Happy 2012!

Massive Internet problems at the homestead.  I has been quite a struggle to open the page long enough for this note.  Think about my friends and colleagues who at this time must think I am the rudest  person.  Believe it or not, but I cannot even open Gmail in normal frame, and HTLM version was dicey enough that I could get out one single mail today....

Apparently the gods wanted me to be able to write only to my readers today!  Thus best wishes for 2012 and may we start in earnest the end of chavismo.

Ideas for Venezuela: what about transparency? The Access to Information Act

Take a look at this BBC article on the Access to Information Act. That legislation will enshrine in the Brazilian constitution the right of citizens to request information from public officials on their administration and to receive prompt response. The article also contains some references to new movements that promote transparency elsewhere, particularly in the EU.

As Edward Eastwick, an English visitor to dilapidated Venezuela during the aftermath of the Federal War wrote, the main problem in my country is not the lack of law but the absolute disregard of it. Back then a Venezuelan told him the reasons and the possible solutions to overcome that mess: education and more education. And yet we keep talking about education today and things haven't changed. Education became a senseless mantra. Education improved somewhat in the XX century, but it became diluted. Old habits never died: education for most people became more rote learning than ever, non-actionable data to be wasted after a few years. And people just got used to think Venezuela is what it is: corruption and dependency on oil is here to stay.

How can we overcome this? Is it possible at all or will Venezuela become more and more the failed state living off oil until the next energy age?

The Chávez government, we have seen this already, is absolutely reluctant to allow Venezuela to take part in transparency mechanisms such as the PISA programme on education measurement. The military caudillo in power is resolute to avoid any public debate - when Peruvian writer challenged him to a debate, Chávez said he, Chávez, "was just a soldier", later to say he would only participate in a debate if his "intellectuals" - sycophants like Britto García, and others also take part in it - i.e. he would stand behind them.

What can the democratic movement do?

Venezuela's resources for the military regime and its honchos

  • We need to keep challenging the caudillo time after time to have an open, fair series of debates between him and the elected candidate from February's elections - no parallel monologues.
  • We need to distribute information across the secondary cities of Venezuela about how other countries implement transparency measures and what they are doing right now to improve transparency and accountability.
  • We have to distribute information about how the government is misusing the unprecedented petrodollar stream (not even the seventies come close to it). This last part is a hard task. You cannot just go on a TV channel that can only be watched by 30% of the population and start throwing numbers at people. You need to go to them and explain things in a very visual way.

Those are some of the things we need to do next year.

And I wish you a successful 2012 to you all!

Venezuelan genes continued

A couple of months ago a new paper on population genetics on Venezuela appeared: "A Melting Pot of Multicontinental mtDNA Lineages in Admixed Venezuelans", by Gómez Caraballo et alia. The work has very fascinating insights into our genetic structure. Still, I have some questions about the general method.
You get these mitochondria from your mum alone

Scientists used data from Caracas and Pueblo Llano mainly to determine how the native American component was reflected in both groups. The assumption was that new flows of immigrants to Caracas had displaced the Amerindian element there whereas this element would be much stronger in the countryside. Pueblo Llano is a very isolated village in the lowlands of the otherwise very mountainous Mérida state. 

I have reported in a couple of previous posts how we Venezuelans are mostly European from the "extreme" paternal side (father's father's father's...) and "mostly" native American from the "maternal" side (mother's mother's mother's), with African American on both sides as well (but less so in general). This study didn't show otherwise, but it focused on the native American part. This is all relative: you can have an African American mtDNA and your mother can look very European and you can have an European Y haplogroup and your dad looks more African or native American (the last one being much less the case in Venezuela, as male Indians were basically out-bred).

Of the 199 samples from Pueblo Llano 177 persons had native American, 8 African American (4%) and 14 European (6%) haplogroups. The native American component in Pueblo Llano is stronger than in Caracas. This is not surprising. The African American component in Pueblo Llano was much smaller than in Caracas, where 20% had African haplotypes. This is not surprising either, we from history: there were more African slaves close to and in Caracas than in the Llanos or Andean regions.

There are more interesting things: they discovered new haplotypes of the native American A and B mtDNA haplogroups. They also confirmed the A2 clade is predominant in the Pueblo Llano area, just as in Caracas...but unlike in two studies carried out on the Yanomamö. The Yanomamö Indians have a completely different language from Caribs, who still inhabit some tiny regions in South Eastern and Eastern Venezuela and who occupied central and most of Northern central Venezuela when the Europeans arrived in 1498 and Arawaks, who still live in some areas in the Amazonas state as well as in Northwestern Zulia and who also occupied some other areas around current Coro. Their language is also quite different from that of the now extinct Timoto-Cuicas, who inhabited most of the Merida area but who rapidly merged with the Spanish settlers.

There is one item I don't find very academic. They write "native American mtDNA component is by far the most prevalent in present day urban Venezuelans (80%), whereas it is much more frequent in Pueblo Llano ( 90%) than in Caracas ( 65%)." The native American component as reflected by mtDNA is indeed clearly prevalent, but "urban Venezuela" cannot be deduced by simply by calculating the mean from the largest city in Venezuela by far and an extremely isolated area that is much smaller than the average Venezuelan town in the interior. Most Venezuelans (about 70% of the total population) live in cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants but less than one million. The population dynamics from the Eastern side of Mérida and the Western side and central valleys are also completely different from the dynamics in Bejuma or Margarita (even considering Margarita inhabitants with all grandparents born in the island). So: I think a more systematic approach needs to be taken in the future to determine "average populations".

Still, this study discovered a couple of new branches in the A and B maternal haplogroups. There is some material that adds to existing databases and that will help us in the future to establish possible migration routes for pre-Colombian South America. 

It would be great, among other things, to find the closest matches to the Yanomamö within the Americas and to carry out genetic studies on the Carib groups Pemon and Yekwana to see how distant they are, both by mtDNA and Y chromosome sequences. It could be also very interesting to examine further other groups, like the Arutani Sape, if it is not too late.

Red page special: when populism sends people up in flames

And thus we end the year with tragedy upon tragedy.  Not only we are apparently now the country in LatAm with the highest crime index but we are also one of the worse ones as far as security on the road.  Today a gas carrying truck fell on the road side, overturned, released gasoline which quickly found a spark.  Apparently at least one kilometer of the Panamerican highway between Los Teques and Caracas burst into flames killing 12 passengers in a bus and a driver in a car,  16 to 20 people were hurt and a few survived because they threw themselves into the bushes down hill until they reached help.  Apparently the public services from cops to fireman were on site as early as possible.  All the Los Teques to Salias area was cut off from Caracas for several hours.

