Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Ones In Power


This is a little mindmap representing some of the top guys around Hugo of Sabaneta, a few details about them and some relationships they have with some figures.

Vicente is too old to become too much of a public figure or a possible successor to Hugo, but he still pulls a lot of political and economic strings. Diosdado is, apart from Hugo, the most agressive, even if Aristóbulo is becoming more so. Aristóbulo seems like the "less unkosher" of them all (the one with less links to the wealthiest), as far as I know. He was an active politician of the IV Republic, though.

If you have more details, please, let me know, preferably with references.

Here the first update of the poll about when readers think Hugo will cease to be Venezuela's head of state. This is far from scientific and there may be readers who tip on what they think and others on what they want. Still, I think we can get something interesting out of this.

There were more readers answering this time.

In general:

  • there were more readers answering
  • the percentage of those who think Hugo will leave office after 2020 has increased meaningfully (8.5% to 23.1%)
  • the amount of people who think Hugo will stop being president of Venezuela this or next year has increased very lightly (21% to 24.6%)
  • last time there were 65 respondents (hopefully we will have more this month)
I am curious about how numbers will develop this month.
So, please, readers: when you are ready, just give your gut feeling about how long you think the Líder Supremo will be president of the country.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Venezuela's increasing weight in the world

Euromonitor found out, as Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported, that our nation is one of the top 10 weightiest countries on Earth - hipwise, that is. Around 29.6% of Venezuelans are obese. The percentage of belt-challenging people among Mexicans is just a little bit higher, but just a bit. Guatemalans follow suit. Venezuelans are really putting up on more than one front.

This is making the country even more inefficient and it is becoming an extra burden for our health costs. Unlike what the regime says, this does not have to do with improved diets and more food for the poor. It is a complex issue but it has a lot to do with more fast food because of lack of time, a more difficult environment in which to do some exercise and the loss of culinary traditions. It also has to do with an education system that is not delivering on practical education about health issues.

I don't think a president - or a future prime minister when we have one - should be talking about people's body weight as Hugo did. That is not her business. I do think the education and the health ministries can do something about this issue. The basic thing is to inform people.

Some things we need to do are fairly standard procedures already in Europe and the USA:

  • teaching children at school about food values in a fun way (I actually got some information about the food pyramid and some other basic points when I was about 11 or 12 years old, but I know most Venezuelan schooling is rote-learning)
  • forcing food providers to label the calories and ingredients of their products
  • expanding on green areas where people - grownups - can bike and walk (right now there are few places to do that and there are hardly any in particularly poor areas, which look more like war zones after sunset
Venezuela's government needs to work in particular on improving security, which has deteriorated dramatically in the last eleven years. Security is affecting all the rest. The government should introduce fast lanes for buses as in Europe. This is an idea the opposition government in Miranda was trying to implement in their area, but the regime opposed, even if people supported the plan, just because it was the opposition's idea.

Potamito was not a Venezuelan

Obesity is like a contagious disease, it spreads and spreads faster all the time. Last time I was in Venezuela with my family I was looking at some old pictures of my parents, aunts and uncles. There were some where they were all on the beach. A cousin of mine made this comment: "cónchale, they all looked so fit and we at the same age now look like real Potamitos". It was so very true!

Take a relative of mine: he spends hours and hours on the horrible jams of Venezuela (NY traffic? that is peanuts). He arrives very late at night. He lives in a working class area. When I was a child I used to walk with my parents in the evening along those streets. Last time I did it some years ago, just in the early afternoon, a gang wanted to rob me. I was just lucky they did not have a gun. My relative could only do sports at home or at a gym, which is an expensive, very time-demanding endeavor in Venezuela. He can also use part of the weekend, but that is not enough, specially if you need to build up a habit and again, sunset limits the time he can be walking outside.

So: security will have to play a big role in improving health in Venezuela even in this context.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

I am the people, I demand absolute loyalty: 1, 2, 3


On 23 January 2010, Hugo Chávez said the following:

"those who want fatherland: come with Chávez..."
"I demand absolute loyalty to my leadership."
"I am not me...I am a nation (un pueblo), I am not a person, I am the people"
More here:

And just now TV station Rctv (available on cable only) has been taken off the air once more.


Miguel Ángel Martínez, PSOE politician and vice-president of the European Parliament said some weeks ago that "the vision people have in the European Union about the process taking place in Venezuela is not real" and "the idea about a monopoly on information [in Venezuela] does not correspond with reality" (here in Spanish). I have decided to send him a link to this post.

I have some questions.

1) I would like to know from Mr Martínez if he is aware of the fact that less than 30% of Venezuelans can watch government-critical TV channels in Venezuela: those in the capital, those like Mr Martínez who stay at a posh hotel room on a diplomatic visit, those in Valencia or those who have cable TV (a minority in Venezuela, which is not Europe).

2) I want to know if Mr Martínez can tell us whether the Venezuelan opposition can speak out freely in state TV channels or if those state channels are to be used only by the government for its propaganda all the time.

3) I would like him to tell us if he is aware of how many hours a week TV and radio stations are forced to broadcast the president's speeches, among them those full of very vulgar insults against the opposition (just one of many examples here).

4) Does Mr Martínez know how many Venezuelans read newspapers and what the circulation of regime-critical newspapers is?

5) Does he know that Venezuela's president does not accept to have an open debate with anyone from the opposition, not even in election time, and that no critical journalist can even get close to him?

6) Last but not least, I want Mr Martínez to say something about the video above. Perhaps "No comments, those are internal matters"?

I will let you know what he answers.


Last August a group of very well-known thugs supporting the government attacked TV station Globovisión (a sort of worse FOX News, but still the only thing still critical to the government on TV). The leader of the attackers, Lina Ron, was caught in fraganti by many cameras. As the attack was undeniable, the president had to state that Lina had to go to prison. Rory from the Guardian wrote about the event here. Her detention was just a farce. As the opposition thought, she was free again in no time and she was just next to her Líder Máximo on this latest event. You can see the peroxide blonde here:

Thanks to Alpha, who has an excellent post in Dutch here

PS: Mr Martínez still hasn't replied

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Shameless gerrymandering, part II


How to steal votes and destroy democracy

I updated the maps according to the official sources as seen here (electoral districts).
The gerrymandering is worse than I thought in some regions. In others, like Miranda, things don't change much. As most opposition leaders and the national media are concentrated in Miranda and they think only on what they see, little interest will be spent to the rest of Venezuela.

