Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cuaima, 80% of the time not lethal

The Lachesis muta is a venomous viper you can find in many areas of Venezuela, particularly  in the East and South. It can be up to 3 metres long and is, as Wikipedia says, "the longest venomous snake on the Western hemisphere". The good part is that it is 80% of the time it is not lethal for humans. There are more lethal snakes in Venezuela.

In Venezuela the most common name for this viper is cuaima, from Chaima, an extinct Carib language formerly spoken in the Northeast, in what is now Sucre, Monagas and part of Anzoátegui*. Cuaima is also a word Venezuelans use the word to refer to a very agressive, clever and cruel woman or just to talk about their beloved wives.

*there are some attempts to revitalise the language

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Bolívar's bones revisited

The Venezuelan military regime announced some details about a new maosoleum that is going to hold Bolívar's bones "for eternity". This construction has taken almost 20 million euros from the national treasury at the official rate and is going to cost more, much more. This is going to be an extension to the already existing National Pantheon of Venezuela, now against all kinds of earthquakes. I suppose it is going to be against tsunamis as well.

Meanwhile the regime ordered all scientists working in the analysis of what is pressumed to be Bolívar's bones to be completely hermetic about the findings. This is top secret. Those scientists are trying to find out if some of the conspiracy theories Chávez has in mind about Bolívar's death are true. 

Fat chance you get any news if you ask at the IVIC or to the US and Spanish specialists in charge. Why? Because Chávez is using the whole issue for political purposes and he wants to be the one to reveal an interpretation of the findings when it suits him.

Remember: Chávez is Bolívar's Sibyl. One of the things he loves the most about his job, apart from the possibility of traveling around for free for months and forcing millions of Venezuelans to listen to him every week is to play as Bolívar's medium on Earth, specially while holding Bolívar's gold sword, which is now under his special custody while it was in a museum before.

It would be nice if the democratic forces publicly asked Chávez to stop using bones for political purposes and let scientists say whatever they have to say now and go to work on something else.

So far we have heard those bones do seem to come from the Venezuelan XIX century caudillo and greatest self-promoter of all times and that the original owner of those bones had mostly European ancestors but was of mixed raced (male Y chromosome haplogroup and - I guess- native American mDNA as most Venezuelans, perhaps with some African background). This is just what you would expect from anyone whose ancestors had been living in Venezuela for several generations.

Of course, Chávez will be trying to interpret this last part in the ways he needs. I wonder if he is also trying to see who the closest common ancestor between himself and Bolívar was.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Über den König Venezuelas und die Demokratie

Venezuela hat ein streng präsidentielles Regierungssystem. Es war immer so und es ist seit der Militär Chávez an der Macht schlimmer geworden: der Präsident hat Befugnisse, die kein anderer Präsident im ganzen Amerika hat. Er darf immer wieder für das präsidentielles Amt kandidieren, was in keinem demokratischen präsidentiellen Regierungssystem der Fall ist (bis vielleicht auf Surinam).

Die Stelle des Präsidenten ist also wichtig und es ist sehr wichtig, dass die demokratischen Kräfte in Venezuela einen guten gemeinsamen Kandidat finden. Und dennoch ist es besorgniserregend zu sehen, wie die 10 "wichtigsten" Parteien der demokratischen Kräfte keine gemeinsame Bewegung organisieren, um in den verschiedenen Bundesstaaten ihre Botschaft -nicht ihren Mann oder ihre Frau- zu verbreiten. Natürlich haben sie es gar nicht leicht: die Militärregierung schikaniert jede Veranstaltung der Opposition, die Opposition hat wenig Geld und die Regierung benutzt Staatsressourcen immer wieder, um Werbung für den Caudillo zu machen. Dennoch müssen sie endlich mal nicht an einen Führer denken - das ist was für die Chávez-Anhänger- sondern an eine Bewegung, so wie die Bewegungen, wie man in der Tschechoslowakei und in der DDR 1989 gesehen hat.

Blogger Juan Cristobal hat vor kurzem einen Post über Maria Corina Machado geschrieben (ja, siehe in Wikipedia Foto mit Bush). Da fragte Juan, ob diese Politikerin jetzt kandidiert und darum überall in Venezuela reist. Hier werde ich einfach einen meiner Kommentare ins Deutsche wiederholen:

Ich nehme an, Maria Corina Machado will schon kandidieren. Deswegen reist sie durch das ganze Land. Und trotzdem denke ich, dass sie, der Causa-Radical-Vorsitzender Andrés Velázquez und die Toppolitiker von Primero Justicia (bis auf den Gouverneur, der zur Zeit nicht herumreisen darf), die Toppolitiker von UNT und die von PODEMOS schon jetzt Maturin, San Félix, Calabozo und alle andere nennenswerte Städte im Land im Namen der demokratischen Kräfte besuchen müssen. Sie müssen das tun, auch wenn sie schon wissen, dass sie nicht als Präsident kandidieren werden.

Venezolaner müssen endlich aufhören, zu denken, dass nur "der Auserwählte" herumreisen muss. Venezolanische Politiker müssen endlich mal aufhören, wie Feudalherren zu agieren, nur in ihrem Feudalgebiet bleiben oder eine "Krone" als Belohnung für das ganze Herumreisen verlangen. Die wichtigsten Vertreter jeder Partei, die behauptet, eine Nationalpartei zu sein, müssen das ganze Land von nun an besuchen und über eine demokratische, pluralistische Wende sprechen.

Nur so haben wir eine Chance, Venezuela aus dem politischen Mittelalter herauszuholen.

Chávez denkt wie ein Feudalherr, der König geworden ist. Die anderen Politiker müssen anders denken.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Venezuelan, whence art thou?

Almost a third of my readers here are Venezuelan citizens. I would like to ask those of you who are Venezuelan where  you were born.  Please, answer to the poll on the right.

