Caracas Gringo

'When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter'

Archive for February 2009

Weekend Readings

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US Economy in Worst Fall Since ’82 - Output Sank 6.2% Last Quarter; Plunging Trade, Investment Signal Trouble Ahead (More here)

Citigroup: World’s Worst Investment to Get Even Worse (Ritholtz)
Losers double down. The classic trading rule which the US government is about to violate in an enormous way is that one should never, ever, ever, under any circumstance, add to a losing position.

Chile’s industrial production fell the most since 1999 in January. (Bloomberg)

Argentina Has a Bond It Wants to Sell You - Deadbeat nations should be kept out of U.S. capital markets. (Link here)

El Salvador and the Chávez Model - With the presidential election approaching, chavismo weighs heavily on voters’ minds. When Salvadorans vote on March 15 to elect a new president, that concern may play a key role in influencing the vote. (WSJ)

Alleged CIA Activity in Bolivia and Ecuador (Bellum)

Mexico Is in Free Fall – Its state institutions are under threat as they have not been since at least the Cristero uprising of the late 1920s and possibly since the Mexican revolution of 1910. While the Obama administration is obviously aware of what is happening south of the Rio Grande, the threat simply does not command the attention that its gravity requires. More here.

The war we gave Mexico - The drugs, guns and culture that fuel the violence all are linked to the U.S. (LA Times)

Rosalino “Chalino” Sanchez – Father of the narco-corrido (YouTube)

U.S. federal government to yield marijuana jurisdiction to states (SFgate)

“Smoke Some Weed” (YouTube)

The West Africa Connection: how drug cartels found new routes (Times)
Five years ago the amount of cocaine shipped to Europe via West Africa was negligible. Today 50 tonnes a year worth £1.4 billion pass through the region. Interpol estimates as much as two thirds of the cocaine sold in Europe this year will reach the Continent via West Africa.

The New Che, Same as the Old – Steven Soderbergh’s biopic continues Hollywood’s worship of a brutal man. More here.

Financial crisis sparks unrest in Europe (Reuters)

Thousands of UK police to lose jobs as forces feel the pinch – One of Britain’s most experienced chief constables said that forces were being dangerously weakened at a time when a strong police force could be essential to “hold the line.” (Times)

Slums of Hope – For displaced peasants, the world’s vast urban ghettos are a gateway to a better future. As Planet of Slums author Mike Davis writes, residents of the new slums constitute the “fastest-growing and most unprecedented social class on earth.” (City Journal)

Russia’s economic troubles put Putin firmly in the firing line – Unrest has been crushed, but the real challenge could come from falling oil prices (Telegraph)

Iraq ‘now its own responsibility’ – The ‘drawdown’ (i.e. withdrawal) of US troops by 31 August 2010 “should send a clear signal that Iraq’s future is now its own responsibility,” says President Obama. (Politico)

Getting Beat in the War of Ideas – A new study of public opinion in Muslim countries was released this week by (Comops)

Three provocative essays on Iran by Spengler

Sex, drugs and Islam (Asia Times)
Excerpt: “How should we explain an eruption of social pathologies in Iran such as drug addiction and prostitution, on a scale much worse than anything observed in the West? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears that Islamic theocracy promotes rather than represses social decay. Iran is dying. It seems that a spiritual decay has overcome Iran, despite best efforts of a totalitarian theocracy. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the “decadent” West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed. Two indicators of Iranian morale are worth citing. First, prostitution has become a career of choice among educated Iranian women. Second, according to a recent report from the US Council on Foreign Relations, 5% of Iran’s adult, non-elderly population of 35 million is addicted to opiates. That is an astonishing number, unseen since the peak of Chinese addiction during the 19th century.”