I used the votes of the 2008 elections for governor that the government has on its site. Salas Feo (opposition) was the candidate for the opposition and Mario Silva (regime) for the regime.

If people voted in the same way for the opposition and we had the electoral districts we had until last year, you would see this:

6 deputies, we would get 4 out of 6

Now, after Tibisay and her accomplices carried out heavy gerrymandering, the regime would get the following (if people vote as they did in 2008):

7 nominal deputies, the regime would get 6, the opposition 1

Same amount of votes for each. That is gerrymandering and that is what the Venezuelan regime is doing. I suppose the Spanish government does not want to say anything about it...too many businesses are in peril.

Here you have the approximate votes as given for the governor in 2008. The numbers left and right of brackets represent the thousands of voters for officialdom and main opposition. As we said: allthough the total for the opposition is higher, this gerrymandering would enable the regime to win 6 out of 7 deputies:

What is the vice-president of the European Parliament and PSOE politician saying now?

Below you have the votes for the 2008 election of governor in my region.

Votes 2008 government opposition Total mil/opo deputies
Libertador 30142 22388

Miguel Pena 60699 48147

Negro Primero 2212 302

Rafael Urdaneta 30931 34839

Santa Rosa 14563 13528

138547 119204 257751 3

Naguanagua 21815 35466

Candelaria 6323 8121

Catedral 928 1408

El Socorro 856 2135

San Blas 4054 8197

San José 7667 61972

San Diego 9145 24369

50788 141668 192456 1

Carlos Arvelo 28955 15544

Los Guayos 26524 19382

55479 34926 90405 1

Bejuma 8603 9323

Miranda 6120 3681

Montalbán 4760 4768

Puerto Cabello 39954 31959

Juan José Mora 16251 8678

75688 58409 134097 1

Diego Ibarra 18941 12805

Guacara 31215 30759

San Joaquín 11292 9749

61448 53313 114761 1

Before we had this

government opposition total deputies won
Miguel Pena 60699 48147

Negro Primero 2212 302

Rafael Urdaneta 30931 34839

Santa Rosa 14563 13528

Candelaria 6323 8121

Catedral 928 1408

El Socorro 856 2135

San Blas 4054 8197

San José 7667 61972

128233 178649 306882 2
Carlos Arvelo 28955 15544

Los Guayos 26524 19382

55479 34926 90405 1
Bejuma 8603 9323

Miranda 6120 3681

Libertador 30142 22388

Montalbán 4760 4768

49625 40160 89785 1
Naguanagua 21815 35466

Libertador 30142 22388

51957 57854 109811 2
Puerto Cabello 39954 31959

Juan José Mora 16251 8678

56205 40637 96842 1
Diego Ibarra 18941 12805

Guacara 31215 30759

San Joaquín 11292 9749

San Diego 9145 24369

70593 77682 148275 2

Ps. thanks to the people of Súmate (news in Spanish) and Esdata for providing such valuable data.

Shameless gerrymandering

I thought for a second about using a more attractive title, but there is no point in doing that. What the pro-government National Electoral Council (CNE) did now in Venezuela is the cheapest gerrymandering you can conceive. Last year the National Assembly passed a law allowing the restructuring of electoral districts at almost any time. The opposition demanded changes to be made as soon as possible. The CNE promised months ago to announce the electoral districts n December. At the very last working day they announced just the electoral districts for states where the regime had a very clear majority in every electoral district: no change. They did not announce the districts for the most densely states, where the opposition is concentrated. A couple of days ago they did so. It was gerrymandering big time, as we thought.

The only non-chavista member of the council, Vicente Díaz, denounced the whole process. Tibisay Lucena, the head of the institution, countered that "those are political argumentations...we here are isolated from [political] tendencies". She added they used geographical, cultural and idiosyncratic criteria". The chuzpah.

Lucena is the same governmental functionary who went to Mali to promote the SmartMatic voting machines used by the Venezuela government, the same machines that do not produce the right paper trail, in the same system she claims to be "the best on Earth" even if it shows inconsistencies, even if partial results just appear many hours after the election took place and full results never come. In other countries where elections are carried out manually, as in Brazil, Chile, Norway, Sweden andNetherlands, results come very fast and without major. After some days you have all the results, unlike in Venezuela with its"the best system on Earth.

Here you have an example of what they did in one of those densely populated regions. Carabobo is my region. This is just one of the states where they did that. The electoral districts before looked like below. A colour corresponds to an electoral district. Electoral districts were made out of one or more municipalities.


Red: Naguanagua and Libertador.
Green: the Northernmost half of Valencia are very opposition-minded. The Southern part of urban Valencia is rather pro-government, even if the opposition has about 45% of support there, all in all against the regime.
Brownish: San Diego is a middle-middle-class municipality (not posh) that is very much anti-regime. Guacara is rather pro-government, although the governmental support is not very strong.
Blue: Puerto Cabello as a municipality is still rather pro-government, but the city proper is not and support for the opposition had been increasing there.
Yellow: rural area with regime-majority, but where the opposition was likely to gain support in Bejuma and perhaps Miranda. Libertador is one of the poorest areas and it is so dangerous we have few witnesses there. I have helped the opposition in that area and I have to tell you: it is scary to be defending votes there when it starts to get dark.
Violet: this is made of Los Guayos, a former poor village that is now a big poor town full of slums (I know the area well, some relatives live there) and Carlos Arvelo, a rural region where the regime has clear control.

Now it goes into this:


The winning party in each electoral district takes all the deputies assigned to that district.

First of all: the government reduced chances of the opposition getting representatives for Puerto Cabello by merging it with the rural areas to the West and Southwest of the state. Then they "idiosyncratically" divided Valencia and reduced the effect of the growing opposition in the South by merging it with Libertador (which has just about 60% of the population of parish Miguel Pena, but is very red, so Miguel P.'s growing opposition gets neutralized).

