Archive for April, 2008

Lights out!

April 29, 2008

Today’s blackout may simply be showing the dark future awaiting us…

Miguel from the Yangtze River

What could you do with 5 billion dollars?

April 28, 2008

You can’t help but be awed by the growth of China in the last three decades. I was here twenty-two years ago and the changes are simply staggering. You hear and read mostly about the great modern infrastructure projects of China, such as the building of a whole city of modern skyscrapers in the Pudong region of Shanghai, which now has more tall buildings that New York, or the Three Gorge Dam project, where I am today. But the basic infrastructure is what has impressed me more.

In small towns like Guilin in the South, right north of Vietnam, or in Yichang along the Yangtze River, cities you may have never heard of, the highways, schools, buildings and airports have nothing to envy the best and now old infrastructure of Venezuela. In fact, it is us that should envy that infrastructure, each and every one of the airports, for example, was as modern as the Maiquetia airport. And secondary highways near the small cities I mentioned are in better shape and better maintained that Venezuela’s main highway, the Autopista Regional del Centro.

All of this infrastructure requires planning and money. What is perhaps most interesting about the planning part is that in many cases, these highways were the first things to go in, even before housing was built. Of course, by now the Chinese have lots of experience in large scale planning such as the relocating of 1.4 million inhabitants along the Yangtze River or moving a few million people from the old residential areas of Shanghai to new housing.

Which leads me to the initial question of this post: What could you do with US$ 5 billion in Venezuela, if you spent it in infrastructure projects. The question comes up, because that is precisely the amount President Chavez will be spending on buying out the cement companies and steel company Sidor.  It is not a moot question, the nationalization of these well functioning companies is being done at the expense of using the funds in new infrastructure to benefit the population, rather than power grabbing, ideological projects with no added value to the “people”.

Let’s take for example housing. Chavez has been in power nine years and in not one of them has he been able to match the lowest number achieved by the Caldera II administration in any year, despite the much lower income of those lean years.

A small apartment 80 squared meters is sold on Venezuela for Bs. 60 million. This is roughly US$ 28,000 at the official rate of exchange, which is the only one the Government recognizes. Thus, with US$ 5 billion, if you spent it all on housing, you could build 185,000 apartments, which is probably an underestimate, given that the Government would not have to buy the land to build them and I am likely overestimating the cost, since my assumptions give you a cost per square meter 350 dollars per squared meter, which is high for low income housing. But in any case, the Chavez administration has yet to exceed half that number in any given year.

Or take hospitals. I don’t know what a hospital costs, but I know somebody building a hotel In Caracas told me that each room costs US$ 4,500 per square meter, including all costs.  So, suppose we build a 200-bed hospital with 6×4 meter two bedroom rooms. This means that you have to spend some US$ 21.6 million for the rooms. Since it is a hospital and you need equipment like surgery rooms, MRI and the like, I will throw in another US$ 20 million for the rest of the infrastructure or US$ 41.6 million per 200 bed hospital. Which means you could build at least 120 200 bed hospitals with this money. Quite a few for a Government that can’t even maintain the existing ones, let alone having built a single one in nine years. (Even failed Presidential candidate Rosales has built a couple)

I am on a boat in the Yangtze, there is actually an Internet connection, but it is less than modem speed, so I don’t know how much it would cost to build a mile of highway, but maybe some reader can enlighten us.

In any case, the point is that you could do so much with US$ 5 billion for the people. The Chinese with all the quirks of their system that I am still trying to digest have proven it over and over, as I see town after town that has been built from scratch along the shores of this magnificent river. But they have also understood the power of free enterprise and markets and how when you combine the two, everything investment gets magnified for the benefit of the people.

Just the opposite of what Chavez believes in.

But in the end it takes more than money to get things done. You need money, but also management capability and the ability to dream, not dream fantasies of power and grand epic gestures, but real concrete accomplishments for the people.

As I saw the Three Gorges Dam this morning, a US$ 25 billion project, I was reminded that Venezuela has the Guri dam, the fourth largest dam in the world, finished 38 years ago. Guri was conceived, designed and completely built by year 22nd. of the now much maligned and despised Fourth Republic. At the rate we are going, one day that Republic’s revindication will be absolute.

April 26, 2008

Chávez has a dilemma: he needs a wife.

