Saturday, August 13, 2005

Another Day in Paradise 

It is often said that with the advent of new communications technology, and in particular the internet, we are better informed than ever. This may be true in some respects but it is certainly not true regarding the war in Iraq. The U.S. military makes sure virtually no images of fighting get out. During the Vietnam war it was common to have TV crews right along side troops fighting and giving daily reports, with video, of the battles. But in Iraq there is none of that. To be with the U.S. troops reporters have to be “imbedded” which means they are under the control of the U.S. military and have very strict guidelines on what they can report. Further, the imbedded reporters almost always seem to be print journalists so even though some of the fighting might be described (rarely) it is almost never filmed.

Moreover, even the internet is not being exploited to its full capacity due to reporting restrictions. U.S. media such as the New York Times will often refer to statements or videos released by Iraqi insurgents on web-sites. Yet they are assidious about not releasing the web address. Why the fear of people going and looking for themselves?

Fortunately, there are a few people who are trying to counteract this and shed some light into this void. One such group is the web-site Crisis Pictures which buys the rights to and publishes pictures that otherwise wouldn’t generally see the light of day. The pictures below, which show the hell that the U.S. has turned Falluja into, are from that site. I advise everyone to have a look at it and those who are can to support it financially so that it can continue its important work.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Mission Sucre 

There was an interesting article in today's Boston Globe about one of Chavez's social program's Missione Sucre. It pretty much speaks for itself so here it is:

Chavez program aims to boost Venezuelans' college options
By Brian Ellsworth, Globe Correspondent  |  August 12, 2005

SAN JOSÉ DE BARLOVENTO, Venezuela -- Twenty-one-year-old Mariuska Espinoza said she always wanted to study medicine but never had the chance.

This sleepy Caribbean town of 12,000, about 80 miles east of Caracas, is too small to have a public university, and Espinoza said she doesn't have money to pay for an expensive private school. She applied to the prestigious Venezuelan Central University in Caracas, but said she was asked to pay a bribe of nearly $1,000 to be admitted to the public university.

In April, she found the opportunity she was looking for: a government program conceived by President Hugo Chavez that promises to provide higher education to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have never had access to universities.

Espinoza is now enrolled in a five-year medicine program, working as a volunteer in a clinic in the morning and taking courses in the afternoons at a community center. ''There was just no way to get into a university. It's a good thing this opportunity turned up," said Espinoza, waiting for the professor of her afternoon classes to arrive.

Dubbed the ''Sucre Mission" in honor of Venezuelan freedom fighter Antonio Jose de Sucre, the program is an effort by the country's leftist government to extend the reach of higher education. Sucre Mission has the ambitious goal of boosting university enrollment by nearly 60 percent in the next five years by offering university courses to an estimated 700,000 high school graduates currently unable to find a spot in the country's higher education system.

Under the program, Espinoza could be a practicing doctor after five years, compared with an average of seven years for most Venezuelan doctors and at least 10 years in the United States.

''We're creating a new system of higher education," said Higher Education Minister Samuel Moncada, a former history professor at Venezuelan Central University. ''Venezuela has closed the doors of the universities to the majority of the population, and it's unacceptable."

Critics said Sucre Mission is simply creating a parallel university system without resolving the problems with existing public universities. They also said the new schools lower educational standards by eschewing admissions testing and grading in favor of an improvised program assembled in less than two years with few experienced administrators and almost no curriculum development.

Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, was for much of the 20th century able to finance free university education, which helped millions of Venezuelans move out of poverty. But oil prices fell in the 1980s, forcing cuts to education funding as the number of high school graduates rose -- which left thousands of people without access to public education. Would-be college students today said getting into a public university requires either a well-placed contact or a bribe for admissions officials.

The country's private higher education system, largely dominated by two-year trade schools, is too expensive for most families, particularly because the government does not provide subsidized education loans as in the United States.

Chavez, a former coup leader who won a resounding victory in a recall referendum last August, has promised the Sucre Mission will renew Venezuela's commitment to free access to a college education. The program has a budget of nearly $80 million for 2005 and offers 24 majors, from education to law and petroleum engineering.