San Diego, which is separated by a mountain from Valencia municipality (see picture in previous post, it is part of that mountain range) and by quite some motorways and just grass Northwest and Southwest, is now "idiosyncratically" joined to the Northern Valencia-Naguanagua region. Guacara's growing opposition is now diluted.

With this gerrymandering alone (thus, without other "optimizations") they would get 6 out of 7 nominal deputies when before they would get 4 out of 6.

About 54% of the population voted against the government's referendum this year. Similar numbers went to the opposition last year. So: they will get if things remain as 54% of the population would get now just 1 of the nominal deputies and 46% will get 6. I will later go into more detail on this.

Lucena and her colleagues really must be feeling very sure that this regime will last as long as it suits them.

"Idiosyncratic" gerrimandering

Now Hugo of Sabaneta again asked the opposition to call for a referendum even if the opposition has not asked for it now. He also said the so-called "Bolivarian revolution" is here to stay until year 3485? Where did I read something like that before?

Ps. Chávez stated the opposition are "enculillados". That is a very vulgar Venezuelan Spanish expression to say someone is ... in his pants. And the Vice-President of the European Parliament and the Foreign Minister of Spain, both PSOE members, are so happy to meet Chávez. I reckon that is what they see as Realpolitik. Cosas veredes, Sancho

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Venezuelas Küstenbergkette

Dies ist meine Heimat. Hier bin ich aufgewachsen. Als Kind und Teenager war ich sehr oft in diesen Bergen. In der Nähe sind grosse Städte wie Valencia und Maracay. Die Ansichten sind oft spektakulär. Im Wald findet man unzählige buntere Vögel und Insekte, aber auch Schlangen allerart. Wenn man Richtung Süden blickt, kann man Valencia und den Valenciasee erkennen. Wenn man Richtung Norden schaut, kann man die Karibik bewundern. Humboldt schrieb: "Viele Berge der Provinz Caracas [damals alles von Anzoátegui bis Falcón] reichen in die Wolkenregion hinauf, aber die Schichten des Urgebirgs sind unter einem Winkel von 70–80° geneigt".
Hier erzählt Humboldt über seine Zeit dort.

Leider ist die ganze Region nun übervölkert und die Umweltzerstörung nimmt immer mehr zu. Früher hatten meine Eltern im Valenciasee gebadet. Als ich klein war, war es nicht mehr möglich. Nun wird immer mehr um die Berge herum gebaut und die Flüsse werden verseucht. Immer mehr Wälder gehen verloren. Hoffentlich wird man in Venezuela nicht zu spät zu einem Umdenken kommen.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Kundera, communism and chavismo principles

Images, ideologies

Milan Kundera wrote in 1990 in his novel The Immortality about how imagology had been replacing ideology. The Lenin posters in communist regimes, he wrote, were not intented to increase the love for Lenin. The propaganda agencies of the communisty parties had forgotten their purpose and had become a goal on themselves. Social images, he said, are imposed by what we wear, by the gadgets we use. I would rather say imagology and ideology are much more intertwined than he thought and it has always been the case. Ideology has more often than not been used as a facade, an intellectual exercise where one pretends to show some pseudo-reasoning to win an argument. Because of that, movements supporting one or the other "ideology" have seldom promoted real debates. They just want to convince the weak and silence the rest. That is true for left-winged and right-winged ideologies, for religious and non-religious ones.

Friedrich Engels, one of the creators of communist theory and financier of Karl Marx, was a wealthy man, the son of an entrepreneur who used his father's fortune to, on one side, live in luxury, and on the other, finance Karl Marx and his movement. Karl Marx, who never was a worker and loved to wear fancy dresses, wrote down in Das Kapital an arguably intelligent analysis of the economic situation of his time and how workers were being exploited back then accompanied by proposals and predictions not very different from those of religious fundamentalists forcing an acto de fe on the others.

Socialism, which became formalized in the early XIX century, evolved into a pletora of theories among which Marxism was just one of the most important ones. Marxism was often used in the conflicts between workers and employers from then on, but also then in the conflicts between personalities fighting for power or wanting to differentiate themselves. Social democrats broke away with the use of violent revolutions and took the path to social reforms through debates within parliamentarian democracy. On the other side, communists went on to promote the use of force for change. Personal views and personality became de rigueur in communist regime. Leninism appeared. Stalinism came next and against it Trotskyism. Maoism and other personality-based -isms appeared. Lately, the cool "real socialism" tends to be the "anarco-socialism" in one flavour or the other. Noam Chomsky is a proponent of libertarian socialism and anarchism and although critical of many previous movements (not real communism, state capitalism, not the true ideals of Marx), he keeps betting on the next horse that pretends to be the "New Left". I have always found strange that Noam goes on to give good analysis of how the previous movements were bad but keeps trusting the newest one, even if it is just the most superficial one as in the case of chavismo.

One way or the other, the game has always been about using a word, an image, to portray oneself as the "real interpreter of truth" and the others as the falsifiers, more or less like religious fundamentalists do. Real debate, use of logic, questioning are not permitted.

Still, at least some people defending their "ideology" pretend to take some time to set out what their own theories are about and then explain them to the people they want to convince.

Venezuela and ideology light

In Venezuela things are a little bit different. Venezuelans read extremely little and their understanding of their own history is very patchy at best. Governments come and go and most Venezuelans just remember what they got or not from the petrodollar distribution of the past few years. Of course, they don't think in terms of petrodollars but on the products and services they can purchase or the favours or jobs they got from the government in power at the moment.

Very few thoughts are spent into learning from the past, planning for the future or analyzing what real principles or ideologies one is defending. I remember how a young communist got into the bus I was going in around 1990 and started to evangelize about "the Soviet Union, with a system that is creating so much social justice and prosperity for all"...he was telling people, mostly workers, about the wonders of the Soviet Union at the very moment it was falling apart. Although a Venezuelan local newspaper like El carabobeno often has more news about other countries, the vast majority of Venezuelans, not workers alone, just read about baseball games, if at all.

