24 December 2009

Eligio Cedeño's case: exhibit A of lack of judiciary independence in Venezuela

The MSM strikes as ever so utterly incompetent nowadays. In its reporting of Eligio Cedeño's case, the Venezuelan banker who gossip has it was jailed for having dumped Hugo Chavez's daughter, journalists have failed miserably at quoting perhaps the most important piece of information about this issue: the law. The known facts are:

  1. Cedeño was accused of misallocation/misuse of some $27 million.
  2. Convinced of his innocence, Cedeño handed himself in, to DISIP authorities.
  3. After 34 months of illegal imprisonment, and without trial in sight, judge María Lourdes Afiuni freed Cedeño.
  4. Cedeño fled for the USA, and contacted US authorities immediately to regularise his status.
  5. Judge Afiuni was arrested, and has been locked in a regular prison with criminals that may have been sentenced by her. Judge Afiuni denounced that inmates have threatened to burn her alive.
  6. Despite the fact that no court in the land has found Cedeño guilty of wrongdoing, Chavez accused him and judge Afiuni of been criminals, going as far as demanding, to the head of Venezuela's Supreme Court and to Congress, that judge Afiuni is sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
  7. Hugo Chavez, frothing at the mouth, announces that Cedeño has been "arrested in the US", and orders his minions to have him extradited from the USA.
  8. Cedeño is paroled by US authorities.
  9. Cedeño promises to reveal "crucial and detailed information" about the Chavez regime.
This case will go down in history as one of the quintessential examples of the lack of an independent judiciary in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. However, beyond the known facts, the MSM and parties involved have decided to go down the route of who said what when, instead of citing the law (Venezuela's Penal Code) that states, explicitly in article 253, that under no circumstances can a person, charged of a punishable offence and waiting for trial, be deprived of its freedom for more than 2 years.

20 December 2009

BBC Venezuela reporting propaganda according to UWE professor

My communication with Dr. Lee Salter, a journalism professor and researcher from the University of the West of England, who has recently argued that the BBC's coverage of Venezuela amounts to propaganda, started thus:
Dear Dr. Salter,
I have just read in Gregory Wilpert's website about your research, and I only have a couple of questions:
1) Who is funding your research?
2) If different from above, who will fund the next stage of the project, trip to Caracas, etc.?
I should be most grateful if you could shed light on the above.
Dr. Salter replied:
Dear Alek (if I may?),
At this point we are not being funded. Most of the research is taking place our of our own time, and that which the University makes available.
The trip to Caracas is self-funded as a kind of holiday with a friend who will go on to tour S America.
We do hope to arrange funding for the next stage, but I have not had time to make a bid yet. I should have more time next semester. Indeed, I did try to approach the Venezuelan govt press people (to arrange the research as a kind of consultation), but received no reply.
Best wishes, Lee.
From the initial exchange, the conversation moved to further questioning on my part. I was rejoiced by the arguments put forth by Dr. Lee Salter. A sample of which follows (bold added by me):