Thanks in advance.
Margarita Island


There are palms galore in the sub-tropic and tropic regions. The Roystonea oleracea or Chaguaramo is one of them. As you can infer from the Latin name, their fruits -not good for you unless you are a parrot or a pig- are very oily.

Native Americans and peasants all over the place (including my ancestors) used these plants as thatch and construction material...and to feed the pigs. You will see the leaves used for Palm Sunday processions as well.

A chaguaramo can grow 40 metres tall, so you don't want to be under one of them when a leaf falls.

This palm is similar to the Roystonea regia or Royal Palm, which can be found in more places, but you can differentiate them because the chaguaramo's seedlings are violet and not green and the leaves are darker than those of the Royal Palm.

The picture below is from the "Altar de la Patria" (sic and sick), very close to my hometown. You don't get much shadow from these palms but they can be an impressive sight.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

From Russia, with love: 7 billion dollars in weapons for more underdevelopment

This is the kind of details you don't get in Venezuelan newspapers: the Venezuelan government spent 400 million dollars this winter to set up a Venezuelan-Russian bank.  Venezuela's FONDEN was the one providing the dosh after it got the green light from the Russian Antimonopoly Organisation to buy 49.9% of the shares of Evrofinanse Mosnarbanka (Еврофинанс Моснарбанка). According to Kommersant, Rosbalt dixit, the Venezuelan government will use  these shares to form a package that will constitute 49% of the capital for this new bank. Putin was pressing since 2006 for Chávez to take this step.

Do you know of any discussion about this at the previous National Assembly? Do you know if the alternative forces can demand the government to backtrack on this?

According to the paper, the main reason for setting up this new bank is to  process the deals between Venezuela and Rosobonosexport. Rosobonoexport is the company delivering weapons to Hugo's military. Venezuela is the second best client for Russian's Lords of War, after India.

Russia could be providing about 7.5 billion dollars in loans for the Venezuelan military to buy toys with.

Do you have any idea why we need to spend so many billions in buying weapons? Does Hugo want to Gaddafy us? How many schools could Venezuela create in Guárico and Portuguesa with those billions? How many roads and projects for developing agriculture in Monagas could be financed with this money?

I wonder if Rosobonosexport has been very-very grateful to some of Venezuela's boliburgueses.

Ps. talking about the dirty business of war, blogger and journalist Steven Bodzin sent me this very interesting link. I will be talking more about this topic.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Wie der Kapitalismus den Mars zerstörte oder "Die Sendung mit dem Esel"

"Auf dem Mars...das habe ich immer gesehen oder gehört (sic) wäre es nicht unwahrscheinlich, dass es eine Zivilisation gegeben hätte. Aber vielleicht kam der Kapitalismus, der Imperialismus, da an und hat das Leben dort  zerstört.

Passt mal auf, passt mal auf: hier auf der Erde, wo es vor Jahrhunderten Wälder gab, gibt es jetzt nur noch Wüsten; wo es früher grosse Flüsse gab, gibt es nun nur noch Wüsten. Es gibt einen Prozess fortgeschrittener Desertifikation auf der Erde, der das Leben auf dem Planet mittelfristig bedroht".

Das sagte der venezolanische Präsident, Hugo Chávez. Selbst die Russen mussten darüber berichten. Ich konnte mir den Gedanken nicht verkneifen, es handele sich um eine sehr schlechte Parodie der Sendung mit der Maus, eine Parodie, die nur aus einer vom Militär regierten Erdölrepublik stammen könnte.

Der venezolanische Caudillo sagte auch, dass 96% der Bevölkerung Venezuela nun Zugang zu Trinkwasser hat, als ob das eine wirkliche Leistung wäre...als ob das die Wahrheit wäre.  In Wirklichkeit müssen Millionen Venezolaner das Wasser von LKWs kaufen:

Ein überdurschnittlich gut gebautes Haus in einem Slum in Lara, Venezuela. Der blaue Behälter hat das Trinkwasser für diese Familie

Chávez hat natürlich nicht erwähnt, dass es kein Kapitalismus war, der zur Zerstörung des Aralsees in Mittelasien und zur Umweltverschmutzung zahlreicher Gebiete in Osteuropa und in Sibirien führte. Chávez sagte auch nicht, dass 99.8% der Bevölkerung Chiles Zugang zu Trinkwasser hat, dass der Anteil der Bevölkerung mit Zugang zu Trinkwasser in Mexiko 97% beträgt. Und wie können arme Menschen das erfahren, wenn sie nicht lesen und nie im Ausland waren?

Chávez sagte auch nicht, dass die venezolanischen Flussbecken von Caroni und Caura jetzt mehr als je zuvor durch unkontrollierten Goldbergbau massiv zerstört werden und das trotz Versprechen der Regierung.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Libya-Venezuela etc

 Qaddaffi has massacred his people for decades now: the Abu Salim prison, the killing of wounded in hospitals and so on. I linked already to Amnesty International's information on Libya.

Now: if the international community is going to go after him, I think it should use a more accurate set of reasons and be more specific about the scope. It seems the scope is changing all too fast.

The international community should also be able to debate openly if it is good to be selling weapons to dictators who "haven't massacred their people just yet". Should China and Russia not explain on a world debate why they deliver weapons to Burma's regime? To Venezuela's? Why the US is doing the same to Arabia's?

Am I being naive? Very probably yes.
Some people will say: well, if we don't sell them weapons, China will. OK. No comments.
At the beginning I was wondering about Angela Merkel's and Westerwelle's position not to vote for the resolution: was it because of election time only? Does the government want to out-Green the Green not just in the nuclear thing? Is the government trying to find out energy alternative to the nuclear reactors it has to close down now? Is it that the government is haunted by the German past? Nothing made  sense. Blogger Daniel had other reasons

I believe the Germans have seen intelligence that is opposed to what the US and France are saying and above all they want a better plan, specially about what is coming now.