Naomi Campbell or Pilar Córdoba won’t do because he needs a Venezuelan wife.

By Venezuelan, I mean really Venezuelan, someone that was born in Venezuela, speaks Venezuelan and looks Venezuelan. She also has to be at least thirty years old and cannot have a second nationality.

It is not me who is saying this, it is the Venezuelan Constitution.

No, the Constitution does not say anything about the President’s wife, but it does say something about who can be the President of Venezuela.

That’s right:  Chávez needs a wife to propose her as the candidate for the Presidency of Venezuela in 2013. That would fix all his problems with the Constitutional Reform.

A wife as a President and him behind her, using all his power as usual, right?

Well, not quite.

The solution is not so straightforward.

The problem for Chávez is that Venezuelan wives end up being …..VENEZUELAN WIVES!

 I sure know, I’ve got one!

Before you stop reading arguing that I am a misogynist and that I shouldn’t use this blog to settle my domestic affairs, let me tell you that I think that Venezuelan women are wonderful, intelligent, competent human beings but they cannot help it: they are genetically programmed to be Venezuelan women.

When you start dating them, they answer “whatever you want, sweetheart” to any question that you may have, they are soft, gentle, understanding and sooo beautiful. They move their long hair, make you little eyes and give you a million dollar smile that takes you to flirting paradise. Then, once they get married, the genetic switch is activated and they transform themselves into “cuaimas” (see translation here)

The problem with cuaimas is that they cannot be tamed. Quite the opposite, they tame you! And if you are not happy with it, they send you to hell and leave you forever. They may or may not have a career, may or may not have kids, may or may not have money, they don’t care: cuaimas have very short tempers and a mind of their own.

So that’s Chávez dilemma: nobody knows how a Venezuelan wife will behave when put in a Presidential seat, but giving the normal behavior of any Venezuelan wife, he surely knows that’s not a very promising situation for him.

He may end up serving her  coffee in the Alo Presidenta.

So, he’d better settle for one of his brothers, or his mom.

….Although his mom also happens to be a Venezuelan wife.

Jorge Arena
Most Distinguished Returning Ghost
and PTG (Proud Tomato Grower).

April 22, 2008

Maybe the blog is recuperating, I wonder how I did that… I must be a genius or something…

April 22, 2008

This Blog is having technical problems. It is also blocked in china.

Chavez according to Caballero (Bruni’s post)

April 21, 2008

Hugo Chavez is not a communist, nor a socialist or a Muslim, as he
once said. But he is all that at the same time if it guarantees him to stay
in power forever

the above citation is due to manuel Caballero
in an excellent interview by Mori Ponsowy that appeared in March in the argentinean La Nacion. I have seldom read anything that condensates so
well my own perception of Hugo Chavez.

Here’s the translated interview and here’s my post. Enjoy.

CARACAS .- Manuel Caballero is one of the most known and
respected historians of Venezuela. National Journalism Award (1979),
National History Prize (1994) and Simon Bolivar Prize Biennale (2001), his
fame, however, is not due to his academic work, but is rather due to his
continuing work as an essayist and opinion journalist . Always
controversial, his articles generate debate not only about historical
issues, but also about the most pressing contemporary issues. Since 1965,
he has been collaborator of newspapers such as El Nacional, El Diario de
Caracas and, currently, El Universal. Despite his long militancy in the
left, the lucidity of his analysis, the iconoclasm of his ideas, and his
fervent opposition to the paternalism of the state has become a required
Sunday reading for all sectors.

Author of more than 50 books, his
writings combine historical erudition and a witty pen. He is famous for his
sense of humour and his mordacity. Our appointment is at nine o’clock, but
he suggests that it may be earlier. “At eight I have already written my
article, read all the newspapers, and when my wife lived, I had given her
her first beating,” he says, laughing at his own joke.

He lives
alone in a small apartment that, like many in Caracas, overlooks the Avila
mountain. In the bright and colorful living room where he receives La
Nación there is a table full of ornaments where live together a high Simon
Bolivar in wood, with all Mafalda’s characters. He points to us other
Argentines characters on the table: three small plastic dolls,
representing Evita, Peron and Gardel.

