July 24, 2009

Ten things we learned this week

Quico and Juan Cristóbal say: As we cross the proverbial finish line by posting our 100th post of the week, here are a few things we learned along the way.

1. Blogging this much is really, really hard. No, really.

2. It's actually not that hard to find topics to blog about. The half-baked ideas and general nuttiness coming out of Caracas, Tegucigalpa and anywhere chavismo's tentacles dare to reach simply boggles the mind. It's figuring out what to say about this stuff that's hard.

3. One US dollar will buy you about 18 lempiras.

4. While the comments section suffered a bit, we felt the quality of the comments was much higher.

5. Juan Cristóbal does better with high frequency blogging than Quico. Juan had a ball this week, Quico almost went bald...

6. In Honduras, the money is called "Lempiras".

7. Our readers are the best. Quico's inbox is bursting with views from y'all's windows. (We'll get to them little by little!) We were afraid we might lose readers due to the overwhelming pace, but readership is up 18% this week. Thanks!

8. The quality of the posts was somewhat lower, for obvious reasons. But we also felt weirdly liberated. All that pressure to post ends up leading to cathartically devil-may-care writing!

9. That girl in the bikini is smokin'.

10. It's just like Mel Zelaya to finally set foot back inside Honduras right as we finish the marathon...prick!

Have a good weekend everyone. It's less to a saner schedule for us from Monday.

Post 100 of 100. And they said it couldn't be done!

Bolívar = Stalin, and other pearls of wisdom from the sick minds still tending the rump Noticiero Digital

Quico says: Anybody remember Noticiero Digital? In its time, it was genuinely pathbreaking: the first site that made Venezuelans stop and realize they could get their news faster online than on traditional media. Then Frank de Prada sold the thing, made a bundle, ran off to do Noticias24 and all the traffic soon followed him, while Noticiero Digital slowly degenerated into, well, basically a space for this kind of lunatic rant:Yup. Those guys are convinced Chávez is subtly trying to persuade us Bolívar is just like Stalin. Totally insane? You betcha...but kind of entertaining too.

(I am unable to confirm, btw, rumors to the effect that the current owner of Noticiero Digital is married to one Miguel Henrique Otero.)

Post 99 out of 100. Dizzy!

Chávez accuses Barack Obama of planning to invade Venezuela

Juan Cristóbal says: - Here you have it, in his own words. A preposterous idea if I've ever heard one, but one Chávez used to justify a huge military buildup.

Post 98 of 100 ... finish line is ever closer.

Mental Health Break - El Saladillo Chronicles

Juan Cristóbal says: -

Post 97 of 100 ... this makes me all verklempt...

The Original and The Best

Quico says: Credit where credit is due: in the overcrowded field of snivelling pro-Chávez sycophants and propagandists, nobody does it better than Mark Weisbrot. His LA Times OpEd today finds Herr Whitebread in fine form, with one of those finely-honed, long-rehearsed, the-media-and-the-establishment-are-lying-to-you rants certain to make respectable white West Coast liberals rally to his cause. Not for Weisbrot the maximalist polemical style of, say, Green Left Weekly: I'm sure that's how he thinks, but he's too savvy, too aware of the way traditional leftist discourses would turn off his target audience to go down such an rhetorical dead end. By the time you're through reading this stuff, you'll swear Mel Zelaya is a monaguillo, Hillary Clinton is Rumsfeld in drag, and we have always been at war with East Asia...he's just that good.

Post 95 of 100. Panblanco Chronicles.

A girl in a bikini

Quico says: This is a girl in a bikini. I could come up with some kind of justification for what she's doing on my blog, but that would be so un-N24...

Post 95 of 100. Just couldn't help myself.

Our unbearable military fetish

Juan Cristóbal says: - Ever notice how every single freakin' holiday in Venezuela is an excuse for a military parade? Simón Bolívar’s birthday, the 5 de Julio, the 19 de Abril. Even for Christmas the President goes around military bases presenting his "saludo navideño." Mind you, this didn't start with Chávez. Some genius before him came up with the idea of turning the commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fifth of July - a civic act if I ever saw one - into the God-forsaken "Día del Ejército." So how about starting a holiday like the "Día sin Militares" - kind of like the "Día de Parada," only we go around pretending the Armed Forces don't even exist.

Juan Montalvo had it right. Colombia es un colegio, Ecuador es un convento, y Venezuela es un cuartel. Sad, really.

Post 94 of 100 ... and I'm ready for this to end...

PSF bandwagon welcomes new member?

Juan Cristóbal says: - Spike Lee is in Caracas today, speaking at the Cinemateca Nacional. Wonder what he'll have to say...

Post 93 of 100 ... largando la chicha...

CC and the MSM

Juan Cristóbal says: - As we close our final day of the Sullivan challenge, one of the interesting things this experience has brought home for me is how dependent blogging is on the information provided by the mainstream media (MSM). Our "business model" goes somewhat like this: we try and find out what's going on via Noticias 24, or Tal Cual, or El Universal or Globovision, and then we comment on it, and you people pitch in with additional insights. Once in a while we talk about things nobody is talking about, or write more deeply-felt, cerebral stuff. So while we rightly bemoan the status of the MSM, we must acknowledge our parasitic relationship with it. In fact, if the MSM goes away, I dunno what we would end up writing about. You can go ahead and call us hypocrites.

Newspapers all over the world are going bankrupt. Just yesterday, for example, my local newspaper printed its last edition after 174 years in circulation. So is too soon to start imagining a Venezuela without El Nacional or El Universal?

