Saturday, April 01, 2006


Previously I pointed out that tax collections have increased dramatically under the Chavez administration. The Venezuelan tax authorities, Seniat by its initials in spanish, collection efforts have proven highly succesful and last year was a record year for tax collections.

But not being people to rest on their laurels they are off to another excellent start again this year. It was reported today that in March Seniat collected 5.7 trillion bolivares (about 2.6 billion dollars) which exceeded by 43% the goal for March which was 4 trillion Bolivares. Further, this doesn't even include all the income tax filings which were due on March 31st and may push the final total for March higher still.

Further, in carrying out audits of large private oil firms Seniat has found under payment of taxes and taken collection action. It was announced on Friday that Chevron agreed to pay $50.2 million in back taxes and fines while British Petroleum will pay $14 million. Total of France ponied up $19 milllion after they were caught having underpaid taxes and had their offices in Venezuela shuttered for two days as punishment.

It is great to see Seniat staying agressive in their tax collection efforts and making sure that the Venezuelan government has the resources it needs to fund its social programs and public works projects.


Open source software equals socialism 

Looks like Venezuela has all but declared war on Microsoft:

The poster (picture courtesy Lubrio Blog) announces a meeting on the use of open source software to be held by the Science and Technology comittee of the National Assembly. "The march of the penguins" they call it in a not so subtle plug for Linux.

The banner reads "No to software patents" while the penguins sign declares "Open source software is socialism" (I could swear Lenin said something like that!)

Lets see, Arbenz was overthrown by the U.S. largely because he crossed United Fruit. In Allende's case is was Anaconda Copper that pushed for U.S. involvement. Maybe Chavez needs to beware what Microsoft could be up to.


The opposition pegged 

Some of the best, and most balanced, articles on Venezuela are written by Juan Forero of the New York Times. Neither side in Venezuela is a fan of his, in fact its save to say they both stongly dislike him, which is probably yet more evidence he is doing a good job as a journalist as opposed to toeing a line. I think the reason he gets whats going on there more than many others is that he has been involved in the country for a long time. When you've been covering the place for years as opposed to just doing a little two week jaunt you easily can easily see through the propoganda of both sides and get to heart of what is really happening. That is what makes his articles, such as this one on the Venezuelan opposition, illuminating and worthwhile:

Rifts Plague Anti-Chávez Venezuelans

QUÍBOR, Venezuela — Julio Borges is an unusual politician among Venezuela's fragmented opposition. He is running for office.

While much of the rest of the opposition is intent on boycotting the presidential election this year, Mr. Borges was busy here on a recent twoday campaign swing, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and trying against long odds to win over supporters of President Hugo Chávez.

"We spent seven years trying to get Chávez out of Miraflores," Mr. Borges said, referring to the presidential palace. "What we have to do is get Chávez out of people's hearts."

He is the first to admit that it is a lonely task. Mr. Chávez remains hugely popular, with a 55 percent approval rating in opinion polls, for having funneled billions of dollars in oil revenue to the poor. Perhaps more important, he has put his stamp on nearly every aspect of life, and every institution of real power.

Mr. Borges argues that boycotting elections only adds to Mr. Chávez's power and has already made Venezuela in effect a one-party state. Proponents of a boycott say Mr. Chávez has undermined the institutions of democracy, so they seek to undercut his legitimacy by spoiling elections.

They charge that the president stacked the Supreme Court and the five-member National Electoral Council, has registered fraudulent voters and keeps tabs on how Venezuelans vote — all accusations that the government denies.

Many supporters of a boycott are in the segment of the opposition that failed to oust Mr. Chávez with a coup attempt and a two-month oil strike in 2002, and a recall referendum in 2004. Last December they organized a five-party boycott of the elections for the National Assembly, losing all representation in the government.

Some opposition leaders called that boycott a success because 75 percent of the voters abstained, showing their unhappiness with the electoral system Mr. Chávez had established.

"It's a diabolical system," said Antonio Ledezma, a leader in National Resistance, a group of opposition leaders that favors a boycott this year. "We win by resisting, to not be under the thumb of a government that wants to dominate us."

While international monitors have called past elections here fair, they have also noted deep public distrust of electoral officials and called for an overhaul of the Electoral Council, which oversees the elections.

