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Some Venezuelan Christmas Mysteries

December 24, 2015

Arbolito

Ah! It’s Christmas. At last we can relax for a couple of days and think about nice things, enjoy family and toast to life!

So, while you are relaxing, I leave you with these Venezuelan Christmas mysteries, in no particular order:

-Why do hallacas have capers in them, if we don’t have them in Venezuela?

-Why did Chávez choose Maduro?

-Corolary: Why did Cabello not fight Maduro once Chávez died and later he staked his future on Maduro’s fate?

-Why do some Venezuelans follow Niño Jesus, others San Nicolas and then some Santa Claus?

-Does anyone who is not Venezuelan understand what Gaitas have to do with Christmas?

-And why are nacimientos (nativities) shrinking?

-And why do Venezuelans celebrate the night before Christmas and sleep and watch movies on the 25th.?

-And what’s the true story with the attempt to revoke 22 elected Deputies at the Supreme Court this week? Did it happen or not?

-Does anyone remember that people would paint their houses right before Christmas or was that a family tradition?

-Have you ever seen a “Furruco” factory?

-And why is midnight mass called Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass)?

And on that note, Merry Christmas to all the readers. Thank you for reading, commenting and hanging on for so long. That Santa Claus, San Nicolas, El Niño Jesús (Yes!) brings you everything you wanted and don’t drink too much Ponche Crema (Or do!).

Best from the Devil!

The Venezuelan Garden Of Possible Bifurcation Paths Into The Future

December 20, 2015

Fractal-tree

I start with a quote:

The evil that one endures patiently because it seems inevitable becomes unbearable the moment its elimination becomes conceivable

Alexis de Tocqueville

and the title of a book by Jorge Luis Borges: “The garden of bifurcation paths” from which I simply borrow the analogy of what the title conveys.

 

Predicting what will happen in 2016 in Venezuela is a guessing game that requires understanding  all of the possible varieties of bifurcations that are possible in the decision making process of both what the Government will do and what the opposition will do. And guessing at all of the possible variations and possibilities is simply an impossible guessing game.

However, if we go back to the quote above  from Tocqueville, one can simplify the guessing game to its conclusion: At this point in time, the inevitability of Chavismo in the future of Venezuelan politics and Government is no longer a given. A crack was opened in the Government’s dam and the people now realize that it is very easy to open new cracks that will simply bring the dam down. And the stubbornness  or blindness exhibited so far by the Maduro administration only helps in accelerating its demise. As Tocqueville says, the ill has diminished with the victory on December 6th. by the opposition, but the sensitivity to it has increased. And I would add that it will increase dramatically, if the Government fails to act on the economy.

And yes, the most likely outcome is Maduro’s departure, the question is whether he will bring down Chavismo with him, or whether Chavismo will sacrifice him for the benefit of the Bolivarian revolution. The longer Maduro and his closest advisers insist in radicalization and confrontation, the higher the probability that in the end his administration will crumble and he will bring down Chavismo with him.

But the path is not trivial.

But let’s start at the beginning: Chávez died, the Government did hold elections and recognized the victory of the opposition with a qualified majority.

That is an already explosive combination when you add to it that the Venezuelan oil basket is below US$ 30 per barrel for the first time since 2004.

But the first three thoughts are more important: Chavismo is where it is because Chavez died, decided to anoint Maduro, not the brightest light bulb in the Chavismo universe (with small caps), and for reasons that have not been made explicit, accepted to hold the Parliamentary elections and its defeat. Whatever these reasons were, and given that the poll numbers were clear, the three facts above have a very important significance: Within Chavismo, the moderates imposed their views over the radicals on the results and unless the radicals decide to get rid of the moderates (which may be hard to do now, as well as the worst thing they could do) there is no turning back and the new National Assembly will take over on Jan. 5th., even if there are attempts to bar the entrance of the new Deputies to the Assembly building.

Between now and then we will continue to hear about null or blank votes, but given that the Chavista controlled Electoral Board established the rules, that Chavismo won where these votes were largest and that that is not a cause for contesting an election, there is little that can be done. Ironically, the whole Electoral Board has been on vacation since Dec. 12th. and will not go back to work until Jan. 3d. Contesting the results because of too many null votes could backfire for Chavismo, given that the opposition could also benefit in the process in different circuits.