A former classmate of mine from university in Venezuela, someone who was "in love" with the process, told me that Chávez was a well-read person. I thought back then that if she as a graduate could say that, Venezuela was in worse shape than I had thought. Chávez has indeed read a lot for a Venezuelan citizen, but he has done it only in his quest to imitate the mythical figure of Simón Bolívar. His sycophants of the moments are the ones doing the book selection.

It is interesting to go through the list of books the president mentions. He rightly recognizes how social injustice engenders crime, as Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables. He just fails to link that to what is happening now in Venezuela. He went to jail and saw himself as a new Count of Monte Cristo. He had always read stories about Bolívar as most Venezuelans do, superficially, uncritially, but he really got into it as a Quesada into his cavalry books...not surprisingly El Quixote is a book the president praises a lot, although I have my doubts he read it to the end. Above all, Chávez, as many other Venezuelans, has cultivated the Bolívar complex. He has used it as few presidents before him. He really presents himself as the new true Bolívar.

If you feel unsure about what your ideology is, use more colour

Chávez initially claimed not to be a socialist. Once in power, he declared himself socialist or some sort of communist. As his movement rests completely on personality cult and petrodollars, the ideology-imagology mix is more imagology than ideology. Very curiously, his movement is a movement that claims to be socialist and yet minimizes the evils of the right-winged dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez, a dictatorship supported by the US where countless socialists and others were emprisoned, tortured and killed. Selective history, thus.

You will never see such a fixation with the red colour as in Venezuela since 1999. The emptier the talk, the more red they wear. Not in the Soviet Union of Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev was there so much red, not in Cuba, not in Vietnam, not even in China, where red has always been associated with good luck. The only thing I haven't seen yet is red toilet paper.

That is how we can get a "Marxismo Bolivariano".

The opposition also tends to be rather superficial in its analysis of our past, present and future. A lack of historical perspective and deep and critical analysis of our situation has made them incapable of showing a platform with a set of ideals or using knowledge of the own culture to force the debate chavismo so much refuses. The opposition's lack of analysis also makes it heavily dependent on figures. The opposition politicians are less dividing than Chávez, but none has a real weight, as none has a real set of principles and a plan for the country to oppose Chávezs imagology. As I showed in previous posts, there is a legion of parties. Most of those parties would find themselves in trouble trying to explain how their principles or programmes or ideologies differ from each other. They exist mostly as platform for their politicians.

There are a couple of dozen parties representing the "moderate right", at least 10 more representing social democracy, some claiming to be the true representatives of "Bolivarianism", one is a cheap copy of the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Spanish PSOE and so on. Instead of using a given colour, Venezuelan oppos tend to use the Venezuelan flag, even more than Norwegians or Swedes do. But unlike Norwegians or Swedes, their parties have little that could be called a programme.

Money and faith

Venezuela has seen a special marriage between believers and pure profiteers: old communists and socialists on one side and simple adventurers on the other side joined forces early on to support Chávez in his quest to redeam the nation. Since then the pool of high-ranking supporters has constantly changed. From all this we have seen how a collection of boliburgueses and a couple of hard-core believers as Aristóbulo Istúriz manage the few things Chávez is not directly managing and how a group of old Paris-visting Marxists such as Britto García and Juan Barreto as well as foreign apologists do the propaganda work. Every time someone abandons "the Process", out of real remorse as Olavarría did in 1999 or out of more frivolous calculations, as Miquelena (2000) or Baduel (2008), officialdom says "another one drops off his mask". There has been a lot of mask dropping in the last 11 years. Some Boliburgueses who have become too notorious have been sent to embassies (so they don't drop off their masks, they just go low profile abroad) and some others have been dropped altogether, as in the case of Berrueco or "revolutionary" Arné chacón.

Miguel and other bloggers have already written about the monologue Hugo of Sabaneta gave last Friday at the National Assembly in place of the due report on work done. As I wrote earlier, in a strong presidential system as in Venezuela, there is no chance to demand an answer from the president. He just spends hours on a monologue or selects puppet interviewers who ask him what's-your favourite-colour kind of questions do you hate Americans? Is it true that crime has increased during your time in office?

Hugo of Sabaneta knows his popularity is suffering very badly -collapse of the electricity grid, the worst crime levels by far in South America, inflation, corruption, etc- so he moves forward and attacks on different fronts. Among other things, he declares he is "a Marxist".

In the latest monologue Chávez declared "for the first time I assume I am a revolutionary"..."and I assume Marxism". He said marxism "is the most advanced theory in the scientific interpretation, firstly, of the concrete reality of the nations".

After that he said he had never read Das Kapital, but he intended to do so now, as he got the book from minister Alí Rodríguez. I wondered if he even managed to read the Manifest or old communist explained it to him during lunch time.

Interestingly, on 1:50 you see some people at the National Assembly who arenot applauding at all. If you know who they are, let me know! It would be interesting to find out why they are not applauding, even if the others are doing it with less enthusiasm than before.

Hugo Chávez has had his Gramsci phase (2007, 2009), his Trotsky phase (2007, 2009), his Mao phase (2008 and every time he has been to Asia). Gramsci, Trotsky and Mao were all communists but he claims now he says for the first time he is a Marxist.

3 years ago he said (1:39 onwards in the other video) the PSUV won't take over the Marxism-Leninism because Leninism is a dogma and times have changed and the situation is not the same. You can watch him in this video often looking at Barreto, one of those corrupt Boliburgueses and frequent Venezuela-France travellers who is supposed to be under investigation right now.

I suppose back then it was Barreto one of those providing the president with his usual book reviews.

The new flavour

Now, three years later on somebody else must have told the president that now he has to say that he is a "Marxist". I know Leninism is not Marxism, but I would like to know what flavour of Marxism the president is after now and whether he considers there is something of Marxism that may be out of date now.

Chávez's sycophants are talking more about Marxismo bolivariano. They had previously referred to bolivarianismo or socialismo bolivariano. They still haven't explained what that "Bolivarianismo" really is, how it fits with the reactionary parts of Bolívar's thoughts and what Marx thought about Bolívar.

