Sunday, April 30, 2006

A new CNE? Same old, same old

For the past few weeks we have assisted to the show put up by the National Assembly electing, finally, and in a somewhat pseudo-constitutional way, a new Electoral Board (CNE). Any reason to be optimistic? None at all, of course. One of the reasons, by the way, that I did not bother much covering this show as more interesting stuff was happening elsewhere. (1)

Last Friday in a rather brief meeting, in spite of a pompous announcement of holding permanent session until the new board would be elected, the National Assembly named the 5 new rectors. The session was short enough to suggest that out of the 100 + finalists, the short list had been established long ago. Quite predictable. You can read in English a summary of the events that led to the nomination of that new CNE.

On Friday night when I learned that Tibisay Lucena was one of the 5 directors, I got confirmation that there was indeed a rat smell reaching my nostrils all along. The litmus test for this new group of 5 was going to be today at their first meeting: if Lucena became president today, then there was nothing to hope from that “new and improved” CNE.

Bingo! She was "elected" today.

The astute reader might say: "can't you give them at least a chance to prove that they have good intentions?" and my reply will be "No". Without even raising my voice, just a 'no' as a matter of fact. Why? Tibisay Lucena was brought to the CNE to assist Rodriguez, when this one was just one of the board members under Carrasquero. Then he was in fact the real president, Carrasquero being the mouth piece of the CNE. This one got his reward after working hard at ensuring a Chavez 'victory' in August 2004 by becoming a 12 year justice of the TSJ, a golden parachute of sorts. As a side comment, in that position for over more than a year he has failed to dazzle the country with any significant jurisprudence, not surprisingly. I even keep wondering how this non entity could even have made it to a law school teaching position.

Thus, as his own reward, Rodriguez became the CNE president: he was now the official chief, cashing in all possible voting machine contract he could think of while parading openly his pro Chavez position from the pulpit that should be the most impartial pulpit of the country. Tibisay Lucena, the woman in charge of executing the most important of Rodriguez dubious electoral initiatives (maneuvers? tricks?) got her reward by becoming a board member on her own. She must have worked hard at perfecting cheating mechanisms through the 2005 elections as she now is the only one of the past board to renew her appointment, and the presidency at that! For 7 years! She will even supervise Chavez 2012 reelection once the constitution is duly modified through a referendum also supervised by her.

Tibisay Lucena is bad news, through and through (2). From the rare appearances she does on TV you can see that she is ill at ease with the microphones and questioning, that she has a shifty look, that she avoids any direct reply. In short: I have never felt that she could be trusted for anything, even less than Rodriguez and that is to say a lot. She is, as we say in French "Un homme de main", the guy that does the dirty job behind the screens (3). I am actually amazed that they went ahead and nominated her, and even more amazed that they made her chairwoman! Probably sends a sign on how little important has the CNE become for Chavez now that he controls everything and that the abstentionist party is winning. I would not even be surprised if Chavez named Lucena just to flout his power to the world: “here! Look at that crook I put to run my elections! What are you going to do now? Suckers!”

What does this mean in practical terms? Nothing. Lucena has already built up the cheating system. She just needs to manage it and perhaps find ways to make it slightly more palatable in case international observers come back. She has no power, no authority, no matter what the constitution states. She is just there to receive the phone calls from Chavez and Rangel and execute the orders. Even the "opposition" nominee does not seem the kind to counter her except for the occasional show, à la Sobella Mejias. She will go down in history as the 'opposition' representative that facilitated the demise of that one, as an infamous spineless character that failed to show mettle except once, when she called Carter to make sure the signatures for the Recall Election petition were to be counted as the people wanted. It seems that after that, at some point she passed over to chavismo for all practical purposes.

What is the opposition going to do? The same thing: demand the right conditions to vote or threaten not to go. Lucena can do as she pleases, if a minimum of conditions are not met, the abstention will be again the winner in 2006. It is all in the hands of Chavez whether he wants to win fairly his reelection or if he wants to kill democracy once and for all.

Tibisay Lucena is just a symbol, a mouthpiece that is surely handsomely paid. She is nothing in the great scheme of things. I can bet anything that she will never be known as the “woman who restored trust in Venezuelan elections”.

No, it is up to Teodoro and company, and the people, to find ways to force Chavez to accept fair elections. This is not anymore a legal problem on the voting process, it is a political decision that must be dealt on a political level. Forget lawyers and meetings, they are useless at this point. Lucena and her mafia are just a freak show set up to distract.

PS: Written on Sunday PM. From the preliminary reports there is a general consensus within the opposition that the new CNE falls very short of the already less than moderate expectations that were held during the selection process. The word is simply: prove your independence. Some have even gone as far to state that the CNE was formed of 5 pro Chavez activists, without even a real "token" opposition. Tibisay Lucena starts with zero "honey moon", zero credit. Not that she seems to mind if you ask me....

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1) For those who love technicalities, the CNE is one of the 5 powers of Venezuela, a ridiculous invention of Chavez in his quest of “Bolivarian” pompousness. Roughly it is elected as follow: NGO and judicial and Law School faculties propose a list of candidates. These ones are screened by “the people” but in fact by a committee dominated by the National Assembly (already a fault there). Then out of those who make the cut, the National Assembly elected by a 2/3 vote the 5 board members for a 7 year period. With 100% of the National Assembly, the reader can intuit that hell would have frozen over before chavismo would have not controlled at least 3 out of 5 of the CNE, with two weak ones “against”. It seems that it is 4 for Chavez and a weak token for the rest.

And before anyone says that the opposition should have run in December to be able to participate more directly I would remind them that the CNE should have been named by the previous Assembly but since chavismo did not dispose of the 2/3 majority it stalled and sabotaged all until it sent the nomination to the Chavez controlled High Court, in total constitutional violation as such measures should have had a temporary character of a few months at best. But in its blinding cynicisms chavismo refused to even discuss the nomination of a new CNE until after the December 2005 election. Democracy anyone?

2) Lucena is already anticipating the backlash of her "election". Today, contrary to what a new president of the CNE would do in his/her first speech, to discuss new plans or to simply thank the people who entrusted to her the job, she already defended her administration even though she was not sworn in yet as the president! The lady does protest too much!!!......

3) According to Sumate, a majority of the new CNE are direct underlings of departing head Jorge Rodriguez. The mafia is solidly in place.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The coming Venezuelan campaign

With the start of Teodoro Petkoff’s campaign it seems fair to review the political situation of Venezuela at this time, on some more realistic grounds as I did earlier. When last February I set up to write a blue print for the opposition strategy, I was writing a very theoretical concept of what could be done, establishing that there was still time to put in place a significant campaign that could achieve the ousting of Chavez through democratic ways. But I knew better and very little has been undertaken and the clock runs. Still, this is such an atypical electoral period that who is to say if the opposition is in fact playing its cards as bad as it seems to be playing them. The answer will come soon enough.

The good news for this weary eyed blogger is that the series of articles he posted last February are valid up to a point. A simple update and summary will suffice at this time. Let’s start with the chavista side.

Chavez runs strong but…

Chavez has had the strange benefit of not having a single serious political opponent since August 2004. That has allowed him to concentrate all the power of state, and dig into public coffers to run his campaign as he pleases.

Thus he should be a shoo in. Right? Maybe not. This hegemony at the top is starting to bite him in the rear sooner than expected. The impressive collection of mediocre non entities that he has placed at the helm of the different state organizations is coming home to roost, from collapsing bridges to a scandalous violent murder rate. It is obvious for the objective observer that Venezuela is not a country properly run, from the collapse of the communication system, to the growing deep poverty that no social program seems able to reach. The thin glue that seems to hold everything are the high price of oils, even as the Venezuelan oil production persistently fails to improve its numbers. There is enough oil money to go around and distribute pacifiers here and there.

But even that abundance of money is starting to hurt Chavez as the corruption it promotes is apparently out of control. These scandals are becoming more frequent, and even more damaging the fact that nobody with real guilt has gone to jail yet. The real players are out free, counting their bank accounts. More than ever the Chavez support is built on the premise that “surely something will be reaching me”. But the enthusiasm of the 1999-2000 years is gone for good. We have pragmatic revolutionaries now, still in the revolution because they are cashing in, or because that they think they are about too.

