Archive for December, 2004

Strategy against land populism: Real populism

December 27, 2004

I have found the discussion about my post yesterday quite interesting. This is the type of discussion that I love, because it brings you into the reality of going from theories to practice. It is one thing to believe in something, it is another to implement it, convince others and make everyone like your policies. This is why populism has an edge, it is so simple to promise, to simplify complex issues to the point that you can make your point more attractive. It is so simple to blame those that have more, like the Queen of England eating Venezuela’s meat in yesterday’s El Universal article. 


But let’s start at the beginning. In 2001, Hugo Chavez passed a Land Bill taking advantage of an enabling law that allowed him to legislate on specific economic matters. Many did not like this bill and in fact, the origin of much the opposition movement began with it. Less than three weeks after it was issued the opposition held its first large march. The Supreme Court actually ruled that sections of the Bill were illegal, including that the Government can not intervene without compensation and the possibility of intervening land because it is not properly being used.


 


What the bill did allow, was for the Government to expropriate “latifundios” defined as large agricultural estates with more than 10,000 hectares or expropriate those that are not being used and are strategic for the country’s feeding. However, the same bill also says that the National Institute of Land (INTI) had to do an inventory of all such lands before it could begin doing anything.


 


However, this inventory has yet to be completed. I understand it is far from being ready. Thus, the law can not be applied, least of all by a Governor. The law gives ample powers to INTI to execute its mandate, but nowhere does it mention Governors or any other regional authority.


 


Maybe Chavez can say in one of his speeches that his Government has failed in delivering what it promised, or some of his collaborates have not been up to the task. The problem is INTI has had only two Presidents’: Chavez’ own brother Adam, who is supposed to have inducted Chávez into Marxism and well known versatile handyman Eliecer Otaiza, who has been assigned to so many jobs, that it is hard to imagine how he can be an expert on all these fields.


 


Let’s look at Adam Chavez’ tenure at INTI first. He was named the first President of that Institute, which led everyone to believe the President really meant business. Adam was thus promoted from being Chavez’ private secretary, to managing the large and recently created and amalgamated bureaucracy at INTI. Not an easy task for someone who had devoted his life to a political and/or academic life. However, after over a year in the position, Chávez assigned his brother to a more important position from a political point of view: he named him Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba. Where I am sure Adam spends his time talking to Fidel and his intelligence officers, plotting the next steps of the revolution and how to keep control over all aspects of the country’s life.


 


So, next we move to Otaiza. He certainly has had a colorful history. From former military to stripper, he rose from the the obscurity of his thongs past, to become the second head of the intelligence police in Chavez Presidency. From there, he was demoted to Head of the training Institute (INCE), where he used public funds to build himself a gym, in order to keep his muscles intact in case he ever has to go back to performing. Once he used INCE to help change and finance the results of the recall vote, Otaiza was named as Head of the Land Institute, where he rapidly made sure another new gym was built without the weaknesses of his previous one. This certainly gives you an idea of what revolutionary priorities are in this “process”.


 


And that in a nutshell is the tragedy of this Government. In a country where private sector management leaves a lot to be desired, Chavez shifts the people he trusts from one unrelated job to another, as if just the fact that he knows them guarantees their success. The results are obvious: The inventory is not even close to being finished, the revolution is itchy for results, let’s ignore the law, it’s the easiest way down that highway.


 


Thus, from the point of view of the law, nothing can be done yet until the inventory is finished. Moreover, the land that can be expropriated are large states, over 10,000 hectares. Not all of the farms “intervened” in the Cojedes decree are over 10,000 hectares in extension. So it’s just illegal.


 


In fact, the mental potpourri in the mind of Cojedes’ Governor is shown in his interview in El Universal today, where he challenges two former politicians who own land in his state to “show” how they got to be land owners, as if his decrees had anything to do with corruption. If he thinks there is something fishy about how these guys got to won that land, he should go after them and prove there is something dirty going on, they are still innocent until proven guilty. Unless the revolution wants them to be guilty of course. By the way, in that interview perhaps the best question is when the reporter asks him why he is dong this decree now, if he has been Governor for four years. Oh well, you silly reporters asking stupid questions!


 


Thus, having defined that the whole process is illegal and that it is the Government’s fault that it is, we come to the point of strategy. What should the opposition do?


 


In my mind, the opposition has to fight, intelligently, but it has to fight. I would not fight over the intervention of the sixteen farms. I would go find out what the names of the largest Government’ farms are and ask that they be added to the list. I would ask that the large estates owned by Chavez’ family and his friends in Barinas state also be included, giving specific names and areas. I would ask that all squatters living in barrios in municipal land be given to the people that live there by Presidential decree. I would even use footage from Chavez’ presidential campaign in 1998 when he promised that he would do that. Finally I would aks that all of this be done, not next year, but right now, like in January to prove the revolution belives in the well being of the people. I would even start a countdown; in 33 days, your land will be yours, the Government’s land too!


