Why doesn't anybody talk about pluralism?

A basic part of any democracy is constituted by pluralism. I wonder why on Earth nobody talks about pluralism in Venezuela.

When BBC journalist Sackur interviewed Chávez, the coup monger said Venezuela was the most democratic nation on Earth, even after reacting furiously about Amnesty International and HRW reports on human rights, even after saying the only solution is (his) socialism, even if he has previously said his system will last for centuries. It is a pity neither Sackur nor anyone else wants to ask Chavista honchos how they can justify there is a democracy when they are forcing a socialist system down people's throats, when they reject any form of real-time, public debate (in the original meaning of the word), when they repeatedly say the opposition will never come back to power.

Anyway, here you have an interesting article and video by The Guardian journalist Carroll. He talks about the new enemies of Chavismo.

From our correspondent in South Africa

Reader Armando Tirado sends us these pictures from Johannesburg, during the Brazil Chile.  Apparently he was surprised at the amount of Venezuelan flags or color themed avataras (although in all justice a Venezuelan avatara is not easy to differentiate from an Ecuadoran or Colombian one).

Painted faces to protect the innocent......
This first picture is from a "see you in the Hague" banner, referring to recent leitmotiv launched by Diego Arria hinting at the final destination of Chavez: the International Court of The Hague.  That 50% of the boats seized with drugs in the Atlantic come from Venezuela is not helping his case (UN report).  Armando informs me that that banner was removed after a while, the other banners remaining in place...  You may draw your very own conspiration theory.

The  next one is taken from a banner hanging from the "deluxe" suites, and a very optimist one at that.
Venezuela in Brazil in 2014?  Yeah, right, sure....

And this last one, from Falconianos probably frozen stiff in Johannesburg.  

We shall be looking forwards more pictures from the final games.

The Axis of the Personality Cult Promotors

Chávez and Syria's president for life, Bashar al-Assad, have declared an "Axis of the Courageous", as Spanish El País and CBS report here and here. I assume the big mouth phrasing came once more from Chávez himself, who has become Venezuela's version of a bad will Cantinflas.

Chávez has met Assad several times before. He has expressed support for the Syrian dictator many times.

Syria's regime has been trying on different occassions to get back some clout in Libanon, they have been trying to become less of a pariah state by hinting they could "help" the US in their fight against terrorism.

So: what is in for Syria here? I guess Assad is just playing along with Chávez as long as he gets what he really wants. He wants first and foremost to show to the West "he is not alone" in case things became less warm again, he also wants Syria to profit from commercial trades with Venezuela - unfortunately, Chávez only signs deals that are good for other countries' exports - and strengthen the intelligence sources Syria has thanks to an important amount of Syrian immigrants in Venezuela.

Chávez gave a copy of his favourite little toy, a gold-plated replica of Simón Bolívar's sword, to the Syrian líder máximo. The Sabaneta-born lieutenant had previously given copies of that toy to such figures as Mugabe, Gaddafi, Lukashenko and Akhmadinejad. Chávez uses the historical sword - the real one - as his personal possession and lightsaber.

Meanwhile, the regime strengthens its hold on Venezuela: new laws are passed to circumvent the National Assembly in view of the September Parliamentary elections, more Communal Councils are formed with members of the Chávez party and exclusion of the rest, Chávez's nieces and nephews use state money and bodyguards to visit "the Empire"

Meanwhile Venezuela's health sector deteriorates further, there is a dengue and Chagas crisis and children go to bad schools without books.

An exciting USA Ghana match!

So I relented and I finally watched most of a game.  This afternoon Ghana was playing the USA.  If it was not the greatest soccer around it was still an exciting match, for all the reasons that were missing in, say, the French team games.  That is, both teams put their hearts out, until the very last second of the game, even though the US was visibly exhausted for the prolongation.  Briefly, even though I rooted for the US it was clear that the Ghana team had better control of the situation and deserved to win.  Sorry for the US fans!

And yet, this will be for me a memorable game because it gave us one of those moments when you feel all that is great about soccer-football, all that makes it worth watching it, at least at the World Cup level.

Aerial Goalies
It was the end of the game, the end of the prolongation and the US was trailing 2 to 1.  In the last minutes even the goalie of the US, Howard, abandoned his gate and joined his team in the attack to the Ghana gate.  After all, losing 2 to 1 or 10 to 1 does not make any difference at that level.

And thus we got this stunning image of the two goalies of each team, fighting an aerial battle for the ball.  Awesome!  A spine chilling moment if any!  That is, if you like soccer and understand it, and what was at stake.  Maybe it is becasue I sort of ignored most of this Cup but this moment will be for me the memory of 2010 in South Africa.

France and Italy ignominiously out of the World Cup

From the first set of matches there was a clear indication that there would be a rude battle for the worst team.  People in the know always trusted France to take the un-coveted award, which it did brilliantly.  But the Italians put a good fight for it and deserve clearly the runner up award of worst team of the World Cup, without even the excuses that teams such as North Korea or New Zealand could offer.

The spoiled brat content of the French team went as far as striking against their coach refusing to train.  The detachment from reality, the total lack connection with its fan base have degenerated into a French affaire d'état.  Even president Sarkozy got involved.  The sad fact is that the French team was a set of guys playing for themselves, for their paycheck and what not, but not for the team, the country or their fans.  We learned for example that trainers in France told them they were not obliged to sing the Marseillaise, even at the World Cup.  Not that singing the Marseillaise before a match would make much of a difference, but it clearly indicated the general mood, how low had the French football system fallen when discussing singing the national anthem becomes as important as scoring.

The Italians on the other hand suffered from deadly conservatism, absolute lack of innovation and a belief that the World Cup was becoming a birth right of sorts.  The question here is not how come the Italians did so poorly this Cup, but how they managed to win it 4 years ago!  That they managed to win by, among other things, almost beheading Zidane only postponed the inevitable reckoning, allowing them to postpone by another 4 years any change in the Italian league whose Inter performance this year only hides its general decay when compared to the vibrant Spanish league, e.g.  This year they paid the price.

And thus for the first time ever, the winner and the runner up of the preceding World Cup are BOTH eliminated in the first round.

But there is good news and bad news besides those pitiful scenes (I, for one, thought that France should not have even qualified which when all is said would have been a much lesser embarrassment than what happened in South Africa).

The Americas have come out as the main power of the football world!  All teams but one gained qualification.  Only poor Honduras failed to make it to the second round.  Africa barely got one team in.  Asia did a tad better and Europe did less well than usual (heck!  with France and Italy out, with Germany and Spain having a harder time than expected...)

And the bad news is that Venezuela is not about to qualify any time soon.  All the teams that beat Venezuela in the qualifying round did make it to the World cup second round...

The Power of Persistence or the Story of a Venezuelan scientist

Scientist Jacinto Convit does not want to retire too young. He is just 98 years old and he feels he can give a lot more of his time to science. I met him when my parents took me as a child to a fascinating presentation he was giving to the public in my hometown.

When Convit was a young physician, leper patients were put into chains and sent to very isolated colonies with guards. They were treated as the worst of the world. This scientist dedicated a lot of time treating those patients and giving them better conditions. Convit, together with 6 other Venezuelan and 2 Italian doctors, started to perform experiments on the Chaulmogra oil, which was known as a palliative. They managed to identify the role of clofazimine and other components in the Mycobacterium leprae and this lead to their development of a vaccine. Lepra colonies are a thing of the past.

