Sunday, August 30, 2009

You know what to do


More info next

Web page

Rallies to be held in Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo, all over Colombia of course but also in all South American capitals or main cities, in Miami, Atlanta, DC and Chicago plus Madrid and Barcelona, etc.....

The page is way too clever for its own good. On Firefox:
  • open the link.
  • a screen appears with some stuff: go to the top right and click on the "close" button
  • then the new screen should show you an EXCEL like spread sheet with the locations. Navigate through them with the blue/white arrows on the right side.

Hope this helps!

-The end-

Luisa Ortega, the "Gleichschaltung" agent?

Totalitarian regimes follow similar patterns. They differ considerably among themselves because they have that unique ability to adapt to the conditions of their time so as to be acceptable at first by their subjects and by their neighbors. But all have the same objective, to establish the domination of a small elite, a domination that in theory is irreversible. And that is why eventually they all follow a similar pattern, spread on different time scale, different cultural objectives, different successes in imposing their vision, but all show similar mechanisms, and all are very "legal".

For all its tropical messiness and its delusion that oil money could buy the happy consent of the people for Chavez eternal rule, chavismo is little different at heart than past totalitarian regimes. Since late last year we have become quite aware of the parallelism that can be established with nothing less than Nazi Germany, even if chavismo "inspiration" might come form the CastroCuban horror. I suppose that extremes have a way to meet.

We had a few choice pieces, from the disrespect of the November regional election result creating the first Gauleiter position in the regime, to all sorts of laws and decrees and constitutional violations. Political opponents have been disposed off in increasing numbers, either through exile or speedy jailing without trial. Private property is now a myth. Freedom of expression and of information are being acted upon at a speedy rate. New electoral and education laws have been passed to make sure that indoctrination helps new elections become safe bets for the regime.

But something was missing, a general sense of purpose as all of these measures tended to appear more like nervous responses to the moment rather than a well coordinated strategy. True, we never doubted that there was a final objective, clearly illustrated in the February 15 referendum of this year which officially allowed Chavez to become president for life. What I mean here is that until recently it all seemed to be rather a two step forward and one back, or one on the side even. A little bit as if the government still believed that neo-totalitarianism could be willingly accepted. Now this is all over.

Luisa Ortega Diaz, the general prosecutor of the republic seems to be the one in charge of putting it all together, or at the very least making sure that the government will have from now on a free rein to do all the necessary misdeeds to retain power.

Luisa Ortega started one month ago by offering a law against "media crimes" which simply would have allowed easy prosecution of any journalists, media owner and by extension even a blogger like yours truly. The uproar was so much, the surprise to many chavistas too hard to take that the Nazional Assembly even pretended for a while that no proposal of such a law had been received even though we all saw it on TV. So, right now the law is not being discussed but it is there, ready to be discussed when the time is right.

One would have thought that after such a fiasco Luisa Morales would have at the very least offered her resignation since she was acting under Chavez orders. But no. We learned this week why, because she is in all likelihood the one organizing our own tropical Gleichschaltung, the German term that describes how the Nazi set up quickly their totalitarian state as of 1933. This week she announced that public protest could be well criminalized using the current legal code because it could be easily assimilated to rebellion and thus protesters could be subjected to a decade or more in jail. Her words had an impact outside, reported in English by AP and AFP or worse by El Pais in a piece that cannot hide its consternation. And other such as BBC mundo who givse the subject a major report.

The impact at home I need not to illustrate it, you can guess, as it is aggravated by Luisa Ortega persisting in her mission, as she adds that those who oppose the new education law can also be considered criminals. In fact with today decision to jail at Yare Richard Blanco we can say that Kangaroo courts have been activated; our own version of Volksgerichtshof cannot be far behind as we know that for sure many "judges" inside chavismo will have no problem becoming our very own Roland Freisler to preside these "tribunales del pueblo" or some other appropriate name.

Right now we must be impressed that the rare chavista arrested for public violence have already either been released or rest in safe jails where their lot is relatively comfortable. Opposition folks are jailed in the worst jails of the regime. And the way things are going soon Luisa Ortega will have to organize concentration baseball stadiums to hold all the people that are protesting because they are not paid, because the hospitals do not work, because crime is unbearable, because, because, because...

That such measures reflect the nervousness of a regime feeling its popular demise is not a consolation, tremendous hurt will be done along the way. We must not forget that Luisa Ortega Diaz has tremendous power already to do evil: she has the monopoly of prosecution, she has basically the monopoly of deciding what is the evidence suitable for prosecution, she can influence what courts will oversee what cases, and of course what prosecutors to use for political cases. In addition it is very difficult to bring her to account for her acts, and even less with the Nazional Assembly we have today and the corrupt and sold out High Courts of the country who are supposed to be the ones balancing the power of the prosecutors offices. Her power is so big already and the control over her so inexistent that she does not need to make new laws to establish political courts, just laws to "create" the crimes she needs to prosecute to silence opinion.

The fact of the matter is that people like Luisa Ortega are showing how they have transformed themselves from leftist activists into true fascist, like it happened to so many Germans who joined the Nazi party, such as Freisler, the head of all these political courts in charge of disposing of dissent fast. As such I have decided to create this special medal to be awarded as sparingly as possible to chavista officials that have completed their transit from the left to fascism. It is a suitably red swastika, to reflect the color of chavismo.

The medal of dishonor of chavifascismo.
To its first recipient, Luisa Ortega Diaz,
who even has an aryan bleached blond disposition.

Note: the set of pictures of Luisa Ortega I present show her TWICE at the political program of the state TV, "Dando y Dando". It is simply inconceivable that the head of the prosecuting office attends so often such shows when as far as I can tell she has never attended Globovision, and probably not even Televen, the only network where she could be mildly questioned as all the other ones, including Venevision, are pro Chavez. Not that she should attend them either: if she had conscience of her immense responsibility she would receive only at her office, and all political persuasions.

-The end-

Saturday, August 29, 2009

UNASUR at Bariloche: the score card

No big winner, but some clear losers. [UPDATED]

The biggest loser is the ALBA group of groupies. As a political organization they failed in Honduras and now they failed to sway UNASUR. Considering that with the next two years coming elections the balance within UNASUR can turn out to be openly unfavorable we can say that the ALBA is in serious need to rethink itself. The worse part for them: that Chavez was quieter than in previous days while Correa and Evo were unleashed on Colombia. We know who is the boss at ALBA, in case any one had doubts.

The second loser, Lula. His outburst during the meeting as to interventions being too long and that he had more important things to attend is not a sign of strength as some seem to interpret: it is a sign of defeat. If UNASUR has come to be a bitter recrimination meeting place it is only the fault of Lula who has been too indulgent for too long with Chavez. Having allowed Chavez for so long to occupy center stage at the expense of Brazil has now become a problem as Brazil is the only country that can control Chavez, at least in such summits. If UNASUR tanks because of Chavez crazed ambitions it will be for Lula to cry over it. UPDATE: two articles from Spain detail how much of a hard time Lula had in avoiding the Bariloche event to turn into a disaster. Accordingly Chavez was planning to announce the final break up with Colombia and it took Lula strong arm twisting to stop him. It was also borderline for Uribe to leave altogether and send UNASUR packing. El Pais and El Mundo.

The ones that did not count. Uruguay's Tabare by principle cannot accept any foreign base anywhere. But by focusing on Colombia rather than Chavez offering Russians bases he lost any credibility and became mere background noise. Paraguay's Lugo, the father of the nation, has annulled himself with the first paternity suit. And Argentina Kirchner could have actually amoutned to something, for example when she went to get Uribe who did not want to appear in the group photo. But her lousy preparation for the summit, and her lack of substance were just too obvious and she annulled herself whatever good she might have done.

The surprise guest. Peru's Alan Garcia, who came out of his voluntary international discretion to ridicule Chavez in the most unassailable way. Managed the feat of supporting Uribe without appearing at all as a groupie.

The surprise winner. Chile's Bachelet. The only one with Uribe that really made sense, that was prepared. The only one to bring forth real concrete and possible ideas. The only one not to lose her temper or look silly at a given time (shares that characteristic with Surinam's president). She got today a good start for her future international career once she leaves La Moneda next year.

The winner by default. Uribe of course. By default because he was not there to win but to avoid defeat; and by avoiding defeat he was already going to look good. But he did better than avoiding defeat, managing to corner, as much as cornering is possible in such arenas, Chavez and Correa (he did not waste time on Evo). Uribe showed command of his dossier, the talent to leave Chavez without arguments or replies (never speechless as Chavez by now has managed the skill of filling silence with sound no matter what). He did not lose his temper and avoided ridicule though at time his insistence on details was not productive. In short, with Bachelet, he was the ony one who seemed to be not only a statesman, but to be intellectually prepared to be a president.

