Archive for May, 2012

With Chavismo There Is Always A Winner And A Loser

May 31, 2012

So, in the continuation of Government by lottery, today Chavez’ 3 millionth follower in Twitter received a home! Only 2,999,999 to go, but Chavez delivers! (Unless, of course, 73% of his followers don’t exist, as suggested by this study)

You can also be a winner if you are a “Pran”  (sort of “Lord of The Prison”) at a jail, well protected and taken care of, treated with respect, as the picture below shows when La Planta’s Pran was taken away (picture stolen from Tal Cual):

Unless, of course, you are an enemy of the government, like Judge Affiuni, in the last picture, then you are treated like a vulgar criminal, handcuffed and dozens of National Guards pushing you around.

It is indeed a pretty revolution! More to come! Get your ticket! You never know when it will be your turn!Either way!

(You have to love Chiguire’s interpretation of the news:

2.999.999 de seguidores de @Chavezcandanga no reciben una casa )

When Godgiven Speaks, Should Anyone Listen?

May 28, 2012

(Cabello practicing lying on a whiteboard)

With a straight face, Godgiven (a.k.a Diosdado Cabello, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly) himself told the press that “Chavez does not have a date to register to be a candidate for the election…in fact, he could do it via the Internet”

Jeez, what can I say? From the Government that brought Venezuela into literacy, The same Government that built 80,000-plus housing units so far in 2012, no matter what the Cubans may say or think, we now hear that shucks! Chavez just does not feel like it. Is not health, its shyness. Why make a big deal out of it? Why fix a date? He may just send an e-mail. He would just Tweet it, if it were legal. Chavez has never been one to like being in the spotlight, he never liked the limelight and all media opportunities in the last thirteen years, have just been decided at the last minute. they just went well, mostly. Like the one million that brought him back to Miraflores in 2002. Or the one million that went to the May Day march on May 1st.

Yeah, sure Godgiven. And you don’t want to be President and you are fully loyal to Hugo and money stinks!

As we say in Spanish, “Ahora cuentame una de vaqueros” (Now, tell me one about cowboys)

At this rate, we may never see Chavez “live” during his second term, just because he is so shy…He confirmed he does not know

So, when Godgiven speaks, should anyone listen?

A Not So Relaxing Evening in Caracas

May 26, 2012

On a recent visit to Caracas, it was Friday early evening after an intense week (as usual) there. I decided to stay home, relax, watch a Red Sox game. I did need to get a medicine, so I went home and waited for traffic to decrease, which begins to happen around 7:30 PM. It should only take ten minutes to go to Locatel and get what I need. Then relax!

But it was not to be. At Locatel drugustore they were out not only of what I had the prescription for, but also for the competing product. But they were very helpful, told me that I could find the competing product in either their Caricuao or Alto Prado store, a little bit far from where I stay when I go to Caracas. So, I started to do what many Venezuelans do, go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for what I needed. (Twitter has even become a place where you ask: Do you know a drugstore where I can find x?) After trying about three of them, I realized that it would be best to go to the far away Locatel, rather than keep wasting my time. But I was low on gas. In a city with free gas that should not be a problem.

But it was.

After being in line for about ten minutes at the first gas station in the way, I was told that they had no 95 octane gas, which is what the manufacturer recommends for my car. So, my hunt for the medicine had to be delayed, I needed to get the gas first. Went to the nearest gas station, which was closed. Went to another, only 91 octane, but my fourth try proved a success and I have a full tank now (At Bs. 4.5 for the full tank, a full dollar at the inaccessible official exchange rate)

By now, it was so late, that there was no traffic going to Alto Prado, where I readily purchased two packs of the medicine I needed. Twenty pills per pack at a bargain price of Bs. 7 per pack. No wonder you can’t find the stuff, how can they make twenty pills, package it in aluminum foil, all in a cardboard box and sell it at this price.

