Noticias

A Team with Experts

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/28/2017 - 12:01

Photo: Noticia al Día

The former chairman of Fedecámaras, Jorge Roig, was the spokesman for the event that announced the delegation that will travel to the Dominican Republic to accompany opposition lawmakers in the start of the process of negotiation with the government. Representing civil society, the technicians and advisers will be: former electoral authority Vicente Díaz; Vale TV chairwoman Ma. Eugenia Mosquera; lawyers Juan Manuel Raffalli, León Arismendi and Daniel Sierra; human rights activists Feliciano Reyna and Francisco Valencia; economist Asdrúbal Oliveros; political consultant Colette Capriles; union leader Marcela Máspero and Jorge Roig himself.

The demands

The opposition’s demands are: free and transparent elections; a humanitarian channel for food and medicines; the release of all political prisoners and the full restitution of the National Assembly’s powers. Roig said they were aware that they were going to negotiate with a discredited government that has violated human rights conventions.

Later, Dominican Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas said that the six most important points of the agenda “have already been convened for discussion and we hope each matter can be dealt with productively” throughout December 1 and 2.

A noteworthy reaction to the announcement was Foro Penal’s statement criticizing the opposition’s lack of clarity of purpose and goals, particularly with regards to political prisoners, saying that this was the reason why they didn’t attend the consultation meetings with the AN’s committee. Sadly, they didn’t try to correct the mistakes they criticize with prompt information.

Citgo goes on

ANC-imposed “Prosecutor General” Tarek William Saab said in an interview that there could be new arrests for the Citgo case, because they’re merely in “a preliminary investigation phase” and the gradual investigation on companies that were involved in acts of corruption, could reveal other accomplices. He stated that suspicious activity in the Prosecutor’s Office has dropped since he took office and said that they’ve had significant findings of irregularities in corruption cases linked to Cadivi and Cencoex, in the Orinoco Oil Strip, PetroZamora, PDVSA Carabobo and joint venture Bariven.

Since botox is great for caretablismo, he said that “any Venezuelan with a release warrant signed and sealed by the court responsible of a case, must be released.”

Sadly, he didn’t mention SEBIN chief Gustavo González López in his statement.

As expected

While the National Assembly’s Finance Committee presented a proposal to dismantle FX exchange controls based on allowing Venezuelans to manage their dollars, as well as letting relatives abroad send money to Venezuela in transparent transactions and thus “sincerely adjust dollar prices,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said that the Armed Forces stand behind Nicolás in the fight against corruption in PDVSA, which supports the reasoning behind Reuter’s article stating that after general Manuel Quevedo’s appointment, more soldiers will take management positions in a company with severe operational issues and with the lowest output levels in almost three decades. “As a soldier, I’ll be at the front of the battle,” said Quevedo yesterday, and he should start working toward the goal established in the statement issued by OPEC chief Mohammad Barkindo, which aims at keeping output quotas, “for a sustainable stability of the market in a medium and long term.”

Human rights

While Erika Farías’ tweet showing a picture of a truck “modified” to transport people in Caracas went viral, San Cristóbal Mayor Patricia de Ceballos denounced that her husband Daniel Ceballos has been isolated for the past 50 days in El Helicoide. Ceballos is a political prisoner since March 2014, indicted for the crimes of rebellion and criminal association. In another, no less dramatic sphere, lawmaker José Manuel Olivares said that Venezuelan contributes 80% of all malaria cases in Latin America: “There’s been a 709% increase in malaria cases across 20 states,” the evidence of one of the toughest consequences of suspending vaccination campaigns in the country. The NGO Ciudadanía en Acción delivered a letter at the Food Minister cautioning the government about the serious crisis of protein and caloric malnutrition in the population. They said that 78% of Venezuelans aren’t taking the necessary proteins and 60% show caloric malnutrition. The NGO’s letter includes technical measures that could be implemented to solve the crisis,  as well as political measures.

Official selfies

From Minsk, Ricardo Menéndez reported on the negotiation table between Belarus and Venezuela to develop a roadmap to broaden bilateral cooperation, working on energy, agricultural, industrial, financial, commercial and military collaboration. Nicolás signed agreements with Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, to strengthen the agricultural and energy system and to finance economic development. It was only in September when UN  High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, criticized Venezuela for denying experts on essential rights access to the country. Perhaps that’s why Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza made all that racket after his meeting with independent UN expert Alfred de Zayas, who said he’d review “the joint efforts to promote social progress and better living standards,” and among other details, he’ll study how national budgets are spent and to what extent the demands of civil society are serviced by investment. I hope he has his linden tea ready when he gets to the issues of access to information, freedom of expression and the Rule of Law.

Unpayable

While Nicolás celebrated the 97th anniversary of the Military Aviation, speaking of peace among missiles, Venezuelans are trying to cope with the fact that the black market dollar rate increased by 71.7% and the bolívar depreciated by 41.7%. Amidst a cash shortage crisis, it was revealed yesterday that the highest denomination banknote can’t pay for an Euro, which reached Bs. 100,504.26 yesterday, while the dollar closed at Bs. 84,457.36.

A tiny little detail: the BCV hasn’t called for a DICOM auction in four months.

The post A Team with Experts appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

2006: Chavismo’s Cultural Ruin

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/28/2017 - 10:07
Original art by @modográfico

We were halfway through 2000 and chavismo was thriving. The new Constitution had been approved by the end of the previous year and the government was coming out from a solid win in the “megaelection,” overcoming every obstacle it found. Anyone who spoke of dictatorship and totalitarianism was deemed paranoid, someone who fought with ghosts born in anti-communist nightmares and, in light of events, obviously disconnected from the reality of a government that convened elections fairly regularly and whose leader —although undeniably egotistical— was a rather harmless clown who made a lot of threats but rarely acted upon them, minimized by republican institutions which, for better or worse, had allowed the process of writing a new Constitution, creating two new government branches and renewing all publicly elected offices without major suffering.

I remember an interview in which Elías Santana, who is today running on an “opposition” ticket for Sucre’s mayorship and was leader of NGO watchdog Queremos Elegir back then, mocked those who talked about dictatorship in Venezuela, arguing that, despite some differences, he’d voted for Chávez betting “on change.” This idea, by the way, struck a chord with the people: “change,” the promise of something different.

Then one Sunday, amidst the hurdle of appointing the subordinate powers that, according to the ’99 Constitution, had to be appointed with the involvement of civil society, Hugo Chávez disliked a cartoon by Pedro León Zapata. The drawing showed a sword and the phrase “I like civil society firm and obedient.”

The words about Zapata’s cartoon were so wrong that Chávez is now insulting the person who told him to insult Zapata.

“How much was Zapata paid for this zapatazo?” he asked, with his usual arrogance.

The funny part was witnessing the reactions to that gesture among the Venezuelan cultural world. I recall the following, off the top of my head: a) A cameo by Zapata in Radio Rochela, with Emilio Lovera, ironizing about how much Zapata charged per word; b) César Miguel Rondón, musing on his TV show that surely Chávez regrets insulting a near-sacred figure of national culture; c) Luis Chataing on his late show Ni tan tarde, arguing that “the words about Zapata’s cartoon were so wrong that Chávez is now insulting the person who told him to insult Zapata”; d) Countless opinion articles, all of them outraged and shocked, signed by the foremost Venezuelan intellectuals, condemning the President’s excess, urging him to think it through and apologize.

