Caracas Gringo

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Archive for January 2009

Pdvsa: Significantly under 2 million b/d before June?

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President Hugo Chavez and his faithful crony, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, claim that Venezuela’s crude oil production capacity tops 3.4 million b/d – which is a lie, of course.

Petroleos de Venezuela’s real crude oil production presently averages about 2.3 million b/d, assuming the Chavez government has not implemented any of Venezuela’s assigned production cuts (totaling over 300,000 b/d if the three cuts decided by Opec since August 2008 are combined).

But Pdvsa is believed to have forced about 190,000 b/d of Opec-mandated production cuts on its joint ventures with foreign companies. In effect, JV’s accounting for about 25% of Venezuela’s total crude production are shouldering about 60% of the country’s assigned Opec production cuts.

If so, then Venezuela is currently producing about 2.1 million b/d, which means that in order for Pdvsa to meet local and international supply commitments the company is buying a great deal of oil on the open market.

However, it gets potentially much worse very soon.

As of 30 September 2008, Pdvsa’s accounts payable totaled over $7.8 billion, according to the company’s third quarter financial report. But Pdvsa stopped paying oil services companies, other contractors and suppliers in August 2008.

At mid-January 2009, Pdvsa’s finance vice president, Eudomario Carruyo, said the company’s unpaid debts had grown to over $11 billion, though Caracas Gringo is told the real total is closer to $12.5 billion as of 31, January 2009, including over $1 billion owed to US oil services companies Schlumberger and Halliburton.

Understandably, oil services companies are starting to shut down their operations and fire workers. No pay, no play.

Dallas-based Ensco International last week halted operations on a jack-up drilling rig in the Gulf of Paria. Pdvsa subsidiary Petrosucre is now operating the rig, but Ensco will remove it from Venezuela when its contract ends in a few weeks. Ensco reportedly is owed about $40 million.

Tulsa-based Helmerich & Payne last week also shut down operations at two of the 11 rigs it has in Venezuela, and expects to shut down the nine still in operation by July. Pdvsa owes H&P about $100 million.

And a consortium in which Vinccler is a partner also halted work about two weeks ago on a gas compression plant which is a vital part of the Anaco Gas project which Pdvsa Gas is developing.

Pdvsa is pleading for a little understanding and steep discounts.

One Pdvsa official told Platt’s Oilgram last week that the reason the company isn’t paying its bills is that everyone in Pdvsa is too occupied working for the success of President Chavez’s re-election referendum. Of course, this is cow flop.

Carruyo says the oil services companies, contractors, et al have been asked to subtract “at least 40%” from their unpaid invoices to take into account sharply lower oil prices.

“They raised their billed costs over 40% when oil prices were high, so now that prices are down sharply they should reduce their bills to us,” Carruyo explains.

Meanwhile, Pdvsa’s production will fall in coming months if more oil services companies reduce or suspend their operations in Venezuela, and the drop in production could be very significant, averaging between 250,000 b/d and 500,000 b/d, by some independent estimates.

Venezuela’s oil industry is quite old. The majority of Venezuela’s producing oil fields were in production years before 1970. In fact, Venezuela had a relatively mature oil industry before WW2.

As a result, Venezuela has one of highest oil depletion rates in the world, averaging about 25% annually if both natural and mechanical depletion are combined.

Venezuelan oil fields require a great deal of 24/7 maintenance to offset natural depletion and keep the mechanical infrastructure, much of which has been operational for up to 50 years, in good condition.

If the oil services companies curtail or suspend their activities, essential maintenance will be discontinued and production will plummet.

But there’s more.

The more than $12 billion Pdvsa owes its contractors and suppliers is creating disruptions in Venezuela’s financial sector, since the unpaid oil services companies and contractors cannot stay current with their own debt payments to creditors.

The unpaid oil services companies and other contractors also are starting to lay off thousands of workers, stoking more discontent among an increasingly restive army totaling about 150,000 workers if Pdvsa’s payroll and non-Pdvsa oil industry payrolls are combined.

