Archive for the 'Venezuela' Category

To Those That Think Maduro Is Not A Dictator: ¿Qué Pasa en Venezuela? by Foro Penal Venezolano

March 14, 2014

I am still amazed by the number of people that are still saying we should wait for elections, bla, bla bla. The video above proves beyond any doubt that Nicolas Maduro has become the Dictator of Venezuela. He has to go. Period.

And if you still have doubts, read Gustavo Coronel’s article “Approaching the Unthinkable” about Venezuela importing oil and you will realize that indeed, under Chavismo, all that oil underground will always stay there.

Si-Cad Or So-So-Cad in Venezuela’s new fx system?

March 11, 2014

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Almost eleven months ago, Nicolas Maduro was elected President and since then, the Government’s economic team has been telling us about the new foreign exchange system (fx for short) in the works, which was almost ready. Today, everyone wants me to write about the “new” and “improved”  fx system, called Sicad 2, but there is not that much really that I can say about it. The Devil is in the details and we still don’t know most of them.

Meanwhile, Maduro keeps thinking that talking and not working, is the way to survive as President. He now has a new program (above), While that may have been something good to do for his former boss, he just does not foot the Bill. I mean who wants to listen to Nicolas give us his usual BS that half of Venezuelans are right wing fascists oligarchs, and the other half pure PSUV socialists? If that were true, there would be hope for Venezuela, not because we need more oligarchs, we have enough with Chavistas, but because there would be more market ideas, which does not seem to be what the opposition is proposing either. But Nico sounded nostalgic tonight, maybe he has been reading too much Dieterich these days. Eight weeks left of this nightmare? First time I am rooting for a Chavista prediction!

But going back to the new fx system, the so called Sicad-2, which is what people want to know about, all I can sayis , so far it looks like So-So-Cad, more than Si-Cad in my opinion. And I do hope they change my mind in the upcoming days. I would love to be proven wrong.

But let me be clear: Sicad-2 is a huge and positive step for Chavismo. First, it is a significant break with their ideological straight jacket, which has tied them for so long, and it it is very positive step for PDVSA, which will improve its cash flow by selling dollars at a much higher rate than the official Bs. 6.3 per US$ or the Sicad-1 rate of Bs. 11.8 per US$.

End of positives.

Because in Sicad-2, the Government has not created a foreign exchange market, but as usual, a complicated auction-like system, in which it is not clear who will win and how much you win. This is typical Chavista thinking: They spend eleven months thinking of what to do and come up with a Goldberesque system for fx trading.

To begin with, what is the fixation with bonds? Why can’t people trade Bolivars for US Dollars, Euros, or Yuans?  (or vice-versa). Remember that bonds were introduced in the fx system as a pantomime to mask the true fx rate at which things were being done. The Government made it a criminal activity to buy or sell Bolivars for dollars or vice-versa, unless you used securities. You could not even say at what equivalent price transactions were being made.

But now, neither how you do it, nor saying the price is illegal. You can even say the price of even the black market, it is no longer a crime. Remember all those brokers jailed in 2010? The case against them has been dropped, as the new Foreign Exchange Illicit Bill, decriminalized everything they were accused of doing.

So, why not forget about bonds? The Venezuelan Central Bank will actually state at which rate each batch of dollars will be sold on average.

Anyway. The new and improved Sicad-2 will begin operating…soon. We still need the rules and regulation. But if we are to believe the authorities, it will work something like his:

You go to your friendly bank, where you will say you want to buy x dollars and you given them a range of prices at which you want to buy (or sell if you are deranged enough). (You need an account in Venezuela and in dollars first)

Your bank, will create a spreadsheet with all its postures, which it will send two or three times daily to the Central Bank. You can only place a single posture per day. Unlimited, in amount or price.

The Venezuelan Central Bank will come back to you and say Si-Sicad for you, or No-Sicad for you, without explanation, after “matching” buying (bids) prices and sell (offer) prices. At the end of the day, the Central Bank will publish only the average price of all dollars sold.

So, this is not a market, it is a pseudo-auction system, where only the Central Bank will know bids and asks and what it does with them.

Fairly opaque in the details.

The system has no upper bands, limits and is flexible, but nothing says there will be unlimited offer to all the bids. In fact, I am sure there will be limited offer only. Nothing says that if you want to buy 1 million dollars at Bs. 100, they will give it to you. In fact, they may give it to you cheaper, as the Government has the right to intervene to keep the price down.

