Sunday, 31 August 2014

And the strategy is...

And now Maduro explains the finger print thing will be for the border regions and the state supermarkets only. What does that mean? It will be incredibly difficult to buy chicken, milk, flour and other products in private shops as the street vendors will buy their lot there. People with a real job will have to buy the goods to the street vendor for several times the state price. This is particularly bad for those who are opposition in Venezuela. The rich regime honchos do have their maids to do the shopping for them.

Maduro's conundrum: more than half a million strong

Shortages became so bad that the Maduro government started to look for a new emergency patch, as usual. It came with the idea of the fingerprint machines to limit the amount of products people can buy...or perhaps it was the fingerprint company that came up with the idea. In any case, the government doesn't deal with the reasons of the shortage economy but tries, once more, to mitigate the consequences of its mess. There is a rumpus about this but it comes mostly from the better off to hard-core opposition lower class in Caracas. A lot of the poor - at least for now, at least that's what I get as input from outside the capital - think the fingerprint thing might be a solution, even if not optimal. There is another group that is completely against the machine and for different reasons: those who work in the black market.
GDP: Venezuela, one of its kind

Shortages have to do with distortions in the supply and demand chain, whether we talk about socialist countries with central planning or a pseudo-socialist country with a mixed economy and full government intervention and harassment of the private sector not in the hands of the revolutionary "elite". In any case, the main reason why shortages exist are price controls that prevent supply and demand forces from working as they should. This reason is further worsened in Venezuela by the collapse in local production. Blogger Francisco Toro will say local production wouldn't collapse if prices were right, even if producers were Chavista functionaries taking over. I am not so sure of that. I can see what is happening to Owen Illinois in Venezuela: they are not that subject to price controls but production is collapsing, the higher echelons now are simply using the company as plundering ground. Besides, state bureaucracy in Venezuela simply puts too many trammels for any productive activity.

In any case: low prices trigger higher demand. This, in turn, entices some groups to hoard goods  for sale at the black market or to be smuggled to neighbouring countries. If the pricing issue were tackled, local production would improve and hoarding would collapse. 

Now, let's imagine the finger print scheme is implemented as announced as the system doesn't collapse totally, as Bruni foresees

A lot of the military profit from smuggling. Because they are the ones trying to prevent smuggling, things shouldn't change so much for them: the military would get a higher share of the smuggling flow, small border smugglers will have to look for other alternatives. Things would definitely change for small independent smugglers and some of them will be out of business. What will happen with the countless illegal vendors, in Venezuela the largest share of "informal workers" (who often live much worse than unemployed in Europe)?

The little ones will see their profits drop. They are the ones you see queuing up with their families in front of supermarkets everywhere in the city to buy as much as they can and resell for a living at 4, 5, 10 times the price of the product. According to official figures from 2012, more than half a million people work as illegal street vendors, in Venezuelan Spanish "buhoneros". My educated guess is that today over 1.000.000 people live off from selling things on the streets. A good chunk of those things they sell are goods you will need to show your finger print to get.

Then there are the bigger fish: those who have developed  mafia networks and work directly with supermarket workers to get products by large lots and who sell those products to the small street vendors. It will be interesting to see what happens with them.

My guess now is that a new level of corruption will appear within the system so that the big fish keep getting their lots.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Wenn Idioten ein Land regieren: Venezuela 2014

Die neuen Maßnahmen der Regierung Maduro könnt Ihr hier lesen.

Ich will nur ein paar Kommentare hinzufügen.

Der jetzige Finanzminister, der Mogul Rafael Ramírez, hat eigentlich nie Wirtschaft studiert. Er ist ein Ingenieur, dessen Onkel ein bekannter Guerrillero gegen die demokratischen Regierungen Venezuelas war. Sein Onkel war einer der Gründe, warum Ramírez im Jahr 2004 der Vorsitzende der staatlichen Erdölgesellschaft PDVSA wurde. Mehrere seiner Verwandten haben dort sehr hohe Positionen bekommen. Ramírez ist auch Energieminister...obwohl alle Minister Maduros vor kurzem gekündigt haben - kündigen mussten. Nicolás Maduro will in den nächsten Tagen neue Minister ernennen, zum vierten Mal seit April 2013. "Die Reise nach Caracas" ist die neue Version der Reise nach Jerusalem.

