Noticias

Fighting All Alone

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 12/01/2017 - 10:00
#td_uid_1_5a214abb3fedc .td-doubleSlider-2 .td-item1 { background: url(https://i0.wp.com/www.caracaschronicles.com/wp-poricontent/uploads/2017/11/Cronica-VIH-por-Gabriel-Mendez-3-3.jpg?resize=80%2C60&ssl=1) 0 0 no-repeat; } #td_uid_1_5a214abb3fedc .td-doubleSlider-2 .td-item2 { background: url(https://i1.wp.com/www.caracaschronicles.com/wp-poricontent/uploads/2017/11/Cronica-VIH-por-Gabriel-Mendez-1-3.jpg?resize=80%2C60&ssl=1) 0 0 no-repeat; } #td_uid_1_5a214abb3fedc .td-doubleSlider-2 .td-item3 { background: url(https://i1.wp.com/www.caracaschronicles.com/wp-poricontent/uploads/2017/11/Cronica-VIH-por-Gabriel-Mendez-2-3.jpg?resize=80%2C60&ssl=1) 0 0 no-repeat; } 1 of 3 Hans, 49. In June 2017, he went without his prescribed medication for two months. He took to Chile and only has enough for two or three weeks after this interview. Ana, 57. She went without ARVs for three months and had to be admitted to the Hospital Clínico Universitario and watch five women die from immune deficiencies in eight days. Elías, 56. He had to interrupt his treatment for six months, because it became impossible to find the essential ARVs in the Venezuelan market. Photos: Gabriel Méndez

Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been celebrated every December 1st to raise awareness about the HIV pandemic and mourn the more than 36 million people who have died from it. We’ve come a long way since the dark days of “gay cancer,” but two million people still die every year due to AIDS.

In Venezuela, the death of actor Jorge Luis Morales, in 1992, represented the first time the disease was openly discussed by mainstream media. By 1994, the former Ministerio de Salud y Asistencia Social (MSAS) restricted HIV tests to epidemiological and medical uses only, forbidding its request as a requisite for job applications and it wouldn’t be until July 15th, 1999, that the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), through a famous sentence, declared the MSAS obligation to provide free antiretroviral treatment to all HIV patients. From that date on, the National HIV Program started running, and according to UCV’s Tropical Medicine Institute’s infectologist and national authority on the subject, Dr. Julio Castro, it made a difference until very recently. He saw how HIV infection went from being a death sentence to a chronic, treatable illness like hypertension or diabetes.

“Back in 1995, when the first antiretrovirals (ARVs) arrived to Venezuela, all we could do was see our patients wither away; today, no one should die from HIV.”

But in Venezuela, they do.

These are three stories of what it means to be seropositive in today’s Venezuela:

Hans

“I remember seeing cameras like that in East Berlin,” said Hans when he saw Gabriel’s Fuji, Leica-looking camera. He’s a 49 year-old German citizen who has lived in Venezuela most of his life. Diagnosed with HIV in 1999, when no one could’ve imagined what we would look like two decades later, he started receiving ARVs in 2003 and, until this June, went by without major trouble.

Initially, he received his drugs at the UCV main campus in Caracas and, a few years later, that was changed to Las Adjuntas. In August this year, he was forced to go even further:

“After two months without meds, I took a plane to Chile. I saw a doctor who gave me a mixture I hadn’t seen before. But I responded well to it.”

Hans brought as many pills as he could, but they’ll never be enough. ARVs must be taken daily and, by the time we talked, he had medicine for two more weeks; he’s going back to Chile to resupply.

Machos have sex with many girls, machos don’t wear condoms, machos don’t get sick.” And machos perpetuate the problem.

“It’s not fair that this happens when there’s a program to take care of us.”

For him, dealing with discrimination is bad enough to care about the drugs too: “I speak several languages, so I applied for a job as touristic guide in Canaima. I was shocked when they asked me if I was HIV+. They argued the risk of cutting and infecting others while trekking was high. They said they’d call me back and never did.”

Beyond the recent crisis, he thinks, there’s a cultural problem in Venezuela that makes it particularly hard to fight the sickness: “This is a macho culture. Machos have sex with many girls, machos don’t wear condoms, machos don’t get sick.” And machos perpetuate the problem.

The government is also to blame:

“I can’t believe they have money for bullets, kalashnikovs and the bullshit they do for Cuba, but not for ARVs. They don’t care about us.”

Ana

A 57 year-old owner of a small bodega in Ocumare del Tuy, Ana has been HIV+ since 1995.

“I remember when I was diagnosed. I entered the University Hospital with herpes, and left with a positive HIV test.”

She was hospitalized earlier this year with pneumonia, after spending six months without treatment. “It all started with a flu and, suddenly, pneumonia was killing me.”

In the 9 days she remained in the hospital, Ana had to buy everything, from antibiotics to alcohol and syringes. Those without money to do so, didn’t make it. Five HIV+ women she met while hospitalized, died, two from tuberculosis, a third from candidiasis. Opportunistic, easily preventable diseases with a proper ARV treatment.

The government must open its eyes, people are dying of HIV in Venezuela. If you can’t help, let the NGOs bring in the drugs.

The HIV program is not what it used to, she agrees, and drugs arrive irregularly since 2012. According to Dr. Castro, the problem was, back then, all about bureaucratic details; today it’s entirely different.

“I didn’t experience issues until 2012, when I went 40 days without treatment. I had to get drugs from abroad. But the situation is worse than ever. If you have five thousand patients needing ARVs, they’ll only import for one thousand. If I don’t get them, all I can do is wait to die. The government must open its eyes, people are dying of HIV in Venezuela. If you can’t help, let the NGOs bring in the drugs.”

Elías

“I remember. It was 1997, the year Daniela ran for Miss Venezuela. I had been coughing for a couple days, despise having antibiotics. My doctor ordered an HIV test and it came positive.”

Elías is a 56 years old makeup artist. In 1997, he was in charge of makeup for Miss Venezuela’s iconic swimsuit parade. His personal friend, Daniela Kosán, lost to Verushka Ramírez, and was elected Miss Venezuela International. He lives in Caracas with his pet cats, and has been taking antiretrovirals for the last two decades.

“I went to see my infectologist on a Thursday, a few days after getting my diagnosis. She looked at my CD4 count and told me an HIV infection is considered AIDS only when the CD4 count was under 200 cells. Mine was 184.”

With help from some of the Miss Venezuela models, who put him in touch with the a few key NGOs, Elías got the incredibly expensive treatment for free. The national state-run HIV program, that eventually provided those drugs to enrolled patients, wouldn’t take form until 1999.

“If I could talk to the guys in charge of importing all medicines” he says almost to himself, “I’d tell them I hope their families are never in our position.

Elías got in the program and received his drugs regularly until 6 months ago.

“Sometimes the ARVs would take a couple more days to come. When that happened, I talked to local NGOs and they provided me with pills for five or ten days, until the Ministry drugs arrived. But six months ago, they disappeared. I freaked out and started looking abroad for them, but the dose required for just one month costs from $600 to $3,000. I can’t afford that.”

“About two months ago I gave up and left it in God’s hands. I don’t have contact with my family, so my biggest worry was what would happen to my cats after I died.”

