Archive for September, 2003

Some pictures from the ASOEM exhibit

September 30, 2003



This week was the meeting of the Miranda Orchid Society, sadly the only exhibit held these days in Caracas every year. I took some pictures, but did not bring a tripod and lighting was quite variable, but here are some favorites: From top to bottom: Top left: C. Mossiae from the Merida Society which won first prize for Venezuelan species. Top Right: Stanhopea Tigrina Negriscensis. Bottom Left: Cirropetalum Elizabeth Ann and Bottom Right: Catasetum. Enjoy!

US News and World Report: Terror close to Home

September 30, 2003

I have been always weary of articles linking Chavez with terrorists, but lately a whole bunch of reputable sources have been saying there is documentary evidence for these charges. There have also been events that point that way too, such as the Venezuelan caught in London who made it through security here without any problem.  Here is the latest from the US News and World Report entitled “Terror close to home”. Scary stuff indeed.

Bickering all the way to the referenda

September 29, 2003

 


The opposition and the Chavistas got into a stupid pissing match today, much like little kids trying to fight over determining who had handed in the petition earlier in the morning. Essentially, both sides tried to beat the other to the punch, the opposition with the request for the recall referendum of President Chávez and the Chavistas with the request for the recall referenda of a fairly sizable number of opposition Governors, Mayors and National Assembly Deputies.


 


Who got there first was beside the point as a difference of hours within the same day would not impact whether a referendum takes place first or not. Despite this, while the Chavistas were holding a press conference in front of the CNE Headquarters, the opposition was sneaking in and handing in their request behind the scenes which outraged the Chavistas and led to a full day of childish accusations by both sides.


 


But lost in the shuffle was the question of why the Chavistas even bothered to do what they did. First of all, there will be regional elections for Governors and Mayors in June 2004. Thus, if anyone’s mandate is revoked next February or March, all it means is that he or she will be replaced by his second in command for the two months remaining in the term. In contrast, if Hugo Chavez is recalled, an election to replace him will be held thirty days after the referendum.  Second, by submitting their request, the Chavistas were tacitly accepting the new regulations issued by the CNE and any challenge of its contents and detail would seem fake, given their request today. Finally, the Chavistas know that very few of those that they are asking to be revoked would be recalled today. Thus, by requesting the recall at the same them with the opposition they are asking for trouble as opposition supporters would show up to vote, if all referenda are held on the same day, assuring a resounding Chavista defeat. Moreover, if the CNE were to schedule the petition drive for the same days, the Chavistas would not be able to distinguish between one side and the other and the threat of possible intimidation by pro-Chavez “Bolivarian Circles” simply disappears.


 


If it is so negative what then led the Chavistas to do what they did? There are two strong reasons I can think of: By holding their petition drive on the same day as the opposition, the opposition will not be able to say that the success of their drive was a recall referendum in itself, as the Chavisats will argue that people came out to sign for their petition. A second reason would be that by having all these petition drives on the same day, this will introduce confusion in the population and will overload the CNE with work.


 


Somehow, I get the feeling the Chavistas have lost sight of an important fact: The recall drive is just that, it is not an election in itself. What really matters is what happens the day of the referenda itself. If I were the opposition I would help the Chavistas to get their petition signatures complete, so that all their referenda are approved and held on the same day. Then, on that day, I would get all opposition voters out and vote against all of the referenda and recall Chavez at the same time. Then, the referendum against Chavez would become the mother of all defeats.


 


(By the way, lawyers said the Chavista request was illegal as they did a collective request which contradicts the regulatons)

Tal Cual’s wit and cleverness

September 29, 2003

Teodoro Petkoff is a very clever guy. The former Minister of Planning is now Director of the Tal Cual newspaper where he writes with seriousness and wit , both at the same time. Today was a case in point. Last Thursday Tal Cual published this picture of Chavez:



the headline was “At Gunpoint” and the Editorial said that Chavez was pointing a gun at the head of the President of the Comision Nacional Electoral when he said that “if the regulations are approved at gunpoint to count the votes manually, we will not accept it”


The Government’s reaction was to sue the newspaper, because according to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communications, the newspaper had put a gun in Chavez’ hand without explaining that it was a montage. Well, today Petkoff responded with this montage of the Minister himself, with flowers in his hands and a headline that says :” Skin deep”



But the best part, as usual, was the Editorial. With his customary wit, Petkoff suggests that maybe he should have clarified it, because Chavez repeatedly wore his military uniform even if it was illegal, using his mouth to threaten everyone with his military power of guns and tanks. Petkoff suggests that indeed he should have explained it because if there was someone capable of holding a gun like that, it would be Chavez himself. He also points out that the oversize gun should make it clear it is a montage.


