Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nice peaceful people - NOT 

This is what happened to someone who had the misfortune of being in the way of a "peaceful" opposition march:

These pictures come via Yahoo. The AP caption read: An unidentified supporter of President Hugo Chavez is covered in blood after being hit in the head with a stone during a clash between members of the opposition and Chavez supporters in downtown, Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)


Venezuela: revolutionaries and a country on the edge 

Thanks to Flanker for the heads up on this excellent article which everyone should read. The article speaks for itself so without commentary here it is:

Venezuela: revolutionaries and a country on the edge

By Johann Hari
Published: 25 August 2005

Venezuela is living in the shadow of the other 11 September. In 1972, on a day synonymous with death, Salvador Allende - the democratically elected left-wing President of Chile - was bombed and blasted from power. The CIA and the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had decided the "irresponsibility" of the Chilean people at the ballot box needed to be "rectified" - so they installed a fascist general, Augusto Pinochet. He "disappeared" at least 3,000 people and tortured 27,000 more as he clung to power right up to 1990.

Since the Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez, their own left-wing democrat, in a 1998 landslide, they have been waiting for their 11 September. That's why it did not surprise anyone here this week when Pat Robertson - one of America's leading evangelicals and a friend of George Bush - openly called for a US-backed murder of their President.

In the four corners of the Plaza Bolivar - Caracas's Trafalgar Square - there are groups of citizens who work in shifts, waiting, permanently waiting, to mobilise for when an attack on Chavez happens. They are known as the "hot corners", and everybody in the city knows to head there if there is an attack on Venezuela's elected leader.

Laydez Primera, 34, has been doing an eight-hour shift. He explains: " Los esqualidos [the squalid ones, as the opposition is often called] and Bush have tried everything to get rid of Chavez. They know we have elected him in totally open elections, but they don't care. They have tried forcing a recall referendum in the middle of Chavez's term, but the President won by 60 per cent. They have tried saying the elections were rigged, but the opposition asked Jimmy Carter to come and watch the elections, and he said they were totally free. He didn't say that about the election of Bush in Florida! And they even tried staging a coup. We will never, never forget that."

The coup, the coup. Everybody here has their stories about the 2002 coup dtat, and the strange 47-hour Presidency of Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela's equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry. (Pat Robertson's call caused a cascade of memories to burst across the streets of Caracas.) That April, Chavez was kidnapped and removed from power in a decapitation of democracy orchestrated by the media, a few generals and the wealthy. Carmona dissolved the Supreme Court, the Constitution and the elected National Assembly and assumed control of the country. This was immediately welcomed by the Bush administration.

Washington was eager to ensure the largest pot of oil outside the Middle East - providing 10 per cent of US domestic imports - was placed back under the control of US corporations, rather than a left-winger with his own ideas about oil revenue. It later emerged the US had been funding the coup leaders. Only the story didn't end there. Venezuela refused to be Chile. Judith Patino, a 57-year-old grandmother and street-seller who lives in one of the shanty-towns in the west of Caracas, explains: "We would not let our democracy be destroyed. We refused. Everybody from this barrio [district], everybody from all the barrios, went on to the streets of Caracas. We were afraid, we thought there would be massacres, but we had chosen our President and we were governing our own country and we would not surrender."

More than a million people took to the streets, surrounding the Miraflores Palace - the President's residence - and calling for Chavez to return. Los Esqualidos scurried away; Chavez returned to the Miraflores by helicopter, and Caracas erupted into what one young woman told me was "the biggest, maddest party Venezuela has ever seen". Yet, three years on, the country is still split. There is the rich 20 per cent, who for more than a century received all the oil profits - until Chavez came to power and began to distribute them more widely. They welcomed the coup and rejoiced at Robertson's comments. And, glaring at them across a chasm of incomprehension, there is the poor 80 per cent, who defended Chavez.

