Sunday, July 30, 2006

Addenda to previous post

Last Friday I reported on a an ad paid by the government of Anzoategui state that had a clear anti semitic connotation. I did not have time to translate it but today I did manage to translate the two last paragraphs. It is enough. The translation was difficult as it is a deadly language, ill written pamphlet, abusive use of commas. But I hope the flavor has been carried. Some comments at the end.
Convinced of expressing the voice of a people living in the highest human values, who has welcome in its territory with respect and love Arab citizens, and that through its history has repudiated and will continue to do so, violence as a methods to settle political conflicts, following international right, and the Pacts and Agreements signed and the most genuine values of men and women who aspire build a society of rights and justice according to the frame of our constitution; considering that the current Israeli government, and the neo-con elite of the United States, by bombing bridges, roads, schools, housing, entire cities, is a slap to the world stability, and puts in evidence the double moral of the international policies of the US, which has protected in the UN Security Council the armed aggressions committed by neo fascism, justifying the policy of holocaust committed against the Arab peoples by the most recalcitrant sectors of the Israeli ultra-right, that since the year 2002 until today it has left more than 783 assassinated Palestinian kids, 22 hospitals destroyed, 200 000 damaged houses, where more than 30 thousand children less than 5 year old suffer from malnutrition as a consequence of the war raids that have produced more than 600 000 refugees. Considering that the leadership of the US, has financed economically, militarily and morally the policies of extermination with the objective of winning the support of the Hebrew minorities in north American lands, convinced as we are that it is our duty to avoid a new Auschwitz in the territories of Southern Lebanon, where more than a million two hundred thousand people are international prisoners of Zionism we exhort NGO, Foundations, [call for support from anyone in Venezuela to join a protest march] to reject the genocidal policies put in place by Israel and its associate the US imperialism, against the Arab people.
Of course, some of the Israeli actions have been ranked from clumsy to stupid to totally condemnable. War is never clean but partial war is even worse. With this provision made let's observe first the long catalogue of complaints strictly from an Arab point of view (the add does not really differentiate between Arab, Muslim, Lebanon, etc...). We even have the exquisite almost oxymoronic "more than 783", as if 783 was a bench mark , as if "less than 783" could be acceptable. This is in the purest "revolutionary" parlance, of stressing to the stupid points that need not to be stressed. But remember that the objective here is not to call for peace but to whip anger against Israel and the US. Another is the cheapening of hallowed words such as holocaust and genocide and Auschwitz. I have already reported it in the past but in the text above they do acquire and even more despicable sense as they are used against all proportions against Israel. What is even more grating to a Venezuelan educated ear like mine, is that these people that think that the Jews should stop bitching about Auschwitz are the same ones that justify all of their current misdeed one the “horrors” of pre 1999 Venezuela. But if accuracy is excruciating when one reads the crimes of Israel, it stops elsewhere. Besides the no mention of suicide bombers in Tel Aviv or of Katyushkas rocket bombing, one reads that the US Neo Con court the “Hebrew” minority of the US (hebraica, which is a PC way to say Jew in Venezuela that is even worse than just say Jew). As a reader mentioned, this is a willful ignorance of the fact that the Jewish minority in the US tends to side with the Democrats and that the defense of Israel is based historically on much, much more than what the Liberal Jews have to say. But what does Tarek or his boss know or want to know? And let’s not forget about omitting that Hezbolla being financed (and led?) from Iran where women are forced to wear a veil and where gay teenagers are executed in public hangings. But the chavista crowds are certainly not going to do much research on that matter: what Tarek (and their boss through Tarek) say is The Word.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anti semitism on the rise in Venezuela

Tonight I would like just to describe a particularly unsettling ad published in El Nacional (and opposition paper, read by the intellectual elite of Venezuela if anything because it carries the only literature section worth reading in Venezuela). The advertisement below is paid for by the governor’s office of the State of Anzoategui. The governor of said state is Tarek William Saab of Libyan origin. He used to be a defender of Human Rights in Venezuela, cutting a rather strange figure dressed in black with his pale face, he also claims to be a poet. You can see a poem and a picture here.

When Chavez came to office he was of the party and ended up in the National Assembly where among other things he occupied the chair of the foreign relations committee. His tenure was very controversial. He was everywhere Chavez needed him, including threatening anti Chavez protesters in an Oxford visit. His pro Arabic views and misplaced militancy earned him the dubious privilege to be one of the first members of the regime to have a US visa denied. He was lucky enough to be rough handled in April 2002 which he showed as a badge of martyrdom, even though in his case opposition politicians came rapidly to his rescue, dimming somewhat the shine he could have extracted from this event. At any rate he became quickly a main apologist for the regime, in a now professional role for the denial of chavismo Human Rights violations in Venezuela (an example of his work on this organized denial here where the only good Human Rights Organizations are those that see nothing, hear nothing say nothing)

Eventually Chavez sent him to Anzoategui to become the new governor in 2004. He was born in El Tigre, which justified it even though he was more of a Caraqueño than anything else. There his arrogant ways earned him quickly a lot of enemies, mostly within chavismo. Then again his now totally militant zeal so at odd with his past as a human rights activist even brought him into conflict with the large UDO campus authorities where he wanted to change the white letter signs of the name for red letters.

This progressive hysteria goes a long way to explain this sign. Before I explain the text, it is important to stress that this sign is posted by a governor, at tax payer expense money to advertise his own political cause. A Venezuelan Governor has no jurisdiction on foreign policy. This by itself is already a misuse of public funds that should be not only investigated but enough to impeach him. Note also that this add comes at a time when Chavez is touring some unsavory countries and exploiting as much as possible the Middle East situation building an anti Israel and anti US coalition. I do not know whether Chavez will succeed in his effort, but the least we can say is that the government is having more and more trouble to hide its patent anti Semitism.

And now the ad (click the image to enlarge and read the text). Note first that the language is borderline: one cannot really prove it is a clear anti Semitic tract. But experience tells us that the implications of this advertisement are clearly anti Semitic (even though people tend to forget that historically Semites include the Arabs).

You will observe the construct of the advertisement: ALL major Israel faults in the Lebanon are duly listed with dates and numbers. Yet you will not see anything about the Katiushkas shelling Northern Israel. You will not see about the suicide bombers to Israel.

I have underlined or circled the different allusions or direct attacks that abound in this tract. It sickens me to translate it but if anyone sees a purpose in the translation I will do it. Observe how the words holocaust and genocide are carelessly used, voided of any organic comment. Unforgivable!

My conclusion? This is a first act in the road to “educate” the Venezuelan people, who in general ignores everything of the Middle East, in ONLY the Arab/Palestinian point of view. The state is promoting and paying for this education in lies and hate. Note the irony of the logo on the bottom right, "Venezuela belongs to all". Never my take on that logo (on the right of this blog) has been so meaningful!

The Jewish community of Venezuela had better take notice.

Corruption tales

Visit Miguel to read about the creative ways chavismo manages to have money disappear. Or read the Veneconmy editorial reposted below:

People in Venezuela are no longer capable of feeling surprise at the succession of unbelievable antics that the government gets up to daily. Another of these inexplicable incidents came to light just a few days ago: the disappearance of a trifling $45 million from the Bank Deposit Guarantee Fund (Fogade), the whereabouts of which nothing has been known since –believe it or not- May 2006.

According to press reports, Humberto Ortega Díaz, the president of Fogade, apparently requested the Superintendency of Banks, the Government Accountability Office, and the Attorney General’s Office, to investigate the disappearance of these funds. The missing $45 million were seemingly deposited with the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) on December 14, 2001, to be invested in bonds, bills of exchange, and other instruments that would bring in revenues for Fogade. But, in May this year, when a paper for $2 million matured, neither the interest nor the capital appeared.

It is not known when or on whose instructions these dollars were transferred from the BNP to the “investment firm” CLBS Portfolio, whose only known representative, Arturo Ehrilch, was murdered -allegedly a contract killing- on April 9, 2006. The worst part is that all that is known about CLBS Portfolio is its headquarters in Caracas, which, to top it all, has remained closed since the death of Ehrlich. Now there is no one who can respond for these Fogade funds or, at least, explain what happened to them.

It could be that this is an isolated incident of corruption and negligence, but it does prompt one to reflect on how flexible (not to say slack) the norms governing the handling of accounts have become under the 5th Republic. The government has become quite an expert on not being accountable and refraining from giving transparent explanations regarding its handling of the public purse. It has changed all the rules to give itself greater freedom to manage the public finances, particularly on the international front. Now there are a number of funds and state-owned financial entities that make discretional use of huge amounts of money or open foreign currency accounts abroad under a cloak of opacity.