Caballero militated for
eighteen years in the Communist Party, was arrested during the
dictatorship, and was a founder and a member of the Movimiento al
Socialism party until it decided to support Chavez. “I told them
explicitly that if they were going to devote themselves to lick the
ass of the military, they could count me out”. Since 1958, when Perez
Jimenez felt, I have criticized every single ruler”, says Caballero, that
prides himself on not having ever worked for any government.
“That’s what gives me the authority to oppose now. I even told Ramon J.
Velasquez, whom I admire, when he assumed the presidency, that I was not
only in opposition, but that I wanted him to make a bad government so that
we Venezuelans remove from our heads the idea that everything should come
from the State. “

When asked about his political militancy, he
replies that first and foremost he is antimilitarist. “If being
antimilitarist is to be left, as I was always taught, I am on the left; if
it means to be from the right, I am on the right, if it means being in the
center, I will be in the center. But, one thing is for sure, in each case I
am in the extreme: extreme left, extreme right or extreme center.”

— Is there a socialist government in Venezuela?

This government is not socialist nor on the facts or in its approach. Hugo
Chavez is not a communist, nor a socialist or a Muslim, as he once said.
But he is all that at the same time if it guarantees him to stay in power
forever. Chavez is a chavista and what he loves about Fidel Castro
are not things that Fidel did or failed to do in Cuba, but the fact that he
has been almost half a century in power.

— Why do you claim that
Chavez is not a socialist?

– I am tempted to respond by saying that
I refer to the proofs. But I will be more friendly. The problem with the
word “socialism” is the emotional and mythic charge that it carries.
With the same word have been designated very different doctrines and
practice policies. Socialist was Stalin, like Hitler, who was a
national-socialist, and socialist was Pol Pot, on the other hand, Willy
Brandt was also a socialist. The political practice of Chavez resembles the
fascism of Mussolini and his Latin American version which was Peron, with
the difference that Peron was supported by the organised working class,
while the fundamental support for Chavez are the marginal class.

Do you find other similarities between Chavez and Peron?

– As Peron,
and perhaps more than him, Chavez is the largest demagogue in the history
of Latin America. There is a confessed liking by Chavez of Peron. When he
was in full election campaign, when he was nationalizing a group of
argentineans, he ended his speech by saying “Viva el General Peron!” In the
Paseo Vargas he made erect a statue of Evita alongside the “Che” Guevara.
Another big similarity is the use of democratic mechanisms to combat

— Do you think that is why Chavez has much sympathy in

– I would not say that the Argentine people support
Chavez, but the Argentine government does. Unfortunately, we live in a
world in which Christian charity has prevailed for thousands of years and
appreciation for the alms manifests itself in a lot of people who prefer to
reach out their hands to receive, instead of making it callous by hard
work. Over there there are eight hundred thousand dollars roaming that are
not little thing: the one who is willing to receive them is willing to be

— What are the greatest achievements of the current

– I owe three things to the government of Hugo
Chavez. First, having taught me that political parties, as
individuals, are capable of suicide. Second, having me shown that the
people can be wrong. And thirdly, giving me the evidence of how
unable to govern are the military. This is not the first government that
shows these things, but it is the first to combine all three

— Do you think it will be possible to export the
Bolivarian revolution to the rest of Latin America?

– Lenin, who
created a special organization to export the revolution and who had the
support of a nation of two hundred million people did not suceed in that
quest, nor Mao, with more than one billion Chinese people as enthusiastic
supporters, and neither Fidel, despite how well he succeeded in exploiting
his romantic image of a guerrilla leader. Do you think that that could be
achieved by such a politically and ideologically inconsistent
character as Chavez?

– Reading about the country, I am surprised at
getting versions that are diametrically opposed on the same fact, depending
on who is consulted. How can we know the truth in today’s

– One of the most pernicious things that are due to this
government is an absolute division of the society, as it had never existed
in our country. The social hatred is well known, both as the geographical
distribution of the facts and consciences. Here, now, you are absolutely
right because you are my friend, or you are not right because you are my
enemy, rather than you are my friend because you are right. All this makes
it very difficult to know where is the truth. However, sometimes the myths
can be undone by studying the same official discourse. At one point, the
president said that he was going to launch a campaign to eradicate
illiteracy, and that it was a shame that 10% of adults did not know how to
read or write. That single sentence contains a contradiction: if it is the
only government that has been involved in literacy how is it that the
remaining 90% of the population can read and write? On another occasion he
said: “I have never supported or support the FARC. If I support the
FARC, the Venezuelan people would be entitled to throw me out of

— Why Venezuela became involved in the recent
Colombian-Ecuadorian conflict?