Two weeks ago, though, the medicines reappeared. A religious organization brings some from the United States and, although it’s not the combination he uses, it’s a reliable source for when the state-sponsored treatment fails.

“If I could talk to the guys in charge of importing all medicines” he says almost to himself, “I’d tell them I hope their families are never in our position. They must have dollars to buy all the meds they need, but coño, think about us, you assholes.”

Fighting the good fight

With lack of official data, the total number of infected patients remains a mystery. Dr. Castro thinks it rounds 0,3% to 0,6% of the population, the traditionally accepted prevalence in most Latin American countries. Only 60,000 of those are enrolled in the national HIV program, and most go through the experience Hans, Ana and Elías live.

“This is the worst moment of the HIV epidemic in Venezuela” says Dr. Castro, trying to explain the recent 75% increase in death rates. “It’s like we’re back to the early 90s, we lack the ARVs, the reagents to diagnose patients and the main pillar to fight this disease, prevention campaigns, are nonexistent.”

This December 1st, try to put yourself in the shoes of the Venezuelan seropositive community. Their crisis is very real, and should move us all to act before it gets worse. Things will hardly get better, but remaining silent is as bad as stopping imports of those antiretrovirals.

The post Fighting All Alone appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Migrar como sea: de Caracas a Lima

Prodavinci - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 21:16
Categorías: Noticias

What’s a nice guy like Asdrúbal Oliveros doing in a negotiation like this?

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 19:36
Photo: 2001

My WhatsApp went crazy when news broke that Asdrúbal Oliveros was going to participate in the upcoming “dialogue” between the government and the opposition. Within seconds, people started texting me: what’s he thinking? Is he a Chavista now?

I know Asdrúbal well. He used to be my boss. I respect him immensely. I can’t and won’t try to speak for him: Asdrúbal speaks for himself (often via his twitter, @Aroliveros). But even the fact that people were asking that question says a lot about the credibility of the opposition.

For a few moments, I was perplexed. What on earth is Asdrúbal doing going to that “negociación”? There’s something disreputable about engaging dialogue with the most vile and corrupt government Venezuela has ever had, isn’t there? They’ve never ever negotiated in good faith with anyone before. Why go?

Before his presence was announced, I had little hope that any real progress will come from a new set of talks being held between the “malandro” government and our lame opposition. Neither side commanded the least bit of credibility. Personal political agendas seemed to dominate the meeting. The actual Venezuelan people – the ones who are really suffering – were an afterthought.

But Asdrúbal’s participation made me think twice.

I’ve always seen him as one of Venezuela’s most trustworthy, even-handed economists. He’s a patriot through and through, motivated by what’s best for the country. He understands that for a better future for all of us we all need to make some compromises, and not only in the way we decide as the “pueblo” how to govern the country, but in the way we as Venezuelans decide to live our lives.

Under the control of the dictator, what good could possibly come from providing the regime diplomatic cover like this?

Asdrúbal’s a straight shooter: the kind of guy who will point out the obvious and evident lack of common sense of Capriles’ economic proposals over twitter on the same day that he goes on TV explaining the economic crisis and the responsibility of the government for it. This makes him enemy #1 of a government that can’t stand a straight shooter in the economic war.

The first thing that he told me when I was his intern was: for us working in Consultancy, credibility is everything, it’s our biggest asset, without it we are worth nothing, so you had better be objective, honest, transparent and balanced. They’re words I still live by. Who’d want to be the crazy economist that no one listens to and who is obviously biased?

So I believe Asdrúbal, and for many reasons. But especially for this reason: he’s there, suffering the consequences of this economic disaster and the unravelling of our social fabric. In person. He could easily get a top job abroad with a few phone calls, but he won’t.

But doesn’t he face a conflict of interest? Asdrúbal makes money from providing market analysis and information. Is he just going to the D.R. to get his hands on inside information for his reports, or even for his own private benefit? What’s his game?

And then that same, gnawing doubt: with the country on the verge of hyperinflation, amid economic disaster, under the control of the dictator, what good could possibly come from providing the regime diplomatic cover like this?

He’s there, suffering the consequences of this economic disaster and the unravelling of our social fabric. In person.

The question has raged across my social media all week.

Like any good Venezuelan, and in keeping up with all the emigrant cliches, I’m in a number of WhatsApp groups. One of them, with two dear and honest economist friends, Gorka and Cristina, has been thick with discussion on this new dialogue. While we all want a better country, we differ in the “how,” and the conversation has been harsh and emotional.

For me, the only leverage the opposition has right now is the regime’s belief that MUD controls their access to external financing. In truth, there are far bigger reasons that will prevent Maduro’s government from successfully issuing new debt (and these will be explored further in future articles), but chavismo thinks the opposition has some control over it, and that matters.

Maduro has shown time and time again that he won’t cede any actual political power if he has any kind of choice. And then there’s the fact that they still don’t have complete control over the issue, as OFAC had some beautiful words when they laid out what they “would consider” (https://goo.gl/fNPJrT see 522 ) in granting licences for any trading in new debt or refinancing. I’m not a lawyer, but the ambiguity opens up many different possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that the opposition does not have popular support. After the disaster of the last election, would you go to protest for an opposition that you don’t believe in? Would you support part of a group that incorporates AD in all its macoyero glory?

There are far bigger reasons that will prevent Maduro’s government from successfully issuing new debt … but chavismo thinks the opposition has some control over it.

In the end, though, we all agreed that Asdrúbal’s presence at the meeting will be a good thing, especially if the alternative is just some other opposition lawmaker seeking his or her piece of what’s still not been looted or embezzled away.

But as we go through these permutations, we tend to leave out an essential, and much bigger question: is refinancing the debt really what Venezuela needs?

And if refinancing is the only card the opposition has left, how much of it are they willing to give away for a few rectores on the CNE? Does the opposition even still believe that democracy is the way to get rid of the government?

And most importantly: Do they still think they are just negotiating with other politicians? Or have they finally figured out that they are negotiating with malandros? Are they themselves just a rival gang of malandros?

There are more questions than answers, but I think a good starting point is to simply ask ourselves and politicians a very simple question: is this really what we need?

Do I support the latest dialogue process? No.

Do I think it will change anything? Probably not.

Do I want to believe I’m wrong? Yes, I really do.

Does Asdrúbal’s choice to take part make me think maybe I am? It sort of does, actually.

The post What’s a nice guy like Asdrúbal Oliveros doing in a negotiation like this? appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Mireya Caldera Pietri y el Museo de los Niños (+Video)

Prodavinci - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 14:29
"Venezuela la habla a la educación" es un proyecto de la organización Guao que provee contenidos educativos digitales y recursos pedagógicos para niños y jóvenes, y comenzó a promover la educación a través del testimonio de distintas figuras públicas venezolanas. A continuación presentamos un video, acompañado de una semblanza, sobre Mireya Caldera Pietri.
Categorías: Noticias

Ramírez Isn’t Done

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 12:59

Yesterday, Reuters reported what everyone was already expecting since the circus of the fight against corruption in PDVSA started: Rafael Ramírez, former Oil minister and former chairman of PDVSA, has been removed from his post as Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN. One of the sources told the news agency that the removal took place on Tuesday night. Later, journalist Anatoly Kurmanaev (Wall Street Journal) denied the removal.

