Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ist der venezolanische Caudillo todkrank? (denn die Toten reiten schnell)

Meiner Meinung nach: es ist völlig egal. Ihr könnt Daniels Meinung hier lesen. Ich bin mit ihm völlig einverstanden. Seit 1999 hörten wir zumindest 3 mal im Jahr, dass es Mordanschläge gegen Chávez ("magnicidio") geben soll. Da diese Meldungen so langweilig wurden, benutzt man jetzt die echte oder imaginäre Krankheit des Caudillos, um Mitleid hervorzurufen.

Das ganze ist eine Seifenoper, wie so üblich in Venezuela.

Die Militärregierung hat nun die Reederei, die die Fähre zwischen Margarita und dem Festland betreibt, enteignet. Warum? Die Regierung behauptet, man hätte Kundenbeschwerde bekommen. Was ist wirklich geschehen? Wahrscheinlich wollen die Militärs eine bessere Kontrolle der Insel. Wieso nur?

Just some groovy music

It's not from Venezuela, but from Senegal: Baobab. The Senegalese music was greatly influenced by Caribbean music (mainly Cuban, but not only), which in turn was the product of African music with an European touch.

I had the privilege to talk to a couple of these musicians. They are not just brilliant but also extremely friendly.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Caracas or Venezuela, 5 thousand or 17 thousand murders, whatever


Here you see a BBC video on Caracas' crime. The BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby (which I wrongly took for Will Grant) goes around with the Caracas policemen in one of their night patrols.

At the beginning of the video Dimbleby says there has been over 17000 murders in Caracas last year. In reality the number should be for all of Venezuela. This blog has a lot of posts about crime. I know the level of violence and lawlessness in Venezuela just horrible. Still, I find it is a real pity a journalist from such an organisation as BBC juggles in such a careless way with numbers.

If you want to see a more careful report on crime in Venezuela, you can check out an old post by Rory Carroll, who did deliver a good picture and a more in-depth analysis. Rory used the low range (14000 plus) but he correctly refers to the country, to the city, to ratios and to the fact stats in Venezuela are usually a mess. Perhaps the journalists from the BBC could learn a bit from him.

Ps. I still find it annoying they don't send a BBC journalist who speaks some Spanish. After all, Spanish is the second or third most widely spoken language on Earth...and it is not as if Spanish were so hard to learn for someone whose mother tongue is also Indo-European.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Venezuela at the end of 2011

The situation

Venezuela is not getting the money it should get from the the oil industry because PDVSA is in bad shape, corruption keeps growing and the president, who rules Venezuela as if it were his personal farm, is ill...or terminaly ill, or faking to be ill, depending on whom you ask.

We read that Akhmadinejad is not coming to Venezuela because Chávez is too ill (his chancellor, Maduro, said it is "waiting a few weeks for the completion of the healing programme".

The country is experiences protests everywhere. People protest and often don't know what their ultimate plan is. They want the State to help. Sometimes they want security, which is very much their right. Sometimes they want help in social housing, which is very much fair. Sometimes they want houses for free, which is not stupid and can only be possible in a place where most follow a cargo cult. Sometimes they want the government to improve their conditions that deteriorated after some of them asked the government to privatize their companies. Sometimes they are fed up of the way in which health services are collapsing. A lot are angry because blackouts and general electricity shortages are our daily bread. People close streets everywhere, burn tyres, make a lot of noise and the ones who suffer the most are other civilians. The mood is bad. The honchos in power are fine.

Daniel wrote about how the government wants now to limit profit in Venezuela to 10% while that same government is overpaying Nicaraguan and Iranian and Chinese exporters for political reasons. Inflation is almost 30%.The IMF predicts GDP growth of 2.7% and the Venezuelan government annouced that as a big achievement, but that is only because most people don't know how to interpret GDP growth. Venezuela has a population growth that is almost 2%, it has had over 15% more revenues due to higher oil prices since 2010, it is the slowest growing country in South America. You can't compare 2.7% of Venezuela with 1% for Germany.

The Forecast

What can you expect in the coming three months?

A lot depends on Chávez's real or perceived health status. Beyond that, we can expect the following:
1) the Chávez honchos are again increasing the personality cult around Chávez. This will reach even more mental levels in the coming months.
2) more money will flow from Fonden and other state resources to the Chávez campaign.
3) the regime will put more efforts on trying to use Leopoldo López to divide the alternative forces.

