How low can chavismo fall?

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

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

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

Three days or less

Colombia.....300
Guyana.......1,000

Three to eight days

Colombia.....500
Guyana.......2,000

Eight days or more

Colombia.....700
Guyana.......2,500

This one is for the annals of pettiness.

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

-The end-

Between the lines: destroying the Indian territories



based on a map from this great site














Yesterday Venezuelan and Colombian media outlets reported some 392 Colombian and Brazilian citizens were forced to leave Venezuela, where they working in a mine near San Fernando de Atabapo. Now they are in Inírida, capital of the Colombian department of Guainía. Some 400 more are expected soon.

Venezuelan news are saying those minders were illegal. Colombians are saying the expulsion of so many people is causing a big problem for Inírida and that it is just inhumane. This event takes place on the context of the increasing tension between Chávez and Uribe.






























Orinoco meets Casiquiare: in spite of the brown colour they always had, they
were clean until mining and other uncontrolled industries arrived.



I do not know why Hugo decided to throw out the Colombian miners now: does the Venezuelan military want the resources to be exploited by someone else? Who then? Or were they just finally trying to put some order in the plundering of the Amazonas region? Or is it something else?

What I do know and see here anyhow is what people on either side don't discuss: this event shows once again the absolute lack of governance, the absolute chaos and the complete lack accountability on both sides.


  • Fact: they were working illegally indeed.
  • Fact: they are not the only ones, illegal mining is happening everywhere in the Amazonas state and in Bolívar state, it is done by Venezuelans and foreigners alike.
  • Fact: they are using mercury, mercury that goes into the rivers (the Río Negro, the Casiquiare and the Orinoco, among many others), mercury that is highly poisonous to all forms of life and which is almost impossible to clean up.
  • Fact: those miners, together with lots of Venezuelan miners from poor and not so poor regions, are getting into native American territory, they are making native Americans again a minority in the last regions native Americans have left.
  • Fact: military on both sides just control those they want, not those they should.

Below you have a map of the Venezuelan Amazonas State showing population density (inhabitants/km2). San Fernando de Atabapo and its whole municipality have less than 15000 inhabitants. Around that city you have the territories of some very small First Nations who until now have had very little contact with alcohol, Western diseases and so on.

















Here a look at the other side, the neighbouring departments and the estimate population there.
Many of the miners, according to sources from the Colombian side, are not from those departments but from other regions of Colombia.



















The Colombian departments on the other side of the Orinoco and Río Negro have a much higher population and there is a civil war going on there. The Venezuelan government seems to be siding with the guerrillas for many years already.

Some NGOs say there are around 3 million illegal Colombians in Venezuela. That is over 10% of Venezuela's population. In Venezuela there is no reliable registry of population. On one side, for some years now you have to tell your ID number to any vendor in Venezuela when you buy (not just sell) anything but a hot dog. This is supposedly for VAT reasons. On the other side the government does not know really who lives where and estimates for population in many municipalities are just wild guesses.

Everybody - the opposition in Venezuela, the government, the Colombian government and the Colombian opposition - should openly talk about possible solutions to uncontrolled movements of populations, present transparent mechanisms to improve the security situation on both sides of the border and work on detailed plans for a sustainable development of the region. That is very unlikely to happen now. The native Americans - the Puinave, the Piapoco and others - as well as the natural resources are the ones who are suffering.

Geez...we so badly need shadow ministers in Venezuela that show Venezuelans there are solutions, we need them now, even in the middle of the emerging dictatorship.

Oops...apologies to the Piapocos, I mispelt their name in the map below

Honduras and the US win; Chavez and Lula lose

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

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

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

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

Winners?

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

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

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

Losers!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

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


-The end-

Recognizing Honduras elections

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

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

The main reasons are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The end-

Thinking about Venezuelan-African relations

UPDATED: link is fine now, see here

One


The Venezuelan government keeps silence about the Venezuelan Boeing 727 that (was) crashed in Mali after it had downloaded a lot of cocaine. The German Deutsche Welle tells us the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré finally talked about this incident. He talked on a state TV broadcast in the middle of the night as soon as he got back from a trip to Lybia and Qatar. He said he had not talked earlier because he did not want to hinder the investigations. Touré added the Mali government is collaborating with the neighbours and transmitted information to Interpol.