You know that's coming. Sources say that circulation for El Nacional is at a paltry 20,000 editions daily. El Universal, with its higher-brow attitude, can't be doing much better. As the demographics change and Internet penetration goes up, people are getting more and more of their news online and from the TV.

Not all of this is Chávez’s fault. In fact, I venture to say most of it isn't. This is a worldwide phenomenon that has its roots on the way technology is changing and on the emergence of sites such as Craigslist or eBay that provide low-cost competition to those pesky ads newspapers get their revenues from.

But it also has to do with how Venezuelan newspapers have decided to suck their way to the grave. Sometimes, reading Venezuelan newspapers makes me so angry with their lack of quality, I can't wait for them to close shop and finally get what they had coming to them.

And yet, here we are, free-riding on their work. It's a scary new world we are entering, one fraught with opportunity but also with significant perils. Because once the only reporters are those working for VEA and Panorama (you know those guys won't go out of business), where will we get the truth from?

Post 92 of 100 ... be careful what you wish for ...

Freedom to sell your car

Juan Cristóbal says: - One of the most frustrating aspects of watching the (in)action of the Venezuelan opposition is that nobody seems to make an eloquent case for freedom. Ultimately, what the government's policies boil down to is a complete and utter takeover of the freedom of Venezuelans, freedoms one Simón Bolívar, born 226 years ago today, gave his life to secure. Can there be anything less Bolivarian than stripping Venezuelans of their basic rights? Case in point: the current discussion regarding the proposed Law for the Car Sector.

In case you haven't heard, the government is now discussing a law whereby it will regulate (and I mean really, really regulate) the prices and profits that car dealers can make. Currently, getting a car in Venezuela takes months of waiting and bribing. Typically, you don't have a choice on the type of car, the features, or the color - once your number is up, you buy what you can get.

Hell, there is even a scam going on between dealers and banks. If you don't work through the bank the salesman gets a commission from, you're essentially placed at the bottom of the list. This happened to my brother, who wanted to pay for his car in cash and had the door slammed in his face.

All this is the product of heavy regulation. From the import permits to get the parts to the dollars needed to buy them, from the wages your workers make to the gas that goes into the car - every single step of the process of buying and owning a car is regulated. And the auto sector is in crisis. Coincidence?

Well, the government's response to the crisis is, unsurprisingly, more regulation. With this new law, the government will set dealers' margins at 15% of the wholesale price (this in a country with rampant inflation). It will also ban the resale of a car within two years of having bought it, and if you get caught, you will have to pay a huge tax.

Gas, meet fire. Any eight-year old can understand this creates a whole series of perverse incentives. The likely product of these policies ranges from a black market of car registration to an increase in car theft.

And yet all these arguments against this policy fall somewhat short because they miss the basic point: this is an unacceptable takeover of the basic rights of Venezuelans. Because when the government forbids you to sell something that is rightfully yours, we are all less free, and we are all poorer.

Post 91 of 100 ... this challenge is affecting my marriage, Katy está cuaimatizada

Happy 226th Birthday, Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad!

Quico says: On big B's birthday, I'll share this bit from page 50 of John Lynch's biography, where he describes Bolívar's trip to London as, essentially, ambassador for the First Republic in the summer of 1810:
On occasions, from his rooms in Duke Street, Bolívar made his own way around London. He was thrown out of a brothel when one of the girls mistook him for a homosexual demanding services that were not on offer. When he tried to calm her with banknotes she threw them into the fire and raised the rest of the house: 'Imagine the scene, I spoke no English and the prostitute no Spanish. She seemed to think that I was some Greek pederast and created a scandal that made me leave faster than I had entered.'
Is there another historical character who we've heard more about and know less about?

Post 90 of 100. What exactly did he ask that girl to do?!

The View from Your Window

Singapore - 12:55 p.m.

Post 89 of 100. Don't want to lean on the VFYW thing too heavily, but...

Horseshoes and Handgrenades

Quico says: As far as pro-Micheletti agi-prop goes, this video puts the golpista case as well as such a thing can be put:Trouble is, close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades. It does you exactly no good to go through all the various ways what you did was legal and then gloss over the big, bad, stinking illegality at the center of it all: putting Zelaya on a plane in his pajamas.

In fact, all this video does is beg the question: if you had such a compelling legal case for arresting the president and putting him on trial, why did you have to muddle your message with such a visible illegality?

Oh, and you don't exactly cover yourself in glory when you fire journalists who use the word "coup" to describe your "coup" either, y'know?

Sorry UCD, but no cigar.

Post 88 of 100. Fools to the right of me, jokers to the left...


FARC says: "From the rebel mountains of Colombia we add our voices to the chorus that rejects the military coup against the government of president Zelaya in Honduras," says a FARC communiqué, before going on to condemn the Colombian government's "double standards." I swear to fucking God.

Post 87 of 100. We don't have a hemisphere, we have a farce.

A Sprawling Cultural Desert

Quico says: So in my desperate scramble to rustle up enough material for 100 posts in five days, I've started reading stuff I don't usually read, including El Universal's OpEd pages. It's a soul crushing exercise. You can read one opinion piece in El Universal after another all morning without ever encountering a fresh thought, an original insight, any hint at all of a human imagination alive and awake behind the keyboard.

Today, Alberto Jordán wisely opines that it is an insult to Francisco de Miranda to put him on a big mural alongside Che Guevara. Alvaro Benavides breaks the news that Venezuelans have gotten used to things that used to be totally unacceptable. Argelia Ríos breaks new ground saying "everything is going from bad to worse." Clodovaldo Hernández burnishes his enfant terrible credentials by daring to suggests some priests may - gasp - not actually be celibate! Eduardo Sapene not only surrenders to the most boilerplatish of boilerplate with an "emperor-has-no-clothes" rant but actually pads out his column, which was only 300 words to begin with, by summing up the original story!

