Monday, July 30, 2007

Chavez and George Bush strange similarities

Chavez is trying to make a career out of accusing George Bush of everything that is evil in the world, including everything in Venezuela where all the failures of chavismo are blamed on one or another CIA conspiracy.

However Chavez looks much more like Bush than some of his followers would care to admit. For example the unconditional support to underlings that messed it up big time. The way that George Bush goes to bat for some of his White House employees is becoming quite spectacular and borders the ridicule. Recently, look for example how Gonzalez, the Attorney General, is defended even at increasing political costs, when removing him and getting a new attorney would simplify Bush's life greatly as he is needed for more pressing matters that are harassing his administration.

This past Sunday Chavez came to bat to defend Ramirez, his oil minister, his PDVSA president. PDVSA is sinking. Oil production has ceased to increase and has started going down. Bad decisions since 2003 indicate that oil production is very, very far from being able to increase again, and probably will lose an extra 20% production capacity within a year or two. But if these crucial economic decisions were not enough to remove from office any minister who took such decisions, amen of a president, the political decisions of Ramirez are even worse. From his outright political campaign involvement in 2006 in violation of all elemental electoral rules, for which he got barely a slap on the wrist, to his open, deliberate, constant support for the discriminatory apartheid society making Tascon list, Ramirez has gutted PDVSA from any responsible personnel that could help the company regain some credibility. Instead Ramirez is presiding over the creation of a huge unproductive bureaucracy where people are more interested in watching what is on the screen saver of their coworker (Chavez pictures are apparently mandatory) than balance sheets and accounting of management decisions. That is, one of the most sophisticated industries of the world will be run by folks chosen strictly on their political credentials. Nobody cares anymore whether they can manage an oil rig.

And I am not even touching the direct financial corruption that is linked with such style of management.

In any normal country, any democratic country, not only Ramirez would have been fired but he would be probably under judicial investigation, indicted and contemplating jail anytime soon. But In Venezuela, Chavez yesterday defies common sense, political or human, by sticking his neck for Ramirez and taunting us with a threat of keeping him for years to come. Of course he will, Ramirez forks over Chavez any dollar that he still manages to collect from oil sales, even if he is gutting the response ability and maintenance habits of PDVSA. And as any good accomplice, Ramirez is willing to shield his boss from any blame.

However there is a difference between Bush and Chavez: by January 2009 Bush and his accomplices will be out of office whereas Ramirez and Chavez might be there for years, stealing the country's future, if anything by their sheer incompetence. And that is quite a difference, whether you like Bush or not.

-The end-

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Chavez electoral lies and manipulations

I was busy yesterday so apparently I missed another one of those intellectually offensive cadenas which seem to be the only type of cadenas Chavez is able to give these days.

The first thing we can say is that whenever the intensity and frequency of cadenas increase, it is an admission by the government that its polling numbers are not good and they must use Chavez himself as the propaganda gun to recover some more favorable numbers. This has been working quite well in the past when Chavez could announce each time a new social program or some presumed revolutionary victory. But as the social programs are not running too well these days and oil production is going down and RCTV is a bitter sore in the popular classes, we may ask ourselves how effective this abuse will be this time. After all, even with chavismo, at some point bis repetita non placent.

Thus I had to rely on newspaper accounts to read what the hell Chavez did a cadena yesterday. They were enough just in the release from El Universal.

Megalomania, when you hold us in your grip!

First, we were treated to what will be one of the main teams of the constitutional changes, indefinite reelection of Chavez. Thus he is presenting himself as the only man capable of directing the country and henceforth he should be allowed to do so. We can even say he is metabolizing it in his organs when he says such silliness:
but I am convinced (...) that these six years for me, for the project that I incarnate, that I push forwards with my bones, my liver, my kidneys, my lungs, my throat, with my nails, the period is not enough.

After such a, literally, visceral statement one is left with no doubt as to the mental state of the beloved leader. Wits, by the way, might notice that there was no mention of Chavez brains...

The referendum lies

Another nice little item I found is this one: if in two years from now someone asks for a recall election and the motion wins, he will go. Yeah, right...

The first question here is why present himself as Venezuela's only hope and assume that in two years he might be gone after all? What is that? A Freudian subconscious uncertainty in his infallibility? An admission of electoral treachery? Or plain delusional B.S.? It is when you read such nonsense that you really understand the need to have journalists, good ones, in front of him and asking him on the spot why such incongruities in his speech. A self assured leader does not even speculate on such things when he is asking for a life presidency! I am pretty sure that neither Napoleon nor Castro ever said such nonsense. Though we do see once again the virtue of cadenas for Chavez, he can talk, talk talk and zero accounting, no straight minded reporter to call him on his flights of fancy. Eventually the feeble minded audience gets wrapped by these contradictions and embraces them.

But there is something better: during the electoral campaign towards the December 2006 election Chavez made one of his important campaign speeches where he promised to call himself for a recall election on his next term. Yes, that is right, as a way to soothe the Venezuelan people, to distract from the fear of six more years of autocracy, to help forget momentarily the apartheid Tascon List as a killer of referenda and democracy, Chavez offered to ask himself for a recall election on his term by December 2010. After yesterday we can be assured that there will be no such referendum in 2010, nor probably ever again if Chavez gets his unlimited reelection.

The world media campaign against Venezuela

Apparently it seems that the US orchestrated negative campaign against Venezuela is so powerful that it dominates even the European press. That is right, all the respectable European newspapers and media and governments have bought into the US argument that closing a TV station for personal vendetta is a bad thing. What is this? huh?

But it gets better: Chavez is sorry that his ambassadors in Europe do not have access to the means to counter such a campaign. What? Venezuelan ambassadors are not allowed to make cadenas in Europe? The nerve of these Europeans!!!!!!

The French case

If the ridicule of the above comment were not enough, we can add another one ridicule with the pretension that the Venezuelan system is just like the French system where presidential reelection is unlimited. True but wrong anyway.

It seems to have all started with Sarkozy writing to Chavez a "friendly letter". I suspect that the new French administration is not quite aware of chavismo and sure enough its first entreat is shamelessly used for propaganda purposes by Chavez. Serves them right. For the record I would like to cite myself when I wrote here that Segolene Royal would have probably had a more principled foreign policy than Sarkozy as the French right has tended to be quite mercenary in its foreign policy. Sarkozy seems to be headed that way, at least in LatAm. Note also that the social democrats of France have rebuked Chavez in ways that the right has never done, that I know of anyway. And then people wonder how come I tend to vote Socialist in France, but I digress...

What Chavez said reflected 1) his complete ignorance of French political history and 2) his willingness to distort anything he can distort to suit his goals.

French presidency was a 7 year term affair established in the constitution of 1871. That constitution was written at a time when France was not sure it would return to a monarchic system or move forward a republican one. Thus the head of state was designed as a weak constitutional monarchy: either a president or a king could take over the job and either one will be equally well controlled by the parliament. That is the way the French system was from 1871 until 1958: a strong parliamentarian system where the head of state, a president it turned out over time, was only good enough to inaugurate exhibits and make colorful state visits outside of the country. The president by the way was elected by the French Congress, not the people!!!

Obviously in such system a president could be president for life: there was no way he could affect much the destinies of the country. In fact this was even implied in a 7 year term which aimed at promoting a certain idea of stability through a symbolic figure/fatherly head.

But in 1958 the constitution was changed and the president got more power. In 1962 the president became elected by the people and the consequence was a slow but continuous shift towards a more presidential system. Today France is a hybrid system: when the president benefits of a parliamentarian majority France is in fact a presidential system. But f a president loses that majority, the new Prime minister from the opposition becomes the real ruler of France. Still, this has been bothersome to the political class and in effort to acknowledge that presidential drift a first reform was voted where Presidential Term and Legislative Terms were given the same time period, five years. And going further, Sarkozy has offered to change further the constitution by giving the president two consecutive terms only.

