Archive for May, 2008

Blogging: From labor of love to paid labor

May 24, 2008

Blogging is at best and obsession, at worst a labor of love. In this almost six years, I have freely devoted my time (or obsession) to write it. Only twice have I received compensation in any form for it. In 2007, when I won the blogging award, a reader who came to visit from the US brought me a bottle of wine as a symbolic gift for the award.

This week, two readers, one a relative, sent me three packages of real, actual, unique, pure, unadulterated white corn flower for my arepas in response to my recent post.

I must be now in the upper income bracket for Venezuelan bloggers.

For which I will remain eternally grateful…


May 21, 2008

The Government has spent about US$ 6 billion lowering the parallel swap
market rate and it ahs worked partially, not so much because it has
spent all that money, but because expenditures are down, interest rates
are up and the economy has been cooled down. Basically, the Government
has held the monetary mass constant since December while it sold US$ 6
billion in various instruments to lower the swap market rate.

Unfortunately, when you attack the effects, rather than the causes, you
really don’t resolve anything. The swap market rate is down, but prices
aren’t. Why? Because inventories were imported at a much higher
exchange rate and merchants are not ready to lose money. Additionally,
by moving Government deposits to the official banks all at once,
interest rates went up (more inflation, less credit) and while that
helped push the swap rate down (People were borrowing Bolivars to
speculate in the swap market at cheap rates), the issuing of ne
Venezuelan bonds helped push down the prices of Venezuelan bonds in the
international markets, which means that it will be more costly in the
future to issue new debt.

Essentially, the Government continues to be trapped in its inconsistent
policies, because Chief Economist Chavez has set some rules that go
against economic principles and only high oil prices are able to mask
the distortions.

At this juncture however, the Government faces a dilemma: How do you
explain to the population that the economy is slowing down at a time of
record oil prices? There are elections in November and the Government
ahs to jump start spending if it is to have any hope of winning a
majority of the Governorships and Mayoral races. And winning a majority
would in the end be a defeat, as it would be a remarkable victory by
the opposition just to be able to win more Governorships that last time

Thus, the Government has decided to take a different approach, a clever
one at that, even if as usual there are problems in execution that need
to be resolved.

Yesterday, the Government issued a resolution forbidding local
financial institutions from buying any form of securities denominated
in Bolivars and issued by foreign institutions. Not only that, but it
ordered these institutions to get rid of the ones they already have
within ninety days.

Say what? You may be thinking…

You see, Venezuelan banks are only allowed to have foreign currency up
to 30% of their capital or equity. But Wall Street institutions are
very clever and creative, recall the subprime crisis. So, they invented
a “Structured Note” issued by them, say Bear Stearns, since they almost
don’t exist by now, which is denominated in Bolivars, but has under it
US dollars. Thus, a bank will tell bear Stearns: Have these US$ 100
million I just bought in the swap market, issue me a note in Bolivars
for what I paid for it and I have not violated the law, because I only
have the 30% allowed by law in US$. Oh, by the way, with the US$ 100
million buy me some Venezuelan bonds so that the note can earn some
interest in dollars while you hold it.

Thus, presto! The bank has Bolivars not dollars and it can circumvent the local regulations.

Thus, the resolution was meant to forbid this, but they forgot to put
in a few commas or it was written badly and instead it forbids
financial institutions from having ANY securities, whether in Bolivars
or Dollars.  But that should be fixed before the ninety days are over.

So, the purpose of the resolution, is to have banks and financial
institutions sell these notes and be forced to sell the corresponding
dollars behind them in the parallel swap market, helping to lower it
and making it unnecessary (and cheap!) to have the Government intervene.

How large are these notes? Estimates range from US$ 2 billion to US$ 7
billion, but from the balance sheets of the banks, it appears that it
is at least US$ 5 billion.

So, in a world where things work, US$ 5 billion should be headed to the swap market…

Except that…

–I am sure the same creativity that came up with these structured
notes, will come up with an alternative. Banks may have to simulate
they are selling and the like, but they will not sell it all and may
even buy it all back.