By now it was close to ten PM, the Red Sox were losing, but my favorite arepera was close by, so I drove by it, the arepas were as good as ever. The cheese was different, the 50-plus year provider shut down after they invaded the farm, according to Maria, who has been running the place since when I started going there as a teenager. I don’t go as much, far from home, and you drive by areas that are not the safest, but maybe there is no such thing as a safe area in Caracas.

Oh yeah! right before and right after the arepera there were police “alcabalas” with gun-toting cops looking at you like you just stole some cheap medicine from a drugstore and they are ready to shoot you if they see the bag. But in a country where most people don’t use seat belts regularly, having mine on seems to be as good as as a DISIP or PSUV membership car and I was waved on readily. It did make me feel like I must have committed a crime sometime in my life, even if I don’t remember it and if they stopped me I would break down and confess.

And yes, I got home way past ten PM, the Red Sox had lost by then. Some relaxing evening! The arepas saved the day!

Who Ordered The “Diosdado For President” Posters?

May 25, 2012

This morning a couple of bridges of Avenida Libertador in Caracas, had two of these posters each with a picture of the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and saying “Diosdado Presidente”. Of course, it is verbotten to talk about a candidate different than Chavez in public.

Of course, it would be dumb for Diosdado to have these posters made up. He denied authorship and blamed the opposition via Twitter. But Nelson Bocranda via Twitter (below) suggested the posters came out of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, where wannabe aspiring President Nicola Maduro resides. Definitely more juicy and interesting.

But who knows?

The question lingering in Caracas today still is: Who Ordered The “Diosdado For President” Posters?

Is the Venezuelan Electorate Currently Apathetic or Undecided?

May 19, 2012

I have been getting mixed messages from people the last two times I have been in Caracas about the outlook for the election. And polls seem to be sending the same confusing and inconsistent signals. Remove the “New Age” pollsters and what you get is a mixture of results, the key being a high number of undecided in those polls that give Chavez a large lead. Talk to pro-Capriles people and they tell your their candidate is down 4-5 points, but it can be made up. Talk to pro-Chavez people and they tell you the enthusiasm is just not there among the Chavista rank and file any more and they are worried.

Toss in Chavez’ illness and things become uncertain.

First the polls.The main difference between the poll that gives Chavez a huge lead and the one that does not, is that the first poll sees a huge number of undecided (~30+%), which the second poll does not see. Neither pollster can explain the difference. This worries pro-Capriles people, precisely because they can’t understand it.

Then you go and talk to pro-Chavez people and they do have a possible interpretation and it worries them. Their feeling is that the motivation is no longer there and it will be difficult to get the non hard core Chavista to go out and vote. Chavez being sick worries them, no only because he may not be able to run, but more importantly, because if he can run, he may not be able to campaign and may not generate the excitement required to outvote Capriles. Simply put, the revolution is failing in too many fronts, clearly identified in this aporrea article. But note the additional concern: This pro-Chavez analyst does not see the four million new voters going the Chavista way. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, according to the writer the new generation seems to care little for the revolution and is more concerned with “malls, asses, iPads and phone pins”

Or as another pro-Chavez friend told me more or less: “I know a few states where 60-65% of the people are Chavista, but of those, many will not go and vote for this failed Government. They will not vote for Capriles either, but just their absence on election day, will give Capriles a victory in two or three States where the opposition has never done well since Chavez showed up. Add the populous metropolitan states where the opposition wins, toss in the new voters and Capriles could beat Chavez.:

And El Nacional publishes today statements made privately by William Izarra, father of the Minister of Information, where he says that Capriles is resonating in parts of the electorate with as many as 8 million voters (which he now says is not exactly what he said, likely he did not know his words were being recorded ) And given his scenario that Chavez may get 8.4 million, this also makes it too close for comfort.

