Archive for March, 2009

Hugo Chavez announces very timid economic measures to confront drop in oil revenues

March 21, 2009

cluelessVenezuela may be the only country in the world where the President addresses the Nation to say that two days later he will announce a set of economic measures which he calls “tactical adjustments”, because he is afraid that the people will think of this as the same type of “package” of economic measures that were common in the IVth. Republic. But in the end, its is exactly the same, but badly done, poorly conceived and will likely be badly implemented.

Badly done, because the reason they were not announced on Thursday is that the Government had not yet decided what measures it would implement. Thus, after months of low oil prices, improvisation and ignorance continue to rule the management of the Venezuelan economy, since Chief economist Chavez has veto power over all suggestions from professionals and thus, the real adjustment needed is once again postponed until later and measures are half baked ones.  If baked at all.

But even as Chavez spoke on nationwide TV today at noon to announce that he is now formally a Dictator, as he has illegally taken over ports and airports from the regional Governors, Chavez said that some details about his economic plan needed “rounding up”, in another proof of the level of improvisation surrounding the way Venezuela is being run. (BTW it was grotesque to see Diosdado Cabello, an incompetent Governor ousted by the voters three months ago, leading the takeover of the Puerto Cabello port facilities and boasting that this was a matter of “justice”)

And in the end, the measures announced tonight left a lot to be desired. There will be no devaluation and no increase in the price of gas. I was not expecting a devaluation given the revived presence of Minister Giordani in the Cabinet, but I did think Chavez was preparing the way for the gas increase last Sunday, which would help PDVSA alleviate its cash flow problems. But even such a simple move is too unpopular for charismatic Chavez to implement.

Thus, the only concrete measure announced is the increase of the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 9% to 12%. All of the rest sounds like a typical Chavez project, lots of fluff that will need to be executed if it is going to have any effect: A reduction of the budget by 6.7%, elimination of superfluous expenditures, a cap on salaries at high levels, more efficient expenditures and an increase of debt issued. Since it would be very difficult for Venezuela to issue debt today abroad, this debt will all be local, Chavez talked about increasing debt in Bolivars from Bs. 12 billion to Bs. 32 billion.

And in the indispensable populist note of the night, Chavez also announced that the minimum salary would be increased by 20% starting on May 1st., it was not clear if the cut in the budget would be before or after this salary increase which was not included in the original budget for 2009. I bet that with this announcement, the original budget remains essentially the same as the one proposed last November.

Chavez again talked about the nationalization of Banco de Venezuela, but at a “fair” price. I am sure the owners have a “fair” price which is much higher than wthat Chavez is thinking about. At the same time, given the need to protect the country’s foreign currency, this would seem to fall under the category of ‘superfluous” expenditures, but we all know this is a Chavez whim and we all know when he throws a temper tantrum, he always gets his way.

Thus, as expected, not much substance in Chavez’ program, a couple of measures that are real (VAT and salaries), but the rest a lot of wishful thinking that will face the resistance of the bureaucrats to implement them, since it affects their power and their perks. Since nobody will do follow up to all these measures of savings, efficiency and rationalization of expenditures, they will in the end not have much of an impact.

One of the highlights of Chavez’ presentation was his use of the best precepts of How to Lie with Statistics, when he presented a graph showing how he has increased the minimum salary in US dollars by almost a factor of three since he became President. Of course, he failed to note that the calculation since early 2003 was at the official rate of exchange. If he uses either the swap rate (Bs. 6 per US$) or the rate of inflation (Prices have tripled since Jan. 2003), then the minimum salary has actually lost ground or remained the same in the best case. But either he does not understand this, or he is lying, both a common occurrence for him.

In the end, if oil prices do not rebound significantly, we will see a repeat of this week’s show in June-July, with another set of measures, this time, much tougher ones, as the country begins drawing down foreign reserves and PDVSA’s cash flow becomes critical. Shortages will become quite common by then, much like what happened in late 2007 and speculators and oligarchs will be blamed.

