Archive for November, 2008

Complex voting process generates lines in Venezuela’s regional elections

November 23, 2008


(Top left voting sheets as people will see them in the machines. Right: Elderly line at a voting center)

Compared to the Constitutional Referendum lines today are long in most places I visited in Caracas, but this is likely due to the complexity of the vote more than anything else. On the top left you can see all of the choices people have on the machine. Someone who lives in Miranda State has 9 votes to complete: One Governor, One Mayor, one Metropolitan Mayor, three members for the Legislature of the State and one list for the same Legislature, one City Council member and one list for City Council. Add to this the dozens of small parties and the fact that you choose on the same sheet and it can indeed be confusing. For example, on the left above there are two sheets where you vote for Governor and three members of the Legislature and the list, if you want to separate your vote is quite complex.

I have yet to vote, I accompanied my mother to vote and even if people over 65 have priority it took her about 50 minutes in line and about three voting. Add the driving time back and forth and the fact that there is traffic near all polling places and it too all morning for her to vote. Later I went to see the lines and came to post after which I will go vote. (Strangely enough, I already wnet through the fingerprint process, at the center where I was I had to do that first, before I got in line, so that my vote is certainly randomized)

It looks like rain in Caracas later today and it is raining in the West of the country, which should be a factor.

I will tour polling places after I vote and report back.


Despite caring so much, Hugo Chavez is surprisingly absent as rains, floods and landslides prelude the Venezuelan regional elections on Sunday

November 21, 2008

As I begin to hear thunder again after a relatively dry
day, I can’t help but wonder about the bizarre events in Venezuela yesterday,
which make you wonder about the parody that this Government has become.

We all poured over the newspaper yesterday morning as El
Nacional had an intriguing headline on
its front page
, which seemed to come out of that Marquezian magic realism
that Chavismo seems to be living in these days. The headline said:

“Traffic jams are a lie” says Minister Rondon

Directing you to page C-3 of the paper. Certainly worth
checking out given that Mr. Rondon is none other than the Minister of
Infrastructure. Recall that my office moved 840 meters recently, which saves me
an hour a day, so I definitely had to check out the ministers words, which
seemed to be a mysterious prelude to the day’s tragic events.

The article relates that candidates for Mayor and users
all agree that a unique authority to preside over the chaos and tangles of the
city’s traffic, to which the Minister said in his most pompous style:

“Venezuela does not govern itself. The President only
thinks about the well being of the Venezuelans. If he considers that this topic
should be analyzed, we will study it”

This statement demonstrates that despite the headline,
Minister Rondon is certainly well versed in the peculiar form of democracy that
Chavismo believes in: Even if everyone agrees on something or that something
has to be done, it is up to I, the Supreme, who deeply cares about us, to
decide whether the topic even deserves consideration, at which point HE will
then decide to study it.

Such depths of Chavista democratic wisdom even in such a
short sentence!

Unfortunately, the remainder is somewhat disappointing, as
it simply demonstrates that Minister Rondon’s abilities do not extend
themselves to either his job or logic, to wit:

“That stuff about Caracas having traffic jams is a lie. I
have been monitoring other countries and it is the same. We have the best
possible roads; the problem is the excess of vehicles. People have to leave
their car in storage, leave individualism aside. Five people can go in vehicle,
instead of the selfishness that it is used by a single person”

Where should I begin? From a logical point of view these
are a bunch of concatenated statements that have little to do with each other. Traffic
jams are there or not, but they are not lies. Then he says he has monitored
them, but in other countries is the same? What is the same? The traffic jams or
the lies? What countries? Then he says we have the best possible roads. For
what? Not a single major road has been built in Caracas in twenty years.
Despite this, does he claim they are the best? Does he drive around? Finally,
he first says we have to leave the cars in storage but then he wants us to
share them. Aren’t the two incompatible? Did this guy graduate from high
school, or is it a verbal problem?

