Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What do Norway and Venezuela have in common?

Some will say: both have gorgeous landscapes, both have oil...well, there is something else: Norway and Venezuela are complete non-average countries, both are out of the pack when it comes to control of corruption and rule of the law: according to World Bank's latest report on governance, Norway and Venezuela are on the extremes. The sad thing is that Venezuela is not in the good extreme, but in the bad one and that all the time. So, Norway is in the top 90th-100th percentile for both control of corruption and rule of law whereas Venezuela is also heading the list...bottom up approach.

If you want to check it out, please, go here and then select several countries, including Venezuela and Norway and then select the indicators Control of Corruption and Rule of Law. Venezuela is way below most African or Latin American countries or all the rest and Norway is over them almost all the time.

You can also take a look at the "progress" throughout more than a decade.

How come Venezuelans cannot put their act together? How come we keep sinking in corruption and injustice?

- Norway has had a superior education system for ages whereas Venezuela has one of the worst in Latin America and its quality has been degrading for decades. The Venezuelan government even refuses to take part in open international evaluation schemes as almost all South American countries do.
- Norwegians are not afraid of transparency and accountability, whereas Venezuelans abhor it.
- Norwegians are used to open debates whereas Venezuelans aren't at all.
- Norwegians learn from history but also look into the future, while Venezuelans keep repeating their history without having a real knowledge of it. They do so as they keep living the hic et nunc.
- Norwegians have a responsible parliamentarian system and in general a government with independent bodies, checks and counter-checks, whereas Venezuela has always been ruled by caudillos where the winner takes all.

These are just some generalizations and there are good things in which Venezuelans excel, but at this moment we need to ask ourselves: What can we learn from the others? What can we learn from our errors so far?

Wikipedia reports this on education in Norway: "In 1736 training in reading was made compulsory for all children, but was not effective until some years later."
"Some years later". They don't specify further but I am sure it did not take that much.

Venezuela actually had compulsory education in theory from 1870 onwards, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 would say this:
In popular education Venezuela has done almost nothing worthy of record. As in Chile, Peru and Colombia, the ruling classes and the Church have taken little interest in the education of the Indians and mestizos. Venezuela, it is true, has a comprehensive public instruction law, and attendance at the public schools is both gratuitous and nominally compulsory. But outside the cities, towns and large villages near the coast there are no schools and no teachers, nor has the government done anything to provide them. This law has been in force since about 1870, but on the 30th of June 1908 there were only 1150 public schools in the republic with a total enrolment of 35,777 pupils. There are a number of parochial and conventual schools, the church being hostile to the public-school system. An overwhelming majority of the people is illiterate and is practically unconscious of the defect. In 1908 the educational facilities provided by the republic, not including some private subventioned schools, were two universities and thirtythree national colleges. The universities are at Caracas and Merida, the latter known as the Universidad de los Andes. "
Actually, my dad studied as a child under a mango tree in his village with a teacher who taught all children in the village who wanted and that was in the forties of the XX century. Things haven't improved much, as quality now is still the worst in Latin America and the Venezuelan government rejects any kind of transparency and open dialogue on how to improve education Now Venezuelan children spend a lot of time in school learning things by heart...when there are classes.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Venezuelan improving human rights in Denmark

Francisco de Miranda was a Venezuelan independence revolutionary considered as forerunner of Simón Bolívar. I usually am very wary about praising military "heroes" at all Simón Bolívar is seen as a semi-God in Venezuela and he has been used by politicos since the XIX century in order to polish their own image. Still, I think Miranda deserves some attention. Miranda's life was full of adventures, but those adventures took place in his quest for finding things out and his efforts to improve the life of normal people. He met and became friends with scientists and kings, artists and philanthropists throughout Europe and used those relationships to move around and start designing a plan for freedom of Spanish America. Before getting into the Venezuela revolutionary adventure, Miranda traveled through North America and Europe. He also visited Turkey and fought in Morocco. He kept a fascinating diary where he talked about all societal aspects of the regions he visited, about politics, about arts, economy and more. You can sense his love for humans when you read his diary. There he reported about the life conditions in Greece and Germany, in Spain and in his Venezuela and how he was trying to find concrete ways of improving things.

