Communists are not what they used to be

The other day a Globovision journalist obtained the pay check of a communist representative to the Venezuelan National Assembly. Apparently the guy did not know how much he was making and looked quite confused when Beatriz Adrian showed him his receipt (in general Communist Party elected officials turn over their pay check to the party who in exchange give them a salary according to their proletarian status; well, at least that is the theory).

This happened a couple of days after Chavez announced his alleged austerity plan, where the N.A. president Cilia Flores pretended that representatives really did make that much money when Chavez asked for pay check reduction. The publication of a rather substantial income far from the asseveration of Cilia gave us her very irate reaction. She actually threatened the Globovison journalist when in a real democracy the pay check of public officials is usually public knowledge.

Well, today we can read that the Communist Party Member whose paycheck was revealed, Oscar Figueras, is defending the secrecy of income because, well, you know, criminals get this information and they try to hold you for ransom. Unbelievable! What next? The communist party defending bonus to failed business managers at tax payer expense? Oh, wait! in bolivarian Venezuela that is an everyday occurrence for the managers of failed state enterprises!!!!

Meanwhile they have tracked down who gave the paycheck of Figueras and they are goign to punish him. The glorious bolivarian farce does not tolerate whistle blowers.

-The end-

Chavez, al-Bashir and Miss Universe

Today in Doha Hugo Chávez defended Sudan's president and war criminal al-Bashir once again. He even invited al-Bashir to visit Venezuela. Hugo's dear friend, Argentina's president Cristina Kirchner, left the hall as soon as al-Bashir arrived as she wanted to avoid having a picture of her taken next to the war criminal. She knows such a picture would haunt her in the future.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's Miss Universe 2008 said "she had a lot of fun in Guantanamo". She was there "in support for the US troops stationed there" or something like that. Oh, my, it is so embarrassing to be Venezuelan these days.

Update: this will be forgotten in Venezuela very soon, but I am sure in Sudan a little bit more suffering is added to the avalanche of it the people in Darfur got. Every day raids against the Southern population are carried out where women are raped and killed.

Translated from Al-Intibaha with Google Tools:

Chavez .. Bashir to visit Venezuela

Doha Intibaha

shaf.jpg Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's support for Sudan and the arrogance of his anti-colonialism, which led the world against countries hostile to the principle of dominance and vulnerability of people, Chavez said he is proud of many positions of the Sudanese President and his people. For his part, Field Marshal Omar Al-Bashir, the price of the courage of Venezuelan President Chavez and his supervisor in support of Arab and Islamic peoples and al-Bashir announced his willingness to visit the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, and to thank the people of Venezuela and its leader .. This came in a meeting that brought Chavez Bashir yesterday morning the Qatari capital Doha on the sidelines of the summit, which began its work in Qatar yesterday.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 01 April 2009)
لتقى شافيز .. البشير يزور فنزويلا

الدوحة الانتباهة

shaf.jpgجدد الرئيس الفنزويلي هوجو شافيز دعمه للسودان ومواقفه المناهضة للغطرسة التي تقودها دول الاستعمار العالمي ضد الدول المناوئة لمبدأ الهيمنة واستضعاف الشعوب وقال شافيز إنه يعتز كثيراً بمواقف الرئيس السوداني وشعبه. من جهته ثمن المشير عمر البشير شجاعة الرئيس الفنزويلي شافيز ومواقفه المشرفة في مساندة الشعوب العربية والإسلامية وأعلن البشير عن استعداده لزيارة العاصمة الفنزويلية كاركاس وتقديم الشكر لشعب فنزويلا وقائدها.. جاء ذلك في اللقاء الذي جمع البشير بشافيز صباح أمس بالعاصمة القطرية الدوحة على هامش أعمال القمة التي بدأت أعمالها بقطر يوم أمس.

Chavez making a fool of himself at Doha; invites genocide Bashir to Venezuela

I could not have hoped for a faster confirmation on my two recent post on foreign affairs. In the first one I mentioned that Venezuela, or rather Chavez, had not been invited to the Viña del Mar conference for progressive leaders to offer proposals to the coming G20. In the second post I criticized Lula for defending Chavez against all common sense. Well, Chavez today showed that he was really pissed off at not been invited at Viña del Mar and along the way embarrassed further Lula who will have even more of a hard time dodging questions about Chavez.

The first thing that hit the newsroom in Venezuela was the declarations of Chavez against Chile's Bachelet in Doha. The event in Doha, Qatar, is a "summit" between the Arab League and South American countries to promote trade. It is not to promote democracy of course as even Iran (not a member of the league) is more democratic than most of the Arab league members. The league, not democratic, some of its members militantly Muslims, challenged the rest of the world in its own summit held yesterday by inviting al-Bashir, the genocidal president of Sudan, currently with an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court. Interestingly if you look at the map of the ICC you will notice that only three Arab League countries belong to that International Court (the US, by the way, does not, but Venezuela does).

So why did poor Bachelet deserved the wrath of Chavez? According to the Tal Cual release (nothing in English yet, sorry!)
"There are some progressives around here that I do not understand (...) They do not do anything good for the unity of South America when president Bachelet calls for a meeting with the Vice President of the USA and the British Prime Minister (...) Two representatives of the Empires! I think that this jeopardizes South America Unity!"
Oh dear! Where should we start?

With the ignorance of Chavez entourage that was not able to explain to him that this Viña del Mar meeting had nothing to do with South America? Or with Chavez bad faith at not been invited and uttering such spiteful remarks, implying that unity is only possible with him at the helm? Truly, he is pissed of not having been invited. The pariah status he is gaining is starting to affect him. As I wrote then, it is clear that when serious work is required folks like Chavez are not invited.

So, not been able to steal the show at Viña Del Mar he went ahead to steal the one at Doha. After all in Doha little work was expected anyway as it is more of a P.R. show summit than anything else, where the only objective of the Arab countries is to trump their nose at the West by hanging out with some Latin Leaders. Any serious work of the Arab League was done the day before.

So Chavez arrived proposing a new "petro currency" to replace the dollar. What is that fixation with creating world currencies when Chavez is unable to manage his own currency? What would he do with his spending ways if Venezuela depends from another currency for its accounts and populist programs?

Then to remain the darling of Muslim fundamentalist countries he stole the show by defending al-Bashir and dismissing the ICC even though Venezuela is subjected to its decisions. He wondered aloud why the ICC was not arresting Bush before arresting al-Bashir. The only thing that this reveals is his conception of justice, Venezuelan style, where Chavez announces on TV what politicians he wants to see behind bars, and quickly HIS judicial gang proceeds to forge any necessary evidence. A smart journalists would ask Chavez whether he submitted to the ICC a well documented case to arrest Bush or Olmert. Probably the thought never crossed Chavez mind....... Or the journalist could simply ask whether Chavez read the al-Bashir file.

And then he invited al-Bashir over to Venezuela. I am sure that the Darfur experience will be of great use to Chavez when he decides to kill off the opposition that refuses to submit to his military regime. Not to mention that al-Bashir can offer tips to Chavez on how to escape international prosecution when his turn will finally come. Asinus asinum fricat.

Watch next:
  • The next interview of Lula by a big gun as Zakaria....
  • Venezuela lame excuses to leave the ICC....
  • Bachelet refusing to meet Chavez ever again
  • The International Socialist group visiting Venezuela and Chavez possibly not receiving them
  • al-Bashir probably will not come as he knows better than going to an ICC country (though admittedly Chavez could use this as an excuse to pull Venezuela out)
  • But if al-Bashir does not come expect a "triumphant" tour through Arabic countries by Chavez anytime soon.
  • And more, much more comedy sketches to this show "loud mouths in search of an audience"

Update: Cristina Kirchner, certainly not a very admirable leader, today did something good for her very tarnished image: she was the only leader at Doha who did not take part in the "family picture" and who stood up and left when Bashir turn to speak came.

Update 2: do not miss this great editorial of the Washington Post

-The end-

Lula knows he screwed on Venezuela and Chavez

I was watching today an interview of Brazil's president Lula da Silva on CNN, conducted by Fareed Zakaria (1). The interview was very interesting. Lula has answers to everything and rather thoughtful answers (for example his thoughts about expanding the UN security membership and its role). He might be an union worker in origin but that has not stopped him from learning a lot along the way. However all his self assurance was sorely tested when Mr. Zakaria asked him on Chavez. The approximate transcript first, click on pics to enlarge (2).