Why Iran is dying for a fight (Asia Times)
Excerpt: “Iran’s demographic catastrophe in the making impels Tehran to stake its claim for regional empire quickly, while it still has the manpower to do so. Before Iran is buried, it will have occasion to command the undivided attention of the West. The rulers of the Persian pocket-empire know better than Jenkins that today’s soldiers will become pensioners a generation hence, turning a belligerent and ambitious country into an impoverished, geriatric ruin. They believe that Iran has a last opportunity for greatness, on which they will stake their last dinar.”

Jihadis and whores (Asia Times)
Excerpt: “Wars are won by destroying the enemy’s will to fight. A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women. To understand Iranian politics, cherchez les femmes: the fate of Iranian women sheds light on the eccentricity of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. By Spengler’s Universal Law of Gender Parity, the men and women of every place and every time deserve each other. A corollary to this universal law states that the battered Iranian whore is the alter ego of the swaggering Iranian jihadi.”

The “Worst Food Product Ever” – Hormel’s Canned Pig Brains in Milk Gravy (Consumerist)

Written by Caracas Gringo

28/02/2009 at 14:18

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Angkor Wat

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Written by Caracas Gringo

28/02/2009 at 13:55

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Venezuela fails annual US drug test

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The government of President Hugo Chavez got slammed twice in a week by the US government, first on human rights and then on drugs. No surprise there. President Chavez and other barking Bolivarian burrocrats immediately condemned the US administration, and Chavez once again voiced doubts about President Barack Obama (son of Dubya?)

Following are some excerpts of the State Department’s drug report card on Venezuela – which scored an F:

*Venezuela remains a major drug-transit country with high-levels of corruption and a weak judicial system. Growing illicit drug trans-shipments through Venezuela are enabled by Venezuela’s lack of international counternarcotics cooperation.

*Venezuela refuses to cooperate on almost all bilateral counternarcotics issues, rejecting U.S. criticism and accusing the U.S. Government (USG) of complicity with drug trafficking organizations.

*Venezuela is one of the principal drug-transit countries in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of illicit drugs transiting Venezuela are destined for the U.S. and Europe. Drug trafficking in Venezuela has increased five-fold since 2002, from 50 MT to an estimated 250 MT in 2007.

*In September 2008, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated two senior Venezuelan government officials, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, and the former Justice and Interior Minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, as “Tier II Kingpins” for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC.

*Members of Venezuelan security forces often facilitate or are themselves involved in drug trafficking, particularly the special counternarcotics units of the National Guard and the Federal Investigative Police (CICPC).

*Venezuelan security forces routinely take bribes in exchange for facilitating drug shipments, and seizures are most likely to occur when payoffs have not been made. Even when seizures occur, the drugs are not always turned over intact for disposal, and seized cocaine is sometimes returned to drug traffickers.

Illicit narcotics are smuggled from Venezuela to the principal markets in the U.S. and Europe in maritime cargo containers, fishing vessels, go-fast boats, and private aircraft taking off from clandestine airstrips.

Illicit narcotics destined for the U.S. from Venezuela are shipped through the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Central America, Mexico, and other Caribbean countries.

Narcotics destined for Europe are shipped directly to several countries in Europe, especially Spain, or are shipped through the eastern coastal waters of Venezuela and the Caribbean to West Africa, notably Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

Clandestine flights departing Venezuela are another means of transporting cocaine shipments to West Africa. Multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine and heroin are also mailed through express delivery services to the United States.

Between January and June 2008, the U.S. estimates that 116 MT of cocaine transited Venezuela: 28 MT via maritime routes and 87 MT via air, according to the Joint Interagency Task Force-South.

Drug traffickers routinely exploit a variety of routes and methods to move hundreds of tons of illegal drugs on the Pan-American Highway, the Mata and Orinoco Rivers, the Guajira Peninsula, and dozens of clandestine airstrips.

Venezuelan traffickers have been arrested in the Netherlands, Spain, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, and other countries.

The movement of drugs continues to compound Venezuela’s corruption problem, and increase the level of crime and violence throughout the country.

