Mörder als Vaterlandsheld?

Herr Richard Peñalver ist ein Vertreter der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Venezuelas oder PSUV im Caracas-Stadrat. Nun will der Chávez-Anhänger Abgeordneter der Asamblea Nacional werden. Seine einzige bekannte "Leistung" ist, am 11.4.2002 auf unbewaffnete Demonstranten geschossen zu haben.

Bei dieser Strafaktion haben die sogenannten "Vaterlandshelden" der Llaguno-Brücke in Caracas auf die Menge gefeuert. Mehrere Bürger wurden dabei umgebracht. Damals hatten Hundertausende Venezolaner gegen die Regierung Chávez demonstriert. Die Chávez-Anhänger u.a. an der Llaguno-Brücke haben Gewalt benutzt, um zu verhindern, dass die Masse den Präsidentenpalais erreichen sollte. Am Ende hat eine Gruppierung von Rechts das Chaos benutzt, um gegen den ehemaligen Putschist von 1992 und seit 1999 amtierenden Präsidenten Chávez selbst zu putschen. Nach zwei Tagen war Chávez aber wieder an der Macht.

Die Chávez-Regierung hat seit 2002 abgelehnt, eine unabhängige Kommission zur Aufklärung der Ereignisse zu ernennen. Seitdem werden die Mörder der Llaguno-Brücke als Helden der Regierung geehrt.

Und nun will Peñalver sich als Vaterlandsheld verkaufen. Man liest: "Vaterlandsheld - Llaguno-Brücke". Ideen für Venezuelas nachhaltige Entwicklung? Die hat er nicht. Waffen kann er aber ganz gern einsetzen.

Um die Ereignisse von 2002 besser zu verstehen, kann man Brian Nelsons Buch The Silence and the Scorpion benutzen. Man kann auch eine vorwiegend Chávez-freundliche Version in der englischen Wikipedia lesen.

Ps. Danke an Gustavo und Daniel.

A Panzer under threat

The giant armadillo or Priodontes Maximus is one of the weirdest mammals we have in Venezuela. An average armadillo weighs around 62lbs or 28 kilograms.

It is currently under threat from a larger mammal known as Homo not so sapiens: The armadillo is vanishing very fast from Northern Venezuela due to the rapid population growth and habitat destruction.

A well-known saying in Venezuelan Spanish is "cachicamo diciéndole a morrocoy conchu'o". Literally this means "armadillo calling the (Venezuelan) turtle scaly guy" or "pot calling the kettle black".

Mindmapping Chavismo

Violence as virtue

Violence as virtue: when criminals become "respectable"

You may think that this blogger on occasion goes slightly over the edge, or that even he had no business putting up the post of early this morning about Ovidio Morales position. But look at what I found at Gustavo's blog! That is right, Richard Peñalver, of a political track record who jumped to fame as being on of the Llaguno would be assassins, who went on to become a Caracas local legislator now wants to become a PSUV representative next September.

So, what does he use as his electoral platform?  His picture in a red shirt, the smile of a goon about to forgive your life and his picture at Llaguno shooting at the opposition on April 11 2002.  That is right, 8 years after Llaguno, in spite of him having occupied elected office for some of these years, Richard Peñalver cannot find anything in his record to support his ambition than showing his murdering abilities.

The PSUV? A picture is worth a thousand words.

Venezuela's density and dense politics

Here you see Venezuela's map showing population density and parliamentary seats for the September 2010 elections. As there is no longer proportional representation -in absolute violation of the constitution- and as the Chavista National Electoral Council has done quite some heavy and shameless gerrymandering, the opposition will have real trouble in getting more than 40% of the seats even if it gets more than 50% of the votes. Quico has written quite a lot about this.

The opposition leaders in Caracas have almost no idea about how to get out of the Caracas-Maracaibo-Valencia hubs. They are lost once they get out of there. Why? They are almost all from Caracas, Maraibo and Valencia and people from there barely pays attention to the rest of Venezuela (I know, I am from one of those cities and most of my friends too). Very few people from outside those areas have some real education and those who do have not been promoted within the oppo parties. The few known faces coming from those "non urban" areas (actually, there are plenty of cities there) who are not old politicians from the IV Republic are mostly Chavistas (hardly any of them with anything but military "education" and most of them actually former IV Republic politicos) or now from the dissident PPT party.

Volver al Cabildo- Let's retun to the Cabildo

The April 19 theme is far from over and not just because Chavez had a ludicrous military parade trying to make it a purely military element. No, there is much more to it as we celebrate our 200 year of our start to Independence. From now until July 5th 2011 we will see more scholarly works about what it means to be a Venezuelan and more brutal vehemence trying to deny what makes us a people.
Ovidio Perez Morales
One of the best articles published on April 19 is an address to President Chavez by one of the most lucid voices of Venezuela, Monsignor Ovidio Perez Morales, reminding us that for all its fault in times of troubles the church has been a powerful factor of change for the best in Latin America.

Since it is in El Nacional by subscription I am putting here the original in Spanish and the interview made by Milagros Socorro which complements it nicely, in Spanish.  Below the translation in English that was sent to me (though I did change a few words).  If you can read Spanish I suggest the original.

A few comments before you read this important positioning of the church in front of the Chavez regime.

Monsignor Morales was as student, it is important to note, of Arias Blanco the Caracas Archbishop in 1957 who announced that the Perez Jimenez regime had to end.  It is to be noted that contrary to most of Latin  American countries the Venezuelan Catholic church never had the involvement in politics that we could find in, say, Colombia or Chile.  This is due to the early secularization of Venezuela government under Guzman Blanco in the second half of the XIX century.  Thus political documents of the Venezuelan church tend to be more spaced in time and carry more weight, inasmuch as you can have some weight in front of the wanna-be totalitarian that Chavez is.

In the document below Ovidio Morales has a way to bring back the meaning of April 19 1810 to the present, simply announcing that Chavez like Emparan then must go back and sit down to discuss the future of the country, whether he likes it. The implication is that of course he risks the same fate of Emparan, to be asked to resign, but also he has the choice of genuinely sit down and negotiate a future for the country where we all have a place at the table, and not only his few close sycophants. For saying less than that some people are now in jail in Venezuela and we must admire the stern postilion of the bishop.  As a personal note I found it quite appropriate to work on this after the Monday post describing what is happening to Judge Afiuni and the Empresas Polar group. For me it reminded that there is still some moral fiber left around.


The admonition to Emparan 

On April 19, 1810, whose bicentennial we have just commemorated, Francisco Salias, interpreting the will of the people, admonished the Captain General Vicente Emparan to return to the Cabildo, the highest representative body of citizens at the time. The City Council had been convened to resolve the national turmoil, following the power crisis that originated in Spain by the Napoleonic intervention. Emparan had been invited to the chapter meeting and knew the purpose of it, but wanted to avoid a decision and therefore went to the Cathedral to attend the liturgical celebration of Holy Thursday.

The City Council, besides its members, gathered at the time deputies, representatives of various sectors of society, accompanied by a growing popular gathering. There was thus an assembly, which in this circumstance should address the political fortunes of Caracas and Venezuela, and, as perceived in this environment, would determine their identity and future as a sovereign people.

The return of the Captain General to the council meant the willingness to face the challenging situation realistically, and respond with openness and clarity to the profound and unavoidable aspirations for freedom and autonomy of the Province of Caracas and much of the Nation. For Emparan, the margin of maneuver was narrow, but his best option was not to avoid responsibility, but to confront the crisis and facilitate a way out, the least traumatic for everyone.

The Council was aware that the agenda of that day was not just the interests that occupied a particular stratum of the population, or only sectoral problems no matter how large they were. What was on the agenda was how to collect, giving them an institutional form, the wishes and purposes of a vast autonomous human group that the Declaration of Independence would call, the following year, "the American Confederation of Venezuela in the southern continent." The body reflected and represented, both rightly and with limitations, a unified national sentiment. This was in a germinal stage, and this feeling would subsequently be translated into socio-economic political and cultural structures consistent with a true unity. At that time, truly, discrimination and exclusion persisted, not only in fact but also in law (a statement that two hundred years later we can humbly repeat recognizing present sins).

