Back to the future: experiencing what is coming our way in Venezuela

We had in very recent days a direct threat to state take over of some media on the flimsiest of excuses; a clear desire to put the country on an international conflict, wished by Chavez only; and yesterday the official announcement that thought crimes are about to become a day to day reality (this blogger is refusing to think how that will affect him since the Internet will become the main source of news once that crime thought law is enacted).

This Friday we got a few examples on how these chavista decisions are going to affect our future, in chilly ways. In no particular order.

Diosdado Cabello closes TV and radio stations

The promised deed happened: defeated Miranda governor, notorious corrupt minister of Chavez and apparently the second in command after Chavez today decided to do his master biding and closed 34 private radio stations. The excuses are mostly ridiculous, since apparently if you have a radio license and you die the government claims to be allowed to regain on the act your license, and too bad for the tools you thought to leave to your heirs, the people that worked for you or the debts your station might have had. Because we all know from experience that Chavez cannot be bothered with such trivia.

Of course the government in an utmost act of cynicism made it perfectly clear why it was closing the stations: one of the victims is the Belfort Group, owner of ONLY 5 radio stations in 5 different markets, and whose crime was to transmit a portion of the noted Globovision talk show, Alo Ciudadano. There you have it, the talk show most damaging to chavista pretensions, Alo Cidadano directed by Leopoldo Castillo, was the target for which all of these flimsy excuses were invented.

And more are promised as chavista media does not title "34 radio stations closed" as opposition media titles, they do "first 34 stations closed" That is, the objective as far as chavistas know is that enough radio stations will be closed until the government ones dominate the airwaves once and for all. See, chavismo "esta claro".

To be continued for sure, the more so when today Diosdado Cabello also said this, echoing and defending yesterday attack by Luisa Ortega: "Freedom of expression is not the most sacred freedom". If any of my readers, chavista or not, does not understand what is going on yet, please, let me know.

A new electoral law is voted, and chavismo will only need a relative majority to control at least 2/3 of the Nazional Assembly (that without counting the other electoral fraud)

I will dedicate a major post on the new electoral law, as I was waiting to see the final version beofre I do the electoral analysis that many readers have come to expect from me. However I need to include this comment today because of the timing, that the law gets its second reading on the day after Ortega made her infamous speech and on the day Diosdado starts closing radio stations.

It is clear, no? How is the opposition going to do an electoral campaign if it does not have access to the radio station talk shows? Because at election time all sorts of serious studies have established that opposition has only a minimal access to state media and only in the few weeks before elections when observers hang around. Heck, thsi is even mentioned in international observers reports on Venezuela elections.

Thus keep it clear in your mind, the new electoral law, the closing of media and the additional attacks on private property are designed to make sure that the opposition has neither the means nor the accesses it needs to have its massage out. And let's not forget the possibility of banning folks from running for office simple through and administrative decision: "charges" have been presented against Ledezma at the comptroller office. Thus as Ledezma star rises after his recent successes chavismo is getting ready to simply forbid him to run for election.

You may continue watching for further type of electoral fraud, the more Chavez polls numbers tank, at least as long as we can keep making polls.

Chavista "private enterprise" bosses are breaking up with Colombia

There is always the need for comic relief satisfied no matter how threatening chavismo tries to be.

All these measures woudl not be enough or woudl not be necessary were it not for the amount of people that are willing to subject themselves to such arbitrariness. After all plenty of Germans knew about concentration camps and did not lose any sleep over that. Today a group of Venezuelans showed to us what is the type of future society that Chaevz is preparing, a world of silent cowards a sycophantic profiteers. And brazenly shameless of course, maybe for our tropical nature.

As you know chavismo has been diligently trying to split apart Venezuelan society since it reached power. It has been an "ours against theirs" since I can remember with Chavez. As such it was only natural that chavismo, this XXI century socialism of nationalization and state intervention, would still take the time to create a totally artificial confederation of private enterprises. There were enough to sign for that, of course, namely all of those in need of official contracts to live off as a way to hide their inefficiency and lack of international class, or because the state is their natural client so they can be partially excused I suppose. Thus was born EMPREVEN to try to annul FEDECAMARAS who still remains the rump foundation of what it used to be, not because people are afraid to belong to FEDECAMARAS, but because everyday there is less and less private business available and able to join.

Guess what? EMPREVEN decided to break with Colombia today, probably the first case in history of a capitalist refusing to sell the rope to the one willing to hang him (OK, OK, I am forcing the cliche!). According to them there is no problem replacing Colombia, prices will increase but that is a small price to pay for the respect of Venezuelan laws and punish warmonger Uribe. And other such delicious ly sycophancies that any businessman should know better than express, even if he supports Chavez by ideology....

There is always the opportunist in such circumstances and the president of Fedeindustria had no problem to say that Venezuela could manufacture what is imported from Colombia provided financing is available. Why did they not produce it before? What was stopping them? I mean, the cynicism in indirectly asking money to Chavez is just staggering.....

Meanwhile real businessmen such as nationalized Swiss cement maker Holcim are refusing to deal with what the government is willing to offer: they will go to arbitration. Money matters always make for interesting "To be continued".

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I am sure were to keep digging for more example I could add a few gems to this entry, but I trust that you all get the point: Chaevz is starting to harvest the benefits of the amoral society he has been trying to set since 1999.

And it is just starting.

-The end-

Cesnsorship Law / Ley Censura: Petkoff take on yesterday's Chavez censorship excuse

Yesterday was the day that chavismo started its formal legal attack to restrain serverely freedom of expression. Today's Tal Cual editorial of Teodoro Petkoff is noteworthy on this regard, the more so that he changed the newspaper scheme which has Laureno Marquez on Fridays. Many articles in the paper were devoted to the unacceptable speech and intentions of Luisa Ortega speech at the Nazional Assembly yesterday. In Spanish at the end, my translation below.

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General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega could have well written her "humble" proposal Special Bill Against Media Crimes with only three articles.

"Article 1: sections 57 and 58 of the Constitution relating to freedom of expression and information are henceforth repealed, as well as any other article that collides with Article 2 of this bill.

Article 2: The Prosecutor office will describe as a punishable media crime any information or opinion that is published or disseminated through print, television or radio.

The judges shall punish with sentences of six months to four years imprisonment any accused by the Prosecutor’s office, under the penalty of immediate dismissal [if they fail to do so].

Article 3: The president of the republic and the ministers of Interior and Defense are empowered to describe such crimes " .

This bill, unfortunately for her, will be associated with his name forever, and is probably the most savage and brutal law that the country has known in our recent history.

In fact, the article itself, vague and unclear as to the criminality of the alleged "media crimes", opens a broad space for the exercise of the discretion of the Public Prosecutor, which will have, of course, the task of describing it as a crime whatever s/he wishes it to be ¬ either motu propio or following the complaint of a third party¬ then bringing charges to court, of which almost certainly (for that is effect we have the demonstration of the recent dismissal of Judge Alicia Torres), a conviction will be obtained.

The project transformed into punishable subject all the inhabitants of this country.

"Any person who expresses through any medium of communication" (Article 3), can be described as a media "criminal". A worker of Alcasa, denouncing the chaotic state in which the aluminum companies in Guyana are would be compromising "State security"; an oil worker to report on the stopped drills, would be attacking "State security "; information about Venezuelan weapons in the hands of the FARC, insults " state security "; a mother whose son was murdered and who complains about the helplessness that is the lot of the population of [poor to modest] neighborhoods, could be accused of compromising "social peace"; to publish the weekly death toll could create a "sense of impunity": crime media; a feature on golf courses in Cuba could injure the public morality "because the head of state has already said that this is a "bourgeois"sport , which does not fit with the twenty-first century socialism. Information on work stoppages, strikes, popular protests, hurt the "social peace". And so on, ad infinitum, because the government pays but cashes in. So it is not a matter only for the media and journalists. All the people of this country are being challenged by this "legal" monstrosity.

The bill must be sent to all governments of America, all the media world, so everyone can see for themselves in front of what dictatorial and totalitarian monstrosity our country has been placed. No need to even comment. It's so obvious, so naked in its repression, that it is self-explanatory. For us, Venezuelans, this "law" is a call to arms. It is to be hoped that everyone is listening.

