Saturday, July 23, 2005


A couple of economic notes from Ultimas Noticias today. First, the Venezuelan Construction Trade Association reported that private investment in construction projects in the first half of this year was $500 million. This is a 20% increase over last years numbers Remember, this is only private investment and doesn’t include public infrastructure projects such as the new subway lines, housing, or roads. The head of the trade association, Alvaro Sucre, estimated that as a result of this reactivation of the construction sector unemployment amongst construction workers has gone down by 10% so far this year.

Also, yesterday the Venezuelan Central Bank announced that its foreign reserves have now surpassed $30 billion dollars. These reserves have been increasing steadily over the past two years as the economy has rebounded from the opposition lead strike of 02/03. During the strike when oil exports were almost completely stopped and the government even had to import gasoline to keep the country functioning the foreign reserves dropped to $14 billion dollars. Since then they have more than doubled.

This large amount of reserves helps Venezuela in two ways. First, it means that if Venezuela faces an emergency again it has even more money to fall back on and help it through the crisis. Secondly, given that these reserves are so large they are not really all needed and the government can use some of them to pay down debt or finance new purchases. In fact, the Venezuelan government is now considering doing precisely that.

In any event this is yet more evidence of the good things that happen when Chavez is allowed to govern – more investment, more jobs, more money. With Chavez at the helm Venezuela hit the trifecta.


One less excuse for ChickenHawks 

Hanging out on the blogosphere I have actually heard a number of ChickenHawks say their reason for not volunteering for duty in Iraq is that they think they are too old. They need to find a new excuse as pretty soon the U.S. military will even accept grandparents:

With the Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard all on pace to fall short of their recruitment goals for the year, the military is reconsidering its age limits for recruits.
On Monday, the Pentagon filed documents asking Congress to increase the maximum age for military recruits to 42, in all branches of the service. Now, the limit is 39 for people without previous military service who want to enlist in the reserves and the National Guard, and 35 for those seeking active duty.
Another step-up in age, like other ideas now being discussed - like the Guard's request to expand the number of legal immigrants allowed to enlist - would add millions of people to the military's pool of potential applicants. In a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the military was studying how many people 40 and over might enlist.

"It's not the answer exclusively," said Lt. Col. Mike Jones, the Army National Guard's deputy division chief for recruiting and retention. "But we tend to miss our numbers on the margins, by 10 or 11 percent." If people who are older filled half of that, he said, "maybe it's good for America."


Beating the dead poll horse 

This subject is probably beyond boring at this point but there is some new polling information that should be commented on. One of the major polling firms in Venezuela, Alfredo Keller and Associates, released the results of a new poll yesterday. In it they claimed that Chavez’s approval rating has fallen from 69% to 61% while those who disapprove of him increased from 22% to 28%.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, one will note that these polling numbers stand in marked contrast to other recent polls which put Chavez’s popularity at over 80%. That is a difference of 20 points on polls that all claim a margin of error of around 2%. Obviously, their accuracy leaves something to be desired. Venezuelan polls often have large disparities between one another even when conducted at the same time and asking the same basic questions. What this means is that Venezuelan polls have to be taken with a large grain of salt and should only be used to get general tendencies and trends not to try to get precise numbers. For example, from these recent polls we can see that Chavez is clearly supported by a large majority of Venezuelans as all the polls show that. But is his support 60% or 80%? There is no way to know.

The second thing of importance to note here is the politicalization of Venezuelan polling. For example, Keller releases this poll because it shows Chavez’s numbers supposedly declining. Yet while they now say that even their own polls showed him with a 69% approval rating recently they never published those poll results at the time. Why? Maybe because they didn’t want to publicize something that would reflect well on Chavez, a politician they clearly don’t like. Another example of this is during the Presidential Recall Referendum many of these large polling firms conducted exit polls but never released the results. Again, why? Maybe because the polls showed Chavez winning by a large margin which was something the opposition didn’t accept? In any event, this is another reason why all polls in Venezuela should be taken with a grain of salt no matter what they show. Read them. Just realize they are not necessarily an exact reflection of reality.