How long are we going to have to wait to know more details about that plane? From what airport in Venezuela did it set off? Stay tuned.

Two

Now, you may be wondering what Tibisay Lucena, the top woman of the Venezuelan Electoral commission has to do with Mali. I know one of my great-great-grandmothers came from somewhere in Western Africa, but what about Tibi? Was she on a kind of Roots trip?















Well, if you read French or use Google tools to read it, you can go to a site of the Malian government here and read about Tibi's visit to Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bisseau in April of this year. Or you just go and see the picture of Tibi, Venezuela's business representative in Mali and some Mali functionaries testing one of those machines. The visit was no secret in Venezuela. I read about it in a couple of Venezuelan newspapers and in pro-Hugo grassroot site Aporrea.

As the propaganda site Venezuelanalysis reported back then, the lady in red went to those countries "to share the experience that Venezuela has accumulated over the past ten years with our friends". She wanted to show basically how the Venezuelan voting machines work...or don't work. If you have followed this blog you may know the world's most modern voting system is much slower than manual systems and you may know the paper trail it produces often does not show what the voter actually wanted. Never mind, what is good for a Venezuelan is good for our friends in Africa as well.




From an earlier post you know Hugo has a very particular interest in those three countries in Africa.





Three


In July of 2009 the Guinea-Bisseau police seized a plane with 500 kl. of cocaine with a Venezuelan crew. There was a standoff as the Guinean military tried to stop the police from doing its work. That was not the first time and it won't be the last one. You can read a lot about Guinea-Bisseau's links to drugs trade in The Telegraph.

You can read a little bit about some cocaine seizures in Senegal here and here.

By the way, Ahmadinejad headed to Senegal after he left Venezuela. He is trying to build up ties there.

Four


What am I saying? I haven't got a clue about what is going on but perhaps

  • the Venezuelan government should work openly with United Nations to clarify how the cocaine is going from colombia through Venezuela to those three countries.
  • those three countries should become more careful about using a voting system that is not reliable (think paper trail, think Germans and Dutch going back to manual voting, think Norway doing it like that all the time)
Now the Venezuelan government can say I am creating a "matriz de opinion". So be it. Just be more transparent.

Anti Iran rulers protests, medals stolen and veils in Bolivia

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

That is all.

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

-The end-

Happy Thanksgiving

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

-The end-

The First Nations in our blood

Map showing how main female genetic markers spread



Population genetics has been providing new insights into where we all came from, what roads we took to settle the world and how each of our many ethnic groups interacted with each other. Very little research has been carried out in Venezuela compared to Europe. Still, Venezuelan scientists have carried out some interesting studies. They confirm a lot of what historians knew but they also provide new details that could help us fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the past.

I have written before about some of those studies. Basically, they confirm what most Venezuelans but our president knew: the vast majority of Venezuelans are very mixed, most of our male ancestry is of European origin and most of our female ancestry is native American and there is sub-Saharan influence on both sides as well.

Native Americans keeping a distinctive ethnic group are a tiny minority in Venezuela these days. I have talked a little bit about those groups here. A lot of Venezuelans have some native American background, though, even if they look very European or African or anything else. Still, little do they know about that background. We eat arepas, we eat cachapas, we use some Indian words in our Spanish (less than Bolivians, Peruvians or Mexicans, but still some like cuaima or catire) but we don't know much more about our American ancestors. As Alexander von Humboldt noted already after his 1799-1801 trip through Venezuela, most Venezuelans have lost track of their history, their European, their native American and their African history.

The historical records tell us that there were some Indian groups around the Tacarigua Lake, some others in what is now Caracas, some others in Margarita Island. We know about some of those groups have the same language and others belonging to very different groups with very different looks and customs.

Very roughly, we know a lot of the West of what is now Venezuela was populated by Arawak groups (Arawak being a very broad term, like Romance groups or Slavic groups) and a lot of the East was populated by Carib groups (also a very broad term). We also know there were isolated groups that spoke languages completely different to all the others. We still have in Venezuela about 30 languages that represent several language families, quite a lot of variety compared to what you see in Europe. The native Americans are now mostly in remote regions on the West, on the East and South. Still you see the Arawak groups more to the West, the Carib more to the East and both in the South, but there are exceptions, like Carib Yukpas in Zulia, and there are many groups that have very different languages to all the rest, like the Waraos.


