Monday, November 30, 2009

How low can chavismo fall?

Today CADIVI announced the new rules for 2010. CADIVI for those late in the game is the bureaucracy that decides how much of my hard earned money I am allowed to spend when I travel overseas. For memory, through 2009 I was allowed to use 2,500 USD in my credit card and 500 USD in a single one time cash advance. That I travel 10 times or only once, that was my total travel money to split as I feel fit.

Well, now things will vary according to how long you travel and, supposedly, how far. But the sycophantic bureaucrats at CADIVI could not resist the opportunity to suck it up to their master, Hugo the Great, Liberator of all the Americas, Victor at the glorious fields of Tegucigalpa. So if you travel to Colombia you will get LESS money to travel than to ANY OTHER COUNTRY. Below the new delirious way to assign travel money (by the way, chavista bureaucrats and their associates do not suffer from these restrictions, since they can buy enough USD to bring along, say, 800,000 USD in their carry on if they wish).

I am comparing what you can get to travel to Colombia, our next door neighbor to the left with what you can get for Guyana, our next door neighbor to the right.

Three days or less


Three to eight days


Eight days or more


This one is for the annals of pettiness.

PS: Panama also is screwed but not as bad as Colombia........

-The end-

Honduras and the US win; Chavez and Lula lose

[Updated] The result is in and there is no doubt, even if some loony characters amusingly try to write fictitious results.

Honduras had its highest voter turnout in several elections, preliminary data putting abstention at below 40%, perhaps even 35%. That Lobo won with more than 50% of the vote is only accessory: the real result is that in spite of huge international pressure, calls from boycott from the Zelaya camp, the Honduran people bravely decided to turn a page on that chapter of their history, sending home packing all the guys that wanted to cause them trouble and grief. It is moments like today that renew our faith in democracy.

Interestingly the day started slowly, perhaps voters waiting to see if the Zelaya people were going to cause trouble. But as the day went on it seems that a strange mechanic took place, people went to vote late and forced an extension of one hour at the voting stations. Hence the delay in final participation result and the hurried communique early in the day by pro Zelaya and pro Chavez joints that the abstention was going to be at 65%. That was not what CNN showed, but Zelaya and Chavez seem to have been day dreaming for too long.

The clarity of the results thus allow us to procede in naming winners and losers.


The question mark comes fromt he simple fact that the whole business had been so ill managed that there cannot be real winners here. The only one is the interim government who managed to reach the election without allowing for the return of Zelaya.

We might just settle in saying that the winners are those who manged to gain today a respite, an amount of time that will have to suffice to fix the whole mess. As such we can mark here the US and the traditional parties of Honduras. The former because eventually it figured out what was really going on, it figured out that the rest of the continent was out to get the US through Honduras, and thus the US refused to keep playing along. After having displayed the very best intentions during the early Obama's term when he visited the Trinidad summit, the US went along in the early stages of the Honduras crisis when the US joined the rest of Latin America, expecting unwisely that the OAS woudl come up with a real solution. This did not happen and today is the result of the OAS lack of compass.

The other winners were the traditional political parties of Honduras who trusted the people to see that they would by themselves understand the fraud that Zelaya was. Thus they never fully supported the Micheletti system, concentrating on the November election and letting the folks elected 4 years ago deal with the mess they had created. Make no mistake, one of the main reasons why people went to vote in large mount today is that they understood that the candidates owed nothing to Micheletti and that his administration would exit in full in January. Lobo and Santos managed to detach themselves from most that happened in the last few months and thus gained the trust of the people who voted for them.


This is very clear: Chavez and Lula are the great losers of the day as all their manipulations failed. They can wipe a lot of egg from their face even though stupidly a very upset Lula is saying in Portugal that the election cannot be recognized, even though his assistants surely must have informed him of the unusually high turnout. Lula keeps accumulating foreign policy mistakes, a very preoccupying matter for a country which aspires to permanent seat at the security council. As such if in the short term Chavez is the main loser, on the long term Lula and Brazil might be the main losers. Why, you may ask?

The aftermath of today is very simple: the Americas are going to be cut int two because of Honduras. It may not happen if Brazil and Lula finally understand and react, but it will happen if in fact Brazil decides to split the Americas with the US.

In the next few weeks, by late January at the latest, Lobo will have been recognized by at least the US, Peru, Canada, Panama, and Costa Rica. If the following countries have not joined the recognition by then, this one could not wait long: Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad, Barbados and Chile if Piñera wins the presidential election. And because El Salvador and Guatemala share such a long border with Honduras it is difficult to imagine them holding off recognition of Lobo for much longer than January. Brazil and the ALBA will be on the other side, with Argentina as long as the Kichners hold power which is today less and less likely. Brazil and the ALBA on one side, representing an idiotic and retrograde left and the democratic market based economies on the other side. How do you think this will play into Brazil next elections? Will Wilma Roussef be willing to carry that Lula albatross if he does not come back into reason and stop receiving creeps like Ahmadinejerk or support clowns like Zelaya?

On the short term of course Chavez is the main loser. His ALBA is exposed as considerably more ineffectual than expected. Now in Nicaragua the opposition will be straightened with the Honduras example and the child molester of Ortega will have a much harder time to be reelected in a free and fair election. Nicaragua could well be the next domino. Unless it is Ecuador. After all, if Peru and Colombia recognize Lobo and unite in front of Chavez aggression, the dollarized economy of Ecuador will not be able to resist long the need to break ties with an ALBA that has no economic future whatsoever.

There are some smaller losers. The OAS has proven its uselessness. The recognition of Lobo by some will drive inside it a stake that could kill it, the more so if Insulza were to be reelected its general secretary. For an account of Insulza and the OAS mistakes read today O'Grady piece.

So let's close this post with a big congratulation to the Honduran people who have managed to stop the colonial ambitions of Chavez. Bravo!

I have considered only countries in the Americas. But apparently plenty of other countries, potential donors to recover the Honduras economy, are willing to recognize today's vote.


The flack is having its effect. If this morning I saw on Spanish TV a confused Moratinos stating that they would not recognize the election but that they could not ignore it, El Pais from Spain might indicate otherwise. That is, Moratinos boss at the Iberoamerican summit of Estoril is moving already to find a way out the ditch in which Spain placed itself as to Honduras. Amazingly at such a summit they allowed Patricia Rodas to speak as if she were still the only legitimate representative of Honduras even though the results were already known. From El Pais article we can gather that Zapatero is starting to realize that a few mistakes were made by Spain. Then again his guiding light was the ineffable Moratinos, the one that a few moths back said that he saw no problem with the freedom of expression in Venezuela. When is Zapatero going to fire Moratinos?

Meanwhile the mood at Estoril is not helping Zapatero as Uribe who is attending (Chavez is not) has announced that Colombia will recognize the Lobo government. Since Colombia is recognizing Lobo faster than what I predicted myself, then we can speculate with amusement about what is going on in the hallways of Estoril......

In its latest coverage El Pais notes dryly "If the elections held yesterday in Honduras are a fraud, as Zelaya maintains, then the fraud was committed almost normally." Which is an elegant way for El Pais, center left newspaper of record for Spain, to recognize that Zelaya is screwed and that it is time to move on. The same article also points out to the intense anti Chavez feeling that El Pais people found in the voting lines of Tegucigalpa. Meanwhile in Venezuela the government has decided it knows best and persist in its line of calling fraud. We see this without restraint in the bitter text found in the page of the Communication ministry itself. Not that it matter much, Lobo will certainly welcome any action that postpones having to renew relations with any of the ALBA countries.

With the partial count electoral participation is hovering at 61%, which would be nearly 10 points above the last election. This makes it even clearer when you think that Honduras has a huge expatriate population that is registered to vote but could not do it except in a very few US places. If we factor this in, the electoral participation WITHIN Honduras might reach 70%, a stunning set back for Zelaya and his Chavez inspired strategy. No wonder Zapatero is moving to leave behind Lula and Chavez.

-The end-

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recognizing Honduras elections

The time has come to chose sides, once and for all. If, and I cannot stress enough that IF, today's election in Honduras are reasonably clean with a reasonably clean cut result there is no reason whatsoever not to recognize the new president elect and the government he will preside starting late January.

Why take that position? Many reasons conduce sensible people, including this blog, to decide that no matter what errors were committed from the ouster of Zelaya, it is time to turn the page and that any further hand wringing is only going to hurt the people of Honduras. President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica is perfectly right, and he has all the necessary credentials. Not to mention that already Panama, Peru and the United States have indicated that some conclusion must be reached about Honduras and that a vote is certainly the necessary first step. We can guess that Canada and Colombia will soon support such a stand and very likely after a few more prudent weeks Mexico and a new Chile government will end this phase of the Honduras charade, accompanied probably by Trinidad and Barbados.

The main reasons are:

- The elections were planned BEFORE the ouster of Zelaya, and planned enough already that the two major parties had held their primaries and chosen their candidates. Today, any serious poll, any street evidence from Honduras indicate that the people still want to decided among the two main candidates selected before the said ouster. What "moral" grounds can one oppose here? Demand that these people renounce their legitimate political ambitions? And for whom?

- Zelaya actions have proven that he is quite unfit to be a president as his own agenda trumps any other agenda that includes the welfare of the Honduran people. Instead of behaving like a responsible deposed president and promote a movement to run in the election and prove his righteousness, he has done anything within his grasp to sabotage the electoral process. Even his followers seem to be preparing the post Zelaya world, such as his "foreign minister", Patricia Rodas words in a Caracas recent rendezvous of the loony left Internationale who looks a lot she is trying to become the future "resistance" leader.

