Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 for Latin America (the failure of Lula?)

This map lifted from the Economist will do fine to introduce a Latin American forecast of 2010 because it explains a lot. If you observe well, all of Hispanic America is in trouble, besides Costa Rica, Uruguay and Cuba (then again, how could trouble start in totalitarian Cuba?). Flanking that zone of probably social unrest there is the US and Brazil. This last country has decided to take advantage of the relative USA weakness to make a gamble and establish it area of influence across the sub continent.

For quite a while I have been writing about Brazil imperialism, US withdrawal, and such things. But when we look at the result of Honduras elections, not the vote count but the reactions around, it seems that suddenly a few cards are falling. The clearer hint comes probably from Uribe deciding to recognize the new Lobo government while a few yards away at the Lisbon summit Lula kept saying that there is no way Brazil will recognize the Honduras vote, just as he was fresh from receiving Ahmadinejad who has killed infinitely more people than Micheletti, and quite deliberately at that. At least on a morality point of view Lula would do better to shut his big mouth.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HTLM and Haloscan catastrophe!

UPDATE:  I give up!  Trying to follow haloscan/echo instructions I went back to the old template.  Blogger failed to save the template I had.  Then haloscan wanted me to pay BEFORE I could try the solution they supposedly were offering.  Of course, if it did not work and if I asked for a refund, you can imagine the risk on my CADIVI card: credit cards are blocked for less than that (I mean it is not a matter of many bucks, echo only asks for ten bucks, but after the initial setbacks, I sort of lost trust in their tech support and their skills...)

So eventually I was left tonight to set up back the new template I worked these past days.  At least by some  quirk blogger gave me back the widgets I had installed.  Still I had to restore fonts and colors and I did not get back what I had yesterday.  But too late tonight to worry about that.

I made a decision:  I am going to forget about the 50,000 + comments of haloscan/echo.  Many were excellent but it is just going to be too much of an ordeal to recover them.  Besides, few people ever show a disposition to dig for old comments.  For those who do, I have them backed up and with the appropriate indications might be able to retrieve them.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2010 for Venezuela

And we are at this time of the year where you either write the year in review or make up some horoscope. Or both. Safely I prefer to limit myself to a horoscope, as seriously as one can make such predictions considering the nature of the beast.

2010 is going to be a very difficult year for Venezuela. To understand this better we need a quick overview of the actual political and economical situations.

An economy with no signs of recovery
The first thing that one must understand is that unless the government decides to make a dramatic change in the way it is running the economic ship, next year is going to be worse, maybe much worse, than 2009. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that anything will change as the only governmental plan is to wait for a significant increase in oil prices, something that will happen at best late in 2010, too late to have any positive electoral effect before the crucial parliamentary vote of September.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rafael Caldera

Rafael Caldera, twice president of Venezuela (69/74 and 94/99), passed away just before Christmas.

I am no fan of the man those no eulogy from my side. I will only recognize in him his civilian values and that he managed successfully the first democratic political transition in Venezuela history. Until Caldera transitions were always violently contested and never finished their term, starting with Vargas in 1834 (all historical parameters taken into account!). Caldera together with Betancourt and Villalba understood that democracy in Venezuela would be possible only when political opponents would be looked upon as mere opponents and not as enemies that had to be destroyed. That was the foundation of the "Pacto de Punto Fijo" who brought to Venezuela 40 years of civilian discourse and democratic culture. That is why chavismo is so bent in discrediting these years as chavismo is a throw back to the era of violence and segregation that existed before 1958.

But together with Carlos Andres Perez, Caldera suffered from the reelection bug. He went as far as wrecking the political party he founded, COPEI, when this one did not want to give him the nod for reelection. As such his return to power was ensured by him riding the consequences of the 1992 Chavez murderous coup and accepting to preside over an electoral alliance including small and/or unsavory parties, most of them finding their way to Chavez in 1998. Trapped in his own discourse, and probably feeling threatened by the military, he gained time to finish his second term by allowing Chavez go unpunished from the murders of 1992 and thus allowing for a military regime to take office through the vote in 1998. Today Venezuela is a military regime and in my opinion Caldera is one of the main culprits, if not the main one when we put him with Alfaro Ucero.

At least his family had the good sense to refuse state honors from the regime they helped come to office. Not that much honor would have come anyway if we look at the dismal treatment offered Herrera Campins when he died. But what can you expect from the vile uncouth soldiers controlling Venezuela?