 


The issue is too important to leave it to the Government and the oligarchs. It appears that everyone in Venezuela that owns anything is an oligarch. This is the first country where according to the Government’s definition, half the population are oligarchs. As someone said in the comments, today it is the large estates, tomorrow the homes of the rich, the day after tomorrow the homes of the not so rich. Where does the process end? Who stops it once it has its own momentum? After all, it was Chavez during his 1998 Presidential campaign in Guatire (He thought no outsiders were listening) who pointed to the lower middle class apartment buildings behind where a large crowd was listening to him and promised he would give those to the “people” when he got to power. Well, it has been six years and little has been delivered. And he has an election to win on 2006. Time to stop him. How?


 


P.S. Romulo Betancourt, Raul Leoni and Rafael Caldera gave away in each of their five years under the old IAN (Instituto Agrario Nacioanl), more land that Chavez has in his six years of hot air revolutionary words. It’s a fact, look it up!

Strategy against land populism: Real populism

December 27, 2004

I have found the discussion about my post yesterday quite interesting. This is the type of discussion that I love, because it brings you into the reality of going from theories to practice. It is one thing to believe in something, it is another to implement it, convince others and make everyone like your policies. This is why populism has an edge, it is so simple to promise, to simplify complex issues to the point that you can make your point more attractive. It is so simple to blame those that have more, like the Queen of England eating Venezuela’s meat in yesterday’s El Universal article. 


But let’s start at the beginning. In 2001, Hugo Chavez passed a Land Bill taking advantage of an enabling law that allowed him to legislate on specific economic matters. Many did not like this bill and in fact, the origin of much the opposition movement began with it. Less than three weeks after it was issued the opposition held its first large march. The Supreme Court actually ruled that sections of the Bill were illegal, including that the Government can not intervene without compensation and the possibility of intervening land because it is not properly being used.


 


What the bill did allow, was for the Government to expropriate “latifundios” defined as large agricultural estates with more than 10,000 hectares or expropriate those that are not being used and are strategic for the country’s feeding. However, the same bill also says that the National Institute of Land (INTI) had to do an inventory of all such lands before it could begin doing anything.


 


However, this inventory has yet to be completed. I understand it is far from being ready. Thus, the law can not be applied, least of all by a Governor. The law gives ample powers to INTI to execute its mandate, but nowhere does it mention Governors or any other regional authority.


 


Maybe Chavez can say in one of his speeches that his Government has failed in delivering what it promised, or some of his collaborates have not been up to the task. The problem is INTI has had only two Presidents’: Chavez’ own brother Adam, who is supposed to have inducted Chávez into Marxism and well known versatile handyman Eliecer Otaiza, who has been assigned to so many jobs, that it is hard to imagine how he can be an expert on all these fields.


 


Let’s look at Adam Chavez’ tenure at INTI first. He was named the first President of that Institute, which led everyone to believe the President really meant business. Adam was thus promoted from being Chavez’ private secretary, to managing the large and recently created and amalgamated bureaucracy at INTI. Not an easy task for someone who had devoted his life to a political and/or academic life. However, after over a year in the position, Chávez assigned his brother to a more important position from a political point of view: he named him Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba. Where I am sure Adam spends his time talking to Fidel and his intelligence officers, plotting the next steps of the revolution and how to keep control over all aspects of the country’s life.


 


So, next we move to Otaiza. He certainly has had a colorful history. From former military to stripper, he rose from the the obscurity of his thongs past, to become the second head of the intelligence police in Chavez Presidency. From there, he was demoted to Head of the training Institute (INCE), where he used public funds to build himself a gym, in order to keep his muscles intact in case he ever has to go back to performing. Once he used INCE to help change and finance the results of the recall vote, Otaiza was named as Head of the Land Institute, where he rapidly made sure another new gym was built without the weaknesses of his previous one. This certainly gives you an idea of what revolutionary priorities are in this “process”.


 


And that in a nutshell is the tragedy of this Government. In a country where private sector management leaves a lot to be desired, Chavez shifts the people he trusts from one unrelated job to another, as if just the fact that he knows them guarantees their success. The results are obvious: The inventory is not even close to being finished, the revolution is itchy for results, let’s ignore the law, it’s the easiest way down that highway.


 


Thus, from the point of view of the law, nothing can be done yet until the inventory is finished. Moreover, the land that can be expropriated are large states, over 10,000 hectares. Not all of the farms “intervened” in the Cojedes decree are over 10,000 hectares in extension. So it’s just illegal.


 


In fact, the mental potpourri in the mind of Cojedes’ Governor is shown in his interview in El Universal today, where he challenges two former politicians who own land in his state to “show” how they got to be land owners, as if his decrees had anything to do with corruption. If he thinks there is something fishy about how these guys got to won that land, he should go after them and prove there is something dirty going on, they are still innocent until proven guilty. Unless the revolution wants them to be guilty of course. By the way, in that interview perhaps the best question is when the reporter asks him why he is dong this decree now, if he has been Governor for four years. Oh well, you silly reporters asking stupid questions!