The loser by default. Chavez. This time his oratory skills did not save him. As I wrote yesterday this was a meeting for nerds with their well thought and prepared dossier. Improvisation this time around was not possible, and the level of preparation Chavez would have required to fight back Uribe he cannot get from the nullity that surrounds him, people like Maduro. He is not a total loser because his defeat at Bariloche today was not total, and at any rate would have little effect at home where we have more pressing concerns. But his defeat is much graver than one might suspect because Uribe showed to the world how one defeats Chavez, by confronting him, by holding ground, by not letting him get away with anything. A strategy I am sure will be followed by others in future summits... Still Chavez managed to avoid total defeat by remaining calmer than usual, by not ranting as much as he did these past few weeks. He had the intelligence for once to control himself some.

-The end-

Friday, August 28, 2009

Line of the day: Alan Garcia at UNASUR

Too early to tell what is the result of UNASUR meeting in Bariloche, but we can safely give the prize of best line of the day to Alan Garcia of Peru. Referring to Chavez in a series of sarcasms he launched this one in particular:
"Tu petróleo se lo lleva EEUU"

The US is already taking your oil
In other words, Alan Garcia mocked Chavez in public for his fear of the US when this one is ALREADY taking most of Venezuelan oil in exchange of the dollars that finance Chavez ambitions. The attendance laughed, Chavez did not.

But the sarcasm goes even further: Garcia used the familiar "Tu", implying that Chavez is afraid of the US because he considers oil as his private property. The implication of coruse here is that people know that we are not discussing of a Venezuelan state policy or concern, but of a personal interest of Chavez.

Superb Alan!

-The end-

UNASUR with its first real crisis, and maybe its last

UNASUR started four years ago as a new organization for South American countries. Its aims where to fuse a NATO like system with a EU like commercial union. Unfortunately UNASUR suffered from the start of major problems: it was a Brazilian creation which by itself made it somewhat suspicious; it included countries which had already powerful alliances with extra-continental countries; and it had local caudillos that can conceive of their participation in any organization only as they see it serving their interest and glory. Tomorrow at Bariloche all of these problems are coming home to roost and it could well be the beginning of the end for UNASUR.

The Bariloche resort summit was the idea of Argentina president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to avoid the collapse of the Quito summit a couple of weeks ago . It seems that she only postponed the crisis and that the cool airs of the Austral winter are not going to work.

Since I do not know much about the other problems (Peru and Chile are suddenly threatening to bring their own pet dispute), I will focus on the original reason of the UNASUR special event.

First, Lula cognizant of the end of his reign wants to leave UNASUR as his legacy. Thus the Brazilians have been working very hard at trying to make it a success and prove UNASUR worthwhile. But they made mistakes along the way, such as trying to force the participation of the US of A. Obama declined pointing out that the US belonged to another hemisphere, and thus implying that it was high time South America learned to solve its problems without Uncle Sam being more than a mere observer. Of course the mistake of Lula and his generally sophisticated staff was that they did not realize that no US president would subject himself to a meeting where they would risk to be the center of the controversy among irate natives. One thing is to disagree with Chirac or Merkel, in polite society, another to have a creep like Ortega harangue you. Obama paid his dues in Trinidad a few months ago, he is never going to allow that to happen to him again; and thus Lula put himself egg on his face.

That Obama invitation failure is weakening the umpire role of Brazil this Friday, just at a time where a Chavez weakening at home is pushing the cheap patriotic card and where Uribe strengthening at home wants to make sure he is either allowed to run for reelection or be assured to place at Casa de Nariño the man he wants to continue his work. In front of these two guys Lula arrives meekly, further weakened by all the money Chavez owes Brazil, while Colombia owes nothing.

The official problem is the so called US bases to be deployed in Colombia. So let's look at that before we look at the real issues.

Plan Colombia has been lasting for a few years now, has been a relative success and has created the most operative army in South America. Colombians know that, know that the FARC is now on the defensive, that drug traffic is weakening some and going elsewhere. Colombians know that they still need US help and if Ecuador is foolish enough to get rid of the Manta US joint, then welcome to Colombia where US advisers might be more efficient than in Ecuador. As far as Colombia is concerned the deal is done and the only thing they are willing to discuss is to establish ways for other South American countries to verify that these bases will not be for use in military offensive ways. Por ahora, as Chavez would say.

The problem is of course that South Americans leftist leaders have an allergy to the US military, and a justified one historically. But the US has changed, the interests of Colombia are understood and already after an initial protest Chile and Brazil are watering down their concerns. Which brings us to the real issue: Chavez ambitions.

This is the core of the matter. After a relative initial success of Chavez in presenting the Colombian bases of the US as a "continental threat" (as if Guantanamo was not one already, as if Manta had not existed, as if any US fleet would not be able to trash Caracas whenever it wanted, bases or not) Uribe late response is slowly turning the tables. Uribe is managing that because he is presenting slowly but surely the evidence of Chavez intrusion in Colombian affairs, via FARC support. First Uribe did this discretely, and one on one, but now he seems decided to do it publicly as Colombia demands that all the discussions at Bariloche are transmitted live to the world! A first one if it is voted!

In other words Uribe has decided to call the bluff of Chavez.

Why now?

First, the old argument of the huge trade surplus has ceased to exist. All in Colombia are getting tired to be blackmailed by Caracas, amen of the insults. There has been building around Uribe a sort of Union Sacrée that includes all ex presidents and even sympathies from some sectors of the POLO democratico who is finding itself divided over Chavez role in Colombia. Besides Venezuela is running out of cash so they might as well seek new markets.

Chavez is helping along, announcing that he is studying cutting all links with Colombia, bombastically announcing that he will replace all of his trade with Colombia easily with Argentinian goodies, and other inane statements like that.

And Chavez goes further, offering direct declarations that "chavismo" must penetrate the minds of Colombians. No head of state of any political nature loves to hear another Head of state blissfully talk of sending emissaries to other countries, even if they are not the target.

Uribe arrives well armed at Bariloche. He has an extensive dossier on Chavez support of the FARC (with Chavez refusal to allow independent observers to prove Uribe wrong). He has a tight dossier on his US agreement where some slack can easily be cut to pacify anyone within reason. He has all the evidence of Chavez own weapons purchase as a justification of Colombia arm race. He has the dismal role of Chavez in Honduras. He can point out to all the corruption and intervention of Chavez in electoral campaigns, such as the latest scandal in Uruguay. And the more that Chavez is too stupid to exert the discretion he should exert.

Chavez on the other hand has only a leftist self righteousness, and his ability to scream louder than anyone. But then again there has already been a "porque no te callas?" and we might be about to hear a second one, and way more damaging one. The days were a loud and vulgar voice accompanied by a fat check book was enough to create an international system seem to have passed, the era of well built dossiers seem to be coming back.

So it is up to poor Lula to see how he can salvage the day which for him is probably allowing a Colombian win without Chavez ego suffering too much. As such we can be almost certain that Brazil will start by blocking live feed of the meeting. But I think Lula has been too forgiving of Chavez for too long, it is time for him to pay for his mistakes too.

I suspect that this is what is felt in the air because even stubborn Correa of Ecuador has shown signs of relenting over his Colombia dispute. And Alan Garcia who has had a discrete foreign policy is for once planning to take an active role, offering a cover for Colombia if things were not going to go well for Uribe. Clearly blocks are starting to redraw in South America and coming elections in many countries could dramatically affect the panorama for Chavez.

PS: I have included few links because I have already addressed that issue recently and this post is almost a rewrite of the previous ones (here and here). But there is another reason for the paucity of links: in general the press is absorbed by the US bases in Colombia aspect, failing to detect how fast the ground is changing. As usual anglo press is managed by temporary journalists that are not very sensitive to basic idiosyncrasies of the region, not to mention too many of them with an anti US position that they carefully nurtured since Bush invaded Iraq. We will see tomorrow night who has more egg on their face, whether this blogger or the corresponds of Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC and other (BBC mundo is slightly better, as usual).

-The end-

Honduras versus Venezuela: who is the real democracy?

A few essential details have come to mind that force us to reconsider completely the Honduras coup.

In Honduras the de facto government received the the OAS rights court: the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It was allowed to work in Tegucigalpa and to talk with whomever it wanted. It collected the data it wanted and soon we will get a report though they already expressed that there had been violations.