Then, as you can see at the bottom of today’s paper, it says “Pinochio and Superman also sue Tal Cual” , referring to the times when the paper has used these images to mock the President or his Government. In fact, inside the paper there is a gallery of those that are supposedly suing the newspaper, including  from top left to bottom right those images he has used to mock Chavez: Pinochio, The Lone Ranger, Simon Bolivar, Venezuela’s first Congress, Neil Amstrong and Sammy Sosa:




Way to go Teodoro!

The perverse democratization of repression

September 28, 2003

 


This week the Venezuelan media paid a lot of attention to how the Government handled the eviction of oil workers from the Los Semerucos oil camp. The story is complicated. PDVSA workers in oil regions have access to housing owned by PDVSA. Since they were fired, they are supposed to abandon it. However, most of the same PDVSA workers are fighting their firings in Labor Courts and, except for the cases of some women who were pregnant at the time of their firing which is illegal in Venezuela, very few cases have been dealt with by the courts. Thus, the workers were indeed fired by they contend this was done illegally and the eviction will have to wait until the labor case is decided. Despite this, a Judge order some people evicted. The National Guard surrounded the oil camp, entered the residences and began using tear gas to evict people and contain the protesters against their action. Things got out of hand and there was violence, a car was burned, 26 people were jailed. No matter what the facts, what is not permissible is for the National Guard to go in a residential area and begin using tear gas against people, including kids and older people. Moreover, those detained have been incommunicado and their lawyers are saying that the cases against them are clearly “cooked up” as, for example, the testimony by cops against some of the individuals is identical even in the specific words used by more than one witness. But by now, we have gotten used to the Government using excessive force and violating the rights of the opposition. So what else is new?


 


What is new is that in the La Rinconada section of Caracas, about one year ago, a group of very poor people invaded some Government land. They set up shacks and a barrio was built up over time. Last week, a judge ordered the land cleared, apparently for environmental reasons. Well, this time the Caracas police, which is part of the Libertador District headed by Chavista Mayor Bernal, showed up to execute the order. The people stood in front of their houses much like on Los Semerucos and the police began gassing them, you could even see babies in the hands of the women. After hours of fighting, the police managed to evict everyone and proceeded to burn down all of the shacks with the people’s possessions inside. Even in the much-maligned IVth. Republic, evictions like these were always negotiated and the Government found alternative locations for people to move to and even would help them move (under protest of course!). Thus, it is difficult to understand how this Government which claims to be so socially sensitive and caring to do this., The use of tear gas and force is becoming the rule of day against poor, rich, friend or foe alike. Thus repression is becoming more democratic in a very perverse way.  One may only wonder whether we are seeing the beginnings of outright repression every time events occur that go against the Governments wishes. But beyond that, how can Chavez allow this sort of repression against the very people that he claims his revolution is for? Is the revolution so corrupt by now that even the poor are no longer relevant in its path to impose total control of the country? You be the judge….

The perverse democratization of repression

September 28, 2003

 


This week the Venezuelan media paid a lot of attention to how the Government handled the eviction of oil workers from the Los Semerucos oil camp. The story is complicated. PDVSA workers in oil regions have access to housing owned by PDVSA. Since they were fired, they are supposed to abandon it. However, most of the same PDVSA workers are fighting their firings in Labor Courts and, except for the cases of some women who were pregnant at the time of their firing which is illegal in Venezuela, very few cases have been dealt with by the courts. Thus, the workers were indeed fired by they contend this was done illegally and the eviction will have to wait until the labor case is decided. Despite this, a Judge order some people evicted. The National Guard surrounded the oil camp, entered the residences and began using tear gas to evict people and contain the protesters against their action. Things got out of hand and there was violence, a car was burned, 26 people were jailed. No matter what the facts, what is not permissible is for the National Guard to go in a residential area and begin using tear gas against people, including kids and older people. Moreover, those detained have been incommunicado and their lawyers are saying that the cases against them are clearly “cooked up” as, for example, the testimony by cops against some of the individuals is identical even in the specific words used by more than one witness. But by now, we have gotten used to the Government using excessive force and violating the rights of the opposition. So what else is new?


 


What is new is that in the La Rinconada section of Caracas, about one year ago, a group of very poor people invaded some Government land. They set up shacks and a barrio was built up over time. Last week, a judge ordered the land cleared, apparently for environmental reasons. Well, this time the Caracas police, which is part of the Libertador District headed by Chavista Mayor Bernal, showed up to execute the order. The people stood in front of their houses much like on Los Semerucos and the police began gassing them, you could even see babies in the hands of the women. After hours of fighting, the police managed to evict everyone and proceeded to burn down all of the shacks with the people’s possessions inside. Even in the much-maligned IVth. Republic, evictions like these were always negotiated and the Government found alternative locations for people to move to and even would help them move (under protest of course!). Thus, it is difficult to understand how this Government which claims to be so socially sensitive and caring to do this., The use of tear gas and force is becoming the rule of day against poor, rich, friend or foe alike. Thus repression is becoming more democratic in a very perverse way.  One may only wonder whether we are seeing the beginnings of outright repression every time events occur that go against the Governments wishes. But beyond that, how can Chavez allow this sort of repression against the very people that he claims his revolution is for? Is the revolution so corrupt by now that even the poor are no longer relevant in its path to impose total control of the country? You be the judge….

