February 8, 2008

This can't last, it's too stupid...

Quico says: Everybody talks about how crazy Mario Silva is. Not living in Venezuela, I don't much watch Chávez's favorite TV talk show host. This clip, out of Noticias 24, settles it pretty much once and for all, though. The guy is batshit insane. De manicomio.

This can't last. It's too stupid...

Silence is golden, words are made of lead

Quico says: You can always tell when a news story genuinely catches the chavista propaganda machine unprepared. Terrified of publishing anything that may, in retrospect, turn out to have been "off message", the state media just seizes up completely and waits for the boss to tell them how the tale is to be told.

So, 18 hours after ExxonMobil went nuclear by freezing PDVSA's assets abroad, check out what's making the "front pages" of the government's main propaganda arms:

It's pretty remarkable. If you got your news exclusively from chavista sources, you still wouldn't know anything in particular happened.

There's a heavy stench of panic hanging over this latest chavista media blackout, a deer-in-the-headlights quality to it, a deep, deep pathos...

Ernesto Villegas did run with it on VTV this morning.

February 7, 2008

All your refinery are belong to us

Quico says: Exxon Mobil has obtained a series of court orders freezing up to $36 billion (no, that's not a typo) worth of PDVSA assets in the US, UK, Netherlands and Dutch Antilles, pending arbitration over the seizure of their assets in the Orinoco Belt upgrading projects.

Guess Chávez should've sold off all those foreign assets before randomly stealing Exxon's stuff. Ooops.

Big story. Big consequences. Stay tuned.

Update: It turns out that was a typo. This Reuter's article clarifies that the maximum sum that could be frozen world wide by the three concurrent court orders is $12 billion.

This Bloomberg piece provides lots of interesting detail:

The U.S. freeze is less than 3 percent the size of the U.K. and Netherlands orders because Exxon Mobil reckoned it would be more difficult to obtain a freeze on PDVSA's U.S. refineries and filling stations without first winning at trial. In the meantime, PDVSA probably would sell the plants, Exxon Mobil's U.K. lawyer said.

The asset freezes will damage PDVSA's ability to raise funds from international investors for drilling and refinery projects, said Asdrúbal Oliveros, chief economist at Caracas-based Ecoanalitica. He estimated PDVSA has $13 billion in ``liquid'' international assets.

``This is going to put a lot of pressure on country risk, and on the price of the company's bonds in the international market,'' Oliveros said. ``Loaning money to a company that's in this kind of dispute, and also is facing this kind of injunction, is going to be very delicate.''

Reuters also tries to assess just how screwed PDVSA is now.

Dial C for conscience

Katy says: Last night I went to see a grown-up movie for the first time in months, and it was a great one. Michael Clayton is a superior Hollywood story about greedy, ruthless corporate lawyers and the chaos that ensues when a few of them actually develop a conscience.

The movie got me thinking about conscience, something we seldom see in the public sphere.

I've been emailing back and forth with loyal reader Kepler about the fact that, more than two months after the December 2nd Referendum, the CNE has not yet released updated results. All we have so far are the results from the 1st Bulletin and a 2nd Bulletin that has no results and, literally, does not add up.

To be quite honest, this has not been on my radar screen, and I wasn't much interested in revisiting this topic. We won the referendum, the government accepted it, and that's what's important. End of story ... or is it?

Kepler and all his fellow skeptics have a point - something about this smells fishy. The eerie silence that has followed the first bulletin has been met with a passive shrug of the shoulders by most of the opposition - parties and students alike. It seems like Súmate, ESDATA and a few other opposition groups and individuals are the only ones asking the obvious questions, questions like "how many votes did the opposition get?" or "how high was abstention?".

I asked some of my contacts in opposition parties about this to get their side of the story. The response I got disturbed me.

Their answer was that some people in the opposition believe final results will never be revealed. They think that the actual margin of victory was smaller than what the CNE is currently reporting, and therefore they are not too worried about the CNE finishing the count. They suggest we all turn the page and let sleeping dogs lie.

It goes without saying that this was not the answer I was looking for. In my response, I listed the many reasons why this was a bone-headed idea. I talked about how important it was that people now believed in the vote, and that this could be compromised by the CNE's reluctance to do their job and by the political parties' and the students' indifference.

I told the people I spoke to that they had the chance to position themselves with this issue. By not keeping quiet and puting this issue on the table again, they could claim a stake in a different position from the rest of the crowded opposition field. I mentioned how this could be a way of getting back some of the radical skeptics without alienating the median voters they are clearly gearing for. I highlighted the importance of voters overseas, and how they need to know that their vote will always count.

My long email was a laundry list of reasons why I thought pressing on would be convenient. Yet after coming down from my soapbox, I realized what I forgot to mention: that pressing on with this issue is important because it is the right thing to do.

Too many times we find ourselves thinking in terms of costs and benefits, of what we gain and what we lose. Yet it is much easier to live by the Golden Rule.