Yesterday Chávez ordered the expropiation of big supermarket chain Exito. He will use more and more the Marxist label to justify taking over more more businesses and get cash and to spread more fear before the September elections. Expect more of that. Don't expect people like the foreign minister of Spain, PSOE-member Montesinos, to say anything bad about the regime's treatment of human rights. Expect them to be looking for more juicy deals with Venezuela, as the ones Juan wrote about some months ago.

Venezuela badly needs people who can set aside personal interests and have the courage to promote a real debate on how to attain sustainable development. Venezuela needs above all people who are tenacious enough to keep working on that development until we attain it.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Venezuelan elections versus German elections

Here you have two graphs representing results for local elections in the Venezuelan city of Maturín in 2008 and in the German city of Dresden in 2009. In Venezuela the focus is on personalities and in Germany it is more on parties.

Both cities have around half a million inhabitants. Maturín is a city in the Llanos, in the Venezuelan grasslands. Many people in the capital and two or three other main cities consider it "monte y culebra", jungle and snakes. It is poorer, it has always been more conservative than the capital. The economy is mostly focused on the oil industry (PDVSA processing plants, chemicals) and a tiny bit just services for that region. There is some diary industry, some glass production, some furniture factores. It had some importance for the agriculture of the region, but not much.

Dresden is a city in East Germany. The extreme left (not social democrats but to the left, the apologists of the Venezuelan regime) are more popular there than in West Germany. So the extreme right like the neo-nazi NPD. Still, the city has a well-known public university, research centres, a lot of activity. Unemployment is high but the situation is better than other parts of Eastern Germany. A meaningful amount of private high-tech enterprises have appeared lately, specially supported by governmental help.

The Venezuelan graph shows the candidates for the job as mayor of the city and the parties behind him. The chavista candidate won very easily. The main national parties are represented in red and blue. Those in red are simply the main chavista parties. The parties in blue and those in their coallitions are parties in the opposition, but they have the most different tendencies: from right to far left. Dozens of parties don't have a very distinctive ideology. They are basically a local or old national platform for some local cacique.

Most people in all parties in Venezuela would have a hard time trying to explain you what ideology or even programme they are following.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Tegu

The Mato de agua or Blue Tegu is one of the most typical reptiles you see in Venezuela and other South American countries. I saw them a zillion times while playing outside as a child.

Males court females by making funny movements with their heads, by hissing and carefully biting the females on their tails. If females find them OK, they node and raise those tails.

Females can have from 4 up to 32 eggs (do you see the pattern? 4, +-8, +-12, +-32, cool, ins't it?)

Matos de agua can be up to 1.4 metres long.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Democracy in Venezuela now

Today the president of Venezuela, will talk to the Venezuelan National Assembly and have his "state of the Nation". He will talk about what he claims to have done and what he claims to want to do. Foreign apologists of the Venezuelan regime have claimed for years that it is fine if there is the possibility of indefinite reelection in Venezuela because you have that in European countries and elsewhere. What these people forget is that Venezuela does NOT have a parliamentarian system. So now Venezuela joins Cuba, Iran and Surinam in the club of countries having a president who can be indefinitely nominated, in a system that is controlled by him as it is not possible in parliamentarian systems.

I have written before about this, but today we have a concrete example of the differen
ces between the responsabilities of a president in the Venezuelan way now and a prime minister. The president of Venezuela has to talk, but it is up to him to say what he wants, he does not have to answer anything. According to the constitution,

"237: Annually, within the first ten days following the installation of the National Assembly, in ordinary session, the President of the Republic shall present personally to the Assembly a message by which he will account for the economic, social and administrative aspects of his administration during the previous year."

Unlike prime ministers, the president in Venezuela can always maintain a monologue. Even though ministers sometimes also try to avoid answering (in some countries more than others), but sooner or later there is no way around for them.

I am for a Parliamentarian system for Venezuela. Before we get one, I would propose calling for a referendum where we propose that heads of state, governors and some others have to answer regularly and in person to the questions of the opposition.

Today Hugo of Sabaneta will talk and talk and lie and lie and he will render no account, just tell his story. There is no way of
cornering him as one can do in the German, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, Dutch or even the British system. This is not possible in Venezuela now:

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Help Haiti

Haiti is an absolute disaster right now.

I have very little time today, but I want to point to you to an MSnbc site with the list of some organizations that may help in the disaster there now.

Please, go here if you want to contribute.

Else, I know a photographer who often goes to Haiti and she helps children there, but it is on her own with the organizations she knows in the area, so you would have to trust her. I do.

If you want to help through her, go here. The money will be used in the middle term, but it will certainly be well employed, every cent of it.

She is the winner of a very well known Unicef photography contest I posted about some months earlier. Take a look HERE

Haiti is many times poorer than Venezuela or any Latin American country. Still, there are common things there, things we need to think about, things regarding sustainable development, independence and education. I will discuss them when I have more time.

Most Haitians now don't even have this:

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

New Way of Promoting Exports

Firstly the context: Our president devalued the Bolívar way too late (we have demanded that for a long time) and in a very clumsy fashion, with a dual but corruption-prone improvised system of 2.3Bs per $ for health and food imports, 4.3 for all the rest. He did it because he desperately needs cash to win the September elections for the National Assembly, which is now almost all pro-government. Hugo says now he wants to help exporters and support Venezuela's diversification, something we and many other Venezuelans have demanded at least since 1937. I wonder how he wants to do that when his government puts so many hurdles on the path of people trying to export, demand higher and higher illegal payments to give permits for export and on top of that declares the private industry people are a bunch of thieves and they are needed but only in the transitional period toward a state socialism.

And now the pearl: our minister of "Popular Power for Trade", Eduardo Samán, in red, on the left picture (on the right you have Trotsky, who doesn't have anything to do with this post), former teacher of farmacy and someone who according to the Social security never paid social contributions until he became an employee of this government at age 41, just announced he will implement a new idea:

This year the government plans to put in the Venezuelan market 60000 cars made in China and Iran at a price calculated at 2.60 Bs (instead of 4.30), which would "push" prices down.

