Friday, November 18, 2005

Chavez to the rescue 

Just as the mercury has started to dip below freezing in the northern U.S. and many Americans area starting to worry about sky high home heating bills who comes to the rescue? You got it, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Just as he had promised to Jessie Jackson and directly to Americans when he visited in September Venezuelan owned oil company will now begin distributing low cost home heating oil. While the Bush administration couldn't care less about how many people freeze to death this year its nice to know someone else not only cares, but acts. Just as people in Argentina, Brazil, and many other countries have seen how Chavez's social solidarity transcends borders now many people in the U.S., who have been long neglected by their own government, get to benefit from Venezuela's magnanimity.

Not much more to say but thank you Venezuela

UPDATE: This program is barely off the ground and already we've had calls for Chavez to be elected President of the United States! You had to know it was going to happen.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

The boom continues 

The Venezuelan Central Bank today released Venezuela's economic numbers for the third quarter (July - September). Growth was 9.8% in the Third Quarter and is now 9.1% on the year (it was 7.8% in the first quarter and 11.1% in the second quarter). Please keep in mind, this is coming on the heals of the over 17% growth in 2004.

Now given what good news this is you can count on the opposition to immediately start trying to spin it. The usual lies on the economy are 1) "its all from the government", 2) "its all from the high oil prices", or 3) "the government is growing but the private sector is going down the tubes." But just like their non-sense about poverty going up under Chavez (it has actually gone down) and there non-sense about PDVSA going down the tubes (its actually doing quite well thank you very much) these attempts at spin are easily debunked by just looking at some of the numbers.

For starters the private sector grew 11.1% while the public sector grew "only" 5.4%. So wait, the private sector is growing more than twice as fast as the public sector! Well, thats half the opposition spin out the door right there.

Then we get these numbers: the NON-petroleum sector of the economy grew 10.4% while the petroleum sector grew by "only" 4.2%. So the non-oil sector grew more than twice as fast as the oil sector - the complete opposite of what most would probably think. So there goes the rest of the opposition spin out the window.

Giving a further break down of the numbers the Central Bank mentioned that manufacturing grew 9.3%, the service and commerce sector grew 18.1%, construction grew 18.4% and government services grew 7.3%. Note again all segments where the private sector dominates grew faster than government dominated sectors.

Ok, after being smacked in the head by some cold hard numbers the opposition spinmeisters will probably fall back to a last ditch defense - "yes the economy is growing fast but it is just because of all the government spending on populist programs".

Well, not really. Here are some more cold hard numbers. According to the Central Bank this growth was spurred by a 16.3% growth in agregate demand. Making up that increase in demand were an 15.1% growth in PRIVATE consumption, an 8.2% growth in government consumption, and a whopping 32.4% increase in capital formation (investment). So not only do we see that private demand is going up almost twice as much as government demand but the growth in investment is truly breathtaking!!!

So to just summarize the facts:

The Venezuelan economy is booming.

The private sector is booming and growing much faster than the public sector.

The non-oil sector is growing much faster than the oil sector.

Private spending is growing much faster than government spending and investment is going through the roof.

A couple of years ago when with their coups and strikes they were trashing the economy the main slogan of the opposition was "elecciones ya" - "elections now". With the numbers we just finished reviewing it should come as no surprise that the opposition now wants nothing to do with elections. The Venezuelan government has a 70% approval rating and is likely to easily prevail in any elections. Given the numbers from the Central Bank does that really come as any surprise?


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This court has a mind of its own 

One charge that some have leveled against the Chavez administration is that is has supposedly "packed" the Supreme Court (TSJ). Never mind that the Chavez administration couldn't do this as the Venezuelan Constitution mandates that all changes to the TSJ are made by the National Assembly. Given that few opponents of Chavez seem to have ever read the Venezuelan Constitution the absurdity of this charge should not come as a surprise.

