Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obscene scenes about Honduras

I am flabbergasted about some of the scenes I have had to painfully watch on TV. And some of them can only be described as obscenity.

The first one is a huffing and puffing OAS secretary Insulza arriving at Tegucigalpa and calling for the pressure on Honduras new regime to be maintained. Fine. But what about the constant violations to Human Rights by Chavez under the dreadful silence and implied acquiescence of Insulza? Read his El Pais interview a few weeks ago as the latest shameful example. I would settle for him showing a quarter the concern he has over Honduras toward Venezuela.

Can any world "leader" put into the same paragraph a condemnation to the Honduras coup along a request for Zelaya to mend his ways if he wants to be worthy of the help he is requesting? (Though there is a Honorable mention to Colombia's Uribe who at least mentioned the dangers of intervention for the sake of it, a la Chavez).

Is not any one going to remind Chavez that he was himself a coupster, that he had scores of people killed, and truly innocent people at that, in 1992? Has he ever apologized for that? No, he is even making it a national holiday.

But the worst of all, the true obscenity of the year, is Raul Castro speaking to defend constitutionality in Honduras. I mean, are people not even ashamed to sit through the speeches of Raul at the Nicaragua assembly yesterday? Is not anyone going to point out that there has no been a fair election in Cuba for more than half a century? That the only way to vote in Cuba is with your feet?

It is amazing that the people who scream the loudest about the Honduras coup are perhaps the ones that should be the most aware of the glass house they are living in. More of that garbage and soon I am going to start finding virtues to the Honduras coup.

Update: I stand corrected in part. The Washington Post editorial of today, that I had not read yet, clarifies a few things.

-The end-

Diego Arria on Chavez and Honduras

Least we forget, Diego Arria, former Venezuelan ambassador to the UN who stayed there as a UN high ranking officer, reminds us the intense meddling of Chavez in foreign countries, bringing all sorts of problems and creating divisions where they might not have existed before. Watch the CNN interview. By the way, Diego Arria is on record stating that the Venezuelan army is the main responsible party of having let Venezuela democracy deteriorate so much. Today he can be considered as one of the main opponents of Chavez, and certainly the more articulated one, looking at evil right into the eye as having been a victim himself of chavismo: that is, he risks his life any time he comes to Venezuela.

I certainly agree with him that Venezuela is in fact today a cryptic military regime which makes it extremely hypocritical for Chavez to criticize the Honduras coup. Chavez has been a coupster and a bloody one at that; he has violated the constitution repeated times; he has stopped recognizing electoral results; he is not allowing referendum called by the people; he directs a regime where all the top positions are occupied by ex-military who remain untouchable by justice no matter how many charge of corruption are levied agaisnt them; and more, much more.

-The end-

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Argentina the Kirchners seem on their way out

With all the fuss about Honduras I did not get around to write on the other important event of the day: the Kirchners lost their automatic majority in congress yesterday. Argentina where institutions still work up to a point, even a divided opposition was able to gain a parliamentary majority, and a sweet prize, personally defeating Nestor Kirchner list who made it second in Buenos Aires! As I type I learn that he even resigned as the leader of Justicialismo.

I remember when a freshly inaugurated Kirchner traveled to Caracas in February 2004 and duly upset by Chavez repression received the Venezuelan opposition at the Argentina embassy. Since then he allowed himself to be influenced by Chavez petrodollars, became arrogant and corrupt, in case you already forgot the Antonini suitcase... But apparently Argentineans are still able to control the guy before he looks to Chavez like, even if he uses his wife as a decoy, pimp like.

Score another blow to Chavez continental strategy.

-The end-

Honduras press review

Another fun post, as a follow up of yesterday's entry read below.

The New York Times under Elizabeth Malkin as a clear story line on how the whole Honduras mess happened. The implication of it is that even if Zelaya is forced back upon Honduras he will find a united Congress and Courts and would likely be impeached anyway. She did not write that but any thoughtful leader should conclude that. In other words, the fat lady is far from singing yet.

The Washington Post
under Forero and Booth is more emotional and come in late in throwing some indications on why it all happened. They still mention it but the effect is more in favor of Zelaya whereas the NYT piece is a model of objectivity. However there is something that the Post gives us, the Chavez factor, including the right perception that Chavez is going to make the best of it.

At the Wall Street Journal Maria Anastasia O'Grady makes no bones about where her sympathies lie. She is not troubled at all and along the way blasts Hillary Clinton. Insulza and Chavez of course also get their due.

does a fair job of reporting both sides and adds this very interesting comment: "But Hondurans say there is a total lack of information about what has happened to their country and their president, our correspondent adds." I guess that Lula is one of the victims of this lack of information as per his rather intemperate reactions as reported by the Guardian.

The Guardian through Rory Carroll starts stressing that there were protests in Tegucigalpa but later admits that they were not very large. In fact, further down the Guardian is the only one reporting that Zelaya ratings were in the 30% in the weeks preceding the coup. Interesting, no? Ah, that lack of information about banana republics, literally...

Of course I had to end this press review with the Miami Herald who gives two articles, as we should have expected. In its first piece, which follows what happens elsewhere we still notice that even Zelaya's party opposed him on the referendum he proposed. The Herald also bothers in printing that according to Chavez Venezuela's ambassador was beaten up and left on the side of the road. I have not read this from any trustworthy source, but assuming it is true I must congratulate Chavez to have made Venezuelan ambassadors as unpopular as US ambassadors in certain areas of the Globe. The second piece, you could have almost guessed it, is about Hondurans celebrating in Miami. Like O'Grady, they know where they stand.

-The end-

Informational Luddite?

Today Doonesbury's strip is so pertinent to chavismo and assorted fellow travelers that I could not resist putting it up. Just to give you the most recent example, listen to Venezuelan state TV on Honduras (or Iran) and you will find exactly the frame of mind of Zonker. Eerie...

-The end-

Honduras: what CNN will probably not tell you

Before I start on this post, it is CNN "en español" that I am thinking off, CNN in English is still on its 23/24 on Michael Jackson. Since I am not fully back in business I am just going to make this post a semi random collection of notes.

OAS: It is going to prove once again to be useless on the matter. After having allowed Chavez to do so much, what moral authority does the OAS has to stand on any side of the Honduras mess? And I am not getting started on the latest about opening the door back to Cuba. I understand that the anti Zelaya camp did not even want the OAS to show up. After the mess the OAS left Venezuela in, no wonder...

OAS secretary Insulza: another one with crocodile tears big time. After having said to El Pais a few weeks ago that he did not find anything wrong with democracy in Venezuela he is now screaming bloody murder. Yeah, right, perfect representative of what the OAS has become, preparing his reeelction campaign by courting the only man whose vote he must have (the US vote is pretty much irrelevant today in the OAS).

Latin America presidents: of course they are all going to condemn the coup in Honduras even though I am sure secretly many are smiling. But the fact of the matter is that South of the Rio Grande ALL presidents sleep bad at night when rumors come from the barracks. Well, I might remove Costa Rica from that list but that would be the lone exception. So, since prevention is the best cure, well, they all condemn any coup, even if they like it. Who knows when they will need the elevator sent back.

The Honduras coupsters: who is the coupster really, Zelaya for forcing the issue on a vote apparently unconstitutional or the other side for not trying harder to reach some agreement? One thing is certain, whoever is in charge of the coup remembers the way it is done: send the ex president promptly into exile, the first mistake that the Venezuelan coupsters made in 2002 by not shipping post haste Chavez and family to Cuba. In other words, you do the coup or you do not do it. NOTE: this whole post cannot be read in any way or form as my endorsement or criticism of any coup anywhere, it is just a statement of fact. In some cases a coup or even an invasion can be perfectly justified, just as when Vietnam invaded Cambodia to put an end to the Khmer Rouge. It is all a matter of circumstances, at least in third world countries. Or are you going to tell me that you would condemn a coup against say, Mugabe or Bashir?

The coup in Honduras: let's hold our breath for a minute until we know exactly what was going on before the coup. In particular the possible Venezuelan intervention in support of an electoral act that was declared unconstitutional by the other independent powers of Honduras. It seems that the inspiration of Caracas for that illegal "consultation" went as far as Caracas printing the ballots! Let's not forget this crucial fact: in Honduras there is a separation of powers, which does not excuse any wrong doing but should be considered.

