Friday, 29 February 2008

On ethics and enlightment

I decided to write in Spanish an article about literacy in Venezuela.

So...if you speak my language, go here

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Chavez and the Universities

It is a fact that pupils coming from public schools in general have more trouble getting into public universities than pupils from private schools. Why? The reason is simple: public schools in Venezuela are of very bad quality. The level is so incredibly bad and so many people want to enter universities (nobody in Venezuela seems to have some appreciation for non-university technical studies) that public universities need to make an exam to select the best or, rather, the least bad. Still, they are overstretched.

Now Chávez wants to force them to accept more people and not 10% or 20% more. The Chávez regime is trying to force public universities to double the amount of students they accept. Universities have already been forced to accept students who would have not been accepted otherwise. As the academic level those students have is so bad, universities have to put teachers to give many extra hours of preparation. The problem is: there are only a limited amount of university teachers. Many of them, specially in the engineering and sciences, now have to give courses that should have been given in secondary school and in doing so all students at universities are getting less and less of what they need.

The government wants to force universities to accept quotas for each "school". The real purpose is to introduce as many Chavez supporters in as possible and so, to try to control the student representative commissions. Many of those "schools" the government has in mind are just groups of Chavistas who are way past their twenties and who are used just for political purposes. They are not "poor people getting a chance" (mind: my own father was a poor guy who got many decades ago a scholarship to do his secondary school and then a scholarship to go to university).

The government had previously introduced a series of "university studies" in so-called Bolivarian universities that are nothing but a farce. Students in those centres have started to realise their 2 to 3-year "engineer studies" or "medicine studies" do not qualify them for the real market. 2 or 3 years of engineer studies in Venezuela are even much less than what they can mean in Europe or the US as students begin with much lower math and language skills. People are abandoning the Bolivarian universities in throws.

Chávez and his band think they can solve the disenchantment of those students and at the same time use them to control other universities by forcing universities to accept quotas established by the government.

Why doesn't Chávez face what needs to be done in the first place? First he needs to improve the level of primary and secondary schools by a lot. We have pleaded to take part in the PISA programme of academic evaluation to determine how prepared Venezuelan pupils are in the world. That would show Chávez what needs to be done.

We have already proposed other things for improving education in Venezuela. You can read them HERE. If you have more ideas, let me know.

Ps: if you ask around you will see almost all those Chavista big bosses have their children in private schools.

Ps2: In case you think I just talk from the point of view of the "aristocracy":
My whole family and I studied at public schools and went to public universities. We had to have good grades and pass tests. We know the limitation of public schools and know the first thing that needs to be done is improve the schools, not shove completely unprepared people into universities that are chock-a-block

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The pleasure of finding things out in Venezuela I

Here you will find one of the guys I admire the most. His name was Richard Feynman. He was one of the greatest physicists of the XX Century. He was a theoretical physicist and a practical inventor as well, apart from a not so bad hobby bongo drummer. He was one of those guys who transform the world for good. He gave us new ideas, new insights on many things. He also contributed to making his country more prosperous by the thinking he generated and the people he inspired. He was infinitely curious, and very disrespectful. Here is one of his quotations:

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing — that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

Not that the guy hated learning languages. He spoke Portuguese and tried a bit Japanese. Definitely: knowing names is one thing and knowing something is another matter. We need in Venezuela people who want to know how things work out and then make them do so. That is much more important than titles or honours. We need doers. We need people who transform the country by being inventive. What conditions do we have for that?

Feynman told about how he started to learn calculus as a young boy. He had heard calculus was a big thing and he decided to go to the public library and borrow a book on that subject. He decided to borrow a book called Calculus for the Practical Man. When the librarian, puzzled, asked him what he was going to do with that book, Feynman replied: "It is for my dad". It was a lie. He just did not bother to explain why he, a young boy, would or could learn calculus.

When I read about that in Feynman's book Sure you must be Joking, Mr Feynman, and later saw this video, I thought immediately: and what would have happened in Venezuela?

The answer most likely would have been: such a boy would have had a much bigger difficulty because he would not have been able to borrow a book in the first place.

Do you know how many real public libraries my city, with over 1000000 people, has? It has one "big" library and a handful of very small ones. You can't hardly borrow books even from the big one and forget about getting books on mathematics or on business making.

Miguel Pena, the poorest area of my city and the one with half of its population has only one of the small "public libraries" from which you cannot expect to get many books and much less books of this kind.

Venezuelans read very little. The huge majority, more than in other places, prefer self-help books and cheap novels only. Sure, there should be place for that as well, but: can we offer a better environment to Venezuelan children so that we get sometime our Edisons and Jeffersons and Feynmans?

