Archive for the 'Venezuela' Category

Fast Paced Changes In Venezuela

June 5, 2016

clap

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…

 

Venezuela’s Health Crisis Will Be Long Lasting

May 22, 2016

MaduroMarco TorresAristobulo  pa

Maduro with some of the soldiers during the military exercise and the Minister for Feeding, the Vice-President and the Minister of Industry and Commerce participate, some of them dressed in full military dress, even if they were never part of the Armed Forces.

As Maduro and some of his Minister participated this week in “military excercise” which mobilized half a million soldiers and civil militia members, at an estimated cost of US$ 20-30 million, you have to wonder what is going through these people’s minds.  While they spend money on this to make a show of force against a possible foreign invasion, the health crisis Venezuela is experiencing is something unheard of in the modern world.

And what is needed is resources, the same resources being used in these military exercizes and military equipment.

Wasn’t the revolution all about the “people”. Well, the people are dying and will feel the effect of lacks of medicines for a long time.

While we have all heard the calls for medicine xx or yy in Twitter or Facebook, what needs to be understood is that this is not only a crisis today, but something which will have an impact on the health of Venezuelans for years to come. The people above in the pictures, wasting their time and Venezuela’s money are not only ignoring those that die everyday due to the lack of medicines, but they are also sentencing many others to die in the future, due to the absence of the most basic medicines for health problems that can be easily controlled or managed.

These same people, are making daily decisions in Venezuela about which pharmaceutical companies can get limited foreign currency, which are based on their own ill conceived plans for the the development of the Venezuelan economy.

Today, Venezuelans find that even the most basic antibiotics can not be found. Why? Because it is not only that the foreign currency approved is limited, but that there is no health management concept involved in deciding which products get or not foreign currency.

Any rational plan would be based on guaranteeing the basic or essential medicines contained the the lists elaborated by the World Health Organization both for adults and children that can be found here. A lot of experience and thinking has gone into these lists, which are constantly being updated and modified. These are the most basic list of such essential products. However, as you peruse the list, you realize that you know for a fact that you have seen and checked reports that many of them are missing from Venezuela’s drugstores.

Take simple things, like disinfectants and antiseptics. There are a number of them which are only found in insufficient quantities thesedays, such that hospitals have to shut down areas and operating rooms, because there is no way to guarantee that patients can be held in these areas without disinfecting them first. This implies that operations are postponed, patients sent home and people simply die, because simple procedures that will prolong their life can not be provided safely.

Sometimes, not even the reagents needed to perform simple blood tests can be found and patients are turned away even before they can tell why it is they are not feeling well. Sometimes they have to wait weeks before they can have what is considered a simple exam in most, if not all, countries of the world.

And you may ask why if there is such a list, the Maduro Government does not use it? Simple, in the world of Chavismo, which ignores all knowledge and in which non-experts are put in charge of these complex problems, whether you get or not foreign currency has exclusively been determined by two factors in recent months 1) Are you importing raw materials to make the medicines or products in Venezuela? and 2) What products have significant shortages at this moment?

The problem with this criteria, is that not all medicines are produced in Venezuela. Thus, if for example, you ask to import the basic component of a drug against hypertension, which is basically all the final medicine contains, then you don’t get the foreign currency. Problem is, most modern drugs against hypertension are not produced in Venezuela. The result is that, for example, the pharmaceutical I use, has not been available in the country since March 2015, about 14 months ago.

Same with antibiotics. Some antibiotics are produced in Venezuela, but they tend to be old ones that people have developed resistance against, so, yes, you can buy antibiotics, but not necessarily those that may be needed for the particular infection you have.

Ironically, blood and blood plasma products, which used to be produced by Government run Quimbiotec, have not been produced since this plant was shut down last year, as the political battle for control of the plant destroyed the technical capabilities it had. Even in Aporrea, Chavistas call this a national shame, as these products are needed today more than ever due to the presence of Zika and the related Guillian Barre syndrome.

Thus, policies are simply determined using a misguided project for the manufacture of medicines and pharmaceuticals in Venezuela. And in the middle of the implementation of this, the Government discovers something is critically absent and then it stops approving foreign currency for all products, except for one particular sector. For example, last month, I am told the Government only approved foreign currency for manufacturers of contraceptives, which have been absent from drugstores for quite a few months. (Another LONG LASTING effect in the works!)