Thus it is no surprise to see Chavez caracoling above 50% of voting intentions, though he has definitely dropped from his sky high, and hardly credible 70+% of one year ago. These numbers would seem a dream for any politicians after 7 years in office but the fact of the matter is that they are that good in part for accidental circumstances: no opposition, no alternative visible, lots of stipends to the people. Chavismo cannot hide its anguish anymore: the 20% electoral participation of December 2005 meant exactly that if 60% Venezuelans sort of like Chavez, only 20% like him enough to trek to the voting station no matter how much begging does Chavez. And the December begging was quite something to behold!

Mind you, Chavez has formidable advantages still: a ruthless personality, a sense of déjà vu that reassures part of his electorate, money by the gazillions, power like no one else since Gomez. Many women have married uncouth men for less aprodisia than that. But he is a troubled man, more vulgar than ever, more desperate than ever to push through a revolution that few still understand besides the “trust me, I like the people” he asks his followers to swallow no questions asked. As it is the case in such unsupervised regimes, errors become more frequent, negative attitudes are preserved such as buying foreign goodwill. A colossus with clay feet? Too early to tell.

The opposition runs weak but….

If Chavez has some problems, these pale when compared to the ones in the opposition. This one is penniless, divided, bereft of novelty. Only in the recent weeks some stirring, some message seems to appear, a phenomenon that one hopes will garner strength as Petkoff hits the trails, and if his campaign lasts long enough to make a difference.

The main problem of the opposition is its utter division between those who want to play politics and those who do not want to, a.k.a. the abstention party. The abstention party thinks it has scored big in December. Maybe, but it has done nothing to take advantage of this “victory”. It is not only entrapped in its monologue, but destructive enough to damage those who want to work out some electoral solution. The basic failure of the abstentionists is that they do not realize that voting or not voting does not exempt you from running a campaign, from presenting ideas, from putting real pressure on the abusive power. Chavez laughs at abstention. He picked up 100% of the National Assembly and see if he cares! Pursuing abstention strictly on moral grounds is a sure way to allow Chavez to remain in office ‘til kingdom comes. In other words abstention is a very powerful weapon ONLY if it is a real threat, not as an established fact. By failing to realize this, abstentionist not only are threatened by ridicule but are going to become the guilty party in the near future.

Meanwhile a few brave souls try to turn the tide. The commendable efforts of Borges, Schmit and Ojeda are not enough to turn the tide. In particular as they do not wish to confront the abstention party. The entry of Petkoff and perhaps Rosales might, just might change this some. These two are stronger candidates: one because of his sharp tongue and the other because he is a known organizer and electoral manager who disposes of the Zulia vote and money, albeit to a much lesser extent that Chavez does shamelessly with the public treasury. Things are bound to move, even if Petkoff or Rosales eventually peter off.

Another interesting aspect is that a primary, be it by voting, be it by opinion polls, will offer several positive opportunities for the opposition that will compensate in part for the lack of money the electoral teams dispose off. There will be a lot of free coverage by all the media of the “primary” process, and the less VTV talks of it, the more chavistas will go to Globovision and pollute their brains with opposition programs. The trick here is to make sure the primary is going to follow a gentleman agreement situation as the objective is to oust Chavez first. The winner will have at least one vice presidential reward post to offer, and probably the support in main governorships such as Miranda for Borges if Borges were not to win the primary: he’ll survive fine as Miranda governor now that the shine of present governor Cabello is dampening fast. Today, we got the first evidence of such a gentleman’s agreement happening. In Mararacaibo Rosales was the host of Borges and Petkoff. Rosales is not quite in the race but he has come together with his guest to state that all support a unique opposition candidate and all will work for a smooth selection and a strong support for whomever is the candidate (1).

The fact is that the opposition has a trump card: everybody in Venezuela knows who is who and no matter how hard the campaign is the ultimate question for 70% of Venezuelans is “what is in it for me? I know Chavez sucks, that he and his pals are looting the country, but will I get more with the other side?” Even a simple “maybe” reply could be enough to unseat Chavez. It is for the eventual opposition candidate to find the words, and a few weeks with the right words is enough no matter how much Chavez gives around: EVERYONE KNOWS in Venezuela that the electoral bounty will not last one day past the December election. Call us cynics, but we have seen it always since 1958. For example the CAP largesse and populism did not stop Herrera Campins to win in 1978.

And the opposition could pull out another trump card: honest primaries, in a civil atmosphere with gracious concession speeches from the losers and MORE voters than in December 205 could be a devastating PR blow to chavismo, here and overseas. Worth at least 20 million USD of campaign money that the opposition will be unable to raise.

Because, to conclude, this is a major opposition problem: electoral money. The 1999 forbade the state to finance electoral campaigns, a prohibition that Chavez tramples on daily (see for example the public building decorations). If this were not bad enough, Chavez has brought the Tascon/Maisanta lists which basically have done away with the voting secret, creating a political class of McCarthy pariahs. Imagine now for a second that you want to give 10 000 USD for Rosales campaign. Imagine that chavistas learn that you have given money to his opponent. After the Tascon list it is easy to imagine the consequences after a Chavez victory: the day after, all state institutions will be going after at the very least all the top donors, be it by sending the repressive SENIAT squads, to refuse USD at the control exchange system CADIVI and what not. The result of such stupid law is that political parties are going to need to receive their electoral money in cash as no record can exist of who gives what. And Chavez is of course going to use political parties audits to nail them on any excuse: drug money, laundering, etc…. This is something that the opposition should point out to international observers AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

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1) Curiously, it is today when Rosales receives all the major opposition candidates in a show of electoral fairness that the ignoble General Prosecutor of the Regime, Isaias Rodriguez, announces that he has enough evidence to bring Rosales to trial on April 2002 events. Yes, that is right, it took Isaias 4 years, FOUR, to gather the evidence and announce it just when Rosales wants launch its candidature. And who will bring Isaias on trial for utmost incompetence? Just when you thought that Isaias could not sink any further, he demonstrates that some chavistas can always get further on the path to moral abjection.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A commemoration for the 70 000 that died under Chavez

Acuestate por la Vida,
commemorating the 70 000 deaths by violence in Venezuela in the last 6 years.

Since Hugo Chavez has become president in 1998, the toll of violent death from crime has been multiplied by three. Violent crime has become the number one cause of death for young men between 15 and 25 year old. The weekend roll of death reads more like the death toll of a civil war than what 'normal' crime would read. Caracas has become the most violent capital of the Americas. The government seems helpless, bereft of ideas, or, worse, welcoming such a disaster that distracts people from the other woes that we suffer at the hand of the regime.

The recent sequential deaths of Sindoni, the Faddoul kids and their driver Rivas, and the journalist Aguirre that was covering the national grief seem to have been too much. A group of students from many universities have organized a "lay down" manifestation. "Acuestate Por La Vida" = Lay Down for Life.

Today from Chacao to Parque del Este, people were invited to come, draw the outline of their bodies on the pavement, and at noon to lay on the street, on the selected spot, for ten minutes, to commemorate, reflect, pray for the 70 000 victims of violence in Venezuela during the recent years.

I was there. I did not lay down as I was too busy taking pictures of this memorable and truly emotional day. I have tried to reduce the size of the pictures so as not to make the page too heavy to download. All pics can be clicked to get a larger version. Comments as needed.

Waiting for the lay down time

The general view between Parque del Este and Plaza Altamira as people gathered and waited.

I was allowed to climb on the stand reserved for the announcements, the media and the band that would play later. How did I manage that? I said that I was Daniel Duquenal from this blog and voilà! A most gratifying moment!

The view is from the stand toward Chacao (and the first picture above to introduce the post is of course taken from inside the stand).

The ambiance in the stand as the media gets ready. The speaker giving instructions on the microphone seems tiny and irrelevant :) In the background one of the famous art deco like buildings of Caracas from the 50ies, with a great mural, that will be probably lost to real estate greed.

A view of the grand stand with, in red, some doomsayer that never is missing from such events.

Picking up a site, drawing up the shape, writing down the name.

Another couple of general views.

A very patriotic death.

