Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Washington Post criticizes Obama silence on Rosales forced exile and brave Peru

It is interesting to read the Washington Post criticizing a president they endorsed in November, at his hundred days mark, as he rolls high in polls. The editorial is clear, extremely clear for whomever wants to read it, in this blog or at the White House and State. I am posting just the end to make sure you do not miss it. My emphasis.
That's certainly a worthy goal -- and we have no objection to Mr. Obama's handshake with Mr. Chávez. The administration's strategy -- to open up a constructive dialogue with Venezuela and avoid being cast as Mr. Chávez's Yanqui foil -- is reasonable; it is also the same strategy as was tried, unsuccessfully, by the previous two administrations. What doesn't make sense is to deliberately ignore steps by Mr. Chávez to consolidate an autocracy. In so doing, the administration encourages Latin American governments that have shrunk from confronting the Venezuelan strongman to continue in their own silence. It sends pro-Chávez governments in countries such as Bolivia and Nicaragua the message that they can persecute their own domestic opponents with impunity. And it makes it more rather than less likely that Venezuela, with the help of Iran and Russia, will become a threat to the United States.

Peru's democratic government is to be congratulated for its decision to offer Mr. Rosales asylum. It is shameful that the Obama administration won't say so.
As the Post writes, I had no problem with Obama's hand shake. But that should not mean acquiescence on something as patently autocratic and anti democratic as what Chavez is doing these days. I am going to allow myself to repeat once again a warning to President Obama and Secretary Clinton: Chavez is out to get you and he does not play by the rules. Ever. You are dealing with a thug. Deal with it!

-The end-

There is a world pandemic. Meanwhile, back at Chavez ranch...

There is an outbreak of what seems to be a new Flu Virus (rather than the poor pigs bearing all the blame again).

What does chavismo says? Two things:

1) all is fine, marches can be going on, rallies held. A responsible government would forbid any marches, opposition or chavista alike, for a week or two. But that would mean that the beloved leader could not hold hostage hundred of his followers in a single room for hours on end during any of his frequent cadena perorata. Not to mention that in authoritarian regimes, all should be the best in the better of the world, Candide style. That is, until someone is found to blame.

2) instead of seeking cooperation of local authorities and making sure that flu vaccines and medication are plentiful (working or not is not the question here, a lousy vaccine is still better than no vaccine for the populations more at risk) chavismo is instead taking by assault local health centers so that none of them would be under the care of local opposition authorities. Of course, taking by assault with the Nazional Guard these centers, as if they were dangerous military objectives, result in the closing of these centers for a few days if not weeks until certified red personnel can be found to manage them. But by experience we know well that ridicule is not something that affects chavismo.

Now, we are all left to shudder about what will happen to Venezuela if the New Flu reaches our shores. There are already suspect cases in Colombia so it is just a matter of time. With Caracas overcrowding, with the decrepit system of Barrio Adentro, with a generally crumbling hospital infrastructure where minimum hygiene conditions are hard to maintain, not to mention that running water for more than half the population is something that happens an average of a few precious hours a day, I leave it to your imagination to guess the consequences of an epidemic in Venezuela.

In a perverse and sadistic way I am looking forward such an outbreak because it will expose bluntly all the wonders of the Chavez health care system. I mean, if it is going to happen I prefer it to be now because another couple of years of Chavez inefficient administration without money and increased corruption will make things worse. Then again, considering the government reluctance at acknowledging an increase in other diseases such as Dengue, Chagas, Paludism, Yellow Fever and Tuberculosis, you can already assume that whatever numbers are published will be highly unreliable.

PS: yesterday's assault against the Baruta and La Carlota neighborhood heath center is particularly galling. The reasons behind such a ridiculous assault bu the Nazional Guard are simple to understand: nothing should be left to the care of opposition elected officials, the more so if they stand a chance to do a better job than the previous chavista authorities. Thus, defeated governor Diosdado Cabello is organizing a deliberate sabotage of all the initiatives of his successor, Capriles Radonski, including a likely reopeneing of an extinct groundless judicial case. Not only Cabello demonstrates, along his boss, his absolute deficit of democratic values, amen of his established corruption abilities (moral and otherwise), but he also explicitly shows us that he is afraid of Capriles. Pathetic...

But Capriles like Ledezma is showing to be himself way more creative than the Chavez low life goons. With himself unable to coordinate the heath response to the coming crisis he decided to decree that his state of Miranda is now in an health emergency.

This is clever because it forces the government to demonstrate RIGHT NOW that its illegal take over of the local health facilities are not going to affect their function whatsoever. This, the government cannot do as it is already hard pressed to run what it controls. There is not enough Cuban doctors Chavez can bring along fast, or vaccines he can buy around. Not to mention that this will motivate the neighborhood associations that were protesting loudly to organize better their monitoring of the situation and inevitable protests in a country which is reaching fast ebullition conditions

-The end-

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nelson Merentes, noted crook, to become president of Venezuela's Central Bank

This one is for the annals of the "you got nerves" chapter of Venezuela contemporary history. Former finance minister, Nelson Merentes, has been named president of what is left of the Venezuela's Central Bank. It is like putting the Fox in charge of the Chickens.

Merentes is by trade a Mathematician, if memory serves me well. Where memory serves me is that before Chavez his career was not particularly noteworthy but since Chavez he has risen to the top of the mafia mob that rules in the shade.

His first "genius" stroke was when he designed the famous "kino" that used an electoral trick to make sure that with 60% of the cast votes chavismo got 97% of the seats of the constituent assembly. It is easy to say in hindsight that today's dangerous situation is the result of a constituent assembly where debate was limited resulting in writing a constitution that made no difference between rights and wishes.

Based on this success, and at a time where chavismo still hoped to garner the good will of the thinking class of Venezuela, Merentes was sent to run for the UCV presidency. But his colleagues knew better, having worked with the man in the past, and Merentes was roundly defeated, a margin to chavismo surprise it must be noted.

But within chavismo where sycophancy and mean guile are the only qualities appreciated, the defeat was not going to stop Merentes ascension as he soon became Finance Minister. During his tenure (twice), as well as the one of Nobrega, the Finance Ministry became a den of sweet deals where money was placed in dubious accounts instead of being duly spent for the betterment of the country. That is, public officials were more interested in dividend returns from government placed bonds of which they were receiving juicy commissions from the bankers they worked with. And these were only the "acceptable" practices as when exchange controls came to be in 2003 way more creative ways to skim public funds were implemented. You just need to consult Miguel's Blog for an endless series of posts on that matter since he opened it.

Let's just say that it is common suspicion (knowledge?) that Merentes was in charge to finance the constant campaigns that Chavez has been submitting us to; because you may be assured of one thing: the lavishness of Chavez campaigns that include refrigerator distribution, cannot be paid only with the donations of the supporters.

But the scandalous ways of Merentes were on occasion a tad too much and believe it or not there is even a dossier about him at the silent comptroller office where he is investigated from transferring money form an account to another government account, a practice that is forbidden in Venezuelan law unless there is a parliamentary vote on the subject. It is necessary to say that for the same "crime" Carlos Andres Perez was removed from office in 1993. But it is needless to say that for moving amounts of money several folds bigger than what Perez moved, Merentes and Chavez have not been perturbed in their sleep, even though Merentes received a slap on his fingers at the National Assembly. Times have changed, it seems.

Still, the dossier on Merentes exists, investigations have not proceeded further and Merentes will become without a doubt the next Central Bank president.

You may wonder why Chavez will have the nerve to name such a tainted character as Merentes to the Piggy Bank of Venezuela. After all he could place there some more palatable characters such as Rodrigo Cabezas (even though he is a nullity on his own right).

You may find a preliminary answer to this intriguing question by reading a detailed article in El Universal on how Venezuela is bucking the trend in Latin America in its dealing to the world crisis that we all suffer. The article is in English, by the way, so you really might want to read it to understand better what is coming Venezuela's way. Venezuela is the only country of the area which is dealing with the crisis with budget cuts and more taxes. Then again it makes some sense if you consider that the private sector is agonizing and so Chavez cannot expect much help from there, even if he were to change his attitude towards private enterprise.

Merentes is coming to the Central Bank to liquidate it. Oh, no! He will not close it, that would not look good on paper though a name change is always a possibility with the glorious revolution. Merentes task at the Central Bank is to scour for any possible dime that can be found to finance Chavez pipe dreams. When there is no more money left at all then probably Venezuela will start operating like Cuba where the Peso is worthless and only allowed for its populace. The government will control any hard currency and thus pay its bills whenever, if ever. After all it worked for the Castros for 5 decades and they did not have the assured revenue that oil will bring to Chavez. No matter in what bad shape PDVSA is, something will always trickle to the thugs in charge to split among themselves as payment of the dirty job they will do to keep Chavez in office forever.

