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Tales Of Bolivarian Inefficiency III: Chávez’ Frozen Cuban Dream

April 30, 2014

Despite all of the problems at Ultimas Noticias, the reporters there keep turning out some of the best investigative pieces in Venezuela. This time, it was the turn of Lisseth Boon in her excellent piece about Helados Coppelia, which can also be entitled Chávez frozen Cuban dream.

To put it in perspective, Chávez was such a Cubanologist that despite the long tradition of ice cream in Venezuela (Tio Rico, Efe, Castellino, Crema Paraiso, 4D, Versalles), rather than promote local brands, Chávez did the opposite, trying to promote and bring to Venezuela the Coppelia brand, his hero’s Fidel Castro’s creation. Castro created Coppelia in 1966, much like Chávez, it was his idea, nothing was done in Cuba that was not Fidel’s idea. Well, Efe and Tio Rico and Castellino (which made killer frozen lemonade) were around in Venezuela well before then. I can prove that Efe was here before 1966, in the only picture you will ever see of The Devil in this blog, here is the Devil eating Efe ice cream circa 1951 or 1952 (Vanilla, of course!):

efe(Saintly, no?)

Yes! I am proud of my ice cream heritage and taste!

Chavez was not…

Instead, Hugo went to Cuba and brought the Copellia brand to Venezuela. In 2012 Chávez inaugurated the Copellia plant and called them “the best in the world”, which clearly showed he was not much of an ice cream eater.

And because every project in Venezuela since 1999, was Chávez’ project, despite his  keen interest in it, Coppelia, much like the rest of the projects, did not work out well. In fact, barely three weeks after the inauguration, the plant was closed. Somebody told Chávez something was wrong, he even suggests that Fidel called to complain. Then, on nationwide TV Chávez complained to everyone:

and the then Minister of “Efficiency” (today Minister of Defense, clearly a justified promotion) Carmen Melendez, told Chávez then, that the plant was closed because a machine broke down, there were not enough supplies and they did not have a sufficient number of containers to put the ice cream in.

Chavista planning at its best! We are talking only three weeks.

Long term in their attention span.

Well, as Ms. Boon reports in Ultimas Noticias (kudos to her!), things have not really improved much. There is only one Coppelia ice cream parlor (Gradillas a San Jacinto) in Caracas and some 72 spots where you can supposedly buy the stuff.

Except sometimes you can’t

Compare that with thousands of places you can buy Efe or Tio Rico or Crema Paraiso and I know at least five 4D ice cream parlors, with even one in Miami Beach.

But much like anything else, Chávez preferred to promoted foreign ideological stuff, even if it was ice cream, than successful Venezuelan ones and enterprises.

Chávez initially promised that Coppelia ice cream would be made with Venezuelan products and supplies. Milk products from Lacteos Los Andes (now practically bankrupt), sugar from CVA Azucar (now shut down, see first post) and orange, guava, mango, peach and coconut.

Well, 18 months later and now Chávez is dead, Coppelia produces ice cream, mostly creamy flavors, in irregular and limited fashion. Raw materials and supplies are all imported. Forget about all those fruit flavors, but its manager says raw materials come from Lacteos Los Andes, which is practically shut down.

Go figure!

But, a different raw material, money, is not in short supply for Coppelia. In March the plant received an additional Bs. 12.1 million in Venezuela. This adds to the funding in 2012 and to the US$ 4 million given to the Cuban Coppelia in 2013 to “increase its production”

But, in 2013, the milk came from Nicaragua, while powdered milk was imported in 2013 to the tune of 187 thousand Tons. But ask the manager, and it is all Venezuelan. As for the fruit juices, the same manager of the plant said almost a year ago that “in a few weeks fruit flavors will be on the street”

But we are still waiting.

So, much like the Bolivarian revolution, Chávez’ frozen Cuban dream is just that, an ill-conceived dream, a Presidential and Bolivarian whim, with little to show for it.

I wonder who the Minister for Efficiency is today? Just asking…

Next:  Tales Of Bolivarian Inefficiency IV: Puerto Cabello’s Bermuda-like Triangle

Tales Of Bolivarian Inefficiency II: The “New” Venezuelan Steel Industry

April 28, 2014

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Continuing on this short (or long, maybe) series of Tales of Bolivarian Inefficiency, this time we look at something that you may have missed during Easter or Holy week, as the Chinese Vice-Premier came to Caracas and signed a bunch of contracts with various Government institutions. As usual, the details are scant, but the steel and aluminum agreements are certainly intriguing and appear to be a waste of money.

