Diego Arria's memoir

Diego Arria published a little bit before the October presidential vote a memoir of his life, past and recent, which also doubles as a memorandum about Venezuela's today. I was asked to review it but there was so much to write before October 7 and so much depression since that I did not read the book even though it had been sent to me courteously on a PDF form before it was released. Eventually I preferred to go and buy it and I am glad I did because reading this book this week is more profitable than at any reading I could have done before October 7.

Reading memoirs, and reviewing them, is always a little bit dicey. After all no one writes a memoir to delve on past mistakes. And when such mistakes must be faced, usually there are self serving motives or detailed explanations on how the other aspect of that person's life amply compensate the wrongs. In short, the real reason why one reads memoirs if for the gossipy aspect inevitably linked to them. It is thus fair to warn the reader: there is little gossip in Mr. Arria's memoir "La hora de la verdad". His life has certainly provided him with a wealth of gossip but we will have to wait for his real memoirs: this is a book from a man still determined to work as long as he can to bring something to his country.

Certainly, Diego Arria must start his book with a summary of his life, conveniently forgotten by the Chavez regime but also by most inside the opposition. His was a stellar career  in politics and international diplomacy and Mr. Arria has the merit to summarize it as briefly as possible in the first third of the book, a little bit like an extensive visiting card that gives him the credentials to write about the current situation of Venezuela. Yet we gather the "Arria Formula" used often in UN conflict resolution; or more importantly for today's Venezuela, we are remembered that in 1998 there were plenty of people that already saw the potential Chavez election as an oncoming catastrophe for Venezuela. Diego Arria reminds us that there were plenty of now forgotten debates then, such as the one he participated with Hiram Gaviria, then promoting Chavez election and now one of his opponents. Diego Arria had already enough experiences to know better but those were the days of Cassandras and he was one, ignored if not ridiculed but now so bitterly proven right. Still, we should note that Mr. Arria insists that his book is not a "I told you so".

The second part of the book is the real matter at hand, the demand made on Venezuela to face its time of truth as the title of the book may be translated. That part covers his campaign for the primaries and the opinion he had on Venezuela's situation prior October 7. I presume that he can start preparing an appendix for a second edition with what happened since October 7. But I digress.

Arria's return to Venezuela (which he never quite left, just had a temporary job in New York) started in 2006 with Rosales presidential campaign of which he does not hold fond memories. But it served him well in getting to know the new political class of Venezuela and how they were influenced by Chavez in spite of their better judgement. Then things turned ugly in 2008 when in a El Universal interview Arria was explicit in his assessment that an international court of justice was in the cards for Chavez. He had crossed the line and his life changed. First, he lost his family farm, La Carolina, a clear revenge from Chavez. I did cover in this blog these days extensively, but what mattered more in a way is that Diego Arria became so involved in the fight against Chavez,  the need for the sake of the country to get rid of the man that was destroying it materially and spiritually, that Arria went as far as throwing his hat in the opposition primary ring in 2012. And he does not stop at February 2012: this book is a new stage and we can be assured that there is more to come.

To start the second half of his memoir Arria tells us that as long as we do not understand what the real problems of the country are and as long as we refuse to talk about that white elephant we will never be able to do anything. Like yours truly, he is stating what the thinking portion of us sees but that too many of us prefer to ignore in the vain hope that there is a "peaceful and unified way" to take us out of that nightmare. There is none, and Diego Arria writes the best case around for this position.

If anything Arria is consistent. He does not sway from his initial truth, that Venezuela needs a transition government to take it away from the current dictatorial nature it holds. In this he keeps at loggerhead with the opposition leadership which seems to believe even today that a Chavez light candidate is the ticket. And thus Arria is willingly and willfully in a sort of political ostracism. Which is as well as it gave him the time for this books where he offers his recipes.

The portion of the book on the primary campaign is in a way the most interesting to read today, now that the strategy of the MUD has so badly floundered. It is also to be noted that it was all written BEFORE October 7 and its aftermath and thus the prescience of Diego Arria is all the more to be praised. One is tempted to write that if Arria's primary campaign was so annoying to so many it was because deep inside them they were afraid he was right.  It is small comfort today that he has been proven right as the MUD and opposition leadership have all the trouble in the world to retain some credibility.

If anything I will disagree with Diego Arria on two points. He still remains confident that there are enough honest military left so that there will be a reasonably peaceful transition when the time comes. I think he is wrong, that the corruption inside the armed forces goes deep. Also he has more faith in the Venezuelan people than I do. Then again this book was written before we knew to what extent the Venezuelan people was willing to sell his vote, to buckle under blackmail.

At any rate, this is a must read book as it is the bluntest assessment of the Venezuelan situation and in retrospective the best way to explain why in the end the campaign of Capriles failed and will keep failing as long as the political premises are not re-evaluated seriously. I personally doubt it will happen soon as the opposition leadership keeps pretending we are in a democracy and prefers to wait for Chavez death.

La Hora de la Verdad can be found in Amazon Kindle edition, in iTunes, or in most Venezuelan independent bookstores. In Spanish, 222 pages, plenty of pictures. Also, Diego Arria's web site offers some of the videos and documents mentioned in the book.

A Canadian gringo explains where oil-rich Venezuela is getting petrol from

You have to go and see Steven's post. This is the kind of reporting you would normally read in a special article in The Economist, but instead you find it in a blog.

Venezuelans get less and less petrol from this place
Guess who Venezuela's "revolutionaries" are buying  it from

Red and white stripes

The Guzmania monostachia is endogenous to Venezuela. The whole genus, Guzmania, got its name form a Spanish scientist who did research in Northern South America a few years before the whole civil war broke out which would ultimately lead to the independence.

A state for Palestinians

They didn't want to leave. 

As a Venezuelan I support the Palestinian bid for the UN.

Did you know about Irgun? It was Israel's Hamas and yet Israel got what Palestinians haven't got because people recognised not all Israeli Jews were supporting Irgun.

Certain hawkish groups around the World want to let Hamas flourish in Palestinian territories...so that illegal Israeli settlers keep stealing more Palestinian land.

Read this...don't let others prevent you from doing so.

Is it better to live in Colombia or Cuba than in Venezuela now?

According to The Economist probably yes. My guess: your parents may be able to buy less whisky or petrol with their salary if they live in Colombia or Cuba than in Venezuela, but you would be less likely to get shot dead.

And perhaps that's also why Hugo is flying to Cuba for treatment for the eleventh time in 17 months...or perhaps not? Or perhaps it's just for the secrecy Cuba offers?

Better be born in Colombia than Venezuela, PPP notwithstanding

Pravda with bananas

Anyone who ever read Pravda at least before Gorbachev came to power would recognise the style...but in Venezuela things get a little bit tackier. Yesterday honcho Diosdado Cabello announced Chávez was going to Cuba for some new treatment...nothing wrong, just to make him stronger...and the national television channel - which is nothing but a propaganda channel for the Chavez government - says now Twitter has been  flooded by messages in support of the Comandante.

They talk about "complementary phrase" of the treatment.

The signs are piling, the end is near (?)


I know, I know, wishful thinking of the demise of Chavez has made me step ahead of myself in the past. But this time around there is a different quality in the latest departure of Chavez for Cuba. Apparently he will be leaving for a short while to receive hyperbaric treatment. No explanation of course why he must receive such treatment, and no explanation as to why such treatment cannot be received in Venezuela. There is enough money in Chavez 2013 budget for his own personal expenses to build whatever hyperbaric chamber he wants wherever he wants it.