The team produced this vaccine by combining a tuberculosis vaccin with the bacterium Mycobacterium Leprae. Convit also developed a vaccine against a terrible parasite disease common in tropical and sub-tropical regions, Leishmaniasis.

Mr Convit has been nominated to the Nobel Prize for his work against leprosy. He got the Prince of Asturias Awards for Science Research in 1987 and the Premio de México de Ciencia in 1990.

Now he said at an interview he is carrying out experiments on human patients for a vaccine that is supposed to fight mammal and colon cancer and "so far, so good". The details of that article are still very vague, but I will try to find more about them as soon as I can.

Letter from Diego Arria to Hugo Chavez

I have no time to translate this letter but it deserves to be widely published.  In it Diego Arria accuses Chavez of being a criminal and tells him he is waiting for him in the International Tribunal at The Hague, the fitting end to any international thug that supports the FARC, the ETA, attacks and robs its own fellow citizens and so many more crimes again Human Rights.  You have to appreciate and admire the courage of Diego Arria because for less, much less than that, people in Venezuela are today sent to jail. (PS: a translation can be found here)

Teniente Coronel Hugo Chávez Frías
Presidente de la República
Fuerte Tiuna. Caracas

Presidente Chávez

Nuevamente y por ordenes suyas tropas de asalto del INTI y de la Guardia Nacional arremetieron contra mujeres y hombres trabajadores de una finquita naranjera de mi propiedad de apenas 40 hectáreas totalmente desarrollada con ocho mil matas de naranjas y pastos de corte a donde los había trasladado después que usted personalmente hiciera asaltar y saquear La Carolina y dejara en la calle a estos trabajadores-que a pesar de no ser cubanos deberían merecer de usted una mínima consideración.

Acatando sus ordenes estas mujeres y hombres venezolanos fueron sacados a la fuerza de la finca por la Guardia Nacional y por la tropa de asalto del INTI que ustede y el mundo conoce opera bajo la dirección del Etarra Cubillos buscado por la INTERPOL como terrorista y que goza de su protección personal. Reitero lo que le dije cuando se robó La Carolina . Es usted un cobarde.
Es evidente para todos que esta nueva acción suya mas que contra mi es contra trabajadores que se resisten a ser secuestrados por su infame régimen pero que se aceleró por los informes que usted ya ha recibido de sus mandaderos en París, Ginebra, La Haya y Madrid de los alcances y repercusiones de la gira que hice recientemente a esas capitales con el propósito de denunciarlo a usted como el triple coronado olímpico en materia de violaciones a los derechos humanos ,a la libertad de expresión ,la incitación al odio y a la violencia y como creador y promotor de una política de estado de asalto y saqueo de propiedades.

Entiendo lo justificado de su inquietud y de su terror porque sus acciones lo conduciran irremediablemente a la apacible ciudad de La Haya, sede de la Corte Penal Internacional que considera el asalto, el pillaje y el saqueo como crimen de lesa humanidad cuando como en su caso se practica sistemáticamente como política de estado. Ya somos cientos de ciudadanos tanto nacionales como extranjeros abusados por usted que nos preparamos para esperarlo en La Haya. Sin dudas si tuviésemos en Venezuela instancias judiciales independientes seria mucho mas expedito su cita con la justicia.
No puedo dejar de comentarle cuanto me recordó usted al criminal de guerra Slobodan Milosevic cuando lo vi en el programa de la BBC de Londres. Y le digo porqué. Milosevic se veía empequeñecido cuando fui como testigo en su contra en La Haya y usted en el programa de televisión tal vez mas aun. Gracias al periodista de la BBC el mundo tuvo un anticipo de como se verá usted en un escenario judicial sin la protección de sus guardias cubanos y gorilas locales escondido desde su trinchera televisiva desde donde insulta y amenaza diariamente a los venezolanos que dignamente se le oponen. Con razón el Presidente Alvaro Uribe le dijo “Sea varón”. Pero usted no ha podido serlo nunca.

Está usted muy equivocado si cree que con estas acciones suyas va a silenciarme o a detenerme en la misión que me he impuesto de desnudar ante el mundo la podredumbre de su régimen que no cabe en contenedores. Usted como prontuario ambulante en que se ha convertido para vergüenza nacional ya ha acumulado suficientes méritos para ser procesado conjuntamente con sus principales cómplices militares y civiles. Y hasta de familiares. No debe olvidar que tribunales de Colombia, España y Honduras tambien tienen especial interés en sus acciones que afectan a esos paises. De la misma manera el Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU, la Organización Mundial contra la Tortura, la Organización Internacional del Trabajo OIT y hasta el propio Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU.

El país sabe de donde desciende usted y de donde yo. A que se ha dedicado usted durante diez años y a que me he dedicado yo. Usted asociado a las peores causas de la humanidad y yo a la promoción de la paz en varios continentes. Por eso mis denuncias tienen credibilidad.

Chávez Te Espero en La Haya.

Diego E. Arria
Junio 22 de 2010

Le Monde criticizes the selling out of Venezuela to Cuba, Chavez gets revenge by taking away a minor farm of Diego Arria

The grand tour of Diego Arria has certainly infuriated chavismo.  Among other things Diego Arria, ex ambassador to the UN and ex president of the Security Council was received by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and got published in Le Monde, the newspaper of record in France.  In this article French readers will find out how Venezuela has become a neo-colony of Cuba, something that readers of this blog have learned long ago.

Now, what does a spiteful Chavez do?  Rebate the argument?  Prove the independence of Venezuela?  No, not at all.  In fact he confirms the article by preparing to seize today a second, much smaller farm of Diego Arria, a farm that under no circumstances could be considered a latifundio,  a farm that cannot under any circumstances, with its 80 something acres could be considered a tool of exploitation, of indecent farm revenues at the expense of the poor workers.  I speak out of knowledge in saying that such a farm at best provides a decent lively hood, never enough to be an absentee landlord who out of its revenues can manage a luxurious life style in Caracas.  And with the current labor laws of Venezuela even if Mr. Arria wanted to exploit his workers, well, he could not do it, certainly not in the area where the farm is located.

With this later robbery the government confirms once again that all the agrarian laws of Venezuela are designed to screw the productive class of Venezuela, to leave alone only the extensive farms of chavista officials such as the numerous ones that the Chavez family owns in Barinas state and who miraculously escape any scrutiny from the INTI or any other public administration office.  The Chavez family can go in ten years from 0 hectare to probably thousand but Diego Arria cannot own 44 hectares.  You draw your conclusions.

Santos gets a mandate

A mandate for what exactly might still be the question, but the 9 million plus votes that Santos got yesterday, better than Uribe in 2006, is a dramatic acceptance of Uribe policies and a desire to keep Colombia in the general road of progress and development that it has experienced in the last 8 years.  Not to mention that the 3 million plus votes of Mockus cannot be qualified at all as an anti Uribe vote.  In fact, the anti Uribe fringes who at the last minute called for abstention cannot claim any success since the abstention grew by barely 4 points, easily attributable to a Sunday where 3 World cup games kept more than a few people at home.

True, there is a lot of unfinished business left by Uribe and Santos is not walking into an easy term, but he gets in Casa de Nariño with a solid consensus on the basic points on where to lead Colombia: continuation of Seguridad Ciudadana, continuation of FTA policies, to which the Mockus vote (and Santos own promises) forces to add more anti corruption actions and more democratic practices.