Chavez failed to mention that about France. Imagine that! But then again Chavez consistently fails to mention such elements as strong institutions, rule of law and separation of powers, institutions that allow French people to sleep tight at night even if their president can be in theory still elected ad infinitum. In fact, even the great De Gaulle was forced out of office and he was certainly of another caliber than Chavez and had achieved quite more.

-The end-

Friday, July 27, 2007

Freedoms of information and expression get another beating in Venezuela

Today the freedoms of expression and of information suffered another major set back, directly from Chavez and from his lackeys.

A cadena from Totalitaria

There was a medium sized country that slowly moved towards a totalitarian regime. The move was step by step and the nice people of the country were either cajoled or coaxed into accepting their fate, as a much better fate than associating themselves with the countries of the Capitalitaria federation.

I though about writing such a short naive tale while I watched a few excerpts of the cadena that Chavez imposed on us today. It had been quite a while that we had not had a big cadena by Chavez himself. Rumors had that the legal problems as to whether RCTV international had to pass cadenas or not sowed the doubt and delayed cadenas. But today we got a full frontal offensive against RCTV, and this cadena as a part of the offensive. The initial reply of RCTV was NOT to pass the cadena. Collision course ahead big time.

But first a reminder. A cadena is, for those that might have been living under a rock all of these years, or are brand new to Venezuela (is that possible still?) , the SIMULTANEOUS FORCED BROADCAST ON ALL TV AND RADIO STATIONS OF WHATEVER THE GOVERNMENT WANTS US TO WATCH. Our only option to escape that abuse is to turn off the TV or subscribe to cable TV.

Tonight cadena was a particularity abusive one. For I do not know how many hours, Chavez celebrated the Moncada assault in Cuba of half a century ago, he cheered Castro and presented himself as his heir. Then he moved on to attack the opposition, ridiculing it, in an offensive tone. Then (or before?) he defended what is already known about the constitutional changes he is about to propose. Of course, the opposition to all of these projects, or those who think that Castro is a criminal will never get 10 minutes to refute Chavez points in a simultaneous broadcast in all of the state TV. For that matter, they will probably not get it either on Venevision and Televen. They will have to rely only on Globovision and RCTV Internacional. No opponent of Chavez life long presidency, I will bet on that, will have significant exposure elsewhere in Venezuela

for those who pretend that Chavez is just managing the air waves in an orderly fashion in Venezuela, the scope of Chavez crime against Human Rights today will be quite a slap . Well, they will keep repeating their worn out line anyway, after all what they are doing is trying to justify the unjustifiable which is the privatization of all the airwaves to a single man's interests, those of Hugo Chavez.

No matter what Chavez supporters will say, today Chavez gave us his first salve in the campaign toward his life long presidency, and with the unfairness that we saw today we can be pretty assured of a nasty campaign and an electoral fraud. When people start a "democratic" campaign by abusing blatantly their power, elections are not to be trusted.

RCTV internacional and the cable/satellite TV system under threat

This morning the lackeys of Chavez in charge of communications, tried to strike again against RCTV. The objective is of course to close it once and for all, as even the meager 25% of the country that could get RCTV at home through cable is already unbearable for El Supremo. Let's not forget that this is a personal vendetta, of the caliber of any vendetta held by any cheap caudillo in LatAm history.

Jesse Chacon and CONATEL came on to say that the cable systems should provide some paperwork from RCTV internacional, otherwise in 5 days they should take it off the air. Apparently RCTV should register as a national producer of content and thus be subjected to all local laws. RCTV says that no, they were forced on cable and they are coming back as a different company, RCTV internacional, and thus need not to follow the law of Venezuelan only media. they should be subjected to the same law that directs Telesur, exempt of cadenas.

The solution for the government to bring RCTV to transmit cadenas is simply to allow them to have one open air channel at least. If RCTV is serious in its claims it would get that channel, say a UHF frequency in Caracas, and force itself to transmit as any other Venezuelan media. But the government is not offering that because what the government wants off all media business. Period. So chavismo is looking for is any legal loophole or misinterpretation (which court will rule in favor of RCTV against Chavez? where in Venezuela?) to close RCTV.

But no, not only the government does not want to give a single UHF to RCTV or Globovision (or anyone who they suspect might not cheer Chavez as needed) , but through its creep of a minister Lara is trying to find a legal way to force HBO to pass Chavez cadenas. That is, people that pay good money to watch pay TV will still be forced to watch Chavez cadenas and state propaganda. Now, let's think about that for a second, let's see where is the freedom of information there? Let's wonder about your right to spend your money as you please and enjoy the leisure you want? When Discovery Kids or Animal Planet or the Italian RAI will be forced to transmit at least in Venezuela any of Chavez vulgarities, where will freedom of expression be? When until even this blog is forced to pass Chavez propaganda? Or closed altogether as internet in turn will be controlled? How long are people going to accept that Chavez creeps more and more into our daily lives, our homes?

So there we are in Venezuela, a government trying to find ways to force everyone in Venezuela to watch Chavez speeches, whenever he feels like giving them. Already if you go to most public administration offices, if the waiting room has a TV is it hooked on VTV. Sometimes mercilessly to an office video/DVD that extols non stop the virtues of the revolution, such as I was subjected to when I went to pay my taxes a couple of months ago.

If the proposal of Lara gets the nod, then we might see the BBC broadcast of some important world event suddenly suspended in Venezuela because Chavez has decided to make a cadena where he will insult people, talk about his childhood souvenirs, speak about projects that will never be done, not even started. And then we will have wait for hours until we can know what happened in such an such place. Where is the freedom of information when foreign channels refuse to be cut by cadenas and leave the country? And where is the freedom of expression when all opponent TV are finally closed under the flimsiest of excuses?

Because in Chavez megalomania, and the sycophants it inspires, in Venezuela now the verbal farts of Chavez are more important than anything else that can happen anywhere in the world.

-The end-

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

High gear again for Chavez

After his electoral "victory” of December 2006 Chavez started speeding up the radicalization of his pseudo revolution. Thus a new constitution format was announced, 5 socialist motors would be running to speed up changes, weapons galore would be bought to arm the revolution and RCTV would be closed so everyone would feel good about the changes.

Unfortunately reality, long repressed by the financial electoral narcotic slumber of 2006, came back with a vengeance. Food started missing from the shelves. People did not like their novelas taken away. The whole world seemed to dislike the idea of closing a major network just because Chavez said so. Thus we saw a strange backpedaling; Chavez even said that the constitutional change was not urgent and could wait for 2008.

And suddenly, zasss, the constitutional changes are back in the front burner, with an extraordinary energy as the National Assembly chair is even talking of a ratification referendum in December. What happened? Two factors: the internal situation evolution implies that the longer Chavez waits for the constitutional change the more difficult it will be to get ratification; and the planned changes will make Chavez a life term dictatorlet. This last one gives the window to pass such changes with complaisant ignorance from foreign players a short term opening.

The troubles at home

The situation at home is fast reaching a critical point.

Devaluation cannot be postponed for long. The street rate is now TWICE the official rate and climbing. Chavez seems very intend to keep the exchange rate as it is, so in January when the new currency hits the streets (1) he will be allowed to claim the hollow victory that the “Bolivar fuerte” is better than the Bolivar of the 70ies when it was at 4,30 per USD. Any devaluation before that time will unleash an inflationary wave, above the current 20%, and that will not be popular at all.

Food shortages are not going to improve much. If certain rather high tech sectors such as chicken or pig farming will be able to keep growth as long as the government allows for grain import (those becoming more expensive everyday), other sectors will not recover for a foreseeable future, such as cattle and dairy. There is no indication that current agricultural policies will allow for the required increase in sugar and corn production. And corn production is crucial for “arepa”, chicken and pork production.

After the recession of 2003, the industrial park is somewhat recovered but it is not expanding. Let’s remember that the Venezuela important growth rate of the last three years is the reflection of a commercial expansion enabled by high oil prices, not a production expansion. There is no significant investment, at least not the type of private investment required, and thus when you combine that with the industries that went down in 2003 and never reopened, it seems that material goods production will not be able to supply the increasing demand. More pressure on inflation.

