January 28, 2006

Not-so-P SFs

Just to prove you don't have to bow to chavista authoritarianism to hold left-wing views, here's this fun AP story picked up by The Guardian:
Hundreds of activists are holding an alternative symposium to this week's World Social Forum, accusing the main event of straying from its freethinking leftist roots and serving as a propaganda tool for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The seven-day Alternative Social Forum shares some of the anti-globalization themes dominating the World Social Forum, an annual event timed to coincide with the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But the alternative event is taking up issues that are thorny in Venezuela, like the dangers of authoritarianism under a military strongman. The theme could easily be taken as criticism of Chavez, a former paratroop commander accused by political opponents of running roughshod over democratic institutions. It is off-limits in the main forum, said Nelson Mendez, a Venezuelan engineering professor helping organize the dissident event.

The alternative activists say the ubiquitous red T-shirts of Chavez's party and the rows of promotional booths point to the government's heavy hand in the main event. That is stifling debate and undermining the forum's capacity to act as a catalyst for social change, said Luis Silva, 35, another organizer.

``The World Social Forum was born as an alternative,'' Silva said. ``But little by little it has succumbed to political parties and governments. It's acting as a stage of support for Chavez.''

At the alternative forum, activities in university classrooms include talks on Venezuela's military buildup, the role of transnational corporations in the country, and a march against coal mining in Indian regions of western Venezuela.

Participants - academics, artists and students - are mostly Venezuelans, but speakers have also come from other Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. They emphasized they are not aligned with Venezuela's opposition or any other political interest, describing themselves as freethinking leftists, communists and anarchists who feel the World Social Forum no longer represents them.

But they questioned the prevailing idea at the World Social Forum that Chavez is helping create a new economic model at the vanguard of a leftist swing in Latin America.

``The revolution doesn't exist,'' Silva said, suggesting Venezuela needs more radical economic changes. ``It's a government with a nationalist discourse.''

Uh! Ah! Barf!

"Uh! Ah! Chávez no se va!"
The chant is a mainstay of pro-Chavez street demonstrations...and now, of Supreme Tribunal opening sessions as well. The moment came, ironically enough, towards the end of a 90 minute speech by Chief Magistrate Omar Mora Diaz that repeatedly stressed the newfound "autonomy and independence" of the Tribunal.

The sight of the 32 magistrates, robed, on their feet, clapping and shouting chavista political slogans neatly illustrates my main problem with the Chavez regime: it has thoroughly hollowed out the institutional system set out in its own constitution. The institutions that are supposed to look over the executive branch, to keep it accountable, honest and law-abiding, are plainly, unabashedly in Chavez's pocket. Hell, they shout his slogans, robes and all, on the floor of the Supreme Tribunal!

Most of you know that, I'm sure, but here's something many of you probably don't know: in Venezuela, the Supreme Tribunal has the power to select, oversee, promote and remove all lower court judges. They do that through the Dirección Ejecutiva de la Magistratura (DEM) - a kind of judicial management agency that is in fact part of the Supreme Tribunal.

Which means that when a lower-court judge has to make a decision in Venezuela these days - perhaps, a politically charged decision - s/he does so with full knowledge that his/her career prospects are in the hands of...the Uh! Ah!-chanters. S/he will perhaps remember the fate of Judge Maria Mercedes Prado, fired in November 2005 for ruling against the government's wishes, then prevented from explaining her ruling to the press at the Supreme Tribunal's press room and physically chucked out of the building.

This is how debased the court system that will hear Geovanny Vasquez de Armas' "evidence" on the Danilo Anderson case has gotten. This is why a free press is the last backstop against the worst excesses of chavista impunity. And this is why efforts to stop the press from publishing everything it finds out about the Anderson case is censorship.

"Behind this door the Supreme Tribunal, guarantor of justice and impartiality!"
"Uh! Ah! Chávez no se va!"
"Any questions?"

Danilology Today

When the Prosecutor General's case on the Danilo Anderson murder investigation began to buckle under the strain of his main witness's credibility problems, he promised to russle up s'more witnesses to vouch for Geovanny. Yesterday, the first of these turned up.

This man, Fernando Moreno Palmar, is the Maracucho cabbie Isaias Rodriguez said could confirm Geovanny's story. Except, talking to the press yesterday, Moreno Palmar said he had seen Geovanny a grand total of once in his life, when he drove him to an office building in Maracaibo. Moreno Palmar said he couldn't identify anyone else who had gone into the building, hadn't been inside, didn't know Geovanny, didn't know anything about any conspiracy, and pleaded with Geovanny to stop incriminating innocent people on the matter.

