Archive for September, 2010

Luck of the draw: My day as an electoral trainee

September 22, 2010

By the lack of the draw, I was selected to be part of the group of people manning the voting tables at next Sunday’s Parliamentary elections at the place where I vote. This implied spending the afternoon yesterday as an electoral trainee. No training, no credential, no credential, you can’t participate, which is obligatory. Go figure.

So, at 3 PM sharply I showed up at the public school where the training was to take place. I was sent by a National Guardsman to sit on the wooden steps of the baseball field at the high school to wait for the instructor. There were about 60 or 70 people sitting there with me asking “And now, what?” when at last around 3:25 PM (not bad for Venezuela “time”) the instructor and his helpers showed up.

We were all herded into a hot classroom, about ten to twelve rows deep and the instructor began telling us all the things we would have to do on Sunday beginning at 5 AM.

He was not bad, except that he had clearly memorized all the material and by now was clearly bored to death by it. The supporting material was absolutely awful as you can see above, where the instructor is explaining the seven steps to the installation of a voting table. Yes, each of those seven pie slices contains diagrams of little people, indicating the function of each of the members of the voting table. I was sitting on the second row and could not read the small letters.

I only saw two or three nerdy people like me taking notes of everything, the rest of the people either were bored to death or had no idea what the guy was talking about. A lot of time was spent on rules and technicalities such as what happens when a blind or crippled person comes to vote. Could not understand why it is that senior citizens have priority to vote first, but some of them are selected to spend 16-17 hours manning the voting stations. The guy also discussed the ever present Venezuelan issue: When and how to decide to close down voting. Seems fairly straightforward, but never is.

After a couple of hours of hours of training, the session was over and we all had to stand around and wait for half an hour for our credentials to be typed, so we can get into the voting places.

The atmosphere was very cordial, everyone seemed happy to have been selected as long as they gave you an interesting job. Many people did not want to do the boring jobs like organizing people in lines and the like. But since the training is random, those that are alternates or reserves will not know until tomorrow at 8 AM whether they may do a more interesting job.

So, Sunday I will take my cell phone and will try to give you updates when I get some time, but in general I will know very little of what is going on outside my voting center.


The Extremes of Hate by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

September 22, 2010

On January 3d. of  this year 2010 a police officer named Junior Galué was admitted to the Hospital Universitario de Maracaibo , with two bullets in the head and his condition, of course, was absolutely critical.. He was attended to by Doctor Frank De Armas.

This doctor graduated twenty years ago and in his student days he became president of the Student Union at the University of Zulia. When De Armas was preparing to intervene agent Galué he received from the Director of the Hospital Universitario, Dr. Damaso Domínguez, this unlikely command: “Send him to a private clinic because he belongs to the police of the Municipality of Manuel Rosales.” De Armas, absolutely stunned, said the wounded man was dying and needed to be intervene immediately.

Dr. Damaso Domínguez retorted, even more unusually, “If you do not abide by my order, tomorrow you are fired.”

De Armas, faithful to the Hippocratic oath and his human sensitivity, disobeyed the baseness and cruelty of his superior and operated the hapless agent, and by the way, he saved his life.

But the next day, Frank De Armas was fired, as he had been promised by Dr. Dominguez. Frank De Armas denounced the abhorrent behavior of his boss to the Prosecutor and the people´s Ombudsman. Until now, nine months later, no response has been received and he informed us that is waiting for the expiration of the periods granted by the law for actions by national authorities, and if this does not occur he is prepared to bring the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We are told that Dr. Damaso Dominguez is a very reputable doctor. There are no special reasons to doubt that, in addition to being a good professional, he  is probably a normal citizen, a good father, a follower of his duties and may very well be liked by his friends.

Like all maracuchos, there would be nothing unusual for a person is friendly and open.

What has caused one person to be basically normal and correct, as Dr. Damaso Domínguez is, to make him act as a monster, capable of ordering that  a patient not be catered to because he is from the “other side” and then fired from his job just because a doctor attended to the dying patient? Is there a brain poisoned by the hate speech, who exudes contempt and insults against his opponents, who insists on considering them as “enemies”, continually threatening to “pulverize”, “annihilate” people back turning them into “cosmic dust”, or “demolish them.”