Paradoxically many social programs such as Mision Vuelvan Caras are depressing the work market and making hiring of personnel more difficult for the few industries that are working at full capacity. Such Misiones allow too many people to cash a small stipend without providing any significant economical activity. They are in fact a very ill conceived jobless program. If to this you combine the prohibition of economical layoff and new and expensive and time consuming regulations of the work place, there is a definite reluctance in the small and medium sized business to expand the work force, a work force increasingly expensive to maintain, and thus increased costs feeding inflation. Historically it is the small enterprise which are the largest creators of jobs and this is not happening, by far, at the scale the country requires. For all the government talk, the national cooperative system is failing consistently to provide the economical relief sought.

All of these factors will keep increasing the inflationary pressure in Venezuela with all the consequences that such a situation eventually carries for a country: a recession in the near future with an inflation rate well above 20%. If to this you add the prospect of a temporary oil production drop, all but directly admitted last week by some of PDVSA executives, the recession could hit any time in 2008 if some corrective measures are not taken right now. These measures will start by control of public spending, a no-no in an electoral year if Chavez wants to ratify the constitutional changes by December. The vicious electoral circle is thus well established.

The troubles abroad

There has been always the rush to assume the mantle of Castro before this one dies. To this you can add now the badly deteriorated image of Chavez as a consequence of the closing of RCTV.

A mild anti Chavez feeling among Europe ruling class and elite caused by a rather strong anti Castro feeling has not been improved at all when RCTV was closed. However Europe right now is mired again into a treaty renegotiation, is concerned about Iran and what not. But that will last only so long; a deterioration sped up whenever Chavez hugs Ahmadinejerk.

With the US things are pretty much done when all major contenders for the 2008 elections have expressed anti Chavez sentiments. But the US is now mired in the presidential campaign on top of an ever more difficult Iraq situation. Not to mention the worries over Iran.

The constitutional reforms that Chavez wants to introduce are a life long presidency, the end to decentralization, the creation of a strong personal and centralized administration, the end of any investment guarantees, including for those investments that already exist in Venezuela. Even worse, in the new economical system that Chavez proposes, any opposition movement could never establish the democratic bases to challenge Chavez and will be forced into some form of violent response with the irresponsibly magnified repression that usually follows in such systems. In other words, all of this is anathema to established democratic practices where the opposition should have fair access to political tools.

To this we can add the troubles in the neighboring countries. The tension with Colombia is everyday more and ore difficult to hide, even more when at the border the Colombian Peso is now the currency of choice. The Mercosur alliance is now questioned by Chavez himself, and the all but certain arrival of Cristina Kirchner at the Casa Rosada is no guarantee of an unconditional Argentinean support. She will be much less dependent on Chavez generosity than her husband was, and she is a supporter of Jewish communities and definitely not a friend of Iran, now Chavez main ally after Cuba. Lula himself is running into some problems and might soon find that it does not pay off to keep supporting Chavez as he does. An increasingly unstable Ecuador and Bolivia could radicalize the nascent anti Chavez opposition in Peru and Chile and even Uruguay and Paraguay.

Of course, none of these countries is going to send a single soldier to unseat Chavez, but his dreams of international stardom will be curtailed fast if he postpones his constitutional reforms further, as he still benefits of a democratic label as the implications of the RCTV closing are not fully felt outside of Venezuela. Right now the world is very distracted and Chavez antics might not matter much, but a fresh US president, for example, or a new Middle East new crisis could isolate a newly autocratic Chavez.

The timetable

Thus Chavez has redone his math quickly.

Right now, he can still pull out a reasonably acceptable referendum to validate the changes he wants to make to the constitution (2). But the longer he waits, the more difficult this will be. If in December the people approve a non democratic constitution then the world will have to grudgingly accept that Venezuela democracy committed suicide. It is Venezuela’s right after all. But if in 2008 the ratification follows a strong street movement, and a likely rigged vote, then Chavez will be a pariah just as Mugabe is. This is something that Chavez tries desperately to avoid even if in the mind of many foreign leaders he is already such a pariah.

This also applies at home. Many people still think that there was nothing wrong with the Recall Election of 2004, but the RCTV closing has done terrible damage to Chavez image. Not the direct damage, mind you, Chavez is still loved by too many. But among many of his followers the seed of doubt has been planted. The more Chavez let’s the debate on the constitution drag on, the more that small chinck on his Teflon coat will start to expand and become a fault line. Add to this all the other domestic problems brewing and their effect felt more and more by the hoi polloi, and you can guess that suddenly time is running short.

So Chavez has decided, apparently, to gamble on the vacation period of Venezuelans. That is, dissident students supposedly will be off the streets, opposition leaders in vacation in Miami, or in Margarita resorts and the National Assembly will not need to put up the pretense of open debate with the people as no one will show up to any debate they might call. If it works, then the opposition AGAIN, will not have time to organize a reasonable challenge in just the two months of October and November, which late start was also one of the major handicaps of the Rosales campaign in 2006 (3).

Will that work? The country is very different in July 2007 than it was in July 2006. There is a new sense of urgency that could trump all the plans of Chavez, starting by many people inside his base that this time will not follow that adventure. For example, a strong anti constitutional change challenge in Aragua state by Governor Didalco Bolivar could even yield a narrow No vote for the changes! Chavez needs a victory margin for the Yes at least as large as his vote of December 2006. But right now this cannot be achieved without electoral fraud. In fact, a Yes vote is even questionable in December, much more in 2008. Thus for the time being it seems that Chavez is trying a honest victory in December, and you should not be surprised that the initial radical proposal about to be unveiled might be greatly watered down by the December vote. After all, the only thing that Chavez really, really needs, is unlimited reelection. If he gets that, all the other non democratic changes can be postponed and gained in due time. This, in the end might be the real strategy of Chavez, settle for the unlimited reelection but get it in an acceptable vote.

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

PS: this post comes with no link at all. There would be so many that it would become almost unreadable if all appropriate details were added. I thought about doing it as a multi part post but time is short these days so I settle for this very long "summary". At any rate, many of today items have already been reported in preceding posts such as this one or this one. And perusing El Universal web page is enough to verify 90% of the information noted here, even from the skimpy English section.

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

1) Three zeros will be loped off from the actual VEB. That is, 1,000 VED of today will become 1 “Bolivar fuerte”.

2) The constitutional changes will be the subject of another post. Stay tuned.

3) What the opposition can do will be the topic of yet another post.

-The end-

Reminder on commenting section rules

The little incident with a reader two posts ago made me think that perhaps it was time to refresh the rules section of this blog. Also, looking at Quico's blog where there are comment rules on his haloscan feature made me look into it and try it. Thus I put this same picture below on top of my haloscan section, and after this picture I will give some details as to what this means.

The picture did not come out to great but I will work on it later. Meanwhile the reasons behind the rules.

Comment rules by order of importance: My subjective order of course. Or as they say, my blog, my rules.

1) No personal attacks, ever. That makes me see red. Not that on occasion someone does deserve a rather strong comment, but usually there must be a solid story behind.

2) Do not carry your grudges from other blogs to this one, ever. The green is a little bit the green of envy, of jealousy, the green that some people experience when their prey escaped them from another comment section and they track their nemesis to the pages of this blog. For some reason this irks me enormously. Whatever fight happened in, say, Miguel's blog, has nothing to do with the threads of this blog. That does not mean you cannot refer to such instance and comments such as "please, fulanito, do not start again on that" can be acceptable, on rare occasions. But details on "that" are never welcome.

3) No trolling. Obvious, no? Though sometimes a little bit of very light trolling can start a conversation. I will be the sole judge so you use that technique at your own risk.

4) Inasmuch as possible stay on topic. Yes, I know, there might be breaking news and what not. But in general I try to write focused and complete post and I like to discuss them and bring more information from the readers who might post. So yes, we can stray, but not too often.

