Thursday, January 31, 2008

Last voting call!

Today is your last chance to vote for Venezuela News and Views for the Bloggies 2008. So, if you have not done it yet go to the Bloggies page, pass it around to friends and colleagues. Show the world how a Venezuelan caucus works!

And then let's wait for the results in March.

PS: by the way, did any one see that the CNE corrected YESTERDAY the result of the December 2 referendum, giving the reason to SUMATE numbers on abstention? Priceless. Even the Bloggies 2008 will be faster in checking the results sent in unique e-mails, one by one!

-The end-

Post of the month

I do not know where Miguel got that but it is absolutely brilliant: what the Facebook page of Chavez would look like. The details are fantastic from the 666 friends of Chavez to the gifts that include a "good dog" cookie from Fidel. I am allowing myself to repost it on the left side because well, it cannot be missed (click to enlarge). But all credit belong to Miguel of course, or wherever it is he got that. And by the way, do not miss his post on the house of Franklin Duran one of Miami 4. The house is an expensive 4 million thing, on a canal, with a "parking spot" for the yatch. Viva la revolucion!!!!

-The end-

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The fairness and receptivity of the Venezuelan Judicial system

Yesterday we got yet another proof that the Venezuelan judicial system has become simply another repressive arm of the regime. In fact, as we have often discussed in this page the closest branch of the Venezuelan government to a dictatorial situation is the judicial system. The evidence we discussed on and off is as follows, in no particular order:

- justices chanting "Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!" during the installation of the judicial year.
- extraordinary delays when judging opposition figures, the longer the delays of course, the weaker the evidence. Look for example at the Caracas Police directors sitting in jail for three years already while their trial goes at a snail pace, the judges inventing all sorts of delays.
- the speed in judgment of chavista figures, in case these ones actually find themselves investigated.
- the failure to reach conclusion which in some cases is equal to a negative sentence against an opposition figure. The Danilo Anderson case for which management the general prosecutor should have been fired long ago resulted in his quiet departure at the end of the term while some of the folks he has indicted on account of a false witness remain investigated or in exile.
- and of course all the astounding fast political decisions taken by he high court when the government needs them in his favor. Take for illustration one of the most famous ones, the illegal seizure without compensation of all the transmission equipment of RCTV, a robbery in facts, whereas all the filed suits as to the closing of RCTV remain gathering dust in some TSJ shelf.

That is why Chavez can get away with a de facto dictatorship while still tolerating unfair elections and an increasingly less free press. After all it does not matter what you uncover, what abuse you expose, when you hit a tribunal your complaint sometimes is not even registered. That is the root of the power of Chavez, the most extraordinarily submitted judicial system in our history, morally corrupt to the extreme, and possibly financially corrupt too. After all, what judge in Venezuela would dare rule against a chavista judge?

Today we can add something new to this repetition, a necessary one though since foreign readers might be inclined to think that there is justice in Venezuela since we are technically in a democracy. Yesterday a few students tried to protest in the Zulia tribunals of Maracaibo. Their justified protest was against the unjustified and unjustifiable delays in some political trials going on. They also tried to chain themselves to some door which might have been justifiable but probably not at that given time. Still, nothing can justify the reaction of the security guards of the Zulia tribunals. In the video below you can watch the vicious way into which these guards beat up some of the students, a violence out of all proportion with the moment, when simply closing the doors and accuse the students of obstructing access to justice would have been enough, and probably even reflect favorably on the court.

I do not know about you, but when the tribunal security seems even more vicious than the Nazional Guard of Venezuela, you know that there is no justice possible. You can see for yourself, no need for translation, for example how unconscious folks on the floor are still being beaten up and how of course the security guards know they are doing the wrong thing and trying to also shut down the cameras filming. Cowardly chavista storm troopers in all their splendor! Because of course, all of these "security workers" are chavista political appointees, I will bet anything on that.

By the way, for the record, there is nothing to expect from the president of the TSJ, Luisa Estela Morales. She has been fired twice from courts for "malpractice", a mediocre lawyer at best, who became the absolutely unfit president of the TSJ because Chavez wanted an unconditional there is not going to even offer an apology or an investigation on these excesses. Let's not forget that she is also an agricultural expert in that she thinks like Chavez that the "conuco" is the best possible form of agricultural production, never minding that it has denuded most mountains of their natural vegetation leaving behind a waste land of poor grass and rocks where once stood a deciduous forest. In other words, she is just a bitchy hack, the Elena Ceausescu of the Venezuelan judicial system. Expect more scenes like that video in the future.

-The end-

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And let's check one for Chavez

Responding privately to a precedent post a reader that we shall call Tim sent me this note which I am posting below (well, I had him arrange it a little bit for privacy purposes).

Help from Cuba

Perhaps it is time to be fairer to Cuban medical staff working in Venezuela. We live twelve kilometers from Plaza Venezuela in an area which has some ranchos, some brand new apartment buildings and some older dwellings all mixed up together. Definitely not a slum. We are 200 yards from a CDI [barrio adentro II] and on at least two occasions they have saved the life of my wife. Yes, she has had five emergency transfusions at the Clinica Metropoliana, a six week course of radiation treatment at the Centro Docente La Trinidad and is also receiving genetic therapy from a major European Cancer Center. However it has been the Cubans who, without any payment, come to the house and give my wife her twice weekly 'drip'. They have been splendid. We are a very squalid [escualido] family but all the members of the CDI have made a very strong impression on us and our community. True the Venezuelan National Health is a mess and I agree with nearly every word you put in your blog. 'Renting' medical services in exchange for oil is not the ideal solution but our experience is that here, today in our community it is working and the Cuban's who provide the service are hardworking, professional and very very kind. While I strongly criticize the government’s inability to run a proper efficient National Health Service it would be less than fair to say, based on our own experience, that the Cubans are not doing an excellent job.

Lastly I do not believe that they earn huge salaries. The Cuban government may charge a lot but I don't think much of that reaches the medical staff. Most seem experienced having worked in Honduras after hurricane Mitch (1998) or formed part of an international effort to aid Pakistan after the earthquake of 2005. They live in simple accommodation and for 'security reasons' they are supposed to off the streets by 4pm. There biggest luxury is to buy a phone card to call home to their families. This is not what we have been told. This is what we have seen with our own eyes.

My comment.

True, not all Cubans are dangerous spies. Probably 80% or more are nice folks seeing their stay in Venezuela as either a job like another or a way to bail out from Cuba at some point. Also, I have never attacked the idea of Barrio Adentro, just the amazingly inefficient way it is managed and its inherent ability to attract stable medical professionals. I have also attacked that Chavez prefers to inaugurate new CDI, which future is apparently as aleatory as the barrio adentro modules, rather than starting by fixing up the already extensive hospital network of Venezuela. His policies of "all about ME", of reinventing the wheel, will eventually end up wrecking even the few good initiatives he has had.

And by the way, before barrio adentro there was an extensive network of "dispensarios" set up all around the country in relative proximity of popular areas, and which I had personally experienced them more than once as a kid when vacationing far from Caracas (you know, sun burnt, stitches and the like). Barrio Adentro is simply a retake and reformatting of an experience that had been very successful . But not a single chavista, even those who went to a dispensario like Chavez surely did in Barinas will ever acknowledge them, preferring the world to believe that before Chavez people were just dying massively in the streets.

-The end-

The company they keep: Iran anti gay policies

Lately Chavez speaks less of Iran (after all, he speaks so much of the FARC and Uribe that even himself cannot find enough hours in the day to include Iran). Yet this country and its rogue government remains a key partner. Well, I have been informed that there is yet a new gay teenager hanging in the works in Iran. That is right, in Iran Sodomy or any Gay Activity is simply punishable by death, either in the bowels of some prison or in public hanging.

This time there is a petition you might want to sign, stressing Venezuela as the country where you are signing from. There is little bit more we can do as even "closeted" homosexuals like mayor Barreto are not going to come out to condemn such atrocities. The picture on the right is from the previous hanging of teenagers in Mashhad.

So please, drop by this petition and sign it if you are so inclined.