With regard to these facts it is appropriate here to bring up what was expressed by the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference in its recent pastoral letter on the Bicentennial: "... between April 19, 1810 and July 5, 1811, the founders of the country took the difficult decision to form the Republic of Venezuela and proclaimed a beautiful national dream, aware of its greatness, the sacrifice involved, as well as the constraints to bring it about.” (Number 4).

"Both April 19 and July 5 were" the document points out, “two events in which civility shone. The authority of intelligence, dialogue, firmness and courage did not have to resort to arms or other force and violence. The wisdom in the exchange of ideas and proposals respectful of dissent fostered a common desire for freedom, equality and fraternity. " (Number 5). Beyond the ambivalence of these events and subsequent processes, the major tangible result was our birth as an independent country and the will to "... to achieve forms of coexistence and freedom for all people without exclusion ... a primary but imperfect aspiration." (Number 9).

Two hundred years later 

Indeed, in commemorating its Bicentenary Venezuela recognizes the limits of such dream and aspiration, since if "they were all included by right in the hope and the blessing of God invoked to ... a way of conviviality… that might be a scope of life, freedom and dignity for all, in fact ... the vast majority of the popular sectors was excluded " (id.), but also, after starting in 1998 ... a project ... to "recast" the republic ... (whose) ambition not only touches the material and organizational fabric ... but also and above all affects the inner, spiritual depth, of the national soul "(id. 20), the country is today in the first instance, a country torn apart, that bleeds and involutes. To say this is not in any way to be a "prophet of regrets and misfortunes" or ignoring the positivity of the very existence of the national community both as a melting pot of races and peoples, as of the values and achievements recorded on account of its peregrination. It means, yes, to remember responsibly, knocking to the conscience of all my brothers for a "wake up and react," while facing the serious crisis that threatens and summons us.

Without pretending, of course, to be exhaustive, I point out some salient features of this crisis:

1. Venezuela, in effect, is no longer one either as a dream or as a living experience. For political and ideological reasons it has been artificially divided. At least half of it is qualified as stateless and even unpatriotic, and by decree it is to be excluded from full enjoyment of citizenship rights. How will we celebrate as a national holidays, in a democratic manner, the birthday of a Republic whose unity is denied? It is no longer considered the common house that our founders dreamed of: ample, welcoming, tolerant, peaceful, fraternal, but the closed, exclusive, unique enclosure of a Manichaean sect. Not longer the great family but a harsh environment for rejection, an apartheid that has been overcome elsewhere. Human rights no longer belong to all humans!  

2. Neither is Venezuela, nowadays, pluralistic. Some do not want it to be a haven to a diverse people, multicolored, multicultural, where those that are different and even the unruly have their place. Although the 2007 referendum said NO to the proposal to convert the Republic into a "socialist state" because it contradicted "the Constitution, and a correct concept of person and State", those in power persist in carrying out this design. And thus, they disobey the mandate expressed in the referendum and continue to impose by actions and "laws" such a system. The Constitution, in effect, is being violated. Even more, no effort is being made to hide neither its ad hoc interpretation nor its utilitarian function as a bulwark of the "socialist" project, thus radically distorting its original and authentic purposes. Therefore, what is truly at stake is the legality of the regime. The process of dependence of all powers on a single one of global nationalization, of a nominally communal centralization, of a massifying hegemony, speeds its way in the various economic, political and ethical-cultural fields. Democracy is, for now, tolerated, but it is harassed, gradually, by a "revolutionary" voluntarism of autocratic and "messianic" vocation, ignoring or distorting the rights of men.

3. Venezuela is no longer a context for life. We are a country guilty of a monstrous hemorrhage. We occupy prominent place in the world in terms of violence and crime. Our streets are the scene of unreported crime and impunity; our morgues, crowded places of painful sharing; our courts, grounds of unfairness or of venal corruption or politicization; our jails enclosures of inhumanity, the antithesis of rehabilitation, lobbies of death. All this was not totally new, but it has been exacerbated exponentially, as the government, in word and deed, when it disqualifies sows violence, insults, threats and discrimination; when it exhibits and increases its warring arsenal, radicalizes militarization of the population and emphasizes the repression of dissent. The slogan "Fatherland, socialism or death" is the corresponding slogan for a necrophilic militarism of tragic historical memory. There are those who, facing the rampant and unrestrained insecurity, have posed the question of whether this corresponds to a State policy intending that death and fear lead to a paralysis that facilitates the submission of citizenship.

4. Venezuela is no longer a “developing nation”. We have a petro-capitalism of State, with targeted donations abroad and populism inside. Ideological-political reasons and the consolidation of power trump the real needs and aspirations of the people. All this, coupled with ineffective, inefficient and fraudulent management, is leading to falling domestic production, supply and consumption, compounded by an unprecedented but predictable crisis of electrical and water services, forming a picture of deprivation and dependency, objectively also working in favor of  the "Project" of concentration and control.

5. Venezuela is no longer respected in its soul and identity. Subjectivity and centrality, morality and spirituality of the human person are diluted, in order to privilege the material basis of production and the mere structurally collective, literally "alienating". There is talk of re-founding the country. On what values? "Socialism of the XXI century" (of increasing Marxist-Leninist reference and with a confessed Castro-communist model) stands as the supreme end and criterion, is made absolute and sanctifies the "Revolution", made into established regime, making it the final standard of truth and goodness. All this tends to be personified in the top leader, irrefutable, indisputable, irreplaceable, and omnipotent. Within this frame, symbols are reformulated, remaking historical memory and decreeing partnerships or associations with other States, regardless of national and popular sentiments; media are monopolized, education is restructured, lies become anti-culture, art is redefined, religion instrumentalized.

Back to the Cabildo 

On the occasion of the Bicentennial celebration on April 19, I believe it is, therefore, for me an urgent matter of conscience, as a citizen, a believer and a bishop, to return to the interpellation of Francisco Salias to admonish commander Hugo Chávez Frías: Citizen President, "go back to the Cabildo"!

I make this call to you with due respect for the investiture and function, but also with clarity and sincerity that is required, from my faithfulness to God and my conscience, to serve Venezuela. I do that, with the hope of a believer, knowing that God loves us all, without exception, and in all circumstances helps us to rebuild paths for the greater good of our neighbor. I am also not judging intentions—a matter corresponding only to God—nor thinking of myself without responsibility for the ills of the country. I do it, finally, without claiming infallibility in my findings. I only must and want to serve.

What does "back to the Council" mean today? First of all, it is not a matter of a "mechanical or anachronistic" return to disappeared forms or institutions, or historically dated, but a creative fidelity, a critical memory, a conscious awakening, a hopeful dream.

In a few points I will synthesize what I understand by that.

1. Going back to the unity of the country. This unity could not be ethereal or a pseudo-bucolic harmony, nor asphyxiating and monolithic uniformity or massifying homogeneity, but a plural and diverse sharing. This forces us to promote the effective participation of all individual and groups concerned; to promote solidarity that integrates and the subsidiarity that stimulates and combines the activity of intermediate social bodies, linking it with the task of the State, for the sake of common good and its climax: peace in justice and truth. This recalls and demands, in the near and concrete, the settlement of an outstanding debt to our historical memory and an integral responsibility towards real men and women fallen, mutilated, exiled, imprisoned or acquitted, convening a committee of truth about the events of April 2002. It is a task of priority for a President, indeed, to find cohesion, the fellowship of all citizens above distinction of any kind, working towards a joint and shared responsibility to achieve material progress and moral and spiritual development of the nation. The Head of State is for all Venezuelans, not for a "project", ideology or party, but for one and the same country. Nothing should be more present in the Presidential role than preaching and acting to convene, congregate, all for whom he is, in turn, the agent and server (and who, if pragmatically considered, are also taxpayers who pay the presidential expenses).