At the same time we will see an increase in the competition between the different pre-candidates for the opposition. If this is carried out in a fair manner, it could benefit democracy in Venezuela. If not, obviously, we will have more military government to come.

Expect Russia and China to meddle more and more in Venezuela's affairs. Venezuela means too easy money for them. The Chinese can become more flexible when it comes to accepting a regime change. The Russians know they will lose one of their best buyer of weapons. As the CEO of Rosobonexport, Anatolii Isaikin, declared, Venezuela was one of the five countries on which the Russian merchants of war count, together with huge China, India plus Algeria and Vietnam.

I take this picture from Miguel's you see Venezuelan chancellor in a "mass" organized in Mannhattan to pray for the caudillo's health

Monday, 19 September 2011

Education for Venezuela, the Miranda model

I have to say Henrique Capriles' efforts on education are starting to pay off. Whereas the military government in Venezuela is focusing on buying weapons, Capriles, who is a candidate for the 2012 presidential elections and current governor of Miranda, has been concentrating on improving schools in his region. It hasn't been an easy job, specially as the national government has been sabotaging all it can.

I have been personally involved in promoting the PISA programme in Venezuela. The Chávez government has ignored repeated calls to bring Venezuela to PISA as this would bring quite some transparency to Venezuela. It has been a frustrating thing to try to convince Chávez functionaries about allowing an open debate and research on education quality. The Miranda government, on the other hand, decided to meet the challenge and let pupils from Miranda take part in this international evaluation programme, just as most other American countries and other nations are doing.

Very soon we will get the results for Miranda's pupils. I imagine the initial results will be poor, but this is no surprise as Venezuelans' school levels were among the lowest in Latin America in 1998. The very low education levels in Venezuela were one of the main reasons, together with the oil price cycle, why the military came back to rule Venezuela in the first place. But now there is a new development. Very soon we will see how the central Venezuelan region of Miranda compares with the rest of the world...and we can build upon that and very soon all Venezuelan pupils will also join the PISA project.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Mountain of Life

In the Northwestern part of Amazonas State, not far from the Orinoco, you can visit the Autana mountain or Mountain of Life. The mountain is made up mostly of horizontal sandstone shields, mixed with karst, which is quite a strange thing, as karst shows up mostly in limestone formations.

The Autana rises only 1250 metres above sea level, but it looks pretty impressive as the jungle around is rather flat. This is the beginning of the amazing Guayana shield, which stretches for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres towards the East. To the West and North, going over the Orinoco, you have lands that belong to the Llanos. 

The Piaroas are some of the main native American groups still living in this area. They speak a language that is completely unrelated to any other language but one.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Der Interamerikanische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte und Venezuela

Der Lateinamerikanische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte hat sein Urteil bekannt gemacht: die Chávez-Regierung darf Leopoldo López seine politischen Rechte nicht mehr entziehen. Leopoldo López darf bei den 2012-Wahlen kandidieren - wenn die Chávez-Regierung internationale Menschenrechtsnormen respektiert. Schon davor hatte die Chávez-Regierung und die Richter des von ihr abhängigen Obergerichtshofs erklärt, dass sie darauf pfeiffen. Es stellt sich die Frage, ob sich Chavistas wirklich weiter isolieren wollen.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Venezuelas Gold und Chavez' Hände

Der Spiegel berichtet auch über den Wunsch des venezolanischen Caudillos, das Gold des Landes so schnell wie möglich zurück nach Venezuela zu transportieren. Leider hat Spiegel sehr wenig Lust, über Venezuela zu recherchieren und beschränkt sich darauf, als Grund für die Aktion nur das zu zitieren, was der Präsident der Zentralbank, Nelson Merentes, sagt. Dem venezolanischen Beamten zufolge, will die Regierung Venezuela unabhängiger vom Erdöl machen - wirklich- und die Wirtschaft mit den Erlösen (des Goldverkaufs) breiter aufstellen.

Die Leute beim Spiegel haben anscheinend nicht darüber nachgedacht, dass Venezuela mittlerweile nicht 10%, 20%, nicht 50%, sondern über 600% mehr Geld bekommt hat als 1998 und zwar aufgrund der höheren Erdölpreise. Sind Teile dieser Zusatzeinnahmen nicht genug, um zu investieren? Nein, denn das Meiste wird einfach verschwendet wird und nur einige Milliarden werden in Sozialprogrammen, die wiederum leider keine Nachhaltigkeit aufweisen. Die Militärregierung (movimiento cívico militar, wie Chávez sie nennt) ist so korrupt, dass die erhöhten Erdöleinnahmen nicht mehr genug sind, um überhaupt die Wirtschaft wachsen zu lassen, geschweige denn zu diversifizieren.

