Friday, March 31, 2006

"La Lista" in Hispalibertas

A few weeks ago I posted a review on the documentary "La Lista". Said documentary, far from the embellishments of pro Chavez videos such as "The Revolution will not be televised", described in acute details how chavismo established a political apartheid based originally on those who signed to ask for a Recall Election against Chavez in 2003.

Slowly but surely that incredible and disgusting story is getting the attention it deserves. The delay was long because simply put, civilized countries cannot believe that a "democratic" government would blacklist 30% of its citizens (and growing!) Not to mention the incompetence of the opposition in not sensing the advantage they could take from that (and the fear of the victims, well shown on the video, to go for redress to a pro Chavez judicial system).

Now, not only the European Union report on the December 2005 elections in Venezuela addresses specifically the by product of the Tascon list, now become the Maisanta program with all Venezuelan electros and their "political activities", but folks such as the e-zine Hispalibertas asked me to translate my post on "La Lista". This request from which I am greatly honored, forced me to even redo the art work as all had to be in Spanish. But in a way it was fun because now under the captions of Chavez pictures, the reader can see the actual fascistic words that Chavez pronounced at that precise moment in time, recognizing the criminal he is for allowing deliberately such an instrument to be established by his sycophantic followers.

So now you do have the two versions of the reviews to transmit the unbelievers of your choice. I was also told that portions of La Lista are becoming available on the net. Soon you might not even have to buy the video though purchasing it will help the civil liberties actions of Ciudadania Activa.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is chavismo smoking?

This is the question that one can ask after more and more days like this last Tuesday. Chavismo never stingy in its displays of intolerance and inanity regaled us yesterday with yet more fodder for “Ripley’s believe it or not”. Let’s look at a few tableaux:

One for self-vilification: Arias Cardenas as UN ambassador

Francisco Arias Cárdenas, ex 1992 conspirator, ex cell mate of Chavez, ex governor of Zulia, ex artifice of the 1998 Chavez victory, ex opponent of Chavez in 2000, ex sworn enemy of the dictator in the making, ex intriguer so desperate to come back to the chavista ranks that he destroyed the political party he built to run against Chavez, ex scorned candidate for chavismo in 2005, has now finally made it back into the fold of chavismo as he becomes the new ambassador to the UN. The undignified way through which Arias came back is worthy of a modern morality play as to how El Supremo breaks the will and honor of his opponents. Assuming of course that Arias had will and honor to start with. I am pretty sure that Chavez must have been beaming inside as he swore in Arias, the more so that many inside chavismo dared to complain about the “good fortune” of Arias. With one Machiavellian stroke, Chavez put all of his sycophants on short notice that he is the sole dispenser of punishment and forgiveness. He is good!

Will Arias write again for El Universal?

One for inanity: Sanmartiniano

Tuesday swearing in was yet another excuse for Chavez to utter an excruciatingly long speech with all of his ministers in attendance (do they ever have time to work?). He was demanding his new ambassadors to propagate the words of the revolution that will free all of LatAm and the world. Or something to that effect. Among the banalities exposed was a list of the heroes but with a twist: they were listed according to the ideology they supposedly represented to the people they freed. Thus adjectives were built to link a liberation theology to the liberator: e.g. Bolivar-iano. We did get sanmartiniano as of San Martin the hero of Argentinean independence (he did stumble at O’Higgins though, not daring to make it an adjective). The only problem is that Chavez got it wrong as San Martin was at least for a while partisan of creating a South American monarchy. Wiser than Bolivar, he eventually left for peaceful exile in Europe rather than dealing with the petty intrigues of folks at home.

Can anyone give Chavez adequate cue cards?

One for freedom of information: reporters banned from Caracas slums

The latest ill aimed attack on freedom of information came when the army expelled the independent press from crumbling Caracas slum. Globovision could not cover the removal of people out of sliding down mountain Gramoven (above the recently collapsed bridge) and RCTV was on his own banned from Tacagua. Of course they wanted to report on how for security reasons the government is trying to “convince” people to leave the area but is not giving them the means to do so in a dignified way. Not good “in the news” for an electoral year.

Does Lara, the new communication minister, send us a clue as to what will come?

One for self delusion: Rodriguez political speech

Jorge Rodriguez departure (?) from the CNE is giving us quite a continuous show. Journalists were curious as preparations were made on Tuesday early at the CNE doors to welcome a “spontaneous” rally to support Rodriguez. The “spontaneous” rally did arrive and Rodriguez did come out to make a political and partisan speech most unbecoming for the head umpire of the electoral system (he is still the head until sometime in May, you know). The positive aspect is that for those that still think Rodriguez was impartial, it will suffice to show them the tape to shut them up. For the rest of us is the realization that only an unstable shrink could have attempted such a double game for so long (though the strain did show during his speech). Interestingly the “spontaneous” supporting crowd did attack the press covering the rally. When journalists tried to seek refuge inside the CNE, the CNE security actually tried to bar them from entry. Thus the CNE, the institution that supposedly belongs to all of us could not help it and showed its support to Chavez, the boss. All as seen on TV.

Free and fair elections anyone?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reactionary revolutions

No, the title is not an oxymoron.

I came up with it watching the news from France where for the first time perhaps in its history people are rioting in the streets to make sure that nothing changes. Yes, that is right. In front of a stubborn youth unemployment, in particular at that crucial “first job” period, the government tries a rather timid and not well timed program. As a result, the people that are supposed to be the ones who would benefit from that initiative are the ones rioting in the streets while supporting students are been manipulated by the left and trade unions that have not been able to have a single good idea in 10 years. They have managed, with the help of the reactionary and nationalistic right, to screw up the European constitution and now they are trying to maintain a timid, shivering France as far away as possible from the world challenges.

Meanwhile, there is the UK, which has long gone through the painful changes, that keeps forging ahead. Across the border Germany slowly digests East Germany while it sees all of Eastern Europe opening to its economy with their crazed dash to modernity certainly stirring in Germany the changes it has to do to become again the main motor of Europe. Yes, all of these changes are giving Germany and the UK the edge over any other countries in Europe while a scared France remains frozen in place and will even be caught up by Spain who had no problems voting for Europe (if Spain holds together which is another story).

Yes, it is more complex than that but France is showing more and more that it is unable to tinker with a social system that has run its course, a social system that is leaving France with a class structure that bars immigrant’s children from integrating its society, a system where the youth from more established groups are seeking to validate entitlements instead of seeking adventure. That is why France voted against Europe, why last falls thousands of cars where burned in the streets and why now students are marching so as to make sure that nothing changes. Those are reactionary times and the only surprise is that the reaction is now coming from the left. At least in 1789 street rioting came from people that wanted bread.

But is this a unique phenomenon? No, it is also up to a point what is happening in Venezuela. It might not be as obvious in our case, but chavismo is very much a reactionary movement, a look to our past and a desire to go back to “halcyon” days that were never halcyon. In Chavez we have a caudillo, just as those who gave peace to Venezuela by imposing their will. In those days if you did not do politics and followed all the dictates you were assured sustenance. Or so some want to think. With Chavez controlling oil personally many also think that it will be like good days of old where proximity to the leader ensured that you to receive the occasional gift. Democracy? What a crazy idea! Back to the Cacique rule!

Still not convinced? I realized this reaction to its full impact and implications when Maria Lourdes Urbaneja was Health Minister. Then she was in charge of establishing a new pension plan in agreement with the 1999 constitution (we are still waiting for it and 2 ministers have rotated in the chair since Urbaneja). She was interviewed then as to the great plan her office was coming up with. But the interviewer managed to have her say that her wonderful plan would not apply to the Central University professors, from where she came. They would keep their own plan, much better of course “they have acquired these benefits and cannot surrender them” were more or less her words. Change is good for the others, not for the ones that managed UNDER the old regime to get privileges and that intend to write them in stone under the new regime.