5) As a general rule, if with three comments you have not been able to make your case in a given thread, you will probably not be able to make it with further entries. That is, keep it sweet, short and simple, there will be other threads. Well, this is what in general has tended to sink other comment sections into useless and boring infighting, and usually because the rules above were ignored. Another way this could be written is "do not feed the trolls" but that does not cover it all. The real aim here is that I prefer a thread with only 10 interesting comments than one with 100 comments where only there people participate. It is boring, I must approve all of them and I have no time for it. A great blog is never defined by how many comments appear at the end of its posts. Actually, some of the best blogs around do not even have a comment section!

But I am putting this rule on 5th only now because a long moderation of this blog has in fact created a certain pleasant climate and it is rare that people violate that rule. The only one that does it seems to be me but then again as the host I feel the need to reply to as many people time allows me.

6) Do not make any assumptions about people unless you are prepared to sustain them. This is a new rule. I do not know whether it is the current political climate or what, but I have noticed a tendency for people to assume all sorts of things about the other visitors. Remember, this is Internet and people can be whatever they want. Take them at face value and only discuss their ideas. Otherwise you will quickly end up breaking rule number 1!!!

Final comment.

Last December I wrote something to the effect that this blog would from now on not be welcoming very much of PSF and other assorted chavistas. I think I should once again restate why.

After 8 years of Chavez rule, very few people at this point are going to change their mind in the anti Chavez camp. We have seen the man, we have taken his measure, and for those who live in Venezuela like this blogger, there is very little that a PSF can bring to the discussion. We do not like Chavez, we do not like his militarization of the country, we do not like his intolerance and there is absolutely no evidence that these three things are improving in the least bit. And no amount of social programs, assuming they are successful, can compensate for the the three items just listed.

That does not mean that pro Chavez folks cannot come and post, it means that they should chose better what to write about. For example:

* saying that Chavez was right to close RCTV because media should not be private hands is a troll. It is a troll because Chavez has privatized the public media of Venezuela to his name, and they know that very well and agree with it. It is the hypocrisy of such a statement that is not welcome anymore here as we have no more time for that B.S.

* on the other hand saying that you think a specific social policy is good and explaining why is perfectly OK (though I have yet to see that happen in here or any opposition blog I have ever visited). After all we might have missed some worthwhile initiatives and we might gain in knowing about them even if there is no way that a given social program will change our mind on Chavez. Still, after 8 years in office, chavismo is bound to have learned to do a few things right, no?

In other words, for any chavista that might have reached this far into this post: you have everything, all the TV, all the cadenas, and more and more. In here we want peace and quiet, a safe place where we can trash chavismo among us. We do not need additional grief from you, and as the host I take very seriously the role of keeping this comment section welcoming for anti Chavez folks. If you do not like it I will remind you that there are plenty of other blogs where you can go and slug it out, but not here. Here you respect our anti Chavez position or move on.

-The end-

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ripley's believe or not bad currencies

This short post courtesy of reader M.G.

Foreign Policy has a cute little article about the countries with the worst 5 currencies in the world today.

You have, for obvious reasons North Korea, with the quaint note that "The minor role played by money in the North Korean economy mitigates the effects of hyperinflation to some extent". Thanks for juche!

You have for even more obvious reason Somalia: "traders make up the rules and prices as they go along, and counterfeiting is rampant". What? They do also have buhoneros in Somalia and the locals make their own money?

Iraq I need not to comment on so we can move to the next one.

Zimbabwe where the editor added a proof reading note: "Editor's note: Zimbabwe's unofficial exchange rate is even higher than we originally thought, and it's changing by the minute"

And finally, yes, you guessed it, VENEZUELA!!!! Since it is a holiday and I am feeling kind of lazy I will lift up the whole paragraph on Venezuela. You will notice, if you are a long time reader of this blog (and Miguel or Quico) that there is nothing in it that you already did not know about the Venezuelan Bolivar, VEB.
With massive public spending fueling inflation and President Hugo Chávez’s nationalization campaign triggering a massive outflow of capital, it’s been a bad year for the bolívar. Thanks mainly to the high price of oil, many of Venezuela’s economic fundamentals look sound. But Venezuela’s currency has lost 21 percent of its value since January 2007, the worst performance of all 72 currencies tracked by Bloomberg News. Seeking to staunch the bleeding, Chávez has announced a bizarre series of measures, including imprisonment for those who violate price caps, removing three zeroes from the bolívar and renaming it the “strong bolívar” and—most bizarre of all—the reintroduction of 12.5-cent coin that Chávez promises will help whip inflation. When introducing the coin in March, he boasted, “We’re going to end monetary instability in Venezuela.”

-The end-

Monday, July 23, 2007

It is all about Chavez

One wonders how much of Chavez speeches are simple craziness or absurd provocation. As I was shutting up for the day I decided to read today's news in El Universal updates. I was not disappointed by the return on the air of Alo Presidente: Chavez came back with a vengeance. Obviously repressing his big mouth for a few weeks during the Copa games was too much to endure. Poor guy! How many Valiums must have he swallowed!? In a way it is a nice complement to the long article on his censorship plans I just posted so I will write a quick summary. In no particular order.

Reelection only for Chavez. So it is official, Chavez has said that in the constitutional electoral reform is only for the president.

The president is the only guy who can get reelected in vita aeternam. Mayors and governors can forget it, can forget about becoming some local potentates. The only potentate in Venezuela is the president who is of course Chavez. Some reform! Now, I knew he was a megalomaniac but I never thought he would be so blunt about it. Stupefying!

Foreigners cannot criticize Venezuela/Chavez anymore. any foreigner that comes to Venezuela to criticize Chavez should be deported, replied to, shut up, whatever. But of course Chavez can keep going to New York or La Plata to insult Bush. Or he can insult the Brazilian or Chilean senates from Caracas. That is OK, he is Chavez. Megalomania maximus!

Caracas will become again a Federal district subjected to the presidency. In the so called reform it is normal that Caracas loses again its autonomy. And to add to the craziness he complained that Chacao did not look good, that it was not the same as in the time of Irene Saez! One wonders if the recent strike of the garbage collectors of Chacao was not a plan to allow Chavez to say that!!! I cannot wait for Chacao to get a chavista gauleiter and see the buhoneros invade the sidewalks. Then it would look good, like the rest of garbagy Caracas under chavista administration. Chacao is about to experience the reverse Midas touch of chavismo: all that it manages turns to crap.

Ideology, ideology and more ideology. So it is confirmed, more ideology everywhere, at school, in barracks, etc... Patria, socialismo o muerte everywhere. Our chance to revive Germany circa 1936. Or is it the Malecon of Havana with Castro? Sometimes I get confused....

-The end-

The control remote wars as the road to censorship in Venezuela

Over the past few months we have been told constantly that the closing of RCTV had nothing to do with censorship, that it was just a "non renewal" of a license because, you know, there was the need to create a different media system, not beholden to any disgusting commercial interest.

Well, this week we were brutally reminded that all is just a charade and that the only objective of the government all along was to force people to subject themselves to the incessant pro Chavez propaganda, preferably when the great and beloved leader directs himself the shows.

But to understand what started developing this week, it might useful to go back in time and see how all started, how it all steadily progressed and how today the remote control of your pay TV has become the most dangerous subversion weapon.

The Beginnings: the cadena policies

When Chavez reached office on February 2, 1999, he only had at his disposition the state TV network to promote his propaganda. Until then he had been helped by a complaisant press and media. By the time the Constituent Assembly was elected its opinion was rather unfavorable to Chavez. The reason? The divisive discourse of Chavez already at work.

Very early in his term chavismo tried all sort of "information" outlets, such as the miserably failed newspapers Barreto's Correo del Presidente. Soon the only viable solution was to turn VTV, the state channel, into a pro Chavez propaganda vessel. Today, in a strange way, we look at 1999 as a year where VTV could still be watched, where opponents could still visit and speak their mind on occasion. That is, compared to today where VTV is a 24/24 outlet to defend chavismo and attacks anything not in agreement with chavismo.