Today, seventeen years after chavismo’s cultural destruction, we should be asking, why were we so certain that the regime wasn’t going to demolish the iconic pillars of our heritage? Why didn’t the cultural world fear and, worse, why did it underestimate chavismo so?

Let’s stroll a bit farther down memory lane.

II.  The first cultural revolution

Venezuelan culture was profoundly socialist and anti-democratic. After communist guerrillas were beaten in the ‘60s, many of their militants and supporters were absorbed by minor political groups and institutions linked to culture and education. And so, while Venezuelan democracy was consolidating (and breeding the vices that would consume it), the Venezuelan cultural sphere, far from mirroring the change, distanced itself from the values proposed by the political system.

Since the Venezuelan State was founded on a rentier system, the cultural and educational world never enjoyed true autonomy, with all its initiatives depending on state subsidies. Hence, the paradox: the democratic state was financing cultural organizations that, instead of contributing to the construction of a culture for freedom, were writing from a clearly marxist playbook with democracy as the enemy and Cuba as a role model.

The document that most clearly reveals the thought of Venezuelan intellectuals at the time was, undoubtedly, the letter welcoming Fidel Castro, signed by nine hundred Venezuelan intellectuals and artists, cheering on the tyrant, describing him as “an endearing reference in the depths of our hope, our shot at building a fair, independent and altruistic Latin America.”

Cultural organizations, instead of contributing with the construction of a culture for freedom, were writing a clearly marxist playbook with democracy as the enemy and Cuba as a role model.

This is why it was natural for the criollo cultural establishment to embrace chavismo. Iconically, Hugo Chávez’ first speech as president took place in the Ateneo de Caracas. Remember? He took his tie off and threw it to the “people” because, according to him, the time for rotten inner circles ruling with their backs to common citizens (who don’t wear ties) was over.

During the first year of chavismo, relations with the cultural sphere were peaceful: there were two editions of the International Theatre Festival, there were monumental book fairs, subsidies for the film industry increased and Freddy Bernal, then Libertador mayor, created small festivals called “Rock in the Square.” Two things marked the official discourse, however: first, the need to remake everything (“We’ve held many theatre festivals, but none like this year’s” said Chávez about the International Theatre Festival of 2000) and, second, the start of something that would reach its peak later on: the cult of personality, already evident in book fairs and isolated events (such as including the works of then vice president Isaías Rodríguez in the very Biblioteca Ayacucho itself, an exclusive collection compiling only the best writers and where Rodríguez, a poet of insufferable pretentiousness, appeared beside geniuses such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Jorge Amado).

But the insult against Zapata ended the honeymoon. The cultural field was about to suffer its first blow when Chávez announced the start of the “cultural revolution,” whose most relevant milestone was sacking all career professionals in management positions at important cultural institutions. Sofía Imber, head of the Museum of Contemporary Art, was the first victim.

III. The second cultural revolution

Fast forward: in 2006, chavismo looked stronger than ever and had no major enemies. After  the tumultuous years of 2002 and 2003, the opposition focused on a strategy that sought to confront the government through electoral growth.

The country was in a peculiar situation: the regime progressed in establishing a legal superstructure that, years later, would allow it to have absolute control over society (in 2004, the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television is approved, and in 2005, the National Assembly turns completely red). And yet, the country is living in social peace, boosted by an unprecedented consumer boom, due to the rise in oil prices that took place after the government won the battle for the control of PDVSA.

There was a joke I remember bitterly now, when chavistas told you “go to Sambil mall and you’ll see how communism is killing people.” And indeed, malls were full, Venezuelan currency was overpriced, CADIVI approved all foreign currency requests and people had access to an obscene dollar allowance. The cultural area was thriving as well: publishing houses released all kinds of works, even terrible books that would never return the investment, but could still be published thanks to state-subsidized dollars. Perhaps that explains how that year, when all of our cultural memory was altered, there was no major reaction from artists and intellectuals.

In 2005, the Culture Ministry is created, headed by Francisco “Farruco” Sesto, one of the most perverse figures to ever hold a ministry in Venezuela – with some still remembering him lovingly for “supporting” Venezuelan culture.

The regime progressed in establishing a legal superstructure that, years later, would allow it to have absolute control of society.

The first thing he did was destroy the identity of cultural institutions, unifying them with the same logo, to “honor our native people.” He appointed himself head of the Cinemateca Nacional, holding two posts at once. He turned book fairs into single-thought events, where it was easier to find two hundred versions of Ché Guevara’s biography than any worthy novel. He created the World Festival of Poetry, an excluding and denigrating event where the best of Venezuelan poetry was always left out, and whose most infamous edition took place in the Cuartel de la Montaña.

Farruco should be remembered for being the architect of single-thought in culture, consolidated in 2006. His was an administration of exclusion, persecution and denial of dissident thought. He was also in charge of taming a generation of new artists and scholars who forsook their subversive streak in exchange for “support.” We witnessed the rise of “opposition” artists under his protection, happy to participate in whatever festival they were offered, of “critical” filmmakers happy with the state’s financing and the restrictions it imposed on their screenplays and the final cuts of their films.

This was a key period for the creation of chavista cultural products: the birth of La Villa del Cine (an institute that siphoned millions from the Venezuelan State) also brought the birth of “historical” cinema, whose goal was to reconfigure our memory, exalting the regime’s favorite historical figures, such as Zamora, Boves and Maisanta, and scrapping republican and liberal features of Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar himself, creating urban epics such as Cyrano Fernández, where Tuparamos are glorified. A caudillo-style cinema with a certain maoist flair, paid with incalculable financial mayhem.

Farruco was also the culture minister who allowed Hugo Chávez to rewrite the country’s historical memory: from replacing Columbus’ statue, vandalized in 2004, with one of Guaicaipuro, to the gradual disappearance of dissident authors from official anthologies.

IV: The final destruction

The true tragedy isn’t what chavismo did, but what the rest didn’t do: the cultural sphere was soft on chavismo, due to the colossal subsidies, festivals and publications in which intellectuals exchanged their silence (and validated the “plurality” of such events by appearing in them) for the possibility of being published or adapted to the big screen.

The cultural sector should’ve resisted but, with honorable exceptions, it never did, offering deplorable arguments like “that money doesn’t belong to the government, but to the state. If I don’t take it, someone else will.”

In a country that doesn’t only lack food, but culture. 2017 will be the year of the lowest book production in our history.

It’s been eleven years since the onset of the most ferocious cultural destruction ever carried out by any government in Venezuela. Unlike the first paragraphs in this article, there are few who keep calling “president” a man who is merely a dictator, yet here we are: in a country that doesn’t only lack food, but culture. 2017 will be the year of the lowest book production in our history. Publishing houses that grew in recent years have been unable to keep operating. There’s not much film production anymore. There are more concerts of Venezuelan musicians in Mexico City than there are in Caracas, where nightlife is nearly gone. Even Dudamel, the star conductor of National Youth Orchestra, had to publicly denounce the massive budget cuts that El Sistema has suffered — a budget that up to now had bought the sepulchral silence (if not the functional complicity) of the great Maestro Abreu.  The eight-star flag has been embraced even by dissidents. Newspeak is part of our daily conversation and we’ve chosen (or rather accepted) to see reality under the revolutionary cultural prism.