Zakaria: You are regarded as a great symbol of democracy in the Americas [more flattering comments follow] And yet some people say that you have been quiet as Hugo Chavez has hollowed out and destroyed democracy in Venezuela. You have greeted him as a friend, you have not really criticized the complete reversal of democracy in Venezuela. Why not speak out about it if Brazil wants to take a greater role in the world? Would that not be a part of it, to stand for certain values?

Lula: [during the question it was fascinating to watch Lula's face: from dead serious he put up a laughing grimace without noise, something clearly designed to hide his real thoughts and trying to ridicule the question which coming from that kind of interviewer is simply not possible to do and demeans Lula more than anything he could do to demean Zakaria] Maybe we cannot agree with Venezuela democracy. But no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. [some strange and irrelevant mumblings follow about him having less years than Chavez in office and that Chavez went through so many elections while he himself went through only two]

Zakaria: Wouldn't you like to have had the advantages he has when running with the opposition muzzled, his gangs out in the streets. This is not real democracy.

Lula: We have to respect the local cultures of each country. The political traditions of each country. The political cultures of each country. Brazil has made a lot of investments in Venezuela and I believe that the US needs to get closer to Venezuela. Why so? Because I think that it would be beneficial to the US and to Venezuela.

Zakaria: How we would do that? [reminders of Chavez insults to the US follow]

Lula: [he goes on with a lot of bullshit totally irrelevant to the previous questions. Then there is a talk about generosity] With an economy the size of Brazil we have to make gestures of generosity to our neighbors because otherwise they will have the right to think that Brazil is an imperialist power, that the US is an imperialist power, because there is development in our countries and there is underdevelopment in their countries. I believe the results that we have managed to achieve are good ones, I would say for Brazil, for Latin America and for the rest of the world.


How can we possibly put a good spin on this section of the interview? Even Zakaria looked surprised, and more than once. After all, the idiocies of Chavez are simply public knowledge and glossing over them would have actually been better for Lula than to try to skip the questions outright as he did.

So this is my story to try to make sense of this rather pathetic moment. Let's start with the salient points.

First, of course, Lula might have learned a lot in his career but not as much as he should have on Venezuela. His demeaning comment on Political Culture (repeated, incredibly, three times) simply tell us that all that he knows about Venezuela comes from Chavez. He might have received accurate reports form his foreign office but clearly, he has been very selective about what he chose to use. And pray, do tell us, when was it Venezuelan political culture to insult the opposition from a position where this one cannot reply to you? This is so offensive that I rather stop now on this part.

Second, there is that mercenary aspect to him: he cites the Brazilian investments as an excuse; which is not and excuse, otherwise we could excuse the US and many other countries of a few crimes because, well, you know, they invested. And this is made even worse when unprompted he excuses himself about Brazilian imperialistic tendencies. Truly Chavez brought the worse in Lula and made him blabber.

And third there are clear escape attempts at not replying at all to Zakaria questions. At some point Lula must have realized that he did not convince Zakaria, and perhaps not even himself. This last picture on the right is a witness about some strange brief pauses taken by Lula then, with shifty, impatient looks, images that we do not get from Lula at any other point in the interview.

I am not going to detail why Lula is so wrong because not only the abuses of Chavez are public knowledge, but this blog is a whole narrative of those abuses and to top it off, the CIDH has just published last Friday a lengthy report where Chavez electoral abuses are detailed, a report by the way that Zakaria did not need to make his statement (3). I rather speculate on what is going on with Lula.

First, Lula comes from the hard left that got educated to reality with time. That is why he had to run three times before he was finally elected. As such he might never have managed to reconcile fully his lefty militant heart to what he knows is the reality that has brought him success and keeps him high in polls. He knows he has betrayed some of his youth tenets but he is not going back because he is smart enough to understand that this way is the one that does bring some success.

As such Lula has always looked at Chavez as the kind of leader he might have wanted to be if he had a smaller country to rule and more means. Federal Brazil does not have the easy riches of Venezuela. Brazil is such a world in itself that a Chavez like clown is simply not possible anymore there (Qadros might have been the last specimen of the sort and Brazilians might have learned their lesson for good then). It is simple quite possible that Lula lives vicariously through Chavez the leftist experience he will never live himself, blinded enough by Chavez charisma and showmanship to overlook the fascist and military tendencies of Chavez that someone like Lula should know better have having suffered for the lengthy Brazilian military regime (other leftists that suffered repression are not fooled by Chavez, for example Chile's Bachelet or Uruguay Vasquez).

But as I have already written in this blog Brazil is an Imperialist country by tradition and perhaps even by vocation (Bandeirantes anyone?). Lula might try to pretend it is not but he fools no one. However we cannot blame him much on him applying imperialism on Venezuela: after all Chavez is serving to him the country on a silver platter and why would not Brazil industrialists benefit from the Venezuelan piñata? If there is one that should be judged harshly by history, and hopefully by judges, on this matter it is Chavez, not Lula who after all behaves as the president of a great country, serving his country interests before he serves his own ones (well, in general at least).

Still, after this interview it should be extremely clear to anyone that Lula has helped Chavez as much as he could, that he has been an active accomplice in the destruction of Venezuelan democracy. In fact we could go as far as to say that Lula has only disdain for the Venezuelan people and that he thinks that Chavez is actually a redeemer that got a bum rap and thus deserved his help. As such when history books will be written Lula will be pointed as having some Venezuelan blood on his hand because at no point we can show a Lula berating Chavez for his abuses, even in private (read again that part where he thinks he has been achieving great things in Latin America!). In fact we can even think of occasions where some of his comments were perceived as indirect criticism of Chavez only to see Lula a few days later backpedal fast and embrace Chavez again. And let's not forget that Lula visited Chavez at least twice in important electoral times endorsing him.

The funny thing for me here is that Venezuela and Brazil are probably the two countries closer ethnically in Latin America, with a similar racial make up and mix, a similar way to conceive of life. And yet Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state while Brazil is threatening to become a world power. In a way a take over of Venezuela by Brazil would not be such a bad thing, you know.... I wonder how much of that subconscious thinking might have operated in Brazilian ruling class as they contributed to the demise of Venezuela (they will put the blame on Lula but too many went along this complacency toward Venezuela). Meanwhile woe is us in Venezuela because while Chavez squandered our possibly last historical opportunity Colombia and Brazil grew in strength. In a post Chavez Venezuela Bogota and Brasilia will fight over taking Venezuela under their area of influence.

Remember, ten years from now, you read it here first.


1) I get the CNN from London bureau, not the direct one from Atlanta, ask my Cable company why.... Fareed Zakaria GPS. Thanks to my new Direct TV decoder that allows me to record on command and examine such an interview in detail. I shall use it on Chavez in the future!

2) I do not have the transcript, what I quote is what I lifted from replaying the interview. Since Lula spoke in Portuguese, CNN gave us a simultaneous translation, with the risks that this implies on finer points.

3) Not on line yet, sorry. I guess it will come up Monday. CIDH = IACHR, by the way.

-The end-

The feeble Venezuelan markets

As a sign of how weak, feeble and fragile Venezuelan markets have become under Chavez and CADIVI do not miss these two posts by Miguel. You will learn how the shenanigans of a single guy basically killed for a few days half the currency exchange system of Venezuela swap market. We knew we were vulnerable but maybe it is worse than what we thought. Read this first and then this. Keep in mind that Miguel scooped the Venezuelan press and was picked up by big papers for their news. This has to be the biggest blogging coup in Venezuela so far.

-The end-

Lula tells Venezuelans how worhtless they are; Viña del Mar confirms it.

During the campaign for the eternal reelection of February 15 2009, at some event Lula declared that he was not keen on reelection but that if Venezuelan wanted it it was their right. Or something to that effect that people are free to chose what they want and that eternal reelection was not that bad. Heck k, even some people took that as a message that maybe Lula was considering getting access to a third term himself through some constitutional change.

Well, today there is a small ruckus in Venezuela press rooms as Lula this time in a more serious forum is stating point blank that more than two terms in office is simply bad for democracy, and we assume this would be true in Lula's mind in Brasilia, Washington, Harare or Caracas. Well, he said again that maybe Caracas was different but Brazil would be changing president even if Lula's ratings are above those of Chavez, that democracy was best served by true alternation. Do not be fooled by what he really meant even if he did not express it: Venezuelans are a stupid and silly people reelecting the same clown over and over while he keeps wrecking his country and giving juicy contracts to Brazilian companies. Lula could not possibly care less for Venezuelans.

