Things that go bump in cadenas: Chavez leaving the IACHR

[Post scripted] Certainly it was not the most important announcement of the day by Chavez, just before he took of for Havana again.  But it may have been one of the most telling moments of his presidency in recent months.  After signing the new Labor Law, Chavez decided to activate finally the "Council of State" and ask from it as a first mission to study ways that Venezuela can exit the Inter American Court for Human Rights.

It is interesting that after 13 years of a new Constitution this potentially important tool is suddenly activated just as Chavez is clearly losing his ability to rule.  Is he trying to create a transition council independent of the National Assembly to take over if he croaks?  Has he reached such despair that he prefers a council to succeed him rather than appoint a successor?  Or is his pride so big that he cannot tolerate a successor?

First, let's look at the council of state and go to a long forgotten blog on the Venezuelan constitutional reform of 2007.  For memory, in that blog I took upon many readers to ask them to discuss the proposed reforms and explain why they were negative.  To date, if I may allow some deserved pride, the readers of this blog have written the best rebuttal you can find in Internet in English against that fortunately ill fated reform.  The power of blogging at its best.  As it turns out, the two articles that I took over to get the blog rolling and set a possible example on how to do it were the very articles of the Council of State, articles 251 and 252 on the "consejo de estado".

Let's start with the current version of these articles, in Spanish (use your google translate, it is working better and better)
Sección Sexta: Del Consejo de Estado
Artículo 251. El Consejo de Estado es el órgano superior de consulta del Gobierno y la Administración Pública Nacional. Será de su competencia recomendar políticas de interés nacional en aquellos asuntos a los que el Presidente o Presidenta de la República reconozca de especial trascendencia y requiera su opinión.
La ley respectiva determinará sus funciones y atribuciones.
Artículo 252. El Consejo de Estado lo preside el Vicepresidente Ejecutivo o Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva y estará conformado, además, por cinco personas designadas por el Presidente o Presidenta de la República; un o una representante designado por la Asamblea Nacional; un o una representante designado por el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia y un gobernador designado o gobernadora designada por el conjunto de mandatarios estadales.
I described in my rebuttal that the purpose of changing article 252  was to remove the role of the vice president and the governor delegate, aiming at weakening decentralization and strengthening presidential power.  In article 251 the proposed changes were to create an organic law (2/3) vote to tie down the council and transform it into a tool for the executive power to "arbitrate" in its favor, no matter how the potlical context of the coutnry may change (loss of majority at the National Assembly or of Governor totals).

Thus when the referendum failed the law remained the original quoted above, and nothing more was said of that Council of State.  In article 251 the Council of State is a consulting organism that could discuss conflicts between the different branches of government to try to reach an agreement.  And in Article 252 we have its composition as 5 named directly by the president, one by the National Assembly, one by the High Court,  and one last one named by the governors.  In other words today the council will be formed by 8 chavistas presided by the chavista vice-president as a tie breaker if by any chance the council decided to discuss anything instead of following the dictates of Miraflores.

Now that we understand better the "on paper" role, why is Chavez this late in the game deciding to activate it and publish a regulation law in a hurry?  And why is he naming very discredited former defense minister Jose Vicente Rangel and a certain Britto Garcia who is considered an intellectual of chavismo?.  We do not know yet who will be the next members but the tone is clearly set.

Such a Council requires of expert lawyers and neither Rangel nor Britto qualify.  Thus the Consejo de Estado will be strictly a political organism.  It is in charge of creating the dossier of grievances of Venezuela against the IACHR and then use that as an excuse to pull Venezuela out of it.  It will not work because, as I understand it,  it would almost imply the departure of Venezuela from the OAS, the final rejection of Venezuela application to Mercosur which requires membership to the Court in San Jose and the Commission in Washington. And possibly other problems in other organizations Venezuela belongs to such as the UN.  In the XXI century it is very difficult to escape international duties, and the price to pay if you decide to break anyway is usually very high: you become an official pariah nation and this affects everything, from your ability to travel to the one of getting loans in acceptable conditions.

In other words, with this decision announced today almost as an after thought, Chavez may jeopardize durably the international status of Venezuela.

So why do that at a time where he should be worrying about his health and reelection?  Two hypothesis.

1) The IACHR is linked to other international courts such as the one in The Hague.  Information is exchanged and these are valid enough to substantiate accusations.  Venezuela's regime has already quite an assortment of negative decisions in San Jose, and its refusal to apply the requested redress measures.  In other words, the dossier of Venezuela at San Jose speaks clearly of a rogue state that does not respect international engagments and along the way tramples the human rights of its citizens.  With possible cases against Chavez making their way in The Hague, that is not going to help him (nor his entourage).

Never mind that the latest Aponte^2 scandal establishing the subjection of the Venezuelan judicial power to Chavez is going to add quite a lot of gas to the fire.  Courts are never lenient on narco states.

2) Besides vainly attempting to put distance between chavismo and international courts, there is also a second possibility in naming such a last minute commission.  The succession war is going on in earnest inside chavismo and Chavez needs at least a group of people to serve as umpire, to defend his interests when he is in Cuba irradiating his ass.  The Consejo de Estado could well work as such an umpire group since it will be packed by politicians sticking together without any presidential hope of their own (except for JVR, in an off chance scenario).  And if worse comes to worse Chavez will probably prefer such a council to step in and assure a transition period until constitutional changes can take place allowing for example one of his relatives to succeed him.  Or some sort of equivalent nincompoopery.  Heck, even a military coup that recognizes such a council and places JVR as the interim president could well be acceptable to enough people to have a chance at working it in directing the transition and keeping the opposition at bay.

Whatever the real reasons are (and trust me, we can come up with more hypothesis) the sure implication of today's announcement is a reflection of Chavez weakness, of a deliquescent state where nothing works anymore and where a desperate attempt at creating something new is needed in the vain hope to have something that works, free of the gang wars that besot the regime.

POST SCRIPTUM:  I have kept my mind wrapped around this issue since last night.  I definitely discard the excuse of removing the IACHR from the scenario.  After all Chavez has been thumping his nose at it forever and why should he care for formalities now?  The only people really interested in Venezuela withdrawal are from his entourage, from the Narco Generals to Luisa Estela who last night on cadena looked terrible: clearly the woman is not sleeping well and surely Aponte^2 has something to do with it.  After all, she was his boss and surely she could not have ignored what he was doing; not to mention that according to the creep she was probably also relaying some of the orders he followed.

Thus indeed, withdrawing from the IACHR is good for Chavez but not essential.  And he does not need the Consjo de Estado for that.  So, what gives, r-e-a-l-l-y?  I think it is all about the transition.

In a transition period even though Chavez has an illegal majority at the National Assembly, his enabling law is about to expire and there is nothing worse but to give the opposition a chance to discuss matters.  they will lose any vote but they can make a lot of noise doing so.

A Consejo de Estado whose first motion would be a patriotic show of "Independence " against the IACHR would place such a council in the eyes of Chavez radical followers.  After all Chavez has stressed how urgent it was for the newly named council to submit their report: the man is in a hurry, time counts.  Let's say that by mid June the council has placed itself in the ye of public opinion.  Then Chavez can use it for other purposes, such as a transition council.

Strong man rarely name their successor.  There is something in the psyche of these guys that relies on their uniqueness and the idea of a worthy successor challenges that uniqueness of their glorious leadership.  sometimes they try to be succeeded by a council like Tito did in the former Yugoslavia.  It never works, but of course beloved leaders have no need to learn from history and human nature.

So maybe Chavez and the Castros think that pushing through a council can serve along the lines, from by-passing the National Assembly, to mediate between the succession rivals to, gas, take over the country if needed.

Spanisch für Fortgeschrittene - Spanish for advanced learners

Laborious Labor Law Load from Chavez who never held a real job in his life

[UPDATED] What keeps us abuzz all these days is the promised new labor law.  There is no mystery, Chavez is using it to distribute goodies for his reelection but the consequences may be devastating.  Not that it matters for the regime, they have no intention of fulfilling it anyway inside the public sector.