Gaddafi supporters are of course completely wrong. Gaddafi has been massacring his people for a long time, not just now but also when the international sanctions against him were firstly put in place many years ago and then later when Blair and  Berlusconi were kissing him, when the Germans were training his police forces and when the French selling him their weapons. 

And Gaddafi has been delivering all the oil the West needs for many years now…just like our compatriot, the comandantepresidente and heroe of the Museo de Historia has been providing oil to the US Americans.

Are the Russians and Chinese afraid to lose contracts for oil and weapons? Probably they are. Still, it seems the Germans and the Russians and the Chinese understand there is no real plan, the situation can escalate. What if Gaddafi does use civilians on a "Green march" in order to provoke more civilian casualties? How can the international community prevent this? I don't think they have a plan.
Here you see a German video (in German, of course) with some of the best informed Middle East specialists Germany has. This is the second part, the whole programme was very good and quite some food for thought.

Spotting crime, offering new solutions

From Miranda to the space to Miranda back again
The government of Miranda, in the hand of the alternative forces, is carrying out a new project to improve security in the area.

What they are doing now is basically this: their cops identify with GPS devices the location and further details about any new crime in Miranda state; the information is then digitally classified and visualized in the Miranda police centre; specialists then try to find out patterns to see how to best use police forces and prevention mechanisms in the most optimal way. This is not rocket science, but it is making good use of technologies already available.

I just hope the Chávez regime does not intervene with this new initiative. Chávez always tries to sabotage anything the alternative forces do, no matter how this affects Venezuelans. 

Let's hope the Miranda government works together with the best mathematicians, sociologists and criminologists from such places as the Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Simón Bolívar in order to really make the best use of the data for crime prevention. The best would be if they then share their knowledge with the national government, even if the national government is still what we have now.

Do you know what the national police does right now? The CICPC has a big map -the old way- and colour pins a few cops use to try to track what crimes are commited where. It is time for them to catch up with the times. Venezuela has the highest murder rate of South America and criminals are using modern technology.

The approach used by Miranda should be further considered and improved upon.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Just two toes

My country has lots of sloths. No, I am not talking about bureaucrats here (eye-rolling), but about members of the Megalonychidae family. The one you see in the first picture is a Choloepus didactylus

The one you see next is a Choloepus hoffmani. It also has two toes but it is a quite different species, it is half-blond. Other species like the Brown-throated sloths I posted two years ago have three toes.


Venezuela ohne Tsunamis

Venezuela hat keine Tsunamis und dennoch versinkt es immer wieder im Chaos.

Ich lese die Lokalzeitung und stelle fest, dass es am Wochenende nichts Ausserordentliches gab. Alles, was die Zeitung zu berichten hat, ist seit einigen Jahren  absoluter Alltag.  Damit Ihr wisst, was Alltag im "sozialistisch-bolivarischen" Venezuela bedeutet, stelle ich Euch einige dieser Nachrichten vor. Es handelt sich um Nachrichten aus dem Bundesstaat Carabobo. Es könnten aber Nachrichten aus vielen anderen Regionen Venezuelas sein.
Puerto Cabello

  • Der Staatskonzern Corpoelec, der im Jahre 2007 nach der Verstaatlichung mehrerer Energiefirmen gegründet wurde, meldete, dass ein Teil von Puerto Cabello schon wieder ein paar Stunden lang ohne Strom sein würde. Der Grund ist  Instandhaltung. Dies ist die Norm in Venezuela jetzt. Wir haben keine Tsunamis, wir haben seit Jahren keine nennenswerte Erdbeben. Die Verwalter der "bolivarischen" Firmen sind so inkompetent, dass man nun überall in Venezuela stundenlange Stromausfälle "wegen gewöhnlichen Instandhaltung" erdulden muss. Kürzere, völlig unerwartete Stromausfälle sind die Norm. Übrigens: die U-Bahn in Valencia muss oft einen ganzen Sonntag wegen "gewöhnlichen Instandhaltung" schliessen.
  • Ein Bus mit 30 Passagieren wurde Sonntag um 10:00 auf der Autobahn Valencia-Puerto Cabello überfallen. Die Täter waren schwer bewaffnet. Sie haben alles  geklaut: Taschen, Handys. Solche Überfälle sind wirklich so gewöhnlich wie kleine Unfälle auf der A5 in Deutschland. Meine Cousine, die kein Auto hat, hat schon mehrere solcher Taten überlebt und sie hat immer mehr Angst, wenn sie einen Bus benutzen muss.
  • 16 Menschen sind am Wochenende im Bundesstaat (2.5 Millionen Menschen) bei verschiedenen Gewalttaten ermordet worden.
 In Venezuela nichts Neues.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

What part of Amnesty International report on Libya didn't the world leaders read?

Please, read here.

I wonder if Mr Westerwelle is worried now his government has to close down several nuclear reactors and some energy swap is needed.

I wonder if Russia and China are worried about new weapons contracts from Libya's very very long-time dictator.

I wonder if what issue a no-fly zone prsented when it would protect many civilians Gaddafi will murder now?

I wonder how how many years the West will wait until it also starts to sell weapons to Libya's dictator again.

Al Jazeera is still reporting. It seems German news are now 99.999% of the time focused on the -yes, very big- tragedy of Japan.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Macht sich Deutschland Sorgen um "ihr" libysches Erdöl? Fragen über Fragen

Diktator Gaddafi marschiert weiter Richtung Bengasi

Bombardiert Gaddafi nun Bengasi mit russischen, chinesischen, englischen oder französischen Flugzeugen? Und mit welchen Waffen wird er seine Landsleute umbringen?

