Noticias

Something in Our Blood: The Rising Plague of Malaria in Venezuela

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 09/11/2017 - 10:04

It’s 4:00 am, still dark. She stands in line, about 50 people in front of her. Old, middle aged, housewives, even children with their mothers: standard deal. Some brought blankets, some shiver in the cold air, others sleep on the floor. A few places behind her, a man pukes on the sidewalk.

For three days, that was Marianyelys’ life: waiting at the National Guard Regional Command 8 (CORE-8)’s health care center in Puerto Ordaz, from 4 am to 5 pm —hoping to get the malaria treatment she needed after a trip to La Gran Sabana.

The days when Venezuela spearheaded the global war against malaria are gone. In 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Venezuela had 30% of all malaria cases registered in the Americas. The situation in 2016 was much worse, with 240,613 registered cases, a 76% increase over the previous year. Unofficial sources calculate that Venezuela might have up to 48% of all cases in the Americas in 2016. Back in 2000, that figure was 2%.

This year, the Health Ministry revealed that 17 of Venezuela’s 24 states registered autochthonous (locally mosquito-transmitted) malaria in 2016. The hardest hit region is Guayana, with 177,619 registered cases, of which 102,499 (42,6% of the national total) come from the Sifontes municipality, in the southern part of the state. That’s almost 20% of cases in the whole American continent. Guayaneses like Marianyelys are standing in lines for days on end, while suffering from the disease.

Unofficial sources calculate that Venezuela might have up to 48% of all cases in the Americas in 2016. Back in 2000, that figure was 2%.

And she only got part of her treatment.

By finding someone on facebook with the pills (6 hours away by car), she bought the rest through the friend of a friend. Sending medicine through regular couriers is illegal now, so she had to pay someone to make the trip, and she’s hardly alone in that hell; according to the 2011 census, Sifontes had a population of 50,082 inhabitants. There’s more malaria than people there, with folks getting infected more than twice a year.

That’s just an average. Some people in mosquito-infested areas fare much worse, as José Grifon, a 22 year-old miner, can tell you. He’s contracted malaria 40 times by now.

Because, see, the role that illegal mining plays is dramatically important: Sifontes has more than 100 gold mines that, with the general collapse of the country’s economy and the increasing price of gold, have attracted more than 50,000 people from all over Venezuela. “All of the patients here are from the mines,” a nurse of Puerto Ordaz’ Guaiparo Hospital tells us.

Illegal mining is as lawless as it sounds. Anyone can go and start mining, as long as you give the armed gangs running the show their cut. With no protection or rules to follow, the miners work surrounded by disease-carrying mosquitoes, and their primitive system leaves puddles where vectors actively reproduce. Here’s what an abandoned mine looks like after the pranes are done with it.

Last year, 28 miners were killed in Tumeremo by gangsters but, with the crisis, nothing discourages them. The whole economy in this area revolves around illegal mining; the pills that Maryanyelis got with so much difficulty are easily found here, yet unaffordable for anyone who doesn’t earn in gold. People sell the free, Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO)-subsidized, treatment for up to $150.

“All of the patients here are from the mines,” a nurse of Puerto Ordaz’ Guaiparo Hospital tells us.

And when people go back to where they came from, they sometimes take the parasites with them, spreading the disease anywhere an Anopheles mosquito can reproduce.

We are seeing the results of this phenomenon today.

Last year, Merida was one of the few states that officially registered no cases of malaria, but a few days ago we met Alicia. She’s a 31 year-old mother from El Vigía, 90 km west of Mérida, where she sells pasteles. She has never visited Bolívar. When we met her, she was in the 17th week of her third pregnancy and, as her skin turned yellow, she got a real bad fever. Doctors told her it must be the flu, and sent her home.

Alicia felt better and her fever disappeared. The next day, she had uncontrollable shivers, blood out of her vagina and fever, mystifying doctors from Merida’s University Hospital, until one of them noticed a pattern. She had fever one day, the next felt better and the third day fever again. Cyclic fever is a key feature of malaria.

They ordered a blood test and voila: She was infected with Plasmodium vivax.

Unlike Maryanyelis, Alicia was “lucky”; the local Malariology Department got her the drugs she needed for free. By the time we talked to her, she was doing well, but we later found out she had lost her baby. Although we can’t guarantee that it was due to her disease, malaria is known to cause abortions (and as we wrote this piece, another confirmed case arrived to Merida’s hospital, with a third one suspected; they both came from the Zulia state).

Not even doctors escape this reality: Midgin Mujica, a pregnant, recently graduated doctor, died in Puerto Ordaz after contracting malaria while working in Caicara del Orinoco. She couldn’t find the drugs in time. Her death forced several universities to suspend the deployment of medical students to the zone, as part of their rural training.

Malaria is back for good, and unless something is done to stop the socioeconomic factors currently in motion, sooner than later the scenes we see in Bolívar will expand throughout the nation. All it takes is a single mosquito, if you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

And nobody is doing anything to stop it.

Categorías: Noticias

Why You Should Vote in Today’s Opposition Primary

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 09/10/2017 - 13:29

For the last few weeks, I’ve been holding on to a shameful secret. I’ve been hanging on to it, timidly, in that weary way you hang on to an unpopular odd-ball opinion. I’ve been going back and forth on whether to share it for days, fearing the backlash.

But the reality is:

I think people should vote in today’s opposition primary.

I do.

Here’s why.

All year, I backed the opposition’s street protest agenda. I thought militant street protests were the best chance we had to destabilize the regime. I thought they could set off the kind of defections cascade that, alone, will really change the game in Venezuela, with one pillar of regime support after another switching sides. I thought Luisa Ortega had a credible shot at becoming “the first domino”: the defection that opened up a wider split, one wide enough to genuinely make the regime’s hold on power start to slip.

I was wrong. We were wrong. Luisa jumped, and nobody who matters really followed. The cascade didn’t materialize.

But I knew it was a gamble. We all did. We knew the government had plenty of tools at its disposal to try to stanch the bleed. We knew they could threaten —credibly— and intimidate —credibly— and, deep down, we all knew it was far from given that we would be able to split them before they wore us down.

And the long and the short of it is as simple as it is bitter: I was wrong. We were wrong. Luisa jumped, and nobody who matters really jumped after her. The cascade didn’t materialize. The prospect of life in El Helicoide or Ramo Verde proved too scary.

The realization is crushing, dispiriting. But it’s also, now, an unmissable reality. We gambled. And we lost.

The protests didn’t end because Henry Ramos Allup stabbed us in the back. MUD isn’t responsible for the collapse of the protest strategy. The protests petered out because opposition activists realized that the defection cascade wasn’t coming: that they could tear gassing us indefinitely, that there was no upside to continuing to risk arrest and political prison to set off a regime crisis the government had under control.

That’s what happened. We misjudged how cohesive the regime was, and so we lost. Taking it out on MUD doesn’t help in any way.

It’s unfortunate —if understandable— that no one in MUD has had the fortitude to stand up and spell this out clearly. And it’s understandable that opposition supporters are hurt, confused, disoriented, depressed and demobilized by this absolutely dire reality.

The question that faces Venezuela now isn’t “what is it going to take to cause the regime to collapse in the short term?” That question’s been settled. The regime isn’t going to collapse in the short term. Criminal, jueputa, and utterly intolerable though it is, the regime has enough support from the people who matter to keep power. For now.

The question that faces Venezuela now is different. “Is the opposition to remain a viable, nationwide organized movement with some scope for independent action, or are we to become truly like Cuba: a country without an organized opposition, only atomized ‘dissidents’ with no capacity to mobilize and act collectively?”

To hope for MUD’s destruction is to wish for the dictatorship’s number one wish: to face no opponents, only dissidents.

That’s where we are now. The atomic rage now facing MUD from its own grassroots — that mix of hurt and disgust and despair— is both deeply human and profoundly dangerous. It’s the state of mind the government absolutely needs if it’s to liquidate the opposition entirely as an organized force in society. If you think Venezuela is hopeless now, just picture it without an organized political opposition at all.

There’s a certain morose pose out there in the oppo twittersphere that likes to play with the idea that MUD has been so hapless that we’d be better off without it. I don’t think there’s a more irresponsible view in today’s public sphere, or a more blinkered one.

For an opposition supporter to hope for MUD’s demise is to endorse for the dictatorship’s number one wish: to face no opponents, only dissidents. For all the loose talk about “cubanization”, that’s what the real Cuban scenario looks like. I don’t know if the people who hold it have genuinely stopped to mull the life of a dissident in an outright dictatorship — the utter isolation, the total irrelevance, the complete despair of that position.

MUD’s responsibility right now is to survive. To live to fight another day. It’s intolerable, but that really is our best case scenario now.

And that’s why I think you should vote today. Because MUD with a dozen governorships under its control is much harder to liquidate than a MUD with none. Not impossible, mind you — but harder.

Will it solve the whole problem? Will it get rid of el bigotúo before hallaca-time? Will it bring democracy back to Venezuela?

Of course not.

Grow up.

I know opposition governors won’t really be allowed to govern. I know they’ll face enormous pressures to bow to the Constituent Assembly. I know they’ll have parallel CorpoGovernorships set up alongside them to absorb most of their budgets and responsibilities. These things are all true.

The measure of how bad our strategic position is now that we’re better off electing them even though we know these things are all true.

Voting today is an act of tactical retreat. No one goes into tactical retreat por gusto. You don’t do it because you want to. You don’t even do it because it’s a good idea. You do it because you’ve just suffered a very bad set back and if you don’t keep your wits about it you’re liable to be annihilated.

That’s where we are today. The debate inside the opposition today amounts to “do we want to be liquidated, or merely battered and bruised?” I think we’re better off battered and bruised than wiped out as a political force. Hate me all you want for it.

Categorías: Noticias

Miranda Primaries: Playing the Piano with Ten Fingers

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/08/2017 - 18:00

“This won’t be solved tomorrow,” Marialbert Barrios said in front of some 30 people. It was the first time many heard the deputy for the Circuito 1 of Caracas (Catia-La Pastora-El Junquito), and everyone was attentive.

“I won’t lie to you, maybe we’ll spend Christmas with el bigotudo in Miraflores.” A woman shouted in anger, but Marialbert carried on stoically. “The MUD has been the same since day one, although some leaders se les va la lengua. MUD can’t only exist when it suits us.”

The audience, formed by UCV students and neighbors, tried to understand why we would even vote for governors, a very palpable vibe that was hostile at the corners, but Marialbert, the youngest woman ever elected for National Assembly, was confident in front of her small audience. “We can’t make more political mistakes. I don’t like war-speak, but we must understand that if we don’t get organized, they’ll win the battle.”

Her experience as a leader in Catia made her grow and it shows. She’s young, yes, but she’s vibrant in her convictions.

Américo Martín changed the dynamics of the day. “Ask me your questions”, he said, before a couple of hands went up. Soon, there was a clear picture of doubts and fears: Should we vote with this tainted CNE? What’s up with the protest and the calle hasta que caiga? How can we vote for the same dudes who called us to the streets and then went quiet?

Is there a secret agenda to reach an agreement with the Government?