Whether due to security forces’ weakness, lack of will, or corruption, Venezuela has effectively lost control of large portions of western Venezuela, abutting Colombia, to narcotrafficking organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The FARC’s ability to operate freely in this portion of Venezuela facilitates its well-established involvement in narcotrafficking. Venezuelan police and prosecutors do not receive sufficient training or equipment to properly carry out counternarcotics investigations. Without effective criminal prosecutions, and with the politicization of investigations and corruption, the public has little faith in the judicial system.

The USG assesses that Colombian guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, including two designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), conduct drug trafficking operations in Venezuelan territory, often using local traffickers to coordinate transportation and logistics.

The FARC and ELN often cross into Venezuela to facilitate trafficking activities, for rest and relaxation, and to evade Colombian security forces, often with the collusion of some elements of the Venezuelan security forces.

The USG-funded Container Inspection Facility (CIF) at Puerto Cabello remains unused by the GOV, despite the fact that the USG estimates that the majority of narcotics from Colombia transit the Tachira-Puerto Cabello corridor and other parts of the northern coast.

Completed in late 2006, the CIF was intended to provide a venue and equipment (forklifts, tools, and safety equipment) for Venezuelan authorities to unload and examine containers in a safe and protected environment.

The Autonomous Port Institute of Puerto Cabello (IPAPC) expropriated and now controls access to the unused facility.

Written by Caracas Gringo

27/02/2009 at 17:54

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A High-Profile Kidnapping

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Germán García-Velutini, president of Vencred Casa de Bolsa and brother of Banco Venezolano de Credito’s President Oscar Garcia Mendoza, was kidnapped shortly after 4 p.m. on 26 February near his office in San Bernardino.

News reports about the abduction have been confused.

But it appears that the kidnappers numbered 8-10 men, of which 4-5 wore business suits and were armed with “armas largas” (assault rifles?).

The kidnappers apparently were in 2-3 vehicles, including a Mercedes Benz sedan used to block the narrow street and at least one SUV (camioneta) that blocked Garcia Velutni’s vehicle from the rear. The abductors also may have used a motorcycle in the operation.

The abduction happened in a narrow street of the Sarria barrio in San Bernardino which is used as a traffic shortcut daily by hundreds of drivers.

Garcia-Velutini reportedly was driving alone in an Audi and speaking on his cellular phone to a colleague at the exact moment that the kidnappers executed their ambush. Eyewitness reports indicate it was a professionally executed operation.

The main assault team consisted of at least four men with assault rifles who overpowered Garcia Velutini and drove off in the banker’s Audi, which as of this post reportedly has not been located yet.

This is unconfirmed, but two businessmen who know Garcia Velutini say he almost always used the same shortcut through Sarria when leaving his office. If this is correct, Garcia Velutini may have committed a cardinal error in terms of looking out for his own security.

Some local news media (2001) report the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of 5 million euros, but this also is unconfirmed. [Update: Garcia's family released a statement saying the abductors have not contacted them yet.]

Hundreds of people are kidnapped every year in Bolivarian Venezuela, but this is the first high-level abduction in several years of a member of the traditional Caracas elite.

Based on the little information known so far, it appears that:

*The kidnappers clearly were familiarized with Garcia Velutini’s daily movements. He was abducted in an enclosed area on a narrow street where he had absolutely no chance to attempt any evasive maneuvers.

*If a motorcycle was involved, the kidnappers probably followed Garcia Velutini for some distance before the abduction occurred. The person (or persons) riding the motorcycle probably communicated by cell phone with the other kidnappers waiting in ambush.

*At least one SUV also was following Garcia Velutini’s Audi, carrying several of the abductors and blocking the rear of the banker’s vehicle to prevent him from backing away from the ambush.

Who might be the kidnappers?

The degree of professionalism reported by eyewitnesses suggests the kidnappers could be:

*Persons with an elite military or police (SWAT) background, in which case there may be links to current/former figures in the Bolivarian revolution.

