Friday, March 30, 2007

Human Rights in Venezuela: the jail hell

The OAS bureau that deals with human rights in the hemisphere has released its report:
Venezuela, in addition to Colombia, Cuba and Haiti, should be paid "special attention" in terms of human rights, said the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Venezuela as it has become usual makes it to the top of states with routine violations, along Cuba, and Colombia. Among the violations to Human Rights made by Venezuela we find plenty of freedom of expression violations, but we also find an accusation as to the inconceivable conditions of Venezuelan jails which make, among other things, the death penalty a sure thing even if it is banned in the 1999 constitution. Who knows, for the sake of coherence Chavez might want to include death penalty in the "reform" secretly discussed these days...

Sure enough, to confirm these serious accusations that the Chavez cynical government tries to minimize, we had yesterday yet another prison riot. This time close to home, in San Felipe. I was barred access to part of the town where I had business to do; a large section was cordoned off while the police dealt with a grenade thrown in the prison courtyard. A cop I talked to told me there were 8 people killed by a grenade thrown in jail. How did a grenade found its way inside a jail? Is the director and the Interior and Justice Minister going to explain to us how come grenades reach cell mates? I also saw from afar the smoke billowing above the prison. I am pretty sure that no TV crew will be allowed inside to film the damage.

But the government is announcing officially only 4 deaths. Who is lying or misinformed? The cop close to the site or the government? The reader can speculate freely.

The big question was whether the internal attack had been sponsored in order to kill "accidentally" the most famous political prisoner in Venezuela these days, ex Governor Lapi jailed by current governor cum slime bucket Gimenez. He is safe but more than ever rumors of chavismo wanting to kill Lapi will be rife. Why do not they judge him for his alleged crimes? The guy has been in jail for a year now and no trial is in sight while all his right are violated in the procedure. Or is it that they have no good evidence but the judicial power, ever so compliant, allows for Gimenez to keep Lapi in jail so he has no strong leader in Yaracuy streets to call him into accounting his dismal and corrupt administration?

But the worst parts of the show were the scenes at the door of the jail where inmates family where fighting the cops to try to get inside the prison to see if their relatives were alive. It was an impressive scene from hell, of all that is wrong with Venezuela today. Scary big time, the total mistrust of the people toward the cops, the willingness of the women to battle armed cops with their bare hands .... A Dante moment.

Oh! and the report also complains that since 2002 the chavista government has refused to receive its inspectors and commissions. Of course, how convenient for Chavez, he refuses to be inspected and screams that the OAS lies. In a way it is true since they could not visit...

But as usual there is also the anecdote with it. Why Chavez should worry about OAS condemnations when he has defenders such as Chesa Boudin? This nice young man happens to be the Rhodes Scholar son of a couple of famous US terrorists before Osama became THE terrorist. Well, during his childhood he visited his parents in jail and he became very young a passionate advocate of prisoners rights. Fine and dandy except that we cannot detect in his work much compassion for the victims of these people that are in jail. That would be fine if it were not because that Boudin is also an ardent defender of Chavez and his fake revolution. I have looked hard but I could not find a single instance where Boudin worried about jail conditions in Venezuela. You can find an example of his lame propaganda prose here, kind of disappointing writing for some one who was a Rhodes Scholar from Yale. Of course, I have no stomach to check his books, and even less to pay for them but if someone can prove me wrong I will be delighted to add a correction at the end of this post.

Now, this Chesa is small fry in the big scene, even if the government sponsors him to write books to justify the Venezuelan regime and pays for his trips to visit locales such as Berkeley (imagine that! as if they needed to promote chavismo there! why not send Chesa to, say, Auburn?). If I mention him it is just to give a clear example on how Chavez manages to corrupt the brain of folks that support him, specially outside Venezuela (the famously infamous PSF). Here we have that guy who made a name, and got one of the most prestigious awards of the Anglo Saxon world, on detention conditions and yet, he comes to Venezuela and magically his "jail condition survey switch" tuns off for his entire stay.

Meanwhile the poor who are the overwhelming bulk of the jail population in Venezuela, and San Felipe, remain rotting in subhuman conditions. They also have children, these inmates, children that Chesa could interview. The government finds money to buy votes but cannot find money to build at least better jails where the inmates would not be piled above each other. But the Chesa of the world have nothing to say about that. Only mean spirited opposition folks, and few of them by the way, find time and passion to write on this scandal (such as here and here; or in Tal Cual pages under Teodoro Petkoff, the lone constant promoter of decent detention conditions in Venezuela as even the main stream media is only worried occasionally, and forget about the chavista media!).

Enough said!

-The end-

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chavez and the fascist revolution

A few days ago Chavez was at an event to speed up the creation of his one party state. Well, not quite a one party state yet but it is just a matter of time. And he said a few choice words as to what he sees the role of the High Court of Venezuela, TSJ. Enlightening considering the recent dispute between the National Assembly and the TSJ. Well, it seems the TSJ is there not to do justice but to facilitate the ways of the revolution. That is, whatever serves of justice in Venezuela these days should be understood as the system which favors Chavez and his ideas. The other folks, well, they can forget about justice.

Next is the short segment of the video with the unforgettable words of the great leader now openly fascist. Since it is short I have taken the pain to translate his words below. Enjoy. Interpretation next.

[47 s]The national revolutionary government wants to take a decision against something that, for example, must go through a judicial process [35 s]and they start to move on the contrary, in the shadows. And many times they manage to neutralize decisions of the revolution [26 s]through a judge, or a court, or even in the very TSJ, [19 s] behind the back of the leader of the revolution, acting from inside against the revolution. [12 s] This is, I repeat, treason to the people, treason of the revolution. And this is one of the biggest threats that we have from inside.

The implications are staggering for such a brief set of words!

[47 s]There is no other government possible than the revolutionary government, bye bye democracy and citizens choices. And then he goes on to give a new meaning to judicial activism! That is the government has the right to use tribunals to further its goals. Normally tribunals are to stop, avoid abuses, but in Chavez world they are there to speed up things in his favor.

[35 s] Here we have the ratification of the above. And the start of the attack against the judicial power. The plot against Chavez is implied.

[26 s] Now the enemy suggested in the shadows is made evident, it is the TSJ [it is not idle to remind the gentle reader once again that the TSJ members were named by Chavez himself barely a couple of years ago].

[19 s] Now we have the intended confusion between the leader of the revolution, the revolution and the people. Classic stalino-castro-fascism. Betrayal of the leader is betrayal of the revolution.

[12 s] and now the threats and the actions that must naturally be done. Since the revolution has been betrayed through its leader, the one who is the real target of the treasonous TSJ, we are led to deduce that no punishment would be strong enough for such a heinous crime.

So now we know what is the problem between the National Assembly and the TSJ. It is in fact a proxy fight as the TSJ is stopping, refusing, denying something to Chavez. The "thing" is not that relevant when all is said and done. What is relevant here, and look for Chavez grimaces during that very short speech, is that something has dared to stand in front of him. Be it a meek or strong protest, it is simply unacceptable and it must be crushed. It comes with all included, even the crushing fist.

Thus works totalitarianisms, and our totalitarian leader is ready to assume his role. Woe is us!

-The end-

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Anti Semitism in Venezuela: Crisitna Kirchner pays us a visit

Unfortunately, no matter how discreet the government tries to pass in front of antisemitism and his more than dubious friendship with Ahmadinejad of Iran, certain telltales signs keep forging unbreakable suspicions of a now more than simply nascent antisemitism in Venezuela. The latest example was during the recent visit this week end of Argentina's first Lady, Cristina Kirchner.

Mrs. Kirchner is widely rumored to be a possible successor to her husband next October. Nobody understands why but it seems that Argentineans do love to have the wives of their leaders in a position of power or power position. They had Evita who did not make it to the top but who certainly was the power behind the throne until cancer took her away. And then Isabelita was Peron vice president and sure enough became the lousy president that allowed the Videla dictatorship to come to power. Peron is gone now but Peronism is not and the Peronist president of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, happens to have a very strong wife, a senator on her own name and if not a power behind the throne, certainly the power next to it.

I really cannot judge what type of person is Mrs. Kirchner. The Kirchners as a power couple raise many questions in Argentina about their personal power and ambitions and lukewarm love for institutions and democracy. However Argentina is doing well, much better even on many aspects than Venezuela in spite of a horrendous economic crisis a few years ago and no oil to buttress the state coffers. Obviously they are more capable than the selfish entity at Miraflores that cannot even tolerate a wife to steal some of his limelight time. But I digress.

Mrs. Kirchner was visiting Venezuela because she is trying to get some international exposure and experience. Looks good on a wanna-be presidential CV. She was in Ecuador beofre and she was this week end in Caracas to talk about her pet project: antisemitism in the Americas. Some people even went on to write that Mrs. Kirchner visit was to try to improve the relations between the Jewish community and Chavez. For which I had that any deterioration that has happened in these relations had been due solely to Chavez, but I am a nit picker I suppose.

Mrs Kirchner has sensed antisemitism in Argentina, she has been sensitized to it by the AMIA attack of 1994. And she deals with topics that her husband deems better left out of his plate. But Nestor Kirchner is no Chavez on this respect: no friendship with Iran for him even if he seems to share some of the ambitions of Chavez, and arrogance. Kirchner at least seems to be more educated and worldly and preoccupied to achieve something with his rule besides promoting his passage to history books.