The first thing we must be aware of is that the new law shall be illegal.  It will be approved through an enabling law that was itself illegal.  And the old labor law was an "organic law" meaning that it was voted by more than 2/3 of the parliament and as such IT HAS to be changed or be re-voted by a 2/3 of parliament.  Indeed the regime knows that very well because in all cynicism I suspect that they will publish an unworkable instrument but with hopeful electoral benefits just to have some lawyer succeed at trashing it in court, any time after Chavez is reelected.  Then a new law will be discussed and voted.  Maybe.

The second thing to understand is that the regime is skilfully playing the ignorance of the people (assuming that they are understanding what they are doing themselves and not victims of their own ignorance).  In a pseudo-revolution which has aimed at creating a complete dependency between the state and the citizen, a XXI century form of slavery directed by a tiny elite, there is one basic concept that no one, NO ONE, seems to understand: the more benefits you give to workers, the more depressed their base salary.  Let me explain in case some of you, probably chavistas still reading, do not understand.

Let's say that you need a job done.  That job is worth to the company 100 Units.  So you may hire a worker for 90 Units, the 10 excess units being your return on investment, the upgrading of the business process, the rainy day fund, the seasonal variation of income fund, etc....  This in a country were inflation is at a reasonable 3% rate.  In Venezuela with a 30% inflation, in theory the on paper margin should reflect 70 units at most for the worker, something that is not happening, but I digress.  In other words, in XXI century economy the real margin of return for the owners of companies rarely pass the 5% (unless of course you deal in glamour Apple-like stuff).  And even if we were dealing with slave owner commie Chinese entrepreneur who make 50% returns, you would still be paying your worker at east 40 units.

So, how do you give those 90 units to your worker?  Does that mean that you divide it in 12 parts and give a share once a month?  Not at all.  In the current legal system of Venezuela, with onerous severance laws, ridiculous food stamps obligations and what not, it is fair to say that the 90 units are divided in at least 18 parts.  That is, if you were having a base salary US style you would be getting 7.5 units a month but in Venezuela you get at best 5, and lower as needed.  You will get two extra 5 at year end, and another 5 through the business mandatory food stamp. That is about 75 units.  The remaining 15 units you will get them AFTER you leave your job, someday, after inflation has been eating a nice chunk out of it.  And that in the private sector because if you are a public servant you may not get the 5 in food stamps, nor the 15 owed you until years after you were fired or retired.  If you get them since no court will rule against the regime (courtesy of Aponte^2 own words).

Of course the numbers above are a gross approximation for the sake of a quick understanding and the actual number of shares varies according to your job, skills, etc...  But the principle is the same: an employer hires you for what you are expected to bring the business and he will pay you a monthly fraction of that depending on the investments required for you to do that job.  You may divide your share in 12 or 24, but in the end you cannot get more than your share because otherwise the business will go bankrupt, or in Venezuela start getting state subsidies until someday it finally collapses under its own weight (aluminium industry anyone?).

Two decades ago the severance system had been so ill conceived that it simply became impossible to maintain (a combination of high inflation and economic downfall).  Then you were getting a payment based on how many years you had worked and when inflation reached 100% small companies simply went bankrupt to pay a high executive retiring (an option as to fire them after a certain number of years while the bill was still manageable).  So with a rare common sense, the government (who was the least able to meet its obligations) sat down with trade union and business organizations and redesigned the system along the lines I exposed above.  It was certainly not perfect but it worked better than the past in that businesses could budget their severance obligations more or less in spite of inflation and economic downturns.  The private sector quickly paid the difference to its workers and moved on to the new system but the state, well, to this day, a decade and a half later, still owes gazillions to its workers....

So what is populism à la Chavez going to do?  Pretend that the workers were robbed (they were not, they were paid what was owed them and started a new system that is more reliable than the last one) and go back to the old system even though they know that they can't afford it......

In addition they will enshrine the "stability" a work, meaning that it will be nearly impossible to fire anyone unless the regime approves it,  increase penalties in case you fire them anyway, give a maternity leave of 6 months, forbid to fire father or mother for two years after a baby is born, reduce the working day to 7 hours (while making that free hour a training time in revolutionary propaganda payed for by the employer), and such other stuff we keep hearing.  We do not know how many of these goodies will find their way in the final bill but you may expect the worse!  To top it off, all the severance deposits that must be deposited by the employer in a special fund will be now managed by the state which will pay your severance.  Some day, when it can, when they like your paper work, when you bribe everyone from the doorman to the Cuban boss.......  After all we have the recent example of how the pension fund of the roja rojita PDVSA was squandered away by speculators in the US who are facing justice there but no word at home from the people supposedly in charge of protecting those pension funds.

How do you think employment will go after such a law is enacted even if only half of these threats are fulfilled?  In the graph on the left from Tal Cual today you can observe yourself how unreal that law is (and those are not very credible official numbers from the INE but let's accept them).

In Venezuela in 2011 there were 6.9 million folks with a job, "ocupados formal" (the INE considers a job any activity that busies you 10 hours a week).  AND 5.4 million that work odd jobs, "informal" here and there and that do not belong to any state social service, 13YEARS after a socialist revolution!!!!!  They do not pay taxes, of course, unless you count the bribes the buhoneros must pay the Nazional Guard to set shop in the streets.

Of the 6.6 you need to subtract the 2.4 million of the public sector who will benefit or not but who will certainly be blackmailed by the regime to keep their job by voting Chavez and staying quiet no matter how late their paycheck comes.  In other words Chavez's crowd is secretly organizing a law for the 4.5 million in the private sector "privado".  The objective is clear: to create social tensions during the next months and win away as many as possible of these workers to the chavista side in a blackmail of sorts, meaning that only Chavez can force private sector to give you the 110 units for your 100 unit job.

All of these could have been avoided if chavismo were a responsible left wing regime (oxymoron?).  For example we could have done away with the cumbersome severance plans by creating a jobless insurance which covers workers for 6 month (the average severance payment by the way for somebody working a couple of years).  Still, for unjustified layoff we could have retained a severance payment.  Also, instead of building barrio adentro we could have focused on restoring hospitals and create a real social medicine, complemented with a renewed network of ambulatorios which already existed and today seem to work better than many of the barrio adentro CDI.... At least when they are in the hands of opposition local managers.  In other words, the reason of the severance (antiguëdad) was for jobless time and to borrow in case of medical trouble.  If those services existed, really, we would not have this discussion today.  We have Sukhois instead and a cadaver on line with Cuba.

Instead we are headed into a sever downturn in employment,  in a further loss of competitiveness, if possible, in a clear discrimination in hiring women who are building a family (1), etc, etc....  In other words, final paralysis followed by progressive bankruptcy of the private sector.  This is good for the regime of course since the bolibourgeois will benefit for their business of the indulgence of the courts and remain in place while screwing their workers just as the state is doing currently.  Rule of thugs, by thugs, for thugs.

Update: believe it or not but Chavez signed the damn law today WITHOUT publishing it.  He claims that he is waiting for the high court to rule on its constitutionality. After the Aponte^2 affair we know for sure that the less constitutional the law, the fastest it will be approved.

1) In this very macho society it is the woman who bears all the charges.  Progress would have been to force the father into post natal care of the baby while the wife returns to work, or at least force the business employing the father to shoulder some of the costs of the business employing the mother (like it happens in many civilized countries).  But no!  More macho posturing!  More macho message that a woman's place is home!  What a great revolution!!!!!

Fin de règne à Caracas: Chavez last days (we think)

I have used that French expression already twice for titles of this blog and I hope that the third time is a charm.  If anything the French are right, "fin de règne" are long, protracted affairs because the ones leaving do not know how to leave and the ones supposed to come have no idea how to do the deed, assuming they exist.  Thus not only it turns out I am allowed to borrow my own past title but I can also borrow a picture from that post which was more premonitory than what anyone would have expected then.