More importantly though, the courts have been anything but docile during Chavez's tenure. The Supreme Court previously ruled that there wasn't even a coup in April 2002! (imagine the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the prisoners in Guantanemo couldn't be held because the destruction of the World Trade Center wasn't a terrorist act).

Now we get yet more evidence of the courts independent decision making. Today the TSJ ruled against the government and in favor of one of Venezuela's largest private companies, the beer brewing company Polar. A few months ago the state of Barinas attempted to confiscate some of Polar's grain silos claiming they weren't used and therefor subject to seizure in the public interest. The state government intended to re-open them as a co-op thereby giving jobs to people to run them and an outlet to market for small grain farmers. Today's ruling by the TSJ puts this all on ice as the court decides if the taking over of the silos constitutes an unconstitutional violation of Polar's property rights.

In a seperate ruling the court also lifted the order prohibiting the top directors of opposition NGO Sumate from leaving the country. The prohibition was to ensure that they didn't flee the country before their trial for their participation in the 2002 coup against Chavez. So yet again the court rules against the government which means these individuals may be able to flee the country as so many other coup participants have to avoid justice.

So if Chavez or the Assembly was "stacking" the TSJ to get a pliant court that would rule in its favor they sure didn't do a very good job of it. Getting past the rhetoric what we see is that Venezuelan courts are indeed independent and have quite a mind of their own.


Progress has a price 

Previously, I posted on the operating agreements that Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has with a number of foriegn oil firms to exploit some of Venezuela's older oil fields. Venezuela loses a significant amount of money on these agreements, which were negotiated by Chavez's predecessors, because of inflated costs which reduce the royalties and profits paid to the Venezuelan treasury. Venezuelan is trying to put a stop to that by insisting on majority ownership of all these ventures which would give them total operational control and allow Venezuela to maximize its share of the revenue.

More than two-thirds of the companies involved in these operations have agreed to accept the new contracts. But a few hold outs are determined to be difficult. Witness this report:

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Private oil companies that pump crude under contract in Venezuela have cut output in a bid to gain more favorable terms in negotiations with the government, the country's oil minister said Tuesday.

"We have discovered, much to our displeasure, that companies are trying to pressure us by lowering production," said Rafael Ramirez, who is also president of the state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., PDVSA.

The government is requiring companies operating 32 oil fields under contract to convert their agreements into joint ventures with the state oil company. Officials have said PDVSA will have a majority stake in each joint firm, holding as much as 80 percent ownership.

Ramirez did not specify how many of the 32 fields had cut production, but cited the companies' actions as further justification for the government's move to take majority stakes in the fields.

"Because of that we will take control of all those fields very soon," he said. "It's hoped that we may have an important increase in our production there."

This is an outrageous act by the companies involved and Ramirez should be more than "displeased", he should be enraged. In fact, this action shows exactly why all these ventures need to pass to majority Venezuelan ownership as soon as possible.

Because Venezuela does not have ownership it cannot control that actual operations of these ventures - neither what their costs are nor even how much they produce. This is simply an unacceptable lack of control that is now leading to further monetary losses. How much revenue is being lost to this? I don't know. But the numbers I have heard in terms of production cutbacks are 25,000 to 50,000 out of an estimated normal daily output of 550,000 barrels from these ventures.

Fortunately, Venezuela now has a government and oil ministry that doesn't put up with this sort of non-sense. Rather than strenghen the negotiating position of the foreign oil companies it will simply make the government that much more determined to gain majority ownership so it can exert full control over these operations. Only then will Venezulea be assured of getting the proper amount of profits from these joint ventures and be able to ensure that this type of deliberate sabotage is not allowed to occur again. Because of that whatever short term pain they have to endure right now will be well worth it.


No wonder there is an insurgency 

For those left wondering how the U.S. pissed off so many people in Iraq so fast maybe this sort of thing helps explain it:

WASHINGTON - Two Iraqi businessmen, who were imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq, claimed Monday that American soldiers threw them into a cage of lions in a Baghdad palace, as part of a terrifying interrogation in 2003.