The “New” Venezuelan Steel Industry

While many people were on vacation or resting over the Holy Week holiday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Venezuela and is usually the case in these visits he was accompanied by a number of representatives of Chinese firms and institutions to sign cooperation agreements.

Two of the agreements are loans, which are part of the Joint Chinese Venezuela Fund, which were signed by none other than Diosdado Cabello’s brother Jose David Cabello, who mostly announced them via Twitter. But there was a press release and as is customary in topics relating to Guayana, Damian Prat was on top of it.

The steel project is perhaps the strangest one. This contract with China Minmetals Engineering Co. Ltd, Chalieco, involves according to what little has been informed, to purchase and install a continuous smelter for round products in order to continue diversifying the steel products that Sidor produces. Supposedly, this will allow for the production of an additional 700,000 Tons of steel products. This steel will in turn allow for the production of pipes in a new plant.

Now, as Prat points out, this makes little sense. The Chavista Government nationalized in 2008 the Tavsa pipe plant and immediately proceeded to shut it down, in order to start importing the same pipes from China. the question is then, where is this new plant and why instead of starting a new project, doesn’t the Government revive Tavsa, which has received no funding and sits there languishing after six years.

But more importantly, where is the steel going to come from? When Chávez nationalized the Sidor plant, it was producing 4 million Tins a year of steel. Today, six years later, it is expected to produce less than 1.5 million Tons, the amount produced in 2013. This is insufficient to satisfy the demands of the Venezuelan market, let alone to supply any new plant. Why are they building something new, instead of using the money to restart Sidor and Tavsa and invest in parts and supplies to get them going?

What is most ridiculous is that, much like in the case of the sugar processing plants, Cabello, who is new in the Ministry for Industries said: “Recovering companies that were abandoned has been a characteristic of the Bolivarian Government. We will work as a team to fulfill this …”

Well, we don’t know what other companies he is referring to that have been recovered by the fake revolution, but in this particular case, it was his idol Hugo Chávez that nationalized these companies, which then began receiving no backing, no funding, no financing and were mismanaged. This is why they are  in the deplorable state they are in.

But the mystery remains about the new pipeline plant that Cabello referred too, as nobody knows of such plans. So, even if ture, if the new plant does not exist, what is the point anyway.

Separately, Cabello also announced a contract with Challieco for US$ 500 million (how easy they throw these figures around!) to recover production in Venalum. The same company was hired in 2011 to build parts in China for Venalum, which for forty years had been built in Venezuela. The debt was incurred, but as far as anyone can determine, nothing was ever installed and it is unclear what happened with the U$ 403 million.

In the meantime, this financing has to be paid someday by future generations and the revolution is deaf to the questioning about the projects. Where is the money? What was it used for? Did someone pocket it? Who made money when Tavsa was shut down and its production replaced by Chinese imports? Who is responsible for this disaster?

You can’t ask these questions because largely, the same actors that were in charge then are in charge now.

I wrote earlier about the book by Prat Guayana: The Upside Miracle, the destruction of Tavsa and Sidor is all documented there. But the decimation of the country continues in the name on the revolution. And nobody in Governemnt does or says anything. In fact, they continue the destruction and the mindless indebtedness of the country.

Next: Part III: Chávez’ Frozen Cuba Dream

 

 

Tales Of Bolivarian Inefficiency I: Sugar Processing Plants

April 26, 2014

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Coming to Caracas, one is bombarded with stories. Just watching Maduro in his now almost daily tirades on how he will restart the economy and save it from economic war, would give enough material for what has become a truly bizarre dictatorship, presided by someone who has no ability to diagnose neither the problems, nor the solutions to the mess created by the revolution.

But one area that has caught my attention is the ability by the Bolivarian revolutionaries to disregard or dismiss the many failures of the revolution and describe how they will certainly fix things going forward. Sometimes they don’t even bother to acknowledge that the mess created is their own, talking as if some other Government or group of people was responsible.

Maduro is the first one to talk like this. This week, he has talked about a “new economic model” and the launching of a new age of powering local production, as if it was some Martians that replaced local production with cheap imports subsidized by cheap foreign currency, while the private sector was obliterated, persecuted and nationalized by the Bolivarian revolution.

But there were some announcements this week or during Holy week, or stories, which simply need to be told as they perfectly exemplify and describe the inefficiency and improvisations of the Chavista revolution.

Part I: Sugar Production and Processing

Sugar and sugar cane processing was one of the first areas in which the Chavista revolution decided to intervene some thirteen or fourteen years ago. The Government did two things: It nationalized existing sugar processing plants and imported others from Cuba and under Cuban “expertise”. The argument was not only that the Government could do a better job, producing more and cheaper sugar, but that it would eliminate monopolies and stop the exploitation workers.