In Venezuela in spite of numerous human rights violations, the same tribunal has been forbidden to visit since, I believe, 2005. As such chavismo forbids ANY independent verification in situ.

A commission of the OAS has just finished a visit in Tegucigalpa. It was composed by various foreign ministers. It visited with whomever it wanted. It left a preliminary report and left unarmed and without any disrespect.

In Venezuela the mere visit of electoral observers from the European Union already raises tremendously the tone of the Chavez government. You may forget about an OAS commission.

In Tegucigalpa protests keep happening, even in front of the presidential palace.

In Venezuela no protest is allowed close to downtown and from what I watch on TV repression in Venezuela seems at the very least as strong as in Honduras, and stronger in my humble opinion.

The Surpeme court of Honduras is the one blocking any deal brokered by Oscar Arias. In Venezuela the supreme courts bends over backward to support any of Chavez initiatives.

As far as I know services in Tegucigalpa are still of a quality comparable from what it was before Zelaya was ousted. In Venezuela... well, do not get me started.

I do not know about you, but just based on that one is allowed to wonder which is the most democratic country: subjected coup Honduras or democratically elected Venezuela. For me, right now, after what Chavez has been doing in the last 6 months, there is much better air of democracy in Tegucigalpa than in Caracas.

Not to mention much more dignity in Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama to deal with the crisis than vile abuse from Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina.

I am afraid that we are going to have to congratulate the Honduras regime to have the balls and gumption of refusing to let Honduras become another creepy chavista state. Chavez is going to manage this feat, to make certain coups a valid option. amazing!

-The end-

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Provocation as a state policy

UPDATED. Sometimes after so many posts I have the strange feeling that I have already used a given title. But I am too lazy to check it back. Besides with Chavez it is a never ending recycling of clichés we must respond to.

However this week is particularly rich in provocations which can mean only one thing: Chavez is desperately trying to set the agenda so we do not discuss here or abroad what must be really discussed. A few gems.

Zimbabwe. On the ridiculous side we learn that Venezuela goes out of its way to invite and make sure that Mugabe attends some summit in Venezuela late September. Among other matters discussed with the Venezuelan envoy there was the need (I am not making this up) to strengthen the links between Zimbabwe and Venezuela. It gets better, there is a wish to promote tourism. Yeah right, with the meager USD allocated by the Venezuelan government I am going to be able to afford expensive safaris in Zimbabwe..... I mean, they still do safaris there or is it over? Or was that because Zimbabweans supporting Mugabe cannot go to any resort without being harassed and Chavez wants them to go to Margarita?

Benavides. On the sinister side we have the colonel who directed the repression last Saturday being granted swiftly the "Libertador order" of Venezuela. The first thought that crossed my mind of course was that once Chavez leaves office we will need to create new medals in Venezuela because I for one, would not want to wear the Libertador order. Not that my life is conducing to gain state medals and honors, but if it were so I would need to decline anything coming from Chavez. At least now we know for sure that the fascist harangue Benavides gave last Saturday was not destined to his troops but to Chavez. That Benavides crossed a line that should never be crossed by a military: to support a political side openly, with violence implied. Of course he received his fascist reward from Chavez promptly and we can expect him to become a general anytime soon. The revolution needs its repressive agents, you know... Note: what struck me most in Benavides harangue was his poor speech ability, amen of his grammatical weakness (rompido, as if some lout in the US army officer corps would use 'brokened'). Truly, fascism requires a certain brutishness form its agents.

Colombia. On the graver side Chavez deliberately pursues his policy of breaking up with Colombia. He announced that relations will be broken soon (amazing that he must say that instead of breaking them once and for all). Of course Colombia is not staying quiet about it, accused Chavez of meddling, goes to the OAS and says that at the UNASUR meeting not only the military "bases" of the US in Colombia will be discussed. Meanwhile we learn that border trade already fell 30%. The consequences of this craziness is, well, war. The way things are going it is becoming not a question of whether there will be war but when.

Why so many provocations? Very simple: things are fast becoming unmanageable inside Venezuela. Last Saturday unexpectedly large demonstration of the opposition, in the middle of school vacation period, showed Chavez that what polls were telling him was true: his support has been going downhill for the past three months, and in a qualitative way that bodes ill for an easy recovery, even if oil were to find its way back to 100USD by next year. Thus the need for distraction, at any cost, until the Chavez team find a way out of its quandary. Unfortunately it will not work because they are not addressing the root of the problem: the heliocentric nature of the regime around Chavez, with the classical mistake of trying to control more and more as the ability to control decreases. The last time we had a somewhat related situation in Latin America was when Galtieri of Argentina decided to invade the Falklands.

Update: in his Tal Cual editorial today Teodoro Petkoff ALSO uses the Falkland analogy. So it is not yours truly alone that is suffering of stream of consciousness.

-The end-

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy

The Senator of Massachusetts passed away finally after a long battle with brain cancer. I will miss him, a lot, because he represented for me what a true Liberal meant, when Liberal was not a bad word in the US and when Liberal meant realistic progress, and even the art of compromise. I will take any day a Ted Kennedy over, say, a Nancy Pelosi.

True, he had personal flaws and a checkered past with deep shadows. Perhaps even more than most politicians of his age. However unlike most politicians he had a clear sense of policy, of direction, of objectives which surprisingly perhaps gave him the talent to broker deals with the most unexpected conservatives across the aisle. That is, Kennedy was a statesman in the better sense of the word, a man who considered the interests of his country above his interest and who knew how far it was wise to go in pursuing his political agenda. In other words he was a Liberal by conviction and not because it would get him more votes.

Perhaps the best example was his reelection in 1994 when Congress went Republican, making Clinton a 6 years lame duck. I still lived in the US then and I remember clearly how Democrats run away from any Liberal label. Kennedy did not, wore it proudly on his lapel and carried once again decisively Massachusetts, defeating Mitt Romney who was certainly not a bad candidate since he became governor a few years later. Even though his state is one of the most Liberal of the country the fact of the matter is that this year, in spite of an expected GOP surge even there, Ted kept his own, showing to all defeated democrats that standing for their ideas would not have made matters worse. In fact, running away of long held positions probably helped the Newt's Gop more than anything else...

In a way, living in North Carolina then I understood Kennedy better because his counter part was Jesse Helms, another man who held firm to his tenets even if they were in my view despicable. I have met more than one North Carolinian who voted for Governor Hunt and who had no problem voting for Helms. With Helms like with Kennedy you always knew where you stood. A reason that I always disliked Clinton, by the way, never forgiving him for crass errors such as his wishy-washy approach to gays in the military. I had a very GOP/libertarian friend who told me then that Clinton was a true wimp, that he should have done like Truman with the "Negroes" in the army, that he would have supported Clinton if he had done his job as a commandeer in chief. As a result of Clinton opportunism the issue still simmers in the Army and still wrecks lives.

When I was writing last night about Chomsky I should have thought about Kennedy. He never embraced dictators for convenience and even his Castro approach was more one of real politics: the guy is there, if we are not willing to invade Cuba to remove him from office then we might as well deal with him in a more constructive way. Ted Kennedy would have never betrayed his country the way Chomsky does routinely. And yet Kennedy is a truer Liberal than Chomsky will ever be. When Ted's nephew started flirting with Chavez I was afraid that he would convince his uncle to come along. But he never really did. I was not expecting Ted to go against his nephew, after all family is family and Kennedy was getting older and softer. But the fact of the matter is that I have not seen an endorsement of Chavez the way we saw from other US politicians like Delahunt or Serrano, Liberals because that is where the votes are in their districts.

And so it is that with the death of Ted Kennedy we close the 60ies and 70ies political cycle once and for all. On either side of the aisle there is not a politician that can compare to him, but neither does our era promote this style. Kennedy comes from an era where the 15 minute of fame was neither an issue nor a concern. He was from an era where the media did not rule politics, and to his credit he never let the media run his show when times changed and CNN et al. started setting the agenda. In a paradox of the American political system Kennedy was a guy with personal problems who put his integrity into his politics. Perhaps the US would be better run if more politicians were more concerned about integrity in politics than integrity in private. The legislative success of Kennedy, recognized by friends and foes, is a witness of this.

-The end-

Chomsky in Venezuela: may we have a word with you?

Mr. Chomsky

I am going straight to the point: your timing for visiting Chavez sucks. I know that you have expressed your support often enough but visiting now as he is becoming a bona fide dictator is really not your best move. Then again in the past you have had your share of controversies and we should not be surprised that you decided to show your face in Caracas once Hugo Chavez decided to become a radical, to do things you would never put up with in the US. At any rate it would be a nice change from your Pol Pot linking, remember?