With political power comes responsability. Millions of Venezuelans decided to trust opposition groups and vote because they believed that they would defend their vote all the way. And while they did a decent job and we won the referendum - something that should not be forgotten - capitulating now, before all the votes have been counted, is a betrayal of that trust. You can argue it is a minor one, but it's a betrayal nonetheless, and an unnecessary one at that.

Perhaps they are thinking that, if they press the CNE further with this issue, they would highlight their incompetence, and the electoral conditions we now have - a clear improvement over what we had in previous elections - could be lost. Perhaps they think pressing the CNE could endanger the regional elections and that communication channels could be cut off. In short, perhaps they don't want to piss off Tibisay Lucena.

There comes a time when all these issues have to be put aside. We must learn to differentiate the personal from the work in public life, and make the case that the Lucena et al. have to finish what they started, without regards for the consequences and without this being offensive to anyone.

Not doing so hurts our credibility with the CNE as well. Ultimately, if the CNE sees that we are willing to compromise on our stances, it will try and get us to compromise on bigger, more important things.

I gave my connections a mouthful with all of this, and at least they read it and said they would consider my opinion. I honestly hope they do, not because they will lose my trust if they don't, but because this is a great opportunity to show they actually listen to their conscience. Let's hope they don't pass it up.

February 6, 2008

Yes, but what does the Chávez era feel like?

Quico says: If you live in Venezuela or follow it closely, you probably won't learn anything new from Andrés Martínez's snarky little "My Summer Vacation" piece over at Slate.com. Still, you should read it...the guy's a wonderful, idiosyncratic writer, and his article manages to convey the weirdly unhinged feel of Caracas in the Chávez era better than almost anything else I've read in English.

A taste:
Go to China or Vietnam, and you see a pre-existing Communist state paying lip service to its old Marxist orthodoxy as it embraces consumerist modernity. But the Venezuela of Hugo Chávez is a real oddity—a fantasyland that isn't in on the joke, that doesn't seem to realize those tired socialistic slogans are nothing more than retro kitsch. Even the thousands of Cuban advisers who come to Venezuela must know this, but they still gladly come to proselytize, especially since it gives them a chance to drink Coca-Cola and eat at McDonald's. There is a rich future for a Latin American left, I am sure, and it will take many forms, but one reason Chávez has gotten as far as he has is that his project is so crudely passé and unsubtle, it is hard to take seriously.
Read the whole thing.

February 5, 2008

Chávez's 4F Semiotic Mindfuck

Quico says: No, the two arm bands aren't quite identical. Still, exactly what message was Chávez trying to send by wearing this armband on the day he announced that Venezuela's border to the west is with FARC?

If he recognizes FARC as "being in a state of war with Colombia" (which, after all, is what "beligerent" means) and then allies himself politically and symbolically with FARC, what state does that leave Venezuela and Colombia in? Crazy stuff.

February 4, 2008

My Coup's Super Sweet 16

Quico says: The anniversaries come thick-and-fast around this time of year. Sixteen years ago today, an even younger, skinnier Lieutenant Colonel showcased his commitment to Democracy by trying to shoot dead the elected President of the Republic. Today, as the world pauses to protest FARC's brutality, Hugo Chávez will be busy celebrating his own.

February 4th is always an auspicious time to leaf through the decrees Chávez had drafted ahead of his putsch. Highlights include plans to dissolve the Supreme Court as well as every popularly elected assembly and office in the country, from Parish Councils and mayors on up. Preciously, they also planned to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking.

Prohibido olvidar and all that.

February 3, 2008

Documenting it: Chavez, FARC and the coke trade

Quico says: Last month, Spain's El País caused a stir with this bombshell of an article on the collusion between FARC and the Venezuelan government. The journo, John Carlin, gets major props for digging up the story in detail even before Chávez took his support for FARC public.

Today, The Observer* publishes a revised version of Carlin's story. If anything, this English version is even stronger: better edited, clearer and even more hard hitting. It makes for a devastating indictment of Venezuela's creeping metamorphosis into a narco-state. Some key grafs:
The varied testimonies I have heard reveal that the co-operation between Venezuela and the guerrillas in transporting cocaine by land, air and sea is both extensive and systematic. Venezuela is also supplying arms to the guerrillas, offering them the protection of their armed forces in the field, and providing them with legal immunity de facto as they go about their giant illegal business.

Thirty per cent of the 600 tons of cocaine smuggled from Colombia each year goes through Venezuela. Most of that 30 per cent ends up in Europe, with Spain and Portugal being the principal ports of entry. The drug's value on European streets is some £7.5bn a year.

The infrastructure that Venezuela provides for the cocaine business has expanded dramatically over the past five years of Chávez's presidency, according to intelligence sources. Chávez's decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Administration from his country in 2005 was celebrated both by Farc and drug lords in the conventional cartels with whom they sometimes work. According to Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, a Colombian kingpin caught by the police last February, 'Venezuela is the temple of drug trafficking.'
Sobering stuff. You really can't afford not to read the whole thing.

* for reasons I could never quite fathom, English newspapers are run by a separate editorial staff on Sundays, and publish under a different name. The Observer is basically The Guardian in its Sunday best.