But drama unleashed and led to messages straight out of a script from a Mexican soap opera:

– I was one of the four people who was with Chávez when he died!
– But he named me as the President!
– But you bankrupted the nation!
– The right did it!

(End of script)

Technically, Ramírez denounced that finding “cheap dollars” became more profitable than producing, thus summing up the origin of our crisis; while Nicolás promised that he wouldn’t doubt to condemn the corrupt, regardless of their position.

Later on, Ramírez denied his removal and imposed prosecutor general Tarek William Saab said that today he’ll have more details about corruption investigations, adding the oil sphere, Corpolec, the “sabotage cases” and suitcase companies that requested dollars to the Currency Administration Commission (Cadivi) to the list.

About protests

Human Rights Watch and Foro Penal released a joint report about protests in 2017 with documented cases that show that the Venezuelan government systematically abused protesters, adding not only the 120 deaths, but also the 5,400 detainees and, among them, 757 who were prosecuted by military courts. “The generalized vicious abuses against government opposers in Venezuela, including the horrendous cases of torture and the absolute impunity of attackers suggest the government’s responsibility at the highest ranks,” said HRW’s director for the Americas, José MIguel Vivanco.

The report contains testimonies from detainees who were tortured, beaten, who had to endure the use of tear gas in closed areas, who were forced to eat food mixed with feces and even suffered sexual assaults.

Yesterday, the National Assembly’s Interior Policy Committee presented its report on the 47 victims of human rights violations in Aragua state who are still under custody after the protests and who have endured a series of abuses such as the ones reported by HRW.

The human rights of policemen

Interior Minister Néstor Reverol tweeted agreements reached with the chiefs of state and municipal police departments, including that 18 police institutions have been suspended for failing to comply with the standards, but cautioning that officers won’t be left unemployed but instead will take new tests to become members of the PNB, such a prospect!

Additionally, lawmaker Edgar Zambrano, member of the Defense and Security Committee, sent Nicolás the 136th letter demanding the release of the Metropolitan Police officers imprisoned for the incidents of April 11, 2002, who haven’t been granted any legal benefits, despite serving so many years of an unfair sentence and having shown impeccable behaviour during their detention. He also mentioned the case of the Polichacao officers who were issued release warrants fifteen months ago, which SEBIN has ignored.

Reelection, corruption

Vice President Tareck El Aissami said that Nicolás will seek reelection in 2018, with the support of an unprecedented economic crisis, as well as the humanitarian emergency and the general levels of violence. With undisputed audacity, the VP thinks that chavismo will win big in municipal elections where it has no competition, and announced the victory in 2018 as “a counter offensive against golpismo, the economic war, financial persecution.”

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, Eudo Carruyo, son of Eudomario Carruyo – former Finance vice president of PDVSA – was assaulted in his home and the cruel malandros forced him to open his safe, taking $400,000, among other belongings. Old Carruyo was investigated by the Comptroller’s Office in 2006 and in 2011 he was part of a corruption scheme which allegedly bankrupted PDVSA’s Pensions and Precaution Fund. Young Carruyo had an accident while driving his Lamborghini in 2005, where his passenger died; since he didn’t cooperate with the investigations, he’s wanted by U.S. authorities.

Abroad
  • Ecuador president Lenín Moreno convened a popular consultation by decree to suppress the indefinite reelection approved by his predecessor Rafael Correa. The referendum will also propose barring politicians condemned for corruption from running for public office for life and terminate the members of the Citizen Participation Council, an institution created by Correa to name oversight and electoral authorities.
  • After claiming that he was innocent, former Bosnian Croat military leader Slobodan Praljak (72) committed suicide by drinking poison during the hearing of the Criminal Court for Old Yugoslavia. The court confirmed Praljak´s prison sentence, 20 years for crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War. While he was being taken to the hospital, the judge confirmed the sentences of between 10 and 25 years in prison for other five former leaders and politicians responsible for “ethnic cleansing” against Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats in Herzeg-Bosnia.
  • A group of Venezuelans in Bogotá called for a demonstration in support of Venezuela for human rights violations. It’ll take place today, Thursday, November 30, at noon.

Demonstrators will use the hashtag #libertadparavenezuela on social networks.

The risk rating agency Moddy’s cautioned that Venezuela’s foreign debt is among the most difficult to restructure and that it likely surpasses $65.2 billion, becoming the fourth biggest default ever recorded by the agency. Which is why it was so invigorating to read that the BCV chairman met with North Korea’s Ambassador, Ri Sung Gil, to discuss the experience of building socialism despite the U.S. blockade.

The black market dollar closed at Bs. 96,794.46, an increase of nearly Bs. 10,000 since Monday. The euro closed at Bs. 114,217.57, almost Bs. 15,000 more! Todo bello.

The post Ramírez Isn’t Done appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

2008: Misión CADIVI

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 11:44

The moment when chavismo finally made sense to me came while I was gazing around the duty free shops at Maiquetía airport.

I remember it vividly. It was at the tail-end of one of my trips home. We had just celebrated the Copa América 2007, and the government had spent lavishly on stadiums and festivities surrounding the tournament.

The country seemed drunk on petro-dollars, and all people cared about was scoring more. Everyone obsessed over cupos, credit cards and carpetas. Who you knew – in the government, in the military, at the bank, at the car dealership – determined your access to either dollars or the subsidized things you could buy with them. Caracas was one of the most expensive cities in the world. The city was one giant SUV-ed, breast-implanted, eighteen-year-old-Scotch marinated party.

Nobody cared about creating things. Entrepreneurship became a dirty word. The solar system had been replaced with the Cadivi cupo, and the entire country was orbiting around it.

In the midst of this craziness, I remember stopping by the Swarovski store in Maiquetía Airport. I had seen the little figurines at the Panama airport, but the ones here were priced much cheaper when you used the black market dollar exchange rate. Only then did I realize that they were being priced at the official – and artificially low – rate.

Caracas was one giant SUV-ed, breast-implanted, eighteen-year-old-Scotch marinated party.

In other words, some bastard was getting cheap dollars to import Swarovski figurines, surely pocketing the change and then some.

The realization that the government was, in effect, subsidizing our consumption of Swarovski crystal figurines hit me hard. I then realized that everything, everything, hinged on this.

It’s hard to imagine, but Hugo Chávez did not always control the purchase and sale of dollars. During the first three years or so of his administration, the dollar floated around according to – gasp – the laws of supply and demand. Inflation was relatively low, and XXIst Century Socialism was in its teething stages. Venezuela was normal, revolution-arily speaking.

It was only in 2003, in the heat of the government’s political problems, that the exchange controls still in place today came to be. CADIVI was born.

CADIVI stood for Comisión de Administración de Divisas, and it was the government office through which dollars were sold at below-market rates to specific sectors. If you wanted to import medicine, you got dollars! If you wanted to import food, you also got dollars! If you sold airline tickets in local currency and wanted to repatriate your earnings, here are your dollars! If you wanted to travel overseas, you also got dollars – but up to a limit.

It was money for nothing and trips for free.

Of course, a black market sprouted, one in which the actual price was higher than the official one. Not everyone could get all the dollars they wanted. Buying cheap and selling at market price was the name of the game..

Some bastard was getting cheap dollars to import Swarovski figurines, surely pocketing the change and then some.

And while the economics of CADIVI were ghastly, its politics were sheer chavista genius.