This haphazard way of doing things is not only killing people today, but will have long lasting effects over the Venezuelan population. As an example, take the same case of medicines against hypertension. Once you start taking one, you are supposed to never stop. Your cardiovascular system will cycle back to high blood pressure and you may have problems. Well, thousands of Venezuelans have had to reduce their dose or simply stop taking these products.

And there are many cases like this.

Thus, the Venezuelan health crisis will be long lasting. It is not only a matter of the damage it is doing today to those getting sick but are unable to do anything about it, but also the damage to those that were taking substances that controlled their illnesses, but can no longer do it.

The crime committed by these people, goes beyond wasting money in useless military exercises that seem more like a parody, but also in making it difficult for humanitarian aid to arrive in the country. While it has not refused yet any aid, none of it has supposedly reached the country because of all of the permits required. This is all done under the excuse that there is no humanitarian crisis to speak of.

When this nightmare is over, if ever, epidemiologists will come to Venezuela to study the effects of withdrawing modern medicine on the population for a certain period of time and see what can be learned from the irresponsible and criminal policies of Chavismo.

IMG_0479Playing hide and seek during military maneuvers. Hope the guys is not allergic, there are no antihistamines either.

Maduro “Announces” New Emergency Powers Decree

May 15, 2016

16520349-A-background-design-element-of-an-antique-historical-paper-scroll-document-or-decree-with-red-wax-se-Stock-VectorLast Friday, President Maduro announced that he would extend the economic emergency powers decree (The same one that the National Assembly did not approve, but the Supreme Court said it did not matter) and announced that he would also decree a state of exception to “neutralize and defeat the external aggression against our country”

Now, you would think that given the importance of such a decree, the Government would have distributed a copy by now, but, no such luck, the details of the decree are unknown. Maduro will apparently issue it taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the prior economic power decree, in which the “High” Court simply scratched part of the Constitution (Art. 339 of the Constitution, for example)  saying the Assembly did not have to approve the decree.

Some people are calling this a “coup”. I disagree. You can’t have a coup when you already staged one. I can’t even recall when this happened and one could argue when it was. It may have been when Chávez was never sworn in in Jan. 2013, as Chavismo suggested this was simply a “formality”. Or it may have been when Maduro took over from Chávez for the new term, despite the fact that the VP is named by the President and there is no proof that Chávez was even conscious at the time. Or it may have been when the Supreme Court twisted and violated the Constitution dozens of time, just to have the Government get its way.

So many coups and nobody has been counting them, but this was not it!

And the funny thing is that just last week, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister went to the UN to say there was no crisis in Venezuela, no emergency. Funny, no? the President not only extends the economic emergency decree, but also expands it to include a state of emergency.

And it just so happens that during a state of emergency, there can be no public gatherings like those the opposition has been promoting to protest the recurrent delays in the processing of the request for a recall referendum vote against none other than President Nicolas Maduro. Each step of the process has been delayed, over-interpreted and postponed, using vaporous interpretations by the Government-controlled Electoral Board. Which, of course has everything to do with trying to delay a recall vote until after Jan. 10th. 2017, when if Maduro is recalled, his personally-chosen active Vice-President would replace him and complete his term until Jan. 2019.

And thus, the threat is not from the outside, as Maduro wants you or someone to believe, but from the inside: the fear that the opposition will increasingly take to the streets to force a recall vote before the fateful date of Jan. 10th. 2017.

Thus, the guessing game begins as to who the VP will be in January. Opposition lore will have it be current VP Aristobulo Isturiz, “someone we can talk to”. Forget it! Aristobulo does not have the red credentials, nor the trust of Chavismo, precisely because the opposition can talk to him. It will likely be someone who is in the Cabinet, someone Maduro trusts. Perhaps Marco Torre, a loyal former military a perennial Cabinet member. Perhaps better a civilian, Jorge Rodriguez, loyal to Chávez and Nicolas. But who knows? There is still a lot of time before January and maybe not enough people will show up for a recall after that date*.

Stay tuned.