Thus, Chavismo will focus for now on illegally naming the twelve Supreme Court Justices that are currently vacant. Illegally, because the Supreme Court Law establishes the periods and conditions for the pre-selection of the Justices and under no condition can naming them be a topic of “urgency” which is all you should consider during extraordinary sessions. Furthermore, a team of lawyers is legally challenging each of the nominations, which will create another violation of the law if it is not considered and blocks their nomination. If Chavismo bypasses all these, the legal case for removing these Justices becomes even more solid.

Meanwhile, it is clear that there is strong dissent within Chavismo. Maduro had promised to change the Cabinet, said the military will go back to their military posts, but neither has yet to happen. If the “moderates” win, watch the military stay in the Cabinet. So far, lengthy days of discussions have yielded no truce, but the radicals are not winning.

The opposition has not shown a lot of unity either. It would have been very positive for the opposition to say who would be the President of the incoming Assembly by now. Given that there are supposedly two candidates (none my favorites for different reasons) it would have been nice to have made the announcement by now. If every step going forward is going to take this long to be decided, one has reasons to worry.

So, between now and Jan. 5th. there will be few major happenings, as Venezuela is already going on vacation. I certainly hope opposition leaders will stay working this year, rather than give all of the space to Chavismo to instill fear on those that voted against it.

And thus we get to Jan. 5th.

The first question is what will happen during the installation of the National Assembly. While many expect the worst, the signal that Chavismo will send if it does not allow the new Deputies to take their seats is too negative. Given that the moderates seem to be gaining the upper hand (elections, recognition of win) it seems today as if there may be isolated incidents of violence, but the Assembly will begin functioning on that day.

This alone will give the opposition a bigger voice, larger visibility and presence in the media. It is not only a matter of having ANTV to broadcast the message, but by allowing all media (including Chavista media) into the Assembly meetings, they will have a much larger placement in media.

The opposition should be forceful but conciliatory, giving the message at every step that  it will legislate for all. But it should clarify at every opportunity that economic policy is still in the hands of the Government. But unity and peace should be at the center of its message, including asking the Government to talk.

At this point, the bifurcations are determined by what the opposition will do. In particular, these four important paths have to be determined in order of priority:

-The Amnesty Bill

-Removing the new Justices if the Government is set in its path of naming them before Jan. 4th.

-Choosing between a recall referendum or a Constitutional Amendment to change the Presidential term.

-How can the Assembly influence economic decision making going forward?

-How to go about controlling and obtaining information from the Government.

The first two issues lead to immediate confrontation if Chavismo decides to confront them head on. My feeling is that the Amnesty Bill will be the first item on the new Assembly agenda. Maduro has threatened not to obey it, but it is a Constitutional prerogative (Art. 174, numeral 5) that the Assembly can issue such a Bill. In fact, the Constitution even bars such a Bill (Art. 74) from being considered as a referendum. Were the Judicial system to refuse to free those granted amnesty, they would have been kidnapped by Maduro, and everyone involved in the process could be suspended and censored.

And here is where the Constitutional clashes begin. In order to suspend anyone the “Moral Cuncil” has to approve it, but some of the same people involved in the decision to free the prisoners are in that Council. Moreover, the Government could send the Bill to the Supreme Court, the same Supreme Court whose members, particularly those in the Constitutional Hall, will be questioned in their legality by the Assembly. And who can resolve this case, since the new Justices would not be able to decide on their own case and have to recuse themselves?

There seems to be no way out of this logjam, if Maduro decides to confront.

Another decision is whether to attempt to recall Maduro or not. As I noted in previous posts, if the Dic. 6th. election had been a recall vote, the opposition would have barely won by 139,000 votes. (It needs to obtain at least the number of votes Maduro obtained in 2013). But it may not be the same for someone to vote for opposition Deputies as a protest, than to vote against Maduro being removed from office. Many may be reluctant to do so, they wanted to send a message to Maduro, but not necessarily remove him. And it was close.