Only Prof. Agustín Blanco Muñoz breaks the dreariness with a kind-of-interesting, somewhat-iconoclastic piece on the historical roots of Venezuelan caudillismo. Aside from his bit, there isn't a single opinion in the whole paper you couldn't get for free by listening in to the conversation in any arepera anywhere in the country.

Seriously, who picks these columnists? As it stands, El Universal's opinion pages amount to little more than a senseless ecocide: the wanton destruction of countless trees used to print opinions barely worth the electricity it takes to show them as pixels on a screen.

Post 86 of 100. Snob-o-rama, I know, I know...

Visit Beautiful Honduras!

Quico says: As of noon today, the 72 hour deadline set by the de facto government for Venezuela's diplomatic mission to leave Honduras will expire, and our guys in Tegucigalpa revert to the status of, I guess, tourists.

There are sooooo many ways this BS could escalate, it's scary.

Post 85 of 100. Lets Go Honduras!

Teach us more about democratic legitimacy, Sensei!

Quico says: This week, Fidel Castro attacked Óscar Arias for failing to ensure that Honduras returns to democratically elected government fast enough. No, no, seriously: This week, Fidel Castro attacked Óscar Arias for failing to ensure that Honduras returns to democratically elected government fast enough!

Post 84 of 100. We're through the looking glass here, people!

Profeteering from the mentally ill is not nice!

Quico says: Ever notice how, every time Chávez has one of his "episodes", some dog of war in Russia winds up several billion dollars richer? In my book, profiteering from the mentally ill is really beyond the pale. You'd almost think people strategically placed to charge commissions deals like these are talking up the episodes.
"Comandante, the empire stalks us at every turn...this Colombian deal is a pre-invation maneuver...we must protect the fatherland..."

Post 83 of 100. Gotta love what Google Images returns for "Dog of War".

The View from Your Window

Ann Arbor, Michigan - 2:47 p.m.

Feel like sharing the view from your window? Send a snapshot along to caracaschronicles@fastmail.fm

Post 82 of 100. Apparently Juan Cristobal works right across the street from a massonic temple...hmmmmm...

Chavismo's Deep Roots

Quico says: This video speaks so powerfully to the roots of the Chávez phenomenon, it really should be required viewing to people who think chavismo just sort of happened, out of nowhere. We see a 60s-era Caldera talking about the housing problem in Caracas. The guy seems well-intentioned enough - but then you see his constituents, and you feel just how desperately out of touch he was. Talking in turgid, bureaucratic gobbledygood about "topographic circumstances" and "habitability conditions" and "sanitary installations" while people's ranchos fall about around them, Caldera was from Mars, the voters were from Venus.

What's great about this video - well, at least the first few minutes, before it goes all conceptual and incomprehensible - is how strongly the sense of social distance comes across, how clearly that comes through. It's almost tribal. Caldera belongs to one tribe. His constituents belonged to another. He seems genuinely interested in doing something for their tribe...just as long as that "something" isn't understand them. Or - heavens - empathize with their problems. Couldn't have that.

Even now, so much of Chávez's popularity is, in the end, about tribe. About who he is rather than what he does.

Post 81 of 100. Gotta love YouTube.

July 23, 2009

The ten years of the Constitutional Assembly

Juan Cristóbal says: - This July 25th will mark the tenth anniversary of the election where we picked the members of the Constitutional Assembly - an anniversary not exempt from controversy. As you may know, an overwhelming majority of the members were chavista due to the government's ability to turn a 55% vote into 90% of the members. So in commemoration of this anniversary, I went through the list of members of the Assembly just to see how much things had changed.

Some of the loyal chavistas were there: Iris Varela, Adán, Tarek, Aristóbulo, García Ponce. Others have since fallen out of favor with chavismo, sometimes dramatically: Miquilena, Olavarría, Hermann Escarrá, Alfredo Peña, Angela Zago, Ricardo Combellas. The token representatives of the opposition were also there: Claudio Fermín, Alberto Francheschi, Virgilio Ávila Vivas (?), Julio Borges (although he wasn't part of any of the "Comisiones", was he shunned?). And some others were there as "coleados": Eliecer Otaiza? Marisabel de Chávez? Henry Falcón? Mirna Vies (who?)?

Pura joyita, pueh...

Post 80 of 100 ... glancing through that list, it's a wonder we got a semi-coherent Constitution out of it. I wish it were still valid.

Eavesdropping Druglord Spook Put In Charge of the Phone Company...

Quico says: So much bizarre shit happens in Venezuela on any given day that absolute belief-beggaring insanity has the easiest time just sort of slipping between the cracks. (Unofficial) reports suggests General Henry Rangel Silva, a man who has been publicly fingered as, basically, a major drug trafficker by the US Treasury Dept, who is known to have been the point-man ordered to hush up Chávez's illegal funding of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's election campaign in Argentina (c.f., Maletagate), who ran the Venezuelan spy agency DISIP as more and more illegal recordings of private conversations made their way to state TV, some of them with cartoon sound effects layered on top...that boyscout will now run...wait for it...THE COMPANY CONTROLLING ALL TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN THE COUNTRY!

Post 79 of 100. Hyperventilating now...

Will Maduro be driving the bus?