It is a discourse that has transformed ordinary people into fanatics, in individuals who have delegated the power to reason within their heads to the Maximum Leader, “who is never wrong.”

The Leader thinks for them, but also by some of his opponents. Eleven years after that speech we have been sickened  as a society and each end of it is simply the mirror image of another.

Fortunately, the ends are in the minority and the common sense is winning. But that is until now, the most painful and infectious legacy of Hugo Chavez

If you thought you had heard it all in Venezuela…

September 20, 2010

Chavista Deputy Desiree Santos Amaral: “The opposition will not come back, because we don’t feel like it”

A profound anti-democratic statement from the one time investigative reporter.

Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russian: “The poor are the ones that suffer the most from the world’s financial crisis”

And in Venezuela they suffer from the Government’s financial irresponsibility and useless spending by the Chavez Government including sending and paying for Ruffian The Comptroller to give this empty speech.

Telesur President Andres Izarra: “Pornographic reporting is a symptom of desperation by the opposition”

This from the man whose Hyena-like mock of the tripling of crime in Venezuela during the Chavez regime made the news around the world. As for lies, jeez Andres, you are the expert.

Jose Vicente Rangel (as Marciano): “The only objective of the opposition is to finish off Chavez”

A noble goal to limit and stop Chavez’ power, before Chavez finishes off the country. Unfortunately, Chavez is going faster than the opposition. He seems to be winning so far…

Jose Vicente Rangel (As himself): “The opposition uses the media to destabilize the people:

Wow! change opposition for Chavez in that sentence and you get the correct sentence. Who controls the media in Venezuela? Who goes on TV daily to instill fear in people in Venezuela? Only Hugo.

Minister of Higher Education Ramirez: “Venezuela tops the US in university enrollment 83% to 82%”

Jeez, if this guy really believes in this, let me just innocently ask: What’s the average number of years to graduate? How many Professors with a graduate degree teach at these “universities”? How many do research? How did you count it? If kids don’t graduate from elementary or secondary school in the same numbers, how can that number be so high? Was the CNE involved in the calculations?

Cilia Flores, President of the National Assembly: “The opposition is ready to cry fraud in the elections”…”The opposition has to say it will accept the results of the elections”

Cilia, Cilia. Why don’t you start by recognizing the results of the 2007 Constitutional referendum? It seems to me that the Assembly you preside approved 20 Laws that go against the results of that referendum and the “will of the people”. The same seemed to happen with the elections for Governors where you approved legislation to violate and limit the funding, power and ability of opposition Governors to act and thus restrict the will of the people you claim to defend.  From this, it seems to me it is you and your little Dictator who have to come out and say they will respect the results on Sunday September 26th., it is your track record, that of PSUV and Chavez that is extremely fishy.

Chavez gets first installment on Chinese loan. Brace yourselves!

September 19, 2010

So, for the seventh or eight time this year, the Government made headlines with the US$ 20 billion loan from China to Venezuela, as Chavez said the first US$ 4 billion had been deposited. This is the same agreement reached in April, which is still a little murky, and which was announced again in August.

Funny thing is, the money already arrived according to Chavez, but it was only this week that the Venezuelan National Assembly approved the deal.These Chinese guys are great, they send the money ahead of time, that’s how much they trust Hugo!

Half of the money of the loan will be in Yuan and half in US$ and Venezuela will send 200,000 barrels of oil a day to China. That is, until the money gets paid some time after 2020 with current oil prices, you have to forget about any future cash flow from 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

Whether you believe Venezuela produces 2.5 or 3 million barrels of oil a day, this may not seem like much, except that we are using some 800,000 barrels of oil a day locally, so the real “exports” of the country are 1.7 to 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, from which you have to subract like 160,000 barrels for which the country gets no cash flow (Cuba, Argentina, Petrocaribe) and now an additional 200,000 barrels less of cash flow a day.

