Noticias

2003: The Smell of Loss

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/25/2017 - 04:38
Original art by @modográfico

The smell of mom’s ponqué baking every afternoon.

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of 2003 and the paro petrolero. I was a fifteen year-old kid in Judibana, just outside Punto Fijo, on my first year of bachillerato, when it all went down.

Judibana is a strange place: built by the Creole Petroleum Corporation (currently ExxonMobil) in the 1950s, as housing for their expat oil workers and engineers, it was like a little slice of U.S. suburbia plunked incongruously into the Paraguaná landscape. It grew to become a small city, with its own Sears, CADA supermarket, and its Plaza Bolívar. Everybody worked in Amuay, the giant oil refinery just down the road, and I mean everybody. Our house was so close to the refinery that I could see the storage tanks from my window.

2003 actually began on December 2, 2002, when the oil strike started – a desperate effort to oust President Chávez. PDVSA’s top management and most of its workers were convinced that bringing the oil industry to a halt would do the trick. Thus, my city was consumed by the struggle. My family, too.

Both of my parents worked for PDVSA. My dad worked in the Hygiene, Safety and Environment (HSE) department, and my mom was a teacher in one of the schools built exclusively for the children of PDVSA workers. When the strike began, my mom immediately joined it but my dad never did; he was officially on vacation.

Still, they went to the asambleas: public daily gatherings at our Plaza Bolívar, with all the workers on strike. I went to a few (school was also out) and I remember the cheering, the camaraderie, the euphoria. Run by the refinery’s managers, those were informative sessions, updating everyone on the nationwide paro, and pep rallies. There was no Twitter in 2003: this is how we found out what was going on.

“What do Chávez and hallacas have in common? They only last until December.”

The asambleas got bigger with each passing day. The crowd cheered the workers on and showed support for the strike with “¡Valientes! ¡Valientes!” and a few of them turned out to be pretty good speakers. It was the nómina menor (PDVSA’s name for blue-collar workers) what really got the house excited: the more they inveighed against the government, the stronger our feeling was that this was going to work. El pueblo se nos está uniendo.

We thought it’d be a short fight. After all, on April 2002, just a couple of days on strike and street protests forced Chávez to resign. This time the entire oil industry, the lifeline of the Venezuelan economy, was dead-set on bringing him down. We kept hearing stories of people who didn’t even bother to pack their personal belongings from their desks before going on strike: passports, credit cards, property titles and mortgage documents were at their offices.

They never got them back.

By mid-December, routine had taken hold. Asamblea in the morning, marcha in the afternoon. Go home to watch Globovisión, and the daily press conference from PDVSA’s top management in Caracas. We were optimistic; the joke was “what do Chávez and hallacas have in common? They only last until December.”

By New Year’s Eve, the mood had changed. The government had regained control over many oil fields, docks, ships and refineries, and it was restarting some operations. The initial euphoria within the asambleas transformed into doubt: the crowds dwindled, the leaders began to warn that this was going to be a long fight. Gossip was about who was going back to work. My dad’s vacations were coming to an end, and he thought his experience could prevent the unseasoned chavistas from blowing the whole thing up.

The National Guard wouldn’t let him into his office. A local newspaper, El Nuevo Día, informed that he’d been fired.

Shortages built up everywhere. Long lines for gasoline and natural gas appeared. Importation of soda and beer from Mexico began. I could see that money at home was running short. With no income since early December and payroll bank accounts blocked by PDVSA, most workers were desperate for income.

My dad’s vacations were coming to an end. The National Guard wouldn’t let him into his office. A local newspaper, El Nuevo Día, informed that he’d been fired.

Years later, I understood that look on people’s faces: anguish.

Gente del Petróleo, our quasi-union, organized the distribution of food baskets to support the workers. Every couple of weeks, we received boxes with some basic staples – and desserts. We never questioned who was sending this food, Polar, Alfonzo Rivas, whoever. Our finances were approaching disaster. My dad (just like a few of his colleagues) started driving a cab. My mom baked ponqués, little snacks of vanilla pound cake. They became the center of our survival. Every morning was spent buying the ingredients, every afternoon was spent baking. We’d drive around town the next day, until all of our bags were sold. Rinse and repeat.

Slowly, the oil strike died down. People were more concerned about surviving. In the last of the asambleas, one of the managers still there prophesied “Give them a year, or five, and chavistas will still ignore how to run the refinery.”

It’s 2017, and they still haven’t figured it out.  

Eventually I went back to school. Even if we didn’t understand the full consequences of what had just happened, the sense of defeat was unmistakable. We tried to piece back together some sort of normal life, but neither my mom or dad could get a real job. A couple of months later, we learned that the top executive in Paraguaná was hired by a German company and left the country with his whole family. The diaspora petrolera had begun.

I remember how abandoned we felt – like the whole country turned its back on us. My parents sacrificed their jobs, careers, even their retirement funds. Some of their colleagues lost their houses (they legally belonged to PDVSA). I think, however, that the most painful loss was the sense of being special. We were living in a bubble, isolated from the struggles of the rest. Dad eventually found a job in the new field at the Faja del Orinoco, from where he was also eventually fired due to political pressure. Mom carried on as a teacher for Fe y Alegría, a catholic church foundation for the education of the poorest children in Venezuela.

Looking back, that was the moment we lost our industry. There was an understated air of revenge against us, those who were once fired for corruption or incompetence now called the shots. All of the other problems we’ve seen in the industry ever since can be traced back to that day when PDVSA jumped into the void, hoping for the best. And society left us to die.

For many years afterwards, my mom couldn’t bring herself to bake ponqués. They smelled too much of the strike, she said.

The post 2003: The Smell of Loss appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Architecture of Control

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/25/2017 - 04:38
Photo: Historia Total

February 3, 2003, marked the end of the indefinite strike called by the Democratic Coordinator the previous December. The government believed that Christmas would finish off the strike and the opposition thought the collective pressure would force the government to hold a recall referendum against Hugo Chávez. Both failed, but the opposition languished into defeat. Only the creation of the group of friendly nations of the Negotiation Roundtable back then helped find a less humiliating end to the conflict. The shortage of gasoline was definitive for the end of the strike. Without a single glimmer of understanding, between speeches for dialogue and reconciliation, the government tightened its repressive grip.

Regulations, here to stay

Finance Minister Tobías Nóbrega announced that a new foreign exchange regime would be put in place, managed by the Currency Management Commission (CADIVI), harshly criticized for its future consequences and the huge niche of corruption it would bring. Chávez demanded: “Not a single dollar for golpistas,” establishing the discretional nature of the instrument for good. Dollar purchases were suspended for almost three weeks. CADIVI established a unique sale price of Bs. 1,596 and a sell price of Bs. 1,600 (Chávez started his government with the dollar at Bs. 573 in 1999). He also established rigid price controls. When Cordiplan chief Felipe Pérez Martí announced that FX controls would be dismantled by the third quarter of the year, he eased his own way out of the institution, which brought the return of Jorge Giordani to his command post.

Revenge

Chávez said that those responsible for the national strike were “saboteurs, golpistas, terrorists.” He used repression and disregarded the rights to strike and to protest, as well as the institutions charged with trying criminal actions. Chávez ordered punitive laws: the law of contents (the first version of the Ley Resorte,) the law of the Armed Forces, the Anti-terrorism law, the TSJ law and the law of Foreign Exchange Crimes, all of them created to punish dissent and slash freedom, but since MVR couldn’t get a majority in the National Assembly, they couldn’t move further. Chávez’ vengeful vision also determined the economic agenda, the requirements for legal persons to have access to foreign currency became absurd. It’s worth noting the TSJ ruling that established that article 350 of the Constitution didn’t apply to Chávez but to regimes imposed through a coup d’état.

PDVSA’s chaos

Thousands of employees were laid off at all levels of the oil industry, which complicated restarting operations and revealed the discrepancies between the two perceptions of the industry. It was more important to get rid of those who dissented than to keep everything operational. In its ignorance, the government couldn’t even activate the internal distribution of hydrocarbons. Disregarding the organizational intelligence contained in years of training and practice was a highly expensive bill for the country and the mistakes became evident in time.

Judicial Terrorism

Administrative proceedings were opened against TV stations and there were also abuses against journalists, in a concrete effort to demonstrate that justice had lost its impartiality. Contests were suspended and the amount of provisional judges increased so that MVR could fill judicial seats with their own people. Judges who accepted rulings against the government were forced into retirement and the Prosecutor’s Office ignored complaints and lawsuits against the Administration. Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was infamous for his defense of Llaguno gunmen and became a pawn of prosecutor general Isaías Rodríguez for all political cases. The case of Fedecámaras head Carlos Fernández was iconic: arrested by DISIP, he was accused of treason, civil rebellion, instigating crime, criminal association and voluntary waste, under control judge 34, Maikel Moreno. Fernández was released due to procedural mistakes. CTV chief Carlos Ortega came out of hiding and was sheltered by the Costa Rican Embassy, until he was granted safe passage to leave the country. There were also attempts to take the board of the association Gente del Petróleo before court, but those didn’t prosper.

Negotiation table

After the strike failed, the Democratic Coordinator was forced to mutate, with questionable exercises of self-criticism and splits among its members. Súmate organized the signature collection event called “El firmazo” on the same day that the referendum should’ve taken place: February 2. With OAS chief César Gaviria in the country, the declaration against violence, for peace and democracy was signed. Next day, DISIP arrested Carlos Fernández and later, Chávez mocked the agreement to hold the referendum, establishing unacceptable demands to sign it. A third document, clearly favorable for the government, was drafted. In the end, it was signed due to international pressure, without a date for the referendum and effectively dismantling the Negotiation Roundtable. With Gaviria out of the equation, international interest dwindled.

Bombs!

Two explosive devices were placed in the offices of the Colombian and the Spanish embassies. There were also explosions in meeting rooms used by the Negotiation Roundtable, damaging four stories of the Caracas Teleport Center, in addition to the explosion at the home of Miranda’s governor and the attempt against journalist Marta Colomina. The common denominator was the use of materials that are exclusive to the Armed Forces. All of those cases went unpunished. Ah! Cubans arrived in the country for Misión Robison (literacy), as well as Barrio Adentro doctors.

Multiple referendums

The government postponed holding of the recall referendum any way it could, the key was the delay in the election of CNE board members. On August 25th, the government appointed Francisco Rodríguez (chairman), with Tibisay Lucena as his deputy; Ezequiel Zamora (vice president); Jorge Rodríguez; Oscar Battaglini and Sobella Mejías. In September, the CNE rejected the signatures submitted to request a presidential recall referendum because they were untimely (collected in February) and informal. Meanwhile, the government requested 48 recalls: 38 of them against lawmakers and the other 10 against governors and mayors opposed to MVR; the CNE only rejected three of these requests, obviously seeking to prevent the presidential referendum.

Indicators

The Venezuelan economy suffered a 9.4% GDP drop. CADIVI restricted foreign currency transactions, making the recovery of internal production quite difficult. The total investment also dropped by 38.9%. The government decreed a 30% increase of the minimum wage. Unemployment rates rose. Inflation reached 27.1%. Chávez, the BCV and the banking sector signed the Agreement of Economic Stability, valid for one year. Thanks to FX controls, the monetary base experienced a 46.4% nominal increase. The National Assembly approved two partial reforms of the Law of the Investment Fund for Macroeconomic Stabilization (FIEM), to scrap the restrictions preventing PDVSA and the states to withdraw funds. They also approved the Law that created the Fund for Macroeconomic Stabilization (FEM), abolishing the FIEM and the Fund for the Recovery of Public Debt. It was the year of the architecture of control.

