Friday, November 30, 2007

Some rallies are more equal than others


Thus chavismo is trying to do its counter march, and faithful for the extreme objectivity of this blog, I am using the Movistar traffic Cam to monitor its progress exactly as I did yesterday for the students rally.

But let's start by an important note for those who are late into this game, including foreign correspondents. Chavismo has its own timetable to fill up the Bolivar Avenue. They start earlier than anyone because they give the day free in many public administration if they put on the red shirt and go wherever they are told to go. "Or else!" being sometimes added. I have enough relatives and friends in the public administration to confirm that. And thus Chavez will only arrive when the Bolivar Avenue is full enough for their taste. It can be at 11 AM or at 6 PM, meanwhile his followers are left to loiter around for hours, which is exactly what I am goign to point out in the picture below.

Above it is the same angle as yesterday at 2PM when the first student marchers started arriving. Below it is the picture of the chavismo reply one hour earlier. Obviously you already see more people, but do not stop yourself at this detail, we will have to wait for Chavez arrival. Instead look at the amateur green arrows that I have placed.

Top right corner arrow. The white rectangle of the students has become a red rectangle. Yesterday the students wanted to display an image of Bolivar but the Nazional guard forbade them to do so. Apparently Bolivar now belongs only to chavismo.

Left side arrow. Of course, when you are going to have people waiting for hours for the beloved Supremo Ego Chavez, you need to entertain them least they get tired enough to go home. Thus you set up entertainment and other activities. Observe the set up that has suddenly appeared! And in addition you get a group of red shirts in front, away from the grand stand so that when you film from the grand stand the camera will be fooled into believing that the Bolivar is "requete ful".

Right side arrow. Same as above but a smaller one.

Who pays for that? The students did not have any of these distractions and yet they filled up the Bolivar. Who pays to attract people who might not be there to watch Chavez but to attend some impromptu concert?

For good measure I include the view of the East side of the Bolivar at the same time. You will be able to observe by yourself the same phenomenon. Compare to yesterday's blog post to convince yourself. It is even pathetic for chavismo: the Bolivar yesterday was evenly occupied and today there is a big bulk of chavista on one side and nothing on the other.

NOTE: I have made my point and I have little interest in covering this march further. I have already done more to cover it with this post than what VTV did yesterday to cover the opposition march. I did check again at 1:44 and it was almost the same as the ones that I have already put up right. This might suggest that not that much more chavista will be coming, unlike yesterday when people started streaming around 2 PM continuously for a couple of hours. I will check later if time allows and post if worth it.

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Back home from work I am trying to catch up some. Globovision has side by side, on a split scree the Marcabaibo Rally and the Caracas one. The Maracaibo rally looks almost as big as the Caracas one (population half of Caracas, to give you a sense of perspective). And the Maracaibo rally is infinitely nicer to watch. It is colorful, there have many speakers, they speak of the future, flags wave all the time everywhere. The Caracas one has the same tired all repeat of Chavez (Busssss, the CIA, whoever votes NO is a traitor, Uribe gets his orders every morning, the Empire is the enemy that we need to defeat Sunday, etc...), it all a threatening red, no spontaneity in the crowds except for the cues, and the second half of the Bolivar is melting down fast.

Globovision is letting them side by side why VTV yesterday all but denied there was an opposition rally in Caracas. 'nuf said!

-The end-

Why did the FARC not give Chavez the Ingrid Betancourt proof of life?

One big news breaking is that the Colombian Army captured a few urban guerrilla FARC and found in their possession videos and letters from Ingrid Betancourt dated late October! How come the FARC did not give them to Chavez for his visit with Sarkozy? Obviously Chavez knew these evidences existed and was waiting for them. Must we think that the FARC did not want give them to him? Why, oh why? Was the FARC blackmailing more than Colombia?

At least, if Chavez has an ounce of diplomacy left he could use that to mend up things with Uribe accusing the FARC of trying to cause trouble between them by withholding these essential documents. My guess is that Chavez will not.

-The end-

The Consultores 21 poll

OK, so I was sent this Consultores poll on the pretense of confidentiality and now that I see it popping here and there I think that I should also comment on it. In fact, I think that I can bring further understanding. But first the poll.

The methodology of that poll seems fine. Direct interviews. 2.2% statistical error. I cannot tell much more because I only got a Power Point presentation, but at least it seems that the minimum criteria for quality and trust are met. Now about the results.

First, they are valid for the week of November 16-25. So, if the Marisabel ex-Chavez and Baduel effect are probably factored in, the break up with Colombia and today's surprisingly huge rally at the Bolivar are not. How these played we will only know Sunday but personally I do not think that Chavez will benefit much from the break up with Uribe which seems just too convenient, to obvious for the general population. In fact, the very large Colombian vote which tends to favor Chavez might be negatively affected.

They say that only 62% of folks are decided to vote. This is high and low at the same time. High because it is high for a referendum, and low because considering what is at stake it should be higher. However when we see the "sure" and "likely" to vote the number is 76%, quite acceptable.

Where things get more complex is that when the like or dislike for the reforma is measured the Chavez proposal loses by more than 10 points. But when electors certain to vote are considered alone then the difference drops dramatically to 1 point. That is, with a 2.2% error, the result cannot be predicted.

The effect of the participation is examined further and the final conclusion is that there are two possible outcomes depending on how abstention resolves itself this week:
1) The SI wins by a narrow margin
2) The NO wins by a narrow margin to 10 points spread depending on how many people do go and vote.

They stress, they underline, that a SI victory with a wide margin is very unlikely. In other words, we are guaranteed continuous political instability.

However there is also an interesting element in Consultores 21: they poll the rural areas and small towns, something not done by other pollsters in general. And these areas represent up to 25% of the country and tend to be largely chavistas. I learned this the hard way in 2004 when I examined the Yaracuy results. I am reproducing again the table that I made then.

Yaracuy State 39.86%60.14%
San Felipe50.06%49.94%
San Felipe Metropolitan area49.84%50.16%

The metropolitan area of Yaracuy barely voted to retain Chavez but Yaracuy at large voted largely to retain Chavez as president (then the Chavez camp defended the NO) . The victory in the country side was way above the 6o% found for the state at large.

Consultores 21 does calculate how that 25% rural to semi rural population votes and it is for the SI next Sunday, and it is by an almost 2 to 1 margin. In a way I think this gives a lot of strength to the prediction of Consultores. First, the "rural" voter is the most decided one (only 1.1% replied "I do not know"). Second the 62% for the SI is unlikely to grow much more. And third it is probably the sector that would be more likely to look positively at a break up with Colombia as crops would increase in prices, etc... Thus we might indeed be looking at a plateau effect no matter what has happened in Venezuela these past two weeks.

I have already discussed in several opportunities how the pro Chavez vote drops in industrialized areas and now Chavez is left to make up his deficit only by growing in unfavorable areas. If by now the 6 hours week which was the bait designed for those areas has not been able to dent the SI deficit, then no wonder they switched to "Love me or be a traitor" theme for the SI campaign.

In other words, this poll is the best polling argument to let us know that the NO has a real chance to win, that we should go and vote and no matter what the CNE will not be able to cheat. The deck, somewhat miraculously, has dealt us a good hand. If it does, then it will be unmasked this time.


-The end-

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The New York Times Front Page

Well, it looks like Simon Romero had good seats and the New York Times had already this stunning view on its front page (web, no paper here to check).

But we also see that Simon Romero has learned a lot since he is in Venezuela. The title of his article says it all : In Chávez Territory, Signs of Dissent. That is right, the Bolivar Avenue had been denied to the opposition since 2002 and today the government could not stop the opposition to come shout at Chavez in what he thought was his own backyard. The video of Globovision on the march is glorious, the weather collaborated and you can see how packed was the audience. Let's see when will it reach Youtube. Chavismo has its work cut out tomorrow. In fact I am putting myself on record that chavismo is going to flunk its test of the Bolivar tomorrow.

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I will be adding below this post pictures of today's march that readers are willing to send. Please, try to send a link to your favorite picture to avoid making the page too heavy. Here is a first one close from the Teresa Carreño.

Addenda: the manipulation of VTV, with outright lies, is described here (Spanish, hat tip MM). Read also comments for this.