*Maybe I placed too much emphasis on who will replace him, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that there will not be much motivation to change Maduro for someone else. Remember that the opposition needs to get more votes to recall than Maduro got in his Presidential election.

Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index (PCNI) V: For Once Good News!

May 11, 2016

ptocabellomay11

For once, it feels good to report some reasonably good news, as the Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index has been showing some strength for the first time since early March. In fact, there had been no reading of nine ships in port since March 4th., two months ago. The increase has been sustained and I have seen daily changes, but I try to obtain a value at the same time each day (right after sunset). I did miss some days, as I have been traveling.

Despite that we are still below last year’s levels, which simply proves that the country’ foreign Minister lied outright at the United Nations when she claimed Venezuela was importing food for three countries. How these “revolutionaries” can say these things with a straight face is beyond me.

Hopefully, these new arrivals imply some improvement in the availability of food in the upcoming weeks for Venezuelans.

 

Tale Of Two incompetences: The Electric Crisis And The Bill supply

April 27, 2016

aristobuloguri1

As I watched the Vice-President announce yesterday from the Guri dam, that public workers will no longer work from Wednesday to Sunday in order to save electricity, I could not help but wonder how limited in their understanding that pathetic civilian-military combo in the picture above is. By now, they have become a parody of a Government, but they still want to stage the announcement for the benefit of some imaginary crowd that they think will applaud  and cheer them on, as they get their feet dirty, for once, but really do nothing to solve the problem at hand.

They simply have no idea how to solve it. They never have. Seventeen years running around like a lost electron, without knowing what to do.

And two current crisis (among so many) show the incompetence of Chavismo at solving any problem. The electric problem, a complex technical issue that has been mishandled from the beginning and caused by Chavismo and now the shortage of currency bills in the country, a problem created and executed with all of the whole hearted incompetence of Chavismo management, but which lacks any technical component or complexity, beyond simple common sense.

But Chavismo has botched up both, the complex one over and over and the simple one with its sheer and remarkable stupidity.

The electric problem began in 2000 with the all-knowledgable full-of-himself Jorge Giordani, who had a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a belief that he knew it all, which led him to cancel or postpone some hydroelectric projects in the Caroni basin, the same one as Guri. This was done in order to save money and because he did not believe in hydroelectric power, only in the magical power of Hugo Chávez apparently. Reportedly, he included in his wisdom that he thought Guri had plenty of power for our little Nation, a fact that I have been unable to confirm.

If you put together this, with Chavismo getting rid of anyone with any technical knowledge that was not fully loyal to the cause, and over the next few years, the electric problem got worse and more complex. Lack of investment at Cadafe and Edelca, now part of the all powerful Corpoelec, which includes the nationalized electric companies in 2007, only compounded the problem.

As if this was not enough, in the middle, Chávez brought Cuban advisors (Or Fidel sent them?) who at least were honest enough to suggest stuff they knew: The building of localized power plants where needed like in Cuba, isolated from the very distributed and highly interconnected system Venezuela had, a highly sophisticated system with power sharing.

Plants were built without transmission lines, the Government overpaid, many people made lots of money, as Venezuela paid over twice the internationally recognized price per MW. Meanwhile a parade of politicians with no technical background or an idea of how to run such a complex operation, from Comandante Fausto to Jesse Chacon, to Hector Navarro, to the current military officer playing boy scout that presides the Electric Ministry, were incapable of making the right,  if any, decisions. They had no clue and had few people around them with the know how.

Meanwhile, Guri was ignored, not because they knew there was no problem, but because it was better to give contracts to new people and companies, that pay maintenance to the original manufacturers of the systems and turbines that were the only choice to fix and maintain Guri.

And as the 2010 El Niño hit, the country came close to collapse, but the rains saved the day. Once the storm passed, the problem was ignored once again, there was money to be made elsewhere and despite the very ignorant boast by Jesse Chacon that he would fix the electric problem in 100 days, a recognition of how little he understood its extent and complexity, Guri continued to be mismanaged and ignored.

Mismanaged, not only because little maintenance was done, but also because the dam was no longer “managed”. A friend that worked at Edelca 35 years ago tells me that there were sophisticated computer models of how to manage the dam that can not be in operation today, otherwise the dam would have been shutdown.