 


Thus, having defined that the whole process is illegal and that it is the Government’s fault that it is, we come to the point of strategy. What should the opposition do?


 


In my mind, the opposition has to fight, intelligently, but it has to fight. I would not fight over the intervention of the sixteen farms. I would go find out what the names of the largest Government’ farms are and ask that they be added to the list. I would ask that the large estates owned by Chavez’ family and his friends in Barinas state also be included, giving specific names and areas. I would ask that all squatters living in barrios in municipal land be given to the people that live there by Presidential decree. I would even use footage from Chavez’ presidential campaign in 1998 when he promised that he would do that. Finally I would aks that all of this be done, not next year, but right now, like in January to prove the revolution belives in the well being of the people. I would even start a countdown; in 33 days, your land will be yours, the Government’s land too!


 


The issue is too important to leave it to the Government and the oligarchs. It appears that everyone in Venezuela that owns anything is an oligarch. This is the first country where according to the Government’s definition, half the population are oligarchs. As someone said in the comments, today it is the large estates, tomorrow the homes of the rich, the day after tomorrow the homes of the not so rich. Where does the process end? Who stops it once it has its own momentum? After all, it was Chavez during his 1998 Presidential campaign in Guatire (He thought no outsiders were listening) who pointed to the lower middle class apartment buildings behind where a large crowd was listening to him and promised he would give those to the “people” when he got to power. Well, it has been six years and little has been delivered. And he has an election to win on 2006. Time to stop him. How?


 


P.S. Romulo Betancourt, Raul Leoni and Rafael Caldera gave away in each of their five years under the old IAN (Instituto Agrario Nacioanl), more land that Chavez has in his six years of hot air revolutionary words. It’s a fact, look it up!

Strategy against land populism: Real populism

December 27, 2004

I have found the discussion about my post yesterday quite interesting. This is the type of discussion that I love, because it brings you into the reality of going from theories to practice. It is one thing to believe in something, it is another to implement it, convince others and make everyone like your policies. This is why populism has an edge, it is so simple to promise, to simplify complex issues to the point that you can make your point more attractive. It is so simple to blame those that have more, like the Queen of England eating Venezuela’s meat in yesterday’s El Universal article. 


But let’s start at the beginning. In 2001, Hugo Chavez passed a Land Bill taking advantage of an enabling law that allowed him to legislate on specific economic matters. Many did not like this bill and in fact, the origin of much the opposition movement began with it. Less than three weeks after it was issued the opposition held its first large march. The Supreme Court actually ruled that sections of the Bill were illegal, including that the Government can not intervene without compensation and the possibility of intervening land because it is not properly being used.


 


What the bill did allow, was for the Government to expropriate “latifundios” defined as large agricultural estates with more than 10,000 hectares or expropriate those that are not being used and are strategic for the country’s feeding. However, the same bill also says that the National Institute of Land (INTI) had to do an inventory of all such lands before it could begin doing anything.


 


However, this inventory has yet to be completed. I understand it is far from being ready. Thus, the law can not be applied, least of all by a Governor. The law gives ample powers to INTI to execute its mandate, but nowhere does it mention Governors or any other regional authority.


 


Maybe Chavez can say in one of his speeches that his Government has failed in delivering what it promised, or some of his collaborates have not been up to the task. The problem is INTI has had only two Presidents’: Chavez’ own brother Adam, who is supposed to have inducted Chávez into Marxism and well known versatile handyman Eliecer Otaiza, who has been assigned to so many jobs, that it is hard to imagine how he can be an expert on all these fields.


 


Let’s look at Adam Chavez’ tenure at INTI first. He was named the first President of that Institute, which led everyone to believe the President really meant business. Adam was thus promoted from being Chavez’ private secretary, to managing the large and recently created and amalgamated bureaucracy at INTI. Not an easy task for someone who had devoted his life to a political and/or academic life. However, after over a year in the position, Chávez assigned his brother to a more important position from a political point of view: he named him Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba. Where I am sure Adam spends his time talking to Fidel and his intelligence officers, plotting the next steps of the revolution and how to keep control over all aspects of the country’s life.


 


So, next we move to Otaiza. He certainly has had a colorful history. From former military to stripper, he rose from the the obscurity of his thongs past, to become the second head of the intelligence police in Chavez Presidency. From there, he was demoted to Head of the training Institute (INCE), where he used public funds to build himself a gym, in order to keep his muscles intact in case he ever has to go back to performing. Once he used INCE to help change and finance the results of the recall vote, Otaiza was named as Head of the Land Institute, where he rapidly made sure another new gym was built without the weaknesses of his previous one. This certainly gives you an idea of what revolutionary priorities are in this “process”.