Juan Cristóbal says: - Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will apparently be accompanying Manuel Zelaya by land on his trip back to Honduras. I assume this is done to leave the doors open to diplomacy and to prevent situations that the Micheletti government might interpret as a provocation...

Post 78 of 100 ... here's hoping they're all placed in the same cell...

The revolution eating its has-beens

Juan Cristóbal says: - The Bolivarian Revolution has been making some strange moves regarding corruption as of late. A few weeks ago, we learned that former Finance Minister Tobías Nóbrega (sort of like a chavista Bernie Madoff) had been indicted for corruption. Today we learned that retired general Victor Cruz Weffer, a loyal chavista pawn in the early days of the Revolution (remember the Plan Bolívar 2000?) had also been indicted.

What can we make of this? To the untrained eye, it would appear as though chavismo is trying to get its act together by going after corruption within its own ranks. But that is a shallow reading of these cases, since both men have been separated from the inner workings of the government for years now.

When reading these kinds of news, one has to weigh them against the other evidence, which points to chavismo's propensity to actually promote some of its most notorious crooks. After all, today we learned that Diosdado Cabello actually heads 31 different state offices, with my buddy Armando Briquet calling him a "latifundista gubernamental." Henry Rangel Silva, former Intelligence chief and a man heavily involved in Maletagate, was recently promoted to *gulp* president of CANTV, the state-owned telecom conglomerate. And Rafael Ramírez and his family appear to be consolidating more and more power by the day.

So while chavismo goes after its has-beens, crooks with actual power on their hands appear to be doing just fine, thank you.

Post 77 of 100 ... and that painting of Cronos grosses me out every time I see it ...

The Venezuelan People Have Fallen in Love Twice: 1945 and 1998

Post 76 of 100. My YouTube tastes are a bit more high brow than Juan's...

The other Samán

Juan Cristóbal says: - Anyone who has followed chavismo through the years knows that the guy has practically run out of new people to promote. Whenever he shuffles the cabinet, he really shuffles it - Rodríguez Chacín goes from A to B to C, Diosdado goes from E to F to G, and so on. So the meteoric rise of Eduardo Samán to the upper echelons of chavismo has sparked my curiosity. Who is the man behind the beard?

Samán, as you may recall, has gone from superintendent of intellectual property, to head of consumer protection agency Indecu (now Indepabis), to (currently) Minister of Commerce. A notorious media whore, his main merit appears to be an unwavering loyalty to Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Most of all, he also is apparently a hard-core Marxist ideologue.

I asked around and people who have dealt with him call him an honest person but a real fruitcake, someone who thinks the fall of the Berlin Wall was just a blip in the world's unshakeable march to socialist utopia. During his time in the intellectual property office, he was famous for saying that, basically, intellectual property was a misnomer, that anything intellectual had to belong to the collective. And that was the guy in charge of guarding your patents!

As you may recall, Samán was the one who came up with the idea of the "areperas bolivarianas" which, thankfully, have yet to come to fruition. Watch for Samán to continue making news - the guy has the confidence of the President, is committed to the process, does not seem to have a corrupt streak, and is pretty much certifiably insane.

Post 75 of 100 ... any Samán stories you wish to share? This guy is going to be VP one of these days.

Sue me, but I got a laugh out of this one.

Juan Cristóbal says: -

Post 74 of 100 ... desperate to reach 80 before the day is done.

The View from Your Window

Sao Paolo, Brazil - 2:10 pm

Post 73 of 100. Expect many of these tomorrow...I'm off to bed and nowhere near 100 yet.

How Native Has Zelaya Gone?

Quico says: So native the guy is prattling on about assassination plots now! Weak, weak, WEAK!

Post 72 of 100. I'll say it one more time: WEAK!

The Dog that Didn't FARC

Quico says: Simón Romero's take in today's New York Times on the gasket Chávez blew when he heard about the new US-Colombia military agreement gets a "could do better" from this blog. The article mentions FARC all of once, in the context of Uribe bombing their camp in Ecuador last year. But nothing in the strategic ménage-à-quatre that is the Venezuela-Colombia-FARC-US relationship makes any sense if you leave out little details like the fact that Tirofijo quite literally went to his grave a-referring to Huguito as "el amigo Chávez" and b-acknowledging the Colombian government - and, by implication, the US - knew all the detail about FARC's relationship with Venezuela.

And sure, I know all about the terrors of an absurd word-limit. But c'mon...

Post 71 of 100. Picky, picky, picky.


Chigüi says: "PDVSA Anaco workers protest for their rights, but in favor of Chávez, but against the government, but with the revolution!"

Krauze's book, incidentally, has a brilliant dissection of Latin Americans' propensity to protest against the government in the name of the king/caudillo. Think Fuenteovejuna, people!

Post 70 of 100. Chigüi te amo!

How you can be 100% sure chavismo is a dead end...

Quico says: This story, culled from Newsweek, shows more than just about anything else why chavismo is destined to be remembered as a historical dead end. It calculates that there are now 1.5 Venezuelan scientists working in the US for every one working in Venezuela: in the wake of a massive, decade-long brain drain, the nation's science and research establishment has whittled away into nothingness. More than the tinpot dictator shtick, more than the crackpot economic theories, it's the revolution's almost complete indifference towards research that shows up its underlying lack of seriousness. After all, the Soviets understood that if you were going to get rid of the profit motive as a spur to research and innovation, the State had to step into the breach, supplying the resources it would take for socialism to remain competitive in the knowledge race that underpins great power competition. It turned out that Soviet Science - for all its notable achievements - couldn't sustain competition with the west. But the Soviets knew socialism couldn't be a credible alternative to capitalism if it just ceded his terrain to the other side. So sure, they lost...but they put up a fight.

