September 5, 2008

Off The Rails

Quico says: Sometimes, you have to take your hat off to the sheer audacity of chavista officialdom in full larceny mode. Say what you will about them, but when the time comes to think up corruption-hotbed-moneypit-boondoggles, these guys think big. I mean, really: 5% cuts on public employee insurance contracts are so Fourth Republic.

Even by their standards, though, the latest presidential brain fart raises the bar. Together with his Argentine counterpart, a Venezuelan government spokesmen recently announced plans to spend $9 billion on a 6,200 Km. railway between Caracas and Buenos Aires.

With a straight face.

That's nine zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero dollars; enough to buy every man, woman and child in Venezuela a Nintendo Wii.

Oh and, did I mention? The train can't go through Brazil: Lula's not on board.

Where to even start? Maybe with the patently, almost embarrassingly, obvious: it's never gonna happen. You are never going to board a train in Venezuela and disembark in Argentina.

Think about it. If the (by comparison, dead simple) scheme to run a gas pipeline from the Caribbean through Brazil into Argentina foundered on the shoals its own technical and financial inviablity, this far more complex, far less economically sensible project just doesn't stand a chance.

I mean, lets review the bidding here. We're talking about a government that, in ten years, hasn't even managed to finish the four lane highway covering the couple of hundred kilometers of flat coastal plain between Caracas and Puerto La Cruz, a government from a country with a grand total of 41 kilometers of active passenger railways, somehow getting it together to build and electrify tracks over thousands of kilometers of dense rain forest, zero-rainfall deserts, some of the world's tallest mountains, two imperialist-lackey-run countries and a war zone.

The chasm between capabilities and ambitions here is so psychiatrically off the charts, it feels faintly ridiculous to go through the detail of it.

So what are we really looking at here? What we're looking at here is a form of corruption so audacious, so unencumbered by any sense of restraint, that it simply refuses to make any of the usual concessions in the general direction of keeping up appearances.

Thing is, the bigger the contract, the bigger the cut, and if you're serious about taking your embezzlement to the next level, the only way forward is to pitch bigger and bigger projects with bigger and bigger price tags and less and less concern with verisimilitude.

Your great fortune, however, is that you find yourself pitching these transparently unworkable plans to a guy whose ego long since burst its banks, a guy who loves nothing more than a transparently unworkable project to embody his increasingly unhinged sense of historical import. The kind of guy who hears "$9 billion...6,200 km...six countries... Andes... Atacama... Amazon" and instead of calling in the men in white lab coats to pack you off to an insane asylum thinks "hmmmm, I like it!"

And so another batch of boli-millionaires is created on our dime, another chunk of the oil bonanza is tossed into the pyre, and the obscene parade of revolution ambles forward toward its next bout of narcissistic-lunacy-cum-quotidianity.

September 3, 2008

Venezuelan Parties Still Don't Get the Internet

Quico says: One thing should be clear by now: Venezuelan party websites pretty much suck. Most of them appear to have been started up by an enthusiastic volunteer or two who didn't really think through the time-commitment needed to keep a website permanently updated and gave up pretty early on. With just a few exceptions (PJ, UNT, PCV), it's easy to see party leaders don't much care what their party's web presence is like. It's telling, for instance, that you never ever see a URL printed on a party political placard in Venezuela.

As far as the opposition goes, it's no surprise. If Venezuela has a mad proliferation of tiny, half-baked, ineffective opposition party websites none of which can seem to reach the critical mass needed to have a real impact, much of that is down to the fact that we have a mad proliferation of tiny, half-baked, ineffective opposition parties none of which can seem to reach the critical mass needed to have a real impact. The dysfunction of the opposition's websites is the dysfunction of the opposition.

Only Primero Justicia takes any kind of stab at using the web for organizing purposes, but even they barely scratch the surface in terms of the way the internet can be used as a tool for grass-roots political organizing. The kinds of techniques for channeling people's political concerns into specific action pioneered by sites like and and later adapted by the likes of and, closer to home, No Más FARC, are just not on the radar screen in Venezuela.

There's a terrible wasted opportunity in all of this. Net access is fast becoming the norm in Venezuela's middle class, and even poor people have at least sporadic access through schools and infocentros. But while Venezuelans have become politicized to an extent that would've seemed unthinkable just a decade ago, that energy can't seem to find the organizational channels it needs to fuel real world political action. Instead of catalyzing mobilization, online politics in Venezuela remains confined to ranting viciously on sites like Noticiero Digital, dominated by a fringe of die-hard anti-politics know-nothings who prefer to wallow in a form of infantile nihilism that dissipates political energy rather than channeling it into action.