“They took me behind the cage, they were screaming at me, scaring me and beating me a lot,” Thahe Mohammed Sabbar said in an interview. “One of the soldiers would open the door, and two soldiers would push me in. The lions came running toward me and they pulled me out and shut the door. I completely lost consciousness.”

You sure aren't going to wind many hearts and minds that way. And here I thought the U.S. had only regressed to the babarism of say the early 20th Century. Heck, they've made their way all the way back to Roman times!!


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Real problems 

I have to say I am totally amazed by all the hot air being expended over the current flap between the Mexican and Venezuealan Presidents so let me just limit myself to a one sentence summary. In a nutshell, Fox pushes the FTAA in the Mar del Plata Summit, Kirchner criticizes it, Fox says Kirchner is pandering to his own electorate instead of being a statesman, Chavez then calls Fox a U.S. poodle, Fox demands an apology, Chavez calls Fox more names, and both countries withdraw their ambassadors to show how pissed off they are. There you have it.

Is there any real consequence to any of this? No. Trade between the countries still goes on, people travel back and forth, and I'm sure this will eventualy be smoothed over. So the lasting consequences of this are... not much other than some otherwise bored bloggers get to write in depth and meaningless analysis of it.

In the mean time there sure are things of substance to talk about. For example, in spite of the avalanche of good economic news coming out of Venezuela recently, there are actually some fairly significant problems. Fortunately for Chavez the opposition is too fixated on the Danilo Anderson and Fox-Chavez soap operas to beat him up over them. As I have said before, the Venezuelan opposition never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But rather than waste time on Novelas lets spend some time looking at a serious issue.

One of the problems in Venezuela that is still not being adequatly addressed is the housing situation. Today in Rueters there appeared the following article on the housing situation:

Every morning for the last four months, Yara has connected to the Internet while still in her pajamas to search for an apartment in Venezuela's capital that fits within her tight budget.

The physical therapist is among hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are struggling without proper housing of their own. At 35 years old, she lives in a room in her brother's house, 19 miles from the capital Caracas.

While she voted for President Hugo Chavez in 1998 because he promised social reforms for the poor, she is among those who are disappointed the left-wing former army officer has yet to fulfill a vow to solve a pressing housing shortage.

"Where are all the houses they were going to build?" said Yara, who asked that her full name not be used for fear she may face discrimination in government housing loan programs.

Despite great oil wealth generated by the world's No. 5 oil exporter, many Venezuelans live in poor housing and the poorest often survive in ramshackle shanties that ring Caracas and other cities.

Lower middle-class families often construct informal extensions on their homes to accommodate relatives unable to afford their own housing.

Venezuela suffers from a housing deficit of around 1.6 million homes, according to the Venezuelan Construction Chamber (CVC) and experts estimate about 180,000 new homes must be built annually for the next 15 years to solve the problem.

Chavez, who has spent billions of dollars in oil revenues on social programs as part of his self-described socialist revolution, has vowed to solve the problem in 17 years though his "Mission Housing" project.

But of the 120,000 houses his government has promised would be built this year, only 10,000 have been constructed.

"We are far from reaching the required number of houses, and we think mechanisms should be put in place as soon as possible to reverse that," said CVC President Alvaro Sucre.

Sucre estimated the number of homes under construction for the poor would reach 15,000 to 20,000 by the end of the year.


Chavez seems to acknowledge the struggle to provide decent housing for Venezuelans and the failure of his team to get the job done.

He gave one housing minister a very public dressing down over the program's sluggish progress. The minister later resigned. He also complained about a plan to construct plastic houses in an area where temperatures soar above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

As part of efforts to provide "dignified" housing to poor families, the government has ordered banks to allot 10 percent of their credit portfolios to mortgages with preferential terms.

But Sucre said the loans were not being approved as quickly as they could and this is slowing down construction of new housing.

