Saturday, July 15, 2006

Getting a little desperate? 

For the past few years an absolute must have for all chickenhawks is the little ribbon afixed to their car reading "support our troops" (of course I support the troops - the IRS makes sure of that) or "God bless America". It would appear the ribbons aren't having the disired effect the ante has been upped. Now we have this non-sense being plastered on the back of trucks:

Got to love it- these idiots will support the troops no matter what country the troops invade next. But if that is not enough they want to make it clear they'll be no "aid and comfort to the enemy". Wow, so I guess if I get a flat this idiot won't pull over and help me?


Friday, July 14, 2006

Gringo in Venezuela 

Recently I updated my links to include some good sites. One in particular I would like people to take note of is written by an American living Merida - it is aptly named Gringo in Venezuela. It's a very worthwhile site that I hope everyone takes the time to visit. In the blog section of his website he has very interesting first hand observations on Venezuela ranging from the "student" riots at the University of the Andes which he gives an excellent first hand report on to his very perceptive observations on a recent trip to Caracas which I post in part below:

This weekend I spent a little time in Caracas. The experience was amazing and shocking; a city completely divided and shaped by its immense inequality. The capital city of Venezuela, Caracas represents the pinnacle of a society that is at war with itself. The class divisions are sharp in Venezuela, and in Caracas these divisions are seen the clearest. Those who are included by the economic system are constantly threatened by those who are excluded, and the excluded majority keeps searching for a way to take a larger part of what should belong to them.

The world capitalist system functions in way so that there is a center, and a periphery. The center of the system, North America and Europe, lives in affluence with an abundance of wealth and resources, while the rest of the world lives on the outskirts of this economic system, with overwhelming poverty and scarcity. The countries on the periphery have one basic purpose in this system; to provide raw materials to the center. The center uses these raw materials to manufacture goods which they overwhelmingly consume in the center (45% of the world's resources are consumed by the United States, which has only 5% of the world's population). The goods are also exported to the rest of the world, but only for those who can afford to buy them.


The city is basically divided into two halves. The eastern half is where the middle and upper classes live, with affluent lifestyles very similar to those in the first world. The western half, where the poor majority lives, is an unorganized mess of barrios, with makeshift housing stacked one on top of the other as far as the eye can see. And the west side is so feared, that residents of the east side refuse to even enter it. I waved down a taxi in the east side, and asked the driver if he could take me on a tour of the west side. His face got serious, and he tried to understand why in the world I would want a tour of that mess! At first he refused, telling me that it was too dangerous. They could pull a gun on him and take his car from him. Anything could happen. But then, for an extremely inflated rate, he agreed to take me on a limited tour. However, once in the west side, he refused to go deeper into the barrios where I wanted to go. He turned around before getting too far, and returned to the east side. It's a good thing, because as we were stopped in traffic, a man reached in the window of the taxi and snatched away my camera. The taxi driver was glad they didn't pull a gun and steal his car from him.

But, as much as the east side fears and despises the west side poor, they live relatively safe from it. Deep in the east side the city is quite safe and secure, and people live life isolated from the real problems of the majority. They drive the latest flashy cars, live in modern apartments, and even shop and extravagant, U.S.-style sho pping centers. Life is pretty good, wealth is relatively abundant, and they don't see many reasons for fundamental changes in the system. The problems of the poor majority aren't their problems, and so solutions to these problems don't really interest them. And, in reality, the changes required to solve the problems of the poor majority, would require the elite upper class to lose some of their privileges. But, after 500 years of this unfair economic system, the necessary changes aren't likely to happen. Unless, of course, some crazy guy from the poor side becomes president, and they lose their control of the political system! That is exactly what has happened, and its no mystery why, in the east side, there is abundant hate for President Chavez.


Rooting for the freedom fighters 

Yesterday apparently the U.S. was bitching that Venezuela isn't towing the line on who is a terrorist and is consistently supporting the wrong side:

U.S. Official Says Venezuela Has Close Ties to Terrorist States

WASHINGTON A senior State Department official said Thursday Venezuela's leftist government is "increasingly out of step with the world," citing the country's support for Iraqi insurgents and its close ties with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and other "radical rogue regimes."