But very soon, better than any propaganda outlet, Chavez found the perfect weapon to fight back the perceived media crusade against his positions: the cadena. For memory, it is the forced simultaneous broadcast of any of Chavez speech whenever he feels like it, for as long as he wants it, over ALL radio and ALL TV of the country. Soon cadenas were the dreadful tools that Chavez used as frequently as needed, as a reply to any talk show on TV that displeased him.

Cadenas worked, and still work to some extent, as they were justly perceived by Chavez followers as a retaliation against all the representatives of the "ancien regime" which is perceived, rightly or unjustly, to reside inside the press and media of Venezuela. As such cadenas are the clear indication of the political line to follow. I think that all the way through 2001 I could walk in the streets of San Felipe and when a cadena came I could see people stopping their errands and stay stuck in front of any TV they could find to watch the presidents words. I suppose from a long tradition of cadenas used by past presidents to address the nation in time of urgency or drama, the Venezuelan folk retained that attitude of wanting to watch cadenas to get "important" information. I am pleased to announce that today that reflex is no more, that a TV showing a Chavez cadena is simply either turned off, or switched to some music channel on cable if the store subscribes.

The Escalation: the media empire

I suppose that sometime in 2001 chavismo realized that cadenas alone would not do it. Also the success of the Alo Presidente format made chavismo realize that its very best exponent was Chavez himself. Thus the need to promote his media presence in more ways than just cadenas which soon enough started showing their limitations. That is how Alo Presidente went from being a radio talk show in 1999 to a full fledged very expensive TV production to promote Chavez message at tax payer expense of course, as its official state web page shows.

The year 2002 was a watershed in more ways than one. Since the media participated so actively in the protest against Chavez, this one decided to counter attack. The first approach was the establishment of a media empire at the service of Chavez. In this respect Chavez has outmatched any media baron that ever existed: at taxpayer expense he has created a personal broadcasting system dedicated at promoting his image and his ideas as much at home as abroad.

New TV stations were created for internal consumption such as ViVe and ANTV. Private radios systems were bought by pro Chavez interest and the only Radio with full national coverage became RNV which went from a classical cultural outlet to a propaganda system. For his promotion overseas Chavez had Telesur established, a Latin American CNN wanna-be.

On the left you can see an ad published this week end announcing the return of Alo Presidente after the Copa America hiatus. I have circled in green all the networks that are transmitting the show, 5 TV and 3 radio systems. Plus all sorts of "community" radio station and TV. The communication empire of Chavez is so big and so obvious that the regime actually takes great pride in advertising it.

But that was not enough: once the 2004 scare of the recall Election passed, a new legal system was installed. This was done in two parts. The first one was the modification of the penal code which simplified ways in which people could sue for opinions emitted against them, favoring a certain self censorship of the press. The other more successful initiative was the famous RESORTE law which limited effectively the amount of political talk shows, limited their scape as some type of material could only be shown after hours, and best, forced all media to transmit for free 10 minutes a day of "institutional" messages. These messages are quite often barely disguised propaganda.

One thing should not be forgotten: aggressions against journalists from the private media were also on the rise during these years, although lower these days. This was also a way the government tried to force more favorable reports on its polices. It did not help much, of course, but it opened a Pandora box of violence as now Chavez supporters feel free to object to the presence of any media they do not like. The IACHR has a complete report on the aggressions toward journalists and some of the legal apparatus established to induce self censorship of the press.

At any rate, these set of measures had a favorable effect for chavismo: two of the nationwide broadcaster, Venevision and Televen decided to go "neutral" when not indirectly supporting the regime. By the time the presidential election of 2006 came, only RCTV and Globovision were left to give fair coverage to the Rosales campaign. European Union electoral observer report (PDF format), for example, mentions the pro Chavez bias of a majority of TV networks in Venezuela including Venevision almost as supportive as VTV! The figure below (click to enlarge) shows this astounding finding of the European Union, on how successfully Venevision has been tame and coopted.

The final solution: taking away the remote control

But the success of Chavez in 2006 was not enough for him, even if he won by an alleged landslide against the vigorous opposition of RCTV. A few days after his victory Chavez announced that the license of RCTV would not be renewed, even as there were questions as to when that license did indeed expire (1). The fact of the matter is that Chavez did not care about expiration dates, it was a political revenge and sure enough on May 27 RCTV went off the air, leaving Globovision alone as the only media where the opposition political figures could regularly speak, and where news about the "real" Venezuela could be shown.

Soon this turned out to be an empty victory for Chavez. Besides badly damaging his image at home and overseas, it did not tame at all the remaining free press or Globovison who bravely decided to pick up where RCTV had left, even if its coverage is barely 50% of the country. Chavismo cannot have failed to notice that the number of cable TV subscribers have gone up by 14% this first semester of 2007 when compared to the first semester of 2006. This increase in subscribers is due to people deciding to make the economical sacrifice to get cable as their only option from free broadcast is generally pro Chavez.

If we do a quick math: about 22% of homes now receive some form of pay TV and if this is increasing by 20% a year, within barely three years a third of the country will escape from any pro Chavez message if it wishes. And it only can keep growing as in poorer areas many people might pool resources to start watching the Discovery System rather than TVes. As the number of customers grow, cable systems might even start lowering costs and get even more subscribers. It is not impossible that by the next presidential election 50% of the population has access to cable and in front of such a market new viable sources of information could be created that would devote themselves to counter Chavez without this one being able to respond or force his cadenas upon.

RCTV managed one month an a half later to come back on Cable and Satellite as RCTV International. However there was a difference now: RCTV was a cable only network and now was, theoretically, not subjected to the RESORTE law rules, such as passing the national anthem at given hours, or those 10 minute propaganda every day, or even the cadena. The law is obscure on that since Telesur, although emitting from Venezuela but to all of South America, does not pass cadenas. The fight has already started with two ministers saying that RCTV should be subjected to the same rules as the others. RCTV says no, that it should be subjected to the same rules as Telesur as it is now a new channel from Miami and as its contents will increasingly be modified to satisfy an international market.

There is no need to scrutinize the legal aspects of it, it is enough to see at which speed the government reacted in front of the possibility that RCTV could skip cadenas. As soon as people realize that they can watch real Venezuelan events while Chavez tries to cover up a situation as he did in April 11 2002 when he started a cadena to make sure TV could not cover the massacre of the march against him, people will flock to cable systems.

Thus the new proposal of the government: to force cable systems to abide by the RESORTE law. That is, National Geographic channel, or the BBC of London will have to pass the national anthem at the hours stipulated by the government, plus the 10 minutes a day of propaganda, and perhaps at some point even the cadenas. Needless to say that this will be impossible because of the international contracts and rules that regulate copyrights of these networks. It will either force cable systems to close, or limit the available selection as the BBC, National Geographic, the Discovery network and other movie channels will simply prefer not to sell their programming to Venezuela. The only folks that will be able to avoid official propaganda will be those lucky enough to afford Direct TV on paid codifier from Puerto Rico or Colombia. Until the government decides that satellite dishes are illegal and thus we will be like in such Islamic countries where dishes must be hidden from view from outside least some censor sees them. (2)

Will we reach such a level of censorship? Frankly, yes, it is a matter of time, it is in the nature of the system and we have seen how increasingly chavismo has been sending its tentacles to take control of that remote control in your home, to make it useless as any button you press will bring you to an irrelevant channel, or a propaganda media.


The real issue there is simply that chavismo and Chavez cannot tolerate anymore that a remote control can trump their message. Chavismo cannot deal with the fact that when TV ratings are made they always put at the bottom the Chavez media. Together VTV, ViVe et al. never reach a combined total of 20%, if that much. That is, not even all of the faithful chavista core that this blogger always has given as a 30%.

All the money, time and resources to create a "state media system" has been in vain: with more TV networks than many a ruler or press magnate in the world, chavismo is unable to create a newspaper that people are willing to pay money for it, or a TV programming that people enjoy watching on a regular basis. It is paradoxical that the two only "hit" shows of chavismo are Alo Presidente and La Hojilla. Curiously those are the only shows that many in the opposition also watch as many do like to know what the future has in store for them.