Laying down in the Francisco de Miranda

The area went from Parque Cristal to the Chacao entrance, almost the equivalent of two metro segments, about 8 large street blocks of the Francisco de Miranda avenue. The starting time, promised for 11 something was eventually at noon.

The tow pictures next are of the group of people at the La Castellana crossing, a couple of minutes before they laid down and as the commemoration started.

The view toward Chacao. The objective was to have 70 000 people to lay down. I do not know if they reached it, but definitely the visualization of this picture alone is harrowing.

At one of Altamira Metro exits.

Touching details

Colorful umbrellas.

Remembering the Faddoul brothers with a home made poster.

No comments needed.

At the end

The crowds from Parque Cristal stand up and move towards Plaza Altamira.

Sure enough, the helicopters of the government where monitoring the concentration. We got two visits, the first one by a red helicopter at noon. This one came at the very end, when most people had left Parque Cristal to go to Plaza Altamira for the concert, or simply home. I am pretty sure that if the state official propaganda venue, VTV, shows anything, it will be the images from that moment with some caption to the effect of implying that no body showed up. Of course NO PRIVATE helicopter has been allowed over Caracas since 2002 to film ANY opposition activity, to make sure that we never know the full aerial view.

PS: I have taken a short video that I will try to post elsewhere. Keep tuned.

PS2: I have just received these two pictures sent to me by a faithful reader. The first one is the infamous leaflet circulated by chavistas. The other one is a view from inside Chacao. I did not realize that the lay down reached that far, at least 12 blocks total of the Miranda Avenue and MORE than two Metro segments! The most successful public demonstration since 2004! The text of the absolutley tasteless leaflet: Lay down for security while we... have 10 millions [votes] to push down your gullet [the Chavez extremely vulgar campaign theme]
For a second I thought it might have actually been printed by the opposition, but then again, it is so tasteless in chavista style that I would bet on it coming from chavismo crassest levels, such as the Barreto crowd.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Driving through Caracas streets: slogans and a reality check

Last week this blogger was AWOL, which did not meant that he was forgetting all about this blog. One holiday activity I had was to take pictures while driving of the revolutionary posters which visually assault us all the time. At the end I contrast them with some pictures that show the reality of Venezuela behind all of the pretty slogans that the bolibanana revolution would like us to believe. All pictures taken between April 15 and 18. All in Caracas. Comments on each one as needed.

Recycling monuments

One thing that is now routine is for public buildings have a certain air of "liberated", when not used for gross state propaganda.

This used to be a PDVSA building in La Floresta, previously, if memory serves me well, the Mobil headquarters in pre oil nationalization in 1974 (yes, Chavez DID NOT nationalize oil, he just grabbed it for his own profit, in fact privatizing it). Now it is some technical school that is real estate over endowed (the sale price of this high market real estate could pay for at least a couple of fully equipped technical schools elsewhere in Venezuela, where the need is much greater). Observe the flag. The huge and expensive flag has ALREADY the 8th star on it, less than a month after the new 8th star has been added to it. There is always money for such expenditures.

This is an example of building use for propaganda set up. This one used to be the Shell one. It became one of the centers of opposition rallying during the PDVSA strikes of 2002. Chavez exerted his rueful revenge by making it a military university of sorts. And the billboard of choice for his antics in the face of an epicenter of opposition. Below a magnification of the poster on Chavez, hugging a child while promising that said university network of campuses will hold 200 000 students. Note that the use of the child with a red beret in propaganda is against the law. All his authoritarian role models would be proud of such a poster.

But while this goes on, what about other established monuments? While ex PDVSA buildings are luxuriously kept and dedicated preferably to students that support the regime, other monuments and buildings that do not enjoy the favor of the revolutionary fervor sink in utter decrepitude. For example below we have the pedestal of the Columbus monument close to Plaza Venezuela which since the statue was torn down over a year ago has languished as one of the major eye sore of Caracas. Chavismo does not have even the decency to finish to destroy it and leaves it as yet another image of what Milagros Socorro calls "post nuclear scenery of downtown Caracas". Indeed, visiting downtown Caracas these days is a filthy and creepy experience.

Slogans everywhere

There is a lot of new "decorations" in Caracas streets. Now we are visually aggressed by a constant barrage of state propaganda, more than often featuring the great leader, alone or accompanied by the local potentate that wants to make sure to figure close to the beloved leader.

There is first and foremost the "heroic type" with Chavez single-handedly directing the country's development.

Then there is the "popular" one where Chavez is sure to appear with "real" Venezuelans, usually dressed in red, and Chavez as the benevolent benefactor.

Since we already did the "baby and Chavez" thing we can move on to the outright slogans. This first one is at the door of "La Estancia". This venerable hacienda occupies a prime real estate spot in Caracas. Through a preservation campaign it was bought by PDVSA in the 90ies, restored and preserved, with its park, as a glorious green oasis of culture exhibits in the middle of bustling Caracas. After the 2002 strike, the staff was mostly fired, even the one at the concession stand. Eventually it was reopened in 2004 but now we do have "bolivarian" exposition of the talents of "the people", quite often without any regard for aesthetical value as long as the bolivarian message comes across, bluntly as a sledge hammer if necessary. In addition, at the entry of the shrine we find the following poster which translates as: "Our free of charge programming represents the planting of oil in culture" achieving thus the combination of a naked lie (La Estancia was always free entry) and stealing of the famous Uslar Prieti words. Orwell would have it so easy!

And my favorite one: the anti US slogan, destined to whip up the justified anger of the masses against uncle Sam. Translation "there are two super powers today, one is the US and the other one is you" (with only 7 stars). Castro meets self esteem coaches.

Not to forget the ones to rewrite recent history. This one illustrate the slow building of April 13 2002 into a new National Holiday. This "day of dignity" wants us to believe that millions went out to the streets to restore Chavez that day. The truth is that only a few thousands in the Western part of Caracas protested, many of them taking advantage of the unrest that day to loot a few hundred stores. Very far from the hundred of thousand that marched on April 11. Of course Chavez wants to erase any perception that he came back to power because the army said so, pulling out the crowds illusions, and certainly not because he was clever enough to regain office.

The reality behind the slogans

These slogans of a brave new world cannot unfortunately hide the crude fact: homeless people, in terrible indigency, in the street of Caracas, are more numerous than ever, to the point of literally nesting wherever they can, even under highway bridges if necessary. Most pictures taken from a car window, crude pictures of this awful reality that no propaganda can erase for those who are willing to open their eyes.

Three indigents scavenging in a dumpster on Solano avenue,
smack in the center of Caracas. Observe the surrounding trash.

On Plaza Morelos itself, the main seat of Caracas Museums, native Americans
from the Delta area have set camp. You can see the traditional hammock, even
if in cheap nylon blue, all ironically set behind an awful "revolutionary"
monument to denounce some historical wrong, probably against
the very same natives that are left to rot everywhere in Caracas, Chavez
chest hitting notwithstanding.

Another view of the same group, from a different angle, far enough for respect.
Blue hammock on the left, cornered between Plaza Morelos and Avenida Libertador.

This picture, slightly blurred for the car motion, is taken while going under
a Caracas bridge, along the Guaïre river which has become an open air gigantic sewer.
A group of indigents have build a cardboard set up where to huddle.
Probably a couple of dozen people "reside" there.

And to conclude perhaps the most pathetic one of them all. I only noticed that one
because I was in traffic jam and I had the leisure to observe. What you see in that little
corner is a homeless person that has set up camp using
some plastic cover and an broken umbrella. This, amazingly, is located in El Paraiso area,
a couple of hundred yards of the well appointed Nazional Guard historical seat.
Caracas on its way to Calcutta, under Chavez.

You may weep now.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chavez stirring useless and damaging trouble, again...

So Hugo was up to his usual bad boy antics. I was wondering whether I should cover them as they are so embarrassing, so tantrum temper like, that it is demeaning to address them. But then again, there is a lot of foreign readers that need to know exactly what Chavez means and how bad it is (special treat: most links today in English).

