Friday, February 29, 2008

The nice FARC vacation resort

Right now I am typing live the hostage press conference. Gloria Polanco starts. She tells us how she learned while an hostage how her husband was assassinated and how the only comfort she could get was from her co hostages, the men all chained at night. Lovely....

That is right, while a hostage her husband was assassinated by the FARC and her three children became for all practical purpose orphans. Of course she is thanking Chavez and Piedad. Heck, were I in her shoes I would even thank the Devil!

The second one is Luis Eladio Perez. He starts with the exact accounting of his captivity and calls that a crime agaisnt humanity. Then he goes on thanking whomever he needed thanking. Chavez is only one of a long list. He mentions the 3,500 remaining hostages left. That is right, that is the number he told us. And he called the FARC a fictitious revolution. Nice.

Orlando Beltran tells us on the vacuous arguments advanced to them by the FARC after they had been taken. He is otherwise a little bit more concerned about flattering Chavez. Then he moves on to some description of the Colombian conflict. He diplomatically sorts of put more blame on Pastrana than Uribe so as to encourage Uribe to be more flexible. Smart!

Jorge Gechem is last. He seems the most beaten up of the lot. He is also the older one. And he is the one that preferred to laud Cordoba and Chaevz rather than speak of himself. Still, he also notes that he used to be the president of the Senate commission on the Peace Process, that he was all for dialogue and union and what not and yet the FARC took him in for 6 years anyway. Thus pays the devil....

Anyway, again the FARC comes out of this conference as the rotten evil they are.

-The end-

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chavez vs. Lina Ron: hostage release vs. hostage taking

[Updated 1, 2 and 3]

I am not too sure what to make of today multiple shows we have been subjected to. Either Chavez is sabotaging Lina Ron activities in favor of the radical revolution by releasing FARC hostages and speaking of peace. Or Lina Ron is sabotaging Chavez attempt at recovering world leader status by reminding him, and some in his entourage, that the local elections and the PSUV formation will not happen without her input, even on her dead body.

Chavez gets 4 more hostages released

So eventually the FARC and Chavez reached some agreement, something was given somewhere and the Colombian army staid put. Four more hostages were released. First, let's celebrate that 4 more Colombians are freed. Let hope that the 796 that are left will be released shortly because at a rate of 4 a month we are looking forward to yet 16 more years of slow hostage release assuming that new ones are not taken.

Chavez very clumsily tried to generate some enthusiasm again. But this time the enthusiasm was less, even in France where the nightly news dedicated a bare minute to the release, no image offered except for a picture of one of the hostage and the wishes that Ingrid Betancourt release would not be far behind. In Venezuela courtesy to Lina Ron, whatever propaganda effect he tried was blasted... But before I get into this let's look at the propaganda around the hostage release (pics taken by yours truly out of his TV set during the cadena).

First, this time the TeleSur camera who had the exclusive filmed much more lovingly the whole release scene in the jungle. Rodriguez Chacin, Venezuelan FARC minister, was more careful about his words and if he encouraged the FARC to keep up, he did so away from the cameras (though a few "comrade" were uttered). The inevitable Piedad Cordoba was all around hugging and kissing and loosing her turban. Yet, the camera and the rather warm farewell between the guerrilla and the hostages (note: those who freed them are not those who kept them for all these years, which explains a lot) could not hide how broken these people are coming out of the jungle. In fact one of them had recovered enough to blast the FARC as soon as he reached the Caracas airport a few hours later.
But the worst part was the welcome at Miraflores. First, could Chavez not wait until tomorrow morning? Must he subject these people and their relatives to a Miraflores Ceremony within minutes of their arrival in Caracas? I do not know about you but even though Chavez deserves his media time for footing the whole bill, I find it tacky, selfish and crass.

But the cameras also learned from past experiences and showed a glamorous ceremony with parade military, musical band and all. We even had a shifting scene where the waving Venezuelan flag floated over the whole thing. Utmost tackiness, not even cheap “patrioterismo”.

The highlight was when the Colombian anthem was sung: Chavez sung along. I do not know, but I did not think it was appropriate. Even if he planned to show he loved Colombians dearly, he should have at least taken care that his daughter (who serves as first lady) knew the Colombian anthem. I do not know, it would have looked better, no? The picture says it all (click to enlarge, and enjoy the ridiculous yellow turban of Piedad: at least this time she was not all clad in red). At any rate, when we moved on to the Venezuelan anthem, the hostages and their relatives remained silent with their hand on their heart, as appropriate.

I cannot wait for the antics of the next hostage delivery.

Back at the ranch, Lina Ron spoils the day

Thus we would have expected that today all the media, including Globovision, would have spent the best part of their newscast on a hostage release special. But they could not. First Lina Ron, the passionara of the revolution, and one getting more bloated by the day, decided to move her red shirts and to take over the Caracas see. That is right, they invaded the seat of the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardenal Urosa. No harm was done, nothing broken, but the words she used when the press interviewed her were terrible. Among a few choice words she said that it would be OK for any one to bomb Globovision. And I will pass on all sorts of vulgarities and threats she proffered. All of this under the gaze of two National Assembly representatives. Apparently it is not enough for them that the opposition voices have been shut up in the N.A., as good stalino-fascists they want more.

This YouTube carries the whole Lina Ron declaration, from accusations to other chavista groups, to the declaration of new martyrs, to insults to Globovision and bomb threats.

You can also watch a video of Lina Ron two years ago when she was happy that Globovision was taking down her declarations that state TV did not want to broadcast. And for the fun of it, you can see the better made Globovision counter attack on Lina, another "Usted lo vio" to remember (it is also shorter than the video above for those who do not speak Spanish but want to have a feel of the Ron character).

That would have been enough, but she also called for a march to Globovision to protest in front. Unfortunately there were not that many people to do a real march thus instead a big group was bused up to Globovision where hey screamed and shouted, and attacked, and covered the walls of Globovision, holding its entrance hostage for a few hours. They even read a communiqué who was a pathetic peeve and read in an even more pathetic way. By the way, it was impressive to observe the diction, the poise, the control of language of the released hostages after 7 years in the inhumane conditions of the jungle. When you watched them and a few hours later you observe Lina Ron and her hordes speak, well, the least we can say is that the Venezuelan educational system is a major failure.

At any rate they stayed for a while in front of Globovision, food and beverage were brought to them so they could keep screaming while a small theatrical representation of “Florentino y el Diablo” took place on the side walk. Meanwhile an inordinate amount of masked guys kept drawing graffiti. Is it not something, the amount of masked guys among chavista red shirted hordes? What are they hiding? That they are public employees paid for such activities? Naaah……

Anyway, to tell you the truth I was not too concerned: it was clearly a hysterical moment of a small group of people that feel cornered by events and want to fight back. You know, like a cornered dog. No, what is important here is what it reflects about what is going on inside chavismo. Since December 2 chavismo has started to unravel. The fight inside for positions left, for money still available to steal is just hitting the streets. For Lina Ron to make a media event that might now outshine Chavez event today was quite a dare. She could not have ignored that the hostage release was the most important item in Chavez agenda now that success is so scarce for him. Robbing him at home of the limelight while all sorts of international journalists are watching INSIDE Venezuela is just either a crass political mistake or a dangerous sign of the violence that is to come inside chavismo.

And as we all know, once the big leaders start killing their faithful lieutenants (Rohm-Hitler anyone?) we know that our turn on the side line cannot be far ahead.

UPDATE 1: Tonight Chavez is already attacking Lina Ron actions today on La Hojilla on state TV. He even brings how the Chilean "ultra left" was infiltrated by the CIA and helped along the fall of Allende. Heard that Lina? Chavez is pissed! he even asked Mario Silva to "investigate". You are toast!

Oh well, too bad for Lina, soon she will rejoin Tascon in forming a pro Chavez dissident party without the blessing of their hero..... If it were not so dangerous, so dramatic, and so unfair, it would be totally enjoyable.

UPDATE 2: this Thursday morning I watched the Spanish news on TVE. Chavez does not get much credit except for the mention that the released hostages thanked him. On the other hand the news about Ingrid Betancourt ill health duly reported by them got the main focus. The FARC was duly decried as inhumane and barbarous. So much for any good will they might had expected.