There is also another thing that Merentes will duly perform: the discarding of any serious statistics still left inside the Central Bank. These have become increasingly questionable, though not necessarily untrue: it is a matter on how you can present them to make them look better than what they do. Economists are still able to see through the numbers and make decent economic analysis. But this is not going to be enough as Venezuela is running out of money: Merentes has the credentials to start fudging outright the Central Banks statistics. Remember, you read it here first.

-The end-

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weil on how Venezuelan passivity allows us to get used to the regime

This cartoon of a woman and her child over recent years needs no comments, just a translation of the words, repeated in the 4 frames.

"Worried about the situation, but all is fine, thanks to God"

-The end-

Peruvian exile for Rosales

That Peru was going to grant political asylum to Manuel Rosales is no surprise. For simple practical reasons Colombia is not a good choice as it is too close for comfort: a Venezuelan death squad in conjunction with FARC help can take care of you fast. Brazil does not speak English or Spanish. Argentina is only too willing to sell off anyone. Chile is too far, and too boring?, even if the wine is good. Ecuador too small and too chavista these days. Bolivia is, well, a godforsaken but beautiful country that you need to be Bolivian to love, besides the fact that Evo Morales would ship you back to Venezuela post haste. Thus Peru is really the only choice today, with Mexico perhaps. Besides it is a booming country which has been so far moderately affected by the word crisis and which is taking much better steps to avoid further damage than what Venezuela is doing.

But there is more to Peru. First it has become really a land of asylum since democracy returned. After all, after the long dark years of Odria and Velasco, followed by the dynamic but equally condemnable Fujimorazo, it seems that they have learned best their lesson and can smell a tyrant before anyone else. For them it was not difficult to perceive fast that whatever charges were levied against Rosales, the real reason for his prosecution was political.

Of course chavismo is upset and recalled its ambassador and again accuse Peru of all sorts of crimes against International Law. Chavismo goes even to the ridicule of calling upon the Interpol after Chavez attacked it mercilessly after Colombia had it examine incriminating FARC computers. Chavismo also forgets conveniently that under Fujimori dozens of murderous conspiring coup mongers military of 1992 where granted asylum in Peru. Way more dangerous criminals than Rosales.

There was a time where our local dictators were just happy to see their opposition flee the coop and remain outside of the country. But under Chavez things are different: he wants revenge as he cannot accept that anyone can beat him electorally, or even disagrees with him. All must be punished; exile is simply too light a sentence on them. One wonders if death penalty is not something that Chavez is secretly caressing in his future projects. Legal death penalty I mean, as the surreptitious death penalty is already in place in Venezuela.

But such type of actions are counterproductive and betray a real weakness within chavismo where the elimination of opponents is the only way they can sleep soundly at night. Thus it is heartening to read such pieces as Duncan Currie for NRO where he describes how resistance is growing in Venezuela against the budding "legal" dictatorship that is being installed. Diego Arria tells it like it is, as I have already reported, even though I do not agree with his conclusion on the now legendary Obama-Chavez encounter.

Certainly the coverage of NRO is refreshing when one compares it to the BBC coverage of the Rosales asylum grant, an article that could come straight out of pro-Chavez Venezuelanalysis or Aporrea in its partiality, where the BBC does not blink from writing such inanities as "He is facing multi-million-dollar corruption charges relating to a previous term as governor of Zulia state. [...] Government supporters accuse him of taking part in a short-lived coup against Mr Chavez in April 2002."

I mean it might be fair to write such things if you were writing on Venezuela's corruption in general, including the Cabello and Chacon brothers, but the not so veiled intent of that BBC piece is simply to make look Rosales bad and Chavez ambassador recall adequate. Fortunately, and curiously, the BBC Mundo piece on this subject is completely different, and a world away in objectivity, which raises the interesting question as to whether the two BBC correspondents even know each other, or have visited the same country. For one thing the BBC Mundo does not burden itself with the chavista ritornello of April 2002, the universal excuse to everything that only weak minded folks use today. Why is it that the BBC coverage on Venezuela in English is consistently so inconsistent, so poorly researched, even so out of tune with real chavista arguments and propaganda? I mean, even the Guardian arguably to the left of BBC is more crtical of Chavez!

-The end-

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday morning amusing reading

Maria Anastasia O'Grady went through the pain of duly trashing "the open veins of Latin America". This way none of you will feel under any obligation to read that considerably outdated pamphlet. But this blog ever helpful will post below the two last paragraphs, just in case your patience with Chavez idiotic antics do not go as far as reading what you already know, or suspect, even under O'Grady slicing prose (my emphasis).

The Galeano book was not a present to Mr. Obama, though it was hyped as such. After all it was in Spanish, a language Mr. Obama does not read -- and Cuban and Venezuelan military intelligence surely would have advised Mr. Chávez of that fact. Its purpose was instead a way for the resentful Venezuelan to shove his anticapitalist, anti-American prejudices in Mr. Obama's face before rows of television cameras.

Yet, unwittingly, Mr. Chávez's gag gift served another purpose. If there has been any doubt about how he has run his oil-rich country into the ground during a decade of booming petroleum prices, the mystery is now solved. Mr. Galeano's book is Mr. Chávez's bible.

-The end-

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In the "I told you so" section: Clinton says it as it is

Yesterday I wrote about an upcoming congressional hearing where GOP representative Pence was going to question Obama's handshake by grilling Hillary Clinton. There is the video of Hillary putting to rest the issue, for your enjoyment.

Not only this is a great reply from Clinton, but it is also a history lesson, a politics one and a democratic example on how political differences can be resolved and all start to work together, at least up to a point.

It is also an illustration on why particular political obsessions cannot decide foreign policies where state interests should be first, something totally lost in today's Venezuela. From the video you can see clearly that Hillary knows more about Chavez than Pence, and how she genuinely dislikes Chavez, probably much more than what Pence actually does. But Hillary puts US interests first. You might agree or disagree with what she considers US interests, but it is clear that her position on Chavez is well thought whereas the one from Pence is, well, cliche if not necessarily untrue. Maybe for us in Venezuela under Chavez boot this might not be good news but Obama and Clinton are not there to solve our problems, the more so that there are really self inflicted. Pence words might sound like a nice balm to our battered hearts, but Clinton words are more realistic for a long term solution in getting rid of Chavez, a solution, remember, that must start at home first.

I liked Hillary, remember? :)

PS: to supplement this post, an article at FrontPage by our own Alek Boyd-

-The end-

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In praise of Rosales


Tuesday we learned that Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales has asked Peru for political asylum. I am not going to discuss whether Rosales was corrupt enough to seek asylum: as far as I can tell it does not matter what Rosales has stolen, he is small pickings compared to the Diosdado Cabello clan or the famiglia as Petkoff calls the Chavez clan. If we are going to get serious about corruption, we should start from the top where the pickings (and potential recoveries) are way bigger.

No, what I want is to praise Rosales choice of preserving his functional human and political condition by leaving Venezuela. Why? The judicial system today is not the one we had even as late as last year. Since February 15 the order is to dispose of any opposition political figure that has any weight. After the police officers life sentence without firm evidence (1), the surreptitious arrest of Baduel, the months and months of confinement by Nixon Moreno at the Vatican's embassy, just to name three preeminent recent cases, Rosales would be a fool to trust the judicial system in Venezuela.

Thus it is the more necessary to praise Rosales courage in separating himself from his family, from the people who voted him massively, from his friends and collaborators, from his possessions, including the ones he acquired fair and square, etc, etc... Whatever he is accused of stealing, he is paying for it already. And it is necessary to praise Rosales the more as we hear unbelievable pettiness from both sides.

Let's dispose of the chavista side first. That they are accusing Rosales of admitting his guilt by fleeing the coop carries no weight: as long as the Cabellos, Chavez, Flores, Chacon, and many more big chavista names are not called on the corruption they presided over, any chavista claim of opposition corruption will simply be a ridiculous hollow claim. Effective perhaps among their fanatic supporters, but hollow with the rest of the country. The only worthy thing to mention is the indecent intra chavista fighting to run for the now vacated seat of Maracaibo Mayor. The indecency here is that it is all public, without even waiting for the official announcement of the vacancy. It is all a show anyway because the decision will be of Chavez. And we probably will hear of that next Sunday with an Alo Presidente that promises ot be one of the most vulgar ever.