If the government doesn’t hold the elections, we’ll force them on the streets.

The lawyer, politician and former guerrillero wrote all the inquiries down and proved that más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.

“You gotta learn to play the piano with all ten fingers” he said. “You don’t play the piano with one finger, or your fists. You use your ten fingers to create a melody.”

To him, it’s obvious that the government doesn’t want elections, but they need the scenario to lower the international pressure. The opposition, thus, must insist on going to elections and also maintaining street protests, thus creating a ten-finger-melody.

“They know that the opposition is at its worst. This is not about elections happening or not, it’s about the cost for them of not doing it. When I was little, we used to play metras and we said metra que sale no entra. If the government doesn’t hold the elections, we’ll force them on the streets.”

“If you don’t vote, how can you prove it was a fraud?”

It makes you think.

MUD politicians all over the nation are not only eloquent, they’re experienced. Some, like Marialbert, have lived all of their lives under a single regime, and others, like Martín, have already faced dictatorships. They question, quite effectively, your apathy.

But will that be enough when the day comes?

Categorías: Noticias

Recycling Failures

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/08/2017 - 11:59

In the last day of the European tour, National Assembly Speaker Julio Borges met on Thursday with British prime minister Theresa May and the State minister for Europe, Alan Duncan, who expressed that “The United Kingdom is 100% with democratic institutions in Venezuela.

Foreign minister Arreaza tweeted that Theresa May sided with those who threaten dialogue and peace, restating that validating the arguments of opposition lawmakers only diminishes the British government’s credibility.

1/4 We condemn the biased position of British PM @theresa_may favoring those who reject dialogue and peace in #Venezuela

— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) September 7, 2017

4/4 PM @theresa_may prejudices her gov't credibility by validating the lies of those who attempt against Venezuelan democracy

— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) September 7, 2017

8 days of work

Nicolás presented eight laws in five hours to face the non-existent economic war, as if this crisis was caused by legislative missteps instead of executive mistakes.

The impact of Julio Borges’ European tour was much bigger than expected, to the point that Nicolás made it his most repeated message throughout the night.

He claimed that governors who are elected “must subordinate themselves to the ANC or must otherwise be removed from office,” a detail to stimulate abstention.

He increased minimum wages by 40% and food stamps by four tax units, so the new integral wage is Bs. 325,544, or $16. Pensions are now Bs. 177,507. He also announced a Bs. 250,000 bonus for the start of school year, but that’s not even good for a pair of shoes.

Destroying what’s broken

Nicolás presented laws and measures similar to the ones he used in previous years, but without correcting the distortions, doubling down on policies that caused our deepest recession yet and the highest inflation in the world. The laws are:

  1. The plan 50: aimed at fixing max prices for 50 essential services and products in the country.
  2. Law of the CLAP, to give them more leeway as punitive inspectors.
  3. Law for the regulation of exchange houses, at DICOM rate.
  4. Law of promotion and protection of foreign investment.
  5. Law of the tax regime for sovereign development of the Mining Arc.
  6. Law to inspect large fortunes originating in the economic war.
  7. Law to sanction financial crimes, in which he proposes the creation of a criminal tax unit to face these crimes.
  8. Law to create the Southern Agro-food Consortium. Remember Agropatria?
Anything else?

Nicolás announced a payment system based on a coin basket to get rid “of the dollar’s oppression,” so he’ll start using yuanes, rubles and rupees, despite all the transactional issues they bring.

He reported the start of a round of negotiations with bondholders, claiming that 74% of those affected are based in the U.S. and Canada.

He ordered the establishment of an electronic billing system with the 5,000 large taxpayers in less that 30 days, so that they can transfer their data to SENIAT and thus fight off tax evasion. Lastly, he announced a trio of incentives for the use of electronic payment: up to 5 points less VAT; tax credits on the Income Tax 2017 and the use of this method to pay for public services.

Inflation

Lawmaker Rafael Guzmán, member of the Finance Committee, reported that monthly inflation for August reached 33.7%, a historic record since it’s “the highest rate ever recorded in Venezuela, for a cumulative inflation of 366.1% so far this year.”

Back in 2012, inflation was 31.2% – August surpassed the entire inflation for 2012 – and the current cumulative inflation already surpassed that of 2016. Guzmán cautioned that we’ll close the year with an inflation rate of over 1,000%.

This information is revealed the same day that the black market dollar hit the Bs. 20,192.95 mark, surpassing the value of the highest denomination banknote in our country; the dollar has increased by nearly Bs. 10,000 in a month.

Gubernatorial elections

Aristóbulo Istúriz said yesterday: “We set the elections for October, for October 15th,” assuming the National Electoral Council’s obligation, as they’re still to announce an electoral timetable, even though they did announce the dates for the 12 audits to be performed during the process, according to tweets by journalist Eugenio Martínez.

They also reported that the company Ex Clé S.A. will replace Smartmatic, keeping the same voting system.

The scourge

TSJ chief Maikel Moreno reported that their judicial proceedings have yielded results in the fight against corruption, emphasizing the joint actions of the Executive Branch and the Prosecutor’s Office and labelling the subordination of all public powers to the PSUV as an alliance.

Moreno wrote: “We’re going to prosecutor people and groups engaged in organized crime, so harmful to our public assets,” adding that by Nicolás’ order, they’ll take swift action in these cases.

Effectiveness

The imposed prosecutor general, Tarek William Saab, reported that the Prosecutor’s Office reopened the investigations “on alleged acts of corruption” in connection to Odebrecht.

Saab said that a week ago, he received complaints of corruption within the mixed company PetroZamora. Since then, and in coordination with Nicolás, the TSJ and security bodies, they found illegal activity and arrested eight PDVSA managers, for the crimes of illicit trafficking of strategic material, criminal association, obstructing free trade, embezzlement and damages against the oil industry.

He also announced an investigation on embezzlement in the Orinoco Oil Strip project and the acquisition of two single buoy moorings, claiming that this “is an embezzlement of thousands of millions of dollars” in overbilling.

Nicolás only announced more controls and, with them, more inflation, shortages and black markets. He said nothing about DIPRO, the exchange rate that favors his people. The terrible part is that the effects of these disastrous policies are more hunger, malnutrition, diseases, deaths and, of course, an increased exodus.

Nicolás donated 10 tonnes of food and humanitarian aid supplies for the victims of hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda.

Sadly, Aragua state doesn’t vote at the OAS, otherwise its luck would be different.

Categorías: Noticias

Primaries in Guayana

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/08/2017 - 10:30

MUD primaries are happening. In Bolívar, my state, the clash is between good-old Andrés Velazquez, and current AN deputy Francisco Sucre.

And nobody gives a damn. I actually feel cheated that these elections even exist.

These are “the big names.” Andrés Velazquez, the one who looks like a Toronto, is “the worker’s candidate”; a former sindicalist, he has been Bolívar’s governor twice and runs for the post every time he gets the chance. Today, however, that background doesn’t mean much. Just like in Merida, Táchira, and I’m guessing everywhere else, candidates struggle to get people’s attention. No one I know is excited, it’s actually hard to find someone who cares about this distant noise. The big talk is Los Animalitos, not elections.

So, with this in mind, I wanted to ask both candidates a simple question: why running for governor?

Everyone knows the CNE is unreliable and, even if you win, the government will slap a CorpoBolívar sticker on your post and assign it all the budget that is supposedly yours. That is, if they don’t disqualify or jail you to begin with.

I proposed the question to Francisco Sucre, after meeting him in one of his rallies. I’d ask Velasquez the same, but he was campaigning at Upata.

It was 7 pm and, between loud music and ladies shouting, we tried to talk:

“What are we going to do?” he says. “Are we giving 23 elections to the dictatorship? We must dare it in an act of democratic rebellion. First of all, it’s our right as written in the Constitution. Now, if the dictatorship sends us to jail tomorrow, or strip our competencies, that will only delegitimize it. It’ll make the world see it for what it is and provoke more economic sanctions.”

Andrés Velazquez, the one who looks like a Toronto… has been Bolívar’s governor twice and runs for the post every time he gets the chance.

He spoke of Pinochet. Opposition in Chile had it way worse than here, with only 10 minutes of airtime. It won by one percent, a tiny advantage that meant everything.

“So is this an election or a protest?,” I ask.

“See, this is part of a fight against dictatorship. The Constitution establishes governor elections, just as it established National Assembly elections and, thanks to that, we have worldwide recognition with deputies that met yesterday with president Macron and today with Merkel. It’s one thing for Julio Borges to tour Europe as a political leader, and quite another to do it as president of Congress. All of the arenas must be conquered, not just the street. We cannot underestimate the power of vote.”

From time to time, we are interrupted by people trying to talk to him or pose for a selfie. The guy is actually popular.

“But, don’t you think” I insist, “that by going to elections, you lose momentum gained by the protest? Isn’t this sabotaging an agenda that was already on track?”

“Absolutely not” he snaps back. “Who guarantees that, after 130 deaths, 4 months on the streets, 15,000 wounded, 600 political prisoners, we’d get out of this dictatorship just with protest? It doesn’t mean we abandoned the street. But every fighting mechanism is concurrent, voting, streets, international lobby and the institutional struggle. The street can reactivate at any moment, and it’s not the same fighting against a dictatorship with three governors, than fighting with twenty.”

If the dictatorship sends us to jail tomorrow… it’ll make the world see it for what it is and provoke more economic sanctions.

He looks at me in the eye, and says “We are a majority today and this majority must express itself electorally. In the possibility that the government steals the election, or cancels it, let them assume that cost. I won’t make it easy for them. They’re in a dilemma, because if they do the elections, we’ll obliterate them, and if they don’t, they’ll steal them or come up with some travesty, revealing themselves as a totalitarian regime. Sooner than later, that will take them out of power.”

Now, for full disclosure, I hate Francisco Sucre.

He’s on Emi’s list of shame and he blocked me on twitter for some criticism, but I gotta’ admit, the fucker makes some sense. In fact, I was never against the idea of going to elections just to screw the government a bit more – for me, it’s a problem when it’s the only strategy they have, shutting down protests for going full on hugging-old-ladies. He says we can’t be sure that more protests will bring the government down, and he’s right. But it feels way closer to the goal than promising stuff to random people over loud jingles.

And do we even need another symbolic act to unmask the dictatorship?

Categorías: Noticias

Aragua Primaries: Of Ismael and Other Demons

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 09/07/2017 - 19:00

Aragua is full of problems. Industry and agriculture are in the dumps, years of under-investment in infrastructure are causing natural disasters such as those in Choroní and the lake of Valencia, and armed gangs like El Juvenal and El Tren de Aragua, from Southern Aragua or the Tocorón prison, control whole pockets of the state.

After Rafael Isea’s disastrous term in office – so infamous that for many years they’ve been blotting out his face from billboards – and Tareck El Aissami’s gaudy kleptocracy you’d think the opposition would be ready to fight the good fight.

But we are not seeing it. With disqualifications and arrests on one side and political intrigue on the other, this is what we’re getting, instead:

Ismael García is someone who, for better or the worst, needs no introductions for the people of Aragua. A former La Victoria mayor, two-time deputy, and Globovision TV show host, he’s a veteran playing this game, and you can tell.