Getting back to the Keller poll for a second. Alfredo Keller, the president of the firm, gave one of the possible reasons for the decline – that Chavez has recently spent much time on foreign policy issues which don’t do anything to boost his support inside the country. Well, if Chavez’s popularity has indeed declined and this is the only way it can happen the opposition is indeed in trouble. After all prior to any election I think Chavez will actually spend most of his time in Venezuela dealing with domestic issues and campaigning. Then where will his popularity be? 80% again?


Friday, July 22, 2005


Although many have tried to draw parallels between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam I have always resisted doing that. Each situation is unique and trying to describe it just referencing previous events isn’t usually helpful. Nevertheless, there are times when there are some rather eary parrallels. A couple recent articles certainly bring some parellels to the fore. Take this for example.

When Paul Bremer, the American pro consul in Baghdad until June last year, arrived in Iraq soon after the official end of hostilities, there was $6bn left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and at least $10bn from resumed Iraqi oil exports. Under Security Council Resolution 1483, passed on May 22 2003, all these funds were transferred into a new account held at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), and intended to be spent by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) "in a transparent manner ... for the benefit of the Iraqi people".

The US Congress also voted to spend $18.4bn of US taxpayers' money on the redevelopment of Iraq. By June 28 last year, however, when Bremer left Baghdad two days early to avoid possible attack on the way to the airport, his CPA had spent up to $20bn of Iraqi money, compared with $300m of US funds. The "reconstruction" of Iraq is the largest American-led occupation programme since the Marshall Plan - but the US government funded the Marshall Plan. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer have made sure that the reconstruction of Iraq is paid for by the "liberated" country, by the Iraqis themselves.

The CPA maintained one fund of nearly $600m cash for which there is no paperwork: $200m of it was kept in a room in one of Saddam's former palaces. The US soldier in charge used to keep the key to the room in his backpack, which he left on his desk when he popped out for lunch. Again, this is Iraqi money, not US funds.

The auditors found that the CPA didn't keep accounts of the hundreds of millions of dollars of cash in its vault, had awarded contracts worth billions of dollars to American firms without tender, and had no idea what was happening to the money from the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), which was being spent by the interim Iraqi government ministries.

This lack of transparency has led to allegations of corruption. An Iraqi hospital administrator told me that when he came to sign a contract, the American army officer representing the CPA had crossed out the original price and doubled it. The Iraqi protested that the original price was enough. The American officer explained that the increase (more than $1m) was his retirement package.

When the Iraqi Governing Council asked Bremer why a contract to repair the Samarah cement factory was costing $60m rather than the agreed $20m, the American representative reportedly told them that they should be grateful the coalition had saved them from Saddam. Iraqis who were close to the Americans, had access to the Green Zone or held prominent posts in the new government ministries were also in a position personally to benefit enormously. Iraqi businessmen complain endlessly that they had to offer substantial bribes to Iraqi middlemen just to be able to bid for CPA contracts. Iraqi ministers' relatives got top jobs and fat contracts.

The agents were mostly Americans in Iraq on short-term contracts. One agent's account balance was "overstated by $2,825,755, and the error went undetected". Another agent was given $25m cash for which Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation". Of more than $23m given to another agent, there are only records for $6,306,836 paid to contractors.

Many of the American agents submitted their paperwork only hours before they headed to the airport. Two left Iraq without accounting for $750,000 each, which has never been found. CPA head office cleared several agents' balances of between $250,000 and $12m without any receipts. One agent who did submit receipts, on being told that he still owed $1,878,870, turned up three days later with exactly that amount. The auditors thought that "this suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash", pointing out that if his original figures had been correct, he would have accounted to the CPA for approximately $3.8m more than he had been given in the first place, which "suggests that the receipt documents provided to the DFI account manager were unreliable".

So where did the money go? You can't see it in Hillah. The schools, hospitals, water supply and electricity, all of which were supposed to benefit from these funds, are in ruins. The inescapable conclusion is that many of the American paying agents grabbed large bundles of cash for themselves and made sweet deals with their Iraqi contacts.

In the Vietnam War the U.S. was supporting a regime that was notoriously corrupt. Aide intended to win “hearts and minds” never did because it was often stolen before it could reach its intended beneficiaries. As a result, the disgust with this corruption helped fuel an insurgency that even 500,000 U.S. soldiers could never suppress.