By the way, there is in Yaracuy a covert campaign agaisnt Cocorote Mayor, Capdevielle. He cannot run again for Cocorote and he is thinking about running for governor in November. Well, since he is a leading candidate that could unite chavista and opposition under his banner, there are all sorts of rumors about his sexuality running around (I have been hearing these
"rumors" for 8 years now, and he is all but out of the closet officially). That I know of, these rumors seem to be coming more from chavismo than the opposition which is trying to court its support in joining a primary or some sort of deal. Though machismo surely makes equally strong ravages in both camps and if Capdvielle runs on his own "rumors" will come flying from both sides. I have no illusions on this respect. On the other hand Gerardo Blyde might be running for Baruta mayor and he might become, I hope, the first openly gay mayor in Venezuela, that is, if he comes out of his closet too. I think Baruta is ready.

-The end-

Monday, January 28, 2008

Chavez the democrat! Not!

The defensive myth that pro Chavez folks always advance in the US or Europe to excuse all of his excesses is that he is so democratic, that he subjected himself to so many elections, that it would be great if certain Western leaders were to face that many elections, etc... Never, of course, inquiring really in which conditions these elections took place. Anyway, today Chavez himself took great care in killing that myth. From his very own mouth, now that polls are highly unfavorable to him, well, he announces that he will not tolerate that his successor is not a "revolutionary".

"Lo que tenemos que garantizar es que si a Hugo Chávez le toca entregar el gobierno el 10 de enero de 2013 no sea a un contrarrevolucionario porque vendría la guerra aquí"

Those were his words in his Sunday show. Translation: What we must guarantee is that if Hugo Chavez has to give up the presidency on January 10 of 2013 that it is not to a counter revolutionary because war would come here.

I am sure that there is some context and that some will claim that he did not say/mean what he did say. Except that it is a repetition, that he has been saying that if the opposition wins some of the keys states in November that it will be destabilizing, bring war, etc, etc... this is no accident, no lapsus brutis, this is what he thinks, what he plans to do, why he is bringing it back to the table again and again, the only thing that really interests him: a change the constitution to allow him to serve past January 10 2013, his very own dies irae.

When we hear Chavez we stop wondering about the brain drain in Venezuela, exquisitely reported by El Nacional today (subscription only). Who wants to put up with a creep like Chavez forever? No wonder that in the last two years at least 2,000 MD have left Venezuela, to be replaced in part by sub-par Cuban medics. Or does anyone think that Castro sends his best and brightest? No wonder that 8,000 Venezuelan are estimated to be working in US research organizations. Not to mention that about 10,000 expensively trained oil workers of Venezuela are now working for foreign oil companies around the world. No wonder that the Australian embassy in Venezuela advertises in Venezuelan papers to attract immigrants from here. How much the babble and threats of Chavez has cost the country in educated professionals and expert entrepreneurs leaving us? How many are going to seek visas tomorrow after Chavez new threats for 2013?

-The end-

Vote! Vote!

OK, time again for some shameless promotion.

I have been scanning some of the nominees of the 2008 Bloggies and I am in very, very good company. I recommend you to peruse the different categories if you have not done so already. Many of the nominated blogs are quite extraordinary, a witness on how far the blogging world has come. The nomination process must have been quite something as I have not seen such an interesting selection of nominated blogs ever. Truly, just been nominated is quite an achievement by itself!

Besides, the logo of the contest is almost a predestination: it has 8 stars like the new Venezuelan flag next to the accumulating "flats" of the bolivarian show. Do you really need any other reason than that to vote for Venezuela News and Views? Also (warning: more shameless manipulation) by voting for VN&V you also vote for the many guest writers and comments of this year and for the successful NO to the reforma blog.

So please, visit the voting page, slide toward the middle, vote for VN&V in the Latin American category and for many of the other categories as time allows you. Remember, you must enter an e-mail address and click on the link that will be sent to your e-mail account within a few seconds, otherwise your vote will not be counted. Also, if you vote using a Venezuelan address, there is some spam filter at Cantv that does not allow you to vote. Gmail, hotmail, yahoo and others work fine, or so I have been told.

You have until Thursday, do not delay in voting (and passing around the information).

-The end-

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oops! That would be "guilty" your honor!

2007 was an "annus horribilis" for Chavez. So far 2008 is not bringing any improvement.

Today the "800 000 bucks bag of money" case came bag to the front scene with a vengeance. One of the Miami 4, Maionica, decided to switch his plea to "Guilty" and become a prosecution witness. He acknowledges that all the secretly recorded tapes are legitimate and that he was an agent of the Venezuelan government in order to cover up the money sent by Chavez to finance Cristina Kirchner electoral campaign.

Now a boatload of folks must be running for cover in Caracas and Buenos Aires. Watching the face of Nicolas Maduro, our failed metrobus driver turned foreign minister, accusing the US judicial system to be a farce and of submitting Maionica to unbearable pressure was a tragic poem. Not only Maduro has been watching too many bad movies, but he is unable to comprehend that Maionica as a lawyer probably understood that making a deal with the Miami prosecutor was his best way out. He will get off with a slight sentence and get a US resident visa to cooperate with the US justice. From Miami, perhaps working at some MacDonald, he will be able to wait the end of Chavez and come back to Venezuela to resume business, perhaps sooner than expected. (1)

Let's not extend on something that we have all discussed extensively in this blog and its comments. The only difference today is that the Maionica confession makes it official that Chavez is financing all sorts of illegal political activities everywhere, in amounts that make any NED donation to SUMATE a child's game. In fact, chavista paid agents like Eva Golinger must be worrying about their eventual return to the US as surely the IRS must have noticed their recent prosperity on account of dishing the US. It is Al Capone again, the bolibana version. Of course, the ridicule and bad karma/conscience that awaits these people might even be much worse than any IRS citation.

Instead let's talk about he possible consequences.

In Buenos Aires this time the Casa Rosada was keeping, at this typing, a sinister silence. Gone where the early December days when newly sworn Lady K. was calling the US judicial system garbage. Now, her government might be in jeopardy as it is gravely wounded within its first month in office. It is to be noted that for much less than the Antonini money bag affair many a post war Italian government fell.

In Venezuela Chavez has little to fear. After all the judicial system is now inexistent and certainly not about to investigate Chavez on anything. No matter what the trials of Miami in the coming months might reveal, we can be assured that the most that will happen will be a delightfully botched operation such as the one on the Danilo Anderson assassination. That one lead to nowhere, though ensuring that at least a few political opponents were put in trouble for nothing, one still in exile. No, even if there were to be a judge willing to take on Chavez, or at least his corrupt camarilla, even if the other 3 in Miami were to plead guilty now and start talking, Chavez has much worse problems than Antonini to face anyway.

Because the HMS-Chavez seems to make water from all sides these days.

First, at least for Chavez, his foreign policy front, the only aspect of his rule that he really cares about, is collapsing right and left. Certainly the Antonini affair is not going to help him at all since now many governments will have perfect excuses to monitor Venezuela agents in their country and even deny them entry. But the FARC fiasco keeps bringing more grief. After his triumphant tour of Europe, with soaring polls at home, this week Uribe received nothing less than admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and today the Secretary of State. The implication is extremely clear, and grave for Venezuela: if Chavez does not start behaving better, he is going to run into major trouble. We can hope that at least the Venezuelan armed forces will have gotten the message that any move against Colombia will find the US firmly behind them. We can hope that they will make sure that no matter how many insults Chavez keeps sending to Bogota, the situation will not go past insults. By the way, Bogota refuses to reply to Chavez which only seems to send him into further paroxysms.

But if grave matters like Colombia are besotting Chavez, other players area taking advantage to plant in his back further "banderillas". Alan Gracia in Peru is not missing a chance, timing his granting exile residency to my ex-governor Lapi. Not been on the run anymore, from Peru Lapi will be able to play a role in the coming November elections. Under a very amused Garcia watch.

But it gets worse for Chavez. His polls are now reaching levels not seen since 2002. The psychological effect of the December 2 rout (by the way, the CNE STILL HAS NOT RELEASED THE FINAL VOTING RESULTS!!!) seems to have been hit harder than expected. Coupled with an increasingly graver food shortage situation, it is not surprising that the Teflon effect of Chavez is finally over and that after 9 years in office people are finally starting to wonder if the current bad situation might not have something to do with Chavez incompetence. His or his people, same difference.