 


And that in a nutshell is the tragedy of this Government. In a country where private sector management leaves a lot to be desired, Chavez shifts the people he trusts from one unrelated job to another, as if just the fact that he knows them guarantees their success. The results are obvious: The inventory is not even close to being finished, the revolution is itchy for results, let’s ignore the law, it’s the easiest way down that highway.


 


Thus, from the point of view of the law, nothing can be done yet until the inventory is finished. Moreover, the land that can be expropriated are large states, over 10,000 hectares. Not all of the farms “intervened” in the Cojedes decree are over 10,000 hectares in extension. So it’s just illegal.


 


In fact, the mental potpourri in the mind of Cojedes’ Governor is shown in his interview in El Universal today, where he challenges two former politicians who own land in his state to “show” how they got to be land owners, as if his decrees had anything to do with corruption. If he thinks there is something fishy about how these guys got to won that land, he should go after them and prove there is something dirty going on, they are still innocent until proven guilty. Unless the revolution wants them to be guilty of course. By the way, in that interview perhaps the best question is when the reporter asks him why he is dong this decree now, if he has been Governor for four years. Oh well, you silly reporters asking stupid questions!


 


Thus, having defined that the whole process is illegal and that it is the Government’s fault that it is, we come to the point of strategy. What should the opposition do?


 


In my mind, the opposition has to fight, intelligently, but it has to fight. I would not fight over the intervention of the sixteen farms. I would go find out what the names of the largest Government’ farms are and ask that they be added to the list. I would ask that the large estates owned by Chavez’ family and his friends in Barinas state also be included, giving specific names and areas. I would ask that all squatters living in barrios in municipal land be given to the people that live there by Presidential decree. I would even use footage from Chavez’ presidential campaign in 1998 when he promised that he would do that. Finally I would aks that all of this be done, not next year, but right now, like in January to prove the revolution belives in the well being of the people. I would even start a countdown; in 33 days, your land will be yours, the Government’s land too!


 


The issue is too important to leave it to the Government and the oligarchs. It appears that everyone in Venezuela that owns anything is an oligarch. This is the first country where according to the Government’s definition, half the population are oligarchs. As someone said in the comments, today it is the large estates, tomorrow the homes of the rich, the day after tomorrow the homes of the not so rich. Where does the process end? Who stops it once it has its own momentum? After all, it was Chavez during his 1998 Presidential campaign in Guatire (He thought no outsiders were listening) who pointed to the lower middle class apartment buildings behind where a large crowd was listening to him and promised he would give those to the “people” when he got to power. Well, it has been six years and little has been delivered. And he has an election to win on 2006. Time to stop him. How?


 


P.S. Romulo Betancourt, Raul Leoni and Rafael Caldera gave away in each of their five years under the old IAN (Instituto Agrario Nacioanl), more land that Chavez has in his six years of hot air revolutionary words. It’s a fact, look it up!

The reality and the numbers of crime and accident statistics

December 27, 2004

As I went to work this morning, Caracas was empty, as even those that stayed around for Christmas either took off or are not working. Caracas is wonderful like this, which is why I don’t mind working this time of the year. But just as I was thinking about this as I got to work, the true reality of ugly Caracas really hit me.


As I parked my car in the empty parking lot, the watchman that I see and talk to everyday, came up to me. I talk to him daily about work, family, politics or whatever. He has had a rough time in the last ten years. Lost a much better job, can no longer afford his car and last Christmas his wife of forty years passed away. This Christmas it got worse. His teen granddaughter was shot in the leg on Christmas Eve. She is doing well, but he described how security is non-existent after it gets dark in the barrio where he lives. After dark, it is every man and women left to their own resources and defenses. His neighbors’ sixteen year old was shot dead in the same shooting.


 


This is the reality of crime in the barrios. This man lives in one in the outskirts of Guarenas, about twenty miles east from Caracas. Ironically, it is considered to be the second most pro-Chavez city in the country, after Maracay to the south of Caracas. This watchman did vote for Chavez, mostly because he thought Chavez the former military officer would wipe out crime. He no longer supports him at all.


 


But if this is the real face of crime in Caracas, the more abstract one is equally dramatic and scary, crime statistics show 157 people were killed this weekend in Venezuela, 59 in Caracas alone, with 72 injured. Most of them in barrios, where the poor people live.


 


Traffic statistics are no better; there were 6,463 traffic accidents this holiday weekend with 256 dead and 1,661 injured in the country’s roads.


 


To me this sounds almost like anarchy. While resources are being devoted to the Government starting a steel industry, a telecom company, an airline and many banks in order to “redefine” the economy, the daily lives of common Venezuelans is not being redefined. Instead, it is being ignored. Crime has shot up in the last few years as the Chavez administration has given little priority to the problem, In fact, crime is barely mentioned in the President’s speeches or his cohorts. But crime is very real, even if the statistics seem abstract.