A less confrontational path may be to propose a Constitutional Amendment, which also requires a referendum, changing the Presidential term to four years with only one reelection. (currently six years and indefinite reelection) In this manner, you are not saying Maduro has to go, but rather, Maduro’s completion of Chávez’ term ends in Oct. 2016 and he will have to run fto get reelected. This may be a much more attractive way for disgruntled Chavistas: Maduro has a few months to improve things and if he doesn’t, he will not be reelected.

While it is not the job of the National Assembly, the economic is foremost in people’s minds, as scarcity is the norm of the day in Venezuela. In fact, people say that lines are disappearing, simply because there is nothing to buy. But economic policy is the domain of the Executive branch, so what can the National Assembly do?

The Assembly could revoke some Bills, like the Illicit Foreign Exchange Bill or the Price Control Bill. But solving economic problems requires looking at the overall scheme of things. Tinkering with a few Bills may simply have unexpected consequences in the order of things. In terms of Bills, the Assembly may use the threat of revoking or changing them as a way of getting the Government to negotiate.

The budget is one area where the Assembly does indeed have a say. The 2016 budget has already been approved, but it has been a tradition in Venezuela (since way before Chávez) that the budget Bill is irrelevant and numerous “additional credits” are approved during the year. If it is true that the Government plans to devalue soon, something I am skeptical about, to disburse the extra Bolívars generated by this devaluation will require approval by the National Assembly. Thus, the Government gains nothing by devaluing if it does not collaborate with the Assembly.

And without its approval, it will be hard for Government officials to spend money, because they are individually responsible in the face of the law, at a time of a changing political landscape, which implies that they could face corruption charges for spending money that had not been approved. And this would apply all along the line of expenditures from the National Treasurer, to the Ministers and below.

The Assembly can also ask more transparency from Ministers, requesting information and data. If a Minister does not comply with the request, he can be censored by three-fifths of the Assembly, which implies his removal from office. The same applies to the Vice-President (Art. 187, numeral 10 of the Constitution)

All of the above will evolve differently depending on the order in which it happens. The reason to be optimistic, is that as Toqueville said, the people endured Chavismo until it lost, now they will find it unbearable at every step. The reason to be pessimistic is that as a physicist, with published papers on chaos, I also know that too many bifurcations lead to chaos.

Hopefully, we will only have  a few…

Long And Winding Road For Change In Venezuela After Sweeping Opposition Victory

December 7, 2015

road

I have been waiting for the CNE to give a new bulletin of yesterday’s results, but so far no luck in obtaining a complete set of numbers for what happened last night. Remarkably, the number of Deputies for the opposition keeps increasing, with the latest estimate between 117 and 118 Deputies. The opposition did publish earlier a list of the 112 Deputies that will surely be announced as winners up to now.

This is truly in the upper range of any expectations, as voters clearly expressed their disenchantment with the Bolivarian revolution  and the current state of the Venezuelan economy. Maduro was not that gracious or wise in accepting the defeat, devoting most of his time to blaming the “economic war” for the defeat and not the economic stupidity of his Government’s policies. Never had the phrase “It’s the Economy Stupid” resonate more than today in Venezuela.

And while the opposition has to rejoice in its victory, it will be a long and winding road to obtain the change the people want, particularly on economic matters. It will also be a conflictive route to change, as Chavismo will certainly resist the possible dismounting of the Bolivaraian State.

And the opposition has to understand its victory for what it is. People turned against the Government, but the sweeping victory is a strong rejection of Chavismo, more than a strong support for the opposition. And the strong mandate calls for action, but it is precisely on Economic matters that it is more difficult for the Venezuelan National Assembly to have an impact.

But at the same time, the 2/3 majority gives the opposition many powerful tools to at least negotiate with Chavismo, including removing and naming members of the Electoral Board, Supreme Courts and all other major public powers, approval of Constitutional reforms, issue organic laws, name Permanent commissions of the National Assembly and approve and propose referenda, including revoking the Presidency after its third year of mandate.

But all and any of the above implies conflict, decisions and optimizing time and resources in order not to waste time in pyrrhic fights with little immediate positive consequences.