That they refuse to release further hostages until they get their mini state was also pointed out and implied to be highly unreasonable. At any rate, a piece of advice to Chavez and the FARC: you want to get a big positive right now? Free Ingrid tomorrow, without delay. If she dies in your hands the bakclash against you will be terrible. Do not forget that in Colombia and Venezuela we care about the 700 + other hostages but the jet set looks at Ingrid. Time to act boys if you want to keep the slimiest of chances to become semi respectable some day.

UPDATE 3: The news today speak of Ingrid sickness, very little, if any, of Chavez.

In further tackiness at 8 PM tonight it is still not clear whether the Colombian ambassador to Caracas has been allowed to visit the released hostages. I suppose that when the FARC minister called the hostages "compatriotas" he meant it. Maybe they are been issued Venezuela passports as I type?

-The end-

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reasons to stay in Venezuela

Sometimes I am asked what makes me stay in Venezuela in spite of the mess and crap I must deal with every day. I can advance a few reasons, but there is one that trumps all the others, my Dr. Zhivago reason. It comes in many shapes and forms; in many hours of the day; or any day of the year; it always surprises me and it always puts my soul at rest for a little bit of heaven. Two examples from last week:

Araguaney in San Felipe

Bucare on Bejuma road

-The end-

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Required reading of the week

I am a little bit in a rush to comment on these two articles, but the links must go up. Comments later.

The first is the long awaited article, in English, by Francisco Rodriguez, former economic manager of the pro Chavez National Assembly in the years where there was still some discussion in it. As an indictment of the failed Chavez policies to effectively reduce poverty for the long term, it cannot be harsher, and to the point (even if long).

The second is an interview of Maza Zavala for the Spanish journal La Vanguardia. The former Central Bank head, another Chavez appointee, who tried to excuse for a while the loss of independence of the Central Bank now blasts the current economic policies and predicts years of food shortages until the damage to the production system can be repaired.

What is important for the reader to note is that these two articles are based on people who come from the Venezuelan democratic left, a left that tried for the longest time to turn a blind eye on Chavez and chavismo under the excuse that some of the excesses would be only temporary. Well, they were not, and now their permanence is causing great, great damage to the economic future of Venezuela. These two men are not pamphleteers from some right wing rag, they are well established economists with quite a career behind, even if one does not want to agree with some of their past proposals. On the other hand if you want to read a pamphlet on the economic successes of Chavez you can go to the Weisbrot propaganda pieces published a little bit before the December 2 Referendum (here and here).

-The end-

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Saying is believing"

The Washington Post carries today a report on some psychological study which would show that politicians eventually start to believe what they say. A truly frightening prospect if you ask me! In short, three excerpts:

...imperceptibly and often without their own awareness, politicians can come to believe what they tell voters, even if they start out being insincere.

When a speaker talks to an audience, everyone understands s/he is trying to shape the audience's views. What is less known, but equally true, is that the audience shapes the speaker's views, too.

When a speaker is trying very hard to build a powerful emotional connection with his listeners, he is much more likely to be influenced by this effect. All people's perceptions of reality are partially molded by their social interactions, Echterhoff said, but the effect appears to be especially strong when speaker and audience inhabit a shared reality -- when they share an intense bond with each other.

Can you imagine this effect on Chavez who spends all of his time in speeches trying to bond with his crowd? Can you imagine the self feeding that this has caused on both sides? No wonder we are in such trouble these days!!!!

In practical terms it means that in fact Chavez does believe that the health care system is fine, that hospitals are havens of safety and care, that shelves are crumbling under powdered milk, black beans and sugar, that you can stroll at midnight in Catia Boulevard without a care; and worse, that he is willing to believe whatever his crowd of sycophants are willing to believe or make him believe. We see this on the net all the time, including on occasion in this blog comment section.

I suppose that those who oppose my words could pin this on me too. Unfortunately since Chavez is in office my apartment has been broken in twice, my car has been broken in twice, we lost two trucks to highway robbery at work and we have stopped counting how much it costs us to do business due to governmental mismanagement of the country. And I have pictures to report on the food shortages and the bills of what my health insurance does not cover. For people like this blogger the study had this words too:
...when people modulate their comments deliberately and with a clear ulterior motive, they are less likely to be influenced by "saying is believing," compared with when a speaker tries to make an emotional connection with the audience.
I can be accused of many things but nobody can claim that I do not have a "clear ulterior motive" when I write on Venezuela.

-The end-

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kouchner in Colombia gets told by Uribe

I must start by admitting a mistake in my last post: I confused the smiles and hugs I saw on TV between Uribe and Kouchner for the hallmark of a successful meeting. In fact, as news are filtering it was a dreadful moment for French diplomacy who scored yet another setback, a self inflicted wound. Perhaps the effusiveness of these hugs were to hide the smack down of Uribe to the French visitors.

Apparently Bernard Kouchner came to Venezuela and Colombia on the eve of the 6th year anniversary of Ingrid Betancourt capture by the FARC. Dispatched by Sarkozy who has made Ingrid's cause a crusade of sorts for him, Kouchner, whose career makes him more at ease in the turbulent waters of Kosovo or Africa, came to a continent with which he is not familiar with. I suspect that his bitter moment in Colombia is not really his fault: there is no such a thing as a foreign minister competent on every Podunk of the world. But there is a staff, and a good staff knows how to prepare a minister to speak for the interests of his or her country anywhere. Apparently the French staff for Latin America have proved themselves once again to be a bunch of arrogant incompetent nincompoops who placed their boss in a very difficult situation. And all probably to try to score some brown points with Sarkozy at the expense of the restless natives that live in Colombia.

Kouchner came first to Caracas. In later press releases we learn that part of the objective was to try to smooth over the tensions between Caracas and Bogota. That the French think they can pull that one already speaks volumes on how little they understand what is going on in this corner of the world. The real reason was of course to test Chavez on how much access he really had to the FARC and how soon and what did he need to get Ingrid free. France could not care less whether Colombia and Venezuela are at each others throat as long as Ingrid is released and Total gets oil concessions.

In a way, so far so good, Kouchner was following orders from his boss. He managed to be relatively discrete in Caracas, giving as little exposure as possible to Chavez whose image is hitting rock bottom in European serious political circles. But still, Chavez is needed as a possible catalyst for Ingrid release since he seems willing to pay the FARC for the trophy as long as he is the one who brings her to freedom. We already saw his modus operandi a few weeks ago. Thus, no matter how unpalatable Chavez is Kouchner gave him the big hug and big smile. After all, Kouchner has kissed much worse toads than Chavez during all the humanitarian missions he did in his life.

Thus Kouchner arrived the next day in Bogota. Apparently there was a meeting between both chanceries and Uribe was not schedule to appear at the working meeting. It seems that when he saw that the agenda proposed by the French was shown to him he decided to attend. See, the French wanted to bring Chavez back as a mediator. When the subject was broached by the French delegation Uribe dryly replied that relations with Venezuela were a state matter of utter importance and that Uribe would not discuss that with anyone. Period. Apparently Kouchner was shocked and looked at his staff in either disbelief or surprise as the French minister was not expecting that at all. Whatever was discussed after that was probably a waste of time.

Now, there is so much wrong in this whole thing that one is at a loss as to where start from. Let's first dispatch Chavez role in the whole business. If it remains true that Chavez is still a player and probably someone that will need to be at the table when the FARC sits down, it was not for the French to go to Bogota and bluntly force that on Uribe. Not only it is rude but would totally be counter productive, as we effectively saw. Can you imagine Uribe's foreign minister go to the Elysee Palace and bluntly tell Sarkozy that Italy should be the mediator in the Corsican problem?

Now let's discuss the incompetence and poor preparation of the French staff that came along with Kouchner. Under which stone have they been hiding these last few weeks? Are they not aware that Chavez almost went to active conflict with Colombia a few weeks ago? Don't they know that the border is partially closed? Did someone tell them about the FARC, and Chavez, rejection inside Colombia? Have they read the insults that Chavez has hurled regularly at Uribe? Don't they realize that if Chavez is big with the FARC he is far from controlling them as the Emmanuel episode illustrated so well? It strains the imagination to think that they wanted to have Chavez back inside the hostage liberation process just like that, and that Uribe would go along as if nothing ever happened. I had sensed that starting with Chirac French foreign policy had more misses than hits and now I can see clearly why: they do not bother inquiring in deep on the countries they deal with, being French requirement enough on a visiting carton.