One way to simplify what I already described two years ago is that "fin de regne" are about the degradation of power without any clear option coming.  That is why 1776 and 1789 would not qualify but the earlies 1710'ies in France of even 1846-1848 in Europe qualify.  They all sensed that power was waning but nobody was quite sure what to do about it.  Fin de regne are not necessarily followed by revolutions or civil war but quite often one of both do happen then.  Even Myanmar today does not qualify as fin de regne as Aung San Su Kyi is willing to take power and the generals are trying to find a scheme to preserve in their hands the real power.  A fin de regne in the XX century as democracy is knocking at the door is a rather rare occurrence, happening in some African countries (Houphouët Boigny in Ivory Coast or even Mubarak in Egypt until the Tunisia uprising brought a sudden change, still ongoing as no one really was ready to pick up the pieces).

You need to live in Venezuela, on a day to day basis, to really feel that heavy atmosphere.  You need to battle for the paperwork so you can keep your business open.  Along the way you notice all the sharks roaming around you and demanding more and more of your time and money as they know their days are counted.  You need to go grocery shopping often enough to acquire certain reflexes such as piling up your favorite brand on the rare occasions you find it on the shelves.  You learn to have a 1 month rotating stock.  You need to face everyday the destroyed infrastructure, not only the roads and the constant power outages, but even some private institutions that simply do not make enough money anymore, or cannot find the right people to fix their own crumbling problems.  For family problems I had to visit one of the top three private clinics of Caracas, the one I was when dengue fell me two years ago, and I could observe how in two years service and structure had declined even though prices went up.  Simply put, you cannot get your stuff fixed, your car, your clinic, your business because there is always something missing: personnel, cement, pipes, spare parts, etc...

But these are not enough to give you that sense of fin de regne.  After all, such things happen in a lot of countries at war and today in Venezuela you still can mange, your real and present danger being going out in the streets and face the crime wave that shows no sign of abating.  No, what gives you that feeling of end of times is that you are getting used to your situation, that you know that under the current situation there is nothing you can do, that you know it cannot last forever but you have no idea when it will all end.  So you muddle everyday, trying to avoid as many pitfalls as you can, staying alive.

We do not need to discuss the health of Chavez.  All evidences, all secrecy, all staging by the regime point out to his coming demise.  In fact for the first time I am daring to predict that he will not make it to October 7.  Dead or barely alive but he will not be able to run for election.  Until a few months ago I wished Chavez the best of health because I wanted him badly to lose in October and even more badly to see him on the accused bench.  But now the decrepitude of the country is such, the inner collapse of chavismo so obvious that I think that no matter what, it is better for the country that he dies A.S.A.P.  I do not mean to sound harsh or wish him ill, but the situation he has created is good for no one, not for me, not for the opposition, not for chavismo.  All sense that he is playing us with his disease and the resentment that will start building on that will have dreadful consequences, even if he were to suddenly recover.

I was comforted on that though after the Aponte Aponte scandal.  He did not reveal anything we did not know already, that the judicial power was in the hands of Chavez and that he used it to punish whomever he wanted to punish.  We also knew of the extraordinary leniency of such power as to drug trafficking having allowed a significant portion of the armed forces of Venezuela to transform Venezuela in a narco state.  What he added to what we already knew was the ease at which the regime lived its day to day in such miasma.  See, Aponte Aponte had no regrets, he confessed to save his hide, because he felt "betrayed", because he knew very well that he was going to get gunned down any time.  such people need to be removed from office fast, and the death of Chavez will accelerate that.

The picture of the regime that has emerged since early this year is of an emptying  shell already crumbling.  The regime is way more corrupt than we ever thought it was.  The regime is way more divided than we suspected, and the inner war is to death, literally.  The regime is so out of mind, so transformed by its own paranoid brain wash during the last decade that it creates hypothetical exits that would be unacceptable in the continent such as a military coup putting in charge the narco generals; or that a crook like Diosdado Cabello could actually win a presidential election.  The continent has accepted Chavez for a variety of reasons but after so many years of bullying it will not accept just any successor pulled out of a hat, or a military cap.

But on the other side there is little hope.  The opposition candidate promises that he will fire no one from the public sector.  He promises that the price of gasoline will not be increased.  He promises that he will go to Miraflores and work as if nothing with all the thugs that chavismo will leave behind, assuming that they recognize his victory and allow him to take over.  Of course, all of these are electoral lies because even Chavez will have to stop hiring and will have to increase the price of gas.  What worries me here is that the magnitude of the lie makes me question whether the Unidad is aware of what is ahead of them.  With such a campaign they may win but they will not be able to rule and the country may even slide faster into abyss and civil war.

I understand the need to win the election but I do not understand the pretense that nothing will change, that nobody will be punished.  And that is yet another hallmark of fin de regne since when the king dies a regency comes over and is often even more corrupt and incompetent than the departed king favorites.  Though at least in the case of Venezuela this may not happen: what will happen is a tentative of the regime to perpetuate itself though any outrageous populist measure and military strength if necessary.

The meaning of yellow

The Maicero, in Spanish, or Oriole Blackbird in English, has as Latin name "Gymnomystax mexicanus" and yet it is not so much typical of Mexico as of Venezuela and a few other South American countries.

The picture above, from Commons, was apparently taken very close to my home town, in the Caribbean.

Kaufkraft in Venezuela: was die Linke nicht weiss

Die Kaufkraft der Venezolaner war zwischen 1950 und 1978 am höchsten. Deswegen haben viele Venezolaner Chávez beim ersten Mal gewählt: sie dachten, er würde entweder den Wohlstand UND Sicherheit zurückbringen, die sie während der Herrschaft des Diktators Pérez Jiménez - ein Idol des Chávez- erlebten oder den Wohlstand der Zivilregierungen von 1973-1976. Der Wissenschaftler Miguel Angel Santos vom Wirtschaftszentrum IESA hat jetzt jede Menge Daten analysiert und ist zum Schluss gekommen, dass die durschnittliche Kaufkraft des Venezolaners im Jahr 2011 die von 1966 entsprach. Das sagt uns El Universal heute. Die Produktivität der Venezolaner, sagt uns Santos, ist einfach so niedrig wie nie zuvor. Es wird nicht mehr in Kapitalanlagen investiert.

Venezolaner von heute sind nur so produktiv wie damals, trotz allerlei Maschinen , Verfahren und Kenntnisse im allgemeinen, die seit 50 Jahren eingeführt wurden

Die Ökonomen haben mehrere Erklärungen für den Produktivitätsschwund. Politische Entscheidungen spielen dabei eine grosse Rolle: Gesetze wurden nicht respektiert, Eigentumsrechte wurde verletzt, der Arbeitsmarkt geriet auch in Ungleichgewicht.

Mehrere Analysten nennen mehrere konkretere Faktoren. Die Währung wurde zB aus populistischen Gründen immer wieder überbewertet - so wie jetzt-. Zuschüsse wurden bedingungslos vergeben. Preiskontrollen wurden allzu oft eingeführt. Administrative Kontrollen wurden zu Last, gleichzeitig wurden Steuerausnahmen für politische Kunden ständig eingeführt. Die zunehmende Abhängigkeit vom Erdöleinkommen und die Schwankungen des Erdölpreises haben dazu geführt, dass die Regierungen extrem kurzfristig dachten und die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Politik und Wirtschaft einfach verschwand. 

Es gibt einige Faktoren, die ich vermisse. Sie erwähnen kaum die Tatsache, dass sie immer weniger in Humankapital investiert haben - nicht, dass es jetzt besser wäre, ganz im Gegenteil - russische Waffen sind prioritär. Im Artikel wird auch nicht darauf eingegangen, wie die Entwicklung eines Dienstleistungssektors so negativ sein kann. Der Tertiärsektor ist ja überall gewachsen. Was die Wissenschaftler - oder zumindest die Journalisten von El Universal - nicht sagen, ist, dass in Westeuropa, in den Vereinigten Staaten oder in China der  Sekundärsektor trotz zunehmender Bedeutung des Dienstleistungssektors immer effizienter wurde. Sie sagen auch nicht, dass der Tertiärsektor in Venezuela eine ganz andere Dimension hat als in Europa oder in Nordamerika. Sie sagen auch nicht, wieso Venezuela eine solche Abhängigkeit vom Erdöl entwickeln konnte, während die Norweger sich streng an Massnahmen hielten, die diese Erdöleinnahmen zur nachhaltigen Entwicklung einsetzten. Wieso, wieso?