But then, it has been Chavez who has kept gas prices
cheap, subsidized cars at the official rate of exchange and otherwise has done
nothing for improving traffic, including going to Court to ban measures made by
Mayors. So who is to blame for the current state of affairs? Precisely the man
that supposedly only has our well-being in mind.

But there has to be some form of divine or poetic justice
when on the same day, Caracas has the biggest lies, pardon me, traffic jams in
memory due to rains and flooding. The rodas simply did not have traffic jams, they became parking lots last night.

Much as in the days prior to the Vargas tragedy of 1999, which
coincided with the vote to approve the new Constitution, Caracas has been
having rather unusual weather. It has been raining daily and continuously most afternoons
and early evenings for the last two weeks. This saturates the soil and causes
landslides and floods, as the ground simply cannot absorb water. And yesterday
the rains turned into a downpour and the city collapsed, as there were
landslides and fallen trees everywhere and even roads collapsed.

The traffic jam in the south part of Caracas became a
total tie up as the Autopista del Este and that of Prado del Este became
parking lots. People got off buses and walked in the rain in the hope to get
home or simply called the nearest friend to stay the night.

But as the city was already collapsing and municipal
authorities were warning people to stay home, here came Hugo Chavez with one of
his infamous “cadenas”, obligatory nationwide addresses. Everyone was expecting the
man who cares so much about our well being to talk about the rains, but instead
we watched as he condecorared a South Vietnamese official, inaugurated a
non-existent factory and talked about (ranted?) Ho Chi Min and all he stood for.

But in the dryness of the Miraflores Palace stood the
whole Cabinet, lead by a nodding Minister of Finance who celebrated each
sentence. While I seldom watch Chavez tirades anymore, I did because I was
transmitting information to friends who had no access to TV’s and were trying
to decide when and if to go home. (Most got home well after midnight and one
stayed at the office all night)

As Chavez seemed to be gaining speed and force, something
happened, he must have been given a signal and all of a sudden he said the
Government will deal with the problem of the rain and wrapped it all up and was done in a
minute and we went back to regular programming.

While the yuppie Mayors and candidates of the opposition
appeared on TV getting muddy and wet and dealing with the problems, Chavista
authorities for the Metropolitan area were nowhere to be seen in the Government’s
TV station or Globovision. In fact, we did not see Barreto (who is in Paris
enjoying his last days as Mayor of Caracas) or Bernal or Diosdado at all last
night. The lone figure was the head of Civil Defense, who should not be
partisan, who kept talking about the floods as a “fortuitous” phenomenon as if
we did not have to deal with them every year.

Very late, two Chavista candidates appear on the studios
of VTV worried about what is going on as more than 50 homes are covered in mud
and nine people lose their lives.

Today, as the thunder turns to rain again, we do see those
that should have been out there last night. But wait! There is one missing. The
man who cares so much for our well-being has not been seen today. He has not
visited any of the many sites where tragedy struck last night, He has not been
on TV, radio or even said a line like he is monitoring the situation.

Maybe, just maybe, since he cares so much for our well
being he has spent the day going over the latest polls to guarantee that his
collaborators will be allowed to protect and care for us for the next four

But better yet, I hope that after seeing the projections,
he is just depressed…

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty in Venezuela?

November 20, 2008

It appears as if somehow, certain rights have been
suspended in Venezuelan without anyone telling us about it.

to the Vice-Minister of Justice
the Government “incauto”, which means
seized or confiscated, some Bs. 270 million in property from the Makled
brothers, which “will be passed on to the hands of the State”.

Now, I am not sure if the Makled brothers are guilty or
not. Just for background Aldala Makled is (was?) running for Mayor of Valencia
the capital of Carabobo State and about ten days ago, the same Vice-Minister said they had
found 400 Kgs. of cocaine at his brother’s farm. Because the candidate is
co-owner of the farm he was detained and their assets seized.

Note that the Makled brothers are rich and Aldala was not
running as part of the opposition, but as a candidate for his own small party.
He has irked Chavistas for using the same symbols and strategies as Chavez’
PSUV party, such as red shirts and giving away stuff to voters.