Of course, as usual I am not going to speculate what is his latest pain in the ass. What is noteworthy this time around are the circumstances.

The guy has barely been seen since his reelection  In fact, El Universal even publishes a graph of diminishing return of his appearances. His suffering in the last events of the campaign was not fake it seems and now he is gone all the way to January we presume.

However we are in the middle of an important campaign where Chavez needs to win at least 18 state houses to push forward without trouble his constitutional reform for hereditary regime. Since the beginning of the campaign Chavez has made no public appearance in favor of X, something he used to do profusely, cadena and all, in 2008. That Chavez will forfeit the only thing he knows how to do is simply astonishing.

But other signs are rather ominous  Just today we got a plane crash during the November 27 "festivities". Those are for the failed coup of November 27 1992 that Chavez is trying to turn into a national holiday, yet another activity he never missed until today.

Elsewhere in Lara a Falcon rally was attacked with tear gas and stuff, leaving people injured. That chavismo is so nervous that it feels compelled to attack the campaign of falcon in such ways tells us volumes....

This all on top of a crumbling country and an obvious rudderless administration since now a few months.

You be the judge on how bad things may be turning. But you will agree that the signs are different this time around.

Now back to my Margarita Holiday.

UPDATE. You may remember the previous departures of Chavez to Cuba. One even included a caravan all the way to the airport in cadena, among "spontaneous" popular delirium at a Chavez head picking up above a truck. Not to mention farewell speeches at the airplane stair case. Well, this morning we read that Chavez left in the middle of the night, incognito for him. No pictures, no nothing.

Maybe he was on a stretcher......

Genesener Militärführer Venezuelas zurück nach Kuba für Behandlung

Das sagt uns jetzt sein Kumpel Diosdado Cabello: der Comandante-Presidente wird einige Wochen in Kuba sein, um sich einer hyperbaren Oxygenierung zu unterziehen und sonst medizinisch behandelt zu werden. Chávez konnte das selbst nicht mitteilen. Chávez hat seit dem 2.11 keine Twittermeldung von sich gegeben. Er war auch fast nirgendwo zu sehen. Er soll aber kerngesund sein. Alles klar.

Der Comandante höchstpersönlich will uns schon am 10.1 seinen Nationalplan bei der Nationalversammlung vorlesen...natürlich, ohne auf Fragen zu antworten, er wird aber da sein.

Vor zwanzig Jahren haben Militärs wie Diosdado Cabello versucht, die korrupte aber demokratische Regierung des Carlos Andrés Pérez zu stürtzen. Chávez hatte das einige Monate davor auch versucht, auch damals Zivilisten und treue Militär umgebracht und sass im Gefängnis. Viele Bürger wurden in beiden Putscversuchen umgebracht, wahrscheinlich genauso viele wie beim Caracazo 1989. Manche behaupten, während des Caracas wurden zwischen 250 und 3000 Menschen getötet, es gab aber nie eine Liste von Vermissten, die über die erste Zahl hinausgegangen wäre...dennoch benutzten die Militärs den Caracazo (der zum Teil von denselben Menschen durchgeführt wurde) als Ausrede, um ihre Gewalttaten von 1992 zu rechtertigen.

Einer der Männer, die in diesem Video spricht, ist Arne Chacón. Nun soll Arne Chacón wegen Korruption verhaftet sein...auch wenn niemand weiss, wo er wirklich ist. Sein Bruder, Jesse Chacón, ist immer noch ein wichtiger Bonze und behauptet, er habe nie gewusst, dass Arne in ein paar Jahren zu einem Milliardär wurde...auch wenn der Rest des Landes das schon wusste.

Diese sind die Herren, die die deutsche Linke-Partei unterstützt.

Do you read Spanish?

Read this

Perhaps they shake him up a wee bit for another round.

The show must go on.

The incredible Venezuela...(denn die Toten reiten schnell)

Without any public discussion a new law came into force whereby you become an organ donor by default. I wonder: does this law apply to Chávez? By the way: the caudillo hasn't twitted since 1 November, now officially a record.

Lots of people are wondering whether the new law in the country with the highest murder rate in South America will bring a reality like what the old film Coma showed.

And on another matter: what has happened to the US American who was detained for being a spy?

The state races heat up

In spite of my stinky mood about upcoming local elections there was a silly poll, but by DATOS, that lifted a little bit my heavy heart. After all it was to be expected that the poor choice of chavista candidates and its ever reluctance to talk issues preferring to go towards a new "constituyente" had to exact a toll on chavismo.  I thus went back to an October 23 speculation/gut feeling table to which I added the Datos polls and a poll for Aragua, then I came up with a new gut feeling.  Explanations follow.

But before we survey let's remember that the opposition is going with a great handicap: the recent reelection of Chavez which in theory should benefit his side. To this we must add the debilitating settling of scores for the defeat and the knowledge that chavismo has a more powerful electoral machinery than we suspected it had. In this regard, any prediction for December 16 is hazardous and whatever you read below (or elsewhere for that matter) is equal parts reality and wishful thinking.

Let's start with the red states October 23, those that there is no doubt will go for Chavez though we are eagerly waiting to see if he repeats his October % there. Note: order of states is from the one with the most abstention on October 7 to the one with the least abstention, Merida.

The only one of the red states that could offer a surprise is Falcon as maybe the paradoxical favorable Amuay effect for Chavez may finally wane some and they remember that the only thing that makes the governor tenure noteworthy is her enhanced boobs. There is also a division inside chavismo for Apure but I do not see it going back to Lippa who may have won the Apure primary but that did not wash away the bad feeling he left there from his tenure 8 years ago. Datos and I agree on these states and they are for Chavez in my current perception.

Then we move on to the leaning Chavez states where I have disagreements with Datos and where the new poll of Aragua also shows some disagreement.

Sucre: Datos give it to Acuña but I am not sure. First, there is a "small" division inside chavismo. if it is not big enough to be a threat by itself it remains that the opposition candidate is issued from Voluntad Popular and to have won in Sucre he must have been working really hard. Thus I still keep that state leaning Chavez but there is a real possibility for an opposition pick up.

Amazonas: I gave it leaning Chavez but Datos is making me review this one. After all the sitting governor has been active and the PPT there did not go back to Chavez. Still, I am not calling it for the opposition.

Carabobo: I was putting it leaning for Chavez but Datos is putting it for the opposition. Indeed the candidate chosen by Chavez is military coupster Ameliach and he is liveless, listless  In spite of everything negative about Salas Feo and in spite of stuff I hear from Carabobo as a tough race I am reviewing as leaning opposition now.

Monagas: considering that Chavez managed to carry Monagas in spite of trying to poison half of its people, it has got to remain in the leaning Chavez column in spite of a terrible candidate, a cynical and awful woman form a mafia family form next door Delta Amacuro. But a last minute agreement between the divided opposition does not discard a remote victory at this point.

Aragua: this is looking like to be the bright light on election night for the opposition. This state should be chavista by any calculation and any measure but for the last 4 years chavismo has been piling it up high and deep. First, 4 years ago sending Isea from corrupt fiances to rule over Aragua was a mistake as the guy proved to be able only to manage funds for ill uses. The vox populi was so strong that even Chavez could not run his protege once again and instead send his interior minister, El Aissami. Not only the guy has been a failure in his job to try to improve security in Venezuela, but he went to Aragua as a second thought, once he realized that his first mission in Tachira was doomed. In other words, Aragüeños can feel quite justified in being taken for granted and pissed off at it. As a result the Primero Justicia primary winner, Richard Mardo is set to provide an amazing upset if he manages it. But then again it is a big military state and a big machinery one so we need to wait and hope for El Aissami to keep sticking his foot in mouth so often that he can only lose.