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Spanish original, Friday July 31, Tal Cual

Bien habría podido la Fiscal Luisa Ortega redactar su "humilde" proyecto de Ley Especial contra Delitos Mediáticos con sólo tres artículos. "Artículo 1: Se derogan los artículos 57 y 58 de la Constitución, relativos a la libertad de expresión y de información, así como cualquier otro que colida con el artículo 2 de esta ley.Artículo 2: El Ministerio Público calificará como delito mediático punible toda información u opinión que sea publicada o difundida por medios impresos, televisivos o radiofónicos.

Los jueces sancionarán con penas de seis meses a cuatro años de prisión a todo imputado por el MP, so pena de destitución inmediata.- Artículo 3: Se faculta al presidente de la República y a los ministros del Interior y de Defensa para calificar estos delitos".

Este proyecto de ley, que infortunadamente para ella, quedará asociado a su nombre para siempre, es probablemente el texto legal más salvaje y brutal que haya sido conocido por el país en su historia contemporánea.

De hecho, el propio articulado, vago y difuso en cuanto a la tipificación de los supuestos "delitos mediáticos", abre un amplísimo espacio para el ejercicio de la discrecionalidad del Ministerio Público, el cual tendrá, naturalmente, la misión de calificar como delito lo que le de la gana ¬ya sea de motu proprio o atendiendo la denuncia de un tercero¬, luego, imputar ante tribunales, de los cuales con toda seguridad (para eso está el efectodemostración de la destitución reciente de la jueza Alicia Torres), se obtendrá una sentencia condenatoria.
El proyecto transforma en sujetos punibles a todos los habitantes de este país.

"Cualquier persona que se exprese a través de cualquier medio de comunicación" (artículo 3), puede ser calificada como "delincuente" mediático. Un obrero de Alcasa, que denuncie el estado caótico en que se encuentran las empresas del aluminio en Guayana, estaría atentando contra la "seguridad del Estado"; un obrero petrolero que informe sobre la paralización de taladros, estaría atentando contra la "seguridad del Estado"; una información sobre armas venezolanas en manos de las FARC, atentaría contra la "seguridad del Estado"; una madre cuyo hijo ha sido asesinado y se queje de la indefensión en que se encuentra la población de los barrios, podría ser acusada de atentar contra la "paz social"; dar la cifra de muertos semanales podría generar "sensación de impunidad": delito mediático; un reportaje sobre los campos de golf en Cuba lesionaría la "moral pública" porque el jefe del Estado ya dijo que ese es un deporte "burgués", que no cabe en el socialismo del siglo XXI. Informaciones sobre paros, huelgas, protestas populares, lastimarían la "paz social". Y así, ad infinitum, porque es el gobierno quien paga y se da el vuelto. Por eso es que no es un asunto que atañe sólo a medios y periodistas. Toda la gente de este país está siendo desafiada por este esperpento "legal".

El proyecto de ley tiene que ser enviado a todos los gobiernos de América, a todos los medios de comunicación del mundo, para que todos puedan apreciar, por sí mismos, ante qué engendro totalitario y dictatorial está colocado nuestro país. No se necesita, ni siquiera, comentarlo. Es tan obvio, tan desnudo, en su intención represiva, que se explica por sí solo. Para nosotros, venezolanos, esta "ley" es un toque de zafarrancho de combate. Es de esperar que todos lo estén oyendo.

-The end-

Return to the Cold War

No one but Weil at Tal Cual has such access to the infantile (for immature and ignorant) mind of Chavez. In this cartoon of today, the wet dream of Chavez to revive the Cold War, where the Berlin Wall will have become a wall between Colombia and Venezuela, with the hoped for conclusion that the wall this time around falls the Russian way. I am impressed (Russian and US flags, for those who do not know their flags well). Observe the desk accessories.

Get me Dimitri Medvedev

-The end-

Freedom of Expression Venezuela-styled

Yesterday Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz gave a speech to the National Assembly where she talks about the "Special Media Crime Bill" she is introducing. Journalists and others who, according to the socialist government of Chávez, "create unrest or dispair among the population" would face several years in prison. For the details, I ask you to read the blogs of Caracas Chronicles, Daniel Duquenal or The Devil's Excrement.

Among other things, Ortega is proposing prison terms for up to four years for those who would transmit news that would 'cause panic among the population' or 'create a false perception of facts' or 'create fear among the population' or 'promote hatred or hostility'. I completely agree hatred speeches should not be tolerated. Now, there is a huge difference between what the Chavista government and normal democracies à la Norway or Germany think are hatred speeches.

I wrote a post in Spanish about what we, Venezuelan citizens, can do now.

Here I just want to ask politicians and journalists from other countries who are involved with Venezuela to seriously do the following:

  1. find out from different sources what is the proportion of Venezuela's population that the Chavez-critical media can reach (not just in Caracas, Maracaibo or Valencia)
  2. find out what chances Venezuelans critical of Chávez have to debate in the state TV and radio stations
  3. find out how many hours a week the Venezuelan media is forced to broadcast Chávez speeches
  4. find out about attacks on Venezuelan journalists and last, but not least:
  5. follow all the hatred speeches Chávez is giving about how he will anihilate the opposition, wipe out the people who think different than he does and who consider Venezuela should be a country where pluralism reigns. Here just a couple of examples:
I still am amazed at how the European Union and the Carter Centre based part of their reports on media in Venezuela on what they could watch from their cable TV in their nice Caracas hotels in 2004 and 2006. They apparently did not know Venezuela had a democracy before Chávez, even if it was very dysfunctional, and people were used to a bigger freedom of speech, unlike in Soviet and later Lukashenko Belarus or Pinochet Chile. Media in Venezuela, specially TV and radio, suck big time, whether it is pro-Chávez or not (Globovisión and RCTV, with little reach, are the only TV stations that currently are critical of the regime). This won't make things better.

One thing the Prosecutor's speech showed me is that she is absolutely sure Chavismo will rule for decades in Venezuela. Otherwise, she would be afraid about getting prosecuted later on for what is about to happen in our land of Grace.

Below you see the Freedom of Expression world map from the Freedom House.

Chavez formal attack on freedom of expression finally launched

Briefly, today we had many examples on the desperate measures chavismo is trying to silence dissent, to hide the disaster that Chavez is turning Venezuela into. In other words, all that we see today are the measures taken by a weak government, under lots of pressure, and with no idea on how to solve the problems that surround it. Predictably in such circumstances it is the messenger the first one to be shot.

From the dramatic worst to the most stupid.

The country's general prosecutor comes out of the closet and demands that freedom of expression be "regulated". Yes, that is right, Luisa Ortega Diaz who has turned out to be a disappointment as big as her predecessor, Isaias Rodriguez, went to the Nazional Assembly to make a proposal (1). She has been unable to make a dent in crime, she has been unable (or is that unwilling?) to make a dent on corruption, she has demeaned herself by going out of her way to put behind bars opposition politicians, she has been as partisan a nazional attorney as chavismo could have hoped her to be. So, realizing that she can hardly sink lower she went all the way out and let the country know that she is there to serve and protect Chavez and as he ordered her a few weeks ago on Globovision she wrote an official legal motivation document to justify that the Nazional Assembly of Venezuela legislates to supress freedom of expression.

Observe her excuse, it is astounding:
Es necesario que el Estado venezolano regule la libertad de expresión [..] en el marco de nuestro derecho, del derecho de todos los venezolanos tiene un limite. Reclamo que se le ponga un limite a ese derecho. [...] de los dueños de los medios y de todas las personas que trabajen en ellos.

It is necessary that the Venezuelan State regulates the freedom of expression [Freedom of expression] in the framework of our right, of the right of all Venezuelans there is a limit [We must control/regulate] the media owners and all the people that work in media.
There, you have it, perfectly clear. Her speech a chilling moment that even left some of the chavista attending stone cold.

Of course it is possible that the new law might not be voted after all, that it is just a ploy to force Globovision to tone down, that it is this, that it is that... but the final intention cannot be hidden: tomorrow or in a few months there will be a law to punish those who criticize the government. Thinking will become a crime.

The tiny bleached blond woman in her rather electrically tacky blue pseudo Channel turned out to be in the same class as the caricature Nazi Valkyrie of the gulag. Or was that stalag? I get easily confused these days.

You can find here the projected law on "media crimes". Just on what I read the first one to be sent to the courts should be Mario Silva of VTV the State TV for he slanderous, violent and vulgar late night show, La Hojilla. But I am pretty sure that he will not be perturbed at all tonight during his show tonight.