So Mrs, Kirchner had a very nice act in Caracas where she seems to have said all the right things to make sure Jews in Latin America felt that not everyone hated them. Short blurb in English here and the longer Spanish version here. Very timely in Venezuela as this blog has had too often had to report on disturbing antisemitic tendencies in the current Chavez administration.

But the visit revealed that there was definitely a "malaise" about the visit and its goal. To begin with if the reunion between Cristina Kirchner and leaders of the Venezuelan and Latin American Jewish communities was attended by personalities such as Teodoro Petkoff, no high ranking Chavez official attended. Sure enough they did not want to hear about the 8 high ranking Iranians for which Argentina is seeking international arrest for the AMIA bombing. Nor the Hezbollah terrorist that Argentina also seeks to bring to Argentinian courts for trial. Such evidence while Chavez and Iran are trying to deepen their relationship is not what chavismo wants to hear. Nor probably would they have liked to hear Cristina reminding them of Curaçao Jews helping Simon Bolivar, nor her comment that political dissent were the first ones sent to concentration camps.

Cristina Kirchner was received also by Chavez but we do not know what happened during that meeting. He certainly praises her in public but it is everyone guess what transpired there. Though it is possible that Chavez is trying to use her not to mend his frayed relations with the Jewish community, he could not care less and he has long cast his lot against Israel. But rather to buy some peace from Jewish quarters while he changes the constitution and establishes his personal and permanent power in Venezuela. He does not need "Jewish press" on his case for the next few months and editorials like the NYT a few days ago is something he needs to avoid.

Also, it possible that Cristina came to give Hugo a friendly warning over Iran, to try to convince him that he does not need to tie his ship to Ahmadinejad and risk sinking together. Can Chavez understand that? I doubt it.

-The end-

Celso Amorim gets in the game

Brazilian foreign policy is a serious one. It is organized, it has career diplomats, it works for the interests of Brazil through the ages. The Venezuelan foreign policy has stopped existing. Now the foreign service of the country has become the foreign service of Chavez, a service whose only function is to spread propaganda outside of Venezuela to promote Chavez and what he calls his ideas. It also manages some of the shady deals that feed the coffers of corruption, but that is another story. There is no such a thing anymore as a Venezuelan State foreign policy, only a bunch of rascals and thugs appointed as a reward to some embassy somewhere where they lower even further the name of Venezuela.

That is why Venezuelan diplomats are getting into more trouble everyday. There is one representative that had to be shifted to another country because he faced charges of sexual harassment. The new country is not giving the placet yet. Another one in Colombia was videotaped in a political activity where not even a chargé d'affaire could have attended from the parking lot. Mexico has yet to get a new ambassador as the relationship between both countries were damaged by the reckless attitude of the then ambassador who is now back at home writing utter nonsense in EL Nacional.

So the latest Brazil spat extensively reported in this blog is only but the latest scandal.

Today it went a step further as Celso Amorim, Brazil's foreign minister has cited Garcia Montoya to shut him up before things get out of hand. It must be remembered that the trade deficit is 10 to 1 in favor of Brazil. 10 to 1!!!!! Even Lula was heard saying that Venezuela surely should have something that Brazil could buy besides oil that it does not need (from the empty shelves in Caracas stores lately, Lula might as well forget about it). So Celso does not want Brazil to lose such a good client and to keep appearances he also said that he would talk to Helio Costa. But Helio Costa has said what he had to say and debating further with a trick like Garcia Montoya is simply below him. Helio Costa is also smart enough to understand that Brazil is sucking enough on that Chavez teat to know where to stop arguing, or rather than arguing, talking down to the pseudo ambassador. Small incomplete English note here.

All so very funny in fact.

-The end-

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What happens when you cannot close your big mouth and are an ambassador: Brazil and Venezuela spat over bad TV?

Two days ago I was reporting on how the Venezuelan ambassador in Brasilia had lost a golden opportunity to remain silent. He had attacked unnecessarily the Brazilian communications minister because eh said that Venezuelan State TV was there to serve Chavez. Something obvious even for the more ardent chavistas which agrees that all TV in Venezuela should glorify El Supremo.

Well, now the minister, Helio Costa, has replied to the ambassador, and we can be quite sure that his reply does not come without some indirect blessing from Itamarati Palace and if not Lula himself. the reply appeared in Folha Sao Paulo but on a restricted area so I got the reprint from Jornal do Commercio again. A portion in Portuguese first for full flavor:

  • "Esse embaixador é um mal-educado e deselegante",
  • "O presidente Hugo Chávez é um líder carismático, mas faz uma TV estatal que eu, como profissional, acho muito ruim, e acho que ele (Chávez) poderia mudar o seu método de escolher o embaixador para um país amigo como o Brasil",
  • em sua opinião, a TV estatal venezuelana tem "péssima" qualidade.
Translation of part of the Commercio article (more here in El Universal, including Costa stating that he has the right to give his opinion on any TV broadcast shown in Brazil as Venezuela is subsidizing state TV transmission all across the continent):
[the] ambassador of Venezuela in Brazil, Julio Garcia Montoya. “This ambassador is uneducated and inelegant”, the minister went on this Saturday. Costa reaffirmed the critics that he made last week about the Venezuelan state TV and said that the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, badly chose the ambassador of Brazil. “President Hugo Chavez is a charismatic leader, but he makes a state TV that I, as a professional, I find very lousy, and I also find that he [Chavez] could change his method to choose the ambassador for a friendly country such as Brazil”, said Costa, who was for many years journalist of TV Globo.

The minister insisted that, in its opinion, the Venezuelan state TV has "terrible" quality.

“I made a comment on the Venezuelan state TV, that is not the TV system the Brazilian plan. I have the right to have opinion. The Venezuelan ambassador must have more respect when he refers to a minister and senator of the Republic that had 3,5 million votes”, completed Helio Costa, who is senator for the PMDB of Minas Gerais [second state in importance of Brazil].

"There, I make a comment [in an internal Brazilian debate] and I am bombarded by an ambassador who calls me insane. Certainly he is not a career diplomat", said Costa.
Choice words for the minister, no? Not to mention on the ,Bingo!, of not being a career diplomat. For those who do not know, Garcia Montoya was one of the generals of post April 2002 who was in charge of purging the army. He has no qualification to be an ambassador but had to be thanked one way or the other for the dirty job he did within the army. It seems that Chavez tried to get rid of him ASAP, as he probably, like Lucas Rincon safely stashed away in some embassy, knew too much about what REALLY happened that April. An embassy and plenty of money to play the Rio Carnival certainly do help to silence any conscience that could wake up at a given time.

I am eagerly awaiting for the next episode. Will someone in Venezuela have enough sense not to attract further attention on the awful sate TV of Venezuela? I doubt it, they are actually quite proud of the sycophantic trash put out everyday there.

PS: scavenging a little bit more I found this item where in 2006 it was obvious that Garcia Montoya has no idea of diplomatic restraint, getting into a written brawl with the magazine VEJA. Now, he might have every reason to be mad against VEJA but even a self respecting blogger would not accuse VEJA of Goebbelian publication. A good ambassador has underlings that take on this type of dirty job. Does he not get advice from the US VIO? I think it is time to create a VIO-Brazil soon beofre this character keeps inserting his foot in his mouth further....

-The end-

Political opportunism under Chavez: PODEMOS rats changing ships

Perhaps the only true policy announcement of any meaningful content since December 3 has been the expressed desire of Chavez to form a single unified party to support his political action. Until then, the MVR of Chavez, a mere vehicle the best of times, was surrounded by lots of tinier parties which might not have many votes but which have considerable electoral experience.

But time has passed, the MVR has learned to buy votes, round up folks at election time, cheat electorally wherever needed, etc, etc... Thus, the guys that were doing the dirty work have long become unnecessary for Chavez who now relies on his own to win elections. There is one thing we can all agree with Chavez: when he says that the votes he got are his and not from PODEMOS or the PPT or even the PCV, he is largely right. For better or for worse there is a large section of the country that votes for Chavez no matter what. And many among these small allies know that and are not willing to take chances. [Warning! long post on provincial interests follows]

However not all the votes were securely under Chavez control. After all, as pollster have grown used to call them, there is a substantial number of transactional voters. These voters will vote for Chavez easily, but up to a point. That is, they require that Chavez delivers cash to their hands. They do not care much if Venezuelan roads are a mess, if crime brings their life in such danger that a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure, of if they have to wait for weeks and months for some type of surgeries in hospitals where you must bring even your bed sheets. They see that they are getting cash payments, or a lousy bureaucratic job, or something and they do not care about anything else. Democracy is a rather empty shell for most Venezuelans it seems.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the implication of this alienation from the bulk of the Venezuelan masses, but to look on this as one of the explanations of what is going on recently among the junior partners of chavismo, namely PPT, PODEMOS and the old communist party PCV. These parties under the thumb of Chavez had become nothing more but some sort of employment agency, in particular the PPT who for a while had more than a third of the ministries in the cabinet of Chavez. Now they are down to three (PODEMOS to 0 and the PCV to only 1, though up from 0). However, within these parties hides some of that Transactional voter who like Chavez up to a point but prefers to vote for him indirectly. Chavez needs to control fully his electoral base, to make sure the purely interested voter does nto stray too far. There is one of the reasons of the single party objective, and why PODEMOS et al. must go.