I wonder, what do intellectuals and artists, those who were part of the government’s structure instead of confronting it, think they won?

In Venezuela, decadence is measured in malnutrition and poverty rates. What we can’t measure is the cultural devastation that chavismo’s terrible exercise of true socialism has meant for this and, perhaps, coming generations.

The post 2006: Chavismo’s Cultural Ruin appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Smell of Sulfur

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/28/2017 - 10:06
Photo: El Universo

Although the triumph of Leones del Caracas in the Caribbean Series was widely celebrated, it didn’t get as much press as the coverage for the 6th World Social Forum in Caracas, with the Caracas-La Guaira freeway collapsing long before “la trocha” was opened.

Photo: El Universal

Early on, Chávez announced a 15% wage hike and asked for ideas to improve what he believed to be an “unfair standard” in public administration; he also reduced the number of contributions needed for pensioners, promised pensions of 80% the minimum wage for poor housewives and scrapped the Banking Debit Tax. After these generous decrees, Chávez started boasting that he’d win presidential elections in December with ten million votes, and proposed a referendum to approve the President’s indefinite reelection, without a constitutional reform.

Violence

2006 was sadly memorable for the cruel sequence of violent incidents that started with the kidnapping and murder of businessman Filippo Sindoni. It would be followed by the kidnapping of the Faddoul brothers and their driver, which kept us on the edge of our seats for over a month and a half, when they were finally found dead. While covering a protest against the murder of the Faddoul brothers, photojournalist Jorge Aguirre was killed, he managed to take a picture before he was wounded. Anti-crime protests revealed a wound that was already festering: increasingly often, policemen and soldiers were accused of robberies, kidnappings, murders and extrajudicial executions, as well as collaborating with criminals. Then, the massacre at La Paragua mine happened, with full military responsibility.

Official thieves

A scandal of corruption blew open in the Ezequiel Zamora agroindustrial complex in Sabaneta, Barinas, one of Chávez’ personal dreams, where Bs. 2.6 billion were embezzled. It would take two years before officials Franklin Castillo and Orlando Herrera were sentenced for embezzlement. In a different sphere of power, Luis Velázquez Alvaray was forced to resign from the Judiciary’s Executive Directorate, and launched a campaign against then Interior Minister Jesse Chacón, accusing him of corruption, which accelerated his dismissal, taking full blame for the corruption at Ciudad Lebrún. Don’t worry, he did pretty well in Costa Rica.

Red Parliament

At Chávez’ behest, the National Assembly approved legislation to add a star to the national flag “in honor of Guayana” and the horse on the national coat of arms was modified to look the other way, disregarding the historical, constitutional and financial implications. They chose new CNE authorities: Janeth Hernández, Sandra Oblitas, Germán Yépez and Vicente Díaz, ratifying Tibisay Lucena and killing any hope for a team that could recover the electoral institution’s credibility and independence. Controversial laws were discussed: Education; International Cooperation (against foreign financing of NGOs) and the Law on Joint Ventures. Since the U.S. didn’t allow Spain to sell military aircrafts to Venezuela, arguing that it would break equilibrium in the region, Chávez announced during his European tour that he’d buy them from Russia, eventually acquiring 24 Sukhoi aircrafts and 53 helicopters for three billion dollars. The Finance Committee approved an additional credit of Bs. 43.5 billion to purchase this equipment.

Disintegrating

Chávez needed the spotlight, so he fueled regional tensions with oil dollars as his passport. He faced down Ecuador for the FTAA and freely spoke about other nations such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Colombia; he supported Ollanta Humala’s candidacy, even vowing to sever ties with Peru if the other candidate won, as his interference was reviewed by the OAS. Fidel Castro and Chávez were Evo Morales’ advisors for the nationalization of Bolivia’s hydrocarbons industry, hurting the industry’s main investors: Brazil, Spain and Argentina; that’s how Chávez damaged his relations with Lula Da Silva and Ernesto Kirschner, as he fed his triad with Fidel and Evo, which was later called “The axis of evil.” On July 5th, Evo and Kirschner were decorated with the Orden Libertador. Chávez kept buying support with oil revenues, albeit with great reluctance. Nicolás left Parliament to become foreign minister and Raúl Isaías Baduel was appointed defense minister.

I smell sulfur

On September 20th, Chávez climbs to the UN podium, a day after George Bush did the same. “The devil was in here,” he said as he crossed himself, and later proclaimed the U.S. as the greatest threat for the world. He spent more time talking about anti-imperialism and the impertinence of dictatorships (rubbing salt on the wound) than about his proposals, but he did ask for support to enter the Security Council. His speech got a lengthy ovation and became a part of that short list of memorable speeches at the UN.

Atrévete te te…

The opposition’s leaders slowly organized to choose a single candidate. The initial offers boiled down to three: Zulia governor Manuel Rosales; former lawmaker Julio Borges and former minister and former senator Teodoro Petkoff. The latter dropped from the race to make primary elections easier, with Rosales coming out on top, he had to leave office. Meanwhile, Carlos Ortega and three soldiers escaped Ramo Verde military prison and Bejamín Rausseo – er Conde del Guácharo –, became the outsider, representing “ni-nis” (people who didn’t identify with either the government or the opposition). His slogan: Vota Piedra. Every poll gave Chávez a broad advantage and he said that all his years in office had been a rehearsal. “10 millones por el buche” was his first slogan, which would later change to “¡Uh, ah! ¡Chávez no se va!”, while he shamelessly exhibited his own embezzling skills. The best example of political proselytism was Rafael Ramírez’s “roja rojita” chants in PDVSA.

And he didn’t leave

He didn’t get the ten million votes he’d promised, but Chávez got 7,309,080 (62.84%) of votes. From the balcón del pueblo in Miraflores, he spoke to his militants and dedicated the triumph to Fidel Castro and the country’s martyrs. Rosales acknowledged the defeat, pointing out that the real difference was much narrower, but emphasizing that there was no fraud. That was the first time I ever abstained from voting.

Indicators

Early in the year, Chávez requested four billion dollars from the BCV and announced plans to slash three zeros off bolívares, as if it was just a matter of erasing them. It was a wasteful year and the second year in a row in which the GDP grew (10.3%), and imports of goods and services also grew. Inflation closed at 17%, the policy of price controls remained in place and the Mercado de Alimentos C.A. (Mercal) was created to distribute food and essential products. The dollar at the start of the year was at Bs. 2,695 and closed at Bs. 3,305.

I laughed so hard while doing this summary, because of the perfect timing of the most recent statements by Luis Velázquez Alvaray against Rafael Ramírez.

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Categorías: Noticias

Amarillita, Azulita y Rojita…

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/28/2017 - 09:00

If you ask me, the best part of Rosales’ campaign was the way he set up the contrast between his “Tricolor Avalanche” rally and Chavez’s “Red Tide.” I’m talking about the titles here. His choice of tags mirrored his use of “For 26 millions” in contrast to Chavez’s 10-million slogan: both set out to contrast a vision of inclusion and tolerance with Chavez’s sectarianism.

