Archive for March, 2006

Agriculture, corruption and inefficiency

March 21, 2006

Carlos Machado Allison is
an old friend who I had the pleasure of working with at one particularly
exciting part of my life when we believed we could move mountains with no
resources. Since then, he moved on to IESA, where he studies Venezuelan
agriculture. I have translated articles by him before; this one in todayís El Universal
is particularly sharp, especially in describing the contradictions in policy
within the ChŠvez administration.

corruption and inefficiency
by Carlos Machado Allison

President, the chain of events that is destroying the basis of agricultural
activity and the morale of the producers, is it part of the revolutionary
design? Or as they say in the streets, your subordinates donít inform you?
Could it all be the fault of the executive Vice-President who leads the
Cabinet? A reporter in the back and forth of his profession, responded to a
Deputy indicating that what the Comptrolling Committee of the Assembly was
doing, referring to the case of the sugar plant, was not an act of heroics, but
was a natural obligation, but later, she evaded the answer when she found out
about the presidential responsibility in the scandal.

the laws, the properties and presidential promise, a certain celebrity has said
that the revolution is above the laws, but under them there is a systematic
destruction of values, principles, traditions and symbols. Now they will
initiate procedures and someone will be accused. The scandal is too evident.
Change prisoners for votes, a good electoral strategy. As a politician, twenty
points, as administrator you have flunked.

it public knowledge that some trucks with food destined to the ďmercalesĒ
(Government food markets) were not arriving at their destination? Didnít they
tell you about contaminated flour, lost grain and adultered milk? Donít you
know that many loans ended up in phantom co-ops? Didnít you know that the
tomato processing plant, the textile factory in Cojedes and the sugar plant
near Sabaneta, were not running? Can you really believe that you can create 100,000
cooperatives and that a fraction of them will not become a field for

Donít you know that the ďZamoranĒ
rural farms, promoted invaders and the like, produce next to nothing? It is difficult
to think that you were ignorant of the morosity of the Bank of the People or the
Bank for Women, that on top of everything published no financials. Or that the Industrial
Bank was not doing well. Even then, you approved the creation of an
Agricultural Bank and another for the communities that, for sure, will give out
loans that will never be repaid? Donít you remember that, at the times of the
IVth., a number of times public agricultural banks were shut down because of
corruption and inefficiency?

Your Cabinet approved the
Caaez (sugar plant), designed and oriented by Cubans, despite the history of Government
owned sugar plants. Donít you know that Cuba is the most inefficient
producer of sugarcane in the word? Donít you know that the silos were
privatized for inefficiency and corruption when they belonged to the State?
Donít you remember the scandals of Corpomercadeo and Mersifrica (predecessors
of Mercal)? Didnít you win the elections promising to end corruption and to
make the country an agricultural emporium? Donít you know that each point of
Governmental intervention in the agro-food chain is a focus for potential

Did you know that
agricultural financing increased by 45% in 2005 and agricultural production
only by 3%? That agricultural exports reached their lowest historical point and
imports the highest one? Do you ignore that PDVSA, which belongs to all of us,
will inject Bs. 1.5 trillion to the agricultural sector (Bs. 55 thousand per
poor person in the country) so that part of it will have the same destiny as
that of the sugar plant? Have you been told about the inexistent supplies at
the agricultural schools?

The Ministers of Agriculture
and Foodstuffs have come face to face with each other because you ordered one
of them, to make the country self sustaining and the other one, to import
everything so that inflation in food prices does not go up. They will fail
because there is no logic, nor sense, in agro-food policy, repeating the errors
of the past: Exactly the same that at the end of the IVth.
Mr. President, I think
that you do know what is happening and are thus responsible.


As Venezuela produces excess cement, the Government will import some from Cuba

March 20, 2006

Imagine a country with excess capacity for cement production. A Governor complains that no cement is reaching his state and this is limiting your ability to build public works. What do you do if you are President?:

a) Find out why this is happening
b) Call cement producers and talk to them as to why this is happening
c) Talk to the experts in your Government to understand the problem
d) Start importing cement

This is exactly what happened in Venezuela two weeks ago. The Governor of Vargas State complained to Chavez in his reality show Alo Presidente that there was not enough cement in his state to build housing and public works. Rather than find out why this was the case and understanding the dynamics of the cement industry in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez had his Minister talk to the Cubans and announced that Venezuela would import 500,000 Tons of Cuban cement to cover the shortage.

