Friday, July 01, 2005

Chilling in Cubiro 

A long weekend is here so I am heading up to the mountains for some R&R in Cubiro.

See you Tuesday.


Profiles in Leadership 

Wednesday I mentioned how pro-Chavez legislators in Venezuela are trying to decriminalize abortion at least under certain circumstances. This effort is being led by MVR Deputy Iris Valera and aims to allow abortions in case of rape or incest. Unfortunately, the Catholic church is opposing this very moderate reform. Worse still, so is most of the rest of the opposition. For example, one of the main opposition parties, Proyecto Venezuela (Project Venezuela) denounced the proposed law. This was reported both in Venezuela’s press agency, ABN, and the web site Aporrea. As Aporrea gives an introduction I will reproduce their article which can be read in Spanish here:

Note from Aporrea: Abortion is common in Venezulea, but its illegality means that only women from the upper classes can get access to it in a safe manner, while poor women either cannot get access to it at all or they do it in very poor clinics or, in desperation, in their own homes where many times they die or wind up with long term medical problems. It is now time that the Bolivarian revolution catches up with the rest of the progressive world in terms of women’s rights.

Caracas, June 28th, ABN (Jose Francisco Michelli) – The Project Venezuela deputy Vestalia San Pedro said that only God can introduce changes in our lives and that no type of change should be brought about by any other means.

In this way, the opposition parlimentarian disagreed with the decrimminilization of abortion proposed by 19 civil organizations to the National Assembly last Tuesday.
The deputy understands the suffering of the women who are victims of rape but believes such an act can’t be resolved by taking the life of an inoccent
The duputy also indicated that all the Project Venezuela deputies are against decriminizing abortion. “As a Christian I say that the most basic is a live given to Christ. There is a supreme being that is God”

According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Soical Development in 2003 each week two women died from abortions given in clandestine clinics.

So there you have it, the Venezuelan opposition wants to keep Venezuelan women stuck in the 19th century. It makes me wonder if they are going to try to run Jerry Falwell or Ralph Reed for president in 2006.

Now to make matters even more interesting this whole topic came up in the Aporrea forum (be warned there are some very graphic images of the type anti-abortion activists usually show). And ironically enough a number of the pro-Chavez participants in the discussion were very anti-abortion. Again, with respect to this issue Venezuela is a very conservative country. Which is why the MVRs leadership on this is all the more impressive. It would be simple to take the easy way out and not push this issue. Especially when it alienates some of your very own supporters. But leadership means doing what is right and doing what will make your citizens lives better even when it is difficult politically. And Chavez has never shied away from a hard fight if it is over something that needs to be done to move Venezulea foward. Contrast this to even the “progressive opposition” who say nothing on this issue. People like Petkoff and his MAS (Movement to Socialism) party are nowhere to be found on this issue even though it is costing a lot of women their lives. So we can see who has the courage to lead and who is afraid to do anything that might hurt their chances to get their hands on the levers of power and money.


Thursday, June 30, 2005

Venezuela notes 

A couple of quick notes from Venezulea:

First, unemployment continues its downward trajectory. It fell to 12.6% in May 2005 versus 15.8% in May 2004 for a decrease of 3.2% (economic statistics in Venezuela are generally measured year over year to eliminate seasonal fluctuations). With this reduction the government is on target to reduce unemployment to single digits by year end which is its stated goal. It should be recalled that during the opposition sabatoge of 02/03 unemployment shot up to over 20%.

Second, Venezuela served as the host of a recently concluded Caribean energy summit. Venezuela used this summit to offer oil at a significant discount to Caribean countries. Venezuela itself benefits tremendously from high oil prices and has had a multi-billion dollar windfall from recent high prices. However, it does have to be recognized that these high prices impose a burden on other low income countries lacking their own oil supply.

To help countries with this the accord just signed provides for reduced prices and special financing. When oil goes over $40 per barrel Venezuela will agree to finance 30% of the cost and when it goes over $50 per barrel 40% of the cost will be financed. The financing allows for payment to be diferred from 2 to up to 17 years. Further the bills can be paid in goods and services thereby allowing countries to get oil without using scarce hard currency. These measures should help the countries of the Caribean weather the current high oil prices.


Finding Good Help Isn't Easy 

Due to circumstances beyond its control the U.S. military is having a tough time finding people to join up. Its hard to fight a war when the apoligists for it prefer to cheer it on from thousands of miles away rather than get in on the action themselves. I think a new term "Chickenhawk" has entered the English language to describe this.

In any event, in an attempt to find somebody to fight the war the U.S. Army has come out with a new recruiting poster. I'm not sure this is going to work but, hey, they're trying.


