June 21, 2008

The crying game

Quico says: What follows is cut-and-pasted from a recent Skype chat:
Katy 6:25 PM: ¿estas?

Quico 6:25 PM: epa, sí, recien regresado

Katy 6:26 PM: ¿donde estabas?

Quico 6:27 PM: in what, I now realize, was The Most Boring Conference in the History of Trade Policy Conferences...

(en Bélgica)

tú, ¿qué tal?

Katy 6:30 PM: sorry to hear that.

Yo bien, era para saber si ibas a postear en los proximos dias

Quico 6:31 PM: Ummmm...doubtful...with the football and all...

Katy 6:31 PM: jeje... actually, I was wondering what the best way of changing my name is...

Quico 6:31 PM: changing your name?

Katy 6:31 PM: I guess the whole "Katy" thing, it's kind of silly at this point

Quico 6:31 PM: Ah, your blog name...I thought you wanted to become Abu-Ismael Hamza Al-Katy

Katy 6:31 PM: je je

I don't want to make a big deal about it, but I also dont want to simply start posting as Juan

And I think I owe it to the readers to start using my real name

Quico 6:31 PM: Hmmmm

Juan Cristobal 6:31 PM: maybe my initials? Or just Juan Cristobal?

Quico 6:32 PM: I think that would confuse people

Juan Cristobal 6:32 PM: Thats my name but I never, ever use the Cristobal

Quico 6:32 PM: I think what you should do is post a video of yourself but continue to sign Katy

Juan Cristobal 6:33 PM: hmm...

no, I think that would be very weird

How about you say that Katy died?

Quico 6:33 PM: WHAT?!

Juan Cristobal 6:33 PM: and that in her place, you've hired a new blogger, named Juan

Quico 6:34 PM: Is this some kind of Who Killed J.R. thing?!

Dallas online?!

Juan Cristobal 6:34 PM: and we sort of leave it at that?

Quico 6:34 PM: no, no, no, people are emotionally attached to Katy...

Juan Cristobal 6:34 PM: really?!

Quico 6:34 PM: you can't kill her - what about all the broken hearts?

Juan Cristobal 6:34 PM: see, that's what tangles me up...

Why have people formed this image of Katy?

One that has no relation to the real Katy, btw, who couldn't be LESS interested in politics.

She's right here, by the way, she says hi!

[Quico's note: In real life, Katy is Juan Cristobal's very pregnant wife...which is why, long ago, he picked that as his nom de blogue.]

Quico 6:35 PM: right

Juan Cristobal 6:35 PM: ok, I need ideas here

The video thing I don't like

Quico 6:35 PM: Hmmmm...

Juan Cristobal 6:35 PM: But I dont want to post something saying "I used to post as Katy, now Im going to use Juan... "

Quico 6:35 PM: Well, do you just want BlogYou to switch genders?

or do you want BlogYou to merge with RealYou?

Juan Cristobal 6:36 PM: Oh, these are deep metaphysical questions

Quico 6:36 PM: sin vaina!

Juan Cristobal 6:36 PM: maybe we should just post this chat

Quico 6:36 PM: lol...

Juan Cristobal 6:36 PM: maybe that would be the most non-chalant way of doing it

Quico 6:36 PM: Hey, I'm up for that...

Quico 6:36 PM: Hmmmm...

Juan C...

Juan Cristobal...

I like Cristobal better than Juan C.

or J. Cristobal

Juan C. is just a bit...

Juan Cristobal 6:38 PM: Juan Carlos-y

Quico 6:38 PM: right

I always assumed that C. was Carlos

Juan Cristobal 6:38 PM: everybody who reads Juan C. immediately assumes I'm a Juan Carlos, which I most certainly am not

Quico 6:38 PM: huff-huff

Juan Cristobal 6:38 PM: Juan Cristobal is good

I never use it, now would be a good place to start.

Quico 6:38 PM: I'm a cuttin' and a-pastin' as you type...
There it is, folks. You always suspected. Now you know...

June 19, 2008

Oil Economics 101

Katy says: - In today's class, we will discuss current events in oil markets.

- China raised fuel taxes by as much as 18 percent. Markets interpreted this as a serious move toward cooling China's ever-growing energy demand, and fuel prices duly began falling. This came on the same week that Honda unveiled the world's first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell car.

- Iraq awarded important oil contracts to US and European firms in order to ramp up production. The Iraqi government expects to increase production by 500,000 barrels per day in the next six months. Improved security in Iraq's oil fields and pipelines has Big Oil grinning.

