August 26, 2006

The Venezuelan scandal in the Bolivian Book Fair

By Bolivian author Juan Claudio Lechín, La Paz, Bolivia
(translated from the Spanish by Katy)

Two years ago, Venezuela agreed to be the guest of honour at the 2006 La Paz book fair. Upon their arrival, I watched as they set up their stand, and approached them to inquire about a great friend who was supposed to arrive. One of the people in charge, a Ms. Claudia Pérez, told me he would arrive on the 16th. I asked for, and received, the prices of several books. They were standard market prices.

I was beginning to enjoy listening to the delectable sounds of the Venezuelan accent, when some political wire crossed somewhere and, all of the sudden, the guests left the fair with no explanation. A trio from the “Cenal” gave a press conference like the ones we gave at “la Central” in the 70s. The hysterical mob was captained by Ramón Medero (president of Cenal) arguing, with his index engaged in passionate agitation, that this Bolivian fair (one that Venezuela has attended for the last 10 years) represented the “commercialisation of the book.” Imagine that! The representatives of a State that by way of “commercialising” oil receives 150 million dollars a day, throwing in the face of the poorest country in the Americas how they “commercialise” books. What a paradox. All of Bolivia’s millionaires added together do not reach a quarter of Cisneros’s fortune. But the moral scolding to their Bolivian fiefs did not end there.

The bully accused the fair of being “for the bourgeoisie” and that they were with the people, thus taking his equipment to a parallel, insignificant fair that they had previously promoted. Moments later, one of his subordinates, a diplomat by the name of Mr. Bracho, said that, aside from all this, they had not been given enough space to sell the 45,000 books they had brought with them. How embarrassing, I could not believe such an outrage.

The third standard-bearer of “bolivarian” double standards is a man with the face of an anaesthesiologist, official author of this theatrical regime. I met him once at the Cuiabá fair in Brazil. His mysteriousness and bird-like glare made me fear him like you would fear in inquisitor, and in spite of my personal history with Venezuela, I only dared cross a few polite words with him. His name is Luis Britto García, and I never thought one year later he would come to Bolivia to partake in this carnival of Pol-Pot-ian insult, something he did not do in Brazil where, like everywhere else, books are commercialised.

He assured the crowd that “books must be instruments of liberation.” Age has not taught this cave-dwelling man that books are sometimes vehicles of liberation, and sometimes vehicles of oppression (like the one inflicted upon us), fantasy, entertainment, education, etc., but they always remain that: just a vehicle. Books are not an ideological tool but rather a communicational one.

I believe the real goal is to drive Bolivian publisher and importers bankrupt, so that the market can be handed over to subsidized Cuban publishing houses that pay their workers pennies like the cheapest of all oppressing imperialists, and that edit only what the regime wants.

The Cenal did not officially announce their withdrawal to their hosts, the Bolivian Book Chamber, whose members decided to take the high road and announce to the press that, in spite of everything, “Venezuela continues to be our guest of honour.” If rudeness and contempt have reached the minor details, I must assume that Venezuela has already penetrated all that is important in my country: State intelligence, armed forces, energy resources, electoral council, constitutional assembly and the like.

I have been invited to the Caracas Book Fair this November. I wish to say to Venezuelan public opinion that I will not be in attendance. I will not be a participant in any sort of tribute to these bullies.

I regret to have to let the Venezuelan people know of the rudeness of their government toward a country whose only fault has been to receive Chávez with open arms, to hug him, let him speak and bask in his narcissism for hours on end. But he was a Trojan horse with an occupying project. No. It’s not you, the extroverted, friendly, kind, talkative, generous Venezuelan people who authored this embarrassment: it is him and them, the usual lot, those that have been overcome by their vanity, those that have been made imbeciles by absolute power. We Bolivians are a bucolic people, we put up.

But the day comes in which we blindly tear through the oppressors and, like in Jesús de Machaca, we end up eating their bodies. Please excuse my tone, but as the poet Vallejo says: “I want to write but the only thing that flows is foam.”

August 25, 2006

The Economist sizes up our neighbor

Katy says: I have always been curious about Trinidad and Tobago, our neighbor to the northeast. I have never been there but would would love to visit because, aside from being a beautiful place, my grandmother on my mother's side was born there.

The Economist has an interesting article this week ("A Caribbean tiger") on Trinidad and Tobago's current economic boom. It starts off saying,

"IF YOU fly into Port of Spain at night over the Gulf of Paria, you see the island of Trinidad ablaze with lights from roads, suburbs, shopping malls, building sites and a necklace of chemical and steel plants. The facing Venezuelan coast is dark. Since the late 1980s successive governments of Trinidad and Tobago have welcomed private investors willing to develop the country's offshore natural gas. That reverses the statist policies of Eric Williams, a Marxist historian who led the country to independence from Britain in 1962. It is also a contrast with today's Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez has been less keen on foreign investment.