Easy money 

As I’ve pointed out a couple times in the past the anti-Chavez hack, Mary O’Grady, as to work really hard to earn her pay check. Finding bad things to say about a country with a vibrant democracy and booming economy isn’t easy. On the other hand some people barely have to break a sweat doing their job. One such person in the Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez. Ok, he does have a big area of responsibility, rebutting all the cheap anti-Chavez propaganda emanating from the U.S. government. But that’s not all that hard, after all, I do it in my free time. Telling the truth just seems to be so much less time consuming than inventing lies. Anyways, lets see what Mr. Alvarez had to say:

Democracy is thriving in Venezuela


United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's June 11 opinion piece, "Hemisphere's Security Tied to CAFTA's Passage," incorrectly alleges that Venezuela's government is "attempting to subvert the democratic governments in the region."

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, whose political party has won eight free and fair elections in the past six years, is part of a new democratic trend spreading throughout the region. Progressive, more-inclusive democracies, intent on providing health care, education and fundamental social services to their impoverished and historically excluded populations, are emerging in every corner of the Americas.

The Chavez administration has invested millions of dollars in a wide array of social programs that have brought primary, secondary and university education; basic health services, including clinics and dentistry; and subsidized food to the country's poorest.

Venezuela has also been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that Latin American countries effectively pursue policies that manifest a greater political and economic cohesiveness than ever before. This is needed to enable the region to confront the massive problems it faces and invest wisely for its future needs.

The Venezuelan government has also pursued an innovative energy strategy, reaching out to other countries regardless of political or economic ideology, in an effort to diversify its markets and supply the world's energy needs. In March, India and Venezuela signed an agreement that will allow India's ONGC Videsh Ltd. to jointly explore and produce oil with PDVSA, Venezuela's national oil company. Also, Venezuela has put together an Energy Cooperation Program that allows countries of the hemisphere to finance a significant part of their oil requirements, offering them long-term, low-interest loans with generous grace periods.

International commerce has particularly benefited from strong economic growth; in 2004, Venezuela's economy grew by 17.3 percent, one of the highest rates of growth in the region, climbing dramatically from its trough of prior years. Foreign investments in the region are steadily expanding; Venezuela is the United States' 16th-largest economic partner with nearly $29 billion worth of trade last year, only behind Mexico and Brazil among Latin American countries. Trade with Colombia has consolidated under the Chavez administration, as Colombia has become Venezuela's second-largest trade partner after the United States.

Of significance for your readers is that American businesses have invariably benefited from this economic progress and the government's openness to foster fruitful commercial relationships. Next week, the first Venezuela-U.S.A. business round table will be held in Caracas. This public policy initiative will seek to define and finalize business transactions between Venezuela and its U.S. commercial partners in the short, medium and long term.

Furthermore, the Venezuelan government has been active in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. In 2004, Venezuelan authorities interdicted more than 43 tons of cocaine, a 33 percent increase from 2003. In March, President Chavez, along with the president of Brazil, vowed to support Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to end his country's decades-long civil war. To this end, Venezuela has a cooperative agenda with the Colombian authorities regarding the control of the common border and the presence of irregular forces in that area. Venezuela has turned over members of the FARC and ELN through legal, bilateral extradition processes. All extradition requests made by Colombia have been granted by Venezuela. Today, Venezuela is seeking the extradition from the United States of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-Venezuelan citizen accused of masterminding a 1976 attack on a Cuban airplane that led to the death of 73 innocent civilians, including a pregnant woman.

Let us be clear: Venezuela is a strong security ally for all countries, including the United States, that seeks to end the scourge of terrorism. Venezuela's pursuit of an economic development model that allows all citizens to benefit from economic prosperity -- not just a privileged few -- will do much to alleviate the grievances and conditions that give rise to terrorism.

Our success will benefit all of Latin America. It will also benefit the United States. It will do so in the context of respect for each country's self-determination, its sovereignty and adherence to universal human rights principles. The history of what has happened before in Latin America, in terms of stability, democracy and human rights, cannot be changed in just a few years. But a foundation for a new, more prosperous and politically and economically inclusive future for all is ready to be built.
BERNARDO ALVAREZ HERRERA is the Ambassador of Venezuela to the United States. He wrote this for the News Tribune. Readers may respond by writing to letters@duluthnews.com


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Reactionaries will be reactionaries 

In Venezuela abortion has historically been illegal under all circumstances. And that continues to be the case right up to today. Even in cases of rape and incest it is illegal.

Finally the Venezuelan Assembly is trying to reform this. Chavez’s party, the MVR, is trying to introduce reforms to the Penal Code that would legalize abortions in very limited circumstances. Unfortunately, even these very timid reforms are being opposed by those who do nothing but oppose anything Chavez tries to do. Here is some of what was said in Ultimas Noticias today:

The Venezuelan Episcopal Conference urges the Catholics of Venezuela and all people of good faith, of whatever political or ideological affiliation, to actively express their rejection of the proposal to decriminalize abortion in the Penal Code presented in the National Assembly and calls upon Catholic assembly members, regardless of their party affiliation, to vote against the proposal. Remember that the Constitution gives the right to live as a fundamental right and the foundation of all human rights.