The return to unity is to turn towards people in pursue of a peaceful coexistence, lively and colorful. This involves breaking the confinement and polarization in the self, or an idea or sect. Ridding the country of the symbol par excellence of all official hegemony, that arbitrary abduction of time and privacy of the sovereign people: the "cadenas."(1) Opening to share the concerns of citizens and the entire community, to peaceful dialogue and respectful discussion, which would have symbolic expression in an urgent national reconciliation initiative and the civilized debate of a multicolor "town hall" (Assembly, governors, mayors, Communes).

2. Return to Venezuela as a context for life. Let’s recall that the first instinct is that of conservation and the human primary right is to life. The first task of a society is to preserve and protect the survival of its members. The first duty of a State is to ensure and promote the physical, mental and moral health of citizens. Hence the necessity and urgency of the promotion of a culture of life, against the proliferation of a many-rooted anti-culture of death. In their communication On violence and insecurity, published as a result of its latest plenary session, the bishops said that "It is the duty of citizens to demand from the authorities of the State, especially the government, to create the conditions necessary for the right to life, physical integrity, protection of property, free movement, among others, becoming rights to everyone. Currently, the response to social violence is fear, which leads us to shut ourselves and protect ourselves, to distrust everyone. Every man for himself as possible, seems to be the watchword before a lazy and complicit state "(Number 12). Back to life is conceding priority to and resolutely defending the integral life of Venezuelans, of all the crime-weary countrymen, irreducible in the face of impunity, activists against any disqualifying and excluding arrogance, which aims to criminalize legally recognized expressions or disqualify court guaranteed claims. Back to life is to recognize others as human beings created in the image and likeness of God and bearers, therefore, of inalienable rights, deservers of respect for their physical and moral integrity; it is the promotion and defense of their inalienable rights, solidarity on their behalf, especially if they are poor and needy; it is to work for brotherhood and peace, on the basis of truth and goodness. He who presides over the Republic in this task has a major responsibility and the role of a protagonist in this endeavor. Thus, he must come nearer with loving simplicity to real people, with their successes and frustrations, joys and sorrows, their inalienable human rights, their deeply felt desire to live in peace and security, without constant shocks and anxiety, without an exhausting and permanent tone of militarist verbal confrontation and nihilism, or social initiatives in warmonger proclamations.

3. Back to progress within the framework of the Constitution. The Venezuelan people have given it to themselves as an expression of its sovereignty; it illustrates and ensures the rule of law for all, the legal stability of the institutions and the integral welfare of the Nation. The Constitution provides, in its text, a regulatory framework for both the citizenry in exercising their rights and duties, human and civic, and for the State and its organs, servers of the former; and in its spirit it embodies the fundamental consensus for coexistence, the social compact of shared principles and values. There is an urgent need to rescue her, not only as a "law of laws" and paradigm of all legality, but also to upgrade the humanizing function, radically ethical, of law. Under Article 2 of our Constitution, "Venezuela is a democratic and social state of law and justice, which holds as superior values of its legal system and its performance, life, freedom, justice, equality, solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and in general, the preeminence of human rights, ethics and political pluralism. " On these fundamental principles must be built and shared the overall progress that the country needs, which also requires the participation of all citizens, groups and social entities, whose initiative it is essential to host and promote while avoiding exclusion and combining efforts.

4. Return to Venezuela. Appreciating its roots, remembering, self-critically but faithfully, realistically and comprehensively, its past; accepting humbly that we are the heirs of "heroes and villains”, not pretending to arbitrarily reconstruct family trees, practicing anti-historical jumps or violating biographies or messages from the ancestors. We cannot pretend to relaunch the country, while passing over the identity of the people, emptying the national soul of its spiritual and religious experiences, underestimating the natural neighborhood and our cultural physiognomy to prioritize strange bedfellows, copying already-failed ideological-political models, distant from the Venezuelan idiosyncrasy and its real interests. Back to Venezuela also entails our preoccupation, above all, for one's own nation, not falling into that of "light in the square and dark in the house." International solidarity must be free from crypto-imperialistic temptations favored by oil power, on the one hand, and neocolonialist relapses by ideological restraints, on the other. Venezuela is and has to be everyone's common house and the field of fraternal welcome.

"Back to the Council" requires as a priority and patent fashion, that you assume responsibility as President of the Republic. This delicate position involves listening and commitment to all Venezuelans, working towards their union on behalf of the national common good. Nothing more inconsistent with this, than an identification, implicit or explicit—and, worse, when it is displayed—with only one sector of the population, ignoring and marginalizing others, based on ideological and political reasons, racial, religious or of any other genre. The President is this, indeed, when it respects the citizens "not in spite of" but precisely “because of” their differences, convivially in the understandable and inevitable diversity of a democratic, pluralistic society. [he is] When he reaps the gratitude of all: those who elected him and those who did not vote for him or oppose him but that, in any case, should and need to feel in him sensitivity, closeness, humanity, as their Chairman. Otherwise, the legitimacy of his tenure as president is at stake.

This "back to the Council" Citizen President, could only lead the country to the joy of reunion of the Venezuelans, with the hope of logical results: shared progress, observance of justice and law, fraternal solidarity, stable peace, and a culture of civility.

As a Christian I pray for you, so that, overcoming obstacles and not letting yourself being deterred by difficulties, prejudices and interests, past and present, you can contribute effectively, from your high responsibility to redirect this nation on the path of unity, truth and peace, which Jesus Christ emphasized at the Last Supper, a religious perspective, in its maximum value, and Simon Bolivar underlined in his last message, as a condition for strength and progress of our peoples. Mr. President, return to the Council!

Caracas, April 24 2010

1) Cadena:literally, chain. This the name for the compulsory retransmission of government broadcasts by every private radio and TV stations, which the present President of Venezuela insistently and frequently employs.

Juan Forero describes the Venezuelan economic crisis from the hinterland of Tachira

I have to admit that this country bumpkin blogger is pickled pink when a major newspaper publishes an article about Venezuela economic crisis that does include the word "Caracas" only in the name of the university of consulted professors.  Yes, that is right, maybe because of his residence in Bogota but Juan Forero does an excellent job on describing how the economy of Tachira border state has simply collapsed due to the mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy, and the anti Colombian political whims of Chavez.  A must read article in that it describes the effect on the people and the whole country that an ideological government without viable plan, and even less capacity to implement  it, inflicts on a nation it considers its own playground.

When you read Forero you can sense how hard it was for him to keep his objectivity quoting Chavez that he did not consider a drop in GDP for 2010 anything to worry about.

Chávez's little toy

As Tal Cual tell us, the Peruvian government gave Simón Bolívar a sword as present after he led the troops that defeated the Spanish forces in that region. The sword has over 1400 precious stones among emeralds, diamonds, rubies and the like and its blade is made of pure gold. It is rather heavy: about 2 kilograms.

Many autocrats from Venezuela to Bolivia have used the image of Bolívar as a sort of national God they pretend to be followers of. Chávez has taken this to new extremes, even single-handedly renaming Venezuela "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and claiming to represent some Marxist Bolivarianism, apparently ignoring Marx actually despised Bolívar and that Bolívar was a rather conservative man in many respects.

Tal Cual reminds us that the sword had been kept in the Central Bank as an exhibit in a special room until Chávez decided to take it away "because it was hidden from the public", even if visitors to the bank could see it. Now people can only see the sword when Chávez uses the fragile historical object on his shows, as when he took oath to his paramilitary "Milicias Bolivarianas" some weeks ago.

Chávez often gives replicas of Bolívar's sword to such friends as Mugabe, Gaddafi, Lukashenko and Akhmadinejad. The pictures you see in this post are all with the real object, not the replicas. Hence the gloves that are supposed to protect it.

Historical background

Simón Bolívar is without doubt the most idolized figure in the Americas. For South Americans he is like Washington times 10. He was a fascinating man who fought for good principles like the abolition of slavery, rights of all ethnic groups and the independence. In reality he was far from being unique and in spite of all his shows, he was sick for power. Venezuela and the rest of South American nations would have got independence with or without him, sooner or later. If you want to read an interesting view about him, you can start with Karl Marx's biography of Bolívar (yes, Marx's) and then proceed to a book like Lynch's. Caballero's Por qué no soy un bolivariano is also worth reading.