Venezuela befindet sich in einer Rezession und das als einziges Land in Südamerika. Die Regierung weigert sich aber seit Juni, Daten zur Inflation und zum BIP zu veröffentlichen.

Rafael Ramírez und einige seiner Verwandten in der staatlichen Erdölgesellschaft PDVSA
Die Lernmitteln, die ein venezolanisches Kind für ein Jahr Schule nötig hat, kosten ungefähr 8000 Bs. Das ist etwas mehr, als was ein Dozent in einem Monat verdient.

Drei Soldaten haben einen Journalist umgebracht. Es handelt sich um einen Überfall, nichts politisches. Dieses Verbrechen ist aber kein Einzelfall. Die Militärs sind die schlimmsten Schurken der Republik - zusammen mit den Polizisten - nicht alle, natürlich...aber viele.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Food for thought about crime

The results of this Swedish study are not surprising to me. A lot of social workers won't like those results. A lot of conservatives will see their believes confirmed.

I think one needs to further analyse the initial correlations that came out of this research. In any case, it is worth keeping an open mind. 

I wouldn't be surprised if a similar study would bring similar results for Venezuela, in spite of Venezuela having such a different environment as Sweden. The crucial thing would be: what can we do about it?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Repression in Venezuela - slowly sinking state August 2014

The government got yet another regime-critical programme out of the air. Fewer and fewer media outlets have anything critical to say about the government.

Recently several Europeans asked me what was going on in Venezuela. They hadn't heard anything after April. I told them: the main leaders are in jail and thousands of students have to report to the cops every week.

Here you can read more about that (in Spanish). By the way: both links are from Notitarde, one of the few remaining newspapers to dare criticise the regime.

The government will keep increasing repression. It doesn't have another plan for the simple reason most of the high ranking officials are thugs, criminals with a lot of skeletons in the closet.

The rest of the world won't lift a finger: countries have either a nice trade surplus with Venezuela or, in the case of the USA or China, they think regime change would create more headaches for them.

The Central Bank of Venezuela, completely under control of the executive, hasn't published its inflation or GDP figures since May. It is completely paralyzed just as Maduro and Diosdado are paralyzed out of fear of losing power and out of ignorance about how to manage a country.

The opposition that is not in prison? It is in a mess. None of our politicians wants to go to jail like Leopoldo López.

In a coming post I will try to get a little bit deeper into what kind of GDP Venezuela will finally get for 2014. We have already said ECLAC's latest estimate is -0.5%, which seems to a lot of people an incredibly optimistic figure.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Venezuela und Benzin, Benzin, Benzin, Benzin + Tafelberge

Dieser Dokumentarfilm der ARD muss man sehen. Vor allem ab Minute 5, wo es um den Benzinschmuggel geht.

Nur erklärt er Journalist die Sache nicht so ganz richtig:

"Jeder hat sein Teil davon eingesteckt, von denen ganz unten bis zu denen ganz oben": 

Nur diejenigen, die in diesem Verbrechen beteiligt sind - einschl. der Schweizer da-, gewinnen was davon. Das Geld, das die Regierung für das stark subventionierte Benzin ausgibt, ist Geld, das die sie für die heruntergekommenen Krankenhäuser und Schulen nicht ausgeben kann. Ein Lehrer in Venezuela verdient wesentlich weniger als ein Militär, der ohnehin vom Schmuggel profitiert. Ein Lehrer kann mit seinem Lohn nicht mal eine Einzimmerwohnung mieten.