I am not writing to comment on the accident but to wonder how come such disasters are not more frequent.  Surely we must be a country of exceptional drivers to be able to deal with all the obstacles that exist today in Venezuelan roads:

- Pot holes everywhere
- Gigantic pot holes more often than what you think, even in highways.
- Almost nonexistent Highway police except in "alcabalas" which are usually Nazional guard affairs where trucks are stopped and found deficient on this or that so that they bribe the Nazional Guard to keep driving.
- Highways which have become mere boulevards as the regime has allowed for so many squatters to settle on the side of Highways.  I let you imagine how these people cross the way as if nothing, ignoring that cars are SUPPOSED to drive at 80 km per hour.
- No speed control anywhere and thus cars and trucks which can drive at ABOVE 80 km/h, no one bothering them.  I let you imagine the effect on cars and traffic of cars falling at 80 in a deep pothole....
- No car or truck inspection whatsoever except for their paperwork.  At night you simply cannot drive anymore because too many trucks and cars do not bother to replace their position lights.
- Crime which operates a lot at night when they put nails on the road to force people to stop and then rob them.  This also happens on day time and trucks can then be looted while they are stuck in traffic jam caused by the looters.
- And all sorts of additional inconveniences such as unmarked roads, rare direction signs, lack of decent service joints because crime forces them to shut down or degrade their offer, etc, etc.....

So it is quite possible that today's accident is solely the fault of the driver of the PDVSA truck, but no matter what, the regime takes the blame because it needs to answer the following the questions:

- Was the driver of a gas truck properly trained?
. Was the truck duly inspected and certified for its brakes and emergency equipment?
- Was the Panamerican road in good enough shape that a driving bomb could use it?
- How come that truck was driving at that time of day (2 PM) when it should be driving at less crowded hours (5 AM)?
- Etc....

So yes, the driver will be arraigned but the one that should be arraigned is Chavez because it is his fault to refuse to invest in road security because it does not give him votes.  Period.

Chavicide timeline

In an effort to put a little bit of perspective to Venezuela's magic history, I decided to update the record of presumed attempts of assassination against the current president, Hugo Chávez. This is not an easy task. Mr Chávez has been in power since February 1999 and newspapers in Venezuela are not very systematic, to put it mildy, about keeping track of things. Still, I was able to find the major landmarks by trivial Internet search.

The red ovals show when the government in Venezuela or the one in Cuba announced about a major attempt against the life of Hugo Chávez. So far, no one has been jailed and I don't recall having seen any proof, but who am I to judge against the wind? 

I wrote in Spanish a reference to news articles about each of those announcements here.

The green lines show 1) when the bones of idolized Simón Bolívar were exhumed (July 2010) to find out if US president Andrew Jackson or his accomplices killed Bolívar all the way back in 1830 and 2) when results were announced (July 2011). These results were inconclusive - to say the least -, something Chávez did not like.

The last major announcement of a presumed assassination attempt against Chávez ("magnicidios") was last December and we had a couple of months of relative silence. Then the big drama came when Chávez announced he had cancer, then how he was fighting it and how he had completely recovered. Yesterday, though, the president hinted that cancer may have to do with a US plot against him and some of his president-friends who also have cancer.

He didn't say that! Did he? Your Christmas idiot on the loose

Holding a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, as a published scientist of things such as hot springs dwellers, having heard lectures by quite a few Nobel Prizes (received or received post conference), even if I am long retired from the field I get easily infuriated by the like of creationist idiots or totally unscientifically aberrant characters like Chavez today.  They both do the same thing, twist science out of recognition to sponsor their political agenda.  Today Chavez "suggested" that the odds were too high for 4 South American presidents to be stricken with cancer in the same span of time.  Must we believe that the CIA now stands for Cancer Inducing Agency?

In the video below Chavez does indeed do more than merely suggesting that the cancers of Lula, Roussef, Lugo, his own and as of this week Kirchner have no real natural cause and that maybe in 50 years from now we will find out that they were caused by Obama of all people.

First, as a Molecular Biologist by trade I wish we had reached such capabilities of some mystery targeted cancer producing agent (Bruni has an excellent post on how much BS is that Chavez accusation so I am not getting onto the details).

Second, even with current science, it will not take 50 years to find out whether such a thing could have effectively happened. (starts at 2:50 min)

Third, Chavez shows us that in addition of being an adept to crazed conspiracy theories (starts at sec 34), he has no knowledge of statistical odds and probalilities which clearly go a long way into allowing us to undertand how bad Venezuela has become in recent years. (starts at 12 sec, with a peak at 3:24)

And fourth, for now, he claims that he has the freedom and right to speculate in such things (starts at 3:58) when he does not allow people to speculate on Venezuelan matters.  Ask Uson who spent years in jail because he speculated on the burnt soldiers of Fort Mara or Alvarez Paz who speculated on drug traffic and is facing a dubious trial.  Maybe the US could send Chavez way an arrest warrant for speculating on things he has no fucking idea about?  You know, kind of fashion police type of warrant....

But you know something, really it is not that we have such an inflated idiot ignoramus ego ruling over Venezuela, it is that so many people are putting up with it and even taking him seriously.  We are going to pay for that so dearly....

PS: it is as good a time as any to remind folks that Chavez said that the fall of Tripoli was staged in Qatar, that Martian life was erased by capitalism and that the human species has been around for 2,500 years approximately.  Just the shinniest pearls of his infinite wisdom ....

Cancer in South America (updated)

Chávez announced in the middle of this year that he had cancer (sort of announced it). The former head of state of Brazil, Lula, announced in October that he had throat cancer. The president of Paraguay went to hospital the same month because he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now we hear the president of Argentina has thyroid cancer.

What is it? Coincidence?

Now I get the news, with delay, that Chávez hinted the United States of America is behind it all

Now we know what we are going to hear in the next 10 months.

The price of life in Venezuela

The ONG Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia informs us there were about 19336 murders in Venezuela in 2011. That means a murder rate of about 66 murders per 100 000 inhabitants. It is about 38 in Colombia and 2 in Chile now. In 1998 Venezuelans were shocked at the murder rate they had: 19 x 100 000. Now half of them got completely used to it: they resent it, but they see is as Scots see the weather. Whereas East German professor Zeuske relativizes the increase in the murder rate (more on that in another post), right now Venezuela's got the highest murder rate in South America by far and that was not the case before Chávez. There was an increase in violence already after 1983, but that rate was still similar to the rate during the Gómez times, over 80 years ago (from about 10 to 19), and much lower than in other Latin American countries back then.

When Chávez announced he had cancer, he changed his slogan from "Fatherland, socialism or death" to "To live living" (sic). He kept tweeting "We will live, we will live" and similar things and his followers started to repeat his words like parrots. What they didn't notice: it's about his life.

What's the matter? What is quite special in Venezuela, as Kronick reports, is that the murder rate is not affecting Chávez in the polls: the poor, who are the most affected by violent crime, do not relate that crime with Chávez. I will go over the different hypothesis people have given to this phenomenon in a new post, next year. One of the key issues: risk perception.

The Grinch that keeps trying to steal Christmas

The more time passes, the more Chavez looks like the Grinch (even some would say in his green complexion).  Usually as the holidays approach Chavez tries some media stunt to make sure people do not forget about him, but this year he reached a new level.  It is not that what he did benefited him much, I think it will be counterproductive, but it is worth  reporting because it describes perfectly the advanced degree of mental decomposition that an obsessively narcissistic personality reaches over time.

First, he did a cadena.  You know, the forced SIMULTANEOUS MANDATORY BROADCASTING ON ALL TV and RADIO STATIONS of the country.  You may point out that he does cadenas all the time but the one he did on Xmas eve was, well, ridiculous.  He had all of his cabinet around a table, on a Saturday, before Xmas, when they should be taking care of familiy matters rathert than waste time listening to yet another of Chavez diatribes.  And if such public servants are supposed to serve even at Xmas, well, let them serve and do not hold them hostage to Chavez idiocy.

