Archive for June, 2005

The tragic and the absurd

June 30, 2005

There are two news that I fail to understand. I am reading
then again and again in El Universal, El Nacional and Tal Cual and I cannot
believe this is happening.

First, there is the
killing, three days ago, of three engineering
The kids were coming from a Physics exam and were giving a lift to
a friend. Some members of the DIM (Direction of Military Intelligence) were
apparently doing a special operation to find the assassins of one of their
members. One of the DIM policemen had his face covered and carried a very large
gun. The kids, thinking that they were going to be robbed accelerated the car
and the masked guy and the other members of the operation ( a total of 26
policemen) went after them ending up beating and killing three male students and injuring three
girls. The kids were unarmed. What
revolts me, besides the absurdity of the killing, is the matter of fact
explanation given by the authorities. The excuse is that there was confusion
and that the masked policeman should not have worn a mask. It was a mistake. A
mistake!? A MISTAKE!? Even if the kids had been trained killers, what gives the
police the right to shut first? Where are the human rights established in the
Venezuelan Constitution? What type of democracy is one in which unarmed kids
are savagely beaten and killed by members of the Military Police?

Jose Vicente Rangel,
declared that he considered that the government
performance in this matter has been excellent, because it has been very quick
in taking the necessary measures to find and charge those responsible for the
massacre. That, Jose Vicente, is the
least you can do. Shame on you! How dare
you brag about the efficiency of your government! You should be ashamed to be
leading a government for which that type of “police operatives” is candidly
accepted. And yes, I want to see in six months how efficient were you after

Which leads me to the second absurd news about an unsolved
crime that took place more than six months ago: the killing of Danilo Anderson.
At that time, the government also bragged about its efficiency. They were so
sure of themselves that even killed a “suspect” Antonio Lopez Castillo, a few
days after Anderson’s death and
found all types of weapons in the house of his parents. At the time, Interior
minister Jesse Chacon declared that they were pretty close to close the first
phase of the

Yesterday, Fiscal Isaias Rodriguez declared that the
Anderson killing was really a
“trial” to kill Hugo Chavez. That was really intended was the famous
“magnicidio” (once again!). According to
Rodriguez the plan was “ to kill the President of the Republic, but first, they
had to try with other important figures”. It seems that the list started with
Danilo Anderson, then the President of the TSJ, followed by the Minister of
Defense and finally Isaias Rodriguez himself, right before Chavez!

That is what I call an “intelligent plot”. Someone wants to
kill the President and the way to go is to “practice” first with the killing of
important political figures. First the means: Danilo Anderson was killed by a
bomb installed under the seat of his car. That, of course, is the best way to
program the killing of a paranoid president: just put the bomb under the seat
of his limousine! Piece of cake. Second the “practice” killing list: important
political figures are killed one after the other and what the President and the
people around him would order? To LOOSEN Presidential Security, of course!

Come on Isaias! Do you really believe that Venezuelans are
so dupe that they are going to buy that story?

Jorge Arena.

Izarra reiterates that he did not know about Fidel’s arrival

June 29, 2005

El Universal and the MINCI report that the Venezuelan Information Minister reiterated that he did not know about the arrival of Fidel Castro to Venezuela.

You know what? I believe him. And I find the whole situation very
revealing and rich in possibilities. Here is my speculation list:

1.- Castro was expected by Chavez, but Izarra was out of the loop.
2.- Castro was not expected by Chavez and decided to make the visit at the last minute.
3.- Izarra is lying.

3.-Let us start with nr. 3 and assume that Izarra is lying, that he
knew that Castro was coming and he felt the need to cover it up.
Why there was such a need? I think that he had no personal interest
whatsoever to lie knowning that the truth will be publically known so
soon afterwords. Why risk his reputation? So that is why I believe him.

2.-Now, let us analyze number 2. According to this possibility, it was
Castro that decided at the last minute that he would come, even though
the Venezuelan goverment was not expecting him. The question again is
why? We know for sure that the goverment was trying to present
the visit in a low-profile fashion. Could it be that the Chavistas have
realized lately that it was not a good idea to bring Castro to
Venezuela? In that case, why did Castro decide to come anyways?