From the opposition side the criticism is graver.

We have those that think that Rosales should have accepted to go to jail. Some even claim that Capriles Radonski did went to jail for a while, unfairly, and became as such a big star. This shows one or two things. First, they do not realize the change in Venezuela. And second they are probable hypocrites as one would love to see whether they would go to jail today when placed in a Rosales like predicament.

We have those that do not think much of it. It might be those who actually do not think it worthwhile. It might be those who do not care. It might be those who do not seem to realize what is really happening. There is an example close to us of this last category, Francisco Toro who wrote two unbelievable posts lately. One about the Venezuelan opposition not caring about what happened in Port of Spain and another one with the late discovery of the virtues of Ledezma. With that he only shows that he urgently needs to come back to Venezuela and live here for a few months to see first hand como se bate el cobre.

Inasmuch as we can be offended by those who do not give this thing the right weight, there are those who actually are not really upset with Rosales exile. They never liked him much. They never accepted that he recognized his defeat in 2006. They want other leaders for the opposition. And other such infamous attitudes, totally counter productive any way as Chavez thrives on that. Which brings me to the real problem behind that Rosales exile: if the opposition divides over that Chavez will have won one of his major victories, at the cost of some international frowning at most.

I think it is time to force the opposition to unify and to confront those who only like TV appearances and who work for themselves. But that will be for another future post.

It is enough to say here that if the opposition does not create now, in the very next few weeks at the latest, a front to confront Chavez, it will have no future and we will have to wait for the violent denouement that will come from within chavismo itself, but for which we all suffer. The opposition should unify well because the elections of November 2008 and the ill tempered reaction of Chavez has given the opposition the leaders that it did not really expect. I wrote a few days ago of Ledezma, but I could also write about how Perez in Zulia has been gaining exposure and strength, how Cesar Perez Vivas resistance is being noted, how Capriles and Caracas districts mayors are slowly but surely emerging, and more. What Chavez is doing is speeding up their growth, as he tries to stop them. And we saw some preliminary results last week end at one of the first unity acts around Ledezma.

If Rosales exile serves to speed up this urgent unity, then it will be worth it, even if it is at the cost of his very own political career. Though that is not so certain: Betancourt was in a log exile and yet he came back to become president.

Update. The international press is starting to write on this.

Juan Forero at the WaPo writes a fairly good price on the current situation in Venezuela


1) In Venezuela the 30 year prison term might be the maximum sentence but considering the jail system of Venezuela it is akin a death sentence and thus my deliberate choice of life sentence.

-The end-

People with too much time on their hands

We read from The Hill:
GOP Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) on Tuesday afternoon called the photographs taken of President Obama and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez shaking hands at the Summit of the Americas "an enormous propaganda victory for the socialist dictator."

Pence indicated that House Republicans intended to confront Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Obama and Chavez meeting and mugging for the cameras when she appears before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning.
I will very respectfully suggest Rep. Pence to go back to other Republican activities (tea parties?) instead of risking to make a fool of himself. After all, even Mel Martinez, GOP Senator of Florida, was OK with the Port of Spain events, as seen on CNN. Not to mention conservative IBD. Or FOX wondering aloud whether Obama did not scold Chavez in their last encounter. Nothing good for the US will come from grilling Secretary Clinton on such a silly matter at this time. There will be better opportunities in the future. However Chavez and the Castros could well benefit a lot in front of their public opinions, showing how capable they are to perturb US politics.

-The end-

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Does Teodoro Petkoff read Venezuela News and Views?

In today's editorial of Tal Cual, written by Teodoro Petkoff:
El hedor hitleriano que despide el nombramiento de la gauleiter para Caracas trasciende las fronteras.

The hitlerian stench coming from naming a gauleiter for Caracas goes across the borders.
And then some say that I exaggerate....
Anyway, for the record, as far as I know I am the first one that is on record using the term gauleiter with Faria(s) nomination. Though I am absolutely certain that Teodoro could come up with that association on his own. You know, great minds....

-The end-

Monday, April 20, 2009

For once, Maria Anastasia O'Grady did not get it

Readers of this blog are used to me saying that Maria Anastasia O'Grady from the Wall Street Journal is right on the dot about Venezuela. Well, today I think she is missing the boat in her criticism of Obama trip at Port of Spain.

Not that Obama is exempt of some criticism, he could have handled things a little bit better. But as I have explained in previous posts on the subject he was in a lose-lose situation and considering that, he did pretty well, as far as I am concerned.

Expecting that in a single summit Obama would corner the Castros, tell Chavez down, browbeat Ortega, muffle Evo and more or less silence a few others is simply unreasonable: such meetings are not the appropriate scenario and besides, it is never nice nor polite to gang on the absent ones even if they do that to you when you are not around. That is why a president as a Secretary of State and ambassadors, to tell Cuba what to do, in the hallways, at other meetings, at newspapers. The less a US president speaks on Cuba the better. There will be plenty of future opportunities for Obama to speak on Raul, Hugo, and Evo (Danielito and Rafael can be just ignored as the first one is irrelevant and the other as the US dollar as his currency).

At any rate, as the dust starts settling, the piece by Antonio Caño that I translated yesterday is the one closest to what really happened at Port of Spain. All the rest is media show that we should not fall into.

-The end-

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The end of the Anti American alibi

This El Pais piece by Antonio Caño is a must read in Spanish to understand what Obama 'might' have achieved in Port of Spain this week end. The translation below and my brief notes at the end. Hat tip reader Milonga.

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

The end of the Anti [USA] American alibi

"United States has changed," said Barack Obama to the presidents of Latin America. "It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future."

The answer to these words was the book that Hugo Chavez gave the U.S. president: The Open Veins of Latin America, by Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, a symbol for a generation marked by an America populated by dictators and guerrillas, a continent that was the scenario real or imagined, of cruel multinationals and CIA agents, young dreamers and promises of socialism and revolution, a time when friends were away and the enemy, the only enemy very was close, the United States.

This book, written in 1971, and questionable as to its impartiality and scientific value, represents an era, probably the same as the one who used it yesterday as stone throwing against Obama; the new American president represents another era altogether.

Both have been exposed in this summit. It is now for citizens to choose. That choice is possible in all countries of the region except for one. The result may yet take a little to be known. The peoples of the region, rightly, are wary of everything. But, at least, something really important comes immediately out of Port of Spain: the leaders of this continent can ill take refuge in the excuse of anti-Americanism.

That alibi, still alive in many environments, has, of course, justifications. Obama acknowledged it on Friday: "At times we sought to dictate our terms." But it will be hard to use it against the new leader of the powerful northern neighbor.

His passage through the streets of Port of Spain was by far the most welcomed by the population. His speech, the most celebrated in the chamber. His popularity overcomes barriers never broken in Latin America and converts other languages, such as that of Daniel Ortega into soporific remembrances of a distant night.

The proposal of President Obama, by contrast, is illuminating: "these debates that would have us make a false choice [...] between blame for right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents;"

The resistance from some in this American lands is understandable in accepting that hope travels in Air Force One where before traveled the heads of evil imperialist web, but that is simply what we are seeing in Port of Spain. "We must learn from history, but we can't be trapped by it." Obama suggested.

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

El Pais is a center left newspaper of Spain, close tot he PSOE, at least at times. El Pais, like Liberation and later Le Monde in France, were among the first newspapers to see the truth behind the Chavez rhetoric and thus started opposing him well before more right wing papers did. In fact in France, Le Figaro is still a paper that does not seem to have made its mind about Chavez, unforgivably not only because of the evidence but because it helps Sarkozy ambiguity and opportunism on that matter. Such OpEd are now routine in El Pais, and all Spanish press who do not suffer of the language barrier to see the Venezuelan reality and who in addition have enough contacts within Venezuela to observe from ground zero.

The implication of what we saw in Port of Spain is very simple: the time of reckoning for folks like Chavez, Ortega and Castro is coming. Obama's words will make it much easier for Latin Americans to start speaking against the bullies, the way their Spanish friends have already done. Once the process starts, nobody knows how fast and far it will go.

-The end-

Anything for a laugh! Gift giving Chavez!

[Update1] [Update2: why Obama had an impossible mission]

Chavez gave a book to Obama in Port of Spain. The chavista propaganda already edited the entry for the book in wikipedia, pointing out that it went up in a few hours at Amazon, from 54,295 to 14 sales rank. Good for the Galeano estate. The wikipedia entry in Spanish is not as sanguine: as I just checked there was no editing yet, which goes to tell you that chavismo propaganda in English seems to be speedier.

