Archive for April, 2006

Some positive signs out of the opposition candidates

April 25, 2006

meeting today
between Presidential candidates Teodoro Petkoff, Julio Borges
and the Governor of Zulia and likely candidate Manuel Rosales, give me a good
opportunity to comment on the developments on the potential opposition
candidates during the month that I was away.

A lot of
people I think have been over analyzing the subject of the possible primaries.
There is very little history of primaries in Venezuela and while it is true that
Hugo Chavez has the popularity and the money to win outright in the December elections,
leaving cheating and such matters outside the discussion, there is still a lot
of time to change things between now and December. In fact, at this same point in time in 1998,
Irene Saez had 45% of the preferences of voters, while Hugo Chavez had only 10%
and in 1993, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz had just won the first open primary held by a
party in the country’s history, upsetting Copei’s favorite Eduardo Fernandez,
giving him a commanding lead in the race. Two months later Rafael Caldera,
Copei’s own founder, came back to Venezuela,
announced his candidacy, was embraced by the left and an overconfident Alvarez Paz not only lost the
election, but came in third, behind Caldera and Claudio Fermin.

But so
far, what I have seen is quite positive. Sumate comes out and proposes a
primary. Petkoff announces he is a candidate and talks about specifics. Borges
announces his program. Rosales suggests
he is ready to jump in with all his guns. People ask who anointed Sumate to do
the primary and Sumate responds that they are ready to do it only if wanted. All
three of these candidates meet and agree
that there is a need for a single candidate, ask the other two candidates to
join them and say that the single candidate may be chosen in a primary or by
whatever other method they may agree with. Thus, a positive political message
is being sent, something that has not been seen in local politics in quite a
long time. I can’t argue against that.

Can Chavez
manipulate the process? Of course he can, but some of these guys may not be
charismatic, but they are politically savvy and can fight back. In fact, by
agreeing on three or four topics for their own proposals, they can indirectly
show the lack of accomplishments by the Chavez administration. If they can hit a
cord, a lot of damage can be done to Chavez, his autocratic style and
inefficient and corrupt administration.

There are obviously dangers, but hey, this is not soccer
or a baseball game, you have to risk something and you may be wrong in your
strategy. Some may lose and some may win. The opposition candidates need to
continue playing the positive card to contrast themselves to Chavez and his
style. What they can not do is start blasting each other each day, wearing each
other down and setting up the winner in a plate to Chavez to feast on after a
single candidate is selected. So far, indications are that at least the three
candidates that met today understand this quite well.

I disagree with arguments such as the fact that primaries
are popularity contests that select the most popular person and not necessarily
the best one. Hey! That is what democracy is! Whether people vote with their
hormones, their guts or their stomachs is a fact of daily democratic life and
you have to live with that. How do you think we got stuck with Chavez? I also
fail to see how the winner of the primary will be mince meat for Chavez. On the
contrary, the victor, if in unity, should be strengthened as it typically
happens in most democracies with primaries. And even before, the opposition
needs to get people to get excited about going out and voting. If an equal
number of people that voted in the recall against Chavze went to the primary,
it could create a very touchy and tight situation for an Hugo Chavez who at
this time looks overconfident that he will win

Then, there is the pure democratic argument that I have made for years: Venezuela needs more democracy not less. I am still amazed that all of the major five candidates for President in 1998 were all self appointed and self annointed saviors, who ran without the benefit of any collective body larger than a few dozen friends choosing them. This was a disgrace for people who call themselves democrats and simply represented the summary of the history of Venezuela’s modern democracy, something Chavez said he was going to change and included in the new Constitution but has done nothing about, like with most of his promises. In this area, he has also been more of the same, denying his own party the democratic rights that it put into the new Constitution.

I also don’t buy the argument about Chavez sending his
people out to change the primary result. First, I don’t think he has the
machinery to pull it off, witness the parliamentary election low turnout. But I
also think that by the time the event takes place, one of the candidates will
have pulled a clear and irreversible lead.

All I am saying is that so far events have developed in a
much more positive manner than I thought possible a month ago. Moreover, the
opposition candidates are receiving wide coverage. If I had to choose a candidate in
terms of ability to establish a long term sensible program for the country, I
would choose Petkoff, but my feeling is that it is Rosales that has the best
chance at beating the autocrat. Petkoff will be an uncomfortable candidate for Chavez;
Chavez can’t question his leftwing political credentials. But the Government
seems more concerned about Rosales, as demonstrated by today’s
statement by the Prosecutor General that he will ask the
Supreme Court to allow him to try Rosales for going to the Presidential Palace
on April 12th. 2002, the day after Rosales expressed his clear
intent to run.