Chavismo doesn't even know there's a fight on, won't even put up a show of joining the fray. It wears its petrodependence on its sleeve, and prefers scientists stateside, where they can't cause any trouble. It's only sad, really.

Post 69 of 100. Oostalgic.

However silly a Chávez parody may be, real chavismo will match it

Quico says: From El Universal's analysis of a National Assembly document entitled "Debate about the social relations of production, in Reference to the wholesale reform of the Framework Labor Law":
In addition to the end of private property, the ideas highlight the need to "displace the market as an organizational mechanism and subsitute it by the life of human beings taken care of via conscious planning for the fulfilment of their needs." President Hugo Chávez has already noted that strategic goods such as food, must not be treated as commodities, and so the law of supply and demand must not apply in this country.
Next up: repealing the Law of Gravity.

Post 68 of 100. We stalled a bit here, people, but we're coming back...

An overlooked milestone

Juan Cristóbal says: - Yesterday, the good people of Curiepe staged a protest against the government for its heavy-handed actions in taking over the local police station last week. In traditional Curiepe style, the protest was accompanied by the beating of African drums that characterize this region. But the thing that made me a double-take was that the protest was held ... in front of Miraflores Palace!

Not only were they allowed to protest, but Chavez's Minister Reyes Reyes actually came out and talked to them.

Could it be that the days of "no protesting in front of Miraflores" and "government security zones" are finally over? Or will this prompt the government to double up on the barricades surrounding government facilities?

Either way, good for them. Let's hope the drums beat louder and more frequently.

Post 67 of 100 ... that picture is not from the protest but from the celebrations of the feast of Saint John the Baptist, the traditional holiday where the drum beating is at its apex.

Jaime Bayly: October, 2008

Quico says: South America's premiere acid tongued, fire-throwing pundit let Zelaya have it back in October last year, when he signed onto the ALBA pact. Though entertaining - he is, after all, an entertainer - we should make clear that Bayly's shtick is far over the top. Still, if we'd paid more attention to clips like this before last month, we would've been less blindsided by all that's been happening.

Post 66 of 100. Bayly's On Ice.

A controversial finding on poverty

Juan Cristóbal says: - UCAB Sociologist Luis Pedro España knows about poverty. Having spent years thinking about the topic, he is one of the rare researchers in Venezuela that not only uses official data but goes further and collects his own. His latest looks like an eye-popper.

Although I've yet to read the paper (I can't find a copy online), the article from El Universal suggests it's worth taking a look. His main point is that most of the improvement in poverty comes in the "D" sector, the second-to-last rung in the classification of income levels. Incomes in the "E" sector have barely nudged.

Some of the money quotes:
"Ten years ago, 9% of the families in the E sector lived in housing with dirt floors; now that proportion is 22%. At the same time, the proportion of homes without running water went up from 40 to 60%"
"10 years ago, only 25% of the households in the B class lived in a barrio. Today, it's 57%. Now you can find families in Antímano or San Agustín who make 5 or 6 times the amount needed to cover the basic food basket, with relatives who are college graduates. The lack of housing means they cant move."
"The government's claims to the contrary, 73% of the income in the E sector does not come from the government. Public transfers are not focused and are not as important as commonly thought."
Interesting stuff.

Post 65 of 100 ... this one really piqued my interest.

How Honduras-crazy has the Venezuelan Media gone?

Quico says: So Honduras-crazy that they have their own top-level menu on El Nacional's website now...and it's actually ahead the National news tab!

Post 64 of 100. Silly.

Too Hot for VTV: The Cedice Ad The Government Won't Let You see

Quico says: Yes, it's pretty hard-hitting. But doesn't the government grasp that it loses more by giving it the notoriety that comes from having been censored than they would if they just rolled with the punches?

Post 63 of 100. Cedice "Censura".

The View from Your Window

Caracas, Venezuela - 6:30 a.m.

Post 62 of 100. Barrio adentro.

Noticias24 Knock-off Watch: Informe21

Quico says: And yet another one. Informe21 adds an extra twist to the morass of laziness and unimaginative mediocrity that is the Noticias24-knockoff web: not-particularly-nice, 1999-vintage web design. The boilerplate, culled-from-GoogleNews stories, the bucketloads of zero-comment posts, the absolute lack of anything suggesting an original voice, or an attitude, or a sense of wonder, or a pulse...all the hallmarks of the lazy, lets-jump-on-the-N24-bandwagon-and-make-a-quick-buck mentality are here. Sad. Just sad.

Post 61 of 100. Despiriting.

July 22, 2009

We leave you with Gustavo Dudamel...

Juan Cristóbal says: - ... just because. If you're in the area, do not miss his free debut with the LA Philarmonic October 3rd, at the Hollywood Bowl. Check out the accompanying musicians...

Post 60 of 100 ... schüss!

Here I come! (I think)

Juan Cristóbal says: - Manuel Zelaya today announced the take-it-or-leave-it agreement proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was "practically dead." Surprisingly, this appears to leave Zelaya, not Micheletti, in a bit of a jam.

For weeks now, Zelaya has been threatening to go to Honduras and fight for his job. Following an aborted landing that looked fake to begin with, Zelaya vowed that he would return if negotiations failed.

Well, guess what? They've failed.

Deep down, Zelaya looks like a man who doesn't want to go through all the trouble. I've been around too many coddled maracucho ganaderos to be fooled by his groomed moustache and his expensive cowboy hat. Returning to Honduras would mean going to prison. Not surprisingly, he is desperately looking for alternatives, almost regretting the vow he made to return no matter what. Will he do it?

