Friday, July 31, 2009

Return to the Cold War

No one but Weil at Tal Cual has such access to the infantile (for immature and ignorant) mind of Chavez. In this cartoon of today, the wet dream of Chavez to revive the Cold War, where the Berlin Wall will have become a wall between Colombia and Venezuela, with the hoped for conclusion that the wall this time around falls the Russian way. I am impressed (Russian and US flags, for those who do not know their flags well). Observe the desk accessories.

Get me Dimitri Medvedev

-The end-

Chavez formal attack on freedom of expression finally launched

Briefly, today we had many examples on the desperate measures chavismo is trying to silence dissent, to hide the disaster that Chavez is turning Venezuela into. In other words, all that we see today are the measures taken by a weak government, under lots of pressure, and with no idea on how to solve the problems that surround it. Predictably in such circumstances it is the messenger the first one to be shot.

From the dramatic worst to the most stupid.

The country's general prosecutor comes out of the closet and demands that freedom of expression be "regulated". Yes, that is right, Luisa Ortega Diaz who has turned out to be a disappointment as big as her predecessor, Isaias Rodriguez, went to the Nazional Assembly to make a proposal (1). She has been unable to make a dent in crime, she has been unable (or is that unwilling?) to make a dent on corruption, she has demeaned herself by going out of her way to put behind bars opposition politicians, she has been as partisan a nazional attorney as chavismo could have hoped her to be. So, realizing that she can hardly sink lower she went all the way out and let the country know that she is there to serve and protect Chavez and as he ordered her a few weeks ago on Globovision she wrote an official legal motivation document to justify that the Nazional Assembly of Venezuela legislates to supress freedom of expression.

Observe her excuse, it is astounding:
Es necesario que el Estado venezolano regule la libertad de expresión [..] en el marco de nuestro derecho, del derecho de todos los venezolanos tiene un limite. Reclamo que se le ponga un limite a ese derecho. [...] de los dueños de los medios y de todas las personas que trabajen en ellos.

It is necessary that the Venezuelan State regulates the freedom of expression [Freedom of expression] in the framework of our right, of the right of all Venezuelans there is a limit [We must control/regulate] the media owners and all the people that work in media.
There, you have it, perfectly clear. Her speech a chilling moment that even left some of the chavista attending stone cold.

Of course it is possible that the new law might not be voted after all, that it is just a ploy to force Globovision to tone down, that it is this, that it is that... but the final intention cannot be hidden: tomorrow or in a few months there will be a law to punish those who criticize the government. Thinking will become a crime.

The tiny bleached blond woman in her rather electrically tacky blue pseudo Channel turned out to be in the same class as the caricature Nazi Valkyrie of the gulag. Or was that stalag? I get easily confused these days.

You can find here the projected law on "media crimes". Just on what I read the first one to be sent to the courts should be Mario Silva of VTV the State TV for he slanderous, violent and vulgar late night show, La Hojilla. But I am pretty sure that he will not be perturbed at all tonight during his show tonight.

The crux of that law is of course that it is the state, read chavismo, which decides what will be a "media crime" and which will decide what judge and how this will be taken care of. Today again there was yet another international observation about the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela (in Spanish here).

Another journalist is jailed. Gustavo Azocar, noted Tachira journalist, former gubernatorial candidate last November has been put into jail until a trial is completed where he is allegedly involved. It is to be noted that Matos Azocar has gone to every citation he has been summoned to, has claimed his innocence all along, has asked for the trail to be held fast, could have left the country long, long ago had he wanted to, is supported by all opposition and local NGO. But the judge yesterday decided suddenly to arrest him during yet a new hearing, JUST as judicial recess start for the year which means that he cannot appeal his arrest until mid September!!!!!!!!

With what you just read above, you can connect all the dots now.

Colombia to be cut off from energy supply. In an act of Supreme Hypocrisy Ramirez joined in shooting the messenger. You may ask: Uh? Are we not talking about the press here? Stay with me.

In the recent spat with Colombia that started earlier this week over the missing Bofors rocket launchers finding their way to the FARC, Venezuela is at a disadvantage: its dependency on Colombian goods cannot easily be severed for a simple reason, you cannot find find at the drop of a hat the 6 billion dollars of goods that Venezuela gets from Colombia yearly. I mean, long term you could replace them, paying an extra few hundred millions for shipping costs. But it will require maybe a year, maybe two or three because possible providers will need to gear up before they can provide. Colombia will be hurt too but we are the ones that will starve.

This is all Chavez economic policies fault since when he came into power the trade surplus was on OUR side, now it is lopsided 6, SIX, times on Colombia's side. There is absolutely no other reason, no other excuse but the failed polices of chavismo. Period.

Thus a break with Colombia would expose crudely that chavista failure. The borders must remain open while the government thinks of something. But meanwhile a public show must be done to punish these Colombians so Ramirez of PDVSA today announces that energy deals with Colombia will be reviewed and that contraband of gas at the border will be fought actively. Yeah, right....

Why is this hypocrite? Because Venezuela is producing everyday less and less oil and byproducts. Cutting off Colombia is a godsend! And if there is contraband at the Colombian border, reported at thousands of barrels a day by PDVSA itself, it is because that contraband is managed by the government officials that make a killing out of it. I mean, does anyone think that if the Nazional Guard was doing its job the contraband to Colombia would be that high? For chrissake, you can see gas trucks from a small airplane without any problem, and you can block all the roads they require easily!!!!!!!! The more so if it is a line of gasoline trucks!

Two things here. Ramirez is trying to blame the victim and hiding what is coming our way (deflecting what is coming his way?), the penuries that we would experience in the next few months if really Chavez blocks Colombian trade. As such Ramirez is giving false information, while acknowledging that he has not controlled the contraband to Colombia. As such, if he were not so pathetically ridicule, he should be the first one to be jailed in the new media crime law, for promoting misleading information.

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

1) More complete articles in Spanish here, with video and here.

-The end-

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Happy birthday Hugo Chavez! Here, have some Bofors Swedish bazookas to play with your FARC pals

It might have been Chavez birthday today, but instead of having a good time the guy showed his low class once again by having to go and defend what cannot be defended. Since he did not like Colombia's latest finding of collusion between his regime and the FARC, well, he did the most predictable thing: brinkmanship with Colombia, "freezing" relations for a start. Who knows, by midnight he might send his tanks to the border again. It would be wise to send them at midnight, they would avoid the Maracay rush hour tomorrow morning that stopped the previous invasion attempt....

To summarize briefly. The sympathies between the FARC and Chavez/chavismo are now vox populi, from Chavez himself to a cohort of servants proclaiming their love to the FARC (Iris Varela and Rodriguez Chacin among the most explicit of the lot). Direct collaboration was not yet absolutely proved but there was enough evidence to point out to active support since before the days when Rodrigo Granda was quietly living in an Aragua village. When the Reyes computers were seized last year and evidence of close ties came up it was a surprise to no one.

Ecuador was also in the brew since for some reason the empty suit of Correa hates Colombia and Uribe more than Chavez does, if possible. But more about that later, suffice to say now that for Venezuela and Ecuador the need to remove Uribe and his ideas from Bogota is a strategic must as Colombian success only amplifies the more the failures of these XXI socialism regimes.

Now Colombia has revealed that anti tank weapons sold to the Venezuelan government by Sweden's Bofors more than a decade ago, BEFORE Chavez gained office, have found their way to FARC camps. This is a violation of all sorts of international treaties and agreements that I shall not insult your intelligence in detailing.

Before I go further I cam going to tell you how this came to be, and I am willing to bet a lot on my hypothesis.

Chavista military and FARC sympathizers are simply stupid and uneducated (no redundancy here). They probably thought that weapons sold to Venezuela more than 10 years ago were forgotten by all and that no one would worry about them if missing. No one in chavismo ever bothers to check out contracts, conditions, rules, supervision, etc, etc...
When you live in Venezuela you know that just by looking outside your window at your street look. That is why Venezuela gets into so much legal trouble overseas: neglect and ignorance magnified by arrogance.