And this is what many in the chavista “elite” fight for, to enshrine their privileges, past of present, regardless of the ability of the country to afford it. That is why they are preparing themselves to go back to old and antiquated labor laws that were modified in the mid 90ies because the State was unable to fulfill its commitment to its own workers. It failed to do so but the people in charge now think they know better than the laws of economics. Thus why the chavista elite forges ahead in re-creating a welfare state that only existed in the imaginary before Chavez came to power, a welfare state that failed in spite of oil money because of inefficiency and corruption just as chavismo is outdoing any form of incompetence and corruption that we have ever seen in our rich past on that matter. And to make sure that the world will not force on us the necessary changes we are giving money away to other countries to create a Latin Block that will revolt against the Imperial US, perceived justly or wrongly as the harbinger of changes. Revolutionary Autarchy lead by our benevolent caudillo can only be better, while the same caudillo sends to the US all the oil it can to gain the dollars he needs to fight the US.

Yes, chavismo is quite a reactionary movement who looks to the past be it to add as tar in its flag or to dream of a rural world that never existed in Venezuela. It is a movement that denies individual freedom and initiative to put it all under the “collective” will enshrined into a single man. We are back to the XIX century and just a step away from colonial times where the ruler lived in Spain deciding what social class was allowed to wear a coat in Caracas.

Post Data:

These ideas of modern “reactionary revolutions” are not that novel. I have considered chavismo as a reactionary movement long ago and even wrote on it on my blog somewhere.

In an interview in El Nacional de Oteyza from the UCAB expressed such views as early as April 2003 (and held them earlier). I have sought that interview and posted it in my document blog. In there she states a few pearls such as:

The project of Chavez is conservative to the hilt, reactionary; the revolution is only a decoration.
This return to a rural life is very close to fundamentalism, because it is a confrontation between the oriental and western cultures and between modernization and tradition.
Deep inside [Chavez] it is a political reaction to political modernization, that is implied in decentralization, the election of governors, getting the citizen closer to power.
I did forget while I was writing this post to recognize the great article from Anibal Romero in El Nacional last Wednesday. In fact it is that article that prodded me to write on this to tie the two reactionary movements described above. His article is aptly titled “Tin foil Robespierre” as an unwanted homage to what a real revolutionary would do. Reposted here and worth very much reading.

Now that I reread my post I can supplement it with these two pieces that show that I am not the only one thinking along those lines, fortunately. Be them neo liberal thinkers as Romero or liberals like this blogger (US sense, just in case). The failure of a certain left to get on with world changes is pathetic to see for many of us.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Corruption free for all in Venezuela

This blogger was busy with family obligations these days. Which left a lot of stuff on the docket as suddenly corruption in Venezuela becomes an even hotter issue. Why! With chavistas now attacking each other on corruption, one wonders what is going on under the surface, to the point that some already state that the recent "attack on corruption" might just be an electoral strategy as the numbers supporting Chavez are failing to reach the stratospheric levels of 10 million votes sought.

And speaking of stratospheric, in his Sunday babble show Alo Presidente, Chavez announced that he would not put up with the stratospheric real estate prices that come as a reaction of people speculating on their secondary home values now that the government is forced to buy them due to its sheer, spectacular, incompetence at building subsidized housing (apparently chavismo in 7 years has not been able to build half the subsidized housing Caldera built in the preceding 5 years with an oil price less than half of what Chavez benefited). In English here. I can see that as a new source of corruption: a house is worth 50, the "speculator" wants 80, the government wants to pay 40, the public official discreetly offers to sign the contract for 55 but 10 going to his own pocket, everyone is happy as the owner did not get completely expropriated, the state does look good "finding" houses at tax payer expenses and the corrupt public official gets a nice down payment for a car or a vacation in Miami (it seems that chavista servants much prefer Miami to Havana when they go on vacation).

But let’s worry only about the recent cases. Fortunately this blogger found a nice field guide to corruption in Venezuela written by Gustavo Coronel this week end. No need for me to elaborate, good thing I enjoyed my week end as procrastination pays once more.

But if truth be told, I did not want to discuss the misery of the Barinas case or the Velazquez Alvaray incredibly pathetic case. Let's observe first that Velazquez Alvaray former career as a representative in the National Assembly, until 2004, made him one of those who gladly ratified the "gag" law, one of those that had no qualms criticizing the "biased" coverage of Globovision, our 24 hours news channel. Then he became a high court Justice as his prize for all that servility which included offering a constitutional amendment to allow for unlimited reelection to his boss, El Supremo. Well, imagine that, Velazquez Alvaray seems to be camping at Globovision these days as he is trying desperately to justify his actions while chavismo seems to have thrown him to the wolves (show? real corruption? revenge? does it matter?). When one sees Velazquez Alvaray on Globovision one cannot but harbor an ironic smile (VTV and other pro Chavez media are not receiving him, nor other suspects such as Alabaran the recently sacked agriculture minister over the Barinas fiasco, but Globovision receives all, no wonder chavismo wants it shut down).

But the real question is: when one sees Velazquez Alvaray declaring on Globovision, in all luxury of details, how come someone as incompetent, as ill educated, as incoherent as he is made it to Venezuela's Highest Court of Justice? How come? What about the other justices? Into what hands Venezuela has fallen?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jorge Rodriguez will not "run" for the CNE again

In yet another act of hypocrisy and utter self aggrandizement, Jorge Rodriguez announced a little while ago that the would not ask to be named to the new CNE in preparation.

[Brief break to shed a few crocodile tears, sniff, sniff...]

Let's be serious now, this does not change anything. The way the National Assembly is proceeding to name a new CNE does not allow us to hope for an improvement on that front. That is, the reasons why 50% of Venezuela does not trust the electoral system and are not planning to vote are still there and will not be changed no matter who they put to direct the CNE. In fact, even if by some disconcerting fluke the NA were to put a non or even anti Chavez person to lead the CNE, the result would be that the 50% chavistas would stop trusting the vote, plus a few on the other side not easily swayed by a cosmetic change.

No, the trust in the electoral system is too damaged by simply removing Jorge Rodriguez, no matter what a disgusting character he has come to be. Much, much more is needed.

But the interesting thing of today announcement by Jorgito the shrink is that he showed again that he is in bad need of a shrink himself. The tone of his announcement, the spiteful things he said were telling of his utter moral bankruptcy. It gives pena ajena(1) to read his words of self sufficiency and out of control ego.
“now it will take away the opposition excuses not to run” (as if he were the sole responsible party! The nerve!
“this exercise closes with great satisfaction, we met out goals in spite of adversity, the vilification and the most truant campaign against a public institution without being able to respond”. Well, besides the fact that he is responding with such a statement, he has gained his notorious infamous reputation on all the responses he gave during his contested tenure. But Rodriguez is a resentido social(2) and such people are never satisfied no matter how many opportunity to respond they are provided with.

And more that I have no stomach to detail.

The only thing that worries me is that he is rumored to become the next Vice President. Oh dear! But he does posses the cynicism of Jose Vicente Rangel, though not his craft.

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1) pena ajena is used in Venezuela when we want to say that what someone did is so embarrassing that we are actually personally embarrassed for that person.

2) resentido social is how we describe in Venezuela people who hold a grudge against society and seek all their lives redress. It is a social resentment that defies logic, compassion, reconciliation. Chavismo is plagued by such people, just as chavismo is creating a new class of the same people in the opposition ranks.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Morning reading

Since I am leaving on a short trip, I thought that instead of discussing the latest scandal, the alleged corruption of Luis Velazquez Alvaray (the assemblyman that proposed unlimited reelection and that as a prize became one in the new batch of "objective" high court justices) I would leave the blog with a reading list based on what I saw this morning while drinking my tea.

Are Super Power needed?

Well, that article of the WSJ should indeed make more than one think about the need to have a super power, preferably the US, Iraq notwithstanding. "Hobbes in Sudan" is too close for comfort. When Chavez is backing up Iran, how close is he to back up the Khartoum rulers? Does he even know where the Darfur is, by the way?