And while Kouchner was sweating it in cool Bogota what did his boss do? He received the relatives of Ingrid at the Elysee, with his new wife, top model cum singer cum woman of the world at his side. Carla Bruni has declared by the way that she did not know what she would do as the new French First Lady (with the arrogance of someone who was elected to that job?) but that she would do it very seriously. So that is what French foreign policy is all about since Sarkozy is president: glamorous hostages, high profile rescue missions, Elysee receptions, Euro Disney and anything for a laugh.

--- --- ---

Since there have been so many articles on this matter, with so much additional information, I am grouping references in a separate section from the article, leaving in the text above only the to the point references. That way the story is shorter to read and those who seek more juicy details can read below.

The meeting between Uribe and Kouchner was filtered to El Tiempo, perhaps the most important paper of Colombia and the most reliable source on such things. El Tiempo reports that in fact the French proposal bothered Colombia at many levels.

The French proposed to expand the mediation role with the FARC that was given to France, Switzerland and Spain to Cuba, Brazil and Venezuela as "group of friends". Uribe not only dismissed Venezuela but said that Brazil and Cuba were welcome to help but would not be mediators. What the French seem also to have forgotten to check in their homework is that in 2003 it was president Lula freshly elected president who organized a "grupo de amigos" to help ease tensions in Venezuela during the oil strike. That "group of friends of Venezuela" in collusion with the Carter Center was what allowed Chavez to gain enough time to restore his power and transform himself in the thug regime he presides over today. The French might be ignorant of that but the Colombians certainly have not forgotten. Besides it was a good way to let Lula know that it is about time he chooses real democracy and stops cuddling dictators and wanna-be ones, just when Raul Castro is making sweet eyes towards Lula. Then again it has always been a Brazilian strategy to weaken as much as they can any Latin American country and Lula is no exception. The "butt off" to Lula by Uribe, in spite of their alleged friendly relationship, was a clear message to Brasilia. After all, Bogota is the farthest capital from Brasilia and is not about to suffer anything from Planalto.

El Tiempo also tells us that the French wanted to bring Chavez back because that would be a success for Sarkozy whose fortunes are sagging because of Sarkozy dispersion and personal problems (polls are increasingly predicting a strong defeat for Sarkozy allies in the upcoming local elections). As usual, the French do not care about the natives and Colombia is not going to pay for the love problems of Sarkozy. El Tiempo, though, notes some of Kouchner's words that might reveal that he felt ill served by his staff and that in fact he might understand much better the situation of Uribe than his boss or his staff. He said that "France is in no position to demand anything from anyone" (I have not found these words in the French press so far so I translate from Spanish what was probably already translated from French).

This personal take of Kouchner on the situation is taken up in Le Monde which today writes that there was a private meeting between Kouchner and Uribe after the initial meeting reported by El Tiempo. That extra meeting was requested by Kouchner. Le Monde writes: "The minister seemed, on this matter, more inclined to give credit to Bogota than some French diplomats present during this trip." That is right, Le Monde itself implies that the gut feelings of Kouchner are closer to reality than the lame career bureaucrats of the Quai D'Orsay. Mr. Kouchner might want to renew his staff, probably inherited from Chirac's time.

To conclude this post I would like to mention another very interesting article by Jacques Thomet
who used to be AFP director and at some point in charge of the Bogota office. The article is reprinted in a relatively conservative page, Le Journal Chretien. It is particularly notable because it is a strong critic to Sarkozy from a group of people that would be expected to be strong supporters. Goes on to tell how fast Sarkozy is falling. I will just translate some highlights:

It is clear that the Betencourt affair is Franco-French. It has only a distant relation with Colombia.[...] Nothing that justifies supporting the propaganda of a little South American operatta duce.

The blackmail of the "French doctor" Kouchner, little office messenger of chavez, irks Colombia.

To demand that Colombian security forces do not jeopardize the lives of the hostages is equivalent to saying: once people have been kidnapped, the guerrilla controls the situation, they are not to be sought of, authorities must wait for "instructions" to negotiate under terror.

Ingrid Betancourt will soon be freed to help: *The FARC who thank to Paris intervention will lose their terrorist qualification and thus will open offices everywhere, including the UN *Hugo chavez to recover international support after the liberation, to compensate his total discredit in Venezuela * Nicolas Sarkozy to climb up in polls thanks to this "exploit" of recovering Ingrid. [Blogger's note: I did not think of that but it seems on the dot, the failure of Kouchner, the sagging of Chaevz and Sarkozy close to local elections both might mean Ingrid freed before the French March elections!!!!]

The other 800 hostages can wait for ten years or more [...] Neither France or Caracas will show any interest. [Note: France and Caracas, not France and Venezuela, a nice way to show that Venezuela's foreign policy does not exist, it is now Chavez fancy. this blogger vision is now becoming common knowledge!]

-The end-

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chavez opposes Kosovo independence

Again showing the perfect flair to butt into matters that are not his business, Chavez himself said that he opposes Kosovo independence. Not that he disapproves of it, he opposes it (1). Nowhere around to be seen a foreign minister to say such stupidity and take the brunt of the reaction. No, Chavez himself offers himself to ridicule to the whole world. He actually aggravates his case by saying all sorts of inane comments about Kosovo and Serbia, putting this just as a local matter that should not lead to any division. Clearly the man has no idea of Kosovo historical situation and links to its extremely complicated past.

And guess what? Chavez thinks it is natural that he opposes it along with China (Tibet oppression anyone?) and Russia (does Chechnya ring a bell?). He even does not understand how come France or Germany could recognize Kosovo. Though he offers the explanation that the US is of course behind it all, indirectly giving Bush superpowers since the man who already spends sleepless nights over Venezuela still manages to find time for Iraq and Kosovo.

And he says all of that without laughing, him the man who supports the FARC narco-insurrection or the Sunni bombs in Iraq. Of course the tiny FARC minority, and the relative Sunni minority are all Kosher whereas the 90% Albano-Muslim Kosovo majority has no right to self determination whatsoever. That even as his alleged Muslim allies inside OPEC look favorably upon a Kosovo independence.

Thus in a single moment we get put together Chavez general ignorance and silliness with his reactionary and prejudiced outlook of life. Then again these things usually come together.

However, before he starts suffering the consequences of yet another crazy and useless declarations he gets to enjoy tonight the sight of a US embassy burning down in Belgrade. No wonder French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had no qualms been seen with Uribe today whereas his Caracas visit yesterday was, well, much more discrete.

1) I put up the English translation where they "diplomatically" say that Venezuela does not recognize it. Globovision link in Spanish is more direct on that. But the Spanish version of El Universal includes the soundtrack of Chavez himself. Worth listening it if you understand Spanish.

-The end-

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chavismo corruption and incompetence in a single number

Tal Cual offers us today an article about the chicken production in Venezuela and the forecast if prices are not increased from their fixed value. It also says that chicken is pretty much sold everywhere above 50% its fixed value and no one cares, only too happy that they are finding chicken when so many other things are missing. Still, unless government does not allows a realistic price, within 6 months chicken will join the growing list of chronic food shortages.

But I digress, the real number of this article that will interest the readers of this blog is the freight cost of a ton of goods that goes through Puerto Cabello, the main harbor of the country, the one through which more than half of the imports of the country come through. Well, the cost for importers to go through Puerto Cabello is 150 USD, whereas the Colombian importer that goes through Cartagena pays only 40 USD. That is right, it costs you three times more to import through Puerto Cabello than to import though a Colombian harbor, geographically equivalent to Venezuelan harbors.


Very simple and I can vouch personally for that: corruption and inefficiency.

