Saturday, June 18, 2005

All you need ... is something worth fighting for. 

Much has been said about the Thomas Freidman column stating that the U.S. needs to double its number of troops in Iraq. The blogoshpere has excellent commentary on it that I can’t add much to.

But I do want to point out one particular section of the column that caught my attention:

Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.

I don’t care for Freidman much, but he is smart and once in a while he is insightful. And this is one of those times. In fact he has noticed something that apparently none of the other media hacks have. And that is which side in this war beliefs in what it is fighting for and which side doesn’t.

The endless propaganda coming from the U.S. government and other apologists for the war is that the fight is between the good guys who are fighting for freedom, democracy, and a better future and the bad guys who are fighting for ... no-one knows what. They are nihilists we are told. We are also told time and time again that the tide is turning in favor of the U.S. and its Iraqi puppets now that they have a “democratically elected” and “legitimate” government.

What Freidman points to above clearly shows what a lie that is, even though he can’t (or doesn’t want to) draw that conclusion himself. Lets look at what Freidman is really alluding to. The most powerful military in the world, that lacks for nothing in terms of resources and technology, and its Iraqi allies are getting fought to a standstill by a rag tag, un-unified force with little more than machine guns, RPGs, and jerry-rigged bombs. How is that possible? How is it that the Iraqis who are the “good” guys generally just run away at the first sign of a fight while the “bad” guys show extreme courage and tenacity in going toe to toe with the worlds ultimate war machine?

The answers are quite simple, if unpalatable to war apologists like Friedman. For all the claims that the insurgents are nihilists that is completely untrue. It is obvious that they have extremely strong convictions, an unwavering belief in what they are fighting for , and as a result high morale that allows them to “punch above their weight” as Friedman would say. It is only this extremely high moral and motivation that allows them to fight a vastly superior force to a draw despite the overwhelming odds against them. Whatever it is that the insurgents are fighting for – whether it is Islam or Iraqi nationalism and regardless of what any of us think of it – clearly the insurgents think it is something very much worth fighting and dieing for.

It is equally obvious that the forces of the Iraqi government have no core beliefs or convictions, no desire to fight for anything, and are almost certainly in the army simply to obtain a much needed paycheck. If the Iraqi government represented something that most Iraqis believed in and strongly supported then surely they would fight for it. Yet they don’t. It is this fact, more than anything else, that shows the Iraqi government is neither popular nor legitimate. It only exists because a foreign army sustains it. If that army were to leave it would collapse as almost no Iraqis consider it worth defending.

As a rather famous Chinese leader said – what is decisive in wars aren’t machines or technology but human beings. History is filled with endless examples of a weaker group defeating a much stronger military force – from the American Revolution through Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. It is very often not the side which has the best implements of war that wins but the side that truly, even fanatically, believes in what it is fighting for. And which side that is in this war should be coming into focus now. Even Thomas Friedman is starting to see it.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Giving too much credit 

In some of my prior posts on the Venezuelan health program Barrio Adentro I mentioned that while the opposition strongly opposed the program at the beginning since saw how popular it was and now claim to support it.

Apparently I was giving these clowns to much credit. Today it came out that the head of the Venezuelan Medical Federation, Dianela Parra, is again criticizing these programs for using Cuban doctors. With the new diagnostic centers of Barrio Adentro II the Cuban doctors, according to Parra, will be carrying out more sophisticated procedures such as interpreting x-rays, blood tests, and operations. She claims that as they are not formally licensed in Venezuela they should not be allowed to do these things.

This is a complete re-hash of the oppositions original objections to Barrio Adentro. First they claimed that there the Cubans weren't really doctors but were Cuban agents sent to indoctrinate and spy on Venezuelans (seriously, they actually said that). Then they claimed the doctors were incompetent. They actually made a big fuss about one youngster who died from what they said was malpractice by a Cuban doctor who had given him a defective pill. Of course, this was later revealed to be nonsense as an autopsy revealed the boy died from meningitis from which no doctor could have saved him.