The book "the open veins of Latin America" is a cult book of sorts, narrating all the pillaging and abuses along the history of the Americas. A similar book could be written about Africa, Asia and even Europe. A sad but permanent historical feature, and certainly not solved at all by regimes such as the Castros or Chavez. I have not read it, and I probably will not do so. Besides, written in 1971, it is more of a grudge book than anything of particular value to understand Latin America today after all the historical research that has come to light in the last 40 years, where even the pre Columbian cultures have been extensively revised. Though it is certainly interesting to understand the mood of the 70ies, at the eve of the violent dictatorships that punished the continent.

So how can we interpret Chavez gesture?

Is it just yet another mark of Chavez inner world fed with readings that he does not understand and even less can place into historical context? On this respect the incident reminds me of the actions of some PSF who swear on given books as the key to everything in life... A state of mind, you know, a need for certainties for people unable to be critical of the world and even less of themselves.

An unwilling but subconscious insult to Obama assuming that he knows nothing about the complex US-Latin America history? Was the book given in its English translation? That would be interesting because if Chavez really meant business the Venezuelan embassy in Washington should have shipped the translation before it got exhausted at Amazon. If it was the Spanish version then it is a cheap insult, IMO. Does anyone know?

Or just a show? This the one I favor. Kind of Occam razor, you know.

At the Alba "summit" the creeps plotted on ways to ridicule Obama, a big threat for their objectives since a lot of the generic accusations lobbed at the US for internal propaganda will not fly anymore with a black man at the White House. As luck had it, protocol wise Nicaragua's Ortega was the only one of the lot that would have the right to speak at Trinidad at premium moment. So they prepared together a speech to attack Obama and the US. The speech lasted 45 minutes, a length of time already an insult by itself to ALL attendees who had better things to do that to listen to Ortega for more than a dozen minutes. Let's just say that a minute of Lula decision making is worth a full day of Ortega.

But the drama came when the Ortega rant was an asinine resentful affair revealing only the mediocrity of the individual who after having raped his step daughter should avoid such exposure. Obama brilliance dispatched the 45 minutes horror in two sentences. And moved on.

So, Chavez, having failed in his first attempt at limelight went ahead today with this book giving, probably flown from Caracas during the night. My bet is that the only thing he gained was that form now on, just as the Queen of Spain and other such people scared by the body language of Chavez, Obama will make sure not to be put into such situations in the future. Poor Hillary, she will be sent to the front when there is such a risk......

I wonder how much this will cost Venezuela... And I am not talking about the special flight just for a book.

Update 1

Contrary to my first impression, it was Obama that sought the first handshake with Chavez. I suppose he knew that in cramped Port Of Spain setting an encounter with Chavez would be inevitable and he wisely decided to strike first that way he could deal with other more important business than Venezuela. Which he did in his speech.

That explains why Chavez became the stalker and went ahead to give him a copy of Galeano's book in SPANISH!

Overall it is a big score for Obama, with a very small gesture, that he could not avoid anyway unless he were to hide behind drapes or something, he forced from Chavez a major concession as this one has announced that he will seek to renew ambassadors with the US. Just as I anticipated should be a serious gesture from Chavez in my for fun memo of a few days ago. Not to mention that it exempted Obama from dealing with Venezuela altogether for the rest of the meeting.

I suppose that Obama is used to deal with narcissistic personalities, otherwise he would not have risen to the top of the democratic party.

Update 2

I am reading lots of complain about Obama actions in Port Of Spain. I suppose in conservative sites which want Obama to avenge Bush it is understandable, though misplaced as being outside the US political tradition where an incoming administration is expected to mend errors of past ones, not to avenge them. But also criticism comes from friends of mine, one going so far as suggesting that Obama should have had the OAS charter on democracy under his sleeve to give it back to Chavez.

All are unfair.

US administrations, de par its presidential system and "to the winner go the spoils", have a learning curve that can last a year or two. Rare is the president elect that has actually a real foreign policy experience. Since world War 2 there is only Eisenhower, Nixon and Bush senior who qualified (and who all had occasional real foreign policy successes). The other had only the successes that brought them their ability to select a good foreign team and listen to them. On occasion they have the good sense of retaining some of the older experienced staff but that is rather rare.

The Obama administration is not exempt of this rule. US presidents are elected on a domestic agenda where foreign policy occupies a secondary role, more or less important according to the time. And this last time was no exception as even Iraq seemed at times to be treated more as an internal matter than a foreign one.

Port of Spain was a rattle snake nest for Obama. There were at least half a dozen presidents willing to score cheap points at the US expense and at least a dozen of them too scared of them to murmur a favorable word to protect the US from abuse. It was a potential lose-lose for Obama whose only reliable friend would have been Canada. From the start, embattled Cristina Kirchner, facing a tough legislative election in a few weeks, went anti US, though at least politely and briefly. Ortega went all out, and vulgarly. But with a hand shake to Chavez and a couple of sentences Obama defused the first trap set and thought, perhaps naively but at least not without reason at first, that he could then do some real work. But Chavez pathological need to be in the forefront came up with the book giving scheme to recover the media front pages.

Indeed the media are the real guilty part there. They all prefer to cover the antics of Chavez and Obama than any substance that might come from the summit. And Chavez plays them like a fiddle, having it very clearly in his mind that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Even if Chavez might look as the lout he is in this coverage, he is covered extensively while no one speaks of Lula, or Calderon, or Uribe... That he shares front page with Obama is no problem: ¡si no la gana, la empata! If he cannot win, he cores even!

I stand by my first assessment: Obama did pretty good so far considering that all was staked against him. True, he could have done better, but as a novice president, and particularly novice about Latin matters he could have done much, much worse. In fact he probably learned a very valuable lesson: stay away from clowns! You know, the lesson that some of us learned very young in life.

Besides his real problem right now is not Venezuela or even Latin America, it is North Korea, Israel, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. The Cuban thing was the only pressing matter down South and now this has been dealt with, the ball is in the court of the Castros. If they want to get into the OAS and have the embargo lifted they know what they need to do: liberalize further. Let's take bets on that.

-The end-

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In praise of Antonio Ledezma

I know, I know, praising Ledezma, some guy that seems like the embodiment of old politics, might not be popular among some readers. But Ledezma is a different political animal. And curiously like Chavez, a very underrated one.

Ledezma is a politician not endowed with much charisma, nor gifted for speechifying, nor even particularly intellectually deep. But he is a fighter, a gritty one, very conscious on where he stands and what needs to be done (though his dumb support to Alfaro Ucero in 1998 shows also that he can make major mistakes). He also comes across as awkward when he reaches out to people, though there is weird sincerity that comes with him, a little bit like saying "you know, I really do not like much to press your flesh but if it means so much for you, let's do it". Some people do respond to that, appreciating the earnestness of the guy.

In short, it is not easy for Ledezma to make politics although it is clear that it has always been his vocation. His grit was enough once to defeat Isturiz for Caracas downtown mayor. If he failed to be reelected in 2000 it was because the tide wave of Chavez was irresistible in Caracas, still smitten by Chavez (which has changed now as he decides to name the big boss there rather than risk yet another electoral defeat). But his defeat then was quite honorable and he showed a good democratic talent by presiding over an impeccable transition, something not seen ever since, and certainly not from the occasional chavista loser.

Burdened by his Alfaro Ucero support and losing Caracas in 2000, Ledezma had a hard time to make a come back, even though soon it was clear that he had been a much better mayor than the sitting infamous Bernal, a mayor way more interested in organizing red shirts in assault brigades than picking up the trash. Ledezma slow recovery started in 2002-2004. Contrary to other opposition politicians keen on showing up in front of the Globovison/RCTV cameras than in front of the marches they were calling from, Ledezma did march as much as he could, did get quite a dose of tear gas, and was even once beaten up enough to be sent to a hospital. His tiny party, ABP, a dissidence of AD once he was booted from it, never grew much but was always present, and included some colorful characters which kept it in the limelight through Venevision when it was still not sold out to Chavez.

Still he made a few more mistakes that did not endear him to other opposition politicians and slowed down his political recovery. But he kept forging ahead and his break came once Leopoldo Lopez was barred from running for Caracas Mayor office. Ledezma would have never won against juvenile and charismatic Lopez but he had built enough of a hard core following that he became the inevitable candidate for Caracas even though no one gave him a chance at first (although this blogger is on record at one of the first people to predict a possible victory of Ledezma, and certainly the first blogger to do so) (1).