But to crown this already awful week, we were shown the latest shopping spree of Chavez to stack up the shelves in Venezuela. In a hurry, where do you get rice, black beans and cooking oil? In the Evil Empire, of course! That very same empire that Chavez constantly criticizes and accuses of preparing itself to invade us at any second. The bag handed out by PDVSA to frustrated shoppers had even an large US flag on its bag of rice! Will wonders ever cease?

The opposition needs not to do anything: these days sitting back and watching chavismo melt down is a fantastic experience.

1) Maduro also took it upon himself to criticize the Globovision journalists from being anti bolivarian, a traitor and what not, urging her to join the noble cause of bolivarianism, to unify in the defense of the fatherland. Or some such garbage. When a foreign minister lowers himself so much it becomes embarrassing even for people opposing him.

-The end-

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Arroz con Leche

Sometimes it becomes difficult for us to explain how our quality of life has been steadily degrading. After all, for the last nine years we have been making the necessary adjustment to adapt ourselves to a progressively worse situation. These progressive adjustments include such things as putting more bars on our windows so we hope to sleep tight, learning to do long lines even at private clinics as public health is not an option for many ills, factoring in our lifestyle commuting times which generally have doubled in the last five years, paying for cable TV to escape incessant cadenas, etc....

But the other day while in Caracas I realized that even in the essential small pleasures of our life chavismo is robbing us. For example, today we cannot make "Arroz con Leche" anymore. In this respect the vain bolibanana revolution is a great equalizer: it is not a matter of money, neither the poor nor the rich can find the three basic ingredients of arroz con leche, namely milk, rice and sugar.

Perhaps the non-Venezuelan reader might wonder why arroz con leche could be such a litmus test. Let's say that arroz con leche is our basic comfort food, the one we inherited from our childhood years, the one for which there might be as many recipes as there are grandmothers. Arroz con leche is not just rice pudding, this infamous concoction found in Europe or the US. No, a good arroz con leche is soft enough that when you hold it on the edge of a tilted spoon it looks like forming a major dollop about to fall but it is still sticky enough to remain in the spoon. An art, high culinary art if you ask me (1).

Arroz con leche is also perhaps the most universal children rhyme in Latin America. Be it the rather pompous Argentinean version or the more simplistic Dominican one. It seems that each country has its own lyrics (I could not find the Venezuelan version so I am limiting here to the basic tune). Because we all sung it in our school yard, it remains with us as our essential comfort food, the one that ties us to an ever sunny schoolyard, the dessert we would not dare order in a restaurant but the one that never gets old in our refrigerator.

Thus of course it is rather dispiriting that since the last quarter of 2007 it is an increasingly difficult dish to prepare. Last weekend I was in Caracas and I visited a grocery store in the middle to upper middle class neighborhood of El Cafetal, a store where people do not mid as much to pay a little bit extra to get what they need. But even this acquiescence of the local customers is not enough. After all the Indecu, that selectively nazi price control mob, tends to strike more at such grocery stores. Of course, they are more likely to get there some payback of substance to stop them from closing the store.

Thus this week end I did a little photo report of the Plaza grocery store in El Cafetal, a very old grocery store which existed in the early days of El Cafetal when this one had not even a half dozen high rises (now El Cafetal has dozens and dozens of high rises lining up its main streets, but that is another story). The fact of the matter is that in spite of the population growth the Plaza has retained its original size and a feel of mom and pop store that I hope the pictures will transmit, even though they are a little bit depressing.

We will start by observing that there is no milk nor sugar.

The first picture is the former sugar section which know offers only fructose and a little bit of pastry grade powdered sugar, of use only in glazing. The section is now reduced appropriately to a specialty area close to the Mexican food ingredients. You will notice that even the beans used to hide the gap in the area are gently disposed so as to hide their very own limited quantities. But I suppose I should not complain: we had at least 3 types of beans which is more than usual...

The next picture is the powder milk area. As usual there is nothing of the stuff, neither is the UHT versions usually stored on the right side. Even the infant formulas are low. There is though condensed milk, which I must add is not suitable for real arroz con leche as it makes it over sweetened. Condensed milk is a short cut to the real thing that any expert will immediately recognize. Not that I have anything against condensed milk which is great for "tres leches" or "quesillo", but it does not work well with arroz con leche.

There is rice though. But only a single variety from a single brand, which is totally unsuitable for making arroz con leche anyway. A little bit as if you were trying to make sushi rice with Uncle Ben's long grain. Thus, even in reasonably affluent El Cafetal it is that rice or nothing. But you have diet Pepsi to go with.

While I was there I looked at other staples.

The bakery stand was depleted, with only a few donuts left and three lonely breads still available. Wheat flour is becoming scarce too while the refusal of the government to allow for price increase in bread is, as usual, aggravating the scarcity created by the difficulties in importing the stuff.

Of course fresh milk is gone for good. As is the Colombian yogurt which used to occupy a large chunk of that shelf. No butter either as what you see at the right end is diverse type of margarine. At last that one seems to be back in force. But imported whipped cream is available!

Coffee is the latest item joining the list of missing in action. The ridiculous effort by the government to block the prices, even though supplies to the producers have increased by more than 22.5% just in 2007 is finally showing its effect. In a country of coffee drinkers, now we are forced to buy the multinational disgusting Nescafe instant coffee or the decaffeinated El Peñon brand. Pathetic! Of course, the government does not control the price of decaffeinated and instant coffee so we are forced towards these placebos, like it or not.

To complete this round up let's verify that the cooking oil situation has not improved. Only one brand of a soy oil which is not liked in Venezuela cooking. And at the right end expensive olive oil, increasingly coming at the free rate of the bolivar, that is, twice as much as the goods produced under imports favored by CADIVI, the currency exchange control organization which is making water from all sides.

And to get yet another evidence of wheat floor problems (favorable exchange rate of that sector have also been downgraded) we can look at the cookie section. Once upon a time you could find dozens fo types of cookies. Now you will have to content yourself of soda crackers or "galletas Maria".

Other stores in Caracas do not fare much better. I went to the gigantic Exelsior in Santa Eduvigis and if they had more stuff than the Plaza, they were still completly out of milk and sugar and had only the same brand of rice.

And what does happen in less affleutn areas? After all, in the sotrs of El Cafetal and Santa Eduvigis, there are enough non controlled items sold that allow the store to compensate from what it cannot earn in reselling basic stapples. For example the Plaza sells kitchen trinkets, imported wine and Scotch, has a wide selection of hygiene and beauty aids. But what about the "abastos" in San Martin, Petare or el Valle where people cannot go past cheap toothpaste and shampoo, with a little bit of beer on week ends? How do the owner of these stroes manage to make a living? To compete against the unfair price structure of Mercal (which by the way is unsustainable as even Chavez has announced that some of its prices will be increased)?

I think that the government does not care. If the delicate network of mom and pop abastos in popular areas dwindle because of lack of stuff to sell and high crime to steal any meager earnings, the people will become even more dependent of chavismo for their food. A new from of indenture, where public employees are forced to shop at the store of their boss, the state.

1) curiously of all the recipes I found in the Internet the one that comes close to the real thing is the one form WikiHow. It is also the one that gives best the basics allowing the cook to make as many add-ons as wished.

-The end-

"The Bloggies" nomination

Venezuela News and Views has been nominated to one of these blog award things: The Bloggies. I am not sure how important it is but whoever handles it is doing its 8th edition. It is a little bit awkward to vote since it requires you leave an e-mail to validate your vote. However it also makes it a more realistic vote as no one is going to make up dozens of e-mails. Or are you? Also, the confirmation e-mail does not arrive very fast so you need to keep it in mind.

However I would say that the choice is rather eclectic which is a good thing. You can go THERE and look at the Latin America section to vote for this blog. I confess that I did not know the other blogs in the category but it is safe to say they probably did not know about our group either: I am the only political blog of the lot which makes me even more surprised to be nominated.

You need to vote by Thursday 31. And I suppose that if you have more than one e-mail address, well, you can demonstrate them how the Venezuelan CNE works ;)

-The end-

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Uribe splendid European trip

Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia continues his very successful trip through France, Spain and Switzerland. Apparently Europe is getting through and through the little cartoon from Weil, published today in Tal Cual. Chavez definitely looks more and more like the thug from the ruined down house down the block than any statesman.