You do not believe me? Read the roster of the "summit" being held in Chile, at Viña del Mar. A select group of progressive leaders is gathering to discuss ways to get out of the crisis that is besotting the world. Who is invited: Chile as the chair, the UK, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Norway with, hold tight, the US of A. They are going to attend the closing and summary of a think tank gathering for the previous days where intellectuals, politicians, economists, etc, associated with social democracy and democratic left gathered to offer proposals to the G20 summit coming soon.

As you can see it is a serious summit, with serious people, even if some of you might not agree with their ideas. And the meeting is the more serious that mickey mouse regimes not interested in dialogue, in global solutions or in real democracy offering real solutions for the people and not for their leaders, were not invited. So there was no Ecuador, or Bolivia or Nicaragua and best of all, no Chavez. In fact the Brazilian envoy said that other leftist regime ideas were to be respected which is a very diplomatic way to say "we need to work to solve the crisis and we have no time to put up with showmen coming over for temper tantrums; learn to behave and next time we might respect you enough to invite you over".

We, Venezuelans are a weak and miserable people and we are treated just as we deserve. We are the laughing stock of the world and our stupid leader still thinks that smiles when he places a purchase order are actual smiles of political support.

-The end-

Me likes Hillary

When I lived in the US linked to Academia, I cannot tell you how many times I got upset by people saying things that they should have known much better than saying. What was one of my biggest pet peeves was a line like "these nasty Colombians, why do they send us so much drug?". I must have defended Colombia dozens of times, on occasion as the perpetrator of the inanity passed a joint around. And in Academic party time, which made the whole thing inexcusable on account of ignorance. Well, one would think of, no?

Thus when I read these words from Secretary Hillary Clinton on her arrival in Mexico I could not but be elated:

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade”
“Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Some of you might remember I was a Hillary supporter at first (well, I hinted at it, this is not a US themed blog). Well, that was a reason why. I liked her school marm attitude on some things and her ability to say such truisms, to address some white elephants in US society. OK, she also speaks too much on other things and she might not be too scrupulous on her personal dealings, but she is a politician for crissake!

She certainly is not saying such things without Obama's consent, I am sure. But it is quite gratifying for me to see that this new administration is at least getting a few things right (at least of those things that do matter to me and the future of Latin America).

Is it not ironic that we had to wait for a team accused of commie tendencies to finally acknowledge that drug trade is as extreme a capitalist venture as they come? That drug trade is fueled like nothing else by the laws of supply and demand? The US can do all the reeducation and detox programs, all the drug enforcement agencies it want, bombing all the poppy fields in the world, as long as it does not start punishing more effectively the consumer of drugs these measures will not work. Period.

Meanwhile in Venezuela just this week we learn that 325 kilos of cocaine have been caught in Margarita island. Imagine that, the supply of that poor island for years probably! And even though Venezuela is at best a reluctant collaborator in fighting drug trafficking it has the chutzpah to vaunt its prowess.... There was a time when the only contraband was booze, and then it was made legal. Now apparently Chavez limitations on booze traffic in Margarita have been replaced by drug traffic. Progress! Well, for someone's wallet anyway.

-The end-

De l'éthique? Non, merci

Well, we had it before: Total from France was keen to invest in Burma when nobody else was doing it anymore because...well, because if they did not, the Chinese would have increased their clout there and nothing would have changed. So, nothing changes but Total keeps its cake in Burma. Now we have they are doing the same in Venezuela: cow-towing to the Chavista regime and not saying anything about Venezuela's human rights. We know those human rights in Venezuela are not at the level of Burma, but they are going down the drain very very fast.

What are the deals about? "Energy, education and trasportation", they said. If it goes as usual, we know what it is about: oil, oil, oil and some petrodollars on the other side, as well as some silence at the moment there is some discussion about Venezuela in the European Parliament.

Has anyone heard of the Carter Center lately?

I thought of the Carter Center as I read this AP story about the CIA exposing its findings on electronic electoral fraud. I am not interested in revisiting again that story, nor in wondering why if the CIA knew such information they are/were not doing more about it (other countries are mentioned by the way). No, I am wondering what the Carter Center is up these days, whether it recovered some of its former prestige (in Venezuela it has stopped coming up in conversations completely except for the occasional curse) and whether on occasion they feel at least a little bit bad about having helped considerably the establishment of a particularly scruple free military regime.

But I do not think I should worry much about the Carter Center having afterthoughts or regrets. They would be the last one on that matter since even Cesar Gaviria has acknowledged publicly that democracy is problematicin Venezuela, nowhere else than at the latest IAP assembly. Interestingly in that assembly Venevision, property of Jimmy Carter good friend Cisneros, was duly questioned from having benefited from the misfortunes of its commercial competition and having caved fully to the Chavez line. The amazing thing at that assembly is that Venevision had the nerve to defend its untenable position, which of course made its case even worse and lost them any little bit of respect they might have left in that group. But the sad truth is that Venevision is the network watched only by chavistas who cannot stomach anymore VTV or ViVe, and those poor souls that cannot afford cable, or do not dispose of it in their area. Amusingly that branch of the Cisneros family is now a social pariah in Venezuela, who today prefers wisely to seek (buy?) friends in the US or elsewhere. Though I suppose Carter might still come here to fish for pavon in Apure courtesy of Cisneros who he helped talk to Chavez directly. Now that I think of it I do not recall Carter having tried to have Chavez talk to anyone else opposing him in Venezuela. He has no more friends worth his efforts I suppose.

Oh! and let's not forget about those who the Carter Center encouraged to seek an agreement with the government to hold the now officially fraudulent referendum of 2004. One is dead, one is in exile, one has lost a large chunk of its properties in Venezuela, and the other ones are faring hardly better. There again I do not recall the Carter Center having protested abuses committed against them.

But it would be unfair to only blame the Carter Center (though it has a commanding share in the business of destroying Venezuela's democracy). A few days ago in Salvador the ruling ARENA lost to the Farabundo guerrilla front.

Besides the fact that this opens the distinct possibility of a renewal of bloody conflict if Funes is unable to control his reconverted guerrilla (or in waiting?) I have not a single tear for ARENA. The outgoing president, Saca, pledged that its country would watch closely that Vivas and Forero would get a fair trial in Venezuela when they refused to grant them political asylum. It has been now three years of one of the worst travesty of justice that we were given to witness in Venezuela, with Salvador remaining awfully discrete as to their human rights commitment. When you think of it, very ARENA, is it not? No wonder people voted them out at long last. The only thing ahead for these two political prisoners might be a final arranged verdict around April 11 where Chavez rewriting Venezuelan history will make sure that they bear the guilt of all the crimes that he provoked himself that day in 2002.

I do not think that the Carter Center is going to lose any sleep over that. They might actually hope to be included in the great epic that Chavez is imagining for our official story. But guess what? That ingrate also seems to have forgotten Jennifer McCoy and her combo, preferring to hang out with Sean Penn and Oliver Stone.

I think the time is right to write the history of these enablers that allowed the madness of Chavez to take over Venezuela and destroy it, you know, before the blood that seems to be promised to us starts running. Thus we will know before hand who to put the blame on when we will need to leave Venezuela for our lives, if that fateful day ever comes.

-The end-

My 2009 wallet

I was wondering about yesterday's Chavez "acto fallido" wondering what it means for my meager personal finances.

The sales tax increase I can absorb. After all I have purchased all of my big ticket expenses, including a small LCD TV.

The rest is more complex. The only thing we can retain from Chavez speech is that no serious spending cuts will be done and borrowing will increase further to compensate the fall of oil prices. The implication is very simple: Chavez realizing that a two year stint with inflation above 30% has not stopped him from winning last February vote has decided that as long as he manages to feed his base he can still win further elections (or cheat without consequences, same difference). When we think of it a little bit more, the real economic announcement was not Saturday: it "escaped" Chavez two days before when he mused about "la bola de billetes" that the private banking had in forced reserve at the Central Bank. That is, Chavez is simply getting ready to take over the banking system, or at least some of its cash.