-The end-

Miguel is sending his pictures from Bolivar avenue, at the Students March

(FINAL 6:00 PM)

Technology has reached blogging. Miguel of the Devil's is taking pics at the march explained in the preceding post, sending them to me and I am posting the ones that the cell phone did not damage too much. Tonight I suppose he will publish in his blog more exciting ones, but right now, that is it folks, almost live coverage!

The march most fashionable T-shirt, courtesy of the King of Spain inspiring words! "¿Por que no te callas?"

A view toward the Bolivar

2:20 PM, the Bolivar avenue is starting to fill up. From the same traffic camera from Movilnet, as reported in the previous post. You can monitor yourself here, at least as long as the government does not manage to shut it up. By the way, it seems that the government has denied access to foreign press to the Hilton, now ALBA Caracas, where the press used to gather to cover such events in the past.

Amazing! 12 minutes later!

Miguel sent me an SMS: lines are crowded, he cannot send me pictures but keeps trying.

2:51PM, I cannot access anymore to the Movistar traffic camera. Sabotage? Saturation of the networks?

2:54PM My bad. Must have been saturation. More people, now the East looking side is starting to fill up.

2:57 PM, SMS Miguel, he has reached the Bolivar and says it is full. He must be in that picture.

Miguel still cannot transmit images, his mobile system is in trouble. I am posting one last image from the Movistar traffic camera. The holes from the above picture are now filled up, at 3:22 PM. The avenue is packed and the quality of the image does not allow to show more details than what you can see now. Thus, no more Movistar pics for this post. If Miguel does not manage to send me something that will be all until tonight.

4:30 PM Miguel is alive again. This first one is on the way to the Bolivar.

This one is inside the Bolivar avenue, looking towards the ALBA hotel. that is: FAR from the center stage where usually Chavez holds his perorations. Observe how tightly packed the crowd is.

And to finish this post, the view of the Bolivar at 4:02PM. Observe that the little white rectangle at the top right is the center stage. Last time chavismo barely filled up half of what you see, and certainly not with that density. We will see tomorrow what they are able to do. Meanwhile the students can go to bed tonight with a big smile.

-The end-

A poll in the streets and polls on line

Today the students are undertaking the big challenge: fill up the Bolivar Avenue of Caracas, something that chavismo has managed to stop any opposition from doing since 2002. You may remember that during the presidential campaign of 2006, Rosales was not allowed to do so, even though he had no problem filling up the Libertador. You may even remember that in 2004 chavismo blocked access to the Bolivar avenue and the Recall Election final rally had to be held on Caracas main highway. It does not mater in a way, the Francisco Fajardo is even bigger than the Bolivar and the opposition filled it up. But there is a je ne sais quoi in filling up the Bolivar that cannot be ignored.

Times have changed. The student contesting that started in May this year is something new and the government has yet to find an effective way to counter it. That is why, in spite of trying to stop them from marching to the Bolivar, they had to bow and allow the rally. In fact, it might turn out to be a mistake as chavismo will hold its rally Friday there and the comparison could be fatal if they do not do as well!!!! The students even dared to challenge WITHOUT buses, only with Caracas folks. Chavismo will need to hide their traditional hundreds of buses ferrying paid visitors from the provinces.

Right now folks are gathering here and there before getting on their way to the Bolivar. The only image that I can offer you is the empty Bolivar avenue at noon. People are expected to start streaming in sometime after 2 PM. I am in San Felipe and thus cannot attend, something that makes me grieve. But Miguel will go part of the march and we have agreed that if he has some interesting picture he can send through his cel phone I will post it here for him. Thus, stay tuned.
While we wait to see if that real life street poll of today develops I can let you know about other polls circulating. AS some of you might know, the CNE has forbidden as of Monday that any media publishes or discusses polls. This by itself speaks volumes about the lack of confidence in a SI vote victory next Sunday.

But as a blogger of some reputation I have received three polls this week so far. At least one of them I was asked not to reveal the origin. Suffice to say that the three of them are from equally reputable sources and the three of them speak more or less agree (one is Datanilis, which I have already mentioned, I will mention the others if I get a green light on that).

The general conclusion, without factoring the Colombia spat that we do not know yet how it will affect the numbers is that the NO victory is based on participation. The three pollsters agree thaw the lower the abstention the wider the margin of victory for the NO. In fact, one even says that the margin could go above 10% which should make it very difficult for the CNE to cheat enough to reverse the result.

These results must be so close to reality that not only AD but even the Comando de la Resistencia have decided to go to vote in what must be the most stunning reversals we have yet seen this year.

Conclusion? GO AND VOTE. There is nothing better you can do at this point. And you can always protest Monday if you do not like the result.

-The end-

Juan Forero of the Washington Post comes full swing against the "reforma"

And thus Forero completes his transition from Chavez supporter to Chavez opponent. I wonder if he will ever get again an interview with high ranking chavistas....

I suppose he meant to include himself when he wrote down the title of the article: "Old Allies Abandon Chavez as Constitution Vote Nears".

-The end-

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A little advice for foreign correspondents

Tal Cual had a mini editorial today specifically designed for all of these foreign journalists visiting Venezuela on the occasion of the Referendum. I could also include all of these PSF who think they know more about Venezuela from their confy northern hemisphere chair than us who put up daily with this crappy government.

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Foreign journalists who roam in Caracas would do well to accompany their interviews with some field work at locations such as the subway, Metro. They could see live and directly what is an oppressive society, where the abuse of power is a dominant feature of Ego Chavez government. All day long music and slogans of "SI" resound in the closed environment. Is it a private service from some pro Chavez businessman? No, it's a public service, used by all kinds of people, forced to become mad from that infernal noise, which does not stop a second. That's abuse of power, pure and simple. They could look at the grotesque episode of the use of Avenida Bolivar for acts of closure. The NO asked for Thursday (and got it). Immediately the government argued priority and got the site. The NO then asked on Friday (and got it). The government, then, realizing that Friday is the last day of campaign, moved rudely for Friday. The NO had to return then to Thursday. It looks like a comedy of misunderstanding, but it's not. It is arbitrary, abuse as a rule, cowardly and out of bound advantage, the use of state resources for the benefit of Ego Chavez and his sycophantic lackeys. They could also watch the "State" TV channels and wonder, in short, whether in their respective countries such abuses would be possible or tolerable. This way, some of them might frame their now bothersome comments on the Chavez "democratically elected" in a more realistic context.

-The end-

The election post

Every election since I have started this blog I have dared to publish an electoral prediction. I have been usually proven wrong, but not that much. After all if I made a mistake on the margin through some last minute wishful thinking, I still gave Chavez winning by 5% last December. However one thing that I got pretty good has been the general regional trend, with rather good predictions on where Chavez is stronger or weaker, even as he won everywhere. Remember, I am the blog of the provinces, not of Caracas.

So heck, even if this is the worst possible type of election to hazard a prediction I figure out that I had not much more to lose but much fun to gain. Because it is indeed a lot of fun to play with numbers. So there is the methodology I used.

First I did not pay much attention to polls except for the clear indication that the NO option has been steadily growing. That means, my predictions will be two: Chavez best possible result and a scenario where the NO actually wins but by a narrow, if clear margin.

Second I started from the result of 2006, ignoring changes in registered electors. For starters I have assumed that there will be a 7 % systematic abstention considering that it is not a presidential election. I should have use a higher figure, probably closer to 15-20% but since abstention this time is more likely to punish chavismo I decided to be moderate and only put a 7%.

Third I decided to be modest about local effects. Thus I divided the country in regions, too busy this time to do a state by state study as I have done in the past. Only in some regions I decided to penalize chavismo enough to create a possible scenario where the NO could win.

Fourth, I have assumed that the opposition will be mobilized enough and should get back its 2006 number. Yes, many oppo will abstain but many chavistas will vote NO so it is not such a wild guess. After all too many people are pissed up at the lack of milk and they are willing to cast a punishment vote since Chavez will stay for another 5 years in office.

Fifth, I have put the final result not in final actual result but on what share of the country they do represent. That is, if you want a referendum of the harshness proposed to succeed you need at least 40% of the country behind you. that this 40% represents 405 votes or 90% is irrelevant, you need 40% of the country. At least in my most humble opinion.