Frank Urbancic, the No. 2 official in the department's counterterrorism office, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "roots for the terrorists" in Iraq who are fighting the elected government there.

Testifying before the House International Relations subcommittee on terrorism, Urbancic said Venezuela has pledged to defend Iran in the event of military attacks. It also has backed Iran, he said, against efforts by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to curb Iran's suspected nuclear weapons development program.

On North Korea, Urbancic said Venezuela backed Pyongyang's recent launch of a long-range ballistic missile and noted that Chavez plans a visit to that country soon.

"In the international community's fight against terrorism, Venezuela is a liability," Urbancic said. He reaffirmed U.S. opposition to Venezuela's bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Chavez has his own list of grievances against President George W. Bush, calling him a terrorist, an alcoholic and an imperialist. He has denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and repeatedly accused the U.S. of trying to overthrow him to seize Venezuela's vast oil reserves.

Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce expressed concern about Russia's decision to sell Venezuela 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles and to allow Venezuela to produce these weapons on its soil.

"It is the fear of many that these new weapons, or the weapons they replace, will end up arming left-wing terrorist groups throughout the continent," Royce said.

He noted that Venezuela has not yet been designated a state sponsor of terrorism but instead is described as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. The designation precludes the U.S. sale or licensing of defense articles and services to Venezuela.

Charles Shapiro, a State Department official and former ambassador to Venezuela, said the U.S. embassy in Caracas has submitted 130 requests to Venezuelan officials for information on suspected activities by terrorists.

So lets see, Venezuela opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq and supports thePalestinianss right to get their country back. He saidsovereignn states have the right to build rockets. Duhhh. And he thinks its a good thing if oil exporting countries work together for their mutual benefit. That sounds good to me too. I'd say this Chavez chap is quite bright and has the world figured out pretty well.

BTW, as if their wasn't enough comicrelieff in that article I liked the part about Venezuela not being fully cooperative in the fight against terrorism. I don't know. I think Venezuela is working hard to bring people who blow up airplanes and plant bombs outside ofembassy'ss to justice. Its the U.S. that keeps giving them sanctuary.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The revolution may not be televised but its electoral victories will be observered 

Today the CNE announced that both the European Union and the Organization of American States will be sending observation teams to oversee the Venezuelan presidential elections this coming December 3rd. All told this will be 400 observers. Given that both of these organization oversaw the most recent Venezuelan elections they already are very familiar with Venezuela's electoral system and both its strengths and weaknesses. This is good news that should help further the transparency of the elections though there is much Venezuela's own electoral authorities can do to further that too.

I wonder if the opposition will invite foriegn observers to oversee its primaries?


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Opposition bringing Colombian paramilitary death squads to Venezuela 

This blog has over 600 posts. Yet I don’t believe any of them are as scary and serious as this one. In today’s edition of Ultimas Noticias an article described how Colombian paramilitary organizations, responsible for killing thousands of people in Colombia, now have a significant presence in Venezuela. They are mainly concentrated close to the Colombian border in the Venezuelan state of Tachira.

In the article of couple of young paramilitaries now living in Venezuela describe how they got their start killing suspected guerrillas in Colombia, first torturing them in attempt to get information and later cutting them in pieces. Later the paramilitaries were being demobilized but these individuals moved to Venezuela because, as they put it, Venezuela needs to be rid of its “guerilla government”.

Now they claim to get assassination contracts to kill “people that cause problems directing land takeovers [hundreds of rural activists have been killed in recent years] and that support the biggest guerilla in South America that is in Miraflores Palacio”.

They charge 500,000 bolivares per killing, about $225, but charge significantly more if it is a local official or council person that is to be killed. They claim they used to be paid more but that now the price is falling due to “too much competition”. They claim not to know who was behind the Danilo Anderson murder (a former Colombian intelligence official claimed it was dissident Venezuelan generals along with opposition extremist Patricia Poleo who has now fled to the United States) but heard that a lot of money was paid for the job.