1.-Finally, there is number one. According to this possibility,
Chavez and some high ranking goverment officials knew that Fidel was
coming but Izarra was not in that group. What would that
mean? First that Izarra was not in the high ranking clique
and second that someone in that group wanted Izarra to look like a

Of course, there is another simple posibility that I have not listed:
Sheer Chavista Incompetence! The communication channels were not
efficient and people were not advised of the visit when they should

Jorge Arena

Breaking News.- Fidel is in Venezuela

June 28, 2005

Despite the denial of Information Minister Andres Izarra this morning, and the statement of president Hugo Chavez in Alo presidente, Fidel Castro arrived to Puerto La Cruz this afternoon to participate in the Summit about Petrocaribe (see here).
It seems that the Ministry of Information (MINCI) [should we call it
Disinformation?] sent a note of apology to the press (see here).

Since the MINCI’s is one of my favorite sites, I quickly went to
see what they were reporting. Interesting, if you check the main page
before they change it (they love to do that!) you could see a very
large picture of Chavez with the president of the Dominican Republic.
Castro’s arrival picture is quite discreet. It is a small picture on
the left side, showing Chavez with a casual Fidel Castro….Funny that
Castro’s name is not mentioned in the picture. Castro is mentioned by
name only in the article linked from the picture.

What is going on, guys? Are you trying to cover-up/disguise/minimize Castro’s arrival?

BTW, this ghost blogger could not find any note of excuses for
Izarra’s false report in the MINCI pages. Please let me know if
you find one.

Jorge Arena.

Two lefts

June 28, 2005

Dos izquierdas
by Tulio Hernandez, El Nacional

Translated by Francisco Toro

Since 1969, when he published “Checoslovakia, socialism as a problem”,
Teodoro Petkoff’s thinking has never lost his ability to make
conservatives, both of the right and of the left, squirm. He manages the
trick because, in trying to extricate political thinking from the game
of binary simplification where both extremes would like to keep it
locked up, he lays bare the whole panoply of mannichean stereotypes with
which both sides try to justify their own intolerance.

The conservatism of the right, in its obsession to deny the possibility
that not all left-wing thinking is an undercover form of communism, a
cruzade against freedom and the market, does not realize that there are,
in effect, different ways of taking on concerns about equity, social
justice, and the rights of the excluded, which, in our times, are the
defining traits of that ever broadening and imprecise universe known as
“the left.”

And the other conservatism, which has come to be known as the archaic or
religious left because it remains tied to the principles that gave rise
to the failed soviet, maoist and fidelista models, underestimates the
importance of the markets and of economics in general, and once it takes
power, sees all political dissent as a conspiracy and, therefore,
persecutes it and seizes democratic liberties in the name, ironically,
of the struggle for social justice and the cause of the oppressed.

So it’s not surprising that the publication of his latest book, Dos
Izquierdas (Two Lefts – edited by Alfadil) has already generated an
angry reaction from the historically anticommunist section of the
opposition, the new right, made up of activists who in their youth were
part of the far left, maoism and trotskyism, and who therefore have a
double reason to disagree – and even to throw a fit – faced with
Petkoff’s arguments.

What’s so perturbing about Petkoff’s postures? In the first place, his
determination never to subject himself to the nasty little game of “who
do you love more, your dad or your mom?” That is, his refusal to accept,
for instance, that in order to reject becoming a lackey of fidelista
communism one must become a lackey of Bush’s crusade against evil and,
instead of turning up in Havana to pay homage to the old Caribbean hack,
one must go to Washington like a meek little (neocolonialist) lamb to
ask indulgences of the belicose U.S. president.

Then there is Petkoff’s insistence in underlining realities that
fanatics – whose ideologies are built like fact-proof fortresses – would
rather not acknowledge. This is what happens, for instance, with his
interpretation of the growth of the lefts in Latin American – nine
governments so far – as a reaction of the urban and rural masses to the
failures of decades of developmentalist dictatorships and populist
and/or neoliberal governments which left the region with a legacy of
corruption, precarious economic growth and institutional degradation
that ended up making our societies among the most unjust and unequal on
the planet.