"When the private developer knows that there are grants, that there are people who can buy in certain areas of the country, the housing will be built almost automatically because that means real demand," Sucre said.

The government plans to hand out around $130 million in housing grants for around 16,600 families. But that amount could reach $160 million if requests could be processed more quickly, Housing Minister Luis Figueroa said.

"As you build houses, you get more money to build more houses," Figuero said.


This month three state banks will start financing a portion of the mortgages usually provided by the private sector in an effort to speed up distribution of loans and in turn stimulate construction of new homes.

The government calculates it could help 6,500 more families in 2005 with this measure. Officials have not yet set targets for 2006.

"We see that the private construction sector is seeking greater security. We say that the security they have is that the government is carrying out the work," he said.

Meanwhile, the apartment buildings in Caracas for middle class professionals are not covering the avalanche of demand, causing housing prices to surge 30 percent.

In the face of the shortage, some such as Yara are becoming "informal" builders. She is considering building a bathroom in her small room block by block by herself.

"I hope the room doesn't collapse on me," she said.

Although it would have been nice for the article to give the number of houses being built by the private sector so that we could get a better idea of how actuall construction compares to the 180,000 units needed annually the article does give a good appraisal of the situation. Further, irrespective of what the final numbers are its clear that they are not even close to constructing the amount needed.

Clearly, this is a major failing on the part of the Chavez government. Access to affordable and decent housing is very important to most Venezuelans and people will judge a government based on its ability to provide it. Due to his success in other areas such as health care, education, and jobs people may be willing to look past this failing for now. But they won't do so indefinitely. If major progress is not made on this within the next year this could become a major thorn in Chavez's side in the 2006 Presidential election.

Another very interesting point is that in spite of all the rhetoric about Chavez's alledged Communist tendancies and aversion to private property at least in the realm of housing he is moving away from government solutions and more towards working with the private sector. This is shown by the desire to give people grants with which they can then go out and have their own houses built and by mandating that banks increase their home loan portfolio. With these schemes the government would spend less time building homes itself, something it probably not very good at anyways, and the private sector could be called upon to use its efficiencies in home building to help low income people. Sounds like quite a good idea once they get all the kinks worked out.

And it sure is very non-socialistic. In fact it almost sounds like something Bush would do, save he would call the payments "vouchers" intead of grants. Not to mention Bush only does things like this when he wants to destroy something like the public education system.

Nevertheless, it sounds like a good and pragmatic solution long overdue for implementation. Lets hope they get it to work, and soon.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Who is the "enemy"? 

One of the more annoying aspects of discussing Iraq with pro-war types is their constant insistence that the Iraqi insurgents are Ba-athists, terrorists, or the great catch all “Islamo-fascists”. I’ve never believed that for a minute. Not that some insurgents don’t fall into one of those categories – some probably do. But it has always stood to reason that a great many are probably otherwise regular Iraqis who simply want an invading power that has done little, if anything, to make their country better, to leave. Moreover, how could anyone be so certain that the insurgents were “Islamo-fascists” when it has been acknowledged many times that they don’t know who makes up the insurgents? Today the Salt Lake Tribune published an interesting article on this very subject. Here are some excerpts:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A bright orange haze, where the desert meets the sky, has swallowed the sun once again. At a rough Army outpost, just south of Iraq's capital city, some U.S. soldiers lounge along a row of makeshift benches, sharing with one another some recently obtained "intelligence."
"They keep their foot soldiers drugged," says one.
"Most are from other Middle Eastern countries, coming over the borders to fight us here," says another.
"Once," interjects a third, "a bus drove up into the middle of one town, and over the loudspeaker, a man asked who wanted to give himself to Allah. And right there 20 men jumped on board."
"They hate us," a final soldier adds, "and they hate freedom."