There are so many lame permits required, so many controls to verify CADIVI so as to pay the bills later, so many opportunities to get a fast buck by so many corrupt officials that getting your stuff out of Puerto Cabello is an ordeal. And Tal Cual does not quantify the direct cost of corruption; the numbers reported are those who come from unnecessary permits and the delays that dramatically increase the storage costs that you have to pay. If you add corruption costs (usually included in the bill of your custom agent who handles discretely these delicate matters, it is all a big mafia) the costs per metric ton could easily double the already high 150 USD. Of that I can vouch personally. I cannot tell you how often we had merchandise stuck in Puerto Cabello for months, with all permits in hand, when in normal times it took no more than two weeks to clear customs. The excuses range from “the inspector did not come this week” meaning a nice present might make him hurry up, to “I want to see all the originals” which means that if your business is, say, 4 hours form Puerto Cabello you have to waste at least one to two days of your time to carry all the originals whose permits appear anyway in official computer pages.

Now, if you are importing a ton of flat screen TV, you can easily absorb the cost. But when you import a ton of corn for animal feed?

So, guess what? Who pays the final costs? The silly chavista (and anti Chavez) consumer who either must buy above the price or face an empty shelf. There is no mystery on why there are food shortages in Venezuela. And there is no mystery on why the situation will become worse and worse unless chavismo polices in favor of corruption and against private business do not change dramatically. No fat chance of this happening any time soon.

Thus you have it here, in a single number an accurate representation of the cost of incompetence and corruption. And I am not even talking about these costs once your merchandise has left Puerto Cabello.

-The end-

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fin de Regne Havana; and Caracas?

It has been in every headline so I need not bother putting up a link. Fidel Castro has announced that he will not seek to renew his job in Havana. That is, he is stepping down from his unelected position of dictator for life. A rather nonplussing event. After all, as long as the living mummy can still talk he will have influence in Cuba and still can create trouble to whomever replaces him. But that will not be for too long as his days are definitely numbered (or why else would he step down?). Nothing much will change in Cuba in the very near future. The "new" folks will politely wait for Fidel to pass away once and for all and then they will have to move toward a democratic transition. The longest dictatorship in the Americas will thus come to an end. And Fidel will have managed one last feat: to have had two long Fin de Règne, his almost two years of sick leave and the months ahead until he finally dies.

The French did coin that expression, Fin de Règne, which full flavor cannot be satisfactorily translated. It means, literally, end of a reign; but it means much more. I suppose that the French used to long twilight historical periods, when exhausted kings hung unto power for a too many years, coined that expression to describe periods where an aging king was expecting his death (Louis XIV and XV in particular). During a Fin de Règne we all know that an era is going but we have no good idea of what the new era has in store for us.

Democracy did away with this feeling since elections and term limits allow us to have clear expiration dates and offer us the means to prepare the succession actively. Thus, for example, George Bush present irrelevance is not a Fin de Règne: he will be gone in January as the US folks are busy selecting his substitute. The US political culture coined Lame Duck for this feeling of presidential term exhaustion. But Tony Blair last two years had a clear Fin de Règne feel as people were more interested in his departure date than anything else.

Hence the last exploit of Castro, to have ended his very own Fin de Règne since he became sick, and to have started yesterday the Fin de Règne of his own regime which will last for who knows how long. Raul Castro is already old enough and we can expect his tenure to last much less than a decade. How much less is yet to be known but Castro has bestowed on his brother a Fin de Règne feel that will besot him all during his tenure. In modern political jargon Raul Castro tenure is a "transition" period, but the feel will be of an old order slowly dying.

We are also seeing this in Caracas. After 9 years of nearly unhinged rule Chavez is running out of ideas, out of people, out of worthy goals. Since December 2 we have entered our very own Fin de Règne. True, Chavez has still 5 years in his presidential term but these look quite empty now. A defeat in the regional elections of November and continuing food shortages could shorten his tenure (last week we saw in his home town of Sabaneta a grocery store looting). This in turn would spell a certain defeat in legislative elections two years later, if not an earlier set back through a direct recall election on the inane current National Assembly. That would be the nice exit out for Chavez, to be stripped of most of his power and be forced to resign and retire. Perhaps he could so in Raul Castro's Cuba to be away from judicial charges that will rain on him once his regime is over.

Or perhaps Chavez will take the violent road, openly cheating on election and transforming Venezuela into a new Zimbabwe. This would also be a Fin de Règne, but longer, sadder, crueler.

Whatever the future holds for us in Venezuela now we all know that times are changing. We already got our first shiver of an end to an era in May 2007 when Chavez closed RCTV. Now, that this abuse became the catalyzer of his defeat in December, we are in a true Fin de Règne. On TV we are starting to see humble people making Chavez directly responsible for their woes, not his appointees. The Teflon has worn out. The fear seems suddenly gone. Maybe the Misiones have stopped paying enough? The response of the government is the now stale, a tired endless repeat of empty slogans by the same recycled Chavez sycophants. Meanwhile the country is now showing all the signs of disaggregation, from the infamous potholed main roads to the increasingly empty shelves without forgetting the growing anarchy and the fear from crime. The opposition does not fare much better and is far from offering a well organized alternative. As a society we feel like standing a the foot of this bridge, knowing that the crossing is long and that yet we have to cross it without knowing what is awaiting for us on the other side.

-The end-

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why there are food shortages in Venezuela

This blog has reported often on the erratic supplies that one can find at any Venezuelan grocery store for now two years. The reasons are of course bad agricultural policies that result in a dearth of investments in the country side. The situation IS NOT created by an increase of purchasing power of the population through the Misiones handouts. These exacerbate the problem, they do not create it, I repeat.

Today there are a few recent articles worth noting in El Universal. The first one tells us that the very own government numbers speak of a 0.2% growth in the agricultural PIB for 2005-2006. This at a time where the economy was growing by a 10%, courtesy of the import boom due to high oil prices. That is, as it has been pointed out often enough in this page, the economy grew because imports grew and had to be distributed around the country, NOT because production grew. Currently most industries are working at full capacity but very few new industries are being built. While the population keeps growing.... That article also cites the following number: in 2003 Venezuela imported 1.5 billion USD in food; the number for 2007 is 5.5 billion... That is, all the increase in food consumption has been done on food import, not food production. We are eating the oil we produce and export instead of investing it for our future. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to imagine the long term consequences of these numbers.

Amazingly, in 2005-2006, the loans for agricultural production from banks have increased and yet production has gone down! In 2006 Bs 2.54 billions were loaned by the banks (by law Venezuelan banks are obliged to loan a certain percentage of their loans to agricultural activities). The 2005 number was Bs. 1,53 billions. Yet that 66% increase in financing translated into a 6.1% reduction in agricultural production volume.

Why is the production failing to grow? Some of the causes are seen in the other recent articles.

Producers are harassed and threatened all the time. Why should they invest and risk their own money when the state after any stupid utterance from Chavez could seize your business? This week, Polar the main giant feeding Venezuela was once again threatened as it was accused of hoarding. Polar quickly pointed out that it is not in the business of producing sugar, nor milk, meat or poultry, not even coffee or eggs which are all the most notorious missing products whereas the supply of Polar made products is more regular. But see, chavismo needs a scapegoat for its incompetence and even if Polar does not produce a single gallon of milk, let's accuse them anyway. I let you imagine the morale of the Polar personnel after such attacks, and the plans of expansion that will be duly shelved.

That governmental inefficiency is, by the way, aggravated by corruption. Mercal, the government distributing system reports 397 cases of corruption under study. Obviously when you must import so much food in such a hurry, you create a prime field for corruption to bloom. Besides, when it is so easy to import why should Mercal directors visit hot sunny production facilities to promote local goods production where they will sweat profusely when they can order a container of beans from the comfort of their AC office?

I could find many more articles and many more ways to explain the government failure in promoting production, but El Universal this Sunday nailed the coffin reporting on El Charcote abandon. Long time readers of this blog might remember a long study I made in 2005 where I discussed the policies of land seizure in Venezuela, including the famous productive cattle ranch of El Charcote (many other articles on this subject appear if you use Charcote as a search word for this blog). I could say again that I was sort of prophetic as all the land seizures of 2004 and 2005 only resulted in a drop of agricultural production. El Charcote stands now mostly idle, the farmers brought to cultivate the seized land having left or limited themselves to put up a shack where to live and hold their assigned land in case they can sell it someday.