So, it is still is unclear. My opinion is that the Government has very limited resources for this market. Thus, initially there may be some optimism, which will fade fast. No matter what you may have heard, the parallel market (it is no longer black) has barely budged, suggesting some level of skepticism with the new Sicad-2 system.

At the same time, there will be little demand at the beginning. The large buyers (multinationals) will have to review the foreign exchange agreement, the regulations and the Foreign Exchange illicit Bill before they can even begin to operate in this new Sicad-2 market. The small buyers (you!) will have to open a dollar account in Venezuela, which is apparently one of the requirements to participate.

So, it may be on Maduro’s first year anniversary as President in mid-April (which falls in the middle of Dieterich’s prediction) before Sicad-2 shows its true dynamics and whether it is a real positive or not. In my humble opinion,there will be too many exchange rates, not enough transparency and too many limitations. The Government in trying to solve economic distortions, simply creates more and more, without understanding the true implications. To begin with, a new price for the dollar, which represents a huge devaluation, implies allowing prices to rise in the middle of 56% inflation per year. The Government has yet to understand that a foreign exchange market is not economic policy, but a transactional part of the economy. If it does not create other rules and regulations, it will all be a waste of time.

But if Sicad-2 is all they could come up with in eleven months, there is little hope for the rest of the policies. Thus, maybe Dieterich is right.

I just find it hard to be that optimistic.

The Ignorance Of Venezuela’s People’s “Defender”

March 8, 2014

People’s “defender” today

The Chavista Constitution of 2000, created the position of the People’s Defender, better translated as the People’s Ombudsman. This was a great idea of the 2000 Constitution, which, as so many things with Chavismo, it has received really bad implementation.

Like really bad…

Because those holding the position in the end have only sucked up to Chávez then, or Maduro now, defending the Government and seldom doing what Art. 280 of the 2000 Constitution mandated them to do:

Artículo 280. La Defensoría del Pueblo tiene a su cargo la promoción, defensa y vigilancia de los derechos y garantías establecidos en esta Constitución y los tratados internacionales sobre derechos humanos, además de los intereses legítimos, colectivos y difusos, de los ciudadanos.

(Article 280. The People’s Defender is in charge of promoting, defending and watching over the rights and gurantees in the Constitution and the international treaties about human rights, besides the legitimate, collective and diffuse interests of the citizens. )

And so far, the only person to occupy the position and do her jov was the first one, Dilia Parra, who was the only one qualified and truly independent to hold the position. The other two, German Mundarian and the current one, Gabriela Ramirez, have been know as the “Defensores del Puesto” (“Defenders of the position”) spending their time more defending the untenable positions of the Government, than those of the people.

Over the last few week, little has been heard from Ramirez, while repression blossomed in Venezuela. Ramirez, who reached her position with little human rights back1groung, reached her position after failing to win the race for Mayor of Baruta, three years ago and her buddy Diosdado brokered the position for her in a deal with Chávez.

But she is clearly not qualified. She has no interests in human rights and protecting the people.  At least in three years as the People’s Defender, she has shown no inclination for this. She is also a terrible (abominable?) speaker and knows very little about her job.

A typical Chavista Government official…Not qualified, not competent and fairly ignorant.

Today, there was a controversy over Ramirez, based on the video above. Despite three weeks of protests, Ramirez has been fairly invisible. In fact, only four days ago, she made these absurd statements, in which she claimed not to have any accusations of torture, despite individuals making them, as well as those of Foro Penal Venezolano, which have been very clear and extremely specific and quantitative (Alfredo Romero tweets updates regularly under @alfredoromero). In fact,Ramirez claims that “bullets” have come from “somewhere else” while there are numerous videos which show cops, police and National Guard shooting real bullets at people, exactly what Ramirez says is prohibited.

But today Ramirez in one single sentence showed not only that she is not qualified for her position, but that she has not even bothered to learn the basic tenets of what human rights are.

The controversy arose because people took her statement “la tortura tiene un sentido, por eso nosotros tenemos que ser muy rigurososos con el uso de los términos. La tortura se emplea para obtener…” (Torture has a sense, that is why we have to be rigorous in the use of terms. Torture is used to obtain information…) to mean that she thinks torture is justified.

While this may be what is understood or derived from her statement, I think it is just a consequence of how badly prepared she is to speak in public. But if her words were wrong, her true intent was just as bad, because while I don’t think she was trying to justify torture, she was trying to walk a very fine line and differentiate between torture and cruel or degrading punishment. Suggesting the “Torture” Committe only had to deal with those cases where people were obtained to obtain information.