The reality and the numbers of crime and accident statistics

December 27, 2004

As I went to work this morning, Caracas was empty, as even those that stayed around for Christmas either took off or are not working. Caracas is wonderful like this, which is why I don’t mind working this time of the year. But just as I was thinking about this as I got to work, the true reality of ugly Caracas really hit me.


As I parked my car in the empty parking lot, the watchman that I see and talk to everyday, came up to me. I talk to him daily about work, family, politics or whatever. He has had a rough time in the last ten years. Lost a much better job, can no longer afford his car and last Christmas his wife of forty years passed away. This Christmas it got worse. His teen granddaughter was shot in the leg on Christmas Eve. She is doing well, but he described how security is non-existent after it gets dark in the barrio where he lives. After dark, it is every man and women left to their own resources and defenses. His neighbors’ sixteen year old was shot dead in the same shooting.


 


This is the reality of crime in the barrios. This man lives in one in the outskirts of Guarenas, about twenty miles east from Caracas. Ironically, it is considered to be the second most pro-Chavez city in the country, after Maracay to the south of Caracas. This watchman did vote for Chavez, mostly because he thought Chavez the former military officer would wipe out crime. He no longer supports him at all.


 


But if this is the real face of crime in Caracas, the more abstract one is equally dramatic and scary, crime statistics show 157 people were killed this weekend in Venezuela, 59 in Caracas alone, with 72 injured. Most of them in barrios, where the poor people live.


 


Traffic statistics are no better; there were 6,463 traffic accidents this holiday weekend with 256 dead and 1,661 injured in the country’s roads.


 


To me this sounds almost like anarchy. While resources are being devoted to the Government starting a steel industry, a telecom company, an airline and many banks in order to “redefine” the economy, the daily lives of common Venezuelans is not being redefined. Instead, it is being ignored. Crime has shot up in the last few years as the Chavez administration has given little priority to the problem, In fact, crime is barely mentioned in the President’s speeches or his cohorts. But crime is very real, even if the statistics seem abstract.

Venezuela running on empty promises

December 26, 2004


Recovering from Christmas, I look for newspapers to give me new information, but no such luck. Venezuelan newspapers at this time of the year get thinner and original content is minimal, they are basically all empty, except for sports. Most good opinion writers are away on vacation. All of the papers are full of stories about the best in 2004. News in 2004. Month by month in 2004. My Sunday ritual of reading the newspapers is reduced to a few minutes of learning about Chavez returning from his China trip early and some details about the impact of the Cojedes decrees in that state and nationwide.


 


Interesting that economic reporter Victor Salmeron is covering the issue of land intervention. He usually is involved with more technical economic issues and is by far the best economic reporter in Venezuela. His article paints a picture of lands invaded by people looking for homes, meat production down and myths dominating Venezuela’s rural areas. The British are painted as the bad guys, raising cattle to send abroad for the English to eat (even the queen is mentioned as eating their meat!); while the reality is the cows are sold young to other ranches due to the insecurity. Chavez is definitely the hero, with the Governor disliked thoroughly. Meanwhile, the guy who runs the cattle farm says most invaders are from other states and whenever they have meetings they arrive in the latest car models.


 


Meanwhile in China, Chavez reaffirms he is a Maoist, in a country that has moved so far from Mao that is almost unrecognizable. What an empty slogan by our President.  Chavez hails the decision to create a new state steel company to replace the now privatized Sidor, in another giant leap backwards that Venezuelans will end up financing. Another brainless project in the name of sovereignty.


 


On Cojedes and land intervention, Chavez says that if those whose land was intervened don’t want to negotiate, then they would receive the full weight of the law. Funny, I thought the process began with the law, not the other way around. But such is the fate of those that live in a country where Chavez is the law, or at least its interpretation.


 


But the truth about farmlands is slowly getting out. As I have said before in this blog, the Government is the biggest landowner, but it wants to start with giving away only private land. According to the latest Government report quoted in today’s El Universal, the National Institute of Land is the biggest landowner with 8.6 million hectares of arable land in 1,492 farms. Given that the same report says only 2.1 million hectares in all of Venezuela are under cultivation, this gives you enough of a perspective.


 


In fact, the Government’s own report shows how cynical the whole thing is. The land Bill makes large states the target for distribution to the peasants. A large state is defined, according to the law and tradition as one having more than 10,000 hectares. Well, 53 Government-owned states have a total of 5.9 million hectares, making the average Government farm at least ten times larger than what the law wants to redistribute in the private sector. So, why not start there? Stupid question, ownership is power and that seems to be the only thing the Chavistas want.