So, one day, simply some chavista agent had the "great" idea to give those things to the FARC (and probably pocket for himself the money/goodies he was supposed to give them instead). In all fairness it is quite possible that Chavez had no idea of that, probably would not have approved if informed of it, but has to fix the problem anyway. Though Chavez is arrogant enough to have authorized that deal, you know. With the bolibananians all is possible.

If it were a normal government what would have happened? The foreign ministry and the defense ministry would have announced an inquiry at home, would have asked for the serial numbers of the weapons seized and within a few days would have done a mea culpa of sorts. Soon, if needed, a fall guy who have been conveniently found, apologies to Colombia and Sweden issued, even an offer of inspection of the remaining weapons, allowing Colombia to know exactly how many were "stolen", and now possibly located in the FARC controlled areas of Colombia.

That would have been pretty much it.

But in bolibanana things do not work out this simple and logic way. Why? Because the rulers of bolibanana are delinquents and they know that any serious inquiry will be very damaging. Thus instead they accuse Colombia and the rest of the world of slander, say that Sweden has not asked for anything (totally false), suspend relations with Colombia and go as far as announcing that Colombian investments in Venezuela will be reviewed and, well, seized I suppose. Without compensation of course as no amount of money can repair the tarnished honor of the beloved Supremo of bolibanana.

Not only they likely made a buck sending the Bofors toys to the FARC but they are going to make an extra buck by blackmailing Colombian interests.

Thus tonight the irate and out of all proportion presentation of Chavez on TV, outright lies included. But he needs it, he thinks anyway. As the Honduras feudal possession is flailing badly, and literally through the harm waiving of Zelaya, as protests at home increase daily, Chavez needs to awaken the cheap patriotism so characteristic of proto fascist regimes. Tonight outburst is not directed at me, nor the readers of such blog, it is directed to the uncouth masses (still masses?) that support him still but who everyday wonder more and more how come Chavez sends now weapons to the FARC while crime at home is increasing daily (though according government officials it is only a "perception" of crime we suffer). I mean, one more incongruity added to the litany of previous incongruities of chavismo, eventually it has to add up and Chavez must know that.

What does this mean? Apparently nothing really. Chavez knows that Colombia now depends too much on its trade surplus with Venezuela which allows Colombia to compensate for its huge trade deficit elsewhere. So Uribe, pressed inside, will not go much further than these denunciations, hoping for things to quiet down soon enough as Chavez realizes that he cannot replace Colombia's imports that easily, now that he is short of cash to pay for the expensive shipment that would mean bringing stuff from further away than Colombia (and not in Venezuelan taste which are very close to Colombia's tastes; that matters, believe it or not, elemental marketing, since we eat Colombian yogurt, wearing Colombian underwear, taking many a Colombian manufactured pharmaceutical drug, and driving in a Colombian assembled car to purchase all of these things).

But this would
only be apparent. I have the impression that Colombia has resigned itself to the idea that sooner or later as long as Correa and Chavez remain in office the possibility of a war will increase as the instability inside these two countries will inexorably continue to increase. The more refugees start crossing the Colombian border, the closer to a war we get. I have written already that Uribe has been trying to decrease the trade surplus with Venezuela, through rather infantile measures such as increasing toll fees at the border. Now he will be forced to take more stringent measures. After such a Chavez outburst, coupled to the pitiful show in Honduras to which Correa is associated, Uribe is going to press harder for a close relation with the US, from an FTA to US military bases in Colombia. Public opinion of Colombia is today somewhat in favor of these things and the more Chavez screams, the more he helps the Uribe camp. Colombians are a well educated and courteous people who already before Chavez looked down on silly and vulgar Venezuelans.

On the long run what Chavez is creating is a recipe for disaster, for Venezuela, not for Colombia. Right now, if he were foolish enough to create a broader incident, Colombia would win the war in a week or less. A week and a couple of day if Ecuador jumps in. Colombia has a real army, well trained and experienced, and lean officers. Venezuela Army is not an army anymore, just an agency to pillage the oil money profits, by selling weapons to the FARC for example. And managed by potbellied grease sweating generals.

PS: I put Ecuador as a foot note though it is involved in this mess. What I simply want to state is the absolute lack of credibility that Correa has, and how he thinks we are all stupid. A few days ago a FARC video was revealed and in it the FARC admitted funding Correa's electoral campaigns. Correa of course denied everything, Chavez style.

But Correa went a step further and asked the FARC to validate the video. The FARC assuredly obliged by saying that the video is fake. And voila, Correa thinks he is off the hook. Unbelievable, only Chavez and Correa can pretend that the narcoterrorist FARC is a honest broker! ¡Se cuenta y no se cree!

-The end-

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zelaya the Clown

UPDATED: click link below for the Edo cartoon on the same topic :)

Looks like I am not the only making the analogy between Zelaya and a bad clown. Weil in Tal cual today.

The Edo cartoon, equally priceless (hat tip Miguel)

"There we go, we got in! Uh Ah, people's victory!"

-The end-

Patricia Rodas: the woman who married Zelaya to Chavez?

UPDATED: a Rodas in the White House?

Reader Milonga brought my attention to these recent words from Patricia Rodas, ex (?) foreign minister of Zelaya, currently fluttering around to have her boss back in office:
"Un saludo a nuestro comandante Hugo Chávez. Sin él, sin su apoyo, esta repercusión mediática no habría sido posible" A salutation to our comandante Hugo Chavez. Without him, without his support, this media blitz would not have been possible. [my emphasis on the our]
As a confession of who is the real boss on Honduras moves this one is matchless.

I had heard about that woman, I had noticed already her loving words when she helped engineer the shameful lift of sanctions on Cuba a couple of months ago at the OAS meeting of San Pedro Sula. A quick search offers me two juicy pieces on her.

From an Honduran paper we can alredy see that last year she was in trouble with the Liberal party of Honduras who was maneuvering to have her removed from the direction. The causes? Her left turn without consulting with the party and her simple inability at managing it.

In English I found an interview with a Nicaraguan journalist. Asked about Patrica Roldas she has this to say:
She is a woman of the left; she has a tradition of grassroots organization. It’s she who has filled Mel Zelaya’s head with debatable initiatives, with transformation. Nobody is analyzing with depth her role in this shift made by Zelaya, who is a man that comes from the most rancid rightwing of the Honduran oligarchy.

Patricia Rodas has assembled inside the Honduran Liberal Party a group that calls itself “The Patricios,” those who have more of a social base; they have more of a tradition of popular organization. Another thing is that they were being isolated inside the Liberal Party.

This interview of Maria Lopez Vigil was published in Havana Times, a strange web page which seems unable to make up its mind about Cuba, fitting the studied ambiguity of some of Raul words. In other words, not the kind of web site you would expect to find a rather critical evaluation of the Zelaya role.

And of course that photo which shows her "interest" for Chavez.

All speculations are allowed about Ms. Roldas, from her role in Chavez Honduras involvement to whatever your febrile minds wants to think of.

UPDATE: To complement this post the Wall Street Journal brings us two articles this morning.

Maria Anastasia O'Grady writes about Greg Craig, the ex lawyer of Elian Gonzalez, who now seems to be directing the shots on Latin America. Are we seeing a potential conflict between State and and the White House brewing? It sounds that Obama has a Rodas of sorts, no?

And Micheletti gets his own say in a US paper. You like it or not but there it is. Slowly but surely people are realizing that they need to listen to someone else than the clown at the border and his sponsor.

-The end-

From Verbier to Ventoux: the crowning of Contador

I have been lucky this year: I got to watch much more Tour de France than in previous years. And good timing as it was the year when the Tour came back after the drug problems of recent years.

The last leg of the race today through Paris was visually stunning as a perfect day welcomed the Tour recovery. The background of the Tour seems to steal the biking show quite often. And Paris the more so.