Below I am posting the full bone-chilling text of the article. This truly is a frightening development. This is not the first time there have been indications of this. Two years ago scores of Colombian paramilitaries were captured outside Caracas. But now it seems as though these murders are being brought in in larger numbers and are already carrying out significant numbers of murders. In a sense this not that surprising, the Venezuelan opposition, which has already tried coups and strikes to overthrow Chavez, is desperate to be rid of him. Knowing he is popular and can’t be defeated in an election at least in the short term they apparently decided once again to resort to violence.

This illustrates the importance of Venezuela developing a popular militia. It simply can’t afford to remain with its arms crossed when faced with this kind of threat. Nevertheless this is immensely tragic as surely blood will flow. But lets be very clear about who is responsible for this bloodletting – it is the Venezuelan opposition who has once again chosen bullets over ballots.

"Acabaremos con este gobierno DE GUERIILEROS"

Paramilitares dicen que no tienen plazo pero que avanzan Cobran 500 mil bolívares por matar a cualquier cristiano
Sencillo hermano, nosotros hemos llegado para quedarnos y punto. ¿No ve que la gente nos quiere y nos respeta? Bueno, nosotros los protegemos y hacemos que se cumplan las leyes. Aquí han desaparecido los delincuentes porque saben que los ponemos `piso’. Por eso, no vamos a acabar hasta que no quede ningún miserable de la guerrilla ni delincuentes".

con los militares, entre ellos a mis padres y hermanos".

El paramilitar relató que sus padres no podían negarse a apoyar a los militares, porque si lo hacían los uniformados podrían matarlos acusándolos de ser guerrilleros.

"No tenían otra opción y la guerrilla no pensó en eso y los mataron como a perros. Al cumplir con el servicio, no tenía trabajo y, como tampoco tengo estudios, no sabía de qué vivir, hasta que me contactaron las AUC y me fui con ellos.

Además, quería vengar la muerte de mi familia".

Su primer "sueldo" fue de 200 mil pesos, los suficientes para mantenerse y seguir pensando en la venganza.

"Tras el `entrenamiento’, comencé a trabajar cuidando `los embarques’ que hacíamos hacia fuera. En una oportunidad los guerrilleros quisieron quitarnos la mercancía y nosotros los vencimos. Matamos en el combate a tres pero capturamos a cuatro".

Luego, "Javier", con lujo dedetalles, contó como mataron a los subversivos y como se inició en el nada recomendable hábito de la venganza.

"Cuando confirmamos que eran `elenos’, yo le pedí al comandante que me dejara interrogarlos. Era la oportunidad que tanto había esperado para mi venganza. Primero les saqué las uñas de las manos con una tenaza para que confesaran dónde tenían la `caleta’ de las armas. Como no dijeron nada, les saqué la de los pies. Se desmayaban, lloraban, suplicaban pero no decían nada, hasta que me dieron la orden de hacerlos `piso’ (matarlos). Con la motosierra los piqué en pedacitos. Mientras los cortaba ellos suplicaban y gemían hasta que morían desangrados. Luego tiramos al río sus cuerpos, pero sus cabezas las dejamos guindando de cuatro palos, para que la gente agarre seña".

Con total normalidad, "Javier", comenzó a hablar y no paró hasta haber explicado el por qué se alistó en un destacamento paramilitar y el motivo que lo trajo a Venezuela, en esta entrevista que se desarrolló en el estado Táchira. Junto a él, otros cuatro miembros del "Bloque Catatumbo" de las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), no sólo se encargaron de vigilar y proteger a su líder, sino que compartieron los motivos que los empujaron a hacerse paramilitares.

Delgado, de 1.78 de estatura, trigueño y con acento santandereano, "Javier", quien dijo que tenía 28 años, ocho de los cuales los ha vivido matando y cuidándose de que no lo maten a él, dice ser el segundo al mando del "Bloque Catatumbo" que no se desmovilizó.