Of course, I did not watch it, of course, almost no one did watch it because everyone was preparing for our traditional Xmas eve feast, or running around like a beheaded chicken seeking a last minute due gift.  But Chavez did plow through his midday cadena, reprimanding his staff, or congratulating it, and making all sorts of promises and all sorts of lies as to having fulfilled previous promises.  I may not have watched but I was told and read the tweets of those who watched (because it is their job to watch Chavez for me).  I suppose that Chavez wanted to look like a piñata santa.....

If this was not already bad enough, the man had the chutzpah of sending an SMS to everyone in the country.  I find that particularly offending, that Chavez invades my SMS box who I let very few people access, to tell me in his usual tone some insincere bullshit that I can do without, a bullshit that had absolutely no redeeming Xmassy quality.  Not to mention that he must have paid for it, or did he force the three cel operators of Venezuela to relay that for free?  Chavez abuses really have no limit, not the slightest sense of decorum or timing.

But I suppose he wanted to be sure we would be reminded of him atrociously before he goes to Cuba to spend the holidays receiving some mystery medical treatment....

Thus is Chavez, completing his full transformation into a Grinch, not content in stealing from us our livelihood, homes, lands, etc...  but even our privacy and our Christmas spirit.

But keep going on Hugo,  and watch Putin.  He was high in polls and suddenly the Red Square filled up with protesters when he went one step too far.  The way you are going I am glad to observe that any time soon you are going to make that misstep.

Venezuela bleeding and the military caste buying more weapons

I stumbled upon a new article in the Russian press about the weapons industry in this year. A Russian magazine in that sector, ЦАМТО, produced some interesting statistics on the business of killing tools.

It lists the nations that spent the most in weapon imports in 2011. The top ten arms importers were the following:

  1. India
  2. United Arab Emirates
  3. Australia
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. South Korea
  6. Iraq
  7. USA (which is also the main exporter)
  8. Venezuela
  9. Turkey and
  10. Pakistan

    Top weapons' importers

    Above you can see a chart showing the amounts in million dollars. Venezuela, for instance, is sending $2,33 billion abroad in weapons. As the Russian news agency RIA says, Venezuela actually got into more than 4 billion dollars debt with Russia this year for weapons, so I assume part of the money will be technically spent next year.

    Some Chávez apologists try to justify this all saying military expenses get a bigger share of the national budget in the US than in Venezuela. I am not sure about that anymore. Most of the imports for this year are in the form of a debt to Russia that will probably be paid, as before, by means of the FONDEN, the Venezuelan Fund for Development or Chávez's Personal Piggy Bank, redirected through different obscure mechanisms. The budget for defence in Venezuela is thus just a part of what the government spends for the military caste and its amigos. 49,9% of shares in Moznabank, a bank to be used in buying weapons, was paid with money from FONDEN, as the Central Bank of the Russian Federation stated.

    Next year Venezuela's "explicit" defence budget is going to epresent 6.5% of the national budget, much more than this year. Some high ranking Chávez officials are very happy...and so is former KGB and Putin's pal Igor Sechin, who has seen to it a lot of the defence deals between Venezuela and Russia become a reality.

    The money for weapons is sent completely to other countries and does not generate investment in other technologies (not like the DARPA programme in the USA or similar programmes in Europe or China, Israel or Brazil).

    Venezuela should be spending that money in biologists and physicians, in farmers and police agents, in electronic engineers and in setting up research centres, in building real houses and real roads. It is instead spending it in the military structures that claim to be "revolutionary" and are just there to guarantee that Chávez clan remains in power.

    People anywhere have the right to criticise the US government for all its spending in defence -and I am one of those who do that, but we, Venezuelans, should be more than mad at our government, which is getting the country further away from sustainable development. 

    Igor Sechin, former KGB and now key man in the weapons business with Venezuela

    Big Brother or Fat Brother, same thing

    Our military caudillo, Hugo Chávez, sent a message of Merry Christmas to all Venezuelans with a mobile phone, whether they wanted or not, whether they had a service with the state phone company or not.

    On the right you can see the message:

    "Each December, during this time, we victoriously celebrate our unstoppable march to the Good And Beautiful Fatherland...
    full of happiness and justice and social equality.
    Merry Christmas, comrades. Hugo Chávez".

    Just creepy. There is no rule of law, there is no separation of powers. There is Hugo. As for happiness, take a look here. As for justice, go here,  here and here. As for social equality, take a look at the same links as for justice and this and this.

    Hat off to Ernex for the snapshot.

    Venezuela in 1830-1835 (updated)

    If you want to take a look at what Venezuela was almost 200 years ago, at least in the eyes of an Englishman, you can google and download for free "Reminiscences of South America, from two and a half years' residence in Venezuela" by John Hawkshaw.

    It's fun to read specially chapter X and XII. Pages 168-172, 218-219, 222-223 are particularly interesting.

    This was Caracas back then

    The Christmas post 2011

    Well, it is this time of year again, to wish everyone a happy Christmas to Hanukkah or Kwanzaa as the case may be.  But no vacation again as politics will keep coming our way in Venezuela.  True, it will slow down some as Chavez will use the holidays to get more secretive therapy, the opposition knowing that nobody reads papers (when published as some stop publication altogether until mid January 9, including El Pais for the comment section I participate!) will prefer to do door to door activities and be seen at any live nativity scene available, though sitting governors will be giving stuff away as if they were Chavez, but a live one.

    Thus it will be a good time to take stock and write less often but on more general stuff, trying to get some of the perspective that may have been lost in recent weeks of a stressful end of year.  For news junkies, I probably will be posting more of the eventual newsy stuff  on the Facebook pendant of this blog, Interpretando Venezuela (though I will watch for any political Christmas Miracle for here).  Facebook is quicker in holiday mood as the link is up there fast (if I can mange to make it work on my Berry), and there is only need for a short comment from my part while you can add all the comments you can possibly wish to write, without moderation.  Thus even if you do not read Spanish check it out and point it out to your Spanish speaking friends.

    As I will be travelling I probably will not show up until the 25th so have a good Christmas eve in Venezuela and most of Europe and LatAm, and an excellent Christmas day in the UK and North America.

    Medina at El Ciudadano

    And to close the cycle of El Ciudadano interviews the old warrior came to the show.  As I was watching Pablo Medina, the sixth Unidad presidential candidate I was thinking about Diego Arria.  In a way they are very similar, and I am not referring to their desire of calling for a constituent assembly.  No, they come from other times and both are reminding us of what was good in the decried "4th Republic".  Maybe Arria had all the options, maybe he made a success of himself, but Pablo Medina, trade Union warrior before Chavez came to wreck it all, is also a product of those days, where for many core ethics and personal responsibility did not depend on how successful you were.

