Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Chavez, al-Bashir and Miss Universe

Today in Doha Hugo Chávez defended Sudan's president and war criminal al-Bashir once again. He even invited al-Bashir to visit Venezuela. Hugo's dear friend, Argentina's president Cristina Kirchner, left the hall as soon as al-Bashir arrived as she wanted to avoid having a picture of her taken next to the war criminal. She knows such a picture would haunt her in the future.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's Miss Universe 2008 said "she had a lot of fun in Guantanamo". She was there "in support for the US troops stationed there" or something like that. Oh, my, it is so embarrassing to be Venezuelan these days.

Update: this will be forgotten in Venezuela very soon, but I am sure in Sudan a little bit more suffering is added to the avalanche of it the people in Darfur got. Every day raids against the Southern population are carried out where women are raped and killed.

Translated from Al-Intibaha with Google Tools:

Chavez .. Bashir to visit Venezuela

Doha Intibaha

shaf.jpg Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's support for Sudan and the arrogance of his anti-colonialism, which led the world against countries hostile to the principle of dominance and vulnerability of people, Chavez said he is proud of many positions of the Sudanese President and his people. For his part, Field Marshal Omar Al-Bashir, the price of the courage of Venezuelan President Chavez and his supervisor in support of Arab and Islamic peoples and al-Bashir announced his willingness to visit the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, and to thank the people of Venezuela and its leader .. This came in a meeting that brought Chavez Bashir yesterday morning the Qatari capital Doha on the sidelines of the summit, which began its work in Qatar yesterday.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 01 April 2009)
لتقى شافيز .. البشير يزور فنزويلا

الدوحة الانتباهة

shaf.jpgجدد الرئيس الفنزويلي هوجو شافيز دعمه للسودان ومواقفه المناهضة للغطرسة التي تقودها دول الاستعمار العالمي ضد الدول المناوئة لمبدأ الهيمنة واستضعاف الشعوب وقال شافيز إنه يعتز كثيراً بمواقف الرئيس السوداني وشعبه. من جهته ثمن المشير عمر البشير شجاعة الرئيس الفنزويلي شافيز ومواقفه المشرفة في مساندة الشعوب العربية والإسلامية وأعلن البشير عن استعداده لزيارة العاصمة الفنزويلية كاركاس وتقديم الشكر لشعب فنزويلا وقائدها.. جاء ذلك في اللقاء الذي جمع البشير بشافيز صباح أمس بالعاصمة القطرية الدوحة على هامش أعمال القمة التي بدأت أعمالها بقطر يوم أمس.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

De l'éthique? Non, merci

Well, we had it before: Total from France was keen to invest in Burma when nobody else was doing it anymore because...well, because if they did not, the Chinese would have increased their clout there and nothing would have changed. So, nothing changes but Total keeps its cake in Burma. Now we have they are doing the same in Venezuela: cow-towing to the Chavista regime and not saying anything about Venezuela's human rights. We know those human rights in Venezuela are not at the level of Burma, but they are going down the drain very very fast.

What are the deals about? "Energy, education and trasportation", they said. If it goes as usual, we know what it is about: oil, oil, oil and some petrodollars on the other side, as well as some silence at the moment there is some discussion about Venezuela in the European Parliament.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Chavez und sein Massnahmenpaket

Heute wird Hugo Chávez sein Massnahmenpaket ankündigen. Einige denken, es kommt zu einer massiven Währungsentwertung, zu höheren Benzinpreisen (man kann in Venezuela sein Auto mit einem Euro tanken) und zu drastischen Sparmassnahmen. Der ehemaliger Vorsitzender des Banco Central de Venezuela, Maza Zavala, sagte aber, er glaube nicht, dass Chávez viel sagen wird. Die Regierung agiere immer tropfenweise, ohne systematische Massnahmen zu treffen.

