Archive for July, 2004

A Venezuelan Monitor

July 31, 2004

This is today’s Editorial in the Washington Post about the Venezuelan elections and Sumate


 


NEXT MONTH Venezuela will have a chance, maybe its last, to resolve years of political turmoil by peaceful and democratic means. A referendum is scheduled for Aug. 15 on the tenure of populist president Hugo Chavez. If it is fairly held and Mr. Chavez wins, an opposition that in the past has supported a military coup and a general strike in an attempt to force the president from office will be obliged to accept his rule for 2 1/2 more years. If he loses, Mr. Chavez — a self-styled revolutionary who once led a military rebellion against a democratic government — will be removed, and new elections for president will


 


That this democratic opportunity exists at all is due in no small part to a civil society group called Sumate (“join up” in Spanish), which for a year has advocated for and organized the referendum that is provided for in the Venezuelan constitution. The vote itself will have a greater chance of being staged and judged fairly thanks to Sumate, which has recruited tens of thousands of volunteers to monitor the process and conduct independent exit polls and quick counts. So it is disturbing, if not exactly surprising, that Mr. Chavez, who resisted the referendum all along, has instigated an ugly campaign against the organization, including criminal charges against its leaders.


 


The two founders of Sumate, Alejandro Plaz and Maria Corina Machado, and two of their collaborators are being formally investigated by a state prosecutor for conspiracy to commit treason. Their alleged crime, first raised by Mr. Chavez in a television appearance in February, is Sumate’s acceptance of $53,400, or 2 percent of its annual budget, from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a bipartisan, congressionally funded organization that supports democratic movements around the world. Reports by pro-government media have suggested that the prosecutor may seek the detention of the activists before the referendum takes place; if convicted, they could face prison terms of eight to 16 years.


 


Why would it be treasonous to accept U.S. funds in an effort to organize a fair election? Surely not because foreign aid is alien to Venezuela: The country’s political parties have received it for decades, and Mr. Chavez’s own political apparatus has been bolstered by thousands of Cubans dispatched by his principal ally, Fidel Castro. Sumate does not advocate Mr. Chavez’s removal but only the resolution of the country’s conflict by constitutional means.


But Mr. Chavez does not genuinely accept democracy or the rule of law. He delayed the referendum for a year through legal manipulation and political dirty tricks. Now he flirts with outright political repression in an attempt to determine its outcome. In that sense, Sumate and its leaders are the proverbial canary in the coal mine: If they are prosecuted or jailed, the world will know that Venezuela‘s referendum is tainted.

Francis Crick is dead

July 30, 2004

Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner in Biology, who co-discovered the DNA double helix with Jim Watson, died today. I grew up admiring people like Watson and Crick, Feynman, Bardeen (Yes, I was/am a science geek at heart!), Fermi and Landau. At the time, Watson and Crick were the “young ones” of this group; today Crick is dead at 88. A real character, he recognized the serendipity of his discovery, but continued making scientific contributions during his lifetime, including generalizations about the role of DNA in all species. A sad day for science, his contributions will always be remembered. In some sense, his death marks in my mind the end of an era in science which was both an important part of and a significant influence in my life.

Three interesting new entries in the Venezuelan Blogosphere

July 30, 2004

That blogs will contribute to the knowledge and discussion about a future Venezuelan is proven by three new interesting additions this week to the Venezuela blogging world (mostly in Spanish):


-Letter from Venezuela: Self-described as “A blog to describe every day experience in a developing neo dictatorship” Written by Plinio Cabrera


 


-El Liberal Venezolano: A thought-provoking blog self-described as “For individualism, freedom and markets in Venezuela” . You can recognize an independent thinker in this blog. Loved this very thought provoking part of a post even if I disagree with having that experiment:


 


”In any case, on August 15th if I can vote, I will do it to revoke the mandate of the commandant, even if sometimes I think that it will be good that Chavez wins and the country continue sliding in the path towards socialism. Maybe that way we would learn by our own experience what others went through over in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Cuba and stop counting: that socialism does not work”


 


-Juan Bimba: A Venezuela with his own criteria. Described as a tribute to Juan Bimba, the prototype of the Venezuelan average man. The first four posts are very detailed accounts by other authors of February 27th. 1989, when severe rioting paralyzed the country for days, of February 4th. 1992, when Hugo Chavez led his coup attempt against Carlos Andres Perez, Caldera’s revival speech that same day that led to his reelection and an account of the coup on November 27th. 1992. Recommended for those that don’t remember all of the details or want to refresh them!

