Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Like a rolling stone

I was looking for this video about Venezuela's Pebble Toad for some weeks but it was not available yet. Now we have it. Sir David Attenborough narrates here about this little amphibian's strategy to survive predators such as the largest tarantula on Earth, the Goliath Bird-eating spider.

You can also read some in the BBC article and in Wikipedia (it is a threatened species).
The BBC rocks as well!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Venezuela aus der Sicht der Schweizer

Ein Leser (K. S.) hat uns diesen Artikel des Tages-Anzeigers geschickt. Die Zeitung positioniert sich etwas links von der Mitte. Einfach lesen! Mein einziger Kommentar dazu: wenn sich die Oppositionführer zumindest anstrengen und einen Plan für die nachhaltige Entwicklung des Landes vorlegen würden, würden wir das friedliche Ende der jetzigen Regierung bald sehen. Das Bildungsstand unseres Volkes ist zwar sehr niedrig, die Leute sind aber nicht blöd: gute Ideen und eine klare Vision würden sie erkennen und anerkennen. Leider unterschätzt man immer wieder die Dummheit und Kurzsichtigkeit der meisten Politiker.

UPDATE: hier und hier Artikel und Video über das Massaker von 11 Zivilisten, sehr wahrscheinlich durch Guerrilleros, die in Venezuela frei herumlaufen.

(Vielen Dank, K)

You want

I asked what topics you wanted to hear more about. Below you see the list and the number of votes each topic got:

Ideas for Venezuela 11
News about Venezuelan politics in general 11
Accountability and human rights in Venezuela (or lack thereof) 11
Venezuela's economy 10
Venezuela's culture 9
Venezuela's social and economic history 8
Venezuela-US 7
Venezuela-Americas 5
Venezuela's nature 4
Venezuela-Europe relations 4
Venezuela-Asia relations 2
Venezuela-Africa relations 1

I am pleased people want to see the ideas for Venezuela. Do we need to comment on that? Nope. I think it is very obvious: we need them very badly. If you feel like, you can go to the list of general ideas here and comment on them or propose more.

People are also very interested in learning more about accountability (and lack of it) in Venezuela, about the human rights situation, about its politics, economics and history. My perspective is that of a technologist who is interested in Venezuela. I will provide more information on those topics from what I know and what readers who are better informed in those subjects teach me.

I will try to provide also a little bit more information about Venezuelan-US issues, although I have to own up I know much more about the Venezuela-European perspective. The topics that got the least interest were Venezuelan-Asian and Venezuelan-African relations. This is understandable as the ties Venezuela has with those regions are much less strong than those with the rest of the world. Still, I will be writing from time to time about them as well.

Thanks again for your answers!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Venezuela's First Nations and land

Main First Nations. The names with circles represent Arawak ethnicities. Those with an underline are for Carib groups.

Promises and the Yukpas

10 years ago the government promised to delimit the protected areas of Venezuela's First Nations. That was a good idea. Until then Indian areas were precariously protected by a vague law about "lands under state of exception". Since then little has happened, though.

As El Nacional says, some 41630 hectares (416.3 km2) were assigned for the Yukpas in Perija, Zulia state (North-Western Venezuela). Just the day after the president announced it, 2 people from the Yukpa community were shot dead. The pro-government Yukpa leader said initially hired killers sent by the ranchers did it, other Yukpa contradicted him (here in Spanish). The Association of Ranchers of that municipality said the murders were caused by an internal conflict. The minister of Justice, Tarek al-Assimi, announced some of the murderers, Yukpa Indians, have been caught now. Al-Assimi rejected that the murders had to do with the land struggle and added that ranchers were trying to hinder the land distribution. There is some messy reporting about the issue in Spanish here, it seems the truth is somewhere in the middle. Whatever happened, the situation is very murky.

Yukpa Indians selling their artcraft

Still waiting

The Yukpas have just got some land in the Perija region, but hardly any other Indian group has received any of theirs, as experts demand. Ye'kuanas, and Sakemas (both in Amazonas and Bolivar) and Karinhas (a.k.a. Kali'na, in Anzoátegui), for instance, presented their demands years earlier and they haven't got a response. Is there something special about their lands? Is it because of the gold and diamonds in the Ye'kuana and Sakema lands? Is it because of the oil fields in Karinha's ground? Is it because of possible politic preferences? I don't know. Anyway, my impression is that:

1- ranchers and other private groups are very reluctant to give back land to the First Nations
2- the government has not investigated properly possible involvements of ranchers against attacks to the First Nations and it has not compensated people as it should
2- the government is even more reluctant to give back state-owned land to the First Nations than the ranchers are and it prefers to give what is currently in the hands of private individuals
3- the government has been incredibly slow in establishing land rights in general (in fact, almost nothing is registered in a centralized, much less in a digital fashion)
4- the government is doing very little to protect the native Americans in the Southern part of Bolivar and Amazonas, where Brazilian and Venezuelan miners have established camps
5- illegal miners are massively polluting rivers in Indian territory with the mercury they use for the gold extraction (for instance, the Paragua river, tributary of the Caroní River, in Southern Bolívar is now an ecological disaster and this is affecting the Pemon community)
6- illegal miners are clearing large amounts of forests in Indian areas (read this, it is from 2006 but the situation remains unchanged)
7- a lack of cooperation between Venezuela and Colombia has lead to guerrillas, paras and drug dealers roaming freely in Indian areas

The government has been reluctant to clarify the rules of the game. It prefers to use confiscation as a political tool. A large extend of Venezuela's surface has no clear property rights: either ownership papers cannot be tracked down to the Independence time as demanded by the state or they do not exist at all. Most of Venezuela's territory has always been in the hands of the state anyway. The government has determined just a tiny fraction of property rights and it uses the insecurity among people as a method of control: "be nice or we take your fuzzy or clear property rights". I have already stated the government should make public (via online databases) all land claims existing now and, progressively, all land rights. The government should then process cases based on a clear set of parameters (area, time and so on).