The program seeks to take universities to provincial towns such as San Jose de Barlovento, where obtaining a university diploma is nearly impossible. The program jettisons traditional testing methods and admissions procedures, describing them as filters meant to keep out the lower classes.

Now, with a high school diploma and a photocopy of an identification card, everyone has access to a free university education. Traditional lectures and tests have been replaced with progressive educational precepts such as the ''pedagogy of tenderness and love," in which no students are given a failing grade as long as they try.

Sociology professor Amalio Belmonte of Venezuelan Central University said the need to boost college enrollment is undeniable, but he worries that Venezuela is falling into ''academic populism" by offering too much and demanding too little of students. ''The underlying objective of this program is the massification of college education with no concern for the quality," Belmonte said. ''It is a political emergency measure meant to give everyone a degree, which will produce graduates that cannot compete in the labor market."

He notes that some students receive a subsidy of about $85 per month, meaning the program may attract students more interested in a salary than an education.

Students in San Jose de Barlovento said the new programs are not without their problems. Only a week into her studies, Maria Cristina Rodriguez, 22, showed up to class and waited an hour for a professor who never arrived.
''It's not supposed to be like this," she said impatiently as she gathered her belongings to leave.

Nonetheless, she feels the program is giving her new opportunities. Rodriguez and her classmates protest that previous administrations always overlooked the region of Barlovento, a verdant tropical area inhabited largely by the descendants of African slaves who worked on cacao plantations in the 19th century.

Today, Rodriguez said, obtaining a college degree is one of the only ways to get ahead. ''I'm finally fulfilling my dream," she said.


Asleep at the wheel 

I hate to lead into the weekend with this post but it is too important of a topic to ignore. As I have mentioned before Venezuela has a serious, and growing, HIV/AIDS problem. It has an expanding rate of infection and there are far too many likely infections that haven’t even been detected due to lack of testing.

To add to that bleak scenario, from yesterday’s Ultimas Noticias we get even worse news – the treatment of people with HIV is deficient and deteriorating. HIV can be largely controlled using a “cocktail” of various anti-viral drugs. However, it is very important that they be taken in a very prescribed way and time. In Venezuela this is not proving possible as different anti-viral drugs are often unavailable for weeks or even months. For example, U.N. gave an account of a person named Ramon from Valles del Tuy who had to run all over Caracas trying to find his anti-viral medications – to no avail. His treatment includes the drugs Epivir, Videx, and Strocring but he couldn’t locate a supply of them anywhere. He now has gone a week without these medications and already he is starting to feel the ill effects. Further, a month ago he went 32 days without another drug, 3TC.

Even more amazingly, in the entire country there is absolutely no CD4 monitoring tests. This is an extremely important test that monitors the level of anti-viral T-cells in a persons blood stream and by extension determines how strong their immune system is. Without this test medical providers have no way of knowing when to begin which course of treatment. To date the only thing that has prevented complete collapse is that several Non Governmental Organizations have been able to step in and supply many of the drugs the government is supposed to be supplying but isn’t.

All of this is a public health disaster. You simply cannot treat HIV/AIDS part time. By having patients on anti-viral drugs but skipping treatments you allow the virus to become resistant to the anti-viral drugs. Once this happens, you will have HIV that will be untreatable and everyone will be screwed. So these lapses in the availability are completely unacceptable. In fact, once the drug companies become aware of what is happening in Venezuela it is possible they could cut the country off completely to try to avoid drug resistant strains of HIV from developing there.

The question is how is this being allowed to happen? Ultimas Noticias places the blame right at the top with the Minister of Health, Francisco Armada. For example, according to them the shortage of antiretroviral medications results from Armada “forgetting” last month to sign the requisition for them. And amazingly, as of this past Tuesday the requisition had still not been signed.