CNE unanimosuly approves regulations

September 26, 2003

 


Busy week, little time for blogging, but here is a rehash about what I think about the new regulations, taken from another source I write for, which some of you may read, sorry for the duplication!!


 


After much discussion and a unanimous vote, the Venezuelan Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) finally approved the regulations that will be used for the recall referendum against President Chávez. The result is a victory for both sides. For the opposition, because it managed to significantly change the regulations originally proposed by the legal department of the CNE two weeks ago. For the Government, because it managed to introduce into the regulations a number of stumbling blocks which will make it significantly more difficult for the opposition to carry out the referendum. Overall however, the regulations, if not challenged by Chávez and his supporter, implies that there are clear rules and there should be a recall referendum for the President of


 Venezuela before mid March 2004.


 


The biggest victories for the opposition were those regarding the timetable and who collects the signatures. In the now infamous original draft, the CNE abrogated itself the responsibility for organizing and regulating the gathering of the petition. In some sense, it would have turned the petition drive into an election itself. In the version approved, the CNE will design and distribute the forms, a process that it will have to implement in 26 days, and then the opposition will have four days to collect the signatures at either 2700 centers established for that purpose, or gather them door to door using the forms given out by the CNE. The timetable was also considerably shortened by adjusting it to the current laws, as well as eliminating a number of steps that had apparently been created only to delay the referendum further. At the most, it would take 145 days for the recall referendum to take place, if the CNE made use of a 30 day grace period for the approval of the request for the recall referendum.


 


The regulations require that the CNE transcribe and check all the signatures required to reach the magic 20% of the electorate in order to request the recall referendum for the President. This will be done within the time period allotted to the full process of approving the referendum, so it will be the responsibility for the CNE to complete the process in time.


 


Where the opposition did lose some ground was in the fact that the process would be automated and fingerprints will be required in the petition. The biggest concern for the opposition may be the first requirement. By requiring that the process be automated, even if supposedly it can be made manually, it may be impossible to implement within the allotted time and a huge uncertainty is thus introduced in the process. Currently Venezuela has 7700 voting machines from Spanish company Indra. Both sides, but particularly the opposition, are weary of Indra and its style in previous electoral processes. Thus, a different company would have to run the process. However, it would appear unlikely that another company would want to take over Indra’s machines and implement the referendum using them in such a short period of time. Moreover, the need for automation has to be questioned when we are talking about a simple Yes/No referendum. In fact, even the Indra representative in Caracas said he saw no need for using an automated process.


 


The week had been full of rumors suggesting that the final regulations would be approved with a split vote. The Government was applying pressure on all fronts to have the CNE include both the fingerprints and the automation in the process. The final point for which MVR was applying pressure, was asking that the gathering of the signatures tale place in a single day, an issue in which they lost, as the CNE will allow four days for the collection of signatures.


 


Another decision, which may have a possible negative impact, is that the CNE will publish the names of those that signed the petition so that everyone may challenge the presence of their signatures in the petition. This will certainly intimidate members of the armed forces into not signing the petition, but is unclear whether it will or not have an impact on Government workers, who may fear losing their jobs if they do sign. The first is only a small number, but the second may be quite important in a country with such a large number of public workers.


  


Overall, except for the automation theme, the regulations provide a clear framework for the opposition to request the Presidential recall referendum. As with many other issues, the politicians have lost sight of the true purpose of the petition drive and the fact that the true election is the referendum itself. Much like the world of Venezuelan politics, the process is simply too complex, has too many details that are overregulated  and in our opinion, is in violation of at least the spirit of the people’s participation, as defined in the country’s Constitution. It is also very far away from the participative democracy that Hugo Chávez proclaimed to be his goal less than three years ago

Deputy draws blood in the Assembly

September 25, 2003


Well, last night violence reached the Venezuelan National Assembly. Above, the picture of Deputy Perez Vivas of Social Chrsitian party COPEI, as scratched by Deputy Iris Varela of Chavez’ MVR. She claims he tried to make her fall, so she waited for him as he approached the building and jumped him. Are these our political leaders? Shame on them!

Deputy draws blood in the Assembly

September 25, 2003


Well, last night violence reached the Venezuelan National Assembly. Above, the picture of Deputy Perez Vivas of Social Chrsitian party COPEI, as scratched by Deputy Iris Varela of Chavez’ MVR. She claims he tried to make her fall, so she waited for him as he approached the building and jumped him. Are these our political leaders? Shame on them!

