Saturday, May 31, 2008

The 2008 election gambles: part 2, Chavez’s strategy

The internal elections of Chavez party, the PSUV offer a good insight into the poor democratic mindset of these people, as well as the authoritarian character of Chavez. Tal Cual today devotes a full article on this. We learn that the 5039 “aspiring candidates” have until midnight to convince their co-believers. That is, the primary campaign did not even last a month. This, as many districts had more than a dozen “aspirators” (115 just for Caracas mayor). On Sunday they hope to get a million folks casting ballots even though the PSUV claims more than 5 million militants, which makes anyone wonder as to how uncommitted are chavista militants….

Yet, so far so good, one would say. But when we read how the candidates will eventually become officially nominated things do not look so good. According to Tal Cual, no matter how many votes you get, the three top vote getters in a given circumscription are brought to Chavez. Because to be elected you need 50% +1 vote AND at least 15% more votes than whomever trails you. Otherwise it is Chavez who decides who gets the nod.

You might still say,” well, you know, they need to make sure that no moles get inside the PSUV”. But then you learn that the results will not be made public. Yes, that is right, we will not know who got what votes, we will get Chavez himself on June 5 inform us, in cadena I presume, the happy winners. In conclusion, if Chavez does not like you, you can only be reasonably sure to win the nomination if you get about 60% of the vote, assuming that Chavez would not dare to go against such a lopsided result.

Thus we have our pre-taste of the November elections: Chavez will do all that is within his reach to stop any one disagreeing with him to reach a local elected position. Significant cheating and fraud can be expected. How can we thus discuss a Chavez electoral strategy? Well, very simply by separating what he is already doing and what he started doing and will probably do. This separation is not that specious: chavismo has already been cheating significantly in previous elections (1). The thing is that now that Chavez is in trouble he will need to do more than what he has done so far to retain as much power as possible. Open cheating is, this time, expected.

What Chavez has been doing

This part is very simple to discuss. I will just list the main items with a brief reminder. Any additional information can be searched for in the extensive electoral archives of this blog or elsewhere.

The CNE irregularities. These are many and range from very questionable electoral rolls to an astounding permissiveness in turning a blind eye to the government electoral abuses, in particular the financial ones. These taken together give a bonus edge to chavismo that I can estimate at anything between 5 to 10% of the votes, something that becomes crucial with local elections that can be decided with handful of votes.

Judicial silence. The judicial system of Venezuela is now closely controlled by chavismo. Thus if you introduce any recourse against any tasteless or fraudulent electoral practice, the TSJ will reply to you, if at all, AFTER the election. Some times years after. Many contentious cases of the 2000 elections have yet to be settled…

Media abuse. At election time Chavez increases dramatically the use of cadenas. That is, under the flimsiest of excuses he commandeers ALL TV emissions, AND ALL radio emissions for a speech or activity that lasts as long as he wants. True, he tries to avoid the mention of words such as “election” “vote” “candidate X”, but he is very skilled at innuendos so that these cadenas become basically political campaign. Meanwhile the opposition has little or no access to state media, even to run paid political adds. There is also another aspect to it: state media cover most chavista electoral events as if they were news, for hours in a row if necessary, while the scantiest of opposition coverage is only shown when international observers are in town. Just last night, for example, VTV covered for hours the closing PSUV campaign in Anzoategui, Chavez speech included

Money, money. This is of course the biggest carrot and stick of all. At election time public coffers and PSUV coffers lose any distinction. Public employees are expected to miss their jobs so as to make bulk at diverse electoral activities. The PSUV has yet to release any detailed report on its electoral activities and from where they got all the huge amount of money they spend. And these funds also cover booze, t-shorts, fire works and the like. I personally watched 4 years ago when Chavez came to support now disgraced Gimenez for the Yaracuy State House how someone was buying half a dozen generators in cash to power the meeting loud speakers. I do not know if you know how much an electric generator costs but paying half a dozen in cash was quite an impressive feat. I have wondered on occasion where these generators ended up… By the way, the law conveniently forbids the state to finance electoral campaigns so the opposition can never match in this wildest dreams what the government steals form public coffers for its own campaigns, and even less the possibility to request an investigation to be opened (see above).

Safe candidates. We saw this already on how the PSUV is proceeding to elect its folks. 4 years ago there was not even such a pretense: all candidates were directly named by Chavez or through a commission set by him. Still, Chavez in four years has managed to run afoul of several figures: Carabobo’s Acosta, Monagas’s Briceño, Caracas ‘s Barreto, are among the ones that are barred from reelection by the PSUV and will need to run on their own if they pretend to regain their office. The case of Briceño though is special and he might still get the nod. But others who had clear pretensions had a hard time in being accepted by Chavez, the most interesting case being Falcon in Lara. Initial attempts at barring him form running failed when polls were considered and he threatened to run no matter what. Suddenly Chavez electoral henchmen pretended to have picked him. This time around Chavez seeks ever more control. He seeks to compensate for the refusal of the constitutional reform last December which would have accelerated centralization. Now he will name the most faithful of the faithful to make sure that they will let themselves be spoiled of their local roles and perks as Chavez needs to take these roles over, centralizing all in Caracas.

What Chavez will need to do

Since all of the above (and a few other tricks) are apparently not enough to ensure a landslide, a new set of artifacts have been added.

Control who runs inside the opposition. From the many political fights and dramas of this past decade a new generation of leaders have risen. True, they might not be good enough or heavy weighty enough to challenge Chavez for national office, yet. But they certainly can challenge most of the chavista mediocrities that were put in place 4 years ago. For example all polls in Caracas put Leopoldo Lopez as a shoo in. But Caracas is something that Chavez cannot afford to lose, pride wise. So chavismo came up with a scheme inspired from countries which practice it regularly: disbarment of sorts (Russia, Iran, Belarus…). In short, using a contradiction between an organic law (those who require special voting rules) and the constitution, the ultimate enabler of the regime, the one who all but officially sponsors corruption, has decided that at least 400 people are not eligible for office. I just posted something that explains this in detail so no need to go deeper into this, except to stress once again that according to article 42 only a judicial sentence can remove political rights from a citizen, and Clodosvaldo actions ARE NOT a judicial sentence, at least if we are to believe the chavista fable that there is a separation of powers in Venezuela.

Accepting “approximate” electoral results. An extremely grave precedent has been made last December: at this typing we do not know for sure what the exact result of the referendum of December 2 was (2). The CNE uses the lamest of excuses: “the final result will not be affected anyway, the NO won”. This is so wrong on so many levels that one does not know where to start. Is the CNE that incompetent? What are they hiding? How can any political party come up with electoral strategies if the votes are not well counted? When comes November the election of Governor X shows a “positive trend” for his victory, should we accept this as good enough? Then again it seems that for chavismo this is not a problem: the PSUV internal elections results will not be published altogether, as explained at the start of this post. Now, EVEN if we assumed that a case could be made for incomplete result publication for a national referendum where the trend is clear, how could we ever accept that for the election of a small town mayor which might be decided with a handful of votes? It is easy to imagine all the controversy that will happen when local elections results are contested next November with a CNE that will make it impossible for the self proclaimed victim to go to courts to settle the issue. The potential for mischief and discouragement of this situation has not been exploited yet, but be sure that chavismo is ready to make the most out of it.

Outright cheating. I am placing this as a new category because there are now so many ways that the government and Chavez through the CNE have used to cheat indirectly that the temptation for outright electoral rigging will be very difficult to resist. Outright cheating under Chavez has been widely suspected and, as far as I am concerned, proven. However there is one thing that has made it impossible to pursue this until the very end: the refusal of the opposition political parties to make a stand on that issue. This is something that has been often decried in this blog when complaining about the opposition political parties: in an election there was cheating or there was not. If there was cheating, it is the duty of political parties to go until the bitter end to fight it. If they cannot prove it, or if chavismo indeed won a given election, THEN the opposition political establishment must accept the result. It is the failure of opposition leaders to submit to this litmus test that has been, in my opinion, the main cause to the still large abstention movement that has wrecked so much damage for the opposition at election time. Indeed, it is disheartening to vote for folks that have no backbone, that will not defend the vote you cast for them. Watching this sorry spectacle for the past 4 years will be the main inducement for chavismo to finally cross the line of outright cheating. Why should they fear for a strong response if outright cheating is only observed at some key places that chavismo deems vital, such as placing Mario Silva in Carabobo? Why should not chavismo bet that if they hand to the opposition 4 or 5 states they will accept to be robbed of 2 or 3 states?