In a worst case-scenario, Pdvsa’s oil production could fall under 1.8 million b/d by mid-2009, and its operations could be disrupted even more by a conflict with the oil unions over money which Pdvsa doesn’t have.

Written by Caracas Gringo

31/01/2009 at 19:00

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One traitor accuses another traitor of treason

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Yoel Acosta Chirinos tells AFP that President Hugo Chavez, in power exactly one decade on Monday, 2 January, 2009 “betrayed the Bolivarian project” and “forgot the Constitution.”

“I believe (Chavez) betrayed the original project, the Bolivarian project for which we insurrected… (Chavez) forgot the strategic objective of transforming representative democracy into participative and protagonistic democracy and (instead) he went towards 21st century socialism,” says Acosta Chirinos.

The original Bolivarian project “never considered notions of socialism…We had an ideology based on the Bolivarian ideal, but we never spoke of (Karl) Marx and (Vladimir) Lenin, and much less a copy of Cuba…Chavez betrayed the roots…the group of doctrines integrated by Bolivarian thought,” he adds.

In fairness, let’s credit Acosta Chirinos for condemning the endless treacheries of President Chavez. But spare no sympathy for Acosta Chirinos, because he is also a traitor.

Former Army Lt. Colonel Acosta Chirinos was a co-conspirator and co-leader of the 4 February, 1992 failed coup in which Chavez was the titular – albeit gutless – leader.

[Brief recollection of history: Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez Frias, the titular head of the 4 February, 1992 coup against then-President Carlos Andres Perez, did not follow the plan, deviated from his route, refused to respond to repeated radio calls from his comrades, stopped his forces well short of his assigned tactical objectives in Caracas, and immediately started to negotiate his unconditional surrender without ever firing a shot.]

Of course, Chavez always planned to surrender immediately. He knew from the start that his coup would fail. In fact, in order for the coup to work in Chavez’s favor it had to fail.

Chavez never expected to seize power, and much less co-rule a new Bolivarian militarist/nationalist regime with his co-conspirators. Chavez never believed in power-sharing, although he always fooled his closest political allies into believing that he would be a democratic Bolivarian revolutionary.

However, Chavez needed a failed coup in order to launch his political career as Venezuela’s future strongman-for-life. So Chavez followed the historical example of two key influences in his formative years as a treacherous conspirator.

Chavez’s failed coup of February 1992 essentially replicated Fidel Castro’s failed assault against Batista’s Moncada barracks in 1953 and Adolf Hitler’s failed beer hall putsch in 1923. Castro and Hitler were arrested and jailed, but ultimately both triumphed, as did Chavez.

After Chavez was inaugurated as president in February 1999 he started to systematically sever old political alliances and friendships; Acosta Chirinos was among the hundreds who were dumped and neutralized by Chavez.

So, in essence, Acosta Chirinos’ interview with AFP is one traitor whining about how he was betrayed by another traitor. What chutzpah!

Acosta Chirinos betrayed his oath as an officer in the army of Venezuela, the same one forged by the Liberator Simon Bolivar, the most revered figure in the Venezuelan pantheon of nation-founding heroes. Bolivar is to Venezuelans what George Washington is to Americans.

Acosta Chirinos also betrayed the democratically elected government and the constitution of Venezuela for years before the failed coup in 1992 while sneaking around the country clandestinely meeting with other conspirators which included radical communist guerrillas, many of whom had direct ties to Cuban intelligence; so his claim that the conspiracy in which he participated never embraced foreign communist influences like Castro, etc. is more verbal compost.

But Acosta Chirinos can always follow the example of another former co-conspirator and co-leader of the failed coup, Franciso Arias Cardenas, who severed relations with Chavez early in the latter’s ten-year rule but then groveled his way back into El Comandante’s favor, and was rewarded with the plum post of Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations.

