(III) Reaction and Revolution: a political disaster

If the reader has ever wonder why I’m not a White Hand (student) movement leader, the answer can be found at some point of my second academia year at the university (from October, 2003 till July of 2004) and the months that follow.
I started my second year at the university with a strong conviction of pursuing a political career beyond the political party I was working with in the place where I spend most of the time: the university. During the first week of class I proposed my candidacy to run for the class president charge (actually called “delegate” here). From that moment on, everything related with my “political career” was one of those disasters I thought you only see in movies.
I got quickly elected as a class delegate. Well, “elected” is actually a big word to describe what happened: they were no other candidates running against me, no one else who wanted to be a delegate and so they had no choice but to let me take the charge (this can give the reader a good idea of how big the apathy was between the students). Is funny to think, especially if you consider how passionate I am about democracy, that my first – and only – political charge I ever had was a product of some “elections” pretty much Cuban style. But it wasn’t my fault that anyone else ran against me anyway.
My job as a delegate was very simple: to organize the calendar, to keep my classmates informed and to negotiate with the professors and /or the faculty in case they were any trouble. It was really hard to fail as a class delegate – or so I thought. Apparently, for many, I was a very lousy delegate and this was spoken out only a month before the classes were over.
One day, I notify my XIX century history professor that I had no choice but to skip her class in order to solve an issue my classmates had in regards to the Psychology class. She had no problem with that and simply let me skip her class with a smile. I had no clue about the events that were about to develop behind my back while I was speaking with the Psychology professor and everyone else should be having another History class.
I’m taking the trouble of telling about those events on this blog not because I want you all to know about my personal life but rather because this was an example of how the countries politics in general affected the university politics in particular.
During that period, the opposition was trying to push a recall referendum against Chavez rule in an environment of an extreme political polarization. After picking up and seeing a large number of signatures rejected several times on suspicious tricky moods of the Electoral centre, the Referendum was finally celebrated in August of 2004.
The events I’m telling you about in my class happened around May or June of 2004, when the referendum was definitely a “hot topic”. The important thing to highlight here is that the people started believing that, if a leader did not do its job right, they had the right (even the duty) to force that leader to leave his charge.
As I was told a few days after, my History professor heard a couple of students talking about me as she entered the classroom. And so she propose to the class “If you guys feel that Julia – (I just need a name but can’t use my real one!) – does not represent you anymore, you should make a recall referendum against her charge so she can stop being the class delegate and someone more able to do that can make the work”. My classmates followed her advice – as a second year kid follows many “advices” some so called expert professors – and with the History class as a suitable place to do it – ethics off – my professor pass along the desk a notebook picking up the signatures – just like the opposition did against Chavez months early. Yet, I was not removed of my charge. It seems like unlike the opposition, the “history professor” side of my classmates couldn’t pick up enough signatures. I never knew the exact number of signatures they managed to pick up, but I doubt it was small since I could feel the general discontent.
After finding out what happened, I don’t remember if I stood up in front of the class like I did many times during that year or if I only spoke to a small group. But I do remember what I said, sort of: “If there’s something wrong with my job, why you just don’t say so? And if you want to make a referendum against me, at least be kind enough to let me know you are doing it instead of picking up the signatures behind my back. I have two hands; I’m perfectly able to pick the signatures myself”. My classmates gave me a couple of embarrassed looks and no one ever said a word again about my job. I finish my period with more sorrows than glory but overall, with some “political incorrect” lessons to pick up.
Now I know – actually I was never that naïve to not suspect it- the reasons of why my job was considered a terrible one. My classmates did not want a class delegate, they wanted an employee who reminded them every single damn day the due date of our papers and exams; plus they wanted someone able to talk to the professors in order to demand them to be less exigent in all possible ways: to move a couple of weeks the due date of an exam and to ask that to the professor the same day of the exam. I wasn’t really up to do neither of that. I sort of propose myself to be a “fair” delegate and that often went in prejudice to the more lazy students, the ones who beg for the couple of points they need at the end of the term in order to pass a class they don’t deserve to pass at all.
By taking that attitude, I definitely made a terrible political mistake: to stop representing the ones I committed to represent. And I knew that if that was the student interest then I was totally unable to represent them.
For making my university political experience even more bizarre, as I was having difficulties with my class delegate charge; a project that I was working on with a few classmates for months, to run for the Student Centre of my school for the next period, was seriously affected by the “referendum against the class delegate” effect, among other things of course. We wanted to beat the useless current Student Centre that stayed in power for three years in a row because no group ran against them on elections during those years (yes, more student apathy). I had also encouraged the boyfriend I had back them to do a similar project on his school.
And so the elections came and my boyfriend became the Student Center president of his school for the next period while my group and I were not so lucky. We were beaten badly: I think the only votes we got were our own votes. From that moment on I decided to stay away of the university politics and especially to stop looking for a student leadership I was not made for.
Either way, I did not have time for crying in the corners: the recall against Chavez was coming soon and I there was a political campaign going on that I had to work for. I met my youth group of my political party at least twice a week during those months, and daily as the election date approached. We hanged posters in the nights and spend all day on campaign tends giving pamphlets and convincing the people to vote against Chavez. We were pretty much sure of the victory. Yes, we were naïve.
As everyone knows, the opposition lost that referendum claiming a fraud that it could not be proved. I felt that defeat not only in my mom crying the night of the referendum but also the next day when the leaver of my youth group picked up each and every one of us at our homes to have a meeting and talk about what happened and the feelings we had about it.
One guy of the group who was around 18 years old back then, refused to come out no matter how many times we rang at his door. Years later, on June of 2007 for being exact, I found him smiling over a truck in a demonstration as one of the White Hand (student) movement leaders. He’s a low profile leader, but has worked hard for the movement none the less. I quickly looked back at the nasty episode of the day after the recall against Chavez, when we stood outside his house begging him to come out and keep up with the political work. He recovered his mood slowly but never left the politics he had in his blood back. At the student demonstration, he approached me for saying hi and I looked at him like saying “I know what you went through, you deserve to live what you are living now…”
About the picture: I didn’t had a cam back then so I thought that my lonely shadow could symbolize a year filled of defeats.

Last voting call!

Today is your last chance to vote for Venezuela News and Views for the Bloggies 2008. So, if you have not done it yet go to the Bloggies page, pass it around to friends and colleagues. Show the world how a Venezuelan caucus works!

And then let's wait for the results in March.

PS: by the way, did any one see that the CNE corrected YESTERDAY the result of the December 2 referendum, giving the reason to SUMATE numbers on abstention? Priceless. Even the Bloggies 2008 will be faster in checking the results sent in unique e-mails, one by one!

-The end-

Post of the month

I do not know where Miguel got that but it is absolutely brilliant: what the Facebook page of Chavez would look like. The details are fantastic from the 666 friends of Chavez to the gifts that include a "good dog" cookie from Fidel. I am allowing myself to repost it on the left side because well, it cannot be missed (click to enlarge). But all credit belong to Miguel of course, or wherever it is he got that. And by the way, do not miss his post on the house of Franklin Duran one of Miami 4. The house is an expensive 4 million thing, on a canal, with a "parking spot" for the yatch. Viva la revolucion!!!!

-The end-

The fairness and receptivity of the Venezuelan Judicial system

Yesterday we got yet another proof that the Venezuelan judicial system has become simply another repressive arm of the regime. In fact, as we have often discussed in this page the closest branch of the Venezuelan government to a dictatorial situation is the judicial system. The evidence we discussed on and off is as follows, in no particular order:

- justices chanting "Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!" during the installation of the judicial year.
- extraordinary delays when judging opposition figures, the longer the delays of course, the weaker the evidence. Look for example at the Caracas Police directors sitting in jail for three years already while their trial goes at a snail pace, the judges inventing all sorts of delays.
- the speed in judgment of chavista figures, in case these ones actually find themselves investigated.
- the failure to reach conclusion which in some cases is equal to a negative sentence against an opposition figure. The Danilo Anderson case for which management the general prosecutor should have been fired long ago resulted in his quiet departure at the end of the term while some of the folks he has indicted on account of a false witness remain investigated or in exile.
- and of course all the astounding fast political decisions taken by he high court when the government needs them in his favor. Take for illustration one of the most famous ones, the illegal seizure without compensation of all the transmission equipment of RCTV, a robbery in facts, whereas all the filed suits as to the closing of RCTV remain gathering dust in some TSJ shelf.