A taxi ride across Caracas shows how small the physical divide is between these Two Venezuelas, the conflicting mental universes that share a country. Santa Fe, in the east of the city, could be a slice of Beverley Hills. Palatial, gated communities stretch along the hillsides, interrupted only by private golf courses and turrets for security guards. I am surprised to spot one of the battered, chugging public buses, which always seem to be held together by Sellotape and goodwill. "For their servants," the taxi driver explains. The bus carries them 15 minutes away to the barrio shanty-towns that could be a slice of Africa.
Many are squatter barrios, thrown together in the rush migration to the cities over the past 50 years. Houses made of tin and cardboard scar the hillsides, with life somehow flourishing in the crevices. Is this steel shack really a hairdresser's salon? Is that tottering mass of concrete really a clothes shop? It is easy to see why the people of the barrios support Chavez so passionately: I visited dozens of the "missions" built by Chavez that provide health and education for the poor, in some places for the first time. The Miracle Mission, for example, provides cataract operations, restoring the sight of poor people who have been blind for decades. They would have never seen again under the opposition's vision of slashed public spending and oil revenues directed once again to the rich. If democracy was destroyed, these missions - the lifelines for the barrios - would soon disappear.

It is harder to see why the opposition loathe Chavez with such snarling ferocity that they want a foreign power to intervene. Opposition spokespeople from Primera Justicia, one of the main anti-Chavez parties, offer me polite but vague formulations - soft sentences that do not seem to explain the intensity of their hatred. I decide instead to meet ordinary anti-Chavistas, so I head for Las Mercedes where Caracas's air-conditioned restaurants are. I soon find Mario and Ellie Novo Chavez (Armani suit, Donna Karan dress). I ask Mario if is related to the President. "Please! We are about to eat, don't make us vomit!" Ellie laughs. She explains that Chavez is "a fucking communist", a man who looks to "Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein" for inspiration. Mario is about to change his surname, because he thinks it is bad for his business as an IT technician to be associated even nominally with "that psycho" . He says: "There are really only two classes in this country - the educated, and the stupid. The poor are poor because they are incredibly ignorant. But Chavez tells them it is because we are taking the oil money. It's ridiculous! He is giving the poor money for nothing." Yet there is an irony here: while lambasting the poor as ignorant, it turns out the couple are entirely ignorant of life in their own country. They have never been to a barrio, and they say I am "insane" to visit one.

"They don't have roads in the barrios! You won't be able to get there," Mario says, bizarrely. "You will be kidnapped and killed!" Ellie adds. I remembered what one maid in Barquisimeto, in the south of the country, told me: "We know how they live because we are in their houses every day, cleaning their homes and raising their children. But the rich have no idea, no idea at all, how we live." But Ellie interrupts my thought, declaring: "Please - let's not talk about Chavez any more! He is in every conversation in Venezuela, and I am sick of it!"

How much of the division in Venezuela is based on race? Although there are exceptions, the wealthy elite tends to be white, and the skin tone gets darker the farther you go into the barrios. In the newspapers - which are all anti-Chavez - the depictions of the President in cartoons look like Ku Klux Klan propaganda, wildly exaggerating the thick curliness of his hair and the indigenous slant to his features. "Oh, there was no problem with racism before Chavez," Ellie tells me. "You know, it used to be a sign of affection to call somebody el negro. If you had a slow member of your family, that's what you would say. But now, since Chavez, people have begun to think it is racist!"

Across the opposition heartlands, people talk like this - and worse. The wealthy seem to have whipped themselves into a hysteria, convinced that their maids, their police and their president are going to turn on them and lynch them in their homes. The media carefully reinforces this impression, creating a fantasyland for the top 20 per cent to scream in. Yet if you ask them for facts - actual examples of persecution or dictatorial behaviour - they either offer demonstrably false urban myths, or declare: "It will happen soon!" It is true that the medical missions are staffed by Cuban doctors, who Chavez has exchanged with Castro in return for access to Venezuela's oil.
The opposition has seized on this as "evidence" that Chavez wants to make Venezuela into a Castroite dictatorship. But his supporters insist he is taking the good parts of the Cuban model - generous health and education services - while eschewing the pernicious parts, like the liquidation of free speech, elections and the freedom of the poor to make and sell goods.