But the poor economic management of the country by Chavez and his Minsiters will not be blamed or even mentioned.

This was as irresponsible as these guys get!!! They are clueless, but that’s not an excuse!!!

(Chavez was careful all day to reassure people that he would announce everything before the Venezuela vs. S. Korea World Baseball Classic game tonight and he did. However, he shoudl have kept talking and spare us, Venezuela is getting whipped 10 to 1 in the seventh inning…sigh…)

Prosecutor follows Hugo Chavez’ direct orders, asks that Manuel Rosales be jailed

March 19, 2009

Today the Prosecutor asked that former Presidential candidate, Governor of Zulia State and current Mayor of the city of Maracaibo Manuel Rosales be jailed for corruption.  Whether Rosales is guilty or not of corruption, I have no idea. However, the case is laughable as Chavez’ hatchet Comptroller Russian “The Ruffian” determined in his characteristic partial way that Rosales could not justify the origin of the funds of all of the assets that he swore he had in his obligatory yearly declaration of assets to Ruffian’s office.

Yeah, Rosales was not only corrupt but also so stupid, so as to add assets over the years in his yearly declaration that he obtained via graft.

There is simply no indictment that says Rosales obtained the money this or that way. Rosales simply gave himself away by putting the proceeds of corruptions into his personal balance sheet. This was not the many accusations by Chavismo that Rosales owned farms, or businesses, none of which have ever been proven. Nope, this was simply one man with pieces of paper submitted by Rosales, deciding Rosales could not justify all he had.

Of course, the whole of Chavez’ family was easily and quickly exonerated from similar charges for property that none of them presented in their declaration of assets. Assets that they own, but keep under somebody elses name. Despite this, they were cleared.

And let’s not talk about the non-existent investigation into the Maletagate case, where the US$ 800,000 came from, or what role Minister Rafael Ramirez played in this, or Daniel Uzcategui, the former Vice-President of PDVSA in charge of suitcases. Or the sudden wealth of those that went to Miami to help Antonini hide the origin of the cash. Or the new millionares of Chavismo, including his family. I could go on, but why bother?

Because we all know that the only reason that Manuel Rosales will be jailed, was because the owner of “Justice” in Venezuela Hugo Chavez decided it long ago. Indeed, last October Hugo Chavez went to Maracaibo and in his by now usual Dictatorial way, handed his divine justice and said he would jail Manuel Rosales:

and the Comptroller complied.

There is nothing more this case than that. The abuse of power, the rule of law, the Dictatorial rule is now an everyday phenomenon in Venezuela. The Constitution is not even worth the paper is written on.

Who is next? Whomever Chavez detects as being his biggest contender within the opposition that could threaten him in the future.

Nothing else to it, get used to that…

Chávez and gasoline prices: the clueless revolutionary

March 17, 2009

I worry when I agree with Hugo Chávez on something. Not only is it rare, but there are so few things that he says that make much sense or are not outright lies, which are contradicted by evidence and what he has said or done before.

Imagine then my reaction when Chavez himself suggested he may increase the price of gasoline, because in his own words “we sell the cheapest gasoline in the world” and “there are people that use lots of gasoline, those that have luxury cars”. I have been saying this for ten years.

The only thing Chavez did not say, was that it was his enemies, the oligarchs and some of his newly enriched collaborators, who own these luxury cars.

But what Chavez did not explain, was: Why has he kept gas prices so low? Why has he given it away for ten years (gas is 17.07 cents a gallon at the official rate of exchange and 6.11 cents at the parallel swap rate)? Why give something essentially free to the rich, while there are so many poor people in the country? (The gas subsidy for someone like me is 4 times higher than for the poor)

And while we are on the subject, why did he give dollars at the official rate of exchange so that the same people could buy these luxury cars?

Is that part of the revolution?

A really weird revolution if you ask me.

