Thursday, 26 February 2009

The taste of a piranha and other things

I miss that. Since I am right now in Europe, I haven't eaten piranhas for a while. They really taste good. Salmon? No comparison. I'd rather eat a piranha time after time. I remember once I helped a little bit at an exhibition organized by Latin Americans at the University of Glasgow. The exhibition, set up next to the university's library, contained objects Latin American students and professors had put together. All in all, it made for an interesting show: there were traditional clothes from the different Latin American countries, music instruments, pictures, ceramics. I showed the place to a group of school children. I remember when I came up to a stuffed piranha one of us had brought. The children looked at it in amazement, specially at its teeth. I told them piranhas live in the Amazon and the Orinoco basin, I told them there were many species of piranhas, I told them about piranhas' habits and at the end I said with feigned off-handedness: "oh, and they are delicious". The children found that specially cool.

So, yes, we eat piranhas. You can buy them even in the supermarket in big cities. They can be dangerous to humans under certain conditions, but it is generally we who are more dangerous to them. Piranhas have been food for the native South Americans for many thousands of years. They are one of the many wonderful creatures you can find in the Orinoco basin.

I haven't heard for months about the environmental conditions we have in the Orinoco basin now. I doubt they have improved, though. The latest I read about developments there last year was that the oil industry was polluting more and more. I also read about the transformation of Indian villages and the effect in the environment in the Orinoco Delta. I heard about problems with the pink dolphin. I have heard about the continuous problem of pollution generated by cities such as Ciudad Guayana. I know very well about the destruction the so-called "eco-turismo" is doing in Venezuela in general.

I want to take a look at the Orinoco in the following months, first from afar and them back there. If you happen to have some first-account report about the Orinoco, its environment, the effects on fish and other animals there, on its flora, send me an email, please.

It would be great if our grandchildren can know what a piranha tastes like, if they can see a pink dolphin swiming around there or the now critically-endangered Orinoco crocodile. Actually, as much as I miss the taste of a piranha, I can give it up for a big while in order to make its existance sustainable.

Ps. In the Wikipedia article on the piranha there is an interesting story about Teddy Roosevelt declaring piranhas "evil" for eating up a cow, the whole thing having been set up by people wanting to impress the president. This evil-calling from a pot rings a bell to me.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Just history

Howard Zinn is a well known US American historian. I don't share his views on some parts of history but I do agree with his general approach and most of his views. Here you have an interesting speech of his.

Now the Chavez National Assembly also wants to rewrite history...once again (link in Spanish). They will try to see who else they can discover as "anti-imperialist fighter". I have no problem with that as long as they call thieves thieves and the bandits bandits, whatever the political creed. I wonder if they would be interested in inviting people who do not consider themselves pro-Chavez to a live debate. I wonder if they would welcome an open discussion with lots of professional historians.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Eurodeputy thrown out of Venezuela

On Friday the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, decided to expel Spanish eurodeputy Luis Herrero. He had been invited by the opposition to be an observer together with three other eurodeputies and had been waiting in Caracas for the Venezuelan government to give him the necessary credentials. He decided to talk to the only opposition TV channel that has some reach, Globovisión. That channel can reach around 30% of the Venezuelan population, those who have cable or satellite dish or live in Caracas (otherwise people can only watch non-critical or extremely pro-Chavez TV). He talked too much, in my opinion. The National Electoral Council had declared it was going to extend the voting until 6pm, among other things. He said that was strange and he asked whether there was something behind that. Indeed, that is an issue in Venezuela. Tomorrow the sun will set at 6:06pm and then it will be pitched-dark. Venezuelans try all they can to go home before that time as it becomes too dangerous (Mexico ain't nothing compared to Venezuela and most areas were we have less observers are in the most dangerous slums).

Even if Herrero was clumsy in stating as a non-Venezuelan what we all know, the Venezuelan government did not respect any procedures: they just sent their "intelligence" force to grab him and took him to the first airplane, without allowing him even to take his passport or personal belongings with him.