That is why Chavez can get away with a de facto dictatorship while still tolerating unfair elections and an increasingly less free press. After all it does not matter what you uncover, what abuse you expose, when you hit a tribunal your complaint sometimes is not even registered. That is the root of the power of Chavez, the most extraordinarily submitted judicial system in our history, morally corrupt to the extreme, and possibly financially corrupt too. After all, what judge in Venezuela would dare rule against a chavista judge?

Today we can add something new to this repetition, a necessary one though since foreign readers might be inclined to think that there is justice in Venezuela since we are technically in a democracy. Yesterday a few students tried to protest in the Zulia tribunals of Maracaibo. Their justified protest was against the unjustified and unjustifiable delays in some political trials going on. They also tried to chain themselves to some door which might have been justifiable but probably not at that given time. Still, nothing can justify the reaction of the security guards of the Zulia tribunals. In the video below you can watch the vicious way into which these guards beat up some of the students, a violence out of all proportion with the moment, when simply closing the doors and accuse the students of obstructing access to justice would have been enough, and probably even reflect favorably on the court.

I do not know about you, but when the tribunal security seems even more vicious than the Nazional Guard of Venezuela, you know that there is no justice possible. You can see for yourself, no need for translation, for example how unconscious folks on the floor are still being beaten up and how of course the security guards know they are doing the wrong thing and trying to also shut down the cameras filming. Cowardly chavista storm troopers in all their splendor! Because of course, all of these "security workers" are chavista political appointees, I will bet anything on that.

By the way, for the record, there is nothing to expect from the president of the TSJ, Luisa Estela Morales. She has been fired twice from courts for "malpractice", a mediocre lawyer at best, who became the absolutely unfit president of the TSJ because Chavez wanted an unconditional there is not going to even offer an apology or an investigation on these excesses. Let's not forget that she is also an agricultural expert in that she thinks like Chavez that the "conuco" is the best possible form of agricultural production, never minding that it has denuded most mountains of their natural vegetation leaving behind a waste land of poor grass and rocks where once stood a deciduous forest. In other words, she is just a bitchy hack, the Elena Ceausescu of the Venezuelan judicial system. Expect more scenes like that video in the future.

-The end-

(II) Reaction and Revolution: "They might be at the 3rd floor..."

The second episode was a larger protest inside my university against a law professor who strongly supported the government. I don’t remember exactly why things explode and the reader must know that I was just entering the university and was just getting to know their dynamics. All I know is that I was in a sociology class when we started to hear students running and chanting “Si quieren democracia, salgan de sus aulas!, si quieren democracia, salgan de sus aulas!” (“If you want democracy, get out of your classrooms!”) –
A chant that it would be very popular years after but that was truly the first time I heard it. My classmates turned their heads to the door and the windows, the professor rolled the blackboard market through his fingers but no one really really moved except for… yes, this blogger. As soon as I realized that it was totally impossible to see my apathetic classmates moving a finger (was even hard to know if they were alive at all), I left my desk, opened the door and followed the chants to see what was going on.
The “third floor” (which is part of the main building of my university and is basically a very long and large hallway only interrupted by the tiny, I think, main faculty and school offices of the campus) was totally filled with students. When I saw that I naively thought that my sleeping classmates could wake up soon. They were asking to the vice-chancellor to dismiss this professor. I started admiring our vice-chancellor, Luis Ugalde when I saw him standing against that huge and angry crowd saying “I can’t dismiss a professor because of his political stances. A professor can be dismissed if it has been proven that he’s academically unable, irresponsible, or if he attempts against the dignity of the students, the colleagues or the institution”- The students argued that he had insult many students during his class and that the students could not pass if they expose during the exams political opinions different to the ones the professor stands for. Ugalde replied: “Can you prove it? If you can’t then there’s nothing to do about it. A professor can’t be dismissed for political reasons. And Mr. Escarrá might think different but he’s an expert on his field”.
There was no much left to do. The law students complaint over and over about the professor with the ones who belong to other faculties and I wish I have heard more strongly the tolerance lesson our vice-chancellor gave us that day because during those first years of university, from 2002 till 2004, I was easily a prisoner of my own stupid radicalism and my own intolerance in more than one occasion. The students were asking for democracy that day, but there’s wasn’t anything actually democratic in their specific requests: to dismiss a professor because he was a Chavista (Chavez supporter)
As soon as Ugalde finished his speech, I accidentally ran with my sociology professor in the hallway. I was so embarrassed about it. I could not understand the look he gave me: if it was one of those looks of “those unbearable first year kids that are so rude and left class in the middle of an explanation…” or a look of “seems like at least one member of my class is alive”. Either way, I found out that after I left the class my professor couldn’t - and also did not wanted to- keep teaching on those circumstances, so he finished the lecture before time and asked the students to follow him to the third floor.
I bet he was more interested than anybody to see an awakening of the students because he was an important figure of the opposition back then and received a lot of threats against his life. Two years after that “third floor” episode, the Jesuits order (he was also a Jesuit) decided that it was prudent to transfer him to Spain for his safety. He’s now in the exile and mine was one of the last courses he taught in Venezuela.
Things got way more complicated after that episode since the General Strike followed and it broke, as the reader might now, many students lives and mine as well in two half. For better or for worse, the general strike of 2002-2003 was a significant moment of the recent Venezuelan political history but the students did not play a significant role during those events, for not saying that they did not play any role at all.
The first reason for this can be easily explained: although If I remember correctly the universities did not closed their doors officially, I can’t think on any university at least in Caracas having any class at all during those couple of months that strike lasted (December 2002 till early February of 2003). The gasoline shortage and the riots everywhere did not made the perfect environment for having classes.
You see, in Venezuela most of the universities and all the ones who are located in Caracas does not have student residencies on campus. The regular university student here does not leaves home for going to the university unless you live in another city. And even so, you probably go visit your parents every weekend and still call your home your parents house – never that nasty bedroom located in the loudly that you are forced to sleep in.
When the strike began, the students simply came back to their homes with their families, losing in that way the essential (when it comes to make a student movement) with their classmates. Many of them were politically active during the strike and what’s even more important: many of them actually became politically active because of the strike. You have this blogger as an example.
In my neighborhood we created a “youth brigade” that it was basically to bring some logistic support to the almost daily “Citizen assemblies” that took place at the park, plus marches and other events. The members of that brigade were as young as 13 and hardly anyone was older than 20 years old. A friend of mine, who lives in a middle class neighborhood not so distant from mine, leaded a similar youth group. Imagine how his group was like if he was 17 back then and the oldest kid of that group.
There’s no doubt that the General Strike was a period of an intense and very dramatic political socialization for many of the students who had not even reached college back then and are now a big part of the White Hand (student) movement. However, to say that the movement did not rise as an answer to the events that developed during the general strike only because the students were gathered at their homes, with their families, struggling – if they did – only with their neighbours, its hardly an enough explanation. I suspect they are deeper reasons that the reader and even myself might discover as this story continues.
About the picture: one of the third floor entrances, blocked by the students during the protest of June, 2007.

(I) Reaction and Revolution: "Where are the students?"