- Some actors have proven their unworthiness in this whole affair, using the Honduras crisis to promote their own hemispheric political interests. The biggest one is of course Chavez of whom there is no need to comment further except to note that unbelievably the Spanish government is offended by the political campaigns there using Chavez as a scarecrow. No, the one in mind here is most of all Brazil who keeps destroying fast its credibility, almost near zero now that Lula has received in great pump the Irani murderer. By supporting the Honduras elections, one takes a stand for democracy against those who abuse it in the name of democracy, namely the ALBA, Brazil and their client states who preach democracy from the mouth out.

I ask you the following question: do you prefer to adopt a political system like the Venezuelan one where water, electricity, and soon food will be scarce or a more open and democratic system where at least the government makes genuine efforts to provide these goods instead of spending its time trying to find an external guilty party to hide their very own guilt, as Chavez does everyday to hide his incompetence and corruption, moral and financial corruption for that matter?

No more hypocrisy anymore, there is no time for self righteous doubt. It is not a matter of supporting the Honduras vote and forget about the whole thing. The new government will have quite a daunting task at cleaning up the current mess, including sanction to all those that deserve it, and not only Zelaya or the Zelaya camp. But surely you must agree that a newly elected government has a better chance to resolve these issues than the current worn out actors.

To conclude this, if today's vote is reasonably clean, the real result is not who will win but how many people will have voted. The trend in recent elections there was for abstention to grow, but if today more than 60% of the people vote then the Zelaya cause is toast. And even if OAS observers are not present, or the even more discredited Carter Center is absent, there will be enough observers of serious background to let us know what is going on there. Heck, we will see that at the CNN images tomorrow, with or without observers.

-The end-

Friday, November 27, 2009

Anti Iran rulers protests, medals stolen and veils in Bolivia

Fortunately to save our honor in extremis, the students (who else?) did protest the visit of Ahmadinejerk to Chavez. A group them gathered in front of a Caracas hotel, where we presume was the Iran delegation, to protest. Promptly the Venezuelan repressive apparatus tried to dislodge them.

That is all.

Meanwhile there is an accusation that the the Iranian government lowered itself to confiscate the medal of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi while in Bolivia an Iranian sponsored hospital requests that women wear the veil. We can at least admit that in Venezuela no chavista has been foolish enough to request Venezuelan women to wear the veil in the Irani joints joint venture.

-The end-

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Besides wishing US readers a Happy Thanksgiving, I wanted to let you know that this year I am in Caracas and will also be celebrating it, though at a restaurant which respects as much as possible US tradition. But you still may fully pity me because it is a working day in Venezuela. And, by the way, we do not celebrate tomorrow's National Shopping Day (though with the current recession few are those that can really celebrate it...)

-The end-

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iran, Venezuela's opposition shame. Irán, vergüenza de la oposición venezolana

Siempre oímos esta conseja de que le mundo ignora lo que pasa en Venezuela, de que no se dan cuenta de que la democracia se muere, o murió ya. Vemos sendos políticos de oposición viajar por doquier para "explicar" lo que pasa acá, y volver, triunfantes, contándonos de que Fulanito o Sultanita los recibió, los escucho, les dio el pésame. En Aló Ciudadano cuantas veces tenemos que calarnos las llamadas de gente que se queja de que se hace poco para sacar a Chávez, de que hasta cuando vamos a tener que calarnos esto, de que el mundo nos tiene abandonados, que nos roban las elecciones y por que seguir votando, y otro sin fin de necedades en esa tónica. Pero miremos a la visita hoy de Ahmadinejad en Caracas y preguntémonos: donde esta la marcha de la oposición para denunciar esta visita, para reclamar a la bestia iraní las elecciones que se robo en Irán hace pocos meses; a reclamar por los que fueron arrestados, torturados y hasta muertos por defender su voto. ¿En que calle, frente a que embajada protestaron hoy esos que se teñían de verde iraní en aquel entonces? ¿Algún grupúsculo aunque sea? ¿Aunque sea la mitad del que protesto en Rio hace un par de días? ¿Y después de esto ustedes esperan que gente como los valientes iranies los vayan a apoyar cuando el CNE les robe las elecciones otra vez? Por lo menos agradezcamos a la comunidad judía de Venezuela de haber tenido el valor de protestar esta visita. Tal vez sea de ella que tendremos que sacar un líder que piense en el futuro de Venezuela antes de una pobre cuotica de poder a sacar en la lotería del 2010. -------------- Only too often we hear that the world ignores what goes on in Venezuela, that they do not realize that our democracy is agonizing, or dead. We see self satisfied opposition pols travel everywhere to "explain" what goes on here, and come back, triumphant, telling us that So and So received them, listened to them , gave them their regrets. In popular Alo Ciudadano TV show how often did we have to put up with audience callers complaining that little is done to get rid of Chavez, asking until when we need to put up wit this crap, that the world has abandoned us, that our elections are stolen and why bother voting again, and such other idiocies in that vein. But let's look at today Caracas visit of Ahmadinejad and let's ask ourselves the following question: where is the opposition march to denounce that visit, to demand the Iranian beast for those who have been jailed, tortured and even killed for defending their vote. In which street, in front of which embassy did protest today those who dyed themselves in green a few months ago? Not even a tiny group? Not even half the one that was protesting in Rio a couple fo days ago? And after this do you expect that people like the courageous Iranian will go to support you when the CNE once again steals the elections? Let's be at least grateful for the Jewish community of Venezuela who had the nerve to protest that visit. Maybe we should look into it to find the a leader that thinks about the future of Venezuela instead of the tiny parcel of power that he could get at the 2010 lottery. -The end-

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why is Chavez so afraid of the US-Colombia "bases"

Fabulous Weil at Tal Cual describes to us perfectly what is really going on in Chavez sub-conscious.

"The installation of those bases worry me"

You bet!
-The end-

The real Venezuelan income

Tal Cual today carries a rather crude diagram on what is the real income of Venezuelans, depending whether you calculate it at the official exchange rate of 2.15 per 1 USD, or the street rate varying widely from 4 to 6 per 1 USD. We are either the "richest" country of the subcontinent, or the poorest. Take you pick but look outside your Venezuelan window before you do so.
2008 per capita income, in US Dollars.

-The end-

Sunday, November 22, 2009

V Socialist International and other assorted insults to intelligence

The Bolivarian check book might be a little flat these days but it still has enough money to host last week a conference of "leftist parties" in Caracas who unabashedly look upon Chavez as a messiah of sorts. Heck, who else can finance a tropical vacation for these hanger on? Unfortunately a weakening Chavez could not resits the adulatory assembly and in a trance he announced that he was calling for a V-th Socialist International while he did not miss the opportunity to renew his antisemitism credentials by praising Carlos, the noted Jackal terrorist.

Let's start with the V-th Socialist International. For those who need to dust off their history books there has been so far 4 Socialist International, large assemblies where a group of people decide to establish the dogma of socialism as an ideology and a way to make politics. You know, a little bit like the many councils of the Catholic church through the ages. And just as the Catholic church councils the Socialist International had its divisions and parallel assemblies such as the defectors of the 2nd Internationale one who created the "3rd" Socialist International, controlled through Moscow all through its history until the wall fell. (1)

Eventually common sense and democratic values prevailed and the 4th Socialist International was established a few years after WW2, once the division between democracy and totalitarianism was firmly established in the mind of its attendees. This Internationale has been the most successful of the lot, having in its roster an impressive list of members having exerted power in most major Western countries for a significant amount of years. When Democracy came to Venezuela AD became a member. When AD ideology became more confuse the MAS joined and today PODEMOS is an observer. But, and that is the interesting point, neither the MVR nor the PSUV will be admitted to that 4th Internationale which is something that hurts deeply our most beloved Supremo leader. See, if there is anything that democratic socialists have learned through their perturbed history is to mistrust anything with a whiff of militarism.

Thus Chavez decides to create his very own Internationale, with a whole bunch of minority hackers that he will control through his check book, EXACTLY as Stalin controlled the member of the 3rd Internationale. You can be assured of one thing, democracy will be a best a minor concern of the 5th Internationale which is assured from the start to be a ridiculous endeavor, but one which will cause some damage here and there. Interestingly this Internationale is called for next April for a speedy formation, just as the 3rd one benefited from a speedy formation. The 4th Internationale came to be after many congresses, symposiums and all sorts fo meetings, because, see, it was democratic. (2)

But all of this is funny if costly for us Venezuelans we must endure the mad man in charge, calling for a new International he will pay for when he cannot even ensure us a reliable water and electricity supply. In his trance Chavez went much further, he praised Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as the infamous Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal who is serving life sentence in a French jail. Simon Romero of the New York Times was not amused and offered a recap of the high feats of Carlos. Simon Romero notes all the anti Zionist and antisemitic undertones in such a defense of Carlos, and at such gathering of leftist parties where too many of them look more fascist than genuine socialists.

And that was not all, Chavez praised Mugabe and Ahmadinejerk once again and managed to have kind words for Idi Amine. Gasp....... The BBC journalist must also have gasped reporting it. The AP reports that in Uganda they were not amused. And speaking of the Associated Press, looking across the news we find that dispatch signed by Ian James who definitely must have been feeling high on the sycophancy vapors of the Caracas meeting he was covering last week. He titles it: "Chavez praises alleged terrorist Carlos the Jackal". Alleged... Ian James is an ignorant idiot, redundancy intended, and he owes us an apology (hat tip Caracas Chronicles).