Dear Giovanni

September 24, 2003

I was going to reply to the comment by a reader in the story right below. My response was so long that I decided to make it an article in itself:


Dear Giovanni:


 


I think you are over simplifying the issues. First of all, Venezuela has a fairly large number of unemployed Doctors. Second, Venezuelan Doctors are considered to be better trained than Cuban ones. In fact, about ten years ago it was a team of Venezuelan Doctors led by Dr. Rafael Muci who determined that the Cuban epidemic by which 30,000 Cubans had lost or were losing their eyesight was simple malnutrition. I have talked to Dr. Muci about this and in his respected opinion a doctor trained in Venezuela is a much, much better doctor than the one from Cuba. So why didn’ty the Chavez Government open the program to venezuelan Doctors? Finally, countries are built on laws. There is a law in Venezuela that says that anyone trained abroad as a medical Dr. has to do an equivalency, much like in many countries of the world. A Venezuelan that goes to school in the US or Italy or any of those countries you mentioned WOULD have to do that. The Cuban doctors don’t. I would not approve if the doctors had any nationality.  Countries become developed when the laws are respected and there is enforcement of them, I do not believe citizens have the right to choose which laws they violate, least of all Governments.


 


What I object is that money is being spent on “new” projects to bring Cuban Doctors (which is really a political program) that are less qualified while Venezuelans hospitals do not even have gauze because the Government does not given them funds. The reason is that funds are spent only where politics matter. Most of the extensive networks of Venezuelan health facilities have no funds other than for salaries. I also take exception to your 80% figure. I have provided links in this blog to the Universidad Catolica project that shows that the poverty line was at 61% when Hugo Chavez took over and it stands today at 68%, those are the best numbers available. In fact, the Government’s numbers say poverty is below 50%.


 


The same thing happens on your second point, what I object to is that resources are being used for political purposes, when they could be used to solve a crime that is clearly easily solvable. I don’t buy the argument something was happening for the last twenty years. I was extremely critical of Rafael Caldera’s first three years in office, when he did everything wrong because he thought he knew what was right, much like Chavez, and things got much worse for Venezuelans until Teodoro Petkoff became Minister of Planning. But deaths in the barrios in Caracas Caldera’s last year in office were running at a rate of 40 per weekend, today they are running at 100-110 per weekend, so at least a better job at crime prevention was being done then. Both are tragic numbers nevertheless. But what is more tragic is that someone who had the popularity and the resources to improve things for the average Venezuelan has not done so because politics and power is what really matters to him. Look at the front page of El Nacional today where you would see how perverse this Government can be, former stripper, Head of Intelligence and currently Head of the training Institute INCE, Eliezer Otaiza is shown “showing off”  his new “equipment” in the modern gym he had built for himself next to his office at INCE. What type of social conscience can anyone have when as you say, there is a lot of poverty in the country and bad health care, but you can justify building yourself a modern gym in your office in an Institution in which should spend money in training young people? I think any politician in Venezuela from any party, who spends money in such ways should be recalled immediately.


 


As to your comment on Cuba and the US, I don’t see what they have to do with the letter from Havel et al. I do believe that people have the right for self-determination. But I do not believe that self-determination means or implies that people should be oppressed, not taken into account or have their rights be violated by their Governments. I do think the international community via the UN or whatever has to make all the efforts to stop this behavior wherever it may occur. The world should not sit idle while we witness more Pol Pot‘s, Fidel Castro’s, Hussein, Pinochet’s, Videla’s, Idi Amin’s or any form of oppressive dictatorships that violate the human rights of their citizens. That is the main accomplishment of the civilized world in recent decades.


 


One of the saddest things of the recent events in Cuba where dissidents were jailed and three men were condemned to die by firing squad was that these men were what should have been the archetypical success of the Cuban revolution: They wereblack and young (below 21), raised and educated completely under the revolution,  but they were killed for committing a political crime in which nobody was even injured!. Such is the reality of Cuban oppression.


 


The overall deterioration of health, crime, the economy, the increase in corruption and the lack of any constructive accomplishment is the tragedy of Chavez and those that are still with him. Had it been Salas Romer that had this same record of accomplishment, I would be saying exactly the same thing. Venezuela has received over US$ 120 billion in these five years for its oil exports and there is no measurable improvement in any economic or social parameter you may mention. This is more money in any five year period that any Venezuelan President in any five year term has received. Under the old Constitution Chavez’ Presidential period would be over by the end of the year. Under the new Bolivarian one, a referendum should be taking place by the end of the year. Neither will happen. It is not fair to the Venezuelan people, poor or rich alike.


 


Thanks for reading and commenting my blog.

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