Archive for April 12th, 2004

Buying Bush’s friendship

April 12, 2004

 


And I clearly have to mention the news that the Chavez administration has hired the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs to “improve’ US-Venezuela relations. As Wall Street Journal columnist Anastasia O’Grady tells it (by subscription only)(there are also copies of the letter in the Miami Herald but have not had time to look for it):


Venezuela has retained the Washington law firm Patton Boggs to give its image a Washington make-over. “We are advising them to improve U.S.-Venezuelan relations,” a consultant at the firm says.


This is hilarious. Imagine all the suits in the boardroom thinking real hard about how to get Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to lose the red beret and stop referring to George Bush, on national television, as an uncomplimentary part of the human anatomy.


Of course that’s no small job, which may be why Patton Boggs, which says it signed up the Embassy of Venezuela in September 2003, is raking in a fee that annualizes at more than $1 million a year. The firm wouldn’t speak about that obscene figure. “That’s your job,” I was told when I asked the price. But U.S. Justice Department filings show that, in the last three months of 2003, Venezuela coughed up $309,992 for Patton Boggs’s help.”


“It’s pretty clear, though, that Patton Boggs sees Senate Democrats as the flabby, soft underbelly of U.S. foreign policy, starting with Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. As the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Dodd defended Mr. Chavez in April 2002 when the Venezuelan military removed him rather than follow his orders to attack a crowd of civilian demonstrators. When an Inspector General’s report cleared the Bush administration of any role in that event, Mr. Dodd retreated in silence on the subject of Venezuela.


Dispassionate observers give chances for the Patton Boggs mission long odds. U.S. policy makers will balance the lobbyist claims against all the evidence that trusting Hugo Chavez is a bad idea. Nevertheless, it’s an election year and Democrats have a mighty interest in restoring their power. That means they need money and they need to show that George Bush is in trouble in the world. What is worrying is that Mr. Chavez might be able to help them with both.”


Such a caring Government, spending all that money in a hopeless effort.

Buying Bush’s friendship

April 12, 2004

 


And I clearly have to mention the news that the Chavez administration has hired the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs to “improve’ US-Venezuela relations. As Wall Street Journal columnist Anastasia O’Grady tells it (by subscription only)(there are also copies of the letter in the Miami Herald but have not had time to look for it):


Venezuela has retained the Washington law firm Patton Boggs to give its image a Washington make-over. “We are advising them to improve U.S.-Venezuelan relations,” a consultant at the firm says.


This is hilarious. Imagine all the suits in the boardroom thinking real hard about how to get Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to lose the red beret and stop referring to George Bush, on national television, as an uncomplimentary part of the human anatomy.


Of course that’s no small job, which may be why Patton Boggs, which says it signed up the Embassy of Venezuela in September 2003, is raking in a fee that annualizes at more than $1 million a year. The firm wouldn’t speak about that obscene figure. “That’s your job,” I was told when I asked the price. But U.S. Justice Department filings show that, in the last three months of 2003, Venezuela coughed up $309,992 for Patton Boggs’s help.”


“It’s pretty clear, though, that Patton Boggs sees Senate Democrats as the flabby, soft underbelly of U.S. foreign policy, starting with Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. As the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Dodd defended Mr. Chavez in April 2002 when the Venezuelan military removed him rather than follow his orders to attack a crowd of civilian demonstrators. When an Inspector General’s report cleared the Bush administration of any role in that event, Mr. Dodd retreated in silence on the subject of Venezuela.


Dispassionate observers give chances for the Patton Boggs mission long odds. U.S. policy makers will balance the lobbyist claims against all the evidence that trusting Hugo Chavez is a bad idea. Nevertheless, it’s an election year and Democrats have a mighty interest in restoring their power. That means they need money and they need to show that George Bush is in trouble in the world. What is worrying is that Mr. Chavez might be able to help them with both.”


Such a caring Government, spending all that money in a hopeless effort.

Another lie, another day: Carlos Melo released

April 12, 2004

 


Bandera Roja leader Carlos Melo was released last week. Using the testimony of three witnesses, as well as the video of his arrest caught by a surveillance camera at the gas station where the intelligence police arrested him, Melo was able to show that the Government had planted the weapons on him. Another lie, another day.