Now let's review those where there is a real opposition possibility if chavismo abstains, if the opposition does not, if it does not screw up, if, if, and more if....

Miranda: Capriles return hat trick seems to be working although chavismo is reserving its full attack trying to destroy his political future there. The one thing that seems to be working is that the Jaua campaign rings phonier than it needs to be. After all Mirandinos can wonder how come if Jaua cares so much about Miranda he did not send some love while he was vice president of the country. Also, with little Capriles did a lot more than former Diosdado governor who had a lot. It has been 4 years and even in a very forgetful country 4 years is not enough to erase it all.  However, if Miranda is lost by less than 30,000 votes it will be the fault of Caraqueños going off on their vacations and not staying to vote. You have been warned.

Nueva Esparta: being there for a week rest I have spoken already with 4 taxi drivers. One says Morel will win, 3 say it is tough. None of them was chavista. In Nueva Esparta taxi drivers know better than be chavista. Still, I am putting it leaning Chavez because it is a state they need badly to set up a better drug traffic system. They are holding nothing here.

Zulia: I still cannot believe chavismo could pick it up, but I cannot be as confident as Datos. For me the loss of Zulia would be the major blow tot he opposition, even bigger than the loss of Miranda.

Merida: the infighting within chavismo is affecting paradoxically the opposition campaign which has gone from sure winner to maybe. People seem more interested in sorting the inner chavismo turmoil than just tossing it all out.....

Tachira: in danger earlier because of an opposition division it seem that the seriousness of the Andino is going to preserve Tachira for our side. Vielma Mora dispatched there is just too much of a new comer in spite of having been born there. Besides if a state has been battered by chavismo it is Tachira.

Lara: no trouble there for me. The ex governor Reyes Reyes trying to make a come back will fail because he just was too lousy of a governor. Chavez may have carried that state but his advantage is not enough in front of a popular governor and an unpopular "challenger".

Bolivar: a mix of a bad governor, a not particularly good opposition candidate and corrupt trade unions makes this state a leaning opposition but barely in my book.

This being said, AGAIN, these are particularly difficult elections to assess. Those are not real predictions, just a mix of wishful thinking and reality check. However there is one thing that needs to be written: what the results would mean. Considering that chavismo understands that the 55% of Chavez was rather weak for what they need to achieve, namely changing the Constitution they are counting on a smashing victory on December 16 to crate and unstoppable momentum. The question is thus: what does the opposition needs to achieve to stop that momentum?

Disaster: the opposition loses Carabobo and either Zulia or Miranda and only manages Tachira, Lara and a couple more of states. This would be disaster and the road will be open for Chavez. We can only wish his speedy death to save the country from its utter destruction.

Holding the line barely: the opposition needs to retain AT LEAST Tachira, 2 out of Carabobo, Zulia and Miranda, and another morsel such as Lara or Anzoategui or Bolivar and there is some material to work with. But it would confirm Chavez "popularity" and it would be very difficult to stop him.

A challenger is born: if the opposition manages to retain Carabobo, Tachira, Lara, Miranda and Zulia it will preside over the majority of the people of the country. Failure to win anything else and even the loss of Nueva Esparta do not detract from that. A constitutional change would be difficult for chavismo and thus the battle will be sent back to the national Assembly with possible recall elections and what not. Chavez would be forced to go to municipal elections, something he could avoid in the previous two scenarios.

Chavez is, chavismo is not: that is, Chavez has a pull but his machinery only works when he is on the ballot himself. To prove this the opposition needs to retain Carabobo, Tachira, Lara, Miranda and Zulia but it also needs to gain Merida, and either Anzoategui or Bolivar. If in addition it retains Nueva Esparta and manages to add win both Anzoategui and Bolivar then we can almost start talking of an annulment of October 7 result.

Opposition outright victory: and to get all that what you need is to retain Miranda, Zulia, Carabobo and Lara and just add Aragua. That way there would be a sweep of the Caracas Maracaibo corridor and thus a tremendous psychological victory for the opposition.

The conclusion here is that what matters is not necessarily the number of states won, their quality matters a lot. The opposition may lose Nueva Esparta, fail to win Anzoategui, Merida and Bolivar, but picking up Aragua nicely compensates for that. But if in addition of picking up Aragua the opposition also picked up Bolivar and Merida.......  We can dream, no?

Mord in Caracas

Jeder mittelgrosse rote Punkt entspricht 100 Morde. In der venezolanischen Gemeinde (municipio) Libertador wurden in den ersten 10 Monaten dieses Jahres 2580 Menschen umgebracht. Diese Gemeinde wird vom Gauleiter Jorge Rodríguez regiert. Das hat der Comandante Chávez so entschieden, als er sah, dass die Bevölkerung Caracas den Oppositionspolitiker Ledezma für das Amt des Caracasbürgermeisters gewählt hatten. Durch ein Ermächtigungsgesetz konnte der Llanosführer fast alle Kompetenzen von Ledezma an Rodríguez übertragen. Die zweitärmste Gemeinde in Caracas, Sucre, folgte mit 550 Morden. Da regiert der Bürgermeister Carlos Ocáriz. In Baruta gab es 67, in Chacao 11 und in El Hatillo 10 Morde. Das sagen uns unoffizielle Berichte der venezolanischen Polizei. Die können aber ganz leicht in den überfüllten Leichenhäusern der Nation bestätigt werden.

Unten könnt Ihr die Mordrate per Municipio per 2010-Wähler sehen...wohlbemerkt: für die zehn ersten Monate dieses Jahres. Im Dezember wird Caracas einen besonders roten Monat erleben müssen...schon wieder.

Venezuela's infamous revolution and the sense of injustice

Some days ago Venezuela's strongman declared the country had seen a dramatic decrease in "the number of crimes". He talked about 20% reduction in Carabobo, for instance (here). There were no details about how that 20% was measured, how a "crime" is seen now or one year ago. That is absolute rubbish, though. Crime in real Venezuela goes on unabated. In fact, it just keeps getting worse and worse. Chávez didn't talk about the murder rate, of course. He knows murder is more difficult to re-define than a fluffy concept such as "crime", even if even murders are now counted in a more restrictive fashion.

An NGO published new stats about the clearance rate for murder in Venezuela. It stands at about 3%. Try to grasp what that means: from every 100 murders in Venezuela, 97 remain unresolved, the criminals remain at large. Look at the chart. In red you see the percentage of murders that have not been solved and in cyan you see what has been solved.

The clearance rate for Germany is around 96%...against 3 for "socialist Venezuela".

Latin America in general shows very high murder rates. Lots of people specially in the USA and Britain talk about the rampant crime in Mexico, the drug wars there. Indeed, Mexico is in a mess. Some useful idiots abroad mention the case of Mexico to explain Venezuela is not the only major country in America with a high murder rate. But if you put things under perspective, you will see Venezuela under Chávez is in a league of its own. Check out The Economist's interactive map of Mexico to get an idea and bear in mind:  Venezuela's murder rate is now around 70 murders per 100 000 inhabitants, twice as many as the second most dangerous country in South America, Colombia, and only slightly surpassed by tiny Honduras and Guatemala.