Irgendwie habe ich also mehr Fleisch im Artikel erwartet...interessante Fakten gab es schon. Hoffentlich hat unsere zukünftige Regierung einige Ideen, um diesen Trend umzukehren.

Die Prognosen sind düster: zwischen 2007 und 2010 ist die  private Investition um 43.6% gesunken. Ich bin sicher, was die Chávez-Anhänger sagen werden: das geschieht, weil die Reichen ihre Münze horden.

Eladio Aponte's plan B

I do not know whether Caracas Gringo is ready that well informed, but his latest reads like a thriller.

Hitler in Venezuela

This is weird Venezuela: below you can see the distribution of those Venezuelan voters whose first name (not surname) is "Hitler". Anzoátegui and Caracas have more Hitlers than other states, but the percentage of Hitlers in Delta Amacuro or Barinas (Chávez's state) is higher. It is not coincidence that 90 years ago the states with the lowest school attendance in Venezuela were Delta Amacuro and Barinas. There is a guy in Barinas whose full name is Hitler Maolenin Leañez Aponte. 

France: a more undecided result than what many may think.

And by writing the title I do not mean to say that Sarkozy has a chance to win the second round two weeks from today, but that the margin of victory for Hollande is far from certain and the result of the legislative elections in late May are quite up in the air, with a possible socialist landslide that will be absolutely meaningless.  In short, today's vote is far, very far, from yielding a government that will be able to tackle some of the badly needed reforms for France's welfare state to survive in some recognizable form.

And of course this post is also a wonderful excuse to look at the fabulous electoral maps that only the French seem able to do, and Liberation best of all for the past couple of decades.

The first map we are looking at is the general result  for France, AND its overseas territories.  At this point, barely 8 hours after polls have closed, the only ones missing are the embassies (the grey dot in the bottom).  For the record France still uses paper ballots and yet within an hour of polls closing the results were clear and everyone had acknowledged them.  Though in all fairness, before the Paris metro area results percolated.  Since then, the initial hysteria of Le Pen at 20% and Hollande beating Sarkozy by 4 points have receded.  Le Pen is at midnight still at a scary 18 points and Sarkozy is losing now by "only" 1.5 point. And Melenchon is less ridiculous than 4 hours ago.

What is interesting in this map is the extraordinary regionalization of the vote, to an extent that I do not recall having seen in a Presidential election.  Except for two exceptions, the South and South West are solidly for the Socialists, who have also transformed Brittany in the West in their bastion, Brittany who was very Catholic voted right wing solidly until the 80ies.  The right has switched from its Western bastions into a crescent swath that is only punctured 4 times (the North is socialist ancestral grounds).

The second map below is basically the same but I wanted to show how smooth Liberation is.  I click on the Gironde department, the largest of France and the one perhaps most representative of the new economy: tourism, trade, gourmet food.  Not to mention of Bordeaux, a resurrected splendid city now a World Heritage.  In Gironde, Le Pen is down and Hollande is up and the prosperity and renewal do not seem to have helped Sarkozy at all.  But pale pink Gironde has quite a story, and when you double click you get the results for ALL municipal districts.  ALL, barely a few hours after the vote.  And results, not trends as the Venezuelan CNE left us in the 2007 referendum to this date.

The map below is the blow up of Gironde.  I clicked on the biggest district, Bordeaux, which are thus the numbers you read.

And there you can see that solid pink Gironde is quite regionally divided too.  All the tourist and resort areas, and the agricultural areas to the East are mostly Sarkozy.  Industrial and commercial Garonne valley with Bordeaux are more solidly pink.  But the extreme right of Le Pen draws a strange border area crescent in black, even disputing control of the major Bordeaux vineyards of Medoc to the Socialists!  Though in educated and cosmopolitan Bordeaux Le Pen is further down.  My best guess for that black crescent is an anti European feel more and more found in French traditional agricultural regions.

And perhaps more than any other map this one symbolizes the problems of the traditional Gaullist democratic right, the one that created the welfare state in the 60ies and 70ies (it was NOT the socialists who created the French welfare state even though they did plant the idea in the 30ies).  The Socialists are not strong, they are beholden to the former communists under Melenchon to ensure a ruling majority.  The problem is that the right keeps weakening and that now the Front National is getting its historical best score ever with 18%. I have a nagging feel that Marine Le Pen will play the Hollande card.  Indeed, a Hollande government dependent on the tax and spend Melenchon people will likely fail and the Front National in perhaps less than 5 years form now will have a shot at beating the traditional right.  Its real goal, if you ask me.

What does this all mean?

Well, Hollande is about to win but what may turn out to be a useless victory.  It is quite possible that Melenchon and Le Pen are going to gamble it all in the parliamentary elections of late May and as such we will get a hung parliament.  Right now Melenchon has announced he will support Hollande without conditions.  But if Hollande wins, on the very next morning Melenchon will send his bill demanding at least a couple of dozen safe seats for his people and thus denying the Socialists a possible outright majority.  They will be subjected to the constant blackmailing to what are, after all, former communists, barely unreconstructed, dreaming of 6th republic à la Chavez.

If the UMP of Sarkozy (who has promised to retire from politics on the spot if he is not reelected) does a deal with the FN, it is doomed.  And it is even more doomed if it refuses a deal with the FN, risking in this case to lose as much as half of its current seats.  The Socialists are certain to use the double standard that they are allowed to negotiate with former communists but the UMP is not allowed any deal with the FN.  This hypocrite electoral calculation from their part, instead of considering what should be done, namely a grand coalition between Socialists and UMP for a couple of years to take the painful measures by consensus, will only be paid by all of us later, including the socialists.

But let's not get ahead of us, we still need to do that second round and pragmatically the best hop is for Sarkozy to lose by no more than a couple of points.  Any margin as the ones predicted tonight of at least 6 points is sure to send Melenchon and Marine into a feeding frenzy the day after.

Required week-end blog reading

Do not miss the articles of this week end by Caracas Gringo about Aponte, Roger Noriega, and narcotics generals gunned down.  Or something of the sort, my head is still spinning.

Der Fluch der Karibik (I)

Nur Drogenhändler

Walid Makled ist ein Venezolaner syrischer Herkunft, der wie viele Syrer in Venezuela als Kleinhändler anfing und zu einem vermögenden Geschäftsmann wurde. Er war regierungsnah. Beim Erdölstreik im Jahr 2002 unterstützte er die Chávez-Regierung und wurde so zu einem der Helden der Chávezbewegung und noch dazu sehr reich. Walid wurde der Regierung aber auch problematischer, denn er war ein dicker Freund vom Militär Acosta Carlez. Acosta war Gouverneur des Bundesstaates Carabobo von 2004 bis 2004, er war einer der "Chávez-Revoluzzer" vom 1992-Putsch. Carlez wurde immer unberechenbarer, er war vom Volk allzu verhasst, als dass er noch als Kandidat haltbar wäre. Weil Walid zu Acosta stand und Acosta bei den 2008 Wahlen als dritter Kandidat gegen die Option und gegen die Option der Regierung auftreten wollte, wurden der Walid-Clan und Acosta zu Feinden des Chavismus.

Dann beschloss Abdullah Makled, Walids Bruder, bei den Wahlen zum Bürgermeister Valencias - Kern des Bundesstaates Carabobo- auch gegen die Kandidaten der Militärs und der Opposition aufzutreten. Acosta kam an dritter Stelle bei den Gouverneurwahlen und Abdullah Waled kam an vierter Stelle bei den Wahlen für den Bürgermeiste Valencias. Die Chávez-Regierung fing an, gegen die Brüder wegen Drogenhandels und Mordes zu ermitteln. Es gab schon lange Gerüchte, dass die Walid nicht besonders halal waren. Ein anderer Militär, Cliver Alcalá, berichtete über mögliche Beziehungen vom Militär Acosta zum Drogenhandel. Chávez distanzierte sich von ihm.