The campaign theme.

Notice that I did not even put the plural in the subtitle above. The easiest part of this post to write is precisely this: what platform will Chavez chose to run on, or rather, demand his candidates to run on?

Right off the bat we know what he will not run on: states and cities right. The failed constitutional reform was meant to abolish regional organizations through atomization of the power structure so as to make it totally dependent of the central government grants. A new form of centralization, and an effective gutting of popular power. Thus none of the candidates promoted by chavismo will unfurl the banner of local particularism, they will all run on their support to Chavez and the need for the region to vote for them to ensure that Caracas will favor them. Any local project will be promoted with something like “if you want this, then you need to vote for me otherwise Caracas will never give you the credits for that”. It will be more subtly stated but I can assure you that he message will be crystal clear for the masses.

But if the local masses still have any doubt Chavez has already set to work on clarifying any doubt. His main and unique campaign slogan so far is that voting for the opposition is voting against him, is voting for the evil empire, is voting against the revolution and thus “no volveran!” is the cri du jour. How chavistas will convince Cocorote voters to vote for their man if not the Marines will land on helicopter at Cocorote empty fields to set a base and go on overthrowing Chavez remains to be seen, but that is the strategy that Chavez will use. After all he has no choice: 4 years controlling of all but two states and more than two thirds of town halls have demonstrated what a sorry lot we gave us 4 years ago. The record cannot be defended and it is better to pretend that all were traitors to begin with, that we must start anew form scratch with this time true revolutionaries and that we must unite against Colombia and the US. As a primal theme of campaign it is difficult to fall any lower. Will the country be stupid enough to fall for it? Will Chavez avoid the extraordinary cross over tendency of Venezuelans when they vote at the local level? (3)

We will see, but the gamble has been set by Chavez. Now the question is what the opposition will do about it.

PD: the fist installment of this overview of the November election can be found here. It would help to read it if you do not understand some of the stuff written here, as I do try to avoid repetitiveness. In a few days I will write on the opposition and my first predictions for November.

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

1) The last election that has been accepted by all without question has been the December 1998 vote who gave us now 10 years of curse. Every other election has been questioned either as far as it legality or its conduction or its results, not forgetting “all of the above”.

2) At this typing, not a single result from at any Venezuelan embassy has been reported on the web page of the CNE. One could perhaps argue that some ballots were lost at some distant location. but how come that 6 months after the vote the results of Miami consulate are not known? There is no excuse.

3) 2004 regional elections were run under the cloud of the failed recall election bid, as huge chunks of opposition voters staid home. It is thus more useful to go back to the 200o elections. Then many states gave a victory to Chavez while electing by a similar margin an opposition candidate for governor. This year election will see a much more combative opposition and a much discredited chavista political class while Chavez will not be on the ballot. The cross voting tradition might make a stunning come back.

-The end-

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fumigating the evidence: the FARC laptops stench

Since the Reyes/FARC laptops appeared, the ONLY defense that chavismo had found was that they are all fake, manipulated stuff. Well, maybe, but unfortunately Chavez has done enough pro FARC actions before to make these laptops unnecessary to establish his links with those criminal drug traffickers, no matter how hard his media offensive goes. The laptops merely give juicy details. The damage is done no matter what and Chavez knows that very well as he tries to distract folks attention by screaming "computer fraud" in the vain hope that folks will forget about all what he said about the FARC since last year. Weill summarizes this quite well today, the silly strategy and its failure.

Sorry boss, it is maxed up!

-The end-

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The FARC with Venezuelan uniforms?

One of the curious thing about the welcome demise of Marulanda, the infamous FARC chief of decades, is the fashion and botany discussions that it provokes. It is all centered around the communique of a certain chief, code named Tymochenko (from a famous USSR general I assume). By itself the video, that I did not bother to mention then, was a silly grandiloquent affair, full of cold, cold war clichés. Timochenko did look pathetically old to be making such a speech by the way. Surely after the death and hand amputation by his body guards of Ivan Rios, I suppose that the FARC had no one young enough with enough authority to make the speech, an interesting detail about the fossilization of the FARC if you ask me.

But there are people who are paid to scrutinize any information tied up with the FARC and they have just given us some interesting tidbits. The first analysis was on the details that surrounded Teemochenko. Apparently he is wearing a Venezuelan military uniform. Noticias Uno of Colombia gives us a lovely fashion show video comparing Chavez own uniform with the one of Timoshenco. Then again this detail by itself cannot be taken as definitive: poor FARC guerrilla on the run might have stolen Venezuelan uniforms through audacious cross border raids. We are the victims!!!

But today there is a new video also offered by Noticias Uno. This time we look at the botanical surrounding. At the end of the obituary of Marulanda, Tymochenco wants us to believe that he is reading from the THE MOUNTAIN JUNGLES OF Colombia. Well, according to the expert, the plants around Teemoshenko come from the low areas of Amazonia or Orinoquia, that is, close to the plains of the Orinoco and Amazon. Even more, the botanist says that the landscape was "intervenido" which means that it was not closed jungle but a more open environment (cut down through man intervention). You can figure out that by yourself when you see the lonely tall standing tree behind the announcer, indeed a very rare vision ion a real jungle. It seems indeed that the guy is standing next to some field or pasture, and not in the mountain.

Other questions also came to the forefront, even from the BBC. First, there might be a fence close to the spokes-guerrilla. That is, we are not in the jungle and we might be in some farm or distant settlement. When we consider that at least three video cameras were used to make the video, that some folks seem to detect the hum of a generator, then we might at least be at the end of a road so all that materiel could be carried. At the very least Timo was alone, no rag tag guerrilla honor guard was shown as it would have been fitting for such an epochal moment. Not to mention the editing capacities that the craft of the video imply, not the kind of editing that can be made on the run in the jungle, according to some experts.

There are also questions about the timing that the BBC worries about. Hernando Salazar even guesses that the video had long be made but its release was sped up by Colombia's government announcement. Also the video does not carry any funeral/dead images of Marulanda. Did he really die of a heart attack or was he blown by a bomb and they could not get any funeral footage?

Finally, the big question for us in Venezuela: how much of this did Chavez know? His spokespeople like Piedad Cordoba would like us to believe that they knew nothing and that they were surprised. Unfortunately this is hard to believe. The video already brings an evidence on this: Who did edit it? How come Telesur seems to always have the scoops on the FARC? Remember: TeleSur is just a chavista CNN. Coincidence? I think not. In fact I think that Chavez knew all along and that he might have been involved in how they planned to announce the death of Marulanda, maybe even more than just obituary planning. The FARC are on the run, in need of fallback positions and money, with clear manifestation of support from Chavez for now several months, telltale laptops, and more. You draw your own conclusions, but mine are that Chavez is even involved in the selection of Marulanda replacement. I would not go as far as saying that Chavez has become the real head of the FARC as Fernando Londoño blithely assumes, but that he has a hand in what goes on inside the FARC I have no doubt.

-The end-

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Creative forms of apartheid: The Russian list in Venezuela elections

A few days ago the UCAB president wrote a major OpEd piece in El Nacional. The subject was Clodosvaldo Russian decision to bar more than 400 folks from running in the November local election. I will get back on this in more details in an oncoming post. For now I will just state that the decision of Russian, the greatest enabler of Chavez and the corruption that sustains his regime, is unconstitutional as this vile individual pretends that an ill written law is above the constitution.

The OpEd piece of Ugalde, a Jesuit priest leading perhaps the most prestigious private campus in Venezuela is noteworthy as it brings our attention to the contemptible complacency of many people inside chavismo and the opposition. In a way it is a sad comment of the degree of moral turpitude that we in Venezuela seem to have reached after 10 years of degrading chavismo. That inner chavismo seems every day more morally corrupt is not a surprise: absolute power and absolute corruption do corrupt absolutely. But what is much graver is that the opposition reactions to the new apartheid like Russian list seem to indicate that the moral corruption reaches there too, that at least within the political class there is not much hope for regeneration for our country.