"We will break the power of the parallel dollar because we plan to sell...more than 60000 cars , machine machines, refrigerators, dish washers, kitchens, television sets all brought at a 2.3 B/$ rate". So I was right about the refrigerators. I wonder if they will also distribute electronic mixers.

Now I want readers to explain to me why that is a great idea for promoting exports in a country that is getting deeper into recession than the rest and has the highest inflation rate of the Western hemisphere.

Enlighten me!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Venezuelans and their cargo cult

The Venezuelan government devalued the Bolivar two days ago. There was until then a fixed rate of Bs 2.1 per dollar. Now the government has set up a fixed dual system where imports for health and some other areas get a dollar at Bs. 2.6 and the rest at Bs 4.3

I wrote an article in Spanish here. I won't translate it, but here is some of what I wrote:

1) Venezuelans have practiced a cargo cult for many decades now, thinking their many imported gadgets are well deserved without thinking how much real value they have produced to get those gadgets, they haven't changed a wee bit
2) I have pleaded for years for the government to devalue the currency as the fixed value it had was too much, it was really killing the export sector and favouring the rich
3) I think the government acts way too late and without comprehensive plan. The government does not have a real project, it is just using the "as we go" way of management.
4) The government has not clarified whether exporters will be able to get sell their gained dollars at 3.6 (which is the way to go)
5) The government has just doubled the amount of bolívars it has for the Parliamentary campaign of 2010

And then:

6) the opposition has shown a ghastly response, with most spokespersons just talking about the incoming inflation and their horror that their travels abroad will be now much more expensive. Nobody has had the courage to say the Bolivar was very overvalued because nobody wanted to annoy their peers, who have been profiting from cheap travels abroad and nice flat TV screens that costs less than in any place in the world.

The inflation will go up, but as Quico said, the currency change is not the main factor to affect inflation this year. We will again have the highest inflation in the Western hemisphere and I am sure it will be over the 25% of last year (mind: in the middle of a recession).

I believe chavismo will now use the extra cash (it has nearly doubled the amount of local money) to massively import food and other goodies from Europe, from Argentina and Brazil and give it away at very low prices so that it can maximize its votes in September. I doubt very much there will be a real plan to use that money for sustainable development. I doubt the regime will use the opportunity to really promote the exporting industry, even if Hugo is just discovering the importance to get off the oil dependency, something I thought most of us learnt during primary school time. If we started to have a burgeoning exporting sector, chavismo would lose some power and that is something it definitely does not want. The Venezuelan regime does not want to be depending on exporters as the Kirchner mafia is in Argentina.

Meanwhile, most opposition leaders will be acting - a real tragedy - without cojones, just complaining about the government's mismanagement (they are right there), about the fact imports will be now very high, about the way the government improvises, but they will be unable to talk honestly to the people and say Venezuelans do need to make sacrificies. They will be unable to put forward a plan.

And while that is happening:

  1. The INE says 44.8% of the working force is active in the informal sectors. Basically, most of them are selling each other chinese toys and Peruvian panties, while the rest are cooking cachapas and empanadas for us all.
  2. Spain reports that Venezuelans are, after Paraguayans and Brazilians, the Latin Americans who are most likely to be rejected at immigration and sent back to their country. Venezuelans don't need a visa to visit the Shengen region, but some arrive without sufficient funds. This comes amid increased controls due to the worsened economic situation in Spain. Venezuela was a net importer of economic refugees from Spain for many decades. Since the eighties things changed and more and more Venezuelans have been leaving for Europe. 1338 out of 8200 persons with a Venezuelan passport were prevented from entering Spain in 2009. Of course, we know many thousand Venezuelans enter Spain with their Spanish passes, mostly people whose parents or grandparents were Spanish immigrants to Venezuela. This is a sad development and shows how more Venezuelans want to leave their country.

More than one in eight is sent back

Friday, 8 January 2010

Socialist Volkswagen

We are, like every year since 1998, on election time and so the government has declared that it is selling socialist cars!

Yes! We have "socialist" cars. Most of them are red, but you also find some white and grey cars. They are Volkswagen (or Wolksvagen, as the site says) assembled by the Argentinians or refurnished French cars (Turpial and others) assembled by the Iranians. As the government propaganda site says, the government is selling those "socialist cars" for up to 50% of the current market price in Venezuela. The new cars costs "only" 63000 Bolívares, which is around € 20501 at official exchange rates, so you do the maths to find out what Venezuela's prices are right now. Mind: a school teacher in Venezuela earns less than €500 a month.

Last year Venezuela's GDP fell by over 2.5%. Oil exports went down a lot and non-oil exports, which are just a tiny source of Venezuela's income, fell even further.

If you speak Spanish you can go through the comments of chavistas in that governmental site. You will find a lot of what is wrong with Venezuela: cargo cult mentality, pseudo-ideologies based on a complete ignorance of economics, history and geopolitics, parasite behaviour nurtured by so many decades of petrodollars without quality education for the people, an economy that is driven by killing all our golden chickens.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Venezuela's military infatuation

Chávez riding behind Bolívar (this is no photoshop, picture comes from a governmental office)

José Tadeo Monagas

José Antonio Páez

I was born in a Venezuela economists used to call "Venezuela saudita", a third world country awashed in petrodollars. It was a democracy, even if it was a highly dysfunctional one. Some areas looked like other poor areas of America, some little places like Africa and others like Europe and all this in a distinctly tropical and subtropical nature. Back then and well into the years of increasing economic decline in the late eighties I used to think that even if Venezuela was very corrupt, dangerously dependent on oil and going towards a crisis, we were inmune to the worst ills of Latin American countries: military dictatorships and civil wars.