A newspaper editor, Teodoro Petkoff, and the governor of the state of Zulia, Manuel Rosales, are considered possible presidential candidates, but Mr. Borges is the only one who has declared his candidacy so far. He says his biggest obstacle is uniting a disillusioned opposition, whose fractures have been among Mr. Chávez's biggest advantages.

"The most difficult challenge is to get past the noise of our own opposition," said Mr. Borges, 36, a lawyer from Caracas. "The opposition does not have the luxury to just give up on politics. Here, some people say: 'Let's not do anything. Let's hope for a miracle.' I don't believe in that."

As in the rest of Venezuela, people in this state, Lara, are solidly behind Mr. Chávez and at best indifferent to Mr. Borges's small First Justice Party, whose members are mostly young professionals from wealthy districts of Caracas. Potential voters were polite but distant.

When one unabashed supporter, Carmen Martínez, embraced Mr. Borges — whispering, "May God and First Justice be our hope" — it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult campaign swing.

Mr. Borges does not sugarcoat the obvious: his campaign is far behind, underfinanced and spread thin. His one advantage may be that most Venezuelans — 84 percent, according to a recent survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Washington polling firm — support taking part in the election, even if they question the impartiality of the electoral authorities.

His first big battle was with his own party, which went against him and voted to sit out last year's legislative elections. But he also faces an image problem. Many Venezuelans see his party as close to the Bush administration, elitist and out of touch with Mr. Chávez's base in the country's ramshackle barrios.

"They're seen as the yuppie party, and the challenge is how do you reach the poorest people," said a senior American diplomat in Caracas, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of embassy rules.

"It's not enough being the anti-Chávez," another American diplomat said. "You have to offer a plan and an alternative."

To do that, Mr. Borges and his aides say they are going to go after the president where he is vulnerable. While Mr. Chávez appears to be obsessed with the United States, Mr. Borges said surveys for his campaign showed that Venezuelans were much more concerned about unemployment and rampant crime.

"Before voting for the Chavistas, I'll vote for Borges," Johanna Padilla, 29, said after meeting Mr. Borges as he went from house to house here. "All we have here is crime. There's no work. If you get a job, it's for three months and you're out."

On his campaign swing, wearing jeans and a blue pullover shirt, Mr. Borges handed out fliers titled "The President's Gifts," about Venezuelan aid to other countries.

"We want to show we're more nationalistic, more patriotic, more worried about Venezuela than Chávez," he said. "He's more involved in trying to become the president of Latin America. This is good for us."

For now the message is a hard sell. Mr. Chávez's largess to the poor, after all, has won him a solid following that is not about to switch to an unknown like Mr. Borges.

"I adore the man and thank God he's in power," Elizabeth Jiménez, 37, said of the president. "The opposition — each day they lose more standing. They criticize everything, everything that's for the people. But when they were in power they never did anything."

Of all the people in the opposition I've been most sympathetic to the people of Primero Justicia. They seem honest and sincere unlike the throwbacks such as Ledezmo or Rosales and the whinning meglomaniac who never accomplished anything when he was in office, Petkoff. Of course, they don't have a program for what they would do if elected and as even the people in the U.S. embassy can figure out that is a major problem. Further, their poor showing when it was crunch time last December 4th showed, as Venezuelanalisis points out, they are not yet ready for prime time.

Truthfully though, the oppositions disarray doesn't matter. As is hinted at the end of the article running against Chavez under current circumstances is and uphill struggle. The economy is booming, people have more money in their pockets, new public works are going to be inaugerated almost monthly for the rest of the year, and on and on. Jesus Christ would have a tough time running against an incumbent in these circumstances.

The reality is the best any of the opposition can do is position themsevles for the future when conditions may change and they may have a better shot.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Watch out for the imaginary rail cars 

As anyone who listens to the Venezuelan opposition knows there are no public works in Venezulea – no new schools, no new hospitals, no new bridges, no new dams, and no new railroads. Having noted that please therefore realize that all of what is to follow is presumabely ficticious.