Move forward thirteen years and Government plants barely produce 26.7% of the sugar in Venezuela and the companies were losing so much money that the Government last year decide to “restructure” CVA Azucar, the holding of the processing plants in order to make it more efficient. Except that was simply an excuse. By eliminating CVA Azucar and replacing it with the “new” and improved Corporación Venezolana del Azucar (Coincidentally also CVA) what the Government is doing is bypassing its own decrees, which do not allow you to fire anyone. Unless, of course, the company is being shut down.

Thus, the Government that wanted to eliminate the “exploitation” of the workers, is using this legal subterfuge to fire workers and eliminate unions, as both the unions and their leaders were part of the now extinct company.

Nice trick, no? You fire workers and get rid of unions all in a single and somewhat fictional stroke!

Oh! The pretty revolution!

And this is all happening because these companies, which were emblematic of the Chavista revolution, became bloated by cronyism, inefficiency and disregard for productivity and profit.

In fact, General Wilfredo Silva, the President of the recently created new and improved CVA, defended the practice and described how inefficient these companies were. All said, as if the original companies had been bloated and created by a different Government.

The General gave the example of how in Brazil, a sugar processing plant which processes 9.6 million Tons a year, does it with only 390 workers. In contrast the Central Portuguesa plant, which processes 3.6 million Tons, does it with almost twice the number of workers with 700. Or the Sucre Central, which processes 288,000 Tons also has 700 workers.

But there is no remorse. According to the General, the Socialist system under the revolution is the correct one and under his new management, which may last just a few months if experience is any indication, what has not happened in 14 years will magically happen now. There is no reason to return the expropriated plants to its rightful owners to continue “exploiting” the workers.

Sure General, because we can think of so many successful examples under the revolution of successful enterprises, except we can’t really recall the name of a single one…

Next: part II: New Steel Projects…The “New” Venezuelan Steel Industry

Venezuelan Supreme Court Limits And Legislates Right To Protest

April 25, 2014

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In a remarkable decision, the Venezuelan Supreme Court in interpreting the 2000 Chavista Constitution, proceeded to not only remove rights given by the Venezuelan Constitution, but in one swift interpretation, legislated new limitations to the right to protest, as well as appearing to promote repression of protests.

It was just another chapter in the bizarre history of a Supreme Court that only responds to the desires of the Maduro Government.

The Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Court essentially says that any concentration, protest or public meeting which is made without prior authorization of the authorities can give rise to the police or public force to remove the gathering in order to guarantee the right to freely move around of others.

However, Art. 53 of the Venezuelan Constitution clearly says that  any person has the right to meet publicly or privately, without permission, for legal ends and without weapons. It also state that such meetings will be regulated by the Law.

And the Law clearly says that you don’t need permission for such meeting, just participating it to the relevant authority.

The decision also violates international human rights standards which explicitly say that the right to free transit should not be above that of meeting freely in public. In fact, the same human rights standards specify that the lack of approval or notification should not be an excuse to allow the gathering to be broken up by the police. Venezuela has signed all United Nations human rights agreements.

To close the absurdity and perversity of the decision, the Supreme Court says that municipalities have the responsibility of controlling public order, while municipalities in Venezuela are barred from buying equipment of any kind for such purposes.

Thus, in one blow the Court reduces rights provided by the Constitution, legislates on what is required or not to protest, making it essential to be approved first and exhorts the police to remove any such protest.

Of course, all of this will be applied only to whatever the Government considers opposition.

Someone is clearly worried somewhere with these protests, no?

 

Maduro First 365 Days As President Of Venezuela

April 19, 2014

Madurosilla

A year after supposedly being elected President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro is still trying to figure out how to do his job. Growing up under the shadow of Chávez, Maduro had or has little idea about how to manage the Venezuelan economy. He thinks that he can follow the path of his Master, but the Master left the economy in bad shape and there are few places where the regime can find the funds required to stabilize the über-distortioned Venezuelan economy. Add to this the internal bickering between the various factions in Government and it took Maduro almost a year to make changes to the foreign exchange markets of Venezuela, which Chavismo thinks is the most important piece of any economic policy.

In fact, it thinks it is economic policy.

But other than the Maduro administration admitting a much higher rate of exchange, the new Sicad-2 foreign exchange system has become a Sitme-like repeat monster, which shows little of the supposedly “free” and “transparent” aspects that the Government promised. But what can you expect from the brainiacs that surround Maduro?