Now, when the crisis starts and Chavez decides that he wants a single party, requesting that even the PCV dissolves into the new PSUV (PUSV? PUS?), even these hand out searching organizations start having problems. Oh yes, the minority ones who could not even manage to get 1% in December were joining enthusiastically the ranks of the new PUSV, such as Lina Ron. But the case of PODEMOS, PPT and PCV are different. PODEMOS has 4 state houses and plenty of town halls. It also has what is considered the best chavista governor in Didalco Bolivar of Aragua. The PPT has less elected presence but it is strong in trade unions and bureaucracy. And the PCV is a religion; religions do not die that easily.

And that is the crux of the matter: these political movements, inasmuch as they are subject to chavismo, PRE-date Chavez, feel that Chavez at least owes them his initial 1998 election, and have politicians that have been able to make a career on their own. The other day I was narrating the case of Didalco Bolivar as the most notorious one, but I could have added the case of Ramon Martinez, the sleaze ball of Sucre state, and many small local officials. Not much, granted, but people who love to be called leaders of this or that and to show that they are allies rather than subjects of Chavez as is the case in the pathetic MVR structure which is looked down on even by Chavez.

Now some of these people understand one thing clearly: joining the PUSV will mean that they will lose any shred of dignity they might have left, of self value, of self esteem. Granted, after 8 years of chavismo and supporting so many abuses, they have little to brag about in autonomy or personality, but they do have some at least at the local level where they operate. They know that the logic behind Chavez single party is that no one will rise to the top unless Chavez approves. And they also know that whoever rises to the top will will reach a very relative position anyway. There is only one leader and that one is Chavez. Period. For those who do not understand that I suggest them to review the story of the Soviet Union, of Cuba, of China, etc...

There is even something else, some of these folks have still some embers of democracy left in them, in particular Didalco Bolivar who has enjoyed winning elections on his own in due form. These people do understand one thing clearly: if the PSUV comes to form as a monolithic structure supporting Chavez, it will become the biggest threat to democracy. Simply put, whomever is not in agreement with the PSUV and Chavez will have to be crushed or treated as inexistent. The PSUV will be a lineal structure where no dissent will ever be accepted and it will become a very effective tool for the repression of whatever opposition dares to challenge the regime. PSUV monstrosities are excellent at forming storm troopers, at spying on society n general, are filtering job seekers, and what not.

In front of that crude reality, eventually some did not have the stomach to stay in. Didalco Bolivar is thus out and might suddenly become one of the main opposition figure, perhaps the only chavista left that could actually reach across the divide to some of the present opposition sectors. He had been long rumored that he could be a figure in a "chavismo without Chavez" situation.

But others do not have the strength of Didalco, and even less the self respect and self esteem to be the successful governor of a major Venezuelan state. So we see the Maracaibo mayor, Di Martino, abandon as fast as possible PODEMOS to join the MVR. Well, he wants to become governor of Zulia in two years and he knows that without Chavez he has not a chance on hell among a very crowded field of pretenders (Cabezas, Queipo, Ortega, ...). But no case is as pathetic as the one of the Yaracuy governor, Carlos Gimenez.

Before 2004 Yaracuy was reputed as being one of the best managed states under Lapi. Lapi in fact had become one of the main leaders opposing Chavez, having sat at the OAS presided negotiation table in 2003 for example. In 2004 he lost narrowly to Gimenez in an election of dubious quality. But Chavez had expressed his desire to eliminate Lapi at all cost. Since then they have found a way to arrest Lapi in some trumped up charges and it is now about a year he is in jail with NO TRIAL in sight.

That would be bad enough, but it is only the beginning of the Yaracuy woes. Yaracuy has a long tradition of agrarian problems and Lapi had managed to keep things under control. Gimenez unleashed the demons and as an immediate consequence many sugar cane fields were invaded, burnt down but not really resettled by new peasants. The Yaracuy country side is now a rather pitiful sight where large tracks are abandoned, fought over, and what not while sugar is now a regularly missing item on store shelves. The situation was bad enough that it required the intervention of the Spanish government who had some of its nationals settled in the country side of Yaracuy. Assassination and violence have followed these disputes and the new administration has been more than lax in their pursuit.

Yaracuy itself has gone downhill spectacularly. Gimenez has been unable to do anything else besides renaming social programs that Lapi had already set. Now they are bolivarian, are receiving more money than when Lapi was governor, but there does not seem to be more of that money reaching the masses. Extensive pot holes are back in the streets and highways. Public service is down except the one related to some Misiones, for the misiones people only, obviously. Abuse is flagrant, such as with the San Felipe main theater. This one has been permanently disfigured by a banner of Gimenez and Chavez, even though it is a public cultural arena. But chavismo has hijacked it for all of its indoor events, the tax payer paying for the air conditioning and upkeep.

In fact the degradation is so bad that even the local MVR folks have been asking for a recall election against Gimenez. When Chavez did a brief stop over a few days before the election, there people in the crowd welcoming him that were carrying banners asking Chavez to remove Gimenez! Banners which were quickly seized by police but still made it to the nightly news. Chavistas, MVR flavor, are the first ones circulating rumors from corruption to drug addiction, with many of these rumors ringing a little bit too true for comfort, in particular considering that they come from within the beast.

So it is no surprise to see Gimenez be one of the first ones to bolt out of PODEMOS. Quite pertinent for the sleaze he is. That way chavistas will not dare to ask for a Recall Election on him since the result becomes quite unpredictable in the confusion. Not to mention that now it might be equally embarrassing for Chavez to support or trash Gimenez.

And thus we come to the cartoon of Weil on top, as the evolution of the Venezuelan politician, becoming an "arrastrado", that is, a crawler. Very pejorative in Venezuela. There were three type of people in PODEMOS, the ones that had some self value like Didalco Bolivar; the ones that were foolish enough to think they had a value of their own like Ismael Garcia; and the ones who knew they were slime bucket form the start and that they have no career outside of Chavez like Gimenez. The problem with Venezuela is that the immense majority of politicians are in the two latest categories, no matter what political party we are talking about, except that chavismo seems to have a particular ability at attracting the worse of the lot among delusional and acknowledged thugs.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Believe it or not section: making a fool of oneself in Brasilia

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Brazil is slowly splitting itself from the excesses of Chavez, in spite of the obvious sympathy between Lula and Chavez. First it was the hug between Lula and Bush. Strained hug perhaps but hug nevertheless. And followed a few days after by an official intention to cooperate in developing ethanol as an alternate fuel.

Chavez is on record on suddenly changing his opinion on ethanol and even stopping all the projects that had been launched on that matter with Cuba in Venezuela. Now the Brazilian press is not afraid to print articles with such delicious words who do not request translation:
O presidente da Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, é o arquiinimigo da maior cooperação Brasil-Estados Unidos.

OK, that was already good enough for a laugh but today we went a step further. The communication minister of Brazil was discussing creating a state TV in Brazil and some people are not agreeing on the idea. Well, the Minister, a certain Helio Costa, said that people should not be worry, that the model was certainly not what was seen in Cuba or Venezuela. It would be a public TV but not a state TV (or some sort of equal subtlety). I picked up Recife's Jornal do Comercio transcript, at random in the Brazilian press:
O ministro das Comunicações, Hélio Costa, dice que a TV do Executivo, proposta por ele na semana passada, não é uma TV estatal. “Absolutamente não. TV estatal é o que o Chávez faz”, disse, referindo-se ao presidente da Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, que tem liderado movimento de estatização das redes de TV naquele país.

“TV estatal é o que se faz em Cuba; é o que se fazia na Polônia e na antiga União Soviética. E eu estive em todos esses lugares para saber perfeitamente a diferença entre estatal e pública”, disse o ministro, em entrevista sobre a implantação do rádio digital no País.

My translation (I could not resist posting a little bit of Brazilian Portuguese first which I can understand more or less):
The minister of the Communications, Helio Costa, said that the TV in the government proposal of last week, is not a state TV. “Absolutely not. State TV is what Chavez makes”, he said, mentioning the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has led a movement of nationalization of the TV networks in that country. "State TV is what is done in Cuba; it is what was done in Poland and the old Soviet Union. I have been in all these places to know perfectly the difference between state and public TV", said the minister, in an interview on the creation of digital radio in the Country.

The Venezuelan ambassador in Brasilia, Garcia Montoya, was so upset that (following instructions from Caracas?) he complained loudly. Though the ambassador declarations were not taken by the Brazilian press at this time, at least not on Google news, which goes to tell you how important the Venezuelan embassy is considered in Brasilia. Thus we are limited to Venezuelan press notes so far. At any rate, the ambassadors words demonstrate again that truth hurts a lot, or where it itches one must scratch- OK, that was to be expected from a military named ambassador and whose main title to glory was to finance a Bolivar float at the Rio carnival of 2006. To justify the title of this post, let me post what the ambassadors added:
The Venezuelan state networks do not belong to president Chavez and in addition in Venezuela the state does not claim exclusivity in telecommunications services, nor does it use them for presidential or personal marketing.
Gasp! I mean, how "cara dura" can one be, or how naive or how uninformed....