Public libraries are just a tiny detail, but it is something where the government could make big contributions. Do you know how many public libraries with lots of interesting books for children could be bought for the same amount of money Chávez is using to buy more Russian submarines? How many could be bought by part of the salary of some of the best paid deputies in the world, the venezuelan deputies?

There are a lot of other missing things needed to produce children like this. Do you know how many science prizes could we offer to curious pupils in poor schools if we were taxing a little bit more the huge amounts of Scottish whiskey Venezuela is importing? And all the other luxuries Venezuelans are so fond of? Do you know how much we could improve Venezuelan schools if people who were able to study and prosper would contribute more to them? Do you know what could happen if the Venezuelan government decided to put in practice a real education programme? Do you know how much we could profit if we all started to discuss about how to awaken the desire of Venezuelans to find things out, get to know how everything works, how we can make one or the other thing ourselves and not just expect to get some petrodollars to buy it from abroad?

I know, I have written here about many issues. Too many, perhaps. Still, I hope you get the idea: we need to ask ourselves what can we do to make Venezuela less mediocre and more competitive? Complaining about our history is not going to take us further. We need to find things out.

Venezuela and Europe: general reference

European Union and Venezuela

The European Union's general reference about the Venezuelan-European relations can be seen here.

European Venezuelans

Venezuela is well known as an ethnically very mixed country. Unless other countries, specially in the Old World, the mix is present at almost every family, within most Venezuelans. Most of us, including this blogger, are descendants of African slaves, Native Americans and Europeans. There are many who also have other roots: China, Syria, Lebanon and so on.

Venezuela's population is around 27 million people.
How many Venezuelans living in Venezuela have an European passport?

The following table shows some figures of people who have European citizenship
and live in Venezuela. The total amount should be much higher (there are more European-Venezuelans living in Europe)


Italians1000000 ref. 0
Spaniards150000 ref.2 (many more live now in Spain) voters. There are many more according to the new legislation, as the grandchildren of Spaniards will be able to acquire the Spanish nationality
Portuguese400000 ref.1
Germansover 8000 with German pass, some 10000 more "Auslandsdeutsch" ref. 3
Poles4000 ref.4
Swiss2000 ref.5
French6000 ref. 6
Greeksover 1150 ref. 7
over 1000 (according to email from Dutch embassy)
over 700 (according to Belgian embassy)

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The EU & Venezuela: Politics

The European Union sent a very large observation team for the elections on 2nd of December 2006.

Their report can be seen here.

They based it mostly on what they could observe from their hotel rooms by using one of these things:

Tom de Castella wrote a very interesting article for London Times on this and you can read it here.

No wonder the EU report was mostly about how biased TV channels are. No wonder why the extreme left keeps basing their image of democracy in Venezuela by what they could watch on cable TV Globovisión and RCTV (this latter could be watched back then via your aerial, now only via Internet or cable, something most poor and people in the countryside lack). No surprise that other political groups do not know how to respond accordingly.

We Venezuelans got the confirmation we have to rely more on ourselves and try to keep as many Venezuelan observers in the largest amount of voting centres in spite of all the threats.

Addendum I:
We won last December in spite of all odds. Over 2 months after the 2007 referendum we still do not have the complete results. NGO Súmate has denounced lots of inconsistencies on the numbers provided by the National Electoral Council or CNE and the CNE has not answered. There is a lot of work still to be done.

Addendum II:
You can read a discussion of the EU on the non-renewal of their license for normal non-cable TV) here.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Books I recommend

Here some books I like and I consider very insightful. I will later comment them.

Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive

by Jared Diamond

Ideas, a history from Fire to Freudby Peter Watson

This is an amazing book and not just "another history book". It discusses not the wars and kings and treaties but rather the greatest ideas and inventions and how they shaped the world in the last 30000 years.

It does a good attempt to cover the ideas originating from many other places than the West and it offers a lot of insights about why the cultures we have today evolved the way they did.

The author is still a little bit too focused on Europe, but not as much as many others I have read.

The End of Lineby Charles Clover

I firstly saw this book and said: what an awful cover! Perhaps the cover was not that bad after all, as I decided to browse it to see what was behind a picture of fish and chips and then I read on it a comment about the impossibility of eating fish in the same way after reading this book. So I perused further and became hooked by the book. It is about overfishing, but it is about more than that: it is about sustainable development and how the different industries and governments act in such a pigeon-minded way.

The sea is much more important than what many people think. This book is absolutely fascinating and it is true: I love fish but I cannot eat it the same way as I used to do after having read this book. I also see in a more suspicious ways the EU declarations about fish quotas.