But your sense of timing is even worse than what I imply above: there has been live on TV, two Sundays in a row, a set of lies and manipulations by Chavez himself, from the situation of the country to his self proclaimed love for peace. So, in the spirit of trying to help you I will give you a chance to redeem yourself and prove once and for all that you do understand the media really, and not the media you like only. As a bonus you can also prove that you are a democrat and a humanist.

Two weeks ago there was a scandal in the press regarding poor humble women that were seeking help for delivering their babies. Public hospitals in Venezuela are in such shambles that they were sent from one place to the other as no one was in any shape to receive them. "ruleteo" we call it, as in rolling the ball, though the image of Russian roulette comes to mind in this case.

Well, what did Hugo Chavez do? He made it a a-morality play into his Sunday show two weeks ago. There was a woman, duly clad in red, happening to be passing by and seeking help from Chavez directly, saying that her sister was passed along many hospitals. Chavez, grand seigneur, was shocked, shocked!, about such things still happening, justifying along the way the latest purge in his cabinet, while offering his personal surgeon to help the sister in question. His personal surgeon, nothing less.

I trust that just from these words describing the scene you will be smart enough to smell a rat in the Chavez show, you know, media manipulation and obscene control and brain washing and what not. You wrote the books on how single men influence public opinion through controlled media. Did you not? Are you aware that no one in Venezuela's history has been a media mogul the way Chavez is today?

You can find in this link the article on this subject that Milagros Socorro wrote for El Nacional, a newspaper that supported the Chavez election in 1998, a newspaper with a historical leftist reputation since its foundation, and who now sternly opposes Chavez. Food for thought right there.

The article of Ms. Socorro is in Spanish but a linguist like you should have no trouble finding some one to translate it. Heck, if you call Milagros she will probably ask you out for a cup of coffee and enlighten you some. She might not be a world known "intellectual" like you are but I can assure you that she can hold her own with you, even at an advantage because unlike you she is a true humanist, truly and deeply concerned with all human rights, unlike you who seem to pick and chose among them. At any rate she is much more of an intellectual than the military lout you chose to suck up yesterday, she is one fo the finest intellectuals Venezuela has to offer today even though her trade is journalism and writing.

So there you have it, a chance for you to dig where it matters, to prove that you are what you say you are. Either that or you can keep slipping into further disregard as more and more only a loony fringe worships you. And be aware that all that Chavez touches turns into crap, his own reverse Midas touch. It can get much worse for your reputation. You have been warned.


Daniel Duquenal,
humble blogger of humble truths on naked emperors

-The end-

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

But can he keep Mitsubishi open?

Coming back home I was greeted by the news that the Mitsubishi plant in Barcelona had suspended its operations, and that these would not reopen unless thuggery at the work places ceases.

Of course, they said that a little bit less blunt than I presented it, as reported by the WSJ:
Run by MMC Automotriz, a Mitsubishi unit, the plant may still reopen if there is a guarantee for "the safety of its workers and employees in a climate of peace and discipline," Mitsubishi said.
The BBC also reported it, though it was to be expected that the WSJ coverage was more extended. Still, both agree in the importance of the news: 1400 workers out of a job and there is little that can be done unless anarchy stops. I doubt that it will happen even though Jesse Chacon was fast trying to do some damage control at a time where the dismal business image of Venezuela is not getting any better. We have learned for example that tiny hurricane threatened Dominican Republic is getting about as much private investment in its tiny island than much larger Venezuela floating on a sea of oil. That Mitsubishi thing is for sure not going to help attract further investment.

Part of my business trip last week to Caracas allowed me to hear about labor conflicts all around in the private sector. Just as it seemed to have happened with Mitsubishi, once a negotiation was set and agreed by all parts, things got worst rather than better!

This seems to be the general pattern: chavista activists manage to penetrate established trade unions, or create new guilds supported by the government. Their promise of course is that with chavismo help they will get all sorts of new benefits for the workers. Considering how lavish Chavez is with his Misiones, workers are naturally tempted. Conflict inevitably arises as the state has many ways to intervene in the delicate negotiation. Eventually a deal is reached with significant improvement for the workers. And yet thins go downhill once the ink dries...

The reasons are multiple. For example, if the chavista agitators reach the top of the guild then they start caressing further political ambitions and try to keep their name in view by having their union discussed in the press. Profit is of course of no concern for chavismo who sees it as a cheap synonym for looting. As such, if the owners try to point out the obvious flaws in the "new" management ways they can even be threatened by nationalization, something always good to have yourself noticed among the highly competitive sycophantic battle field of chavismo.

Another reason can be that some of the workers realize that the agenda of the chavista agents is not what they had hoped for: division arises and internal warfare ensues where the business owner is quite often the victim no matter what.

Also the winning Union decides to follow the Chavez model, giving a new meaning to "share the wealth", not realizing that unlike Chavez private business owners do not have an oil well in the backyard to pay for all the business "subventions".

And we certainly cannot rule out that the final aim of chavismo is to eliminate most of the private propriety, leaving standing up only the one that swore fealty to Chavez and the revolution, preferably by letting wealthy chavista bolibourgeois majority owners of the business.

And more but I trust that you get the point. As such prepare yourself to hear about more Mitsubishi style of problems. Toyota was even recently threatened with such a problem and could well be next in line: after all in the sickly mental word of chavismo someone might considering that a Trabant line of cars should be good enough for Venezuela...

But do not leave with the impression that car manufacturers are the only ones with this kind of threats: in the agro industry I am getting tired of hearing about business having harsh labor disputes, driven by the fact that chavista extremists want the government to nationalize all the food producing system, and thus reach the top of the new organizations. You know, the same guys that have convinced Chavez that rice production can be tripled if the state takes care of it. They do not really care if it can be done, they just want to be the ones barking the orders.

-The end-

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yes he can!

And I ain't talking Obama here...

After the slap Chavez received Saturday when the opposition gave a surprisingly large rally considering it is vacation time, after chavismo gave a rather weak rally performance of its own that same Saturday even though all advantage was on their side, after the brutal repressive response from the Nazional Guard whose in charge colonel gave a partisan speech where it was OK for the Venezuelan armed forces to beat up any one not in agreement with Chavez, after yet another overall disastrous Public Relations performance, Chaevz went on the offensive against Colombia to compensate, or at least distract from yet more pathetic failures of the cornered autocrat...

It all started with on horse ride in Apure, at Hato El Frio that he expropriated last year. He wanted to project the image of the conqueror of the Llanos, you know...

Once there he promised that with actions like El Frio expropriation he would treble, increase three times, the rice production of Venezuela. He has Vietnamese advisers for that so we are safe. I sure hope that Vietnamese work ethic will be sublimated into chavistas severely lacking in that ethic, or most other ethics for that matter...

We sure need that amount of rice because we have found out that Caracas is one of the most expensive cities in the world while at the same time one with the lowest income. As we cannot afford anything we will soon have rice. I trust! But no word about the missing beans to go with the rice....

Of course Chavez congratulated the military that repressed heavily the Saturday rally. Of course, after the pro Chavez sycophantic speech, the guy is going to get a medal for sure...

But busy as he was with all those good news for Venezuela that this time around we are sure he will fulfill, Chavez got some time to address the biggest threat ever against Venezuela: Colombia pseudo bases where US soldiers will be able to rape girls unchecked. I kid you not, he said that a week or so ago...

So, how is Chavez going to fight back? An invasion? More Russian tanks of little use in mountains and jungles? No!!! He will start a word campaign inside of Colombia to send a message of peace and to push toward the end of Uribe. Now, this might be bad enough but Chavez himself now considers "mensaje chavista" a real ideology! Here, two excerpts, my emphasis:

"La burguesía colombiana no quiere que mi mensaje llegue. Tienen miedo a que la voz de Chávez sea oída por el pueblo de Colombia." The Colombian Bourgeoisie does not want that my message gets there. They are afraid that the voice of Chavez be heard by the people of Colombia.

"¡Pueblo colombiano, no caigas en la trampa, únete a nosotros para hacer la patria grande de Bolívar, la Gran Colombia!" People of Colombia, do not fall in the trap, get with us to make the large fatherland of Bolivar, the Gran Colombia [I suppose with Chaevz as the beloved leader, no?]
I mean, how bloated can an ego can get? But it gets better, he put in charge of the organization of that "chavista message" Blanca Eckhout, a little nothing bureaucrat that lives in chavista la-la-land. Then gain, it is a requirement to reach the inner sanctum of the prophet...