I think that the one that has no idea how TV works in Venezuela is the ambassador, unless he is stonewalling us, and the knowledgeable Brazilian public, AND its communication minister that surely knows better. If the ambassador, or any reader, has a doubt I would suggest to visit a recent post where the government lists with great pride on how all the state networks will broadcast SIMULTANEOUSLY a replay of the Barbara Walters interview to Chavez (1).

It is amazing that when the state control of Venezuela of networks is now vox populi and publicly criticized at electoral time by serious international observers, at a time where the Chavez incessant cadenas are meeting more and more reprobation, when international press organizations are increasing pressure against the closing of RCTV considered a crass censorship measure, that the stupid ambassador is willing to volunteer such a lame, and unnecessary declaration. In fact, a perfect opportunity to stay silent was lost. But then again Chavez is mad at Lula and the declaration might simply reflect the wish to put pressure on Lula, to back off from any US deal or any less than vigorous support of Chavez.

We will see.

--- --- ---
1) Apparently the Barbara Walters that went on air in the Us was a shorter version than the Venezuelan one and it did not include all the attacks on Bush that Chavez freely used. Interesting... (hat tip devoted reader who prefers to remain anonymous)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Editorial serendipity on Venezuela

Some coincidences are just too good to be true.

Today the New York Times has an editorial on Venezuela (yet again!). Nothing much new there, the country is circling down the drain and the NYT (and many other papers and blogs such as yours truly) are watching in a strange mix of awe, bewilderment and amusement.

Except that this editorial has a certain je ne sais quel zeitgeist which is truly eerie. The title first, which shows how well folks are catching on Chavez now de-measured silliness: "New Coin of the Realm". That is, making fun of the new "bolivar fuerte" which is supposedly going to cure all of our inflationary woes (see sharp Simon Romero article with picture of locha included). And Venezuela now a "realm" with all the implications that such a qualifying word carries in a for life presidency...

The "new" coin is the old "locha", an numismatic oddity of old Venezuela where to make life easier for a grossly illiterate country coins were divided in half of halves. For example country side peons were paid 1 bolivar wage which was equal to two reales. With one real you paid the rent or some other major big expense. With the other real you got two medios. With one medio you got two lochas (12,5 cents) and with one locha you could actually sort of feed a family of four for one day. A locha had a true meaning since it meant bread for one day in Caracas. They only needed to be able to count 1+1=2. I know, I know, it is a sad referral to Venezuela down to Gomez times, but so it was.

Even when I was a kid a locha still meant something. The "pan de a locha" (Locha bread) allowed you to make a sandwich (if you could afford the cheese or ham to put inside, usually more than a locha). But if you were flat broke you could manage to beg for a locha and at least do not go hungry to bed that night (or park bench as the case might be).

But I digress, the locha for those of us who remember it is in fact not a great memory as more than another coin of Venezuela it reminds us what inflation has done to our lives. There used to be that game show called "la pregunta de las 64 000 lochas" where the top prize was 64 000 lochas if you could answer a given question (8000 bolivares then, enough for a down payment for an apartment).

Back tot he NYT editorial. In addition to the reference to a silly coin whose return makes no sense as even today 1250 bolivares buy you little more than a bus ticket, the editorial refers to how erratic Chavez is becoming. I mean, after yesterday move to fire off at least 7 judges of the high court APPOINTED BY CHAVEZ, and judges who until today showed no sign of fraying from the glorious bolivarian revolution, what other adjective could you apply to Chavez, but erratic?

The editorial is pasted below as their is an expiration date on NYT articles. It needs no further comment as it encapsulates exquisitely, and shortly, the coming economical crisis. It is still time to avoid it but since there is no one to talk to Chavez or put pressure on the mad man.....

March 23, 2007, Editorial
New Coin of the Realm

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela had an especially good time baiting President Bush during their recent competing tours of Latin America. But demagoguery and showmanship will do nothing to solve Venezuela’s 20 percent inflation rate — now the highest in Latin America — and growing food shortages that are punishing the poor whose interests Mr. Chávez so loudly declaims.

Venezuela’s biggest problem is that there is no one to question Mr. Chávez’s increasingly erratic decisions. The National Assembly has given him the power to rule by decree for 18 months. So instead of seriously addressing Venezuela’s serious problems, the showman has settled for more showmanship.

As Simon Romero reported in The Times, Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar, has lost about a fifth of its value since January. The government has now announced it will introduce a new “bolívar fuerte,” or strong bolívar — worth 1,000 old bolívar, or roughly 25 American cents. It is also reintroducing a coin known as the locha — to be worth one-eighth of a bolívar fuerte — which last circulated in the 1970s.

Mr. Chávez appears to be counting on a psychological boost from a currency with three fewer zeros and a coin that evokes financially happier days. But by drawing attention to the bolívar’s recent weakness and — even worse — to the government’s capricious response, the maneuvers could further undermine confidence, rather than raise it.

Government spending — fueled by the nation’s oil wealth — rose an extraordinary 48 percent last year, and is one of the main forces driving inflation. Private-sector investment, meanwhile, has weakened since Mr. Chávez decided to nationalize utility companies earlier this year.

Price controls intended to help the poor buy food and hold down rising prices have led to a scarcity of staples like beef, chicken and milk. Threats to nationalize grocery stores and jail their owners — whom Mr. Chávez accuses of hoarding — have only made the situation worse.

Venezuela still has billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves. And Mr. Chávez has used some of the oil wealth to push social programs — including for literacy and health clinics — to improve the lives of Venezuela’s poor. But we fear that any good is quickly being undone by the old strongman formula of cronyism, corruption and incompetence.

How to deal with chavismo: watch them destroy their own constitution

In one of those unexpected twists, full of irony, today we are watching in total bemusement how the National Assembly has started the proceedings to purge the Constitutional Hall of the High Court of Venezuela, TSJ (brief blurb in English here).

Now, to fix the importance of the moment, the Constitutional Hall of the TSJ is now the only possible counter power to Chavez. It is the only constitutional power that could somehow stop what is going on in Venezuela. If it wanted so, which we have absolutely no reason to think it would. After all, constant readers of this blog and followers of Venezuelan politics know very well that in 2004 the TSJ was unconstitutionally purged and packed to a total of 32 judges (up from 20) all for all practical purposes appointed by Chavez machinery (1). There is absolutely no reason to think today that there is suddenly a majority against any branch of the revolutionary government, and even less the beloved leader. This is the story, as far as I can piece things up.

A few days ago the TSJ emitted a ruling which altered considerable the tax system of Venezuela. In brief, income tax could be only levied on direct salaries (some explanation here, courtesy of Miguel). Bonus, extra work, prize or gifts from your boss could not be taxed anymore. The consequences of it of course would be very damaging to the national treasury as some folks get sometimes more than half of their income outside of their real paycheck (sales people, for example). The implications would also be that eventually this could be expanded to people who only get paid per work done, it could induce employers to lower employees paychecks and give higher "extraordinary" bonuses, thus at the same time lowering the contributions to social security from the employer but also decreasing income taxes paid by employees. The SENIAT, Venezuelan tax collection office, asked for a clarification and the TSJ obliged on March 9, thus confirming at least part of their original ruling (the clarification can be read here). No accident there, no clerical typo.

It is of course not the objective here to discuss here as to wherever such a Constitutional Hall ruling is legal or even constitutional, but it is a ruling and normally can only be changed by changing the constitution or emitting new laws that would limit the amount and type of income that could as of this year escape taxation.

Well, today the National Assembly has decided that the TSJ abused its power and violated the constitution by taking for themselves prerogatives of the National Assembly. Maybe. However the National Assembly also decided that the TSJ magistrates that voted for the ruling should be investigated (7 of them) and removed from office if necessary. Strong words were even uttered ("mafia" and other choice expressions) by the usual hot heads such as Iris Valera, holier than thou when required.

The concealed meaning was that since the TSJ magistrates get many "bonuses" then they decided to change the constitution and thus pay less taxes. Maybe, but I have my doubts as to them be so blatant though in the bolivarian pseudo revolution all is possible. After all if your boss does exactly as he pleases, why should you not as long as you do not affect directly the glory of EL Supremo? Isn't Chavez leading by example? No?

It is too early to decide what is going on. This is a highly unexpected development. The only thing that I can assure the reader is that in spite the pious words expressed by hypocrites like Cilia Flores, the N.A. chair, this is not a normal conflict between independent powers. When you have independent powers you have a series of exchanges through legal and normal ways before you take a decision to investigate and even to announce that your objective is to remove 7 Justices! I mean, you start by requiring explanations before you threaten them, no?

Only speculation is allowed at this point. Of course the ruling has some problems and it seems that the TSJ went too far. But not so far that it could not backtrack if properly addressed by the National Assembly who could simply ask what type of law the TSJ would require to remedy this tax shortfall. So, what is going on?

Problems in the constitutional secret debates? Does the AN knows that the court will not approve some of the times currently discussed in secret by the AN? It is not idle to remind folks that the chair of the Constitutional Hall is also seating in that if not secret, definitely secretive commission.

Does Chavez suspect that the TSJ, that he all but named himself, might still harbor an occasional judge that might happen to think that there is a law and all must follow it?

Is this an excuse to include a complete revamping of the judicial system in the constitutional changes projected?

Was there really some kind of mafia like attitude in the TSJ? But only there? Why should they pay for the generalized corruption of the regime that the TSJ is all but covering up?

