Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ideas for Venezuela: what about transparency? The Access to Information Act

Take a look at this BBC article on the Access to Information Act. That legislation will enshrine in the Brazilian constitution the right of citizens to request information from public officials on their administration and to receive prompt response. The article also contains some references to new movements that promote transparency elsewhere, particularly in the EU.

As Edward Eastwick, an English visitor to dilapidated Venezuela during the aftermath of the Federal War wrote, the main problem in my country is not the lack of law but the absolute disregard of it. Back then a Venezuelan told him the reasons and the possible solutions to overcome that mess: education and more education. And yet we keep talking about education today and things haven't changed. Education became a senseless mantra. Education improved somewhat in the XX century, but it became diluted. Old habits never died: education for most people became more rote learning than ever, non-actionable data to be wasted after a few years. And people just got used to think Venezuela is what it is: corruption and dependency on oil is here to stay.

How can we overcome this? Is it possible at all or will Venezuela become more and more the failed state living off oil until the next energy age?

The Chávez government, we have seen this already, is absolutely reluctant to allow Venezuela to take part in transparency mechanisms such as the PISA programme on education measurement. The military caudillo in power is resolute to avoid any public debate - when Peruvian writer challenged him to a debate, Chávez said he, Chávez, "was just a soldier", later to say he would only participate in a debate if his "intellectuals" - sycophants like Britto García, and others also take part in it - i.e. he would stand behind them.

What can the democratic movement do?

Venezuela's resources for the military regime and its honchos

  • We need to keep challenging the caudillo time after time to have an open, fair series of debates between him and the elected candidate from February's elections - no parallel monologues.
  • We need to distribute information across the secondary cities of Venezuela about how other countries implement transparency measures and what they are doing right now to improve transparency and accountability.
  • We have to distribute information about how the government is misusing the unprecedented petrodollar stream (not even the seventies come close to it). This last part is a hard task. You cannot just go on a TV channel that can only be watched by 30% of the population and start throwing numbers at people. You need to go to them and explain things in a very visual way.

Those are some of the things we need to do next year.

And I wish you a successful 2012 to you all!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Venezuelan genes continued

A couple of months ago a new paper on population genetics on Venezuela appeared: "A Melting Pot of Multicontinental mtDNA Lineages in Admixed Venezuelans", by Gómez Caraballo et alia. The work has very fascinating insights into our genetic structure. Still, I have some questions about the general method.
You get these mitochondria from your mum alone

Scientists used data from Caracas and Pueblo Llano mainly to determine how the native American component was reflected in both groups. The assumption was that new flows of immigrants to Caracas had displaced the Amerindian element there whereas this element would be much stronger in the countryside. Pueblo Llano is a very isolated village in the lowlands of the otherwise very mountainous Mérida state. 

I have reported in a couple of previous posts how we Venezuelans are mostly European from the "extreme" paternal side (father's father's father's...) and "mostly" native American from the "maternal" side (mother's mother's mother's), with African American on both sides as well (but less so in general). This study didn't show otherwise, but it focused on the native American part. This is all relative: you can have an African American mtDNA and your mother can look very European and you can have an European Y haplogroup and your dad looks more African or native American (the last one being much less the case in Venezuela, as male Indians were basically out-bred).

Of the 199 samples from Pueblo Llano 177 persons had native American, 8 African American (4%) and 14 European (6%) haplogroups. The native American component in Pueblo Llano is stronger than in Caracas. This is not surprising. The African American component in Pueblo Llano was much smaller than in Caracas, where 20% had African haplotypes. This is not surprising either, we from history: there were more African slaves close to and in Caracas than in the Llanos or Andean regions.

There are more interesting things: they discovered new haplotypes of the native American A and B mtDNA haplogroups. They also confirmed the A2 clade is predominant in the Pueblo Llano area, just as in Caracas...but unlike in two studies carried out on the Yanomamö. The Yanomamö Indians have a completely different language from Caribs, who still inhabit some tiny regions in South Eastern and Eastern Venezuela and who occupied central and most of Northern central Venezuela when the Europeans arrived in 1498 and Arawaks, who still live in some areas in the Amazonas state as well as in Northwestern Zulia and who also occupied some other areas around current Coro. Their language is also quite different from that of the now extinct Timoto-Cuicas, who inhabited most of the Merida area but who rapidly merged with the Spanish settlers.