– The intrusion by the Venezuelan
government has two and only two explanations: the first is the alliance
between the Colombian bandits of the FARC and the Venezuelan government,
and the second is the search for an external enemy to allow Chavez, on the
one hand, to redo his virginity in a matter of popularity through an
ultranationalist speech and, on the other, to compact the Venezuelan armed
forces behind him.

— Can the offensive by the Venezuelan
Goverment be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the American meddling in
Latin America?

– Contrary to what the Chavista propaganda
would like us to believe, it is the Venezuelan meddling in the conflict
which could lead to a more open and active interference of the US. There is
no Venezuelan national interest to justify interfering in the matter,
except Chavez’s personal interest of provoking an intervention that could
allow him to stay in power forever using the same alibi as Fidel

— Do you think that, with regard to Venezuela, the
resolution of the border crisis is a final one?

– Neither this
crisis, nor any other similar crisis arising in the future will have a real
and definitive solution while Chavez remains in power. His policy remains
focused on the exploitation of nationalism and the militarization of the
Venezuelan society.

— Has the situation of the marginalized
classes improved with Chavez?

– Yes, it is undeniable. But those are
the social sectors most likely to accept and prefer the bestowal. Due to
their status, they do not think what may happen next week because their big
problem is what they are going to eat this evening. Chavez has used the
bestowal as a policy, especially at times of elections. But the hard alms
lasts what the alms lasts. Chavez has been governing for ten years, and
some people are starting saying that they would rather collect a
salary at the end of the month than continue receiving alms. It is a matter
of dignity.

— Do you think that the balance of the Bolivarian
revolution may have something positive in the sense that it woke up the
middle class to participate in politics?

– I believe that the only
legacy of the Bolivarian revolution is the independence of Venezuela, but I
suppose that you did not refer to our Independence Revolution. It is that
this can not be called neither “revolution” nor “Bolivarian”! That
“Bolivarian” is a sovereign stupidity. Bolivar was not even a Democrat: was
an aristocrat of the eighteenth century, a son of the Enlightenment.
Therefore the “Bolivarian socialism” is almost an oxymoron, like saying
“white blackness.”

— And “revolution”?

— But is that Chavez
has not even nationalized a grocer’s shop (a bodega) in the llano! Here the
basic industries had already been nationalized, and without

— Are there political prisoners in Venezuela?

— Of
course! One example: there are three commissioners of the Metropolitan
Police that have been prisoners for three years, they have not been able to
judge them because they have not found how to do it. And about the
impartiality of judges I will give you just one example: last year, at the
opening ceremony of the judicial year, all the judges began to shout “Uh,
ah, Chavez no se va!” That had been one of the slogans of the
campaign by itself. What independence of the judiciary is that?

Considering that Chavez’s opposition is ranging from the extreme left to
extreme right, what chance of success do you think it may have in the
regional elections in November?

– The opposition has committed many
errors. Perhaps the most serious was to be drifted along by radical groups
flying the promise that Chavez could be overthrown. Just now the opposition
is learning that that is not the way to get rid of Chávez. Leon Blum
said that politics is a game where not all hits are collected, but where
all mistakes are paid double. We are paying the mistake of having
elected Chavez. The worst plague that can fall to a people is to have a
military government. I would not know when we will finish paying because I
am convinced that Chavez is not going to leave power unless it is by force,
but that does not mean necessarily through a military coup. We have to
accept the idea that the fight is tough and possibly long, that we screwed
up very deep and that when he goes away he will leave us a country in ruins
and, if that were not enough, ungovernable.

Errors, Lies and Manipulations on education in the times of Chavez and his brother

April 16, 2008

What an interview with Chavez’ brother Adan! (Don’t miss the picture and the pointed finger in the article, it tells you the whole story in some sense). It sounds like something out of The Onion or Saturday Night Life. You have to love the “errors”, “lies” and “excuses” of the revolution. Some highlights:

Q: How do you justify the numbers saying that the number of enrolled students went down by 2.5 million from 2006?

