Archive for December, 2006

A picture is worth 10,000 words #12: The Manufacturing Sector II

December 20, 2006

Number of jobs in the manufacturing sector for medium and small size companies


The unchanging face of Venezuela’s undemocratic political parties

December 20, 2006

These are bad days for democracy in Venezuela. The continued avoidance of democratic methods is creating crisis and problems in both Chavez’ coalition and in opposition party Primero Justicia. The two cases are actually quite related and in some sense rather curious: They originate in the continued use of a Stalinist structure by Venezuelan political parties, where a few self-chosen ones decide, appoint and control or at least attempt to control events.

Thus, eight years after Chavez was elected under his now almost forgotten slogan of participatory democracy, our political parties, or the remains of them, continue to be run in the same manner they were run since 1958 and likely before. What is more remarkable about this is that the 2000 Bolivarian Constitution mandates exactly the opposite (Art. 67), specifically saying that the authorities of political organizations will have to be elected via elections by its members. Despite this mandate, not a single party has actually followed up on this, refusing to hold elections In fact, the Constitution also mandates that all candidates for office have to be selected by election among its members, but to date, except in a handful of cases in regional elections, no party has done so for all of its candidates, using the infamous “private poll”, which is agreed on in smoke-filled rooms and conducted by unknown pollsters.

In Venezuela, the more things change the more they stay the same and this issue is not new. In the 48 years of Venezuelan democratic history, parties have mostly used delegates, handpicked by the leaders in each state, to select and elect both the authorities of the parties as well as the candidates for election.

There have been some exceptions, none of which ended well. In the 1960’s Accion Democratica (AD) held elections at the base to elect its presidential candidate. The election was held and the members of the party voted for educator Luis Beltran Prieto Figueroa. The de facto leader of that party Romulo Betancourt voided the selection, handpicking close ally and friend Gonzalo Barrios. This led to one of the many divisions of that party and to Barrios’ defeat to Rafael Caldera by a mere 30,000 votes.

Many years later Caldera himself abandoned the party he had founded, COPEI, when the delegates chose his heir apparent Eduardo Fernandez to be the party’s candidate. Everyone thought Caldera was dead politically, but no such luck.

Fernandez lost the election and tried to be a candidate again n 1993. In a democratic gesture, which I thought was clever politically, Fernandez decided that any Venezuelan citizen could vote at COPEI’s primary. The citizens thought otherwise, and voted Zulia Governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz as COPEI’s candidate, stunning Fernandez. Alvarez Paz was at teh time so confident that he first disappeared from public view, to rest, and later decided that he disagreed with Carlos Andres Perez’ impeachment, so he disappeared again as CAP was impeached, never to recover.

Since then, not a single Presidential candidate or party authority has been elected democratically, despite the many claims of participatory democracy and the like.

The last week has seen a lot of news and tension surrounding Chavez proposal to unify his party and now with Primero Justicia’s demand for more democracy. In both cases, it reflects the traditional attempt by leaders to control, as well as growing pains in both cases, even if they are at different stages.

In the case of Chavez’ proposal, the whole idea stems from his tendency to exercise control as well as the fact that he prefers to have as little dissent as possible within his ranks. Thus, the presence of both PODEMOS and PPT (Patria Para Todos), represent for Chavez an unnecessary nuisance that he now is trying to simply wipe out. The threat is simple, either you accept to merge your party into his or else. Of course, there are no promises of whether those that agree will have even a relevant position in the new structure (Whose name has now been changed to Partico Unico Venezolano Socialista (PUVS), after Petkoff’s Editorial translated here)

The problem is that political parties and their leaders in Venezuela have historically tended to fade into oblivion after merging with other parties. Even worse, both PODEMOS and PPT had never obtained any significant fraction of the votes in any national election until, you guessed it, last Dec. 3d, when they got 6.5% and 5.1% of the Presidential votes respectively. Thus their leaders are reluctant to give up their constituency, when they know the party leaders will be chosen singlehandedly by Chavez and they are likely to be mostly former military.

Priemro Justicia’s problems are similar. The failure to use democratic means in its origins, is now hurting the party as it got its first significant results (11%) nationally. From a group of friends in Caracas, the party expanded nationally in the last two years, except that the party’s electoral structure is weak and largely controlled by those that were there at the beginning, but are the least favored leaders by the party’s members.

For PJ, the discussion is really making it look bad. After the relative success of the party on Dec. 3d., it is now embroiled in a daily and sometimes violent discussion about how to choose their leaders. The discussion is in the end somewhat sterile, but threatens to divide the party just when it seemed to be one of the few surviving political organizations in the country.

Primero Justicia can at least argue that its fight is about its internal democracy, which is not the case in Chavez’ case, where his emblematic institution, Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR), was dissolved without much noise and without the input of the members of the party.

In both cases, Venezuela and its citizens lose. The caudillos are the eternal and unquestionable leaders of this dysfunctional democracy. After decades of asking for more democracy, Venezuelans seem to be getting the shaft in all fronts and the leaders don’t seem to be paying much attention. As I said at the beginning: the more things change in my country, the more they stay the same.