Three interesting new entries in the Venezuelan Blogosphere

July 30, 2004

That blogs will contribute to the knowledge and discussion about a future Venezuelan is proven by three new interesting additions this week to the Venezuela blogging world (mostly in Spanish):


-Letter from Venezuela: Self-described as “A blog to describe every day experience in a developing neo dictatorship” Written by Plinio Cabrera


 


-El Liberal Venezolano: A thought-provoking blog self-described as “For individualism, freedom and markets in Venezuela” . You can recognize an independent thinker in this blog. Loved this very thought provoking part of a post even if I disagree with having that experiment:


 


”In any case, on August 15th if I can vote, I will do it to revoke the mandate of the commandant, even if sometimes I think that it will be good that Chavez wins and the country continue sliding in the path towards socialism. Maybe that way we would learn by our own experience what others went through over in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Cuba and stop counting: that socialism does not work”


 


-Juan Bimba: A Venezuela with his own criteria. Described as a tribute to Juan Bimba, the prototype of the Venezuelan average man. The first four posts are very detailed accounts by other authors of February 27th. 1989, when severe rioting paralyzed the country for days, of February 4th. 1992, when Hugo Chavez led his coup attempt against Carlos Andres Perez, Caldera’s revival speech that same day that led to his reelection and an account of the coup on November 27th. 1992. Recommended for those that don’t remember all of the details or want to refresh them!

Of cheap electoral tricks and paranoia

July 28, 2004

If the creativity that is sometimes used in Venezuela to cheat or trick, were channeled into positive activities, maybe the country would not find itself where it is today, full of problems and in the midst of a political confrontation that it’s unclear how it will be resolved.


Case in point have been all of the tricks that the CNE has managed to pull out of thin air in the last few days, all of them aimed at blocking the opposition vote in different ways:


 


Manipulation of the Electoral Registry: The Electoral Registry has been manipulated to outrageous levels. People who have been registered to vote for decades in one polling station have been moved somewhere else without having requested it. And the changes and not from one part of the city to another, they are from one part of the state to another or from one state to the other, usually far away states. Only in my office two relatives of coworkers who live in Caracas, have been moved to Barinas state and Anzoategui state, both of them a good four to five hour drive from Caracas.


 


What has been done is such a criminal act, that only the opposition is complaining about it. Why? Because up to now all of the people that have been reported as having been transferred from one polling station to another have been people who signed in favor of holding a recall vote against President Hugo Chavez. Moreover, the chief victim of this act of thuggery has been Zulia state, the state where Chavez is the least popular. In the 2000 election, Hugo Chavez won nationally with 60% of the total vote, but in Zulia received only 45% of the total number cast. Even more ominous for Chavez, Zulia is the state with the highest absolute number of registered voters.


 


What is truly bothersome about this, is that in any country with independent powers, there would be an investigation to determine if everyone affected is indeed someone who signed the petition to hold the recall and who were the people within the computer division of the CNE that are responsible for this outrage. Instead, all we get is a call for everyone that has been moved to fill out a form, within 48 hours, to correct this situation. In Zulia state alone, there are already close to 8,000 voters that have complained about where they are now registered according to CNE Director Jorge Rodriguez.  Sumate is reporting that in that state alone, more than 20,000 voters were moved to a different state and 96,000 had their location within the state changed.


 


But no such investigation is taking place here to find the political criminals who orchestrated this farce within the CNE or if any of the pro-Chavez CNE Directors was involved in planning and executing this outrage. Where is the People’s Ombudsman? Where is the Attorney General? Probably campaigning for Chavez.


 


Blocking the vote of Venezuelans abroad: According to the country’s Constitution Venezuelans abroad have the right to vote, but somehow the CNE skipped this right with the petition drive for the recall referendum, arguing that it was not a vote, despite the fact that requirements ended up being more stringent than for a vote.