Most people I’ve talked to don’t trust Ismael, and for a good reason. Mainly supported by Acción Democrática, he’s seen as a shameless opportunist, going from hardline chavista to pejotero to quoting Rómulo Betancourt in front of mostly adeco audience in just a few years.

“I’ve always voted Acción Democrática, in good and bad times. But this time, I just can’t.” my grandma told me, confessing she hoped for José Ramón Arias, his contender from Primero Justicia, will win.

Neither she nor any of my close ones will move a finger for any of those people. In their eyes, they capitulated the moment they accepted this farce.

So Ismael García’s campaign seems to be all set to win. Running against Primero Justicia’s José Ramón Arias and Un Nuevo Tiempo’s Luis Rosendo Hernández, he’s by far the one with most recognition, with continuous appearances on regional – and national – media. It’s all but said that he’s the main MUD candidate. But his past is an easy target for his opponents.

Ismael presents himself as ‘the wise, conciliatory candidate’ who is willing to work with anyone who wants the best for all.

The event of his I went to was held at an auditorium of the Aragua Professional Center, a mid-sized, air-conditioned hall tended to be used by some of the half dozen or so labor associations that makes up the center.

Long past was the time when these rallies meant free food or beverages. The opposition is now content to just have a couple of spaces where you can feel comfortable to gather an audience, in this case, around 50 people. You couldn’t get more comfortable than this without starting to feel exclusitory.

Looking around, you could feel a specific smug, self-sufficient ambience in the room, a sense of chummy camaraderie. Most of the audience was made up of male doctors, teachers and engineers in their 50’s, most of them no doubt union leaders and representatives of professional associations, who are assured that Venezuela’s solution is to set the clock back to 1998 and pretend chavismo never happened. They are essentially the male version of your doña de Cafetal.

The very first thing Ismael addressed to this audience were the comments by José Ramón’s crowd about his former chavismo. He can’t deny them, of course, but claims the other main candidate was playing dirty. To counteract this, Ismael presents himself as ‘the wise, conciliatory candidate’ who is willing to work with anyone who wants the best for all.

Ismael was no different from his audience on clinging on nostalgia, mentioning his glory days in the MAS back in the 90’s when he was mayor of La Victoria and Carlos Tablante – who has given him his blessing – was governor and set up some terrific social programs we should bring back.

Running against Primero Justicia’s José Ramón Arias and Un Nuevo Tiempo’s Luis Rosendo Hernández, he’s by far the one with most recognition.

Two other Aragua deputies were at the event, La Causa R’s Mariela Magallanes and José Trujillo, whose connections with both Acción Democrática and professional associations – he’s the former chairman of Aragua Medical Association – have helped shape Ismael’s campaign.

But seeing Ismael in action, you understand why he’s stuck around so long. He has a very frank, straightforward style that vaguely reminds you of an outraged neighbor lodging a complaint. He speaks clearly, stumbling on the occasional word to give veracity, flailing his arms to punctuate what he says. What he says may not completely hold if you think about it too much, but he says things with such old-school arrechera that makes it contagious.

Most of the newest political speakers I’ve seen tend to either sound like youth pastors or school counsellors, and feel condescending and somewhat grander. With Ismael you don’t get that, even if his “concerned town hall speaker” shtick can occasionally feel studied.  

He complains about populism and clientelism, but he’s plainly dying to set up his own clientelist network out of the gobernación; he calls out chavismo but implies the door is still open to them, as long as they repent. He says things are wrong and we have to roll up our sleeves and make them better but never says exactly what or how. He bends and adapts the crowd eats it up full.

I think Ismael just might be able to use his powers for good. Showing up in legislative sessions, visiting the state now and then, saying reasonable things with a tolerable dash of demagoguery. That’s what I voted for him for the National Assembly.

But really, the only thing I expect from him is to remain in the Assembly for the rest of his period. Ganar espacios is useless if you don’t defend them. But apparently that’s too much to ask for Ismael and so many others.

José Ramón Arias

Richard Mardo was the first person I voted for in my life. I wasn’t impressed by him or his résumé, which consisted of a Business degree from Universidad de Carabobo and no prior experience in the public or the private sector beyond “selling textiles.”

Yet, he’s the face of Primero Justicia in the state and probably one of the top three opposition politicians in Aragua. So, last month when it was confirmed that he was barred from politics, people wondered “What would Primero Justicia do?”

Enter José Ramón Arias.

Who? That’s an excellent question. Most people I talked to have zero clue who he is. Arias is a young politician hoping a fresh face would seem appealing, especially up against someone with too much of a past, like Ismael.

Plus, he has some actual local political experience, which far is more than what we can say about Mardo when he ran for governor. He has served as deputy for the State Legislative Council and as number-two man for Primero Justicia in Aragua.

Now that Henry Rosales dropped the race, it shapes more and more like a generational conflict within the opposition. That should benefit Arias, right? On paper, he seems perfectly reasonable. Then, you look closely and see this:

Un recorrido extraordinario gracias Santa Cruz por tanto cariño. @richardmardo #JuntosSomosElCambio pic.twitter.com/f2bl4wCtNX

— Jose Ramón Arias (@joseramonaragua) August 29, 2017

That’s José Ramón walking with Richard Mardo while wearing a shirt with Richard Mardo on it. Seeing the picture without context, Arias doesn’t seem like the candidate, he seems a random bystander who Richard is convincing to vote for him. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a picture of Arias without Mardo.

And it’s not just Richard Mardo handpicked his right-hand for the job. They are not shy that Arias is Mardo’s candidate. What’s truly appalling is that for all intents and purposes Richard is the candidate, José Ramón’s name just happens to be on the ballot. His whole campaign undermines him by making clear someone else will do his job.

Going to one of his rallies, I was struck by two things. First off, it was a crowd of over 40 people, mostly college kids from parties like PJ, VP and COPEI or student movements from several local universities but also a few mature people carrying banners and a 10-meter flag. Many of them, commented feeling left out.

The other thing that struck me? Their apparent disconnect with reality. One student movement delegate demanded the creation of an Aragua state university, another for a program that guarantees jobs for everyone who graduates from the teachers’ college he goes to. Only the UCV delegate, who talked about strategic alliances to promote agriculture seemed feasible.

When the candidate finally managed to say a few words, he didn’t come up with grand, impossible plans for the state.

They all kept insisting on calling José Ramón “the next governor” and wasted no time to frame the other candidate as the past that shouldn’t return and themselves as the future. There were also two National Assembly deputies, Amelia Belisario – who acted as an emcee – and Alfonso Marquina, who was the most grounded and insightful speaker of the event, next to José Ramón himself.

I almost laughed out loud seeing him with his Mardo shirt and the two sitting together the whole rally, with Mardo making clear he was the one in charge, speaking before and after José Ramón.

When the candidate finally managed to say a few words, he didn’t come up with grand, impossible plans for the state or yell into the audience with uplifting platitudes (as Mardo did) but apologized for the delay, plainly stated who he was, what his job experience was and admitted that things won’t be easy but that he will try to do his best.

He didn’t win me over but was far better than I expected. Under different circumstances, he might have had a chance to shine by himself but in the struggle to win the hearts of the crowd uplifting platitudes defeat those who admit the challenges we have to face.

Luis Rosendo Hernández

I honestly don’t know what to make of Luis Rosendo. From what I could get from asking around he’s an old-school copeyano who has been active in politics since the early 80’s. He seems to hail from a softer era where politics was done by professionals in their spare time, never having fully made the transition into Chavista-era politics.

I mean handling flyers at 7 am on a Sunday?

But then, seeing his main supporters: one is UNT, that as far as we know is closer to the government in very compromising ways, and COPEI, whose leadership was chosen in a controversial TSJ ruling in a way many former militants affirm hands the party to government stooges.

This begs the question about Luis Rosendo’s intention. Is he a political dinosaur, trying to fight to do what he considers the best while clearly misreading the situation, or is he the human version of Min-Unidad meant to divide the vote?

Only time will tell.

Despite all that the government has done with the National Constituent Assembly, I was surprised to see many around still have their heart set on the elections. But hearts can get broken all too easily and whoever wins on Sunday I can’t help but feel that Aragua has already lost.

Categorías: Noticias

In Tachira, the Cordiality of the Damned

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 09/07/2017 - 14:48

When the news broke, back in August, that the National Electoral Council (CNE) would finally hold long-overdue Governor’s elections, I didn’t know how to feel about it. Days earlier, CNE had conjured over a million votes out of thin air, it seemed we should maybe have a grown-up conversation about this. But then Henry Ramos Allup pre-empted the whole discussion, announcing Acción Democrática was going to take part in the vote come what may. MUD really needed to have an adult conversation about this.

Picando adelante, Ramos Allup ended the discussion before it could even begin: he grasped perfectly that if one party went to the vote, the others would be forced to follow suit. That more or less guaranteed we’ll get screwed in terms of voting conditions. It doesn’t matter how we feel about it: the decision’s been made.

In Táchira, the glorious state I call home, opposition figures signed up as candidates faster than you can say “inhabilitación”. Using stand-in candidates (planned to be substituted for the real candidates later on), MUD’s biggest parties secured a spot on the tarjetón electoral, the infamous ballot. That there would be the primaries to select the eventual nominee was clear from the get go: every candidate signed the “Agreement of Cordiality” (a wink to San Cristóbal’s “City of Cordiality” motto) pledging to abide by primary results and refrain from running as third party candidates.

So, how is the noble state of Táchira gearing up for the fiesta democrática that will be the primary?

I asked my long time super opposition friend —a public employee under current Governor Vielma Mora’s administration— and he sounded angry, saying: “I’m not going to vote, I don’t think it will be of any use.”

Oh.

“I hate my job but I don’t think participating in rigged Governor’s elections will do me any good, much less voting in some primary.” Ouch.

It’s not that people don’t know who the candidates are —they do! There are some big names out there.

Every candidate signed the “Agreement of Cordiality” pledging to abide by primary results and refrain from running as third party candidates.

Primero Justicia is running none other than Juan Requesens — the Capriles Mini-Me lawmaker who actively participated in pre-ANC protests movement and got injured by colectivos at a rally, then got thrown into a gutter by the National Guard during another protest. This is a guy who likes to hang out at the spot for the best pastelitos in town. We all know him.

Then there’s Voluntad Popular’s (VP) candidate: The current Mayor of San Cristóbal, Táchira’s capital, Patricia de Ceballos. Wife to political prisoner Daniel Ceballos, she went to my high school, we all know her too.

As for Acción Democrática’s (AD) candidate? every adeco I asked knows her name: Lawmaker Laidy Gómez. It doesn’t come as a surprise, Adecos gonna Adeco.

The rest of the candidates: City of Michelena’s Mayor Fernando Andrade Roa (COPEI, UNT), former lawmaker, RCTV journalist and current president of Capitolio TV, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (AP, Causa R) and Córdoba Mayor, Virginia Vivas (IPP), who got disqualified from the process for not complying with her share of money to finance the election (as she had previously agreed on doing).