The crux of that law is of course that it is the state, read chavismo, which decides what will be a "media crime" and which will decide what judge and how this will be taken care of. Today again there was yet another international observation about the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela (in Spanish here).

Another journalist is jailed. Gustavo Azocar, noted Tachira journalist, former gubernatorial candidate last November has been put into jail until a trial is completed where he is allegedly involved. It is to be noted that Matos Azocar has gone to every citation he has been summoned to, has claimed his innocence all along, has asked for the trail to be held fast, could have left the country long, long ago had he wanted to, is supported by all opposition and local NGO. But the judge yesterday decided suddenly to arrest him during yet a new hearing, JUST as judicial recess start for the year which means that he cannot appeal his arrest until mid September!!!!!!!!

With what you just read above, you can connect all the dots now.

Colombia to be cut off from energy supply. In an act of Supreme Hypocrisy Ramirez joined in shooting the messenger. You may ask: Uh? Are we not talking about the press here? Stay with me.

In the recent spat with Colombia that started earlier this week over the missing Bofors rocket launchers finding their way to the FARC, Venezuela is at a disadvantage: its dependency on Colombian goods cannot easily be severed for a simple reason, you cannot find find at the drop of a hat the 6 billion dollars of goods that Venezuela gets from Colombia yearly. I mean, long term you could replace them, paying an extra few hundred millions for shipping costs. But it will require maybe a year, maybe two or three because possible providers will need to gear up before they can provide. Colombia will be hurt too but we are the ones that will starve.

This is all Chavez economic policies fault since when he came into power the trade surplus was on OUR side, now it is lopsided 6, SIX, times on Colombia's side. There is absolutely no other reason, no other excuse but the failed polices of chavismo. Period.

Thus a break with Colombia would expose crudely that chavista failure. The borders must remain open while the government thinks of something. But meanwhile a public show must be done to punish these Colombians so Ramirez of PDVSA today announces that energy deals with Colombia will be reviewed and that contraband of gas at the border will be fought actively. Yeah, right....

Why is this hypocrite? Because Venezuela is producing everyday less and less oil and byproducts. Cutting off Colombia is a godsend! And if there is contraband at the Colombian border, reported at thousands of barrels a day by PDVSA itself, it is because that contraband is managed by the government officials that make a killing out of it. I mean, does anyone think that if the Nazional Guard was doing its job the contraband to Colombia would be that high? For chrissake, you can see gas trucks from a small airplane without any problem, and you can block all the roads they require easily!!!!!!!! The more so if it is a line of gasoline trucks!

Two things here. Ramirez is trying to blame the victim and hiding what is coming our way (deflecting what is coming his way?), the penuries that we would experience in the next few months if really Chavez blocks Colombian trade. As such Ramirez is giving false information, while acknowledging that he has not controlled the contraband to Colombia. As such, if he were not so pathetically ridicule, he should be the first one to be jailed in the new media crime law, for promoting misleading information.

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1) More complete articles in Spanish here, with video and here.

-The end-

Sweden-Venezuela-FARC IV

The Sweden-Venezuela-FARC issue has new details. Here some of them in a nutshell.
Sources El Nacional, El Tiempo


Sweden sells a series of AT4s to Venezuela


Hugo Chávez becomes for the first time president in Venezuela (elected in 1998, came to office on 4.2.1999)


2 Swedish rocket launchers were found in FARC camp in the Yari Jungle (Caqueta Department, C1 in map). Their serial numbers are similar to the ones found in 2008.


May: Message from FARC leader Camilo Tabaco is intercepted. Details about contacts with Venezuelan contacts that would provide weapons appear.

September: Colombian forces discover, among other things, Swedish rocket launchers in a FARC camp in the Meta area (C2 in the map)

10 October: Colombian forces discover over 58000 rounds for Kalashnikovs in the Meta area


4 June: Colombian minister of Foreign Affairs gives to Venezuelan minister Maduro documents in which 2 FARC leaders mention their negotiations with three high Venezuelan officials on similar rocket launchers
24 June: Colombian magazine Semana reports on the rocket launchers.
26 June: the Colombian government asks neighbouring countries not to provide weapons to FARC and some further details come out on the weapons
28 June: Chávez freezes ties with Colombia.
End of July: the government of Hugo Chávez still has no answer for what is going on but saying it is all a media show and Colombia (and I reckon Sweden) is lying.

A silly question of mine: can we track back the Kalashnikov ammunition?

Chavez The Freezer (Sweden-Venezuela-FARC III)

Our dear president, Comandante Hugo Chávez, has just thrown a tantrum again and declared he is freezing Venezuela-Colombia ties one more time (read about it in English, Spanish or Swedish). He recalled the Venezuelan ambassador to Bogota again (who by now must be enjoying the frequent-flyer program) and he threatened that "if Colombia attacks Venezuela again, he would break all ties and expropriate the many Colombian businesses in Venezuela".

It was predictable. What was that Colombian attack? Well, Colombia simply was looking for explanations. They found Swedish rocket-launchers in a FARC camp and Sweden had sold those weapons to the Venezuelan army in the eighties, as the serial numbers showed. The Swedish government confirmed that and it is now also asking the Venezuelan government to explain how those weapons ended up in the hands of the Colombian guerrilla. The FARC is a terrorist organisation for the European Union, among others, and Sweden is part of the European Union, so the Swedes are not amused about how others are using their very lethal weapons*.

Now, in my previous post I presented all possibilities, just for fairness:

  1. Some of the many corrupt Venezuelan military men sold those weapons to the FARC before Chavez came to power
  2. Chavez military gave those weapons to the FARC when their bloody coups in 1992 failed
  3. Some of the many corrupt Venezuelan military sold those weapons to the FARC NOW
  4. The Chavez army gave those weapons to the FARC, with or without knowledge from the Great Leader himself
For the record: I think it is 4. Chávez recently rejected he ever supported FARC., even if he asked for a minute of silence on TV when a FARC leader was killed by a Colombian attack, even if his former minister Chacín wished the FARC success (pro-Chavez Telesur broadcast), even if the FARC laptops (laptops Chavistas claimed were fixed by the Colombian government) tell another story, even if...I digress.

As fellow blogger Daniel Duquenal wrote, any more or less normal government that finds itself in the situation Chavismo is right now would at the very least declare that it will carry out an enquiry on the issue. Chavismo is different: the Chávez ministers firstly said it was just a fib and media show without any counter-explanation and Chávez now threatens Colombia, as he knows Colombia is interested in keeping the current trade.

Colombian exporters are greatly benefiting from the mess in which Chavez has placed Venezuela. I plotted the statistics on trade between Colombia and Venezuela for the first half of 2008 and 2009 here:

Venezuela exported to Colombia just 584 million dollars in the first half of 2008 and Venezuelan exports there fell to just 280 million on the first half of this year. Venezuelan exports consists mostly of iron and aluminum and some chemicals. Venezuela is becoming less competitive by the day. Colombia is exporting to Venezuela from underwear to flour, meat, toilet paper and assembled cars.

Venezuela's currency control and very overvalued Bolivar together with the bad climate for productive business due to expropriations and political shenanigans have lead producers to become importers or simply keep their production at spare flame (this is irrespective of the global crisis).

What is this about and what next?

I wonder, though, why Colombia waited until now to reveal the issue about the weapons they found last year. One reason could be "they were just waiting for Sweden's confirmation". It is most likely something else: they wanted to use it to show they need the US bases in their territory. They are in their right to do so, considering the civil war they have there. As Daniel Duquenal said, they may be starting to think Chávez is looking, after all, for a confrontation. That is what the Argentinian military did decades ago and they went for the Malvinas. Or it could be Colombia wants to get more US aid as it knows Venezuela's economy is collapsing and having US bases there increases those chances. If you have any other idea, let me know.

In any case, businesses from both sides (actually, Colombian exporters and Venezuelan importers mostly) are calling for restrain.

This could get worse. Colombians are probably going to react in a more cautious manner, due to their business interests. Venezuela has few options for importing many products at the same price it does from Colombia. Still: Venezuela's president is not
Gro Harlem Brundtland but Hugo Chávez, a.k.a. El Comandante.