The grotesque human rights violations at Fort Mara and the attempt to cover it up

April 12, 2004

While I don’t want to rewrite stories you may have read about elsewhere, I can’t help but mention in detail the grotesque acts of lies and deceit staged by Chavez, Jesse Chacon and the Minister of Defense during the last two weeks. As Easter week had begun, the scandal dominating the news was clearly the fire at the military stockade of Fort Mara in Zulia state. There were basically two accusations, one that some of the soldiers were being punished for signing the recall petition against the President, the second one that the fire was set on purpose. Local press had given a lot of space to the story, while the Government ignored the case and attempted to hide from view those injured in the fire.


On Palm Sunday, April 4th. President Chavez in his Sunday program said that the “oligarchic” press had made a big deal out of a little incident calling it a “little fire”, denying that it was set on purpose and calling the injuries “slight’. To make matters even worse, Chavez spoke with his usual all-knowing authority, saying “we are not covering up anything”. Even more remarkable, Chavez congratulated his Minister of Defense, who was present that day with him as he spoke, for withstanding all these unfair attacks on him and the military, calling it another attempt to destabilize the country.


 


No sooner had Chavez said these words, when the relatives of one of those injured challenged the President to personally visit Angel Pedreanez who had burns covering 52% of his body rejecting the President’s statement that they were slight injuries. The sister of the soldier called her brother condition “critical” while his father said that his son had been unconscious for the first 72 hours following the incident.


 


And it was all downhill from there for a Government accustomed to lying and mostly getting away with it.  On Monday, Orlando Jesus Bustamante one of the injured soldiers died of the burns he had received. His family charged that they were never able to talk to him after he was hospitalized and was moved to Caracas without their consent, something that the Minister of Defense clearly knew on Sunday as Chavez spoke, given the mobilization required to move the injured soldiers to Caracas. At the same time, it was revealed that two additional soldiers were severely burned.


 


After the news came out that day, Minister of Information Jesse Chacon resigned “irrevocably” for failing to provide the President with true information and once again accusing the press, which actually had revealed the details the Government was trying to hide and cover up, of presenting the facts in an irresponsible manner (!!).


 


By Tuesday, the Maracaibo fire department had presented its report saying that the fire had been provoked and not like Chavez had explained was due to a cigarette butt falling on a mattress. Even the representative of the Peoples’ Ombudsman in Maracaibo raised a number of issues about the fire, questioning the fact that the soldiers were not allowed out and are actually not allowed to smoke in the stockade.


 


To show even more how the Government was trying to cover up the incident, Doctors from the Maracaibo Hospital where the soldiers were first treated, said that the patients were moved against the opinion of the doctors. One Doctor said that she did not even think one of the patients should be moved from one floor to another for treatment.


 


By now, the Government began trying to spin events. On Sunday, Chavez asked for forgiveness for saying the injuries were slight, but clearly showed that Chacon’s resignation was simply a smokescreen by “not accepting it”. Thus, what was defended by Chavez’ supporters, like Tarek William Saab, as an ethical resignation became empty words with Chavez defense and reinstatement of Chacon.


 


While a lot of the news seemed to center on the Chacon resignation (or his purchase of a 140 thousand dollar (!!) painting by Venezuelan painter Armando Reveron), the truth is that the true grotesque aspects of the incident in my opinion seemed to have been missed. Here we have a Government where the President and two Ministers are lying through the nose. Not only were they doing this, but they were simultaneously trying to cover the events, by hiding the injured as well as minimizing what had happened, showing a total disregard for human rights and the law.


 


As if this were not enough, while the Zulia representative of the People’s Ombudsman acted promptly, the People’s Ombudsman has yet to make a statement on any of these events. Similarly, the Attorney General/Prosecutor Isaias Rodriguez has actually said absolutely nothing about the whole affair, from the violations of human rights, through the lies and manipulations and the fact that evidence, such as the report by the Maracaibo fire department, has disappeared in the hands of the military.


 


Thus, one more story of this corrupt, unethical and insensitive administration is being written as we speak. One of the soldiers remains in critical condition as his relatives charge that they are being pressured by military intelligence not to say anything else to the press. Chavez supposedly invited the father to meet with him in Caracas, but the father simply said: “I do not trust the Government or the military” adding that the General in charge of Zulia state General Silva is a liar that is simply twisting the truth.


 


By now, the Chavez administration is not capable of deceiving too many people. As all of this was taking place Human Rights groups in Washington such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were complaining to the Chavez administration for the lack of investigation into the charges of human rights violations. HRW even wrote a letter to Chavez asking for full and impartial investigations and saying that they had information they could trust that the tortures occurring during the February protests were not isolated or exceptional but the generalized behavior with apparent official approval. The letter even contained specific cases and accusations with names of those that were tortured. Thus, the same institution that used to defend Hugo Chavez two years ago, is now presenting a damning condemnation of the human rights violations by the Chavez Government.