So while Chavez tries to bring Venezuela into the 20th Century (never mind the 21st, this is 20th Century stuff) the opposition fights tooth and nail against any sort of progress. And note how they twist and distort the Venezuelan Constitution to serve their own narrow ends thinking that everyone else is too stupid to know what the Constitution means by the “right to life”.

Of course, this reactionary nonsense doesn’t stop there. This past weekend some evangelical Christians protested in Caracas against the demands for gays and lesbians for expanded legal protections and the government’s efforts to accommodate. Maybe the opposition is so desperate that they are now trying to emulate Bush with all the backward and divisive social policies he used to help himself win in the last election. Fortunately most Venezuelans don’t buy this crap and the opposition is only digging its grave deeper by doing this.

Lastly, but by no means least, a commission was formed in the National Assembly to study the violence against farm workers and find ways to stop it. Ever since the major land reform laws were passed there has been a spike in violence by powerful landlords against small farmers and rural activists. This violence has led to the death of dozens of people and needs to be stopped. Hopefully, the formation of this commission will be a step in that direction.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Posada Update XI 

It seems that extradition requests are breaking out all over. The latest is that the Italians are requesting the extradition to Italy of 13 U.S. CIA agents. Why would Italy be demanding the extradition of CIA agents? Well it turns out these CIA agents kidnapped a person accused of terrorism from Italy and secretly hustled him to Egypt where he could be tortured and interrogated. Here are some of the details:

Italian prosecutors want to extradite 13 CIA officials accused of kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric and transporting him to Egypt where he reportedly was tortured, and they've asked Interpol to help track down the Americans, a court official said Tuesday.
The 13 are accused of seizing Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, and sending him to Egypt, Milan prosecutor Manlio Claudio Minale said. He was taken to Aviano, a joint U.S.-Italian air base north of Venice, flown to Ramstein, another U.S. base in Germany, and then on to Egypt, according to the prosecutor's report.

Wait, you mean the U.S. government kidnapped an alleged terrorist off the streets of another country and sent him to a third country to be tortured? I know they do even worse to Afghanistan as I have amply shown – but to a European ally of theirs? And this from a country who insists that others follow all sorts of long drawn out legal procedures before even considering extraditing anyone. Oh yes, I forgot – the U.S. is a nuclear power. I guess that means you get to do whatever you want.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government, which has which has jumped through all sorts of hoops in attempt to bring Posada to justice find all their paperwork and evidence gathering dust in a Washington D.C. office. What a travesty.


Where are the Oily People when you need them 

As you may recall, the Oily People (aka Gente de Petroleo) were the almost 20,000 former employees of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA who went on strike in December 2002 in an attempt to bring down the Chavez government. They failed in this attempt and were subsequently fired for job abandonment. Since then they have been doing a lot of whining and crying trying to get their old, highly remunerated, jobs back. So far they haven’t had any luck and still find themselves without jobs.

However, their continued unemployment is certainly not due to lack of demand for qualified oil workers. Witness today’s front page article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Pursuit of New Oil Supplies Runs Into a Bottleneck.” The article laments the fact that despite the boom in investment in the oil industry projects are backlogged due to lack of qualified personnel to carry them out. Some excerpts:

...there is growing concern that there won’t be enough technical expertise available to design these complex projects. The number of petroleum engineers in the U.S.- long the main global supplier of such talent – has fallen by nearly half since the 1980’s.... A shortage of skilled professionals is crimping contractors ability to execute.
Engineering executives say one reason they are having trouble keeping up is that oil companies haven’t invested enough in new production in recent decades to justify big work forces at the service giants. Thus oil-service providers face a shortage of professionals – tens of thousands of whom have been laid off or have retired in the past 20 years or so.

“A lot of skilled people have either been laid off, or have retired from the industry in the last 18 years,” said Schlumberger’s Mr. Gould. “Recruiting and training their replacements takes time and requires a global approach.”

What I found strange about this otherwise interesting article is that no mention was made about the Oily People pitching in and helping boost production all over the world. With such a critical shortage of skilled and experienced workers one would think the Oily People would be a very hot commodity. Apparently not.

What is particularly ironic about this is that the Oily People have never tired of talking about how great they were. They talk endlessly about how “meritorious” PDVSA was with only the best being able to work there. And according them PDVSA was the creme de la creme of oil companies, better than Exxon, Shell, BP or any of them. Given that PDVSA couldn’t even manage to refine unleaded gasoline until the late 1990s I always had trouble believing that. But that is what they always said. And who am I to say – maybe they were right.

