Archive for June, 2006

Off for a few days

June 29, 2006

I will be away all of next week, coming back in the middle of the final for the World Cup a week from Sunday, hope plane is on time. If anything important happnes I will update by email, since I can’t get remote updating to work again. Jorge Arena will also keep an eye open for me.

Four Species

June 29, 2006

I find Cattleya Violacea to be so elegant. Thsi is the second time this plant flowers and it is much better in both size and shape than before. Plant has three flowers, two shown on the left and then a close up of the one on the right. Beautiful, no?

Above left, not a great picture but this is Cattleya Leopoldii from Brazil. I could not get the petals and sepals in focus and I will be travelling and will noy have time to take another picture. Top right, Dendrobium Thyrsyflorum from Asia, beatufil hanging lantern-like bunch with flwoers that are white and bright yellow, it is an impressive sight. I remember teh first time I saw one of these I thought I had to have one. This plant almost died on me when I moved, it has recovered well, lots of leaves but this time only three bunches. One of these years it will have ten or twelve.

An educational proposal full of ideology but with no content

June 29, 2006

Venezuela needs investment to create jobs and education. Investment is not going well, there is very little of it by the Government or the private sector. Well, if what follows in this article from Ultimas Noticias is the path for education, things are truly bleak for our beleagueared country.

Minister Istúriz: “I am politicizing education, so?”
Noticias, 6/28/2206)

In the framework of the III national Pedagogical Congress: Towards the
consolidation of the Bolivarian Educational System,, building the national
Pedagogical theory”, the Minister of education Aristóbulo Isturiz pointed out
that in order to change the current educational model “it is necessary to have
an ideological and political floor, because without politics there is no
pedagogy and without them education”

Minister proposed an educational system based on pedagogical theory: “The state
is in charge of forming citizens according to its political theory, according
to its vision for the Republic.

He pointed out that for the implementation of the new Bolivarian
educational system which is based in equality, social democracy and a state of Justice;
this is only possible through the teachers.

The Venezuelan teacher now more than ever needs politics and ideology.
All teachers have to be politicians compromised with a dream for the country in
order to turn it into a reality. Without teachers there is no revolution,
education has to be at the service of the liberation of the people.

He informed that education is in a reversion process, because the
Government is implementing a process of renewal of public education which will
only be possible if the privatization of education is eliminated.

Each teacher has to be married with the model of the Republic and our
political ideology has as its objective to build the socialist ideology of the
XXIst. Century, the Minister pointed out.

End of article

Note the following:

–No mention of excellence

–No mention of merit

–No mention of content, knowledge, culture, learning

–It says public education can only work if you eliminate private
education. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, you make public education so
good you wipe out private education?

–It is clearly discriminatory, to be a science teacher you must have
the right politics, otherwise you are out no matter how good you may be as a
teacher. The mediocre will rise to the top on the back of fake ideological
grounds! Well, after all Mr. Isturiz is the same man who said Chavez had “smoked
an egg roll” because of his nutty ideas, but then he got the job of Minister of
Education and he apparently shared it with the autocrat!

–Note that there is still no ideology behind XXIst. Century Socialism,
it remains “to be built”

God help Venezuela
if this is the who and how their children will be “educated”!

A strange Venezuelan orchid species: Coryanthes Speciosa

June 29, 2006

Today you get a break from the tough world of politics and conflicts. Below a picture of one of the weirdest Venezuelan orchid, Coryanthes Speciosa. I just posted about it in my orchid section if you are interested why this strange shape helps reproduction and pollination. Have a good one!

Amazing Coryanthes Speciosa! Thanks Cate!

June 29, 2006

My friend Cate, known in the blogging world as Awacate, had told me about this strange orchid her father had brought her mother from the East of Venezuela that was doing really well at her house. When she sent me a picture it turned out to be a Coryanthes, one of the weirdest of orchids as you can see in the pictures below. I believe based on the Field Guide of Orchids of Venezuela by Dunsterville and Garay that it is a Coryanthes Speciosa. This week Cate called me up and told me that it was in flower again and invited me to her house to see it and take some pictures. It was a very nice visit and great to see my first Coryanthes Speciosa in my life. Coryanthes is not an easy plant to take care of and have flower regularly, but this one seems pleases as punch to be at Cate’s house in Caracas.