Written by Caracas Gringo

31/01/2009 at 17:45

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Masked thugs trash a Synagogue at night

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‘Malicious men may die, but malice never.’
Moliere, Tartuffe, 1664

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro says the government of President Hugo Chavez will investigate, find and jail the individuals who vandalized a Jewish Synagogue last night in the Mariperez area of Caracas.

Hypocrisy comes easy to the thugs who rule Venezuela.

The vandals broke into the Synagogue at night, heavily armed and wearing masks, desecrated the Torah and scrawled hateful graffiti on the walls.

We’re certain of two things:

*Any official “investigation” will hide the truth and most likely will seek to accuse elements of the government’s political opposition. The government will never admit any of its thugs destroyed the Synagogue, though it’s obvious from where the increasingly violent anti-Semitism is originating in Venezuela.

*President Chavez, more than anyone else in Venezuela, is the individual most responsible for the destruction of the Synagogue.

President Chavez is also the individual most responsible for last Thursday’s gunfight between Anzoategui state police and workers at Mitsubishi’s vehicle assembly plant in the city of Barcelona. Two workers were killed and six (including five police officials) were wounded by the gunfire.

The gunfight erupted when over 130 laid-off workers who had seized the plant for several days to pressure company management to rehire them tried to physically prevent two judges from executing a restraining order against the workers. Close to 30 Polianzoategui officials accompanied the judges (both women) who tried to serve the restraining order against the workers.

The workers and police got into a scuffle; rocks and tear-gas were exchanged, a vehicle was set ablaze, and then several unknown individuals inside the plant opened fire at the police, who immediately returned fire as workers scattered in all directions.

Anzoategui Governor Tarek Willians Saab immediately announced that any Polianzoategui officials who fired their weapons would be jailed and prosecuted for attempted murder. The governor also blamed the shooting on the private security firm employed by Mitsubish to guard the facilities. In other words, the shooting was the fault of Mitsubishi’s management. However, local labor court officials blamed the violence on the workers.

“They didn’t bother to pursue this through legal channels and file a grievance in labor court against Mitsubishi,” an aide to one of the judges said. “Instead, they resorted immediately to conflict, seizing the plant and attacking the judges and police.”

But the workers have a ready excuse which senior thugs of the Bolivarian regime like Governor Saab will defend. President Chavez has been saying for ten years that violence is good when the violence is inflicted to defend the Bolivarian revolution and the “rights” of the poor and workers.

During his decade in power, President Chavez has fostered and legitimized violence as the act of first resort in all situations. Chavez repeatedly threatens to use violence against everyone who obstructs his will. The Chavez government over the years also has coordinated the creation of numerous civilian groups which have received money and weapons from the government to go out and attack the regime’s political opponents.

Under Chavez, Venezuela has been transformed from a moderately violent country into the most violent nation in Latin America, and one of the most violent in the world.

Ismael Garcia, leader of Podemos (the former pro-Chavez faction of MAS, back in 2000-2002), said last week that the homicide rate in Venezuela has soared over the past decade from 4,481 officially reported homicides in 1995 to 14,400 homicides in 2008 (over 3,000 higher than the government admits officially).

Garcia says his data shows that 37 people are murdered daily in Venezuela, and a homicide occurs every 40 minutes. The homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 25.6 for Latin America overall, but in Venezuela the homicide rate stands at 53 per 100,000 inhabitants.

There’s a saying in Venezuela: “A todo cochino le llega su sabado.” Rough translation: What goes around comes around.

Call us pessimists, but political and criminal violence in Venezuela very likely will get much, much worse before Chavez’s Saturday finally arrives – especially if he loses the 15 February referendum on amending the Constitution to allow his perpetual re-election.

Written by Caracas Gringo

31/01/2009 at 16:39

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Meet Evo’s Montesinos

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The real power in Bolivia

The real power in Bolivia

Read more here.

Written by Caracas Gringo

31/01/2009 at 11:20

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Play the Bailout Game

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Gringos play monopoly, Russians play chess, and now you can play the Bailout Game. Be a Greenspan, Bernanke or Paulson. Save Wall Street, and end the global financial crisis…or not!