So there is chavismo, bitter and resentful that no one wants to play with them. And thus, when everything failed, chavismo can only think of taking the remote control away. Do not forget that in Orwell¡s 1984, the higher up in the party had access to more news than the hero. Just as in Cuba Castro has some satellite system to watch any show in the world he wants but Cubans must satisfy themselves with Gramma as owning a TV is probably not worth since there is nothing to watch on Cubavision or Telerebelde.

1) El Universal carries in English an RCTV dossier with many translated articles.

2) The pretense of locking all TV signals reaching Venezuela is already seen as a Human Rights violation and already Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement on this respect. More is to come for sure if the government persists in this crazy idea.

-The end-

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chavisteria of the day: Barreto promotes Cuba

Newspapers have been carrying this week end this lovely advertisement from Caracas mayor at large office (click to enlarge).

In this ad Barreto glorifies the inauguration of a rather small looking facility. I have seen bigger works inaugurated by Chavez that did not deserve a half page in El Universal....

However the ad has everything, two images of Barreto, one a montage with Chavez on the top right, where they are pointing to the future I suppose. It also has the words "comrade Chavez". and a few tired slogans. It even has, one wonders why, the logo of the Copa and the logo of Barreto own pet TV, Avila TV, where he plays at having his own TV just as Chavez has a half a dozen at his service. It is almost quaint.....

But that is not the most offensive thing. The Cuban flag floats over the facility and even hides the Venezuelan flag. Provocation? Deep brain washing of the town hall PR personnel? Plain incompetence? Extreme sycophancy? True, there are surely a few Cuban medics in it but the bill is footed 100% by Venezuelan monies....

Obviously there is a psychological pattern to Barreto's behavior...

-The end-

Friday, July 20, 2007

Educational brainwash in Venezuela

There are those exquisite moments where the dignitaries of the regime forget that the "ancien regime" democratic ways allowed them to become the fascists (or is that stalino-commie?) that they are today. For example this week we got the words of Adan Chavez, the evil brother of mini-me, keeping up his drive against private education; and Carlos Escarra telling us that the 37% who voted (official numbers, not a verifiable one) against Chavez had no business in discussing the constitutional overhaul.

Private education under siege

Every totalitarian regime has been hell bent in destroying any form of private education. The reason is very simple: nobody should be allowed to develop a dissenting perception of life, the only one being allowed is the one from the state. The obviousness of this forces me to stop from giving any further detail least I would insult the intelligence of readers of this blog.

In Venezuela the all out assault against private education has been delayed once and again because simply the government has been absolutely unable to reorganize the public system. Closing or intervening private educational system, in addition to its political costs, is simply something that the regime cannot financially undertake, at least as long as it has not shown that it can manage the public system. Even more so when doubts about the educational Misiones (Robinson, Ribas and Sucre) are starting to appear more and more as it is plain to see, for example, that illiteracy is far from eliminated in Venezuela. Or as Mision Sucre students wonder aloud whether their degree will get them a job, if they even get their degree.

But with all the changes that we have been threatened with the government is now forced to tighten the squeeze on private education, from your local infant garden to private universities. So, to start squeezing out of existence private schools the government has forbidden them to increase their billing. That is, tuition at private schools for 2007-2008 HAS TO BE THE SAME as during the 2006-2007 period. That official inflation was 15% and real inflation something above 20% does not concern the education minister of Chavez, his brother Adan, who every day looks more and more like the second in command, the bolibanana revolution imitating the Castro brothers show.

In addition minimum wage were increased by 20% last may, which forces an increase of 10 to 20% on wages that are above minimum, anyway. We all know that wages are the bulk of any school budget. Needless to say that private schools are seriously talking civil disobedience and that parents are supporting price increases! In many school parents have gathered to make "donations" and the phenomenon has been so widespread that Adan Chavez had to come out to say that such donations were illegal!

What direct benefit does the government hopes to achieve with that? Either close some schools, or force them to ask subsidies from the state. Subsidies are already given in lower social class neighborhoods private schools since the state has long ago discovered that it is cheaper to subsidize some catholic schools, for example, as it cannot manage the educational system as it should. Subsidies, of course, allow for political pressures on those schools who can at least be barred from any anti Chavez, pro capitalist message, if they were so inclined.

To confirm this wish to control educational message we also got this week an interesting moment. Barreto of soccer fields infamy, has decided to distribute in some public schools little cookies wrapped in political slogans which are by definition of dubious taste and cultural value. Some parents complained and Adan Chavez said that he did not understand the buzz. After all, according to him, children need to be told more and more about socialism of the XXI, which we are to understand is a good thing even if it looks, walks, quacks as a commie duck more and more. Parents of private schools obviously do not want anything related with any political indoctrination of their children.

It is a nice coincidence that the Washington Post reports today that educational textbooks in Russia are changed these days to glorify Putin more. And to bash the Untied States again. Echoes of a totalitarian past are back in the ex Soviet lands. Venezuela-Russia, "même combat".

Note: the children of chavista ministers in general do not attend public school! Most in fact attend some of the priciest private school. For example the Private French School of Caracas hosts many of those nomeklatura kids in either one of its French or Venezuelan section. The French school is one of the most expensive private schools of Venezuela...

Constitutional contempt

But if anyone had the faintest doubt that the chavista administration worried about ALL Venezuelans welfare, this was once again erased by Carlos Escarra. This sleazy and greasy lawyer, not trusted by Chavez, even today, has had to crawl into so many gutters to try to ingratiate himself that now that Chavez finally put into a position of interest, he wallows in intellectual litter even more gladly than when he was trying to climb. The list of all atrocities that Carlos Escarra has said is too long to mention and is worthy of ranking one day with the list of specious politico legal arguments of the Stalinist Massive Trial Judges or the Nazi judges that legalized deportation and racial cleansing.

The latest uttering of Escarra is that the 37% of people who voted against Chavez had no say on constitutional changes, that 63% had voted for socialism and that the change was irreversible so why should the government even bother explaining its reasons to a more than a third of the country. What about "Venezuela es de todos"? Visibly after the fiasco of the Copa America as the rallying moment the government stupidly hoped for, now it is time to erase the memory of those who oppose Chavez. If polls give Chavez below 40% these days, why not come back to that comforting 63% of people who voted for Chavez out of fear and under threat?

That is to be expected in a country that refused to punish someone like Tascon for his apartheid list. Any public official can now speak disparagingly against any political adversary knowing full well that the state power is geared to crush such adversaries.

And thus we can observe the two tenets of brain washing: brainwash the young as soon as possible, and pretend that the ones that cannot be brain washed do not exist.

-The end-

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Chavistas are all the same: the IACHR fires its Venezuelan director

[Updated, twice, including blogger scrambling of the text!!! For some reason blogger put up an early rough draft!!!]

The juicy bit of news today was the firing from the board of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Venezuelan representative, Freddy Gutierrez Trejo.

These things happen, you know, but what does not happen is that the decision of the rest of the board was apparently unanimous and that the language was not diplomatic at all: Gutierrez Trejo was simply accused to be a liar. We can deduce that the board has lost any confidence in his work and discretion. In other words, the board who works on very critical cases could not trust Gutierrez in the very minimum discretion and diplomacy that some cases require.
Gutierrez was accused also of having "abused repeatedly of his position as Rapporteur to attack the institutional integrity and impartiality of IACHR and its members, and give false testimony on pending matters and cases before the Commission."

Gutierrez, of course, in true chavivictim, sucks, repeats that IACHR has a hidden agenda, etc, etc... I am sure that if I listened carefully in true fashion he must have claimed that the IACHR was trying to silence him, that he is for full disclosure, full transparency. He also said that he does never reject a journalistic interview where he says the real truth. From seeing him on TV I guess that at least that last part was true. He does seem to relish a camera, in particular if it comes from a Chavez media. But of course, he is chavista and the IACHR has been criticizing Venezuela quite a lot since Chavez has been busy at work ensuring his power until kingdom comes. So I suppose he genuinely think he was doing his job and a great performance at that. Just like Barreto at the Estadio Olimpico.