Wie Quico von Caracas Chronicles erzählte, hat Chávez die Neigung, sich immer wieder als "der Erneuerer schlechthin" zu porträtieren. So hat der "Comandante" am vorigen Sonntag erklärt, die Olygarchie profitiere von den sehr niedrigen Benzinpreisen in Venezuela und er würde dieser Situation "schnell ein Ende setzen". Er sagte natürlich nicht, dass er seit 1999 an der Macht ist und immer die Fähigkeit hatte, Benzinpreise zu erhöhen. Seit Jahren verlieren wir Milliarden aufgrund dieser lächerlich niedrigen Preise. Ich, unter anderen Bloggers, hatte schon vor langer Zeit geschrieben, Chávez müsse diese Benzinpreise erhöhen und notfalls die öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln mit sehr gut geplanten Subventionen unterstützen, wobei eine strenge Kontrolle und Transparenz notwendig wären, um einen Schwarzhandel mit Benzin zu verhindern.

Meiner Meinung nach wird Chávez nun ankündigen, dass die bevorstehende Krise in Venezuela ausschliesslich mit der finanziellen Krise in der Welt zu tun hat. Er wird den Benzinpreis zwar erhöhen, aber nicht viel. Er wird einige Massnahmen ankündigen, um Preise beim öffentlichen Verkehr nicht zu viel zu erhöhen. Diese Massnahmen werden aber schon wieder so schlecht geplant sein, dass sie jede Menge Korruption ermöglichen werden. Chávez wird wahrscheinlich ein noch komplizierteres System für Währungskontrolle einführen. Er wird auch andeuten, dass der Staat weiterhin (bzw verstärkt) Firmen und Grundstücke enteignen bzw besetzen wird, die sich nicht so verhalten, wie er will. Chávez befürchtet, dass er selbst ein neues Caracazo auslösen kann. Er wird das auf jeden Fall verhindern wollen, er wird aber das mit Massnahmen tun, die den Druck des Schnellkochtopfs sehr schnell erhöhen werden.

In einigen Stunden werden wir's erfahren.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Orinoco I

The first time Europeans saw continental America, after the failed Viking attempt at establishing a permanent colony in Vinland, was in 1498, when Columbus made his third trip. The first part of continental America he and his sailors saw would become one day Venezuela.

He firstly arrived to what is now the island of Trinidad. He turned from there to the Paria Peninsula and then to the Orinoco Delta. He described how surprised he was to discover the ocean waters were sweet many miles away from the coast. This showed how strong the river flow was. It also signaled that could not be just an island. Still, Columbus tried to cling to his preconceived idea he had arrived to Asia and blinded by his religious fundamentalism, he thought he probably was close to Paradise. Furthermore, he conjectured, looking at the horizon, that the Earth was not round as Ptolomeus said, but

"que es de la forma de una pera que sea toda muy redonda, salvo allí donde tiene el pezón, que allí tiene más alto, o como quien tiene una pelota muy redonda y en un lugar de ella fuese como una teta de mujer allí puesta"
"that is form is as a pearl but all round, but there where it has its nipple, which is at a higher point, or as a very round ball and in its place it were as the tit of a woman placed there"

So, he thought the Earth was like a pear or a woman's breast. Go figure. He also wrote about the Indians, who "son todos de muy linda estatura, altos de cuerpo y de muy lindos gestos" ("are of very nice height, high of body and of very beautiful features"). He noticed many had gold and pearl ornaments on their chests. Columbus wanted that gold and those pearls. He "asked them" (one only wonders how as it was their first encounter ever) where he could find more gold. He thought he understood it was behind a mountain to the West and that he should not go there as there were people who eat people there. He also asked them where they found the pearls and they also pointed to the West and North.

This would be a theme Europeans would kept observing time after time. They were after quick wealth, gold and silver and pearls.

The area where Columbus landed was in what now is the Sucre State, just to the west of the Orinoco Delta. He called the Paria Península "Island of Grace". If you read Columbus' writings particularly about this third trip you may be tempted to think he was crazy. He was just the product of his society, still immersed in ignorance and preconceived ideas plus plus a great desire to discover.