There is one item I don't find very academic. They write "native American mtDNA component is by far the most prevalent in present day urban Venezuelans (80%), whereas it is much more frequent in Pueblo Llano ( 90%) than in Caracas ( 65%)." The native American component as reflected by mtDNA is indeed clearly prevalent, but "urban Venezuela" cannot be deduced by simply by calculating the mean from the largest city in Venezuela by far and an extremely isolated area that is much smaller than the average Venezuelan town in the interior. Most Venezuelans (about 70% of the total population) live in cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants but less than one million. The population dynamics from the Eastern side of Mérida and the Western side and central valleys are also completely different from the dynamics in Bejuma or Margarita (even considering Margarita inhabitants with all grandparents born in the island). So: I think a more systematic approach needs to be taken in the future to determine "average populations".

Still, this study discovered a couple of new branches in the A and B maternal haplogroups. There is some material that adds to existing databases and that will help us in the future to establish possible migration routes for pre-Colombian South America. 

It would be great, among other things, to find the closest matches to the Yanomamö within the Americas and to carry out genetic studies on the Carib groups Pemon and Yekwana to see how distant they are, both by mtDNA and Y chromosome sequences. It could be also very interesting to examine further other groups, like the Arutani Sape, if it is not too late.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Chavicide timeline

In an effort to put a little bit of perspective to Venezuela's magic history, I decided to update the record of presumed attempts of assassination against the current president, Hugo Chávez. This is not an easy task. Mr Chávez has been in power since February 1999 and newspapers in Venezuela are not very systematic, to put it mildy, about keeping track of things. Still, I was able to find the major landmarks by trivial Internet search.

The red ovals show when the government in Venezuela or the one in Cuba announced about a major attempt against the life of Hugo Chávez. So far, no one has been jailed and I don't recall having seen any proof, but who am I to judge against the wind? 

I wrote in Spanish a reference to news articles about each of those announcements here.

The green lines show 1) when the bones of idolized Simón Bolívar were exhumed (July 2010) to find out if US president Andrew Jackson or his accomplices killed Bolívar all the way back in 1830 and 2) when results were announced (July 2011). These results were inconclusive - to say the least -, something Chávez did not like.

The last major announcement of a presumed assassination attempt against Chávez ("magnicidios") was last December and we had a couple of months of relative silence. Then the big drama came when Chávez announced he had cancer, then how he was fighting it and how he had completely recovered. Yesterday, though, the president hinted that cancer may have to do with a US plot against him and some of his president-friends who also have cancer.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cancer in South America (updated)

Chávez announced in the middle of this year that he had cancer (sort of announced it). The former head of state of Brazil, Lula, announced in October that he had throat cancer. The president of Paraguay went to hospital the same month because he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now we hear the president of Argentina has thyroid cancer.

What is it? Coincidence?

Now I get the news, with delay, that Chávez hinted the United States of America is behind it all

Now we know what we are going to hear in the next 10 months.

The price of life in Venezuela

The ONG Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia informs us there were about 19336 murders in Venezuela in 2011. That means a murder rate of about 66 murders per 100 000 inhabitants. It is about 38 in Colombia and 2 in Chile now. In 1998 Venezuelans were shocked at the murder rate they had: 19 x 100 000. Now half of them got completely used to it: they resent it, but they see is as Scots see the weather. Whereas East German professor Zeuske relativizes the increase in the murder rate (more on that in another post), right now Venezuela's got the highest murder rate in South America by far and that was not the case before Chávez. There was an increase in violence already after 1983, but that rate was still similar to the rate during the Gómez times, over 80 years ago (from about 10 to 19), and much lower than in other Latin American countries back then.

When Chávez announced he had cancer, he changed his slogan from "Fatherland, socialism or death" to "To live living" (sic). He kept tweeting "We will live, we will live" and similar things and his followers started to repeat his words like parrots. What they didn't notice: it's about his life.