Looking back to India

Peggy Noonan has je ne sais quoi very irking about her personality. Then again I have had always some problems with the self confident Reaganites, in particular when they tend to be more often right than wrong. Her thoughts about how India became independent and how distanced from reality elites become is worth while reading. note that she is not afraid to write a book review on a 30 year old book, the kind of thing that few can pull out as convincingly as she can. In "what nobody knows", Ms. Noonan rereads "Freedom at Midnight" where she points out how power create elites which lose touch with the common people. Exactly what is going on with Chavez these days as he tells his own supporters to shut up when they become to demanding in his Alo Presidente. A bolivarian elite of power has been created and it is following the road that all elites have followed.

And the small people against the elites

The WSJ now reviews the Glen Reynolds book, An Army of Davids (this blogger has had the honor to be cited more than once by Instapundit). It is certainly not a rousing endorsement, but a very favorable review anyway, by the WSJ (after all, blogs are a competition). Still, it is one of the best assessment of the just range that blogs can achieve. Not a real danger to newspapers (after all bloggers in general will never dispose of the investigative possibilities of a major paper) but rather an interesting complement as both learn to feed from each other.

And yes, I start my day reading the free articles that the WSJ sends to my mail box, being too expensive for me to subscribe too (currency control exchange, you know!), and having broken with the NYT years ago over Forero inane coverage of LatAm. It is also nicer to start the day in Venezuela with eh WSJ than with a Venezuelan newspaper: one needs that slow decompression time from a night of rest.

And while we look at the power of blogs

I have found a very nice article, very well written and very comprehensive on Venezuela. I highly recommend folks to go and visit Slaves of Academe where Oso Raro will regale you with an article even longer than what you find in these pages but much better written: "We don't need another hero".

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The vulgarity of Chavez

There was a little but important item that I was wondering how to cover. Last Sunday, in his freak show Alo Presidente, Chavez insulted Bush. Grossly.

Mr.Deinyer = Mr. Danger = G.W.Bush in the chavista collective. Gross (and on purpose) mispronunciation of Chavez, based on a character of Doña Barbara. Translation (for those who do not get it at first, the worst insult possible that Chavez coudl say) : Mr. Bush, you are just a Hugo Chavez.

Now, there are indeed many reasons that one might push forward to criticize Bush, but as far as I know it is not for the president of any nation to insult the president of another nation. I mean, they might have to seat down at some point to negotiate something. After all, Chavez has Jose Vicente Rangel, his creepy vice president, that can do the job for him. So why did Chavez felt the urge to so grossly insult Bush? Though I kept this thought in mind I did not have time to seek for an explanation (viaduct, polls, work, personal travails). But procrastination pays and yesterday's Tal Cual editorial and Weil cartoon did the job for me. A simple translation will suffice.

Good and bad words
Simon Boccanegra
Can one imagine the amazement and stupefaction of some kid that would have listened to the President last Sunday in his weekly show? A worse example of bad manners, intolerance and aggressiveness would be difficult to remember from the already abundant harvest of vulgarities that have characterized the language of the President. That the President replies to Bush is normal since this one had criticized him a few days earlier. But courtesy does not distract from courage. Any justified argument that Chavez might have had to retort to his colleague is lost when arguments and reasoning are replaced by personal insults. However we must not fool ourselves. The foul language that Chavez uses so abundantly cannot be seen as a mere explosion f his temperament. To the contrary, it is a perfectly calculated attitude, to reduce politics to an emission of personal attacks, removing any trace of debate and rational arguing. The same behavior applies to his internal adversaries. Tulio Hernadez in his excellent article of El Nacional last Sunday writes: “we are in front of an operation […] that expresses openly the will not to live together, not to dialogue, and to bring society to the maximum atmosphere of tension to justify the imminent steps to be taken to control over daily life.” In this case there is also an electoral objective extremely perverse: to create a state of such confrontation (verbal, by the way) that it will allow for a false dilemma “Chavez or Bush”. Any who opposes Chavez would be a Bush lackey. Will that be the tone of the electoral campaign?

What is remarkable is that Teodoro Petkoff and Tulio Hernadez have never been characterized as hard core opposition, trying whenever they could to build bridges to chavismo. That they are concurring to such an interpretation is disturbing.

PS: I cannot fail to observe that this is exactly what happens in the comment section of opposition blogs, where many a chavista supporter goes for the character assassination or to link any opposition attitude to Bush loving. Birds of a feather.

PS2: And today Tal Cual cover carries this very non ambiguous picture supplemented with the ad hoc editorial of which I extract the following line: Each declaration from a gringo [sic] bureacrat or from Bush himself is heavenly music for Chavez.

PS3: Amazingly chavismo seems to be proud of Chavez utter vulgarity. Aporea is posting the snippet where Chavez insults Bush (click below the title of the article "escuche al presidente Chavez"). Now, some of these insults might meet the approval of many readers, but that is not the point. You need to focus on the tone of Chavez as he speaks, the deliberate provocation, the thoughtful rabble raising. Chilling!!! [hat tip Virginia]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Inside newspaper articles that make you go hummm.....

Sometimes we are tempted to stay on the front page news, the glamorous ones that make you want to buy the newspaper. But quite often the real important, the long term piece of news, might be buried on page 4 of the second section of El Universal.

That Sunday piece resumes the interview of Perez Vigil, from Conindustria. Conindustria is a serious organization that gathers together the private producing sector of the Venezuelan economy, the industrial one that is. Those are the people on the ground, that suffer directly of the ill advised governmental policies. They are the ones that are in for the long run, not for some political term (although under the reign of Hugo I…). There were two things that Perez was quite clear about.

The first item is that decision to go into MERCOSUR is a political one and needs to be carefully evaluated. Venezuela getting into the Mercosur is the party asking to get inside and thus will have to subscribe to previous agreements without being able to renegotiate them. Besides, nothing happens in the Mercosur that is not approved by Brazil and Argentina. You can observe these days the uneasiness of Paraguay and Uruguay. Venezuela risks very much to be treated the same, as a simple provider of oil. And in addition Venezuela would not get much more form the Mercosur by joining than what it is already getting as an associate, but it would get more obligations.

He also adds a swipe comment at Mercosur saying that in Mercosur conflicts are arranged between presidents whereas the Andean Community is more advanced, already disposing of a parliament, a justice court and other institutions [which I may add is probably one reason why Chavez prefers Mercosur, not willing to have anyone restrain his movements legally]

And he does not show any optimism as to the possible improvement of Venezuela competitiveness. He points out that the main providers of Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, with whom we already have huge trade deficits (1), do not suffer of the main limitations imposed on the Venezuelan private sector, namely the currency control exchange (CADIVI), price control and prohibition to fire people (which of course blocks new hiring stemming expansion and risk taking by entrepreneur not willing to get saddled with expensive personnel if their venture fails). And another laundry list of restrictions that are not suffered by other folks exporting to Venezuela.

The other item he mentions are the flawed statistics. For example Perez Vigil implies that the -0.4% inflation of February is bogus. His studies on the Central Bank numbers reveal that 18% of the items they went out to check for prices were not available. He points out that they are available but on the street market, not on the shelves of the stores monitored by the Central Bank. As this blogger has pointed out in pictures, empty shelves for this or that are now a frequent occurrence. The reason is the price controls. Thus, many producers prefer to go to street vendors not subjected to state price controls. There it is possible to find the items missing with large mark up above the official price. As Perez dryly comments “This way inflation will drop to single digits, but that is not the reality”.

The other fraud is the unemployment rate. Now you are fully employed if you work 2-3 hours a week. All those that belong to a Mision that gives grants are also considered fully employed. And there are lots of people that have stopped looking for work as the private sector is not hiring.

Recovery? What recovery? As this blogger has pointed out many times, what we see in Venezuela is an artificial boom based on huge governmental spending, lots of imports courtesy of high oil price and a development only of the commerce sector distributing around the imported goods. The so vaunted Bolivarian cooperative sector is as far as one can tell only a marginal participant, mostly in redistribution schemes for governmental agencies. But where are the real production jobs? The new private sector industries?