The Venezuelan government has a very strong military presence in Indian territory. High ranking officials, including the president, are afraid of giving too much land or power to the First Nations. They think this could lead to a fragmentation of Venezuela or to them losing political control in those areas. Individual military men at all levels have always profited from control over Indian areas, turning a blind eye on "cooperative" illegal miners or worse.

In Venezuela much has been announced and little has been accomplished. Brazilian garimpeiros moved to Venezuela because they knew control is much worse than in Brazil.

What we need to do

The Venezuelan people - including the self-annointed opposition leaders - need to demand from the government clear, open procedures regarding land rights. The government needs to explain and abide by the rules and let the national community have a look at the whole process. The government will oppose this as it wants to move towards some sort of communism (never mind they are not even moving towards bad socialism but towards plain banana republic authoritarism). Still: we must insist on a transparent and very public procedure for delimiting land and establishing when it is the state's and when the private groups' turn. This should be in the framework of a comprehensive and very open cadastre process for the whole nation, including the possessions of all the Boliburguesía.

As I have already stated, there is now a legislation for the protection of Venezuela's native languages. Still: little has been done about a real implementation. There is little done about the establishment of public libraries for them, about how their languages will be defended in their territories. Translating some manuals with political content and basic lessons for school won't do.

The general situation of schools in Indian areas is bad and the health care is a disaster.

It is evident that the First Nations must have more power to decide for themselves. They should also have the tools to develop their own local economies. Preserving their identity does not necessarily mean they need to go on working on subsistance economy and dressed as they do now (unless they want).

All in all we need to give them the tools to help themselves. I know this is a big challenge: Venezuelans as a whole, with much better conditions than the First Nations, are still living from the petrodollars they started to depend on over 70 years ago.

I really hope all Venezuelans take the protection of the First Nations to their heart. We own it to them.


As a general reference, here you have a chart of the languages of the First Nations that still exist today in Venezuela (a chart for the Amazonas state only can be seen here) . Each node in white represents a language family, like "Indo-European" or "Semitic" in the Old World. Some of the language families have other languages spoken but they are not spoken in Venezuela. The family languages with the largest amount of speakers are Arawac and Carib. When Europeans arrived in Venezuela, most of the central region was inhabited by Arawacs and a large part of the East by Carib groups. There are some language isolates, like Warao, spoken in the Orinoco Delta. Those languages have so far proven unrelated to others (like Basque in Europe).

Each one of those languages is a world that could be lost. The ones with a red flag are almost gone now. The ones without a flag are in danger. The ones with the green flag have better chances of survival but nothing is sure. Wayúu is spoken by over 150000 people, Warao by some 40000 and Pemón by more than 5000 to 15000.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Venezuela and Europe readers

Venezuela and Europe is really a weird name for a blog. I created it once when I realised how many misconceptions Europeans had about Venezuela and I had to repeat the same message over and over again. I thought that name would be easy to remember. I thought I could help a bit to inform Europeans about what was happening in Venezuela. I know, as a Venezuelan living in Europe, a little bit about what Europeans don't know and also about what Venezuelans in Venezuela assume Europeans do know. Many of the misconceptions stem from someone thinking the other knows much more than she does.

Later on I thought the blog could serve to inform more people, but the Venezuelan-European name stayed. And last, but not least, I thought I could write here about some ideas I have (not necessarily mine, not necessarily very original and probably many not so brilliant) for Venezuela's development. I am also writing about those ideas in Spanish in my Spanish blog, even if most posts are different. I think bringing forward ideas for Venezuela is something fundamental. The Spanish blog, by the way, has a very nerdy name, but the name refers to a concept that is so badly missing in my country: sustainable development for Venezuela.

Well, the poll about the mother tongue produced the results you see in the chart to the left. There are many lurkers and I suspect quite some of them speak other languages than Spanish (at least they have browsers with other language settings and/or live in countries where there are very few Venezuelans).

Most people have a mother tongue other than Spanish, so most are non-Venezuelans (there are very few Venezuelans who don't have Spanish as mother tongue). The most represented language is Spanish. I assume most native Spanish speakers visiting my blog are Venezuelans who speak English, although there are probably some others (there are visitors from every Spanish speaking country but for some between Panama and Mexico). Some of them use the blog as a reference to their non-Venezuelan friends: "look, this is the mess I was talking about". The second largest group are the English speakers. Lots of them are in the US, in Canada and the UK, in that order. The third and fourth groups were the Dutch and German speakers. I got more Dutch respondents, even if fI have a lot of hits from Germany. Either more Venezuelans read the blog from Germany or Germans are shier than the Dutch. There were also readers whose mother tongue was Czech, French, Hungarian, Japanese and Swedish. I find it cool that people of so many regions are interested in Venezuela. I hope the lurkers will come out more strongly next time, but now I have a better view of viewers. If you want, send me an email or a comment to let me know a little bit about what kind of content you want to know about. I also have still a poll going, but polls with predefined lists are not the best to find out about preferences.

Thanks for your answers and thanks for reading.

