Saturday, January 31, 2009

Barbarians at the gate: the Caracas Synagogue is profaned


I did not think that yesterday's post would be validated that fast: the synagogue of Caracas was attacked last night by a group of pro Chavez thugs. They knew perfectly well what they were doing, they knew how to find the Torah and left taking with them the surveillance videos. The antisemitism of Chavez is now having serious consequences. Preliminary information is found here and here. One more reason, if needed, to vote NO on February 15 and ensure that Chavez is gone by January 2013 at the latest. His language of hate is only going to have more and more negative consequences for the people of this country.

But yesterday also gave us one more reason to vote NO. The students of some of the major universities of Venezuela held a referendum of their own to express their opinion on the eternal reelection idea of Chavez. The result was astonishingly strong against Chavez. In fact chavismo tried to dismiss it before the vote instead of encouraging its supporters to participate (Is Robert Serra not a UCAB student?). But of course without any credibility because they did not try even to hold such a vote at the chavista campus, UBV. Heck, even students of the UNEFA are now marching in support of the NO.

Every day we are watching over the growing chasm between retrograde, if not even barbarian attitudes and civilization embodied in the thinking students. It does not matter if Chavez wins on February 15: the civilized and thinking country is against him and he will not be able to build the country with the mediocre sycophantic folks he tries to "educate" in his campuses. Well, I suppose they will know how to chant "Uh, ah" and attack synagogues while we remain mentally in the XIX century


Of course this has become today event distracting us from the SI/NO campaign. The government was prompt in taking its distances from the Synagogue attack. Unfortunately for the government even if it can prove that there is no direct links between its Red Shirted storm troopers and the attack, Chavez and his acolytes have been saying too many things against Israel (when not the Jews themselves) not to take blame from this attack. It also does not help the credibility of the government that the "condemnation" was emitted during a political act where the Venezuelan diplomatic expelled from Israel was received as heroes. As if they ever held a stone in some Intifada....

At least elsewhere the condemnation was certainly less ambiguous, showing clearly that any antisemitism in Venezuela is to be found almost exclusively in the chavista ranks. The Catholic Church, the dissident Student movement, the political opposition did not waste time. For many the finger is pointed to the hate speech coming from the government itself, something that this blogger has been writing for years now, and which is today quite open from scholars to some of the best legal minds of the opposition.

The CAIV (confederation of Israelite Associations of Venezuela) issued its protest in due form.

It includes the following paragraph:

La comunidad judía de Venezuela, con arraigo de larga data en el país, hace pública su indignación y más enérgica protesta ante esta agresión producto del clima antijudío que se ha desatado en Venezuela como consecuencia del discurso incitador al odio del Gobierno Nacional. La continua difusión de textos claramente antijudíos en medios oficiales de comunicación, tanto escritos como audiovisuales y digitales, exacerban estos sentimientos.

The Jewish community of Venezuela, with a long tradition in the country, makes public its indignation and its most energetic protest in front of this aggression product of an anti Jewish climate that has been unleashed in Venezuela as a consequence of the hate inducing speech of the National Government. The continuous diffusion of clearly antijewish texts in official media, written as well as audiovisual and digital, exacerbate these feelings.

There you have it, it cannot be said any clearer. Now it is up to the government to prove the CAIV wrong. I am not holding my breath

-The end-

Friday, January 30, 2009

What you vote for, really, when you mark the SI case in two weeks

A lot of hand wringing is taking place in Venezuela, provoked by the onanistic desires of Chavez. The escalade has been swift, from the violence that we see now everyday to the tremendous pressure put by the government on the country, a vicious system worthy of the Tascon list maneuvers of 2004. Now that scare tactics seem to pay off for chavismo, rather than discussing the pro and cons or whether polls are getting it, I think it better to remind folks who vote for the SI what their vote means, in real life. Let me stress to those inclined to vote SI that they are not voting for removing term limits, they are voting to perpetuate a style of government and of making politics. If you vote SI you approve of violence as a legitimate electoral tool. You approve that the party in power can accuse their democratic political opponents of traitors. You thus approve that violence is used against those who pretend to vote NO, and that this violence continues after the election. If you vote SI you approve of blackmail as a legitimate tool of electioneering and thus as a legitimate tool of ruling after the election. If you vote SI you approve that all public workers can be dismissed strictly on political criteria, that all government business and contracting needs to fulfill first a political criteria for their approval. If you vote SI then for you the extraordinary blatant use of public property by the sitting government to foster its political fortunes is acceptable. You thus approve of public money spent at every level for objectives that are not the direct improvement of all citizens lives. And thus you approve of the corruption that will follow the electoral victory of the government. You must understand that those who will win will see it perfectly natural to keep considering public funds as their war booty. If you vote SI you approve that the National Assembly castrated itself to become a simple registry chamber for the executive power which will be now officially Chavez alone. You also approve that the High Court emitted all the necessary rulings to make what is an electoral and constitutional fraud a legalized fraud. You also approve that the electoral umpire can flaunt its partiality towards a sitting president. If you vote SI you approve of the way Chavez runs electoral campaigns. Thus you give him a blank check so that in the future he can apply even worse pressure on his political opponent than he does today. That is, you are approving that he uses the power of the state, the power of tribunals, the power of institutions, the fire power of the Army to silence any opposition. If you vote SI and the SI wins you are telling those who vote NO today that in the future they will be entitled to use the same violence against you if they want. But if you vote NO and the NO wins you will have put the first stone to rebuild a system where all of these abuses will be one day banished. Now, you may have other reasons to vote SI, reasons that I hope are better than what is implied above. Or perhaps your only reason is that you are a beneficiary of a Mision or hold a precarious government job. However you must keep in mind that if the SI wins on February 15 those who will have voted NO will identify all of the SI voters as the people who approved that the government made them second class citizens. You will be identified as those who think that political repression is fair. You will be labeled as those who agreeed that the NO voters be forced to shut up if they want to be able to go along on their daily business. If you voted SI, do not be surprised if one day chavismo goes knocking at your door to threaten you and there is no one of your NO voting neighbors there to defend you. Or even worse, they might be there but could not care less about what happens to you. In other words, if you vote SI you are voting to divide once and for all Venezuela in two irreconcilable camps that will try to destroy each other sooner than later. You are perfectly entitled to a SI vote but you need to understand that you will not be able to escape the consequences of your SI vote. -The end-

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Venezuelan Consulate in New York reaches VN&V mail box

A reader sends me this note (adequately edited since that reader will need in the future services from the Consulate of Venezuela in New York).

Hi Daniel,

[...]I guess the desperation of the Venezuelan government is echoing abroad. The Venezuelan Consulate in NY has been recently placing phone calls to Venezuelan residing in the area in order to "invite" them to "informational forums" (in my dictionary, eventos chavistas). The Consulate in NY is a highly dysfunctional office (it has been for years and years) yet they are now taking the time and energy to follow up emails with personal phone calls asking us to attend these events. Last week it was an "informational forum about the constitutional amendment" with Marelys Perez Marcano (from the National Assembly) and the Consul in NY on Jan 23rd. This week in an attempt to continue our indoctrination they are presenting (at taxpayers expense, I'm sure) a forum entitled "The sovereignty resides in the people" with Calixto Ortega y Francisco Torrealba.

The most interesting part is that they host a whole array of events but only last week they started producing this surprise phone calls, right on time for the amendment. [...]

We can pass on the folksy aspects of the Consulate management and on the fact that the Venezuelan National Assembly is paying big bucks to send its members in brazen propaganda missions (in an age of CADIVI restraining travel money for people like me, but not for them who get, I am told, 700 USD travel expense a day while I get, and pay of my own pocket, only 2,500 a year).

No, what fixed my attention is that I also got some other interesting stuff in my mail such as the romantic liaison between Venezuela’s Consul in New York and Gregory Wilpert, one of the chief propagandist of the regime. Alek Boyd has taken the time to dig a little into Wilpert present activities in association with other well known apologists of the regime.