It all started a couple of days ago when Chavez attended a rather odd "summit" in Asuncion. Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela. What kind of summit is that? Well, soon enough it was clear that Paraguay and Uruguay were using Chavez to put pressure on Brazil and Argentina by having Chavez declare rudely that he was joining Mercosur to put the house in order. I laugh at it as it reflects the uncouthness of Chavez in all its vulgarity: he walks in and he knows better than the folks at if for over a decade. Or was that just again a show of ignorance from Chavez?

That "summit" was also the occasion for Chavez to announce that Venezuela would leave the Andean Community. Besides screwing the millions that depend on trade with Colombia (and other Andean Community countries) it is utter nonsense, a gesture just for the glory of Chavez, a diplomatic and economic move that will only benefit Chavez and his trading partners, but not Venezuelans who will surely hurt as hundred of thousand of jobs could be lost.

To add insult to injury to our sore brains trying to make sense of this madness, Chavez went ahead and promised to blow up oil fields in Venezuela if the Marines landed to take his oil, just like Saddam did in Kuwait. One does not know whether to cry or to laugh about such stupidity. To begin with, even if there was a plan to do so, you do not go out and say it. Period. But if you want more arguments: nobody in Venezuela is seriously preparing their houses for a Marine landing. Except of course the few "reserve" that accept to go to boot camp as long as some money reaches them. Also, apparently Chavez support of Saddam goes much further than one would have thought. Apparently he approves of what Saddam did to Kuwait! Unbelievable!

The cherry on the top was given when Chavez offered as a model the trade system set up between Castro and Chavez. Apparently these two "socialist countries" trade suddenly went up from 100 million to 1.5 billion in a signle year!!! Of course this is an utter lie as Chavez conveniently ignores the hundreds of million that he gives away to Castro, not Cuba, Castro. But who is counting? Anyway, during a brief stop in Curitiba Chavez insisted on how Venezuela and Cuba are becoming one country (and admission of him seeking the succession of Castro in Havana itself?)

But why is Chavez suddenly upping the ante? Why is Chavez risking so much ridicule overseas with people that actually count pennies and know better than the ALBA delyrium? One thing is that his dreams of LatAm empire are not doing too well. Uribe still rolls above the 60% at a few weeks from the election. Humala not only did not win on the first round in Peru, but his 30% result makes his extremist candidacy far from a shoo-in at the second round. It is hard to conceive Lourdes Flores supporters voting for Humala. If half of them go for Garcia and the other half stay home that would already be enough for Humala to exit. The new parliament of Peru will be controlled by the "opposition" no matter who wins. Humala seems to sense that and has been backpedaling fast on his ties to Chavez by being on record as regretting the decision of Chavez to leave the Andean Community. Further more, it might be a sign that Chavez senses that Lula will sit down and negotiate with he US after his possible reelection. Thus he must move fast to stir the lefty crowds wherever he can, even if along the way Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay "se lo chulean" (they pimp him?).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Petkoff to throw his hat in the race

El Universal carried this afternoon and item as to Petkoff launching his candidacy for the December 2006 presidential elections. No real surprise there, except that it was filtered to El Universal instead of El Nacional, Globovision or Union Radio. I prefer not to read anything in that at this time, preferring to look at what this candidacy means.

As readers might know I like the idea of Petkoff as president. In a short list, without any particular order, some of the reasons (there are many, Chavez been such an easy target).

  • Petkoff has had a good experience in government. He almost single handledly saved the Caldera administration from an ignominious collapse when this one sensing the ship sinking reluctantly called him to direct the economic cabinet.
  • As the editor of Tal Cual he has shown to have a clear mind, a clear understanding of the problems of the country.
  • His sharp tongue would be very effective against the vulgarity of Chavez. By the way, Petkoff would be the only opposition candidate able to use vulgarity on occasion without the degrading effect observed when Chavez uses vulgarity, starting with his own degradation.
  • As a Liberal (US sense), I gravitate naturally toward social democrats, which is what Petkoff has become from his communist past, having rejected long ago silly Marxist ideas. Petkoff is probably the only opposition candidate able to articulate a political platform that can reach the poorer classes, the one that Chavez would have the more trouble when safeguarding his flock from Petkovian encroachment.
  • He does have electoral experience, though it remains to see who will he chose to run his camapaign as it will be announced tomorrow officially.
  • Petkoff is not a corrupt politican and he knows how deleterious corruption if for a country. Yet he does not have any absurd sanctity, naïveté, on this matter: corruption is inevitable in government but it should be kept in check to avoid the big robbery that is taking place in Venezuela these days.
  • Chavez is unable to delegate, wants all the glory for himself. On this repsect Petkoff can only be an improvment. Petkoff at 74 year old cannot have more than a one term ambition, and as Reagan was, is old enough to measure what real glory is (e.g., leaving a functional country behind) and old enough to not only know the value of delegating power, but on how to do it, on whom to delegate.
  • Petkoff is much less messy, probably much more efficient than Chavez though admittledly this is not difficult to be.
  • Petkoff has a vision for a country. Chavez has a vision for himself only. This is perhaps the main point in favor of Petkoff.
Tomorrow should be the official announcement. Then we will see if Petkoff is able to articulate his vision.

PS, 24 hours later. A reader, Raul, points out that El Nacional is in fact the first one to have announced the Petkoff run. I stand corrected, and I am happy that EL Nacional, as I would have expected, was the first one to leak the news.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dear President Chavez

Of course, you do realize that this “dear” is as formal as they come. You were never dear to me, not even before 1998. See, many people might have forgotten it, or pretend to have forgotten it as long as you keep sending them oil or an allowance, but I, for one, have not forgotten that you are the 1992 coup monger, an assassin that still needs to account for the 200 something people that died then, the leader of the little tanks that were attacking a museum and the house where the wife of the Venezuelan president and his children were hiding. All but you apparently ignoring that rarely Carlos Andres visited his estranged wife. Then again, since you are at Miraflores, we have discovered that accurate information and scrutiny is not your forte. Your magic dust never worked on me, sorry. I have always seen you for the uncouth soldier that you were, are, will ever be.

I thought that I had figured you out quite well. See, I am one of those that know very well that you will never leave office in a democratic way. You and your pals have stolen too much, have committed too many crimes, and have to much of a power trip to let that escape your hand. I have no illusion. I do not know whether we in the opposition will force you out someday, or if the ones that will get rid of you are actually very close to you, very faithful servants who like any sycophant can turn their coats at an amazing speed. It does not matter: aberrations like your tenure on office always end, even if the country is a mess and unable to get rid of you. Castro will die someday. Peron did not survive Evita’s passing. Pinochet thought the people loved him. Velasco was sent packing by his allies when the country run out of food. You guys will always outreach yourselves. And you, Hugo, will not be the exception.

But I digress, as I am sure that I am not writing anything that you already do not know. I am not sure that you are intelligent but I will give you one thing: your street smarts are excellent and play well in politics. Maybe for a decade more if oil prices keep steady. Thus I am sure that at some level you are very aware of what I am writing.

Your histrionics are good too! They have more than one fooled, in particular overseas where the anti Bush, knee jerk anti US folks love every single nonsense you utter, every tiny bit of insult you send up North. They gobble it; they never have enough of it. It is for me amazing that they can support so easily a military regime, an authoritarian regime that they would not tolerate for a second at home. It is amazing how they can suspend disbelief to that extent. Hate is really a powerful feeling. Then again they still think Castro is hot; they still have not added up all the deaths that can be attributed to the Che; some even think that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a tragedy. Heck! Some might even miss Pinochet, a great scare crow if ever there was one, a good way to get the naïve to give them money for who knows what. Ask the Christian fundamentalists in the US and how many causes they supported as long as it allowed them to pick the pockets of their Sunday crowd! Even Pat Robertson tries to supplement his income using you.

That last part I am not as sure you can really get. See, you culture is very superficial, very uncritical, very emotional. You have shown time and again that you do not digest what you read, that you take everything out of context not because you do it on purpose but because you probably have no idea what context is and how important it is for the advancement of ideas, original ideas in particular. Your speeches are a constant stream of rehashed banalities that are made more palatable through your inimitable delivery. Perhaps if some media had given you a talk show by 1991 we would not be in the dire situation we are now. But I digress again, I only wanted to write that this lack of critical spirit, combined with a strange ego makes you a perfect target for these people who are sucking you dry. And even if you were to realize that they are using you, you probably would not mind. Power is a drug, and absolute power an absolute drug.