One thing is certain, Chavez is one of the big losers here.  True, he gets the comfort of someone he can easily insult in Bogota for his local needs, but that is of little value when it is clear that Chavez natural allies from the left are almost irrelevant in Colombia and that instead a strong Center Right country (Center for Mockus, Right for Santos) stands squarely in front of him, as a shining example of economic success just as the Venezuelan boat sinks.

In other words Chavez is facing 4 years of natural anti "XXI century socialism" propaganda next door.  There are enough people at the Venezuelan border to inform the rest of the country that in Colombia there are no shortages, there is less crime, more progress, less censorship than in Venezuela, no matter what screams Chavez makes from Caracas.

Chavez continental project faces a stumbling block bigger than what Uribe was.  The triumphant election of Santos cannot be explained by fraud, cheating, vote buying or whatever, even if some of that may have taken place. On this respect Chavez certainly has/had the financial means to buy more votes than Uribe or Santos ever could buy.  And Chavez did, that is an established fact.  Thus there is an opposite model to Chavez, right next door to him, with similar people, similar climate, similar resources (except of the Venezuelan oil).  Chavismo as a political model for Latin america can only suffer from that comparison for the next 4 years.  The first example might come from Ecuador who in spite of all of its anti Santos posturing might actually restore sooner than later full political and economic relations with Colombia.

Finally two comments.

Great political movements and changes characterize themselves by their ability to ensure their continuation through new leaders and/or new solid institutions. One example was De Gaulle (we commemorate this month the 70th anniversary of his famous BBC London speech where he started his long road to free France from Nazi Germany).  His almost heavy handed take over of France in 1958 with constitutional change included resulted in perhaps the more stable era of French governance since the time of kings.  His departure in 1969 was followed by his partisans retaining power for 12 more years followed by a Socialist alternative of 14 years that satisfied itself with improving the institutions it inherited, preserving the basic model of the Gaullist state.

We can find other such examples in history such as the Spanish transition from Franco to which surely the Uribe transition can be added.  Maybe Uribe wanted to be reelected a third time but institutions prevailed, he was denied a third term and the people chose a suitable heir.  Period.  Contrast this of course with the perennial desire of Chavez to retain office until he dies and his unwillingness to let any apparent heir to appear, allowing to forecast sooner or later the humiliating demise of his regime.

The second side comment is of course that Colombia demonstrated again that paper ballots can be counted way more efficiently and faster than the automated voting in Venezuela by the corrupt and partial CNE.  'nough said!

Die 1000 Mordanschläge gegen den Militär Chávez

Hier eine kleine Auswahl


Juli: Chávez erklärt, man will ihn in Puerto Ordaz umbringen (Quelle: Tal Cual)
Dezember: Castro warnt Chávez über Mordpläne.


August: Die Regierung meldet, dass es ein Militärkomplott gab, um Chávez zu ermorden.


Juni: Chávez sagt, es gäbe Pläne, um ihn im Verlauf der Feierlichkeiten zum Unabhängigkeitstag zu töten.


Oktober: Chávez meldet erneut, dass es einen Plan gibt, um ihn umzubringen.


Juni: Chávez behauptet, man will ihn in Los Próceres, Caracas, liquidieren.
Juli: Chávez sagt, dass man ihn während eines Besuchs in Santo Domingo beseitigen will.
November: Ein Mordanschlag gegen Chávez soll in Puerto La Cruz entdeckt worden sein. Die "Verschworenen" werden aber wegen Mangel an Beweisen freigelassen.


Mai: Chávez sagt, dass extremrechtse Kolumbianer ihn töten wollen. Mehr Info hier.


Februar: Chávez macht die EU für jeden Mordanschlag gegen ihn verantwortlich.
Juni: Chávez berichtet, dass er eine Antwort hat auf Pläne, ihn umzubringen.


Oktober: Chávez meldet, dass er einige Monate davor einen Mordanschlag in Zulia überlebt hat und dass Bush nun über einen neunen Plan verfügt, um ihn umzubringen.


November: Chávez sagt, der Nachrichtensender CNN stiftet zu seinem Mord an.
Dezember: Chávez befürchtet, man könne ihn umbringen, wenn er nach Guatemala fliegen würde.


September: Chávez sagt, man will ihn in Venezuela töten.
October: Chávez befürchtet, man könne ihn in El Salvador während des Iberoamerikanischen Gipfels umbringen.


Mai: Chávez befürchtet erneut, man könne ihn in El Salvador aus dieser Welt verschaffen.
Juni: Chávez erklärt, dass man in Tachira Paramilitärs trainiert, die ihn töten sollen.
Juli: Abgeordneter Isea erklärt, dass es eine neue Untersuchung in Zulia, Táchira und Mérida gibt wegen Mordanstiftung gegen Chávez. Er sagt, "die Kommission arbeitet ohne Eile aber auch ohne Pause".
August: Der Präsident erklärt erneut, dass die Opposition einen Plan hat, um ihn zu töten.

Hier BBC von 2008 über einige Mordanschläge.
Hier über noch andere.


Januar: Abgeordneter Mario Isea sagt, dass es neue Pläne gibt, um Chávez umzubringen.

Juni: am 19. Juni sagt Chávez, dass die Opposition erneut Mordpläne gegen ihn hat.

Why France lost

I am confirmed in my studied ignorance of the World Cup, if anything by the dismal role that France had in its first two games. Even German star Beckenbauer said that the performance of France was unbecoming of a world cup, that there was no team to speak of. That implies no team spirit, no coordination, no skills, every player in their own little corner.

I only watched ten minutes of the Mexico France game, when Mexico was leading 1 to 0 (final 2 to 0 for Mexico). It is hard to see a more eloquent description of all that is wrong with French soccer today, how far we are from the glories of ten years ago. The Mexican played for their lives, with gusto, with fire on their bellies. The French played for… their paychecks? Because they had nothing better to do? Who knows…..

Why is France so bad? Well, I have a very, very un-PC theory and I am going to write it down anyway. Because France has a team mostly of first generation Frenchmen. That is, the sons of African immigrants raised in the unforgiving “banlieues” of French cities, with a justified feel of being second class citizen. They play soccer hard to get out of the ghetto and when they reach major leagues they are not going to risk their legs playing for France when Westchester Divided or Inter Capri is are willing to play millions for their skills.

When France won its first World Cup in Paris most of these kids (elderly players now) played in the French league. Few could make it even to the German league. When they played at Stade de France against Brazil in that memorable finale they might not have played for France but at least they knew that winning the World Cup would open many doors. It did. Zidane played in Spain, Henry played in England before going to the Barça and today Ribery is a German star.

Look at how most teams stand when their national anthem is played and look how the French team behaves when the Marseillaise is played and you will understand much better what I mean, even though the attitude of French players has improved some in recent years as a possible reaction to some cities of France where the fans booo the Marseillaise.

Of course, I do not mean to say that cheap patriotism or chauvinism as you may have it is the guarantee of success for a world cup, not at all. But it is an essential element. Players that go to the World Cup just because they get a pay check for it, just because they know for PR reasons it is a good thing, are not going to carry their team. You need hungry players to explain why Mexcio beat France, why Serbia beat Germany, why favorite Spain failed in its first game. But to recover from initial losses, to get the very last ounce of energy and skill and determination in you to rebound your team, you need to feel the importance to play in your country’s team, for your country’s colors and fans.

