Archive for November, 2005

Fewer buds but always something in flower

November 27, 2005

This is the time of the year were flowering is at its lowest, but
somehow I keep getting something to post. Last week I thought there
would be nothing, but there is. Let’s see next week. Above left, the
same Cattleya Nobilior I posted last week, but now with all nine
flowers open. Above right, a bunch of Cattleya Walkeriana Pendentive,
which is clearly not Walkeriana as four flowers never occur in a
Walkeriana. Books say this is a natural cross between Cattleya
Walkeriana and Catlleya Loddigessi.

Above left, Cattleya Walkeriana. This is the first time this
flowers, the flowers are small but the color of the lip is very dark.
Above right a Phalenopsis hybrid from Taiwan.

More on the upcoming voting process for Venezuela’s National Assembly Deputies

November 27, 2005

A few months ago, the Electoral Board said that in the upcoming
electoral process, the traditional voting “notebooks” would be replaced
by electronic ones. What this means is that when you show up to vote,
instead of looking you up in a paper notebook and checking that you
voted, this would all be computerized. Sumate objected this vigorously,
arguing that if the electronic notebook kept the sequence of voters,
this could be compared to the sequence in the voting machines and the
vote would no longer be secret. This issue was so important to Sumate
that there is even a presentation on it at the Sumate website explaining the dangers.

There was the additional objection that the fingerprint machine would
also keep this sequence, thus there were two huge flaws in the process.
The Electoral Board objected this initially with as much vigor as
Sumate, insiting in the elctronic notebooks. For some reason that was never explained, the CNE insisted for
weeks that it would use the electornic notebooks. Their main argument
was that the voting machine itself did not keep the sequence, because
the order of the voting was randomized when it was placed in the memory
of the system. However, last week in a trial run, in the presnce of EU
and OAS observers, technical people helping the opposition in the audit
of the process discovered a file called “last MFT midification time”
that did indeed contain the sequence of voters.

While the electronic notebooks were eliminated in the negotiations
between the opposition and the Electoral Board, there will be only a
small scale trial of their use in this elections, the fingerprint
machines will be there and one could easily correlate each voter with
his or her vote, despite the earlier assurances by the CNE that this
was impossible.

Yesterday the CNE met and came out swinging. and so did Sumate.The CNE said that under no circumstances would the fingerprinte machines not be used, that it was impossible to know the sequence and that this was yet another attack on the institution. But the report
of last Wenesday’s audit is quite clear: “it is possible to reestablish
the sequence in which the votes originate if the flash memory or the
hard disks used by the machines are analyzed with a view and recovery
tool of the NTFS file system which keeps the information of the moment
(time) in which the change to the file was made”.

Why the arrogant defenseof the process in the face of a technical
report that the President of the CNE likely does not even understand?
Why the continuos effort to limit the transparency of the electoral
process? If the Governemnt is so popular, why does it have to deny,
block, violate the law and limit the verification of the results? Why
insist on the use of the fingerprint machines if reportedly the AFIS
software (which is supposed to compare them so that nobody votes twice)
is reportedly not functioning?

You tell me.

On bonds, gifts to the rich and economic distortions in Venezuela

November 26, 2005

Politicians in Venezuela have always been fairly
ignorant about economics. In fact, it does not appear as they ever had a clear
idea about the difference between economics and economic policies, believing
you can violate well established economic principles in order to implement their
creative economic policies. Time and time again, one mistake in policy is built
on top of another leading inevitably to an economic crisis in the country.

Such is the case of the exchange controls currently in place
in Venezuela.
What should have been a temporary measure has now introduced so many
distortions that they become harder and harder to remove. The Government has
increased spending by over 40% from 2004 to 2005, and so has the monetary
liquidity, all of the circulating money in the country, creating problems of
various sorts, such as pressure on inflation and liquidity that has nowhere to
go as there is no demand for it.

Thus, this week, the Government resorted to a solution that
has been used already a few times in the last two and a half years, which
represents nothing but a huge gift to the wealthy of the country, the issuing
of a dollar denominated bond sold to local investors in Bolivars.