But you would not know - from what the opposition says in every Venezuelan newspaper, or from the propaganda of Pat Robertson - that Venezuelan elections are open and fair, that Chavez has been approved in polls or referenda no less than seven times, and there is more substantial free speech than in Britain. In Venezuela, people can (and, every night, do) call on television for the President to be killed. Indeed, Chavez has been so reluctant to commit a crackdown that the leaders of the coup are still free and unpunished. Venezuelans are still nervously waiting for them to return, in the form of another coup - or a CIA bullet.

At 2am on one of Caracas's party-heavy mornings, I head again for Plaza Bolivar's hot corners, below the parrots that sit in the trees. I ask Zaid Cortez, 27, what will happen if Chavez is assassinated. "Venezuela will never go back to being governed by Los esqualidos. We won't go back to being a country where the petrol money is used for a minority and not for the barrios. So what will happen if Chavez is killed? Civil war. We are ready."


Thursday, August 25, 2005

This is why the Cuban doctors are needed. 

One of the constant complaints of the opposition (I know, I know, they have lots of complaints) is that Chavez has brought in lots of Cuban doctors. First, they complained that they weren't real doctors and weren't qualified to practice medicine in Venezuela. In fact they once even tried to pin the unfortunate death of one youngster on the Cubans even though it later turned out it had nothing to do with them. Of course, it has since been amply shown that Barrio Adentro (and the add on program Barrio Adentro II) provide excellent care so the opposition now claims it no longer opposes it. In fact they claim they would maintain and expand it if they were to come to power (and if you believe that...)

Then their complaint became focused on the fact that Barrio Adentro was using Cuban doctors to the exclusion of Venezuelan physicians, which was largely true. There are two reasons for this. First, Venezuelan doctors would insist on being paying much more than the Cubans. Likely 3 or 4 times as much. This would certainly be a budget buster for the program as a key aspect of Barrio Adentro is having doctors in all neighborhoods. To pay the going rate to Venezuelan doctors would force dramatic cutbacks in the number of areas to which they could offer their services. Secondly, Venezuelan doctors have historically and almost universally refused to work in the poorer neighborhoods. They complain that it is too dangerous to work there but the largely unspoken reason is their open contempt for the people who live in the barrios. So to this day although the Venezuelan government has made efforts to incorporate Venezuelan doctors into Barrio Adentro it is still overwhelmingly staffed by Cubans.

Yesterday we were given a dramatic example of why we should be grateful to have the Cubans. In a hospital in the western section of Caracas that serves largely lower income people four patients died overnight Tuesday after their oxygen supply ran out. The supply of bottled oxygen at this hospital had been running low for a couple weeks. The main oxygen tank was completely exhausted and the hospital had been using oxygen supplied in metal cylinders by an outside company. Tuesday night these cylinders of oxygen also ran out, the ventilators that the four patients were on could no longer function, and the patients died.

As can be imagined, the finger pointing over who is responsible has been intense. The opposition media has been going ape blaming it on Chavez ("its all his fault for taking too many trips"). The hospital administration at first blamed it on the company that supplied the oxygen saying they didn't deliver more oxygen on time. The company then said it wasn't its fault because its delivery truck broke down. They later changed their story and said that they hadn't been paid in a long time - but that even so they delivered all requested supplies on time. Then the hospital administration said they didn't understand why the oxygen ran out when it did - it was to have lasted several more hours.

During this whole sorry spectacle there is one group that is trying to keep a very low profile, the doctors who were presumably caring for the patients. So far all their statements have been one version or another of "don't look at us, we don't have anything to do with the oxygen - its not our fault there aren't any supplies".