The capital of France is Paris. Thus: you are a traitor

Chávez at the end of his bloody coup of 1992, 3 years after the "cause" of his coup

Do you know how Chavista logic works? And Chávez is still in power?

70% of Venezuelans can only watch Chávez TV. Probably less than 0.5% of them read newspapers that are critical of Chávez. Most of them have less than 9 years of formal schooling and that in schools that are understaffed with teachers that are very badly paid and poorly qualified themselves. Textbooks in Venezuela are much more expensive than in Europe or the USA and the schools do not provide them, parents have to buy them from their own pocket. Obviously, most can't afford all the books, Venezuelans' salaries are very low.

In that context and if you speak Spanish, you can watch this video of state VTV. There, opposition representative Julio Borges is interviewed. Of course, the state TV only shows what they want to show. People opposing Chávez cannot speak freely on VTV. In this video the Chavez journalist asked Borges if he took part in the 1992 coup. He said he didn't and he said they should prove it. Then they showed several times him with other opposition leaders on a video from 2002 asking for Chávez to step down. I suppose half the European politicians would be considered as coup mongers by Chávez by this logic. Paradoxically, the lieutenant from Sabaneta was a violent coup monger in 1992 and was responsible for the murder of many people and used as excuse the Caracazo of 1989 (three years earlier).

There is no way we can improve things unless we start to force real live debates between Chávez, his high ministers and opposition leaders. Chavismo will do anything it can to prevent it.

Chavez naked hatred: Afiuni and Empresas Polar

We got two examples today as to how Chavez hatred clouds his judgment.  One was how judge Afiuni was mistreated in  an unjust hearing and how he directly challenged in the most vulgar terms the president of Venezuela's largest food manufacturer, the one guy that is responsible the most for stocking the shelves of Venezuela with food accessible to the humble classes.  In both cases it was a macho demonstration of someone who does things just because he can do them without anyone stopping him, even if the consequences will be devastating for the country.

Judge Afiuni

She is the judge who set free a man who had been held for three years in jail without a trial, without the Fiscal (prosecutor) being able to submit enough evidence for a trial.  She found that he should be released because he had been held prisoner longer than what the law permits if a trial is not going on.  For that she was promptly arrested, thrown into a dangerous jail and we heard Chavez publicly asking that she be given the maximum sentence: 30 years.  This in a country where criminals with established murder records end up in the streets in a matter of months if not weeks.

The case has been so outrageous, has displayed so clearly the abuses committed by a judicial system at the service of the regime that it transcended borders loudly, all the way to the IACHR, newspapers, bar associations, etc....  The latest example is a major article in the Washington Post signed by Juan Forero, a former, long ago, apologist of the regime who has turned himself in one a strong critic of Chavez.

Clearly this has upset Chavez and the sycophants that dispense "justice" to his liking.  So yesterday Judge Afiuni was dragged from her cell, as a dangerous criminal, hand cuffed all the way through  the proceedings, bullet proof vest and dozens of guards around her.  For what?  To be notified of something that could have been notified to her lawyers.

All a gorilla show of force to demonstrate that Afiuni is a prisoner of Chavez and that he does not give a shit about her rights and those who defend her rights.  By extension he also gives his opinion about our own human rights, in particular those of due process.

Chavez threatens Polar and his boss, Mendoza

I may treat this case second, but it is in fact more important short term because it could actually threaten the nation's food supply.  Empresas Polar is the largest Venezuelan private company, the largest beer maker perhaps but also the largest food maker, by far, by very far.  And also the one that produces quality food at prices the masses can still afford.  Harina P.A.N. is its flag product, the special type of corn flour to make our national bread, Arepa.  There are other corn flour producers in Venezuela but no one does it as good as Polar, and I have tried them all (I use the yellow corn flour or the whole grain one).  In eleven years of rule, and all sorts of attempts at producing a flour of comparable quality, the government has miserably failed, as it has failed in producing any type of food in significant amount at a reasonable price, of decent quality without major subsidies.

Because of my job I have Polar as one of my clients.  I can vouch that it is one of the most serious companies of Venezuela where people seem to enjoy working and to be satisfied with their paycheck, inasmuch as one can be satisfied with our paycheck in today Venezuela.  I have even attended scientific reunions where the staff I dealt with was of the highest quality.  In addition Polar is a tireless promoter of cultural activities, from the indispensable Dictionary of Venezuelan History to the production of decent wine in Lara.  Amen of all the social programs and foundations Polar is involved with.

A few weeks ago Chavez decided to expropriate some warehouses of Polar in Barquisimeto.  And while he was at it he expropriated the neighborhood.  The excuse was to create cheap housing in the area and send the industries far away-  In Urban design it would be a tremendous mistake because Barquisimeto is for Venezuelan standards a rather well planned city and further West there is all the cheap but good land one could hope for in building massive housing.  You just need to build a public transport system and the normal stuff associated with habitations creation.  Expropriating these warehouses and industries of Barquisimeto would be expensive, tearing them down would be expensive, redoing the infrastructure for housing would be expensive, and congestion inside Barquisimeto would increase dramatically.  Amen of the ability of Barquisimeto today to be able to plug the new housing complexes to its services as they would consume more water and produce more garbage and human waste at the very least.  And of course the commuting of these people to their job would not improve since instead of coming to town they would have to leave town.

That decision of Chavez was the breaking point with PSUV governor Falcon.  Indeed, as an ex mayor of Barquisimeto and current governor of Lara Falcon knows very well that such changes cannot just be decreed and that at the very least preliminary studies are needed.  And of course he also knows the consequences of such a change for Barquisimeto, and that the local jobs would be lost because the companies that move would either close up or lay off their workers or move too far away for them to follow.  Assuming of course they can afford the cost of moving because the government would certainly not pay for that expense, nor for the construction of new workhouses.  Falcon knew very well the cost to Lara of such a whim of Chavez and he simply could not go along.

But no one else involved went along either.  Workers were quick in protesting and organizing themselves in putting law suits to stop it, and try to call for a local referendum.  Chavez was of course infuriated.  The new mayor of Barquisimeto, who ironically was Falcon chosen successor but broke with him within weeks of her election, decided to throw her lot fully behind Chavez.  Amalia Saez is yet another one of those women who have accepted to work for Chavez as his personal maids to do his dirty jobs and thus with this event she joins with merits the ranks of the like of Cilia Flores and  Luisa Morales.  Soon she signed the expropriation decree but that decree at least made some sense at some level as it allowed for the business involved enough time to go out, buy land and build something where they could move into.  That decree had also an undesirable collateral effect: it gave the legal basis for people to put legal challenges, including the Polar group.  Amalia Saez sensing the wind  quickly announced that she would love Chavez to overrule her and make his own decree.  This was done yesterday.

The point is not that Chavez gleefully signed the decree, it is that he took the opportunity to threaten Polar through direct threats to Lorenzo Mendoza, its CEO and one of its main stockholders (it is still a family business, not for public trading).  The words of Chavez come with an absolute lack of respect for Lorenzo Mendoza who at his relative young age has done more for the good of Venezuela than Chavez, if anything by keeping Polar viable to feed the country, something that Chavez has failed miserably by damaging our agriculture and bringing our imports of food to more than half of what we eat.
"Con qué moral vas a estar tú (Lorenzo) Mendoza, chico, reclamando. Quédate tranquilo más bien, quédate tranquilo, dile a tus abogados que se queden tranquilos (...) No me provoques compadre, que tienes bastantes cosas por allí"
With what moral right are you going, you Mendoza, man, protest.  You better stay quiet, stay quiet, tell your lawyers to stay quiet (...) Do not provoke me Compadre, because you have a lot of stuff around the place.

That is right, not only Chavez treats Mendoza like a kid, using the familiar "", but he also threatens to take his other belongings if he does not behave to his wishes.  There is blackmail, thuggery, plain abuse, simmering hatred and what not in these words of Chavez, of public notice; and in my opinion of judicial value if someday we can bring Chavez to the trial he so richly deserves as a criminal. 