I do not know about you, but that "leftist party" meeting of last week reminded me of the Titanic band... Not that the bolibanana revolution is about to go under anytime soon, but such displays of arrogance and ignorance must mean that the end cannot be that far. And it also would explain why Chavez seems to need to provoke even more than his usual habit, as duly noted by Rory Carroll at the Guardian. In his speech he indicated he was well aware he would be causing waves.

1) there are many conventions to name these International Socialist meetings and their results. some hate the numeration since it sorts of admit that there are more than one socialism, anathema for them! Other only will accept names that include words such as "workers". Here, it is Socialist International, or Internationale, the French way (which is also the name of its famous anthem, second only to the Marseillaise as a revolutionary chant in the past).

2) one wonders what will be the relationship of this new Internationale with organizations such as the "Foro de Sao Paulo". A sign of future tensions with Lula? Or is Lula only to happy to franchise his Foro to Chavez?

3) New york times now carries links just like blogs and the Romero piece links to this 2006 compendium of Chavez attacks against Israel and Jews.

-The end-

Saturday, November 21, 2009

From Danilo Anderson to Fernandez Barrueco

Like almost anyone else who has an idea about the graft corruption of Venezuela, I was a little stunned when I learned that the 4 banks of Fernandez Barrueco were "intervened" and that the guy found himself in a DISIP cell yesterday.

Stunned by the speedy story from rags to riches to jail, but not by the story itself since it is a classic tale of corrupt regimes who start to devour themselves as the money runs out. Then, those who "did well" are resented as not sharing enough with their little friends. Perhaps the most historically famous case was the one of the Templars, long time friends and financiers of the French monarchy and its obscure dealings, to be send to the burning stake when Philippe IV run out of cash and needed the fortune of the Templars to pay his debts. OK, maybe not a good example as the Templars were something else than the mediocre state sponsored robbers flourishing under any autocratic corrupt regime, recently here at home. The fact of the matter is that people like Chavez, Peron or Castro (or Gomez to name an earlier one) never had any problem sacrificing any former ally they had when money or power was at risk.

Considering there are now three blogs doing all sorts of economic reports I have stopped following as closely these financial dealings nfocusing on other stuff such as election thingies. For the details on the Barrueco story you can go for example to Miguel or to the very well informed Caracas Gringo.

My modest contribution here is to remind readers that this month we are also commemorating the fifth anniversary of Danilo Anderson assassination and we are equally far from knowing who ordered such an assassination. In fact, we can even doubt that those condemned for the actual murder were those who made said murder. We have gone as far as establishing the necessity to investigate Isaias Rodriguez for ordering the falsification of documents during the investigation, and of producing false witnesses. Yet, the victims of Isaias and his false witness are still under investigation when not in exile while Isaias Rodriguez is enjoying himself as Venezuela's ambassador in Spain. The General Prosecutor, after hinting at an investigation as simply kept her mouth shut since.

So, what is the connection you may ask? The current main hypothesis on the reasons to murder Danilo Anderson is that he was participating in an extortion ring. As a prosecutor he had access to lots of documents who allowed him to investigate banking activities of people supposedly involved in the 2002 events against Chavez. Such an extortion ring has been denounced but never investigated as it should because, well, it was also probably used to start the creation of new fortunes. Some of the investigated parties were probably forced to get rid at discount prices of part of their assets at a time where Chavez needed reliable providers to avoid again the stress of the 2002-2003 strike.

2003 was a good year to start such immediate fortunes. Oil prices were rising and Chavez was spending without control to prepare himself against the Recall Election. Anyone wanting to help Chavez was welcomed with no questions asked, while Chavez entourage understanding now that eternity was not their sure lot started using front men, cashing all sorts of "favor" money to secure a golden retirement. Classic tale of regime's corruption except that it was all compressed in barely a year in the Venezuelan case. The survival of Chavez in the Recall Election simply must have convinced him to keep the system in an elemental "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" reflex as the guys getting rich around him distracted his attention with international dreams of grandeur.

Danilo Anderson was the first case, and last for a while because its purpose was to scare away anyone who was willing to either prosecute these thieves, or be tempted to have second thoughts about their practices (1). High oil prices did the rest to butter up the system as no matter how much was robbed, enough was trickling down to pacify and convince the masses to stick with Chavez.

But make no mistake, those who ordered the assassination of Danilo Anderson were placed high in power, the only reason why the case as never solved. I am not going to speculate who gave the order to kill Anderson and forced Isaias to lie. Maybe there was more than one interest. I am not going to speculate either as to whether those who killed Anderson are behind Fernandez Barrueco sudden downfall. It is really not the point.

My point is that the mechanisms of corruption and power work all the same and are at the origin of Anderson like folks assassination as well as the making and unmaking of cover guys like Fernandez Barrueco.

It simply yet another evidence that what came to power in Venezuela on February 2, 1999 was not a socialist revolution but a mafia gang that used populist, socialist words and demagoguery as an excuse to loot the country. Venezuela is just a country controlled by a new type of Mafia, perhaps at this point already controlled by narco traffic interests. Which makes you wonder about people like Lula or Zapatero who cannot not know what is going on in Venezuela. Uribe and the US do, not that it is of much solace.

ADDED in proof: as I was typing this post Caracas Gringo was also typing a new entry. Do not miss it! Names and all!!!!

1) there are plenty of entries in this blog with Anderson Case as a label if you need to refresh your memory.


Sort of off topic, but as I was catching up my reading at Caracas Gringo I found his recent entries with yet more information over the 2002 events. In a way he did not taught me anything since I always suspected that there were coup-within-coup-within-plots maneuvers, but he actually bring in names that I had not heard of yet. Whoever Gringo is, he is too well connected for his own good and should be careful. by the way, ZETA this week uses extensively one of his articles to discuss the electricity problem at Guri.

-The end-

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two revolutionary moments: the new socialist man

On from me and one courtesy of Teodoro

I went to get my San Felipe Central Madeirense, the grocery store located in middle class San Felipe, where you need a car or a cab to go since there is not even a convenient bus top close by. In spite of San Felipe growth the CM is still the only major grocery store and as such, at rush hour, it has become a nightmare pushing me to do my San Felipe groceries in Caracas whenever I can, or drop by mid morning taking time off from work.

What was my surprise to find out that all tooth paste boxes were empty. Thinking, naively, that it was a bad marketing promotion I asked what was the deal. I was told that I should take my empty box to the cashier and when I pay they will radio someone to bring me my tooth paste. It is not Ipods or mini webcams that are stolen anymore, there is such a thievery of toothpaste that even a CM has to take protective measures, even if located in an area where people supposedly make enough money to buy toothpaste. They come, they break the sealed box as in the image, and hide somewhere on themselves the toothpaste. Another educational triumph of the Robolution!!!!

The other one is the Simon Boccanegra of Tal Cual, written by Teodoro Petkoff

The other self of the revolutionaries

Last Sunday, voting day for the PSUV, something happened that inasmuch as we are told seems hard to believe. But it happened. The 11 AM flight of RUTACA from Cumana to Caracas was taken by assault by 30 red shirts, leaving on the ground 30 passengers, with their tickets in hand, passengers who furious and helpless were not able to stop such abuse by those who "explained" their action because of their obligation to come to Caracas to vote. The assault took place in full daylight, with absolute perfidy. Among the attackers was the minister for universities, Luis Acuña, who is known by this chronicler and who was always considered as a decent character. Although the minister did not lead the assault and seemed to try to pass incognito, he was recognized by the passengers who, justifiably upset, complained about his actions. Professor Acuña mumbled some excuses but went ahead anyway. What is the matter with these people that even someone like Acuña, of whom we would not have expected such an arrogant conduct, seems to have been contaminated by his brethren? If there was still need for a proof that this is no revolution and that all the socialist discourse is just a trap for fools , it is hard to come with a better example than the one in Cumana. Because it is the daily abuse, the one that does not make you wet but leaves you soaking. The one who pushes forward the other self of these "revolutionaries". It is the same miasma over again, that ilk of those who with barely a hint of authority transform themselves in true monsters, the very same people who steal from the blind and then break the collection plate on the unfortunate's head.

-The end-

Good news from the Venezuelan opposition

Today we got some good news from the opposition electoral negotiation table. A few resolutions have been made and they are pointing in the right direction, quite like I was writing a few days ago. Not that I own any particular wizardry but surely my keen sense of the obvious should also be shared by some of the guys in that negotiating room.

Since it will be a while before anything in English on that appears, here are the highlights as I see them (with my scoring 1 to 10, passing > 5 grade):

- An electoral program will be nailed down and presented to the country in late March. It is late for my taste, and I do not know whether it will be a legislative program or a sum of unnecessary promises. For now, 5.

- Candidates will be chosen through consensus and primaries. No polls will be used which is fine with me, saves money. Consensus will be tried first and in the districts where it fails, then primaries will be held. 9; I would give a ten if they had guaranteed at least 50 primaries.

- In January nomination of the candidates that gather a consensus around them. 10

- By February decision of which primaries must be held. 9

- Primaries held from February to April 30. 8. April 30 is late but if already a sizable number of candidates are chosen by March 31 it is not too bad. What I am afraid of is that inner squabbling might drag the primaries through May.