Of course, all of this assumes that votes will actually be counted, that the opposition and the students will be able to put electoral witnesses everywhere, that the CNE will not cheat, etc, etc....

The first graph is just a summary of the December 2006 result. Note, I have rounded things up and focused only on Chavez and Rosales. On the right side column, in purple I assumed what would be the votes actually cast next Sunday, and added a first set of regional corrections. For example I have increased even more the abstention rate of the Andes or Caracas or the Llanos but left at a modest 7% the Industrial center (contrast "expected votes" with "my corrections").

In 2006 Chavez was reelected with 46% of the possible voters which gave his election a mandate quality. But it seems that he has gone too far and the mandate seems to have cracked quite a lot.

Thus we go to the first scenario: the one I think is the maximum that Chavez could get in the present circumstances, assuming that polls messed up big time again. Still possible as Venezuela becomes increasingly more difficult to poll. Basically you get the opposition vote as before and thus abstention penalizes more chavismo than opposition. People do not want to vote against Chavez and thus they stay home.

There is thus a general increase but no dramatic, of the opposition vote. Only "oriente" and "industrial" increase more than the others because of the defection of PODEMOS which holds the state houses of Sucre and Aragua. In Zulia the Rosales vote is maintained but there is sharp drop of chavismo due to the strong regional feeling of the area that is not looking favorably to more control from Caracas.

The final result is a meager SI victory with 2 million less votes than in 2006. With 34% of the country only backing his project and 30% strongly mobilized against it, and the likelihood that abstention will tend to decant towards the opposition as the implementation of the new rules is felt by the people, the prediction is for increased difficulty in ruling the country. The outcome will be repression or general chaos, or both.

And thus we get to the scenario of a possible NO victory. It is quite simply an exaggeration of the preceding scenario. you will observe that I did not increase much the NO vote, just in the "Industrial" and "Zulia" regions. Why? Because they are the regions where there is real jobs, where people want money, not 6 hours week, where decentralization has had the most positive effects. In particular for the strong regional feeling of Zulia.

What makes the difference in this scenario with the above one is the chavista defection by an increased abstention, a melt down of sorts. The column titled "missing votes" is my prediction of the chavistas that just cannot bring themselves to vote NO for their love of Chavez. It is not that much, but with an extra 535 abstention and an additional few votes for the NO side, this one wins by 200 000 thousand. small but already difficult enough for the CNE to fudge if the opposition manages to assist to 50% of the voting center at counting and auditing time.

I think this scenario is what is reflected now in current polls, a narrow NO win. I think it is a fair bet to say that any reduction of the abstention of the one I assumed here can benefit 2 to 1 the NO vote. The NO can win, polls and mood are for it, you can sense it even with the chavistas one might know: they are going to vote SI but without any enthusiasm and might even switch to NO next Sunday. The excesses of the campaign are probably now counterproductive and if the students fill up the Bolivar on Thursday and Chavez fails to do so on Friday, all bets are open. In fact the students have dared to challenge, to fill it up WITHOUT buses from outside!!! Any bus filmed on Friday for the SI campaign closing will be bad propaganda for chavismo.

As to what happens if the NO wins? Nobody knows. Will the government gracefully accept that its project has run its course and that now it is time to tone down and start managing the country? Will they do fraud? Can Chavez govern for the next five years? What will happen with the National Assembly whose constitutional project has been rejected by the country? How can it keep pretending it represents the whole country after such a rejection of the 36 articles they included without discussion? Clearly, even though Chavez still will have 5 years ahead it will require great skills and diplomacy to manage them. I am afraid he does not have them and we are headed with more trouble. As I wrote a few days ago, it does not matter what the result is, nobody is the winner.

And the last question which I still ask myself: will they cancel the election before next Sunday if polls do not improve?

PS: a small note. In my NO victory scenario, the NO wins 51 to 49%. The latest Datanalis poll, who predicted 53 to 26 in favor of Chavez last December is now calling for a 50 to 40 in favor of the NO. Quite sobering! So, when the results come, I hope that my very modest spread is taken into account by some over critical readers. My gut feeling prediction? The NO will win by a spread of at least 5% and the government will not be able to refuse its acknowledgment. Then, all bets are open.

PS2: The Hinterlaces poll is not as assertive as to a possible NO victory. It conditions it to electoral participation. I suppose at this point I need to resort to Pascal gamble on the existence of God to convince people to go and vote: even if you do not believe in the CNE, if by luck you were to vote and the NO passes you will have a wonderful reward, a much, much bigger reward than staying home and not voting.

-The end-

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Chavez campaign nervous breakdown

Even though I am deeply worried about the future of the country, something that I have yet to find the right words for it, I still can observe the electoral campaign for the SI slowly unravel in utter banality and repression. That it might pay off for Chavez is of course a possibility no matter what the polls have been saying these past couple of weeks. What I wrote last May is being confirmed each day: the Bolivarian Revolution is dead. Now we just have a regime bereft of ideas who can only find in student repression and a reality show filming approach to the big star its only arguments for perpetuation.

Repression is now a given. Today we were treated to the students of the Simon Bolivar campus in Caracas pushed inside their campus by the Metropolitana police. Since the police cannot enter the campus, they kept throwing canisters of tear gas above the fences and shooting rubber bullets by passing their guns through the chicken wire that circles the campus. I can hardly think of any thing more cowardly risible than what the Caracas police did today, shooting defenseless students from afar while perhaps this very same week end the police failed to stop as many as two dozen murders in Caracas alone. But when did fascism worry about current crime?

Unfortunately today student repression was not an isolated incident. It has been going on steadily for a couple of weeks now, even including torture for some Barquisimeto students. Not to mention the Monte Avila students dragged on the streets of Caracas...

The campaign for the SI has taken a new turn. As I predicted last August it has gone full swing associating Chavez with the SI. A vote for the NO is a vote AGAINST Chavez, and any chavista who thinks it is OK to vote NO this time will become a traitor "El que diga que apoya a Chávez pero va a votar por el No es un verdadero traidor." "Whoever says that they support Chavez but is going to vote No is a true traitor". Would you like to have your name end up plastering the walls the way I found this one today in San Felipe, sending Baduel to the shooting squad?

The SI campaign has given up any attempt at actually discussing the reform proposal. Even the sweeteners such as the 6 hours work week have been shown to be of meager effect in attracting sympathies. Soon enough, in fact very early when the National Assembly started it process of consulting of the people, a consultation where opponents of the reform were either barred from entry or booed by the chavista crowds, hordes?, it was clear that the constitutional reform was an indefensible project. The CNE offered a debate. The debate was canceled because the SI campaign did not send any one to defend the alleged greatness of the reform.

It is not a matter of saying that chavismo is fascist and fascists do not account for themselves. It is not a matter that chavismo does not have any one good enough to discuss in a public forum: they do have plenty of hacks for that. No, it is very simply because everyone within chavismo
knows quite well that the alleged reform is only an instrument to allow Chavez to stay in power for ever. And that, my friends, there is no way to defend in a democracy. Thus the logical implication of the end of the campaign: stop debate, turn the vote once again into a plebiscite on Chavez. With Chavez all, outside of Chavez nothing. It can hardly get less democratic than that.

This goes a long way to explain the disastrous foreign policy of Chavez this month, going from failure to failure, even worse than during the UN attempt at gaining a security council chair. In a short month Chavez has managed to perturb relations to different levels with Chile, Spain, Colombia, France, Guyana and many OPEC countries. Without a single success to count unless this week end constitutional coup in Bolivia can be counted as a success. How can you manage an efficient foreign policy when your life becomes some type of reality show where you try desperately to gain the favor of other participants before they vote you out of the game?

And thus we have reached the last week of campaigning, in yet the more miserable campaign we have been subjected to since Chavez reached office in 1999. New heights in infamy are sure to be reached. For example today we saw the communication ministry issue direct TV advertisement to promote the SI, and to add insult to injury, using the free air time allotted by the RESORTE law to the government to pass educational messages. Today they thus started using that time directly for plain electoral propaganda, violating the law, in front of a CNE more passive than ever, more partial towards Chavez than decency would allow.

But then again, rarely I have seen such an admission of intellectual failure.