But, Petkoff warns, that which seen from afar looks as a single process
in fact isn’t. What has grown is two lefts that are radically different
in their understandings of democracy and power. One, which he calls
“primitive” or “bourbonic” (since, like that old dynasty, it neither
forgets nor learns), and another, the democratic and modern left, which
I would add is market-oriented. The first is, today, led by the
military-charismatic duo of Chavez and Castro, and counts as its
followers the sandinistas of the Ortega wing in Nicaragua, and the
FMLN’s communist wing led by Schafic Handal in El Salvador, as well as
Evo Morales’ MAS in Bolivia.

The second, though internally diverse, includes the social-democratic
Chile of Lagos as well as Lula’s Brasil and Kirchner’s Argentina, the
pluralist Frente Amplio in Uruguay, Jagdeo’s Guyana, Torrijos’ Panama
and the Dominican Republic of Leonel Fernandez.

According to Petkoff, the democratic left is defined by that which the
other left has failed to do: leave behind the infantile, voluntarist
postures of the left; internalize democratic values as basic components
of projects for social change; abandon its taste for strong-men,
personalism, militarism and messianic saviours, and choose a politics of
“feet planted firmly on the ground,” as a means of bringing about
forward-looking, sustainable and durable social change.

One of the most controversial, but at the same time most realistic,
arguments in Petkoff’s writing consists in pointing out that there is
just one factor today that brings together these two lefts: the foreign
policy of the United States, in particular with regards to Latin
America. These leftist governments, each in its own way, is trying to
build on new foundations – now that the cold war is over – its
relationship with the United States, and on that road, as we’ve seen in
the OAS, they will not remain indifferent vis-a-vis the pressure the
Northern Giant brings to bear on Chavez and Fidel.

The panorama in the hemisphere is changing quickly, and it is from that
perspective that we must think through what is happening in Venezuela.

Probably, it’s necessary to start to distinguih clearly between two
oppositions, which are as radically different as the two lefts.

One opposition, also bourbonic, bent on remembering without learning –
is set on increasing tension, on vanguardism, immediatism, coupsterisim
and US boosterism, classism, disinterest for the fate of the poor and
excluded, and the restoration of the ancien regime. The other opposition
rejects those values. Essentially democratic, forward-looking and
reformist, it should stress a discourse aimed at transforming the soiled
legacy of the AD-Copei past – which survives somehow through the
premature-aging of chavismo. To this opposition, the experience of Latin
America’s now empowered democratic left has much to offer.

It would seem that this is the only option able to stand against the
popular torrent of disenchantment against the past that Chavez and his
team have managed to capitalize upon.

Venezuela’s Oil Wealth: From Black Box to Black Hole

June 26, 2005

One striking aspect of Hugo Chavez’s leadership is the way his
criticisms of past practices reliably foreshadow his own plans. Between
1998 and 2003, Chavez rarely missed a chance to criticize the Venezuelan
State Oil company, PDVSA, for its lack of transparency, accountability
and auditability. In the 30 months since chavistas took full control of
PDVSA, however, the oil industry has reached levels of opacity,
unaccountability, and inauditability undreamed of in the pre-Chavez era.

Now, with the proposed reforms to Venezuela’s Central Bank Law, the lack
of transparency that has characterized PDVSA’s operations since 2003
will be officially extended to the oil industry’s
thick revenue stream. As explained by AIO in Daniel’s Blog
the new Central Bank law would enshrine in law a series of quasi legal
practices in place since last year that allow PDVSA to keep part of its
dollar revenues outside the country, to be spent – as dollars – however
the government wants.

Needless to say, in the current context, “the government” and “Chavez”
are synonyms.

There’s so much wrong with this proposal it’s hard to know where to even
start. From my point of view, though, what’s most dismaying about the
new law is that it officializes the Chavista Parallel Budgets doctrine.