(Of course, the Moreno Palmar angle is just a sideshow to a sideshow to a diversion to a smoke screen. The fact that I'm even writing about him just proves that Isaias is playing sick games, and we're falling for them.)

January 27, 2006

Next Stop for Don Regalón?

This FT story got me thinking.
A financial crisis will push the Palestinian territories into chaos in a matter of days if Israel and international donors cut financial ties with the Palestinian Authority following the surprise election win by Hamas, James Wolfensohn, the international community's special envoy to the region, warned on Friday.

"The crunch time is next week," said Mr Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank. "The Palestinians are basically bankrupt." He said there was no money to pay salaries of Palestinian security forces or civil servants. "If you do not have the money to pay 135,000 Palestinians you are going to have chaos."

Hmmmm...lets puzzle this one through. A radical anti-American, pro-Iranian movement, in power and flat broke. If you were in their shoes, who would you turn to for quick cash?

Hey, I'm not saying it'll happen...but if it does...remember where you read it first.

Isaias's Sick Games and How We're Falling for It

Danilology is quickly becoming the pastime of choice for Venezuelan media junkies. And it's not hard to see why: the Danilo Anderson murder investigation has gotten weirder than a David Lynch movie - just one layer of absurdity on top of another, a virtual lasagna of unsolved riddles.

Danilogate really does have it all: coup-plotting bankers, racketeering prosecutors, good cops, crooked cops, plastic explosives, police bomb experts, gangs of midgets, purged police files, stacks of hundred-dollar bills, jet-skis, disappearing porn videos, congressional funerals, ordenes del libertador, police abductions, raided jewish schools, helicoide torture, murdered suspects, rigged trials, busloads of suspects, pseudo-paramilitary unpsychiatrists, jungle conspiracies, murder-plotting cardinals, CIA-stunt dubles, fugitive journalists, media gag orders, RSF condemnations and now, now the cherry-on-top: a Fiscalia-sanctioned interview of Geovanny Vasquez de Armas on Colombian TV.

Zowee! It's enough to make your head spin...

Which, I think, is just the problem: our heads are spinning...and that's just the way Isaias likes it. As attention has focused more and more on the shooting-fish-in-a-barrelish sport of punching holes in Isaias' colander of a case, attention has shifted away from what should be the crux of the matter: what actually happened on that evening in November, 2004, who was really behind it, and why.

Seen as an attempt to fool public opinion, Isaias' conspiracy-theory (literally, that's what it is) has failed badly. Seen as a smoke screen to obscure the real story, it's working beautifully.

Think about his decision to allow RCN to interview Vasquez de Armas. At first sight, it makes little sense. On last night's broadcast, Vasquez de Armas merely confirmed the most incriminating stuff the oppo media has been writing about him: he really does have a long history of identity fraud, has lied about his profession, really he just might be the least reliable witness in history.

In a way, allowing foreign reporters to cover a story you've just gagged in Venezuela is a kind of dare: "dare ya to cover the RCN interview," Isaias seems to be saying. And, indeed, most oppo outlets have olympically ignored the judicial gag order and run with the story...what will the consequences be? Maybe Isaias is trying to goad the oppo media into breaking the gag order so he can come down on them like a ton of bricks...but he does that at the cost of further weakening the star-witness's badly battered credibility. So...is Isaias stupid?

Not at all, because this last round of Geovanny Madness keeps the spotlight firmly on Isaias' nutty CIA-in-the-jungle conspiracy theory, and safely away from what actually happened to Danilo.

So lets just consider some of the questions that are not being asked as public opinion swarms on Vasquez de Armas:
  • Why did multiple witnesses report seeing a DISIP team just meters from the explosion just minutes before it happened? Who were they? What were they doing there? On whose orders?

  • Why was Detective José Cuellar replaced as head of the investigation? Why did so much of the evidence he collected, which leaked to the press, later disappear from the record?

  • Why is the investigation still being led by Prosecutors Gilberto Landaeta and Yoraco Bauza, both of whom are publicly implicated in Anderson's extortion racket?

  • Where did the money Anderson kept at home and in his farm in Sabana de Uriche end up?

  • What else did DISIP find in those locations? Was there really a sex video in Danilo's safe? If so, who was in it, doing what, and where did the video end up?

  • How did Juan Carlos Sanchez die, where, and why?

  • Why were the Guevara brothers' claims that they were tortured never investigated?

  • How could the Guevara brothers be convicted in the absence of any physical evidence linking them to the crime, on the basis of a single anonymous tip-off?

  • Who's behind the cover-up? What exactly is being covered up? Why is Isaias willing to go to such extreme lengths to keep the case murky?