Do you know what European politicians the Venezuelan government likes to invite?
People like former Belgian senator Jacinta de Roeck, who was an "observer" for the CNE in 2006. Among other things, she wrote in her own site the following (go to Infomappen and then Venezuela):

"Separate talks with the people in the street show that clearly. You have three types of Venezuelans:

* those who are 100% against him (usually the wealthiest). They have no good word to say about Chavez, the bosom friend of the great bogeyman Fidel Castro and - perhaps even worse - the friend of the poor people;
* those who are 100% for him (usually the poorest part of the population). Their position is often made intuitively, without criticism. They wear his picture on their shirts, they are cheerful when they call his name. For them, Chavez is an idol, he is the man whowill improve their lives. And he does it already, they see that;
* And then there is the group of critical viewers: Chavez is the only alternative that can currently take Venezuela out of the social clift, but they have a lot of (very constructive) criticism, and they fear a Venezuela Cuba-style.

In the original, in Dutch:

"En dat deze president wind doet opwaaien is zeker. Losse gesprekken met de man in de straat tonen dat duidelijk aan. Je hebt drie soorten Venezolanen :
  • zij die 100% tegen zijn (doorgaans de meest gegoeden). Ze hebben geen goed woord over voor Chavez, de boezemvriend van de grote boeman Fidel Castro en - misschien nog erger - de vriend van de arme volksmens;
  • zij die 100% voor zijn (meestal het armste deel van de bevolking). Ook hun standpunt is vaak intuïtief gevormd, zonder kritische kanttekening. Ze dragen zijn foto op hun shirt, ze glunderen als ze zijn naam noemen. Voor hen is Chavez een idool, het is de man die het leven voor hen beter zal maken. En dat doet hij nu al, ze merken het;
  • en dan is er de groep kritische beschouwers: Chavez is het enige alternatief dat op dit ogenblik Venezuela uit het sociale slop kan halen, maar ze hebben wel erg veel (opbouwende) kritiek, en ook vrezen zij een Venezuela à la Cuba."

I am not in any of these three groups and I know most opposition are not in any of those three groups either. I believe Ms De Roeck has been very insulting. It is like saying every Fleming is a racist unless he votes for her. Actually, there are more people in Flanders who vote for an extreme right party (Vlaams Belang) than there are rich people in Venezuela who dislike the poor. Opposition can be upper-middle class, middle class or poor in Venezuela. Definitely the vast majority are not opposed to improving the lives of the poor.

But I reckon a person like Ms De Roeck is the kind of politician the CNE wants to have in Venezuela. I am curious about the political parties of the observers the regime invited this time. It would be the most leftiest from the social democrats or rather people from the communist parties of Europe (not that Chavismo is about socialism or communism) and not all of them.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Venezuelans got downgraded a wee bit...and more

Well, the wee downgrade is just that from mid 2009 onwards Venezuelans who do not have a biometric passport will need a visa to enter the UK. Most Venezuelans are getting now a biometric passport, if they can (pay for) it. I have the impression there is more to come, though, and if the Venezuelan government keeps doing the things it does (giving passports to guerrillas and sending lots of normal Venezuelans abroad in search for more security) the UK and perhaps the Schengen area will demand a visa to every Venezuelan. Por ahora no.

The real downgrade is a moral one: Venezuela's government goes on praising the Mullah - revolutionary - regime of Iran. You can read that from their own words in the propaganda TV channel Venezolana de Televisión.

Venezuelans officials simply get excited by the word "revolutionary", whatever that might mean. And the Iran regime is "revolutionary" and uses the same scapegoats Chavez uses. The Venezuelan officials don't mind socialists, communists and many other people who do not think like the Mullah regime are routinely persecuted, imprisoned and tortured in Iran. They don't mind women's rights are trampled with the feet.