South America in the late seventies (in red: military regimes either in full form as in Argentina, Uruguay or Chile or in some sort of military "transition" as in Peru and Brazil):

Our presidents were mostly lawyers and physicians, even if they often looked more like dishonest cowboys. There were many immigrants from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other countries who arrived in Venezuela escaping from dictatorships. In each class from primary school to university there were at least a dozen sons or daughters of Spaniards, Portuguese or of Eastern European origin escaping from dictatorship. One of my best friends at high school was from Chile, another one was from Uruguay. I knew about Venezuela's past dictatorships because of what my parents would tell me: about how life was under Pérez Jiménez, the right-winged dictator Hugo Chávez admires, or about how my grandparents suffered during the Gómez dictatorship. It was only after the caracazo and specially in 1991 that I started to see the real military threat. People were fed up with the corrupt democracy we had and started to long for "those times when streets were secure and there were big constructions and less poverty". Already at the end of 1991 I remember how a good friend of mine and I were discussing when a coup may happen. We rejected any such action but we knew it was in the making. We were sure it would come on the first quarter of 1992. We did not know it out of some relationship with the military, we had none. We were just reading the signs on the wall. We were, unfortunately, very right: on 4 February there was the first bloody coup in many decades, led by our current president. In November, there was another even bloodier coup attempt.

Still, I did not realise to what extend Venezuelans always had been prisoners of our long-standing infatuation with the military. I did not know how we were bound to repeat history because of the general ignorance Venezuelans have of it.

I always knew the Bolívar cult was over the top, but it was something I found rather kitsch and nothing more. I appreciated the good things Bolívar did or was supposed to have done and I thought the cult was something that did not really hurt, like some non-extremist religion. Every visitor to Venezuela has seen it: the omnipresent cult to Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan who played a key role in the Independence war in South America. The highest peak, the largest state, the main avenues and squares in every city or town, countless institutions, the main airport and the currency are some of the many things called after him. Bolívar's name is everywhere. The admiration for Bolívar is not only in Venezuela, but in Venezuela the name is so often used that it can get confusing.

There was a hat called "Bolívar" in Europe in the XIX century, a hat liberals would wear. Bolívar was definitely admired everywhere in the Americas and Europe and the many places - towns, streets, squares - called after him are a proof of this. People saw not just his opposition against the Spanish imperialism, but against slavery, against oppression of the Native Americans. It helped a lot that Bolívar died still in his forties.

Still, the cult for Bolívar's has been above all a Venezuelan disease. Bolívar rejected the title of a king, but he wanted to be president for life. He declared he only aspired to have the title "Liberator of Venezuela", as if Venezuela's independence would have been inconceivable without him. I won't get into the dark parts of Bolívar's role here, but will go more into the instrumentalization of his memory and that of the other military of his time in Venezuela's history*.

Once the country became independent, the military who fought in the wars claimed special rights for themselves, as "próceres", as the ones who had fought with the "Libertador". One of our first presidents, who was not a military, physician Vargas, had to resign after much pressure from the military demanding more power. Most of Venezuela's heads of states after that and until 1958 were military or the puppets of military.

Almost every single president since the Independence declared himself a "Bolivarian", whatever that would mean for the time. As historian Manual Caballero said in his "Por qué no soy Bolivariano" (Why I am not a Bolivarian), caudillo Monagas declared himself a "revolutionary", promoted special rights for the military (something the current president has done as well in indirect ways), claimed to revive the Gran Colombia and placed many relatives on top positions in the government, just as our current president. And he was thrown out of the presidential palace in 1858 by people shouting "Death to the thieves". Several dictators were particularly active in cultivating the Bolívar cult but two used this new religion with particular zeal: Guzmán Blanco and Juan Vicente Gómez. Bolívar became some sort of demi-God and anyone associating himself with Bolívar became protected by this divinity.

Gómez in 1934

History books everywhere the world, specially in schools, tend to glorify the national past or at least a part of it. Still, those in Venezuela have been particularly focused on the Independence time. It hasn't helped that many of them were written mostly by people who were anything but professional historians. It did not help that Venezuelans for many reasons always tended to have an abysmal knowledge of history.

Humboldt was on a related topic when he wrote:

"Native Americans kept their language, their national dress and their national character...[but] through the introduction of christianity and other circumstances I analyse elsewhere, historical and religious heritage progressively became lost. On the other side the settler of European origin looks down upon anything that refers to the dominated nations. He sees himself in the middle between the ancient history of the motherland and the one of his birth country and he is as indifferent to one as to the other; in a climate where the small difference between seasons makes the passing of the years almost unnoticeable he only thinks about enjoying the present and he seldom looks back at the past".

"Der Eingeborene hat seine Sprache, seine Tracht und seinen Volkscharakter behalten..durch die Einführung des Christentums und andere Umstände, die ich anderswo auseinander gesetzt, sind die geschichtlichen und religiösen Ueberlieferungen allmählich untergegangen. Andererseits sieht der Ansiedler von europäischer Abkunft verächtlich auf alles herab, was sich auf die unterworfenen Völker bezieht. Er sieht sich in die Mitte gestellt zwischen die frühere Geschichte des Mutterlandes und die seines Geburtslandes, und die eine ist ihm so gleichgültig wie die andere; in einem Klima, wo bei dem geringen Unterschied der Jahreszeiten der Ablauf der Jahre fast unmerklich wird, überläßt er sich ganz dem Genusses der Gegenwart und wirft selten einen Blick in Vergangene Zeiten."

The native American, the European and the African slave all merged into the average Venezuelan of today, but we still show either a complete disdain for history or love for one part of it, the part we identify ourselves most with. You will find most Venezuelans with some education know Bolivar's birthday and death anniversary and they can quote Bolívar for this or that. Most of them would not know in what century the Europeans arrived in Venezuela or what reactionary tendencies Bolívar had. They would not know a lot of very basic stuff about world history and Venezuela's link to it all.

That is how Chávez can say now all Indians were socialists and equal and most of his followers believe it (see this video in Spanish from from 4:00 or before) or that we are mostly a native American and African-American nation (the European part supposedly being mostly that of the opposition, see my posts on genetics). That is also why some very racist right wingers paint European conquistadores in such rosy terms and still use the term "indio" as an insult, probably not even knowing most of us are both of European and native American origin, if not also sub-Saharan.

It is in that framework that Venezuelans have evolved. As the economic situation of a nation highly addicted to petrodollars deteriorated in the eighties and nineties, a group of military pretending to defend some nebulous Bolívar heritage prepared the bloody coups of 1992.