One would think that the U.S. would have learned from this and would be sure not to tolerate this corruption and indifference to suffering again. I, for one, honestly believed they would. Apparently not though. The corruption in Iraq seems to be completely out of control and even the U.S. advisers, soldiers, and contractors seem to be partaking in it. And unfortunately for the U.S. there is no way to hide this from the Iraqi people. Not only do they often see the theft, they also see that despite the claims of billions being spent on their behalf there doesn’t seem to be any actual improvement in their daily lives. This does not bode well for the U.S. being any more successful in its occupation of Iraq than it was in its occupation of Vietnam.

Here is another similarity that while not yet as clear is even more disturbing:

ABOUT 25,000 people have been killed and 42,000 injured in Iraq by coalition forces, insurgents and criminal gangs since the start of the war in March 2003, according to an independent study published yesterday.

The figure is dramatically lower than the hotly contested previous estimate published in the Lancet medical journal last year, which asserted that as many as 100,000 had died.
the Iraq Body Count group, which published the new study, claims that it has been able to come up with a figure by analysing media reports.

The group claims that the largest proportion of the death toll - 37 per cent, or about 9,250 people - was inflicted by coalition forces. It blamed a further 36 per cent - about 9,000 deaths - on criminal gangs, and just 9.5 per cent, or about 2,375 deaths, on the actions of insurgents.

The U.S. effort in Vietnam became so infamous because as it became clear to them that they couldn’t win over the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese they adopted extremely brutal scorched earth policies. For example, in “Operation Phoenix” they tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese peasants in an attempt to stamp out a rural insurgency. Once it became apparent that wasn’t succeeding in intimidating the Vietnamese they carried out an unprecedented bombing campaign. They dropped four times as many bombs on Vietnam, a small country, as were dropped on all countries during World War II. As one U.S. general put it they would bomb the country back into the Stone Age. Another U.S. officer went further and said they would keep bombing the place until there weren’t two bricks left stuck together in the whole country. This never did work but it was extremely brutal and led to untold death and suffering.

In Iraq we have not seen that - yet. But it is clear there is movement in that direction. For example, virtually the entire city of Falluja was razed (with God knows how many deaths not counted in the media reports that served as the basis for the numbers above). Clearly the U.S. was trying to make an example of what happens anywhere where it is clear the entire population opposes it. In effect they are saying: “Be our friend and we will give you things [see above for what a lie that is], be our enemy and we will do to you what we did to Falluja”. If/when the it becomes clear to the occupiers that the population has turned irretrievably against them you can expect to see many more parallels between the tactics used in Vietnam and the tactics that are employed in Iraq. Then even the numbers given by the “Lancent” will seem tame.

Of course, don’t expect to see this on T.V. or even read that much about it in the papers. There is one very central lesson that the U.S. military did learn from Vietnam. Keep a very, very short leash on the media and allow as little independent media coverage of the war as possible. Anyone who has sat through the television coverage of the Vietnam War and the Iraq war knows there is absolutely no parallel there.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

This just about sums it up 

Hmmm. I might have to make this the official logo of this Oil Wars.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

This is why 

The other day someone in the comments pose a question – why this blog? Rather than give the long winded explanation I did when I first started the blog I will better illustrate it with something that came out in the news today:

House Approves Mack Amendment to Promote Freedom in Venezuela

“The United States has sent a message that we will not turn a blind eye as Hugo Chavez continues to snuff-out freedom and hijack Venezuela from its citizens.” – Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14)

July 20, 2005 -
Washington, D.C. – In a strong signal that the United States government is growing increasingly alarmed by the actions of Socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the United States House of Representatives today acted on the leadership of Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14) to ensure the Venezuelan people have the opportunity to hear the positive ideals of freedom, security, and prosperity.

By voice vote, the House adopted Mack’s amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2005, which authorizes the U.S. Government, through the Broadcasting Board of Governors, to initiate radio and television broadcasts that will provide a consistently accurate, objective, and comprehensive source of news to Venezuela.

The move comes as Chavez readies to launch his own television network patterned after Al-Jazeera to spread his anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric; his continued use of the existing airwaves to wipe out opposition leaders and thought; the enactment of new laws that essentially end the nation’s free press; a spending spree on new military hardware; and the establishment of strategic alliances and relationships with Fidel Castro, China and Iran.