Weil’s depiction of Venezuelan Justice

December 20, 2006

Weil strikes again with his depiction of the Venezuelan Courts

This Court still has insufficient proof to determine who is devouring you

The new Social Services Bill: Proving common sense is the least common of all senses

December 19, 2006

I have been meaning to discuss the new “Social Services Bill” approved by the Venezuelan National Assembly last week, but the topic has so many edges to it, that I wanted to think a little before tackling it. In brief, the National Assembly last Thursday approved a Bill which will make it obligatory for any Venezuelan between the ages of 15 and 50 to provide five hours a month of free “social” service for a total of two years.

Before we start, I need to make clear that this law, when The President signs it and becomes effective does not apply to me, so it is not as if it bugs me that I will have to do this, since I have no vested interest in it.

Perhaps my biggest objection to the Bill is simply that I have a hard time imagining in what mind it can possibly fit the idea that something like this will work in a country, which is practically dysfunctional in most areas. Instead of trying to get an ineffective Government to work in areas which are critical such as health care, housing and the like, the members of the National Assembly (I can’t insult them, it would be illegal!) approve the creation of a bureaucracy under the name of INASES, which if read in English, the last part of the acronym would describe them rather well. This new institution will be in charge of making sure that some 15 million people do monthly, free, community or social work, which is so broadly defined, that almost any activity would fall under its definition. More bureaucracy, more Government workers, which next time the economy takes a downturn, will see their salaries destroyed.

As if this was not sufficient, the Bill also mandates the creation of “networks” for social service. Every institution, be it public or private, will have to have its own “network” of people who will elect a Board, which will coordinate the activities, plan and coordinate them and report top INASES every three months and “reward” those that do a good job.

There will be sanctions; those that do not comply will have to pay an amount to be determined by INASES in regulations to be issued in the future. The fines will be deducted from your salary or you will pay them with service, just in case you don’t have a job. (Meant to be a joke!)

Now, my first objection is why it should be free. Who gave the Government power to “use” us, at no cost? They already throw away our money in their harebrained projects. People doing their military service get paid. Students providing service under the new community service law get paid. People who serve in juries get paid. People who participate in handling the vote in elections get paid. Under which part of the Constitution or the law for that matter, is the Government allowed to dispose of our time at no cost? Thus, just on these bases I not only disagree, but I strongly object to the Bill.

A secondary aspect of this is that this will have a negative impact on voluntary social services across Venezuela. Since your “organization” will tell you what to do, if you do something else voluntarily, which actually happens quite a bit, then you will have to comply with the mandatory service at the expense of the voluntary one.

But let’s look at the reality of Venezuela. We live in a country where 50% of the people are unemployed or are part of the informal economy. Of the other half, a full 30% barely makes a subsistence salary and even among those employed, the purchasing power of their salary is low, due to years of inflation and devaluation. (A recent university graduate makes $10,000 a year if he or she is lucky to get a job). Add to this that most families are headed by single women who receive no aid from the father(s) of the children. To make matters worse, those that have formal or informal jobs spend an average of over two hours in traffic to get to and from work daily and most work six days a week. Thus, to spice up their already crummy life the Government is going to force them to spend five hours a month doing unpaid social service and they will likely have to pay their own transportation, pay their meals away from home, get some family member to take care of the kids while they are away and the Government will pay them absolutely nothing for their inconvenience and taking the little free time away from them. You have got to be kidding me!

And then we come to Venezuelan Ingenuity, locally known as “Viveza Criolla” (Loosely translated as “Creole sneakiness”). You have created a system, which is decentralized to supervise a system of social work by everyone within the organization, where you work or where you live. What will stop them from simply filling out the paperwork and signing off on everyone and going off to drink some beers, going dancing (cultural?) or playing baseball? Or how about charging for certifying you did the work? Or how about choosing a “soft” activity for everyone to fulfill the job?

After all, the definition of the activities is as follows: I) Improvement of schools, health care facilities, plazas, parks and gardens ii) “Self-construction” of family housing iii) Elaboration, conduction, execution and evaluation of community plans iv) Elaboration, conduction, execution and evaluation of cultural activities. (Define cultural!) v) Social support with priority for kids, adolescents, seniors citizens, people with drug problems, handicapped, families of the victims of crime. And vi) promotion of activities that create social consciences and more sensitivity towards social activities.

And then we come to the political angle. Everything tends in the end to be political for Chavismo. Thus, expect “networks” to be created to promote Chavista candidates or causes, political campaigning and the like. Or to squeal on their neighbors, who are not loyal. Or who speak badly of Huguito. Or on those who lie about their “revolutionary” spirit and commitment. Or just to watch and spy on them. All for a “social” cause.