And we stand today at the brink of a huge black out after two years of low rain, but not the dramatic drought the Government wants to convince us this is. And as 1600 mm. separate the country from a disaster, all Chavismo can do is tweet and be on live TV from the side of the dam, showing their incompetence. Only rain can solve the problem that Chavismo created and has been unable to fix.

However there has been a lot of rain in the last ten days and the level keeps dropping.

Contrast this with the currency bill problems. A simple problem when you come down to it. Printing bills cost money, so as inflation heats up, you design a new higher denomination bill, saving money on the number of bills. You send a purchase order, Pay for the bills and they arrive. As simple as that.

Instead, as Bloomberg reported today, as I was writing this post, The highest denomination bill is worth less than a dime, no new bill has been designed and after plane loads of bills arriving in the country to relieve the scarcity, the country stops paying the companies that print the bills.

No more bills for you!

A very simple process of decision making was interfered upon by an ignorant President, who did not want to print higher denomination bills, lest the citizens discover that there is inflation. As if the citizens were so stupid to not notice it when they go to buy food. And then to top it off, refuse to acknowledge the problem, bringing increasingly larger amounts of bills. Why pay if the printers keep sending them?

Until they didn’t.

Total incompetence on a very simple matter. You can’t make this stuff up. It just shows that whether simple or difficult, Chavismo has no clue about management, knowledge, technical issues, execution, costs and such complicated issues. If they only could use their political Macchiavellism to attack either of these  problems, whether simple or complex!

But everything is improvised. Just think, there is little evidence that sending people home saves any electricity. In fact, over Easter, a national holiday was decreed for ten days and according to Government officials, there were no significant savings. So, let’s simply not use what we learned then and completely paralyze the country. Who cares?

Venezuela is rich, what’s a few months without Government workers doing anything?

It’s Chavismo incompetence at its best!

PCNI: Things Looking Up, More Ships Coming In

March 9, 2016

pcnbi

Well, for a change, some good news for the Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index (PCNI). The number of cargo ships in the Puerto Cabello port has been increasing, slowly, but surely, as the levels of two to four ships a day have changed and as you can see above, we have seen some days of ten ships and oscillations between six and ten ships per day.

This is clearly a significant improvement over the previous month, but the number of cargo ships is is running about 50-60% of the number last year, but there has been a significant improvement so far.

My data taking has also improved. I used to record once a day, but as the number of ships dwindled, I became so interested in the topic (and concerned!) that I now go check it many times a day. The number of ships is the maximum number recorded every single day. The number was also checked with the incoming and outgoing ships in the same website marinetraffic.com to make sure the error, if any, was small.

I certainly hope the improvement continues…

Miners Disappearance Exposes Perverse Nature Of The Chávez “Revolution”

March 8, 2016

tumeremo

The story is quite straight forward and in any other country it would be a major scandal, there are simply too many perverse elements about the story: Last Friday, 28 miners who illegally mine gold near the Atensa mine in Bolivar state, did not return home in the evening. They disappeared mysteriously, reportedly in the hands of “El Topo” gang. Some of those who managed to escape the massacre, claim the Army and the investigative police were with the gang. The bodies were later paraded around, supposedly with an official escort, and taken away from the area.

The relatives went to the investigative police (CIPC), but the police asked that the survivors be brought in to be interrogated. Obviously, none of them want to  testify or accuse anyone.

These were not faceless bodies, the people provided 28 names, and it reportedly includes a woman who is pregnant.

And then came the first reaction by the Governor of Bolívar State: He came on TV to deny that anybody had disappeared. Even worse, he claimed he went around the region and found no bodies. That he had heard there was some form of confrontation, but no bodies, no massacre, no one had disappeared.

All of this, while protests began to escalate and the relatives of the missing miners began not only providing names and ID numbers, but pictures to show that these were not “phantom” people. They were very real.

The Governor went as far as tweeting on the subject, as the protests increased and roads were blocked on Saturday, like shown in the picture at the top of the post.

Here are two tweets by Rangel:

fr1

fr2“We make a call to the “people” of Bolívar to preserve the peace that characterizes us, let’s not make ourselves echo of false and irresponsible information” said the first tweet above,…and

“Cheap politicians want to tarnish the success of the registry for mining projects that the National Government has put forward with important advances”

Why the rush? Why deny so fast? Why make claims he could not support? A registry of mining projects is more important than 28 lives of Venezuelans?

