Friday, July 15, 2005

Bring it on Condoleezza, bring it on 

Here is a rather amazing observation from a leading Venezuelan poster. According to Vincent Leon of Datanalisis disparaging remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice actually help President Chavez:

"Every time Condoleezza Rice attacks Chavez, his approval rating goes up 2 or 3 percentage points," said Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster and Chavez critic.

Chavez is already at over 70% in the polls. But making 80% sure would be cool. So Condoleezza, bring it on babe. Give Hugo your best shot!!!


Well, no sooner than I talk about Chavez getting 80% in the polls than a new poll came out, published in Ultimas Noticias, showing that Chavez's approval rating has now hit 80%. I guess there must have been a few barbs recently by Condoleezza that I missed.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Venezuela round up 

Previously, I have posted on how some pro-Chavez assembly members have been trying to legalize abortion in limited circumstances only to meet resistance from the opposition. Not only have they met resistance from the opposition but they have met indifference from even people who are supposed to be progressive members of the opposition. For example, Teodoro Petkoff, who seems to have at least five opinions for every subject, has been pretty darn quite on this issue.

In other countries it is often the medical community that takes the lead on this issue as they see the dire consequences for women when abortion is criminalized. But yesterday the Venezuelan Medical Association ducked the issue. They said it should just be “studied” more before anything is done. Their reasons? They are afraid it would become a method of contraception (oh, yeah, abortions are fun – women are really going to do that) and that Venezuelan doctors aren’t properly equipped and trained to perform abortions (I guess this is another reason the Cuban doctors are needed). Clearly this is just a cop out while women die. My previous post on this was called “profiles in leadership”. I guess we could call this “profiles in cowardice”.


One of the opposition’s chronic complaints has been the high level of crime in Venezuela. To be sure, Venezuela does have very high level of crime. But the opposition, in their attempt to make political hay, always tried to pin responsibility for it on Chavez. They always neglected to mention that many local police forces were controlled by pro-opposition politicians who didn’t seem to make fighting crime a priority. It was widely hoped that when the voters ousted a number of anti-Chavez mayors and governors last Fall and replaced them with pro-Chavez leaders this would be rectified and crime would begin to go down.

Today we see evidence that is exactly what is happening. Up until last November Caracas was governed by a very anti-Chavez mayor, Pena, who used Caracas’s main police force to serve as opposition storm troopers rather than fight crime. He was voted out and replaced by Juan Barreto. Since then crime has been reduced dramtically.

In statistics released today it was shown that the number of significant crimes for the first 6 months of 2005 was 7,821 as compared to 14,177 in the first half of 2004. In other words, there has been a 50% reduction in crime in Caracas.. Further, murders fell from 848 in the first 6 months of 2004 to 640 in the first 6 months of this year. Clearly there is much more to be done. But the progress is dramatic and undeniable. Opposition politicians have truly been like a plague on Venezuela. It is amazing how much better things get as soon as we get rid of them!!


Yesterday a few hundred students went to the National Assembly to protest the murder by police of three college students. The murder of the students certainly is inexcusable and the government has been quick to make changes in the police force that did this including firing a significant number of officers. The students wanted to meet with leaders of the National Assembly and as a result the head of the National Assembly (A.N.), Nicolas Maduro went out to meet with them and listen to their complaints. He assured them that there would be a full investigation of the incident by the A.N. and that the students would always be welcome to come and participate in the proceedings. Certainly the government is being very responsive to this tragedy. By way of contrast, in 1989 when the opposition was running the government hundreds (maybe thousands) of people were gunned down in the streets by the army for protesting against price hikes in an event called the Caracazo. Not only did the government not do anything about it (after all it was the government that sent the army into the streets to shoots unarmed civilians) it just dumped many of the bodies in mass graves.

In any event, as the student protesters were leaving the National Assembly building they were attacked by pro-Chavez demonstrators with at least one student being badly beaten up. The students returned to the Assembly building to demand that Maduro do something about it. Maduro’s response was to personally escort the students out and away to where they could safely go home. Certainly, some Chavistas yesterday conducted themselves in a reprehensible way and were just thugs. Yet Nicolos Maduro, who is vilified daily by the opposition media, went out of his way to make sure student protesters were heard and then to assist them when they needed it. This is why most Venezuelans are glad to have someone like Maduro running the Assembly.