–If you force some banks to sell the dollars now, they will lose all
their capital and more, maybe even creating a banking crisis. Some even
suggest that this is the Government’s plan to have an excuse to
nationalize the banking system.

What this all shows is how complex and distorted the economy has
become. Rules are piled upon rules in order to correct effects of the
original rules. But then, any decision, like the fact that the
Government needs to increase spending fast because there are elections
coming up, forces them to invent new rules.

There is no question in my mind that banks have abused these notes, but
they would not exist if there were not so many controls that make no

In the end, not all structures will be sold, they will be disguised,
the Government will increase spending, the swap market will go up again
and a new clever guy (This one certainly is) will be hired to help with
the next crisis.

Because in the end, the main problem is that the official rate of
exchange has been held constant at Bs. 2.15 per dollar for four years
with inflation hovering around 20% and that my friends is simply

Imagine you made something here four years ago and sold it for Bs.
2.15, your profit margin was 25%. Your current cost is Bs. 3.38, but
your foreign competitor has had 3% inflation.

Which is destroying Venezuela’s production little by little… But Chief Economist Chavez knows better…

A glimmer of hope as Goicochea speaks out for the individual and freedom in Venezuela

May 20, 2008

Sometimes it gets really boring to write about Venezuela. I
mean, how repetitious can I get:

Should I write about PDVSA’s new
3.8 billion US$ loan from some Japanese companies and wonder why with il at US$
130 per barrel, PDVSA needs to borrow money in exchange for oil?

Been there, done that, the deal is
quite similar to one made last year
by PDVSA with some other or maybe the
same Japanese companies.

Or how about the Government “intervening” (self-intervening)
airline company Conviasa, removing its board and throwing another US$ 120
million at that worthless airline. Talk about throwing bad money after bad
money. I actually wrote
about it
a while back and even got hate mail and comments for even
suggesting it would be a losing proposition. I like to tell the anecdote that
billionaire investor Warren Buffet was asked at Columbia if he had a single
piece of advise about investing, what would it be? His answer: Don’t invest in

Or I could tell you about all of the accusations
of violations
of Venezuela’s air or land space. Colombia says they didn’t
do it, there is no reply. The US says sorry, Venezuela says that’s not enough.

Then Minister of the Interior and Justice says the Interpol
evidence would not be valid in a Court of Law. So what? Neither would his
testimony that all contacts with the FARC have been under the approval of the
Colombian Government, which never approved Ivan Marquez being brought to
Caracas or Rodrigo Granda becoming a Venezuelan under Chavez’ Government
auspices. And that Mr. Chacin can be proven in a Court of Law, if we wanted to
indict you or Chavez.

Or the Chief Prosecutor calling Interpol “clowns”, what else
is new, if you are not with Chavez you are an enemy.

Or I could tell you about how stupid or boring the
opposition has been. Divided, split or simply talking about elections rather
about real problems.

Like the fact that this weekend alone, one person was killed
every hour in Caracas alone…

Or that Venezuela ranked in the 123d. place in the global
peace index sandwiched between Zimbabwe and Ethiopia and “losing” only to
Colombia in the Continent. Is this what revolutions are about?

Instead I prefer to dwell on more positive notes, As you know
I am a Red Sox fan, so it pleases me like you would not believe that Jon Lester
a 24 year old pitcher who less than two years ago was diagnosed with
non-Hodgkins lymphoma, managed
to pitch a  no hitter last night
It is not about the no-hitter, it is about rising above problems and having the
can do attitude to do it.

Or simply read
, to gain a measure of the ability of the young and the strong to
achieve the impossible.