The first question I ask to myself when it comes to write some lines about the story of the White Hand (student) movement is “Why the movement did not existed before?” and consequently, “Where were the students before June of 2007?” It’s a fact: during the first marches, April 11 of 2002, the strike that came later that year, the radical protest of 2004, the recall on the Chavez rule we lost and a million etc; during five years or so of political struggle in my country against the Revolution, no student movement on any side of the spectrum appeared as a significant political force. My parents were seriously worried about not seeing “muchachos” (means… young people) at the demonstrations and I confess I was too and more than one time I wondered where the hell my generation was.
I think I was an odd part of my generation: my family took good care of that and some books did the rest. I attended to political demonstrations at an age as early as 17 and joined a political party when I was 18 years old. But, in my 90 students class of the first year of the university I was probably the only one – no joke about it – who was part of a political party. My friends and classmates were, of course, worried about the situation; the Venezuelan political crisis entered every home without asking first – in some homes more than others. One dad losing a job, one girlfriend leaving the country and a heart broken, more needs to be covered and less money than before to attend such a need… But their major reaction was basically a nasty apathy that I fought against without any success at all.
Some of my friends, thankfully, used to go the demonstrations but must refused. In part was because they were lazy about getting up one Saturday after partying the night before for attending to a demonstration under the unbearable noon heat and probably avoiding some nasty tear gas and pellets (only a couple of nerds like me did that). Another part was annoying enough to remind me, demonstration after demonstration that: “Marches do not bring down a government”. And another part was busy enough criticizing the politicians for actually taking the trouble of becoming one.
Since my first day of class at the university I always held the hope of seeing an important voice from the students to raise but I did not see that until the 4th year of my career and it didn’t had an important influence until the 5th year of my career.
I remember a couple of episodes that made me raise my hopes during my first year of university… only to bringing them down all over again. Some decree (or maybe it was another stupid Chavez speech, now I don’t remember the details) was announced during that academic year and I saw some posters on my hallways announcing a demonstration that it would walk from Chacaito to Plaza Venezuela (near the main university of my country) to protest against that decree. I think it was the first “student” protest I can think of during the Revolution.
I was determined about going and totally failed on convincing my classmates to join me (all over again…) so I skipped the "social and political philosophy" lass and took the subway alone. I was partially worried because I was just learning how to use the subway, and getting to actually know my city (a middle class girl, going for years to a catholic school located a few blocks away from home can hardly get to know the rest of the world… the university is always an opening in that sense) plus I remember I was carrying a lot of books and did not had an appropriate outfit for going to a protest. I saw a couple at the wagon who were speaking about the same demonstration I was going to and I followed them. I think the three of us were the only UCAB students who went to that demonstration.
We got down the subway and reached to the square where the demonstration was supposed to start. For someone used to big masses protest the number of people gathered there was simply ridiculous, like a family meeting. We marched and made some chants and did not even stop the traffic for doing so, only the sidewalk and a little tiny part of the street. In the protest I unexpectedly met my elder brother who is also related to academy. I thought he was going to yell at me because I was supposed to be in class and I was alone in a political demonstration in a side of the city I was not familiar with back then: it was the recipe of a disaster. So I looked at him with scary eyes and was surprised when he decided to only give me a surprised smile “so who’s your philosophy professor? Oh I know that guy… It’s just one day, I’m sure he’ll understand” – and he just kept walking and chanting next to me. Family and politics, a constant in my life, I guess.
My philosophy professor smiled too when I gave excuses before the next class. He must have thought it was simply cute that a student who – btw, and I don’t pretend to be egocentric with this – had great grades missed the only class of the year to attend to a tiny demonstration no one else heard of and was making excuses about it like a fanatic nerd on the next class about it. He just looked me and said “Sit, the class is about to start” – Like saying … “Hey girl… this is called u-n-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y, here you make your own decisions and my only concern is to see a decent paper written by you on my desk at the end of the term”(about the pic: the Chacaíto are of Caracas, I took it a couple of days ago).

And let's check one for Chavez

Responding privately to a precedent post a reader that we shall call Tim sent me this note which I am posting below (well, I had him arrange it a little bit for privacy purposes).

Help from Cuba

Perhaps it is time to be fairer to Cuban medical staff working in Venezuela. We live twelve kilometers from Plaza Venezuela in an area which has some ranchos, some brand new apartment buildings and some older dwellings all mixed up together. Definitely not a slum. We are 200 yards from a CDI [barrio adentro II] and on at least two occasions they have saved the life of my wife. Yes, she has had five emergency transfusions at the Clinica Metropoliana, a six week course of radiation treatment at the Centro Docente La Trinidad and is also receiving genetic therapy from a major European Cancer Center. However it has been the Cubans who, without any payment, come to the house and give my wife her twice weekly 'drip'. They have been splendid. We are a very squalid [escualido] family but all the members of the CDI have made a very strong impression on us and our community. True the Venezuelan National Health is a mess and I agree with nearly every word you put in your blog. 'Renting' medical services in exchange for oil is not the ideal solution but our experience is that here, today in our community it is working and the Cuban's who provide the service are hardworking, professional and very very kind. While I strongly criticize the government’s inability to run a proper efficient National Health Service it would be less than fair to say, based on our own experience, that the Cubans are not doing an excellent job.

Lastly I do not believe that they earn huge salaries. The Cuban government may charge a lot but I don't think much of that reaches the medical staff. Most seem experienced having worked in Honduras after hurricane Mitch (1998) or formed part of an international effort to aid Pakistan after the earthquake of 2005. They live in simple accommodation and for 'security reasons' they are supposed to off the streets by 4pm. There biggest luxury is to buy a phone card to call home to their families. This is not what we have been told. This is what we have seen with our own eyes.

My comment.

True, not all Cubans are dangerous spies. Probably 80% or more are nice folks seeing their stay in Venezuela as either a job like another or a way to bail out from Cuba at some point. Also, I have never attacked the idea of Barrio Adentro, just the amazingly inefficient way it is managed and its inherent ability to attract stable medical professionals. I have also attacked that Chavez prefers to inaugurate new CDI, which future is apparently as aleatory as the barrio adentro modules, rather than starting by fixing up the already extensive hospital network of Venezuela. His policies of "all about ME", of reinventing the wheel, will eventually end up wrecking even the few good initiatives he has had.

And by the way, before barrio adentro there was an extensive network of "dispensarios" set up all around the country in relative proximity of popular areas, and which I had personally experienced them more than once as a kid when vacationing far from Caracas (you know, sun burnt, stitches and the like). Barrio Adentro is simply a retake and reformatting of an experience that had been very successful . But not a single chavista, even those who went to a dispensario like Chavez surely did in Barinas will ever acknowledge them, preferring the world to believe that before Chavez people were just dying massively in the streets.

-The end-

The company they keep: Iran anti gay policies

Lately Chavez speaks less of Iran (after all, he speaks so much of the FARC and Uribe that even himself cannot find enough hours in the day to include Iran). Yet this country and its rogue government remains a key partner. Well, I have been informed that there is yet a new gay teenager hanging in the works in Iran. That is right, in Iran Sodomy or any Gay Activity is simply punishable by death, either in the bowels of some prison or in public hanging.

This time there is a petition you might want to sign, stressing Venezuela as the country where you are signing from. There is little bit more we can do as even "closeted" homosexuals like mayor Barreto are not going to come out to condemn such atrocities. The picture on the right is from the previous hanging of teenagers in Mashhad.

So please, drop by this petition and sign it if you are so inclined.

By the way, there is in Yaracuy a covert campaign agaisnt Cocorote Mayor, Capdevielle. He cannot run again for Cocorote and he is thinking about running for governor in November. Well, since he is a leading candidate that could unite chavista and opposition under his banner, there are all sorts of rumors about his sexuality running around (I have been hearing these
"rumors" for 8 years now, and he is all but out of the closet officially). That I know of, these rumors seem to be coming more from chavismo than the opposition which is trying to court its support in joining a primary or some sort of deal. Though machismo surely makes equally strong ravages in both camps and if Capdvielle runs on his own "rumors" will come flying from both sides. I have no illusions on this respect. On the other hand Gerardo Blyde might be running for Baruta mayor and he might become, I hope, the first openly gay mayor in Venezuela, that is, if he comes out of his closet too. I think Baruta is ready.