In the times of the 4th Republic, state-owned companies and government agencies would maintain dollar accounts as a matter of exception. Those that did exist had to go through several filters, including approval by the President of the Republic in Council of Ministers and the scrutiny of the board of directors of the Central Bank (then independent), which was the only entity in charge of handling these resources, the majority of them trust funds. The only exception to this rule was PDVSA, whose Rotary Fund was handled by the corporation itself.

Thanks to the slackening of these rules, it is almost a certainty that incidents such as the Fogade affair will become an everyday occurrence.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sleazebag of the week: Jose Albornoz on Sumate

During the last electoral process I used to give awards such as sleaze of the week. I suppose that with the presidential campaign starting I will have the opportunity to grant again such awards as a few politicians will crawl from under the rocks they usually live to garner favor with the potential winners. Thus today I renew with the habit except that for once I should have been harsher than usual in the title of my award, scumbag comning to mind.

The other thing is that such awards are an opportunity to describe to folks the vileness of some politicians in Venezuela who otherwise would not deserve a mention anywhere. But these low life pols are now in the limelight because Chavez lifted the rocks under which they lived, almost literally.

Jose Albornoz is now the leader of the PPT (Fatherland for all). This PPT had a decent origin when it was born from a break up of the Causa R, the genuine social movement that almost carried the day in 1993 with Andres Velazquez. Contrary to Chavez adventure, the Causa R was a true social movement, an organization of trade union, real leftists, political activists, where Andres Velazquez was only a primus inter pares. But then came Chavez and this one turned into shit the PPT with that perverse reverse Midas Touch that characterizes him.

Today the PPT is the biggest placement agency in the Chavez so called coalition. Event though the PPT is the junior partner, by very far, of the ruling regime it has managed to place an astounding number of ministers and public employees. How has it managed that? Well, in 2000 there was a break within the PPT as a portion refused to follow the reelection fo Chavez. But those that stayed with Chavez (at least 4 ministers if memory serves me well) supported Chavez, walking on hot embers if necessary. Such abject devotion, not even seen within the very own Chavez MVR did pay off. One of the surest way for you to get a public administration job is to have a PPT contact, in particular in PDVSA.

Today the leadership of the PPT falls unto Jose Albornoz. It is difficult to describe objectively the character. First, I have a strong problem with he way he speaks, his accent, a mellifluous but nasal blend that has the power to hurt my ears. If I go into the words he utters, it gets worse. Conceiving of a meaner individual whose every words are designed to diminish, criticize, humiliate, patronize, whomever is in front of him is difficult. And do not think that he reserves his bilis against the opposition only: when Albornoz is crossed by a chavista who tries to get a good position ahead of him, he can be even meaner than he is when he attacks the opposition. An example here of intra chavismo squabbling involving Albornoz defending his protegés.

In other words, by his presence and his voice and his lack of intellect and ethics, Albornoz reminds me of some of these small lap dogs of cartoons, always yelping, always trying to bite. I suppose that this serves well his master El Supremo who has such contempt for the PPT and yet works closely with them, showing what a consummate manipulator and enabler Chavez really is.

The reason why I award today’s prize to Albornoz is, I could say, a recognition of his long and distinguished career as “jala mecate” of chavismo. Translating jala mecate is difficult, it blends the meaning of sycophant, unethical, perverse, and amoral flatterer in different shades that cannot be properly rendered in words, only under the pen of Zapata cartoon’s over at El Nacional. The actual excuse for today's award is his latest action against Sumate.

Albornoz has decided from the National Assembly to destroy Sumate once and for all. Demonstrating of course that Sumate is the main opposition threat to chavismo, but such subtleties are lost on that crowd. Any form of “crimes” is imagined or attributed to Sumate from the august legislative palace. But so far none has been very productive. Until today. See, a few months ago a restrictive law was passed to strengthen the currency exchange control, a law that among other things forced people to declare when they exchanged or carried more than 10 000 USD. The USA has a mild version of it, in that you must declare to customs if you carry with you more than 10 000 USD when you arrive in the US. The difference is tha the US only wants you to declare and demonstrate that it is your hard earned income and not some drug money laundering. In Venezuelan law it is almost a crime to own 10 000 bucks even if it is your life long savings. But that is the mentality of the day even as public “servants" are looting the country’s coffers.

Anyway, Albornoz has found out that the declared 107 000 USD received by Sumate did not go through the CADIVI currency system. A mistake for Sumate without any doubt, and thus a little bit like nailing Al Capone on sales taxes. But that will do for Albornoz who in his little bird brain thinks that the Al Capone now occupying Venezuelan ministries are just fine and decent guys.

Because this is what is so irksome, so vile in Albornoz latest moves. Albornoz is shocked, shocked! that Sumate has not declared its 107 000 USD. He tells us that "This is worrisome because matters are more delicate than what we thought".

But Albornoz has nothing to say about the millions and millions of USD that leave Venezuela either as unjustifiable foreign aid or wasteful travel expenses or downright political support to foreign polticians in a way the NED would never dare! Should we remind him to check into Venezuelan planes carrying Evo Morales here and there? Heck, the silly trip of Chavez to Belarus costs several folds what Sumate received from the NED jut because of all the unnecessary personnel that Chavez carries along with him. Not to mention how useless for Venezuela is a trip to Belarus, the only interest being Chavez personal glory.

But this is how fascism changes a country and its people, Albornoz is this week the poster boy on how the moral compass of people is lost when regimes like chavismo fall into place, regimes that force you to say and do unspeakable things to please the beloved leader, losing along the way your human condition.

At least we have a small consolation: such incident shows us how scared of Sumate chavismo is.

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Update: Miguel instructs us that Albornoz is wrong, that when Sumate did whatever it did, it did before the law invoked by Albornoz applied. Then again at the National Assembly I am sure they could revote it and make it retroactive. I am pretty sure the TSJ would not find it unconstitutional.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Happy birthday Caracas! Here, take this unfinished subway line!

Today’s is Caracas birthday and the city is not happy. Never in its history its streets have been so dirty, so full of potholes, its sidewalks so invaded by all sorts of peddlers, its public transportation so deficient, its services so inadequate. Even the dignitaries of the regime are flocking to the few islands of relative civilization left in the Eastern part, sometimes even carrying along their ministries, such as the tourism ministry now located in the old grounds of the US embassy in La Floresta. Chavismo which has promoted the largest decay of downtown Caracas is fleeing the scene of crime. Meanwhile the mayor at large, Barreto, cannot think of anything better than to change the birthday date of Caracas as if that would be enough to scare away all of our ills.

A new subway?

But Caracas got a new subway. Or did it? In fact, the "new" line inaugurated a few days ago is not that new. At least, the trains are not new: a friend of mine that had to ride it reported to me that it was the same old worn out cars of the Caricuao line which are now used on that new line. See, the new line is in fact the prolongation of the Caricuao line and the picture of Chavez driving is probably from one of the few new trains that have been added to accommodate the increase length of the line.

But there is really nothing wrong in prolonging a subway line. It happens all the time, even in the best and most organized of the countries. What is wrong is all the lies that chavismo is trying to have us swallow when Chavez is inaugurating the line. To begin with, the extension is not complete: none of the stations is finished, lacking from elevators, to escalators, to proper orientation signs and even some of the exits. This forced Caracas metro to dispatch, in a rush, a lot of additional staff to orient people during inauguration week. Again, an half assed job from a chavista administration as the old metro personnel, a model of efficiency and service have been slowly replaced by apparatchiks while one of their failed union pseudo leaders made it to the top of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

But it is even worse. The much heralded “new” line is not only unfinished at inauguration time but it is THREE YEARS late from the original schedule. See, when the Caldera administration ended, in January 1999, it handed over a project, all calculated, all financed, already under work, that could be completed in 4 years. Completed being the operative word. All of this was planned for an oil barrel not expected to go above 15 to 20 USD. Now, mid 2006, as Chavez thirst for “accomplishments” to buttress his electoral image aggravates, he hands us a half backed project, late, with a bombastic inauguration, not bothering to explain to us why with oil at 3 times the original projections his regime was not able to provide Caracas with a better subway, or at least a complete one. And do not give me the excuse of the coup and oil strike. All was previously planned, and the money became abundant in 2003 to catch up from the delays already accumulated BEFORE the political “problems”.