The translation next.

Forbidden to chose/vote (1)

Luis Ugalde (UCAB president)

I am one of the 20 million Venezuelans who has never belonged to a political party.

In my case as a priest I will never belong, for obvious reasons. But I am a militant of democracy and social justice, where human rights and dignity are at stake and do not understand how democrats, from either the government and the opposition sides are letting go the serious attacks against democracy these days.

Why we Venezuelans, six months after the December 2007 referendum, do not have the final result? In which democracy can remain in office a Defence Minister who called cowards and donkeys most of his colleagues because they identify with the military institutions of the Armed Forces, as required by the Constitution? How can he be a sincere democrat who from the presidency states and requires from his followers: 'Repeat that those who vote for the opposition want war'? As much a lie as 'whoever votes for the opposition will do this for a plan to split Venezuela in pieces and give to Colombia or the Empire’. These are desperate efforts to polarize the country with irresponsible slanderous inventions.

More serious is the decision by the Comptroller that forbade to run for office and be elected some 400 people, expressly violating article 42 of the Constitution which reads: 'The exercise of citizenship or any political rights can only be suspended by final court judgment in the cases determined by law '.

If the comptroller has time on his hands and does not know what to do, there are tens of billions of dollars that the Government has granted and spent against the law and even against the Constitution, within and outside the country.

Who is the Comptroller obeying to as he violates the Constitution? Why the silence from the Supreme Court and the CNE? Where are the Democrats, from the opposition and government, hiding? We are told that in Belarus (Iran also has its methods) similar disqualifications have been the way to shore up the dictatorship.

Faced with this infamy, we are surprised by the silence from the government side, and we are affronted by the opposition silence; it would seem that some clumsy and visionless individuals are making petty calculations to see how they can benefit from the unconstitutional proscription affecting their colleagues. So were some opposition parties in September last year before the terrible threat of an adoption of the totalitarian Constitution.

We found cynical, but very likely, the explanation then given us: none of them would gamble against the authoritarian constitution that will end with democracy, because they do not want to pay the price of the December defeat. As students did not fear paying the price, and did fear losing democracy and freedom, they gave the battle to which later all joined to achieve victory.

Most Venezuelan democrats are not enthused with some opposition leaders because they do not see them stirred against flagrant violations of the Constitution, but instead doing shameful calculations. It seems that the tree of a small election prevents them from seeing the forest for democracy. Venezuelans want to see resolute leaders against mismanagement and corruption, leaders identified with the themes of social justice within democracy. Venezuela has hope and future, but lacks a strong democratic project, with parties and organizations determined to forge ahead.

No matter what political hue the proscribed individuals are, this is a non-negotiable principle. If the supreme finger achieves a paralysis of all the legal ways, then democracy will have to be defended in the streets. Do not expect the democrats to earn the confidence of the country without the courage and unity required to defend the Constitution on this issue of the proscribed.

There is no 'final verdict’ from any judge against these 400, and in accordance with the Constitution, they are not prohibited from running. In addition, those who violate the Constitution by preventing their choice, 'incur criminal, civil and administrative responsibility according to the case'.

It would be a grave mistake if political parties, student movements and citizen organizations allow that the electoral triumph is snatched from many candidates because, irresponsibly, a certain comptroller ordered the violation of the Constitution.

1) the Spanish title is a pun of sorts based on some local civilian organizations.

-The end-

Oppenheimer, the FARC, Chavez, Obama and OAS

Busy, as I was traveling, I am only catching up. Thanks to a hat tip of PB I looked at recent articles of Andres Oppenheimer at the Miami Herald. As usual he has one of the clearest views of what is going in LatAm and how the US reacts to it.

The first one to cite is an interview he did with Barak Obama just before he did a major speech on Latin America in front of a Cuban audience. I am glad to see that I agree with him: Obama did his homework, which is good, but there is still a need to watch out for his sincerity and commitment on Latin America. An excellent first step, but only a step.

The other two OpEd pieces deal of course with the FARC and Chavez-Correa association with them. The opening paragraph on the Interpol report says it all:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Ecuadorean counterpart Rafael Correa can scream and yell as loud as they want, but the fact is that they have been caught red-handed supporting a terrorist group that is trying to topple the democratically elected government of Colombia.
This piece asks four very pointed questions as to how the different players will assume their responsibilities, namely Chavez, Correa, Lula and the OAS (including the Lat Am presidents getting fat checks from Chavez). The Lula mention is particularly telling as he considers the Venezuelan president who has allied himself without any need to the FARC, a criminal organization, as the best Venezuelan president in 100 years. Yes, we are waiting for Lula new words on that now that his pal is a proven common criminal.

The third piece gives us already one of the answers: nothing much can be expected form a cowardly OAS and its Secretary General who everyday is sinking lower in disgrace. It is simply amazing how Secretary Jose Insulza has put up with Chavez grievous insults to his persona and has become one of his main enablers. Simply put, one cannot fail to wonder what horrible blackmail tool does Chavez hold on him. Because of course the other explanation is that Insulza is a stupid jerk, which no ones wants to believe. So, Insulza, what gives? Will you do your job as OAS secretary or will you be courting Chavez money for your planned Chile presidential campaign?

Or maybe indeed it is all simply, as Oppenheimer suggests, a case of collective cowardice, from Colombia to Insulza.
If everybody keeps looking the other way, and nobody even asks for a probe on the files' content, welcome to the law of the jungle!
Munich all over again?

It is not useless to remind that Chavez has no gratitude with any, that all what he touches turns into, well, you know. And that as long as he breathes in the Miraflores palace he will subvert any institution, any regime, any country that he might perceive as an obstacle on his way. Exactly as Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Castro and even Peron did. Same difference when all is said and done, just a different methods and body bag counts.

Still, among all of these cowards we cannot help but be impressed by the worst of the lot, the one without any excuse: Insulza. At least Lula racks billions for Brazil. Insulza has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to show for his meretricious work.

-The end-

BREAKING NEWS! Andres Izarra resigns!!!!


In a stunning development I just saw on TV the communication minister resigning. The reason? He takes upon himself the decision of having "commercialized" the images of VTV, as I explained in absolute outrage early this morning.

I thought it was fishy and I am glad, for once, to congratulate the higher government echelons of Chavez who realized the foolishness of Izarra actions; even more so from a government who thrives on media exposure.

I suppose that again VTV will be free of charge, as it should be. It is up to the ministers of the government to behave and stop saying nonsense, not to Izarra to have Yuri Pimentel to charge for such inanities. By the way, my guess seems to have been good, it did not come from Pimentel but from his boss, who is fired from the same job for the second time. Ah! one cannot get good help these days.. :)

UPDATE: so how does Chavez face a major scandal? He calls for yet another cadena. It started two hours ago, the excuse being some medics coming back from their indoctrination course, errh, specialization course in Cuba. He is handing them their new job. For that we need a long cadena, a hijacking of ALL Venezuelan media so nobody can discuss on TV the disgraced (again) communication minister. So an abuse is hidden by another abuse. Democratic and responsible chavismo at work.

-The end-

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Censorship in Venezuela: now the opposition is forbidden from showing the government actions

One year after taken RCTV from the air waves, the chavista censors have found a way to silence Globovison. Or at least dull considerably their ability to expose the misdeeds of the government: from now on any second lifted from the open broadcast transmission of VTV will be charged at the exorbitant rate of 56 USD. That is, every 30 second that is used by Globovision (and others, cable or open air signal, it does not matter as Globovision is the real target) will cost 1674 USD. And this payable every time it is retransmitted. The memorandum sent by VTV director, ineffable Yuri Pimentel, is worthy of detailed scrutiny as it reveals the clear censorship intentions of the government through VTV.

The first paragraph is a masterpiece of arrogance.

[the state TV, the 24/24 pro chavez propaganda channel at tax payer expense] in defense of its property and its most important asset, which is the the signal that they emit daily to 90% of the national territory; considering that it witness daily the indiscriminate use of its broadcast, through retransmission, by private broadcaster for commercial aims and other, has decided to establish the following payment schedule.