    Pablo Medina has made many errors in his political life, something he freely and refreshingly acknowledged tonight.  But yet his message surprised me by a renewed freshness and candor from his part.  Watching him and knowing that there is no chance in a frozen day at hell that he will win next February (he may not be last, though) I still was drawn in his arguments.  After all he is admirable in that he is able to learn from his errors, that even though he belonged to the Constituent Assembly of 1999, he was one of the first ones to break up completely with the chavista system (he admitted never having liked Chavez but following at first in the perceived need for an initial collaboration to change the system, another one of his errors).  The man tonight, from all fights in the Guyana labor struggle, CausaR, PPT and what not has learned that free enterprise is the only way to create real prosperity, that in spite of all of its excesses it is still much better than whatever crap Chavez is trying to do.

    And there resides his importance for this campaign because he is the honest harbinger of what is yet to come, that the working class will start finally to understand that state control and all the power to the soviets was never for them but for a reduced crewed taking politikal advantage of it.  It is too bad that Medina did not have the caliber or experience or breaks Lula did because tonight he showed us that in Venezuela it is possible to have now a true social democrat.  Thus Medina  is essential for this campaign where comeflores fight it out with right wingers: Medina is understood by the people and maybe by many of the NiNi that the Unidad needs so much to win next October.  I, for one, wish him to get at least 5% of the votes so that whomever wins sits down with him and talks serious business.

    This being said there was really nothing original in his offering tonight, besides the fact that he was the one offering the stuff.  But, if you ask me, he made a better case for the constitutional assembly than Arria did.  After all Medina says that as an ex consituyente he did agree with 95% of the current text and thus his real goal was to replace the high court and all of the corrupt chavista that will be blocking his action as a president.  He probably his right and we should recall that Arria said that Chamorro allowed for a "reconciliation" when she ousted sandinismo in Nicaragua and we should look where is Nicaragua at today....  We certainly should seek some form of negotiation with a defeated chavismo but a general "pass" as proposed by Perez or Capriles will undermine their own tenure, real fast.

    Yet, his rather chaotic way of thought, even if meant it in the best of terms, makes him unfit for the presidency and reluctantly, note,  I have to give him the last slot in my general ranking which ends up as following

    Leopoldo, Machado and Arria, Perez, Capriles, and Medina last.

    But then again this is a ranking on their ability to withstand an Interview with El Ciudadano who has given us a great service in opening the best window so far in how the mind of these guys do work.  I do hope that he will pull some related stunt before the campaign ends, perhaps moderating a presidential debate himself?

    Pablo Medina en Aló Ciudadano por Globovision

    Obama gives an interview to Caracas El Universal

    President Obama has given an interview to nothing less than El Universal of Caracas.  Possibly because it is the lone Venezuelan paper with an English Venezuelan section, so the guys at the White House would be sure that the message came free of interference.  No need to comment on the interview, it is self explanatory in that Chavez international standing is, well, lowest than ever (and his support to recently croaked Kimmy is not going to help).  He is an annoyance, maybe dangerous, but Chavez will never be respectable, never worthy of a deal since he cannot be trusted on anything.  I mean if a Liberal Democrat thinks so lowly of Chavez.......
    English version.
    Spanish version.

    Lopez at El Ciudadano

    [UPDATED]  The good thing about this post is that it will be short.  Lopez did what he had to do, be firm, focused, with a vision.  No matter how hard the Ciudadano tried (I do not think he tried that hard), Leopoldo remained focused.

    In short Lopez went on a lengthy explanation on his "security" proposal, trying to make it not to sound too right wing by including, adequately, that increased security of all will also pour its benefits in other sections of the economy and society.  Since the interview started with the Ciudadano questioning his trip to Colombia to meet Uribe, Lopez pointed out that the "economic miracle" of Colombia in the recent years could not have been possible if Uribe had not put some order int he country.  Thus brilliantly dodging the issue, including an idiotic attack by Diosdado Cabello today.

    Otherwise there were two highlights in the presentation.

    Eventually after lots of prodding by El Ciudadano Lopez acknowledged that the high levels of insecurity in Venezuela might also be a strategy of the regime.  A sick strategy for sure, I hurry to add, but a strategy as insecurity keep people at home instead of protesting in the streets against Chavez.  Never mind that the people for a little bit of increased security would be willing to accept in a not so distant future that Chavez cuts down Human Rigths.  Today Obama, coincidentally, criticized Chavez implying that he is a wannabe dictator, WaPo/AP and the BBC, which made it even more relevant that we have at least one candidate focusing strongly on Human Rights.  It will be interesting to see how far is Lopez willing to push this accusation of ill intentions of the regime.  Well handled it could change a lot the dynamic of the campaign.

    The highlight that made us think the most, or wince in my case, came from a caller who was upset that Leopoldo Lopez did take upon Capriles in the last debate (when he offered him the post of education in his eventual administration).  This is really becoming a problem, that people do not understand what a primary campaign is all about (we never had a real one) and that too many of us look for a Messiah to take on Chavez and have no patience with democracy's apparent disorder.  Amen of the "comeflor" crowd who genuinely think that a language of love will overcome everything.  What Lopez replied is not important (he said justly that there must be more debate for more differentiation and that come what may on February 13 all will be united behind the winner), but the problem that is coming up with the Unidad candidates is that debating among themselves is alienating for too many people, and thus they may be reluctant to try it out, losing precious opportunities to polish debating strategies that may be needed against Chavez later.  Then again, this may all be a pet peeve of mine.

    All in all Lopez gave a very solid performance and I must tie him up to the top, and perhaps, if the questions sent his way had been better he would have won outright this series.  Because the man came pumped up, be it by Uribe or recent polls, he reeked of optimism tonight and this never hurts.

    Globovision did not offer at this typing any video of the show tonight.  I suppose because Lopez offered a public meeting today where he presented his security program, a semi-fat blue book.  So I must put up this presentation video from Globo in all fariness so you will have a look at the man today, even if not infront the Ciudadano.  I will change the video if Globo decided to put up an excerpt of tonight.

    López: La inseguridad no es un problema que... por Globovision

    UPDATE This series is about the general tone of the candidates as they visit Venezuela's top talk show, each in turn. At most I indicate the main points of their programs, not the details since it is more interesting here to evaluate their attitude in front of a questioning party. Their programs are best examined in a different series of posts to be written in January. Still, Bruni, long time reader did get from the post the motivation to dig further and wrote this follow up on Lopez (in Spanish).

    And in all fairness if anyone is inspired to write in their blog or paper on the other guys inspired on this series, let me know and I will update those posts to include your text.

    Die venezolanische Regierung, Václav Havel und Kim Jong Il

    Ratet mal, wen die Chavez-Bonzen verehren!

    Gestern starb der tschechische Schriftsteller und Politiker Václav Havel. Er hatte öffentlich die Regierung des Militärs Chávez u.a. wegen der Festnahme des Oppositionspolitikers Oswaldo Álvarez Paz kritisiert. Die Chávez-Regierung hat nichts gesagt. Die Regierungspropagandamaschine hat den Tod zwar erwähnt, nichts aber von seiner Rolle als Dissident unter dem Sozialismus erzählt

    Heute starb Kim Jong-il, der nordkoreanische Diktator. Die Chávez-Regierung hat prompt einen Brief veröffentlicht, wo der venezolanische Caudillo sein Bedauern über den Tod des nordkoreanischen Führers ausdrückte. Chávez hatte vor einigen Jahren den Wunsch ausgedrückt, Nordkorea besuchen zu wollen, ob einfach nur, weil er halt auch zu diesem exotischen Ziel reisen oder halt die Gringos provozieren  wollten, wissen wir nicht. Einige seiner Minister hatten schon vorher ihre Verehrung für die nordkoreanische Regierung geäussert. Der Minister für Planung, Jorge Giordani, schrieb zum Beispiel im Jahr 1997, dass sich Nordkorea durch den Sozialismus zu einer starken Volkswirtschaft entwickelt hatte. Das war kurz vor einer der grössten Hungerkatastrophen des Landes.