How Venezuelans enjoy jacuzzi

Most Venezuelans - I don't mean the wealthiest 15% - have a very simple shower with no heater whatsoever. It helps Venezuela (generally speaking) is a warm place. A large part of the poorest - several million - don't even have running water. They have a plastic tank they need to fill in with water from lorries or from a water pipe at walking distance. They use a little bowl to wash themselves or they use very primitive "showers" which they regulate with a string, very much like Robinson Crusoe would. There are big problems with water delivery, so many families in the slums share their water with their neighbours in need.

I have been to houses of very poor, poor, middle class, upper middle class and a couple of very rich people in Venezuela. I have only once seen one bath tube in Venezuela. Even the wealthy use mostly showers (bathing is not seen as real cleaning). It is not like Europe or North America.

Here you see a picture of one of the best houses in one of the many slums you will see in Venezuela (thanks to Ow, who has lived for quite some time there):

Since the current government took total control of water and electricity companies there have been more and more problems with those services. There are huge problems with electric installations because of the frequent blackouts and sudden surges in energy. This has led to collapse of traffic light signals, to huge losses in all kind of factores and in all households. Your TV has a shorter life time in Venezuela due to that.

Now our president has some solutions:

1) hire an airplane to shoot lasers at clouds to make rain
2) keep shower time limited to 3 minutes only and please, don't wait for the hot water or use the jacuzzi. He said "in our communism" (those were his words) the conditions are not given for that.

I am no lefty, but there is neither communism nor socialism in Venezuela. A minister's brother can become billionaire in just 5 to 6 years of murky businesses and the poor don't have running water and are constantly afraid of being shot in the country with the highest murder rate of South America.

The most shocking thing is that Venezuela could be exporting electric energy and it still has plenty of water. Venezuelans are in general a population with little environmental conscience but what we really need now is proper management. Telling average Venezuelans not to use the jacuzzi or too much hot water is not real. Our "socialist president" should get out of his Palace and trendy European hotels and visit the people. There is definitely a huge difference between The People (i.e. the president) and the people who don't even have running water.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Venezuela's West

This picture comes from the ESA.

It shows the Northwestern part of Venezuela.

For those who don't know my country very well:

A) Venezuela borders with the European Union as the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire) are just off the Venezuelan coast. The Dutch took those islands from the Spaniards in the XVII century.

B: The Paraguana Peninsula and very close the historical city of Coro. The brown colour comes from the huge amounts of sands washed out. Between the Peninsula and the mainland we have the Medanos, Sahara-like dunes.

Further to the East the Morrocoy Park.

C: The tip of the Guajira Peninsula, mostly part now of Colombia but also of Venezuela (before the border was right in the middle). The Wayúu Indians live there between both countries.

D: The Lake Maracaibo, where most of the first oil fields were found. Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city, is on the North-Eastern shores. The Lake is the largest lake of South America (it is a brakish lake).

E: The Venezuelan Andes.

F: The Venezuelan Llanos (sort of very wild Pampas, crisscrossed by a thousand rivers, including the Orinoco).

Ideas for politics in Venezuela

This will be a new part of the ideas for Venezuela.

We first need to be clear: Venezuela can have the best laws on Earth, can change the constitution for the n-th time and all, but if Venezuelans don't change their attitude towards society in general, towards REAL education and accountability, no political change is worth anything. Still, I think that the following ideas could be useful:


Most countries in America have presidential systems. These systems allow too much power to concentracte in one single pair of hands. They do not foster real debate. The president, specially in countries such as Venezuela now, are not made accountable to the congress. Now Venezuela is one of the few countries on Earth where there is no term limit for a president (and a president has many more powers than a prime minister or a queen in constitiutional monarchies). We need to have a parliamentary system. The German one may be one of the best right now: on one hand it promotes debate, accountability and proportional representation. On the other hand it guarantees that there is not too much fragmentation by introducing a 5% threshold of national votes for parties to be represented in parliament.

Here you can see the German chancellor talking in the Bundestag. She constantly has to answer very tough questions of the opposition and her own party there. Imagine the head of state of Venezuela doing that!

Let's join them! (but not the Ethiopean-Indian-Thai-Iraqi way)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Ministers as random number generators

The Conjurer, by Hieronymus Bosch

I suppose ministers of economics and planning are not supposed to be working as devices for random number generation, but they seem to be doing just that in Venezuela. I know economists (and others) all around the world keep producing predictions that turn out to be wrong more often than they would like to admit, but in Venezuela things are a little bit over the top.

Here you have a chart showing the inflation expectations as stated by the ministers of the current government and as they turned out to be. 2009 hasn't finished yet but we have a better estimate about what the inflation will be at the end of the year.

OK, OK, I see the pattern: they are announcing an inflation rate that is lower than the real one and the Minister line keeps deviating further from the Reality line, so they are not even good fake random numbers, we can have a hunch about what is next.

In general I think journalists should keep big boards with charts next to them so that they can show them to the rambing minister of the moment: and ask "but Señor ministro, do you think you are going to get it more right this time?"

The chart was based, among other sources, on this and this and this and this, this and this.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Amazonas, state of oblivion

With 180,145 km2,
Venezuela's second largest state, Amazonas, is much larger than Greece and about the same size of Cambodia. It is the most thinly populated state: only some 143,000 people live there (Greece has 11.3 million inhabitants and Cambodia almost 15 million). The 1991 census showed 60207 inhabitants, which means a 231% growth for 2007 if governmental estimates are right.

Population density (population/km2 in ea
ch municipality)

Amazonas' people are mostly very poor. Most live from subsistence economy, state jobs as well as on the activity of the many military bases there. There is some "ecotourism" (mostly not ecological) which is managed mostly by outsiders and a lot of ilegal mining. The state is rich in natural resources and it constitutes Venezuela's Southern border with Colombia and Brazil. The military presence there has been strong for decades.