Drivers on the main highway between Barquisimeto and Caracas will need to be aware there may be delays and extensive traffic jams. The reason is that the first 52 passenger cars for the new Caracas-Tuy rail line will be transported by truck from Barquisimeto where they were made to Charallave outside of Caracas. This will begin next week and will consist of a convoy transporting two rail cars, every five days. They will only travel only 5 KPH and traffic will be restricted around them so expect delays. Of course, given that this is all likely to be imaginary you needn’t worry – if you get stuck in a traffic jam just remember it is most likely imaginary too.

For those of you who don’t know Tuy is outside of Caracas and has become essentially a bedroom community. The imaginary train line is to run between the terminus of the Caracas Metro’s number 3 line and Tuy. What is strange is that for this train to reach the number 3 Metro line it would have to go further than it does in this map. Someone told me they are presently extending the number 3 line and when I was in Caracas I saw lots of work being done on it. But thinking about it now I realize I must have been imagining it.

Again, the Caracas-Tuy train isn’t really being built. But if it were being built here is what it might look like.

It’s really amazing how real all those bridges and tunnels look even though they don’t exist. I’ve been told that Chavistas are the foremost Photoshop experts in the entire world.

Also, this isn’t the only imaginary rail project being worked on. There is a huge project to rehabilitate the old rail link from Barquisimeto to Puerto Cabello which is a port on the coast. This project is costing more than $500 million dollars (I’m not sure if that is real or imaginary money). To facilitate its construction they have built an imaginary railway factory in Barquisimeto that will be making the rails for the 8,000 kilometers of railway Venezuela intends to build. Ultimately, the factory is expected to build the railway cars as well.

Of course, given that Chavista imagination knows no bounds they are also building imaginary rail lines in Valencia and Maracaibo plus an imaginary trolley bus in Barquisimeto.

Imaginary light rail cars in Valencia

Imaginary station almost complete in Valencia

Imaginary interior of an imaginary station in Valencia

Stained glass in a Valencia station. A nice imaginary touch

Imaginary station under construction in Maracaibo

A big, if imaginary, trench in Maracaibo

All of this is on top of the imaginary subway lines being built in Caracas and the imaginary train line to Los Teques.

Imaginary rails in Los Teques

An imaginary station

Imaginary tunnels

I would like to go on and talk about the imaginary schools and hospitals and dams and the like being built by the government. But its late and I’m out of time. So what they are like will just have to be left to your imagination.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Can the guy really be all that bad? 

I bet this type of news even gets some hard core Chavez haters to reconsider their opposition to him:

Venezuela promotes Microsoft alternative

MAR. 29 7:11 P.M. ET President Hugo Chavez, long critical of big transnational companies, is promoting free open-source software as an alternative to market-dominating Microsoft Corp.

Venezuela's science and technology ministry recently held the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair, an event promoting the use of the open-source Linux operating system and other nonproprietary programs over Microsoft's Windows.

Groups of Linux users have been organizing similar events in other Latin American countries, including Argentina and Colombia, and the Venezuelan government has signed on as a promoter.

The technology ministry said the fair is part Venezuela's move toward "technological sovereignty, and taking advantage of knowledge for building national scientific independence."

Chavez, a vehement critic of the capitalist system, issued a decree in 2004 ordering all the country's public institutions to actively move toward open-source alternatives, hoping to save millions of dollars.

Government agencies have gradually been making the change.

Chavez says previous governments spent more on licensing fees for proprietary software than social programs to fight poverty.

The Venezuelan government hasn't focused direct criticism on Microsoft, but Chavez has regularly condemned "the hegemony of the multinationals" -- saying many big companies are to blame for putting profits above the needs of poor people across Latin America.

There has actually been a lot of news about Venezuela moving to open source software. I've never posted on it because I don't know a lot about software, as you can probably figure out from the decidely low tech nature of this blog. However, it has gotten plenty of coverage by some of the Spanish language Chavista blogs which seem to be written by computer experts.

I do know enough though to know Microsoft is bad news. So anything Venezuela does to avoid putting more money in the beast of Seattle's pockets is a good thing. You don't have to like Chavez to agree with that.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rice Flexes Muscle - Protects Terrorists 

An interesting dichotomy is taking place between the US State Department and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency in the case of two fugitive Venezuelan National Guards being held in US custody for acts of terrorism against the Venezuelan Government.