And as the world expects that the Maduro administration will become pragmatic, we have seen little of the sort. But somehow, good “sources” tell analysts stories of a future unification of all exchange rates at the Sicad-2 level, a noble goal, but one as vaporous as Chavismo’s pragmatism or Chavista “ideas” for that matter. The time for Maduro to make an adjustment was then and maybe still is now, but not next year, when the economy will be in worse shape, the Government’s popularity will be at its lowest ever and a Parliamentary election will be looming in the horizon.

Call us skeptical, but we just got over this new “free” and “transparent” fx system being promised.

Meanwhile, while Maduro blamed everyone for the economic problems, he doubled inflation to 57% per year, shortages increased dramatically to levels such that the scarcity index is no longer published by the Venezuelan Central Bank and monetary liquidity increased by a whopping 75.3% during his first year, mostly due to the Central Bank lending to PDVSA.

Economic “stupidity”, more than economic “war”

And rather than seek expert help, Maduro relied on the same clueless advisers that led Chávez and him to where we are, promoting the man who has destroyed PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, to Economic Vice-President, as if Ramirez had any training on the subject. And it shows.

And rather than recognize the failures of the policies of controls and intervention, Maduro, who has even less of an idea on economic issues than Ramirez, went for more controls, more intervention and more imports (overcharges and “guisos”) by the Government. Price and profit controls on everything were imposed and right before the regional elections, Maduro declared war on prices, forcing merchants to sell below cost, increasing his popularity, but accelerating scarcity and the overall deterioration of the private sector.

Way to go Nico!

And just to make things a little worse, the Government did not include its debt with importers from 2013 in the foreign currency budget, slowing down both local production, manufacturing and imports, something that is still going on today.

Not exactly what needs to be done. But rather than try to change direction, now Maduro wants to declare another war on the economy. This time around, he wants to increase taxes, introduce an asset tax, since taxes from profits have gone down, given the lower profits, if any.

Talk about clueless. With deeply negative interest rates, those that have assets will soon learn the wonders of borrowing to the hilt to buy things that can be hidden, like dollars, or acquire others, all under the subsidy of the Government. Some economic model!

Meanwhile, Venezuela not only finances Cuba under incredibly generous (or is it stupid?) terms, but even the meek Comptroller takes offense on the Cubans ripping Venezuela off, overpricing up to 9,000% (no error there!), importing unnecessary products, the Cubans not sending even 1% of certain orders, storage costs, delays and mismanagement.

It is an extension of the Cuban economic model, applied to rob Venezuelans.

Stupid Solidarity Forever! (SSF!)

Meanwhile, Maduro seems to be trying to juggle the military, the corrupt, the radicals, the so called “pragmatists”, his family (or Cilia’s) and Chávez’, as well as combinations of all of these, including Diosdado.

Houdini would be proud!

And as if this was not enough, Maduro decides to repress protests, jail the leaders of the same and have a dialogue with anyone but those protesting. Remarkably, the opposition shines on national TV, but you have to wonder, who does Ramos Allup represent in the end? Could he get elected to anything? How many people like him, including his wife?

But the beat goes on, Maduro is a clueless President, the country is rudderless, with nobody really proposing an alternative model, beyond applying more order and knowledge to the current one. Everyone fishing to see what morsel they can grab. Even the opposition supporters have by now drank the Kool Aid that the real manufacturing sector has made heaps of money off the Government and that the airlines, car companies, pharmaceutical companies and the like deserve not to get paid.

They should ask themselves: Am I better off than in 2000 and their answer will be the same as that of those companies.

But Maduro is really happy, he believed what Rafael said about the economic model being right and successful. He still wonders why there are meetings all the time and nothing ever gets done. And Cilia prods him to keep on repressing, who cares about human rights and the like?

At least she is safe!

And crime is rampant, but the pretty revolution does not even care for its own supporters. Have you noticed? Even the deaths of Government supporters are not investigated and punished. Maduro is worried because that is the number one concern of the “people”, but he think he can’t control crime if the opposition leaders do not help.

And like in Catch-22, so it goes…

Maduro’s Government is 365 days old, how many more will the country have to endure?

Imaginary Dialogues: Reporting From Venezuela by Paul Esqueda

April 16, 2014

Caricatura-de-maduro-y-el-circo

While I am at the beach, my good friend Paul Esqueda sends me this imaginary dialogue in Bogota…Enjoy!

Imaginary Dialogues: reporting from Venezuela

Paul Esqueda[1]

Maria Angela returns to Bogota after a few hectic days, in the Presidential Palace, in Caracas serving as a facilitator of the Dialogue between Maduro’s Government and the Roundtable for Democratic Unity (MUD) that represents the opposition groups in Venezuela. She is about to meet with the President to give her verbal report.