A.Ch. I don’t know where you got that number that it decreased by 2.5 million.

Q: In 05-06 there are 10.2 million students and in 2007 it went down to 7.6 million.

A.Ch. That is an error, in 05-06, without missions; there were 7.4 million students. The years after that there were 7.6 million.

Q: So, there is a contradiction with the total of 10.2 million?

A.Ch. It is an error. If we have to correct it we will. (Why don’t they?)

Q: Ten years ago the registration reached in first grade 657,448 kids, in one decade that number ahs not been reached. Moreover, there are 232 thousand kids between 6 and 7 who are excluded.

A.Ch. We have increased coverage for that age. We are attacking the social causes, without looking for justifications (??). We don’t hide that half the kids in middle level education are out of the system. But before only 23 out of one hundred were in. The deterioration is such that you can’t fix it in 5 or ten years.

(My comment: if registration doubled on a relative scale, how come the total absolute number has never been topped? Moreover, since they did nothing for five years, it is no surprise it “deteriorated”, but ten years ago, Physics and Mathematics was taught at 90% of public high schools, today they have no teachers in over half n these areas and the students are passed automatically, so don’t give me that BS)

Q: The literacy target has been questioned. You said there was 4% illiteracy in the country that means there are 930,000 illiterate people in the country.

A.Ch. When a country is declared free of illiteracy it does not mean it has 0%; Unesco recognizes that a country with 4% literacy is free of illiteracy.

Q: In 2005 you said you had taught 1.5 million people to read, how come now there are 900 thousand illiterate persons in Venezuela.

A. Ch. There was an error (Another one!) When the mission was started we announced that there were two million. We taught 1.5 million to read. Let us assume (Why?) that we made an error in calculation at that time.

Q: You always said it was 1.5 million On the other hand Unesco never declared Venezuela a country free of illiteracy, the letter only recognizes the effort.

A. Ch. There is a letter published by the General Secretary of Unesco, where some achievement is recognized. Unesco recognizes a country with less than 4% illiteracy to be free of it. We have less than 4%, because we have not stopped. We don’t hide anything…I reiterate Unesco recognizes that a country with 4% illiteracy is free of it.
There you have it, he implicitly recognizes the old lie that Unesco never “certified” Venezuela as free of illiteracy, which was mentioned by Chavez and by PSUV’s candidate to Metropolitan Mayor Aristobulo Isturiz. This was “certified” in the blogging world by Alek and Sydney and in the academic world by Francisco Rodriguez.

But the striking thins is how Adan Chavez lies throughout the interview, attributes things to errors in the past, rather than the outright robolutionary exaggerations they were. He takes the numbers too lightly and really never gives a straight answer. He also fails to recognize that things at the high school level are even worse than when Chavez got to power.

It is a truly a farcical interview. The attitude seems to be: The revolution is always right, even when it is wrong. Except that Mr. Chavez knows there are few achievements in the educational front because the revolution had no educational plan ten years ago and today’s plan is simply ideological not educational.

It is just lies, errors and manipulations. What else is new?

Time to dissapear, back on May 8th. or so

April 15, 2008

I will be traveling on my annual vacation. I will be gone to three weeks to the other side of the planet. Bruni and Spinoza and even my distinguished blogger Jorge Arena will provide some ghost coverage as needed and once in a while I may even try to contribute. Hope the country holds together in my absence, funny things seem to happen when I travel…

Is Chavez a CIA agent? Or…

April 15, 2008

While we have become accustomed to the most bizarre and
outrageous behavior and statements from Chavez Government officials, it was truly amazing to
watch former General Prosecutor Isaias Rodriguez come on TV and start blaming
the US Government, the “Empire”, for all of the country’s problems.

With his characteristic cynical straight face, the man who
is most responsible for the wholesale violation of the laws and the
Constitutions for the last seven years, violating his mandate, said, once again
with a very straight face, that shortages, the Maletagate affair and now the
testimony of his one time favorite star witness, are all part of a softer, more
subtle coup against the Government of Hugo Chavez by the US Government and the

On the way he included electric shortages, Chavez’
relations with the FARC, the diplomatic crisis with Colombia and the ExxonMobil
lawsuit, as part of this incredibly successful “slow” coup against the
Venezuelan Government.