Because Chávez has been in power for ten years, he did not start last year. So, he is saying that as administrator of our resources, he has wasted billions, just because…Did he only realize this yesterday? Does he realize what he could have done with it?

The answer is no, he has no clue as to what a house costs, or a kilometer of road, or school. Numbers have no meaning for him, order of magnitude is something he personally does not understand.

But maybe he can explain to us why it is that he actually reversed two important policies of the previous Government, when he arrived in power in 1998:

First, he stopped increasing the price of gasoline periodically, so that gas would be sold locally at the FOB price and PDVSA would not lose money. Is he just realizing now that PDVSA loses money when it sells gasoline? This has been happening for his ten years as President. Nothing new there. I could have told him that…I guess nobody told him, or nobody around was capable of doing so. Or was afraid to tell him once he made up his mind.

Second, in 1999,  PDVSA canceled the natural gas project for vehicles, eliminating its distribution from gas stations and ending a program that was a key part of the solution to having realistic gasoline prices without a large impact on the poor population of Venezuela. Why was this done? I guess because it was a project conceived by the IVth. Republic and it is better to be a good revolutionary and eliminate it, that to continue a good project from the IVth. (Remember the school lunches and the glass of milk projects? Yeap, Chavez got rid of them) That’s ignorance for you. (BTW, this natural gas project was “revived” last year)

And then in his best “Yo no fui” (I didn’t do it!) style, Chávez also complains about the cheap price of electricity…

Well, when Hugo Chavez came to power, the electric sector had been force to divide into three parts: generation, transmission and distribution. Then, the Government set formulas for the calculation of rates for each part of the system, giving companies a reasonable rate of return as well as  a yearly increase to be approved by the Government.

Then Chávez came and suspended any increases. Later, he took over the whole electric sector in 2007, and whoops! Guess what? It is now the Government that loses money, not the capitalistic oligarchs, so the system needs to be changed.

Which only goes to show how improvised this Government continues to be after ten years and how empty Chavez’ revolution is. Chavez wants to have a revolution, but ten years after he was first elected, he still has no clue as to what it means, except that he wants to “do good”.

The problem is how…

And this whole charade shows he has no criteria for making the decisions he regularly does, nor the reliable advisers that can tell him that what he has done for ten years made no sense.

Because in fact, it made much more sense to increase the price of gas a year or two ago than it can ever be right now.

Think about it, in June of 2008, PDVSA was selling a gallon of gasoline locally for 6.11 cents (swap rate) or 17.07 cents (official rate), while gasoline in the international markets could be sold for US$ 3.6 per gallon, while today gasoline was at US 1.41 per gallon.

Thus, PDVSA’s opportunity cost is much lower today than it was last summer at the peak of gas prices, gas prices were then twenty one more expensive then that local prices, compared to eight times today (official rate). Yes, that is eighteen, as 1800%, and seven, as in 700%. How stupid can this be?

Just think, had he increased gas prices last year, a tearful Chavez could come on his reality TV show and announce that he cares so much for the people, that he would actually lower gas  prices, simply out of love for them.

Because now the real question is. To what level is he really planning to increase prices now? Given the difference between the current price and market prices, the increase has to be more than just  symbolic. If he triples prices, PDVSA will still lose lots of money, in addition to the opportunity cost. (In fact, I don’t believe PDVSA can sell gas at a profit internationally). Thus, only a huge increase, which would have a hgh political cost, woudl make sense at this time.

Clearly, Chávez could sell magnets to Garcia Marquez’ Melquiades, only to convince him the next day to trade them for a magnifying glass. The problem is that he then sells the people the same magnifying glass and all we get are once again magnets. And people will still love him, even if the magnets point south.

The perverse and tragic fact is that these are decisions which imply wasting billions of dollars, in  a country where a few hundred million could solve significant problems of the population. Because in fact, due to this blind and reckless policy of keeping ags prices low, the traffic problem has increased dramatically and Chavez does not even attempt to begin solving it.