The story was the return of Lance Armstrong, at least this is how the press wanted it to be, slightly ignoring the talent of Contador and the rise of the Schleck brothers. It was all the way up for Contador until at Verbier, in the Swiss Alps, Contador told them all who was the best. He never relented, never gave up the yellow shirt so spectacularly won at Verbier, winning the clock trial at Annecy and keeping a close tab on Andy Schlek at the mythic Mont Ventoux.

I am very, very happy for Contador since he was getting a bad rap after his 2007 Tour win when too many were willing to give him the title of "accidental" winner since so many of the leaders dropped along the way after testing positive. But Contador was a real champ all along, deserved to win his 2007 Tour, the more so that he is one of the rare bikers to ALSO have won the Giro and La Vuelta, something that has escaped even the great Lance Armstrong.

The winning trio

And coming to Lance Armstrong. After winning 7 Tour in a row he had carved his name in sports history and I was disappointed when he decided to come out of retirement. Why tarnish such glory risking a humiliation? But he managed, he gave it all what he had and when he finally realized that Contador was the man he rallied, stitched back the frayed Astana team behind their champion and still managed a third position on the podium, at 37 perhaps more significant than some of his tour wins.

More than at any time I saw the importance of team work in biking, be it behind Contador or Cavendish who managed to win 6 of the Tour legs, carefully carried to the sprint moment by his team. Not to mention the mutual help of the Schleck brothers, the ones to watch for next year Tour.

It has been a great ride, a beautiful one, and certainly not painful from my cozy TV chair.

-The end-

Sunday, July 26, 2009

10 years of a new constitution and Chavez goes crazy

Today I was driving back to San Felipe and each time I checked the radio, Chavez was in cadena. Since it was Bolivar's anniversary yesterday I was wondering what was the excuse for a cadena today. It took me several tries to finally realize that it was Chavez at the Nazional Assembly "commemorating" the 10th anniversary of the election of the Constituent Assembly that produced the failed constitution of 1999. I use the word failed deliberately since it has not only not been applied yet, but a lot of what was applied was ill done, and to add insult to injury the constitution of 1999 has been violated too many times to keep count.

Why did I needed several attempts to figure it out? Each time I tuned in, out of curiosity because I had no intention to waste further an afternoon of driving with a Chavez discombobulated rant, he was speaking of Honduras. That is right, Honduras is truly obsessing Chavez as he knows how much he risks losing if Zelaya is not sat again on the throne. In fact, considering how much Chavez is pushing Zelaya it is not enough anymore for Chavez to have Zelaya back in office with some form of compromise; no, now he needs Zelaya back in office, punishing those who overthrew him and pushing a new constitution. If Chavez cannot browbeat a small country like Honduras, what are the chances he can dominate a bigger piece of real estate like, say, Colombia?

It had to be late Saturday night when I finally had the courage to read the summary of Chavez cadena which lasted at least three hours. any one on the rad without CD or Ipod would have been subjected to the cadena everywhere, enough to drive you into an embankment out of despair. I was not disappointed: Chavez simply gave the order to the Nazional Assembly to pass a new enabling law so that he can help it (admire the cynicism) in making sure that by next December as the tenth anniversary of the 1999 constitution is reached there is not a single "counterrevolutionary law" left in the books. That is right, in chavismo imagery any law passed before 1999 is by definition counter revolutionary, even if it treats of, say, the management of a botanical garden. What else could you expect from a president that feels very threatened to the point of paranoia? From a regime busy rewriting history as the only way left for them to hide their incompetence and lack of democratic values? (1)

The explanation for yet a new outburst is that Chavez knows more or less what is going on. With his poll numbers looking South and a possible major embarrassment n Honduras, not only his reelection in 2012 is not a sure thing, but he could well fail to reach the 2/3 parliamentary majority his plans require, amen of a possible outright loss of majority as the opposition seems to be understanding that a united front is THE ONLY way to win in December 2010. Assuming of course that votes are actually counted. The only way for Chavez to preserve a democratic fig leaf is to win 2/3 at the new Nazional Assembly, the only way he can make sure that all the appointees to control institutions are from his side. As soon as an independent inquirer reaches some power you can imagine how fast the whole thing will unravel. Thus a simple majority IS NOT ENOUGH for Chavez.

Even Chavez must be realizing that too many things are escaping his control. The Ledezma hunger strike and subsequent visit to the OAS might have achieved little but as a publicity stunt
they were great, the more so when compared to Honduras media fiasco, at least at this writing. That Zelaya is totally worthless cannot have escaped Chavez either, even if it could be convenient for his plans were he succeed in restoring him. In Honduras there is a real opposition willing to fight to the end and with more popular support than most care to admit: it is Latin America after all, and coups are, well, not such a terrible thing when they are nearly bloodless. Zelaya seems woefully unable to handle the situation, increasing daily the risks for Chavez. Remember, Honduras can still call for earlier elections in late October which means that they now need to hold on for only three months, a blink in politics now that the worse has passed.

And to this of course you an add all the other domestic problems that not only are more and more intractable, but are becoming harder to resolve the more Chavez obsesses with Honduras.

Thus this new outburst: Chavez has decided to lock up his reelection, and the one of HIS assembly, by December through enough laws to make sure that it is impossible for the opposition to make a credible electoral bid. Period.

I think it is very fitting that Chavez "celebrates" ten years of a constituent assembly by announcing that he is about to violate the constitution a shit load of times from here to December. The irony is priceless and reminds us that constitutions are only as good as the people who apply them. As such the Venezuelan one, already deeply flawed from the start, is an utter failure.


1) Enabling laws have of course a sinister connotation since Nazi Germany. The use and abuse of Chavez to this figure is not helping.

-The end-

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Zelaya in Honduras, now you see him, now you don't

Zelaya did indeed go to Honduras and stayed there for a few minutes. If you blinked you might have missed him. Tonight he is back safely into Nicaragua, sleeping in much better conditions I am sure than many of the supporters he managed to have go tot eh "entry" check point. He might keep replaying that show. Maybe next time he might take a piss on the Honduras side of the border, which would be way more symbolic of what he really wishes for the people of his country.

IF chavistas seem amused and please, if Cuban press talk of "popular mobilizations", they certainly were not big enough to have the military desist of blocking the entry of Zelaya, and arrest him had he persisted. "Abril 13" it was not no mater how hard chavismo tried to replicate the 2002 legend. And it might never be as some people are starting to investigate whether some of these Zelaya "supporters" are paid to attend, chavismo style.

On the other hand Secretary Clinton did not mid saying that Zelaya was reckless, meaning not about himself but about the fate of the people for which welfare he was supposed to care.

Meanwhile someone in a major paper finally decided to write in English a complete summary of the recent Honduras story. Even coming from the WSJ, one is very hard pressed to find words to defend Zelaya criticizing the author, Jose Cordoba. The more so that Cordoba has written impeccable articles on Venezuela. Why would he lie on Honduras when what he wrote about Chavez and Venezuela was worse? But Zelaya is a clown, a manipulated one at that, and Cordoba makes you realize that without a doubt.

If you prefer to read a more confused view on the situation you can read the CNN report of this new farcical day. Well, at least they stopped briefly glossing on every fart of Zelaya on his way to mention that there was an anti Zelaya popular meeting in San Pedro Sula. I do not know about you but even as a Liberal I greatly enjoy myself watching an alleged Liberal media tie itself in knots defending an autocrat without defending it. Because let's face it, the relative incoherence of CNN probably does more to make you question Zelaya's motives than the straight shooting Cordoba piece. Ironic, no?

PS: I was forgetting! The "ass of the day award" does not go to Zelaya, believe it or not. It goes to Miguel D'escoto, the ex guerrilla from Nicaragua who now serves as the current chair of the UN assembly (a rotating post of no big significance). He said that Zelaya should get extra days in his term to compensate for those he lost in exile. See, this the kind of "mediators" that are put in charge at the UN; people that should know better and who actually make matters worse. And then the UN wants respect....