Maria Angela: I am supremely anguished by what I witnessed in Caracas. I was appalled at how unprepared Maduro’s team was for such a high stakes meeting that was aired in national TV for everyone to see. Worst of all, Juan Manuel, it was also witnessed by Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, Brazil’s Foreign Minister; Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister; and Aldo Giordano, Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela. If this is the way Maduro handles matters publicly, I wonder about the depth and breadth of the conversations when they discuss matters informally as a team internally. I am really mortified that this dialogue is going to lead nowhere. Juan Manuel my prestige is on the line here.

President Santos: What about the MUD? Were they equally unprepared?

Maria Angela: Absolutely not, they were very prepared and scripted. They pointed out serious violations of the Venezuelan Constitution. They questioned the trustworthiness of the last two elections. Using data released by Maduro’s own people in the Venezuelan Central Bank, the MUD seriously questioned the precarious state of the economy particularly the notion of heavy dependence on the oil revenue alone. They revealed horrific data about the violent crime rate in Venezuela that Maduro’s Government has encouraged rather than control.

President Santos: Did Maduro’s team respond assertively to any of the allegations made? For example what did they say about the economy?

Maria Angela: The fellow in charge of the economy and finances could not articulate a strong message, he was simply pathetic. It was all vague without data. All they kept saying is that they blame the forty years of the bipartisan governments of AD and COPEI. My God, Chavez and Maduro have been in power for more than 15 years now. That argument is not a good one. Maduro and his team do not want to take responsibility and be accountable. All they want is to stay in power.

President Santos: The impression I get from you is that you have taken sides already and you, as a mediator are supposed to be impartial.

Maria Angeles; I swear on my mother’s tomb that I am being objective. You should see the body language of Maduros’s team. Their gestures and demeanor were of disdain and contempt. They show no respect for the MUD. One of Maduro’s closest collaborator told a union leader and congressmen “I do not like you, I have never liked you, and however, I am willing to work with you.” This is no way to treat the other party in a nationally televised dialogue. On the contrary the MUD people were very respectful and always made statements based on data or provided examples of real life situations to illustrate their points.

President Santos: These type of conversations always have similar beginnings and as the dialogue progresses, things tend to get better. I think you are being impatient. Remember we have gone through this with our own revolutionaries here in Colombia.

Maria Angeles: Do you realize how tough we have been with our own revolutionaries to get them to the negotiating table? How can you be tough with Maduro if he controls all the power centers like Congress, the Supreme Court, the Military, and the National Elections Board? His weak spot is the state of Venezuelan economy, which is about to collapse due to anachronistic policies.

President Santos: Now you are passing judgment on the Venezuelan economy and that is not your job. You need to help Maduro and the MUD to find common ground so that Venezuela does not gradually become a failed state. That would hurt us big time

Maria Angeles: Forgive me Juan Manuel but you seem to be biased too. You are not being objective either because you are vested on Colombia’s best interest.

President Santos: Let us not go there for now. Tell me Maria Angeles how do you see the dialogue moving forward?

Maria Angeles: That is a tough question. I think Maduro is going to have to bring more brains to the table and diminish the ideological piece. He needs to be pragmatic and focused because Venezuela is in a lot of trouble. Maduro’s team needs training in negotiations, diplomacy, a coherent approach to this dialogue, and a clear sense of direction. At some instances I got the impression from Maduro’s people that this would go away just like an unfaithful husband would do when caught red handed. They are doing all the wrong things. Similarly Maduro needs strong evidence that his 21st Century Socialism is working and that the quality of life of all Venezuelan’s is improving not just that of the poor. Otherwise they need to abandon that model quick and cut their losses. The MUD needs to keep the pressure on if they are to get anything out of this dialogue. I think the democratic solution is along the lines of what Lula had suggested: a coalition to ensure a minimum of governability. As it is the Venezuelan economy is paralyzing in slow motion and it may past the point of no return. Frankly, Juan Manuel I fear anarchy and civil war. I sincerely hope it does not happen and I will do everything under my power of influence to avoid that outcome.

 

[1]This is a hypothetical dialogue. The content is the absolute responsibility of the author. These events never happened in reality.

Venezuelan Dialogue Irrelevant Short Term, But Helps Opposition Medium Term

April 11, 2014

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I did not watch the ¨dialogue¨live, it was too long for my taste, but I watched parts and later watched the videos of some that I had missed. And here is my take:

Short term, this is largely irrelevant, clearly Chavismo is stuck in its own imaginary world, trapped in its slogans and has no intention of yielding on anything, despite the scheduling of another session on the 15th., right in the middle of a nationwide vacation.