Cash is pouring into Trinidad. It has become the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas to the United States, and the world's top exporter of methanol and ammonia. Last month Methanol Holdings, a Trinidadian-German group, agreed a loan of $1.2 billion for a new chemical complex. Essar, from India, wants to spend a similar amount on a steel mill. Alcoa and Alutrint, a Trinidad-Venezuelan joint-venture, each plan new aluminium smelters."

Interesting read. Although bullish on T&T, I see many of the same ills there as in 1970s Venezuela. It reminded me of an article by National Geographic from the 70s called "Venezuela's Crisis of Wealth". Hopefully the Trinidadians (or is it TNTers?) will avoid our mistakes of the past.

August 24, 2006

Roberto Smith withdraws and endorses

Katy says: Roberto Smith withdrew from the Presidential race today, and immediately gave his support to Manuel Rosales. I owe it to Quico to comment on this while he is away since initially he was very enthusiastic about Smith's approach to campaigning.

Over a year ago, Smith embarked on a journey that, in the light of today's events, may appear fruitless. Yet, if we take a closer look, we see many of the issues Smith brought to the forefront being picked up by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales and even by maverick comedian Benjamín Rausseo. Smith never made any headway in the polls, but seldom has right equalled popular.

Smith began campaigning when the abstention movement was at its peak. Traditional and new opposition parties were still stained by the Recall Referendum debacle, and had not found a way to get in touch with mainstream voters and ni-nis. Smith's approach was simply to focus on proposals, on giving people hope of a different future and of not appearing to be "opposing" anything but rather "proposing" something. I've read the transcripts of his public appearances and, including today, I can't find a single instance when he has mentioned Chavez by name other than to say he simply is not chavista nor from the opposition.

His message was clear: I am here to offer a way to develop. I want Venezuela to be a first-world country, and this is the way to do it. Even though the details were vague, the approach was fresh. Ni-nis, opposition voters and even some chavistas were sick of the confrontation, and continue to be sick of it today.

Smith came in at a time when traditional politics was at an all-time low. Venezuelan discussion were either ruled by Chávez or by the abstentionist movement. The debate was centered on the electoral conditions and there seemed to be no way out of it. Whether that was right or wrong is beside the point; we were caught in a maze like Theseus, with no thread to help us out and with the minotaur wide awake.

Yet Smith started campaigning, getting back to talking to people about their real problems and the disappointments from a revolution that seems to promise more than it delivers. He seemed to be the first to say "the hell with the marches, go talk to the voters!"

Smith never really had any momentum, partly because he seemed to be too much of a maverick and did not have a team around him to better support his efforts. The distance he tried to mark from the opposition backfired on him, since it left him with no friends in the political world and no organization to help him reap the benefits of the changes in political tides that he either sensed or, in a way, helped create. The outcome was a sheepish concession today, finally seeing the writing on the wall after vowing to get to December come rain or shine.

Still, his contribution was not minor. I think he has a great future in Venezuelan politics, as long as he remembers that all politics is local, and that you need to walk the walk so that people believe the talk.

Oops! I blogged it again...

Katy says: This little item made me chuckle.

Turns out that Caracas is the place in the world where Britney Spears has been googled the most!

So while Chávez insists on Cubanizing Venezuela, making sure we hate the evil empire more and more and preparing us for an inminent invasion, caraqueños are busier than anyone else googling Britney, Hillary Duff and the New York Yankees.

How's that for gringo-lovin'?

I don't know what this says about our country, but it's funny as hell.

Barreto's speech in English, as translated by a reader

Katy says: A loyal reader kindly took up the offer to translate Juan Barreto's speech. Thanks! This is a work in progress, so any suggestions for improvements are welcome.

INVITEE: JUAN BARRETO (Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas)
Caracas, August 22
Subject: The Inauguration of the Metropolitan Council for Public Political Planning.

Juan Barreto, Mayor of Metropolitan Caracas:
Some public officers have said that we don’t convene. I bring with me all the calls to convocation that we have made to all the mayors, to each councilor, I think that that is not the best politics, to make politics on the basis of a lie.

But not only do we call on the mayors to convene, at their offices, and here we have the reports of the faxes, the emails, but we convene with the press, and here are the press clippings, or they don’t read the press or as a prostitute’s son they should check or they weren’t called to convocation by ignorance, or the invitations did not reach their councils by bad faith, the best way is to reproach us.