Some times some people rise to the historic occasion they are given and Ledezma will be one of those poster politicians. Against all odds, including a reluctance from many within the opposition to support him, Ledezma run hard and won, convincingly if not by a wide margin (6%). Within hours of his victory announcement chavismo was hard at sabotaging his rule, something that they had already started when polls became looking up for Ledezma that past fall. The final straw against poor Ledezma came when the Nazional Assembly wrote fast a new and unconstitutional law that stripped him of almost any attribution to give them to an appointed apparatchik, which quickly was named as Jacqueline Farias, who fits amazingly well the portrait of what a XXI century gauleiter would be.

But Ledezma never lost his cool and today he gave a hard blow to chavismo, even taking a page from its earlier book. In a surprise move Ledezma went downtown Caracas to the CNE lair with a large group of his followers chanting. In spite of a strong display of Nazional Guards, they could not stop the entry of Ledezma and his reception by the only democratic CNE director. Ledezma did submit a referendum proposal and walked out acclaimed by his followers. If there were red shirts to be seen they were either far away or scared; or never received their marching orders.

A stunned chavismo could not find any other reply than a particularly fascist move: they had Ledezma followed by a group of Metro Police who harassed him along the way until Ledezma stopped to confront them (before they stopped him, I suppose?). For what? Roughing up Ledezma? Arresting him for doing a peaceful civic activity? To their great surprise, passersby, walking or on cars, stopped to defend Ledezma and soon the fascist detachment was in full retreat. Globovision even carries a video amateur of the moment.

Ledezma showed today how it is played, how to stand up to violence without resorting to violence yourself. And as such I am afraid he might have signed his death sentence. But right now chavismo has made him an opposition hero, and a hero that could cause them lots of trouble now that he is without much to do and can dedicate himself fully to fight chavismo.

1) Leopoldo Lopez is the only opposition politician who can dispute the contest at which opposition politician has breathed more tear gas since 2002. If anything else, Lopez and Ledezma share that willingness to lead their followers.

-The end-

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Gauleiter first day on the job: Farias takes over Caracas

Thus Jacqueline Farias was sworn in (1). From her first declarations we have an intense feeling as for her commitment to democracy, free speech, listening and amenable public servant. Just as this old fabulously reassuring picture of her as a failed environment minister shows us, red earrings included. A sample choice for you of yesterday's words.

From El Universal:

Replying to a journalist that she got her job from Chavez magic finger pointing at her:"los dedos de Chávez son los dedos del pueblo, sus dedos quieren lo mejor para Caracas". The fingers of Chavez are the fingers of the people, his fingers want what is best of Caracas. This one is for the annals of sycophancy! Of course the handful of supporters outside started chanting "Aquí el que manda es Chávez y la revolución", here the one that decides is Chavez and the revolution. Nothing else needs to be said.

To another question she said that it was normal that her job came from Chavez because Caracas is the capital of the country and thus poor Chavez would feel "incómodo" uncomfortable being surrounded by opposition local officials. Never mind that those were elected by the people.....

Jorge Rodriguez, Caracas downtown district mayor, wanting to make sure that he would not be too far behind in the sycophancy contest with Farias who just scored really big, said that now Caracas had a mayor and a governor like every state in the country, though he did not explain why it was normal that Caracas Governor was not elected, but adding that he "felicitaba al pueblo por la designación de Chávez" congratulated the people by the Chavez appointment. In sycophancy Rodriguez plays hard ball indeed!

From El Nacional:

Jacqueline describing her job: "tendrá que velar y supervisar todos los servicios para que los capitalinos tengan una mejor calidad de vida, la nueva vida socialista" will have to care and supervise all services so that the capital inhabitants have a better quality of life, the new socialist life. Besides wondering what Rodriguez job will be (rhetorical question, we all know that his job will be now only politics while Jacqueline will be cleaning up after him, very XXI century macho socialism if you ask me) we cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that Jacquy has decided for us, be we living in the 23 de Enero or La Florida that we will all have the socialist life that SHE will decide.

Globovision helpfully reminds us that she has been a relative failure at whatever Chavez has put her. But of course the only requirement for any job with Chavez is to be a faithful, and to allow shady deals to proceed apace. So we can be certain right now that the objective of Chavez is not to improve services for Caracas.

And I could keep with more fascinating tidbits but I prefer to close this post with a much more optimist note, an interview of Ledezma for pro PSOE (socialists in office) Spanish paper El Pais. See, in Spain Socialists are all for local governments and decentralization, going as far as trying to make coalition government of sorts in the Basque country with the PP that almost bitterly opposes them in Madrid. But see, the PP and the PSOE are democratic parites and both of them know very well that there is no democracy inside chavismo. Which explains why El Pais titles its interview of Ledezma "Chávez ya actúa como un dictador" Chavez acts like a dictator.

Indeed, the chief and his Gauleiter. You cannot make up things like that! Though I am going to say something for Chavez: in Nazi Germany I do not think there was any female Gauleiter. Does anyone know?

1) in a very amusing detail the press does not seem to be able to make up its mind whether it is Farias or Faria sans S. And this even through chavista media. I suppose that for these last ones the only words that need to be spelled correctly are Hugo and Chávez.

-The end-

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meet Jacqueline Farias, Caracas new Gauleiter

Today Chavez named his first Gauleiter for the city of Caracas. In spite of an opposition victory last November, Chavez decided to change the law, to violate the constitution and named someone to preside over Caracas, in spite of the people clear will in choosing who should rule their city for the next 4 years. So he chose one of his most faithful, one that was already very willing to exert the Tascon list to its full effect when she was presiding the Caracas water works, and who applied speedy politicization tot he nationalized companies she was asked to direct after, as well in the cabinet positions she held. She is the perfect political bitch, bitter and vengeful, unyielding, uncompromising, devoted to Chavez, the perfect first appointment for the new age of gauleiter coming upon us in this increasingly fascist regime. I have chosen the following picture composition to illustrate clearly that she is not an amenable person, willing to discuss fairly Caracas future with its elected officials. She is the hard core militant. She will be in good historical company as Goebbels was Berlin's Gauleiter.

PS: I have been following her career more or less loosely, but enough to have her appear several times in my blog, such as these two instances. I always considered her dangerous, even when she was at the water works before the Tascon list, the perfect cold professional apparatchik. I am not surprised by this choice, even a good move for Chavez as a woman is expected to be less frontally attacked. But the opposition will do well to attack her frontally from the first day, boycott her and call immediately for a referendum to boot her out, along the Caracas representatives that voted for that violation. Otherwise they are doomed as more gauleiters will follow once the main one is set in place.

-The end-

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Update note to those who still think that Venezuela is not under a dictatorship

Two days ago I published a post explaining why Venezuela is today a dictatorship. Apparently some still do not see it, or make excuses for not seeing it.

Well, I would love very much to hear their opinion after yesterday's words from Chavez. And expressions such as "you know, some times he exaggerates" "you know, it is his style" "you know, he gets carried away but he will not do half of what he said" are not going to cut it.

In his return from a long trip, and on the anniversary of April 13 he said the following, again on a cadena without anyone having the right to reply directly to him, not even through state TV at the nightly news (keep that in mind, will you?)

From El Universal:

"¡Debemos seguir a la ofensiva, arrollando a la contrarrevolución, no tenemos más alternativa!"
We must keep the offensive, crushing the counterrevolution, we have no other option [note, counterrevolution is the name for the politcal opposition, least you be fooled]

"Pero es imposible, ellos no respetan nada, no respetan a nadie (...) con la burguesía contrarrevolucionaria no hay entendimiento alguno, ¡no lo hay ni lo habrá!"
But [agreement] is impossible, they do not respect anything, they do not respect anyone (...) with the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie there is no possible agreement, there is none and never will be! [apparently he is not happy that people like yours truly do not approve the 30 years sentence to people we consider innocent of the charged crimes, head that US PSF alwasy complaingi about death penalty and the like?]

