Monday, June 13, 2005

The Bolivarian foreign policy of Venezuela

Excerpt of an article originally published here

Slap at the OAS

The last OAS meeting was overall a defeat for Venezuela. It avoided the worst which was a clumsy attempt by the US to modify the OAS charter to "monitor" democracy. Venezuela's communication minister Izarra claims this to be a great success for Venezuela's diplomacy when in fact this initiative failed more by the error of the US, its ill timing (1) and the desire of grown up countries like Brazil not to be exposed to such type of observation. Venezuela in fact had nothing to do with that US failure and should not take credit for it(2); in fact, Venezuela should realize that it is doing Brazil (and other) dirty work.
Actually, one could say that the only country to lose as much or even more than the US in Fort Lauderdale was Venezuela who failed to satisfy its real obsession, to stop NGO like SUMATE from attending the meeting and expose Venezuelan civil rights problems. In fact, the foreign ministry probably helped set up ad hoc NGO out of nothing to send them and counter SUMATE arguments. Seasoned politicians certainly saw through that decoy, in particular when they heard the envoys to Fort Lauderdale use in the same paragraph "democracia participativa y protagonica" twice, as seen on TV. And all of them using that slogan whenever possible, as seen on TV too. This is not obscure diplomatese, this is just garbage, and an insulting one to the intelligence of attendees. Will these "NGOers" get an appointment at the Foreign Office once the new law passes?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Who is afraid of Sumate?

Originally published here

In a previous post, I wrote that one of the first milestones that took me out of my political lethargy was the persecution of the Sumate directive. It made no sense to me then and it makes no sense to me now that the government would spend precious time and resources persecuting Sumate for receiving a small foreign grant. It makes no sense either that they dusted an old Juan Vicente Gomez article of the Penal Code and kept it there so that the Sumate directive could be put in jail for 8 to 16 years if found guilty. And, finally, it makes no sense that they react in such a visceral manner every time Sumate makes the news and that top government officials, and even the President, get out of their way to publicly voice vicious verbal attacks against the Sumate directive.

The question is why? Why do they pay so much attention to Sumate? Why are they so afraid of Sumate?

The answer is that the people of Sumate are efficient and effective, and the government is not. They are quite different from the old opposition political entities that can be as incompetent as the government. Sumate delivers and the government knows it. Sumate is Chavez’s real threat.

Sumate is composed of a particular generation of people; a generation of prepared, intelligent, dynamic Venezuelans. They represent what did not go wrong in the old Venezuela. It was a class of highly educated people that were quite aware of the social problems created by the previous generations but who had optimism and a drive to make things change. And good change can come only with a very strict respect of rights and freedoms.

When Chavez stepped in, he had all the popularity, all the powers to make use of that wonderful resource that was left from the old Venezuela. The tragic reality is that he has not even realized it yet. In what is probably the worse mistake made by any ruler in the history of Venezuela, he disposed of that class of people as non-entities and has always rejected their skills and their knowledge. His revolution has been only capable of divisions and destruction; it has been incapable to build up from what were the good elements of the old Venezuela.

First, a subtle apartheid system, never before experienced in Venezuela, was slowly put in place. Those against the revolutionary process started to feel that their views made a difference in the workplace. Before long, Chavez divisive style of government induced a head on confrontation with the most important Venezuelan industry. 20000 people were fired from it: not ten, not a hundred, not a thousand. There were twenty thousand people that were not only fired, but also denied their basic labor rights, and who are still today blacklisted from working ever again in their field. From the human side, many lives were shattered while the government managed, overnight, to get rid of millions of man-years of education, training and Venezuelan know-how.

So, a large part of the population realized that the subtle apartheid was not so subtle anymore. That Chavez meant business, and that he would not stop at anything to retain power by any means. The division of the country and the risk of a civil war were not enough reasons for him to step down. Quite the opposite, he kept and still keeps, his divisive inflammatory discourse to put Venezuelans against Venezuelans.

But Venezuelans are fighters. One must not forget that South American independence from the mighty kingdom of Spain started and came from Venezuela. And this new generation of well prepared Venezuelans found their way to fight for their rights and freedoms; they used the law, their organizational skills and their signatures. Sumate was thus born to find a constitutional solution to the political crisis.

It was not easy. The government can claim in the web page of their US propaganda office VIO that the referendum was going to be a wonderful demonstration of democracy at work, but the reality is that they fought every step of the way, by all means, the holding of that referendum. Moreover, they have blacklisted all those that signed the referendum petition and created a de-facto state of Political Apartheid in Venezuela (see What did Chavez know and when did he know it?).

That, of course, does not appear in the cheerful VIO webpage.

But I digress.

