealing

Yesterday I was writing that "resentidos sociales" can be found elsewhere than Venezuela, and it seems in large amounts in France. The editorial of Serge July in Liberation is as bitter as it can get for a supporter of the OUI: Masochistic masterpiece. I will like to point out, before you read my translation of the first paragraph, that Liberation is a major newspaper for the French left and cannot be accused to be weak in front of "neoliberalism". But it is also a paper that understands how good Europe is overall for France.
It is screams of pain, of fear, of anxiety and of anger that the leftist electorate has made through the ballot, on the occasion of the referendum, in front of the mad race of the world and in front of the carelessness of the men that have been ruling us for more than two decades. As it is in such cases there was a need for leaders of the moment to feed this national despair. Some have pushed up the ante in the clumsiness, others in the shameless lies. At the finish line, a general disaster and a pandemic of populism which carries all on its wake, the European construction, the enlargement of Europe, the elites, the control of liberalism, the reform movement, the internationalism, even generosity.
Sounds familiar? That need to overthrow a system at any cost, without regard to its consequences? As in a certain South American country in 1998 that shall remain nameless?


This morning I was reading the exit polls of IPSOS in France (apparently people do trust Exit Polls in France and they match the results of referendum which is not the case in Venezuela we have been told by the Carter Center). A few highlights:


Motivation for voting NON: the French situation. People voted no to Europe to bitch about their own little personal problems at home.

Motivation to vote OUI: the need to unite Europe in front of the US and Chinese challenge.


Those outside of Paris. The less than 60 years of age. Public sector workers. Left held trade unions. Workers, agrarian sector. Artisans split even.

High school or less.

The extreme left. The left but more than 40 % of socialists and greens did manage to vote for the Oui.

The extreme right of Le Pen at 93%. The conservative right of anti abortion and "old France" values at 73%.


Paris (cosmopolitanism?). The more than 60 year old (War memories?). The professional sectors. The students. Business leaders and shopkeepers split even.

Some college and more.

The ruling right though more than 20% voted Non.


From this exit polls we can see that clearly the people with less education and less sense of controlling their future are the ones that voted NON. These are the people that always fall prey of populist ideas and leadership. Be it in France or Venezuela or anywhere else for that matter.

PS: and after this little parenthesis I shall be back soon on Venezuela. But I could not help to meditate on how countries have that autodestroy button pushed on...

France votes NO to Europe

I title this "No to Europe" because the referendum result of tonight means NO to Europe, not NO to the European constitution which was meant as a common agreement to replace all the diverse and complex treaties already existing. Let's not fool ourselves, the French people by a 55 % vote have clearly demonstrated that they have abandoned the European concept which has brought them untold prosperity and peace. For what? Nobody knew, but they still took the jump.

This blog will make an exception to its rule of Venezuela only as curiously there is a message for Venezuela in this rather distasteful referendum campaign which will set back France by at least ten years. But first, let's explore the news.

I would like to start by translating a paragraph of the great and insightful article of Vargas Llosa published today in El Nacional. An article by the way so rich that I will come back to it soon, as its pertinence to Venezuela can be sensed in just this paragraph.

The reasons why such a reactionary and anti modern tendency takes root in a society are very varied _ideological, religious, cultural – and, fortunately, changing, which means that in different periods of its history the same country can figure at the forefront of progress or as the caboose of the modernity train. The text book cases of this phenomenon are, in Europe, France and in Latin America, Argentina. Probably few nations have made advance social, economic and cultural progress in the world as France, without whose thinkers, artists, statesman and without the will of transformation and modernization of large segments of its population in the XVIII and XIX centuries, the world would be infinitely poorer and less free than what it is today. Why has the spirit of French society extinguished and been replaced by this terrible lethargy and resistance to modernization which is, step by step, sinking France every day in a decadence that seems irreversible? The France of the Encyclopedia and of the philosophers who invented universality, proclaimed the Rights of Men, inaugurated the secularization of culture, is today a society profoundly conservative and reactionary, trying desperately and absurdly to oppose the grand revolution of our time that globalization is and facing up to it with an anachronistic and aggressive nationalism, from which, although with different arguments, feed all political forces from the fascist Le Pen to the extreme and Trotskyite left, passing through the Gaullists, republicans, social democrats and socialists. The liberal and modern sector is, politically speaking, insignificant and without real possibility in the near future to reverse this slow advance of French society towards the abyss.

Indeed, France has become a society where slowly social mobility has been restrained, where integration of recent migrants is difficult, where a new aristocratic class has been created as only graduates from a very few prestigious universities have access to all political and economical power functions and seem on their way to create an exclusive club where you can enter only by birth. In front of this two extremes the rest of the French population is simply scared to lose its acquired social privileges and entitlements, be it the cradle to grave social benefits or its 35 hours work week. Not realizing of course that autarky is the surest way to lose all of these privileges, that only democratic and open societies are those that make durable progress as they accept change and its necessary adaptation while making the painful transitions bearable. Now, France will have to pay a heavy price for its self absorption, for using Europe to play internal politics and settle private squabbling. Who wins and who loses?


Germany who will be now the motor of Europe, the one and only big shot. Around Germany Central Europe will organize it own economical zone if necessary. Italy and Spain will become second fiddle partners. Germany will become to Europe what Brazil is becoming to Latin America. One could stretch and say that Germany just won a war without firing a single shot.

The US and Russia and Eastern Asia rising powers, of course, as they now have a chance to meddle in Europe and toy with the possibility to have one challenger less.

The small countries of Europe who say YES to Europe as their status will become much more important as if France would have remained a strong pro European power. This will even be reinforced as now it is certain that England will balk out.


France of course, who has lost irreversibly its role, status of Europe main power with Germany even if its relative weight was much lesser than Germany. Even if France finds a way in the next couple of years to join Europe, its partners will never trust it fully. Even if France comes in, it will not be as a founding father anymore, its stature diminished for ever.

Peace in Europe? No, Europeans have come too far now, we should not even consider it. But what will be lost is a sense of security that strong unity could bring. A weakened Europe will be more likely to be blackmailed by all sorts of opportunists that seem to flourish these recent years.

Chirac, the only culprit of this unnecessary referendum, based on his pride more than any particular reason. His last two years will be a pathetic lameduck presidency as France will drop several steps in international forums. Not to mention hell at home as people will hate him even more while his supporters will be more worried about the 2007 elections than his fate.

And of course the 55% who voted NO. They will lose even before the 45% who voted YES. By definition those who voted YES have a better aptitude to adapt to what is coming.

Why this disaster?

This question is far from been answered. But there is one little thing we can say: there are "resentidos sociales" (social resentment) everywhere, even in France. And when suddenly they find a way to impose their ideas, their fears, a country falls back in time. The reader will be able to do the appropriate comparison to other events in other countries.

Finally, what to do?

Chirac should call for a government of national unity, including the socialist party who would hold the foreign ministry. Together they should quickly reassure Europe while they try to do something about France. This government of short duration, of course, should leave the scene after new elections, not called before sometime late fall, to allow French people take a measure of their folly.

What will probably happen will be a new terrible mistake by Chirac, one of the worst politicians of France in the last 30 years. He probably will name unpopular and aristocratic De Villepin prime minister and sink further in opinion polls until he cannot postpone elections anymore and see a tidal wave of resentment overcome his party and the moderate socialists. From the extreme right or extreme left? It is actually irrelevant. For the third time, with this referendum, Chirac has destroyed all what he built.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

La Megaexpo: Venezuela new art structure

The bolibanana revolution has decided to strike in the world of culture and art. Well, why not? It is screwing up everywhere else so why not wreck the fragile world of culture and creative production in Venezuela. For this El Supremo has named a certain Francisco "Farruco" Sesto, who has turned to be a Taliban of sorts. There is no point into detailing the mostly useless different initiatives of political taint, while the cultural heritage of Venezuela, as weak as it already is, crumbles around. But lately there are three particular egregious offenses that need to be reported.

One museum

In Venezuela museums have been traditionally the unwanted child of culture. We had to wait until about 3 decades ago, and the incredible work of people such as Sofia Imber to finally start to have some semi serious museums that even managed to make a name for themselves in South America. The "Museum of Contemporary Art of Caracas Sofia Imber" managed to get an interesting collection, with its own Picasso and a Matisse now mysteriously subtracted. One of the reasons why some museums managed to break into some form of real educational and cultural institutions is that the Venezuelan government finally relented and created assured and independent funding for the museums, while leaving them independence in "art management". This might have created a certain elitism and esoterism in the museums offerings, but at least they were building a patrimony that could be put someday to good use.