It is not necessarily that Chavez does not understand why the banking system must retain some of its cash in the Central Bank to sustain the confidence of its clients, it is that he needs money and ideologically banks are, well, inherently against any XXI century communism, oops, sorry, socialism! By intervening further the deposits of the Central Bank Chavez by now knows very well that he will push inflation to very dangerous levels. But he also knows that banks will become very dependent on the government for their survival and will thus be for all practical purposes nationalized. That is, in case of a run on Banesco, to name one bank, this one will have to call Miraflores instead of relying on its now compromised BCV reserves.

I think at this point the government does not know exactly how to go about this latest madness, but after yesterday non-announcement we know that they are up to something with our savings and working money. It might be an outright nationalization without compensation (what seems to be happening with Spanish held Banco de Venezuela). It could be a "corralito" like in Argentina. It could even be at some point the end of the convertibility of the Bolivar, as limited as that one is today, making thus any saving you have pretty much worthless, as well as your home, your business and the rest. After all Cuba has been operating for decades without a real currency and what Chavez has been trying to do at local level with exchange coupons in lieu of currency is telling of the mentality in the higher echelons of his pseudo-administration.

One thing is clear: Chavez is gambling on a return of high oil prices sooner than later. Thus he is not afraid of hitting the banks even if only partially, assuming that the return of better days will minimize the damage he will bring to the banking system. Of course, once he gets the taste of this new drug there is no way to stop him, just as he did with the famous currency reserves of the BCV ("el millardito" only, remember?)

What should I do with my meager income? Well, time to buy dollars at any price and to find ways to hide them under some rock. We are back to the time of the "morocotas". Some progress this robolution brought us!

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

Morocotas: nickname of the 20 USD gold dollar coin which served of savings in Venezuela before banks existed outside of Caracas. The lore is that there are little stashes of these gold coins in hiding as their owners perished during some of the civil wars that we suffered util Gomez came. Any Venezuelan restoring a very old home or farm secretely thinks for at least a second that a rotten leather purse will appear inside a crumbling wall.....

-The end-

Chavez's economic fart

Thus we have it, after weeks of expectation (not from me anyway) Chavez announced an economic package that is pretty much worth nothing, just as I guessed waiting for sleep to come last night. Heck, I was so little concerned that I went around my normal Saturday activities and only read tonight at 9 PM on El Universal web pages the details. The first overview shows that Chavez balked at making necessary adjustments and he just accepted a minimum package that he hopes will tidy him up to the end of the year. In other words he counts on the few savings left and some minimal spending cuts to allow him to wait for an oil price increase that he hopes will come by the end of he year. If I were him I would pray to Saint Barak in heavens to make sure he intercedes with God almighty to help his namesake on earth.

Let's see the only 5 items worth noting, and sometimes for their stupidity, 5 items that illustrate quite well the failure of chavenomics and his arrogance in refusing to face the consequences.

Sales tax up by 3%, to 12%
Main victims- Middle class folks. The rich, bolibourgeois or old money, really do not care: they can afford it, and they shop in Miami anyway. The poor can barely afford food where there is no sales tax.
Effect-not enough new income as long as gas and electricity prices do not go up. However the negative political effect exists in all sectors.
What it really means- the key here is to remember that Chavez dropped the sales tax as a way to fight inflation. With a 30% + last year it obviously failed dramatically. So, hoping that people have short memory he raises it again. But at the same time he admits that he is unable to control inflation and so decides to empty our pockets to sustain his rule.

Minimum wage up by 20%
Main victims- The working poor, and in particular the state employees. Many business (mine among others) were already giving increases of up to 20% so this will not affect them.
Effect-Until now the government had tried to parallel minimum wage increases with official inflation. But now it accepts that there will be an official decrease in purchasing power of the lower economic sectors of at least 10% from last year. There will be consequences, the more so if inflation cannot get below 30% this year.
What it really means- The government has a huge amount of people working at or close minimum wage status (misiones and administration). By increasing that wage below the inflation rate it acknowledges that it does not have the money to pay them, and also implies that higher wages will not be increased.

Review of the 2009 budget and ONLY a 6.7% decrease
Main victims- The opposition governors and mayors and the people they administrate. By Venezuelan law a portion of regular income must go to the states. By reducing the budget and taking a barrel price of 40 instead of 60 Chavez will be able to control ALL income that he gets above 40 USD without having to share it with, say, Ledezma.
Effect- Almost irrelevant as there is an increase in public debt also announced.
What it really means- Naively the government hopes that cutting off higher wages in the public sectors and toning down propaganda expenses will be enough to reach that goal. Corruption by itself will make sure this fails.

No devaluation for the time being
Main victims- All of us. People that import necessary items (spare parts, equipment investment, raw material).
Effect- The only way for the government to sustain the present exchange rate is not to give fixed rate CADIVI dollars. Thus importers are forced to the parallel market which is already almost three times as high as the official currency value. The result is simply more fuel for inflation as people need to run their cars, need to eat imported food, need to clothe themselves, etc...
What it really means- The government really does not know what to do, does not understand the implications of the world crisis, is unable to clean up its act. It means that Giordani is indeed again in charge, more senile than ever. It also means that the longer the adjustment is postponed the more painful it will be.

No gas price increase for the time being
Main victims- The environment, the budget which has to sustain the subsidy.
Effect- Terrible! When the other measures are implemented, if they are, this single item will be even more glaring as the obnoxious, scandalous, irresponsible subsidy that the government gives.
What it really means- Chavez is scared shitless. The one single measure that would have made sense, that would have sent a positive signal that the country is finally going to get managed responsibly was not taken, not even partially. If there was one NO-decision that would show how politically weak Chavez really is, how clay-like his feet are, it was that one. With that decision Chavez shows that once again he is putting all his eggs in a significant oil price increase before the end of the year.

-The end-

Chavez und sein Massnahmenpaket

Heute wird Hugo Chávez sein Massnahmenpaket ankündigen. Einige denken, es kommt zu einer massiven Währungsentwertung, zu höheren Benzinpreisen (man kann in Venezuela sein Auto mit einem Euro tanken) und zu drastischen Sparmassnahmen. Der ehemaliger Vorsitzender des Banco Central de Venezuela, Maza Zavala, sagte aber, er glaube nicht, dass Chávez viel sagen wird. Die Regierung agiere immer tropfenweise, ohne systematische Massnahmen zu treffen.

Wie Quico von Caracas Chronicles erzählte, hat Chávez die Neigung, sich immer wieder als "der Erneuerer schlechthin" zu porträtieren. So hat der "Comandante" am vorigen Sonntag erklärt, die Olygarchie profitiere von den sehr niedrigen Benzinpreisen in Venezuela und er würde dieser Situation "schnell ein Ende setzen". Er sagte natürlich nicht, dass er seit 1999 an der Macht ist und immer die Fähigkeit hatte, Benzinpreise zu erhöhen. Seit Jahren verlieren wir Milliarden aufgrund dieser lächerlich niedrigen Preise. Ich, unter anderen Bloggers, hatte schon vor langer Zeit geschrieben, Chávez müsse diese Benzinpreise erhöhen und notfalls die öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln mit sehr gut geplanten Subventionen unterstützen, wobei eine strenge Kontrolle und Transparenz notwendig wären, um einen Schwarzhandel mit Benzin zu verhindern.

Meiner Meinung nach wird Chávez nun ankündigen, dass die bevorstehende Krise in Venezuela ausschliesslich mit der finanziellen Krise in der Welt zu tun hat. Er wird den Benzinpreis zwar erhöhen, aber nicht viel. Er wird einige Massnahmen ankündigen, um Preise beim öffentlichen Verkehr nicht zu viel zu erhöhen. Diese Massnahmen werden aber schon wieder so schlecht geplant sein, dass sie jede Menge Korruption ermöglichen werden. Chávez wird wahrscheinlich ein noch komplizierteres System für Währungskontrolle einführen. Er wird auch andeuten, dass der Staat weiterhin (bzw verstärkt) Firmen und Grundstücke enteignen bzw besetzen wird, die sich nicht so verhalten, wie er will. Chávez befürchtet, dass er selbst ein neues Caracazo auslösen kann. Er wird das auf jeden Fall verhindern wollen, er wird aber das mit Massnahmen tun, die den Druck des Schnellkochtopfs sehr schnell erhöhen werden.

In einigen Stunden werden wir's erfahren.

