Saturday, February 09, 2008

No signs of progress 

We've now had the first full month since the referendum and since Chavez promised rectifications and there are still no signs of progress on at least one front.

Automobile sales have been one of the clearest examples of the wasteful consumption binge of the past year and they are still at sky high levels.

In January 27,943 new cars were sold which, with a decrease of 2.4% over January 2007, is essentially unchanged. So the binge continues.

Worse still only 6,236 were produced in Venezuela while 21,707 were imported. Compared to last year domestic production declined 17.3% and imports increased 3%. Oh, and exports dropped from a miniscule 1,105 last January to 0 this January!!!!

At this point shouldn't those numbers be headed in the opposite direction with imports declining and domestic production increasing????? Yes they should.

But right now Venezuela has a dramatically overvalued currency and no obvious industrial policy.

Time and money are being wasted. Eventually they will both run out.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Putting some faces to the numbers 

In the previous post we discussed the political genocide that was carried out in Colombia against the Patriotic Union - a leftist political party that was trying to participate in electoral politics in the 80s and 90s. Thousands of party leaders were killed - virtually its entire leadership, its candidates for office and sitting office holders from the national Senate to local councils.

But numbers are, of course, only numbers and don't convey the reality of what this is. For that a documentary may be a little more helpful.

In the following six video I present the documentary Exterminio en Colombia (El Baile Rojo) - Extermination in Colombia (The Red Dance).

It is in Spanish and I don't have time to subtitle it now but hopefully most readers will at least be able to get the gist of what it shows, even if they don't understand every last detail.

Part I. Here we start out with an international human rights activist making the important point that what happened to the Patriotic Union in Colombia was unique in that it is about the only case where one political tendency in what is nominally a democracy was systematically exterminated:

Part II. Here we hear the UPs first presidential candidate speak before he was assassinated. He claimed to not fear death as the leaders killed would be be replaced by the upcoming youth of the UP. He naively underestimated what systematic killing all the leaders would do to any organization:

Part III. Interestingly in this video we see one person describing how they, the members of the Patriotic Union, argued with other leftists who asserted that in Colombia the conditions didn't allow for a legal and open social movement and who therefore joined the insurgency. Tragically, not only were the Patriotic Union people proven wrong, but they paid for their mistake with their lives:

Part IV. In this segment we see a Senator and presidential candidate who called, among other things, for the insurgents to take concrete steps to show they wanted peace and an end to the conflict. Of course, he was later assassinated:

Part V. In this one after murdering one activist and much of his family the lawyer who won some money from the government on behalf of the survivors was also later killed.

Part VI. In this part we see a legal process in the Inter-American court that is so slow and meaningless its hard to believe people are foolish enough to go forward with it. When the case was first brought in 1993 little more than a sixteen hundred UP activists had been murdered. By the time this documentary was made ten years later it was up to over three thousand.

Maybe the court was thinking if it just dragged things out long enough the case would go away as all the plaintants would be dead. Sadly, if that was their plan, it seems to have worked.


Monday, February 04, 2008

There is a reason there is no Colombian Chavez 

Listening to some in the media lately you would think Al-Queda had been upstaged by another, more dangerous, "terrorist" group - Colombia's FARC (Colombia's Armed Revolutionary Forces). Just today thousands across Colombia and around the world protested against FARC's alledged abuses.

In addition to operating outside the democratic system and fighting an insurgency they are accused of being involved in drug trafficting and "terrorist" activities. While there may be legitimacy to some of those accusations I've always been skeptical of them and thought that they were exagerations or even fabrications made up by those in the U.S. and Colombian government intent on discrediting the guerilla group.

However, it isn't the point of this post to delve into those issues. The reason is that there is an even more basic question - that is by what right does any group in a democracy have the right to resort to violence, which is what an insurgency is, against an elected government? After all, at the very least the FARC does that. And if there is no legitimate reason behind their waging armed struggle in the fist place than they can safely be condemmed regardless of what role they play or don't play in the Colombian drug trade.

In short, if the FARC have political designs then why don't they just compete for power electorally? Heck, even the Venezuelan opposition finally saw the light and has started doing that.

The answer to that question is quiet simple - leftists have tried participating in electoral politics in Colombia only to be massacred by state supported right wing death squads. Most recently this happened in the 1980s and 1990s when some FARC members, communists, socialists, trade unionists, community organizers and other leftists formed a large political party called the Patriotic Union.

And what happened to the Patriotic Union? Well, lets just say 20 years on there aren't many members still alive to tell about it. In fact, I am sure most readers remember the almost daily press reports from that time detailing political murder after political murder of these leftists in Colombia. But for those who don't here is a little taste of the reporting from that era from the New York Times:

Colombia's Death-Strewn Democracy

Published: July 24, 1997

A state official in this remote pueblo in a rebel-dominated region in southern Colombia has a photo. It shows him with eight leaders of the Patriotic Union, a left-wing opposition party born during peace negotiations between the leftist rebels and the Colombian Government 12 years ago. One by one, the people in the photo have all been murdered. He is the only one still alive.