Well, it is all over. El Supremo does not tolerate initiative unless it is directed at his promotion and glorification. And his cultural knowledge seems limited to Florentino y El Diablo which he does not quite understand anyway. So Sesto has suppressed all financial freedom and now all museums will depend for their funds to the good will of Sesto and his acolytes. Artistic freedom restriction cannot be far behind. Will all exhibits need to be approved at the ministry?

One exposition

Well, the first big exposition of the new administration at the Kultur Ministry is a rather sad omen as to what is in store for Venezuelan culture. I went to visit it two Sundays ago. Well, part of it, as it is held in many places of Caracas and elsewhere.

The exposition is pretentiously called Megaexposición II: Venezuelan Art of the XXI century. Huh? XXI century when we are not even midway 2005?

But more surprises were in store. I am not an art critic, but for me the exposition seemed like a gigantic yard sale. That is, all was put in an haphazard way as far a cultural context. Considering that anyone who submitted a piece of "Art" was certain to be exhibited somewhere, you can imagine the effect of having such a mix of art forms dumped together (3819 "creations" from 2258 "artists").

I think that it is positive to dare people to expose, to try to find surprising new art. After all the brilliant precedent of Le Salon des Refusés (the expo of the rejected ones) is what brought to notoriety Impressionism, effecting a revolution in Western Art. But there is a way and a method for such things, and democratizing culture does not exempt the organizers to try to exhibit with a little bit of structural and organizational criteria. As the expo is set, the few good things are lost in a sea of mediocrity. If it is true that attendance has been high, I wonder what people took away from it. What I took away was yet another crass attempt at scoring demagogic points, just a way to keep dumbing down the country so that El Supremo stands alone. We saw that in the past. When a nazi like expo of escualido decadent and corrupt art? Will we see the Cabré Avila paintings included because he did not paint the slums that now surround Caracas? I am sure that Sesto would be a great curator for such an "Entarte" exhibit.

One lost work of art

But my outrage boiled when we reached one of the exhibits, set in honor of recently deceased Soto, the master of Kinetic Art. I could not believe that they dared to spend money in a rather mediocre exhibit of the great artist ,gone just as a few months ago, just as one of his great works placed on a Caracas Highway was finally ransacked by metal scrap scavengers a few yards away from a Nazional Guard station of Caracas La Carlota airport. The looting of the metal started a few years ago and the chavista Kultural folks never did a thing to try to protect it, to preserve what was left until someday it could be restored. Now there is an empty shell; but I am sure still fuller than the head of the Kultur Komissars......

Friday, May 27, 2005

The "Majesty" of the High Court of Venezuela, TSJ

What was perhaps the most interesting part, for this observer, of the visa suspension yesterday was the argument advanced by the brilliant legal mind of Omar Mora. This one, the president of the Venezuelan High Court, has had his visa to enter the USA "suspended", and made a big fuss of it yesterday.

I am not too sure what are the real reasons. We know that the US hand does not shake when it wants to "suspend" visas nor does it feel compelled to account for such actions (even sitting presidents have been denied visas).

But when I read the following from Omar Mora, I can only wonder about the mental abilities of the president of the Venezuelan High Court:
But more than the personal consequences is the institutional consequences (...) I think it is an attack to the dignity of the Venezuelan Judicial Power
I have a newsflash for Omar Mora: he is one of the great culprit that the dignity (or majesty as he says later) is shot in Venezuela. The US cannot add anything to that grave. How can anyone respect a judicial power that:

  • Was elected by a new law that was clearly violating the 1999 constitution
  • Was packed by increasing its membership from 20 to 32 by the simple majority vote of the pro Chavez side of the National Assembly
  • Saw its few independent members fired through the new illegal law
  • Saw these independent members, once elected by a constitutional 2/3 vote, replaced by Chavez supporters elected with a bare majority
  • Saw people of very questionable credentials reach the court, such as widely criticized Carrasquero who demonstrated the outmost partiality to chavismo in his previous job
  • Saw the new members initiate quite an activist agenda as soon as they reached office
  • Demonstrated a great willingness to go against precedent and thus break the rule of law
  • Saw the new president, Omar Mora, have a militant discourse "pro revolution" that would have been unseemly even in a local county Jury clerk
  • Saw the court fire and hire judges all around the country based on how faithful they are perceived to el Supremo cause
  • Saw indecent procedural delays for any cause that does not favor the central administration
  • Saw humble people have to start hunger strike at the doors of the TSJ to get justice for their assassinated relatives
  • And more, much more
Such a court as long lost its dignity or majesty. There is no fig leaf big enough to hide the servility of such a court, its submission to the designs of Chavez power. In fact, the present TSJ is fast becoming a symbol of all that is servile in Venezuela.

No Mr. Mora, the US is not attempting against the majesty of your office. No crime can be committed when there is no material to commit a crime against. As a lawyer you should know that.

Getting a slap in your face from CNN "en español"

I just caught on CNN (Spanish version) an interview of a certain Anderson, in the "economy and finance" segment. He was interviewed as to his opinion on Chavez announcement that he would seek nuclear energy for Venezuela. Highlights:

1) Venezuela does not need it. It has plenty of oil and hydroelectric power

2) It has the cheapest natural gas in the area

3) The USA did not seem to be too moved by the announcement, probably taking it as another "chavez" (used now as a plain word, I assume to describe a wild utterance made on the spur of the moment)

4) Although it was not plainly said it also implied that Venezuela did not have right now the home grown technicians for such a project (and thus the lack of US concern?)

5) And no help was coming from Brazil. Actually they pointed out the speed at which Lula distanced himself from that project, showing the growing estrangement between Itamaraty and Caracas. Apparently the foreign ministry of Brazil is getting fed up with Chavez. That they discussed this casually as if it were old news was quite something to watch! Obviously the chavista propaganda might be reaching me as I did not expect such an open knowledge of Lula impatience...

Anyway, that was quite a slap on Chavez face. I had not realized how degraded his image has gotten in the past couple of months! Heck! Even Spain's Moratinos called today for the EU to send observers for Venezuelan coming elections!!!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cadena? Again!?

Today I have part of the day off. Which means that I will working from home some. Thus I came back from work for lunch at 12:30 and turned on TV to eat my sandwich in front. There was a cadena (mandatory unified broadcast on all TV and radio stations across Venezuela). I tried to listen to it for, say, 2 minutes, just to see what it was all about. El Supremo was reading some numbers (better numbers on unemployment it seems) and some other stuff, with PDVSA inside of course, as if yesterday's Ramirez fiasco had been a major success (Chavez used in those two minutes the "media conspiracy"). In other words, as usual, when the going gets tough, start throwing cadenas around.

So, I made my sandwich and ate it watching a French movie on cable. I did switch to the French channel as I wanted to see the recent news on the French coming referendum. At the end of the movie I did watch the Swiss news (TV5 shows news from Switzerland, France, Canada and Belgium, which is a rather interesting complex and complete way to watch the world). Then there was a special from the ARTE network on the view from the US on the European constitution (they know nothing, though interviewing people at a long Star Wars line might not be the best place to discuss Europe, a far away galaxy according to the reporter).

Now it is 2:30, and before getting to work at my desk, a little round up. Chavez is STILL in his cadena. The single minute I could put with the verbal diarrhea was enough to listen from him that he was coming back from the Middle East where loans with interest are forbidden. And thus he gave the order to some minister to suppress interests in loan for the poor and for "socially conscious" private enterprise business, or those business that were willing to give up stock to their employees (co-gestion winds obliging). Nobody, of course, would dare to point out to El Supremo that interest free loan in a country with 20% official inflation rate is absurd, but heck! if he is willing to force credit card companies to offer interest rate free credit cards, I am all for it!!!!! There is no depth of cheap populism that Chavez will not explore to gain a vote!!!!

It is amazing that EACH time I listen to a Chavez cadena there is one nincompoopy idea like that within 3 minutes I am listening to him. That is why I have never been able to listen to his cadenas for more than 5 minutes in a row. After 5 minutes I urgently need a break to preserve my sanity!!!!

It is just 3 PM as I post and, mercifully, a quick chek up tells me that the cadena is over. And I could not care less waht was the occasion. At Alo Ciudadano tonight, or on the paper tomorrow morning, a couple of lines will summarize 3 hours of BS.