Is there a conflict within the TSJ as one side tries to get rid of the other? There was after all a surprising change of leadership within the TSJ one month ago and the "ousted" (disgraced?) judges might want to tarnish the ones that succeeded them at the helm of the TSJ? The 32 judges elect every year their own president and of course that person has to be approved by Chavez.

Whatever it is I must reassure the chavista leader that might have followed me so far: there is no independent powers struggle here. It is a fight between different group of thugs put in charge of diverse dependencies by Chavez. Nothing will happen that could ever so slightly challenge Chavez power. Worry not.

Meanwhile chavismo is hard at work tearing to shreds the constitution that they themselves wrote in 1999.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: it is 9 PM and no governmental media has reported on today's event we started early this afternoon. Private and independent media have even done talk show on it but thus far ABN has nothing (photo of the page at 8:59 PM) , nor Aporrea, and not even VTV, the media of "all Venezuelans" who still manages to already report on Chavez "Alo Presidente" of today. Not only it is a sign of the confusion existing within government, but it also is a clear wake up call to the need of retaining private and independent media in Venezuela. We already see the extensive self censorship of state media, web or TV, there is no room for doubt. (click images to enlarge, all taken between 8:59 and 9:03 PM Caracas time)

PS: we had to wait until Friday 7:22 AM to see the ABN report finally on such a grave matter. Based on what is written it looks like the TSJ is about to suffer a major revamping. Translation: Chavez needs even more subservient judges. there will be even more submission of powers to him, as if there were any power left outside of Miraflores palace....
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

1) Search this blog (top left corner, with "tsj 32" and you will get two key articles on that matter on how the High Court of Venezuela was made gutless.

-The end-

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mirror, mirror on the wall

The Washington Post today carries one article and one editorial that could reflect a vision of what Venezuela could be, or will be.

A distant mirror?

In Colombia, it seems that finally justice is edging toward punishing all, Paramilitary and FARC terrorismS (plural intended). The general attorney might be asking for the extradition of Chiquita executives who had no qualms paying the paramilitary AUC for protection. It will be interesting to see if the demand is indeed proceeded and more interesting to see if the US will accept the extradition. Time of truth for both?

Of course, this is a totally unlikely scenario for Venezuela currently. The judicial system is a shambles and a shame. No sane country would accept extradition to Venezuela for any crime that has nay political connotation. It will be years, (decades?) before the submission of the judicial system to Chavez can be reverted to an objective system where the guilty are guilty and the innocent are innocent. Right now justice is politically directed as you can see it from the scandalous trial of Simonovis, Forero and Vivas. All procedures have been violated in the desperate quest of the government to keep them in jail while chavista guilty parties of the April events of 2002 enjoy the pleasures of life , including an embassy position for Lucas Rincon who announced the resignation of Chavez on TV. Yesterday we were regaled by one of the delay tactics of the prosecution: apparently there was a taped video that included a few minutes of National Guard shots during April. But the video was taken from TV and taped over the start of some silly movie also taped from the TV set. Well, the tribunal had to watch the whole movie while people wondered what the Nazional Guard shots segment itself were bringing to the case (there must be thousands of such home made videos of people watching TV these April days...). Apparently the prosecution knowing it has no case against them is trying desperately to delay the trial, à la Anderson case.

that is, if you are anti Chavez you will be screwed, the more so the more innocent you are.

A not so distant mirror?

Mugabe has suggested that he might seek yet another 6 year term (which he will probably finish in a wheel chair with IV drip on the side) and he has promised nakedly that opposition leaders will be beaten by police with iron bars. How long until Chavez announces that for Venezuela? should we make a blog poll?

At least the antics of Mugabe are finally steering even the excessively complacent African Union into uttering some mild reproach. But see, poor Mugabe has no oil whereas oil is a powerful anesthetic for the OAS who has sunk into such irrelevancy that even if Chavez decided to walk out, it might make not the slightest effect whatsoever. Let's put it this way: the OAS mediocrity makes the UN look good.

-The end-

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The real dramas of Venezuela

Katy of Caracas Chronicles gives us one of her best post ever, about the REAL CIVIL war that exists in Venezuela. She has gone through the painful and distressing process of scanning the red pages of Venezuelan newspapers to remind us that the Venezuela death toll has very little to envy the one in Iraq. The only invading army in Venezuela is an army of thugs that seem to have taken the streets and the Presidential Palace of Miraflores as well. Do not miss it.

Now, I must say that I have covered this issue (search this blog for words such as jail, murder or body count) in the past but lately there has been a lassitude form my part. Perhaps because I have been already 5 times victim of robbery in San Felipe in the past 7 years whereas in all of my adult life in Caracas and the US I "only" got mugged twice? Indeed last time my home got robbed while I was traveling I did not even bother calling the cops to make a report. That is right, they broke into my place but since they did not take anything that an insurance could replace there was no point for me to file a report. I remember the first time thugs broke into my place, there were even hand prints on the wall, CSI Vegas would have it that easy. The PTJ/CICPC envoy did not even wanted to lift them. They did not care, they were just making a report so the insurance would pay back part of what was stolen. With the inflation in Venezuela I barely recovered 25% of the "valor de reposición", the cost of replacement, having to pay the 75% missing for items that I had bought in the past year.

But I do not complain because, well, I could be in Katy's post today, as another one of the dozens of casualties in Venezuela everyday. In fact, what was the worst part in my robbery ordeals was to deal with the police, was to be left in a room with a chained taxi cab murderer to wait until a cop would come to take my declaration. I had to breathe the same air than an assassin for half an hour. That is how it works in Venezuela, there is no criminal differentiation, victims of murder or robbery are just sat down for a declaration and sent home with the personal and deep knowledge that nothing will come of those painful moments where you had to explain how your electronic gizmos were stolen at night or how your son was murdered on his way from work. There is no difference in treatment.

Thus the glorious social bolivarian revolution for the people lets its people die in the street gangs warfare, while, as Katy writes, we prefer now to cover Barbra Walters silliness. But how much more can we take? Should I write endlessly about crime? Should I write endlessly about increasing inflation? Should I write endlessly about the lower economic classes getting more money than ever to buy imported food but wondering how they will do when they are still out of a real job and there is no more money left to import food? Should I write endlessly about the fear we live in, a fear which now includes occasional empty shelves at grocery stores?

Because there is a big difference between me and the lower social classes that the revolution of Chavez pretends to protect: I can more or less afford to replace my electronic gizmos and my life routine protects me, relatively, from street casual gang warfare toll. When the Chavez government will not be able to subsidize food the way it does now I will probably still be able to eat, or to leave the country. But what will happen to the chavista masses for which no real jobs are been created? If they are so helpless these days in front of crime, unemployment, inflation, how will they be when the party is over, when Chavez is unable to keep distributing stipends the way he has been doing to buy election victories?

-The end-

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Does Barbara Walters work for Chavez?

Well, based on this advertisement appearing in EL Universal print edition today, it sure looks like Barbara Walters interview is perceived as helping greatly Hugo Chavez (click to enlarge, apologies for the quality, but it is a picture from the smeary paper edition).

(Translation: We invite all Venezuelans to watch the interview of the year.
The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, "comandante" Hugo Chavez Frias, leader of the XXI century socialism, in an exclusive interview with the journalist Barbara Walters, star anchorwoman of the main US network ABC news)

Where do I start on something like that? The other night I was trying to ignore the interview that Barbara Walters made a few days ago to Chavez. I argued that I never liked her, that she was basically fluff. But when I saw a little while ago this advertisement, well, I had to deal with it.

See, for the Chavez government to promote the interview tonight on ALL STATE media, well, the interview has to be a big boon for chavismo. That is, the woman must have done a heck of a flattering interview. Imagine that, Venezuelan state media, socialist, revolutionary, devoting hours everyday to call the US the evil empire and excoriating Bush even when he brushes his teeth, is broadcasting tonight ON ALL OF ITS AIRWAVES (even the radio) some TV show from the very hated Empire... Need I insult the intelligence of the reader further?

Good job Barbara!!! Way to go to in shoring up a wanna-be dictator! Did it ever occur to you to read the US constitution to find out that your hated Bush is gone in barely 20 months? Not to mention that he has a new Congress stuck in him as a fish bone... When the "very intelligent" Chavez is still president in ten years from now and that I am in exile somewhere will you come to gloss over him again? Why the need to use Chavez to make a home point against Bush? Can you not find something more palatable at home?

But I do get a double bonus with this post: see, there is the proof on how the Venezuelan media is now controlled by Chavez. All sorts of PSF, of which Barbara Walters is now a full fledged member, keep stating that the Venezuelan media is all against Chavez and that he is always on the defensive. Well, let's look at the picture above.

Once you pass the invitation to watch the show at 9 PM tonight, you will read the list of all the media transmitting SIMULTANEOUSLY the Walters farce. Details:

  • National TV broadcast (open signal most of the country): VTV, VIVE
  • National on Cable and on the main TV markets: TeleSur, ANTV
  • Local TV: CatiaTve (Caracas), and many local TV stations
  • The only radio station allowed to broadcast all over the country: RNV
  • A network of pseudo individual radio Stations in fact owned by chavista agents: Radio Rumbos, Mundial
  • Many community radios (almost all Venezuelan community radios are authorized by the government, if I wanted to open one I would be quickly shut down)
And to ice the cake, 1 hour later the Venevision network will rebroadcast the interview. Venevision is supposedly private but for the last two years has found itself collaborating closer and closer to the government. I suppose that now that any journalist that criticized the government has been fired, it is a kosher network again and allowed to broadcast to the glory of EL Surpremo.

