Archive for June, 2016

A Last Ditch Attempt By The Maduro Government To Stop The Recall Referendum

June 23, 2016

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                     People line up somewhere in Venezuela to ratify their signatures

The Maduro Government, via the Electoral Board the CNE, has tried by all means to block the possibility of a recall referendum. These attempts have been abusive of the Rights of Venezuelans, as the Venezuelan Constitution establishes this as a basic political right of Venezuelans.

The CNE has pulled all of the stops, creating first unnecessary delays, to finally end up violating the rights of thousands of Venezuelans by voiding their signatures using excuses as lame as saying that the petition form did not have Maduro’s complete name (Shouldn’t it have been printed on it?). To make matters worse, people could withdraw their signature (about 5,000 people out of 2 million did it!), but could not revalidate their signature if the CNE had voided it. A somewhat biased principle if you ask me.

Additionally, the Electoral Board has made ridiculous interpretations of the laws, such as requiring 1% of all voters in each State, rather than 1% of all national voters, since the position is not a State position, but a national one.

Finally, since people have to go and ratify with their fingerprint that they signed the petition, the CNE assigned only 300 fingerprint machines NATIONWIDE, while everyone knows they own thousands of them (40,000 of them to be a lil more precise), distributing them in such a way as to make the process really difficult for everyone.

But as if this was not enough, yesterday, Electoral Board workers began a slow down process in the few states where it is very tight to gather the required 1%. The CNE seem to concentrate its effort by now in Nueva Esparta State, the State where Margarita Island is.

Here is a first hand account by long time reader Island Canuck in Nueva Esparta:

“Here’s our story of trying to confirm 3 signatures with my family.

After hearing horror stories about Juan Griego & La Asuncion we decided to try and go to El Maco which is almost in the exact middle of Isla Margarita. A very small pueblo where no one would expect a confirmation point.

We arrived at around 10 AM and registered with the MUD table that was there. We were given wrist bands with a number and asked to join the line.

It appeared fairly short so we were really surprised when someone indicated the the line went around the corner of the next block.

After a check we discovered that there were hundreds of people ahead of us – maybe 400 / 500.

After waiting almost an hour the line had only moved maybe 20 mts.

We returned to the check-in counter to ask how many people an hour they were processing. The lady shrugged and said that ideally 60 persons per hour. There was only 1 finger print machine. She admitted that the number was much less.

We decided that waiting further was a waste of time as we would never be processed and left with the idea to return another day much earlier. Even this idea is without much merit as they can’t possibly process the number of people that show up under current conditions.

This is definitely a planned exercise by the CNE to prevent at least 1 state from getting their 1%. That’s all they need to destroy the whole process.

As of 1.30 it was announced that the El Maco site had only processed 120 voters in 4½ hours – approx. 27 per hour.

They are going to do everything in their power to block at least 1 state. Then for sure the revocatorio will not occur in 2016.

I’m depressed as the MUD has no power to change anything.”

The only number that matters here is 27 voters processed per hour. This is absolutely ridiculous as the process takes no more than 15 seconds and in a regular election a single machine processes up to 2 and 3 thousand voters in eight hours.

But fascism acts like this, while assholes like Zapatero defend them as poor souls who have not adjusted to having lost the December election.

The four ladies in the Board of CNE should be prosecuted for this one day.Thousands of Venezuelans have had their rights violated in order to preserve a fascist Government which can not even provide the basic needs of the people.

I do hope that someone points this out today at the OAS meeting on whether to invoke or not the Democratic Charter on Venezuela. It may make no difference, but it will show the true nature of these for-rent left wing former Presidents, whose principles can be bought with a few meals, some nice hotels and the chance to believe that you may be once again important.

 

 

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As Imports Seem To Rise In Venezuela, Everything Else Seems Negative

June 19, 2016

It has been difficult to write about what is going on in Venezuela. I wish I could be the bearer of good news, but most of the time, news coming out of Caracas is simply negative and may I say, simply depressing. Things get worse and the Government continues to pay little attention to what is going on, continuing its “economic war” cry to blame their incompetence, their negligence, their corruption and their indolence in the face of hunger, illness and insecurity. (This from a Government that lost 120,000 barrels per day in oil production only in May!)

About the only positive news is that, as measured by the PCNI (Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index) imports appear to have picked up in the last few weeks as shown below:

PCabelloAs you can see, the number of boats arriving daily to the main port in Venezuela for food imports, has increased significantly from the lows that I reported in April reaching levels between 8 and ten ships per day, something not seen since January.

This is welcome news, even if it is clearly insufficient. Recall that last year, the average number of ships in Puerto Cabello was typically 14 to 15 each day. Moreover, you have to understand that there is a new mindset in Venezuela: that of extreme scarcity. Even those that have little money for purchases are hoarding something at home. Everyone has something in life that you feel you need no matter what. Thus, whether it is soda, toothpaste, sanitary napkins or simply milk for your baby, the scarcity mindset drives people to hoard their favorite foods. The results is that the cabinets and closets of the people are full of many of these items and it will take over-importing, something we are not even close to, in order to make this mindset disappear.

