Saturday, 27 December 2008

Goodbye to a colour wizard

Braulio Salazar died yesterday. He was a well known painter from my city, Valencia. As a child I saw him a few times at some artistic events I went to with my parents. Maestro Salazar had a great charisma, not just artistic skills. Because he was allergic to chemical painting, he had to develop natural colours, so he made them out of Venezuela's soils and plants.

I spent a lot of time at the exhibitions of the Ateneo de Valencia and his work was often there. I enjoyed very much the power of his magic with colours. Those images are part of my childhood.

Friday, 26 December 2008

La desilusione

Here you can read in Spanish the story of two Italian film makers with socialist credentials who went to Venezuela in love with Chavismo and who are now deeply disappointed.

Here some clips and articles about the film (in Italian and Spanish).

A couple of details: after they decided not to follow the Chavez officials only but to film on their own their telephones were tapped and their emails read. They could only get the film out of Venezuela via the Italian embassy.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas عيد ميلاد مجيد Feliz Navidad С Рождеством

¡Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo!

For those who don't know the hallacas: you HAVE to try them one day. It won't be easy if you live outside Venezuela, specially if you don't know big Venezuelan communities in your area, but one day you have to try them. And then you will want to try them once more and more and more and more. Every population has its national dish and almost everyone is 'proud' of the national dish (well, as if we had invented a national dish ourselves), but hallacas are considered delicious by almost anyone.

Let's hope Venezuela and the World have a better 2009 and let's work for it, no matter what with recessions and the like.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela and more lies

According to the Venezuela (i.e. Chávez's) state radio, over 50% of Venezuelans abroad have signed to support Chávez's new attempt to introduce indefinite reelections in our very strong presidential system (a system that is very different from the parliamentarian systems where there may be no limit to reelections but where prime ministers have just a fraction of Chávez's powers).

That number is a blatant lie.
If you check out the voting patterns for Venezuelans abroad you will see we are by far against Hugo Chávez. No, most of us are not "white plantation owners", as some in the extreme left want to portray us, but mostly professionals from every sector of society who got fed up of violent crime and political mobbing in Venezuela.

In 2006, Chávez got 24.47% of votes abroad whereas he got 62.84% in Venezuela.
Are now Venezuelans abroad suddenly more Chavistas than in Venezuela? Why did we decide to go out in the first place as Venezuelan emigration is rather a recent phenomenom?

We all abroad should put pressure on our embassies to make them present the numbers for each country. If lies like this start now, let's see what these people have in petto for the referendum proper.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Do you want to help Venezuela?

This is for a cool project we are organizing.

If you want to help, please, send me a couple of emails of English/German/Spanish/Dutch/French media outlets to desarrollo dot sostenible dot venezuela at gmail dot com in this format (in the body of the email only): = Press Corporation

We are collecting emails ourselves, but we have limited time. Just this: the project has to do with education.


Saturday, 20 December 2008

Off topic: Haiti

Alice Smeet is a young Belgian photographer who has produced some amazing pictures.

Here you can see one that won the UNESCO Photo of the Year 2008 Award.

Venezuela should give more support to such countries as Haiti or use the money for Venezuela's poor, not for Argentina or for political propaganda around the Caribbean.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Death in the Caribbean

Updated: I added some months before December 2006, so you can see there the tendency: there is always a peak in December and that peak is always higher in Venezuela.

As I have reported before, Carabobo is one of the most dangerous states in an already very dangerous country. Here I present some statistics on murder per month since January 2007 showing the share for each municipio.

Most murders in the municipality of Valencia take place in the South, where half a million people (half of its population) live. There is no general hospital there, only a big maternity centre. There are some small health centres, one tiny public library, bad electricity, worse sewage and a even worse garbage collection service there. Forget about the police going there.

Some other details:

The municipalities Diego Ibarra and San Diego have about the same amount of inhabitants, but check out the amount of murders for each one: Diego Ibarra had 107 murders, San Diego 25 for 2008.

There is a national police, a state police and a police for each municipality and they do not work together.

Below you have the statistics on population per municipality for 2005 and 2010. Take the current figure to be closer to 2010 than to 2005.

As I said earlier, there will be more than 220 murders for the state of Carabobo in December of 2008 if the state does not do anything effective.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Chavismo (and Venezuelan politics) in a picture

Here you can see very clearly the development of Chavismo plotted against yearly OPEC oil prices. In red at the end you can see the current (week) average price of OPEC oil.