  • ... I must say, I am a little perplexed. I am well aware of the purpose of Venezuelanalysis.com. I think the charge that it is a "propaganda" site is somewhat disingenious, but that is perhaps I teach critiques of propaganda and PR...
  • ... I think given the chorus of disinformation coming out of Venezuelan media, and the international media (for in the days after the 2002 coup, EVERY national newspaper and television station in the UK repeated the claims of the coup-leaders. This is extraordinary. Whether one likes or loaths the Chavez administration and its policies, the fact of the matter is that it has a popular mandate...
  • ... Personally, I think that there are many things the Chavez administration has done that are admirable - especially trying to tackle poverty and trying to promote education (which were the main planks of the 1997 Labour administration in the UK), yet perhaps clean water, food and literacy is too controversial for the "keep them poor, keep them uneducated brigade"?...
  • ... Indeed at times - many times - the BBC simply gets it wrong. For example, the management lockouts of major industries a few years ago were constantly reported as strikes. Again in the UK the BBC would have reported them as lock-outs...
  • ... It IS the case that the BBC opposes the military dictatorship in Burma, yet welcomed it in Venezuela. It is true that the BBC is silent on the terrible abuses of human rights in dictatorships (dressed up as quaint, "traditional" monarchies) such as Saudi Arabia, yet has completely accepted the "opposition's" framing of Chavez as a human-rights abuser (studiously ignoring the incorporation of international human rights norms in the Venezuelan constitution, and the establishment of human rights ombudsmen...
  • ... As it happens, I have also been studying the situation since 2002...
  • ... As regards human rights, well this again is a significant issue. What human rights have people with no access to those rights suggested by the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights...
  • ... Re oil money. Interesting. Have you got any evidence you can point me to about these new billionaires? (I am not being facetious - as I have been trying to say, my interest is in what is being reported and what is not being reported, so any such information will help the research)...
  • ... It is not wrong to say that Hitler was elected in the first instance, but this did not mean he had a democratic mandate. Chavez, like it or not, was elected and has had constitutional reforms agreed through referenda makes his different enough for the analogy to be inaccurate (add to that that Chavez doesn't have imperial asperations, does not seek to "unify" a "greater Venezuela" based on race, and that he doesn't seek to exterminate opponents en mass and it beomes even weaker)...
  • ... In contrast, yesterday I think I had the best insight into contemporary Caracas yesteday - better than all of the journal articles, books, reports and news items put together. I met with a Caracan, who gave me a very frank and I think accurate analysis. He worked for a mission (I think Ribas), which he initially supported, but found it to be so badly organised that in order to teach anything he and his colleagues simply abandoned the programme and ran it themselves. He said that this was exemplary of Chavez's projects - as he put it, Chavez is surrounded by incompetents. He thinks that in many respects Caracas has become a better place, but the government has not addressed the underlying problems. He said that some of Chavez's people have been utterly corrupt (including the minister caught recently), but Chavez is probably not himself. He said that Chavez still has masses of support, that the constitutional extension of limits was understandable, that elections so far have been undoubtably fair and that he thinks Chavez will probably win the next election. As the same time, he said that if Chavez did not win, he feared what would happen (i.e. that he would not be prepared to stand down), that there are questions about the Carter Center's observations (he thinks the Ven Govt is their only client!!), and that whilst Chavez's people get away with corruption, his opponents get taken down on the basis of very suspicious evidence...
In light of so much BS, from an academic that claims to be interested solely in the BBC reporting rather than in Chavez policies, my last message to him was: "There's is really no point in continuing with this Lee. I will conclude my side of communications by saying that you have left British academia down, by way of such ignorant, baseless and utterly partisan opinions." Mind you, Dr. Lee Salter has written things like: "...the coverage in that country and elsewhere of the clearly faked scenes of Chavez supporters shooting non-existent opponents)." Surely a beacon of objectivity, innit?


14 December 2009

Smartmatic banned in Venezuela

It appears that the huge corruption racket that Hugo Chavez, his relatives and close collaborators are running in Venezuela has brought something positive... for the people of Mexico and the Philippines! As it turns, Chavez, who now pretends that he does not tolerate corruption, has taken over eight banks in less than three weeks. But interestingly, a list with details of 49 companies, and the chavistas behind them, has been compiled by the regime, and, according to El Universal, it sits in all registries of Venezuela forbidding the said companies from trading their wares:

As can be seen, Smartmatic's CEO Antonio Mujica, has been banned to make further business with the Chavez regime. In light of this new development, and the way in which Smartmatic deals with criticism, will the same fate follow in other countries?

12 December 2009

Cedeño and Uson trump Chavez justice

A couple of events this week have gone completely unnoticed by the MSM: 1) illegally imprisoned banker Eligio Cedeño was freed, and allegedly has already left Venezuela, and 2) the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruled that the case against Francisco Uson must be annulled in its entirety. 

These two events are relevant, for both of them are circumscribed by the new administrator of justice in Venezuela: Hugo Chavez. Eligio Cedeño, as gossip would have it, was jailed for he had dumped Chavez's daughter after a rather tormented love affair. I visited Cedeño in El Helicoide in September 2008. He said then that he had handed himself in for he had nothing to hide, and was confident that he would be able to prove his innocence in court. The truth is, he spent 34 months in jail, on charges that were never heard in court, for authorities kept delaying the trial, which has not even started. This practice has already been condemned by the European Parliament. In light of his long, and illegal, imprisonment, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni freed Cedeño. But following the letter of the law is not something that Chavez tolerates, especially when it goes against his personal designs. So now, Judge María Lourdes Afiuni has been arrested, and Chavez has asked that she's sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

Francisco Uson, on the other hand, spent five and a half years in prison for having expressed an opinion on a TV program. He was tried and sentenced by a military court, on trumped charges. The Inter American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Uson's case had no merits, military authorities involved had no jurisdiction over the case, and, more importantly, has ruled against Venezuela for violations to legality principles, due process, and freedom of expression. The Inter American Court of Human Rights has also ordered the Venezuelan State to pay more than $100,000 in damages to Uson. Now, what are the chances of Chavez actually enforcing such a ruling?