You can find in Spanish a summary of Caldera's life here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 2009 Christmas post

And Christmas comes anew, though this year besides being grateful from being alive, there is not much Christmas spirit going on for me. But be it in my recovery bed or from what I can see from the country, there is a general depression and no mood for partying much besides the family gathering of 24th at night (the 25th is to recover from the excesses of the 24th eve). But there will be plenty of time to discuss the latest craziness of Chavez the coming week end. Let's focus on the couple of days of peace that we hope he will grant us.

I thought that to cheer up a little bit those that are stuck in a likely brutally cold Christmas (East Coast or Europe) I could share the views from my hammock where I spend all my days since I left the hospital. Recovery is slow and I have little taste for reading or watching TV. Instead I spend hours looking over a corner of Caracas or observing the evolution of the poinsettia tree, or that corner of the garden where white, red, blue and pink mix, in spite of the dry wind and drought. Yes, with another poinsettia, why should we deprive ourselves to get the real trees?

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Daniel’s unwilling hunger strike

Hunger strike has been a fashionable way to protest, from the students in front of the OAS offices in Caracas to the Saharoui activist in Lanzarote. Now I have a fine appreciation of what it is to be almost a week with barely a few liquids for sustenance.

Two weeks ago I came down with dengue, the fashionable tropical disease, a virus transmitted by a specific mosquito. I already had it once, ten years ago and thus as expected the second time was to be much harder. My platelets went down to 3,500 which means that I was at the mercy of something as trivial as gum bleeding. It was that close. And yet the whole ordeal allowed me for a keen understanding of the mess Venezuela’s health system is at. Mind you, I went through it with the private sector, but I saw first hand how the negative policies of the Chavez administration are affecting all sectors, making me really wonder how low the quality of public sector service has fallen.

It all started in San Felipe where a slight fever the night before required next morning a visit to the emergency room of a local clinic. I spent the day there and was asked to take all sorts of test, from HIV to Epstein Bar, but not dengue. No privacy at anytime, my results would have been handled by whomever came across my papers. I was in bad shape enough that I was given I.V. fever medicine. At the end of the day I was sent back home, asked to come back next day to see whether my platelets would go down, the only dengue criteria available.

Next day was hell. I could not sleep that night, acetaminophen had stopped working. I needed a friend from Valencia to come and check out the situation. Upon her arrival she knew that things were bad, took me back to the clinic for them to stabilize me while she organized ambulance service. See, the people of San Felipe were in the best disposition to help me but all of San Felipe private sector is saturated due to the public central hospital collapse; thus they had no room for me…. At any rate it was wiser to go back to Caracas where I had more people to help me.

I think we left San Felipe around 4 PM. I am not sure because by then I was semi delirious as the evidence of dengue forbade any strong fever medicine. I was fit with my I.V. line and tossed in the only vehicle available in the area, an ambulance of a certain age with a very defective suspension. Thus I was able to enjoy for almost 4 hours every pothole that chavismo has allowed to flourish everywhere for the past ten years. It was hell, and made the worse as the paramedics could not even listen to the radio as Chavez was in cadena.

We reached Caracas at night. In spite of all the preparations my relatives had tried to take the Clinica Metropolitana was collapsing at its emergency and I was left for quite a while in a hallway as the paramedics were trying to have at least me switch to another stretcher so they could recover theirs and leave for another urgency somewhere in Maracay. Finally they tossed me into a trauma room where the other bed was occupied by another dengue case from Valle de la Pascua. The poor guy had been confused for an infection case, plied with antibiotics until finally some relatives decided to seek more competent doctors as there was no improvement.

I was to stay in emergency for 48 hours since I was too critical to be put in a room. I was stuck with all sorts of lines for constant monitoring while eventually the doctors ordered platelets transfusion, something easier said than done. See, of the 10 or so potential donors we managed to line up only 3 were approved and I got the platelets from one of my brothers since he happened to be the first at hand and same blood group.

For 48 hours I was given to observe up close as a participant sport the life of an emergency room. Activity all the time, in that basement you do not know whether it is day light. I must say that I was rather impressed. In spite of an edge of chaos feel, things run, attention does not waver, and people seem composed and knowledgeable enough. And doctors also seemed quite good. I caught myself wondering how good these people could indeed become. When you think at the difficult life we have now in Caracas, when you think about the overflow from the defeated public sector where in spite of Chavez words ministries discretely keep contracting private heath insurance, it is a miracle that the show runs so well. But think a little bit further: if these doctors did not have to spend at least 2 hours a day in traffic, if they did not have to deal with the rain of sanctions and intromissions from the state who resent their success while the state is flunking its own duties, in other words if these doctors had the means to do more research, the Metropolitana could be our own little Mayo Clinic. The experience and the talent they have, still. What they need is the time and means.