But it just so happens, that Ramirez is stupidly and ignorantly wrong, because the United Nations, the OAS and even the Venezuelan Government have tried precisely to differentiate that very fine line. And Venezuelan law even includes “intimidation” as part of torture to make Ramirez look even worse and even more ignorant.

Thus, in her attempt to defend the Government, instead of doing her Constitutional job, Ramirez showed her ignorance of international law and the fact that she is not complying with what the Venezuelan Constitution says or what international says are the rights of  the people. As such, she could be one day charged for not preventing “torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” an as stated very clearly in the convention, people like Ramirez will not be able to argue that they followed superior orders as “they will be held accountable individually”

In fact, Ramirez’s statement justify her immediate dismissal from her position, something we know will never happen. Which simply proves the point that Venezuela is a Dictatorship, where human rights are not only nor respected, but those in charge of defending them are incompetent, ignorant politicians who only want to suck up to the highest levels of Government to scale positions in the future.

A profoundly sad and disturbing episode, which simply surprises nobody. Scruples is not a word Chavistas have in their vocabulary, nor is it a concept they can understand or comprehend.

But Humann Rights violations never expire…

Who Is In Control In Venezuela? By Paul Esqueda

March 8, 2014

My good friend Paul Esqueda, a very distinguished Venezuelan, with a career in science and science and education management, asked me if I could publish here his article expressing his concerns about where Venezuela is headed. I do so with great pleasure.

Who is in control in Venezuela?

Paul Esqueda

The recent events in Venezuela suggest a very concerning trend. The Government seems to control the centers of power (the Military, Congress, the Supreme Court, the National Elections Board and most of the governors and city mayors). However, a critical piece such as the economy is completely out of control. Inflation is at an all times high (55%), the parallel market rate of exchange of the national currency is ten times that of the official rate fueled by an obvious shortage of US dollars, and the supply chain of consumer goods is completely disrupted with the consequent shortages of vital consumer goods in the supermarket shelves. There seems to be a mix of improvisation and ignorance with the end result of very poor management of the economy. In addition, oil production seems to be declining, which is the most important source of revenue of foreign currency. Furthermore, the Government has not be able to honor the debts to most suppliers from neighboring countries and the international airlines. These are just some of the serious imbalances of the economy that may lead Venezuela to be a failed state.

Since Chavez came to power he began the creation of a “militia force” to defend the revolution. At the time, most public figures warned that this type of paramilitary forces presented a huge potential danger for our society. They have no clear chain of command, they are not trained to apply the rule of law, and most important they could get out of control at any time with their fire power. This is actually happening as I write these lines.

The Movement of Democratic Unity (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, MUD) gathers most of the opposition groups. They have made every effort to turn things around by pointing out the economic imbalances with very little success. As a very democratic movement, the MUD is a heterogeneous group with many critical thinkers and very strong intellectual power. The MUD has promoted peaceful protests with rallies that have had massive attendance. However, things are getting out of control because the protests have taken root in many neighborhoods in Caracas and in most large cities in Venezuela setting up barricades (guarimbas) and progressively paralyzing the economy. The student movement, mostly from higher education institutions, are leading the guraimbas together with the local residents in each neighborhood. By the way, the MUD has very little control over the student movement. The MUD has constantly called for peaceful protests and have condemned the guarimbas as a violent and improper approach. The Indeed, one of Venezuela’s most important political analysts and economist, Luis Vicente Leon, referred to the guarimbas as a “path to a cliff.” Most importantly he claims that there is a “lack of leadership” and no clear way to funnel the powerful street protests.

The Government has opted to exercise all its power to crush the guarimbas by massive repression and shear use of military and paramilitary power. The consequences are evident, blatant violation of human right and a fake approach to power. Nicolas Maduro would call for a peace conference and dialogue only to turn around a few minutes later and order his militias to “wipe out” all protesters. Words definitely do not follow action, a clear lack of integrity that does not contribute to generating trust.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has been called to intervene by invoking the “Democratic Letter.” This is an agreement signed by all OAS members with a commitment to enforce democratic principles such as respect for the diversity of ideas and freedom of speech as we understand it today. OAS is moving at a snail pace arguing that Nicolas Maduro was democratically elected and that Venezuelans should resolve their issues among themselves. On the other hand, Nicolas Maduro argues that the protesters are a minority that only represent the upper class in Venezuela. Nothing further from the truth, the protest and barricades have taken root in all neighborhoods. Those low income neighborhood that stay quiet are under the rule of the militia thugs that violently repress any sign of dissent. Two important conclusions: the guarimbas need leadership badly since they are out of control and democracy is extremely lacking in Venezuela.