11 December 2009

Obama: "use of force not only necessary but morally justified."

Years ago I argued that the individual's only recourse left, in countries ruled by totalitarian regimes, is the use of violence. Apologists of Hugo Chavez, by definition a totalitarian dictator, have thought that citing me out of context somewhat invalidates me, and my opinions. In the course of the last few years though, we have observed a profound radicalisation of Hugo Chavez, who has gone from coup leader to mad dictator, openly supporting totalitarian regimes, and terrorist organisations around the world.

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech yesterday in Oslo, contains what would amount to a justification of war on certain moral grounds. Obama went on to say that King's or Gandhi's non-violent movements could not have defeated Hitler. And right he is. For both King and Gandhi confronted governments that were, at the very least, aware of the existence of human rights, even if, in practice, these were systematically violated in the case of some ethnic groups. To believe that Jews would have defeated, undermined, or somewhat weakened Hitler, by staging non-violent protests, is a mistake. A more contemporary example is that of Cuba, where human rights and democratic groups find themselves at the complete mercy of Fidel Castro, his brutally repressive security and intelligence apparatus. Certain people/groups simply refuse to accept the other on equal terms. If follows that consideration for the other's rights is, quite simply, out of the question.

The Nazis considered Jews to be sub human beings. Islamic fundamentalists are convinced that infidels are just as much. Terrorists tend to have similar positions. In such cases, dialogue is entirely pointless. One of Hugo Chavez defining characteristics is precisely his warped understanding of democracy and human rights. For Chavez sees these as mere tools, as convenient formulas to solve certain issues. For instance, Hugo Chavez has said that Colombian narcoterrorists deserve recognition and belligerent status. Hugo Chavez has claimed that Carlos The Jackal is one of Venezuela's revolutionary heroes. But he flatly refuses to grant equal consideration to Venezuelan political opponents, even when democratically elected. What this means is that, in practical terms, Hugo Chavez has the same consideration, for what he perceives as his enemies, than that of those who perpetrate abominable crimes for ideological reasons. Furthermore, Chavez thinks of his political opponents in clearly fascist terms. Let us not forget that Chavez himself is directly responsible for many deaths, occurred in 1992 and 2002.

Obama said something that ring true: "For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason." I would have thought he was talking about Venezuela and chavismo, and can only add that I find myself in complete agreement with what Obama said yesterday.

9 December 2009

Threatened by Smartmatic's Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Act 1: an employee of Smartmatic, a technology company let's not forget, makes a threat in comment section of Daniel's blog, leaving his IP address (

Act 2: using a pseudonym (cmostaza), the same employee makes another comment, from the same IP address.

Act 3: Alek remembers comments of cmostaza in Twitter, and Googles "/coronel mostaza/" "/smartmatic/"

Act 4: Alek clicks on Google link and finds out that cmostaza is Luis Acuña.

Act 5: Alek Googles "/luis acuña/" "/smartmatic/" and finds, among other interesting bits, this (source) that identifies Luis Acuña as Smartmatic's Marketing & Communication Coordinator:

These are the 'efficient' people that run elections around the world, and are meant to keep biometric information safe. Scary. Mexican readers note: the threats from this "Dutch company" come from Caracas.

UPDATE: Luis Acuña, Smartmatic's Marketing & Communications Coordinator  has written to clarify his position. His comment follows:
Goof evening Mr. Boyd. It's true, I am Cmostaza, however I have not threatened you in anyway, that's pseudonym I use in the internet, it's not that hard to trace back to me as you have obviously demonstrated. Whatever I did, I did personally not representing the company, just today before leaving the comment in Daniel's blog I talked directly to you in Twitter, using my real name, I have nothing to hide. I admit writing comments on twitter and on the blog I however did not have anything to do with the e-mail you received earlier.
I assure you that even with our differences I do not condone violence in anyway. I have my points of views about yourself, but I would never stoop so low as to threaten a person. I am sorry to have fueled whatever fears you may have, and I am deeply sorry you believe either Smartmatic or myself could endorse such a repulsive action. All I asked was where was the threat which I did not (and still don't) see.
My reply: Mr. Acuña, thanks for dropping by and proving my point so quickly. You have indeed threatened me, by stating "I wonder if he can keep doing so and still get away with it." What exactly do you mean by "still get away with it"?