Juan Cristobal and other bloggers have been discussing for a long time whether Venezuela is still a democracy or not. Juan Cristobal is particularly depressed because of the surprise he seems to have got with last elections' results. It is as if he were telling us: "it is not so much a problem of democracy but of people's will and this is what most want". 

But the thing is this: democracy is by any means much more than elections. This is something even those Greeks opposed to Plato's model of democracy would agree with. Most Greeks understood 2400 years ago what most Venezuelans still do not get.

One of the key requirements to call a system democratic is the existence of the rule of law.

There is none in Venezuela.

The caudillo's absence and Venezuelans' logic

Hugo Chávez hasn't tweeted since 1 November. Is he resting? This is becoming a record now.

Giordani mentions petrol prices are way too low. Does he have plans?

Chávez has repeatedly mentioned petrol is heavily subsidized but he hasn't had the courage to raise prices just yet. Recently I had a "conversation" with a Chavista. She told me petrol comes from oil and as Venezuela has oil galore, people have the right to get it for (almost) nothing. Apparently, she didn't pay attention during chemistry classes at school. Let me tell you: in Venezuela we were supposed to learn at school much more about oil processing than in many other countries.

Jose Tadeo Monagas: one of the most unpopular presidents of Venezuela, a state is called after him

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since about half of the hits to this blog come form the US of A I would be remiss not wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving.

Over the years since I left the US Thanksgiving has become one of my most cherished memories. I have considered many times to go back there for that week and enjoy it with my friends but the logistics of living here and the work calendar have made this simply impossible.  Nor can I ask my friends now to come and spend one thanksgiving of their lives with me here as I have stopped willingly to entertain any foreign friend or relative for the last 4 years. Too much trouble,  too much danger for them, to shameful for me to show them what a deteriorated country I live in.

Please, be thankful that no matter what you may think happens in the US, you have way more things to be thankful for than what we do in Venezuela. I, for one, will be thankful that there are still readers that care about Venezuela's fate.

The building up of a FARC/drug corridor in Venezuela

Miguel's text on Rodriguez Chacin candidacy for Guarico state forces me to finish this post I was pondering for a while. Miguel certainly describes well the character but he seems to have missed the bigger picture that is emerging.  For this I have drawn this very amateur map of what will Venezuela drug routes look like soon, and where the FARC will take temporarily refuge once the Havana talks between the Colombian government and the FARC conclude (1).

See, it has been a long held belief for many that Chavez has never ceased to support the Colombian narco guerrilla FARC. Let's say that his support is more or less open according to the circumstances but it should never be doubted as it is part of his fantasy to recreate a Bolivar Gran Colombia. Chavez has always been a reactionary, never forget. That he was silly enough to believe that the FARC would surrender their leadership to him were they to win their insurrection is another story. The point is Chavez is delusional enough for such things.

The other thing is that Chavez has been relentlessly pursuing a policy of securing wide swatches of territory that could be used for all sorts of illicit activities, from drug growing, to drug smuggling and FARC hideouts. I am not going to insult your intelligence by bringing links into this post: by now it is commonknowledge that the FARC is settled inside Venezuela and that it operates its ransom and drug business with the help of not insignificant sectors of the Venezuelan army duly identified by the USA DEA.  What has congealed it all for me, leading to this map, has been the insistence of Chavez to place its most trusted and talibanic personnel in crucial states as I will explain below.

First, let's start with the actual situation,  represented by the red indented curve, zones of easy Colombian Army Surveillance. Those are the zones where Colombia can fly drones, of which Venezuela has complained. But also in these zones the Colombian army can infiltrate spies with a relative ease, as easily as the FARC has settled them  The limitations for Colombian surveillance is that the Andes are an obstacle for  drones, and the Apure river and Maracaibo lake are obstacles for commando raids from inside Colombia. I am not saying that Colombia did them, I am saying that it could do raids if it wanted to and the FARC knows that.

The next element to consider is that the entry routes for Colombians irregulars in large numbers is through the two busy border areas where they can blend in without too much trouble  I have circled then in mauve. Penetration through the Apure border is somewhat more difficult as the roads are not good, there is no safety in numbers, and the Colombian army can monitor that much better.

The last element is the combination of Colombian army successes and fading Chavez and Castro. So, something had to be done to preserve a runt FARC for better days, along the profitable drug business which now involves too many inside Venezuela. The current drug penetration route is through Apure state, the first red arrow. But everyday Colombia and the US spying technology improves and there is a clear need to push further inside Venezuela the drug storing areas. And that is what I do with the second arrow that goes inside Guarico.

Chavismo has been preparing large swath of territory for a long time. This has been done through expropriation of farm lands which ruin the country side. Thus this one is become more discrete because there are less honest farmers to monitor activities, but also because a lot of these expropriated lands are now under military control, and FARC control as needed. Plenty of land, in a new growing jungle with many hide outs where drug cartels and FARC can jump around for improved hiding conditions.

Now when you look more carefully at the expropriation patterns over the last 6 years and the candidates running currently for governor you see a new "route" emerging for the FARC and drugs that reaches Guarico.

The road starts at the border crossing. Certainly Tachira is now the least chavista state of the country but it still retains the only real roads to get inside Venezuela, roads that are controlled by the Nazional Guard.  So, all in all, the crossing risks there are easily compensated by the difficulties to move people and loads through the Apure border.

Once the border crossed you reach the Southern part of Zulia which has been extensively ravaged by Chavez policies two years ago, Sur del Lago. Now I am certain that there are plenty of hideouts for a night stay available in that hot and humid area.

From there you go to Trujillo, another state with a lot of expropriation and under chavista control since 2000. Nothing else than one of the main drug capos of the Venezuelan army has been dispatched to run for governor there. Rangel Silva, in the DEA lists, is almost certain to become governor next December and thus that mountainous and jungle covered area will be the nexus of the Colombia-Venezuela "irregular" communication.

Next our caravan goes down to the flat lands of Portuguesa and Cojedes. Portuguesa state is already controlled by a military governor close to Chavez, and has been duly corrupted since 2000. Cojedes next has also been in chavista hands but apparently the current governor was too incompetent even for chavismo and Chavez decided to send there one of its more militant taliban, Erika Farias who has even patriotic pro Chavez tattoos on her body, we are told. She was one of the few ones allowed to be seen in Cuba with Chavez when he was getting cancer treatment there.

Which leads us finally to the piece de resitence, Guarico. The sate is arguably the one that has most suffered from expropriations and thus it is the one which has the most land available for FARC resettlement once the Havana talks are concluded. It is wild, distant, cored by a huge national park, and on the other side of the Apure river, at a reasonable distance of the Colombian border, but still not too far that FARC can discretely use waterways to sneak inside Colombia agents as needed.  From Guarico it is very convenient to redistribute drugs through crucial areas. One is solidly inside chavismo, the Orinoco delta, and the other one, Maragarita island, is under intense pressure to have yet another chavista general suspected of illegal activities to become its next governor, courtesy of the MUD follies unable to force a primary on the current and worn out one.

Rodriguez Chacin is the perfect governor: he has all the contacts and trust of the FARC as seen on TV. He is vicious and corrupt so he will have no qualms in settling things in favor of the FARC, expropriating  undesirable neighbors  finding the necessary proxis for land deals, offering fake ID as needed, etc, etc...  The people of Guarico? Fine, thank you very much, they can find work as peons in the FARC compounds.  I'll bet you that the national park smack in the middle of Guarico is not going to be developed for tourism whatsoever but will host a surprising number of "resorts" and landing strips.....