As you will see, then, as an argument to ignore the strategic power that we are achieving and with much success are implementing, it is simply unpardonable; fortunately, the public knows where the truth lies.

And as a dead dog I don’t know … as we are not going to continue discussing with those who will go to jail soon, and as we are not going to fall for the trap and the skirmish of those who call for civil disobedience or who prepare invasions of property to confuse the public, to disqualify the honourable politics of expropriation which we have been carrying out, we will attack with everything, that means that we will defend with the truth.

We did not come here to fight, but neither will we allow ourselves to be dressed in lies, we did not come to fight but neither will we permit verbal thuggery, irresponsibility from the media, and glassy eyes of haughtiness from a putrid middle class, dulled by money, try to extract opportunity from public concession. Just as (Leopoldo) López took an office and burned the house of the MVR (chavista political party, Fifth Republic Movement) that he hasn’t paid for yet, by the way, there in La Castellana (an urbanization). Just as Radonsky took out Adolfo, that we are not going to do ourselves as decent people, took out Adolfo, ah, an officer who was involved in a coup that attacked the current Bolivarian Constitution and imprisoned Rodríguez Chacín, who fortunately came out live and well and is still around, and has a good memory, like they attacked the Cuban Embassy, the heroic Cuba of Fidel Castro, just like that we will pay with the same side of the coin by the other side of the face, they say that the party did not divide (allusion to homosexual conduct) but that it divided, I don’t know why. What tendency does each one have? How could they sit next to one another if one is with one current and another with the other? We will pay them with dignity, we will pay them with respect, we will pay with the truth, we will pay with tolerance, but we will not put up with one more lie. We will not put up with one more attack in the municipalities which they say they direct, we will not put up with one more illegal entry by force to the house of a neighbor, we will not put up with that they keep using people, that they keep changing the ordinances, that they keep illegally expelling neighbors of the municipalities that they say they govern.

The law is for everyone and our duty as Metropolitan Council of Government and Public Politics is to tighten the belt of those who try to practice fascism in the Metropolitan Area. And if there is a need for a psychiatrist, we will find Blanco. And if we have to march to those municipalities so that the Law be respected, so that they tell the truth, so that they respect the public, and so that with manliness they show their faces and assume that they are traitors to the public, liars, hypocrites, and I won’t continue saying more because the public knows them by their little faces, the new face of the old politics, the old face, like the mask of the Pharaohs, of the buried mummies. Here we are going to govern them, because it is the people that govern and not the putrid elites, not the neoliberalism with its old and new faces.

(Expletive: Carajo!) No more lies, boy. "That we don’t call for convocations, that there is no coordination, that there are no policies.” Of course! Because we aren’t privatizing lands, because we aren’t expelling people, because we don’t go around doing fraudulent business under the table, because we don’t have bank accounts abroad, and because we don’t have owners, because we believe in the people.

And if you are going to come to this Council, you are going to do so under these conditions, in conditions that the public imposes and demands, in conditions of truth, and in conditions of respect, in conditions of equality. That you respect us, carajo, so that we respect you! That you respect us, carajo, so that we respect you! (sic)

I think that here the little dog of the video went crazy, the video that I have and that I have not wanted to bring to the public’s attention. Here a dog went crazy. I have a video where this boy is with a dog, a dog that went crazy. Do we project it? Do we project the video that shows the dog or do we project the other?

That Council is to tell the truth. This Council is to contrast ideas, this Council is to march together and I am willing to extend a hand and march together, but march together and extend a hand over the base of a good relationship, a relationship of truth, a relationship of respect, a relationship where the fascists don’t have any room, but where popular revolutionary democracy and socialism have the possibility of building a Bolivarian nation, the nation that we love, the nation of the future.

We know how to confront, we don’t fear anything, nor blackmail, nor death. Those who with vests and airs of grandeur leveled on that 11th and 12th of April and then hid themselves will not intimidate us with their armed bands, and just as they try to intimidate in Chacao to Teresita, just as they try to intimidate in the buildings where they say they govern, sectors of the middle class changing ordinances, imposing criteria, changing rights to frontage and imposing new taxes, that is to say, trying to crush the people.

We wait until today to respond to the lie. To respond to the lie in the face of the lie, and to say to the lie that the lie will not be back! Bring your projects, bring your arguments, bring your lawyers, bring your languages that we will discuss in the language that is needed. But that you better not keep repeating blasphemies that are nothing more than offenses to the citizens. I’m not offended by anything anymore. Of me everything has been said or almost everything. The only thing that has not been said is that “he was a fascist” and that will never be said.