Playing in your country’s team is not a reward for a good season at the Atletico Pontevedra, it is an obligation you accept to be the best player, the most selfless one, to play for the millions of people that are watching you at home. Before going to South Africa we got tired of hearing stories about how the French team had the most luxurious quarters in South Africa or Reunion island or who knows where, how pampered they were, how the coach was supposedly using horoscope to finish his line up selection, and who knows what else. Now you see the results. And in addition you hear about team infighting, betrayal, fights with the coach and what not. Pathetic.

PS: traditionally I root for France, Argentina or the Netherlands, whichever is on the field. This year I was going Spain way but their start was less than promising for reasons that cannot be explained as easily as for the French Waterloo. But Argentina looks better and better. The Higain triplet is just a beauty and even if the slime coach is Maradonna I might have to accept that when he is not snorting coke he knows what a team should be doing.

Unsustainable underdevelopment

Venezuela's population according to the wishes of military Chávez
(I assume the 50 million "target" is to be attained in 2031 at the earliest, no matter how madly people get to know each other)

Hugo Chávez has an obsession with demographics: he wants Venezuela to have 50 million inhabitants as soon as possible. He thinks that would make Venezuela a "more" powerful nation. Never mind Venezuela has to import most of its food requirements and almost anything else it needs but oil. Never mind Venezuelan workers theoretically have to spend a month's salary to buy books for their children - unless they send children without books to schools that have no books-. In that respect, like in many others, Chávez is in the same wavelength as Iranian Akhmadinejad. I wonder if his belief is based on sheer ignorance or on a very Machiavellian thought about how to keep control of an underdeveloped nation.

That mindset - sheer population size as power - has been rejected by most countries at least since the end of World War II.

Here you can watch some minutes of Chávez's show. I did not watch the whole thing but started at minute 8. There you can see how Chávez talks to a Venezuelan couple in one of the supermarkets the French were forced to "sell" to the military government. The woman is Evelin. She has 3 children: Kefrins, Katrin and Kevin. The names are typical of those poor parents with little education give to their children. They usually choose English or pseudo-English names or just make up names. The man is Emilio. He comes from Guatire, a poor area of Miranda state in Central Venezuela, not far from the capital. Emilio says he wants to have another child. You can hear the woman protesting. He says - jokingly - the country needs many more people. Chávez says: "of course, we have to reach the goal...we have to reach 50 million inhabitants".

Evelin then says she has learnt many things thanks to the communal councils (let's remember council in Russian is "soviet" or совет). "When the baby was in the belly" she says", I used to tell him: son, you are going to become a revolutionary...and every time he hears the slogan Fatherland, Socialism or Death, he would cry (sic)".

The road to grad school: GRE scores and the question

So I finally took the GRE and I didn’t get a nice result. I got a so-so score that will allow me to apply at least, and hopefully the rest of my credentials will grant me an admission offer from one of my choices (510 verbal, 460 quants if you are curious). I’m just glad it is over. Now I’m preparing all the paperwork requested to apply and we’ll just have to wait and see. If any university wants to reject me based only on my GRE scores, then I shouldn’t go to such place anyway.
I have a good life you know, I can’t complain. And this graduate school plans are only for making it better. But everyday I make any move towards that goal, I wonder if I’m going to be able to reach it at all.

Must people, when they apply to graduate school, they only worry about two obvious things: whether if they’re going to be accepted or not and if they are, how are they going to afford their education. I have the exact same questions and the exact same anxiety everyone in the world applying to grad school anywhere experiences. Am I good enough to be accepted? Do I have enough credentials or do I need to do something else to improve my chances? Do I need publications? Or a more relevant work experience? How do I compare to the other applicants? Am I competing against newly naïve graduates like me or against 30 year old experienced professionals? Or it is in the pool of applicant some genius with an out of average IQ, a 1600 combined GRE score, plus many extra curricula activities, two publications and a volunteer experience of three years in Sudan competing against… well… me? … And If against all odds I’m admitted, Can I get a scholarship? Are there any scholarships available for the program I want? If I don’t get a full scholarship, can I afford the first year at least with my savings?

Now add to all those questions another one. The one I think distinguish Venezuelans like me from the rest of the applicants. And is: Can I really go? In a country when rules and laws change so quickly that you can hardly catch up? In a country where they are now millions of reasons why you could end up in prison without being a criminal? In a country where inflation increases in the same amount as crime, can I really go to grad school abroad? In a country where the foreign currency is strictly controlled, can I really just take a plane with my boyfriend (who is also applying to grad school) and move somewhere else for a couple of years?

I have had this conversation many times and I can’t come up with an answer. The first trouble we have is – you guessed right – the foreign currency control. In a pill, we have a very weird control exchange system. On limited amounts, if you are a student you can have dollars at convenient price of 2,6 Bolívares Fuertes per dollar. But a lot of paper work is required to get those dollars and there is no guarantee of approval by CADIVI (the institution in charge), so really you can’t count on those. For traveling and buying things online you can have a very limited amount of dollars at the price of 4,3 Bolívares Fuertes per dollar. You also need a lot of crazy paperwork and a CADIVI approval in order to use them, so Venezuelans can’t just decide from one day to another to travel overseas. Any travel overseas must be planned carefully with a lot of anticipation and a lot of uncertainty because you never know if you are going to get the dollars and you need to buy your plane ticket in order to start the paperwork process. For online expenses one can only have 400 dollars a year, subjected – yet again – to CADIVI approval.

I have already spent 190 of those 400 dollars on my GRE and applications fees range from 50 to 75 dollars each. It’s pretty obvious why I can’t re-take the GRE: I have to choose. I can either re-take the GRE and send the applications next year or keep my scores and apply this year. I decided to keep my scores and apply this year and if I don’t get in, to do it all over again. But either way, it is a waste of time and I should be allowed to re-take my GRE and apply on the same year. With CADIVI dollars you can’t do that.

There’s a third “level” of control exchange that was launched recently to end with the parallel market but its subjected to the same levels of control that CADIVI dollars are, making it into what we call “CADIVI-to 3”. CADIVI-to 3’ dollars cost about 5 Bolívares Fuertes per dollar. I still don’t understand how this system works but in theory, as a citizen you can get as many as 6000 of them (but no more than 1000 each month) if you are 1) A student studying overseas, 2) If you have a relative overseas that needs your money to support itself and 3) If you have a medical condition which treatment can only be found abroad and 4) If you are traveling abroad. You have to prove you fill any of those three conditions, prove also that you are going to use the money for those purposes and prove that CADIVI dollars are not enough to satisfy your need. If I got it right you must have a bank account abroad which I don’t have.

There’s finally a fourth dollar for us, called the infamous black dollar. The black dollar it’s illegal, of course. And the only knowledge of its existence is enough to frighten the authorities. If I reveal here the exact cost of the black dollar, this site could be banned and closed by Venezuelan authorities. Still, you can find many sites that publish the black dollar price. Sometimes the government closes those sites and threatens its owners. But soon the sites are on the web again under new addresses and new names. One site in particular claims to be based in the United States, making it impossible for the government to ban them or to prosecute their owners. Google “La Lechuga verde” and you will find what you are expecting: that the black dollar is outrageous expensive compared to the CADIVI dollars I listed above. Either way, the black dollar is expensive, speculative, hard to get, and very risky. One could face prison for trading them.