    Nein, Venezuela ist noch keine Diktatur, genauso wenig wie Russland. In beiden Ländern kann man überall sagen, man sei in einer Diktatur. Wir wissen, dass man das in einer Diktatur gar nicht sagen darf. In Venezuela darf man immer noch sagen, Chávez sei autoritär. Venezuela ist also keine Diktatur. Es ist nur ein von einem lächelnden Autokrat geleiteter Zirkus, ohne Rechtsstaat.

    Electoral stunts

    Uribe and Lopez
    One funny thing about primary electoral campaigns is that they tend to be full of stunts, more than general elections who need a little bit more of composure.  But when you trail in the polls and you have nothing to lose anymore, you either go to The Hague, or closer and cheaper, meet with Uribe in Bogota.

    These stunts need not be a bad thing and actually do help focus the issues sometimes.  If going to The Hague was, for Venezuela today, useless, it was a good way to remind folks that the Chavez administration is a criminal one that has committed enough felonies to deserve at least a judicial investigation.  No poll yet has published whether Diego Arria benefited from that trip but he sure made a few headlines and forced the PSUV to reply even if it were to dismiss the stunt.  In other words, the stunt did anger chavismo which is not a bad thing in politics.

    The stunt that Leopoldo Lopez pulled this week is of a more immediate effect because it connects the Venezuelan voter with the reality of crime in Venezuela and the knowledge by all that in Colombia next door, Uribe did improve things.  You may deny it if you are within chavismo but you cannot hide to yourself that your little buddies at the FARC are in trouble due to Uribe.  If he supports a Venezuelan candidate then this can only mean trouble for you some day somewhere.

    Telesur, this paragon of objectivity, the CNN of our glorious Latin America XXI socialist wannabe did unwillingly reflect that in the video that I put at the end of this post.  The snippet lasted 40Sec, started by saying that Uribe "intervened" in Venezuelan politics (yeah right, Chavez, Telesur boss, never did interfere in Colombia), that the reason of the meeting was that Uribe is afraid that Venezuela is becoming a dictatorship (it is, Telesur should not even mention that word if you ask me), and finished saying that Lopez is corrupt and Uribe even more.  Quite a smashing argument from Telesur, I am sold!

    But the meeting was more important than Telesur would like us to believe.  Even though Uribe is a busy man these days, he found 4 hours for Lopez.  And in these 4 hours he semi-publicly quizzed Leopoldo from oil production to how many cows are in Venezuela.  We do not know if Leopoldo replied to all but Uribe seemed pleased that Leopoldo was prepared enough though he took care to let him know that focusing his campaign on a single issue (crime in the case of Lopez) was not enough to defeat Chavez.

    I do not know if that meeting is going to be good for Lopez, but it certainly was good for Uribe who shows that he is still on the top of his game, that he follows Venezuela as closely as he follows Colombia and that his office is a Mecca of sorts.

    As for Lopez, he risks little.  He is trailing, a strong third maybe but still a third.  Such a meeting gives him a few plus: he is taken seriously by a notable leader of the hemisphere, that leader thinks he is viable and that he can be elected (and thus take office which chavismo is trying to muddle); he probably will get advice, and support from the Colombian community in Venezuela who likes Uribe.  But there are also negatives, after all Venezuelans do not like much "foreign intervention", even from someone like Uribe who could teach us a few things that we sorely miss these days.  Also he is not making happy the opposition umbrella MUD because of that "intervention".  But then again it seems that the MUD only likes what Perez and Capriles do, so why should Leopolod care much about the MUD angst?

    In short, the kind of stunt good enough for a primary where you need to take chances to be seen as different.  Outcome uncertain but worth a shot.

    Juan Carlos Monedero, otra joya del chavismo

    Miguel en su blog nos informa de una entrevista publicada en ABC de España de Juan Carlos Monedero, esa joya del chavismo, uno de los "intelectuales" que dirigen el Centro Internacional Miranda, esa cosa que trata de darle algo de sentido al socialismo del siglo XXI y que a decir verdad ha sido de lo mas discreto en estos ultimos dos años, a medida que ahora unicamente la opinion del Supremo cuenta.  En fin, las respuestas que dio Miguel me dejaron algo insastisfecho, y ademas con la necesidad de poner tambien algo en español para que nadie se lo pierda, señalando a ese farsante chupa dolares (o euros?).  ¡Ah!  Se me olvidaba, como la Golinger en el New York Times, el tipo en los comentarios de la entrevista escribe que la entrevista fue mal editada.  ¡Es que creen que uno es bolsa!

    Puse un texto en ABC pero aqui abajo me permito ponerlo otra vez para que ustedes lo puedan disfrutar tambien:

    A Juan Carlos Monedero

    Lejos de mi polemizar aquí con usted. Ya tengo muchos años siguiendo sus travesuras en Venezuela en mi leído blog (y que los lectores de ABC me perdonen que sea en inglés).


    Pero hay unas cosas que no se pueden dejar pasar de su entrevista, para que los lectores de ABC puedan entender por completo lo que usted representa.

    Por ejemplo usted habla de las certificaciones de la UNESCO y de otras agencias de desarrollo. Pues bien, diga también que esas agencias no verifican números, aceptan de buena fe los números enviados por los países miembros, que los números de Venezuela los calculan gente con su talante, y que nadie en Venezuela tiene la posibilidad de verificar esos números debido al hermetismo y el sabotaje de los poderes públicos en contra de cualquiera que se atreva a investigar.

    Usted trata de minimizar la violencia, de comparar Venezuela con México o África. Pero diga también que, desde que Hugo Chávez llegó al poder, en 13 años se triplicó la violencia en Venezuela. TRIPLICÓ. Y lo peor es que la subida dramática empezó con las famosas misiones sociales que supuestamente iban a resolver todo.

    Usted implica que el gobierno prefiere inflación a paro. ¿Será que usted tendrá la gentileza
    de explicar al lector que en Venezuela hay millones de trabajadores informales? ¿Que para el
    INE (nuestro instituto de estadísticas) cualquier persona que ejerce alguna actividad remunerada unos pocos días al mes se considera trabajador a tiempo completo?

    Dígalo, por favor, en nombre de la objetividad. Las explicaciones se dan como uno quiera pero los números, señor Monedero, son terribles para la reputación de gente como usted.

    Y ni mencionemos su comparación grosera de la Venezuela pre Chávez a la España franquista. De todas las burlas a la inteligencia que usted ha dicho, esa puede aspirar al título de la peor.

    A great writer and statesman died

    Famous Czech writer Vaclav Havel died today.

    I had friends in Czechoslovakia during communist times and I got to know from very close how they were kept under opression, under fear. Their government told them how the world was supposed to look like.