-The end-

(Intro) Reaction and Revolution: MY version of the White Hand's history

“It seems like no one fought against the reform, but the students… the media as always, is forgetting the work of the political parties… the students came at the end, they are forgetting years and years of work” – My mom said the other day at dinner. Things got a little bit worse when my dad – who is an university professor – try to give a lot of credit to the professor’s advices to the students who were part of the movement. “As always” – I thought – “If we won, everyone wants to take the credit from it and if we fail, no one wants to admit their own guilt. And as always, the students are seen as a puppet of older, smarter and more powerful people”
Yon Goicoechea, one of the most important student leaders, during a press conference just two days after the movement raised their voice against the RCTV closure, said what it has been for me the main line of the White Hand student movement, their major concern. He said that he could not get why for the rest of the people it was so hard to understand and imagine that the students had come out with an original and independent way of struggle for the Civil Right – “I just don’t get it” – He said moving his head in denial while the campus fell on applauses. It was a moment that it still trills me inside whenever I think about it.
But months later my mom brought me a magazine that had Yon in the cover as the “man of the year” and seriously, all I can said is that the report, even if speak good of the student movement, was simply trash. The article simply made look Yon as some saint, incredible student with no sins at all. An innocent man attacked with no mercy by the powerful forces of the government.
After seeing that, I can really understand my parents concerns and I feel the need to speak about it. And what way could be better than to tell my version of what the White Hand (movement) has been and it is at the moment? My version comes now as a series of entries that words more, word less pretend to make a reconstruction of the history of the White Hand (student) movement. I’ve been preparing a book about it since the movement raised last June so what it follows it’s in part random translations of what I wrote in that book in progress.
My story will talk from the same perspective this entire blog has been written since I started: over all, a personal perspective. I’m also writing it from the student perspective since I was – still in a big part am – a student during most of the events I’ll talk about on the lines that follow. For sure, I won’t talk much about the big mass demonstrations of the past few months – I have talked about them before and I think I have said enough. I will talk about what’s behind those mass demonstrations, what came before and what might come after. I will steal many of the comments my friends and people more involved than me with the movement have made. The reader must also know that I won’t reveal more than what it is necessary because at this point of my life, to preserve the friendship and to protect the ones I care about is more important than to publish a good story in a blog that at the end, not many people actually read.
However, I consider this task a hard but a valuable one because I studied at one of the universities that leaded the movement (UCAB) and I personally met and share with the people who were directly responsible of the way things developed between the movement.
I want to answer to the concerns many – not only my parents – have about the White Hand (student) movement and the media treatment to that movement. I promise this can really clear up must of the doubts that the people – and foreigners especially the ones who only have the media as a source - might have about this movement. My story doesn’t want to glorify neither demonize the student movement; my objective is to rather, dignify the movement and the ones who at some point of our lives, have felt we are a part of it. I think that what I’m going to tell it has not been written yet and it will not unless I speak about it. This blog started as a mere catharsis but it has become an attempt to bring a different version of the ones the radicalized sectors of the Venezuelan political spectrum has and especially the media distortions (here and abroad) make basically for not having enough knowledge on the situation.
The vision of the White Hand (student) movement is, like I said before, distorted by the media on both sides of the political struggle. The opposition paints Gods and Goddess (yes, with capital letters, I’m not over reacting) while the government paints Devils and Puppets. And the thing is we are neither and the good and the bad fame that are not entirely based on reality can benefit the movement, even more, can’t benefit the understanding of the recent political history of Venezuela.
Nonetheless, this story can’t be taken as the “truth of the White Hand (student) movement”. I think I know more details about the movement that the people ignore, but still they are many things that I ignore as much as the people outside of the movement. Plus, many conspiracy theories speak about dark forces acting over me and other members of the movement… forces that are smart enough to act in a way we do not notice what they do at our expenses. This is the government theory mainly but believe it or not, some people of the opposition side are bound with this theory as well. I’m not here to deny it because since “I don’t notice them” seems like I don’t have the authority to deny them either. At the end, like I have made on this entire blog, I will speak from my heart, from my experience and my very simple, youth and perhaps naïve thoughts on that. I believe in freedom – you know I do – and I’ll leave the reader the freedom to decide and to judge how much of this story really holds the truth. Either way, you have the comments section available for make your own conclusions.
I hope the reader is patient enough to follow my journey and if he does, he’ll find out that the couple of words “Reaction and Revolution” I picked for the title are far from being a random choice (or a cheap plagiarism of an Artz book or a bad copy of the must recent Revolutionary propaganda, hahaha). They are there for a reason.
And with all that been said, on the next entry, the story starts.
About the pic: I took it on June 3rd, 2007 at one student demonstration - obviously

Chavez the democrat! Not!

The defensive myth that pro Chavez folks always advance in the US or Europe to excuse all of his excesses is that he is so democratic, that he subjected himself to so many elections, that it would be great if certain Western leaders were to face that many elections, etc... Never, of course, inquiring really in which conditions these elections took place. Anyway, today Chavez himself took great care in killing that myth. From his very own mouth, now that polls are highly unfavorable to him, well, he announces that he will not tolerate that his successor is not a "revolutionary".

"Lo que tenemos que garantizar es que si a Hugo Chávez le toca entregar el gobierno el 10 de enero de 2013 no sea a un contrarrevolucionario porque vendría la guerra aquí"

Those were his words in his Sunday show. Translation: What we must guarantee is that if Hugo Chavez has to give up the presidency on January 10 of 2013 that it is not to a counter revolutionary because war would come here.

I am sure that there is some context and that some will claim that he did not say/mean what he did say. Except that it is a repetition, that he has been saying that if the opposition wins some of the keys states in November that it will be destabilizing, bring war, etc, etc... this is no accident, no lapsus brutis, this is what he thinks, what he plans to do, why he is bringing it back to the table again and again, the only thing that really interests him: a change the constitution to allow him to serve past January 10 2013, his very own dies irae.

When we hear Chavez we stop wondering about the brain drain in Venezuela, exquisitely reported by El Nacional today (subscription only). Who wants to put up with a creep like Chavez forever? No wonder that in the last two years at least 2,000 MD have left Venezuela, to be replaced in part by sub-par Cuban medics. Or does anyone think that Castro sends his best and brightest? No wonder that 8,000 Venezuelan are estimated to be working in US research organizations. Not to mention that about 10,000 expensively trained oil workers of Venezuela are now working for foreign oil companies around the world. No wonder that the Australian embassy in Venezuela advertises in Venezuelan papers to attract immigrants from here. How much the babble and threats of Chavez has cost the country in educated professionals and expert entrepreneurs leaving us? How many are going to seek visas tomorrow after Chavez new threats for 2013?

-The end-

Vote! Vote!

OK, time again for some shameless promotion.

I have been scanning some of the nominees of the 2008 Bloggies and I am in very, very good company. I recommend you to peruse the different categories if you have not done so already. Many of the nominated blogs are quite extraordinary, a witness on how far the blogging world has come. The nomination process must have been quite something as I have not seen such an interesting selection of nominated blogs ever. Truly, just been nominated is quite an achievement by itself!

Besides, the logo of the contest is almost a predestination: it has 8 stars like the new Venezuelan flag next to the accumulating "flats" of the bolivarian show. Do you really need any other reason than that to vote for Venezuela News and Views? Also (warning: more shameless manipulation) by voting for VN&V you also vote for the many guest writers and comments of this year and for the successful NO to the reforma blog.

So please, visit the voting page, slide toward the middle, vote for VN&V in the Latin American category and for many of the other categories as time allows you. Remember, you must enter an e-mail address and click on the link that will be sent to your e-mail account within a few seconds, otherwise your vote will not be counted. Also, if you vote using a Venezuelan CANTV.net address, there is some spam filter at Cantv that does not allow you to vote. Gmail, hotmail, yahoo and others work fine, or so I have been told.

You have until Thursday, do not delay in voting (and passing around the information).

-The end-

Milk is Milk

A few days ago my mom was able to find and of course, buy, a litter of skimmed milk. I looked at it as it was a treasure, as the special ice cream my dad used to buy me once a week when I was a kid or the imported chocolate and cookies someone brought home on a few occasions after marvellous and exotic trips. But it wasn’t anything exotic really, it was nothing special, it was milk – Can you think on something more common than milk? –and is not just any milk but skimmed milk (that for me is the “real milk”).

The bad part of the story is that this milk was of an unfamiliar brand. If I could choose I would drink “mi vaca” instead of “La pastoreña” but the brand does not matter anymore. A litter of skimmed milk, of any brand it was something I haven’t seen in months, and just placed there in my fridge as it was any other of the days before the shortages (that started last year in February and increased specially in September) was simply a piece of heaven for me.

Milk is real hard – if not impossible – to find in my country these days. And if you can find any it is always some odd brand of nasty powder creamy milk. The thing is that before the shortages, in my family we only drank skimmed milk so my stomach has been having a hard time on getting used to others kind of milk after drinking skimmed milk daily for 23 years… so more often than not I avoid the morning coffee and the night “toddy” (a Venezuelan mix of chocolate powder, the greatest drink ever) that used to be an inevitable part of my routine, as inevitable as washing my teeth.

So when my mom showed me the littler of skimmed milk, I measure carefully how much of it would I drop in my cup, then heat it in the microwave and mix it with two or three tea spoons or Toddy and then drink it slowly; for the first time in weeks, like it was a glass of the best wine. Real toddy made with real milk. I thought I was a very lucky Venezuelan at the moment. Just a few days after that the president declared that the skimmed milk should be forbidden because it is a stupid rich privilege and we have to get used to the normal milk.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly your life can change? I must be inside a Revolution, if one day I see as a one time in a lifetime pleasure what it used to be routine, what I used to take for granted.