Was the coup unavoidable? It seems it was. Zelaya did the cardinal mistake that Chavez did in 2002: give an order that could not be legally executed by the chiefs of the army he nominally commanded. In 2002 Chavez asked for the army to get ready to shoot on a civilian march and the army refused. In Honduras Zelaya asked the army to monitor an election declared unconstitutional by the other powers and the army had to chose. When an army must go against its commander in chief, one of the two has to be removed. That is the way things go. Be it Truman removing McArthur the war hero, be it Lucas Rincon announcing Chavez resignation. In each case a big mess was created by the constitutional irresponsibility of a given individual (the president, his/her army chief of staff or both).

Chavez screams: it is indeed amusing to watch the official state TV in Venezuela (including Telesur) tied up in knots, way more upset probably about the Honduras coup than the people of Honduras. OK, I am guessing that but I would love to be proven wrong. But why is Chavez so worried about Honduras, to the point of threatening with military intervention and, all in all, trying to make things worse than what they already are? It is very simple: Chavez is much more interested in building a personal empire than worrying about what happens to the Venezuelan people. He paid enough money to create the ALBA that says yes to anything he wants and he is not going to relinquish that easily. Mine! Mine!

What is the Chavez strategy? Well, to circle Colombia so as to make Uribe like governments a thing on the past and recreate La Gran Colombia of Bolivar. He already got Ecuador and Nicaragua. He already tried Costa Rica and Peru and failed but new opportunities will come. But there is also a much longer term objective for Venezuela and Cuba: Mexico. To get to Mexico you need to get Guatemala and once you got Honduras (and Salvador?) Guatemala cannot be far behind. From Guatemala touching the Zapatista movement of Chiapas, all crazy dreams are allowed for Chavez. You think I am kidding? Think again: look at your maps and what better way to get back at the US but by installing an hostile regime on its borders? Maybe there is still 10 years needed but Castro-Chavismo is busy on that (though once Fidel croaks I am not so sure Cuba will be dreaming on that anymore).

By the way, was not Fidel bent on sabotaging the rule of Vicente Fox? Was not Chavez an issue in the latest Mexican Presidential election?

What did Chavez pay Zelaya? A simple arithmetic is enough. According to the CIA world fact books, Honduras has roughly 7.8 million people with an average GDP of 4,400 USD. Venezuela has a GDP of 13,500 for almost 4 times the population. Well, if you add Miranda, Aragua, Caracas and Carabobo you have roughly Honduras at yet a higher GDP than the Venezuela average. And imagine what Chavez spent in these 4 districts for his campaign of 2008 and 2009 (you know, the distribution of refrigerators, food, etc., for free). With that amount of money and an ambitious Zelaya it was easy to buy the executive of Honduras, and a secure sycophantic vote at the OAS for when Chavez represses further in Venezuela. In fact, I am willing to bet that Chavez spent less on Honduras than he spent in these states electoral campaign: the advantage of dealing with poor countries where a dollar goes further.

And what do CNN en español and the Carter Center say? I am amazed at hearing the words of the Associate Director for Latin America of the Carter Center being interviewed by CNN as I type this. He is Marcelo Varela Erasheva and he is simply supporting Zelaya, there is no other way to say it charitably. Because the other interpretations are that he is clueless, one of those idealists that has actually little understanding of the real world, or worse, he is bought by Chavez. I am not going into what he said but I am going to write this: if he represents the Carter Center, the organization who singlehandedly did the most to screw Venezuela then the new Honduras government (legal or not, legitimate or not) must make sure to exclude the Carter Center from any future action over Honduras. It is amazing to hear Marcelo Varela bemoan about Honduras of all the abuses to democracy, abuses hardly worse than those the Carter Center is keeping silent over Chavez and Venezuela.

The nerve!

Conclusions so far: Again our Latin tempers are creating messes that could have been avoided with a little bit more of honesty and patience. As far as I am concerned Zelaya and the people who ousted him should all be sent packing into exile; one for his new found ambition to be reelected in the country that has, I heard, the harshest term limit system; and the Honduras congress who in spite of its unanimity to select a successor did not manage things quite well. The new "government" needs to account clearly and fast of their actions and bring forward the complete evidence as to the need to oust Zelaya in such an expedite way. Knowing Chavez it is probably not too difficult to build a dossier on the matter.

But my real conclusion is that, again, presidential systems are more and more the curse of our continent where with caudillo mentality, its easy acceptation by most, mass media and cheap populist promises support is easy garnered regardless of the consequences. If Zelaya had been the prime minister, he would have been ousted without any problem, nobody would have really cared. The Carter Center would be well advised to think about such matters instead of sending its guy to defend Zelaya without any real questioning of the reasons that came to that crisis: after all it should give Marcelo Varela pause that in Honduras the courts AND the Congress agreed. 2 out of 3 ain't bad, no? It is not because the presidential system has worked in the US (only, I can argue) that it is the panacea everywhere. It is amazing where we keep finding this US messianic bent over its values, in spite of all the slaps received through history.

-The end-

Friday, June 26, 2009

Playa Guacuco News and Views

Grilled "pargo" with "tostones", washed down by a Solera light, on a roadside joint, over Playa Guacuco. Simple, nothing fancy, no frills whatsoever, only the Caribbean sea breeze for company. And yet effective in ways that only happen in Venezuela. Life can still be good here, on occasion, no matter how miserable Chavez tries to make it for us.

-The end-

Michael Jackson is dead! We can now forget about Iran!

There is almost something indecent about how the media have embraced the death o Michael Jackson. Not too belittle his artistic stature but the cynic in me cannot help but wonder if that demise was not welcome as a way to dump Iran from the front pages. After all Iran is going nowhere. As expected repression is taking place, manifestations seem to be going down, foreign news services have been expulsed and we are not seeing anywhere a possible reaction, international condemnation or anything of the sort.

Indeed, what can we do? Iran has more people than most European countries, difficult terrain, neighbors that probably look forward internal decomposition of Iran and who think that repression is the best way to usher an era of profitable instability. Not to mention that the electoral mess will tarnish the image of democracy in countries like Saudi Arabia: “see? Elections solve nothing! Look at these dumb Iranians, all the trouble they got into!”

After having embraced the Iran mess so wholeheartedly mass media suddenly found itself in trouble: they were expelled, they had people hooked on the news and this news came from the streets of Teheran, not from the correspondents. Soon enough I am willing to bet that many an information director started getting worried…. Covering Michael Jackson suddenly must have seemed so much more predicable, and controllable.

At least the most important thing was made clear from Iran: the Islamic Republic was never a Republic. In fact it was a theocratic monarchy and we did not really know about it. Khameini was the real and sole power and Ahmadinejad for all of his figuration was simply taking the line dictated by the Theocrat. The presidency of Iran was just an errand boy position. The good thing is that we all know, inside or outside of Iran, that the Iranian Islamic Revolution was not any better than the Shah era. The “democracy” we saw was just a dispute among factions within a single political structure, a little bit as if the Mexican PRI had forbidden any opposition but allowed to or three PRI officials to run for the people to chose. Except that this would have been way more democratic than Iran because Mexico was at least a secular state which downgraded severely the reach of the Catholic Church.

And as for Michael and me, the news leaves me cold. He was a deeply flawed individual but that is the case with many great artists who did change things for the long term. I did not like his stuff much anyway, though Billie Jean was a favorite of mine. So yes, it is momentous but hardly worth the excitement. At least it will be more difficult to impersonate him than Elvis.

-The end-

Chavez meddles in Honduras

I am on a break with little Internet and little desire to watch TV and investigate, but today Chavez actions hit a new low that I must report. Apparently the president of Honduras has tried to sneak in a ballot measure to ensure his reelection (they all love that, don’t they!). Well, it seems the military did not agree and the courts and Congress gave them reason. Right now the situation is very confused there as Zelaya seems to have been abandoned by most folks and could see himself impeached for what was an unconstitutional action.

Chavez is not going to let go a client state that easily (Honduras is now an ALBA associate, the union of failed or semi failed states living on the Venezuelan largesse). Already today in Venezuela he opened his big mouth, gave extensive declarations AND instructions about Honduras and to the Honduras people. And wait! It gets better! The Honduras ambassador in Venezuela behaved in a special Alo Presidente as your average political hack, doing things unbecoming of an ambassador.
I do not know exactly what is going on but I am certain of one thing, ANY president of ANY country would dare to say about Venezuela a tenth of what Chavez said today about Honduras and we would have seen Chavez go bonkers. I mean, even the term “double standards” is not enough to describe Chavez now…

Note: no links, “as seen on TV” at cocktail hour.