If you are smart enough you should have notice that all CADIVI dollars conditions could fulfill many of the needs one might have for foreign currency (putting the limited amounts aside) except for one: to save. So when I ask the question: can I really go to grad school abroad? I’m thinking about me being unable to save my money in dollars in order to pay for it, or at least to pay a part, or to pay my living expenses. Each month, I carefully save more than half of my salary but its all in Bolivares and it seems that if I really manage to go, I will have to do it without a penny because I can’t trade my money to foreign currency. Plus, Inflation is high in this country, meaning that everyday that passes I’m losing a part of my savings since they are in Bolivares. There’s nothing I can do about it but to save as much as I can, then wait to get my admission offer and then get all the paperwork necessary praying to get the controlled dollars I need. If any paper is missing or it doesn’t convince them, I won’t get the dollars.

The second fear I have in regards of being able or not to go to grad school given the conditions I have in this country, is a more irrational one. It happens to me every time I’m about to achieve something important in my life; It happened when I was about to graduate both from high school and the university and it could happen now. It’s the fear of being in middle of a relevant political event that could stop me from going. With the government’ constant threats to the university, we all, more than once, feared that apocalyptic day when the government simply decided to close our university. So every year we requested for transcripts and carefully saved it “just in case”. Of course the government still threatens my university, but it hasn’t closed it yet, so our fear was totally unfounded. Yet, the moments of anxiety, fear, angst, and uncertainty were real enough to me.

Now, the demon inside me makes me imagine all kinds of apocalyptic situations that will prohibits me of going to graduate school such as the government forbidding me or people like me to leave the country unless we do this or that. I’m not putting examples here; I don’t feel in the need of giving my government and my very particular president more outrageous ideas of what they could do to restrict our freedom some more. The thing is that so far, my president has had many outrageous ideas and most of them have come to reality. In this country, under the rule of this so- called revolution, anything can be expected. Things change from one day to another. What once was good and comfortable now is ugly, imperialist, and forbidden. You never know who or what is going to fall into the hands (or more likely the mouth) of the president, changing its destiny for worse, without a warning. Everything can happen, tragedy specially included.

But after leaving the testing room with my so-so scores, I decided not to listen to those inner thoughts and questions every Venezuelan that wants to take an initiative, now has. I decided not to listen to my fears, real based or not and to the million “What If?” questions; which almost all carries terrible answers.

What if I get accepted? What if my boyfriend does? What if, better, both get accepted? What if we, against all predictions, can actually go? What if we, in a year or more, just take a plane and fly away from here for a couple of years (to then come back in a more “resting” and “in peace will this event full Venezuela” mood)? What if life smiles at us (and admissions committees too)? Maybe we won’t get the dollars we need. Maybe we don’t get in. Maybe the government won’t let us go under any crazy reason; or maybe not. Maybe we receive a “Welcome to…” type acceptance letter. Maybe I can pack my bags and start the next chapter of my life, and what’s more important: of my love story.

In six months I’ll let you know if my scores were enough or not. If the unusual circumstances I discussed above prevent us from going or not. But, foremost, if we manage to win over our inner fears and paranoia to take that plane or if we stayed at home; asking ourselves the greatest question ever invented to freeze us in time: What if…?

Viva Santos?

Venezuela is so depressing to write about that I prefer to finish up with a brief note my follow up of the Colombian election.

Three weeks ago Santos, the Uribe candidate, confounded all polls and missed to be elected at the first round by not even 4 points.  Antanas Mockus, the darling of the intellectuals, who was riding high in the polls faced a stunning set back when his massive advantaged dwindled fast to barely 21 points.  Why the polls got it so wrong and why Mockus managed so many errors to cost him so much will remain for the history books.  What is more interesting now is to comment on what happened in between the two rounds, about to be done next Sunday.
Santos accomplished the feat of unite all the groups that more or less support Uribe, and then some as a significant portion of the traditional Liberales threw their lot with Santos.  The Liberales that did not follow up were the left fringe of the party, the ones that have no chance for the foreseeable future to reach power, the ones supported the most by Chavez: I have named of course Piedad Cordoba and her scant friends whose demand for abstention is not going to make them progress much, the more so that Uribe managed yet another daring hostage rescue this week.

Amazingly the ones that should have tried to support Mockus failed miserably in reaching an agreement, giving Mockus the advantage of turning them away.  The Polo Democratico inner contradictions are still too big, to pulled between guerilla love, Chavez love and genuine social democracy.  by failing they gave Mockus some of the credibility he lacked ion pushing chavismo away.

Another amazing moment was the visit of Hillary Clinton.  She met with the government of course but she also met with Santos and with Mockus, confirming if there was any doubt that the Colombian USA alliance is there to stay for the time being as a state policy.  No one that matters in Colombia found anything against her meeting with Mockus, something unthinkable today in Venezuela that a foreign visitor would meet lengthily with the opposition, by the way: it would be called unjustifiable interference in internal matters of Venezuela or something of the sort.

Thus it remains for me to announce my choice in Colombia, as it it mattered....  I am going for Santos even though I did like Mockus a lot at first.  But Santos has demonstrated that he has the profile of a statesman, good political instincts, the ability to manage a short and complicated campaign and the skill to make alliances where none was expected.  As such he is a good heir for Uribe, maybe not the civilian we all would like to see at La Casa de Nariño but certainly the man for the rough times still ahead for Colombia as the FARC must be dealt with, and Chavez.

But all is not bad at all for Mockus.  His unwillingness to set alliances might be a good thing if he did that deliberately to create a new civilian movement to prepare for the future.  Maybe not in 4 years but likely in 8 years.  No matter what his score is next Sunday, he will be the leader of the opposition and will have enough credibility to build the alternative to uribismo.  Thus he might never become president of Colombia but he can still enter in history books by creating the civilian movement that will complete the entry of Colombia into true modernity and complete democracy.

Well, one can hope anyway.

Meanwhile we can wait for the result considering that the bets will be whether Santos reaches 65% of the vote.  And also, at the same time, being green with envy from this side of the border where we consider that the Colombian democracy is now, like the Colombian peso, much stronger than the Venezuelan one and its very devaluated currency.

News from down the drain

I have been busy, so I haven't blogged much. Still, here some bits of news you should consider:

  • BBC journalist Sackur interviewed Chávez. You can read Miguel's take here and Quico's here. My opinion: the journalist wasted time by asking several questions with very predictable answers - at least any average Venezuelan could have guessed Chávez's response. The BBC journalist should have asked other things like how Chávez can claim to be a democrat and yet declare his system will last for centuries, how Chávez can say the only possibility in Venezuela is socialism and yet state that anything else would lead to a civil war. The journalist could have asked why Chávez' refuses to have an open debate with the opposition as people do in parliamentarian Europe and to a more limited extent in Chile, Colombia and the US.
Anyway, I think the most telling part of the interview is this detail the BBC mentions:

"Mr Chavez became visibly agitated when faced with a set of specific questions about his government's respect for the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press and the rights of political opponents."

"As the tension in the presidential palace rose, Oliver Stone who was seated in a corner listening intently to the exchanges - along with a host of presidential aides and one of the president's daughters - gestured to the president with both hands.

The message was easy to read: Calm down."

Oliver Stone has really become a full-time consultant for lieutenant Chávez.

  • Chavismo is accelerating the dismantling of democratic institutions through the creation of parallel administration systems: you can read in El Nacional in Spanish about how the comunes are going to take over more competences from the municipalities and states. This is a process similar to what happened in the early years of the Soviet Union when the soviets - councils in English - started to replace other forms of government. The soviets themselves became just a toy of the Communist Party. Here we will see how the comunas will become a toy of the state party, the PSUV.