- Among the unity candidates there will be a few personalities not associated with political parties. 9. Not 10 because there is the risk of choosing people just for effect that will be lousy campaigners.

- In January a plan on how to defend the vote, to make any vote count will be presented. 10, because not only we need such a plan to man every voting station, but we will need at least 6 months to recruit and train the volunteers, in particular in chavista strongholds where they exist but where they will be threatened. Remember that a seat can be lost by a hundred votes and that can be achieved easily by cheating in a single voting center left without supervision!

Overall a nice passing grade, a pleasant surprise. And an understanding that all must need to be tied up by Easter Week, just as I was writing, even if they offer April 30.

Pre War grumblings? Brazil's dirty game?

Today we got a border incident with Colombia. This is worrisome because it seems that Colombia is starting to call in Chavez' s bluff (and Brazil's UNASUR own bluff). I still do not think that Colombia wants war, but it seems that they are getting tired of Chavez antics and of the hypocrisy of Brazil. If there is going to be war, "so be it"?

All along the attitude of Brazil has been dismal and Colombia yesterday had to call it on. We should not be surprised by Brazil's imperialistic attitude: anything that helps Colombia become a stronger country is a No-No for Brazil. Chavez and Argentina they do not fear: these two countries are self imploding and Brazil pretty much has the former by the balls. Peru is too far physically to be of any threat and is far from being a stable country yet. Chile is simply off the Brazilian radar and the small countries around are doomed one day or the other to become economic satellites. Only Colombia could become a danger for Brazil political ambitions, big enough, populated enough, with neighbors that would easily rally around Colombia if Brazil were to become too greedy.

We must accept something: Brazil's foreign policy seems to have lost its former steady professional demeanor. With the way it favors Chavez over Colombia and its naked intervention in Honduras it seems the US might have more to fear from the hypocrite ally that Brazil pretends to be than from the open antagonist that Chavez is.

PS: [added next day] If you want to learn more about Lula's hypocrisy you could do worse than reading Olavo de Carvalho interview by Alek Boyd

-The end-

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We are in recession

All that huffing and puffing, all that barking at the wrong tree, all that braggadocio that we were immune, that as a socialist economy we did not care anymore about Wallstreet... and we got into recession anyway, after the other guys, but just as some of the other guys seem to start pulling out of it or at least stopping the free-fall. The Wall Street Journal has a short and sweet and complete summary. Even if you know nothing about economy, loath papers like the WSJ as dry and boring, you will understand clearly how much trouble has Chavez landed us in.

What was criminal about the whole thing is that since late last year Chavez and his team (?, can we really call the Giordani/Merentes an economic team?) have done nothing, have taken no preventive measures to try to avoid a recession that they knew would hit us someday. I truly hope that they hoped for a miracle because if indeed they did not think a recession would hit us, then they are way more stupid that I thought they were.

The only thing they did was to use up the meager savings we had, and when those run out they simply started emitting more debt bonds. Spending was cut not because it was a well thought policy to ensure sustainability of some social programs. Spending was cut because simply given obligations run out of money. Whoever run out of money first was told "tough luck", and that was that. New debt, once corruption s served, will be used only for those programs that make Chavez look best in electoral times. That is the economic program of the government.

But, again, this irresponsible and criminal attitude is just unforgivable because the slide in Venezuela economy started BEFORE Wall Street crashed in the second half of 2008. I am not going to bore you with a long economic article, other known blogs take care of that much better than I will do. I will just show you this little graph that I got courtesy of PB, who got it from Goldman Sachs. It says it all.

Clearly, if you examine this annualized GDP quarterly variation you can see that the slowing down of Venezuelan economy started in the first half of 2007, almost a year before the real estate bubble blew. The 7.2% increase of the thrid quarter of 2008 is the high time oil price coupled with increased electoral spending for the November 2008 regional elections. More worrisome, the decrease rate seems to be accelarting and promising us a third 2009 quarter with a decrease of maybe 5% if oil prices do not go up further. The year end average could be as much as -4%, second only tot he 2003 recession, this time with Chavez having no strike to blame.

What is terrible in the forecast is that all through this year chavismo has in fact been further harassing the only people that can help the economy stop its slide and maybe rebound. More than ever private property has been under attacks and private business blackmailed when not outright robbed. So, not only the previous growth was an artificial one based on an import and distribution economy, but the retreating productive sector got further hit in the last 4 quarters leaving it unable to help in a recovery, even if it were so inclined.

Tough days are ahead of us. And yet the government still puts all of its hopes in oil prices going back to100USD, which dramatically would now be barely enough to pay our debt interest, amen of the investment we need to do just to keep the lights on and water running in our faucets. Stagflation, recession, inflation are here to stay in a virulent for of Dutch Disease: the Chavez Disease!

-The end-

Chavez the funny man and his funny PSUV show

So what do you do when the internal elections of your party do not quite give you the results that you were expected? You train your delegates to sing the PSUV brand new anthem. Karaoke style at that.

The last Sunday results of PSUV internal elections were not too bad for Chavez. On the positive side, no "current" got enough votes to be of any threat for Chavez. If to this you add the 200+ delegates that he will appoint himself, his worries never were about the result. The problem was in the participation. And even there he had a silver lining in the defeat. Defeat because apparently less than a million folks voted out of the supposedly 7 million registered members (1). But silver lining because these almost 1 million (?) might represent a true hard core which, with gun power, is all what Chavez needs to control the country 'til kingdom comes.

I was a little bit amused when some folks tried to present the internal elections of the PSUV as an example to follow for the opposition, or a "coup" for Chavez. At least in the case of this well known blog there is the excuse of not living day to day inside Venezuela. The fact of the matter is that as I expected the narcissism of Chavez was going to void part of the potential success he could have got. It did not take long: we are Wednesday, the results are not officially known except for those who got elected and we will not know the final numbers because only Chavez will know them. That is XXI century socialist democracy for you.

So overall we can say that the PSUV missed its opportunity at scoring big against the opposition, which is not surprising considering that there is really only one elector inside, El beloved Supremo, and there is no way to spin this convincingly, even by contrasting it to the opposition. To counter this bad image Chavez wasted no time in calling for a gathering of the elected delegates where among other things a sing along of the PSUV anthem was organized, live on state TV. I'd rather not comment on the musical quality of that anthem but something tells me that it will not have the reach of the AD one which still turns heads the rare occasions we get to hear it...

But that meeting was quite funny. Of course the only one who spoke was Chavez (besides a few flattery remarks to introduce the beloved leader by Silly Flowers, the head of the Nazional Assembly). And he certainly he did not disappointed us, either by what was left unsaid like the imminent arrest of Globovision president, Zuloaga, or by what he said, and he said quite a few gems!

He said, in no particular order that:
The PSUV Congress scheduled for a couple of weeks until mid December will now last as long as needed, until the middle of next year if necessary. Chavez noted that they would have the Christmas recess (so do not dare to bitch about it?)

That the decrease by 4.5% GDP for the third quarter, which puts Venezuela in open recession, is really due to an old system of capitalist GDP evaluation and that Venezuela should change to a socialist way to calculate it. He went as far as claiming that France does the same. Which is of course B.S. since France calculates its numbers according to European Union guide lines so as to be able to belong the the Euro Zone... (2)

He insulted Uribe and his foreing minsiter grievously by calliugn them both "desgraciados", while adding that he was more Colombian than they were. Apparently he also sang the Colombian anthem but I have not been able to confirm it.

And more "payasadas".
So, as usual, when bad news harass Chavez (Colombia, GDP heading South with his poll numbers, low turnout even among his followers, etc, etc, ) Chavez does what he does best, he puts up a TV show, a real variety TV show with, drama, harsh words, with song and dance included (the newly elected delegates had to stand up to sing and sort of swayed in rhythm).

1) El Universal, this nasty opposition rag, writes that barely 500,000 bothered to vote!

2) other things Chavez conveniently forgets to mention when he blames the way GDP is calculated (funny how he did not mind that way when the numbers were positive!) are that Venezuela is considered one of the least innovative economies (I disagree, with the return of barter as state policy we are soooo retro-innovative!) , that non-oil export are at they lowest level since 1997, and is one of the most corrupt country in the world....

-The end-

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Resumen de las perspectivas electorales 2010 en Venezuela

(In English here)

En una serie de artículos previos, en inglés aquí, se examinaron varios aspectos de las elecciones a venir en 2010. Esta es, en castellano, una actualización y resumen de los textos anteriores, incluyendo los acontecimientos recientes. Simplemente, voy a abordar algunos de los puntos señalados anteriormente.

La fecha. Tenemos una posible fecha, aunque esto todavía no se publicase oficialmente. El CNE ha propuesto una votación para la segunda mitad de septiembre del 2010. El gobierno no puede esperar más que hasta septiembre. Sabe que no puede disponer de tantos ingresos para comprar votos como en las elecciones anteriores y por lo tanto ha decidido compensar en parte poniendo el voto al final del periodo de vacaciones escolares, cuando, supuestamente, la clase media opuesta a Chávez votaría menos. No es que esto vaya a cambiar significativamente los resultados, pero un incremento de la abstención de la clase media podría dar al chavismo un par extra de diputados (¿Caracas? ¿Valencia?). Este es el tipo de cálculo que el chavismo se ha visto obligado a hacer ya que su situación se deteriora más y más. También el tiempo de vacaciones implica menos consumo de electricidad, menos consumo de agua, menos tráfico, menos recordatorios de cómo el chavismo falla en la gestión del país. No fue ninguna sorpresa como casi de repente los servicios de electricidad y agua se desplomaron en octubre pasado generando una crisis nacional: la negligencia del periodo vacacional después de años de abandono seguido de un retorno a la actividad empresarial revelaron el asunto mas que cualquier fenomenal Niño. Por eso, en lugar de llamar a votación como debería de ser programado, a finales de noviembre o principios de diciembre, vamos a votar a mediados de septiembre.