''All of them were killed,'' said the official, who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety. ''In different circumstances, but none accidentally. It was physical extermination.''

Though the Patriotic Union is a legal party, most of its elected officials are now afraid to be identified with it. In all, more than 4,000 leaders and members of the party have been killed since its birth.

The dead include most of the presidential candidates the party has fielded, seven members of the House of Representatives, two senators and thousands of regional and municipal office holders. Last year, one member was murdered on an average of every other day; those who are left refer to one another as ''survivors.''

The killings have picked up as Colombia prepares for municipal elections in October, with the targets becoming not only party members but, it seems, whoever might vote for them. In the eastern and northern parts of the country -- particularly the Uraba zone, a strategic corridor for drugs and weapons -- right-wing death squads are waging a campaign of extermination, terrorizing residents and frequently forcing them to flee.

But the ghosts of the Patriotic Union are themselves a silent argument for skepticism about any efforts to achieve peace.

Not all of the phantoms are actually dead. Many of the party's members have retreated into exile, others into a terrified anonymity that mutes their political activism. And many seem beaten by sorrow, exhausted by loss.

Jael Quiroga, a member of the party's national council, recalled rallies that she attended, only to collapse into tears as she realized that all the other leaders who surrounded her were now dead, missing limbs or gone into exile.

''They were such good people, dreamers, who believed that through the democratic process we could be able to express ourselves, to make this a more just country,'' Ms. Quiroga said through her tears.

(for examples of the more mundane daily reporting see this and this)

Keep in mind, these four thousand murders were only the tip of the iceberg. That number doesn't represent how many people in total were killed - that number is beyond counting and is likely in the tens or hundreds of thousands. No, this is just the number of political leaders from ONE leftist party killed (ie, it doesn't even count leftist activists and leader NOT affiliated with the Patriotic Union). In other words, this murder of four thousand people represents the decimation of an entire political organization. (for those wanting to see some of the faces behind the numbers see here)

And who did this and why has never been in doubt - hell, they wrote books bragging about it.

So by now hopefully you can see why there is no Colombian equivalent of Chavez, or Correa, or Kirchner, or Lula. Well, there actually may be Colombian equivalents of those leaders. But rather than be public figures, which would make their life expectancy very short, those few that survived and didn't go into exile are probably in a jungle somewhere holding a gun.

And can they be blamed? No they can't. The reason is, Colombia is not a true democracy. Certainly any country where politicians of a certain persuasion are systematically murdered cannot be considered to be democratic and its citicens certainly have the right to use any means at their disposal, including armed insurgency, to change that government.

And for all those pontificating types from the Venezuelan opposition talking about how horrible it is that Chavez views the FARC as a legitimate political actor think about this:

Suppose instead of living the lives of luxury, freedom, peace and tranquility that they currently enjoy 4,000 leaders of the Venezuelan opposition had been systematically murdered over the past 9 years. Yup, Rosales, Petkoff, Mendoza, Lopez and Borges - dead. Most of the opposition members who were in the congress - dead. Maria Corina Machado and the heads of other NGOs - dead. Ravel, Otero, Cisneros, and Granier - dead. The students who spoke in the National Assembly last year - dead. Our friendly opposition bloggers who are kind enough to keep us up to date on all of Chavez's bad deeds even when they are at the beach - dead. Etc, Etc., Etc.

And our pontificating opposition friends would have us believe that if they faced anything like it wouldn't occur to any of them that maybe they should get some guns and fight back?

Yeah, sure. The Venezuelan opposition may be dumb and cowardly but they aren't THAT dumb and cowardly.

As for me, I hope the brave Colombians fighting for the freedom, democracy, and social justice they are violently denied by the Colombian government and its death squads keep up their struggle and one day prevail. And I also hope that those around the world who should be supporting them don't forget history, don't forget why they have to fight this fight, and don't fall for cheap and false propoganda.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

That is some piggy bank you have, Hugo. 

Today it was reported in Panorama newspaper that Venezuela's foreign reserves have topped a stunning $54 billion dollars. $33.2 billion are held by the Venezuelan Central Bank while another $20.88 billion are held by the national development fund, FONDEN.

In the article, a number of economists attributed this very high number to the exchange controlls implemented during the 02/03 oil strike. At the time, after the former PDVSA managers shut down the state oil company for two months reserves dropped to a little over $14 billion. Since then the reserves have grown by a stunning $40 billion!!!

The article also points out that from 1999 when Chavez first came to office to the controls were imposed in 2003 $34 billion left the country in capital flight for an average loss of $8.5 billion per year. All told, it is estimated that $125 billion is held abroad by Venezuelan nationals.

It should also be noted that when Chavez first came into office the reserves were approximately $14 billion dollars. That is, not only had previous administrations trashed the oil industry and had a currency probably even more overvalued than it is today but they almost left the cupboard bare, as this article from the time describes.

Thankfully, even in spite of the numerous mistakes he has made recently Chavez has improved the financial position of the country alot.


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