They are all the same, Rodriguez, Barreto, Gutierrez, etc... There must be some special school for such guys. Sometimes I catch myself missing good old Jose Vicente who at least was good with his histrionics and did not even try to hide his cynicism.

Update: the resolution of the IACHR is up on their web site. the words "has made false statements" are there for all to read.

-The end-

Some students are more student than other, or the Chavez model for work study

When Chavez closed RCTV and unwillingly launched the student movement to the streets, there was a crass attempt at discrediting them: it was the trap set up at the National Assembly (N.A.). The sequence of events is now well known. The dissenting students which were all but summoned to the National Assembly gave a written speech and refused to repeat it endlessly, preferring to leave the sleazed up National Assembly building, requiring protection from a lynch mob.

Chavista propaganda went into high gear.

The students were called cowards for leaving the hall; were ridiculed for not taking that opportunity to expose their ideas fully; were ridiculed for having said a speech supposedly written from some advertising agency; and what not. Of course, chavismo who cherish endless repetition from its leader, who enthralls itself in constant stream of vacuity could not appreciate how complete and to the point was the speech read by Douglas Barrios. Even less could they understand that a consensus speech is always typed and read. Chavismo cannot understand that because it has renounced all critical thinking and as it drinks as nectar Chavez vulgar improvisations. But the worst attacks, the one constantly repeated is about that ad agency helping the students, and that they are paid by the Empire or subject to some sort of such arrangement.

That the walkout of the students paid handsomely on the political front has only served to increase the strident chavista attack as it despaired from finding adequate ideas to reply.

Unfortunately for chavismo, the only card that they thought they were holding has finished to fade. After that memorable N.A. session, some of these chavista students were promoted as the true voice of Venezuela youth, the birth of the intellectual future of the revolution.

Well, there is nothing of the sort, truth always comes up eventually.

It was first shown that many of these students had already active social security accounts, which means that they might be students but they already working. Nothing wrong with that of course, except that they were working in government agencies, and politicized ones at that.

But the press kept digging. For example Tal Cual published that in fact the students that were talking to defend the bolivarian revolution were selected in a casting call at the Vice President office. That is, when the dissenting students hit the streets someone had the idea of creating a public show at the N.A. and quickly sought through the different political agencies of the government a few presentable "students" to select. That means that NO ONE of the pro Chavez student was the representative of any significant student body supporting Chavez. None of them was, for example, the president of the UBV student council. Across the aisle, in the dissenting camp, all of the students are elected, named, voted on, selected in reunions by their fellow students. But of course in chavismo the only thing that matters is to be designed by the divine finger of the autocrat or the people he has designed, in this case Jorge Rodriguez, the vice president who has quite a track record on fudged elections anyway.

But it gets better. Today Tal Cual publishes another pearl. Apparently some of the pro Chavez students that hit prime time in that so called historical session of the N.A. are wined, dined and hosted in some Caracas hotel while all their travel expenses to make the rounds of chavista cells are fully paid by the state. They must have racked quite a few frequent flier miles at Conviasa.

No need to stress that the dissenting student take the metro like any other citizen and probably buy some hot dog at the local "perro calientero". And have the pro Chavez students reached any breakthrough? So far nothing. All the talk about a student power and a huge student assembly is so far just that, talk.

But at least, for the time being the pro Chavez student are adding a new meaning to the term work study.

-The end-

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Of the abuses of power: chavistas as the owners of the country

The Copa America has been another great opportunity to observe how chavismo, or at least its higher exponents, think that country belongs to them to do as they please.

His vulgar violent highness, Juan Barreto, mayor at large of Caracas

During the Saturday game where Mexico won the third place of the Copa America, there was a strange incident in the benches. The mayor at large of Caracas, Juan Barreto, was attending the game, his right certainly, For some reason he got into a scuffle with one of the people also attending the game, Marco Carillo, a faculty at the Catholic University. It is not clear why the scuffle started except that Barreto decided that he wanted to get the baseball cap that Carillo wore. This all in the middle of the crowd watching the game, in front of someone holding his child in his arms.

Now, whatever happened, someone holding a video camera filmed the whole scene and we can clearly see the different steps of the scuffle. Globovision showed everything, picture by picture, there is not much doubt possible.

Barreto lounges ahead. Barreto tries to grab the cap. Carillo stands backs and is forced against the handlebar. The military police arrives and tries to pull Barreto away. Barreto "crowd" arrives to help Barreto and attacks Carillo (the mayor said later they were "not his body guards, just sympathizers that support my management of the city", or something like that; I kid you not). One of the "friends" of Barreto hits Carillo as the Military police tries to stop everything. Another group of three "sympathizers" climbs on the outside of the handlebar to attack Carillo, one of them is seen having a gun on his belt, something hat was absolutely forbidden in the stadium or the grounds of the UCV campus where the stadium is located. And to top it off, the police of Barreto, la Metropolitana, tries to expel Carillo of the stadium but the crowd and the Military Police block their action.

Astounding! Barreto broke enough rules Saturday to be impeached fast by any serious municipal council. At the very least Barreto should be investigated. Yet, nothing will happen even though Barreto has been shown as the liar and violent he is, something that has been evidenced many times in his past and troubled/ing life.

But perhaps the very best is that he said more or less that it was thank to his actions that the stadium was renovated and that the people should be grateful. As if it were from his pocket money and not from tax payer money; as if it were not his duty to maintain sports installation in the city; as if his actions had been that good since the delays cost Caracas to lose one of the originally games scheduled to take place in Caracas. The psychotic dissociation of Barreto and his all out violence are truly deserving of investigation before he comes to kill someone with his own hands. Barreto is dangerous.

Meanwhile, for much less than Barreto a few students barely escape jail

Miguel reported on another "scuffle" that happened OUTSIDE of the stadium. Some students were passing fliers, something that happens in any stadium with any big game in any civilized country of the world. Well, they were arrested, got freed only because of public outrage and now are subjected to a judicial regime where they must present themselves to some tribunal every week. They also got a warning as not doing anymore what they were doing. This way we can assume that a new judicial "precedent" has been established and thus giving fliers at a stadium door might become a major crime.

So, these 4 kids, giving fliers met justice but Barreto who actually broke real laws might be steaming but does so in total freedom.

Besides, while an uncounted number of "security personnel" was used to arrest four dangerous students I am pretty sure that within a 2 miles radius of the place people were robbed, were murdered. How many people did die in Caracas of violent murder the last week end? 10? 20? As much as an average Iraq car bomb? But of course chavismo higher luminaries do not worry about crime. They are either robbing themselves public moneys or are accompanied by thugs, ooops!, I mean bodyguards everywhere like Barreto. He was with at least 4 "sympathizers", one of them at least with a gun.

By the way, the students were charged with "incitation to hatred". Barreto showed true hatred. But I suppose that practicing hate is not a crime in the bolivarian revolution; inciting it, yes. I suppose that if you are stupid enough to incite hate while not practicing it, then you deserve to be punished.

-The end-

Monday, July 16, 2007

Flights of fancy through the beautiful revolution

Sometime in the bolibanana revolution truth is stranger than fiction.

The ad on the right was published today in El Nacional. It is a half page ad, vertical. And it promotes some kind of frequent flier plan. However, something is not quite right. But first let's present CONVIASA, the airline of the Venezuelan government.

Conviasa was established in 2004, as yet another one of those retrograde if not reactionary elements that spice so much the alleged revolution. Viasa used to be the Venezuelan airline that went bankrupt through a variety of reason, long before Chavez came to office. This one decided that it was all some capitalist ploy to ruin Venezuela and he decided that the state needed again its own airlines. When even countries like France have sold their state owned airlines one wonders what need had Chavez to create an airline that by definition favors more the rich than the poor. To confirm that it was just some silly nostalgia he managed to name it almost the same as Viasa....