Is this how Smartmatic, according to you a company formed by "honest, hard working & talented professionals", deals with perfectly valid and sourced criticism? Will Smartmatic reprimand you because of this action?

Since you are Smartmatic's Marketing & Communications Coordinator, could you tell us:

  1. in which countries of Europe has Smartmatic being contracted, as stated by Mr. Cook recently in Mexico? 
  2. Where's the evidence that Smartmatic bought back from the Venezuelan government the shares it acquired through proxy Omar Montilla? 
  3. Why did Smartmatic drop Sequoia and ran away from the CFIUS probe?
  4. How come Smartmatic software continues to be in use in the USA through Sequoia? 
  5. How much does Smartmatic gets from Sequoia for the use of its technology? 
  6. What sort of professional relations has Jack Blaine with Smartmatic? 
  7. Did Smartmatic applied for working permits for the Venezuelans that were flown to monitor elections in Chicago in 2006? 
  8. Why did Smartmatic/Sequoia machines did not perform adequately in Chicago? 
  9. Could you please provide us with evidence of independent audits that have been carried out in Smartmatic voting equipment and biometric technology?
  10. Why have Venezuelans not been informed of the final results of the constitutional referendum of 2007? 
  11. Can Smartmatic provide evidence of having been contracted in open, transparent and fair public tenders in Venezuela? 
  12. Since 2003, how much money have the honest folks that run Smartmatic taken from the Chavez regime? 
  13. How much in taxes has been paid to SENIAT?
  14. Where's the rest of the money stashed?
  15. Why did the "decent, righteous and capable" Antonio Mugica threaten former employees? 
  16. How did Smartmatic manage to get the contract in the Philippines? 
  17. Why did Smartmatic access servers remotely during a regional election in Mindanao, Philippines? 
  18. Do Smartmatic machines maintain bidirectional communication with polling stations during voting in the Philippines, as it does in Venezuela? 
  19. Where does Smartmatic pays its taxes? 
  20. Is Smartmatic prepared to show its last returns? 
  21. Whatever happen to the investigation into the death of Alfredo Anzola? 
  22. Why did Jorge Rodriguez, acting at the time as Venezuela Electoral Council Chief, go to Italy to close the deal with Olivetti on behalf of Smartmatic?
  23. Who pocketed the +$20 million overprice? 
  24. Why did Smartmatic pick up the tab of luxury holidays of Jorge Rodriguez? 
  25. Why has Smartmatic got such a convoluted ownership structure? 
  26. Is Smartmatic prepared to publish a full disclosure of its activities, employees, financial operations? 
  27. How come Smartmatic was illegally subcontracted by NEC Argentina in Bolivia, for the provision of biometric technology, considering that its bid was rejected by Bolivian electoral authorities? 
  28. How come Bolivia's electoral roll increased its numbers, once Smartmatic got involved? 
  29. What was the issue between TIM and Smartmatic in Philippines? 
  30. How did Smartmatic manage to get into a public tender for the provision of biometric technology in Mexico, when it lacks a track record on the provision of such services anywhere in the world? 
  31. Why did Smartmatic use contact details of a collaborator of Fernando Gómez Mont to register its bid? 
  32. Did Smartmatic pay any bribes in Mexico? 
  33. If so, how much and to whom? 
  34. What's Smartmatic position on similar allegations made in the Philippines?
  35. And in Bolivia? 
  36. Who controls the totalisation room of the CNE in Venezuela? 
  37. Is it true, as Gen. Raul Baduel said to me, that monitors have been placed in a Venezuelan military compound (CUFAN), so that the army can follow in real time how elections are going and act accordingly upon being ordered by Chavez? 
  38. Is Antonio Mugica in any way related to Venezuela Ambassador to the USA Bernardo Alvarez Herrera? 
  39. Was the late Alfredo Anzola related to Mr. Alvarez Herrera? 
  40. Why did documents of incorporation of SBC disappear, from the notary office of Jose Vicente Rangel's daugher in Cubo Negro, upon publication of Richard Brand's article in the Miami Herald? 
  41. Whatever happened with the investigation for tax evasion that US authorities were conducting on Smartmatic? 
  42. How about the one from the FBI? 
  43. Has Smartmatic developed any expansion plans into ALBA countries? 
  44. When will Smartmatic start operations in Cuba? 
  45. Finally, you say you don't condone violence in any way. How come you work for a company that rigs elections for a militaristic putschist then? 
  46. Where were you when you made those comments and threats, at home, or at work? 
  47. Did you do it following instructions from above? 
  48. If so, who told you to slander/threaten me? 
  49. Why did you hide behind different pseudonyms? 
  50. Is that your idea of honesty, and transparency?