No hay otra elección. El CNE parece dispuesto a violar la ley electoral, una vez más y aplazar hasta el 2011 las elecciones para los consejos municipales, ¡¡¡un asombroso retraso de dos años!!! Los votos de otros comicios no se deciden aún, pero todo parece indicar que también ocurran después de las elecciones de septiembre. La interpretación es muy fácil: el chavismo ha decidido que la prioridad única que tiene es mantener una mayoría en la Asamblea Nacional. No hacerlo supondría el control financiero para la oposición, la posibilidad de investigación sobre las oscuras prácticas contables del régimen y un revés para algunas medidas del régimen como estrangular a los medios. Esto simplemente no se puede permitir. Si las elecciones para la Asamblea se han perdido, realmente no importa si el chavismo gana los consejos municipales o la alcaldía de Maracaibo: Chávez estaría obligado a dar su golpe final o estaría en peligro que una facción de descontentos en el PSUV lo sacase del poder. La decisión parece haber sido tomada para que nada pueda distraer la atención de la campaña de la Asamblea Nacional, la clave para que Chávez pueda terminar de instalar un sistema que hará imposible que la oposición lo desafíe en él 2012.

Problemas del chavismo. Durante el último par de meses, el chavismo ha ido de mal en peor y por primera vez desde 2002 los números de Chávez empiezan a aparecer en algunas encuestas por debajo del 50%. Lo mas grave es que los índices de insatisfacción de estas encuestas indican que la caída de Chávez podría continuar a niveles sumamente peligrosos. La razón es muy simple: el chavismo y Chávez han hecho a sí mismos lo que nadie hasta ahora ha sido capaz de hacerles: abrir un flanco débil. Este fue cortesía de años de descuido, de un diseño deliberado de mediocridad, de la incompetencia del chavismo para seguir los planes razonables establecidos para el país antes de que llegara al poder Chávez, planes que simplemente tenían en cuenta el crecimiento de la población natural para construir la infraestructura necesaria para prestar los servicios de agua y electricidad (y, por cierto, de otros servicios que son bombas de tiempo a punto de explotar). Es muy difícil para cualquier gobierno recuperar los diez años perdidos en unos pocos meses, y mucho mas difícil cuando el gobierno está dirigido por un puñado de serviles funcionarios corruptos e incompetentes. El chavismo, ya a la defensiva desde mediados del año, ha tenido de repente que cambiar su estrategia electoral. El primer intento fue la "guerra" con Colombia, tratando de explotar el nacionalismo barato, el último refugio de los canallas. Hasta el momento no parece funcionar muy bien a menos que veamos esto como una excusa para purgar el chavismo antes del final del año y hacerlo mas radical para la campaña del año siguiente. Podríamos ver el sorpresivo derrocamiento de la parte más corrupta del triunvirato que nos dirige: Diosdado Cabello, que parece tener más poder, sigue adquiriendo mas y seria mas obvia su caída con el fin de hacerle cargar con todos los fracasos de Chávez. Esta podría ser la gran jugada de Chávez en diciembre. Esa "guerra" también puede incluir objetivos como la destitución del gobernador de oposición del Táchira.

Dolores de la oposición. Parece que estamos teniendo buenas noticias de los dirigentes de la oposición. Al parecer, todavía se oyen algunos gritos y susurros, pero parece que la dirigencia política ha entendido que la unidad es la única manera de operar. No importa qué tan bajo los números del chavismo caigan, nadie en su sano juicio debería creer que caerán por debajo de 40 % antes de septiembre de 2010. Como hemos visto con sólo el 45% de los votos, el chavismo puede ganar una mayoría de la Asamblea Nacional en contra de una oposición más o menos unificada, y destruiría a una oposición dividida con tan sólo el 40% de los votos. El problema, por supuesto, es cómo llegar a la unidad , el grial sagrado. Pequeños pasos parecen ser tomados. Ya que la fecha electoral ha sido finalmente sugerida, las candidaturas únicas de la oposición y los programas electorales tienen una fecha tope de entrega: Semana Santa del 2010. Es decir, la oposición tiene 5 meses para actuar en conjunto, no hay tiempo que perder con un Chávez ya en modo brutal de campaña. Esta es probablemente parte de la explicación de por qué Leopoldo López finalmente se siente a discutir con los otros jugadores. No sabemos exactamente por qué tardó tanto tiempo, pero parece que los puntos que presentó fueron por lo menos parcialmente válidos, se sacudió un poco el "establishment" y la oposición se dio cuenta de que estaba mejor con López adentro que afuera. Por otra parte, López iniciando su nuevo movimiento propio se habrá dado cuenta de que no podía arriesgar cargar con la culpa de la división. Con AD, PJ, UNT, PODEMOS, COPEI y ahora López, todos los grandes jugadores están negociando. Los jugadores de menor importancia deben darse cuenta de que un asiento alejado de la mesa es mejor que no tener ningún asiento y que el estado anímico del país no favorece "saboteadores". Sin embargo, no vamos a abrir las botellas de champán, sólo se podrá respirar más libremente el próximo año si la tendencia actual persiste durante las vacaciones de Navidad.

La plataforma de campaña. Discutir la unidad de la oposición nos lleva a discutir el programa y el proceso de nominación. Si la plataforma de la campaña chavista es perfectamente previsible (Chávez 365/365 hasta el 2021) la de la oposición lo es menos. La primera trampa es evitar la presentación de un programa que parece más una agenda presidencial en lugar de una agenda legislativa. Las ambiciones internas creciendo a la par de la disminución de los números de Chávez podrían jugar una mala pasada a la oposición. Sin embargo, una agenda legislativa simple puede ser muy poderosa si está bien presentada: una agenda legislativa no requiere de tanto dinero como una agenda ejecutiva y por lo tanto puede presentarse como una promesa que realmente se pueda cumplir. Además, la naturaleza errática del chavismo en estos días probablemente podría llevarlo a cometer errores políticamente costosos. Por ejemplo, el latigazo a Colombia puede ser utilizado como una plataforma de paz para la oposición. Algunos ejemplos de los posibles puntos son los siguientes, en ningún orden en particular:

A) el respeto de los derechos humanos: una ley de amnistía, el regreso a la libertad de información a través de una reforma de CONATEL, un compromiso para obligar al régimen a una mejor gestión de cárceles y construir más de ellas, etc ...

B) la descentralización: señalar que la centralización de Chávez ha traído los desastres actuales. Oferta de obligar que una parte de los ingresos se distribuyan directamente a los gobernadores de los estados para arreglar los problemas propios de agua y distribución de electricidad (ventaja: se pone al toque a funcionarios chavista locales cómodos con la toma de decisiones en Caracas, lo que puede disminuir su eficacia en la campaña)

C) Control de Finanzas: ofrecer audiencias públicas sobre dónde fue gastado el dinero; promesa de investigación sobre temas específicos tales como la electricidad, el agua y las compras de armas

D) No más regalos: nuevas ofertas de créditos no se votarán a favor del ALBA (o cualquier otro país) a menos que se garantice la reciprocidad. Todo el dinero de Venezuela se queda en Venezuela

E) Control administrativo: un grupo variado de medidas. Por ejemplo, ofrecer que parte de las Misiones sean controladas por los gobernadores señalando que la mayoría son chavistas y, como tal, deberán trabajar más duro en sus estados

F) Seguridad: la promesa de voto de más fondos para que los alcaldes y los gobernadores preparen a una mejor policía, guardando la ley nacional como marco general para la calidad y supervisión de la policía, pero no el control de la policía. Esos fondos serían tomados de las compras de armas planificadas y ahora canceladas

G) Proclamar la neutralidad general de Venezuela una vez más y anunciar que la próxima Asamblea Nacional condenará oficialmente las FARC como terroristas, por lo tanto anulando, en parte, cualquier supuesta mala intención de los EE.UU. y Colombia hacia Venezuela. Explicar que condenar a las FARC y el narcotráfico es la mejor manera de llegar a la paz

H) Revocar las leyes que atenten contra la propiedad privada. En realidad debería ser el tema económico único y de verdadero debate. Se prometería que los ocupantes de ranchos establecidos hace años puedan obtener derechos de propiedad real, así como de los campesinos instalados en las tierras confiscadas si las trabajan. Prohibir apropiación ilegal de tierras haciendo ver que el gobierno se robó todo la tierra que era productiva y estamos importando más alimentos que nunca

I) EVITAR por el momento cuestiones complejas como la nueva ley de educación, la necesidad de reformar el sistema judicial, la remodelación del Banco Central, etc ... Es necesario que el programa sea sencillo, de acuerdo con los actuales problemas urgentes de la población

El proceso de nominación. Para concluir este mensaje, este tema en tres subcategorías.