But of course, as much as they may wish to duck their responsibility here I don't think its going to be that easy. First, yes, public hospitals in Venezuela are notorious for lacking supplies. Generally when you go to a these hospitals you have to bring all your own supplies - bandages, painkiller, antibiotics, etc. I'm not kidding - you really have to do that. Now if you ask any of the doctors in these hospitals why that is they will tell you it’s the administrations fault or the governments fault that there is no money for these supplies. However, that doesn't quite square with reality. The biggest single reason there are no supplies in the hospitals is that the doctors (who often have outside private practices) and the staff steal them. For example, if you go to a hospital thinking you might have broken a bone and need an x-ray you may well be told by the doctor "sorry, there isn't any x-ray film". But it won't end there. The doctor will then proceed to tell you "but I know where you can get some". And sure enough, for the right price, you will get your x-ray film by coughing up some money and without ever leaving the hospital. Rather fishy, don't you think? This exact thing happened to a friend when I accompanied her to the hospital.

So there is indeed a problem with a lack of supplies in the hospitals, which in no small measure involves a lot of very unethical Venezuelan doctors. But in this instance its gets worse. The doctors had two and a half ours advance notice that the oxygen was running out and they apparently did nothing. Now some of them are trying to cover it up.

From the above article we have this. One of the Drs on duty that night, Livia Gonzalez, said: "around 10:30 at night the oxygen pressure fell. We had five patients with mechanical ventilation, of which two were in critical condition. We immediately attended to Raul Perez who died fifteen minutes later..... It was out of our hands to do anything because we simply didn't have oxygen."

However, this version of events is contradicted by one of her own colleagues. According to the same article: "Abelardo Oballes, a trauma resident, was also on duty and said that at 8:30 he was told that there was only two hours of oxygen left and that the patients were to be transferred…."

So here we have a strange situation. The doctors were given at least a couple hours warning that the oxygen was running out and they did...nothing. They apparently made no effort to either get alternate supplies or simply transfer the patients to other hospitals. This is bitterly ironic given that in the case were they tried to blame a death on the Barrio Adentro doctors the young patients was actually transferred from hospital to hospital trying to find doctors that would treat him. In that case when the doctors didn’t want to act it very easily occurred to them to put the patient in an ambulance and send him elsewhere. But in this case they were just stood there and did nothing, like deer in the headlights.

This is beyond simple malpractice. This is really criminal negligence on the part of these doctors. To have done nothing during hours to try to save these patients lives is simply unconscionable. Didn’t these people take the Hippocratic oath? Of course, they know what they did was inexcusable. That is why they have already huddled together with their union and made it clear they won’t take any blame. Considering these people are really just slime walking around with white lab coats I’m not surprised. So it looks like it is time for Barrio Adentro IV. Lets put the Cuban doctors in the public hospitals too. I’m sure faced with a similar situation they would at least have enough common sense and humanity to pick up the phone and call for help.

Addendum: After writing this I read Tal Cual and none other than Teodoro Petkoff is jumping on the band wagon about how it’s the governments fault. This man just has no shame. When he was in the Caldera government in charge of the economy there was a doctors strike (back then he was on the other side and it was all the doctors fault) that led to the deaths of dozens of patients who couldn’t get any medical care. But Petkoff throughout that event kept telling everyone “yes, yes, I know things are hard for those who can’t get medical care but the primary enemy is inflation and that is what we have to worry about”. And now he complains about this. Sinverguenza.

UPDATE A friend sent me these not so old photos of a demonstration by Venezuelan doctors that I thought would be interesting to share:

This one says: " Venezuelan Medical Federation, The supposed Cuban doctors make more money than Venezuelans do - invaders out" That of course is complete lie. But hey, since when does the Venezuelan opposition ever tell the truth?

This one is a little simpler just saying "out pirates of the carribean" obviously referring to the Cuban doctors. And of course it has to obligatory hammer and sickle to scare people.

This one says "no more malpractice by the Cubans" (iatrogenia is just a sophisticated term for illnesses you get from treatments doctors give you - ie in this context malpractice). I'm sure the four people who died Tuesday just would have wished the Venezuelan doctors would have done their own jobs instead of worrying so much about what the Cubans are doing.