Something needs to change. Certainly much good public health work has been done in Venezuela. The collaboration with Cuba to give primary care to millions who never previously had access to it has been brilliant. Further, despite heavy odds and outright sabotage from the opposition Venezuela has been successful in bring down its infant mortality rate, increasing the number of people properly vaccinated, and increasing overall life expectancy. The Venezuelan health system can be proud of that.

However, I don’t think they want to become known as the country in the western hemisphere that let HIV/AIDS explode out of control. Yet that is the direction they are clearly headed in. They need a turn of 180 degrees RIGHT NOW. And beyond some heads rolling in the Ministry of Health, which certainly they should, here is a helpful hint. Just as they collaborated with Cuba to improve primary care, something in which Cuba has a lot of expertise, they should collaborate with the Brazilians in combating HIV. Brazil is recognized has possibly having the best public health initiatives against HIV in the world. They have been very successful in limiting its spread in spite of a large drug using community and a large sex trade. So good are they that when the reactionaries who are running the U.S. these days cut of aid to Brazil simply because they wouldn’t denounce prostitution Brazil didn’t bat an eyelid. They simply don’t need any help from the yankees.

So lets get rid of the incompetents in the Ministry of Health and lets bring in the Brazilians and lets do it now.


A final word on the elections 

To wrap up the coverage of the Venezuelan local elections here are some nation wide voting numbers by party:

Chavez’s political party, the MVR, received 1,321,571 votes. This was far and away the most votes received by any party. But even more striking was how their allied parties did. Podemos received 231,751, Patria Para Todos 195,763 and the Communist Party of Venezuela 117,963. These were all quite impressive results.

By way of comparison the strongest opposition party (and the ones who were beating each other up the other day) Accion Democratica got 301,532 votes, less than a quarter of what the MVR received. The other opposition pretenders to the throne fared even worse. The yuppy party, Primero Justicia, got a paltry 143,979. I guess there just aren’t that many yuppies in Venezuela. And yet they would have everyone believe they are serious contenders to win the presidency in 2006. In fact, they are the only party that is already campaigning. At this rate they are going to need to be campaigning at least 20 years to have a shot. Two other opposition parties, the M.A.S. and Proyecto Venezuela, performed pathetically receiving 51,253 and 40,190 respectively.

As you can see, even if you add the four largest opposition parties together they didn’t get even HALF of what Chavez’s party got. And this is even leaving aside how well his allied parties did. This leaves the pro-Chavez forces very well positioned for the legislative elections in December. They will need to be much better organized and do a MUCH better job of mobilizing their supporters to vote. But their goal, of winning a two thirds majority in the Assembly, is well within their reach if they do their job.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. 

Another Boina Roja for the Revolution.
(For non-Venezuelans Boina Roja is a red beret, which are often worn by Chavez supporters)


Onward and Upward 

I can almost hear the moans from Eastern Caracas as the price of oil hit $66 a barrel today. Considering that for Venezuela's opposition ousting Chavez is more important than their country's welfare they almost invariably root for oil prices to go down. They seldom say that publicly but its true. They know the more oil money Chavez has to fund social programs the less chance their is of them winning an election. I guess you could say Chavez has them over a barrel - pun intended.

Anyways, the CNN article on oil prices had this nice little graph showing who produces oil and who consumes it. No surprises here.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Venezuela Roundup 

The opposition isn’t taking its rout in Sunday’s election well. Most of the opposition seems to have moved on very quickly and is trying to pretend there weren’t any elections. But some aren’t finding that so easy. For example, the leader of one of the principal opposition parties, Henry Allup of Accion Democratica, was almost physically beaten up when fisticuffs broke out among members of that party. Allup was giving a press conference when the fighting broke out. Apparently some AD members, frustrated by their parties poor showing at the polls and lack of internal democracy, got in a fight with some of the party enforces who tried to shut them up. I don’t know what could have possessed these poor people to think they could speak out freely at a gathering of their own party. What party do they think they belong to? The MVR? Sorry guys but you’re Adecos. You want free speech and primaries then you have to join the MVR. You won’t find any of those things in the opposition parties like Proyecto Venezuela, AD, COPEI, MAS, or Primero Justicia. To have any say in those parties you have to be bringing at least a few million dollars to the table.