What a difference between Venezuela-Colombia and the European Union! Colombians and Venezuelans have the same language, a lot of common traditions, almost anything. The main differences I see are two:

  1. Education: Venezuelans have on average a much worse level of basic education. Colombia's government, in spite of all the problems, is trying to improve its education standards and to bring about some transparency, whereas Venezuela's so-called revolutionaries abhor accountability, proclaim a lot and deliver little (here for an interview in Spanish with Venezuela's minister of education some months ago).
  2. Economic production: even if Colombia exports mainly raw materials, its production is much more diversified than Venezuela's petroculture. Colombia can feed and clothe itself. Venezuela can't. The Colombian government has no control over the main exports, Venezuela's government provides 90% of Venezuela's dollars, which turns Venezuelan citizens into beggars
OK, there is another difference: Venezuela's cuisine is better than Colombia's, but don't tell my neighbours, they are producing the ingredients.

* the real weapons that went from Sweden to the Venezuelan army to the terrorist organization FARC are not like the chef's (thanks to Dutch blogger Alpha for the video):

Happy birthday Hugo Chavez! Here, have some Bofors Swedish bazookas to play with your FARC pals

It might have been Chavez birthday today, but instead of having a good time the guy showed his low class once again by having to go and defend what cannot be defended. Since he did not like Colombia's latest finding of collusion between his regime and the FARC, well, he did the most predictable thing: brinkmanship with Colombia, "freezing" relations for a start. Who knows, by midnight he might send his tanks to the border again. It would be wise to send them at midnight, they would avoid the Maracay rush hour tomorrow morning that stopped the previous invasion attempt....

To summarize briefly. The sympathies between the FARC and Chavez/chavismo are now vox populi, from Chavez himself to a cohort of servants proclaiming their love to the FARC (Iris Varela and Rodriguez Chacin among the most explicit of the lot). Direct collaboration was not yet absolutely proved but there was enough evidence to point out to active support since before the days when Rodrigo Granda was quietly living in an Aragua village. When the Reyes computers were seized last year and evidence of close ties came up it was a surprise to no one.

Ecuador was also in the brew since for some reason the empty suit of Correa hates Colombia and Uribe more than Chavez does, if possible. But more about that later, suffice to say now that for Venezuela and Ecuador the need to remove Uribe and his ideas from Bogota is a strategic must as Colombian success only amplifies the more the failures of these XXI socialism regimes.

Now Colombia has revealed that anti tank weapons sold to the Venezuelan government by Sweden's Bofors more than a decade ago, BEFORE Chavez gained office, have found their way to FARC camps. This is a violation of all sorts of international treaties and agreements that I shall not insult your intelligence in detailing.

Before I go further I cam going to tell you how this came to be, and I am willing to bet a lot on my hypothesis.

Chavista military and FARC sympathizers are simply stupid and uneducated (no redundancy here). They probably thought that weapons sold to Venezuela more than 10 years ago were forgotten by all and that no one would worry about them if missing. No one in chavismo ever bothers to check out contracts, conditions, rules, supervision, etc, etc...
When you live in Venezuela you know that just by looking outside your window at your street look. That is why Venezuela gets into so much legal trouble overseas: neglect and ignorance magnified by arrogance.

So, one day, simply some chavista agent had the "great" idea to give those things to the FARC (and probably pocket for himself the money/goodies he was supposed to give them instead). In all fairness it is quite possible that Chavez had no idea of that, probably would not have approved if informed of it, but has to fix the problem anyway. Though Chavez is arrogant enough to have authorized that deal, you know. With the bolibananians all is possible.

If it were a normal government what would have happened? The foreign ministry and the defense ministry would have announced an inquiry at home, would have asked for the serial numbers of the weapons seized and within a few days would have done a mea culpa of sorts. Soon, if needed, a fall guy who have been conveniently found, apologies to Colombia and Sweden issued, even an offer of inspection of the remaining weapons, allowing Colombia to know exactly how many were "stolen", and now possibly located in the FARC controlled areas of Colombia.

That would have been pretty much it.

But in bolibanana things do not work out this simple and logic way. Why? Because the rulers of bolibanana are delinquents and they know that any serious inquiry will be very damaging. Thus instead they accuse Colombia and the rest of the world of slander, say that Sweden has not asked for anything (totally false), suspend relations with Colombia and go as far as announcing that Colombian investments in Venezuela will be reviewed and, well, seized I suppose. Without compensation of course as no amount of money can repair the tarnished honor of the beloved Supremo of bolibanana.

Not only they likely made a buck sending the Bofors toys to the FARC but they are going to make an extra buck by blackmailing Colombian interests.

Thus tonight the irate and out of all proportion presentation of Chavez on TV, outright lies included. But he needs it, he thinks anyway. As the Honduras feudal possession is flailing badly, and literally through the harm waiving of Zelaya, as protests at home increase daily, Chavez needs to awaken the cheap patriotism so characteristic of proto fascist regimes. Tonight outburst is not directed at me, nor the readers of such blog, it is directed to the uncouth masses (still masses?) that support him still but who everyday wonder more and more how come Chavez sends now weapons to the FARC while crime at home is increasing daily (though according government officials it is only a "perception" of crime we suffer). I mean, one more incongruity added to the litany of previous incongruities of chavismo, eventually it has to add up and Chavez must know that.

What does this mean? Apparently nothing really. Chavez knows that Colombia now depends too much on its trade surplus with Venezuela which allows Colombia to compensate for its huge trade deficit elsewhere. So Uribe, pressed inside, will not go much further than these denunciations, hoping for things to quiet down soon enough as Chavez realizes that he cannot replace Colombia's imports that easily, now that he is short of cash to pay for the expensive shipment that would mean bringing stuff from further away than Colombia (and not in Venezuelan taste which are very close to Colombia's tastes; that matters, believe it or not, elemental marketing, since we eat Colombian yogurt, wearing Colombian underwear, taking many a Colombian manufactured pharmaceutical drug, and driving in a Colombian assembled car to purchase all of these things).

But this would
only be apparent. I have the impression that Colombia has resigned itself to the idea that sooner or later as long as Correa and Chavez remain in office the possibility of a war will increase as the instability inside these two countries will inexorably continue to increase. The more refugees start crossing the Colombian border, the closer to a war we get. I have written already that Uribe has been trying to decrease the trade surplus with Venezuela, through rather infantile measures such as increasing toll fees at the border. Now he will be forced to take more stringent measures. After such a Chavez outburst, coupled to the pitiful show in Honduras to which Correa is associated, Uribe is going to press harder for a close relation with the US, from an FTA to US military bases in Colombia. Public opinion of Colombia is today somewhat in favor of these things and the more Chavez screams, the more he helps the Uribe camp. Colombians are a well educated and courteous people who already before Chavez looked down on silly and vulgar Venezuelans.

On the long run what Chavez is creating is a recipe for disaster, for Venezuela, not for Colombia. Right now, if he were foolish enough to create a broader incident, Colombia would win the war in a week or less. A week and a couple of day if Ecuador jumps in. Colombia has a real army, well trained and experienced, and lean officers. Venezuela Army is not an army anymore, just an agency to pillage the oil money profits, by selling weapons to the FARC for example. And managed by potbellied grease sweating generals.

PS: I put Ecuador as a foot note though it is involved in this mess. What I simply want to state is the absolute lack of credibility that Correa has, and how he thinks we are all stupid. A few days ago a FARC video was revealed and in it the FARC admitted funding Correa's electoral campaigns. Correa of course denied everything, Chavez style.

But Correa went a step further and asked the FARC to validate the video. The FARC assuredly obliged by saying that the video is fake. And voila, Correa thinks he is off the hook. Unbelievable, only Chavez and Correa can pretend that the narcoterrorist FARC is a honest broker! ¡Se cuenta y no se cree!

-The end-

Sweden-Venezuela-FARC II

Ccontinuation of Sweden-Venezuela-FARC I:

I was browsing a little bit and found out the US Americans were already protesting to the Swedes about 3 years ago for Sweden's export to Venezuela and since THEN Sweden had stopped the weapons export. Here you can read (in Swedish, sorry) an article from 2006 on the Swedish exports. Here a new one in English. Saab Bofors Dynamics said the weapons they could identify were exported to Venezuela in the eighties.

In 2006 US Americans were demanding Sweden to stop sending weapons with US components to Chávez's government.

Among the goodies Sweden was exporting to Venezuela were the following:

Robot 70

antitank rockets AT 40 (we saw them already in the past post)

and ammunition for Carl Gustaf grenade throwers as these:

They all contain US components.