It's a damn shame.

September 2, 2008


Juan Cristobal and I wish to make clear that, while we realize the recent set of posts have been about as popular as a rabbi at a Hizbollah rally, we're both traveling at the moment and barely online at all most days. Regular posting will resume by Friday.

Stragglers, personal vehicles and a bit of nostalgia

...a shocking number of "parties" have no website to speak of. Podemos, Proyecto Venezuela, Causa R, UPV (Lina Ron's vehicle), Venezuela de Primera, URD, MIN and MAS, have either just a placeholder or nothing at all.

Alianza Bravo Pueblo and Comando Nacional de la Resistencia have Blogs masquerading as party websites. Both look very much like Ledezma vehicles. The CNR blog at least gets updated regularly, ABP's, not even.

Bandera Roja also operates a glorified blog, which is not entirely inactive, but hardly a hotbed of digital activism either.

From there on out, it only gets weirder. Convergencia has a website that's more like a cyber-shrine to Rafael Caldera than a party website. In a weird way, it's still more substantive than many other party websites, as you can download the full texts of a number of Dr. Caldera's books in PDF form.

Good to know for those of us who battle chronic insomnia.

September 1, 2008

Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) + Tribuna Popular


(PCV shares a website with the party's daily newspaper, Tribuna Popular.)

Updatedness 20 out of 20:
The decision to roll the Tribuna Popular and PCV websites into one really pays off here. Fresh stuff, lots of it, every day.

Interaction possibilities: 2 out of 20
The site allows you to open an account, which is somewhat mystifying, since you can't actually do anything with it. Still, they have almost 1400 users signed up.

Meaningful positions: 20 out of 20
Positions don't come any more explicit than this. (OK, maybe this tops it.) You can fault the commies for a lot of stuff, but being wishy-washy about where they stand is not among them.

Web-Design: 14 out of 20
I'm of two minds about this. Technically, the site is pretty sophisticated: Joomla-based and comprehensive. There's a ton of content, and it's well organized.

On the other hand, it looks awful: dated, over-busy, and just plain ugly.

Contact information: 1 out of 10

A web form lets you write Tribuna Popular's editors, and that's about it. But then, the party explicitly says it doesn't want dilettantes or part-timers, boasting that it should be hard to be accepted as a party member, so outreach is not exactly a priority.

Local Goodness: 4 out of 10
The site's dual nature as both party and newspaper website makes this a bit of a hit and miss affair. Local commies are covered often by Tribuna Popular, but if you're looking for a stable website about your friendly neighborhood Reds, you can't necessarily find it.

The Verdict: 61 out of 100.
Active, obviously fussed over and tended to, PCV's is easily the best of the pro-Chávez party sites. It could perfectly well be used as your main source of news, if you're into a hard-left point of view, and is particularly good at integrating web-video. The rhetoric is time-warpy, yes, but the positioning is very clear.

August 31, 2008

Copei Digital


Updatedness: 5 out of 20.
"Noticias actuales" from May. A separate "National Blog" is updated about once every 3 days.

Interaction possibilities: 11 out of 20.
You get a way to sign up as a party member or renew your membership, but the website is designed more to harvest information from you than to give you a way to interact with the party.

Meaningful positions: 10 out of 20.
A very abstract "Quienes Somos" page cranks out the obligatory Catholic Social Doctrine noises.

Web-Design: 9 out of 20.
Another glorified blog, but not a very nice looking one, with tons of links that lead you nowhere.

Contact information: 3 out of 10
A form quizzes you extensively but doesn't tell you where your email will end up. On the plus side, Caracas phone numbers are displayed prominently on the home page.

Local Goodness: 3 out of 10
If you live in Anzoátegui, Carabobo or Táchira, you get out-of-date blogs. If you don't, you don't even get that. You do get the names of local party officials, but not a way to get in touch with them.

The Verdict: 42 out of 100.
The site is terribly concerned to nail down Copei's rebranding as "Copei Partido Popular". But, when you get down to it, it's just another website that might not be too bad if somebody, anybody, would just give it a bit of TLC.