Then we have some other members of the opposition who are determined to prove that they have no brain. One of the opposition pollsters, Alfredo Keller, insists that the low voter turnout shows that the Missiones (the Chavez led social programs) are losing their appeal. To him there was a high level of abstention “because in effect there was apathy amongst the Chavistas which can only be explained by the government losing its innocence and the aura of volunteerism that came with the Missiones” So that people didn’t vote in large numbers on Sunday doesn’t have anything to do with Chavez not being on the ballot – who is after all the person who created the Missiones. Nor does it have anything to do with even Congress people not being on the ballot. And it certianly doesn’t have anything at all to do with most people not knowing who was running for office or for that matter what those offices even do. It was all because people are presumably tired of the Missiones.

Now I could go on an on about how absurd this is. But that would just be so much hot air and a waste of time. Rather, here is a way to test this notion. Lets see if in the Assembly elections of December and the Presidential elections of next year more people vote than voted in this past Sunday’s contest. I bet they do. In fact, I bet a LOT more people will vote. Further, I bet the pro-Chavez margin will be even higher than it was in this election. And if what I am predicting here comes true then I think the opposition will have to start coming up with new excuses and new analysis as their current ones will have been blown out of the water. So to my friends in the opposition – you better put on your thinking caps. December will be here sooner than you think I you are going to need a whole new set of excuses.

Now to more positive news. It was good to see that the foreign media picked up on the hand over of land titles by Chavez to various indigenous groups. Finally, some historical wrongs are put right.

And saving the best for last: via Venezuelanalisis I found out about a new pro-Chavez blog called VenezuelaSolidarity. Now a while back I referenced an article by a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor who had a bad experience with a private physician in Venezuela and wished she had simply gone to one of the doctors in Barrio Adentro (the free local clinic program set up by Chavez). Well today VenezuelaSolidarity had an even better account of some one having a very negative experience with a private for profit doctor that only wound up being rectified when he was seen by the Cuban doctors of Barrio Adentro. Here are the final few lines from the article:

My experience with Barrio Adentro was extremely limited. I didn´t see a large part of their work that involves both preventative and
diagnostic work with the community. But my experience was extremely impressive. It isn´t hard to see why the program is so popular with the people, especially when the costs involved in private treatment are considered. What would the poor do without Barrio Adentro?

I am deeply grateful for the treatment I was provided. The Cuban
doctors are the product of a socialist revolution, and Barrio Adentro
is a key program in the struggle in Venezuela to build a ´new
socialism of the 21st century´´. I can testify first hand that
socialism does make you feel better!

It is a fabulous article. Be sure to read the whole thing.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Sunday's results 

I knew if I held out long enough someone else would come up with the results. And sure enough they did – at least in part.

So here is what we know. Chavez’s political party – the MVR – won big getting 58% of the council seats (1,383 out 2,389). That is certainly a significant victory. But better still their allied parties of the Bloque de Cambio (Patria Para Todos, Communist Party of Venezuela, and Podemos) picked up another 19% to bring the total number of seats won by pro-Chavez candidates to 77%.

According to officials the MVR had won the following number of seats by state: 17 seats in Amazonas (44% of the eligible seats); 92 in Anzoátegui (62%); 47 in Apure (89%); 68 in Aragua (48%); 73 in Barinas (83%) ; 49 in Bolívar (56%) ; 68 in Carabobo (58%) ; 38 in Cojedes (68%); 3 in Delta Amacuro (12%); 13 in the Capital District (100%); 128 in Falcón (83%); 39 in Guárico (36%); 53 in Lara (71%); 114 in Mérida (78% ) ; 111 in Miranda (66%); 52 in Monagas (58%); 24 in Nueva Esparta (31%); 68 in Portuguesa (67%); 41 in Sucre (38%); 106 in Táchira (56%); 110 in Trujillo (81%); 47 in Yaracuy (48%); 11 in Vargas (100%) and 11 in Zulia (7%).

