Friday, September 02, 2005

A short respite 

I will be traveling for the next week and a half so this blog will be fairly quite. There is a potential ghot blogger who may, or may not, post if there is news that merrits it. In any event peace, and I'll see you Sept 12th.

BTW, just to part on a good note - direct foriegn investmen so far this year is up 210% according to Panorama newspaper. The leading sectors for investment is communication, construction and manufacturing. And guess who is investing the most. You got it, the gringos. The U.S. has accounted for 60% of the foreign investment so far.



The critics of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez like to ridicule and belittle his efforts to empower poor Venezuelans. They generally claim that it is a futile attempt or not happening at all. This empowerment only exists in Chavez's speeches they say. But the reality is different. And a Christian Science Monitor reporter discovered that as he visited the barrios:

In Venezuela, a bid to empower poor barrios

Residents form worker cooperatives and take charge - with government support.

By Mike Ceaser | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - For residents of this crowded barrio of crude houses, piled haphazardly in one of the river canyons that cut through Caracas, good jobs are few. Most people work for themselves in Venezuela's huge informal economy, where employment is irregular, ill-paid, and sometimes dangerous.

So, on a recent warm evening, some 20 men and one woman who make their livings roaring around Caracas on motorcycles carrying people and parcels, met in a small church to organize for mutual help and economic leverage. After an hour's enthusiastic discussion, the group founded the third workers' cooperative to be created in the Los Erasos barrio and one of the latest to be formed in Venezuela, where grass-roots organizing has boomed with the encouragement of President Hugo Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution."

Out of their daily incomes of about $12, members of the cooperative will contribute about $2 per week into a repair fund to keep the members rolling. The group hopes to negotiate work and maintenance contracts - and to obtain government benefits.

"For the government, the motorcyclists are a strategic arm," the leader says, pointing out their participation in pro-government marches. "The government, recognizing this, is giving the motorized groups many advantages, and they are going to give them many more."

The other two cooperatives in this barrio now work for the city, sweeping the streets. In addition, Los Erasos has created committees to manage health issues, define land ownership, identify infrastructure problems, and monitor how the government spends money on repairs. Barrio residents now contract with the government to do the construction work.

"The Chávez government has given us more participation," says Anibal Llamozas Lapicero, a jack-of-all-trades who is a member of the governing council.

"Before, [the government] said 'this is what we're going to do,' and you couldn't do anything about it if they used bad cement" in construction work, he says.

Under the new arrangements, the barrio has repaired water pipes and rebuilt concrete stairways. Its health committee manages tasks such as environmental education and rat extermination, and monitors the work of the Cuban doctors here. The lands committee is helping residents obtain titles to the land under their homes.

The government has also created numerous programs, or missions, for poor neighborhoods. Los Erasos has three soup kitchens, which serve two meals a day to about 400 residents, as well as adult- education programs. Pedro Elias Cruz Guevara, who heads the neighborhood council, says that translates into more than 80 percent local support for Chávez. Nationally, polls give Chávez about 70 percent support.

Chávez critics say these programs are inefficient and that their main purpose is to buy support for the government. The largess, say critics, will last only as long as oil prices stay high. The government also subsidizes food, housing, and gasoline.

Despite record petroleum earnings, which provide half the government's income, Venezuela's budget is only breaking even, says Robert Bottome, editor of the business newsletter VenEconomia. "For [the missions] to be sustainable, you have to be able to continue paying for them," he says. "What's going to happen when the price of oil goes down?"

But Mark Weisbrot at the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington, D.C., says foreign reserves and a huge trade surplus give Venezuela a cushion. "There's nothing the government's been doing that's remotely unsustainable."

The programs for the poor underline the fact that, despite years of high oil prices, many in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter remain poor. More than half the people live in poverty and the official unemployment rate is 11 percent, although Los Erasos residents estimate that only 40 percent of working adults are in the formal economy.

And grass-roots organizations must still battle with corruption, apathy, and inefficiency. In 1999, torrential rains killed thousands of residents of coastal towns and swept away hundreds of houses in the barrios crowding Caracas's ravines. But in the barrio San José, a mile west of Los Erasos, officials have let residents rebuild houses along the edge of the canal, even though the area is designated high risk.

"We don't want to be here, but we have nowhere else to go," says Rosamary Luna.

Community organizer Freddy Sojo blames official apathy and favor- trafficking for failure to enforce the law. Now, he says, the lands committee plans to work with residents to move them onto unused land or into new apartment buildings. Mr. Sojo says the neighborhood is seeking government funds and plans to create a group to oversee local officials.