 


Despite the interest in the current recall vote, the final Electoral Registry showed two weeks ago a decrease in the total number of voters registered, which was clearly absurd given the interest in the recall vote. This was later given a very simple explanation: Only 5% of the requests to register abroad were ever processed by the CNE, essentially violating the rights of thousands of citizens.


 


As if this were not enough, yesterday, the CNE, with the vote of the three pro-Chavez Directors of the CNE, decided to change our Constitutional rights, by requiring that citizens will need besides their passport or National ID card, a certificate of residence in that foreign country. This obviously excludes a large number of voters, such as students, those with two passports and illegals. Moreover, each country may or may not have such a certification. In fact, I do not believe such a document exists in Venezuela.  The CNE should have been very specific in what constitutes proof of residency; I am sure that many Consulates will abuse citizens by not allowing them to vote, by placing very stringent requirements in what is admitted as proof of residency. .


 


Why the interest in blocking the vote of Venezuelans abroad? Easy, in the 2000 Presidential election won by Hugo Chavez with 60% of the total vote, Venezuelans abroad barely gave him 30% of the total vote, a number that has certainly diminished in the last few years.


 


Removing those that signed the recall petition as witnesses: In Venezuela, polling booths are manned by “witnesses” chosen at random among the voters registered at each location. It is obligatory to show up if you are chosen, unless you can be excused for health or age reasons. Well, the CNE decided to remove anyone that signed the recall petition from participating. But you see, it did not ban those that signed petitions in favor of the Chavista Deputies from participating, Thus, the people manning the polling stations will be either pro-Chavez or those that do not even care about any of the democratic processes that have taken place in Venezuela in the last year. So much for a participatory democracy!


 


While all of this is going on, each misstep, confusion and trick adds days to an already delayed timetable. Two days ago I thought about writing about my current paranoia that all of this is being done on purpose to simply have the whole process collapse and postpone the recall vote until after August 19th. when Chavez, if recalled, would be replaced by the Vice-President and not by a newly elected President. I decided not to write anything, so as not to suggest anything that I only had circumstantial evidence for. But by now, others have publicly expressed such concerns, such as Causa R Deputy Andres Velasquez, who claims the whole process is being boycotted from within the CNE and CNE Director Ezequiel Zamora who said today that he is concerned about the delays and the CNE has to accelerate things or the peace of the country may be in danger.


 


Paranoia? Exaggeration? Far fetched?  Maybe, but after seeing so many tricks and abuses in the last few weeks, it would not surprise me if the whole process is short circuited if things are not looking up for the Government days before the recall vote is scheduled to take place. Hope it never happens, but…

Chavez, the state and violence

July 26, 2004

Quote directly from the fascist brain, Hugo Chavez yesterday in Alo Presidente:


“If any of these gentlemen would think again about taking the path of violence, the State has exclusive rights to the use of violence to insure the peace of all Venezuelans”


What ever happened to “damm the solider that points his gun at the people?” What ever ahppened to human rights? Now the State has exclusive rights to violence…Incredible!!

Chavez, the state and violence

July 26, 2004

Quote directly from the fascist brain, Hugo Chavez yesterday in Alo Presidente:


“If any of these gentlemen would think again about taking the path of violence, the State has exclusive rights to the use of violence to insure the peace of all Venezuelans”


What ever happened to “damm the solider that points his gun at the people?” What ever ahppened to human rights? Now the State has exclusive rights to violence…Incredible!!

The Venezuelan Religious Policeman

July 25, 2004

Edgar Hernandez Behrens, Head of the Exchange control office CADIVI is one of those curious personalities of this Government who holds his position because of his loyalty and fundamentalism and not for his qualifications. A former military, loyal Chavista and deeply religious, to the extent that his offices’ web page says “God is love and prosperity”, he regularly makes statements that show his ignorance, what’s worse is that even when corrected, he continues saying and doing the same things.


His office has been in the news this week for a number of reasons. It was CADIVI that proposed in April 2003 a Bill for foreign exchange violations, which has mysteriously remained at the Committee level as if not to interfere with the lucrative foreign exchange activities of the revolution and the revolutionaries. But Hernandez Behrens has persisted and the first draft of the Bill was approved in May and was discussed again this week in the Finance Committee of the National Assembly.