So who is afraid of Sumate? Chavez is. Because he knows that they are a mightier enemy than the good old boys of AD or Copei. He knows that Sumate has the potential to expose to the world the undemocratic face of his revolution.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Quick round up: Machado and inflation in Venezuela

Originally published here

Today hot air kept inflating the news, though there are already encouraging signs that we will come back soon to real topics of discussion.

Maria Corina Machado, super star?

Yes, she kept holding the news. After yesterday stupid declarations from chavista minister-S- that MCM was the presidential candidate that Bush wanted for 2006, MCM had to hit the air waves to deny it. The silliness of the officials claims can only be explained by how distraught is chavismo by the audience granted by Bush to MCM when not even Clinton did receive Chavez (though he would have probably received MCM).

Meanwhile, after having been supported publicly by Wolf at the Venezuelan national assembly yesterday, MCM will be able to pick up yet another award from Cass Ballenger. Republicans seem to love MCM, indeed.

But all was not roses for MCM. Milagros Socorro wrote a very strong criticism of MCM, though so far she is the only one in the opposition raising such criticism. This while MCM is touted as a role model in the fight against machismo, as a likely explanation of chavismo anger (Alo Ciudadano visitors tonight). I must discuss Ms. Socorro article as I am a long time admirer and this time I think she did not get it quite right.

Milagros Socorro premise is that George Bush is such an unsavory character that MCM visit is actually a big mistake. Maybe. But I will ask her who else could she go to? Chirac? Rodriguez Zapatero? Castro? Ms. Socorro says that any intellectual/artist of any significance has taken distance from Bush. True up to a point.

But this is a false debate. It would actually be good that all intellectuals of any significance separate from politics. Politics always end up corrupting genuine intellectuals who play the game close. It is irrelevant, in a sick way, what Bush does as a war lord: he is still the most powerful man on earth and an unavoidable stopover for anyone wanting to play the game. Did Ms. Socorro watch the very same day OAS brand new secretary Insulza visiting the White House and shaking hands with Bush, all smiles? Can ANYONE think for a second that socialist Insulza, sent into exile by Pinochet, would ever vote for Bush if he had the possibility? Would even befriend him?

In the world of politics many concessions must be made, many terrorists end up shaking hands with the powers that be and there are still many hands that even Bush will have to shake against his will. It is in this perspective that the MCM visit must be judged, not on ideals: MCM is no intellectual or artist, she is a politician, she plays the game outside of her likes or dislikes. And on her politics the criticism of Milagros Socorro as to whether her visit was a good move on the long run are more interesting.

At the very least, the final prediction of Socorro seems to be already happening. In a not surprising move the Venezuelan pseudo judiciary moved to rekindle MCM trial for high treason. While of course we are still waiting for the result of Danilo Anderson's murder. More psychotic chavista reaction.

Back to what really matters

Inflation jumped by 2.5% in May! Making it more difficult for the government to fulfill its already high goal of around 15% for 2005. But this is only half the story. That inflation takes place while we are still in a price control scheme of staple food stuff which seem to have driven this month increase! Items that the middle class buys are not controlled, and many are not measured in the inflationary scheme. For example the price of apartments in Caracas has jumped by 30% since the beginning of the year, already trashing any prediction for the year. In other words, if inflation was calculated as it should be, we would be expecting a 30-35 % overall buy the end of the year, trashing the pseudo 26% increase of the minimum wage. The workers keep getting poorer in the bolibanana republic while the rich importers benefit from yet again a overpriced currency scheme to try to control inflation by blocking job creation. They already did the mistake in 2000-2001 and obviously did not learn anything.

PDVSA hearings continue. Chavez won one round when he postponed discussions of his current problems by blaming older agreements. But of course, in a couple of weeks some new scandal will erupt in PDVSA and things again will look somber. With MCM and Posada Carriles gone, what will Chavez will come up this time to distract attention?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The SUMATE/Bush interview: the day after

Originally published here

In fact, it is too early to still have a complete analysis of the significance of yesterday's meeting which has held public attention today. Besides, I was on the road and still, with all the driving time to think about the events, I could not pull together all the threads. However there is one thing that we can consider tonight, the reactions of folks today as a revealer of our present national psyche.

The opposition: warmly basking in the glow

For the Venezuelan opposition, today was a day of general exhilaration, the first positive day we have had since August 16, 2004. Simply put, the bully has been faced down and the main power in the Americas has recognized that there is something rotten in the Venezuelan electoral system. No solution is offered, no UN coming to hold our elections, no marines landing (not that we want them), but at least our problem is acknowledged (1). If anything the doldrums of the coming elections will be shaken in still unforeseen ways, but shaken they will be. It will take a few weeks to see how this all play out, but it is possible to say without speculation that the political parties will hurriedly be reviewing their strategies.