Needless to say that Colombians, all of them, even the potential chavistas, were not amused. The Colombian government will start by taking directly to the OAS assembly the naked intervention of Chavez in internal affairs. Good, that will change the OAS from the Honduras fiasco, a real foreign intervention, all proofs in hand, to discuss...

Seriously now folks: what is Chavez up to? Can he really get away with that much for that long? Can he? Or is he trying to sabotage the coming UNASUR summit on Colombia? After all, now Uribe can take along the Chavez intervention and force his colleagues to discuss it, a high embarrassment potential for Lula as he tries to cash his debt from Venezuela. Uribe could not hope for a better present, not only for his reelection plans but to fend off the US military bases initiative. Even the Washington Post Editorial of today sounds outdated: if Obama cannot tackle Chavez he must be thankful for that "feet in mouth" syndrome Hugo suffers...

-The end-

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The LOE march in Caracas. And another represion!

Update 2: A picture from reader Pedro Be... No comments needed. I have loaded it full size, click on the picture wonder about the tear gas really used.

UPDATED: The march I mentioned below was repressed again by the most brutal means, now the routine of the glorious bolivarian revolution based on the love of the people. Bullshit! Pure fascism is what is happening in Venezuela more and more!

Globovision cannot be accessed right now. But you can go to El Universal where you can read the following (in Spanish): a chronic of the day titled "marching towards repression", includes a photo gallery; a declaration of Ledezma who states the obvious: the government resorts to repression because it lost the enthusiasm of its followers as the opposition march clearly outnumbered the rather pitiful chavista rally; a fascist speech from the Nazional Guard officer in charge of the repression; how the whole day was followed overseas, and certainly not in a favorable light for the government.

So there is yet another protest march from the opposition in Caracas, and yet another success as chavismo simultaneous march, the one "approved" to reach the Nazional Assembly does not have the same volume of folks, even with all the buses used to ferry in folks. Chavismo has lost Caracas streets for so long now.......

Miguel is attending and sends the following picture, taken with his Iphone, from the Libertador avenue:

If anyone else wants to send their pictures I'll pick up a couple more to add after this one. By the way, Miguel will have more pictures but tonight, at his blog, after he comes back.

-The end-


That is the quarterly number announced this week that tells you Venezuela is finally accepting a recession it cannot hide anymore.

But I did not need to know that number, I already knew we were in a recession, since late last year, within a few weeks from when the price of oil started dropping. The government was able to pull enough reserves for a while, to hide enough statistics for a while, until the Central Bank could not hide it anymore. It did not matter what Chavez and his accomplices did, us that work in the reality of trying to produce something in Venezuela knew for a while that things were going downhill and we were trying to prepare for it.

These few days I spent in Caracas brought that hard reality stronger than at any time since Chavez is in office, stronger even than in the 2003 recession where people at least had the hope that a recall election would put an end to the recession. It did not but expensive oil did it, lifting us in a false sense of economic euphoria while the productive apparatus kept losing strength, transforming Venezuela into an import and distribution economy. Now, apparently we are entering a stagflation with really no hope in sight, even if oil were to increase again to say, 90 USD a barrel.

It all started when I arrived in Caracas. I was in a rush because my hair person was leaving for her annual vacation and I wanted to see her for a hair cut. Yes, I cut my hair in Caracas. Men tend to have this thing about being loath to change hair person. When my turn came she told me that she was losing yet another client, that the customer ahead of me was in one of his last visits to her because he finally had gotten an Italian passport, was selling everything and was moving to Italy, a country that he barely knew but where he could go because his grand parents emigrated from Italy. She is losing to emigration at least one customer a month.

On Monday one of my customers told me that the trimester CADIVI license he required to import an essential item to produce food in Venezuela was not coming. He needed that 150,000 USD at 2,15 to produce a particular food item because he could not find that supply in Venezuela. If he fails to get the CADIVI permit and has to go to the parallel market for dollars, that will mean at the very least up to 15% increase in his production costs which he would have to pass on his customers.

But that was not really his main worry: when you stop using CADIVI and go to the parallel market the chances for a SENIAT tax audit increase dramatically as you can now be seen as a speculator. See, the SENIAT only considers the 2,15 USD exchange rate and thus if you buy something at 7 USD and sell it accordingly, they consider that your price increase is directly proportional to an increase of your benefits, and tax you like hell. That your balance sheets show that you actually made LESS, is inconsequential, the SENIAT goes by the 2,15 cost system you showed them the year before. For a business into food production, with limited margins, a SENIAT audit that fines you or asks you back taxes on an earning you never made is enough to push you to bankruptcy.

That customer story was not the only one as my own company is debating whether to go to the parallel market once and for all and forget about CADIVI. As I reached the Caracas office I was told that we cannot access CADIVI because like dozens of other business we do not have the "solvencia laboral", a paper that certifies that you fulfilled all your legal requirements to your employees. We do fulfill all of our contractual obligations, of course, but we are not getting it not because we are at fault: "there is something in the system that we cannot fix, please, contact us next week" and this for already 2 moths!!! If by late August we do not get it, with import delays for our essential raw materials, we will stop production sometime in early October. But going to the parallel market for us is not a good solution: we produce with at least half of our raw material imported and that would mean simply a doubling of our costs and thus of our prices. Would our customers be able to follow? Previewing this situation we have not hired anyone this year and in fact through attrition we have already let go 15% of our work force. We are aiming at 30% by December.

I will not bore you with further tales of business woes coming from red shirts stirring trouble in business or organized land grabs by neighbors who want to get their "share" of the looting at any cost since it is clear that Chavez has stopped delivering in the country side. I will not write about the dismal state of roads in Venezuela which singlehandedly has added about an hour of road to my trips between Caracas and Yaracuy, in addition to the traffic increase which has added another hour. My shipping and delivery costs have doubled in one year. Let's talk instead about the degradation of quality of life in Caracas, not too high to begin with.

For the middle class of Venezuela, already subjected to heavy pressure at work, and an intractable traffic that robs the caraqueño of an average of perhaps three hours a day of life, plus the struggle to fight food scarcity which is back as a low chronic way, we can add insecurity at the mall. With increased traffic and crime in the streets, it has been a long time that the streets of smart or not so smart neighborhoods have been emptied of kids playing in the open. Patinetas and caimaneras are a thing of the past: now parents prefer, if they must, drop their kid at the mall with money for ice cream and a movie and hope for the best.

But what about those parents with small kids. Considering that there is no safe park now where to let them run free for a while, they have chosen to go shopping at the mall, kids in tow. Well, this might also be one thing in the past soon. A neighbor of my brother was surrounded at the mall so as to kidnap her kid INSIDE the mall as a "secuestro express" of sorts: the kid was to be held in hostage while she emptied her checking account and what not. By sheer luck she managed to set free her kid as the crowd simply ignored the scene. When she started telling her story she found out that this novel crime procedure had become a regular occurrence at certain malls such as the Sambil where all sorts of criminals can simply come through the subway and can easily disappear in the huge crowds of the Sambil. The Chacao Sambil had already a reputation that you could get robbed, in particular in the public rest rooms, now you can also get kidnapped!

The sad truth is that raising kids in Caracas is now a major challenge because simply there is no place for them to go safely. Be they middle class robbed or kidnapped at the Mall, bethey lower class kids in the ghettos where every week some bite the dust after receiving a "lost bullet". The modality varies but the anguish is the same for all parents.

On a personal note I could verify how my very own quality of life went down a further notch. I am tall, and with wide feet so I need to wear at least size 13 if I cannot find 12 or 12.5 in extra wide. My exercise walking shoes, all of them, died in the past two months. I had to go this week to more than a dozen sport shoes stores until I found one which had a SINGLE pair of size 13. No choice, no nothing, take it or leave it.

Granted, in the past it was always difficult for me to find shoes, but never like this time where in sheer despair I even considered buying "fashion" exercise shoes at more than 1,000 Bs.!! Fortunately in that store they did not have 13. Even in San Felipe I did find two years ago a pair of rather ugly walking shoes but that was OK. From my inquiry, since CADIVI became a problem they stopped importing and making size 13 and above and sizes 12 come in very short supply.There are stores that simply told me they have stopped receiving size 13. Period.