-The end-

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Zelaya and used cars

"¡agarrenme que lo mato!" stop me before I kill him.

I was thinking about this old mockery of fake macho courage as I was watching tonight the news that Arias proposal was rejected by the Zelaya camp. The proposal granted him amnesty for all constitutional violations he did before he was sent away. And it allowed him to complete his term of office even as a figure head of sorts. I mean, not a bad deal when you think of it.

But no, Zelaya gave a rather mumbling explanation about why he was not accepting the proposal, an explanation that explained nothing, except confirming painfully that he is not the one directing his show anymore. I suspect that this will be equally apparent to Hondurans.

So, for the Nth time, as the little boy that cries "wolf", he threatens to go back to Honduras in triumph , carried on the shoulders of the people waiting for him at the border. So, why has he not done it yet if he is so sure of his support? Why is he instead threatening to start a civil war (him outside?) supported by Chavez?

And thus I come to the title of the post as Zelaya, tacky cow boy hat on head and drug cartel lord mustache, looks more and more like a used car salesman; you know the one that swears you can cross the 48 with it but who is unwilling to let you test drive it around the block.

Yes, the country that supports this used car salescreep is discussing a new law to tell folks how they can buy and sell cars. Yes, you read this correctly, not only car prices will be fixed but used car prices will also be fixed, as well as the time of sale. I suppose picking up your nose while you drive will also be regulated. The law is not out yet so I do not want to discuss rumors that will probably sink that law when chavista with luxury cars read the fine line. Instead let me explain to you why there are no cars for sale.

See, Venezuela is probably the ONLY country in the world where you car GAINS value as soon as it leaves the concessionaire's parking lot!!! Yes, buying a car is actually an investment as long as you sell it within a few days. How come?

The reason is that cars are entitled to fixed currency exchanged rate of 2.15 for the dollar when all experts think the exchange rate should be between 5 and 6 to the USD. Since the government has no USD for importing cars it tried to limit imports through a licensing system. But since it still did not give currency for lesser imports, and not enough USD to import for local manufacturing, then it created artificially a low offer, high demand, inflation nightmare.

Doing the sensible thing would be to allow import of cars at a free exchange rates and have people pay for the car they want. But NOOOOOO.... that would be admitting that the economic policies of the government failed and that devaluation is a must. So, in perfect bureaucratic logic, they are going to forbid people to buy used cars and to accept been wait listed for years if needed. Voila! And do not bitch because in Cuba they do not even have wait lists!!!! And you do not want to buy their used car unless you are a museum owner.

I do not know about Zelaya, but looking at how his supporters are running their local show, I would consider seriously the Oscar Arias offer. At least Arias does not look like a used car salesman.....

PS: no links because 1) I am on a rush, no time to post and 2) all as seen on TV.

PS2: amusing detail, BOTH the USD and the Venezuelan Bolivar felt today in the Colombian market....

-The end-

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moi, Tintin and Armstrong, 1969

If you ever wanted to know something real about your favorite ranting blogger, click the link to full post.

Welcome to the Moon, Mr. Armstrong.
Hergé sent this special drawing to Armstrong in 1969.

Yes, I am a Tintin product. I would not say that I learned to read over Tintin books but they were certainly among my very first reads. I prefer not to speculate on Tintin's influence on making me a scientist and a steady blogger, but I am pretty sure there is something to it.

And of course this is my favorite one. I tried to find my old copy, which not surprisingly is the most battered of all my Tintin books. I wanted to take a pic of that really worn out book and post it (not a promise, a threat). But I cannot find it as it is still in some of my recent moving boxes. So I got this one off the net which is a good thing because a portion of my old cover is missing.

And yes, on my desk there is a small replica of the rocket and I look at it everyday. And yes I reread the book (I bought a newer edition because, well, pages also are missing) at least once a year. And after all of these years I can still feel the epic.

So there, I have told you you more about my real self in this single post than in the whole previous 6 years of blogging.

Happy Moon landing anniversary Mr. Armstrong!

-The end-

Monday, July 20, 2009

The state of chavismo

While my mind was concentrated on Honduras and French activities Chavez and his close followers experienced a significant change that needs to be examined. Namely we are witnessing yet a further radicalization of the discourse that tells us that some major confrontation is coming. Why? Let's examine first the pressures that are bearing on the government and then it will be easier to understand why this one is under the current offensive mood.

An old regime under new pressures of its own making

What we need to understand first is that chavismo is now an exhausted regime, a group of people who have been holding office for ten years now and who are running short of ideas and personnel. From purge to purge the regime has been reduced to a small group of faithful, and sycophantic, helpers. One consequence that it is not easy to grasp for foreign observer is that the regime has slid into a pronounced inefficiency because nobody dares to take the decisions that need to be taken since nobody can move unless Chavez blesses himself publicly the move. Considering that Chavez can change his mind in a jiffy, nobody dares to invest themselves as they should to defend their project since all their work can be undone with a single utterance of Chavez during a Sunday Alo Presidente. What we are seeing is a text book example of frozen regime waiting for something to happen.

The problem with such regimes is that the world does not have the courtesy to stand still while it finds a way to renew its administrators, solve its problems, come up with a plan that goes beyond retaining power at all costs. And what makes the situation even worse is that El Supremo still thinks he can change the world and is acting as if there were no problem at home, investing himself in his foreign adventures. Where have we already seen that? Hummmm....

Which problems have acquired urgency within chavismo? There are two.

The first one is of course El Supremo's ambition that blinds him from the reality or useful advice that he does not want to listen to, no matter how smart a politician he has been until now. Yes, smart because, even with a fat checkbook, retaining power for ten years with the ineptitude he has shown in managing the country is quite a feat.

The second one is that the economy of Venezuela is unraveling. True, it is not obvious to see it: after all even at only 60 USD a barrel it is still way higher an oil price than the 10 USD a barrel Chavez received in 1999, even if exports are down. What we are seeing now is the realization that all the production plans that Chavez has come up with have not worked, or at least not a the extent that they should have worked. Early this week in a series of articles El Universal showed the economic sectors that have been falling back since the economic crisis hit the world last year (1). The picture they give us is that of an economy that in ten years has become strictly oil dependent creating an import system designed to gain the good will of the popular classes through subsidized goods and services. True, up to a point the lower economic strata of the country have experienced a certain improvement between 2004 and 2008, but this improvement has basically been based on distribution of goods, not on the creation of real sustainable jobs. And this improvement itself is severely undermined by a high inflation which, if not tackled seriously, could wipe out fast any gain made since 2004.

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details on all the red lights turned on. These El Universal articles are good enough for those who can read Spanish (little can be found in English for these couple of weeks). What is more interesting right now is to describe the effects that we are seeing everywhere.

The root cause of today situation is that the government is running out of money, that its "savings", whatever those might have really been, are being eaten up faster than anyone at Miraflores expected, and that the gamble by Chavez to wait for a recovery of oil prices seems everyday more of a losing bet. It has been calculated that Chavez needs an oil barrel at least at 70-80 USD to break even with his political plans. With the lower oil production probably the required price range went up, 20 more at least than what he is currently getting. Of course, the downward spiral of the economy is putting additional strain as income and sales taxes are taking a hit. This is crucial because it was that revenue that served to pay public employees, oil money being used as Chavez personal checking account from social Misiones to foreign adventures.

The private sector is simply unable to pick up some of the slack because it has been punished so severely since 2003 that it is now without significant reserves, suffers of lack of internal investment, and is subjected to unfair competition form the subsidized imports of the government. Not to mention that the currency restrictions, the legal jeopardy to which private property is subjected to, the litany of repressive laws enacted since 2003 and the rampant crime are a deadly cocktail to stop any investment intention the private sector could still have. The paradox of Venezuela crisis is that unless the rest of the world, its finance sector is coping more or less while its manufacturing sector was already tanking before the crisis came.

What we see today

Let me start by narrating what you can see on the road between Caracas and Yaracuy.