-The end-

Monday, November 26, 2007

Chavez escalates against Uribe: fishing for votes in a dangerous game


The numbers must be bad for Chavez headquarters, and as rogue politicians do when their poll numbers go south is to look for a foreign adversary to try to shore up support.

This week, having failed to dress down the Spaniards - and get covered in international ridicule -, having failed to turn the OPEC in his international political tool, having made Sarkozy waste his time with him, and hint at it, Chavez aimed at Colombia, a true and tested method to win a few electoral points here and there. The only problem is that Chavez has not measured his words and he got a stinging rebuke tonight from Uribe. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that tonight relations between Colombia and Venezuela are at their lowest point since Chavez came to office, and most of the blame can be put squarely on Chavez who know openly confuses Venezuelan foreign policy with his very own foreign policy.


A few months ago Uribe decided in a surprising gamble to ask Chavez to intermediate between Colombia and the guerrilla groups, also known as narco-guerilla, to obtain an humanitarian exchange. Namely, for the FARC to free some of its hostages in exchange for Colombia to free some of the jailed FARC. The problem here is that after 5 years Uribe does not seem to be able to erase the FARC from the map although he has diminished the FARC enough that they are pushed to a few jungle reduct where their only negotiating tokens left are the very hostages that the FARC has. Ingrid Betancourt is of course the glamor hostage of the FARC, the one they most need to stay on the international news scree as the French desperately want the freedom of Ingrid.

Unfortunately what was supposed to happen, happened. Chavez, never a subtle diplomat, slowly but surely made this mediation a self promoting road circus. Among the gems there was the invitation to Miraflores palace in Caracas of Ivan Marquez, one of the least palatable FARC guerrillas, thus giving the FARC a recognition that had eluded them until that day. Note: Chavez had tried first to go to Colombia and meet straight with Marulanda. The Colombian government promptly refused to grant permission and one would have thought that Chavez got the hint. But no.....

Recent events

The last drop was a direct phone call to the big brass of the Colombian army. Piedad Cordoba, the go between of Colombia, a leftist senator with the blessing of Uribe, as a senator of Colombia might still have an excuse to call a top brass in her country but cannot be excused to pass the call to Chavez who started to ask delicate questions. Apparently Uribe had warned in Santiago Chavez that he could not talk directly with certain Colombian security personnel. We do not know what the General replied but the next thing he did was to tell Uribe about this direct interference of Chavez and Uribe, probably looking for a while for any excuse to get rid of Chavez mediation role, took the opportunity. Soon the Uribe government suspended Cordoba and Chavez in their mediator roles. There is a clear 18 point communique.

Chavez did not reply right away, but this morning he could not resit anymore and attacked Uribe, calling him a liar among other choice words. And froze relations with Colombia. For good measure he also said that relations with Spain would be frozen until the King of Spain apologizes. A classic campaign speech of Chavez, stirring the masses on cheap, really cheap, chauvinism.

Unfortunately for Chavez, it seems that since the King of Spain told him to shut up, foreign leaders are beginning to consider saying their own version of "¿Por que no te callas?"

AFP so far is the only one carrying some of the Uribe words this afternoon in English but Globovision has already a more complete account. Or Reuters if you prefer something more neutral. The complete speech has been published by the Colombian government. Some choice excerpts:

Calamar, Bolívar Province, 25 nov (SP).

...the truth, with witnesses...

...when there are no arguments and one resorts to insults, as you do, not only international relations are affected, but in this case, you with your insults and your lack of arguments hurt the dignity of the Venezuelan people that you represent.

Your words, your actions, give the impression that you are not interested in Colombian peace, but Colombia becomes the victim of a terrorist government of the FARC.

The truth, president Chavez, is that if you are promoting an expansionist project in the continent, in Colombia this project has no life.

The truth, president Chavez, the truth with witnesses, is that one cannot light up the Continent [South America] as you do, talking one day against Spain, the next one on the US; mistreating one day Mexico, next day Peru, and following morning Bolivia. You cannot mistreat the Continent, light it up, as you do, talking about imperialism, when you, grounded on your budget, want to build up an empire.

The truth, president Chavez, the truth with witnesses, is that you cannot confuse the people misinterpreting the legacy of Bolivar the Libertador. The Libertador was an integrationist, but not an expansionist..... The Libertador was not trying to free American territory form the domination of Europe, to impose, as you would like to do, your own domination, based on the might of your budget, on the people of Venezuelan and the people of Colombia.

I am very worried that you, in a hurry for your electoral ambitions, now is trying to the old trick of stirring in Venezuela the hatred against Colombia and the government of Colombia, to seek your electoral good fortunes.

The truth, president Chavez, is that at each moment surge new elements. Our consul in the US, who accompanied senator Cordoba to the meeting with one of the FARC prisoners there for drug trafficking, our consul has informed us that ..... the senator talked also of the necessity of a government of transition in Colombia. [Uribe was reelected last year with more than 60% of the vote in an election considerably cleaner than any Venezuelan recent election]

... that mediation was more interested in facilitating a government in Colombia under terrorist influence that to help us overcome the tragedy of the hostages.

We do not allow that you take advantage of our tragedy to come and include Colombia in an expansionist project that little by little is denying the freedoms that with so much difficulty this Continent has managed to gain.

Observe several things in this speech besides the extraordinary strong wording from a head of state to another one: the king Hugo is naked, his obvious expansionist project (ALBA, confederation with Cuba made possible as of December 2) and his authoritarian changes in Venezuela are publicly stated. Clearly, Uribe has decided that if Chavez wins in December 2, Venezuela will become a basket case, a source of trouble and Uribe has deiced to get ready agasitn the new Venezuela coming up.

It is impossible to underestimate the speech of Uribe today. Even if he made a mistake, even if he lost it under the heat of Calamar (he was sweaty on the video), his words reflect a crude reality that all knew and few dared articulate (well, this blogger did frequently anyway). Now it is out in the open and who knows where the pieces are going to fall. We are talking major diplomatic crisis today of unforeseen repercussions, starting with the vote next Sunday (more on that later).

Needless to remind the reader that for every dollar Colombia buys in Venezuelan goods, Venezuela buys almost 5 back. This time if Chavez were to close the border, we might starve at home.

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It fascinating to read the words of chavez. I have written long ago that there was no more a Venezuelan foreign policy, just a Chavez one. That is, if we are generous enough to call that a foreign policy.

"AS long as the King of Spain does not apologize, I am freezing relations with Spain"

"I declare that the relations with Colombia I am putting them in the freezer because I lost all trusty in any one in the Colombian government"

-The end-

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two lovely videos from Paris Match

Paris Match is a very famous French magazine, a strange cross of People, Newsweek and Hola! inspired by the brilliance of the past Life. Some of their reports are downright silly but some still on occasion strike excellent journalism. Today, since I have no time for much I will give you two videos (hat tip Bridge). Unfortunately the videos are in French and are an interview both of one of the best journos Paris Match has to offer, Michel Peyrard.

In the first one you will see a nice portrait gallery of the Chavez clan in Barinas and how they got from rags to great riches in the last 8 years. A sentence says it all "you know that a ranch has been bought by the Chavez family because suddenly the dirt road is paved and electricity lines are installed".

The second one might be somewhat less interesting for readers of this blog but is still worth a screening as a good analysis of the Ingrid Betancourt imbroglio.

-The end-

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Why Chavez will lose no matter what in a Sunday from next

I have been holding a few discussions in Caracas these days and this image has come to my mind to explain my point of view. As I have written before, the constitutional changes are so harsh, that it is not enough for Chavez to win, he needs to win big and this is one way to illustrate it.

Let’s imagine that you live in an apartment complex of 100 units. There is a condominium assembly. This one decides that there will be no more parties in any apartment any time. And the pool will be open only on week days from 9 to 11 AM.

There is a vote on that and the result is as follow: 20 YES, 10 NO and 70 no show. Do you think it will be easy for the condominium management to start chasing kids after 11 AM from the pool, or knock at your door to ask your guests to leave because you have a family gathering and it is also considered as a party?

It does not matter if the result was 20 to 19 or 20 to 1, the condominium will have a hard time imposing its new unreasonable rules and soon enough there will be uproar in the whole building.