Chavez's "paquetazo"

As I am ready to go to bead I think it is fair to mention that tomorrow we are supposed to hear of the economic crisis package that Venezuela will finally chose to adopt, way behind most of the world, and way, way behind serious countries. Of course, all the postponement by chavismo due to its fanciful daydreaming of oil prices climbing back up fast, due to the need to make sure the beloved reader can be president for life, due to too many years of politically successful populism, have resulted in measures that will be tougher than what could have already been done last fall, including, gasp, the first price increase in gas in ten years. Yeah, that is right, it is possible that Chavez might do the very same thing that he used to justify his coup in 1992: the drastic economic measures that affected so much the people of Venezuela and resulted in the "caracazo" (they did not, really, but revolutionary lore is too time consuming to dissect in this post).

But Chavez will not do it. In fact after today massive rally in Maracaibo to support Rosales, where among other thing the opposition decided to put the blame squarely on Chavez, he might postpone for yet a few more days the announcement. But let's assume that tomorrow indeed he will try to counter Rosales hit of today. He will probably tone down whatever "package" he has in mind and will dedicate most of his speech to insult Rosales and the opposition. How will that help the country I need not insult your intelligence with it.

In fact the government tonight is for sure feverishly working on how to distance itself as much as possible from the "paquetazo" image, that the Venezuela political body has internalized since 1989. It is also trying with equal desperation ways on how to put the blame of the measures on the opposition. That this one has had no say whatsoever on the country polices since at least 2004 is no obstacle for chavismo. However I suspect that the folks that he managed to fool once again a month ago might not be so lenient this time around. After all how can Lorenzo Mendoza be accused of the economic crisis when Chavez is threatening to take away his business. I mean, you really need to be weak minded to buy the idea that a guy about to lose all and perhaps even face jail was able to direct Venezuelan policies for the last 5 years. Even more, "harina P.A.N." has not been missing since 2004, and remained affordable. This might not be true anymore AFTER Chavez implements his "paquetazo".

So, what should this "paquetazo" include? As far as I am concerned it should include the following measures, some applicable maybe progressively, but all completed by the end of the year.
devaluation from 2.15 to the USD to at least 3
increase in V.A.T. to 15% for many items
income tax up (but not business income)
multiplying gas price by 10 to get back to its price level of 1998
duplication of the price of electricity, cooking gas and water

and this ONLY with the hope to retain enough resources to keep financing the social programs misiones!

In addition just to allow for the production to restart on more solid bases and to decrease significantly our dependence on food importations you need to at least:
improve CADIVI hard currency access to all agricultural activities
end price control on at least some items to make sure that at least some sectors of the food chain are covered (free rice while continuing control on corn, for example)
stop land seizure and invasion, or at the very least guarantee property as long as specific items are grown
improve safety and labor relations in the country side
limit food importations as much as possible, and do them at prices reflecting the country's production costs, that is, no subsidy on imported feedstuffs!

and I am not touching other area of production in Venezuela: I just try to imagine what it would take to keep at least "essential" programs working and stopping the growth on our dependency on food imports.

And what we might get? Forget about the second list, that would mean that Chavez renounces his demented agricultural policies. Not going to happen. On the first list you might as well cross the devaluation. Gas price hike would be a meager 2-3 fold. Taxes will be increased across the board, including a tax on business values just as these might get unable to pay it due to the recession coming. Maybe some agencies would be restructured with people becoming jobless to make some limited savings. Plus a collection of small showy measures that even put together will not amount to much.

The result? Nothing will be solved; however the measures will be enough to feed the inflation pump and soon enough any temporal relief felt by the state will be annulled, not to mention an aggravation of the recession. And that will be at best because if Chavez resorts to his announcement yesterday that he might grab the bank reserves at the Central Bank we could even end up having bank runs as people get scared for their hard earned money. The recession and inflation that would follow that would be disastrous.

But all in all it does not matter: I think that Chavez waited for too long and judging by the increasing workers protest he is facing a very hot summer.

-The end-

There might be an opposition after all


Well, I bet Chavez is even more surprised than me tonight. Yesterday Rosales was accused of corruption. Within twenty four hours Rosales called for a huge, and I mean HUGE, popular rally in Maracaibo, of the type of rallies that even with a gadzillion of buses Chavez today would be unable to call for in 24 hours. And, hold tight, all the who'swho of the current elected opposition leadership is taking turn on stage to defend Rosales and declare chavismo corrupt. They are all there, from Salas Feo to Carlos Ocariz, from Miryam do Nascimento to Gerardo Blyde. Well, I have not seen the one from Margarita but you know, even if you want to go you might not always be able to do so. If Chavez did want to strengthen the leadership of the opposition and its unity around Rosales he could not have done better....

It is very noteworthy that all speakers are striking the right note, defending Rosales but spending more time in attacking Chavez recent policies, and harshly.

A law revoking referendum in the near future?

update: it was really one of the most successful opposition rallies I have seen. The psychological image of all of the opposition leadership unified in its criticism of Chavez abuses, with words much stronger than what we are used to see will have an impact. Rosales spoke at the end and even accused the Zulia representatives of betrayal to their own home state. A recall election on the National Assembly in the works? Why not? Even removing a couple of dozens seats only would have a tremendous psychological impact.

Whatever honeymoon Chavez thought he would be benefiting from his February 15 result, it died this week.

Madre mía, si el gobierno
no ayuda al pueblo zuliano,
tendréis que meter la mano
y mandarlo pa'l infierno.

-The end-

Petkoff on Rosales

For those who doubt what is the real reason to put to jail Rosales there is the mini editorial of Petkoff (under his pen name Simon Boccanegra). I have no time to translate it right now, but for those who can read Spanish it is essential and immediate read. If you need the English version come back in a few hours or use the translate tool of Google.

¡Todos con Manuel Rosales!

Chacumbele ha dado un paso más en el camino del hostigamiento permanente a que ha sometido a Manuel Rosales.

Como era de esperar (porque lo contrario era impensable), la Fiscalía acusa a Manuel y pide al tribunal orden de prisión preventiva para el alcalde de Maracaibo. Misión cumplida, pues.

La canallada, jurídicamente hablando, es insostenible. Pero eso es lo de menos para Chacumbele. Para atropellar no necesita coartadas jurídicas, le basta con su voluntad. Los cagatintas que lo acompañan ya se encargarán de fabricar los "expedientes".

¿Qué le cobran a Manuel? ¿Su eficiencia como mandatario? A los ojos de Chacumbele eso sería parte de su "delito". Haber sido un gobernador y alcalde eficiente y honrado en medio del hatajo de incompetentes y corruptos que son buena parte de los gobernadores y alcaldes del oficialismo. Le cobran también su coraje y su indesmayable brega por impedir que sobre Venezuela caiga la losa sepulcral de la dictadura. Sin embargo, más allá de las razones personales que puede tener un alma rencorosa y mediocre para meter preso a Rosales, existe un problema político de gran calado. El ataque a éste es parte del propósito chacumbeliano de anular a las gobernaciones y alcaldías como centros de acción e iniciativa política y administrativa distintos al poder central. Y no sólo a las que están en manos de mandatarios democráticos -aunque estos constituyen su primer objetivo, por razones obvias-, sino a TODAS. Ya las focas le dieron la ley para arrebatarles funciones y dentro de pocos días tendrá la ley que le permitirá designar gauleiters sobre los gobernadores. ¿De qué hablamos? La figura de las "autoridades regionales" o "vicepresidentes" no la inventa Chacumbele. La patente es de Adolfo Hitler, quien, en su época, con el mismo objetivo que Chacumbele, es decir anular a los gobiernos elegidos en las provincias alemanas, designó estos funcionarios, denominados gauleiters, es decir, "jefes de región", sobrepuestos a los gobiernos elegidos por los pueblos de cada land o provincia. La agresión a Manuel Rosales nos concierne a todos porque es una agresión a los mas de cinco millones de venezolanos que votaron NO y también, muy probablemente, a quienes dentro del chavismo muestran preocupación por el rumbo de colisión que ha impuesto el presidente a su gobierno. ¡Manuel Rosales somos todos!

P.S.: By the way, a reader a few days ago complained of my facile comparison with Germany 1933. Well, if now Petkoff does an even more advanced comparison will this reader complain to Petkoff? In other words, it is time that a few in the opposition wake up and smell the coffee.