I can assure you of one thing because it is my line of work: some agricultural sectors have prospered under chavismo, and they are all the ones linked to some agribusiness ventures in the hands of private investors. Such is Polar working full time or other sectors such as the poultry industry, in spite of price controls or such as corn growing associated with these agribusiness and that the government has not dared to touch yet. The global meager result is due to those policies of land seizure who have destroyed cattle ranching, meat and milk production, and sugar cane fields (among others). But do not hold your breath expecting Chavez to recognize his grievous mistakes, a true betrayal to the country of even worse consequences than the one he is perpetrating with PDVSA: soon we will not have enough oil to but all the food that we will need to import.

-The end-

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The unanimity against Tascon: Stalinism in Venezuela

Tachira representative Luis Tascon has been expelled from the PSUV (1). The vote was unanimous, according to Jorge Rodriguez, ex-director of the CNE, who knows very well how elections are rigged to get the vote result you need. What is important here is not that Tascon was booted out, but the adjective attached to the action: unanimous.

I will start my comment on this with my own feelings. I do not care. See, Tascon is such an abject character that any serious court of law would have condemned him long ago to at least life term in jail. If you forgot the personage, he is the one who in 2003-2004 invented his famous list of people who signed that Recall Election petition, transforming more than 3 million people in second class citizens. The signatories of the "Lista Tascon" are denied any help from or any work with the government, and for a time even passports and official documents. They will retain that status as long as Chavez rules, and the list will be a convenient directory when future Gulags need guests. All details are amply documented on the right side of this page where you will find all the links needed to understand the evil associated with that scoundrel. Tascon has been spreading such evil for such a long time that I am now unable to experience any joy at his misfortune (?), just relief that one less flea will be sucking my blood.

Why is Tascon booted from the PSUV? He had the lack of sense of accusing the brother of the currently main Chavez supporter Diosdado Cabello of some suspicious expenses during his tenure at the equipment ministry. I do not care, they are all (very likely) stealing all what they can from public coffers, probably thinking that it is a small price to pay to have to sit through the never ending Chavez homilies and insults thrown at them. If Jose David Cabello is innocent of any wrongdoing in the case presented by Tascon, I will put my hand on fire that he has stolen money elsewhere.

Not even the accusation by Cabello that Microsoft put a chip in Tascon blood stream to make him a US agent deserved a mention in this blog. After all, since Carreño said that Direct TV was spying on us through an invisible camera placed in the decoder, nothing else will impress me: these people live constantly in the middle of conspiracy theories and their mutterings on these only reflect their paranoia, and their guilt about the mess they are presiding over.

But today news deserve mention in this blog and everywhere. First, the interesting detail. Why is Diosdado Cabello defending his brother and why are we not seeing this one defending himself? After all, he is a minister and we would hope him to sue Tascon for calumny. But he is not doing so, he is silent and his brother is the one coming forward. Interesting, no?

But more meaningful is that "unanimous" vote. I bet you it was also taken with raised hands as all tried to reach as high as possible, least they would be suspected of any collusion with Tascon daring to inquire on where the money goes (even though he seems to have become quite prosperous himself under the revolution).

With that vote we know that the not quite born PSUV is already another old Stalinist party.

1) The PSUV is the Unique Socialist Party that Chavez has been trying to establish since December 2006. The attempt at forcibly have all of his supporters join has had very counter productive effects such as the break with PODEMOS.

-The end-

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chavez criticized by the world intellectuals and artists, the great ones at that

Poor Chavez, since his august 15 2007 announcement for a referendum cum power grab, things have been going downhill for him. First, the campaign sucked. Second, milk, sugar, flour, beans, etc... started missing on the shelves. Then he lost the vote on December 2 and ended up making a ridiculous spectacle of his bitter self. Moving on late December he botched a hostage "rescue" show. When he got them finally in early January he had no better idea than to endorse the FARC and blow away any points he might have won though the hostage release. Since then he kept running into more trouble such as the Exxon scandal where the ineptitude of the "people"'s PDVSA is now the laughing stock of the world.

But things can always get worse. Now an old censorship issue came back to visit him: the Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz (one of my favorites by the way).

Mr. Sanz had the bad fortune to criticize Chavez polices when he was visiting Venezuela last, around the heydays of the Recall Election. Since then chavismo has been trying to discredit him but it seems that Sanz is winning the party after all. After having refused to rent him the Poliedro for a Caracas concert, the government sort of allowed him to reschedule his concert. But lo' and behold, Sanz canceled it because the logistics were too complicated and no hotel wanted to receive his party. Hotel owners were quick to refute this, as expected, since they know full well that were they to confirm that they discriminated against Sanz for fear of the government, they would have got a visit of the SENIAT within days. Here we know better and if we have a hard time to forgive hotel management at least we do understand that this is the way to survive in a lawless country, and they owe it to their staff stability. Some of us also remember the recent example of the Primero Justicia convention which was postponed because nobody wanted to rent them space until finally the EuroBuilding did.

So Sanz canceled but any mean victory that chavismo would have been celebrating, many are despicable enough to celebrate such things, was quickly undone by a communique where the creme de la creme of the world entertainment and recognized musicians took the side of Sanz. These include more than a hundred folks (so far?):

Top artists such as Shakira, Juan Luis Guerra, Joan Manuel Serrat, and Mark Anthony, along more fluffy but equally well known artist/celebrities such as JeLo and Ricky Martin.

David Beckham: from the sport world but entertainment side, and surprisingly politically aware, a nice change from the Hollywood tasteless crowd that has been hanging around Chavez lately

The list also include many Venezuelan singers of course, the most known ones here but also many musical groups from all around Latin America.

A few days ago I was thinking about the chavista carnival and the poverty of thought and creativity it meant. Well, when you see the roster of the people supporting Sanz agaisnt Chavez you get the best possible confirmation of how low and how discredited Chavez has gone outside of Venezuela, at least among people who have a few functioning neurones.

But that was not all for Chaevz. One of the greatest writers alive in Latin America, Carlos Fuentes, went out again agaisnt Chavez. And the worse part for Chavez is that in the very same interview he praised Castro while trashing Chavez, with some the marvelous expressions, here below:
Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes qualified this past Wednesday president Hugo Chavez of "demagogo lloricón" (crybaby demagogue) without any redeeming traits and he added that he completely dislikes him.

"He almostlost power. He protected himself with the church. He cried. He is a man without substance, a cheap tropical Mussolini. He has matters little."..."Mussolini with bananas. Banana Mussolini (...) He seems to me a demagogue crybaby".

According to Fuentes, the political system of Venezuela is not socialism but fascism.

[he] compared Chavez with Fidel Castro, who he described as "respectable man". "One is genuine the other is a fraud". "One might not agree with Fidel, but he must be respected... The other one is an amateur... that will not last much".

"[It is Chavez] function, his dictatorial pretense, that mania of Latin America dictators, of the authoritarian type, to hide his at home failures creating foreign problems".

"Chavez lives of that, personality cult".

"I think that the great failure of the Bush presidency is that he thought he entered a world he would dominate... and we saw that it was not so" " His project crashed down because today's world does not admit a single power".
Accusing Fuentes of right wing conspiracy, of serving the Empire, well, it will not fly.

For the thinking world, Chavez is a clown, a sad clown at that.

-The end-

Chavez's bark: calling his bluff

Oh dear, according to the Washington Post today, Exxon was right in calling Chavez's bluff. Here, just two excerpts from the last paragraph of the article to save you time (my emphasis):
But someone apparently explained to Mr. Chavez that Venezuela's oil industry, already in decline because of Mr. Chavez's mismanagement, might collapse if he actually carried out his threat. And without oil money, Mr. Chavez, who lost a referendum on extending his rule two months ago, cannot finance the subsidies and social spending that buy what's left of his popular support in Venezuela. [snip]In standing up to Mr. Chavez through peaceful, legal means, [Exxon Mobil]has once again exposed the hollowness of the anti-imperialism with which he justifies his rule.
Pegs the guy quite well, no? Good thing that ridicule is not necessarily lethal.