How the weakened Maduro Government reacts will be key in the process. So far, Maduro seems to have been too defensive in the reaction to the loss. His mandate has been severely weakened in the eyes of his own supporters, party and national opinion and there is little he can do for maintaining the status quo. But at the same time, he will have a hard time implementing an economic change that he has clearly not agreed with in the past. Internal fighting and bickering within Chavismo must be intense and it is clear that Maduro will have to assume all of the blame for the blow received by Chavismo on Dec. 6th.

Venezuela and PDVSA bonds jumped on the news, but they simply recovered back to the prices of a week ago, a clear signal by the market that it is concerned about the future. However, the mandate received by the opposition should in general be more supportive for prices, even in the face of US$ 38 oil today.

It will also be important for the opposition to maintain its cohesiveness. Difficult decisions are coming such as who should be named President of the National assembly come Jan. 5th. when the Assembly is sworn in and the priority in the legislative actions that the opposition will undertake with its super majority.

A difficult and somewhat daunting task ahead, but a much brighter prospect for a country ruled autocratically and by whim for too many years.

 

First Report By Venezuelan Electoral Board Gives Opposition 99 Deputies

December 6, 2015

10:00 AM At this time, the opposition could be getting as many as 117 or 118 Deputies when all votes are counted.

The Venezuelan Electoral Board just announced the first official results announcing the Opposition obtained With 96.03% of the vote 99 (72 lists plus 27 on their own behalf) Deputies and Chavismo’s PSUV obtained only 46 (22 list plus 24 on their own behalf) Deputies. This means close to a super majority, a scenario that I considered highly unlikely even today. 17 Deputies by name can not be defined, the three indigeneous people and one by list. 74% of the people voted.

More as they are announced

Good night everyone! Happy day at last!

 

Voting Much Stronger In The East Of Caracas Than In The West

December 6, 2015

I went to do my usual spin around Caracas to see how things were going along. I went from one and to another hitting too deep into Catia (More on that later!) as well as Petare. My overall general conclusion is that the lines were shorter and lighter in the West areas (Catia, La Pastora, Quinta Crespo), than in the East from Chacao to Petare, where I saw bigger lines.

In the west the presence of Chavismo was felt more, including the omnipresent image of Chávez everywhere, as well as kiosks too close to polling stations. Here is how present Chávez was:

chavez

How prescient of him to know exactly what the ballot would look like in 2016…

In the West, polling centers were less detectable than in the East of Caracas, streets were seldom blocked, which seems to be the rule in the East of the city and lines in the west of Caracas were fairly short, if present. This would suggest to me at first sight to imply that desilusioned Chavistas are not going out to vote. They may not want to vote for the Government, but are not willing (or capable) of casting their ballot for the opposition.

In Catia, a Chavista stronghold, the Davil saw very few lines. In fact, it was only when I got closer to downtown (further East), like in this picture in Lice Andres Bello, when lines appeared:

IMG_8238.JPG

That was the biggest line I saw in the West by far. The second one was this one, near the Panteon Nacional:

IMG_8230

We really saw no more than those two lines in a fairly wide and long spin around the West.

In the East, lines were common, as were traffic jams caused by stupid closings of streets, sometimes in very inefficient ways.

This was in Avenida Romulo Gallegos, it was a long line, but hard to get a good capture of the whole thing:

IMG_8245

This was quite typical of the visible and less visible centers in the East of Caracas.

The day was not without incident. I went a bit too deep into Catia for my comfort and at some point decided to make a U-turn and turn back. Unfortunately, there were some cops right at the end of the U-turn, which proceeded to stop me. They made me get out of the car, open the trunk, show all the papers etc. They then proceeded to bounce me from cop to cop telling me what I did was illegal, bla, bla, bla. All the time I kept saying, yes I know it was illegal, sorry, I was lost and did not feel safe. They talked about tickets, amounts, I could not drive etc, etc., while I said I knew. After three cops, they brought the lady cop who informed me that the penalty was all of Bs. 1,500, three months of suspended driving etc. I said, what can I say, I wanted to be safe.

It seemed that they were expecting me to offer a “solution” to the problem. Since I did not, she gave all the papers back to the first guy (the nicest one too) who told me since I had accepted my responsibility from the go he was going to let me go without writing up a fine.