Blithely discarding the long established principle of the “single treasury” –
la unidad del tesoro” – and the centuries’ old doctrine of the
parliamentary “power of the purse strings,” the new law allows PDVSA
(read: Chavez) to set aside billions of dollars each year to spend
without any constraints, controls, or oversight whatsoever. The
fundamental notion that the state can only spend money in accordance to
a budget approved by the elected legislature – a doctrine dating back to
Magna Carta and enshrined in every modern constitution around the world,
including Venezuela’s 1999 constitution – is quite simply ignored, as is
any measure that might obstruct Chavez’s total discretionary power over
the billions of dollars involved.

The parallel dollar budget will stand beyond the reach of any attempt at
independent auditing. This is not merely because the Contraloria General
de la Republica and the National Assembly’s leadership have been in
the hands of presidential cronies for years – though this is clearly a
major part of the problem – but more fundamentally because it will be
administered in dollars, from accounts sitting outside the country,
where Venezuelan state auditors have no jurisdiction. No longer will
lack of transparency hinge on the contraloria’s current political
docility: with the new central bank law, even a future, hypothetically
honest contralor would be unable to track the money. Until now,
transparency has been enshrined in law but ignored in practice – with
these reforms, the Chavez cronies’ disdain for transparency is
solidified into law.

Shielded from any oversight, any need for parliamentary authorization,
any auditing standards, any controls at all, there is just no telling
what will happen to the substantial sums of money involved. One thing I
can say for sure as a social scientist: lack of transparency breeds
corruption. Barring a “government of angels” – which no country on earth
has, and Venezuela less than most – extending such thorough,
sure-fire guarantee of zero-oversight virtually guarantees that
substantial sums will be stolen. What will happen to the rest is
anyone’s guess.

In light of the longstanding Chavista rhetoric against the lack of
transparency in the old PDVSA’s finances, this whole episode brims with
particularly bitter irony.

Francisco Toro


June 26, 2005

1.-To improve my standing as a ghost blogger, I have asked some people
to contribute to the blog while Miguel is away. Hopefully, Miguel will
be so delighted that he will raise my salary when he comes back.
So today I will post the first contribution by Francisco Toro.

2.- There has been some problems with the comments section and with the
posting. It seems to be the system. I hope that it gets
back to normal soon.

Race differentiation in Venezuela.

June 22, 2005

Despite the reported elimination of the “notas en positivo” section from the MINCI web site, there is always
something interesting going on in the MINCI pages. I learned from this MINCI article that
there is a group of Venezuelans identified by the new term “Afrodescendientes”
(of African Descent) and that the government has designated May 10 as the day
of the “Afrovenezonalidad”.

In this piece of news, there is also a report on the recent
International Encounter of Afrodescendientes in Caracas
to which Minister Andres Izarra, the Cuban minister of Cultural affairs, Abel
Prieto, as well as the president of the National Assembly, Nicolas Maduro,
participated. Maduro reported on the occasion that it is possible that the
National Assembly would even pass an “anti-discrimination” law.

I was very surprised to learn that Nicolas Maduro, the president
of the Venezuelan highest legislation entity, would propose such a new law. There
is already a law in Venezuela
that protects against any type of discrimination. It is called the

Race discrimination, Nicolas, is specifically mentioned in
the first paragraph
of article 21.

Readers from around the world may wonder why I am making
such a big deal about this new terminology introduced by the Chavistas. I know
that in many countries, the population is often differentiated based on race,
language, ancestors and/or origin, but in Venezuela,
the situation is, or was, quite different.

Due to a history of repeated wars and immigration waves,
Venezuelans ended up being a true racial melting pot. In a single family, one
may find as many variations of skin colors as types of Espressos and Cappuccinos
in a Starbuck’s C ©. I have had the opportunity to travel and live in several
countries and I have never seen such a permeable society as the one we have (we
had?) in Venezuela.
Venezuela used
to be a country of real opportunities, regardless of race. And if one would
have to choose one single unracist country in the whole world that would be Venezuela.

Then came Chavez.