But I think the “Tricolor Avalanche” – the name itself – was far more symbolically resonant. Why? In school, we were all taught that the yellow stripe on the flag symbolizes the riches the conquistadores sought in our land, the blue stripe our distance from and connection with Spain and European civilization, and the red the blood spilled in the brutal, fratricidal wars of independence.

Together, these three stripes encapsulate our complex and contradictory identity: our tendency to equate wealth with worth, our simultaneous connection-to and alienation-from European modes of thinking, and our usually latent but always present wild-side, with its rejection of all civilized values and its glorification of savagery for its own sake.

These three intertwined (if contradictory) strands, brilliantly described in J.M. Briceño Guerrero’s writing, make up the deep core of our culture. Their coexistence and permanent tension is what makes us unique, what makes us us.

Rosales, in embracing the Tricolor in explicit contrast to Chavez’s monochromal obsession, draws attention to the way chavismo seeks to dismember our identity, to blow it apart by subjugating the yellow and the blue strands, burying them, and recasting our identity through a sectarian and exclusionary celebration of struggle as a goal in itself, of anti-intellectualism and violence (for now, mostly symbolic) as the exclusive marks of true Venezuelan-ness.

Venezuela cannot be made roja, rojita and remain fully Venezuela. The embrace of the tricolor in contrast to Chavez’s dreary, unyielding red underlines a basic reality no amount of state power can overcome. As Briceño Guerrero puts it, “they can oppress us, repress us, compress us, depress us and squeeze us, but in the end they can’t impress themselves upon us, they can’t suppress us.”

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Categorías: Noticias

PDVSA’s Self-Inflicted Wound

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/27/2017 - 18:00

What do you do when you run a state-owned oil company whose finances are a wreck, is billions of dollars in debt, with sharply declining oil production and in technical default, with lots of billionaires who are nervously tracking your every move and contemplating suing your ass? If you roll like chavismo, you fire the last few minimally competent people left in the company and appoint a non-entity with no experience as their replacement, of course!

Maduro just appointed National Guard general Manuel Quevedo as new PDVSA CEO and Oil Minister, replacing both Nelson Martínez and Eulogio del Pino in one single stroke. It amounts to a military takeover of the company. Martínez and Del Pino were among the last few people left with any knowledge of the oil industry in the company, who gave some assurance to PDVSA’s partners and creditors that the inmates hadn’t completely taken over the asylum. It remains to be seen what will happen with the powerful Simón Zerpa, who, as PDVSA’s CFO, was rumored to be the real power behind the throne.

Several media outlets have erroneously reported that Quevedo is an OFAC sanctionée, but although he was on a list prepared by US senator Marco Rubio, he hasn’t made the cut yet and that’s probably the best thing that can be said about him.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the powerful Simón Zerpa, who, as PDVSA’s CFO, was rumored to be the real power behind the throne.

Until his appointment, Quevedo was Housing Ministry and is a relatively obscure figure within chavismo. His experience in the oil business is non-existent; the guy who will be leading PDVSA in the middle of a default and a staggering output decline probably cannot distinguish upstream for downstream and doesn’t know what an indenture is. And we can now count on the fact that as the drop in oil production continues, corruption will escalate because Quevedo and the cronies he’s bringing along with him don’t know how or don’t want to fix any of this, they just want to get richer.

Yet the move is not as completely deranged as it sounds. Maduro’s hold on power depends on keeping a delicate equilibrium among chavismo’s many cliques including, of course, the military, who are probably demanding more power and money as the situation becomes more dire. Maduro was probably forced to appoint Quevedo and others to PDVSA, to keep the military faction happy.

The predicament is that other pressing goals like a coherent restructuring of the country’s external debt, ending hyperinflation and keeping PDVSA minimally functional are not workable if every top level policy decision is made exclusively to placate one faction or another. As long as Maduro keeps prioritizing his commitments to power cliques over sane policy-making, things will only get worse.

Maduro acts as though he has to choose between either holding onto power or avoiding an economic cataclysm, and his instinct is to always go with the former. That’s a tragedy, but not for chavismo; it’s a tragedy for the thirty million people who have become their hostages.

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Categorías: Noticias

2005: The Blunder Year

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/27/2017 - 09:26

The 12 months of 2005 were a microcosm of both the accelerating Bolivarian project and the political blunders of the opposition. The sixth year of Hugo Chávez’s administration brought further consolidation of executive power over the Venezuelan state, economy and media, while the opposition stood and watched.  

In retrospect it almost looks like the two sides were complicit.  They weren’t, but no one could blame you for thinking so.

From my perch at the National Endowment for Democracy and later knowing opposition leaders, I had the frustrating privilege of watching the train wreck that passed for the opposition’s calculations—first in denouncing without evidence the 2004 referendum results and later coercing members to abstain from the 2005 legislative elections—against the backdrop of an accelerating Bolivarian project hell-bent on gaining absolute control over the Venezuelan state and economy.  

They handed the keys to the castle to Chávez and undermined international solidarity.

The opposition’s strategy was confused and divisive. It was focused on ill-conceived short-term goals and self-righteousness, driven largely by individual political ambitions. In 2005 the opposition not only handed a blank check to the anti-democratic intentions of the Chávez government, they also undermined their own credibility and cohesion. What was personally painful was to see the responsibility of halting such a predictable disaster in the hands of leadership of such incompetence and leaders of such political avarice.

Viva la revolución and its unintended collaborators

Freshly re-legitimized by his victory in the August 2004 recall referendum, and his candidates’ success in the municipal and regional elections of October 2004, and with political momentum and oil prices in his favor, Chávez moved to accelerate his Bolivarian revolution and expand it beyond the country’s borders.

Early in the year, the government moved to expropriate “unproductive” lands.  From the start of the program in 2005 until 2008, the National Land Institute reported the redistribution of more than 4,380,000 hectares of “recovered” land to more than 101,500 families and cooperative-owned farms. To assist in the formation and the productivity of these new cooperatives, the government created that same year the Fund for the Development of Socialist Agriculture (FONDAS), with a $400 million budget, to provide loans and technical support to cooperatives.  Price controls, lack of access to markets and corruption meant that many of the loans recipients defaulted, and food production never reached the goals envisioned in the plan after 2005.

It was personally painful was to see the responsibility of halting such a predictable disaster in the hands of leadership of such incompetence.

Flush with cash from the rise in oil prices ($60 per barrel that year, and rising), the government also moved to extend its control over the oil sector. Oil contracts with major international companies were renegotiated, imposing tougher terms and higher royalties, and scrapped association contracts signed in the 1990s for joint-ventures dominated by the-now-fully state-controlled PDVSA.

The year also saw an expansion of the Bolivarian revolution beyond Venezuela’s borders. President Chávez bought several hundred million dollars of Argentine bonds, helping re-finance that country’s debt; under the Peronist government of President Nestor Kirchner, Argentina defaulted and was frozen out of international capital markets. In September of 2005, Chavez signed a trade pact with nine Caribbean governments to provide them with favorable credit terms to purchase Venezuelan oil for the next 25 years. That deal, which became known as PetroCaribe, continues to provide the core of now-President Nicolas Maduro’s regional support, allowing Chávez’s handpicked-successor to avoid regional accountability for its abuses. The government-funded teleSUR news network was also launched.  While Chávez claimed teleSUR’s creation was to battle the media monopolies of the imperialist north, the regional 24-news station soon became a propaganda tool for the Bolivarian movement and its allies.