The Venezuelan mess: extradition meets PDVSA

Really, the spectacle given by the government these past few days has revealed, yet once again, how incompetent and disorganized is the Chavez administration. It seems that it is unable to do anything right. The cases that bring this reflection is the Posada Carriles case and how this one is used to try to distract attention of the PDVSA debacle.

To extradite or not to extradite

This is not a silly phrase, in fact it is the direct question that the US should ask Chavez as this one dares to defy the US demanding, DEMANDING, that Posada Carriles is returned to Venezuela.

I do happen to think that a terrorist is a terrorist and no matter where the crime is committed, the said terrorist should be condemned where the more heinous crimes were perpetrated. That is, Osama should be judged in the US and Posada in Venezuela or Cuba. However other countries that have suffered the attacks of the terrorists do have a regard as where an effective trial should be held. The US should protest if Iran were to try Osama. And Venezuela should protest if Posada were to be tried in Panama.

Because this is the basic contradiction of the Chavez administration. When Posada Carriles was arrested in Panama in 2000 for setting up an assassination attempt against Castro, Venezuela waited for the longest of time to ask for its extradition. Actually it seems that Castro had to complain more than once until Venezuela finally moved its butt and requested extradition. The then Panama president, Mireya Moscoso, knowing full well that the final destination of Posada would be Cuba decided to pardon Posada a few hours before she left office, setting up a diplomatic crisis that she happily bestowed over her successor from the opposing party.

But those were other days. Now Chavez and Castro have decided that the time of smiles to the Empire is over, and thus hysteria has reared its ugly head. Chavez "threatens" the US. Chavez sends all sorts of people demand the extradition of Posada to the US government. These people are gently reminded that in the US there is such a thing as separation of powers, the opposite of Venezuela where there is unity of powers in El Supremo. Gossip has that chavistas do not understand the concept, that indeed it is all up to Bush. And to add further embarrassment, the official documents for a bona fide extradition are not ready and radio stations play the game of "how many pages have been translated" of the dossier, mocking the foreign minister semi chastisement of last Sunday. Or should I say bullying, as Rodriguez Araque is doing his job explaining to Chavez that there are protocols to be followed while Chaves is only too happy not doing his job, rather spending Sundays talking off his ass.

But there is a reason for all this madness: Chavez must set an agenda so people speak of something else than the PDVSA debacle.

Ramirez goes to the National Assembly...

...and when all is said, we wonder why...

After weeks, months of dodging the issues, the oil minister and PDVSA president could not avoid it anymore: today he finally went to the National Assembly to declare. But of course the chavista majority had caved very easily on his demand to be interrogated only on some oil deals made pre Chavez. Another distraction, obviously.

Yet, for all of this, Ramirez himself further disgraced his cause and showed him to be a little man in spite of his great height. For one thing, the unacceptable conditions he set certainly showed that there are a lot of issues that he does not want to talk about, and that he hopes that one apparition will shut up the opposition for at least a few weeks until he must show up again. But he made all worse by coming with his court, that is, most of his managers and colleagues were at hand to make bulk. Don't this people have a business to run? A government to manage? Where they supposed to also answer questions?

But the best show was outside. A "spontaneous" gathering of "supporters of PDVSA" were chanting political consigns from the street. Gossip has that many were oil industry "staff" who will be paid anyway for the "day off". So we have reached yet a new stage in the bolibananization of the Republic, where now second fiddle officials copy El Supremo who always goes around with his court and jesters.

Supporting Ramirez. It reads "attacking the minister is attacking Chavez". Ah! Blind faith! And generic at that...

Oh, and by the way, did Ramirez achieve anything? Not at all (1). He was reminded that Chavez has been 6 years in office and that it was kind of late to "discover" the irregularities of the pre Chavez contracts (Helloooo! Where were you all these years?). People also noted that some of the decried tax breaks now so reviled were actually granted by the early Chavez administration. I am not too sure if I really can follow all of these details. But considering that silly Ramirez does not seem to follow them either, I feel much better.

One thing is certain: we are not any closer to know what really is going inside PDVSA. And closer to the point where only an independent and foreign audit could solve the problem. Obviously the current management does not know how to do arithmetic, nor wants anyone to do it for them. Gee, I wonder why.......


(1) He was even accused publicly of corruption duyring the session, as seen on TV.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A new diplomatic set back for Chavez

In spite of efforts from Venezuela at the OAS to block the invitation of the SUMATE ONG to an OAS meeting, the council went ahead and ratified that SUMATE was invited along a few other Venezuelan ONG. The excuse presented by Venezuela's ambassador to block the invitation of SUMATE because this one was involved in events of 2002 was rather lame as SUMATE in those days barely existed. But of course the real reason is that chavismo cannot forgive that SUMATE organized the successful Recall Election drive in spite of ALL THE ABUSES committed by chavismo to derail the effort (and their own failure at raising a credible recall election for opposition assemblymen).

I think that Valero sensed the exasperation of his colleagues as he decided at the last minute to back down to avoid a full frontal vote second vote that would have established the growing isolation of Venezuela in the OAS.

The good news there is that the problems of the electoral system in Venezuela are now been noticed outside and SUMATE is considered as one of the best defender of the right to vote, and certainly technically the most informed one. Let's hope that this well deserved recognition of Maria Corina Machado and SUMATE's work will boost the growing movement inside Venezuela to put due pressure on the obscenely partial CNE.

My Star Wars character

I have been writing a lot lately and I figured out that a little break from the news would be a good thing. So I went to this site to get a test and figure out my Star Wars Character.

I kind of like it though I am not as bad a M.F., nor as cute... At least either Chavez will have to watch out or make me an offer that I cannot resist :-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Wall Street Journal on Europe and Cuba

Excellent editorial, smack on the moral ambiguity of Europe, in particular asinine leaders such as Rodriguez Zapatero who seems to have been too young to remember the evil of the Franco years. I quote the end:
Europe, seems to confuse the country with the regime. Europe must decide whether it wants to be best friends with Cuba or with Castro. It can't be both.
Let's hope that Europe will not be put in the same position regarding Venezuela. Seen from some embassies in Caracas, such as France and Spain, one can only worry (which by the way demonstrates that suckers come equally from the French right or the Spanish left). I suppose that I should support the European constitution after all, the Eastern Europe countries definitely seem much clearer on Castro (and Chavez?) than the morally bankrupt French and Spaniards who somehow cannot seem to shake away their vision of what is good for the natives...

Monday, May 23, 2005

From Venezuela: protest at the US embassy and folklore

I am not sure what an impact Chavez had yesterday with his threats to break up relations with the US. But in Venezuela it was a bust.

So far, opposition personalities have announced in unison that this was just a maneuver of Chavez to distract from PDVSA and the mounting domestic problems. In other words, the opposition will not be dragged into an artificial fight that only benefits Chavez, and certainly not Venezuela. Liliana Hernandez of Primero Justicia even said something like that: "Please, president Bush, send Posada Carriles to Chavez! We want to talk about real issues, here, about the missing money of PDVSA, about X, Y, Z. Let's get over with the Posada show!"

Meanwhile, as expected, the knee jerk chavista machine organized a protest in front of the US embassy. The same usual scenario, a few hundred people with amazingly fast made consigns, reflecting exactly what the beloved leader said a few hours ago. But the US embassy has seen much worse elsewhere and it was not going to be browbeaten that fast. The second in command of the embassy surprised every one by coming out real quick and defuse very amiably the situation. Actually, I am not sure that Chavez is going to be very pleased at how easy Mr. McFarlan got in good terms with the protest delegation he sent over...

The ABN was rather subdued in its coverage at 1 PM, no big crowds to show?

This still should not distract from the gravity of the situation for the US. After all, Posada Carriles has terrorist links that are not to be doubted, as well as CIA links, even if he is a leftover of the Cold War. It would be really bad that the US hands to Chavez an issue that it could win very easily if it uses some lightfooted diplomacy. Looks like Ms. Rice has her first serious challenge there. She will get some help from Chavez though: apparently yesterday he said a few things that are completely out of the extradition protocol that already exists between Venezuela and the US. He probably will end up messing the issue so much that the US might walk away waltzing. Unless of course Castro takes matters in hand....

At any rate, the US will be well advised that the bragadoccio of Chavez yesterday is also a mark of his weakness, of an administration that is again in deep crisis and that this time finds no one at home to blame for its incompetence. Heady days ahead?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday Venezuela Press Review: from PDVSA to nuclear energy

Sundays are never boring in Venezuela. Major newspapers love to publish their extensive investigations. Chavez does his little telethon to set the political agenda of the week. Everybody runs around trying to figure him out. Past weeks scandals are forgotten (well, not by this blogger). Without further ado, let's look at this Sunday offerings.