 


This is what is so incredibly cynical. If the Government began to aggressively give away one third of the land in its hands, it would be giving away over 100% of the area currently under cultivation in all of Venezuela. If they really believed in their project, that would be truly revolutionary. But the truth is that they do not believe in it and they know that the “conuco”, the basic farm unit of the Venezuelan peasant, is not sustainable, is not competitive and it does not provide enough crops to even support a family of four. That is why invaded lands are as empty of crops today, if not people, as they were five years ago when they were invaded. That is why agricultural production is down in the last five years. That is why meat production is also down in the last five years.


 


But the revolution continues with its empty promises. Despite the huge oil windfall, the economy has shrunk in the last five years. Despite the huge political capital, Chavez has been able to convert relative little into concrete results. In fact, the problems of Venezuela are in the cities where 89% of the population lives. In 1998 Chavez campaigned saying he would give title to the land of the “ranchos” where the poor live in barrios in most Venezuelan cities. To date, one opposition Mayor has given title to more people in his municipality than Chavez or any of his Mayors in all of Venezuela.


 


Up to now, the revolution has blamed the opposition for the lack of results and people have bought the story. Unfortunately, populism sells and I am not sure people will realize anytime soon how empty the promises are. Revolutions can run on empty for quite a long time…

Christmas in Venezuela

December 24, 2004

It is Christmas. Venezuelan Christmas is different. Weeks before Christmas you may think you are in a war zone as fireworks go off at random in a crescendo that increases progressively until a huge explosion on New Year’s Eve. I have always wondered how people can afford the continuous explosion that one hears. I live next to a barrio that is a constant source of bangs since mid-November to the consternation of my dog. Fireworks are expensive and illegal, but that does not seem to limit explosive capacity of my neighbors.


Symbolism is all over the place. Even though we have no snow and pine trees like Christmas Trees they are all over the place, both natural and artificial. The natural ones are advertised as coming from Canada, but if you read the label they come form the US. As a little kid, it somewhat confusing to understand where Christmas presents come from. We have el Nińo Jesus (Baby Jesus), Santa Claus and San Nicolas used roughly in that order interchangeably to make the mystery almost as confusing as the Holy Trinity.


 


Nativity scenes are everywhere and most homes have one, even if only small. Other deploy huge nativity scenes at home by covering boxes up with painted burlap and deploying even whole cities around the nativity scene.


 


The weeks prior to Christmas, kids go roller skating at night as part of the Christmas season. They also assemble either parranda groups, which sing traditional Venezuelan Christmas songs, or Gaita groups, which sing the traditional Christmas music from Maracaibo. Traditional Christmas songs are also a mixture of foreign songs, such as Holy Night, The little Drummer Boy or some locally made with parts as strange as:


 


I do not understand, I do not understand


How the parrot


Having a  hole under its beak


Can eat


 


Which is followed by a Christmassy chorus. Go Figure…


 


Gaitas are a whole different story and have overtaken the traditional songs. They are salsesque mixture of drums, guitars and horns, with words that may or not have anything to do with Christmas. The biggest expression of Gaitas in Venezuela is Guaco, with dozens of records and years under its belt.


 


There is of course food, led by the Hallaca a corn flour concoction that wraps in it’s inside a mixture of hen, meat, and various other ingredients with regional variations and looks something like this:


 



 


 


The left shows the inide of the hallaca as it is being eaten, the right how they are wrapped in plantain leaves, tied with string and cooked by boiling. Then you open it up and eat the tamale-looking inside on the left. It used to be that families got together a month before Christmas to make the family hallacas. As a kid I remember a sort of assembly line of Hallacas where the corn flour dough was laid on the plantain leaves and the hallaca moved done the assembly line and each person was in charge of adding one part. I loved to be in charge of placing the olives, so that I could eat dozens of them as the day progressed.  Hallacas are eaten almost every day, at all Christmas parties until the point you just don’t want to see another one. Pork, hen salad, black cake, Spanish nougat, turkey and pan de jamón complete de menu. Pan de jamón is bread made of special dough inside of which one finds ham, olives and at least two types of raisins.  


 


The best part is Christmas Eve, the most important celebration on the 24th. Whole families get together to celebrate, eat, dance, sing and drink in a very festive atmosphere. The best part is how happy everyone is, whole families together, three and four generations at a time, music in the background, some fireworks and sharing presents.


 


The next day the party goes on, as kids receive their presents from El Nińo Jesus. After going to bed late, kids wake you up too early for any of the adults in the anxiety to open their presents. You spend the rest of the day recovering from not sleeping well and picking up wrapping paper and gathering your gifts.


 


It is indeed a very delightful time where everyone forgets about personal problems and everyone from all social levels follows similar customs, eats the same food and shares presents. In my family, we have dinner and I stay with some of my siblings (I come from a large family)  at one home, where we sleep in beds, couches, even sleeping bags, so that we can all see the little kids open their presents in the morning. Afterwards, we have a huge breakfast together and everyone goes home to rest and sleep it off the rest of the day. It is indeed special. This year, it will all take place at my home, so it will be doubly special.