How Venezuelan gangsters make money

  • Last but not least: every day Venezuelans are discovering more rotten food supplies and past date medicine containers that had been imported by state PDVAL. The very latest (as of today) is that citizens in Carabobo discovered more than 6 thousand tons of past date milk at a PDVAL deposit. In the last few weeks the general public has read about the discovery of some 100,000 tons of wasted food and medicine. This is the product of Chavismo corruption bands, groups that imported large quantities of products at a the preferential rate of Bs2.6 instead of Bs4.3 per dollar.
Nothing new in the Venezuelan front.

Juangriego news and views

Juangriego, North Margarita Island
I have been away for a needed vacation but unfortunately I cannot really bring back anything that could distract my dear readers from the woes of Zuloaga arrest warrant, the seizure of Banco Federal, the continuing discovery of rotten food, the expired medical supplies found here and there, the rotten food that was sent to Haiti as humanitarian help forcing Dominican Republic to send back, etc, etc…. The stench of a rotting government and the havoc it is bringing to the country can even be seen in Margarita today which had been somewhat preserved from the worst of chavismo.

A trip to Margarita starts with dodging countless potholes between Caracas and Puerto La Cruz, a couple of hours in line under a inclement sun at the ferry terminal (the waiting area is “under renovation” since the Puerto La Cruz chavista mayor recovered it for “le pueblo”), a delayed departure because the Nazional guard searches you for drugs, starting that search only a few minutes before the scheduled departure , and an uncomfortable ride as you must start by looking for a seat that is not too soiled to put your rear end for the trip duration. I do not know how many international tourists still bother with Margarita, but I sure hope for them they take the plane.

The island is clearly depressed and the glory days of “Puerto Libre” (tax free zone) are long gone. With Chavez increasing taxes even here, and the paucity of dollars to buy goods, the only thing you can really find at reasonable prices (low enough to pay for your ferry trip) is booze. I suppose that after 11 years of chavismo drink is the only allowed escape route. Kind of the Vodka thing in the USSR? Thus Margarita is forced back into its original goal: tourism. But is it still possible?

Judging from my trip for lunch at Juangriego I am afraid that Margarita might be beyond the point of return. True, the beauty can still be found here and there, but the travel also shows you “invasiones” from mainlanders that the local government cannot control as they are sponsored by chavismo, such, I suppose, the chavista mayor of Juangriego. And thus the island keeps crumbling under the burden of migrants while the authorities divided in political war fail to take the measures that might not solve the problems but at least would slow down the general degradation I observe everywhere.

View from La Galera
At the foot of La Galera
Juangriego mixes together the good still existing and the bad creeping up. The fabulous bay is still there. The historical landmark of La Galera fort still guards the entrance. The fishing boats still offer us their moving line up, though memory seems to tell me that they were more of them in the past. And the sunset on Playa Caribe is as heartbreaking as it always was.

And yet it is clear that Juangriego keeps growing haphazardly. The salt pans behind La Galera are surrounded by new “settlements” whose runoff water go straight to the delicate ecosystem. The water front still lacks a major promenade and organized beaches for tourists (assuming pollution has not killed it yet). There is even less coconut trees than what I remember. What was one of the most beautiful bays of Venezuela, only disrupted by the spires of its church is now becoming a whatever of nondescript buildings and traffic jams. Progress? One needs to go to the top of La Galera and look toward Macanao far across the still splendid Ensenada de La Guardia to go back in time, to simpler, open days.

La Galera "welcome center"
La Galera landmark
But at La Galera you will be disappointed again. The historical park, small history perhaps but history nevertheless, is rather abandoned. If it is clear that garbage is still picked up on occasion, the commemorative plaques, worn out, are the only notices you will get. No overlook point, no parking area, no surveillance: you park on the surrounding drive and climb alone through ill kept staircases hoping no one will come to mug you while on top. No ranger, nothing but the still splendid views. Would had it been so difficult to put somewhere a pleasant café with terrace, even if it were to be opened only on high season or week ends?

Playa Caribe

Unfortunately lunch, even if delicious, did not give me much hope. The fish, pargo, I was told has now to be sought in front of the coast of Guyana: it has been overfished in the local waters. As for the “polarcita” how long will I still be able to enjoy it?

For how long?

PS: for some obscure reason blogger refuses to let all of my pictures stand up!  Thus I apologize for the three pictures side ways, I will correct it when blogger fixes whatever bug it has.

Irregular posting for the next two weeks

I will have some time to write but not much time to post it.  We'll see.  And no, I am not watching the world cup.  As I type this late I have not even bothered to figure out whether France beat Uruguay.

An economic debacle picture is worth a 1000 word treatise

Believe it or not, the government published this graph among the diverse excuses it published to justify the end of the swap market [including the lapsus (?) of 4,3 instead of the "official" 2.6.  I suppose it would not have been as aesthetically looking at 2.6...]. And yet, as an indictment of how the Venezuelan economy went awry as oil went down and spending went it up, it cannot be matched.... No comments needed.  Received in my mail box a few minutes ago.

The new currency exchange system is just the admission that Venezuela is broke

A post as simple and basic and short as possible, to make sure you get it.

Over a month ago economy minister Giordani in a fit of despair shut down the open currency exchange market which allowed you to buy dollars by swapping trade-able stocks and bonds, in a kind of a higher bidder system.  The system was not perfect but it allowed business and individuals willing to take a hit to buy the dollars they needed.  And the hit taken was no small affair: at an official 2.6 exchange rate, a semi official 4,3 for some items, people had to pay 6 an up, and shortly before its closure around 8, and going.

Why was the swap market 3 to 4 times the value of the official dollar?  For one very basic reason: the government was very stingy with the the dollars it gave at 2.6 or 4.3, in spite of these values fixed by a maxi devaluation last January.  People needed to work, needed to keep their shops and manufactures open, needed to buy raw material to produce or goods to stack the shelves, so many decided to buy at 8 as the only alternative to shut down their livelihood.  If you add to this that no one wants to save in Venezuela, chavista or not, you understand better the situation.

After weeks of angst, the government feeling that it needs to open an outlet outside of the CADIVI controlled currency exchange market decided to open one strictly controlled by the state, based on bonds held by local banks and, we assume or at least hope so, some dollars from PDVSA, the oil monopoly.  It opened today and based on its initial regulations the only thing we can state safely is that the Venezuelan state does not have the money to finance its new scheme.


First, not everyone will be allowed in.  You will need, to begin with, to have an account overseas under your name.  Many will balk at that because it will be a way to reveal where their savings are, unless they open a second account.  Thus the only people that will apply are those who do not care about any political or economical measure taken against them, those who are close to regime and those who have already enough money stashed out to leave Venezuela on notice if needed.  In the country that invented the "Tascon List" and "Maisanta" programs, any such measures reekspolitical apartheid.  In other words if the government is scaring away potential customers it is because it knows very well it cannot serve all.

Second, the amounts given are not something to write home about.  The offer is not designed for the modern needs of a large industry.  At best it will be enough to buy spare parts, small equipment, for which the complexity and delays of CADIVI force people to go and buy at any price.  This is not the way to run a modern country.  Probably that new scheme will not be enough to import the Scotch and wine "needed"!  In addition the Central Bank, BCV, now in charge says that the dollars will be disbursed to those proving the need, whatever that means.  That is, the BCV director will have the power to decide to import the Merlot he likes but the Syrah you like will not come anymore.  Such restrictions and arbitrariness in allowance can only mean one thing: there is not enough US dollars to go around for all.  This is not even a matter of control!  It is just a matter of "being broke" and choosing which creditors you pay first.