Among the assets seized are farms, companies, airplanes, yachts,
land, an airline (Aero postal), a foundation, cars, Hummers and a factory that
makes appliances.

I am not sure what laws this decision was based on, but a
time of such weak institutionality, to confiscate all these assets and transfer
them to the State without a trial and a sentence seems a little bit arbitrary
and certainly implies that the Chavez administration has already established
the guilt of these people before the fact.

Let alone that according to newspapers, the farm where the
drugs were supposedly found was run by Aldala’s brother who still at large and
the link to Aldala was only his ownership of it.

I am sure that some part of the Venezuelan legal code
allows this, but if it bothers me that this is done in this fashion, it bothers
me even more that I have yet to see anyone in the press wondering about this.

Chavez continues his aggresive charade to motivate voters, but what will he do if he loses?

November 19, 2008

Have not posted for a few days, went to Trinidad for the weekend for family reasons. Interesting country, they seem to be doing better with their oil than we are, at least they are being intelligent in how they exploit it.

You leave for two days and really not much happens. There is not much that I can add to the elections. Chavez was his usual self, insulting everyone and calling for Manuel Rosales to be jailed next week when he no longer has immunity from prosecution for the crimes that Chavismo claims he has committed. Because if Venezuela is divided into two sides, this also applies to corruption. The good Chavista corrupt guys are just immune to any possibility of prosecution, while anyone who is an enemy, oligarch and the like, has to be guilty even before tried.

Things are so bizarre that even the Vice-President had to suck up to Chavez and say Manuel Rosales would be jailed as soon as he has no immunity.

As if this were not enough, Chavez who has violated electoral laws day after day (Who is running Chavez or 22 candidates for Governor?) threatens to shut down any media that does not follow the rules on election day. And then ignoring the fact that he has been President for ten years, he complains that it has been four years since Danilo Anderson’s assasination and the justice system ahs done nothing. Wow! Of course, he had a General Prosecutor manipualting the case and accusing the opposition, but not investigating the case.

But Chavez is wrong, the Guevara brothers were wringly accused and are in jail but it does not seem to matter. Two people were killed in the two days after Anderson’s assasination and they apparently had nothing to do with the case. But nobody is looking into why the authorities killed these apaprently innocent men in another abuse of power, presided and protected by Hugo Cahvez himslef. After all, the General prosecutor who manipulated and twisted the case left office because his term expired, nothing more, nothing less.

And then there is Patricia Poleo, set up by a fake witness and currently in exile, but somehow the victim is only Danilo Anderson, but at no tiem has there been any investigation as to how this lowly Prosecutor managed to own a few apartments and have lost of money in his apartment, besides a lifestyle which had nothing to do wiuth the meager salary that a public servant of his level receives.

But according to Chavez the problem is that “all powers have been infiltarted by the enemy” as if he had not ahd a half a dozen chances to purge any vestiges of opposition in all public powers which he continues to tailor and manipulate at will.

But Chavez’ lies and confrontational style seems to make little dent into his popularity. He continues his aggressive campaign style which in my opinion wil not help him in the States where his party is in trouble. But it must be that I know nothing about politics.

But maybe the startegy is not aimed at convincing anyone, but at energizing his electorate as abstention is likely to be the biggest enemy of teh revolution in the regional elections. And that may be what this whole thing is about. Recall that Chavze is popular and charismatic, but he has always has had trouble transferring that goodwill to his buddies. This job is even more difficult this time around, as most of those candiadtes directly chosen by him are lackluster and exactly the opposite from him.

Chavez has tried to make this campaign about him, but taht is also what he did last December and it did not work well. Of course, it is easier to cheat in small races than in a nationwide vote and maybe that is an intrinsic part of the strategy.

I find the opposition a little too overconfident for my taste. We have everything to gain, but expectations have been set high and it is not clear to me that people understand that 6 to 8 Governors will be an important victory for the opposition.