The idea is quite clever and simple: issue a bond in dollars
with a low coupon and offer it to Venezuelans who are hungry for foreign
currency which is restricted. Sell it to them at the official exchange rate of
Bs. 2150 then they turn around and sell the bonds to foreign investors, hedge
funds and the like at a discount, effectively purchasing dollars a rate
somewhere between the official rate of Bs. 2150 and the “parallel” rate which
is around Bs. 2650 at this time.

In the other bonds, not all conditions were clear when the bonds
were announced or the parallel rate and the official rate were sufficiently
close that there was an element of risk to it. Not so in this case, which is in
reality a combo of two bonds, one maturing in 2016 and the other one in 2020.

Because there is a Venezuelan sovereign bond which matures
in 2018, then it becomes very easy to predict what yield foreign investors
would want from the new ones being issued. From this, it is equally easy to
know at what discount you will be able to sell the dollar denominated bonds in the international markets. In
this case it is somewhere around 87% for the combination of the two bonds,
which tells you will be buying the foreign currency at Bs. (2150/.87) = Bs.
2471 per US$ or so.

While many companies and individuals will use this simply as
a mechanism for purchasing cheaper foreign currency, for many, this is simply
free money courtesy of the Venezuelan Government. You either have the money,
like the banks, or you borrow the money to purchase the bonds. You get the
bonds, sell them and turn around with the US dollars and sell them in the
parallel market at a tidy profit of 7.2% in just a few days using the numbers I
gave you above. Thus, the revolution is simply giving a gift of money to the
rich as a way of solving an economic problem they face.

Of course, the ideal solution would be to remove the
controls, which would simply reduce liquidity by itself. But because the
controls have been in effect so long, there are too many distortions in the system
and removing them would imply that some banks would be in trouble, interest
rates would have to go up to be above inflation and last but not least, the
Government would lose an important weapon of control over the people and the
private sector.

The example I gave above in terms of profits for the transaction will likely be even better than
described for those that buy the bonds. Because there are rumors that the
Government plans to use the funds raise in part to repurchase some of the
country’s debt, Venezuelan bonds went up after the announcement. If this rise
is sustained thru Monday then people will likely make more like 10% in this
quick, riskless and profitable trade. Nice gift, no?

This gift is well received by the banking system, which has
so much money from depositors, but can’t lend it all, so they use that excess
to participate in this as well as to lend to clients to purcahse the bonds. The other big players are obviously speculators.
Curiously, other distortions also help others in purchasing these bonds: The
Government regulates the rates at which banks lend money to agricultural and
tourism enterprises below market artes, some of them have excess credit which they are tapping this
week to make a little money in the side.

In the meantime, Venezuela’s external debt goes up, yearly
interest payments go up in foreign currency and the distortions in the economy
increase. Of course, this also means that one day it will blow up again and the
longer it goes on, the less oil prices will have to drop to create a crisis. Only
this week, President Chavez announced a five year US$ 100 billion investment
program to be financed by PDVSA (US$ 10 billion a year) Pequiven (US$ 2 billion
a year) Fonden (US$ 2 billion a year) and the Miranda Fund (US$ 3 billion) a
year. These are funds additional to the excess spending that is being carried
out by the Government in the regular budget which is an all time high in the
country’s history in real terms as well as a percentage o GDP..

Where the money will come from for this plan obody knows, what is clear
is that distortions and expenditures are being stretched to the limit, which
bodes badly for the country were oil prices to drop by even a relatively small
amount.

And as usual, it will be the poor that suffer with another
crisis as the rich can save these easy profits given to them by the revolutionary
Government for a rainy day. The poor just can’t.

Boston Globe on Chavez’ donations

November 26, 2005

Two days ago there was a somewhat distressing Editorial in the Boston Globe
entitled Venezuela’s largesse, thanking Venezuela for the cheap oil given to the poor of
Massachusetts. Distressing because we were surprised that that paper
could be fooled by Chavez’ strategy of self-promotion. Well, a Globe
staff reporter was not fooled and while I have yet to see any of the
letters written to the Globe that have circulated through my email, it
was quite satisfying to see that someone does get and was allowed to get
his point across in the same pages that praised Chavez ‘ donation
in a sort of rebuttal entitled “Cost is high for largesse”. I
found two of the arguments quite compelling, one, that of the
differences in per capita income between Venezuela and some of the
beneficiaries of Chavez’ largesse, the second one, the examples of how
people would react to similar donations from poor African countries
which the average American understands quite clearly are too poor to give gifts to rich Massachusetts:

We appreciate the help, of course. But Chavez has
plenty to do at home rather grandstanding in the United States.