Perhaps the salient feature of the whole thing is how they attempted to use a lot of big words when talking to me, but always relaxing back to slang in the end. While they had me there another car was stopped, but they withdrew guns, but I was getting into the car by then and set into the sun, like good devils do.

Venezuela On Edge On The Eve Of The December 6th. Parliamentary Vote

December 5, 2015

venny

A not so unbiased polling station with electronic votng machine and voting material in front of Chavez’ figure

Arrived only a few hours ago on Saturday and all I can say is that people are on the edge tonight wondering what will happen tomorrow. The cockiness of three weeks ago is not as blatant. Yes, the opposition will get a majority, but after 16 years of Chavismo people (and rumors) are rampant about possible tricks and maneuvers by the government.

This was not helped by the fact that there were Internet blackouts in many parts of the country today. The Head of Conatel, the telecom regulator denied this, but friends tell me that if you tried to call CANTV to report the problems, they were not even answering the phone.

The result is an atmosphere of mistrust and skepticism about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Or the day after, for that matter…

On the positive news front, the Electoral Board announced that witnesses for the opposition outnumbered those of Chavismo’s PSUV by 2,000, a clear indication of the inability of Chavismo to mobilize people like it used to. Many friends also reporting that numerous polling stations have seen no presence of pro-Government members, leading to the installation of the process without them.

Meanwhile, as the international media is harassed as they arrive in Venezuela and also as they try to cover the elections, Chavismo is selling it as a campaign against the country, even citing the number of negative (380), neutral (75) and positive (24) news items about the country. Which according to Chavismo, reflects this campaign and not reality.

Never mind that many reporters have had heir equipment confiscated at the airport and many have been told they can not take pictures of mundane events and their media has been erased.

Meanwhile visiting former Presidents managed to obtain a promise from the Government that political prisoners would be allowed to vote (They were not going to), while the opposition has created a parallel system of observation of the electoral process by foreign dignitaries, as well as social media tools to denounce problems tomorrow with the voting process.

Meanwhile, some pollsters claim to have seen a Maduro resurgence (!!!!), while others say that the result will depend on what Chavismo and now lukewarm Chavistas do. If the latter decide to stay home, the opposition will squeak by, but if they decide to go and express their unhappiness the opposition could enjoy a huge victory, even if short of the super majority.

I am sticking to my guns of a simple majority, roughly 55-58% of Deputies, hoping that former Chavistas are so disenchanted that they prove me wrong. I like the fact that Chavistas are outnumbered by the opposition witnesses and that they have been absent from the installations of the polling stations. But I just wonder if they will they be absent from voting too…

Abstention will be key and pollsters have little confidence that they have a handle on their number. Add proportionality, gerrymandering, fraud and tricks and numerical predictions are really hard to make.

I will do my usual scan throughout Caracas and report solid news, if such an animal exists before midnight tomorrow.

Best of luck to Venezuela from the Devil!

The Devil Looks At the Upcoming Elections In Venezuela

November 29, 2015

devilish

I have tried not to say much about the upcoming Parliamentary elections. I have also tried not to get caught up in the current excitement of Venezuelans. In just a few weeks we have gone form subdued optimism, to almost a frenzy, that suggests that we may reach the 2/3 super-majority needed to make a difference.

I view this election as simply one more step in the process of undermining Chavismo, a process that could (and should!) take some time. Yes, I do expect the total vote, the overall percentage of pro-Mud votes vs. Chavismo vote to be around 70% versus 30% in favor of the opposition, but I can´t ignore the fact that Chavismo will massively have assisted voting, lots more money than the opposition, will mobilize voters, will blackmail public employees and recipients of the Government’s largesse and stuff a few hundred ballot boxes at the end of the day.

Which makes me skeptical that 70% of the total vote vote can be turned into 66% of all elected Deputies.

But I the same time I do believe that a victory in the national vote by the large margin expected, will set off an earthquake within Chavismo. Maduro and his Primera Combatiente will be blamed for the debacle and a fight will ensue that will lead to the demise of Chavismo as we know it.

But I also believe that confrontation, violence and uncertainty will be the rule of the day as Chavismo gets used to having to share Government with the opposition. And I pray that the opposition maintains some form of cohesion, before it begins having its own internal divisions.