Rather than expand on the different details in Spain and France, let's summarize the Uribe trip with the declarations of Javier Solana, speaking in the name of the European Union itself. From the Clarin in Argentina, to take a non European paper, we can translate the words of Solana as:

What the terrorists have to do is to release the hostages, without conditions, immediately.
They cannot justify what they do and that idea must take hold in the hearts of well intentioned people.
Will Chavez receive the message? I ain't holding my breath. Whatever Chavez does, Europe will keep considering the FARC as a terrorist group. The implication is clear: Do not want to be called terrorists? Release 'em hostages now.

Meanwhile the strategy of Uribe not to reply to the insults of Chavez is paying off handsomely. Uribe is received warmly everywhere he goes. In fact, never has Uribe been received better anywhere since he has become president of Colombia. Big mouthed Chavez insults, very ill timed with the Uribe trip, ensure that. Even a surprisingly sympathetic article of the BBC (for Chavez and the FARC, not Uribe) cannot manage to hide the success that Uribe is meeting in Europe. Maybe the BBC has no hostage of its own in Colombia? Maybe they missed the treatment inflicted on FARC hostages?

But Chavez is getting hits form other quarters too. Once thought a staunch Chavez supporter, Ecuador's Correa has announced that he will have nothing to do with the Colombia Venezuela conflict. Apparently it seems that Correa knows how to read maps and realizes that tiny Ecuador Northern neighbor will be big Colombia until the end of time.

And to add insult to injury, Alan Garcia is received in grand style by Spain where he surely loved to point out that Peru's International reserves, without high oil prices, have nothing to envy the Venezuelan dilapidated ones. The transformation of Garcia from enfant terrible in the 80ies, to respectable and succesful statesman is stupendous. We need not worry this happening to Chavez.

-The end-

Monday, January 21, 2008

Milk, drugs and Uribe

Alo Presidente brought us two things yesterday: personal insults against Uribe and a 36% increase in milk price. Plus a bonus of new threats about farm seizures and bank nationalizations. Surely international economic trust is going to soar and investments will start pouring in, food scarcity will be solved and we will all live in peace and contentment.

Chavez keeps showing mental and emotional distress: how else can one explain yesterday's new outbursts in his weekly peroration? His endorsement of the FARC, a disaster that might be second only to the closing of RCTV, seems to perturb Chavez more than expected. So he attacks the guy that he thinks made him commit such stupidity even though that guy, Uribe, had warned him repeatedly that the FARC were never to be trusted with anything. This time, upset because Colombia government refuses to go in the gutter where Chavez loves to roll himself, Chavez, determined to get a reaction, any reaction, uttered such insults that we wonder if Colombia and Venezuela relations will ever be able to mend as long as Chavez or Uribe are in office. The insults were big enough that BBC Mundo reported them in full. They included choice words such as "mafiosi" and "coward".

The outburst of Chavez, missing a great opportunity to remain silent, come from renewed accusations that Venezuela has become a platform for drug trafficking. In spite of all the ships coming from Venezuela caught with kilos or tons of cocaine, besides the US complaining that its radars detect more and more unregistered flights leaving Venezuela, Chavez decides to deny it all. Thus instead of the sensible
shutting up and investigating, Chavez decides to accuse the US and Colombia of smearing him. Well, considering just the amount seized in ships coming from Venezuela, and by various countries, we must wonder whether Chavez is that ill informed, or as the US indirectly implies, Chavez is an accomplice. After all, when you befriend the FARC you also befriend their drug dealing activities and looking at the haggard Chavez of these past few months, he might even be working at the testing labs.

Unfortunately for Chavez, his elephant in a china shop sense of timing, brings these declarations while Uribe is in a "good will" tour of European capitals, where he hopes to have France, Switzerland and others mediate between the FARC and his administration. Reading today Chavez words in these countries papers will be enough to strengthen Uribe's case in front of, say, Sarkozy, that Chavez has gone from being a possible mediator to become part of the problem.

Back at the ranch, in front of so many setbacks that are increasingly difficult to manage, and impossible to cover, Chavez starts yet a new internal offensive. Apparently he sensed, finally, that the empty milk shelves have played a role in his referendum defeat (the hallaca effect). So he decided to do what he should have done long ago, acknowledge that his inflation is affecting the production costs of milk producers and gave then a 36% rise. Right off the bat this will be insufficient because after a year of official inflation at 22.5% the best that these producer can expect is to break even. But to aggravate matters Chavez is on the verge to forbid outright the sale of milk processors (cheese makers or condensed milk makers) as these people might be willing to pay more for milk than the official price (cheese went up by 50% since November). In a stupendous populist moment he said that all the milk should go to "el pueblo" and that he could not care less if there was no more condensed milk in Venezuela. That we might end up with neither milk nor condensed milk of course is not crossing his feverish mind.

And to tie it all up nicely he said that any producer that smuggles milk to Colombia should have his land seized (BBC English here). I suppose that his military must have told him that a war against Colombia was a sure deal, for Colombia. So he does the next best, beat Colombia on a proxy war on Venezuelan farmers. I wonder who is the real coward here....

But Chavez is also a great visionary. Perhaps sensing that his milk policies will not work anyway if anything because he has incompetent folks to run the new operations, he decided to repeat once again that any opposition victory in the coming regional elections will bring Venezuela to civil war. If negative campaign is already at such paroxysm 10 month before the first ballot is cast for Caracas mayor we can shiver at what this campaign will be.

-The end-

Friday, January 18, 2008

How chavistas manage reality avoidance

After a week of daily quoting of Weil, Rayma deserves her due. Today she explains to us how chavistas manage to keep the faith. The cartoon above presents two chavistas (red gowns, the UH AH anthem, the zenith of sloganeering the revolution was able to produce) meditating.

UH: How can we stop meditating on annual inflation, food scarcity, high crime, and the deteriorating heath services?

AH: Concentrating on a war on Colombia.

-The end-

Chavez recklessly keeps stocking the fire

Apparently chavismo has decided that they have reached a point of no return and that to save Chavez face, or so they think, they must at least reach a break in diplomatic relations. Of course I still think that war is not seriously contemplated by anyone except perhaps Chavez under influence, but the dangerous games that the Chavez administration has been playing are going to force them to suspend relations with Colombia. How else can we explain the latest communique of the Venezuelan foreign desk? How more bananesque a text can one imagine coming from a country supposedly in the XXI century? I suspect that even in the good old days of Gomez (good old days for Chavez anyway since he is imitating the Gomez style more and more) such a communique would have been conceivable. Except that Gomez knew better than play foreign policy, very content to administer his big farm called Venezuela until his death.

Since we must start somewhere let's start with the length of the communique: Venezuela needed 743 words to insult, I mean, reply, to the previous Colombian communique which was only 287 words. Inasmuch as that Colombian communique was in all fairness a tad personal against Chavez (still, infinitely less personal than the repeated attacks of Chavez the previous days) it did not justify the spiteful text that Nicolas Maduro signed. Then again, what can you expect from a failed metro bus driver?

I am not going to bother translating it, it is embarrassing, and thus will limit myself to some highlights to give the tone.

The Colombian government attacks president Chavez because he is the only one who has met success in freeing hostage. Maduro apparently has not been informed that a few hours after the liberation of Gonzales and Rojas, the FARC took 6 new hostages. Quite a success, no? Note also that no opportunity is wasted to glorify the beloved Supremo.

The Colombian government is not committed with freeing hostages because it prefers to beg the interested imperial condescension of the US. Someone should tell Maduro that there are US citizen hostages and that surely enough lots of pressure have been exerted to have then freed. Not to mention the totally gratuitous implication about Colombia foreign policy, certainly not anymore vile toward the US than the Venezuelan one is towards Cuba.

The communique of the Colombian foreign office is riddled with cynicism and hypocrisy. Well, considering that it is barely a third of the Venezuelan one which is riddled with stupidity and ill intentions, the Colombians are either master narrators or Maduro did not get the point at all.

Dozens of intermediaries of high level, linked to president Uribe, are today behind bars for crimes of terrorism, paramilitarism and drug trafficking. Did it occur to Maduro that in Colombia maybe the judicial system works whereas in Venezuela you can steal, lie, cheat, fraud, kill all that you want and as long as you do not travel you will never go to jail?