And which are these properties that Chavez has his eyes on?  The Polar Complex in Caracas, at Los Cortijos, the old industrial zone of Caracas that includes also Los Ruices.  They are smack in the valley of Caracas and thus Chavez commented also that the bourgeoisie used the flatland of Caracas to make money forcing people to live uphill.

What Chavez in his extraordinary bad faith forgets to mention is that when Polar built its brewery, half a century ago, there few people lived around and that it is certainly not Polar who is responsible for the shanties that grew on the hills thereafter (1).  At least Polar gave them jobs which is more than what can be said from all the government since Polar exists, including the Chavez one.

As a not too distant neighbor of Polar there, and as an occasional visitor for work reasons I can assure you that Polar has invested massively to diminish noise and pollution as much as possible.  The facilities are impeccable, spotless, safe and include the research laboratories of Polar, the project development plant, the financial building, the building managing the diverse cultural and scientific foundations of Polar.  In addition a large amount of space is now dedicated to storage rooms for a significant supply of food for a very vulnerable city where the supply of food can easily be interrupted through a variety or natural catastrophes for which the regime has done nothing to protect us since it is in charge.  Eliminating the Polar storage space and production facilities for subsidized housing would actually worsen the condition of Caracas, from food distribution to its price.  And never mind again all the lost jobs that chavismo will be unable to replace while not solving the housing problem anyway, no matter how many cheap towers Chavez has them built there, at a huge cost because destroying the complex installations will not come cheap, you know....

If you want to know what chavismo will do with the Los Cortijos complex you only need to look across the highway from Polar, at the La Carlota Airport.  A few years ago Chavez ordered the end of its services to all, that it should become a park and a sports area.  Today flights have resumed but only for the government.  A helicopter school trains there plaguing all of us around with noise and threatening us with a mortal accident at any time.  There is no park in sight, nor even a jogging track and in fact Chavez started building houses there which created a major uproar that stopped the construction.  Today these unfinished building stand in a wasteland which only sees a continuous series of private overflights for the government officials, as their own private airport where no one can land, and even less complain about the noise.

If Chavez was not able to build ANYTHING positive on a piece of perfectly flat land, I let you imagine what he will be making out of Polar property (and other business included n the lot that no one talks about, by the way).  He cannot build anything but he sure can destroy everything.

Why is Chavez so willing to risk such an essential component of Venezuela's economy.  Very simple.  Chavez is a mediocre bitter individual, resentful of his past failures and he cannot stand the success of anyone, the more so as it is the one of Polar who has managed to resist all of its attacks so far.  Thus Chavez cannot contain himself anymore and acts as the true thug he is, planing take over and blackmails to spread the loot around.

Afiuni and Polar are thus the same thing as far as Chavez is concerned, a sick desire to prove  that he is the one in charge, to prove that he controls everything, that he can do anything he wants even if it risks destroying the country.   All totalitarian leaders ended up the same way even when they managed to escape the bitter end by dieing in their bed like Mao or Stalin.  Their legacy was a ruined country in all and every single place, from Havana to Rome and soon enough Caracas.

1) bad faith or crass ignorance from Chavez who does not know much of Caracas history while he rewrites the national history as he pleases.  Bad faith or ignorance, your pick!

El Tiempo, the Santos Clan, Mockus and Chávez

Santos, from the Santos family

Colombian newspaper El Tiempo is reporting that Mockus admires Chávez and that Chávez would not like Santos in power. One of the main shareholders of that newspaper is the Santos family.

What did Mockus really say? Who could actually win from such a statement? Could Chávez have a preference for either candidate (hope of having a pawn or hope of having a demonization target)? Does it matter what Chávez may think is better for himself?

Demilitarizing Venezuela

Last January Hugo Chávez announced a minimum salary increase for workers of 26.5%, spread in two parts through the year. Expected inflation is around 29-30%. Salary increases for the military are usually announced later in the year, but this time the 1992 coup monger announced that increase sooner. On 23rd April Antonio Rivero, a general who had fallen out of favour with the regime, felt free to talk about the Cubanization of the Venezuelan army (only after he went into retirement). On 25rd April, Chávez decided to announce a 40% increase in the salary of the military, retroactively from 1rst of April. The military guys have had a salary increase of about 30% every year, which is just a bit over inflation and better than for most people. More on salary increases through the years here.

On 19 April Venezuelans celebrate the "Indepence from Spain". On that day in 1810, a civic junta forced the governor of Venezuela, Vicente Emparan, to step down. Emparan had been a governor of the Cumana Province between 1794 and 1802 and was succesful at it. He later returned to Spain. When the Napoleon regime took over in Spain, the new French-controlled government sent Emparan back to Venezuela to be the new governor of the Capitanía general. The junta in Venezuela, led by the rich of society, stood in support of Ferdinand II and forced Emparan to quit. It was only progressively that pro-independence groups took the command. That is why Venezuela's Declaration of Independence just happened on 15 July 1811, over one year after the "Independence day".

And now Chávez is stating that 19 April 1810 was a civil-military movement that was later taken over by the "oligarchy", which is just absolutely rubbish. The oligarchy was in from day 1. Chávez can talk so freely because most Venezuelans haven't got the slightest clue about their history. That goes for all social groups. And of course, Chávez does not count as oligarchy people like Diosdado Cabello and people like the Chacón family (Arne now in jail and Jesse, former minister, going into low profile).

Chávez is also talking constantly about Colombian candidate Santos. I am firmly convinced Chávez is hoping for Santos, another military, to become president of Colombia at this stage. Although I doubt Mockus will win, I also think he would be the best for Colombia and Venezuela, by far. Chávez would hate to see Mockus in power, whatever he says now.

As Miguel wrote, we can live without the military, or at least by putting the military on their place and having a system as in Costa Rica or Iceland. Venezuela is a country that has been taken hostage by the military since the very beginning.

We need to deconstruct the military "heroes" of Venezuela without falling into iconoclasm for its own sake. We need to bring about discussions about real issues for Venezuela. It won't be easy.

The EU, China, Russia, the EU have earned so many billions in weapons sales to Venezuela. The Venezuelan military and many Venezuelan politicos have profited a lot from this. Every single ruling group in Venezuela has proclaimed itself "the real heir" of Bolívar's tradition.

People like Colombian Mockus are not talking about Bolívar (also a hero in Colombia) or Santander. They are talking about the work Colombians have to carry out to bring progress to the country. We need to bring about that kind of discussion to Venezuela as well.

Eating some MUDdy crow and offering proposals: memo to the MUD

Dear MUD members

Even though I have had many reservations as to your methods I must admit that you did better than I thought you were doing.  I think that in politics all is in the timing and still today I am concerned about that part.  But at least it is clear that you were able to deliver some positive results on a daunting task, even if accompanied with worrisome facts.  Let's today celebrate that in spite of some unclear details still to be settled you have managed to bring a list of unity candidates that, if not all in all inspiring, is at least more inspiring than what chavismo will deliver in a few days.

Yet, finding comfort in the mediocrity of the other side is not going to do it if you really want to win in September.  Remember, you need to win by a spread of at least 5% votes to compensate for the electoral built in advantage the CNE serves the PSUV.  Thus I take the liberty to repeat some advice offered before, maybe arrogantly I may concede but in good faith.