But it is time that I tell you why is it that for the first time ever I have decided to write to you directly. See, I am in the boondocks for a few days of deserved rest. Dealing with the bureaucratic tangles of the Bolivarian revolution is wearing me. I did tune up the radio last Monday night and I did manage to listen, through all the creaking, some words you said, maybe on Alo Presidente, I could not tell. But it does not matter. What you were saying was equally infamous no matter where you would say it. You were, need I remind you, comparing your pain to the pain of the mother of the Faddoul kids, assassinated a couple of weeks ago while kidnapped. This left me aghast, doubly aghast when I realized that you were accusing the opposition media of using the Faddoul drama for political purpose, JUST AS YOU WERE DOING EXACTLY WHAT YOU ACCUSED THEM TO DO by comparing your pain to Mrs. Faddoul, just as you were telling us that you cried when you talked to her. By the way Hugo, did you cry BEFORE you talked to her? Because a lot of us did, you know, without Globovision needing to manipulate us into crying.

See, this is why I am writing to you today, finally after three years of criticizing almost anything you do. I think you have lost it and that you have become dangerous. It is time that someone tells it to you like it is.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the Downfall, a movie that made it to the Oscar race telling us how were the last days of Hitler. No, you are not Hitler, I would not be silly enough to equate you to him, though some days it would be so easy to pigeon hole you as such. Like all brilliant manipulators, you will create your own brand of repression. But I have a confession to make: when I saw Hitler ranting, mistrusting anyone, threatening anyone, blaming anyone for his mistakes, believing any pipe dream he came up with, well, I could not help but be reminded of you. See, I do not see that in Castro. He is clear about what he is, a ruthless caudillo, perhaps the most successful dictator of our Latin American story, since Porfirio Diaz. I am too young for Peron or even Pinochet, but I did not see that in them either. These people at some level sensed when it was time to pack and go; and if Pinochet is now under investigation in Chile it is because he was fool enough to go to England against every piece of advice given to him, not because he had lost his wits. He dared, he lost, even when he thought he had managed to escape back to Chile.

No, what I heard in these few words transmitted by the radio of your regime showed me clearly that you have lost your bearings, that you are saying “n’importe quoi” so as to distract from a given monstrosity by creating yet another monstrosity. Your are going insane and that is dangerous for the country, for you, for me, for our families, for our peace as a nation. Keep going and soon enough we will end up in a civil war and it is your side that will start it because simply they will not be able to hide your words anymore and will be forced to act on them, be forced to spring into action, just as Nazi generals were taking young teenagers to defend Berlin, having lost any sense of past, present or future. You should watch that movie, you do not even need to get the context, the end never needs context.

I urge you, Hugo Chavez, if you still have moments of lucidity to stop this march to madness. If you must, cheat on elections, exile a few of us, but do not start feeling more pain than your victims. Stay in office forever if we must to avoid a civil war. But what you are doing now is madness and it leads us to hell.

Sincerely, as anyone ever was

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The case of Jorge Aguirre.- Another bizarre case of killing by Police.

Last week, I reported that El Mundo photographer Jorge Aguirre had been killed while going to cover the protests against the kidnapping and killing of the Faddoul brothers. Someone that looked like a policeman shot him from a motorcycle and Aguirre was able to take a picture of him. It seems that, from the picture, the CICPC was able to find out that the killer was a former Chacao Policeman.

Today, I saw the MINCI front page proudly stating that the alleged killer, Boris Blanco, used to work for PoliChacao. The mayor of Chacao has declared that, indeed, he was with his police forces but he was fired in 2005 due to misconduct.

Chacao is one of the municipalities that is held by a very popular opposition Mayor.

The strange thing is that there seems to be no motive so far for the crime. According to the article, the car touched his motorcycle and since it did not stop, he decided to fire a gun against the vehicle…

According to Isaias Rodriguez, the story told by the driver of the car was the following. He was driving the car, heading to the spot where people were protesting when Jorge (the photographer) realized that a motorcycle was following them. The biker asked the driver to stop and said that he was “the authority”. After a brief stop, the driver kept driving because he did not see any proper police identification. After a while, the driver realized from the rear mirror that he had lost the motorcycle and he stopped later on and went out of the car. He then heard three shots and realized that Jorge had been hit.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the motorcycle belonged to a Metropolitan Policeman
that says that he had lend his bike to Blanco because he wanted to sell it.

So here we have one active Police officer lending a motorcycle to one former police officer killing a reporter that was going to cover the protests against the killing of the Faddoul brothers, that supposedly were kidnapped in a Police checkpoint.

As I said before, there are too many Police stories in these stories.

Reporting from Cyberspace,
Jorge Arena
Distinguished Ghost Blogger.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Daniel on a break

It is Easter week and this blogger goes off the air for a few days. Closest web connection is about 3 miles on a dirt road so I do not expect to hook up more than once until next Friday when I come back . Who knows, maybe ghost blogger emeritus Jorge Arena might decide to abandon Miguel and come over once.

Meanwhile I will leave the faithful readers with a two points for reflection over Easter. I will advise them to listen to St Matthew Passion of Bach just as I do every year at this time. Handel Messiah is good too, I prefer it at Easter even. And if it does not inspire you it will at least be a thing of beauty to listen to in order to escape the dirt and misery that surrounds our Venezuelan daily lives.

The police

The more I read, the more I realize that the Venezuelan police system is in shambles. In fact it is so bad that I am starting to wonder if it really is not done on purpose, for some perverse political goal that requires a terrorized population. No better explanation can come to mind, not even sheer incompetence. Why do I say that?

Some of the details coming out of the Faddoul brothers are quite sobering. The car in which the kids were taken was found a couple of days later. It took hours for the CICPP (our C.S.I. pseudo forces) to come over. They arrived late, it was about to rain. They did not want to do the routine and instead wanted to just tow the truck in spite of the protest of the Faddoul's lawyer. Well, not only they ended up towing the car anyway but they had the Faddoul family pay for the towing expenses as the police tow was supposedly on the fritz....

Another harrowing detail is that there was a video sent by the kidnapper to prove that they had the kids, and that they were alive. The video seems to have been taken close to an airport (a plane taking off could be heard). There are less than a half a dozen around Caracas. The police did not search (or at least they are not talking about it).

And there is the controversy of Canadian TV saying that the bodies where found naked. Here the pics are of the kids and their driver together, dressed up, sardine like, no blood on ground in spite of the gun shots to kill them. How come? Where the kids killed where found? Carried there? Who tampered with he evidence, the police or the kidnappers?

Too many questions that raise to much distrust on the Venezuelan police. I think that a 5 guys silly commission named in a hurry by the monochromatic National Assembly is not enough to rebuild the police, and even less our trust in it. Not to mention tht now that the kids have been cremated and their driver buried, suddenly the police is becoming efficient as several suspects have been "caught". Me thinks, wrongly me hopes, that it is the "enablers", those that supplied for money the kidnappers that do not want to be implied on the crime and decided to come out before some one got them. The moral consequences of so many people willing to help the kidnappers, if confirmed, is a thought that I find hard to bear.

Media matters

It seems that chavismo, in its stupid arrogance, thought that this notorious murder would be a nice opportunity to stick it to the opposition media. Well, it seems that they seriously underestimated the people's revulsion, all political colors included. The CONATEL letter to Globovision seems to have backfired badly, forcing the director of VTV, Romero Anselmi, to have this long monologue this morning to refute the Globovision reply to CONATEL. I did watch it, mesmerized at how low Romero Anselmi had fallen. His only argument, that he tried to use in any possible guise, is the 2002 48 hours coup against the whole 7 years of chavista administration. Never had I realized as much as this morning how short of ideas chavismo has become. And that is scary because it brings them closer from some irresponsible action. Shoot the messenger might come faster than we would like it to do.