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1) Perez Vigil states that Brazil exports to Venezuela 1,200 millions USD whereas Venezuela, oil included, exports back to Brazil 200 millions only. In a previous post I also mentioned the huge trade deficits of Venezuela toward Colombia, 889 million dollars just for 2005.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Consultores 21 poll

I have stated often enough that since the Recall Election of 2004 I have lost trust in any polling company in Venezuela, with the exception of Keller and a couple of other ones such as Consultores 21, but still preferring Keller. Consultores 21 released about a week ago its latest poll and the political world seems abuzz with it. I did not want to discuss it, thinking that at this stage in the game a poll is useless, but I have received 3 copies of it in the mail (!) and several other mails with people asking my opinion. As if I knew anything… (1)

Since this is the first time that I have received a piece of news from so many different quarters I decided to take a second look at that poll and comment on it. But before I comment let me again restate why I do not trust polls, or, rather, why I do not think that they are relevant to the current situation.
1) Since the Recall Election and the Tascon/Maisanta lists, I would like to know how polling companies correct for people legitimately afraid of stating clearly what is it that they think. At the very least this should increase the polling error, probably more than the admitted 2.58% of this particular poll (not to mention that I am bothered by these two decimals: since when did polling got to be an exact science?).

2) After the recall Election there was a feel of “forever” with Chavez. That probably gave him a higher than normal post electoral boost. Not to mention being awash in oil money which generates the hope that Chavez will deliver, no matter how much his cronies are stealing. Subconsciously people bet on the perceived “winner” and for a country which roots for the Brazil selection at the world cup more than they did for the Baseball selection that lost last week, well, you know…

3) The total disarray of the opposition is certainly not something encouraging for the people to come out and look associated with that band of losers. A general lassitude probably gives an extra few points to chavismo as many do not even bother looking to the other side.
On all of this as I have written already that it can only be changed when the opposition presents at least one viable option. Or perhaps two or three, but at least something. Why the opposition is unable to do so is another story that I have already addressed and not worth coming back here. This being said, let’s move on to the parts of the poll that I found interesting and even revealing.

The general mood of the country

I will start with the last slide of the poll, the one that tries to evaluate where do people stand (note: click on some slides to get a bigger view).

No surprise here, this blogger gave Chavez ALWAYS a hard core support of at least 25-30%, even in the darker days of early 2003. The poll gives a 22% in the red circle. Somewhat more surprising, but still predictable, was the 33% of “conditional support” to Chavez. I would have expected this to be equal to the core support but I suppose that I see there the cumulative effect of two years of out of control populism. Perhaps the less than expected hard core comes from such items as his spending spree across the world?

No matter what, Chavez indeed starts his reelection bid in good posture, though the 10 million are definitely a pipe dream as a 55% of the electorate with 100% voting would give him 8 million at best. With a 40% abstention? He is down to 5 million at best!

But what is more interesting here is to see how the opposition has lost ground at the level of the hard core opposition. This one which I used to place at least at 30% (40% in 2004) has collapsed to 8.5%. All those people that used to march relentlessly have now shifted to conditional or to “mistrust both” of the grey circle. This is the price to be paid from not being able to claim fraud in August 2004, from not being able to recognize Chavez victory either, from playing Chavez game, etc, etc… I was tempted to look at the high Chavez numbers as weak, as not as high considering that he is occupying center stage alone, no one criticizing him as hard as he should be. But that grey circle is too big to allow me to say that: the opposition really has a problem that it needs to address fast.

Problems with polling

Now that we have seen the general mood of the country I would like to go on with a slide that particularly interested me as it shows the difficulty of making meaningful polls in Venezuela. In this slide the pollster looks at the reasons why people did not vote in December 2005. Apparently only 50.7% really agreed with the opposition withdrawing. Yet, if 43.9% disagreed, and 32.4% disagreed strongly, only 25% went to vote anyway. Huh? How can the pollster explain this contradiction? There is another slide where they asked people, whether they voted or not, who would have they voted for and 60% said for the chavista parties. Yet, again, let me stress out that only 15% of people did go and vote for a chavista candidate. There is also a surprising statement from Consultores 21: if there had been a massive participation chavismo would not hold a majority in the National Assembly. How can they write that with the numbers they show?

I am surprised that the pollster did not put an explanation as to these contradictory result. For the time being I will assume that it is simply a matter of voting problem in Venezuela (or a clerical error).

The problem of the opposition parties not hitting the streets

This slide illustrates quite well the results of not doing the leg work required by political parties to gain votes. In the prostrated state of post RR, only Primero Justicia has tried to do some proselytizing and it shows. Facing the official MVR awash in money and gifts, it still manages to get a 12.3% in the polls.

Still, I find this slide not very helpful. Un Nuevo Tiempo and Proyecto Venezuela are really regional parties and it is dangerous to put them in a general poll. Still, there is an item of interest and it is the collapse of AD which I have mentioned a lot in the past and still does not seem to gather the notice it should get. UNT is born from an AD division and together with AD they add to 10.6%. If anything this indicate to AD that the way to follow is to place its destiny in the hands of Manuel Rosales, Zulia’s governor.

The prospects of PJ, in spite of recent troubles, are still good. The three parties indicated by circles do share some basic origin and ideology and added together reach a respectable 18.2%, in spite of 1.5 years of difficulties and empty war chests.

Where is Chavez at?

In one of the most interesting slides for me (out of 50+ slides) there is this one where in blue we see the trend over the years of people that seek new leaders and in red of people that think that no leader outside of Chavez is necessary. It is amazing to notice that in the best of times the Chavez-for-ever wish never went above 40%. For recall I indicate the low popularity moment of July 2003, after the strike and the moment where the Misiones started doing an effect. It illustrates nicely that populism still pays in Venezuela. The recent little surge is probably due to the extra spending for the December election, but also from the more glaring than ever problems within the opposition. It will be interesting to see how the blue line of people wising for someone else than Chavez moves as the campaign starts in earnest by July. As to the democratic implication of 40% of people that see no need for other leaders? Keep reading.

So, if Chavez is the leader, what are the qualities sought in a Venezuelan president?

Inevitably the candidate names are what people are interested in, even if we do still wonder about the worthiness of campaigning and voting. Consultores 21 obliged by asking and giving us the useless slide above. Why do I call it useless? Because by December 2005 the candidates with a purple cross had all but declared officially that they would be out of the race. The ones with a purple circle are probably going to bail out anytime soon. This leaves an appreciable 45% open to be shared between the already running (red crosses) and the ones likely to run (red circles). That 45% makes this slide useless as even William Ojeda could pick up enough to appear suddenly with 5%! Still, there are two tidbits of useful information. The 6 months of crisscrossing the country have paid off for Borges who gets 30% of opposition preferences. The role of Rosales in December has positioned him quite well with almost 18%, as predicted here. Though of course it remains to be see how much of that 18% is outside Zulia.

The other slide of interest is what people want the next president to deal with, to be like, in case it is not Chavez. I have marked with color coded crosses which are the issues according to what is perceived politically. In green, what could be said are center right issues (opposition?). In red what would be center left issues (chavismo?) And in aqua what could work for both sides. I have added the totals and displayed them. As a form of wishful thinking it is fair to say that the country is evenly split as far as the main concerns of the Venezuelan elector. However, wishing to get a real job, no matter what the fudged governmental statistics say, is an indicator that it could favor a center right option which is usually more credible on such promises.

Yet, there is a very perturbing element which I resisted putting down as black swastika. 8.8% of voters want someone like Chavez, someone who would be tough on people that surround him, someone who would like to see the opposition disappear. This I did not like at all. Are we seeing the birth of an out of control fringe? Not to mention that this can only vote for Chavez and will expect payback! This has to be linked with the 30 to 40% that sees no need for a different leader than Chavez. Are we discovering that 40% of Venezuelan are of an authoritarian nature? Now, this is a scary result.

Will we vote?