Man weiss, warum Maduro am Ende den Benzinpreis nicht erhöhen wollte: die Militärs würden weniger kassieren.
"El Honor es su divisa" ist das Motto der Nationalgarde. Es müsste "Schmuggeln ist ihre Divise" heissen

Venezuela's correlations

Here you can see in red the standard deviation of GDP growth for several countries with data from 1990 until now. I used World Bank data up to 2013 and I used the ECLAC projections for 2014 and, for Norway, my educated guess. As you can see, Venezuela stands as a particularly unstable country and Argentina follows. Reality will prove worse as ECLAC GDP growth for Venezuela is likely to be extremely optimistic at -0.5%/

The links between the countries represent the Pearson correlation Pearsons r correlation between GDP of those nations. The correlation is rather weak but there seems to be something there with Panama, Ecuador and Colombia, even though the relationship with each one of those countries develops at different levels. For instance: Panama is one of the main benefactors of Venezuela's investment money, including money to be laundered but exports much less than Colombia. Norway and Venezuela, on the other hand, hardly have anything together but both countries benefit from high oil prices. The difference  is that Norwegians have sustainable development as core policy and Venezuelan politicians don't even grasp the idea.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Who is marrying whom in Venezuela?

Most Venezuelans in Venezuela marry other Venezuelans, by far. That's the norm everywhere. I would guess those Venezuelans who marry non-Venezuelans do so by far when they are abroad. Among other things, it's always a mess to try to get documents from Venezuela with all the required stamps to be valid abroad. Also: Venezuela has become an emigration land for over a decade. 

It is still interesting to see the gender ratio for bi-national marriages in Venezuela. Not surprisingly, more Italian men marry Venezuelan women than Venezuelan men marry Italian women. It is more likely now for a Venezuelan woman to marry a foreign man than for a foreign woman to marry a Venezuelan man. That's not random. That's how society has always worked. The most balanced ratio you will see here is Colombia. Curiously, we see Cuba popping up now. Twenty years back, Cubans wouldn't have make it to the top 10 nationalities in Venezuela.

The numbers are totals of marriages in Venezuela.

Gender/Country Italy Spain USA Portugal Colombia Cuba
Venezuelan man 13 35 40 24 1053 244
Venezuelan woman 95 109 80 50 1079 449
Ratio 0,137 0,321 0,5 0,48 0,977 0,543

Source: INE

Monday, 11 August 2014

Forecasting Venezuela (8.2014, Part I)

Venezuela will be in deep recession for the rest of this year and next one. ECLAC thinks we will have a GDP development of -0.5%, but many think the drop will be much more dramatic. Think -5%. In any case: it will probably be the only nation in Latin America to go into red numbers.

Both the regime and the opposition are in a mess. 

The regime can thank the opposition as several opposition mayors like Cocchiola behave like simple feudal lords and keep low profile while real opposition figures are being persecuted, the MUD is in disarray and Capriles, incapable of making a deep analysis of Venezuela's situation, goes on repeating mere slogans.

Still, the regime is not gaining ground either. The economy is just in too bad a shape and it will keep deteriorating.

Since 2013 Maduro has appointed Edmée Betancourt (industrial engineer), Eudomar Tovar ("economist" who can't read a chart or speak Spanish), Nelson Meréntes Díaz (a communist mathematician) and now Rodolfo Marco Torres (a military coup monger) as presidents of the Central Bank of Venezuela.

The government decided to close the border with Colombia at night "to prevent smuggling". That shows how clueless some people at the top are. Others probably know: that can only be good for smugglers working together with the military. The government has decided not to take any decision. Maduro was always said to be particularly lazy, unlike Chávez. Even Chávez kept procrastinating, Maduro can only do that.

Still, it is hard to see how a major unrest can take place in the coming months: most political leaders not afraid of losing their positions are in jail, the same goes for student representatives, highly qualified Venezuelans keep leaving the country.

In the coming months the war between the governor of Apure and the minister of Justice will intensify. The minister wants his dad to become the next governor of that border region. His brother, who has at least one 500-hectare hacienda, might try to become mayor of Alto Apure, a region that comprises two other municipalites at a strategic border with Colombia where the Colombian guerrilla is strong.

Venezuela has the highest percentage of mothers under 15 years old for Latin American countries with available data at United Nations (virtually all major ones and a lot of tiny ones are in that data set). It is only second to Colombia in the 15-19 years old range. What is worse, things don't seem to be improving, as the chart below shows. Take a look at the bottom: the yellow group for mothers between older than 15 and younger than 19 and the orange group of mothers who are younger than 15.