- Saudi Arabia - the only member of OPEC with any capacity to spare and, not coincidentally, the largest and most powerful member of the cartel - announces it, too, is ramping up oil production to respond to the insanely high price of oil. They expect to increase production by 500,000 barrels per day in the next month, all this on the heels of a visit by US Pres. Bush in which he asked the Saudis to increase production. The Saudis rebuffed the President, but have seemingly changed their mind. They have also called a meeting of oil producers and consumers to discuss ways of cooling down oil markets.

- Venezuelan oil minister Ramírez, in a telling sign of the increasing strains in the cartel, announced our country will boycott the Saudi meeting. Among the stated reasons is a visit by the President of Brazil, whom he seemingly meets twice a month. A funny excuse when you consider that Ramírez's Brazilian counterpart will be ... in Saudi Arabia.

So, children, a little bit of homework. Solve the following equation:

Slowing demand + increased supply + breakdown of cartel discipline = ??

a. A perfect storm; prices will plummet.
b. A minor blip in the unstoppable march to $200 per barrel.
c. Who knows what's happening with oil markets?
d. All of the above.

Class dismissed.

Blunder of the week

Katy says: - Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín committed one of the biggest blunders I have seen recently, when he said that most murders in Venezuela were murders between gang members that did not affect the overall safety of citizens.

We all know that crime is the top concern in the minds of Venezuelans and that it has soared to unprecedented levels during the Chávez years. We also know that the government has been paying a little more attention to this issue, aware that it is really hurting them in public opinion.

So if I were a politician and heard Rodríguez Chacín, I would play this to the tilt. I would make his video the centerpiece of my campaign, and I would accompany it by something like this:

"The Minister isn't worried about murders between gang members.

But Yubiri from La Vega, a single mother who lives in a gang-infested part of the neighborhood, who waits for her kids to come home from school in the dark - she worries.

Anselmo, the father in Mariches who knows his son has fallen in the hands of a gang and is trying to get him off drugs and clean up his life - he worries.

Maritza, the grandmother in El Valle who ended up in the hospital after a stray bullet hit her while she was in her living room - she worries.

The government doesn't worry - unless the murders happen to the rich.

The government doesn't worry - as long as they can control crime in the East of Caracas.

The government doesn't worry - because they have thousands of bodyguards keeping them safe.

Minister Rodríguez Chacín is wrong. Every murder in Venezuela is important, because human life deserves respect and protection no matter what.

This November you have a choice. You can elect people who don't worry about the safety of all citizens. Or you can elect someone who will not rest until every Venezuelan, no matter where they live, no matter what they do, feels safe.

That is the choice you have."

Se las puso de bombita pues - so any of you candidates out there reading CC, you're welcome.

June 17, 2008

What Primero Justicia wants, Part II: The justice system

Katy says: - This is the second post in a series on the proposals of Venezuela’s opposition political parties. The first part (on oil policy) is here.

The translated summary that follows is an exclusive excerpt of Primero Justicia's platform. These proposals were approved last October in the party’s Ideological Congress, but the final version has not yet been made public. The original version is available from me, via email.


The diagnosis.-

Venezuela’s Constitution says that everyone is the same in the eyes of the law. One of our inalienable rights is to have a justice system that works quickly and fairly. But to most Venezuelans these are just words on a piece of paper, nothing more.

People don’t trust the justice system, and there are many reasons why this is so.

First off, the justice system does not work well because it is poorly funded. Venezuela has fewer judges and prosecutors per capita than many other Latin American countries. Public funding for the justice system is lower than in neighboring countries in spite of record-high oil prices, and in spite of having been a major recipient of aid in recent years from multilateral organization, earmarked for improving our justice system.

It’s no surprise that people see the courts as inaccessible. The number of legal complaints filed in court as a percentage of the population is lower than in other, less violent Latin American countries. Trials tend to last forever – civil trials last on average 783 days; investigating a crime takes on average 286 days and sentencing takes a further 754 days. These figures are many times higher than the maximum length allowed by law.

The justice system is perceived as something to avoid instead of a tool to help make our lives better. Part of the reason is that most judges are susceptible to influence peddling and corruption. In 2005, 84% of our judges held temporary positions, as did 90% of the public prosecutors in the country. While these numbers have gone down in recent years, more than 50% of the remaining judges are still temporary. The few permanent positions being filled have not been open to contests, as mandated by law.

The lack of justice means that most crimes in our country go unsolved and unpunished. According to the Central University of Venezuela, only 7 out of every 100 murders in Venezuela end in sentencing. These numbers are even more out of whack when it comes to extra-judicial killings by the hands of the police or the military – only 1.4% of those servicemen accused of murder are ever convicted.