Amazonas was one of the few regions where native Americans, our First Nations, were not completely assimilated. Few outsiders ventured to this area. Alexander von Humboldt visited it in his quest to find the connection between the Orinoco and the Amazon River (a connection native Americans knew well).

Non-Indian settlers started to arrived in the mid XIX century, but they had little impact. It was only in the XX century when the outside influence started to be felt, mostly in the Northwest, where the capital is, and along the shores of the Orinoco, which runs from South to North at this stage and forms the border with Colombia.

Most people in the state capital and along the Orinoco are now criollos or mixed people. Outside influence has increased for several decades. Miners arrived and with them diseases, alcohol and abuses of all sorts.

Catholic priests set up shop in the Amazonas state from the XIX century onwards. US evangelical missionaries (mostly New Tribes) followed beginning 1945. A few years ago, in 2005, Hugo Chávez expelled the New Tribes. Wikipedia says:

In October 2005, the BBC reported that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had announced his intention to expel New Tribes Mission from Venezuela. He accused New Tribes Mission of imperialism, of collaborating with the US CIA, of violating Venezuela's national sovereignty, and of violating the country's laws by making unauthorized flights into and out of the country. He also attacked the group for building lavish camps in which to live next to poverty-stricken villages. Responding to the allegations, NTM said, "Any kind of air travel we do, we always do within the guidelines of what the government allows. We always file reports." With respect to "luxury" living, they "live in homes that make it possible for them to continue the work that they do. The homes that they live in are very simple." On November 3, 2005, hundreds of Venezuelan indigenous people marched in Puerto Ayacucho protesting against the expulsion of NTM by the Venezuelan government. Although the Venezuelan constitution recognized their collective ownership of ancestral lands in 1999, "poverty remains acute among many Indian communities and many protesters said the missionaries were the only people who have tangibly improved their lives."

Accusations have gone back and forth: "spies, imperialists, people helping in illegally prospecting for precious metals", "the government has abandoned the Indians, the Indians are now worse off". There have been accusations since 2005 about chavismo cooperating with the Iranians, among other things, to provide uranium that could be used for weapons. You can read one of those sites here, with quotations from the accusers and the president.

It is very hard to find out what was and is really going on there. Unfortunately, few Venezuelans in the capital and other major cities pay attention to the rural areas unless they are into the already mentioned "ecotourism". Besides: the military in Venezuela have always behaved in a very arbitrary manner and it is almost impossible to hold the military to account, specially that now one of them is the "jefe de Estado".

Some of the problems that we do know for sure are these:
  1. very bad health services for the First Nations
  2. few and low-quality basic schools
  3. uncontrolled miners, settlers, companies selling "ecotourism" without clear permissions
  4. military men bullying people
  5. a porous border where drug dealers and Farc guerrillas come and go
  6. an increasing clash of civilizations where criollos bring products, customs and viruses for which native Americans are unprepared
All this could change for good if Venezuelans wanted and put their act together. They would need to force accountability in all spheres, demand the state fulfills basic needs according to specific deadlines and conditions and promote the development of the region by allowing it to foster its particular heritage.

The politi
cal picture
Look at the first map. Over half the population (around 91386 persons) live in the Atures municipality.

The Alto Orinoco, in blue, is larger than the Netherlands and yet it had for 2007 around 17767 inhabitants.

The first map shows most municipalities have mayors who support the current government (red) and only one (in blue) has an independent one: Jesus Manosalva. Here you see how his budget was more than halved on April 2009. The central government reduced the budgets for all municipalities, but we have heard from many sources that part of the money from areas with opposition governments are being diverted to the other areas via "special programmes".

The support is relative. There are two regional parties supporting the Indian interests: PUAMA and MUPI. PUAMA has been working together with the officialdom whereas MUPI is against. MUPI has now a seat in parliament. The deputy is Jesús Castillo. Strangely, it is impossible to find what party he is now in just by looking at the site of the National Assembly.

Although it is possible to find a meaningful support for independent or non-chavista groups on a local level, the figure of Chávez is particularly popular in Amazonas. On the second map you can get an impression of the vote preferences in the 2009 referendum. The referendum was about allowing or not indefinite nominations for public offices but it was mostly about whether Venezuelans wanted to allow the president to run without limits. A cyan circle represents 1000 vote s against indefinite reelection and a red one one in favour. I rounded up or down: there were cyan votes in every state but often less than 500.

Of course: one thing is the real or optimized vote to enable this president to run again in 2012, another thing is what will happen when the moment arrives.

The region elects 3 of the 167 deputies at the National Assembly and voters contribute in voting for a fourth one reserved for the Indian groups.

You realise how primitive the services are in Amazonas when you try to find out something about the civic services in the most populated municipality. Here you have the municipality site. Internet is not real life, but the Internet presence does give some hints about it.

Language and identity
Although native Americans are now becoming a minority even in Amazonas, they still form a very varied lot. Here you can see a map showing the general distribution of Indian ethnicities and languages in the Amazonas state. Mind: some of those languages are as similar to one another as Spanish to Italian, whereas others are as different as English and Japanese. Most are endangered: less and less people speak them, most do not read or write or if they do, they only do so in Spanish.

Languages and language families: Arawac languages (like Baniva) or Carib languages (like Ye'kuana, a.k.a Yekwana) are completely different from Hoti or Yanomami.