What's the matter? What is quite special in Venezuela, as Kronick reports, is that the murder rate is not affecting Chávez in the polls: the poor, who are the most affected by violent crime, do not relate that crime with Chávez. I will go over the different hypothesis people have given to this phenomenon in a new post, next year. One of the key issues: risk perception.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Venezuela bleeding and the military caste buying more weapons

I stumbled upon a new article in the Russian press about the weapons industry in this year. A Russian magazine in that sector, ЦАМТО, produced some interesting statistics on the business of killing tools.

It lists the nations that spent the most in weapon imports in 2011. The top ten arms importers were the following:

  1. India
  2. United Arab Emirates
  3. Australia
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. South Korea
  6. Iraq
  7. USA (which is also the main exporter)
  8. Venezuela
  9. Turkey and
  10. Pakistan

    Top weapons' importers

    Above you can see a chart showing the amounts in million dollars. Venezuela, for instance, is sending $2,33 billion abroad in weapons. As the Russian news agency RIA says, Venezuela actually got into more than 4 billion dollars debt with Russia this year for weapons, so I assume part of the money will be technically spent next year.

    Some Chávez apologists try to justify this all saying military expenses get a bigger share of the national budget in the US than in Venezuela. I am not sure about that anymore. Most of the imports for this year are in the form of a debt to Russia that will probably be paid, as before, by means of the FONDEN, the Venezuelan Fund for Development or Chávez's Personal Piggy Bank, redirected through different obscure mechanisms. The budget for defence in Venezuela is thus just a part of what the government spends for the military caste and its amigos. 49,9% of shares in Moznabank, a bank to be used in buying weapons, was paid with money from FONDEN, as the Central Bank of the Russian Federation stated.

    Next year Venezuela's "explicit" defence budget is going to epresent 6.5% of the national budget, much more than this year. Some high ranking Chávez officials are very happy...and so is former KGB and Putin's pal Igor Sechin, who has seen to it a lot of the defence deals between Venezuela and Russia become a reality.

    The money for weapons is sent completely to other countries and does not generate investment in other technologies (not like the DARPA programme in the USA or similar programmes in Europe or China, Israel or Brazil).

    Venezuela should be spending that money in biologists and physicians, in farmers and police agents, in electronic engineers and in setting up research centres, in building real houses and real roads. It is instead spending it in the military structures that claim to be "revolutionary" and are just there to guarantee that Chávez clan remains in power.

    People anywhere have the right to criticise the US government for all its spending in defence -and I am one of those who do that, but we, Venezuelans, should be more than mad at our government, which is getting the country further away from sustainable development. 

    Igor Sechin, former KGB and now key man in the weapons business with Venezuela

    Big Brother or Fat Brother, same thing

    Our military caudillo, Hugo Chávez, sent a message of Merry Christmas to all Venezuelans with a mobile phone, whether they wanted or not, whether they had a service with the state phone company or not.

    On the right you can see the message:

    "Each December, during this time, we victoriously celebrate our unstoppable march to the Good And Beautiful Fatherland...
    full of happiness and justice and social equality.
    Merry Christmas, comrades. Hugo Chávez".

    Just creepy. There is no rule of law, there is no separation of powers. There is Hugo. As for happiness, take a look here. As for justice, go here,  here and here. As for social equality, take a look at the same links as for justice and this and this.

    Hat off to Ernex for the snapshot.

    Sunday, 25 December 2011

    Venezuela in 1830-1835 (updated)

    If you want to take a look at what Venezuela was almost 200 years ago, at least in the eyes of an Englishman, you can google and download for free "Reminiscences of South America, from two and a half years' residence in Venezuela" by John Hawkshaw.

    It's fun to read specially chapter X and XII. Pages 168-172, 218-219, 222-223 are particularly interesting.

    This was Caracas back then

    Monday, 19 December 2011

    Die venezolanische Regierung, Václav Havel und Kim Jong Il

    Ratet mal, wen die Chavez-Bonzen verehren!

