Friday, February 24, 2006

Maria does Antimano 

The news from Venezuela is getting a little slow given that Carnival is beginning and most people are heading out to party or go to the beach. So I thought the time might be right for something of a fluf post. And low and behold Maria Corina Machada, of SUMATE fame, goes and gives it to me. You may recall the last time she was making a splash it was to visit W in the White House. Well, the other day she went to a slightly more downscale place - the Antimano section of Caracas.

Antimano is an area I'm familiar with as I have relatives that live there and have visited it often. It is in the western most valley that runs south from Caracas. It is sort of like El Valle that I posted on before but somewhat smaller and without the big appartment blocks running down the middle of it. It is a poor area and largely consists of ramschackle housing built up the sides of very steep valley walls.

It is also very pro-Chavez. In fact, I think Chavez got one of his highest vote percentages in the RR in Antimano - over 80% if I recall correctly. So apparently Maria decided to visit this local to maybe make some point about how SUMATE has a following even in pro-Chavez areas? If that was her intention she didn't do a very good job. From what is said she was afraid to walk down the street to get there (Antimano is right on the Metros number 2 line). Rather, a car pulled up and she quickly ran into the building where the meeting was. Then she spoke to about 10 very bored looking people. Impressive, 10 people in an area that probably has a population of 100,000!!! What a pathetic showing. And what is even more amazing is they post this junk on the internet to show what? How little support they have? Or that they can actually sneak into a building on the west side of Caracas? Or that she is women of the people because she held up someones little kid? Whatever the reaon, they really do just look pathetic.

Note the paper in the foreground says "popular clamor". Yeah sure, 10 people show up in a city of 5 million and that is popular clamor!

BTW, she really does need to eat more. The anorexic look is out. But at least the light blue shirt doesn't clash with the squalor.

And here is one of the commical titles the folks at Aporrea added:

Maria points and says "no sooner I gave them the money than they ran off over there" while her assistant adds "they screwed us again".


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Who put the country in debt? 

One of the cries of the opposition has been that Chavez has been running up debt to unprecedented levels. Currently Venezuela's total debt, internal and external, is around $45 billion dollars. Certainly having this level of debt is not good as just paying the interest on it eats up a lot of resources. So it would be good to see this debt be reduced.

However, there was an interesting article in Panorama newspaper where the former Venezuelan Finance Minister, Tobias Nobrega, gave some historical perspective to Venezuela's debt (and if there is one thing the opposition shills avoid like the plague it is historical perspective).

Nobrega pointed out that the key measurement of debt is its size in relation to GDP. Measured that way Venezuela's debt currently stands at 39% of GDP and is expected in the current year to fall to 32% of GDP. By way of comparison the average debt ratio in the European Union is 60% and in the U.S. it is 75%.

Moreover, historically speaking this debt ratio is lower than it was under the proceding Venezuelan governments. Here is the historical data given in the article:

From 1958 to 1968, the first decade of democracy in Venezuela, the debt load averaged 6.5% of GDP and in 2000 dollars averaged $2.3 billion (all dollar terms will be in constant 2000 dollars)

During Calderas first administration it doubled to $5.2 billion dollars and 11% of GDP

During Carlos Andres Perez's first term it went up 500% to $25 billion or about 30% of GDP.

During the government of Luis Herrera Campins it went up in dollar terms to $28.6 billion but fell in relation to GDP to 26%.

During the Lusinchi administration it hit $48.75 billion and was 74% of GDP.

During CAPs second term it aveaged 67% of GDP and with a peak of 85% in 1989.

During Calderas second term the debt averaged $33 billion and 50% of GDP with a high point of 69%

During Chavez's first few years, 99 to 2001, the debt averaged 29% of GDP and $32 billion. During the period 2002-2003 (with the coup and strike) it went up to 46% of GDP. As the economy recovered it fell again to 39% of GDP.