And with these two items, I leave you for intense meditation. You can post comments but they might take a couple of days to show up, unless Jorge does watch over :)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Caracas, C.S.I. of a sick country

The murder of the Faddoul brothers has been something particularly harrowing. By this, one does not want to diminish the horror of the death of their faithful driver of 10 years whose family, probably suspected for a brief time during investigation, saw the name of their loved Miguel Rivas fully redeemed through his very own ignominious death. (1)

Nor do we want to forget about Sindoni whom a reader suggested that the speedy murder and physical abuse was due that a GPS implant existed and someone at the police tipped the raptors on what was supposedly a secret (I certainly cannot prove that but I report it as it does make a lot of sense to explain what happened then).

Nor does one want to forget the dozens of people in Tachira, Zulia and Merida who are the hostages of a rather prosperous ransom industry. And those who died in their hands.

But there are other crimes that cannot be forgotten: the soldiers of Fort Mara for example, the students killed at the Kennedy neighborhood last June by “security forces”.

Or the harrowing plain light assassination last Wednesday of photographer Jorge Aguirre, duly noted in the strongest terms by the Interamerican Press Association, SIP.

All of these have something in common: all have security forces suspected in the actions, and not necessarily to rescue the victims.

But let’s look at what might matter most: the main victims of insecurity in Venezuela are people living in the barrios and they are probably the ones that trust the least the Venezuelan police. If crime for ransom has gone up several fold in the past decade, Venezuela’s crime rate has tripled since Chavez came to office, and this with a government that has tried the most “innovative” ways to improve unfavorable statistics. If in fancy neighborhoods of Caracas gated communities are becoming the norm, if we now have a curfew, let’s not think about what is happening up in the “barrios” that surround the city where people must resort to home grown initiatives or permanent hide and seek to preserve their main income. And their lives. (2)

It is difficult to explain this situation to a foreign audience. Indeed, the statistics can be shown, the bloody headlines can be recalled and link. But the essence remains elusive unless you live here, suffer this psychologically damaging onslaught daily. Perhaps it would be more useful to list a summary of a few facts, not necessarily in order of importance:

Hugo Chavez has been in office for now seven years. He is claiming that under his tenure poverty has gone down. Some people disagree. Crime rate is going up three folds. The reader will draw his/her own conclusions.

In the last two years Hugo Chavez has been preparing the country for an “asymmetrical” war against the US of A. Meanwhile he is losing the war against crime. In his own soil, in his own capital, with his own people, with all the money he can dream of.

For seven years Chavez has been consistently uttering a violent language, has been framing everything political in an imaginary of battles of redemption and revenge. If you are not with me you are my enemy, you betray the fatherland, you deserve punishment.

Since 2002 the invasion waves on private property have increased, violent ones gone unpunished while only too often the unfortunate owner is presented as the true criminal. The government all but openly supporting such invasions. Victims, sometime of violent death, including the invaders in rural areas such as Zulia, remain forgotten.

The penal system is a shambles, from the killing fields that have become the Venezuelan jails to a judicial so overworked, so incompetent, so partial that violent criminals get back to the streets in a matter of weeks.

Those who get to court, if they are perceived from the government side get an endless trial that pretty much ensures them permanent freedom whereas those perceived to be against the regime get either a speedy trial (Uson, the Tachira folks) or do not get a trial at al and rot in jail or must flee the country (Simonovis, Forero, Poleo). Why would some one committing a crime in the name of the revolution or the people worry about the consequences of his actions?

And those who try to report on many of these misdeeds are simply threatened by Chavez himself during his long monologues where no one is allowed to contradict him, demand him an explanation. Perorations where Chavez lowers himself to insult the journalist that dares to ask a real question. How many journalists have been aggressed in Venezuela? Killed even? Why should fanatic chavista not execute the all but expressed in direct words wish of Chavez to silence the press?

And more examples of degradation from the top, that after 7 years render the excuse of “we inherited this from previous administrations” ludicrous and downright cowardly.

This is “apocalypse now”.

And what is the government doing? Nothing, in spite of the horror.

More hot air at the National Assembly who has been speedy in passing repressive measures on politics but is still overdue for a comprehensive social security package. It also debates an interminable debate on creating a National Police or bringing the armed forces more into the fray. Never asking the true question: who will hire and form the National Police? The same bozos that have been in charge of security this past 7 years? Or even 20 years if you want to spread the blame?

Local authorities are often led by mayors with a dubious past such as Bernal or Barreto in Caracas, people unable to pick up the trash or to run a local dispensary to treat the crime wounds.

Chavista media was slow in reporting and even slower in facing the problem. In Venezuelaanalysis a certain Fox did write a decent article but could not help himself and wrote at the end: “Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, which has held relatively steady throughout the Chavez presidency” blowing the article with that final lie. Aporrea is busy trying to minimize the event, or reporting the words of Varela or Isaias as to all coming from Colombia (without showing the ever promised evidence). Even Dan Burnett has a few words but prefers to focus on the countless murders that lower classes suffer, resulting in a strange impression of moral ambiguity on a crime that by any standards, any social class, violates all human decency and should not be diminished for the risk of moral bankruptcy it carries.

But of course, the main agent remains the executive branch of government.

In any semi functional country where in barely 10 days we had 3 kids, their driver, an important businessman, a regular journalists doing his work murdered in high profile cases, the Minister in charge would have tended his resignation. Not here. Jesse “James” Chacon keeps talking, the only thing he seems to be able to do against crime.

In fact, Jesse dares to demand that we do not politicize the Faddoul crime, when it is chavismo that has politicizes everything in Venezuela, placing everywhere incompetent, corrupt, careless, cynical bureaucrats whose only credential is their devotion to the regime. Look for example the cynical chiming in of Lara, the new communication minister, bent on blocking the transmission of the news under pretext of protecting the youth or who knows what. Globovision was the target there, receiving a memo on stopping to cover the Faddoul crime because they were exacerbating the mood fo the country. Typical “shoot the messenger”, seen from ALL chavistas, including those that used to haunt this space. But Globovision was undaunted and replied in a daring editorial. We will see if chavismo, once gain caught in flagrant incompetence and moral corruption, will dare cross the final line and pretend that all has become rosy in Venezuela by shutting criticism and only allowing sycophancy to rule the airs, the way it already does in the media it controls.

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

1) El Universal has just posted on the net a series of English translations that are linked through the main article here.

2) Tal Cual published the following numbers today: 2,678 people assasinated through guns for the FIRST QUARTER of 2006. And in the past 5 years 6,127 people have died in actions involving "security" forces. The Faddoul brothers and their driver are only 4, even though the horrific aspect of it underlines their death moment. The reader can imagine easily that there are few families in Venezuela that do not know of at least a neighbor´s family which has been hit by violence in the past years. The UNESCO reports that Venezuela has become the highest ranking country in weapon deaths, overtaking long time record holder Brazil.

Since Hugo Chavez has become president, 65,875 Venezuelans have died of weapon wounds (compare with Iraq numbers) and 329 000 have been injured through gun fire or knife inflicted wounds.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A country in shock, a vigil for the Faddoul brothers

I am very busy at work these days, and with barely enough time to follow the news, and even less for blogging. Thus this morning the quick post, without time for reflection or further inquiry. Well, coming home at 6:30 and finally tuning on Alo Ciudadano I realize that the country is in shock about the death of the three youngsters, worse blow impossible to imagine for a family.

But I should have known better. When I arrived at work, my administrator was in tears. In fact she sobbed on and off all day. Yes, she was in full empathy with the mother of the three Faddoul kids. In fact I was probably one of the most serene people at work, chavista and anti chavista alike. There is something to be said for work crisis, gives you less time to worry about things you cannot do much about.

Thus I was unwillingly prepared to see the spontaneous gatherings, road blocks that got up during the day. Though not as prepared to the intensity of the callers to Alo Ciudadano, or the people interviewed in the streets. Really, the grief and anger are palpable.

The panel of Alo Ciudadano was composed of shrinks, economists and pollsters, NO politicos. The question is what kind of society we are becoming where fake police check points can kidnap people and execute them in cold blood a few days later if the ransom is not paid fast enough. And what kind of society are we where the Interior Minister (the one in charge of police and security of the nation) has not resigned yet after all the crimes made under his tenure. And what kind of society we are to produce the aberration that rules over Caracas, Juan Barreto, who found nothing else to do today but to announce that hundred of Metropolitana police are under investigation (according to him coming from the Peña years) while surrendering it to the armed forces. That is right, the “civilian” mayor of Caracas can’t wait to see military presence in the streets. Barreto should have said that if within a week the guilty party are not brought to heel, he would resign. That is what a responsible and serious and decent person says. But do not expect this from Barreto, an out of the gutter character that is only concerned about ways to stay in office by ingratiating himself to his boss.