Now if the result were to be 40 to 10, or 40 to 20 even and 40 no show. Do you think that the condominium management will have an easier time imposing their rules? Probably.

Imagine now that the result is 40 YES, 35 NO and 25 no show? What will happen? Major trouble, great difficulty in posing the rules but still a possibility to do so. However it would become a real possibility that the 35 someday become a majority and reverse those arbitrary changes. At that level you cannot predict how the 25 no show will eventually react.

In other words what I am aiming at is that Chavez needs to get MORE than 40% of VENEZUELANS, not 60% the vote, 40% of VENEZUELANS to vote YES on December 2. Otherwise simply put it will be an uphill battle for him to impose his new constitution and we will go from bad to worse.

I do not know whether this serves to convince people to go to vote or not, but it seems to me that it makes a case that by going to vote NO, no matter how much cheating Chavez is already doing, we have a better chance to make our point that the new constitution is inviable. In fact we even have a chance to stop it! If we stay home we know that even with a 20% of Venezuelans Chavez will try to impose it anyway if he has enough spread, which he is sure to get if we stay home.

Besides, if you stay home you relinquish any right you have to say that your vote was stolen. It is that simple.

-The end-

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving for all the US readers. If excessive food intake and too much ethilic vapors do not protect you from political thoughts, you can be thankful that this is your one before last turkey day with Bush, that Chavez is far away and that your local grocery store is full of milk, sugar, and toilet paper.

-The end-

Chavez new constitution: Article 98

Patents and the decline of science and technology in Venezuela

In May I posted information published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that discussed science and engineering in Latin America. In it they reported that Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico have been trending upwards in technology development to become "high-tech exporters". Not surprisingly Venezuela ranked the lowest of the countries scored, mainly because: "[it] suffered because it was considered the riskiest or least attractive site for foreign investment". Instead of stimulating foreign and domestic investment and encourage technology development, the Chavez government has made decisions that adversely affect Venezuelans competitiveness and economy while currently they are taking steps to further discourage innovation. Specifically within the constitutional reform, to be voted on December 2nd, a modification to article 98 is planned. The original article states:

Cultural creation is free. This freedom includes the right to invest in, produce and disseminate the creative, scientific, technical and humanistic work, as well as legal protection of the authors rights in his works. The State recognizes and protects intellectual property rights in scientific, literary and artistic works, inventions, innovations, trade names, patents, trademarks and slogans, in accordance with the conditions and exceptions established by law and the international treaties executed and ratified by the Republic in this field.

Modified article 98 - text changes are underlined

Cultural creation is free. This freedom includes the right to cultural diversity pertaining to invention, production and dissemination for creative works, scientific, technological, and humanistic, including the legal protection and rights to the author for their work. The state recognizes the rights of all to participate in the cultural community, enjoy the arts, and participate in scientific technological progress, and enjoy their benefits.

The most concerning aspect of this reform is that it limits protection to cultural diversity, to the exclusion of any protection that may be strictly intellectual or economic. In addition, the term "cultural diversity" is non-specific, how should one define it or interpret it? More than likely the interpretation will be left to the court system which is controlled by Chavez.

A simple interpretation of the new article suggests that most science and technology would not be protected since most do not contribute to cultural diversity. There are countless examples of how this will affect Venezuela, from books to merchants with the sole goal of bringing everything under state. State control has proven to be inefficient and a hindrance on scientific and technological progress, the participation of the private sector and intellectual property protection is essential for it to flourish.

It is clear that the Chavez government is reforming and will interpret the new article in a way that will significantly decrease intellectual property rights and severely limit patent protection. In the words of National Assembly member Carlos Escarra these are economic (i.e. capitalist) rights not cultural rights. Cultural rights constitute art, poetry, and literature whereas "inventions" have economic benefits. Apparently, Escarra fails to realize that art, music, and literature do have economic benefits to the inventor, through the sale of their work.

It is unfortunate that the new reform is designed to decrease patent protection since it is well established that patent protection, along with property rights and decreasing state bureaucracy play key roles in spurring innovation and economic development, ultimately leading to decreased poverty. This is not a new concept, but Chavez seems intent on creating a society based on a barter system and where some of the most important technological advances, such asOrimulsion is being phased out while giving the Chinese the technological knowhow for production while collecting little to no royalties.

The proposed reform to article 98 is simply putting on paper what the Chavez has been doing for years, either directly or indirectly though his actions. To see how Venezuela has declined in technological innovation we can look at the number of U.S. patents awarded to individuals in Venezuela (see graph below).

In the graph we see that Venezuela averaged about 32 patents a year from 1993 to 2002. From 2002 to 2006 the number patents dropped sharply to 15 after hitting a 13 year low of 10 in 2005. The most probably explanation for this sharp drop in patents is Chavez's decision to purge PDVSA of political opponents, particularly those such as the PhD investigators at PDVSA research institute (INTEVEP), where 66% (108 out of 164) were fired. The loss of highly skilled/educated individuals comes at a huge loss to the State, making it less competitive, reducing innovation and investment, resulting in a less diverse economy and loss of potential revenue. The loss of these investigators is particularly damaging to PDVSA since it accounts for the bulk of the economy and requires technological innovation to stay competitive among the other oil companies. Sadly this loss is long term since the time and investment required to create a highly skilled worker with a PhD is high, approximately 5 years of education and $300,000 not counting the experience needed post PhD. Making the Venezuelan situation worse is that most of these skilled workers have left, and/or have been prevented from working in Venezuela, thus they have emigrated and sought jobs with other petroleum companies taking their knowledge and skills with them. So who loses? Venezuela.

Over the years we have seen how Chavez has made decisions that adversely affect innovation in Venezuela, now the Chavez government is poised to modify article 98 which will further discourage investment and innovation that will not only affect the oil industry but the wider economy. The Venezuelan chamber of franchises has already stated that modification to article 98 will negatively affect that business sector, which has seen significant growth recently and now accounts for 2.2% of the GDP.

The modification of article 98 is an obvious decision by the Chavez government that will only lead to decreased technological innovation in Venezuela. However, this is only one decision, although a significant one, among many that Chavez has made during the past 10 years that will adversely affect Venezuela for many years.

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Kensey writes his own blog, Venezuela US topics, and he can be reached there also for further questions.

-The end-

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The hate of Iris Varela

One of the most colorful figures of chavismo is assemblywoman Iris Varela. A leftist firebrand who once considered joining the FARC in Colombia. Today she had an "incident" at a Tachira radio station. I do not know what happened (I am on the road and time is limited), but someone sent me the video (you do not need to understand Spanish as the sound is really bad, but there are such things as body language and the one of Varela reeks of violence and fascism).

Whatever the talk show host did to her, it is no excuse for the aggression she displayed knowing full well that as a woman he could not strike back, and as an Assemblywoman he would get into a lot of trouble if he fought back. Clearly the woman abused her position. And at the same time she betrayed the nervousness within chavismo as polls are increasingly getting negative for the SI. But of course, when we observe how Chavez behaves these days, what else can we expect from his lackeys?

-The end-

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Le Monde writes yet another strong anti Chavez editorial

One thing is rather surprising in the French press: the left and center left are the most vocal critics of Chavez. Liberation, a rational left newspaper, akin to the Guardian of London, was the first newspaper consistently criticizing Chavez. Le Monde, the reference newspaper of France and of a large part of the world started later but has been as much anti Chavez as one could expect. Yet, Le Figaro, the center right paper, to this day is still to write a strong anti Chavez piece. Even today it still managed to make a rather sympathetic coverage of the current electoral campaign without observing none of the vices than lesser journalists would be too embarrassed to report because they would think that no one would believe them at home. Heck, even the Guardian is more critical of Chavez than Le Figaro.