I have borrowed the figure below right from this description of the pollination of Coryanthes, which is based on a description by Gernolt Bergold, a scientist I knew many years ago and who has now passed away. Bassically, the flower has two Pleurids which drip water into the bucket (Thus the nickname “bucket” orchid). The bees get attracted to the flower and as they get in its complex structure, they tend to fall in the bucket. The bee with the wet wings has a hard time leaving the flower, unless it gets out via a hole right next to the pollinia which get stuck on the back of the bee. As the bee falls into the same trap in another flower, it fertilizes via the column in the other orchid. Quite a feat of evolution! (Read more on the link). By the way, the flowers last only two or three days.

Mexican campaign ad against populism pulled off the air

June 28, 2006

And here is the campaign ad against Lopez Obrador using Chavez’ image that the Venezuelan Government complained about and the Mexican Electoral Board pulled off the air.

The mirage of Chavez’ workers corporate paradise

June 27, 2006

I usually
don’t use swear words in my blog, but a while back when I heard
Hugo Chavez say
that the success of Invepal will determine the future of
corporate coops in Venezuela I said, literally
and precisely:

Oh shit! That program is in real

Last Saturday
more problems in the Invepal coop began to
and the more people speak or say something the clearer it gets that
the whole things is a failure. Workers now refuse to even talk to management
(mostly Government personalities including the Minister pf Labor), the Minister says things are
not as bad
, but there are serious accusations of irregularities, no audited
financial statements and while the Government claims Invepal is making money,
the workers say otherwise.

It was
very difficult to imagine a different ending for such a harebrained scheme as
Invepal. Take a company in trouble that could not survive under knowledgeable management
and give it to the workers, running it with a Board made up of political hacks
and union leaders and try that balancing act! Of course, workers, as happens
everywhere, want more, except that it is not easy to restart a company that
already had problems competing, in a cyclical and very competitive business
under an environment of let’s be goody, goody to each other. Add to that nepotism,
perks and financial irregularities and what you had was simply a time bomb, as
the last few days have shown.

In fact, the
unions never broke conversations with the previous “mean” and “oligarchic” management
the way they have done with the Government, which is simply rejecting the statements
by union leaders and saying that everything is simply peachy.

But things
are bad
. Invepal not only lacks audited financials, but there are
accusations of graft, nepotism and the Government nor respecting labor union
regulations. Thus, Invepal’s workers are fired, when there is a nationwide
firing freeze and union leaders are not given the free time established by law
to attend to union problems.

What is
really happening is what you would expect. In a paper company in trouble like
Invepal, you have to make very tough unbiased decisions, when you are both
owner and manager and union, that is very difficult to do, if not impossible without creating to much friction. Add
to that lack of know how, an ignorant and political Board and anyone would have
realized this was another crazy scheme.

Thus, we
are seeing the same thing that happened during the last oil bonanza of the 70’s,
the state assuming a role that it should have and wasting huge amounts of money on it. It used to be called “La Gran Venezuela”, now it is called a revolution. Same thing, different decade. Expected,
yes, you could read it here,
here or here months
ago in this blog.

The sad
part is that the workers were told they owned the company and now they discover
that they owe the Government the funds for their share of the equity, but on
top of that they have little say in how the company is being run, by whom and
what is done with the cash flow it generates. In the end they own nothing, they have seen no improvement in their salaries, lives or working conditions.

exactly a worker’s paradise.

In a few
months you will hear similar problems coming out of Inveval (Valve coop) or
Invetex (textile coop). The Government chose as pilots for their infamous “congestion”
or shared management three companies that were closed by their rightful owners
(Inveval and Invetex) because they simply had no future or a third one
(Invepal) that began shutting down facilities in order to try to rescue the
remainder of the company. Unfortunately, the rightful owners never thought politics
would get in the way so much as to force the shutdown of the company, the illegal
expropriation of the company and the rest as they say is simply history.