As the protests increased and the proofs of the identities of the 28 miners became known, others parts of the Government reacted. The Prosecutor’s office and the People’s Ombudsman were forced to investigate the possible massacre.

By then, Rangel Gomez changed his tune, admitting the “possibility” that something may have happened, but again asking why it was that there were no bodies. But somehow, he does not ask where are the people that are missing. There should be “live” bodies, no?

This case is simply another remarkable example of the perverse revolution initiated by Hugo Chávez and now being followed (on steroids!) by Maduro.

First, the Governor’s reaction is typical of the revolution: Anything denounced is an attack on the revolution and it has nothing to do with reality and must be false. If the events took place far away from Caracas, then nobody will find out about it, so the denial will become the truth anyway.

Like the 130,000 homicides the revolution denies have taken place since 1999 due to the indolence of the Government.

Except in this case, the new spread further as the Deputy from Bolívar and others learned about it and they would not let go…

Second, the Governor shows no empathy and no compassion with the miners or their relatives. The case is something he wants to sweep under the rug fast, before those thinking of lending the Government money to invest in the country’s gold, change their minds (If they ever had the idea of lending absurd amounts guaranteed with gold in the ground)

To Rangel Gomez, these are not people or human beings, they are lost voters.

But things are even more perverse:

One, As in everything in the country, it seems that whenever there is economic activity, order is preserved by “pranes” gang leaders who control jails, towns, cities and mines. Since the Government is not imposing order, a pran does. The other day I was told of a fairly sizable town in Sucre State controlled by a pran. If you want to work on the PDVSA project there, you have to make the pran happy. In another town, there is a sugar project, when people from Caracas went to visit it, the pranes provided the security.

Two, the official media, whether VTV, Telesur, El Universal or whatever, has simply ignored the issue. Not only do they deny access to the opposition to their outlets, but if you are Chavista and want to denounce something like a massacre, you are suspect. Chavistas have fewer rights than anyone in Venezuela apparently.

In fact, it is quite strange, some media actually have shown Rangel Gomez denying the massacre, but one has to wonder what the viewers must bethinking since there have been no news of a massacre taking place.

And if this were not perverse enough, not a beep is heard from Nicolas Maduro. Nothing about looking into it, least of all going to visit to express his sympathy with the families. Nothing. A perverse silence that measures the importance (or lack thereof) that he gives to the possible massacre.

Because in the end Maduro thinks that acknowledging the possible massacre will simply decrease his popularity. Never having solved any problems that the population would appreciate, he just thinks it is all against him. Economic war, massacre war, that is how he views the world. War against Nicolas Maduro.

It has to be!

It is a perverse end for the Chávez revolution. The revolution was supposed to be for the good of the people. Whether twenty eight Venezuelans may have been massacred or not, may be alive or not, is simply irrelevant to a Government whose only goal and purpose, is to survive and stay in power, the people be damned.

The true nature of the perverse revolution is all that remains…

Not A Great Week In Venezuela…

February 27, 2016

Aristobulo

It was not a great week in Venezuela. While it is true that if you were a bondholder of Venezuela 2016 you were very happy to get paid on Friday, the average Venezuelan felt pretty lousy all week.

Monday was a day of darkness and protests. Darkness because during the day, the East of Caracas had a very serious black out which had lingering effects for days and that same evening, the West of Caracas suffered the same fate, including the Miraflores Presidential Palace. Someone sent me a picture (mostly black) claiming that was the darkened palace, which left me wondering whatever happened to the emergency power plant and if Maduro was actually there during the blackout. But I have not seen it anywhere else, except the news that the area was dark.

That evening, people took to the streets in Catia (West), Petare (East) and there was pot banging in Chacao (Middle). In the West and the East riots were over food lines and insecurity, but the Government made sure the “Pueblo” could not express itself by sending out the National Guard in Robocop suits to repress the protests.

The next day, the full Cabinet and the Vice-President went to the National Assembly to present the President’s Annual Report, called “Memoria y Cuenta” (Memory and Accounts) which is the subject of numerous jokes about No memory and tales (Cuentos)).