For those who don't know much about Venezuela: 90% of its foreign income derives from oil exports controlled by the state (it has always been like that). Around 50% of the national tax revenues comes directly from oil and a lot of the taxes that make up the rest are produced by commercial activities largely supported by the oil income itself (like taxes on whiskey or imported cars)

UPDATE: some Chavista supporters came up to tell me the chart proofs Chávez wins most of the elections when prices are low. This shows again their understanding of charts. Apart from Chávez's first elections, when he was new, when he was "the new promise", all other elections he has won have been with prices higher than before. The moment of great distress for him, when he was outsted, was at a time when prices seemed to drop a bit. Of course, now Venezuela has been able to save some money, but it is much less than what Chavismo needs. When Chávez allowed, under international pressure, to have a referendum (one year after it was asked), the government was for a couple of months already giving away for free red bags full of food and a big "NO" (not to the referendum) on them. In 2004 oil prices (and thus, governmental revenues) were much higher than at any given time for many years. But of course, for Chavismo now prices are low if they are not over $100 per corrupt has Venezuela become.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Education in Venezuela

I had mentioned the article in a previous post, but I just want to put it here again as I think it is an eye-popper.

Oppenheimer on Latin American's state of denial on education (thanks to Hans and Ow).

A subscription-only article from The Economist of 9th May 2002 shows some facts about education in Latin America. They talk, among other things, about an evaluation test carried out by UNESCO in different Latin American countries in 1998. Those countries were the following:

  • Cuba
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Mexico
  • Paraguay
  • Venezuela
  • Ecuador
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Honduras
  • Dominican Republic.

Venezuela was very close to the average in literacy in that UNESCO test...average for Latin American standards, that is, which is already very bad if we consider how Latin American participants score in the PISA evaluation scheme. Cuba scored by far the best, followed by Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

Venezuela was the absolute worst in maths. It was really bad. I mean BAD. Cuban children were again the best by far, followed by Argentines , Brazilians, Chileans, Colombians, Mexicans, Paraguayans, Bolivians, Dominicans, Hondurans, Peruvians and Ecuadorans. Venezuelan children came last after Ecuadorans and there was some distance between them.

Since Chávez is in power Venezuela has pulled out of open evaluation schemes of education We know the situation has worsened, in spite of all the certificates of educations and in spite of Chavismo's claim of having eliminated illiteracy. It seems that Chávez has not even learnt from one of the good things Cubans still have: an education system that was already the best in Latin America before Castro arrived in power (at least for non-graduate studies).

Has any any politician in Venezuela given some thoughts to this problem? I mean: is there any politician who has taken the time to ponder about solutions that go beyond sputtering the words "more money for education", "more schools"? In fact: is there any Venezuelan who cares? Where?


Saturday, 13 December 2008

Where do Venezuelans come from?

When I was at school we used to hear the story: Venezuelans are a mixture primarily of Indians, Europeans and Africans. I would hear that at home as well and I could see that also in the variety within my own family. One of the observations I hear from many European friends who visit Venezuela is how varied the population is. Since I am Europe I have become more aware of that. At school I learnt Venezuelan nationality is based on jus soli and there was no big deal about that. More interestingly is that most families are very mixed and I don't mean "Irish" with "Scottish" or "Northwest Africa with West-Africa", I mean mixed big time.

Europe, like other regions, is currently receiving more and more immigrants from outside and even within Europe there are more and more marriages between people from different countries. This brings possibilities but also tensions. Still, it is different from Venezuela, where the kaleidoscope is so old.

There is a lot of racism in Venezuela, no doubt about it. And the issue is being misused increasingly by some politicians and it is downplayed by others. It goes from every group, as often the case. Still, my impression and that of many others is racism in Venezuela is not as bad as in the neighbouring countries and definitely less so than in Europe, Asia, North America, Asia and Africa. It may have to do with the fast clash and fusion of ethnic groups from the very start and general mobility Still, racism is always bad and I think we should not avoid the issue, we should be able to discuss it openly and fight against it in a cool way.

Some time ago I decided to take part in the Genographic Project and find out about my haplogroups, which show the long-term ancestry on either the far paternal or maternal sides. Scientists can find out about this because there is a series of markers that are only passed from father to sons and another set that i s only pass from mother to any child. My genealogy information disappears somewhere in the XIX Century. In my case I had no clue what I was going to get (I mean I imagine my paternal grand-grand-grandfather in 1498 could have been in Europe, Africa or the Americas), as the mixing is so great. I got my results for my paternal side already and it turned out to be J2, probably Spaniards who on their turn descended from Phoenician/Roman/Greek/Jew/Arab people or from others who arrived there earlier, during the Neolithic expansion, but anyway coming from the Fertile Crescent, where J2 appeared sometime after BC9000. And now I am waiting for my maternal side and I am also expecting anything.