Some questions:

  • How many of them are in the hands of the FARC?
  • For what else would Chavez want to use them?
  • Is it possible those weapons had gone to the FARC many years ago, even before Chavez came to power? Could the Chavez people have been given them to the FARC in 1992? Or could they have been provided by just any other corrupt military before Chavismo came to power? We know Venezuelan thieves are armed like an army and that has been so for decades now, even if things have worsened lately.
  • If that is so: could this be, after all, just a way Colombians have to bring more weight to the US bases in their territory? (not that I believe now Chavistas are saints, but all possibilities need to be contemplated)
The director of Saab Bofors said it was "annoying when weapons ended up in the wrong hands" but that that "was very rare". Well, I beg disagree, you just need to read, among other things, this from British journalist Robert Fisk or this from German journalist Peter Scholl-Latour (in German only so far). Fisk is considered an "Islamo fascist" by the US far right (sigh) and Peter Scholl-Latour an ultra-conservative by the extreme left in Germany (sigh again).

Stay tuned.

Zelaya the Clown

UPDATED: click link below for the Edo cartoon on the same topic :)

Looks like I am not the only making the analogy between Zelaya and a bad clown. Weil in Tal cual today.

The Edo cartoon, equally priceless (hat tip Miguel)

"There we go, we got in! Uh Ah, people's victory!"

-The end-

Patricia Rodas: the woman who married Zelaya to Chavez?

UPDATED: a Rodas in the White House?

Reader Milonga brought my attention to these recent words from Patricia Rodas, ex (?) foreign minister of Zelaya, currently fluttering around to have her boss back in office:
"Un saludo a nuestro comandante Hugo Chávez. Sin él, sin su apoyo, esta repercusión mediática no habría sido posible" A salutation to our comandante Hugo Chavez. Without him, without his support, this media blitz would not have been possible. [my emphasis on the our]
As a confession of who is the real boss on Honduras moves this one is matchless.

I had heard about that woman, I had noticed already her loving words when she helped engineer the shameful lift of sanctions on Cuba a couple of months ago at the OAS meeting of San Pedro Sula. A quick search offers me two juicy pieces on her.

From an Honduran paper we can alredy see that last year she was in trouble with the Liberal party of Honduras who was maneuvering to have her removed from the direction. The causes? Her left turn without consulting with the party and her simple inability at managing it.

In English I found an interview with a Nicaraguan journalist. Asked about Patrica Roldas she has this to say:
She is a woman of the left; she has a tradition of grassroots organization. It’s she who has filled Mel Zelaya’s head with debatable initiatives, with transformation. Nobody is analyzing with depth her role in this shift made by Zelaya, who is a man that comes from the most rancid rightwing of the Honduran oligarchy.

Patricia Rodas has assembled inside the Honduran Liberal Party a group that calls itself “The Patricios,” those who have more of a social base; they have more of a tradition of popular organization. Another thing is that they were being isolated inside the Liberal Party.

This interview of Maria Lopez Vigil was published in Havana Times, a strange web page which seems unable to make up its mind about Cuba, fitting the studied ambiguity of some of Raul words. In other words, not the kind of web site you would expect to find a rather critical evaluation of the Zelaya role.

And of course that photo which shows her "interest" for Chavez.

All speculations are allowed about Ms. Roldas, from her role in Chavez Honduras involvement to whatever your febrile minds wants to think of.

UPDATE: To complement this post the Wall Street Journal brings us two articles this morning.

Maria Anastasia O'Grady writes about Greg Craig, the ex lawyer of Elian Gonzalez, who now seems to be directing the shots on Latin America. Are we seeing a potential conflict between State and and the White House brewing? It sounds that Obama has a Rodas of sorts, no?

And Micheletti gets his own say in a US paper. You like it or not but there it is. Slowly but surely people are realizing that they need to listen to someone else than the clown at the border and his sponsor.

-The end-

From Verbier to Ventoux: the crowning of Contador

I have been lucky this year: I got to watch much more Tour de France than in previous years. And good timing as it was the year when the Tour came back after the drug problems of recent years.

The last leg of the race today through Paris was visually stunning as a perfect day welcomed the Tour recovery. The background of the Tour seems to steal the biking show quite often. And Paris the more so.

The story was the return of Lance Armstrong, at least this is how the press wanted it to be, slightly ignoring the talent of Contador and the rise of the Schleck brothers. It was all the way up for Contador until at Verbier, in the Swiss Alps, Contador told them all who was the best. He never relented, never gave up the yellow shirt so spectacularly won at Verbier, winning the clock trial at Annecy and keeping a close tab on Andy Schlek at the mythic Mont Ventoux.

I am very, very happy for Contador since he was getting a bad rap after his 2007 Tour win when too many were willing to give him the title of "accidental" winner since so many of the leaders dropped along the way after testing positive. But Contador was a real champ all along, deserved to win his 2007 Tour, the more so that he is one of the rare bikers to ALSO have won the Giro and La Vuelta, something that has escaped even the great Lance Armstrong.

The winning trio

And coming to Lance Armstrong. After winning 7 Tour in a row he had carved his name in sports history and I was disappointed when he decided to come out of retirement. Why tarnish such glory risking a humiliation? But he managed, he gave it all what he had and when he finally realized that Contador was the man he rallied, stitched back the frayed Astana team behind their champion and still managed a third position on the podium, at 37 perhaps more significant than some of his tour wins.

More than at any time I saw the importance of team work in biking, be it behind Contador or Cavendish who managed to win 6 of the Tour legs, carefully carried to the sprint moment by his team. Not to mention the mutual help of the Schleck brothers, the ones to watch for next year Tour.

It has been a great ride, a beautiful one, and certainly not painful from my cozy TV chair.

-The end-


I am afraid this blog is becoming a bit like a magazine about military material. I am having to learn more about weapons than I care to.

Colombian magazine Semana reports (in Spanish) a bout an ugly finding: the Colombian army raided a couple of FARC camps and discovered, among other things, several AT4s. Those are very powerful anti-tank weapons from Sweden. The Colombians contacted the Swedish embassy and submitted the serial numbers of the rockets to find out how they came up there. It turns out that Sweden had sold those rockets to the Venezuelan government a few years ago. FARC is a terrorist organization, also in the eyes of the European Union.

The Swedish company that sells those weapons said it was an unfortunate incident as they "follow Swedish and international regulations", but that the issue was beyond their control as they sold those weapons to the Venezuelan army. I ask: what are the consequences the EU has to take?


The Swedish government is now demanding explanations from the Venezuelan government on how those weapons ended up in the hands of the FARC.


And now the Minister of Interior and "Justice" in Venezuela, Tarek Al-Aissami, declared it was all lies and the Colombians were just producing a "media show" that looked like a "bad US movie". I suppose he will say Mr Jens Erikssons from the Swedish government is also lying. The Swedish have decided to stop ALL WEAPON EXPORTS TO VENEZUELA! Read the article in Dagens Nyheter here if you understand Swedish.

Among other things, that Swedish article says this:

  • Jan-Erik Lövgren, Deputy Director General of the Inspectorate of Strategic Products (ISP) declares Sweden has now stopped weapons export to Venezuela.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is discussing right now with Venezuela and Colombia how the FARC could get hold of those weapons.
  • The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Association says Sweden has sold 474 million kroner to Venezuela in the past 9 years.

10 years of a new constitution and Chavez goes crazy

Today I was driving back to San Felipe and each time I checked the radio, Chavez was in cadena. Since it was Bolivar's anniversary yesterday I was wondering what was the excuse for a cadena today. It took me several tries to finally realize that it was Chavez at the Nazional Assembly "commemorating" the 10th anniversary of the election of the Constituent Assembly that produced the failed constitution of 1999. I use the word failed deliberately since it has not only not been applied yet, but a lot of what was applied was ill done, and to add insult to injury the constitution of 1999 has been violated too many times to keep count.

Why did I needed several attempts to figure it out? Each time I tuned in, out of curiosity because I had no intention to waste further an afternoon of driving with a Chavez discombobulated rant, he was speaking of Honduras. That is right, Honduras is truly obsessing Chavez as he knows how much he risks losing if Zelaya is not sat again on the throne. In fact, considering how much Chavez is pushing Zelaya it is not enough anymore for Chavez to have Zelaya back in office with some form of compromise; no, now he needs Zelaya back in office, punishing those who overthrew him and pushing a new constitution. If Chavez cannot browbeat a small country like Honduras, what are the chances he can dominate a bigger piece of real estate like, say, Colombia?