Every part of his diary is fascinating, but here I want to mention one single thing: his contribution to the improvement of human rights in Denmark, something few people know.

Miranda arrived at the Danish capital in early January of 1788. He came on a trip that had taken him throughout Europe and Asian Turkey. He had been in Sweden and Norway before arriving to Denmark. He stayed there until March. A friend of his, Norwegian businessman and politician Carsten Anker, became his unofficial guide and accompanied him through many places. Miranda asked to be shown the Danish prisons. He described in detail conditions there, he realized how tortured was still practiced even if it had been officially banned some years earlier, how processes took place, how guards behaved. He tried to inform himself about specific prisoners and see how he could help them. He listened to prisoners and guards, to politicians and people on the streets. The situation did not seem to be worse than in many other places back then, but in Denmark he got a little bit luckier with the authorities. For weeks he meet with the authorities, even with the Prince. He tried pulling the right strings, specially with the help of his Norwegian friend Anker, who was a friend of the Danish monarc.

A letter of diplomat Krüdener to the Russian vicechancellor of 12 February 1788 talked about the results of those efforts: "Count Miranda (Miranda was not really a count, but he pretended to be one on occasion), examining here the public institutions with investigative spirit that is so typical of him, has found prisons in a horrible state...He decided to denounce this abuse and it has been thanks to his intervention that the Royal Prince has ordered to examine them, to present a report about them and to improve the state of the prisons".

Miranda was particularly moved by a girl with mental problems sentenced to be beheaded because she had an abortion. He also was shocked by the way some elderly were kept in miserable conditions . In his diary there are references about how he followed up their cases until there was a visible improvement. His efforts, together with those of Anker, made a difference to many people in Denmark.

Miranda had previously fought for Spain to take over Western Florida during the US American revolution (1781), he later fought in the French revolution (his name is engraved in the Arc de Triomphe) and he finally led the way in the South American independence wars. He surrendered in 1812 to avoid a complete massacre of his troops, but then he was betrayed by Simón Bolívar, who delivered him to the Spanish forces in order to run away. Miranda went to a Spanish prison where he died in 1816.

Venezuelans are told to interpret Bolivar's treason differently: Bolivar gave Miranda to the Spaniards because he felt "Miranda had betrayed the revolution". This does not make sense at all: Bolivar got an exit passport from those Spaniards for handing over Miranda. With that passport he could get away. He would later return to Venezuela to lead the independence movement, but that is another story.

You can read a selection of Miranda's diaries (in the Spanish original, with the original orthography) here. You can read a biography in English here. I would also recommend a good German book about him, Francisco de Miranda und die Entdeckung Europas, but I think it is out of print now. A lot of people agree Miranda was ahead of his time, but he also was out of touch with realities in Venezuela. I would say he also had a lot of bad luck at the end. Still, Miranda wrote a lot of things about how societies fail and succeed which, in my opinion, are still very valid and can help us today.

Back then the differences between Denmark and the Spanish colony of Venezuela were meaningful, but not as much as today. For one, the situation of human rights in Denmark has vastly improved. The situation in Venezuela, on the other hand, stagnates. In 2008, 410 prisoners were murdered in prisons in Venezuela, where there is no death penalty. Miranda would feel ashamed. I do.

Here you can read in Danish some part of the diary referring to Miranda's visit to one of the Danish prisons.

A statue of Miranda in London, where he lived for many years and where he had two children with his British wife:

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Venezuela and cocaine traffic to Europe

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime just published its yearly report on world drug. There is a lot of interesting and equally horrifying information in there. I just point to the issues relating to Venezuela.