Not pretty…

And then, Reuters is saying (Thanks Setty) that the recent fire in Bonaire, will limit what Venezuela can send to China.

If oil doesn’t go into a bubble we will be in trouble. And right now it actually looks like it may do exactly the opposite in the short and medium term, as it seems to be breaking down (Thanks PR!):

Brace Yourselves!

Left Behind in Venezuela to Piece Lives From Scraps in the NYT

September 18, 2010

It gives me chills that this happens in my country. Kudos Simon!

Conviasa tragedy not a surprise

September 18, 2010

The recent tragic plane crash of the Conviasa airplane in Puerto Ordaz is no surprise. In fact, many do not remember that this is not the first crash of this airline created by Chavez in 2004.

By now, there was another accident that has now forced the Government to ground all flights of the airline until “October”, but what is clear is that there had been plenty of warnings that could have avoided this tragedy.

The airline business is one of the most difficult ones to run both from the point of view of management and that of financing. In the end, Chavez made the same mistakes in Conviasa he made elsewhere, naming a string of buddy military officers with little managerial or airline experience.

There was no reason for the Venezuelan Government to enter a business which requires levels of efficiency never seen in Venezuela’s Government. There was no reason to subsidize Conviasa so that it could take people to Margarita Island, Syria and Teheran. Venezuela has too many problems to use scarce funds in an area that the private sector can fill. There are enough fools in the private sector that love airplanes to fill that role.

The problem is that innocent Venezuelans have died because of this. Reportedly it was the crews of the airplanes that forced the Government to shut down the airline. Even the authorities of Trinidad and Tobago have forbidden the airline from flying to that country.

Many years ago I wrote an article in a local newspaper saying the Government had no place in the airline business in Venezuela, I never got so much hate mail in my life! This confirms all of my thoughts at the time.

The problem is that, as usual, there will be total impunity in this case. The Government will not investigate who was responsible for this tragedy and much like so many other ones, it is the people of Venezuela who have to pay for this.

Venezuelans find black gold and respect in Colombia

September 18, 2010

I was away for three days in Colombia, a country that seems to be going in exactly the opposite direction of Venezuela. It is simply booming, with over US$ 10 billion in foreign investment this year alone in oil and mining. This boom creates problems, the currency has appreciated quite a bit, In February of 2009 it was as high as 2,590 pesos per US$, it is now around 1,800 pesos per US$. This creates problems for exporters, so the Government has to intervene to force the currency to devalue, exactly the opposite of what happens in Venezuela. Unemployment remains stubbornly high too, near 12% levels, so everything is not rosy, but things are really looking up.

Everywhere I went, people talked abut Pacific Rubiales, the Canadian oil company, created and run by Venezuelans fired from PDVSA, who have become the darlings of the local stock exchange in that country.  The company, which has taken the Rubiales oil field from 20,000 barrels a day to 130,000 barrels a day and expects to reach 225,000 barrels a day of total oil production by the end of the year, has become the second largest oil producer in Colombia after Ecopetrol and above all of the operating oil multinationals in the country

There was actually an article in today’s El Tiempo, which I can’t find online, about the company, describing how the company took first class workers from PDVSA and raised the money to make this very successful company. Yes, these were the same people who used to run PDVSA, whose production keeps dropping. There are two or three more Venezuelan-owned and run companies in Colombia working to increase that country’s oil productions.

More than once I heard Colombians say: “We have Chavez to thank for these people being in Colombia” .

Funny thing is, all these companies and their people are all banned from working in their own country, Venezuela, as they find black gold and get lots of respect in Colombia.

XXIst. Century Fund Raising for Venezuelan Public Workers

September 15, 2010

As if inflation was not high enough to make ends meet, public workers in Caracas are being forced to buy these “raffle” tickets to support Chavez’ campaign. Each ticket costs Bs. 20 and you have no choice, you are sent a certain number of tickets according to your hierarchy and you have to pay for it, no chance of refusing. This one was given to me by a friend who holds a lower position, but her boss had to buy 35 of them.