Now, you could tell me that since I have the privilege to travel I can buy my shoes overseas. But what about those that cannot travel? Must they spend a few days of their life every year just to find one single pair of shoes? And if CADIVI does not allow for imports of size 13 shoes, why do they now allot me some extra "cupo" on my credit card to buy shoes? Because with the 2,500 I am allowed just buying a dress pair and a walking/running pair will be a big dent on any vacation or business trip expenses!!!!

And there was more but I am tired, finally getting back home to San Felipe after a 7 hours drive which included a half an hour full stop in the middle of the A.R.C. around La Victoria, stuck in traffic, under the rain so I could not even get out of the car to stretch. In 1998 I counted an average of 3.5 hours between Caracas and San Felipe with an old car. Now with my two year old car it takes me never less than 4.5 hours, the average being around 5 hours, on week ends! That is also less quality of life, a degradation that I do not see as bringing an improvement to someone else. We are all into this down slide, poor and rich, as the state is simply incapable, unable and probably unwilling to try to bring some order into the Venezuelan anarchy. To try to make things work a little bit more efficiently, as a benefit for ALL OF US. Make no mistake, that supplies are getting harder to reach me or my capitalist customers means that supplies are also getting hard to obtain for lower income folks. We are all in this together, chavistas or not.

That is why this past week has been the most depressing trip to Caracas I experienced since Chavez came to office in 1999: form every angle I could see a country sinking.

-The end-

Thursday, August 20, 2009

When governments lose contact with reality

I am having a business stay in Caracas which is turning out to be one of the most depressing visits here since Chavez has been elected president in 1998. Not only I have been told a few dark stories about the business reality of the country, but being that dreadfully busy and assaulted by professional negativity, I still could not escape the few news that managed to reach me. And yet those were even more impressive by what they mean about the present state of chavismo than by their actual content. I will just focus on two: Chavez declarations on putting the blame on the victims, and on German Yepez who as the electoral umpire has proffered the most partisan declarations one could imagine from such a position.

In your memory you must still have fresh the attacks on the journalists of the Capriles newspaper group. They were on the side walk of their business, distributing leaflets to protest the new education law that will curtail among other things freedom of expression, not to mention creating a country of brutishness. In the neighborhood there was Avial TV which is little bit more than a den of chavista extremists who left in turn their "offices" to beat up the peaceful journalist manifestations. All of the bloody injured folks were from the Capriles side, none from Avila TV.

Well, Chavez had no compunction in stating that it was all the fault of the Capriles journalists, they provoked the rage of the Avila TV creeps. Thus at once he gives yet a new meaning to "blame the victim", and gives a new order to his troops that beating up journalists is OK. He goes even further in the implications of his words: violence against opposition is now always justified because they are by definition the provocateurs. But it is even worse because he does not realize that his logic is also the one applied by those who beat up their spouses, who practice all sorts of family violence and even those who harass co-workers that are under their care at the work place. (1)

To confirm how far that mental illness that chavismo has become we have the example of German Yepez, one of the 5 directors of the electoral council CNE, and as such the umpire of Venezuelan decisions. We of course know that German Yepez is nothing but a Chavez agent in the CNE, placed there to make sure that no opposition electoral petition prospers while busily drafting rules to favor the chavista camp. But yet he managed to go way too far on his job.

The opposition is promoting an abrogation referendum on the new Education Law that should be overturn on sight by any serious tribunal in any semi normal country. The proposal of the opposition certainly has merits and demerits, but none of them deserves, not even with extreme diffidence, the words of German Yepez. He says that the opposition petition was not valid because it tried to suppress a human right, namely education. This is of course a lie since it objects the new law, not a modification of the old one, not even the law voted in 2001 that was never ratified until suddenly in the middle of the night this Cuba like legislation came to appear.

In addition, as the education law clearly curtails freedom of expression it is by itself abrogating a human right and should be dismissed outright without even for the need of a vote. If we can understand that agent Yepez does not discuss this last aspect we cannot understand AT ALL his words. I cite them in Spanish and then my translation, so you can have the full effect:

Eso se hizo así para evitar que sectores reaccionarios, conservadores, sectores que odian a los pobres, a los negros, a los indígenas, que le tienen pavor a las mayorías y que sueñan con ser una élite pequeña, excluyan a otros de este derecho progresivo que blinda la constitución para que este no pueda ser negado

[The law was written as such] to avoid that reactionary sectors, conservatives, sectors who hate the poor, the Negroes, the Natives, who are scared shitless of the majority and who dream of being a small elite, exclude for this progressive right that solidifies the constitution so that it cannot be denied.

Where should we start? On the hate that lives inside Yepez himself? On his projection of reality? On his denial of democracy? On his historical lies on a democracy who made Venezuela a basically illiterate country in 1958 into a country with more than 90% literacy that elected Chavez, of "negro" and "indigena" origins, issued of "[military] small elite" scared shitless of true democracy? (2)

It does not really matter what Chavez and his peon said: both men words reflect one thing, that they know the control of the country is escaping their hands and that they are the ones running scared. And yet it is at those moments when governments lose contact with reality the most, thus making further mistakes instead of solving problems.

1) there is really no good article on Chavez words in English yet, but for those who can read Spanish you have this piece in El Pais. Remember that El Pais is the paper of the intelligentsia in Spain, of the progressive , of those who vote for Zapatero. In short, with Le Monde, The Guardian and the NYT, it is a reference paper. The beauty of that report is that the words of the chavista officials cited are so infamous, so out of bounds, that the news can be reported straight, without explanation, as anyone with half a brain in Spain will know what is really going on with chavismo.

2) Speaking of lies, SEMANA in Colombia published a full debunking of Chavez recent lies on the origin of the Venezuelan missiles that found their way from Venezuela army depots to FARC hands. I suppose that when your boss is such a liar, you are home free with your own lies. That story is actually featured on the cover of the magazine. In addition SEMANA carries an article about the failure of Chavez at UNASUR in Quito over a week ago, in pretty much the same lines that yours truly used. This article is also noteworthy because it broaches on how the misguided actions of Chavez are probably weakening further any pro Chavez electoral option that could arise in Colombia, thus helping along a third election for Uribe. Then again maybe that is what Chavez wants anyway.

-The end-

Monday, August 17, 2009

Concrete vision of the future versus the nutty living in a reactionary past

While I was on the road today on my way to Caracas news came together that made this evening a delightful moment of glee.

On one side the two powerhouses of Latin America decided to start speaking in earnest about free trade and oil cooperation. Mexico and Brazil are now, by far, the two biggest economies south of the Rio Grande. Even if the Mexican one has been battered lately from a larval civil war due to drug captaincies to a flu pandemic, not to mention its unhealthy dependence on exports to the US, it still is varied and large enough to start rebounding any time soon. President Calderon from the right wing PAN is touring Brazil of left wing PT's Lula. Well, I should rather write right of or left of center to describe them but let's hold unto the cliches of that past even though these two man are consummate pragmatists.

During that visit Calderon proposed what should have been proposed long ago, a free trade deal between Brazil and Mexico. Can you imagine what that would mean for Latin America if these two countries could manage such a feat? Their economies are really not complementary but Mexico is an entry to the US and Brazil is an expanding market with a rising technological value. Calderon is certainly aware of that as he is trying still to stir Mexico away of the last two decades of PRI doldrums and he even proposed a cooperation between Pemex and Petrobras.

Let me put it this way, if such a deal is worked out and if it succeeds more or less Latin America could finally once and for all take the path away from underdevelopment. Between them, all the other economies of the sub-continent would have to align their economic policies and the US would need, really need, its FTA to work out full speed with Colombia, Peru and Chile to counter somewhat the new economic colossus that could emerge. Because of course Mercosur would follow Brazil's lead and Mexico would be able to retake its natural area of influence, the Caribbean and Central America.

This is so big that one wonders how come it was not tried out earlier. I suspect that the US recession and a certain protectionist bent of the US since Obama's election must have played a role since Calderon was barely coming out of the North American summit.

I am not sure if Chavez realizes what happened today, what major geological shift suddenly started that could render Venezuela totally insignificant, but he certainly had his head elsewhere, probably up his, well, you know what...

First, the good man took his plane, a tax payer expense, to Cuba just to wish Fidel Castro a happy birthday. No word about the real presents carried to Havana, nor about how many people, all expenses paid, went along with Chavez. Maybe Chavez has accumulated enough frequent flier miles to fly for free to Cuba, including his court?

After this memory trip to a past that is reeking more and more of reactionary if anything because it has already been 50 years of standstill at Havana when the rest of the continent has moved on, Chavez came back to offer yet another old and probably dead idea: whip Obama. I suppose that he got that from Fidel who cannot live without an enemy in Washington. If Obama were a genuine friend of Cuba Fidel would still try to make him an enemy!