 


Thus, just as two years have gone by and not one person has been jailed for the 19 deaths of April 11th. the evidence against Hugo Chavez and his cronies continues to pile up. And as it does, everyone should remind the leading figures of this administration that crimes against humanity never prescribe.

The grotesque human rights violations at Fort Mara and the attempt to cover it up

April 12, 2004

While I don’t want to rewrite stories you may have read about elsewhere, I can’t help but mention in detail the grotesque acts of lies and deceit staged by Chavez, Jesse Chacon and the Minister of Defense during the last two weeks. As Easter week had begun, the scandal dominating the news was clearly the fire at the military stockade of Fort Mara in Zulia state. There were basically two accusations, one that some of the soldiers were being punished for signing the recall petition against the President, the second one that the fire was set on purpose. Local press had given a lot of space to the story, while the Government ignored the case and attempted to hide from view those injured in the fire.


On Palm Sunday, April 4th. President Chavez in his Sunday program said that the “oligarchic” press had made a big deal out of a little incident calling it a “little fire”, denying that it was set on purpose and calling the injuries “slight’. To make matters even worse, Chavez spoke with his usual all-knowing authority, saying “we are not covering up anything”. Even more remarkable, Chavez congratulated his Minister of Defense, who was present that day with him as he spoke, for withstanding all these unfair attacks on him and the military, calling it another attempt to destabilize the country.


 


No sooner had Chavez said these words, when the relatives of one of those injured challenged the President to personally visit Angel Pedreanez who had burns covering 52% of his body rejecting the President’s statement that they were slight injuries. The sister of the soldier called her brother condition “critical” while his father said that his son had been unconscious for the first 72 hours following the incident.


 


And it was all downhill from there for a Government accustomed to lying and mostly getting away with it.  On Monday, Orlando Jesus Bustamante one of the injured soldiers died of the burns he had received. His family charged that they were never able to talk to him after he was hospitalized and was moved to Caracas without their consent, something that the Minister of Defense clearly knew on Sunday as Chavez spoke, given the mobilization required to move the injured soldiers to Caracas. At the same time, it was revealed that two additional soldiers were severely burned.


 


After the news came out that day, Minister of Information Jesse Chacon resigned “irrevocably” for failing to provide the President with true information and once again accusing the press, which actually had revealed the details the Government was trying to hide and cover up, of presenting the facts in an irresponsible manner (!!).


 


By Tuesday, the Maracaibo fire department had presented its report saying that the fire had been provoked and not like Chavez had explained was due to a cigarette butt falling on a mattress. Even the representative of the Peoples’ Ombudsman in Maracaibo raised a number of issues about the fire, questioning the fact that the soldiers were not allowed out and are actually not allowed to smoke in the stockade.


 


To show even more how the Government was trying to cover up the incident, Doctors from the Maracaibo Hospital where the soldiers were first treated, said that the patients were moved against the opinion of the doctors. One Doctor said that she did not even think one of the patients should be moved from one floor to another for treatment.


 


By now, the Government began trying to spin events. On Sunday, Chavez asked for forgiveness for saying the injuries were slight, but clearly showed that Chacon’s resignation was simply a smokescreen by “not accepting it”. Thus, what was defended by Chavez’ supporters, like Tarek William Saab, as an ethical resignation became empty words with Chavez defense and reinstatement of Chacon.


 


While a lot of the news seemed to center on the Chacon resignation (or his purchase of a 140 thousand dollar (!!) painting by Venezuelan painter Armando Reveron), the truth is that the true grotesque aspects of the incident in my opinion seemed to have been missed. Here we have a Government where the President and two Ministers are lying through the nose. Not only were they doing this, but they were simultaneously trying to cover the events, by hiding the injured as well as minimizing what had happened, showing a total disregard for human rights and the law.


 


As if this were not enough, while the Zulia representative of the People’s Ombudsman acted promptly, the People’s Ombudsman has yet to make a statement on any of these events. Similarly, the Attorney General/Prosecutor Isaias Rodriguez has actually said absolutely nothing about the whole affair, from the violations of human rights, through the lies and manipulations and the fact that evidence, such as the report by the Maracaibo fire department, has disappeared in the hands of the military.