Now, personally I have no problem with Wilpert who has been civil in the scarce contacts I have had with him, including even a joint appearance in a talk show. However after the criticism that he levied against HRW and the clumsy replies he gave the HRW retort or his deliberate ignorance of the evils of the Tascon List, one would wish him to be a little bit more forecoming and stop pretending to the title of impartial observer. His credibility could improve some if he were more open about the extent of his links to chavismo. At any rate, considering that he is the editor (was?) of Venezuelanalysis, the main propaganda vehicle of the regime in English, he was properly dismissed by HRW.

One thing is certain, Wilpert has known how to advance his career serving Chavez. We can grant him that much of a skill, to get to afford to live in one of the best places to live in the world, New York City. I cannot even afford to travel there........

-The end-

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Venezuelan army: scratching where it itches

The event today is happening as I type. The vice president is holding a press conference surrounded by all the army chiefs of staff. The reason is that they did not like today's editorial of Tal Cual where Teodoro Petkoff takes the armed forces to task in order to guarantee the Venezuelan people the impartiality it is due to them.

There is nothing to discuss here: last November plenty of abuses have been reported and documented when possible. But recalling and reminding the public of these events must be itching the Venezuelan Army badly. So you have the unusual spectacle of the big brass AND the vice president altogether ganging up on a simple politicians.

Bull's eye Teodoro! Well done!!!

It is when you see such political montage from chavismo that you know they are in trouble at the polls and that they are probably planning something not very kosher. You can put that together with Diego Arria stating bluntly that the armed forces of Venezuela are basically the ultimate responsible party of that is going wrong in the country, as I was reporting a few days ago.

-The end-

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Big Mac index: true value of Venezuelan currency

This fearless blogger has done some investigative blogging at lunch. Having read the BigMac Index at The Economist I felt compelled to eat my first BigMac in at least a couple of years (I am more a chicken sandwich guy).

The first pic is the marquee at the San Felipe McDonald. Imagine that... You can see at the bottom left the special "little prices" of some of their products; thus I got a bargain deal to make Venezuelan currency look really much better than what it really is.

In short at 10 BsFuertes a Venezuelan BigMac on special is worth 4.65 USD at the official exchange rate of 2.15 for a dollar. But at today SWAP exchange rate a Big Mac is actually 1,79 USD (the rate is 5.6). In the US a BigMac normal price is 3.54 USD. So, how over-evaluated the Venezuelan currency really is?

First to cost 3.54 USD the San Felipe BigMac should cost 7.61 BsF and not 10. And on sale at that when in fact it is close to 12-14 in normal days.

Thus we can conclude two things:

The BigMac value of the Venezuelan currency is at least 2.82 BsF for 1 US dollar (more in fact if we were to take the normal BigMac value).

The SWAP rate of 5.60 is thus too high and due strictly to speculative pressure and government mishandling of the economy. In other words if Chavez were to devalue once and for all to 3 BsF for one USD, we would get a much healthier financial system, CADIVI could relax some and travellers could get back their travel allotment of 5000 USD, WHILE at the same time the government would get more income disposable to subsidize food for the poor only and not general subsidies from gas to food in order to win elections at the expense of an over-evaluated currency.

But that would make it a serious government, something that Chavez would be caught dead before apparenting.... Or so it seems some days.

-The end-

The real meaning of alternative government

This is what would happen in Venezuela if Chavez wins his referendum next February. Or the real meaning of alternative. Click below for pictures.

(hat tip P.B.)

-The end-

Of the ocasional uselessness of new constitutions: The doomed new Bolivian Constitution

Today Bolivia voted on a new constitution which as far as I am concerned is destined to fail as badly as the Venezuelan one of 1999. The reason is very simple: a constitution which is imposed by a majority over a reluctant minority cannot create a democratic state since it starts by denying the rights of the minority. It does not matter how many elections are held, how many referendums are called, as long as the constitution does not genuinely reflect the notion the country has of itself it will not succeed. A constitution is not a law, it is the framework used to make laws. If you cannot agree on the framework, you are less likely to agree with the laws made through it.

The US constitution of 1787 succeeded (for all the crisis it suffered) because it reflected what the “founding fathers” thought of what the US was and should be: a federal state where freedom of expression and of religion should always be guaranteed. It was a social pact, a minimum upon which all agreed, from Maine to Georgia. Its major failing which led to the Civil War came because the rights of the slave minority were ignored. Even though the slaves had little chance on their own to change the bad hand dealt to them, their existence corroded enough the majority cohesion that the crisis came. Now that constitution has allowed Obama to reach power and turn a final symbolic page on this issue.

The French constitution of 1958 succeeded because the country agreed that the executive should be a stronger institution and that the quarrelsome parliamentary system inherited from 1870 was exhausted. Just as the 1870 system succeeded, at least until WW2, because it reflected the consensus that France should never be open again to the rise of a strong man to rule its future. The weak executive was reinforced by the strong parliament as needed during survival crisis such as WW1; but eventually it failed because it was unable to adapt to changing historical conditions when clarity of purpose was needed to terminate the colonial period and modernize France.

One can write similar paeans to successful constitution such as the recent ones in Spain, Germany or older systems such as the English one. But one can also write about constitutions that failed even in democratic countries as the rights of minorities, or even majorities, was eventually denied. It is the story of most constitutions in Latin America, including the failure of Chile’s in the 70ies when Allende refused to understand that he never got 50% of the popular vote and yet pretended to rule as if he had won that vote share. The Venezuelan one of 1961 succeeded at first because it was designed to guarantee the right of the minority to reach power eventually. That is how Chavez won in 1998. But it also failed in the end because it could never quite break with a “tradition” of strong man, even if they were granted only 5 years to rule.

The Venezuelan constitution of 1999 has already failed as proven by Chavez himself. In spite of being the promoter of the new charter he has tried to modify it enormously in 2007 and he now tries to debase it by creating an executive elite that enjoys enough access to power to remain in office forever. It was doomed from the start when the Constituent Assembly of 1999 had 97% of its seats representing only 60% of the population. The 40% that did not make it to that assembly never accepted its result and if today they defend the 1999 charter it is because the modifications proposed by Chavez ensure that the amended document will serve only the 30% or less that serve Chavez by sheer sycophancy or plain material interest.

I do not know the details of the Bolivian new constitution that is approved today. I am sure that it carries very valid redress measures for a Native American majority that has been abused since BEFORE the Spaniards reached Bolivia as the Inca was already an imperial master. The vote in Bolivia is clear: the new constitution which was already drafted by violating the conditions with which it was supposed to be established is receiving a strong approval in half the country and a strong rejection in the other half. Bolivia is not yet at the breaking point but today it is making a step further towards that possibility. True, Morales and the Media Luna leaders have demonstrated that at the brink of disaster they were able to hammer an agreement of sorts, but that is not the way a constitution is drawn. The agreement that allowed for today’s vote was not a consensus, it was a “let’s get over with this and move on to something else”, implicitly acknowledging on both sides that the constitution was just an excuse of a larger power struggle.

As such I predict that today’s voted paper will be just another one of the many that Bolivia got, just as the 1999 in Venezuela is already an exhausted one.


Amazingly Bolivia emitted results as early as 7 PM Venezuelan time. On February 15, with the voting set to last until 6 PM I am pretty sure that we will not get a single result until midnight or even later. May I remind readers that WE STILL DO NOT HAVE THE FINAL RESULT OF THE 2007 REFERENDUM?

-The end-

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recipe for the NO

Miro Popic, the famed Venezuelan food and travel guides, is the food writer of Tal Cual. Today he publishes a column with one of the best cases presented so far as to why we need to vote NO. My translation:

Do we seem to eat better today than before? No.

Is food cheaper? No.

Is everything in the grocery store cart? No.

Do you find easily all that your family wants to eat? No.

Is there sugar? No.

Do you find coffee easily? No.

Do you like Brazilian chicken? No.

Do you find the rice you like? No.

Would you like to eat the same thing every day? No.

Do you believe that a ration book is the solution? No.

Are you willing to amend the diet indefinitely just because someone decided to do so? No.

Do you think that eating well is bad? No.

Do you think that starvation is good? No.

If you like Scotch 18 years, are willing to accept Cocuy of Penca as replacement? No.

And if you like Cocuy of Penca, are you prepared for some else to decide what should you drink? No.