The whole argument of this article is that the Government is not in control of the economy (the main source of the problem as admitted by Chavista Governor of Tachira State, Jose Vielma Mora) , the militias are out of control, and the guarimbas are out of control. So who is in control in Venezuela? Is Venezuela at the verge of becoming a failed state? Is chaos going to reign in Venezuela? That is why the help of OAS is badly need in Venezuela. The human rights and freedom of speech pieces are pale next to the real challenges that Venezuela faces.

The Venezuela Paradox

March 1, 2014

After three weeks of repression, fifteen dead, at least 60 reported tortured and more than eight hundred detained, including opposition leaders and reporters, the Venezuelan students have at least shown the world what little respect the Maduro administration has for the human and civil rights of the people. Venezuela has seen similar repression before during Chavismo’s rule, but never has it been compressed in such a short period of time. Or taped, photographed and videoed so extensively. By now, it is clear around the world, how prevalent repression, censorship and violence are under Chavismo. Maduro talks peace and repproachment with the opposition, the day after calling an opposition lady a prostitute and the day before the most repressive use of force in Caracas. Maduro decides to give two days of vacation ahead of the four-day Carnival break, in the hope or belief that by next Wednesday people may have forgotten what he has done.

How little people learn from history! In fact, Hugo Chávez believed the same thing in March 2002 when the Easter week vacation arrived. He thought the protests would subside and all the insults and repression of the previous days would be forgotten. He was gone four days after Easter Sunday, only to return due to the stupidity of those that did not follow Constitutionality after he resigned due to the deaths of April 11th. 2002.

The problem is that this victory by the students has by now become a paradox. Venezuela represents the paradox that in the twenty first Century, as those that were repressed in the twentieth century become Government, Human Rights and Democratic Rights have become less important around the world.

It is an amazing turn of events. I remember the era in which Virela and Pinochet were despicable figures who governed Argentina and Chile. It was beyond my comprehension how famous physicist Antonio Misetich, who had returned to live in Argentina to find his missing sister, could also be disappeared jut like that. Or how Juan Jose Giambiagi, a Nobel class scientist who later became my friend, would emigrate to Brazil and the Argentinian Government cheered. Venezuela was a recipient of the emigration of this era. We heard the stories, we could not believe that this was happening in what were once thriving democracies.

But today many of the same countries are run by those that were persecuted and their silence is deafening. Argentina ignores what is happening for ideological reasons, Colombia for commercial ones, Chile because it is in a transition, but I do not expect much from Bachelet. But the real surprise all these years has been how morally empty Brazil’s left is. You can not lead a region when you behave like that. It will come back to haunt them one day. They have also forgotten history. Sadly, they seem to think or feel that repression is a thing of the past in their respective countries. They think they have the institutions to withstand anything. Think again. Chile was the strongest democracy in Latin America in the sixties. Venezuela took its place. And we know how both turned out.

And that is what makes me pessimistic about the future. Not of Venezuela. Of the whole region. When you hear repeatedly that Maduro was elected  (Was he?) from those that are leaders of their respective countries. When they so conveniently ignored that the audits promised to them never took place, you have to wonder what concept of democracy they have in their minds.

And while they are many decent people expressing their outrage at Maduro’s repression and discrimination of those that oppose him, it seems that they are few and far between. And few are powerful. The international media knows by now. Some countries like Panama have stood up on the right side of humanity. But unfortunately, Panama is one of the exceptions.

The rest simply prefer to ignore it.

And I do not expect anyone to come in and intervene in Venezuela, nor do I want them too. Cuba is here already, we should just kick them out.

But I do expect people who call themselves leaders to express their outrage at a Government brutally repressing its people, killing some of them, torturing kids for doing what is a Constitutional right under the Constitution proposed and approved by the party in power. And institutions like the OAS, who have decided not to say much, should also raise their voice. Not only against repression, but about the silencing of the media, the censorship of the Internet and the jailing of opposition figures. Otherwise, they will soon lose their right to even exist.

Because the other paradox is that as the students have continued their protests, the Government has become even more violent. Protests are not going to stop and the current handling of them will only increase their intensity. And the death toll will rise. It is the Government that has all of the tools to stop this, but so far, it has not budged an inch, pushing forward at every step.