My friends’ and family’s voting intention is clear: none of the above. They feel disappointed by MUD’s leaders, and this is opposition voto duro people we’re talking about. Some of these people even ignored the plan to boycott the legislative election back in 2005 and went to vote anyway.

As for the electoral atmosphere in town? There’s a lot of campaigning going on, the old fashioned kind: trucks kitted out with speakers tour the streets blasting messages of support to their candidates, asking people for their vote. Radio slots, posters, photos with old ladies and kissed babies abound on social media. You name it, they’re doing it.

Les ofrezco mi Candidatura Independiente, Te pido que me acompañes a recuperar el #Táchira. #TachiraNumero1 pic.twitter.com/GklFdmd9kM

— MiguelÁngelRodríguez (@MiguelContigo) September 6, 2017

#Ureña quiere progreso y bienestar, por un #Táchira democrático, un espacio más para defender nuestros derechos este #10sep primarias pic.twitter.com/dHP3qQUxAt

— Fernando Andrade Roa (@FAndradeRoa) September 5, 2017

No nos preocupa el CNE, porque tenemos testigos de mesas que siempre han defendido los votos para garantizar el proceso electoral. #Táchira pic.twitter.com/GqU22wewnY

— Dip.Laidy Gomez (@laidygomezf) September 6, 2017

Desde #Colon seguimos escuchando a nuestra gente, seguimos. #VamosPaLanteTachira pic.twitter.com/MUKQULdtLr

— Juan Requesens (@JuanRequesens) September 6, 2017

No permitiremos que el futuro de nuestros hijos sean robados por unos corruptos indolentes. #EnTáchiraSomosLibres pic.twitter.com/LkjUekun0F

— Patricia Ceballos (@PatrideCeballos) September 7, 2017

These people really want our vote, but the excitement’s just not there. The air in the city is heavy with discontent and despair.  

As far as Chavismo is concerned, MUD’s got nothing on them. The much despised incumbent, José Vielma Mora (who is up for re-election) still has the best campaign strategy: promising to actually solve some problems. He said he’s the only one who can make the usual, kilometer-long lines at gas station’s disappear. And —whaddayaknow!— those lines disappeared a week ago: gas for everyone.

Right under your nose MUD.

Everything always happens right under your nose, MUD.

Categorías: Noticias

As Irma makes its way

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 09/07/2017 - 09:47

As Irma makes its way

German chancellor Angela Merkel pledged her absolute support for the National Assembly during a meeting in Berlin with Julio Borges. A spokesman for the German government, Steffen Seibert, tweeted that “Chancellor Merkel met, among others, with the Speaker of the Venezuelan National Assembly Julio Borges and pledged her support for democratic forces.” Merkel also expressed her concern for the serious humanitarian crisis and the constant human rights violations plaguing Venezuela, and said she was convinced that diplomacy is the only solution to the crisis, and that’s why she has made several requests for Nicolás to open real negotiations.

The official statement reads: “The chancellor pledged her support for the Venezuelan people and all the democratic forces in search for a peaceful and constructive solution to the conflict. To that end, she did not dismiss the possibility of potential sanctions imposed by the EU,” to pressure the government. Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted his condemnation for the support given “to opposition politicians who have assaulted democracy and peace,” recommending Merkel to “objectively inform herself” and urging the German government to abandon its one-sided policy because “its international credibility is question.”

Tajani won’t go

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani won’t attend the EU-Celac summit scheduled for October, in protest against Nicolás. He won’t attend the plenary session of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly in El Salvador either. Tajani revealed his decisions after meeting with 10 Latin American ambassadors who handed him the “Lima Declaration” signed on August 8th. “I think the European Union as a whole shouldn’t participate,” said Tajani, adding that this is a way to support the countries that “took a courageous decision to diplomatically isolate a dictatorial regime,” as a path to contribute to restoring democracy in Venezuela through a peaceful, negotiated solution.

The third one down

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced that it will produce a third report on Venezuela’s human rights situation, following the ones released in 2003 and 2009. This report will be based on a top-to-toe review of the situation and the political and social crisis we’re experiencing, in response to requests made by civil society institutions. The IACHR remarked that since the State refuses to allow its investigators to visit the country, it’ll base the report on monitoring carried out throughout 2017, with information collected in hearings, saying that they’ll focus on the subjects of democratic institutionality, violence and citizen security, free speech and abuses against social and cultural human rights.

Grey situation

UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed his support yesterday for a democratic Venezuela where human rights are respected, explaining that the country’s experiencing “a grey situation” with extremely concerning circumstances, manifesting his hope that it’ll be possible to return to a path where everyone feels part of a stable political system. He restated that dialogue is the only way to solve the country’s internal issues and that foreign intervention and authoritarianism must be avoided. The latter’s been established for a while now.

A quarter million

Nicolás demanded the United States show respect for the country’s sovereignty in a full-page letter published in the New York Times. According to the newspaper’s advertising fees, the ploy cost us $246,562. Nicolás claims that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. will impact our economy and the means to obtain “food, medicines and production.” He also said that Trump threatens peace, stability and cooperation between the two nations, so he asks the American people to “lead efforts to neutralize the jingoistic intentions of [their] government.”

Carta abierta del pueblo de Venezuela al pueblo y gobierno de EEUU #VenezuelaEEUURespetoYPaz pic.twitter.com/1ZyqfANAMd

— Ernesto Villegas P. (@VillegasPoljak) September 6, 2017

Moreover, yesterday the U.S. said that Arreaza’s presentation made a mockery of the UN Human Rights Council. The statement issued by their UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, says: “Rather than welcoming the Venezuelan foreign minister, the Human Rights Council should be denouncing his government,” because the regime “continues to rob the Venezuelan people of their freedom and their prosperity (…) The fact that Venezuela is even a member of the UN Human Rights Council shows the desperate need for HRC reform,” Haley added.

Arreaza’s other mockery

Funvisis recorded three tremors this Wednesday: 2.5 magnitude to the north-west of Los Caracas (Vargas); 3.3 magnitude to the east of Los Toques (Miranda) and 3.7 magnitude to the south-west of Güiria (Sucre). The disasters in Paraparal, Aguacatal, Choroní and San Mateo haven’t been resolved, and Civil Protection reported 45 people and 10 houses affected by floods in the Colonia Tovar, also in Aragua, after the Tuy river overflowed, along with floods and material losses in La Encrucijada of Turmero. Several states report blackouts and Corpoelec is yet to explain the source of the alleged malfunctions that caused them. The National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (Inameh) reported that hurricane Irma won’t hit Venezuela, but José and Katia, its successors, already became hurricanes themselves. In that context, it’s absurd for Foreign Minister Arreaza to report that the government’s monitoring Irma’s trajectory and that they’ve stated their willingness to support the people in Caribbean nations hit by the hurricane while several states right here at home are flooded out of their homes without any hurricane other that Nicolás himself. By the way, Erdogan messed up by plagiarizing chavismo’s argument. Yesterday he said: “The German statements regarding Turkey remind us of nazism.”

Ay, Luisa

Construction company Odebrecht claimed that prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz’s allegations regarding payments made by the company to Diosdado Cabello through TSE Arietis are false. They claim this after reviewing their documents and statements, adding that they’ve never received payment for unfinished works and that they finished “relevant projects that are fully operational.”

The fourth military tribunal of Vargas granted Lisbeth Añez parole. “Mamá Lis” fed and accompanied political prisoners and was arbitrarily detained on May 11th by agents of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence in Maiquetía airport, when she was ready to depart to the U.S. to seek treatment for hepatitis C.

Categorías: Noticias

The Primaries of Apathy

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 09/06/2017 - 19:00

Carlos Paparoni, a lawmaker who got shot with a marble during the recent protests, Carlos Ramos, a UNT heavyweight and head of Merida’s recall referendum campaign of last year, Lawrence Castro, a Voluntad Popular lawmaker and Ramón Guevara, the adeco who, according to a SMS I just received, is the “candidate the students support”.

These four guys are hoping to win the MUD primary elections this sunday, September 10th, becoming the anointed candidate to battle PSUV in the infamous, and still not-programmed, regional elections.

There’s a campaign and all. Paparoni ‘s popularity is getting strong in El Vigía, Ramos assures us that UNT will deploy all its strength for his campaign and Castro says he’s ready to take the country back, promoting the chavista-sounding #EldeLeopoldoEnMerida. Two weeks ago, Guevara asked the discontented opposition to “have faith and see these elections as the beginning of political change”. Last week even Ramos Allup came to Mérida, in support of his guy.

It only takes a quick look to their Twitter feeds to see pictures in poor neighbourhoods with seniors and kids, reminding everyone how bad abstention would be.

Los jóvenes tenemos el compromiso de continuar la lucha que comenzó hace +150 días. Por quienes lo dieron todo, vamos a continuar! #Ejido pic.twitter.com/eHsQ22LgVt

— Carlos Paparoni (@CarlosPaparoni) September 5, 2017

Nadie dijo que el camino fuese fácil, pero no hay obstáculos que detengan a este bravo pueblo. #LosPeriodistas #Mérida pic.twitter.com/ewsr04PvCZ

— Carlos Paparoni (@CarlosPaparoni) September 3, 2017

Casa por casa El Valle y vallecito ,llevando la propuesta de que #LaMejorMerida está junto al candidato de Leopoldo Lopez @LawrenceACastro pic.twitter.com/Ggbs8zJiI0

— VP Libertador Mérida (@MeridaVP) September 4, 2017

Los vecinos del Paramito y Carlos Gainza están con el candidato de Leopoldo este #10S vota por @LawrenceACastro porque #MeridaMereceMas pic.twitter.com/BctxgGsqzj

— Juventudes VP Mérida (@JuveMerida) September 4, 2017

Contento con el cariño del pueblo. Me da fuerza saber que el Cambio Regional en Mérida está muy cerca pic.twitter.com/Lo4ihNt8x5

— Carlos Ramos (@CarlosE_Ramos) September 3, 2017

Antes había que convencer a los chavismo, ahora a los de oposición que deben votar y no caer en el juego del gobierno https://t.co/oyONe9l7c5

— Angela Galiano (@arqangalifa) September 3, 2017

#03Sep Tenemos que devolverles el futuro y las ganas de soñar, a los que serán constructores de la nueva Venezuela. #LaFuerzaDelPueblo pic.twitter.com/yQChJQKqjI

— Ramón Guevara (@RamonGuevaraMRD) September 3, 2017

#04Sep Parroquia del Llano los ciudadanos quieren Cambio Político Social y Económico #Mérida y Unidos lo Lograremos pic.twitter.com/hk6ioZHg0G

— Ramón Guevara (@RamonGuevaraMRD) September 4, 2017

On the street, though, the vibe isn’t electoral at all. No posters, radio jingles or flyers, no one seems to care about who’s getting elected. The big news in town is not the primaries, but a vaccination campaign for cats and dogs.

Because even after primaries, it’ll be hard to tell who will rule Merida next. MUD has lost the people’s trust, and it can no longer do the single thing it used to be good at: keeping the opposition together.