If Chavez loses Sunday, he is in trouble. His whole objective is to bring to referendum next year his indefinite reelection. If he suffers a significant loss on Sunday and with oil dropping like a stone, his only option to perpetuate himself will be set aside all pretense that this is a democarcy and act like the Dictator he has always wanted to be.

Maybe that is what is coming…

While some polls offer contradictory views, majority favors significant opposition gains

November 14, 2008

While I tend to leave electoral predictions to others, I
have had access to four different polls in the last week that I thought I would
relay to you. Had I only seen three of them I would be pleased as punch in
conveying this information. However, it is precisely the poll that I promised
not to comment publicly on that gives the most negative picture for the
opposition on the upcoming regional elections. Thus, I will only make general
comments of what I have seen so far and will update before the week is over if
there is any relevant change.

Essentially, of the four polls I have had access to, all
of them give the opposition three states, Sucre, Nueva Esparta and Tachira,
with two states going to Chavez dissidents in Guarico and Portuguesa.

Had I not seen the fourth poll, I would also be telling
you that the opposition would win Zulia, Carabobo and Miranda, which in itself
will be a large victory, given that the opposition currently has only two
states. This last poll however suggests the opposition may lose all three.

At the same time, the other three pollsters give Zulia and
Carabobo outright to the opposition and suggest a victory in Miranda State. In
fact, in a public poll Consultores 21 says that Henrique  Capriles is leading Diosdado Cabello by
three percentage points. However, the argument by Consultores 21 is that
Cabellos rejection in Miranda by the voters is so high (above 45%) that it
seems impossible for him to pull a victory off.

In Barinas State, Chavez home state two of the pollster
suggest a possible victory by the dissident Chavista, giving at least a defeat
for the Government that will garb huge headlines.

Three of the four polls, with the same one being the
dissident one, suggest that in the Caracas Metropolitan Area, the opposition
will win the Alcaldia Mayor and three of the municipalities, losing only in the
Libertador District, where former VP and Head of the CNE Jorge Rodriguez is
leading the race.

Curiously, all four pollsters suggest the opposition may
win more than 40% of all Mayor races, which will certainly change the political
map of Venezuela on its own.

In the end, if the opposition were to win in six to eight
States and 40% of the municipalities, it would be a tremendous gain compared to
the current state of affairs. Chavez knows he needs to win big if he is going
to push for his indefinite reelection and three of the four polls suggest he
will lose in the effort.

In the end, the monkey wrench in the whole thing will be
abstention. Large abstention appears to favor the Government and Chavez
attempt at radicalizing the process seems to be aimed at that. Most polls
indicate that abstention will be low, which is hard to believe in a country
where only Presidential races attract votes.

Hopefully, the three pollsters that coincide will be the
correct ones so that the opposition may create a more balanced picture in
Venezuelan local politics. If we lose, Chavez is likely to push for “his”
referendum next year and the possibility of his perpetuation in power is simply
too scary and depressing to even try to think about it.

The clueless and strange tale of the expelled Venezuelan Diplomats

November 11, 2008

On Saturday, Venezuelan media reported that the US
Government was expelling 12 Venezuelan diplomats because they moved the
Venezuelan Consulate in Houston without prior approval from the US Government.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued
a strongly worded press release
, rejecting the news and saying:

“The difficulties, which were strictly administrative have
been overcome using diplomatic means in conversations between the two
Governments’ no Venezuelan official accredited in front of the US Government has
been the subject of expulsion. The Venezuelan Government calls for prudence in
the handling and circulation of information of this nature”

And today we hear that the US
State Department ask officials at the Houston Consulate to leave the country
for violating administrative procedures for obtaining new offices. Reportedly,
Venezuela requested approval in August, but it was never received. Despite
this, the Consulate was moved and on October 2nd. The US Government requested
that the new Consulate cease operations until it received approval. Despite
this, the Consulate continued operating and on October 31st. the US
Government informed the Venezuelan Embassy in the US that it was planning to
remove privileges and immunities of the team and cancel their diplomatic visas.

By now, press reports differ as to whether the diplomats
were necessarily asked or not to leave the US, but their visas have definitely
been revoked.