But the fact that this was shown on nationwide TV and the opposition had some very good interventions, is very important long term. Close your eyes, ignore the names and last night the opposition was Hugo Chavez circa 1994 and the Government was Caldera or ¨La Cuarta¨, out of touch and mired in their ideology of what they believed in.

The only difference was than in the 94-97 era, Chavez was the only leader and here you had good interventions that range from Henry Falcon to Henry Ramos. And when Falcón asked Ramirez to get rid of his bodyguards and go to the streets, it sounded just like Chávez in the late 90′s, talking to out of touch politicians.

And Falcon was probably the best speaker, simply because I don´t like the other Henry, On nationwide TV, Falcón told his former buddies you really screwed up the Venezuelan economy, while a dreamy Ramirez tried to claim that shortages and 57% inflation were the signs of the success of the revolution’s economy.

And yes, it is all irrelevant short term, but I think the opposition looked good and in touch with the country, while Chavismo/Madurismo could only appeal to slogans that seem very empty today.

And if you watched both sides, it was the Government that showed no respect, while Capriles “carajeaba” a Nicolas and Ramos told Diosdado he was not his boss and he had a lot to say after 15 years of “cadenas”

And while it is clear the Government will not yield, with Maduro claiming this was a time for “Justice”, what the various opposition leaders talked about, even the boring Barboza (He was great, but was talking to the wrong audience) was exactly in line with what the average Venezuelan is worrying about.

For now, Maduro and his cronies have to be worried about, they may have gained a few points internationally by holding their dialogue, but asking for justice n denying the paramilitary groups or torture hurt their credibility, On the other side the opposition was not strident, logical and very in tune with not finding corn flour or paying for regulated items six times the price.

And that is something the average Venezuelan understands, while anyone claiming that the economy is successful or peachy sounds almost extra-terrestial.

Thus, while I was not that favorable to the dialogue without some amnesty gesture first, I think the meeting allowed the opposition to score points and shine, while showing that the revolution has become the IVth. Republic, out of touch and living in the world of bodyguards and jet planes that Chávez promised to get rid of.

Funny (not ja ja), Chavismo becomes the Cuarta Republica with fascism and the opposition shows who is in synch with the people in a single night.

This can only be a positive for the opposition, united or not, in the medium and long term.

Casto Ocando’s Book “Chavistas En El Imperio”

April 6, 2014

Ocando

That a book like Casto Ocando’s “Chavistas en el Imperio” (Chavistas in the Empire) can be published and have very little impact in the daily Venezuelan media, is evidence of how low Venezuela has fallen as a society. Anywhere else, Ocando’s detailed account and information would have become the subject of daily accusations of corruption, which would have forced the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s office to open a myriad of investigations.

But not in the corrupt Venezuela that Chavez and Chavismo have helped create.

Perhaps nothing summarizes better the book, as Ocando’s revelation in the introduction, that Chavez spent US$ 300 million in propaganda in the US during his first ten years in power. Thus, while Chávez was accusing Washington of trying to destabilize Venezuela, he was outspending Bush and Obama in promoting his revolution. And his buddies in Government, were always (or are?) trying to make friends in the US, to defend their money, their properties and even guarantee protection sometime in the future.

In fact, the promotion was not only of the revolution, but even paying companies in the US to regularly show that Venezuela’s economic numbers were doing well. ironically, while Chávez formed the Venezuelan Information Office and Eva Golinger was hired to show the US was conspiring in Venezuela, there was proof of all the money being spent very directly by the Venezuelan Government to promote itself in the US and very little proof was ever shown that the US was doing the same thing in Venezuela or elsewhere.

And while I know most of the stories, given what I have done with this blog for too many years, there is something very pleasing about seeing it all in one place, publicly, from electoral shenaghinans, to the purchase of properties in the “Imperio” by the same people who were pledging their allegiance to the XXIst. Century Socialist revolution. How, when faced between the choice of “Imperio” or Chavismo, so many of them have chosen the Imperio, so as to guarantee the use of their ill gotten money.

And Casto’s book is not a “fun” book. I think to plow through it and enjoy all the details you have to be interested in the subject, like I am. And in the middle of it, there are many pointers to many stories that remain untold today, as Ocando provides, not only the names of those involved in enriching themselves, but the names of the companies they used, their “partners”, links to property registers and connections that, in my case, help me understand better some of the things that went on in Venezuela.

And some anecdotes are priceless, like that of Maduro trying to buy three first class tickets in American Airlines at Kennedy Airport with cash. I think I remember that story vaguely, but to think that Chavez’ dumb son, now President of Venezuela tried that, is truly priceless.