More potholes than at any time I can remember. And big ones, of the type that can wreck an axle of your car. Those potholes exist even on the speedways.

On the side of the road there are more "invasiones" than at any time since Chavez came to office. That is, you see whole community of tin and cardboard shacks, new ones popping up on a monthly basis.

The amount of garbage on the side of the road seems to be increasing a lot too and the once reasonably well cut grass seems to run amok in many a stretch.

Before you would cross regularly police cars, now that sight is becoming rarer and rarer, be it state cops or local cops. Any accident generates longer lines than before, huge delays because there seems to be a lowered response ability from the safety people. When you stop at gas stations and want a snack there is less choices than before.

If you think that this is a subjective way to look at things we can discuss how difficult it has become to buy a car, or to find spare parts for your car. We can also discuss how in ten years, in spite of a significant population growth San Felipe has still a single large grocery store, and that the local Mercal has become a joke. The hospital of San Felipe is worse than ever and private clinics are burdened with work. But the CDI and barrio adentro joints do not seem to have many visitors in comparison...

Still not convinced? Turn on the TV and watch protesters everywhere, in particular in state enterprises which have been packed with Chavez supporters, in particular PDVSA, and which are about to go on a general strike anytime soon. Why? Because of the huge delays that government has in meeting its contractual obligations. These workers might be chavistas but they still need to eat, to pay rent, to send their kids to school; the "solidarity" language of the pseudo socialist revolution goes only so far (2, 3).

You still need more evidence of trouble? Watch the medical personnel asking for the resignation of their corresponding minister. Or even better, watch the barrio adentro medics asking for their pay check. Look at what happened in Caucagua and Curiepe where folks who voted for Chavez every time for the last 10 years suddenly went out with stones and sticks to bar access to the Nazional Guard wanting to take away the PoliMiranda precincts. Amazing sights!

Clearly chavismo is watching all of these signs of deteriorating support. If the streets are becoming restless in some chavista strongholds, the recent opinion polls are not bringing any comfort. If Chavez remains still the most popular leader around, his numbers have gone down significantly, those of his government much lower. Any bounce effect from his February referendum victory is now gone and he has run out of excuses to call for a new election to campaign and recover some ground, the only thing he excels at even if they are now a mere exercise in vulgarity. It is under this light that we must observe some of the recent radicalization measures.

Chavismo reactions under stress

As a hurt animal chavismo is reacting out of fear that it is losing control of the situation. Let's look at notable examples of these past two weeks, all, we can be sure, influenced or dictated from Miraflores palace.

Diosdado is going after the media

The first expected reaction is to cut off media. That media cannot be tolerated because it is showing the Curiepe riots or the barrio adentro medics demanding their fair wages or the Guyana blue collar hard hats laying all of their problems with the "socialist" management imposed on them who apparently has no idea on how to run a business, even in a socialist model.

The attacks on Globovision are continuing and it seems that government is getting ready to pay for the political costs. But it also seems that government is willing to add to the bill by closing down up to a couple of hundred of radio stations across the country. Why?

The "excuse" offered is "el latifundio mediatico" (the media big ranch?, bolivarian speak at its best!). According to the government 30% of the radio spectrum is "owned" by 27 families. If anything the informed observer already notices that this number makes the Venezuelan broadcasting system one of the most open in the world! But it gets better, Diosdado Cabello, the super minister in charge of implementing censorship in Venezuela also wants to set a limit of three radio stations by group, and to forbid that they pass simultaneously the same program more than half an hour a day. Or some other stupid disposition like that. That would mean for example that a sports network could only pass a full baseball game in only one of its radio stations!!!!

It is not idle to note that the only nation wide radio coverage system belongs to the government, RNV, and it only passes the official line and propaganda (I read somewhere RNV has 73 radio stations, almost nine times more than its nearest "competition"). The opposition access to RNV is near zero, and only a little bit at election time, when intentional observers might be watching. Not mentioning the YVKE system and all the radio stations already purchased by "friends" of the regime and the "community" ones which are held and financed though chavismo. Someone often on the road will notice that in some areas of the country there is only chavismo on the air waves. You may red a great interview of Cesar Miguel Rondon on these matters where he is not afraid to say that Cabello is a liar. A partial translation in English here.

Already in Venezuela big networks are limited in the number of radio stations they can manage. As such, networks avoid small towns limiting themselves to the major markets. In San Felipe I never listen to the radio because no national network has a station here and I can only put up with so much local news. But that is exactly what the government seeks, that only local news are discussed, that national news are only discussed on state networks or at the very least neutralized ones such as Venevision. In other words, in Valencia there will be only Valencia news, just like in San Felipe there are only San Felipe news (besides what they pull from Internet and newspapers, of course; but those are not "live" news).

There is no point to go into the minutiae of the eventual control law about to be voted. Suffice to observe that this law is designed to avoid a coming "caracazo", that the government is aware that the increasing unrest due to increased economic and social problems could suddenly lead to a spontaneous combustion, like in Caracas in 1989. Naively they think that if people do not know that Guyana is up in flames, it will not affect them, less incite them to join the protest. They should be reminded that in Russia there were few radio stations and papers, and all were controlled tightly by Moscow. That did not stop the USSR from collapsing anyway.

Diosdado Cabello is operating out of fear

Rafael Ramirez is giving a new meaning to sectarian

What is happening inside PDVSA is truly mind boggling. For recall after the 2002-2003 strike, PDVSA was gutted of more than 20,000 of its workers and management. I think barely a very few thousand remained. But since 2003 chaivsmo has been filling it up again with under par technicians, corrupt managers and all sorts of political appointees who get a pay check from PDVSA in exchange of political activities, inside or outside.

The other remarkable thing about the "new PDVSA" is that its payroll has more than doubled the old one while production has not even recovered from pre-2003 levels. Since it is impossible to get verifiable numbers from the state, and even less from PDVSA, there is an estimate of significantly more than 70,000 "workers" inside, all "rojo-rojito". PDVSA of course has never bothered to put that rumor to rest which probably means that the estimate is fairly accurate, and maybe even under par.

But as all state companies in Venezuela, even firing 80% of its original workforce, PDVSA still inherited the trade unions of the old PDVSA, though now with pro Chavez leaders. As years pass a novel conflict arises for these new union men: be more faithful to the revolution that gave them a cushy job or make sure employees get a fair deal. This is most crudely exposed when trade unions have to renew their direction, through, gasp, internal elections.

Chavsimo has sensed that winning an outright majority in the PDVSA internal elections was not a sure thing. First there were delay tactics, postponing negotiations until after elections to proceed when chavismo finds that the time is right. But trade unions inside PDVSA were divided enough that even those tactics could not be held longer. So chavismo decided to face elections using the same strategy of fear that it uses in normal electoral campaigns. This is what explains the latest outburst of Rafael Ramirez who as a minister of oil and president of PDVSA announced in a mortifying speech that he would only negotiate with representatives of pro Chavez trade unions, that he would never sit down at a table with enemies of Chavez. Mind you, not enemies of Venezuela, enemies of CHAVEZ.

In any civilized country a minster would say a quarter of what Ramirez said early last week would have been fired on the spot. But in Venezuela where barbarism now reigns it is seen as a badge of loyalty by the thugs ensconced in Miraflores Palace. It is OK for the revolutionary regime of bolibanana to make it an official policy to segregate folks. Ramirez went as far as announcing that PDVSA will create socialists committees everywhere in the enterprise and that those who did not sign in would be considered suspects.

"Quien no esté en un comité socialista es sospechoso de conspirar contra la revolución" Whoever is not in a socialist committee is suspect of conspiring against the revolution.

Fascism or terror inspiring CDR in Cuba, your pick.

But no matter, it cannot be hidden: Rafael Ramirez is operating out of fear.

Luisa Estela Morales threatens journalists, and brags about it

This is a small incident but is so telling of the blinding arrogance of chavismo, an arrogance that, if you allow me to say, hides only deep seated fair.