Written by Caracas Gringo

31/01/2009 at 11:16

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…for God’s Sake!

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Jesus is just all right with me, Jesus is just all right, oh yeah...

Jesus is just all right with me, Jesus is just all right, oh yeah...

Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo, a former Catholic Bishop and leading Liberation Theology proponent, called at the World Social Forum for the creation of a “religious Mercosur” and invited all of the region’s religious leaders to an ecumenical summit in Asuncion on 12-13 March.

Lugo says he wants to give Mercosur “a people’s face” and insists the regional “discussion of religiosity, which is so important,” cannot be absent from relations between the nations of South America. Lugo also revealed he already has invited the Brazilian liberation theologists Leonardo Boff and Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo (aka Frei Betto) to the event in Asuncion.

It will be interesting to see what happens at Lugo’s religion summit, and who attends. The resuscitated Liberation theologists of the 1960s were Catholic rebels in a region that was over 90% Catholic. However, while Catholicism still predominates, South America is also populated liberally today with Evangelical Christians (Protestants) and Muslims. And over three decades of indigenous rights activism has strengthened indigenous native religions in many countries.

Has Lugo invited the region’s evangelical Christian leaders and Muslim Imams to his religion summit? Will the event also be well-attended by indigenous shamans from the hundreds of Andes and Amazon tribes in the region? Will the Babalus and other Afro-Caribbean voodoo and spirit-worshiping faiths also be represented? We wonder, also, how Lugo will seek to reconcile the ideological secularism of the region’s current crop of socialist leaders with the tired old silliness of Marxist-flavored Catholicism, which is all that liberation theology really is.

Written by Caracas Gringo

30/01/2009 at 19:23

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More Presidential Bullshit

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President Hugo Chavez said on national television today that accusations by retired Army General Raul Isaias Baduel, who yesterday claimed his car was attacked by individuals who hurled tear gas grenades and fired multiple shots into the vehicle, are a “plot created by the CIA’s psychological war laboratories and the commanders of the Pact of Puerto Rico.” Chavez and Baduel were allies not long ago. Baduel saved Chavez’s presidency in April 2002, and later was rewarded with the highest command posts in Venezuela’s armed forces, but now Chavez routinely condemns Baduel as “one of those sad personalities that will pass into history as one of the great traitors of this process…” Actually, Baduel likely will be remembdered as a political opportunist who wasted a legally and constitutionally justified opportunity to depose a president guilty of crimes against humanity and murder, while Chavez likely will be remembered by future generations of Venezuelan historians as the great betrayer who ruined Venezuela’s economic and social development prospects for at least two generations.

Written by Caracas Gringo

30/01/2009 at 18:58

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Workers Protest in Paris

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The Beginning of Global Labor Protests?

Paris Today: The Beginning of Global Labor Protests?

Written by Caracas Gringo

30/01/2009 at 18:46

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Davos, Pyongyang on the Potomac & Our Cosmic Hologram

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Some thoughts for reflection at week’s end…..

In Congress and the boardroom, failure to recognize a new era.
It looks like a win but feels like a loss. The party-line vote in favor of the stimulus package could have been more, could have produced not only a more promising bill but marked the beginning of something new, not a post-partisan era (there will never be such a thing and never should be; the parties exist to fight through great political questions) but a more bipartisan one forced by crisis and marked by—well, let’s call it seriousness. President Obama could have made big history here. Instead he just got a win. It’s a missed opportunity. Read Peggy Noonan’s analysis here.

Davos09: A crisis and failure of leadership
Jeff Jarvis’ take on Davos…
The crisis the world is suffering through now is a failure of leadership. The leaders of the world are in Davos. If the world is watching what happens here this week, it will be to hear solutions and see responsibility and accountability. I’d say that’s not off to a great start… the first trend I spot here: the rise of government. Asked who can fix the economy and prices, among Davos participants government is now clearly the preferred leader, a survey says. The percent who agree that government should impose “stricter regulations and greater control over business across all industry sectors:” 61% in the US up to 84% in France (65% worldwide). The percent who trust business less: 62% worldwide, ranging from 77% in the U.S. down to 49% in India. The survey reveals a new world split: optimists in China (where trust in business rose from 54% to 71% in a year), Brazil, India, Indonesia; pessimists in the US, Europe. The other obvious trend is America to the woodshed. America is the new Europe. Read the full analysis here.