El voto de lista. Serian 52 los diputados a elegir a través de un voto de lista, un voto general a nivel estatal (aproximadamente el 33% de los escaños). Estos deben ser escogidos por un gran acuerdo entre todos los partidos políticos. Los "puestos salientes", cerca de 20-25, los que la oposición esta casi segura de ganar, se deben dar a los políticos establecidos o figuras públicas que requerirán poca campaña en sus plazas Y que estarían dispuestas e incluso deseosas de hacer campaña para todos los candidatos presentándose en los distritos más difíciles. Es decir, estamos hablando de la creación de un equipo de campaña de súper candidatos, 20 figuras nacionales o regionales, un equipo que ilustre la diversidad y la unidad de la oposición, al menos, para preservar la democracia.

Votos por distritos. El problema no se resuelve todavía. El CNE dará a conocer lo más tarde posible el fraude electoral que está preparando al rediseñar distritos para favorecer candidatos gobierneros. Por lo tanto la oposición debe decidir lo antes posible un proceso de selección que garantice una nominación rápida una vez que el CNE hable. Esto sería una mezcla de las primarias, de acuerdos políticos y de encuestas, dependiendo de la zona. Se me ha señalado que la oposición tiene un defecto conceptual importante: esta acepta votar bajo las reglas de la CNE para la asamblea, pero no aceptaría que el CNE organice sus primarias. También me dijeron que las primarias dirigidas por el CNE serían más baratas que las dirigidas por SUMATE o cualquier otra organización. ¿Por qué no utilizar el CNE? Una cosa es cierta, con CNE o no, fraude electoral o no, en enero, la oposición debe tener por lo menos el método de cómo elegir a un candidato. Sea cual sea el método escogido, debe haber una cantidad significativa de primarias para motivar a los electores. Probablemente volveré a escribir sobre esto en breve.

La tarjeta Unica. Esta es en mi opinión, un enrevesado que se parece más a un ardid publicitario para unos que no representan mucho, algo de poca importancia al fin y al cabo. Las elecciones de Venezuela acostumbran llevar un montón de boletas diferentes, a veces una variedad vertiginosa, incluso para un solo candidato. La teoría, impulsada en su mayoría por los políticos de Caracas, es que una tarjeta única podría hacer maravillas presentando una imagen de unidad. Por lo general mientras menos probable sea que un político vaya a recibir votos, más defiende la tarjeta única. El argumento contrario, por supuesto, es que no sólo un candidato puede recibir el apoyo de muchas partes, pero hay una necesidad de los partidos políticos en contarse, algo que puede ocurrir solamente en una elección. Bah! La solución es realmente sencilla: si los representantes de distrito van a ser nombrados a través de elecciones primarias entonces las elecciones distritales pueden realizarse a través de tarjeta de votación única (las morochas). Además, puesto que cada estado tiene el voto lista, estos se pueden votar a través de múltiples tarjetas y el conteo partidista se lleva a cabo a nivel estatal. Este "dogma" de la tarjeta única sigue evolucionando y tiene que ser enfrentado pronto ya que me temo que algunos podrían usarlo para sabotear los esfuerzos de la oposición.

Conclusión. A pesar de todas las dificultades existentes en este momento la elección pertenece a la oposición que será la que las pierda por su torpeza. Sé que 9 meses es mucho tiempo, pero mi opinión es que la oposición va a ganar o perder la elección para Semana Santa del 2010. Cualquier falsa recuperación económica que el chavismo podría ser capaz de obtener a través del incremento de la deuda venezolana a niveles imposible de pagar tendrá efecto a partir de marzo o abril. Si para entonces la oposición no ha sido capaz de articular un plan y un equipo, habrá mas que suficiente gente que simplemente se tragará la línea de Chávez una vez más, alejándose de una alternativa llena de disputas internas, sin claridad. Usted lo leyó aquí primero, ¡recuérdelo!

-The end-

Monday, November 16, 2009

The IVAD poll: Chavez scary numbers

Tal Cual today carries the latest IVAD poll, and it confirms what other pollsters have been saying for a while: there is a general weakening of chavismo, and the trend down is slow but solid. I am not discussing IVAD because I particularly like it, I highlight it because for once a poll is published rather complete, and about the stuff that is of more interest of readers to blogs like this one. Personally, if you are a long time reader, you know that I have lost trust in polls since 2004 and that I use them as an additional source of info at best. This caveat out, let' see the relevant numbers.

First, the good (?) news for Chavez: he still has 48% of favorable on the poll. But if we remember that last February he was floating around 60% and still only got 54% on February 15 vote, we can see that the good news is quite relative. When you look at other numbers, Chavez can surely get scared, explaining a lot of his recent moves.

When people are asked whether they think Chavez is dealing with the hard the harsh realities of the country the numbers are equally harsh: 67% think he does not do enough to fight crime, 74% that he does not care much about unemployment, 62% that he could care more about electricity shortages. The awareness of the people about the government bad faith is revealed when they are asked about their trust in justice: 61% do not trust the Venezuelan judicial system (only 7.8% have "a lot" of trust, we know who those are).

80.6% want Chavez to stop giving money to foreign countries. Imagine that!

And more interesting numbers. All speak loud and clearly for themselves. I think it is easy to guess what should be the opposition platform for next year. What are they waiting for its publication?

-The end-

The revolutionary line of the year comes from Weeds

Over the week end I was watching season 4 of Weeds.

I highly recommend the series for those who do not know it, very funny , incredibly cynical and extremely corrosive of the US way of life in California. And impeccable acting. Anyway. At the end of season 4 Celia Hodes out of rehab goes to ask for forgiveness to the daughter, Quinn, she banned to Mexico in season 1. It turns out that Quinn has shacked up with a Mexican underground revolutionary and they had decided to hold Celia as hostage until her family pays the ransom. Once Celia passes out on her food the boy friend says something about the things that one must do for revolution. Quinn replies "Fuck your faggy revolution! I am taking the 200,000 dollars and move to Belize".

I wonder how many of those who voted at the PSUV primary today have had similar thoughts during their career through Chavez rule.......
-The end-

Chavez helping the opposition? "elections" at the PSUV

As I was putting together the previous post over the week end the PSUV held its internal elections. Or so we are asked to believe.

The first thing to know, of course, is that no matter what the results of these "elections" will be, nothing will happen without the approval of Chavez. To ensure that this is the case, that no surprise will arise, Chavez is himself the grand elector of 200 of the 772 delegates to the party congress to be held in a few weeks. And just in case he will also be the one setting the "debate" agenda. If to this you add that supposedly there are three tendencies within the PSUV fighting it out today it is safe to assume that Chavez will enjoy a very sycophantic majority in the coming congress as he will be playing whomever he wants against whomever he pleases.

Of course, no matter how flawed that internal PSUV election is (note, this is NOT about primaries for 2010, it is party internal election) it is still good enough for chavismo to try to use it as a propaganda tool. It even reaches the routine hysterical paroxysms of Celia Flores, Nazional Assembly chair, whose lovely disheveled study in red is worth illustrating this red day post. After all, believe it or not, the only opposition party that has held internal "elections" is AD. PJ had some kind of layered elections and UNT is trying to put its act together on that.

But the barbs are really not directed at the opposition internal processes: all parties in Venezuela have had always a significant amount of vertical Leninism. Besides, the PSUV has no moral ground in criticizing the opposition inner democracy since the PSUV does not even respect formal democracy as we saw what happened after the 2008 regional elections. Any opposition leader can quickly refresh people's memory on that and deflect this cheap criticism. No, the barbs have two targets: make the PSUV feel better about itself and discredit any primary process within the opposition before this one takes place. After all, we all know that the PSUV 2010 primaries will be a sham since no candidate will be allowed to run unless accepted as safe enough by Chavez. The more the reason to have at least a third of the nomination processes for 2010 settled through real primaries. Chavismo is afraid, really afraid of that.

The fun note, to discredit further the PSUV efforts at discrediting others. We have been told that the PSUV has more than 7 million members but only a little bit shy of 2,5 millions were allowed to vote today. Funny, no? What explanation? Are there first class PSUV members? Or was that 7 million a fantasy number from the start.

Anyway, Chavez and his PSUV are giving a golden opportunity for the opposition leadership to show how internal elections or primaries should be held and organized. Will they rise to the occasion?

-The end-

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The 2010 National Assembly vote in Venezuela: the general picture

It is time to wrap up this first series of post on the elections coming for 2010. First, we can feel a certain shift in the air maybe indicating we might be at the edge of significant changes; thus it is a good time to take stock. Second, the end of the year is coming up fast, less time and need to write while I expect significant news to take place as Chavez will not stop the campaign through the holidays; and for once the opposition might not. Thus this updated summary of the preceding texts, including recent developments. I am just going to address a few of the points made before, in no particular order.

The date. We have a potential date although this is not officially published. The CNE has proposed a mid to late September vote. The government cannot wait any longer than September. It knows that it cannot dispose of as much income to buy votes as in previous elections and thus has decided to compensate in part this by putting the vote at the end of the school vacation period, when supposedly the anti Chavez middle class votes the least. Not that this would change significantly the results but an increased middle class abstention could give chavismo an extra couple of seats (Caracas? Valencia?). This is the type of calculation chavismo has been forced to do as its situation deteriorates more and more. Also vacation time implies less electricity consumption, less water consumption, less traffic, less reminders of how failed chavismo is at managing the country. There is no accident at how suddenly electricity and water collapsed last October as a national crisis: summer holiday neglect following years of neglect followed by a return to business activity. That is why instead of holding the vote as it should be scheduled, late November or early December, we will vote in mid September.