  • And, the big one, who killed Danilo Anderson, and why?

  • These are the questions the press should be focused on. The government has ignored most of them, given very lousy answers for the others. But the media has stopped asking these questions. Instead, they're transfixed with the idiot story about the non-German speaking unpsychiatrist's CIA rumble in the jungle. Sadly, the torrent of bullshit coming out of the fiscalia is working. Nobody talks about this stuff anymore.

    January 26, 2006

    Upside-down News Day

    Folks, it's Bizarro Day in Venezuela:

  • "A high percentage of Venezuelans express discontent with the national government, with regional and local officials. By the same token, there is discontent among MVR [Chavez's party] militants with their national, state, municipal and parrochial leaders."

    Says who?

    Says Willian Lara, speaking for the MVR's National Committee for Political and Electoral Organization.

    Of course, his line is that while Venezuelans are unhappy with everything about Chavez, they're happy with Chavez himself.

  • The Supreme Tribunal must block the gag-order on information about Geovanny Vasquez de Armas.

    Says who?

    Says the National Resistance Committee, Oscar Perez and Antonio Ledezma's Article 350-invoking outfit, which has just petitioned for an injunction to that effect.

    Erm...isn't it a bit fresh to be asking for injunctions from a regime you claim to be resisting? I'd love to hear their oral arguments: "Gentlemen of this illegitimate court we refuse to recognize, we're here today to ask you to..."

  • Venezuela is producing 2.6 million barrels of oil per day, not the 3.3 million b/d the government claims.

    Says who?

    Says OPEC.

    I guess they've joined the CIA-sponsored anti-Chavez disinformation campaign. Et tu, OPEC?

  • It makes no sense for the Prosecutor General to seek a court order against divulging Anderson case files if he's going to keep talking about the case himself.

    Says who?

    Says MariPili Hernandez, member of MVR's national leadership and vice-minister of foreign affairs.

    MariPili is soon to join the ranks of the ideologically suspect if she keeps up this sort of thing. Though, of course, she defends the gag order.
  • The Big Hegemon that Couldn't

    The whole idea that the US is planning to invade Venezuela is so asenine, so aggressively divorced from reality, it hardly seems worth the effort to rebut it. Fact is, though, that this old Fidelista standby has become a cornerstone of chavista propaganda, and I suppose it's not impossible some people stumbling on this blog might buy it.

    Probably what irks me the most about it, though, is the way Chavez exploits the ignorance of his supporters to hype up the "threat" of a gringo attack. Anyone with the least sense of the US's strategic stance knows it's hogwash - pretending otherwise can only be seen as rank manipulation.

    How far-fetched is the gringo-attack hypothesis? Lets see. It's not just that Venezuela ranks far down on the list of strategic threats facing the US - queuing up a looooong way behind North Korea, Iran, Al Qaeda, Syria, threats that really do keep US strategic planners up at night - it's that the US hardly has the military capability to sustain its current foreign entanglements, much less launch new ones, much, much, much less launch new ones against a third tier nuisance-state. And that's not just me saying it:
    A report commissioned by Democratic members of Congress listed former Defence Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright among its authors, predicted problems recruiting new troops and retaining current ones in the face of repeated overseas tours and shortfalls in vital equipment.

    It accused the Bush administration of having failed adequately to assess the size of force and equipment needed in post-invasion Iraq, creating "a real risk of 'breaking the force'."

    The report also warned that the lack of a credible strategic reserve "increases the risk that potential adversaries will be tempted to challenge the United States".

    A second study, conducted for the Pentagon by military expert Andrew Krepinevich, suggested that the military at its current rate of deployment might not be able to outlast the insurgency in Iraq.

    He cited the problems experienced by the army in meeting its recruitment targets last year.

    The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says the reports echo the view held by some in Congress and even by some within the armed forces.

    They fear that if the Iraq commitment lasts a great deal longer, or if the US is drawn into new conflict, the US armed forces could find it difficult to meet their commitments.

    January 24, 2006

    Somebody is paying attention...

    RSF has just released a statement denouncing state censorship of materials relating to the Anderson case. An English version is now available:

    Reporters Without Borders today condemned a court order issued yesterday banning Venezuelan news media from revealing any details of the judicial investigation into the November 2004 murder of judge Danilo Anderson or mentioning a key witness in the case.

    The organisation also condemned the fact that 10 news media are to be investigated under the Law of Judicial Authority and the November 2004 Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television for possible “obstruction of justice” in their reporting on the case until now. The offence is punishable by a prison sentence of six months to two years in prison.