The issue centers on claims by the US State Department in hearign claims of torture against another fugitive, and supposed mastermind of the bombings of the Spanish Emabassy and Colombian consulate,Felipe Rodriguez. Rodriguez who was held in Venezuelan custody shortly before he fled to Miami and sought asylum, never raised concerns of torture by the Venezuelan custody - That is until the case of his cohorts/lackeys came to light, when they sought asylum themselves for the deed. José Antonio Colina and Germán Rodolfo Varela are both accused of carrying out the bombings on the foreing embassies. The sticky point in this juxtaposition is the fact that attorneys representing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency are making the case to deport the two back to Venezuela where they will stand trial for thier actions. Given such a predicament the newly considered and recently tested , label of torutre as it pertains to violations of human rights, is becoming a precedent by which the US can show probable cause, albeit very questionable, to deny extradition while keeping the accused custody.

The use of labels is not a newly found method by which a desired goal is denied and/or achieved. One need only to look at how the terminology of the label "communist" is substituted in the psyche of the average consumer of US fear mongering to understand its similarities to the term "terrorist". Not unlike these terms, is the use of the label of "torture" as has been amply explained by various US government agencies in negation of claims made unto itslef over the treatment of detainees on the war on "terror". The use of such terms under current day conditions has been diluted to extend to a number of meanings that best suit those doing the judgement. The Geneva Convention sought by its implementation and adoption to rectify the problem of identfying conditions that meet the general criteria for the appropriate use of the word torture. The actions by the US government in seeming violation of the such, and with no penalty for the violation thereof, accomplishes the goal of negating the accepted definition, made worse by the advertisement of a moral conduct which should, in theory, be emulated and diffused by way of globalization. Torture from now on is open to interpretation and or precedent set.

The US State Department, as a political arm of the government, clearly shows the resolve of the Bush administration to be partial to generalized conceptions of vague terminolgy as it best suits thier needs. Inthe case of the two detaines held; there is no doubt those in question for the bombings are guilty. The claims of torture fall short. They fall short of Internaitonal conventions, and they fall short of the standards practiced by the accusors.

Many Kudos to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for doing thier job. Lets wait and see how Condi'jemima cuts thier balls.


Monday, March 27, 2006

There are no independent powers in Venezuela? 

Given that the Venezuelan opposition hasn't gotten anywhere by claiming that Chavez is a dictator, because he keeps winning election after election, they have decided to switch gears. Now they claim that the problem is that Chavez himself runs and controls absolutely everything in Venezuela. Presumably every last decision is made by Chavez, or at least approved by him. Personally, I have always been a little skeptical of that given that even if there were 72 hours in a day I don't think he'd have enough time. Nevertheless, that is what the opposition has constantly told anyone willing to listen. And a significant number of people, including some foreign journalists, have bought into it.

Today though something happened that would seem to be a little at odds with the notion that Chavez controls everything. The Venezuelan Supreme Court lifted an injunction against a prior court order being enforced and now a Miri Pili Hernandez is not only being forced from her job, she can't hold any other government job, not even as dog catcher in El Tigre. Ms. Hernandez had previously been found guilty of assisting in the misappropriation of funds in the Caracas government and the punishment was to be, in addition to a fine,being barred from holding any government job. She had initially appealed that ruling on the grounds that she held an important position and it would be highly detrimental to the governments interests for her to be forced out. Initially the Supreme Court sided with her and let her keep her job but upon further appeals by the government they have now reversed that finding and she is now being forced out.

Fine you say, some little low level functionary is being forced out of her job, what does that prove? Well, actually Ms. Hernandez is not some low level functionary. She is the Deputy Foreign Minister for North American Affairs. That is, she is second in command in the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And now that the foreign minister, Ali Rodriguez, is sick and in Cuba for treatment she is actually running the shop. What's more, she has always been very high profile in this position. Most Venezuelans couldn't name half the ministers in the government, but they would definitely know who she is. She also pens a widely read weekly column in El Nacional newspaper. So rather than being a low level functionary she is something akin to Condeleeza Rice.

But there is even more to it than that. Before assuming her position in the foreign Ministry she ran the "No" campaign in the recall referendum against Chavez. That's right, when Chavez desperately needed an electoral win to turn back efforts to oust him she was tapped to run his campaign and won his eternal gratitude by running it very successfully. So she is sort of like Venezuela's version of James Carville or Karl Rove.