While Barreto gave yet another infamous performance, the National Assembly wowed to press on a law to punish ransom seekers and mob. About time, no? This did not stop Isaias Rodriguez, our to abject for words general prosecutor, to come out with platitudes similar to the ones he uttered from the Danilo Anderson murder and that resulted in the brilliant failure that we all know about, where the need to cover for some corrupt chavistas, imaginary plots had to be created including and invalid Cardinal. Does Isaias think for one second that his words are fooling anyone with half a functioning brain? Does he delude himself that he is reassuring the country? No, they are all running out of their office to ask folks to avoid politicizing the crime because they know full well that the one who politicize crime in Venezuela is Chavez himself, their boss and the holder of their jobs. When violence comes from the presidential speech, what can one expect? Today, journalists covering the different events in Caracas were harassed when not killed like the El Mundo photo reporter, Jorge Aguirre, taking for his last picture the back of his assailant driving away. Each time, guys on motor bikes without license plates, fake police uniforms. Fascism.

And we are left bereft, waiting for the assassins of the Kennedy case to be punished, for Sindoni murderers to be caught, wondering if the Faddoul family will know who killed their children, while in the barrios scores of scores of humble families wonder how they will manage tomorrow to run the gauntlet of their local thieves that might just kill them for their weekly paycheck.

Today comes crashing down another of Chavez pretense. No matter how hard his guys have been busy at distracting the attention from rising crime, the Faddoul assassination is going to be for him like the bridge was for his public works record, like what CAEZ and Luis Velazquez Alvaray are becoming for his anti corruption lies. The government is crumbling from internal rot and at some point something will have to be severed, either the government or our liberties so we are kept in the dark as what is really going on in the country.

PS1: as I was typing this I saw the Nazional Guard sent to Altamira to lift the road block with tear gas. I mean, how stupid can you be? The country is in shock, people are pissed off, and they cannot let it go for one day? But of course chavista bureaucrats need to go back home… At least the crowds were already dwindling.

And if it were not for blogger down this would have been live reporting....

PS1 bis: As I revise things, at 10:15PM, the Nazional gurad is on the attack at Plaza Altamira. Lovely to see fascism on the march live on TV.

PS2: A noteworthy editorial from Veneconomy

Coup de grace

This Tuesday, April 4, Venezuela went into mourning, yet again. The kidnapping of the three Faddoul brothers and Mr. Miguel Rivas a month ago had the most inhumane denouement possible, the cold-blooded murder of these four innocent victims.

Sadly, vile murders of this type have become everyday occurrences throughout the country, claiming victims from all walks of life regardless of class, sex, race or age. Insecurity abounds everywhere; there is nowhere in Venezuela where people can feel safe. Crime is a threat that is everywhere, from the poorest barrios to the most exclusive neighborhoods. Criminals hunt down their victims on streets, avenues and freeways and in their homes, offices, and churches, under the indifferent –and even conspiratorial- gaze of the authorities of the day.

While it is true that crime has always existed and is a scourge that is spreading the world over, it is also true that, in Venezuela, it has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past seven years. The homicide rate jumped from 4,000 in 1998, according to unofficial figures (the official figures are practically unrecognized) to 11,000 in 2005.

This uncontrolled violence has been unleashed thanks to years of indolence on the part of the authorities in energetically attacking and punishing crime. It is the result of impunity and of the aggressive, divisive discourse favored by the leaders of this political process being implemented by President Hugo Chávez. This violence, which takes the form of muggings, armed robbery, kidnappings, and murders, is the consequence of the de-professionalization of the police forces and the infiltration of individuals with criminal records among their ranks, of the government’s flirtation with irregular groups in neighboring countries, and of the widespread corruption in the legal system, to cite just a few of aberrations in Venezuela’s system of justice and security.

The outcome of this abysmal handling of the security system could hardly be other than the events of the past week. Seven people executed in circumstances in which, one way or another, members of the police were allegedly involved, hundreds of murders in poor neighborhoods throughout the country, plus some thirty kidnappings that are currently being investigated and hundreds more “express” kidnappings that never hit the headlines.

In Venezuela values and priorities have been turned upside down. Crimes of political dissidence and opinion are punished and huge sums of money are used to arm the country for a possible war with the United States -a possibility that exists only in the minds of the President and his entourage-, while the true criminals walk free or associate with government personalities and groups of the civil population who support the government are armed. Sadly, these political decisions are the coup de grace for the security of the man in the street.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I was writing the earlier post this morning while having my breakfast, not having watched the news (I have stopped long ago watching TV in the morning, too stressing before a day's work).

One I had posted it, I learned of the horrible fate of the Faddoul brothers. Over a month ago, through a police check point, apparently from rogue AND serving Metropolitana Police from Caracas, the three brothers and their driver where kidnapped on the way to school. Last night their bodies were found, bullet in head, execution style.

I cannot bring myself to read the details or inquire further.

Another reader sends me the following propaganda poster in El Nacional, about the "popular security" programs of Barreto. I think it is abject to publish such an item after not only the horrible death of the Faddoul brothers (think about it, a family deprived of their three children in the most horrible circumstances), but about the murder of Sindoni, also in execution style, also through a fake police check point, or the students executed by the DISIP a few months ago, or the resurgent "exterminio" groups in Portuguesa. Security forces in Venezuela have become terrorist groups that the government is unable, or unwilling, to control, too busy in looting the country or looking for ways to secure their hold onto office. In this insecurity, by the way, both rich and poor suffer as the criminality in poor areas is not even reported except in the week end statistics which read like an Iraq war report. Thus proceeds the deliquescence of Venezuela.

Life style of the nouveau riche and infamous

Readers send stuff and on occasion the stuff is worth publishing.

Chavista prosperity

This Nissan Pathfinder has the little bumper sticker that is the logo of the bolibanana government: "now Venezuela belongs to us". I will pass on the necessary correction that Venezuela belongs to 15% as of December 2005 (look on the right side of this blog). I will limit myself to observe that this car is considered luxury car in Venezuela and is worth 293 minimal monthly wages, insurance included but without options. That is, the bolivarian worker in a mision, assuming he gets at least minimum wage, would have to save all of its paychecks for 25 years just to afford the basic version of the car (not to mention the taxes that go along).

Ah! It is good to see that some do have access to the good life. Luis Velazquez Alvaray and Jesse Chacon were discussing this lately. I wonder how did the parking lot of the CAEZ in Barinas looked like before the corruption scandal broke. And there are more, much more on the way.

How to keep people focused

No matter how the high bananas of the bolibananarian revolution live, one must make sure that the 15% who vote remain on track. One way to do that, besides forcing them to listen to speeches when they get their misiones benefits (when they do get them), is to litter the public administration with "suggestive" posters. As the pic next shows well, suggestion is now blatant. This bulletinboard reaches several objectives, from left to right (from the ONIDEX of Los Teques, where people get their ID cards):

1) Glorify the president after 6 years in office, smiling, dignified, icon like. You could put it up in your house altar.
2) Remind folks of the fighter, in movement, in red, with the promise (or threat?) that 7 years are not enough.
3) Make sure to link the president to ALL the different Misiones, to etch in the brain of poor folks that Chavez IS the SOLE provider. That without him they will get nothing (is there a Mision Nissan Pathfinder?)

Of course, the intensity of these bulletin words vary between governmental offices depending on the local "commitment" to the bolivarian revolution (or rather its glorious leader). I have been subjected to this form of pressure, from the mere portrait of the president (normal), to the forced broadcast of the State Radio RNV (in the judicial tribunals!) to the TV set on the state TV, VTV, on loud, in the waiting room so you cannot even have a conversation. I have also seen billboards much flashier and crowded than this one but I was never in a position to take a pic, though as the campaign for the 10 million gets into high gear, it will be worthwhile taking the risk to click the shutter in public.