In any event, Barrio Adentro turned out to be a great success and is highly popular. So now the opposition claims they like it. And I'm sure a year from now after Barrio Adentro II has proven its worth they'll claim they like it too. But that won't fool anyone. When Venezuelans go to the polls they'll remember who has consistently done everything they could to improve Venezuelan society and who has constantly done everything they could to stop and throw roadblocks in the way of those attempts.


Coming apart at the seams 

Some of the apologists for the war in Iraq like to potray life for Iraqis as getting better. Of course they generally have to use meaningless metrics such as how much money the U.S. has spent in Iraq or how many construction projects are planned (not executed, planned) to show any hint of progress. Unfortunately, the news from actual Iraqis is much less sanguine. In fact, reading an article today by the L.A. Times it really seems as though the place is coming apart at the seams. Some exerpts:

Food Shortages Gnaw at Iraqis' Stomachs, Morale

By Louise Roug
Times Staff Writer

June 16, 2005

BAGHDAD — After his American employers left, and monthly food rations began to shrink, Hussein Hadi started selling his furniture. His bed was the last thing to go.

Now Hadi, his wife, sister, mother, two brothers, three children and a nephew sleep on his living room floor in Baghdad, their blankets sewn from flour sacks.

Some nights, they fall asleep hungry. "Hope is small," said his wife, Zainab.

Like many Iraqis, the Hadis depend on food rations distributed by the government. Sometimes the sugar they receive has been hardened by rainwater and the rice is crawling with maggots. The soap is so harsh that it causes rashes. On the rare occasions when the Hadis received all the items — sugar, rice, flour, baby milk, tea, vegetable oil and a few other essentials — they considered themselves lucky.

The U.N. World Food Program, which monitors the distribution of rations, recently reported "significant countrywide shortfalls in rice, sugar, milk and infant formula." Families in Baghdad haven't received sugar or baby milk since January. Newspapers have also begun reporting that the tea and flour handouts contain metal filings and that people have fallen ill after consuming food rations.


More than half of Iraq's population lives below the poverty line. The country's median income fell from $255 in 2003 to about $144 in 2004, according to a recent U.N. survey.


For a year, Hadi and his brothers ran electrical wire and made friends with Americans in the nearby Green Zone, which serves as the U.S. headquarters in Iraq. One of his brothers present in the house pulled out another treasure, a photocopied picture of him and other Iraqis smiling as they stand beside Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq at the time.

Kimmitt and other soldiers ended their deployment, and the Hadi brothers were dismissed. They wanted to work for the arriving troops but were turned away. The interpreters who control the hiring of other Iraqis behind the scenes wanted bribes that the family couldn't afford, the brothers said.

One brother applied to the Iraqi national guard. But they also wanted money: $500 to consider taking him as a recruit.


In Sadr City, a Baghdad slum into which 2 million people are crammed, the reduction in food rations also is taking a toll.

Intisan Karim, 26, lives with 24 family members in a small house. If rations continue to shrink, she joked, laughing without mirth, "we'll start eating each other."

Outside her house, water from a sewer flowed along the dusty streets. Goats gnawed on trash. By roadside shacks, boys sold dirty ice in buckets.

"The food basket is shrinking, and the people's hopes are also shrinking," said Amir Huseini, who dealt with social issues in an office affiliated with the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. "These one or two missing items have become three, four and five, until this point when the really vital item — the flour — is also missing."

I was going to make some sarcastic remarks about how the U.S. should hire Chavez to set up some of his social programs in Iraq as in Venezuela the standard of living of the poor is going up where as in Iraq it is falling sharply. But the article is simply to overwhelming for humor of any sort. The picture this paints is of a regime that is incapable of accomplishing anything and is thoroughly corrupt (you have to pay bribes to join the Iraqi army ?!?!?). Hundreds of billions of dollars and many thousands of lives and this is where things stand. Abysmal.

If this continues, the victory of the insurgency is all but assured.