But then, if there is such a worldwide shortage of talent why wouldn’t these highly talented Oily People be in high demand? Hmmm. Could it be that maybe they don’t have so many merits after all?


Monday, June 27, 2005

Ali talks - will they listen? 

As has been pointed out before despite all the talk about how high oil prices are they are in reality quite moderate. It was also mentioned that OPEC may therefore wish to re-adjust its price bands to reflect the ability of oil consumers to easily pay higher prices. It turns out the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, and former OPEC Secretary General as well as President of PDVSA, Ali Rodriguez is on top of the situation. Here are some of Rodriguez’s comments from the other day:

”The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could return to a system of price bands but with a higher range between 40 and 50 dollars to reflect the new realities of the market.”

As Rodriguez was the first person to propose and implement the original price band of $22 to $28 his comments will certainly carry weight. Ali Rodriguez is a very astute observer of the oil industry. His former collegues in OPEC would do well to listen to him.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

What the numbers show 

On Wednesday I posted the text of a Consultores 21 poll on Venezuela. Consultores 21 is one of Venezuela’s larger polling firms and it should be noted that it has an anti-Chavez stance. Given that on Wednesday I didn’t have the time to translate and analyze the poll let me do so now.

Right off the bat we start with something that we already knew but bears repeating – Chavez is popular and his opposition isn’t:

53.7% believe in President Chavez while only 22.6% believe in the opposition and 23.7% didn’t answer

So Chavez has the support of 2 and 1/2 times as many people as the opposition. This shows both how much support Chavez has and how much the opposition, through it actions, has turned people against it. It also explains why the old opposition slogan, “elections now”, has fallen into disuse.

Next we get opinions on basic concepts:

58% agree that “Now Venezuela belongs to all” (Ahora Venezuela es de todos)

This is the icon that I put at the top of the links section of the blog. It is a symbol commonly used by the Venezuelan government to show that, in contrast to when Venezuela was run by and for a small minority, Venezuela is now run for the benefit of all its citizens. And clearly the majority of its citizens believe that is indeed the case.

55% agree partially or totally that “the government of Hugo Chavez is the best of the democratic era”

This is one of the most interesting findings of the poll for me. I have always noted that most older Venezuelans who can remember many of the previous governments overwhelmingly say the Chavez government is clearly the best – ie, much less corrupt, does more for average people, more democratic, etc. In fact there was one poll I saw a couple of years ago that broke down Chavez’s level of support by age and interestingly enough he had higher levels of support amongst older people than younger people. But this result, in which people say not only that the Chavez government is good but that it is in effect better than any government they can remember, is a tremendous endorsement of Chavez’s achievements.

45% agree totally or partially that “they have benefited from the oil wealth”. It is pointed out that during previous governments of the democratic era, the percentage of people who said they benefited from the oil wealth, never even, in the best of cases, was 20%.

The Venezuelan Information Office use to have a nice poster that said “In the past Venezuela’s oil only benefited a few, now it benefits a few million”. That is indeed very true. In the past it was the oil workers, the corrupt political and business class, and their accomplices that benefited. Most Venezuelans were frozen out of the benefits from the oil revenues. But with the government now spending the billions it gets in oil windfall on social programs for average people the benefits of Venezuela having oil are seen by a great many. This result shows how accurate that VIO poster was.

Here are a couple key results from the economic realm:

In May, 58% of those questioned consider their personal economic situation as having improved while 41% view it as having gotten worse. 54.4% say they are satisfied with their current economic situation.

Opposition propaganda tries to assert that there has been no improvement in peoples lives under Chavez and that his support is based entirely on yet to be fulfilled promises. These numbers show that for the majority of Venezuelan’s that is false – most Venezuelan’s have seen improvement in their own personal situation and, rather surprisingly for a poor country, the majority are content with their own economic situation.

On the political front here are some more numbers:

Chavez’s overall popularity is 57%. 59% think that Chavez thinks more of the country as a whole than in himself. He is not seen as egocentric but the opposition is seen as egocentric.

If elections were today the political parties people would vote for are:

MVR [Chavez’s party] 41.7%

Primero Justicia 9.1%

Accion Democratica 6.2%

Proyecto Venezuela 5.2%

Copei 1.5%

These numbers yet again show far ahead of all his potential rivals Chavez is. All the opposition political parties combined don’t even come close to his level of support. Also, the opposition likes to paint Chavez a megalomaniac who is out for himself. However, according to this poll Chavez is seen as working in the interest of the greater good while the opposition is seen as self centered. This is the oppositions fundamental problem. Despite the vast amounts of money spent on its propaganda most Venezuelans see right through it.


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