So here we are, the state TV who serves only Chavez, who rarely if ever allows any opposition view inside, will also charge for its broadcast. This would sound pretty reasonable IF THERE WERE another open air broadcast, paid by tax payer, that has 90% coverage of the country and where the political opposition would have, said, at least 40% of air time. IT DOES NOT. The TV stations that air opposition point of views are only private and are limited to regional transmission or to cable. That is the case of RCTV who covered 90% of the country and who now is limited to the 28% homes share of the cable. That is the case of Globovision who fares somewhat better as it also operates with an open signal Caracas and Valencia which roughly gives it a 40% national reach. That is the case of any local TV who individually reach at the very most a 10-15% of the population of Venezuela.

Some of you would said still at this point, "so what?". Let me first point out that a self styled socialist government suddenly considers as private property what belongs to ALL Venezuelans. Indeed, the vary same slogan of VTV is "el canal de todos los Venezolanos" stressing on the 'todos', the networks of ALL Venezuelans. As thus any Venezuelan should be able to use its transmissions since we all pay for them with our taxes, INCLUDING private media broadcasters. But let's move beyond this primal contradiction of the sick mind of Pimentel and those who ordered him to do that (I do not think that he is intelligent enough to come up with this strategy, though he is vicious enough).

If you still find nothing really wrong with that, which by now should mean that you are either a Chavez supporter or simply do not follow regularly how the news are broadcast INSIDE Venezuela, let me explain to you who the real target of this measure is.

RCTV was closed one year ago in what was perhaps the greatest political error of chavismo, even including the FARC recognition. Yet, in spite of this, RCTV through cable managed to gain the highest morning ratings with the talk show La Entrevista, which uses a lot of VTV footage to examine and criticize governmental actions. In the afternoon, in spite of all sorts of attempt, Alo Ciudadano reigns over the ratings from 5 to 8 PM at Globovision, not to mention Grado 33 from 8 to 8:30 PM. Neither VTV nor the neutralized Venevision and Televen have been able to do anything about this as even chavistas watch these spaces.

And why folks watch these spaces? Because VTV only offers propaganda, because the other private networks offer nothing and because through snippets taken from VTV Globovision and RCTV expose the mediocrity and failures and contradictions of the chavista regime. That is why there is a surprisingly large number of chavista who watch these networks, because they get the arguments they need for the internal chavista discussions.

But some of you might still not be impressed. After all you could say that Globovision should send its own camera folks to cover what they need and thus create their very own footage. Good, excellent point of course. Except for one thing: Globovision or RCTV are not allowed in most official functions or press conferences of government officials and thus MUST USE the VTV signal as it is most of the time the only source available for the declaration of such and such minister or chavista politician. When was the last time that Chavez gave a real press conference to ALL Venezuelan media? How often have you seen on TV ministers making important declarations ONLY in front of the microphones of RNV or VTV, and in a discrete hallway at that, as a perfect set up to make sure no embarrassing question shall rise?

By forcing Globovision to pay for ANYTHING taken from VTV in fact the government exerts almost direct censorship: the ability of Globovision to transmit information will be considerably limited, serious criticism of governmental measures at Globovision will be blocked as it cannot show the actual facts and thus risks lacking credibility by only "speaking" about things and not "showing" things, a crucial element in this media era. And the case for other services is even worse: Globovision could still afford the occasional snippet when it is really, really important, but local providers and RCTV simply cannot afford the fees of VTV as too much of their meager advertisement income would be swallowed (RCTV had to reduce its staff by 50% and one year after is still fighting to avoid outright bankruptcy). For all practical purposes, if this measures goes into effect, the access to information of the Venezuelan people will be severely damaged as all official information will have to come through the rosy filter of VTV. And let's not forget one additional benefit for VTV: since much less of its stuff can be now shown, since its editorial abuses will be less prone to scrutiny, we can easily imagine that creeps like Mario Silva at La Hojilla will feel even freer to slander opposition figures without these ones having the recourse to defend themselves at the remaining free channels.

Censorship, as simple as that.

Note: as an added insult to injury, VTV states that all all emissions featuring Chavez and official events will be free of charge, and only if these are shown during news hours. HOWEVER, if any editing is done they will be charged. The memo does not precise if simply shortening of a given speech is considered editing.... Since the words of Chavez are sacred, we can expect that even removal or portions will be considered editing.

And of course no word as to VTV paying Globovison or RCTV for all the transmissions that they get from them to show at slander shows such as La Hojilla.

And even less if private networks will be compensated from the loss of revenue from awful cadenas as the one last night.

-The end-

Chavez, the bitter man

Venezuela for the first time will have 100 qualified athletes to the Olympic games. Thus of course Chavez tries to get credit for this. Though he should not because all the big sports movement in Venezuela, as the music youth orchestras, were established BEFORE he came to office. The only merit we can give him is that he did not tore them down (yet!).

So, what does he do? Yes, you guessed it, he called for a cadena. This might not be too bad but Chavez been Chavez, it quickly turned out to the nightmare. A group of uniformed athletes were exhibited on one side of the podium like some trophy hunt. A huge specially made expensive board was put on the background. And Chavez spoke for about two hours about anything that embitters him these days, which is a lot. Anger and hate suppurated under his words quite often. Oh yes, he did talk a little bit about sports too, but that was just the excuse for the cadena. Meanwhile the athletes who should be training or resting where taken hostages to Chavez verbiage. I must agree with Rory Carroll, Chavez is losing his political touch.

-The end-

Monday, May 26, 2008

The 2008 election gambles: part 1, Chavez’s angst

May first brought once again to the forefront the divided country that Venezuela has become. There were two “workers” marches convoked. One to praise Chavez, with dozens and dozens of buses coming from all around at tax payer expense, all passengers adequately uniformed in red, brandishing whatever slogan du jour. The other one was a more heteroclite affair made of actual workers, mostly from Caracas. But there was a difference this time: the opposition workers march was barred from its final outcome by an extraordinary display of police and soldiers that betrayed only one thing: chavismo is running scared.

It is clear to all that the December 2 referendum has changed the political course of the country. With Chavez aura of invincibility gone, not only his followers are less likely to put up with all of his antics, but a new type of opposition, now emboldened by its success believes that the end of the regime is not a farfetched hypothesis anymore. What the opposition is doing these days is the subject of a following post.

The pressing events of the past few months, from the pro FARC debacle, through the new wave of nationalization and to the difficulty in locking up the PSUV configuration give a clear picture of what Chavez problems are and how he would try to win the regional elections next November. But before getting into this once again the reader must be reminded what are the real objectives of Chavez and what does he disposes to reach them.

What Chavez wants

It is very simple: Chavez wants to remain in office for life. For the time being his aim is thwarted by the December 2 2007 defeat but he still has more than 4 years to find a way around this obstacle. This need is exacerbated with the debacle of the Anderson Case where, after the financial corruption, the moral corruption of the regime is for all to see: once Chavez is not anymore in office, once the judicial power is freed of his control, a boatload of chavistas, including Chavez, are going to find their sorry asses in court, on the accused benches for a welcome change. In other words, the only way that a few hundred of folks can keep enjoying their loot is for Chavez to remain in office ad perpetuum, including the Chavez family who have carved a nice little fiefdom in Barinas. Not understanding this makes it impossible to understand anything else that is going on in Venezuela these days.

What Chavez has

He has two things: the oil check book and the people that are still with him. The oil check book is something nice and handy and with a lot of reach, in particular these days where a decreased Venezuelan oil production is nicely compensated with an oil barrel flirting with 130 USD. In fact some economist think that the misiones and his foreign actions are financed directly by oil, bypassing normal budgetary procedures (and staling funds that should go to the individual states). Day to day state functions are financed by a large portion of the oil income and by the SENIAT who every day is taxing more and more as the state expenses increase more and more. The taxation burden in Venezuela is reaching unbearable proportions, not from the amount of money taxed but because the tax payers are getting less and less in return. More than ever taxing is robbing the rich to give to the crooks, and, accessorily, the poor. In democracy the rich (read, anyone paying taxes in Venezuela) do not mind that much that their taxes are used to buy social peace, but they also want pothole free roads and to be able to sleep tight at night.