Except that there is no shortage. Venezuela produces more cement that it can use. Currently, the country is exporting cement, as Cemex takes advantage of its Pertigalete deep port to export its excess production at prices which are actually lower than those you can get in Venezuela. So, you may say, what is the problem? Well, essentially there are two problmes: One, cement is very expensive to move around, that is why regional companies dominate their markets and it is very difficult for one company in one region to compete with another one in a different region if you have to ship the cement by truck . The second problem is easy, the Government is not very good paying its bills, so companies prefer to export or not produce rather than selling to the Government and having to wait for months to get paid.

So, you may say, how can Cuba compete? The answer is that it does not. Cuba can not compete, but rather than selling or using the cement locally in Cuba to build housing or public works for Cubans, it will sell it to Venezuela for US dollars, hard currency, something that Cuba is in desperate need of. Thus, this is not a commercial transaction.

Meanwhile, Venezuela exports cement and its plants are 20% idle (not the 60% the Government claims). Is this any way to run an economy?

Another brilliantly stupid economic strategy improvised by the autocrat himself in another flash of ignorance.

A new professional and more respectfull era in US-Venezuela relations

March 20, 2006

Hugo Chavez trying to improve relations with the US:

“Mr. Danger (Bush) you started trouble with me again little bird… you don’t know much about history, you don’t know much about anything. You are a great ignorant, a burro. To say it in my bad english: You are a donkey, Mr. Bush”

“On top of that you are a coward, why don’t you go to Iraq to lead the troops over there. It is easier to command troops from afar…. you are an assasin, a genocidal person, an inmoral person, an alcoholic, a sickly person”

“You are the worst…you are killing children Mr. Danger.”

Definitely a good first step towards improving relations between the two countries and in the words of the Venezuelan Ambassador to the US last week: “relations between the two countries should be marked by respect and a technical and professional approach”

I agree, the English part by the President was a very good first step towards achieving this goal. Good job!

Amazing sequence of pictures of the falling viaduct

March 20, 2006

This incredible sequence of pictures of the Viaduct at the moment it was falling down were taken by Juancho Carmona as he was coming back from La Guaira on Sunday. One of them was published in today’s El Universal but here is his complete sequence before and during the collapse of the viaduct. Little needs to be said but wow!

AVO Orchid Exhibit

March 19, 2006

This weekend was the Orchid Exhibit of the Asociacion Venezolana de Orquideas. Orchid Societies seem to be a reflection of Venezuelan society, lots of disagreements, jealousies and bickering, so that they have divided themselves into three groups in the Caracas area. I belong to none of them, but collborate with all. This exhibit was held at one of the largest shopping malls in Caracas, inside of a tent structure on the terrace. This mall is simply too big. I have been there now six times in my life, five times (three this week) for orchid exhibits and once to buy a present.

Yesterday morning I went there with a cameraman from Canadian TV who interviewed me about orchids and Venezuela. I took my camera, but I used a flash only to learn once again, that it just does not work. Pictures come out with no depth, colors are funny. So, today I went back with my tripod and did long exposures with artificial light which works ok, but only where the ligthing is good. Fortunately, some of the best plants were under the best ligthing of the place.

While Cattleya Mossiae tends to be the star of this show among Venezuelan Cattleyas, this year it was Cattelya Lueddemanianna that won the day. The weather has been too cool delaying flowering. Above left the winner of the top prize for the show, a Cattleya Lueddemanianna Coerelua owned by Agustin Morales, who took the time when I knew little about orchids to teach me quite a lot. This flower was huge, perfect in symmetry and shape and, on top of that. it was the rare coerulea form. Compare it with another good Cattleya Lueddemanniana top right. Notice that it is very nice, but slimmer, has a smaller span for its sepals.

Two very nice Cattleya Lueddemanianna of the purple form, the most common. The one on the left had a deep yellow that I loved even if the flowers were drying out. The one on the right had a spectacular deep purple.

Top left another nice Cattelya Luedemanianna Corelua. Top Right: This plant is mine, it won to my surprise the prize as the best Cattleya Jenmanii of the show. It was a surprise, because it was the first time it had ever flowered. It has very good shape and in the day between setting up the show and the judging it darkened quite a bit, which is what made it win. Next year it should be spectacular. Curiosuly, I had never won first prize for a Venezuelan Cattleya before last September with a plant of mine, when another of my Cattleya Jenmanii’s won, now I have for two shows in a row. This is a combination of the relatively rarity of this Cattleya as well as the fact that they do very well in my orchid terrace.

These two hyibrids won first place in their categories for theri deep colors. The one on the left is a Cattleya hybrid, the one on the right is a Potinara.

This spectacular specimen of Venezuela’s Cattleya Violacea was in the same booth where my plants were and won first place. It had 14 very nice flowers of Cattleya Violacea (You can alo find Cattleya Vioalcea in Brazil)

Flowering at last seems to be picking up

March 19, 2006

No sooner had I taken my plant to the orchid exhibit that the flowering started to pick up.