While I was waiting for the results on my mom's side I decided to see if I could find more about genetic studies on how Venezuela became to be. There are few things available on the Net. From two abstracts from a genetic congress I managed to do the following graphics.

The studies were carried on a very limited sample, around 86 individuals from different regions of Venezuela. Still, I reckon it very much reflect what scientists and others thought. It represents the genetic background of the average Venezuelan. He has most frequently an European/Old World on the paternal side AND at the same time a Native American background on the maternal side. H e also could have a Sub-Saharan component but that is less frequent. Any of the people who are "café con leche" (coffee colour) may have primarily European ancestors from the paternal side and Indian or African ones from the other...but also many of those who are paler or darker. And it goes for almost anyone but for the groups whose ancestors just arrived one or two generations ago and a few other exceptions.

Statistically speaking, my maternal line could very well turn out to be Indian, but also anything else (well, almost, I don't think there was much Tibetan influx or from Madagascar). That is Venezuela.

There are some studies about specific haplogroups but I leave that to another time.

* I placed "European", but in reality it is more "markers brought by Europeans". A lot of Venezuelans trace a lot of their ancestors from the Canary Islands and that region shows a lot of genetic evidence linking them with Berbers and the same is the case for continental Spain through the Moors. In my case, J2 is a minority haplogroup in Spain, but it comes from the Middle East way before the Spanish Conquista of the Americas.
** I considered which names to use for the main "groups", I decided to stick to the Venezuelan naming, I could have put European-Native-American-Sub-Saharan, but then I am Venezuelan and in Venezuela those names are used by many people whichever main "colour" that person may have on their skins.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Chávez, the Stalker

What to do when he does not understand a "no"? Avoid him? And if that is not enough? Call the police? And if the police is under his total control? What if several times a week when you are watching some political programme or news or sports event on TV his image suddenly appears on the screen and no matter what TV channel you switch to, you just get his face and his voice (that unless you have cable TV as only 29% of Venezuelans have). Don't bother turning on the radio, unless you want to listen to short wave.

Well, Chávez has long become a stalker of Venezuelans. His face is plastered in zillions of government-payed posters all around the country and the forced transmissions of his messages are becoming a daily experience. We have a personality cult of Turkmenistan proportions. In fact, we have a personality cult of our own now.

Chávez is again trying to secure the possibility of being reelected after his term finishes in 2013. His proposal, sandwitched in a constitutional reform proposal in 2007, was narrowly rejected. He said back then he would propose again the reform in ways the people could understand it better. He is mostly obsessed with staying in power so now now he will focus on the reelection issue only. Remember Venezuela is a strongly presidential system, so it is not like a prime minister getting reelected. The curious thing is he is behaving like a real, very sick stalker: he keeps repeating his people in his Sunday show Aló Presidente that if the law is not changed, he would have to go in 2013. Yesterday he did it again, but now in a rather very obsessive way:

"If the change to the constitution is not aproved, my days are counted: 2009,2010,2011,2012 and in 2013 I would go, I don't know where". He is trying to convince people to vote fin the referendum in February or March for a constitutional change that would allow him indefinite reelections. Chávez became popular after the biggest oil boom in Venezuela for decades allow ed him to go on an incredible spending spree without any plan for sustainable development. Now oil prices have dropped since their records in June-July of 2008, but still they are 3 times higher than they were in 1998 in a country where 90% of revenues is generated by oil. Chávez wants his reform as soon as possible.