"Before, officials did what they wanted," Sojo says. "Now communities are waking up to their role, to their power."


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Venezuela Update 

We have some more bandwagon jumping going on here. One of Chavez’s more recently established Missions (social programs) is Mission Milagro or Miracle Mission. It is a program whereby people with vision problems are taken to Cuba where any necessary surgery is performed to correct their problem. Venezuela has actually already sent tens of thousands of patients to Cuba for operations and that has proven very popular. So the Mission Milagro is very much looked forward to by many Venezuelans. Incidentally, this is also one of the programs that Chavez announced would be open to other nationalities, including people from the U.S.

Well, now the Venezuelan Society of Ophthalmologists (SVO) has come out complaining that this Mission is ignoring them and they want to get involved in it. According to Ultimas Noticias the president of the SVO, Alejandro Rubin Siva, “Venezuela has many people highly qualified to do this type of work.” Moreover, he “considers it unnecessary to send the patients to Cuba as counting the money spent on the trips to Cuba there would be more than enough money to do the procedure here”.

Now maybe we should take this as a good faith offer but one has to wonder about a couple of things. First, why only now do these doctors want to serve the poor? The poor, with all their unmet vision needs, have been there for decades yet to my knowledge no one has tended to these needs. Could it be they just want in on something to support their already lucrative private practices? And speaking of that, the article pointed out that the cost for a vision correction operation by a private Venezuelan doctor is currently 3 million bolivars (about $1,200). So Dr. Rubin, how much is that price going to come down? If you really want to do something helpful, as opposed to just doing something to line your own pockets, you better be able to drop the price.


In any event, is has to be wondered if sane person in Venezuela would want anything to do with some of these “doctors”. As will be recalled, last week some of them just stood around and did nothing while four people died from running out of oxygen. Hopefully, those individuals will soon have a day in court.

Unfortunately, though, their gross negligence is anything but an aberration. For example, here is yet another example of the incompetence and/or indifference to their patient’s welfare by some of the Venezuelan doctors working in public hospitals (from today’s Ultimas Noticias). In Valencia, Venezuela’s third largest city, a women with a late term pregnancy went to the maternity hospital (Maternidad del Sur) because she was past due for her delivery. The woman, Sandra Escala, was in the 41st week of her pregnancy. However, at the maternity hospital she was turned away by the doctors because they claimed she didn’t need to have the delivery induced, it wasn’t time yet. Not happy with that answer she went to the Central Hospital of Valencia, where she was examined and it was determined that delivery should be induced.

She went back to the maternity hospital with the intent of having that done. But again, the doctors there refused saying that they didn’t agree with the report from the other hospital. She then had a sonogram done on her own but the doctors at the maternity hospital still insisted that she didn’t need to have an induced delivery and that she should come back the following Monday. She did, at which time she delivered a dead baby that supposedly suffocated from its own umbilical cord choking it.

Currently the case is under investigation to determine why the doctors at the maternity hospital didn’t induce delivery and why they didn’t notice the problem with the umbilical cord even with the sonogram (which they didn’t do!!). So what do we have here – just another routine case of the doctors in the public hospitals not caring about their own patients. Worse yet, this sort of thing occurs daily. I can’t wait until the doctors trained in Cuba show up. Hopefully that will put an end to this disgrace. Or, as I said before lets not wait. Lets put the Cubans in the public Hospitals right now. We can call it Mission Barrio Adentro IV.


On the electoral front it was reported in Ultimas Noticias that an agreement will be signed between Venezuela and the O.A.S. for that organization to come to Venezuela in December to observe the elections for the National Assembly. It was announced that the vote monitoring would be “integral” this time meaning that not only will the actual voting on election day be monitored but all the processes and procedures leading up to it. Sounds good to me. The more thoroughly the elections are observed the more bizarre the theories the opposition has to come up with to try to discredit them. And I do enjoy watching themselves look very, very foolish (especially Tulio Alvarez - he's so foolish he deserves his own post before too long)

It was also mentioned that Donald Alexander Lamont from Great Britain will be coming to Venezuela on September 12th to work out the details of the European Union having an observation group for the elections as well.


On the economic front the good news just keeps on coming. First the National Institute of Statistics reports that it expects unemployment to be down in single digits by the end of the year. It bases this in part on the drop of 3.7 percentage points in unemployment from 15.5% in June 2004 to 11.8% in June 2005. Given the very strong second quarter GPD growth of over 11% it expects the downward trend in unemployment to continue and for it to be in single digits by December.