But there is also another problem that chavismo is starting to feel: the stipends that they used to give to the huddled masses are not enough. When someone is used to get a certain amount of freebees after a while this amount does not seem so great anymore, the more so when the annual inflation is somewhere high above the 20% mark. That is, if instead of teaching to fish you give free food, well, people get fat and hungrier. In short, if Chavez does not hurry up to secure his permanent hold on the country, soon there will be not enough money to buy such control, no matter how high oil prices are. Social programs can reach only so far.

Of course that Chavez is surrounded by crooks able now to steal quickly millions of dollars through semi legal ways does not help him much. Corruption under Chavez has rotten the state faster and deeper than the corruption during the full 40 pre Chavez years. And yet Chavez has to work with such people: he is the one that turned a blind eye to corruption in the hope to secure a devoted base, if anything to blackmail this new caste if needed- Unfortunately, even if devoted to Chavez (often through necessity and inner chavismo scare tactics), such a base is incompetent.

The drama of Chavez is that he cannot attract good managers, or charitably put, not enough good managers. Competent people, people with good administrative skills have enough self worth that they do not need to work for Chavez, and are certainly not willing to put up with his lengthy cadenas where they must spend hours nodding so as not to fall asleep, where they cannot even get a glass of water nor a bathroom break, while hoping that they will not publicly be insulted by Chavez. To subject yourself to such public humiliation you are either a nobody that has no choice in life or you are a crook. A few years ago one could still give the benefit of the doubt to the Chavez entourage: today such benefit is not allowed anymore.

Thus Chavez is paying the price for surrounding himself with mediocrities, whose only value for him is an alleged blind loyalty. All the problems that are now associated with the regime, from potholes in the streets to crumbling hospitals, from food shortages to extraordinary import levels are due to the people in charge who are all, without exception after the departure of Vielma Mora, crooks or incompetents, or usually both.

Clearly, with that motley crew Chavez will not solve the problems of the country and yet he must rely on them to spread the oil manna. And win elections.

The problems at hand

Moral corruption. After the Isaias Rodriguez fiasco with the Anderson case, as the cover up cannot be hidden anymore, you have to be a really hard core chavista to pretend that everything is fine. True, there are plenty of those around left, but not enough to win a large election without cheating.

Financial corruption. That one cannot be hidden anymore. Paradoxically it is not too much of a problem for chavismo since too many people just want to plug in and see what they can get. Besides, the primitive political culture of too many Venezuelans lead them to think such silly things as “well, it is our side who is stealing, so what is the problem?”. Yet, the problem is slowly but surely eroding chavismo more moderate base. That Chavez is not really hanging anyone for corruption will eventually accelerate the demise of the regime, just as it sped up the demise of the pre Chavez years. There is only so much that people can put up with and that these days Venezuelans are particularly lax in morals do not mean that they have no moral.

Food and other shortages. The coupling of increased purchasing power of the masses with the failure of production to increase from the late 90ies levels have resulted in a catastrophic chronic food shortage in Venezuela that can only be palliated through massive, and increasingly expensive, imports. That is, the oil money is spent on food and eventually find its way to the sewers, instead of, say, new roads or new jobs. Regrettably for Chavez with the incompetents that surround him, it does not matter how much he will increase imports, he will not be able to solve the problem on even a medium term prospect. Once upon a time the solution would have simply been to allow the private sector to work without much harassment, but now even that would not enough. For ten years there has been a major neglect in the upkeep of the Venezuelan infrastructure and this now is reaching dramatic proportions. The increased volume of cars and trucks, and motor traffic, courtesy of oil at 100 USD is just overwhelming the road system. Now any truck carrying food spends twice as much time as it used to do 3 years ago to reach its destination. The railroad system is years form been completed and collapsing roads are ensuring that the problem of efficient food distribution is going to get worse before it gets better. Amen of any increase in food production which depends in large part on the circulation of crops and their needed supplies.

Insecurity. The crime wave is not abating no matter how much the government twists statistics. The back pages of the newspapers tell a tale: Iraq risks being favorably compared to Venezuela. The only solution to this problem is short term repression and long term plans and prosperity and real job creation. The government has demonstrated that it can only repress opposition and is devoid of any long term plans. These anyway probably would be useless since the ministry revolving doors make any new appointee come up with his own plan superseding any previous effort. Expect an upward trend in the murder rate. Besides, high crime is a way for the government to control the opposition. After all the big wigs of chavismo have several body guards paid at tax payer expense. Why should they worry about their own security? How can the relate with the masses? Why should they care? The more crime there is, the more scared the populace is and the less it will think about protesting Chavez policies.

Real jobs are not coming. Real jobs are only created when there is a real economic growth in production ventures. Imports, distribution and banking redistribution of populist supplies do not ensure a permanent growth in economic output. In other words as long as Chavez economic policies do not allow the private sector to grow, there will be no creation of real jobs and only the public sector and some services will be the ones creating a few jobs, with the fragility that this implies. Yet the problem is dramatic for the state. The first promotions of the new chavista universities (UBV, for example) are coming to graduation and the work training plans are churning out “graduates” by the thousands. They all have pretty much useless skills and too much political baggage for the private sector to hire any of them, assuming it were hiring. Legions of chronic jobless are starting to hit the streets of Venezuela, and they have been promised jobs. How will Chavez deliver?

The enemy within. The newly formed PSUV is already having all sorts of problems. The delay in its formation was apparently due to the near impossibility to put up a veneer of democratic hues over the need for Chavez to have a transmission vehicle totally reliable, military style. Starting for the claimed 5 million plus sing up in 2006 we ended up one year later to about 20% of the original claimed number voting in the PSUV internal “elections”. Of course, that was in part a consequence of an indirect tiered voting procedure which was designed to have Chavez favorites to win. Still, many did not, delaying further the final installation of the PSUV. As the candidates are been selected for November, the PSUV is showing considerable strain due to this deficient birthing.

And there are many more problems that could be listed, something normal for any regime that has already run for ten years and who is now devoid of ideas and who never was very creative to begin with. The question is what Chavez will make of this and how will he run a campaign which is crucial for his future. Any result where the opposition carries 8 or more states will be considered as a major defeat and cannot be spun as a democratic face-lift for the regime. Any result where the opposition gets 10 or more states will even question the chances for Chavez to reach the end of his term. Such a defeat will almost automatically trigger a recall election on the National Assembly and the loss of the chavista majority there. There is one thing I can vouch for: Chavez knows this very, very well.

-The end-

Reality check at Obama's campaign

I remember that during the last US campaign an incensed Eva Golinger thought that Kerry had it all wrong on Chavez and that she could not vote for him (I suppose she voted Nader, wasteful as she has always been). I wonder now what she would think of Obama first major speech on Latin America.

A few weeks ago this blogger bemoaned that Obama workers had Che posters in their offices. It is also fair and honest to say at this point, when all is near over at the Democratic camp that I preferred Hillary. Not out of love, mind you, but because I thought that what you saw what was you were getting. Obama just spoke too nicely, too worried to connect with the people. After 10 years of Chavez "connecting" with the people the reader will have to forgive me if I was/am Obama weary.... Ten years of chavismo have a way to develop strong allergies to snake charmers, military uniforms and red shirts among other things.

When I first read this speech (hat tip Gene) I was not too impressed. Yes, it seemed that Obama was getting it better on Latin America though he was not proposing real solutions. Then again he would be advised not to offer anything as long as he can get away with it since concrete proposals during a campaign can have often unexpected boomerang effects. But a second appreciation of the speech showed me that at least Obama had the ability to learn and that even if some of his supporters had Che in their office walls, that would not be enough to sway him. Maybe he has more of a backbone than I thought he had, even if he is only trying very hard to make inroads into the Latin vote. And if if his heart is not into it, even if to seduce Latinos was his only objective in this speech, well, at least he is doing it the right way and I must give credit where credit is due.