I also learned in these hours that there is a dengue epidemic and that you would never learn about it from the state media (and even more unaccountably so from the private media, scared of certain news). The Metropolitana itself is getting 5 cases a week at least. If we add the other major private establishments of Caracas it is easy to speculate that the cases of dengue are in the several dozens a week, enough to justify a major fumigation and prevention campaign. As far as I know only the municipality of Baruta manages some light spraying, the other without the means to do so. Meanwhile the state spends its energy in sending a vulgar and blurting Chavez to Copenhagen when the price of that wasted trip would be enough to spray all of Caracas green areas.

Things are worse than what you think. Once I was in a room, with my neurons firing a little bit again, the scientist in me wanted to know more. See, normally when a dengue case diagnosis is reported the INH (or whatever the name of the epidemiology state system is today) is supposed to visit the patient to ask epidemiological question. You know, to try to locate the focus, fumigate and whatnot. In fact they should even take a blood sample if early enough in the disease to establish the dengue strain. The INH not only has stopped visiting clinics and hospitals for that matter but no official epidemiological bulletin has been published in years. The Caracas doctors and clinics have to rely on themselves for any prevision they might want to take! As far as chavismo is concerned there is no dengue epidemic. Maybe they see epidemiological diseases as just a “sensacion” as the state ombudsman likes to qualify any intractable social problem, a media creation to provoke a feeling of insecurity, food shortage or dengue. I can witness myself first hand on how remiss of its essential obligations the Venezuelan state is, not only unable to heal people, but unable even to do the basic documentation so that other people could help. Make no mistake, if in the private sector dengue is such a problem I let you imagine what is going on in public hospitals and barrio adentro. Never mind the real numbers of swine flu.

And yes, I qualify myself as being a victim of Chavez in this regard, as my disease got worse for the difficulty in accessing care, even private care, as my contagion comes from a general degree in decay in infrastructure and water works allowing for the return of plagues such as paludism, malaria, tuberculosis and others, diseases we thought we had under control 20 years ago.

There was an interesting detail which in a way could explain in part that state indifference to the pandemic. Apparently there are 4 strains of dengue. 1, 2 and 4 have now been long established in Venezuela but 3 is a rather recent arrival. If I understand well it was not documented in Venezuela 10 years ago. The curious detail of that strain is that it is reported to have come to the Caribbean through the Cuban soldiers when they were fighting in Angola three decades ago. The Cubans arrived with Chavez when he turned Venezuela into a Cuban colony. You may draw your own conclusions.

The rest of the story is not as exciting. After 48 hours in emergency with people wondering whether I was going to make it, my body started reacting and I was sent into a room where slowly I waited for my platelets to climb back to 100,000. My only distraction was to enjoy the beautiful Caracas December light though my window, after spending the night trying to find a way to sleep around my IV line (I spent 8 days with all sorts of drips as dengue also does havoc with your electrolyte balance, amen of a liver lesion which will keep me away from booze for at least a month). Not even that much TV, and not looking forward visitors as I tire very fast. I did manage to contact Miguel who very graciously made an announcement. I wish to thank every one who wrote, hoping you understand it might still be a while until I can thank you all properly for your concern. But be assured, what is ahead is only a long rest, maybe up to a month. That I can type again may bring me relief from boredom by posting regularly, if infrequently, soon.

Meanwhile you can take as a home lesson that any numbers emitted from the government on any social affliction are, well, [feel in the blank word]. There is no reliable statistics coming from Venezuelan institutions, the creepier the topic, the less reliable the published number. What is left for us is to figure out what are outright lies and simply “enhanced” numbers. And make sure you have good medical contact and coverage with relatives willing to stand in line for you for hours in case you need to lay on a stretcher.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Boyd versus Smartmatic: tracking down tools for fraud

Alek Boyd has become an investigative journalist now, with some interesting initial success. I saw him in a Mexican paper so I wrote him to let us know what he is up to. His replies follow.

The Venezuelan banking crisis made simple (plus Chacon departure)

[UPDATED with Chacon exit]

I should be writing extensive posts about the current Venezuelan so called banking crisis, but I think that 1) Miguel does a much better job than anyone in covering the events (including relevant links to his information such as the priceless Caracas Gringo) and 2) I have been writing so much about corruption that an "I told you so" post is just demeaning; thus I prefer to cover more positive news such as the Honduras vote and the formation of Lopez new political movement.