And I think the students have won the international media war. And their battle will continue, but nobody knows where it will end.

With an economy in shambles, scarcity increasing and Maduro acting like their is no urgency to attend economic problems, the protests can only add participants.

And those that think that these are middle class protests should think again. It was San Cristobal that initiated the protests and in that city it is a proportion much larger than the middle class that is participating actively in the daily protests.  An in Caracas, Caricuao, Petare and Catia have taken part, even if they have pressure not to do so. And I have been in Altamira and talked to the students, anyone that thinks they are just middle class, should visit with them.

My theory is that some in Government are undermining Maduro to have an excuse to replace him from within. But what do I know.

Much like 2002 or the Ukraine today, these protests have unforeseen consequences and ends, Some “tenientico” , for example, can get the wrong idea. Why not? If Chávez tried it, why can’t he?

That is not only part of the paradox, but is also part of Venezuela’s  current tragedy.

Peaceful Day, Violent Evening in Venezuela

February 22, 2014

After a very peaceful day, when Chavismo held its somewhat small march and the opposition, despite the limited media availability, held huge marches everywhere, including a massive one in Caracas as you can see by the overall view from that drone above, the evening has not been as quiet.

And it is hard to understand what is the Government’s strategy. What does it gain from sending the National Guard and “colectivos” at this time, on a Saturday night? After the march, students returned to Altamira and blocked their usual stretch, which is no more than around three sides of the square. They did this Thursday, nothing happened. Again last night, nothing happened. But tonight after a very peaceful day, the Guard went after them with the aggressive and armed colectivos, much like Wednesday. Really, what’s the point?

It would seem at this time, that it is to the Government’s advantage for things to quiet down. So, why repress the way they did in Altamira, where they have retaken the square after avoiding it for two days?

This is the square right now:

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What have they gained? To send the students back to planning where they go now. To get them even more angry than ever after a day that was sooo nice for them.

Because at this point, Caracas is third in the ranking of the Government’s problems.

Number one, of course, is San Cristobal, where the Government has a huge problem in their hands. If they try to get the people out of the streets, there will be violence and repression and things will actually worse. Many are likely to be killed if the Government tries the violent approach. And the peaceful route seems to be a dead end, as the population is incensed at the violence an it seems as if even the National Guard does not want to fight its “pueblo” and there are very few avenues of negotiation available.

Then, there is Valencia. Repression there has been remarkable and today the girl who was shot in the eye with pellets died after three days in intensive care. This will only get people more incensed than ever. To give you an idea of the level of violence in Valencia by the National Guard and the police, this is a picture of the cartridges, bullets, shots, casings left at a single residential complex on Wednesday:

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Is this normal? Isn’t this a little bit overdone?

So, why would you want to increase unrest in Caracas?

And I repeat, the question is what is the Government after? Because I don’t see a pleasant end to all this repression. And it will have a huge political cost for the Government. Are Maduro’s buddies simply letting him run the show so that he screws up and they can remove him? At this time, this seems the most likely scenario in my mind.

The march was extremely peaceful and it was really massive. here are my pictures in no particular order:

photo(25) photo(23)

Looking back on the Los Ruices elevadophoto(22)

From the Los Ruices elevado

photo(20)

Heading back after two hours, people still arriving in droves.

photo(19)

Students jailed, criminals free, Made in Venezuela

The next to last picture above was taken two hours after the first picture after I started heading back. people were still arriving in droves and I could not go close to the stage, simply there were too many people to go forward. I don’t recall this ever happening again.

And despite all of the Government expenses, the Chavista march was puny in comparison. Last night, I went out late at night, bordering the La Carlota airport and found the military airport filled with buses with the people brought to the march in Caracas, the only one the Government held today. To say nothing of those held all over the world.

Maduro has made mistake, over mistake over mistake so far. Today just seems to be another one. Jailing Lopez was stupid, shutting down the Colombian TV station was another, massive repression over and over is another, kicking CNN out another one (even if the backtracked)

Internationally, Maduro has lost what little credibility of doubt some people may have had. Even his closest allies are likely wondering what is going through his head, even if their silence is shameful. Funny how these leftist idealists are more concerned about their mercantile interests at this time than about human rights and the violation of the Venezuelan Constitution.

What a pitiful bunch of so called leaders Latin American Presidents and politicians have become.