The four MUD candidates represent, for some, classic sectarianism: Jesús Rondón Nucete, AKA “Chuy COPEI” (this is 100% legit), former Governor from 1990 to 1996, denounced the fact that MUD didn’t let him run in the primaries, because he isn’t representing a party of the group. He’s running all the same for governor as an independent, joining outcasts like Esteban Torrealba (MAS), Arquímedes Fajardo (COPEI) and Alirio Araque (NUVIPA).

On the chavista side, Jehyson Guzmán, former president of the Universidad de los Andes student federation, Higher Education Minister and current constituyentista, hopes to replace Alexis Ramírez as the regional pawn. He won’t have it easy; even with considerable abstention, Mérida is one of the strongest bastions of the opposition, partly due to Ramírez’s terrible, repressive administration.

But you don’t to have to be a Champion when the guys you hope to beat are too busy taking votes from each other or, worse, trying to convince their unmotivated voters that winning this election will actually mean something more than a moral triumph. I’ve never cared so little about elections as I do now, and I wouldn’t even know who the candidates are if I wasn’t writing this post.

And MUD’s attitude isn’t helping.

Categorías: Noticias

The Only Humanitarian Solution

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 09/06/2017 - 15:06

Francisco Rodríguez (FRod to Venny econ nerds) has taken a lot of flak in recent day. he Torino Capital Chief Economist called for the National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly to jointly approve any future debt issued by Venezuela — pitching it as a pragmatic solution to an overwhelmingly pressing problem.

More than $3.5 billion in debt comes due in the last quarter of the year, and the government is billions short. It could, technically, sell off a bunch of the gold supposedly sitting in a vault under Carmelitas corner, but it’s made no move to do so, amid speculation that it just can’t find a reputable counterpart. In any case chavismo’s gold holding claims inspire about as much confidence as an Hallaca in July.

Time was when the opposition could posture and say these decisions should be put off until it took power. But MUD’s implosion makes the chances of a transition government remote in the near future — meaning this is either a problem that gets solved with chavismo in power or it doesn’t get solved at all.

We’ve been writing about impending default so long here it’s easy to just dismiss it in a Peter-and-the-Wolf kind of way —and for sure some Venny Traders love to rag on us for it— but at this point, the government is down to throwing Hail Mary passes at Beijing you couldn’t say QIV is looking good.  

For years avoiding default has been the guiding principle of chavista public finance management. For a long time, that made a certain logical sense: default on debt and it becomes hard to participate in international trade at all. For a country as import-dependent as Venezuela, this looked like the very worst case scenario. The “suicidal willingness to pay” has always predicated on the idea that not paying was the real suicide.

MUD’s implosion makes the chances of a transition government remote in the near future.

But the obstacles to continuing to pay keep mounting. Venezuela’s chaotic, chronically-deficitary public finances and its manifest inability to invest the money it borrows wisely is, far and away, the biggest obstacle it faces to raising fresh credit. Lenders look around, see a half-dozen unfinished white elephants from the Tinaco-Anaco railway to the Tocoma Hydroelectric plant, and wonder what fresh boondoggle their dollars are going to get wasted on.

Credit comes from the latin root “credere” —to believe— and the simple reality is that nobody believes in the Maduro regime’s economic stewardship anymore.

But there are second order obstacles to obtaining new loans — U.S. sanctions are one, for sure, but lenders’ weariness of lending without proper legislative authorization is another. FRod’s proposal, as it is, amounts to saying “look, we can’t do anything about the government’s rampant irresponsibility, but we can do something about this legislative authorization problem. Default would be so bad for Venezuela, we might as well do what we can do to ease new borrowing.”

But, under this scenario, who would be the lenders?

U.S. economic sanctions make one thing clear: they can’t be U.S. entities. Given New York’s absolute dominance in international credit markets, that rules out the vast bulk of potential “quality” lenders. But even without U.S. sanctions, the political turmoil and the PR disaster that were the hunger bonds for Goldman Sachs mean that no top shelf international institution would participate.

It’s here that FRod’s proposal stops making sense even in its own terms. The kinds of lenders Venezuela could imaginably seek to raise funds from at this point are not known for their exquisite constitutional sensibilities. We’ll probably end up in a shady deal with some Chinese or Russian bottom-feeder that’ll demand bullet-proof guarantees, probably in a Pawn Store-like repo operation on horrible terms for the Republic.

Default would be so bad for Venezuela, we might as well do what we can do to ease new borrowing.

But we’ve seen deals of that kind happen anyway, with or without legislative approval — pawn shops are not, in general terms, much interested in legalistic niceties. My question for FRod is, who is this mythical entity that would extend Venezuela credit with legislative approval, but would reach for the smelling salts without it? There’s just no overlap in that Venn diagram.

Truth is that it’s two decades of shockingly inept economic management that has made financing under reasonable terms unavailable to Venezuela.

As its strategy’s basic unviability becomes clearer and clearer, the government has been taking the multimillion dollar equivalent of payday loans to avoid default, instead of instituting the reforms absolutely everyone has known are needed for years.

Without those reforms, Venezuela can only obtain credit by accepting terms that would seriously harm it in the long run. Approving credit under such circumstances would only make the National Assembly complicit in a monstrous salvaguarda crime, and for what? To kick the can down the road another three months?

The reality is that Venezuela will never have even minimal economic reform while chavismo stays in power. FRod, who tried to counsel the government in this regard and was rebuffed, should understand this better than anyone. But there aren’t any shortcuts left. We only wish there were.

When your junkie kid asks you for just $20 bucks, it’s painful to say no, because you can see that he’s hungry. But when you know full well those $20 are going straight in his arm, you have to say no. It’s unethical to say yes.

As much as we want things to get better, the only way out of this misery circle is a new government, which is nowhere in sight.

We’re stuck.

Categorías: Noticias

Dogs, Flowers and Fandanguillos

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 09/06/2017 - 13:42

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy met on Tuesday with the Speaker and the Vice-president of the National Assembly, lawmakers Julio Borges and Freddy Guevara, to reiterate his willingness to work for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela: “Spain will fight side by side with Venezuelans until they recover their democracy,” said Rajoy, expressing his concern for the deteriorating economic, political and social situation.

Spanish Foreign minister Alfonso Dastis and Congress Speaker Ana Pastor Julián also expressed their support and interest in helping Venezuela find a peaceful, electoral solution to its conflict. The statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that “Spain will keep insisting that the EU impose individual and selective sanctions against those responsible for the current repression,” as a way of encouraging the reestablishment of constitutional order in the country.

Nicolás won’t go

Francisco José Eguiguren, head of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said that Venezuela is among the countries where human rights are most endangered by the “conflicts of polarization within democratic institutions” that we’re experiencing.

Perhaps this is why Nicolás won’t speak next Monday before the UN Human Rights Council, but he’ll be replaced by Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, a bold strategy to reduce the severity of the judgement of their atrocities by boring his entire audience to sleep.

Another projection

Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said that the “arrogant and insolent” tone of the statement issued by the the President of France’s Office was unacceptable as, in his view, they’re trying to recall their imperial past and claimed that president Macron’s opinion of Venezuela depends on Donald Trump’s foreign policy: “The crimes committed by the Venezuelan right-wing, linked to corruption and violence, are punishable under France’s own legislation,” he tweeted, also taking the chance to criticize Spain, saying that their administration is going through “the worst corruption scandals in their history (…) with a record in unemployment and evictions, [Rajoy’s] government has done the most damage to the people,” which means Rajoy is attacking Venezuelan dignity by “representing the worst colonial past.”

Additionally, Roy Chaderton accused Macron of sabotaging José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s efforts towards the non-existent dialogue and attributing the great international concern for Venezuela to “the theory of media conspiracy.”

Get your popcorn (and caffeine) ready for Arreaza’s speech at the UN.

Immunity

The National Assembly’s Delegate Committee approved an agreement regarding parliamentary immunity and condemning the government’s unconstitutional disregard for it. Delsa Solórzano pointed out that according “article 138 of the Constitution all usurped authority is ineffectual and its decisions are void. It’s impossible for the fraudulent ANC to breach immunity.”

Regarding the investigation on Odebrecht’s corruption case, Juan Guaidó said that amount of money stolen through bribes alone “would be enough to pay the country’s debt in food and medicines” and that they’ll reveal the final report in the next few days.

Dip.@jguaido: En los próximos días y con los resultados finales del informe recabado por #CPContraloría se establecerán responsabilidades. pic.twitter.com/8mfYcajFz7

— Asamblea Nacional (@AsambleaVE) September 5, 2017

They approved an agreement condemning the regime’s crackdown on the media, urging the opening of an investigation on censorship and demanding that the administration respect free speech.

Radio Fe y Alegría

Yesterday at 2:00 p.m., the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) ordered radio station Fe y Alegría 88.1 FM in Maracaibo, Zulia, to immediately cease operations, arguing that the station didn’t have the necessary concession to operate, despite the fact that the station has been requesting it since 1975.

But at 3:00 p.m., the same CONATEL official that ordered the shutdown, authorized them to resume operations “on orders from Caracas.”

Attacking an educational station is wretched and demonstrates the arbitrary nature with which these abuses are committed, equally wretched.

When you have the chance, check out the beautiful thread of a station employee, Mario Pérez Chacín on Twitter, starting with this tweet: “Being a part of @radiofeyalegría is understanding that there is an apostolate for life that goes beyond your own, in service of many…”.

Such is Fe y Alegría’s mission.

Dying in jail

Relatives of UPEL student Kevin Rojas, illegally held in El Dorado prison, Bolívar, requested that he be urgently transferred to a hospital to be treated for the mixed malaria he’s suffering. Kevin regularly faints, imprisoned under terrible conditions. The physician stationed at El Dorado has requested Kevin’s transfer to a hospital, but there’s been no answer.

The military prosecutor Katiusca Ochoa requested that the cases of 22 UPEL students detained in this prison be dismissed, but there’s been no answer about this either.

What are they waiting for? Is death by negligence one of the exemplary punishments chavismo wants to exhibit?

They’re quite experienced on the matter, no doubt.

Abroad

The United Kingdom’s government is evaluating the way to apply sanctions against Venezuelan authorities responsible for human rights violations and other crimes. Minister Alan Duncan said that he’s working with the international community to implement them. Lawmaker Graham Jones urged the government to take action, referring to Venezuela as a narco-State and remarking that two thirds of the cocaine in the United Kingdom has been trafficked from here. Graham requested freezing officials’ assets, banning them from entering the EU and blocking the selling of weapons to the government.

The Canadian Embassy tweeted that the ANC’s threats against dissidents and in favor of imposing censorship on social networks are “alarming actions that erode even more democratic rights,” reminding the government that free speech and the right to political representation are commitments, not options.

OAS chief Luis Almagro met with the relatives of mayor Alfredo Ramos and requested that he be transferred to a hospital due to his severe health condition, including hypertensive crises and heart problems.

Spain’s Partido Popular will organize a commission to investigate alleged connections between the party Podemos and Venezuela.

Bolivia defeated Chile (1-0). Colombia and Brazil tied (1-1). Peru defeated Ecuador (2-1). Italy defeated Israel (1-0) and the Vinotinto, the Remolacha Mecánica, tied with Argentina (1-1) in the Monumental stadium. Great work, Wuilker Fariñez.