The Micheletti government has signalled it is willing to jail him regardless of what the international community thinks. If Zelaya lands and is placed in prison, chances are the Honduran "street" will shrug it off. But if he doesn't go, he will have lost a ton of credibility. Unless something dramatic happens, it looks like the opera buffa that is Honduras is likely to continue.

Post 59.5 out of 100 ...

All in a week's work

Juan Cristóbal says: - You gotta hand it to the workers of Guayana. Following a few days worth of protests, the government relented without much of a fight and, today, announced it was going to pony up $400 million for the struggling, state-owned aluminum industry.

That's right: $400 million. That's $16 for every man, woman and child in Venezuela. So if you're living right along the poverty line and you have a wife and four kids, your total share of the CVG bailout (por ahora) is roughly $96, or BsF. 630 at black market rates. And what do you get out of that? Free supplies of aluminum foil for the rest of your life? Nah - a few months of peace and quiet before the struggling companies ask for even more money.

Hats off to the union leaders for pulling off such a scam.

Post 57 of 100 ... CVG stands for Chavistas Vividores a lo Grande.

The Needlers

Juan Cristóbal says: - In Latin America, few topics are more predictable than the on-again, off-again, love-hate relationship between Hugo Chávez and Álvaro Uribe. Almost like clockwork, you know that after a few months of harmony, those two are going to be at it again for one reason or another. They're the international version of that old SNL skit The Needlers, "the couple that should get a divorce."

The don't like each other but have no choice but to deal with it. They are neighbors and forced partners. They both have autocratic tendencies (although Uribe is in nowhere near the same dicto-league as Chávez).

In sum, they are the yin and yang of Latin American presidents. Where Chávez is mercurial, Uribe is cerebral. Where Chávez is anti-yankee, Uribe is Washington's best friend.

Their regular kabuki dance consists of months of nothing happening, with smiles and hugs and seemingly normal bilateral meetings. Then, something happens and one of them goes off the handle. After that, the Colombian government usually cools things by, say, leaking sensitive information on Venezuela or toning the rhetoric down, and everything goes back to normal. Haven't we seen this a thousand times before? What's to think that this latest made-up telenovela ("Americans in Colombia! The horror!") is going to end any differently?

But here it is, another bilateral scandal taking up valuable space in the headlines, distracting our attention from more pressing issues, knowing how it is all going to end - in nothing. Their mutual co-dependence is much more important.

Post 56 of 100 ... are we there yet?

Thoughts on Day Three of the Blog Challenge

Quico says: This is hard! Way hard! Reading Venezuelan news sites when you know you gotta find material to meet a self-imposed quota is actually really stressful. It makes you really aware of just how much not-worth-reading-dreck gets published in the Venezuelan media. And it keeps you in a state of jittery, edge-of-your-seat tension that I suppose newspaper editors thrive on, but which I'm having a hard time coping with.

It's a really odd thing. Juan Cristobal is loving this. Even though it was my idea, I'm having a way tougher time with it than he is. What gets me is that I was so looking forward to dramatically stepping up the pace of posting, and now I just feel it's a battle!

Strange that. I'm still not sure what it means for Caracas Chronicles 2.0. I guess it means we won't be looking to post 20 times a day. That much is clear enough. And it means that, if you're looking to this blog as your primary source of news...well, that's just not good practice.

I'm going to stick out the challenge. Of course. Cuz I said I would. And because I'm still learning something from the experience. But it's grueling. Much more so than I'd anticipated.

Post 55 of 100. I'm off to dinner.

Mental Health Break: Eso es volaaaarrrrrr!!!

Post 54 of 100...does it still count as a "mental health break" if it's this insane?!?

It's his fault, he drank it all!

Juan Cristóbal says: - "Aló, Elías? Mira chamo, yo sé que tú eres un cagaleche y que me dijiste que te da miedo cuando te grito… pero ¿cómo es esta vaina de que se va a acabar el café, ah? … ¿No y que la revolución agrícola avanzaba a pasos de vencedores? ¿Voy a tener que comprarle café al ass-kisser del Uribe? Pensé que tenías todo regulado: precio, costo, cantidad cultivada … ¿qué coño pasó? … ¿La qué? … ¿Ley de oferta y demanda? Muchacho, ¿tú estás loco? Si yo le dije a Luisa Estela Morales que declarara esa ley inconstitucional..."

Post 53 of 100 ... first signs of delirium tremens.

El Poder y El Translator

Quico says: It's a real shame that Enrique Krauze's dissection of the Chávez Experiment - El Poder y El Delirio - is not yet available in English. Only bits and bobs of it, such as this excerpt in The New Republic, are available if you don't read Spanish. With a sense of intellectual seriousness that's all too rare in Venezuela's contemporary scene, Krauze penetrates levels of chavismo's implicit understanding of state legitimacy that chavistas themselves are not at all aware of. And he does that on his way to unveiling the ultimate betrayal the "bolivarian" movement has perpetrated: re-instating the Spanish-monarchical model of state power that Bolívar fought his entire life against, and having the gall to do so in the name of El Libertador.

In Krauze's retelling, when you set aside the Bolívar hero-worship, what chavismo has instantiated looks like nothing so much as neothomist monarchy. For the Neo-Scholastics, state power was made legitimate through the mystical union of the king and his people. They attained their happiness through him, and he embodied in his regal person all of their rights and aspirations.

