Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year 

Seeing as the New Year is fast approaching it seems that both Chavistas and opposition alike are refraining from saying anything of importance or even saying anything stupid that I could make fun of. So I might as well post some more pictures showing the tremendous natural bueaty of Venezuela. Even if you have no interest in the Venezuelan political process it is a country very much worth visiting. I am not going to say it is most beautiful country, or the country with the most attractions of interest for tourists. Its not even close to being that.

But I do think it is probably the most underrated country when it comes those things. From the table top mountians to the Orinoco Delta, from Angel Falls to prisine beaches, and from the peaks of the Andes to the sand dunes of Coro it does have a lot to offer. It amazes me the extent to which Venezuela has always been under the radar, so to speak, even when it comes to well travelled and adventerous tourists. Then again, not having the country ruined by some of the horrible vices that tourism tends to bring to poor countries is nice.

Anyways, these pictures are from La Mision de Nuestra Senora del Carmen which is an old monestary and now a botanical garden outside San Felipe in Yaracuy state. I have no idea what any of these plants are so don't ask, just enjoy:

No that's not a snake. Its a vine.

Is it just me or do most of these beautiful plants, based on their coloring, appear to be Chavistas?

Anyways, happy New Year everyone.


Some year end economic odds and ends 

To top off the good economic news that has been coming out of Venezuela recently here is some more:

The total inflation rate for 2005 was 14.4% which was less than the targeted inflation rate of 15%. This continues the downward trend which had inflation at 31.2% in 2002, 27.1% in 2003 and 19.2% in 2004. The government hopes to have it down to single digits within two years. Under the Caldera administration, Chavez’s immediate predecessor, inflation topped 100%. So while inflation is still high by international standards it has been greatly reduced from what it was before Chavez came to power.


In 2005 the average price for Venezuelan oil was $45.39 per barrel which is a 39% increase over the $32.61 it was in 2004. This also exceeded by $22.39 the $23 per barrel that had been used to calculate the 2005 budget. The total payments to the Venezuelan treasury from the national oil production are expected to wind up being about $25 billion which is about 3 times the amount that had been budgeted. This shows how the Venezuelan government tends to be very conservative when putting together its budget.


The last hold out in switching over from the operating agreements to a joint partnership with majority PDVSA ownership, Exxon-Mobil, gave in yesterday. They actually did it through the back door by selling their stake in the oil field to the Spanish company Respol which promptly came to an agreement with the Venezuelan government.

With this all of the foreign oil companies have now agreed to new terms with Venezuela. When these agreements were first devised by previous governments in the 1990s they were very favorable to the foreign oil companies. With their change over to Venezuelan control it is now estimated that the Venezuelan treasury will get an additional $3 billion per year.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Shouldn't accusations be supported by facts? 

One would certainly think that. But apparently not the people in the Venezuelan opposition. Today a prominent member of the Venezuelan opposition, Jose Toro Hardy, claimed that somehow the information being supplied by the Venezuelan government regarding oil production are inaccurate. Specifically, he says that information being provided by the Venezuelan Central bank contradicts information given by the state oil company PDVSA. Here is what he said:

It is difficult to understand what is happening with our oil, from the point of view of production, because the figures that PDVSA gives do not match the figures given by the Central Bank of Venezuela. The government speaks of production around 3.3 million barrels per day but it seems that the Central Bank talks about production on the order of 2.5 million barrels

That certainly does sound like a huge discrepancy and a serious matter. So lets dig into the numbers and see if in fact there is a desrepcancy. Oh wait, we can't. You see the esteemed Mr. Toro Hardy didn't provide any numbers. In fact not only did he not give any details on what numbers seemed to contradict what other numbers he didn't even give any documents or publications that he was referring. He only tells us that SOMETHING that PDVSA said SOMEHOW contradicts SOMETHING that the BCV said. Maybe he feels it is less likely that he will be rebutted if he just doesn't tell anyone what he is talking about in the first place.

Also, I'm not sure how he can say that it is "difficult to understand" what is happening with PDVSA. After all PDVSA just published extremely detailed and audited financial statements which gave voluminous quantities of information on how much oil Venezuela is producing. That stands in stark contrast to when Toro Hardy was leading PDVSA and they didn't release production figures at all. Whats more, those audited financial statements confirmed that the Venezuelan government had been telling the truth about production being over 3 million barrels per day. But these opposition types are apparently not easily detered by facts, even by audited facts.

And just to finish up his little rant he says:

"the income of the government has increased, thanks to the income from petroleum and it has increased in an important way, by 50% or more than 50%, simply because the price of oil has increased without the effort of anyone"

The price of oil increased without the effort of anyone? I don't know about that. I think the record clearly shows that the price of oil increased from about $10 to over $50 in significant part because Hugo Chavez and Ali Rodriguez got OPEC to cut back on production and cajoled the Russians and Norwegains to do the same. And if that is such an "effortless" thing then why didn't Toro Hardy do it when he was running things instead of virtually giving the oil away for free?