The front part of the ticket, shows the price, the prizes like a pc, camera, motrocycle and it says “The people to the Assembly”. Under the “scratch-off” surface it says “This is the way I finance my PSUV”

On the right, it says: “Chavez’ Key” and it tells people how to vote, saying “to vote for the candidates of the people is very easy” and then describes how to vote in Circuits 1-6 of the Capital District.

So, two million public workers at a minimum of Bs. 20 per worker would be Bs. 400 million, not a bad racket for a Government already using all of the resources of the State for its own party.

The impact of inflation on the Venezuelan poor

September 14, 2010

A few months back, I can’t remember which of the pro-Chavez pseudo-economists was suggesting that the January devaluation would have very little impact on the Venezuelan poor, because of the programs like Mercal, PDVAL and the like the Government had in place to aid them. A few years back I actually posted an estimate of how inflation hits the different classes in Venezuela, but that data was outdated.

But the graph above, courtesy of the data from the Venezuelan Central Bank and published by El Universal, shows it with real and very recent data for the first eight months of the year. Level I (Dark line with solid dots) corresponds to the lowest strata of the population under the BCV’s definition. As you can see, the devaluation had the opposite effect, in the months following the devaluation they felt the most impact, an effect that still lingers to this date, wth an accumulated inflation of 21.7%. The second lowest strata is next, up 21.6%, Level III has had 21% inflation and the well-off have had 19.1%  so far in 2010, proving that it is actually the other way around.

No mystery here, it is the poorest who spend the most on food and it has been food, despite the Government controlling certain basic staples, that has gone up the most.

The Venezuelan Constitution: That little useless blue book

September 13, 2010

While I did not vote for the Venezuelan Constitution approved in 2000, it is our only Constitution and it establishes the framework for how our country works. Unfortunately, Hugo Chavez, who once would show the blue book at every chance, now ignores its contents day after day and the blue book is not even worth the paper it is written on: It gets trampled on daily.

This week, it got trampled a few times. The first time quite directly, when the Head of the CNE, the Electoral Board, Tibisay Lucena, announced that Government officials were not banned from campaigning, despite Article 145 of the Constitution which states that:

“Government officials are at the service of the State and not of any partiality”

which was expanded explicitly by the regulations issued this May by the same Electoral Board, forbidding Government officials from participating in political and campaign activities.

But Hugo Chavez has become the LAW in Venezuela, above the little blue book, so he needed to campaign and the four Chavista ladies at the CNE complied with his whims. No questions asked.

The second violation, is not a direct violation of the Constitution, but of the Constitution of the State of Guarico, which is similar to that of many States of Venezuela in that who succeeds the absolute absence of a Governor depends on when the absence takes place. In the case of William Lara, whose death will not be the subject of a post, his absence occurs within the first two years of his term. Then, the Secretary General of the State will become Governor and an election will take place within 30 days.

Well, last night, there was a “political decision” by Chavez’ PSUV party that the temporary Governor will be the President of the Legislative Assembly, Gustavo Mendez, because the Secretary General “declined” the position.

Well, the Secretary General may “decline”, but to do so he has to resign and the only possible way for Mr. Mendez to occupy the position would be for him to resign his own and become Secretary General. That is what laws are for and why they exist.

This is becoming the rule in Venezuela, neither the Government nor the Supreme Court follow the Constitution approved by Chavismo with a 96% majority of the Constituent assembly of 1999.

Of course, the biggest proof of this is my previous post, the Venezuelan Constitution says that (Art. 10) the Electoral Power has to guarantee the principle of proportional representation and with the gerrymandering and redistricting a 50/50 split in the votes would lead to Chavismo obtaining 60% of the  Deputies in the Assembly. The Supreme Court rejected any requests to have this changed.

Maybe they don’t understand what proportional means. More likely, they have no clue about the meaning of what a Constitution is and should be.

(Note: On William Lara’s death, I will only say that I am concerned about the lack of discussion of why it happened. Traffic deaths have increased dramatically over the last few years due to speeding, lack of enforcement and bad roads. Nobody seems to be responsible for any of these issues)