Chavismo had just to follow the blue prints, all was studied and decided probably on the cheapest possible way considering the then low oil prices. But no. I remember in the very first months of Chavez administration that some silly bureaucrat thought that the Caracas subway was a luxury the country could not afford. As good revolutionaries reinventing the wheel, they thought that a trolley system along the Avenida Lecuna would be just as good as a subway in an already over congested city. Fortunately two things happened. One was that the French companies and international financing groups eventually managed to make someone understand that postponing the construction would not only risk losing the financing, but also provoke the application of expensive cessation of contracts clauses. In other words the subway cancellation would cost lots of money so Venezuela might as well build it.

But also someone must have finally pointed out that any trolley in the Lecuna Avenue would be totally gridlocked in traffic.

So the works restarted after a few months lost. At least chavismo surely had the chance to change some of the contractors and I assume managed to cash a few commissions along the way. But we will never know, will we? Meanwhile the first year of delay had taken place, politics an inefficacy accounting for the other two years. (1)

A new conducator?

But something was bugging me with that picture of Chavez driving the “first” subway train ride on Line 4. Eventually I got it when I recalled a recent picture from Santiago. In a recent visit, France's president Chirac rode the Santiago Subway with Chile's president, Michele Bachelet. See, in democratic countries the elected leaders, be they socialist or center right, try to pretend to identify really with the everyday occurrence and concerns of the people, even if behind closed doors tax payers money allows them to sip Champagne and eat Foie Gras canapés. But no, in Venezuela, Chavez, the great leader, has to drive his new toy, to show that he is in charge, that he is leading the country. Quite a difference in style, isn't it? Two democratic leaders standing in a crowed subway car, on one side; and on the other side the conducator alone sitting in the front cabin with a limited number of selected sycophants. Tackyly with a huge camera filming. Indeed...

Because this is what Chavez reminded me when I put these pictures together, a certain Ceausescu flavor of times past (?). One of Ceausescu’s glorious titles was "Conducator" a Romanian language variation of Il Duce. I usually call Chavez el Supremo, from the Roa Bastos immortal novel. But perhaps "Conducator" might be more appropriate for Chavez mix of Fascism cum Communism: the great leaders in charge while their country is run into the ground (or underground in this case).

If the gentle reader that has accompanied me this far thinks I am seriously digressing I will disagree, That driving of the Subway reflects in fact the complete lack of vision of what has to be done about Caracas. I am sure that never again in his life Chavez will take the Caracas Metro as a mere passenger. This image illustrates how remote from the people Chavez is becoming, and thus how unable he is to articulate an urban renewal plan for Caracas. Which of the ills of Caracas does Chavez suffer? The buhoneros? The lack of services? The congested subways? Just as the Conducator of Rumania, Chavez is becoming more and more disconnected of the people in spite of all the baby kissing he does. Chavez might want to check out how the Ceausescus ended.

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1) Bloggers seem to carry the memory of the land. In all the newspapers that these past two weeks I read I did not find ANY ACCOUNT on how the delays described above came to be. All what I wrote above comes from memory, from all the articles I read then as I am a train and subway fan, riding the subway in any city I have ever visited! How come El Universal just mentions "administrative paralysis" for example? Aren't the papers duties to illustrate us on all the lies that an incompetent administration delivers us, every day less and less challenged? Or are journalists in Venezuela living for the day's news and too lazy for a little bit of digging in the past? Sometimes I wonder what the real games of the press are in Venezuela.

Meanwhile I can document all that I have written above from the collection below of only El Universal links. El Nacional had even published then a map of the projected trolley but that one is subscription only. If I had time I could document things much better. Meanwhile you can check any of the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and observe that many or the articles cited are dated BEFORE Chavez reached office. Heck, I even included one of the Los Teques Metro of 1997! One that will be inaugurated soon as an all Chavez achievement!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chavez, the wanna-be dictador, visits Lukashenko, the last European dictator, with a foot note of Carlos Fuentes

This week started with a Belarus visit by Chavez. What does Chavez has to do in Belarus escapes me except for his usual anti American posturing and search for any authoritarian vote he can get on his way to the UN security council. Heck, even a Belarus page notes that the exchanges between Venezuela and Belarus are a meager 15.5 million dollars of which Venezuela supplies only about 20 000 USD in some “spare parts”. In other words the visit of Chavez to Belarus will cost Venezuela much, way much more than whatever Venezuela peddles to Belarus.

But it seems that Chavez cannot meet a dictator he does not like. Lukashenko, the so called "last dictator of Europe" whose unsavory practices and neo-commie attitude has garnered him and his crowd a visa ban among other things is cited as a role model by Chavez. In stunning words, at that. From an English language weird Russian site (I think) I quote Chavez words "We see here a model social state like the one we are beginning to create". For those who think that Chavez is a democrat, take that and digest.

But there are never enough ways for Chavez to make a fool of him while showing his aggressiveness. Among some "activities" Chavez will visit a military academy and the old "restored" Stalin Line defense complex. The pic on the left is Chavez during that visit, having his military staff and Cuban body guards run in the fields. Priceless. I did read the quaint description of the complex which which apparently was not anymore effective than the Maginot line in France. Here, choice excerpts:
...“Stalin Line” (we are sure you still remember the name…).

But the memory of those days will always be cherished in Belarus. During 1941 – 1945 Great Patriotic War the life of 1 in every 3 inhabitants of Belarus was lost.

On June, 30, 2005, there took place the ceremonial opening of “Stalin Line”, historical and cultural complex reconstructed in strict conformity
I think they need an editor. As for the "cultural" aspect of the Stalin line, don't get me started...

But thus are the pals of Chavez, from Castro, to Mugabe, to Kim, to the assorted Mullah, etc... Anyone who screams "death to the USA" is a democratic leader fighting for the rights of their people and deserving of the unquestioned support of Venezuela, errhh, I mean Chavez. Or perhaps, perish the thought, Chavez likes to hang out with these assorted creeps so as to feel himself more democrat than what he really is? Or is it to convince himself to finish off Venezuelan's democracy?

To conclude this post I am translating part of an interview of Carlos Fuentes (complete in Spanish here, emphasis mine). Among other things he discusses the current crop of leaders in LatAm. Carlos Fuentes who certainly cannot be dismissed as a neo-con describes Chavez as a fascist. The relevant part with a kind word on Clinton (just to drive in the message that Fuentes IS NOT a right wing nut):

With whom do you feel more political affinity in Latin America? Ricardo Lagos? Alvaro Uribe? Lula da Silva? –
Ricardo Lagos, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Felipe González, Lazaro Cardenas, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. I think that we miss Clinton more than ever. Imagine him in comparison to George Bush, an incompetent. I consider Clinton as one of the smartest man I have met. Once he gave us a literature lecture to Garcia Marquez and Myself. I do not know of many politicians that are able to recite from memory the Benjy monologue from William Faulkner “the Sound and the Fury”. Kirchener does not even know the “Martin Fierro”. Isn’t it? [laughs]

What do you think of Chavez? –
He is not a leftist. He is a fascist, not to be trusted, a passing phenomenon. He is ruining Venezuela, he is ill using the oil money. The main roads of the country are collapsing. He is a demagogue, a sort of tropical parakeet. He is trying to finish off Venezuelan democracy. He benefited from the void left by the political parties, but he Hill be removed by the Venezuelan society itself, one that I respect very much and that I cannot imagine ruled by this gorilla for ever.

In Belarus? Birds of a feather….

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Note: Martin Fierro is the "all great Argentinean epic".

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Venezuela’s future: a two tier society

Constitutional proposal to come: ways to limit citizenry participation, for use in circumscribing the civil rights of anyone who might oppose the regime

Certainly such a direct constitutional change will not happen straightforwardly: it would too much for international opinion for even a rogue regime like chavismo to stand the heat. After all the kleptocracy that has installed itself at Miraflores is too keen on enjoying the rewards of power, and larceny, in such things as nice mansions in southern Florida or European capitals for which visas to travel are required. But creating, for example, a “betrayal of the fatherland” exemption could go a long way with a complacent high court to jail or at least muzzle any serious opposition drive. In other words, by threatening people with second class citizenry unless they do rally the “10 million for Chavez” slogan can go a long way in keeping them quiet.

Right now, this is only achieved through illegal ways that are successful only because the victims cannot find any Venezuelan court that will hear their case (the best one can get is to have the case received and then sent to some shelf where it gathers all the dust that Caracas traffic can create). But certainly at some point this legal limbo will have to be addressed least eventually these cases of political discrimination work their ways to international courts (1).