Government control over society and the media, of course, ramped up, along with retribution against government employees who signed petitions requesting the recall referendum.

Who’s advising these guys?

Meanwhile, the opposition reverted to its strategy of forcing a confrontation to make the government quit or bring international credibility to their struggle. Unfortunately, not only didn’t their inchoate, half-baked strategy not accomplish their goals, it did the opposite: they handed the keys to the castle to Chávez and undermined international solidarity. Just a few days shy of the December elections to select all 167 members of the National Assembly, the five main opposition parties declared they would not participate in the elections.

That refusal was a logical extension of their unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the August 2004 referendum. After all, how could they justify competing in a process they already denounced as corrupt? Not coincidental with the abstention, of course, was that the opposition was trailing in the polls. Most expected the opposition to win, at most, a third of the assembly seats. As luck would have it, I was with a former mayor from the Cuarta República when Primero Justicia announced its decision to join the other four parties in the boycott. After hearing the news, he turned to me and said “We told them that if they participated in these elections, it was the same as collaborating with the Vichy government”. The metaphor was clearly intended as a threat to coerce opposition politicians to abstain, but the former mayor’s comparison was also a telling example of why the strategy didn’t work.  For one, for all the government’s lack of democracy and totalitarian agenda, comparing it to Hitler’s genocidal rule and empire was another example of exaggerating the immediate dangers of Chávez; and the effort to tar those who participated in democratic elections, despite their flaws, as Nazi collaborators was (and remains) odious.

In the end, the opposition’s refusal to play in an election it was likely to lose had three powerful consequences. First, it reinforced the impression among international observers and Human Rights advocates that the opposition was, at best, hopeless in trying to advance a constructive, positive agenda, or tenuously committed to the democracy it claimed defend. The unexpected and clumsy decision snatched international sympathy from the jaws of defeat.

Second, the 2005 legislative elections were the last in which Venezuela allowed credible election monitors. Both the OAS and the EU had teams on the ground before and during the process. Such groups should have been the opposition’s best allies in guaranteeing the integrity of the process, but the opposition raised a series of demands that appear now in retrospect to have been a ruse to justify not participating in elections they would lose. The majority of elections in Venezuela since have been observed by partial, non-credible and technically unqualified international groups.  

Third, and most damning, was that the state was effectively given over to Chávez.  With no opposition candidates on the ballot, pro-government parties won all of the seats. In the words of John Polga-Hecimovich, by refusing to contest the elections, the opposition gave “Chávez the luxury of a parliamentary supermajority and law-making carte blanche for a five-year period”. They all yielded the last remaining check on presidential power to the governing party.

It’s worth noting that most of the decision-makers back then are still playing that role today.

 

The post 2005: The Blunder Year appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Dismantling the State

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/27/2017 - 09:14
Photo: AVN

With the excuse of bringing an end to large estates and idle lands, Cojedes’ governor Jhonny Yánez Rangel started expropriating lands, inspiring other governors to do the same. Chávez issued a decree on land reorganization, claiming that these weren’t hostile takeovers but inspections due to ownership mistakes, thus encouraging squatting, while the National Institute of Land and the Agriculture Ministry cracked down on private property. La Marqueseña is remembered as an icon in that rapacious fight against farms and estates, but properties of Polar in Barinas, Heinz in Maturín and Sideroca in Zulia all felt the blow.

Metropolitan mayor Juan Barreto expropriated 91 buildings in Caracas. Chávez chose to say that there couldn’t be a revolution without radically transforming land ownership, but no squatter was granted ownership of the occupied land, just a permit to exploit it. Billions promised for agricultural development were left infertile in who knows whose accounts.

Farewell, justice

With MVR’s simple majority, the National Assembly appointed 17 new TSJ justices and 32 deputies, including Francisco Carrasquero –who didn’t resign from his post in the CNE– and Luis Velásquez Alvaray, who would take the revolution to the highest court. Ivan Rincón and Omar Mora squabbled over who would chair the TSJ and, a day after their appointment, Mora and Velásquez suspended judges for their political ideology, with vague procedural excuses. The goal? Beat justice down! I’ll sum it up like this: the Constitutional Chamber nullified the Plenary Chamber’s firm ruling on the events of April 11, 2002. Since then, it has wielded disproportionate power in service of the Administration.

And in Parliament

Nicolás Maduro became chairman of the AN with the votes of MVR and Manuel Rosales’ Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT). The Chamber approved the Ley Resorte –also known as gag law– which, according to Chávez, was meant to put an end to the “media dictatorship”. They also approved the TSJ law and the reform of the Criminal Code.

Various human rights organizations denounced the impact that these unconstitutional laws would have on free speech, but they were unsuccessful. The BCV law was also amended to allow the Executive Branch to manage monetary reserves at leisure, granting it control over the Development Fund (Fonden) already merged with the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund (FEM).

Latent magnicide

The existence of a conspiracy to kill him became Chávez’s leitmotif. The only change in his 2005 version was the responsibility of U.S. President George Bush with the sole purpose of invading Venezuela and taking over its natural resources (does it ring a bell?). This obsession prompted him to suspend the military parade on June 24th. But then he travelled as he saw fit, visiting a dozen countries, with a noteworthy visit to Peru to assume the temporary presidency of the Andean Community of Nations, and he gave a million dollars to “settle accounts,” as he took some time in every stage to declare his anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist vocation, as well as to insult Bush. He founded Telesur and signed various agreements with oil at the core of his offer of “integration”. He also spoke at the UN General Assembly, asking for Security Council reforms.

Crisis with Colombia

Diplomatic, political and commercial, the crisis started with the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, FARC’s “top diplomat,” in Caracas. President Álvaro Uribe denied that the Colombian police had been operating in Venezuelan territory, but Chávez suspended all projects with Colombia. With his constant statements blaming the U.S. for masterminding Granda’s abduction, Chávez fueled the conflict, and State Secretary Condoleezza Rice became the preferred target of his attacks. Several nations offered their bona fides to end the conflict, but Chávez only accepted Cuba’s involvement. With Uribe’s visit, Chávez declared the issue resolved. Later, both would meet with Lula Da Silva and Rodríguez Zapatero to sign the Declaration of Ciudad Guayana.

And oil?

Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez was appointed head of PDVSA, violating the company’s rules that would later be changed. Throughout the year, there were rumors of a potential sale of Citgo and PDVSA Services, but the most frequent news reflected output drops, workplace accidents, lack of investment and a huge operational deficit, consequence of laying off key staff. The lack of credibility of output figures became more evident when compared to the dollars that PDVSA and BCV had to sell by law: the company kept millions from those sales. In an interview, José Guerra, the former manager of economic research at BCV, showed the disparity in official figures: either they didn’t produce what they reported, or they didn’t sell the dollars they should’ve sold. Rafael Ramírez appeared before the AN to allegedly be questioned about this mess of missing or incorrect data, but it was merely a show planned by MVR to support one of their own.