But a day of reckoning seems to be arriving for them. They should be concerned by now that a Government change, even within Chavismo, will lead to less preferential treatment for them.

And I will soon leave Caracas, with mixed emotions. On the one hand I have to go back, on the other it has been so much fun being here and covering events close to them. But there is also a feeling of wanting to be here to see the end of this. I don’t know when this will happen, but I want to be here no matter what. It’s been so long in coming…

Not that I know what is coming.  think Chavsimo will replace Maduro at some point, How and in which sequence of legality or not, I have no clue. Who comes after him is even more of a mystery. What is clear is that economically the days ahead are very tough and this instability has debilitated the Maduro Government even further. And it remains as indecisive as ever on economic matters, which will only exarcebate events even further.

Stay tuned, even if I will no longer will have a front seat, like I have tonight in Altamira.

As Protests Become Widespread, So Does Repression in Venezuela

February 20, 2014

After the Government showed some restraint all day yesterday in Caracas, mobilizing National Guard troops but not having them act, despite the widespread  blocking of the highways and major street in Caracas, things changed last night.

First, in Valencia and San Cristobal, repression increased, tear gas was used and many were injured. In Valencia alone, there were seven people who were shot. One a former beauty queen was shot and died today, further incensing students.

Then today, as protests became widespread when opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was supposed to be arraigned in Caracas, but was instead moved to a military facility in Los Teques where the arraignment was supposed to take place. This is not only illegal, but shows the political character of Lopez’ detention. While he has been jailed, none of those seen in pictures and videos killing the students on February 12th. have been detained. And the Head of the intelligence police was removed, but given another position,which could be considered a promotion.

By this afternoon, protests were blocking highways and major intersections all over Caracas, from Catia to Petare. The biggest concentration was in Plaza Altamira from where the Government mounted a huge attack with National Guards, police and “colectivos” in motorcycles. There were barricades all over the area but with time the Government thugs moved up to Altamira square. First they used tear gas, but by the end they were using cops and colectivos in motorcycles, shooting weapons, not only tear gas.

This is a video about a block from Plaza Altamira tonight:

this is another:

This was happening as Maduro gave a rambling speech in which he was aggressive and calling for peace at the same time and defending the “colectivos” as groups that work for the fatherland.

At this time, people have been shot in La Candelaria at this time of day, while protest have begun in Catia in Western Caracas. At least two people are reported to be shot dead in the west of Caracas.

Repression in San Cristobal, Tachira State, where the protests begun seems to be the worst. The Government shut off electricity and communications to the city as National Guard tanks went into it.

I stay very close to one of the hottest spots of repression. While I tried to watch parts of the action, it became dangerous. Students came into our parking lot seeking refuge from the guards who wanted to detain them. Fortunately they did not come in into our building, which they did all over the place. This is absolutely illegal.

I saw either police or guardsman go on the sidewalk on a motorcycle following students that were trying to escape from their attacks on the streets. They had some sort of rifle in their hand, either tear gas or a real gun. As repressive a scene as you could ever imagine.

This is not going to stop here. Students are becoming more radical, as the Government turns the repression an the human rights violations to an incredibly new level, without any shame. Maduro praising the colectivos tonight was simply a declaration that this Government is more than a dictatorship. It has now become one in which repressive violence will be openly used against the population that disagrees with or protests against the Government. This can only lead to further violence.

I find it hard to believe that there is no dissent within the Government about this new tack.  Internationally, the repression together with the arbitrary detention of opposition figures has shown the world the true face of the Maduro Government, where appearances are no longer important.

And that is an image, the Government can not erase.

(This post was supposed to go on last night, but computer problems did not allow me to upload it, sorry).

While Government Tries To Blame Lopez For Deaths, Paper Shows Otherwise

February 16, 2014

Ever since last Wednesday’s student March which left two dead, the Government has tried to say that former Presidential candidate Leopoldo Lopez and Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, who led the protest, were responsible for the the deaths right after the demonstration ended. But, usually pro-Government paper Ultimas Noticias, has done an extraordinary investigation of videos and pictures and what it has found is a carefully orchestrated withdrawal of the police, which were replaced by Intelligence police officers and plainclothesmen, who were wearing and used guns against running students.Having guns near a demonstration is illegal, Government officers murdering people at a demonstration is a crime against humanity by them and their superiors.