Today we already have the following civil handicaps for those who have dared to sign a recall election petition against Chavez in 2003. If you work in the public administration you are either fired or sent to the back of the room where you are left to languish until you either give up and resign, or go to retirement. If you signed but are not in the public sector, you can suffer from many aggravations that can go from mere denial of legal documents such as your passport (this blogger troubles in getting a new passport are starting to look strangely suspicious) to refusal from getting any government contract even if your product is better, more efficient and faster to deliver than your “pro Chavez” competition. If this last one is up to point the norm in normal democracies where there is some level of favoritism, the system is obscene in Venezuela where there is almost no calls for biddings and thus simple sympathy with the public “servant” in charge is enough for you to fatten your wallet with shoddy products. Of course this is the natural implication in such systems where sycophancy must be rewarded to consolidate the hegemon’s hold.

Unfortunately such segregationist system always end up in violence. They always start by denial of certain rights but those sycophantic characters who benefit of the system must always push up the ante, not only to maintain favors with the upper hierarchy, but to protect themselves from any threat from the oppressed citizenry. No mystery here. What is more troubling is that we are already seeing this incipient violence in Venezuela where a group of citizens has been ACTIVELY prosecuted without any legal protection by the government. The ex PDVSA workers of 2002 have not only been fired for their strike, which up to a point could be acceptable, but once fired their workers benefits have been confiscated IN VIOLATION of Venezuelan law that makes it difficult to lose your workers rights even if you were to lose a trial for your alleged crimes. These PDVSA workers have been robbed of their rights and savings WITHOUT EVER GOING TO TRIAL! But it did not stop there, the Chavez administration has made sure inasmuch as possible that these people could not find work anywhere where they could be of use, forcing even foreign companies to fire them if they wanted to deal with the government. That so many abjectly complied goes a long way to show the amorality of today’s world ruled by the thirst for oil.

This July 20 editorial of Veneconomy is quite an indictment on the chavismo social violence in gestation:
Viewed in retrospect, the unfair, arbitrary dismissal of more than 20,000 of PDVSA’s workers was understandable, given that, for the Hugo Chavez administration, having to deal with the professionals manning the company at that time posed a serious problem. These people viewed the company as a business concern and, logically, that vision committed them to criteria of competitiveness, efficiency, productivity, and meritocracy, values that inevitably clashed with the collectivist, “supportive,” and “socialist” view that the government has of PDVSA.

Looked at from this point of view, the firing of workers en masse and replacing them with people who sympathized with the Bolivarian ideas was “understandable.” But from any other point of view, it was an irresponsible decision, as it meant replacing specialist personnel who had years of experience with people who didn’t have the necessary technical skills or know about the business, and one that has resulted in the company becoming extremely inefficient and unproductive and seriously reducing its capacity.

Now then, even if anyone could by any chance “justify” such a mess, there is absolutely no justification for the punishment meted out to these former employees or for the cruel, malevolent treatment to which they have been subjected since their expulsion from PDVSA three years ago. The government has stopped at nothing to make them feel that “history is written by the victors” and that “the enemy” has to be annihilated.

These former PDVSA employees have been denied even their slightest rights. They have not been paid their seniority and severance benefits, which they have justly earned; their savings have been illegally frozen; they were evicted from their homes (the old, the sick, and children included) without warning or the right to protest and using military force; and they have been banned from enrolling their children in state schools.

Perhaps the cruelest measure of all is the persecution campaign against these employees, which consists of PDVSA threatening companies with suspending contracts or with not contracting them if they have one of these workers on their payroll or even as a subcontractor. And the biggest ignominy of all was the firing on April 1, 2006, three years after the oil strike, of hundreds of professionals who had been working at the newly christened “mixed companies.”

The apartheid being practiced against these citizens, who put their talents and know-how at the service of their country, has now reached the pensioners. Not only are the medical benefits to which they are legally entitled being cut, but they are being discredited, denigrated, and humiliated, it being forgotten that, while they are not Bolivarians, they too are Venezuelans.

Thus we have a clear vision of what is in store for Venezuela. A democratically elected government (1998) has been able to transform its popular mandate in a tool to perpetuate itself in power.

We have now a list of about 3 to 4 million citizens that will never be able to apply for a governmental job or contract even though they must keep paying taxes. The citizens on these lists are subject at any time to further inequities as it will please the government, be it from passport issues to denial of access to any public service.

We have also seen that active violence can be undertaken against selected group of people.

But perhaps what is the most worrying aspect of it is the lack of response from the society except for a few clear and courageous voices. The drama for the country is that the moral corruption which is met on us is finding acceptance when people pretend to ignore it or think “well, it is not my problem” when not a stunning “they deserve it”. The drama of these PDVSA workers heralded as heroes in 2003 is telling of the new cowardice within the Venezuelan regime, is telling that chavismo will be able to push further more liberty restriction without anyone really protesting, resisting. Woe is us!

1) you can read extensively on the most fragrant of this political apartheid actions, the Tascon’s list, by consulting the links on the right side of this page that refer to the Tascon and Maisanta lists.

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This post is in the series Venezuela’s future: constitutional proposals to come of which there is already one installment: Restrictions on the freedom of the press.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Castro, Israel and Hezbollah

Now, with these three incendiary words I am sure to get lots of search engines hit.

But in fact there is a method in my madness. Today I am kind of busy but I feel I need to post my thoughts on the Lebanon debacle. I will do so fast.

But first the why "Castro" in the headline. Well, in fact my real post for the day was written last night as a letter of sorts for Val over at Babalu and he published it. I was describing to him, an always appreciative reader of Fidel Castro eternal B.S. to his silly crowds, the arrival of Castro in Argentina as reported through Alo Ciudadano last night. Let's call it the real post of the day.

As for Israel. Let's just say without getting into detail that I am on Israel's side. I cannot possibly be on the site of the Hezbollah. Never, and even less if the disgusting Iranian regime is behind the whole farce, amen of Syria wishes to reconquer Lebanon. For the Hezbollah, Syria and Iran the civilians of Lebanon are THE LEAST OF THEIR CONCERN. Yes, the death of civilians is exceedingly regreatabble, yes, Israel is going too far, yes, Palestinains deserve a state and reparations. But, does Israel really, and I mean really, has a choice out of evacuating their own country?

In case some one wonders how do I reach such quick and uncompromising opinion, I will suggest them to read for novelty recent pieces such as the one published by Fouad Ajami in the WSJ today. Let's just say that few people know more about Middle East issues than Mr. Ajami (who I recommend the books with equal fervor).

You think of Ajami as a boring academic loyal to suspicious interest? OK, so read these posts at Harry's place and then we can talk (here, here, here, here and here). This is how you report on such things in a serious blog. If you want to see how not to report on such issues, I suggest this pro Chavez vision. You may want to compare this with the anti Chavez view and draw your own conclusions.

This way of course, I am exempted of doing any further comment on this matter beyond stating my position. Call it a cop-out if you wish, but it is Friday...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Venezuela’s future: restrictions on the press

Today I am starting a new series of posts, published as needed. I have come to realize that the government is clearly announcing the color of things to come. Considering that the opposition will be unable to discuss issues and will remain trapped in an endless squabbling on “how many electors should be in district X before we can run a campaign”, chavismo has realized, about time, that it can promise the most outrageous measures and then, after December 4 start to execute them saying that it was all announced during the campaign, it is what the people want. Since the opposition will not have fought such proposals, even if the December 3 result is far, really far from the promised 10 millions “por el buche”, international opinion will be allowed to keep a good conscience in allowing the liberty restrictions in Venezuela with the excuse “well, they knew it was coming, they did not protest, did they?”. The general title will thus be: Venezuela's future: constitutional proposals to come

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Constitutional proposal to come: restrictions on the freedom of the press.

One of the main problems of chavismo is that it has not found a way to effectively muzzle the written press. On the air waves the infamous “RESORTE” law, a.k.a. “gag law” has been effective in shutting down for all practical purpose Venevision and Televen, plus a large numbers of radio stations around the country. Globovision and RCTV are still showing extensive criticism of the government inanities and iniquities, but chavismo now is definitively in control directly or indirectly of a majority of the air waves. In front of the 4 pro Chavez TV broadcast stations, the only and very partisan nation wide radio coverage allowed, uncounted and unaccountable “neighborhood” stations, plus two neutered TV stations accompanied by a majority of neutered provincial TV and Radio stations, what a few dozen independent radio stations and 2 broadcasters can do?