-The end-

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The FARC business inside Venezuela increasingly revealed

Chavez must start regretting a little bit his praise words toward the FARC. This is only resulting in an increased scrutiny of the FARC activities inside Venezuela by the press. And the Chavez administration is not looking good at all. In fact, in his latest article Juan Forero barely stops himself from accusing chavismo to be collaborating deliberately with the FARC business inside Venezuela. It must have been difficult for him to stop as we even have a "smoking gun" of sorts through the confessions of FARC deserters. This is in fact the most complete and researched article that I have seen so far from the foreign press about the specific activities of the FARC, even more remarkable that Juan Forero used to be a chavez supporter and that by writing such an article he endangers his position inside Colombia where he is based. Either that or inside Colombia the FARC is in such trouble that people are starting again to write and report about the FARC terror.

So, which are these activities inside Venezuela? Kidnapping for money (Forero does not mention drug trafficking, but that is OK, his article is damning enough as it is).

Which are the modalities? Direct kidnapping or kidnapping threats by FARC or ELN groups, and also the local mob kidnapping people that are thought to be at least worth half a million bucks to "resell" them to the FARC.

Which are the practical aspects? Kidnapping of course, with people held often for years. Even when they die in captivity, kidnappers still try to collect a ransom pretending they are alive. But there is also a very extended system of "vacuna" vaccine, where you are obliged to pay a certain sum every year if you do not want you or your relatives to be kidnapped at some point.

What does the chavista government do to prevent? Nothing. In fact it is busy diminishing the statistics, minimizing the numbers, trying to make links with the mob only, going as far as to pretend that the FARC has nothing to do when it is public and notorious that the FARC has been at it for years. And if it is not the FARC that is directly involved, the leaders seem all to be graduates from the FARC or ELN universities.

Does the government of Chavez participates? All seems to indicate that yes, it does so and actively. We have the kind words of Interior Minister Rodriguez Chacin to the FARC guerrilla that released Hernandez and Rojas early January. But we also have many testimonies form ex FARC. The Venezuelan Nazional Guard and other "security" offices such as the DISIP are deeply infiltrated and some of its components collaborate extensively with the kidnappers to facilitate information on the potential victims. This is even seen these days in non FARC related crimes such as the regular ransom activities observed in Caracas where quite often police from the Metropolitana are involved.

Which are the results? Staggering. Kidnapping went up from 44 the year Chavez reached power to 232 in 2006 and 382 last year, government numbers! Private numbers are much higher as many victims are very aware that the authorities are not only of no help but usually make things worse. In addition this has disrupted the agricultural production of one of the most productive areas of the country, Tachira and Sur del Lago since of course it is much easier to monitor the "wealth" of agricultural producers and to kidnap them while the travel through the country side to check on their fields. The food shortages that we are suffering are due in part to that situation.

Is there anything new in Forero's article? No, nothing. All has been said beofre, Forero just had to put it all together. But he has the merit of research, of talking to the victims and of exposing himself as a target for which he deserves praise. We must thank him for this because inside Venezuela it is becoming more difficult to speak abotu those things. Journalists now know that talking about such issues will result in an automatic tax income audit at the very least, to real threat of body harm, to even exile. Yesterday again, the legislative body chamber of the Carabobo state was wrecked by disgruntled supporters of the Governor Acosta Carles with journalists trying to film the event crudely aggressed. So you can imagine what happens when these journalists try to cover matters such as drugs or kidnapping....

Any political repercussions? Forero duly notes that the FARC link is not helping at all the popularity of Chavez. As the kidnapping industry expands, the bitterness of the victims and of the people who know about them increases. To which I can add that it is becoming clear to all that if the state security does not fight such abominable crime, it will fight even less petty crime that is the scourge of all of us. The recent pictures of the hordes of people trying to get food in Tachira are also contributing to slowly but surely illustrate to people how the government blind eye approach to the problem is affecting even their access to food. No wonder Chavez went straight to the confrontation with Exxon, even if through that unnecessary fight he wrecks the economy once and for all. After all, Chavez has made a career to hide a scandal with a new one, bigger if possible. But that is how thugs operate, no?

-The end-

I knew we were going to miss John Kerry.....

I knew that one day we would be missing John Kerry, unfortunate candidate for the White House 4 years ago. Babalu brings us how Obama supporters and even some Clinton ones, are not adverse sporting a Che image. Since I just put up one of these Che Guevara misplaced nostalgia, it is only fitting that I put up these misguided office decoration by some supporters of Obama. In particular this pic (courtesy of Fox via reader A. and Babalu) where the poster of Obama (circled in green) is dwarfed in front of the ridiculous Cubano Guevarista flag. Does the woman sitting at that desk really know the life and times of Che? Could she not even be bothered to find a bigger Obama poster, or more than one at least? Is she supporting Obama because he is the first Black Kennedy or because he will remove Bush from office? Has any one explained to her that no matter what Bush is gone next January whereas Cubans are still suffering from the cruel system that the Che helped put into place? Is there an end to human stupidity?

It is not idle to bring back the declarations of Kerry 4 years ago when the US policy was still bipartisan and serious (here and here), when both sides saw clearly the threat that Chavez was becoming. 4 more years of Iraq and a stubborn Bush administration now are allowing all sorts of uneducated freaks to cling to the coattails of a few to have a chance to preside over the future of the US, and I am not having in mind Democrats only, people like Huckabee qualify in my book of weirdos....

Really, the Democrats were not as stupid when I was a US Liberal 10 years ago..... then we worried about real issues such as abortion rights, ERA, gay rights, Act Up, affirmative action, fair taxes, MLK, Jesse Helms and such without having to invoke for help Fidel or Che.

-The end-

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The tacky chavista Carnaval: Rio it ain't...

Last Tuesday in Caracas I crossed in Plaza Venezuela this Carnaval parade. Needless to say that my eyes popped out and that I am still looking for my fallen jaw. See, it is not that I am opposed to bring some politics into a Carnaval float, many of the samba schools of Rio constantly do veiled social commentary at the Sambodromo; but what is really bad here, is that politics kills any intention of escapism or folk art that is implicit in any Carnaval festivity. For two days you are supposed to drink, dance and be merry. This is not the time to proclaim all the alleged glories of a pseudo revolution.

But chavismo cannot help itself: all must be for the glory of Chavez, or a reminder of his good deeds. Tackiness, truly bad taste, imposition are all fine when Chavez is glorified. I suppose we cannot help it: there is dearth of intellectuals and well known artists supporting chavismo, and thus the cultural level of chavismo is so low that I should not be surprised. Yet, I am still surprised at the new lows regularly reached, and at tax payer expense by the way since all the cars used for that parade seem to have been official vehicles.

This first picture is of the Che Guevara Mision, the Mision that supposedly trains people to get a real job (it used to be called Mision Vuelvan Caras). In reality, it trains them to be good revolutionaries, and to depend on government stipends. The float is so bad, so ill conceived, so inaccurate (red beret? military Cuban uniform on an easy rider bike??) that we wonder if the people who designed this float had any idea who was Che before they were put in charge of lauding him. This is not Carnaval anymore, this is voodoo reconstruction of a mythic figure. (click all pictures to enlarge for details)

The next picture is something I suppose from Venezuelan history. No more costumes of fairy queens, drag queens or Dairy Queens attendants here: Bolivarian drag only. And observe of course on the left lower corner the clear link to the "bolivarian government". No ambiguity here, on your face propaganda and historical manipulation, with as much red from the flag as possible.

An even more direct intervention, though perhaps justified up to a point, was the float of the Tourism Ministry. But it also fails. The theme was the "Diablos de Yare". This could for the naive visitor seem Carnavalesque enough. But it is not. The Diablos de Yare is a very specific religious activity that takes place on Corpus Cristi, the now forgotten Christian holiday that usually takes place mid June. The masks and costumes have really deep meanings for the practitioners and deserve a little bit of respect. Showing it in such a circumstance is cheapening a very traditional Venezuelan celebration, one that attracts tourists from all around the world. But I suspect that chavistas do not have the cultural level to understand that, and since the Yare Costume is dominated by RED from immemorial times, well, then Yare must have been chavista before Chavez existed.

And to crown all in chavista style, two more floats on medical matters. The first one is a reproduction of one of the modules of Barrio Adentro (the first time by the way I see one with the door open). Grotesquely it comes with its doctor in white lab coat. Human suffering brought to Carnaval parade. Pricelessly tacky.