Thus we have the paradox that France's right wing president is going to have lunch with Chavez this Tuesday while the Socialist Party of France criticizes the proposed constitutional changes to be voted on December 2. Stunning! Then again Sarkozy has an agenda: he wants Ingrid Betancourt freed and he could not care less about the other dozens of dozens of hostages retained by the FARC and other assorted groups in Colombia and Venezuela. If Sarkozy needs to screw the Venezuelan people to get Ingrid out of the swamp where she mired herself in, so be it. I heard some naive folks think that Sarkozy is going to con Chavez. Well, though I have never defended Chavez I can say with all certitude that it would be a cold day in hell when Sarkozy outmaneuvers Chavez. Just as Chavez conned Chirac with the oil concern Total contracts a couple years ago. Chirac gave love and kisses to Chavez at a time he needed them, Chavez promised the moon, and within two years Total was out of Venezuela. In other words as I predicted during my coverage of the French electoral campaign early this year, Sarkozy has demonstrated several times to be an unprincipled foreign policy maker. Had Segolene Royal been elected I am quite sure that the lout of Chavez would not be received at the Elyse Palace.

Anyway, there is next the translation of the Le Monde editorial of today and then follows the original French version. Observe, for the record, how Le Monde introduces Chavez: "lieutenant-colonel". I loved it! The anti militaristic attitude of the French
left since the infamous Dreyfus affaire! Of course, it is also for me the basic reason why I oppose Chavez: his military origins colliding to my allergy to anything military. The French left has always been keen on controlling the army by civilians. Remember the words attributed during WW1 to Clemenceau: "War is something too serious to be entrusted to the military". (Note added later: for those who can read French you can catch my latest installment on Agoravox on this subject, my fifth article accepted there, a center left sort of Noticiero Digital)

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Expected in Paris Tuesday, Nov. 20, lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chavez has been invited by Nicolas Sarkozy to take stock of his mediation in the case of the hostages in the hands of the Colombian guerrilla. The efforts of France have not borne fruit in the matter of its interest, considering that the former Green candidate for the presidency of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, is dual nationality franco-colombian.

The intervention of the Venezuelan president is welcome because so far no person and no group of countries has managed to negotiate with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - the hostage-takers. Pumped up by drug money, the movement of the extreme left has reached the zero degree in politics: weak on the military side, it is relying on its hostages to figure on the local and international scene. Mr. Chavez was given the green light by the Colombian government, which is essential to allow for a "humanitarian exchange" between the hostages and jailed guerrillas.

Activism deployed by Mr. Chavez on the international scene, Latin America, in the Middle East, Russia and France, is accompanied in Venezuela of a disturbing trend towards an authoritarian regime. The erratic management of the vast resources of oil, brought by a price of a barrel close to $ 100, begins to undermine the social programs that have earned the Head of State a solid popularity. The lack of investment in the oil industry stops Caracas from reaching the quota set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which recently held its summit in Riyadh. Venezuela has been reduced to sell crude oil and to import virtually everything the country needs.

The concentration of powers to the benefit of the President of the Republic, the lack of dialogue with the opposition, the disqualification of the student movement, described as "fascist", the encouragement of armed gangs and recruiting reservists, in short, militarization of political life, are accompanied by unprecedented corruption. This is facilitated by the opacity of public spending and the creation of parallel budgets, which are used in a discretionary manner by the Presidency. The links maintained by Mr. Chavez with Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are not likely to dispel the uncertainty around the "socialism of the twenty-first century" advocated by the Venezuelan president.

"Populism is not a good solution to the problems there are in Latin America," said the president of the European Commission, the Portuguese Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, after a recent verbal incident with Mr. Chavez during an Ibero-American summit. Populism is a good solution nowhere.
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Attendu à Paris mardi 20 novembre, le lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chavez a été invité par Nicolas Sarkozy pour faire le point sur sa médiation dans l'affaire des otages de la guérilla colombienne. Les efforts de la France n'ont pas porté leurs fruits dans un dossier qui la concerne, dans la mesure où l'ancienne candidate des Verts à la présidence de la Colombie, Ingrid Betancourt, a la double nationalité franco-colombienne.

L'intervention du président vénézuélien est bienvenue car, jusqu'à présent, aucune personnalité et aucun groupe de pays n'est parvenu à négocier avec les Forces armées révolutionnaires de Colombie (FARC) - les preneurs d'otages. Dopé par l'argent de la drogue, ce mouvement d'extrême gauche a atteint le degré zéro de la politique : affaibli sur le plan militaire, il compte sur ses otages pour exister sur la scène locale et internationale. M. Chavez a reçu le feu vert du gouvernement colombien, indispensable pour pouvoir procéder à un "échange humanitaire" entre les otages et les guérilleros emprisonnés.

L'activisme déployé par M. Chavez sur la scène internationale, de l'Amérique latine au Moyen-Orient, de la Russie à la France, s'accompagne au Venezuela d'une évolution inquiétante vers un régime autoritaire. La gestion erratique des immenses ressources du pétrole, démultipliées par un prix du baril proche des 100 dollars, commence à nuire aux programmes sociaux qui ont valu au chef de l'Etat une solide popularité. L'absence d'investissements dans l'industrie pétrolière explique que Caracas peine à atteindre le quota fixé par l'Organisation des pays exportateurs de pétrole (OPEP), qui vient de tenir son sommet à Riyad. Le Venezuela en est réduit à vendre du brut et à importer pratiquement tout ce dont le pays a besoin.

La concentration des pouvoirs au profit du président de la République, l'absence de dialogue avec l'opposition, la disqualification du mouvement étudiant, traité de "fasciste", l'encouragement de bandes armées et l'embrigadement des réservistes, bref, la militarisation de la vie politique, s'accompagnent d'une corruption sans précédent. Celle-ci est favorisée par l'opacité des dépenses publiques et par la création de budgets parallèles, utilisés de manière discrétionnaire par la présidence de la République. Les liens entretenus par M. Chavez avec Fidel Castro et avec Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ne sont pas de nature à dissiper le flou autour du "socialisme du XXIe siècle" prôné par le président vénézuélien.

"Le populisme n'est pas une bonne solution aux problèmes qu'il y a en Amérique latine", a déclaré le président de la Commission européenne, le portugais José Manuel Durao Barroso, après un récent incident verbal avec M. Chavez lors d'un sommet ibéro-américain. Le populisme n'est une bonne solution nulle part.

-The end-

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chavez campaigns overseas and gets told by another King

Chavez must be feeling very confident about the result of December 2 vote. I do not know whether his polls tell him another story from what is developing lately here, or if the CNE has already programmed the result wished for in the Smartmatic machines but in the middle of a delicate electoral campaign he travels to Chile and then to Saudi Arabia and Europe.

Or perhaps he senses that the only way to win the election the way he wants to win is to create again a radicalization of the political situation. Since he has no sparring partner in Venezuela besides the protesting students, well, kings will have to do.

Long time readers of this blog know that my thesis on Chavez victories is that whenever he is on the ballot (directly or indirectly as it is the case for the coming December 2 contest) Chavez NEEDS to have more votes than the preceding election. All polls tell us that this will not be the case this time because between abstention and NO votes Chavez might win but with not much more than half the votes he got last December. It is important to keep this in mind when one tries to understand what Chavez has been doing these last couple of weeks. Besides, the violence implied in the constitutional proposal makes it imperative for Chavez to win it big otherwise soon he will get in trouble at home and overseas as he tries to apply something which is not wanted by the people. Let's also keep in mind that it is one thing to vote for a constitution and another to vote for a president, a detail that seems to have escaped chavismo...

So, after having been told to shut up by the King of Spain, off to Saudi Arabia we see our beloved world Supremo. It was quite something to watch his speech on Venezuelan TV last night. According to Chavez, he has been the de facto ruler of the OPEC since the Caracas summit of 2000 and thanks to his enlightened vision oil went from 10 USD to 100 USD to the barrel. The man really believes that it is because of him!!! I mean he certainly contributed to the initial rise but he seems to neglect a few little details such as the stupendous growth of China and India, September 11 with its consequences and the decline of the greenback which by itself might account for as much as 10% of the actual oil prices. And yet when inflation is taken in oil is not much more expensive today than what it was in the late 70ies and early 80ies. Then again Chavez does not do well with relativity, which is probably why he thinks he is the linty belly button of the world.

I wonder what the Saudis and other assorted oil potentates must have thought about Chavez speeches wanting to make the OPEC a social political force (directed by Chavez who probably is upset he cannot be reelected head of OPEC?), switch to the Euro for oil prices, and his own self glorification. Perhaps that speech could work to stir the downfallen passions of the lumpen chavismo too busy looking for milk to go to election rallies, but in Riyadh it did not work.