If you ask in a restaurant for a well done steak and they bring it roja rojita (bleeding red), do you eat it? No.

If you ask for the check and they bring you the one from next table, do you pay it? No.

Do you think we should stop eating pan de jamon because wheat is exogenous and ham from Europe? No.

Have you ever had chicken stew from a vertical chicken coop (gallinero vertical)? No.

Does anyone know where the ruta de la empanada is? No.

Are you racist because they like black beans? No.

Are you a coup monger because you like your tres golpes (slang for three daily meals)? No.

Do you think that Mercal is better than Gama (the best private grocery store chain in Caracas)? No.

Have you found lentil at the regulated prices? No.

Would you like to change the name of the Pabellon for Congrí or Moros y Cristianos (equivalent in Cuba of the Pabellon, our national black beans and rice dish)? No.

Is not it true that white rice is ADECO (AD color is white on the ballot)? No.

If we are such friends of Iran, why don't we get Iranian caviar? I do not know.

Do you want Chacumbele to eat papaya comfit in case his life aspiration is not denied? Surely not.

Do you know what is eaten in the barracks? No.

And in jail? Even less.

Would you like to grocery shop with a ration card? No.

Do you like to be mislead about the food you buy? No.

Such as getting low cuts instead of Prime Rib? No.

Do you believe that we can survive if we do not vote No? No.

Would you like to eat something like "meat esmechada" made with banana shells as in Cuba? No.

Would you like to eat hallacas next December? Yes

Then vote NO.

-The end-

Friday, January 23, 2009

The 2009 elections: a last chance for democracy in Venezuela?

Warning: to read the rest of this article you need to understand that the current Chavez administration cannot relinquish power in a democratic way because if the Venezuelan judicial system were to regain its independence after Chavez departure dozens and dozens of high ranking chavistas, including Chavez himself, would find their way to lengthy trials, prison and even exile. If you do not understand this reality of chavismo, or do not agree with this previous sentence then save yourself time and move to another blog or web page which might satisfy better your interests.

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

What is at stake in the February referendum

In 2007 Chavez failed to push a constitutional reform that would have included two things dear to him: reelection as many times as he wished for and more power for his office to allow him to secure a victory in any future election, mostly by creating a client system where too many people depend on the good will of the leader for their livelihood.

Through 2008 Chavez worked very hard at ensuring a resounding success on the regional election to sustain an excuse at pushing again in one way or the other a reelection bid. Unfortunately for Chavez in spite of a huge state investment in his campaign the result was not the resounding victory he hoped for, including in fact important symbolic defeats such as Caracas. The coming world crisis came in the end of the electoral process and changed all the parameters Chavez was working with. Now, previewing that by the second half of 2009 the coming crisis will dent his popularity in a durable way Chavez decided to pass over a weak victory and roll the dice while he still disposes of enough disposable income to buy votes. Thus the eternal reelection proposal that has been rushed through parliament and the electoral council violating as many laws and constitutional rights as one can come up with in such matters. A vote is set for February 15 even though so far polls are rather negative for chavismo.

Does it really matter?

In the end it really does not matter much what the result is on February 15. Whether Chavez wins or not he will not be able to avoid an economic crisis that might be his undoing as he will not be able to deliver anymore. The opposition to Chavez cannot do much today since Chavez controls all organizations of the state. But disenchanted chavistas that suddenly will stop receiving many of the unsustainable benefits that they have gone used to receive will be the ones that will give Chavez grief and probably force him to resign before the end. Because the drama of chavismo is that the nature of its system makes it impossible for Chavez to undertake the necessary measures to change what needs to be changed in his regime and precludes the competent people that could help him to join as no self respecting professional or technician or experienced economist or scientist will accept to work for a guy that treats you like a lowly servant to his whims. He is alone today, surrounded by a bunch of dishonest sycophants (redundancy intended) and such a system only works when money flows in abundantly.

Of course if he loses that could create the illusion that chavismo might be at a close end. And it would be a grievous mistake to make such an assumption. Chavismo would still have enough resources to try out a Putin solution where a stand in would be put into place until a way is found to bring back Chavez. Even through a new constitution if needed. Thus as it has been the case since 2004, we will vote once again and once again nothing will be solved while unrest, division and violence remain our lot.

How will Chavez organize his campaign

All the abuses committed in previous elections are already present (financial abuses, forcing public employees, threats, insults and what not). But there are major differences this time. The first thing to be noted is that the process to vote the amendment so it can be submitted to popular vote has been rushed and violates the current constitution that does not allow for a rejected constitutional change to come back to the voters for a few years. The electoral board who has the obligation to monitor such things has been much more an accomplice than an impartial umpire. This already betrays a determination of Chavez to get his reelection at any cost.

The first confirmation of this is the astounding change in Chavez who reserved eternal election only for Chavez. Reading negative polls he decided to give some incentive to his people to support him more vigorously by extending eternal reelection to all, something he opposed strongly until last December. This of course would result in a caste of people working together to retain power forever by blocking any possibility for an opposition to develop, amen for lower ranking chavistas needing to wait for death to provide openings. I need only to point out that the opposition executive jobs elected last November have been stripped of many of their responsibilities, have been threatened, have seen their resources cut down, and now are even violently attacked by what can only be called fascist red shirts led by such violent individuals as Lina Ron or the La Piedrita group. This extension of reelection potential amazingly yielded a side effect: now there is a need to modify 5 articles which now makes the initial "amendment" into a true constitutional reform, thus further violating the constitution.

But there is a much worrying aspect to this campaign: the increasing repressive nature of the regime which seems to have arrived to stay. I will just mention two cases. First the scandalous one when Chavez asks publicly for the student protest to be repressed, including words on tear gas "Use gas, and of the strong type". But I will weigh longer on the now avowed goal of the regime to leave the discourse of civilized world.

A few days ago we learned that the High Court of Venezuela (TSJ) will not recognize the decision of an International Court that criticized an earlier TSJ decision. Even though Venezuela has subscribed the treaties that made the decision of certain international courts mandatory now the TSJ has basically asked the government to protest the OAS international judicial system as a prelude to either kill its meaning or eventually lead Venezuela out of the OAS. And when you hear Chavez this week end starting to attack Obama even though in a recent visit Lula asked Chavez to find ways to deal with the incoming US administration, you just know that Chavez is readying himself to go at it alone in the world, Cuban style if needed, as long as it ensures him retaining office. If repression is needed inside Venezuela he does not want people to watch or condemn him outside by effecting international sanctions.

Thus the tone of the current campaign: a violent blackmail to the country. Either we cave in to Chavez wishes or he will punish us by promoting violence and the repression that follows. And that is how the campaign is unfolding, increasing violence, no debate whatsoever. Then again, what is there to debate? That Chavez current term ends AFTER Obama completes his first term? Really, even for his own supporters Chavez cannot come up with potential arguments.

Electoral cheating is this time a very serious risk. It has already started big time as the weigh of the state is used more than ever to create pressure, in particular on public employees who are demanded to show support and show enthusiasm for the proposal of an eternal Chavez. It continues by labeling what are normal electoral activities of the opposition as "conspiracy". It is stressed by the increasing repression that we see on recent protests or the sectarian nature where the only citizens that matter do vote for Chavez, as the newly elected officials are finding out the hard way. From there it is easy to imagine that comes February 15 chavismo will not recognize an unfavorable result. Chavez has already hinted at it by saying that the opposition will cheat, something that is simply materially impossible with the Venezuelan electoral system today where only chavismo could cheat if it wanted to. Such a gratuitous accusation only betrays what Chavez is already considering doing next month. He, and he alone, as the ability to generate violence and electoral fraud.

Does the opposition have a chance to stop Chavez?

For the opposition the stakes are high. If Chavez wins one of the consequences is that it will be much more difficult to unseat his regime in a democratic way. With a Chavez controlling all the institutions of the state and access to all the finances of the state to use in any of his campaigns electoral, control and blackmail will be easier for him once people do not see an end to his rule. In addition the newly repressive actions will render future campaigns more hazardous than what they already are.