 


There are two aspects of the bill that are of concern. The first one is that it criminalizes the possession of foreign currency. In order to carry foreign currency with you, you will have to carry a receipt as proof of purchase of the bills you may have on you. Mind you, since CADIVI does not currently approve the direct sale of foreign currency of any kind to anyone, it only approves the use of your credit cards abroad that means that you would have to find the original receipt from before exchange controls were imposed in early 2003 and carry it around when traveling.


 


But this is not what is bothersome. What worries me is that if passed as is, Venezuelans and foreigners traveling abroad will likely be searched, their money confiscated, abused and asked for bribes when they leave the country through the airports. As we like to say here, we have seen that movie before, authorities abusing their power for their own benefit, when laws give them some form of discretionary power. One MVR Deputy said during the testimony on the Bill that people did not have to worry, that they will not be harassed, but it is easy for him to say, as most Deputies and Government officials (from all sides of the political spectrum) have flunkies meet them when they leave or arrive in the country to speed up and “ease” the process. So what do they know about anyway?


 


What I worry is that soon we will have our new form of Saudi Arabia’s religious police well described so well in that great blog by the same name that I recommended a few months ago.  I can imagine Hernandez Behrens creating the CADIVI police, with himself and chief, to check every Venezuelan leaving or entering the country to comply with this law, while millions are being stolen by leaders of the revolution via the same exchange control system as is happening today.  


 


As of this were not enough, there is another article in the proposed law that essentially implies that every time a resident of Venezuela buys, sells, provides a service or trades something abroad, he will have to convert the foreign currency into local currency at the official rate of exchange. The article says very specifically that every time a transaction like that takes place whether “in Venezuela or abroad” the individual or company will have to change the currency at the official rate. This is clearly illegal and in violation of the countries laws. Venezuelan law in no way prohibits individuals or companies from holding foreign property, but this will de facto prohibit it, if approved as it is. Imagine, if you sell a stock, or a bond that you hold abroad for example, you are told you have to change the foreign currency into bolivars. The only restriction currently established by Venezuelan laws is that you have to pay taxes on any gains anywhere in the world, but you can own any instrument or property you wish.


 


Of course, there are ways around it. If the language in the bill remains dense like of is today, there will be a mad rush by Venezuelan individuals and companies to change their assets in their current brokerage or investment account to be owned by foreign company, so as to be exempt from the law.


 


As if this were not enough this tropical version of the religious policeman reiterated statements made by him a few weeks ago and continued proving his ignorance on a subject in which he should be an expert and I quote:


 


”We are thinking of allowing sending capitals abroad, a convertibility of capitals. For example, a Venezuelan that sells a farm, an apartment. He wants to convert his bolivars to foreign currency? He will convert 200 million bolivars, as an example, into 200,000 dollars, but he will have to pay a tax…In the US this tax is 30% (??), I think in Colombia it is 20%, we have to study what is the ideal percentage to remove the motivation for those capitals to flee, but we have to allow it.”


 


No such tax exists in the US where billions are allowed to come in and out daily. I don’t know if it does exist in Colombia. Various spokesmen have told Mr. Behrens of his ignorance via the press and the media, but when you are a fundamentalist, you are always right, so you repeat lies so many times that they become the truth. Such is the case of our very own religious policeman, who soon may acquire new powers to spread his will and his word.

The Venezuelan Religious Policeman

July 25, 2004

Edgar Hernandez Behrens, Head of the Exchange control office CADIVI is one of those curious personalities of this Government who holds his position because of his loyalty and fundamentalism and not for his qualifications. A former military, loyal Chavista and deeply religious, to the extent that his offices’ web page says “God is love and prosperity”, he regularly makes statements that show his ignorance, what’s worse is that even when corrected, he continues saying and doing the same things.


His office has been in the news this week for a number of reasons. It was CADIVI that proposed in April 2003 a Bill for foreign exchange violations, which has mysteriously remained at the Committee level as if not to interfere with the lucrative foreign exchange activities of the revolution and the revolutionaries. But Hernandez Behrens has persisted and the first draft of the Bill was approved in May and was discussed again this week in the Finance Committee of the National Assembly.