In the end the possibilities are as endless as the level of incompetence of those that thought of this Bill. These are the same people who are already changing the Constitution they wrote, only six years after they did it. Who have yet to even issue the laws and the regulation that same Constitution mandated. Who have tripled the number of employees of the National Assembly, while its output has dwindled to historically low levels. Who have given up their right to inspect and supervise how the Government spends. Who believe that laws fix all of the problems of a society and a country. Who unconditionally accept what the Supreme Autocrat says. Who have quadrupled their salaries and given themselves huge bonuses in the name of the “revolution” and because they truly “care” for the people.

The same people who simply have no clue at all…and this Bill proves it.

Because common sense is the least common of all senses.

An interesting electoral correlation

December 18, 2006

Tal Cual published today this interesting graph correlating Chavez’ votes and poverty in each state, if you remove Zulia from the statistics, then the correlation coefficient is 0.70. I guess there is no incentive for Chavez to eliminate poverty.

A picture is worth 10,000 words #11: Trading with the Evil Empire

December 18, 2006

Trading with the Evil Empire has not suffered despite the rhetoric. The blue bars show Venezuelan exports to the US, the red bars US exports to Venezuela. Venezuelan exports to the land of the Devil himself are up four-fold since Chavez took over.

The Sole Finger by Teodoro Petkoff

December 18, 2006

The Sole Finger by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

The process of the creation of the Partido Unico Socialista (PUS, what an acronym!) is proceeding at full speed, adhering itself to the regulations inherent to a participative democracy like the Venezuelan one. The unique star of the revolution, the father of the ice cream, the exclusive owner of the votes, has participated his political allies that each political party can do whatever it wants, but if they do not join PUS, they will be kicked out of the Government. Obviously such a “democratic” and “respectful” query of the opinions of others must have the leaders of the parties that have accompanied Chavez’ MVR for the last eight year pondering.

The same thing must be happening with those in MVR itself, because after the public scolding that Chavez gave Jose Vicente Rangel and Jesse Chacon in the Panteon Nacional itself, live and direct, nobody knows how the Supreme Finger is going to move in the next few weeks. Chávez said that he was tired of the acts of his fingers, but surely that tiredness must be much like the one that he had after he “buried” the Maisanta/Tascon list. Neither that one lays cold in its tomb nor will his tireless finger cease pointing out who the leaders of PUS will be. Not even if he wanted it to be different, because article ONE of the tacit bylaws of the Bloque de Cambio (which is the name, for now, of the coalition of Chavista parties), clearly states that “the President will have the last word”, as has been said and repeated by any of our “countrymen” who gives his opinion about any matter related to candidacies, positions and other perks which derive from power. Nobody that surrounds him that is not insane, who does not tremble in his presence or sucks up to him, as it happens with all autocratic and authoritarian rulers, would even dare to suggest any name, until he is sure of what “I, the Supreme” wants.

A leader of MEP, the same person that once sent Chavez a letter complaining about his authoritarian style (of course not using that word, but it was very clear what he meant), has now rushed to assure us that his party is simply waiting for the order to live together, to take the step. The radicals have also reacted (at least via the mouth of its Secretary General) and has said that since there is no longer a Red Vatican that will tell him what to do, the will of the Unique Leader is sufficient for the Central Committee to approve the creation of PUS without the need for debate that, in any case, would be a waste of time.

But in PPT and Podemos, which appear to think that the votes they got, do not in anyway belong to Chavez, they are somewhat hesitant.

In fact, a leader of one of those two parties, who, using the newspaper cliché, “shall remain anonymous”-and I will not squeal on him- “If the votes were Chavez’ they would have been for MVR, if they voted for us, there must be a reason”

This has some logic, of course.

The problem is that the commander, like in the barracks, accepts no discussions.

The idea of plurality, diversity, respect for the opinions of others, is to them essentially repugnant.

He will surely get away with it because it is very difficult that the mortal dilemma that Podemos and PPT have (acceptance and perks or just suffer) will be resolved in favor of what we could call “principles”.

A picture is worth 10,000 words #10: The Manufacturing Sector

December 17, 2006

The graphs above show what has happened to the manufacturing sector in the last seven years. Top left: Employment by industrial companies in the manufacturing sector. Top Right: Employemnte by large manufacturing companies defined as those that have more than 100 employees. Source: Conindustria

Lots of species

December 17, 2006

Lots of flowering again as the weather gets cooler at night in Caracas, I am not talking anything earth shaking, just 15 or 16 Centigrades at 3 AM

Top left: First flowering of a cross between Cattleya Lueddemanniana Mariauxi x Francisco. The flower is huge, absolutely huge, showing the infleunec of the Mariauxi, the best coerulea of the species. Can’t wait next year to see what it does. Top eft: A ver y nice Catlleya lueddemanniana.

Top left, Cattleya Warneri from Brazil, Top Right: Brassavola Dygbiana

This is the first flowering of a Tria Emily Clarkson, it is a tiny thing less than half an in in size.

Cattleya Percivalliana and Vanda Sanderae

December 17, 2006

Eduardo M. sends these beautiful pctures of a Catt;eya Percivaliana and a Vanda Sanderae. Nice, no?