Thursday, September 13, 2007

As if anyone in Venezuela cares what this blog thinks anyways... 

As is known, I'm not exactly enthralled with the proposed reforms to the constitution and I personally would like to see them voted down. Then again, my vote doesn't count.

So what do the people think whose votes do count? Well the Sejias (Datos) polling firm gave us some information on that in Wednesdays's Ultimas Noticias. Here it goes:

First they asked how much people know about the reforms. 11% claimed to be well informed, 48.6% said they were somewhat informed, and 38% said they didn't know anything about the reforms.

In terms of the reforms themselves 43.3% support them and 34.9% oppose them.

Along the same lines 45.7% said they thought the reforms would benefit the country while 30.4% said they would be harmfull.

And here are the key "how would you vote" numbers: 40.6% would vote in favor of the reforms, 22.5% would vote against them, and 24% wouldn't vote. With the SI beating the NO by about a two to one margin it sure looks like the reforms are a done deal.

Regarding their opinions on individual articles we have this:

62.8% are in favor of the reform that extends the term from 6 to 7 years.

65.4% are in favor of the creation of "popular power".

47.2% are in favor of including the term "socialism" in the constitution (40.5% oppose that).

90.8% favor giving social rights to taxi drivers (no wonder a certain commentor is so in favor of these reforms).

70% are in favor of the reduction of work hours.

47% are in favor of removing presidential term limits but 49.3% still oppose it making that one of the few reforms that would actually fail on its own. I guess we know why the reforms are all grouped together.

I think it is kind of funny that most Venezuelans are opposed to getting rid of term limits even though this blogger actually supports elminating them. Yet what this blogger can't stand - extending terms from 6 to 7 years in length - most Venezuelans support. I guess this blogger is pretty out of touch!

BTW, on some general questions we get the usual responses:

73.4% of the electorate approves of the way Chavez is doing his job.

47.1% say their own personal situation has improved during the 8 years Chavez has been in office versus only 19.9% who say it has gotten worse and 32.2% who say it has remained the same.

Bush would probably be happy with those numbers.

So to summarize: Today we learned that Chavez is still extremely popular, that barring some tidal shift the proposed constitutional reforms will easily pass, and that the thinking of the Oil Wars blog should never be confused with how Venezuelans themselves think.

I don't know about you but for me that last point is a real downer.


What political persecution isn't... 

Now that we've had a good and healthy discussion on the dangers of group think and forced loyalty now maybe we can take a look at what it IS NOT and how the foriegn media uses false allegations of it for cheap propoganda.

Today from a south Florida newspaper had this standard propogandistic fair:

Doug Krizner: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demands loyalty, especially from workers in the state-owned oil business. Since taking power, Chavez fired thousands and replaced them with party loyalists. Now, four years later, those ex-employees are turning up all around the world. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech has the story of one such workers who resettled in south Florida.

Dan Grech: Luis Ramirez never planned on leaving Venezuela. He had a 22-year career at the state oil firm, PDVSA. He had three cars, an apartment with a mountain view, a fat pension.

But Ramirez felt President Hugo Chavez was politicizing the oil company. So in late 2002, he joined a national strike against Chavez.

Luis Ramirez: I knew that there might be consequences. But, you know, it was a calculated risk.

One that ended with his being fired. Word came from an unusual source.

Ramirez: It was by newspaper, an ad in the newspaper. My list was sort of 150 people altogether in one list.

All told, at least 18,000 PDVSA employees lost their jobs.

In Chavez's Venezuela, most working professionals have what's known as a Plan Beh, or Plan B. That's where they'll resettle outside the country if staying is no longer an option.

For fired PDVSA executives, Plan B is usually a global oil center, like Houston.

Ramirez: I have friends living in northern Canada, England, Mexico and many other places.

Ramirez chose Weston, a palm-lined suburb near Fort Lauderdale. He had an investment property there. Problem is there are few oil jobs in south Florida.

Ramirez: When we came here, we had to start over and build our way up again.

Ramirez lost his assets, his country club membership, his maid. He sold the Florida investment property and used the money to start a family printing business. He lives with his wife and two kids in a rental home.