It had to be late Saturday night when I finally had the courage to read the summary of Chavez cadena which lasted at least three hours. any one on the rad without CD or Ipod would have been subjected to the cadena everywhere, enough to drive you into an embankment out of despair. I was not disappointed: Chavez simply gave the order to the Nazional Assembly to pass a new enabling law so that he can help it (admire the cynicism) in making sure that by next December as the tenth anniversary of the 1999 constitution is reached there is not a single "counterrevolutionary law" left in the books. That is right, in chavismo imagery any law passed before 1999 is by definition counter revolutionary, even if it treats of, say, the management of a botanical garden. What else could you expect from a president that feels very threatened to the point of paranoia? From a regime busy rewriting history as the only way left for them to hide their incompetence and lack of democratic values? (1)

The explanation for yet a new outburst is that Chavez knows more or less what is going on. With his poll numbers looking South and a possible major embarrassment n Honduras, not only his reelection in 2012 is not a sure thing, but he could well fail to reach the 2/3 parliamentary majority his plans require, amen of a possible outright loss of majority as the opposition seems to be understanding that a united front is THE ONLY way to win in December 2010. Assuming of course that votes are actually counted. The only way for Chavez to preserve a democratic fig leaf is to win 2/3 at the new Nazional Assembly, the only way he can make sure that all the appointees to control institutions are from his side. As soon as an independent inquirer reaches some power you can imagine how fast the whole thing will unravel. Thus a simple majority IS NOT ENOUGH for Chavez.

Even Chavez must be realizing that too many things are escaping his control. The Ledezma hunger strike and subsequent visit to the OAS might have achieved little but as a publicity stunt
they were great, the more so when compared to Honduras media fiasco, at least at this writing. That Zelaya is totally worthless cannot have escaped Chavez either, even if it could be convenient for his plans were he succeed in restoring him. In Honduras there is a real opposition willing to fight to the end and with more popular support than most care to admit: it is Latin America after all, and coups are, well, not such a terrible thing when they are nearly bloodless. Zelaya seems woefully unable to handle the situation, increasing daily the risks for Chavez. Remember, Honduras can still call for earlier elections in late October which means that they now need to hold on for only three months, a blink in politics now that the worse has passed.

And to this of course you an add all the other domestic problems that not only are more and more intractable, but are becoming harder to resolve the more Chavez obsesses with Honduras.

Thus this new outburst: Chavez has decided to lock up his reelection, and the one of HIS assembly, by December through enough laws to make sure that it is impossible for the opposition to make a credible electoral bid. Period.

I think it is very fitting that Chavez "celebrates" ten years of a constituent assembly by announcing that he is about to violate the constitution a shit load of times from here to December. The irony is priceless and reminds us that constitutions are only as good as the people who apply them. As such the Venezuelan one, already deeply flawed from the start, is an utter failure.


1) Enabling laws have of course a sinister connotation since Nazi Germany. The use and abuse of Chavez to this figure is not helping.

-The end-

Hugo is buying toys again

Here we have it again: the Venezuelan government wants to "at least double the number of tanks in its military and continue strengthening its defense capability".

Hugo Chávez has some French tanks and also several dozen Russian AMX-13C light tanks like the one you see on the left.

Now he wants to buy, among other things, tanks like the ones you see below, pretty big battle tanks T-90.

In the last couple of years Venezuela has given over 4.4 billion dollars to Russia for getting AMX-13C tanks, over one hundred thousand Kalashnikovs, some Sukhoi jets and some other toys.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan schools are a disaster, hospitals are a shambles, the health centres in the slums are being abandoned and Venezuelans stopped producing patents.

Who is benefiting from this? For sure some Russian tycoons...but it is certain that some Boliburgueses too are getting some Russian money for "supporting" the operation.

What could these tanks be used for? Where? Most of Venezuela's borders with Colombia are jungle.

Zelaya in Honduras, now you see him, now you don't

Zelaya did indeed go to Honduras and stayed there for a few minutes. If you blinked you might have missed him. Tonight he is back safely into Nicaragua, sleeping in much better conditions I am sure than many of the supporters he managed to have go tot eh "entry" check point. He might keep replaying that show. Maybe next time he might take a piss on the Honduras side of the border, which would be way more symbolic of what he really wishes for the people of his country.

IF chavistas seem amused and please, if Cuban press talk of "popular mobilizations", they certainly were not big enough to have the military desist of blocking the entry of Zelaya, and arrest him had he persisted. "Abril 13" it was not no mater how hard chavismo tried to replicate the 2002 legend. And it might never be as some people are starting to investigate whether some of these Zelaya "supporters" are paid to attend, chavismo style.

On the other hand Secretary Clinton did not mid saying that Zelaya was reckless, meaning not about himself but about the fate of the people for which welfare he was supposed to care.

Meanwhile someone in a major paper finally decided to write in English a complete summary of the recent Honduras story. Even coming from the WSJ, one is very hard pressed to find words to defend Zelaya criticizing the author, Jose Cordoba. The more so that Cordoba has written impeccable articles on Venezuela. Why would he lie on Honduras when what he wrote about Chavez and Venezuela was worse? But Zelaya is a clown, a manipulated one at that, and Cordoba makes you realize that without a doubt.

If you prefer to read a more confused view on the situation you can read the CNN report of this new farcical day. Well, at least they stopped briefly glossing on every fart of Zelaya on his way to mention that there was an anti Zelaya popular meeting in San Pedro Sula. I do not know about you but even as a Liberal I greatly enjoy myself watching an alleged Liberal media tie itself in knots defending an autocrat without defending it. Because let's face it, the relative incoherence of CNN probably does more to make you question Zelaya's motives than the straight shooting Cordoba piece. Ironic, no?

PS: I was forgetting! The "ass of the day award" does not go to Zelaya, believe it or not. It goes to Miguel D'escoto, the ex guerrilla from Nicaragua who now serves as the current chair of the UN assembly (a rotating post of no big significance). He said that Zelaya should get extra days in his term to compensate for those he lost in exile. See, this the kind of "mediators" that are put in charge at the UN; people that should know better and who actually make matters worse. And then the UN wants respect....

-The end-

Zelaya and used cars

"¡agarrenme que lo mato!" stop me before I kill him.

I was thinking about this old mockery of fake macho courage as I was watching tonight the news that Arias proposal was rejected by the Zelaya camp. The proposal granted him amnesty for all constitutional violations he did before he was sent away. And it allowed him to complete his term of office even as a figure head of sorts. I mean, not a bad deal when you think of it.

But no, Zelaya gave a rather mumbling explanation about why he was not accepting the proposal, an explanation that explained nothing, except confirming painfully that he is not the one directing his show anymore. I suspect that this will be equally apparent to Hondurans.

So, for the Nth time, as the little boy that cries "wolf", he threatens to go back to Honduras in triumph , carried on the shoulders of the people waiting for him at the border. So, why has he not done it yet if he is so sure of his support? Why is he instead threatening to start a civil war (him outside?) supported by Chavez?

And thus I come to the title of the post as Zelaya, tacky cow boy hat on head and drug cartel lord mustache, looks more and more like a used car salesman; you know the one that swears you can cross the 48 with it but who is unwilling to let you test drive it around the block.

Yes, the country that supports this used car salescreep is discussing a new law to tell folks how they can buy and sell cars. Yes, you read this correctly, not only car prices will be fixed but used car prices will also be fixed, as well as the time of sale. I suppose picking up your nose while you drive will also be regulated. The law is not out yet so I do not want to discuss rumors that will probably sink that law when chavista with luxury cars read the fine line. Instead let me explain to you why there are no cars for sale.

See, Venezuela is probably the ONLY country in the world where you car GAINS value as soon as it leaves the concessionaire's parking lot!!! Yes, buying a car is actually an investment as long as you sell it within a few days. How come?

The reason is that cars are entitled to fixed currency exchanged rate of 2.15 for the dollar when all experts think the exchange rate should be between 5 and 6 to the USD. Since the government has no USD for importing cars it tried to limit imports through a licensing system. But since it still did not give currency for lesser imports, and not enough USD to import for local manufacturing, then it created artificially a low offer, high demand, inflation nightmare.