Which leads me to conclude that Hugo Chavez must then
indeed be a CIA agent. Because it was Hugo Chavez who involved Venezuela unnecessarily
in the conflict between Ecuador and Colombia, a conflict that had little to do
with him, but led him to unilaterally mobilize the Venezuelan Armed Forces to
the Colombia/Venezuela border, almost creating a needless military conflict.
(Which may have been the end of Hugo Chavez as President anyway).

And it was also Chavez who declared his allegiance to the
FARC, asking that they be considered a belligerent force and not a criminal
guerrilla group, as well as saying that dead guerrilla leader Raul Reyes was a
great and dear fighter. So, once again one onlyhahs to look at Chavez as the
culprit for this case.

As for ExxonMobil, it was Chavez decision to expropriate
ExxonMobil’s share of the Cerro Negro project which led to the suit, given the
refusal of the Venezuelan Government to pay more than book value and in violation
of the legally bound contract signed by the partners, PDVSA and Venezuela, when
the projects were started. And I guess Isaias will once again blame the CIA and
the US Government when Venezuela loses the case in arbitration and is force to
pay an obnoxious amount, which could have been much better, used in improving
the lot of the Venezuelan people.

And shortages whether electric or food are simply a direct
consequence of…

You guessed it:

The stupid and ignorant policies of none other than super
agent Hugo Chavez whose economic ideas are not socialist, but go back to the
failed economic policies implemented in Latin America in the 60’s which led to
so much poverty and the sub continent falling behind the world in economic
development under the guidance of populist and ignorant autocrats similar to
Hugo Chavez (Curiosuly many were agents of the Empire!). Thus, Chavez must be
an agent of the Empire.

And then there is the laughable charge of the suitcase
full of cash, found in PDVSA plane, filled with Chavistas of Venezuelan origin
or Argentinean buddies who represent the business links to shady and
non-transparent deals between the two Governments. We all recall how Isaias
himself, at the time General Prosecutor, stated publicly that the crime was
committed in Argentina and he had nothing to investigate, as if Venezuela did
not have strict exchange controls which make it a crime, punished by prison, to
carry more than US$ 10,000 in cash outside the country. Even today, there is no
investigation in Venezuela of the Maletagate affair making a mockery of the

And, of course, there is the related case in Miami in
which some people who have mysteriously made millions of dollars in deals with
the Chavez Government were taped trying to convince the Maletagate main
character, Guido Antonini, to say where he got the cash.

And then we come to Isaias’ star witness. The star witness
of a case the former General Prosecutor manipulated to steer evidence away from
the Government and towards the opposition. The case he claimed to have solved
so many times only to go and show up with a charlatan like Giovanni Vasquez,
who claimed to be many things and at many places, none of which were ever true.
Despite this ,as Prosecutor, Rodriguez never removed the cases against some of
the accused and jailed innocent people even after it was shown that his star
witness, not the CIA’s, was a compulsive liar.

But no new avenue of investigation was opened after
Vasquez was shown to be a liar, continuing the long miscarriage of justice
where Rodriguez did accuse any moving body in the opposition of one thing or

But as you can see, Hugo Chavez seems to be at the center
of the whole conspiracy. Isaias forgot the lack of accomplishments of the Government
in education, housing, eliminating poverty, how crime has increased, all the
money given to other countries by Super CIA agent Chavez himself, high
inflation and the like.

Which can only lead us to the conclusion that Chavez is an
agent of the Empire, unless, of course…

The CIA has discovered a stupidity virus and inoculated
all of these guys with it…

I still have to explore this possibility.

AVO Orchid Exhibit

April 13, 2008

This week was the AVO (Asociacon Venezolana de Orquideas) at the Sambil Mall in Caracas. the lighting there was not great, but I managed to take some good shots below.

Cat. Luddemanniana Coerulea on the lft, Cattleya Mossiae Coerulea on the right.

A big Mossiae semi alba on the left. My Sophronitis Coccinea Aurea on the right, won first prize.

On the left, Shomgburkia Undulata alba against the lights. On the right a very nice Cattleya Violacea that won first prize.

On the left a nice Zygopetalum. On the right Laelia San Bar

My Dendrobium Helix, won third prize among species Dendrobiums.