This study is all fine and dandy but will people vote in December 2006? Too early to tell but the slide below does make us wonder. This question looked into the opinion of people as to automatic voting or not (meaning electronic voting). 47% do want to vote electronically but 50% are dead set against it. No surprise there. The interesting data comes from the split results and I have surrounded with purple the two worthy of note. The red columns indicate those who wish to retain electronic voting, and the blue those who want to do away with it. It is remarkable that even within the group that trusts (confia) Chavez, 25% want to vote manually! Even graver for the future of democracy in Venezuela is that only 10% of those who side with the opposition still like electronic voting. This is a major problem that the CNE must face if it wants people to find their way back to the ballot box, no matter what chavismo and international observers say. The distrust in the voting system, justified or not, is too big, even if trust reaches 47% on electronic voting. It should be 90% of people trusting, be it electronic or manual !!!!!!!!!!!

The poll really does not bring much new information to the readers of this blog. They all knew that Chavez was ahead, that nobody wanted to vote, that the opposition is a mess. It is nice, in an odd way, to see it confirmed.

However the poll indicates also something which I have written: Chavez can be defeated, even this year. With no one in front, with all the money he is getting to spend as he pleases, he still dropped from 70 to 50% in a few months. The problem is that this drop is not improving the opposition chances. Simply put, the longer people wait to hit the streets, the longer the organization for an electoral campaign lasts, the easier it will be for Chavez to breeze back into office. But more on that in a later post.

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1) Quico seems to be more into polls than I am and already he had published something. I found about it when this post was written and I was finishing the "art work". I did not read Quico opinions on the Consultores21 poll before I posted my own. Not that it would have mattered much, I am probably disagreeing with him :-) But that is good for the readers.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spencer Tunick in Caracas

I just got this in a mail.

Spencer Tunick was taking pictures of naked people in Caracas. Someone might have been naked but managed to carry a camera with him... gives a new meaning to "revolution for the naked masses".

I suppose that this is why the bridge collapsed this morning, they all put their clothes on it.

Falleth the Caracas viaduct: the end of an era?

As long expected (20 years ago at least) the main bridge of the Caracas La Guaïra highway finally fell down some time after11 AM. The picture from Globovison below shows the highway table now hanging at the edge of the ravine.

Most TV are reporting. The Bolivarian News Agency is not (at 12:43 PM), neither is the Venezuelan National Radio RNV. Nor is Chavez busy as usual on his Sunday Alo Presidente on VTV emitting plenty of hot air. Only private media are on it, even on web pages as El Universal refers to TV footage, something that could also have happened on, say, RNV. And the RNV and ABN web pages are updated as to anything that Chavez blurts from his show. Only the words of El Supremo matter when he speaks!

At least no victims have been reported: the collapse had been a matter of days since January, I suppose that people staid clear.

And thus ended the famous Caracas highway, which through two tunnels and two daring viaducts linked Caracas at 2,700 feet to sea level in less than 20 minutes. The symbol of Venezuela's desire for modernity has thus bit the dust, just as the country has been doing for the last 20 years. And we can be assured that the government will not do much more than the actual snaky and insufficient "trocha" made in a hurry. Adding insult to injury it expects us to be thankful for a two lane deficient road when it had been warned of the viaduct problem and did nothing but probably sped up the collapse when in a hurry at the end of 2005 they tried to patch things somehow.

Now in an electoral year, realizing that in 7 months no viaduct can be built, it will probably forget about it as it spends on more direct vote getting schemes. Populism uber alles!

But I cannot be too harsh on Chavez. After all he is just the most irresponsible and populist government since 1958. He is just worse than AD. AD and its side kick COPEI did not do anything about the bridge, preferring more glamorous spending projects. Why would Chavez be any different? After all, he does not care, he goes to the airport in helicopter or through La Carlota, an option denied to the hoi polloi.

As long as we keep electing demagogic and populist “leaders” we will never get out of underdevelopment and improvisation. Thus my question mark of the title. The only thing is that we can pen down today’s date as the end of Venezuelan modernity, the official return to our more barbarous ways of the XIX century.

And yes, I am mad as hell!

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Update: at 13:10 neither VTV, nor ABN, nor RNV. But the communication ministry puts the news, finally. However it is at the bottom left, certainly not taking away from the big news of the day, the weekly Alo Presidente. I have circled them in green. Click image to enlarge.

Update 2: At 14:06, according to Globovision that monitors Alo Presidente, Chavez HAS NOT mentioned the fallen bridge yet!!!!! Instead he is remembering the good old days when he was in the Army posted in Apure and telling the local folks that they are not the owners of their land, but that he is still the same person as then, that he likes to discuss to settle things, that he will give then a few weeks to come up with an agreement (translation: if in 30 days you do not surrender your lands of your “free” will, I will take them from you). The B.S. from Chavez can reach far, into mythomania....

But at least ABN has finally put the snippet about the "partial" fall of the bridge...

More interesting, looking through RNV, which still has to post on the fallen bridge, I found a declaration dated of YESTERDAY 5:26 PM where the minsiter in charge is reproted saying that the bridge is not about to fall, that the "preventive" work done in the recent months will avoid this. Is it true that he is about to tend his resignation? (I have saved the web page, just in case).

Update 3: Damage control time. The minister is nowhere to be seen, but they sent the more presentable director of Civil Defense who is trying to tell us that the fall of the bridge justifies all the work done in the past few months.

Well, yes, once they had to close the bridge they moved fast. But it would be more proper to limit declarations to strictly safety things instead of using "preemtive" excuses, something for which chavista pols have become excellent at doing.

And at exactly 14:27 PM Chavez finally talked about the bridge. With video. Apparently they were looking for ways to make the news more palatable. And at 14:31, Chavez cannot resit and says that "surely the media is starting some show". Well Hugo, even bloggers are on it and they certainly do not take this overall disaster as lightly and insultingly to our intelligence as you do.

And with this, live coverage is over. I have documented the first word on Chavez on it, which is what I wanted. A perfect illustration of WHY WE NEED FREE PRESS IN VENEZUELA!!!!!!!

It is 14:34 PM.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Kultural symbols in Venezuela: unification (and mediocrity?)

This week has been rather exhausting, from the near violent debate on the European Union electoral report to new attacks on journalists, passing by the very certain perspective that the new Electoral Board might be even worse than the previous one. I was wondering about what to write today when it occurred to me that I had a pending matter from early this week: the Ministry of Culture which is requesting all of its affiliated institutions to harbor the same logo. I happen to think that this is the perfect item to discuss as it illustrates the general drift of the country.

The said ministry, henceforth referred as Kultur thing, has come up with the not original idea of setting the same logo for any of its dependencies. Not original because it reflects with servility the decision already made that all ministries should reflect the same general logo.

This one is from the Ministry of Superior Education (Universities and Colleges and the fraudulent Mision Sucre). Such uniformity has the advantage, I suppose, of removing any individuality within the governmental web pages, leaving many of them with a strange clone-like feel, perfect for the colorless and lackluster ministers that keep rotating through the musical chair game tha tthe cabinet has become. What you can observe, on the left corner is that bolivariano, the only thing that matters, all must be Bolivarian, whatever this has come to mean. Then again this set up might change, the eight star of the flag has got to appear somewhere, and soon.

So the Kultur thing has decided to impose its own model, giving up old and respected signs, no matter how good or bad they might have been. For example the old logo (left) of the Museo de Bellas Artes will not be prominently displayed (and will certainly disappear from stationery , web pages and what not.

But why is this new logo so important? Apparently there is no reason. Yes, from the page of the Kultur thing we can read that this logo was drawn by the Panare native group, that supposedly it might represent a dog and a frog. Even better, and I quote, “Both figures might not be really the ones expressed by the author in this seal, but to all practical effect of our Institution we hill interpret them as the representation of said animals”. Voilà, they have no idea what that Panare signs stand for but they decided to give a meaning anyway. And to increase that Kafkaïn je ne sais quoi feel, the logo comes with full instructions as to PANTONE scheme, size, coordinates, rules of use, etc, etc…

This is already getting mind blowing, just to see what these people do with any symbol of the nation, rewriting them for their interpretation convenience. From the flag, to Bolivar genius, all transformed, cheapened, gutted of all meaning, even art.

But more troubling questions arise. Why chose as the symbol of the cultural (Kultural?) institutions of Venezuela a Panare seal? Why not a Wayuu tapestry? Or some Pemon carving? Why not an African drum? Or the Spanish guitar? Why represent the gorgeous multicultural diversity of Venezuela with such a limited, but so PC, amulet?