The consequence is that as the scarcity levels have increased, higher imports are simply not felt by the population.Meanwhile, the Government remains in control of what may be or not imported, while at the same time increasing its power over distribution channels. Its latest invention, ironically called the CLAPs, are committees to distribute food to only Government sympathizers, thus creating an apartheid in which if you don’t sympathize with the Maduro administration, there will be no food for you.

It does not get more fascist than that!

Meanwhile, scarcity is so bad, that the Government now has to resort to accompanying food trucks with security, lest they be looted by hungry people when trucks stop. Sometimes they don’t even have to stop, they are ambushed by people at the entrance of towns as they head to supermarkets and quickly emptied from their goods. In places like Cumana, stores have been looted and many of them have no plans to re-open, aggravating the problem.

Meanwhile at the OAS, Venezuelans became hopeful that some international pressure could be applied on the Maduro Government, something that has not worked in the last seventeen years. The Maduro Government masterfully played the diplomatic game, proving once again that countries have no principles, only interests.

Even recently elected Mauricio Macri of Argentina, found his personal interest in having his Foreign Minister become Head of the OAS more important than the fate of Venezuelans, backing out of strong statements made in the exuberance of his Presidential victory. To say nothing of the US, which decided to push for the mediation route, a path that is only meant to delay the feasibility of a recall vote against Maduro in 2016, thus guaranteeing that Chavismo, even if it has to get rid of its current bus driver, will rule over Venezuela until 2019.

And the opposition was partially to blame. It really was not playing international diplomacy at the same level, but it also accepted some initial gambit for negotiations, led by a bunch of former Presidents, who are not only pro-Chavistas and which have little significance in their own countries, but whose role as mediators is financed, funded and toasted by Maduro.

Of course, the OAS’s task was difficult from the beginning given the large number of fairly wealthy Caribbean countries that receive cheap oil from the Maduro administration and have sold their soul to the Chavismo Devil (not related) for years.

As for the recall, the many manuevers by the Electoral Board are so incredibly biased that their pro-Chávez members should one day be tried for the wholesale violation of the people´s rights (and their pensions rescinded).  Not only have the timetables established in the law not been respected, but rules have been made up on the fly to make the recall even vote more difficult. From requiring 1% of the voters for each State, rather than 1% of the voters nationwide, as clearly stated by the law, to arbitrarily voiding 600,000 signatures for the recall, to allowing people to withdraw their signature (something that less than 6,000 people out of 2.1 million took advantage of), the whole process has been shameful and should be enough justification for the OAS to do something.

The latest ruse? After signing the petition for recall, people have five days to go to the Electoral Board and ratify that they signed the petition using their fingerprint. Now, in a country where all supermarkets are now armed with fingerprint machines to restrict the purchase of price – goods, the Electoral Board came up with three hundred machines to have the remaining 1.352 million people ratify their signatures.

Even more shameful, the distribution of machines is as efficient and biased as the Government’s food distribution network. For 241 municipalities with 600,000 people who signed the petition, there will be zero machines to ratify their signatures. At the same time, 64 municipalities with 21,000 signatures will have all of 100 machines for people to ratify their signatures. The most ridiculous case is the town of Ocumare de la Costa, where there will be all of four machines to service the 264 people who signed the petitions. Of course, municipalities like Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo, with thousands of signatures will have none, zilch, zero.

Only around 200,000 people are needed to ratify the recall petition, but each state will need 1% of its voting population. Thus, the task is made quite difficult by restricting the number of fingerprint machines. Fascist hoodlums is what the four pro-Chavez ladies at the Electoral Board are!

And so it goes…as this happens, Venezuelans get distracted by stories about cemeteries where the tombs of former Presidents are desecrated, which has been happening since even before Chávez took power in 1998, but which creates and outcry and diverts attention from the rapid, vertigo-inducing deterioration of the quality of life in Venezuela. As the Minister for jails, released prisoners to protest in favor of Maduro, there were two kidnappings very close to my family, including one nephew. But the police is too occupied guarding food trucks and protesting prisoners.

And so it goes…

Fast Paced Changes In Venezuela

June 5, 2016

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I have been back a few days from my most recent visit to Caracas and I have been trying to put my thoughts together, without being able to form a single image of what is going on. What is clear though, is that things seem to be changing at a fast pace now in all aspects of Venezuelan life.

Despite the fact that I was only gone five weeks, longer than normal, there was a significant change in shortages, lines and general food availability.

Take lines, for example. Lines at large supermarkets, like Bicententario, have been around for a while. But now it seems as if there are lines anywhere where something useful may be bought, from supermarkets, bodegas or from drugstores to bakeries. And as shortages have become more acute, people displace themselves across the city in the hope of finding something. (These movement is not restricted to bachaqueros, just anyone looking for something they need)

The change for bakeries, as an example, has been dramatic. I found few that actually had bread and since it was known that they had none, there were no lines in front. Some, like my favorite bakery in Los Palos Grandes, did not even open for the whole week I was there. And the one closest to where I stay, had lines all the time I went by, but I did not bother to check what they were selling.