"invito a los poderes del Estado a seguir en la ofensiva por la justicia (...) ahí están impune los medios de comunicación que participaron activamente en el golpe"
I ask the powers of the state to pursue the offensive for justice (...) there are unpunished the media who participated actively in the coup [that would include not only Globovision but also Venevision and Televen. Are we going to see once again Venevision gloat while Chavez closes the last critical media, Globovision? How low is Cisneros going to fall? Also, after 7 years, how come that Chavez demands media to be punished? Why the delay? Why the orders to what are supposedly independent powers? In Spanish and in this context the word "invito" does not mean suggest, it is an assertive request]

"Oligarcas, más nunca volverán, esta revolución llegó para quedarse, esta revolución es eterna!", Oligarcas [opposition], you will never come back, this revolution is here to stay, this revolution is eternal

And more from Globovision:

“Los medios que están tratando de de subvertir y desestabilizar al país. Han comenzado una agresión abierta y descarada contra la juez que tomó una decisión, absolutamente ajustada a derecho. La burguesía con sus medios arremete, espero que hagan lo que tengan que hacer las autoridades”.
The media that are trying to subvert and destabilize the country. They have started an open and shameless aggression against the judge that took a decision, absolutely according to procedure. The bourgeoisie with its media attacks, I hope that the authorities do what they have to do. [notice how Chavez decides what is a good judicial sentence and that a public servant cannot be criticized for its decisions].

“Ahí están para que continué la investigación a fondo y se establezcan las responsabilidades que haya que establecer y las sanciones que haya que imponer”
There they [the media] are for the investigation to go to the end and that the responsibilities that need to be established and the sanctions that need to be taken

“Caracas va a tener además del alcalde Jorge Rodríguez, un jefe de gobierno, como lo tenía antes”
Caracas will have in addition of mayor Jorge Rodriguez, a chief of government as it had before [what is important here is the fact that Chavez only recognizes chavista elected mayors and that the other Caracas inhabitants who voted for opposition mayors, for about half the population, will now be ruled by a political appointee, discarding the November 2008 results.]

And from Tal Cual we have confirmation of these words with some of their interpretation.

So, the question is really not whether we are in a dictatorship, the question is becoming "how far along the fascist road will we go?". You will convene with me that the fascist language is there already; this is not communism anymore, there is no economical rational left, only the sick sectarian emotional political cut.

Note: to make things clear, by me publishing the Weil Cartoon on Marjorie Calderon, the ruthless bitch that condemned the likely innocent police officers to the maximum sentence of 30 years, I risk as of today to be indicted of treason, whenever convenient for the regime. The evidence if in this blog, they only need to track me down once the necessary legislation, or even precedent, is in the books. Should we take a poll as to when the first Venezuelan English language blogger is beaten up, jailed, indicted, whatever? I will remind folks that already Oil Wars blog allowed publication of comments where readers wanted to come to Yaracuy to beat me up; that Ultimas Noticias already published advertisement to accuse folks participating in the Internet opposition.

-The end-

Monday, April 13, 2009

Memo before the Americas Summit in Port of Spain

Dear President Obama
Dear Secretary Clinton

As a Venezuelan citizen I am allowing to write you this short memo before you set foot in Trinidad for the upcoming summit of the Americas. I am not trying to warn you of a trap or anything of the sort: I think that both of you are quite clear on what is going on in Venezuela. I just wish to express as an individual citizen, and a dear friend of the United States, that I would be tickled pink if you made sure you do not fall into the trap that Lula, the Castros and Chavez are trying to set up.

See, one of their aim in effecting a "rapprochement" between the US of A and Cuba is to make it a package deal of sorts which includes Chavez, these days in dire need of some form of international recognition and legitimacy. I think that the reasons of Lula are purely emotional, but the ones of the Castros and Chavez are downright cynical. As such it is very easy for you to avoid falling into the trap they are setting for you. Accept to discuss chosen Cuban issues but ignore Venezuela all the time, that is all that you need to do. Be careful, Chavez will probably try to hug you or at least to be next to you in some picture so he can use it in Venezuela to pretend all is fine, until again he insults you and the US whenever he feels a need for it.

Trust me on that one, the less you talk to Chavez the better you will control him in the end. Let him make the first concession if he wants to prove that he is serious, for example asking for a new U.S. ambassador. The other guys such as Lula and the Castros are only opportunist that use Chavez to make themselves look better than what they really are. Worry not, today you are in the driving seat with Chavez as long as oil does not go above 60 dollars. Time is on your side, soon Chavez will come hat in hand. You have so much more important work to do than to bother with our local comedy act.

With this I wish you the best possible stay in Trinidad.

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

PS to regular readers of this column: this is an issue important enough to distract me briefly from the other writing tasks at hand. Besides this memo almost wrote by itself.

-The end-

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Venezuela News &Views, what for?

First I must issue a warning: the following posts can be seen as a self indulgent exercise. If you are interested in hard news and comment you might want to skip some of the next posts, if not all of them.

In the following posts I will try to assess what the situation in Venezuela is today and what are the consequences for me if I want to keep blogging. As I have written a couple of weeks ago, I need to do that review before I decide what to do with this blog. The question is not whether to stop writing; it is how to be purposeful with that writing. Tentatively these issues will be covered in the following posts (links added as posts are written):
These titles might change as I keep writing and as such this very same post might be edited until its final version comes up. This post will remain on top as the links to the new posts will be placed in the above section.

And I will not cover current news as long as this series is not over, which might take maybe a couple of weeks.

-The end-

Is Venezuela a dictatorship?

To evaluate the wisdom to keep blogging after February 15 was to answer a simple question unambiguously: is Venezuela now a dictatorship? This examination is required because the Venezuelan situation has changed dramatically during the regional election campaign of fall 2008, reaching a nadir on February 15 2009 and moving into uncharted waters since then.

For me the answer is simple: Venezuela is indeed a dictatorship (see note at the end). The exact date can be left to the individual choice depending on the values this one espouses. However the mistake that many make, whether they do not support the fact that Venezuela is a dictatorship being irrelevant, is that they do not quite realize that we are in front of a very new type of dictatorship, one conditioned by the realities of an era of mass communication, an era which Venezuela had fully entered before Chavez became president. In fact, it is not a long stretch to consider that mass media, vulgarization of the news and sensationalism have played an essential role in allowing a monstrosity such as chavismo to metastasize the Venezuelan polity. For those who forget easily, this brave new world was brought to our attention when CNN waited on the shores of Somalia for the Marines to land. Politics have never been the same since.

My dates are simple: Venezuela slid into an authoritarian regime in February 2004 and became a dictatorship when RCTV was closed. The intentions of the autocrat to became a dictator had been set long ago when this one and his acolytes killed any vestigial independence of the judiciary system, a process started in 1999 and still quite not completed today although irreversible with the arrival of Luisa Estela Morales at the head of the High Court. However the very recent new change in the supervision of judges by folks stranger to the judicial world, that is, folks obeying to the executive branch, allow us to assume that in the next few months the process of creating a partial justice will be completed, thus removing any democratic pretense that some rather simple minded souls persist in attributing to Chavez’s movement.

The closing of RCTV in May 2007 was not the entry into dictatorship because a media was closed. No, not at all in spite of the glaring symbolism. The entry into a dictatorship was marked then when we saw that justice had ceased to exist in Venezuela as the rights of RCTV were obviated carelessly by the state. The entry into dictatorship was also marked by the symbol RCTV provided for the transition from a pseudo revolution that Chavez had tried to make us believe was taking place to into a de facto regime opposed by the thinking country. Like all failed revolutions, the Bolivarian one could only end in civil war or in dictatorship. As such it has chosen the second exit while the first one is far from ruled out. Closing RCTV Chavez indicated to us that his will was the master of the country and as such democracy was over.

What is confusing to many, including for my colleague Quico Toro who has written a particularly inane post on the topic, is that the dictatorship of Chavez still displays elements of democracy. There is no confusion to be had here: Chavez tolerates still some expressions of dissent, some civil liberties because simply he cannot afford to take them away, yet; or ever for that matter. We are in the XXI century and taking over all media is difficult. Internet cannot be controlled like it is in China or Cuba because it was free in Venezuela before Chavez came to power. To control it Chavez would need to close it and reopen it under his conditions, something more likely now that he controls the main Venezuelan ISP, CANTV.

But Chavez would also need to take away all the satellite dishes that dot Venezuela, including many of the poorer areas who still vote for him. As such Chavez has had to limit himself to close down the most vocal media: RCTV first and Globovision probably before this year is through. They will remain on cable for a while but we can expect at some point that the cable TV laws will be changed, probably after Venezuela leaves international institutions such as the OAS or the ICC. Internet will be more difficult to control but filtering cyber cafes should not be too difficult and offering a cheap but limited access to Internet through CANTV could be a way to limit Internet access of real news to the population sector chavismo cares about the most.