I take you're well placed, sufficiently knowledgeable -since you have know Smartmatic since 2001, and eager to answer this set of questions, that will help dispel somewhat the apprehensions that many people and authorities have towards Smartmatic around the world. I will advice caution in replying, while stressing upon one maxim: "shooting the messenger never works".

8 December 2009

Is Smartmatic issuing threats now?

For future reference, and before further investigating the IP address from where comment was sent, I would like to leave a public record of a veiled threat that an alleged Smartmatic employee has made, in the comment section of this post:
I happen to WORK for Smartmatic, which I got acquainted with back in 2001. I KNOW about voting systems (which Mr. Alek Boyd does not). I KNOW the owners of this company personally (which Mr. Alek Boyd does not, either, he insists on saying the owner is Hugo Chavez, which is a lie), and I believe they are honest, hard-working & talented professionals (which Mr. Alek Boyd is not and will never be). I am revolted at the lightness whith which Mr. Alek Boyd tells lies and more lies, accusing Smartmatic of sins which he has never supplied any evidence of, and accusing Smartmatic's technology --which he doesn't know anything about-- of ills that exist only in his imagination. The only purpose Mr. Alek Boyd seems to have is to inflict as much harm as he can to a decent, righteous and capable company and the hard-woking, talented people it hires. That purpose seems to have sponsors, most probably to be found among those companies who have lost important bids and contracts to Smartmatic, and now want blood. So, it is apparent that Mr. Boyd has found a reliable source of income --as long as he keeps spitting his venom at Smartmatic. I wonder if he can keep doing so and still get away with it.
This is not the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last. For that's the only thing chavistas excel at, threatening and terrorising people. Fortunately, for my wellbeing, I live in London, and not in Caracas, where my life could be dispensed with rather easily, and make the whole thing look as another example of common crime. I won't delve in debunking the message, for Smartmatic is doing a stellar job in fuelling all sorts of conspiracy theories themselves, by, for instance, having refused to open up when a CFIUS probe was launched. I am afraid that it's Smartmatic that needs to clear its past, not me. I have no relations with dictators, and, most certainly, I have never taken more than a $100 million to provide services to militaristic caudillos.

An update: the IP address of the Smartmatic employee is (DISTRITO FEDERAL, CARACAS, CANTV SERVICIOS VENEZUELA)

El golpista Hugo Chavez asume un nuevo rol: zar anti corrupción

¿Quien no recuerda “Por estas calles”? Ahora resulta, que el caudillo golpista, excelente personificación de la filosofía inmortalizada por Eudomar Santos, se ha convertido en “el hombre de la etiqueta”. Como lo leen estimados lectores, Hugo Chavez nos quiere hacer creer que él ha devenido en zar anti corrupción, que él va a acabar con la boliburguesía, que él no estaba al tanto de los guisos que su acolito principal, Diosdado Cabello, estaba dirigiendo a través de Fernandez Barrueco. Chavez dizque no sabía que el hermano de Jessy había comprado bancos, en asociación con un lacayo de Jose Vicente Rangel. No vale si es que el tipo, que esta dizque rodeado de la mejor inteligencia cubana y tiene a toda Venezuela monitoreada, nunca se cruzo con Arné, o con Fernandez Barrueco, o con Ciliberto, en los últimos 7 años. Nadie le soplo al oído: “fíjese mi emperador, el G5 que acaba de adquirir el hombre de Mercal...” No notó nada extraño. Los caballos de carrera, los aviones, yates, casas, carros, viajes, adquisiciones en otros países... nada de ello levantó la suspicacia del caudillo. Les congelaron millones de dólares a personas del entorno mas cercano de Chavez, y el hombre peló la oportunidad de siquiera acusar al principado pirenaico de ser un bastión de la CIA.