For instance: Venezuela’s per capita income is
$4,768. Massachusetts, the object of Chavez’s largesse, has the nation’s
second-highest per capita income, $41,801.

According to the World Bank, 49 percent of all
Venezuelans lived in poverty in 2000 — meaning they got by on household income
of less than $2 a day. That’s $2 a day, the price of a gallon of gasoline here.
About 24 percent lived in extreme poverty — or on less than $1 a day. The
poverty numbers are up substantially from a decade ago.

Maybe Congressman William Delahunt could arrange
for Somalia to send discounted beef, the desperately poor African country’s
leading export. Its poor neighbor, Ethiopia, could help out by sending cheap
coffee. And Afghanistan could send heroin. (But, then, it already
is.)”

Technicians show vote sequence remains in the voting machines

November 25, 2005

Despite denials that this was possible by the CNE since the recall vote, technicians from the opposition showed

international observers from the OAS and the European Union that it is
indeed possible to know the sequence of votes from the voting machines
used in Venezuela. This had been repeatedly denied by the both the CNE
and Smartmatic the company that makes the machines. Given that
separately there is a fingerprint grabbing machine,the two together
would allow for the identification of the voter.

The OAS and EU have sent a letter to the CNE asking to insure that this
may not be done. Sure, but what happens to the “old” elections done
under this same security leak? I hope they send their findings to the
Carter Center, maybe they may learn something useful for the future.

A new Coat of Arms according to Tal Cual

November 25, 2005

Could not help but post this new version of Venezuela’s coat of arms
which accompanied today’s article by humorist Laureano Marquez in his
letter to Chavez’ daughter. You see, last Sunday in his Sunday program
Chavez said he was thinking of changing both the flag and the coat of
arms. The flag by adding an eighth star to symbolize Guyana (which
Venezuela claims half of) and the shield to change the horse, because
his daughter Rosines told him that the horse looked dull, so he wants a
more dynamic looking one, turning “left” (Chavez’ words)

In the article, Marquez first suggests a Golden Retreiver, but
later suggests why not a turtle, since Chavez had said she had a turtle
and in Marquez’ own words : “It would be emblematic of how slow we are
for everything”

Politics and injustice seem to be the priorities for Venezuela’s judicial system

November 24, 2005


It is
characteristic (or endemic?) of the current state of the Venezuelan Justice
system, that political cases of interest to the Government deserve all the
attention, but things like murder, torture, human rights violation and disappearances
seem to have little importance to the higher members of our Justice system.

Such is
the case of the strange accusations by the President of National Assembly
against Nelson Mezerhane, who has been accused and detained for participating
in the assassination of Prosecutor Danilo Anderson. Maduro said that Mezerhane
had tried to bribe the judge in the case with three million dollars in cash at
a meeting a week ago Monday attended by Mezerhane, the President of the most
anti-Chavez TV station (maybe because it is an all news station) and the main
financier of Chavez’ electoral campaign in 1998 and 2000. The problem is that
Mezerhane had turned himself in the same day at midday, while the meeting was
supposed to have taken place in the evening. Moreover, the President of
Globovision was at a meeting with all workers of the TV channel. Thus, we are
talking he had some 200 witnesses to his whereabouts.

Now, I
could believe that Mezerhane tried to bribe the judge, I could even believe
that he bribed his way out of jail just to be at a meeting, but I simply can
not believe Maduro’s story because it would not make sense of Mezerhane to turn
himself in at noon and then do all sorts of contortions and bribes to be able
to go out to a meeting that night.

Despite
this, the Vice-President says
that despite the imprecisions this needs to be investigated. The President of
the Constitutional Hall comes
out and demands
that the Prosecutor’s office accelerate its investigation
of the charges and today the President of the full Supreme Court comes out and says he backs the
demands by the President of the Constitutional Hall.

This
happens when the accusation appears to be groundless, inconsistent and simply
not truth. Meanwhile, the parents of Antonio Lopez Castillo have yet to hear a
single piece of evidence linking their son to the murder of Anderson,
for
which their son was killed
by police days after the Anderson assai nation. In fact, they themselves
were jailed that day, treated shabbily and have received an apology for their
treatment and erroneous arrest, but they have not been told about any
investigation involving their dead son. And it has been a year.