In another sign of the growth of the Venezuelan economy it was pointed out today that the number of passengers through Caracas’s main airport, Maiquetia, was up 18% in the first half of this year. There were 3,392,000 passengers in the first six months of this year as compared to 2,891,000 in the first half of last year. Of course, the people doing the flying are generally well off. So we have yet another indication that the middle and upper classes, for all their bitching and moaning, aren’t doing too bad.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

They’re just such nice peaceful people – NOT 

The Venezuelan opposition to president Chavez always likes to put itself in the role of innocent victim. By doing so they hope to gain sympathy. Part of this ploy is to paint Chavez and his supporters as violent and themselves as victims of Chavista violence.

To this end they play up any violence which they think they can pin on the government. For example, they like to mention the people tragically killed on April 11th 2002 at the beginning of the coup they carried out. They invoke these deaths as justification for their subsequent actions. Of course they fail to mention that they led a march where they had no permit to lead it, that many (most?) of those killed on April 11th were Chavez supporters, and that more people were killed during the 48 hours they were in charge than on April 11th. Similarly, they mention the woman who was shot to death by what appear to be Chavez supporters shortly after last August’s referendum. Yet they fail to mention the two young Chavistas shot in the head and killed by anti-Chavez people simply for being out in Antimano celebrating Chavez’s victory in that same referendum.

Of course, what the opposition is attempting to do is create the myth that they are innocents and certainly not people capable of violence. Unfortunately for their propaganda this was given lie to yesterday by some people who came to Caracas to demonstrate against opposition violence. The demonstrators were rural farm workers who came from all over Venezuela to protest against the 130 farmers and farm activists who have been killed in Venezuela by landowners over the past several years. This rural reign of terror by the wealthy elite comes in response to the broad reaching land reform efforts of the Chavez government whereby underutilized land on large estates is taken and redistributed to landless farmers. These farmers are then given technical assistance and credits by the government to help their new farms be successful.

Of course, the rich landowners see this as a threat to their wealth and power and are prepared to fight to keep their privileged positions. And just like the rest of the opposition they are more than willing to use violence to achieve their aims. Just as Colombian and Central American death squads have used terror to keep people in line we are seeing the first tentative steps in this direction by the Venezuelan opposition. Who knows, maybe they are getting ideas and support from their allies across the border in Colombia, the right wing paramilitaries.

Needless to say, this situation is already bad and needs to be nipped in the bud before it becomes even worse. To that end 6,000 farm workers made the long journey to Caracas to demand more protection from the central government. They need to get it. As Alexis Angulo from Carabobo said “we are tired of them continuing to kill us and our leaders”.

Marchers in Caracas yesterday protesting against opposition violence. The sign shows one of the murdered farm workers from the border state of Zulia with the caption “son and father”.


That's not a train coming at us. Really, its not. 

By now I’m sure most readers have heard about the “Downing Street Memo” wherein it was pointed out that the U.S. wanted to invade Iraq for its own reasons and was dummying up intelligence about W.M.D. to justify it. As if anyone needed a memo to know that.

Apparently seeing the effect the “Downing Street Memo” had, the British and U.S. governments “leaked” another memo that supposedly shows that the troops in Iraq will be withdrawn in the not too distant future. Here is what was reported in the Christian Science Monitor:

A secret leaked memo written form British Prime Minister Tony Blair by his Defense Secretary John Reid says that British and US troops have drawn up plans to withdraw the majority of their troops by the middle of next year.

The memo, first reported on by the Mail on Sunday , is marked 'Secret — UK Eyes Only,' and says "emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006." This would allow a reduction in overall US-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The troop level in Iraq is currently 160,000, including 138,000 American troops.

In other words forget about all those negative press reports you hear coming out of Iraq, in reality things are going so well there that the U.S. and Britian will be able to pull out soon. This is not the first time we have heard this – its at least the third or fourth time I can remember hearing it. And lest we forget, the original predictions were that the troops could start being withdrawn as soon as Saddam was toppled and the war wouldn’t cost anything because Iraqi oil revenue would pay for the whole thing. Well, two years and two hundred billion dollars later here we are.

The U.S. and British government in order to maintain morale want their populations to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. But I think if you listen carefully you can hear the distinctive sounds of an oncoming train.


Monday, July 11, 2005

May the best ideas win 

Here is the howler of the week. The Venezuelan Economic Review, an pro-opposition publication, is complaining that government sponsored media are taking over viewer and readership from the private, largely pro-opposition media. Lets look at some excerpts:

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental and essential in the struggle for the respect and promotion of human rights. Not being able to freely express your opinion, denounce injustices and demand changes condemns the human being to oppression. A free and independent press may be directly responsible for the mitigation of corruption, improving the economy and the market as well as the rights and political services received by the citizens.