Familia muerta. Mataron a mis padres. "Yo tenía 19 años y estaba en el ejército, sirviendo a mi patria, cuando me enteré que los guerrilleros del Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) mataron a mis padres y a dos de mis hermanos".

"La guerrilla llegó al pueblo donde vivian mis padres y donde antes estuvo acantonado un contingente militar. Cuando llegaron los guerrilleros, mataron a 16 personas del pueblo a las que acusaron de colaborar

Así "Javier" comenzó su larga cadena de muerte y dolor, la misma que ha trasladado hace un año a Venezuela.

No aceptó plegarse a la desmovilización porque no tenían garantías de que no fueran juzgados por los crímenes que habían cometido y, además, porque decidieron venir a Venezuela cuyo "mercado" se les presentaba muy apetecible.

Seguir armados. "Decidimos seguir armados porque todavía nuestra misión de acabar con los facineroso de la guerrilla y de los que los apoyan, no ha terminado y porque en este país nos necesitan".

El jefe paramilitar aseguró que han recibido numerosos "encargos" para deshacerse de personas que para algunos resultaban incómodas.

"Aquí no funciona la justicia, entonces nosotros tenemos que hacer que se respeten los derechos de las personas. Cualquiera que quiera resolver algún problema se comunica con nosotros y tiene la seguridad de que lo resolveremos".

Confirmó haber recibido varios contratos para "tumbar" (asesinar) a "personas que causan problemas dirigiendo invasiones de tierras y apoyando al más grande guerrillero de Suramérica que se encuentra en Palacio de Miraflores".

"Cumplimos los encargos en varios estados, de gente que paga muy bien por ello, además de brindarnos la logística, pero yo no voy a hablar de quienes nos contrataron. Eliminamos a esas lacras, ayudamos a la tranquilidad de Venezuela".

Aseguró que para matar a cualquier delincuente o a una persona que tenga problemas con otra lo mínimo que cobran son 500 mil bolívares o pesos.

"Cuando se trata de algún dirigente, concejal o parecido, la tarifa es mucho más alta, pero por cualquier otro peladito se cobra 500 mil. Antes se pedía más dinero, pero ahora hay mucha competencia".

Sin embargo, aceptaron que cuando se trata de hacer un favor a alguna persona, especialmente a quienes pagan la vacuna, pueden recibir algún artefacto eléctrico a cambio como un televisor o licuadora.

Plan político. El irregular aseguró que no son "máquinas de matar como nos han presentados los medios", sino que también tienen una organización y fines políticos.

Desmiento de si alguien de las AUC habría participado en el atentado que cobró la vida del fiscal Danilo Anderson, pero sí dijo que escuchó que había mucho dinero para ese y otros "trabajos".

Indetenibles. "Nadie nos va a detener, tenemos muy buenos amigos en Venezuela y también dentro de las policías, aunque en San Cristóbal nos han botado a algunos compañeros, todavía quedan varios. Ellos han comprendido que es mejor estar de nuestro lado que en contra nuestra. Les pagamos un sueldo superior al que ganan y los ayudamos con sus problemas. Estamos creciendo rápidamente en la medida en que la justicia no es efectiva en su país".


Monday, July 10, 2006

Damn, Chavez really is a communist 

Personally, I never read much into Chavez’s friendship with Fidel, his embracing Mugabe, or even his traveling to North Korea. I certainly didn’t buy into opposition claims that it showed him to be a good old fashioned pinko. But I must now confess, I was wrong. We now have irrefutable evidence that all this talk of 21st Century Socialism is nothing but a cover for his being a plain old communist.

What is that evidence you ask? Simple, the guy is now showing workers in Venezuelan factories Charlie Chaplin films as a way of telling workers that they have rights. Charlie Chaplin – now that guy was a commie if ever there was one.

The Little Tramp's Classic Labor Lesson
Venezuela's socialist government is using a 1936 Chaplin film to educate workers about their rights. Employers are not applauding.
By Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer
July 9, 2006

LOS TEQUES, Venezuela — In his classic 1936 film, "Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin has to work so fast tightening bolts in a steel factory that he finally goes crazy. In a memorable scene that has become a metaphor for labor exploitation, the Little Tramp is run through the factory's enormous gears.