    Gestern starb der tschechische Schriftsteller und Politiker Václav Havel. Er hatte öffentlich die Regierung des Militärs Chávez u.a. wegen der Festnahme des Oppositionspolitikers Oswaldo Álvarez Paz kritisiert. Die Chávez-Regierung hat nichts gesagt. Die Regierungspropagandamaschine hat den Tod zwar erwähnt, nichts aber von seiner Rolle als Dissident unter dem Sozialismus erzählt

    Heute starb Kim Jong-il, der nordkoreanische Diktator. Die Chávez-Regierung hat prompt einen Brief veröffentlicht, wo der venezolanische Caudillo sein Bedauern über den Tod des nordkoreanischen Führers ausdrückte. Chávez hatte vor einigen Jahren den Wunsch ausgedrückt, Nordkorea besuchen zu wollen, ob einfach nur, weil er halt auch zu diesem exotischen Ziel reisen oder halt die Gringos provozieren  wollten, wissen wir nicht. Einige seiner Minister hatten schon vorher ihre Verehrung für die nordkoreanische Regierung geäussert. Der Minister für Planung, Jorge Giordani, schrieb zum Beispiel im Jahr 1997, dass sich Nordkorea durch den Sozialismus zu einer starken Volkswirtschaft entwickelt hatte. Das war kurz vor einer der grössten Hungerkatastrophen des Landes.

    Nein, Venezuela ist noch keine Diktatur, genauso wenig wie Russland. In beiden Ländern kann man überall sagen, man sei in einer Diktatur. Wir wissen, dass man das in einer Diktatur gar nicht sagen darf. In Venezuela darf man immer noch sagen, Chávez sei autoritär. Venezuela ist also keine Diktatur. Es ist nur ein von einem lächelnden Autokrat geleiteter Zirkus, ohne Rechtsstaat.

    Sunday, 18 December 2011

    A great writer and statesman died

    Famous Czech writer Vaclav Havel died today.

    I had friends in Czechoslovakia during communist times and I got to know from very close how they were kept under opression, under fear. Their government told them how the world was supposed to look like.

    I kept hoping for them to be free one day. And then I followed with excitement when Czechs and Slovaks started to protest, to demand democracy, pluralism and transparency. I got letters from my friends so full of joice. It was impossible not to be moved with them.

    Mr Havel had fought for human rights in his country from early on. He was one of the signataries of the Charter 77. He, a prominent writer, was forced to work at a brewery, he was put in prison on numerous occasions. He kept his spirit high, his faith unbroken. It was only natural that he would lead the way and thus, he became the first president of his country in freedom. And he managed the transission in an excellent manner.

    After the Czech and Slovak Republics became free, he decided not to rest. He went on promoting pluralism and democracy all over the world. And he also supported Venezuelan democratic parties in their efforts and denounced Chávez's pseudo-democracy.

    Mr Havel will be missed. Děkuju, pane Havel!

    Saturday, 17 December 2011

    I need thee! plus The 24 hour ant

    OK, the year is ending and I would be very thankful to get some feedback from you.

    What would you like to read more about in this blog? Please, take a minute to click on the topics that interest you the most or, if you don't see what you were looking for, send me a message at desarrollo.sostenible.venezuela at g mail dot com.

    And here you have the Paraponera clavata or Hormiga 24 (24 hour ant, after the time you'll have to endure pair if it bites you)

    Friday, 16 December 2011

    More education for Venezuela

    Here you can see the mean results for performance in reading according to the PISA test. Even it is well under the OECD average, the state of Miranda shows a better performace than Colombia and Brazil and Argentina, countries that have been taking part in this programme for some time. 

    I am sure Miranda has one of the highest levels within Venezuela. Kudos to the education team of the Miranda government. It could probably do better if the Chávez government were not sabotaging as it does.

    The truth about education in Venezuela (updated 2)

    The results of the famous OECD PISA test on scholastic performance have just been published for pupils of Miranda, Venezuela (more here). For the last couple of years I have been trying, together with other Venezuelans, to promote the implementation of the PISA programme for our country. We asked the national government on several occassions to let Venezuela take part. It refused. It ignored us. It prefers to declare to the world that UNESCO certified Venezuela as free of illiteracy, even if such a statement is based on a self-assessment study conducted by the Chávez government and provided to UNESCO without independent control.  The current government hates transparency and open, real debate (it prefers parallel monologues).