Also, tax collections have increased sharply this year. The budget for non-oil tax revenue had been 27 trillion bolivars but it appears the actual collection will be 38 trillion. The is a tremendous boon for the government. But it is also helping Venezuelan taxpayers. The value added tax will be reduced from 15% to 14% for the last 3 months of the year. Additionally, household furnishings and appliances will now be completely exempt from the value added tax. So the spectacular “Chavez boom” that Venezuela has seen over the past couple of years is benefiting job seekers, tax payers, and the governments generous social programs. A win, win, win situation. No wonder Chavez is so popular.


Baghdad on the Mississippi 

I've seen some of the coverage on the disaster in New Orleans from hurricane Katrina. It certainly is a humanitarian crisis. No water,no food, no electricity, no security, large scale looting, unbearable heat, and no government services.

Come to think of it, it sounds an awful lot like Iraq. The main difference being that the people in New Orleans have only been dealing with this for a couple of days and there will be an end to it; people in Iraq have been dealing with it for a couple of years with no end in sight. Now maybe some Americans will be able to relate to why the Iraqis aren't exactly getting all excited about the new constitution which has been the talk of the U.S. media and government. Water, electricity, and still being alive at the end of the day trumps meaningless words on a piece of paper written by the U.S. Ambassador.

Oh, I forgot. There is another difference. So far there are no suicide bombers in New Orleans to cause this kind of fear and horrific tragedy.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You tell 'em, Jesse 

Leave it to Jesse Jackson to tell to tell Bush what his Latin America problem really is:

Bully tactics not serving U.S. well

August 30, 2005


CARACAS, Venezuela -- To get a good sense of America in the world, it helps to look from the outside in. This week, I traveled to Venezuela to meet with President Hugo Chavez and address the National Assembly. Here's how America appears to many of its neighbors to the South.

Chavez has been elected twice by large majorities. He is a populist champion of the poor in Venezuela. Riding the oil boom -- Venezuela sits on the largest oil reserves of any nation in the hemisphere -- he's seeking to gain a higher percentage of oil profits for his country. He is an ardent nationalist, challenging what he considers U.S. domination of the hemisphere. He has even embraced Fidel Castro, who has made U.S. presidents froth for over 45 years.

Chavez's brash independence irritates the Bush administration. Don Rumsfeld recently traveled through Latin America proclaiming Chavez a threat to stability, suggesting that he was working to destabilize Bolivia. The defense secretary offered no evidence for the charge. Last week on TV, Pat Robertson, the zealous right-wing minister who is a key political ally of President Bush, said if Rumsfeld is right, the United States should "assassinate" Chavez, which would be cheaper than waging another $200 billion war to overthrow him, as in the Iraq fiasco.

Robertson's chilling words echoed across the world. Bush did not rebuke him. The FCC, so quick to react to a bared breast in a Super Bowl halftime, did not open an investigation. Rumsfeld dismissed Robertson's statement, noting that assassination is against the law. Robertson later apologized, sort of, suggesting that kidnapping would do just as well as murder.

Most Americans would dismiss these words as the loony ravings of a right-wing zealot. But consider how this looks from Caracas, or Santiago, or Managua. The Bush administration denounces Chavez as a threat to stability. The same administration proclaims it will act preemptively with military force, covertly or overtly, to eliminate potential threats "before they have formed," in Bush's words. It has unleashed the CIA, used high-tech weaponry to "take out" suspected terrorists, and demonstrated, in Guantanamo and elsewhere, that its agents are prepared to trample laws and treaties.

Throughout the hemisphere, decades of U.S. intervention -- the gunboat "diplomacy" of the early 20th century, the CIA's notorious wars against elected presidents in Guatemala, Chile and Nicaragua, the assassination plots against Castro -- ensure Robertson and Rumsfeld's words are taken very seriously.

In Venezuela, the Bush administration is already seen as implicated in the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez. The Bush White House rushed to recognize the coup leaders one day after they announced Chavez had been deposed, only to discover that the Venezuelan people would defend the democracy that the U.S. administration scorned. Prudence alone makes Chavez take the threat of the president's close political ally very seriously.

America cannot change its history in the hemisphere nor erase the well-founded suspicions that history creates. But it can change the future. Venezuela is our neighbor and should be our friend. Chavez is elected by his people. Venezuela is our fourth-largest source of crude oil. It borders on Colombia and is vital to the ongoing war on drugs.

We need to move from a big stick to a good neighbor policy. Over the past two decades, democracy has spread across Latin America, but so have poverty and inequality. The policies that we've enforced -- the "Washington consensus" -- have failed to work for most poor and working people in the region. Bolivia is unstable not because of Chavez, but because of the policies pursued by Washington and the International Monetary Fund.