I think I will stop here. The reader should have now a pretty good idea of what this whole charade is about. And if there is any doubt it is enough to see how fast the monochromatic National Assembly following the cue form their beloved Comandante quickly voted with minimum debate to give belligerent status to the FARC. Only PODEMOS balked, as they are slowly getting used to become the democratic opposition to an increasingly undemocratic chavismo.

I will leave this post with three tidbits.

The Venezuelan government is claiming that the FARC holds no Venezuelans, as a way to try to distract from the fact that around 100 Venezuelans are held hostages (and probably much more). Well, it was quickly denied by some Colombian officials that stated that at least 16 Venezuelans are held by the FARC, for pecuniary reasons.

The Colombian defense minister was non-plussed by the latest Maduro opus. He dismissed it as a Chavez "bravuconada" (somewhere between boast and thuggery?) . but that was not all: a few hours ago he demanded that Chavez submitted the evidence he had as to the Colombian government wanting to assassinate him. Neither him nor long time readers of this blog are holding their breath as to Chavez ever submitting such type of evidence.

Meanwhile we were reminded of the crude reality: Colombian exportations increased by 17.7% from last year. We are not talking here of oil which price is artificially high and which might be falling any time soon if a US recession is confirmed. We are talking actual manufactured goods in addition to raw materials. Radio Caracol specified that just for Venezuela the increase over one year was 80% though I find this hard to believe. However what I found easy to believe is that Venezuela now buys almost as much as half of what the US buys form Colombia and more than what the European Union as a whole buys! That is, per capita, Venezuela is the main client of Colombia, and food is the largest chunk of what we buy there....

-The end-

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is Chavez seeking war with Colombia?

After Wednesday's new bitter exchanges with Colombia one is allowed to start thinking seriously how far will Chavez go in his stupid and totally unnecessary fight with Colombia. But before I go into that and people think I am an alarmist let me start to explain why there will not be a war.

No matter what Chavez in his delirium thinks he can get away with, the geopolitical reality of the relationship between Venezuela and Colombia weighs very heavily against Chavez and Venezuela. Let's list a few items without any particular order of importance.

  • As I have said often enough we are not seeing a Venezuelan foreign policy, we are seeing a Chavez foreign policy. The Venezuela public has long ceased to be consulted on what is good for Venezuela. Whatever is decided comes directly from behind closed door meetings between Chavez, a few advisers and Cubans. If Chavez really decides to take Venezuela in uncharted waters, a country who has not been at war with anyone since its independence, there is no predicting what the people's reaction will be, no matter what are the pious declaration of the armed forces or even the newly constituted militia.

  • The Venezuelan armed forces are in a very sorry state, a very demoralized one at that. Politics has penetrated in the barracks and the army has been used to distribute chicken and other staples to foster Chavez political fortunes rather than training. Most generals are fat, if not obese, in particular those who show the most devotion to Chavez. There are enough people in the Venezuelan army who know that today Venezuela is unable to sustain a serious war. In front of them would be a much more technical army, a trained one in jungle warfare, an army that more than likely hates the FARC and we can infer will equally hate anyone who supports the FARC. We can seriously doubt that the Venezuelan army will let Chavez drag them into a war that they think they will lose.

  • There are geographical factors that also weigh heavily against Venezuela. Zulia, a critical oil area is close to Venezuela and could be very easily neutralized in a few hours, crippling irremediably the means of Venezuela to finance a long protracted war. The main areas of population and military camps are actually close to Caracas, far from the Colombian borders. However the Colombian border is heavyly settled in the departments of Norte de Santander, Santander and Boyaca, offering a very convenient base, a great fall back for a Colombian army attacking the Tachira area. And Colombia industrial might is rather decentralized into 4 areas, 2 of them all but out of reach from Venezuelan airplanes.

  • If Venezuela could count on the FARC to wage some internal war, it is doubtful that they would be able to cripple the decentralized industrial fabric of Colombia. In Venezuela by just bombing the A.R.C. you eliminate 30% of the military response capacity at the very least. Besides there is a huge Colombian population in Venezuela who voted heavily, 1 to 5, in favor of Uribe during the 2006 election. The huge Colombian population in Venezuela, even if naturalized, cannot be counted upon to offer much resistance to advancing Colombian armies.

  • Only an offensive war by Venezuela could meet a chance of success. And Colombian terrain is much more difficult than Venezuela. And Colombia is much bigger than Venezuela.

  • Colombian public opinion would be convinced that they are fighting a just war, Venezuelan public opinion will have no clue why they are in this mess even if they were to support the war. That can only favor Colombia who in addition has several million more folks than Venezuela.

  • Finally the trade balance is extraordinarily favorable to Colombia and comes from the huge dependence of feed stuff that we import from Colombia. Any durable closing of the Colombian border and its trade will increase dramatically the scarcity of food items already palpable in Venezuela grocery stores. A state of war with the easy wreak up of Puerto Cabello by a daring Colombian raid could create great problems for the Venezuelan populace. We could starve pretty soon. Armies run on their stomach, you know.
Thus, considering that many people know how these parameters will affect any possible conflict, we can wonder if they will let Chavez push them over to the brink. I do not think so and in fact this could speed the violent ouster of Chavez by chavistas themselves who do not want to risk their newly acquired riches just because of the naked ambition of Chavez.

So, why Chavez, who surely is aware in part of what I write above, is gambling so dangerously against Colombia? Wednesday he went as far as accusing Colombia to plot his assassination without offering any proof (a well rehearsed line against the US even though we are still to see the first real concrete evidence of that). The Colombian government was prompt in issuing a very strong communique where basically they warn Chavez to butt off Colombian internal affairs, to show some respect as they show to him. In fact Colombia came dangerously close to qualify Chavez of terrorist himself by accepting all the terrorist practices of the FARC that he refuses to acknowledge.

What is more worrying, or should at least be more worrying for Chavez is that he is not finding support elsewhere except of Nicaragua and Cuba, both heavily dependent on Venezuela money, both with almost no risk from Colombia were a conflict to explode. Other leaders such as Lula are in no hurry to follow Chavez and are trying to stop him before he does the irreparable. Even Correa of Ecuador and Morales of Bolivia have been either silent of ambiguous. Elsewhere, the Washington Post printed an unambiguous condemnatory editorial where words were not minced:

"Venezuela's Hugo Chávez endorses Colombian groups known for abductions, drug trafficking and mass murder."

"In short, Mr. Chávez was endorsing groups dedicated to violence and other criminal behavior in a neighboring Latin American democracy, and associating his agenda with theirs"

"The answer to this logic was provided by the press office of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been waging what is, in fact, a heroic battle against the brutal gangs that for decades have plagued his country."

""The violent groups of Colombia are terrorists because they kidnap, place bombs indiscriminately, recruit and murder children, murder pregnant women, murder the elderly and use antipersonnel mines that leave in their wake thousands of innocent victims." All these assertions have been well documented by Western human rights groups that are otherwise hostile to Mr. Uribe's government."

"Latin American leaders who until now have seen in Mr. Chávez a crude populist who buys his friends with petrodollars are faced with something new: a head of state who has openly endorsed an organization of kidnappers and drug traffickers in a neighboring, democratic country"

France and Germany, did not show any support either. There was even a great Liberation editorial which can be compared with the vile propagandist and inaccurate article from the Le Monde Diplomatique (note, NOT Le Monde who is a serous journal and quite anti Chavez), who like Ortega and Castro lives of the largess of Chavez. The manipulative nature of the Diplo work, obviously written in a hurry, shows clearly why this paper has lost any relevance among the cognoscenti of the world, having become what in Venezuela we call "un pasquín".

In brief, it is turning out to be a major foreign policy blunder for Chavez which will cost him more, much more than his failed UN speech. So, why did Chavez took such a demential risk?

The reasons are very simple, he needs desperately to distract Venezuelan attention over his now catastrophic mismanagement of the country.

  • Food staples keep missing and new ones threaten to be added to the list of vanishing products, in particular there is now a concern with common medicines.