Not surprisingly, the only people who use the justice system are the rich, the powerful and the well connected. Every part of the judicial process comes with an illegal fee attached to it, which only exacerbates the exclusion of poor people from formal means of justice.


The proposals.-

Primero Justicia’s proposals for our justice system are, as the party's name would suggest, the first topic in their platform.

It's a mistake to think this ranking is merely a response to the party's name. The party sees the transformation of the justice system as the key element in the fight against poverty and exclusion, as the cornerstone of social and economic policy. They believe there can be no peace and no progress in our country unless we embark on a thorough transformation of our justice system.

Their main goal is to make the justice system accessible to people. One of the ways they plan on doing this is through the “Casas de la Justicia.”

The goal of these centers is to bring the knowledge and the tools of the justice system into communities around the country. The idea is for these centers to help spread information on formal and informal ways of solving conflict and provide free legal assistance.

These centers would also offer mediation services, as well as provide legal assistance on matters related to children and teenagers and judicial support to Justices of the Peace, among others. The party has already opened several dozens of these centers all across the country, and the experience so far has been positive.

Another way of making justice accessible is by widening the range of tools available to people for solving conflicts.

One way of doing this is by promoting university-sponsored legal clinics and making it mandatory for graduating attorneys to provide community legal services. The party also proposes legislation to include the possibility of mediation and conciliation in all legal processes, as well as expanding legislation and funding for Justices of the Peace. The goal is to ease the burden on the courts and make litigation cheaper by promoting alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution, decreasing in the process the incentives for corruption in our courts.

The party pledges to jumpstart the review and modification of current legislation in order to suppress useless formalisms. They propose expanding the use of oral procedures in different stages of the legal process, as well as the application of immediacy and concentration principles to facilitate the presentation of proof and speed the course of trials.

As far as the number of judges is concerned, the party promises to increase them by 2,000 in the first five years after being elected, with their accompanying administrative staff. They also propose expanding the number of prosecutors by 1,000, with a focus on fundamental rights and criminal law.

They pledge to increase the number of courts and redistribute their scope, as well as open double-blind contests so temporary judges can become permanent. They also pledge to find ways to incorporate civil society into the process of selecting judges.

One of the failures of our justice system is that there is no clear set of rules that anyone wishing to become a judge has to comply with. Likewise, the rules for promoting judges and other people working in the courts are not clear.

Primero Justicia wants to address this. They also propose increasing the number of criminal judges on call on nights, weekends and holidays.

As for the distribution of judicial causes, the party proposes auditing the cause assignment system. They will bring legislation forward to eliminate coordinating judges and substitute them for an office of judicial assignments that is on call, 24 hours a day.

Primero Justicia proposes the elimination of the Judicial Commission of the Supreme Tribunal. The party believes that in order to weed out good judges from bad ones, their academic and professional credentials must be made public. They propose redesigning the professional profile for judicial employees and bailiffs, and a quarterly evaluation mechanism for judges using an instrument especially designed for this.

Our courts need to become professional, accountable bodies. In order to achieve this, Primero Justicia wants to establish mandatory programs for professional improvement for those who work there. They also propose establishing efficient management models in all courts, along with social accountability programs to improve transparency. The proposals include a pledge to establish a national test as a requisite for getting a law degree

Primero Justicia is vague about the types of laws that will need to be modified. They emphasize that a new legal framework will be needed to make the law compatible with these and other policies they want to implement.

However, one of the concrete things they propose doing is reducing the number of crimes typified in the law, from 1,000 to 500. They explicitly mention the need to to update the Civil Code, the Commercial Code, the Criminal Code and the Organic Laws of the different bodies in the Moral Power.

The party proposes reviewing legislation contained in the Organic Criminal Procedures Code regarding the length of judicial proceedings, mandatory sentencing and measures intended to substitute jail time. They are explicit in saying that the goal of these changes will be to provide support for victims and their families, with harsher penalties and fewer loopholes.

With regards to the Prosecutor’s office, the party comes out in favor of purging politics out of this important institution.

One of the first things they mention is the need to make the caseload assignment independent of outside influences. They propose an objective, semi-random system for allocating cases to prosecutors. They also propose eliminating the power of the Prosecutor General to assign prosecutors to special cases, and creating special Prosecutor’s Offices for things such as organized crime, corruption and crimes against private property.

Primero Justicia proposes increasing the number of Prosecutor General’s offices and staffing them not only with lawyers but with psychologists, paramedics and social workers. They propose increasing the number of people on call tending to the public in 24-hour shifts. They include proposals for training staff on treating victims of crime and providing orientation. The party proposes incorporating a customer service hotline for the Prosecutor General’s office, in order to get first-hand anonymous accounts from the communities on how each office is doing its job.