-The end-

My piece on Globovision for Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship, a specialty magazine on the question, well regarded and with good pens, has asked me to write another piece for them, considering the recent attacks on Globovision. The article can be read here. OK, so it is not quite what I wrote but I made it too long and was aware the editor would slice happily into it. Still, the essential is there, and there is already a Chavez apologists attacking! They are watching every where! So please, if you have time to read it, leave a comment if you can.

-The end-

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Primaries for the Venezuelan opposition?

Although away for a short vacation echoes of the internal debate of the opposition (assuming that it is actually taking place) reach me. The new coordination group seems to be dead on arrival as it is not yet able to make a difference with the long extinct and failed Coordinadora Democratica. And Leopoldo Lopez, with time on his hands, is proposing a primary system as the universal panacea to motivate all to go and vote and trash Chavez. Meanwhile, with the hot button of Globovision to hide the real stuff going on, the government is passing a new electoral law that will ensure that the opposition can gain a majority in the parliament only if it gets more than 50% of the popular vote, and I do not mean 51 or 52, I mean at least 55%.

What to do?

I have been thinking about writing about this topic but since I avoid writing about what should be done since I will never be given an opportunity to try it out, I dodge. But been on vacation, for once I will indulge.

The first think to be aware of is that a primary system will not solve any problem of opposition unity unless guarantees for small players are not respected. In real terms this mean that a representative seat must be guaranteed to any semi significant group, and its prima donna leader, if not they will lose any motivation to sweat it to get the other guys elected. It is one thing to unite behind a referendum proposal or behind a presidential candidate as the collective interest is obvious and the collective rewards implied. It is another thing to try to elect 10 Primero Justicia representatives when your own party will probably get zilch since it lost it all in the primaries. Egotistical perhaps but this is the way politics work, even ten years under Chavez autocracy.

On the other hand, behind closed doors negotiations do not guarantee unity and division over failed negotiations end up in dramatic losses like Bolivar State or the town halls of Valencia and Cumana last November. The answer? A combination of both. Some seats should be negotiated to guarantee representation to all parties even if the bigger ones (UNT, PJ) must make some concessions. And the bulk should be assigned according to primaries.

First, there must be reasonably appreciation of how many seats could a united opposition aspire to with the November result. As it stands now this probably would amount to 40% of the actual National Assembly, or say, rounding it, 60 seats. That is, the strategy must be to ensure 60 seats, anything above that is bonus. Thus we can already divide the potential seats in two groups: the 60 “likely” and the rest “less likely”. The first conclusion is that the “less likely” seats should be allocated under a strict system based on primaries, and that is that.

The second problem is to divide these 60 “likely” into two groups. The first group would be 15 seats assigned by negotiations so as to make sure that all get at least one seat. Think about it: PJ, UNT, AD, COPEI, MAS, PODEMOS, BR, CONVERGENCIA, ABP, PV, plus 2-3 regional groups and we are already nearing 15! The other 45 “likely” seats will be assigned through a primary system which is way more complicated to come up with than what people might think.

The electoral system of Venezuela is not very friendly to organizing primaries since we can elect representatives through lists and through districts. And in small states such as Yaracuy our 5 representatives come from 1 each from three districts and 2 from a list, precluding any real proportional representation. Thus we could risk CONVERGENCIA, the local opposition group, to claim all and not lift a finger elsewhere; which is what happened in the 2000 vote.

This is not an obstacle nor an advantage but there are ways to force all the small parties that get entitled to one seat to campaign hard: make these 15 winning seats depend as much as possible on the representation of the state at large to motivate as much the beneficiaries of the "safe" seat to move their butt during a campaign.

Example Yaracuy: the expected CONVERGENCIA seat should be in the list seat, that is, CONVERGENCIA will need to campaign all across the state in the name of all parties to elect its representative, and thus hopefully pull the other guys along in individual districts (assuming that CONVERGENCIA is not dead but that is another story). We could sweeten the deal by granting them one of the district seats but the other two and the second list should be designed through primaries. But no matter what, the agonizing CONVERGENCIA should be told that it will get only two seats, and if it works hard at it. If it refuses then Yaracuy will probably not elect a single opposition representative but CONVERGENCIA will disappear once and for all.

The reverse example would apply to Miranda were district seats are harder to win, such as the two from Eastern Caracas. As such Primero Justicia and COPEI should get their two “likely” from Petare district and work hard, the result showing up in the list representatives for the state at large which list is primary driven.

As you can gather, we are talking individualized primaries state by state according to what the original negotiation yields. Is this a problem? Not necessary. A nation wide primary would generate bitter resentment after a national campaign. We do not have that luxury. Besides I doubt that SUMATE has the finances to organize a single primary day. On the other hand having half a dozen of Sunday primaries allow for state by state strategies, diluting the humiliation for the losers while keeping the winners on their toes. Let’s take Yaracuy as an imaginary example: during the primaries CONVERGENCIA wins but with only 35% while UNT gets 25%. CONVERGENCIA is thus forced to content itself with 2 candidates (one safe and one primary), UNT one and the other two to the other runner up (likely PODEMOS and PJ). Thus CONVERGENCIA pays its errors of the past but is given a chance to rebuild and Yaracuy could surprise all by sending 3 out of 5 representatives when today it is expected to send 5 chavista.

What we need is a responsible negotiation without any grandstanding from any one. Primaries should also be seen as an excellent opportunity for all to build their bases and expand outside of their areas of influence. For example, what better way for Primero Justica to enter in Merida or Anzoategui or even Zulia but to run in a primary there? What better way for CONVERGENCIA to prove it is still relevant in Yaracuy but to try to win the primary there? What better way for UNT to prove that it is not stuck in Zulia by winning or at least reaching second in Caracas downtown primary?

Again, primaries in Venezuela are not the “solve it all” tool. We must respect the primacy of certain parties in their areas: Zulia should have a majority of “likely” in UNT as does PJ in Miranda or PV in Carabobo. Thus the importance of a negotiated chunk of representatives that I put at 15 but that could well be as many as 20 or 25 (but never more than 40% of the “likely” otherwise people might get pissed off). UNT, PJ and PV should recognize that if they will get a majority of elected representatives in their fiefdoms, they must make room for at least 1 or 2 from other parties.

All in all a very complex issue but as long as the opposition leadership does not start tackling complex issue in a mature and realistic way, Chavez will remain in office Iran style and each time it will be more difficult to boot him out through peaceful means. Assuming that this is still possible, but that is yet another story.

This being said, right now I am very pessimistic about a nice arrangement on this complex matter and I am certainly not holding my breath at been consulted on the matter even though I have proven that I know more about electoral projects than many of those who grace of their presence the screen Globovison, while it lasts. But heck, it was fun to write this and I cannot wait until I can say “I told you”!

Note: I limited this discussion to National Assembly elections which should come next year. Though if it were up to me the opposition should have started long ago a recall election drive on these creeps. But that is also another story. Back to topic, primaries discussion for local council elections would be an even more devilish endavour!

-The end-

Monday, June 22, 2009

Clarines News and Views

I have escaped my daily routine for one week. And again I set my path to “Oriente” though to more civilized areas, as a manner of speech, than the wet lands of the Delta.

My first stop at lunch time was Clarines, old village of Venezuela noteworthy for having one of the best examples of early Venezuelan churches, simple as it corresponded to a rather poor colony of Spain, and fortified as the natives were restless for decades and would have none of the Spaniards religion or way of life. Clarines has always been in my memory, since as a kid my parents would take us at least once a year for extended holiday in the Cumana area where they had plenty of friends left before they moved to Caracas. I remember barely more than a toddler how empty of any comfort was the road, still in large part a dirt road, without any place to stop for a decent drink, and few gas stations so you needed to be watchful. In those days every Venezuelan had a roll of toilet paper in his car.

Although I have been to Margarita and Cumana since those years, I had not taken the road for more than two decades and this year I decided to make the trip as part of my brief vacation. The Church of Clarines was the same as I recalled, isolated on top of the hill as surrounding dwellings must have been cleared long ago. Still burning under the inclement sun of Clarines who is seared in my memory as one of the hottest places I knew. No wonder, we did stop always around noon time as it was the only place between Caracas and Barcelona where parents could let their kids run for a few minutes. As such Clarines is for me synonymous with bright sun and exhausting heat.

Then Clarines was empty. I remember that each time we stopped to visit there was no one on Bolivar Square in front of the church. Maybe a stray dog, that was all. Around ,the original adobe houses were shut tight, though now I think it was probably due to the siesta. One year they had opened a little bodega, with near empty shelves but where to our great surprise we could find some cold “uvita Grapette”, my favorite drink as it left my tongue purple.