It was good for dieting, particularly if you are trying to avoid carbohydrates. Last time I was there, restaurants always had bread. This time, at one restaurant they apologized for not having any bread, at another one they had Swedish bread, the flat bread that is hard, made of wheat, whole wheat and rye and which you can still find at some supermarkets. While Polar has said that it is running out of corn flour and indeed, it has become hard to find it, areperas seem to have enough stock, with all of them open, even if some fillings are not necessarily available.

Milk is a different matter. People in my office report not having had cereal for weeks, unless they want to pay up for almond milk, available in some supermarkets at what is an outrageous price given salaries down there. After dinners, the first question I would ask was whether they had milk or not to make a marroncito for me. Half the time the answer was negative, but at least one time I could taste the undesirable flavor of powdered milk in the coffee. I simply prefer to avoid drinking it that way. But I understand that even powdered milk is becoming a problem, one of the upsetting aspect of shortages for families with small kids.

You can find eggs now, at a new much higher price, while meat exhibits some scarcity, but prices are simply out of control and you can find some good quality cuts if you are willing to pay.

One of the biggest sources of social conflict is the dynamics of lines. Much like the riots that took place last week near the Presidential Palace, when a bunch of pro-Government supporters tried to divert a truck heading to a market where people were lining up to take over the distribution of the goods, I heard at least three reports of the dynamics of lines producing confrontations between groups, not necessarily aligned along political lines.

In one case, in a lower middle class neighborhood of Caracas, a line formed at a Bicentenario supermarket at 7 AM. You have to understand that people by now get in line at random, just in the hope that they will get something to eat, trade, barter or sell. In this case, the person I talked to got in just hoping to get something and the National Guard organizing the line gave him a printed paper with the number 100 on it. Just across the street, there was a Farmatodo (Sort of Walgreens, Rite Aide or CVS) where a long line formed even if with less organization or supervision. Except that around 8 AM, the Farmatodo closed its doors. The people in that line all moved across the street to the Supermarket line, overwhelming the people, the guards and simply massively cutting in line. The guy I know, went from being number 100 to about 300 in a minute. He waited in line till 10:20 AM, but had to leave since he had to be at work at 11 AM.

A wasted morning, nothing to show for it.

By the end of my week there, the Government began organizing the so called CLAP’s, (Local Committees for Supply and Production) as the only possible source for regulated products, banning their sale at markets and supermarkets and therefore creating a system that favors those that support or claim to support the Maduro administration, a double standard and discriminating method, which is simply another form of fascism exhibited by the Maduro Government. (The picture at the top if when a CLAP tried to take over a food truck at a supermarket near the Miraflores Palace, by the end of it, people marched to the Palace in protest and the police had to use tear gas. )

And with increased lines and shortages, the conflicts seem to be increasing in intensity and size. What worries me the most, is that at some point, the military will lose control of the situation and there could be an escalation of the conflict beyond the capability of the Government.

And while all of this was happening, Maduro was acting like Nero in burning Rome. Two days he danced and sang on Nationwide TV, another he ranted against the economic war and by the end of the week, he left the country to visit Cuba, where he meekly asked Caribbean and Latin American countries to support his Government.

Meanwhile the opposition concentrated on the recall vote, which is currently paralyzed and frozen in the virtual world of some form of mediation by pro-Chavismo ex-Presidents.

Paralyzed. That seems to the word that best described politics down there. Both sides paralyzed in place, the Government because it can’t find a way of disentangling itself from the economic mess it created and the opposition, because it has a one track plan, which it wants to move forward via international pressure. There seems to be little consensus on the opposition on everything else, with Capriles apparently disagreeing with the only RR strategy and others, like Falcón, starting to organize looking towards the 2019 Presidential election.

Meanwhile, people are puzzled by the weakening black rate, a fleeting phenomenon, as the Dicom rate continues to soar (You can download my friend’s Girish’s App here to have this info on your cell phone or tablet). To me, this is nothing more than noise. While it is true that at Bs. 1,000, M2 is barely US$ 5 billion, it is also true that at the official rate, where the Government imports all of the regulated goods, the number is closer to US$ 500 billion. For the Government to unify the rate and truly lower the black rate, it would have to do too many things it has refused to do, like moving the stuff imported at Bs. 10 per US$ to something like ten or twenty times more, make the black market legal and raise interest rates and have some funds ready to sell in a new open market.

I don’t believe the Government will do all of the above at once. Without all of them, it simply will not work. The only reason the black rate has been moving down is that the excess liquidity in the financial system is mostly in the Government-run banks, which are precisely those that are not lending much (Grab your average Pendejo Sin Fronteras (PSF)  who calls for the nationalization of the banking system and explain this simple fact to them…).

And on that technical note, I stop for today, promising at least a post on Puerto Cabello in the next few days…