The same
could be said of the murder of Juan Carlos Sanchez, also killed by police
in the days after the Anderson
assassination, initially
reported by high Government officials
as a confrontation, but now the
Prosecutor General says that he was set up. But we do not hear anyone calling
for an acceleration of that investigation either! Or the April 11 deaths. Or
corruption in a scale never seen in Venezuela. Or the disappearances by
the Police in Cojedes. (Oh, sorry those were investigated, Chavez talked to the
Governor and that was it!) and so on and so forth.

But
amazingly, the Head of the National Assembly, in the middle of his campaign for
reelection, with the vote a week away. With such serious and apparently
groundless charges made in such an important case, is holding up the
investigation because he is traveling. Official Business? Nope. Family
Emergency? Nope? Assembly representation? Nope.

It turns
out Maduro left to attend the celebration of the 80h, birthday of his “spiritual
guide”. Hopefully, the taxpayers are not paying for it.

Such are
the ways of the noveau rich and the bolibourgeois in this robolution

The sad images of local poverty while Chavez promotes himself abroad by given away our wealth

November 22, 2005

photo: Isabel Haddad

While Hugo Chavez spends millions of dollars buying Argentina’s
debt, subsidizing gasoline so that Uruguayans can go to to the beach
and now subsidizing oil so that “poor” americans, richer than 90% of
Venezuelans as measured by the images shown on TV today, all of which
are simply part of the self-promotion of Hugo Chavez, you could go
around Caracas and take dozens of sad pictures like the ones above,
despite a windfall that now tops US$ 200 billion during his seven years
in power. This from the cynic who said on 1998: ” If in three years,
there are still street kids in Venezuela, I will resign”. Well, your
resignation is well overdue!

More proof of the use of the Tascon Fascist list right at the top

November 22, 2005


I still
remember when I first started talking about the Tascon list and how it was
being used to violate the most basic rights of Venezuelans, that pro-Chavez
readers of this blog began questioning whether this was true or not, while people
I knew well were being denied jobs, their ability to deal with the Government
or even basic services like getting a passport or an ID number for the basic
fact that they signed the petition to recall President Hugo Chavez, a right in
the Venezuelan Constitution, put in by Chavez himslef. In time, the evidence
mounted, case after case of the use of list became public, of how it was being
used throughout the Government to deny the rights of people.

Then the ultimate
proof came out: First it
was the memo in which Chavez
asked the President of the Electoral Board to
hand over the petition database directly to Tascon, for which the Presidency
provided Xerox machines and personnel to copy the thousands of pages containing
the names of those that signed. Then, in his verbosity, the chief blabbermouth
of Venezuela told Deputy Tascon in his Sunday radio program that it was time to
put away or “bury” the list
. Those same readers never said anything and
most of them have continued to support this Government despite this clear
evidence of fascism, absence of the rule of law and abuse of the rights of people
that went right to the top.

Today, Tal
Cual revealed a conversation
between Rocio San Miguel, the former legal council to the National Council for
Borders and her former boss Feijoo Colomine, the Executive Secretary of that
Council. The Council is directly dependent from the Vice Presidency of the
Republic. San Miguel was not only fired from her job at the council, but also
from her teaching job at the School
of Air Wars for signing
the petition to call for a referendum to recall Higo Chavez. Moreover, her
husband, an Air Force Colonel, has had no assignment and has been at home ever
since his wife made her accusations public.

San Miguel
tried to go through the Courts but because the judicial system is controlled by
the Government, her case has gone nowhere. She is now planning to go to the Interamerican
System for the Protection of Human Rights. Today, San Miguel revealed the same taped conversation she had try
to use in her case
in which the Secretary General of the council,
recriminates her for signing the petition and tells her directly that the
decision to get rid of the people was made by Vice-President Jose Vicente
Rangel directly. In any country where decency prevails the Vice-President would
resign in the face of such an accusation of repression, abuse of power, human
rights violation and plain fascist behavior. In a country with the rule of law,
he would be indicted. In the Venezuela
of the revolution, this will not even be considered by these heartless crooks
without scruples. For those that do not speak Spanish, here are some excerpts
from the conversation between San Miguel (SM) and her boss Feijoo (F):

SM: This makes me very sad. In some
fashion Thais and I will move forward, but I don’t understand why they meddle
with Magally and with Guerra (Others fired), for only signing…how can you collaborate
with this?

