Monday, March 02, 2009

Change for the sake of change doesn't necessarily get you where you want to go. 

Now that I am more or less officially in the Ni-Ni camp (that is I support neither Chavez nor his opponents) I think its important that people know why I support neither side. Of course, from recent posts people should be able to clearly see why I feel disillusioned with Chavez and think he is leading himself, his movement, and his country to almost certain disaster. And of course, I will say more on this in future posts.

Sadly though, those who oppose Chavez have never really given any good reason as to why anyone should support them - save for being fellow ABCs - Anyone But Chavez. The ABCs have no program, have never stood for anything other than what their name implies, insanely deny the real achievements of the Chavez government, and thoughtlessly seek to overturn everything Chavez has done, even that which is clearly good and which has worked.

Sorry, there may be many people who are perfectly happy being ABCs but I am not joining that group. Change for the sake of change, and not even caring what type of change it is, rarely works. In fact, it often leads to complete disaster. Just take a look at the Ukraine:

Ukraine Teeters as Citizens Blame Banks and Government


KIEV, Ukraine — Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics.

The sudden, violent protests that have erupted elsewhere in Eastern Europe seem imminent here now, too. Across Kiev last week, people spoke of rising anger about the crisis and resentment toward a government that they said was more preoccupied with squabbling than with rallying the country.

The sign held by Vasily Kirilyuk, an unemployed plumber camped out with other antigovernment demonstrators here in the past week, summed up the pervasive frustration: “Get rid of them all,” it said.

Mr. Kirilyuk did not hesitate to take that further. “There will be a revolt,” he said. “And people will come because they are just fed up.”

Mr. Kirilyuk, 29, was standing in the same central square where throngs in 2004 carried out the Orange Revolution, a seminal event that brought to power a pro-Western government in Ukraine. He said he was a fervent supporter then of the protesters, but now he and a few dozen others who have set up tents here are demanding that the heroes of that revolution step down.

It is not hard to understand why world leaders are increasingly worried about the discontent and the financial crisis in Ukraine, which has 46 million people and a highly strategic location. A small country like Latvia or Iceland is one thing, but a collapse in Ukraine could wreck what little investor confidence is left in Eastern Europe, whose formerly robust economies are being badly strained.

It could also cause neighboring Russia, which has close ethnic and linguistic ties to eastern and southern Ukraine, to try to inject itself into the country’s affairs. What is more, the Kremlin would be able to hold up Ukraine as an example of what happens when former Soviet republics follow a Western model of free-market democracy.

“Ukraine is a linchpin for stability in Europe,” said Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla University. “It is a key player between the expanding European Union and Russia. To use an alarmist scenario, you could imagine a situation in Ukraine that Russia tried to exploit in order to dominate Ukraine. That would make for a very explosive situation on the border of the European Union.”

That Ukraine can cause problems for Europe was highlighted in January when Ukraine engaged in a dispute with Russia over how much it would pay Russia for natural gas, as well as over gas transport to the rest of Europe. The Kremlin shut off the gas for several days, and some European countries went without heat. The Kremlin also shut off gas to Ukraine in 2006 in a pricing dispute.

While Ukraine’s economy is dependent on exports of steel and chemicals, which have plummeted, the crisis has cut deeply because people are disillusioned with the government.

President Viktor A. Yushchenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution, who garnered attention around the world in 2004 when his face was scarred in a poisoning episode, is so widely scorned that a recent poll found that 57 percent of people wanted him to resign.

His rivals have also lost popularity, as the public has become exasperated by years of political bickering. In February, the International Monetary Fund refused to release the next installment of a $16.4 billion rescue loan to Ukraine because the government would not adhere to an earlier agreement to pare its budget.

Around the same time, Ukraine’s finance minister resigned, saying that the job had been “hostage to politics.”

On Friday, the monetary fund projected that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 6 percent this year, and said that it was continuing to work with the government to find a way to disburse the rest of the rescue loan.

A presidential election is coming, probably to be held next January, and this prospect is making politicians, especially Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, reluctant to adopt an austerity program that might alienate voters.

Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko were pro-Western allies during the Orange Revolution, but have bitterly feuded since then, and he fired her once. A third rival, Viktor F. Yanukovich, a former prime minister who heads an opposition party that favors closer ties with Russia, also wants to be president.

On Friday, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko held a public meeting in an effort to demonstrate that they were working together. Mr. Yushchenko said he wanted “to show the readiness of all sides to take political responsibility for decisions which today are not easy.”

Even so, the two did not announce further anticrisis measures.

All over Kiev have been signs that tensions are building.

On the city’s outskirts, more than 200 tractor-trailer rigs were parked Thursday, their drivers threatening to block roads if the government did not help them with their debts, which they said were caused in part by the drop in the value of Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia.