On this respect I must mention that the flag of Miranda state is about to change, according to El Nacional from which I got part of this material (subscription only). The new flag will look German like in its choice of colors except that the meaning will be different. These colors will be black, for the African component of our people, red, for the Native American, and yellow for "pardos", which is a catch phrase for all of those who do not belong to a clearly identifiable ethnic group (darker skinned?). Not only using red for Native American is rather offensive in my book, but what about the white folks? Did they not settle Miranda state too and sleep with blacks and Native American to create the "pardos"? But we should not be surprised as in his history rewriting process El Supremo no says that Bolivar was a Zambo (that is, he did not even have a drop of white blood!)

To end this already belief straining post, let me report that a careful perusing of the site of the Kultur thing allowed me to detect a significant personality Kult towards the present office holder, Francisco "farruco" Sesto. Not only he imitates his boss in that of "standardizing" logos and ideas, but also in his self promotion. We find the following pearls:
  • The page of the minister himself, for his words and declarations
  • An announcement to "consolidate" all the music and dance organizations so as to decentralize them after (huh?)
  • An anthology of verses by the minister and presented in Cuba to local acclaim (imagine that!)
  • An international competition which title is: "Premio Libertador al Pensamiento Crítico" Prize Libertador to Critical Thinking (sorry for the lousy translation but I cannot figure the exact meaning of the title in Spanish as it supposeldly carries layers of triple meaning with Libertador, liberation, Bolivar, original thinking and what not). The jury is rather undistinguished, but then again when you read some of the titles of the 100+ opus selected as finalists, you do not need a particularly great jury. Some of the titles: Empire with Imperialism; the Coup Mongers and the sabotage of PDVSA; 1903 goodbye Panama; the concept of the other in liberation; Cuba, dawn of the third millennia; Iraq; Rogue state (note the singular, not the plural usually associated with that expression); Globovision, violator of human rights?; and more of the like. Truly, titles which will reassure anyone that critical thinking is progressing in Venezuela. And note that the prize is 150 000 dollars, not Euros, or even millions of bolivares, none but the nasty green back will do! Some "values" never change it seems.
  • And more, but words are failing me.

So there we have, a Kultur ministry which is homogenizing, canalizing, filling the space with banalities, creating a “revolutionary" Kultur that will leave little space to free expression, and even less to free thinking. But you see, it is nothing that has not been tried before, and with brighter wits than the Sesto combo. This inherent mediocrity and sycophancy, assorted to prejudice and mean spirits, is what one must keep in mind to understand Venezuelan news when you read them.

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You can already see two applications of the Panare logo here and here, in additions of the ones already appearing in the Kultur thing own pages.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The European Union electoral report, and how it is already playing

Today was another one of those exquisite days in the Bolibabana Republic of Venezuela. Though in fact what I will be writing about below is a compilation of different events that somehow magically came together today as yet another bad show.

The trigger of all of this, one could say, comes from the European Union observer mission whose final report was presented today (in Spanish here, PDF). I will discuss this as briefly as possible first and then address some other recent events such as the journalist prosecution that just started in Venezuela.

It is a tedious reading though fascinating. Thus for the busy readers of the blog I will focus only on some of the “recommendations” at the end of the report. Commented as I find them in chapter 13 (I love these numerical coincidences):

It starts like this:
The naming of a new board of the CNE comprising independent professional of diverse origin that benefit from the trust of all sectors of society is a fundamental step toward reconciliation.
Now, that is a smashing start. Rodriguez and co. are officially declared persona non grata by the international community. And are pointed out as being the main agents of the problem (the source is of course Chavez but there is no diplomatic way the EU can say that). The third sentence is even better:
We recommend that all the actors involved in naming the new CNE board make all possible efforts to include in the debate and the following selection process all the political forces not presently sitting in the National Assembly [NA].
Which is not happening of course as the NA has already managed a system that will name yet another pro Chavez CNE board. But the EU has emitted its warning from the start and consequences will follow at some point.

There follows some other recommendations of the kind and a clear allusion to the deleterious Maisanta program: a strong suggestion of a data safety law to protect people ID and political actions (read: people who do things such as the Tascon list must be punished severely, EU people do not like that at all).

But the opposition does not go unscathed: its lack of activism and its absence from trying to place their own observers did not escape the EU notice (read: the EU will not ensure by itself the safety of election, you must do something about it such as getting presence in EVERY SINGLE voting poll station). If the opposition gets away lightly in the recommendations at the end it does get more serious scolding inside the report. However, the EU acknowledges indirectly by the redaction of his chapter 13 that when all is said and done, 90% of the work for fair elections must come from those who control power.

But the EU goes way further. Considering probably that there is no way to force Chavez from not using the public monies they openly ask for a new electoral law where state should finance political parties and where the automatization at all costs sought by chavismo does not become the stumbling block it has become for fair election. This would also include the inescapable reality that the electoral registry is deficient and that it cannot be verified on the basis of the current ID registry: both need revamping if clean elections are to be held again.

As for he voting act itself, more and better audit system of the electronic voting must be set in place (considering that the "hot" audit of the CNE has just been released from the December elections, barely before the EU report, those are not idle words). There is even a diplomatic expression to get rid of the finger printing devices worth translating:
The use of fingerprinting devices as a mechanism to identify the voters at the voting stations and to bar double voting could be postponed until an ID program that is adequate and safe provides all citizens with new ID cards

Read: "forget about finger printing machines! we know you are never going to clean up the registry, or at least have the decency to get ID cards that are worth something for all and not these plastic bits that are issued at street corners by almost anyone to anyone, including Colombian guerillas and the 1000 + Gonzalez born on the same day in Zulia."

And finally the media functions were addressed with a specific request to limit the cadena advantage of Chavez and guarantee access for all to ALL media, that is, the opposition must be able to go with free adds to state media with no more advantages at election time than Chavez does to the free media (read: either pay for your cadenas or let the oppo have some air time in the state media).

Of course chavismo will not budge an iota on all of this as it constitutes its built in advantage at election time: money, lots of it, control of 90% of campaign air time, biased CNE, scare tactics to voters that are afraid of losing their job or government benefit as they think vote has lost its secrecy, no money for the opposition, no legal recourse against governmental abuses.

And this is the crux of the matter to explain what was going these days. A short list:

  • Rodriguez, the dysfunctional CNE head, totally upset on TV denouncing again a media campaign against him (the EU is part of a media campaign? what about opening your accounts and the ballot boxes to settle all the easy way if you have nothing to hide? How low do you plan to go Jorgito?)
  • The National Assembly has ensured that the constitutional requirement to name a new CNE board is violated again and that they will decide themselves alone who is going to seat at the CNE (NGO participation and individual nominations have been skillfully circumvented so the desk will barely receive scarce non chavista resumés).
  • The CNE refuses to yield its accounts, recognizes that half of the audited machines had some discrepancies, and that after three months of the election. Unbelievable!!!!!
  • Throwing to the wolves, clumsily and unconvincingly, some militaries for some corruption in Barinas. While all point out to this case as being only the tip of the corruption iceberg.
  • An increased activity of the press and Sumate resulting in finally the frontal attack to journalists that all were expected: Matos Azocar is in jail in Tachira; Ibeyise Pacheco received a sentence of house for jail today (in the picture as she courageously walked to the tribunal with enough supporters which might have swayed the judges for a less stringent action as 3 months of jail were originally planned); Patricia Poleo is on the run (while the Anderson case keeps crumbling in the hands of the Pinochio attorney general); Marianela Salazar is about to face the courts as well as Napoleon Bravo (and let’s not talk about the assassination attempts (Marta Colomina) or diverse violence (physical or verbal like Chavez yesterday against an RCVT woman journalist, Francia Marquez. All these trials are political trials, while Tascon roams around free and even stating that if he had to do it again he would.

Why would a government insist in public that it will get 10 million votes in December, up from the paltry 2.5 of last December while at the same time it is working hard at making the electoral system even more subservient to its aims and it starts a large scale intimidation campaign?