What will happen?

The new system will fail because it is not designed to supply the lack of CADIVI which was the main reason for the defunct swap market that functioned until a few weeks ago.  What will happen is that a totally illegal black market will be created where people will build a network of "friends" to swap among themselves bolivares for dollars.  As such that black market rate will have to pay a risk premium because it is illegal! As such if you get your dollars that way you will probably end up paying soon 10 bolivares for a single dollar.  And going up, and up, as Chavez keeps wrecking the economy.

But that illegal market will not be the answer.  Since you cannot bill at that rate people who cannot access dollars for their business needs will either pay a hefty commission to some bureaucrat to get permission (corruption) or will close down their business.  That is, the black market will be used mostly for people trying to ship out their savings.  That black market will not solve scarcity, it might even aggravate it!  We must thus expect higher inflation, higher unemployment, more corruption.  Inflation is already above a 30% yearly rate and with the failure of the new exchange scheme it could be pushed easily as high as 50%!

And yet this will not stop capital fleeing the country, it will just slow it down and make it more of a business for the privileged few.  For example, let's say that you import a certain type of silicon to assemble furniture you sell.  You import each tube at 5 USD and buy 1000 a year.  What you will say to your provider is that instead of billing you the 5,000 yearly supply, to bill you 6,000 now and give you the 1,000 difference as a "sale commission".  Voila, your account in the US gets a tiny little bit fatter and CADIVI will only know about it if it bothers to check out and find a cheaper provider.  But if there is only one provider, what can CADIVI do but to accept your surcharge?  Imagine now that instead of a silicon stick we are talking of a special antibiotic only sold by two countries, one being the US and the other Brazil.  Venezuela will allow you to buy the more "expensive" Brazilian drug for political reasons, and voila, now it is not 1,000 that you get out but as much as 100,000 in "commissions".

As usual like, as for with any of these controlling measures chavismo is constantly taking, the privileged few will always be able to find ways to escape the straight jacket while their employees will be denied that escape, be the "owner" a chavista minister or the director of a multinational trust.  At the bitter end, the more controls chavismo puts up, the more it favors corruption and hurts the people it is supposed to help.

PS: in case you are still not getting it, what the Chavez administration did was yet a new devaluation except that few will have access to that rate.  Expect a real one after the September vote, by January.  The 2.6 rate of today will be pushed ruthlessly to 4.3.

Don't shake it , baby (Crotalus durissus)

I have already mentioned how Venezuelans who spend even a little bit of time outside major cities learn very soon they have to watch out for snakes. There are few natural areas - the islands, very high mountains - without poisonous snakes.

This is one of those animals you really have to avoid. It is the Crotalus durissus, a South American rattle snake that can kill you or leave you blind or with some other very nasty problems.

The Crotalus durissus really shakes it and then you don't want it close to you. I have had a couple of encounters with them and sometimes they do attack. Then it's you the one who twists and shouts.

Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage Euch oder der Preis einer Hostie

Die letzte Aló-Presidente-Sendung zeigt, wie "Priester" Alfonso Rojas den venezolanischen Präsidenten segnet. Man sieht, wie Rojas Chávez lobt, wie Chávez die Hostie verzehrt (close-up, close-up), wie Chávez erklärt, Sozialismus und Christentum gehen Hand in Hand.

Derselbe Priester ist auch in einem Video von 2009 zu sehen. Da kann man ihn hören, als er wirr über das Kommunistische Manifest spricht oder eher erwähnt, denn Chavistas gehen nicht wirklich sehr tief auf Theorie ein, und fragt, was man nun in der neuen Revolution machen will. Er sagt, man habe die Wangen immer wieder hingehalten und die Wangen wären schon längst abgefallen (ich übersetze, ich übersetzte). Er sagt, die Militärs seien nun - im Gegensatz zur Vierten Republik- unsere Freunde. Er lobt Hugo Chávez. Am Ende ruft er auf: "Vaterland, Sozialismus oder Tod".

Ich bin Christ, wenn auch kein Katholik. Ich bin so erzogen worden, dass ich eine strenge Trennung zwischen Staat und Kirche befürworte und Fanatiker jeder Art vermeide. Ich weiss, wie oft Religion als Machtmittel benutzt wurde und wird. Ob man Christ oder Atheist, Agnostiker oder Buddhist ist, man kann nur sagen: so eine Show ist einfach eine Schande.

A new definition for paganism

This image of Chavez this Sunday is offensive on so different levels that treatises could be written on it.  And I am not a believer, Roman Catholic or not.

Oh Dear Lord!

Chavez has absolutely no shame.  After all his cursing against the Catholic church for a decade, what he is doing there would make Henry the VIII blush.  As we say en Venezuela "no fue conmigo y me dolio".

I am not going to comment about the priest.  I suppose all sinners deserve salvation, even pederast priests I suppose.

Even there sycophancy has no limits: observe that the picture shows the whole scene but the TV screens behind focus on Chavez face.  By the way, this one did not even have the decency to remove his earphone...

If any chavista is swayed/comforted by this image, then there is no moral whatsoever in that side of the country...

If you had any doubt that Chavez would do anything, ANYTHING, to win in September, there you have the evidence.  Good thing that ridicule does not kill, by the way: this is not even a provocation, even if highly offensive.

Hat tip JC who as a believer must be even more offended as I am.  And I am, a lot.

World Cup coming, spirits down

Spain?  Nooooo ...... (miserable whimper follows)
The World Cup that matters, the one with a handful of guys running behind a ball to kick it, the game the US of A is unable to understand because it likes scores of 6784 versus 3462 ...

But I am not excited this year, not at all.

First, my team, France, should not have qualified. And I really mean it as I write it. Making it barely against Ireland through a hand foul is less than glamorous. And been defeated by China a few days before the cup starts, well, you know... And being coached by a guy who looks at astrological charts for his players decision is beyond words.  How can you find the heart to root for such a lousy team?

Second, I am tempted to root for, of all countries, Spain. My sportsmanship has grown enough that actually I might not mind Spain to win the Cup, I even think that it deserves it. Anything but Italy and Brazil has always been my leitmotiv anyway....  I would root for Argentina in normal times when France is out, but even with Messi in it I cannot get over Maradona being the coach.  Sorry, I can't, it grosses me out too much.  So I will swallow hard and go for Spain this year (hoping against all odds that the Dutch will cause a surprise).

And third, last but not least, the way Venezuela is going on these days I am in no mood for anything. Yes, I will watch a few games but to tell you the truth I do not care much for it this year. Chavez has managed to kill even that in me. Fortunately I have Direct TV so if Chavez does one of his hated cadenas I can still watch the game through Fox sports (ESPN sucks, or does not pass the games, or does advertisement during it). May chavistas watch Venevision and Meridiano TV and suffer the cadena interruption!

A French man travels to Venezuela

Courtesy of reader NP, this article in French about what you see when you travel to Venezuela today.

Venezuelans in Europe

Readers of this blog come from many countries, but most are Europeans and North Americans. Still, the most represented nationality is Venezuelan. A little bit less than 1/3 of all readers are from Venezuela.

Last month I carried out a poll to find out in what countries Venezuelan readers of this blog living in Europe are located. Results can be seen above. The vast majority are in Germany. There is one in a Western European country and two in Eastern European countries I did not list (shame on me). I assume there are a couple Venezuelan lurkers in Europe as well, but the proportion must be like that.