 


I hope all of you have as wonderful a time as I have every year in this very special holiday. Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas in Venezuela

December 24, 2004

It is Christmas. Venezuelan Christmas is different. Weeks before Christmas you may think you are in a war zone as fireworks go off at random in a crescendo that increases progressively until a huge explosion on New Year’s Eve. I have always wondered how people can afford the continuous explosion that one hears. I live next to a barrio that is a constant source of bangs since mid-November to the consternation of my dog. Fireworks are expensive and illegal, but that does not seem to limit explosive capacity of my neighbors.


Symbolism is all over the place. Even though we have no snow and pine trees like Christmas Trees they are all over the place, both natural and artificial. The natural ones are advertised as coming from Canada, but if you read the label they come form the US. As a little kid, it somewhat confusing to understand where Christmas presents come from. We have el Nińo Jesus (Baby Jesus), Santa Claus and San Nicolas used roughly in that order interchangeably to make the mystery almost as confusing as the Holy Trinity.


 


Nativity scenes are everywhere and most homes have one, even if only small. Other deploy huge nativity scenes at home by covering boxes up with painted burlap and deploying even whole cities around the nativity scene.


 


The weeks prior to Christmas, kids go roller skating at night as part of the Christmas season. They also assemble either parranda groups, which sing traditional Venezuelan Christmas songs, or Gaita groups, which sing the traditional Christmas music from Maracaibo. Traditional Christmas songs are also a mixture of foreign songs, such as Holy Night, The little Drummer Boy or some locally made with parts as strange as:


 


I do not understand, I do not understand


How the parrot


Having a  hole under its beak


Can eat


 


Which is followed by a Christmassy chorus. Go Figure…


 


Gaitas are a whole different story and have overtaken the traditional songs. They are salsesque mixture of drums, guitars and horns, with words that may or not have anything to do with Christmas. The biggest expression of Gaitas in Venezuela is Guaco, with dozens of records and years under its belt.


 


There is of course food, led by the Hallaca a corn flour concoction that wraps in it’s inside a mixture of hen, meat, and various other ingredients with regional variations and looks something like this:


 



 


 


The left shows the inide of the hallaca as it is being eaten, the right how they are wrapped in plantain leaves, tied with string and cooked by boiling. Then you open it up and eat the tamale-looking inside on the left. It used to be that families got together a month before Christmas to make the family hallacas. As a kid I remember a sort of assembly line of Hallacas where the corn flour dough was laid on the plantain leaves and the hallaca moved done the assembly line and each person was in charge of adding one part. I loved to be in charge of placing the olives, so that I could eat dozens of them as the day progressed.  Hallacas are eaten almost every day, at all Christmas parties until the point you just don’t want to see another one. Pork, hen salad, black cake, Spanish nougat, turkey and pan de jamón complete de menu. Pan de jamón is bread made of special dough inside of which one finds ham, olives and at least two types of raisins.  


 


The best part is Christmas Eve, the most important celebration on the 24th. Whole families get together to celebrate, eat, dance, sing and drink in a very festive atmosphere. The best part is how happy everyone is, whole families together, three and four generations at a time, music in the background, some fireworks and sharing presents.


 


The next day the party goes on, as kids receive their presents from El Nińo Jesus. After going to bed late, kids wake you up too early for any of the adults in the anxiety to open their presents. You spend the rest of the day recovering from not sleeping well and picking up wrapping paper and gathering your gifts.


 


It is indeed a very delightful time where everyone forgets about personal problems and everyone from all social levels follows similar customs, eats the same food and shares presents. In my family, we have dinner and I stay with some of my siblings (I come from a large family)  at one home, where we sleep in beds, couches, even sleeping bags, so that we can all see the little kids open their presents in the morning. Afterwards, we have a huge breakfast together and everyone goes home to rest and sleep it off the rest of the day. It is indeed special. This year, it will all take place at my home, so it will be doubly special.


 


I hope all of you have as wonderful a time as I have every year in this very special holiday. Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas in Venezuela

December 24, 2004

It is Christmas. Venezuelan Christmas is different. Weeks before Christmas you may think you are in a war zone as fireworks go off at random in a crescendo that increases progressively until a huge explosion on New Year’s Eve. I have always wondered how people can afford the continuous explosion that one hears. I live next to a barrio that is a constant source of bangs since mid-November to the consternation of my dog. Fireworks are expensive and illegal, but that does not seem to limit explosive capacity of my neighbors.


Symbolism is all over the place. Even though we have no snow and pine trees like Christmas Trees they are all over the place, both natural and artificial. The natural ones are advertised as coming from Canada, but if you read the label they come form the US. As a little kid, it somewhat confusing to understand where Christmas presents come from. We have el Nińo Jesus (Baby Jesus), Santa Claus and San Nicolas used roughly in that order interchangeably to make the mystery almost as confusing as the Holy Trinity.