Other civil liberties associated to democracy are advanced to prove that Venezuela is not a dictatorship, such as the freedom to travel. And yet there is already plenty of evidence that traveling is an increasingly difficult proposition for the average Venezuelan, from getting a passport to the access of international currency required for travel.

True, large scale political prosecution is not obvious and yet it exists, or have people forgotten about the Tascon List who has since 2004 created a set of second class citizens? Selective prosecution is now a routine occurrence, from the fired PDVSA employees which are persistently tracked down in any job they may hold, to the harassment of politicians elected to office in November 2008.

But more worrisome than any of that has been the creation of a series of governmental tools that can be used whenever the government will see it fit. Laws like LOCYMAT or some of those decrees in the latest enabling law of 2007-2008 are designed as punitive tools. There are laws that can be used when necessary to bankrupt any private business that incurs the displeasure of the regime, or simply the envy of anyone within the regime.

Thus even though on paper we can still hang out around at capitalists malls, travel to Aruba for the week end, buy Tal Cual, at least in main cities, and other such pleasures, the fact of life for those who live in Venezuela and are in disagreement with chavismo vision of the world is that our personal and private lives are increasingly affected by the state policies. And this, at any era, is a hallmark of dictatorship.

The concept of dictatorship has evolved through history. After all the word tyrannos was not necessarily a bad word in early Greece. I was reading “El Dictador” by Ramon Guillermo Aveledo over this Easter Holiday (1). He chose to resume the lives of some famous dictators as a way to illustrate what a dictatorship means, I suppose. The book is simple, memory refreshing, well written though not as deep as one would have wanted it to be. However as you read it you do see that the common thread of all of these dictators was an unquenchable thirst for power, a thirst which might not even had existed explicitly at the onset of the dictatorship. But all of them developed a clear sense of uniqueness, perverse if you like, through their tenure which led them to hold power until their death, in bed or in front an ad hoc executioner. Chavez of course has shown all the signs to try to join that group, all historical parallels taken into account (even though this is not directly addressed by the author).

Indeed as I have written before, the best example to illustrate the perplexing type of regime that Chavez has set in place so far might be France’s Napoleon the third, 1851-1870, and as such worth revisiting today. This period of French history still needs a more thorough evaluation as it is still too clouded by the criteria of the times. After all in 1851 “Republic” was a bad word and even alleged democracies like the US were far from perfect as the slave problem was unresolved and the native populations dealt with ruthlessly. When Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, elected in 1848 president of France, made a coup to ensure his reelection, nobody outside of France protested much. Many were in fact rather happy to see the second republic gone and knew that times had changed, that the new Napoleon the third was not going to be able to be the conquering hero his uncle had been (though it is not even certain he was his nephew).

For all practical purposes the Napoleon III regime, the second empire, was a dictatorship though many did not see it as such at the time. After all there were elections which by European standards were still better and more democratic than in the rest of Europe except for Britain (2) and a couple of minor exceptions: the republican party did manage to elect some representatives, and every six years it did manage to increase its representation in spite of all the electoral hurdles put up by the regime. Censorship existed, but then it existed elsewhere in Europe and Paris publications were certainly much freer than those of most European countries. Not only French people could travel, if they could afford it, but the “who’s who” of Europe traveled to Paris once Napoleon had shown he was there to stay and France economy grew significantly. In fact, in the French history manuals that I got at school, the “second empire” is depicted as a time of prosperity, growth and modernization, with the darker side of it much less stressed than what it might be in today’s books. True, there was no gulags (3), not even significant political exiles: the most famous one, Victor Hugo, was a self imposed exile while many of the Republicans were back in France trying to run for election, or discretely conspiring.

But it was a dictatorship alright. The first decade was repressive enough and only when prosperity was served to the populace did the regime opened up some. The regime was based on the division between an agrarian conservative France and an urban one where a restless proletariat was always a concern, and used as a scarecrow to keep the country side faithful to the regime. The will of the state was applied regardless of the will of the people, though that was standard practice in most of the world then. And yet, in situations such as the opening of the Paris Boulevards many communities were unnecessary abused in France, abused in ways that they had not been under the previous more democratic monarchy of Louis Philippe. The splendor of today’s Paris, largely inherited of Baron Haussman work, makes us forget today that these boulevards were drawn so as to allow for cavalry charges against the barricades that had been a regular occurrence since 1789 (and which will come up again notably in 1870 and 1968). In other words, crowded popular districts of downtown Paris were deliberately destroyed with their people moved to the periphery of the city to ensure more security for the government and the people who supported it (as well as the corruption that accompanied such public works). If you like Emile Zola I would suggest two of his novels to illustrate the politics and corruption of the times, La Conquête de Plassans and Son Excellence Eugene Rougon.

Chavez of course cannot even boast of the economic success of Napoleon III but his regime amusingly shares some of the characteristics of the Second Empire such as an existing but controlled opposition, without a real chance to ever access power (in a stunning political maneuver Napoleon III gained a political reprieve in 1869, neutralizing the Republican opposition, that would have allowed him to die peacefully in his palace a few years later if it had not been for the war on Prussia who saw the amazingly quick crumbling of his regime and the return of the republic in September 1870).

Chavez will never be Castro (Venezuela is not an island). Chavez will never be Stalin or Mao (he does not have a powerful political machinery that was ready for him when he reached power). Chavez will never be Mussolini or Franco (he did not reach power through a civil war or as the political consequences of a foreign war). Chavez will never be Hitler (Venezuelans are not disciplined Germans). Chavez will never be Peron (he would never allow an Evita to take the spotlight). Chavez will be Chavez, taking a page or two of each of the above, and several from Castro’s book. Like all of them ideology was more an excuse to hold power than anything they truly believed in. Chavez knows very well the weaknesses of the Venezuelan people and he is skillful at using them, just as many of these dictators did at least in the early part of their career. It is still too early to say what the end product of his takeover will be though possible outcomes can already be conceived such as a mad war against Colombia or even worse, a civil war in Venezuela as money will not be enough to satisfy the appetites of all of the military personnel. But what we can say today is that the regime has already the following characteristics of a dictatorship:

- there will not be a pacific take over by the opposition even if by miracle this one did manage to win a general election
- a repressive system is in place, and if repression has been used still relatively sparsely the tendency is to increasing use of it, as the possibility of repression is already a terror instrument
- the state is increasingly interfering in the private life of the people, selecting who gets what and who is punished in an arbitrary way, linked to the loyalty to Chavez
- a necessary but not sufficient condition for your success is to show loyalty to the regime, any opposition to Chavez or his acolytes now signifies your downfall, starting as simply as a targeted tax audit of which supporters of the regime seem almost miraculously exempt.
- corruption is an institution of rule
- assault troops exit. If the more vocal ones such as Lina Ron and La Piedrita are limited in scope, the fact of the matter is that paramilitary groups are growing in the country, hidden within the “reserva” a militia of sorts, or even in the public administration as told us by the implausible payrolls found by Ledezma when he took office in Caracas last year. These groups are now formed and ready to operate when the time comes, if the army allows
- other accessories also exist. For example Chavez has tried to use mass movement the way Mussolini or Peron did, but with limited success as the paid for assistance is a witness. However he has skillfully used TV and radio to penetrate the Venezuelan home using the folksy habits of Venezuelans of the country side: the circle of visitors loosely organized around the guest of honor or the patriarch. When you watch Chavez on TV you almost can feel him in your living room even if he is insulting you, calling you a traitor, just as the local patriarch would publicly recriminate you for having stolen some maiden’s honor or betrayed your husband’s pride…..

In short, when defining dictatorship in regards to Venezuela keep in mind that our circumstances are very different than the ones of the other more "classical" dictator regimes. But the end result is unfortunately the same. The word applies. And as such one needs to admits the consequences of such conclusion as to what is possible to do next.

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

Note: it is fitting to write about such matters these days as we commemorate once again the April 11-12-13 events of 2002. I am in no mood to revisit these days, however it is important to note that since April 13 2002 Chavez has done much worse things than what Carmona was promising to do on April 12 2002. A dictateur, dictateur et demi
as we could paraphrase from a French saying meaning that to each creep there is a match that might be even worse.

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

1) ISBN 978-980-6933-42-2, Editorial Libros Marcados, September 2008

2) One of the justification of Louis Napoleón coup was to reestablish universal manhood suffrage that the 1848 revolution had established and which was limited by the surprisingly strong conservative assembly that was elected out of it. Thus after 1851 elections might not have been free but France was the only country then to have universal manhood suffrage for its 21 old citizens. We could call that the “democracia participativa and protagonica” plank of the times.