I have to say when I read these little articles I am reminded not simply of how pathetic the opposition media is but also of how mediocre the previous management of Venezuela's oil industry was. Thank god that all changed for good in 2003.

This is a very understated plack on the PDVSA headquarters in Caracas to the heroes who defended PDVSA from the oil sabatoje of 2002/2003. Many people actually slept in the PDVSA headquarters during the oil strike to prevent the old management from seizing the building. Considering the enormous benefits that have accrued to the people of Venezuela since the company was wrested from the old corrupt management they really do need to creat a bigger monument. The plack reads:

PDVSA to the soviergn people, that in permanent vigalence in this place gave an inconditional defense of the oil industry that is the patrimony of all Venezuelans.
March 2003
La Campina, Caracas


A big miss 

President Chavez set a big goal for 2005 for housing. The government was to contruct over 100,000 units for low income people. It didn't even come close. The final number was 41,500 according to the housing minster Luis Carlos Figueroa. While this was the most built in any year so far during the Chavez administration it is still well short of what needs to be built.

Figueroa is himself new in the position. When it became obvious this past summer that the 100,000 goal was going to be missed the housing minister was replaced by Figueroa who had demononstrated his competance in other public works projects.

On the upside it is said that 80,000 units are under construction and near completion. They would presumebly be completed in the first quarter of 2006 and if that proves to be true then the 100,000 should be easily exceeded in 2006. But given all the past failures everyone is going to wait and see the actual finished houses before that is believed.

Another positive point is that at least the housing being built by this government is dignified and durable housing, not of the instant slum sort built by previous administrations.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Looking a gift horse in the mouth 

I ran across a good new blog today called Lefside:Politics With a View to the South. Definitely looks like a worthwhile read.

Not to mention the most recent entry was pretty interesting. Apparently the Chicago Transit Authority has refused Citgo's offer of discounted fuel and instead is simply raising fares. Way to go - idiots.


Jobs, jobs, jobs 

The Venezuelan Central Bank took out a huge six page advertisement in the paper today wherein it explained everything that has happened regarding the economy in the past year. Again, no-one can honestly claim this government doesn't make every effort to keep the citizenry well informed on what is going on in the country and what its government is doing.

One piece of information from that report that I found to be interesting is that between November 2004 and November 2005 there were 640,000 new jobs created in Venezuela. That is certainly a significant amount of job creation in a country the size of Venezuela. Furthermore, the engine behind this job creation was the private sector. Of the new jobs only 114,000 were government jobs while 524,000 were private sector jobs. With the creation of all these new jobs the formal sector now accounts for 54% of the workforce which is the highest level that has been since 1993. This means that while some in the opposition like to tout Teodoro Petkoff as some sort of alternative to Chavez the Chavez government now has a greater percentage of workers working in normal jobs with salaries and benefits than Petkoff ever had back when he was running the economy under Caldera.

Lastly, it was reported today that unemployment in the month of December fell to 8.9% which is a dramtica decrease from the over 20% unemployment rate a few years ago during the strike. I haven't seen these numbers so I can't really comment on them but if true they would certainly be good news on top of the already very good news from the Central Bank.

UPDATE According to Panorama newspaper the number of people with jobs increased by more than 230,000 in December alone. Not bad. Now we have to remember that is largely seasonal employment gains related to the Christmas holiday but still it is quite good and there are hundreds of thousands of additional people with jobs. I have posted the Panorama article in the comments section


Need to get somewhere? If you're in Caracas you're out of luck. 

Unlike some countries further to the north Venezuela almost entirely shuts down over the Christmas - New Years period. In fact most people have been off from work from a week before Christmas and don't have to return to work or school until January 9th. Venezuelan's certainly do have their problems but lack of free time with which to enjoy their lives is not one of them.

During these extended holidays a great many people travel either to go somewhere relaxing like a beach or to visit family in other parts of the country. This is very taxing on Venezuela's transportation system even in normal times. But with the economic boom the country is currently enjoying the transport system is completely overwhelmed.

Most Venezuelans travel by bus and the main bus station in Caracas is the Banderas station. So far this holiday period it has served 530,000 passengers which is an 11% increase over last year. They expect that just within the next two days an additional 200,000 people will travel from the Banderas bus station. But if you don't already have a ticket forget about it. All major destinations are completely sold out. To make matters worse prices for tickets have increased to speculative prices. Such are the pains of a growing economy I guess. In any event at least more people are able to take vacations or spend time with their loved ones this holiday season. I suppose that is why as hard as they try the opposition just can't get people riled up about Chavez.

And how are those upper class opposition supporters themselves making out you ask? According to Ultimas Noticias they are doing well. For example international flights, which pertain only to upper class Venezuelans, are up 25% this holiday period. Such popular overseas destinations as Aruba, Curazao, and Miami are completely sold out until well into January. There is also a ferry to Magarita Island from Caracas. It has no tickets available going to Magarita until early January and no tickets coming back from Magarita until after January 15th. Maybe that is another reason why well to do Venezuelans hate Chavez - they think that because of him their are too many commoners cluttering up their ferry.