I do not know what an Obama presidency will do about Chavez but at least we are fixed on one thing: even if Obama fulfills an earlier promise to meet with Chavez soon in his presidency, he has no illusion about the man:
No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum.
And he is under no illusion about the lack of real democracy in Venezuela:
And we know that freedom across our hemisphere must go beyond elections. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration's blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened his hand.
As Miguel wrote, someone at Obama camp read our blogs, and I would add, the WSJ columns of Maria Anastasia O'Grady :) Speaking of Miguel, he went through the live speech and noticed the following sentence:
We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders.
Very interesting coming from someone who opposed the trade deal with Colombia. Once he is president I think that Uribe will be received at the White House way before Chavez is received. No wonder Uribe has been rather low key after the Pelosi gang stopped the vote on the trade deal: he probably knows better, that Obama and Pelosi might not be such good friends after all, that it was just campaign talk. Because if there is one major difference between Colombia diplomacy and Chavez one, is that the Colombian one does take the time to study the complexities of the US political landscape. Not for them the Manichean simplicity of the ambassadors dispatched by Chavez to Washington.

Today Chavez should be very worried: all US presidential candidates are now on solid record at considering that he is a thug. Well, they put it more nicely than me by using polite words such as' demagogue', but they know.

Finally to conclude this. When Condi Rice made it to State I thought that she would be much better than Colin Powell. But I have been very disappointed. True, Iraq and the Middle East leave her with very little time for LatAm. But what has been missing is a clear indication that Latin America was important for the US. The late modest success such as the Bush visit to Brazil and Uruguay had a certain afterthought flavor, a "we must do something" feel of urgency. Obama is justified when he mentions "clumsy attempts". I am certainly not ready yet to raise my hopes on an Obama presidency as to a better containment of Chavez, but as of now I must admit he has gained credibility. And he must have pissed Chavez a lot in his primal reverse racism. I would have loved to be the fly on the wall when Chavez read the translation of the speech (that is, if the failed bus driver turned foreign minister had the balls to show it to Chavez).

-The end-

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reality check at London's Mayor office

With the departure of "red" Ken Livingstone from the London Mayor office (not too soon), the new Mayor, Boris Johnson, brings back some reality in the day to day workings. One of his first measures is to put an end to one of the most scandalous and perverse subsidies known to us, the one where Chavez subsidizes transport in London through discounted oil price. Yes, that is right, the president of one of the most run down cities in Latin America, Caracas, with staggering poverty problems, utterly deficient mass transit and irremediably clogged streets was subsidizing one of the wealthiest cities in the World, London. The sole reason for the deal was to shore up the sagging fortunes of Ken Livingstone while getting a pro Chavez propaganda office in London sponsored by its mayor. Birds of a feather.....

In one of these revealing moments, Ken Livingstone, who apparently is unable to get a hint, declared that Boris Johnson was crewing the poor of London. Of course, "red" Ken has absolutely no sympathy for the poor of Caracas, demonstrating that in populism some poor are more equal than other poor. Not to mention his cynicism in declaring that suppressing the traffic advisory from London to Caracas was affecting the poor here. Clearly, Red Ken never sat his sorry butt in a buseta at Caracas at peak hour.


The G400+ of Caracas of which I am a founding signatory has something to do with the speedy decision of Johnson. Not that we hope that the money that was sent to London will come back in improving Caracas transportation system for the poor, but at least the obscene deal is off and we slap Chavez and one of his most cynical supporters. We also helped show that Chavez eventually brings bad luck to whomever takes money from him.

-The end-

Marulanda dead?


Tirofijo/Shureshot Marulanda would be dead according to Colombian defense ministry. They challenge the FARC to prove them wrong. The new leader would be a certain Cano, an alleged intellectual. Marulanda started as a genuine guerrilla fighter and became a drug trafficker cum kidnapping/extortion racket "businessman". Along the way the FARC went from a political movement to the scum of Colombia, able to deal with the "paracos" when needed. It is in fact difficult to decide which of the two organizations was the worst one since the political aims of the paramilitaries and the FARC might have been on paper different but in practice equally repulsive.

What does this mean for Chavez? Who knows.... One thing is certain anyway, Chavez threw his dice for the FARC with a really bad timing.

What does this mean for Ingrid Betancourt? who knows... it can equally speed up her delivery as well as locking up her in the jungles for eons until the FARC sorts out the Marulanda succession.

What does this mean for Colombia? Any FARC leader that dies or is caught can only be good news. That more of such good news are needed is a reality, but right now let's be happy that the world is rid of yet another mass murderer, thug, villain, piece of scum or any other adjective you might prefer.

Update: Miguel tells us in the comment that the death is confirmed and it is here. For a perspective of what it means, El Tiempo gives a good article here.

-The end-

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I am baaaack....

And before starting to scare chavistas again, let me introduce a new an excellent satirical blog in Spanish: El Chigüire Bipolar (The bi-polar capybara, so yes, it sounds better in Spanish, so sue me). Note: not only chavistas can get really scared form that new blog, but the opposition can also shake in its pants.

-The end-

Monday, May 19, 2008

Delta Amacuro News and Views (4)

The Waraos: integration, acculturation, domination or extinction?

The original inhabitants of the Delta Amacuro are the Waraos (also spelled Güaraos) and they are perhaps the largest Venezuela tribe still living relatively close to their original lifestyle (1). Or do they? On one side they are very penetrated by modern trinkets and goodies (the amount of piraguas with motors tells you the story as soon as you sail off Boca de Uracoa) but on the other hand the uncompromising nature of the delta forces them to compromise as much with nature as they have been doing for millennia. No matter how the XXI century intrudes in their lives, at almost each turn you can be reminded of past ways, still very much present and sometimes very much actual, such as this late afternoon family outing.

In a way there was something oddly disturbing about inquiring about the Warao's lives: their villages follow the edge of the water, their huts lack walls and thus intimacy seems an unknown concept. Straight from the boat you travel in, you can scrutinize the whole village and its life within the cabins built on stilts, palafitos . Settlements range from the single palafito claim to perhaps a row of a few dozens platforms. But they are always along the water. It does make sense: there is probably better ventilation, the jungle behind is mostly on mud flats and with more mosquitoes than the river edge. Thus it is easy to have a direct peak into a Warao village, such as this much less idyllic image, yet quite telling.

Here you can see the old style open air living, now cluttered with civilization's offerings: motored piraguas, electronic devices and Direct TV. That is right, I was surprised at how many Direct TV dishes I saw in some villages whose electricity is provided by a small generator, probably not running all day long. I suppose that it is a great opportunity for any anthropologist to visit in a hurry the Delta remote villages to study how Direct TV and its profusion of media choices affect the world vision of the Waraos. As for the rest, as it has always been the case, any belonging that can be hung from the roof beams is still hung high, giving an oppressively cluttered feel in spite of the lack of walls. From my water roach scare, I can understand why concepts such as shelves are of little use.

Fishing seems to be still the main source of living, and judging for the amount of motor boats and the very nice and huge nets that on occasion one can see, tended with great care by the natives, it must bring a relatively significant income. I would guess that due to the climate, the lack of refrigeration and the limited really cultivable land, regular fish has to be the main source of fresh protein.

This picture also offers us a glimpse of a major problem of the area: the lack of real good fresh water as we can observe from the large blue plastic buckets seen everywhere. The river water in the Delta is indeed of poor quality, and too salty as you near the coasts where the powerful tides run deep inland.

That picture also allows us to see somewhat the organization of these modern day villages. You can see in the background the electric networks of the village, that follows the river, as does the boardwalk that serves as main street. Yet you can also see what is lacking as far as public services: for example obvious sewers (there might be a sewer system but I could not see it). Outhouses are appearing, relatively rare but you can see them such as the left scene of a family getting the bounty from some scouring party. And this stress again the problem of water and hygiene in such a watery zone: all falls directly in the river, giving a new meaning to "the river giveth and the river taketh". We also must note that this palafito has rustic walls in addition of an out house, indicating that some families are becoming more aware of privacy issues.