Because it is a government that now knows people are onto its dealings, people are onto its corruption, moral as much as material. And because it is a government that knows that if it does not clean up its electoral act there will be no candidates to oppose him, and no real observers to monitor the election. It is a government that knows it is about to lose its legitimacy because it is too rotten to start cleaning up from inside, and thus it has accepted that it must throw away its democratic thin veneer if it is to survive. It is a government that is getting ready to live as an illegitimate government, a pariah government, to preserve its hold on power.

It could work. It is still working after almost 50 years in Cuba, and these islanders did not even have the benefit of oil money.

A surprise cadena

Things are always grim for the government when they interrupt Alo Ciudadano for a Cadena. Today is not an exception. At 7 PM sharp we got one, the first one at that hour in weeks. It is important to note that Chavez “cadena target” are people from the barrios who in Caracas are not home by 7 PM. The target time for them is soap opera time, after 9 PM, as late as 11 PM. When a cadena is earlier it is almost always a coarse counter propaganda offensive on a string of bad news. At 7 PM the audience is mostly province professionals (like yours truly) who are blessed with less traffic than their Caracas or Valencia counterpart and thus are usually having a drink or fixing dinner while keeping an eye on Alo Ciudadano. That is why when I heard the first notes that announce a cadena I knew that it was for me, and that it was going to be particularly bad today. But before I tell you why I knew that, let me describe the cadena which lasted for about 15 minutes.

It was a series of video clips and “feel good” montages (feel good in a chavista sense of course, which for me is rather puke-inducing). And for those who are coming in late, a cadena is the power that Chavez has to hold ALL TV and Radio broadcast in the country for as long as he wants to, supposedly, transmit important news of national interest. Under Chavez cadenas have become an outright abuse of power as they are his favorite propaganda vehicle, hours a week, with no right of rebuttal from any aggrieved party, and certainly not on the state owned airwaves.

In no particular order, the assortment of video clips:
An opening time was the march for women’s day against the US embassy. We got even ministers giving totally inappropriate comment, and of course plenty of woman praising Chavez as a peace loving president and what not. It was outrageous even for an Iraq war opponent like me. To think that Chavez who is sinking billions in weapons can be called a peace loving man is simply … publishable words fail me

In that utterly cheap nationalistic tone, beyond chauvinist, Chavez cited some poll that said that in the world the only people that are more proud of their country than Venezuelans are the US citizens. That is right, you heard it. And no, I will not even deign to waste time to check out if such a poll, not even worthy of People’ magazine exists.

The new National symbols were of course promoted with almost teary eyed people ecstatic that finally the eight star of Bolivar was on the flag. And I will pass of the video of a white stallion galloping… All of course under very famous patriotic Venezuelan music, Alma Llanera as often as possible under syrupy (elevatorishly like?) accords.

Outright support and adulation were frequent. But more incensing was a paternalistic Chavez kissing and blowing kisses wherever he could, preferably to dark skinned women and babies or children.
Is this the first message of William Lara as the new communication minister? Lord have mercy!

But why such an outrageous cadena? In now particular order:

The Church and even a rather pro Chavez group, Ojo Electoral have basted the CNE delays and dodging.

The European Union report, even if diplomatically not as bad for Chavez as it could have been, and even managing to scold the opposition actions, is still a grave indictment on the CNE responsibilities as to the political problems today in Venezuela. It is clear, from their recommendation, the EU will not be a nice guest next time and I bet that no invitation will be issued by Chavez (more on this later)

The attacks on journalists have been increasing. In barely a week two are in jail and two have their trial about to start. Ibeyise Pacheco’s turn was today (more on that brave woman later though she should be the leading story tonight).

But that is not the worst. In an amazing moment, during the state visit of Tabare Vasquez of Uruguay, Chavez was forced to accept a press conference where opposition journalist were allowed to ask the tough questions that are NEVER asked by the sold out chavista journalists. One from RCTV asked a plain question: “why does it make sense for the Venezuelan government to pay 10 million dollars for a bankrupt cooperative bank in Uruguay?”. Heck, like everyone else in Venezuela, and at tax time at that, this journalist wanted to know how her tax money went around. Chavez replied evasively and cliché like (South America integration). He made long pauses, visibly containing himself. But at the end he could not and erupted in a string of accusations against the journalist and RCTV. All of this in front of president Vasquez and the world press. The flack against Chavez has been great, his utter vulgarity and intolerance once again demonstrated without need of any commentary. But Francia Marques is probably wondering how long before she is also indicted for doing her job.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A flag "por el buche"

Chavez in recent months has threatened to win the election of December by "metiendole 10 millones por el buche". The literal translation would be "forcing down the [opposition] throat 10 millon [votes ]". “buche” can be translated by “crop” or “maw”, as in a bird throat. The offensive vulgarity in Venezuelan Spanish defies translation.

So Weil, his usual brilliant self, has found a way to reverse, in a way, that awful Chavez catch phrase. Since he is the one that force fed us the new flag, well, the little Venezuelan in the arms of Chavez is puking out that 8 star flag. I am not sure if the deft touch of Weil is really apparent for the reader not used to him, but to me, well, it is brilliant, Chavez induced aneroxia and bulimia included.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Trade Deficit between Colombia and Venezuela

Today the economic section of El Nacional (subscription only, sorry!) carried numbers from CAVECOL, the organization that promotes trade between Venezuela and Colombia. Those are very important, perhaps even essential numbers, since Venezuela and Colombia, due to their geographical situation, are almost obliged to become their mutually largest trading partners. Such is the case in other more famous duets such as Canada and the US or France and Germany.

Looking at these numbers is yet another way to look at chavismo’s dismal failure in international trade and general economic activity. But before I get into details, the graph. Since I did not like the presentation of El Nacional (it seems that I never like their numbers presentation nor much more those of El Universal) I preferred to do my own thing. The original graph showed the imports and exports from both sides since 1997 (no numbers from before were given but for the point I will try to make they are not really necessary). What I did is to take the differential from each year and add it to the total from preceding year. Thus each given number reflects how much Colombia or Venezuela have gained against the other party since 1997, the year arbitrarily chosen as the initial starting point. The graph below shows how progressively since Chavez came to office Venezuela has been losing the trade contest, and big time.

So, what does this all mean? Bad news for the future of the relationship between Venezuela and Colombia. In spite of a huge oil price bonus, Venezuela can find little to export to Colombia as this one keeps improving its energetic situation, thus rendering null any oil export advantage that Venezuela might have. At some point the accumulated Venezuelan debt towards Colombia will become a financial problem, even more so considering that CADIVI, the currency exchange control system is unable to help stem imports from Colombia.

How could this happen? Chavez from the start has been embroiled in stupid shipping wars. For example, early in his term he caved in to the Venezuelan trucking industry with a scheme that forced Colombian goods shipped to Venezuela to be transferred to Venezuelan trucks at the border, increasing of course delays and costs. But soon the Venezuelan own management problems came to play. Currency devaluations have plagued Venezuelan exporters as such devaluations far from favoring them played havoc with their finances, making it difficult to invest for retooling and improved productivity . The productivity of the Colombian economy seems to have increased during the Uribe years as business confidence returned. Now the Colombian Peso is above the Venezuela Bolivar and still the trade gap keeps increasing! And Venezuelan local business confidence, and thus investment, is near zero, the state being the only real investor.

But there was also a possible strategic decision from Chavez himself. Chavez has decided at some point to distance himself from the Andean Community and to look towards Mercosur (Uribe and Toledo being pro markets). That might not be bad policy by itself but in the current state of the Venezuelan production system a Mercosur bond might aggravate the Venezuelan situation: Venezuela has nothing to export to Mercosur but oil and derivatives whereas its agriculture could be devastated by much cheaper imports from Brazil. Not to mention the political decision to subsidize Cuba at great expense and seek business partners that really have little to offer Venezuela but trouble (e.g. Iran).