The National Assembly has passed some laws for Indian matters. I wish something good would really come out of that. The main topics related to that legislation are:

- a law for the protection of Indian languages (this sounds nice, but I still want to see how it is implemented, in Spanish here) and

- the creation of an Institute for Indian languages (again, I want to see it firstly)

Now there are plans for

- a legislation for the protection of Indian handicraft (here in Spanish) which, I suppose, will would theoretically lead to something like the protection of Indian products as in Canada, at least if a miracle takes place and the law is implemented.

So far I haven't been able to find real proofs something out of this has been put effectively into practice.

Some ideas
I wrote in a post (here) a couple of measures a government could implement to promote the culture of our First Nations. I wish there were some people out there among the political parties who would pay attention. Language is not everything, but it is the main tool for individuals to express their culture and reafirm their identity. Effectively promoting the written use of American languages would be a step forward in the preservation of Venezuela's particular heritage. It could also become one of the initial steps for developing assertive communities.

We could learn a lesson or two about how regional languages are protected in Spain.

Apart from the language issue I believe all Venezuelans should start paying more attention to regions such as Amazonas and that not just for some videos of beautiful rivers and tepui.


In this video
(in Spanish, some Yekwana) you can watch some news from the chavista channel about a visit of the Minister of Indian Affairs in Yekwana territory. They stress the fact that the people can talk in their native language with the minister. A couple of things are worth noticing:

1) the minister is a Yekwana and I very mu
ch doubt she will be able to talk to the Wayúu in Wayúu, to the Waraos in Warao, to the Yanomami in Yanomami and even to the Pemones in Pemon. She talks about how much her Indians love "the government in the capital". She should really care about whether all Indians are getting basic services, whether they have the right medicine, quality basic schools and are left alone by miners and military.

2) the vi
ce-minister, a young woman, keeps repeating how the chavista government is helping the warriors to be prepared, to "fight imperialism" and to be trained in the ideology. She repeats the world ideology several times. I wonder if she is aware of Chinese imperialism or of pluralism.

The best he has got

Here you have a video of a Piaroa Indian speaking in his language. He has a Guevara T shirt and he ends his speech in Spanish with the Guevara chant "Hasta la victoria siempre". He is full of hope. I am sure he got some explanations, a lot of half-truths, of why they are so poor and others so rich. He has probably got more help now than any of his ancestors did from the powers that be in the capital. Still, he has probably not heard about how the new Boliburguesia is gettings ints share of the eternal plunder.

It would be great if a future goverment provided education that showed different perspectives, if it provided a view of different ideologies and, above all, if it provided people with the tools for critical thinking.


After I finished this post I found an interesting article by lefty Jeroen Kuiper, now a journalist for, among others, German Freitag. You should read his account here. The title of his article is "Venezuela's Forgotten State", which is almost the same as the title I chose for my article. Kuiper gave a good picture of the situation in Amazonas in 2005 (although I think he still was too naive regarding chavismo). Since then things have changed quite some, though: the rumours about people wanting to use the uranium that is supposed to be in Tamatama regard now not the missionaries but to the Iranians. Are those rumours just baseless? I don't know. I know we should be extremely cautious, to the left and to the right, if we want to move forward.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Venezuela's 2010 elections I

From Wikipedia: this picture shows very roughly how gerrymandering can influence electoral results in non-proportional or semi-proportional systems as in Venezuela now.

Next year we have National Assembly elections in Venezuela. They are very important: the opposition had unwisely pulled out of the 2005 elections when it declared conditions were not fair. Now the government has almost all the seats in the Asamblea but for a small group of dissidents. The National Assembly president and the pro-government mob prevents them in the most shameful way to discuss their ideas or defend non-governmental positions.

The president already declared his party must get 75% of the seats at the Assembly to guarantee his revolution. If not, he said, violence would take place. Some months ago the current National Assembly approved a new electoral law that allows massive gerrymandering: The Electoral commission will be able to modify electoral districts at will at any moment. On top of that the proportional representation will be violated (see below in the update).

The government recently published the public call for Venezuelans to put forward their candidates that, in their turn, will select the new heads of the National Electoral Commission. The government made the call in two very obscure newspapers that no one reads: Vea and La calle. Both are pro-government. The first one has theoretically a circulation of 60000. It is mostly financed by government propaganda. The second one did not even have a web page as of today (15.10.09). In any case: nobody from the opposition found out about the call and only members of the governmental party came up. People were expecting the call in Últimas Noticias (also rather pro-government) and other newspapers and through some call on pro-government TV or normal pro-government sites.

One of the few dissident voices at the National Assembly declared to Tal cual that all the electors are from the Partido Socialista Unificado de Venezuela.

Stay tuned.

Jorge Rodríguez, previous head of the Electoral commission:

Jorge Rodríguez later became Vice-president when he finished his job at the Electoral commission and now he is Mayor of the Libertador Municipality. Here he is next to notorious Lina Ron.

The current head of the Electoral commission is Tibisay Lucena. I wonder if she is going to take some vacation for a short time before she graciously accepts the government's reward for her work at the Electoral commission.

PS. Here you can see one of the chavista deputies talking while drunk at the National Assembly.

UPDATE: I got a new update from NGO Ojo Electoral. It describes how the new electoral law is going to destroy any sense of proportionality. PLEASE, LOOK AT THIS!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Democracy for wallies

Blogger Quico has often presented excellent "Power Points for Dummies" to explain the inexplicable quirks and twists of Venezuelan economics and politics.

I will just present here a table comparing some government systems.