Global Crisis Destroys 40% of World Wealth; Bailout to Hit $4 Trillion
The World Economic Forum reports the past five quarters have seen 40% of the world’s wealth destroyed and business leaders expect the global economic crisis can only get worse. Steve Schwarzman, chairman of private equity giant Blackstone, says an “almost incomprehensible” amount of cash had evaporated since the financial crisis took hold. Read the complete analysis here.

The Height of Power: As other American fiefdoms fade, Washington looms larger than ever
For more than two centuries, it has been a wannabe among the great world capitals. But now, Washington is finally ready for its close-up. No longer a jumped-up Canberra or, worse, Sacramento, it seems about to emerge as Pyongyang on the Potomac, the undisputed center of national power and influence. As a new president takes over the White House, the United States’ capacity for centralization has arguably never been greater. But it’s neither Barack Obama’s charm nor his intentions that are driving the centrifugal process that’s concentrating authority in the capital city. It’s the unprecedented collapse of rival centers of power. This is most obvious in economic affairs, an area in which the nation’s great regions have previously enjoyed significant autonomy. But already the dukes of Wall Street and Detroit have submitted their papers to Washington for vassalage. Soon many other industries, from high-tech to agriculture and energy, will become subject to a Kremlin full of special czars. Even the most haughty boyar may have to genuflect to official orthodoxy on everything from social equity to sanctioned science. Read the complete analysis here.

Unemployment Surges As The Noose Tightens On The Global Recession
The International Labour Organization forecast this week that as many as 51 million jobs could be lost worldwide in 2009 due to the global economic crisis. But even this estimate cound prove to be a conservative one. Full post here.

Russian military a “paper tiger” despite symbolic comeback, says IISS
Russia may be flexing its military muscle once again, sending warships into international waters and dispatching long-range bombers on reconnaissance trips, but the former superpower remains a paper tiger, according to a respected London think-tank.
The recent naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean and Latin America were symbolic gestures – the former maritime giant was able to deploy only a small number of ships, while the rest of the fleet was anchored at home without enough money to keep it at sea, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says. Read the complete article here.

Russia and Iran get strategic
While many analysts predicted a rosier picture for United States-Iranian relations with the President Barack Obama administration, the situation is rapidly becoming profoundly more difficult and more complicated. The new dimension is Russia. On February 20, the Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council will approve a new national security strategy to go through 2020. Without saying the “United States”, the draft document clearly identifies the United States as Russia’s primary rival for the next decade. It goes on to say that the primary focus of the struggle will be for hydrocarbons in some very specific areas. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. Full analysis at this link.

Obama’s arc of instability
As money shots go, especially archived under “team of rivals,” few surpass the one last week heralding the launch of the new United States State Department. The photo features President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, new US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and new US Afghanistan/Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke. Washington’s chattering classes have genuflected accordingly and burned down their Blackberrys in awe. Obama then laid down the (new) law – sort of. He re-extolled “America’s moral example” as “a beacon of our global leadership.” But the way the new White House is setting a “moral example” after the horrible carnage in Gaza is quite revealing. Obama phrased his top priority in no uncertain terms: “America is committed to Israel’s security … Israel [has the right to] defend itself against legitimate threats.” Not a word on the root cause of the whole tragedy: the illegal, neo-colonial, ever-expanding Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Read Pepe Escobar’s latest well-reasoned diatribe here.

Gates returns to his Tehran hard line
When United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran of “subversive activity” in Latin America this week, it raised the question of whether he is trying to discourage President Barack Obama from abandoning the hardline policy of coercive diplomacy toward Iran he has favored for nearly three decades. I wondered why Gates linked Iran to Latin America. Here’s one explanation.