PDVSA is far from oblivion

Let's summarize the main point: PDVSA has been managed as a mysterious black box since January 2003. And it also seems that it has been used as Chavez personal piggy bank for many of his pet projects. Eventually, after more than 2 years of such regime, bad news are now oozing continuously. The lackadaisical Oil Minister Ramirez has found himself becoming the fall guy, trying to finally give some answers that had he given them earlier, would have left him much less questioned. But such are the workings of autocrats, they do not feel subjected by the common rules of decency and accountability. Still, with today's articles, it seems that the meager efforts of pathetic Ramirez are close to naught.

El Universal has 4 major articles. (1)

One focuses on the startling jump in PDVSA importations for its work. That is, apparently the importations of PDVSA just to operate have increased so much that they are projected for the end of the year to reach 4 000 + million dollars when normally they are between 1200 and 1700 millions. Surely it would be interesting for the country to know how come PDVSA has suddenly been buying so much... And how those purchases are controlled....

Another major article again restates the case that numbers just do not square and that someone should come forward and explain where the money is, or how much oil do we really produce. It finishes with a flourish showing how Brazil and Colombia are making steady progress with their state oil companies. And with less abundant oil supplies.

The problems in maintenance and investments in PDVSA are also examined carefully. The consequences for the future of the industry is also something for which we would like some accounting. For some reason, another even more crucial, and damming, article in the printed edition, "PDVSA suicida", which came with graphics, is missing from the web. It might appear tomorrow in the section "Expediente".

And to finish with a flourish an OpEd from an ex director of PDVSA. Not only he wonders about the real value of PDVSA today compared to what it was worth in 1998 (between 150 and 170 billions USD), but more interestingly he notes that the vices attributed to the old PDVSA are appearing now magnified in the "new" PDVSA.

El Nacional does not stay far behind. If it has only one article (then economy is more the forte of EL Universal), it brings quite an essential question: how come PDVSA has been allowed to give without any control 7 billion dollars that should have gone through the normal budgetary process? Not only it is illegal to do that for PDVSA, but this one has not bothered accounting for the money spent, has no receipts on how the people it gave the money to spent the cash.

The implications of all of this is quite simple: if there is no serious accounting on how the money was spent and how PDVSA is managed, then we can only consider that there is criminal intent. Someday a few people will go to jail, when justice comes back to Venezuela. In this light the attempt of Ramirez to pass the buck and blame foreign companies, which only are service companies for less than half of the oil production, is simply pathetic. I predict that Ramirez will be one of the most reviled men of the bolivarian riot when the day of reckoning comes.

Chavez threatens to break relations with the US, with the N word

This came during the Alo Presidente of today, and sure enough on the Posada Carriles affair. I can already advance that this is a distracting tactic of Chavez, trying to focus the public attention, and the foreign one might as well, from the problems of PDVSA and the Tascon list sequels. After all, cutting off relations with he US is not in the best interests of Venezuela which is very far from the oil diversification that Chavez seeks. This as he needs lots of money for the coming elections. Even if Bush were to say f*** off to Chavez, oil would flow at least until early 2006.... However to make sure that his remarks would be well noticed, he added that he asked Iran to help Venezuela in solar energy research and nuclear energy options. CNN bit real quick, showing that Chavez has learnt to manipulate US journalist knee jerk reactions. Not all have the temple of Anastasia O'Grady when looking South. (2) & (3)

Eva Golinger book under scrutiny

Now turning to El Nacional we see the first serious analysis of the Golinger book, the "Codigo Chavez". This crass manipulation trying to ride the coat tails of a recent best seller does not seem to be doing too well in the stores. After all Venezuelan middle class knows better than to buy a book already decried before publication and that attacks people perceived as defending the middle class. But also, the government distributes it freely as propaganda; so, why buy a copy when eventually one will find its way to your living room for free if you wish it so?

At any rate, it seems that this first scrutiny reveals that many of the allegations made by la Golinger are not sustained by documents that should appear in the book or in a certain internet site. The book as been published long enough that there is no excuse. So, is it yet another hoax? Will this article prod Eva to update her web page? I would not hold my breath on that one.


The first funny item is the announcement that 300 centers for ideological formation are going to be set up. I suppose that they will be placed between the Mercals and the Barrio Adentro clinics. I would love to see the spontaneous attendance numbers, unless they use that for more "social payments". I have just one question, after 6 years and still setting up 'ideologization' centers? How efficient is that revolution...

And, for a change, some good news. The German language high schools of the Andean area have celebrated the Humboldt games. In honor of Alexander von Humboldt who was the one that brought this part of Latin America to the forefront of botany and zoology in the XIX century. It is quite gratifying that in the middle of the mental mediocrity that surrounds us, and rains on us from Miraflores, there are some people that still believe in Kultur, in globalization the right way, in science as going above artificial borders. Congratulations to the kids that for one week gave us something else to look for in the front page of the sports section besides baseball and car racing (and credit be given to El Universal who gave a very extensive coverage).


(1) El Universal keeps an English language blow by blow of the PDVSA event.

(2) I had to modify the title of the post as it seems that Chavez has really hit media bull's eye. I was just watching the French news on cable. They never speak of Venezuela. Well, tonight they did. The nuclear energy intentions of Chavez have been noticed in Europe as well as in CNN. Or is it that the French are going to line up to sell thetechnology to Chavez?

(3) The Houston Chronicle also joins the fray of panic striken US folks. Let me say something: chavismo is too incompetent to develop nuclear weapons, even less to develop nuclear energy. Buying a nuclear weapon is always a possibility, but even that I wonder if chavismo is able to manage without it exploding in their own hands. Yes, that Chavez mentions "nuclear" is to be of concern, but for us Venezuelans first. Can anyone imagine Chavez having a secret nuclear weapon? He could not resist bragging abour it! All would know where to look for it and place a quick missile to neuter it!!!!!!!

Castro and Chavez: the road to Cubazuela is full of potholes

One thing that can be said for autocrats and dictators: they give us frequent opportunities to see what they are really about. This week is no exception as Castro is trying to do damage control big time as the opposition, in spite of some quacks, is managing to hold its most important public event in years, if not decades. Meanwhile, the wanna-be autocrat in Venezuela shows that still he is miles behind his mentor in managing such events.

Cuba: a dissident encounter

Castro has had a spat with the European Union when he shot a few guys without the pretense of a fair trial, not to mention all what he did to the guys of Proyecto Varela. But Zapatero became Spain Prime Minister, and irrepressibly misguided by his foreign secretary Moratinos, has tried to "bring back Cuba" into the concert of Nations. Well, the budding opposition to Castro in Cuba, as weak as it might be, has tried to mounts a serious assembly to discuss the future of Cuba (1). Castro, as expected, has tried to put obstacles all along the way, until eventually he could not fake it anymore and started kicking out European parliamentarians coming to observe the meeting. Europe is not amused (and Rodriguez Zapatero looks once again as a fool). The Guardian is not amused. Le Monde is not amused. And I am not looking at the press more to the right who must be hilarious.

In French we say "Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop", that is, try to wash Castro's face, he'll roll in dirt at the first opportunity. Castro cannot help it, he cannot afford a single chink in the Gulag he presides and he knows it. That is why accommodating policies like the ones tried by Zapatero will always fail because people like Zapatero never understand the mettle of the Castros of this world; just as Chamberlain was coming back from Munich in 1938 with "peace in our time", one of the most famous 'last words' in history.

But if Zapatero thinks tonight that his Cuban misadventure (will he fire Moratinos finally?) is bad enough, he has another one coming from Chavez, Castro's Mini Me.

Chavez new diplomatic faux-pas

Chavez has been having a few rough days. Be it from PDVSA troubles who forced him after months of denial to admit some problems in PDVSA, (and yet a new promise of Ramirez who finally started to give some numbers, non audited of course, 2 & 3) to the Tascon list that will not go away, he thought that with the Posada Carriles thing he might be unto something good. Alas! It does not seem to stir much passion in Venezuela. The official ABN could only give us a rather discrete picture of the event in Plaza Bolivar yesterday. The red shirts and the enthusiasm were there but not the crowds. In despair Maduro of the National Assembly promised for next week a big march.