Plaza Bolivar was as empty as I recalled, except for a couple of lovers on a bench. It has been redone nicely, taking advantage of the old trees planted a century or more ago. But the surrounding houses remained shut at noon, not a single café or joint in what is perhaps one of the highest points of Colonial architecture of Venezuela. The Bolivarian Revolution has no business to do with that history, even if its sturdy construction is a silent witness of the resistance of the natives so loved, we are told, by Chavez. From the road you would never know that you were driving past Clarines who probably received its latest care under the presidency of Luisinchi, who was born there.

The Church was closed. It looked rather worn out, more than what I recall. Though it must still be in use on Sundays. If the Plaza Bolivar was neat, the area surrounding the church was in dire need of a good sweep. All in all it was rather anguishing to observe the solitude of the Church, the only building of the square surroundings in need of a facelift, in need of a mere cleaning up.

The rest of Clarines has changed. The top of the hill might still be lonely without shops or places to have a drink but it has been scrubbed up some and two streets have been returned to an ancient cobble stone look. Far distant Colombians have arrived too, as they have arrived everywhere in Venezuela. If I remember Clarines as a totally noiseless place, this time I will leave with the sound of loud vallenatos coming from some house. And even a Colombian luncheonette, which was closed anyway.

But what has changed the most was the lower town, the one we entered first after we had left the main highway. This are did not really exist then but today it is a tawdry main street of stores and bustling activity in spite of the heat, where the only stores modern and clean are the now inescapable Movistar and Digitel dedicated to cellular phones and calling cabins. The new city has its back to its past, completely, full of PSUV slogans and personality cult to Chavez accompanying the local rojo-rojito potentate, whereas the hill is rather strangely scarce in those. If Clarines was in my mind close to Casas Muertas, today it is a new small town, probably rescued from oblivion by the need to provide with services the busy road and the nearby monstrous petrochemical complex. I wonder what the new people of Clarines think of their venerable church.

But all progress is not negative. After Clarines I did stop for lunch to a very nice place called La Medianidad, I think. The folks who manage it bring to this desertic area their cheeses produced elsewhere. And they opened a very busy restaurant where I had this wonderful cachapa below, accompanied with one of the best “papelon con limon” I ever had. Such luxury would not even have been a dream when I traveled first the old dirt road. (1)

--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
1)Cachapa is a corn pancake served with a generous portion of cheese “queso de mano”. Papelon con limon is lemon juice sweetened with the sugar cane juice solidified in brown cones after the first pressing of the cane. The only sugar available in Venezuela for centuries before refined white sugar was developed. It is difficult to have a more Venezuelan meal than the one in the picture.

As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge.

-The end-

Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran early lessons

OK, someone must start speculating on the consequences of what is keeping us riveted on the news this week.

Established Facts

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have won the election but whatever the real margin of victory he might have got, his victory is desperately tarnished. He is a lame duck president from almost election day. It is to be doubted that he will finish his mandate as if nothing.

After 30 years of of Islamic Revolution, the model is exhausted, as any undemocratic model always gets exhausted. It is the law of history: it can last as much as the 70 something years of the USSR or the 12 years of the 1000 years Reich, but authoritarian models always exhaust themselves one way or the other.

The information system as we know it has irremediably changed.


I would not dare to speculate on Iran's fate: I simply do not know enough about it. I always had a gut feeling that an Ayatollah regime was no good news and I was one of the very people in my very leftist college of the time to be scared by Khomeini. All my colleagues were simply pickled pink that the Shah was out, regardless of who kicked him out. I was frowned upon but time has proved me right.

At the very least what we see going on in Iran is a major rift in the power structure, sore and cranky after 30 years of doing as it pleased. The end? Who knows. Maybe a pact between factions to avoid the regime to fall? An extension at best. Maybe a civil war? It would not last long: with the Basji and the militant country side repression will eventually win a temporary hollow victory and the new Iran will be a mess as new forms of internal terrorism will appear without a doubt. Will a FARC like situation that will never end develop? With all the rivaling interest in that area of the world we can be sure that there will be enough people willing to let and help the Iran situation fester.

What the Ayatollahs did not foresee was that the education they gave to many Iranians was going to fire back at them so badly. What we could call already the Twitter revolution has changed the political dealing all across the world. What we sensed as early as during the unsuccessful Dean Internet presidential campaign in the US has now become a full fledged mass movement able to unseat a regime. Maybe not Iran today but a lot of other countries have been served notice.

What happened? Massification of Internet in urban centers has met and created a generation of technologically educated youths. Maybe not that educated in other aspects such as political orthodoxy, but educated in the ways of the world where through Twitter and Facebook they can date as they cannot date in the streets. And this is not a cheesy example when you know that young women in Tehran streets are routinely asked by the Basji to tighten their scarf/tchador, not hold hands, etc... To these people Facebook was a taste of freedom that prepared them excellently for what is happening today in Tehran.

The shift to the Internet as a major source of information is now complete. We were not quite aware of it and we would have never expected Iran to tell it to us, so crudely, almost. Even this blogger only got to Twitter two days ago. That does not mean that newspapers are dead: few bloggers will ever be able to do and to write the deep research needed on many issues, a depth that can only be offered by newspapers, not even TV news too worried about the now, right now ratings war. A major realignment in the media is to be expected everywhere in the world.

And thus we come to the real objective of this post: what will Chavez (and China, and Belarus, and Cuba) do to stop Internet, text messaging, Twitter, etc....? I do not know what they are going to do though it is predictable that major Internet progress in China and Cuba is now going to be less likely. But can Chavez put the genie back in the box? Right now at Miraflores they know, without a doubt, that closing Globovision will simply accelerate the development of alternative Internet media that can be even more dangerous as it cannot be easily controlled or sanctioned for spreading lies as needed. We are back to the era of the samizdat. Chavismo is simply faced with the daunting task of a massive media control of which Globovision might be the easiest part.

The ones who have a clearer panorama now are the opposition political leaders: they have a few months, not too many but a few, to organize a network system that will come in handy at election time and even better, at repression time. Internet maybe "no sube cerros" but SMS and phone based mail or Twitter "si puede subir cerros". (sube cerros, Venezuelan equivalent of will it play in Peoria? If your program reaches the extensive uphill shanty towns of Caracas, cerros, your chances of being elected increase.)

-The end-

Le Monde duly notes the love of Chavez and Fundamentalist Iran

I did not want to waste your time on the more than expected declarations of support from Chavez to Ahmadinejad (NOTE: Chavez to Ahmadinejerk does not mean Venezuela to Iran).

But Center Left major paper Le Monde did take notice that not only Chavez is about the only Western leader in the word to come strongly on Ahmadinejad side (well, he has been cheating electorally since at least 2003) but that this support should not be surprising and should be considered ominous. That for sure will play nice among the French leftist intelligentsia (and among the wuss right too). It never ceases to amaze me how Chavez has an ability to stick his foot in mouth at the very worst moment. But thanks to oil until now he was able to make limited come backs. Let's see how that works out now.

-The end-

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Red shirts are busy

The chavista red shirt onslaught seems to be sharpening its pitch. After all, weeks and weeks of attacks, fanned by Globovision as the source of all evil, have a way to self generate excessive stimulation in those quarters.

Yesterday we saw many concerted attacks of the sort, worthy of any self respecting totalitarian regime. I chose to show only one, the attack on Miranda State's governor's office by the mayor of of Los Teques, Alirio Mendoza. The pictures around say it all. My only question is how come nothing will happen to this mayor promoting violence and using public employees for that DURING working hours, while Globovision will be closed any time soon just because Rafael Poleo did not control his big mouth for a few seconds? Does chavismo ignore that these things do go around the world? The shirts might be red but this is fascism and the language is clear: those who wear the swastika in their heart are those covering the walls with it.

By the way, just for the record, grand parents of governor Capriles Radonsky died in the Holocaust. So we can mark that down as yet more chavista antisemitism.

Chavismo will not stop at anything to weaken elected opposition officials last November. Rosales, Maracaibo mayor is in exile; Ledezma, Caracas mayor, has been stripped of any function; Governors Perez of Zulia, Morel Rodriguez of Nueva Esparta and Salas Feo of Carabobo have lost control of ports, airports and highways; and now it is the turn of the two last remaining governors with still some authority. The attack Capriles Radonski in Miranda has restarted and in the most ignominious way one can think of.