And it is all in there, how Illaramendi was caught, the Bandes people, Ramos de La Rosa. Remarkably, some, like Arne Chacón were busted first in Venezuela, but their destruction had wide ranging effects in the luxurious properties they had set up in the US.

In the end, the book just tells us how Chavismo went from corruption to drugs, joining forces with the FARC, the Iranians and drug cartels, showing that Chávez was willing to allow anything to his buddies in order for the revolution to survive.

But while we see why Chavismo liked the “Imperio” and enjoyed it, it was their capitalist, corrupt side, I wish Ocando had devoted sometime to why the US Government has not made use more public use of the information brought by those Chavistas, like Andrade and Aponte Aponte have given the US Government. Is that information being used? Because in the end, we have seen a lot of Chavistas being protected on the US side of the world, but we have seen little of the use of that information to subvert the regime and the revolution.

What is the strategy? Is there a strategy?

I don’t see one, I do hope there is one. If you are into this subject, buy the book. Even if you know a lot about it like me, you will be surprised, but more importantly, most of the info is right there.

Maduro Dictatorship Ignores Constitution To Get Rid Of Opposition Deputy

April 1, 2014

mariaCorinaMachado gassed by National Guard at peaceful demonstration in her support today

It may be easy to try to dismiss the removal of Maria Corina Machado as a duly elected Deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly as another step in the imposition of the Maduro Dictatorship. But it is much more than that. If Leopoldo Lopez’ jailing was a sign that Maduro was not willing to walk the fine line between Democracy and Dictatorship that Chávez walked for years, Maria Corina’s absurd impeachment by the Venezuelan Supreme Court represents a break with any sort Constitutional order. This is not a fuzzy charge, there is no basis for the decision. There is nothing gray about what the lowest Court of the land has decided. There was no due process, no right for Ms. Machado to defend herself and a complete ignorance about the Constitution says.

The Government simply wanted to get rid of Machado as part of its confrontational plan. Whatever that may be.

The charge against Machado was begun by the man who would like to be the Dictator, the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Diosdado Cabello. All that Cabello is missing today seems to be a little Hitler-like mustache to play the part to perfection. Cabello stated that Machado had violated Art. 197 of the Constitution, by accepting to speak for the Government of Panama at the Organization of American States. That article says that the Deputies will hold the job as full time jobs and devote all their time exclusively  to the position.

First of all, Ms. Machado did not occupy another position by speaking in front of the OAS as a representative of the country of Panama, which graciously gave her the time that the majority of OAS members did not want to give her to present the case for that half (or more?) of Venezuela that is being ignored by the Maduro Government. You could say and I would say, that she was actually doing her job. In fact, none other than Jose Miguel Insulza, the Head of the OAS, has publicly stated that Ms. Machado was not speaking as a representative of Panama, but in her role as an elected Deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

But even worse, the Venezuelan lowest Court actually justifies what Machado did at the OAS when it says:

Deputies can not exercise or accept other positions…except for educational activities, academic activities, accidental or of assistance….

What Machado did was certainly accidental and in no way was she representing another country, getting paid for it or not doing what the people who voted for her wanted her to do, whether Maduro or Diosdado like it or not.

And clearly for the Court, their words are a command.

But think about it. Machado was removed or impeached by the Court, without being allowed to defend herself. In fact, Insulza’s declaration that she acted as a Deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly should have been enough to have the Court ignore the accusation against her.

But beyond this, Maduro, who was questionably elected President, with a promised audit of the vote shuffled under the rug, gets rid of an opposition Deputy who was elected with over 80% of the total vote. Ms. Machado could have been removed by the procedures that the Constitution establishes for it, just like Maduro can also be impeached. Instead, the Dictators chose the short cut, getting rid of her, just because…

What happens now to the only argument to defend Maduro that some people have: He was elected democratically.

Was he? Really? So was Machado, she really was elected, and the law and the Constitution were bypassed by the Dictator and his understudy to serve their purposes.

And that alone is enough to call for the removal of Maduro. Because democracy is not only about elections. It is about the daily exercise of democratic principles. The “people” may even support a Dictatorship, but Venezuela has a Constitution, a Democratic one at that and its precepts and tenets have to be respected, whether you would like Maduro (or Diosdado!) to be a Dictator.

In fact, they are so cynical, that a Chavista Deputy of the same National Assembly Adel El Zabayar, joined the forces defending Assad in that country for a while, as you can see in this picture. Not one Chavista, let alone the Venezuelan lowest Court said a beep about it. Talk about double standard and discrimination!