The first business is to publish within days a short campaign manifesto.  You can publish a gigantic laundry list if you want later one, but publish a ten points list or something like that.  That list should make it clear that you intend to reverse some excesses of Chavez while not upsetting everything.  Examples of what should be included, in no particular order:
  • amnesty law for political prisoners (should be your first principled item).
  • return to decentralization.  Announce that Consejos Comunales will remain but will work with Mayors and Governors, not with Caracas (do not worry, C.C.will be dead by themselves once people realize most of them run for the personal benefit of chavista local leaders).  Repeat that it does not make a difference whether a governor is chavista or not, s/he must work with C.C.  and not Caracas.
  • eviction of Faria from Caracas.  If you are not going to campaign against Faria lousy performance and unconstitutional nomination why will you bother campaigning in Caracas?  Make her an issue along all what Chavez did to take away decentralization.  In chavista states say that it will force the local governor to get to work once and for all instead of spending time at Chavez speeches (include the return of Ledezma as full mayor; trust me, it will allow you to take at least 4 seats in Libertador).
  • financial control and inquiry of where the money went (not telling what Chavez needs to do but making sure that his actions are accounted for, NiNi might like that a lot).
  • vote funds for jails and to improve them (at this point it is about the only thing you can do to improve the security problem until the private sector starts generating real jobs).  Offer jails to be run by a national independent board monitored by the Judicial Power and local authorities, not the central government or the national police of national guard. Or something similar but away from the government.
  • stop government take over of private property and offer to review the agrarian laws to increase food production (repeat incessantly that under Chavez we started importing more than half of our food, that there is no more "seguridad alimentaria" in such conditions).  use the scare card: 5 more years of a pro Chavez assembly and people will be with ration cards like in Cuba (Chavez is using a bevy of scare cards, why not use a couple of them yourselves?)
You get the point, it is easy to come up with stuff to catch people's imagination, stuff YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO!  But please, do not waste your time in promising to fix potholes, you cannot, people know that, just as people know that the only thing you can do once elected is force the executive to do what it was elected to do. Nothing will kill you faster than trying to out-promise Chavez or pretend that you will control Chavez by being nice with him: no one is going to believe it and you will be ridiculous.  We now better after ten years; what we want is for whatever is left to start working better.  We'll see what is next later.

    Straßenwahnsinn in Venezuela

    Einfach ZDF-Sendung sehen!

    ZDF Anarchie auf dem Asphalt

    Dazu eine kleine Geschichte: ein Arzt, Freund meiner Familie, hatte es einmal sehr eilig und sein Auto hatte eine Panne. Er suchte vergeblich einen Taxi. Er sah einen Taximotorradfahrer, winkte zu. Als sie mitten im Verkehrstau waren, sah der Motorradfahrer eine junge Frau auf dem Bürgersteig, die eine Handy hatte. Der Mann riss ihr das Mobiltelefon von ihren Händen ab und gab voll Gas. "Was machen Sie, was machen Sie?!" schrie unser Freund, während der Taximotorradfahrer schneller zwischen den Autos fuhr. "Keine Angst, Kumpel, es war zu einfach, da musste ich zugreifen". "Bitte, halten Sie hier an!". Er zahlte und stieg sofort ab, er zitterte vor Angst.

    Vor Chávez gab es zwar schon illegale Taxifahrer, aber bei weitem nicht so viele Taximotorradfahrer.

    Was kann man sagen? Es geht um
    • Mangel an richtigen Jobs
    • keine richtige Ausbildung (öffentliche Schulen sind sehr aber sehr schlecht)
    • eine besonders korrupte Polizei
    • keine Ahnung von Verkehrsregeln (den Führerschein kriegt man beinahe automatisch, die Prüfer lesen meistens die Antworten vor, so dass es schneller geht, beim praktischen Test muss man bloss zahlen)
    • keine effiziente Verkehspolitik (oder einfach keine Verkehrspolitik der Chávez-Regierung)
    • verrückte Benzinpreise
    Die Motorizados sind fast alle Chávez-Anhänger. Im Video kann man am Kfz-Kennzeichen "Apure" erkennen: das Fahrrad wurde in einem der ärmsten Bundesstaaten registriert. Die Verkehrspolizisten, die man im Video sieht, arbeiten für die Gemeinde Chacao, die von der Opposition regiert wird.

    Was kann man diesen Motorizados anbieten, was nachhaltig wäre?

    Maria Corina wins Baruta as Primero Justicia loses it

    The primary results are in, by 10 PM, faster than what the CNE ever gave them, with 98% of the votes counted (we are still waiting for the CNE 2007 final count...).  A quick round up:

    • Participation was low but in the range of what you expect a primary election to be, the more so in the country of the Tascon List (see at the bottom of this blog if you do not know what that is).  In Baruta/Chacao/El-Hatillo district where the opposition votes more than 80% against Chavez with an abstention in the 40%, the participation, factoring out the meager chavista vote was about 25%.  True, chavismo is going to try to paint this as a major failure but who in his right mind thinks that the 75% that did not vote today are going to vote for the chavista candidate in September?  At any rate, it is an argument that chavismo might want to use carefully before it knows the results of its own primary which, rumor has it, will not even count its ballots at the table but at PSUV central, with the candidates having to wait for someone to let them know whether they won....  talk about incentive in voting in running.
    • Participation in Lara seems to have been low, a possible indication that everybody there knows that the real contest is between Falcon and Chavez and that outside of Palavecino district there is no hope for the opposition.
    • It was low for Carabobo but that is mostly due to the decomposition of Proyecto Venezuela leaving people in waiting of the replacement to come.  I venture to say that people are not quite aware yet that primaries is a good way to regenerate the body politic.  The 61% victory of Cocchiola in Valencia, who was undercut in his 2008 mayor bid by the vindictiveness of Proyecto Venezuela is sweet for me and confirms that PVZL is in trouble and had better shape up fast.
    • The projection pie I gave yesterday does not really change as I made it in function of likely seats to be won, regardless of primaries been held.
    Conclusion: all in all it went fairly well and thus I am sure that tonight a few within the MUD must regret that they did not include a few more primaries in their original plan.  While a few resurrected fossils are breathing a sight of relief that they did not have to go through a primary.

    Let's just think for a moment if instead of 22 jubilant winners we would have been watching tonight about 40.... at least one in every state....

    Interesting fact.  Maria Corina Machado won with 50% of the vote.  A clear cut victory, no appeal, from the safest opposition district and the one that voted the most today.  And a serious set back for Primero Justicia who was considering the district as its national bastion.  It will be fascinating to write the story on how Primero Justicia blew away its strength there.  True, that its main contender for the 2008 Baruta mayor was barred from running allowed UNT's Blyde sweep in easily.  But the errors of PJ predate that election and the victory of Machado running as an independent with the support of UNT and AD shows that the ground have shifted decisively against Primero Justicia there.

    The first blow was the division of PJ, which resulted in two of its brightest stars, Lopez and Blyde, move to UNT.  Then Leopoldo Lopez did its own movement and managed to retain Chacao mayor away from PJ while Blyde got, in large aprt in luck, Baruta.  Amazingly PJ failed to take El Hatillo where it was the main force in the municipal council.  thus PJ who should normally controlled 4 out of 5 Caracas districts now has only the Petare/Sucre one.

    PJ is duly pissed off and one of its boss, Miranda governor Capriles, demands that the  the substitute of Simonovis, one of the political prisoners be elected, probably putting in a PJ guy.  In fact already tonight there was a rumor that Vecchio, runner up of Machado, should be given that choice spot. See, Simonovis is in jail and will not be released even if he wins.  Thus the substitute automatically becomes the representative of Baruta, at least until an amnesty law is enacted.

    It seems to me that a certain electoral rapprochement is taking place between Leopoldo Lopez and his former mates of Primero Justicia is taking place.  Today at their voting station my parents were surprised to see Vecchio saying hi! to everyone in line accompanied by PJ Uzcategui......  the sad truth is that since Leopoldo went his way neither him nor PJ have grown as one would have expected to grow, considering the way they grew in the early Chavez years.  UNT might be plodding on its own, but tonight it took a choice plum out of PJ.  With Blyde as mayor and Machado as representative, it is going to be a while until PJ recovers its former heartland.

      Chavez idiocy of the evening

      Of the evening because he already said a few ones earlier today.  Closing the PSUV congress he admitted that the Venezuelan GDP could drop this year.  things must be very bad for him to admit already that it could drop.  His words:
      "¿Que el PIB cayó en el 2009?, es verdad, ¿y que volverá a caer en el 2010?, pudiera ser verdad, pero, ¿es para angustiarnos? En lo más minimo"
      That the GDP dropped in 2009? It is true. And that it will fall again in 2010? it could be true, but, should we worry? Not at all!
      I suppose he does not need to worry, he will always have food on his table and the army will keep his job. As for us, well, you know, life is tough, nobody said it was fair, deal with it, go away, shoo, shoo...
      Let us eat cake.