-The end-

I caved in to Twitter

Looking at what is happening in Iran, the Luddite in me has decided to modernize some and join Twitter. I have the feeling that we will need to rely on it a lot in a future nearer to us than what we may think. If you are interested you can follow me at @danielduquenal. If you are expecting personal stuff such as me walking the dog, forget it. I will use it only as an RSS type for some posts, to summarize them in 140 characters (now, that will be a challenge for me!). And for some stuff that might not make it to CNN in the next hour, or ever. In other words, I am not the one that will crowd your twitter mail box.
-The end-

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Globovision pays its fine? Double it!

These past few months chavismo has been prodigal with its trademarks of unfairness and thuggery. Today we got three more!!!

The fine is doubled. Just as Globovision celebrated that it collected enough money from its devoted audience the SENIAT announced that the fine had been doubled. Just like that. Now it will be more than 4 million US dollars, for that specific fine.

A new lawsuit is opened. And a double jeopardy at that, on another angle on the already prosecuted famous Rafael Poleo visit at Globovision when Poleo reminded Chavez on how Mussolini ended his life.

Globovion lawyer to be indicted. Perla Jaimes is the legal counsel of Globovision, the head of a very busy office these last few years. She was charged today on obstruction to justice for the mere crime of having made sure the "Miranda rights" were given to Zuloaga when his home was searched. It is all on TV, her refusing to let the state to search the house until a proper search warrant was produced. They eventually produced it and they were allowed in. She did her job, something duly protected in the laws. That assuming that laws were actually observed in bolibanana.

You can make your own conclusions. If you need help to make up your mind about how the justice system works in Venezuela I would suggest that you seek what has happened to all the corruption accusations duly documented and reported on the press and media on Diosdado Cabello (heading the Globovision closing task) or Di Martino, two name the most prominent recent ones.

-The end-

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Claudio Farias of Caracas Metro to be fired?

I wish I could use La Fontaine more in this blog but he is basically untranslatable. The Fable I have in mind today is "Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi", where a whole bunch of frogs decide not to be a democracy anymore and ask Jupiter to send them a king. He sends them a pacific frog but the gang gets bored with such a pushover king and ask for a new one. So he sends a crane who starts eating them, warning the frogs not to complain that the next king could be way worse.

Come to think of it this is pretty much the story of Venezuela...

I remember this poem because it does not allow me to be fully happy at the rumored firing of Claudio Farias, the president of Caracas Metro. Apparently his incompetence and political speeches since he took over in January have been too much, even for chavismo hard core. I would be tempted for once to congratulate the regime for a rare good decision but then again it was already a bad decision in January and we do not know who will replace him. I shall hold my praise.

-The end-

Monday, June 15, 2009

When the Caracas Metro is just a tinker toy for some chavista apparatchik

Some days when I see how out of touch with the common folk chavismo is becoming I get my hopes up. Surely, once looting is considered, a government whose plans for the country cannot go beyond Mercal and free aspirin cannot last that long. The case I have at hand is a double fold treat for you: corrupt incompetents at the Caracas Subway and plain corruption at the Caracas cable car (but that for a following post).

You will forgive me if I go into a very long post but the details are important here as Caracas will have to live forever with the consequences.

How the design of Metro Line 5 is changed as the crisis keeps evolving?

The Caracas subway system is in dire need of expansion, the more so that the centralization policies of Chavez are going to keep increasing the population of Caracas out of any measure. It is to be noted that in 10 years of rule Chavez has only inaugurated a short segment of 3 metro stations, all duly planned and contracted before he took office. We can also count an extension of Line 3 with 4 stations still not working fully (I think one is not open at all). For the record the other 38 stations were opened by 4 presidents, that is, an average of 9 stations by 5 year term, and all of these presidents with way less resources than Chavez has had.

But I am not going to get into the details on how incompetent chavismo has been in managing and building public transportation in Caracas and its far distant suburbia: I would need a full blog devoted to the topic. Instead, the president of Caracas Metro since last January, Claudio Farias, gave us this week a perfect symbol on all that is wrong with chavismo, as it is getting into its 11th year or "planification".

The work on line 5 has been advancing slowly. So slowly in fact that now that chavismo has run out of money. Seeing that Caracas is not voting for Chavez anymore, he is looking for ways to save money and screw us along the road. One simple way to do that is to remove two subway stations out of line 5.

Now, you can argue that well, we are in time of crisis, these stations could be built later, it is more important to do at least the line, and whatever other reasons as we find in countries even slightly less dysfunctional than Venezuela. But when you read the words of Claudio Farias you know that nothing of the sort was considered, that some late night in Miraflores, desperately looking for corners to cut, Chavez and his minions just decided to cut off two metro stations. I am putting the words in Spanish first, with the (sic) added by El Universal and then my translation.
"La línea 5 ha sufrido quizás un retraso. Pero las estamos replanteando, pues nos parece que es una línea que no tiene ningún sentido"; "Esa es una línea que beneficia a la oligarquía (...) Las Mercedes, hermano, la Principal de Las Mercedes va a tener dos estaciones en la propuesta cuando todo el mundo que va a Las Mercedes va (sic) en su carro a los restaurantes. ¿Se necesita que la Principal de Las Mercedes tenga dos estaciones? Ni siquiera, La Hoyada y Capitolio"; "La estación Bello Campo que está al lado del Gustavo Herrera. ¿A quién beneficia esa estación cuando tiene al lado Chacao y Altamira? Nosotros estamos planteando que esa estación sea eliminada. Esa estación no beneficiaría a nadie, en lo absoluto. Ya se hizo el estudio".

“Line 5 may have suffered a delay [talk about an understatement!]. But we are questioning it, because it seems to us that this line makes no sense”; “This is a line that benefits the oligarchy (…) Las Mercedes, brother, the Principal [avenue] of Las Mercedes is going to have two stops in the proposal when every one that goes to Las Mercedes go (sic) in his car to the restaurants. Does La Principal de Las Mercedes need two stations? Not even La Hoyada and Capitolio.”; “The Bello Campo Station that is next to the Gustavo Herrera [famous high school] who does it benefit when it has nearby Chacao and Altamira? We want this station to be eliminated. This station will benefit no one, absolutely. We have done the study” [a study which is nowhere to be found by the way]
There is so much wrong in this that feeble minds would be at a loss as to where to start. But I know my history, I know how traffic is in Caracas and I know how to use the Metro even if it has become an exercise I avoid as much as possible, if anythign for the Ali Primera music forced on us.

The first thing that Claudio misses is the original purpose of Line 5 , probably already under planning by the time Chavez was preparing his 1992 coup. Then Claudio was in all likelihood a small time neighborhood thug, a time from which he kept his speech ways. If you look at the Subway map above you will notice immediately the East West direction, to which lateral valleys are connected. The geology dictates that but the uncontrolled and unplanned growth makes this natural handicap a disaster. Note: line 5 is line 4 on this "official map" but chavismo loves to change names and numbers.

Soon after Line 1 was was opened there was an interesting phenomenon observed: whenever an "accident" happened in the Metro, everybody was late to work or for home. That is, a single East West line was very vulnerable to, say, a suicide, and all Caracas would be affected. Soon it became obvious that Line 1 was insufficient and that is when plans for line 5 and a still distant third parallel line were accelerated. It might seem crazy in a way to make so many parallel lines but the human circulation justifies them perfectly well. If you doubt me just drive around Caracas between 4 and 7 PM, East West, or North South blocked by East West, and get back to me.

The second thing is that Claudio totally misses the structure of the neighborhood where he decided to suppress a station. This is better explained looking at the map below lifted from El Nacional.

Claudio might be Metro director but he obviously does not take the subway to go home at night, and certainly not through almost any of the stations featured in this graph.

First, why Bello Campo should not be closed

True, Bello Campo RIGHT NOW would not be a major Caracas station, but that does not mean it is not important contrary to what our Amateur Metro president thinks. Chacao is another extremely busy station at rush hour and Bello Campo would be a nice option for the harassed office workers. And Bello Campo is close from a major shopping Mall and other commercial areas that depend on Chacao station, causing a lot of traffic congestion. Last but not least Bello Campo is one of the few neighborhoods in an area where there is possible business development that would happen for sure once a subway station is built, releasing the pressure on small areas like historical Chacao to survive as inhabited areas. Not to mention that Bello Campo would be next door to a lower class wedge between Altamira and Bello Campo! Are those not supposed to be chavista voters?