All in red

Jorge Rodríguez was appointed CNE chairman, while Sobella Mejías and Oscar Battaglini remained in their posts. The TSJ appointed Óscar León Uzcátegui and Tibisay Lucena as CNE board members. The abstention in local elections held on August 7 surpassed 70%. The opposition failed to agree on the pertinence of running in parliamentary elections, because the CNE didn’t offer the minimal conditions to guarantee the secret vote, and even with OAS and the European Union as mediators, when the government didn’t meet all of their demands, they withdrew from the race.

With a 75% abstention, the National Assembly became the forum of MVR and its allied parties, with full power to legislate on their ideological project. Don’t forget that the TSJ ruled it was legal to allow two candidates of MVR-allied parties to run for ‘nominal’ and ‘list’ posts, (the famous “Morochas”) violating the system of proportional representation of political parties.

Human Rights

Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz accused Cecilia Sosa, Alan Brewer Carías and José Gregorio Velásquez of allegedly drafting Carmona’s decree. In Barrio Kennedy, three students of the Santa María University were murdered and others were injured when they were ambushed by 26 police agents (from DIM, CICPC and Policaracas) who were trying to avenge a comrade. It was so bad that Chávez was forced to issue a statement. Let’s also remember the assault by Metropolitan Police on Chacao Police headquarters under the command of Eduardo Semtei. The news about death squads in Portuguesa, Aragua and Guárico helped worsen the human rights situation and although the AN’s Interior Policy Committee established that Guárico governor Eduardo Manuitt was responsible, Nicolás Maduro rejected the argument, saying that it was inspired by political enmities. Prosecutor general Isaías Rodríguez paid dearly for his mistake of accusing Carlos Ayala Corao, former IACHR chairman, because it raised an alarm for many organizations and figures both within the country and abroad. Heavy rains left people injured, dead and homeless, as well as damaged roads in several states of the country. In Vargas, structures that were restored after the disaster of 1999 collapsed, showing their technical fragility. Resources were embezzled and social aid was politicized.

Indicators

Gastón Parra was appointed head of BCV, while Nelson Merentes became Finance Minister, after Tobías Nóbrega announced that the bolívar had depreciated to Bs. 2,150 per dollar. The Executive Branch got a hold on several billion dollars after the BCV law was amended, and oil revenues financed greater levels of public spending. The gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 9.3%; inflation was at 14.36%, with a considerable boost in imports volumes. The black market dollar closed at Bs. 2,655.

The post Dismantling the State appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Psychopath autocrats of the world, unite!

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/27/2017 - 08:00

Mindless radicalization, anyone?

Deputy Foreign Minister William Izarra received Yang Hyong Sop in Caracas and discussed the possibility of energy cooperation between Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, and North Korea.

Hyong Sop, who was in Cuba earlier Wednesday, applauded “the important achievements in the process of constructing 21st-century socialism” in Venezuela while the oil-rich country works toward the “economic and political integration of Latin America,” the statement said.

North Korea’s commerce minister plans to visit Venezuela in November to discuss trade, Hyong Sop said.

More…

The post Psychopath autocrats of the world, unite! appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

El hambre y los días

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 23:59
Categorías: Noticias

Migrar como sea: de Caracas a Lima

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 23:58
Categorías: Noticias

Venezuela: la deuda externaen cifras

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 23:57
Categorías: Noticias

Volar desde Venezuela:datos de una crisis

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 23:56
Categorías: Noticias

The Year of the Recall

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 07:29
Photo: Telesur

The signatures, a mere prerequisite to request the presidential recall referendum, became an electoral battle; starring, first and foremost, the authorities of the National Electoral Council (CNE). Three against two, was the formula for all of the institution’s decisions, with three MVR authorities: Carrasquero, Rodríguez and Battaglini imposing their view on Zamora and Mejías. The mediation offered by the Carter Center and the OAS was completely dismissed by MVR, achieving its main goal: it would cost the CNE its credibility. The three officials pooled all their creativity to impose obstacles: writing strict or untimely rules, excluding the participation of Venezuelans abroad; disrespecting the established timetables … Chávez even moved his domicile to La Pastora in order to vote against lawmaker Ernesto Alvarenga.

Let’s talk about signatures

Technically 2,453,179 signatures were needed to activate the presidential recall referendum. It took long enough to decide how to collect them, under which rules and how they’d be processed. Out of the total signatures collected in opposition campaigns, Súmate validated 3,467,050 signatures before submitting them to the CNE. Almost a month after the set date, in an interview with BBC, the head of CNE revealed the results of the verification process and stated that out of the 3,086,013 processed signatures, only 1,832,493 were valid. Among the rejected signatures, the repair option was open for the 876,017 signatures in “planillas planas” (the forms that had the same writing and information but different signatures and fingerprints) and 233,573 that didn’t comply with the rules. Disregarding any notion of presumption of innocence, the CNE convened electors to repair 1,109,590 signatures. To reach the minimum required to activate the recall, it was necessary to repair 55.84% of that amount. Sysyphus pushed the rock up the hill over and over again.

Judicial Branch

On March 15, the TSJ’s Electoral Chamber issued a historic ruling, ordering the CNE to consider the signatures sent to be repaired as valid. The board of the National Assembly condemned the ruling. The CNE requested the Constitutional Chamber to review the ruling, while MVR lawmakers promised to accuse the three Electoral Chamber justices for the crime of rebellion. In his 185th Aló Presidente, Chávez discredited the justices. Shortly after that, Constitutional Chamber justice Iván Rincón announced that the Electoral Chamber ruling was void. Signatures were repaired in late April. The process would originally take five days, but the CNE reduced it to two. In any case, the opposition managed to get the necessary amount to activate the referendum. The CNE scheduled it for August 15th, quite close to the date where it would’ve been unconstitutional to hold new presidential elections.

More problems

The recall’s timetable was delayed and ended up in the midst of regional elections, a natural point of friction between Democratic Coordinator parties. Additionally, there were issues with how the question was written, with the location of the options “Yes” and “No” on the ballot; with the permanent electoral registry, voters were moved from their voting stations and there were untimely nationalizations. Inspections were deemed insufficient and late, and Jorge Rodríguez was accused of replacing electoral witnesses with his own people. He merely argued that people just “didn’t attend training sessions.”

The day arrived

The results predicted by polls looked more polarized than the population itself, but nothing in the actions of the CNE or the Executive Branch showed the prospect of an eventual defeat for Chávez. The day of the referendum, there were delays in the installation of voting stations and the captahuellas were perfect bottlenecks, so there were long lines of voters all day. International observation was prevented from monitoring various phases of the process. Some voting stations even closed at midnight. Early next morning, the head of CNE announced Chávez as the winner with an “irreversible trend”. He got 59.1% of votes in favor, with a 69% voter turnout. The Carter Center and the OAS backed the results. The National Assembly held a special session to ratify Chávez and lawmaker Nicolás Maduro requested three more years in office for him. So cute!

The most wanted mayor

The 47th court of control under judge José Ramón Flores, issued an arrest warrant against Baruta mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski for “events that took place at the Cuban embassy in 2002.” Since his lawyers couldn’t access the file, Capriles went into hiding until a higher court suspended the arrest warrant. Prosecutor Danilo Anderson later arrested Capriles with a warrant issued by an alternate judge and he was taken to DISIP headquarters. When the judge in charge of his case was arrested, he was released under a reporting regime, every 15 days. He was barred from leaving the country or issue any statements about his case.