Chavez and Maduro should look over at Havana to learn how things are done as Castro last Tuesday sent people to the streets in a real sea of red shirts to demand the US sends Posada Carriles out of the US.

But in a sign that Chavez is rather stressed these days, he blurted a few things on Aznar that makes one wonders what is really going in the hallways of power and diplomacy. Apparently when Aznar and Chavez met a few years ago, Aznar tried clumsily tried to lure Chavez into the Western orbit, even suggesting that Chavez should not join the losers of Africa. And Chavez goes on stating that Hitler comes short of Aznar.

Let's assume for the sake of the argument that indeed Aznar has said a few improper things about his less favored brethren of the world, words probably magnified by Chavez anyway, as we might assume that if these words were that awful Chavez would have said something at the time, as it was his duty to expose such a sleazy head of state. No? (4) So, even if Aznar was so gross, it is still an error for Chavez to repeat these words so late in the game. Basically he shuts down any efficiency in Venezuelan foreign policy as from now on nobody is going to speak freely with Chavez, too afraid that this loud mouth will babble away his own issues and misunderstandings.

Certainly the rebound of the comments on Aznar are going to bring trouble to Zapatero, which he deserves anyway. This one will more than likely become a more demanding ally as he needs to refurbish his fast tarnishing image. But this is not all. As editorials keep piling up, one can expect Chavez irate actions to multiply. And to add insult to injury, in spite of all the character assassination campaign against SUMATE's Maria Corina Machado, this one has been invited to an OAS meeting to talk about Venezuela's electoral problems. It is quite impressive that all the good will effect that Chavez managed to get from a fraudulent referendum has been whittled away so fast, all for his loud mouth, his disregard for other people business.

Alo Presidente should be interesting to watch tomorrow....


1)Babalu blog offers a coverage of events in Cuba and Miami.

2)One cannot fail to observe that as Ramirez claims that in 6 months rivers of oil will be flowing from Venezuela, finally, the government will still be asking OPEC cuts. I leave the interpretation of the incongruities of Ramirez speech to the reader.

3)Even as Ramirez finally was forced to give some numbers, new reports about the deficient maintenance of the oil industry share of PDVSA arrive. More to explain, I suppose.

4) It is not idle to remind Chavez that Aznar withdrew from a third term that he probably would have won without trouble while Chavez freely thinks of himself to be so indispensable that 2021 is his avowed goal to remain in office. The reader will decide which one has more of a 1000 years Reich mentality.

note: I changed the original title today because I realized it did not really correspond to what I had in mind when I started writing this post.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Let's not forget Cuba heroes

Today starts in Cuba a true act of courage as hundreds of delegates gather in Havana to organize against the Castro Gulag. More later.

The Tascon list: proof of involvement of Chavez

The Story

The Tascon list is the infamous list that was published by assemblyman Luis Tascon, a list that was used to start a McCarthy like system to purge public administration and deny public services to all of those Venezuelan citizens who according to article 72 of the constitution exerted their constitutional right to request a recall election on Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, once his midterm was reached.

The Tascon list became a CD and even a program that was ubiquitous in many a ministry and public service such as passport or ID card issuers. People who had the misfortune to have signed the petition faced simple things such as refusal to have a passport issued to graver things such as loss of job if they were public employees, even if they were holding menial jobs certainly not threatening the republic.

The Tascon list was used during the electoral process of 2004 to exert undue pressure over the electors, from blackmailing them in order to have them withdraw their signature and try to invalidate the Recall Election process, to all sorts of civil right attacks, denigrating basic Human Rights. No legal resource would hear the few who dared complain (1).

But times have changed. The charges have been piling up, and the political persecution could not be hidden anymore to the foreign governments who still show some interest for Human Rights in Venezuela.

Deciding that something had to be done, Hugo Chavez, in a show of pretense, decided that the Tascon list should be "buried", knowing fully well that its spread made this declaration only a symbolic one at best. No word from Chavez as of punishing abuses committed, or redress to the victims of the McCarthy prosecution of Venezuelan citizens, the worse moral and ethical violence that Venezuela had experienced since the last dictatorship of Perez Jimenez.

The government has been trying to protect the image of Chavez. The vice president, modern day Goebbels, has been reaching new lows of abjection trying to distract from the issue. This has become so difficult because no apology, no offer of redress have been advanced. No matter how much the attention was diverted to other players such as blaming SUMATE of the list, the attention did not drop. Even the High Court going against Tascon will not stop it.

Today we see now irrefutable evidence that Chavez was linked to the Tascon list elaboration. A letter addressed to Carrasquero, the president at the time of the electoral board, CNE, asks this one to allow Tascon to obtain all the information he wants from the people who signed for the Recall Election. The letter is dated January 31, 2004. (2)

Grado 33 in Globovision has just shown a video from a Chavez Alo Presidente where he says that he asked for such a list to be made. The video is from the February 1, 2004 broadcast (3).

There is no argument possible. Chavez knew of the list. Chavez approved its elaboration.

Even if Chavez did not approve of the political persecution that resulted and keeps claiming that he knew nothing of it, the only way he can demonstrate his good faith is by asking a full inquiry, asking a full punishment to the perpetrators, offer a redress program for the victims. Not doing so will simply establish his complicity, his guilt, and give the Venezuelan people the right to impeach him for violating our Constitutional Civil Rights.

The international opinion

What is international opinion going to do about it? When I see for example that the Spanish socialist party refused to vote a motion to protest the Venezuelan "gag law" I wonder if Franco is casting a dangerous shadow over them. When I see the French embassy in Caracas kowtowing to all sorts of business as if nothing with Venezuela, the Monde Diplomatique rumored to be funded by Chavez, I can only wonder about what kind of Europe Zapatero and Chirac are building. And they want us to vote YES for that Europe?

What will the US do? Isn't that a perfect opportunity to expose Chavez? Will the US Liberals tolerate such actions in Venezuela? Where is the ACLU when we need it?

What will Lula and Kirchner and Lagos do? Do they want to appear innocent bystanders? Will they risk seeming to look for an excuse to do as such in their country someday, setting back Latin American democracy for ever?

There are times when we run out of excuses. This is one of them and people will be judged as to their response to the Tascon list.


1) Miguel Octavio's blog carries many documents on the witch hunt of chavismo against the opposition.

2) the letter shown here is taken from today El Nacional edition. I assume that it is a legitimate document. However the existence of such a letter, be it the one shown here or anther one is acknowledged by Chavez himself in the video. The text reads a request by Chavez that the CNE allows Tascon to obtain certified copies of the signature forms for the Recall Election.

3) look around minute 4 for Chavez recognizing that he signed such letter. There is footage of Tascon shown, and support from Chavez to Tascon then. Obviously Chavez is wise enough not to take full credit and let his underlings with it. But the video is quite clear as to Chavez full support and thus an accomplice. Added next day as video became available on the net.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The neglected Venezuelan provinces

This past few days I was set to think about how the provinces in Venezuela have been neglected in the whole recent debate. After all the scandalous actions at PDVSA, and the multiple Human Rights violations have distracted a lot. In addition I have stopped covering my home state. In part I must confess that I do not want the exposure and enough thuggish things have happened recently here that I prefer to keep a low profile. But also the general principles of civility are broken in Venezuela and amiable provincial information pales when basic rights are threatened.

But two items brought me back to mull over the fate of us, Venezuelan residents far from Caracas.

A Potemkin Barrio Adentro?

The Economist had an interesting and long report in Venezuela, a report that on occasion is even somewhat sympathetic as it recognizes that indeed some of the Misiones have had a positive impact. No argument here, my argument as always being that if Barrio Adentro and Robinson were good ideas, I would still like to see the accounting. As for the other Misiones, well, they are more electoral vote buying than anything else, and people do understand it as such, the doubt even surfacing through the Economist article. It remains that the article is a clear description on how populism has run away with Venezuela without a thought for the consequences to out future. The numbers reported by the Economist are quite chilling:
Under Mr Chavez, spending by the central government has risen from 19% of GDP in 1999 to 31% of GDP last year. [snip] More than ever, what sustains Venezuela is oil. Last year, oil exports brought in $29 billion (85% of total exports), up from $22 billion in 2001. In the past, when oil prices were high, the government saved some of the windfall, to spend when they fell. But Mr Chavez scrapped that arrangement. He is spending as if there were no tomorrow. Last year, oil provided 52% of government revenue--some $25 billion. On top of that, PDVSA provided another $3.7 billion, off the books, for social programmes. Even so, last year the government ran a fiscal deficit of 2.8% of GDP. Under Mr Chavez, public debt has risen from 29% of GDP to 39% last year.
However to come back to the subject in my mind this morning: all what the Economist saw was located in Caracas, namely the Catia/23 de Enero neighborhoods. Only the showcase of the revolution where all visitors are taken. A Potemkin village.