I haven’t done the calculation, but I would bet, that with the money from the gasoline subsidy in the last ten years, the housing problem in Venezuela could have been solved.

Imagine that! But Chavez can’t, the numbers are too large for his mind…

The Miami Venezuelan Maletagate trial part XVIII (and last?): Franklin Duran sentenced

March 17, 2009

Franklin Duran, the only man accused in the Miami Maletagate trial, who declared himself innocent, was sentenced to four years in jail and three years of parole, for acting as an agent of the Venezuelan Government without registering. He will also have to pay a fine of US$ 175,000.

Duran went to Miami with four other Venezuelans to help in the cover up of the origin of the US$ 800,000 found in the suitcase of Guido Antonini as he arrived in a PDVSA flight in Buenos Aires. Of the other four men involved in the case, three declared themselves guilty and cooperated with the prosecutor, while a fifth one is still at large.

Despite the accusations made in the Court and the testimony by the men involved and evidence in audio tapes that high level Venezuelan officials were involved in the cover-up, the Venezuelan Government has disregarded the case as a US plot.  However, the money and the evidence shows the levels of corruption and lawlessness present in the Venezuelan Government.

Governors challenge Hugo Chavez’ take over of their ports

March 16, 2009

The Governor of Zulia State challenged Hugo Chavez today over the takeover of the ports and airports of that State

later all four Governors continued to challenge Chavez over his unconstitutional threats to take over what is the exclusive competence of the State Governors according to the Constitution.

So far, there has been no response from Chavez, except for reports that the port of Guamache in Nueva Esparta State was being taken over by the military.

This gets interesting.

National Assembly has excellent week after a two year hiatus

March 15, 2009

I have to say the Venezuelan National Assembly reivindicated itself in my mind this week. You see, for two years the Dear members of that respected body did essentially nothing, since they yielded all legislative powers to Chavez so that he could pass as laws, what the voters rejected in the 2007 referendum. Then, after the Enabling Boll expired they devoted all of their efforts to campaign for Chavez’ candidates for Governor, whether they liked them or not.

The year began and once again our distinguished Deputies found themselves busy elsewhere, this time campaigning so that Chavez can be their boss forever, given that they all know they have reached way above their Peter principle and can’t aspire to any higher position.

So, it was about time they got to working and this week they certainly did in style, getting their hands dirty and doing a magnificent job on all fronts. To witt:

  • Completed investigation on the large farms owned by the Chavez family in Barinas State

In an exhaustive and extremely professional investigation, the National Assembly determined that the large farms owned by the Chavez family in Barinas state were all acquired legitimately and that all accusations were unfounded. The extremely “prudent” investigation determined that despite Chavez claim to poverty, the Chavez family has always been rich or near rich and thus all of the 600,000 Hectareas of the Malaguena farm and the Chavera are perfectly legitimate and legally acquired with the Chavez family fortune. The Committee made no judgment on why Chavez always claimed to be poor and whether this represents or not mental instability, but this was not part of the evaluation.  The Committee did not study either why it is that the Chavez family can own farms that are laregr than allowed by the Land Bill, but this was not part of the investigation either. Case closed. (The same committee will continue investigating where Manuel Rosales got the money to buy a car and give it away, there is simply no possible explanation for such a large purchase on a Governor’s salary)

  • The National Assembly approved a new Decentralization Bill

In an effort to reign in the democratic abuses of the newly elected opposition Governors, the Assembly approved a new “Decentralization” Bill that centralizes things so that Chavez can have more power and the Governors can have less. This is essential, because a bunch of opposition (read oligarchic and fascist) Governors were somehow elected last November, together with the new Mayor of the Metropolitan area of Caracas. Thus, with this Bill, not only were many important responsibilities taken away from these Governors, but a new position was created so that Chavez can control and neutralize the newly elected Mayor of the Metropolitan area of Caracas Antonio Ledezma.