These pictures come from the villages of La Isla and Winamorena, the two most "advanced" we saw. La Isla was advanced enough to have a modern play ground, on stilts of course. And it comes, as everywhere, with a political poster to laud the great works of the government. I wonder by the way if the profusion of Direct TV, which transmits Globovision and RCTV, is something that chavismo can be thankful of. Still, we could see everywhere that state money was spent on these villages at the edge of the world. But is it well spent?

I had several talks with my local guide as I tried to gain his trust. Eventually I learned a few interesting tidbits. Many projects have been offered and many financed. Yet many were not completed or completed well under initial expectations. In fact apparently the natives feel robbed as part of the funds is simply spirited away by the "criollos". Yes, that is how the local refer to the emissaries of main land, the public officials. Just as the "criollos" refereed to the emissary from Spain as "continentales" or "españoles y canarios". Amusing, no? Whatever it is, clearly there is separation between the Waraos and the mainlanders, be they tourists like me, or "criollos" public servants. I certainly will not be one to reproach that to them: we bought them enough grief! And I am afraid that in spite Direct TV and fast boats, grief is still coming. After all, the "criollos" do have their own compounds where they reside in these villages: compounds with walls as privacy does matter for them. They looked odd and even threatening in a way as no real effort to integrate is seen, except for the need to build on stilts!

And what about the people? Well, those I saw on these villages were nice looking and looked healthy enough. They were also welcoming and definitely not camera shy, enjoying, I would dare to say, waving to tourists as they take their pictures. And that I saw everywhere, from the villages we sailed by to the the curiaras we crossed in little creeks. Perhaps the omnipresence of the river, the ever possibility to get lost or stranded somewhere makes you want to befriend all as you never know when and from whom you will need help.

There is also of course the wish to score something with potential tourists willing to purchase the very nice goods made by these people. On the left there is even a floating store that paddled close to us as we were waiting for the sunset on the Manamo. A mother with some girls, ravishing by the way. And they were paddling paddling this weakest of curiararas, breaking up at the tip and held with a rope. I assume and hope that these girls knew how to swim...

Children seemed everywhere happy. I am certain that they do suffer some hardship but I never saw any child that was clearly malnourished, or scared, afraid of us. Any nudity, with young boys, was a matter of climate and boys playing in dirt rather than the inability to clothe them with some old rag. By the way, note in the background of these three children a small red poster: politics at home!.

But the river is obviously a great playground which probably makes the lives of these kids much happier than in many a place in Venezuela. And for all its turbidity, there is so much water everywhere, and it moves so much courtesy of the tides, that it might not be that bad after all (heck, I even went for a swim one day at noon). In fact, the water in spite of all the rejects going into it, might be a positive health factor after all as children are never that dirty since they can "wash" regularly....

At La Culebrita, a third village and a less developed one we managed to go ashore and see from close how a Warao village looked like. It was truly something, learning more than what we had bargained for.

In the above picture you have main street (and only street) at La Culebrita (Little Snake), a broad walk wide enough for two people to cross, with the usual assortment of stray dogs and chickens seen in any small village of Venezuela. That they are on stilts is only a detail. As usual all is open air and as you walk along you have a direct peak into the people habitat. And even though we are more inland here, water remains a problem as all the plastic blue typical reservoirs of Venezuela can be seen.

One interesting detail is the kitchen, something difficult to appreciate from a cruising boat. Since there is no solid ground where to set the fire, the traditional ways of the Waraos was to dry some mud and put it on a wood frame. This way it was far from the ground and could become a serviceable area for cooking, as you can see on the picture on the right above.

There were also some common areas to be seen. I suppose that what is next on the right side was the pub equivalent. Of all the thatched homes we saw in this village only two were not occupied on a permanent fashion: the one where we landed that served as a market of sorts (where the natives quickly came to display they wares in the hope we would buy something) and this space, littered with beer cans from a previous event. There was also a small "room" on the right side with a petrol stove which apparently served to fry appetizers of sorts for that particular bash.

This of course raises two questions: alcoholism? and hygiene/garbage disposal? It is clear from what I saw that alcohol, at least in the form of abundant Polar Light, has made his entry in the Delta, and that is not recent. In fact, recent social programs can only have increased access to booze for the locals. When we sailed in front of the villages we wondered about the lack of men. That is, what we most saw where women and children and the very few men we saw where clearly divided in two groups: drunks and fishermen tending their nets. We can assume that most men were indeed fishing or scouring the Delta riches, but some where drunk on a Monday at 2 PM. You can draw your own conclusions.

As for garbage and hygiene. Let 's say that 50 years ago this was not a problem. 95 % of the goods that the Waraos might have handled back then where "bio degradable", that is, made from what they found in nature and discarded in nature as needed. Besides there was not that much to discard anyway: fish bones, broken woven baskets, used moriche fiber hammocks and the like. The amount of water passing under their "palafitos" made instant dilution of whatever they tossed out. Thus it is very likely that Waraos never developed a culture of "garbage" and its handling. Even a culture of hygiene probably was not necessary as the only relief from heat and mosquitoes was a frequent dip into the river, then certainly much cleaner than it is today where it still feels safe enough for yours truly to take a swim (2).

Clearly there is a lack of education, a much needed thing in this XXI century. And how is education goign on in Warao lands? At La Culebrita I was lucky enough to visit the school and even talk to the teachers.

These two pictures are taken from roughly the main point, one turned toward the brand new school of La Culebrita and the other toward the traditional village itself. With of course the tacky usual pro Chavez advertisement which includes the local potentate who would never dare to take for himself any of the achievement of the revolution: all comes from the beloved leader, never forget!!!!

There is already one problem here: the school, which comes even with its flag hosting mast, is not in tune with local architecture, except for its construction on stilts. You can see for yourself that the isolating thatched palm roof has been replaced by something that can only be warner in this climate, no matter how many covers of asphalt it has. True, thatched palms can harbor dangeorus bugs, but with a good ventilation it is not really a problem. After all these kids will return to their homes after school, no? Observe also that the compound is walled. If indeed distraction is to be avoided, I cannot help but think that the Warao kids, raised semi wildly, will have a hard time to learn to be walled in at school. I could have understood a half wall for example, so that when kids sit down they are not distracted anymore by river activity, but a full wall, no matter how nicely varnished it is?

At any rate, the compound contains three class rooms as education is imparted by three teachers at three levels. After, the children must migrate to a bigger school elsewhere. The class rooms are also amazingly simple: all children sit directly on the floor (then again they do not have chairs in their homes). Since we were late in the afternoon, the kids had long left for home, so we could visit at ease and talk some with the teachers, who considering me just another anglo tourist had no problem talking to me as I restrained from probing too much. The compound includes the teachers room and living quarters (three women by the way), a kitchen area (a real one) and two external bathroom who apparently go to some septic tank rather than the river. I understood that the bathroom are also shared by the kids when at school. The day was overcast so it was not any warmer inside than outside, and yet the teachers were sitting outside, on the covered board walk that leads to the bathroom, and which is open on all sides. Clearly, they are used to prepare their classes there instead of the inside teachers room....

But the shock came when we saw the picture above. One of my companion, who had clearly seen that there was no criollo kid living there noted that all the names of the kids attending this classroom were Spanish, NOT Warao!!!! Heck, there was even a kid with Cooper as last name (click to enlarge, as you can do on any picture). That really picked up my curiosity and I went back to the teachers inquiring as to why the names were all in Spanish. Clearly the women did not know what I was talking about at first. As I pressed on eventually the one that seemed to be the leader of the group told me that the Waraos have no name the way we understand it and thus they were all content to have Spanish names given to them. Besides they all needed to have a Venezuelan ID, something that supposedly they did not have access to before. She stopped short from some revolutionary hash because I was too astounded to pursue the conversation, amazed that the woman was not seeing the contradictions in her own speech. Besides, it must be rather hard to work in such conditions and I could not find in me the energy to pursue the discussion and discourage her form her work.

That there was in another classroom the national anthem of Venezuela translated in Warao means nothing. In spite of the 1999 constitution which is supposed to guarantee the rights of indigenous people, rights that include the obligation of the state to give them the means to preserve their culture, what we see is the same assimilation of the pre Chavez era going on. True, now they sing the national anthem in Warao every morning, but at school they do not even keep a Warao nickname! Thus, the teachers, for all their merits and good intentions, are only just one of the tools that the chavista administration has to recruit new supporters that will be told who to vote for. Even the official school calendar posted next to the roll call of the students carries the clear political messages: the highlighted dates include chavismo dates of February 4, April 11 and 13.