But the opposition does have some advantages. The latest actions of Chavez might be rallying some of his base but it is doubtful that they will gain him new voters. In fact the question is if the motivated electoral base will be enough to compensate those who are getting more and more nervous about their man and who this time might be willing to cast the NO vote that they did not dare to cast in 2007.

I personally think at this point that the opposition will win, not becasue the opposition will drive a convincing campaign (though it is not a bad one so far) but because Chavez is simply becoming every day more and more scary. All in Venezuela know exactly what is at stake, all know that the eternal reelection is not a need of the country, just a need of Chavez ego. Probably most votes are decided, what remains to be decided is whether to vote. Here the strategy is to bring out the vote and for this chavismo is counting on the CNE who surprisingly extended voting time by two hours while this is an easy election to manage. The only reason is for chavismo to get more time to drag its voters to voting stations depending on how the turnout looks like at noon time. Indeed, by noon chavismo will know how its electorate is responding whereas the opposition is deprived of much information.

But the opposition has not it easy in spite of Chavez errors. It needs to confront the possibility of electoral cheating and this can only be ensured by a large turnout in favor of the NO and by staffing all voting centers to make sure that votes are counted as they should be counted. After the exhausting regional election campaign it is still unclear whether the opposition has the strength and energy for the challenge.


And increasingly nervous Chavez is revealing his true self: a fascist that wants to remain in office forever. He simply cannot hide it anymore. And thus it is now that the is becoming dangerous as the violence option is now one he must play with. What is of more concern is how the result will exacerbate his narcisto-fascist character. February 15 can be the date when we get a chance to begin the long process of recovering our lost democracy. Or it could become the date when political violence became routine in Venezuela as a state policy to control the opposition.

Still, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Chavez current violence is a direct product of his very justified fear of losing on February 15th.

-The end-

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Repression in Carabobo too

It looks like "gas, y del bueno" is not the reserve of Caracas students only (1).

Carabobo is one of the states where crime is highest in Venezuela, and I am talking per capita here. It also has a prosperous drug trade with cartels in formation. A future pre Uribe Colombia if you like, while the government does nothing, and even less now that it is much more concerned about finding ways to sabotage incoming governor Salas Feo administration. A few days ago a noted local journalist, Orel Sambrano, was assassinated by con men. The civil society organizations decided to hold a march to protest violence. And it was received by violence, directed at least in part by Cliver Alcala, one of the henchman of Chavez, the general that directs the area and who was already fighting with the preceding governor, Acosta Carles even though he came from chavismo.

Well, Cliver Alcala has startd behaving like your average proconsl taking over local functions including banning the Carabobo police force from future march security functions, deciding that the army will take them over, supporting pro Chavez hecklers, and arresting students taking them directly to military bases (where none can enter to see if they are at least alive) (2). I didn't think that Diego Arria words that I mentioned yesterday would have been confirmed so bluntly so fast: Clive Alcala behaves simply as if Venezuela was a fully fledged military dictatorship and he could do as he pleased with law and order. Amazing.....

But he will run in trouble soon as the president of the Carabobo university, Jessy Divo, told him that he will have to arrest her, just as the UCV president in Caracas told authorities there. They are standing by their students. I cannot wait to see when will Chavez order the arrest of these two courageous women.

1) The "best" "strongest" tear gas, in the now famous words of Chavez that will one day sen him to jail as the fascist he truly is.

2) The "crime" to the students hat Cliver is pissed at is that they drenched in blood (red paint I suppose) the Venezuelan flag. That is for you US readers who are allowed to burn the US flag as you please.

-The end-

Experience talking again? Wisdom over emotion in politics

I did watch two interesting items today.

The first one was before leaving Caracas, an interview of Diego Arria in RCTV "La Entrevista". Diego Arria is a Venezuelan politician who successfully became an international diplomat. As such Venezuela has ceased to be his main place of residence though he visits often since I suppose he still must float around political circles who must use his advice and connections when needed. It was probably as such that late last year chavismo tried to link him to an alleged plot to kill Chavez. The ludicrous case claimed that he would have become the transition president of Venezuela once Chavez was disposed of. If the opposition never thought of him as the elder statesman of a transition, chavismo can blame only itself for suggesting what is a rather good idea if we must indeed have a transition government someday.

But I digress. Whatever one might think of Diego Arria, one thing is certain, his international career gives him two precious advantages: he does not need to seek glory in Venezuela anymore and he can speak his mind as he wishes. He did so today in a way that I particularly enjoyed: he simply put the blame for all that is wrong in Venezuela on the military because they have accepted to let themselves be corrupted by the money and power that Chavez threw at them. That is: they have failed their constitutional role to be the guardians of democracy.

Long time readers of this blog will remember that I am allergic to anything military and that I have occasionally supported this thesis. My surprise here is not that Mr. Arria agrees with me, most sensible politicians will agree with this. No, the surprise is how bluntly he expressed it, something unusual in Venezuelan political circles where the language tries to bring over their side by putting on them as many pleasant adjectives as possible, given the circumstances. But in truth Chavez has transformed Venezuela's democracy into a de facto military regime. Since 2002-2003 most of the key posts of Venezuela administration are held by folks coming out from the armed forces. And since 2006 it is fair to say that Chavez has completed the change in the upper echelons which are now filled by his supporters regardless of their merits. In other words the military have reached power without needing to make a coup.

I would love to talk to Mr. Arria to ask him what we could do with that army. I, for one, would go the Costa Rica way, eliminate it altogether, retaining only coastguards and border guards, with a strengthened police system for everything else. The only country that could one day want to invade us is Colombia and that can be easily taken care of by integrating our economies and currency European Union style.

The other item of interest was tonight Ramos Allup on Alo Ciudadano. The secretary of AD is not a favorite of mine as I hold AD responsible in great part for the mess which allowed Chavez to flourish. This being said he is tremendously entertaining on TV. Tonight he did not disappoint. The question was the flip flop Chavez did on the amendment. After two years of saying that eternal reelection should only be for him he decided three weeks ago to make it all inclusive. Ramos Allup has an explanation for that: Chavez sensing a likely defeat and not being able to backtrack or postpone the amendment has found this way to share the burden of defeat. That is, if the amendment is defeated next February, he will be able to claim that the defeat is the defeat of all elected officials who did not manage to convince the people to allow them to run for ever and ever. Voilà!

Bold but quite possible, will you not agree with?

However the interesting point here is that some old politicians seem to be making a limited but real come back. After ten years of emotional and near psychotic leadership suddenly old and wizened professional politicians might suddenly find themselves with a chance to finish their career honorably by daring to explain to us clearly what is really going on. Though we must also say that they did seem to have learned a lot under Chavez, hopefully making them more effective these days were the opposition needs surefooted moves.

-The end-

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chavista fascist repression on the rise

While democracy was taking a welcome boost in the Washington Mall, in Caracas it suffered yet another set back as we saw clearly how the repressive apparatus of the state is geared exclusively toward people that we disagree with Chavez. Criminals and people who support Chavez can exert any violent action they want as long as Chavez interests remain unperturbed. Thus today while crime keeps it rampage in Venezuela with death rates worthy of Iraq or Gaza, the government sent a disproportionate display of force to repress students marches. Elsewhere as the red shirts of Lina Ron attacked the Atheneum of Caracas (one of their many attacks this week) the police stood by (as it has been doing through all recent attacks).

And what does Chavez do today? He calls for the "bolivarian" students to march in turn, to fill up the streets and to teach the dissident students a lesson. This, three days after he told the repressive forces of his regime to use their strongest tear gas against student protests. That is right, the president of the Republic, the president of all Venezuelans is actively encouraging a group of Venezuelans to go an beat up another group of Venezuelans. For this he will be one day judged and condemned.

But that is not all: on the radio while I was enjoying an unending Caracas traffic jam I heard Chavez saying that all of those that are not for the constitutional amendment are against the country, that patriots can do nothing but vote for his reelection. Chavez was telling me that I was a traitor to the fatherland becasue I will vote NO next month. And later on, in the state radio for the youth, Activa FM, I listened in awe as a young lawyer was ranting against Israel in Gaza. In the heat of the moment he was demanding that all Jews of Venezuela support Chavez actions to break with Israel and what not. That might be acceptable but unfortunately that poor soul got confused all the time between Zionism, Judaism, Israel and the Jews and eventually came across as the ignorant fascist antisemite he is (forgive the redundancy). This around 6 PM. The antisemitism of Chavez is reaching down and deeper than expected. Now we can wait for a hate crime any time. Will gays be be next in demanding that they support the amendment? For this Chavez will also be condemned one day.