The fireworks have begun!


Chavez may reconsider withdrawal from Andean Pact if Peru and Colombia give up pact with US

April 24, 2006

Chavez’s whim to have Venezuela withdraw from the Andean Pact seems to have
backfired among some of his allies who have called for Venezuela to change its
decision, the autocrat responded in his usual non-democratic and disrespectful
fashion, saying that he is willing to reconsider if both Colombia and Peru
withdraw their intention to join the free trade Treaty with the US.

Chavez’ decision reportedly took even the Foreign Minister by surprise. Venezuela does benefit from the Andean Pact and
certainly will have a difficult time benefiting from Mercosur, which we just
joined, not only because the other participating countries are better developed
than Venezuela
and the Andean pact countries, but also because Mercosur partners have already
been involved in it for years. Even worse for Venezuela,
the Andean Pact is actually a strong generator of jobs, since it is the
manufacturing sector which generates 70% of the employment in Venezuela. But Chávez
could care less about this. All he cares about is for his regional leadership,
how to project it and promote it. He does not believe in know-how or knowledge,
he relies in his gut feeling and political hates and desires. There are also
issues like respect and sovereignty that Chavez is violating with his demand,
which Chavez always appeals to whenever anyone gives an opinion, however bland,
about his Government or Venezuela.
Cost and
inefficiencies are obviously not a problem for Chavez, as Venezuela began
on January 1st. to use all of the Andean Pact forms and formats, including
changing passports to the Andean passport, which was part of a long term plan,
which Chavez had to know about. This improvisation is captured very well in
today’s Tal Cual by Weil’s usually incisive cartoon:

(Women comes in with her hard to get new passport with the Andean pact format, just as man reads that Venezuela is withdrawing from it)

Students “Lay down for life”

April 24, 2006

Crime has
become a very severe problem in Venezuela.
Last July I showed
some statistics prepared by Human Rights organization Provea, using official
Government data which showed an almost three fold increase in crime since
Chavez took over nationwide. The same statistics showed that some progress was
made on this issue in the mid 90’s. There is no single reason for this dramatic
increase in crime, but the Chavez administration has never made this an
important issue and up to a month ago, the autocrat himself would not even
mention the topic. Of course, the deterioration and politization of the
Venezuelan police has contributed dramatically to the problem, as the cleansing
of police forces of those not loyal to the process has removed many of the best
trained professionals in those forces. This has led not only to an increase in
crime, but the obvious involvement of police forces in criminal acts, as in the
recent Faddoul case, but also to a huge increase of a factor of FIVE in the
number of deaths caused by policemen during the same years.

The results are obviously tragic as more than 70,000 civilians have died in
criminal acts in the last seven years. This affects mostly the poor and the young,
which led last Saturday to a protest organized by a group of university
students to “lay down for life”. The protest by well-covered with
lots of pictures by Daniel,
so I will not go over the details, but it was a huge success and addressed a
very important problem for all Venezuelans. I complain a lot about the lack of
involvement by people in what is happening in Venezuela,
but participation was not only quite a success, but the picture below, shamelessly
stolen from Daniel’s blog, shows the level of commitment by some to demand the
respect of human rights in Venezuela.

Some oil il related tidbits

April 24, 2006

-In this “democracy” things are not even discussed anymore between independent powers. On March 16th. Minister of Oil Ramirez sent a memo “ordering” the National Assembly to approve the contracts for the new oil partnerships.They obviously did, you don’t argue with the autocrat.

-Curiously, for the champions of “sovereignty”, the approved contracts include international arbitrage, as ordered by Ramirez.

-And the new Cuban/Venezuelan oil company in which Cuba has 51% allows for Cuba to sell oil in the international markets, essentially giving a “legal” framework to what had been happening all along. Nice deal, you buy oil at preferential prices and preferential interest rates, don’t even pay for it, and then turn around and sell it at international prices. Ahora PDVSA es del pueblo…cubano? (Now PDVSA belongs to the…Cuban people?)

-The total amount of the gasoline subsidy (gasoline is sold at 4.46 US$ cents per liter or 17 US$ cents per gallon) is 14.5% of the National Budget or three times what is spent on the “Misiones”. By the way, my share of the subsidy as one that is in the top 25% of the population by income is ten times larger than that of those in the bottom quartile.