Wer wird nun Erdöl aus Libyen kaufen? Die Chinesen? Die Russen? Haben die Europäer schon darüber nachgedacht? Will Westerwelle mit seinem Zögern ein Irak 2003 vermeiden? Und was kommt denn stattdessen? Ein Irak wie zwischen 1990 und 2002? Wie lange? Ist das gut, um die Situation in Saudiarabien zu beruhigen? Was will die EU Bahrein gegenüber?

Es gibt zur Zeit ein EU-Waffenausfuhrverbot für Libyen. Ich erinnere mich, wie die EU im Jahr 2007 so ein Verbot aufgehoben hatte. Dachte die EU damals, dass ein Diktator zu einem Demokrat mutiert? Was will die  EU überhaupt? Vielleicht will sie in 4 Jahren das Ausfuhrverbot wieder aufheben? Vielleicht können die Franzosen und die Deutschen damit wieder Waffen exportieren und das bis das Volk wieder probiert, Widerstand zu leisten? Ist das vielleicht eine taktische Massnahme, um den Waffenmarkt - Nachfrage und Angebot - zu optimieren?

Ich frage nur.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Venezuelan colours (II): Arara - Guacamayo

If this animal is not beautiful...
The Arara (in Pemón and other Carib languages), Guacamayo rojo (in Spanish) or red-and-green macaw is a bird you can find all over Northern South America in the deep forest. It is really a pleasure to the eyes. Unfortunately, many people think we humans should be putting them in cages.

These are in France.

Über den Stromminister und mehr in der Erdölrepublik Venezuela

Hier könnt Ihr eine Liste der Ministerien in der "bolivarischen" Republik Venezuela lesen. Rechts seht Ihr eine Liste der Ministerien in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland als Vergleich.

Natürlich kann man nicht alles vergleichen. Venezuela hat indigene Völker, die andere Sprachen sprechen als 98% der Bevölkerung. Dafür haben wir ein Ministerium. Die historische, soziale und wirtschaftliche Lage der Dänen, Sorben und andere Minderheiten in Deutschland ist ganz anders als die der indigenen Völker in Venezuela.

Darüber hinaus hat das System in Venezuela Wörter, die im Gegensatz zu "Bundes- Föderal- Republik" nichts bedeuten aber beeindruckend sein sollen, so wie es früher in der DDR war. Der venezolanische Caudillo hat zB das Wort "Volksmacht" zu allen Ministerien hinzugefügt, damit man weiss, es handelt sich um das Volk und das Volk darf nicht kritisiert werden. Darüber hinaus hat der Caudillo neue Ministerien geschaffen wie das Ministerium der Volksmacht für Elektrizität. Wir haben also einen Stromminister. Das ist cool, oder?

Wir haben auch ein Ministerium der Volksmacht für Kommunen und soziale Sicherheit. Ich frage mich, wieso dieses Ministerium der Volksmacht auch "der sozialen Sicherheit" ist, wenn man noch ein Ministerium der Volksmacht für Arbeit und soziale Sicherheit hat. Handelt es sich um dieselbe soziale Sicherheit?

Wir haben auch ein Ministerium, das den Präsidenten in der Regierung vertritt, aber nicht vom Präsidenten selbst verwaltet wird. Dieses Ministerium wird von einem anderen Militär verwaltet, Ameliach. Das ist einer der Hauptbonzen des Chavismus in Carabobo und dazu noch Abgeordneter.

Blogger Miguel erzählt uns, wie der jetztige Vorsitzende der Nationalversammlung,Fernando Soto Rojas, ganz offen erklärte, in Venezuela gäbe es keine Gewaltenteilung.

Der Minister für die Volksmacht für Ernährung, Oberst Carlos Alberto Osorio, meldete, die ganze Getreideeinfuhr soll von nun an nur vom Staat betrieben werden. Osorio erklärte -nicht zum ersten Mal- man könne nicht weiter zulassen, dass "der private Sektor und der Kapitalismus Ernährung als Geschäft betrachten". Was Osorio nicht sagt, ist dass Venezuela nun mehr denn je zuvor Lebensmittel aus allerlei kapitalistischen Ländern importiert -u.a. aus der sehr kapitalistischen Volksrepublik China. Aber in Venezuela der Militärs gilt nun: nur der ausländische private Sektor und die Firmen der Chávez-Bonzen dürfen Profit mit den Lebensmitteln machen.

Carlos Alberto Osorio kam auf Platz 52 unter den 139 Fähnrichen seines Jahrgangs. Also: gescheit war er nicht mal unter den Milicos. Er ist bloss einer der vielen Militärs, die hohe Ämter bei der Chávez-Regierung bekleiden und zwar weil er Chávez treu und völlig unkritisch ist.

Wenn Ihr diese ganze Gruppe verstehen wollt, müsst Ihr dies berücksichtigen: es handelt sich primär um Militärs und ehemalige Guerrilleros, die ziemlich wenig über die National- bzw Weltgeschichte wissen, die vielmehr an bestimmten Mythen glauben, durch diese Mythen und ihre Machtansprüche ihre ganze Politik gestalten und keine Ahnung von Wirtschaft haben. Diese Leute denken, der Möchte-Gern-Caudillo Maisanta wäre besser gewesen als der Diktator Gómez, nur weil der erste früher starb und sein Urenkel Chávez heisst. Diese Leute behaupten, sie seien vorwiegend Ur- und Afroamerikaner und die anderen einfach Nachfahren der Conquistadores und für die Greultaten der Conquista und alles andere verantwortlich, egal was die ethnische Realität des Landes zeigt. Unter diesen Chávez-Bonzen gibt es natürlich einfach Zyniker, die Schurken während der Vierten Republik waren und sich nun als Revolutionär vorstellen - zB Rodríguez Chacín oder Freddy Bernal.