*An organized crime gang (with foreign and Venezuelan members) which specializes in abductions of high net worth victims,

*Colombian paramilitaries, FARC/ELN guerrillas or professional kidnappers from the neighboring country who have moved their criminal business activities to Venezuela where civilian law enforcement and other state security entities are ineffective and easily corrupted.

God willing, Garcia Velutini will be not be harmed and will be freed very quickly.

Written by Caracas Gringo

27/02/2009 at 12:31

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Rumors of Mini-Madoffs

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The Economy & Finance Ministry issued a statement saying it is “investigating” a “campaign of rumors” allegedly being promoted by “sectors interested in provoking bank runs by diffusing lies, falsifying the government’s financial policy, and trying to panic savers.”

The ministry’s statement says it received “several reports” of this alleged rumor campaign after it intervened and closed Stanford Bank Venezuela.

The ministry’s statement also says “intelligence organs have been instructed and have already started the investigations to identify the (people) responsible for the campaign and apply the corresponding penal sanctions.”

If there’s a rumor campaign under way against the banks, the public was unaware of it – until the ministry issued the statement.

That’s not to say a very substantial portion of Venezuela’s banking system is not a potential financial disaster waiting to erupt.

There are some solid banks in Venezuela. But there are more troubled banks than healthy banks.

Hint: Banks with large portfolios of government paper are not a wise place to park one’s savings.

Hint: For some time, there have been quiet rumblings in the financial brokerage sector that there could be a large number of mini-Madoffs waiting to happen. “Some of the mutuales out there are mini-Madoffs,” a financial broker commented to us recently.

Written by Caracas Gringo

27/02/2009 at 12:28

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Sir Robert Allen Stanford

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Written by Caracas Gringo

26/02/2009 at 23:58

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Hypocrites…or something else?

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Former Vice-President/Defense/Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel warned on his 22 February Sunday television show “Jose Vicente Hoy” that the Bolivarian Revolution of President Hugo Chavez “could founder…due to exhausting daily conflictiveness.”

Rangel’s televised warning came two days after Chavez rejected on 18 February any type of pact with the “defeated oligarchy” following his 15 February referendum victory by a margin of 54.86% to 45.13%, according to the CNE.

Rangel said on 20 February that the outcome of the 15 February referendum on Chavez’s bid to win perpetual re-election rights confirmed Venezuelans are “divided…and this division is tending to accentuate, though it hasn’t resulted in violence yet.”

To keep violence from erupting in Venezuela, there must be a political “aperture…and ghetto politics must be abandoned.” Rangel said.

Venezuela’s “political factors…are obligated to seek formulas that will facilitate easing tensions…the arrogance of the winner is a mistake, as is the arrogance of the loser…I would go even further in the classification: it’s a stupidity,” Rangel added.

Very unusual remarks from Rangel (aka Grima Wormtongue), considering that he sided with the Chavez regime’s radical factions in backing the president’s plan to slaughter his political opponents in April 2002.

Before 11 April 2002, Rangel met with the coutnry’s largest bankers and threatened them with government sanctions if they joined the national business and labor strike called jointly by Fedecamaras and the CTV.

While at the Fort Tiuna on 11 April, at the building where the Defense Ministry’s offices traditionally had been located until Rangel (who historically was despised viscerally by the military) was appointed defense minister, Rangel was seen and heard semi-hysterically issuing orders by cellular telephone to “call the ‘pueblo revolucionario’ to descend from the barrios and defend their president with sticks, rocks….”

In Miraflores presidential palace in the early evening of 11 April 2002, Rangel urged Chavez to fortify the palace “…and fight to the last man, the last breath… Make a stand here and give the world a lesson…let’s see if these ‘escualidos’ can take us.”

When Chavez insisted instead on negotiating with the rebellious army officers at Fort Tiuna, Rangel raged at the president “…eres un cobarde….la historia no te va a perdonar.”