Yesterday, my boss left the office for a few minutes to go to the supermarket. Soon she call us to let us know that in the supermarket where she was at there were some cans of powder milk available – “They only let you take 4 cans per person so if you want milk you must come” – She gave permission to everyone at the office to go and buy milk and no one doubted for a second about going and buy as many cans as they could. Again it was an unfamiliar brand but like I said earlier, no one here can afford the luxury to care about brands anymore. Its just been a few months, but the shortages can be so dramatic that you immediately get used to live with the words “Milk is milk” and “Coffee is coffee” in the back of your head, impossible to have the pleasure to care about brands and types.

When was the last time you entered a supermarket and just choose? Just entered there, picked some cans, debate between “Café Madrid” or “Café Fama de América” and bought as many bags as you wanted? When was the last time you did not saw a sign in the shelves of the supermarket telling you things like “only two small bottles of mayonnaise per person”?

My co- workers are from very different social classes, you could say. The secretary and the lady who cleans live in a very poor area of Caracas while I live in a more comfortable and safe one. But the shortages touch us in the exact same way. “You can’t find any rice on any supermarket of Antímano” – My secretary told me today. Antímano is a very poor area, almost totally filled by shanty towns. But you can’t find any rice on the supermarkets of more upper class areas as well, and if you can as Daniel pointed out on his post about shortages it is only of one brand and almost for sure, a very lousy one. This is quite a nice socialism, a socialism were the hunger and the scarce make us all equal.

Speaking about shortages is more than speaking about how difficult or impossible it is to find what we need to eat; for many – some more than others – it is also about how difficult it is to find what they need to live. I have two aunts to put as an example who make sweets, cakes and stuff like that for sell. That’s their business, that at least help them to pay the bills. Imagine what is like to keep such a business in a country were there is a several sugar shortage since early February of 2007.

In the meantime, the TV shows my president throwing some powder milk over a table while he’s speaking about the wonders of the “Venezuelan milk”, oh and specially, the “Venezuelan milk available”. The image simply brook my senses. You could say its only one can of milk: it won’t make a difference, and it won’t solve the shortages. But for me was more than that, the milk just displayed over his table like it was trash when it is actually now a treasure hard to find, just showed me the way Chavez rules… as he throws the milk away, he throws other things with the same act of disrespect to the ones who – unfortunately – once put him on power.

Oops! That would be "guilty" your honor!

2007 was an "annus horribilis" for Chavez. So far 2008 is not bringing any improvement.

Today the "800 000 bucks bag of money" case came bag to the front scene with a vengeance. One of the Miami 4, Maionica, decided to switch his plea to "Guilty" and become a prosecution witness. He acknowledges that all the secretly recorded tapes are legitimate and that he was an agent of the Venezuelan government in order to cover up the money sent by Chavez to finance Cristina Kirchner electoral campaign.

Now a boatload of folks must be running for cover in Caracas and Buenos Aires. Watching the face of Nicolas Maduro, our failed metrobus driver turned foreign minister, accusing the US judicial system to be a farce and of submitting Maionica to unbearable pressure was a tragic poem. Not only Maduro has been watching too many bad movies, but he is unable to comprehend that Maionica as a lawyer probably understood that making a deal with the Miami prosecutor was his best way out. He will get off with a slight sentence and get a US resident visa to cooperate with the US justice. From Miami, perhaps working at some MacDonald, he will be able to wait the end of Chavez and come back to Venezuela to resume business, perhaps sooner than expected. (1)

Let's not extend on something that we have all discussed extensively in this blog and its comments. The only difference today is that the Maionica confession makes it official that Chavez is financing all sorts of illegal political activities everywhere, in amounts that make any NED donation to SUMATE a child's game. In fact, chavista paid agents like Eva Golinger must be worrying about their eventual return to the US as surely the IRS must have noticed their recent prosperity on account of dishing the US. It is Al Capone again, the bolibana version. Of course, the ridicule and bad karma/conscience that awaits these people might even be much worse than any IRS citation.

Instead let's talk about he possible consequences.

In Buenos Aires this time the Casa Rosada was keeping, at this typing, a sinister silence. Gone where the early December days when newly sworn Lady K. was calling the US judicial system garbage. Now, her government might be in jeopardy as it is gravely wounded within its first month in office. It is to be noted that for much less than the Antonini money bag affair many a post war Italian government fell.

In Venezuela Chavez has little to fear. After all the judicial system is now inexistent and certainly not about to investigate Chavez on anything. No matter what the trials of Miami in the coming months might reveal, we can be assured that the most that will happen will be a delightfully botched operation such as the one on the Danilo Anderson assassination. That one lead to nowhere, though ensuring that at least a few political opponents were put in trouble for nothing, one still in exile. No, even if there were to be a judge willing to take on Chavez, or at least his corrupt camarilla, even if the other 3 in Miami were to plead guilty now and start talking, Chavez has much worse problems than Antonini to face anyway.

Because the HMS-Chavez seems to make water from all sides these days.

First, at least for Chavez, his foreign policy front, the only aspect of his rule that he really cares about, is collapsing right and left. Certainly the Antonini affair is not going to help him at all since now many governments will have perfect excuses to monitor Venezuela agents in their country and even deny them entry. But the FARC fiasco keeps bringing more grief. After his triumphant tour of Europe, with soaring polls at home, this week Uribe received nothing less than admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and today the Secretary of State. The implication is extremely clear, and grave for Venezuela: if Chavez does not start behaving better, he is going to run into major trouble. We can hope that at least the Venezuelan armed forces will have gotten the message that any move against Colombia will find the US firmly behind them. We can hope that they will make sure that no matter how many insults Chavez keeps sending to Bogota, the situation will not go past insults. By the way, Bogota refuses to reply to Chavez which only seems to send him into further paroxysms.

But if grave matters like Colombia are besotting Chavez, other players area taking advantage to plant in his back further "banderillas". Alan Gracia in Peru is not missing a chance, timing his granting exile residency to my ex-governor Lapi. Not been on the run anymore, from Peru Lapi will be able to play a role in the coming November elections. Under a very amused Garcia watch.

But it gets worse for Chavez. His polls are now reaching levels not seen since 2002. The psychological effect of the December 2 rout (by the way, the CNE STILL HAS NOT RELEASED THE FINAL VOTING RESULTS!!!) seems to have been hit harder than expected. Coupled with an increasingly graver food shortage situation, it is not surprising that the Teflon effect of Chavez is finally over and that after 9 years in office people are finally starting to wonder if the current bad situation might not have something to do with Chavez incompetence. His or his people, same difference.

But to crown this already awful week, we were shown the latest shopping spree of Chavez to stack up the shelves in Venezuela. In a hurry, where do you get rice, black beans and cooking oil? In the Evil Empire, of course! That very same empire that Chavez constantly criticizes and accuses of preparing itself to invade us at any second. The bag handed out by PDVSA to frustrated shoppers had even an large US flag on its bag of rice! Will wonders ever cease?

The opposition needs not to do anything: these days sitting back and watching chavismo melt down is a fantastic experience.

1) Maduro also took it upon himself to criticize the Globovision journalists from being anti bolivarian, a traitor and what not, urging her to join the noble cause of bolivarianism, to unify in the defense of the fatherland. Or some such garbage. When a foreign minister lowers himself so much it becomes embarrassing even for people opposing him.

-The end-

Arroz con Leche

Sometimes it becomes difficult for us to explain how our quality of life has been steadily degrading. After all, for the last nine years we have been making the necessary adjustment to adapt ourselves to a progressively worse situation. These progressive adjustments include such things as putting more bars on our windows so we hope to sleep tight, learning to do long lines even at private clinics as public health is not an option for many ills, factoring in our lifestyle commuting times which generally have doubled in the last five years, paying for cable TV to escape incessant cadenas, etc....

But the other day while in Caracas I realized that even in the essential small pleasures of our life chavismo is robbing us. For example, today we cannot make "Arroz con Leche" anymore. In this respect the vain bolibanana revolution is a great equalizer: it is not a matter of money, neither the poor nor the rich can find the three basic ingredients of arroz con leche, namely milk, rice and sugar.