And if you are not confused by now, today none other than
the wise one himself, the autocrat Hugo Chavez comes on and says that
it is all the Venezuela’s Consul fault who changed the location of the
Consulate without authorization from US authorities or the Venezuelan Embassy
in the US and that the Consul has been removed from the post. He then blames
the whole affair on someone looking to generate confusion, noise, or conflicts
during the transition in the US. Then, the same Secretary of State that issued
the press release on Sunday says that he will evaluate what the State
Department said today and will talk to them tomorrow.

In closing, he says tomorrow he will have a clearer picture
of the situation.

Is it clear now?

They don’t know what is going on, but we say things and it
is all just hearsay and a plot to boycott the great relations between Hugo Chavez
and Barack Obama or something like that.

In the words of the great Abbott and Costello (Will I ever get this one right?): Who is on first? In
this case, you could say: Who is on second or third?

But we know, iot is the same people who have ben running this Government for ten years. They are clueless.

Post it to Obama

November 10, 2008

So Quico and Juan wrote a policy memo to the President-elect and Daniel wrote a letter and now people have asked me what I plan to do. Well, there is little I can say that they did not say, so I just dropped by Obama’s office, he wasn’t there, so I left him a post-it and took a picture for the record:

Notes from Venezuela’s “democracy”

November 9, 2008

in Carabobo State
: “If the opposition wins in this State, I may get the tanks

Way to go Hugo! We want the tanks out just to prove what a
sore loser and dictator you are!

in Sucre State
: I have ordered Admiral Victor Ballera to take over the
airport. “Have you realized what a traitor this character is? (Referring to the
Governor of that State and former Chavez supporter for a decade Ramon Martinez)
Chavez also threatened Martinez with jail”

Just imagine, Ramon Martinez, a socialist to the bone, Chavez
supporter for a decade, but he is in the doghouse now, he better watch his  back…

in Zulia State
: Manuel Rosales is like tumor in the body of Zulia State. “There
is a plan not recognize the PSUV’s victory.”

Jeez, it seems as his campaign reflects his thoughts. Who
is really thinking of not recognizing the loss?

—And in this oasis of freedom of speech and expression,
the El Nacional Editorial Company was not allowed to participate in the
international book fair for “lack of space”

Of course, being an opposition newspaper had very little
to do with it.

in his campaigning Chavez
orders Rosales to be jailed if he does not
recognize Di Martinos victory in Maracaibo. What will happen if Chavez does not
recognize Rosales’ inevitable victory? Can we jail him?

—Funny, the Venezuelan Government announces that it
will take over
the Las Cristinas Mine from Crystallex in order to manage
the project. But the next day, the Minister of Basic Industries and Mining says
it will be given to Russia’s Rusoro to exploit.

Well, if Obama was asking for the rule of law to be respected,
this case has violated the rule of law 
twice: The Las Cristinas mine was a concession in the hand of Vanessa
Ventures, which was taken away in 2002, by the Chavez Government, and given to
Crystallex. Vanessa ahs gone to international arbitration, as it is likely
Crystallex will, because the
company says
it has received no notice from the Government.

Hey, I think we should build a nuclear satellite with
peaceful purposes in mind just so that people know where Chavez stands!

Take a break: Since people don’t visit the orchids, I am forcing them

November 9, 2008

Cattleya Walkeriana from Brazil

Cattleya Jenmanii from Venezuela

Lots of flowers!!!

November 9, 2008

A first flowering of a nice Cattleya Walkeriana, a Brazilian species

Lots of flowers from my awarded Cattleya Jenmanii Gran Sabana x Rubra which I bought from Xavier Caballero


Close ups of the flowers above


I may not have hybrids, but once in a while I succumb, like this Epicattleya May Day (??)


Unidentified Bulbophyllum and a close up


Nice Cattleya Alba, no clue what it is

On the left my second plant of Coccinea Aurea has flowered for the first time, proving is no fluke that they grow well here in Caracas (Not as nice as the other one). On the right a Cattleya Gaskelliana.