Chávez hatte im Jahr 2009 bei Hard Talk über die niedrigen Erdölpreise des Landes als Grund für die Rezession erwähnt. In Wirklichkeit waren die "niedrigen" Preise nur ein lokales Minimum. Die Regierung bekam viel mehr Geld als in jedem der 13 Jahren vor Chávez Amtsantritt.

Miguel hat schon viel über den FONDEN, den Entwicklungsfonds Venezuelas gesprochen. Anscheinend haben wir wirklich mit einer Affaire zu tun, die an Mobutu erinnert. Wenn Du Englisch lesen kannst, musst Du Miguels Seiten besuchen.

Chávez braucht das Gold, um wieder gewählt zu werden. So einfach ist das. Die Petrodollars, findet er, könnten nicht genug sein. Gold kann man schnell verkaufen. Viel vom Erdöl ist schon an die Chinesen verpacht oder nur in einigen Jahren erreichbar. Chávez kann auch den Tipp von Gaddafi bekommen haben: mit Gold kannst Du den Kampf weiter führen, so oder so.

Hauptfeldwebel Mobutu, rolle model für Venezuela? Oder eher Gaddafi?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Venezuelas Opposition im September 2011

Henrique Capriles hat bis jetzt die besten Chancen.  Andrés Velázquez, Führer der Linkspartei Causa R und einer der wichtigsten Politiker im Bundesstaat Bolívar, hat seine Unterstützung für Capriles erklärt. Dies ist sehr aussagekräftig, denn Velázquez kann vieles in Bolívar erreichen. Er hat hinter sich auch viele Arbeiter.

In einigen Tagen werden wir erfahren, was für ein Urteil der Interamerikanische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte über einen anderen der Präkandidaten, Leopoldo López, gefällt hat. Die Chávez-Regierung hat ihm seine politischen Rechte entzogen. Wenn der Gerichthof die Anklage López unterstützt, muss die gegenwärtige Regierung erkennen, dass López kandidieren darf. Das Problem ist, dass diese Regierung alles unternehmen wird, um immer an der Macht zu bleiben und López ist Konkurrenz. Schon jetzt hat die Richterin Luisa Estella Morales, regierungstreue Leiterin des Chávez-Obergerichtshofs, erklärt, dass die Regierung das Urteil nicht respektieren wird.

Es gibt noch andere Präkandidaten für die Opposition, die meisten haben aber gar keine Chance und man wundert sich, warum sie überhauot erscheinen. 

Acción Democrática, eine der sozialdemokratischen Parteien Venezuelas, hat in Barinas, in den Llanos, eine Veranstaltung organisiert. Acción Democrática hat seit Jahrzehnten viel Respekt und Wähler verloren. Die Partei ist aber immer noch wichtig in diesen Regionen. Der Gouverneur in Barinas ist Chávez' Bruder. Er hat anscheinend die Chávez-Geheimpolizei, SEBIN, zur Veranstaltung abgeschicht, um alles beobachten und die Anwesenden zu fotographieren. Die alternativen Partei müssen mehr davon erwarten.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Caracas's really getting hotter

Alexander von Humboldt wrote in the early XIX century about Caracas' benign temperatures. Back then the saying "Caracas has an eternal spring" was already old and von Humboldt mentioned it as a common place back then. That common place was still used in the eighties of the XX century. 

At the end of the XVI century wheat was grown in the Caracas Valley and exported to Cartagena de Indias and other Spanish harbours of the Caribbean where Spanish soldiers wanted to have their daily wheat-based bread and were still not used to our arepas or tamales. Wheat exports were so important that they became the economic motor of central Venezuela for a couple of decades and contributed to secure Caracas' role as main city in the Province of Venezuela.

Wheat exports collapsed in the XVII century due to competition from areas with more favourable climates.  Cocoa and later coffee took over as Venezuelan main exports, but still, people kept growing wheat around Caracas for quite some time, something few Caraquenos would imagine possible now and not only because the whole valley is chock-a-block with cement and metal.
Caracas in 1839

A German by the name of Otto Bürger wrote in the early XX century a book about Venezuela, "Venezuela; ein Führer durch das Land und seine Wirtschaft". The book was published in 1922 and you can find a lot of fascinating data there.