Mack, a member of the International Relations Committee, has been an outspoken critic of Chavez and his ongoing, radical shift toward Socialism and the elimination of freedom for the Venezuelan people.

Mack said:

“Hugo Chavez is an enemy of freedom and of those who support and promote it. He is a threat to the United States and stands to undermine the balance of power in the Western Hemisphere. Today America has sent a message that we will not turn a blind eye as Hugo Chavez continues to snuff-out freedom and hijack Venezuela from its citizens.”

The House adopted Mack’s amendment just days after he unveiled the principles of a three point plan to extend freedom, security and prosperity to Venezuela:

1) The creation of institutions that will foster a free press, the freedom of speech and religion, and free and fair elections for Venezuela.

2) Establish a Venezuelan Security Zone that will isolate Chavez and limit his ability to destabilize Latin America.

3) Promote economic development in Venezuela through free markets, privatization, and other means that will create lasting prosperity and opportunity for all Venezuelans.

This news release from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives is so filled with lies and half truths that it in certain ways it is laughable. Certainly I’ve heard more ridiculous assertions about Venezuela. And nothing proposed in this document is particularly threatening in and of itself. If the U.S. wishes to create a new news outlet to broadcast anti-Chavez propaganda they are free to do that – they will just have to line up behind Globovision, Venevision, RCTV, Televen, ect. to be heard. The market for anti-Chavez drivel is already quite crowded.

But by the same token this type of blatant propaganda shouldn’t be ignored and shouldn’t go unresponded to. After all, we all know where it led the last time we heard such outlandish assertions, gross distortions, and outright lies. And in the event that some may have forgotten – just wait for the next post.

In any event, the anti-Chavez forces, be they the elite of Eastern Caracas or people in the corridors of Washington watching their right wing Latin American agenda come undone, are relentless in their efforts and have a great many resources at their disposal. They can and do make themselves heard. This poor little blog sure has its work cut out for it.


Jobs, jobs, jobs 

A little over two years ago Venezuela went throught a terrible, largely artificial, depression (it was mainly the result of an opposition “strike”) that severly damaged the economy and sent unemployment to over 20%. Since that time the economy has been improving dramatically with over 17% growth last year and almost 8% growth so far this year. Virtually all economic indicators have improved significantly.

Yesterday statistics were released that showed one more very important economic indicator has improved – the number jobs. The unemployment rate for June 2005 was 11.8%. This compares to 12.6% for the prevoious month, May. The unemployment rate for June 2004, was 15.5% so we can see the unemployment rate has dropped by 3.7% in the past year.

What does this mean in terms of jobs? Simple, the number of people working in the formal sector of the economy went from 5,026,265 in June 2004 to 5,625,856 in June 2005 for an increase of 599,591. So in one year nearly 600,000 jobs have been created!! Not bad. Of course, Venezuela needs a lot more jobs than that as many are still without jobs or employed in the informal sector. But this just goes to show what happens when there aren’t coup attempts and “strikes” and Chavez is allowed to govern. Most Venezuelans support the government and are optamistic about the future. These numbers give a very strong indication why.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Culture Wars 

Part of the package of media laws that was passed by the Venezuelan National Assembly contained content requirements – ie a portion of all broadcast material had to be Venezuelan produced and some had to be produced by community organizations. This probably strikes most people as a retrograde measure more likely to bore people and be the subject of ridicule than anything else. But as with much of what Chavez has done it seems to have hit a chord (no pun intended) and has proven more successful than many (myself included) would have thought. Witness this account of its impact from the Chicago Tribune (registration required):

Hip-hop playing out in Venezuela
New law forces more `traditional' music

By Monte Reel
The Washington Post
Published July 18, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela -- If Britney Spears and other pop stars aren't selling as many records here as they used to, they should point their fingers at a man who would be thrilled to shoulder the blame: President Hugo Chavez.

The National Assembly, which is dominated by Chavez, recently passed a law requiring that at least 50 percent of all music played on the nation's radio stations be Venezuelan. Of that, half must be classified as "traditional," showcasing the "presence of traditional Venezuelan values."

Chavez backers say the harps and bandolas that now resound through this country of 25 million are playing the overture to a musical revolution.

"We've always had traditional Venezuelan records in stock, but before a few months ago we never sold any--not one," said Miguel Angel Guada, manager of the Disco Center Superstore in one of the capital's largest malls. "It was all Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and that sort of thing. But now I'd say one-third of our business comes from Venezuelan artists, which is absolutely incredible."