List of media that WILL NOT broadcast Chavez interview?
  • RCTV (soon to be closed)
  • Globovision and Televen (both do not have open signal all over the country, and Televen is semi pro Chavez anyway)
  • ValeTv (cultural TV that does not have news or talk show whatsoever and only in Caracas or on Cable)
  • Some local radio and TV stations, very few of them.
As you see, the ratio is now approximatively 3 to 1 in favor of Chavez for all broadcast access existing. In some areas Globovision is not allowed to have open air signal and once RCTV is gone, there will be NO media critical of the government on the air. Only on cable if you can afford it ( a huge if for most Venezuelans). Nice, no?

Now, would not Barbara want to have her stuff covered to such extent in the good 'ole US of A?

Will I watch it tonight? Not a fat chance! At the same time Lat Am Fox on cable is starting the Latin American season of "Nip and Tuck" and I am certainly not going to miss a show who does a much better social study and criticism of US society than whatever Barbara ever did....

PS: some other reviews which are pointed to me since I posted this, here (with speculation on drug addiction) and here (with a more moderate look). Quico in particular notes a comment from one of his readers which is worth quoting here too: "Her show is where disgraced celebrities go for their first public reappearances". Bull's eye, no?

PS2: and of course Youtube had to get it BEFORE it was broadcast in Venezuela. VTV against Youtube? No contest!

PS3: Oh heck! There is Andres Oppenheimer been targeted by Chavez. So Andres offers him a REAL Interview, not a Walters elegant tea party, an interview where Oppenheimer would ask the following questions, hoping for a reply.

So with all due respect, I would like to pose the following questions: If you are so democratic, why do you glorify military coups? If you are so progressive, why do you close down independent television stations? If your hero Fidel Castro is so popular in Cuba, why doesn't he allow a free election? If you respect human rights, why don't you allow OAS human rights inspectors into your country?

And, finally, if you are so convinced of what you say, why do you only grant interviews to nonchallenging reporters? Last time we met and I respectfully asked you for an interview, you told me to go to hell.I challenge you to answer all these questions personally. We would get a great audience.

See Barbara, this is what a real journalist looks for, not how many cups of coffee the guy drinks.

-The end-

Saturday, March 17, 2007

How to deal with chavismo: watch them eat their young

Didalco Bolivar is about to get the boot.

Well, not quite yet but he is on the target line. But before I talk about this amusing event, I have to say that the first image that came to my mind when I heard the news was that famous Goya painting on the right, a nightmarish horror of Saturn (Revolutions) eating his children (discarded revolutionaries).

So, what happened? Didalco Bolivar is the multi reelected Governor of Aragua state. How good a governor? Not very good if you ask me. How good a pro-Chavez governor? Probably the best one of the lot. On occasion work carries me thought back roads of Aragua and I can assure you that they are among the best kept roads of Venezuela. Compare them to the roads of, say, Miranda under Diosdado Cabello, and you can see that there are chavista governors and chavista opportunist. Bolivar is in the first lot.

In fact, Didalco Bolivar was responsible enough of a governor that when Chavez broke with the MAS, Didalco, who was never much more than a lukewarm chavista, decided to go with MAS break up faction which formed PODEMOS to remain with Chavez. That is, Didalco knew very well that breaking up with Chavez would only affect his people and decided that he owed himself to people who voted for him before anyone else.

Well, times have suddenly changed. Chavez in his mad drive to control has decided to create a unique party under his boot. And junior partners are not following. Didalco Bolivar is the main elected figure of PODEMOS, the governor of the 5th largest state of Venezuela in votes. And low and behold, the CNE announced that yes, there could be a recall election drive against Didalco so he could get unseated sometime later this year.

Nothing wrong with that apparently, no? Democracy at work, no? Not so fast.

Didalco has been largely reelected in 2004, with perhaps the biggest majority of any reelected governor in Venezuela. So, it would be highly improbable that a recall election would work against him since not only the YES must beat the NO, but the YES must be higher than the 2004 result. But it gets better: Didalco CANNOT run again and in less than 2 years he will be out anyway. So, why bother spending a zillion on a Recall Election when the guy has his days numbered anyway?


Well, for one thing it is the beginning of the generalized tracking down of PODEMOS. Chavez cannot accept that PODEMOS is not obeying him with adequate servility and like it happened to any of Chavez ally who dared to express its differing opinion, the totalitarian machine has been launched. Didalco is one of the few chavista local leaders that does has a real following, even a small national stature THAT HE WON BEFORE CHAVEZ BECAME PRESIDENT. That is, Didalco owes less to Chavez than Chavez owes to Didalco. You will understand that this is totally unacceptable tot he beloved Supremo of the beloved people.

The second thing, less apparent for the outside observer, is that Aragua has no chavista leader with enough stature to succeed Didalco. Even though Didalco had record votes, it is less than certain that Aragua would remain safely in chavista hands. Any Aragua leader of note is AGAINST Chavez. Chavista leaders are a long list of utter mediocrities and could only win with a strong field work of Chavez supporting them, plus lots of money and some help from the CNE. Which of course will happen, but Chavez does not want to be bothered. Or take chances. If he were able to get rid of Didalco this year he could ensure that a chavista could be placed for the remaining year until the late 2008 elections and perhaps retain without too much effort that sea, once the new chavista governor gets some exposure.

So, according to Didalco the CNE obliged and curiously he is the only governor on the Recall Election list so far, even though there are plenty of much worse governors such the one in Yaracuy that richly deserve to get booted. But all of these governors have always been extremely careful to put Chavez first, and them second. Didalco did not put himself first but Aragua is certainly not as littered with gaudy and trashy pro Chavez propaganda as you can see in other states. Lukewarm but sincere is not enough these days and Didalco, well, he is on the hot seat. Note, he does not mind at all and he already announced today that he would fight a Recall Election, in case this one did manage to get enough signatures.

But it gets better: Didalco stated today that he was against a “unique chavista party”, that the people were the owners of their vote and that candidates for elected offices should not be named by “el dedazo” ('the finger' meaning decided by Chavez, Miraflores and apparatchiks). He also defended private property! Take that Chavez!

And you dear opposition reader stay put and enjoy. It is going to become a recurring show in the country. And if you want to support Didalco and live in Aragua, it is very simple, do not sign any petition for Recall Election, let’s see if Chavez manages the 20% of the artificially bloated electoral roll. And by the way, watch as Didalco and PODEMOS are starting to criticize the CNE as a flawed and partial organism. Geeeeez, about time they noticed!

-The end-

Tidbits: Barbara, no private education and Borges messes up

There were three items that appeared today in the news that would be worth of a spot but I preferred to discuss of local matters that would not be discussed in English on the web otherwise. That is why you can find the post on Didalco Bolivar above this one. But these other items to deserve to be mentioned.

Barbara Walters does Chavez

What can I say? In 17 years in the US I NEVER liked Barbara Walters, finding he superficial. If she were younger she should join the cast of E! network, much more suitable for the type of journalism she does. Well, she interviewed Chavez and she swallowed it all, Bait, Hook and Sink. No need to cover this since Miguel has done it here.

No more private education

The association of Bolivarian teachers say that education in Venezuela should be public only, controlled from the state and starting from the womb. Private education should be "eradicated". Words fail me. When we read a few days ago that school enrollment DROPPED in public schools while it increased in private ones, we know what link with reality these people hold... By the way, someone should tell them that chavista leaders have their kids in private schools.

Borges gave an interview to Jose Vicente Rangel

Jose Vicente Rangel has recycled himself into his old talk show now that he has been fired (resigned?) from the Chavez administration vice president. Why would someone take seriously Rangel as a journalist after 8 years of cynical lies goes beyond my understanding. But apparently some people are so desperate to get rid of Chavez NOW, that they are even willing to believe that Rangel could be the man.

What is surprising is that Julio Borges seems to share this opinion, that maybe Rangel is the ticket for his glory. Next Sunday he will be the guest in the third show of Rangel. The third show!! Can you believe that?

I am not opposed to opposition leaders to eventually go to Rangel show. After all, if in a few months he shows himself to be again a real journalist and that his political era was strictly a political position and he played the game, I could perhaps see it. Though I would never accept it, 8 years of utter lies, cynicism and manipulations cannot be "forgiven" just like that, Rangel will be judged one day if chavismo falls before he croaks. He should be ashamed to get back his old job. But then again, chavismo has a way to make a thug out of anyone that lingers too close to the flame...

I think Borges is making a terrible mistake. Many rumors have been circulating about him and his making of Primero Justicia a palatable opposition to Chavez, the official one should we say. By going so soon to Rangel, well, he is going to give sustain to these rumors among the opposition folks who have serious doubts about him. But what is worse, he will gain very little from the chavista side, and the price of appearing colluding with Rangel. Big mistake in my opinion. And a mistake compounded by the summary of the preview from Union Radio where Borges does not seem to come out under a very flattering light. So soon after its division, Primero Justicia is not going top be helped by that interview.