3) “colonization” was the gulag of the day as political prisoners were sent to Algeria or New Caledonia. But most of these forced exiles happened under the second republic repressive measures against the Paris and main cities political proletariat. Thus if the second empire cannot be blamed for their creation it still was not keen on eliminating then and certainly not adverse at using them when convenient. Note, as the years went by many of those “exiled” were allowed to return to France.

-The end-

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cuba's style justice in Venezuela

I have said that I would take a break for a week or two unless some really big news came along. The condemnation of Forero, Simonovis and Vivas would not have been enough for me to post. Their sentence to 30 years is more than enough.

In any civilized country application of the maximum sentence allowed is always a delicate matter. Usually it requires several of the following:

-the weapon murder
-a direct link with the victim
-an unusually cruel way to kill
-be caught in the act
-and other such reasons of equal weight

In Venezuela which abolished early death penalty the maximum sentence was 30 years, and it was applied as sparingly as the death penalty was applied elsewhere, at least during the democratic period of Venezuela which ended in February 2004. This sentence today is thus not the sentence of a democracy, it is a political sentence, just as those that are applied in Cuba to any dissident of the regime when this one needs to silence someone or needs to scare a few other folks.

Let me remind folks reading so far that I do not need to go to any long analysis to make my point: the trial that finished today has been perhaps the longest one in our history. It has been a trial repeatedly denounced for extraordinary vices of form. That is: there was no smoking gun to condemn these people to the maximum sentence because if there was such a smoking gun the trial would have been considerably shorter. It is that simple.

From the day these arrest were made the power of the state was simply looking for a convenient political moment to make an example of these people. As yet another anniversary of April 11-13 2002 is coming up and as the despicable campaign launched after February 15 to annul the opposition has been launched, Chavez with these verdicts and actions makes three points:

- he is rewriting history to make sure that ALL guilt of these days reside exclusively with those who oppose him. We must understand the arrest of Baduel yesterday in this context since it is through his actions that Chavez was rescued from a certain political exile. Chavez cannot appear anymore to have been saved by anyone but "el pueblo" who we are told he is the incarnation. The only problem left for him to solve is to erase from the record that he asked for the "plan avila" to be applied which implied terrorist violence led to the events of April 11. That will be achieved when the media is duly censored and unable to remind folks of that original sin of Chavez.

- he sends a clear message to all of his political opponents that he controls the judicial system and that from now on they must desist or face the consequences. No fair trial will be offered them and any small fault will be magnified enough to apply a disproportionate sentence, maybe not 30 years but enough to get you out of the way, or at the very least ban from politics courtesy of comptroller Russian.

- he sends an even clearer message to his supporters. Not only they are told what can happen to them if they stray (Baduel is the poster case), but they are also told that they must support any decision and make any justification for it, as implausible as that justification might be. His supporters must now be active in denouncing and condemning any opposition so that Chavez cannot be blamed. It must look as if it were a consensus. This is understood by us because these violations of Human Rights happen while Chavez is on a foreign trip.

PS: since I truly think nothing worse than that atrocious verdict of today is going to happen until after Easter, it will take at least an earthquake or a military coup to make post again while I sort out my blogging life. Anything else simply will pale in comparison to the crime committed today against the Venezuelan people.

-The end-

A guide for following events during the blog break

OK, so it is a little bit rough for me to take a break with so many things going on (Rosales, Baduel, Vivas, Simonovis, Perez Vivas, Ledezma, etc, etc...). But you can handle it very well on your own as everything can be made clear if you understand what is written below.

Chavez is creating a system where no opposition can ever win an election. As such, one tenet is that any personality that could gain enough notoriety to present a challenge, even at local level, must be thoroughly dealt with. Any trial under any pretense is always a good starting point. That can be supplemented with threats and/or a well organized slander campaign. This strategy is completed by making sure that any politician that manages anyway to break through by winning some elected office, is dispossessed of any means he or she could have to make an impact through their job performance.

Why must Chavez and its acolytes do something as patently fascist? Because they all depend on Chavez, they are mediocrities that amounted to nothing until Chavez lifted the rock under which they crawled, and becasue most of them know that whenever and independent judicial comes back to Venezuela they will end up in jail.

See, it is very simple and it can explain even the closing of media, the new intervention of the judicial system, nationalizations, ridiculous invasions such as the Chacao old market or in short any successful venture in Venezuela that can prove that there is life without Chavez.

You may print this and use it as needed. It might still not work for the sports pages though it is already working for the entertainment pages as one of these crawling creeps suggested that Hollywood films should be banned form Venezuela.

PS: and with this post I am starting my new tag/label, "neo-totalitarianism". I predict a frequent usage of this tag when I get back in regular blogging.

-The end-

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I need a break

Since February 15 I have been writing a post, and rewriting it. And today I realize that I really need to finish this post, to take the time away from my blog to sort out these thoughts about what to with this blog.

The thing that made me realize the urgency is the latest post of Quico. For all my significant differences with him I can see when he gets something right and he did get something right in comparing Bush and al-Bashir. And some very undeserved flack for it. Some people might not like it but al-Bashir is a genocide and Bush is not.

The thing here is that I should have included something to that effect in my post about Chavez inviting al-Bashir. You only need to type in the word "genocide" in the top blog search feature and you will see almost two dozen entries with things such as:

May 15 2006

Of course, the reason for Chavez to qualify George Bush, the current US president, to be a genocidal president is due to the continued bombings of Iraq. This is certainly not the place to discuss the Iraq war. Instead I will discuss what genocide means and how that word has been abused, deliberately, by the chavista crowds.

But first a definition:
The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.
The link gives only one meaning. No ambiguity.

July 28 2006

I have underlined or circled the different allusions or direct attacks that abound in this tract. It sickens me to translate it but if anyone sees a purpose in the translation I will do it. Observe how the words holocaust and genocide are carelessly used, voided of any organic comment. Unforgivable!

August 10 2006

I will pass on discussing what is going on between Israel and its neighbors and focus on the fact that Chavez is consistently using words such as Holocaust, Fascism, Genocide, in conjunction to whatever his enemies do (in the case of Israel, which is not an enemy of Chavez the reason is to hit the main ally of Israel, the US, the perceived real enemy of Chavez).

Since Chavez is an ignorant of the real meaning of historical events one can conceive that the first 2-3 events where he used such words so lightly were a mere moment of irrationality and ignorance due to the length of his fiery speeches. But we cannot afford to entertain this benevolent hypothesis anymore: there is now a pattern. We are not even allowed to hope that his entourage is so scared of Chavez that they have not dared tell him that certain words are not to be played with. The vice president Jose Vicente Rangel knows better and he has had plenty of time to explain the subtleties to his boss. The trivialization of words such as Holocaust is a deliberate ploy. Soon we might even hear “Israel is holocausting Southern Lebanon”, becoming a verb as the ultimate descent into banality.

March 4, 2009

One little question: will Chavez defend, invite, praise Omar?

Not to mention that already in September 17, 2006 I was writing as a title: Does Chavez care about Darfur?

So why did I not remember all of that material? Note: before anyone thinks that I am trying to take credit away from Quico, I am not. If I cannot even remember myself what I wrote in so many occasions, how could I accuse anyone from the remotest plagiarism? Great minds think alike, as who knows who said in whatever sitcom, and any thinking person should reach te conclusion of what Quico wrote, although not necessarily as fast or as well written.

I definitely have a problem and I am losing any effectiveness that I might have had as a blogger. For example, why did I not see how big that issue was and focused rather on Chavez insulting Bachelet when it should have been the other way around? Is it because I have already said things so often that I am assuming that all should know? Am I despising Chavez so much that it has become easier to dismiss him, or to focus on the ridicule? How tired I am of this business?

Rafale Poleo titles his articles with a quote of Gide: Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer. (Everything has already been said; but since no one pays attention we must always start again.) I have been thinking a lot about that quote lately, not only because 6 years of blogging made me repeat too many things, but because all of that repeating is getting to me. And yet necessary it seems.

So, I will not post anything anymore for a few days, until I finish up that text I am working on. I need the time to think about what is it that I am doing here, now, in a post-February 15 apocalyptic scenario. Unless Rosales is arrested or some real major event, you will have to go elsewhere for the news and interpretations as I pledge no to post anything until I put some order in my thoughts. With Easter week coming it might take a while, and be a blessing.

PS: Comments will be monitored, just in case someone wants to write on this or other matters, I am not entering a monastery, I just need to finish something already in progress.

-The end-