But the insurgency is significantly more diverse than described by many troops. Its warriors' varied motives are much less simplistic than defined by political leaders.
So who is the enemy?
A 13-year-old Sunni boy in Abu Ghraib prison for murder, told by his extremist uncle that the cost of manhood was an American soldier's life.
A 20-year-old Shiite man in Najaf, still pining for retribution in the killing of more than 200 of his fellow militiamen in a battle with American forces last year.
An out-of-work carpenter, engineer or teacher. A former Baathist Army officer, cut off from his pension and not allowed to serve his new nation. The relatives of a Shiite family mistakenly killed by a U.S. soldier who feared their vehicle carried explosives.
"There is not one face, one agenda and one ideology," says Judith Yaphe, a former Iraq analyst with the CIA and a senior fellow at the National Defense University. "What you have is multiple insurgencies."

But Yaphe said there is no way to accurately estimate the number of insurgents in Iraq.
And multiple motives: Political power, resistance to the occupation, a need for money.
Indeed, the enemy described by most - religious extremists from foreign nations, including elements of al-Qaida - makes up only a small percentage of the fighters in Iraq, Yaphe says.
"Ninety percent of this is an Iraqi event," she says.


The roads near Najaf are routinely clear of hidden explosives and suicide car bombers, but small arms fire continues to be a hazard. That doesn't mean, however, those responsible for the gunfire are aligned, even peripherally, with Sunni extremists, like bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi, more commonly associated with the insurgency.
"I've never met a single person who supports bin Laden or Zarqawi," says Will Van Wagenen, a Salt Lake City native and member of the nonprofit Christian Peacemaker Teams, who recently met with members of the al-Mahdi militia at Najaf's Wadi al-Salem cemetery, where they had clashed with U.S. troops for three weeks in August 2004.
"But," Van Wagenen says, "a lot of people support continued attacks against the Americans."
A secret poll commissioned by the British government and conducted by an Iraqi research team confirmed that assessment, according to London's Sunday Telegraph . The newspaper reported last month that nearly half of Iraqis believe attacks against occupation forces are justified.


aphe, the former CIA analyst, says it does seem clear that most insurgent groups want to see the current Iraqi government fail. But she says it would be a mistake to assume any of those groups are of one mind on what they'd like to see in the aftermath.
And she believes the oft-stated notion that insurgents are the enemies of freedom around the world is incorrect.
"That's one of George Bush's favorites, but in my heart of hearts, I really don't think they care if we live in a democracy or we have freedom or that we live on the moon," Yaphe says. "They don't like what we do. We represent incarnate evil to many. Some are glad Saddam is gone and don't like us. Others regret Saddam is gone and don't like us."
Having come to believe such descriptions, Capt. Dan Kwok, an Army physician who treated inmates at the military prison in Abu Ghraib, was taken back by the claims of one highly educated prisoner he came to know.
The inmate, Kwok says, was a medical doctor, like himself, who worked for Zarqawi's network of fundamentalist guerrilla fighters.
"I asked him, 'Where would you like to live, if you could live anywhere in the world?' " recalls Kwok, a graduate of Brigham Young University. "And he told me, 'In the United States, because you have a lot of freedom there.' "
Van Wagenen heard similar themes among those he came to know in Iraq, including resistance supporters of both Shiite and Sunni persuasion.
One Shiite Kurd with whom Van Wagener worked was most upset by the reasoning, often stated by Bush in recent speeches - and commonly repeated by soldiers in Iraq - that the war was being fought abroad "before they attack us at home."
"He told me, 'When you say that, you are saying that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives. We had nothing to do with Sept. 11, but you are making Iraq a magnet for terrorists,' " Van Wagenen recalls.
Rather than wanting to stop the march of freedom, Iraqis desire to accept it on their own terms, Van Wagenen said.
And for some, the fight against American-led occupation forces is part of that struggle.

So for the umpteenth time, its clear the U.S. has no idea who it’s fighting. That certainly doesn’t bode well for their chances of winning this war. Further, it belies their cheap propaganda about fighting terrorism or “Islamo-Fascism”.