And that was indeed the way it was.

Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz showed up in his best suit (Whatever happened to his red shirts?) to tell a tale of progress, democracy and prosperity in Venezuela. There were the usual mentions of “Economic War” causing the few problems the country has like inflation, but the Vice-President even stated that the country was “solvent” in 2015 despite the 20% of GDP deficit.

And he said nothing about food lines, health care and crime…

As Aristobulo told his tales, electricity workers were still trying to turn on the lights in the East of Caracas and as the session drew into a close, night was falling and Caracas was shutting down for the day. With Shopping Centers forced to close early (and open late), the people have no excuse to be out in the streets early. The only excuses they used to have, a little shopping, some last minute supermarket visit, are no longer valid. The recessionary effect of this measure will make the economy tank even more if rains do not begin early this spring.

Meanwhile, President Maduro continued turning on his Fourteen Engines of Production, holding daily Court on nationwide TV to turn on the “Fishing Engine”, the “Medicine Engine” or whatever. But wishing it will not make it so, as all of those invited to be part of each engine always complained about the lack of raw materials, dollars and parts to get the engine going.

But Maduro’s promise is that in 100 days the engines will be producing, forgetting that all “100-day” promises during seventeen years of Chavismo have failed miserably.

Meanwhile at the National Assembly, Chavista supporters got unruly, Ramos Allup got mad and tried to move them out, which they refused, which caused the session to be suspended. Such is the state of democracy in Venezuela. As if this was not enough, Maduro congratulated them for their victory, which stopped the discussion on a Bill called “Law for National Production” a strange legal instrument which some opposition Deputies think will somehow promote national production of goods and widgets.

Never have so many been so lost and confused…

The Bill is truly obnoxious, admitting, recognizing and accepting that there are exchange controls, price controls and even stating that there will be no privatizations in some areas of the economy.

Such is the mind set of opposition leaders after seventeen years of populism.

Then on Thursday the Government published a Memorandum of Understanding in which it settled with a tiny Canadian company called Gold Reserves which had been awarded US$ 740 million over the nationalization of the Las Cristinas gold concession. According to this fantastic (imaginative?) piece of paper, the tiny company (US$ 15 million in assets, US$ 45 million in debt and US$ 11 million in losses in the first nine months of 2015) will invest US$ 5 billion in Venezuela and lend US$ 2 billion to the country. Implied in the MOU is that this new gold company is payment in lieu of an actual cash payment to the company. At least there was no 100 day promise involved.

On Thursday, a protest on the healthcare crisis tried to reach the Ombudsman’s office, but in the distorted and bizarro world of Chavismo Democracy, this is not allowed. Thus, the Constitution allows protests, but the National Police and the National Guard don’t allow it. The Constitution has an instance for people to address their complaints, but this instance is not available if you try.

Only Chavismo…

Then on Friday, the anti-climatic payment of the 2016 Venezuela bond took place. Good for the bondholders, bad for people needing everything, as the debate starts anew on what will happen in October when PDVSA will have to make payments of over US$ 3.05 billion. So far, the Government has understood the political and financial implications of default, the question is at which point the political consequences of continuing to pay become more significant as unrest balloons out of control.

Stay tuned…

A Bright And Hopeful Day For Venezuela

January 6, 2016

byebyechavezWorkers remove Chavez’ giant poster from National Assembly building

While I am far away, I could not help but be glued to the events in Caracas today. While it was certainly not a smooth day, it was a great day for Venezuela. A day of hope and possibilities, a bright day for the future of democracy in the country. A very important day for Venezuela’s history and the image above clearly shows that change is in the air. The statues have yet to fall, but it’s coming. The beginning is here, let’s see how long it takes to get to a good point.

I will start with the most important signs of the day:

-The National Assembly controlled by the opposition was allowed to be sworn in, almost with no violence. This was not clear would be the case a couple of weeks ago.

-The Press (from all sides) was allowed into the Assembly freely for the first time in years to report what was happening. Reporters need not be afraid anymore.

-The opposition had presence in the media, beginning to restore its practical ban from TV, radio and print. The “people” will be able to see and hear the other side like it has not happened in years.