Artists reap rewards

The new law can make listening to the radio an adventure in dizzying contrasts. One minute a disc jockey might spin Puerto Rico's Daddy Yankee rapping about "Biggie and Pac," and the next minute it's flutes and fiddles from the Andean highlands. Some Venezuelan rock and pop artists have begun to record cover versions of traditional songs to take advantage of the mandates. Almost all local artists, regardless of age or genre, are reaping the rewards.

Members of Venezuela's Traditional National Orchestra used to lament how their compact discs would languish on vending tables at their concerts, but this year they watched sales take off--from zero to 200 copies sold at a single performance. The orchestra is using the extra income to record more albums, according to Sigfrido Chiva, its president.

"After the law was approved and the music started being played on the radio, I began getting telephone calls to go on talk shows--maybe 10 or 15 of them in the last couple of months," said Chiva, a violinist. "In my 52 years as a musician before that, I had never gotten a single call."

Radio listeners say they occasionally detect muted grumblings from pop and hip-hop DJs when they introduce the songs that meet the law's requirements. But a casual survey at Caracas record stores suggested that many Venezuelans are enjoying the variety.

"It's kind of the fashion now to listen to traditional music," said Rafael Quintero, 19. "It has just taken off in the last three months."

Jesus Alallon, 42, said he likes the new radio playlists, which he credits for changing his music-buying habits.

"I buy more traditional music now," he said. "If I buy 10 records, I'd say one of them is probably traditional."

The Venezuelan government enacted similar radio guidelines in the 1980s to support the local music industry, but the rules didn't have legal teeth and were widely interpreted as mere suggestions. After the 1990s, free market economics reigned, and Venezuelan music--particularly its traditional forms--all but disappeared. Record companies produced fewer traditional albums, and the lack of them is becoming painfully obvious to some listeners.

"I am a little concerned that the quality of some of the national music being broadcast isn't very high," said Eduardo Ramirez, who plays mandolin and cuatro, a four-string guitar, for the Traditional National Orchestra.

"Some of the versions are of such low quality that I'm afraid they distort the original compositions. There's a revival of older recordings now, mainly because there's not enough material to fill all of the airtime," Ramirez said.

The recording industry outside Venezuela, not surprisingly, isn't fond of the radio mandates. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a private-sector coalition that represents U.S. copyright-based industries, reported that the new radio regulations and high piracy rates have combined to create "the bleakest scenario the industry has faced in its history" in Venezuela.

`Serious commercial barrier'

The new law "represents a serious commercial barrier to all international music by limiting its exposure to consumers and restricting the potential revenues it can generate through broadcasting fees," the organization stated in a report this year.

But to many Venezuelans, America's loss is their country's gain.

Gustavo Arroyo, 20, dreams of being a singer in a successful band. For two years, he and his friends have been performing at parties, playing a mix of contemporary and traditional music. Even though one of his friends recently moved to Mexico, Arroyo said the band's dreams haven't died. The new law, he added, doesn't hurt their chances.

"We need a little touch of luck," he said, "and a manager to get our songs on the radio."


The Vatican is part of the opposition? 

Someone help me here but aren’t Christians supposed to be on the side of the poor? Appearently not. Witness what a leading “Christian” said as reported here in CNN:

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuela's highest Catholic prelate on Sunday condemned President Hugo Chavez's rule as a dictatorship and urged Venezuelans to reject it in an attack likely to strain already poor church-government ties.

"I am convinced that what we have here is a dictatorship," Cardinal Rosalio Castillo, who is retired, said in a interview published by El Universal newspaper.

He told Venezuelans to use their constitutional right to refuse to recognize the left-wing president on the grounds he was not ruling democratically. Castillo did not elaborate on what actions he thought Venezuelans should take.

But recent opinion polls show nationalist Chavez enjoys the support of a majority of Venezuelans because his self-styled "revolution" is using abundant oil export income to fund free health and education programs and cheap food for the poor.

Castillo said that as he was retired he could not speak officially for Venezuela's Catholic Church. But as cardinal he is the highest-ranking member of the local church hierarchy in the predominantly Catholic South American country.