-In an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, that newspaper suggests that Chavez will also nationalize the heavy oil partnerships. Given the huge amount of resources required to further exploit the Orinoco tar sands and the fact that PDVSA has no money to do it on its own, this would mean that there will be no more new heavy oil projects in the foreseeable future. .

As someone said today, Chavez is so sure of winning in December that he no longer even gives a damn about Venezuelans.

A new black list exposes once again the indecent revolution

April 23, 2006

In any
reasonable society, institutions are there to preserve the rights of people,
uphold the Constitution and provide the framework for grievances and appeals.
Not in the Venezuelan “revolution” No sooner had I started reading
local news when I
that none other than the members of the Venezuelan National Assembly,
in cahoots with the current Electoral Board, have apparently conspired to
violate the Constitution as well as the rights of those that aspire to become
part of the new Electoral Board (CNE) being selected by that institution.

According to a COPEI representative, five of those nominated to be part of the
new CNE were explicitly asked why they had not voted in either the municipal or
the parliamentary elections in 2005. This is a clear violation of the law and
the secrecy surrounding the electoral processes in Venezuela, which guarantee that the
information is secret. But, in the absence of the rule of law, this new abuse
of power and violation of the law will obviously go unpunished as there are no
longer institutional checks and balances in Venezuela.

This obviously raises the question of whether the infamous “Maisanta”
or Chavez or Tascon database or list (see category on the left) has now been expanded, updated
and upgraded with the two most recent electoral processes that took place in
2005. This administration is very efficient only when it comes to perverse activities like this. There is also the possibility that this was a special “favor”
by the CNE authorities to the Assembly. In either case, this represents another
violation of the law and the rights of Venezuelans that aspire to be part of
the new Electoral Board.

In any decent country, those members of the Board of the CNE who reportedly
want to be ratified in their positions should simply be disqualified for allowing
this abuse to take place under their noses. But there is no decency in this obscene revolution. And this nw “black list” simply exposes, once again , the lack of respect for their fellow citizens that most members of the Chavez revolution and its institutions have.

Sort of back

April 23, 2006

I am back, except that the huge jetlag has been playing games with my life in such a way that I have not established a routine, let alone examine everything that happened during the trip. I was sort of connected, except that where I went Internet access was either very expensive or non-existent in a couple of cases, so I think I followed major events but want to bring myself up to date before saying much.

As usual I would like to thank Jorge Arena for allowing me to dump this responsibility on him and his time. Many things happened during the month that had to be covered and he did in the splendid manner we have become accustomed to.

As to the matter of whether a section on tomatoes should be included in my blog, which was the subject of discussion in my absence, I would suggest that rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and start something on that very difficult subject, they read and participate in the excellent blog which deals mostly with tomatoes Dad’s Tomato Garden Journal

As to where I was, I visited three wonderfull and exciting countries, concentrating most of my time on a single one of them. As they say, a picture(or a few) is (are) worth 10,000 words.


April 19, 2006

In an unprecedented show of democratic openness, Súmate is
proposing to organize the primaries to find the candidate that will represent
the opposition in the forthcoming Presidential elections.

Maria Corina Machado and Ricardo Estévez  exposed the
rules and the logistics envisioned by Súmate to choose the candidate.

I hope that the CNE and the “Aquelarre” of government
officials read them so that they can understand what an OPEN, CLEAN, FAIR and DEMOCRATIC process really means.

 The presentation in Power Point can be downloaded from Sumate
main page.

 Here is the main proposal for the election:

 1.- All those registered in the
REP as of March 2006 can vote in the Primaries

2.- The elected candidate will be
the winner by simple majority

3.- The voting will be MANUAL and
the scrutiny will be PUBLIC

4.- All the physical logs will be

5.- The whole country will be
covered with 3000 centers

Note that Súmate is proposing the destruction of the log
material to avoid any type of blacklisting like what happened with the signers
of the Revocatory Referendum.

 Here is the schedule:


CAMPAIGN: MAY 21st to JULY 14, 2006


AUGUST 5 to AUGUST 28, 2006

Súmate is also asking for volunteers for the organization. If
you are interested, here are the telephone number and the email:




voluntarios  at

So now, we all know
what was the “Aquelarre
Willian Lara was talking about! Súmate was preparing a demonstration of
democracy in action, that the government officials are not even able to

Reporting from

Jorge Arena
Venezuelan and Distinguished Ghost.