Posada Update IX 

After some false starts, yesterday the Venezuelan government handed in a formal and certified extradition request to the U.S. government. Also, several days ago the Venezuelan government turned over to the U.S. additional evidence to bolster its case for his preventive detention. It will be recalled that the U.S. previously rejected Venezuela's request for preventive detention of Posada who is accused of blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing over 70 people. In the U.S. governments eyes if not for immigration charges against him he would be free to go.

It bears mentioning that Venezuela has already been much more accommodating of the U.S. legal requirements than the U.S. has been of others in matters where terrorists are involved. By this point in the game with Afghanistan the U.S. had already begun its bombing campaign which led to the slaughter of a good many Afghans. Repeated pleas by the Afghans to see the evidence against Bin-Laden before turning him over were rebuffed by the U.S. So I guess the moral of the story is if you have B-2 bombers, smart bombs, and missiles you don't have to bother with the legal formalities of extradition. In this hypocritical calculus of the U.S. one cruise missile is worth more than reams of evidence. It is the weak, like Venezuela, who are left to follow the "rules" and the "law". When you spend $400 billion per year on a military like the U.S. does you get to make your own law.

On a related matter, a Colombian drug trafficker wanted by the U.S. escaped from the maximum security prison run by Venezuela's investigative police, the DISIP. This escape, which couldn't have happened without LOTS of help (not 3 or 4 people but at a minimum dozens) points up problems with the Venezuelan state that Chavez needs to confront, quite apart from whether or not the U.S. ever turns over Posada. As this is a significant topic in its own right it will be dealt with in an upcoming post.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Good Old Days - IV 

Recently I have been beating up on the Wall Street Journal's O'Grady for her ineptness and dishonesty. In todays version of the Good Old Days - the story of what Venezuela was like when the opposition ran it - we get to see how much better the "Americas" column of the WSJ was when they actually had someone who knew something about Venezuela running it - Carlos Ball. Definitely about as right wing a Venezuela as you'll find (with the exception of Annibal Romero)but he can be brutally honest. Of course he was a little over optomistic in thinking that the banking failures would end cronyism - it was only Chavez's election that finally put an end to that.

In this installment of the "Good Old Days" you will get to see how the job of government officials was to facilitate corruption. In contrast to the Vth Republic where people get fired for acts of corruption, in the IVth Republic it was NOT engaging in corruption that would get you fired. Enjoy:

Bank’s Failure Signals End of Cronyism in Venezuela

Wall Street Journal, Friday February 4, 1994

The Jan. 13 collapse of Banco Latino represents more than the end of reckless banking practicies by Venezuela’s second-largest commercial bank. It also may signal the end of an era of political-corporate cronyism that has characterized Venezuela’s culture for the past 20 years.

In the late 1970s, during ex President Andres Perez’s first administration, Banco Latino was known as “the bank of the12 apostles.” The word “aposlte” was used for the dozen or so Venezuelan businessmen close to the presidential palace who became multimillionaires practically overnight. (Most of these fortunes were made through public construction work, as well as foreign contracts in Latin American countries that were receiving aid from the oil-rich Venezuelan government.)

The lavish spending habits of Banco Latino associates were well known. Probably no other bank in the world had more members of its board with private jets. Banco Latino’s chairman, Gustavo Gomez Lopez, reportedly owned three. Last October, when knowledgeable corporate treasurers were already withdrawing their deposits from Banco Latino, hundreds of corporate chief executives invitations to attend the opening of the bank’s Paris office. The offer included free flights in chartered jets and an all-expense-paid three-night stay at the Crillon or Ritz. As for banking practices, clients who toward the end wanted to withdraw their Cds were offered an interest rate of 105%, about twice the going rate.