Opposition analysts are similarly concerned.They understand that Capriles at 30% seems to make little sense, given the number of votes he got in the primary or Rosales in 2006, but they can’t understand the undecided. Why has the number of undecided gone up so much since the primary and Chavez’ recurrence? Why is 30%-plus of the electorate suddenly shunning both Chavez and Capriles, with both candidates losing support? Can it be Zulia nationalism in the case of Capriles? These last votes will not go to Chavez either.

The answer, I contend, has more to do with apathy and vote intention, than with being undecided. And I think it goes straight into my friend’s argument: Many uncertain Chavista voters will not vote for Chavez, but they certainly don’t plan to go and vote for Capriles, they plan to stay home.

And a similar apathy applies to the 4 million new voters. They registered to vote, but they are not sure they will go and vote for Capriles, they will wait to decide.

Which simply says that Chavez’ physical appearance will be crucial in the determination of these voters and it is hard to predict which way it will go. A weak Chavez may turn off the apathetic Chavistas, while a recovered Chavez may turn on the apathetic new voters, who have yet to be convinced about Capriles.

For now, only time will begin clearing up these questions and it will be a while before it happens. It has been nineteen days since there was a live appearance by Chavez, while Capriles continues to campaign door to door and accompanied by some of the primary candidates. The next important date is June 10th. the last date on which candidates may register for the October 7th. election. Chavez is unlikely to announce way ahead of time when he will register, to wait until he feels right for it. This will reduced the impact of the event. Capriles on the other hand can plan ahead.

But in the end, it will be the hard core that will show up in both sides those days, masking the apathy of the Venezuelan electorate.

Maldonado’s Perfectly Bolivarian Triumph

May 15, 2012

Sorry I am late to the celebration of Maldonado’s triumph in the Spanish Grand Prix, I was otherwise occupied with other less significant matters. But I did not want to pass up the opportunity to join in the celebration of this victory, which despite all of the confusion, is perfectly consistent with the Bolivarian revolution.

Let’s start with the contract, which is perfectly and absolutely illegal. Thus, this a Bolivarian project at its very roots. And somehow Williams defends the confidentiality of this pristine contract, like so many others signed under dubious conditions by the Chavez Government. It even makes you wonder if there is more than they are trying to hide, another perfect coincidence within the ideals of the Bolivarian revolution, including threats to a Deputy investigating it.

But think of the benefits, all the publicity to encourage Venezuelans to visit their local PDVSA gas station.

Then, take the sport. A perfectly socialist sport. A sport for the masses. A sport that creates discipline. Since most of the races take place in far away places and at odd hours, it forces you to wake up early, stay up late, watch the time, make sure you are there on time. In addition, with a country that is 17th. in the world in traffic deaths, by watching the races, people can learn useful skills. Not only can they learn how to drive, how to avoid accidents, but that despite the speed and the recklessness, you can actually get there alive, complete the race,  something that we are beginning to forget.

Moreover, thanks to Maldonado’s backing, Venezuelans of all classes, can now perform Patriotic Tourism, thanks to Venetur, which offers the possibility of following Pastor Maldonado’s route:

Ever wanted to go to Japan, Australia, Europe? Bothered by exchange controls? It does not matter, because in a country with tight and absolute exchange controls, Venetur and the Bolivarian revolution can bypass it all. If Monaco is your dream, here are the offers to go to Monaco, if you are a true patriot:

Yes! solidarity rates of less than US$ 1,000 double occupancy, including hotel, breakfast and tickets to a full weekend of races in Monaco. A revolutionary’s dream! Better than Varadero and with no secret police looking over you! And as you can see in the red oval, it does not matter if you used your CADIVI quota, because this is all a new parallel mechanism to promote Patriotic Tourism, you pay in Bolivars and the Bolivarian Government will give you all of the above via a magic and unregistered process that nobody had ever heard of, to obtain foreign currency for travel. Just imagine what high ranking PDVSA executives get to go see the same races, maybe even the Paddock seats for only 4000 euros!

Transparency you say? No, that is for irrelevant things like medicines or foodstuffs, not for truly Patriotic Tourism.