Der Fluch der Karibik

Walid Makled floh aus Venezuela und wurde später in Kolumbien festgenommen. Er erzählte dann, wie er mit Acosta zusammenarbeitete, wie beide ein Warenhaus im Hafen Puerto Cabello hatten.

Es gab einen diplomatischen Krieg zwischen den USA und der Chávez-Regierung, um Walid Makled zu bekommen. Am Ende beschloss die kolumbianische Regierung Makled nach Venezuela zu schicken. Chávez hatte Handelsbeziehungen zu Kolumbien drastisch reduziert und die Auszahlung vieler Schulden gestoppt. Nun kam der Handel wieder in Bewegung -kolumbianische Waren flossen wieder Richtung Venezuela und venezolanisches Geld und Gas flossen nach Kolumbien. Darüber hinaus wurden die Schulden beglichen. Die Chávez-Regierung bekam Walid. Dieser hatte gesagt, dass er eng mit vielen Militärs Venezuelas gearbeitet hatte und dass viele völlig im Drogenhandel verwickelt waren. Er sagte, er habe viele Beweise. Die venezolanische Regierung versprach, dass Walid öffentlich vor Gericht kommen würde. Der Prozess verläuft nun, aber nur hinter geschlossen Türen. Es gibt 14 Staatsanwälte und viele "Regierungsexperte" aber nur eine Person der Opposition, die das ganze sehen darf...und man weiss nicht, unter welchem Druck diese Person nun steht.

Der Richter der Rhewoluzion

Makled hatte in Kolumbien schon erzählt, wie er bestimmte Sonderpässe von Richtern bekommen hatte, um so besser Zugang zu vielen Orten zu haben. Beim Prozess kam das Thema wieder zurück, wie diese Richter den Drogenhändlern immer wieder freie Hand gelassen haben. Einer dieser Richter war der frühere Militärrichter und Mitglied des Obergerichtshofs Eliado Aponte Aponte. Aponte floh vor einigen Tagen nach Costa Rica. Von da ging er in die USA. Nun ist er ein Zeuge für die Straffverfolgungsbehörde DEA.

Aponte Aponte gab nun ein Interview in Miami. Meine Oma, die nicht lesen oder schreiben konnte, konnte 1000 besser Spanisch sprechen als er, der bis jetzt ein Richter war. Er sagte, die  Generäle Baduel -früherer bester Freund von Chávez aber nun im Gefängnis wegen Korruption-, Henry Rangel Silva - Verteidigungsminister Venezuelas und von der USA als Drogenhändler und FARC-Unterstützer betrachtet- und Hugo Carvajal hätten ihn aufgefordert, einen Leutnant freizulassen, der in einem wichtigen Kokaindeal ertappt worden war. Aponte Aponte bestätigte, dass er viele Sonderausweise für "Freunde" der Regierung unterschrieb. Und dann erklärte er, er will seine Ehre und seinen Namen in Venezuela verteidigen.

Dieses Interview wurde von einem Fernsehsender Floridas ausgestrahlt, der dem venezolanischen Millionär Eligio Cedeño gehört. Cedeño war noch im Jahr 1999 ein armer Kerl, der während der ersten Jahren der Revolution ein superreicher Bankier wurde, selbst Freund einer Tochter Chávez war, dann aber aus dem bolivarischen Paradies verstoßen wurde als er die Beziehung mit der Chávez-Infanta beendete. Die Chávez-Regierung beschuldigte Cedeño  der illegalen Bereicherung durch Nichtachtung der Währungskontrolle. Der Bankier verbrachte 2 Jahre in Gefängnis. Da er dann aber von der Richterin freigelassen wurde- sie argumentierte, man könne ihn nicht länger im Gefängnis lassen-, wurde diese Richterin festgenommen und zwar nachdem Chávez das befohlen hatte. Chávez hatte dabei öffentlich erklärt, sie müsse mindestens 30 Jahre im Gefängnis sitzen (die Höchststraffe wegen Mordes). Afiuni sitzt seit 2 Jahren im Gefängnis - ohne Verfahren. Selbst der Chávez-Fan Noam Chomsky hat einen Brief an den Caudillo Chávez geschrieben, um auf die Freilassung dieser Richterin zu plädieren...ohne Erfolg...die Frau ist nun unter Hausarrest, aber nur, weil sie schwerkrank ist.

Zurück zu Aponte und Aponte: dieser Richter sagte (Minute 6:10), dass er sich eines Besseren besann, als er einsah, dass man ihn  mit demselben Massstab messen wollte, wie alle anderen...und das sei "nicht die Rechtsgebung, die man haben muss, die Rechtsgebung der Verfassung".

Dieser Mann ist so korrupt, dass er nicht einsieht, wie verbrecherisch und wiedersprüchlich seine Haltung ist. Er bestätigte, dass jede Menge Bonzen des Chavismus ihn angerufen hatten, um die Rechtsprechung hier oder da zu beeinflussen.

Discrimination, for Venezuelan students abroad

It’s hard for someone overseas to understand how CADIVI –our control exchange system, established by this government – works. In short words, what it means, is that Venezuelans are not allowed to have the ammount of foreign currency they want; but we must adjust to the arbitrary quotas given by the government. Plus, in order to gain access to those quotas, we must go through a nightmare-like bureocratic process that includes preparing folders of uncanny personal documentation, to sign a jury declaration and to be prepared for a rejection of our right to access that currency, without further explanation.

There are several types of CADIVI quotas. One is for travelers. Every venezuelan soul that wants to travel abroad must own, first, a credit card. This credit card must be valid for at least six month before asking for your “CADIVI dollars” – as we all them. Travelers are authorized to spend, via their credit cards and on certain destinations, not more than $2500 per year plus $500 in cash. Depending on the place your are visiting and the time you are staying, you will get this maximun or, more probably, a lot less.

The other common CADIVI quota is for buying things online via credit card. Venezuelans are only allowed to spend $ 400 a year online. This was particulary troublesome when my boyfriend and I were applying to grad school since standarized test cost between $200 and $250 (and we had to take two of those, in my case TOEFL and GRE); and application fees for universities go anywhere between $50 and even $150. I had to send letters to the universities explaning them about CADIVI, why I couldn’t re-take the GRE in the same year, why I needed an application fee waiver...Not all institutions were able to understand this, and I don’t blame them. But this is usually the beggining for a very spined road for every Venezuelan who wants to pursue graduate studies abroad.

The third CADIVI quota I will talk about here (because there are many others) is the quota for students abroad. This quota has no other limits than the cost of your studies and your living expenses wathever you are but precisaly for that, the paperwork required is endless and must be renewed every six months. Usually, the students’ parents or relatives are the ones who do all the paperwork, which is yet another ilogical issue about this process. The CADIVI quota for students used to be open for anyone studying abroad, even for primary and highschool students.

Not anymore. For a while now, primary and highschool Venezuelan students abroad can’t access CADIVI dollars. For making things worse, a couple of days ago a new messure could possibly restrict access to “CADIVI Dollars” for students who are not studying what the government considers “priority areas”.

The ressolution is confusing. It doesnt’ say anywhere what it will deny access to CADIVI Dollars to anyone who’s not studying a “priority area” but it does not specify what will happen to them neither. The last paragraph of such messure establishes that any doubt that comes from this document will be solved by the “Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educación Universitaria” which leaves space for more arbitrary moves, if possible.

The “Priority Areas” list are not surprising. The academic areas are mostly sciences (all basic sciences and virtually all engineering fields are included), some art (folk, dance and music), some social sciences (something called “social economy” and “criminology”) and education, mostly all fields. Most of the academic areas selected are not the kind who would prepare someone to be critical-political speaking.