Age of mothers in Venezuela according to the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas) 2004-2011
This trend will keep generating a lot of problems - not only for the children-mothers but for society in general. Only a couple of tiny NGOs talk about this. The problem is far off the agenda of any politician in Venezuela.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Venezuela: wohin? August 2014

Venezuela befindet sich in einer Rezession. Die Wirtschaftskommission für Lateinamerika und die Karibik -CEPAL, eine Organisation der VN- schätzt, dass die Wirtschaft dieses Jahr um 0.5% schrumpfen wird. Das ist aber optimistisch. Manche Ökonomen gehen davon aus, dass es viel schlimmer sein wird. Auf jeden Fall steht Venezuela ganz unten, was Entwicklung in Lateinamerika und in der Karibik angeht. Alle anderen Länder werden voraussichtlich weiter wachsen, manche wie Kolumbien, Panama und Ecuador sogar mit über 5%.

Die Zentralbank Venezuelas hätte ihren Gesetzen zufolge schon Anfang Juni ihren Bericht zur Inflation und zum BIP veröffentlichen müssen. Sie tut das aber nicht. Rafael Ramírez, der gegenwärtige Wirtschaftsminister, der gar kein Ökonom ist, sondern ein Maschinenbauingenieur, sagt, er werde über solche Daten nicht sprechen, denn das sei die Aufgabe der Zentralbank. Die Zentralbank ist aber seit Jahren der Exekutiven völlig unterordnet. Die kumulierte Inflation betrug im April 61%, sie wird aber weiter steigen. Ein Kilo Tomaten kostet jetzt 80 Bolívars, was offiziell etwa €9 entspricht. Man muss aber berücksichtigen: ein Lehrer verdient etwa €592 im Monat.

Ramírez hatte vor einigen Wochen erklärt, man würde endlich mal den Benzinpreis erhöhen. Ein Liter Benzin kostet in Venezuela €0.037. Das Land verliert Milliarden Dollar pro Jahr an Subventionen, um Benzin fast kostenlos zu verteilen. Paradoxerweise muss ein venezolanischer Arbeiter im Laufe eines Monats mehr für öffentlichen Verkehr ausgeben als ein Deutscher: alles andere kostet viel mehr.

Und gestern sagte Maduro, es gebe keine Eile, um den Benzinpreis zu erhöhen. Benzin ist in Venezuela ohne Zweifel die heilige Kuh. Fast alle Venezolaner agieren völlig irrational, wenn es sich um Benzin handelt.

Letzte Woche wurde der venezolanische General Hugo Carvajal aus dem Gefängnis in Aruba freigelassen, nachdem er auf Ersuchen der USA einige Tage festgenommen wurde. Es gab ein Haftbefehl gegen ihn in den USA wegen Carvajals Verwicklung in Kokainschmuggel und Unterstützung der FARC. Maduro setzte den Niederlanden aber unter Druck. Carvajal musste die Insel im Nu verlassen, wurde zu Persona non grata in den Niederlanden erklärt und wurde in Venezuela von Maduro und seinen Militärs als Held empfangen. Carvajal war einer der Militärs, der mit Chávez den Putschversuch von 4.2.1992 verübte und er hatte jahrelang den Geheimdienst der Militärs geleitet.

Niemand will Veränderungen hervorbringen. Die Opposition ist nun gespaltet. Die Wirtschaft geht aber unvermindert abwärts. Jeder wird in den kommenden Monaten sehen müssen, wie neue Dynamiken entstehen, die niemand bis jetzt erahnte. Venezuela ist eine Küche mit mehreren heißen und defekten Dampfkochtöpfen, die niemand anrühren will.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

El génesis de la miseria

Distribución de edad de madres en Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Rep. Dominicana, Brasil, Chile, Uruguay, Perú, México, Canadá, España y Alemania. Fuente: Naciones Unidas
El 29 de junio de 2014 apareció en el diario regional Notitarde una triste noticia sobre el incendio de una casa marginal al Sureste de Valencia. Murieron un bebé y su tía. Una de las cosas que me llamó la atención de la noticia es que la madre del bebé, que sobrevivió con heridas, tenía 16 años.