Doing the sensible thing would be to allow import of cars at a free exchange rates and have people pay for the car they want. But NOOOOOO.... that would be admitting that the economic policies of the government failed and that devaluation is a must. So, in perfect bureaucratic logic, they are going to forbid people to buy used cars and to accept been wait listed for years if needed. Voila! And do not bitch because in Cuba they do not even have wait lists!!!! And you do not want to buy their used car unless you are a museum owner.

I do not know about Zelaya, but looking at how his supporters are running their local show, I would consider seriously the Oscar Arias offer. At least Arias does not look like a used car salesman.....

PS: no links because 1) I am on a rush, no time to post and 2) all as seen on TV.

PS2: amusing detail, BOTH the USD and the Venezuelan Bolivar felt today in the Colombian market....

-The end-

Auyantepuí, a wonder of nature

If you click in here you can vote for the 7 wonders of nature. Of course, one of the 28 finalists is the Auyan tepuí, a.k.a. Angel's Falls. Auyan tepuí means Devil's Mountain in the Carib language Pemon, one of the some 29 official languages in Venezuela.

On one side of this mountain you can see the highest water fall on Earth: 979 meters (3,210 ft) high, and 807 meters of uninterrupted descent.
You can see another cooler picture here.

These here are flesh-eating Heliamphora. Believe me, there are many more wonderful creatures there at every step:

Moi, Tintin and Armstrong, 1969

If you ever wanted to know something real about your favorite ranting blogger, click the link to full post.

Welcome to the Moon, Mr. Armstrong.
Hergé sent this special drawing to Armstrong in 1969.

Yes, I am a Tintin product. I would not say that I learned to read over Tintin books but they were certainly among my very first reads. I prefer not to speculate on Tintin's influence on making me a scientist and a steady blogger, but I am pretty sure there is something to it.

And of course this is my favorite one. I tried to find my old copy, which not surprisingly is the most battered of all my Tintin books. I wanted to take a pic of that really worn out book and post it (not a promise, a threat). But I cannot find it as it is still in some of my recent moving boxes. So I got this one off the net which is a good thing because a portion of my old cover is missing.

And yes, on my desk there is a small replica of the rocket and I look at it everyday. And yes I reread the book (I bought a newer edition because, well, pages also are missing) at least once a year. And after all of these years I can still feel the epic.

So there, I have told you you more about my real self in this single post than in the whole previous 6 years of blogging.

Happy Moon landing anniversary Mr. Armstrong!

-The end-

The state of chavismo

While my mind was concentrated on Honduras and French activities Chavez and his close followers experienced a significant change that needs to be examined. Namely we are witnessing yet a further radicalization of the discourse that tells us that some major confrontation is coming. Why? Let's examine first the pressures that are bearing on the government and then it will be easier to understand why this one is under the current offensive mood.

An old regime under new pressures of its own making

What we need to understand first is that chavismo is now an exhausted regime, a group of people who have been holding office for ten years now and who are running short of ideas and personnel. From purge to purge the regime has been reduced to a small group of faithful, and sycophantic, helpers. One consequence that it is not easy to grasp for foreign observer is that the regime has slid into a pronounced inefficiency because nobody dares to take the decisions that need to be taken since nobody can move unless Chavez blesses himself publicly the move. Considering that Chavez can change his mind in a jiffy, nobody dares to invest themselves as they should to defend their project since all their work can be undone with a single utterance of Chavez during a Sunday Alo Presidente. What we are seeing is a text book example of frozen regime waiting for something to happen.

The problem with such regimes is that the world does not have the courtesy to stand still while it finds a way to renew its administrators, solve its problems, come up with a plan that goes beyond retaining power at all costs. And what makes the situation even worse is that El Supremo still thinks he can change the world and is acting as if there were no problem at home, investing himself in his foreign adventures. Where have we already seen that? Hummmm....

Which problems have acquired urgency within chavismo? There are two.

The first one is of course El Supremo's ambition that blinds him from the reality or useful advice that he does not want to listen to, no matter how smart a politician he has been until now. Yes, smart because, even with a fat checkbook, retaining power for ten years with the ineptitude he has shown in managing the country is quite a feat.

The second one is that the economy of Venezuela is unraveling. True, it is not obvious to see it: after all even at only 60 USD a barrel it is still way higher an oil price than the 10 USD a barrel Chavez received in 1999, even if exports are down. What we are seeing now is the realization that all the production plans that Chavez has come up with have not worked, or at least not a the extent that they should have worked. Early this week in a series of articles El Universal showed the economic sectors that have been falling back since the economic crisis hit the world last year (1). The picture they give us is that of an economy that in ten years has become strictly oil dependent creating an import system designed to gain the good will of the popular classes through subsidized goods and services. True, up to a point the lower economic strata of the country have experienced a certain improvement between 2004 and 2008, but this improvement has basically been based on distribution of goods, not on the creation of real sustainable jobs. And this improvement itself is severely undermined by a high inflation which, if not tackled seriously, could wipe out fast any gain made since 2004.

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into the details on all the red lights turned on. These El Universal articles are good enough for those who can read Spanish (little can be found in English for these couple of weeks). What is more interesting right now is to describe the effects that we are seeing everywhere.

The root cause of today situation is that the government is running out of money, that its "savings", whatever those might have really been, are being eaten up faster than anyone at Miraflores expected, and that the gamble by Chavez to wait for a recovery of oil prices seems everyday more of a losing bet. It has been calculated that Chavez needs an oil barrel at least at 70-80 USD to break even with his political plans. With the lower oil production probably the required price range went up, 20 more at least than what he is currently getting. Of course, the downward spiral of the economy is putting additional strain as income and sales taxes are taking a hit. This is crucial because it was that revenue that served to pay public employees, oil money being used as Chavez personal checking account from social Misiones to foreign adventures.

The private sector is simply unable to pick up some of the slack because it has been punished so severely since 2003 that it is now without significant reserves, suffers of lack of internal investment, and is subjected to unfair competition form the subsidized imports of the government. Not to mention that the currency restrictions, the legal jeopardy to which private property is subjected to, the litany of repressive laws enacted since 2003 and the rampant crime are a deadly cocktail to stop any investment intention the private sector could still have. The paradox of Venezuela crisis is that unless the rest of the world, its finance sector is coping more or less while its manufacturing sector was already tanking before the crisis came.

What we see today

Let me start by narrating what you can see on the road between Caracas and Yaracuy.

More potholes than at any time I can remember. And big ones, of the type that can wreck an axle of your car. Those potholes exist even on the speedways.

On the side of the road there are more "invasiones" than at any time since Chavez came to office. That is, you see whole community of tin and cardboard shacks, new ones popping up on a monthly basis.

The amount of garbage on the side of the road seems to be increasing a lot too and the once reasonably well cut grass seems to run amok in many a stretch.

Before you would cross regularly police cars, now that sight is becoming rarer and rarer, be it state cops or local cops. Any accident generates longer lines than before, huge delays because there seems to be a lowered response ability from the safety people. When you stop at gas stations and want a snack there is less choices than before.

If you think that this is a subjective way to look at things we can discuss how difficult it has become to buy a car, or to find spare parts for your car. We can also discuss how in ten years, in spite of a significant population growth San Felipe has still a single large grocery store, and that the local Mercal has become a joke. The hospital of San Felipe is worse than ever and private clinics are burdened with work. But the CDI and barrio adentro joints do not seem to have many visitors in comparison...

Still not convinced? Turn on the TV and watch protesters everywhere, in particular in state enterprises which have been packed with Chavez supporters, in particular PDVSA, and which are about to go on a general strike anytime soon. Why? Because of the huge delays that government has in meeting its contractual obligations. These workers might be chavistas but they still need to eat, to pay rent, to send their kids to school; the "solidarity" language of the pseudo socialist revolution goes only so far (2, 3).

You still need more evidence of trouble? Watch the medical personnel asking for the resignation of their corresponding minister. Or even better, watch the barrio adentro medics asking for their pay check. Look at what happened in Caucagua and Curiepe where folks who voted for Chavez every time for the last 10 years suddenly went out with stones and sticks to bar access to the Nazional Guard wanting to take away the PoliMiranda precincts. Amazing sights!