    “The Danilo Anderson case is fraught with political and media repercussions as two opposition journalists are accused of being among the instigators of the judge’s murder and certain independent news media have questioned the credibility of Giovanny Vásquez, the prosecution witness against these two journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said.

    “We fear this ‘obstruction of justice’ procedure is a judicial device for the government to yet again settle some scores with the privately-owned media and at the same time subject them to state censorship,” the press freedom organisation added.

    TalCual doesn't mince its words:

    Twentyfirst Century Censorship

    Axis of Evo

    From the FT's story on Evo's first full day as president:
    At the end of the ceremony, the Bolivian president proudly presented his guest [Chavez] with a large portrait of Simon Bolívar, the 19th-century liberator of South America, made entirely of coca leaves.

    Censor without a cause...

    Well, our valiant Prosecutor General, Isaias Rodriguez got what he wanted: a Caracas judge has issued a gag order banning publication of any information about Geovanny Vasquez de Armas, his key witness in the escalatingly weird saga that is the Danilo Anderson murder investigation.

    The rationale given was - no se la pierdan - the need to protect his "dignity, honor, reputation, good name and decorum."

    While this prior restraint order is despicable for what it says about chavismo's rising "comfort level" with censorship, fact is this particular horse bolted long before the stable door was shut. We already know about Vasquez de Armas' multiple convictions for identity fraud, we already know he isn't a psychiatrist, didn't go to Johns Hopkins medical school, isn't an FBI-accredited forensic expert, wasn't a colombian paramilitary, doesn't speak German and could not have been in Panama in September, 2003 because his ass was in jail.

    The only thing we don't know is why Isaias insists on hanging his case on a guy who lies for a living.

    Noted without comment...

    Iran's Ambassador to Cuba Ahmad Edrisian conferred on Monday with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, who is currently visiting Havana, on the expansion of trilateral cooperation among Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

    The Venezuelan foreign minister described current relations between Iran and Venezuela as 'excellent'.

    Joint economic cooperation, such as manufacturing of tractors, and construction of cement factory, indicates the depth of such friendly ties, he said.

    Welcoming trilateral cooperation among Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, he called for implementation of agreements signed earlier by the three countries.

    Supporting Iran's peaceful nuclear activities, Rodriguez said, "Countries which are capable of destroying life many times over are determined to hinder the development of developing countries."

    January 23, 2006

    "I thought this revolution was supposed to be pretty"

    Participants in the World Social Forum in Caracas are already getting a taste of life in Chavez's Venezuela. Soraya Aggege, the correspondent from Brazil's O Globo gets the ball rolling (with my notes to our PSF brethren tacked on after each bit.)

    WSF participants take up to four hours going from the airport to the city on a hundred-year-old two-lane road. Taxis charge between US$100 and US$130, although WSF buses charge US$50 but there is a long wait to get on them.

    Perhaps paying in anti-imperialist Cuban pesos will get you into town quicker.

    Participants complain about having to brave long distances to get to the different WSF venues. The city is hot and dry.

    You're lucky you don't have to wait two hours to get on a jeep that will bring you down from your cerro to your work, like many poor caraqueños do.

    Although a concert has been announced featuring such anti-imperialist artists as Silvio Rodríguez, Joan Baez and Daniel Viglietti, their presence has not yet been confirmed.

    The safety of your wallets has also not been confirmed.

    Event venues are scattered across the city. Although transportation has been promised, these are still vague, and only include free Metro passes for participants.

    Your metro ticket is brought to you by the Venezuelan taxpayer, the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, Big-Oil producers that serve as the government's tax base, and SUV-driving Americans who buy gas at Citgo.

    It's been difficult to withdraw credentials and WSF support material. The final program had not been published as of last Friday. Participants report confusion about the events and venues.

    If you get lost, just head to Sambil Shopping Mall where there is air conditioning and stores will gladly accept your first-world credit cards.

    Participants have been warned about the exchange problems in the country. The have been told that they can change dollars to bolívars at the official rate, but that they will not be able to change back into dollars at the end of their trip. Most expect long lines at exchange houses since they will have to change money in small amounts.

    The official rate is not worth it, it's just a subsidy so that rich Venezuelans can fly overseas more cheaply. Change at the black-market rate and you'll get more bang for your buck. Just ask any chavista operative, they'll be glad to help...

    While I genuinely hope you enjoy Venezuelan hospitality, my hope is that you realize that all these "glitches" are not just temporary. They represent a reality, a style of governance-by-chaos , corruption and restriction of civil liberties that extends to all walks of public life. It's an important reason why many of us oppose Chávez. Think about that while the government is busy mischaracterizing the opposition.