The second one is an insult to one's intelligence. As the Dengue epidemic keeps growing in Venezuela and more deaths reported, the government of Caracas has nothing better to offer than a silly truck, loaded with bureaucrats in uniform and a billboard that says that Dengue prevention is everybody's work. Maybe, but since the governmental fumigations against the specific mosquito carrier have been woefully deficient, since the public hospitals are unable to face the emergency, since Chavez went as far as to say that the epidemic is from a modified form of the virus (genetically designed by you know who), it is simply pathetic to see the government waste resources on something were a message on how prevention is achieved is not even displayed. By the way, any float on the returning malaria and yellow fever?

This is it, the cultural reach of chavismo, its mediocrity exposed in the most pathetic fashion. But then again Chavez is an uncouth soldier. What can you expect from a lout and the sycophants who he appoints? Where are the artistic masterpieces of Cuba's Castro or Nazi Germany? If you cannot even let the people manage Carnaval as they please, any creativity will be fast squelched.

-The end-

Monday, February 11, 2008

That remote control problem: closing down on Globovision

The international press might have highlighted again the now routine threats that Chavez will close the supply of oil to the US, but that was not the real news from Venezuela. Of course with 12 billion of PDVSA assets frozen, the casual observer might think that Chavez will finally shut down oil supply to the States. But that is not what matters in Caracas today: what matters is the renewed interests of chavismo to shoot the last messenger left, Globovision.

The reasons are very simple, and have not changed: Globovision is the only TV network that regularly displays the problems that the country is suffering, the real problems of the people. Which are these problems? Lack of some food items; crime reaching levels unheard of and putting Caracas in the top 5 more dangerous cities in the world; inflation among the highest in the world, affecting food prices the most, the prices which are most felt by the poor; lack of real jobs as too many depend on government handouts and public services jobs where wearing a red beret is de rigueur; and more, much more. It is easy to understand that at a time where the government is showing increasing strain and where its ineptitude is becoming extraordinarily obvious Globovision (or any other critical media) is something that will need to be dealt with.

There is that saying that homo sapiens is the only animal that stumbles twice over the same stone. It seems that the government has already forgotten that closing RCTV was a huge mistake, a mistake that was in large part the cause of losing the December 2 referendum as it made it clear to the Venezuelan people that the referendum was about naked power grab more than the betterment of the people. Closing Globovision would be a much , much worse mistake. That perspective does not seem to stop chavismo who as it feels the waters rising to its neck is showing signs of acute despair.

The problem for Chavez and the sycophants that surround him is that diversity is not their strong point. They are all mediocre individuals and have reached high position just because Chavez has charisma. Any other group that might show some success in their field is feared because it exposes their mediocrity. It is very simple actually, a very normal emotional reaction for the feeble of mind.

Chavismo simply cannot understand why Globovison is the most worn out button on the remote control in Caracas and Valencia, the only markets where Globovision is on open broadcast (the rest of the country is cable only). That is right: if you have no cable TV in Caracas the TV set will offer you a limited choice. From the government side, most of the media dedicate most of their broadcasting time to support or emit outright propaganda in favor of Chavez. You have VTV, ViVe TV, Teves, Avila TV, Telesur, ANTV just to name the main ones. That is: 6 networks plus the minor players. On the border line supporting of chavismo you have Venevision and Canal I. Neutral there is only Televen. For the opposition there is only Globovision. Though it must be repeated endlessly that Globovision emits the news, that is, emits all the petulant declarations of Chavez and his ministers and offers them a mic if they were to accept their invitation. But the government has become allergic to probing questions by real journalists. On the other hand you can look by yourself how much from the opposition side makes it to the news in the 6 networks mentioned above.

Chavismo is helpless against Globovision whose ratings surpass easily of any of the pro Chavez channels in Caracas, a truly remarkable feat for a 24 news channel. That it is due to the state media passing programs that do not reflect the reality of Venezuela does not seem to reach chavismo folks. So, after having tried to confuse the audiences by offering all sorts of state media, there is only one recourse left for chavismo: take the remote control out of the people's hand. Because this would be the effect of closing Globovision: there will be no more choice for news, thus no more need for channel surfing since all would say "viva Chavez!". Or remain silent.

Unfortunately for chavismo that would spell its final demise. Globovison is increasingly offering its air waves to chavista rank and file complaining that they cannot go to VTV to expose their just causes: a large chunk of chavismo knows now full well that if they have a complaint, the state media will not air it. That is why Chavez must shut up Globovision, as things are getting increasingly difficult for him he thinks he can hide the times through censorship.

-The end-

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Of the uselessness of electoral observations

During this morning coffee ritual I got this London Times article in both the comments and e-mail. It is truly an outstanding account on how useless electoral observation is. At best they detect irregularities and dare to denounce some of them. At worst, well, they are the total junket as was the case in Ecuador narrated by the journalist. And the very worst? Well, remember Venezuela 2004. A must read article.

This blogger was endorsing the EU observation before because contrary to other missions it seemed more independent minded, more observant (read the snippet about African "solidarity" on Zimbabwe massive fraud in the cited article). Naively it seems now to this blogger the fact that several countries were involved at once should have guaranteed more sobriety and objectivity. When you read the report of Tom de Castella you can see that it was all about flirting with each other or with he power in place, to get a sense of self superiority. The opposition in each case described by de Castella is secondary to the worries of the observers.

In other words, based on our recent experience of 2007 when no observers came to watch over the referendum vote, the way out of our mess is to go to vote and to stay until all ballots are counted. The students showed to opposition political parties how it is done. In 2006 there were perhaps more than half polling stations without opposition watch dogs which explains the glaring discrepancy in favor of Chavez that de Castella noted in San Felix, a bastion of corrupt chavismo by the way. The result? As this blogger mentioned in the past, a victory for Chavez in 2006 but likely a padded margin; in 2007 a defeat that is forcing the CNE to hide the final result TWO MONTHS after the vote!!!!!!

The message is clear: if the opposition does not start playing hard ball, does not start to take the personal risks necessary to win the elections, Chavez will stay in power forever with an easy cheat. The answer is within us, not with Electoral observers who have all proven to be woefully inefficient, when not partisan, from the Carter Center to even the European Union.

-The end-

NOT fooling all the people all of the time: Chavez retreats

There was today a lovely article by Simon Romero of the New York Times. As the paper correspondent based in Caracas it seems that he is having problems to find some food items too. This sympathetic article is perfectly in tune with the mood of the times, that fin de règne atmosphere that is slowly covering all of us since December 2. A must read, an article that in addition confirms exactly all that this blogger has been writing over the last few months. Thus either he is on the NYT payroll or perhaps Mr. Romero in Caracas is experiencing the same thing that we folks experience all across the country.

And do not miss the scandalous picture for the cover: it was taken in Tachira a few days ago when the army had to control large mobs eager to find food, any food. See, the Colombian border is the most affected by food shortages since Venezuela all but broke relations with Colombia. Curiously, such throngs of people seeking food are not seen on the Colombian side. Gee, I wonder why.....

-The end-

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The PDVSA 12 billion: They are missing or not? They matter or not?

There was this little country of Podunkistan who got entangled into some bad management of his sate monopoly of scented geraniums. When the big seed reseller of Empiristan got mad at some joint project for its spring catalogue that went bad it blocked a lot of Pedevesia Stinkera seeds in some storage room on the island state of Netherlandia. Soon the benevolent dictator for life of Podunkistan, Sabaneto Farcosy, sent his scented geranium minister to explain in great details where all the seeds were coming from and who paid for them. It was just a big misunderstanding and the lawyers of both sides went home with only the cab fare for their expenses.

This story unfortunately will not happen in the latest bolivarian debacle, the freezing of 12 billion USD in PDVSA assets. Tonight, getting spinning art in high gear, Ramirez, the PDVSA minister and main "alcahuete" (enabler) of Chavez went on a cadena on his own to explain that all were lies, that PDVSA was immune to the financial actions of Exxon, that the opposition was betraying the fatherland for not supporting the country, that the media were manipulating the whole thing. Which was what he already said earlier today (in English here)

Unfortunately since we have no idea about which are the real numbers of PDVSA considering that no real audit has taken place in years, and since he did not disclose the court injunction details and the documents that would establish that the foreign courts were mislead, we have only his word to validate his speech. And that, after a few years of his tenure plagued with lies and threats, after illegal money bags flying out of PDVSA vaults to Argentina and Bolivia, is not enough.