Hugo Chávez has taken the Bolívar cult to new heights. He needs to do that. He single-handedly renamed Venezuela in 1999 by adding the "Bolivarian" adjective, even if the approved constitutional draft had taken away that proposal of his. His movement is naming the most spurious organizations or events "Bolivarianos". Never mind their image of what Bolívar thought at any given time is rather distorted.

Now take a look at these maps. In the first one you see Venezuela's states. The largest state , in cyan, is called Bolívar. The states in red have been called after military honchos from the times of the Independence movement.

The following map shows Venezuela's municipalities. Municipalities in cyan are called Bolívar or Simón Bolívar. Municipalities in dark blue are called Libertador (referring, of course, to Bolívar). Those in red are called after military who fought in the Independence war. The ones in yellow are called after other military. Here you can see how things are in Colombia: although our neighbours also have some areas called after military, the ratio is lower. The same goes with other countries I am aware of. As you may suspect, we have some issues with the military. We have the Bolívar syndrome.

President Time in power remark Profession
Cristóbal Mendoza, Juan Escalona and Baltasar Padrón 1811-1812
Lawyer / Military/ Big landowner * Respectively
Francisco de Miranda 1812
Simón Bolívar 1813-1814
José Antonio Páez 1830- 1835
Andrés Narvarte 1835-1835
Lawer / Politician
José María Vargas 1835-1836
Physician, Scientist,Professor
Andrés Narvarte 1836-1837
Lawyer / Politician
José María Carreño 1837-1837
Carlos Soublette 1837-1839
José Antonio Páez 1839-1843
Carlos Soublette 1843-1847
José Tadeo Monagas 1847-1851
José Gregorio Monagas 1851-1855
José Tadeo Monagas 1855-1858
Pedro Gual Escandon 1858-1858
Lawer / Politician
Julián Castro 1858-1859 coup Military
Pedro Gual Escandon 1859-1859
Lawyer / Politician
Manuel Felipe Tovar 1859-1861 coup Politician
Pedro Gual Escandon 1861-1861
Lawyer / Politician
José Antonio Páez 1861-1863
Juan Crisóstomo Falcón 1863 - 1868 war Military
Manuel Ezequiel Bruzual 1868-1868
Guillermo Tell Villegas 1868-1869
Lawyer and military
José Ruperto Monagas 1869-1870 war Military
Guillermo Tell Villegas 1870-1870
Lawyer/ Military
Antonio Guzmán Blanco 1870-1877 war Lawyer /Military
Francisco Linares Alcántara 1877-1878
José Gregorio Varela 1878-1879
Military / Politician
Antonio Guzmán Blanco 1879-1884
Lawyer /Military
Joaquín Sinforiano de Jesús Crespo 1884-1886
Antonio Guzmán Blanco 1886-1887
Lawyer /Military
Hermógenes López 1887 - 1888
Juan Pablo Rojas Paúl 1888 - 1890
Raimundo Andueza Palacio 1890-1892
Guillermo Tell Villegas 1892-1892
Lawyer and Military
Joaquín Sinforiano de Jesús Crespo 1892-1894 war Military
Ignacio Andrade 1898-1899
Cipriano Castro Ruiz 1899-1908 coup Military
Juan Vicente Gómez 1908-1914 coup Military
Jose Gil Fortoul (Gomez puppet) 1914-1915
Victorino Márquez Bustillos (Gómez puppet) 1915-1922
Lawyer / Politician
Juan Vicente Gómez 1922-1929
Juan Bautista Pérez (Gómez puppet) 30 de mayo de 1929 -
13 de junio de 1931

Lawyer /judge
Juan Vicente Gómez 13 de junio de 1931 -
17 de diciembre de 1935

Eleazar López Contreras 17 de diciembre de 1935 -
5 de mayo de 1941

Isaías Medina Angarita 5 de mayo de 1941 -
18 de octubre de 1945

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello 18 de octubre de 1945 -
17 de febrero de 1948
coup Politician
Rómulo Gallegos Freire 17 de febrero de 1948 -
24 de noviembre de 1948

Carlos Delgado Chalbaud 24 de noviembre de 1948 -
27 de noviembre de 1950
coup Military
Germán Suárez Flamerich 27 de noviembre de 1950 -
2 de diciembre de 1952
transition by coupsters Lawyer
Marcos Pérez Jiménez 2 de diciembre de 1952 -
23 de enero de 1958
coup Military/Engineer
Wolfgang Larrazábal 23 de enero de 1958 -
14 de noviembre de 1958
coup Military
Edgar Sanabria 14 de noviembre de 1958 -
13 de febrero de 1959

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello 13 de febrero de 1959 -
13 de marzo de 1964

Raúl Leoni Otero 13 de marzo de 1964 -
11 de marzo de 1969

Rafael Caldera Rodríguez 11 de marzo de 1969 -
12 de marzo de 1974

Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez 12 de marzo de 1974 -
12 de marzo de 1979

Luis Herrera Campins 12 de marzo de 1979 -
2 de febrero de 1984

Jaime Lusinchi 2 de febrero de 1984 -
2 de febrero de 1989

Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez 2 de febrero de 1989 -
21 de mayo de 1993

Octavio Lepage 21 de mayo de 1993 -
5 de junio de 1993

Ramón José Velásquez 5 de junio de 1993 -
2 de febrero de 1994

Writer, historian
Rafael Caldera Rodríguez 2 de febrero de 1994 -
2 de febrero de 1999

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías 2 de febrero de 1999 -
10 de enero de 2001
(elected, but former coupster) Military

Pedro Carmona Estanga 12 de abril de 2002-
13 de abril de 2002
(2 días)
coup Economist
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías 13 de abril de 2002 - 10 de enero de 2013

Worth reading if you speak Spanish: Por qué no soy bolivariano: ISBN 10: 9803541994
Also worth reading is what Karl Marx, the heroe of virtually every communist, wrote about Bolívar. Although the truth is probably in the middle, you have to read Marx's view on the Venezuelan figure here.