It may not seem surprising that the financial authorities didn’t more closely monitor the bank’s operations when one examines their collegial relationship with Banco Latino. Fogade, the local equivalent of the Federal Deposit Insurace Corp., had 33.66% of its funds in Banco Latino, and a further 12.87% in a closely related bank. Those funds weren’t even in highly liquid assests, as the law prescribes, something that seriously complicates the Venezuelan banking crisis. But then, the head of Fogade had no previous experience in the financial world. An attorney, whe was married to the former chief bodyguard and confidant of ex-President Perez.

A new and far more restrictive banking law took effect Jan. 1, too late to save Banco Latino. But even with the new law, Banco Latino had been associated for so long with the ruling elite that bureaucrats weren’t about to put their jobs on the line investigating it (this includes leaders of both major political parties, the AD and Copei). The latest issue of the most respected local bank risk report reads, “a tolerant and permissive attitude by the supervisory agency favors speculative conduct, instigates noncompliance with the law, and does not penalize accounting practices and manipulations that reduce the transparency of the financial statements.”

Things at Banco Latino began to get seriously out of hand after the bank’s long-time chairman, the late Pedro Tinoco, was appointed head of the central bank in February 1989 by the now impeached President Perez. During Mr. Tinoco’s nearly four-year tenure at the central bank, his own Banco Latino really took off.

In March 1989, a sophisticated operation called “debt reconversion” was established by presidential decreee. This decree allowed the purchase of the nation’s foreign debt at prevailing marked-down prices and the resale of that same debt package to the government at near face value. This scheme was set up to help troubled companies, and the first beneficiaries were naturally companies of the apostles. Over 50% of all debt reconversion deals were done through Banco Latino.

After leaving the central bank, Mr. Tinoco returned to his law office and to his job as chairman of CADA supermarkets, part of the Cisneros conglomerate of companies (Organization Diego Cisneros). Mr. Tinoco’s law firm partners, together with Ricardo Cisneros (younger bother of “apostle” Gustavo Cisneros) and Gustavo Gomez Lopez (the son-in-law of another of the original “12 apostles”), controlled Banco Latino and sat on its board. Another board member was Francisco Perez, a brother of President Perez.

The Tinoco law firm represents the Chase Manhattan Bank in Venezuela and played on both sides of the fence in the long, involved and very profitable deals concerning the country’s foreign debt.

Soon after the second military coup against the Perez administration on Nov. 27, 1992, the Cisneros conglomerate started to reduce its exposure in Venezuela. On Dec. 4, 1992, it borrowed $55 million in order to buy – in partnership with Mexico’s Emilio Azcarraga – the largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S., Univision. Later, CADA and Banco Latino began to be siphoned off to purchase Pueblo Supermarkets in Puerto Rico and Xtra Supermarkets in Florida.

The logic behind such transactions is not hard to deduce. President Perez’s political support had evaporated with accusations of fraud and his later impeachment. The Cisneros media empire already had switched to endorsing someone else, Eduardo Fernandez, for president. Mr. Fernandez, the then-secretary general of the Social Christian Party (Copei) lost out in the presidential primaries to Oswaldo Alvarez Paz. The Cisneros group then immediately threw ist backing to Gov. Alvarez.

While campaign contributions aren’t made public, it was widely known that Banco Latino had become the largest contributor to Gov. Alvarez’s campaign. In fact, one of the principal reasons why Gov. Alvarez lost the presidential election last December to Rafael Caldera was probably voter concern over his ties to several businessmen who had greatly benefited from the Perez debt reconversion and privatization programs.

With Messrs. Perez and Alvarez out of the political arena, and with former President Caldera – an outspoken opponent of corruption in high places – back in the presidential palace as of Wednesday, it seem more than likely that the group that had flourished thorugh its its political connections decided to cut its losses, wipe the slate clean and get out of Venezuela.