This becomes more obvious as we list the most notorious fields excluded off the list. Journalism, law, sociology, psychology, economics, management and some fields of medicine.

So starting with journalism, you can see why. Journalist – even considering that Venezuela some terrible ones, but also many good ones – have given the government many headaches and thus, the Revolution has threatened them and put some in prison or send them to exile. Why let anyone else to prepare any further in journalism tecniques, comunication? To have more people demanding free speech? It is better to have more useful idiots studying dance (nothing wrong with studying dance, but I can’t believe my government establishes “dance” as a priority over “journalism”) than people able to tell the truth.

Then comes law. Law studies are probably another source of dissidence because this government never acts according to the law, or more likely, creates its own law and its own way to interpret it and follow it. Why in Earth does a Socialist Revolution wants people with a masters in Human Rights in their CV’s? Or international law? This government does not know a thing about diplomacy, Human Rights and well, law. Or, to use other words, they know everything about it, and they don’t like what they know. Is not convenient for them.

Sociology. Well, historically speaking sociologist are not exactly system and establishment friends. They study who we are, what do we think, of who we are against, why do we live in such circusntances and why do we relate to those people. There are many so- called “sociologist” in Venezuela who are nothing more than old fashioned pseudo communitsts who think that sociology is equal to sympatize to any so called marxist tendency just because..I’m not feeling politically correct today, just in case its not obvious by now. The fact is that in general, sociologist are critical, polemic, the nature of their work means to not always say what people want to hear. What the government want to hear.

Psychology was one of the few surprises I got from this resolution. Perhaps it its potential to be polemic or critical aswell. More likely, those who made the list consider that Venezuelans mental and phsychological well being is somehow, not important. Psychiatry is one of the few medical field excluded off the list.

Economy, administration, management... none of those fields earn a place either. Only “social economy” – wathever “social economy” is for them, it could be anywhere from marxist economy to social responsability. But if shouldn’t surprise why economy and finance in general are excluded. The country’ economy is chaotic, all economical messures (including CADIVI) this government makes soon prove to be terrible ideas. Our economy is missmanaged, uneficient, arbitrary, emocional even. It is obvious that an efficient manage of our resources in order to increase production, progress, wathever is not a government priority. Even worse, is not even our goverment’ work. So they don’t want anyone to study such non sense. Even less abroad.

Besides, the presidents have said, on numerous speeches that being rich is wrong, that having money is bad. No Venezuelan should want to pursue a career that can help them make more money than usual.

The last area excluded are some medical specialities, including gynecology. So we can only guess why they decided to include some medical specialities and excluded others. <

As I said early, we still don’t know if CADIVI dollars will be unavailable for students who do not met the “priority academic area” criteria. Or if it just mean that students excluded from the list might recieve less, or wait more for the foreign currency they need. What this resolution does says is that some students are more important than others. That there is shortcut where the state might decided which careers we should pursue and which ones should be avoided. The fact that they are already putting aside careers that encourage critical thinking is particulary disturbing for this blogger.

Of course, being CADIVI Dollars so limited and so hard to get, there is a black market that works exactly as any black market you might know: ilegal and ruled by speculation and overpricing. CADIVI Dollars cost half, and sometimes even less, than those Dollars you might find in the black market, without all the risks that comes with buying black dollars. This means that if after this resolution, some students do not get their CADIVI quota, their degrees will cost them now double, or more. <

With our low salaries, studying abroad without CADIVI is impossible for many, achievable only for very rich people. So if this government wants to be inclusive, to give CADIVI quotas only to some and not to all, is not exactly the best way to start. Many have called the measure “discriminatory”. Since the text is ambiguous, we will just have to wait and see.

The 2012 French election post

Dream team?
Next Saturday I will be headed to the French embassy to vote (we vote a day earlier than in France so as not to influence the result over there on Sunday...yeah, right!).  A nice moment for me because contrary to my votes in Venezuela those in France will be counted, the winner will win.  But I digress already.

Contrary to 2007 I am late in writing about French elections even though this time around my vote has been decided long ago: I will vote for Sarkozy this time, having overcome my misgivings on the man.  In 2007 I went for Segolène Royal. Flip flopping?  No, I vote for the candidate more than for the political affiliation of that one; and for the record, were I to be allowed to vote in the US in November Obama is my current choice.

I have chosen Sarkozy for several reasons but the main one because I think he has gotten an unfair bad rap. Even Moises Naim whose analytic acumen I appreciate compared him in El Pais to Berlusconi and South American re-electionists that shall remain nameless when in reality Sarkozy pushed for a constitutional amendment to limit French presidential mandates to ONLY two consecutive terms.  That is right, Sarkozy was elected in a Constitution that allowed him to run as often as he wanted and the amendment he managed to pass limited him to one single, immediate, reelection.  No Cleveland for him.  As he probably will be losing the second round ballot in two weeks we are likely watching his very last weeks in office.

The problem of Sarkozy is his abrasive personality.  Maybe I am nonplussed because having been subjected to 13 years of chavista abuse I find Sarkozy antics rather quaint, though irritating.  Still, the fact of the matter is that Sarkozy seems to be paying today the price for his earlier behavioral mistakes, so to speak.

Considering that he had to face earlier in his term a relentless crisis he could not proceed to the necessary reforms that France needs.  One of the few he managed to pass through, pushing back retirement age by two years, was by itself such a painful process that it made it basically impossible to push other much needed reforms such as reverting the 35 hours week and making employment more flexible in a country where too many people still hold the same job for life, only beaten by Japanese tradition if any.  But the crisis is not a full excuse for him: in the first year of his term he wavered too much in pushing important reforms thinking he had 5 years ahead.  And down went the financial system, and the possibility of reform.

French people are very conservative in nature even if they are lifelong members of the socialist party. The admirable French welfare state cannot be afforded anymore.  That is what is ailing Sarkozy badly, making people forget or overlook some of his other real success as battling the economic crisis to try not to make it worse.  History will judge whether his efforts associated to those of Merkel were the right ones.  But within France I never heard of any other serious counter proposal.  In fact those of Hollande, which he will not be able to fulfill unless he is willing to jeopardize the European Union future,  are a mere promise of a return to an unreachable halcyon past.  The markets are already serving notice.

Sarkozy has moved his butt on the international stage, something that is not appreciated either.  Be it his leadership over Libya after recognizing his early mistakes over Tunisia, or the dynamic duo with Germany, or his unabashed desire to return in the pro US fold, or his timid start at moralizing French foreign policy so as not to put up with dictators of any stripe.  That last one in particular has costed France a lot in Venezuela as Chavez vulgarity was not accommodated the way Chirac did.  I am convinced that Sarkozy's team has learned a lot, and changed a lot, and that a second term would find France foreign policy occupying a bigger place than France would deserve in normal circumstances.  I am almost certain that Hollande's foreign policy would be close to disastrous....

I do not mean to say that Hollande is a bad candidate.  I even tried to join the Socialist primary so as to vote for him because the other option, Martine Aubry, would have been a catastrophe for France.  The petulant nature of French electorate would have elected her anyway, but to much, much greater damage than Hollande who is not stupid and has a sense on how the real world works, even if he is quiet about it.  The problem of Hollande is Melanchon and his supporters who I call Melanconnards, an untranslatable bad pun meaning that they are assholes.

I have had experience of Melanchon for a decade now, when a very polite comment on his then blog as a socialist senator was never published even though it merely suggested that some of his information on Chavez should be revised.  See, Melanchon is a rat who abandoned the French Communist party when it was doing its post Berlin wall sinking to join the Socialist Party and its improved electoral prospects.  Since then Melanchon has abandoned the socialist Party and has gathered a coalition of commies and "occupy whatever" guys.  Melanchon was even in the past an ardent supporter of Chavez, embracing constitutional assemblies and speaking of a French 6th republic.  Now, political expediency considered, he thinks that Evo Morales is a better model for France..........