Other events

Chávez asked BCV for “un millardito de dólares” from international reserves for farmers. Despite strong criticism, the BCV gave him Bs. 900 billion, as alleged foreign exchange commissions, and Chávez promised to use them to: finance public spending! The Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS) was militarized, which included changes in its board, while statues of Virgin Mary were beheaded in various churches in the country and a statue of Christopher Columbus in Plaza Venezuela was brought down. It’s hard to forget the fire in Parque Central’s eastern tower (from the 34th floor to the roof). Firefighters couldn’t go further than the 40th floor because security systems were out of order. The TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber established the judicial validity of the framework laws approved by a simple majority in the AN. The law was approved with chavista votes only, and it would later suffer 30 amendments: broadening the Constitutional Chamber’s authority and stripping functions from the Electoral and Plenary Chambers. The nominations committee for new TSJ members was filled with government lackeys.

The fraud

The defeat in the referendum left the Democratic Coordinator in tatters, forcing its spokespeople to step aside while mayoral and gubernatorial candidates took their place, without defining particular leaderships. Arias Cárdenas’ campaign as a “rational dissident” was memorable. Frictions within MVR weren’t a small matter either, the imposition of candidates was not accepted meekly. The fraud as a banner paved the way for considerable abstention. The opposition only won in Zulia and Nueva Esparta. The victories of Capriles Radonski (free at last) in Baruta and Leopoldo López in Chacao were iconic.

A bomb, a life

Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was killed in Los Chaguaramos on November 18. His car blew up with C4 explosive. At the time of his death he was investigating the events of April 11, 2002.

Photo: EFE, retrieved

Prosecutor general Isaías Rodríguez and the CICPC reported that the masterminds behind the murder were two former agents from the Judicial Police (PTJ) and DISIP respectively, brothers Otoniel and Rolando Guevara, who were arrested and charged with first degree murder, for which they’re serving a 27-year prison sentence. Juan Bautista Guevara, their cousin, was also involved and sentenced to 30 years in prison. According to the CICPC, they were allegedly paid $600,000 for the murder.

Indicators

The Finance Ministry established the new rate for the dollar at Bs. 1,920. CADIVI allowed the use of credit cards abroad for up to $2,000 per year. Venezuela became a member of Mercosur. The GDP rose to 17.9%, the inflation rate was 19.2% and the unemployment rate was 13.9%. The country had $24.2 billion in international reserves.

The post The Year of the Recall appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

2004: When Censorship becomes an Institution

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 06:00
Original art by @modográfico

President Hugo Chávez had a hard time overcoming the recall referendum held in 2004 against him, but he pulled through. That populist cocktail of “social missions,” electoral obstacles and persecution against public officials (how could we forget the Tascón list?) accomplished the goal.

On August 15th in his office, the Head of State reviewed his position and found that he had overcome, against all odds.

Chavismo was aware that after every electoral victory, regardless of how close it was, there comes a kind of truce in the political struggle, perfect for laying a new brick in the construction of the Bolivarian Revolution. And so we heard the proposals during that recall chaos: a law to restrict the free circulation of information through radio and television—the true boogeyman of Chávez’s nightmares.

The National Assembly came up with the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, which was later shortened for our comfort to “Ley Resorte.” Everything journalists, reporters and media owners knew about slander and libel – crimes of opinion established in the Criminal Code – stopped being logical concerns.

Suddenly, codes of conduct restricting broadcast times for profanity and sexual content in television were mixed with barriers against information that “incites or promotes hatred and intolerance” or “fosters fear or upsets the public order.” The law made it clear that service providers who committed any of the 25 “offenses” could lose their broadcasting licenses.

What about coverage of protests? Would we be able to broadcast situations of violence or upheaval on live TV? Would we be able to debate about politics at any time of the day? What would be the boundary between information, opinion and offense? Who decides the latter? With the Ley Resorte, the duty to inform became an extraordinary event, an intricate and delicate web of risks imprisoning both outlets and journalists as elephants in a glass house.

There have been at least 3118 violations against freedom of expression since 2004, 564 of which are typified as censorship (18% of all cases).

Those questions were never answered. The law kept an ambiguous prose, ready to “protect” the public while also stripping them of their constitutionally guaranteed right to free, verifiable and timely information. It was broad enough to promote the creation of national independent producers, who were entitled to 80% of stations’ broadcasting time in order to boost national production, and opaque enough to create a Social Responsibility Bureau, with people close to the administration acting as a court of opinion, the last word on the fate of media outlets.

It didn’t take long for the law to have its most powerful effect: self-censorship, and later, sheer censorship. Today, scripts in the few remaining independent radio stations expressly caution about mentioning drug-trafficking or Diosdado Cabello, in case the National Telecommunications Committee (CONATEL) is listening.

According to NGO Espacio Público, since the law was enacted in December 2004 – approved despite the observations made and the protests – until 2016, there have been at least 3118 violations against freedom of expression, 564 of which are typified as censorship (18% of all cases). Most of these were committed against individual journalists and included attacks, insults, harassment, intimidation, destruction and robbery of equipments.

In 2005, the regime started using both CONATEL and the Tax Bureau (SENIAT) to crack down on any critical media outlet with harsh administrative restrictions, closing, for instance, nearly every radio station and newspaper in the state of Bolívar.

At least 92 radio and TV media outlets have been shut down to this date, according to the Venezuelan chapter of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS).

The regime no longer uses the law to crack down on specific programs or entire outlets, at least not officially. They scarcely reveal the “reasons” behind their decisions and rarely mention violations against specific articles. They pay no mind to the right of the accused to establish his or her defense or to present evidence.

Time passed has proven the Ley Resorte to be the scaffolding that, along with the forced purchase of opposition media outlets and the judicial persecution of journalists, would mute what only exists in democracy and is fueled by independent media: public opinion.

The post 2004: When Censorship becomes an Institution appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

How low can you go?

Caracas Chronicles - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 06:00

“Mal paga el diablo a quien bien le sirve”. In 2004, over 2,400,000 Venezuelans who demanded Chávez to step down are put in the regime’s sights when the (in)famous lista Tascón is published. 2008: Tascón is being left aside from the government’s circles.

More than a movement, more than an ideology or a revolution or even a government, chavismo-in-power is turning into a kind of gruesome experiment. How debased can a group’s discursive standards get before it falls apart altogether? Having surrendered the tools it takes to process their differences in a minimally sane way, how long can they keep it together?

These are the questions that went through my mind as I read the genuinely weird story of Luis Tascón’s final expulsion from the ranks of chavismo.

You remember Tascón, don’t you? He’s the National Assembly guy who pioneered Chavismo’s use of IT to discriminate against millions of Venezuelan dissidents. That guy!

Turns out he’s CIA. Or Microsoft. Same difference.

Tascón’s now been tossed out of Chávez’s budding Socialist Party. It’s safe to say now that he will not be Mayor of Libertador like he’d wanted.

His crime? He put forward evidence of corruption (think of it as “El Caso de los Jeeps del Siglo 21″) on the part of José David Cabello, the new Tax Superintendent who, by sheer coincidence, happens to be the brother of Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, a favorite Chávez protegé and revolutionary untouchable.

