Archive for March, 2007

Minister Cabezas on poverty levels: Ignorance or deceit?

March 20, 2007

The other day I wrote a post about how I was starting to get worried about some statements by the new Minister of Finance Rodrigo Cabezas. Essentially he had made a number of statements that implied that the Minister either did not understand the magnitude of his problems managing the economy, or he was simply being cynical about it and trying to put a good face on a very difficult situation.

Well, today’s statements by Cabezas on poverty confirm my concerns, but also introduce the possibility that the Minister is simply incredibly ignorant. Cabezas said, while in Guatemala, that the Chavez Government had managed to lower poverty from 80.1% in 2003 to 39.4% in 2006. Now, so that there is no room for error or believe that he made a mistake, he expanded this by saying that in 2003 poverty was at 55.1% and critical poverty was at 25%, which adds up to 80.1%, while now poverty is at 30.3% and critical poverty stood at 9.1 for a total of 39.4%.

Well, these are either extremely ignorant statements, if I give the Minister of Finance the benefit of the doubt, or they represent a blatant attempt to tell a lie by him. Let’s review the facts:

1) Poverty in Venezuela has never reached 80%. President Hugo Chavez during his 1998 Presidential campaign popularized this number and at some point I found a couple of dozen links that propagated this lie. But the truth as measured by the National Institute for Statistics (INE) is nothing to be proud of either, as poverty levels did reach 70% in 93 and 96, but never as high as the 80% quoted by Chavez so often and which was repeated by Cabezas as shown in the following graph which I plotted earlier:

2) What the Minister seems to be confusing, and I give him the benefit of the doubt on this, is that the total poverty number includes critical poverty. Thus, the 55.1% he quotes includes the 25% of critical poverty in 2003 and does not get added to it as he stated as Cabezas did, poverty includes critical poverty, as shown clearly in the following graph, for data from another graph with official data and that of the Catholic University:

Now, there are two possible interpretations. One, Cabezas does not understand this, which is scary, given that a Minister should have an intimate knowledge of what I think is the country’s most important problem. The second one, is that he is trying to deceive the international media, since the statement was made during a trip to Guatemala. Obviously, neither of the two is satisfactory.

But even worse, the Minister seems to make a mistake with the 2003
number,, adding the two, but not with the data from 2006, a convenient “white lie” to say the
least. If he had “added” it wrongly in the same manner, he would have obtained 49% not 39.4%.

At the same time, and as discussed here, poverty experts, both pro and against Chavez have a hard time understanding the “magical” drop in official poverty levels in 2006, more so given that INE and the Social Studies Center at Catholic University have always differed quantitatively, but tracked each other rather well, since the only difference in the two is how the cost of living is taken into account in their methodology. In fact, the difference should have led to the INE poverty number being higher, rather than lower than that of Catholic University.

But the most remarkable thing is that even if it were true, bringing poverty down to 39.4% in 2006, simply brought poverty to roughly the same level found by Hugo Chavez when he became President in 1998, despite the biggest oil windfall in the country’s history. Some achievement no?

Not exactly a record to be proud of after eight years of Government.


How the robolution cynically flaunts their newly found wealth

March 19, 2007

Yesterday we saw one of those “robolutionary moments”, where you realize how those leading the revolution, particularly active or former military officers, have lost all perspective about what they are even supposed to stand for. None other than the retired burping General Acosta Carles, who retired so that he would become Governor of Carabobo state riding Chavez’ coattails, had the audacity to complain about those that criticize that Government officials are buying Hummers right and left. This is what he said:

“Are you telling me that us revolutionaries don’t have the right to have a Hummer or a car. If we make the dough, we can do it, or is that exclusive to only some?”

Well, let’s look at the issue. All of a sudden, in a few states around Venezuela, Hummers have sprouted around driven by Government officials. Barinas and Carabobo state have been particularly noted for being populated by an inordinate amount of privately owned Hummers, driven by Government officials.

The first problem is that Hummers are quite noticeable. They used to be uncommon in Venezuela as there is no formal distribution of them in the country and those that have them import them directly. The second problem is price.  A Hummer sells for some Bs. 250 million delivered in Caracas, due to the 40%  import duty and the 15% luxury tax and you have to add the VAT to all that. Bs. 250 million is US$ 116,000 at the official rate of exchange or US$ 66,000 at the parallel rate of exchange. Now, this represents 500 times the minimum monthly wage in Venezuela and 17 times the highest monthly salary that a Government worker can earn, according to the decree issued by Chavez in January. Thus, can Governor Acosta Carles explain to us how come one is beginning to see Hummers all over the place? Where are all these Government officials “making so much dough” to be able to afford them?