So today Chavez said that Obama was lost in space because he called him hypocrite for Chavez wanting him to intervene in Honduras. Note to president Obama: Dear Mr. President, Chavez is like a scorpion, it does not pay to be nice to him because he will always stab you in the back. Though the scorpion has an excuse because of the position of his tail, Chavez has none as he is merely a coward, unable to face the people he insults. In Spanish, on TV, with Chavez grimacing it is much stronger than the Reuters script I link above.

So to make sure what a reactionary throwback Chavez is at heart he went on again on the US having unseated Zelaya, putting the most formal accusation to date. Why so late Hugo? Your other arguments have failed so badly that now you have only leis left to your arsenal? Or is it that you simply cannot abandon the worn out line coming from Fidel? Is there no originality left in you now that your ship of state is having serious leaks? Why not you worry more about the PEMEX-Petrobras bond forming while you have been unable to do a PDVSA-Petrobras bond? I suppose it is because when Petrobras caught whiff of the corrupt set that manages PDVSA even the one at Pemex does not look that bad.

Anyway poor Obama gets hit from all sides, including a Wall Street Journal piece by Maria Anastasia O'Grady that includes the infamous picture of Chavez receiving Raul Castro with a military salute, quite a symbol of how passé, retrograde and reactionary the guerrilla left, the military and the the anti US cheapo rhetoric have become (1). The title, "anti American Amigos", says it all, how much at risk is the US policy in Latin America if some new thinking does not come fast at the White House (I am less concerned about State, I think the short is at the White House). You know guys, if you need help you could do worse than calling me, and I would not charge.

The future is more than ever with Lula and Calderon, not with Castro and Chavez and that accidental clown in the picture, the Kirchner fraud.

1) I cannot imagine ANY Venezuelan president in past history salute military the head of state of ANY country. Such image is enough, in my opinion to impeach Chavez. Not even because he is betraying Venezuela but for being so stupid, so lack of self worth. Bolivar must have rolled in his grave!

-The end-

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fudging statistics to make a government look good

Question for today: in which country takes place what I quote below from a major newspaper?:
Workers at the government's National Institute of Statistics [INE] call it crass manipulation: Their agency, under pressure from above, altered socioeconomic data to reflect numbers palatable to the presidency. Inflation and poverty miraculously dropped, they said in interviews, and the economy boomed.

At least officially.

"They just erased the real numbers," said [.....], an 18-year veteran at the institute. "Reality did not matter."

If you guessed Venezuela you missed, it is Argentina, words taken from a Washington Post article by Forero.

But do not feel sorry for yourself, this also applies to Venezuela, you can bet hard money on it. The only difference is that in Argentina you still have means to investigate the government whereas in Venezuela not only you have no access to the real data of the country but you run into trouble if you try to investigate the reality of our country.

See, in Venezuela, reality is only what Chavez says it is.

So, next time you rad fabulous results from the Chavez administration you can divide or multiple by 2, according the type of number, and you probably will be closer to the truth than what the government tells you. Take for example the declared inflation rate of 13% since the beginning of the year. I do not know about you but the one I have a "sensación" for is much closer to 20%, and if it is the services that I need to contract to finish stuff in my newly moved in home, we are probably talking 40%. Never mind car spare parts.... Or my hair person who doubled her fee last May, just like that.

-The end-

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fascism as an everyday thing

One of the terrifying things about fascism is its ability to become routine, in a way that even communism could not manage. After all fascism has that advantage of making people feel that as long as they do not open their mouth and as long as they do as told they can actually manage a comfortable life, even travel overseas freely, maybe under some conditions, but they could. I suppose that it was that notion among the hoi polloi, that escape was a train ride away, that allowed so many people to remain in their country, not rocking the boat, until one day they realized it was too late and that they were trapped like rats.

I am afraid that we are starting to see some of these things in Venezuela as a largely inert country is not protesting the abuses of the government while allowing it to trash those who disagree with it. This week we have been served copious portion of that.

The ruling chavismo has done in these past two days unspeakable things. They go from the trivial, in a way, to the dastardly.

I suppose it all started yesterday when Caracas was the victim of a major downpour which was able to drown cars in flash floods. Caracas is a valley connected to important side valleys and thus rife with microclimates: you can have a flash flood in Prados del Este while Catia might still have sunshine. Yesterday indeed Prados del Este got such a flash flood while the Western sectors got heavy rains but not as bad. What did gauleiter Faria and her mayor Rodriguez say? that thanks to their joint effort, the collaboration of the chavista communities, and what not including the beloved Supremo, downtown Caracas was safe while the opposition jerks in the Eastern part were swimming back home.

They are of course idiots because as rulers of Caracas they should keep in mind that in 1999 it was Western Caracas that suffered the most and that their turn could come back as early as tomorrow. But of course if that were to happen they would have ready made excuses that will include putting some of the blame on the opposition rulers of Eastern Caracas. Such exchange do not happen in democracies among elected officials of districts counting hundred of thousand of people because democracy creates a sense of shared responsibility. Rodriguez and Faria are well beyond democracy as none of their mistakes can ever be attributed to their in/competence. That is a hallmark of a fascist society: those who utter such nonsense can actually get away with it.

But to the expected trivialities of Faria succeeded today much graver things that truly put a society in front of its obligations: failure to react to what is going on right now will only bring a well deserved punishment to Venezuelan society.

A new general frame law for education is being discussed today at the Nazional Assembly. It was allegedly voted in its first draft a few years ago with nearly 200 articles. Today the government pretends to go directly to the second voted with a law that does not even have a third of the original articles. Thus it is illegal and should be discussed entirely from the start as if it were introduced for the first time.

Now, this legislative coup is bad enough, this type of parliamentary proceedings are in use in totalitarian countries where the "parliament" operates on a schedule mailed to them by the executive branch. But this was not all. Of course, when such an important law is about to be voted, a law that carries inside the death of private education, the final censorship of media in the name of education, the intervention of the government in the classrooms as it wishes through any mechanism it wishes, without any significant right of redress for the parents, the main parties in their children education, you must expect protests. There were two. One was a staged one in support with duly red shirted attendants carried in buses from everywhere, absent of their clerical offices and duties for the day as they were performing what they are really paid for: to attend pro Chavez rallies. The other rally, in protest, was led on foot by the presidents of all major universities of Venezuela and their students, taking away from their summer vacation to defend their education rights. That second one was savagely repressed, tear gas and fascist red shirts included for the beating.

While these events took place the Nazional Assembly president, Cilia Flores, had the chutzpah to declare that the Assembly supported the measures to reestablish order, and order that her red shirts and her police had broken. But that was not all. In a day that was supposed to devote itself entirely to the education law, the chair changed the agenda without notice to bring in the nation's ombudsman, Gabriela Ramirez, who instead of defending human rights abused outside came with the excuse of presenting her annual report to announce that her office was switching from a outdated vision of Human Rights as the protection of the individual to explain that chavismo was about the protection of the collective rights above the private ones, that all rights were equal. I wonder if this poor soul, this simpleton of an ombudsman put there to make sure that Chavez would not be strained in his actions, realizes how incredibly fascist her words were. Is it not the best way to annul essential rights to equate them with minor rights? Was not the Fuhrer the embodiment of the German Nation? Was it not his role to ensure the felicity of all by suppressing the individualities of the country?

In front of such abuse the tiny recently created opposition group at the assembly decided to withdrew from the "debate" because in their opinion even voting NO was already offensive for their dignity, was giving too much legitimacy to such a law, to such a presentation. Chavismo should be alone in such an abuse, should be left alone and vote that law 100% to carry the full burden of guilt in this latest ignominy.

And yet that was not all. A group of journalists from the Capriles group decided on their own to protest the new education law that they see as attempting to their right of free speech. Naively they thought that taking some time off from work to distribute some leaflets in front of their office would be peaceful and creative enough. Little did they know. Apparently from the chavista ghetto of Avila TV a few blocks away came a horde of red shirts who beat them up in full daylight, in full main avenue. The result was 12 injured. Note one thing of importance: these journalists work for Ultimas Noticias, the flagship of the Capriles group and a newspaper who mostly supports chavismo. The message is quite clear, if the opposition march was repressed with tear gas, dissension within chavismo would be repressed with blood. May I remind folks that among the first victims of Hitler we can count his devoted S.A.? There is no greater fury in fascism but the one for those who dare emit an original opinion from within.