  • The subsidy over the price of gas is becoming budgetarily unmanageable. Yet any gas increase is a political time bomb, aggravated by chavismo irresponsible energetic policies.

  • The crime wave is now so out of bound that it will take years to solve it. Even more so that the economic reasons that underlie it are not addressed, that is, real jobs are not created.

  • There is no hope for the production economy to grow outside of the state spreading money around and promoting an obscene import economy. A recent study show that private investment in Venezuela keeps falling and is even now below the investment received by a small country like Guatemala.

  • Poverty, education and other social index seem to fall again. There is a big Dengue epidemic. Mal de Chagas has made a dramatic reappearance in Chacao of all places. More and more Barrio Adentro modules are now closed for lack of staff and/or resources. The promised hospital renovation is nowhere to be seen.

  • Inflation has been two years in a row almost the double of the governmental target. The real inflation is about 30% above the official numbers. This year 22.5% official inflation has eaten deeply into the income of the lower sectors who have seen any gain made early in the year not only wiped out but leaving them worse off than what they were before those huge minimal wage increase of last May.

  • The ministerial changes early this month have failed completely to reassure the country and generate even a tiny momentary honey moon. Nobody cared in fact. Nobody thinks that the reshuffled group will be able to do anything to improve the situation.

  • Corruption is now the constant talk in the street, in addition to personal insecurity and where to find milk.

  • And most important of all, the invincibility aura of Chavez seems to have been irremediably broken on December 2. We can even sense with the changing tone in public protests. With yet another electoral year ahead Chavez is suddenly faced with the possibility of a major regional defeat next November that could jeopardize is hold on office.

And to this we could add another reason: the ill health of Fidel in Cuba, the lack of certainty that Raul will be as supportive as Fidel was, the weakened state of the FARC, are all powerful reasons to roll the dice and gamble the future of Chavez career once and for all. When people are in a hurry, and ill advised, that is when their worse mistakes happen.

Del apuro lo que queda es el cansancio.
(From haste, exhaustion- ?-)

PS: added later. As luck has it, Weil gives us a 4th cartoon in a row on the current situation, and a cartoon that fits like a glove the long post above. Translation of what Lucifer is telling Chavez: "it is a sure thing, 1) you are financing your true army, 2) they free the hostages, you get the peace Nobel and... 3) you wreck your country's economy."

-The end-

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chavez worries about Colombia, gives a rat ass about Venezuela

It looks like our friend Tal Cual cartoonist Weil is on a roll. For the third day in a row he publishes yet another perfect cartoon exposing the mendacity of Chavez on the FARC/Hostage mess. While Chavez postures in front of any TV camera he can find, people keep being murdered or taken for ransom in Venezuela, a few yards even from the presidential palace of Miraflores. Weil is not making that up: I would not walk after sunset anywhere downtown Caracas.

Translation of the caption: "From here I manifest to the World my concern about the violence in Colombia"

Indeed, if Chavez cared half as much about Venezuelan violence as he claims to care about the Colombian one, we would be much better off here.

-The end-

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chavez and the FARC ignoble blackmail

Weil strikes again today, with a cartoon describing perfectly the ignoble blackmail tha the FARC and Chavez are doing to Colombia "either you stop calling us terrorists or else"

Meanwhile, reminding us of the grandiloquent reality of Venezuela Tal Cual carries this delighful blurb that gives a new meaning to "Potemkin village"

The Ministry of Education through the Foundation Bolivarian Computing and Telematics (Fundabit) achieved last year the digital linking of a total of 342 schools nationwide as part of a strategic agreement signed with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology and the company CANTV. The objective of this project is to interconnect 30 thousand Bolivarian schools in six years, using the machinery of the CBIT (Bolivarian Computing Centers and Telematics), which has 21 computers and Internet service at each campus. However, this altruistic initiative faces two problems: first, that until 2006 there were only 4 thousand 746 Boliviarian schools and of the 1,020 that were intended to be opened in the 2007-2008 school year, only around 20% did open. Second, throughout the country, the total number of educational institutions (whether or not Boliviarian) barely exceeds approximately 23 thousand schools, which would require to build almost 7 thousand schools and "bolivarianizarlas" to meet the ambitious goal.

-The end-

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chavez and Marudracula

The genius of Weil strikes again. Translation: I propose to the world... in particular to the people of Transylvania... that we stop calling Count Dracula a vampire.
[Weil includes even the pregnant pauses Chavez uses for effect]

-The end-

Maria Anastasia O'Grady does Oliver Stone and Hugo Chavez

The point here it is not whether Ms. O'Grady might be a right wing nut in campaign against the US left as some would love to dismiss the WSJ. The point here is that she is so unto this whole hostage fiasco of Chavez, so clear in her evaluation and precise as to how the left in the US could not care less about Colombia or Venezuela that she cannot refrain herself to smile more than once during the WSJ video. A well deserved "gotcha!" moment for Ms. O'Grady. Her article "A Hollywood Yarn Unravels" reads more as a morality play than the actual real and informed news she summarizes. She does not need to emit judgment: the facts are for all to see, that is, for those that are willing to open their eyes.

I am reprinting the article below because sometime the WSJ takes article off the web, with my own highlights as she has choice expressions that are not to be missed.

A Hollywood Yarn Unravels
January 14, 2008; Page A12

It was Christmas week in the Colombian city of Villavicencio and the events, as they were set to unfold, had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. If only the "heroes" hadn't been exposed as liars.

A 3-year-old boy, his mother and another woman, all hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), were about to be freed. Credit for their release was to go to Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela. Former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner had flown up from Buenos Aires to take part in the show. Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone was on hand too, eager to document the Christmas spirit of the revolutionary killers and their socialist sympathizers. The child, as luck would have it, was called Emmanuel.

The part of the villain was bestowed on Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally who as a matter of policy has refused to give in to FARC demands for Colombian territory in exchange for the release of hostages. Mr. Uribe had also recently announced that Mr. Chávez was no longer welcome as a negotiator in the broader effort to free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and 41 other politically valuable FARC hostages. He had jerked away the welcome mat after Mr. Chávez tried to bypass him and talk directly to the Colombian military. According to the script, even Mr. Uribe's stubbornness couldn't stop the big-hearted Mr. Chávez from winning the freedom of these three.

For Mr. Stone, an anti-American Christmas miracle was in the offing. His film would portray Mr. Chávez as a humanitarian hero while demonizing Mr. Uribe. But it wasn't to be an obscure foreign film with no American message. It would also complement the assertions of U.S. unions, other trade protectionists and President Bush's political adversaries, all of whom insist -- against the evidence -- that the Colombian president violates human rights.

Of course, the American left's current obsession with Mr. Uribe is not really about concern for human life. It's about the pending U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement, which they want to kill on "moral" grounds. Depicting Mr. Uribe as an intransigent right-winger is critical to their narrative. In this, the protectionists are allies of the rebels. The truth is that Mr. Uribe's restoration of law and order in Colombia has thrown the guerrillas back on their heels, and they are now frantically pulling the levers of international propaganda.

Over Christmas week the suspense surrounding the promised release was building. Mr. Chávez reminded TV viewers daily that his dramatic rescue plan had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his tender concern for the hostages. Mr. Uribe had agreed to allow Venezuelan aircraft to swoop into Colombia to pick up the two women and the child. The FARC had only to say where. But no word came.

The rebels blamed the delay on bad weather and on Mr. Uribe, who they said had mobilized his armed forces in the area. Mr. Uribe denied the charge, as did his top military commander. Mr. Chávez said Mr. Uribe could not be trusted. Meanwhile the Venezuelan minister for FARC relations, Ramon Rodríguez Chacín, made excuses for the rebels, who, he said, had to be ready for Colombian military actions against them after the handover. The guerrillas, he said, should "prepare their retreat strategy and take all the security measures they need."

Finally, on Dec. 31, Mr. Uribe held a press conference to give his "hypothesis" of why the liberation hadn't occurred: The FARC had lied when it said it had the child, and it had been trying to buy time to find him. In fact, the boy was in a foster home in Bogotá. The suggestion was a bombshell, but after DNA tests confirmed the fact, Mr. Uribe was vindicated.