April 17, 2006

Everytime I see the MINCI home page without any picture of Chávez,
I get nervous.  I cannot help but wonder
what the heavy government weights must be concocting when Yo El Supremo is not
in their front page. The explanation might be very simple, the President might
be resting for a few days, but, noneless, I always wonder what is going on, in
particular when neither the Vice President nor Nicolas Maduro appear in their

My ghost experience has taught me that nothing is irrelevant 
in the Chavista kingdom of Venezuela.

However, I was relieved to see that at least William Lara, the
new Minister of Information was there today, in prime space. This time, the
object of his speech was Súmate. He accused the organization of starting the
“mediatic machine gun” against the committee that is selecting the new members
of the CNE. The article specifically says:

“invitó a venezolanos y venezolanas
que se oponen al proceso de cambio democrático liderado por el presidente
Chávez que no hagan oídos a este aquelarre montado por Súmate, que
probablemente tendrá eco mañana en otros portavoces de la política de Bush, y
que se mantengan leales a sus convicciones y prácticas democráticas”.

Venezuelans that oppose the process of democratic change led by President Chávez
not to pay attention to the coven that Súmate is putting into place and that will
surely have an echo tomorrow in other spokepersons of Bush’s politics  and be [the Venezuelans that oppose..] loyal
to their convictions and democratic practices..”

So this Venezuelan and curious blogger
was pretty curious about what this “aquelarre” was all about. I looked it up
first in the Real Academia and found the following definition:


  1. m. Junta o reunión nocturna de brujos y brujas, con la supuesta
    intervención del demonio ordinariamente en figura de macho cabrío, para la
    práctica de las artes de esta superstición.

So it seems that the aquelarre is a night
meeting of witches with the Devil’s intervention….

So what triggered Minister Lara to use
such a charming term against Súmate?

Well, the commission in charge of electing
the new CNE is about to provide the definite list in a week or two and the
rumors around the National Assembly say that three of the current officials
will be re-elected: Oscar Battaglini, Tibisay Lucena and Oscar León. Súmate has
objected their names because they say that those individuals did not  provide an account of their management or the
balance of their
during the years as CNE officials.

Now, this ghost blogger disagrees for the first time this
year with Súmate. They are absolutely, totally wrong to be objecting the term
of these three officials based on some trifle like lack of transparency and of
accountability! I take advantage of this ghost post to make a formal complaint
against Súmate’s objections of those candidates.

In fact, this ghost blogger strongly objects the candidacy
of those CNE officials as well, but not because of the mild reasons provided by
Súmate, but  because of their potential responsibility in handing
to the government the personal data of millions of Venezuelans that led to the Tascón
list, the Maisanta database and the Batalla de Santa Inés software
that has
created a political apartheid in Venezuela.  

I want these guys to be investigated first. Did they approve
the handling of the personal data to the Maisanta campaign? Did they know that
the data was being used by Tascón in a public web page? Did they know that the
Maisanta command had elaborated a database and a program to be used for
political profiling and blacklisting of Venezuelan citizens? Did they protest
when they knew of the use of the data? Did they order an internal
investigation? Did they realize that the rights of millions
of Venezuelans were being violated?

I want to get the answers to those questions first before
these guys ever get to be nominated again for the CNE, Mr. Lara. So thank you
very much for reminding me that I should be loyal to my democratic convictions.
I agree with you, Súmate is wrong this time, but because they are being way too

And, BTW, dear Minister, many thanks also for helping me improve
my Spanish vocabulary.  I now have a new
precise word to ask you the following…

 What type of Aquelarre are all the President’s man putting
in place these days?

Reporting from Cyberspace,

 Jorge Arena
The Devil’s Distinguished Ghost.

No Alo Presidente today. Happy Easter to you all!

April 16, 2006

I just read that VTV has announced that there will be no Alo Presidente this Sunday.

 I guess that Chavez decided to finally give a break to the
Venezuelan people and to the families of the Ministers and other
Goverment officials that have to endure the six hour Alo Presidente
marathons every Sunday.

So Happy Easter to you all!

And careful with the chocolates.

Jorge Arena
Cheerful Ghost Blogger.

Switching blogs

April 14, 2006

One of the problems with being such a successful, charming
and charismatic ghost blogger is that I get to be very much in demand these

So I am switching today to Daniel’s blog with a post about Jorge
Aguirre’s case.

BTW, for those stubborn readers that still miss Miguel, I
got news from him today. A message was sent in a bottle from an abandoned Polynesian
island. The good news is that the sharks did not find him to their taste. The
bad news is that he does not like very much the idea of a new Growing Tomatoes
Section for the Devil’s. So we’ll have to insist when he comes back.

Jorge Arena
Sucessful Ghost and Star Tomato Grower.