Luisa Estela Morales is the head of Venezuela's TSJ, our Supreme Court. Under her tenure she has gained from me the qualifying of Chavez 's Harlot for all her permissiveness in allowing multiple constitutional violations while making sure that most lawsuits from opposition politicians are either dismissed or put in the back burner for years.

Truly she knows that she is operating illegally, amen of unethically. But for someone who has been fired twice and only reached such her "exalted" position through her ability of selling her soul, she is not about to give up.

Now, she is reaching the arrogance of the thief caught in fraganti. The other day she replied to a legitimate journalist question by threatening her and reminding her that there was already another journalist that she had screwed for not asking the type of questions she likes. Just like that.

Can you imagine the head of the US Supreme Court or of the French Conseil Constitutionel threatening a journalist? What would that suggest you?

Chavez and his wild chase in Honduras

To end this long assay a short note on Chavez himself. His indecent interest with Honduras, his all but open pushing of Zelaya to call for internal subversion to create trouble inside Honduras can only mean one thing: Chavez knows very well that if Honduras is allowed to leave the ALBA, his oil money driven feudal hold, it will be such a major loss of face that his whole political project will be threatened, not only in Honduras but in the ALBA countries AND in Venezuela. Teflon eventually yields.

Chavez started hard on Honduras but quickly backed down for a few days. Now he is up in a roar again. Why? Because he has failed to rally Venezuela into the defense of Honduras, even among most chavistas. Thus he probably sent a couple of million dollars to his Honduras agents which is enough to build a few road blocks and make believe that Zelaya has more support than the actually does. Whether he manages to recover Honduras might not be Chavez point right now, what he wants is to change the subject at home, not to feel obliged to discuss Venezuelan matters.

Hugo Chavez is reacting out of fear.

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1) Articles that detail the significant drop in customer activity: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. That is, generalized drop in sales from food to shoes. Articles that describe the lower production numbers of the first semester: public sector and private manufacturing sector. And finally general economy contraction and increase in the government accounts deficit (without that deficit being used for new projects as is the case in countries trying to get out of the crisis.

2) For the protest in Guayana you can read this set 1, 2, 3 and 4. For the troubles at PDVSA you can read more here.

3) You can read this summary in English of the trouble in Guayana.

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PS: this post has taken a lot of work to write. In addition, it is long on purpose because I will probably not be able to post again until next Thursday. Though I will be able to check comments.

-The end-

Ecuador's Correa, the bellâtre called to task

And of course I could not let pass this most delicious item: Correa being exposed as receiving FARC funding for his electoral campaigns.

A brief historical recount. Correa is the opportunist who used a brief stint in a transition government from where he was fired as his competence was questioned to direct the country's economy. Uniting reasonable good looks to a populist language and most certainly Chavez/FARC financing he managed to get enough votes to squeeze into a second round presidential ballot. Helped by a really terrible opponent, Noboa, who made mistake after mistake he managed to get elected Ecuador's president, not by much. But that was enough.

Soon he was applying the Chavez recipe of calling for a new constitution and thus removing any institutional controls that were in his way. He was crafty enough not to appear too close of Chavez but as soon as the new constitution was voted in and he got reelected, all masks were out and he finally joined the ALBA as a full fledged member. The only reason why Ecuador has not fared as bad as Venezuela is because its currency remains the US dollar and as such there is only so much that Correa can do to subvert the economy to his political designs as Chavez did. But one has the feeling that Correa is only biding his time to reestablish a Mickey mouse currency for Ecuador.

This being said, rumors of Chavez and FARC help have always been swirling around Correa. Until now he has managed to avoid major damage, EVEN after Colombia bombed inside Ecuador a major FARC safe camp, killing a FARC chief, Reyes, and getting precious FARC laptops that Uribe's government skilfully used to silence as needed Chavez and Correa.

But apparently Correa was not too worried since he has refused to renew relations with Colombia, criticizing Uribe at any opportunity (Chavez swallowed hard and played dumb). This might be over now as Colombia in another raid seized yet new computers of FARC supporters that yielded, lo'n behold, a video of a a major FARC don stating as a matter of fact that he gave money to Correa's campaigns.

Correa of course had the knee jerk reactions of all the "bolivarians" caught red handed: he denied everything and called it a set up. Unfortunately when you see the video it is difficult to call it a fake. If it is indeed a set up, then the FARC is trying to screw Correa. They would have their reasons I suppose.

Colombia did not worry much and today sent the video to the OAS, cornering Correa real good, in the middle of the Honduras crisis, as Correa is one of the most vociferous cast members. You have got to love the timing!

Now Correa seems reluctantly to be willing to "investigate".

Correa seemed always to me what we call in French a "bellâtre", something of difficult translation. Pretentious bimbo would come close, though Correa is not blond, with my apologies to all the smart blondes I met through life. But bellâtre means empty brain, void of real substance and for all his charms and PhD in economics I always wondered about the guy real depth of character. At least Chavez is a thug, does not really pretend to be otherwise and has real street smarts. Correa seems to have been spared real challenges in his political life and now that for the first time he is facing a real threat we might see what he is really all about. I am not expecting much.

-The end-

Zelaya supporters

OK, I try, I try, but pictures like the one below makes it difficult for one to remain objective, to try to find virtue in Hondura's Zelaya arguments.

This picture, probably devilishly sought by the AFP photograph, shows a Zelaya supporter IN Costa Rica. It is probably a Costa Rican kid, raised in the most democratic country of the Americas perhaps, who has for role model an assassin, to the point of trying to be a look alike. What went wrong there? Educational system failing in Costa Rica? Too much dope? What ideology and misplaced sense of fashion do to you....

On another note I was sent something that I do not know what to think about. Supposedly the interim Honduras government seized a few computers that allegedly had already the pre-ordained results of the infamous "non binding" Zelaya referendum. Since no one is making so far a big fuss about it I am not taking a position on that issue but I am duly reporting it. I have no trouble believing the computers seized by Uribe's army since he has a track record. Honduras interim folks might be understandably in a propaganda blitz, where fudging data to gain time is a valid strategy. I would feel much better if they were surrendering that evidence to neutral observers, as well as the Zelaya credit card bills.

-The end-

The OAS as it really is

Via Miguel I think it is important to draw your attention on this no hold barred criticism of the OAS in the Miami Herald. A must read for Obama (I think Hillary already knows).

-The end-

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Eagle has landed

In a few hours we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong on the Moon. I am watching documentaries on History Channel, able to experience still the wonder of a childhood memory. One is a scientist nerd all through life, I'll have you know.

And while we are at it, one of my favorite visits at Washington DC is the Air and Space museum where I stop lovingly under the Lindbergh plane and in front of the Command Module of Apollo 11, for me, each in its own right, two of the greatest human achievements; the Lindbergh one perhaps the most courageous as Science was of not as much help then.

But today I am also thinking about the U.S. of A. glory. As an historian wonk of sorts it occurred to me that July 20 1969 could be the perfect date to mark the apogee of the American Empire, evil or not as you wish it to be.

The fact of the matter is that in 1969 the United States proved that it had won the Moon race, that technologically the capitalist West was ahead of the commie East and that the gap was bound to widen. Maybe it was not obvious then, but with the benefit of hindsight, the writing was on the wall. Or perhaps rather as a foot print on the Lunar dust.

Once the troubled 70ies were left behind, that Vietnam was ended, the 80ies came and the long delayed end of the Berlin Wall finally happened. To some that point would be the ultimate triumph of the US, but I disagree. The US needed Europe to reach that goal whereas in 1969 the US was still pretty much on its own staring down the Soviets. True, the prosperity of Europe West is due in part to the US and its Marshall plan, but like other empires, the US has started needing and relying on allies more and more. In 1969 it was still towering alone, with a few side kicks if you like.