In other words, when Chavez himself does not come to the forefront, when he sends a rather discredited understudy to defend his polices, well, you know that he is in big deep shit trouble. Though he could be breaking glass at Miraflores again, or visiting the Castro live mummy for advice, or prostrated in one of his bipolar depressed moments. We have seen that in the past.

So, what is the situation today?

True, the 12 billions are spread enough around and involve limited amounts of actual cash (1 billion total?) that a giant like PDVSA can manage for a while. True, the money is not lost, as long as PDVSA wins its trial. True, Fitch did not downgrade (yet?) the Venezuelan debt though at BB- it is far form stellar already and probably does not require further downgrade.

But it is also true that PDVSA has 12 billion less of collateral to keep up its activities, its ability to borrow temporary bridge loans and what not. And since the Venezuelan economy is more than ever PDVSA, then our own ability to borrow and to do business is going to be seriously hampered sooner than later.

Let's look at some of the data reported through the day (all links in English).

First some of details of the financial deal, and the PDVSA top executive flying in a hurry to London (not on tourist fare, I am pretty sure: what is a first class ticket when 12 superdupper grands are at stake?). From the list mentioned there, the assets blocked are not as small as what Ramirez would have us believe. Since chavistas always speak on relative Manichean terms, he might think them small compared to the whole PDVSA, but they are big alright on their own and cost a lot to the state when they were established.

Through 2008 Venezuelan reserves have already dropped by 884 million USD to 32 billion. That is, the 12 billion blocked represent A THIRD OF VENEZUELAN RESERVES!!! Ouch! But we also learn in the same article that PDVSA contributed in the last two years by 13.5 Billion to the FONDEN. In other words the PDVSA blocked assets do represent a very significants hit on Venezuelan assets and finances, no matter what Ramirez burped tonight.

In Europe Venezuelan debt took a further beating as Europeans are simply afraid that Chavez will go crazy on this. It seems that they have taken full measure of the guy.

The political front data is more complex.

We got the usual jingoistic speeches. The one from PPT, a small political party that cannot find enough ways to bend backwards to please Chavez said that it was an imperialist adventure of the UK. It also added, without any sense of ridicule, that the whole thing was done to stop progress form ALBA and the Chavez very own FMI, Banco del Sur. It was thus a litmus test for the Venezuelan opposition who has NEVER consulted on all these mistakes by chavismo that the spokesjerk was mentioning, but should still rally behind Chavez without even a sigh. And sure enough, it called for a protest at the British embassy since he probably thinks that the judicial in the UK is as servile to Exxon as the judicial in Venezuela is servile to Chavez.

The ABN, the official agitprop of Chavez after a long silence, instead of explaining and justifying went to the offensive: the head lines this evening indicated that the "national interests were above those of any private business", it underlined the more checkered past of Exxon, and of course Bush is behind it all. The usual shoot the messenger, certainly not a study on badly managed PDVSA is.

And of course the inénarrable speech from the National Assembly head of energy commission, Angel Rodriguez. "...comes as part of an exercise of full oil sovereignty in Venezuelan territory. Any dispute or lawsuit should be addressed under the jurisdiction of domestic courts only.". Yeah right, the Venezuelan courts are going to be fair if Exxon is a plaintiff.... But beyond this ridiculous statement we must see one sad reality: Rodriguez not only actually thinks that a biased judicial system is alright, but he also has no idea on how investing operates. When Exxon went to the Orinoco it probably chose that investment over another one in, say, Podunkistan. Now, it cannot go back there and will lose sales and access to oil reserves just because Chavez woke up one morning deciding that all oil should be done by PDVSA alone. Exxon is justifiably suing for breach of trust and fraud. No matter how much we are allowed to despise Exxon after the Valdez, they have the right to sue not only for the equipment seized, but also for the lost business that chavismo accepted for many years. If you accept that Exxon can be spoiled just like that, then you accept that Chavez can take away your land or home or business without fair compensation whenever he will feel like it.

It is that simple.

If that makes me a traitor, so be it.

-The end-

Friday, February 08, 2008

Chavez political cash frozen by, Exxon?


Thinking a little bit more about what I just posted, that 12 billion USD were frozen until a settlement takes place between Venezuela and Exxon Mobil, I realized that this was a much bigger issue than what I thought originally. And trust me, I did not underestimate it even though I posted late on it.

See, the first question is what the heck is PDVSA doing with around 12 billion dollars in banks accounts of Aruba and Curaçao? I mean, sure, there are some oil tankers to be managed, some payrolls to be met, but 12 billions? In Curaçao? For that money you almost own the darned island!

I suspect that this is one of the ways that Chavez has financed his little adventures. PDVSA keeps its money overseas, at least part of it. That way it is not scrutinized by Venezuelan controls (as those might be...). Then he can decide to buy lots of milk for Mercal or send a check to finance Evo in Bolivia or pay for whatever political buy out he needs to do.

OF course there are people in the US that are specialized in tracking down money and they have known long ago where PDVSA cash is. Surely they were delighted to tell Exxon where to go to get the loot. And at the same time they get to cramp down Chavez style. A sweat deal, no? There is nothing innocent about the whole thing. But then again Chavez has only himself to blame, does he not? After all, the aggrieved party is Exxon and since the PDVSA money will not go all to the Venezuelan people anyway as it is more and more siphoned out by corruption and obscene foreign interventions, why should Exxon abstain form its fair share? What Venezuelans will Exxon hurt that are not already hurting?

I suspect that chavismo will manage to arrange some deal and pay off Exxon quick. After all, fighting back with even more takeover of US assets will only result in less money for his adventures. That he cannot do without, the more so that regional elections loom. And let's face it: who is going to support some guy who backs the FARC druggies and robs investors, not to mention his own citizens? They might support him on hot air, but now we are talking big bucks. People understand big bucks; they do not like folks who take the big bucks away without any real reason.

Then again Chavez has done enough certifiable things recently that he might finally go for his confrontation with the Empire. Since no one will invest anything or lend anything or sell anything to Venezuela while this situation exists (they risk Venezuela to default if more assets are seized and to be unable to pay its bills) we might be starving and yet neither the US nor Colombia will fire a single shot at us. Ah! The wonders of globalization! Defeated by the banks!

Update: I need to make a small correction. I suppose that the Curaçao assets also include the giant Curaçao refinery. It is not clear exactly how much money was in the Netherlands Antilles banks (though it seems to have been more than what was needed anyway for day to day run of PDVSA business in the island). Still, the only thing that this would change would be the speed at which Venezuelan finances will be affected. Curaçao refinery is a collateral for any loan that PDVSA or Venezuela needs to raise. Now they cannot. Same effect, posterior date. Not to mention that so much oil is refined at Curaçao that any judicial closing of it would affect PDVSA greatly. Because of course you can bet that after this precedent there are more judicial actions on the way against Venezuela.

-The end-

PDVSA assets to be frozen?

When Chavez decided to nationalize the Orinoco oil fields last year some companies did not like it. They did not like it even more since some of the contracts had been established by the Chavez administration itself, now going back on its word. But of course, Chavez who takes away without adequate compensation any property from Venezuelans could not care less about taking property from foreigners, even more if he lied to them in the first place.

Unfortunately for Chavez, he cannot name judges elsewhere like he does in Venezuela, and even have his people call their people for his legal needs. Exxon Mobil, aware of that, went to a British court, NOT a US court, mind you!, to ask for redress and fair compensation and apparently 12 billion USD at least of PDVSA assets overseas will be frozen. Until a final court decision comes, that is. The Chavez con job was confronted.

What next? Chavez will scream, start taking illegally more US assets in Venezuela, PDVSA will keep losing more assets overseas (Citgo?). Chavez will be seen as a hero by the silly left. And here in Venezuela? Well, we will starve, as PDVSA already falling production will be harder and harder to place overseas and nobody will come to invest a single penny in a country where not even your home is safe from a chavista greed. The price of oil will go up but we will not be able to benefit of it. All for Chavez big mouth and whims.

-The end-