Unfortunately the echo effect hoped for on the written press did not take place. Most papers retain an opposition attitude, from the mild to the drastic but opposition nevertheless. Of course in chavismo mind, even mild opposition is too much, but that is another story. The fact of the matter is that chavismo has been unable to create a mass circulation paper to promote its agenda that people are willing to pay for. The closest it has come to has been to co-opt Panorama and Ultimas Noticias who are “chavista light” and, at least in the case of Ultimas Noticias, smart enough to let significant criticism surface on occasion to retain a large readership.

But of course, in the new man projected for the XXI glorious century of the people, petty papers like EL Universal or EL Nacional cannot be allowed to remain unchecked. Something has to be done. After all many countries have been living for decades without free press and nothing has happened to them (Cuba, Iran, most Middle East countries, China, Burma, most of Africa). In fact, most of the multipolar world of Chavez’ dreams has NO FREE PRESS. Free press seems rather a privilege outside of Europe and the Americas.

I am not sure what the government is planning. But whatever it is it will take some constitutional change. Any law will not find understanding outside as the “gag law” did since, after all, many countries considered democratic do limit what can be said on the air waves. But none limits the free press except for libel and such things. Chavismo wants more than libels law suits, it wants to limit investigative reporting, it want to limit publications of certain things, probably making them “state security concern”, or some lame excuse of the sort, it wants to limit its exposure to the press, period. Today, for the first time in years Chavez held a press conference with a significant participation of the local press (even if he ignored it or lectured it). After all it is election year and he feels obliged, if anything for international scrutiny, to pretend to hold press conferences. But he is ill at ease there and it is certainly a burden he would gladly get rid of.

That a plan to limit freedom of the press is in the works, I have no doubt. Even more after this week visit of the SIP (IAPA in English). The SIP has been having a lot of trouble with Venezuela, constantly warning about abuses from the government. But it seems that we are reaching confrontation time as the revolution advances. The last incident started a couple of months ago when in the last SIP conference a delegation from the Chavez administration went to Quito to invite, that is right, to invite a SIP delegation to Venezuela and verify that the press is free as a bird.

Well, the SIP came this week and it WAS NOT RECEIVED by the government. “no time” was the lamest of excuses offered. Even the Mayor of Caroni, at the center of a crass move to try to close the "Correo del Caroni" (in English here), the venerable Bolivar State newspaper, refused to receive the SIP to explain why he was taking actions against the newspaper.

Now, this is bad enough as it is, but it was made worse by the Minister of Communication, the more and more goebbelian William Lara. He actually had the gall to declare from the Chavez party, MVR, press room, as a minister of "all Venezuelans", that the SIP was not the "Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa" but the "Sociedad Interamericana de Explotadores de Periodistas" (the journalist exploiter press association, reported in unparalleled crudeness by Aporrea, with an irrelevant picture of Carmona to drive the psychotic point). Needles to say that after such treatment the SIP was not impressed and emitted a rather dark statements (in English here). In short, the SIP/IAPA is very clear as to the Venezuelan regime taking all sorts of actions to limit, restrict, block freedom of expression in the Venezuelan press.

It is interesting to note that if the SIP visit was largely covered by the press, except Aporrea no state agency covered it. There was just this communiqué by the Communication ministry (at lest at this typing time, no RNV, no ABN, no MINCI). It is interesting to note that Lara even dared to wish for an "objective" report from the SIP when he refused to meet with them, he made sure none of his accomplices met with the SIP commission, but still found time to declare and trash the SIP. How can the SIP be objective if they cannot talk to all parties? How can one not suspect that there is a long term strategy at work? Is the goal sought to break up completely with the SIP so as to block them entry to Venezuela whenever the government decides to muzzle the press once and for all? If that is not the real intention of the government, well, then they are hiding it really well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Electoral registry irregularities and Perez Oramas on the uselessness of voting

Yesterday EL Nacional published a very interesting article by Perez Oramas on, among other things, how the regime has gutted the act of voting of any meaning. But to understand it better I should discuss first the results published today by the audit of the three main Venezuelan universities (UCV, UCAB and USB) on the Venezuelan registry.

The “real” audit

It has long been agreed (1) that the sorry state of the Venezuelan electoral registry is one of the main ways into which the regime can cheat at election time. So many irregularities have been pointed out (almost as many 100+ year old folks as in the USA for 1/10th of the population, hundreds of thousand living at the same address, too many districts where there are more electors than inhabitants, etc…) that this registry was considered a joke, the source of all cheating.

Thus, in an effort to restore some trust in voting, three of the main Venezuelan universities offered to do an audit of the electoral registry. The Venezuelan electoral board, CNE, a rather outrageous pro Chavez agency, felt trapped into accepting it and decided to muddle the issue by inviting to the audit all universities, in particular the ones whose presidents are directly named by the government, and thus more than likely to be pro Chavez (amen of the less than low technical reputation of some of the universities “invited” to submit an audit proposal, 2). Sure enough, UCAB, UCV and USB, three autonomous universities with the skills, personnel and means to make the audit refused to play along in this charade and set up shop apart. Not surprisingly, the Mickey Mouse audit is still not over but the one by the three real universities is and the results are out. They are not too surprising.

One thing to keep in mind is that the “independent” audit was done with one “hand tied in the back”. That is, the three universities had to use old pre 2005 electoral rolls to perform such an audit. In addition many data were missing, some of the comparative tools that should be offered in a normal country where statistics are widely open and usually verifiable were missing. Still, one can do a significant audit that could determine whether a real and complete audit is deserved. The answer is a yes, there were enough significant irregularities found that the Electoral Registry of Venezuela should at the very least be comprehensively evaluated and likely overhauled.

However the three university panel also says that there is no reason that these irregularities should compromise the presidential election. They do suggest that, yes, at the level of local elections the nature of the current electoral registry could falsify the real results, but on an election for the country at large, it is not enough. I translate in more concrete terms, away from the necessary “diplomatese” of these universities that still need to get grant monies: if a real post electoral audit immediately after the vote is done, the messed up electoral registry would not matter much (unless the election is close?, I add). Or as this blogger has written in the past: count all the ballots emitted and even if Simon Bolivar is registered as an elector, his ballot will not appear. If all ballots are counted, who cares if there are more registered voters than people actually living in Venezuela? Of course, in the case of a close election if Chavez had the FARC registered to vote then some questions could be raised, but for simplicity at this time let’s focus on the fact that the only fast and effective solution is, AGAIN, to count all ballots, a solution simple but steadfastly refused by the CNE.

The main victim here is the “abstentionist” movement who is told that the main trickery of Chavez IS NOT the electoral registry, at least at presidential election level. We will see how this will play with that crowd.

But the real trickery of chavismo is elsewhere and we can find it in the excellent article of Perez Oramas in El Nacional of yesterday (subscription only but I have posted it in my document blog)

The reasons for CNE cheating? Perez Oramas to the rescue.

One could easily observe that the three independent universities rapport was after all not that damming for the CNE. The main accusation, for now, is that the sloppy work of the CNE has not allowed for the purging of the rolls from dead people, illegal voters, double registries, etc… This happens everywhere, just much more and more blatantly in Venezuela. So, if such corrections could easily be done, if nothing else graver will show up, why did the CNE refuse to accept the more efficient audit and instead settle for a system who had no credibility from the very start? That is where the Perez Oramas article comes in.

First, the article is about many things, one of them the most ringing endorsement of Teodoro Petkoff candidacy as I have yet to read. I have no problem with that as he is still my favorite even if I will go to the primaries vote for either Borges or Rosales. But that I have explained earlier, back on topic.

Perez Oramas reminds us of two things. The first one is that the predicament of Venezuela has its roots deep in an anti-political approach from its ruling classes and more so the people. Any word that contains “political” or is associated with generates a profound rejection by the hoi polloi. Apparently after 25 years of decline we think as a people that politicians are bad and that we do not need them to solve political problems. Something of course that has been used to his greatest advantage by Chavez who as a supreme politician still manages to have the masses believe that he is not a politician (and a politician of the worst kind he is!)

And thus Perez Oramas reminds us of the second thing, that all the opposition failed efforts against Chavez were due in large part as been an anti political effort, henceforth a quick fix effort doomed to failure. His advice is that Venezuela is in dire need of real politicians (and Teodoro is one, of course).