At the eve of the discussions to allow for unlimited re-election in Venezuela, professional Chavez apologists, people like Weissbrot, constantly said critics of the possibility of indefinite nomination for the post of president were hypocrites as "nobody elects the Queen of England and many heads of state in Europe can be nominated with no term limit". Weisbrot said

"And, of course, there's nothing in this reform that says people have to or should reelect Chavez. You know, all Europe, that I know of, does not have term limits—you know, England, France, Germany, Spain." There was little serious discussion about in the international press about what a president in Venezuela can do as compared to a German chancellor or a British prime minister or an Uruguayan president or another head of state.

Obviously, we know queens and kings are mostly there now for using scissors at inaugurations. What about the real heads of state?

Here you have a table. We don't get into the details about separation of powers and many other things. You can judge for yourself.

CountryType of systemPossible consecutive termsTerm length in years
Germanyparliamentarianno limit4
Italyparliamentarianno limit5
Norwayparliamentarianno limit4
Spainparliamentarianno limit4
United Kingdomparliamentarianno limit5 or less
Canadaparliamentarianno limit5 or less
Colombiapresidential2 (3 in the future?)4
Costa Ricapresidential14
Cubapresidentialno limit5
Venezuelapresidentialno limit
Venezuela before 98:presidential 1 5

Here we have the president of Venezuela talking and talking and talking to his employees (most in red).
Here we have the normal debates the British Parliament is so famous for.
Here you have a German TV debate (old video, but there are lots of those debates pre- and after elections) with the leaders of conservatives, social democrats, economic liberals, ecologists and the extreme left.
The Venezuelan president now getting into an open debate and answering questions other than about his favourite colour? Unthinkable.

There are lots of differences between parliamentarian systems and presidential systems as well as between different parliamentarian and presidential systems, but this should give you an idea already about what kind of system Venezuela is getting closer and closer to (and no, we are far from being a socialist country, we are closer to the system prevalent in Russia now, even if the Russian government is economically not as inept as the Venezuelan one)

Saturday, 10 October 2009

bleeding Venezuela

graph: total murders per year in Venezuela (PROVEA data)

A Venezuelan physician in a public hospital finishes her lunch in the cafeteria on the ground floor. She gets to the stairways and starts her way to the fourth floor. A nurse going down greets her. On the second floor the doctor notices there is a man going up as well. She gets to the third floor, greets another doctor and starts to climb again. She turns to the right and suddenly sees how the man jumps the last steps separating them, grabs and twists her arm and pushes her against the wall. "Be quiet, don't do anything", he says. He snatches the thin golden necklace around her neck and runs away in a second.

Later, after she has recovered from the shock, she tells a friend about it all. He smiles sadly and tells her: yesterday I didn't manage to turn on my car, there is something wrong with the distributor. I was in a hurry, went out and started to look for a taxi. There were only motor taxis. I took one. There was a huge jam at the Avenida Urdaneta. We stopped at a crossing. I saw next to us on the pavement a girl talking on her mobile phone. My taxi driver said to her: "honey, you shouldn't hold the mobile like that". He grabbed the mobile from her and drove away with me clinging on his back. My legs were shaking. I could do nothing. The guy said: "Lo siento, doctor, I could not let it pass, too easy". I said I wanted to stop there. I payed. I got off. I could hardly stand. I had been on the same bike as a robber."

Ten years into the "Revolution" and crime in Venezuela has not abated. It has become much worse. Hugo was actually elected, among other things, because some people thought he was going to take Venezuela to crime levels as low as those we had when his idol, former right-winged dictator Pérez Jiménez, was in power. That did not happen. Not only that, but the murder rate has tripled, as we have written several times here. We have no idea about other types of crimes as they can more easily go unreported, but we feel things have gone to levels we never imagined possible. The worst thing, perhaps, is that the government refuses to discuss the issue. The president told Bbc journalist Lustig in 2005 that crime has "dramatically decreased" during his government. The British journalist did not go deeper into that, Hugo just went on to talk about social injustice and capitalism as root of all the crime. Years later Larry King also asked very timidly about the issue. Hugo went around the bush once again. The few foreign journalists who are allowed to ask questions to Hugo are mostly very shallowly informed and only dare to ask the "what is your favorite colour?" kind of questions.

Mexico is a mess now. Still, it has a lower murder rate than Venezuela and the government is apologizing about the crime level. They recognise things in spite of it all. They probably make promises they are not fulfilling but at least they are trying. You can see them being interviewed by critical TV journalists, you can see them debating live with the opposition. In Venezuela it is not like that. No critical journalist is allowed to get close to Hugo. No open debate is imaginable with high ranking officials. There is only denial and magic numbers about a fuzzy "crime" going down. People are wondering if this is a tactic used by the government: let the thieves lose, let the people hide as soon as there is dark, let the people be afraid of everything even in the middle of the day.

The government of Venezuela stopped sending murder numbers to United Nations in 2002. Now we still can get numbers, but it is very difficult: you have to go to the morgues, you have to ask to regional police stations, add up. The chart above shows the total number of murders in Venezuela as provided by the NGO Provea. The numbers for the last years are very probably higher than that, but the police has been given order to redefine what a murder is. A lot of things fall now under "violent death".

As we wrote in a previous post, most policemen now are working as bodyguards for the chavista elite. The government has bought over 2.2 billion dollars in Russian weapons. The military are very happy. Some other people benefiting from commissions too. In the video below Hugo is talking (no subtitle) about his most recent toys. We don't have an idea yet what those tanks are for. The Venezuelan borders are mostly a jungle and sea.