Siendo que Venezuela es un pueblo, que todo el mundo le conoce los chismes al vecino, que nadie es capaz de mantener un secreto, que la manera y tamaño de las fortunas creadas de la nada no pueden esconderse, ni los juguetes que con dinero mal habido han adquirido los boliburgueses, resulta que Chavez no sabía un carajo. Y se supone que nosotros, los ciudadano de a pie, chavistas o no, tenemos que tragarnos ese mojón.

Toda Venezuela conoce la historia de Chavez. Todos sabemos que se pasó muchos años conspirando en contra de la democracia, planeando el asesinato de CAP, el asalto al poder. Lo sabían sus superiores, lo sabían sus compañeros, lo sabía un montón de gente. Sabemos que en Venezuela no existen secretos, menos en los niveles referidos, menos cuando se trata del getón que gobierna el país, que es incapaz de mantener el hocico, porque eso no es boca, cerrado. Recuerdo, por ejemplo, en la campaña presidencial del 2006, haber visto a Victor Ferrere en una reunión, dizque secreta, de miembros del comando estratégico de Manuel Rosales. Es decir, un confidente de Gustavo Cisneros, oyendo todo lo que el candidato de la oposición estaba planeando. Lo mismo aplica al otro lado. No hay seriedad, no existe el secreto en la vida política venezolana. Pero se supone que le creamos al caudillo. Se supone que asumamos como cierto el cuento sobre los banqueros que se entregaron en la DISIP, y la renuncia de Jessy. No me jodan.

Hablando con un amigo ayer, me comentaba: “Con tanto billete y posibilidades de escape, porque vamos a hablar claro, no es que esta gente tiene que ir a la agencia de viajes para irse del país, ¿cómo es eso que los carajos se entregaron así no mas?”

Le respondí: “muy sencillo compadre, para estos boliburgueses, no existe ningún lugar en el mundo mejor para estar preso que en el Helicoide. Visitas conyugales, teléfonos, televisión, papa a la carta, celdas para ellos solos... Aquí no estamos hablando de Simonovis, o de los reos de La Planta, La Pica, El Rodeo... Estos tipos no van a tener que fajarse para defender el culo, ni les van a violar sus derechos humanos. Estamos hablando de gente tan cercana a Chavez, con tal nivel de conocimiento de los guisos que este régimen ha hecho, que es impensable pensar, primeramente, que se van a ir del país, a sabiendas que en el exterior si les pueden meter los ganchos de verdad, como le hicieron a Kaufmann y cía. Segundo, ¿donde van a estar mejor que en el Helicoide? Allí los tienen cuidaitos, mientras dura el teatro. Me imagino las conversaciones entre Jessy y Arné, o Diosdado y Fernandez Barrueco “los vamos a poner en la sombra un ratico, pero tranquilos que la vaina es un paro”. Luego saldrán, a disfrutar de lo mal habido, o de lo que quede. Cuando veas que los están llevando para El Dorado, entonces créete el cuento. Solo cuando veas a los hermanos, padres, y colaboradores cercanos de Chavez en la cana, en la de verdad como la que alberga a Franklin Duran, entonces asume como cierta la nueva actitud. Mientras tanto, esto no es sino una comedia para posicionarse electoralmente”.

6 December 2009

BANINVEST owner arrested: will Google results change?

Miguel reported yesterday, that the Chavez regime had taken over a group of banks belonging to Pedro Torres Ciliberto and Arne Chacon Escamillo. BANINVEST is among the financial institutions nationalised by Hugo Chavez. The news came only days after Diosdado Cabello's front man saw the regime strip him of an ill acquired fortune. Needless to say that this is but another example that things aren't well in Venezuelan socialist paradise, where corruption rackets are run by people in the first circle, as Solzhenitsyn would say. Chavez is the ultimate culprit, for he has allowed unseen levels of graft to flourish in front of his very nose: his brothers, his mother and father, his closest confidants and collaborators, every member of the first circle is the head of some multimillion racket. Furthermore, Chavez is directly responsible for the loss of income his aid to dictator Fidel Castro -anywhere between 54,000 and 120,000 BPD depending on sources- represents. We're talking billions here. In any case, as Miguel has argued, Hugo Chavez can't claim ignorance about these issues.