The state by state results don’t really give much in the way of surprises. The areas where Chavez has traditionally been strong turned out for him again – Merida, Lara, Vargas, Barinas, Falcon, and the Caracas area. The two states that the MVR lost in the elections of last October were problematic again with the MVR only getting 31% in Nueva Exparta and an abysmal 7% in Zulia. It is said that the Zulia situation results from internal differences within the MVR in that state that have yet to be resolved plus it has a popular opposition governor Manuel Rosales.

And speaking of governors, in the highest office up for grabs on Sunday Liborio Guarulla of the Chavez's MVR party was re-elected governor of the small state of Amazonas with 16,216 votes versus 14,876 for his Adeco opponent Bernabe Gutierrez.

So all in all Sunday was a good day for Chavismo. It would have been nice to see more people come out and vote but electoral fatigue took its toll. It would have been better if these elections had been combined with the mayoral and gubanatorial elections of last October. But these are now history and the way is clear to the very important legislative elections in December. Right now the National Assembly is almost evenly divided between pro-Chavez and opposition forces. But the MVR today announced its goal is to win 135 seats in the 165 seat body. To meet that goal the Chavez forces will have to put forth a much bigger effort than they did for these elections. But given what is at stake I expect they will.

UPDATE: For those interested in seeing these results compared to 2000 head on over to Panorama Newspaper and they have the state by state breakdown (although it is still partial). So far pro-Chavez candidates have picked up 650 new seats and look poised to get 1,000 when the full analysis is done!


Consider yourselves warned 

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice: before you get anymore bad ideas, consider yourselves warned.

UPDATE: Now the U.S. is threatening to cut off aid to Venezuela due to their no longer cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Agency. Sounds bad. Actually though, the only organization in Venezuela that I can think of that gets money from the U.S. government is SUMATE. I bet they'd be pissed if their sugar daddy cut them off because of Chavez!!


Monday, August 08, 2005

Volunteers anyone? 

Ok, some of you have been clamoring for Oil Wars to bring the results as soon as they are out. Well, they are out. Problem is, there are thousands and thousands of them (there were thousands of seats of for election), the server is slow, and this poor blogger has limited time. But here is a sample (and remember this is just one locality):

Oh, and did I forget - you have to get the individual AND list votes as shown above. So anyone willing to sort through this and give us an executive summary of what happened yesterday?

PS, from this one little sample it looks like those pesky Chavistas didn't do to bad - he, he.


What have we learned so far? 

The Venezuelan electoral authorities, the CNE, have been painfully slow in releasing information so we still don’t know a whole heck of a lot from yesterday’s vote. Still there are some things worth going over so lets have a look at them.

First the CNE has announced that abstention was 69.18%, meaning that about 30% of those who could voted. This is certainly low but not unduly so. Local elections or elections for minor offices tend to have very low turnout. In fact most elections not involving an “executive” position, e.g. President, Governor, Mayor, tend to have low turnout. Just by way of example, in the U.S. there was recently held, outside of Cincinnati, a special election for a congressional seat that had been recently vacated. It was a hotly contested seat as an Iraq war veteran was running on an anti-war platform against a pro-war right wring Republican. This is a higher level office than almost all the offices at stake in Venezuela yesterday yet only about 110,000 voted which would be a third of the registered voters in the area – a well to do suburban area where turnout is normally high. So a turn out such as Venezuela experienced yesterday is not at all atypical.

Yet the opposition, instead of finding something worthwhile to discuss, such as the inefficiency of the CNE, has chosen to harp on this issue of turn out and made themselves look rather foolish in the process. First off, a number of different opposition groups have put forth their own numbers for abstention. One group called “Ojo Electoral” put it at 74.8%. The opposition party, Accion Democratica, put it at 77%. And the opposition shadow electoral authority SUMATE put it at 78.1%. Of course, none of these groups bothered to say how they came up with these numbers. Are we to presume that had people standing outside every voting center in the country counting how many people went in to vote? Somehow I doubt they did that. After all, if they had been that rigorous in their counting then maybe their numbers would at least match each other, which they obviously don’t. Of course, last year during the referendum SUMATE at least went through the motions of pretending to do a real exit poll – even though it was ultimately shown to be completely bogus and was off by 20 points. I guess they figured if they’re just making up the numbers anyways why not cut the pretense and just pull them out of your head on TV like they did this morning. Sure saves a lot of time.