But do not feel bad or upset about this if you are a US reader. Like all Empires the US has a rise and a fall, and that its apogee might have been reached in 1969 does not mean in any way that its end is at the corner, as simple minded know nothing like Hugo Chavez believe. Let me give you the French example. The French Empire probably came to be at Rocroi when in 1643 the French army decisively beat the army of the former European Empire, Spain. The French apogee cannot be really placed but a case can be made that the decline started in 1685 when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Thus the French glory lasted for barely 40 years, in politics, economy and arts, all together in a resplendent period, rarely seen elsewhere in such synchronism.

The decline was long, it did not quite finish in 1789 as the Napoleonic Empire (not only in might but in name) had a final and useless paroxysm. It was succeeded by a brief colonial Empire but that was a very meager consolation since that Empire was built mostly after 1870 at a time when Germany and the US were already stronger nations, and England the ruling empire. The final demise of the idea of a French Empire was 1914-1918 from which France ceased being the veto country once and for all even if it still keeps a UN veto out of tradition.

The American Empire started its rise after the Civil War and came into being when it removed the Spaniards from their remaining possessions in the continent (the official end of another long declining Empire by the way). As such the US of A Empire might be one of the fastest rise of recent Empires. The British Empire, for one, needed the Tudors, Cromwell, and the defeat of France in 1713 to finally put an Imperial claim, though its apogee period certainly lasted more than France, from 1815 until the Boer war.

But the US of A failed to become the Empire in 1919 when the Versailles treaty provisions could not be enforced and where England still could not resign itself to go to secondary status. The failure of the League of Nations that the US never joined eventually allowed for Pearl Harbor and the rise of the Soviet Union, amen of Nazi Germany. If by production the US was numero uno since WW1, politically it reached that position only after WW2 and reached the cultural top spot in 1969 when we had that rare chance of seeing a myth created in front of our own eyes.

Only great civilizations, great empires have the luck, sometimes, to create a myth. Those who saw live that first step on the Moon are blessed.


PS: all dates, opinions and chronology subjected to my very own personal, subjective and totally biased opinion due to the emotion of the day. That you agree or disagree with them leaves me cold. :)

-The end-

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From Petrostate to Narcostate: Venezuela under Chavez

Courtesy of PMB I got these three articles which are quite the indictment on Chavez regime, from his corruption to his support on Honduras. Draw your own conclusions.

One entry from the WSJ: U.S. Slams Caracas on Drugs

Another one from the Financial Time: Venezuela accused of corruption in drugs fight

And if you feel that these two papers are too biased from the right, you can turn to center left El Pais accusation from Spain who PMB kindly translated and which I paste below.

El País | Madrid (Unofficial translation)

Narco trafficking penetrates Venezuela

A US Congress report describes the birth of a ‘narcostate’ in that Caribbean nation – Since 2004 cocaine exportation has quadrupled

ANTONIO CAÑO - Washington – 16 July 2009

A United States Congress report warns of strong narcotraffic penetration into Venezuela, with a very significant increase in drug exportation volume and of complicity in that business by high civilian and military officials of the régime, who collaborate with and protect the Colombian guerrillas and criminal organizations. In substance, this report, which will be disclosed at the end of this month, describes the birth of a narcostate in Venezuela.

According to this investigation, that country has become the main distribution center for cocaine produced in Colombia and the main port of embarkation for this product aimed especially at markets in the United States and Spain. “A high level of corruption inside the Venezuelan Government, Army and other law enforcement forces have contributed to the creation of this climate of permissiveness,” thus assures the report, whose content EL PAÍS has been able to access.

“The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela’s refusal to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is due to existing corruption in that country’s Government,” thus affirms Senator Richard Lugar, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who entrusted the preparation of this document to the General Accountability Office (GAO) that reports to Congress, in an effort to confirm information from the State Department concerning the increase in narcotraffic in Venezuela.

Lugar considers that, following this investigation, “this at least requires a comprehensive review of United States policy toward Venezuela,” and suggests similar measures for “other countries affected” by this situation.

From 2004 until 2007, the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia and shipped from Venezuela has more than quadrupled, going from 60 tons per year to 260 tons per year. According to the report, these figures represent 17% of all the cocaine produced in the world in 2007. “After entering Venezuela,” the document relates, “the cocaine usually leaves the country aboard aircraft that take off and land at hundreds of clandestine airports.”

United States security agencies detected 178 flights, originating from Venezuelan airports in 2007, suspected of transporting drugs, compared to the 109 that had been spotted in 2004. During this same period, cocaine flights from Colombia had been practically eliminated, thanks to drug enforcement programs developed jointly by that country and the United States.

In other words, since the year 2004, Venezuela has in fact displaced the cocaine traffic formerly generated in neighboring Colombia. This has been accomplished, according to the report, thanks to the close collaboration between the Venezuelan Armed Forces and the Colombian guerillas, heavily involved in the business.

“According to members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) interrogated by the Colombian government, Venezuelan government officials, including members of the National Guard, have received bribes meant to facilitate the passage of cocaine from the Colombian border area,” thus assures the document from the United States Congress.

“The corruption within the National Guard,” adds the report, “represents the most significant threat, given that the Guard reports directly to President Hugo Chávez and controls Venezuela’s borders, airports and seaports.”

The report, prepared between August of 2008 and the current month of July, includes actions the Venezuelan government has taken in recent years to destroy clandestine airports and drug caches, but warns that it is difficult to weigh the validity of this information given that United States participation in drug enforcement in Venezuela, which was intense up until 2004, has practically disappeared now.

Some officials of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still continue to work in Venezuela, but the document from Congress assures that their work is marginal: “They say they continue to meet informally with the Venezuelans in charge, but these meeting are generally meant more to maintain communications than to discuss substantial matters of cooperation.”

According to the report, the United States has made some efforts to resume that collaboration, especially stemming from the meeting, in April, at the Trinidad and Tobago summit, between Chávez and United States President Barack Obama. One of those steps has been to invite Venezuela’s Prosecutor General to visit Washington to discuss diverse antidrug initiatives, but the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations has not yet granted permission for that trip.

United States aid in the fight against drugs in Venezuela, which was almost 11 million dollars in 2003, has been reduced to less than two million in 2008. “Despite all the efforts, cooperation continues to decline,” thus concludes the document.

The report from the United States Congress mentions Spain as the principal destination outside of the Americas for flights originating in Venezuela. On that continent, the main routes toward the United States are through Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

In Mexico, the drug coming from Venezuela ends up in the hands of gangs who have control of this activity in that country. Elsewhere, the shipments frequently do not reach land, but are tossed into the sea, where they are picked up by ships that carry on with the shipping.