Na...die Deutschen hatten einen Minister, der für seine Doktorarbeit bei verschiedenen Autoren klaute. Wir? Wir haben was anderes.

PS: Oje! Seit gestern gibt es ein neues Ministerium: das Ministerium der Volksmacht für Jugend und Studenten.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Another way of measuring Venezuela's economy

The Bonaire site Amigoe Nieuws tells us Bonaire, a Dutch island off the Venezuelan coast, got a record number of foreign tourists last year. More Europeans, more Canadians and more US Americans arrived at Bonaire in 2010 than in 2009.

There was one country that sent less tourists: Venezuela. There were 58% Venezuelan tourists less than in  2009. Do you want to know why? Because Venezuelans' real income was going down, because Venezuela was in recession, unlike the rest of the region, and because in Venezuela, like in the former Soviet Union, there is no free currency exchange but the whims of the Boliburguesia. This happens even if oil prices were several times higher than on any year before the military came to power in 1999.

Nothing again national tourism...I have written a lot about the need for Venezuela to promote national tourism...but it seems we have to examine in a new light the current government's  motto for promoting national tourism: Venezuela, your destiny is to know it.

Ps. I also wrote a post on national tourism in Spanish here.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Venezuelan colours: Ruby-topaz

The Ruby-topaz hummingbird is another inhabitant of Northern South America. We call it in Spanish "tucusito ruby". "Tucusito" is a diminutive form in Spanish and although I could not find anything about the etymology, I bet it comes from a Carib language. In Pemon "hummingbird" is called tucü (or tucui). Large areas of Venezuela were originally inhabited by ethnic groups speaking Carib languages.

These hummingbirds are 8 centimetres long. Wikipedia dixit: "The female Ruby-topaz Hummingbird lays two eggs in a tiny cup nest in the fork of a low branch. Incubation takes 16 days, and fledging another 18 or 19."

Friday, 11 March 2011

Murder in the Land of Grace

The Guardian's Rory Carroll wrote an outstanding article on crime in Caracas. Please, read it. Here I will present just some crude facts and wild hunches that still may serve as reference.
Near Maracaibo

Bloody numbers

On the United Nations Organization for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) you will find some outdated but still relevant information on the murder rate in Venezuela. The "official" murder rate for Venezuela in 2008 was around 47.2 murders per 100000 inhabitants. An older report from United Nations for the years 1998-when Chávez was elected-, for1999 -when Chávez started to rule- and 2000 tell you the murder rate went from 19.61 to 25.21 to 33.15 murders per 100 000 persons. The United States had a murder rate of 6.35 for 1999, 5.37 for 1999 and its murder rate has remained stabil since then. The murder rate in Western Europe is between 1 and 2 murders per 100000 aproximately.
Petare, formerly pro-Chávez, now Chávez says it's a posh area

In perspective, look at this data:

Total murder in Venezuela versus Germany
Total population Germany/Venezuela
What's going on? A lot of things. One of the issues, mentioned also in that article, is drugs. Venezuelans used to say our country was just a transit land for cocaine. Not anymore. Drug consumption has skyrocketed since the mid nineties. If you can, you should watch the Brazilian film Cidade de Deus. Venezuela's cities went through the same process as Brazil, but unlike Brazil, Venezuela stopped creating real jobs a long time ago and in spite of all the official stories about "eliminating illiteracy" (which was around 8.9% in 1998) and creating schools, education has only worsened. 

You are getting now more "bachilleres", but they don't know how to read or count and there are no jobs for them. They have drugs and they see lots of things bought with petrodollars.

Mind the Province

Rory's article was excellent. Still, there were a couple of missing points, which is normal as he would have had to write a treatise to just mention them all.

One of the missing points has been the migration to the cities and what social problems that has brought. This type of migration is a worldwide phenomenom, but it has been particularly dramatic in Venezuela. Rory did mention how a community like El Consejo grew from a small village of 2000 inhabitants to become an extension of Caracas with 50000 people. It would have been very interesting if Rory had asked people in that slum where their grandparents were born. Chances are most were not born there. Chances are most were born in the Llanos or elsewhere, far away.

Since the beginning of oil exploitation, farmers and other unskilled workers have migrated massively to Caracas, to Maracaibo and Valencia. They came from some villages around the area - from the Tuy Valley, from around the Maracaibo Lake, but above all from the Llanos. The Llanos is our real Wild West. Others are from Trujillo and rural areas of Lara, Falcón - and just then immigrants from other South American countries.

Let's look at the statistics from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Venezuela. Look at Barinas, a Llanos state where Chávez was born. If we believe what those statistics say, 50.1% of the working population in Barinas was working in the "informal sector". That means people are mostly selling Colombian panties, Mexican textiles, Chinese toys and even Nicaraguan black beans or driving pirate taxis. The official figure for Distrito Capital (Caracas) is about 27.3%. Caracas as well as Maracaibo and Valencia became magnets for those people for 50 years already. They got there, but most did not find their way up, particularly as they had no education.

Official unemployment in Venezuela is just about 8% to 10%, but that number is as meaningless as could be. European statisticians would not consider most of those working in the informal sector as anything but jobless who have to sell something to survive.

The incredibly high level of "informal unemployment" is not new and it is not exclusive to Venezuela. Other countries in Spanish America have similar figures. The problem is Venezuela has 1) a incredibly high urbanization level for an underdeveloped country and 2) a very high and increasingly higher dependence on petrodollars, a dependence that is destroying work possibilities and competitiveness.

There were lots of poor in and around the main urban centres before the oil boom. Still, many of them slowly climbed the social ladder and are now to be found in middle class areas and most of their children finish school. The ones who came from farther away did not.