Then we had some sages, opposition political analysts, drawing very insightful conclusions from the level of abstention. “Chavez obviously can’t have much support because not even many Chavistas turned out to vote” they are crowing. For example, here is what opposition pollster Victor Manuel Garcia had to say:” I don’t know how the pollsters who say Chavez has 73% support are going to show their faces today when in the poorest areas of the country people didn’t come out to vote, Chavez’s support is a big lie”. Well, Victor Manuel, here is the deal – Chavez wasn’t on the ballot, even other well known people such as the Cabellos and Barretos weren’t on the ballot. Seeing as most people don’t probably don’t know what these local councils do, much less who is on them, they probably decided to go to the beach, or visit family, or just relax at home. People do do those things you know. And here is another thing that makes me strongly suspect that people didn’t stay home because they are some how pissed at Chavez. If they are pissed at Chavez wouldn’t they show up and vote for anti-Chavez candidates? But unless we see the opposition winning these elections, which so far we don’t have any indication of, I guess people aren’t annoyed at Chavez – they just didn’t want to be bothered.

Anyways, to try to use yesterdays turnout as a measuring stick of Chavez’s or anyone else’s support is really grasping at straws. But given that grasping at straws is about all the opposition has left I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that is what they do.

Of course, the opposition if it was savvy it could beat up the government about some things. For example, the performance of the C.N.E. clearly was dreadful. To take this long to come up with results in an automated voting process is just not excusable.

And if Chavismo is smart, it will use yesterday’s vote as a wake up call. No campaign to speak of, no turn out effort worth mentioning, and no campaigning by their best campaigner, Chavez, and you we see the results – a lot of Chavistas stayed home (low voting rates amongst the poor – wow, I’ve never heard of that happening anywhere else in the world!). Lets not have that repeated in December.

So to sum up, lets see what we learned. The CNE is inefficient. Without a strong campaign and big turnout effort a lot of Chavistas won’t vote. The opposition is full of loonies who never miss an opportunity to make themselves look very foolish. Come to think of it, I don’t think we learned anything new today.



So far almost no official results of the Venezuelan local elections have been announced. Extra-officially Primero Justicia claims to have done well in Eastern Caracas (no surprise there) and the small pro-Chavez party (Patria Para Todos) claims to have won two mayors offices in the state of Carabobo. The delay in announcing the winners stems from these being local races and the results are to be tabulated and reported locally, not from the central offices in Caracas.

The number of people who voted has also not been announced yet. But the voting appeared light and in line with previous local elections where around 25% of the people voted. Despite the Venezuelan opposition rumor mill claiming there would be massive fraud to show more people voting than actually did it sure doesn't look that way now. But no surprise with the opposition assertions just turning out to be propaganda and lies either.

Anyways, to close this post which essentially has no information I thought I'd give a quote from yesterday's Ultimas Noticias that was good. It was from Jorge Rodriguez, the head of Venezuela's electoral board, the CNE:

"In a democracy, you count the people who vote, not the people who don't vote."

UPDATE Maybe they should get their money back on the Smartmatic voting machines. Its 11:30 a.m. on the day after and still no results have been given. At this rate they don't need automated voting - everyone could use paper ballots and they could all be hand counted quicker than this. This is a pretty lame performance by the CNE.

UPDATE II Finally the CNE is coughing up some information. The abstention rate overall was 69.18% - ie about 31% of potential voters voted. Nothing to be proud of but pretty predictable for "dog catcher" elections. Also, it appears the pro-Chavez candidate is Amazonas won - the only really meaningful result of the day. Awaiting more information.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Just curious 

I wonder what the escualidos did to piss off the Turks?

At least that can't blame THAT on Chavez.


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