Some Venezuelan scientists presented a paper this year where they showed a first study on "Mitochondrial diversiy in Northwest Venezuela" and "Implications for Probable Prehispanic Migratory Routes".

Dinorah Castro de Guerra, Figuera Pérez, Izaguirre, Rodríguez Larralde, Guerrera Castro and other Venezuelan researchers chose 4 communities in Northwestern Venezuela: three very small towns in Northwestern state Falcón and Barquisimeto, a big city and capital of Lara (to the South of Falcón). They selected their samples from people whose grandparents were all born in the same town, signifying people who were likely to have very strong roots with the place.















The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is always inherited through the mother and the Y chromosome through the father. A certain pattern of DNA sequences in the mtDNA or Y chromosome can be used to identify a a genetic group, a haplogroup. In this case, most of the mtDNA haplogroups (refering to the mother's mother's mother's...) were of native American original, albeit there were also instances of sub-Saharan African and European groups.
This contrasts with the markers on the Y chromosomes, which show, as usual in the Americas, that Venezuelans have on the paternal side mostly European haplogroups.

There are 4 native American mtDNA haplogroups and they are known simply as A, B, C and D. H is the most typical of European populations, J is typical of Middle-East, Northern Africa and Europe, U is mostly in the Old World outside sub-Saharan Africa and L and L3 are mainly found among sub-Saharan populations and recent descendants (like slaves).

Here I plot the mtDNA haplogroup distribution for every town in this study.

Some of the things we can observe:

















  • As in previous studies, the Indian contribution is the most frequent on the female side
  • the European maternal contribution in traditional populations in those towns is much lower than in the main cities as in the capital (see what I wrote on a previous study for Venezuela's capital here)
  • Macanillas is a place where people apparently have very unique haplotypes and in general there seem to be a lot of unidentifiable haplogroups in this study (errors? something special about hardly studied groups?).
  • The African maternal contribution is slightly higher in the most costal village, which is not surprising for anyone who has been to Venezuela
  • It seems as if on the coast (Macuquita) haplogroup D is particularly represented, which could hint at Indian populations that differ more from the other 3 locations
All this should be taken with a pinch of caution. The samples were taken from 81 persons in Barquisimeto, 25 in Macuquita, 58 in Churuguara and 29 in Macanillas.

I will continue in a future post with some proposals for future studies on Venezuelan population genetics.



























































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

Siempre oímos esta conseja de que le mundo ignora lo que pasa en Venezuela, de que no se dan cuenta de que la democracia se muere, o murió ya. Vemos sendos políticos de oposición viajar por doquier para "explicar" lo que pasa acá, y volver, triunfantes, contándonos de que Fulanito o Sultanita los recibió, los escucho, les dio el pésame. En Aló Ciudadano cuantas veces tenemos que calarnos las llamadas de gente que se queja de que se hace poco para sacar a Chávez, de que hasta cuando vamos a tener que calarnos esto, de que el mundo nos tiene abandonados, que nos roban las elecciones y por que seguir votando, y otro sin fin de necedades en esa tónica. Pero miremos a la visita hoy de Ahmadinejad en Caracas y preguntémonos: donde esta la marcha de la oposición para denunciar esta visita, para reclamar a la bestia iraní las elecciones que se robo en Irán hace pocos meses; a reclamar por los que fueron arrestados, torturados y hasta muertos por defender su voto. ¿En que calle, frente a que embajada protestaron hoy esos que se teñían de verde iraní en aquel entonces? ¿Algún grupúsculo aunque sea? ¿Aunque sea la mitad del que protesto en Rio hace un par de días?

¿Y después de esto ustedes esperan que gente como los valientes iranies los vayan a apoyar cuando el CNE les robe las elecciones otra vez? Por lo menos agradezcamos a la comunidad judía de Venezuela de haber tenido el valor de protestar esta visita. Tal vez sea de ella que tendremos que sacar un líder que piense en el futuro de Venezuela antes de una pobre cuotica de poder a sacar en la lotería del 2010.