The post The Architecture of Control appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The less enlightening face of chavismo writes in…

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/25/2017 - 04:00

From: Richard Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 2:39 PM

To: caracaschronicles@fastmail.fm

Subject: Back on line

> Francisco,

>

> I note that Caracas Chronicles is back on line and still peddling the same

> unconvincing “information” and opinions.

>

> It really is a pity that you are trying to redeem it after all the flawed

> predictions published since you launched the site.

[I wonder if he’s referring to my Nov 27th, 2002 prediction that the general strike would fail, or to my April 10th, 2002 prediction that unless a post-Chavez government was scrupulously inclusive it would quickly lose support and collapse? -ft]

> As I wrote to you in one

> of our first e-mail exchanges when are you going to go to the west of

> Caracas, if not just to collect your passport or I.D. card?

>

> As G. Wilpert says in Venezuela Analysis, Caracas Chronicles is one of the

> best examples of “ant-chavista triumphalism” on the web, which is a certain

> sort of backhanded compliment.

>

> There is no right and wrong in this situation, just winners and losers and

> it would be good for your morale to exorcize your demons by focussing on

> the political reality of Venezuela, instead of going on another dreamboat

> cruise and ending up in cloud cuckoo land – AGAIN!!.

>

> Best of luck

> Richard

From: caracaschronicles@fastmail.fm Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 2:49 PM

To: Richard

Subject: It’s simple, really.

Hey! It’s Richard!

The man who loves to disagree with the strawmen he creates and then calls my position!

The thing, Richard, is that all the bullshit either of us could write would not begin to make a difference. What you think, and what I think, and what Alan thinks and what Greg Wilpert thinks for that matter, all of that is of precisely no transcendence.

The only thing that matters anymore is what the electorate thinks. You’re convinced you have the majority. I’m convinced we have the majority…so the solution is simple, really: let’s vote! Find out who had it right!

ft

The post The less enlightening face of chavismo writes in… appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Fighting for an Empty Shell

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 11/24/2017 - 15:44
Foto: CuatroPelagatos

Antonio Ledezma hasn’t even been in Spain for a week and the buzzards are already attacking: Helen Fernández, the woman he left as commissioned mayor just before being detained, was sent home by a decision of the Metropolitan Council, effectively ending her tenure. That Council is, by the way, opposition–controlled.

“They’re declaring my absolute absence and the four grounds for dismissal are nonexistent in this case!” she says.

But Alejandro Vivas, city councilman from Primero Justicia party, believes the controversy is born from different interpretations of the law; when Ledezma was in Caracas, he says, there was a chance of him coming back to his post. After he fled for Spain, that possibility is gone and the mayor’s absolute absence is in place.

“There is no chance he’ll come back. This was a decision consulted with people from the PSUV [government party] who already had plans to nullify the Council” Vivas says.

I’m going to repeat that for you: people from Primero Justicia held hands with the dictatorship to expel a functioning mayor from her duties.

Truth is, this mayorship is a powerless body, an empty shell amidst parallel institutions under a dictatorial regime. Vivas insists on this being a recent notion born out of the need to comply with the law: “there was real risk of seeing the will of the opposition voters violated,” something that may have a political cost for Primero Justicia, but, according to Vivas, it was done with the utmost respect. “We tried to communicate with (Ledezma) after he left Venezuela, and he told us he disagrees with our actions.”

They’re declaring my absolute absence and the four requisites for that are nonexistent in this case!

And you know why? Because you can spin this any way you want, sugarcoat it with all the legalese available and make a pretty poster with bright colors, but we can see what you’re doing. The commissioned mayor is a figure created precisely for situations like this, and all logic (let alone camaraderie and real respect) dictates that she should end her term. “Law will let you do anything” is a saying in Law School, because you can spin the words as you wish. But the fact is that you waited until a popular opposition figure was out of the country to violate the provisions he left and now they leave his trusted collaborator out of a job. For a post with no real power. For a line on your CV. And you did this colluding with the people you are allegedly fighting.

“This decision came from Primero Justicia” Helen says. “I don’t understand why they did it or why they mock what Ledezma said. It’s a complicated situation, but this is disrespectful.”

By being part of Ledezma’s team, Helen thinks she is becoming an “uncomfortable figure.” Even inside the opposition.

The post Fighting for an Empty Shell appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

2002: The Ugly Sound of History

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 11/24/2017 - 05:24

Did Rucky save our lives?

We all have that friend from high school: big, voracious, colorful speech, prone to chaos. That day, April 11th, 2002, we had to stop in front of the Museo de los Niños to wait for him. We had been walking at the vanguard of the march from PDVSA Chuao and, at noon, he called and begged us to stop because he wanted to join us. We waited for half an hour, and we saw general Lameda – wearing a grey suit, as the second passenger in a bike, his conic head shining under the intense sun of that beautiful day – cheering the crowd, pointing west. Once Rucky finally arrived, we resumed our path towards the Palace, and on the north side of Centro Simón Bolívar we faced a wave of people in panic running back from Baralt avenue. What was happening? Then, Cyn’s cellphone rang. It was our boss, Sergio Dahbar, calling from El Nacional. “Where the hell are you guys? They’re killing people. Come quickly!”

Later, I would sometimes wonder what could have happened to us if we hadn’t waited for Rucky at Parque Central and we had been under Puente Llaguno 30 minutes earlier. But at that moment there was no room for speculation: Cyn and I had to go to work, which meant going across the death zone ahead or around it, because back then El Nacional was still in its old building between Puente Nuevo and Puerto Escondido, a few blocks south of Miraflores. Territorio comanche, we called it.

Rucky and the rest of our old friends turned back east. I took Cyn’s hand – we had been dating for a month – and we walked cautiously, leaving the crowd behind and navigating quieter streets, down to Lecuna avenue before heading west again, by our favorite Chinese restaurant and the Andean bakery, to pass the Baralt avenue. Some blocks away was the rain of bullets.

I clearly remember that sound, as we ran across Baralt Av.

“Where the hell are you guys? They’re killing people. Come quickly!”

The echo of firearms stumbling among the blunt corners downtown, scaring the pigeons, scratching the palimpsest of posters from years of previous elections on the dirty walls. The ramble of santamarías being shut in a hurry by shopkeepers who remembered the Caracazo quite well. The chain reaction of voices shouting “están disparando”, “hay plomo”, “hay muertos”, with a mixture of pride from being informed, fear disguised with humor and naked panic. The honking and stomping of those fleeing the epicenter of horror, the interception of two avenues called after illustrious zulianos: Baralt and Urdaneta. We didn’t know, Cyn and I, when we jumped towards Baralt hoping to be out of the shooters’ reach, that we were about to become so familiar with that sound: the one our little world was making because it was painfully morphing into something else.

My memory crammed the following days into one, divided in frantic scenes of sunlight and darkness. Sergio’s crowded office, for the remaining hours of April 11, where we watched the split screen and the pronunciamientos, and chief designer V. H. Rodríguez suddenly saying “bueno ¿y este golpe es seco?”, knowing, of course, where the scotch was hidden. The silence on deserted streets that midnight; the silence among the confused commuters on the Metro, the morning of the 12th. My beloved team at Primicia magazine realizing that we had to redo the issue we had just closed the night before. Carmona’s hand. The need to evacuate the newsroom when we were all working on Saturday morning, fearing that violence would erupt again downtown, and then the rumours about the contragolpe when we regrouped in a house in Prados del Este. That Sunday of confusing versions about looting in Catia, and Chávez descending from the sky among excited young soldiers – a fascist wet dream. My parents telling me over the phone that Chávez would take revenge against journalists, so I should leave the country, which I firmly discarded. The frenzy with which we made the third, final version of the most successful issue Primicia ever published, where Gabriel Osorio, our photoreporter, described in an unforgettable essay the tiny, yellow flowers floating in the fresh blood coming out the body of a young man killed with a FAL bullet near El Silencio station. The cover designed by Javier Rodríguez that showed a Venezuelan flag with seven bullet holes instead of stars and the title Nada será igual.

Though we felt that things were going to be different from then on, we couldn’t go beyond that vague sense of unstoppable transformation. We had no idea what was going to happen next. We were all young, at the magazine – I was 29 – but we weren’t more perplex than the veterans, or more vulnerable than them to the risks of infatuation. Reality was becoming more elusive than in the ’90s, and that decade had brought two intentos de golpe, one impeachment followed by a massive banking crisis, and the ascension of Chávez and his constitution. We didn’t embrace uncertainty: it went through the fabric of things, untying almost all our preconceptions of who we were or what kind of country we had.

We were about to become so familiar with that sound: the one our little world was making because it was painfully morphing into something else.

We were just starting to talk about the perils of living interesting times, while historians and investigative reporters began to prepare the books that would shine some light on our mayhem in the years to come. But that would happen later; in the weeks and months after April 11; many of us were stranded in that state of constantly agonizing over what the hell happened, as I guess millions of Britons and Americans after Brexit and Trump experienced more recently. Around the ones with that urge for understanding, grew the illusions that would sustain such nonsensical enterprises in the next two years as the two month-long oil strike – which would eventually kill Primicia – and the perezjimenista Woodstock of Plaza Altamira, where dissident FAN officers camped among their civilian followers during several weeks. In 2002, we were still in the middle of shock by the new way of things. All the way through that year and 2003, more bizarre events would jump against each other, like Desorden Público hardcore fans slam against each other in the climax of a concert.

Polarization and fanaticism exploded. Words, moral principles, historical consensus came all to the edge of an abyss of darkness. It was the beginning of a euphemism-charged TV jargon full of  “situación irregular” and “se escuchan detonaciones”. It was a feast for rumors and fantasies, for delirious propaganda and expendable pseudo-leaders, the ecosystem of irrationality that chavismo needed to spread the seeds of fake news, newspeak, and hate speech. Back then, we didn’t need social networks to throw ourselves into the bonfires of collective hysteria.

Chavismo showed us how it could kill the truth as it could kill people. In spite of the efforts made by investigative journalists like Sandra la Fuente, Alfredo Meza and Francisco Olivares, among others, there are still many unanswered questions about those events, an obscurity which has come to benefit many, inside and outside chavismo. The Comisión de la Verdad was useless and the hearings at the National Assembly were nothing but a very long rite of vengeance. Iván Simonovis and the other scapegoats were the first victims of the punitive judicial apparatus that completes the repressive practices of the security forces today.

April 11th, 2002 was the outcome of months of tension, a hidden conspiracy and a bunch of cruel coincidences. It made evident that those in power can shoot to kill and have the FAN on their side. For the capacity for abuse that chavismo would unleash on Venezuela ignited that day as it couldn’t do it even on February 4th, 1992, when they only had guns and tanks, not official media, institutions and police corps as well. Also, it exposed the extent to which the opposition overestimated its influence over the military and ordinary people, and underestimated Chávez and his allies.

Polarization and fanaticism exploded. Words, moral principles, historical consensus came all to the edge of an abyss of darkness.

However, the meaning of those four days is richer when we remember what started or was enhanced that horrible Thursday, a day full of ominous signs that many decided to ignore.

11-A ended up as a sacred date for chavismo, in the first place because – as the failed invasion of Bahía de Cochinos served Castro’s regime –, it gave the Revolución Bolivariana an epic: the champion of the poor, victim of old money, who is rescued from the prison island by the patriots in uniform. But especially because that day also launched a pattern of miscalculation and self-destruction that we, the opposition, have been repeating for over 15 years: to provoke a crisis that would force a split in the Army and therefore the end of chavismo. That crisis could take the form of a recall referendum, a presidential election, a general strike or a sort of Intifada, but the truth is that both radicals and moderates in the opposition have made the same bet: to push the military to unplug its support to Chávez or, now, Maduro.