For President Hugo Chavez's socialist government, the film is more than just entertainment: It's become a teaching tool. Since January, in a bid to expose the evils of "savage capitalism," the Labor Ministry has shown the Chaplin film to thousands of workers in places such as this rundown industrial suburb of Caracas.

When the screenings at factories or meeting halls end, Labor Ministry officials then take their cue, and use Chaplin's plight to spell out worker rights under occupational safety laws passed last year and now being applied. They are part of Chavez's sweeping reform agenda that he calls Socialism for the 21st Century.

Chaplin wanted his Depression-era movie to make a point, that "once inside the factory, workers had no meaningful rights," said Los Angeles-based film historian and Chaplin authority Richard Schickel. "It was very relevant in the moment it was released, a time of social unrest and the emerging U.S. labor movement."

Seventy years later, Chaplin's fable is all too relevant in Venezuela, said several factory workers who saw the film recently.

"The owners still value their machines more than their workers," said Roberto Maldonado, a 29-year-old minimum-wage worker at the Pollo Premium poultry plant, which processes 75,000 chickens a day. "Charlie Chaplin ends up crazy, and I feel that way too sometimes. When I go home, I'm too tired to pay attention to my wife or family."

Freddy Colmenari, a 35-year-old worker at a pasta factory here, said that just as Chaplin's bosses do in the film, his supervisors frequently speed up the assembly line to nerve-racking levels and zealously monitor workers' trips to the bathroom. "There is always pressure and stress," he said.

But the business community here is hardly applauding the film. In a formal complaint to Chavez last month, the four main employer associations in Venezuela said that showing a movie depicting the boss as a "vulgar exploiter of workers" was designed to "generate hate and resentment in the labor sector" and "demonize the employer."

An official at the Venezuelan Confederation of Industries, one of the four signatories, said that the new workplace laws were another example of Chavez punishing private industry, a process the groups say has been unrelenting since a failed 2002 coup led by businessman Pedro Carmona.

While insisting they don't oppose workplace safety improvements, business groups here say that they weren't consulted before the new laws were drafted and that now workers and their delegates have too much power to intervene in factory operations.

Jhonny Picone, a top Labor Ministry official, said employees needed all the power they could get. He noted that Venezuelan workers were more likely to describe their job as "a curse from God than as something positive."

The grim and dehumanizing factory conditions depicted in the Chaplin film are still the "norm," he said — more than 1,500 workers die and thousands are injured annually in industrial accidents.

Largely at Picone's insistence, the film has been shown 1,000 times in 14 states and has been effective in educating workers who usually have no clue about their health and safety rights. Labor Ministry officials say it's because the most recent workplace regulations, passed in 1986, were unobserved, a "dead letter."

Workers are told they have a right to demand safety and hygiene precautions, and, through an employee-elected delegate that represents each factory, even to shut down production if owners don't comply. Egregious and repeated safety violations can result in the government taking over a plant.

"With Charlie Chaplin, it's easier to catch the attention of workers who are often too tired or don't trust the government in the first place," said Picone, a doctor named by Chavez to head a new Labor Ministry agency that he compared to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The workplace laws are a facet of Chavez's often-mentioned goal of installing a new socialist economic model to replace the globalized free-market version that the president says has failed.

The "popular economy" model includes a return to state-controlled central planning that reminds many of the Soviet era. Bankrolled by the country's oil wealth, Chavez has financed a number of worker-owned cooperatives that run factories and farms that the government has built or taken over.

"It's by no means dominant yet. It's gradually being built up by a process of trial and error," said a Chavez administration official who asked not to be named. "But in the longer term, the popular economy model will be dominant."

But one industrial leader who asked not to be identified said that the business climate was abysmal, and that factory production, industrial jobs and private investment had plummeted since Chavez took power in 1999.