1) it is too early to speculate on how successful these FARC/Colombia negotiations will turn out.  But if we assume that some "peace" agreement is reached immediate reinsertion of the FARC in Colombian society will not be possible. Thus the need of an agreed third country where the worst leaders of the FARC can find refuge until Colombia does process the new situation. Hence the participation of Venezuela in the Havana talks because, let's face it, it is the only country that can shelter legally the FARC leaders who certainly find it more convenient to monitor things in Colombia from Venezuela rather than Cuba.

The Great Republican Hope...not

7 days or 7 eras, who's counting?

Oh dear....  Marco Rubio is one of the great Republican hopes for 2016 and yet he made a major blunder that basically bars him from ever receiving votes from people like me. Not that I vote in the US, mind you, but there are a lot of folks there who would love less taxes and a little bit more austerity in the US budget but could never entrust that task to someone that does not know the difference between 7 days and 7 eras, whatever "eras" mean....

Let's look at the actual quote from GQ who interviewed Marco Rubio, junior Florida Senator, already on any Veep GOP list.

: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.
Let's first recognize that this question was absolutely idiotic in the context of the interview. Rubio could have easily brushed it up saying that talking about religion and science matters would require another complete interview he would be delighted to give some other opportunity. But no, the guy dived in and ensnared himself beautifully.

The first thing that I need to say that I am scientist, man, and that understanding basic science is a clear indicator on your abilities to understand complex problems such as what parameters make a modern economy function. Globalization and Chinese competitiveness is not taught in the Bible, however understanding the Big Bang theory prepares you more to understand complex economic statistics than the book of Genesis.

Second, I cannot fail to note the hypocrisy of Marco Rubio who says that he is not a scientist and thus not able to answer the question, but does so anyway. That a silly blogger like yours truly who will never run for office pretends to have answers to all is one thing, but as the Senator of a major state and a natural candidate to the US presidency does such type of statement is simply unacceptable because it reflect worrisome intellectual flaws. Period.

And third, of course, Marco Rubio is an ignorant on the great questions of our world. It is not that he skipped science classes at school, but what other classes did he skip?

There are not multiple theories on how earth was made. That scientists disagree on how the Bing Bang played out is one thing, but there are some stuff that no one questions such as the expanding universe and the age of this one placed at least at 10 billion years. Earth  by the way, is dated at least at 4+ billion years and no serious scientists disagrees with that anymore.  Pretending that there are more theories is just a crass attempt at Rubio to ingratiate himself with creationists and derived idiots who pretend that there is a cacophony in the hard science word to force their beliefs upon us.  I have news for them and Rubio: if X thinks that earth is 4 billion years and Y thinks that it is 4,5 is not a disagreement on the age of earth  it is an disagreement on what technique is used to establish the exact age. Both agree that it is way past 7 days and 7 eras. Both are in full agreement that "intelligent design" or whatever creationism is called these days is just crap.

And that is the problem, the real problem of Marco Rubio's words: he does not understand how science works and thus we are allowed, we owe it to ourselves, to worry a lot about his understanding of other things in life.

PS: I am allowing myself this US politics post because Marco Rubio has been cited often enough in the comment section of this blog and because his Cuban origin supposedly makes him a natural bridge between latinos and the US government  between the US and Latin american countries.  Well, at least in Venezuela he has his match with Chavez and his earth age theory. I will kindly suggest Senator Rubio to start watching History channel who carries excellent series on how the Universe Functions and how the Earth was made. He can do that at night in motel rooms during his many travels and nicely complete his education, least he wants to sound like the individual below who has been reelected president of Venezuela stating that the human species has only 25 centuries on earth:

Surely Marco Rubio does not want to look as ignorant as Chavez. No?



Considering the virulence of some comments in a blog that has become quite quiet since October 7 I feel the need to add a few things to the many Republicans that apparently read this blog and are expecting Rubio to be the next GOP candidate.

I have nothing personal against Rubio. As far as I am concerned he can do no worse than Romney and has probably more integrity over all.  But the fact of the matter is that he made a booboo with GQ even if his intention was to pander to Iowa.  If Iowa is that important I suggest that the US skips election altogether and limit itself to Iowa caucus for the next president choice.  Fortunately it is now clear that New Hampshire and Iowa do not have the clout they used to have and it is hoped that this trend will keep on. I need to remind folks that Iowa was won by Obama, by almost 6 points...... So, to go all huffy and puffy over Iowa is really not a good strategy in my book and I predict that more and more candidates will start skipping Iowa altogether.

The other thing is that it is still amazing to me that people assume that by being anti Chavez I am automatically pro GOP.  I have never made any mystery of my Liberal, US sense, proclivities, espousing all sorts of Liberal causes associated with my civil Libertarian side. Thus it should be of no surprise that I would not let the words of Rubio pass unpunished.  And when a similar idiocy from Obama was reported to me by Fausta  I promptly skewered Obama for whom I have no lost love. For me Obama is left of Liberal and had I voted in the US I would have done so for him because Romney was too far on the right and too intransigent on the civil libertarian issues that are closest to me, and more important than a balanced budget. In other words, the Tea Party is not my cup of tea whatsoever.

In other words, I make mine the historical Liberal label,  a honorable one that has become associated with the silly left by the GOP in its war against the Democrats with a no hold barred strategy. This is the dark part of the Reagan inheritance where any thing left of the GOP is a socialist/liberal. Exactly what chavismo is doing to the democratic right in Venezuela. I refuse to accept that from Chavez or form the GOP. Fuck them all!

Resetting the political counters

Writing has been erratic since October 7, besides the duty felt to try to analyze the results from my corner of the woods.  I do not seem to be able to get back on track, just as I expected it would happen on that nasty evening. But as weeks went by I realized also that my approach to many things was changing and that as long as I did not process it all I was not going to get any purpose in writing, except for the obvious incident such as the last post on how the mafiosi regime is plundering honest workers.  In other words, there is still stuff to write about but I have trouble to get motivated, or even to decide that what happens in the news is worth my time even to read about it, much less comment.

One thing that is becoming a pressing issue for me is to settle my accounts with the opposition leadership. In fact, I feel that as long as I do not make a clean break and explain clearly where I stand I will not be able to write again properly, not even if by January I decide what is the future of this blog.  It looks like the lack of integrity in others is forcing me to review my own ethical parameters, I suppose.

I suspect that many of us either writing blogs or staying at home or participating in political activities have this similar indecision about what to do next, at a personal level.  Nationally the objective remains clear for all of us: as long as Chavez is president of Venezuela there is no hope for either side. We will be vexed at every point, when not prosecuted, but the chavistas will not fare much better as the abject submission demanded on them will carry in the end a bigger price tag.

Today I have to write that I am breaking up with the current opposition platform,  that I will support no one in particular and that I will wait for a modern right wing movement to emerge until I decide to participate again. Accounting for these words will take a while to write up and this long post will not be enough.

The first thing I need to stress is that I will continue to vote. Not for me the ridiculous attitude, confined mostly to Eastern Caracas navel gazers of toying with abstention as a way to fight chavismo. They are idiots, true idiots, as idiotic as those who worship Chavez. I can assure you that whatever yellow dog will be sent my way I will vote for that person as long as it is against Chavez. And I am already doing that because the opposition candidate in Yaracuy is a loser that should have never got the nod. But he won the primary on the emotion of being a victim of Chavez although he has no quality of an administrator or even of a semi functional politician. He was a failure as mayor of Chivacoa, he got even less votes when he tried a come back after his first loss.  Had Biagio Pilieri not be jailed by Chavez no one would talk about him today. Thus my first yellow dog, and a  big one that brays.