The Life of Mahatma Ghandiby Louis Fischer

Pi in the Sky
by Barrow
This is a beautiful book about mathematics, its importance, its relationship with nature and mankind.
Sure you are joking, Mr. Feynmanby Feynman
I would give this book as a present to lots of school children in Venezuela.
We really need blokes like that.
Commandante: Hugo Chávez's Venezuela
by Rory Carroll
Excellent introduction to the life of the caudillo who took Venezuela into autocracy

Personality cult: how long?

This is a continuation of Spot the Venezuelan Poster.

I took this picture at a post office in Venezuela a year ago.
The first poster reads "Letters that make history". You can see a letter Chávez wrote during his time he sat in prison for his 1992 bloody coup. The second poster shows a drawing of Simón Bolívar, South America's revered hero, with the same title, "Letters that made history" and a letter Bolívar wrote when he had to fly to Jamaica during the independence wars.

As Eddie Izzard would say: "Don't you see the link? Newton was British, I am British."

I do not hold much of most politicians ANYWHERE. Still, what would Europeans say if they saw Angela Merkel or Zapatero in their ceremonies for inaugurating their new government in front of a huge picture of themselves and some quotes by themselves like here?

I wonder if the Chávez government could not use some of the money it uses for posters such as the one below to promote the use of birth control methods or to warn about drug use?

Well, some from the extreme left will tell me I am taking it personal with Chávez.

For your information: the bloke next to Chávez in that OFFICIAL VENEZUELAN POSTER is
Assad. Below you can see a wee picture of Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. I took the picture at the shop of an Arab in Venezuela. It might be hanging on a private shop's wall. Still: the big poster is official stuff published and payed by the Venezuelan government.

All around Venezuela you will see thousands of billboards like this:

Question to the supporters of Chávez in the North: why do we need such a pathetic personality cult?

And mind: some opposition leaders have taken over the personality promotion thing through big billboards payed by Venezuelans. That is the case of Rosales, even if at a much lesser scale than Chávez. This should be forbidden by law.

Monday, 4 February 2008


Here you have several posters. All are from early Soviet times but for one that belongs to Venezuela's XXI Century Socialism. It is actually taken from a pro-government site.
You have to find where the Venezuelan one is.

OK, the Spanish words gave it away. This is a real poster used by the Chavez regime to celebrate the 4th of February 1992, the day of the bloody coup led by Hugo Chávez Frías.

The other posters belonged to the beginning of the Soviet era (civil war, Lenin and the NEP times, road to socialism). Of course we have no communism in Venezuela. We have Chavismo or Gucci Socialism.

Well, it is initially funny, but at the end of the day I hope Venezuela gets over this as soon as possible.


I thought it would be interesting for our non-Spanish speakers to understand what the Chavez poster says. Here it is:

"The Fatherland woke up

New situations will come and the country
will have to take finally a better destiny.
Listen to my words, listen to Commandant Chavez
who sends you this message...

I thank you for your loyalty, your courage,
your unselfishness. (And) before this country and before you
I take responsibility for this military Bolivarian movement

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías
Commandant of the Bolivarian Revolutionary M ovement
4 of February 1992

16 years of revolutionary dignity
4 February Day of the National Dignity"

Some remarks: Chávez organized a bloody coup to topple the very unpopular but democratically elected Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992. Carlos Andrés Pérez had been president of Venezuela during the first oil boom in the seventies.

Many gullible people hag thought in 1988 that Pérez could bring the same amount of money we had in the seventies, although oil prices were very low. Instead, Pérez, a very corrupt president, tried to introduced austerity measures (among others, increasing the prize of petrol, which has not being raised for decades and is the cheapest on Earth). In 1989 there were riots and the soldiers shot people.

Before Chavez presidents could NOT be immediately reelected but had to wait at least 5 years after being president. The moment was thus Pérez second term, a term after which Pérez could not be reelected.

Chavez used the 1989 riots as a justification to try a coup in 1992, even if we all knew Pérez would be out of office on February 2004 at the latest and could be put to trial. Chavez failed in his coup and later other military coup mongers allied to Chavez on a second very bloody attempt. Pérez was taken out of office in 2004 by democratic means by the elected parliament at the time of Pérez, Chávez went to prison and was later freed much earlier than he should have been....and became elected president in the 1998 elections.

Chavez still claims he carried out his coup because of the 1989 events, but still he hasn't taken to justice the military who shot those people. Why? Because those military are his friends. Pérez might have been a very corrupt president and in a big part responsible for the events, but he was not the one who was shooting everywhere. A lot of those generals are now behind long as the petrodollars last.