In fact King Abdullah rebuke was much softer and nicer than the one from the King of Spain but it was as effective and direct to expose the naked ambitions of Chavez who is so unhinged that he treats all as if they were his subjects. The Saudis have seen pass much worse characters through the Middle East than Chavez and he certainly will not brow beat them. From the CBS/AP report (you should really read it completely to see how out of touch is Chavez with OPEC reality) we get these words from King Abdullah:

After Chavez's speech, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the conservative head of the world's largest oil exporter, appeared to rebuke the leftist president by insisting "OPEC has always acted moderately and wisely."
"Oil is an energy for development, it should not become a tool for conflict and emotions," said Abdullah.

The king also sought to head off Chavez's attempt to reshape OPEC in his socialist image, saying the organization "has not overlooked its responsibilities to developing countries and poverty alleviation." He highlighted that the OPEC Fund for International Development has made donations to over 120 developing countries.
Elsewhere in the press reports are not any more flattering of Chavez role at the OPEC. From the Guardian we get the rather acrimonious debate of Chavez and Ahmadinejerk emissaries against the rest of OPEC when someone plug a TV camera where it should not have been plugged. The Wall Street Journal event titles directly: "Chavez's OPEC Speech Spurs Rebuke From Saudi King".

Enough said.

-The end-

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Opinion poll in El Pais

Here, have fun.

-The end-

For your reading pleasure: what Chavez wants to do and what will really happen

For your reading pleasure I have two things today.

Simon Romero writes a major article, major as in big here, on what the referendum to be held in two is about. Yet I am not quite satisfied with this New York Times piece. I understand that Romero cannot be outright against Chavez constitutional changes where he is publishing. I sense that he certainly feels the danger behind Chavez move and he has the smarts to quote Barrera Tyszka who coins the "tyranny of popularity" to describe Chavez regime. The reader will come out of that article definitely worrying about the future of Venezuela (at least the democratic reader which I do hope are the NYT majority readers). But there is still something missing. Could it be that Romero includes academics in Chavez power base when all the evidence is to the contrary as chavismo is unable to win a faculty election in all serious and independent university, when not a single high flying Venezuelan academic is supporting the regime, where the only luminaries are imported mediocrities such as Spain's Monedero?

Perhaps that is what is missing in Venezuela coverage today: that there are few noteworthies that are willing to support the regime and that all support comes from a love relationship between Chavez and a large section of the masses. Romero gets it right when he senses that fervent chavistas will vote SI even if they do not agree with the changes because they trust Chavez no matter what. But perhaps Romero should have been more careful about judging the support to Chavez elsewhere. Also, he could have underlined that after all these chavismo excesses are only made possible through US diplomacy mistakes and its refusal to grow less dependent on Venezuelan oil.

At any rate, Romero at least offers a clear glimpse at what is awaiting Venezuela, a legally elected autocracy without hope of return to democracy except through violent means. But he only hints at the implications (well, the article can only be so long, the NYT is not a blog). If you want to look at the consequences you could start very well on the story of Citgo as researched and told by the Wall Street Journal (hat tip AC). There you will read how Chavez policies have been slowly but surely gutting Citgo, making miss its chance to become one of the leading oil companies in the world, leaving it now to face a slow extinction.

Of course, at 100 USD a barrel Citgo with Venezuela support will not go bankrupt, but that is not the point. The point is that Citgo under a good management and the insured Venezuelan oil supply could have become a leading US company, one of these whose words shape US policies. Instead it is slowly but surely becoming an average business at the sufferance of the US public who is more and more staying away of Citgo. Not that it matters much anyway as Citgo has become unable to supply its clients and gave up hundreds and hundreds of its affiliates.

The reason behind the dismantlement of Citgo is the need for fast cash by Chavez. Not for him long term business plans: it is now or never. Thus, the purchase of Citgo which cost a considerable effort to the old PDVSA. Now, by just signing some contract sale, oil terminals and refineries in the US are sold and the revenue is spent happily by Chavez in unproductive social programs, gifts to other countries, corruption and what not. That is right, assets go up in intangible smoke of no benefit for Venezuela except for a temporary political benefit for Chavez. The assets that PDVSA acquired at difficult times with rather sharp acumen are squandered. It is difficult to see how the new PDVSA would recover them someday if it needed them again. The opportunities of the 90ies are gone for good in the oil industry.

The WSJ paper also tells us two very interesting items about the future of Venezuela, even if only Citgo is studied. First, the secrecy that now surrounds Citgo. Citgo has sold any stocks or bonds it might have and is now out of SEC control. That is not too important in a way, through worrying. What is more important is that now Citgo is managed through a board of directors that are not US (it is not clear if there is at least one US guy on it), and a board which acts in total secrecy. Secrecy! That is a word that characterizes well the new look of the Chavez movement and one of the goal of the new constitution where the people will have definitively no access to the government accounts. In other words there is no way for an independent inquiry to see how well Citgo (or any state controlled business in Venezuela ) is doing. At least for Citgo we can have some day tax returns at the IRS which will give us profits over revenues. But for the rest of Venezuela we will only know how much the revolution of Chavez has cost us once he is out of office. A reason by the way powerful enough for him to cling to power for ever and ever.

The other item expanded in the WSJ ties up with what I wrote above, that none of the Venezuelan best and brightest are in bed with chavismo. The board of Citgo includes two foreigners, Bernard Mommner described as a French Marxist mathematician (and a very discrete power player within chavismo with a reported lavish European life style) and the Mexican Juan Carlos Boué (who, by his name, might also be of French origin). These two characters had espoused in the past the theory that PDVSA was not bringing home enough of its profits by investing too much overseas. In such way they demonstrated clearly that they did not know how a capitalist business must work, through constant investment to keeps its competitive edge, its market share and its future prospect. After all, whatever PDVSA bought overseas was still owned by Venezuela and could eventually ensure a comfortable income once the investment was absorbed.

The strategy of PDVSA was based at a time where Venezuelan oil was not well quoted and where oil in general was thought as a long term cheap commodity. But PDVSA had planted the seeds to become a major world player once oil woudl go up again. Instead by listening to advisers such as Mommer and Boué Venezuela is reverting to a colonial exploitative system where it will sell its oil to the highest bidder, becoming thus economically dependent on the highest bidder, being that one the US, China, India or Europe. Because the higher bidder will also pose its conditions and the unquenchable thirst of Chavez will make him eventually accept the conditions imposed.

And thus we see the future of Venezuela where Chavez will repulse the Venezuelan intellectual elites and thus will have to rely more and more on international mercenaries. Meanwhile in the streets even people that know better are deciding to vote SI because they just love Chavez.

-The end-

Friday, November 16, 2007

Benito and Me

It must be the day for telltale pictures.

On occasion I visit "El salón de Monseñor de Talleyrand" and today I was not disappointed at all. I do not know if Monseigneur did the montage next or if he found it elsewhere, but it is one of those delightful coincidences that tells us so much about the fascist regime that Chavez is trying to install.

The article with the picture is worth reading to ( though in Spanish, sorry). There you will read about Carlos Fuentes recent interview in Argentina where he qualifies without even batting an eye Chavez as a “fascista típico” (typical fascist). You will also read about Bush and Chavez hot air while on the side they do brisk business. Or does anyone think that the Bolivarian Happening is financed by something else than US dollars from the very same Empire?

Curiously yesterday I was traveling visiting customers with someone from the US representing some technical product. Amazingly that person did not know that about 70% (more?) of Venezuelan oil goes directly to the US. In fact he thought that considering the poor relations between the two countries, the US had stopped getting oil from Venezuela. I suspect that on one in the US is willing to herald the obscene mutual dependence of Bush and Chavez. Insults make so much better sound bytes on TV nightly news.... If the US really wanted to get rid of Chavez it would have done so long ago in all simplicity: stop fast all oil importations from Venezuela. Within a month Chavez is out as there are not enough refineries elsewhere to process the poor quality of Venezuelan oil.

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Chavista media manipulation: stealing pictures and outright lies

Last Wednesday I watched in Alo Ciudadano how VEA was using a picture from August 16 2004 to illustrate the alleged aggression of the students to perturb the UCV internal elections that had just been put under threat by the high court of the country. But I had to wait until today to find the picture in Tal Cual and write the story: the VEA web page is useless.