Among the more shocking revelations was the FARC's inhumane treatment of the infant. His mother, Clara Rojas, who had been Ms. Betancourt's vice presidential running mate, was kidnapped in 2002. The child was born in a rebel camp in 2004, and was less than one year old when he was left with a local peasant. After about a month, his humble caretaker realized he could not treat the child's serious illnesses and took him to a local clinic, which transferred him to a hospital.

Press reports say that doctors diagnosed the baby with anemia, malaria, a parasitic skin disease, malnutrition and an arm that had been broken at birth and not treated. "Anyone would have fallen apart before this child, with so many diseases," the hospital director told the Miami Herald. "He didn't raise his eyes. He got toys but did not pick them up. He did not stand but dragged himself on his butt. He cried but no tears came because of the malnutrition."

When the news of the child's whereabouts broke Mr. Stone went away spitting mad, not at his FARC heroes, who had been exposed as child abusers, but at Mr. Uribe and Mr. Bush. Of the FARC he said, "Grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."

Meanwhile, with Mr. Chávez looking like a fool, the two women were finally freed on Thursday. The FARC had reason to help him try to salvage his image: As this column has frequently noted, it needs Venezuela as its main transit route for cocaine and as a safe haven.

Mr. Chávez tried to paint himself as a neutral, third-party peacemaker but a day later he peeled off his mask. We already knew that a diplomat from Cuba, which has been sowing terror in Colombia for 50 years, accompanied the hostages to Caracas, underscoring the ties between Mr. Chávez, Cuba and the rebels. We also knew that as the helicopter carrying the hostages took off Mr. Rodríguez Chacín called to the rebels, "keep up the fight and count on us!"

On Friday, Mr. Chávez went further, arguing that the FARC has a "true" army that "occupies space" and is therefore a "belligerent" -- a term that would give it standing under international law. He demanded that its terrorist status be revoked. Colombia called his speech "off-the-wall" but it knows better. Following the hostage release, this was a calculated move and is only the latest step in what is now Mr. Chávez's war, waged by the FARC, against Colombia.

-The end-

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chavez: the Colombian FARC is not a terrorist group

In what is the clearest evidence to date that Chavez is losing control of the political situation, or of himself, during his state of the union message he demanded that the Colombian government recognize the FARC as a genuine fighting force (long video here in Spanish). He put it as a condition for the frayed relations between Venezuela and Colombia to improve. He also added that all governments of the Americas and Europe that have the FARC listed as a terrorist organization should un-list it because "it is all just a mere pressure from the US".

Of course the Colombian government was speedy in its reply, and a precise and direct one, explaining in detail why the FARC is a terrorist group, and why it has been a terrorist group for quite a while under many Colombian presidents, and US presidents as the case might be. The Spanish text of the communique can be red here, directly from the web page of the Colombian presidency. (1)

I am not going to insult the intelligence of the readers of this blog who know full well that the FARC is a terrorists group. Besides, I illustrated the horrors of the FARC ransom business in the preceding post. Not only that, as Chavez was making his ignoble speech today, one of the two hostages freed yesterday was telling us that male hostages of the FARC are kept in shackles round the clock, when not in cages. Instead let's try to see what hides behind the whole political disaster.

First, some of the actual words of Chavez

"The FARC and ELN are not terrorist groups; they are armies, real armies that occupy a space in Colombia. We have to acknowledge the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces and the National Liberation Army. They are insurgent forces that have a Bolivarian and political project that is respected here."

You read it right, Chavez has officially thrown his support behind the FARC, he supports their goals and find perfectly fine that an armed group makes war on a democratic government which is making serious efforts to become more democratic and improve the lot of the people. If the FARC had democratic convictions they would have at least a political arm running as a serious electoral contender. It does not, its objective is simply the overthrown of whoever rules at the Casa de Nariño to create a FARC dictatorship. That Chavez considers this a Bolivarian ideal simply blows the mind, goes against all what Bolivar said, wrote, tried.

Is it really worthwhile reading other parts of the speech? Should we even bother commenting the standing ovation that the monochromatic National Assembly, a minority in the country since Decemebr 2, gave to Chavez words?

Probably we are at a very revealing moment. First, chavismo in full acknowledges publicly that it despises democracy. We knew it of course and we all knew that the democratic fake discourse would only last as long as the support of the people lasted. Flush with cash and a revenge discourse that support held until December 2. Now, chavismo realizes that it needs to reevaluate its strategy and for this it is gaining some time by pretending to be a nicer and more concerned government. We also know as of today that this also was a lie, as we expected. The words of the interior minister Rodriguez Chacin yesterday greeting and encouraging the FARC guerilla, or even his words today at a press conference where he compared the hostage and blackmail system of the FARC as a legitimate taxation system tells us volumes about the nature of the man, and those that he serves.

But it also betrays an exhausted revolution, short of ideas, short of worthwhile individuals. A Chavez suddenly forced to govern the country, forced to look to Venezuela instead of his foreign agenda is suddenly in more disarray than what we suspected. Thus this fuite en avant, this escape forward by creating an open conflict with Colombia if necessary. It is when rogues and rabid dogs are cornered that they become really dangerous. We might thus be witnessing the first spasms of the end of the bolivarian revolution and suspect that it might be bloodier than what we were afraid it would be. However perhaps it might bring the end closer as some of the folks publicly applauding today Chavez might be getting really worried about a president that went out of his established text to improvise an ultimatum to Colombia.

PS: added later. I just heard the Clara Rojas first press conference. Certain journalist (VTV; Noticias de lo Ultimo) tried to bring the talk closer to political topics, in particular trying to make her support Chavez or condemn Uribe for allegedly delaying the liberation. She did not fall for it. Then someone asked her about Chavez words today as described above, that the FARC were not terrorist. She refused to reply directly but she still said that as the FARC kept hostages they were committing crimes against humanity. In other words, it was a very elegant way to say that yes, the FARC was shit, but not directly to Chavez face as he is the one freeing her right now and still paying her hotel bill at the Melia. Chavez should not count on her much in the future.

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

1) The French ambassador in Bogota declared that the terrorist FARC status in Europe was taken unanimously and could only be removed unanimously, which shows how ignorant Chavez is on democratic mechanisms elsewhere. The terrorist status is not something just handed because a US bureaucrat says so. Chavez seems unable to understand that the rest of the world does not operate how he operates himself at Miraflores.

-The end-

Friday, January 11, 2008

Least we forget: The FARC is a criminal organization

Tonight coming back from work I could finally get the news about the release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez. We can take a few minutes to celebrate this happy news, that these two women, held for no just cause for years in the Colombian jungles can finally live free again, with one of them even getting back the son she might have thought she would never see again. A son that required DNA technology to be identified, just after learning about the child abuse he had been subjected from the mere fact of being born to a FARC hostage.

If some media are willing to call this a Chavez triumph, following the steps of sick fucks like Oliver Stone, most keep a cool head, a healthy wait and see attitude, even as they are willing to give some credit to Chavez. This one has played too much with the feelings of the people, has made too much of a media show of his crazy love for notoriety that serious folks are weary.

Thus a short list of reminders of the truth about the Colombian hostage situation least some might start seeing the FARC as good revolutionaries, flower-child left overs, "excellent guerillas".

There are still more than 700 hostage being kept in some quarters of the Colombian jungle by the FARC and ELN.

No matter how hard pro FARC folks like Piedad Cordoba try to convince us, the hostages are kidnapped victims, "secuestrados", and not just temporarily held folks, "retenidos".

Neither are these hostages "prisoner of war". If indeed there are some army and cops in their lot, most of them were innocent civilians going on their own business and taken away from their loved owes, their friends, their associates. And they were taken away for financial reasons, for extortion, not to score political points.

And if it is possible that Chavez has humanitarian intentions, it is even more true that he is managing this whole show, at Venezuelan tax payer expenses, for his own glory. Today, among the crowd that flew to Colombia, even Piedad Cordoba was dressed in bright red clothes ALL THROUGH THE DAY, from the Colombian lift off point to her impromptu press conference on the Melia Hotel side walk.

Let's not forget that Clara Rojas love child out of a possible Stockholm syndrome situation was taken away from her and put into hiding in an orphanage. The FARC had the cruelty to prefer to place the sick and abused kid in an orphanage rather than sending it directly to Clara Rojas relatives. Or even to the father relatives as surely he must have had some left somewhere.