Thus, if any one in the political apparatus still reads this blog, which I doubt since they seem not to read whatever they do not like, I will keep voting for your candidates. However do not expect me to rave unless at least a certain amount of things in the platform and attitude of the candidate match. And heck, if the candidate is really too bad I may even vote for a third party idiot, but vote to make sure that whatever chavista does not cross the 50% even when winning. Small comfort of course.

The essential reason that I am breaking with the MUD et al., is that their populism light theory has failed and they are unwilling to admit it. Or even worse, unable because it means they are clueless.

I already complained about that before the primaries, that beating Chavez at its own game was nearly impossible, that you needed to offer at least something drastically different. But no, the whole Capriles campaign, as brilliant as it was, became a Chavez light speech and people sensed it. The forceful dragging of the vote by the chavista machine on Sunday October 7 was possible because when everything was said and done at least a couple of million people did not see why they should change for a promised efficient copy of Chavez when they had the real thing in Miraflores already, with a mutually functioning blackmail.  Had Capriles message really hit that strata, even carried to the voting station the social dependent voter would have voted for Capriles anyway. Let's face it, Capriles came out as a wimp; people simply did not see him as standing effectively against Chavez to force him to surrender power and then to force his coalition to keep bribing them as Chavez did.

But the worse came afterwards, with the dismally easy recognition of Chavez victory, the idiotic reply to the phone call from Chavez and the brushing off of too many things that that should not have been dismissed. Today I am angrier at certain politicians than I was the week after October 7 because their nincompoop attitude has now created further major problems for the opposition and we stand at the abyss of a clean chavista sweep of state houses in spite of its slate of lousy candidates. There is still one month left of campaign and I may be dead wrong, but I consider that we may lose Tachira and Zulia, and gain Merida at best, keeping Carabobo and Lara but, God forbid, losing Miranda because simply people will not waste a single holiday day to remain in Caracas and vote for Capriles. In my mind, this would be the result had we voted today. Least someone tells me real poll in hand how wrong I am.

The light hearted acceptance of defeat on the week following October 7 was irresponsible for Capriles,  Aveledo, and Lopez who are to wear most of that blame.

True, the victory of Chavez had to be accepted but it could have waited a few more hours, it could have been accompanied by many "yes, but...", hints of abuse that made it a dirty victory  a little bit like the "victoria de mierda" of Chavez in 2007.  Even at its press conference after the vote Capriles was only too eager to let people believe we were a democracy when in fact we are not. He knew already then that at least half a million of Chavez votes were all but coerced.  For someone who pretended to be president of Venezuela, glossing over this is simply unacceptable. His announced return to Miranda state is good, if he wins, because clearly the man needs to learn a lot more before he can become president. As far as I am concerned he is back in the rank and file, he is not the leader of the opposition anymore, he needs to prove himself again, almost from square one. We would be in more trouble today if he had forfeited Miranda to pretend to remain the leader of the opposition.

But Aveledo and Lopez also screwed up.  First, their delay to analyze their electoral performance was too long for people that supposedly controlled everything to the tee. Opposition voter disarray grew unnecessarily and is not abating fast enough. This may cost us Miranda (at least in the hinterlands we are more serious than in Caracas though the dampening effect is also real). We knew they did not control it all, that with the means of the opposition they did the best they could. But why not admit it earlier? Why not tell the voters that they need to assume more their role and that they could not rely on them for all?  Still, that would have been forgiven if I had not detected a certain smugness in them, wanting us to accept that the rules imposed by the CNE for the presidential election were acceptable  The consequences of that wishy washy speech were immediate: the CNE started making things even more difficult for the opposition and violating all sorts of laws to favor chavista candidates. I lay that responsibility at the feet of Aveledo and Lopez mainly, for their tardiness and cluelessness.

But it would be unfair to put it all on the back of this trio alone. After all they worked their butts off and the recognition I had for them and their effort remains the same. Who I have in mind to share a lot of the blame is Primero Justicia which attitude has been dismal since October 7. They just went on to campaign for state houses as if they were the top dog in town when in fact they grew only by 1% since 2006.  That is, they pretended that they had nothing to do with Capriles loss, now conveniently the unity candidate when in fact we all know it was mostly a P.J. campaign and a P.J. theme to be the efficient populist while Chavez was portrayed merely as the inefficient populist. Capriles was not alone, he is the product of that party.  For me Primero Justicia is a party that is already failing and I am even more disgusted by them today as I have grown to be in recent years.

UNT is now a regional party so there is no point in wasting time with them as they look about to lose their lone asset, Zulia. Never mind that we are still waiting for a real explanation of a surprising defeat by significant numbers at that.  As for the old parties, they are not free of blame because it is too easy to accuse the Capriles camp as the sole guilty culprit of the October loss. If Primero Justicia boys around Capriles were sectarian that should have never stopped other movements to speak up their minds and advance original proposals that Capriles was reluctant to advance. If anything to force P.J. toward a more reality based campaign. As such, the fear to "appear divided"  made things worse by dooming the campaign. It is an hindsight view now, I admit it,  but it should be acknowledged if we want to avoid a repetition in the future.

Voluntad Popular, long time readers would know that, was my favored. But after Leopoldo Lopez dismal post disaster attitude I have my doubts. Yet at this point they are the lone movement I see with a possibility to change for the best, not as tainted as the other ones by the October surprise. They embrace populism light but they are at least law and order which is a step in the right direction. So, for the time being my yellow dog votes will be through their colors though as a disclaimer I have had no contact with them since October 7 and do not expect any, certainly not after today's words.

So, what is it I look for?

I have written above that I want a modern right wing party. The reason is very simple: the populism we have suffered since the 70ies, 40 years, has altered the political culture of the country, perhaps irremediably  We need to get out of populism and that can only happen through a honest right wing movement where individuality is respected and cherished. Capriles presented himself as Lula and he failed. Not only he failed but that has doomed the Brazilian model as it may exist for future elections; and in addition he got nothing from Brazil. Thus the fake social democracy in place since 1958 that became in fact populist under Caldera I will not be, cannot be cured by an intelligent left like the Northern European Social democrats. They missed their chance.

What I am looking for is a political movement that accepts the below single tenets which in my opinion guarantee the rule of law, civil liberty and economic recovery. They are basic and allow for all sorts of other things as long as they are respected.

The essential principle is that the country needs to know what is wrong with us even if it costs us the election. As long as Chavez is around we are not going to win, and even less if we keep proposing the same garbage we proposed pre October 7 and that still seeps the tweets of Lopez or Capriles. Because, I repeat it once again, winning under a Chavez like platform would lead us straight to a new Caracazo, organized by a defeated chavismo. The opposition now, it is crystal clear to me, needs to win with a clear message of renewal though personal responsibility. Winning otherwise, even through Chavez demise, is not going to be enough if the message is not re-calibrated.

The basic thing I demand is that a spade is called a spade. The blame is on Chavez and the corrupt that surround him. Softening criticism of chavismo, I hope it is clear now, will not help at all.  It is time to let people know that they support a rotten system and that they must bear that responsibility. Chavismo treacheries should now be attacked mercilessly even if we risk increased repression and closing of media. In an age of Internet slowly but surely people will come to read us, or do you think that the situation in the Arabic countries was better than in Venezuela before the Arab Spring?

With this in mind I can now advance some items.