Chavismo can be faulted for many things, but ignorance about Venezuela is certainly not one of them. Everything, from naming the country after Simón Bolívar to the movement’s unyielding militaristic tendencies, is rooted in a profound knowledge of the nation’s symbols and its essence.

Venezuelan society is, in essence, a rentist society. That is why CADIVI made sense. It forced the middle classes and the business elite to focus on something other than overthrowing the government. It zeroed them in on what they do best: scoring oil rents.

Misión CADIVI, as I christened it, became just like any other Misión, the generic name given to government social programs. Like the others, Misión CADIVI was an attempt at political control barely disguised as social policy. People stopped being political opponents and basically became your clients. In picking and choosing who had access to dollars, the government had absolute power to reward and punish whomever it chose. Divide and conquer is the natural offshoot of this perverse strategy.

The place where Misión CADIVI yielded the highest returns was, of course, the military. Who wanted to kick the government out when there were so many petro-dollar bowls to dip your spoon in? It’s no wonder that, in a deliciously frank moment, Aristóbulo Istúriz once said that exchange controls were a “political” measure, and that if they were ever eliminated, the government would be overthrown. He was exactly right.

Cadivi forced the middle classes and the business elite to focus on something other than overthrowing the government.

Of course, CADIVI is gone now, but in its place we have its more dilapidated, Tropical Mierda cousin, the CLAP box. Its purpose – political control – is the same. It’s no more a coherent social policy than CADIVI was. Subsidies are just the way chavismo hands out whatever oil rents it has to potential political opponents. They neutralize society.

As I write this, my mind wanders to 2008, when Misión CADIVI ruled. At the time, the term didn’t catch on. On this blog, I railed against what CADIVI was doing to us as a society, but people wouldn’t listen. In fact, the opposition ran on a platform to preserve the misiones that were, essentially, deeply enslaving. Opposition candidates did not dare say they would do away with CADIVI. They lionized the very tool that was killing us.

That year I went to the wedding of a dear friend, only to be shocked at the luxury surrounding the event. I listened to stories of the Caracas’ elite partying – the furniture brought in from France, the ice sculptures shipped from New York, the non-stop sushi bars. The middle class, obsessed with flying overseas to raspar el cupo, was also part of this. 35,156 billion dollars were allocated to subsidized credit card and travel expenses over the course of 14 years. The hangover from this binge is now evident in the face of kids eating from the garbage.

Venezuela was too busy being subsidized to think about the consequences. In exchange, all the government asked was that you tacitly agree to be enslaved.

It worked magnificently.

The post 2008: Misión CADIVI appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Obama, Chávez and the politics of change

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 11:00


Here are some random musings on the fascinating, rapidly changing U.S. election.

1) The two best pieces on the election I have read recently are by Christopher Hitchens on Slate and Gloria Steinem in the New York Times. Hitchens is crazy and Steinem is an over-the-hill radical, but they are both making a lot of sense to me. Have I, too, gone bonkers?

2) I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Obama will win New Hampshire, the nomination and the White House. He has tapped the current of change when the U.S. was ready it. Chavez, on the other hand, wanted to push radical changes through the country when the country felt things were going fine. The lesson is: don’t push change too much when people don’t want it, and push it relentlessly when people do. Tailoring your message to the mood of the electorate works.

3) What lessons does this hold for the upcoming regional elections in Venezuela? People want governance, they want solutions to their problems and they want somebody who is willing to work to make it happen. They want the inefficient chavista bureaucrats out, but they don’t want Chávez himself to go. Candidates for governor and mayors should pledge to work *with* the government *for* the people, focusing on the specific needs of the people in their jurisdiction. Anything more radical than that would be seen as too dangerous, and pave the way for chavistas to hold on to their seats.

4) Opposition candidates lacking the backing of other opposition parties will be seen as divisive. They will not be able to make the case that they can work with the government if they can’t show they can work with their natural allies. This is why some sort of unity agreement is needed.

5) Obama has said that he would be willing to meet with Chavez face-to-face, along with a list of other rogue ne’er-do-wells such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad. On another occassion, Obama called Chavez an “oil tyrant”. Obama has supported the Cuban embargo but pledged to make it more flexible. However, his website does not mention Venezuela or Latin America, and on the rare times when he has talked about Latin America, his comments have been strikingly vague.

6) It’s nice to see a candidate understand the power of words, charisma and symbols. It’s troubling to see who this election’s real kingmaker is.

The post Obama, Chávez and the politics of change appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Three Diseases, One Truth

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/30/2017 - 10:00

We’ve been talking for some time about how serious the Venezuelan health crisis is, but accurate data is hard to find. That’s why every report offering quantification on how bad things are deserves a full read.

Case in point: Here’s a joint investigation by the Canadian-based International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO) and Venezuelan NGO Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA (ACCSI). After interviewing over thirty people, including patients, doctors, activists and UN personnel, the project concluded three diseases (Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV) are becoming critical threats to national and regional public health.

Malaria is growing at a rate never seen before, tuberculosis has found new breeding ground in overcrowded prisons and neglected indigenous populations, and HIV patients are dying 75% more than in 2011, as drugs meant to stop the virus have arrived irregularly for several years.

Three diseases (Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV) are becoming critical threats to national and regional public health.

The report also points out how unprepared the world is for a humanitarian crisis regardless  of the country where they happen, and the Venezuelan government’s negative to acknowledge the situation – with a shot taken at the Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS and Tuberculosis, for denying humanitarian aid to HIV+ patients.

A broken country

As imports decrease and inflation erodes Venezuelans, access to food has gotten difficult: a single 30 eggs package can take away up to 80% of a family’s monthly income. Malnutrition came back in early 2017, reaching 15,8% of kids under five by July. The already damaged hospital network is also affected, with 76% of surveyed hospitals facing extreme shortages and lack of medicine affecting almost 70% of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medicines. The situation is so bad that in some institutions, like Uyapar Hospital in Puerto Ordaz, personnel is being instructed to reuse disposable syringes and endotracheal tubes. There’s a picture of the memo in the report.

Malaria

We’ve reported on malaria several times, but now it’s revealed that cases in 2016 increased 76% compared to 2015 (240,613 cases nation-wide).

The boost is so dire that it jeopardizes countries like Brazil or Colombia. 78% of cases in Brazil and over 80% of those in Colombia and Guyana came from Venezuela.

The report suggests that the lack of antimalarial drugs is forcing patients to get sub-therapeutic doses of those meds, increasing resistance against them. The situation might be harder for isolated indigenous villages: in May 2017, 25 Joti communities (an indigenous group from the selvatic Bolívar and Amazonas states) released a statement urging the Health Ministry for help, denouncing over 3,700 cases of malaria in a 900 people town (meaning, the same person gets infected multiple times through the year). Patients had been forced to split their limited drug supply to distribute it among all affected.

“In the second quarter of 2017, four indigenous Joti walked out (of their community in Caño Iguana) with a malarial child to seek help. After a 12-day march, they arrived in Puerto Ayacucho. The child died before receiving any medicine,” an anonymous Venezuelan doctor says in the report.

HIV/AIDS

The real number of HIV patients currently living in Venezuela is hard to tell. Official estimates indicate around 100,000 patients, but unofficial data varies from 200,000  to 1,200,000. In 2011 approximately 1,900 people died of AIDS-related infection and 3,300 did in 2015 (a 75% increase in 4 years). The report notes that data on HIV-testing or use of condoms is not available, making real numbers impossible to determine.