However I don't think anyone should take solace from these news, for Chavez can't do without the thugs that prop him up through politicking and money laundering, unless they are replaced by other ones. He is after all just one man. This, in my opinion, is mere posturing, an intermezzo, a show. There are crucial elections next year, the outcome of which could mean that Chavez will have to throw away the remaining democratic leaf, if he is to remain in power. These acts are mere props to make his ignorant followers believe that he's tough, as Tony Blair would say, on crime and the causes of crime. This is, as a matter of fact, nothing but posturing, self preservation, Chavez at his histrionic best.

But then, I would like to know whether Google search results, from where a link exposing Arne Chacon's BANINVEST mysteriously disappeared from the first page, will change.

5 December 2009

Mexico mulls over Smartmatic

The email read: "Hi Alek, tomorrow one of the companies in Mexico is presenting a claim against Smartmatic and they need to know if Smartmatic Holding (the one registered in the Netherlands) has modified their statement regarding their activities, where they say they are dedicated to trading real estate. According to your info, in 2005 they formed this holding company, but if they haven't modified it to include the sale and installation of voting equipment and manufacture and sale of ID cards, then they can be banned from the bid. This is what my friend's company wants to do, but they just want to make sure no change has been made to their statement of activities since 2005. Do you think you can help us in this matter? Again, thanks for all your help and patience." Upon reading it, I thought that this was a chance to make Smartmatic come clean. So I did call Amsterdam Register of Companies, and I did find out that Smartmatic has not modified its purpose. As far as records in Amsterdam show, Smartmatic International Holding B.V.'s purpose continues to be "to purchase, develop and manage property and goods."

The granting of the contract to Smartmatic is being challenged in Mexico, almost unanimously: by some of the companies that took place in the tender, by representatives from the major political parties (PRIPAN and PRD), authorities, and by the media, among others. Of particular concern the finding about Smartmatic's possible connection to the authorities granting the contract, a practice in which Smartmatic has engaged in Venezuela, Chicago, Bolivia, and the Philippines.

Furthermore, authorities have postponed signing of contract with Smartmatic, due 3 December, until the Comptroller's Office announces its decision. Worse still, Smartmatic's damage limitation attempt is also being challenged. In light of all this, Mexico would do well in sending Smartmatic packing back to Venezuela.

2 December 2009

Venezuela: a lawless country

Rafael grew up in West Caracas, in a low middle class family. Much like the majority of his friends, he never saw the education system as a way to better things in life. On the contrary, they all partook, in one manner or another, in petty crime, dealing and wheeling, and scams of all sorts, to earn some money, when not outright drug dealing, etc. It came a point where Rafael realised that his life was going nowhere, but straight to jail, or worse. So he decided to move away from Caracas. He managed to land a semi decent job in Margarita, as shop manager for an international company, and he started to earn an honest living. Life was good. He saved some money, and was able to buy the very things he had been dreaming with all his life: a 4x4, a motorcycle, an expensive mountain bike... The girlfriend of some time, Gabriela, seeing that Rafael was now a changed man, accepted to marry him, in contradiction to her mother's wishes and advice. They moved together to a very small apartment, owned by the fiancee's father.

But Rafael wanted more. He wanted to have his own place, and now, he thought could afford it. So he saved some more, and, with his father's help, managed to purchase a small plot of land in a beautiful hill, overlooking the sea. This, he believed, was to become his little piece of paradise. Every penny he could save, he would use to buy building bricks, cement, a W.C., then a washing machine, then some furniture, a TV, kitchen ware, etc. He started to fill his little apartment with the things he would put in his new house. Every night he would discuss the plans and lay out with Gabriela. Every day off, he would go to his plot, to level it, to measure it, to prepare and lay the foundations, to envision his dream house.

And so the construction began. Without having a clue about architecture or engineering, Rafael was leading a team, formed by Gabriela and two local helpers, in the construction of his own house. In the meantime, he lost his job. So his father and mother would often come to the rescue, both financially and practically, in the running of the project. This drawback put the breaks on the plan, but with a great deal of personal sacrifice, of pretty much every member of his family, Rafael finished his house. In this period, his wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Nina. Rafael felt that he was now whole, he had managed to escape a vicious circle in Caracas, and had now, after three years of hard work, a family, a house and a few bits and bobs, all product of his honest efforts.

But happiness was not meant to last for long. For once Rafael decided to move to his new house, with Gabriela and Nina, the very workers that had assisted him during the project, built a little brick factory in the plot adjacent to his. Needing water for the production of bricks, the workers connected, without permission, a hose to Rafael's water tank. Bothered by the abuse and the noise, Rafael complained to local authorities, who actually came to his place, and made the workers dismantle the factory (built in residential land), repair damages, and were made to sign a caution. This didn't go down well with them.