The cardinal scoffed at a recent assertion by Chavez that his government was following the teaching of Jesus Christ by spending Venezuela's oil wealth to help the poor.

"His goal above all is not to help the poor but to concentrate his power," Castillo said.

Echoing the criticism of Chavez's political foes, Castillo said the president was trying to install Cuban-style communism in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Castillo's remarks were published after Chavez complained this week to the Vatican's new ambassador in Caracas that Venezuela's Catholic bishops were opposing his government, which has ruled since he first won elections in 1998. Chavez criticized the bishops as "out of touch with reality."

Chavez won a referendum on his rule last year, and opinion polls predict he will win re-election in late 2006 elections.

Castillo said Chavez maintained a "varnish of democracy" but had accumulated dictatorial powers.

The cardinal said Article 350 of Venezuela's 1999 Constitution allowed citizens to refuse to recognize an elected leader if he violated democratic principles or human rights.

"That's what should be done -- reject this government," he said.

To give some more details beyond what was reported by CNN here are excerpts from the interview with Castillo published in El Universal

Q: In the document the bishops denounce an “unjust legality” and warn that “if we were to pledge our loyalty no to rights and the law, but rather to a determined political project, we will have put an end to the Rule of Law.” Do you believe that there is a Rule of Law in Venezuela despite everything or has it ceased to exist?

A: Allow me to laugh because I have been saying for a long time that here there is neither democracy nor Rule of Law. What we have is a veneer of democracy. Those laws passed by a weak majority, but ultimately a majority, against the Constitution, according to which organic laws need to be passed by a qualified majority, represent neither justice nor right, but rather a means for achieving an oppressive goal. With that meaning in mind I am reminded of the psalm where Jesus reproaches those who commit injustice in the name of the law. Thus we are faced with unjust laws. .

Wow. This man is talented. Not only must we suppose he is a great theologian but also a legal and constitutional scholar too!

Q: You speak of “an oppressive goal.” Do we understand that term to mean a “dictatorship”?

A: Certainly. I am convinced that here we have a dictatorship. Before Chávez was elected I told President Caldera that he (Chávez) was a dangerous man, a rookie dictator. And he (Chávez), right from the start, by his way of expressing himself and acting out, made it clear that at the root of his project was the dictatorship. .

I guess it must have been all the references to “participatory democracy” and putting things like the recall referendum in the Constitution that must have been the dead give away.

Q: Nevertheless, the President told the nuncio that “there has never been a government in Venezuela closer to Christ the Redeemer’s command than the Bolivarian government.”

A: (Laughter). First of all, he aims toward his own goal, which is not to favor the poor but rather the concentration of power. It is clear that the neediest are not benefited by the missions because giving them a handout means keeping, perpetuating, poverty. Thus he stands on a most mistaken premise when he extols his obedience to Christ’s command. On the contrary, I believe that his is the most detestable government that Venezuela has had ever since it exists as a republic.

“The most detestable government that Venezuela has had since it exists as a republic”? Strong words. I guess this Cardinal isn’t very well in touch with most Venezuelans who have clearly stated that Chavez’s government is the best of the democratic era. And giving aid to the poor perpetuates poverty? If that’s the case I guess every social welfare program the world over should be done away with. And I guess he doesn’t have to worry about anyone in the Vatican thinking him an adherent of Liberation Thoelogy.

Q: If, according to what you say, we are already living in a dictatorship, will we have to resign ourselves to staying this way indefinitely? Will there be a people’s rebellion or is it possible to participate in the elections in order to achieve political change?

A: Your questions are highly important and it is hard for me to answer all of them because it would have to be done separately. But the attitude of Venezuelans ought to adhere to Article 350 of the Constitution. That is to say, the Venezuelan people, faithful to their republican tradition and to the struggle for peace, freedom and independence, shall repudiate (that is to say, shall consider non existent, shall not accept) any legislation, regime or authority that goes against democratic values, principles and postulates and undermines human rights. Now, the government's actions are full of all of that. We are in a dictatorship because constitutional principles have been thwarted and laws have been dodged in setting up the National Electoral Council and in naming judges to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. This has to do with serious violations that would call for repudiation.