Perhaps the non-Venezuelan reader might wonder why arroz con leche could be such a litmus test. Let's say that arroz con leche is our basic comfort food, the one we inherited from our childhood years, the one for which there might be as many recipes as there are grandmothers. Arroz con leche is not just rice pudding, this infamous concoction found in Europe or the US. No, a good arroz con leche is soft enough that when you hold it on the edge of a tilted spoon it looks like forming a major dollop about to fall but it is still sticky enough to remain in the spoon. An art, high culinary art if you ask me (1).

Arroz con leche is also perhaps the most universal children rhyme in Latin America. Be it the rather pompous Argentinean version or the more simplistic Dominican one. It seems that each country has its own lyrics (I could not find the Venezuelan version so I am limiting here to the basic tune). Because we all sung it in our school yard, it remains with us as our essential comfort food, the one that ties us to an ever sunny schoolyard, the dessert we would not dare order in a restaurant but the one that never gets old in our refrigerator.

Thus of course it is rather dispiriting that since the last quarter of 2007 it is an increasingly difficult dish to prepare. Last weekend I was in Caracas and I visited a grocery store in the middle to upper middle class neighborhood of El Cafetal, a store where people do not mid as much to pay a little bit extra to get what they need. But even this acquiescence of the local customers is not enough. After all the Indecu, that selectively nazi price control mob, tends to strike more at such grocery stores. Of course, they are more likely to get there some payback of substance to stop them from closing the store.

Thus this week end I did a little photo report of the Plaza grocery store in El Cafetal, a very old grocery store which existed in the early days of El Cafetal when this one had not even a half dozen high rises (now El Cafetal has dozens and dozens of high rises lining up its main streets, but that is another story). The fact of the matter is that in spite of the population growth the Plaza has retained its original size and a feel of mom and pop store that I hope the pictures will transmit, even though they are a little bit depressing.

We will start by observing that there is no milk nor sugar.

The first picture is the former sugar section which know offers only fructose and a little bit of pastry grade powdered sugar, of use only in glazing. The section is now reduced appropriately to a specialty area close to the Mexican food ingredients. You will notice that even the beans used to hide the gap in the area are gently disposed so as to hide their very own limited quantities. But I suppose I should not complain: we had at least 3 types of beans which is more than usual...

The next picture is the powder milk area. As usual there is nothing of the stuff, neither is the UHT versions usually stored on the right side. Even the infant formulas are low. There is though condensed milk, which I must add is not suitable for real arroz con leche as it makes it over sweetened. Condensed milk is a short cut to the real thing that any expert will immediately recognize. Not that I have anything against condensed milk which is great for "tres leches" or "quesillo", but it does not work well with arroz con leche.

There is rice though. But only a single variety from a single brand, which is totally unsuitable for making arroz con leche anyway. A little bit as if you were trying to make sushi rice with Uncle Ben's long grain. Thus, even in reasonably affluent El Cafetal it is that rice or nothing. But you have diet Pepsi to go with.

While I was there I looked at other staples.

The bakery stand was depleted, with only a few donuts left and three lonely breads still available. Wheat flour is becoming scarce too while the refusal of the government to allow for price increase in bread is, as usual, aggravating the scarcity created by the difficulties in importing the stuff.

Of course fresh milk is gone for good. As is the Colombian yogurt which used to occupy a large chunk of that shelf. No butter either as what you see at the right end is diverse type of margarine. At last that one seems to be back in force. But imported whipped cream is available!

Coffee is the latest item joining the list of missing in action. The ridiculous effort by the government to block the prices, even though supplies to the producers have increased by more than 22.5% just in 2007 is finally showing its effect. In a country of coffee drinkers, now we are forced to buy the multinational disgusting Nescafe instant coffee or the decaffeinated El Peñon brand. Pathetic! Of course, the government does not control the price of decaffeinated and instant coffee so we are forced towards these placebos, like it or not.

To complete this round up let's verify that the cooking oil situation has not improved. Only one brand of a soy oil which is not liked in Venezuela cooking. And at the right end expensive olive oil, increasingly coming at the free rate of the bolivar, that is, twice as much as the goods produced under imports favored by CADIVI, the currency exchange control organization which is making water from all sides.

And to get yet another evidence of wheat floor problems (favorable exchange rate of that sector have also been downgraded) we can look at the cookie section. Once upon a time you could find dozens fo types of cookies. Now you will have to content yourself of soda crackers or "galletas Maria".

Other stores in Caracas do not fare much better. I went to the gigantic Exelsior in Santa Eduvigis and if they had more stuff than the Plaza, they were still completly out of milk and sugar and had only the same brand of rice.

And what does happen in less affleutn areas? After all, in the sotrs of El Cafetal and Santa Eduvigis, there are enough non controlled items sold that allow the store to compensate from what it cannot earn in reselling basic stapples. For example the Plaza sells kitchen trinkets, imported wine and Scotch, has a wide selection of hygiene and beauty aids. But what about the "abastos" in San Martin, Petare or el Valle where people cannot go past cheap toothpaste and shampoo, with a little bit of beer on week ends? How do the owner of these stroes manage to make a living? To compete against the unfair price structure of Mercal (which by the way is unsustainable as even Chavez has announced that some of its prices will be increased)?

I think that the government does not care. If the delicate network of mom and pop abastos in popular areas dwindle because of lack of stuff to sell and high crime to steal any meager earnings, the people will become even more dependent of chavismo for their food. A new from of indenture, where public employees are forced to shop at the store of their boss, the state.

1) curiously of all the recipes I found in the Internet the one that comes close to the real thing is the one form WikiHow. It is also the one that gives best the basics allowing the cook to make as many add-ons as wished.

-The end-

"The Bloggies" nomination

Venezuela News and Views has been nominated to one of these blog award things: The Bloggies. I am not sure how important it is but whoever handles it is doing its 8th edition. It is a little bit awkward to vote since it requires you leave an e-mail to validate your vote. However it also makes it a more realistic vote as no one is going to make up dozens of e-mails. Or are you? Also, the confirmation e-mail does not arrive very fast so you need to keep it in mind.

However I would say that the choice is rather eclectic which is a good thing. You can go THERE and look at the Latin America section to vote for this blog. I confess that I did not know the other blogs in the category but it is safe to say they probably did not know about our group either: I am the only political blog of the lot which makes me even more surprised to be nominated.

You need to vote by Thursday 31. And I suppose that if you have more than one e-mail address, well, you can demonstrate them how the Venezuelan CNE works ;)

-The end-

Uribe splendid European trip

Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia continues his very successful trip through France, Spain and Switzerland. Apparently Europe is getting through and through the little cartoon from Weil, published today in Tal Cual. Chavez definitely looks more and more like the thug from the ruined down house down the block than any statesman.

Rather than expand on the different details in Spain and France, let's summarize the Uribe trip with the declarations of Javier Solana, speaking in the name of the European Union itself. From the Clarin in Argentina, to take a non European paper, we can translate the words of Solana as:

What the terrorists have to do is to release the hostages, without conditions, immediately.
They cannot justify what they do and that idea must take hold in the hearts of well intentioned people.
Will Chavez receive the message? I ain't holding my breath. Whatever Chavez does, Europe will keep considering the FARC as a terrorist group. The implication is clear: Do not want to be called terrorists? Release 'em hostages now.

Meanwhile the strategy of Uribe not to reply to the insults of Chavez is paying off handsomely. Uribe is received warmly everywhere he goes. In fact, never has Uribe been received better anywhere since he has become president of Colombia. Big mouthed Chavez insults, very ill timed with the Uribe trip, ensure that. Even a surprisingly sympathetic article of the BBC (for Chavez and the FARC, not Uribe) cannot manage to hide the success that Uribe is meeting in Europe. Maybe the BBC has no hostage of its own in Colombia? Maybe they missed the treatment inflicted on FARC hostages?

But Chavez is getting hits form other quarters too. Once thought a staunch Chavez supporter, Ecuador's Correa has announced that he will have nothing to do with the Colombia Venezuela conflict. Apparently it seems that Correa knows how to read maps and realizes that tiny Ecuador Northern neighbor will be big Colombia until the end of time.

And to add insult to injury, Alan Garcia is received in grand style by Spain where he surely loved to point out that Peru's International reserves, without high oil prices, have nothing to envy the Venezuelan dilapidated ones. The transformation of Garcia from enfant terrible in the 80ies, to respectable and succesful statesman is stupendous. We need not worry this happening to Chavez.