-The end-

Chavez antisemitism at the Boston Review

An editor at the Boston Review thinks of this blog highly enough to point out to me an article about Chavez antisemitism, and to the replies that the writers felt compelled to give to their readers. It is indeed an interesting set, and a very useful read, if anything for the practical advantages one gets out of it. The article by itself brings back to our attention many of the things that I wrote already here as to the attacks of Chavez and chavismo on Jews. What makes it noteworthy is that the authors, Claudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sánchez, manage to tie it all in what could call a model of neo-antisemitism. And they go further integrating into the model two features of chavismo discourse, the routine insults to anyone dissenting and the clearly expressed homophobia. They understand this very well, as we can read from this paragraph:
While Chávez’s political vocabulary often portrays Jews as inordinately influential and manipulative, he does not restrict himself to the trope of the Jew as master conspirator. Instead, he enacts the classic double move in anti-Semitism, used from the time of the Dreyfus Affair to Nazism and beyond: the powerful, exploitative Jew who is also inherently weak and contemptible. Chávez thus refers to his opponents as “escuálidos” (squalids), a Spanish term that connotes not only dirtiness and abjection, but also flimsiness, wimpiness, and scrawniness. Not surprisingly, figures conventionally associated with degradation are important in the imagery. Homophobia is a key element in that repertoire; although unlike Cuba (Castro is Chávez’s admired “father”), which bans homosexuality and persecutes homosexuals, Chavismo relies on homophobia as invective rather than state policy.
They probably have read my blog where long ago I made a connection between the imagery of Florentino and chavismo homophobia, in 2004. However these authors are probably not familiar with the routine attacks that opposition bloggers have been subjected to since 2003. In fact, we are so used to the pro Chavez camp methods that we have learned to ignore them, or ban then outright from our pages when they become mere trolls. The 19 comments (as of today) they got must have surprised them enough that they felt compelled to write a full reply. I felt sorry for them at first as I started to read their replies, but then again I switched to a praise mode because they simply wrote what should be a standard of how to reply to chavismo. The comprehensiveness with which they demolish 11 criticisms addressed to them is simply a read to behold. Not necessarily because of what they wrote, but because one senses that they could have gone further in their very educated rebuttal and could easily pare any other criticism that is thrown their way. From now on, I just need to refer to this piece of work from them to silence any chavista that dares to pretend Chavez is not antisemitic, or homophobic, or insulting, or simply not a nice person at all. Of course such a complete rebuttal is pearls to swines since from long experience I know that those who wrote those criticisms are not going to bother to read the replies. To give you an example, I noticed that comment #15 in the major article by a certain lobo is the same repetitive argumentation by one of the hired pens of Venezuelanalysis, the pro Chavez news site. This character, who changes names according the the site he comments on, also has this key signature motto of "ad hominem attacks" which he uses whenever he is duly confronted. He has overstayed his welcome in more pages than one cares to count. What is interesting here is not that this kid harasses Lomnitz and Sánchez, but that he has so much time in his hands to harass anyone criticizing the Bolivarian fraud. I let you speculate on the reasons why lobo and other keep popping everywhere, as if it were they day job. Anyway, I recommend you bookmark at least the reply article of Lomnitz and Sánchez as I am sure you will be able to use it someday. And pass around their first article to your pro Chavez acquaintances. -The end-

My French Week End

It is this time of the year where I am reminded that it is good to be French.

I took a long week end in Caracas for work but also because it was "le 14 juillet" party at the French embassy in Caracas. That is, for you US folks, Bastille Day. French embassies across the world usually hold two receptions, one, private, for the diplomatic corps and high national functionaries of the residing country. And the other one, an open house of sorts with pre-requested entry pass, for the French community of the place.

For once I was able to make it, actually a record of sorts, two years in a row. It is a very sought event because the French embassy flies in pâté and cheese from home, and even champagne is served for the toast. Of course, the ambassador makes a speech, takes the opportunity to pin a few medals on worthy recipients, we all thing a thrilling Marseillaise and then the buffet opens.

It is always the opportunity to see people we have not seen in ages, and that we are not necessarily wanting to see until next year. Because there is an interesting phenomenon here: most guests are long term residents of Venezuela, for at least 5 years I woudl guess. More recent arrival are still not home sick enough, or already left for the annual vacation, preferably back to France. But for those of us who have made our lives in Venezuela and we are following Venezuelan schedules, over the years Le 14 Juillet is our meeting date, our memory lane moment of the year.

But there is also something else that can make your July memorable if you are French and if for some obscure reason you can stay home late in the morning, say until 10 AM: Le Tour de France. True, you also need a cable service that carries TV5, the French broadcast to the rest of the world to enjoy the experience live, and hold on!, WITHOUT commercial pauses!!!! For as long as the day's race lasts.

But I am not really a bike fan. What really attracts me to the coverage for a few days in July is the filming.

The Tour is designed to snake through the most beautiful countryside and the most awesome landscapes of France (with a few brief outings outside the borders for a couple of days). With the technology of still camera filming today, and the French tradition of the Michelin guide which makes sure that the airborne guide knows the name of every little chateau and old stone houses village he flies by, the story of every gourmet produce of the area the bikers cross, it becomes fast an almost ecstatic moment. France never looked so beautiful and rich than it does now in July. Not to be chauvinistic but I doubt very much that any other country in the world can offer such a complete frame for an event like the Tour as France. Not to mention the cheerful crowds all along the way, coming from all around Europe now.

For today's stage, watching as I was fixing up to come back to San Felipe, we flew though the "Sancerrois", the country of the Sancerre wine and the Crottin de Chavignol cheese. A rural area usually scarce in foeign tourists. There was almost a chateau every 2-3 miles, old villages and small "bourgs" everywhere, and best of all the Loire River, now a UNESCO heritage as the wildest "fleuve" of Europe. Fleuve is the name we give to the main river, the one that does not change its name from its start to the sea. One image, not that great perhaps but so telling, was of a few canoe tourists, on a sand bar in the middle of the Loire, their yellow canoes disposed as a star, watching the Tour as it went through the bridge above them. Simply stunning!

On the road back to San Felipe today, as I was dodging the humongous potholes everywhere, even on the speedways, I was stunned at how far Venezuela is from France, and how we are falling back while France somehow seems to keep going forward.

-The end-

Monday, July 13, 2009

That anti Chavez crusade.......

As the days pass it looks more and more like not only Chavez is losing his Honduras bid, but that the whole thing is slowly turning around him, a distraction that allows the Tegucigalpa new power holders to clamp down on any pro Zelaya group media access. A few depth bombs can be read today.

Maria Anastasia O'Grady strikes again at the WSJ. Besides making again her case in why Zelaya ouster was necesary she writes this: "Besides eagerly trampling the constitution, Mr. Zelaya had demonstrated that he was ready to employ the violent tactics of chavismo to hang onto power." And this: "Other Chávez protégés -- in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua -- have done the same, refusing to accept checks on their power, making use of mobs and seeking to undermine institutions." And furthermore: "You can bet that Venezuela will try to orchestrate similar troubles in an attempt to bring condemnation to the new Honduran government." Clear, no?

You may think that, well, she writes for a conservative paper. Fair enough, let's go to a more centrist one, the WaPo. Jackson Diehl's column is hardly any softer than the one from Anastasia and thus probably more effective. It is cleanly titled "Double Standards on Latin America". And to witness he brings the Ledezma case to the forefront: "Yet while the Organization of American States has been united in demanding Zelaya's return to his post, and in suspending Honduras for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter, it has studiously ignored the case of Ledezma -- who, since his election, has been illegally driven from his office by a mob, stripped of most of his powers and budget, and subjected to criminal investigation by the regime of Hugo Chavez." This set the tone for the rest of the article which is simply a charge on recent constitutional violations of Chavez and how the OAS has been turning a blind eye to it. A must read summary of an informed quality rarely found in international press. Dielh does his research job on Venezuela!

Courtesy of PB I also got this note from pro Chavez YVKE which tells us how the OAS was backing the "encuesta" of Zelaya which was forbidden by the Honduras court (Spanish, sorry). Showing once more, if needed, that the OAS is actively meddling in favor of Chavez under Insulza's tenure. From the horse's mouth, so to speak....

And for the conservatives among you who have been reading so far, a little bit of red meat from Gustavo Coronel. The title of his piece might still be a little bit of wishful thinking, but as a summary piece of the ALBA strategy it is well worth a read.

What is noteworthy about all of this, it is that the "liberal" media (the one who tends to support knee jerk chavismo) has been unable to write an equally articulated and structured article to defend Zelaya, unable to go past the "coup" aspect of the whole affair. Most conservatives have no problems in condemning the coup while at the same time point their finger at Chavez. Heck, even moderates like Diehl or Liberal Light like yours truly have no problem at balancing this. Why? Well, democrats, real ones, have no double standards and simply condemn all attacks on democracy.

This all might be an indication that as time passes the coupsters of Tegucigalpa might in the end allow for a return to Zelaya but as a fully castrated president, "pour inaugurer les Chrysanthèmes" (to open floral exhibits) as we said of the Third Republic presidents in France who had no power.

Certainly Chavez has the means to come back but right now he seems to have suffered a major set back. And let's not mention all the Venezuelan money put up for Zelaya which now has no chance whatsoever to come back to Venezuela's treasury. Well, with Zelaya in office it would not have had a much more of a chance to come back but at least there was the wishful thinking.

-The end-