-The end-

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Morning Tea reading

No, I am not talking about tea leaves but about the Washington Post read while I have my breakfast. Two interesting items

Editorial in favor of Uribe

Uribe, president of Colombia, but from the right wing of local politics, has been getting a bum rap. Certainly some of his strong methods are open to criticism, but those people who attack him quite often have no words to condemn the FARC who, it must be recalled over and over, are very involved in the two items that have been sapping Colombia strength over the past decades. I have been able to check out myself on Colombia progress during a recent visit last month. Anyone that compares Caracas to Bogota can see that Colombia is going up and Venezuela down. People are noticing, even if it is from an alleged semi Liberal paper such as the Post. The editorial today "Help Colombia" does not equivocate and I will quote the last paragraph:

Sure enough, opponents of trade agreements and those who reflexively resist U.S. military aid to Latin America are citing the paramilitary revelations as a reason not to support Mr. Uribe. In fact they prove that Colombia's president can deliver on his promise to reform the country's political system and extend its authority to a long-lawless countryside. If Congress wishes to see those changes continue, it should approve the new Colombian aid plan as well as the free-trade agreement.

Exactly what this blog has been saying: the US Congress should not be afraid to give favorable FTA to the key countries in LatAm. How else can you show that Capitalism does work if it is not by stimulating trade? FTA is not the answer to all, but it is certainly a starting point. Kuddos on the Post on sending the clear message to Nanci and the combo.

Zimbabwe violence increasing

Chavez little friend, Mugabe the sickening dictator of Zimbabwe, is having people talk of him again. Repression and violence in Zimbabwe keep increasing, just as they will increase in Venezuela if Chavez keeps going the way he does. Even with oil money flowing to try to buy out consciences, people will resent autocracy more and more.

It is not idle to also recall that when Mugabe visited Venezuela in 2004 during some street manifestations he offered Chavez advice on how to deal with pesky protesters. He certainly has a long experience in repression tactics. At any rate, the Washington Post article will tell you more about what to expect in Venezuela, just as a group of chavista is trying to have Rosales removed from office on spurious charges which are never applied on chavista elected officials committing at least abuses as bad as Rosales has ever committed. But we all know that justice in Venezuela is not the blindfolded lady of the myth: here it is designed to punish any person that has dared to criticize or scare the Supreme Beloved Leader of the Revolution.

-The end-

Lula, Bush, ethanol and Chavez drunk on it

Veneconomy has come up with a sweet editorial. Sweet because on the sugar cane to ethanol conversion it seems that Bush has scored (big?) against Chavez, even making him look like a fool. I did not get into this when I wrote about the post because, well, it was already long enough. But procrastination has a way to pay off. Thus the editorial repasted below. Enjoy!

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A champion of agricultural development? (March 14)

The agreement signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva to develop ethanol could have a considerable impact on the economy of the region, even greater than that of the Great Gas Pipeline of the South being promoted by President Hugo Chávez.

The Bush-Lula agreement was a blow for Chávez’ leadership in the region, and his reaction was not slow in coming. Chávez, who tolerates no elbowing-in on his regional leadership, attacked this agreement from Jamaica with his customary fiery rhetoric, forgetting that, since 2005, he has been waxing enthusiastic over the use of ethanol on the grounds that it is an ecologically sound alternative. That is why PDVSA has been developing “a gradual plan for the sustainable production of bio-ethanol.” Even the local press reported less than a month ago that an agreement had been signed with Cuba to build 11 ethanol distilleries in Venezuela. Now, with Bush stealing the march on him, Chávez is crying out for fertile lands to be used to “produce food for people” rather than fuel for the rich.

However, when Chávez holds up ethanol as the work of the devil, he’s forgetting two things: first that this is a renewable energy resource that can be developed in a manner that is harmonious and sustainable and that, besides, it is a potential source of jobs; and second, that its production does not exclude the possibility of the raw materials being put to other uses. For example, sugar cane and corn can be used both for food and for the production of bio-fuels.

It’s incongruous, to say the least, for Chávez to try to set himself up as a champion of agricultural development in the region when, in the past eight years, he has chalked up not a single success in that area at home; quite the contrary. Far from having promoted the development of farming in Venezuela, Chávez, by dint of expropriations and confiscations of productive land, has provoked the collapse of the country’s productive capacity, making it even more dependent on imports of basic foodstuffs, despite his alleged desire to achieve food sovereignty.

Chávez’ term in office is chock-full of failures (quite apart from the corruption), among them “organoponic” crops and vertical henhouses, today consigned to oblivion, Ezequiel Zamora Sugar Mill, which succumbed to inefficiency and corruption, and the only information available on the Florentino Genetic Center, part of the confiscated ranch Hato La Marqueseña when it was in full production, is gleaned from the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands Report and Accounts for 2006, which shows that it posted a net loss of Bs.4.65 billion.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, called upon to be the guarantor of the country’s food sovereignty, is practically in the hands of Cuba, thanks to the large number of costly agreements signed by Venezuela in 2006.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How to deal with chavismo: watch them recognize how worthless they are

There is always an enjoyable exercise when you watch chavistas deal with their responsibility and that is when they recognize publicly that Chavez is the boss and that they are nothing.

The case at hand today is Carlos Escarra. See, he belongs to that commission that is working in utter secrecy to decide what must be changed in the 1999 constitution (Amen! that the 1999 constitution was considered the most perfect ever!). If Venezuela were a democracy and if debate where considered as a positive thing, the commission discussions, the main themes, would be public knowledge. But the opposition is totally shut out; not even independent members have been invited to that committee (nor would any true independent accept to seat in such a committee under such conditions). And all is secret: no interviews, no agendas, only some chavistas discussing behind closed doors what will be eventually submitted to vote (Ah! That pesky democracy that requires at least a rigged vote!)

This Carlos Escarra has suffered under the shadow of his brother, one of the leaders of the 1999 write up and now solidly in the opposition to Chavez. Carlos has had to utter a lot of silly things, eat a lot of crow until finally Chavez allowed him to join the monochromatic assembly of 1999. But of all the silly sycophantic things he has ever said trying to climb the ladder none comes close to today's admission. I translate the tid bit kindly provided by Union Radio :
"at the end, the President will say what goes and what does not go to reform and that will be when the project will be open to public debate "

However Escarra recognized that for the time being the commission cannot present publicly any important aspect of the documents that will be submitted to the President. "This is a confidential step, we are consultants, the project belongs to the President".

I do not know where to start to discuss how this is so wrong... Here, at random, a few questions:

Only the president is allowed to have constitutional ideas?

Why must the project be discussed secretly and "submitted" to the president before anyone else can have a look?

The constitution belongs to the president? And if yes, why bother to vote on that?

The Assemblymen of that commission are only "consultants"? Why can't a blogger be one advisor?

Is the voice of the 37% that did not vote for Chavez officially shut up? Are we second rate citizens? Will the constitution ratify that?

Are the 62% who voted for Chavez really all in agreement with that? Are the ones that refuse to merge in a single party participating in the secret commission?

Is there a chavista left with an ounce of self respect?

The mind reels........

But let's at least give credit where credit is due: Escarra has publicly acknowledge that he is a spineless piece of slime, totally submitted to any fart coming from Chavez. We knew it but it is nice to hear it from his own words.

-The end-

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chavez and Bush, no fist fight in sight

There is a much ballyhooed visit by George Bush, the Iraq warmonger in trouble, across South America. And there is a strong temptation, not resisted by CNN, to make this trip a pit fight between Bush and Chavez who is also doing a counter tour of sorts. Very amusing but probably all very wrong. Let's go by parts, trying to simplify the issues. (1)

The US belatedness

It has finally come to the mind of people in charge in the US that the long neglect of Latin America is having an increasing cost for the country. Yes, I know, there is a war in Iraq, another one in Afghanistan, terrorist alerts and what not. But at some point some common sense must have prevailed and it seems that the change in Congress majority is bringing some changes in US foreign policy.

Now, it does not mean at all that the Democratic Congress is a better friend of LatAm than the GOP. It probably means simply that the US is now going back to a more bipartisan approach on foreign policy. Nanci Pelosi as well as George Bush know that above any difference they have they are in it together until the next presidential election. Since nasty fights are sure to come along the way, it is a good idea to find ways where agreements can be reached to soothe a little bit bruised political spirits. National Interest is always a good starting point to smoothen things up some.

This plays into the hands of Bush, a now very tarnished president, unable to find a way out of Iraq and probably conscious that he needs to leave something else to his legacy than Iraq. Latin America is a good place where to seek some redemption. After all he promised that his presidency would be about LatAm and he did not deliver at all. He does have some excuses but he can still deliver something if he sets his mind to it. After all he has more than a full year to start turning the tide.

"Turning the tide" is actually the key word. I have a sense that the Bush administration understands that they really screwed up on the South of the Border issues. Maybe they are prodded by the Dems, but these ones were not very stellar in their role to remind Bush about Latin America affairs. Both share the blame even if Bush will be the scapegoat. I am thus in fact rather impressed that Bush has dared to make this foray, knowing full well all the pitfalls, traps and snares that are awaiting him at every step. Maybe he is doing some atonement, maybe he might have realized that it his cross to bear but that if bears it well, he can get some results.

No matter what, if the US is doing this trip as a renewed bipartisan National Policy they might be harvesting good results sooner than expected. At least one thing is already certain: if you opened this Saturday the page of Google news US, you would have found out that Bush journey is getting very little coverage. If there is some visible punishment coming to Bush through riots, his LatAm Damascus road would not harm him much in US public opinion it seems...