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

Only too often we hear that the world ignores what goes on in Venezuela, that they do not realize that our democracy is agonizing, or dead. We see self satisfied opposition pols travel everywhere to "explain" what goes on here, and come back, triumphant, telling us that So and So received them, listened to them , gave them their regrets. In popular Alo Ciudadano TV show how often did we have to put up with audience callers complaining that little is done to get rid of Chavez, asking until when we need to put up wit this crap, that the world has abandoned us, that our elections are stolen and why bother voting again, and such other idiocies in that vein. But let's look at today Caracas visit of Ahmadinejad and let's ask ourselves the following question: where is the opposition march to denounce that visit, to demand the Iranian beast for those who have been jailed, tortured and even killed for defending their vote. In which street, in front of which embassy did protest today those who dyed themselves in green a few months ago? Not even a tiny group? Not even half the one that was protesting in Rio a couple fo days ago?

And after this do you expect that people like the courageous Iranian will go to support you when the CNE once again steals the elections? Let's be at least grateful for the Jewish community of Venezuela who had the nerve to protest that visit. Maybe we should look into it to find the a leader that thinks about the future of Venezuela instead of the tiny parcel of power that he could get at the 2010 lottery.

-The end-

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

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


"The installation of those bases worry me"

You bet!
-The end-

The real Venezuelan income

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

-The end-

The flight to Teheran and the flight to madness















1 The weekly rant

This Friday Hugo declared in one breath his support for terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Iranian madman Ahmadinejad and Zimbabwe's long-time dictator Mugabe and he expressed his belief Idi Amin of Uganda may have not been so bad as the West says. The Guardian's journalist Rory Carrol and bloggers Quico and Daniel already reported on that. Their articles are worth reading.

The declaration took place during Hugo's call for a V Socialist International (his party is excluded from the IV Socialist International). This is not the first time Hugo has expressed sympathies for those characters, but one can say he tried really hard this time to attract the attention. He added he did not care "what they say tomorrow in Europe". He was just short from shouting to the cameras "did you hear me?".

2 The flight to Ahmadinejad's land

Today there is an interesting article (Spanish) in El País about the flights from Venezuela to Iran. The article confirms what I kept hearing from people working at the airport: there is no control of who or what gets into that plane (an Airbus A320). The aircraft has 286 seats and yet it always flies half empty (or half-full if you are a chavista). Even so, most people (about 100) get off in Damascus, Syria, and only 40 to 60 go on to Iran. Passengers are mostly Venezuelan state employees, Iranian businessmen and Syrian-Venezuelans. Each flight costs at least €340000 and it is a big loss for the Venezuelan state.

3 The flight to Mali

El Nacional reported also that the Venezuelan plane that crashed in Mali after having transported cocaine (cocaine leaves traces) was a 727. That is a middle-size plane for transporting people, but a huge one if its use is drug trafficking only. The newspaper said the police had caught a couple of men (Mali citizens) trying to get away with parts of the wreckage. It is not clear whether they were just stealing those parts or they wanted to erase some evidence.

4 What is going on?

4.1 The flight to Mali

Very little is clear at this stage and from what I take (based mostly on Le Journal du Mali) I doubt the Mali government is going to be very cooperative in telling us more about that plane. We will have to wait and see what Interpol says.

4.2 The Iran flight


Is it just a political symbol? Or are they transporting something, something perhaps coming from around La Esmeralda, in the state of Amazonas? Is there something going to Teheran that is also going to Northern Mali?

4.3 Hugo's ranting

Is it just Hugo's normal cry for attention? Even if it were "only that", Hugo's ever louder calls for attention need to be accompanied by some acts and those acts are becoming more dangerous by the day, whether they are closing borders, blowing up bridges, moving troops or announcing preparations for a war. He thinks he needs to move closer and closer to Ahmadinejad. Initially he said he is for Iran's use of nuclear energy for peaceful goals, he then joked about helping Iran to build the bomb and now he calls for the right of Iran to have nuclear weapons.

5 Learning from history

There is something we may learn from the times when Idi Amin was ruling in Uganda. Many historians think Amin's shows that caught so much the international attention, his autoproclamation as "conqueror of the British empire" and his clownish speeches were in part aimed at diverting attention from the increasing violation of human rights and mismanagement in his country. Of course, there were also Amin's very real support for terrorists like those who hijacked Air France 139.

Venezuela has not reached by any means the levels of Uganda in the seventies but still, we should not let things deteriorate. We need to have a double approach:

- make it impossible for Hugo to divert anyone's attention from Venezuela's internal problems and
- disinflate his threats to the international community in a peaceful and democratic way. It will be hard, but it is the only way.