Therefore, and with all respect, if you want confrontation, we will give it on the street. If you want conciliation, we will give it on the street. If you want debate, we will give it on the street, if you are looking for a fight, we will fight on the street, and if you are looking for agreement, we will agree before the public, not in “conciliábulos”, not in “cenáculos”, not in elite circles nor in red district bars in Las Mercedes. And if with these rules of the game and these conditions that we are clarifying in no uncertain terms, you want to come together, then welcome. Welcome, welcome to the debate and if with these conditions you do not want to attend, you are just as welcomed. We will continue to discuss and will continue to build. This is the third reunion that we are having in the Teresa Carreño Theatre in just two days, yesterday in this Hall we had a swearing in of the Metropolitan Cultural Council, not with any different people that are likely here today. Yesterday we swore in delegates of the Metropolitan Council for Participatory Budget Planning, in this same Hall, at another time. And today we will hold a swearing in of delegates of the Metropolitan Council of Public Political Planning, a group responsible, elected directly by the people, for the people, to serve the people, and not supported by any transnational group, consulting service, a power space (?).

Here we will bring, for example, the project that we have ready for the expropriation of the golf links of La Lagunita, and the construction of an urbanization for the middle sectors, with an integral park, because we have conducted serious studies that show that the square meter of lawn of a golf link consumes what 20 families of ten people use to survive in one week, and that is why the large golf clubs are being moved away from the large cities, so that 183 people can play, better it is that 1,800 people live.

And now we will see them at the front, protesting “Don’t mess with my hole”, their little stick (golf club) in their hand and accompanied by whomever wants, López Sisco, Colomina, and their large etcetera of walking cadavers.

We already have created the project for use of La Carlota (small inner city airport), and we will also submit it to consideration, to debate, and to the discussion of this airport. We have created the project of different nuclei of endogenous development in all the Metropolitan Area, incorporating those municipalities where popular sectors have been excluded from the best lands. The land in the Metropolitan Area has to be redistributed. The land cannot be privatized, we are of the land, we belong to the land, the land cannot belong to anyone. The land is not for enrichment, nor for privatized use, nor for the construction of luxury condominiums, the land has to be for life, the land has to be for health, the land has to be for happiness, and the land has to be distributed in terms of equality, and that applies to agricultural lands, to urban lands and to lands for use in condominium.

And we are in the street to ratify, with the Metropolitan Council of Public Politics, the Decree of the Territorial Sectorial Law, the ordinance, approved by the Metropolitan Council, where we apply conditions to all those buildings that are more than 20 years old, that have been inhabited by people for whom the rules of the game have been changed and we will submit the illegal ordinances to the consideration of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. We already have the writ and we are waiting for the date so that with a march we can take it to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and repeal all those illegal ordinances that have been approved at the margin of the law in different municipalities, (issued to) those citizens and all those inhabitants of the Metropolitan Area.

And if we have to expropriate complete municipalities, we will do it. So that they remain as councilors, because certainly they have also trampled on the councilor, and they will also see more of us in their municipalities, you know? Walking the streets liberally, with the people, let’s see if they don’t bite and become fascists, let’s see if they don’t take out their little pots. They are capable of respect and tolerance, but we, too, are capable of respect and tolerance. But we will not respect and tolerate lies, infamy, defamation, or fascism.

Here, there is space for democracy, here, there is no space for intolerant fascism. A ka intolerance fascists, Stalinism.

If you want to talk in democratic terms, with soft hands, all the misses that are here with us, the smiles of all the children are within your reach, the fraternal embrace is within your reach, but we will not accept that in a private reunion we come to agreement and afterwards you come out declaring another (expletive: vaina). That is why I did not call you for any more convocations, so that you would come crying to (my) desk, asking for help in the Tribunal. Thank goodness I have it recorded because in the office I record everything, so that you can’t say to me that that is not so, López. Because you are both cowards! One knows scoundrels and says (expletive: coño), this character like he.. then, we will say as Graucho, how does he want others to treat him, as a gentleman or as we really are, or better yet as Mario Moreno Cantinflas: "Excuse me for calling you a gentleman, it’s just that I don’t know you".

August 23, 2006

The irresistible lure of crap

Katy says: I vowed to stay away from the topic of Barreto's tantrum (for sanitary reasons, mainly), but the more I think about it the more I am convinced: we should not pay too much attention to it.