    I kept hoping for them to be free one day. And then I followed with excitement when Czechs and Slovaks started to protest, to demand democracy, pluralism and transparency. I got letters from my friends so full of joice. It was impossible not to be moved with them.

    Mr Havel had fought for human rights in his country from early on. He was one of the signataries of the Charter 77. He, a prominent writer, was forced to work at a brewery, he was put in prison on numerous occasions. He kept his spirit high, his faith unbroken. It was only natural that he would lead the way and thus, he became the first president of his country in freedom. And he managed the transission in an excellent manner.

    After the Czech and Slovak Republics became free, he decided not to rest. He went on promoting pluralism and democracy all over the world. And he also supported Venezuelan democratic parties in their efforts and denounced Chávez's pseudo-democracy.

    Mr Havel will be missed. Děkuju, pane Havel!

    Shake it, baby! Shake that PSUV tree!

    I have lost much interest in following the inner works of chavismo.  I do not mean to say by that that what happens inside chavismo is not important but it is now so clouded in mystery, so dependent on Chavez whims, so perturbed by his disease that there is just too much speculation and garbage to sort out before one can begin to understand what is going on.  Besides, we already know anyway: rule1, Chavez is the boss; rule 2, Chavez is the only boss, rule 3, Chavez is way above anyone else; rule 4 you better stay quiet and rule 5, if you do not stay quiet, if you bring the slightest of a hint of a shade on the bright glory of Chavez, expect the worst and be thankful for it.  The list of people that were tossed to the garbage since Chavez is in office is now too tedious to count, only the list of the few ones that were dug out from the trash is worth any interest.

    You will thus be forgiving of my slight coverage on these issues in the past few months, much preferring to write on the dynamics of the opposition primaries.  But on occasion I have to come back to it and even ride Miguel's approach, as good as any speculation you may find around, and probably much better as way less hysterical.  Because, let's face it, are you not tired sick of the constant waves of rumors about Chavez health, more than likely now totally orchestrated from Miraflores Palace so we discuss that rather the myriad of problems harassing our daily existence?  At the top of Chavez disease I barely participated in them and now I simply erase any mail or tweet on that.  Call me when he finally croaks.

    But this week shake up was a tad too much to ignore.  So, no speculation from me but rather a tentative explanation of why such things are happening and why they will keep happening, at least until next March.

    First Chavez is sick.  How sick?  Who cares anymore! The thing is that his now avowed mortality with a je ne sais quoi of the lady does protest too much that she is cured, must lead us to the belief that there is uncertainty about how vigorous Chavez will be for a difficult campaign, and even whether he can manage to reach for October 2012 and anyway, even if he reaches that date and win, how long will he be able to stay in office until he has to be replaced by someone.

    Thus, second, Chavez is in the most terrible of positions to have to plan for a successor even if in  his core self he believes that there is no revolution without him, that no one is worthy to step in, etc, etc...  But he may croak and he needs to think about the future of his clan, the famous Chavez robbing brothers who own by now some of the biggest fortunes of Venezuela.  If not the biggest when you put all of them together.  No arguing that: look at their life style, their farms, their secrecy, etc., etc.  These guys are loaded and are torn between the need for discretion and the nouveau riche desire to show it off.

    Which leads us to third, that the only possible heir that Chavez would have is a relative, just as Fidel did, just as Papa doc did, just as Somoza did, just as many were about to try in Libya, Egypt, etc.  Not for Chavez the subtleties of Mexico's PRI or the successive generals of Brazil, or even, pushing the envelope, India's Ghandis.  A Chavez ruling is the only reality accepted.

    The problem is that form a legal point of view he really cannot put up one of his brothers unless he changes a few things first.  His daughters seem evil and willing enough but are still too young; his son, nobody knows where his son his, rumored to be partying around, gay, whatever.  There is a son in law but he has zero charisma and he is pure evil himself, oozing it (I remember him when he was a mere talk show host at VTV pre-2002, before he boinked a Chavez, and I do not think I would have been able to shake his hand then).

    And of course within the PSUV and barracks a few know these harsh facts of life and think that if they do not make their move soon, if a heir is finally in place, well, bye! bye! presidential hopes forever.  Note: observe I am not even bringing in the Cuban factor since for them the choice is easier, "whoever keeps sending us our monthly allowance".

    So that is why Chavez keeps downsizing people like Diosdado, to bring him back up again while the "heir apparent" Maduro is downgraded to running for Carabobo governor.  Note 1: I happen to think that Maduro is perhaps the lone choice that chavismo has for that state after the amazing fiasco of La Hojilla  creep in becoming its governor in 2008, Carabobo having become la bête noire of Chavez.  Note 2: I never quite bought the Maduro "heir apparent" thinggy. What Chavez is doing is simply making sure that no one gets strong enough to threaten him, or any of his heirs when he finally settles for one.  But not destroying them either so that they will be able to support and help his heir to prevail for the succession.  A complex game that will be repeated over and over again for as long as needed and for as long as the opposition speaks of that before it speaks of lack of jobs, inflation, potholes, etc, etc.....

    The only thing that bothers me in this whole charade is how primitive, how out of place, Chavez mind is.  But then again, as I have written already in the past, Chavez is a reactionary, XIX century style, someone absolutely unable to understand the future.

    To conclude this waste of time, a piece of advice: do not bother anymore about Chavez health, do not follow rumors, unfollow Boccaranda on your twitter, pay at most a distant attention to regime changes (though watch out for the laws popping out), enjoy the primaries and your Xmas holiday.

    I need thee! plus The 24 hour ant

    OK, the year is ending and I would be very thankful to get some feedback from you.

    What would you like to read more about in this blog? Please, take a minute to click on the topics that interest you the most or, if you don't see what you were looking for, send me a message at desarrollo.sostenible.venezuela at g mail dot com.

    And here you have the Paraponera clavata or Hormiga 24 (24 hour ant, after the time you'll have to endure pair if it bites you)

    Arria at El Ciudadano

    It is more difficult to evaluate the interview of tonight as we were clearly playing in a different league.  Not major or minor league, just a league next country, almost.  First, El Ciudadano was interviewing a candidate more to his generational standard: the conversation was almost intimate, between two pals commenting on the state of the country behind a cup of coffee.  Second, it was much more about a diagnosis of the country than an actual government plan.  And third, Arria has been around the globe several times.

    I suppose that the versatility of the Ciudadano, his desire not to appear to endorse anyone made him find a way, for the fourth time in a week, to allow the interview to play on the strength (or alleged weakness) of a given candidate.  On this respect, kudos for the man as he is indeed a better journalist (or manipulator as some would say) than I knew him already to be.  And yet, for all of this coziness the interview had a few telling highlights as Diego Arria managed clearly to cast a doubt on the other candidates vision.  Without naming a single one he successfully exposed their basic weakness: the pretense that all will be fine and that chavismo will let them serve their 6 year term.  Well, rather Perez and Capriles I should say though I should say that Machado seems quite sure to serve her own full term.....