PS: more pictures of today events here. The AP report is here.

-The end-

Obama's inaugural speech

From today's speech
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

I wonder how they translated that to Chavez.
Hat tip many readers!

-The end-

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Obama-thon

I do not mean the title as a joke: I am in fact very pleased that the world is realizing the importance of today when a person of African American origin takes office in the still more powerful country on earth. There is no way to underestimate this moment, even if you are a rabid conservative. Heck, even McCain joined the chorus earlier this week.

It is wonderful to see a million and some more people gathering on the Washington Mall in spite of the freezing weather. It is fascinating to see how the serious networks in the world have special programs following on and off the different ceremonies. It is simply great to see once again the rituals associated with what is the longest serving democracy in the world, and for me the greatest, for all its flaws. The greatest because the United States of America has been fortunate to have a built in mechanism to correct its excesses and deficiencies, because even if it its dragged screaming and kicking its tendency has always been toward improvement.

The problem with most of its critics is that they are simply jealous. They are jealous of the Lincoln, the Teddy Roosevelt, the FDR, the Kennedy, the Reagan and now, we wish, the Obama that it can produce as if on call. They are also jealous of the opportunities it keeps offering, of the scientists, of the writers, the musicians, the touch with popular needs that the US has been embodying for better or for worse since the Charleston hit the dance floors almost a century ago. They are jealous that time and again for every Vietnam and Iraq it also brought Afghanistan, WWII and the end of the Berlin Wall.

But this is a blog about Venezuela and I must end this post on a rather sour note. The Obama that is sworn in today will finish his 4 years term BEFORE Chavez finishes his current 6 years term. That is right, in the next 4 years Obama will have to sort two wars and an economic crisis and a flood of other relatively minor problems. Today no body in Washington is even looking seriously at the mid-term elections in two years, and even less to an Obama reelection. From Hillary Clinton to John McCain all wish Obama to succeed because he has spent his precious transition weeks in creating a formidable if provisional coalition of good will.

Here in Venezuela we have a president that has not solved a single of the major problems of the country, who looks more sectarian than ever and who is taken the country into a mad gambit so that he can run again for office in 4 years. Nothing else matters to him, not the bloody street crime, not the drop in oil revenue, not that we cannot feed ourselves, not his unsustainable welfare programs, not that industrial production is at a plateau with no hope of growth, not that there is no serious investment coming to Venezuela. Nothing matter to him but the possibility that he can run for office in 4 years.

And what will he do during the next four years that can even remotely compare to what Obama might achieve? I do not know about you but I am willing to bet that Obama will have accumulated more merits to run for reelection than Chavez.

-The end-

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chavez dysfunctional reality

There is a suffused sense of the unreal when we watch the chavista campaign for the eternal reelection referendum. It is not really a matter of watching the now routine power abuse to win an election at any cost. No, there is something else at play, something associated with the rotten stench of crumbling structures and nobody seems to notice. In a way it really does not matter: whether Chavez wins his referendum does not change an iota on the crisis coming Venezuela's way. One could even say that the best that can happen to Chavez is to lose the referendum so he can use his still significant ascendant to better goals than politics, for example to explain the tightening of the populist state that we cannot avoid any longer. If Chavez wins he will be forced to prepare his next reelection from the following day and that can only speed him up on the road to repressive regime. Paradoxically for him, winning the referendum could actually mean that he will not finish his term as his own disenchanted people might throw him out before his second term is over.

But Chavez seems to believe in his star even as numbers everywhere look negative and even as his many blunders are more and more apparent. Either that or he has a secret option in store. Let's look at some of the salient moments.

Last Tuesday he held a 7.5 hours cadena. That is right, for 7.5 hours ALL radio stations of the country and ALL TV stations of the country were forced to transmit in simultaneous broadcast his "state of the union" speech. Surely a record somewhere. All the National Assembly and its guests (ambassadors in particular forced to attend for protocol reasons). Besides the physical feat of speaking for 7.5 hours straight without allowing the audience to take a pee break, there was nothing to admire in what was only a litany of the alleged achievements of last year. The only thing missing from the inventory was the numbers of nails planted in ministries walls to hang on Chavez portraits. But there was something to blame, the extraordinary number of lies that Chavez uttered, including the absence of street kids in Venezuela. I suppose that the one I see juggling balls at the same crossing most mornings has not been told yet that he ceased to exist since he is now registered (Is he?). But that Chavez performance only underlined what a mockery of everything Chavez does, how deeply he despises institutions, going as far as making up a silly excuse to take the chair of the president of the National Assembly, and thus underscoring to the country that he owns it.

But one thing he never mentioned was the criminal death toll of Venezuelan streets. What world is Chavez living in?

We also see how the National Assembly worded the amendment question making sure that the word reelection did not appear. Why the sudden prudery? Are they finally realizing how indecent their proposal is? Are they so embarrassed that the amendment to one article has become a bona fide constitutional reform of 5 articles that they opted for a cryptic referendum question? One is left to wonder if the chavista assembly has not realized that it is so devoid of leadership that it decided to cling to Chavez for dear life. Their self degradation is reaching such extremes that cameras apparently will be banned from their sessions, except for the one focusing on the current speaker. They do not want the world to see that they are so bored, that they have so little to do besides waiting for orders from Miraflores that they waste their time chit chatting or checking strange e-mails from anti breast cancer societies...

But this servility of the Assembly is matched by all those chavista officials that spent two years explaining to us why it was obvious that Chavez should be the only one allowed eternal reelection. Suddenly Chavez changed his mind and today they have to be equally creative at saying the exact opposite that they were still explaining us two weeks ago. Do they think honestly that people will not notice? But surely their servility is matched by the electoral CNE who has already decided on many things for that vote without waiting for the constitutional requirement of receiving the duly approved referendum question. Obviously the CNE was much more concerned about anticipating the orders of their boss than to follow constitutional requirements.

Is there anyone left within chavismo with enough backbone to at least shut up? Or are they counting on Chavez to dig his own grave with this referendum? Or are they aware of the repression coming and they are already protecting themselves? Who knows! Rotting systems have surprising self preserving ways.

However one thing is certain: repression is already starting as we saw what happened today to the protesting students, what happened to Venezuelan politicians traveling overseas because their colleagues do not want to visit Venezuela anymore, what happened to journalists covering the National Assembly, and more. But we should be happy: everyday Chavez and his cohorts give us more reasons to vote NO.

-The end-

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The truth on Venezuela's oil production

One of the biggest mystery of Venezuela under Chavez is how much oil money do we really get and what he does with it. Since 2003 the estimated numbers from international agencies and those published by the PDVSA monopoly have always clashed, badly at times. Indeed, the PDVSA numbers are only held truthful by chavistas, the rest of the world, including OPEC, has long ago ceased to pay much attention to the numbers published by a company that has not submitted itself to a real audit since it left the SEC (not that the 2003 audit was anything to write home about).

But I digress. Simon Romero of the New York Times has published today a comprehensive and definitive article which speaks VOLUMES about the real situation of PDVSA. It includes:

- rumors that CEO Rafael Ramirez wants to bring back PDVSA to its real business: oil production (Imagine that! Ramirez realizing that selling chicken in markets popular markets could be done better by other folks than PDVSA!)

- a reopening of Venezuela to the hated capitalistic companies that were kicked out as recently as 2007. (Wait a minute! Where those companies not replaced on occasion by Vietnamese, Belarus or other well known oil companies? Were they not as efficient as, say, Exxon, in prospecting for oil fields? Have we been lied to? Naaah!...)

The unavoidable conclusion is that things must be going South for Chavez that he discretely seeks reconciliation to those he abused a year ago. The difference a Wall Street crash makes, no matter how many times Chavez claims that Venezuela is not threatened by the world crisis.