The blackmail seems very powerful along the Manamo.... the "criollos" are still in charge, still telling the natives what to do and what to think. And to mark the point, as tourism is not seriously developed, Waraos all become more dependent than ever from the state. A reservation in all but name, socialism and human rights included as a perversion.

PD: There is an excellent book on the Waraos, which I unfortunately found out a few days after my return; and not even myself, a friend pointed it out to me. I got it at once because it is also a rare book of which the first 2005 edition carried only 500 copies. Unbelievable! If you are interested, it is a fabulous coffee table book, a loving tribute to these people. The reference:

Hacedores de Pais
Sudán A. Macció
ISBN: 980-6816-01-03

It carries texts in Spanish, Warao and English. They prefer the term Guarao, but Warao is more traditional and I stuck to it through these posts.

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1) The Waraos are thought to be Arawak, the main indigenous group in Venezuela until the aggressive Carib invaded and pushed them into less welcoming regions such as the Delta.

2) The Orinoco as a huge volume of water and settled area are hundred of miles upstream, giving plenty of time for the river bacteria to process most of the waste carried. The development of the main source of river pollution has occurred in the last half century with the boom town of Puerto Ordaz, and much smaller Tucupita. Puerto Ordaz waste goes mostly to the main Orinoco mouth, while the Manamo receives Tucupita open sewers.

-The end-

Sunday, May 18, 2008

When it rains, it pours: now the Washington Post makes a Reyes lap top editorial

Not a good Sunday for Chavez. There was this piece from Romero about his desperate need to control everything; the one by Carroll feeling sorry for the guy; and now the blast from the Washington Post. Here is the title and even more telling subtitle:

Hard-Drive Diplomacy
Evidence of Venezuela's support for terrorism could carry Hugo Chávez to the pariah status he deserves.

Oh dear.....

I am reporting this late because for some reason the mail daily digest of the WaPo came in late today. But talk about cosmic karma, the icing on the cake after the two previous articles.

Note that if the WaPo is direct, and strong, and convinced of Chavez complicity with the FARC, it also understands very well the rather cowardly Latin American mood. Thus its very constructive solution, one advocated in this blog already: punish the culprits, do not punish Venezuela. The WaPo wisely notices that the referendum was voted down in December and thus a majority of Venezuelans clearly do not agree with the FARC ties. Punishing all of us can only serve Chavez interests.

All in all AN EXCELLENT assessment of the present situation. Let's hope that all the people concerned, from the silly lefty Democrats (Delahunt) to the right wing nutty Republicans (Connie Mack) will sit down together and realize the gravity of the situation, that the time of permissiveness and grand standing is over.

-The end-

Et tu, Guardian? Rory Carroll tells all!

This Sunday morning is full of surprises. Now I come across the latest opus of Rory Carroll at the Guardian. It is a long review of Chavez tenure and a meditation on whether Chavez lost his political touch, whether he can come back to his past electoral glories. We can guess that Rory is skeptical.

He has a rather very accurate view on how things unfolded in Venezuela under Chavez, a praiseworthy thing considering that the Guardian represents a certain democratic left that supported and forgave Chavez for only too long. That probably explains some minor errors and can account for this major one when he parrots the "massive demonstrations" that supposedly returned Chavez to office in 2002. Demonstrations existed but were not massive, and even dismal when compared to the truly massive one that took place against Chavez two days earlier. I suppose he is of the school of "the revolution shall not been televised", those that are not aware of the extensive rebuttal of that propaganda video. Nevertheless Rory Carroll has been long enough in Venezuela and now he does not buy it, so we can let him indulge in some revolutionary romanticism which after the December referendum failure is now just that, romanticism.

One interesting aspect of his article is that he finally talks about his feelings and thoughts that famous day when on a Santa Fe beach Chavez used him to attack the West. I had defended him then, embarrassed that "mi presidente" would be so rude and vulgar with Rory Carroll. Apparently Rory was less upset than I was for him (or at least he is protecting any meager access he still has to chavismo). He dryly, very English humor like, writes:
In the absence of US marines storming the beach, a reporter for a British newspaper could fill in as the villain. Nothing personal.

A must read article.

-The end-

Sunday morning chavista moment: the NYT flushes Weisbrot

The latest opus of NYT's Simon Romero could just be another run of the mill set of observations of all that is wrong in Chavez's Venezuela, as we are now getting used to see everywhere: the world knows and it is catching up, so we can be pleased, those of us who have been writing such criticism for half a decade. However what makes this article worth noting is that it writes straight that all in Venezuela is about Chavez amassing more power, not about the country long term interests. With the added bonus that even some high profile Chavez sycophants agree with it.

The title of the article says it all: "Chávez Seizes Greater Economic Power". Mas claro no canta un gallo. This complemented with a lapidary single sentence paragraph:
One significant measure is foreign investment, which has hit record levels in several other Latin American countries but has fallen in Venezuela.
Next we can read these numbers that Romero refers too, where we learn that Peru, with a comparable population and not much oil receives TEN times more foreign investment than Venezuela. Not to mention that now many studies rank Venezuela close to last, if not last, in parameters such as transparency and climate for business. Whatever Chavez is doing he is not attracting real business investors, the real ones, those that do create real jobs. The only investors Chavez attracts are folks that want to have a colonial type access to raw materials, such as China Cuba and Iran. Tanto nadar para ahogarse a la orilla.

There is thus no need to discuss further this article, the sustained point is clear. But there is another very nice moment in it. See, Simom Romero, God bless him, is still trying to find some objective way to present his articles (as I noted in my previous "press review" on the Reyes laptop.) I do not know why he bothers at this point but it does pay some dividends though, not necessarily those that chavismo will expect.

His "balance" here was presenting Mark Weisbrot point of view. Mark Weisbrot is a paid lobbyist of Chavez in the US, which is an OK job over there. Sometimes when I get tired of blogging I just wish that I could find a sponsor myself to at least treat me to a couple of days at the beach :)
Mark Weisbrot, a Washington-based economist who is broadly supportive of Mr. Chávez’s economic policies, estimates that the public sector accounts for less than a third of the economy even after the latest nationalization wave. “The present government is so far mainly just reversing some of the privatization that took place in the 1990s,” Mr. Weisbrot said.
Let's see. First, how come that Mr. Romero does not quote some minister to defend such policies? That answer I know: the government ONLY speaks to supportive media, in Venezuela and abroad, the type of media that leave their declarations up without any "balance" from somebody else included. Thus poor Simon must resort to paid Chavez lobbyist for an "official" point of view.

Second, considering that Weisbrot is talking to the NYT and not to some local rag, look at his argument, or rather lack of argument: the government is mainly reversing previous privatizations; the public sector accounts of less than a third.

Either Mr. Weisbrot is an ignoramus, or he is a liar, your choice. The "both" is also allowed in the poll.

I am not going to offend the intelligence of the reader by rebating the painfully obvious silliness and lies of Weisbrot. Pena ajena. No, it is much more interesting to observe the very lameness of the Weisbrot argument, that even a long term noted supporter of Chavez cannot come up with a better argument such as "comprehensive energy policy" "comprehensive means to allow for subsidized housing" "the comprehensive tools to ensure access to food to the lowest population sectors".

See, even Mr. Weisbrot knows very well what the truth is: Chavez need to control EVERYTHING and he needs desperately new patronage systems to shore up his popularity, such as doubling or trebling the payroll of the newly nationalized industries, and the hell with notions of competence and competitiveness. He knows that so well that he does not have the heart to come up with a better justification which he knows will be trashed soon by Chavez next actions. So Mr. Weisbrot cut his losses and went straight to the lameness that he knows will be his lot from now on. After all, he is paid the same for brilliance or for stupidity.

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PS: translation of Venezuela saying used in this article: clearer does not sing the rooster; so much swimming just to drown reaching shore; embarrassed for others missteps.

-The end-