    And yet this is a weakness of Arria as he received a phone call that was rather negative and that he could not quite answer.  There was that woman calling, clearly from a popular back ground (so even there they do follow Arria) who wondered if he was speaking French because he mostly, but also the other candidates, was not speaking clearly on how to solve her problems.  Bingo!  I am tempted to say because indeed for all their efforts apparently neither Capriles nor Perez are convincing on that respect.  At least if you believe her.  The conclusion is that when push comes to shove, people like this woman might decide to vote for Chavez again anyway because even though she knows there are only promises at least there are promises she understands, in Spanish.

    In other words, that woman wants a solution now, today, and she does not understand or does not want to understand that no one, and certainly even less Chavez, can produce a solution until some of the country parameters are reshaped.  And this is where we need to look for the strength of Arria's intervention tonight.  Although he cannot say it frontally, he knows that there is no way a new government will be able to bring clear solutions in a year or two, perhaps not in 6 years even if the duration gives better possibilities.

    On an intellectual point of view his offer is impeccable: he will rule for three years.  In three years there is enough time to change the main operators of the state to place competent and honest ones in their spot.  There is enough time to redesign the economical functioning of the country, to revamp its balance of payments so that even if we owe our asses to the Chinese at least we will have a clear payment plan.  There is enough time to purge the army of its drug trafficking group, to ship its Cubans back home, to reestablish a semblance of order, or at least build the basis to restore order.  And in three year, after he has taken upon himself all unpopular measures he can organize real elections where real choices can be offered and leave Miraflores, his head high even if only 5% of the people still like him.  All of these he addressed briefly, to the point, without making a new constitutional assembly the essential part (backpedaling to the possibility of a more limited constitutional change focused on the must-change rules and people).

    Unfortunately his plan can be understood by El Ciudadano, by me, but it cannot be understood (yet) by the woman that called.  If the woman is not planning to vote in the primaries (I assume that because she clearly sounded confused about their objective), will Arria's speech convince enough people among those who understand him, for him to win in February?  And thus tonight Arria won points to sticking to his guns while makign them more palatable, but lost some by offering the real solution to the country but one that few can understand.  Yet there is still 1.5 month of campaign left and like Machado, his door to door approach could deliver him enough votes if not enough to win, enough to influence the MUD/Unidad.

    Indeed, besides the expected stunts that are now his trademark (he showed blackmail receipts signed by the FARC to Tachira farmers who paid vacuna) there was his not quite veiled criticism of the MUD, of its complacency with the CNE, of its desire to smooth all differences at all costs, yet not offering him the chance to participate in the elaboration of the MUD program.  On this he is right: if Machado or Arria were to win in February they would be imposed upon a program that they took no part in elaborating.  Think about the implications.  It is time that the MUD takes seriously those two (and Medina too), that it stops being a lone mostly PJ/AD/UNT organization if it wants active collaboration from these people, and their voters, after February 13.

    Just for bringing back this dose of realism, even though his presentation was hard to classify, I will tie him for the first place with Machado, ahead of Perez and Capriles who remains last so far (note, AGAIN: last in this subjective but fair classification does not mean bad, it means that the other were somewhat better than Capriles in the Ciudadano format).

    Diego Arria en Aló Ciudadano por Globovision


    Additional note to praise Capriles, Arria and Machado equally.  None of them is making a big point, or even a point, of the prosecution or dangers that they have suffered in their political lives or during the campaign.  For memory:
    - Capriles was jailed for several month without cause until the regime had to let him go, without any restitution for that part of his life stolen from him
    - Machado has been often threatened, even barred from leaving the country, for her role in SUMATE, and was almost shot in the 23 de Enero a few weeks ago (plus many other incidents with chavofascist storm troopers)
    - Arria was robbed of his property by the state without justification and even less of a compensation, has been threatened and tear-gassed in campus he visits.

    And yet, none of them has exhibited these events except in a casual comment at most (e.g. Arria just said he was robbed, without giving any detail whatsoever, moving quickly to more constructive words).  Quite refreshing from Chavez who spends the best part of his cadenas bemoaning all the evils that were done to him, real or imaginary, same difference.  Kudos guys!

    More education for Venezuela

    Here you can see the mean results for performance in reading according to the PISA test. Even it is well under the OECD average, the state of Miranda shows a better performace than Colombia and Brazil and Argentina, countries that have been taking part in this programme for some time. 

    I am sure Miranda has one of the highest levels within Venezuela. Kudos to the education team of the Miranda government. It could probably do better if the Chávez government were not sabotaging as it does.

    Dudamel versus Serenata Guyanesa

    A very nasty comment by "anonymous" in my post on Xmas music make me take the unusual step or publicly replying as an excellent opportunity to measure the survival of artists in fascist regimes like our own today.
    In Venezuela there is no copyright valid.  The regime paid long ago some lip service when Microsoft launched a strong world wide campaign in defense of intellectual property and nothing followed, all was promptly forgotten.  Not to mention that there are those in the regime that think that working with your mind alone is not a revolutionary attitude.  As a consequence today Venezuelan artists cannot make a decent living if they depend solely on the Venezuelan market.  They may sell a couple of thousand of copies of a new CD (to people like me that condemn piracy for artists) but quickly the pirated copies will be sold by the thousands and thousands through pirated sellers in the streets, for a tiny fraction of course of the original.

    This is the case of Serenata Guayanesa, a superb group of Venezuelan folk music, which has done a great work of rescuing many tunes and styles that were unknown to most of us, way before Chavez came to power.  But now their style has gone out of fashion as reggaeton has taken over supreme over the country (even Salsa is under threat).  That, plus piracy, and you can understand why the Serenata Guyanesa group has been vying for some government support.  Before Chavez they could make a decent living at best (no Hollywood like mansion and swimming pool for them).  But since Chavez allowed piracy so his hordes could get access to stuff for cheap to nothing, the Serenata simply cannot make ends meet on their work as even concert sessions are on the way out, not only because of fashion, but also because of insecurity when you attend them, the cost of holding them today, etc, etc....

    Although I am certainly not happy that they caved in (after more than 10 years, it must be noted), I really cannot be mad at them.  But I can be mad at Gustavo Dudamel who is now in my shit list of chavistas, doomed to suffer the von Karayan syndrome for the rest of his life, the more so when the crimes of chavismo are finally fully revealed.

    There are two people today noted for the youth orchestral system of Venezuela, the founder Abreu and his biggest star so far, Dudamel.  Abreu is working for the remain of his life is to preserve the system he devoted his life to, trying desperately to avoid a chavista take over which would mark its demise as it is the case of everything chavismo touches.  Thus Abreu did nothing different than what he did in the past: kowtow to the power in place. He will pay a price for that but at least he has an excuse and when the regime meets its defenestration we will find a way to redeem him.

    But Dudamel has no redemption ahead of him because he does not depend on the regime for his livelihood as he is now an international star, Music Director of the L.A. symphony.  He could have found many ways to make his support to the Youth Orchestral system discreet but no.  As times goes by it seems that his relationship to the regime grows and that he takes even pleasure in it.  Some people simply cannot resit the lure of raw power.  Other rising stars of the system did not succumb like Dudamel did: think for example of the Venezuelan directors now in place at Oslo or La Fenice in Venice.  I do not see them playing for Chavez on a regular basis (nor hinting that Dudamel is "sacrificing" himself so that they can stay out of to rule).  I suppose that maybe someday we may learn that it was a plot all along by Abreu and Dudamel to sacrifice themselves for the befit of the system, but that ultimate condemnation of a passed regime had better be good if Dudamel wants his good name back in Venezuela.  I, for one, will not be buying records or concert tickets from him ever again (not to mention that I have my own artistic questions about how brilliant Dudamel may be).