The Romero NYT is a must read. Though you will not escape a couple of killer quotes below:

At stake are no less than Venezuela’s economic stability and the sustainability of his rule. With oil prices so low, the longstanding problems plaguing Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that helps keep the country afloat, have become much harder to ignore.

But Venezuela may have little choice but to form new ventures with foreign oil companies. Nationalizations in other sectors, like agriculture and steel manufacturing, are fueling capital flight, leaving Venezuela reliant on oil for about 93 percent of its export revenue in 2008, up from 69 percent in 1998 when Mr. Chávez was first elected.
Or as we say in Venezuela, tanto nadar para ahogarse en la orilla (so much swimming to drwon reachign shore).

It is amazing that after 10 yers of bolivarian farce we find ourselves more dependent on oil than AT ANY TIME in our history. I wish Simon romero had followed his logic to the end and added this.

The end

Bolivia breaks relationship with Israel BEFORE Venezuela does!

Oh well.... Asinus asinum fricat....

No word yet as to whether the Israel's main enabler will see its shipments of oil from Venezuela cut. We doubt it, the National Assembly approved today the eternal reelection amendment and we need money for a crash electoral campaign voter shopping as polls look bad for Chavez. Hopefully by February 15 peace will have returned to Gaza, diplomats can be exchanged again and we pretend nothing happened. Chavez to care really for Palestinians? You are an idiot if you think that Chavez cares about anything else but himself.

-The end-

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chavista pro Palestinian fashionistas

Of course, some people assume that taking up a disguise guarantees their belonging to a group or support to a cause. Now the Venezuelan red shirts are falling over each other to adopt the keffiyeh to mark their support to Chavez latest nonsense.

I did find three pictures to show you (I am sorry I did not have the reflex to take a TV snap shot of the VTV morning sycophant, who wears it with particular bravado).

Let's start with El Supremo (from Tal Cual)

Isturiz, ex-education minister (he should know better, should he not?), failed candidate for Caracas mayor at large seat.

Vanessa Davies, host of "contragolpe" on VTV prime time. I would like to know if for her burkha is just a pleasant local custom
(both above pictures from Chigüire Bipolar).

They should know that LA parties had already the keffiyeh as a fashion statement in 2006.

Good thing that ridicule does not kill.

-The end-

Mandatory reading

Two articles should be read today.

The first one of major importance for readers of this blog is the long and detailed expose by Brunilde in her blog as to the lame excuses used by chavismo to justify the unconstitutional "emmienda". It is in Spanish but if you leave a message at her page I am sure she will make an effort to translate it for you. I offer her this page to publish the English version if she wishes. Heck, I will help her with the translation!

The second page to read is an article by Paul Kennedy. I read soon after it appeared his "Rise and Fall of Great Powers", a book that made great impression on me. His take on how the US relative decline is unavoidable and how the torch seems destined to Asia is a must read. Now, there is no need to be alarmed as the relative decline of the US was written in stone, 2008 crisis or not. The rise of China and India would have taken care of shifting the relative power share of the world and only a political collapse of China or India (never to be discarded as long as true democracy does not reach China) could slow down this shift. True, the US has still enormous advantages that will ensure a relative preeminence for a few more decades but it will look increasingly like Spain in the XVII, France in the XVIII (outside of the revolutionary paroxysm) or Britain in the first half of the XX. These three countries by the way are sort of reborn but their size and the world structure today forbid them to ever play a major role again, a handicap that might be spared the US if it deals with the current crisis and accepts to limit its area of influence convincing others to step to the plate in a productive way.

-The end-

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chavez antisemitism towards vox populi status

I must admit that the horrendous Gaza events (including the rocket launches to Israel territory, let's not forget that) bring me a perverse satisfaction: they offer a chance to Chavez and chavistas to display their antisemitism. Including tacky wearing of Palestinian "foulards" on TV. But of course Chavez might have expelled the Israeli ambassador to Venezuela but not a drop of oil is cut from the deliveries to Israel main backer, the Evil U.S. of A. Empire. So, as it is always the case, antisemitism and hypocrisy go hand in hand.

This blogger was one of the first solitary voices to denounce that chavista antisemitism, so linked to mediocre people only too willing to blame others for their own failures. But this has changed as everywhere more people point out that the bolivarian farce suspiciously looks like fascism of the XXI century. We read it in the pen of Ibsen Martinez today in Tal Cual or from my friend Gene Zitver at Harry's place. The cat is out, and if major newspapers are not harping on that issue as they should, it just a matter of time as Chavez will deliver the final nail for his antisemitic coffin. Not to mention that if chavismo is unable to understand words like genocide and holocaust as they casually toss them around, probably to demean them deliberately, major papers do understand the symbols behind these words and will get on Chavez case sooner rather than later.

To conclude this post the Weil cartoon for today is priceless as it illustrates well how an ignorant and frivolous Chavez is stocking the fires on the Middle East situation instead of trying to find constructive ways to heal the drama. His obsession to make the news will bring him to any extreme, as he is probaly upset that the Gaza news upstage him, even in Venezuela.

-The end-

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dictatorship for Dummies

To open the blogging year formally with a big salvo we have the latest article from Maria Anstasia O'Grady. As a piece of clarity, objective opinion and real knowledge of the current Venezuelan situation she cannot be matched. Well, it is an opinion piece so she certainly can say what other journalists such as NYT's Romero or WaPo's Forero are not allowed to say. The point here is that they all know what Chavez is up to and are increasingly vocal about it.

Since I have not posted much lately (more on that later), for the official return in service of this blog I will post the article in full below with some minor comments on my part.

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Optimists have long theorized that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez would meet his Waterloo with the burst of the petroleum bubble. But with oil prices down some 75% from their highs last year and the jackboot of the regime still firmly planted on the nation's neck, that theory requires revisiting.

It is true that popular discontent with chavismo has been rising as oil prices have been falling. The disillusionment is even likely to increase in the months ahead as the economy swoons. But having used the boom years to consolidate power and destroy all institutional checks and balances, Mr. Chávez has little incentive to return the country to political pluralism even if most Venezuelans are sick of his tyranny. If anything, he is apt to become more aggressive and dangerous as the bloom comes off his revolutionary rose in 2009 and he feels more threatened.

Indeed. I must remind readers that the take over of Venezuela started with the take over of the Judicial System in late December 1999. This has been the key to everything since now it is pointless to sue the state since you will never win a political case, while the state pays for a boatloads of lawyers to harass any person perceived to be a political enemy or target. This blog is chock-full of such stories.

Certainly "elections" can't be expected to matter much. Mr. Chávez now controls the entire electoral process, from voter rolls to tallying totals after the polls have closed. Under enormous public pressure he accepted defeat in his 2007 bid for constitutional reforms designed to make him president for life. But so what? That loss allowed him to maintain the guise of democracy, and now he has decided that there will be another referendum on the same question in February. Presumably Venezuela will repeat this exercise until the right answer is produced.

All police states hold "elections." But they also specialize in combining the state's monopoly use of force with a monopoly in economic power and information control. Together these three weapons easily quash dissent. Venezuela is a prime example.

The Venezuelan government is now a military government. Mr. Chávez purged the armed forces leadership in 2002 and replaced fired officers with those loyal to his socialist cause. Like their counterparts in Cuba, these elevated comandantes are well compensated. Lack of transparency makes it impossible to know just how much they get paid for their loyalty, but it is safe to say that they have not been left out of the oil fiesta that compliant chavistas have enjoyed over the past decade. Even if the resource pool shrinks this year, neither their importance nor their rewards are likely to diminish.

This is a crucial point too, even essential. Venezuela is in fact now a military regime. Armed forces personnel are at all echelons of public administration and most of the time at the positions where decisions are made and where the money flows. We are suffering all the problems of a military dictatorship and the military did not even need to make a coup to reach the position of power they hold today.

Mr. Chávez has also taken over the Metropolitan Police in Caracas, imported Cuban intelligence agents, and armed his own Bolivarian militias, whose job it is to act as neighborhood enforcers. Should Venezuelans decide that they are tired of one-man rule, chavismo has enough weapons on hand to convince them otherwise.