But still, I should write something, kind of a follow up of a previous post where I was discussing the Venezuelan triumvirate that rules over us and how at some point it had to come down crashing, as all triumvirates did through history. Power is not something easy to share: you got it or you do not. As a decent compromise a very brief summary of all that this mean:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Voluntad Popular is launched in Valencia

Blogging takes you places, even in Venezuela. I was invited, press card and all, to cover the launching of Venezuela latest political party/movement, the one that Leopoldo Lopez has been working hard at this year, after he left UNT (1). The locale was the sports arena of Valencia, el Foro, and as a visual witness, the arena was filled up and brimming with energy and enthusiasm (click on pictures to enlarge).
From the start this was a smart move. For a country getting more and more tired of all decisions taken in Caracas, launching officially the movement in Valencia was smart, a nice compromise including the distancing of the Caracas crowd but still geographically sound enough to avoid major travel trouble to the supporters (2). But it goes further as Valencia was one of the major opposition defeats of 2008 due to internal division. The defeated opposition candidate, Cocchiola, was in attendance, supporting Leopoldo and thus indicating his final break with Proyecto Venezuela. An indication that the days of Proyecto Venezuela in Carabobo State might be reaching an end? A deserved punishment for a party that refused political alliances and thus lost all but the Governorship, a useless prize when the rest of the state is against you.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Two Venezuelan realities: students with a cause and fattening generals

Early this week while in Caracas I visited the students on hunger strike, in front of the offices of the OAS. I did not want to write anything about that because, to tell you the truth I do not know how to broach the subject. I have too much respect for these kids to write lightly about them. In fact, my visit was made further embarrassing as I went after a diner date with a friend. We decided to visit the place around 10 PM. It was quiet and strangely peaceful. No apparent security, just an ambulance from the city of Baruta. The kids were laying on portable beds, not talking much (they need to preserve their energy). What seemed to be small groups of friends and relatives were hanging around, speaking softly, not wanting to disturb. Needless to say that I felt impressed and embarrassed, not able to find a word to try to even express my admiration for them even though I am not sure about the timing of their action.

What do they want? Nothing much really, that the government allows the Inter American Court to make a visit to Venezuela to gather data about violations of Human Rights. The Chavez administration is adamant in refusing such a visit which simply confirms that they have things to hide. The problem here is that there seems to be no solution in sight. The government mocks the attempt although they finally caved in on another hunger striker, near death, because he demanded justice for his property illegally seized by the state. Eventually OAS secretary Insulza sent a lame letter where he talked to the students as kids without understanding of adults things. As a consequence it seems that the hunger strike will go further and faster. What Insulza should have done is to write a letter directly to Chavez asking him to solve the issue and not allow to lay the blame on the OAS.

It is truly fascinating that after ten years of cheap materialism promoted by Chavez the result is similar as those observed in other countries suffering similar fates: the idealist and courageous youth is the one opposing the regime. For memory I will point out that I have yet to see revolutionary chavista students go on an hunger strike in front of the US embassy to demand the end of the Iraq war or the Cuban embargo. As a matter of fact, the few students that chavismo was able to produce in 2007 to counter the rising dissident movement are now benefiting from comfortable political jobs in the government, without any replacement worth noticing. On the other side every year the opposition student movement shows an incredible power of renewal, in ideas as well as in leadership.

So, you may wonder, why do I write about these brave kids today? Because Chavez provided me the inspiration with a cadena a few minutes ago. The cadena was about a military promotion ceremony, at worthless event since promotions are now decided by Chavez office with the main parameter being the perceived loyalty to the regime. I watched the first minute and taped it fast on my TiVo.

The ceremony stated with a fat general marching towards Chavez. Then, once he took position in front he spoke the following words:
Patria Socialsimo o muerte [Without a mic we can see Chavez uttering the word "veneceremos"] Mi comandante en jefe buensa noches. Presente en formacion 1800 combatientes revolucionarios, socialistas, anti imperialistas para el acto con motivo delos ascensos.....

Fatherland, socialism or death. [We shall win], My commander in chief good evening. Here in military formation 1,800 revolutionary, socialist and anti imperialist fighters, for the ceremony of promotion....
I was going to put the name of the fat military speaking those words, sporting the most ridiculous yellow ribbon with a je ne sais quoi of Easter Egg look. After all, too many of them have acquired the same mind pattern, the result of a decade of military corruption, financial and moral. The TV picture I show here is an indictment of how ridiculous the Venezuelan army has become, the only truly fit officer as far as I can tell being from the navy disappearing behind the Easter Egg. Fitter perhaps but equally willing to present this obscene masquerade of tacky adulation.