Ramirez: I'm . . . I'm positive. I feel I have all the tools I need to get back on my track. There are so many opportunities in this country. It's so open and warm to people to come here and do business, and we really feel optimistic about that.

Ramirez is even looking to get back into the oil business. He just linked up with eight other PDVSA exiles to form a consulting firm.

In Weston, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

So lets see, this guy goes on strike demanding the overthrow of the Venezuelan government and the resignation of its democratically elected government and this not too on the ball reporter sees it as Chavez demanding loyalty?!?!?! No, I think those people getting fired was really just the government telling people they should respect the outcome of elections. Twenty thousand people who have the privilege (with three cars and a mountain view apartment this is meant literally) of working in the oil industry don't have the right to tell 25 million Venezuelans who should govern them.

Through much pain and with a lot of hard work Venezuela overcame the damage done by these self-centered swine. These wretches should consider themselves lucky that they lost little more than their country club memberships and maids (life is a bitch - I wonder how they are adjusting to having to do their own laundry?).

It is completely uninformed articles like this that make a real and fair discussion of Venezuela in the U.S. almost impossible. This reporter clearly has not a clue - or is simply writing what he has to write.

But as anyone who knows anything about what has happened in Venezuela over the past 8 years knows the person described here is not a freedom fighter, not a victim of repression or discrimination, and not someone who deserves any sympathy.

At the same time, I hope it is not lost on Chavistas that not everyone who has a different opinion and dares to express it is the same as this former oil manager.

These distinctions need to be kept clear by all of us despite the efforts of some on both sides to blur them and confuse people.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Darkness at Noon 

For the past six years one of the principal political parties in president Chavez’s ruling coalition has been called PODEMOS. It was formerly part of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party which other, more conservative, people like Teodoro Petkoff belonged to. It essentially split over the Chavez government with MAS becoming part of the opposition to the Chavez and PODEMOS becoming part of the pro-Chavez ruling coalition.

Currently it has 15 deputies in the National Assembly, numerous state and local offices, and got about 750,000 votes as part of the Chavez ticket in the 2006 presidential elections. In other words, PODEMOS supporters constituted about 10% of Chavez supporters overall.

Unfortunately this small political party has come in for quite a tongue lashing in recent days. The reason? It had the temerity to think for itself. You see one of its principal leaders, A.N. deputy Ismael Garcia, has expressed qualms about the proposed constitutional reforms. Specifically, he is concerned that a number of the reforms take power away from the people and concentrate them in the president. Having looked at the reforms, I would say this fear is not totally unfounded.
Yet for simply having expressed reservations and wanting a full national debate (not even outright opposing the reform as I advocate) Garcia has been subjected to this:

“PODEMOS Is A Party Of Ingrates” screams the headline.

Actually the person saying that PODEMOS were ingrates was the Vice-minister of Finance, Rafael Isea who said:

After taking advantage of the leadership of Hugo Chavez to become governors, deputies and mayors, they now they assume a ambigious position where they say they are with Chavez but they aren’t.

Their crime which shows they are against Chavez? That they oppose some of the Consitutional reforms? No, it isn't that because they haven't even said they oppose anything - they just have reservations about some of the proposals and want honest and full discussion of them. In other words instead of blindly following along they seem to actually be reading the proposed reforms and thinking about them.

Thinking for themselves?!?!?!?! Well then, of course they must be ingrates. After all, Chavez has stayed up, night after night, thinking about everything precisely so that others don’t have to think… and yet these ingrates go ahead and think for themselves anyways! Definitely sounds ungrateful to me. In fact, this thinking about things which "El Commendante" has already thought about seems to be slap in Chavez's face. Are these PODEMOS people so arrogant that they think they have the ability to think of something that Chavez maybe overlooked?

If so, they are due for a comeuppance, which came in part from the governor of Miranda who said:

Ismael is involved in something that he doesn’t understand; what does Ismael know that the rest of Venezuelans don’t know; who has spoken to Ismael that knows something the rest of Venezuelans don’t know.