The sign reading “Venezuela libre” on the Argentine flag was beautiful.

We go on.

Categorías: Noticias

Comment retirer votre moustache

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 09/05/2017 - 12:40


French president Emmanuel Macron met on Monday with the Speaker and the Vice-president of the National Assembly, lawmakers Julio Borges and Freddy Guevara. He was particularly interested to know how he can help Venezuela overcome the crisis, and offered his full support to Parliament. Borges requested the opening of a humanitarian channel and said that “Dozens of countries have offered to donate medicines and food and the greatest obstacle is the government itself.”

They also met with Senate President Gérard Larcher, who said that “Parliamentarian democracy is the strongest bulwark against authoritarian regimes, Parliament is the only legitimate authority.” He demanded the release of political prisoners and respect for dissident’s rights. They agreed on establishing the Inter-Parliamentary Committee between the Foreign Committees of the Senate and the National Assembly.

In the Chamber of Deputies, Borges and Guevara met with National Assembly Speaker Francois de Rugy, who restated their absolute support and recognition for Venezuela’s Parliament.

The tour continues today, when they’ll meet with Spanish president Mariano Rajoy.

Arreaza’s condemnation

Barring Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo López, from traveling as part of the international tour caused international outrage.

Also, the Venezuelan Banco Occidental de Descuento (BOD) said in a statement that money withdrawals in large amounts of cash is usual for certain clients, answering for the origin of the 200 million bolivars (around 10 thousand dollars) in cash confiscated from Tintori’s vehicle, a case which has already garnered her a summons to testify and is allegedly the reason for authorities preventing her from leaving the country.

Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza handed notes of protests yesterday to the ambassadors of Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom for interfering in the country’s affairs. According to Arreaza: “You were manipulated by Mrs. Tintori (…) Everyone knows the truth,” cautioning that Nicolás will take measures if they keep assaulting the country’s sovereignty.

Nicolás will speak at the UN

According to UN information handed by human rights spokesman Rolando Gómez on Monday, Nicolás would speak on September 11th, during the opening meeting of a three-week session of the Human Rights Council. “We’ve received verbal notice that he’s coming,” said Gómez. If he did, he’d have to speak right after high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who presented a report on Venezuela last August 30th, summarizing the barbarity the dictatorship made Venezuelans suffer during the months of protests.

So far, Nicolás hasn’t confirmed the information, and some reports say he might not even speak at the meeting.

Maduro has also remained silent about reports that the Finance Ministry and the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) are pressuring the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) to finance them without the National Assembly’s approval, violating the Constitution and the Appropriations Law.

Luisa and Germán

In an exclusive interview for W Radio (Colombia), prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz said that she has evidence incriminating Nicolás in the Odebrecht scandal: “I have information, I have all the evidence, not just testimonial but also documentary, incriminating Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, Jorge Rodríguez.”

She added that she’s met with several of her counterparts in the continents to exchange information, remarking that “international cooperation is fundamental and it works.”

She restated that there are deep rifts within the government and claimed to have the support of several members of the regime, the military and civil society.

Her husband, lawmaker Germán Ferrer, said they were considering applying for asylum in Brazil, Colombia or Chile and that they’re not planning to return to Venezuela.

Primaries

Even though the CNE hasn’t announced the electoral timetable, Francisco Castro, head of MUD’s Primaries Committee, reported that 977 voting stations will be deployed on September 10th, with a total of 3,110 voting tables for the country’s 14,835,000 registered voters. The voting process will be manual and they estimate that results will be made public that very night.

Castro said that they expect a big turnout, and remarked that primaries are a mechanism to pressure the regime, pointing out that elections will be suspended in states where candidates reach a consensus in the next few days.

Oil spills

In their Social and Environmental Management Report for 2016, PDVSA says that the number of oil spills decreased, but the volume of leaked oil was larger, both on land and in rivers or the sea. 182,317 barrels have been spilled. That’s 58,471 barrels more than in 2015! 47,2% more in a year! But hey, at least the amount of incidents went from 8,796 in 2015, to 8,250 in 2016, a 6.2% drop. Wow! Most spills took place in land oil fields (146,192 barrels,) while 36,124 were spilled in water.

Abroad

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced the armistice with the guerrilla Army of National Liberation (ELN) as a result of negotiations between both parties in search of an eventual peace agreement. The ceasefire will come into effect on October 1st and last for 102 days, until January 12th, 2018 and “it will be adjusted as negotiations develop,” Santos added.

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, the Supreme Court blocked president Jimmy Morales’ attempt to declare Iván Velásquez, head of the National Committee Against Impunity in Guatemala, persona non grata and expel him from the country. The file will be sent to Congress to establish a committee to investigate the accusations and proceed the preliminary hearing on merits against president Morales.

In Mérida, Heladería Coromoto, a 1996 Guinness Book of world records holder for having over a thousand flavors, shut down due to lack of supplies.

Today, Tuesday, September 5th, Venezuela will face Argentina in the Monumental stadium at 7:30 p.m. (Venezuela time) in the qualifying rounds for the Russia World Cup 2018.

Categorías: Noticias

What Lies at the Heart of Corazón Llanero

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 09/05/2017 - 11:25

On the night of August 25th, two well-known FM radio stations in Caracas left the airwaves by orders of CONATEL: Magica 99.1 FM and 92.9. Tu FM. Immediately, two new ones took their places, Radio Vinotinto FM and Corazón Llanero.

Under the official excuse that their broadcasting licenses were not “renewed”, they became part of the 50 radio and TV stations closed down this year, with 80% of all radio stations in Venezuela in legal limbo regarding licensing. It’s the latest signal of an escalation strategy (which reached the international front), at a time when a new piece of legislation could kill free speech for good.

But there’s a strange connection between 92.9 Tu FM and its replacement, which started as a series of concerts two years ago and is now a full-fledged multimedia group.

Let’s start with llanero music. You know who really loved música llanera? The comandante eterno himself. Hugo Chávez liked to break into song and his love for joropo didn’t go unnoticed to artists of the genre and the Ministry of Truth. During his funeral ceremony, a medley of well-known llanero songs were performed, with contributions from a certain Lt. Juan Escalona.

There’s a strange connection between 92.9 Tu FM and its replacement.

A young man from the Portuguesa State, he joined the Venezuelan Military and crossed paths with Chávez in 2006. He’d be very close to the comandante presidente during his last two years of life, becoming his personal aide-de-camp; a role he continued for Nicolás Maduro.

In 2015, a three-day concert named Corazón Llanero was organized at the Poliedro under sponsorship of national and local authorities, “honoring the late Comandante”. Along with many local artists, Juan Escalona performed too.  

Corazón Llanero went on to do a nationwide tour with full support of the central government, broadcasted by TVes (RCTV’s replacement) as directed by Winston Vallenilla and Roberto Messuti since 2014. It was a “win-win” partnership: The passion project of Escalona needed a platform, and the channel needed fresh content. Escalona talked big about Corazón Llanero, with stories of TV shows, concerts, tours abroad, record labels, talent agencies and a radio station. He boasted about full official backing, which Maduro confirmed on State TV.

Flash forward to August of 2016: Corazón Llanero announced a huge expansion, including a new HQ in Teatro Junin, and its first-ever international concert in La Habana. And their plans for this year include movies, museums and schools.

During his funeral ceremony, a medley of well-known llanero songs were performed, with contributions from a certain Lt. Juan Escalona.

Meanwhile, Escalona himself got a new bureaucratic post early this year, then ran as a candidate for the Constituyente, won a seat and now serves as Vice-Chairman of the ANC’s Cultural Identity Commission.

Why was 92.9 Tu FM chosen?

Because of the Social Responsibility Law on Radio and TV, established more than a decade ago. Article 14 dictates that 50% of all music programming in radio must be of Venezuelan origin; of that 50%, at least half must be “Works of Traditional Venezuelan Music”, including:

  1. Presence of genres from diverse geographical areas of the country;
  2. Use of Spanish or the official indigenous languages;
  3. Presence of Venezuelan cultural values;
  4. Venezuelan authorship or composition;
  5. Presence of Venezuelan performers.

Radio stations were forced to make changes for the new law, birthing the “neo-folklore”, a fusion of traditional Venezuelan music and other genres. In the case of 92.9.Tu FM, they resisted by creating “El Bolajala”, taking the imposition of música llanera, and making fun of it. Hardcore Chavistas saw the character (and the station) as an attack on morality and the Venezuelan identity itself.  

Was the takeover payback for insulting llanero music? Hard to tell when the Corazón Llanero model is expanding to Corazón Urbano (hip-hop & rap), Corazón Rockero (rock and heavy metal) and Corazón Salsero (salsa). The last one is Maduro’s favorite for playing Nero.

The government insists that these efforts are to promote culture, but they feel like more of the monopoly on arts that the hegemony adores. Get your fingers on the media and you have propaganda, this time with a shot at making good business.

Ain’t capitalism grand?

Additional information used in this report was provided by Venezuelan journalist Victor Amaya.

Categorías: Noticias

“When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls.”

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 09/04/2017 - 18:00

Yon Goicoechea’s prison OpEd in the New York Times this morning is incredibly affecting.

Last October, a court granted me parole — but my jailers ignored that order. Three months ago, the prosecutor in my case closed the investigation, establishing that I was not guilty of any crimes (I had faced trumped-up charges of possession of explosives). This means that there are no active judicial proceedings against me — I’m simply being held hostage in violation of the Constitution. The United Nations, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all described my detention as arbitrary and called for my release.

Of all the things you could say about Yon Goicoechea that are true, this one isn’t the most important, but it’s one of the least appreciated: he’s an amazingly gifted writer.

Categorías: Noticias

The End of the Kiting Strategy

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 09/04/2017 - 14:34

Kiting is the oldest trick in the book for distressed credit card holders. Got a big balance you can’t pay off? Get a second credit card and use it to pay for the first one. Done skillfully enough and aggressively enough, this is a trick you can keep up for a long, long time.

If DTC couldn’t get the Executive Order straight, what hope is there for us mortals?

Credit card kiting is at the core of the government’s financial liability management in recent years. But the Trump administration’s decided to try to put an end to it. Or, at least, to say if you’re going to kite, the credit cards can’t be American.

Executive Order # 13808 is a complex beast. Its structure is peculiar: first it bans a very long list of financial transactions between Venezuelan state entities and U.S. individuals and, directly afterwards, it creates a long list of exemptions that, in-effect, unbans many of the things it had banned at the start.

Confused? You’re not the only one. This past week, Depository Trust Company, one of the biggest financial clearinghouses out there, first suspended service for 35 Venezuelan securities and then reversed itself, unbanning 29 of them, adding to the confusion in the financial world with regards to what can be traded and what can’t. If DTC with its army of securities lawyers couldn’t get the Executive Order straight, what hope is there for us mortals?

The real risk —or is it the intention?— is that these sanctions will push Venezuela and/or PDVSA into default.