But another 23 year old, this time a Venezuelan, made me
extremely proud when he was given the Milton Friedman Award at the Cato
Institute. Yon
Goicochea gave a speech
in a language that was not his own, which was
simply charming, exhibiting what made him the natural leader than he is. But if
I found his speech charming, he told me more in those few sentences, than
opposition leaders have told me in many years. When Goicochea said that it was
only the individual and their hard work and beliefs that can change poverty and
their fate of our countries, he told me more than any Venezuelan politician in
the last few years.

Even if he is twenty three years old, who cares? The other
“experienced”, “seasoned” and “older” politicians have failed utterly in
unleashing the intelligence of the Venezuelan people the way other countries

Watching Goicochea gives me a glimmer of hope in our future,
at a time that we seem to be in a path of self-destruction, by both Government
and the opposition. He gave in Washington the only speech I have heard recently
calling for less Government, more empowering of the people and using the will,
intelligence and talent of the people.All in an atmosphere of freedom to unleash the power of the individual.

Compare that to the Chavez Government whose idea of “high
tech” is changing clocks by half an hour or chopping three zeroes off the

Only ideas can change Venezuela and not the bad ones the
Chavez Government seems to come up with daily. Hopefully, hundreds of
Goicocheas will sprout off the student movement, giving rise to a Venezuela
different than the ones that seems to have been running in place for years.

Searching for a white corn arepa

May 18, 2008

While in China, I stuck to the local food for lunch and
dinner for most of the three weeks I was there and only had western meals
twice, when I was invited, and for breakfast, when I had a more western fare
even if some dumplings were usually included. Given that I am a big fan of
Chinese fan, this was actually delightful and after three weeks of chopsticks
and Chinese food, I can say I was not tired.

But I was tired of the same stuff for breakfast everyday, my
cholesterol surely went up, eggs every other day, little cheese and, of course,
no arepas, the corn flour
national staple of Venezuela, which I eat regularly

Thus, I was eagerly looking forward to having my first
arepas when I got back, except…

They were a huge disappointment…

You see, one of the few things that changed while I was gone
is that while shortages of certain items disappeared the corn flour used to
make arepas seems to be scarce. However, instead of just not finding the usual
white corn flour, whether the “Pan” brand or not, instead what is now available
is a whole bunch of improvised and newfangled flours which in the end do not a
true arepa make.

I knew something was wrong the first day when I looked at my
first arepa and while toasting them usually gives them a brownish color where it
was hotter, the arepa seemed to have a tone somewhere between grey and brown in
very uniform fashion with some dark brown parts where it toasted he most.

It turns out that now there is an “integral” corn flour,
which is nothing but “whole grain” in Spanish, but truly after so many decades eating the
true, “pure” white corn flour arepa, do you really expect me to find a whole grain
arepa, true to the original?

All of which reminded of one of the worst Presidents of the
IVth. Republic, Luis Herrera Campins, under whose Government there were
shortages of white corn flour, which led Venezuela to import yellow corn from
South Africa and a Government campaign, which clearly failed, to convince us
that the yellow corn arepa tasted the same as the white variety we were used

Which utterly failed, of course and simply added to that
Government’s demise and Luis Herrera becoming extremely unpopular.

So the next day I arrived, I went to the supermarket to find the real
thing, but to my surprise it was nowhere to be found. Amazingly, I did find the
return of the aforementioned yellow corn variety, the “integral” or “whole grain” and finally
a “new” and “improved” white corn flour which is called “extra soft”, whatever that may mean, and which is
white corn flour to which rice has been added.

It turns out that I was lucky to find this, it is actually
quite rare as people snap it up when they see it, over the other types (No hope
for 100% white corn flour apparently)

I have yet to try this “extra soft” flour, it is only
appropriate to finish off the “whole grain” package, before we start the new
ones, but I do find it remarkable that rice is being added to the corn flour at
a time when the price of rice worldwide is
shooting through the roof
, due mostly to drought in Australia.

But such are the mysteries of Venezuela’s economy, where
everyday brings surprises.

Areperas, those temples of Venezuelan culinary expertise,
still seem to have the white flour needed to maintain their standards, so there
is always that solution for the quick fix if I need it.