And to end such a rich day of examples let' look at the words of Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the director of Ultimas Noticias who once an important journalists defender of human rights and social justice has sold his soul to Chavez. Forced to pronounce himself on the attack against the journalists that work under his guidance he could not come out quite clear that the aggressors were chavistas, backpedaling from earlier words, trying pathetically to find an excuse, and thus confirming the title of this post. May Eleazar Diaz Rangel become the text book example on how one can self vilify, sacrificing his colleagues when the heat reaches him.

-The end-

Thursday, August 13, 2009

El Triumvirato: Chavez, Cabello and Chacon

The other night in search of news for the day I caught the end of Alo Ciudadano. But I was left thinking about weirder things than the news.

The guest was an old faculty guy at the UCV, Antonio Pasquali that I admit I had not heard of before. It really does not matter, what matter is that he stated Venezuela today is ruled by a military triumvirate composed of Chavez, Diosdado Cabello and Jesse Chacon. And that explained what was happening in Venezuela today, rulers militarily barking all sorts of orders to try to solve what are the political problems of a regime that started its long and painful decline.

Not only I think the guy is unto something, but there is a lot of stuff he is not telling. For example one implication he could have gone into is that all triumvirates in history ended up in political conflict and even in civil wars until only one of the triumvirs remained alone in power. That power, by the way, was never a sure life long tenure because if Augustus did reign for life, Cesar was knifed and Napoleon met his Waterloo (though it is not clear how much of a triumvirate Napoleon really set in 1799 as he was top man from the start; but I digress).

Let's explore this hypothesis.

The triumvirs

Chavez. Brought forth by a lot of people he managed slowly but surely to remove any independent thinker from his entourage retaining only the sycophantic core along the prospective killers to be used as needed. He brings charisma, political skills, the right connections in Cuba, showmanship endurance. He lacks managerial skills, and he is a wimp, unable to commit the necessary crimes himself but very willing to send others to kill as needed. This was seen as early as 1992 and verified regularly since.

Entourage. The famiglia, a set of relatives and friends who have become immensely rich since Chavez is in office. Note, they became rich by" trickle down" economics, only a couple of them seem to have some business skill of any significance that could remotely explain their good fortunes.

Jesse Chacon. The murderer of November 1992. Had no qualms shooting to death defenseless civilians that were only too willing to surrender. Has been in and out of office since 1999, but never far from Chavez. He is strangely quiet these days as the minister of science and technology. Admittedly he is probably one of the few chavista in today's entourage that is able to understand some of the technological stuff that is required to set a tight control over the country. He is feared and certainly not loved as his electoral defeat last November clearly show. Has no charisma, moderate managerial skills at best, not a good politician but he is decisive and knows exactly what he wants. Terribly marked by acne or something and has a slip/slur in his speech, probably explain in part his psychological profile.

Entourage. A brother, Arne, who has been bold and has become one of the wealthiest man of Venezuela by buying banks out of a retired military paycheck. You draw your own conclusions. Rumors of violence also float around that brother. Curiously Chacon does not seem to have any significant following within chavismo, kind of a lone operator whose main skill is to be essential to Chavez when nasty deeds need to be done.

Diosdado Cabello. Also one of the 1992 coup. Has been in charge of a lots of things including vice president in 2002 at the time of the coup for which he did not demonstrate any good skill and was even rumored to have been ready to negotiate. He has been always around the ministries that manage the most contracts, currently holding the public works one, a choice plum. However his 2002 lackluster performance seem to have distanced him form Chavez for a while as he sent him away as governor of Miranda in 2004, through a very controversial vote. As a matter of fact he was a lousy governor, presiding a very corrupt administration and spending most of his time in Caracas governmental and "business" circles, watching his back. As such he was squarely, and somewhat surprisingly, defeated in 2008 for the reelection. But in a regime that values you only on loyalty to the Supremo he came back to the government at a times when Chavez needs a political operator.

Indeed Cabello excels at political maneuvering, constituting for himself a certain following that included even Lina Ron, and many of the nouveau riche of the regime. He is rumored to have become probably the richest man in Venezuela, through a variety of of "testaferros", fronts controlled by his brother who does not seem to have the skills of Chacon's brother. This did not stop the Cabellos to be accused of some form of violence too to get rich.

The common objective

To remain in power forever, or at least until no one will dare sue them for the rapid rise to riches. If chavismo where to leave office tomorrow, the day after investigations would start falling on them and their associates and a few would end up in jail. That must be avoided at all costs. Thus they watch each others back. Still, there are nuances in their styles and someday that triumvirate could break up even though until now it has been rather successful.

The means

In this party Chavez is paradoxically the weak link: for all his charisma he simply cannot do it all and needs Chacon and Diosdado to do the deeds. They seem irreplaceable in the current situation, but so seemed Miquilena, Rangel and others. His debt to them is increasing and at some point as he has done with everyone who he owed to, Chavez will be too tempted, even in dire need to get rid of his triumvirate. What might make this more urgent is that this trio could be somewhat hidden in the early years of the regime, but now that so many people have been displaced they have no one to hide behind. Yet political needs will force Chavez hand sooner than later.

We already see that with Diosdado Cabello dispatched to execute what will probably turn out to be the most unpopular decision of the regime: end the radio plurality of the country. Venezuelans love their radio, in particular outside of Caracas, and love to listen to more than one station. They also get a lot of their information form the radio and will be sensitized when that information becomes the lone line of the regime. Even among chavistas that crack down will be resented.

Diosdado has accepted the mission even though he cannot ignore that he will pay for the broken glass and go down in history as the public official that did the most to curtail freedom of expression and information. Probably he does not care since he is himself an uncouth military who cannot be bothered with dissent of any type. But Chavez also knows all of this and could at a given time make Diosdado pay for the complete political price. And then what?

Diosdado is someone who has been rumored for the longest of time to have personal ambitions, the presidency of Venezuela not scaring him. Chavez knows that and that is why he put Diosdado in charge of the referendum campaign of last February, forcing Diosdado to campaign for Chavez eternal reelection. Now he is tarnishing forever his image with a majority of the country. Will Disodado react? Or will he decided his national ambition is screwed and thus limit himself to milk his government jobs until the last drops? The paradox here is that due to his business connections for all of his nastiness and even studied brutishness Diosdado is the one from chavismo who could cross the aisle and talk to the opposition to organize a post Chavez era. He is the one with the chutzpah to say "hey, leave me my millions and I get rid of Chavez for you".

And finally Jesse Chacon. He knows his limitations, that he will never be elected president of Venezuela and that the only way he can reach that office is through Chavez elimination while he is the vice president, thus succeeding him. His following might be small but it is crucial (he has his entries in secret services and radical groups of chavismo). What is his game here? Is he sick of Chavez bossing him around and might be tempted to help Diosdado goals which would indebt Diosdado to Chacon forever? Or is he discreetly working with Chavez to get rid of Diosdado? Will he favor Chavez and encourage his foreign adventures so as to become himself the true ruler at home? Of the three Chacon is definitively the most mysterious of the lot, but probably the one with the most real power of the three as his skill is to hide that power, to keep it in the shades like a spider weaving his net.

What will happen?

Difficult to say. This triumvirate developed almost by default. True, Diosdado and Jesse were from the start close to Hugo but they were in the second generation to rise to the essential levels (from 2000 on). They never left them even as a third and final political generation came to the front after 2004, the truly radical group who completed its take over when Rangel, last survivor of the 1999 generation left in December 2006.

For all practical purpose that triumvirate has been ruling the country since 2007 and became public, so to speak, when a defeated Cabello and Chacon just came back to the ministries as a reward for their political defeats. As such we can maybe accept a certain malice of Chavez, keeping them close to him as a way to remind them that they are nothing without his blessing.

But it could be a dangerous malice for Chavez because these two guys know that Chavez cannot control the country without them and if he were to get rid of them their replacements would be called Jorge Rodriguez, Jacqueline Faria or post 1992 military guys not as easily trusted.

And thus at a time of tremendous complexity, perhaps the most difficult that Chavez is going to confront as he effects the final transition to a no return regime, he can count only on two other military without flexibility but with that most precious quality for Chavez today, a steady hand around the knife, and a willingness to use that knife. Even against Chavez if necessary, with the support of the military that both Diosdado and Chacon seem to court assiduously.

No matter what, history tells us that triumvirates never last long and always end up with a single one in charge and often the other two dead. Neither me nor my devoted readers who reached this far can do anything about it, thus we might as well sit down, relax as much as possible and observe how this no love lost triangle will play itself out. Surprises are the only sure thing.

-The end-