I want YOU to do something. Take part in an action by Amnesty International for Iran today. Here and here you can see concrete letters you can copy and send/email to the Iranian government. As a long-time Amnesty supporter I know those letters can help. You can also send the letter to your closest Venezuelan ambassador like THIS ONE so that they take a moment and think what they are celebrating about.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Venezuela's upcoming referendum

I think Quico has been doing a great job covering the news on this year's referendum for lifting term limits. If you want to keep up with it, go to Caracas Chronicles.

Just here my views on a nutshell:

  • The government is using all its TV and radio channels, all the oil industry workers and many other state employees all around Venezuela to campaign for the Sí vote
  • The government is using a massive amount of reserves for last minute campaigning (which includes giving food for free for those who promise to vote Sí)
  • The Electoral Council, very pro-Chavez, is limiting the ads the opposition can show to the channels and times nobody watches
  • Students are being repressed by the police everywhere
  • The government tries all kinds of dirty tricks to prevent people from going to opposition marches, even when they do authorize them (they block roads pretending to do security checks, construction works, etc)
And the "leftists" in different countries in Latin America are still quiet, as they are getting quite some dosh from the Venezuelan government. Shame on them. Specially shame on Argentina and Brazil. Do they have to be like the fans of Kissinger and Thatcher, who would close an eye to the support of those politicos to Pinochet and others? Do we need to go so far? No, Chávez is definitely not doing what Pinochet did in the seventies and eighties and no, we do not have a dictatorship yet, but we do have an autocrat and a regime that is becoming more repressive and abusive of its power. How war?

Venezuela made it for Egypt U-20 World Cup

Yes, we made it for the first time: we are taking part in a Football World Cup (football as in real football, not as in football with cushions and helmets)

Venezuela has had difficulties to classify because:
  1. People in Venezuela have traditionally preferred more baseball, basketball and other sports and there is consequently little money for football
  2. The government has never invested enough or well
  3. We are in one of the toughest continents for classifying, with the top teams of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay next to us and other countries where football is also much more popular than in Venezuela: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia...well, almost all the rest.
  4. Venezuelans have always screwed it at the last minute because they become nervous (which shows lack of practice and confidence as football players)

So I am happy.
Ps 1: The U-20 World Cup is for players under 20.

Ps 2: FIFA on the teams that classified

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Chávez and anti-Semitism

A few days ago, a synagogue in Caracas was desecrated. I tend to be very cautious about stating who may have been the culprit. Most likely in this case those who did it were some of the lose bands of pro-Chavez who try to be more Chavista than Chavez. I think high ranking Chavismo had little to gain from this, but they keep enticing their followers to attack everything that can be associated with the opposition in the most global terms. Some extreme opponents of Chavez could theoretically have done it to blame it on Chavez - there is everything in both "sides" if we really consider there are two sides only in Venezuela -. Still, I do not think that is likely: it would be strange the government would done such a sloppy work in trying to follow up the case (see Daniel's post). They are sloppy, but not that much (they did not even take finger prints on their first visit). They were not really very interested in finding out what happened there.

Still, it is a fact the government of Chavez is clearly anti-Semitic. It says it is not, "it simply opposes Israel's crimes". Well, boy, one can be very critical of any group, but what Chavismo is doing is over the top and way beyond criticism. I, for instance, like a lot of people, also within Israel, think Israel should stop immediately any further expansion of settlements in the occupied territories and one day it must pull back from there (under conditions). Israel should obey the UN resolutions calling for the end to settlements in Palestine. Still, the Palestinians are responsible for a lot of the mess in the area and whatever wrong the governments of Israel have been doing, they were not the one who caused 11 September.