But imagine my surprise this morning, when as I was writing
this article, I find out that this weekend’s Wall Street Journal has
an article
by Raymond Sokolov entitled “In pursuit of the Arepa”, subtitled
“Exploring the Venezuelan Food Scene of South Florida”, where it is reported
that over in the greater Miami area, I can also get the white flour arepas, as described in the article “a pure. plain, white crumpled arepa”, yummy. So,
if worst comes to worse, I guess I can always hop over and go to El Arepazo in Miami
and satisfy my desires and have my arepa.

Such are the surprising ways of the revolution.

All of which shows the true meaning of globalization as the article
even mentions that Venezuelan Chef Edgar Leal of Cacao fame, is a consultant to
a restaurant in Beijing.

So, maybe, just maybe, I could have even satisfied my needs
over there…

(Let me know if the article in the WSJ is free or not, if
not, I could reprint it here)

Slowly getting back

May 18, 2008

Slowly getting back to things after the China trip, I actually spent a lot of time taking pictures today, after reading a book about photography. Not many flowers, there were many when I got back, but they wilted, but something is always there…

On the left, Cattleya Schilleriana from Brazil, on the right, Blc. Copper Queen.

A nice bunch of flowers from my best flowering Oncidium Equitant

Nothing new in Interpol’s report that we did not know about Hugo Chavez’ support for the FARC guerrillas

May 15, 2008

The non-event happened today and Interpol told us that the documents that the material turned over by Colombian authorities that was found in the camp of guerrilla leader Raul Reyes were not manipulated. You can download the whole report here. Of course, even before the report came out Venezuela’s Minister of Defense was saying the documents handed over by the Colombian authorities had no credibility and the Venezuelan “people” would know how to evaluate them. A strange statement given that this was a technical evaluation which according to the Interpol Director Venezuelan authorities did not even want to receive ahead of time.

Chavez at least waited until the report came out and used his customary diplomatic and polite language to call the Head of Interpol a clown, a bandit, not noble (?), a tramp and shameless.The PSF’s began coming out of the woodwork with the Venezuelan Information Office immediately issuing a report discrediting the Interpol report and urging Americans to write their Congressmen, while pro-Chavez computer experts paraded on VTV to explain that it was impossible to do the checks that the Interpol claimed to have done. The level of stupidity should increase in the upcoming days as idiotic arguments are used to discredit the material obtained from the computers found at Reyes’ camp.

Idiotic, because what is it after all that is being discussed? That Chavez sympathizes and backs the FARC guerrilla movement? Do we really need more proof of this or have people forgotten the eulogy Chavez dedicated to Raul Reyes the day he found out he had been killed and the outrage that it caused in the Venezuelan President who mobilize troops and got himself involved in a conflict between Ecuador and Colombia where he played no role? Chavez actually called Reyes, the second in command of the cruel guerrilla group, “a good revolutionary hero”. Reyes was a man accused of hundreds of murders, cocaine trafficking, rape, sexual abuse. kidnappings, extortion and was found guilty in absentia in dozens of murders and kidnappings. In fact, he was sought by Interpol, the same organization that today presented its report at the request of the Colombian Government.

But do we really need more evidence to prove what is out there for everyone to see? Why do the Colombians need to create thousands of new documents to prove that Hugo Chavez backs the FARC? In fact, you can simply look through official Venezuelan Government pictures and find this jewel for example:

On the right is then Minister of Foreign Relations Jose Vicente Rangel, who at some point was Venezuela’s Minister of Defense and also Vice-President. The picture was taken at the Foreign Ministry (called the Casa Amarilla). Notice the man on the left with the badly fitting suit? It happens to be none other than the good revolutionary Raul Reyes officially being greeted by the then Foreign Minister. Do serious law abiding Governments do that? Meet a known criminal, extortionist, drug trafficker, murderer and bomber with pomp and ceremony?