That method has always failed, but its source of inspiration, its foundational myth, is resilient, and it’s April 11th. Venezuela lives under the ghost of the Caracazo, the trauma or dream of uncontrolled looting with the potential to oust a government and our country still feels the shadow of that other spectre: the 11-A, the trauma or dream of a march to Miraflores with the potential to end a regime. I am not sure that the defeats of 2017, with a death toll over 10 times higher than 11-A’s, have erased from our imagination the hope on those creatures that some still call militares institucionalistas.  

We will see if the April myth survives. Meanwhile, almost the span of a generation, 15 years, have gone by, and we face a gigantic challenge in taking account of so many loses. People. Lands. Industries. Ideas. Institutions. Our place in our world and our time. Our democracy. Our future. Our lives.   

And above that burnt landscape, that sound we heard that afternoon is still beating. Not only in the tangible, everyday struggle of people in Venezuela, but even among us who left. It resonates in the young families aboard some bus to Lima, trying to not fall asleep and being robbed of their few essential dollars. It is the soundtrack of some of our many nightmares, in the long nights of migration, about our beloved ones who are still there. It vibrates along the invisible lines of memory, affection, duel, dread and sadness that today constitutes the real structure of a nation imploding within its boundaries and diluting beyond them.

Here and now, far away from there both in space and in time, I close my eyes and remember, neat as the sky of that blue day turned red, the hand of who is now my wife, the faces of my friends, and that noise carving into my lost city, with its load of ominous signals and its reign of demons.     

The post 2002: The Ugly Sound of History appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Caracas Chronicles’ First Post Ever: A Look Back in Horror

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 11/24/2017 - 05:24

Dear 2002-Quico,

Thank you for your submission to Caracas Chronicles. Your text raises a few good points, but we think the text needs quite a bit of work before it’s ready for publication at Caracas Chronicles. The main problem is just bloat: the piece comes in at an indefensible 1,440 words. It would have twice the impact at half the length.

And why is it so bloated? Because it’s embarrassingly self-involved.

Let’s go over this wreck one paragraph at a time:

I’ll admit I’ve been finding it more and more difficult to write about Venezuela without sounding either alarmist or flippant, (or even worse, an odd combination of the two.) It’s a sign of the times here, that’s for sure. These days, what I find it hardest to convey to my friends who live outside Venezuela is this strong undercurrent of farce that now permeates public life here. Of course, I’d love to pretend that events here are of the utmost gravity, a completely serious class/social struggle a la Chile in the Allende years. And certainly, some of what’s been happening here is about as serious as serious gets: for a country as close to Colombia as we are, the ongoing rumblings about people setting up paramilitary groups and training intensively out in the countryside are enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand. But writing about it that way wouldn’t feel quite honest, because the slow-motion train-wreck that is Venezuela under Chávez is full of little, slightly absurd side-shows, newspaper stories that teeter on the border between alarming and just plain silly.

This is a bad opening paragraph, and it’s important you learn to recognize why: there’s just no reason to subject the reader to this volume of mental onanism. Aside from the obvious, embarrassing bloat, you’re leding with a problem you are having as a writer.

I’ll say this only once: Nobody cares.

De pana.

Just nix the whole insufferably self-involved mess and lede with something eye-catching, something real, an image, something like your second paragraph.

Today’s far side news story concerns an active-duty Army General, Rommel Fuenmayor, who decided to show up at the Supreme Tribunal in full military regalia to introduce a writ for the impeachment of President Chávez. General Fuenmayor was involved in the April coup attempt, but like a lot of the generals involved he still hasn’t been kicked out of the army. So you sit there, remote control in hand, watching one of the army’s top-ranked officers standing outside a courthouse ranting and raving about the crimes committed by his commander in chief. OK! Of course, I agree that Chávez should be impeached, but that does nothing to abate the Alice in Wonderland feel of the whole episode.

See, that’s much closer to the mark. Notice how the whole thing comes to life when you stop boring us with this whiny crap about how hard it is to write about Venezuela and start showing us why that is?

Yesterday, the surreal story du jour concerned the Banks Superintendent, who gave a press conference to denounce the nation’s bankers for being unwilling to keep lending money to the government. Now, you might think the banks’ unwillingness to keep bankrolling the government has something to do with the fact that Chávez has been calling the bankers counterrevolutionary swines each time he gets close to a microphone recently, accusing them of plotting an “economic coup”, of conspiring to bring down his government by shutting down the economy (and committing lemming-like commercial suicide in the process, of course.) Now, by now we’re used to this kind of shrill nonsense coming out of Chávez, but the Bank’s Superintendent? The head of the regulatory agency that’s supposed to look after the stability and viability of the financial system? Grrreat!

Actually, the government’s money problems have been the source of a lot of the recent barely believable news. The government is basically broke at this point: its income is about 2/3rds of its expenditures, which presents a pretty obvious problem. Public sector workers get paid months behind schedule, schools get their electricity cut off cuz the ministry is late paying the electric utility. The finance minister lives in a frantic scrap to figure out how to keep the whole apparatus running, but it’s a losing battle.

For the last three years they’d dealt with these chronic deficits by asking for loans… more and more new loans at higher and higher interest rates. In three years they’ve quintupled the Internal Debt, to the point that almost 2/3rds of the loans in Venezuelan banks’ portfolios right now are loans to the government. This is a problem, since that means that those 2/3rds can’t go to finance businesses, or farmers, or people who want to buy cars or apartments or use credit cards. As the government gobbles up more and more of the available credit, the rest of the economy finds it harder and harder to get affordable credit, which has led to a huge increase in bankruptcies, big hikes in unemployment, and a recession that will see the economy shrink by about 7% this year alone. Ouch.

But the Banks Superintendent sees things differently. If only two thirds of bank lending is going to the government, he reasons, then that means that a WHOLE THIRD of it is NOT going to the government, doesn’t it?

You’re doing relatively well up until this point, and if you’d wrapped the point up here you’d have a relatively successful rant in your hands. But no, you let yourself down in the next graf:

Outrageous!, he says. How dare banks claim that they’re all tapped out when they still have a whole third of their portfolios lent out to piddling things like, y’know, farmers or companies or home buyers?! Must be a conspiracy to undermine the glorious people’s government. Economic coup, for sure. So this guy’s idea, it seems, is that until 100% of the banks’ loan PDVSA portfolios are in government debt, they have no valid reason not to keep buying government bonds. Oh dear. This is the head of the Banking regulatory agency we’re talking about. Oh dear.

No, no, no 2002-Quico, you’re ramming a point down the reader’s throat at this point. You need to learn a bit of restraint. Less is more. The reader is not a moron. Cranking up the outrage-o-meter like this doesn’t do anything for your copy, other than cheapen it. Bájale dos.

So, y’know, you read news like that and you just sort of shake your head slowly and wonder, well how do I write seriously about this man’s incredible, rampant idiocy? Wouldn’t that just give his argument an aura of seriousness that it obviously doesn’t deserve? How do I deal with that, as a reporter? A lot of the public agenda here ends up putting me into that same broad conundrum.

Oy vey, now the post’s taken a harrowing detour up your own ass again. En serio, of all the reasons a person could have for thinking the trends you point out are a problem, “they make it hard for 2002-Quico to write” is like dead last on the list. What are you thinking?! Cease and desist!

The government’s mostly given up on trying to cover its deficit with loans. It didn’t help that at the same time his ministers were going around frantically trying to get new loans, Chávez was giving fire-breathing speeches pledging to turn over to their workers any companies that close down to participate in a protest lock-out against his government. As everyone knows, nothing boosts market confidence like the threat of massive expropriations.

Again, this isn’t terrible right up until that last sentence. You’re treating the reader like an imbecile, giving him no credit at all by ramming conclusions down his throat. Learn to edit with the delete key, ffs.

No, by now the government’s made its peace with the idea that nobody will lend them any more money. Instead, they’re turning now to that tried-and-true method of deficit financing: the printing press. It worked so well in Weimar Germany and 1980s Argentina, why not try it here? The new plan is to print about 6 trillion new bolivars. For the economics-minded in the audience, that’s about 38% of current M2. For the non-economics minded, that means that they’re planning to print 38 new bolivars for every 100 currently in circulation. Depending which economist you ask, this is either the end of the world, or merely a complete disaster. The only possible outcome is massive inflation. They’ll cry us the standard river about how they can’t cut their revolutionary programs for poverty abatement just because they can’t raise the money to pay for them. And they’ll ignore the bulging heaps of studies and data showing how spikes in inflation screw the poor first and worst. It’s such an anachronism, really, it’s just embarrassing. The rest of Latin America tried this shit 20 years ago, crashed and burned 15 years ago, and has long since gotten over it. But Chávez is just determined to re-invent the hyperinflation wheel. Who can stop him?

Funny how this theme would turn out to be a keeper, huh? I guess you couldn’t have known an oil-boom would draw out the pain for fifteen years. The point is obviously valid, though made in this kind of breathless catastrophist style that just detracts from it. Breathe, man. Turn it down a notch.

Of course, in a brief little write-up like this I can barely scratch the surface of the proliferation of really strange we’ve been reading in the newspapers here. I can’t really go into the story of the guy who claimed he used to be the chauffeur for a well-known chavista congressman and now says his boss used to take him to paramilitary training sessions where army instructors taught die hard chavistas how to shoot it out with any opposition group that tries to topple Chávez, nor about how the congressman in question claims he’s never met his supposed driver. I don’t have the room to dissect Chávez’s new theory that plotting a coup is tantamount to international terrorism and that the April coupsters are on a moral par with Osama Bin Laden (an odd position for the guy who led two failed coups in 1992, and who was staging public celebrations of the of the coup attempt anniversaries just 8 months ago.) And I can’t even start to tell you about the completely public appeals some opposition members have started making in the radio, TV, and newspapers, basically calling the army wusses for taking so damn long to just topple “el loco.”

One is not amused. First, because the cutesy I-don’t-have-time-to device doesn’t work. This kind of self-involved crap is why your prose gets all bloated and unreadable, 2002-Quico. It’s just too much.

All I can say for now is that the newspapers here read more and more as though they were written by Gabriel García Márquez: a series of utterly fantastical stories bordering on simple nonsense, made credible only by the fact that they’re written in a totally deadpan style. Reporters here are really good at that. With the best of them you’re almost fooled into forgetting that lurking just behind that just-the-facts-ma’am style, a hack is laughing his head off about the utter silliness of the news he has to report.

Ugh. That’s just awful. The proliferation of adverbs and adjectives(utterly…totally…really…utter…) the showboating sentence structure, the baroque piling on of clauses, all in the service of taking a point you’d already driven into the grounds in the paragraphs above and making it, insufferably, again, to no one’s benefit. Awful.

Look, I don’t want to pile on too hard because while the text is obviously pretty bad, there’s a certain relish you take to it, and that’s not nothing. I can see you’re enjoying yourself, and that matters, because it’s the only way you’ll keep doing it, and keeping at it is the only way you’ll get better.

The problem is that you’re enjoying yourself at your reader’s expense. You’re putting your needs as a writer ahead of their needs as readers, and that never ends well.

With a bit of time and a lot of practice, I still think we’ll make a decent writer out of you, 2002-Quico.

You’re a young guy.

With time, you’ll learn to write less, better.