6 What to do

Venezuela's internal problems should be solved by Venezuelans alone. Now, Venezuelans could use some open, general support. This support should not be USAID support or anything else the extreme left wants to see happening to say Hugo is just defending Venezuela against imperialism. It should be above all an open call from all democratic movements in the World, from centre, right and left to denounce violations of human rights in Venezuela. It should be the discussion about sending well-trained international observers to Venezuela. It should be pressure to such countries as Brazil and Argentina, which right now prefer to see Venezuela's economy and civil liberties collapse and gain more clout in South America and more business deals from an isolated Hugo.

The international community should denounce what the Venezuelan government is doing at home: harassing the opposition, sabotaging the very little powers of local governments that are not with his party, preparing a big gerrymandering action for next year, diverting money from all ministries to a presidential blackbox. At the same time the World needs to keep an eye on what is happening in the Amazonas, in the Iran-Venezuelan cooperation, on the Mali and Guinea connections.

The challenge is how to tackle Hugo without repeating the eternal cat and mouse game Iranians are playing with the West or falling into Hugo's provocation and at the same time not letting Hugo help terrorists.

Hugo wants to portray Venezuela as the new Iraq about to be invaded by the USA. The Venezuelan opposition needs to show it can outsmart him. It needs to convince more and more nibs not to be afraid, not to be complacent. It needs to denounce corruption and human right violations and above all it needs to present a better plan for sustainable development and social growth. It needs to present that plan in the areas so hard to reach, in the countryside, in the areas where chavista thugs threaten all with their weapons. The united opposition, left, centre and right, all democrats can desmantle Hugo's schemes if it does not let the movement be taken by some extremists and if it works above all with the goal of building a better Venezuela for all Venezuelans.

V Socialist International and other assorted insults to intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The end-

What Venezuelans want, sort of


Venezuela's political discourse












Left, centre and right or love


Some weeks ago Venezuelan pollster Keller published a new report about the current political climate in Venezuela. Although I found the rural areas were again underrepresented, I think the results do reflect more or less reality in the Land of Grace.

You can see a Power Point in Spanish here.

Here you see a graph I created with their numbers on general political affitiation:

















20% considered themselves left, 14% centre-left, 34% centre, 13% centre-right and 19% right. You should take those numbers with a pinch of salt or two or three or rather sit down, take a breath, relax. Left-right and centre are relative concepts everywhere, but more so in Venezuela. The level of "ideological"/political discourse is more superficial than in many other places. If you speak Spanish, you can listen here to a very telling interview by Globovisión journalist Angola and chavista deputy Iris Varela. "Do you believe in Marx?" "I believe in Simón Bolívar"...and then they go into talking about love and the president. The comments are even more depressing. Really: vergüenza ajena.

33% of the people said they were "chavistas". 22% declared to be "opposition" and full 44% said they were "independent".

A curious thing is that if there were presidential elections today, 44% would vote for "anyone other than Chávez" and 33% would vote for the current president. Hugo's popularity has been falling for some time already but this is really a lot.

Venezuelans' expectations

When people were asked to say what the opposition should consider as priority, 58% said they had to bring forth proposals for the country, 16% said they should select their candidates and 13% said they should establish a strategy (for campaigning).

I have often read in comments that nibs want "chavismo without Chávez". The thing is: what does that mean? Venezuelans want more of the social programmes and the goodies they always see with oil booms, but they often are not fully aware of how dependent the country is on oil prices and how low the general productivity is. They are more and more tired of the president's rants. Above all they are tired of increasing poverty, crime. They are also aware education in Venezuela sucks...but I have to say they have no idea about how badly it sucks (check my posts with the label "education").

One very important thing I noticed is the answer to "who should be the candidate for the opposition in 2012?" 33% said someone with experience in social work, 26% said "someone with governmental experience" and 18% said "someone with political leadership".

Last but not least, Keller found out the largest group of people who see themselves as independent have taken that path because...they do not want to get into trouble/are afraid.

Qué pienso yo

The regime has clearly lost its popularity, although it keeps that hard-core group composed of the middle-to-high-ranking chavista officials and the largest political group of the very poorest, but this group is no longer a majority. The numbers of nibs has increased a lot. Still, the opposition has not been able to capitalize on this. I know we have difficulties: chavismo's permanent attacks, a missing state of law, lack of funds and so on. The opposition has tried to do a good work in regions such as Miranda, although a lot of its work has been under attack by the regime. Still, we could and should be doing more.