The most recent example was when the new Caracas mayor found in his poayroll thousands of people paid for doing nothing else but poltivcal activism, preferably violently.

Yet the art of dictatorship has been greatly refined since Stalin killed millions of his own people. Modern tyrants understand that there are many ways to manipulate their subjects and most do not require the use of force.
One measure that Mr. Chávez relies on heavily is control of the narrative. In government schools children are indoctrinated in Bolivarian thought. Meanwhile the state has stripped the media of its independence and now dominates all free television in the country. This allows the government to marinate the poor in Mr. Chávez's antimarket dogma. His captive audiences are told repeatedly that hardship of every sort -- including headline inflation of 31% last year -- is the result of profit makers, middlemen and consumerism.

Note: private opposition Media includes now ONLY RCTV through cable alone and Globovision which is seen on the air only in Caracas and Valencia, through cable elsewhere. If you cannot afford cable, you cannot afford contrasting opinions outside of Caracas and Valencia.

The Orwellian screen is also used to stir up nationalist sentiment against foreign devils, like the U.S., Colombia and Israel. The audience has witnessed violence in Gaza through the lens of Hamas, and last week Mr. Chávez made a show of expelling the Israeli ambassador from Caracas.

Investments in revolution around South America may have to be pared back as revenues drop. But outreach to Iran and Syria is likely to continue since those relations may serve as a source of financing Mr. Chávez's military buildup. In December, the Italian daily La Stampa reported that it has seen evidence of a pact between Caracas and Tehran in which Iran uses Venezuelan aircraft for arms trafficking and Venezuela gets military aid in return. This month Turkish officials intercepted an Iranian shipment bound for Venezuela that reportedly contained materials for making explosives.

Despite all this, the most effective police-state tool remains Mr. Chávez's control over the economy. The state freely expropriates whatever it wants -- a shopping center in Caracas is Mr. Chávez's latest announced taking -- and economic freedom is dead. Moreover, the state has imposed strict capital controls, making saving or trading in hard currency impossible. Analysts are predicting another large devaluation of the bolivar in the not-too-distant future. The private sector has been wiped out, except for those who have thrown in their lot with the tyrant.

She does exaggerate some here, there is still some private sector, but it has shrunk enormously in size and importance, in particular the goods producing sector. What is much graver is that it is now too weak to ensure a speedy production increase if it were allowed to do so by the government. This is crucial because as the crisis looms food production increase cannot be fast enough to compensate for the inability of the government to sustain the current rate of foodstuff imports. There is a risk that pressed the government might use the nationalization of the remaining important private companies (Polar in particular) as an excuse for its own deficiencies. And then truly we would be a new Cuba but not as bad because of oil production. Well, not as bad for those who adulate Chavez.

The drop in oil revenues may impoverish the state, but the opposition is even poorer. Organizing a rebellion against a less-rich Chávez remains a formidable task.

-The end-

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

An open letter to the more than 100 Latin American "experts" who criticized the report on Venezuela by Human Rights Watch

We have been asked to believe that 100 "experts" on Venezuela or Latin American criticism on the report on Venezuela by Human Rights Watch is something to behold. A quick analysis shows that most of them are not expert and that some of them, working hard at promoting this report, are probably nothing but paid agents/lobbyists for the Chavez regime such as Mark Weisbrot. Not that there is anything wrong with it, mind you! But at least they should come clear about it, in particular Weisbrot who has attended Congress hearings on behalf of the Chavez cause.

But these details about whether some guys are payed to promote Chavez pales in comparison to the crap they signed at the end, including a dismissal of the Tascon List of which this blogger has been a victim and who knows of at least three other folks personally who have suffered from its state sponsored discrimination. Not to mention the widely circulated video whose ignorance by these "experts" is shameful beyond words.

I have been quite busy these days, and not on vacation. Thus I am not much more than a secondary collaborator on a joint project that only I get to post today. It is a partial analysis on on how these 100 "experts" simply showed how biased they are, but worse, how non-expert they end up being. As Miguel astutely pointed it out, they claim academic credentials and methods that they did not apply; I can assure you that if I had used such methodology when I was doing my own Ph.D. research my adviser would have kicked me out of his laboratory real fast.

Without further ado there is the post signed by Miguel, Alek and myself. Please, if you feel that you want to add your name on it send me your name and qualities and I will put them at the bottom. That is, if you have not already signed at Miguel's page where it was posted first.
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Dear Sirs:

We have read your letter criticizing the report A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela by Human Rights Watch and are flabbergasted by its superficiality and the same lack of academic rigor you unfairly attribute to HRW.

In fact, its title alone is quite deceiving as some of the names signing the letter hardly qualify as "experts" on Latin America and it is quite clear that the common bond of those signing the letter is simply a blind support towards Hugo Chavez and his fake pseudo revolution. It is not based on any factual knowledge about what is happening on Venezuela and what you criticize of the cited report.

On the issue of discrimination on political grounds, you are of course referring to the infamous Tascon/Chavez list, a perverse database of those that signed a petition to recall the mandate of Hugo Chavez, which has been widely used to discriminate in employment and providing services to Venezuelan citizens. You question the veracity of such discrimination, which Teodoro Petkoff has called an "apartheid" list, but maybe HRW should have linked this video from the documentary "The List" (for a written summary of "The List", read here) where in minute 0:49 Hugo Chavez says "Anyone that signs against Chavez his name will be registered for history". Later in minute 2:17 President Chavez in his Sunday variety show Alo Presidente (#214) jokes about the Tascon list and the fear people have of being in it. Finally in minute 3:08 at a public Cabinet meeting Hugo Chavez says: "The famous Tascon list should be filed away. That is now over. Let the Tascon list be buried, it surely played its role at a certain moment, but it is now over" :

What else could the Venezuelan President have meant when he publicly made that order to "file away" and "bury" that list? Bury it had a very clear meaning: Chavez knew and backed the list for a long time, never condemned it and just ordered that it no longer be used. He ordered it buried as local newspapers began printing dozens of cases daily of discrimination and firings using the Tascon/Chavez list. Many of these cases are well documented in "The List".

But in the name of accuracy and rigor maybe you could all have simply taken the time to download the Tascon/Chavez database and played with it. This perverse use of technology represents and abominable example about what mankind can do in the name of ideology and politics. It classifies millions of Venezuelans as pro or against Hugo Chavez. Those in favor are called "Patriots", of course, and to insure that the appropriate pressure can be brought upon those against this empty revolution, it includes everyone's address, voting center and a powerful search function.

Just think, you can spy on your family and neighbors from the comfort of your own laptop and know whether they signed against Chavez (if you are against him) or whether they have benefited or not from the Government;s direct assistant programs (if you are for him), creating a tool for division and hate for all Venezuelans.

Just its existence and elaboration by a Government that claims to be democratic is a violation to the rights given by the Venezuelan Constitution as well as the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And remember, Chavez ordered it buried, but never condemned it.

Yes, Venezuela is indeed not a political model for anyone as clearly exposed by HRW and Jose Miguel Vivancos. The country is a signatory of these International agreements and declarations which you failed to take into account in your letter. But not knowing them is no excuse, particularly when you are asking for the rigor that an academic peer review process should have.

And yes, in most cases it can not be proven that there was discrimination. When one of us was denied a passport, he was not given a piece of paper stating it was because he had signed against Chavez, but was told only verbally that was the true reason. This happened to thousands of Venezuelans who could not obtain a passport or an ID card for months after the 2004 recall referendum.

As for employment or Government contracts, even after Chavez asked that the list be buried, it was used to get rid of the enemies of the state who worked at oil company Sincor when the Government nationalized it. The newly named President of that company left no doubt about it: "This is a matter of the State. There is a list being circulated in the press and it is real. It came out of here, we are investigating it and whoever leaked it will go to jail. It will be applied to key personnel which is within or outside the company". And yes the people were fired, so much for inaccuracy and hearsay, no?

And there is the case of Rocio San Miguel and two other lawyers (shown in "The List") who worked at the Council for Borders, who just happened to tape 55 minutes of telephone conversations with their superiors, who explained to them they were fired for signing against Hugo Chavez and that the Venezuelan Vice-President directly approved it. That case is now in the Interamerican Human Rights Court.