The collapse of Banco Latino leaves one million account-holders pressuring the government to live up to its implicit guarantee to cover all deposits, not just the first $9,300 insured by Fogade. On their side is the fact that most of the money belonging to the state oil corporation pension funds, and the pension funds of the armed forces, were managed by Banco Latino. Colonels without pensions present a very real risk to any Latin American government.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Let some one new deal with the loonies 

Last summers referendum was overseen by observers from both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Due to their observations indicating that the elections results were accurate and that Chavez won they were immediately attacked as incompetents and stooges of Chavez by the opposition. Of course, the opposition never came up with any evidence of fraud that has withstood scrutiny and today even most opposition types admit Chavez won. Nevertheless, the opposition being what it is no apologies have been offered to the CC or the OAS for all the scurrilous and unfounded accusations made against them. In fact, they are now personas non grata in Venezuela as far as the opposition is concerned.

So now the thankless task of overseeing electoral processes in Venezuela will have to fall to someone else. For the moment the new (and very unlucky!) kid on the block is Center of Electoral Assistance and Promotion (Capel in Spanish). Capel is part of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights based in Costa Rica. This organization has assisted with numerous elections throughout Latin America.

Capel currently has a mission in Venezuela working on what is currently the key electoral project – the revision and verification of the voter lists. The actual compilation of the voter lists is carried out by the National Electoral Council (CNE). However, the opposition maintains that the CNE has a pro-Chavez bias and insists that anything it does be verified by outside parties. To that end the current Capel mission is to review the voting lists for the upcoming municipal elections and ensure that they are accurate.

Due to the enormous size of the voter list, over 14 million registered voters, only a sample will be reviewed. The CNE has proposed that a sample of 1% of the registrations be audited. Capel is in basic agreement with this. However, the opposition parties have wanted the entire voter list be reviewed. Recently they have reduced their demand to just 3% of the list. In any event Capel is bringing in more technical personnel to set up the audit and has tried to assure all the parties involved that the audit will be methodologically sound, thorough, and transparent. Undoubtedly it will be, as Capel has plenty of experience in these types of activities and there is no reason to believe that Capel itself has any bias.

However, the opposition at this point has a long history of attacking any organization that tells them things they don’t want to hear. So if the opposition is determined to undermine the local elections by claiming the voter rolls are somehow wrong it should be interesting watching them sink their fangs into Capel. I really hope the people from Capel brought their earplugs and can deal with lots of banging of pots and blowing of whistles at 3 a.m.!!!!

One last rather comical aspect to this. The opposition in this case consists of the representatives of various opposition political parties, AD, COPEI, Primero Justicia, etc. This creates a problem for the opposition in as much as these people can’t keep their stories straight. For example, last week when the CNE gave them a copy of the voter list they complained that they only got a list of names and nothing else. Well today, the leader the “Democratic Left”, Vicente Bello, complained that the data given out last week was replete with false names, bad addresses, re-located addresses, etc. etc. Hmmm, I wonder how they figured all of that out if they only have a list of names and nothing else? A bunch of straight shooters these opposition types are not.


HIV in Venezuela 

There was a rather disconcerting factoid given out by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health and Social Development today. They estimate that between 90,000 and 150,000 Venezuelans have HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. At the upper limit (which is probably an overestimate) this would come to about 5 HIV cases per 1,000 people. That rate of infection is neither particularly high nor low. By way of comparison there are approximately 1 million HIV infected people in the U.S. giving that country a rate of 3.4 HIV cases per 1,000.

The disconcerting part is that Ministry of Health and Social Development estimates that only 10% to 20% of people in Venezuela with HIV know they are HIV positive. This is a very low rate and very bad from a public health stand point. The 80% to 90% of people who don’t know they have the virus are much more likely to engage in high risk activities and spread the virus then people who know their HIV status.

While this doesn’t yet qualify as a public health disaster it is close. Clearly someone in the Ministry is asleep at the wheel and not doing their job. Too much first rate public work has been done in Venezuela recently to simply allow everything to be thrown away through this kind of sloppiness.

