Thursday, July 03, 2008

With friends like this who needs enemies? 

Now that some of the hostages held by the FARC have been liberated by the Colombian military Colombia, the FARC, and their relationship with Venezuela are all back in the news. This actually gives me a chance to write about something that has been bothering me for several weeks now but which I didn't have a chance to write about when it first happened. Further, the points I will make will likely piss off all my readers - both those who like Chavez, and those who oppose him - but it is something I think and it is important so here it goes:

Chavez has long been thought to have sympathies for the struggle carried on by the Colombia guerrilla group, the FARC. They may be ideological sympathies, or they could just be sympathies for a political tendancy that has been violently repressed and has often had no choice but to fight back through military means. Some assert that Chavez has actually aided the FARC, though that isn't really known for sure. But up until recently he clearly saw the FARC as a legitimate group, that was employing violent methods for legitimate reasons, and that it should be recognized as such.

If that is what Chavez thought, I can only say I share those thoughts. Whether I not I agree with any particular groups ideology is besides the point - all ideas and political parties should be able to operate freely and contest for political power through peaceful electoral means. When that right is denied to people they then have the right to resort to other than peaceful means to assert their political and human rights.

This is hardly a novel idea or something thought up only by a bunch of leftists. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, the Independence day of the United States, and if you bother to read the famous document published on that day way back in 1776 you will see the very same ideas very clearly expressed.

Those who know Colombian history will know that radical leftists have long been violently repressed. This has led to the formation of groups such as the FARC which have fought to win their basic rights that are otherwise denied them.

Now, of course, any use of violence is only legitimate to the extent that you are not allowed to peacefully exercise your political rights. If circumstances change and you can peacefully engage in the political process then violence should be ceased.

In the case of the FARC they thought they had such a moment in the 1980s when the Colombian government offered them peace and encouraged them to set up a normal political party to compete for power. They did and called it the Union Patriotica.

Unfortunately, rather than being a genuine attempt at peace this largely appears to have been a trap which the Colombian government and is para-military death squads then used to massacre thousands of leftists. An entire political party was decimated with thousands of its leaders assassinated including two presidential candidates and numerous senators, congressmen, and other elected officials. Those who don't recall that history would do well to review it.

Since that time the FARC has continued with its military struggle. And the Colombian government and their paramilitary death squads have continued their murderous ways. Hundreds, even thousands, of leftists and union leaders continue to be murdered and the scorched earth policy of the Uribe government has led to Colombia having over three million displaced persons - one of the largest number of refugees in the world.

Into this situation stepped Hugo Chavez a few weeks ago. He stated that the time for armed guerrilla movements had passed and that the FARC should lay down their arms. He said they should release all their hostages unconditionally. He went on to say, and this is literally takes my breath away, that the FARC is attracting U.S. intervention to the region and are what actually gives the U.S. an excuse to intervene in Latin America. Presumably if the FARC surrendered the gringos would go away!!

Given that Chavez sometimes shoots from the hip one could think the above was somehow a mistake. But today that notion as dispelled as he just said pretty much the same thing.

Now what I have to say has actually been said by quite well by others, particularly by the person who started this thread over at Aporrea. The questions that naturally come to the fore are why does Chavez think he is in a position to tell the FARC that they should disarm and how can he possibly think that their surrendering will make things better??

Again, it may or may not be the right thing to do for the FARC to lay down arms and integrate into the peaceful political process of the country. If the conditions will allow that then that is what they should do. But unless they have reason to be certain that they won't be massacred again, just like the Union Patriotica was, then hanging onto their guns and putting up a fight, win or lose, is probably better than just committing suicide which is what laying down their arms could well amount to.

In any event, the people who are going to pay a very heavy price, in lives and blood, for a mistaken decision are the FARC and those who support them. It is literally their lives on the line - not Chavez's. And for him, from the safety of Caracas, to tell them when what risks should be acceptable to take when he can't possibly know the political situation inside Colombia better than they do, sure doesn't make it look like he has their best interests at heart.

Further, his statement that they are what attracts the U.S. to the region in the first place is so absurd it is hard to know where to begin. Sure, if you lay down and play dead maybe the bully will leave you alone. If you give up all your political ideals, stop advocating for them, and don't try to put them forth even in a peaceful way - if you do all that MAYBE they'll stop killing you and MAYBE the U.S. government will stop giving them billions of dollars to help them kill you!

Of course, if you are just willing to give up all your beliefs then what were you ever fighting for in the first place????

And if Chavez is so willing to tell others to give up their beliefs just to placate the neighborhood thug you have to wonder if he really has any true beliefs of his own.

Its a pretty open secret that Iran aids the Iraqi insurgents in their fight to liberate their country from U.S. occupation. I suppose they could tell the Iraqi insurgents "hey, if you just lay down arms and stop fighting the U.S. troops will leave" but somehow I can't imagine them doing that.

Again, either you think someone has is engaged in a legitimate fight or you don't. But if you think they are, and you see that they can't easily lay down arms without a very real possibility of just being slaughtered and having to give up their political ideals completely, then you don't call on them to surrender as Chavez has done now twice with the FARC.