Yeah, sure, a government that has had the country in virtually a constant state of elections is “against democratic values”. And as for freedom, it is the freedom guaranteed by the Chavez government that grants Castillo the freedom to say all this non-sense. In effect, he is calling for mass civil disobediance and overthrowing the government - and he is perfectly free to do so. Some dictatorship.

Q: How should that repudiation be carried out?

A: I am not the person authorized, competent, to say how it should be carried out, but it would have to be done. To reject this government. To repudiate it. Of course this is difficult because the other fellow has the power and here were have but ideas.

Translation: organizing coups is not my specialty. Come to think of it, his colleagues who showed up in Miraflores on April 12, 2002 to bless the Carmona dictatorship didn’t do such a great job either.

Q: Don’t you believe that the elections might represent an effective political solution?

A: Elections ought to be a democratic vehicle for solving these situations, but that requires an institution, charged with holding the elections, one that is trustworthy and the National Electoral Council certainly is not. To the contrary, it has been fraudulent ever since it began its activity, which is in violation of the Organic Law on Suffrage. Here we stand before the expression of a false majority created for the referendum and in that sense there will be no elections, but rather a pantomime organized by the State, because who can trust a National Electoral Council such as that one?

A “false majority”. I don’t know, those 5.8 million people who voted for Chavez to continue in office looked pretty real to me. So do all the polls showing the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans approve of the Chavez government and want him to continue in office. And as to trustworthy – yes, yes, the opposition has spent almost a year telling us how untrustworthy the Carter Center and the O.A.S are after they showed that Chavez really did win the Recall Referendum. Personally I have the sneaking feeling that it is the opposition that isn’t trustworthy.

After this Castillo’s interview was published in the papers President Chavez gave him a piece of his mind so to speak. Good for him. Some in the opposition are crying about a Cardinal being told off by the President. Sorry but if you are going to get involved in Venezuelan politics these days you better be able to dish it out AND take it. Certainly Chavez does. Much worse gets said about him every day. And as a famous U.S. politician once said “if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen”.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Yet more poll numbers 

As was alluded to in my update on a previous post yet more poll numbers have come out. This time the numbers come from the polling firm Sejias and Associates and they were published in Ultimas Noticias.

First I’ll cut to the chase and give Chavez’s approval rating: it is a whopping 80.5%!! This is stratospheric. Morevover, according to this poll 59.2% classify themselves as strong Chavez supporters while 21.3% as soft Chavez supporters. This is very bad news for the opposition. No wonder some of them see throwing grenades at the electoral agency offices as their only option!

The opposition has always made the arguement that Chavez is trying to “buy” support through his social programs and that is what accounts for his high popularity. Yet in this poll only 37.4% say they have personally benefitted from the Missions. When asked if they had family members who had the number rises to 48.8%. So obviously there are a lot of pro-Chavez people who aren’t even involved with his social programs.

There were some other interesting numbers. For examle, 74.3% of Venezuelans believe they live in a democratic country as opposed to 23.4% who don’t. The opposition propogandists sure aren’t doing their job very well. The most favorably viewed institution in the country – the armed forces at 71.8%. And for those who are ideologically inclined 47.9% would prefer that Venezuela had a socialist system against 25.7% that prefer capitalism.


The crisis that isn't 

I hate to beat this horse to death but seeing as it is an important topic I will. Many have said that if oil is too expensive demand will drop as alternative fuels are used. The Venezuelan opposition and anti-Opec lobby have always used this arguement. Prices must be kept low to please consumers lest they stop buying our oil. And when Chavez and his oil guru, Ali Rodriguez, proposed revitalizing OPEC and aiming for significantly higher prices they were ridiculed by their opponents. Even their modest price band of $22 to $28 was seen as too high.

Well here we are at $60 a barrel oil today and the sun is still coming up. Not only are the higher prices sticking it looks as if most consumers don’t care and still consider these prices reasonable. Witness this article from the New York Times about the non-existent oil crises:

The oil uproar that isn’t:

When oil prices spiked in the early 1980's after the Iranian revolution, Jared Nedzel gave up his 1978 Pontiac Trans Am, an emblematic American muscle car, for a smaller, less extravagant Toyota Corolla. He was on his way to Cornell University to study civil engineering and he needed a more economical car.