What this investigation shows is the power of the smartphone, as the evidence came mostly from amateur tapings (note that one of them, the person making the video is hiding under a car)

Here is the text and the video

and here is a summary of the text for those that do not speak Spanish. I recommend watching the video (at the end) after reading the text:

“It was at 3:13 PM when Bassil Alejandro Dacosta fell. The line of fire was in the hands of individuals identified with unirforms, plates and vehicles of the Bolivarain Intelligence Service (Sebin) accompanied by others dressed as civilians. They had taken over between the Tracabordo and the Ferrenquin corners of La Candelaria, after the Bolivarain National Police withdrew its troops

Here is the reconstruction: A group of students tries to go up from Monroy to Tracabordo. The march was over. Those left were screaming at police. They advanced towards a Sebin motorcycle, knocking it to the ground. The Sebin and civilians move forward and start shooting pistols rifles. The students withdraw. Others, among which was Bassil Dacosta, cross to a lateral street. It is not clear why they decide to trun around 12 seconds later, they cross the line of fire. Dacosta falls. At no point does the shooting stop.

Dacosta is the next to last of  a line of students that crosses trying to escape the bullets. His buddies pick him up and carry him away”

Witneeses say the corner ahd been taken over by men and women in motorcycles, like “those you see in TV”. All dressed as civilains. Some with helmets and t-shirts. Some with their faces covered. They were shooting at the protesters in the Monroy corner. “They would shoot with their arms out and then hide”. In the wall of a City office there are at least 10 tarces of bullet impacts.

The civilians talked to the Sebin officers and withdrew. Sebin officers occupied their places.

At the head of the group came a  Kawasaki Versys 1000 motorcycle with another large guy with kaki shirt and jeans with a short wave radio in his hand. He seems to be the leader. After Dacosta falls, he gestures towards a man in gray camouflage clothes.

At the instant of Dacosta’s death a photographic sequence shows at least seven men wielding their weapons. Five are shooting standing up, one is shooting in the air and four are shooting at the protesters. Two wear uniforms.

One of them wears a white shirt, green military pants, helmet and blck lenses, He moves in a motorcycle with official palate 2-177. The other wears a long sleeved black shirt, jeans and black shows. No helmet or glasses. The civialisn were acting in coordination with those in uniform.

One of the shooters picks up the motorcycle overthrown by the students. Two pick up the shells from the bullets, they get on their motorcycles and leave.

Questions: Maduro said those responsible had been identified, a day later the scientific police was still studying the scene?

Why did the National withdraw from the scene?

Why were weapons used to repress the protest?

Why were there civilians with uniformed Sebin officers repressing the march?

From the video: Why did the motorcycles easily cross between the students and the police?

Why did the guy jump over the police only to be seen shooting later?”

Here is the video:

Here are a few pictures of the guy in white from three different angles, one of them while shooting:

BgoiPISCAAAS0VL

Meanwhile the investigative police last night went to Leopoldo Lopez’ parents’ home and his home reportedly to arrest him, in part for being responsible for the death of Dacosta. . He was not there. Maduro called him a coward for not turning himself in.

Tonight Lopez distributes this video, upping the ante in these protests calling for a march to the Prosecutors office to demand a number of things and to turn himself in for crimes he has not committed. He is asking everyone to wear white, as a sign that this is a peaceful movement.

For the Government this represents a quandary. Jailing Lopez will only ignite things even more, but it was Maduro who accused him of crimes, nobody knows specifically which ones. Will the Prosecutor obey Maduro and jail Lopez? Will a Judge sign the order to capture him?

Can the Prosecutor accuse Lopez while Ultimas Noticias has shown clear evidence that it was police and civilians in official motorcyles who were shooting at that instant at the students. Will they go after those responsible for Dacostas’s death?

It is certainly an interesting week to be here.

Note added at 9:21 PM Sunday Feb. 16th. : This work is having an effect, President Maduro said tonight on nationwide TV that he had order all Sebin officers to stay at their barracks!!!

Venezuelan Protest and Violence As Seen From Afar

February 14, 2014

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When you are not in situ, it is not easy to report on events like those that have been taking place in Venezuela. Even if your read every thing, there is no substitute for being there.  On the ground, watching TV, talking to people and getting a feel for what is going on. That is why I yielded to Daniel yesterday, I could do no better than him.

But as a blog concerned with Venezuela, how can I not write about the events of the last two days if that is all I am thinking about?

So, here is my take:

Venezuelans are fed up. The shortages, crime and inflation are taking their toll. People are arrechos, which in English has a very straight translation: People are really pissed.