So looking at it from a historical perspective under Chavez has had a LOWER debt load than under some previous administrations and the debt is fairly stable, tending now to 32% of GDP after being 29% during his first years in office. A pretty good record and anything but the worst government Venezuela has ever seen as we so often hear the opposition propogandists say. The reality is the famed fourth republic (the period when the opposition was runnign the country) inheritted from the Perez-Jimenez dictatorship a country with minimal debt and had it balloon on their watch to unprecedented proportions. And in spite of that sorry record they have the audacity to criticize Chavez. They are nothing if not shameless.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Petkoff talks the talk 

Today in El Univeral there was an article about the all but declared candidacy of Teodoro Petkoff. Some of you may ask Teodoro who? Just briefly, he is one of Chavez's most persistent critics who runs the newspaper Tal Cual, a stridently anti-Chavez paper that prints no news that isn't about Chavez (ie, when Chavez leaves office they will have to close the paper). His parents were eastern European immigrants and he became a communist activist in his youth. He was jailed under the Perez-Jimenez dictatorship in the 1950s and made some famous jail breaks. He broke with the Stalinist orthodoxy in 1968 and later entered mainstream politics after founding his own political party - MAS (Movement to Socialism). He was a congressperson for a number of years and then the planning minister under Caldera, immediately proceeding Chavez's rise to power. I have to add I've never quite figured out how a former communist activist and congressperson scraped together enough money to start his own paper.

Being on of the most prominent opposition activists he has now appears to have decided he wants to run against Chavez. Here is some of what was said in El Universal:

The director of Tal Cual, Teodoro Petkoff, thinks that he is the person who can face president Chavez in Decembers elections, although he has not yet decided if he will be a candidate.

"I am not a candidate, at least not yet, if I was a candidate I have the impression that if someone can face him it would be me", said Petkoff, who is 74, in an interview with AFP.


The majority of hte polls give Chavez as the favorite to win re-election with at least 45% of the vote against a maximum of 5% for the most popular opposition candidate, Julio Borges of Primero Justicio


Petkoff recognizes that Chavez will be a formidable candidate. "I have never underestimated him. He can be a terrible president, but as a candidate he is formidable," he concluded.

There are a couple little gems here. First, Chavez is just blowing away the opposition: 45 to 5. And apparently Petkoff isn't even at 5%. What is his support, 2%? So the opposition has to win virtually every undecided voter to have any chance. Good luck with that. Quite frankly, whoever runs against Chavez is a sacrificial lamb. This may be why Petkoff could be a good candidate for the opposition. Others probably want to wait until there is a realistic chance of winning. Petkoff, at 74, can't wait at all and doesn't have much to lose so maybe its a good fit.

The next gem is the comment about Chavez being a terrible president but a formidable candidate. For those who have never read Tal Cual this gives a good example of the muddle headed ideas put forth by Petkoff there. Petkoff thinks Chavez has been a terrible president but will be a strong candidate?!?! But don't politicians who have been in office 7 years generally get judged on their record? If so, and if Chavez is indeed popular with the electorate wouldn't that imply that most Venezuelans think he is doing a good job? I sure think any rational person would come to that conclusion. And with the economy booming, poverty down, jobs up, and the country turning into one big construction site I think the facts on the ground fit nicely with this view: the reason Chavez is a formidable candidate is because most Venezuelans think he is doing a good job, that they are better off under him, and that most likely things will continue to improve. There really isn't any great mystery here. To understand why Chavez is all but a shoe in for re-election you just have to look at the economy and acknowledge the reality of how well it is doing. Something Petkoff can bring himself to do.


This is cool 

As soon as a saw the headline "Explorers Discover Huge Cave and New Poison Frogs" I figured this had to be about the Guyana region of Venezuela. For those unfamiliar with it this is the south east part of Venezuela that is famous for the table top mountains, known locally as Tepuis. Even if you haven't heard about them you hopefully have heard about the worlds highest water fall, Angel Falls, which is on the largest Tepui. The area is spectacular and really a must visit area for anyone going to Venezuela. Yet, it isn't even on most people's radar and unfortunately even most Venezuelans haven't been there.

I got my digital camera after my last trip to that area so unfortunately I don't have any pictures I can post. But for anyone interested in learning more about it I would recommend going to the local library and getting out the May 1989 edition of National Geographic which has the best article on the area I have ever seen. Also, if anyone is seriously interested in going there you may want to drop me a line before paying for any expensive tour - I can help with the logistics of how to make inexpensive trip there (for starters, don't buy any tour in Caracas - they are WAY overpriced).

And one last tip - watch out for the poisonous frogs.


Primaries, anyone? 

It used to said in the United States that political parties chose their candidates in smoke filled rooms. That may or not still be true but regardless of how it is done there, it is certainly still done that way in Venezuela. The two main historical parties, A.D. and COPEI are very much run from the top down (with input from the media owners of course) and those who dare to suggest internal elections are often physically beaten up. New opposition parties are often even worse as they are largely the personal fiefdom of whatever meglomaniac founded. To the extent that there is even any debate in them it is resolved not by votes, or even consensus, but by the loser of the debate leaving and founding another political party.