And if you are one of those complaining about US$ 83 million for the William’s contract. Come on! Don’t be such a cry baby! Can you think of a better use given the results of the revolution in the last thirteen years? We don’t need hospitals, nor medicines, we need circus, and Pastor truly provides it! US$ 83 million? Spare change compared to a Sukhoi jet fighter or 1,000 untrained Cuban doctors!

As for Pastor, he is certainly a skilled driver, given his recent victory and we must all congratulate him. This is in the end a criollo sport. He learned it here, on our very own dangerous roads and highways. I don’t know if he is really pro-Chavez or not, but we must pay him tribute. He has realized the Venezuelan dream. He got the Bolivarian revolution to pay him US$ 83 million a year, to do what he wants and likes and do it all outside of Venezuela. It did not even matter if he won or not. He jumps from city to city around the world, traveling first class or on private planes with his car on board to boot and dozens of people taking care of him, as if he was truly rich. At the same time, he comes to Venezuela as little as possible and when he does, he has the use of armored cars and bodyguards and even gets to visit the President, who calls him a great Venezuelan.

A true Venezuelan and revolutionary dream. A victory for viveza criolla. Individualistic, oligarchic, with lots of money and all done without even having to visit the country. And you have them all eating out of your hand.

Kudos, Pastor! A perfectly coherent Bolivarian triumph!

New Pdvsa Bond Sold Directly To State Banks

May 13, 2012

After weeks (months?) of rumors, late Friday night, PDVSA finally announced a new bond. This time around it is a 2035 issue payable in three parts in 2033, 2034 and 2035. The bond will have a coupon of 9.75%.

The bond will not be sold to individuals or companies, it will all be sold to State banks, largely to the Central Bank in order to supply the bank’s foreign exchange system SITME. While many people are dissapointed that they will not be included, it makes sense, the operational hassle of thousands of people applying to get only $1,000 at the preferential rate of Bs. 4.3 per dollars simply does not make sense.

Reportedly, there were disagreements about whether to issue or not, but like so many “secrets” in this opaque Government, we might never know if they were true or not. The truth is that since January there have been rumors of a bond, then three weeks ago, the Minister if Energy and Oil said that for now, PDVSA was not going to issue, a sure sign something was up. Last week, rumors were rampant, now here it is, the debt continues to grow

Watching Some “Strategic” Companies In Bolivarian Venezuela

May 8, 2012

Over in Caracas Chronicles, Juan Nagel wrote an article criticizing Capriles’ stance on keeping industries in the hands of the State, which prompted a response by Capriles’ Chief Economics adviser, in which a defense was made of keeping certain “strategic” companies or areas in the hand of the Government. I must say that the article by Ricardo Villasmil was not to my liking, because he seems to be “lloviendo sobre mojado” (Raining over areas which are already wet). First of all, we have fifty years of experiences on the matter which should tell us where to go and where not to go.

But more ominous to me, is to hear the Chief Economic adviser of the opposition candidate suggest or say that “We don’t have it clear which is the way to development”

Well, I certainly have a clear idea of where not to go and confess being bothered that someone in such an important position does not have it clear where not to go or even where to go. Venezuela had some areas where a capability had been developed and they were abandoned, oil research is the best example, while it had areas like telecom and electronic, where the private sector was doing a reasonable job, until the Government arrived.

Take CANTV, the national telecom company. I have no idea whether this is considered strategic or not by Capriles or Villasmil. But we all remember how in 1989 it would take three tries to get a dial tone for a local call or years to get a home phone.  The company was privatized and very quickly, failed dial tones became a thing of the past and you could get a phone relatively quickly.

Then, in 2007 Chavez decided to nationalize CANTV, a very profitable company which was second in the country in cellular phones. I will not bother you with how CANTV has been favored with CADIVI dollars and the like. I will also note that CANTV is still making money, remaining highly profitable even after 5 years of Chavista management.