On civil issues we need law an order for sure, something that chavismo has deliberately ignored to create the current anarchy that his drug dealer generals thrive on. Along that the current judicial system should be accused of corrupt and in need of complete overhaul, just as Chavez did in 1999.  Wages for security personnel should be the higher of the public administration and justice work with them, not against them as it is the case now. Real jails, real redemption systems promised.

To soften that law and order approach there are plenty of civilian issues that would have great appeal. It would be easy to propose gay rights and decriminalize abortion once and for all. Today in the newspaper there was yet another extensive description of hate crime.  Abuses of spouses are now only reported when they are particularly gruesome.

Private property should become without any doubt the leitmotiv   The discourse of the opposition has been too bland on that and as such people now think that expropriation is OK as long as they are not part of it. The perfect example on how totalitarian regimes develop selfishness in the masses to their profit. For example we could propose that whatever has been handed out by Chavez be questioned as if it were now a double property; then an amiable agreement is sought to decide who is the right owner now with appropriate state compensation to the other side. That includes handing all the property titles that the regime refuses to give to its Mision beneficiaries.  There are other moralizing options. For example ADN testing should be made mandatory to enforce that parents take care of their children.  Has anyone observed that under chavismo deadbeats parents are out as if nothing? You screw, you pay should be the new social policy.

Social missions should be cut down because they are now useless and a mere source of dependency. This ought to be told forcefully to people, that the way things are with chavismo they will always remain dependent of a Mision. Like a life sentence to mediocrity. People are actually aware of that and maybe offering social services organized for active reinsertion could work better for them and at lower costs.  I am tired to hear pollster stating that it is wrong to criticize misiones, that it loses votes. To criticize, for example,  the "college degrees" the regime is handing as if they were from a laundry detergent packet make our side lose the votes of the graduate's family because for them a degree is a degree. And what are we going to do with them when they have no jobs, when they refuse menial ones, because they have a bolivarian crappy degree? Remedial courses through real universities should be bluntly offered for free to these victims explaining to them that soon not even the state will be able to hire such graduates.  They know it is the right thing because not a single one of them is hired by the private sector, unless bolibourgeois business hire a quota to please some "contacts". We can apply similar reasoning to many of these Misiones of debilitating consequences.

Budget should be balanced. Period. That is the only way to lower inflation to acceptable levels because as long as oil will be our number 1 product we will be always an inflationary economy. And anyone who makes more that two minimal wage should be subjected to small, even nominal, flat tax without deductible.  The reason is to create understanding in the population that you can only claim rights when you pay for them. Paradoxically the notion grows when you pay taxes, even if symbolic. This does not mean that the rich will have the same tax rate, no: they will be taxed as they are now and maybe more, to force the middle class and upper one to get interested in how the polis works. What needs less taxes is business which are dying under the chavista burden. The culture that business pay for all, coming from PDVSA as the nation's milk cow, should be put to rest.

This all may sound right wing for many but it is not. I suggest that you look really into Venezuela's history in the last 50 years, and realize that we never had any government that was right wing. All were populists. The only one that attempted a mild escape was Carlos Andres Perez II in the late 80ies. For all the chavista propaganda there was never a neo liberal government in Venezuela and maybe it is time to try one, with the caveats included above. Whether I agree with it or not is irrelevant  the point is that as long as we do not try to cure the Venezuelan voter from its belief that all must come from the state (and that applies to many, many inside the opposition) we will never have a chance to become a real country. Period. We need to substitute a culture of rights by a culture of duties and this is a decades long process. The sooner we start the faster the results.

I am afraid to tell you that I see NO ONE inside the opposition coming even close on a couple of these items. They actually think that having a mayoral seat here and there is the best way to unseat chavismo someday.

I predict that I am entering a long and lonely period. But that is OK because I will constantly be proven right.  Call me Cassandra Duquenal if you wish, probably with a similar fate in the end.

1001 post: Amoebae and politicians

It seems our long-standing suspicion was right. It seems it is less costly and much more effective to maintain the appropriate amoebae cultures in Petri dishes and observe their reactions to problems on sustainable development and social challenges than spend money in thousands upon thousands of politicians.

Think again

Seriously: are there ways we can deal with less politicians and give more power to people without falling into the "Soviet/council mobbing" trap the extreme left is trying to take Venezuela to?

The GREAT devaluation robbery coming to Venezuela

Devaluation of currency is acknowledged to be in general a way that governments have to pay their debts at the expense of the working people, from the big entrepreneur to the common man. Through a devaluation the government depreciates the holdings (savings, properties, etc,) of the people and use that depreciation to pay back the debt the government made due to its bad to irresponsible economic decisions. In the best of cases the government makes one single devaluation and pays as much of the debt as possible while it takes measures to make sure it does not happen again. But in the worst cases, like the Chavez regime, a devaluation is simply a stop gap measure to be used again and again so that the Venezuelan people, from the barrios to the Country Club pay the mismanagement and the corruption of the country.

As usual the ones who pay the most are the lower classes because the wealthier classes, those who have property, in general have the means to wait long enough until their property reevaluates and returns to its international prices. For example if you have a nice condo worth 100 units and is devaluated to 80 units, maybe in a couple of years you are back to 100 units or even more. But if you are the one renting the condo the only thing that will go up is your rent.

This time around the Chavez regime is introducing a new modality that we can only call a pre-devaluation procedure where it extortionates people who have significant amounts in "debts" overseas.  This has been looming in a rather terrifying way over most Venezuelan business in recent weeks.

First I need to remind folks what it is  like to import in a country that not only relies on imports for almost everything (food mostly) but that also has a rigid currency exchange control system.

To import anything to Venezuela if you want to do it legally at the official currency exchange rate you need to obtain at least a dozen permits (the final number depending on what is it that you import). Only then you can go to CADIVI, the currency stranglehold, to ask for your currency needs. These days obtaining this dozen or so permits requires at least 3 months and costs several thousand dollars.

CADIVI only allows for favored dollars for products placed in certain "priority" lists, others must rely on a more expensive dollar through SITME (with less permits required but also lower amounts granted); or go outright through the street value as long as you have adequate contacts in the regime that allow you to traffic illegally with USD or Euros. But for this discussion we are not going to enter into these corrupt practices and stick to what real serious business do, like the one where yours truly works.

Until early this year CADIVI would reply reasonably fast to your currency request as long as all the other permits were OK. Then you could import your stuff, and after a lengthy process at customs that took around a month you could submit all the clearance papers again to CADIVI. If all was clear it was CADIVI itself who did the transfer into foreign currency to whomever your provider was. Admittedly this could take on occasion a while but in general within three months of reception of your goods you could pay your provider. Note: during all the proceedings you had to have already in a specific account the money you owed because CADIVI itself would do the transfer. That is, you had to deposit the amount in bolivares to be able to pay the sum in USD at the official exchange rate, currently since 2010 4,3 for a USD. During the waiting time you could do nothing with that money, letting it depreciate slowly without interests of any type.

But this already deficient system went further down early this year. As local production went down and the needs for the presidential campaigns became priority CADIVI simply has stopped paying. That is, the regime kept getting all the dollars it wanted to import free goods for the campaign as well as supplies for Mision Vivienda while the productive sector of the country not only was subjected to expensive and unaccountable delays at harbors, but was obliged to keep purveying CADIVI while CADIVI simply stopped paying providers. For example my small business has made 6 importations this year and only one has been "liquidada", that is, CADIVI has payed our provider. It is so bad that we have processed all of our imports  sold them, got our payments, went through all the legal loops and yet since last April not a single one of our bills has been payed by CADIVI. We are not alone of course, as it is basically the situation for all people who need to import raw materials and finished goods: we all owe fortunes to our providers who are getting restless and threaten to stop all exports to Venezuela. El Universal reported yesterday that 83% of Venezuelan business experience problems to work and produce due to the increasing difficulty to obtain raw materials and supplies.