Clearly she is no ordinary government employee. She is a cross between Condaleeza Rice and Karl Rove (in significance, not at all in politics). She is definitely in the top 10 of important figures within Chavismo. And now the Venezuelan Supreme Court, the one the opposition claims is packed and controlled by Chavez, has given her the boot and banned her from the government!!!!

The "Chavez is a dictator" line didn't work out too well. Now it appears the "Chavez controls everything" line isn't working out to well. I guess its on to the next complaint for the opposition. I'm sure they are working hard this very minute to think up some other BS.


The tax man cometh 

Last week I posted on the great success the Chavez administration has had with its tax collection efforts. The tax agency, SENIAT, shutting down this or that business for tax violations is daily fare in Venezuelan newspapers. But this little blurb made it into and engish language periodical, BusinessWeek, so I thought I'd reproduce it:

Venezuela notifies 79 workers of tax debt

MAR. 27 6:01 P.M. ET Venezuela's tax agency has notified 79 Coca-Cola employees of tax debts stemming from omitted earnings or inflated deductions on income tax filings from 2003 and 2004.

The tax agency announced in a statement on Monday that it has asked the Coca-Cola Co. workers to pay theirs debts, plus a one percent fine and interest on the taxes that have gone unpaid.

"The intention of this action is to give the workers an opportunity to correct the situation," said the statement.

Venezuelan tax officials are pursuing a "zero evasion" campaign to curb tax evasion and boost revenue. The agency has temporarily closed the offices of large multinational firms accused of bookkeeping irregularities.
President Hugo Chavez says his government is strictly enforcing tax collection regulations to put tax revenue toward infrastructure projects and far-reaching social programs for the poor.

When it comes to taxes in Venezuela you can run, but you can't hide. Not even under pallettes of Coca-Cola.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Of course war criminals want imunity 

In spite of the fact that the U.S. likes to claim the right to judge people in other countries and put its adversaries on trial it will brook no judgment of itself or itself or its henchmen. It has refused to sign the agreement that brings into existence of the International Criminal Court and, worse still, it is cutting off aid to anyone who does sign it without first signing an agreement to never bring charges against U.S. troops.

Of course, the U.S. excuse for this refusal to participate in this court is that there might be cases brought against the U.S. for “political” reasons. The reason for this is presumably the U.S. wouldn’t ever commit the type of crimes that justify being brought up on charges of war crimes.

Obviously, the real reason the U.S. doesn’t want to be subject to any such court is that as it sends it army around the globe to subjugate people it knows they will likely engage in what are considered war crimes. Take this for example:

The villagers of Abu Sifa near the Iraqi town of Balad had become used to the sound of explosions at night as American forces searched the area for suspected insurgents. But one night two weeks ago Issa Harat Khalaf heard a different sound that chilled him to the bone.

Khalaf, a 33-year-old security officer guarding oil pipelines, saw a US helicopter land near his home. American soldiers stormed out of the Chinook and advanced on a house owned by Khalaf’s brother Fayez, firing as they went.

Khalaf ran from his own house and hid in a nearby grove of trees. He saw the soldiers enter his brother’s home and then heard the sound of women and children screaming.

“Then there was a lot of machinegun fire,” he said last week. After that there was the most frightening sound of all — silence, followed by explosions as the soldiers left the house.

Once the troops were gone, Khalaf and his fellow villagers began a frantic search through the ruins of his brother’s home. Abu Sifa was about to join a lengthening list of Iraqi communities claiming to have suffered from American atrocities.

According to Iraqi police, 11 bodies were pulled from the wreckage of the house, among them four women and five children aged between six months and five years. An official police report obtained by a US reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers said: “The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people.”


n Abu Sifa last week, Khalaf’s account was corroborated by a neighbour, Hassan Kurdi Mahassen, who was also woken by the sound of helicopters and saw soldiers entering Fayez’s home after spraying it with such heavy fire that walls crumbled.

Mahassen said that once the soldiers had left — after apparently dropping several grenades that caused part of the house to collapse — villagers searched under the rubble “and found them all buried in one room”.

“Women and even the children were blindfolded and their hands bound. Some of their faces were totally disfigured. A lot of blood was on the floors and the walls.”