It is also interesting to see how their own propaganda used for domestic U.S. consumption doesn’t necessarily play well in Iraq. Many Americans buy the argument of “fight them there, or fight them here” (and by the way, anyone remember the “domino theory”? can’t these idiots have ANY original ideas?). Yet, as the perceptive Iraqi Kurd pointed out that is really insulting to Iraqis implying that its ok if they all get blown up by bombs as long as people in Denver are safe. Again, the U.S. isn’t winning any friends or converts here. And they aren’t making the world safe from “Islamo-Fascism” or terrorism. They are just fighting a bunch of people who don’t want the U.S. war machine subjugating and brutalizing them.


Another little point on Iraq. I hope many readers of Oil Wars are able to watch “Off to War” on the Discovery Times cable channel. It is one of the very few places were some of the reality of the war, at least for U.S. troops, can be seen.

In this weeks episode there was one very illuminating moment. The U.S. soldiers always gather for group prayer immediately before going out on patrol. Generally they are asking for God to protect the them from harm. Some times, when they are going on particularly dangerous missions, they get more specific and ask God to confuse the enemy and render his weapons ineffective.

Of course, one has to wonder what exactly is God getting out of all this. I mean why would God want to go out of his way to protect American soldiers as opposed to say Iraqi civilians who it would seem to me God should be more worried about? Well, at the end of the prayer that preceeded the last mission we finally got to see what was being offered up to God. The Lieutenant leading the prayer prayed that if God so desired it all Iraqis be converted to Christianity!!! (I can’t remember the exact words but praying for Iraqis to be converted to Christianity is definitely what was said).

But of course, we are told, any suggestion that U.S. soldiers are Crusaders is simply ridiculous. Sure.


Hence the fight over land 

As readers of this blog will know there has been a very contentious, and sometimes violent, fight over land reform in Venezuela. President Chavez has been aggressively pursuing land reform including breaking up large estates with idle land to redistribute to landless farmers.

One of the opposition’s arguments is that it is inappropriate for the government to take private land when the government itself owns so much land that could be given to the potential farmers. On the surface, they may seem like a valid point.

However, today in Ultimas Noticias there was some news that speaks to this point. According to a just completed study by agricultural expert Juan Luis Hernández only 2.2% of all Venezuelan land has a high agricultural potential. These lands are found in the valleys of the north, the area around Lake Maraciabo, and in the western plains. According to Hernandez an additional 10% of Venezuelan lands have “some” agricultural potential.

A few points need to be made regarding this. First and foremost, this shows why land reform can’t be accomplished without hitting the big private estates. Venezuela simply has very little prime agricultural lands. Most of what the government has is of very poor quality. For example, a large swath of government land is the Gran Sabana where Venezuela’s “table top” mountains are located. But that land is either jungle or very poor quality arid land. Any farmer given that land would be getting set up for failure. Another huge swath of government land is the Orinoco Delta. Unless you plan on doing mosquito farming you will probably find this land to be of little use. Given this, the government is very restricted in what land can be redistributed. It should therefore come as no surprise that private estates often have to be looked to to carry out the needed reform.

A second point, is that Venezuela is obviously never going to be an agricultural power. Some like to make much of the fact that Venezuela used to be self-sufficient in foodstuffs many decades ago. They blame the oil booms for undercutting Venezuela’s self-sufficiency. But that is not the case. With such a small amount of arable land it should come as no surprise you can’t feed 25 million people without importing food. Back when the population was less then 10 million it may have been possible it certainly isn’t any more. What undercut Venezuelan self-sufficiency in food wasn’t oil, it was simple demographics.

Just to make some comparisons on this I decided to check the CIA factbook which gives basic statistics on various countries. Looking up Venezuela it gave its arable land as 2.95% very closely matching Hernandez’s numbers. By way of contrast the United States has 19.13% arable land. Clearly a huge difference which goes along ways to explaining why the U.S. exports so much food while Venezuela imports it.