This one says "The hypocratic oath doesn't permit us to be hypocrites with our patients" But apparently it does permit you to stand around and do nothing while they die because you just don't give a shit.

Now if only we could find Venezuelan doctors who cared about their patients as much as they cared about fighting "communism". Not to worry, Venezuelan students are starting to graduate from Cuban medical schools in large numbers. Somehow I have faith they'll be different then these clowns and imposters.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Puppeteers 

Think the call for Chavez’s assassination by Pat Robinson were just the ramblings of one crazy man? Think again. Serious organizations tied to the U.S. government and military establishment have made “regime change” in Venezuela – by what ever means – a top priority.

Witness the report entitled “What to do about Venezuela” issued by the Center for Security Policy this past May. The entire report may be read here under an article entitled “Center calls for Regime Change in Venezuela”.

The report is full of half truths, inaccuracies, and outright lies. But it is completely unambiguous in saying that Chavez must be forced out. Lets look at some excerpts:

It starts out complaining about supposed U.S. neglect of the problem:

Nowhere is the lack of a U.S. strategic approach to the Western Hemisphere more evident than in the unchecked rise of a self-absorbed, unstable strongman in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has made common cause with terrorists and regimes that support them, and has developed a revolutionary ideology that has begun to plunge the Americas again into violence and chaos. It is necessary for the democratic nations of the hemisphere to come together and stop this rising threat to peace before it is too late.

So right off that bat they make it clear that they want Chavez “stopped” and that they will be willing to resort to all sorts of lies (ie,“common cause with terrorists") to make their case.

Then in giving a background to Venezuela that is replete with distortions and false hoods they do tip their cards and make an enlightening comment :

The United State ignored two years of cries for help from Venezuela. For two year, Venezuelan citizens, businessmen, political leaders, military officers, clergymen, and others implored the Bush administration for help and acknowledgment – but received none. The 24 – hour coup on April 11, 2002 against the would-be dictator was a purely Venezuelan action lacking even tacit support, let alone encouragement. Among the public signs of U.S. non-involvement was the complete absence of the sort of highly public diplomatic offensives the U.S. generally takes to set the international political climate for regime change.

That was a revealing paragraph. First, we again see the blatant falsehoods that characterize this paper. The notion that the coup didn’t even receive acknowledgment is absurd. The U.S. immediately blamed Chavez for his own overthrow, recognized the government, and pushed for the O.A.S. to recognize it! Unfortunately for the U.S. other Latin Americans actually care about democracy and refused to go along.

But more importantly, the author outlines what he considers a necessary prelude to regime change – a “highly public diplomatic offensive”. And indeed, this is true. Propaganda always proceeds the bombs. Knowing this what are we to make of Donald Rumsfeld’s recent travels throughout Latin America and his underlings referring to Venezuela as “a real strategic menace”? I’m sure the astute reader can draw his or her own conclusions.

Next we get to the key part of the report which is aptly titled “A Strategy for Regime Change”. Here are a couple of the bullet points:

Help the dictator hasten his own political demise. The Venezuelan dictator is mentally unstable and has been under psychiatric supervision for years. He overreacts to criticism, weeps in front of others, and dreams messianic fantasies that make him especially vulnerable as well as dangerous. A psychological profile report in the New York Times showed remarkable similarities to that of Saddam Hussein. With lessons learned from the Iraq war, the U.S. can improve its psychological strategy and help the Venezuelan leader to hasten his political self-destruction.

Now, I’ve never heard that Chavez is crazy. I have heard he makes some other people crazy. But apparently the U.S. thinks it can use armchair psychology and lessons from Iraq against Chavez. Considering how singularly unsuccessful the U.S. has been in Iraq I don’t know that this is such a good plan on their part.

But they aren’t done with their lessons from Iraq:

Prevent the dictator from destroying Venezuela’s infrastructure. At the same time, however, the U.S. must be prepared to act immediately to prevent the Venezuelan dictator from destroying his country as part of a desperate bid to perpetuate his regime. Of particular concern is the fact that, in time of crisis, the Venezuelan dictator might be tempted to destroy his country’s economic infrastructure – especially where such destruction (e.g., of oil facilities), would injure the United State, other countries and the Venezuelans who oppose him.