You can’t
improvise and ignore the basic rules of economics and human behavior (Which may be the same in the end!). This is simply Chavez’ invention of a workers corporate paradise which only exists in his imagination. But hey!
Now we are doing the same with failed companies in Uruguay and trying in Brazil, exporting both the the crummy model and the silly revolution!

A bad day for Venezuelan democracy

June 27, 2006

Not much can be said, I thought that what the oppsoition needed to get people going was a primary, but today Sumate said that there is no longer time to organize one. This is disheartening, as I have said before what this country needs is more democracy and we seem not to be getting more from either side. Primero Justicia candidate Julio Borges said that he was still committed to primaries, while the Government obviously rejoiced with Vice-President Rangel saying the opposition was simply burying a cadaver, while Minsiter of Communications Lara said that the primaries were Bush’s Troy Horse (??).Sumate basically is saying taht thsi was their timetable and if they want primaries it is now or never.

Now either the candidates agree to a primary quickly or they decide among themselves who the candidate should be. I still believe that the primary was the better mechanism, no matter what. It is more democratic, allows people to participate and, in my own opinion, it was a mechanism to get people mobilized. Nothing was ever lost by asking people what they think.

Things I wished I had more time to write about

June 25, 2006

So many
things going on, it’s hard to write about everything I would like, here
are the things I would write about tomorrow, if I had the time:

–The Head
of the Comptrolling Committee of the National Assembly went to the Supreme
Court to clarify the role of the Assembly in comptrolling how funds are used by
the Government and whether they are spent according to what the Assembly
approved. The Deputy said that the books handed in by Ministries and other
institutions that depend on the Government were “huge useless tomes”,
impossible to audit and lacking the necessary information for any sort of

–In October
2004, Carlos Barboza won the race for Mayor of the Miranda municipality of Zulia
state by more than 3,000 votes (with a total of 12,443). Last week, the
Electoral Hall of the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled that the backing of the
losing candidate from COPEI after the election took place,
giving him more than four thousand votes and thus defeating Barboza. Thus, the
Court ruled, the new Mayor is the MVR candidate Tiberio Bermudez. The most interesting
facts about the decision is that COPEI itself says that it never backed
Bermudez before or after the election. Additionally, it is unheard of that a
party can change who it backs after the decision, COPEI’s candidate was Henoc
Guerere and he campaigned until the last day. Moreover, Barboza is closely
aligned with Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales.

–Hugo Chavez
announced yesterday that General Raul Baduell will be the new Minister of
Defense. Baduell was the man that brought Chavez back in April 2002. He is a strange
character who believes in reincarnation and has personal ambitions. He has told
his close friends in private that if Chavez can be President, he is much better
qualified to occupy the position. Reportedly Chavez did not trust Baduell
sufficiently to name him Minister, but he decided to go for him to strike a
balance within the so called Chavismo sin Chavez movement and the military.

–The much
ballyhooed contract between Petroecuador and Venezuela was suspended due to

–Chavez promised
to build a gas pipeline to Panama,
despite the fact that experts claim Venezuela does not even have enough
natural gas to send through the Transamazonic pipeline.

said that he will initiate “monetary reform” and change the currency to make it
smaller. The only questions are whether it will still be called the Bolivar or
the Bolivariano and whether he will remove three zeroes or divide by 500.
Dividing by 500 would make the Bolivar 4.30 to the US dollar, exactly the same
it was in the “glory” days of Venezuelans traveling abroad to shop, because
everything ta’barato (it’s cheap)

Government was ready to issue US$ 3.5 billion in debt under PDVSA, thinking
that it would be cheaper for that company to issue debt than for the Government
to do it. However, they apparently did not take into account that the company
has yet to file its 2004 financials (despite announcements that it “was” done
last week and has no plans to make any future filings. In fact, this week,
credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the four oil partnerships that produce
heavy oil to a notch below Venezuela’s
sovereign bonds. The reason? Increased royalties, increase taxes and, get this,
the risk
that PDVSA may want to control and take over a majority stake of the projects. In
the end, it will likely be a PDVSA issue with a sovereign-like coupon, not what
the Government had planned.