The distribution is different from the usual distribution of Venezuelans in Europe or Venezuelan "voters" in Europe -I write "voters" because the Venezuelan regime simply does not publish results of votes abroad-. This different distribution is normal as I write here mostly in Venezuelan English or Venezuelan German.

Venezuelans registered to vote in Venezuelan embassies in Europe (2008) o gente a la que el gobierno venezolano no le para bola en las elecciones

Tomorrow I would like to start a poll to find out a bit more about Europeans readers who are living right now in Venezuela. Please, if you are one, take part in the new poll. By European I mean someone who was born in Europe and did not eat arepas until his/her 4th birthday or later. If you were born in Venezuela, I count you as a Venezuelan and not as an European even if your parents are European and you are European and you don't eat arepas. You know what I mean: jus soli.

42 readers answered they can read posts in Spanish. They make up 67% of the readership. 30 (48%) said they can read posts in German. 9% do not reader in Spanish or German. Thus: I will continue writing mostly in English, but I will also write in German as so few people in German about Venezuela. Some of my links will be to Spanish sites. I write less frequently posts in Spanish in a blog that has a more "Venezuelan for Venezuelan" view.

Thanks for your visits!

Peace for Latin America?


total arms exports in millions of dollars worldwide

I don't know who would be against peace and real integration in Latin America, but I have a hunch about who is profiting from tensions between Latin American countries and who is profiting from Latin Americans spending billions and billions in weapons instead of books, schools and medicine.

Blogger Miguel (the Devil's Excrement) published some time ago an interesting post with a letter by Nobel prize winner Oscar Arias to the Uruguayan president proposing him to dismantle the army as Costa Rica did many years ago. Like Miguel, I also think our Latin American countries don't need armies: a very efficient, well educated security force as in Costa Rica or Iceland would do. Armies have just generated dictators and profits for the weapons industry.

The first picture shows the main arms exporting countries and the approximate amounts in billions of dollars.

Weapons as percentage of total exports

The second picture shows the percentage the weapons industry has in the total exports of each of those countries that sell the most weapons. The percentages I came up with seem like just a little but a percentage less or more does mean a lot for most countries, specially if they depend more on exports. Let's be clear: we will unfortunately stll need weapons, but we could save many billions if we started to get rid of our milicos.

Latin Americans have to think about this and they have to think about this very very very loud.

El País writes about how Spain's arms industry is having a wonderful year in spite of the recession. Among other things, Spain sold to Venezuela almost one million euros in anti-riot equipment (students, you know what you are going to get: made in Spain) and the Spanish government authorized the sale of 7 ships for the Venezuelan army for 925 million euros.
Once Chávez is gone expect US and Israeli arms companies as well as those of the other companies showns here to queue up to sell toys for our military, toys I doubt we need so much.

Schriftsteller als Schurken und andere Nachrichten aus der Rhewoluzion

Venezolanischer Schriftsteller in den Augen der Kulturbeamten

Die venezolanische Regierung hat den neuen Literaturpreis "Stefania Mosca" vorgestellt. Dieser Preis soll von Libertador, von der grössten Verwaltungsgemeinde Caracas, verliehen werden. Wie der venezolanische Blogger JorgeLetralia uns berichtet, hatte das Ganze schon einen schlechten Start. Der Vorsitzende des Auswahlkommitees, Enrique Hernández, erklärte, die anderen Mitglieder des Kommiteees werden nicht bekannt gemacht, weil "die Schriftsteller dieses Landes echte Schurken sind. Wenn man die Namen [der Jury] bekannt geben würde, würden sie versuchen, diese Leute zu kaufen". Tja. Also weiss man nur, dass Hernández das wichtigste Mitglied ist.

Der Militär-Präsident hat den privaten Banken mit "seinen Massnahmen" bedroht, wenn sie nicht 5 Milliarden Dollar in Form von Bonds zur Verfügung stellen, um den Druck auf die Währung zu verringern. Blogger Francisco schreibt hier über die verrückte Geld- und Währungspolitik im Lande. Der Regierung geht trotz hoher Erdölpreise die Puste aus.

Ferner sagte Chávez, der Handelskammerverband Fedecámaras sei unnötig in einem Land, das auf den Weg zum Sozialismus ist. Hier habt Ihr die Quelle der geflügelten Worte. Wie üblich -gäääähn, Verzeihung- erklärte er, die Opposition wolle Sitze in der Asamblea Nacional bekommen, nur um die Interessen der Bourgeoisie zu verteidigen.

Mittlerweile hat man über 30000 Tonnen zum grossen Teil vergammelte Lebensmittel der Staatsfirma PDVAL (Productora y Distribuidora Venezolana de Alimentos) in Containern entdeckt. Diese Lebensmittel wurden ins Land eingeführt, aber im Hafen von Puerto Cabello und anderswo einfach zurückgelassen, wo sie nun vergammeln. Man steht schon wieder mal vor einem riesigen Korruptionsskandal, also nichts besonderes. Hier berichtet eine Deutsche in Venezuela. Sie kennt schon seit Jahren, was es ist, wenn man im Supermarkt mal kein Fleisch mal keinen Zucker, mal keine Milch mal keine Butter findet.

Und so geht's weiter in der Tierra de Gracia.

Another one for the annals of Chavista idiocy

Leaving Buenos Aires
Some of you if not in Venezuela might have noted that most South America countries are celebrating in 2010 our bicentennial.  All have had great plans, prepared long in advance, except of course Venezuela who at the last moment repainted the few avenues through; which the official guest would travel the week of April 19.  We did get a major, and majorly silly, military parade while other countries got new avenues, museums, parks, cultural centers and what not.  Unless of course the 60,000 tons of food rotting in at least three locations were part of the ceremonies.  But I digress.....

One of the very nice activities was a regatta around South America by the state tall sail ships which serve in any country with a large sea presence as a way to train its navy officers and future sea captains.  Over a dozen participated in different legs, leaving Rio, going to every capital or main port they could reach and were early this week in La Guaira.  From here they will travel a few more days until they end up in Mexico.

The US barque Eagle
Nice, no?  So, how come Venezuela also managed to fuck up something that has been a great success elsewhere?  Very simple: they did not give a permit to the US sail boat to sail into Venezuelan waters!  As such out of Cartagena the barque Eagle sailed directly to Santo Domingo where it will wait for the other ships.  Since it was missed in Venezuela I did find this picture which is nice in spite of the chopper hovering above.

A more complete note lets people know that of all the sail boats at anchor in La Guaira only one of them had any political content on board: the Simon Bolivar which welcomed her guests with a sign "Patria Socialismo o Muerte".....

Ecuador's Guayas
If the crowds were numerous I have no record of Chavez visiting or making anything useful out of that visit.  After all he is an uncouth land lubber and he certainly cannot appreciate the beauty of these ships.  Nor he appreciates the diplomatic relevance of such a regatta.  For example in Cartagena Uribe went on board the Ecuador ship Guayas to greet personally the Ecuadoran sailors, returning the courtesy visit that president Correa did in Guayaquil to the Gloria from where he phoned Uribe.  A perfect way to keep mending the relationship between the two countries without giving the impression that anyone is yielding.

This was yet another perfect example of the utter lack of class of Chavez, his failure to understand how the world really work, and the idiocy his ignorance and bad faith generate among his followers....

Colombia's Gloria

And yes, I know, I am a sucker for sail boats remembering one of my fondest memories the tall ship parade in New York for the bicentennial of the US Constitution.   But I could not make it to La Guaira...