Isn't that obvious? Well, it seems not to some. As you can see from Daniel's report, there is a lot of blatant antisemitism in pro-Chavez sites: there is talk there of "not buying Jew" (wo habe ich das noch gelesen?)*. And there is a lot not just from those places. I took the following picture from a governmental office in Venezuela. It is very blurred because I took it in a rush, I did not want to call attention on me. Still, if you focus, you can read: "Peace for the Middle East, no to Zionist terrorism, 11 September". That is an official poster of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

That is what the Venezuelan government thinks. And then they wonder why people consider them anti-Semitic.

* later they took the article off, probably after reading Daniel's post, but those things keep coming time after time


Robert Fisk gives a good reporting on the Middle East. I would recommend reading his book The Great War on Civilization and then reading some of his critics (but always read sources on either side fully)

Some words by Ehud Olmert about the Israeli settlers here (Haaretz)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Do you want to help Venezuela?

One of Venezuela's main problems is the average level of education level for the average Venezuelan.
As I wrote some months ago, we no longer take part in international evaluation schemes. Still, the last international evaluation tests in which Venezuela took part, back in 1998, showed: Venezuelas' pupils were lagging behind the rest of Latin Americans in mathematics (and that by far) and they are just "average for Latin America standards" in reading and comprehension. That means we are bottom of the bottom. I believe things have only worsened since then.

If we are ever going to make it out of underdevelopment, we need to change that. There are lots of things to be done to improve education but one of the critical ones is to bring transparency to Venezuela's system and determine where we are compared to the rest of the world and what we can learn from the rest. A group of Venezuelan students and professionals are asking now the Venezuelan government to join the Programme for International Student Assessment of the OECD, PISA. Imagine many thousands of Venezuelan pupils taking part in the same examinations Colombians and Germans, Canadians and Chileans, Dutch and US Americans take. Imagine we can examine what a random selection of Venezuelan pupils can do compared to the rest of the world. Imagine that is done on a regular basis. Imagine we start to examine in a very transparent way what policies we can take over from other countries to improve results. Imagine we start to make ministers accountable for real results.

Please, go HERE, take a look at the petition and distribute it among your friends, specially if they are in Venezuela. Tell them to send the petition to newspapers and parents' organizations, to political parties and NGOs, and above all, to ask the Venezuelan government to join in. Venezuela is one of the few countries in South America that still are NOT in PISA.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune reads Venezuela and Europe

The journalists from the Herald Tribute used my chart!
I prepared that one based on the statistics I have been collecting for Carabobo.
Here the original: ORIGINAL

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Chavez victory as a national holiday

Chávez has declared 2 February will be an official holiday in Venezuela from now on and that any company not accepting this would be fined. He came to power back then.

On 4 February 1992 Chávez, together with other military, try to topple the government of corrupt Carlos Andrés Pérez. Their bloody coup failed and Chávez was detained. Several months later, Chávez's compagnons tried another coup (with more murders) and failed again.

6 years later, on 2 February, Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. Chávez has always claimed his coup was the only response possible to Carlos Andrés Pérez as this one had given orders to shoot thousands of people in the Caracazo, the riots of 1989, brutally suppressed by the military.

The thing is that:

1- Back then the president of Venezuela could rule for 5 years only and NO immediate reelection (thus, anyone had to wait at least 5 years) and Pérez was going to get out of office in 1994 anyway.

2- Chávez, as an officer with many connections, had enough information to do something about it by going public, going to the press, etc

3- Chávez did NOTHING to prosecute anyone about the 1989 shootings and Pérez did not shoot 100 or 3000 people alone, it was an action carried out by the military and the police

4- Many of those military are actually the people who supported and still support Chávez

And now Venezuelans are going to have a day off to celebrate that bloody coup.

What is next? Will we start calling streets after Chávez?

The poster below is an official governmental poster from last year. I wrote about it already in another post. This is a muscled Chávez (he is becoming actually fatter and fatter the longer he stays in that palace)

Ps. Sorry, I mixed up the coup day with the day Chávez came to power by democratic means.
Even if he is not Hitler, he came to power in a very similar pattern: first coup, then elections.