 


There are two aspects of the bill that are of concern. The first one is that it criminalizes the possession of foreign currency. In order to carry foreign currency with you, you will have to carry a receipt as proof of purchase of the bills you may have on you. Mind you, since CADIVI does not currently approve the direct sale of foreign currency of any kind to anyone, it only approves the use of your credit cards abroad that means that you would have to find the original receipt from before exchange controls were imposed in early 2003 and carry it around when traveling.


 


But this is not what is bothersome. What worries me is that if passed as is, Venezuelans and foreigners traveling abroad will likely be searched, their money confiscated, abused and asked for bribes when they leave the country through the airports. As we like to say here, we have seen that movie before, authorities abusing their power for their own benefit, when laws give them some form of discretionary power. One MVR Deputy said during the testimony on the Bill that people did not have to worry, that they will not be harassed, but it is easy for him to say, as most Deputies and Government officials (from all sides of the political spectrum) have flunkies meet them when they leave or arrive in the country to speed up and “ease” the process. So what do they know about anyway?


 


What I worry is that soon we will have our new form of Saudi Arabia’s religious police well described so well in that great blog by the same name that I recommended a few months ago.  I can imagine Hernandez Behrens creating the CADIVI police, with himself and chief, to check every Venezuelan leaving or entering the country to comply with this law, while millions are being stolen by leaders of the revolution via the same exchange control system as is happening today.  


 


As of this were not enough, there is another article in the proposed law that essentially implies that every time a resident of Venezuela buys, sells, provides a service or trades something abroad, he will have to convert the foreign currency into local currency at the official rate of exchange. The article says very specifically that every time a transaction like that takes place whether “in Venezuela or abroad” the individual or company will have to change the currency at the official rate. This is clearly illegal and in violation of the countries laws. Venezuelan law in no way prohibits individuals or companies from holding foreign property, but this will de facto prohibit it, if approved as it is. Imagine, if you sell a stock, or a bond that you hold abroad for example, you are told you have to change the foreign currency into bolivars. The only restriction currently established by Venezuelan laws is that you have to pay taxes on any gains anywhere in the world, but you can own any instrument or property you wish.


 


Of course, there are ways around it. If the language in the bill remains dense like of is today, there will be a mad rush by Venezuelan individuals and companies to change their assets in their current brokerage or investment account to be owned by foreign company, so as to be exempt from the law.


 


As if this were not enough this tropical version of the religious policeman reiterated statements made by him a few weeks ago and continued proving his ignorance on a subject in which he should be an expert and I quote:


 


”We are thinking of allowing sending capitals abroad, a convertibility of capitals. For example, a Venezuelan that sells a farm, an apartment. He wants to convert his bolivars to foreign currency? He will convert 200 million bolivars, as an example, into 200,000 dollars, but he will have to pay a tax…In the US this tax is 30% (??), I think in Colombia it is 20%, we have to study what is the ideal percentage to remove the motivation for those capitals to flee, but we have to allow it.”


 


No such tax exists in the US where billions are allowed to come in and out daily. I don’t know if it does exist in Colombia. Various spokesmen have told Mr. Behrens of his ignorance via the press and the media, but when you are a fundamentalist, you are always right, so you repeat lies so many times that they become the truth. Such is the case of our very own religious policeman, who soon may acquire new powers to spread his will and his word.

When a corrupt Government and its party become the same

July 25, 2004

This is how unethical this Government is. This is a screen shot of the web page www.venezuela.gov.ve the official page of the Venezuelan Government. But what do you see? On top a banner about the battle of Santa Ines the rallying cry for Chavez’ campaign. Below you can download the working manual for Chavez’ campaign command Comando Maisanta and on the right you have a link to the Circulo Bolivarianos, strictly a party activity. This is clearly using Government resources for party activities which is forbidden by law, but the Government could care lessabout it. Government funds are being used for the obsene and advantageoius campaign that Chavez is carrying out. But in the en it will not matter, people are fed up with all of this corruption.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,558 other followers