Indeed when you are in the country side things change a little bit, and the glamorous "desarollo endogeno" described by the Economist is less frequent. No, chavismo has done a lot in the provinces, but not as much as what was done in Caracas lovingly tended to create a support base all around Miraflores Palace. The truth is that from what I hear, people in Yaracuy go to see the "el cubano" because it is cheap, but they have a limited trust. The Mercal are not as well stocked as in Caracas. I went into a couple of them recently and their offering are limited and their prices not really a major bargain, although certainly a family of 6 would get some significant savings as far as basic staples. What makes the success of chavismo in the provinces is that the provinces had much, much less than Caracas and in far reaches putting a single Cuban doctor was enough to gain the electoral support fo the area. The Adecos of course are the main culprit as the heirs of the 60 and 70 generation which developed some the Venezuelan hinterlands were only to happy to remain in Caracas in the 80 and 90, far from the smelly farm as reported by Milagros Socorro. It was easy for Chavez to earn points. And since he knows that Caracas is the hot spot, a nice Potemkin Catia is all what he needs to shore up his image as universal benefactor.

Revenge in Lara

But the disregard of Venezuelan provinces is much severe than what the casual observer might think. A political vendetta has been taking place in the provinces where chavistas have found it quite easier to get rid of the opposition leadership than Chavez in Caracas where I suppose that the observing eyes of the embassies do cast a protection of sorts.

Tal Cual editorial, translated by Miguel, gives the tale of Orlando Fernandez, the ex-governor of the next door state Lara. He has had to leave the country as his personal safety was at stake. It is to be noted that OFM (as he was called) was a main supporter of Chavez, and even abandoned a seat that he could have easily retained to let Luis Reyes Reyes, a coup monger of 1992, come into office at the request of Chavez. But Reyes Reyes revealed himself is a perfect nonentity, going as far as imitating Chavez tics in his sycophancy. He got reelected only thanks to the good performance of Barquisimeto mayor, with whom he actually has had a few problems, and to the popularity of Chavez in Lara. As Chavez revealed himself to be an autocrat wanna-be OFM had some misgivings. OFM might have a lot of defects but one quality he has is to be a democrat and a reasonable competent administrator, with, by Venezuelan standards, an ability to deal with the other side even if his rather open talk made him run into many problems. In other words, a free thinker and that is a sin that cannot be forgiven within chavismo.

The amazing thing is that even though OFM barely got 18% in the last election (see my analysis of Lara October results) that was too much for Reyes Reyes et al. who just cannot stand to be confronted to their mediocrity, a task that OFM delighted in doing through his weekly TV show (he used to be a radio personality). Reyes Reyes now feels that he can do as he pleases. With the complicity of Velazquez Alvaray who is now in charge of the judicial system organization (akin as to put the fox in charge of the hen house) Reyes Reyes is fast transforming Lara in the prototype of what is in store for us: the fascist provincial state and its Kommissar. The only question left is how long will Barquisimeto mayor, Henri Falcon, last. After all he is guilty on all counts: semi efficient, semi responsible, semi dedicated to the well being of its electors, semi free thinker. Right now Falcon is too popular, so perhaps they will get rid of him by forcing him to go the National Assembly in December? But mark my words, Falcon will not be the next Lara governor as long as Chavez and Reyes hold the upper hand.

Meanwhile, they all happily remove any trace of influence that Orlando Medina might have had left in Lara, going to all the dirty tricks of the book. And since it is not in Caracas, who cares!

Quote of the week

This quote of Manuel Caballero deserves wide attention, and not only because it is sadly hilarious:

A CNE presided by Jorge Rodríguez would be as honorable as a boy scout camp directed by Michael Jackson.

Un CNE presidido por Jorge Rodríguez sería tan confiable como un campamento de boy-scouts dirigido por Michael Jackson

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Playing PDVSA hide and seek in Venezuela

Teodoro Petkof has another luminous editorial on PDVSA. In "Forbidden to talk about PDVSA", he wonders why is Chavez is so upset about the press reporting on the PDVSA mess when the ones that announced the problems, and keep announcing more, all come from within the files of chavismo. Where is the CIA plot to provoke misinformation? Or I should add myself, when has the CIA been so efficient to be able to manage so many factors within chavismo to attack Chavez. The paranoia cannot be hidden anymore. Translation of the choice parts:
The president again last Sunday, in reply to the heavy criticism on the PDVSA management, placed the scratched record of "media conspiracy", the "coup mongers", promoted by the "lackeys of imperialism. Wouldn't it be better if the government were to pull off the mask and establish censorship on any information or opinion on the oil question? What it is doing, by disqualifying this way the critical debate on PDVSA, is to blackmail the non compliant opinion, to try to inhibit it or thwart it, on a theme that the very same government and its defenders put in the forefront of the national debate, and to which cannot be indifferent any Venezuelan concerned for the well being of the country.

[snip: long list of the people within chavismo advancing the charges, including Chavez himself. Then follows a direct address to Chavez:]

Start by recognizing that the hecatomb of the oil strike has had catastrophic results for the company. Without doubt the strike damaged PDVSA seriously, but worse than the strike was the firing after the strike of half of its personnel. The government had all the right to take actions against the leaders of the strike. This is an obvious rule of the game, that anyone who gets close to the fire accepts. But, what was the point in firing 20 000 workers knowing that that would disband entire departments of its management? Today we are paying the consequences of such a bleeding.

The balance sheets are unbalanced because there is nobody that knows how to balance them. The production is falling in the Western area because the people who know how to manage old wells is nowhere around.


Instead of looking for CIA agents under rocks, Chavez should do a self-critical check of his own management of the public administration. Nobody can use as an excuse his own mistakes, but neither can he make up scapegoats.

Indeed, this is the situation inside PDVSA: the actual management blundered badly and now it is trying to find a way out of the tight post.


In addition of all the chavista folks reporting PDVSA problems, we can read everywhere from informed blogs to reputable consulting firms numbers and tales that do not match the perceived reality. Someone somewhere is lying, or supremely incompetent, and probably both. Corruption is now reported more and more.

Simply put, there is now enough reports of trouble at PDVSA, too many of them in fact, not to deserve an independnet accounting. We just want to know the real numbers, just as any stockholder would like to know where his/her investments went. Is it an idle remark to stress once again that PDVSA is a state company, not a Chavez piggy bank, and thus we have a right to know what kind of money is PDVSA making and how it is spending it?


In front of this levy of criticism, what is the government doing? Well, we already know that Chavez took the easy way: it is the CIA, it is the media, etc... But his lackeys are not far behind in making up excuses or simply shooting the messenger. Yesterday we had a particularly revolting example when the president of the National Assembly, Nicola Maduro, behaved like a low life hack instead of the president of a parliament. Instead of managing debate, he spent his time shutting up the opposition in a most ignominious manner, saying outright that their line was dictated by the US embassy. Someone could have wondered if Maduro's line is not dictated by the Cuban embassy; some people's immaturity is just striking in spite of their name. Their desperation is clear, Maduro is protecting actively cabinet members from embarrassing interpellations.

This unseeming "debate" came up because once again the oil minister/PDVSA president Ramirez skipped his nth interpellation, and for the nth time was "excused" by the National Assembly chair, running short on excuses and thus resorting to insulting people who only want to know what is going on, which are the real numbers. So once again Ramirez is cited, for next week, and once again we are waiting to see if he will dare to show up. Meanwhile, trying to find a way out of this mess the National Assembly has decided to investigate the misdeeds of previous administrations, an interpellation that we are sure Ramirez would not miss. About time, after 6 years in office. And, oh, so convenient right now as the present problems make anything from the past pale, as today's Giusti OpEd muses on how PDVSA is going from the past "black box" to today's "black coffin" where the hopes of the country will be buried.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

PDVSA bankruptcy in Venezuela, Chavez and Gustavo

I have been away for a full week but now I am back. The little slack experienced in this blog did not perturb the good march of my Internet colleagues as one of them, Gustavo Coronel, reached a little bit of well deserved fame. All, of course, as his predictions of a collapsing PDVSA is finally happening, and even picked up by major media outlets. Then again Gustavo, not foreign to this blog, is not quite a blogger: let's call him an oil expert that dabbles in Internet journalism, and with great success lately.