And now that you ask, how did Reyes get to Caracas? How was he contacted? Why was he there?

Of course, the imbeciles may argue that Rangel is not Chavez, but he was the Foreign Minister, later Minister of Defense and Vice President. But in any case, no matter what they may argue, there is this other very public picture and visit by Ivan Marquez to the Miraflores Presidential Palace, with big boss Hugo Chavez himself:

Once again, a known murdered, extortionist, kidnapper, drug trafficker being sougth internationally is received by Chavez at his own residence as if he were a dignitary. Once again, how did Marquez get there, how did Chavez contact him, why wasn’t he detained?

Or I could remind you of the parody when the Venezuelan Government denied the FARC’s Foreign Minister was in Venezuela, was registered in Venezuela and later it turned out he even had Venezuelan papers and none other than current Minister Rodriguez Chacin met him at the Simon Bolivar International Airport when he first arrived.

There is also the now infamous video of Rodriguez Chacin telling the guerrilla members that turned over the Colombian hostages that “keep it up we support you”. Can it be any clearer than that?

So, do the Colombian authorities need to invent some 600 Gigabytes of material? There are over 200 thousand images for God’s sake! Almost 40,000 documents!

Because in the end what has been reiterated is that Chavez sympathizes with the FARc and has been trying to support them. But there is really no proof that anything came to fruition. Would the Colombians make up so much stuff and not include more damming proof that offers of assistance and the desire to work together?

Seems far-fetched to me.

What these images and the papers prove is that Chavez and his Government walk on the wrong side of the law, on the wrong side of terrorism and that they are willing to help these movements if it matches its political goals.

However, the FARC papers also reveal that the guerrilla leaders do not like Chavez style. The papers have evaluations of the trends in Latin America and despite the success of Chavez of holding on to power, they express their concerns over his “Caudillo” style, which proves to me that while the FARC want to use Chavez for their own goals, they do not trust him and their interests are not aligned as Chavez has designs over Colombia too for his Bolivarian revolution.

So all we really have is more evidence of what we already knew: That the Chavez Government openly supports a bloody guerrilla movement and has been in constant contact with it, ignoring international law and acting as the outlaw Government that it has always been.

Not much new there!

The bizarre virtual world of the Chavez Government

May 15, 2008

The outrageous statements and accusations by Chavez and his buddies against the world may be considered ¨political¨in nature in nature, but they are getting weirder and weirder.

But how do you explain outright lies or hailing projects that simply do not exist?

Such was the case this week when Chavez signed the Sidor nationalization Bill into law and began talking about the area of Matanzas, where Sidor is, as the “City of Steel”. Chavez began talking about a new plant being built to make “specialty” steels and high tech pipes, that will turn the whole area into this apparently virtual City of Steel.

Because as reporters scrambled to find out about the project, it turns out that there is no such project in Matanzas, Ciudad Piar, Puerto Ordaz or Bolivar state. Not even in the planning stage.

Such is the virtual and ever increasing isolated world that Chavez lives in. He still believes he eradicated illiteracy, poverty and soon inflation. All in his own peculiar world, where he is always right and the Hitlerian ghosts of imperialism hover over him.

A country that needs no diplomats

May 12, 2008

On Sunday’s El Nacional, the newspaper had a study showing
that Venezuela’s diplomatic service has become totally unprofessional and no
position since 2005 has been filled considering the credentials, trajectory and
qualifications of the candidates. Instead, Venezuela’s diplomatic corps has
become a way station for former military and Cabinet members who have no role
to play within the Chavez administration but to whom Chavez owes some debt for
services and favors rendered.

Today, former Foreign Minister, President of PDVSA and the
last man to quit the Venezuelan guerrilla Ali Rodriguez said that academic
qualifications and experience are no indicators of the abilities and
capabilities necessary to become a diplomat and do a good job, blasting the

And he is right…

Because no professional diplomat would be able to carry
his job under he guidance of Hugo Chavez. What can anyone trained in the art
and science of diplomacy say to his or her host country after Chavez managed
yesterday to blast Colombian President Uribe, King Juan Carlos of Spain and
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. This without his usual potshots at
George Bush and the US Government.