I know one of the girls who came from the Llanos. She is one of 22 siblings. Most of her brothers and sisters are now in the main urban hubs of Venezuela. Most of them were voting for Chávez until now, even if she was not and now many are staunched opponent of Chávez. Still, Chávez has an appeal. Although he was not himself particularly poor - his parents had a finca that was several times the amount of land many had and his dad was a local leader of one of the IV Republic parties- he comes from the Llanos and he knows the talk.

In a following post I will take you to the Llanos, a key part of Venezuela. That's part of what many urbanites disdainfully call Monte y Culebras, Grass and Snakes.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Flower eats fly

The Drosera sessilifolia is one of the many, many species of carnivorous plants you can find in the area between Venezuela, Guyana and Northern Brazil.

There are lots of Droserae specially in the tepuy regions of Southern Venezuela.

Reality check for Venezuelans

Venezuelan pupils are some of the few not allowed by their government to see this

Venezuelan public education sucks big time. Since 1998 the government decided to pull out of open international evaluation programmes on education...sort of "because we know better" and "the Cubans are giving us training" and "those capitalist schemes are not up to the socialist-Bolivarian revolution".

It would be great if the democratic parties would select some of the sample questions of the PISA programme, print them out on flyers and distribute them through Maturín and Calabozo, Morón and Southern Valencia. And they should add: "governments in most of South and North America, in Europe,  South Korea, Japan and China are letting their 15-year old pupils be tested on questions like these. Results are compared, published and discussed in order for people to find out ways of improving standards. The Venezuelan military government does not want to let Venezuelan pupils take part in those studies. Why?"

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Venezuela's unsustainable growth (I)

We have seen time after time how inacurate -when not utterly wrong- everybody, starting from the International Energy Agency, has been on predicting oil price evolution. Still and even if there is current prices have a lot to do with temporal crisis and speculation, you can count on prices remaining high for the next couple of years. Demand won't be lower than now, even if China were to slow down its growth in a year or so.
In a previous post you saw a chart showing Venezuela's GDP growth for one year next to the (OPEC/Venezuelan) oil price increase for the year before. Oil price multiplicating effect in the economy does not show up right away, so I decided to plot the oil effect one year after its happening, even if this is just an approximation. 

What comes clear out of this is that the military regime is making Venezuela more addicted to oil than ever. This means the country requires increasingly higher oil price hikes to keep up growth. 

Venezuela has had for over 10 years higher oil prices than in the decade before this government got elected (1, 2 for some historical references in Spanish). The oil dependency is so great that when prices went down in 2009, Venezuela was kept in recession, even if prices were still over 300% higher than in the nineties.  In fact, Venezuela was already in a recession the year before as the government had been throwing out money like there were no tomorrow and oil prices did climb then but not fast enough.
Last year oil prices were about >21% higher than in 2009. That would have meant a growth nearing 10% this year if the economy behaved like in 2004 or 2006 and each petrodollar were as effective as back then That won't be the case. Some economists have predicted <1.5% GDP growth and the Chávez regime also something a bit above that figure. The GDP should actually be higher than 5% -what I put in the chart- if the government acted on a responsible manner. Of course, it is not just about oil prices: people have to extract oil and that requires equipment and expertise PDVSA does not have and security the military caudillo is not willing to give. We will have to pay dearly, very dearly, for any help. Even so, I can see the military regime will have enough money to finance a lot of programmes, specially short-term, to try to win the 2012 elections.

The alternative forces face a great challenge, specially as they are cash-strapped and the slightest suspicion of international financing will lead to political prosecution (never mind the Venezuelan military are keeping Cuba's dictatorship by financing it with hundreds of millions in oil).

Luis Borges, from Primero de Justicia, has kept giving interviews in Caracas about how the government is just giving the crumbles to the poor while pilfering billions. What he says is all right and dandy. Still, the people that can listen to that are just part of the 30% of Venezuelans with Internet or cable TV access or those living in Caracas. Only a fraction of them will understand the implications of what Borges is saying, specially in the way he tells the story. His party, as other parties, are failing to spread responsability for spreading the message through a whole team and making that team travel through the country.

If the alternative forces want to have a chance to win the 2012 elections, their only hope is to talk to the people from now on in key areas outside the 3-4 main urban hubs of Venezuela were they have focused their efforts. Most people we need to reach are no longer in Petare or even in Southern Valencia. They are in Acarigua and Guanare, in Maturín and even closer in Los Guayos. The potential in areas that are already voting for the alternative forces is minimal. The potential in other areas is much higher. But that potential can only be used if the alternative forces go there with 1) a thorough understanding of regional pecularities, historical backgrounds for those regions and local concerns and 2) a plan for sustainable development that includes those regions and is explained in very simple talk. Alternative forces would be well advised to try something extra as well: to talk to the people about the truths no politician has wanted to talk about until now, to talk about real land reform, to talk about real accountability and real production.

Now: oil prices cannot keep going up forever. Chávez will have enough tinder until the elections. In a future post I will talk about what comes ahead.

Middle East and some insight

More on Fisk here...long interview, but it is worth watching it if you are interested in the Middle East or what journalism should be.

Great pity the Americas have little of this.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Good journalism

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to one of my favourtie journalists: Robert Fisk. It is amazing the difference between his reporting and what I read from other English sources about the Middle East. 

Some of the ingredients for his work are these:
1) He interviews both sides of a story (or all he can when there are more sides) and reproduces the information and arguments given by them. And he gives background information from both sides. He does not give 50% of the time for one side and 50% for the other group as BBC pretends -pretends- to give in the Palestine-Israel conflict (in reality you will see considerably more references to the Israeli view on almost any article). As he says, he is not reporting about the construction of some road through a forest and the pros and cons but about brutal wars and complex conflicts, where one could stick to the 50/50 rule. He tries to report above all about the facts and conditions of those suffering the most while listing the arguments of the other side, not just their acts.
2) He knows history well. I repeat: he knows history well. It is not "history since we arrived there" or "history according to our school books", but history as also told by the different sides and history that goes beyond the time the story became "hot topic". This is very much unlike "star journalists" from the top mainstream news channels that go from one place to the other without having a clue about how the different places evolved, about the reasons behind that development. 

