30 January 2010

WSJ weights in: The Chavez Meltdown

To the short and brutal list of life's certainties, let us add that socialism invariably leads nations to economic ruin. Latest case in point: Hugo Chávez's "Bolivarian" Republic of Venezuela.

Earlier this month, the Venezuelan strongman moved the official U.S. dollar exchange rate to 4.3 bolivars to the greenback from 2.15. At a stroke, he wiped out the savings and purchasing power of the very working-class people he purports to represent, most of whom have barely been getting by. News of the devaluation instantly sent the country—where consumer prices had already risen by 25% in 2009, according to official figures—into a panic, with consumers standing in line to stock up on goods before prices rose.

Mr. Chávez next decreed that he would fine and even arrest any merchant caught adjusting prices, eliding the fact that Venezuela imports nearly everything and exports only oil. Now Venezuelans have the Hobson's choice of either complying with the diktat, which means shortages, or disobeying it, which means inflation.

Yet no sooner was one catastrophe of "21st-century socialism" inflicted on Venezuelans than Mr. Chávez unveiled another. On January 12, the government instituted a series of rolling blackouts due to an electricity shortage that had been building for months. Ostensibly, the reason for the shortage was a drought that had left water levels at the country's huge Guri Dam—the source of more than 70% of its electricity—at critically low levels. But that is a function of the government's failure to maintain the dam and build additional capacity.

The instant result of the blackouts was chaos, particularly in Caracas, where people were left "stuck in elevators or in dangerous parts of town without street lighting," according to Reuters. The capital city already has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world, and Mr. Chávez was forced to suspend blackouts there two days later. The rest of the country, however, remains subject to sporadic power outages.

Behind the crack-up of Mr. Chávez's utopia is the fact that he's running out of money because Venezuela's oil production is plunging. In 1998, the year Mr. Chávez was first elected, the country pumped 3.3 million barrels a day. Today, the figure is 2.4 million barrels, and that's an optimistic estimate.

Venezuela isn't running out of crude. The problem is that Mr. Chávez has expelled or seized the assets of foreign companies capable of properly maintaining the country's fields, including ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. It didn't help, either, that in 2002 Mr. Chávez fired thousands of skilled employees of state oil company PdVSA because he didn't like their politics and replaced them with his political cronies.

On Monday, Mr. Chávez made a grudging concession to reality when he agreed to a joint venture with Italian oil major ENI, which itself had been run out of Venezuela in 2006. We'll leave it to the Italians to place their own bets about the limits of Mr. Chávez's caprice. They've already had fair warning that Bolivarians, like other predators, rarely change their spots.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704362004575000922680308014.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_AboveLEFTTop

28 January 2010

Marcel Granier and Gustavo Cisneros

(*) Granier has done what few had dared. In these times of group think and collectivism, individuals also embody archetypes. As such, in a great part of the collective imagination of Venezuelans, Marcel Granier and Gustavo Cisneros have ceased being persons turning into symbols of the country's integrity or decay. Like Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's novel, or Hendrik Hoefgen in István Szabó's film MEFISTO, Cisneros has transformed, in our political imagination, into the embodiment of a typical literary, mythology and folklor character: the one that sells his soul to the devil. With the stigma of the meeting with Jimmy Carter and Hugo Chavez, in which Venezuela was sacrificed at the altar of Venevision (Cisneros' TV network), Cisneros does nothing but represent all of those individuals who have allowed the consolidation of totalitarianism for personal gain, and all of those that have lowered their heads and have sold principles and integrity to maintain their businesses and profit one more day. That's the image of decadence, of failure of elites that did not assume responsibility with the country and yielded to fear, and to the prospect of continued participation in rent seeking practice.

Marcel Granier, on the contrary, seems to have come out of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a John Galt and Hank Rearden type of character, archetypes of creative force and individual freedom unmoved by power. For characters such as "Felicitadores" and "Cerebritos", from Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, Granier has commited entrepreneurial suicide, he has immolated himself unnecessarily owing to rigidity and stubbornness. However, Granier has done what very few have dared: to sacrifice his property to become a symbol of resistance and integrity. Like in Globovision, and in some other Venezuelan refuges, the image of the man who loses his state for loyalty to country, is a sign of the potential we still have to regain our freedom.

* Translation by Alek Boyd, of an article written by Axel Capriles, published by El Universal.