"How much of this policy is revolution and how much is castigation, I don't know," he said.

Critics say Chavez is merely recycling the failed protectionist economic policies that many South American nations tried to impose after World War II to keep out foreign capital and competition. The policies were largely jettisoned in the 1980s as countries began embracing free markets and foreign investment.

Business interests also cite Chavez's decision to pull Venezuela out of the Andean Community as another example of his bias against the private sector. The regional trade group, known as CAN, was too U.S.-dominated, the president said. But one member, Colombia, is Venezuela's second-largest trading partner, and businesspeople here are worried that they will lose tens of millions of dollars in trade as a result.

On Tuesday, Venezuela formally joined the Mercosur trade bloc, whose members include Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Chavez told delegates in Caracas, Venezuela's capital, that he made the switch to avoid being "devoured by imperialist strategies, as happened with CAN."

But Venezuelan producers will have a tougher time competing in the Mercosur arena, said Jose Luis Betancourt, president of Fedecamaras, Venezuela's largest business chamber.

He criticized the new workplace measures. "The law will only generate less efficiency, less [industrial] capacity and make the Venezuelan economy more dependent on high oil prices, which won't last all our lives."

Chavez's adversaries in the business sector scoff at the Chaplin film screenings as an example of the president's simplistic, outdated and decidedly business-unfriendly economic policies.

But for poultry plant worker Maldonado, Charlie Chaplin has made a difference at work.

Inspired by the film and the talk from Labor Ministry officials, he demanded gloves and soap from his employer — and got them. But the assembly line still goes too fast, he said.

Metalworker Miguel Moreno also has seen some improvement. "We have more power because we know more," he said. "They've given me earplugs for the noise, at least."

Film historian Schickel said, "Chaplin would just love that his film is still relevant to modern social conditions, that a modern-day leftist politician in Latin America would find this film to be a useful tool."


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Getting along just fine 

It is nice to see that it really was Al-Zarqawi who was repsonble for Iraq's problems all along and now that he is dead Iraqis are just one big happy family.


Why some people count and some people don’t 

Yesterday there was an enormous rally of more than 500,000 in Mexico City’s main plaza demanding a recount to see if in fact the announced results are accurate. Below are some images of the rally.

Watching this rally made me think of a very important and revealing difference between those demonstrating in Mexico and those who have demonstrated against the government in Venezuela.

If one reads some of the election observation reports on Venezuelan elections there is one thing that jumps out. In spite of the fact that the observers find Venezuelan elections to be transparent, without irregularities, the electoral agency co-operative, and the voting process among the best and most accurate in the world they repeatedly emphasize that the voting process is not trusted by an important segment of Venezuelan society. And that is true, the Venezuelan opposition doesn’t trust the voting process – though whether it does so out of conviction or political expediency is open to debate. But the key point is the complaints and fears of the Venezuelan opposition are duly noted and taken account of by the international press and observers.

Contrast this with the situation in Mexico. There has been no audit to verify the accuracy of the vote and it looks like there may never be one. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have demonstrated against this and its safe to say probably millions of Mexicans don’t believe that the announced election results are necessarily an accurate reflection of how people voted. Yet the EU has already given the election its Good Housekeeping seal of approval without noting there many Mexicans don’t trust the results. The international press had widely reported that the Mexican electoral agency, the IFE, is accepted by all as professional, impartial, and transparent. Suffice it to say there is probably a big segment of Mexican society that wouldn’t agree with that. But somehow the concerns and doubts of those millions of people are ignored.

I have thought about what could cause the disparity in the acknowledgement of the concerns of the Venezuelan opposition and the Mexican opposition. The answer seems very clear: If you are wealthy, own a big share of the media, speak English, and studied at places like Harvard and Oxford like representatives of the Venezuelan opposition have you get taken account of. When you are a movement of poor and working people who are maybe not so well educated and not multi-lingual like the Mexican opposition you simply don’t merit being taken account of. This is the very sad reality of the world and the E.U. and the media are a reflection of this reality. That should never be lost site of when analyzing world events.


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