(hat tip to E. S.)

Monday, April 03, 2006


Last Friday Hugo Chavez, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela inaugurated the first “great” project that reaches conclusion during his tenure (1). In fact, many of these projects might reach conclusion, coincidentally (?) in an electoral year, though NONE was started under his tenure. They will be timely to shore up a regime that in 7 years can only show a constitution (already badly violated) and a few social programs (some of dubious value and none with true accounting or real assessment of their results). The inauguration “scene” of the project and its nature are a good opportunity to reflect on what a state project is and how people try to manipulate the interpretation of such “achievements”.

Blessed Caroní basin

Venezuela is not only the owner of some of the largest oil reserves in the world, but it has enough geological accidents that it can produce all the hydroelectric energy it presently needs and then some more. This allows Venezuela to export more oil as it does not need to burn it all for energy, and it also allows for cheap electricity and its wasteful use. Heat seared Maracaibo for example is the coldest city in Venezuela due to its abusive use of AC. Shopping malls elsewhere have no problem in keeping their doors open in a vain attempt at cooling the atmosphere…

The center piece of this energy making is the lower basin of the Caroní river. This river does benefit of a large volume of water all year round, and meets the Orinoco in a brutal descent over its last 100 miles from the Guiana Highlands. Perfect conditions to install what will be perhaps the greatest hydroelectric system in the world once all is completed. This would require the construction of several dams upstream in a wilderness that has only allowed so far the recognition of potential, but meanwhile the lower course will be dotted by 4 major complexes which by themselves are a sight to behold (very large PDF file here by the CVG, the state organization in charge).

It all started in the 1940 ies when the Guiana wilderness was studied and a project generated. Then Venezuela was barely starting to modernize and on paper it probably looked like a pipe dream for an area that meagerly lived on some jungle exploitation, distant cattle grazing and little bit of iron and gold mining. Still, in the 50ies the current dictator, Perez Jimenez, started by the simplest of the projects, the Macagua I dam. The simplest because it relied on the volume of Caroní waters to activate its turbines. No major public work required for a conventional dam. Yet, Macagua generated enough electricity that it gave a fast start to the development of San Felix, soon to become Puerto Ordaz, the heavy industrial area of Venezuela. For that the Cerro Bolivar was consciously razed of all of its fabulous ore deposits while Sidor on the Orinoco edge melted and treated all the ore it could manage. Courtesy of electricity.

This “progress” allowed for the fast settlement of the area and thus the existence of the necessary manpower to built the largest all the projects: the Guri dam. If Macagua was within a few minutes drive from the Orinoco shores, Guri was in the middle of nowhere, a hundred or so miles upstream. They had to start by building a road as the rapids of the Caroní made impossible fluvial shipping of the goods.

As a kid I remember the heroic years of the Guri construction, a national project of glory as we never had before, erasing in the collective the already significant projects of Perez Jimenez. There was even a field trip during high school where we all watched in utter amazement as the mighty Caroní waters that came from the overflow of the dam crashed from 120 meters to bounce back up half the height of the dam (very short video here). But we also remember that from one side of the lake we could not see the other side. When the final extension was covered, the Guri lake covered an area larger than the state of and could be clearly seen form Space. Guri lake when full would cover Rhode Island or Carabobo states. Besides being a touristic choice destination (in English here).

Guri was the center piece because it regulated the flow of the Caroní and allowed for the construction of the rest of the dams that now did not require a large reservoir to function: their smaller reservoir would always be filled regularly by the mother reservoir of Guri, any hydrologist dream. Thus followed the construction of Macagua II and Macagua III and the final inauguration that interests us today, Caruachi (2). Not forgetting the expansion of Guri itself to its present colossal size. All of these today generate 75% of electricity consumption of Venezuela and allow for direct electrical exports to Colombia and Brazil. In about 6 years the last of the four dams, Tocoma, will be completed.

The inauguration of Caruachi

Now that we have put some perspective on the importance of Caruachi in the biggest Venezuelan state project through every government since 1950, we can look at what has Chavez done about it. Certainly, all governments have been found to inaugurate this or that on the Caroní or Puerto Ordaz area, even if it had been started before their term of office. But Chavez has definitely pushed the envelope.

To be fair, he has not tried to change the project like he tried to change many of the other projects planned before his arrival at Miraflores Palace. One particularly biting fiasco was when his underlings tried to stop the construction of the line #4 of Caracas subway to replace it by a trolley. They were laughed out of it when it was pointed out that the trolleys would be stuck in traffic and useless. So the work on the subway line grudgingly restarted when the French financers pointed out that further delay would dramatically increase the financing costs. This did not stop chavismo to try to place trolleys elsewhere, a technology of the past only valid today in small towns. Nevertheless chavismo is pushing it in congested Merida and large Barquisimeto that should be already considering a subway system. But I digress.

The more likely reason why Chavez did not change the Caruachi project was the international financing already involved (about a third) and because, well, the project was already well advanced and there is only so many ways you can build a dam and its reservoir. Thus Chavez did the next best thing: anytime he could make a stop at Caruachi to inaugurated a turbine or some earthen work, there he was to make a big speech. Last Friday was the final inauguration as the two last turbines were activated. The first thing that Chavez did was to give Caruachi a name. Fortunately he chose to honor Miranda, a name that we can all agree on even if Miranda never set foot in Guyana (3).

I must say that Chavez did try to set it as a state event. But when all was set up he could not resist and his mean and resentful nature took over in these words:
“The Punto Fijo pact [1958-1998], we must recognize that with all the disasters that happened then, they gave continuity to the Project [the development of the lower Caroní] (4)”
Does he realize that future historians might say EXACTLY the same thing about his administration? Or does he think about his tenure as “the thousand years Reich”? This was accompanied by a blatant lie. He claimed that his administration had come right on time to stop the savage neo liberal privatization of the Caroní project. First, dams cannot be privatized, in particular of the size of the Guri one. Who could afford that and for what? To shut it down if they go off on vacation? Only the distribution of electricity was under study for privatization. But I am sure that the peanut gallery will gobble that new rewriting of history.

But that was not all, he dedicated the new dam to the benefit of all of Latin America and the Caribbean (underwater high tension lines?). So, are we now to become the providers of all of LatAm energy on the cheap? Chavez has reached a new dimension in gift giving of what is not his. And of course without anyone, certainly from within his sycophantic following, to point the idiocy. I do not know about you, but as a tax payer that last Tuesday had to pay the equivalent of 15 days income in taxes I am getting tired of that megalomaniacal Chavez ritornello. Chavez has in fact achieved the privatization of the lower Guri project: it is his to do as he pleases.

State policy

All of this made me wonder again at what are called state policies, policies that are so important for a state, be it on defense or economical development that all parties agree and that they are reached through some form of consensus. Chavez seems to be doing away with it, and happily at that. The consequences will be nefarious for the long term development of the country as more and more projects will be devised according to the will of Chavez rather than the real interests of Venezuela. One example comes to mind, the Apure-Orinoco axis, which Chavez keeps harping on but which fortunately is not starting as no one wants to go and live there (as a side comment, documents that treat the topic are a rich source of bolivarian lingo for those that can stomach such language, as shown in this example).

Thus the inauguration of Caruachi that could have been a great event in Venezuela, where Chavez could have invited, e.g., ex president Caldera to attend, has just become yet another self promotion moment, an electoral event in bad taste, with cadena included, a wasted opportunity to bring the country together.

But Chavez is a petty man and I suppose he cannot help himself.

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1) By Great projects I understand flashy public works construction such as the second Orinoco bridge or the railways under work. There was some important construction completed in the oil sector for example, but those are of a different nature and not as “vote getters” as some nice concrete feature in the landscape.

2) The picture above of Caruachi under construction comes from here.

3) Caruachi has not been exempt of environmental conflict that Chavez, curiously, was prompt in glossing over. Autocrats never let themselves be bothered by ecologists.

4) It is to be noted that none of these words were reported by the state news agency I consulted (RNV, ABN, MINCI, Aporea). I suspect that his public image managers realized how lousy was their boss posture and "ignored" the words. Fortunately there is enough free media left to catch the stupidities constantly uttered by Chavez.