      What is wrong with this picture?

      Reliable reader Anzoategui, for lack of a better pseudo in this non creative moment, sent me this picture he took today at the "terminal" of Barcelona of a parking car (1).  I know, I know, there is a gazillion of perfectly "logical" reasons why a PDVSA official tag for an official use PDVSA vehicle would sport the Cuban flag.  But in Cuba, NOT in Venezuela.  Or maybe it is one of these guys that travels all the time between Havana and Puerto La Cruz, you know, those that bring Raul his monthly allowance so he can kill of starvation more political prisoners........  Whatever it is, I am sure he is not going to get his car towed for illegal parking.  By the way, if Cubans are teaching how to repair tank radios in the Venezuelan army, what are they repairing in PDVSA facilities?  Phone tapping systems?

      PDVSA official Cuban car?
      1) Terminal: bus station in Venezuela, where you go to take your bus to anywhere else in the country.

      Chavez and his toy soldiers

      While the opposition organize its meager primaries, what goes on within chavismo and Chavez sick mind?  More barely contained violence, as if that small display of democracy was already too much to stand for the autocrat Fidel wanna-be.  His Alo Presidente of today was in full military regalia with many of his toy soldiers in front of him.  I say "toy soldier" on purpose because according to Chavez we had to wait for the Cubans to come to teach us how to repair radios in tanks, store compasses and other such garbage.  Does he really believe what he says?  And anyway, what war in what past year is he getting ready to fight?

      The fact of the matter is that his nonsense today, his attacks on General Rivero and his bad rerun of April 13 and 19 only indicate one thing: he is scared of his own army!  Be it because he thinks it will turn against him or because it is really that incompetent, it does not matter.  No wonder he decided to do the only things he knows to do: try to scare people with his toy army and buy loyalty at any price.  Thus he gave all officers in the army a pay raise of 40%.  We wonder how will it get paid, but that is another story. 

      PS: Incidentally what will those civilians who only get a 25% pay raise this year think?  Never mind that they got it in two installments, the second portion in September, while the military apparently will get it in one chunk.  Another hint that Chavez does not care about electoral results to retain his office?  I have a friend that reports on Alo Presidente as Alo Delincuente.  She was particularly on target today.

      The 2010 opposition primaries

      UPDATE 2: see results in this post.

      UPDATE 1:  voting time has been extended by two hours because, well, people went out to vote in larger numbers than expected.   And what does Chaevz think of this?  See post above.
      The opposition is voting in the few districts it chose to hold primaries.  To be noted: Caracas district 1 which covers popular districts of Sucre/Catia and El Junquito is also in the voting.  There are lines to vote, not huge lines but lines nevertheless.  What is important in that district where chavismo is strong is that the mere act of voting risks to brand you as an anti Chavez person, with all the possible consequences that come in a coutnry where the Tascon list still is in use.  I write it down as an excellent sign that chavismo fortunes are ebbing that Catia is voting signficantly.

      Elsewhere nothing much to report.  Thus no election day continuous post as for other elections.  Just an update tonight as results come.

      Hot predictions for the September election!

      So, finally, the opposition MUD gave its official nominations.  There are good stuff such as Jose Molina running for circuit 5 in Caracas and bad stuff such as the always defeated William Davila in Merida lone safe seat.  But I will wait for the results of the primary elections tomorrow, and the PSUV ones, before I start the long and arduous work of judging as many races as possible (I cannot deal with the 160 races but I will try to have a reasonable opinion on half of them, though it will take weeks).  Still, today, for fun, I did a first evaluation of the next National Assembly composition.  How I came to this is written below the graph, and note, I was rather optimistic.  Also, the total of seats is not exact as, e.g. I did not included the Native seats.  Enjoy.

      I went district by district guessing on memory and recent developments who had the best chance to win at this point.  The legend sorts of speak for itself as to how I distributed the final count.  Some precisions

      "other" refers to the sum of the political parties that will not get at least 4 seats at this point. These 18 seats include LCR, Independents, etc...
      "undefined" are those from tomorrow primaries that the opposition should win in September, but we need to wait for these results until we can add them up to the individual party total
      "undecided" are those seats that are too close to call.  Although many lean to chavismo, I included in this lot those seats where the Falcon effect could play tricks with chavismo, robbing it of up to half a dozen seats or so.  In other words, those 31 districts are the real battleground seats.

      Preliminary observations

      Right now we seem to have a slight advantage: chavismo 60 sure and the opposition 69.  Again, I am in an unfounded optimistic mood tonight, and the 31 missing are going in majority to chavismo (gerrymandering helping) and Falcon/PPT.  At this point I see it difficult that the opposition will get 15 of these 31 seats.  But September is still almost 5 months away.

      The next assembly will be a mosaic of parties in front of a monolithic and likely radicalized chavismo.  Whether this one gets a majority or not, its cohesion will play havoc with the already rough managing of most parliaments.  To overcome this handicap it would be good for the opposition to get 20 of these 31 battle ground seats.

      Primero Justicia seems to get the short end compared to AD and UNT.  In my opinion PJ got more difficult seats than these two.  AD benefits from several "list vote" safe sets, often the only seats that the opposition can win in those rural states.  And UNT gets a boost from Zulia who I think will punish Chavez seriously this time around. In other words, the better the polls for the opposition the better off will be PJ who could more than double its seats, a probability denied to the other guys.

      MUD as the mouse that roared

      The worst statue is the opposition
      Despondency is the word today.  The opposition negotiation device, MUD, is never finishing up its list of candidates, allegedly representing unity.  We are going from postponement of the announcement to further postponement and as I type there is no guarantee that we will see the MUD respect its latest of the latest deadlines after the previous one have been unmet and unmet.  And from the extra-official news, we can be nonplussed at the underwhelming list of candidates offered.  Barboza for Zulia main seat while Goicochea is relegated to a third place in Parlatino?  Ever the eternal loser William Davila again in Merida for the only safe seat there?

      Rayma's cartoon is right and to the point.  The opposition seems to believe that the election of September is won and it is afraid to make any move, any wave that could change the present status quo.  A few days ago I was hoping that the glacial response to the country's reality by the MUD was starting to shift some when the MUD put the military debate in the political debate reminding the army that it was not there to serve the president ambition.  But that was that and what matters the most, an impacting list of bright candidates, is not coming through, leaving the field to a lot of recycled garbage of proven failures.

      I do not mean to be totally negative.  After all unity seems to have been reached and that is not small feat.  Also the new National Assembly cannot be composed of fresh baby faces that will be eaten alive by the chavista sharks who do not play fair, not to mention their innate ability to drag you down in the lowest of the gutter.  We need indeed some experienced fighting guys such as Ismael Garcia who deserves his place in the Aragua safe seat, to give you an example.  But William Davila?  Omar Barboza?  Not even the decency to run in a contested seat to prove their electoral worth.  Oh boy.......

      The WSJ on Bush versus Obama approach on political dissent

      Bari Weiss has an interesting comparison on the obvious support of Bush for political dissent under his term and the Obama approach of best wishes but tough.  And yet it is not a partisan piece in that Mr. Weiss is aware of the negative legacy of the Iraq war and how it undermines other positive actions he might have undertaken.  I bring this OpEd to your attention because there is a significant portion devoted to Marcel Granier of RCTV.  Indeed, we in Venezuela are aware that the Obama administration thinks that Chavez is a creep and his regime a neo-totalitarian concept.  But a few more energetic words would be welcome.

      I would say one thing to Mr. Weiss: the US are entering the world of welfare state where business is essential to support its cost.  Europeans have thus become masters at making deals with all sorts of unsavory regimes because bills need to get paid and taxes to pay them are collected from these business deals.  The Obama administration took over a country in crisis and is using expensive means to find its way out.  Europeanization of its foreign policy is almost a given.