 


Nativity scenes are everywhere and most homes have one, even if only small. Other deploy huge nativity scenes at home by covering boxes up with painted burlap and deploying even whole cities around the nativity scene.


 


The weeks prior to Christmas, kids go roller skating at night as part of the Christmas season. They also assemble either parranda groups, which sing traditional Venezuelan Christmas songs, or Gaita groups, which sing the traditional Christmas music from Maracaibo. Traditional Christmas songs are also a mixture of foreign songs, such as Holy Night, The little Drummer Boy or some locally made with parts as strange as:


 


I do not understand, I do not understand


How the parrot


Having a  hole under its beak


Can eat


 


Which is followed by a Christmassy chorus. Go Figure…


 


Gaitas are a whole different story and have overtaken the traditional songs. They are salsesque mixture of drums, guitars and horns, with words that may or not have anything to do with Christmas. The biggest expression of Gaitas in Venezuela is Guaco, with dozens of records and years under its belt.


 


There is of course food, led by the Hallaca a corn flour concoction that wraps in it’s inside a mixture of hen, meat, and various other ingredients with regional variations and looks something like this:


 



 


 


The left shows the inide of the hallaca as it is being eaten, the right how they are wrapped in plantain leaves, tied with string and cooked by boiling. Then you open it up and eat the tamale-looking inside on the left. It used to be that families got together a month before Christmas to make the family hallacas. As a kid I remember a sort of assembly line of Hallacas where the corn flour dough was laid on the plantain leaves and the hallaca moved done the assembly line and each person was in charge of adding one part. I loved to be in charge of placing the olives, so that I could eat dozens of them as the day progressed.  Hallacas are eaten almost every day, at all Christmas parties until the point you just don’t want to see another one. Pork, hen salad, black cake, Spanish nougat, turkey and pan de jamón complete de menu. Pan de jamón is bread made of special dough inside of which one finds ham, olives and at least two types of raisins.  


 


The best part is Christmas Eve, the most important celebration on the 24th. Whole families get together to celebrate, eat, dance, sing and drink in a very festive atmosphere. The best part is how happy everyone is, whole families together, three and four generations at a time, music in the background, some fireworks and sharing presents.


 


The next day the party goes on, as kids receive their presents from El Nińo Jesus. After going to bed late, kids wake you up too early for any of the adults in the anxiety to open their presents. You spend the rest of the day recovering from not sleeping well and picking up wrapping paper and gathering your gifts.


 


It is indeed a very delightful time where everyone forgets about personal problems and everyone from all social levels follows similar customs, eats the same food and shares presents. In my family, we have dinner and I stay with some of my siblings (I come from a large family)  at one home, where we sleep in beds, couches, even sleeping bags, so that we can all see the little kids open their presents in the morning. Afterwards, we have a huge breakfast together and everyone goes home to rest and sleep it off the rest of the day. It is indeed special. This year, it will all take place at my home, so it will be doubly special.


 


I hope all of you have as wonderful a time as I have every year in this very special holiday. Merry Christmas to all!

Short stories from Venezuela’s news

December 23, 2004

-Banks have stopped lending to farms, peasants, cattlemen, crop growers and anyone that has something to with agriculture in the State of Cojedes after the “intervention” of 25 farms by a decree by the Governor. I wonder why…


-Former Vice-Minister of Finance Jesus Bermudez pleaded not guilty in his trial in Miami fro attempting to circumvent US laws. Separately, the prosecutor’s Office in Venezuela said that they were investigating the origin of the cash Bermudez had on him. 


 


-Former PDVSA Executives have been charged again for their role in the December 2002 strike. Once again some of the executives say they were denied their right to due process and access to their file.  They all had been charged before but the Supreme Court found they were denied their right to due process and the charges were not supported. In any other place, the AG would have been fired, but you know, this is a revolution.


 


-Meanwhile, former Head of the Metropolitan Police Ivan Simonovis will have to remain in jail until January 7th. to “give time to the Prosecutor to present their charges”. Definitely revolutionary Justice, jail first, charge second.


 


-Meanwhile Police officers Henry Vivas and Lazaro Forero, had their first Court appearance in Court where apparently the same trick will be applied: They will remain in jail until the Prosecutor can get its case together. They are being tried in Aragua state and not in Caracas. Could it have something to do with the fact that Aragua is the most Chavista state in the country? Coincidence that it is the same state that found the Puente El LLaguno shooters innocent?


 


-Venezuela’s Ambassador to Russia, Carlos Mendoza Potella, will be investigated for corruption by the Chavez Government. Most don’t remember this revolutionary character who had been named to the PDVSA Board that led to Chavez brief departure in April 2002. Mendoza Potella went to the National Assembly to testify and got into an argument with a Deputy or a reporter and pulled out a gun on him. He is now being affected by Chavez’ praying mantiss effect. Such nice people!


 


Viva la “Revolucion!” (Not a paid announcement by the Chavez Government)

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