Two weeks ago, Rafael's dog was ill. Gabriela took it to the veterinary and was told that it had been poisoned. Unfortunately, it was too late when they got there, and the dog died. Last week, Rafael was coming back from work, a new one he had found in the construction industry thanks to the skills acquired in the last three years. When he was approaching his house, he saw three men in his house's doorstep, with machetes, beating Gabriela, who had Nina in her arms. He parked and jumped out of the car and went to them, only to realise that they were his old workers and another brother. There were two other men, keeping a look out, standing in the street: the father and uncle of the workers, a family gang. When the workers, alerted by their father, noticed his arrival, they turned on him, leaving bruised Gabriela and screaming Nina, and, wielding machetes, proceeded to chase him. So Rafael started running away from the house. Luckily, Gabriela reacted very quickly, she took Nina to the car, and drove away to pick Rafael up, who, after dodging machete-swings, had managed to outrun the chasing thugs. Eventually Rafael jumped in the car and they drove away. They went straight to the police, and returned to check things back home with two policemen. None of the neighbours wished to speak about what had happened. The police officers warned him: “you better leave this place. These thugs know when you come and go, next time, you may find your wife and daughter killed. We can't do anything more, for no witnesses are wiling to corroborate your story.”

Rafael and Gabriela are completely distraught. Nina, a very healthy and normal baby, has spent a few nights crying and shaking. They don't know what to do, their efforts of the last three years out of reach. Authorities are not willing to assist them, beyond paid-for visits every now and then. They don't want to stay in Margarita anymore, so not only their home will be lost, also Rafael's only source of income.

The women in his family are advising caution, and forgiveness. The men in his family, and his old time friends from Caracas, are advising him to take things into his own hands, for which they are willing to help, they are urging him to, as they say in Venezuela, “matar la culebra por la cabeza”, which means to finish the gang off, another family let's not forget. Rafael is very confused. On the one hand he wants to avenge the abuses on Gabriela and Nina. He said to his father “every scream of my child, every bruise and nightmare of my wife, every drop of sweat of mine, they will pay me...” The situation has forced him to abandon a project he recently signed, worth a few millions, that would put him back on his feet. However, the most powerful argument of Rafael were “the system in this damned country is the very reason why people turn to violence. For how can it be explained that thugs end up ruling, winning, against all reason, against the law, always? How come authorities declare themselves incapable so quickly and openly? How can I forget and forgive? How can I let this happen to me and my family? Why should we abandon our property, our life, our home, why should we throw to waste so much honest effort? Is this what life is about? Am I meant to let these thugs have their way, just like that? This country is damned. We are all damned, silently condemned to a life of violence, misery, and death.”

Rafael's old friends are ready, and eager, for a bit of gang war. A terrible tragedy could ensue, one that would engross the huge number of unsolved and uninvestigated violent deaths in Venezuela. All because of the lawlessness, all due to the utter uselessness of the judiciary and the police. A country without law, without institutions where aggravated parties can go seek redress, is a damned place indeed.

1 December 2009

Smartmatic's PR disaster

Presumably intent in doing damage limitation, Smartmatic dispatched a couple of executives to Mexico City to brief the press about the mounting suspicions regarding its operations, and the way in which it had won a tender for the provision of biometric technology. Robert Cook and Jim Bell, quoted by the Mexican press as Smartmatic's representatives, stated today that the company has "participated in electoral processes in 70 countries... have never been sued by any government... and that President Obama voted using Smartmatic technology." These three statements merit further scrutiny:
  1. It would be great, for Smartmatic's own credibility sake, if Messieurs Cook and Bell can provide a list of the 70 countries in which Smartmatic has, succesffully, participated. Of particular interest, commercial operations in European countries where Smartmatic has been involved, according to Cook.
  2. Smartmatic has never been sued by any government. However, how could one interpret the investigation launched in Chicago in 2006, after local authorities found out that Smartmatic-operated Sequoia machines "did not perform adequately"? Moreover, what to make of Smartmatic's decision to drop Sequoia Voting System to prevent further investigations from CFIUS into its ownership structure, and ties to the Chavez regime?
  3. President Obama voted using Smartmatic technology. Does that mean that Smartmatic continues to provide technology to Sequoia Voting Systems, despite the fact that it announced that is was selling it?