3) Unlike many journalists from the English speaking world, he goes to talk to the small people everywhere. That does not mean "the translator at the office", "the guys going for information at our embassy" or "the small employee from that government". He talks to the people who do not necessarily speak English, who are not to be found in the capital city of the country he visits.

4) He does not think writing down what the "anonymous governmental sources" or "government spokespersons" say should be the main task of a journalist.
If you want to read an excellent book about the Middle East, try the Great War for Civilisation. It is a huge book, but you can read the chapter you want independently from the others.
Very interestingly, Robert Fisk has a completely different background from German journalist Scholl-Latour. Still, a lot of his impressions about the Middle East are the same. That is no surprise: like Scholl-Latour, Fisk has managed to remain very independent, he has a solid understanding of regional and world history and he thinks journalists do have to go to places and report what they see, not what PR masters or the guys just next to them tell them to say.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Menschenrechte, Hugo Chávez und seine Sorge für Diktator Gaddafi

Der venezolanische Kommandant* Chávez fragt nun, wo 200 Milliarden Dollar an libyschen Geldern wären, die der libysche Staat in USA-Banken angelegt hätte. "Wer versucht, die Währungsreserven Libyens zu stehlen, die die USA einfror?"

Na, Hugo: willst Du nur sehr intelligente Fragen stellen oder vielleicht auch  mögliche Antworten geben? Wer? Und welche Beweise hast Du dafür, dass das Geld gestohlen wird? Was wurde genau im Namen des Staates und was im Namen eines anderen angelegt? Weisst er das?

Gern würde ich auch wissen, ob Chávez wirklicht denkt, Diktator Gaddafi vertretete immer noch Libyen.

Gern würde ich vom ehemaligen Putschist wissen, ob das Geld für den Ferrari und die Villa des Saif al-Isam al-Gaddafis, die er in Deutschland gekauft hat, Geld des Gaddafiklans oder Libyens ist. Dieser Ferrari und diese Villa sind nur zwei kleine Beispiele.

Gern würde ich vom venezolanischen Präsidenten lesen, was er über Amnesty-International-Berichte zur Lage in Libyen denkt.

Mädchen in Benghazi: Libysche Stämme sind vereint
Vor allem würde ich vom  venezolanischen Caudillo wissen, ob er keinen Unterschied zwischen Führer und Staat, zwischen Regierung und Staat sieht.

Jetzt ist US-Schauspieler und Chávez-Freund Sean Penn nach Venezuela geflogen, um die Schaden zu begrenzen. Selbst Penn hat bemerkt, wie schlecht die öffentliche Liebeserklärungen zu älteren Despoten PR-mässig schlecht sind.

Chávez versucht, durch sein internationales Puppentheater ALBA so zu tun, als würde er eine internationale Friedenskommission für Libyen errichten. In Wirklichkeit will der venezolanische Präsident nur seinem Freund Gaddafi helfen. Wenn Gaddafi fallen würde, würde das ein schlechtes Zeichen für andere "Volksführer" sein.

Die Lage in Libyen ist immer noch sehr schwierig. Das Land kann lange Zeit einen Bürgerkrieg erleben. Das ist nicht wegen Liebe zu Gaddafi. Das Land ist, im Gegensatz zu Ägypten und eher wie Venezuela, viel mehr von Erdöleinnahmen und daher vom Staat abhängig. Die Gaddafidiktatur hat seit vielen Jahren eine Reihe von Sicherheitskräften gebildet, die sich gegenseitig in Schach halten und sonst nur dafür sind, die Macht des Diktators zu garantieren. Gaddafi hat, genau wie Chávez, zahlreiche ausländische "Sicherheitsexperten" ins Land gebracht, die als Prätorianergarde fungieren. 

Libyen und Venezuela sind aber ganz anders. Und dennoch ist der venezolanische Caudillo unruhig geworden.

*zur Benutzung des  Militärtitels: das ist gang und gäbe bei der Regierung. Siehe zB hier

Friday, 4 March 2011

Venezuela as a feudal state (III): what's the point in elections?


Chávez as Ersatz for ideology

Yesterday Hugo Chávez declared himself the candidate of the ruling Socialist Unified Party of Venezuela (PSUV in Spanish) for the 2012 presidential elections. The former coup monger declared:

Some may say: "well, Chávez, and why are you the candidate?" I am sure that if we had internal elections we would be wasting time. Why waste time?

Imagine Angela Merkel in Germany saying that.  

What's the point? I'm the leader, I will be the candidate for CDU/CSU, let's not discuss it anymore. 

You can be sure people would be shocked and she would lose a lot of support. The same would happen in Britain, in Spain, in the United States, in Chile, in just about any democratic country.

You have a different picture in Venezuela. Chavismo is not an ideology. It has no real programme but the perpetuation of the ruling elite around Chávez. It does use some methods from extreme left movements and above all images from those movements. It does employ some token septuagenarian figures from communist parties for some posts.  Still: the government demands any state employee and any member of the PSUV party to be completely subservient and uncritical of Chávez. If you are opposition you can criticize Chávez as much as you want, whatever you say does not matter anyway and the state controls the main source of real income in a parasite oil exporting nation.  
Chávez and big image of himself behind using public cultural facilities and state TV to promote himself

Chavismo is still a mild autocracy where crude, outright violent repression is (usually) unconceivable. Still, personalism is bad. Even during Soviet Union times the words "Leninism"  and "Stalinism" were only used after Lenin and Stalin had died or by critical groups outside the Soviet Union itself. In Venezuela Chávez himself uses the word Chavismo time after time and says there can be no Chavismo without Chávez. Anyone who has read about Lenin or even Trotsky extensively knows neither of these men were talking about "Leninism" or "Trotskism". And it is because at least they, with all their intolerance, did have an ideology and a project. In the Land of Grace, under the sunny skies and between coconuts and beer crates, only personality cult and passing images have a place.