Having such a small amount of agricultural land makes it absolutely imperative that land is farmed and not allowed to just sit idle. That is precisely what Chavez’s land reform aims at ensuring. Hence, we see here an important fact which validates the policies of the Venezuelan government.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Calling their bluff 

As I mentioned last week the European Union is sending an observation group to oversee the December 4 legislative elections in Venezuela. Now the Venezuelan electoral authorities, the CNE, have signed another electoral accord, this time with the Organization of American States. The O.A.S. will be sending 35 observers who will be arriving in the country shortly.

What I thought was interesting was the actual accord between the OAS and the CNE. It spells out what the OAS will have access to. Here are some excerpts:

The CNE, during the day of the elections, and the pre-election and post election period, guarantees the observers free movement in all the Venezuelan territory.

The CNE, during the day of the elections, and during the pre and post electoral period guarantees the observers complete access to all the work areas of the CNE and all its subordinate organizations at a national, regional, and local level, as well as any private companies working for the CNE in the voting, capturing fingerprints, audits, vote totaling, transmission and computing of the votes.

The CNE guarantees the observers complete access to the voting centers, voting tables, the data centers wherein the voting, capturing of fingerprints, audits, reviewing of votes and totaling of votes takes place. The CNE guarantees the observers copies of the voting acts that are printed at the end of voting prior to their transmission.

The CNE will provide, whenever it is requested, information relating to the electoral registry, to the voting books, all databases and software used in the voting process, and the source codes and operating systems.

The Venezuelan voting system is almost entirely automated. People vote on touch screen computers which record their vote electronically and print out a small paper which is then kept in a box for comparison to the electronic totals during audits. Please note that this automization of the voting process was NOT initiated by the Chavez administration. It was mandated by laws passed under previous administrations. For example, the election in 1998 that brought Chavez to power was also automated. The CNE is simply complying with laws that predate Chavez term by having a computerized voting process.

However, aspects of this voting process became quite controversial during last years Presidential Recall Referendum as the opposition complained that observers were not in the vote totaling center and didn’t examine the software used in the voting machines. Of course, the controls and audits were sufficient that the observers could affirm that there was no fraud in that vote.

Nevertheless, the government is once again bending over backward to assuage any concerns of the opposition. The opposition wasn’t happy that observers from the European Union didn’t come to the RR. So now the CNE made it a point to have observers from the E.U. come to the Legislative elections. Further, the concerns over the access to all the computers where the votes are calculated and the software used in the machines are clearly addressed in the accord with the O.A.S.

There is no small amount of irony here. The opposition, which has consistently cried fraud and said the electoral process is rigged, has done everything it could to keep observers from coming. And what does the C.N.E., which is presumably carrying out this fraud doing? They are bringing in foreign observers and telling them they can examine any part of the voting process they desire. It sure does seem strange that an organization that according to the opposition should have so much to hide keeps acting as if it has absolutely nothing to hide. Very strange indeed.


Another one flies the coop 

As I talked about the other day it can be safely said the opposition doesn't give a hoot about the law. They routinely violate it.

Here is the latest example. One of the people implicated in the murder of State prosecutor Danilo Anderson, Nelson Mezerhane, has, according to Ultimas Noticias, fled Venezuela in his private jet and is now in Boca Raton Florida. Here is a person who is allegedly involved in the murder of the person who was investigating the April 11 coup against Chavez and the authorities can't even question him because he has fled the country rather than respond to a legal request to report to the authorities!

Now I'm not one to say that flight automtically indicates guilt. But it sure does look pretty incriminating. Also, please note that in Venezuela you must pass through Venezuelan immigration authorities when you leave the country as well as when you enter it. So he broke the law on that acount as well.

UPDATE: Today Mezerhane presented himself to the Venezuela court. So the report of his flight to the U.S. was erroneous. In any event Patricia Poleo, allededly one of the key figures in the murder of Danilo Anderson is still in hiding refusing to turn herself over and Mezerhane held out for more than a week. Hardly a model of good citizen conduct.


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