Davos summed up
Government… is in charge now — until we remember everything that government fucked up.
It didn’t watch, didn’t regulate, and encouraged the madness. Once disaster came, governments have squandered billions — soon trillions — of our money without goals or accountability, with our money going to dividends and salaries for those who already skimmed too much off the latte that was our economy. Where’s the plan? I haven’t seen it here. I’m talking with other people who are getting more depressed as the day goes on and here, I think, is why: We are surrounded by the leaders who fucked it up: bankers, marketeers, regulators, and the press. They were in charge. That’s what Davos is: the people in charge. So who’s to say that we’re going to find the answers in Davos? Well, the people in Davos will. But I think the evidence is strong that the answer is not here. I’m going skiing.

And ringing down the curtain at Davos09: What’s missing in journalism?
The media machers at Davos got together yesterday with three economists to ask what went wrong in financial coverage that did not warn of the crisis. Like other leaders from other segments of society here in the meeting of the machers, they did not don hair shirts. I believe that will be the worst outcome of this year’s Davos: a failure to take responsibility for the failure of leadership. But blame isn’t the most productive priority. What’s more critical is to ask what to do about the failure. I wonder what gaps the crisis reveals in journalism. (Macher is a Yiddish word meaning “an important person, a doer,” it is generally used ironically.) Read Jarvis’ critique here.

The Heritage Foundation Builds a Fleet
The Heritage Foundation has released a report titled Quadrennial Defense Review: Building Blocks for National Defense. The key point that enables the report is the requirement for 4% of GDP spending. It also states boldly that the US Navy is a blue water force and if you don’t like it, shove it. The question is in what strategic environment would one find this be the desired fleet constitution? The Heritage Foundation apparently believes war between the US and China is coming. How else can this be a QDR vision?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported today that U.S. real GDP fell at a 3.8% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008. The full report is here.

The credit crunch has officially arrived
December data show a fall in credit to households and companies; Trichet warns the markets not to put pressure on banks to hoard capital; German unemployment shoots up, as financial crisis hits the real economy with brute force; global cargo traffic was down 22.6% in December, the latest sign of a collapse in world trade; Robert Shiller, meanwhile, predicts that the US housing crisis will last ten years.

Obama’s New Stimulus Plan May Be the Needle That Pops the Treasury-Bond Bubble

New Mall Construction “Dead for a decade”

The foreign portfolio of China’s government is higher than $2.3 trillion.
Consequently it should not be a surprise that China’s government now has close to a trillion in Treasuries. OK, not quite a trillion. But darn close. $860 billion or so at the end of November and – if current trends continue — over $900 billion at the end of December. China also has $550 billion or so of Agencies, which are effectively now backstopped by the Treasury. That works out to an enormous bet by China’s government on US government bonds. Read Brad Setser’s complete analysis here.

Floating rubbish dump ‘bigger than US’
It has been described as the world’s largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists. It is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean, held there by swirling ocean currents. Full article here.

Content and the Media: Be Careful What You Wish For

Our world may be a giant cosmic hologram
Driving through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn’t look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres. For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves – ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century. For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan. If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

Written by Caracas Gringo

30/01/2009 at 18:31

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Arm Yourselves, We Can’t Help

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A friend who owns two successful restaurants in Caracas related this story:

The baker that supplies my friend’s restaurants with fresh bread every morning, seven days a week, didn’t show up this morning. My friend called the baker, whose business is located on Romulo Gallegos Avenue near Los Dos Caminos. The baker explained apologetically that the bread wasn’t delivered this morning because someone is harassing the baker by cell phone, threatening to kill him and his entire family if he doesn’t pay a large sum of cash immediately.

The baker has been receiving several calls daily for a week. The anonymous caller tells the baker what his wife and children did that day, where they went in the city and what type of vehicles they were in. This morning the woman at the bakery’s cash register took a restroom break. As soon as she disappeared into the back of the bakery, the baker’s cell phone rang. The anonymous caller asked, “Where did the woman at the cash register just go? Is she coming back soon?”