The good news for me as getting back home rather tired is that I need not to write much, all has been covered and even translated. I just need to organize it "my way" as Blue Eyes.

It all started in an open letter written a few weeks ago by Gustavo. The rather strong letter is translated here, Spanish first, English later.

That strong letter is cited from the start in last Sunday El Universal. Roberto Giusti, a star reporter in Venezuela, describes without mincing words how PDVSA is collapsing. A translation has been published here. The strong analysis of Giusti leaves no essential stone unturned. The reports of incompetence and corruption in a normal and democratic country would provoke at the very least a major inquiry that would probably result in the fall of the government that presided such mess. But here, in El Supremo realm, he would rather vituperate, make excuses, claim lack of information, lie outrageously, etc, etc... but would certainly not fire the supremely incompetent oil minister cum PDVSA president who obviously is overtaken by the whole thing, refuses to declare to the National Assembly and plays Lego in building PDVSA offices in Havana, when not naming his wife the president of the cultural branch of PDVSA, La Estancia, nepotism not seen in previous PDVSA managements.

Today, El Universal editorial (already translated) examined the contradictions around PDVSA. This as a nice introduction to the description of Chavez Sunday's tirade. Tirade by the way where El Supremo started showing signs of emotional distress. No wonder, he even admitted last Saturday that "pamphlets were circulating in the army barracks". But today's article had a picture of Chavez holding the offending article of Giusti, on the very same day it was published, demonstrating that Chavez reads El Universal, no matter how "golpista" this one is. The picture is wonderful as the name of Gustavo Coronel is barely two inches from the Chavez right hand index. Let's hope that if he touched it, it would not set a curse on Gustavo.

Truly, a great moment in Internet journalism.

=== === === === === === ===

Of course, I must dedicate this post to Gustavo Coronel (who probably appreciates Blue Eyes too), because at the same time it allows me to cover the collapsing PDVSA while discussing a more general theme: the strength of Internet and blogging, even in Venezuela.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Political Apartheid in Venezuela: what did Chavez know and when did he know it?

According to article 72 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, the President or any other public figure can be revoked from its position by a Recall Referendum (RR). That Referendum must take place if at least 20% of the registered voters demand it.

In order to solve the terrible political crisis that had been lived in Venezuela after a few years of Chavez presidency, more than three million people signed a petition to call for a Presidential Recall Referendum that finally took place on August 15, 2004.

In Venezuela, it is extremely easy to track anybody having signed a petition. This can be done by mapping the signatures to the Venezuelan ID numbers. As a matter of fact, all Venezuelan citizens and alien residents are identified with a national ID card where their photo, ID number, signature and fingerprint appear. Thus, it was extremely easy to construct a list from those informations.

The list, that has been called the “Tascon list”, in honor of the National Assembly member that published it in his web page, has been systematically used to create a de-facto state of political apartheid.

In a country where the whole economy depends on oil and where the government is probably the major employer, being blacklisted from any civil servant office or government contract is close to being denied the right to work, that, by the way, is also a right written in the 1999 Constitution (article 87). This has been taking place in Venezuela in such an open manner that those that applied the apartheid did not even do it in a veiled fashion. It had become standard to openly discriminate against those who signed. Some people report being denied jobs, pensions, contracts, passports or of being fired.

The Venezuelan press and, in particular, Tal Cual, recently initiated a campaign denouncing the use of the list that was reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Many of the articles, translated and commented, can be found in a section of the Devil’s Excrement.

Chavez himself admitted the abuses and asked, last month, that the list be buried. What triggered his sudden recognition? Maybe it was the effect of the intense press campaign. Maybe he got aware that the existence of the list would do a great damage to the champion- of- democracy image that he wants to portray abroad. On the other hand, there is a much more cynical explanation: maybe he just wanted, for internal political reasons, to get rid of deputy Tascon. In that case, denouncing one of the most hated figures of the revolution was an automatic way to gain sympathy for himself and to get rid of a potential political enemy within his own party. As we say in Venezuela, Chavez was ‘killing two birds with one shot”.

The press and the opposition have fallen into his trap. The list has been systematically referred to as the “Tascon list” and deputy Tascon has been satanized and left for pasture to the political vultures. He deserved it, but, unfortunately, all that personalization of the problem created a circus-like smoke screen to cover the real important issues on the creation of an apartheid State in Venezuela. There are, in fact, fundamental questions that are not being asked at the moment because the Venezuelan Press and the public opinion are just too distracted with Tascon’s misfortunes. This is a well known Chavez’s strategy that has worked pretty well in the past: divert the attention and single out a common enemy so that people will forget about the really important questions.

There are, indeed, a good number of unanswered questions that would have enough weight to have any decent democratic government fall in a “normal” country. These are just a few:

  • Who ordered the blacklisting of the RR signatories?

  • Why, despite the widespread knowledge about the list and the way it was being misused, no government official (not even the Prosecutor or the Ombudsman) opened an investigation on the abuses?

  • When are the abuses going to be thoroughly investigated by the Government?

  • What are going to be the penalties imposed on the abusers?

  • What is going to happen to those that suffered the discrimination?

And finally, and most importantly,

What did the President know and when did he know it?


Saturday, May 14, 2005

The adventures of Luis Tascon: disposing of allies in Venezuela

Milagros Socorro muses this week on the tribulations of Luis Tascon, the assemblyman that became notorious for publishing in his web site the list of all of those who signed asking for a recall election on Chavez. This created a legal apartheid where the non supporters of Chavez would be denied basic rights such as obtaining an ID card, not to mention being fired freely from public administration posts. This finally has been noticed enough overseas that Chavez is using Tascon as scapegoat, when he is the one that should be severely punished for this grossest of Human rights violations. However the way in which this disposal is made is so telling that it became the inspiration for Ms. Socorro in yet another great OpEd piece. Translation of the good parts below. Original in Spanish here.

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The generalized tasconeria

The tribulation of Luis Tascon can only move to pity whomever sees him running around to attract some commiseration that would relieve him of a certainty: he has become nothing. By being thrown out of the organization that gave him the illusion of believing himself to be somebody and to belong to something he will be left alone, with his abilities, with his talents, with the skills that he developed through his life, that is, he will remain with nothing. Completely helpless, supplicating his former allies for some attention, a little bit of condescendence, some small sweet deal that will leave him at ease. It is unlikely that this will happen. Tascon is a nobody.

He never was anything. He now returned to the nothingness from where he came. And he will not be the only one with this fate. As many analysts have observed, all seems to indicate that the first stone has been laid down for the highway of the cursed and it is be predicted that pretty soon that highway will see a gridlock of "revolutionaries" fallen into disgrace. We will see the muting of the loud and the return of the silly converted into ambassadors by the carnival of the most uninspired revolution that we have been told of.

We will see rolling bureaucratic heads inflated by a power that they have only used for failure and for their enrichment, of course. And we will see how they are replaced by others, equally improvised, equally hungry, equally blinded by ignorance, rapacity and cruelty (the most visible marks of the performance of the "revolutionaries" in power). [snip]

But the defenestration of Tascon did not surprise anyone. Many warned of it in the press: Chavez did not order to bury the Tascon list but Tascon himself. [snip]

But we should not be distracted from the essential. Of course, the spectacle of the author of the perverse list that destroyed the life of so many people, finished and sniveling, clinging to the pants of William Lara, who appeals to a justice that he denied to millions, can be gratifying for a country submitted to daily capitulation. [snip]

However, I insist, the show of Tascon being bared to his essence of the little kid from the high Andes must not distract us from the horrifying concurrent story. What is truly terrible is that what Chavez has done to his minion now dismissed is exactly what he is doing to the nation.

Venezuela is useful to Chavez in his project of international leadership, just as the Tascon list served some objectives at their time.

All of Venezuela is Tascon, all of Venezuela's resources are Tascon, the Venezuelan oil is the quintessence of the tascon. The democratic tradition of Venezuela, now so threatened, is Tascon for Chavez: a useful instrument to legitimate his actions, who, paradoxically, must culminate with the destruction of democracy.

It is enough to look outside Venezuela's border to figure out that this one is for Chavez what the large farm is for the second generation of owners, the one that did not had to toil for it prosperity, that perceives the hacienda as a foul place, with conflict and stinking of cow dung, but from which flows, of course, the millions necessary to buy apartments in the beautiful avenues of the world or to spend afternoons by the fireplace of the ski lodges.