But more importantly, one would think that leadership by example should be of importance in a “revolution”. There seems to be something very cynical about preaching about the poor, XXIst. Century Socialism and solidarity and then driving around in a car that represents an “in your face” insult to the poor of Venezuela.

But once again, I would reiterate my question: How many Government officials can afford to buy a Hummer on their Government salaries? Moreover, a retired General like Acosta Carles gets a pension of about one third of the highest monthly salary allowed, which was set at Bs. 15 million. Thus, can Acosta  Carles or his friends afford one? How?

This is part of the cynicism of the revolution, particularly the military, who are becoming very rich and flaunting it, without regards to ethics and morals, like it has never been flaunted in this country’s history, while they claim to hurt for the poor at the same time. Of course, in the absence of checks and balances and the rule of law, they get away with it daily.

Here and there in the revolution

March 18, 2007

Lots of stuff happening, but so little time, but here and there in the revolution in the last few days:

—In a sign of increasing intolerance, daily protests on regular issues are being criminalized and the media does not even talk about it. Free speech, sure…

—And speaking of intolerance, Chavez tells Podemos, Patria para Todos (PPT) and the Communist Party that he does not want allies like them for his “Partido Unico” after all three have balked about joining it. Thus the single party (PUS) will be called Partido Unico, but it might as well be called Movimiento Quinta Republica. Once again Chavez’ democratic vocation is nowhere to be found…for the autocrat, either you are with him 100%, or you are his enemy.

—And how about this plan to give the poor…..military, more benefits and perks. Five funds to give them more perks that normal Venezuelans don’t have. Lifetime medical benefits. 100% pension after 20 years. If you rejoin the military by Presidential grace, you will get all these benefits retroactively, a sure way to make the revolutionary officers that were kicked out for violating the law in the 1992 coup get all of these new perks. Someone should make a movie entitled “How the military stole Venezuela”.

—And how about funn yman Jose Vicente Rangel denouncing corruption in the second episode of his Sunday interview program in TV station Televen! He gave us nicknames for the corrupt, not names. It’s a real pity he was never named to any important positions during the last eight years, where he could have fought corruption….What?… Really? ….It’s the same guy?… The former Minister of Defense? ….The former Vice-President? Well, I am sure he has some sort of explanation.

—In defense of the Government, it is not true that Chavez has spent billions abroad. Not all of it gets spent. Ask the Uruguayans who have yet to see a penny of the more than US$ 600 million promised by the autocrat almost a year ago. The “La Teja” refinery has not received a penny of the money promised to expand it, the cheap oil never arrived and the not so cheap oil turns out to be expensive.

—And how about the solidarity of the Government with the workers of Electricidad de Caracas? The soon to be taken over company had negotiated a new contract with the union and the Government stopped the signing of the contract.

—And how about that other funny man, the Governor of Aragua State Didalco Bolivar who all of a sudden has discovered the Electoral Board (CNE) does not play fair. Daniel has covered the issue extensively, but I have to wonder where Didalco was when the CNE played all the dirty tricks with the recall referendum petition and the CNE’s magnus opus of deceit on August 14th. 2004? What is he so surprised about?

—And how about the Government’s proposal to create an “OPEC of gas exporters”. Wasn’t that already created under the name Gas Exporters Forum in 2001 and Venezuela is a member of it? Did we not pay the dues? Or was it that we never went to a meeting? Or is it simply a matter of lack of institutional memory?

—And isn’t it nice that now that Chavismo has discovered that a recall vote against Manuel Rosales would not work, the National Assembly, in its democratic spirit, is asking the Prosecutor to investigate him for using resources for something different that what they were assigned to? If you investigated all Government officials for this, we would be left without any Government. Hey, that sounds so good all of a sudden!

—And how about architect Fruto Vivas elegantly blasting Chavez over and over in today’s El Nacional: Of the La Carlota project that Chavez said he had commission the project to him, Vivas says it never happened. Of his housing project for the poor he presented in 2000, Vivas says it was discarded when the Director of CONAVI was changed. On health care, Vivas says what is being done is “pretty” but hospitals have no medicines and sheets. Vivas closes by saying he does not believe in half of Venezuela trying to solve the country’s problems. Ouch!