This situation clearly calls out for decisive action. Limited forms of mandatory testing need to be implemented. For example, the sex industry in Venezuela, while not on the scale of Cuba or the Dominican Republic, is large. There needs to be mandatory testing for those involved in it. Also, it may be necessary to implement post-natal testing for new mothers as is already done in some countries. Lastly, as at least half the HIV cases in Venezuela involve people who are gay or bi-sexual their needs to be expanded testing in those communities. While mandatory testing for them will clearly not be acceptable from a human rights point of view a strong educational campaign to encourage testing needs to be carried out.

This is a potential time bomb that can’t just be ignored or wished away. If not dealt with in a timely and appropriate fashion this will blow up in someone’s face.


Ideas anyone? 

I’ve never been sure why the same news is often regurtitated in Venezuela. Maybe it is just indolence on the part of media. Why work hard if you don’t have to?

But in this case it seems to be a case of outright sado-masochisim. After all if your the opposition why would you want to keep reminding yourself how popular Chavez is? But nevertheless this is what was headlined on Union Radio:

After nearly six and a half years in office president Chavez still has the support of 70% of the population and is the favorite to win the 2006 presidential elections, said the private polling firm Datanalisis.

Chavez has said that he will be a candidate for re-election in 2006 and, with no opposition leader with sufficient support to contest these elections, Venezuelans of both sides consider it probable that he will win.

The poll was carried out last April, with 1,300 people throughout the nation and has a margin of error of 2.71%

It also said that the Chavez’s hard core support is about 40%....

I’m pretty sure that this is the same poll that has been referred to constantly for a few months now. Maybe they are re-running it to drive home to the opposition how dire the situation is and that they better think of something fast or they are looking at another 6 years of Chavez.

Speaking of thinking of something, none other than the president of Datanalysis, Luis Vincente Leon, wrote an Op-Ed piece in the opposition newspaper, El Universal, today giving some of his own ideas.

Here are some exerpts:
I have spent hours in trying to answer the question that is most often asked of me – what should be the program of the opposition to confront the atractive, populist, and dangerous program of Chavez.

A friend mentioned to me: “The only way to defeat Chavez is to offer more to the people than even Chavez offers them....” Another friend helped me understand this concept more deeply by explaining tome the concept of “triangulation” which was devised by Clinton adviser Dick Morris.

What does “triangulation” consist of? It is a strategy, in a polarized situation, in which one of the sides tries to win over segments of the population that are linked to the other side but that can be won over with attractive proposals. Attractive in the sense that these ideas compete with and are based on your opponents ideas. In other words, this is equivalent to sharing with Chavez concern for the poor, equality of oppertunities, and social responsibility....

Actually, the ideas being expressed by Leon are not new. The opposition tried precisely that, out Chavezing Chavez, during last years referendum with obviously disasterous results and even before that with Arias Cardenas who didn't fare any better.

The problem really should be evident for all to see. For fourty years when they were in power the opposition never gave a hoot about the bottom half of Venezuelan society. They geared everything - job oppertunities, education, heatlh care, etc - to the middle and upper classese. A very large segment of Venezuelan society was always on the outside looking in. And when Chavez attempted to change that by implementing new social programs specifically geared to the poorest and most neglected segments of Venezuelan society the opposition fought him every step of the way – to the point of actually trying to shut down the whole economy. They can’t seriously believe that this is going to be forgotten by most Venezuelans. And even if it somehow were, they have to realize Chavez is going to run commercial after commercial showing all the virulent attacks by the opposition on these social programs.

So to out flank Chavez by coming across as leftists or populists is not going to work for the opposition. “Traingulation” has as much chance of working in Venezuela as Dick Morris has in getting a job working for Hillary Clinton.

So where does that leave the opposition and what chance do they have of unseating Chavez in 2006? Not much. As long as the economy keeps growing and Chavez has money to lavish on these social programs it is inconcievable that he could be defeated electorally. And what does Chavez having money depend on? Simple. Oil, and more precisely the price of oil.

As long as world oil prices stay north of $40 barrel Chavez will have the money he needs to keep his programs going indefinitely. And obviously the opposition can’t do much to control world oil prices so they are left to wait, and watch, and have their fate determined by things completely out of their control.