Khalaf said he had found the body of his mother Turkiya with her face unrecognisable. “She had been shot with a dumdum bullet,” he claimed.


It was on November 19 last year that a US marine armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb that killed a 20-year-old lance-corporal. According to a marine communiqué issued the next day, the blast also killed 15 Iraqi civilians and was followed by an attack on the US convoy in which eight insurgents were killed.

An investigation by Time established that the civilians had not been killed by the roadside bomb, but were shot in their homes after the marines rampaged through Haditha. Among the dead were seven women and three children.

One eyewitness told Time: “I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.”


Last week Jalal Abdul Rahman told this newspaper about the death in January of his 12- year-old son Abdul. It was a Sunday evening and father and son were driving home after buying a new game for the boy’s PlayStation.

They were a few hundred yards from their home in the Karkh neighbourhood of Baghdad when — according to Rahman — US forces opened fire on the car, killing Abdul.

Soldiers approached the car and told Rahman he had failed to stop when ordered to do so. Rahman said he had never heard an order to stop. The soldiers searched the car and, as they departed, they threw a black body bag on the ground.

“They said, ‘This is for your son,’ and they left me there with my dead son,” he added.

Rahman claimed he had had nothing to do with the insurgency until that moment. “But this is America, the so-called guardian of humanity, and killing people for them is like drinking water. I shall go after them until I avenge the blood of my son.”

Clearly these are war crimes. And almost certainly they are not isolated incidents. They are part and parcel of wars of conquest. The people who are responsible for these acts are the people that launch these wars.

Needless to say, the leaders of the U.S. have no intention of being brought to account for this. Even if these things are brought into the international limelight and substantiated, you can be sure it will be the low ranking grunts that are made to fall on their swords. The Bushs, Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Rices, and others who make these crimes inevitable will not be judged by anyone. At all costs, they will make sure of that.


Getting the picture 

There have been several articles in newspapers recently about the large numbers of people traveling to Venezuela to see for themselves what is going on there. I think this is a good thing. While you can't possibly see everything, nor get every possible point of view, in a two week trip you will still get a much better sense of things than you can ever get just by reading about the place from afar. And it certainly will help you see the place as a multi-dimensional and colorful place, very diferent than it seems through the often black and white filtered lenses of the pro and anti Chavez internet debate. So I do recommend that people who have the oppertunity go, be it part of an organized trip or on your own with nothing more than a "Lonely Planet" guide book.

An added advantage of people visiting Venezuela is they tend to come back with the realization that for all the problems the country faces there is plenty of good tranpiring there too:

Venezuela doing more right than wrong
I recently read the Sentinel op-ed by Laina Farhat-Holzman "Be Careful What You Wish For."

Well, Ms. Holzman, I wish I could have the opportunity to dialogue with you. I wish I knew when you last visited Venezuela. I wish I knew why you demonize President Chavez. I wish I knew why you find it necessary to muddy your specious argument about "fiery demagogue" with Cuba. I wish I knew if, in your opinion, this demeans Cuba or does it demean Chavez? Or both?

And, if I had the opportunity to dialogue, I would tell Ms. Holzman what I know about President Hugo Chavez and his country. I just returned from Venezuela, where I had the opportunity to speak with people who are the recipients of some of the profits of PDVSA, the nationalized oil industry.

These are social programs for the poor. Our tour guide, Lisa Sullivan, a Maryknoll lay worker, had lived in Venezuela for 21 years and raised her three children in a barrio. That alone would make her knowledgeable about poverty. We visited schools, cooperatives, endogenous enterprises, women's groups among others. One thing they all had in common — a spirited reply to the dignity in their lives since these programs have gone into effect.

And a few words about some of the changes. UNESCO, of the United Nations, has certified Venezuela illiteracy-free. Scarcely six years ago, this nation of 25 million had 1.5 million illiterate adults. A series of free educational programs designed by the PDVSA includes Mission Robinson, where students are encouraged to work toward a high school diploma or complete their education even if they have never attended school. Another one, Mission Sucre, is a university program available to any high school graduate. We visited a community center where we met adult students, young children in preschool, a group of dancers and drummers.