Chavez high hopes and low reality

Indeed, what all wanted to see, in particular CNN "en español" trying to find the best footage possible of anti Bush riots, was rather missing in this Bush trip. It is not happening. Would Tabaré Vasquez and Lula da Silva invite Bush just to humiliate him utterly? I mean, we are not taking of an adventurer like Kirchner. It is in fact an utterly gross miscalculation of some of the media: Lula da Silva and Tabare are two serious presidents from two serious countries. They certainly knew that some protests would take place, like in any country Bush visits, but I am pretty sure that they took great pain in making sure that nothing went out of control. The visits are about US and Brazil or Uruguay interests, not about some local politician wanting to tell Bush that he is a mass murderer. No trip is needed for that.

Yes, certainly Chavez whipped up expectations by predicting huge protest marches and we know he has the wallet ready to sponsor any group wanting to protest against Bush. Add to this the desire of Chavez to figure as the LatAm new leader and the supposition that he would go to great extent to do an anti Bush posturing tour was reasonable. But he is not meeting the success he sought. After all he had to organize a paid for meeting in Buenos Aires to coincide with the arrival of Bush in Montevideo. Outside of a few thousand in Sao Paulo, nothing else was worth noticing until today in Colombia where finally a few people were hurt and arrested. But then again Colombia is a country at war, so it figures.

How embarrassing to have to pay people to go and listen to your stupid rants in Argentina! Chavez could have very well tried to organize the same anti Bush meeting at home, on the Tachira border with Colombia while Bush would be visiting Uribe today. But Chavez is a coward. He probably would have more trouble to organize a good rally in Tachira, the state that voted the most against him in last December election, a state which lives in a war like situation that has nothing to envy to some of the Middle East war zones. That is why he preferred safer Buenos Aires where he is seen like some rock star by people that know nothing.

In fact this meeting in Buenos Aires might end up costing him and Kirchner dearly. The Argentina president has shown himself to be as much a coward as Chavez by not daring to show up to the meeting. At least, if you allow such an infamy at home, have the courage to fess up and show up! Kirchner, in an electoral year at home, has opened himself up to criticism. How can a self respecting head of state allow another one to come at home to chair a near riot and definitely insulting rally against his neighbor’s private matters and guest? Because Kirchner forgot one thing: Tabaré Vasquez did invite Bush to visit. Or rather the US, whose president happens to be, for better or for worse, George W. Bush. Even better, Kirchner serves in a silver platter an additional argument to Tabaré Vasquez and Uruguay, more and more discontented about the bullying attitudes of Argentina and Brazil within Mercosur. Now, across the Plate River, there is more reason to think that there are only treasonous Argentineans who are only too willing to chide and cheat the little Uruguayan guys. Obviously letting Venezuela into Mercosur is not going to improve Uruguayan lot at all, as seen from the contempt expressed by Chavez. (2)

The Buenos Aires fiasco who can only be interpreted as a success only by the knee jerk “I hate Bush and the US” crowd. In Uruguay the people who resent bridge blockades from Argentinean “Piqueteros” and assorted lunatics are going to feel comforted in their determination. The rest of the world will lose respect towards Kirchner. Chavez will remain about the same since he is already pretty much unmasked for the rest of the world as the joker and coward he truly is, not going anywhere that his wallet has not secured first. And he will not even get the satisfaction of goading Bush into replying to an over used and worn out "gringo go home".

Business is business

But before going to Uruguay Bush did stop in Brazil. And it was indeed a meeting of equals, in potential at least. The second country of the Americas is now Brazil and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. The US is acknowledging it, just as Brazil is starting to understand its obligations as the second power of the Americas (and the de facto weather maker in South America). Thus Lula, trade union activist, leftist, striker and what not has no problem to seat down with Bush to negotiate the future of alternative energies, namely the production of Ethanol which Brazil is promised to be a leading, if not the leading future producer.

That did not stop Chavez from stating that the US was coming to Brazil to figure out how to steal all of its ethanol for its own use. I will not offend the reader by going into the stupidity of this allegation, if I mention it is just to show how low Chavez argumentation is falling. No matter: Lula sat down with Bush to negotiate alternative energy. And soon a TLC or some other figure? Because the sad reality for Chavez is that no matter how many bridges to build across the Orinoco he gives to Lula and Brazilian contractors, the opening of the US market to Brazilian product will make any Venezuelan deal pale in comparison. Brazil and the US are for better or for worse destined to decide how trade will operate in the Americas, not Chavez.

I am sure that these days Chavez must be remembering with some bitterness the visit Lula did a few days before his reelection and the scandalous endorsement he made. But it is certain that Lula will keep playing Chavez like a fiddle, praising him in public and doing the contrary in private or with other guys. Sic transit gloria mundi.

And now for some real courage

Chavez is bemoaning all the time that all sorts of people, often directed by the CIA, are trying to kill him (we are still waiting for hard evidence of any single assassination attempt). Well, the next stop of Bush was in Colombia, live on TV since it lasted a few hours only, shows who of the head of states is really courageous here. See, there are plenty of people that really want to kill Bush, starting by some among the not so big rioter group in Bogotá that CNN lovingly filmed (including one guy staying in the back and who suddenly lurched in front, taking out of his vest some object to throw at the riot police, without any comment from the CNN as to how "un-spontaneous" that rally was). And there is no discussing Uribe personal security threat who started during his first campaign when his campaign caravan was bombed, and confirmed later by FARC organized bombings on his first inaugural in Bogotá itself. If there are two presidents in the Americas that really put their lives at risk everyday it is Bush and Uribe.

So it was impressive that they dared put up an large outdoor welcome ceremony. Sure, the area had been emptied and the capital militarized, but there was also the possibility of some random rocket launch to at least disrupt the ceremony. However, Uribe was going to receive the President of the United States as magnificently as possible to show that Bogotá was not a forbidden city as it was when Uribe reached office, when Bogotá folks could not even take a Sunday drive in the country side so afraid they were to fall into some FARC road block.

During the joint press conference journalists tried to again bring Chavez into the picture or to force Bush to talk about the latest paramilitary scandal in Bogotá who has taken already the head of the foreign minister. Neither one felt into the trap. Bush said what it had to say, that an independent justice is what makes a democracy work. And Uribe refused to bite the Chavez bait and instead used the opportunity of a world gathering of journalist that usually do not worry an iota about Colombia to tell them his current vision of Colombia. They might or might nor report Uribe words, but the record is there, even if some nervousness in Uribe was duly noted: FARC? Long term Para-scandal effect? Not the best financial picture? FTA difficulties in new US Congress? Whatever, he might have betrayed some nervousness but he said it all.

However the reply to Chavez was there. The joint press conference took place under a large portrait of Simon Bolivar. And the words of Simon Bolivar and George Washington were recalled. It must be remembered that even if born in Caracas Bolivar was the first president of independent Colombia for a few years and that in Colombia he is considered as highly as in Venezuela and certainly less sycophantically... The message was clear, even if Bush and Uribe did not pronounce the word "Chavez" in public; he was told that he is not the sole carrier of the Bolivarian truth and myths.


Chavez has scored no point. The South American leg of the trip of Bush went on with much less trouble than expected, or promised by Chavez. No one brought him up to his great consternation it is safe to bet. In fact Chavez probably scored negative points as he looks less presentable than ever, someone that you cannot invite home as he might start a fist fight with your neighbour.

Bush has scored no point either. At least, for the time being he can be happy that he did not score any negative point which is already quite good. At least on a longer perspective the US has started the process to have its presence felt again in South America. The US can see that all want to trade with the US, even if their leaders come from the left. More than ever it is essential that the US stops dividing Latin America as a good versus bad governments, right versus cold war left. Now the division should be between serious leaders and trouble makers. The US, democratic Congress and GOP white House, or whatever will come next year, should realize that and recompense accordingly the serious leaders and ignore the other ones. These last ones will eventually sink on their own once they have eaten all their reserves. It is time to bail out of Iraq and go back from where the US should have never neglected. (Added later: read Robert Mayer take on the trip).

Lula and Vasquez did score points. Vasquez forced his perturbed left to face the real word and start growing out of cheap rhetoric. He also now will hold better cards against Argentina, and Chavez. Lula is ratified as the second in command of our continent. As such he will have yet more ammunition to control Chavez better, or at least get even juicier deals from the egomaniac. The entry visa for Chavez in Uruguay and Brazil has gone up in price.

Uribe? Well, who knows whether he won anything. The Bush visit is not necessarily good for his current problems even if his ratings remain good. Only if that visit helps on the TLC/FTA between Colombia and the US will this visit be a good score for Uribe. At least now he has demonstrated that the has the strength to control Bogota, even for a US president visit. No small feat if you ask me...

And now Bush moves on to Guatemala and Mexico, but those are very different situations and there Chavez is a much minor player.

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1) As it is the case in long and complex posts on occurring events, and as pictures keep arriving, I edited a little bit this post from last night version. Nothing much but since it was more than just a few misspells, and it included a new picture and links, I must point it out.

2) Argentina journalists have started analyzing the Kirchner faux-pas. A few articles from La Nacion, here, here and here. Plus a colorful description of the Chavez rally. In Spanish all, but worth reading if you can.

-The end-