 


Thus, one more story of this corrupt, unethical and insensitive administration is being written as we speak. One of the soldiers remains in critical condition as his relatives charge that they are being pressured by military intelligence not to say anything else to the press. Chavez supposedly invited the father to meet with him in Caracas, but the father simply said: “I do not trust the Government or the military” adding that the General in charge of Zulia state General Silva is a liar that is simply twisting the truth.


 


By now, the Chavez administration is not capable of deceiving too many people. As all of this was taking place Human Rights groups in Washington such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were complaining to the Chavez administration for the lack of investigation into the charges of human rights violations. HRW even wrote a letter to Chavez asking for full and impartial investigations and saying that they had information they could trust that the tortures occurring during the February protests were not isolated or exceptional but the generalized behavior with apparent official approval. The letter even contained specific cases and accusations with names of those that were tortured. Thus, the same institution that used to defend Hugo Chavez two years ago, is now presenting a damning condemnation of the human rights violations by the Chavez Government.


 


Thus, just as two years have gone by and not one person has been jailed for the 19 deaths of April 11th. the evidence against Hugo Chavez and his cronies continues to pile up. And as it does, everyone should remind the leading figures of this administration that crimes against humanity never prescribe.

Electoral Hall orders CNE to act

April 12, 2004

It was indeed quiet in my absence. I managed to turn my brain mostly off from the conflicts here, but today things got back into action when the Electoral hall of the Venezuelan Supreme Court reiterated its decision on the signatures deemed by the Electoral Board to be under observation, as well as reaffirming the fact that it has the jurisdiction to rule on electoral matters and has the same level as the Constitutional hall.


In its long sentence the Electoral Hall considers all of the requests and history of the case and decides to reiterate that its competence to consider the case and orders the CNE to i) Validate the signatures under observation ii) Include in the ratification process more than 39,000 forms which were excluded and iii) proceed to organize the ratification process. Finally the Electoral Hall, once again poses the problem of conflict of competence between itself and the Constitutional Hall.


 


From a legal point of view, the decision has to be followed by the CNE. Obviously, Chavez’ MVR rejected the decision and even threatened to initiate a trial against the President of the Electoral Hall of the Supreme Court, but the decision stands until the full Court says the Electoral Hall has no competence or changes the decision.


 


For the Government the decision represents a big problem. The Electoral hall had encouraged the sides to negotiate which the Government and the CNE refused to do. But this time around, the Electoral Hall is ordering the CNE to hold the recall. The Hall could act if the CNE refuses to follow the order, creating a legal conflict that will show that the Chavez administration is not willing to follow the rules and will do anything to stop the recall vote.


 


While an important victory, for the opposition this represents only one more step in showing that the Chavez administration will not follow the Constitution and its is the opposition that has chosen the democratic path. A small victory, but one that leads to further conflicts and unmasking the true nature of Chavez and his cohorts.

Electoral Hall orders CNE to act

April 12, 2004

It was indeed quiet in my absence. I managed to turn my brain mostly off from the conflicts here, but today things got back into action when the Electoral hall of the Venezuelan Supreme Court reiterated its decision on the signatures deemed by the Electoral Board to be under observation, as well as reaffirming the fact that it has the jurisdiction to rule on electoral matters and has the same level as the Constitutional hall.


In its long sentence the Electoral Hall considers all of the requests and history of the case and decides to reiterate that its competence to consider the case and orders the CNE to i) Validate the signatures under observation ii) Include in the ratification process more than 39,000 forms which were excluded and iii) proceed to organize the ratification process. Finally the Electoral Hall, once again poses the problem of conflict of competence between itself and the Constitutional Hall.


 


From a legal point of view, the decision has to be followed by the CNE. Obviously, Chavez’ MVR rejected the decision and even threatened to initiate a trial against the President of the Electoral Hall of the Supreme Court, but the decision stands until the full Court says the Electoral Hall has no competence or changes the decision.


 


For the Government the decision represents a big problem. The Electoral hall had encouraged the sides to negotiate which the Government and the CNE refused to do. But this time around, the Electoral Hall is ordering the CNE to hold the recall. The Hall could act if the CNE refuses to follow the order, creating a legal conflict that will show that the Chavez administration is not willing to follow the rules and will do anything to stop the recall vote.


 


While an important victory, for the opposition this represents only one more step in showing that the Chavez administration will not follow the Constitution and its is the opposition that has chosen the democratic path. A small victory, but one that leads to further conflicts and unmasking the true nature of Chavez and his cohorts.

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