Chavez announced a proposal to provide low-cost heating oil to poor communities, schools and hospitals in the United States. With oil prices reaching $70 a barrel, and gas prices exceeding $3 a gallon, and winter on the horizon, this is a plan that I and the whole world can endure.

Americans have to choose -- assassination or engagement, the big stick or the good neighbor. Too many people looking at America from the outside think that choice has already been made the wrong way. It is up to us to prove them wrong.

I have to say, I love this line in particular: "Bolivia is unstable not because of Chavez, but because of the policies pursued by Washington and the International Monetary Fund. " So true. Not just for Bolivia but all of Latin America. So very, very true.

Whats more, the opposition has complained that Jackson didn't meet with them one on one. I have to say though I don't see what purpose that meeting would have served. Many of us have been trying to tell the opposition for years that sabotage, coups, and violence would not serve them well. After, all do you think the people hit in the head by rocks thrown by the opposition this past weekend are likely to come over to their point of view? Not likely. And indeed, given how few Venezuelans support them this should all be very evident. But they still don't want to hear it. I therefore tend to doubt they would have appreciated having a meeting with Jesse Jackson where he told them that their bullying tactics weren't likely to work. So here spared them.


Monday, August 29, 2005

A nice gesture 

It seems generosity is breaking out all over:

Venezuela offers fuel, food to hurricane-hit US

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send food and fuel to the United States after the powerful Hurricane Katrina pummeled the US south, ravaging US crude production.

The leftist leader, a frequent critic of the United States and a target himself of US disapproval, said Venezuela could send aid workers with drinking water, food and fuel to US communities hit by the hurricane.

"We place at the disposition of the people of the United States in the event of shortages -- we have drinking water, food, we can provide fuel," Chavez told reporters.

Chavez said fuel could be sent to the United States via a Citgo refinery that has not been affected by the hurricane. Citgo is owned by Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).

In the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for a quarter of total US oil output, 92 percent of crude and 83 percent of natural gas production were shut down due to Hurricane Katrina, which slammed Louisiana and Mississippi, according to US government data.

Venezuela is the fourth-largest provider of oil to the United States, supplying some 1.5 million barrels a day.

Last week, Chavez offered discount gasoline to poor Americans suffering from high oil prices and on Sunday offered free eye surgery for Americans without access to health care.

I must say its very big of him to be offering these things to the very country that a few days ago had a very prominent personality advocating his murder - not to mention the unrelenting hostility of its government.


Not to be missed 

Amid all the assassination threats last week and the rock throwing over the weekend it would be easy to miss some excellent and important articles on Venezuela - but don't. There are two in particular that should be read.

The first is an article on the important topic of land reform in Venezuela by Greg Wilpert. It gives historical background on land ownership, an overview of previous land reform efforts, and an analysis of Chavez's redistribution programs. Definitely a must read.

The second article is from Vheadline and gives an interesting description by a young Venezuelan of the relative performances by different mayors in his home city. While interesting in its own right the article also points up a significant problem faced by the ruling MVR political party that will be addressed in a future post.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Oil fat cats vs. Hugo Chavez 

The Venezuelan opposition may be clueless but there are people all over the world who see what is going on in Venezuela and what a harbinger it is. In fact some of them are even up in New York City. Witness this great editorial piece from the New York Daily News (hat tip to the great site - Vheadline):

Oil fat cats vs. Hugo Chavez

by Juan Gonzalez, August 25, 2005

I pulled into the Mobil gas station on 11th Ave. in Manhattan yesterday for my weekly stickup from the oil companies.

Their take this time was an astonishing $3.05 per gallon for premium unleaded.

"Every three or four days the price goes up," said Patel, the man in charge of the station. "Lots of complaints from my customers."

Complaints from everyone except oil executives.

Last year, Exxon/Mobil, the world's largest corporation, posted the highest profits of any company in history - more than $25 billion. The oil giant, based in Irving, Tex., is on track to shatter that mark this year, with revenues that now approach $1 billion per day.

Which brings me to Pat Robertson and Hugo Chavez.

Robertson, the right-wing evangelist and friend of the Bush family, publicly called this week for the U.S. government to kill - or at least kidnap - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"This is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly," Robertson said. His less-than-Christian remarks ignited an outcry and forced him to issue an apology of sorts, though he still insisted that he had at least "focused our government's attention on a growing problem."

That "problem," quite simply, is that Chavez, a radical populist who has been voted into office repeatedly by huge majorities in his own country, controls the largest reserve of petroleum outside the Middle East.

Neither Robertson, nor former oil executives George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, nor their buddies at Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, etc., are happy about all this.