27 January 2010

Venezuela's dictator hits twitter

Hugo Chavez has presumably ordered his minion Andres Izarra to keep him up to speed with Twitter (http://twitter.com/HugoChavez_Vzla). At least that's what the first tweet (11:00 PM Jan 8th from web) says:
Buenas tardes, soy Andrés Izarra sepan que el presidente esta recibiendo por medio de un resumen diario todos sus comentarios. Saludoss
Good afternoon, I am Andres Izarra, know that the president is receiving a daily summary of all your comments. Regardss
This is just laughable really, mind you Izarra is meant to be the guy who's behind TELESUR's 24/7 propaganda operation, the same arse who admitted that the Chavez regime would build a communications hegemon, modelled on the "freedom and plural" ideals of Antonio Gramsci. What does he think, that his fascist boss is going to regain the loss credibility by getting on twitter? The list of friends says a lot though, mind you Putin, Piedad Cordoba, Lula... Soon to join, straight from the jungles of Colombia, FARC, and Fidel Castro, Mugabe, all the way from Belorus, Lukashenko. One just couldn't make this stuff up.

Here's a picture of tweets, and link to full page, for future reference:

While socialism fails in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez bows to capitalism

The WSJ reports today that the Venezuelan madman said recently that "investment and experience from foreign oil firms is necessary in Venezuela, "We need it". Contrast this position, in a rather pathetic effort at courting international investors, with these statements, made for local consumption: “In the model that I envision, public companies will not depend to survive on their installed capacity, nor the quality of its articles, nor their costs, nor their sales, because their continuity would be assured by the State.”

How can any right thinking person reconcile the two: is Chavez a socialist, or is he a capitalist? Moreover, how can Chavez's reassurance be taken seriously, if only last week he ordered summary expropriations of private companies?

One thing is certain, Chavez's 21st century socialism is proving a bigger failure than its predecessors.

26 January 2010

Venezuela: protests against suspension of RCTV leaves two dead

Following from "More blood in Hugo Chavez hands", El Universal reports that a second student died at the A & E department of Merida's university hospital, after protests against suspension of RCTV International erupted in cities across the country.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) stated that cable channels "were faced with the choice of having to broadcast the presidential ramblings or to disappear off the nation’s television screens." What RSF describes as "presidential ramblings" are locally known as "cadenas", which are described thus:
The “cadenas” go much further than simple official messages. They allow President Chávez an unlimited and unheralded right to speak without any time limit on almost the entire national broadcast system. Given that Hugo Chávez also presents his own Sunday programme “Aló Presidente”, is there any real need for this? Supposing there was, why should it be necessary to force the head of state’s speeches on so many channels and even worse under threat of penalties and even suspensions? Would not one public channel be sufficient to broadcast the “cadenas”? Use of these “cadenas” violates the right of independent media to decide on their own content. It prevents free circulation of pluralist news and information. It attacks the right of Venezuelans to choose their own programmes.

More blood in Hugo Chavez hands

A 15 year old student was killed yesterday in Merida. That is, a 15 year old that would not have been there -which side he was supporting being entirely immaterial- had Chavez and his thugs not forced suspension of RCTV International from cable companies on 23 January. I think I am going to go with Caracas Gringo version here, and reiterate that Chavez is actually fomenting unrest in Venezuela. Only that can save him from an almost certain loss of control of the country's Congress in the coming elections this September.

25 January 2010

Hugo Chavez derangement goes up a notch: "I am the people"

No further comments needed really, although one could wonder: are the millions of Venezuelans who keep voting and marching against him part of the people?

23 January 2010

Marcel Granier denounces Chavez - Cisneros alliance

Seasoned observers of the dictatorial assault that Hugo Chavez has conducted in Venezuela will remember the encounter, brokered by Jimmy Carter, that Gustavo Cisneros had once upon a time with Chavez. Long time ago we were alerted about the possible consequences of such an unholy alliance, between the dictator and a man who epitomises unrestrained capitalism, something which the Venezuelan madman says will destroy the planet.

By way of exemplification, Marcel Granier, CEO of RCTV -Venezuela's TV network with the largest audience whose broadcasting license was illegally removed- denounced yesterday that Chavez's latest caprice, forcing international TV channels accessible by cable/subscription only to broadcast his endless talk-a-thons, is actually seeking to benefit his old time partner Cisneros, whose network Venevision stands to gain market share in the cable business from the unlawful measure. So what else is new, in 21st century socialist Venezuela? It certainly looks an awful lot like its 20th century capitalistic and mercantilistic predecessor.