The Orinoco would start receiving more visits in the following years. The Spanish emperor, highly in debt with the South-German Felser and Fuger merchant families, gave them Venezuela as administrative region for a couple of decades. Ambrosius Ehinger and his successors explored the Orinoco all the time in search of El Dorado. In 1531 Diego de Ordaz sailed from the main outlet of the delta up the river to the Meta. In 1545 Walter Raleigh,also explored the river in search of easy treasures. Several other expeditions by filibusteers followed.It was only in 1800 when Alexander von Humboldt explored the basin on a non-predatory basis. There he reported about the pink river dolphins and he went with Bonpland on a remarkable quest to find the connection between the Orinoco and the Amazon rivers, a connection native Americans very well knew.

Let's try to explore a little bit the Orinoco. It is a long way: 2,140 kilometers. It has an average discharge of 33,000 m3/s and its basin has a surface of about 880,000 km2.

We will start by visiting the Delta Amacuro state.

A couple of interesting historical books about the European "discovery" of the Americas from the XV century onwards:

Crónica de Indias

Urs Bitterli, Die Entdeckung Amerikas
TzvetanTodorov, La Conquête de l'Amérique

Monday, 16 March 2009

Chavez's march towards...

absolute control has picked up steam.

Most people abroad are already aware Venezuela is heading towards less and less democracy and yet they are not aware of how serious the situation is becoming. Let's put some perspective.

We got local elections last year and even though Chavez's party took away most states and municipalities, the opposition managed to win states or municipalities where 45% of the population lives. Some of the largest slums in Venezuela (and Latin America) like Petare, actually voted mostly against the pro-Chavez candidate.

What has happened? Well, apart from the fact Chávez pushed for a referendum to lift up the term limits (this in a very strong presidential system), something for he had the government spend 12 billion dollars in "social programmes" (actually giving away free food and similar things and nothing about sustainable development), he has increased the speed in which he is taking away the few powers the opposition had. Among other things,

  1. The local governments where Chavismo lost made important money transfer to the central government just before stepping over, leaving the incoming mayors or governors with much less money than expected
  2. The pro-Chávez mayor of Maracaibo transferred on the last minute the control of Maracaibo's underground to the central government
  3. The national government issued a decreed to transfer public hospitals from Miranda state to itself
  4. The national government took over the local TV channel Ávila, which was under the control of the Caracas mayor (now opposition)

Now the central government declared it was taking over harbors, airports and motorways of Zulia and Carabobo, where the opposition has been trying to "govern". Those harbors, airports and motorways used to bring most of the money for those states. Both governors have declared they would oppose the take over and Chávez has threatened to take them to prison.

And some people abroad were saying the gains the opposition got in the last elections were a chance to prove how they could govern.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Is Venezuela entering a new Ice Age?

El Universal reports today (Spanish) "an intense cold wave hits the North-coastal region" of Venezuela: temperatures drop to a minimum of 16°C to 17°C and max of 29°C to 30°C.

Venezuela's non-mountainous regions are usually very warm, but the fact people now react so surprised at this "cold wave" shows how they have become used to ever-rising temperatures in the last couple of decades. A local minimum of 16°C is a shock. Unfortunately, hardly anyone records temperatures over a long period of time in Venezuela so that the population can be reminded this used to happen at this time of the year. There is a weather service, but it seems journalists don't check out with them now about the long-term conditions. Our coastal region is at a latitude of 10° in the Northern hemisphere, so we are sort of getting out of winter.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The worst it gets, the more Mugabe Chavez will become

Mugabe? What kind of exaggeration is that?
Well, things are still far from the Zimbabwe level, but it has only been because Chávez so far did not need to. With an oil boom as we had not seen for decades, he could spend immense amounts of money buying up people, even if he does not invest in Venezuela's sustainable development and even if the murder rate has more than tripled since he is in power and a lot of other things are not working as they should.

But now, with oil prices "only" 200% what they were when Chavez came to power in 1998 and only half what they were last year, Chávez will have to look for scapegoats. Bush is gone and even if Obama will become the new ogre, that won't be enough. Venezuela has price controls of every kind plus a stupidly overvalued currency, a disastrous economic management and more corruption than ever (which is to say a lot). In view of that, the country has the highest inflation rate of the continent and companies do not want to invest. Now, it is getting very difficult to national companies to survive in this framework. Things start to disappear from the supermarket shelves: from rice to toilet paper, you never know when you will see them again. That has happened time on and off in the last couple of years and now the situation is worsening again.