Other measures include guaranteeing the autonomy of prosecutors and shielding them from specific instructions on how to act emanating from the Prosecutor General and others in the justice system. They also propose raising the salaries of prosecutors and implementing a system of rewards based on performance and background.

The party pledges to raise the allocation of funds for Prosecutor’s offices, define the desired profile for Prosecutors and opening public contests to fill vacant positions. Finally, they promise to invest in improving the physical infrastructure of Prosecutor’s offices.

The tired revolution

Katy says: - Lucía sends me this link to the latest New Yorker piece on Chávez, written by the legendary Jon Lee Anderson. What a disappointing read.

The article is lazy and redundant. It contains no new information, nothing we haven't heard or read before. The people he interviews - Teodoro Petkoff, Nicolás Maduro, Bill Richardson, Piedad Córdoba, Chávez himself - say little that is particularly interesting. Even the new bits he includes - such as his insider's peek at Chávez's plane, or his first-hand account of the Santo Domingo summit - manage to come across as only mildly interesting.

When a great writer with a ton of access and significant time on his hands can't write a fresh, well-written article on someone like Hugo Chávez, I can only conclude that what Anderson saw was a tired revolution. It's as if he couldn't muster up enough inspiration, he couldn't find an interesting angle to latch on to, and this can only mean that the revolution itself has stopped being interesting.

Like an old magician trying the same old tricks, the Fat Man in the Palace is out of magic, and the article reflects it.

June 16, 2008

The Secret Parliament

Quico says: I'm sorry to stay stuck on the Intelligence Decree-Law fiasco, but the more I think about it the more I see it as the embodiment of everything that's fucked up about the hopelessly fucked up way we're governed. (Click here for background.)

The episode was absurd from the very start. It never really made sense for Chávez to request special powers to legislate by decree from a legislature where he enjoyed a 165 to 0 majority. Enabling laws make some (not much) sense in the context of competitive parliaments where certain key pieces of legislation need to be enacted in great haste to confront some looming crisis. In such cases, the normal process of legislative scrutiny - the thrust and parry of parliamentary debate - threaten to do lasting damage by slowing down state action when time is of the essence. (That, incidentally, is why the 1961 constitution limited enabling powers to financial matters.)

The Venezuelan situation in early 2007 could not have been more different. All that Enabling powers did was to render the legislative process entirely opaque: withdrawing it from a forum where 165 sycophants would follow Chávez's every whim slavishly and in public to a forum where an indeterminate number of sycophants would follow his every whim slavishly but behind closed doors.

The Intelligence Decree-Law fracas underscores that even from the point of view of the government's narrow political interests, this was idiotic. Had this text been debated in public, the outcry that's followed it would've taken place before the law came into force, allowing chavismo the time to "fix it" as part of the normal legislative process. That would've preserved some kind of plausible deniability for Miraflores, and avoided the clownish spectacle of the president effectively vetoing his own decree.

As it is, Chávez isn't even reading the decrees that he's signing into law, leaving himself wide open to the kind of own-goal his flunkies scored over the Intelligence Decree-Law.

Constitutionally, there isn't the slightest smidgen of doubt about where responsibility for this fiasco falls. But because it's politically impossible to blame the Fat Man in the Palace for anything that goes wrong (even when his name is - very literally - written all over it), chavistas are left in the hallucinogenic position of having to blame Miraflores staff for the SNAFU!

It's impossible to exaggerate how fucked up this blame-the-flunkies strategy is. The flunkies aren't elected. The flunkies have no authority of their own. The flunkies aren't accountable. Hell, we don't even know who the flunkies are: they act in secret!

But, under the chavista interpretation of enabling powers, they, in effect, run the country.

But lets concede the point. Let us give in to the rising tide of insanity and accept that Miraflores staff is responsible for the decrees their boss signs. Lets accept that this shadowy cabal of executive-branch lawmakers own some decisions that violated the constitution, that injured fundamental human rights, that undermined the revolution's credibility...where does the buck stop? Who gets fired? Or demoted? Or reprimanded?


As an opposition, we don't even know whose head to ask for, because we don't even know the actual names of the people we're told are responsible!

Chavismo has sprouted a secret parliament: the perfect complement to the shadowy, constitutionally non-existent Finance Ministry that now runs a multi-billion dollar parallel budget out of PDVSA. It's an insane way to run a country.

In the end, the Intelligence Decree-Law Affair underscores a terrifying reality. The Venezuelan state is gradually turning itself into a clandestine organization; eating itself from the inside out.