And while you correctly state the Government had the right to fire the oil workers for striking, you bypass the not so irrelevant fact that it not only did it illegally, ignoring Venezuela's strict labor legislation, but it confiscated severance pay (also illegal under Venezuelan law) as well as voluntary pension fund contributions and savings of all these workers without any Court order allowing it. These workers ranged from low level messengers to secretaries, to indeed, high level executives. Venezuelan Labor Courts have failed to process a single one of the appeals for these cases since 2003. If that is not overt discrimination and violation of due process and the rule of law, then what is?

As for self-censorship which you so un-rigorously dismiss, you fail to note the dozens of reporters whose programs have been cancelled in the media outlets who decided to "follow orders" from the Government, in contrast to the illegal termination of broadcasting license and seizure of the property of TV station RCTV, which refused to obey the orders from highest levels of power in Venezuela.

And it is absolutely laughable when you state that "The report even uses innuendo to imply that the government is to blame for attacks on journalists", when the Venezuelan Government has failed to provide protection to over 250 reporters as requested by the Interamerican Human Rights Court, within treaties of which Venezuela is a signatory.

Finally, you question HRW from using a report by an "opposition blogger", calling him mentally unstable, for which you also have no evidence as no professional has ever declared him so, but you fail to question a single fact of the reference cited by HRW. You will find this very difficult to do, since that reference is a factual description of the Tascon/Chavez database and proof that the Electoral Board authorized the release of copies of all of the signatures to pro-Chavez Deputy Luis Tascon.

And I do find it remarkable that you use as evidence that some people have called for the violent overthrow of the Venezuelan Government presided by Hugo Chavez who supported two coup attempts, violent ones at that, and who actually led one of them which left over 200 Venezuelans dead in the streets, including children. An interesting double standard you all have in the defense of human rights, to say the least.

In the end you letter is a defficient attempt at discrediting HRW, which curiously defended Mr. Chavez in 2002 despite the deaths induced by the Venezuelan President against a peaceful march. Your letter fails precisely where you attempted to find fault with the HRW report, it lacks rigor, it is superficial and represents a terrible error for you to sign such a partisan document.

Meanwhile back in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez seeks his indefinite reelection despite a referendum denying it in 2007 and against the express prohibition by the Venezuelan Constitution (Title IX) to consider the same question twice in a single Constitutional period. Moreover, Hugo Chavez issued 26 Bills in July 2008 which contain provisions also rejected in the same referendum.

This is the wholesale violation of the democratic rights of the majority of Venezuelans who voted against such provisions in December 2007.

It has now been 10 years of the empty Chavez revolution. Venezuela has had revenues of over US$ 800 billion comparable to the rescue package for the US financial system. Despite this windfall, poverty numbers are barely improved, nutrition and health numbers are down, the Venezuelan hospital system is in shambles and crime has tripled under Chavez' watch. But the country certainly has a very modern arsenal of military weapons, and Chavez regularly threatens the opposition with the fact that his revolution "is armed", while corruption is so rampant that suitcases full of cash are flown in official Government flights and those caught red handed in the process describe how they made hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their close relationship with Venezuelan Government officials under Chavez. And Hugo Chavez and his Government openly support the Colombian guerrillas.

Remarkably, there are still those like you "experts" that have barely probed the surface of what is going on in our beleaguered country that continue to defend the indefensible, continue to support an outlaw Government which lacks the support of Venezuelan academia and students, but you have failed to even ask yourself why this is.

Ironically, while you sit in the comforts of your offices supporting the Chavez revolution and working on your academic projects, your social science colleagues in Venezuela receive meager funding and the annual social sciences award has not been given in the last two years.

It is truly sad when in the name of academia a serious and very unique institution exclusively devoted to the defense of human rights is attacked for political purposes in such a low quality and superficial way. But it is even sadder and a shame, when the systematic and well organized violations of human rights by the Venezuelan Government presided by Hugo Chavez are ignored by those that claim to dream with and believe in the basic dignity and rights of all human beings.

-The end-

Thursday, January 01, 2009

50 years with Fidel Castro: how many more years of misery for Latin America?

In this New Year day a late breakfast brought me in front of the TV to see what was the latest on Gaza. Telesur did not disappoint choosing to celebrate 50 years of Castro entry into Havana as the biggest event of our Latin American lives (1).

I find it odd that chavismo supporters celebrate such an event which ushered in the longest dictatorship in Latin American history, rich of such caudillos to begin with. After all, one of the main arguments of chavismo sycophants is the lovely recount of how many elections Chavez won since 1998. Curiously in almost the same text they praise Castro who never submitted his rule to a competitive election. The distortions and inner contradictions of that lot will never cease to amaze me.

I had more opportunity to think about that today as I am reading “El Poder y El Delirio” the latest book of Mexican historian Enrique Krauze who in spite of a couple of tiny errors should be mandatory reading for anyone in Venezuela who has any pretension at an intellectual discourse (2). And I must say that if I picked two minimal errors it is because I am an amateur historian myself and because Mr. Krause did not write an actual history book but rather a critical review on Venezuela’s recent events. He is professional enough not to attempt such a feat from Mexico even though in my experience the best history books are always written by foreigners.

Still, as I am reaching page 100 of the book, I must say that I am pleased to read someone who puts so clearly and succinctly the nefarious role that Fidel Castro has played in all of Latin America, almost single-handedly delaying our progress in the name of his own ambition and his hatred of the US. True, Castro and Cuba do have reasons to hold grief against the US but that was never an excuse to build a continental movement defined AGAINST things rather than FOR ideas. Revenge has always been a key emotion that drove Latin America guerilla groups, best exemplified on how this led the FARC to become a simple drug cartel. And revenge feelings of Chavez against imaginary ills have also allowed him to squander Venezuelan wealth in pursuit of his very own and personal agenda, created by the manipulation of Castro on his immature psyche. I personally doubt that Chavez was himself directly affected by a “gringo”, and certainly less than I could claim myself to have been affected if I were to look at the decade an a half I spent in the US, too often confronted to US bigotry and xenophobia.

Krauze is absolutely clear in his appreciation that Venezuela, or rather the money that came with Venezuela’s oil, has been the main target of Fidel Castro as the best way to finance his reign of terror all across Latin America. Chavez has been stupid enough to serve it on a silver platter to an aging and failing Castro. Failing is a purposefully chosen word because as soon as Raul felt in enough control he started reversing some of the dogmas held dear to Castro. Not that these dogmas were necessarily ideological dogmas of Fidel, but because Fidel has known always that in a island nation any independent thinking or independent means of existence were invariably serious threats to any established power. Islands are either beacons of democracy or ruthless dictatorships.

The evil of Castro has thus kept spreading in Latin America. He finally managed to conquer Bolivia. Ecuador is not a sure thing but Nicaragua has been taken back in the most shameful way. Salvador could well be the next victim. Peru and Colombia cannot rest in peace and any day a new country could be added to those where Castro ideas come to destroy everything without building anything. Make no mistake: what Chavez pretends to carry across Latin America is nothing else but the old and failed recipes of Fidel Castro who only bring ruin, misery and tyranny. Chavez democratic mask has fallen off and he now stomps on it happily. The only novelty here comes from us living in an era of mass communication where charismatic leaders can do what they could not do 50 years ago when long and one on one campaigns allowed influential electors to get a better image of the candidates seeking their votes. Or why do you think that Castro never sought to gain votes the hard way?

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This post is dedicated to my friend Val Prieto and the folks at Babalu who might be at times a little too extreme for me but who on Cuba have been fighting the good fight, and impeccably at that. Like Krauze or yours truly, Val has known from day one what Chavez was all about.

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1) Telesur is the Chavez created network intended as a “reply” to CNN. Over the years it has slowly but surely become a sycophantic channel for Chavez glory and anything anti US you can come up with.

2) Editorial Alfa; ISBN 978-980-354-266-5

-The end-

Best wishes for 2009

May we work all in unison and effectiveness to bring Chavez closer to his political end.

-The end-