-The end-

Milk, drugs and Uribe

Alo Presidente brought us two things yesterday: personal insults against Uribe and a 36% increase in milk price. Plus a bonus of new threats about farm seizures and bank nationalizations. Surely international economic trust is going to soar and investments will start pouring in, food scarcity will be solved and we will all live in peace and contentment.

Chavez keeps showing mental and emotional distress: how else can one explain yesterday's new outbursts in his weekly peroration? His endorsement of the FARC, a disaster that might be second only to the closing of RCTV, seems to perturb Chavez more than expected. So he attacks the guy that he thinks made him commit such stupidity even though that guy, Uribe, had warned him repeatedly that the FARC were never to be trusted with anything. This time, upset because Colombia government refuses to go in the gutter where Chavez loves to roll himself, Chavez, determined to get a reaction, any reaction, uttered such insults that we wonder if Colombia and Venezuela relations will ever be able to mend as long as Chavez or Uribe are in office. The insults were big enough that BBC Mundo reported them in full. They included choice words such as "mafiosi" and "coward".

The outburst of Chavez, missing a great opportunity to remain silent, come from renewed accusations that Venezuela has become a platform for drug trafficking. In spite of all the ships coming from Venezuela caught with kilos or tons of cocaine, besides the US complaining that its radars detect more and more unregistered flights leaving Venezuela, Chavez decides to deny it all. Thus instead of the sensible
shutting up and investigating, Chavez decides to accuse the US and Colombia of smearing him. Well, considering just the amount seized in ships coming from Venezuela, and by various countries, we must wonder whether Chavez is that ill informed, or as the US indirectly implies, Chavez is an accomplice. After all, when you befriend the FARC you also befriend their drug dealing activities and looking at the haggard Chavez of these past few months, he might even be working at the testing labs.

Unfortunately for Chavez, his elephant in a china shop sense of timing, brings these declarations while Uribe is in a "good will" tour of European capitals, where he hopes to have France, Switzerland and others mediate between the FARC and his administration. Reading today Chavez words in these countries papers will be enough to strengthen Uribe's case in front of, say, Sarkozy, that Chavez has gone from being a possible mediator to become part of the problem.

Back at the ranch, in front of so many setbacks that are increasingly difficult to manage, and impossible to cover, Chavez starts yet a new internal offensive. Apparently he sensed, finally, that the empty milk shelves have played a role in his referendum defeat (the hallaca effect). So he decided to do what he should have done long ago, acknowledge that his inflation is affecting the production costs of milk producers and gave then a 36% rise. Right off the bat this will be insufficient because after a year of official inflation at 22.5% the best that these producer can expect is to break even. But to aggravate matters Chavez is on the verge to forbid outright the sale of milk processors (cheese makers or condensed milk makers) as these people might be willing to pay more for milk than the official price (cheese went up by 50% since November). In a stupendous populist moment he said that all the milk should go to "el pueblo" and that he could not care less if there was no more condensed milk in Venezuela. That we might end up with neither milk nor condensed milk of course is not crossing his feverish mind.

And to tie it all up nicely he said that any producer that smuggles milk to Colombia should have his land seized (BBC English here). I suppose that his military must have told him that a war against Colombia was a sure deal, for Colombia. So he does the next best, beat Colombia on a proxy war on Venezuelan farmers. I wonder who is the real coward here....

But Chavez is also a great visionary. Perhaps sensing that his milk policies will not work anyway if anything because he has incompetent folks to run the new operations, he decided to repeat once again that any opposition victory in the coming regional elections will bring Venezuela to civil war. If negative campaign is already at such paroxysm 10 month before the first ballot is cast for Caracas mayor we can shiver at what this campaign will be.

-The end-

How chavistas manage reality avoidance

After a week of daily quoting of Weil, Rayma deserves her due. Today she explains to us how chavistas manage to keep the faith. The cartoon above presents two chavistas (red gowns, the UH AH anthem, the zenith of sloganeering the revolution was able to produce) meditating.

UH: How can we stop meditating on annual inflation, food scarcity, high crime, and the deteriorating heath services?

AH: Concentrating on a war on Colombia.

-The end-

Chavez recklessly keeps stocking the fire

Apparently chavismo has decided that they have reached a point of no return and that to save Chavez face, or so they think, they must at least reach a break in diplomatic relations. Of course I still think that war is not seriously contemplated by anyone except perhaps Chavez under influence, but the dangerous games that the Chavez administration has been playing are going to force them to suspend relations with Colombia. How else can we explain the latest communique of the Venezuelan foreign desk? How more bananesque a text can one imagine coming from a country supposedly in the XXI century? I suspect that even in the good old days of Gomez (good old days for Chavez anyway since he is imitating the Gomez style more and more) such a communique would have been conceivable. Except that Gomez knew better than play foreign policy, very content to administer his big farm called Venezuela until his death.

Since we must start somewhere let's start with the length of the communique: Venezuela needed 743 words to insult, I mean, reply, to the previous Colombian communique which was only 287 words. Inasmuch as that Colombian communique was in all fairness a tad personal against Chavez (still, infinitely less personal than the repeated attacks of Chavez the previous days) it did not justify the spiteful text that Nicolas Maduro signed. Then again, what can you expect from a failed metro bus driver?

I am not going to bother translating it, it is embarrassing, and thus will limit myself to some highlights to give the tone.

The Colombian government attacks president Chavez because he is the only one who has met success in freeing hostage. Maduro apparently has not been informed that a few hours after the liberation of Gonzales and Rojas, the FARC took 6 new hostages. Quite a success, no? Note also that no opportunity is wasted to glorify the beloved Supremo.

The Colombian government is not committed with freeing hostages because it prefers to beg the interested imperial condescension of the US. Someone should tell Maduro that there are US citizen hostages and that surely enough lots of pressure have been exerted to have then freed. Not to mention the totally gratuitous implication about Colombia foreign policy, certainly not anymore vile toward the US than the Venezuelan one is towards Cuba.

The communique of the Colombian foreign office is riddled with cynicism and hypocrisy. Well, considering that it is barely a third of the Venezuelan one which is riddled with stupidity and ill intentions, the Colombians are either master narrators or Maduro did not get the point at all.

Dozens of intermediaries of high level, linked to president Uribe, are today behind bars for crimes of terrorism, paramilitarism and drug trafficking. Did it occur to Maduro that in Colombia maybe the judicial system works whereas in Venezuela you can steal, lie, cheat, fraud, kill all that you want and as long as you do not travel you will never go to jail?

I think I will stop here. The reader should have now a pretty good idea of what this whole charade is about. And if there is any doubt it is enough to see how fast the monochromatic National Assembly following the cue form their beloved Comandante quickly voted with minimum debate to give belligerent status to the FARC. Only PODEMOS balked, as they are slowly getting used to become the democratic opposition to an increasingly undemocratic chavismo.

I will leave this post with three tidbits.

The Venezuelan government is claiming that the FARC holds no Venezuelans, as a way to try to distract from the fact that around 100 Venezuelans are held hostages (and probably much more). Well, it was quickly denied by some Colombian officials that stated that at least 16 Venezuelans are held by the FARC, for pecuniary reasons.

The Colombian defense minister was non-plussed by the latest Maduro opus. He dismissed it as a Chavez "bravuconada" (somewhere between boast and thuggery?) . but that was not all: a few hours ago he demanded that Chavez submitted the evidence he had as to the Colombian government wanting to assassinate him. Neither him nor long time readers of this blog are holding their breath as to Chavez ever submitting such type of evidence.

Meanwhile we were reminded of the crude reality: Colombian exportations increased by 17.7% from last year. We are not talking here of oil which price is artificially high and which might be falling any time soon if a US recession is confirmed. We are talking actual manufactured goods in addition to raw materials. Radio Caracol specified that just for Venezuela the increase over one year was 80% though I find this hard to believe. However what I found easy to believe is that Venezuela now buys almost as much as half of what the US buys form Colombia and more than what the European Union as a whole buys! That is, per capita, Venezuela is the main client of Colombia, and food is the largest chunk of what we buy there....

-The end-

Is Chavez seeking war with Colombia?

After Wednesday's new bitter exchanges with Colombia one is allowed to start thinking seriously how far will Chavez go in his stupid and totally unnecessary fight with Colombia. But before I go into that and people think I am an alarmist let me start to explain why there will not be a war.