The post Caracas Chronicles’ First Post Ever: A Look Back in Horror appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

“Chávez los tiene locos”

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 11/24/2017 - 04:00

A year that started with the conundrum of the 49 laws proposed through the Enabling Law, showing the collective weariness of many sectors of society and concluded with the general strike which would give us the first temporary version of the chronic shortages that are now the rule. Marches, counter marches, Chávez’ virulent discourse, the induction of Bolivarian Circles, the first attempt to turn PDVSA into another piece for the Executive Branch, a coup d’état, a transitional government that only lasted 24 hours, a Dialogue and Negotiation Roundtable and even a Truth Committee, surpassed Venezuela’s exit from FTAA and the proposed creation of ALBA with Chávez as its leader.

January 23

An unexpected amount of people attended the opposition protest that day. Despite the ban on aerial recordings to avoid comparisons between that march and the one called by the government, the disruption of TV broadcasts with cadenas, the government’s march was short and brief, with several buses there to guarantee an audience. People were less afraid of Chávez, but a collision was always avoided, so Altamira rose as the opposition’s rallying point while Miraflores was the MVR axis. In order to counter the effect of the January 23 march, Chávez celebrated the 10th anniversary of his failed coup on February 4, 1992, declaring it a national holiday and later celebrated the 13th anniversary of El Caracazo, on February 27, which was criticized by human rights organizations such as Cofavic.

Characters

The civic strike of December 2001, would boost Fedecámaras’ chairman Pedro Carmona Estanga to the spotlight. Carlos Ortega, head of CTV (Venezuelan Federation of Workers) talked on the phone with former president Carlos Andrés Pérez about the role he’d play. An Air Force Colonel, Pedro Vicente Sojo, said that 75% of the Armed Forces opposed Chávez, while Guaicaipuro Lameda resigned his office in PDVSA due to differences with the economic cabinet. Chávez replaced him with Gastón Parra (BCV vice president until then), unleashing a rebellion in PDVSA’s high-ranking officials who felt the company was being politicized and meritocracy was ignored. CTV and Fedecámaras signed a Governability Agreement (sans political parties) amidst constant sector strikes and protests.

PDVSA was the spark

While the Executive Branch insisted that the country was calm, confrontation was escalating nationwide. The conflict in the oil industry reached the top after the shutdown and eventual takeover by the National Guard, when Chávez announced that 14 PDVSA top-ranking executives had been stripped from their offices by transfer, expulsion or retirement, turning the offices in Chuao into another spot for opposition protests. On April 8, CTV and Fedecámaras called for a 24-hour national strike that became indefinite. On April 11, a march was called from Parque del Este to Chuao, with an even higher attendance than the one on January 23.

Photo: RunRunes, retrieved The massacre at El Silencio

In the heat of the march, the estimated 500 thousand people in attendance to the April 11 event, decided to detour from Chuao toward Miraflores. I was with my brother and thought, near Bellas Artes, of all our chavista friends gathering in Puente Llaguno. I went there and before they let me pass to greet them, they used a red lipstick to paint stripes on my cheeks. I gave them water and candy and we retraced our steps. Upon reaching the Metro, an old lady was crying miserably for the massacre at El Silencio. My brother and I denied what she was saying, because that’s where we were coming from, since we hadn’t heard a single gunshot. We had missed the whole thing by minutes, thanks to Caracas.

The resignation that wasn’t

Chávez imposed a mandatory broadcast to prevent TV channels from reporting the massacre taking place. The networks reacted by splitting the screen in two, showing the presidential speech to the left, isolated from the vortex that would leave 19 people dead and over 100 wounded, as well as the first political prisoners of the this regime: the officers and commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and Iván Simonovis, the Security Chief for Caracas’ Mayor’s Office back then. Generals and commanders urged Chávez to resign, and he was forced to leave Miraflores and taken from Fuerte Tiuna to Turiamo and from there to La Orchila. Carmona Estanga became the president. As if illegal raids and arbitrary detentions weren’t enough, the transitional government’s decree gave him all the powers, and he signed his own doom. Caracas experienced lootings and riots, anarchy didn’t stop even with the conciliatory version of Chávez who climbed down from the helicopter early on April 13 with a crucifix in his hand, thanks to the loyal soldiers who took control of Miraflores and rescued him.

Dialogue upon dialogue

Some of the PDVSA managers were reinstated and Chávez acknowledged the mistake of sacking them. He named Alí Rodríguez Araque head of the company; he convened the Federal Government Council to start negotiations with sectors, while the Truth Committee was mentioned but never crystallized. The military high command was replaced (or ratified) according to their loyalty to Chávez, and after a brief period of house arrest, Carmona was granted presidential safe passage to leave the country for Colombia. Accusing them of the conspiracy that ousted him from power, Chávez spoke for the first time of stripping some media outlets off their licenses to broadcast. The long hours of discussion at the National Assembly, where opposition and government supporters disagreed on everything, evidenced the stagnation of national negotiations headed by José Vicente Rangel. A tripartite committee was created with the support of OAS, UNDP and the Carter Center, including the visit of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter himself and OAS chief César Gaviria. The Democratic Coordinator demanded an international instance to verify compliance with the agreements reached during negotiations.

Institutional crisis, general strike and more deaths

The opposition submitted two million signatures for a consultative referendum. The CNE approved it and a notably split TSJ tried to prevent it. With a date set already, February 2, 2003, the administration withheld the funds to organize it. Chávez said that he wouldn’t resign “even if they get 90% of votes” and also ordered his people to disregard any TSJ ruling that opposed the revolution. Convened by the Democratic Coordinator for December 2, this strike turned indefinite each night. They held a briefing and extended it every night. It went on for over 40 days. Joao de Gouveia confessed to the gunfire at Altamira square that left three dead and 28 wounded. Ah! Control judge Norma Sandoval released Llaguno gunmen. Chávez named them heroes.

Indicators

After Nelson Merentes acknowledged the (poor) use of Bs. 2.3 trillion from the FIEM (Investment Fund for Macroeconomic Stabilization) to pay for wages and salaries, Tobías Nóbrega stated the need for $4 billion to cover the fiscal deficit. Starting February 13, the broadbanding system was replaced by a free cushion system of the foreign exchange rate. The GDP dropped by 8.9%, the inflation rate was 31.2%, the unemployment rate was 16.2% and real wages declined by 17.3%. The dollar was, early in the year, at Bs. 765, and closed at Bs. 1,382.50. Minimum wages increased by 20%. International reserves dropped and Fedeindustria estimated that 2,000 companies shut down in 2002.

The post “Chávez los tiene locos” appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Graciagiving, Fifteen Years On

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/23/2017 - 14:44

Growing up, Thanksgiving always had an exotic flavor to me — a gringo eccentricity talked about in that odd, nowhere-Spanish accent they used on a the dubbed enlatados on Venevisión.

The whole concept of Acción de Gracia was just foreign through and through: the notion of a family solemnly gathering and going around a dinner table earnestly listing off their reasons for being thankful was just so incongruous from the point of view of a typical, boisterous, everyone-speaking-at-the-same-time Venezuelan family.

Whatever we were, we weren’t that.

The odd phrase they used to describe it in on TV made it seem all the more exotic. There’s an ecclesiastical ring about Acción de Gracia as a phrase that’s missing from ‘Thanksgiving’. But it was confusing: at catholic school they taught us gracia was a gift freely bestowed by a benevolent God. Giving it certainly not something people could freelance.

I couldn’t piece it together. As a holiday, Graciagiving struck me as a theologically suspect, if not outright pagan.

These days, I think I had it all wrong: Acción de Gracia is the rare translation that’s somehow better than the original. It gets at the nub of it, at the the act of seeking grace by saying gracias.  Maybe the priests were wrong. Maybe grace is not gratuitous. Maybe it can be only be freely received when we make a purposeful act of giving it.

Which is why we’re taking today to say Thank You, as we launch a special commemoration of Caracas Chronicles’s Fifteenth Year Anniversary.

Ever since we launched, all the way back in 2002, Caracas Chronicles has been powered by an amazing constellation of readers, writers, commenters, illustrators, tweeters, co-conspirators and friends, and we couldn’t have done any of it without you.

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be looking back on those fifteen years: Posts from a range of guest authors, tidbits from the archives —lovingly curated by our stellar Editorial Assistant, Mariví Coello, and our killer addition to the Editorial team, Victor Drax— commemorative graphics by our ridiculously talented designer, Mario Dávila; an amazing project by la gran Naky, and tons of fun goodies and surprises along the way.

We know it’s not a time to celebrate, but we think it is a time to think back, reflect, relive and —especially— to give thanks.

On behalf of Emiliana, Raúl, and myself,

¡Graacias!

The post Graciagiving, Fifteen Years On appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Emergency in Figures

Caracas Chronicles - Jue, 11/23/2017 - 12:32

Four children died of malnutrition in November in San Cristóbal’s Central Hospital and six more died in July in the same state, while half of the 16 beds in that hospital’s pediatric emergency are occupied by malnourished children coming from families who live in extreme poverty.

The Pan American Health Organization confirmed reports of 166 cases of diphtheria across 17 states in the country (between September 2016 and October 2017). Venezuela has 74.3% of all potential diphtheria cases recorded in the region. 54.3% of patients are between five and nineteen years old and 51% of cases are women.

The Health Ministry’s vaccination campaign, carried out 17 months after the disease’s reappearance, is insufficient. Nine million doses won’t cover the recommendation of the World Health Organization: vaccinate 90% of the population.

The Health Ministry hasn’t issued any report on the campaign nor resumed the necessary publication of weekly epidemiological bulletins. Who could estimate risks with such opacity?

Bye bye, Rotondaro

Carlos Rotondaro was sacked as head of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS) this Wednesday, and replaced by the oh-so-efficient Health Minister Luis López. Rotondaro headed IVSS for 10 years, with brief absence between 2009 and 2010, when he was health minister. This soldier leaves the IVSS without medicines, one of the main reasons for the constant reports of a humanitarian crisis, in addition to his extensive history of corruption.

Human rights

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of Iván Simonovis’ arrest, and the fifth month since engineer Roberto Picon’s detention.

Seven out of the eight people arrested for Antonio Ledezma’s escape were released; except Carmen Andarcia, the mayor’s office’s Finance Manager, who remains under arrest in El Helicoide without being taken before a court.

Iris Azocar, mother of political prisoner Víctor Ugas, who was accused and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for cyber-crimes, denounced that Ugas served his sentence five months ago, but SEBIN officers won’t release him from El Helicoide, disregarding all release warrants.

Esta es la orden de inmediata excarcelación de Víctor Ugas. Cumplió su pena ¿Por qué no lo liberan? pic.twitter.com/NQ2hbjtIAk

— Gonzalo Himiob S. (@HimiobSantome) August 14, 2017

Yesterday, dozens of human rights NGOs rejected the ANC’s illegitimate hate law, calling it an assault on free speech. Carlos Correa, head of NGO Espacio Público, said that the law violates the Constitution, and it’s also a policy that seeks to cause fear, among other reasons because of its ambiguity, as it doesn’t use a rigorous criteria to determine guilt, establishing the platform for discretionary punishment.

The statement released by the 47 organizations was handed over to the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Imposed propaganda

Without any conflict of interests, from National Electoral Council headquarters, current Communications Minister, former head of CNE and PSUV campaign chief Jorge Rodríguez claimed that opposition candidates will have access to public media outlets during the campaign for municipal elections through cadenas, loved by all Venezuelans.