So Chávez decided to take over the rice factories.

Here in English
Here in Dutch
Here in German
Here in Russian
Here in French (most likely invalid link after today)

I forecast the following:
  • the government will keep up confiscating more companies this year
  • at the same time it will look for deals with foreign investors that can give them fast cash now, even if the deals are compromising Venezuela's future (think deals on oil, gold, wood, etc with the Chinese, Russians, French, even US American companies, in spite of all the anti-US talk). As investors know by now how risky Venezuela is getting, Venezuela's government wil have to pay an ever higher price
  • the government will start to promote, as it did some years earlier, squatting big time: there have been lots of squatters since 1999, a lot of them have even become professional squatters (getting one piece of land, reselling it, going to the next), but the amounts of people occupying buildings or lands have always increased when oil prices haven't risen fast enough or when they stagnated a bit, as in 2002)
  • the government will illegally slow down - again - the flow of tax money to areas where the opposition won in the last local elections and will use money in distributing goodies there to buy up new voters

That is still not a Zimbabwe level, at least not economically. We simply have too much oil still (even if it won't ever be enough to cover up all needs of 28 million people)

It is often difficult to explain Venezuela's political mess to Northerners as that they tend to think in absolute terms. They think conditions tend to be either like in Western Europe, with relatively free press, with real debates between government and opposition or like in a Lukashenko-like regime where no public dissent is tolerated. OK, they also suspect there are lots of countries where there is some form of democracy even if there are lots of human rights violations, like in Mexico. Still, when they hear the opposition cry we are heading into a dictatorship they rightly try to look for signs of a Lukashenko situation in Venezuela. They won't find it yet, even if they do report of a personality cult as seen only in Turkmenistan with their late dictator.

Venezuela is a wee bit different. We had a dysfunctional but real democracy for many decades now. We used to speak loud. There were lots of human right abuses, but still we had a democracy and we could speak out our minds. We still do after 10 years of Chavez in power, as long as we do not work as state employees. But things have been getting more difficult for years since 2002. Right now we have a dialogue of the deaf and the government is trying to make every possible open debate impossible. It still leaves a lot of apparent freedom of speech for some TV channels. It uses them as Potemkin villages...as long as they broadcast to a group of converted anti-Chavez supporters, everything is fine. That is how in Venezuela you have Globovisión, a TV channel you can only watch in open airwaves in Caracas and in places where people have cable or satellite dish. There you can hear Chavez is a dictator, that he is taking Venezuela to a path of communism and much more. The problem is that that channel and RCTV (similar stance, less political programmes) can only be seen by 30% of the Venezuelan population. Then you have a lot of private channels that have decided since 2002 to stay away from politics. They show a lot of sports and soap operas and the like. Finally you have on the other side the Chavez channels, which are just a Chavez propaganda machinery and where you hear the opposition are just a minuscule group of CIA-supported olygarchs who are planning a coup (as if Chavez had not been our first coupster in many decades). There are also the cadenas, which are government messages every radio or TV station in Venezuela has to broadcast live. The cadenas were used once or twice a year for a couple of minutes during previous governments, but now with Chavez we have several hours of cadenas a week. If you are on your car in Venezuela you better have some CDs with you.

Venezuelans read very little even if literacy for many decades have been over 90%. Those who do read can buy El Universal and El Nacional, which are relatively good newspapers critical of Chavez where many Chavez supporters also write (and praise Chávez). They can also read Tal Cual, a magazine mostly bought by the political junkies who oppose Chávez. Tal Cual's main editor is Teodoro Petkoff, a former guerrilla and current social democrat. Apart from that, there are the pro-government newspapers. There you would never have a person critical of Chávez talking, unlike in Globovisión, El Universal or El Nacional.

So, we are far far away from Zimbabwe, both politically and economically. Still, we will be getting closer to it every day.