The baker called the CICPC, formerly the PTJ, which is Venezuela’s rough equivalent of the FBI. A team of detectives arrived at the bakery and interviewed the badly frightened man.

“What should I do?” the baker asked the CICPC detectives, who are supposed to be the crème de la crème amongst Venezuelan police agencies.

“Pay the money,” said one detective. “Or buy a gun and defend yourself,” said the second detective. “We cannot protect you,” the first detective added.

It’s the same everywhere in Caracas and the rest of Venezuela.

One of my security gigs involves supervising a security team at a hypermarket located at the foot of the hills where the Petare mega-slum is located. This hypermarket opens daily at 6:30 am and shuts at 9:00 pm. Muggers and armed robbers prey on the hypermarket’s employees, and on the members of my security team, every day as they walk roughly 300 meters from the bus stop to the market’s gate.

I spoke several weeks ago with the PoliSucre precinct commander responsible for the area where the hypermarket is located about assigning some of his officers to protect the people walking to and from their jobs. PoliSucre cops are always coming into the hyper-market and asking for donations of food, cash, etc. I figured a little quid pro quo was in order. But No can do, the precinct commander said.

“I don’t have enough officers, and anyway we can’t do anything unless we catch the crooks while they’re actually committing the crime,” he explained.

“So what do you suggest we should do?” I asked the precinct commander. He shrugged.

“Gather some men, capture the criminals yourselves and beat the crap out of them; or better yet, arm yourselves and kill whoever tries to rob you,” he replied.

“But if I kill someone, even a criminal, I’m going to be arrested and jailed possibly for weeks or months,” I said.

“Only if we catch you in the act of killing the crook,” he replied.

PoliSucre can’t protect honest citizens, but every payday (twice per month) one finds Polisucre checkpoints throughout La Urbina, Petare, Los Dos Caminos, La California, etc. where pedestrians and drivers are stopped by heavily armed cops, their documents are reviewed and anyone whose papers are not 100% in order gets shaken down for bribes.

CICPC detectives cannot help either, but if your vehicle gets stolen there’s a very good chance you can recover it by paying a “ransom” through certain officials connected with the CICPC’s stolen vehicles division. That’s how my neighbor next door recovered his SUV after it was stolen in Los Palos Grandes during December.

The baker’s plight is one faced increasingly by many extortion victims in Caracas and other cities. Organized crime gangs that began inside Venezuela’s prisons are heavily involved in this protection racket. They identify targets such as bakers, restaurant owners, anyone with a business that caters to the general public. The gangs then follow their intended targets for days or weeks, sometimes infiltrating gang members inside the target’s place of business.

Then the calls begin. Pay or you will be killed. Pay or your wife and children will die. Pay or your children will be kidnapped and tortured. And your daughters will be raped too. Pay or else.

It’s impossible for the intended victim to determine if the anonymous telephone threats are being made by criminals with the means and the will to commit murder, or if the callers are petty crooks running a protection scam against easily intimidated victims.

Many targets take the easiest way out and arrange to pay off whoever is threatening them.

A few choose to arm themselves, or if they have the resources hire armed private security escorts.

But no one who is targeted in this way is ever again the same person.

It’s pointless to ask the police for help. In fact, over 90% of the express kidnappings which occur in Caracas involve at least one active-duty official with Metropolitan Police (PM). Some of the PM’s top commanders have criminal records for offenses including assault, armed robbery and murder. Some senior PM’s also are associated with armed militant groups like the Tupamaros, a pro-Chavez gang which also controls the crack cocaine trade in most of Caracas. PoliCaracas, the Libertador Municipality’s police force, is also riddled with criminals.

Ergo the popular saying, “Que Dios me guarde y proteja de la policia, porque yo me las puedo arreglar con los choros.” (God protect be from the police, because I can work things out with the crooks.)

Written by Caracas Gringo

29/01/2009 at 15:31

Posted in Uncategorized

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