Espectacular Exposicion de Orquideas en el Sambil

March 17, 2007

Aprovechen este fin de semana en el Centro Comercial Sambil de Caracas esta la exposicion de la Asociasion Venezolana de Orquideologia. Ahi podran ver una excelente muestra de la variedad de orquideas tan espectaculares que tiene nuestro pais. Abre a las 10 AM. Abajo una presentacion de las fotos que tome hoy, la luz no era muy buena, pero pueden ver que maravillas hay.

Spectacular orchid exhibit this weekend in Caracas

March 17, 2007

This weekend was the orchid exhibit of AVO, Asociacion Venezolana de Orquideologia, where hundreds of Venezuelan orchids were exhibited. Venezuela has an amazing variety of orchid species, some of them disappearing with development, but there is also a very active orchid community preserving and propagating them in the laboratories. What you can see at that exhibit is absolutely unique, as only in Venezuela can you see such an incredible variety of orchids. Lighting was not great, but I managed to take some good pictures, which you can see here in the slide show or in still pictures in the Orchid section of this blog. Enjoy!

Open the gap, partner by Teodoro Petkoff

March 17, 2007

Nothing beats the Government’s own numbers in monitoring the progress of the “revolution” and in the pen of Teodoro Petkoff, they also make for entertaining reading

Open the gap, partner by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

The government of the “revolution”, in spite of all its diatribes and beyond the “missions”, has clearly underprivileged the popular sectors. With an economic policy that has destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs – more than half of the manufacturing plants of the country have closed between 1999 and 2006-, it has not only created unemployment and maintained and reinforced the informal sector, whose remuneration is precarious and lacks the rights consecrated in labor legislation, but it so happens that the proportion in which the annual Gross Domestic Product is distributed (GDP) (that is the value what is produced sold in the country in a year) between companies – both Government and private, and the workers, has been made more and more unfavorable for the last few years. In other words, during the years of Chavismo the gap of inequality has widened.

The numbers do not lie. In any case, they come from the Central Bank, still not forced to lie, that is to say, to fabricate statistics for use of the Emperor. The excess of Explotation (EE) – a concept that the BCV uses to denominate the income of the companies, both Government as well as private, was in 1999, 34% of the GDP, whereas the remunerations of employees and workers (REO) reached 36% of the GDP that year. Indirect taxes (II) amounted to 10% of the GDP. In 2006, the EE was 46% of the GDP, this is, 12 points more than in 1999; whereas the REO went down to 28% of the GDP, that is to say, 8 points less than in 1999. The indirect taxes stayed at 10% of the GDP. In other words, during “the process”, the status of workers went down atrociously. The breach that separates the income of those “that have” from those “that do not have” has widened during the government of I the Supreme..

Like in so many other aspects of “the socialist” management, the distance between what is said and fact are as wide as the big mouth of its Maximum Leader. But, there is more. On the matter of inflation, which, as is already known, constitutes the most regressive of all “taxes” that the population pays, because the rise of the prices punishes with greater force the poorest, the situation of our humble people is horrible. In comparison with the richest layers, the poorest have supported an inflation, between February of 2003 and he same month in 2007, 14% higher than that of the first group. In that period, always according to the BCV, the accumulated inflation for the poorest was 104%, while for the richest they data shows an accumulated inflation, for the same period, of 89.7%. Comtrast this data with the equivalent one for the period February-1999 to February 2003, when the accumulated inflation struck evenly to all layers of the population.

That is that as went from humanist Bolivarianism to anti-Capitalism and “socialism”, the cost of living showed no mercy and was much more cruel with the poorest Venezuelans.

When the car of good intentions (supposing that they really exist) is driven by an inept novice, it inevitably ends up in Hell.

Exhibit of the Asociacion Venezolana de Orquideologia

March 17, 2007

This weekend was the orchid exhibit of the AVO, Asociacion Venezolana de Orquideas, at a local shopping center called Sambil. It is a good place to have it because lot of people go to Sambil, but it is not a great place to see them or take pictures because the lights are fluorescent and distort colors. Below is a sample of the wonders there, this is a good time to have an exhibit, because lots of the local species are in flower, even if I had very little. I took one plant, shown below and got second place, also deservedly so. I have notes of what everything below is, but will have no time to sort through it till tomorrow, in the meantime enjoy the view!

Above left, Agustin Morales (Nitsuga Orchids) decorated his post with paintings of orchids, you can see a Cattleya Mossiae (Venezuela’s National flower, below a painting of a Cattleya Lueddemanianna. On the right, a Dendrobium Superbum from Asia, which beat my plant in ts category for first place and deservedly so. This plant was spectacular, I could not fit it all in the frame.