Maybe Chavez is doing this because he was getting heat from the United States? So what, I thought Chavez wasn't supposed to be afraid of the "empire"? The Iranians get heat, and outright threats of military attack, all the time and I don't see them folding and giving up on their beliefs. And if he wanted to lesson the heat he could have just shut up and not said anything - you don't have to HURT the struggle of someone you think has a legitimate fight by making calls for them to surrender and undermining their morale.

Quite frankly, this smacks of self-serving opportunism on Chavez's part. Many of his opponents have long asserted that Chavez is all about Chavez. That is, that he has no true beliefs or principles and does whatever he does just to boost himself in the opinion polls and save his own skin.

I still don't know if that is true. But his self-serving flip flops with respect to the FARC sure do make it look that way. And if this is the kind of allies the FARC has, well, no wonder they're in trouble.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Economic hardening of the arteries 

A few weeks back the U.S. newscaster Tim Russert died suddenly. When I mentioned this to a friend he seemed nonplussed. Not that I care about Russert particularly but I asked my friend how he could seem so unsurprised and indifferent to the sudden death of a fairly well known persona. His reply? "He was a fat, out of shape slob. Of course he had a heart attack".

Can't argue with that one. Personally, given how fat and out of shape he was I was surprised that Russert's doctors didn't do more to avert what had to be a very obvious danger.

Thing is, just as people sometimes get flabby and out of shape so too do economies. In fact, economies should probably be looked at every so often to see if they seem to be "at risk" for a major adverse event and if so, well, maybe they should consider doing something about that.

To that end, I thought it might be helpful to look at some economic data from one particular country to see if we might be see from basic data whether the economy seems to be healthy and well balanced, or if it seems to drifting into a danger zone. Before I present the data I want to be clear that I am not out to put on the spot or embarrass any one particular country so the country whose data this is shall remain nameless:

Lets see, imports up over 120%, consumption up over 70%, manufacturing up 24%, agriculture up 8%, and non-oil exports down 3.6%.

I don't know: if you went to your doctor and your waistline, good cholesterol, and bad cholesterol numbers where this far out of whack what do you think they'd say?

And a final point, I have no idea where that country is getting all the money to have imports and consumption go through the roof while its manufacturing sector is lagging badly and it doesn't export much of any finished products - all I can say is whatever source is I wouldn't want to be around when it dries up. Things could get unpleasant, rather like having a heart attack is unpleasant.


The great pig out continues 

I hope that all the talk of inflation and some mediocre economic numbers hasn't given anyone the false notion that Venezuelans are all of the suddent getting poorer.

They aren't.

In fact, consumption is still increasing quite rapidly. According to one economic analyst consumption is expected to grow 12% this year. While lower than the 20% growth of last year it is still fairly high. The analyst expects that growth with accelerat in the second half of the year as the government has lots of money to spend (with oil at $143 a barrel "lots" is probably an understatment) and given the importance they attach to the local elections they probably will spend it.

Along these same lines we learn that sales in shopping centers are up another 15% this year. Again this squares perfectly with what you will see if you ever go to Venezuela - shopping centers are definitely their major growth industry.

Back in the 1970s some Middle Eastern countries thought they'd become the worlds banking center.

Now maybe Venezuela thinks it will become the worlds shopping center and people will come from around the world just to shop in all their really nice malls. And I do say, some of their new malls are really nice. Then again considering how expensive everthing is in Venezuela I am not so sure that will work out.

Maybe they should try to think of something else... like actually learning how to make some of the stuff they sell in those malls. That is, if they can tear themselves away from the malls long enough to do that.

Sadly, when your GNP is increasing at only 4.8% and consumption is increasing at 15% something else has to give, and that "something else" is likely investment in new industry.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Yup, that is what I was trying to say 

Having a comments section is great - sometimes other people manage to succintly express my ideas better than I can. So here is much of my last couple of weeks postings and comments summarized by "Eric" far better than I could ever hope to do:


You keep saying that OW has reached the conclusion that the government doesn't have a plan based on no evidence. But that's not quite right.

True, the government could have a plan that it e simply hasn't made public. Certainly possible.

But what leads OW, and a lot of us here, to believe that the government doesn't have a plan is not simply that it isn't made public, but what the numbers we DO know about suggest.

As OW has pointed out, the numbers released for manufacturing are very low and the numbers regarding agriculture are ambiguous at best. Furthermore, in this most recent post, we see that the tractor production numbers are far below expected (the government said initial production would be 5000/year, yet it produced 476 tractors in 2005 and 1,652 in 2006) and production is possibly even in decline.

Since we don't see good economic results, the best conclusion we can come to in the face of no public economic plan is the fact that the government simply doesn't have one.

Now, you're conversations with government officials may give you some great inside info that suggests otherwise. But we don't have access to that information, and you're kidding yourself if you think we're going to just take your word for it.

So you might be right. But without your "inside information," any reasonable person would have to be very skeptical about the government having a coherent plan, since none of the current EVIDENCE points to it.

Thanks Eric. Without commenters such as yourself to summarize things, even I might be lost!


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