In the end, Venezuela will be choosing between two forms of populism. One better than the other one, but in the end two forms of the same thing. We are trapped in the last 16 years of Chavista domination. The lesser of two evils.

But I digress…

The most likely outcome of the election is that the opposition gets between 84 and 100 Deputies, a simple majority, but short of the three fifths needed to cause serious damage.

But even at a simple majority, the opposition could become a pain in the behind of Chavismo: It can change the attributes of municipalities versus states, it can initiate investigations, approve budgets and new appropriations and change the rules of order that determine how debate functions within the Assembly.

Sufficient to drive Chavismo crazy, as they are simply not used to even discussing issues among themselves. They simply follow orders now.

Of course, the cherry on the opposition’s cake will be the fact that it will be decide who the President of the National Assembly is and you can be sure it will not be Godgiven.

I hope is not an old dinosaur either.

But in the end, this is just the annoying level. Like a bee permanently buzzing around Chavismo and reminding them that they lost. And they will not absorb this gracefully. If they actually decide to even absorb it, which is definitely a possibility. The best scenario in my mind: Kicking the democratic can…

The next level becomes somewhat interesting. At 100 Deputies, or three fifths, the Assembly can revoke something it did before, censor Ministers, remove members of the CNE and/or the Supreme Court.

That’s what would be called getting annoying, really pissing off Chavismo.

I think this is reachable, but call me suspicious that we will actually get there. The CNE may not cheat everywhere, but I am sure that it has identified the districts where a few levers, a few votes and the three-fifths are just a memory, even if we did get it.

Finally, there is Nirvana, a level that I don’t think we will reach: 110 opposition Deputies. Here, we can really raise havoc on the revolution, removing  Supreme Court Justices, Prosecutor, People´s Ombudsman, revoke Deputies and even call for a Constitutional Assembly.

Just imagine the level of confrontation involved.

I know many people interpret polls like we will get to this level, but I am skeptical. People may be mad enough to surprise me (Please do!) But I don’t think they will. The media is still controlled by Chavismo and the fake stories of Chavismo still sell, no matter how absurd they may be.

Thus, much like the nephew’s trial, the elections are just another step. Maduro will have to pay for the loss and any undermining of his rule is a positive. In the end, we want the process to last, so that Chavismo can be wholly responsible for the destruction of the country and any chance of it reviving becomes remote. Yes, this involves a lot of pain, but nothing like not burying Chavismo for its sins.

In some sense, better a small death than a sweeping victory. In the absence of a strong opposition that can articulate a plan, this may be the best of scenarios anyway.

Violence And Death On The Campaign Trail In Venezuela

November 27, 2015

vio10

No sooner had the campaign for Venezuela’s Parliamentary elections began that acts of violence began. There have been at least seven acts of violence during campaign events. Curiously, all of them have been against the opposition. These are not simple threats or side shows. As shown above, one of these incidents involved hooded activists, most wearing the emblematic Chavista red shirts, some of them holding machine guns.

Then, two nights ago, as an opposition rally was winding down, the Secretary General of Accion Democratica in Guarico State, Luis Manul Diaz, was shot death. This was no ordinary rally, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Lilian Tintori, was present and close to the shots, there were over three thousand people in attendance and the bullets sprayed walls and luckily did not hit anyone else.

When the violence follows Maduro’s statements that Chavismo will win the elections “Como sea” (In any way…”), it is difficult to dismiss the meaning of these acts of violence. But when there are deaths involved, it becomes particularly dangerous to dismiss the violence or not remind the Government that it is in charge of law and order.

Particularly at fault have been the representatives from UNASUR, the only ones allowed to “observe” the upcoming elections, who have reacted with platitudes directed to the electorate and both sides, rather than remind the Government of its responsibilities to maintain order and prevent violence.

The reaction by the Government has been as cynical as can be. From Godgiven’s “these were all a set up by the opposition”, to suggesting that the dead political leader was a murderer and this was nothing more than a fight between unions. As if human life was only the right of a selected few and the same presumption of innocence, the same one that the Government wants applied to the two “Venezuelans” detained in a drug sting in Haiti, does not appear to apply to these people.