In French political double standards for Sarkozy to talk to the National Front of Le Pen is seen as a grotesque action, a No-No taboo.  But for Hollande to consider an alliance with the equally destructive Melanchon crowd is acceptable.  And thus the problem of Hollande: to win and get a parliamentary majority next June he will negotiate with Melanchon and become his hostage.

My vote for Sarkozy is clear, unequivocal.  Maybe not a ringing endorsement but considerably more than a mere resignation.  For all his faults I can see that Sarkozy has learned a lot, that he is a true democrat in spite of his occasional outbursts, usually sent the way of that traditional French negativism on anything just for the sake of it.  But he is almost certain to lose the vote and that is OK with me: I am getting quite used be on the losing side of 90% of the votes I participate in.

PS: The French system has changed (and I also voted NO on that referendum).  Presidential and legislative elections are now synchronized which I think is a huge mistake as the "cohabitations" under Mitterrand and Chirac did work much better than expected and forged for the firsts time ever a French consensus on some key issues.  France is still nominally a parliamentary system though the president is very powerful IF he also has a majority in parliament.

I have the impression that the mistake of synchronizing elections will come back to bite the political class in the next May parliamentary election as neither the Socialists or the UMP are likely to win an outright majority.  In fact it is quite possible that regardless who wins in two weeks, he will get an adverse parliament anyway.

That would not be so bad as what France needs today is a "grand coalition" German style to make some of the reforms that Germany made over a decade ago and that are now paying off handsomely for them.

I am sorely tempted to vote socialist in June in case Sarkozy were to pull it off in May.  I am that evil.

The murine judicial system of Venezuela: Aponte Aponte fesses up to Chavez dictating sentences

Preoccupied with some health issues of close relatives I missed tonight's confession of Aponte Aponte, the fired judge of Chavez now talking back to his ex-master(S). But it does not really matter: to summarize it, he is just confirming what we have known all along, that important judicial decisions are not decided by courts but by political hacks at Miraflores palace, when not Chavez himself. And this at regular Friday meeting at the vice president's offices.  You can see it below if you wish and understand Spanish and care for the gory details.

Entrevista completa a exmagistrado Aponte Aponte... por Globovision

The real questions are elsewhere, since he merely confirms what we all knew/suspected.

Why is he confessing at this point?  Just because he feels betrayed?  No conscience, remorse anywhere?
Is he exaggerating, or in fact underplaying the situation?
How conscious he is of what he has done, and does today?  After all he recognizes that his loyalty was more to Chavez than to the Constitution...
How many people in real high positions besides himself were in cahoots?
Why is he sweating so much?  Just obesity?
How come we have not heard any voice from other justices or former justices that should have known better (with current justice Marmol de Leon as the honorable exception)?

Note that I am not wondering what will happen in Venezuela: chavismo will simply dismiss him as an agent of the Empire and try to create yet another scandal to send this one into oblivion. Though I doubt very much that this time around it will work as well as it did for notable corruption cases like Antonini or Pudreval. See, we know now that innocent people have been put into jail deliberately, sometimes with life sentences, for political expediency. That can happen to you tomorrow just because your chavista neighbor does not  like the way you park your car in the street.

I wish to close this note with a kind of personal vindication.  I have taken upon me to detail as often as possible the disastrous judicial system of Venezuela to which adjectives like corrupt and venal do not do full justice.  I was even seen as boring blogger for coming back over and over of what I consider is the real support of the Venezuelan dictatorship, military in its operators but judicial in its workings, "legal" mechanism achieved through judicial decisions.

For example, already in January 2011 I was writing about Aponte Aponte when even in the written press rare those were describing the acts of a given TSJ justice.  I got only two comments.  Not that I seek hundreds of them, I do not, but I would have liked a couple more comments from people realizing deeply that all the evils of the current regime started in December 1999 when Chavez did his first attempt at packing the courts.  It just kept developing my Cassandra complex.

When I hear Aponte talking, his lack of remorse and rather the "let's see how many I can take down with me" motivation for talking I can only worry about how we can recover the country.  With a Capriles saying that he does not plan to shake anything up I wonder if I should just give up altogether and forget about elections.

The real problem of the Aponte scandal is how it reflects on us.  Tonight Blanco Marmol de Leon was on TV and the best thing she said was that she made her occasional warnings and yet she never saw anyone standing up within the judicial system, write a collective protest, even when Afiuni was jailed.  Is she trying to tell us that basically none of the current judges is capable of redemption?  That they are nothing but a bunch of cowards?

I fear.

Urgent murine update: Aponte Aponte flies to the US in a DEA plane

Yes, that is right, reported by BBC mundo itself: former "justice" Aponte Aponte who escaped Venezuela to Costa Rica has taken a flight to the US in a DEA plane.  Many questions are thus put forward:

1. Did he join a kind of witness protection program in the US?  Clearly, the US of A does not offer such courtesies unless you are willing to cooperate in the war against drugs AND have something substantial to offer.  Pissing off Chavez is not enough (though it sure is an incentive).

2. If Aponte Aponte has goods to offer the reviled gringo, how was he able to take them with him?  We are not talking pen drive here, we are talking actual documents.  He was able to get access to them, to copy them, to certify them, etc...  and to take them out with him at some point.

3. How come a fired "justice" of the Venezuelan TSJ was able to leave the country, with his documents?  The last part of the question is easy: he knew who he was dealing with in Venezuela and thus he must have been taking precautions for a long time.  Neo-totalitarian regimes function on blackmail of all against all.  The first part of this question can only be answered if someone inside the regime helped him out.  Not surprising at all in a rotting regime fighting a succession war.  Aponte Aponte is being used by a faction to shoot down another faction.

4. Who helped Aponte Aponte leave Venezuela, file cabinet included?  That one I have no answer for.  First, there are many factions that can benefit with the fugitive revelations to the DEA/FBI/CIA/whatever. But second, we certainly know which of the factions is the one standing to lose the most from evidence offered to the US.  This faction is the one of the narco generals that have prospered under Chavez, courtesy of his more than lax posture towards drug trafficking.  One of their top members is currently defense minister of Venezuela, and thus close enough to the throne to make a bid for it, were this one to be suddenly vacated.

Conclusion (provisional).  Aponte escaped helped by a group.  It would have been impossible otherwise.  The gravity of the accusations against him which deserved a swift demotion form the high court should have been enough to send him into at least house arrest until the whole case was investigated.  Yet the man found his way out of Venezuela without trouble.  In a military regime this is only possible if part of the armed forces and part of the government collaborate for such an exit, with the necessary evidence to sink someone.

Right now if I were to bet money I would say that the two suspects are the Cabello group who needs to get rid of the narco generals and Cuba who supports them, or a civilian group inside chavismo that is getting tired of the whole thing and that even if not prominent is growing enough and is tied enough with the remains of a semi decent military faction to act.  Such a group does not need to be big and could include a couple of justices, a governor or two and some colonels or generals in charge of a given airport.

Other guesses are welcome and I may add as a footnote the best one :)

Una vision petrolera notable

Para los que en verdad estén interesados en el futuro de la industria petrolera venezolana les aconsejo leer el estudio en tres partes (1, 2, y 3.) de Gustavo Coronel sobre la increíblemente mediocre memoria y cuento de PDVSA y sus propias propuestas a futuro.  Que estén de acuerdo con él no es el punto, pero con dificultad conseguirán una visión mas coherente de nuestro gran problema económico nacional.

Of rats and sinking ships: Aponte in Costa Rica

A little over a year ago I was writing about "justice" Aponte Aponte, promising him history's judgement.  This one came faster than expected as Aponte has now fled the country, and from Costa Rica promises to deliver to the DEA and other US agencies all sorts of compromising documents, presumably so that the US does not try to arrest him.  Let's resume briefly that latest affair that illustrates so well the stench emanating form the decaying Chavez regime.