He went on about how Venezuela has the “most efficient and transparent electoral system in the world,” but he didn’t mention that even though the campaign kicks off today, the CNE is yet to publish the list of accepted candidates, and said nothing about the fraud in Bolívar state denounced by Andrés Velásquez, because tampering with results in vote tallies isn’t a potential hazard in these elections, right?

Demands

Primero Justicia leader Carlos Ocariz revealed the opposition’s demands for CNE in the face of presidential elections, to guarantee that they’re free and transparent, emphasizing that they’ll take them to all coming negotiations and international organizations. The conditions proposed are: appointing a new CNE; updating the Electoral Registry (including Venezuelans abroad); choosing new miembros de mesa, new national, municipal and parish boards; declaring electoral amnesty by eliminating political and administrative disqualifications; presence of national and international monitors; banning red stations (spaces for control and blackmail); controlling the State’s resources in the electoral campaign and the equal participation in State’s media outlets.

Without dollars but forgiving debt

Not only did Saime suspend appointments for passport renewals until further notice, but also the Complementary Currency Exchange Rate System (DICOM), reported that its 15th auction, that took place on August 31st, was nullified due to the impossibility of paying the people who were selected, blaming such an irregularity on the “illegal blockade unjustifiably and arrogantly imposed by the U.S. government.”

#DICOM COMUNICADO OFICIAL SUBASTA # 15. pic.twitter.com/DQxbti84Gh

— DICOM Venezuela (@dicomve) November 21, 2017

However, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza proudly announced that Venezuela will forgive Dominica’s debt on short and long-term bonds granted by Petrocaribe for that country’s reconstruction, a debt of over $100 million.

Better late than never

While Emmerson Mnangagwa was appointed provisional president of Zimbabwe (despite his record in violence and espionage).

Ratko Mladic, the “butcher of Bosnia”, was sentenced to life in prison for genocide. He’s responsible for the deaths of more than 8,000 men and children in Srebrenica, as well as other war crimes. The 74-year old criminal was a fugitive of justice for 15 years, but no more. “Today’s verdict is a warning to the perpetrators of such crimes that they will not escape justice, no matter how powerful they may be nor how long it may take. They will be held accountable,” Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said yesterday.

We go on.

The post Emergency in Figures appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Mayors Without Borders

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/22/2017 - 18:00

The details of Antonio Ledezma’s escape belong more to an action movie than to the life of a public servant. Maybe for people outside of Venezuela it’s hard to image a former mayor running and hiding at the border with Colombia, but after being imprisoned for over two years, it probably was the happiest ending, one he thought he’d never get.

From Madrid, he went over the details. He spent days studying the moves of his guards. On the day of the escape, Thursday, November 16th, the mandatory picture of him in house arrest was taken at 7:10 a.m. He went jogging with two guards and, at 8:30 in the morning, he was already in a car with three guys and a “very brave woman.” The journey would take 22 hours and 30 security checkpoints.

It wasn’t over until the next morning, at 6:30 a.m., when he reached the border. A woman recognized him but a soldier told him to “go and keep on fighting.” Once abroad, he received a call from president Santos, took a private plane to Bogotá and caught a commercial flight to Madrid, with his family.

Ledezma is far from being the only Venezuelan mayor forced into exile. Just months earlier, the mayor of El Hatillo, David Smolansky, fled to Brazil after the Supreme Tribunal ordered his detention. Ramón Muchacho, mayor of Chacao, also left Venezuela around the same time and, even with an arrest warrant with his name on it and no passport, he got to the U.S.

“We took the nontraditional way out”, he said to CNN.

“I feel like they took a part of my life but I am lucky to be alive and free” Muchacho said to Univisión.

Gustavo Marcano also escaped from Venezuela. After his stint as mayor of Lecherías, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail and decided to flee. “We took the nontraditional way out,” he said to CNN, already in the U.S., and he remained mysterious about the escape itself. After being accused by the government of supporting hooliganism in this year’s protests, Marcano moved from one place to another, trying to baffle the police, hiding with diplomats while the SEBIN was on his trail. A sadder story happened to the mayor of Campo Elías, Omar Lares, who realized the danger he was in during a police raid to his office, on July 30th. When the state agents didn’t find him, “they went for my son, a Colombian citizen. They wanted to swap him for me.”

Lares crossed the Simón Bolívar International Bridge to Colombia, where he remains while his son is detained. He has no money for a work visa and now lives with a friend, dreaming of going back to Mérida. He has seen many of his countrymen cross the border, some for food, others for a new life. For now, he just wants a job, a house and his son back with him.

“I hope he’s released” he laments. “He didn’t do anything. His only crime is being my kid.”

The post Mayors Without Borders appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Oh, Citgo!

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/22/2017 - 13:04

Imposed prosecutor general Tarek William Saab said yesterday that six high-ranking officials of PDVSA’s US-based Citgo had been arrested for corruption. The detainees are: Citgo chairman José Pereira; Supply and Marketing VP Jorge Toledo; Strategic Shareholder Relations VP Gustavo Cárdenas and Shared Services VP José Luis Zambrano. Saab said that the senior management had signed an agreement on July 15th with several financial companies for a refinancing of debt programs in 2015 and 2016, so they requested new loans (which allowed up to $4 billion in financing) “in absolutely unfavorable conditions for PDVSA and offering Citgo as a guarantee.”

Against the wall

“Corrupt officials are traitors and they’ll be pushed against the wall,” was Nicolás’ motto before promising university students to fight against corruption in State companies such as Citgo and PDVSA. Sadly, he didn’t tell them that the current head of PDVSA was, until not too long ago, head of Citgo and that the current oil minister used to be production VP and head of PDVSA for several years.

Nicolás chose to talk about treason and an agent provocateur, about urgent investigations (after 18 years in power), the shameless and massive embezzlement and the “criminal” use of public powers. He congratulated Saab for the speed and courage he never had as an Ombudsman and approved a special process so that students can get the carnet de la patria and with it, access to bonuses for school, transport and scholarships. He had enough nerve to claim that, despite the economic crisis, universities have had their budget. He approved a Bs. 80,000 hike for university scholarships. What will students do with so much money?

Sanitary emergency

The National Assembly approved an agreement declaring a sanitary emergency in the country and orders the government to implement plans to contain epidemiological diseases.

Lawmakers Luis Alberto Silva and Américo De Grazia explained the magnitude of the crisis in Bolívar state, with 200,000 people affected by malaria and other diseases, saying that the reports presented in 2016 were ignored by this administration, an evidence of their negligence.

Parliament also demanded that the government release information on the management of PDVSA and its affiliates, to review the controls on oil activity and the nation’s assets.

Makro

William Contreras, head of the National Bureau for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights (Sundde), announced en cadena the inspection of Makro stores, because they allegedly condition the sale of products for users by demanding minimum quantity purchases. He also requested the Prosecutor’s Office to open an investigation on this company due to irregularities in their compliance with labor commitments.

If the despair caused by food prices in supermarkets weren’t so alarming, it would be laughable to see Contreras’ gall when he announced the “convened” prices, emphasizing that imposing a price and convening it are different things. One kilo of sugar was set at Bs. 18,900 (it’s over Bs. 50,000 in the street); the highest quality rice now costs Bs. 15,561 (over Bs. 30,000 in the street), toasted and grinded coffee costs Bs. 30,890 (it surpassed the Bs. 70,000 mark this week).

Even if convened prices were respected, the percentage they represent for a minimum wage is obscene. You can find the rest of the list in Sundde’s website.

Let’s talk about oil

OPEC asked Venezuela to provide true information about the drop in oil output, which has shown the lowest numbers in 30 years. The request was made by representatives of Saudi Arabia, with the support of other members during the recent meeting in Vienna. The drop in Venezuelan output could be the centerpiece of discussion during the next OPEC meeting, because our non-compliance is leaving space for other oil-producing countries that don’t belong to OPEC, such as Brazil and Canada, to step into the market and replace Venezuelan oil. In fact, Irak covered 80,000 of the 84,000 barrels that Venezuela couldn’t sent to India, and surpassed the 90,000 barrels we didn’t send to the U.S.

Reuters also released an extensive work on the operations with which PDVSA is rerouting oil from their joint projects with foreign companies, to feed its own local refineries.

Bankrupt

While Sudeban announced an eleventh extension to the validity of the eternal (and useless) Bs. 100 banknote, reports said that new notes of the foreign debt of the Republic and PDVSA fell in the 30-day grace period to comply with their commitments, in addition to the three notes whose grace period expired last November 13th, as if the declaration of default and the activation of its corresponding guarantees against risks didn’t bring any harm to the nation.

Siobhan Morden, Nomura chief for Latin America, accurately describes the drama we’re experiencing: an economic crisis that grows worse with less imports (because paying the debt is the priority), even though we’re producing less oil, is linked to the quota of “corrupt profits through currency exchange distortions for the ruling elite;” understanding these variables as an internal catalyst for regime change.

Three incidents with Colombia

Nicolás lashed out against his Spanish and Colombian counterparts, Mariano Rajoy and Juan Manuel Santos, accusing them of having “pulverized“ public education in their respective countries, and I’m not sure if that’s his reaction to:

  • The statement issued by Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín explaining how the Venezuelan diaspora complicates peace in this post-conflict period
  • The Colombian Navy report about rescuing Venezuelans after two boats coming from Venezuela floundered in the waters of the Orinoco river
  • The protest note Colombia sent due to the incursion of Venezuelan soldiers in the border zone

Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe resigned the presidency after 37 years in power. Jacob Mudenda, head of the Lower Chamber, read the resignation: “I, Robert Mugabe, formally submit by resignation as president (…) effective immediately.” And almost all Venezuelans remember that brief audio that ended with: “which he accepted.”

The post Oh, Citgo! appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

On Politics and Morals

Caracas Chronicles - Mié, 11/22/2017 - 10:00

When new negotiations between Maduro’s government and the opposition parties were announced, the internet went mad: talking was treason, negotiating with a dictatorship is unethical, double-crossers hide everywhere. It could be argued that political action should be about morality, while many theorists state it isn’t.

But let’s assume it is.

What moral imperative should guide political actions in our country now? Should personal dignity and purity against the dictatorship be the compass? Is it ethical to focus on abstract values when Venezuelans are suffering so much? When chronic disease patients struggle for essential medication before dying? When the fact that children are dying because of hunger is not news anymore, and we don’t even record their names?

If you think that political action is about morality, what imperative is higher than saving lives?

We’re going through hell: a pointless catastrophe engineered by ourselves. It’s not a devastating natural phenomenon hitting our country, it isn’t the oil prices (those have been lower in the past and living conditions weren’t this miserable). This crisis is our fault. All ours.

It is Maduro’s government’s fault on the first place. The policies that have been implemented show that, for state officers, some lives are expendable. That it’s okay for them to cut medicine and food supplies, that they believe people should take care of themselves. No one in the government cares about those who cannot. They’re doomed.

If you think that political action is about morality, what imperative is higher than saving lives?

Then we have parties in the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), unable to agree about basic issues like elections or negotiation. Time goes on while these guys argue about the sex of angels. Meanwhile, Venezuelans die.

And then there are those who claim to oppose Maduro, but fight against the political opposition. They weren’t elected by anyone. They support abstention without a sensible plan for changing the regime, believing they have the monopoly of dignity and are entitled to rule this country. Any negotiation that could improve living conditions for the most vulnerable Venezuelans would be treason.

I think treason is not fighting for those condemned to die from shortages and hyperinflation. They don’t have time, they can’t wait for “conditions,” they need action now.