I find it a tragedy that most part of the political talk by the opposition in the media is carried out by English-speaking students who come from private schools and chant "freedom, freedom" in posh shopping centres and opposition leaders who belong to the Paleolithic and with few exceptions have a discourse that is as superficial as that of the students. They are not the majority among the people who dislike Hugo but they have taken the central stage in the media. Hardly anyone has presented ideas for sustainable development, education for the poor, health or security. Primero Justicia has made some good proposals, but they seem to keep them most of the time as hidden as if they were a secret to be patented. Never mind the government has not presented a real development programme either* during the decade it has been in power: it has the petrodollars, the control of the electoral commission and the TV channels that reach every corner. The opposition doesn't, it cannot afford to act as it does now. It needs to spread the ideas, distribute flyers in the bus stations poor Venezuelans use to to to their villages, talk to the people in the slums.


* The government does have some sort of "project" for the next years, but it is more like a wish list than anything else.

From Danilo Anderson to Fernandez Barrueco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

-------

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

-The end-

Two revolutionary moments: the new socialist man

On from me and one courtesy of Teodoro

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

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

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

The other self of the revolutionaries

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


-The end-

The eternal campaign: from North to South, from East to West












The president of Venezuela is famous/notorious for his Aló Presidente programme, a kind of reality show broadcast on Venezuelan state television and radio every Sunday. It lasts for hours, on average about 5 hours but often more. All ministers have to be present during the show. The show takes place most of the time in the interior. I don't know the number of people involved in the whole event but there must be at least 300 and most probably twice as many, with ministers, advisors, camera men, logistics, local honchos and security.












Now, imagine the effect of that number of well-paid people arriving for a day, some sleeping over for a night in a very poor municipality like Rómulo Gallegos, with some 24000 inhabitants. The president usually announces in his show a series of new projects, many of which end up becoming new air castles but many that make (or used to make) humble people hope.










A red point moving in the maps below shows the places in Venezuela where Hugo had his Aló Presidente in 2008 and 2009 (until early November).

Aló Pressidente 2008
the greener the municipality, the more densily populated it is.























These trips do not include the trips he does when he is in "formal" campaign mode. He was in such a mode last year for the regional elections and this one for his second referendum on the topic of no term limits (in a presidential system).

Aló Presidente 2009




















His ambassadors and other supporters abroad often claim the opposition in Venezuela controls the airwaves, but in reality Globovisión, a bad but critical TV channel and Venezuelan version of Fox News, is the only real TV channel that really offers a critical view. I agree with Juan from Caracas Chronicles, in thinking Globovisión often does more harm than good to the opposition. I think Globovision is the government's Potemkin village. Almost no one abroad knows that Globo can only be watched in the capital, in Valencia and in those houses elsewhere with cable TV. That makes for some 30% of the population (reliable numbers are hard to get, but it should be about that). Venezuelans read very little and regime-critical newspapers have a total circulation that reaches even less people, mostly in urban areas. VTV and Telesur, though, reach every corner of Venezuela.

The opposition has less and less money at its disposal. The government uses methods to attack the opposition that are anything but kosher. Still, if the opposition is to conquer the rural spaces and it has to, it needs to take into account how the governmental campaign is going on. The opposition must analyze what the government is trying to make and think ahead. It needs to go to those areas, humbly listen time after time to what people there have to say, think intelligently and then propose solutions and plans that let people hope for a change.

It needs to present a new proposal, one that is easy to grasp but not populistic, one that includes and tells Venezuelans it is possible for us to transform Venezuela into a prosperous, developed nation.

PS. My guess for next weeks is that Hugo will now visit one or two rural states in the East and South.
PS2 There are ways the opposition can reach the rural areas with little money: send the students, use flyers, go to the bus stations, distribute the information. But still: an honest study of the needs of every region needs to take place firstly.
PS3 I wrote a post in Spanish here about the same topic, with some other details. There you can see also a map of Venezuela with municipalities, governments and where Aló Presidente has tajeb place in 2009

Good news from the Venezuelan opposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre War grumblings? Brazil's dirty game?

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

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

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

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

-The end-

We are in recession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The end-

Chavez the funny man and his funny PSUV show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The end-