Somehow when they started talking about not allowing “infrastructure” to be destroyed I knew they weren’t talking about the corner arepa stand. And sure enough, just as in Iraq, they’re really interested in the big prize – oil. Hence the admonition, even in their haste to get the “dictator” out, to take extreme care to protect oil facilities. Heaven forbid an important pipeline get hurt in all the commotion.

But it is the last paragraph, entitled “The Bottom Line”, that gets to the heart of the matter:

Time is running out. Venezuela’s increased pace of repression, militarization, weapons imports, and destabilization of neighboring countries shows that time is running out for the Venezuelan people and for the relative peace that most of the hemisphere has enjoyed. The Bolivarian regime in Caracas presents a clear and present danger to peace and democracy in the hemisphere. It must change. It can change on its own, or it can invite hemispheric forces with the help of Venezuela’s broad democratic opposition, to impose the changes.

So there you have it, Venezuela is such a “clear and present danger” that “it must change”. And if it doesn’t change on its own then the U.S. will “impose” the changes. I guess like they “imposed” change in Iraq. So while this report doesn’t call for the assassination of Chavez it does call for the destruction of his government. The right to self determination, the number of open elections won by Chavez, and the unfettered freedoms enjoyed by Venezuelans are all for naught. Chavez’s policies don’t meet with the approval of the empire to the north and so the empire will use its power to “impose” changes. They are nothing if not blunt.

And who are these people making all these not so thinly veiled threats? Are they some sort of lunatic fringe – like we are now told Pat Robinson is? To help answer this lets look at their advisory council. Heard any of these names before? :

William Bennett, former Secretary of Education.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy.

Richard Perle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.

James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy.

James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence

And if that list of hawks that has a history of supporting U.S. aggression from Nicaragua to Iraq isn’t enough take a look at the politicians:

Tim Hutchinson, Member of the U.S. Senate.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, Member of the U.S. Senate.

Henry Hyde, Chairman of the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jon Kyl, Member of the U.S. Senate.

James M. Inhofe, Member of the U.S. Senate.

Bob Smith, Member of the U.S. Senate.

From the above it is clear this is an organization which means business and is heard at the highest levels of U.S. government. Pat Roberts may have been the puppet mouthing the words the other day but it should be easy to see who the puppeteers are and what their goal is. All those who would support Venezuela in its struggle for freedom, equality and progress need to be very clear on this.


Who would Jesus assassinate? 

Thanks to a reader we see that the web site Media Matters for America caught some of the true feelings of the U.S right wing (and the Venezuelan opposition for that matter) towards Chavez. Here is what U.S. TV Evangelist Pat Robertson said on his TV show The 700 Club [the link has the video to, be sure to watch it]:

Pat Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

From the August 22 broadcast of The 700 Club:

ROBERTSON: There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Pretty much speaks for itself. I guess the loony right in the U.S. is coming around to the thinking of the loony Venezuelan opposition.

Its also worth pointing out that it is a crime in the U.S. to in any way advocate or even discuss assassinating the US president. But you can advocate assassinating Chavez and nothing will happen. More double standards?

UPDATE: At least this outrage is being picked up a little be the MSM.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Running on all cylinders 

The advertisement shown above was taken out by the Venezuelan government to trumpet the excellent economic news this year. “The Bolivarian economy accelerates its motors” it reads. To back up the “half year of pure growth” it it gives, above the cylinders, various aspects of the stellar economic performance. Inflation has decreased from 12.6% last year to 8.9% this year (remember these are half year numbers); GDP growth so far this year is 9.3%; employment has grown by 3.7% or 326,000 new jobs.

The government does indeed have much to brag about – this performance is simply spectacular. Most Venezuelans weren’t even born the last time their economy performed this well.