In health programs, the deal with Cuba is 20,000 doctors, sport and health consultants in exchange for discounted oil. Medical clinics are everywhere, built with living quarters for doctors. Venezuelan nurses and teams of volunteers visit patients to check on their medication and progress. In the meantime, Cuba is training young men and women to be doctors and eventually take care of the health of their own country. We visited several clinics where free health care, drugs and dental services were available.

Other interesting enterprises include endogenous developments akin to grass roots beginnings. One we saw was a shirt factory. Folks from a nearby barrio decided they wanted to learn the manufacturing shirt industry. They asked the government for loans for 196 machines, help in administration and distribution, instructions in mass production and in accounting. The factory was large and airy, the workers relaxed since they all earned the same salary and made decisions together. Between shifts, their children, from a school on the grounds, raced up and down the aisle to see their mothers. This was one of the many examples of a partnership with the government helped by oil profits.

Other co-ops we visited included fishermen who showed us their refrigerated equipment purchased with the help of the government, a cocoa farm trying to develop a tourist trade for their chocolate drinks and sweets, and a farm, carpenter and yogurt cooperative that took pride in their large permaculture red worms used in fertilizing land. In essence, most of the programs are small, local and supported, rather than created, by the government.

Housing is still a major problem. The land law stipulates that unused land with a title can be taken by the government, but must be compensated; unused land without a clear title can be taken without compensation and the government will help those without title to obtain one. The one we were at needed land clearance and lots of vision to imagine a community in progress. Having seen others, especially the one that Lisa had lived in, we knew this could happen.

There is much more, Ms. Holzman, I could say about Chavez and the poor of Venezuela. It is not ideal. The oligarchy, the oil corporations and the U.S. government have tried subtly or directly to unseat this democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez. Although he won the referendum by 6 million votes, at least 4 million voted against him. This is a complicated situation, but suggesting that the business community could be the savior was not true when 80 percent of this oil-rich country had lived in poverty during the time the oligarchy was in control of the nationalized oil industry. I suggest Ms. Holzman research why Chavez is "fiery" toward business and why so many support him now.


Moving foward in the fight against prejudice 

There was a very interesting article in Venezuelanalisis about the work to give gays and lesbians in Venezuela full rights and also to battle the scourge of AIDS:

At the January World Social Forum in Caracas, Green Left Weekly’s Rachel Evans and Maurice Farrell caught up with Ricardo Hung from the Alianza Lambda gay-rights organisation and Moises Rivera Lopez, the coordinator of the Sexual Riverside Network for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.

Rivera Lopez is also employed by the mayor of metropolitan Caracas Juan Barreto to work on anti-homophobia campaigns. GLW also spoke to Marcel Quintana, the president of Consultants for Education and Health Venezuela (ASES), an HIV care group.

Hung explained that Lambda is part of a coalition of gay and lesbian groups that organises activities throughout the year. “In June we organise gay and lesbian rights forums, presentations and workshops, cinema screenings and other political meetings ending with a gay pride march.” Last August, on the international day of action against homophobia, Lambda “held a big protest in the Simon Bolivar plaza ... We took down the national flag and raised the rainbow flag.” In September, Lambda helps with a gay and lesbian film festival and with a December cultural festival.

According to Hung, “The new 1999 constitution includes no discrimination based on sexual orientation”, but there is a push to extend it to cover transgender discrimination as well.

“We are also campaigning for same-sex marriage rights”, Rivera Lopez said. “On December 28, Venezuela’s vice-president Vincent Rangel announced that a national referendum would be held to make same-sex marriage legal for the first time. Because referendums are expensive, he announced there will be other issues within it — abortion, for example. I think that the referendum will not go ahead this year because of the big push to win 10 million votes for Chavez for the December [presidential] elections. I think the referendum will be in 2007, named the 'Year of the battle of ideas’. This is a huge step forward for our rights.”
Read the rest here.

These are all important endevours which I have posted on before. The only thing I have to add is I think it will be more of an uphill battle than the article suggests. I hate to poor cold water on the optomism of these activists but Venezuela is still in many respects a very conservative society. For example, even in the Aporrea forums (for those who don't know those are the forums on the largest spanish language pro-Chavez website) many (most?) posters seemed to be opposed to the idea of legalizing abortion. And this is coming from hard core supporters of Chavez! So I think its anything but assured that these propositions would win in a referendum unless Chavez campeigns for them strongly. But we can always hope.


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