-The end-

Rosales to go to jail, under Chavez orders

What was expected finally happened today: a second tier lousy state prosecutor asked for Maracaibo's mayor indictment on corruption charges. Ex Zulia governor, ex-presidential candidate and now Maracaibo mayor Rosales had it coming: Chavez demanded jail for him during the last regional election campaign. Rosales in turn asked then for jail for Di Martino, ex mayor of Maracaibo. No news about how the investigation on Di Martino is proceeding. Nobody is expecting him to be indicted anytime soon in spite of all evidence accumulating against him. But we are pretty sure that Rosales is in deep trouble because these type of orders from Chavez are always followed through.

What is important here is not the news. The timing has been chosen because Chavez needs people to discuss something else than inflation, crime, the Guyana workers nearing a general strike situation, the PDVSA suppliers that are not being paid, etc, etc...

What is not important here is whether Rosales is a corrupt public servant. For all that I know he might have dipped in the public coffers. However there is one thing that I am willing to bet my life on it: Rosales might have stolen public monies but I am absolutely sure that Diosdado Cabello or the Chavez family have stolen more, much more than Rosales could. Why I am so willing to bet my life on it? Because Rosales was closely monitored at all times during his rule whereas none ever could monitor Diosdado Cabello in Miranda or the Chavez family in Caracas, or Miraflores for that matter. Try as a simple citizen to get info on these guys and tell me how far you will go.

What is not important here is whether Rosales will be denied to go on trial as a free citizen. The important thing to note here is that even notable chavistas, pursed for corruption such as my own ex-governor of Yaracuy, Gimenez, are far from reaching the trial status and they are freely walking the streets while Rosales could be arrested as early as tomorrow. As far as I know the Gimenez corruption crimes listed at the time by the High Court president herself sounded way worse than what Rosales is supposed to have done. Other names of chavista walking the street free are Velazquez Alvaray or Manuitt to name two famous ones spectacularly discarded.

To close this I will make a precise comment: if people think that getting rid of Rosales is after all no big deal, that perhaps the opposition could benefit from having less leaders and perhaps become somewhat more effective, that any corrupt public servant unmasked is always a good thing, well, they are thinking wrong. What is at stake here is allowing Chavez to decide who will be permitted to become his opposition. The way the different opposition leaders respond to an eventual jail for Rosales will be crucial for their future, and the future of the country. Rosales is not going to jail because he stole money: he is going to jail because he beat Chavez last November. If you fail to understand that then you understand nothing about Venezuela.

-The end-

About Sucre

(The image used for this entry correspond to Ocariz' campaign poster, it was taken from here, no copyright infringement intended).
The Sucre municipality in Caracas is one of the biggest and hardest to rule. It combines the biggest slum in Latin America called Petare with loads of middle class and high middle class areas. Almost ever since the Revolution started, Sucre was ruled by “Papi- Papi” (translation: “daddy-daddy”, we call him that way because he’s the son of José Vicente Rangel, former vice president and Chavez’s right hand) and it was, simply, a disaster. Sucre looked like abandoned territory: the streets were filled with potholes because of lack of maintenance. Then, something extraordinary happened to Sucre: Carlos Ocariz, from the opposition, beat the Revolutionary candidate in last November's elections.

Chavez, amazed and determined to not accept the defeat, made the ridiculous assumption that Ocariz had won Sucre because the municipality was filled with rich people. Everyone laughed at the president, making jokes about the surreal existence of golf courses in the middle of such a poor area. Ocariz earned the so-called “popular” votes from Petare that once were a symbolic pro- Chavez area. Or, if you prefer this way, “daddy-daddy” made the Revolution lose their support in the area, due to his lousy term in government.

With great enthusiasm, Ocariz took his spot in office as soon as this year started. Andrés, a friend of mine who lives in Sucre, was impressed to see the streets around his house fixed for the first time in 8 years or so. He also spoke about the public lighting. “It’s actually working!” he said with a smile.

Then, as soon as my best friend and I defended our thesis, we received emails inviting people of our major to work at Sucre's municipal office. My best friend quickly went to an interview; I decided to decline the offers because the offices are located way too far away from home. “We wish we could hire you full time, but can’t pay you full time, so we’ll hire you part time, if you wish.” She accepted, because she had no work experience and needed at least something to put at her résumé. Her salary for working part time was even below the minimum salary, maybe a bit adequate for someone who’s still studying at the university and is starting an internship but not for someone who already completed her studies. “Also, can you possibly bring a laptop?” they asked her. “A laptop?” My friend felt odd by the question. “We don’t have computers to work with… they took them all."

An awful reality punched my best friend's illusions in her face. By “they,” the person who was interviewing her was referring to the people who used to work there, the revolutionary ones. The people under “daddy-daddy's” command took the change of mayors as if it were an apartment move: they assumed that everything inside the building was theirs and not a public resource, a part of the municipality. In an open act of corruption, of which I have not heard any words or hope of justice, they took those computers leaving my best friend's new office with nothing more than empty desks.

But that wasn’t all. On the first of work, my best friend was shocked to notice that her office was cleaned three times while she was working, by different woman each time. “There are so many people hired here doing nothing, I think “daddy-daddy” hired them to buy their votes,” she told me.

Now, since the quantity of work is overwhelming, my best friend accepted to start working full time; for a ridiculous salary. I asked her to join me to lunch a few days ago and she replied “Well, I’m not sure; they haven’t been able to pay me yet…”

In the meantime, the assembly and the president have approved a reform on the law that rules the powers of the mayors, taking away from them several of their powers and concentrating yet more power in the hands of the central state (called by them “popular power”).

So as you can see, for those mayors and governors like Ocariz, who win a municipality that it was once considered Revolutionary, their victory was only a short celebration and the exercise of the government they were chosen to be in front of, is simply a nightmare. A nightmare that goes between dealing with the inefficiency and corruption of the Revolutionary government settled before them and the current government sabotage decided to disrespect, under any excuse, the result of the regional elections, held during past November.

PS: I just found this short post, in case you want to read more about all the things the Revolution does to make an Opposition regional government impossible

Orinoco I

The first time Europeans saw continental America, after the failed Viking attempt at establishing a permanent colony in Vinland, was in 1498, when Columbus made his third trip. The first part of continental America he and his sailors saw would become one day Venezuela.

He firstly arrived to what is now the island of Trinidad. He turned from there to the Paria Peninsula and then to the Orinoco Delta. He described how surprised he was to discover the ocean waters were sweet many miles away from the coast. This showed how strong the river flow was. It also signaled that could not be just an island. Still, Columbus tried to cling to his preconceived idea he had arrived to Asia and blinded by his religious fundamentalism, he thought he probably was close to Paradise. Furthermore, he conjectured, looking at the horizon, that the Earth was not round as Ptolomeus said, but

"que es de la forma de una pera que sea toda muy redonda, salvo allí donde tiene el pezón, que allí tiene más alto, o como quien tiene una pelota muy redonda y en un lugar de ella fuese como una teta de mujer allí puesta"
"that is form is as a pearl but all round, but there where it has its nipple, which is at a higher point, or as a very round ball and in its place it were as the tit of a woman placed there"

So, he thought the Earth was like a pear or a woman's breast. Go figure. He also wrote about the Indians, who "son todos de muy linda estatura, altos de cuerpo y de muy lindos gestos" ("are of very nice height, high of body and of very beautiful features"). He noticed many had gold and pearl ornaments on their chests. Columbus wanted that gold and those pearls. He "asked them" (one only wonders how as it was their first encounter ever) where he could find more gold. He thought he understood it was behind a mountain to the West and that he should not go there as there were people who eat people there. He also asked them where they found the pearls and they also pointed to the West and North.

This would be a theme Europeans would kept observing time after time. They were after quick wealth, gold and silver and pearls.

The area where Columbus landed was in what now is the Sucre State, just to the west of the Orinoco Delta. He called the Paria Península "Island of Grace". If you read Columbus' writings particularly about this third trip you may be tempted to think he was crazy. He was just the product of his society, still immersed in ignorance and preconceived ideas plus plus a great desire to discover.

The Orinoco would start receiving more visits in the following years. The Spanish emperor, highly in debt with the South-German Felser and Fuger merchant families, gave them Venezuela as administrative region for a couple of decades. Ambrosius Ehinger and his successors explored the Orinoco all the time in search of El Dorado. In 1531 Diego de Ordaz sailed from the main outlet of the delta up the river to the Meta. In 1545 Walter Raleigh,also explored the river in search of easy treasures. Several other expeditions by filibusteers followed.It was only in 1800 when Alexander von Humboldt explored the basin on a non-predatory basis. There he reported about the pink river dolphins and he went with Bonpland on a remarkable quest to find the connection between the Orinoco and the Amazon rivers, a connection native Americans very well knew.