    Venezuelan pupils finally took the same tests that German ones take

    The government of Miranda, led by opposition politician Henrique Capriles, accepted the challenge and got the pupils from Miranda-controlled schools tested by the OECD. The Chávez government tried to sabotage this by blocking the financing  (Miranda needed to pay for some fees in dollars and the central government controls the use of foreign money like in old Soviet times, unless it's money for tourism or the like).

    What are the results? They are very much in line with what I expected. Perhaps they are a little bit better than my expectations, actually. Miranda pupils score well below the OECD average, but rather close to pupils of other Latin American nations like Colombia or Mexico. Venezuelan pupils do worse in maths than other Latin American pupils, which is something I very much expected, as I have written earlier. With these results you can understand to some extent what kind of problems we are facing...and start thinking about specific solutions. 

    Still:  Miranda is not Venezuela. Although Miranda is a very varied region, with highly skilled people next to people with little formal education, rich and poor to very poor neighbourhoods, it is still close to the capital and thus closer to a strong flow of ideas. Miranda is also governed by civilians from the opposition and not by a military government.

    This is a good start in order to bring about transparency to education in Venezuela. I will be posting a lot about this in the next weeks.

    PS. I NOW got some more feedback about the problem with the standards: apparently the Chavez government did not suply the required information that PISA also needed to make a better comparison. Shame on Chavismo.

    Tuesday, 13 December 2011

    Did Ambrosius Ehinger have sex between September and December of 1530?

    Ambrosius Ehinger was a German conquistador in XVI century Venezuela. In Venezuela and in the Spanish history Ehinger was mostly known as Alfinger. That's a very rare name in Germany.  He arrived to the Land of Grace as first governor of the Welser concession in 1529. He led German and Spanish troops across Northern and Western Venezuela and Eastern Colombia on several quests for El Dorado from then until 1533, when some Chitarero Indians killed him. He had been plundering, exploring, plundering, exploring, making friends and foes through terra incognita to Europeans, across some incredibly harsh regions.

    From history we know Europeans started settling Western Venezuela in Coro, with Ampies and the Welser, but they soon left that arid place and moved to more fertile areas along the El Tocuyo River up to Carora and from El Tocuyo to Nueva Valencia and ultimately towards Caracas.

    I analyzed the electoral records we have from Venezuela. This is weird. Below you see the distribution of voters per state with the very strange name Alfinger. Each dot represents a voter with that surname.

    It would be interesting to check out their Y haplotype.

    Surnames were becoming customary in the Spanish world earlier than in other regions. Still, Venezuela back then was not a place where Europeans tended to marry and register long-term relationships with native Americans. And yet it seems as if some people started to use that very distinct surname in one of the regions where that Conquistador was active. Did they just take over that name as remembrance of a myth? Or were they indeed the descendants of that Southern German Conquistador?

    Take a look at the following IDs, for instance:

    CI 19974901
    CI 19974902

    Sunday, 11 December 2011

    Chávez-Anhänger und der Universitätsbrand

    Chávez-Anhänger können, soviel sie wollen, die öffentlichen Universitäten nicht unter ihrer Kontrolle bringen. Die Studenten wollen sie nicht. Und so verlor der Chavismus - schon wieder- die neusten Wahlen für den Studentenrat der Universidad Central de Venezuela. Der Kandidat der Regierung, Kevin Ávila, hat nur 500 Stimmen bekommen, während die anderen drei Kandidaten etwa 7700 Stimmen erzielt haben.

    Wie haben die Chávez-Anhänger dann reagiert? Sie sind auf ihren Motorädern in die Universität eingedrungen, sie haben die Studenten angegriffen, die Stimmanlagen zerstört und den Eingang der Aula Magna in Brand gesteckt.

    Ihr könnt damit rechnen, dass die Chávez-Anhänger weiterhin diese Einstellung haben werden.

    Mehr Infos auf Englisch hier

    Tuesday, 6 December 2011

    Angela Merkel sagt, sie wird den Sieger der Bundestagswahlen von 2012 anerkennen

    Stellt Euch vor, die Merkel würde plötzlich eine Pressekonferenz halten und dort ausländischen Journalisten mitteilen, sie wird den Sieger der Kanzlerwahl im nächsten Jahr anerkennen, wer auch immer das sein mag. Stellt Euch vor, sie fügt folgendes hinzu: Fragt mal die SPD, fragt mal die Grünen, ob sie in der Lage sind, das zu sagen, was ich Euch jetzt gesagt habe". Würdet Ihr da kein mulmiges Gefühl haben?