However, once one gets over this pro Teodoro and anti Sumate stance, Perez Oramas takes us into what gives stunning value to his article and opens our eyes, if still closed, as to why the CNE acts as he acts. I will translate one paragraph:
Venezuela needs politicians. Do we need magnifying glasses to understand that the opposition country, which has suffered the largest sum of frustrations and failures, is not willing to repeat, and justifiably so, the tragicomedy of signatures and voting on its own? Have not [they] realized that the vote is today, in Venezuela, an additional mechanism by the government, as it is for everything else, for its exclusive benefit? That there is thus a structural crisis of our democratic system, that the social contract that brings a society to believe in voting is broken? That the demolishing logic of chavismo has gained its biggest political success by infecting the entire nation with doubt as to the purpose of the voting act, precisely by using it, abusing of it, lowering it to the abject function of being a simple legitimating instrument, abusing of its majority and gutting it of its meaning and of its function as a mechanism or representation and alternativeness?
Strong words and a devastating observation. Of course, there is no need for the CNE to cheat outrageously (as the above cited report might show), it is enough for the CNE to project the image of cheating to scare opposition voters from the voting booths, making the voting act irrelevant.

But this is also a very quotable article by the arrow-like meaning of some comments such as these ones:
There is no doubt in me that democracy is our only destiny. But there is no doubt that those who rule Venezuela do not participate in democracy, they only use it.

The only acceptable alternative today is for evidence of something opposed to Chavez. Venezuela requires, to reconstruct the possibility of voting and democracy, to rebuild the capacity of dialogue, to effect again the will and efficiency of the negotiating table.

The anti-politic, and in this Sumate and Chavez agree, advocate for primaries fraught with risks and lacking of any sociological credibility.
Thus we know why the CNE stalls at anything that might restore the sense of voting: its objective is to convince only those who support the regime to go and vote in pre-ordained plebiscites. Does anyone doubt that? Does anyone think that primaries and wishful thinking are enough to change that?

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1) Least people think that “agreed” is a vague term for undocumented justification, I would like to quickly point out that it is not the principal victim of this trickery, the Venezuelan opposition, which is alone bitterly complaining. Almost any serious electoral observer, including the Carter Center, the OAS and the EU has voiced concerns about the nature of the Venezuelan electoral rolls. As far as I know only chavismo and Fidel Castro think that Venezuela is a democratic model. References are numerous through this blog.

2) The roster of these “invited” universities include the infamously famous Universidad Bolivariana, who has yet to have its program approved, who has yet to graduate its first class, who has yet to explain its research and teaching organization, who has had three rectors in as many years, one of them thrown out for alleged misdeeds (without any trial or anything) and more. The UB IS UNABLE to perform a serious evaluation of the electoral registry and even less an objective one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Black-mail time in Venezuela

As I type this post I am wondering whether I am writing to try to explain things to the few readers still interested about Venezuela’s fate or if I am hoping that one of them will enlighten me. The matter at hand is of course the complexity that the electoral scene has reached. So, let’s start by the easiest one: the chavista side.

Chavismo’s take: to hold an election or not to hold.

Chavismo has not decided yet whether it will go to a real election on December 2006 or if instead it will take advantage of a complex international situation (sky high oil prices, supplies problems, death of Castro) to force the issue and get rid of the trappings of democracy once and for all. What better way to obtain this but to call for a plebiscite in December as a ‘til kingdom comes Chavez reelection system.

Really, when one looks at the actions of the government, the refusal to yield an inch on the more than flawed electoral process, the overly partial CNE directorate, the gross scheduling of misiones give away presents, the “sudden” inauguration rush of public works that should have been completed years ago, one can only think that chavismo is up to something. Thus there are two case scenarios I can come up with for chavismo:
1) play hard ball, then at the very end, when the opposition is all but out of the race, yield significant concessions when it is too late to make a credible campaign that can change the outcome. Then whether the opposition comes back or not, you look like the good guy (12/2005 scenario, now purposefully planned).

2) play hardball until the end, take the chance that the opposition will boycott the elections again and then hold a plebiscite with enough cheating to get the 10 million votes even if those 10 were nowhere to be seen on election day (did any one went to check the Saddam 99.99% victory?). Then put the world in front of the “fait accompli” that formal democracy is dead in Venezuela and that the people have elected a Fujimori minus the efficiency and mixed it with a Castro without the defined purpose. At 110 USD the barrel the world might just buy it.
No matter what, I am convinced that chavismo will play dirty and cheat as much as it can get away with it. Too many people will go to jail if Chavez loses power. It is just that simple.

The opposition take: to fight for the 2006 election or start building for the future.

The essential fact about the opposition campaign is that it has not done yet what it should have done 6 months ago. In fact, what it should have done by August 2005. We are still waiting for a program, for a unity of purpose, for a leader, for an opposition that can go beyond the “Chavez out” slogan which expiration date was October 31 2004.

I think that even if the primaries allow for a single candidate by late august, the general scenery is dismal for the opposition. Chavez could be beaten but not if you start your campaign a few weeks before the election. There rarely are miracles in politics. Short of Castro or Chavez death the outcome of December is the margin of victory of Chavez. That is, the trickeries of chavismo might ensure the victory but the margin can only be blamed on the opposition inept leadership. Let’s look at the bad news.

The obvious observation is that the hoped for unity is crumbling fast. On one side you have Sumate which has forced the issue on the primary elections and thus has become a political group in addition of an electoral NGO. I do not know what price will Sumate pay for that but I got some hints this morning. The other side of the newly formed anti-primary group gathers around Teodoro Petkoff. Although to be fair, it is anti Sumate primary group, not anti primary group. This morning I received in the mail an open letter to Sumate by Leonardo Pizani. I cannot express how disappointed I am by such a letter coming from someone who should have known much better than trash Sumate. The logic of such a letter in fact indicates that the fight around and within the primaries is indeed going to degenerate soon in a free for all, compromising any effort for a credible unique candidate against Chavez.

The other observation is that so far there is no evidence that the primaries are going to be a rousing success. Success will be achieved if at least as many people vote as those that voted in December 2005. But even Sumate is already implicitly acknowledging that this will probably not reached as it is printing only 4 million ballots! Then again, one could think that the images of people that could not vote in the primary because they had no ballot could be worth a few millions on add campaign. Unfortunately I doubt this will happen: talk shows of Sumate directors as guests are full of people asking again and again the very same question: how do we know that the government will not figure out who voted in the primary and then punish us with a renovated Tascon list? The basic argument of Teodoro by the way, to state that a primary was not the ebst way to pick a candidate since too many might not be willing to participate and feel cheated.. It is amazing for me how the Tascon list perverse effects are so underestimated by so many politicians. Unless of course the objective is that the victor of the primaries will be elected only by those who are already in the Tascon list. One wonders…

Thus I am left to hope that all of this in fact follows a diabolically traced plan where either Rosales emerges as the undisputed victor of the successful primaries (the most likely scenario) or if the primaries fail miserably then Rosales will lead the march towards Teodoro headquarters and proclaim him as the candidate. Who knows, weirder schemes in politics have been shown to carry the day.

But there are some good news. First, some people are really starting to get the point that the opposition cannot unify itself, it is too varied. Yes, it should reach an electoral alliance, but that is not the same as unity at all costs which is now more and more appearing as the brake for any opposition progress. Read for example the Sunday article of Tulio Hernandez in El Nacional. Thus perhaps there might be hope that the electoral campaign might allow settling some of these issues and even if Chavez is largely reelected in December, there will be a renovated opposition that he will have to deal with, strong enough and getting stronger to the point of thwarting his constitutional change plans and our descent into abyss.

There is even a better piece of good news. The group that has been promoting CNE warfare above any other consideration has got a nice smack in the face last Saturday. This group, formed by Resistencia Activa, AD, Ledezma and a few other who think that they were the big victors of last December has been promoting the line that the only worry of the opposition should be to force Chavez to change the CNE and electoral rules. Since this is not going to happen unless force is displayed, the end result is that this “abstention” movement is sabotaging any opposition effort, willingly or not, the end result being the same. Well, these people last Saturday decided to have a march to the CNE. It was the expected bust, even more so than expected. Eventually such nihilist uncompromising positions that do not bring any visible benefits end up tiring even their early followers. Again, abstention for its own sake is not enough to generate a political movement: without a counter offer of some worth, or some solid sacrifice from their part, the asbtentionist folks not only will dwindle but will drag down a lot of people with them.

The last piece of good news, and the best one, is that one candidate at last has started discussing the real issue, the white elephant in the room: Chavez totalitarian tendencies. The T word is now more and more used, and not only by this blogger who was chastised months ago when he dared on occasion to use the T word. Now Teodoro is on to it and I suspect that Rosales might even use it any time soon. I do not think that calling Chavez a totalitarian dictator will be enough to win the election, but it should at least allow for a rally of the thinking opposition away from mundane issue towards the real sacrifices that will be required to remove from office this infamous second tier petty political class that has made it on the coattails of the “mas gran hablador de paja” (biggest B.S. speaker) that has ever occupied the Miraflores seat.