Let's not forget that the arrogance of Chavez forced a second DNA evaluation in Spain, which confirmed that Emmanuel did indeed exist and had been placed for a couple of years in an orphanage.

Let us not forget that in Venezuela there are officially nearly 100 hostages, possibly much more than that as relatives rarely call for the inefficient a corrupt security system and prefer to deal on their own with the captors. Let's not forget that the Chavez administration is infinitely more interested in the FARC hostages than the ones he has at home and for which he could do a lot if he really wanted to.

So, let's be happy tonight that at least two hostages have escaped the hell of the FARC camps, but let's not forget that the FARC is a mob organization, a mafia style drug cartel, a cruel and inhumane system who should have its butts on the benches of The Hague international court and whose best hope to avoid such fate is to negotiate fast the release of the other hostages.

Let's also hope that the Copenhagen syndrome does not extend more than what it already has (yes, I got the right capital, read the Moises Naim article).

And let's hope that the sympathies of the Venezuelan current power holders for the FARC fade some as they realize that the FARC lied to them, were not in control of the situation and messed the scheduled previous release because at the last minute they failed to recover Emmanuel. Then again, the egotistic and narcissistic Chavez does deserve the selfish FARC...

-The end-

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The power couple goes unscathed

This is just a little addendum to the previous post. There is one question which answer would be most interesting. We did see some "punishment" meted out with the new cabinet, in particular the exit of Rodriguez and Lara which are appointed to bear the official brunt of losing the December 2 referendum.

Yet, two of the characters that have failed Chavez the most through 2007 kept their jobs. I am talking about the Maduro-Flores couple.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Let's start with Chavez "new" cabinet

To start the first newsy post of the year let's start by discussing the new comedy offered prime time by Chavez, a new cabinet with orders to discuss with the private sector ways to improve the economy.

First, there is nothing "new" in this cabinet.

Second, whatever "conciliatory" words Chavez might have uttered they were already killed when he ordered the state oil monopoly PDVSA to grow cabbages. Well, in all fairness he did not ask directly PDVSA to grow anything but he did decide that PDVSA through a new business line, PDVAL should double MERCAL. In other words, if PDVSA oil production keeps going down, it should compensate it in some not so distant future by distributing subsidized cabbage. For some reason these words failed completely to reassure me as far as finding regular supplies of some food staples in the near future. As usual Chavez fails to see what the real solution is: let the market play its role and limit MERCAL to a network of stores in the less favored areas where a limited but critical list of items is provided cheaply to those willing to go to these stores. Trying to have MERCAL compete directly with all the food delivery system only brings havoc to the whole system. Not to mention the worst element of the lot, the price control system that has so brilliantly failed last year with an official 22.5% inflation rate. PDVAL will be sen as yet another threat, and thus will delay any putative private investment that Chavez might be wishing for.

But it seems that kicking and screaming Chavez has finally started getting the fact that the December 2 fiasco is due to the Hallaca Effect. Hence the cabinet change where Chavez tries whimsically to find better management for the country. The list of new appointees fails to impress us, and fails even more to reassure us. In short, the "new" cabinet was more of a punishment for those who failed to win the referendum than any real care to improve the Venezuelan productive system.


The first one to lose his spot was former chavista star of electoral shenanigans Jorge Rodriguez who loses the vice presidential chair. For me it is a little unfair: he followed orders and the quality of the campaign and the dismal constitutional proposal were not his fault alone. But such is the fate of prime-ministers/appointed-vice-presidents in presidential regimes: they are a safety valve.

The other one, and a way more deserved boot, is William Lara, the ineffective and bitterly partisan propaganda minister. Ooops! I meant Information and Communications minister. Though even there I do feel some pity for him: he did all the dirty job of Chavez, from RCTV closing to all sorts of calumny spreading and yet he pays for them. But truly, he was not the man for the job, a job that requires not only blind devotion to the leader but enough guile to understand complex social phenomenon such as the student dissident movement.

The "new" ministers

Well, most of them are reshuffled pawns. Right there we see no hope from serious improvement in any sector that at least those ones will direct. And the novelties are even scarier than the reshuffled guys.

The return from the grave award must go to Rodriguez Chacin. He was the Interior/Police minister in 2002 and left the government that fateful April. Since then he became a "businessman" in Apure/Barinas where he reputedly and unaccountably acquired large tracts of lands where gossip says that FARC hides and even hides some of its hostages. Whether this is true might not be that questionable considering that he was the surprising point man to negotiate the failed release of hostages attempt twp weeks ago. Yet the failure does not seem to affect his carer as he returns to his old post. Why? Is Chavez planning to grow even closer to the FARC? At any rate Carreño was so awful that in retrospective Rodriguez Chacin seems a most unlikely improvement.

Izarrita returns. Once Propaganda minister, he did not fare too good and manage a dignified exit by becoming the director of TeleSur, the chavista CNN for Latin America. He did managed a very relative success there in that he managed to avoid this TeleSur to become yet another clone of VTV, 24/24 Chavez news. It is still an indigestible old line lefty hodgepodge, but at least it has more variety than other Venezuelan Networks. On the other hand Izarra did use TeleSur to bring all sorts of celebrities to visit Chavez from Sean Penn to Naomi Campbell. That was enough, I suppose to bring him back to his old job in a period where Chavez requires a softer image to rebuild his battered international credibility. He actually started well by admitting publicly on his first day in office that the state media had been badly managed. An understatement if ever, but I am too demanding I suppose.

The reshuffled

As usual there is a lot of reshuffled useless revolutionaries, though there is a surprise: Ramon Carrizales jumps from Housing to the vice presidency. This totally uncharismatic character is a rather odd choice for such a political position. However Carrizales has proven he could deal with the private sector to rebuild the La Guaira bridge. If he is an ineffective manager himself he at least seems to know how to hire people to do the job. Well, DO might be a tad generous. Let's say that in an ocean of nullities Carrizales at least has shown that he can achieve occasionally some minor feats, which is more than can be said from 90% of the public servants around Chavez. In fact perversely that he managed to build a little bit over a third of the promised public housing can even be see as a great success under chavismo where standards are regularly revised downwards.

Among the other recycled ones we should just mention Erika Farias, semi hysterical militant that nobody quite knew what she was doing to another position where no one knows exactly what she is supposed to be doing.

The cheap novelties

The cake is taken this time by Haiman Al Troudi that readers of this blog have already extensively met. Needless to go back on him as someone totally ignorant of modern economical principles and trends except to point out that he is incredibly ill equipped, mentally and educationally, to chair one of the crucial positions, the one in Planning that is vacated by Giordani the unmovable minister there except for a brief period in 2002-2003. In fact even more surprising is the departure of Giordani, the longest serving of Chavez minister and his very own guru. But there is quite a simple explanation. Giordani presided the first phase of Chavez regime from 1999 to 2002 when he was forced to let the bolivar float from 600 to soon 1000, an event that contributed greatly to the vents of 2002. Now, as he AGAIN applied similar policies to those he applied then he would have had to preside to yet another currency devaluation from 2150 to at least 3000.

Even though man is the only creature that stumbles twice on the same stone, Giordani knows better and he is letting poor naive Troudi to bear the blame, probably as early as this spring.

There is a newcomer who is also worth mentioning: Socorro Hernandez. Named to preside the newly nationalized CANTV a few months ago she ash presided over a decrease in service quality of the concern, while watching earnings drop fast. Of course, as the old unreconstructed ideological lefty she is, she cannot see a profit that should not be distributed away instead of investing it in the technological improvements that a sophisticated company like CANTV needs. Now, as Communications minister she will rule over the competition of CANTV while being able to try to speed along ways to shut down Globovision. As the ideological apparatchik she is I do not expect her to have even 10% of the angst that Jesse Chacon might have experienced had Chavez ordered him to close down Globovision.

Does this mean anything anyway?

No, not really. Chavez being what he is, any soft words he might have said last Sunday will be promptly forgotten, as the PDVAL announcement already hints. As a matter of fact Chavez himself announced the color: his people must get ready for the October election. That is right, we are already on the campaign trail as that is the only activity that Chavez knows. Though he is not as good as he used to be as sen from last November campaign.

-The end-