Citing Richard M. Morse and Julio Hubbard, Krauze notes the way the Spanish monarch's subjects were powerful - they controlled the richest, most expansive empire the world had ever seen - but they were not free. Their freedom had been transferred to Him. It was He who, through his "Real Gana" (his "Royal Will"):
For the Spanish monarchs, public assets were their private property which they disposed of at their discretion, according to their "real saber y entender." Chávez follows them step by step. He is the private proprietor of his public office and wishes to remain so for eternity. In that sense he is a living example (even more than the Mexicans, even at their most extreme) of patrimonialism. Chávez is not on the Forbes list, but if we get over the small detail that is the fact Venezuela's wealth is not notarized in his name (nor does it need to be, it belongs to "the people"), we see that Chávez is one of the richest men in the world. When Chávez expelled PDVSA's 20,000 employees, he perpetrated the biggest privatization in history: PDVSA is now his property. That's why - without legal or institutional counterweights, nor even public information - he can do with it whatever occurs to his Royal Will.
What Krauze grasps clearly is that, much as in the neo-Scholastic state Bolívar fought against, the chavista state blurs the dividing line between the State's will and the Ruler's out of existence. To question the Monarch is treachery against the State and an attack upon the People, because State, Monarch and People are a mystical whole.

This was the understanding of legitimacy that sustained Ferdinand VII when Bolívar declared the War onto Death on his followers in the name of republican liberty. And this neothomist view of the mystical unity of monarch and people is, in Krauze's telling, the closest historial match to the understanding of the ruler's role we have for chavismo.

It really is an excellent book, and it really really deserves to be made available in English translation.

Mr. Krauze, if you read this, consider this post my bid for the job. Send me an email. I'll work nights and weekends if that's what it takes.

Post 52 of 100. Hardcore.

So you wanna be the leader of the opposition?

Juan Cristóbal says: - Here are six things you need to do.

To: Antonio Ledezma
From: Caracas Chronicles
Subject: How to be an effective leader of the opposition and win in 2012


The following is a laundry list of what you need to do in order to be effective in your new role as "leader of the opposition" and beat Hugo Chávez in 2012.

1. Be the catalyst for a winning coalition in the Legislative Elections. Perhaps it's too late to think we have a realistic shot of winning a majority of the seats in next year's Assembly elections. However, one thing is clear: a dismal showing by the opposition and we will have no chance in 2012. Tagging on to Leopoldo López’s idea of opposition primaries would be nice, specially considering how it's the best idea out there. Oh, and I hate to remind you, but you owe your current job to his misfortune.

2. Bring everyone together. No, this is not touchy-feely crap. This is recognizing the fact that just because Globovisión has anointed you The One, it doesn't mean everyone will follow you. The opposition is fragmented politically, but most of all, geographically. If you want to lead, you have to rally your troops. This means bowing to the Salas Feos, Pablo Perezes and Capriles Radonskis of this world. The sooner you recognize you need those guys, the better off we will all be.

3. Talk about how you are different from the IVth Republic. That will be Chávez’s main line of attack - that you are an old-style adeco, that you are CAP's dauhpin, that you are a político de la cuarta. Well, are you? You've got the street creed with the Maria Alejandra Lopez crowd. Your target audience is now the Ni-ni crowd, the ones that hate the IVth Republic and everything it stood for. Don't be afraid to criticize the past but, most importantly, don't hold back on your ideas on how to do things differently.

4. Talk about how you are different from the opposition. Let's be clear: the opposition has a brand problem, and ignoring this won't make it go away. So how are you different from the Coordinadora Democrática? What do you really feel about the Carmonazo? And has Chávez done anything worth keeping?

5. Play to your strengths. You've shown that you have high ideals. You've taken beatings and resisted a hunger strike for your causes. You have shown uncommon courage when facing steep odds. Play that up.

6. Start now. There's not a moment to waste.

Post 51 of 100 ... feel free to tack your own ideas in the comments board.

Making Caracas look more and more like Havanna

Juan Cristóbal says: - The new nuttiness at the National Assembly? Regulating the price of housing, new and used. The geniuses want to set minimum and maximum prices for square footage, in effect killing the secondary housing market and shriveling the hopes of millions of Venezuelans with no access to decent housing. Pretty soon, Caracas will look as dilapidated as Havanna, only without the Victorian charm.

Post 50 of 100 ... half way there!


Quico says: Seeing how I'm caraqueño (and therefore, um, civilized) I'm strictly barred from expressing any actual enthusiasm for something as maracucho as a patacón sandwich. Others of you with less stringent geographical bounds to your culinary snobism - and especially those of you in the NYC area - might appreciate the NYTimes' take on the Manhattan patacón scene.

Post 49 of 100. End of the afternoon lull...

Mental Health Break: Here by Popular Demand

Is it wrong that, as a child, I had a crush on a toilet bowl?

Post 48 of 100. Classic.

The Micheletti Budget Squeeze: Not All That

Quico says: So, the EU has cut some $92 million in budget aid to the de facto government in Honduras, citing lack of progress in the Arias-mediated negotiations. What's striking is not how much money that is, but how little: just 1.6% of Honduras's $5.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Tellingly, there's no way to compare that with the previous budget: Mel Zelaya refused to submit a budget to congress in 2008.

Overall foreign aid, at $300 million a year, accounts for just 5.4% of government spending. (And not 10%, as the AP reported.) Even then, even Zelaya supporters don't want it all cut.

Post 47 of 100. I can't say the word "lempira" without cracking up...

Caracas Chronicles - soon banned in Caracas?