I know most of our readers will think I’m some colaboracionista, because I propose saving lives as our main goal, and not “Maduro vete ya.” But maybe, just maybe, if that sense of urgency was a priority for all political actors, we could agree on strengthening our institutions, on a plan for our foreign debt… on fair elections next year.

I know it sounds like a dream, but dreaming could be the first step for giving a future to the hopeless.

The post On Politics and Morals appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

The Vulture Watching the Bond House

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/21/2017 - 18:00

The Wall Street Journal’s Anatoly Kurmanaev has great scoop on Venezuela’s ongoing trainwreck of a bond debt restructuring process. The report centers on one David Martínez, the Mexican billionaire whose firm Fintech lent the Venezuelan Central Bank $300 million, pledging a collateral of PDVSA hunger bonds with a notional value four times that amount (and who is therefore set to make a killing, or already made one, if BCV defaults on the loan). He is now working as an advisor to the government. His recommendation? To default in upcoming bond payments (which, of course, do not include payments for the PDVSA bonds he holds as collateral).

The term “conflict of interest” is an epic understatement for the kind of ethical and legal black hole Martínez is in here. This is like an evil mortuary advising you on cancer treatment options:

Billionaire distressed debt investor David Martínez urged Venezuela’s struggling government to default on its bonds days before the country’s surprise announcement to restructure its obligations.

Mr. Martínez, who made his fortune buying cheap defaulted debt and selling it after the restructuring, met in Caracas with the Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and other members of the economic cabinet in late October, according to Venezuelan officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

The government sought Mr. Martínez’s advice as it was running out of money and overdue bond payments were piling up. Days after the meeting, President Nicolás Maduro went on state television to say he wanted to restructure the country’s debt. He appointed Mr. El Aissami, who the U.S. sanctioned for alleged drug trafficking, to lead negotiations. Mr. El Aissami denies the allegations.

Mr. Martínez has a vested interest in the outcome of debt talks. His New York-based company Fintech Advisory Inc. received bonds with a face value of $1.3 billion as a guarantee for a $300 million loan to the country in March.”

According to the piece, our VP/drug kingpin Tareck El Aissami (who is not precisely an expert on financial matters not involving white powder) is close to Martínez:

The loan allowed Venezuela to make a crucial bond payment and helped Mr. Martinez earn Mr. El Aissami’s trust, said an official who was involved in the deal. “He has a direct line to the vice president for some time now,” the official said.

Martínez is recommending the government to change PDVSA’s oil shipment scheme to avoid seizures of shipments from holdouts:

Among Mr. Martínez’s proposals to Venezuela’s debt task force, was restructuring oil contracts to give foreign trading companies legal ownership of Venezuelan oil exports, said people with knowledge of the meeting. That, he argued, would protect them from unpaid investors who may try to seize the republic’s assets. Two other people familiar with the meeting’s contents have collaborated their account.

The kicker is that due to the impossibility of the government to undertake any kind of meaningful economic reform because of the disagreements among its many cliques, they ended up on compromising on an incoherent strategy that makes no sense.

Mr. Martínez’s proposals generated a heated discussion in Venezuela’s economic cabinet, said Venezuelan officials, with the government eventually settling on a middle course of muddling through payments as it tries to strike an amicable agreement with the bondholders.

This is an absurd position. People restructure if the alternative is not getting paid. If you guarantee you’ll keep paying, why on earth would anyone agree to restructure? The government’s offer right now amounts to: “I’ll definitely pay you 100. But I think you should voluntarily agree to get paid 80, instead.” Uhhhhhmmmmmmm….

Read the whole thing, it’s a perfect encapsulation of chavismo’s inherent criminal and corrupt nature and of their fatal incompetence to avoid the looming cliff our economy is facing.

The post The Vulture Watching the Bond House appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Respect for Life

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/21/2017 - 12:24

Francisco Valencia, head of the Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life (Codevida), warned yesterday about Venezuelans who are suffering from diseases and can’t find treatment could request humanitarian asylum before the embassies. Without immunosuppressors, the body rejects transplants and people die.

The purpose of yesterday’s march was to demand from the government a humanitarian channel to assist Venezuela with medicine supplies.

Katherine Martínez, head of Prepara Familia, said that the State violates the rights of children and teenagers by not providing the necessary supplies to guarantee their health, restating that transplants are suspended all across Venezuela. Patients require medicines to live and it’s absurd that, even though other States are willing to help us in this crisis, Nicolás refuses to open a humanitarian channel. It is absurd that, on top of having destroyed the national pharmaceutical industry, he prevents aid from accessing the country.

Valencia’s right when he says that “the humanitarian emergency won’t wait for the results of dialogue,” health is a priority, and it doesn’t have the privilege of diplomatic lethargy.

#TodosLosDerechosParaLosNiños (Children’s rights)

Regime cynicism is expressed on any propaganda platform. The Autonomous Institute of the National Council of the Rights of Children and Teenagers (Idena, which depends directly on the President’s Office) said: “On November 20th, 1959, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child which will be enjoyed by all children without any exception of sex, race, language or religion.”

There’s little the government can celebrate about a declaration they don’t consider an obligation, much less amidst a crisis where children are dying of malnutrition and lack of medicines.

Carlos Trapani, general coordinator of the Community Centers for Learning association (Cecodap), pointed out that the Supreme Tribunal of Justice  – after a nine-month delay – denied for a fourth time a measure that sought to guarantee the access to essential medicine for children. Ruling N° 823 is quite simply a death sentence that dooms children.

En el aniversario de la Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño recordamos que el @TSJ_Venezuela el 27/10/2017 (Sentencia N° 823) negó 4to recurso intentando por @cecodap por el acceso a medicamentos esenciales para los niños #TodosLosDerechosParaLosNiños @cecodap @REDHNNA pic.twitter.com/yT5SxSD4gm

— Carlos Trapani (@carlosmtrapani) November 20, 2017

The Food Basket

The report by the Venezuelan Teachers’ Federation’s Center of Documentation and Social Analysis (Cendas-FVM) says that the food basket rose to Bs. 5,594,119.73 in October. It increased Bs. 1,693,043 since August! People need more than one minimum wage a day to pay for it. The yearly variation (October 2016-2017) was 872.33%, almost 37 minimum wages. The gap between controlled and market prices is 30,900%. Meanwhile, the Central Bank increased monetary liquidity to 64.71 billion bolívares. Todo bello.

Consequences of the escape

Antonio Ledezma said in his event in Madrid: “Get ready, Maduro, because now you’re going to see Venezuelan exiles together across the world to make the truth be felt,” saying that he can do more for the country in exile.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Mayor Helen Fernández denounced the arrest of three Metropolitan Mayor’s Office employees for allegedly being accomplices in Ledezma’s escape: former officials Carlos Luna and Elizabeth Cárdenas and Finance Manager, Carmen Adarcia.

Authorities also arrested Jairo Atencia, security guard at the building where Ledezma used to live; Nelson Teixera, owner of the company that provides the building’s security camera system and Ignacio Benítez, head of the condominium; as well as the janitor, explaining the true reason for Nicolás’ lightness on this issue.

One of Ledezma’s lawyers, Joel García, said that there were no arrest warrants issued by any courts against mayor’s office employees.

Support for production

The National Federation of Livestock Farmers (Fedenaga) and the Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers (Fedeagro) created a joint committee of strategy and supply to find solutions to ease food distribution to communities, via “Local Markets.” Both associations decided to seek support from the international community to provide supplies, spare parts and equipment for the agricultural productive sector, so they appealed to Mercosur and other institutions that could help, assess and implement plans to support and create the necessary conditions to start the recovery of production in 2018.

Comunicado conjunto del Directorio ampliado de @Fedenaga y @Fedeagro #ProductoresPorVzla pic.twitter.com/iftRzoWk3Q

— Fedeagro (@Fedeagro) November 20, 2017

Human rights violations

The TSJ-in-exile’s Criminal Cassation Chamber announced that they submitted the complaint of a Venezuelan citizen for systematic human rights violations committed by his country’s authorities before the International Criminal Court.

20/11 Sala de Casacion Penal ordena remitir denuncia de violación sistemática de derechos humanos a la Fiscal de la Corte Penal Internacional pic.twitter.com/56CqlLffpw

— TSJ_Legítimo (@TSJ_Legitimo) November 20, 2017

Justice Pedro Troconis, head of the Criminal Cassation Chamber of the National Assembly-appointed TSJ, added that they’re requesting the UN Security Council to consider the possibility of asking Interpol to issue alerts for the people mentioned in the complaint, starting with Nicolás.

Political proposal

The movement Soy Venezuela presented a proposal: a political group that seeks to establish a new opposition alliance after the decline of the Democratic Unity Roundtable.

For lawmaker Richard Blanco, the priority is “toppling the narco-dictatorship and fulfilling the mandate of July 16th,” because this movement will never turn its back “on the mandate of Venezuelans,” he said on July 16th. He thinks that it establishes the route for the country’s recovery. María Corina Machado said that they’ll make “a solid, reliable Venezuela. Soy Venezuela has stated the Consultative Council’s stance for what would be a real negotiation and not a fake dialogue.” Once more, they didn’t say how they plan to do it.

The political campaign and the electoral fairs are set to start all over the country on Thursday, the streets are brimming with excitement! It almost replaces the anguish for the savage increase in prices and the bolívar’s depreciation: the black market dollar reached Bs. 81,271 yesterday.

Así cotiza el $ a esta hora BsF. 81271,27 y el € a BsF. 95900,10 entra sin bloqueos https://t.co/RwK4U56gc1 pic.twitter.com/lvYZGCVEyO

— DolarToday® (@DolarToday) November 21, 2017

Curious that CNE rectora Tania D’amelio spoke on VTV dressed in red, invoking Jesus Christ – who rules our country, according to her –, and that, consistent with her Catholic zeal, she exploded in criticism against violent political groups, by means of the hate law, of course.

The post Respect for Life appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Thought-Criminals

Caracas Chronicles - Mar, 11/21/2017 - 10:00

        “Autonomy is the institutional form of academic freedom and a necessary precondition to guarantee the proper fulfilment of the functions entrusted to higher-education teaching personnel and institutions.”
                                                                      
(Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, article 18, UNESCO)

Consider the case of Rafael Avendaño. In November 2016, he was expelled from the Medical School of the Universidad Bolivariana in Mérida for changing the channel. Literally. The TV in the common room had been tuned to VTV – the main chavista propaganda outlet – when he dared change it. “If you’re not in line with the rules of this establishment and the revolutionary process” he was told, “you know what to do.”

And just like that, he was gone.

These are just some of the findings of recent reports like El pensamiento bajo amenaza, published by the Universidad de Los Andes’ Observatorio Derechos Humanos (ODH-ULA) in collaboration with six Venezuelan universities, and additional research issues by Aula Abierta, illustrating the steady erosion of Venezuelan universities’ autonomy. They shed light on the regime’s modus operandi in creating parallel institutions, violating the rights to free speech and academic freedom while threatening and killing students, or illegally detaining them and their teachers.

It’s rather simple: knowledge, and free access to it, are deeply threatened in Venezuela today.

As disturbing as Avendaño’s, is the case of the two students who were detained by SEBIN after photos of naked women in labor chucked away in a waiting room of a government controlled hospital went viral.

“If you’re not in line with the rules of this establishment and the revolutionary process” he was told, “you know what to do.”       

Also, in November last year, UNEFA, the Armed Forces Experimental University, decided to open a disciplinary proceeding against Leonardo Isaac Lugo. His charges? “Offending public moral and traditions, expressing his opinion in public and acting against the interest of the country, the university, and himself.” Leonardo’s crime was wearing a bracelet saying “Capriles for president,” from Henrique Capriles’ 2012-2013 campaigns.