Chacaito Las Mercedes now
  • Chacaito is the busiest station of the area, maybe Caracas, because form there leave all the buses that go South, to Middle Class Prados del Este as well as to Lower Class Las Minas. As such the Chacaito area is usually collapsed half of the day by buses parked in double and triple file.
  • One or two of the Las Mercedes stations will pick up these bus traffic leaving Chacaito only for bus routes for Northern areas of Caracas or out of Caracas.
  • If Las Mercedesi s eliminated, one of the arguments of Claudio falls down because the distance between Bello Monte and Tamanaco would be simply too long.
  • Also the Principal de Las Mercedes is long enough to deserve two stations. Depending on where exactly the station is located the La Hoyada Capitolio dimwit statement falls flat on its face.
  • South of Chacaito there is a lot of business and commerce and a Las Mercedes station would be a nice option for the folks working there, further decongesting Chacaito.
And more other arguemtns that I coudl write, but I have saved for the end the utter idiocy of Claudio argument.

He says that the only folks that go Las Mercedes are rich people hitting the dining/party circuit. I cannot think of a crassest statement, of a more horrifying nouveau-riche-let-them-eat- cake reason. What about all the waiters, the cooks, the bartenders, the garbage collectors, the sales clerk, etc, etc that work in Las Mercedes? Are they not entitled to a fast subway ride too?

What we see here is a got-fat Claudio Farias who now has a chauffeur, a Metro assigned car and possibly body guards and even a police or two on motorbikes stopping traffic to let him go through while the hoi poloi watches. This is how low the chavismo servants have fallen, how far from the needs of the people. Surely they will notice, won't they?

Note on Farias. He used to work with Diosdado Cabello who brought him to the Metro once he was unseated in Miranda State. He is a nobody but he is very willing to do all the dirty work and to suck up wherever it is needed. If we consider the amount of corruption reports on the Cabello tenure at Miranda's helm we can also assume that Claudio is a a "trusted" adviser of Cabello and thus a corrupt individual. The Internet on a quick glance reveals the following:

He used to be a Metro employee, even holding a station management, according to pro Chavez ABN. The lack of details leaves us to think that he went as far as he would have gone, thus not great management prospect to direct the Metro alone. But let's assume that I am wrong.

His mission is clear: further introduce politics into the Metro, as for example this inauguration of a Che Guevara center for Metro employees.

His initial promises that all would be better came to a crash landing within three months of his tenure. Apparently there is a witch hunt inside the Metro where people not solidly rojo-rojito are removed, and it started with his arrival.

His mismanagement goes from pretending to sign contracts that no one is clear about to organize the system in such an unsafe way that 80 Metro depending bus burnt a few days ago. Some people rumor that the fire was deliberate because these stocked bus were out of service due to very deficient maintenance and they wanted to avoid an inquiry. Not to mention possible juicy commissions to replace these buses. Note that he might have done that himself, but clearly he is not controlling his subordinates.

So you see it by yourself, the quality of public servants that Chavez is imposing on us, the kind of people that are making decisions about the future of Caracas. Guess who will pay the bills later? Not them, I can assure you, comfortably ensconced far from where justice can reach them.

-The end-

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ahmadinejerk retains office, so to speak


I am fascinated by the reactions people are having at what seems to be the massive electoral fraud taking place in Iran.

An easy joke heard of course is that the CNE opened offices in Teheran. But the Iranian theocracy has long known how to make free and fair election an impossible goal; in fact Iran invented some of the CNE tricks used today in Venezuela, such as the "inhabilitaciones" where a cheap ayatollah, Clodosvaldo Ruffian, receives the orders as to whom can run in an election, without any judicial supervision.

Others are simply shocked, SHOCKED, that the so obvious triumph of Mousavi was not accepted. Forgetting first that Mousavi was no gift to democracy himself. Forgetting that Iran was a theocracy. What did they expect?

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy, never forget that. And as such it is a milder variation of totalitarianism in that for faith reasons people, many people at least, are more than willing to accept ways that are close to a totalitarian way of life. Or has any of you forgotten that gay teenagers are hung? That women are forced into second rank status by the mere obligation of the tchador? That women caught in adultery risk their lives? That the regime has no qualms suppressing text messaging and Facebook for political purposes? That the real leader of the country is an Ayatollah that called all but by name to vote for Ahmadinejerk? All of that and much more in the name of a religion that got stuck somewhere in the Middle Ages.

The mirror image is also true in that totalitarian regimes are not loath to borrow from religious practices to secure their hold on power. We need not look further than our local neo-totalitarian version busy rewriting Venezuelan history, creating new mythical heroes, creating a religious like calendar with ceremonies and language included.

The Ayatollahs in Iran are never going to relinquish power pacifically. They came to power thirty years ago through an historical accident and an accidental messiah. They have become now for the most part a cast of privileged abusers and they are not going to let go, ever. Through nationalism and religious fervor they have created an accomplice network that dabs in diverse sorts of thuggery and blackmail, such as it happens in any totalitarian regime, though until now the religious values have stopped Iran from going fundamentalist to outright totalitarian.

These are the rewards the West is collecting. 30 years of apology have yielded this electoral result where some claim that the government did not even bother counting ballots. It was first the nasty Shah. Then it was a religion, you know, they have the right to limit basic human rights because of their "tradition". And they need to defend themselves agaisnt Iraq so they need a big army and secrecy. And oil is going to run out so even if they are getting ready for a bomb how can we forbid them to develop nuclear energy. All the guilt of the West helped creating a problem worse than the original evil.

Meanwhile Israel which has a full sense of what is at stake is probably resigning itself in starting a global war by striking Iran first if those wuss in the West do not shape up some.

And meanwhile in Latin America a similar anti democratic fundamentalist process is at play where we hear very similar excuses to justify what should never be justified. If I do not want to detail the parallels on how rogue regimes are allowed to establish themselves through the indolence and/or neglect of their neighbors, I can at least find a silver lining for the readers of this rant: it is going to become much funnier and easier to counter all the Chavez supporters we are going to cross in the future.

This contested Ahmadinejerk election is going to bring further repression in Iran while that country will try to get as close as it can to other rogue countries as its only front. Venezuela is one of those. So now, more than ever, we are all going to be able to use Iran as a litmus test against any pro Chavez creep. Does a leftist revolutionary supports nuclear bombs as a blackmail tool? Is that OK to make electoral fraud a norm to preserve any anti US regime? Is it OK to void basic Human Rights? Do you support gay marriage in the US but find nothing wrong with hanging gay teenagers? And more, much, much more. Have fun!


That Iran thing is going places. Apparently the regime has even cut Twitter, applying the basic strategy in any war, cut enemy lines internal communications as much as possible.

If in English I could not find any confirmation at least Radio France Internationale does say that Mousavi would be under house arrest while many of his campaign managers and party allies would have been arrested outright.

Two reflections here. First, this should be a lesson for the Venezuelan opposition. If Ahmadinejad gets away with such an election, you can be sure that Chavez will take his chances. Thus the opposition needs to work out right now its communication lines, diversify them as much as possible before an increasingly nationalized sector can cut these communications at will.

The second reflection is more negative, if possible. If Ahmadinejerk can afford to make such an electoral claim without offering an audit or anything, it is because he did get many votes, maybe even more than 50%. Inasmuch as it is not palatable for us with our Western sensitivities, people vote mostly in less educated countries on a transactional basis. That is, what is in it for me? In Venezuela many chavista voters do not like, for example, all the giving Chavez spreads abroad. But as long as they keep receiving the little bit that come their way they do not care and keep voting for Chavez. Transpose this phenomenon to Iran where a theocratic system combines religious values, nationalism and the occasional freebie and there you go: a solid 30 to 50% for Ahmadinejerk brand of religious populism (for lack of a better word description).

In regimes like Iran or Venezuela, it is not enough for the opposition to win, it has to be a massive win. As long as the sitting unpalatable government manages to retain between 40 and 45% of decided to fanatic voters, they will have little problem in retaining power even if they know they lost. Fraud works when you are determined and have almost as many voters as the winning side.

The lesson of Iran is clear for the Venezuelan opposition: if they want to become government someday they cannot wait for Chavez to collapse (Ahmadinejerk was reputed to be in serious economic trouble and we see none of that in the result!). The Venezuelan opposition needs electoral unity, a minimum government program that the masses can understand, a fool proof communication system for election day and manning ALL voting stations with enough witnesses to make sure accurate counting takes place. In an age of text messaging even if Chavez closes Globovision tomorrow you can still do a campaign. Or does anyone thinks that the Ayatollahs ever allowed a Globovison like media there?

-The end-

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging financial power

As it turned out the time was too short to set up some scheme to collect funds to pay for the Globovision fine. Not to mention that I was advised to be careful in the scheme to collect funds since with the new NGO law coming, a repressive SENIAT and what not, this could be taken as an excuse against me (or Miguel) in the future if the government wished to harass us. That they will do it eventually is something very clear in my mind, but that does not mean we should simplify their task at cornering us.