The important question is whether the Government is looking to postpone the election or simply to create fear in the elctorate as well as in the politicians looking for votes. I have never been in the camp of those that believe that the Government will cancel the elections, so I have to go for the second argument. The strategy for Chavismo is a multiple one: From state of emergency in border states, to Min Unidad distracting vote, to violence and intimidation. Once the votes are in, and if they are unfavorable, then the “Como sea” strategy will need to be implemented. But not before.

Hyperinflated Arepa Index (HAI) X: One year, 441% rise

November 17, 2015

arepita

Today is November 17th. It was exactly one year ago that I went to my favorite arepera and surprised at the sudden rise of my also favorite arepa con queso de mano, pictured above, that I decided to start keeping records of the price in each of my visits.

Today, there are no graphs. They are not needed. One year ago, the arepa was Bs. 120. Today it was Bs. 650. That is a rise of 441.7% in twelve months (sorry, I had subtracted twice the 100%, one in the spreadsheet and one in my mind*). Absolutely depressing…

There is little that I can say positive about this. At least, scarcity did not hit my arepa directly and I was able to eat it each time I went. Tonight’s was particularly delicious, the guy heard me when I asked for the “mas tostadita” (the darkest one) one and, as you can see, the filling was quite generous too. Depressingly enough, the tip I gave him was almost the price of the arepa one year ago. At least he deserved it for his service…

*How did I do that? Easy, I did not look at the spreadsheet cell which already subtracted the 100% and thought it was the ratio, rather than the actual calculation, thus I subtracted it twice, one in the cell, the other mentally.

 

800 Kilograms Of Arrogance Arrested In Haiti

November 11, 2015

dea-careers

When I first read the ABC piece on the detention of the nephews of Venezuela’s First Lady in Haiti for attempting to bring 800 kilograms of cocaine into the US, it sounded too far-fetched to be real. It sounded right out of a movie plot: They were caught in a sting operation, trying to move 800 Kilograms of cocaine into the US, the whole thing was filmed and they argued they had diplomatic immunity.

Far fetched, because what saved General Carvajal, was that he actually had a diplomatic position in Aruba. You see, it is one thing to have a Diplomatic Passport, another to have Diplomatic immunity. Any Joe Bimba can get a diplomatic passport which lasts four years in Venezuela, but, for example, if you are removed from your position, or if your trip was not an official trip, that immunity is simply worthless.

Long time ago, I flew to NY and a friend from primary school was on the plane. His father happened to be Venezuela’s Foreign Minister at the time. He had a Diplomatic passport and readily passed us to go to the Diplomatic line which, in contrast to ours, was empty. A few minutes later, he came back to the back to our line and stood in it like a regular citizen. When we were waiting for the luggage I asked him what happened and he told me that the immigration agent had asked him if he was on an official trip to the US. He said no. Then he was asked why he had a Diplomatic passport. He explained. To which the agent asked if his father was in the plane. As the answer was no, then he was sent to the regular line, as his passport may have been diplomatic, but not even the privilege of using the diplomatic line was available to him.

But such is the arrogance of Venezuela’s revolutionaries that they don’t even learn from their experiences. They have moved around funds, drugs and who knows what else, using private or public planes, through well known banks and countries, thinking they were flying under the radar, until they were not…

Meanwhile, the silence of the Venezuelan authorities is as loud as that of most local newspapers, which took a while to republish the news. Amazingly enough, it was revolutionary aporrea which followed Tal Cual with the news, while we are still waiting for El Universal to say anything. But news sources from the WSJ, The New York Times, Reuters and CNN, have all confirmed the story carried first by Spain’ ABC.

Meanwhile, we should know the details tomorrow as the First Lady’s nephews, one of which was raised by her directly, are arraigned in New York. Among the details to watch for, is whether there are videos or not, who owned the plane, a Citation 500 (Sabenpe?) and what the Government says or not. Interestingly, in the absence of news, the Government has so far preferred to stay quiet.

Much like the upcoming elections, I don’t view this as something that will change history, but more as part of the continued erosion of Maduro’s hold on power. Each bit of arrogance, indecision and defeat, adds to the internal divisions that will eventually lead to his demise.

This 800 Kilograms of arrogance by Cilia’s nephews, will simply add to the tally.

 

Here is the Indictment

 

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