Juan Cristóbal says: - This story by Chris Kraul of the LA Times is remarkable in that it reports on the government's intents to crack down not just regular media but also the Internet, including social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter and, if we manage to become relevant enough, this blog. Of course, his sources are opposition people Alfredo Keller and Marcelino Bisbal, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. Still, if there's anything we've learned is that when the river makes a noise, a landslide is on its way. The money quote:
"Another proposal that critics say will limit freedom of expression is a law being pitched by Cabinet Minister Diosdado Cabello that would channel all Internet communication through servers controlled by the state telecommunications company, CANTV...Cabello has said the law would enable the government to suspend all telecommunications for security reasons in times of national emergency. But Bisbal and Keller believe it's designed to control social-networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook as rallying points for the opposition."
Post 46 of 100 ... Venezuelans are so addicted to Facebbok, they will surely revolt if it is shut down.

Los Papeles de Insulza

Quico says: Something is very weird in Latin America when the head of OAS starts sounding like an agit-prop talk show host on Venezuelan State Television. Because José Miguel Insulza's statements to the press at the end of his meeting with Venezuelan opposition governors yesterday really seemed calculated to send democratically minded Venezuelans crawling up a wall...very much in the same calculated-for-maximum-obnoxiousness way as your average Alberto Nolia rant on Los Papeles de Mandinga.

First things first: Insulza's contention that it isn't up to OAS to go looking into the internal affairs of member countries is just a flat out lie. Peering into the democratic legitimacy of the people who run Latin American countries is one of the primary missions of OAS: why else does he think he gets to be quite so horrified by what's happening in Honduras? Insulza's responsibilities in this regard are set out, among others, in OAS's Democratic Charter, which explicitly establishes that:
The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. Democracy is essential for the social, political, and economic development of the peoples of the Americas. The effective exercise of representative democracy is the basis for the rule of law and of the constitutional regimes of the member states of the Organization of American States.

Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.
It's perfectly clear that OAS can only come to a view as to whether these "essential elements of representative democracy" are being respected if it takes the trouble to actually peer into the inner workings of each state. If Insulza refuses to acknowledge, for instance, that the people of Caracas's right to be represented by a mayor elected through a "secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people" is nullified by the national government's illegal appointment of an unelected official to carry out all of that mayor's responsibilities, he effectively helps turn the Democratic Charter - of which he is the hemisphere's primary trustee - into a dead letter.

Insulza's flat out refusal to call Chávez on his shit represents an abdication of his responsibilities within the Inter-American system treaty system. This guy is just not fit to head OAS.

Post 45 of 100. Nausea inducing.

Alfredo Maneiro Turning In His Grave

Quico says: The irony in yesterday's thuggish repression in Guayana is bitter. When the government re-nationalized steelmaker SIDOR last year, it made a big show of renaming it the "Siderúrgica del Orinoco Alfredo Maneiro", in memory of the legendary communist guerrilla fighter and Causa R founder who cut his teeth training a new generation of Guayana steelworkers in the tactics of radical labor organizing. Yesterday, though, it was precisely SUTISS - the SIDOR union that Maneiro spent the last 12 years of his life organizing - that found itself under the repression of the revolutionary government.

That high-pitched sound you hear is the noise of Alfredo Maneiro turning in his grave at 17,000 RPM.

Post 44 of 100. Blood boiling.

The View from Your Window

Denver, Colorado - 10:00 a.m.

Feel like sharing the view from your window? Send a snapshot along to caracaschronicles@fastmail.fm

Post 43 of 100. Ufff...some of you read from exurban wastelands...who knew?

Censoring the Latifundists of the Steelmill

Quico says: TalCual leads today with an even-more-stomach-turning-than-average case of censorship. Because we're not talking about censorship against the "latifundists of the airwaves" anymore, but instead against the steelworkers of Guayana. Yesterday, at the end of an emotional union meeting where SIDOR's workers complained bitterly about the deteriorating safety conditions that have seen six of their colleagues die in industrial accidents in the last 10 months, the National Guard forcibly searched all the journalists who attended and seized as many photos, recordings and videos as they could.

Of course, in this day and age when everybody and his cat in Venezuela owns a Blackberry, it was a hopeless exercise, and images like the one above still got out. More than a real attempt to impound the compromising material, what the Guardia did was a rank exercise in intimidation.

Post 42 of 100. La revolución avanza...

Noticias24 Knock-off Watch: NoticiasVE

Quico says: In our continuing quest to flesh out the imagination-free zone that is the world of Venezuelan Noticias24-style knock-off, we come to NoticiasVE, possibly the most egregious representatives of the genre. These people couldn't even think of a name for their knock-off that wasn't 7/9ths the same as Noticias24's!!

Here's what I always want to shout to these people as I shake them by their lapels: why does this site exist!??! What does it do that Noticias24 doesn't already do, and better!? Does it get updated more often!? NO! Does it have more original content?!! NO! Does it handle multimedia better?!!? NO!!! Do the girls in bikinis have bigger breasts?!? NO!!



Post 41 of 100. Can you tell the knockoffs get on my nerves?

July 21, 2009

Michael Lisman on Micheletti As Liability to the De Facto Government

Quico says: As the one guy I know who's spent a fair bit of time actually in Honduras over the last few years, the Interamerican Dialogue's Michael Lisman is an invaluable source on all the craziness happening there recently. I talked to him on a not-necessarily-all-that-clear Skype connection. The guy says Micheletti, in particular, is quickly wearing out his welcome even within the coupsters' ranks. Audio's after the break.

Check out Michael's take on the Nicaraguan angle in The Latin Americanist.

Post 40 of 100. Hondurrific...