10 January 2010

Invasion of Venezuela or Caracas Chronicles debacle?

Caracas Chronicles is one of the four longest-running blogs that have been covering the collapse of our country's democracy, for a predominantly English audience. It's author, Francisco Toro, is, without a doubt, perhaps the most eloquent writer we have on our side. Toro has for ages claimed that professional journalism simply does not exist in Venezuela, with which I agree to an extent. Toro is very passionate about defending the importance of sticking to facts, when reporting the stuff that comes out of Chavez's Venezuela, with which I fully agree.

Needless to say that Toro, as good a writer as he is, is far from infallible. His latest, linked to by The Guardian's Rory Carroll (in another example of appalling journalism), does more to harm the stance he so feverishly defends and his own approach to sticking to facts, than prove that the incident of the P3 plane that allegedly ventured into Venezuelan airspace is a botched job of the Chavez propaganda apparatus.

I left the following comment in his blog, for Gene of Harry's Place fame, in the hope he'll retract and set a nice precedent for all of us to follow:

... avion P3 de este tipo... Meaning a P3 airplane of this type, ergo the picture was used for illustration purposes, and was not, as this blog entry claims, that Chavez said that picture of plane is the original.
Link to Chavez's words:
A retraction is in order FT, pronto, you are/were, after all, a professional journo, right?

9 January 2010

Chavez hits Venezuela with devaluation

Professor Lee Salter is probably going to call this another example of BBC propaganda, but as every piece of news coming out of Chavez's Venezuela these days, what the world's media report is, generally, a closer approximation to reality than what Chavez or his dwindling list of sycophants care to admit.

After 11 years of receiving extraordinary levels of income due to spike in oil prices, Chavez has had to devalue the currency. The insatiable appetite of his utterly corrupt socialist regime just eats whatever funds the capitalist market generates. The crucial legislative elections are just down the road, and the caudillo needs to ensure that enough funds are at his unaccounted disposal, so that his representatives can 'win' enough seats in Congress.

As the WSJ puts it: "The devaluation is a humiliating setback for Chavez, who two years ago led with much fanfare the redenomination of the currency to bolivar "fuerte," or "strong" bolivar. The VEF2.15 rate, however, had become untenable as accumulated inflation for the last five years shot up to a whopping 160%." How's this achievement a show of 21st Century Socialism economic success?

5 January 2010

Cuba denies entry to Spanish socialist

Something must be happening in the brotherhood of Castro dictators. El País reports this morning that Luis Yáñez, a socialist Spanish MEP, was refused entry in  Cuba, and had to board the next plane out of the prison island. Surely a sign of democratic improvement, eh?

UPDATE: Spain requested explanations from the Cuban Ambassador, who said "internal laws" prompted Yáñez's expulsion. This comes from the very dictatorship Spain's Foreign Secretary Moratinos wants the EU to improve relations with.

4 January 2010

Crime in Venezuela

As a new year begins, it is perhaps fitting to revise the issue that affects most the majority of Venezuelans: crime. Some context is needed for illustration purposes, so figures from Colombia (a nation at war with internal narco-terrorist guerrilla groups), and Mexico (another country who has declared war on drug cartels) are provided.

El Espectador reports that 15,817 people lost their lives to crime in Colombia in 2009, of which 6,999 died in drug related assassinations. There has been a significant increase in such crimes in Medellin and Cali, traditionally hotbeds for Colombian drug cartels. Colombia has a population of 44.5 million.

El Universal reports that 7,724 people died in 2009 as a result of the offensive launched against drug cartels and organised crime by the government of Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Termed by the Mexican press as a narco-war, 2009 figures show an extraordinary increase that adds to a shivering total of 19,785 in the last five years. Mexico has a population of 106.3 million.

El Nacional reported that 2009 could end up with more than 14,000 violent deaths in Venezuela*. Caracas is described as the planet's third most dangerous city, with projections of 56 deaths per 100,000 residents. Provea, a local human rights NGO, reported that between January and September 2009, 10,360 people were killed in Venezuela, while an expert cited by El Nacional stated that 80,000 homicides have taken place in the country in the last ten years. Venezuela has a population of 27.9 million.

*Update 21 August 2010: El Nacional has published contents of a report commissioned by the Chavez regime, that indicates that 19,133 Venezuelans were killed in 2009.