With the monies of the national hacienda, Chavez has advanced like the spoiled heiress who comes back everyday with shopping bags where one can read the names of the most chic designers and who gives sumptuous tips to her manicurists. In a context of crisis in French editorial houses, to give an example, Le Monde Diplomatique has just acquired a building to make it its headquarters. Meanwhile, a good deal of French press business makes miracles by not to shutting down, sell actions or pact fusions and, obviously, fire dozens of workers. Ah, but Le Monde Diplomatique has called for a competition to design the architect that will redo the just bought building. But, how come? A monthly that has never produced dividends, now will have a new seat! Who pays for that building and all of its luxuries? All Paris gives it as a fact: Venezuela paid it. (2)

Does this show in the very least respect or, even, solidarity for a country submerged in a painful situation of economic trouble for the majority? Absolutely not. It shows that Venezuela is criminally ransacked to pay for favors, to finance propaganda campaigns abroad, to pave the way for the international preponderance of Chavez.

The income of the republic is at the will of a single person, who spends it liberally for the aim of financing his personal delirium. And for this he can rely on many Tascon. All of those who assist in this monumental fraud are the mirror image of the embarrassing Tascon, now of the switched off phone so as not be reached by the deafening screech of silence because he will not be reached by the call of forgiveness and restitution.

The enormous sums of the bribe have not been distributed only overseas, of course. Many are the millions deposited on the accounts of the Venezuelans that have offered their conscience on the market place waiting for a good bidder.

The tascons that enable the demented run of Chavez, who serve as operators, who do the job and every morning empty the pot from under the bed are not there for ideology nor are they attracted until loving surrender to the charisma of their leader.

That tasconnery is there because its services have been paid in gold. (3)

All is so low, so twisted, so perverse, so tascon, that it cannot end in a different way.

We are just left to hope that a country transformed in useful tool of the wasteful autocrat, does not end up punished by this sad role just as it has happened to the horrible metaphor of our decadence, the poor Tascon.

This will not happen if there is still some justice left in the world. Venezuela does not deserve anything but a turn from the present mist because even though tasconess has got loose in its core, it is also true that there are millions – in fact Tascon made the count with the help of Jorge Rodriguez, and forgive the redundancy – of the Venezuelans that are nailed to the defense of democracy and decency. And they do it so because they want. Nobody has paid them.

We must persevere in this determination.

All end up harvesting what they have planted.

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(1) tasconeria: "tasconess", from Tascon, the pro Chavez Andean boy who became famous for listing all those signed against Chavez in 2003/2004, into a useful format widely used to ban them from any public service, creating an apartheid in fact. A CNN link among the international ones starting to pile up, but also a whole series of articles in Miguel's blog tranalting many editorials to explain the abuses comitted (most recent), but also in this blog (most recent). The outrage cannot be silenced.

(2) Le Monde Diplomatique has indeed become a main supporter of Chavez. Its editor, Ramonet, who aspires to be the guru of the anti globalization movement, has detected very early the potential in Chavez, organizing his welcome to the Porto Alegre forum, the anti Davos. The people at the Diplo have indeed got out of their way to promote Chavez. For a recent example, if one read the latest article of one of its pseudo-journalists, Lemoine, one would wonder if it would have been written any differently had it been a commissioned pamphlet. It is quite impressive that a supposedly self respecting publication is willing to lower it standards of reporting so much for Chavez defense, compared to the rest of their articles. Not to mention that when Ramonet visits Venezuela he gets the 5 star reception on state TV, claims that he would not be caught dead in a restaurant in East Caracas, nor would he give an interview to an anti Chavez paper. No wonder Paris gossips...

(3) I have tried to "translate" the invented variations of Ms. Socorro on Tascon. The flavor is difficult to convey but I hope the reader will sense the effort of making tascon a synonym of all that is vile while lacking in character.

Wonderland Venezuelan Economics

I have been quiet for the last few days simply because I was very busy, and with some minor health problems now mending. I did not follow much the news either and only came back in earnest with today's El Universal. I was quite aghast at some of the new initiatives taken. The only rational explanation can come up with is that all think that they live in a wonderland financed on eternal oil supply. And that we are stupid. Let's see.

The referendum on international reserves

There both opposition and government are in la-la-land. For those coming late to this topic. Simply put, any country must set aside a certain amount of foreign currency earned through trade. Depending on the economic structure, the rate of importation, etc, the central bank of a country holds a few billion Dollars (or Yen or Euro or even Pound). The amount should in theory back up all the currency emitted by the country as its declared foreign exchange, thus ensuring free convertibility. It also should cover a few months worth of importations.

Well, according to Chavez we have too much money in reserve and he wants to take some to invest in some "social programs" and investments. Read: there are elections coming and I need cash to buy votes. The calculation made by experts is reasonably simple. Of the 27.8 billion USD held currently, 6 are needed to pay the importations already due, 3 for debt service, 8 for importations needed in the next few months, 5.5 for reserves that cannot be touched which leaves an approximate amount of 5 to 6 billon bucks for backing up our currency at the official rate of 2150 and the street rate at 2600. It is essential to note that the price of oil can change while the rate of public expenditure keeps increasing with the mad dash in social programs; which explains the continuous devaluations since Chavez came to office. It also should be noted that we are living though an era full of uncertainties on our economic front, from the semi collapse of PDVSA now acknowledged, to the general lack of confidence in the Venezuelan economy which has lead to a dramatic drop in private investment. And also, the money that Chavez wants to grab is money not really created by "work", rather by the good luck of having oil underground, money that is there only by a fluke.

In other words, Chavez knows that these few billons "available" could melt really quickly in a few months. He better get them first. The consequences are very predictable: dramatic increase in inflation and high devaluation of the currency, not to say runaway inflation such as was still observed in Latin America a little bit over a decade ago. Of course he does not care about that as long as it certifies his reelection and allows him to buy the alternalists adulation he so seems to crave.

But there is a problem, legally he cannot just grab the money unless the central bank plays dumb and hand it to him anyway. Unaccountably an opposition assembly man has proposed a referendum on the subject. You have got to wonder. I mean, how do you make people understand such arcane maters that even in the National Assembly is scarce in thinking minds able to grasp the problem? How do they expect to make an issue of this against Chavez when he is going to promise to spend it "socially" and the suckers will buy it once again? Does AD think at this point that by predicting even more inflation they are going to scare the chavista voter? Really....

The Cuban vacation

This is quite a doozie, a demonstration on how high a degree of sycophancy the underlings of Chavez are reaching: they will come up with any scheme to finance Cuba and obtain the benevolent eye of El Supremo.

There has been a rather strict currency exchange control in Venezuela since January 2003. Now, I am allowed to spend only 4 000 USD a year to be charged on my credit card when I travel overseas. Plus 400 in cash and 2 000 to spend on Internet shopping. Not too bad you might think, but any one week business trip will set you back 1 000 dollars if you do cheap hotels and Mc Donald. Your customers or providers of course are not expecting you to set rendezvous at the local Burger King.... In fact, 4000 is barely enough to make three simple business trips to the US in a year, and some folks must make them more frequently. Forget about a vacation and using your frequent flyer miles, unless you hit the black market. Again, as a measure of responsibility I can see a currency control. But then again how does one explain that chavista assembly folks travel so much, to name a notorious group of frequent travelers not known to stay at cheap motels? How do they get the obviously more than 4000 dollars they spend? Animal farm equality.

Well, Wilmar Castro Soteldo, the tourism ministry of the bolibanana republic has a project to exempt Cuban tourism from that 4000 limit. That is, if you are a Venezuelan going to Cuba on vacation, you can use your credit card there without any control, as we used to do it before February 2003 anywhere else. It is not that an extra 1000 for Cuba is set, no, not something that could be justified in a way. In the project you could use your credit card in the Cuban stores for foreigners and buy, at benefit for Cuba, all what you cannot buy when you go to Miami for a little shopping. Not to mention that in Cuba you will be able to spend precious foreign currency in the luxury hotels dotting Cuba where the locals can only go as humble workers. The first question is to which government does Wilmar Castro belong to? Because as a measure to promote tourism in Cuba, you can hardly do any better. Heck! I might even go on vacation to Cuba and buy the video camera I have been thinking of! And some single malt scotch that I am running out of. While enjoying some Cuban beach and perhaps let myself be tempted by a jinetera who probably will be allowed to accept cash in bolivares....

So we have here a Venezuelan minister promoting the spending of the scarce Venezuelan tourism dollar for another country. How low can you fall?