Four people drove straight through the fallen viaduct in a car and died. Here is one tragedy you can’t blame on the Government, these guys must have been really loaded!

–Last week Bill Gates announced he would quit Microsoft to devote himself full time to his foundation, today Warren Buffet, the world’s richest man, announced that he will give 85% of his money to charity with the largest share going to Gates’ foundation, which will go from the best endowed foundation in the world to the best endowed foundation in the world. I must say, it is a great way to spend their money and the world has never seen anything ever in the scale of what these guys are doing. Hats off to both of them!

Daniel sends a letter on the subversive value of futbol

June 25, 2006

Daniel from Venezuelan News and Views contributes this letter to my blog in reply to my letter on Friday, explaining how the futbol watching may even be subversive:

Dear Miguel

I read your great letter of
last Friday
. I think you are quite right
in asking all of these soccer, football, futbol fans to consider giving from
their time at least the duration of one of these games they watched to the
cause of democracy. I could not be more in agreement with you.

However I think there is
something that you missed in the whole phenomenon.

You do point rightly that
in Caracas and the main cities of Venezuela there
is almost no eatery that do not display a TV set during game time, with dozens
of people clustering around. We never see that, even during a “World
Series” featuring some Venezuelan pitcher. I know you cannot quite
make sense of it as you are a devoted Red Sox fans. You even write
“[soccer] is not as much of an integral part of our heritage”. And
that is why I think you missed a critical point.

Of course, I am not writing
to justify my own distraction with the World Cup, to the point of opening a temporary
blog dedicated to it
. You know
very well the uncounted hours I have spent “quemandome las pestañas” describing
all the abuses, arrogance and incompetence of the undemocratic regime we live
under. But where you miss the point is
the almost rage with which we are enjoying this World Cup. At least those of us
who decided to do so: it is almost an act of rebellion.

Last World Cup was stolen
from me. Not only because the time
difference with Korea and Japan was
settled for the European TV market benefit, but because it was 2002 and we were
trying to overcome the consequences of the April 2002 events. The Cup was stolen from us by Chavez and his unwillingness
to settle the issues raised in 2002. He
kept the country askance on whether a truth commission would be installed, on
whether a democratic dialogue will be attempted to reconcile the country. Nothing was done, the tensions were fawned and
we ended up in a painful strike and even more painful Recall Election process. Who could care then about a distant World

Since then Chavez has always
wanted to steal all attention to him, be it his social programs (many a failure
but successes in that they keep Chavez at the center), be it his foreign
ambitions and his forgetfulness and obvious boredom as to Venezuelan matters. Thus, in this electoral campaign as Chaves is
trying to tighten the yoke around the opposition neck, he is again trying to
steal the World Cup from us, from me. And
I will not let him get away with it, and we will not let him get away with it. In fact we are succeeding as Chavez has had to
cancel two Alo Presidente, has had to postpone the cadena on
the Carabobo parade. Almost with cruelty
we are letting know that his antics are less interesting than a Tunisia Saudi
Arabia game.

But it goes even further:
football is allergic to authoritarian regimes, futbol is perhaps the most democratic
sports that exists. And not because you
can play it barefoot with a tin can and two sticks as a gate. No, Futbol is a unique combination of individual
brilliance, daring initiative, disinterested team work and art. No Eastern block country could ever manage to
control this team sport the way it control the other ones at one point or
another. Even Cuba can control baseball but is
unable to play football. Such regimes
frown on the values that drive football, the most anti ideological game that
exists. I believe that there is a reason
why Chavez likes baseball so much, the control and “protagonismo” one can reach
there. Pele would have never been Pele
without Brazil and Brazil would have not been Brazil without Pele. When Chavez yesterday said that today was an important
day in futbol because Ecuador
played he did not realize how much of a provincial ignoramus in soccer he
revealed himself to be.

Thus I hope you can forgive
us while we enjoy futbol, perhaps there is more subversion to it than what you
might think.