Hace un par de días al este de Valencia murieron seis personas en otra casa. La casa era una de las fabricadas por los brasileños para el gobierno de Chávez: de fácil producción, el material, policloruro de vinilo, se calienta de manera mucho más dramática que casas de ladrillos. Una de las personas que murió tenía 37 años. Murieron dos hijas, su nuero y dos nietos. Si uno hace la cuenta - algo que no parece que suelen hacer los periodistas de estas noticias - ve que la abuela, de 37 años, fue madre a los 18 y su hija tuvo el primer bebé a los 15 años de edad.

Ambas noticias tienen un montón de facetas que se pueden discutir. En ambos casos nos encontramos con hogares típicos de la miseria de la Venezuela del siglo XXI. Ahora traeré dos casos muy diferentes: el de los asesinos de Eliécer Otalza, jovenes de una banda llamada "Los Menores", y el de los asesinos de Mónica Spear, todos menores de 25 años, 2 incluso menores de 18. Aunque desconozco qué edad tenían sus madres al tenerlos, solo basta ver los datos estadísticos de las zonas donde vivían para determinar que vivían en zonas con una alta tasa de madres menores. Quiero enfocar aquí los temas muy relacionados del embarazo prematuro, de la educación sexual y del machismo en Venezuela. 

Lamentablemente, ni el gobierno en el poder desde 1999 ni los partidos opositores parecen tener interés en discutir esta problemática. El gobierno teme perder popularidad ante un electorado posiblemente machista. Personas como Capriles, educado en un medio religioso híper conservador que escandalizaría al papa Francisco, parece pensar que la única solución es decir "educación, educación", sin dar detalles sobre cómo se aplica la educación en estos casos concretos. Educación sexual de calidad? Disponibilidad de preservativos a chicas y chicos que llegan a una edad reproductiva? Nada de eso.

Un visitante europeo se sorprende al hallar en tiendas ventas de Cialis y Viagra sin prescripción cerca de las cajas registradoras como si se tratase de caramelos. Algo que no verá con facilidad es la dificultad que tiene una chica que quiera adquirir píldoras anticonceptivas o la presión que tiene para no usar preservativos o lo absolutamente imposible que es exigir a un padre pagar por hijos por los que no quiere responsabilizarse.

Si ven el gráfico que elaboré con datos de Naciones Unidas, solo Colombia supera a Venezuela en el porcentaje de madres menores de 19 años. Venezuela supera a Colombia en el porcentaje de madres menores de 14. Eso es una tragedia.

En la tabla inferior coloqué la tasa de homicidio por 100000 habitantes para los mismos países. En la penúltima y antepenúltima columna pueden ver el porcentaje de madres entre 12 y 14 años y el porcentaje entre 15 y 19 para el total de madres de cada país. En ningún país hay una proporción parecida de madres menores de 14 años como en Venezuela.  Un 1,2% de las madres venezolanas tiene pertenece a ese grupo demográfico. Los países que siguen son Colombia, con un 0,98% y Brasil, con 0,82%.

Produje un valor que llamé "combi" y, como su nombre indica, es una combinación del número de una y otra clase de edad. Le di un peso 4 veces mayor a la clase de las madres menores de 14 años. Creo que la correlación es clara, aunque  no sea lineal. Que lo uno sea causa de lo otro no es tan evidente pero creo que es necesario examinar las posibilidades.

Hay que tomar en cuenta que la tasa de homicidio de Venezuela es muy probablemente mayor al 53,7 x 100,000, pero en estos momentos vivimos una "guerra mediática", como dice el ministro de Justicia, el militar golpista socialista hermano de un terrateniente e hijo del alcalde del Alto Apure, Rodríguez Torres

La alta tasa de homicidios que vive Venezuela hoy en día es producida por un conjunto muy complejo de fenómenos que apenas logramos comprender. Como ha mencionado nuestra amiga Dorothy, las políticas de control del narcotráfico y las reacciones de los narcotraficantes a nivel internacional han impactado Venezuela de una manera profunda y han influido de manera clara en el nivel de criminalidad. El desgobierno de Chávez, con cambios anuales de ministros, con un descuido de las cárceles del país, con un discurso demagógico, con el colapso total de la división de poderes y una mayor corrupción de la casta militar, han hecho otro tanto. Aun así, para mí es evidente que el problema demográfico y el deterioro social general también influyen en la generación de más pobreza y de más familias proclives a padecer todo tipo de males.