You have to understand that Ledezma is not only a capitalist, but was never in the military and thus can not be prepared to hold the position. The Assembly hopes, even if it can not pressure the President, that Chavez names the man Ledezma defeated to the position, Aristobulo Isturiz, so that Ledezma learns his lesson and never again gets himself elected democratically to any position. Even if Ledezma were elected President, Chavez would find a way of naming someone above him.

If these people can’t understand what Chavista democracy is all about, we will teach them!

  • Assembly asks that OPEC should concentrate on adding new members to the organization

Finally, the President of the Energy and Mines Commission of the National Assembly held a press conference this week to urge OPEC to devote all of its time to convince oil producing countries which are not part of the organization to become members.

The idea is quite simple and extremely clever. If these countries joined OPEC, not only would the organization control over half of the world’s oil production (if Russia joined, for example), but it would help cover up all of the cheating that member countries have carried out, whenever production quotas are reduced.

You see, oil prices continue to fall, but OPEC would look silly announcing another production cut (and indeed did not cut today), when the previous ones have yet to be completed. Venezuela, for example, has complied with only half of the cut that it was assigned. If Russia joined, then the organization would get an important additional cut, even if Russia did not comply fully with its assigned cut.

The strategy is brilliant, as the new members would get really mad at the old members and talk about “moral hazard” and leaving OPEC, but we would not cut anyway (We can’t afford it!) and we can continue cheating. But in the end OPEC would produce less, and that is the whole point.

Absolutely brilliant!

Thus, an excellent and extraordinary week for the Venezuelan National Assembly after its two year hiatus, which not only makes us proud, but which are an indication of the wonderful things to come in the near future as they finally get to work.

Maybe they should consider extending their term from six to eight years, so that they can make up for the time lost in the last couple of years. If this week is an indication, they surely deserve it. The six year term is in the Constitution, but who pays attention anyway!

Chavez orders the take over of the maritime ports in states with opposition Governors

March 15, 2009

In clear violation of the Venezuelan Constitution and acting like the outright Dictator he is quickly becoming, President Hugo Chavez just ordered the takeover by the central Government of all of the maritime ports which are in the states of Zulia, Carabobo and Nueva Esparta. Coincidentally these states were won by opposition Governors in the November regional elections.

Just so that there is no doubt about the unconstitutional character of this order, this is Article 164, paragraph 10 of the 2000 Venezuelan Constitution:

Articulo 164: It is the exclusive competence of the States..

10. The conservation, administration and use of roads, highways, as well as ports and airports for commercial use, in coordination with the Executive Branch.

There is no grey area here, this is is the exclusive competence of the Governors, but Chavez wants to centralize everything and remove responsibilities from the democratically elected Governors who do not belong to his party. Chavez threatened to detain the Governors if they oppose the takeover by the Navy of the ports.

The true dictatorial face of Hugo Chavez is being shown to the world. Do we hear anything from the PSF’s?

The irrelevant sale of the Venezuelan Central Bank’s gold

March 12, 2009

A local newspaper published an article this week saying that the Venezuelan Central Bank had sold 7 Tons of gold in order to generate gains so as to cover the hole left by the transfer of US$ 12 billion to the development fund Fonden.

Well, the first part may be true, the Central Bank may have sold some gold, but the rest of the story is simply not true and in the end absolutely irrelevant.

First of all, the Venezuelan Central Bank has (or had) some US$ 10 billion in either gold coins or gold bars, according to the December 2008 balance sheet, adjusted for the change in the price of gold since that date.

But let’s look at how much 7 Tons of gold is. One Troy Ton of gols represents some 32,000 Troy ounces of gold. At current prices of US$ 900 per Troy ounce, this represents US$ 189 million, sounds like a lot to you and me, but in te scale of the US$ 10 billion in gold or US$ 28 billion in reserves, it is very little. It is also small in the scale of the US$ 12 billion transferred to Fonden and would have generated in gains, if the story was true, 1% of the amount transferred to Fonden.