There is nothing we learned from Barreto or from chavismo yesterday that we did not already know. That they hate private property? We knew that. That they hate the middle class? That too. That their weapons are insults, intimidation and vulgarity? Check, check, check. That they want to expropriate golf courses? Fine, let's see them try it. I think the whole spectacle merits pity and sadness, but we should not be outraged.

This is a clear provocation, intended to get the opposition to start marching, banging pots and pans and being all squalid again. They want to take us back to 2003. They need the guarimbas. By appearing to radicalize their discourse and their policies, they want to get us to radicalize too. What they want to accomplish by a mutual radicalization is for the political center to be free again, free for the leader to take possession of once he gets back from Timbuktu or wherever the hell he is currently, giving away our money.

The risk this strategy entails is that, if radicalizing your position does not create the effect of radicalizing the other's position, you are basically handing the political center to your opponent. That is the opportunity we should be focusing on, and we should grab hold of it. If only one party radicalizes, the political center is left to us.

The message now should be that Venezuelans have a clear choice: they can choose somebody who does not believe in private property or somebody who does. They can choose someone who divides and hates, or somebody who wishes to govern for all. It's simple, really.

There is an old adage saying that when your political opponent is falling off a cliff, don't try and push him or you risk falling off with him. The best thing to do is to step aside and let your opponent self-destruct. Today, outrage would be a bad advisor. We should be careful in how we react and use Barreto's tantrum as a symbol of the Venezuela we do not want. We shouldn't react hastily. We should keep our cool.

Dollars for the wealthy while the fat man sings

Katy says: The internet is abuzz with Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto's tantrum last night, where he proved once again what a disgraceful, bigoted human being he is. I will not comment on it. I will not allow myself to morph into a scatological researcher for the purpose of mincing through the words coming out of chavista leaders and their supporters. Besides, my fellow bloggers Miguel, Alek and Daniel are doing a fine job getting the word out.

My interest today lies in what this is intended to cover up for. Could it be that they want us to forget the government has announced an increase in its subsidies for the wealthy? See, when wealthy Venezuelans travel abroad, the government subsidizes them by offering dollars at a rate cheaper than the market rate, as I have explained before. The government has announced an increase in this massive subsidy, right when schools are out and people are flocking to Disney World to forget that Venezuela is in the hands of people like Barreto.

Instead of threatening to take away their golf courses - which I believe will never happen - why not take away their subsidized cash?

August 22, 2006

A hospital and a count

Katy says: I'm busy with work these days, so I will only be posting lightly. There are, however, two news items I wanted to mention to get the comments going.

Item #1: Last Sunday, Chávez inaugurated a new Children's Cardiological Hospital in Caracas. It appears as though the facility is well made, well-designed and contains state-of-the-art technology. If that is the case, then congratulations. After all, the much-maligned IVth Republic managed to inaugurate more than a few hospitals in their heyday, it was about time chavismo started doing the same.

However, it appears as though access to the hospital is going to be restricted. I am not clear on the details, but Veneconomy alleges only patients from the Barrio Adentro system will qualify, but I checked the transcript of the ALó Presidente show and it was not clear what they meant. The Director of the Hospital says today that they will only accept children referred to them from eight public hospitals. She says, quite clearly, that children coming from private institutions will not be accepted. She also says the hospital will accept children from other Latin American countries.

Again, the details are fuzzy at this point, and the Health Ministry's website does not clarify much, but something is not right if the hospital accepts children from other countries and does not accept Venezuelans who just happen to be treated at private institutions.

Finally, the hospital does not appear to be functioning fully, in spite of having been inaugurated last Sunday.

Item #2: Benjamín Rausseo is on the record today saying his candidacy "has not deflated." Bejnamín, ol' buddy: when you're being asked about your candidacy having deflated and you have to come out and deny it, it probably means it has deflated. Seems like the writing is on the wall for this little adventure.

August 21, 2006

A surprise from the NYT

Katy says: As I begin reading today's newspapers, I see that the New York Times has a couple of recent articles on Venezuela.

One is a fairly tedious one about the boom in scotch sales in Venezuela. Yes, Venezuelans love Scotch, and yes, high oil prices mean Venezuelans will drink more and more expensive Scotch. It has happened before and it will keep happening. Big whoop.

The other article was a bit more interesting, although not much new there either: Chávez's strengthening ties with Iran and other radical Middle Eastern states. A few things I found interesting: that the tractor factory Iran installed in Venezuela is actually functioning, that soon we will see Iranian Khodro Samand sedans rolling around Venezuelan streets, and that the Samand is actually not a horrible looking car (see picture).

The shocker came when I saw the list of most emailed articles... the article on Chávez and Iran is - at 11:34 AM Eastern time - at the top of the list! I wonder what that means.