Even more scandalous for Big Oil, Chavez is using Venezuela's windfall not to fatten his own country's oligarchy but to benefit the Venezuelan poor and help neighboring countries.

Yesterday, while Robertson was issuing his half-baked Chavez clarification, the Venezuelan president was in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he announced a new oil agreement with that country's prime minister, P.J. Patterson.

Under the agreement, Venezuela will supply 22,000 barrels of oil a day to Jamaica for a mere $40 a barrel. That's far lower than the current world price of about $65 a barrel. With the price of gasoline in that destitute nation already more than $3.50 a gallon, the Chavez plan means more than half a million dollars a day in savings for Jamaica on oil imports.

Chavez also announced his government will provide $60 million in foreign aid to Jamaica and finance the upgrading of that country's oil refineries.

The agreement is part of a broader Chavez plan called Petrocaribe, which he unveiled at a Caribbean summit in Venezuela last June.

At that conference, Chavez offered the same kind of deal to the leaders of more than a dozen other neighboring nations, including Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Fernandez jumped at the offer because his government is nearly bankrupt from oil prices. Last year, the Dominican Republic spent $1.2 billion on oil imports; this year, it expects to fork out more than $3 billion. The price of gasoline in Santo Domingo has zoomed past $4 a gallon in recent days.

Pat Robertson looks at Chavez and sees a devilish danger. He wants our government to "take him out." Over at the White House, Bush and his aides may use more restrained language, but their goals are not much different.

But there's a whole different view down in Latin America, where a half-dozen nations have seen liberal and populist governments swept into office in recent years.

Down there, Chavez has become the new miracle man of oil. Unlike Exxon/Mobil and the Big Oil fat cats, who wallow in their record profits while the rest of us pay, Chavez is spreading the wealth around.

A dangerous man, indeed.


We’re with you, Pat: 

I’m sure the attentive reader will already know that the U.S. government had virtually nothing to say about Pat Robertson’s call to assassinate President Chavez. Rumsfeld left it at “our department doesn’t do that” (of course, that is what they CIA is for – let them earn their paycheck). The US State Department simply said: "This is not the policy of the United States government, we do not share his views." After such a ringing condemnation I’m sure Chavez must be sleeping very soundly. Then again he is used to this sort of thing. The Venezuelan opposition has been calling for his assassination for quite some time. [those unfamiliar with what the Venezuelan opposition wants should really read the linked article, it is very enlightening].

However, a lot of other people and organizations have made is clear the only thing they’re bothered by is the bad publicity. An actual assassination of Chavez, or his overthrow, is something they could definitely live with.

To start with the complete lightweights here is what some in the blogosphere think:
“Not that there'd be much wrong with killing Hugo Chávez... knocking off the dictator certainly couldn't do any harm."
Such democrats and humanitarians aren't they.

Even the ultra right wing New York Post couldn’t let it slide saying:
“Despite the retraction, Robertson's remark remains a precious gift to Chavez, giving credence to his "America is out to get me" line, which enhances his reputation among poor Venezuelans. Thanks, Pat. For nothing.”

But the main points came from the puppeteers who I explained in a previous post have long been advocating overthrowing Chavez. In an article entitled “Pat Robertson has the right idea, but the wrong method - Center's Waller lays out alternative strategy for deposing Chavez” they reference their original work wherein they call either for the Chavez government to change or have “change imposed on it”. Hint, hint.

Here are just a couple of excerpts:

Evangelist Pat Robertson has done a public service by drawing attention to a growing menace in our own hemisphere that the Bush Administration has practically ignored: the consolidating regime of an aggressive dictatorship in oil-rich Venezuela that has allied itself with Iran and Cuba and is sponsoring subversion and violence throughout the region. While Rev. Robertson inadvertently gave Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez exactly what he wanted - the specter of a US plot to assassinate him - as an excuse to ratchet up repression and arm his regime with Russian-built offensive weapons, he has forced the public, the media, and the White House to confront the problem while there is still time to act.

Here's something the administration can do... ramp up a public diplomacy and political warfare campaign to expose the corrupt Venezuelan regime and its threats against its neighbors... help the sharply divided Venezuelan people, including the armed forces, to come together and wage their own pitched political battles against the regime to restore democracy and remove a growing threat... help the Venezuelan people lay siege to the fanatical and paranoid Chavez regime and bring it down without need of an assassin's bullet. .

So there you go Pat, that is a real game plan for “regime change”. Next time lets make sure were all on the same page.

Just remember Chavez has made one thing clear. If he is assassinated the party to be held responsible is the Bush administration. I would go a little further and include the Bush administration's lackeys in both the U.S. and Venezuela.


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