But Chavez managed to blast Alvaro Uribe, calling him a
liar, dangerous and irresponsible, because of his Government’s release of new documents
found in the computers at the guerilla camp in Ecuador attacked by the
Colombian Government. This is the same man that Chavez made peace with at the
Dominican Republic less than two months ago after distancing themselves when
Uribe stopped Chavez negotiating with the guerrilla group FARC. Just to make sure his diplomatic message
was understood, Chavez said Colombia was trying to incite a continental war,
prodded by the US Government.

Not that Uribe had not noticed that something was amiss in
the to country’s diplomatic relations, as Foreign Minister Maduro, who is a bus
driver by training, had failed to name a new Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia
since the supposed “rapprochement” of President Chavez and Uribe.

I guess if there is no Ambassador, there is no training
needed, but once again Chavez send relations between the two countries into a
black hole that is simply unnecessary, unless you are afraid of the conclusion
s reached by Interpol on the content of Raul Reyes’ computer next Thursday and
are simply preparing the way to deny the undeniable.

It would be equally difficult for any diplomat to try to
defend Chavez’ charge that Germany’s Chancellor Merkel represents the same
right wing that supported Hitler and fascism, suggesting he may confront her at
the upcoming summit and even telling her she would send her to…except that she
is a woman. Merkel’s crime was simply to dare say that Hugo Chavez does not
speak for Latin America. Chavez’ words could not have been more undiplomatic,
as anyone with the most basic knowledge of Germany’s history would realize how
sensitive Germans are to that period of their history. Which German diplomats
replied to reiterating that Chavez does not represent Latin America.

And maybe because Chavez previews the damage
which will be created by the upcoming Interpol report, Chavez took advantage to
take a shot
at Spanish King Juan Carlos, reminding everyone of the episode in
which the King told Chavez to shut up, saying the King believes he is superior
and does not understand what is going on in Latin America. This elicited an
immediate response from Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero who sent Chavez a clear
message that reminded the Venezuelan President that he has to respect Spanish
institutions as part of the relations between the two countries.

And there were reactions elsewhere, as both
Peru’s President Alan Garcia and Mexico’s Felipe Calderon felt the need to
intervene defending Colombia and Merkel and pointing out that such negative statements by
Chavez do nothing but impede integration. Calderon even noted Merkel’s
origin’s, which sent a clear message to the Venezuelan President that he had no
clue about what he was talking about when he referred to Merkel as fascist or a
follower of Hitler.

Thus, Venezuela truly does not require professional
diplomats who would be incapable of defending the country and its President.
Thus, Chavez has fewer and fewer friends as a consequence of his own irresponsible
and idiotic words, which have increased isolated him from the international

However, one cannot help but be concerned by the ever-increasing
strident and irresponsible tone by Hugo Chavez. Is he getting ready to distance
himself from the world when Interpol ratifies what we already know about his
relationship with guerrilla group FARC? Or is he one step ahead preparing himself
to be isolated as the final days of the Enabling Bill arrive and he issues a hemorrhage
of decrees legislating what Venezuelan rejected in the December referendum?

In either case, stormy days are ahead for Venezuela both
internally and internationally and there is noting any trained and professional
diplomat could have done to stop it.

Memories of China

May 11, 2008


Took a gizillion pictures in China, here are two which show the spectacular views and the people of China

Three weeks in which the country seemed to be running in place

May 10, 2008

Returning to Venezuela after three weeks of traveling, I find that very little has changed since I left. The scandals, stupidity and headlines seem to be variations of the same theme. After all, how much proof do we need that Chavez and his cronies are simply involved in an ideological project with no content and whose only objective is control of the country without benefiting the population in the name of socialism?