Most cocaine is still produced in Colombia, although cocaine production can be found in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Venezuelans used to say "Venezuela is a transit country, not a consumption, the problem lies in the producing areas and at the consumer side". It is true consumers of illegal drugs should be made responsible as well as they are financing a criminal and very lethal activity. Still, the Venezuelan public (not physicians and some other workers in the area of health) is deluding itself if it thinks the cocaine problem is not a big threat for Venezuela as well, in every sense. Cocaine consumption in Venezuela has been increasing for a long time already. You don't have many thousands of people working in the transport of cocaine and expect them to remain without addiction.

According to the UNODC, Venezuela accounted for the seizure of 32 metric tones in 2007. Colombia accounted for 60% of all seizures. The report confirms what we wrote earlier:

"Cocaine trafficked to North America typicall originates in Colombia and reaches the US through Mexico, either directly by speed boats or via cocuntries such as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. Most of the cocaine (close to 70%) is estimated to be transported via the Eastern-Pacific route towards Mexio and some 20% via the Western Caribbean route."

Further, it says:

"The most frequently memntioned country of origin of the cocaine trafficked to Europe is Colombia (48% of countries reported Colombia as the source country for their seizures) followed by Peru (30%) and the Plurinational State of Bolivia (18% of the countries). The most frequently reported transit countries were the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Ecuador".

Further it reads "the most important cocaine transit country [for Europe] in 2007 in volume terms was the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela".

Very worryingly for Venezuelans is that whether cocaine consumption in the US decreased slightly and it stagnated in Europe, it has kept increasing in their land. The report lists Venezuela first in the list of South American countries where cocaine consumption has increased.

Venezuelans were the third largest group of foreigners detained for cocaine trafficking in Portugal in 2007. It is interesting to see Venezuelans follow with 10% of detentions the people of Cape Verde (with 52%), and those from Guineau-Bisseau (12%). Brazil, with a much larger population than Venezuela and speaking Portuguese, represented 8% of the foreigners caught trafficking cocaine in Portugal. So: Venezuelans are much more likely to be caught as cocaine traffiquers in Portugal than Brazilians. You could think that:

1- Venezuelans are more represented than Brazilians because they often don't speak Portuguese well and thus they don't find their way around as drug mules or

2- Venezuelans indeed have "issues": they are more likely to be involved with that traffic in Portugal than Brazilians.

Brazil has many more people, a higher purchasing power than Venezuela and the mother tongue is Portuguese and yet more Venezuelans than Brazilians get caught trafficking cocaine in Portugal. I haven't been able to find the statistics on Venezuelan versus Brazilian visitors to Portugal but I am sure more Brazilians visit Portugal than Venezuelans.

The report also talks about the increasing importance of West Africa as a transit route to Europe. The cocaine comes mostly from South America. As previously mentioned in this blog, Venezuela is one of the routes taken to ship the drugs to Africa. It goes through the Caribbean Islands or through the Orinoco Delta to the Atlantic Ocean and from there indirectly through Western Africa or directly to Europe.

A responsible Venezuelan government (hopefully we have a better one in 2013) should:
  1. Recognize that even if Venezuelan cocaine consumption may not be particularly high, they are a big threat to the country and contribute to violent crimes
  2. Enforce a policy of informing all foreign nationals that cocaine consumers are also guilty of cocaine-related crimes as they support a traffic that is illegal
  3. Permanently bring forward to the international opinion the need to discuss how to tackle the drug problem: either you legalize the traffic and control it through hospitals and the like or you also follow a mature campaign in Europe and the US (and everywhere else) where everyone becomes aware cocaine consumers are financing drug cartels.
  4. Cooperate fully with other countries in the drug control

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Der Spiegel über Venezuela

Hier könnt Ihr einen Artikel des Spiegels über die wirtschatliche und zum Teil soziale Lage Venezuelas lesen.