Today, Mr. Nedzel, a 44-year-old software developer who lives near Boston, owns a Toyota 4Runner, a sport utility vehicle he bought two years ago. It gets about 17.5 miles per gallon, as much as the Trans Am did, and he uses it for his 45-minute commute to work and for driving near the beaches of Martha's Vineyard to get to his favorite fishing spots.

Gasoline prices have spiked again, to more than $2.25 for a gallon of regular in Boston last week, just above the national average, according to the AAA. But energy costs do not weigh on Mr. Nedzel's mind. "Just another gas crisis," he said, expressing an opinion held by many others. "I'm not hyperventilating about it."

For Americans, oil shocks no longer seem so shocking.

The Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 exposed America's vulnerability to powerful forces outside its control, forces that sent fuel prices to record levels, prompted anger over gas lines and led to bookend recessions that defined a decade of economic turmoil.

By 1980, the energy crisis and the inflation it spawned had left Americans in a vindictive mood, contributing to the re-election defeat of President Jimmy Carter, who had promised to wage the "moral equivalent of war" against dependence on foreign oil.

But the latest escalation in oil prices - to as much as $60 today from less than $30 a barrel a little more than two years ago - has produced a much more limited response. Energy legislation that President Bush is pressing Congress to pass this summer would bring little relief. And while Americans say in polls that they are deeply disturbed by high gasoline prices and looking for someone to blame, most people continue to drive just as avidly as before; purchases of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles have slowed but there has been no significant shift to more fuel-efficient cars.

Furthermore, gasoline consumption has continued to rise, up 1 percent in May compared with the same month last year.
The earlier oil shocks produced remarkable changes, including the rise of the Japanese auto industry as Americans turned to smaller, more efficient cars out of choice and necessity. With carrots and sticks, the United States managed to cut, temporarily, energy use per person and to scale back the share of oil in its overall energy mix.

The federal government established a strategic petroleum reserve as an insurance policy against global supply disruptions, set a national 55 m.p.h. speed limit and spent billions - much of it wasted, however, on alternatives like shale oil that proved far too costly, particularly after crude oil prices fell when economic recession tempered the demand for energy.

But this time around, the government has done almost nothing to reduce the nation's vulnerability to a sudden interruption in oil supplies. Even the advocates for the long-stalled energy bill that has finally passed both houses of Congress - though in radically different forms - acknowledge that neither version of the measure will be effective.
Crude oil imports have doubled over the last three decades, and now account for nearly two-thirds of the oil Americans burn. Before the 1973 oil embargo, imports accounted for only about one-third of America's energy consumption. In the same three-decade period, oil demand in the United States has grown by 18 percent while domestic production has continued on a slow and probably irrevocable path of decline.

The problem is not the latest price rise, which, adjusted for inflation, is still well below the peak in early 1981, when oil cost the equivalent of $86 a barrel in today's dollars; gasoline, released from price controls, briefly sold back then for the equivalent of $3 a gallon. And it is not just imports; even if the country produced enough oil to meet its domestic needs, in a global economy a price shock would still be felt in the United States.

The fundamental problem, experts say, is that Americans depend almost exclusively on relatively large and heavy private vehicles, virtually all of them running on gasoline, for crucial daily tasks like getting to work and taking their children to school. "Americans live in a car-driven culture where they want to do as much as possible as fast as possible," said Amy Myers Jaffe, the associate director of Rice University's energy program in Houston. "I can drop off my dry cleaning, pick up my prescription drugs, do my banking and buy my lunch, all without leaving my car."
The failure to control consumption is most glaring in the country's transportation sector, which now represents two-thirds of all oil demand in the United States and is solely accountable for the growth of the nation's oil thirst over the last three decades. Each day, America's fleet of more than 200 million cars guzzles 11 percent of the world's daily oil output. Gasoline consumption has risen 35 percent since 1973, compared with a 19 percent increase in overall crude oil consumption.

The growth comes mainly from light trucks, including sport utility vehicles, which account for almost half of all cars sold in the United States. For many consumers, the advantages of an S.U.V. - size, power and an increased sense of security from driving a taller vehicle - largely overshadow one of their main drawbacks, higher fuel consumption.

So what do we see? Not only have actual events proven with a vengeance that Chavez and Rodriguez were right and their opponents like Toro-Hardy and Sosa Pietri were wrong but that if anything Chavez and Rodriguez were too conservative in what they were trying to accomplish!!


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?