Let's try to explore a little bit the Orinoco. It is a long way: 2,140 kilometers. It has an average discharge of 33,000 m3/s and its basin has a surface of about 880,000 km2.

We will start by visiting the Delta Amacuro state.

A couple of interesting historical books about the European "discovery" of the Americas from the XV century onwards:

Crónica de Indias

Urs Bitterli, Die Entdeckung Amerikas
TzvetanTodorov, La Conquête de l'Amérique

Carmona versus Chavez

Since February 15 a new wave of abuses from the executive power of Venezuela has come to castigate us who did not vote for the man (and arguably a large amount of those who voted fro Chavez as the workers of, say, CVG, will let you know if you ask them).

Discussing things such as the expropriation of Hato Caroni or the rice processing plants is really irrelevant for this blogger: he discussed such similar events extensively since the 2004 take over of Hato Piñero or CANTV in 2006, to name two of such events. If people then did not understand what this meant for the country, what else could I say today to convince them that I have not already discussed? That we cannot feed ourselves or that Internet is increasingly failing speak by themselves.

No, what I would like to share is the parallel between the Carmona coup of April 12 and what Chavez has been doing since April 13 2002. Carmona wanted an instant power grab that supposedly would have lasted 6 months. For those who forget conveniently certain facts, in his infamous decree (who never made it to the official journal of Venezuela, an important legal remark) he said that he could not run in the general eelction to be called by April 2003. True, we will never know whether Carmona would have kept his word but we know for sure how Chavez is not keeping his multiple words.

Since April 2002 Chavez has been slowly but surely concentrating all power in his hands. Fraud has been his great ally as well as a very incompetent opposition. What Carmona wanted in 2002, Chavez has obtained it, and more, since those days. Venezuela is today much less democratic than what a Carmona 6 months interim would have probably been. Again, we will never know that for sure but we know today that Chavez will make sure that he will never lose power through pacific means. Those who claim the contrary are either woefully uninformed, are propaganda agents or are cashing in at the Miraflores cash window.

Chavez has been clever though. Instead of dissolving the National Assembly like Carmona did, he made it irrelevant. Instead of removing the governors and mayors elected by the people, he made them irrelevant. Instead of firing the High Court, he changed the law, removed some undesirable judges and drowned the other ones by packing the new court. Instead of taking over VTV, he closed RCTV outright and covered the country with an overwhelming net of propaganda audiovisual waves, while neutering most of the remaining private media. And more such comparisons. However there is something that Chavez did and that Carmona did not contemplate: Carmona would have worked with the 2002 current economic system until a new government dealt with the necessary reforms whereas Chavez destroyed it without replacing it with any viable alternative. What Chavez gave us was the most corrupt regime in our rich corrupt history where only those close, very close to the higher echelons of government can operate freely. Though with the end of high oil prices it is quite possible that these ones will also be robbed of their "new" possessions as Chavez crass populism needs to keep "giving".

All in all what Chavez has done since 2002 is much worse than what Carmona intended to do. As April looms with its "cada 11 tiene su 13", it is useful to remember these details, that the real coupmonger since 1992 has been Chavez and that he has never stopped since then. He just went more slowly about it. In this regard Carmona was just an idiotic amateur whose mistakes are paid dearly.

-The end-

Chavez's march towards...

absolute control has picked up steam.

Most people abroad are already aware Venezuela is heading towards less and less democracy and yet they are not aware of how serious the situation is becoming. Let's put some perspective.

We got local elections last year and even though Chavez's party took away most states and municipalities, the opposition managed to win states or municipalities where 45% of the population lives. Some of the largest slums in Venezuela (and Latin America) like Petare, actually voted mostly against the pro-Chavez candidate.

What has happened? Well, apart from the fact Chávez pushed for a referendum to lift up the term limits (this in a very strong presidential system), something for he had the government spend 12 billion dollars in "social programmes" (actually giving away free food and similar things and nothing about sustainable development), he has increased the speed in which he is taking away the few powers the opposition had. Among other things,

  1. The local governments where Chavismo lost made important money transfer to the central government just before stepping over, leaving the incoming mayors or governors with much less money than expected
  2. The pro-Chávez mayor of Maracaibo transferred on the last minute the control of Maracaibo's underground to the central government
  3. The national government issued a decreed to transfer public hospitals from Miranda state to itself
  4. The national government took over the local TV channel Ávila, which was under the control of the Caracas mayor (now opposition)

Now the central government declared it was taking over harbors, airports and motorways of Zulia and Carabobo, where the opposition has been trying to "govern". Those harbors, airports and motorways used to bring most of the money for those states. Both governors have declared they would oppose the take over and Chávez has threatened to take them to prison.

And some people abroad were saying the gains the opposition got in the last elections were a chance to prove how they could govern.

Sunday's hypocrites: Magglio and Chavez


I know, I know, I should be writing about more important things such as the latest land seizures, the harbors wars, Stanford fraud, a Russian bomber base in Venezuela and what not, but I prefer to discuss the latest ridicule because it is, in my opinion, the most important event of this week: baseball Venezuelan star Magglio Ordoñez was booed at the Baseball world cup in Miami by a crowd consisting mostly of Venezuelans. Today Chavez started his Alo Presidente lambasting Miami Venezuelans inexcusably rooting for the enemy. Inasmuch as what happened in Miami is distasteful, there is only one person to blame here and it is Chavez. Not the fans, not Magglio: Chavez and Chavez alone from having created the climate of hate that is leading us inexorably to a violent exit.

True, politics should never be mixed with sports and you should always root for your home team when this one is playing. Or at least stay quiet. But what happened in Miami is much, much more than just a disgruntled anti Chavez fan base.

First, Magglio Ordoñez made an add in favor of the SI in the February 15 referendum. He did not need to do that, and he should have stayed away from it. It is not the same thing to say in an interview that you support Chavez, just between the question about your family and the one about your latest training methods. It is another thing when you actually make a specific pitch for the man.

True, athletes deserve to have a political opinion, but if they pretend to represent all of their country they should abstain to make political statements, or if they must allude to their preferences do so in a casual way at most. Pushing this line of argument, I could go as far as seeing Magglio in a large group of people featuring their support for Chavez in 2006, but not for the type of election that we held last February where the message proposed was that a group in the country was trying to find ways to impose Chavez forever to the other group. Taking position in such a highly polarized context can only bring you trouble, no matter which side wins.

This being said, we must agree that Magglio has no excuse. When he states that he is allowed to express himself and that he is not hurting anyone, he is either a fool whose dozens of millions earned in the MLB have cut him from the Venezuelan reality, or he is a liar. Perhaps another type of athlete, one from those sports that never get much financial support, could be excused from publicly supporting Chavez. After all, how much money can ever do a TaeKwonDo player compared to the millions already made by Magglio and those he still shall pocket? When you are the image of a major MLB star in the US you owe it to all Venezuelans to be discrete on politics as all the other MLB stars, even bigger than Magglio, do. Magglio is simply an interested idiot.

But he is also a victim because he has left himself get trapped into Chavez Machiavellian world. And he is a dangerous victim too because he forced the team to get out fast to his defense least they lose the tournament after a fit of demoralization or least Chavez exacts revenge on them at home from something that they could not help. Not all of them have the comfortable millions in the bank that allow Magglio to be an airhead.

When Chavez complains about the Miami exiles (and many Venezuelans who flew in for the occasion) playing politics with Magglio he should be ashamed because he is the one who introduced politics to Venezuelan sports. Or has he forgotten all the photo op he sought for the Beijing Olympics? Or has he forgotten how he used to America Soccer cup to promote himself? Anything that Chavez touches becomes corrupt and those that allow Chavez to reach them become corrupted too in a XXI century Faustian bargain. As such Magglio can almost be pitied as a a victim. But he still remains and idiot and probably an interested liar.

Chavez is the biggest hypocrite, and his followers along. After all, did they not try to give hell to Alejandro Sanz when he tried to come to Venezuela for a concert a while back. Now for all practical purposes he is not allowed in the country (as many writers, journalists and the like, by the way, including Lech Walesa). Why those crocodile tears about Magglio being booed in Miami? Because it risks to impair the chances of Venezuela to win the title and thus deprive Chavez of another ego bloated moment?