No other election. This series was tagged in plural because I was going to write an additional post covering the elections to the local councils and the essential election for a new mayor of Maracaibo (plus some other overdue). But the CNE seems willing to violate electoral law once again and put off to 2011 the elections for municipal councils, an amazing two years overdue!!!!! The other votes are not decided yet but all seems to point out that they will also be put AFTER the September election. The interpretation is very easy: chavismo has decided that the lone priority they have is to retaining a majority at the National Assembly. Failure to do so will imply opposition financial control , the possibility of inquiry into the dark accounting practices of the regime AND a reverse on some measures of the regime such as its strangle hold over the media. This simply cannot be allowed. If the elections for the Assembly are lost, it really does not matter for chavismo whether it wins councils and Maracaibo: Chavez will be forced into making his final coup or he will be tossed over by some disgruntled faction of the PSUV. The decision seems to have been taken that nothing can distract from the National Assembly campaign, the essential key if Chavez to install a system that will make it impossible for the opposition to challenge him in 2012.

Chavismo problems. Over the last couple of months chavismo has been going from bad to worse and for the first time since 2002 Chavez numbers start appearing in some polls below 50%. What is worse the measured index of dissatisfaction of these polls suggests that the slide down of Chavez could keep going on to very dangerous levels. The reason is very simple: chavismo and Chavez have done to themselves what nobody so far was able to do: open a weak flank. This was courtesy of years of neglect, of a deliberate refusal by the incompetence of chavismo to follow the sensible plans laid for the country before he came to power, plans that were simply taking into account the natural growth population to build the necessary infrastructure to provide water and electricity (and other services, by the way, which are more time bombs in waiting). It is very difficult for any government to recover ten lost years in a few months, and much more difficult when a government is led by a bunch of sycophantic corrupt and incompetent officials. Chavismo already on the defensive since the mid of the year has had suddenly to change its electoral strategy. The first try was the “war” with Colombia, trying to exploit cheap nationalism, the well known last refuge of the scoundrels. So far, it seems not to work very well unless we see this as an excuse to purge chavismo before the end of the year and made it more radical for next year campaign. We could see the surprise ousting of the more corrupt leg of the triumvirate now in charge: Diosdado Cabello who seems to be given more and more apparent power so as to make him take the fall for all of Chavez failures. This could be the big end of December move of Chavez. That “war”objectives could also include the ousting of Tachira opposition governor.

Opposition growing pains. We seem to be having good news from the opposition leadership. It seems, with still quite a few screeches, that the political leadership has understood that unity is the only way to go, no matter how low chavismo numbers fall, a number that no one in his or her sane judgment should expect to go below 40% before September 2010. As we have seen with 45% chavismo can still take a National Assembly majority against a more or less unified opposition, and trash a divided opposition with as little as 40% of the vote. The problem of course is how to reach the holy unity grail. Small steps seem to be taken. That the date appears to be finally set has brought forward opposition united candidacies and electoral programs due dates Easter 2010. That is, the opposition has 5 months to put its act together, no time to waste with a Chavez in brutal campaign mode already. This is probably part of the explanation of Leopoldo Lopez finally sitting down with the other guys. We do not know exactly why it took so long, but it seems that the points he raised were at least partially valid, shook a little bit the “establishment” and the opposition realized that he was better inside than outside. On the other hand, Lopez starting his own brand new party might have realized that he could not take upon himself the possible blame for division. With AD, PJ, UNT, PODEMOS, COPEI and now Lopez TU, all the big players are talking together. The minor to very minor ones should now realize that a back seat at the table is better than no seat as the mood of the country will not favor the “saboteurs”. Still, let’s not open the champagne bottles, we will only be able to breathe more freely next year if the current trend persists during the Xmas holiday.

The campaign platform. Discussing the opposition unity brings us to discuss the program and nomination process. If the chavismo campaign platform is perfectly predictable (Chavez 365/365) the opposition is less so. The first trap is to avoid presenting an agenda that looks more like a presidential agenda rather than a legislative agenda. The ambitions growing with Chavez decreasing numbers could play a bad trick on the opposition. And yet, a simple legislative agenda can be quite powerful if well presented, and for one very simple reason: a legislative agenda does not require as much money as an executive agenda would and thus can be presented as promises that can actually be fulfilled. In addition the erratic nature of chavismo these days could probably bring it to make mistakes politically costly. For example the Colombia whiplash can be used as a peace platform for the opposition. A few examples of possible points below, in no particular order:

A) Respect for human rights: an amnesty law, a return to freedom of information through a reform of CONATEL, a pledge to force the regime to manage jails better and build more, etc…

B) Decentralization: point out that the centralization of Chavez has brought the current disasters. Offer to force part of the revenue to be distributed directly to state governors to fix on their own water and electrical distribution (advantage: puts on the touch chavista local officials to content with Caracas taking decisions, thus diminishing their effectiveness on the campaign trail)

C) Finance control: offer public hearings on where the money went; promise inquiry on specific items such as electricity, water and weapon purchases

D) No more gifts: offer that no credits will be voted for the ALBA (or anyone else) unless reciprocity is ensured. All Venezuelan money stays in Venezuela

E) Administrative control: a varied lot. For example, offer that part of the Misiones should be controlled by governors pointing out that a majority are chavistas and as such should be working harder at ruling their states

F) Security: promise to vote more funds so that mayors and governors get better police condition, under a national law as an umbrella for police quality but not police control. Those funds will be taken from planned weapon purchases

G) Proclaim again Venezuela general neutrality and announce that the next National Assembly will condemn officially the FARC as terrorists, thus voiding in part any alleged ill intention of the US and Colombia toward Venezuela

H) Reverse laws attempting private property. This should actually be the only true economical issue discussed. Promise to allow the long established city squatters (ranchos) to obtain genuine property rights as well as the peasants installed on the seized lands. Make illegal land grabbing while stating that the government stole all that the productive land and we are importing more food than ever

I) AND AVOID for the time being complex issues such as the new education law, the need to revamp the judicial system, the refurbish the Central Bank, etc… There is a need to keep it simple, addressing the current pressing problems of the population

The nomination process. To conclude this post, this item in three sub categories.

The list vote. There are 52 representatives to be elected through a list vote, a vote at large at state level (roughly 33% of seats). These should be nominated by a grand agreement between all political parties. The “safe seats”, about 20-25, those that the opposition is almost sure of winning, should be given to established politicians or public figures that will require to campaign less for their seats and that would be willing and even eager to campaign for all the guys running in more difficult districts. That is, we are talking here of the creation of a super campaign team of at least 20 national or regional figures, a team illustrating the diversity and the unity of the opposition at least to preserve democracy.

District votes. The problem is not solved here. The CNE will announce as late as possible the gerrymandering it is preparing. Thus the opposition should decide as soon as possible a nomination process that will ensure a speedy nomination once the CNE speaks. This would be a mix of primaries, political agreements and polls, depending on the area. It has been pointed out to me that the opposition has a major conceptual flaw: it accepts to run under the CNE rule but it will not accept to have the CNE run its primaries. I was also told that primaries run by the CNE would be cheaper than those run by the SUMATE or any other volunteer organization. Why not use the CNE? One thing is certain, CNE or not, gerrymandering or not, by January the opposition must have at least the method on how to chose a candidate. Whichever decisions are reached there should be a significant amount of primaries involved to motivate the electorate. I probably will revisit that issue soon.

La tarjeta unica (the single ballot card). This is in my opinion a running canard that looks more like a publicity stunt for some than anything truly serious. In Venezuela elections carry a lot of different ballots, sometimes a dizzying variety, even for a single candidate. There is that theory mostly pushed by Caracas politicians that a single ballot would do wonders to present an image of unity. Usually the less likely the politician is to receive votes, the more s/he defends the single ballot card. The counter argument of course is that not only a candidate can be supported by many parties, but there is a need for political parties to count themselves, something that can happen only at election time. Duh! The solution is actually simple: if the district representatives are going to be picked up through primaries then the general election can be carried through single ballot card. Also, since each state has list representatives, those can be voted through multiple ballot cards and the counting takes place at the state level. This evolving “dogma” needs to be addressed fast as I am afraid that some could use it to sabotage the opposition effort.

Conclusion. In spite of all the difficulties existing right now the election is for the opposition to lose. I know that 9 months is a long time but my opinion is that the opposition will win or lose the election by Easter 2010. Any fake economic recovery that chavismo might be able to coax through Venezuelan debt impossible to pay off will take effect as of March or April. If by then the opposition has not been able to articulate a plan and a team, it will be over as enough people will simply swallow the Chavez line once again turning away from of a squabbling alternative. You read it here first, remember.

-The end-

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Oppenheimer on Chavez headline addiction

Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald has an excellent perspective of Chavez delirium: head line addiction. Nothing that did not appear already on blogs such as this, but it is nice to see newspapers ridiculing more and more Chavez. Then again Chavez has made his the old saying "there is no such a thing as bad publicity".

Meanwhile the Washington Post wonders whether they should take seriously the dismissal of Chavez antics by some.

-The end-

Chavez hypocrisy on electricity

Trust "El chigüire" to unmask Chavez hypocrite stands. You do not need to read Spanish, the picture by itself is enough to understand the point that rationing is not for him.

-The end-

Post War Venezuela

I cannot claim the originality of the tile for this post: I owe it my father who I heard as early as 2004 telling us to prepare ourselves because a post Chavez era would be like a post war situation for Venezuela. Though I did sense what he meant, I did not think that we would be living in a post war atmosphere with Chavez still in office. Thus this post as homage to my prescient father.