We know the country is bleeding, though. Our best professionals are leaving if they can. I wish I could write less about this topic. I can't. I know that doctor. I know that teacher.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Venezuelan Indians and an interesting foundation

The Wayuu are by far the largest native American group in Venezuela. They live mostly in the Northernmost border between Venezuela and Colombia. Their language, the Wayuu language, is part of the large Arawak family which in itself has over 100 languages. Most of what is now Western and central Venezuela was inhabited by otherArawak Indians when the Europeans arrived, thus people somehow related to the Wayuu. Most disappeared or merge to become us. The Wayuu Indians could resist better than others as an independent group. Still, they now live, like many other native American groups, in the most abject poverty.

Here you see a video of Patricia Velásquez, a Venezuelan who has set up a great organization. Her dad was half native American and her mother a Wayuu. Take a look.


cool, I see there are readers with minor languages such as Swedish, Czech and Hungarian. I know there are readers in every European and American country (except Cuba) as well as in dozens of nations in Asia and Africa, but it is nice to see indeed the readers have really different linguistic backgrounds.

So far we also have: Spanish, English, Dutch and German, Swedish, Czech and Hungarian. Let's see if there are others out there.

I hope the other many lurkers out there tell me about their languages, even if they are Spanish or English. It would help me have a better view of who you are.

Obama got the Nobel prize. Is it important for Venezuela?

Barak Obama got the Nobel Peace prize. I have to say I was a wee bit surprised. I think it is way too early to be sure what Obama's real contribution will be. Does this event concern Venezuelans? Not really, but it may be time to discuss about where we stand. We all know Hugo Chávez craves for attention. He seems to be telling the personalities of the whole world "Please, come talk to me" although he does not seem to be interested in listening to his own people. He has a particular crush on Obama. At the same time he knows his main tool abroad and often in Venezuela is to say "los gringos tienen la culpa de todo" (everything is the gringos' fault). He knows he can accomplish a lot with that among the US bashers (although this seems to be more difficult now).

Obama has indeed tried to promote cooperation throughout the world. He has pushed for concrete steps in different fronts (although perhaps in too many). He is trying to listen to what people in other cultures have to say. He has avoided to treat them in an arrogant way as some of his predecessors did (still, see here).

On one side I put this:

  • He recognised the rocket systems in Poland and the Czech Republic would provide no extra defence but restart an unnecessary arms race with Russia. The West does need to be vigilant towards Russia for many things (human rights, EU gas dependency, industrial espionage and much more), but simply the rocket shields there made no sense, in spite of what the Poles would think. If you were following the Russian mind very closely (not just from US news) you will know it was the right decision.
  • He has looked for a dialogue with the Arab world.
  • He has asked the state of Israel to stop its expansion in occupied Palestinian territories , although now Lieberman, the minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, says things will go on like now. I suppose that minister wants settlers to keep on taking as much land as possible to "negotiate concessions" in a decade for areas still to be occupied.
  • Obama has asked also the Arab world to recognise the state of Israel and bring about democracy in their own countries (well, I have little hope on the second part, but the first part is possible).
On the other side of the balance I put this:
  • after a good start with the way to treat the Venezuelan regime, he remained silent regarding the worsening of the human rights situation in Venezuela.
  • Obama's position towards Honduras has been like the Honduras situation itself: chaotic, uncoordinated. Let me be clear here: Micheletti is a coupster and his coup should be rejected. On the other side, Zelaya was also a self-coupster and no more kosher. His "referendum" was going to be organized with the support of chavismo, including voting material from the notorious Venezuelan National Electoral commission. Honduras needs elections, but elections need to be monitored by foreign observers and these observers cannot be the ineffective lot of OAS, an organisation that seems to be mostly a club of the present presidents of Latin America (alas, there is no single Parliamentarian system in Latin America).
  • the Israeli government seems to want to speed up the expansion of illegal settlements in occupied territories for the next years and their lobbying in the US will guarantee the US does not do anything.
  • Obama should put more pressure on the Arabs to denounce Akhmadinejad's claims that the Holocaust did not take place (even if he has).
  • After so many years and the loss of so many innocent lives, the US (and the EU) are not sure about what to do in Afghanistan. This is a tragedy as the West could have done a lot of good there if they had had a better strategy from early on and it is not that they did not know what happened to the Soviets there. One of the last losses of US lives in that place took part in Kashdem, Nuristan. If you want to know how life is there right now there, you can take a look in a very dry but real report from an NGO here: 95% of illiteracy, no school building, lots of girls dying from menstrual anemia...even if billions of dollars have been spent. The US and other powers need to listen more to the normal people of those nations, not to their corrupt potentates.

Obama has definitely a complicated work South of the border. The United States has intervened in Latin America too often in ways that were very pernicious for the region even when the region was by no means a threat to them, from early XIX century to this day. On the other hand, the US has also provided a model of democracy that, although far from perfect, is better than anything Latin America has had.

I would love to see Latin America to try to find out a bit more what other regions can teach as well: how free education works in Western Europe, how industrialization was possible in Japan, how parliamentarian systems work in Canada and Western Europe. Above all, I would like Latin America to take responsibility of its own destiny, on one side being aware of what foreign powers have done in the region, but on the other recognising it is up to us to get over the injustices and that it has been Latin Americans themselves the ones who have been hampering their own development the most 200 years. Unfortunately until now we find in Latin America too many people who either see the US (or Europe) as the perfect model to copy without any own analysis or the source of all their problems.

Now, back to the US: will this change things towards Venezuela?

I predict Venezuela's Fat Man in the Palace will now suffer more the pains of his unrequited "love", he will cry louder to get Obama's attention and try to force it in many ways.

What should Obama do? I think he should repeat the message he gave in Miami about what chavismo is about. He should also support transparency in elections in both Honduras and, next year, in Venezuela, and he should support above all education programmes throughout Latin America. The US administration can play a bigger role in supporting basic education programmes in Latin America. Otherwise, I think he should focus on other topics.