Personally, I think Cabello was a little imprecise: it isn't what does Ismael know that the rest of Venezuela doesn't know; it is what does Ismael know that Chavez doesn't know. After all it isn't just Ismael's ideas that don't count for anything, no one elses count either - not Cabello's, not Jorge Rodriguez's, not Francisco Ameliach's, not the 4 million people that signed up with the PSUV, not anyones. All opinions come from you know who and everyone else either agrees with them in their totality or else they become part of the opposition. That certainly seems to be the message of the past week.

Think that is being a bit extreme? Well check out what the big guy himself had to say yesterday:

Some parties that at one time supported the revolution, it appears that some of their leaders got tired and some took off their mask; and they walk about talking loudly and they are afraid to say they are against Chavez… stop the non-sense and say it once and for all that you are against me.

So lets see - if Chavez says Venezuela should have 50 million people and you say that is too many, then you are against Chavez. If Chavez says there is no need for a devaluation and you say the Bolivar is overvalued then you against Chavez. If Chavez says crime is a creation of the media and you say it is a real problem then you are against Chavez. If Chavez wants to nationalize the phone company and you think the money should be used instead to create new industries then you are against Chavez... I think you get the idea.

Everyone knows that up to this point Chavez has personified the "revolution". He has no peers within this movement. And the ride into Caracas from the airport should be enough to show the budding cult of personality that comes with that.

However, this new way of thinking is much worse and much more dangerous than any of that. Lets remember who the above is being said of. These are not the people who led the April coup. Nor the people who tried to destroy PDVSA. Nor the people who who have been rioting in the streets and lying every day in the media trying to destroy this government.

No, this group think is being demanded of people who have supported this government with blood, sweat and tears and who share its aim of making Venezuela a better country for ALL its citizens. But because they won't be party to group think they are now the enemy.

Don't confuse this criticism, no matter how harsh it may seem, with the infantile assertions of the opposition - that Chavez is a dictator or at least an autocrat; that there is no freedom of speech or that he doesn't tolerate dissent. The Venezuelan people have time and again freely chosen him as their president. Those millions of votes give him the right to form alliances with whom ever he pleases - or form no alliances at all if he so chooses. So if he wants to tell PODEMOS or anyone else to take a hike he is well within his rights to do so. It certainly is a legitimate choice - even if it is dead wrong.

Acclimating people to having others think for them is not a way to build a better society. Cutting yourself off from people who might occasionally have other ideas is not a way to minimize errors and govern successfully. The "your with us or against us" mentality sure didn't work out too well for the people up north so why does Chavez now seem to think it will work for him?

Chavez is a great leader who has accomplished tremendous things for Venezuela. It should come as no surprise that the great majority of Venezuelans - no matter what ideology they may have, if they even have one - want him to continue as their leader. But if he tries to put an ideological straightjacket on all who would follow him he will only isolate his movement and weaken it, leading this to end in tears for his followers and all of Venezuela.

Moreover, if Chavez continues down this path along which he has taken the first tentative steps he will wind up in a place foretold by Arthur Koestler.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

How much was YOUR increase last year? 

In yesterdays news there was the little factoid that the average Venezuelan got a salary increase of 30% in the past 12 months with average earnings going from 558,645 boliareas last August to 727,137 bolivares in August 2007. Sounds good, and it is.

Of course, peoples purchasing power didn’t really go up by 30% - there is this little thing called inflation. If you check the I.N.E. web site you see that inflation between July 2006 and July 2007 (the most recent they have and only off one month from the salary increase period) was 17%. So using the arithmetic they taught me in the second grade it seems that the REAL salary increase Venezuelans got in the past 12 months was (30% - 17%) 13%.

Damn, Venezuelans got a 13% REAL salary increase last year. I’ve never gotten that. In fact last year I got a 3% nominal increase and after taking into account inflation of 2.4% comes to a measly .6% increase in real terms. That is right six tenths of one percent. Pretty freaking lame.

So there we have it. Venezuelans have a booming standard of living allowing the to them to buy all sorts of new goods. Meanwhile, overworked O.W. – who doesn’t live in Venezuela – gets stuck with a puny raise that maybe affords him a couple of Snickers bars. Doesn’t seem fair does it?


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