The truckers dispersed Friday, only after the government said it would try to address their demands, but they said they would be back soon if they were ignored.

“The government is to blame for all this,” said a trucker, Viktor V. Zarichnyuk, 26, who had been at the protest for 12 days. “We want the government and the national bank to agree that the money allocated by the International Monetary Fund, at least part of it, should go to regular people.”

At a branch of the Rodovid Bank across town, a tense crowd gathered Friday morning. The bank, close to failing, was allowing withdrawals of only $35 a day. And so people, some of them pensioners fearful for their life savings, have been trooping each day, ever more aggravated, to try to get what they can.

“Every day we come here — it’s insulting — in the cold and line up,” said Alevtina A. Antonyuk, 58, an engineer. “They are nothing at this bank but a bunch of thieves.”

Who is to blame, she was asked. Before she could answer, Dmitri I. Havrilkiv, 78, a retired crane operator, interrupted.

“The government has to be replaced,” he shouted. “They just can’t handle it!”

Back in the heady days of the "Orange Revolution" some of these people probably didn't give any thought to what came after that "revolution". It was probably taken as a given that what ever it was it had to be better than what existed at the time.

Sadly, for Ukrainians, it turned out to be much worse.

Wondering where your next meal is coming from and spending cold winter nights with no heat can't be much fun. And rest assured, the CIA and NED handlers who funded and cheered on the "Orange Revolution" are nowhere to be found.

Of course, the Venezuelan ABCs are a varied lot. Some of them are certainly honest citizens who want the best for Venezuela, even if their ideas on what that means are very vague.

But just as certainly there are some who are salivating at the idea of getting their positions of power back - of having control over an extremely rich oil company, $27 billion in cash reserves, and untold billions in other savings accounts.

If there is a change in Venezuela someday (hopefully peacefully through elections) who is to say it won't be the latter who would end up back in power? Given their money, their control over the private media, and their close links to the U.S. government I wouldn't bet against them. And if they do get back into power what will THEY do? I can only guess, but I think it is probably a good guess that they do won't make most Venezuelans better off.

Those who seek change in Venezuela thinking that Anyone But Chavez would be better should really think about that.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Starting to pay a debt with Venezuela's environment 

Aproximately, a year and a half ago I wrote a very detailed post on an environmental catastrophe taking place in north central Venezuela around the Lago de Valencia (Lake Valencia). Those not already familiar with the problems surrounding that lake should read that post.

There were two fundamental problems with Lake Valencia. The first was that the water in it was extremely polluted, so much so that humans should never even enter the lake, much less drink its water. The same goes for animals and even plants. The lake is therefore a dead lake.

The second problem is that because it is in a saucer like region with no natural outlet water only leaves the lake through evaporation. Due to water being piped into the area to supply the ever growing populations of Maracay and Valencia the natural balance of the lake has been disrupted and the lake levels are rapidly rising. These rising water levels are already flooding parts of Maracay and, if unchecked, threatened to flood virtually the entire city. As parts of Maracay were already being destroyed this was rapidly becoming a New Orleans type problem, only in slow motion.

It now appears the government has at least partially solved this problem. Today President Chavez inaugurated a water project that will remove at least some of the water that naturally flows into Valencia Lake, pipe to another area where it can be used for irrigatioin, and have it empty into another drainage basin. In fact, where I pointed out in my original post that the were piping 11,500 liters per second into the Valencia Basin this project will remove 7,500 liters per second from that basin and should therefore reduce the rise in the lake if not stop it all together.

To be sure, this is a big accomplishment and not a moment too soon. The lake was visibly rising and simply from driving by it a few times each year I could clearly see it was flooding more and more land. Stopping the rising waters was imperative and explains why they worked 24 hours a day seven days a week to complete this project.

Here are some videos explaining the project:

Haz click en cualquier video para verlo
Puedes ver otros en radiomundial.com.ve

The video with the engineer was particularly interesting as he expained some of the significant technical difficulties they ran into with the unusual geography of the area in addition to what a key role community liasons played in ensuring project/community collaboration and worker/management collaboration which helped the project proceeed smoothly and without interruptions.

He also made interesting points about how when past projects were built they weren't built to be scalable where as this one was. That is, things like tunnels were built signifacantly bigger than they needed to be right now so that if in the future they need to put additional piping through them they can without having to expand them or build new tunnels.

The project cost aproximately $100 million but this was clearly money well spent solving a problem that was truly urgent.

Of course, Valencia Lake is still highly contaminated and that in and of itself is a major problem that this project doesn't fix. Fixing that problem will probably be much more expensive. Still this is a HUGE and CRITICAL first step. President Chavez, the Environment Ministry and all the workers on this project deserve to be congratulated for the work they've done on this.


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