The main pro-Chavez party, MVR, was to be different. After all its founding ideas revolved around participatory democracy. Yet, its record on this is at best mixed. For the local elections last summer it chose its candidates through primaries throughout Venezuela. This represented a huge step forward for Venezuelan politics as for almost the first time party members determined what candidates the party would run. Unfortunately, as big a step foward as that was later last year the MVR took a big step backwards by not allowing party members to chose the candidates for the National Assembly. Discontent over this lack of internal democracy was one of the contributing factors to low turnout in the legislative elections.

This schizophrenic attitute towards primaries, sometimes having them, sometimes not, seems to be continueing. In one of the municipalities, Carrizal, that didn't have its local elections with the rest of the country last summer they are now getting ready for elections. And how is the MVR chosing its candidates? Yes, through primaries. The primaries, in which they expect about 20,000 party members to vote, will be held this Thursday. The voters will chose between 7 different candidates.

So after having a big step foward there was a big step back. Now we are having at least a baby step foward. One can only hope this most basic example of participatory democracy is picked up, expanded, and used consistantly within the entire Chavista movement. Otherwise, the "participatory democracy" phrase that seems to roll off of so many Chavistas tongues every other sentence are nothing but empty words devoid of meaning.

P.S. And where is the opposition in all of this? Are they organizing their own primaries? Not a chance. Those meglomaniacs want nothing to do with an average Joe, or Juan, having a say in affairs of state. So while they may have primaries voting will probably be limited to those who own television networks or newspapers. The opposition remains a movement of the media, not a movement of the people.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The death spiral of Iraqi oil production 

As I have pointed out on numerous occassions one of the main reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to get control of its oil, ramp up production, break OPEC, and get oil prices to tank. Unfortunately, things haven't quite worked out as Bush and Co. planned. Iraqi oil production has seldom exceeded what it was before the U.S. invasion and for the last two years it has been steadly dropping, now at an accelerated rate. A lot of the decline results from insurgent attacks, corruption, administrative incompetance, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, another rather interesting reason. Here is the article from todays Wall Street Journal:

Fresh Woes Hinder Iraqi Oil Output

Iraqi oil production has fallen sharply in recent months amid a series of buereaucratic and political tussles in Baghdad, raising questions about the country's ability to keep its petroleum industry from spiraling further into disrepair.

For more than two years, insurgents targetting pipelines and oil workers have stymied the recovery of Iraq's oil industry. Slow funding from Washington, poor project planning and widespread smuggling and corruption also have hindered the effort.

Iraqi oil officials are now complaining about new problems,including political infighting at the oil ministry and escalating conflicts between officials in Baghdad and those in Iraq's main oil-producing regions. Essential equipment has been held up as Iraqi and U.S. officials butt heads over whether it can safely brought into the country.

Oil production was shut down during the U.S. invasion in March 2003. By early 2004 Iraq recovered to briefly approach pre-invasion production levels, some 2.5 million barrels a day. As the insurgency heated up, those gains faded. Still, Iraq managed to pump an average of 1.8 million to two million barrels a day through much of 2004 and 2005, meeting more than 2% of global demand.

But late last year, output started trailing off. In the last three months of 2005, Iraq produced 1.66 million barrels a day, down from 1.96 million a day in the previous quarter, according to the International Energy Agency, the Paris energy watchdog. In January, production sank to 1.5 million barrels a day.


Moreover, output at individual wells tend to drop over time, requiring engineers to constantly drill new wells or stimulate older ones. A senior Iraqi oil official said the ministry has been trying to persuade American officials to allow the import of perforation charges into Iraq. The devices are explosives used to puncture the walls of a well and allow oil to flow to the surface, but U.S. trade rules have curtailed shipments to several countries because of fears they could be used as weapons.

As if its not bad enough that Iraqi production is in steady decline and they apparently haven't been able to hire Ali Rodriguez away from Venezuela to get it re-started, but they can't even import the things they need to ramp up production for fear they will be used to make the I.E.D.s that keep blowing up G.I.s!!!!! I guess you just can't trust those darn Iraqis.


Getting a jump on throwing people in the garbage 

In Iraq not only are many U.S. soldiers being killed but many others are being very severly injured with lost limbs, brain damage, lost eyesight or hearing, and many other lasting injuries. Further, many others have trauma that may not be visible but is never the less very real - depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder among others. In theory, the U.S. Veterans Administration is supposed to care for all veterans - in fact many are tricked when they first enlist into thinking they will get lifetime free medical care.