Thus, the rest is just wishful thinking by those that want Maduro’s Dictatorship to stay in power to satisfy their own personal ideological, monetary or personal reasons. But they have nothing to do with democracy, human rights and the Venezuelan Constitution.

Students Set Up Long Term Protest Camp In Front Of UN’s Office in Caracas

March 31, 2014

IMG_2991Aerial picture of student tent camp in front of the UN office in Caracas (Thanks MD!)

One goes to Caracas and picks up so many stories, that when you return you don’t know where to start. But I thought I would lead up with the story of the students in front of the United Nations office in Caracas. In some sense it encompasses a number of stories of what is going on in Caracas in the protest movement an its relationship with the Maduro Government.

Essentially, a bunch of students (or not) have set up camp in front of the United Nations office which is in Avenida Francisco de Miranda in Los Palos Grandes. I may not like the #SOSVenezuela hashtag, but, as you can see in the picture above, they have focused on what the hell is the UN doing, or not, in Venezuela. But their reality, their plan is a bit more complicated than that.

The first day, the students set up maybe a couple of rows of tents. But, as you can see in the picture above, taken by a buddy from the building in front (Thanks MD!), by now they are up to four rows and growing.

It is very colorful as the picture below shows, but this is more than just a spur of the moment plan. I talked to the students last week, and their plan is much more complex than just sitting there.

IMG_4060Another great picture by MD (or is it TD ot TT?)

When you first talk to them,there are a number of surprises. First, they are not all from Caracas. Second, they are not middle class. Finally, they are not all students, as many of them are part of radical, left wing groups 8yes!, real left wing not imitation Chavistas!) which oppose the Government. So, for fools that claim that these protests are somehow motivated by the US, driven my middle class students, please come down and talk to them. You will be surprised, really surprised.

The second interesting aspect, is that the UN is just a way of focusing on something. They know that the UN will do not much more than make a statement or two. But they also know, that where they are, they should be safe, they are close to Altamira where they can go protest  every night and in a location where the protests can grow, as they have grown in the last week.

But more importantly, they think that Maduro is playing  a game of patience. They believe Maduro wants the students to get tired, wear out the opposition with repression and nightly fights, which, much like in 2002 in Plaza Altamira, will lead to the students or the opposition getting tired and giving up.

But they have no plans of giving up.

Their plan is to grow the camp, as long as it is livable. To make their presence a nuisance, but one that gets the approval of the neighbors. But it has to be livable and sustainable. They have received donations, they have  a couple of Porta Toilets, they cook for everyone, they organize protests. But more importantly, they rotate. The tents may have someone’s name on it, or State, but the truth is that they alternate. Each person has someone to occupy their place. The idea is to outlast the Government, to out-tire the National Guard or the Bolivarian Police. After all, nobody can say they are violent (even if they go help in Altamira) but if the Government were to decide to move them out, repress them, it would be the Government that would look bad.

For them, the UN territory, IS their territory for the time being.

And just to make a point, they have set up a sort of “museum” of the weapons of repression. The left overs from the National Guard attacks. This shows who is the violent one. Maduro asks for dialogue, but responds with violence and repression. While the students are just sitting there.

IMG_7059

The students are more than just anti-Government. They are doing this, because the revolution has simply blocked their progress. They see most students finish their studies and either stay unemployed, start a business for which their studies are useless or simply, leave the country. Emigrate. And they think the revolution is to blame for this. Many of them come form poor families, but somehow they managed to get into the regional universities. And what they see is that their future is blocked by a Government that wants to dominate everything, including their families. So, they don’t want to put up with it. Better protest like this looking for change than waiting for a degree that will do nothing for their future.

And it is fun too. They organize activities, talk to friend meet friends. Hell, if you have nothing to do, why not go visit them? You will be around people your age, talking about like, the future and why they are doing it. I did that and it was lots of fun. Imagine being their age!

And they have activities all of the time. Last weekend they had a vigil with candles.It was  away to feel together, to have people join them. And who could not be moved by their sacrifice? After all, they are out there most of the time. Fighting in their own way for what they believe in.

vigilIf I was Maduro, I would not want to fight against the conviction and dedication these students show…

Note added in the morning the next day: Last night the students were attacked. I have heard different versions, the correct one seems to be they were attacked by someone in a truck an dnot by the National Guard with tear gas.

I am not sure if this was in response to that, or the students had planned to expand anyway. In fact, they seem to suggest they were going to expand when I talked to them Saturday. Maybe the idea is to peacefully challenge the Government right in front the UN’s nose. Stay tuned..

The camp this morning as it expanded to the street:

IMG_3445

(Thanks DA)

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