Certainly my parents do not deserve what is going on in Venezuela today. After all they did live through Nazi occupied France, my father as a precocious teenager understanding very well what was going on. If the realities cannot be compared at all, the mood and the consequences of Chavez war on its people can well sustain the comparison with the ones that France woke up to in 1945. That is what my father clearly alludes to when he speaks of an “après guerre” coming to Venezuela. The war in all of its uncertainties is still fought on, but who knows for how long.

When I came back from my September trip I got into a rather somber mood. Not only visiting the US on a strict holiday plan allowed me to see better how the gap is deepening between Occidental civilization and chavista regression, but I came back with a respiratory illness that made me visit doctors a few times. Nothing life threatening, no swine whatever, be assured, but very annoying and debilitating nevertheless. The hours of wait to see doctors gave me a chance to think about what I had seen in the West Coast and what I found back in Caracas and San Felipe.

Venezuela indeed has entered a profound decline. The casual observer arriving at Maiquetia airport will be confronted first to a giant poster of Chavez at the immigration line, foretelling the banana republic awaiting him across the line. The second confrontation will be with the “buhoneros”, street vendors, now at the very gate of the airport exit, where the Nazional Guard has stopped any pretense at establishing a fake order, including on the chaotic traffic. Going up to Caracas on the highway you are shocked at how many holes dot such a major highway, an impression made only worse when driving through Caracas, which makes you wonder if the city has been bombed recently.

There are many things that you can observe for yourself. For example it is now obvious how Venezuela has become a fortified ghetto society. The home with an open front backyard has long ceased to exist. What is new now is the increased height of security walls, more and more topped with electric wiring. Gated streets with a guard station at the entrance are now routine, even in lower middle class neighborhoods. Less obvious but quite clear when you travel outside of Caracas is how normal it is becoming to prepare for power outages and how people have learned to live with buckets of water stored around the home since the faucets are more often dry than wet. Caracas newspapers now carry on their front page the daily shortage schedule for water. But for the rest you need to live on a day to day basis to really understand how our quality of life has degraded, at all levels, for all of us.

I had to wait until a Monday to see a doctor because now there are very few of them that receive on Friday. Any suffering you have must be treated through emergency services from Thursday to Monday. Without health insurance, or a platinum credit card to pay in advance, you will not be helped unless you arrive with your hand holding your other severed hand.

I went to fancy Clinica Metropolitana which is the closest from where I live. By 9 AM the huge parking lot is full so if you arrive later you better take a cab to go. By 10 AM the clinic is a circus, overcrowded with people at an almost unsafe level (though miraculously a semblant of hygiene is maintained!). The crowds are not anymore the “white bourgeois” of yore, now you will see even public workers sporting their red shirt themed uniforms. Most have now health insurance paid by the state, a very clear admission that Barrio Adentro 1, and 2 and 3 and whatever, have failed, are not good enough for the government to send there its very own workers! The reason why the clinic is so full is because not a single major clinic has been built in Caracas in ten years, no new major hospital has been built (except for a cardiopathy hospital for children supposedly open to all children in South America) and the existing hospitals are simply collapsing. Whoever can come up with some money goes to a private clinic; hospitals are now left for the poor, having become in practical terms poor houses. I suppose in a way it promoted racial and social integration through sickness...

Do not think that this scene is only for Caracas. I did not improve much and as such had to go see another doctor in San Felipe since I was not in any state to go back to Caracas see my first one. The diagnostic was the same, different medications were tried and finally two weeks ago I started experiencing some improvement, able to tolerate A.C. enough to go back to work a very few hours a day. But waiting for hours in the Policlinica San Felipe was equally a sobering experience: a good third of the people hanging around were local public employees, more red shirts even than in Caracas!

The Policlinica is a rather small affair compared to what you have in Caracas, but it was designed to be the top San Felipe could afford 20 years ago. At least San Felipe has been able to afford two newer private clinics, one even with a scanner, the first one. And all are equally crowded as the San Felipe hospital became under the last chavista governor one of the Venezuelan hospitals in worse shape.
A consequence is the callousness of service people now becoming the norm in Venezuela, too few services, too many people requesting it. Maybe it is more obvious in health care but go and try to get any legal papers, from an ID card to a notary legal deed: it is always a Calvary that is only too often made briefer through bribing. For example, personally, I have yet to receive my new driving license. I applied for it early this year and I am now up to my second extension of my “provisional” certificate. Paradoxically amused by the whole thing as I remember that whenever I moved within the US I got my driver license on the same day I applied for it, driving code test included.

Everything in Venezuela is now a trial, from getting health care to finding the right medicine since you need to go often to more than one pharmacy if your prescription holds three items or more. Let’s not even talk costs, as only from my Caracas visit and treatment I spent in one day the equivalent of the national monthly minimum wage.

Living is difficult in so many ways. You have always to watch for water, electricity, security. Food is not too bad lately. There is still a scarcity of many things but for some reason they seem to rotate better among stores so it is less obvious. And we all learned to purchase enough to have some stock at home of what can be stocked. We just have been adding more candles to our shopping list and bought large extra plastic cans for water storage.

There are more prayers you need to make. For example you do not want you car to break down as spare parts are increasingly hard to find. People stories of weeks with their car stopped are now a routine tale. On spare parts is where you feel the most inflation: any minor car service is now equivalent to a monthly minimum wage, even if your insurance covers part of it. Yet, it does not matter how hard you try to preserve your car, it is in danger as soon as you drive. Besides the hole poked roads there is a new increasing danger, jalopies all around you that do not even bother to make sure that their brake lights function. Nobody follows anymore the elemental norms of secure driving, and it is a rare event when you see actually a traffic cop to put some order in the chaos. Driving security is now limited, at least outside of Caracas, to police barrages set only to check out for what cars carry, and to try to extort the innocent driver stopped there for minor faults. Needless to say that day time robbery of cars, in particular during traffic congestion are climbing fast. You are stopped in a traffic jam, someone knocks at you window with a gun. What do you do?

I can keep going with this litany of all what is wrong with Venezuela today, but I am sure that the patient reader that accompanied me so far gets the point. What might not be obvious, unless you have time to meditate on it as you wait for hours in line to be served at some facility, is that this mess cannot be fixed easily. People have gotten used to it, choices have dramatically diminished, and we are now more than ever in the realm of “take it or leave it”. Just to solve any of these problems that I reported above would require a massive governmental action, well managed, focused. Take for example fixing the potholes that scar all of Venezuela roads. It would take years not only to fix them, but to build the new necessary roads now that all those inherited by Chavez have collapsed under traffic. That is true, except for one highway in Barinas, a bridge over the Orinoco, in ten years Chavez has not built a mile of the crucial roads that are required for a country which has seen its car numbers more than double. Along, none of the freight trains promised is working, nor are we expecting them to work for a few more years.

In soon ten years, Chavez not only has not built what would have been necessary for the population increase of Venezuela, but he has not maintained what was already built, letting it rot. Look for example at the deterioration of so many public buildings that reflect dramatically the deterioration of so many private buildings short of funds to do their own upkeep. The impression of general decay now floats everywhere, exacerbated often by the increasing neglect of the people who more and more throw their garbage in the street, just like that. In fact, the very few bright spots may make the decay even more obvious!

These end of year crisis are confronting us to the harsh reality that not only we might have wasted fully a decade, and the largest oil income of our history, but that we might have gotten to be worse off than what we were in 1998.
But perhaps the very worst part is the deliberate degradation of the people’s mentality, the forcing of us to live under these new circumstances while we are told that they are normal. Just last Saturday I had in San Felipe a prime example on how far people are now accepting their dependence from the regime (and yet another opportunity missed for great pictures as I was not carrying anything with me). The local governor is promoting himself ahead of the PSUV internal “elections”. Thus he organized a large subsidized food distribution show in downtown San Felipe, taking 4 blocks of 2da Avenida. On one side there were 4 large tents in red and white (logos do not show well on a red background, you know, so some white is needed). In the first tent people stood up in line until they could reach a set of chairs (plastic red, of course). There, every so often, as the line advanced, they were asked to move up to closer chairs. Then they would reach the end of the chair line and get a shopping cart and push it in front of a series of tables where duly uniformed governmental officers would allocate them goods. At the end they would still stand in line for a while until they could pay their purchases. All that time the noise of slogans of a Cuban nature even if with Venezuelan themes made sure people knew who to thank for, with the occasional interjection of a “ Patria, Socialismo o Muerte”.

Nobody seemed to mind, nor for sure would have they dared to express anything until their loot was secured.

On the other side there were hundreds of large blue plastic containers (when will they be red?). Each must contain around 200 gallons of water. And each with a white sticker, red letters, letting people know that the revolution does advance under our new chavista governor, Julio Leon Heredia. Nobody of course wondered how come the government has decided to sell blue plastic tanks instead of doing its work of building dams, digging wells and maintaining water distribution through pipes…. Forget about sanitation: I moved a year ago and already I have had to have my water reservoir cleaned twice for all the mud that comes along, in spite of all the filtering system I installed.

This is what we are at now, too many people expecting for the government to pay for their insurance, to offer them discounted food and to provide them with plastic water storage, and finding all of that perfectly normal, perhaps even desirable for some. Not realizing of course that each day the regime controls more and more their lives, their needs, their “shopping” schedule and even their bathing.

We have a whole country to rebuild, materially and morally. And to destroy it we did not need a war against another country, the war of the government against the people who voted it in was enough.
Après guerre, indeed…

-The end-