Lets look at some of the economic news not mentioned in the add:

One of the problematic areas for the Venezuelan economy in the past few years has been its level of debt. While overall debt was going down for the first few years of the Chavez administration it ballooned in 2002 and 2003 as the opposition efforts to sabotage the economy went into full swing. For example when the oil industry was shut down the government had to borrow money to import gasoline and cooking oil (imagine, oil rich Venezuela having to import these things; but that is what the opposition did to Venezuela). And as the economy went into a deep depression more money had to be borrowed for the government to function and even for old debt to be paid off. So bad were things that in 2003 Venezuela had a total debt equivalent to 50.4% of GDP.

Fortunately, things have turned around and even foreign financial organizations like Deutsche Bank are recognizing it. According to their report Venezuela’s debt is going down such that it will only be 33.2% of GDP in 2005. That is a drop of 6.9% percentage points from the 40.1% that it was in 2004. Further, it is expected that the debt will drop in absolute terms, not just in relation to GDP. It is numbers like this that probably influenced Standards and Poor’s to increase Venezuela’s credit rating from B to B+.


Of course, debt going down is helped by the government running a surplus. And according to El Universal the Venezuelan government is running quite a large surplus. They report that government expenditures through the first six months of the year have totaled 34.2 trillion bolivares (about $15 billion) while their revenues have been 48.3 trillion bolivares (about $21 billion) for the same period. So from this it looks like the Venezuelan government might be able to pay down its debt even a lot more than Deutsche Bank expects.

This same article also pointed out that imports are up 52% so far this year in comparison to last year. This is actually one number that can be taken as both a sign of strength and weakness. Clearly it is a sign of strength in that with its economy recovering and oil revenues increasing Venezuela can afford to import a lot more. However, this can be problematic in that it means a lot of the purchasing that is being done isn’t helping Venezuelan industry. Ideally, the government would like for more of the items consumed in Venezuela to actually be produced in Venezuela. This number indicates that so far that isn’t happening. The primary reason for this is likely the Bolivar being overvalued in comparison to the dollar which gives people an incentive to buy imports rather than Venezuelan products.


Underpinning a lot of this good news are the vastly increased revenues from oil exports. In Sunday’s Panorama newspaper the Vice-President of PDVSA, Eudomario Carruyo, said that he expects total revenues for the State oil company to be over $70 billion this year. According to Carruyo through the middle of August revenues have totaled $38 billion.


Lastly, a very small statistic, also from Panorama. Tourism in Venezuela so far this year is up 23.7%. Tourism is a very small part of the Venezuelan economy so this number doesn’t mean a whole lot. But, it is a positive number and it does go to show that these days the Venezuelan economy is indeed running on all cylinders.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

Its official - Venezuela is Plan B 

Thanks to some great mind reading by the folks in the Peace Camp outside of Crawford its been confirmed - Venezuela and its huge oil reserves are Plan B. Hugo, how's that militia coming along? You might want to speed things up.

Actually, got this from a incredibly funny cartoon site. Awesome cartoons, do check it out.


Four more years 

No that is not a re-election slogan. It is what the U.S. army is preparing for - at least four more years of large numbers of U.S. troops occupying Iraq. They say they are preparing for a worst case scenario - keeping 100,000 troops in Iraq. No, a worst case scenario would involve a lot more than a hundred thousand troops.

But prepare they must. Their puppet government likely wouldn't last more than a month or two without them. And they need get Iraq firmly under their control. Alternative sources of oil aren't exactly plentiful these days.

BTW, there were some interesting comments on Iraq from some U.S. Senators today:

From Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam Veteran: "We are locked into a bogged down problem not unsimilar or dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam. The longer we stay the more problems we are going to have."

From war supporter George Allen of Virginia: "It is absolutely essential that we win it. We cannot tuck tail and run (from Iraq). We have to prevail. We must win. If we lose, that will destabilize the Middle East"

Of course the real problem is they're both right. They are locked into a must win fight that they can't win. Wonder who the idiot was that got them into that pickle.


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