But what makes the story absolutely incorrect is the fact that as can be seen in the financial statements of the Central Bank, the bank marks to market the gold, i.e. it registers it evey month at the current market price of the gold.

Most likely this was a decision by the Venezuelan Central Bank to keep gold as a fraction of reserves at a certain level. Given that gold has gone up in price so much in the last year and that reserves are down, such a strategy would make a lot of sense.

I have no clue or information as to how the gold in the reserves is managed, but what is clear to me is that the size of the trade was mostly irrelevant and the reason given can not possibly be true.

Unfortunately the media jumped on it and has been repeating the story, without verifying the facts.

If Chavez can’t win by playing the democratic electoral game, he will simply bypass it

March 10, 2009

Chavismo has shown an amazing ability at twisting the law and the Constitution to control the country and at the same time make it appear as if there was some sort of democracy in Venezuela.

Given Chavez’ coalition control of most municipalities in the Caracas metropolitan area, it was only natural for him to propose in the 2000 Constitution that the Governorship of the Federal District be eliminated and replaced by a “Metropolitan Mayor” elected to oversee the work of the municipalities of Caracas, to be over them and in that way control the Mayors of Baruta, El Hatillo and Chacao, where the opposition ruled, while winning in the Libertador and Sucre municipalities, thus insuring political control over the whole metropolitan area. This actually was logical, bt may not have been implemented if Chavismo could not prevail in elections.

Except that Chavez chose reporter Alfredo Peña to be the first Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and he quickly became part of the opposition as the Government began violating the rights of the citizens of Caracas.

In 2004, Peña was replaced by Juan Barreto, who turned out not only to be incredible incompetent, but had this autocratic view of life that led him to hire thousands of Chavista activists to carry out political work, rather than work for his municipality. Millions of Bolivars were spent on these salaries as Barreto enjoyed the trappings of his office.

As the 2008 regional election approached, it was clear that if Leopoldo Lopez ran for Metropolitan Mayor, no matter whom Chavismo ran, Lopez would win. Thus, the Comptroller was quickly prompted to ban Lopez from running arguing that he had misallocated some funds from one budget line to another, in violation of the law. Once Lopez was out, the opposition had no choice but field dinosaur Antonio Ledezma against Chavez’ choice of Aristobulo Isturiz for Metropolitan Mayor.

But if Ledezma was perceived as a dinosaur, Isturiz could not fool enough Chavistas into voting for him and Ledezma prevailed, grabbing the position of Metropolitan Mayor, as Primero Justicia’s Ocariz stole the Sucre municipality from under Chavez’ nose, as Chavismo fielded  overexposed and negative-charisma Jesse Chacon as their candidate.

This changed the whole outcome of the 2008 regional elections, as Chavismo not only managed to lose in the ballot box the Metropolitan mayor’s office but one of the country’s most symbolic poor areas and shantytowns in the Sucre District, including Petare.

This was clearly a huge defeat for Chavismo: The opposition not only won, but won easily in its urban territory, controlling all but one of the five Metropolitan districts and the Metropolitan Mayor, all at the same time. Only the former CNE President and later country’s Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, managed to pull a win in the Libertador District, despite his lack of charisma and almost unpleasant personality.

So far Chavismo has made Ledezma’s life impossible. Soon after his victory, the Government took away the control of the Metropolitan police from him, while all of the schools and hospitals were reassigned to the central Government. Meanwhile Chavista hoodlums took over the Mayors office weakening Ledezma’s ability to work for his constituents. Despite this, Ledezma has projected a very positive image in his first 100 days in office and his approval rating has soared, even above the levels of his November elections.