Thus you can see the two extremes that ten years of chavismo have produced. On one side you have the revolutionary nouveau riche, be they fat sycophantic military or the now on the run bankers who made 100 of million of dollars through government contracts in half a decade. Usually equally fat.

And on the other side the worth of the country, the new political conscious and idealistic class emerging from the embers of the middle class that Chavez has been diligently trying to destroy for the last decade. A group noble enough that some are willing to offer themselves for their goals and ideals.

-The end-

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Another neo-fascist day in Venezuela

This Wednesday we got yet another cadena from Chavez with a series of scary announcements.

Chavez said that the opposition wants to win the National Assembly elections of next year so that it can make a "constitutional" coup like in Honduras to get him out. Besides demonstrating that his knowledge of democracy is zero (if the opposition wins the majority he should actually consider resigning on his own since he will have clearly lost the trust of the country) he also announces his cards: he will do anything he can to make sure the popular will is not reflected next year. For that he had appointed two new seats to the CNE five member board, two women that are unconditional to chavismo when the constitution and law are perfectly clear that the CNE should be as impartial as it can. Not that it makes much of a difference, the two departing ones were unabashedly pro Chavez, but the two new women are real radical, the kind of radical that wear their allegiances on their sleeves. The two departing ones cheated but at least had the notion they were cheating: these two new ones will not even be aware of their cheating, kind of a natural second nature for them.

Chavez also said that he was ready to intervene and nationalize all the banking system as needed. In today circumstances this is dangerous because 1) the system is shaky after the 4 banks that were taken over last week and 2) in the middle of a recession driven by the government policies what is needed is quiet and calm to attract the rare investor still willing to come to Venezuela (I am assuming here though outside of oil I do not believe anybody will come to invest). In addition, the way he said it is a provocation, a pretense that it is fine for him to do any robbery he wants in the name of the people.

Why does he say that? Well, his numbers keep going down as the attempted war on Colombia did not pay any electoral dividend. So, talk of war has suddenly disappeared as Chavez did not want to be confronted by Uribe in Portugal. Instead he decided to go on the rampage with an atrocious populist and demagogic measure to try to hide the incredible corruption exposed in recent days. That is, a maneuver to try to blame every thing on the banks, even the corruption of his close associates.

But this attack on banks is coupled with an outright criminal declaration: he has decided that Venezuela cannot be reconciled, that the "bourgeois" class cannot get together with the side he represents.
"Son dos sectores enfrentados y aquí no hay reconciliación posible" There are two antagonist sectors and here there is no possible reconciliation.
That is right, you read it well, the president of the republic is appealing to class war, to civil war, announcing that peace in the country is possible only when one side will have exterminated the other one. Pol Pot was not any clearer. I am sorry but I cannot conjure any other historical image. Unless of course Lula da Silva cares to explain to me why is it that I am wrong.

-The end-

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lula lies

At the Iberoamerican summit at Estoril the Honduras vote brings the worse in some. One of them is Lula, who huffing and puffing left before the end saying there is no way he will recognize the Honduras result, nor will he talk to Lobo. So far we can accept that but what we cannot accept is the following, according to this dispatch from Europa Press:

The coupster (Roberto Micheletti) acted with cynicism, gave a coup in the country and called for elections when he had no right to do so.

I do not know about you but I detect at least 2 lies and possibly a third one (I should check the Portuguese words maybe?).

The elections, dear president Lula da Silva, were already scheduled before the coup, to the point that even the candidates had been selected by the major parties. That someone in your position utters such nonsense is unacceptable and only reveals that your plans have been trumped and that you are just behaving like the young thug at the sand box keeping the other kids out.

And indeed this tantrum of you seem to be confirmed by you addressing the words of Oscar Arias to you when he questioned your easy recognition of Ahmadinejad, accepting without problem the Iran elections while refusing to discuss the Honduras one. The one with the double moral is you, president da Silva, not Arias.

Thus, dear President Lula da Silva, your early exit is unbecoming, and is made worse when you add that had you known Honduras would have been in the agenda you would not have come. Does that mean that if we do not follow your agenda any future summit will not be graced by your spoiled brat presence?

As my very esteemed colleague Juan Cristobal wrote yesterday, Dear president Lula you look much more like a ignoramus brandishing the pitchfork than a respected world leader aspiring to a permanent seat in the UN security council.

-The end-