Almost 10% of the 25,000 Warao might be infected, and most of those infections could have occurred in less than a year.

An inefficient access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) is to blame for those deaths. Until a few years ago, the National Venezuelan HIV program guaranteed up to 12 different free ARV combinations to about 75,000 enrolled patients across the country. Since January 2016, recurrent scarcity of these drugs has been reported and, by September 8th, at least 11 drugs were reportedly stocked out nation-wide, leaving thousands of patients with different treatments than the ones they used to receive or without any at all.

Due to the pervasive scarcity of baby formula, infected mothers have no choice but to breastfeed their kids, risking transmission of the virus. This is a problem we’ve addressed before, and that threatens to increase the already alarming, and probably underestimated, number of over 1,200 children currently living with the disease.

Indigenous communities are hit particularly hard. A 2013 study suggests that almost 10% of the 25,000 Warao (an indigenous people living mostly in Delta Amacuro state) might be infected, and most of those infections could have occurred in less than a year. The number of Waraos infected is doubling every nine months, said Flor Pujol, from the Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigations (IVIC).

“I fear that if all of us, but in particular the Government, don’t do something urgently – and sustainable – the Warao ethnic group will disappear,” said Dr. Martín Carballo, an infectologist following this case closely.

We are talking about the second biggest indigenous group in Venezuela, facing extinction due to HIV.

Tuberculosis

Data about tuberculosis is controlled directly by the military, whose unwillingness to publish it made it hard for the authors of this report to reach accuracy. However, during a meeting with WHO officials, Venezuelan authorities confirmed that tuberculosis cases have multiplied. Five states (Distrito Capital, Delta Amacuro, Portuguesa, Amazonas and Cojedes) account for 52,% of all cases. Indigenous groups are, again, the most affected by the disease, followed by diabetics and prisoners. The situation in prisons is particularly dire. Just in the Preemptive Arrest Center of Lake Maracaibo’s East Shore, in Cabimas, Zulia, eleven inmates have died of tuberculosis this year. According to the report, failures in diagnosis and overseeing of patients are pervasive, with most required tests completely unavailable outside Caracas.

The international role

The Global Fund is sort of an international war chest to fight Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV. To get financing, countries must meet eligibility criteria one, which is the income classification (the other is disease burden). In 2016 and 2017, Venezuela’s income met eligibility criteria but it’s disease burden didn’t.

Ever since 2016, Venezuelan AIDS activists have been consistently asking for international help. They wrote a letter to the Global Fund, asking that exceptions be made; after 7 months, the answer was negative.

“We need to denounce the [Venezuelan] government for their inaction, and many of the international community for their hypocrisy. Governments that had and have the possibility to help because they have the resources (or the influence) haven’t done it” said an activist who wished to remain anonymous.

Venezuela could be eligible if it meets the burden disease criteria, yet lack of epidemiological data makes this hard. The Fund doesn’t consider indigenous people to be a key population, so the horrid numbers among the Warao we discussed don’t meet the criteria.

The World Bank offered help, and PAHO and UNICEF have provided some help from their own funds, but larger actions are needed immediately. The Global Fund should simplify eligibility criteria, since the Venezuelan state won’t guarantee the right to health.

The report calls Venezuela  “a case study” with the crisis being “the result of long process of  political unrest and bad economic decisions.”  

And this is without including diphtheria and measles, two growing headaches that could turn our triple threat into a quintuple.

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Categorías: Noticias

The Revolution’s Continuity

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 22:53
Photo: Noticias de Nueva Esparta

PSUV started as a political party with serious internal tensions because its authorities, which haven’t really changed much over time, were handpicked. Chávez did all he could to shatter decentralization and took over the management of the country’s roads, ports and airports, scrapping inter-state checkpoints because there were enough resources to guarantee the roads’ maintenance. Chávez created a new strategy to protect his popularity: revoking his cabinet’s measures when people’s dissatisfaction surpassed the benefits of propaganda. Some notable examples were the imposition of the Bolivarian Curriculum in the education system, the removal of admission tests for universities and the enactment of the Law of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, known as “Ley Sapo.” Power outages became more frequent; the first Venezuelan satellite, named Simón Bolívar, was launched to outer space from China; Dayana Mendoza won the Miss Universe and the National Anti-Drugs Office reported the confiscation of 54 tons of drugs throughout the year.

That (not so) strong bolívar

The monetary reconversion materialized on January 1st, 2008. Back then, a Bs. 2 banknote got you a full gas tank; with Bs. 5 you could buy any chocolate; with Bs. 10, you paid for 30 eggs and with Bs. 20, you got a ticket to the movies. The Bs. 50 bill was enough to buy a basic phone and with Bs. 100, you could get new trousers. The BCV’s stats revealed that, after six months of circulation, the bolívar fuerte had lost an average of 15% of its purchasing power.

Photo: World Coin Gallery

Additionally, scarcity was obvious and the country’s production was dwindling. The famous “war on large estates” only increased agricultural production by 3.4%, but the Administration chose to create Petróleos de Venezuela Alimentos (PDVAL) and establish agricultural battalions in the Armed Forces to reduce import rates.

All for me

Nationalizations started with the official takeover of 32 oil fields in the Orinoco Oil Strip; a chain of supermarkets and the company Lácteos Los Andes to guarantee “food sovereignty.” Shortly afterwards, Chávez ordered the nationalization of Sidor, which belonged to the Ternium Techint group at the time; he later came to an agreement to purchase the French and Swiss cement companies Lafarge and Holcim (for $552 million and $267 million, respectively) and expropriated Mexican affiliate Cemex. In August, a law was approved to nationalize domestic fuel transport and in November, it was also used to nationalize the gold mine Las Cristinas, exploited since 2002 by Canadian company Crystallex. El Frío estate in Apure was expropriated, although they were carrying out conservation projects for endangered animal species. Sugar cane fields in Lara and dozens of other private properties were also expropriated.

Cuba’s price

A new contingent of over 1,000 Cuban doctors arrived to reinforce the Barrio Adentro program, after Chávez admitted that there was a healthcare emergency, with outbreaks of dengue, malaria and mumps, which minister Jesús Mantilla blamed on “the incapacity of previous governments,” although chavismo had been in power for 10 years by then. With figures from Cepal and Cuba, it was revealed that Venezuela paid $5.6 billion for doctors, nurses and other professionals, but the amount rose to $9.4 billion when taking into account the $2 billion in oil subsidies and over $1.37 billion of financing for projects in Cuba.

From power

Cilia Flores is again named as the National Assembly Speaker, Luisa Ortega Díaz is appointed prosecutor general; Gabriela Ramírez is the new Ombudswoman; Ramón Rodríguez Chacín and Rafael Isea become Interior and Finance ministers respectively. General Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russián imposes administrative sanctions on more than 400 citizens, barring them from running for office. The Metropolitan Police (PM) was put under the Interior Ministry’s management, while Defense minister Gustavo Rangel Briceño urged institutionalist soldiers to leave the Armed Forces because “soldiers are politicians.” His predecessor Raúl Isaías Baduel criticizes Chávez for his egotistic, totalitarian and dictatorial style and that’s how his trial for allegedly embezzling resources during his tender started. The last day of the Enabling Law, Chávez launches “El paquetazo”, 26 laws he claimed were studied and discussed before their approval “for Venezuela’s liberation and development,” but nobody knew their content because they were never consulted.