Venezuela will have to look hard and far to raise funds to make debt payments due this year —maturities scheduled for October alone amount to US$3.63 billion — and the next (and the next, and the next). While this government is accustomed to seeking financing from sources like China and Russia to make payments, before the sanctions it could rely on the US financial system to facilitate those transactions. It will now have to use other platforms to secure monies to pay down debt.

But what’s really at stake here?

Venezuela will have to look hard and far to raise funds to make debt payments due this year, and the next, and the next.

Well, let us turn to one of those exceptions included in the executive order: General License # 2. This appendix to the order simply says that transactions “where the only Government of Venezuela entities involved are CITGO Holding, Inc. and any of its subsidiaries, are authorized.”

That means that CITGO can still participate in the markets freely. It can, for example, issue debt to cover imports with no impediment – as long as no other Venezuelan state entity is involved in the issuance. It means that trade between CITGO and PDVSA – equivalent to 33% of Venezuela’s imports to the US – can continue, as normal.

Given that the other US importers of Venezuelan oil are not entities of the Venezuelan state — last we checked Valero, Chevron and Phillips 66 are all publicly traded companies— they are also still permitted to import all the oil from Venezuela they want.

(The key word there is “still”. Valero —the second biggest importer of Venezuelan oil— has already started using more sweet, light crudes in its refineries in place of Venezuela’s heavy, sour mix in part because of price differentials between the two but, one suspects,  also in preparation for heavier sanctions down the line.)

Claims that these sanctions alone would spell the end of CITGO or the decline of Venezuela’s exports to the United States are simply bogus. One only has to look into the details of the executive order to see that plainly. Perhaps it makes for good politics, it is pure nonsense.

But, remember those individual sanctions with seemingly little bite? There are reports that these earlier set of sanctions that are having a much more direct effect on daily operations of oil trade between the US and Venezuela.

Claims that these sanctions alone would spell the end of CITGO or the decline of Venezuela’s exports to the United States are simply bogus.

Reuters has reported that shipments from Venezuela to the US have been barred from entry since their purchasers have been unable to secure letters of credit from US banks, since that would mean engaging in financial transactions with PDVSA’s chief financial officer, Simon Zerpa, one of the recently sanctioned Venezuelan officials.

In essence, Zerpa is barred from participating in any deal involving a US financial institution, whether it’s something large like debt issuance or restructuring (now also banned) or something small like a simple line of credit for a buyer of PDVSA oil. Buyers have reportedly had to pay for the crude in advance given they cannot use new lines of credit, an unsustainable situation for most importers.

While the broad sanctions on new debt issuance hurt Venezuela’s ability to raise funds, the specific carve-outs included in the executive order allow for oil trade to continue without many obstacles, aside from the wee detail of having the PDVSA CFO participating in the transaction.

Categorías: Noticias

Waiting for the Barbarians

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 09/03/2017 - 13:47

– What are we waiting for, when we deploy military drills that have made us the world’s laughingstock due to their magnificent incompetence, in grotesque contrast with their proclaimed lofty goals?

We’re waiting for the barbarians, they’re supposed to invade us today.

– What’s the reason behind our National Assembly’s inaction, why have parliamentary functions been suppressed, while a National Constituent Assembly elected through fraud and representing a extremely limited minority of society decides the future and fate of an entire nation, as traditional democratic institutions fade in our memories?

Because the barbarians are invading us today. We can’t legislate in the midst of an invasion. We can only prepare to fight them. All our efforts, our logistics, our economy and even our lives, must be focused on preparing for the barbarian invasion.

– Why has our emperor started to wake up so early, constantly talking on compulsory broadcasts; why does he shut down radio stations and why does he arrest, torture, murder and disappear people; why does he wear military garb and why has he decided to pretend we are at war?

Because the barbarians are invading us today and he personally wants to be in one of the fronts waiting for them, so they can get acquainted with our fury and our power. He wants to be there to see them completely and shamefully crushed, to watch them flee like cowards. He wants to be there, in the first line of fire and be the first to shout “Yankees go home and homa!” when the insolent foreigners attempt to set foot on our nation’s soil.

– Why did our two consuls and praetors appeared today in their embroidered red robes; why do they wear bracelets with so many amethysts and embedded rings and shiny emeralds;why do they clasp today such precious, magnificently engraved silver and golden staves? Why do they wear luxurious clothes and live in pompous mansions?

Because the barbarians are coming today and they’re impressed by these things; and they want to show them that they have billete que jode to face them down, because they’ve been stealing for two decades. In fact, the amount they’ve robbed this nation is unprecedented in the whole of human history. That’s another wrong record we shattered.

They want the barbarians to know who they’re messing with; that sanctions and freezing their accounts don’t matter, that they have enough money everywhere to survive, that they won’t lack food or medicines and that if, perchance, a high official should be wounded by mistake, they could be immediately transferred to Cuba and cared for. What happens to the people is different story, but the consuls and praetors want to show the barbarians that they’re invincible, because lacking scruples makes people invincible.

– Why haven’t the honorable orators, as they always have, spout their grandiose speeches and say their statements? Why aren’t there massive rallies in Avenida Bolívar to boast of the people’s wonderful support for the emperor, with aerial shots taken from a helicopter, like the old times, and broadcast by the impartial State TV channel?

Because the barbarians will invade us today and they don’t understand our language. No speech will impress them. Besides, our great leaders are all training, because they’ll all be in the first line of fire to lead by example when the barbarians invade us.

– Where does this sudden bewilderment and confusion come from? (The faces have grown so grim!) Why do people flee from the streets and squares in such a rush and return to their homes in anguish?

Because night came but the barbarians didn’t. Some men have returned from our borders and reported that there’s no such thing as barbarians. 

– And what’s going to happen to us now without barbarians? In the end, these people were some kind of solution.

– And why do they arm thousands of people who have no experience handling rifles, why are weapons being freely distributed, if the barbarians won’t invade us? Why is our army training, then?

To oppress their own people. The emperor wants to rule even if that means he must annihilate every last one of his subjects. In the end, it turns out that we’re the barbarians.

Gallegos was so right.

This article was originally published on TalCualDigital.com
Categorías: Noticias

The Bullet You Didn’t Dodge

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 09/02/2017 - 10:00

My first thought was that the car misfired. I looked down, saw blood pour out of my leg and knew, deep down, what it was, even if most of my brain was still in refusal.

Time felt different, faster yet elastic. Mom got out of the car and I limped inside. She took grandpa – too shocked to move – and shoved him to the front seat. All while carrying my baby sister in one arm.

This is what it’s like being shot.

It was a few days before Christmas. Downtown Maracay had gift wrappings, nativity sets and gaitas everywhere. Back in 2004, Venezuela could still afford Christmas, something so quaint now.

We had gone with grandpa to the bank for his pension. He and mom sat on front while I had to share the backseat with my sister in her baby-seat. She was three weeks old, but she already had a big bush of black hair.

Then I felt the explosion beside me, the coolness all around. Like when you cut a finger. I saw the blood.

Grandpa was in his mid-70’s and needed help for transactions. After glaucoma and cataracts, he could only see a little through an eye. He’d put his hand on my shoulder to help him on the street and, after a stroke, his mind wasn’t what it used to.

I knew the procedure: Step in the bank and fill the withdrawal slip, as mom waited outside. It went smoothly. Grandpa was happy saying, half jokingly, he’d invite us all for lunch. We usually declined but we settled for sundaes at McDonald’s after the drugstore, in Caña de Azúcar.

For those of you who don’t know Maracay, Caña de Azúcar is what 23 de Enero is to Caracas. Built in the 70’s, the housing project is mostly made up of iconic apartment blocks, with a nasty reputation for crime.

Grandpa actually helped building it. He was regional director of the National Institute for Housing (INAVI) and, reminiscing about Caña de Azúcar, he invariably would say that “Nobody wanted it. Everyone wanted houses, so we pretty much had to give the apartments away.”

Anyway, just as in the bank, mom stayed in the car and we waited on the sidewalk to be attended. Grandpa rested against the wall – he had a bad knee – and I stood on the steps looking around. Hearing firecrackers.

It was Christmastime, fireworks season. Seeing kids running after the bangs, my first thought was that they lit something up and were now taking shelter.

I thought ‘this is it.’ We were going to die and there wasn’t anything I could do.

Then I felt the explosion beside me, the coolness all around. Like when you cut a finger. I saw the blood and grandpa looked at me. Frozen in time.

Now, in the car, mom went full SWAT mode. She saw the whole thing and it was she who told me I was shot. The kids brandished large, shiny guns and behind them, two officers fired crazy.

I was hit by one of the cops.

“I felt many things at once, but I mostly felt death” she tells me, still after a decade. “I thought ‘this is it.’ We were going to die and there wasn’t anything I could do.”

Her celerity took us to the ER of a clinic. They carried me in a wheelchair and, minutes later, I was in the operating room with local anesthetics sinking in. Had it happened now, I probably wouldn’t be as lucky.

The doctor struck up a conversation, asking me if I liked to read and if I read the latest Harry Potter. I did, and told her I was reading Kafka. Two CICPC agents walked in and asked me my version of the events (turns out the kids tried to rob a cybercafé). I made a statement and that’s the last we heard about it.

The kids brandished large, shiny guns and behind them, two officers fired crazy.

I didn’t walk for two months. Every time I leaned on my right foot, it would bleed. I was actually lucky, the bullet missed the bone by about three centimeters. For the first time ever, I was grateful for my chubby legs.

I went to school on crutches and ate alone in the classroom. Some students from Caña de Azúcar recognized me and, for a while, I was the popular kid at school. My friend Braulio was unimpressed, expecting something more Tarantinoesque (“That’s not what a bullet hole looks like! You did it yourself with a BB gun!”). He also didn’t believe I was shot while wearing a Superman shirt, which I still own despite my mom’s feelings on bad luck.

There were 21,752 homicides in Venezuela last year. Around 86% of them – some 18,800 –, were by firearms. The US, with a population that is ten times larger than Venezuela’s, reported 15,696 gun deaths in 2015. This wasn’t the first time I had been in front of a gun, nor it would be the last. No matter what precautions you take – don’t go out after sunset, don’t go to bad neighborhoods, don’t take out your cell phone – it’s always a matter of luck.

I’m 26 now, and the scars have mostly healed. But if you put your finger on them, you can feel the gap under the skin. Also, if I walk for too long, it feels numb. Sometimes I look at it feeling so lucky.

Because next time, things might be very different.

Categorías: Noticias

Our Revolt’s Soundtrack

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/01/2017 - 18:00

If you’re a young adult in Venezuela and not an active supporter of the dictatorship, you probably took part in the protest movement of April-July in some way. The struggle and its abrupt end have become a recurring topic of every gathering.

When I told Carlos, a dear friend and local musician, that I was set to write about the role of music as part of the resistance, he was dispirited to think of how all the combined efforts of so many was all for naught.

“Now you’ll have to write something like so much blood for nothing. There was a time during the fight when the musicians got mad, and sung for hope and peace… para que igual fuera la Constituyente.

During the plantón organized by UCAB Guayana students, Carlos sang a rendition of La Vida Bohème’s El Zar, followed by a self-composed song titled Guasina, after the infamous concentration camp where political prisoners were tortured during the Pérez Jiménez regime.