País Tasa de
Combi** % Madres < 14 % Madres >=14 <=19
VEN 53,7 5,30 1,20 21,6955
COL 30,8 5,27 0,98 22,4871
BRA 25,2 4,28 0,82 18,1414
GUA 39,9 4,024 0,6 17,7210
DOM 22,1 3,71 0,965 14,6683
MEX 21,5 3,63 0,311 16,8864
CHI 3,1 3,57 0,416 16,1821
URU 7,9 3,45 0,392 15,6679
PER 9,6 3,08 0,33 14,0649
CAN 1,6 0,852 0,035 4,1202
ALE 0,8 0,65 0,019 3,1767
ESP 0,8 0,54 0 2,7098

* homicidios por 100.000 habitantes
** % madres < 14 * 0,8 + % madres >= 14 * 0,2

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The FARC-supporting Colonel and Aruba: the Netherlands answers

Our friend Alpha placed a link with the answers to several questions the foreign minister of the Netherlands had to answer with regards to the Carvajal affair. It seems one of the opposition deputies in the Netherlands did ask the two questions I posted earlier. There are three pdf documents here (in Dutch). 
The Dutch are well-known for their role in Sebrenica. Here a picture of Dutchbat

Minister Frans Timmermans admits the Netherlands has declared Hugo Carvajal persona non grata but based on the article 23 paragraph IV of the Vienna Convention a government is not obliged to explain why it has declared someone persona non grata and it won't explain why in this case.

OK, Mr Timmermans, you don't want to tell us why you are declaring Hugo Carvajal persona non grata but we know why. We just wanted you to write to the world you won't explain it.

Now the Venezuelan opposition needs to spread the word in Venezuela: Hugo Carvajal has been declared persona non grata in the Netherlands and Venezuelans should investigate why exactly.

I will later comment on the rest but if you are impatient and you don't speak Dutch, you can simply copy and paste into a machine translation engine to get some approximation in English.

The documents don't really say much that is new. They just show the usual diplomatic wobbliness. One can read a little bit between the lines, that's it.

We Venezuelans should also ask the Netherlands how far it will go to collaborate with the current regime in Venezuela. From now on we will keep a much better eye on what the Netherlands is doing towards Venezuela. This regime won't last forever and the Netherlands should know what that means.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Questions to Frans Timmermans / Vragen aan Frans Frans Timmermans

I just read the questions to the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs and his answers about the Carvajal affair. You can read that here (in Dutch). I am no deputy and I am not a Dutch citizen. I am a Venezuelan and a EU citizen. Still, I hope some Dutch journalist or politicians will manage to get the information from the Dutch government.

Mijnheer de minister Frans Timmermans

Als Venezolaan zou ik zo vrij willen zijn om U dit willen vragen:

1. Welke nieuwe informatie had u om van het eerdere standpunt af te wijken, om hierna de immuniteit van Hugo Carvajal te erkennen? (uw antwoord op vraag 3 kan dit niet uitleggen)

2. Wat is nu de reden om Hugo Carvajal ¨persona non grata¨ te verklaren in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden? 

Met grote belangstelling zie ik Uw antwoord tegemoet.

In English:

Dear Minister Frans Timmermans
As Venezuela I want to ask you the following:

1. Which new data did you have that compelled you to change the initial position and recognise Hugo Carvajal's immunity? (your anwer to question 3 doe not tackle this point)

2. What was the reason now to declare Hugo Carvajal "persona non grata" in the Kingdom of the Netherlands? 

I look forward with interest to receiving your response.

This post will go with copy to the Dutch embassy in Venezuela, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to De Telegraaf and to several opposition deputies of the Netherlands and Venezuela.