VEA is the official newspaper of the government, the wanna-be Gramma or Pravda of the revolution, and already even more inane than these two who have at least solid propaganda teams. VEA even hosts one of the key writers of the regime even if he signs under "Marciano": Jose Vicente Rangel himself, known in the past as a real journalists and today as the evil apologist. Nobody buys VEA to read except for some die hard old line Stalinist (Ponce of the Venezuelan old PCV is the editor). VEA sells a little bit only around public administration buildings where it is de bon ton to show your leanings. Promotions there can sometime depends on less than that. Once the public display is done, the happy purchaser can display it again at the bottom of its bird cage where red birds might read it.

Thus VEA had to cover the new judicial fraud and trying to start preventive spin on the announced chavista electoral disaster at the UCV today. Since there is no picture to drive future crimes, well, VEA had to borrow it from some archive. In fact it went to borrow the emblematic picture of August 16 2004 when chavista goons shot down a few people in Altamira square (Miguel even re-issued that picture last Sunday a great post on some of the killers of the regime!). That is right, VEA would have us believe that the picture they show corresponds to anti reforma students when in fact it belongs to chavista killers.

The legend below the picture is a pearl "Fascists are trying to take advantage of election in the UCV to start guarimbas [chavista favorite term for any opposition political manifestation that they do not like]

But the intellectual deficiencies of chavismo have long been exposed, their lack of creativity is well known and now we observe their extreme laziness at even trying to get a more plausible picture for their story. After all, I have lost track on how many times the logo of this blog, a picture taken at one of the opposition marches by yours truly has been borrowed by chavista sites unable to find among their own picture archives as glorious a Venezuelan flag as I have taken.

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The Washington Post turn at lambasting Chavez new constitution

I had to leave early this morning so I did not get a chance to read the Washington Post until tonight. A little bit late but a worthwhile editorial. They call the "reforma" a constitutional coup. too bad they had to wait three month after the New York times who saw through it right on august 15, but better late than never, in particular when there is time to do something.

And speaking of doing something, today some polls came up saying that the NO will win. Before any pro Chavez screams anything I will suggest them that they review these pollsters in November 2006 when they were predicting a Chavez victory. But tonight I am too tired to search on that, suffice to say that I watched the sobering results, for chavismo, of their latest Mercanalisis poll. surprisingly besides the attack on private property voters are very worried about the central bank autonomy and the take over of the army. Are people thinking with their wallet for next December? It seems that they might start doing so: do not touch my home, do not think that you will be able to touch my hone if someday I have one, do not touch the last barrier against inflation we have, even if it is already a wreck, I do not want military to tell me what I have to do with my life. and other such pearls as the rejection in general of the term "socialista".

And that is why Chavez is organizing an attack against Globovision and Spain.

-The end-

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas shelves in Venezuela: something is missing

It is common knowledge around the world that some food items have left Venezuela's shelves. Plenty of excuses have been offered to account for the absence of milk, sugar, beans, noodles and more. For example, conveniently, the world prices of milk and wheat have been going up. That might be but these items are not any scarcer in the shelves of, say, Colombia than they were a few months ago. Another good excuse advanced by chavismo is that the poor in Venezuela have such a great income that they are snatching milk from the shelves faster than any rich person can do. Of course, all of these are just that, excuses, and any serious economist laughs at them.

This afternoon, around 4 PM I happened to have to go to the San Felipe Central Madeirense grocery store and I also happened to be carrying my camera. So, as I have done at regular intervals, I took the necessary pictures to show the reality of what is it like when shopping in Venezuela (you can compare with my past pictures, some of the very same shelves at different times through the year). Note: in deference of those who still do not have broadband I put small thumbnails, click to enlarge and get the full effect.

Let's start with what is missing, milk, sugar and beans. For milk I have two pictures. The first one is for the fresh milk shelf, where milk has not been found by yours truly for now about two months. You can see juice and yogurt (yogurt? where do they get the milk for that?) and on the left a gap. But be reassured, it was the guy arranging the shelves (the hand) because that gap is for more yogurt, the store has long stopped saving some space for fresh milk that never comes.

The second picture is for the "no refrigeration" milk section. No powder milk can be found. No long duration milk either (U.H.T.) No skim, fat, whatever milk. Only on occasion you see a fake milk based on soy. They eventually all leave the shelf but there does not seem to be any stampede. So, what does the shelf carry these days? The only milk is circled in blue and it is condensed milk. Maybe good for kids though I doubt that a glass of sweetened milk a day can be good in the long term for their health. You find a little bit of special formulas for infants, the top green circle. And, an oddity since it is not very popular in Venezuela, today I found some chocolate long conservation milk (another item that cannot have good long term effects on kids). They are at the very end. And the rest you may ask? All is heavy cream!!!!! Canned or long conservation!!!!!

The next missing items are sugar and beans. I had reported that if white sugar had been missing SINCE LAST YEAR, one could still find brown sugar available. This has also stopped as brown sugar is now almost as rare as white sugar. Today you only had a few blocks of "papelon" left, circled in blue, at the near end of the galley. This is of limited usage as it has a strong taste from the raw sugar cane and it needs to be grated before use and does not dissolve fast. Except for some dishes and "papelon con limon", it is of no use. But that is not all we can observe in this picture. The green circle is for beans. That is right, the choice of bean was today limited to some gray beans. And not that much of them. However above the shelf circled in black you have plenty of microwave pop corn. Draw your own conclusions.

And now for the last item missing. Though in all honesty I should qualify it as scarce rather than missing though I am sure it will not be long until it is gone: PASTA! Only two brands circled in green. Only one had some choices of different pasta style for different dishes. Once upon a time this shelf was crumbling with the amount and variety of pasta, and most of the time some the pasta was stacked directly on the floor, disrupting traffic. Now, well, the passage is clear and half is corn flakes or other unrelated items.

OK, so far we could still try to buy the argument that the poor have now more money so they can eat, finally. Let's even make the exception that Central Madeirense is too expensive for the poor to begin with so that it is very unlikely that they are the ones who emptied Central Madeirense shelves. They would have started with Mercal shelves first, no? Thus even that chavista argument ends up working against them as we see that Mercal cannot satisfy the needs of the poor, the very reason for the existence of Mercal.

Which brings us to what is left in the store. With Christmas coming the shelves have started filling up with imported goods. I will start with a picture of a stash or "panettone", that lovely Italian egg bread that we gorge with at Christmas. In this dispoaly it surrounds a few bottles of Scotch in promotion. Not good Scotch but Scotch Whiskey nevertheless.

But if you do not care much for Scotch you can buy Spanish sparkling and alcoholic cider, another holiday favorite! With yet more Panettone on the right side!

There is also plenty of wine and many on promotion. But that happens all year round even though Venezuela is not really a wine drinking country and even less Yaracuy. however the "turron" has arrived in many o f its varieties, most imported from Spain of course, as circled in the picture. The little Christmas cookies on the right might actually be manufactured in Venezuela but I did not check.

But you know what? There was also a promotion on Perrier Water!!!!!

Perhaps someone could explain me why in the bolivarian revolution we have no milk, no sugar but we have Panettone and Perrier? I would advise the reader wanting to reflect on this paradox to read the article by Luis Pedro España translated by Miguel the other day "Hummer for Eggs". I recognize of course that this article is in large part the inspiration for this post and I wanted just to show its reality in San Felipe (where a small city of 200 000 people counts at least three Hummers).

But beyond the reality of excessive state intervention and the deliberate weakening of the private sector, the crude reality is that if the poor will not be able to afford Panettone or Turron, neither will they be able to make simpler home made Christmas sweets since they cannot find eggs, milk, flour and sugar. Some revolution, no?

Let's them eat Panettone someone said at Miraflores.

UPDATE: as it turns out Katy was also writing of milk shortages in Maracaibo. The link here will tell you more about it and illustrate how far people are willing to go already for a couple of pounds of milk. By the way, the Nazional Guard had to be called up in San Felipe last week at the Central Madeirense. Since everybody has SMS in a few minutes, when milk arrives, you can have 1000 people clamoring. Management decided to call the guard before the store risked rioting.

-The end-