Well not quite out of their control. See the main reason oil prices have been so stubornly high is that the U.S. botched the whole Iraq invasion and hasn’t been able to get Iraqi oil production up enough to dampen oil prices. Iraqi oil exports have been stuck at 1.5 million barrels a day for a long time now and don’t seem to be budging. For whatever reason, the people in charge of the Iraqi oil industry (Halliburton?) can’t get the job done. But wait, what about the thousands of oil workers from Venezuela that were fired by Chavez after they went on strike? Couldn’t they go to Iraq and use their great expertise to get the Iraqi oil flowing, bring oil prices down, bankrupt the Venezuelan government, and enable the opposition to win the 2006 election? Definitely sounds like a plan.

Oh no, I forgot, most all those oil workers who were fired were executives, managers, accountants, secretaries – ie. desk jockies. So I guess they wouldn’t be much use in getting the Iraqi oil industry off the ground. On second thought then, the Venezulean opposition is screwed. See you in 2012.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

By way of contrast 

From the previous post it is evident what the U.S. is NOT spending its hundreds of billions of dollars on in Iraq. But today in Venezuela President Chavez inaugurated another one of the social programs which Venezuela has chosen to spend its money on. The program is called Barrio Adentro II. The original Barrio Adentro (inside the neighborhood) program was the second of Chavez's "Missiones" to be initiated. It involved putting thousands of Cuban doctors in poor neighborhoods throughout Venezuela to give millions of Venezuelans access to primary health care for the first time. Barrio Adentro had undoubtadly been the most popular of Chavez's social programs. The opposition, which fought against this program tenaciously at its inception but now sees how popular it is, claims that it would keep this program even if they came to power.

The Barrio Adentro II program just inaugurated is different in that it consists of opening hundreds of ambulatory care centers thoughout the country where patients can recieve more sophisticated care. Such services as full dental care, ambulatory surgery, and ob-gyn care will be given in these centers. Of course, these services will be free of charge and aimed at those who otherwise do not have access to health care.

If the people in Washington D.C. were smart, instead of fighting needless battles with Chavez all the time they would send some observers to Venezuela so they could get some ideas on how to improve Iraqi's lives and maybe, just maybe, win some desperately needed support in that country. Now, how do you write "Barrio Adentro" in Arabic.

Here are some pictures from todays inauguration:


Where did all the money go? 

Once in a while some clown in the Venezuelan opposition will pose the question of what has the Venezuelan government done with the oil windfall. Of course, this is a politically motivated and ridiculous question. What the Venezuelan government has done with the money is obvious; it has implemented social programs that have trememdously boosted the poor’s stanard of living, it has carried out large scale public works projects such as building new subway lines, bridges, and hydroelectric plants, and lastly it has gotten the economy to recover from the damage inflicted on it by opposition sabotage.

Nevertheless, the question of where all the money has gone is a good one – its just that they are applying it to the wrong country. The place where that question should be posed is Iraq. After all the U.S. has spent over $200 billion dollars there, Iraq is exporting about 1.5 million barrels of oil daily at $50 a barrel, and other countries have donated money. With all this you would think the country would at least have decent infrastructure and your average Iraqi would be able to live at least somewhat comfortably.

Appearently not. Here is an exerpt from an article on conditions in Baghdad:

"Sometimes we don't have any water at all, let alone drinking water. We are using generators to pump out the water, but we only have electricity about one hour out of six," Mahmud said.

"When the power comes on, the whole of Sadr City flicks on the pumps. You might get water, you might not."

Until US troops entered Baghdad two years ago, the neighbourhood was Saddam City.

Despite the name change, nothing has changed in terms of the quality of life, Mahmud said.

The rest of the article can be read here. A word to the wise, don’t read this article while eating.

So lets see, hundreds of billions of dollars spent and according to this poor soul nothing has changed in terms of quality of life. Four hours of electricity a day and water that reeks of sewage. And then they wonder why there is an armed rebellion.


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