-The opposition managed not to be provoked by Chavismo, maintaining a serious and peaceful tone. A new tone of democracy and conciliation.

-Chavismo showed its true autocratic colors. It refused to have a dialogue, resorting to the usual insults. Except some the insults were elegantly returned by the opposition. Perhaps nothing exemplified this more than the very direct reproach of the use of Diplomatic Passports for drug dealing, which must have stung the First Lady, who is now a Deputy for Cojedes State.

-The first steps towards more institutionality were taken. No more rubber stamps, no more legislation from the Executive branch, no more hiding behind the revolution. The message was clear, the Assembly will call on all powers to explain what they did, do or plan to do. There will be accountability for all Government officials

-Chavismo looked bad. From an apparently inebriated opening speech by the oldest Deputy in the Hall, to their use of expensive watches and jewelry, to Chavismo abandoning the Assembly, they sent the wrong signals to voters that clearly indicated that they want change. Blaming the opposition for the country’s problems is simply not working, the change is coming, but from the other side.

The negative part was that the opposition did not manage to swear in all the Deputies, but it still has a two thirds majority. Clearly, there is a force behind the whole day taking place the way it did. Someone told Maduro and his cronies to avoid violence, to allow the voice of the voters to be heard. Chavismo wanted to question 22 Deputies, but it did not happen and the case in Amazonas is extremely iffy. It would have been nice to have all of them sworn in and impose the authority of the Assembly.

For me, another negative is the Presidency of the Assembly. A new Venezuela deserves better than Ramos Allup there, no matter how realpolitik it may have been to name him. He represents the old guard, tied to lies, corruption and protection of relatives. If he is the best the opposition has, the opposition has a long way to fill the shoes it wants to fill*.

A good beginning. A bright beginning. Many Chavistas must be trembling after today. They can no longer hide. Checks and balances look like they are back in Venezuela. So is the press, which will have access at least to ask uncomfortable questions. It may be time to carefully decide whose side you are on or how strongly you support Maduro. Red shirts are out. Suits are in. If Chavismo keeps screaming and acting like cry babies, the demise of the revolution will simply accelerate.

There is a long road ahead, but it seems as if each day it looks a little shorter…

*For those who are not convinced of this, I invite you to reflect on what Ramos did to Alek Boyd and why he did it. Is that the Venezuela we want?

 

 

 

 

A Priceless Detention Order Related To PDVSA Graft

December 21, 2015
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The above detention order is simply priceless. I can only imagine how, Cesar Batiz, Setty and Alek Boyd feel when they read it. They pioneered the subject and went after these people relentlessly. They are now reaping the fruits of their labor.

My understanding is that the indictment of Rincón itself is sealed, but the detention order and the Judge’s reasons for not giving bail are simply priceless.

To wit:

-Defendant Rincon-Fernandez (Rincon) is a Venezuelan national charged with violating the Foriegn Corrupt Practices Act and conspiring to launder money.

-The indictment charges that Rincon and his co-defendants set up several schemes to obtain contracts with PDVSA. In al schemes bribes were paid to PDVSA officials to get Rincon affiliated companies on the short list of companies which were entitled to bid for PDVSA contracts.

-Rincon also bribed individuals to put non-competitors on the short list.

-The investigation covered 730 bank accounts (how many do you have?), of those, 10% were realted to Rincon, his family and his companies. The indictment seeks forfeiture of three Swiss bank accounts. While the government has traced $100 million from the scheme into those Swiss accounts, it can not trace outgoing funds due to Swiss banking law secrecy.

-From 2009 through 2014, over one billion dollars was traced to this conspiracy. Of that amount, $750,000,000 was traced to Rincon between 2010 and 2013.

One billion dollars!!!

And I note that during at least part of this period:

Chávez was alive and President of Venezuela!

Rafael Ramirez was President of PDVSA!

Jorge Giordani was both Minister of Finance and Planning and a member of the Board of PDVSA!

Luisa Ortega was prosecutor!

And during all this time, there were many denunciations of this corruption and NOBODY in Venezuela did anything, including Chávez, Ramirez, Giordani and Ortega.

What will the last three say now?

Chavismo is simply too much…This is stuff of movies and fiction, live from Bolivarian Venezuela…

And here is the arrest warrant, released the next day

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