But when you look under the “hood” you start to get worried. CANTV has maintained the cheapest cellular phone rates in the country, while receiving the largest amount of official dollars of the three companies that compete in this business.

But guess what? After five years in Government hands CANTV has invested little in promoting the high speed networks required for smartphones, falling behind Movistar and Digitel, which are doing a reasonable job (even if the service is terrible), given that they do not receive regular dollars from CADIVI like CANTV does.

But when we go to the Internet the story becomes more worrisome. In 2007, you could get ADSL with a velocity of 1.5 Mbps. Today, you can get either 1.5 Mbps or 2.0 Mbps. That’s it, no more. Even worse, the 1.5 Mbps connection costs Bs. 260 a month, or US$ 60 at the official rate of exchange. (which I use because the company gets “strategic dollars at Bs. 4.3 to buy all the equipment). If you barely want to move up to 2 Mbps, the rate almost doubles.

Compare that to other countries, like Argentina,where you can get 20 Mbps for $40, much like the US, and you see the problem when these “strategic” industries are in the hands of the Government. CANTV has a captive market, little competition, subsidies and a Government that uses no benchmarks to measure its performance.

With the old private CANTV, Conatel could have required the company to increase speeds at a certain rate, while keeping prices constant. And if there was competition, all three cellular networks would be increasing bandwidth to compete.This affects everyone in Venezuela, not only the well to do as many revolutionaries who have little understanding of the country would suggest.

Let’s see Internet first. According to revolutionary statistics, Internet penetration in Venezuela was about 40% of the population as of 2011. That is close to 12 million people in a country of 28-29 million. Thus, by having CANTV be “strategic” and in the hands of the Government, what you are truly doing is delaying the progress of the inhabitants of the country.

And while it may be idealistic to think that this would be better if the opposition ran things, I just don’t see the point. A new Government, Chavista or opposition, would have so many other things to worry about and be priorities, that it would be best to have the private sector take care of CANTV. The Government could simply sell part of it and once the company runs well, sell the rest.

Venezuelans would be better off in many ways, as owners and as users.

The impact would be even higher if CANTV had a good 3G network. The country’s cell phone penetration is basically 100% according to official figures. Can you think of a better educational impact that having good Internet access on all cell phones?

And the Chavez Government has made a big deal, as it should be, of the PC and cell phone business. We have a Canaima computer bought in Portugal, which could have been built in Venezuela, but that is another problem. Separately, the Government has a company called VIT which sells computers. VIT also gets official dollars. except that the cheapest laptop costs Bs. 4,430, or US$ 1,100, more expensive than a comparable HP computer (or a MacBook) and certainly much more expensive than clones made in China.

But the whole policy is screwed up. While the Government promotes Canaima with Linux, it buys 200,000 licenses from Microsoft, sort of fighting itself.

I do think that the Government can create a policy in the computer business to orient things, but much like telecom, whether access to the internet or making cell phones, the way to development is to let the private sector do things, even if owned partially by the Government, but forcing it to meet benchmarks in price, performance and international competition. That is how other countries have done it. Whether Korea or China, the State was not running the manufacturing companies, but pushing them, helping them, coordinating the, but more importantly, imposing on them goals and benchmarks for their performance which would make them valuable for the people and the country.

The path to development is not a mystery. It is a matter of setting priorities, deciding areas to get involved and areas not to get involved. Areas with competitive human resources, areas with competitive advantages and areas where the state should play a role.

The rest as they say is just hard work and some mistakes. But the path is not that complicated. Just have the Government concentrate in the basics, low risk areas and let the private sector take the risks, under State supervision. Their loss, will be their loss, not the State’s.

Strategic? Education and health and maybe power generation. That’s about it. And even there, there is lots of room for flexibility given the limited funds.