El Universal’s writeup on this story beggars belief from start to finish. Cilia Flores, the Assembly Chairwoman, called for an overhaul of the National Assembly’s corruption investigations arm, the Comptrollership Committee, over its excessive willingness to, um, investigate corruption…just one of the sorts of “details” that gets buried deep inside the story because the headline stuff is so deliriously over the top.

I mean, Diosdado thinks Tascón was conspiring directly with Bill Gates and muses that, while he was in Redmond, “maybe they injected a chip into his blood”…no bureaucratic shakeup in the Assembly can compete with that!

How did our public sphere get this far gone?

Faced with all this craziness, it’s tough to organize your thoughts. But Habermas uses a concept I think is quite helpful in this context: “discursive standards”.

A discursive standard is a taken-for-granted set of rules a group uses to judge whether an argument is persuasive or not. Discursive standards vary from one setting to another: what constitutes a “good argument” in a courtroom doesn’t necessarily hold water in a school playground, or a Globovision studio, or a PETA meeting. In each of these settings, a different set of unspoken rules underpins the group’s shared sense of what’s reasonable, what’s persuasive, and what’s appropriate: it’s those rules Habermas wants to get at when he talks about discursive standards.

The question, for me, is how chavismo’s discursive standards got so freakishly warped.

Simple. The basic ingredient is just a supersized dose of Manichaeism. Reality, in this view, is a constant struggle between absolute evil and absolute good, with nothing in between. Chavista Manichaeism assigns absolute evil one label (“the US”) and absolute good another (“Chávez”).

Chavismo has crafted a discursive standard out of its iron-willed commitment to this worldview. Its discursive standard forces every single political, moral, diplomatic, personal, or judicial matter into that dualistic scheme. Within chavismo, arguments become “persuasive” only to the extent that they identify what’s good with Chávez and what’s evil with the US.

Taken to its logical extreme, this resolves into the view that nothing can be good unless Chávez did it, and nothing – not even Bolívar’s death – can be bad unless the US did it. No case is exempt.

That’s all there is to it, really. For chavismo, every debate must be conducted under these discursive rules. Straying is not allowed. A willingness to stray from the standard suggests the kind of disloyalty that, from the perspective of the standard itself, can only be interpreted as treasonous.

Luis Tascón, of all people, should’ve realized all this. But he fucked up. He said something bad had happened without saying the US was somehow responsible. Not allowed. So he got CIAed. Cabello Clan 1, Tascón 0.

Reading up on Tascón’s defenestration, I couldn’t help but think of Orwell’s take on Stalin’s trotskyite purges, and the inability of the PSFs of his age to get their minds around what was happening:

“To get the full sense of our ignorance as to what is really happening in the USSR, it would be worth trying to translate the most sensational Russian event of the past two years, the Trotskyist trials, into English terms. Make the necessary adjustments, let Left be Right and Right be Left, and you get something like this:

Mr. Winston Churchill [i.e. Trotsky], now in exile in Portugal, is plotting to overthrow the British Empire and establish Communism in England. By the use of unlimited Russian money he has succeeded in building up a huge Churchillite organisation which includes members of Parliament, factory managers, Roman Catholic bishops and practically the whole of the Primrose League. Almost every day some dastardly act of sabotage is laid bare – sometimes a plot to blow up the House of Lords, sometimes and outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Royal racing-stables. Eighty per cent of the Beefeaters at the Tower are discovered to be agents of the Communist International. A high level official at the Post Office admits brazenly to having embezzled postal orders to the tune of 5,000,000 pounds, and also to having committed lese majeste by drawing moustaches on postage stamps. Lord Nuffield [“the English Henry Ford”], after a 7-hour interrogation by Mr. Norman Birkett [who would become a lawyer at Nuremberg 7 years later], confesses that ever since 1920 he has been fomenting strikes in his own factories. Casual half-inch paras in every issue of the newspapers announce that fifty more Churchillite sheep-stealers have been shot in Westmoreland. And meanwhile the Churchillites never cease from proclaiming that it is they who are the real defenders of Capitalism and that it is the government that is no more than a set of Bolsheviks in disguise.’

Anyone who has followed the Russian trials knows that this is scarcely a parody. From our point of view, the whole thing is not merely incredible as a genuine conspiracy, it is next door to incredible as a frame-up. It is simply a dark mystery, of which the only seizable fact – sinister enough in its way – is that Communists over here regard it as a good advertisement for Communism.”

Faced with Tascón’s expulsion, what would Orwell think? In terms of violence, chavismo is surely far from the blood-soaked extremes of Stalinist paranoia. But in discursive terms, it’s really not that far.

Every week seems to bring a new low in the Bolivarian republic, yet the govering clique limps along somehow. Each week’s lunacy serves only to set a kind of “personal best” – a challenge to be out-lunaticked the following week. The discursive standards of the chavista governing elite get more and more detached from reality but, so far, the group’s managed not to implode.

I’m amazed, awed even, by its neverending capacity to plumb new depths, to outdo itself for shrill craziness again and again, to keep surprising us even this late on in the game.

I sense that this can’t go on much longer…but then, I’ve sensed at for a long time, and they keep proving me wrong.

Update: One of my better connected readers puts this befuddling possibility in my email. It may or may not be true: if anyone knows more, please share.

‘Here’s a weird ‘fact’ (insofar as anything that comes via indirect sources can be regarded as a ‘fact’): Jose David Cabello is not part of the Cabello clan … apparently the two brothers, whose kleptomania and physical resemblance – not to mention their close family ties – suggest that they are as alike as peas in a pod, belong to a different power group. In fact, Jose David’s recent appointment to replace Jose G Vielma Mora is the reverse of what most of us had thought … because it’s Vielma not Cabello who belongs to Diosdado’s group. And this may be one reason for his mysterious ouster. All very strange.’

The post How low can you go? appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

La mística oculta en los X-Men

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 00:33
Categorías: Noticias

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Nicolás!

Prodavinci - Dom, 11/26/2017 - 00:33
Categorías: Noticias

No Passports for You

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/25/2017 - 10:00
Photo: Caraota Digital

When my husband renewed his passport, in December 2015, he said it was a piece of cake. When I renewed mine, November 2013, it took the whole morning and major confusion. Last month we got our daughter’s, after an investment of Bs. 122,400 and weeks of fighting SAIME’s web page. Needless to say, we were lucky: El Nacional is now reporting that appointments for the renewal of passports for adults are suspended until further notice.

Sources claim that the suspension is due to the lack of materials meant to come in from Germany. I’m gonna go on a limb and say that there might be a problem with our payments and, if so, the low inflow of foreign currency is actually playing against our national identity. Go figure!

Luis Florido, national deputy and a known spokesman for Voluntad Popular, estimates the deficit of passports at 3 million.

And this is not a new problem. Back in March, Bloomberg reported that out of 1.8 million passports requested in 2016, as few as 300,000 were supplied due to… drumroll, please… lack of materials.

This explains why the so-called “express” option, activated in March to get a passport in 72 hours, didn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t matter if you have enough bolívares to accelerate your request if the government doesn’t have enough dollars at hand to acquire the materials.

Bloomberg also reported that Luis Florido, national deputy and a known spokesman for Voluntad Popular, estimates the deficit of passports at 3 million.
SAIME is currently allowing for an extension of passports for adults, but only for those expired from 2015 and onward. Those expired before cannot complete the process. They must request a new passport.

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