I took from there data on mean temperature for Caracas according to the Cagigal Centre and compared those temperatures to the mean temperatures now. The average yearly temperature in the Cagigal weather centre  in the early part of the XX century was 19.7 C° and it is 23.1C° now. That's quite a difference.

Caracas had about 92200 inhabitants in 1922. Venezuela's capital has over 3, 4 or 5 million people. The numbers vary widely depending on how each person defines Caracas borders.

Anyway: the destruction of forests and increased human activity in the Caracas Valley have undoubtedly been the main factors for the temperature rise. Of course, there is more to it, as the vast majority of scientists will recognise today.

The vast majority of aereal pictures you will see of Caracas online are from areas that were not urban 80 years ago.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Two beautiful whistle blowers

After this post, reporter Steven Bodzin sent us this very beautiful picture of a whistling heron and a Great Blue heron (or something else). The birds were having lunch in the Venezuelan islands of Los Roques. I don't want to promote Los Roques too much because I think there should be less flights to that tiny archipelago and less rubbish pouring in from boats and permanent dwellers. I hope these birds and other species can see less of us...even if we want to see more of them. If you speak Cervantes' language, you can read in El Universal of last month about how Los Roques chokes in human rubbish.

Thanks, Steven.

Palestina, nationhood and US double standards

Palestinians want to finally declare their independence and they should do so. Unfortunately, the US government will try to do anything it can to oppose it.

Washington has repeatedly declared Palestine could not do this unilateraly, even if what Palestine is trying to do now is what Israel did 63 years ago. The US Americans ask for "patience", even if Palestine's lands get cut into pieces every day, sliced with beton walls to protect Israeli settlements that have appeared in the last couple of decades in occupied territory. And while the Israelis - through a clever management of their U.S. ties - want to put off any independence by the Palestinians, they keep on carrying out ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Territories (1, 23 and so much more). 

What U.S. politicians and above all a large part of U.S. and British society don't grasp is that their inconditional, out-of-this-world support for a extremist Israeli position is ultimately detrimental not only to Palestinians but to U.S. and British interest. They are isolated themselves and creating yet more rejection from the rest of the world. Curiously, there is a much more open debate in Israel about how to behave towards the Palestinian question than in the U.S. People in the U.S. are afraid to be called terrorist supporter or the like if they utter a fraction of the things a lot of people in Israel can discuss about the Israeli policies.

The Israeli lobby will call anyone who wants an open debate on this "anti-Semite". No discussion, no, no, no. The Israeli lobby is not a single organisation but different interest groups, from religious or non-religious Zionists to liberals to staunch evangelical Christians who think their support will bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth. Still, it can lobby is extremely effective.

In 1948 the Jews got their independent state and not precisely by continuous negotiations with the Arabs. The Israelis had a terrorist organisation, Irgun, that murdered quite a lot of innocent people, including quite a lot of Britons. Irgun was absorbed by the Israeli military when the 1948 war broke out. Some of the terrorist leaders of Irgun became great leaders of Israel. One of them was Menachem Begin, after whom the main Israel airport and much more were called. The terrorist actions were not perpetrated by Irgun alone, though. There were quite a lot of actions the Israeli army carried out which were nothing but - here you have the word- war crimes. We don't talk about "colateral damage" but completely unnecessary, premediated and very lethal actions against civilians. Even people like Menachem Begin talked about them (more afterwards). Almost every other army in the world has carried out such atrocities, but somehow the Israeli lobby wants you to think the Israeli one is really more kosher than the rest. It is not. Not a single bit.

If you want to learn more details about that, don't let yourself be put down by people who warn you not to read sources they don't like, even if those sources were praised "by Bin Laden himself". Read, for example, The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy or what Israeli historians such as Tom Segev have written.
"Don't read this, Bin Laden praised it!"

If you want to learn about that, don't just read a fiction book like Exodus (I did, as a child and Israel's official position definitely looked much more romantic there).Start to take part in an open debate.

I fear in the coming weeks some vested interests are going to try to organise quite nasty actions to prevent Palestinians from doing exactly what the Israelis did many many decades ago.

Palestinians have as much right to that land as Jews. It is in the interest of the U.S., of the U.K. and of the whole world to support them.

On a not-so-unrelated issue about kosher, read this.