      The Rape of Venezuela's Paradise

      Last Friday the current vicepresident, Elías Jaua, declared an "emergency plan to rescue the Caura Basin", as if his government had just come to power.

      Venezuela's Guayana is one of the most gorgeous regions I had ever seen on Earth. It has an extraordinary biodiversity, breathtaking landscapes and is home to several of Venezuela's last First Nations. Those First Nations have several languages, from Pemon and Yekwana to Yanomamö. Yek'wana and Pemon are probably as close to each other as Spanish is to French, whereas Pemon is as close to Yanomamö as English is to Hebrew or Arabic. We are talking about very unique cultures, unique and under threat.

      Several important rivers have their origin there. Most of Venezuela's electrical power comes from the dams built in them. The region is rich in gold as well.

      Southern Guayana has had a problem with illegal mining for many years. When I first was there, in 1990, there were very few outsiders in the region. In 1997, Santa Elena de Guairén, the main city in Southern Bolívar, had already grown and there was a good road towards Brazilian Boa Vista. Still, changes would come later on.

      Back in 1997 I talked to several illegal miners who were taking the same route through the jungle, towards Icabarú. There were a couple of military posts on the road and nothing more but jungle. The military, who were supposed to do something about illegal mining, would just greet them by name and let them pass. Very few tourists passed through that road, so the soldiers knew who was who. I remember how I asked the miners about the mercury. "Don't you think that is bad for the rivers, for the animals?" "Nay, nothing happens. Mercury is only bad for us, the miners".

      The situation has dramatically worsened since then. From 2006 onwards it has become absolutely critical. I have written several times about it (for instance, here and here). El Universal published an interesting article about the problem a couple of days ago. I was actually writing this post when the vicepresident finally spoke.

      The only people who can be found in those areas are native Americans, military posts and illegal miners. There are very few tourists. There is no way mining machinery can get to the illegal mines unless they pass in front of the military posts. And that is what is happening day in and day out.

      Caura Region

      The Caura has its origin in Southwestern Bolívar and flows northwards into the Orinoco.
      El Universal article quotes José Royo, from the Indigenous Parliament, who says that before 2006 there were some 600 illegal miners in the Caura region and now there are more than 3000 miners from Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. Other sources talk about more than 4000. Mind: that number refers to the Caura region only.

      The region around Jaua Sarisariñam, one of the most impressive tepuyes, is supposed to be a restricted area for anyone but native Americans and scientists. In reality it is one of the most affected.

      Sarisariñama with its huge caves containing unique flora and fauna is one of the worst hit by miners just in the Caura region

      The massive erosion has lead to an increase in the cases of malaria among the Yekuana and Sanemas. The Indians also suffer heavily from mercury pollution. Dissident deputy Pastora Medina says mercury has led to a dramatic increase in the cases of cleft lips and other deformities among Indian children. The fish in the rivers are full of mercury and the waters go all the way to the Orinoco and affect thus many more people.

      The native American association Kuyujani went to the National Assembly to talk about this. NGO Provea has also protested in front of the Ministry of Environment on several occassions. The Universidad Nacional Experimental of Guyana has organized a workshop to discuss the illegal mining in the Upper Caura.

      Oswaldo Ponce, precandidate of the PUSV with native American background and even Vicente Rangel, a Chavista vicepresident -after so much talk from NGOs -, have finally taken over the topic.

      White spots in some of the key areas of illegal mining

      Gran Sabana

      The problems affect all the way from the Caura basin across the Caroní River eastwards up the the border with Guyana, in the Gran Sabana, on the Southeast of Bolívar state.

      The Caroni River has its origin in South-Southeast Bolívar State and it flows into the big Guri dam and from there into the Orinoco. It is also heavily polluted now. Illegal miners get to Icabarú through the Santa Elena de Guairén route or with small airplanes.

      The Pemón Indians, who inhabit that territory suffer from the same things as their cousins to the West: mercury poisoning, the destruction of their forests, the influx of illegal miners.

      They are also increasingly under pressure from squatters and others from Santa Elena to the South and from the different mining spots on the West and North (El Dorado).

      And Amazonas state...

      The whole problem with illegal mining is not only present in Bolívar State, but in the other state Venezuela has south of the Orinoco: the Amazonas state. That region is as big as North Dakota and larger than Greece but fewer than 200000 people live there. Many are still native Americans (Yekuanas, but also Yanomamö, Piaroas, Banivas, Piapocos and others with very distinct languages). In a previous post I wrote how the government expelled hundreds of illegal Colombian miners who were in the Western part of the Amazonas state only when Chávez became angry with Colombian president Uribe. Until that moment they had been tolerated and they had been destroying the environment. I wonder what has happened with Venezuelan and Brazilian illegal miners in that area.

      Why is all of this happening?

      Countries such as Brazil and Colombia have traditionally been very lenient towards environmental crimes in spite of their strict legislation. But they started to do real efforts to improve things and enforce the law. The Venezuelan government, on the other hand, has been mainly busy with pretending to have a revolution. Illegal miners have opted to cross the border on a massive scale for many years now, joining the groups of Venezuelan illegal miners. Many poor Venezuelans in the South have opted to get into mining because there are very few other options.

      Gold is gold and votes are (still) votes

      The military are said to receive a meaningful part of the gold as payment for allowing the ore extraction, for allowing the transportation and smuggling of food and much more. Many Indian villages have become now deposits of food, machinery, weapons and sex for miners. The town of El Dorado, just to the North of the Indian areas proper, is completely based on the mining industry.

      The government does not want to lose votes. You can understand the situation when you read some of the things those minsers say in a video called El Dorado. Please, take your time and watch it yourself. Things go like this:

      "I have been working here for 30 years...and you know, after you are forty years old there is no other job in the state" (miner)

      "fortunately, this government has allowed us to work".

      If you watch the whole video, you will notice most of those miners haven't got the slightest clue about what damage they are bringing to the environment. They say they don't harm the forest because they don't cut many trees and then they "replant". They have no idea about the whole problems with mercury pollution and they are often not aware of how much vegetation they are destroying or what impact they are having to the local communities. Any state will have to do some serious work on education among these people.

      The government has known very well about the problems in Guayana, but then: there are more miners and relatives of miners and newcomers who work providing food, machinery, dwelling and prostitutes to those miners than native Americans in the broad South Guyana region by now.

      What to do?

      I hope with all my heart the government will finally do something about this. I doubt it but I can only hope it does. The pace of destruction is very fast now. I hope they don't just close a couple of mines for some time and forget about it all. I actually demand from the government to bring about sustainable improvements for the whole region of Southern Venezuela.

      Among other things, the government must
      • stop all illegal mining
      • stop the use of mercury and other poisonous materials for mining
      • create a reliable, independently-managed mechanism to guarantee that the military men (or better still, an educated police force) enforce the law and comply with it themselves
      • stop further squatters from getting into national parks or areas destined to the First Nations
      • fulfill the promise to give ancestral lands back to all native American communities while providing a mechanism for preventing that external groups profit from them
      • improve health services to the First Nations
      • guarantee good primary and secondary education for all native Americans and support the publication of text books and other material in all the native American languages with at least 1000 speakers
      • support transparent programs to create sustainable jobs for the First Nation communities
      • support transparent programs to generate job opportunities for all those Venezuelan miners outside protected regions
      • provide good basic and secondary education including state books to all children in the Guyana region (for all Venezuelan children, for that matter, it costs less than what we are spending in weapons)
      • prevent external groups or individuals who think "they are one with the environment" or "they do know how to live in communion with it" from living in those national parks
      • introduce educational programmes in the whole Guayana area to educate people about pollution problems
      When Chávez was a candidate back in 1998, he promised he would not let the huge electric line be built across the gorgeous Gran Sabana. One of the first things he did was to build that electric line. Two Pemon indians were killed by the military while opposing the action.

      After more than 500 years we finally need to understand we do not need El Dorado. We need sustainable development at a social, economic and environmental level.

      Interesting post in Spanish about the Caura case here