    Since at some point the regime is going to be ousted (they always do, it is only a matter of time) it is already important for us to discuss such things because we need to settle the criteria which will allow forgiveness or punishment of its collaborators, be they Dudamel or Ramirez at PDVSA.  We need to understand the reasons of why they did such collaboration and accept that somethings can be crossed over and forgotten, but some cannot.  Certainly Dudamel cannot be sent to jail for his own hubris and immaturity, but public contempt is in store for him, without the need of a trial.  He is still in time to find his way out of his own self created mess, though he certainly can remain in the wealthy left of L.A., as disconnected from the reality of the world a group as you can find.  They do go well together, bbq at the Penn compound included.


    Special note for anonymous on his blasting "el norte".  You missed the point completely.  That song is about the travails of emigration, about the dashed hopes that go with it.  It was written at a time where NY was as much our exile route as Miami (it is not any more for Venezuelans).  But the song could have been equally well written for Madrid or London or Dallas or....  If they chose New York it was to make sure folks at home understood better because all of us had been or knew someone one who had been to New York.  True, it is a little bit strong at first, but it certainly is not ANTI New York.  It is ANTI emigration and New York is the unfortunate prop.

    So, if you are a New Yorker do not take it personally and be sure to understand a text, not only in words but in context and humor before you trash it as idiotically as you did.  Thank you.

    The truth about education in Venezuela (updated 2)

    The results of the famous OECD PISA test on scholastic performance have just been published for pupils of Miranda, Venezuela (more here). For the last couple of years I have been trying, together with other Venezuelans, to promote the implementation of the PISA programme for our country. We asked the national government on several occassions to let Venezuela take part. It refused. It ignored us. It prefers to declare to the world that UNESCO certified Venezuela as free of illiteracy, even if such a statement is based on a self-assessment study conducted by the Chávez government and provided to UNESCO without independent control.  The current government hates transparency and open, real debate (it prefers parallel monologues).

    Venezuelan pupils finally took the same tests that German ones take

    The government of Miranda, led by opposition politician Henrique Capriles, accepted the challenge and got the pupils from Miranda-controlled schools tested by the OECD. The Chávez government tried to sabotage this by blocking the financing  (Miranda needed to pay for some fees in dollars and the central government controls the use of foreign money like in old Soviet times, unless it's money for tourism or the like).

    What are the results? They are very much in line with what I expected. Perhaps they are a little bit better than my expectations, actually. Miranda pupils score well below the OECD average, but rather close to pupils of other Latin American nations like Colombia or Mexico. Venezuelan pupils do worse in maths than other Latin American pupils, which is something I very much expected, as I have written earlier. With these results you can understand to some extent what kind of problems we are facing...and start thinking about specific solutions. 

    Still:  Miranda is not Venezuela. Although Miranda is a very varied region, with highly skilled people next to people with little formal education, rich and poor to very poor neighbourhoods, it is still close to the capital and thus closer to a strong flow of ideas. Miranda is also governed by civilians from the opposition and not by a military government.

    This is a good start in order to bring about transparency to education in Venezuela. I will be posting a lot about this in the next weeks.

    PS. I NOW got some more feedback about the problem with the standards: apparently the Chavez government did not suply the required information that PISA also needed to make a better comparison. Shame on Chavismo.

    Machado at El Ciudadano

    Well, what can I say? If the only three candidates were HCR, PP and Maria Corina Machado and the vote tomorrow I would vote for her without batting an eye.  Trailing in the polls, really hard pressed by an unusually aggressive Ciudadano in the first part of her visit, she put all of that on the side and was able to draw her vision of the country.  You may agree with her, or not, but you cannot deny that the woman knows what she wants and that at this stage she does not care whether people think she is right.  She knows she is and she knows her mission goes beyond the current electoral context.  I  have always been a sucker for Cassandra like politicians and let's say it: she was thatcherian tonight.

    But one better, actually, because she has some genuine compassion to go with it.  Her best moment may have been when the Ciudadano told her dismissively that all candidates promised such stuff and she looked straight at him and said " but they believe it when it comes from me".
    Ciudadano: Eso se lo dicen todo el mundo, Maria Corina [dismissive hand gesture follows]
    Machado: Nooo, eso es verdad; pero a mi me lo creen

    That is what you call aplomb.

    I do not know how true is that, or if she was trying to gamble everything to nudge a few points in the polls, but one thing is certain: she has star quality because the callers were devoted supporters whereas the callers from the first two guys were more inquisitive, seeking reassurance.  None of the Machado callers sought reassurance.

    But let's get back to the interview and away from my perceptions (I love wonkish strong women, even if I have little use for them).  First, I suppose that the initial almost harsh stance from El Ciudadano was part of the show.  After all, his self anointed mission is to make all candidates play on their strength, and MCM being a woman and trailing, he may have wanted to show the world that she is credible as a president of Venezuela.  Her first hellish 10 minutes did prove that point and the rest of the interview went much more according to form, with El Ciudadano even joking at some point that people are upset when he is too harsh and upset when he is too soft. But the man has been around the block and I suspect that he really wants the best one to win in February, whomever.  Which led to a telling moment.

    EL Ciudadano was of course asking her about her lack of crowds, of mass meetings, etc, as the main three candidates are able to pull at their events.  She said some crap about going to the people instead and she dismissed all the polls bravely pointing out that not only 40% of the people have not chosen their man yet, but had the Ciudadano made his choice already?  He fumbled, taken by surprise, and admitted that he was waiting for February (as yours truly isdoing, by the way).  Which was my best part of the interview for me because MCM showed that she clearly understood what a primary is all about: you chose the one you like the best, not necessarily the one you think will win the general election.  This allowed her to be generous in saying that all candidates would be united behind the winner in February and that it was great that we had such great candidates to pick from.

    Since this is long enough already, I will pass on the wonkish part except to stress that she knows her numbers, she made her homework and she has ideas, clear ideas.  We can discuss their feasibility at will but since I am of the mind that the feasibility of anything is questionable, why bother.  Let's suffice that a candidate shows intellect and the ability to come up with solutions because the solutions we discuss today may well be absolutely moot a year from now when a new administration takes charge and finds empty coffers and thousands of saboteurs in front.

    At any rate, tonight Machado showed that intelligently she is doing a primary campaign.  She is not wasting time on the pretense of a national campaign as those ahead in the polls are doing, and she is focusing on the only thing she can do: gather one by one the faithful, those that will be certain to vote for her once convinced.  That is how it is won in Iowa and New Hampshire, and how it should be won in Venezuela except that she has little time left until February 12.  We´ll see.

    Maria Corina en Aló Venezuela por Globovision


    PS: So right now my series choices stand as MCM in first, PP in second and HCR in third, with three to go, and none eliminated outright.  Wish me luck in being able to follow the three interviews as I may miss the Monday night with Leopoldo but I should be able to get Friday and Tuesday..