The excuse for Conviasa was that it would promote popular tourism. That is, it would be some sort of solidarity based travel system where good revolutionaries would be able to travel. You know, just as only chavistas seemed to have access to Copa America tickets. But I digress.

Conviasa started flying to Margarita, not necessarily the most affordable destination for "popular" strata even though definitely a popular destination for its cheap booth and sundries. So we can assume safely that the first beneficiaries of Conviasa were public servants out on a shopping spree to Margarita Island. But of course, with the help of a few petrodollars and a the possibility to travel strictly among chavista far from the prying eyes of indiscreet opposition the airline kept growing.

And now Conviasa is even emitting a frequent flier card. In fact TWO of them, a gold and a silver, because you know, some revolutionaries are more equal than others. The ad comes with everything, even the red revolutionary star (also on the web page of the airline). It also carries the words "privileges", "advantages", and tucked at the bottom left, "the people", the one that is supposed to rule through Chavez (click to enlarge).

And then they want us to take this revolution seriously. Pleaaaase......

PS: do they get pasta for lunch on flight?

-The end-

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Let them eat Corn Flakes!

As I predicted on June 11, eventually we run pout of pasta.

This is the pasta shelf at the San Felipe Central Madeirense on Friday 13 (!) July 2007. One year ago the whole shelf except for the two extremes (bread and instant soup, about 25% of the total shelf space) was filled up with at least ten brands of pasta, all sorts of variety and more often than not with stacks of pasta on the hallway itself, making difficult the shopping cart circulation.

Well, today the Central offers you a nice protein, dietetic option of Corn Flakes. Three, 3, types of flakes actually!!!! So you can have one in the morning, another one at lunch and the last one for dinner.

For those who do not know, after the Italian immigration of the 40ies and 50ies pasta has become a main staple in Venezuelan diet. To the point of creating some weird cuisine. For example Yaracuy is known for having invented the not very dietetic pasta and beans dish. I suppose that Yaracuy, a rather poor state, invented this combination to compensate for a low meat protein diet. Now it is a local specialty (also found in Lara, by the way).

But I am just mean and unfair: there is a little bit of pasta left, perhaps as much as 10% of what was usually offered. In fuchsia I have circled the local brands, the cheaper "Capri" and the most upscale "La Parmigiana" at the very end. However that last one seems to be the last dregs of what used to be on the shelf. Note: the Capri offering is reduced to not even half of the type of pasta usually offered. Oh, and in green there is a tiny bit left of Italian imported pasta. Usually imported pasta represent about a third of the regular offering but now what we see are some left overs which for all that I know might be close to expiration date or the kind of fancy shaped pasta that only Italians know how to handle.....

Oh! but there are good news!!!!

Mayonnaise is back, sort of.

Now we can find on, ONE, brand of cooking oil at least once a week.

But forget about fresh milk and white sugar or beef and chicken. Unless you re at the store opening for the later.

I think that from now on I will always bring with me my camera to the grocery store, though I doubt very much that Nazional guards at Mercal will let me take pictures.

-The end-

Friday, July 13, 2007

Trade Deficit between Venezuela and Andean countries

Tal Cual carried a very interesting article that speaks volume about the increasing decrepitude of the Venezuelan economy, a decrepitude hidden very well by a sea of oil dollars that pay from frozen chickens to shinny Hummers.

The graph below plots the evolution of trade between the Andean Countries and Venezuela. It is to be noted before examining the graph that Chavez has decided to favor Brazil trade above Andean Community trade (the AC is formed by Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia since Venezuela left). Yet, the graph tells us quite a story about an economic reality that chavismo refuses to face.

The first thing we can observe is that when Venezuela had a "normal" economy the trade amounts moved about with the same tendency. Then, when chavismo started its march to "socialism" and when the price of oil allowed Chavez to wave his check book as he pleased, the trends broke as the Venezuela green line was left far behind. Why?

First, until the year 2000 Venezuela was able to sell a little bit more than oil to its Andean partners. And even though importations were significant Venezuela tended to have a trade surplus. But since 2000 Venezuelan exports started falling and the reprise we see in 2004 is due to the increase of oil prices, and hence the increase in oil derivatives.

The article states clearly that Venezuela only exports oil derivatives and some steel to its ex Andean partners. The other exportations have all dried up due to the currency exchange control in place since January 2003. Venezuelan products have stopped being competitive: the government forces folks to export at the official rate and thus a currency overvalued by about 80% kills exports value. By the same token it is a boon for importers who can buy in Colombia stuff cheaper than what is produced in Venezuela.

This is particularly favorable to Colombia which shares an extensive border with us. As Venezuela agricultural production fails consistently to meet internal demand, when not decreasing its actual production, Colombians just need to send a few trucks across the International Bridge at Cucuta.

The trade deficit became a gap as early as 2005 and in 2006 it was downright worrying, if anything by the dramatic trend. With Brazil we cannot talk of trade gap, but rather of one way trade. Even Brazilians worry about their trade surplus with Venezuela as a few moths ago Lula worried aloud. Today El Universal reminds us that while it also comments that non oil exports in Venezuela have dropped from in 7,127 billion USD in 2005 to 5, 245 in 2006.

There is no relief in sight. In fact this totally uncontrollable gap has forced Chavez to admit that he might reconsider the decision to leave the AC.

The structural cause of the gap are not addressed by the government. The increasing imports of food stuff (creating even some problems in Colombia) are due to an increased purchasing power of the population which is good, I suppose, if we make abstraction that this increased purchasing power does not come form the work and production of the people but from the oil buried under our feet. That increased purchasing power is unfortunately combined with negative pressures on the agricultural sector. The politics of land grabbing have stopped private investment in the country side while the new cooperatives seem to be overall an unmitigated disaster as they produce at best enough for their survival. These new "social production" joints fail to offer any significant surplus that can be commercialized in the rest of the country. And the government has only itself to blame for that since many of this land grabs are coming at the expense of fully producing private concerns while the peasants brought in are pretty much left on their own not receiving all the help promised by the administration.

The first results are now in: Venezuela will have for a long time a chronic shortage of beef and dairy as the specialized cattle is simply not replaced. Beef we can import for the time being but milk is already in rather short supply in foreign markets. We can see that on our grocery store shelves everyday now. The worst part is that the government keeps its policy of seizing cattle grazing ranches while any effort at resettling seized areas seem to be failing. From chronic shortage we risk to move on to permanent scarcity. Soon, considering that the government is keeping up and even strengthening its policy to fix prices so as to control inflation we are faced with the risk that Colombia will refuse to keep exporting cattle unless paid cash by Mercal at prices well above the Venezuelan regulations. How long the government will be able to keep up a straight face on this is anyone's guess, but the long term damage is already done: Venezuela is probably now a decade away from self sufficiency in meat and milk, even if the correct polices were to be implemented today.

Sugar is also another chronic laggard on the shelf. White sugar has disappeared since last year and brown sugar seems not to be as frequent as it used to be even one month ago. Again, price control and land grab are to be blamed for it. And again, as ethanol production keeps going up in the world supplies of comestible sugar might decrease some and their price increase. Another item with which the government is going to find difficulties in pretending that things are fine.

Other items are also in trouble but not as bad as the ones above, thus no need to discuss yet the problems in chicken production, for example. Beans, on the other hand........ But the point is made: the policies of the Chavez administration have created a dependency on imports that favors even countries with which Chavez does not want to have any deal with like Colombia. Imports from Colombia are at the sufferance of Chavez as he cannot simply replace them with imports from somewhere else. And there is no sign that in the near future Venezuela will be able to reduce its dependency with Colombia, by very far the largest share of the AC trade. Right now, astoundingly, Venezuela imported from Colombia in 2006 3,125 while its exports to Colombia dropped to 631. For every dollar Venezuela sends to Colombia it buys back 5 dollars. How long can this last?

-The end-