Of course that is all B.S. As soon as the U.S. is done using a group of people to do its dirty work it promptly throws them in the garbage and forgets about them. This goes right back to the inception of the country when the Continental Army was paid with promisory notes that were later to become worthless (of course, some rich people like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton quickly bought them up for pennies on the dollar and then used their control of the government to have them redeemed at full face value - Washington may not have known how to tell a lie but he did know how to screw over his own troops to make a quick buck). The most famous example of this is the fate of the "Bonus Army" where during the great depression thousands of WW I veterans camped out in the U.S. capital demanding they be paid the bonuses that had been promised them. They never got their bonses as the army (with George Patton in the lead) went in to voilently evict them.

Usually though, the government waits until the war is over and they are completely done using the soldiers to begin screwing them over. But not the Bush administration. They are already going after health care spending for veterans hoping to cut it back. So the U.S. soldiers are going to be learning soon what people like Bush and Cheney really think of them.

Of course, if the soldiers were at all perceptive they would already know the government probably doesn't care about them. After all, given that they are in Iraq and get to see how cheap Iraqi blood is it shouldn't be such a big leap to see when all is said and done their blood is just as cheap. The people calling the shots in Washington D.C. tend not to care much about anyone save themselves.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

If there isn't an election there will be a referendum 

If the opposition knows nothing else, it knows how to read polls. And all the polls, from Datanalisis, to Alfrede Keller on the opposition side to Datos and North American Opinion Research on the pro-Chavez side show Chavez easily winning re-election. He is invariably 30 to 40 points ahead of any potential oponents.

Of course, the same was true of the legislative elections last December - the polls showed the pro-Chavez candidates likely sweeping to victory. So rather than contest elections it was sure to lose the opposition (or the U.S. embassy) came up with the novel idea of just boycotting the elections. I suppose the idea is you can't be said to lose if you don't participate.

Although the presidential elections are 9 months away the opposition leadership is already threatening not to participate. I haven't heard much in the way of coherent reasons why they wouldn't participate - but coherence isn't one of their strong points. Further, how much difference does it make if parties that only seem to represent, at most, 20% of the populace pull out? Not much, although it is an anoyance and it is an attempt to deligitimize the government by claiming it isn't the product of contested elections.

So all things being equal the government would prefer that the opposition parties participate. But it has no way to force them show up and vote. Actually, maybe it does. Chavez is well known for out of the box thinking in his new electoral idea sure fits that pattern. The idea which he discussed today is that if the opposition doesn't run candidates for president, and there therefor isn't an election, rather than let the December 3rd go to waste they will hold a referendum on allowing Chavez to compete for re-election indefinitely. That is, while he is currently not allowed to serve more than two terms, the referendum, if approved, would allow him to serve any number of terms.

So the opposition by not showing up would not only ensure themselves of six more years of Chavez in Miraflores but they would also potentially face him being able keep serving well past the current limit of 2012. I wonder how that will change the debate within the opposition leadership on whether or not to stand in the elections? I sure would be interesting to be a fly on that wall.


Kudos to Ken Livingstone 

This article, which speaks for itself, is great. Its good to see that despite all the oppositions' and U.S. and British efforts at disinformation the truth still does prevail:

Hands off Venezuela, London mayor tells US

London's Mayor Ken Livingstone told the United States to keep its hands off Venezuela, in a spirited defence of the Latin American nation's president Hugo Chavez.

Writing in the Morning Star, a small British socialist newspaper, Livingstone accused the Bush administration in Washington of trying to undermine democracy in Venezuela.

"In reality, Venezuela today is one of the most democratic countries in the entire world," Livingstone said, recalling that eight national votes since 1998 have affirmed the legitimacy of Chavez's administration.

"The great majority of the people of Venezuela continue to live in very harsh conditions, but it is hugely encouraging to see, at the start of the 21st century, a government committed to the democratic and social transformation of one of the most important countries in Latin America and the Caribbean."

"They should be allowed to carry out the democratically expressed wishes of their people without further interference from George Bush's administration," added the mayor, a self-described socialist nicknamed "Red Ken".

Livingstone added: "London will certainly be extending the hand of friendship to Caracas, Venezuela's capital city, and we will make clear our support for their right to determine their own future."

The chill between Caracas and Washington continued Friday when Chavez warned that he was taking potential steps to cut off oil shipments to the United States, in the event Washington goes too far campaigning against his rule.

Just the day before, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Chavez a "challenge to democracy" and said Venezuela's close ties with communist Cuba were "a particular danger" in Latin America.


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