Above left Cirropetalum Medusae, one of the most unlikely and beautiful orchids I have ever seen. It is big, the hairs are four inches long to give you a sense of scale. In the middle and right there is an Oncidium I did not take to the exhibit because I learned late Wednesday I had to take my plants that same evening and the exhibot was at a local shopping mall which isn huge, so I could only carry two plants and letf this one. It was given to me as Oncidium Sphacelatum, but in the picrtures of those flowers in books, the sepals in the middle looked bigger.

This is a nice Cattleya hybrid, flowers regularly, no clue what it is, it is from the time where I would get any orchid no matter what it was.

Taking it off for Simon Bolivar

March 19, 2006

The photo below is a picture of:

i) A group of naked people waiting with Simon Bolivar to see the Viaduct fall
ii) The members of the Anglo-Saxon Conspiracy (TAC) being rounded up by the Venezuelan Government
iii) The opposition trying to get on Chavez’ nerves by undressing in the middle of downtown in front of the statute of his zambo heroe

No, it is the work of art
of Spencer Tunick

Tunick came
to Caracas financed by the Chavez Government
, surprisingly enough.
It took place this morning very early and 4,000 people had registered to
attend, but only 1,500 showed up. There is a prize if you recognize me in the

Candidate Smith at the Viaduct

March 19, 2006

I have to take my hat off to candidate Roberto Smith, the only one that showed up at the viaduct today and retold the whole story ofhow  this could have been avoided and the proposal he handed over to the Government a month and a half ago, asking himslef why the Government spent US$ 15 million in what was a hopeless cause.

But Smith’s best pot shot, was when he was asked about what the Vice-Minister of Infrastructure had said minutes earlier, that all of the technicians that built the viaduct has approved of what the Government was doing to stop its collapse. Smith, who is not a favorite of mine, replied with a very straight face:

“My dear, all of those technicians are dead by now”

Revealing yet another lie by the cynic revolution. Hats off for the answer and for showing up!

When ignorance and politics dominate your brain: The viaduct collapses

March 19, 2006

There are two things that dominate this Government: Ignorance and Politics. Ignorance because people who have no clue about a field are appointed to positions to make decisions that require technical knowledge and know how, but the revolution believes that anyone can do anything. Politics because this is the number one priproty of the revolution: Never say something which may go agaisnt the official line, lie until you can and then simply lie again claiming you never said what you said.

This way of running the Government has been quite evident in the way the Government has handled the problem of the viaduct of the Caracas-La Guaira highway. For months and years experts had been telling the Governmnet they were going to have to shut it down. The Government denied this was possible, claiming that the work being done was sufficient to stop the bridge from becoming useless. On December 22nd. the School of Engineers of Venezuela said that the viaduct was in danger of buckling. The Government denied this was the case, Chavez said it was all the media blowing it out of proportions. Then, on January 5th. the Government was forced to shut down the viaduct, essentailly closing one of the most important access roads to the capital of Venezuela.

Even then Government officials said the problem could be solved, they were working on it. In fact this official line has been defended until today, while experts continue to say almost daily that the viaduct could collapse. Only yesterday, the man in charge of the viaduct at the Infrastructure Ministry denied that it could collapse, saying that in fact the mountain pushing the viaduct was moving slower, that they continued working on fixing it and on Tuesday they would hold a meeting to decide on the alternatives to fix it.This was in response to the main headline of pro-Government paper Ultimas Noticias yesterday which said “The Viaduct will collapse”.

Today, the viaduct collapsed.

(Pictures taken from the TV)

As I write the Vice-Minister of Infrsatructure is saying on TV this was all expected, while Chavez sings with Reina Lucero on Alo Presidente while Nero in burning Rome.

PDVSA to buyback all of its outstanding bonds, no more transparency at the company

March 17, 2006

PDVSA announced this week that it will call all of its outstanding bonds according to the call features in them on April 10th. This is being done so as not to have to file the company’s financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is being ostensibly done to protect the country’ sovereignty. However, given that PDVSA no longer holds its yearly shareholder meeting or distribute its financials on time, other than the SEC filing which has been substantially delayedin 2002,2003 and 2004, it means that there will be no transparency to the company’s financials , let alone its operations. PDVSA had promised to deliver the 2004 financials to the SEC by the end of February (they were due on June 30th. 2005), but once again it failed to deliver them on time.

One of Hugo Chavez’ big campaign themes was that the “people” needed to know what was going on at the oil company. So much for transparency and the people under the revolution!