But for Chavismo, only Chavez can have any success and a new plan has been conceived: If you can’t beat Ledezma, make him irrelevant. Thus, the Venezuelan National Assembly is now looking into creating a “Vice-Presidency”, obviously to be named by Hugo Chavez, that would be above the Metropolitan Mayor, whose functions would be above those of the elected Metropolitan Mayor and would keep not only Ledezma, but all of the other Mayors of the Metropolitan area of Caracas in check.

This simply represents a double bypass of the mandate of the electorate and the Constitution. Not only did the voters elect Ledezma to be their rightful Mayor, but the idea of Chavez hand-picking regional Vice-Presidents was rejected by the Venezuelan voters in the 2007 Constitutional referendum. So much for Chavez’ infamus and pompous claim to be in favor of participatory democracy.

Thus, once again Chavez tramples on the country’s democracy, while his foreign unconditional supporters try to tell the world what a democrat he is. The truth is that Chavez has spent the last ten years trampling and twisting the law and the Venezuelan institutions to adapt them to his desires and whims, reducing them to puppets of his orders.

With this new legislation, Chavez and Chavismo will prove, once again, what little respect they have for democracy and the will of the people, despite their constant claims to act on their behalf. Remarkably, it has been the rather gray figure of Antonio Ledezma that has forced them into conceiving this plan, showing once again, that Chavez is by now afraid of his own shadow and that even someone like Ledezma can rise from his own ashes and represent a significant threat to Chavez’ autocratic goal of long term control of the country.

A democrat Chavez is not, but will democracy be able to get rid of him by democratic means?

The Battle of Guarenas

March 10, 2009

It had all of the ingredients of a high level confrontation: 3:30 AM, the workers of the state highway system, accompanied by the Secretary of the Governor of the State, ready to place signs and traffic signals so that the express lane against the normal direction of the traffic could be set up on Km. 12 of the Caracas-Guarenas highway.

Opposite to them the “enemy”, dressed in riot gear including shields, the Venezuelan National Guard stood firm to block the two trucks from the Governor’s office from proceeding forward.

In the middle, public transportation vehicles filled with passengers, you could call them the “people”, wondering who will prevail, either the National Guard, in which case it would take them two hours to drive the 12 Kms. or the Governor, implying they could arrive in 12 to 15 minutes to their destination.

This is not a border dispute, it is a silly and dangerous confrontation in polarized Venezuela, between the Governor of Miranda State who wants to alleviate traffic, and the Chavez Government, who opposes the idea, because they did not propose it first. As simple as that.

Their argument? Article 50 of the Venezuelan Constitution that says that every person has the right to “transit freely” within the Venezuelan territory, as if it said “transit easily” , something which is becoming rarer these days all over the same territory. And in any case, isn’t this the same National Guard that arbitrarily blocks roads and highways daily, stopping each vehicle and harassing travelers? Where is Art. 50 when they do that?

And, of course, these are the same guys that trampled over the same Constitution, so that they could please Chávez and hold the referendum on Feb. 15th. , because, just one example, fourteen articles later, Art. 64 says all Venezuelans who are eighteen have the right to vote, which was not respected on Feb. 15th. To do so, would have delayed the votes three months.

But going back to the battle of Guarenas, at 4:45 AM, the Governor of the State arrives. His arrival encourages the people, car lights begin flashing, horns blare stridently, the “people” shout, bus drivers threaten to shutdown the highway if the express lane is not opened.

In the face of a near riot (Isn’t that what anti-riot equipment is for?), the National Guard Captain in charge of the operation backs down (maybe he lives in Guarenas too!) and the express lane is opened. Buses arrive in Caracas in less than fifteen minutes to the delight of passengers (who will get to work faster) and drivers (who can turn around, go back and fill the bus again)

The bizarro Battle of Guarenas ends peacefully, the question is whether this was a Pyrrhic victory and the National Guard will come back tomorrow reinforced to impose the autocratic decision or whether there is some understanding that the “people” are willing to fight for this.

There are in the end no possible “winners” in such a confrontation, unless imposing your will and controlling the other side is your only goal.

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