When I first arrived in Europe sometimes people would ask me about the state of democracy in Venezuela and if we had "another of those dictatorships". It was kind of annoying to be explaining those things: no, we had the longest democracy in South America, it was very corrupt, inefficient, too dependent on oil, but things were progressing with education and so on.
But then Venezuela has something special: a lot of oil combined with a fixation for the times when Venezuelans led the independence movements in South America, something I would call the Bolivar complex. We are indeed very dependent on oil and we have become more so year after year. A long period of low oil prices coupled with populism, the evils of the petrostate and a population with a mediocre education have engendered this Latin American gollum called Chavismo. It is not a dictatorship, it is not a normal, healthy democracy.
What can we do? These are the facts:

1) We can vote against such reform and we have good chances of winning BUT
2) There are still many Venezuelans in love with Chávez due to his social spending (even if contrains are approaching, Chávez will go on spending as long as he can now to keep popularity to pass the vote)
3) a lot of Venezuelans still don't see the long-term effects of Chávez's policies
4) Many Venezuelans who dislike Chávez do not have a plan for after him
5) The vast majority of Venezuelans - whether pro or against Chávez - think one way or the other the wrong thing is this or that president, but Venezuela is "a very rich country". Even if we have so much oil, if you do the maths you will notice there is no way we can become a prosperous country if we don't diversify fairly quickly.
This could lead to a vicious circle of Chavez-like-figures-to-transition-governments-to-Chavez-like-figures.
6) Social inequalities have only risen and this will increase extremism of every kind
7) Latin Americans in general and Venezuelans in particular are in complete denial of the faults in their educational system and do not see where and what they need to improve there. Venezuelans are particularly guilty there and have been behaving like the new rich, ignorant kid on the street since they stroke black gold.

So: what can we do? Only when he can solve those issues will we get rid of Chávez and similar figures. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

BBC on Venezuela

Little time now.
I just got a link to an old BBC programme.

Part I
Part II

and so on...
It is from the end of 2007, shortly before the referendum, but it still has some interesting parts for those interested in Venezuela's sociopolitical situation.

I hope to post soon something away from politics.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Guardian on Chávez's family

Nothing new for Venezuelans, but if you want to read about Chávez's clan in Barinas, his home state, read Carroll's article here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Chavez's criminality

And today we got the new, very sad figures on murder in Carabobo. 187 people were killed in a region of about 2 million inhabitants.

Salas Feo, the governor elected, has a very difficult task ahead as his powers to improve this will be extremely limited. Hugo Chávez is taking over almost all the powers from the regions (just one tiny example here, in Spanish).
Expect anyway a rise to over 230 murders for next month. It is Christmas time.

I will analyse the trends per municipality in a couple of weeks and try to determine patterns and reasons for all this mess and I will try to propose possible solutions.

For now just this: the distribution of those 187 per municipio within Carabobo can be seen below. Valencia is a huge municipio, with around half of the total population of the state. Although it registers the highest amount of murders, the ratio is lower. Most murders in Valencia take place in the poor South.

The most lethal region in Carabobo seems to be Libertador. The municipio Libertador has a population that is well below that of Municipio San Diego (not rich but rather middle to poor area controlled by the opposition) and yet you can see the difference.

It is a pity: the municipio that carries the name of the ideolized title of Simón Bolívar has the highest murder rate. It is also a municipio with an environmental disaster in the making: the huge rubbish deport of Cuásima. Almost everything people want to throw away in Carabob is placed there and just burnt, the rest sickers to the underground and to the underwater system of the region.

Number of people murdered per municipality in November 2008 in Carabobo (CICP, Notitarde):

Miguel Pena in Valencia and the Northeastern part of Libertador are the places with particularly high concentrations of murders. Los Guayos, the most densely populated area in Carabobo, also has a very high rate. All in all, Carabobo is one of the most dangerous places in Latin America, together with Caracas and...well, and the rest of Venezuela. Mexico is very dangerous. Colombia as well. Brazil too. But the rise hast been higher in Venezuela.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Update on Chávez's wet dream

Hugo Chávez has just announced (in Spanish) he wants the process for calling signatures for the referendum and all that for January. He says he does not want people to be discussing that too long. What does that mean? Obviously, Chávez is starting to realise that unless the oil price rises again dramatically, he will start to get out of money at that time. As Miguel and others have pointed out, it is extremely difficult to know how much money the Venezuelan goverment has in its reserves as there is no accountability anymore (there was never a lot of that in Venezuela, but there was some)

For foreigners:

Venezuela does NOT a parliamentarian system. It has a very extreme case of presidential system and Chávez forced 26 laws last year that allow him basically to completely circumvent any local authority he wants. Besides: he as the head of the petrodollar state, is the one that distributes every single cent of the oil revenues.

Update: and he just said here (Spanish), joking, that he would ask the Chavista governor of Aragua to keep an office for him as the opposition is trying - according to Chávez - to control all of Caracas. This reminds me very strongly: do you know who else had a love for ruling from Aragua? This one
And I told you so here.