The headlines from abroad tells us that the data contained in Reyes’ computer proves that Chavez had a close relationship with the FARC. Is there a surprise there? Only the imbecile cheerleaders of the revolution still try to claim the data is false. One really does not need much proof to know how tight Chavez was and is with the FARC. Have people forgotten the FARC’s Foreign Minister Rodrigo Granda? Granda lived in Venezuela under a different name in total opulence, using papers provided to him by the Chavez Government. He even registered to vote! And when he first came to Venezuela he was provided full VIP protocol service at the airport, ordered by none other than the current Minister of the Interior. If Huguito disagreed with this actions, why was Chacin, who also had a second identity a turbulent past and a few million dollars under his name when he left the Ministry, brought back to the position last year?

And it was Chacin that was caught live during the hstage handover calling the FARC guerrillas “comrades” and telling them to keep it up, “we support your fight”. And Chavez did all but cry when he found out that Raul Reues had been killed, calling him a hero and the like.

And then of course, people seem to have forgotten that General Gonzalez Gonzalez fall out of favor with Chavez came about when he told Chavez about the FARC camps within the borders of Venezuela and Chavez did nothing. Did we really need to know more?

The material found in Reyes’ camp simply confirms the details and it has provided data that has led to arrests and captures, so it is absolutely idiotic to even suggest the data was faked by the CIA. If you argue that, you have to suggest that the presence of FARC leader Ivan Marquez at the Miraflores Palace, a man wanted internationally for murder, drug trafficking and terrorists acts, was also a CIA plot, which would then imply Chavez is CIA, as absurd a suggestion as saying FARC has not helped the FARC and has no ties to them.

Meanwhile, the members of the Electoral Board CNE, none of which are lawyers, do not even consult with their legal counsel to rule 4-1 that all decisions by the comptroller finding wrongdoing by an Government official, bans them from running in the regional elections. What a great tool! A person appointed by you single handedly decides there are crimes without a court mediating in the process and bans anyone the Government from running. Never mind that the Constitution says otherwise. But who gives a damn about the Constitution anyway. Mugabe would be proud of them, he never thought of doing something like that!

And then there is Hugo going to Court against his former wife claiming that he is not given the proper rights to be with his daughter. Never mind that he does not pay the alimony established by the Court or that he has had more important things to do on significant days for the same daughter, he has to make the point that his ex-wife can not oppose him. After all, which Court will rule against Chavez in a country where women are always favored in these cases? He is after all, the archetypical irresponsible Venezuelan father.

And as Chavez decreed the nationalization of Sidor, a majority of the country went dark in a clear indication of the inability of the Government to even sustain functioning institutions. But did Chavez get the message? No way, he is not a thinking person just a rabid ideologue.

And the Government sold US$ 4 billion to lower the parallel swap rate, which moved down a bit, but the country’s bonds moved even more as foreign investors are wary of Venezuela’s risk, even with oil at US$ 120. It makes no sense for the country’s bonds to yield close to 11% for the long term issues or even more ridiculous, the 2010 issue which yields close to 9%. Public employees got a 30% minimum salary increase which will cost in the words of the Minister of Planning only 3 percentage points of inflation. Sure, this money will have no impact on the swap exchange rate as more money flows into the economy. But Minister El Troudi is no economist, as it should be, given the disregard for economic principles by the revolution.

And it was no surprise what happened at Venezuela’s largest University, Universidad Central. There were four candidates, only one pro-Government, the winner got about 2,000 votes, while the Chavista candidate, who was born a revolutionary under the name Lenin, got 531 votes, down from about 600 when Minister Merentes ran in 2002. Incredible from a University that cheered Chavez’ victory in 1998.

And Chavez and his Minister of Defense denounced the secessionist movements that want Zulia state to split from Venezuela much like Santa Cruz voted last Sunday. Except that no one has been able to find what the proposal is, who is making it and who supports it. It must be an ultrasecret CIA movement.

Which shows that not much canged in the last three weeks in Venezuela…which is unusual when I travel…