While you or I may not agree on a strategy of protests, I believe Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, in the knowledge that people were about to start protesting, decided to get ahead of the protests and start calling people to go out and protest in the name of #LaSalida. Somehow, when the protest began, they would be the receptors of the frustration that most Venezuelans have when they line up for purchasing basic staples, almost every day.

The students, the young frustrated people of Venezuela, were going to protest on February 12th. anyway, the day when Venezuelans celebrate La Batalla de La Victoria, a battle won by Jose Felix Rivas who was accompanied by students, regular ones and those from the seminary. They stopped the royalists led by Boves, thus February 12th celebrates the victory of youth at that battle.

And they went to the Prosectors office, where they met with not only resistance from police, but with violent groups belonging to either the so called “collectivos” or to the “Sebin” intelligence police. There are videos of Police and Sebin (intelligence police)  officers shooting real bullets against the protesters.

But even before violence erupted, the Government was already threatening the media, saying that they could be shut down for showing protests. Most of the media applied self-restraint and it was difficult to determine exactly what was going on.

By the time February 12th. came around, there were few media outlets covering the events, and one, Colombia’s NTN24, was not only blocked from the Internet after covering events live all day. But NTN24 was removed from the programming of all cable TV stations, simply disappearing from the scene, while protests were taking place. Maduro called this a “decision of State”

I call it stupid censorship…

And while there is evidence in video and picture form, that both SEBIN officers and “colectivos” shot at the student protesters, the Government issues and arrest warrant against Leopoldo Lopez and a Chavista Deputy calls for removing parliamentary from Deputy Machado, in order to be able to investigate her and prosecute her. But remarkably, after this diffuse charges against the “leaders” of the protests, there is no call to investigate or prosecute those that were taped and seen shooting and killing at the protesters. (The arrest warrant against Lopez has yet to be executed)

Which is quite revealing, no?

Moving towards today, it is clear that there will be no investigation of what happened. According to the Maduro Government (?) it is all a conspiracy to overthrow him, as if a bunch of students with stones and guts can actually expect to fight with the organized criminal system Chavismo has established.

Going forward things could get complicated. The students are unlikely to leave the streets now that there have been deaths and the way the Government has reacted. Maduro and his cronies like the confrontational style and are unlikely to back down from their stance. If each sides pushes forward, things could get violent and tricky very fast. Many students are still in jail.

The events are also affecting the dynamics of politics within both the Government and the opposition. Within the Government, because the colectivos remain a problem for the military and they have played a significant role in igniting the protests. And despite Maduro’s ban on protests, they continued on Thursday despite the streets being full of National Guardsman and their anti-riot equipment. Clearly, someone was holding off the troops for the time being.

Within the opposition, the gamble by Maria Corina Machado and Lopez to ask people to take to the streets, has paid off. Their role in Venezuelan politics will become more prominent if the Government decides to go after them. On the other side of this is former Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who has tried to distance himself from the protests and if the protests gather steam, he may lose his position as leader of the opposition.

Maduro has been careful not to attack the students, but has focused on the leadership of the protests at the political level, which implies he is being careful. But any mistake on either side could escalate this conflict to unknown levels and places.

Some question the strategy of protests. I believe protests will be daily events in Venezuela going forward, as shortages and inflation accelerate due to the inaction of the Government. I don’t believe taking to the streets is a strategy, but a reality of daily life in Venezuela, which some may take advantage of politically. Where it leads is as unclear as any other strategy, as the results of last years Presidential election showed. The opposition was well behaved and in the end got ripped off by the Government which never performed the promised audits. It is no surprise that many believe a different strategy is needed now.

But in the end, this is not or should not be about removing the Government, but about pressuring the Government to change course. Scarcity, inflation and crime affect Venezuelans equally, anyone that thinks that Chavistas are happy should read polls more carefully. Yes, there is a hard core militancy that will never say things are bad, but more and more Venezuelans are fed up with the whole economic situation. Absent Chavez, they are not as willing to put up with problems as they used to. Students protesting belong to homes on both side of the political divide. Just because Chavismo shows little dissent publicly, it does not mean that there are no disagreements within the many sides of Chavismo in Government, including the military. The tougher things get, the wider the protests, the wider the dissent. And the more pressure there will be on Maduro to change course…

Follow Daniel For Today’s Tragic Events

February 13, 2014

I can not follow events closely from afar, but Daniel can and has been doing a great job, click here to see his reports on this very sad day.

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