There was a time during the fight when the musicians got mad, and sung for hope and peace… para que igual fuera la Constituyente.

Around 150 musicians from Guayana got together and released a cover of Victor Manuelle’s Que suenen los tambores, under the name of Bolívar está sonando, adapting the lyrics to send a message of national reconciliation. Rather than basking into the harshness of the daily happenings, musicians marched among us, re-awakening the canción protesta.

All these songs, written by people from all sorts of backgrounds, generations and upbringings, reflect the same from different angles. The sociopolitical critiques in music aren’t new to Venezuela; before la Quinta, acts like Alí Primera, Yordano and Desorden Público burst into the mainstream with lyrics that pictured a reality most people brushed off, overusing the phrase “esto en la Cuarta no pasaba”. They denounced poverty, corruption and raging street violence, all of which remain unchanged, if not worsened. While it’s true this country has seen better times, we’ve always had reasons to protest. The big difference is that, in those times, the canción protesta had airplay.

With the rise and consolidation of the Bolivarian Revolution, the number of mainstream protest acts decreased noticeably. Many sold out to the government’s propaganda machine and, ultimately, this became the only way to get played in public media. Things seemed to die down… and then social media happened.

Rappers like Gabylonia released tracks against police and military repression; and with rock’s new wave, came the aforementioned La Vida Bohème, referencing the social and political milestones of our times with tunes like Viernes Negro, Hornos de Cal and Angelitos Negros.

Apache, another rapper born and raised in Caracas, had just one word for us: enough. His new track, Basta, doesn’t mention cities, streets, people or parties. His message is universal, based on his own experiences with violence (“la pluma frente al plomo”, as he puts it), and it’s nothing less than a wake-up call.

Rappers like Gabylonia released tracks against police and military repression; and with rock’s new wave, came the aforementioned La Vida Bohème.

Even pop stars are making statements. Take it from Nacho and Víctor Muñoz, who became icons after a crowd blasted Mi Felicidad over and over since its release in 2015. This year, they got back together for a follow-up not recorded in a studio. The video has been seen over 650 thousand times.

Then there’s the most recent tear-jerker, Valiente, performed by Nacho, Olga Tañón and Luis Enrique in the Tu Mundo Awards last week. It’s almost impossible to watch that and not break down in bitter sadness, despite its uplifting lyrics of being brave and fighting for freedom.

Some may argue that a few songs don’t make a difference, but the fact is, and always has been, that music has huge power as both solace and fuel to keep things — anything — alive. That’s why Wuilly Arteaga, a seemingly irrelevant violinist that gained international fame when the GNB smashed his instrument, was illegally arrested and tortured.

After his release, he recalled his ordeal and even spoke against a MUD that presented candidates for governor elections. This media exposure, again, was only possible because of the music he played. Other political prisoners, like the forgotten UPEL students in El Dorado, don’t have the privilege of such coverage.

Walking through our soundtrack and the stories that come with it, there’s no doubt that it can only be homemade. So, until something happens that miraculously reignites the protests, we’ll resort to the ultimate ‘no-fucks-given’ hymn: Muerto en Choroní.

May we sing again.

Categorías: Noticias

Investigating Traitors

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/01/2017 - 12:12

The imposed prosecutor general, Tarek William Saab, accused Luisa Ortega Díaz of allegedly embezzlement of the nation’s coffers through PDVSA contracts in the Orinoco Oil Strip project, which add up to $200 million in financial damages so far, a figure that could increase, according to Saab, so he already put together a joint operation between the Prosecutor’s Office and PDVSA to find those responsible for the embezzlement, and also asked the Comptroller’s Office to assign some of their people to verify those contracts and their fulfillment status.

In addition to embezzlement, Saab accused Ortega of criminal association, shocked by a 230% overprice found in 12 contracts with 10 companies.

Saab said that he had assigned prosecutors to investigate the treason allegedly committed by opposition leaders when they “requested financial sanctions against Venezuela,” parroting the same arguments used by Nicolás and Delcy, and promising an investigation that will include calls for military intervention, not just economic sanctions.

So impartial.

Before Tarek’s statements

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights expressed “deep concern for the declining separation and independence of public powers and the undermining of democratic institutions in Venezuela.” In a statement, the IACHR points out that decisions from the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) “exceed the functions of a constituent body and usurp the authority of the National Assembly, which diminishes the separation of powers and representative democracy.”

They emphasize the ANC’s discretional power to remove and appoint any authority, create and modify legislation, as well as implement decisions without due revision from other institutions or the necessary guarantees, so they reminded the State that on August 4th, prosecutor general Luisa Ortega Díaz and her family were granted protective measures. The IACHR once again asks the government to fulfill its international obligations on human rights, restore branch autonomy and allow all sectors of Venezuelan society to participate in politics.

Refugees

Yesterday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that he’s monitoring the increasing number of Venezuelans seeking refuge in other countries of the American continent: “the country faces many economic and social issues, shortages of essential products, violence and persecution,” remarking that they’re closely monitoring the situation and collaborating with the countries that are hosting Venezuelans and also with Venezuela, which has sheltered many refugees in the past.

Colombia’s Immigration head Christian Krüger, said that establishing refugee camps is the last resort for authorities to tend to the Venezuelan influx caused by the crisis, explaining that those camps are transitory measures, not definitive solutions, and that the Colombian government is working on initiatives to allow Venezuelans to settle in, rather than turning them away.

What now, Tarek?

Relatives of general Raúl Isaías Baduel were finally able to see him after 23 days of ignoring his whereabouts, and confirmed that he’s held in La Tumba, the infamous dungeon in SEBIN headquarters in Plaza Venezuela, a lair of torture that Saab ignored when he was Ombudsman, and continues to ignore now that he’s prosecutor general, of course. Andreína and Adolfo Baduel denounced that their father hasn’t seen daylight, he hasn’t been allowed to change clothes or receive medical treatment despite his issues with blood pressure since August 7th; they also explained that there’s no documentation of his transfer, so the court couldn’t know where he was. “They told my dad that he’d be treated like an inmate if he complained,” said his daughter.

Journalist Gabriela González confirmed that captain Juan Caguaripano, responsible for the assault on Fuerte Paramacay, is also being held in La Tumba.

Children’s human rights

Venezuelan female activists denounced in the OAS the abuses against the rights of minors in the country. The document they submitted mentions the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that are being violated by the government, including those referring to life, food, healthcare, education, free speech and non-discrimination.

OAS General Secretariat adviser Gabriel Bidegain recommended the activists to go to the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN) and the IACHR’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child.

Yesterday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) gave the General Directorate for Environmental Health 95,000 treatments against malaria to support the National Program against Malaria, including key medication such as Artem, Lumef, Artemeth and Lumefan to care for children of 3 to 12 or older. The priority states are Bolívar, Amazonas and Sucre.

To the Pope

The National Assembly urged Pope Francis to call for the opening of a humanitarian channel in the country, as well as for the end of political persecution and respect for human rights: “Every new day there is a life we lose, we can’t wait,” said the letter signed by Parliament Speaker Julio Borges.

Desde @AsambleaVE enviamos carta al Papa Francisco @Pontifex_es para apertura de canal humanitario de medicinas y alimentos para #Venezuela pic.twitter.com/pqL9M8cY17

— Julio Borges (@JulioBorges) August 31, 2017

The document reiterates that the country’s experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, highlights the number of children dying due to malnutrition, the levels of shortages of food and medicines and the millions of Venezuelan citizens who are fleeing the country, emphasizing that, in addition to hunger and disease, we’re dealing with political persecution and chavismo’s obsession with holding onto power despite being responsible for the current magnitude of hunger and for blocking access to humanitarian aid.

Doing our best

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos commented on the negotiation process that has taken place around Venezuela’s situation, and on his stance on granting asylum to Venezuelan victims of persecution such as Luisa Ortega Díaz, saying that Venezuela’s crisis is on schedule to be discussed with Pope Francis in his coming visit.

Although willing to grant political asylum to Ortega Díaz even though she hasn’t requested it yet, regarding the possibility of sheltering other Venezuelan dissidents, he explained that each case has its own conditions, but that Colombia “has hosted and protected political refugees.”

He regretted that relations with Venezuela have soured, but remarked that he won’t put political asylum and institutional relations at risk on the basis of his differences with Venezuela. He said that U.S. sanctions are a way of pressuring the government, restating that “democracy was destroyed in Venezuela” and that we must all do our best to restore it.

The football teams of Venezuela and Colombia met once again in the qualifying rounds for World Cup Russia 2018, and tied 0-0 in the stadium of Pueblo Nuevo, Táchira.

Categorías: Noticias

Driver’s License: DIY

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 09/01/2017 - 10:00

When I moved to Madrid 2 years ago, I failed to swap my Venezuelan driver’s license for a Spanish one which, by the way, is very expensive. After much procrastination, I made an appointment and, waiting for the day to arrive, realized I couldn’t find my Venezuelan license. I searched my whole apartment, but nope, gone, poof.

Like any Venezuelan, I knew that losing an official document is the beginning of a tragic saga to get it back, so I when I traveled to Caracas recently, my first order of business was to ask a gestor how we could do this painlessly.

“You must print it yourself” he said.

I remember thinking he was nuts, but, Venezuela is the land of endless possibility for crazy. This is how creative our government is:

First, you must get appointment through a hidden corner of the Instituto Nacional de Transporte Terrestre‘s (INTT) website. After answering a few questions you’ll be directed to the INTT office of your choice.

A PDF attachment with an article from the Land Transportation Law, and this story on how this new driver’s license is super secure…

Once there, you’re greeted by Chavez’ eyes on every employee’s navy blue vest. The guy at the door directed me to a line of chairs neatly set each beside the other, messy with distracted people. The chats were usual banter: people unsure about the process, or how they couldn’t find certain food in the supermarket. I even heard a story about how a malandro left a guy without papers and the victim spent the past 3 days getting everything back.

20 minutes after my arrival, those of us standing outside the building were instructed to walk in, to find more lines of metal chairs. Waiting, I realized only 2 of the 8 “ticket windows” actually had agents in them. Sadly unsurprising.

When it was my turn, I handed in my printed form, paid the standard fee of BsF 6,300 —$630 at the make-believe rate, about 40 cents in real life— and was asked to sit down for a picture. I was then told to wait 40 minutes after which I would receive an e-mail with my license.

An e-mail? Are you crazy? It was even crazier to hear.

Turns out the e-mail did arrive. It had a PDF attachment with an article from the Land Transportation Law, and this story on how this new driver’s license is super secure, easy to get, cheap, cute, magical, you can imagine. The colorful front and back of the license were at the bottom, inside a dotted line. Instructions were large and clear: Print in color on white paper, and laminate.

And that’s it.

It looks like any cédula, only less convincing, and printed front and back. Tropical mierda at its finest.

If I ever lose it again, I’ll just open my e-mail and click “print.” It makes you wonder how this state-of-the-art technology might be used: Need a truckload of ID’s for voting or setting up a fake company? Do not fear, the printer is here!

But those are concerns for another time. Right now? Venezuela: 1, First World: 0.

Categorías: Noticias

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