The regime is on a constant lookout for dissidents trying to fracture the revolutionary image of the utopian society, the most surprising of which was back in May, when we saw former Health Minister Antonieta Caporale, releasing data of the horrid reality in infant mortality and malaria; after years of silence. She was, of course, fired.

The ungrateful

“You’re all so ungrateful – how can you sign such a thing, against a government that has given you so much?”

A transcribed account, published by Aula Abierta, of a conversation between a psychology student and a clerk working for the public scholarship FUNDALOSSADA, describes how the regime leans on students’ precarious finances to intimidate them.

The issue arose during the 2016 unsuccessful push to gather signatures for a recall referendum – a procedure clearly set out in the Venezuelan constitution. Without warning, the fund chairman, Luis Pérez, announced he would “withdraw” 896 already granted scholarships. All 896 had been granted to students who had signed the petition to convene a recall vote. The clerk told students the only way the decision could be rescinded was if students formally withdrew their signature from the Recall Petition.

“We will only consider those who choose to delete their signature,” Pérez said.

In other cases, students were threatened with losing their government subsidised food – a vital lifeline to the poor – if they refused to withdraw their signatures.

Again and again, the government’s line is clear: you must choose between your conscience and your belly.  

“Autonomy what is it good for?”  

Yes, that’s what he said. The recent statements of the Minister of Higher Education are yet another threat to academic freedom. “Autonomy should be used for creating people at the service of the motherland” he continued.

Before Chávez came to power, Venezuelan universities had a long history as houses of refuge for ideological dissidents. Not only a place for freedom of thought, but a place to hide after throwing Molotov cocktails. The police was legally barred from setting foot on campus. Indeed, a number of current top officials got their start as university radicals, shielded from law enforcement by their institutional affiliation. Now, the dramatic accounts of violence by paramilitary forces, National Guard and police forces on campus reveal a regime that has little time for such niceties.

The specially protected status of autonomous universities is set down in the ‘University Act’ (Ley de Universidades), a fundamental part of the historical structure of Venezuelan universities for almost 40 years. In the wake of MisIón Sucre, though, the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela was created in 2003 and a birth-process of public universities with explicit socialist ideology began.

As a means of consolidating the chavista agenda in the realm of education and research, Misión Alma Mater was established in 2009, for “strengthening popular power and constructing a socialist society.”

Misión Alma Mater was designed to bring a mass of new students into the university system, without academic criteria, conditioning the way of thinking in students and professors.

An anonymous researcher for Pensamiento Bajo Amenaza adds that “Misión Alma Mater was designed to bring a mass of new students into the university system, without academic criteria, conditioning the way of thinking in students and professors.” Later, came the concept of “The Teaching State” (Estado docente), defined in “Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE).” The government assumed the authority to regulate, supervise and hegemonically control the basic and fundamental structure of education.

The ideological control of thought and curriculum is especially strong within the so called experimental universities. Working at the National Experimental University for Security (UNES), the researcher tells me “I saw how students were forced to write poetry praising the work of president Chávez, or make sculptures of him to exhibit in the main hall. Even ‘El Plan de la Patria’ is a mandatory course.”

Parallel lines

Since 1998, the regime has been in a constant quarrel with reality. Their “branching out” in education has been extensively and aggressively subduing the aforementioned autonomy. The rapport by ODH-ULA refers to this as a ‘parallel structure’ described as:

“A parallel system created by the government to avoid formal structures and traditional institutions acting against their interests. For example: in Venezuela there is an Association of Rectors of Autonomous Universities (AVERU), but the government allowed the creation of the Bolivarian Rectors Association (ARBOL); two organizations with similar structure, but not the same objective, the second is designed to weigh the decisions and actions that AVERU can take, always favoring the ruling party.”

Between 2012 and 2015, the Supreme Tribunal rendered 43 judgments concerning electoral processes in both student and teaching bodies of autonomous universities, clearly violating the right “to make decisions regarding its internal government, finance, administration, and to establish its policies of education, research, extension work, and other related activities,” as stated in “The Declaration on Academic Freedom and Autonomy of Institutions of Higher Education,” signed in Lima, September 10’th, 1988.  

Withholding information – for the sake of La Patria  

On February 21st, Santiago Guevara, professor at Carabobo University, was taken into custody. He wrote a small piece for a Spanish newspaper calling out the “Cubanization” of the government and was subsequently charged with treason. According to Aula Abierta, 15 professors and 339 students have been detained arbitrarily between April and July of this year, during peaceful demonstrations.

The brain drain is not merely a question of bright people crossing borders. It’s also a regime terrified of people that know too much, and prefers to jail them for being thought-criminals. Students, researchers, teachers, and doctors pose the same threat: exposing truth.

The regime has been desperately trying to eradicate free thinking for 18 years now, and although current circumstances seem bleak, they have not been successful. People are still sharing images, writing the truth, thinking and asking questions. But at a great cost.

Since he was jailed, Professor Guevara has lost 25 kilos. And his clock is already ticking.

The post Thought-Criminals appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Salvados Redux

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/20/2017 - 16:04

Vuelve a ver @salvadostv con la segunda entrega de la entrevista de @jordievole a Nicolás Maduro en Venezuela. ¡No te pierdas #MásMaduro! https://t.co/O8Pe1FkgO6 pic.twitter.com/Hf5sjkiQDR

— Atresplayer (@AtresPlayer) November 19, 2017

 

So, #MaduroEnSalvados is back for round two. This time, a lot of attention is given to Venezuela’s current image in Spain – something we addressed a bit in last week’s review.

First, two Spanish politicians are given the roles of prosecutor and defense of Maduro and chavismo. The former was one−time Spanish PM Felipe González, who denounces the decline of Venezuelan democracy, especially since December 2015, with MUD’s landslide victory in the 6-D legislative election.

The defense was Alberto Garzón, leader of United Left (right now in a joint coalition with the Podemos folks). He thinks Maduro had a rough time replacing someone like Hugo Chávez in the middle of an economic crisis.

We then come back to the Ayacucho Room, in Miraflores, where Jordi Évole explains the reason behind this all: “In Spain, lots of bad things are said about you. So this is your opportunity to respond.” Évole asks about the 2015 election, with Maduro saying he took defeat with humility (a version that falls flat when fact-checked). The issue of the ANC comes along and Évole shows him images of sessions where many of its members praise Maduro, attacking dissidents.

The president struggled to articulate his defense. According to him, there’s no censorship in the country, there’s just “enforcing the law.” When the issue of Spain arrives, he sidesteps direct criticism of Rajoy by saying his Spanish counterpart “follows U.S. orders.” He won’t take sides in a Spanish internal affair, regarding the Catalonian question, also saying that international intervention is required.

If this was an attempt to present a different image of him to the international audience, he basically fell on his “the right” and “imperial forces” speech.

When Évole asks about the possibility of something similar in Venezuela, recalling an alleged plan to split the nation, Maduro says he wouldn’t talk with separatists (talk about contradicting yourself).

This is a good moment to remind you that after this interview was taped, the Spanish government claimed there’s a disinformation campaign in Catalonia carried out by Russia and Venezuela.

In the last segment, Évole questions Maduro about the alleged Podemos connection. Maduro denies any financing of Podemos or even knowing Pablo Iglesias personally. He admitted meeting co-founder Juan Carlos Monedero. No mention of Alfredo Serrano at all.

Then came a round of questions on abortion and same-sex marriage (Maduro gave non-answers in both), and if he thinks the late comandante eterno would be proud of his successor. Évole gave him the chance of opening up a bit. He didn’t. He also praised Kim Jong-un, because Maduro is gracious like that. 

The second part of Salvados was sort of a letdown. Some of the important questions were left unanswered and there was a lack of focus that the first part didn’t have. Évole had good questions but went easy in several tough spots, without follow-ups. The biggest loser is Maduro; if this was an attempt to present a different image of him to the international audience, he basically fell on his “the right” and “imperial forces” speech. The guy wasted a chance to show a non-gaffe version of himself.

We expected PR and introspection, and we got the same old song and dance.

The post Salvados Redux appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Rajoy and Ledezma

Caracas Chronicles - Lun, 11/20/2017 - 15:01

Metropolitan Mayor and political prisoner Antonio Ledezma arrived in Madrid on Saturday after escaping custody. He flew to Spain via Colombia, saying that he felt free and that he’d soon start travelling around the globe to “contribute from exile to extend the hopes of Venezuelans to topple this regime.” He met with Spanish president Mariano Rajoy, who vowed to keep working to find “a fully democratic solution” for the political crisis currently plaguing Venezuela which, in his view, must include the release of political prisoners and the holding of “certifiably democratic” elections.

After playing down Ledezma’s escape on Friday, Maduro’s regime wasn’t too happy about this meeting with Rajoy and Foreign minister Arreaza deemed it “an unfriendly act,” saying that the Spanish government’s support for the mayor is just one more example of the long list of assaults and meddling committed against the people and the bolivarian government. The incident re-ignited the diplomatic conflict between the two nations, which had already been gaining traction in recent weeks.

Today’s report includes Ledezma declaring he received help from the militaries to escape, and earlier, Ignacio Benítez, head of the condominium of the building where Ledezma lived, was taken by security forces. He’s held isolated at El Helicoide. He could be indicted for allegedly helping Ledezma escape. The security guard was also arrested. Two more innocent scapegoats for the regime.

The Talks

Last week, the opposition sent a delegation to the Dominican Republic to establish the terms for the conversation that’s set to take place on December 1st and 2nd.

According to MUD electoral expert and former CNE board member Vicente Díaz, the opposition’s demands are roughly the same ever since the botched negotiation attempt in 2016: respect for the current Constitution, which is a moot point with this government; the release of all political prisoners and attention to the economic crisis.

Meanwhile, AN Speaker Julio Borges pointed out that the focus of these talks will be recovering “free and fair elections” and the opening of a humanitarian channel. It’s all about presidential elections in 2018, of course, the remaining demands are there just to fill the gap.

The December meetings will be held in the Dominican Foreign Ministry’s Conventions Center. It’s still unclear who’s going in representation of the opposition, aside from Borges himself and lawmaker Luis Florido, who heads Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. The government’s delegates will be Communications minister Jorge Rodríguez and his sister, ANC chairwoman Delcy Rodríguez.

Crimes against humanity

Santiago Cantón, former executive secretary of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said he hopes OAS member states will take action if their experts find that crimes against humanity have indeed been committed in Venezuela: “In case there have been crimes of this nature, it’s important that they’re sanctioned. We have seen it in the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, the impunity for human rights violations in Latin America is astounding.”

The OAS has been carrying out hearings on this matter, an unprecedented proceeding for the institution. The process will be long and may lead to no formal indictments, as regime members may never set foot in The Hague. Anyway, we’re hoping this achieves something. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, said OAS chief Luis Almagro should be denounced before the International Criminal Court for conspiring against Venezuela instead of president Nicolás Maduro. A half-hearted, meaningless statement, to be sure.

Drugs

Yesterday, GN officers posted in Aldao bridge, Calabozo, Guárico state, arrested two men transporting 88 packs of cocaine. The report came from Lt. Col. Edisson Miquilerana Marcano, who said that there are checkpoints all over the country’s roads at the ready, to detect any irregularity related to drug-trafficking, cattle rustling, stolen vehicles or people wanted by the country’s security forces and courts. Perhaps the people transporting those drugs weren’t at all related to the brass… Right?

The Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Health and Life (Codevida) called for a march today in Caracas, to demand the opening of a humanitarian channel to tackle medicine shortages in Venezuela.

Mañana #20Nov acompáñanos a exigir una medida humanitaria para Venezuela.

Responsabilizamos al gobierno nacional de condenarnos a morir por privación sistemática de medicinas. Es su obligación garantizar el derecho a la salud y la vida #EmergenciaHumanitaria pic.twitter.com/03HJDTISZm

— Codevida (@codevida) November 20, 2017

The post Rajoy and Ledezma appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Being Antonio Ledezma

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/18/2017 - 18:46

Antonio Ledezma, lawyer, politician, Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and, until yesterday, a political prisoner of chavismo, has become one of Venezuela’s icons of struggle; after broadcasting a message last July, on which he threw darts at the government and the MUD, he positioned himself as a sane voice with a clear perspective on what is poisoning our politics. His was a voice of coherence, despite the danger he brought upon himself.

His career, however, dates from way before tyranny. Four decades have seen him go from his political grassroot work, in the 1970s, to his arrest in 2015, and few have been witnesses and players in all this turmoil as he has.

This is Antonio Ledezma and his crusade:

Pre-Chávez (1955-1999)

Born in San Juan de Los Morros on May 1st, 1955, Antonio Ledezma enrolled in Juventud Acción Democrática (Acción Democrática Youth) and rose to the party’s National Executive Committee, becoming sub-secretary of Guárico’s Legislative Assembly by 1975. He was barely 20 years old. After getting his law degree in 1982, he ran for the now-extinct Chamber of Deputies, becoming a lawmaker in 1984. During this term, he was part of the special committee in charge of drafting the Anti-drug Law, and was re-elected to the Chamber in 1989 and was a member of the special committee for the creation of two new federal states (Amazonas and Delta Amacuro).

Leopoldo López, Carlos Melo and Yon Goicoechea were included in his cabinet. They would all become political prisoners.

Although it’s hard to imagine this now, Venezuela had other presidents. In 1992, Carlos Andrés Pérez appointed Ledezma as Governor of the Federal District of Venezuela, which consisted of our current Vargas and the Capital District, an office he held until 1993, when Pérez was removed from office. In 1995, he became Mayor of the Libertador Municipality, implementing policies to deal with hawkers and street vendors.

The Mercado de la Hoyada was demolished and the Bus Terminal of La Bandera built during his term. He also campaigned for the construction of Subway Line 4. His tenure should’ve ended in 1998 but municipal elections were postponed to 1999, when Ledezma aspired to become secretary general of Acción Democrática, but ended up founding Alianza Bravo Pueblo.

Then Chávez was elected president.

Post-Chávez (1999-Present)

Between 2001 and 2007, Antonio focused on his studies, obtaining his post-graduate degree in Public Management. In 2008, he ran for Caracas’s Metropolitan Mayorship, beating PSUV candidate Aristóbulo Istúriz. Leopoldo López, Carlos Melo and Yon Goicoechea were included in his cabinet. They would all become political prisoners.

Now Chávez, being who he was, cut State funding for the Metropolitan Mayor’s Office early after those elections. Ledezma started a hunger strike before OAS offices in Caracas, and the president responded by mocking the voice of the people, appointing the first of what would be many parallel institutions, all created when voting went “wrong” for him. Much to his chagrin, Ledezma was re-elected in 2013, beating PSUV candidate Ernesto Villegas.

In February 2015, Ledezma was arrested by SEBIN agents at his office. Nicolás Maduro said that the Prosecutor’s Office (under Luisa Ortega Díaz, never forget) had indicted him for participating in a conspiracy against his government (Operación Jericó). He was imprisoned in Ramo Verde, until granted house arrest a year later. Mitzy Capriles, his second and current wife, campaigned consistently for his release and became his spokesperson, using his Twitter account to report on his condition, whereabouts and perspectives.

Yesterday, we woke up to the news that Ledezma had escaped his house arrest and made it to Colombia. Much of this remains a mystery, and there are plenty of reasons for skepticism, but be that as it may, I celebrate that the government has one less prisoner to use as a bargaining chip. Whatever ideas could have been inspired by Ledezma’s political career and actions, he’s still one of the most experienced Venezuelan politicians of our time and an unwavering enemy of the dictatorship.

And in this regard, he promises to never give up.

The post Being Antonio Ledezma appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Ledezma’s Escape

Caracas Chronicles - Sáb, 11/18/2017 - 14:07

Arrested by SEBIN on February 19th, 2015, mayor Antonio Ledezma had a long sentence ahead of him for the alleged crimes of conspiracy and criminal association, although after years of arrest, there’s never been a trial against him. He spent months in Ramo Verde military prison and was later transferred to his house for health reasons. In August of this year, SEBIN briefly moved him back to prison because according to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, he had a plan to escape.

This Friday, he carried that plan out and made headlines when Colombia’s Immigration Offices confirmed that he’d entered the country and vice-president Óscar Naranjo reported that he’d stay there temporarily on his way to Spain, where his wife has been living for months. According to Ledezma, he had information that they’d take him back to prison and he didn’t want to be a hostage. He anointed María Corina Machado to carry on his work, promising to fight for democracy from exile and he even claimed that he escaped with the help of soldiers in what he described as “a filmic journey.” Nicolás explained that SEBIN chief Gustavo González López likes jokes, while he told a couple bad ones: “The vampire escaped from us,” he said, reminding Ledezma of a “pending matter” that he didn’t specify and asking Spain not to send him back. With an escape of this level, Nicolás’ light reaction is inexplicable.

#YoSoyPaul

On May 18th, Paúl Moreno died when Omar Barrios Rojas, an impatient driver who grew tired of not being able to cross a roadblock ran him over, fleeing from the scene afterwards. Paúl was merely 25, he was studying Medicine and was a member of the Green Cross, an organization of volunteers that offered basic medical service to protesters during the months of demonstrations. Days after Paúl was killed, Interior minister Néstor Reverol announced on Twitter that Omar Barrios had been arrested. He was charged with first-degree murder for Paul’s death and he could’ve ended up serving up to 20 years in prison, but assistant judge Jésica Rincón, of the sixth court of control of Zulia’s judicial criminal circuit, lowered the crime to involuntary manslaughter, ruling the incident as an accident, so Omar Barrios will serve only one year and seven months under a precautionary measure of house arrest that was effective immediately. I was moved by Paúl’s brother’s messages , it takes a great degree of nobility to describe this tragedy that way.

The “resistance”

A group of 23 members paid by the government belonging to a cause different from the so-called La Resistencia that arose during protests, set up camp in front of the Chilean Embassy to demand political asylum and berate lawmaker Freddy Guevara for leaving them here under persecution while he goes to spend a merry christmas in Chile. They blocked the street as they wished and National Guardsmen, who didn’t wait for orders during protests to asphyxiate us with tear gas, did nothing. The demonstrators said they were under political persecution, yet SEBIN didn’t  arrest them either, even though they could. Chilean embassy officials explained  asylum request to them, but none of them did. Last night, Nicolás mentioned the case on live TV, saying that he was impressed by the strength in the group’s leader’s demands. You can’t get any cheaper than that.

The new business model

The Spanish Civil Guard, along with police bodies from several countries, dismantled an international organization dedicated to cocaine trafficking, with 40 people arrested and the confiscation of four tons of drugs. The detainees worked for an organization based out of Venezuela, according to the Civil Guard’s report. The operation started in 2016, intercepting a shipment from Venezuela with 400 kilos of cocaine and the seized documentation allowed them to discover the beneficiaries in Venezuela. Which is why it’s so coherent for Nicolás to have offered the presidents of the United States and Colombia yesterday the technical and military support to fight against drug-trafficking: “I say to president Donald Trump, do you want to end the production of drug and drug-trafficking in Latin America? Let’s sit down to discuss and create a plan and you’ll see how we eradicate drug production for good,” insisting on an alliance as the best option.

And now?

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) declared PDVSA in default and the price of Venezuelan bonds plunged, the price of Venezuelan oil dropped and ended the week at $54.78, while the black market dollar keeps its vertiginous rise, reaching the scandalous rate of Bs. 73,218.75. The reason is that the monetary base increased by 19% in the second week of November, with the printing of Bs. 100,000 bills to pay for christmas bonuses, pensions and other populist announcements. But don’t worry, El Aissami said that they’ve approved resources to pay christmas bonuses for employees of mayor’s and governor’s offices across the country.

Almagro on Luisa

The OAS secretary general believes that the complaint Luisa Ortega Díaz filed yesterday before the International Criminal Court (ICC) provides relevant information that judicially strengthens the process of hearings he’s been carrying out to decide whether there’s sufficient basis to take chavista leaders before the ICC: “It will be extremely useful for the experts,” he said, remarking that the post Ortega Díaz held in Venezuelan institutions makes his action relevant. The OAS as an institution cannot submit the case before The Hague’s court, but any of its twenty-eight member States could. If no country takes the responsibility, Almagro could submit the information himself like Ortega Díaz did.

Imposed prosecutor general Tarek William Saab posted remarkable pictures on Twitter, to try and mitigate the contempt of his peers during a meeting convened by the Attorney General’s Office of Argentina with Latin American prosecutors.

Abroad

American vice-president Mike Pence and his Colombian counterpart Óscar Naranjo, ratified yesterday their commitment to contribute to the recovery of democracy in Venezuela and agreed on the concern for the decline of our country’s situation. Naranjo remarked that Pence “has special interest in Venezuela on behalf of president Donald Trump,” adding that Colombia accompanies the process of reviewing and implementing economic measures applied to Venezuela and that his country will implement the instruments established by diplomacy and international agreements, to study each case of Venezuelan leaders who request asylum.

Goodbye, pilgrim

Adrián Guacarán, the child who sang for Juan Pablo II, died yesterday. He was 44 years old and collapsed because he lacked albumin and diuretics for his kidney failure. Journalist Gitanjili Wolfermann summed it up: “The decline in the health of Venezuelans is such, that the distance between death and the tweets requesting medicines or attesting to the gravity of a disease, is shortening. Every RT counts, but help arrives late in many cases and the State still ignores the situation.”

Deyna Castellanos was chosen as ambassador of the Female U-17 World Cup.

The post Ledezma’s Escape appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Losing Our Cool: The Demise of Venezuelan Glaciers

Caracas Chronicles - Vie, 11/17/2017 - 18:00

GlacierHub reported last week that the glacier of Pico Humboldt will probably disappear within the next 20 years. Out of the five glaciers there used to be in Venezuela, only the one in Pico Humboldt remains.

This is more than losing some snow:

“In the past, studies have shown how rapid glacier retreat affects the water cycle in glacier-dependent basins, which changes water regulation and availability.”

And sadly, with the current crisis, Venezuelan scientists can’t do much about it:

“Ángel G. Muñoz, a postdoctoral research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, and Princeton University added that many factors impede scientific research in Venezuela. The economic situation in universities, research centers, and in the country as a whole, including the crime and the brain drain, are just a few of the factors involved in making it impossible for local scientists to advance in many fields.”

You can read more about it over at GlacierHub or check out the thought-provoking piece The Economist published last month.

Since the 1970’s, glaciers in our country have been disappearing due to climate change. In that time, the one in Pico Humboldt has reduced to a tenth of its size. Though we hardly are the only ones affected by climate change, once this is gone we’ll become the first modern nation to lose our glaciers.

The post Losing Our Cool: The Demise of Venezuelan Glaciers appeared first on Caracas Chronicles.

Categorías: Noticias

Páginas