A former government intelligence and Disip official who has known Rangel personally for the past 35-40 years says JVR “doesn’t believe in anything except power and history…not heaven or hell, sex, wealth or anything else.”

So why is JVR, a longtime co-conspirator with Chavez to dismantle Venezuela’s democratic institutions and kill the president’s political enemies, now calling publicly on Pfresident Chavez and the opposition leadership to open a two-way dialoque to rescue the nation from erupting in a civil war?

The plot thickened on 26 February when Teodoro Petkoff published an editorial in Tal Cual saying he was certain JVR’s warning was “an exclusive message to call the attention of President Chavez and (was) not directed at the opposition.”

Petkoff said JVR is not an official spokesman, but an “interlocutor” of the government because of his relation with “high commands of the revolution” – i.e. bolibourgeosie revolutionaries like Diosdado Cabello, for example – though it’s said by some that Cabello reportedly despises Rangel.

Petkoff also argued that Rangel has urged Chavez to “recognize the opposition… without disavowing or disqualifying” the revolution’s democratic opponents.

“It’s difficult to not agree with the conclusions of Rangel,” he added, but then asks whether anyone in the government (i.e. Chavez) heed JVR’s warning?

A colleague who knows Petkoff very well thinks “Teo… is secretly very concerned that Chavez could unleash violence at any moment… he knows Chavez and the group now in power will not hesitate to shoot and kill to keep what they have gained… no van a soltar el coroto por ningun motivo, ni para nadie…”

Perhaps our colleague is correct.

Perhaps JVR’s surprising call to Chavez, followed by Petkoff’s editorial endorsement of JVR’s remarks, reflects the concerns of two wise old men who have spent their entire political careers on the far left of Venezuelan politics (though Petkoff apparently moved towards the center after the Berlin Wall came down near the end of 1989, reinventing himself as a European-style moderate socialist a la Felipe Gonzalez of Spain).

But Venezuelan politics is rarely, if ever, what it appears to be superficially. As Jose Antonio Gil Yepes wrote in the 1970s, Venezuela is a “Sociedad de Complices” – a society of accomplices.

JVR is a brilliant but fundamentally evil individual. Everything JVR says has two, three or even more meanings – and audiences. He is a skilled manipulator of the news media and a confirmed disseminator of misinformation and lies.

Petkoff is perhaps the only former radical Marxist guerrilla in Venezuela who is respected by at least two generations of Venezuelans on the right. But over the past decade, Petkoff’s frequent swings from apparent apologist for the regime to acerbic critic and back again suggest that old revolutionary dreams (habits?) persist.

JVR and Petkoff have been “comrade travelers” for the past 50-plus years, but reportedly they were never close personally and in recent years have been in opposite camps.

But the Venezuelan people aren’t fond of Petkoff: When Rosales, Petkoff and Borges commissioned national polls in mid-2006 to decide amogst themselves who would be the opposition presidential candidate, Petkoff placed a distant third out of three.

*Are JVR and Petkoff worried that political violence or civil conflict could erupt as soon as this year?

Caracas Gringo thinks the chances of violent street protests will increase in coming months as the economy’s crisis bites hard. However, JVR and Petkoff presumably are in a better position than most to know about these things, given their contacts with “senior” people in the revolution (both inside and outside the government).

*Are JVR and Petkoff trying to head off potential civil/military revolts involving some figures normally associated with the opposition?

*Or, perhaps, JVR and Petkoff are trying to ease growing tensions inside the Bolivarian revolution by urging Chavez to mend fences with the political opposition before the most radical elements of the revolution revolt?

In January 2009, Venezuela’s most famously unrepentant Marxist militant, the septuagenarian but still very spry Douglas Bravo, warned that “true revolutionaries” inside and outside the government, including the oil industry and the military, could revolt this year and set things right.

These true revolutionaries will confront the “Bolibourgeoisie right inside the regime and the classic right” at the same time, and will defeat both, Bravo predicted.