The Venezuelan mess should be solved by Venezuelans alone. They can get some support in the future with real observers from the EU or Oecd in general (not the horrible disaster that was the EU mission of 2006), but otherwise, they need to put their act together on their own, make sacrifices to reduce ignorance, to help the poorer, denounce human right abuses and propose concrete steps to take the country on the path of sustainable development.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Mapping murder (II)

Here you have a map of Carabobo, a Venezuelan state at the North-centre part of the country. It shows the murder rate for 100000 people per municipality for the time frame September 2008 to September 2009.
For instance: 86 out of 100000 inhabitants were murdered in the municipality of Valencia, in carmine red in the centre, between September 2008 and September of 2009. 104 out of 100000 inhabitants were bound to be murdered during the same period in El Libertador, the municipality in black.

As a reference: Colombia as a nation has a murder rate of 36 murders per 100000 per year, Brazil 25.6, US 5.8, Chile 1.9 and Germany 0.9.

I selected that state because it is relatively easy to get the murder list per month thanks to a newspaper, Notitarde, not because the rate is particularly high for a highly populated state in Venezuela: main urban centers are in similar mess and other regions are not far behind. As population I used the estimate of population for 2010 as published by the Universidad de los Andes. I say relatively easy but I have had to get the statistics for every month and area from normal text, not a table.

Of course, murders are not equally distributed even within a municipality. There are some streets and some slums or quarters that are much more dangerous than others, even if murder is no surprise in any area. I believe a literate police could predict a lot of things if they used the information in a XXI century way (mind, even in a XX century way).

The municipality of Valencia is very big (too big for a municipality), it has about one million people, but most murders take part in the Miguel Pena parish, which is where the number 86 is. That parish, with half a million people, does not have a single general hospital, just one maternity and small, understaffed health centres. It has no real public library (just one little thing they call library at the very border of that parish with "civilization"). El Libertador has the highest murder rate of the state. It also has a huge rubbish depot which is an ecological disaster of incredible proportions (Guasima) and a prison, but the murder we talk about here are those outside that prison (Venezuelan prisons are very lethal, but that is yet another story).

The least dangerous municipalities are San Diego (murder rate just 20), which is the only highly populated municipality with a rather "normal" murder rate, which is rather middle-middle class with some slums, and which is governed by the opposition and Montalban, which is a very thinly populated area.

And our president spent this summer 2200.000.000 dollars (minor commissions) in Russian tanks and rocket launchers for his war against some foreign state.

PS. you can check my last post for the statistics per month of this region.

PS2 it would be nice if you answer to the questions on the right, had you not done so already.

P3 in another post I will write about the totals, distributions and ideas to prevent crime.

UPDATE: Dutch blogger Alpha discovered a site here where more and more of the crimes are reported.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Venezuela's murders and fighting poverty according to Chávez

Right now Hugo Chávez, is forcing all radio and TV stations in Venezuela to broadcast his message, as he does for hours every week.

He is saying he swears "on his life that we (i.e. he) will defeat poverty by 2019". He also says old parties AD and COPEI won't ever come to power again in Venezuela. It is interesting he says this about parties that were - although very corrupt and inefficient - at the very least as democratic as Hugo's party. He does not say his family was in the COPEI party before he carried out his bloody coup attempt in 1992 against a democratically elected government (at a time there was no possible reelection).

Chávez says the opposition will never come back to power because it has no proposals. I wonder what Sarah Wagenknecht and other European deputies from the far left have to say about this.

He doesn't say that when his government came to power the price of the oil barrel was $12 and it had been very low for over a decade. He does not say the average income for higher oil prices in Venezuela is this year still over 300% that of 1998 (in 2008 over 1000%), which means a lot for a country where 90% of foreign revenues comes from oil and where almost everything is imported. He would not say this as people would do the maths and they would realise his government has just given crumbles to them and he has reserved the best for the red boliburguesía. He does not say Venezuela stopped taking part in open evaluation programmes of education when he came to power. The man who told Bbc journalist Lustig in 2004 that he had dramatically reduced crime in Venezuela does not say his government stopped sending data about the murder rate to United Nations in 1992.

So, he definitely does not say the murder rate, which affects mostly the poor, has risen from 19 murders per 100000 in 1998 to over 70 murders now, more than in any other country in Latin America including Mexico.

Here you have the updated murder statistics for the Carabobo state since 2005 . Things are similar or worse in other regions of Venezuela. I just take the statistics of that region because it is easier to collect the murder numbers from Notitarde, a newspaper in that state that has a working search function. Notitarde started to publish all murders per municipality in 2006, so from then on you see a different colour for each region of that state. It is impossible to make them up. They write down the names of the victims, the ages, often the pictures...and you can just go to the morgues in the region, mortuaries that are all the time full.

The Venezuelan police has more agents working as bodyguards protecting chavista politicians than on the streets trying to protect people like you and me. I have already written that even according to official statistics a Venezuelan policeman is 150 TIMES more likely to be a criminal than the average Venezuelan citizen (officials provided the basic numbers, they just did not do the maths). It seems the only people they protect are high ranking chavista officials. I suppose they have to. Venezuelan "socialist deputies" earn net more than euro-deputies whereas a normal Venezuelan teacher cannot live from her salary alone. Now you can figure out how the president of Venezuela wants to defeat poverty.

PS: Please, if you haven't done so, it would be great if you answer the two questions on the right: what is your mother tongue and what topics you want to read more about.

PS2: For an update of the government's attacks on democracy, always go here.