There are some dissenting voices, though. For example Tal Cual had a discrete coverage and had even its catch line of the day rather negative. Sure enough, Maria Corina Machado, MCM, is not the best representative of the Venezuelan opposition. But, then again, she is not running for office and she is not pretending to speak for all: she is just stating what is obvious for any independent and critical observer of the Venezuelan scene. The real problem with Tal Cual is that it dislikes Bush deeply (which by the way happens with many other folks in the opposition). Now, there are many reasons to hate Bush, but he is still the president of the US, elected this time with a convincing margin. One must be able to separate Bush war role from the –institutional- move of Bush receiving all sorts of people in the interests of HIS country (Insulza, the new OAS secretary was received the same day as Maria Corina Machado and that does not make Insulza the slave of Bush in the news). Certainly being seen with Bush could be counterproductive for MCM on the long run, but where else can SUMATE go to make its case? Havana?

The ruling chavismo: psychotic dissociation

Today's news really comes from that side. In a sentence, all the seams of the chavista ill tailored ideological suit became visible.

The highlight was the reception at the National Assembly of Frank Wolf, congressman from Virginia in a courtesy visit. He had the misfortune (or the direct intention?) to say that if the government keeps pressuring SUMATE on trumped up charges, that would be an incentive for Congress to give even more money to the NED, and through this one to SUMATE. The message was to defend SUMATE; but of course in Venezuela where everything has become so personal the chavista assemblymen went up in hysteria to attack MCM, not getting the advice of Wolf: if you want to get rid of MCM, do not make her a martyr. When Iris Varela rudely interrupted the session to start a long, rude, vulgar, obnoxious and abusive rant (not to mention that she should have been arrested by the Fashion Police lead by Miss Manners) we reached climax. To say that Varela was undone at the hinges is to be charitable. To say that she ridiculed herself and the parliament for letting her say the idiotic things she said is mild. To say that she did not impress Wolf and that she gave him even more reasons to stand by his words is an understatement.

But this was seen everywhere in the chavistas that spoke today, in more or less varying degrees, be it the foreign minister or Varela, through Tascon. And that was very revealing of the frame mind of chavismo. I will not go into the obvious immorality and double standards of chavismo, who frowns that the NED gave 54 000 USD to SUMATE when Chavez spent billions of dollars buying votes (see the running PDVSA stories). No, what is more interesting to observe is that chavismo has repeated to itself the mantra that even after 5 full years in office they were still newcomers, still the victims, still the target of everybody's envy, that we realize today they actually believe all that crap. They actually believe that MCM is a CIA agent receiving millions personally. They have been repeating to themselves so many lies for so long that they have started believing them!!!


There is another much more worrisome thing. We thought that they used character assassination of people like MCM as a strategy to bring down their organizations, the "shoot the messenger" attack. But today we also see that they are unable, UNABLE, to actually differentiate MCM from SUMATE. They have become so obsequious to Chavez, so imbued by him, so servile, that they cannot imagine that everyone at SUMATE is to MCM just as they are to Chavez.

Now, this is very troubling! For example, the Posada Carriles thing is scary as I realize that even deputies to the National Assembly of Venezuela do believe that Bush just needs to say the word to have him sent to Venezuela! They do thing that things overseas are just like at home where Chavez decides on all matters..........

The US ambassador, William Brownfield, was at the meeting where Wolf was all but physically aggressed (and Wolf seemed unflappable through the whole thing, to his credit). I am sure that Brownfield is quite aware on how things work out on Venezuela. But I think I sensed on his diplomatic face that he did not realize how far this had gone, as surprised as I was myself to see chavismo in blatant psychotic collapse!

Justice missing in action

To close this I would like to point out something to any chavista reader that this blog might have left. Let's assume that indeed MCM is a coup monger and that she should be in jail. Why is she not at least on trial by now? How come that if her alleged crimes were made in April 2002 she is still running around 3 years and one month later? Don't you see that in a country where justice sorts of work like in the US, when you only keep accusing people for that long simply makes you lose your credibility?

The slap that Bush sent you yesterday, you have only your inefficiency to blame. You served it to Bush in a silver platter. How many such platters are left in Bush's pantry?

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1) I have translated the first paragraph of the article of Charito Rojas in Notitarde, just to get the reader a feel for the opposition elation:

MarĂ­a Corina Machado does have an US visa! Yes! I must confess that I was prey of a great joy when I saw the director of SUMATE installed in the Oval Office with Gerge W. Bush himself. Bravo for Sumate! They have been steadfast and they have been able to sit down wher eit matters, with the president of the first country in the World, no matter how disgusting one might find this. But what did you expect? Alter calling the president an alcoholic, in need of a man to the secretary of state, coup monger and terrorist to any bureacrat, sh...y capitalists to all of USA, then they start screaming like a truck full of pigs when they get their US visa revoked. Only then do they remember the "majesty" of their positions and they demand respect.