So far so good.
A free press is capable of keeping corruption in check by watching over and reporting on the activities of government and business.

Here things start to get a little dicey. Venezuela has had an essentially free press for decades. Yet corruption was rampant and among the worst in the entire world. So I'm not sure how they figure a free press keeps corruption in check.

Unfortunately, in countries such as Venezuela, journalists are not always allowed to complete their journalistic duties, since by simply doing their jobs, they may find themselves in harm's way. Despite the pro-Chavez movement insisting that the Right to Freedom of Expression does exist in Venezuela, the Right of the citizens to an opportune, balanced, undistorted information has been seriously wounded, particularly in regards to the biased informative contents on the part of the communications media administered by the Government.

Ok, now I have to start wondering if this piece wasn't written by someone at Comedy Central. Venezuela has the among the freest and most vociferously anti-government press in the world. Its been that way for six solid years and hasn't changed. It is true that "journalists are not always allowed to complete their journalistic duties" but that is because if they tried to report the news accurately the opposition media would fire them so fast they wouldn't know what happened.

And the comment, "the Right of the citizens to an opportune, balanced, undistorted information has been seriously wounded, particularly in regards to the biased informative contents on the part of the communications media administered by the Government" is just completely surreal. Anyone who has spent even an hour watching the non-stop anti-Chavez propaganda that comes from the opposition media would probably get a hernia from laughing at this. What is the intended audience of this drivel? Who could they possible think they are kidding?

The State has progressively created a great number of communications media which sole purpose - apart from reinforcing its communicational platform to configure a communicational policy that will benefit the regime- is to directly confront the privately-owned media, which in their majority have assumed an oppositionist position to the process led by Hugo Chavez.

And here we get to the heart of the matter: the opposition media doesn't like the fact that it has competition in the market place of ideas. They would much prefer that it were their unrelenting anti-Chavez propagandaa that was the only voice heard. But it isn't. There is pro-Chavez State media which though small has grown in influence. Further community media has flourished. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the few private media outlets which have stayed true to reporting news rather than serving as propaganda organs for either side in this conflict have flourished.

In an open information market place like Venezuela no one should have anything to fear from propagandistic and biased media. If they have a partisan agenda other than simply reporting the news then over time they become discredited and lose their audience and influence. And media that reports honestly should flourish at their expense.

This is precisely what has happened in Venezuela. The anti-Chavez media has lost influence due to its years of strident propagandizing. Globovision, Venevision, RCTV, El Universal, El Nacional, Tal Cual are all media outlets that are on trouble. Their viewership and readership is down and even those who still follow them are less likely to accept what they say uncritically. In their place independent media such as Ultimas Noticias, which doesn't toe anyone's line, have flourished with readership reaching record highs.

For years the opposition has claimed that the Chavez administration was going to close or muzzle the media at any moment. They needn't have worrried about that. They would have done well to worry less about what the government was going to do to them and more about what they were doing to themselves.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

More money for more services 

An article in Ultimas Noticias noted that the Venezuelan tax authorities have through June collected 67% of the tax revenue budgeted for the entire year. So far 17.8 trillion bolivares have been collected out of an annual budget of 27 trillion. This is simply astounding. It means that they are a full two months ahead of schedule on tax collection – ie they have collected as much revenue as they would have expected through the end of August. What makes this even more impressive is that the first half of the year is typically the slowest in terms of tax collections as economic activity and tax revenues are typically greater in the second half of the year which includes the busy commercial period around Christmas. So it is not out of the question to think that revenues could beat budget by 50% or more.

This increase in revenue results from the rapid growth of the economy (17.4% last year and 7.9% in the first quarter if this year) as well as increased collection efforts and strict penalties for tax evasion which until Chavez’s rise to power had been rampant in Venezuela. An example of this strict compliance measure is the frequent temporary closure of any establishments which don’t have their financial records in order. In fact SENIAT (the Venezuelan tax service) just closed 45 establishments, primarily hotels and bars, in Los Roques which is a very expensive and exclusive tourist destination off the coast of Venezuela. Talk about putting a crimp in some sufrinas weekend getaway!! But of course no one is against sufrinas enjoying themselves, we just want them to pay their fair share of taxes to support needed government services. And under Chavez, they are. Good for them.


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