What to do?

The thing to note here is that from the folks who left a comment here, to those who wrote me privately, without any effort, without any campaigning this blog could have collected as much as 5,000 USD. I do not know whether this is much or little and it really does not matter, but if we combine this effort with Miguel's blog read by more "wealthy" donors, it is quite clear that for a future cause, a well organized cause, hoping for 20,000 USD for both blogs is not unrealistic.

Simply amazing.

But there is something even more amazing, way, way more amazing: the trust that readers have put in me, willing to send me money no questions asked, for me to do as I see fit, no accounting required.

Damn! That is a lot of responsibility and a huge honor. I have been in contact with Miguel discussing ways to raise funds and I am sure he joins me in thanking all of our readers in the extraordinary trust they have put on us.

So, what to do now?

The first observation is that this time around Globovison is probably going to be able to raise its needed cash without the help from this blog. The good news about this is that we dispose of some time to figure out the best and safest way possible to canalize future funding, maybe a PayPal type of scheme that will be controlled both by Miguel and me and a third party of our trust in the US and/or Europe.

The bad news is that I understand that many of you might be frustrated at missing a chance to finally do something against Chavez besides reading this blog and confronting the occasional chavista in your country. But fear not, YOU WILL HAVE other opportunities to chip in and the money that you were so willing to send to me this week will be sent someday, sooner than expected. Worry not, I will make sure that Globovison learns about what the readers of this blog alone were willing to do (not to mention that if by Sunday Globovision does not have the money yet, we can still set up in a hurry a Paypal to collect our effort).


- You are really a great bunch or readers and any blog would be immensely lucky to have as dedicated and willing a readership as this blog has.

- We do have muscle power. Fortunately it is not that much so nobody is going to try to kidnap me or Miguel for a rather meager ransom. However the potential amount is good enough that we could even publish an add in a major paper.

- I will need to work diligently at setting up a fund collecting device that could be used to pay for a future Globovision fine, to go around CADIVI for someone's trip to some Human Rights conference (not necessarily me, but perhaps we could sponsor a "dissident" student), etc... In short, we are a tiny NGO of our own! :)

-The end-

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Media in Venezuela; nobody seems to get the reality

If I am able on rare occasions to praise a post from Francisco Toro, I must this time suspend briefly my self imposed rule not to discuss negatively my fellow bloggers and point how particularly naïve a post of his is: The Pundit.

The premise of the latest post from Quico, visiting Venezuela after many years of absence, is to meet with local media folks so as to catch up on the actual Venezuelan mood and what he has missed. And also to look for help to a project of his. “The Pundit” of said post who welcomes Quico to some bar where he is an habitué is apparently someone with a media show of sorts. The conclusion is that the Venezuelan media sucks and we can almost read in between lines that they had it coming, even if they make sure we know they deplore it. Many things might sound right but are in fact dead wrong.

For one thing in the XXI century, in an age of media speed and feeding frenzy, all private media in the world behaves more or less as the Venezuelan does. True, a case can be made that the Venezuelan media, in particular in 2001 and 2002 might have behaved worse that its peers elsewhere, but that is really irrelevant. We could start by pointing out that if private media bias can become insufferable, public media bias in places with no checks and balances is even more insufferable. For example, what has FOX being doing during the last US presidential election, and today? What about the extraordinary forgiveness by the Liberal media on the gaps of Obama's resume? Just to name a recent and well documented example.

The exercise that The Pundit gives in front of what we must call a naïve Quico is simply abuse. After all, The Pundit seems not only to live off well of a system he decries privately so strongly, but we do not get any sense of his own personal engagement, risk taking, at making things better. In other words there is absolutely nothing endearing in The Pundit, only personal agenda and vanity and we are forced to forgive Quico for not probing further since on his own admission he was seeking funds for his project.

The most galling part of this Quico interview of sorts is not the obvious points I made above. More can be noted, but for me the worse is the lack of understanding from each part on how the media works today in Venezuela, besides the already well known scarecrows duly and conveniently mentioned. Apparently in their arrogance, all in the media, from chavismo to characters such as The Pundit have a deficient knowledge of the function of what remote controls are for. If people in Venezuela watch Globovision or VTV it is because they actually want to watch it, the more so if they do it through a cable subscription which carries at the very least a couple of dozen of broadcast channels. Complaining that it is a scheme, that people allow themselves to be manipulated by such media misses the fact that the decried manipulation is eagerly sought by most.

I do detect an intellectual arrogance in the discussion of Quico and The Pundit about the type of media that should exist that I detect equally well in chavista reasoning when it pretends to impose on us its “hegemonia comunicacional” picked up in some Marxist treaty that I cannot be bothered to look for. It is the “we know what is best for you”. Maybe they do, but it does not work that way. The Pundit or Chavez are upset about the screams of people protesting against abuse of power and poor public services that seem to be in an endless loop at Globovision, which leads to the constant editorializing, but that is the reality of the country and that is what people want to watch when they watch the news. Maybe not in some Caracas effete circles where for snobbish reasons or political ones Globovision is pooh-poohed routinely but in the country side of Venezuela or in the dilapidated hills of Caracas people want to see their lives reflected.

Any media measurement, that I have been made aware of, shows consistently that the state communicational apparatus ranks well below the rest of the media in viewers. VTV, the flagship propaganda of Chavez media floats around a 5%, the other well below. Globovision by itself, with an open market limited to Caracas and Valencia only, often beats VTV which is available in all of the country. And if Venevision whose owner, very capitalist Cisneros, had no problem reach an arrangement with Chavez has good ratings it does not get them from its nightly news.

It is true that historically the media in Venezuela had chosen its political candidate. Chavez himself was given plenty or air time, way more than he deserved, and was all but flatly endorsed by newspapers that today are its most strident and even unreasonable opponents, such as El Nacional. At least El Universal has had the merit to oppose Chavez since 1992 and as such has a record of consistency and integrity unmatched by any other media or newspaper of Venezuela. But that historical awareness is not today’s problem. At all times the opposition had access to all the media, more or less perhaps, more or less favorably perhaps, but access at least through paid advertisement. The objective since 2003 is that any political opposition has as little access as possible while through cadenas the power has an overwhelming presence.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a barrio inhabitant at, say, Caucaguita which I mentioned in this blog. They might turn on to Globovision to get a perverse weather forecast of which are the most dangerous areas of Caracas. But they are also subjected to hours and hours of Chavez cadenas filled up with relentless accusations and excuses. These people are simply not prepared to resist such a brutal aggression and find it simpler to keep voting for Chavez instead of starting questioning why is that Chavez still keeps them in the same misery after a decade. True, through free aspirin at a Barrio Adentro, some subsidized food at Mercal, their material well being might have improved some. But “well beings” qualified otherwise than material have not benefited at all. And yet, for all Chavez effort, his popular base is eroding at Caucaguita, slowly but surely.

Does that erosion come from The Pundit show? From Globovision nightly news? From the reality in the streets? The Pundit and Quico do not know what is going on in Caucaguita inhabitants mind. If they understood what I wrote above the tenor of Quico’s post would be very different and way more substantive. But they can find some comfort in that not even VTV understands today the Caucaguita mind.

For all its vices and our disgust at the debasing in news perhaps the harsh truth is that Caucaguita inhabitants liked to watch RCTV nightly news, liked to watch its tawdry game shows, liked to watch its silly novellas and like to watch Globovision today even if they might be forced to play it at low volume in their slums so that their chavista neighbor does not harass them the next day. But chavismo does understand one thing, that people must be deprived from watching what they want to watch, taste and intellectuality not being a consideration whatsoever when it is decided what is suitable watching.

Politics cannot be limited to a given blog, to a given newspaper, to a given media empire. All may have an effect at their local reach, but only local even for a brutal Chavez cadena of hours. It is disheartening to read the waste of time that the meeting between Quico and The Pundit was because when we read such stuff we understand that Chavez has still many happy days left for him at Miraflores. They say that Chavez has played with the media at will but they do not realize that he has played with them both equally well.

-The end-

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Want to piss off Chavez? Pay Globovision's fine!


Being in Caracas a few days allow me to participate in a nice and cool activity that will piss off Chavez: I paid this morning 100 Bs.F for the fine that the SENIAT (tax SS police, makes the IRS looks nice and civil) gave Globovision.

I am willing to pay more but one point of the protest is to get one million people to pay. This will not happen as this would require 1 million people to go to the bank to deposit at least 5 BsF and too many Chavez haters just cannot be bothered. However if next week the 5 millions are not gathered yet, I will go back and give more money for Globovision.