Regardless, I think these can all go down as being exactly the kinds of problems you want to have.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

No bad news in sight 

Official statistics won't be out until January or February but this is certainly good news:

Venezuela's economy expanded by 9.4 percent in 2005 compared to 17.4 percent growth last year, the central bank president said Wednesday.

The economy has expanded during nine consecutive quarters and would grow roughly 6 percent in 2006 as oil prices remain high, Gaston Parra, president of the Venezuelan Central Bank, said in an annual report.

Oil exports provide about a third of Venezuela's gross domestic product, roughly 80 percent of export earnings and about 40 percent of all government income. GDP measures the value of goods and services produced in a nation.

Oil-related GDP was expected to close the year up 1.2 percent while economic growth outside the all-important petroleum industry was expected to reach 10.3 percent in 2005, according to the central bank report.

The central bank expects inflation to remain below 15 percent this year.

This economic boom is just undeniable. What is interesting though is that they are very conservative in their projections for next year. I have seen articles by opposition economists where they expect economic growth to be around 10% next year too. I think the government just likes to be very conservative with all its projections so as to not dissapoint. And dissapoint they don't.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"...and despite this they withdrew" 

The head of the Organization of American States, Miguel Insulza, gave an interview to a Chilean newspaper in which he made some revealing comments. Regarding the Venezuelan opposition he said:

“We had a problem with the Venezuelan opposition, which assured us that they would not withdraw from the [electoral] process if certain conditions were met. These were met and despite this, they withdrew.” “This had an impact on the high abstention,”

He sounds a little miffed that the opposition lied to him. Sounds to me like he didn't do his homework. Even a cursory knowledge of how the Venezuelan opposition has conducted itself over the past couple of years should have clued him into their word being worth absolutely nothing. I mean really. They never tell the truth about anything else so why would he expect them to tell the truth about participating in the elections.

The one good thing is that at least he clearly sees that they had no valid reasons to pull out of the voting. Fortunately the OAS and the EU saw that too. And all the observers are now on record as saying the voting itself was accuate and transparent as Insulza also said when he pointed out in the same interview: "[there were]some problems here and there with the elections, which appeared in the [OAS] report, but in the election itself there was nothing abnormal."

Finally, he laid the blame for the opposition's debacle where it clearly lies, with the opposition:

...if the path of abstention is chosen, then one cannot complain that the entire parliament is in the hands of one’s political adversary

So the Venezuelan opposition has another smashing victory!! They have managed to fool absolutely no-one save themselves and their own duped (and much reduced in numbers) follows.


It sucks coming back to this 

On the political front there isn't much of anything going on in Venezuela as the whole country will be shut down until early January due to the holidays. But there was a very tragic fire yesterday in Ciudad Guayana that left possibly more than a dozen people dead.

Details are still sketchy so it isn't possible to say anything conclusively about what happened. But it has been reported that the store where the fire began held a large quantity of fireworks that are quite popular with Venezuelan's during the Holidays. In fact fireworks are quite popular with Venezuelan's period. When I was in the El Valle section of Caracas you would hear them every night, all night long, and because it is a valley the sound reverberates and is amplified. The only thing that ever seemed to stop it was rain.

Now it seems a lot of people have paid with their lives for this cheap entertainment. Not to mention all the routine but isolated incidents of people being burned, losing fingers, or being blinded by these things. And even worse some Chavistas have the very bad habit of throwing very large firecrackers (M80s I think) called "Bin Ladens" at opposition marches. It would be nice to see the authorities do the responsible thing and eliminate these home use fireworks. But to do that they would have to be willing to piss some people off and given that they don't want to piss anyone off don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

UPDATEHere is an article on it from Rueters. The death toll I have seen in Venezuelan reports is much higher. And note that there were at least 43 fires in Caracas alone on Christmas attributable to fireworks:

At least four people were killed on Monday when a fireworks shop exploded in an eastern Venezuelan city amid booming fireworks sales for year-end festivities, rescue workers said.

Civil protection agency director Antonio Rivero said up to four other people were also feared dead, but firefighters could not immediately reach the area as fire raged on in the shop that also sold guns and ammunition.

He said they had managed to control most of the fire that spread through the busy district in the city of Ciudad Guayana in Bolivar state after the blast, but not in the gun shop.

"There are cartridges there which pose a threat to firefighters, who cannot complete the search for bodies right now. We understand that between four and eight people have died," Rivero said.

Fireworks accidents in the South American country are common in the holiday season when sales of mainly imported cheap pyrotechnics for Christmas and New Year celebrations skyrocket despite government attempts to ban them.

Fireworks caused 43 fires in the metropolitan area of Venezuela's capital, Caracas, on Christmas night.


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