No matter what Chavez in his delirium thinks he can get away with, the geopolitical reality of the relationship between Venezuela and Colombia weighs very heavily against Chavez and Venezuela. Let's list a few items without any particular order of importance.

  • As I have said often enough we are not seeing a Venezuelan foreign policy, we are seeing a Chavez foreign policy. The Venezuela public has long ceased to be consulted on what is good for Venezuela. Whatever is decided comes directly from behind closed door meetings between Chavez, a few advisers and Cubans. If Chavez really decides to take Venezuela in uncharted waters, a country who has not been at war with anyone since its independence, there is no predicting what the people's reaction will be, no matter what are the pious declaration of the armed forces or even the newly constituted militia.

  • The Venezuelan armed forces are in a very sorry state, a very demoralized one at that. Politics has penetrated in the barracks and the army has been used to distribute chicken and other staples to foster Chavez political fortunes rather than training. Most generals are fat, if not obese, in particular those who show the most devotion to Chavez. There are enough people in the Venezuelan army who know that today Venezuela is unable to sustain a serious war. In front of them would be a much more technical army, a trained one in jungle warfare, an army that more than likely hates the FARC and we can infer will equally hate anyone who supports the FARC. We can seriously doubt that the Venezuelan army will let Chavez drag them into a war that they think they will lose.

  • There are geographical factors that also weigh heavily against Venezuela. Zulia, a critical oil area is close to Venezuela and could be very easily neutralized in a few hours, crippling irremediably the means of Venezuela to finance a long protracted war. The main areas of population and military camps are actually close to Caracas, far from the Colombian borders. However the Colombian border is heavyly settled in the departments of Norte de Santander, Santander and Boyaca, offering a very convenient base, a great fall back for a Colombian army attacking the Tachira area. And Colombia industrial might is rather decentralized into 4 areas, 2 of them all but out of reach from Venezuelan airplanes.

  • If Venezuela could count on the FARC to wage some internal war, it is doubtful that they would be able to cripple the decentralized industrial fabric of Colombia. In Venezuela by just bombing the A.R.C. you eliminate 30% of the military response capacity at the very least. Besides there is a huge Colombian population in Venezuela who voted heavily, 1 to 5, in favor of Uribe during the 2006 election. The huge Colombian population in Venezuela, even if naturalized, cannot be counted upon to offer much resistance to advancing Colombian armies.

  • Only an offensive war by Venezuela could meet a chance of success. And Colombian terrain is much more difficult than Venezuela. And Colombia is much bigger than Venezuela.

  • Colombian public opinion would be convinced that they are fighting a just war, Venezuelan public opinion will have no clue why they are in this mess even if they were to support the war. That can only favor Colombia who in addition has several million more folks than Venezuela.

  • Finally the trade balance is extraordinarily favorable to Colombia and comes from the huge dependence of feed stuff that we import from Colombia. Any durable closing of the Colombian border and its trade will increase dramatically the scarcity of food items already palpable in Venezuela grocery stores. A state of war with the easy wreak up of Puerto Cabello by a daring Colombian raid could create great problems for the Venezuelan populace. We could starve pretty soon. Armies run on their stomach, you know.
Thus, considering that many people know how these parameters will affect any possible conflict, we can wonder if they will let Chavez push them over to the brink. I do not think so and in fact this could speed the violent ouster of Chavez by chavistas themselves who do not want to risk their newly acquired riches just because of the naked ambition of Chavez.

So, why Chavez, who surely is aware in part of what I write above, is gambling so dangerously against Colombia? Wednesday he went as far as accusing Colombia to plot his assassination without offering any proof (a well rehearsed line against the US even though we are still to see the first real concrete evidence of that). The Colombian government was prompt in issuing a very strong communique where basically they warn Chavez to butt off Colombian internal affairs, to show some respect as they show to him. In fact Colombia came dangerously close to qualify Chavez of terrorist himself by accepting all the terrorist practices of the FARC that he refuses to acknowledge.

What is more worrying, or should at least be more worrying for Chavez is that he is not finding support elsewhere except of Nicaragua and Cuba, both heavily dependent on Venezuela money, both with almost no risk from Colombia were a conflict to explode. Other leaders such as Lula are in no hurry to follow Chavez and are trying to stop him before he does the irreparable. Even Correa of Ecuador and Morales of Bolivia have been either silent of ambiguous. Elsewhere, the Washington Post printed an unambiguous condemnatory editorial where words were not minced:

"Venezuela's Hugo Chávez endorses Colombian groups known for abductions, drug trafficking and mass murder."

"In short, Mr. Chávez was endorsing groups dedicated to violence and other criminal behavior in a neighboring Latin American democracy, and associating his agenda with theirs"

"The answer to this logic was provided by the press office of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been waging what is, in fact, a heroic battle against the brutal gangs that for decades have plagued his country."

""The violent groups of Colombia are terrorists because they kidnap, place bombs indiscriminately, recruit and murder children, murder pregnant women, murder the elderly and use antipersonnel mines that leave in their wake thousands of innocent victims." All these assertions have been well documented by Western human rights groups that are otherwise hostile to Mr. Uribe's government."

"Latin American leaders who until now have seen in Mr. Chávez a crude populist who buys his friends with petrodollars are faced with something new: a head of state who has openly endorsed an organization of kidnappers and drug traffickers in a neighboring, democratic country"

France and Germany, did not show any support either. There was even a great Liberation editorial which can be compared with the vile propagandist and inaccurate article from the Le Monde Diplomatique (note, NOT Le Monde who is a serous journal and quite anti Chavez), who like Ortega and Castro lives of the largess of Chavez. The manipulative nature of the Diplo work, obviously written in a hurry, shows clearly why this paper has lost any relevance among the cognoscenti of the world, having become what in Venezuela we call "un pasquín".

In brief, it is turning out to be a major foreign policy blunder for Chavez which will cost him more, much more than his failed UN speech. So, why did Chavez took such a demential risk?

The reasons are very simple, he needs desperately to distract Venezuelan attention over his now catastrophic mismanagement of the country.

  • Food staples keep missing and new ones threaten to be added to the list of vanishing products, in particular there is now a concern with common medicines.

  • The subsidy over the price of gas is becoming budgetarily unmanageable. Yet any gas increase is a political time bomb, aggravated by chavismo irresponsible energetic policies.

  • The crime wave is now so out of bound that it will take years to solve it. Even more so that the economic reasons that underlie it are not addressed, that is, real jobs are not created.

  • There is no hope for the production economy to grow outside of the state spreading money around and promoting an obscene import economy. A recent study show that private investment in Venezuela keeps falling and is even now below the investment received by a small country like Guatemala.

  • Poverty, education and other social index seem to fall again. There is a big Dengue epidemic. Mal de Chagas has made a dramatic reappearance in Chacao of all places. More and more Barrio Adentro modules are now closed for lack of staff and/or resources. The promised hospital renovation is nowhere to be seen.

  • Inflation has been two years in a row almost the double of the governmental target. The real inflation is about 30% above the official numbers. This year 22.5% official inflation has eaten deeply into the income of the lower sectors who have seen any gain made early in the year not only wiped out but leaving them worse off than what they were before those huge minimal wage increase of last May.

  • The ministerial changes early this month have failed completely to reassure the country and generate even a tiny momentary honey moon. Nobody cared in fact. Nobody thinks that the reshuffled group will be able to do anything to improve the situation.

  • Corruption is now the constant talk in the street, in addition to personal insecurity and where to find milk.

  • And most important of all, the invincibility aura of Chavez seems to have been irremediably broken on December 2. We can even sense with the changing tone in public protests. With yet another electoral year ahead Chavez is suddenly faced with the possibility of a major regional defeat next November that could jeopardize is hold on office.

And to this we could add another reason: the ill health of Fidel in Cuba, the lack of certainty that Raul will be as supportive as Fidel was, the weakened state of the FARC, are all powerful reasons to roll the dice and gamble the future of Chavez career once and for all. When people are in a hurry, and ill advised, that is when their worse mistakes happen.

Del apuro lo que queda es el cansancio.
(From haste, exhaustion- ?-)

PS: added later. As luck has it, Weil gives us a 4th cartoon in a row on the current situation, and a cartoon that fits like a glove the long post above. Translation of what Lucifer is telling Chavez: "it is a sure thing, 1) you are financing your true army, 2) they free the hostages, you get the peace Nobel and... 3) you wreck your country's economy."

-The end-