But as everything in Venezuela, there is more to it. Only one bank is participating so far, Banco Venezolano de Credito whose president Oscar Garcia is one of the main Chavez opponent. BVC does as little as possible business with the state, eschewing a lot of those "sweet deals" that have profited so many banks such as BOD or BANESCO. You know, get rich quick schemes playing the markets and currency exchange with complicity from public "servants" manipulating public funds for speculation instead of putting them to good use.

But Oscar Garcia has even more merit as his half brother has been kidnapped a couple of months ago without any news, and even suspicions of rogue government personnel behind the professional operation that targeted, curiously, a major opposition bank.

Thus you get triple bang for your bolivar, you support Globovsion, you support BVC and in addition you will go through a very unique moment: going to the bank one of the first thing you will see is the instructions on how to deposit in Globovision account. If you are afraid to give your name, have a friend on the Tascon list (like me) do it for you or go ahead and give a fake name: when you deposit cash no one checks your ID. But do not be afraid, take a stand and stop being a wimp: chavista or not you need to stand about the violation to our freedom of information that closing Globovision would be. Soon enough you will end on some apartheid list anyway, chose your moment at least.

And think about Chavez face when he sees "el pueblo" paid the fine of Globovision.

BVC agencies in most important cities of Venezuela (but not in San Felipe)

And if you pay something, let us know and see how much this blog readers did rise for Globovision!!!!



Many of you have expressed the wish to deposit for Globovision from outside Venezuela. Depositing directly is not the way to go becasue:

1) I was advised not to publish any account number
2) It would be a rip off favoring the government since your hard earned dollars/euros will be counted at 2.15 instead to the better rate you can find elsewhere

The best way is to give the money to a trusted source willing to put up with the hassle. This person would receive your funds, inform me on how much was received AFTER confirmation and then I would arrange for the deposit in bolivars made at a better rate than the 2.15. That person(s) eventually would forward me the dollars/euros.

It is all a matter of trust as I will not even be able to publish the receipt of the deposits as I cannot afford to be tracked down on that one since I could be breaking a few laws. Illegal and unjust laws but bolivarian laws nevetheless (the contact person on the other had would be safe as I probably ask him/her to send the money to a friend of mine).

Right now I am contacting folks and if I can come up with a safe system I will announce it and you will need to write to me for me to send you the email of the contact person with whom you will make the arrangements. Warning, it might take a couple of days to set it all up.

The simpler way is of course to have a relative in Venezuela trustworthy enough to make a deposit for you and then you give them your cash whenever you can.

-The end-

Monday, June 08, 2009

An electoral Sunday in Caracas

I am in Caracas for a few days. One of the reason is that I was allowed to vote at the French embassy to chose the three delegates from the Andean region for the representation of the French living overseas. Yes, that is right, French people registered to vote in an embassy are allowed to elect folks to represent them and their problems when you do not live on French grounds.

It was such a nice moment. Paper ballots that we had to slip in envelope. Casting the actual vote by inserting your envelope in a transparent ballot box instead of having to push a button. The knowledge that actually my vote will be counted as intended; and that in addition if I were to go back to the French embassy at 6PM I could assist to the vote count, without any restriction besides the maximum amount of people that could be allowed in that hall.

There were also election in Europe and I was pissed because we have lost the right to vote for them in embassies. We can do it but we must delegate our vote to someone in France. Since I tend to vote either right or left or even protest vote, depending of the political moment, there is simply no one in France I trust enough where I am registered to vote. So I did not vote.

However I am pleased that the right has progressed significantly and the left experienced a serious setback, even in Spain where they are in office and not doing too bad of a government. No, not because I am a right wing or not: because this result is going to piss off Chavez. Chavismo has criticized the European Parliament more out of sheer ignorance of its role and function than any other reason. They love to mention "la derecha" sometime accompanied with "reaccionaria" or some other choice adjective. Apparently the 700+ representatives are so stupid that they can be manipulated by a dozen folks from the Spanish PP. I cannot wait to see their next reaction to future adverse votes in Strasbourg, and when someone points to them that this right wing that should be shot has actually a solid majority, across the continent.

-The end-

Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day, 65 years later

My breakfast today follows live the Normandy military cemetery of Coleville-sur-Mer, switching back and forth between BBC and TV5 to get the original soundtracks of the speeches and ceremonies.

I have had always a certain ambiguity about D-day. Part of my relatives were among the civilian dead of that day and it is one of the reasons why I was born in Venezuela. If I never questioned the historical necessity behind the day, a little voice in me always wondered whether a better way was available. But another voice in me told me that the Normandy beaches were a direct result of a certain day in Munich not even a decade earlier.

Years went by and ten years of chavismo make me look at June 6 1944 as a more momentous day than what we could think, perhaps the true foundation of Western Democracy. We have now a life time to judge the worth of D-day and the ruling is good, the sacrifice was worth every drop of precious blood shed on Normandy beaches, and of the civilians bombed since the night before.

In 1944 there were only three democracies left, the United States of America, The United Kingdom and the Crown Dominions, Canada the one at task on D-day as the others were equally busy elsewhere. Switzerland and Sweden were cornered and weakened and doomed. Besides Argentina, soon gone after the war, there was really nothing much to report from Latin America.

Today there is the European Union standing in defense of democracy, and elsewhere in the word countries that have followed the principles defended on D-day have all of them found that this was the best way to ensure the maximum of prosperity and happiness and freedom for their people, more than at any other political moment in their previous history. Or is anyone doubting that the prosperity and freedom of, say, South Korea, is not indebted to D-day? Was not the Korean War an expression of democracies refusing to lose more ground? Would the magnificent democratic example of India last May be possible if Hitler had invaded Great Britain and opened the door of India to Japan?

D-day today hosts only France, the UK, Canada and of course the United States. It cannot be otherwise. The rivalry between France and England since the Plantagenet times is what has created the modern concept of democracy that rules the world and that embitters so much those who oppose it on fundamentalist reasons. Ideas, arts, economics were always influenced more or less by that rivalry between two competing societies who never could stop from admiring each other in spite of everything. Be it Montesquieu writing "L'esprit des lois" as he was aware of parliamentarianism and rule of law being born across the Channel, or the English Royals always willing to cross La Manche for a good time, at all levels both cultures were always incredibly dependent of each other, as a simple examination of their vocabulary will reveal.

The U.S. is born of that rivalry, its continental expanse made possible from the French defeat of 1763 and its independence made possible from the revenge seeking French Monarchy sending its fleet at Yorktown, a France bankrupting itself in its support of the American Revolution, a bankruptcy soon leading to the French Revolution. That is why no matter what happens these three countries will always grow past silly moments like the "freedom fries".

Americans and British can never have enough of Paris and the French country side, and the French need to admire grudgingly their intellectual adversaries. Maybe the freedom of Europe could not have started elsewhere but the Normandy beaches for geographical reasons, but the freedom of Europe could not have started before the freedom of France. Roosevelt maybe did not quite get that but Churchill certainly knew it, and for all his dislike of de Gaulle. France did not have that many soldiers on D-day but it put up the land, one of its most beautiful and historical provinces and its inhabitants without ever a word of reproach, adding gratefully sumptuous military cemeteries. We all pay our freedom the way we can and Normandy since 1066 has been the crucible of our mutual debts.

Another value that is a consequence of D-day is forgiveness. This year, as always but once, Germany did not attend. It cannot, nor can Japan attend similar events in the Pacific. And yet who doubts that Germany and Japan are not today essential countries of the world, whose roles to support democracy is unquestionable and even exemplary? The punishment of Germany and Japan must always be reminded, as well as the reconciliation that allowed for a better world. There is power in symbolism. It is the role of Germany and Japan to remind us that redemption is possible so that the Paris Berlin axis becomes the key to peace in Europe just as the Washington Tokyo one is the key to Asian peace, as authoritarian China rises.

But do not expect this value of forgiveness and sacrifice to be the cornerstone of people like Chavez. His idea of the world is one of grudges and evenge with the hate that comes along. Democracy for him is a dangerous element because it calls for self questioning, understanding of the adversary and the ability to admire the qualities of said adversaries. For that you need to accept your own failings, and you need to accept them if you need to seek or to offer help without losing your pride or becoming arrogant.

Our future is still resting in Normandy, under the grass of these beautiful cemeteries, among the handful of survivors still able to make the annual pilgrimage to the shores where they suffered so much. I take comfort in knowing that the future still belongs to this brave old men and not to the younger cowards like Chavez or Osama Bin Laden.

-The end-