Regional elections

Chávez used his influence and his funds for the electoral campaign, violating every law, with the absolute support of the AN and the CNE. He urged his candidates to win because he couldn’t give money to an opposition that would steal it or use it for its conspiracies. He restated that he wouldn’t leave power until 2021 and then governor Tarek William Saab said that Chávez had to remain in power for a quarter century to guarantee the Revolution’s continuity. The opposition won in Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, Táchira, Nueva Esparta and the Metropolitan Mayorship. Chavismo won 17 governorships and 263 mayorships, losing Sucre municipality in Miranda state.

Abroad

Colombian soldiers entered Ecuador while chasing insurgents. The operation ended with the death of FARC’s second in command, Raúl Reyes. The process between Uribe Vélez and Chávez was lengthy, including a threat of war, the sending of Venezuelan soldiers to Ecuador, the expulsion of the entire Colombian diplomatic body in Venezuela and the shutdown of our embassy there. Later, the evidence found in Raúl Reyes’ computer linking Chávez with FARC reignited the conflict. The U.S. top anti-drug authority criticized Chávez, deeming him too permissive with drug trafficking and incapable of fighting against it. Human Rights Watch Director José Miguel Vivanco was expelled from the country for the report: “A decade of Chávez. Political intolerance and lost opportunities for the progress of human rights in Venezuela.” Chávez forgave Honduras’ $30 million debt with Venezuela.

Indicators

Despite the serious economic crisis in the world, oil revenues allowed international reserves to increase to $43,1 billion. The GDP grew by 4.8%, and so did food imports and inflation, which reached 30.9%, the highest in the region for a third year in a row and the fifth highest worldwide. The minimum wage rose by 30%, but this was merely and adjustment, considering inflation. The budget for social programs increased to Bs. 5.56 billion, while the allowance for online purchases dropped from $3,000 to $400. Only between January and July, the AN approved Bs.F 31 billion in extraordinary operations and PDVSA’s payroll increased by 21% compared to 2007. The national automotive industry closed with a sharp drop in production, sales and exports. The black market dollar, which opened the year at Bs.F 5.35, closed at Bs.F 5.97.

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Categorías: Noticias

La bella Sacramento Requena no era bella

Prodavinci - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 14:00
Categorías: Noticias

2007: A Generation of Painted Hands

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 13:00

It was 5:30 a.m., and we were already standing outside the university. The previous night had been tough; watching famous faces on TV painfully singing the national anthem. That indelible instant, the screen going dark, what we’d seen vanishing with a bitter taste, a phrase that we whispered to each other in shock; “Yes, he dared.”

The TVes logo and the image of Dudamel with the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra. There were no screams, only absolute, pregnant silence. Yes, he dared to do it. That day, those of us who believe in democracy knew in our hearts that we weren’t facing a mere institutional crisis, as some used to say. No, we were up against soldiers who wanted, and still want, to take the fight to the pillar of every democracy: its citizenry.

We resorted to something much simpler, cheaper and eventually symbolic: we painted our hands white.

Back to that Monday. Early in the morning we blocked the university’s entrance in protest, just like we’d done the previous Friday before RCTV’s shutdown. We never thought that so many students would join us. In fact, despite the traffic jam at the gate, people were getting out of their cars, off of buses and subway and, as a single outraged voice, we became thousands at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello’s entrance. The same scene was happening at other universities throughout Caracas: UCV, UNIMET, the Santa María and the Monte Ávila. There was no Twitter or WhatsApp back then, we relied on phone calls.

We agreed to meet at Plaza Brión because it was easily accessible. Students would gather at their universities and then move to Chacaíto. As we arrived, the security forces did too, on their motorcycles, brandishing their weapons, their equipment, their arrogance. While we discussed our options, some students took the bait, they were covering their faces and screaming at the thugs, taunting them.

Concerned, Rodrigo, Geraldine, Elisa and Jesús immediately started spreading the message that our method is non-violence. We didn’t have a sound truck, or a loudspeaker, or anything. We resorted to something much simpler, cheaper and eventually symbolic: we painted our hands white. We didn’t plan it, it was just a creative response to the need not only to communicate, but also to lead our fellow students through what has been our only means of battle up until now: peaceful resistance.

That day, those of us who believe in democracy knew in our hearts that we weren’t facing a mere institutional crisis, as some used to say.

It was the first day of weeks of protests, both for the right to express ourselves and for something greater: our civil rights. The assault against freedom of expression hurt journalists and the media, yes, but it also hurts us as citizens: our right to choose, our right to be informed. Then the regime took a further step in this authoritarianism, announcing the constitutional reform and outlining the communal presidential State. They sought to impose a model that replaced private property with social property, speaking of enshrining socialism in the Constitution as a political and economic model, an appetizer to the main course: the destruction of alternate rule by establishing indefinite reelection.

Chávez, a greedy leader thought he couldn’t lose and faced down thousands of young students who did their very best to make Venezuelans grasp the liberties we stood to lose, in a constant dialogue where we demonstrated our democratic nature; we met despite geographic, economic and ideological differences, we took the metro and rode buses, we organized community workshops, forums, we used vehicle-mounted loudspeakers, we took over squares, in defense of institutions.

And just when we were getting ready to take to the street, the CNE announced the results. Without expecting it or preparing for it, we had won.

To that end, despite all odds, that Sunday in December there were students in every voting center as witnesses, getting out the vote, and voting themselves. It was a tense day; despite the State apparatus seeking to frame a victory, students remained posted at polling stations, hours spent between monitoring and motivating the voters to attend massively. I remember by nightfall, we were pressured by chavismo to prepare for a defeat but without solid data, we were certain of our coming triumph. Government people called us and pressured us to acknowledge their victory, making us think that they wouldn’t recognize ours – so we had to fight for it. And just when we were getting ready to take to the street, the CNE announced the results. Without expecting it or preparing for it, we had won.

That year marked our way. Some of us gave up a professional career and took up public service. New parties were created and old parties faced an influx of students. Alternative media outlets sprung up with new voices and non-government organizations were created by youth and for youth. Entrepreneurs among us launched start-ups. A generation that keeps pursuing social organization to strengthen our convictions even now, although some of us already have children and 10 years of struggle behind us. With the passion, then and now, to build the basis of a free, inclusive and prosperous society, even though many of us are persecuted, imprisoned or exiled. We had to go through that so that our children may have a future. We fought, and continue to fight, but our ultimate goal still eludes us.

We have to remove chavismo from power.

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Categorías: Noticias

A Synonym, not an Antithesis

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 12:21

With an extraordinary military deployment, buses and food in plastic containers (in the best tradition of chavista marches of old), Nicolás held an assembly with employees yesterday in PDVSA La Campiña headquarters, taking the chance to say that chavismo “is the antithesis of the authoritarian State,” that they’re the guarantee of rights and democracy.

He later admitted his outrage for corruption cases (which have been denounced in the oil industry for years) and said that, starting today, vice president Tareck El Aissami will reveal evidence incriminating executive staff in illegal activities.