So there I am, still not much clearer myself about the future after writing this. But with so many people blackmailing so many others, who can figure out was is really going on…

Monday, July 17, 2006

Updating the blog

I have been avoiding the blog. With the Middle East worries, Venezuelan electoral worries, Venezuelan corruption worries, Venezuelan violence worries, all getting worse by the day, I had so much to write about that I got a writer's block of sorts. So instead I updated my link section.

It has been more than 6 months since I did the last check up. Today I had to remove about a dozen links expired or now worthless (amazed that so few of them had to be removed, actually). I also added several I had been meaning to add (but I am quite aware that I have forgotten some of the links that I have received in the past few months so please, send again if you think I should link a given page I might have forgotten).

I took the opportunity to rearrange links in such a way as they might be of better use as the electoral campaign gets under way. The only real innovation was to add a new section: "Relevant info to expose some of the regime's propaganda and human rights violations". I kept it to three sections only, human rights, the Tascon list and chavista propaganda debunking info or videos. This way it would be easier to find them when needed as philo-chavista visits are bound to increase (be it here or elsewhere, you will know where to find the crucial links). Please, send suggestions that can make this new section more complete.

Thus I hope that in a week or two all the changes will be complete so as to offer a political tool for the battles to come. Again, suggestions are more than welcome.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A poetic essay on Kalashnikov gun totting jerks

On occasion one comes across a terrific investigative report made by a blogger, without even needing to leave the comfort of his living room. Venezolano Puro (in Spanish, sorry) has written a fabulous essay on how diverse dictators, terrorists and assorted bandits, including our very own president Chavez, have brandished the most infamous "weapon of the people", the Kalashnikov in one of its diverse presentation. Not to be missed even if you cannot read Spanish: the images are self explanatory.

I just took the liberty to lift the very Chavez picture to make sure that no one will miss it, not even sweet Cindy Sheehan who, in a cosmic coincidence, keeps babbling more nonsense about Chavez, showing that she has not a clue about history and peoples and cultures. At this rate her usefulness for the left will soon expire. Unless of course she comes full circle from her primitive pacifism and ends up brandishing a Kalashnikov of her own with Chavez next time she treks this way. All is possible under the glorious Bolibanana Revolution.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sumate, again, a target of crass chavismo

Today there is a special treat: all of my links will taker you to an English written page. Hopefully it will help the reader make more sense of the story as I am soon to reach my wits' end.

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Let's start in 1999. The new constitution had an innovation: instead of the three traditional powers (executive, legislative and judicial) we now had five- The 4th one was a citizens power which was a "clever" way to hide the return of one of the worst ideas of Bolivar (he was no Zarathoustra) the "moral power". But Chavez cannot find anything wrong with Bolivar, or Castro or Ahmadinejad. This lack of critical choice abilities do bother me…But I disgress. The 5th power took many people aback: it was an electoral power. Apparently in the Bolivarian hubris, elections are so sacred that they must be run by a fully independent entity, that is, an "independent" 5th power even if as the other powers name it, even if it has little, if any, influence on them. And thus we had the CNE transformed into some Frankenstein of an institution who single handedly has done more to undermine the meaning of vote than anything else that Chavez could have done.

If we were to follow the logic of such an incongruous 5th power creation, one should assume that even the condominium elections should be monitored by the CNE. Of course it does not happen, but it could someday if convenient for the government. In fact more than once the CNE has shown its tendency, like any silly bureaucracy in world history to put its nose where it should not.

The reaction was to be expected, and it came through what is now the best known Venezuelan NGO, Sumate, who has been working hard at making elections more transparent and meaningful, and not the pitiful empty voting booths of election days. Regularly Sumate reminds the CNE that it does not even know the electoral laws of the country....

This of course has been most displeasing for the Chavez administration which sees elections as the legal way to retain power, but certainly not as a way to let people express their wishes. In their crusade against Sumate chavismo has used two tall tales.

The first one was the National Endowment for Democracy support to Sumate. If we are to believe some of the dim bulbs of chavismo the very few hundred thousand dollars that Sumate has received over the year from the US Congress through bi-partisan NED, would be enough to overthrow Chavez. Chavistas are of course conveniently forgetful of the millions and millions of dollars they loot from the national treasury to finance their electoral campaigns while the 1999 piece of constitutional garbage says that the state cannot finance political parties electoral campaigns. This argument did not stir much uproar outside Venezuela where everyone knows that the election of, say, a Miami mayor costs several folds what Sumate received for the whole of Venezuela.

So chavismo moved to their second tall tale: Maria Corina Machado, the Sumate president, as a gun toting coup monger. It turns out that Maria Corina had the bad idea to visit Miraflores during the awful, fascist, totalitarian dictatorship that ravaged Venezuela for the whole of 48 hours in April of 2002. Heck, the bloody regime was so short lived that it did not even make it to the pages of the official legal journal of the republic, thus not even having legal proof of its existence. But the entry sheet of Miraflores where Maria Corina reported her name (as you do in almost ANY official building of Caracas) is more valid a proof of her despicable terrorist activities than the videos of 1992 where people today in power tried to kill their way to power. Of course, the depiction of Maria Corina going to Miraflores to receive a gun and go out to kill thousand of poor innocent chavistas has not held very well outside of the chavismo feeblest minds: for all its threats chavismo has not dared to arrest Maria Corina yet, so far trying to scare her into fleeing the country, with little success.

Unfortunately the government must do something again. See, Sumate is organizing primary elections between the opposition candidates. For a while everyone thought that they would not be able to convince the opposition candidates to run in a primary. So Sumate, the most prestigious opposition organization decided to show some muscle and force them to run. They did, at least all the ones with a serious shot at winning. The elections will be held on August 13.

Now of course this became instantly a major headache for the government. This one was watching placidly as the opposition was debating endlessly the now professional chicaneries of the CNE instead of Chavez misrule. Now with the World Cup over, Chavez who was hoping to take back the front scene is facing the prospect of being relegated to second page all the way until August 15. His ego cannot bear it! Something had to be done. The best was of course to sink Sumate once and for all and thus no primaries could be held. With blinding speed two of the very scummiest chavista representatives in the mindless monochromatic National Assembly, Albornoz and Ismael Garcia proposed and got voted by unanimity a resolution to ask all the other public powers to scrutinize the actions of Sumate, where the funds for the primaries were coming, etc, etc… without of course making any mention as to investigating the way Chavez is looting the country for his own campaign. But chavismo has moved beyond double standard long ago: we have now reached the single standard again, the one set at will by El Supremo.

So there we are now: arrest has been requested against the Sumate leadership, investigation of how they are running the primaries, and even a suggestion that the CNE should run the primaries, just to make sure that no one would go and vote in the primaries. See, the government is showing this way that it is scared, real, real scared by even the remote possibility that the opposition primaries might be a success. Imagine what would happen if more people showed for the primaries than for the December 2005 elections where abstention was “officially” at an already staggering 75%? Imagine that an opposition leader emerged? Imagine that the opposition unites after the primaries? Imagine that the campaign for the primaries actually discusses the rule of Chavez and offers ways to improve things in Venezuela? No way Jose!!!!!!!!

But Sumate is fine: it has announced that it has nothing to hide, that all of their accounts will be made public, that they will attend any citation that is sent their way. Meanwhile we are still waiting for an account of the vulgar sums of money spent by Chavez in 2004 and 2005. We are of course not holding our breath, nor expecting that the present CNE will ever even pretend to ask mild questions to the ones that run that campaign. In fact we already have fresh evidence of how biased in favor of Chavez the CNE will be during the next campaign as it will not limit access of Chavez to state media while effectively barring opposition access to it. Who cares about tax payers’ money supporting state TV at the CNE?

Every day chavismo manages to look more abject than the preceding day. Amazing!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

And now Mumbai

Tonight Venezuela is irrelevant; I must speak about India, one of my favorite countries, even if I have yet to visit. I could not send to my Indian friends my "I am so sorry note" because I was away from computers for 24 hours but now it is time to make amend and send my grief.

For the past 7 years I have been planning a trip to India. But one thing or the other, in particular CADIVI, has stopped me from making good the promise made to one of my very best friends who lives now in Hyderabab. She is married and happy to be back at home, always thankful that I was one of her few US friends that understood why she wanted to go back home, forsaking the US safety that she could have aspired too without any problem. But then again I was mulling my return home too. How could I not understand that years in the US could not make forget massala, tropical wafts of heavy air, a monsoon rain, the comfort of saris. She went back and while building a life she did lots of charity work to compensate for her good fortunes, even when she hit bad times due to her unstable field of work.