Meanwhile the Andean community countries are negotiating free trade agreements with the US, with Colombia singing a preliminary agreement last week. Why would Colombia deal with the US as it is making a killing on Venezuela? The basic reason is the future expansion of trade between Venezuela and Colombia will soon reach a plateau. Not only shipping costs will increase as more and more empty trucks will come back to Colombia, but the Venezuelan recent economical increase is fueled on consumption and commerce only, not on production. This is a consequence of the oil easy money and Chavez policy of subsidies to the lower class through MERCAL and other programs to shoulder his electoral base. Uribe and Colombia, with more vision than Chavez, are taking the painful steps to reach wider markets now, when the going is not too bad and when part of the cost can be paid by the huge trade advantage with Venezuela, which certainly generates precious earnings for the expected expenses in penetrating the US market. In other words, unwillingly Chavez will finance the Free Trade agreement between Colombia and the US (if this one is ratified by the US congress who would be a fool not to do so!)

What will this mean for Venezuela? Higher consumer prices, a more "landlocked" economy, further trade isolation. Economists have long discovered the advantages of close commercial ties with your immediate neighbors. Not only you can get goods cheaper by saving on shipping, but also you get peace and quiet. Today a conflict between the US and Canada, or between France and Germany, is unthinkable. But in 1812 Canada and the US were at war (even through the British intercession) and as late as the 1860ies, the Civil War US was looking apprehensively to the North. As for France and Germany I will not insult the reader intelligence.

In a not so distant future, with all the border problems between Venezuela and Colombia (from territorial disputes to constant crossing of Narco folks and FARC guerillas) a lack of mutual commercial interests could render relations very tense between the two countries. Meanwhile Chavez pursues stupid pipe dreams of ecologically disastrous natural gas pipelines to deliver prohibitively expensive gas to Argentina. We are back to the good old days of barter and the COMECON. Some people never learn. Or is that some people are unable to learn?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Weil and the national Assembly

Last Friday Tal Cual sharp cartoonist Weil, reminded us with his sharp crayon of what was really the Granier-Ravell hearings at the National Assembly (OK, so I read Friday's Tal Cual this Monday morning, so sue me!). This cartoon is exquisite. The doubles, but very lonely, of Granier and Ravell are able to lob back any ball that the silly troops of unskilled National Assembly representatives try to throw at them. Observe the details: red berets, and even one T-shirt with the Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va. The perfect representation of the monochromatic, 15% elected National Assembly: partisan and deficient, only good enough to add speedy stars to flags.

Estrellado: a new star for the Venezuelan flag

Apparently there are a few people that worry about whether the Venezuelan flag should get a new star. I could not care less.

I think it is a red flag (speaking of flags) that Chavez has thrown our way and it has worked beautifully for him. Some sectors of the opposition are simply too stupid to learn to control their knee jerk reactions.

Today was the launching of the new flag and sure enough, instead of letting Chavez enjoy his new insignificant and “patriotero” show, hot heads in the opposition (namely Oscar Perez) had to call for a protest march. That march ended in Chacao where the chavistas had put up the new flag as a provocation, and sure enough a street brawl started. All the benefit going for the chavista side, no matter how wrong that eighth star addition might be. As we say in Venezuela, “se estrellaron”, they crashed, and never was this more appropriate to say than today. As long as the opposition allows itself to be led by people such as Oscar Perez, we are going nowhere.

But this blog is also a cultural blog and as such I feel compelled to explain the foreign audience that this 8th star business is actually a matter of some interest. But before I do that, let me reassure the reader: the addition of the 8th star, and the change in the national coat of arms, is strictly a Chavez caprice. What is sad is that his sycophantic followers were so prompt in abiding by the will of El Supremo and run to do all the changes he requested with barely a simulacrum of discussion, a discussion where no serious historian was convoked.

Venezuela has experimented with many flags, a couple of dozen almost, one per any major dictator we had it seems. Never, that I can find of, was there a true national debate as to which the Venezuelan flag should be. Thus El Universal today can present a total of 20 flags through Venezuelan history, ranging from 0 stars to 20 (not in the web page but I have a digital camera for the pic below).

In my little art work you can see that officially Venezuela had 8 stars between 1817 and 1821. Even better, the first time 7 stars appeared was in May 1817, for the seven provinces who signed the independence declaration (kind as for the US 13 colonies). The 7 stars were out from 1821 until 1859 when they came back in 1859 for 4 months only to be jacked up to 20 stars according to a new turn of the federalist civil wars. 7 stars only made it once and for all in 1863 until Chavez megalomania pushed them up to 8 again. And still the design changed through the years.

Why 8 stars?

It is important to remember that only 7 provinces signed the independence declaration. Coro and Maracaibo did not want to and remained loyalist to Spain until the battle of Carabobo. Guyana, a very backward area then, apparently could not get its act up together and was not represented in Caracas in 1811 (all of this if memory serves me well and if I stand corrected I will add it in a post script to this post acknowledging the kind reader willing to do the research work). Thus really, there were only 7 signatories that august day of July 5 1811.

But during the independence wars Bolivar run into lot of troubles. To make a long story short, at some point he made his way to Angostura (today’s Ciudad Bolivar) where to secure the support of the Guyana folks (pretty much all of the area Bolivar was barely able to control then) he came up with the 8th star scheme. Further governments wisely removed it as soon as possible. After all, what to do with Zulia and Coro once they joined in? Treat them as wayward parents? Kiss and make up adding a ninth and tenth star? I suspect that some in Zulia, under some autonomist stirrings never too far below the surface, are going to address this 8th star issue some day.

This, however, is yet again another sad spectacle. Nobody in Chavez entourage has reminded him that in Eastern Europe a lot of flags had gaping hopes in them a few hours after the regimes fell (Think of the Rumanian flag in particular). If national symbols become important it is because they are made as a consensus, not because Chavez in his delirium has decided to do one better than Bolivar (who I do not recall having lost sleep when the 8th star was removed in 1821). In fact, he has managed to make the event yet another divisive moment in Venezuela. Now, having 7 stars will become an opposition symbol. Eight stars was a foul way for Chavez to recover the flag, or a flag at least, that he lost in the million folks marches of the opposition in through 2002-2004.

And while we are at it, in the spirit of cooperation that characterizes this blogger, I have taken upon myself to add the eight star to the Carabobo State government billboard to thank Chavez from allowing Venezuela to win the Caribbean series. As if he had anything to do with it. This particularly tasteless sycophantic display can be found, road dirt and all (click for details), arriving in Valencia (Quico already posted another one of those tacky displays, one from Caracas I believe). And no, I will not discuss the cost of all of these new flags, after all the US goes through this anytime a state joins in (Puerto Rico soon?). Let's just say that the businesses getting the flag and stationery printing are certainly not from the opposition.

The coat of arms gets a face lift too

I do not know, but perhaps from my king guillotining ancestors I have never developed much of a love or care for coat of arms. So I really cannot comment much on the changes made by Chavez. I will criticize them strictly on aesthetic grounds. I have put together the old and new coat of arms. As you will see, there are only cosmetics changes that one must scan hard to detect (there is now a machete somewhere I was told). However the horse is different, and this really is a Chavez whim (though there is strangely a very similar coat of arms in Merida that was made 70 something years ago). There is some hot air emitted as to the horse running to the left being the symbol of the new Venezuela or some such nonsense. The only thing I can say is that the old horse had, artistically, much more personality than the new horse stubbornly running who knows where, and probably hitting a lot of walls. Did they not consult some designer somewhere to lighten up that horse?

But I will stop here. Contrary to the US where true civil rights and democratic values allow you to burn the US flag, just poking gentle fun on these cosmetic changes in Venezuela could cause me some legal problems. After all, a flag is a flag and people only put as much of their heart in it as they want, or are fool enough to do. I am proud of my old flag, it is the one that was always there for me, in particular when I lived for so many years out of my country. Chavez can do as he pleases, the flag of my heart is the one above, to the right of this blog, the flag of the people that marched against Chavez in 2002 and 2003, trying to stop him from taking away our liberties and do such things as what he did today, to change the flag and the coat of arms just because he said so. Nothing else needs to be added.