Nicolás emphasized that the economic crisis is caused by the oil dependency imposed by the Fourth Republic and that chavismo didn’t correct this in 18 years. He spoke of oil as “the vital core of [the country’s] economic and socio-political life” and even said that Cipriano Castro had been a “historic victim of the Empire’s great interests on the Venezuelan oil.” Ambassador Alí Rodríguez Araque will be honorary chairman of PDVSA.

Lastly, Nicolás asked employees to bump output to a million daily barrels.

Let’s talk economy

Torino Capital’s imports index for September reported the worst inter-annual contraction on foreign purchases: imports dropped by 45.4%, compared to last year, and 24.5% compared to August. Due to this downturn and the low expectations of recovery, the agency estimated a consolidated drop of 31.9% in 2017.

Humberto García Larralde, head of the National Academy of Economic Sciences, said that Venezuelan per capita income contracted to an unseen level since 1954: just in the last four years, Venezuelans’ income contracted by 27%. The odds for economic recovery, he stated, are low, and 2018 will be far worse, as international reserves are at their lowest level in 21 years, and the foreign debt increased fivefold while the government keeps imposing new price controls.

Additionally, the black market dollar surpassed the lowest official exchange rate (Bs. 10) by 8,000 times yesterday, and the rate used for the auctions system (Bs. 3,345) by 25 times.

In the National Assembly

After intense ruckus, with some lawmakers shouting their refusal to negotiate with the Administration, lawmaker Mariela Magallanes, who said on Monday that she wouldn’t travel, but still presented the agreement before Parliament, requested a nominal vote to approve the agreement regarding the negotiation in the Dominican Republic. The majority of lawmakers expressed their support for “the negotiation process to recover the guarantee of a prosperous Venezuela,” Magallanes read.

They also discussed the food crisis and proposals to solve it.

They unanimously approved a report that contains the bill of the budget for the Legislative Branch’s 2018 tax year.

Against

Lawmaker Richard Blanco said that “this dialogue is absurd (…) there’s nothing to talk about with this regime if there are no clear, true demonstrations of good will and compliance with people’s will which demands an immediate political change, the dismantling of the ANC, the release of political prisoners, an end to repression and profound corrections,” he said. He disdained the nominal vote as a legislative scheme, claiming that there was no quorum when the vote took place.

Lawmaker Biaggio Pilieri added that they’re not satanizing the negotiation, but that its effectiveness depends on requirements such as the parties’ credibility, social endorsement and the capacity to demand results.

Mediators

Paraguay’s Foreign Ministry reported that minister Eladio Loizaga won’t attend negotiations in the Dominican Republic due to internal elections in the Paraguayan parties that will run in presidential elections in 2018.

#28Nov Canciller de Paraguay no estará presente en encuentro del 1 y 2 de diciembre en Dominicana entre Gobierno de Venezuela y oposición. Se excusa por proceso comicial en su país (hay elecciones internas el 17D) pic.twitter.com/a3tYmsu1re

— Vanessa García (@vgarcia_gv) November 28, 2017

The Venezuelan government had a hard time finding its third mediator and yesterday, it finally made it: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will be the sixth country to act as a mediator in the negotiation.

Ledezma and Almagro

Antonio Ledezma requested help from the international community, stating that Venezuela is being held captive: “I come to raise my voice for the 30 million citizens held hostage of a regime that has violated their freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, OAS chief Luis Almagro said: “Some sectors within MUD may represent Venezuelan opposition, we know that there are sectors of MUD that don’t represent Venezuelan opposition, that are not a direct part of the Venezuelan opposition,” also regretting the schedule proposed for the negotiation in the Dominican Republic, because it wasn’t sufficiently inclusive. “The opposition will have to separate the wheat from the chaff and discuss the political, social and economic elements that truly create a challenge for the government and could lead to [Venezuela’s] democratization,” he emphasized.

Abroad
  • Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said that he’s offered the Venezuelan government humanitarian support in food and medicine for a long time and they have refused: “President Maduro, allow the international community to help the Venezuelan people in this moment of severe crisis, a crisis caused by the regime and not by Colombia or foreign elements, as has been implied so many times.” Santos said that Colombians will always lend a hand to Venezuelans.
  • Salvador Nasralla said yesterday (in an interview with TeleSUR!) that he’ll seek to recover institutionality in Honduras: “This is a dictatorship, a totalitarian government where the President controls the Supreme Court, Congress, the Electoral Tribunal, the Prosecutor’s Office (…) and that’s why we want to take power, to recover institutionality.”
  • Mocking the will of Bolivians who overwhelmingly voted “No,” Bolivia’s Constitutional Court authorized Evo Morales to run for presidential re-election.

Desorden Público and C4 Trío were nominated to the Grammy awards for their record “Pa’ Fuera” and Los Amigos Invisibles with “El Paradise”! Sadly, they’re both in the same category. We’ll have to wait until January 28, 2018.

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Categorías: Noticias

No signal, no victory

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 12:00
Photo: Guillermo Esteves, retreived

The year kicks off with the registration process for the future United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) with Cilia Flores heading the National Assembly (AN) and Rodrigo Cabezas is our finance minister. The nation’s budget is $53,5 billion. Thanks to the Enabling Law, which gave Chávez 18 months to legislate on the transformation of State institutions and the exercise of public administration at any level, he approved 59 regulations and announced the start of five engines (a paso de vencedores), as well as the Misión Villanueva and the train to Guarenas, neither was finished or operational despite the millions of dollars poured into them.

Birds of a feather

Jorge Rodríguez becomes vice president and general Rafael Orozco replaces Erika Farías as food minister, to solve Mercal’s frequent supply issues. The AN believed it would solve them with the Law on Speculation and Hoarding, with the Administration determined to expropriate “whatever was necessary” and with Communal Councils turned into informant networks: the blame had to fall on private businessmen. Although Agriculture and Lands Minister Elías Jaua justified shortages arguing a destabilizing campaign – ignoring price controls and the takeover of food-producing companies –, later he’d admit the situation was critical, explaining that it was caused by massive trafficking. The pharmaceutical industry also experienced shortages, there was no medication for diabetes or hypertension, antibiotics and others.

Power struggle

Luisa Estella Morales heads the TSJ and dismisses the accusations of nepotism against her for hiring one of her daughters as Legal Consultant, the other as a secretary and her son-in-law as a bodyguard. Cilia Flores would break all records in this regard in the AN, although the visible conflicts between the AN and the TSJ throughout the year weren’t caused by this, but rather by the Constitutional Chamber’s alleged “usurpation of functions.” Judge Maikel Moreno, accused by former justice Luis Velázquez Alvaray as a member of Los Enanos criminal gang, was removed from his post for releasing the men accused for the murder of lawyer Consuelo Ramírez Brandt, violating an injunction that was waiting for the TSJ’s ruling. General Müller Rojas notably distanced himself from chavismo because the Armed Forces were being politicized. Without consulting anyone, Chávez created the Law of the National Police. The Labour Ministry announced the creation of Workers’ Councils, strongly criticized by the International Labour Organization.