"I voted for Chavez and all I got was this divided country" is the kind of t-shirts they could start making. Of all my Venezuelan sports memories I cannot recall a situation like the Magglio one yesterday. This is the only true achievement of Chavez in ten years, to divide us into a 54 and a 46% blocks that are about ready to kill each other, or at least throw empty bottles at each other. Socialism my ass, plain fascism is what this is. Because let's not forget that if Chavez inner fascist is plainly revealing itself these days, it also feeds on the other side becoming fascist and acting on it as they did in Miami. The honorable way out of this is for Magglio to swallow his pride and make a communique where he repeats that he is pro Chavez but admits that it was a error from his part to act on it, and apologizes for it. But then again he probably knows what Chavez would do to him if he were to atone.

This Miami moment is so illustrative of our predicament that the mind reels.

To close this I must also address something rather unpleasant: why are there so many Venezuelans in Miami? Why has this group increased so much under Chavez? True, they might have been contaminated with some of the extremism of some of the Cuban exile, but still, that does not detract from the reasons they went to Miami: political prosecution, financial problems, lack of opportunities at home, soaring crime in Venezuela, and what not... All of these things might or might not be attributed to Chavez but the aggravation of everyone of them is to be laid
without a doubt at the feet of Chavez. But then again, like Castro had, he also wants his radical Miami exile.

Update: in a moment of idleness I looked for more info on Magglio Ordoñez. Quickly I found clear evidence that 1) he is an ignorant idiot and 2) that he probably is doing "business" with the revolution (namely the gang in Anzoategui; maybe he wants to become governor when he retires of MLB?). This picture at voting time says it all, lamé and rhinestone mass murderer included. Yet another great moment in bad taste.

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Weil in color, to make sure you understand clearly the Chavez takeover

Tal Cual cartoonist Weil rarely uses color. But today he makes an exception to illustrate clearly what the recent decisions of Chavez mean. In short: Chavez did not like the electoral results of November 2008 so he is changing the laws to remove opposition officials competences and putting above them some guy that will be appointed by Chavez himself, the umpire form hell. I recall fondly the stupid arguments of professional PSF stating that Chavez was such a democrat because he subjected himself to so many elections. That is, until he started losing them.

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The first direct consequence of the eternal reelection referendum

It was not long until the legal consequences of stupidly voting for Chavez in February came to surface. Wednesday the rubber stamp national assembly removed a big chunk of competences from mayors and governors, leaving them with very little to do. Why that? Two basic reasons.

In a system where the same guy can run again and again it is ESSENTIAL that all seems to flow from his government. So, in preparation of 2011 election (one is never too ready for those things) Chavez had his assembly vote on removal from local officials of the big bucks thing: public transportation through airports, ports and road building and maintenance. This way it does not matter if a governor is chavista on the rise (Henri Falcon) or opposition, any visible public work project will be seen as a grant of Chavez to the area. Chavez will be able to inaugurate alone any single mile of road he wants to open, without anyone else taking any itsy bit of credit.

Expect more of the sort. Indeed, the cheating for the 2011 election has started by making sure that nobody can have any administrative achievement to show for an electoral platform. As such people such as infamous and famously corrupt Diosdado Cabello are doing their utmost to sabotage even small initiatives such as creative ways to deal with the nightmarish traffic of Caracas, when as a governor of Miranda in 4 years Cabello did nothing. And as a minister before that time he did even less except having him and is family get immensely rich.

Which leads us to the second reason. Killing decentralization simply focuses all corruption to Caracas. Already for many permits I have to go personally to Caracas, EVEN THOUGH our company does have an office in Caracas.

For certain things, it does not matter where in the country you live, you must go to a central office which at best is located in Barquisimeto (not even Valencia where the opposition risks too much to take office at any given time). But going to Barquisimeto is not enough for me becasue Barquisimeto will only approve AFTER Caracas does anyway. Let's say that when you have to go to Barquisimeto you waste one day instead of the two you would waste going to Caracas. I can tell you of an inspection for a certain process that I am waiting for since 2007 has not been approved from Caracas yet even though the personnel that would do that inspection is located close by. I can tell you that the company safety delegates must go personally every month to Barquisimeto to submit their report as even a FedEx posted and signed by them will not do. Each time of course the company has to pay for the day and all the travel expenses. And if these people were to suffer an accident in the road becasue the government forces them to do the trip, the company will have to pay for everything anyway.

What is the consequences of all of this administrative mess? That you will have to resort to some Caracas agents which will charge you fabulous sums for permits that by law would cost nothing or very little. And you will have to accept their business offer becasue otherwise you will waste so much money and time traveling several times to Caracas that, come to think of it, hiring a "gestor" will simply not look that expensive after all. Of course, once you yield to these people they start charging more and more, fees that they split with Caracas bureaucrats.

But in a way I love it: all these asshole chavista who voted SI one month ago and who are protesting already more and more everyday as Chavez is tightening the economic screws now will be told that they need to go to Caracas to be heard. I want to see how they are going to manage it without the free bus rides they used to get to go and support Chavez at Bolivar avenue. Good for them!!! Let them eat red icing cake!

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Crime getting everyday more assertive in Venezuela

While Chavez makes sure that everyday more people join the unemployment lines, crime is becoming bolder and bolder, I suppose to make sure it accommodates the new arrivals that will join the crime wave, raising the competition of this vibrant sector of Venezuelan economy. A few minutes ago I was informed that a charity group in Caracas (foreign nationals and their friends, no further details will be revealed right now) was held hostage for ransom as one of the guest was kidnapped at the doors of the event.

Namely, as people gathered, one of the late comers arriving alone was caught off the street and a message was sent to the attendance that the criminals requested 50.000 BsF cash to release him unharmed. People had to hit their wallet and between all of then they managed to raise 13.000. You know, people go to charity events with their check books, not a wallet full of cash, and even less in Venezuela.... Note that the 50.000 number was reasonably realistic when you consider that the attendance managed to raise 13.000 in cash (6.000 USD in value at the official exchange rate). Maybe if they had asked for jewelry and watches?

I do not know yet if the victim has been released and if the ransom was paid and how. But do those details really matter at this point for the objectives of this blog, even though we should all feel sorry for the victim? The salient fact here is the level of organization of crime in Venezuela. The guys knew of the event in advance, had an estimate of how much they could get out, waited long enough to get a latecomer, had a way to communicate with the attendance, etc...

Is the government doing anything? Of course not. These days in fact Chavez is threatening state workers who protest with reprisals, accusing them of bourgeois tendency and all sot of insults that today private enterprises bosses would never think to use, and even less dare to use against their employees. As the economy keeps sinking and as the bloated state bureaucracy will need to be trimmed and as the private sector will be unable to absorb this unemployed crowd, assuming it can at least keep the workers currently working, I let you imagine what will be the crime level in a year from know, and its increasing sophistication.

I just hope that the silly PSF visiting Venezuela get properly mugged, you know, in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.

Update: I got more details. It was not 50.000 they were asking, it was 500.000, immediately and in cash. That is, the family had to raise more than 200.000 USD in cash. Obviously they could not. They are a group of mid level professional people who own little more than their home and some modest savings. The mother of the victim is a retired teacher and her second husband a small shop owner (I have know them both for decades).

All parents and friends went to ATM machines, carrying not only their ATM card but their VISA and MC for any cash advance they could come up with. Around midnight they had come up with 115.000 BsF, about 50.000 USD. The thugs relented and accepted that amount. They demanded that the wife of the victim came alone to a specific spot on Caracas main highway where she surrendered the loot. She was allowed to go safely and shortly after her husband was released. He claims he was treated well, and that for the way his captors behaved they were a highly organized and professional group that were used to this type of actions.

As far as I know they did not even bother calling the police, not to mention that had they called the police they should have surrendered the whole operation to them and risk seeing all of their assets frozen to make sure that they could not pay anything as ransom. Considering the disquieting rumors and facts that circulate everyday more and more, there would be a significant participation of police force in this new kidnapping mafias; and thus even less trust from the victims as to the police readiness and willingness to solve the crime. The recent kidnapping of banker Garcia Velutini is highly suspect on this regard. From personal experience when I have been robbed at home or at work I know that calling the police is totally useless, the only purpose to do so is to have an official report for insurance claims. You never recover your property.

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