His revolution feeds on hatred and division. So he cleverly started a policy of reminding
people that they were somehow “different” from each other. I say it was clever
because he reached two different goals with that policy: to put Venezuelans
against Venezuelans and to gain the sympathy of the politically correct elites
of this world.

Why does he want to put Venezuelans against Venezuelans?
Because he is inefficient, he does not know how to run the country and the only
way to keep his popularity up is to divide, to create an “enemy” and to be
constantly seen as the savior from that enemy. And, of course, if that comes
with increasing popularity abroad, the better.

I categorically refuse to use my mixed Venezuelan background
for hatred or reverse racism. To do that, would be to undermine the suffering
of those that have been real victims of racism in the world. But that is exactly what Chavez has been doing
since he took power. He has systematically underlined and confused race with
political factors to manipulate international opinion. He even takes advantage
of his own mixed racial features to make believe that his enemies are racists
and that his revolution is somehow related with race.

That is preposterous. I challenge anybody to have a look at
the pictures of Chavista ministers and of opposition leaders and to be able to
tell, just by their racial features, which is which.

So, it is with no surprise at all, that I find out that the
Chavista government is supporting more race differentiation. It simply intensifies their campaign to
divide Venezuelans and to look politically correct from abroad.

The funny thing is that the use of the term “afrodescendientes” has no sense at all in Venezuela
since nearly everybody is an “afrodescendiente”. We may as well replace it by
the good old term that we used before:


Jorge Arena.

Announcement: Eva Golinger Comes to Chicago!

June 20, 2005

I just learned from the comments section that Eva Golinger
is going to participate  in the ALA  (American
Library Association)
annual conference in Chicago.


is the link
announcing her conference that will be presented in the
“Destabilization, Disinformation, and Libraries” session sponsored by the
Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA and by the Progressive Librarians


The announcement specifies the time and the contact person:

“The program will be held at the
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Sheraton Ballroom I,
1:30-3:30 p.m. For more information about the program, to
request press access, or to arrange an interview with Eva Golinger, please
contact Tom Twiss,, (412)

So, if you live in the Chicago
area or know someone who does, pass on the information. Also check if your
librarian friends are attending the meeting.


Keep us posted.


[thanks to Kensey and Jacques for their pointers].


Jorge Arena.

Some thoughts from a lazy ghost blogger

June 18, 2005

Dear readers,

It is now becoming a de-facto superstition that every time
the titular bloggers go away, something happens so that this lazy ghost blogger
has to leave his laziness at home and start reporting. I really hope that this
time is the exception. As I have previously mentioned here, the pay and the
working conditions are bad, really bad, and they have not improved despite my increasing
work experience.

So keep your expectations very low; do not expect any
brilliant and dynamic ghosting during this period. I suspect that Miguel does it on purpose so
that you will all give him a hero’s welcome when he comes back.

I do not pretend to excuse my laziness but, since my last
ghost tenure, the job has become much more difficult. Some things have been
changed in my favorite government site. I am in fact quite disappointed that
the minci guys decided to remove their “notas en positivo” section from their
web page. How do they expect me to do a good ghost blogging job without their positive
notes? It was my favorite section because I could easily report all the
government’s good news, such as the ones on Chavez’s
, MVR personnel coming up North or the government
arming peasants
. Don’t they like that? And I did it for free! I am appalled and puzzled that they have removed
the notes from their site and I am seriously thinking on starting a signature
campaign to ask Minister Izarra to reinstate that section.

OK, OK, I heard
you….I will request Jorge Rodriguez to double check the signatures. I promise.

Jorge Arena.

Gone but blog not abandoned

June 16, 2005

I will be going away for three weeks in my usual “unplug from the world”
yearly vacation.I will be truly unpugged the first week as I will have
no Internet and no telephone, although I am told that in parts of the
way there may be a cell phone connection in some spots. I hope it is not

Two people will be covering my abscence to report on important
developments while I am gone. I have told them to manage the blog as
their own. I hope things are quiet, although they have a knack to heat
up in my absence. It is not on purpose. Thanks for reading and