Nationalizations

The government bought electrical company Seneca and 82.14% of Electricidad de Caracas, formerly controlled by American capital. The impact on dollar exchange rate was noticeable, both the Caracas Stock Exchange and the companies’ shares plummeted. Country-risk went from 198 points to 240 in a few days. Then, PDVSA took over the Orinoco Oil Strip’s fields, after agreeing to create joint ventures with the State as the main shareholder, but promoting the development of oil socialism. Shortly afterward, CANTV, the main phone service provider in the country, was nationalized and the State increased its shares in Electricidad de Caracas to 92.98%. Exxon Mobil and Conoco Philips rejected a proposal to create a joint venture with PDVSA as main shareholder in the Orinoco Oil Strip, and initiated legal proceedings against the government.

Estamos contentos contigo, con todo

After 53 years on the air, Chávez revoked the broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). In his words, he couldn’t tolerate media outlets “in the service of golpismo, against the people, against the nation, against national independence and against the Republic’s dignity.”

On May 28th, when we switched to channel 2, we were greeted by Televisora Venezolana Social (TVes). The protests caused by this decision were massive, opening the scene for a new generation of the student movement that would eventually become a part of the opposition’s political map. TSJ rejected every protective measure filed in favor of RCTV.

Reactions to the RCTV shutdown

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed a lawsuit before the Inter American Court of Human Rights against the Venezuelan government, because they verified the human rights violation against RCTV’s employees and journalists. Chávez removed Venezuela from the IACHR’s jurisdiction, which would be effective in 2013, while the Court’s ruling would come in 2015. The Eurochamber issued a resolution reminding Chávez of his obligation to respect and enforce respect for freedom of expression, opinion and press; the American Convention on Human Rights, the parliaments of Peru, Chile and Uruguay, and Mercosur also condemned the decision. RCTV didn’t recover its broadcast signal and much less the equipment confiscated with a TSJ precautionary measure.

A well-oiled plane

UNASUR was formally created and Chávez threatened Mercosur because Venezuela wasn’t still a full member. He travelled to Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador and Iran anyway; he went to Russia to arrange the purchase of more weapons, including five submarines, and he went to Nicaragua to drop $5.4 millions on socialist companies there, as well as donating tractor trucks and promising a refinery. In Belarus, he praised Lukashenko as a formidable leader. The briefcase that Antonini Wilson tried to smuggle into Argentina with nearly $800,000 in cash, allegedly for Kirchner’s campaign, was a major scandal.

Constitutional referendum

The National Assembly approves Chávez’s proposed reform on the ‘99 Constitution a year later, adding 33 articles written by the leader, to establish “a socialist State.” Luis Miquilena, Chávez’s Obi Wan Kenobi, harshly criticized the proposal, putting an end to his coaching. Chávez was defeated and accepted it, but claimed that the proposed reform was “still alive.“ There were rumors about military incarceration to accept the results and Chávez denied them, calling the opposition’s triumph a “shitty victory.”

Changing time

On December 9th, all Venezuelans had to set our clocks back by half an hour, to please another of Chávez’s whims: a new time zone, going from GMT -4:00 to GMT -4:30. Chávez justified this with health improvements, because we’d be waking up with natural light and all that. But CICPC director Marcos Chávez surpassed even that show of cynicism, by declaring that crime rates had dropped and blaming the media for spreading fear and tension while concealing the true figures.

Indicators

The international sphere favored the increase in oil prices, propping the government’s spending. The GDP grew by 8.4%, but so did public spending and imports, which represented 60% of the increase in the global offer and boosted inflation rates to 22.5%, the highest in Latin America in 2007. The minimum wage rose to Bs. 614,790 ($286 back then) and purchasing power was at 68%. The tax on financial transactions (ITF) was established. In moves just as alarming as expropriations, Chávez removed Venezuela from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Ah! Throughout the year, the National Assembly approved 134 additional credits for the Executive Branch.

The post No signal, no victory appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Chávez is now an embarrassment…to Sean Penn!

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 11:00

Pity Sean Penn*. After years working to position himself as an avant-garde progressive willing to push the envelope by hitching his brand to Chávez’s, his pet revolutionary starts unravelling all that work by standing by the mass-murdering Libyan regime.

As Chávez starts spinning wild tales of gringo conspiracies to grab Libyan oil fields that aren’t even compatible with the wild conspiracy theories Gaddafi himself is spinning, I just have a mental image of Penn watching the news back home and just letting his face sink into his hands: ¡que torta!

He’s now in Caracas, apparently trying to do a bit of damage control.

Sean, buddy, it’s too late. The whole world’s borne witness to the twisted spectacle of one mentally disturbed pseudo-leftie dictator standing by another. Not even Chávez’s own bought-and-paid-for journalists can stomach it.

In refusing to call out Gaddafi for plain old undisguised mass murder, Chávez crosses a new rubicon. It’s not that he’s putting himself beyond the pale of mainstream international opinion: he did that long ago, when he started shutting down dissident media outlets like RCTV. So we’re way past that.

Now, though, he’s making himself radioactive even to the 1% farthest left fringe of international public opinion: Chávez is now beyond the pale of people who initially put themselves beyond the pale by supporting him!

*Not really.

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Categorías: Noticias

It’s not What You Know, it’s What You’ve Documented

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/29/2017 - 10:00
Photo: Aljazeera America

There’s what you think you know. And then there’s what you can prove.

It’s a distinction not everyone fully appreciates, and one that’s certainly come under assault in the era of Fake News, Twitter-bot armies and neolengua. But to a few, hardy, old-fashioned souls, documenting what people vaguely sense happened is still a pastime worth pursuing.

The 85-page report, “Crackdown on Dissent: Brutality, Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela,” documents 88 cases involving at least 314 people, many of whom described being subjected to serious human rights violations in Caracas and 13 states between April and September 2017. Security force personnel beat detainees severely and tortured them with electric shocks, asphyxiation, sexual assault, and other brutal techniques. Security forces also used disproportionate force and carried out violent abuses against people in the streets, and arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government opponents. While it was not the first crackdown on dissent under Maduro, the scope and severity of the repression in 2017 reached levels unseen in Venezuela in recent memory.

“The widespread vicious abuses against government opponents in Venezuela, including egregious cases of torture, and the absolute impunity for the attackers suggests government responsibility at the highest levels,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “These are not isolated abuses or occasional excesses by rogue officers but rather a systematic practice by Venezuelan security forces.”

“It’s no longer only about political leaders, it’s no longer about public figures, it’s just regular citizens – it was me,” said Ernesto Martin (pseudonym), 34, who was detained in his home for publicly criticizing the government, and tortured to confess to alleged links to the political opposition.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights violations, Human Rights Watch and the Penal Forum found no evidence that key high-level officials – including those who knew or should have known about the abuses – have taken any steps to prevent and punish violations. On the contrary, they have often downplayed the abuses or issued implausible, blanket denials.

This matters. It matters legally, as we seek to leave a documentary trace today so yesterday’s abuses can be punished tomorrow. It matters diplomatically, as we present third party governments with evidence that what we say – we say not just because we don’t like the government, but because there’s tangible, documented evidence of systematic abuse. It matters historically, as we fight to make sure what’s happened to Venezuela doesn’t just fall down the same old memory hole it always did. And it matters in human terms, as we honor the standards of rational evidence, level-headed investigation and respect for the capital-t Truth our civilization is founded on.

Make no mistake about it: this matters.

The post It’s not What You Know, it’s What You’ve Documented appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

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