Eladio Aponte Aponte made his career in the military justice system which like military music is not what it is supposed to be.  From there, when Chavez needed safe folks in his packing of the judicial system a few years ago, he jumped into the presidency of the penal chamber of the high court, TSJ.  Once in place obligingly he made sure that many political opponents would find their rightly undeserved punishment.

So far so good, you may say, par for the regime.  But that was not enough for the man.  When Makled, noted narco-businessman of the regime, was finally caught in Colombia we learned among other things that Aponte had issued him security and clearance badges even though by then the unsavory relationships of Makled were more than rumored.  Translation: Aponte was into just more than punishing opposition folks, he was into the narcobusiness.  I suppose that the regime thought that sending to the public opinion scaffold Aponte would be a token big enough to pacify international agencies fighting drug trafficking.  After all, many figures of the regime have opted for the well rewarded silence, or even light jail with silence.  Amen of an easy embassy job in a far, far away galaxy.  Aponte was disbarred a few weeks ago and did not even take the chance to go to the National Assembly to defend himself (the National Assembly in Venezuela names and removes justices under certain conditions).

Today we have learned that he not only has left the country, but that he is in talks with the FBI et al.  Times are changing my friends, and self-immolation for the micomandantepresidente is becoming a "how many of them I can take down with me".

Titanic versus Congo

I just read there are all kinds of "memorial services" for the Titanic tragedy of 1912. The thing is that not only the producers of the Titanic film and the guys selling memorabilia are onto that but a lot of other people in the West.

While the Titanic tragedy led to the improvement of security standards for navigation I wonder what's the point on the whole thing. I wonder why nobody seems to remember the nearly 1 million deaths of the Second Congo War - a war that is still not quite finished - or the over 300000 deaths of the current Somali conflict - almost nobody, that is, outside those living there and those who fled from those places.

Perhaps it's time for us to think about that while we are eating some delicious fish caught in Somali waters by some EU, US or Chinese crawlers or while using some device that contains Congolese cobalt.

Can we ask the deputies of our constituencies about what our countries can do for sustainable development in those places?

Chávez, seine Zunge und seine Krankheit

OK, es fällt schon schwer, darüber schon wieder zu schreiben. Ich muss es aber tun, auf Deutsch, damit auch die Deutschsprachigen etwas anderes lesen können, als was die Deutsche Welle sagt.

Chávez hielt gestern eine Rede, bevor er heute nach Kuba zur Krebsbehandlung zurückfliegt. Wie immer mussten alle Radio- und Fernsehsender seine Ansprache ausstrahlen. 
Der Militär José Antonio Páez, wie Chávez auch aus den Llanos- wird von Chávez als Bolivar-Verräter gehasst, auch wenn Páez den Bolivarkult angefangen hat. Páez hat tatsächlich gegen Bolívar agiert, aber seinerseits auch was für die Unabhängigkeit Venezuelas getan

Der Militärcaudillo sagte, der Oppositionsführer Henrique Capriles Radonski sei der "Anzünder" (sic) einer Konspiration gegen seine Regierung. Beweise muss er nicht zeigen, straffrechtlich kann man ihn nichts antun, er ist ja der Staat. Er sagte ferner, "der Minderwertige [Capriles] ist nur ein Ausdruck des Faszismus". Das von ihm benutzte Wort für "Minderwertig" ist majunche. Ich bin sicher, dass die deutschen Vereherer des "Linksnationalisten" eine andere Übersetzung für dieses venezolanische Wort finden werden. Der gegenwärtiger Präsident und Putschist von 1992 sagte auch, dass er die Wahlen am 7.10 mit zumindest 70% der Stimmen gewinnen wird. Er erklärte, man habe ein zivil-militäres Sonderkommando errichtet - die Militärs in Venezuela lieben dieses Wort, "cívico-militar" -, um die Pläne der Opposition zu neutralisieren falls sie den Sieg - seinen Sieg - im Oktober nicht anerkennt. "Nicht nur das Volk wird auf der Strasse sein, Volk und Soldaten werden auf der Strasse sein", sagte der Militär.
Nur der Militär Gómez hat de facto länger ohne Pause regiert als Chávez - wenn auch durch Puppenpräsidenten vertreten

Ich, als Venezolaner, der die Regierung des Militärs Chávez ablehnt, sage: Zivilisten verüben keinen Putsch. Die Putschisten von 1992 und 2002 waren Militärs.
Pérez Jiménez wurde von Chávez lange verehrt...komisch, wenn man bedenkt, wie viele echte "Linksnationalisten" und Demokraten im allgemeinen Pérez Jiménez foltern bzw umbringen liss

Manche denken, Cháve sei zwar krank, dass er aber seinen Zustand übertreibt, um Mitleid hervorzurufen - seine Popularität stieg deutlich, seitdem er darüber redet-. Ich glaube aber schon, dass er schwerkrank ist. Ob er nur einige Monate oder jahrelang leben wird, kann keiner  sagen. Bis Oktober wird die Regierung Millarden benutzen, um Kühlschränke, Küchengeräte und anderes unter Marktpreis zu verkaufen und gegebenfalls zu verschenken. Die Regierung verspricht, dass Millionen Wohnungen juist im Jahr 2013 an das Volk verteilt werden sollen. Es werden mehr Angriffe gegen die alternativen Kräfte kommen. Ich hoffe, dass die ausländischen Medien nicht nur das ausstrahlen, was die venezolanische Regierung nach aussen sagt, sondern über die Hassereden der Regierung in Venezuela und andere Angriffe gegen den Pluralismus berichten. Ob sie es tun werden...

We don't have the devices for treating cancer patients in Valencia but we got this

The Russian media reports what I seldom read in Venezuelan sources about Russian-Venezuelan relationships and definitely not in the state media. Take this piece of news:

A couple of days ago four Russian ships arrived to Puerto Cabello bringing ninety-two T-72B1 tanks like the one you see here:

They also brought BMP amphibious vehicles like these:

There were also other generals' toys like these, ammunition galore and a couple of other purchases to keep the military caste happy.

That was part of the deal for a 2009 credit the Venezuelan government got for over 2.2 billion dollars using mostly FONDEN money - the Fund for National Development, for which there is no real congressional control. Chávez also bought some Smetch anti-aircraft systems.

The generals still have to receive the weapons they decided to buy with a 4.4 billion dollar credit signed last year. They had spent several billions more in the years before that. Venezuela, according to Russian media, is the 10th largest importer of weapons on Earth...not bad for an underdeveloped nation of 29 million people.

So far Venezuela has got Sukhois 30MK2V, war helicopters of different types, Smetch anti-aircraft stuff, S-300 missiles and a huge amount of Kalashnikovs  Yeah...and foreign apologists keep telling us that the budget for defence is lower than in other countries -never mind that is no longer the case and most of the money comes from Fonden and other parts of the budget-.

But my city, with over 1.2 million people, still has one single general public hospital, built over 45 years ago. The equipments for cancer treatment there are conked out  most of the time. The paediatric wards there are collapsing and there have been many premature deaths lately because of serious infection problems. Poor patients have to buy medicine and other stuff from street vendors who usually get the equipment stolen from hospitals.

No wonder Chávez goes for cancer treatment in Cuba.

In Venezuela he just has the weapons to keep his generals happy. Syria's government is by far not as good a client for Russia's weapons barons as Venezuela's. Venezuela's military strongman pays Russians with the money from the Fondo de Desarrollo Nacional. No wonder Russia fully supports Chávez's permanence in power, no matter what.

Some sources - in Spanish - about the REAL health system in my region (not that it is worse than elsewhere, I just know every corner of it):

There is much more. You can always read the other version at the VTV state site. These links are what I got from 30 seconds of Google search with key words that came from the top of my head, but I could tell you a lot of personal stories about these problems as well.

The opposition? It prefers to use the very little money it gets in stuff like the PISA programme for education assessment. Miranda, where opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is governor, is the only region in Venezuela taking part in that PISA program. The Chávez regime prefers to say it gets assessments from Cuba...a country that claims to have excellent education levels even if it had them before the Revolution and even though it stopped taking part in open evaluation programmes a long time ago.