Danke an Bridge.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Chavez supporters paint Nazi symbols on walls of governor's building

(more pictures in the "paint" link)

Chavez supporters led by Alirio Mendoza, the mayor of the municipality where Los Teques is, surrounded the building of the Miranda state government, ruled by the opposition. They then proceeded to paint swastiskas on the building walls. This is particularly tasteless: the governor's great-grandparents had been murdered by Nazis.

The Chavez supporters (including Chavista mayor) were claiming governor Capriles Radonsky, one of the few opposition governors, had eliminated the Missions in Miranda. This is not true, those missions are controlled by the national government and they are having problems exclusively because of the national government, but then the Chavez mobs simply do what their leaders order them to do.

Anyway: what was the point of those criminals to paint those swastikas? Do they realise what they are doing? Why did the police do nothing about that? What is going to happen to that Chavez mayor who led that action?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Chavez horse-riding with dead Bolivar

My sources say this painting can be found in a hall at the Venezuelan Supreme Court.* For those who are no Venezuela experts: the one riding at the front of the horse is independence hero (or semi-God) Simón Bolívar. The one clinging to him is current president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. In the background you can see Chavez's supporters.

Here you can find another post (in Spanish and English) about the sick personality cult in Venezuela.

* If someone thinks my sources are lying: I really don't think so, in the other post I linked to here there are some other pictures I personally took, one of them in a public post office.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Können normale Bürger Venezuela retten?

Ob die Erdölpreise weiter nach oben gehen (fast garantiert) oder ob sie stabil bleiben, wird Venezuela in den kommenden 30 Jahren sehr grosse Veränderungen erleben müssen. Die Erdölexporte machen 90% unserer Deviseneinkünfte aus. Venezuela hat eins der niedrigsten Bildungsniveaus Lateinamerikas. Die meisten Bürger denken immer noch, dass Venezuela ein reiches Land ist.

Hier kann man das Bevölkerungswachstum Venezuelas sehen (die letzte Säule habe ich reinkopiert, man schätzt zur Zeit etwa 29 Millionen Einwohner):

Was können normale Bürger vor dieser Situation tun? Was können wir unternehmen, um die Situation in Venezuela positiv zu beeinflussen und das ohne Politiker zu werden?

- Man geht wählen

- Man geht zu Protesten

- Man schreibt Briefe an die internationale Presse, um über die Situation zu Hause zu informieren

Aber was kann man noch tun, um das venezolanische Volk bewusster zu machen?

Meine Antwort auf die erste Frage ist: ja, normale Bürger und nur sie können Venezuela retten, Werden Venezolaner es aber tun? Es bleibt nicht viel vom Zünder.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The murders in Carabobo state, Venezuela

Every year in Germany about 800 out of 82 million people get murdered. The murder rate is stable to decreasing. In Carabobo, a Venezuelan state with around 2,2 million people, around 1820 persons have been murdered in the last 12 months.

I have been following month after month the statistics on murder in Carabobo because it is my state, there is a little bit more transparency there and I know the place very well.

Carabobo's criminality is comparable with that of Caracas or some other regions. Even places in the countryside that 15 years ago were rather safe are getting closer to the level of Caracas and Carabobo.

Hats off to Guido for his animation of the statistics

As reference, from Wikipedia, murder rate of most dangerous countries (murders per 100000 persons/year):

Iraq [8]

101 89
Guatemala [9][10][11] 49.92 54 56 34 32 35 43 49 57.9 57.9
Sierra Leone [12]


El Salvador [13][14] 37.3 34.6 31.1 32.7 41.0 54.9 55.3 49.1
Jamaica [15] 34 44 40 36 54 58 49

Venezuela [16][17][18] [19][20] 37 40 49 59 45.2 42.1 49.4 48
Honduras [21] 25.8 25.2 30.7 35.0 36.3 42.0 45.2

Angola [12]


South Africa [22][23] 49.6 47.8 47.4 42.7 40.3 39.6 40.5 38.6
Somalia [12]


Liberia [12]


Colombia [24][25][26] [27][28][29] 62.7 64.6 65.8 51.8 44.6 39.3 37.3 37 33 33