In Venezuela you will hear ad nauseam the words "Chavismo" and "Bolivarianismo". The first one is about Chávez. The second term is supposed to refer to what our first big caudillo, Simón Bolívar, stood for. In reality no one, absolutely no one, has presented a reasonable and well-documented explanation of what from Bolívar's contradictory thoughts and actions are part of current Bolivarianism. The reason is that Bolivarianism is just a passe-partout.
Chávez gave his speech during a party event at the state theatre centre Teresa Carreño. I doubt any opposition party would have access to such facilities. Those parties have already enormous trouble trying to organise a public event in most places, as Chavismo puts pressure on the organisations in control of those venues.

Chávez's speech was shown on the Venezuelan state TV, which, unlike cable TV, Globovision cable-limited air coverage and Internet, reaches every corner of Venezuela. 

Caudillos on the other side

Meanwhile, old politicians from the opposition are declaring themselves pre-candidates for the Mesa de la Unidad. They do agree there should be an internal election. The first ones are the governor of Tachira region, Pérez Vivas, and Oswaldo Álvarez Paz. Both announced their intentions without vision and without passion. Neither Pérez nor Álvarez have the slightest chance. If you have an idea why they still presented their candidacies, let us know, please. Other precandidates will follow in the coming months.

Salas Feo, opposition governor of Carabobo and cousin of Naguanagua's municipality, will probably be supporting his dad, former governor Salas Römer, as a precandidate. The Salas-Feo feud have a party called Proyecto Venezuela, but it should be called Proyecto Salas-Feo family. They have no chance outside their state. Even in the state, their control is limited and their unwillingness to cooperate with other forces has proven fatal. Because of their lack of cooperation, the opposition lost control of Valencia.

Primero Justicia is perhaps the one party where internal elections take place. Its possible pre-candidate for the MUD, Miranda governor Capriles, hasn't been in a rush to present his candidacy, but he will do it sooner or later. He is an interesting possibility. Unfortunately, his party has not known how to go beyond the highly urban areas of Northern-Central Venezuela. The fact most of PJ's leaders come from Caracas and went to the Faculty of Law of the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello does not help. Let's hope they find a way to get out of the cocoon. To that effect, they need to set up a team that is willing to visit strategic regions throughout Venezuela and not only in Caracas-Maracaibo-Valencia. They will have a particularly hard time in Bolívar: they were also unwilling to admit Andrés Velázquez was the most popular opposition candidate in Venezuela's largest state and so they produced their own candidate in the 2008 elections. Because of that the alternative parties probably lost Bolívar in the 2008 elections. Even if the actual sum of the votes for their candidates did not reach those the PSUV candidate got, a cooperation would have led to more votes.

A thousand leaders, one worker

One key point in Venezuela is that everyone wants to become the leader but not do the hard work. This attitude has been largely funded by our colonial tradition of warlords and caciques, in a land where the few who came in contact with ideas for development and pluralism  just used words and images to become the new warlords and caciques, the new jefes. It's time to break the mold.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Chávez unterstützt weiterhin den libyschen Diktator

Ihr könnt es selbst in der Website des venezolanischen Staatsfernsehsenders lesen.

Ich übersetze einige Sätze.

"Warum schicken wir statt Marines und Panzer und Flugzeuge nicht etwa eine Kommission von  Ländern, die helfen wollen, dass sich die Leute in Libyen nicht gegenseitig umbringen?"

"Es war dasselbe in Libyen wie in Venezuela, wo man (2002) sagte, Chávez habe Demonstrierende der Opposition massakriert"

"Sehr bescheiden rufe ich die Menschen auf, sich nicht durch die Kriegstrommel verführen zu lassen, denn ich bin mir sicher: die USA übertreiben und manipulieren die Fakten, um einen Angriff gegen Libyen zu rechtfertigen".

"Wie Fidel Castro es vor einigen Jahren schrieb: schwerlich können wir wissen, was genau in Libyen passiert".
"Mit Verlaub an die Regierungen der ganzen Welt: ich bin keine Windfahne, die sich vom Wind drehen lässt...alle sagen, Gaddafi sei ein Mörder...muss Chávez es dann auch sagen? (Chávez spricht sehr oft in dritter Person). Ich habe keinen Beweis dafür und es wäre feige, zu sagen, er wäre ein Mörder, wenn man nicht genau weiss, was in Libyen passiert"

Wer kann dem venezolanischen Präsidenten den Amnesty-International-Link zu Libyen schicken?
Gaddafis Sohn und Hillary Clinton...das waren nur Chávez

The Devil in the Amazonas

The white-fronted spider monkey is an endangered species of spider monkey. Look at the very long tail it has. Look at its strange face. That face has given him the Latin name Ateles Belzebuth. The Spanish Wikipedia has more information on this little monkey.

Spanish speakers use different names for this monkey: marimona and marimonda are the ones I have heard the most. You can see the rest in the Wikipedia article. It can be confusing when crossing borders or even regions. 

In Pemon, the most widely used Carib language today with just 30000 speakers- it is called "waitiri". Waitiriyen is a Pemon location on the Yunwaru river and Waitiripa is another one in the Caroni Basin (-yen and -pa are Pemon suffixes for locations).

In the picture you see a white-fronted spider monkey in -sigh- captivity.