Of all Asian countries India is the one that has always got my attention, the one I have read most about, more than once devouring fascinating history narrations. Words like Mughal dynasty, Sultanate of Dehli, the Gupta, Vijayanagar, the Maratha or the Raj have for me as much meaning and relevance as the Bourbon, Capet, Diego de Losada, Capitania General Tikal or Plantagenet. No other country can mix the grand and the miserable, the glorious and the despicable in the way that India does. No country is the mosaic that India is.

And that is what the terrorist could not stand. Al Qaeda (or whomever inspired on its crap to perpetrate the awful Mumbai attacks) cannot stand diversity. In their world women are veiled and at home, men hold all power, absolute censorship on non Muslim matters reign. The burkah, be it the real one or the mental one, reigns. Any anti US rhetoric is bullshit when all the chips are down: Afghanistan free of US intervention was subjected to burkah. Now a tentatively renascent Taliban is pushing for burkah again. You can buy one, by the way, in this rather scary site.

The objective is quite clear, even if in part disguised by placing the bombs in first class compartments (people from all classes died anyway as the trains crashed). The objective is to stir trouble in India when a Congress government is meeting with some modicum of success in keeping religious peace and trying to have ALL sectors participate, ALL sectors get some benefit from the economic growth. The new Congress party even dared to name a Sikh prime minister, Manmohan Singh who said:
"No one can make India kneel. No one can come in the path of our progress. We will win this war against terror. Nothing will break our resolve."
This as defiant Mumbai went back to work and the stock rallied. Making clear that the only objective was to stir dormant but never too far from awakening Hindu and Muslim fanaticism.

Tonight we must all rally around India and Mumbai as we rallied around Spain and Madrid, around London and the British, around New York and the United States. There is no reason in the world for people who do not understand what is at stake. It is only about time that moderate Muslim thinkers and countries take a stronger stand and confront their extremists. They cannot remain hostage to the Al Qaeda and Hamas and Hezbollas of the world. They must free from unreasonable rules, embrace science, the rule of law, the separation of religion and state. The West did it, and still does it every day. Japan, China and other countries have joined. When will Islam join in? Don’t they realize that failure to confront extremism will always end up in the victory of this one and the end of civilization?

Meanwhile our thougths are with India, again the target of terror, hoping that again it will recover and show us the way it is done.

Satyameva Jayate

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mercosur follies

By any rational means it is very hard to understand why is Venezuela trying to get into the Mercosur. But in fact, there is no rational explanation; the only reason why Venezuela is entering the Mercosur is because Chavez wants it. Venezuela foreign policy has ceased to exist as a state or nation policy. Now any decision that Venezuela takes on the foreign sphere is a political decision that favors Chavez' interests; it is Chavez foreign policy and only his. In this respect the Mercosur entry is just another banal example on how the interests of a man have overtaken the interests of a country.

I was wondering at how I could illustrate this best.

I could list a whole series of articles that have appearead in El Universal, and elsewhere. But the smart reader needs only to go to the search page of El Universal (in Spanish or in English), enter MERCOSUR as a key word, to be instructed by dozens of articles on the subject, from governmental declarations full of praise with no real evidence brought to sustain it, to all sorts of people decrying the entry as the ruin of large sectors of Venezuela economy. And of course the pictures of the ceremonies in Caracas and excerpts of one of Chavez kitchiest speeches which surely made more than one wonder...

I could use a graph from Quico's blog that illustrates wonderfully well how Venezuela economy and foreign policy is at the whim of whatever mood Chavez wakes up one morning. Independently of the other meanings of the graph, that tracks commercial exchange of Venezuela through the years, one can see that the big drop in the red line (the Colombia/Andean Community trade) is due simply to a Chavez decision wildly decried at the time, a decision done without studying the problems that created the crisis at the time. This should have served us as a warning as Chavez has done everything in his power to distance Venezuela from Colombia and the Andean Community until taking the step to leave the community, even if the consequences for the Venezuelan consumer were negative. By the way, this week end agreement for a gasoduct between Maracaibo and the Guajira is another matter that Chavez is forced to subscribe if he wants to keep exporting oil from Zulia. But that is a matter for a future post.

I could use Google Earth to look at the geographical nonsense and use it as a pedagogical tool that could help chavista officials that took the plane to Brasilia to "negotiate" the adhesion but in fact have no idea where Brazil really is. I understand that this tool is a simplistic one in a world where "services" are part of the trade value since many services come through Internet, irregardless of the location of the provider and its client. But goods will be exchanged so looking at a map is useful.

With the Google Earth Tool you can draw a “path” which roughly follows maritime routes and you can check out the raw distance between Caracas (La Guaira) and any major trading partner. The “natural” market of Venezuela by sea is the Caribbean and the United States. That is, New York is at 3400 Km, Miami 2500, New Orleans 3300 and Veracruz 3600 (red thin lines, click to enlarge picture). On the other hand the closest harbor of any relevance in the Mercosur is Belem at 2800, at the mouth of the Amazon. Needless to say that it is far from being a market as interesting as southern Florida. The first harbor of the Mercosur with some real interest is Salvador already 5500 Km. Rio follows at 6800 and finally La Plata estuary at 8600 (yellow lines). For the sake of the argument I have placed the further port of the Andean Community, Arica, with the light brown line on the left, at 5400 Km. And forget about land routes. The only country with whom Venezuela can establish significant land routes is Colombia (fuschia line) as the Bucaramanga/Cucuta area is 800 Km (more of course if you add the twists and turns but Google earth does not include that). Manaos will set you back 1800 Km and there is really not much to trade with there. Thus your next stop is Brasilia, still not the largest Brazilian market, and you will have to drive 4300 Km, plus the twist and turns (brown line). The reader can imagine easily that we are years (decades?) away of trucking with Brazil while Colombian one will not die no matter what Chavez tries (at least as long as Uribe is in charge in Colombia).

Of course that does not mean that one should not trade with distant countries, in the age of electronics and container ships the costs are relative. But this map shows clearly the folly of neglecting the nearby market where reduced shipping costs create an advantage before going to conquer distant markets for which Venezuela is woefully unprepared.

Or I could end with a brief summary of the way the "negotiations" took place:
  • No consultation of any significance was done with the productive sectors of Venezuela. All was done in a few weeks using only governmental personel. A normal trade negotiation lasts months and months or even years (read it all on the blog mentionned above). It also requires several trade missions between the different countries with the different economic sectors. I work in the agrobusiness sector and I can assure you that this sector, the most vulnerable to cheap Mercosur imports (meat, cheese, grain), has not been consulted, that some areas had to struggle to be received in the different ministries just to deposit reports and warnings of the consequences of entering Mercosur without an adequate transition period, and that replies were scant, if any.
  • Some of the documents that were signed on July 4 came to the Venezuelan people attention through the Brazilian foreign ministry web page, the Venezuelan government not even bothering to inform its citizens.
  • Of course, no talk of referendum, of discussion in the National Assembly, etc... Chavez said we were entering the Mercosur and that was that. The NA someday will do a perfunctory vote. No vigurous European democratic debate in Venezuela.
There is always some interest in entering a “free trade” association. It is easier to place one’s products. It provides an economical association with other countries which places all of them on a better footing when negotiating with other groups. It allows for peace through trade. Do not get me wrong, the EU experience demonstrates that this is the way to go.

But the fact is that the economies of Mercosur and Venezuela are not complimentary, as we produce basically whatever the Mercosur already produces. But Mercosur produces it cheaper, much cheaper, even with increased freight value. We are going to get swamped.

So let me risk an hypothesis here. I think that Mercosur did negotiate sloppily this adhesion and that does not speak well of the Mercosur sytem. It is not because Chavez is selling out his country at bargain rates that the Mercosur should accept it. Thus I am left to think that Lula and Kirchner do not regard Mercosur very much and perhaps are using Venezuela politically AS MUCH as Chavez is using them politically. A trade union that starts on such shaky grounds, where the interests are centered on the leaders agendas and not on the real needs of the people is doomed to failure. I predict that the entry of Chavez in the Mercosur is going to weaken this one. I also predict that in the long run the real beneficiary of all of this will be Brazil which is, by the way, only second to the United States in "empire" building and attitudes associated with it. Check your history books if you doubt me.