    Heute hat der venezolanische Caudillo Hugo Chávez genau das gesagt. Müssen wir Venezolaner "danke" sagen? Hat's er nötig?

    Seltsame Demokratie haben wir.

    Saturday, 3 December 2011

    Venezuela, 1920

    In the map* below you can see per each state of Venezuela the amount of citizens per pupil for the year 1920.

    So: in Zulia, to the West, 1 out of 23 inhabitants was a pupil. Considering the age distribution of Venezuela back then, it means just a tiny minority of children was going to school. In the Llanos the situation was much worse, though. In Barinas, for instance, only 1 out of 105 persons was at that moment going to school. In the Delta (to the East), it was only 1 out of 113. The average child had almost 5 more chances to be attending school if he was living in or around Caracas, Valencia or Maracaibo than in the Llanos or many other places. And still most were not going to school. Only my maternal grandmother, living close to Valencia, went to school - for two full years. My other grandmother was illiterate and my grandfather had a similar education as my maternal grandmother - who was single parent.

    The situation improved a lot after 1940, specially quantitatively. My parents, like most others, profited from that. Still, the difference between the average level in Caracas and a few other places and the "countryside" was and still is enormous. And what many people don't understand: that "countryside" is now full of middle-size cities. It's no longer just rural but home to millions...and it keeps being extremely backward.

    *I derived this data from this fascinating German book compared with Venezuela's census for 1920.

    Thursday, 1 December 2011

    Venezuela, just second worst

    Today Transparency International produced its yearly report...and Venezuela takes a specially place in the American continent  one more time. And uet: we are just second worst. Haiti beat us to it.

    You can check it out here.

    Thanks to our "revolutionary" Bolivarianos.

    Venezuela is more corrupt than 171 other countries now.

    Scarlet star

    The Guzmania lingulata is a plant you can find in tropical Central and South America, including Venezuela. Guzmania is a genus called after Anastasio Guzmán, a Spanish scientist of the XVIII and start of the XIX century.

    Ist Chávez bescheuert und durchgeknallt?

    Unsere kleine Umfrage ergab folgendes: 

    88% von Euch denkt, dass der Militärcaudillo Chávez tatsächlich  grosse psychiatrische Probleme hat 
    8% denkt das nicht
    4% hat keine Ahnung. 

    Natürlich war diese Umfrage nicht gerade wissenschaftlich, man hat aber schon einen Eindruck über das, was Deutschsprachigen über den geistigen Zustand unseres Präsidenten denken.

    Ob er so krank ist oder nicht, hat er immer noch eine sehr kräftige Waffe: Erdölgelder ohne Kontrolle. Wie der Blogger Miguel und andere herausgefunden haben, hat die venezolanische Regierung Verträge mit China abgeschlossen, wonach Erdöl an die Asiaten verkauft werden, um Darlehen so schnell wie möglich zu bekommen. Ein grosser Teil des Geldes wird dann ohne jede Aufsichtskontrolle von Chávez selbst benutzt. Das Geld wird nämlich zu einem Fond geschickt wird, der nur von der Zentralregierung verwaltet wird. Das Gesetz sagt, dass  die Nationalversammlung die Verwendung der Erdöleinkommen bewilligen muss, was hier nicht passiert. Ein Teil dieser Ressourcen geht an das Programm "Misión del Buen Vivir", Mission des Guten Lebens, das Venezolaner billige chinesische Geräte verkauft. Es handelt sich um Milliarden Dollar.

    Die venezolanische Regierung wollte eigentlich ein Darlehen von über 100 Milliarden Dollar von den Chinesen, wie man nun aus einigen Dokumenten entnehmen kann. Die Ausländer haben darüber nur gelacht. Man fragt sich, wie schlecht die gegenwärtige venezolanische Regierung sein kann, um während eines solchen Erdölbooms - der längste in unserer Geschichte - so viele Darlehen nötig zu haben.

    Wahlen sind Wahlen und die Militärs können sich gar nicht leisten, viele Stimmen zu verlieren. Es geht einfach nicht.