Of course  we get tired to explain to our providers how crazy and corrupt CADIVI has become, we show them our bank statement to prove that indeed we have all the money in the bank ready to pay them, that we have all the permits approved but CADIVI simply is not paying. PERIOD.

The organized mafias inside the government have noticed that too many business are threatened with problems with providers if we do not pay. So they are offering "deals". From some of my clients who have large amounts of debt pending, I have learned that meetings are held where government folks are offering to obtain from CADIVI that it does its job of transferring funds but not at 4,3. The real exchange is to be fixed during negotiation. But the beauty of it is that CADIVI will pay at 4,3 but that the person "helping" you will get the difference. Say, you "owe" 1 million dollars at 4,3, your contact will have that approved at, say, 5,5. Which in practice means that your debt in VBF will increase by 20% and be paid directly to the intermediate. And preferably without any receipt for tax purposes.

Why would a honest business man who worked as per the imposed rules of the regime consider such a scheme?

Firstly, there is no court of justice where you could go with a tape of your extortion negotiations. If you dared to do so, or if you found a media outlet willing to expose your case, the regime would promptly exert its revenge with any of the myriad tools in its administrative package, including outright expropriation. You would be a criminal by inducing honest bureaucrats to a life time of crime and corruption.

Thus you have to negotiate a deal. Why negotiate anyway? After all you did nothing illegal, and you could wait for CADIVI to execute its duty, merely paying your providers with the money that is already under CADIVI supervision. But there are two problems looming over you.

The first problem is your angry provider that threatens to stop supplies. Without those supplies you may have to close shop, or at least restrain a lot of your activities  After all you cannot find a new supplier that easily. More and more potential suppliers only accept now pre-payment or guarantees though bank credit lines. These are expensive and can increase your costs significantly, ruining any competitive advantage you may enjoy, amen of reducing your earnings in a market where earnings are eaten up by inflation. Without any guarantee that CADIVI will come up to pay your credit anyway.

The second problem is that rumors are getting stronger that the regime will devaluate the VBF around Christmas and make the devaluation retroactive. This is of course illegal but that has never stopped South American bankrupt governments. Cases languish for years in courts and in the end even if you win, what you get back is an amount so affected by inflation that it is useless for you to restart your business.

I do not know whether the regime of Chavez will dare make devaluation retroactive but it certainly allows its internal mafias use that threat to extort all sorts of people. To understand why people would allow themselves to be the subject to such extortion let me guide you through a very simplified calculation.

Say that you have through CADIVI 1 million USD in debt. Which means that you have in bank 4,3 million of VBF blocked. Since April you have not touched that money which means that you have cashed no interests on it while inflation east happily at its value (at least 10% since April).

That 1 million USD you have processed it when you received it in April. Let's say that the cost of processing it and selling it was 20%. Let's say that you limited yourself to a 10% of earnings (note that 10% of earnings in a country where the official inflation is above 20% is tantamount to recognized a 10% net loss on your capital, but to describe how business try to deal with that is altogether another lengthy post). In other words you sold that 1 million for 1.3 million or in VBF 5,6 million at the official exchange rate.

Now let's say that the "retroactive" devaluation is at 6. Suddenly CADIVI asks you to add 6-4,3= 1,7 million of VBF in order to process payment of your debt. You need to pay now 6 million VBF instead of the 4,3 that you negotiated 6 months ago.

Where are you going to find that money?

Since you sold your imported material for a total of 5,6 million VBF, you already start with a net loss of 0,4 million VBF. But you need to add the 0,1 million USD in honest earnings you made which are now lost. and you also need to add the 0,2 million in USD that you spent to process the goods that are now also lost.  Even if we ignore your earnings, the amount you lost is at the very least:

  1. processing: 0,2 USD at the old currency rate is 0,86 million VBF
  2. devaluation: 6-4,3 = 1,7 million VBF

TOTAL losses: 2,56 million VBF at the old rate which represents 2,56/4,3 = 59% of your initial investment.

Now, tell me how many business can tolerate a 59% net loss? Mine certainly cannot.

And thus many people are negotiating with the corrupt sharks inside the regime because they see it as the only way to limit losses at no more than a 10-20% range while keeping your business alive, if damaged.

Welcome to the bolivarian way of doing business where no matter how hard you try the winner in the end is a corrupt regime agent. A text book case on what happens when a mafia reaches power under any political excuse.

¡Hagamos Patria! o ¿Hagamos Listas?

Hay que reconocer que en eso de hacer campañas electorales, trampas, destruir reputaciones, etc, el chavismo es de lo mas eficiente. No le pidan luz, agua o trabajo, que pa'eso ni en broma.

Resulta que para "motivar" su base, el chavismo se lanzó en eso de ¡Hagamos Patria! que presuntamente es para nutrir una especie de constituyente disfrazada. Hay pagina web y hasta un twitter, @HagamosPATRIAve, bien activo con un logo interesante y creativo, reconozcamos.

Pero también hay una planilla que delata, desafortunadamente, todo lo que esta detrás de ese plan "constituyente". Es que al chavismo siempre se le ven las costuras....

Hagan click sobre la imagen y observen lo siguiente:

Primero, esa planilla no tiene la mas mínima importancia en cuanto a ofrecer propuestas "constituyentes". ¿Por que digo eso? Vean que la planilla tiene una linea para recortar. Esa linea no sirve para nada porque su cuadro es casi tan grande como la planilla, solo se corta el logo arriba como si eso fuese a simplificar algo. Si no respetan a la planilla, ¿como van a respetar el contenido?

Segundo, al leer la planilla no nos conmueve la buena intención  Ya en el 1-a, vemos que los únicos que en verdad pueden llenarla son organismos que ya dependen del gobierno. El individuo, el sector privado está implícitamente ignorados. En el 2, si no sabe que carajo significa "pregunta generadora", no se preocupe: por el escaso puesto que hay para escribir se le obliga a ir al grano y pedir lo suyo con una jalada bolivariana de lo mas breve. Si todavía no esta claro, en el 4 le despejan la duda. Las prioridades son para bienes materiales. De ultimo lo científico que es lo que menos le preocupa al chavismo que ya pasó hace rato a la dimensión desconocida. ¡Ni la comuna del IVIC va a llenar este ultimo cuadrito!

Pero en el 5 llegamos de verdad, verdad a lo que le interesa al gobierno: la lista de los que están pidiendo.  Ya sabemos lo que va a pasar con esa lista y teléfonos el 16 de diciembre y cualquier otro día electoral por venir: ¿Camarada, tu pediste que te asfalten la calle tal? ¿Que te pinten la escuela bolivariana X? ¿Que te pongan cloacas y casas en tu barrio? ¿Ya fuiste a votar por el candidato de Chávez? ¿Por el referendo? ¿Todavia no? ¡Pues mueve ese rabo que si tu centro electoral no vota como se debe te puedes olvidar de todo eso! ¡Y búscate a fulano y mengana que todavía no han votado!

Es eso de lo que se trata esa planilla, hacer mas y mas listas de gente necesitada para poder presionarla y chantajearla mas fácilmente.