A nice single plant of Cattleya Mossiae from Xavier Caballero on the left. On the right, a remarkable Cattleya Mossiae semi-alba which is splashed, owned by Armando Mantellini. A few years ago, not one splashed plant was known, now through breeding of splashed plants with each others, we are seeing more and more.

On the right Paphiopedium Starship Voodoo Magic

Cattleya Violacea which won first place. It was far away and I could not get a goo picture of it. On the right another beautiful Cattleya Violacea. Imagine the one on the left is better!

On the left is my Dendrobium Thyrsiflorum from Asia. I was lucky to get it to flower just in time, the day of the judgeing all bunches were opened and by Sunday, some will closed. Timing was perfect, which shows you need good luck too!
On the right is a Vanda hybrid.

The two plants abobe are Phragmipedium Den Winsar

On the left Cattleya Dayana from Plantio La Orquidea, on the right Epicattleya Renne Marquis

Chavez interviewed tonight by Barbara Walters, BS from the autocrat

March 16, 2007

So, am I supposed to get excited because Barbara Walters was charmed by the Autocrat/Dictator in that interview tonight? Please give me a break. The Chavez she saw was the snake charmer of the “love campaign” ast Fall, but we have seen what he means by love then and now with his renewed threats to friends and foe alike after he was reelected.

As proof, I saw a clip today in which Chavez claims to “respect” Condoleezza Rice.

Ummm, very interesting, wasn’t she the woman he called “illiterate”, despite the fact that she has a Ph.D. was a professot at Stanford University and is an accomplished classical musician?. And wasn’t she the woman that Chavez suggested needed to be provided with sexual favors, but he would not do that even for his fatherland and then started asking for volunteers among his cronies?

Is that respect? No, that was disgusting, shameful, sexist and gross behavior by anyone, more so a Head of State. So, maybe some Americans including Ms. Walters can be charmed by the lies and gross behavior of Hugo Chavez, but they should not waste their time believing that he is more conciliatory, he is just a great actor. Just pure Bush-bashing cynical propaganda aimed at fooling naive Americans who dislike their President.

If Ms. Walters was a true reporter, she would show the videos of Chavez doing and saying exactly the opposite. Or asking him how he can wear that watch and suit while people die o malnutrition or hunger. Or how come after the oil windfall, all numbers on health, poverty, education have barely budged. But I am sure she wouldn’t. It doesn’t sell…

Recently acquired Russian AK-103 military rifles used in raiding opposition offices

March 16, 2007

And just so that there is no doubt about the militaristic and autocratic Government of Hugo Chavez, below you can see the picture from the raid by the intelligence police of the headquarters of the two opposition groups Comando de la Resistencia and Alianza al Bravo Pueblo. See the weapons? They are the AK-103 rifles imported from the Russia. When these refiles were bought we were told that it was time to upgrade the FAL’s that the Armed Forces were using, that the new ones would be used to protect our sovereignty, defend the country and the like. Well, here you see two civilian cops raiding two opposition groups using these “military-only” rifles in a raid in Caracas.

Who else is carrying them?

How many Venezuelans will be killed with the 100,000 rifles purchased?

By the way, in the raids looking for weapons, they found fliers and posters defending human rights, mathematical studies of the Electoral Registry and forms to ask permission from local authorities to hold marches.

Maybe they are looking for “weapons” in the wrong places?

Opposition persecution continues by Chavez’ autocratic Government

March 16, 2007

So, this Government which is so “democratic” and respectful of “Human Righst” raids the offices of opposition group Comando de la Resistancia and Alianza al Bravo Pueblo, ostensibly looking for weapons, which were not found. Meanwhile pro-Chavez supporters like Lina Ron and the Tupamaros go around Caracas armed to the teeth and even daring to stop civilians to check them.

Meanwhile the Prosecutor holds a press conference to say that student leader Nixon Moreno can not receive political asylum because he is not being charged with a political crime, but a common crime. Sure, his “common” crime is that he was truly democratically elected as student leader of the University of Los Andes and led protests when the National Guard illegally entered that university. This led the same Prosecutor’s office to issue a search warrant only for him. Yeap, this is not political…Curious how it is always opposition leaders, sounds like Mugabe to me.

Another one in the long list of human rights violations of Hugo Chavez the autocrat…What else is new, but it is on the records…