How To Get a Contract to Build Housing in Venezuela Without Even Existing

May 7, 2012

According to Argentina’s El Clarin, on the same event that Chavez gave Cristina Kirchner the picture of her husband (above), agreements were signed for US$ 1.6 billion dollars between the two Governments. One of them, was a contract to build 10,000 housing units in Carabobo State in Venezuela by a company by the name of CONLAT.

This all happened on December 1st. 2011.

The funny hing is, CONLAT did not exist. In fact, it was not until more than three weeks later on Dec. 26th. that CONLAT Construcciones Latinoamericanas began to exist, as another company Consular Latinoconsult changed its name to CONLAT.

According to El Clarin, even today, those working in the “Gran Misiion Vivienda” in Venezuela know nothing about CONLAT, its project, nor any formal process to have the contract awarded.

All that is known is that the owners of CONLAT/Consular are people who gave to Mrs. Kirchner’s campaign and that are reportedly close to none other than Argentina’s Minister of Planning Julio de Vido, who always appears involved in things having to do with Venezuela, such as the infamous maletin. .

Thus, while Venezuelan companies who want to participate in building housing, no matter what experience they have, have to provide all sorts of documentation and guarantees, besides having to wait months to be approved and years to get paid, foreign fly by night operations with connections to revolutionary foreign Governments can get the go ahead even before they exist.

I guess that is why they call themselves revolutionaries, they definitely do things differently. That’s how their associates go from revolutionaries to millionaires in a short period of time.

Contrasting Reactions To A Video And The New Cadivi Student Rules

May 5, 2012

I am a little bit puzzled by the reaction to  a bunch of young kids who made a video about Caracas being a city of farewells. I found the whole reaction simply astonishing, the kids did not say anything new, they said what I hear every day whenever I am in Caracas. In fact, try to hire a recent graduate on any Major and you get the response: “Oh no, except for me and a friend, all my classmates have left the country.”

It’s a reality, kids don’t go out at night to party for fear of being kidnapped. Yes, they risk it sometimes, but when they visit their buddy at a US or European University (Thanks to Cadivi dollars)  they see a totally different attitude, people party all night and walk home without worries.

What’s not to like.

And while the video may be from kids from the East of Caracas, I am sure the felling is the same everywhere. Don’t you think the kid in Petare or San Cristobal wants to leave to? Of course they do.

In fact, in my experience, it is the middle class kids who actually look back. The Venezuelan waitress at the Chinese restaurant (no joke) or the Direct TV installer, has no money to go back and check things out. They leave, they don’t look back, they start a new life, learn a language, they don’t read Caracas Chronicles, nor the Devil nor Daniel, life is still tough, but they have a car and rent an apartment and food on the table. It is a far cry from the rancho and Venezuelan reality.

But while the video generated a reaction, I find it funny that the reaction to CADIVI limiting what careers they finance abroad faced such criticism.

Come on! It is the same kids you saw in the video that want money to study marketing and finance and journalism and whatever else their heart desires.

And guess what? They have no plan to come back to Venezuela. The cheap dollars they are asking from CADIVI is their ticket out of the country. And anyone that can get it, will simply grab it!

But remember, this is a revolution. The amazing part is that the Government wants to give CADIVI dollars to study anything other than Marxist  Economics, Socialist Planning or Advanced Cuban Spying. It is just another revolutionary contradiction or stupidity.

Thus, I find it ironic that people criticize these kids for wanting to leave and criticize CADIVI for not giving money for careers that are non-essential, when even those studying the “essential” ones are just looking to leave.

The truth is the kids simply said what a lot of people are thinking (I only watched half of it, did not have the patience) Many don’t leave, because they can’t, they are afraid or they really want to stay. That’s what a democracy is all about. Different opinions, different criteria, different thoughts.

But you can be sure these kids are not anomalies.

Ten years ago, the video was “Cedula Ciudadano” :

Five years ago, it was “Secuestro Express“.

Thirty years ago, there was no “youtube”, otherwise we may have seen: “How to get a beca and come back rich to Venezuela”

That is no longer possible…