Clearly chavismo is watching all of these signs of deteriorating support. If the streets are becoming restless in some chavista strongholds, the recent opinion polls are not bringing any comfort. If Chavez remains still the most popular leader around, his numbers have gone down significantly, those of his government much lower. Any bounce effect from his February referendum victory is now gone and he has run out of excuses to call for a new election to campaign and recover some ground, the only thing he excels at even if they are now a mere exercise in vulgarity. It is under this light that we must observe some of the recent radicalization measures.

Chavismo reactions under stress

As a hurt animal chavismo is reacting out of fear that it is losing control of the situation. Let's look at notable examples of these past two weeks, all, we can be sure, influenced or dictated from Miraflores palace.

Diosdado is going after the media

The first expected reaction is to cut off media. That media cannot be tolerated because it is showing the Curiepe riots or the barrio adentro medics demanding their fair wages or the Guyana blue collar hard hats laying all of their problems with the "socialist" management imposed on them who apparently has no idea on how to run a business, even in a socialist model.

The attacks on Globovision are continuing and it seems that government is getting ready to pay for the political costs. But it also seems that government is willing to add to the bill by closing down up to a couple of hundred of radio stations across the country. Why?

The "excuse" offered is "el latifundio mediatico" (the media big ranch?, bolivarian speak at its best!). According to the government 30% of the radio spectrum is "owned" by 27 families. If anything the informed observer already notices that this number makes the Venezuelan broadcasting system one of the most open in the world! But it gets better, Diosdado Cabello, the super minister in charge of implementing censorship in Venezuela also wants to set a limit of three radio stations by group, and to forbid that they pass simultaneously the same program more than half an hour a day. Or some other stupid disposition like that. That would mean for example that a sports network could only pass a full baseball game in only one of its radio stations!!!!

It is not idle to note that the only nation wide radio coverage system belongs to the government, RNV, and it only passes the official line and propaganda (I read somewhere RNV has 73 radio stations, almost nine times more than its nearest "competition"). The opposition access to RNV is near zero, and only a little bit at election time, when intentional observers might be watching. Not mentioning the YVKE system and all the radio stations already purchased by "friends" of the regime and the "community" ones which are held and financed though chavismo. Someone often on the road will notice that in some areas of the country there is only chavismo on the air waves. You may red a great interview of Cesar Miguel Rondon on these matters where he is not afraid to say that Cabello is a liar. A partial translation in English here.

Already in Venezuela big networks are limited in the number of radio stations they can manage. As such, networks avoid small towns limiting themselves to the major markets. In San Felipe I never listen to the radio because no national network has a station here and I can only put up with so much local news. But that is exactly what the government seeks, that only local news are discussed, that national news are only discussed on state networks or at the very least neutralized ones such as Venevision. In other words, in Valencia there will be only Valencia news, just like in San Felipe there are only San Felipe news (besides what they pull from Internet and newspapers, of course; but those are not "live" news).

There is no point to go into the minutiae of the eventual control law about to be voted. Suffice to observe that this law is designed to avoid a coming "caracazo", that the government is aware that the increasing unrest due to increased economic and social problems could suddenly lead to a spontaneous combustion, like in Caracas in 1989. Naively they think that if people do not know that Guyana is up in flames, it will not affect them, less incite them to join the protest. They should be reminded that in Russia there were few radio stations and papers, and all were controlled tightly by Moscow. That did not stop the USSR from collapsing anyway.

Diosdado Cabello is operating out of fear

Rafael Ramirez is giving a new meaning to sectarian

What is happening inside PDVSA is truly mind boggling. For recall after the 2002-2003 strike, PDVSA was gutted of more than 20,000 of its workers and management. I think barely a very few thousand remained. But since 2003 chaivsmo has been filling it up again with under par technicians, corrupt managers and all sorts of political appointees who get a pay check from PDVSA in exchange of political activities, inside or outside.

The other remarkable thing about the "new PDVSA" is that its payroll has more than doubled the old one while production has not even recovered from pre-2003 levels. Since it is impossible to get verifiable numbers from the state, and even less from PDVSA, there is an estimate of significantly more than 70,000 "workers" inside, all "rojo-rojito". PDVSA of course has never bothered to put that rumor to rest which probably means that the estimate is fairly accurate, and maybe even under par.

But as all state companies in Venezuela, even firing 80% of its original workforce, PDVSA still inherited the trade unions of the old PDVSA, though now with pro Chavez leaders. As years pass a novel conflict arises for these new union men: be more faithful to the revolution that gave them a cushy job or make sure employees get a fair deal. This is most crudely exposed when trade unions have to renew their direction, through, gasp, internal elections.

Chavsimo has sensed that winning an outright majority in the PDVSA internal elections was not a sure thing. First there were delay tactics, postponing negotiations until after elections to proceed when chavismo finds that the time is right. But trade unions inside PDVSA were divided enough that even those tactics could not be held longer. So chavismo decided to face elections using the same strategy of fear that it uses in normal electoral campaigns. This is what explains the latest outburst of Rafael Ramirez who as a minister of oil and president of PDVSA announced in a mortifying speech that he would only negotiate with representatives of pro Chavez trade unions, that he would never sit down at a table with enemies of Chavez. Mind you, not enemies of Venezuela, enemies of CHAVEZ.

In any civilized country a minster would say a quarter of what Ramirez said early last week would have been fired on the spot. But in Venezuela where barbarism now reigns it is seen as a badge of loyalty by the thugs ensconced in Miraflores Palace. It is OK for the revolutionary regime of bolibanana to make it an official policy to segregate folks. Ramirez went as far as announcing that PDVSA will create socialists committees everywhere in the enterprise and that those who did not sign in would be considered suspects.

"Quien no esté en un comité socialista es sospechoso de conspirar contra la revolución" Whoever is not in a socialist committee is suspect of conspiring against the revolution.

Fascism or terror inspiring CDR in Cuba, your pick.

But no matter, it cannot be hidden: Rafael Ramirez is operating out of fear.

Luisa Estela Morales threatens journalists, and brags about it

This is a small incident but is so telling of the blinding arrogance of chavismo, an arrogance that, if you allow me to say, hides only deep seated fair.

Luisa Estela Morales is the head of Venezuela's TSJ, our Supreme Court. Under her tenure she has gained from me the qualifying of Chavez 's Harlot for all her permissiveness in allowing multiple constitutional violations while making sure that most lawsuits from opposition politicians are either dismissed or put in the back burner for years.

Truly she knows that she is operating illegally, amen of unethically. But for someone who has been fired twice and only reached such her "exalted" position through her ability of selling her soul, she is not about to give up.

Now, she is reaching the arrogance of the thief caught in fraganti. The other day she replied to a legitimate journalist question by threatening her and reminding her that there was already another journalist that she had screwed for not asking the type of questions she likes. Just like that.

Can you imagine the head of the US Supreme Court or of the French Conseil Constitutionel threatening a journalist? What would that suggest you?

Chavez and his wild chase in Honduras

To end this long assay a short note on Chavez himself. His indecent interest with Honduras, his all but open pushing of Zelaya to call for internal subversion to create trouble inside Honduras can only mean one thing: Chavez knows very well that if Honduras is allowed to leave the ALBA, his oil money driven feudal hold, it will be such a major loss of face that his whole political project will be threatened, not only in Honduras but in the ALBA countries AND in Venezuela. Teflon eventually yields.

Chavez started hard on Honduras but quickly backed down for a few days. Now he is up in a roar again. Why? Because he has failed to rally Venezuela into the defense of Honduras, even among most chavistas. Thus he probably sent a couple of million dollars to his Honduras agents which is enough to build a few road blocks and make believe that Zelaya has more support than the actually does. Whether he manages to recover Honduras might not be Chavez point right now, what he wants is to change the subject at home, not to feel obliged to discuss Venezuelan matters.

Hugo Chavez is reacting out of fear.

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1) Articles that detail the significant drop in customer activity: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. That is, generalized drop in sales from food to shoes. Articles that describe the lower production numbers of the first semester: public sector and private manufacturing sector. And finally general economy contraction and increase in the government accounts deficit (without that deficit being used for new projects as is the case in countries trying to get out of the crisis.

2) For the protest in Guayana you can read this set 1, 2, 3 and 4. For the troubles at PDVSA you can read more here.

3) You can read this summary in English of the trouble in Guayana.

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PS: this post has taken a lot of work to write. In addition, it is long on purpose because I will probably not be able to post again until next Thursday. Though I will be able to check comments.

-The end-