F: Well, I am not going to argue,
because…the alternative is that I resign, see? And I am not going to do that

SM: But are you conscious that an
abuse is being committed??? Your Government has claimed thousands of times
about any citizen having the rights to exercise what they put in the
Constitution. And why that retaliation? I understand if you are a Minister, you
are fired, but we have technical jobs, I don’t go around making political statement
s of any sort.

F: There are decisions that are being
made, they make them, and I did not like it…I do not agree…But the Government
has made a decision

SM: To kick out all its employees that
signed.

F: Well, at least Jose Vicente (the
VP) made the decision in our case …The VP signed it.

There you
have it, evidence of fascist behavior right at the top once again. Anyone care
to defend it? How much are you willing to support and collaborate with this
type of behavior?

That is
why this post is going in the category: Tascon Fascist list. And it is a long list
of fascism and abuses by this silly “revolution”!

The ever more convoluted story of the Anderson case and the Prosecutor General

November 22, 2005


A year
ago, the Chief Head of Homicides of the investigative police (CICPC), the Chief
Prosecutor of the region of Lara and the Governor of Lara state said that Juan
Carlos Sanchez, who was being followed by the police in connection with the
Anderson case, was shot dead when he did not obey the order to leave the hotel
room where he was with his hands up. The police described how Sanchez was being
tracked via his cell phone and followed to the location where he was killed and
in that shooting a cop was also injured. At the time, the cops also said Sanchez
was getting ready to leave the country, had weapons, some C-4, money and a
passport.

His family
argued that this was not true. Sanchez’ car had a GPS protection device that
indicated he never left Caracas and one of those
charged in the case, Juan Guevara, said Sanchez was tortured in Caracas, he could hear
the screams while he was being detained. Guevara happens to be the person that
was also “detained” last year on Nov. 20th. with the Prosecutor
General confirming it that day, only to deny it later, saying he made a
mistake. Guevara “disappeared” for a few days according to his wife, only to be
detained (again?) in Southwest Venezuela.

Sanchez’
family has charged all along that his death was a “set-up” by the police and
that his body had evidence of torture, which was always denied by the
authorities…until today.

Well, the
Prosecutor General said on a TV interview today that Sanchez’ death was a
“set-up” and that he was killed in order to protect the identity of the main
people behind Anderson’s
asssination. According to this new version by the Prosecutor General, those
behind the explosion thought they had control of the police and may have sent
the cops to simulate Sanchez’ death in a confrontation.

This “new”
version, which seems to have come out of a movie, is made more incredible by
the fact that those that announced and described how the confrontation took
place where high ranking officers of the police, together with the Governor of
the state. Why did they lie? Were they involved? All of these questions are
left now up in the air.

Here is
Petkoff’s take of the same topic in today’s Tal Cuela

Another one from the Prosecutor
General by Teodoro Petkoff

Well Hugo,
this mini reporter believes that it is time to tie up your nutcase before he turns
the Anderson
case into an episode of The Three Stooges. Now Isaias comes out with a version
that Juan Carlos Sanchez was ordered killed by the Guevaras, manipulating the
intelligence police. I don’t know if this is the truth or a lie, but then, what
happens now to the first version, handed out by the National Homicide Chief of
the Investigative Police, the regional prosecutor and none other than Governor
Reyes Reyes, according to which Sanchez died in a confrontation? All those
gentlemen were in cahoots to present what now, according to Isaias, was simply
a set up? If it was set up, these gentlemen did not commit a crime and shouldn’t
Rodriguez the bard, be opening an investigation against them to charge them for
simulating a punishable crime?


Or is he
going to come out and tell us another one of his typical ones, assuring us that
he read “sincerity” in the eyes of all of those officials and that is why he believed
them? On top of that, Isaias should reveal to us how come the Guevaras could so
easily manipulate the “revolutionaries” that directed the intelligence police
at the time and take them to get rid of Juan Carlo Sanchez. Maybe Colonel
Miguel Rodriguez Torres, chief of the intelligence police then, may have
something to tell us about this comic strip.

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