[Caracas Gringo thinks there is a significant risk of a major confrontation in 2009 between organized labor and the Chavez regime.]

But the regime isn’t disposed to talk with anyone. Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said late on 26 February that there would be no dialogue with the leaders of the opposition. But the government is “always willing” to dialogue, he added.

Written by Caracas Gringo

26/02/2009 at 23:52

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Excerpts of the State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report

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Politicization of the judiciary and official harassment of the political opposition and the media characterized the human rights situation during the year.

The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; a corrupt, inefficient, and politicized judicial system characterized by trial delays, impunity, and violations of due process; official intimidation and attacks on the independent media; discrimination based on political grounds; widespread corruption at all levels of government; violence against women; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on workers’ right of association.

Deaths and Torture in Police Custody: In the 12 months through September 2008, the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Venezuelan Program of Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) reported 39 deaths resulting from mistreatment while in custody. PROVEA documented 247 unlawful killings by government security forces from October 2007 through September 2008. PROVEA reported that in the 12 months prior to September 2008, it received 17 complaints of torture (an increase from 11 the previous year), and 573 complaints regarding cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, a decrease from the 692 cases reported in 2007. Reports of beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies.

The Prisons: Prison conditions were harsh due to scarce resources, poorly trained and corrupt prison staff, and violence by guards and inmates. The prison-monitoring NGO Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP) estimated that existing prisons were designed to hold approximately 60 percent of the estimated 23,300 persons in the national penitentiary system. OVP estimated that only 34 percent of the prisoner population was formally convicted, while 60 percent was awaiting trial. The OVP estimated that the prison guard force was 10 percent of the required strength. Violence among prison gangs, including shootouts and riots, was common. Prison officials often illegally demanded payment from prisoners for transportation to judicial proceedings.

PROVEA stated that between January and October 2008, there were 390 deaths and 692 injuries in Venezuela’s prisons, compared with 498 deaths and 1,023 injuries during 2007. Inmates often had to pay guards and other inmates to obtain necessities such as space in a cell, a bed, and food. Most prisoners obtained food from their families, by paying prison guards, or in barter with other prisoners. Many inmates also profited from exploiting and abusing others, particularly since convicted violent felons often were held with pretrial detainees or first-time petty offenders. Trafficking in arms and drugs fueled gang-related violence and extortion.

Security forces and law enforcement authorities often imprisoned minors together with adults, even though separate facilities existedfor juveniles. Because reform institutions were filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers where they were crowded into small, unsanitary cells, fed only once a day, and forced to sleep on bare concrete floors.

The Police: Corruption was a major problem among all police forces, whose members were poorly paid and trained. Impunity for corruption, brutality, and other acts of violence were major problems. In October 2007 the Ministry of Interior and Justice reported that 18,313 police officials, or 16 percent of the country’s police force, were under investigation for misconduct and alleged human rights violations, including kidnapping, torture, unlawful arrest and detention, and extrajudicial killings stemming from cases filed from 2000-07. In 2007 alone, 1,948 police officers were accused of alleged misconduct, according to the Ministry. The National Organic Police Law was passed in April 2007. This law created a national police force; however, there have been no efforts to staff this organization.

The Judiciary: While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judicial independence remained compromised. The judiciary also was highly inefficient, sometimes corrupt, and subject to political influence, particularly from the Attorney General’s Office, which in turn was pressured by the executive branch. According to the NGO Foro Penal, almost 40 percent of the judges were provisional and temporary. The Supreme Court’s Judicial Committee may hire and fire temporary judges without cause and without explanation, and it did so. Provisional judges legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges. The provisional and temporary judges, lacking tenure in their profession, particularly were subject to political influence from the Ministry of Interior and Justice and the attorney general.

In March an ex-prosecutor accused former attorney general Isaias Rodriguez of altering witness testimony and falsely implicating critics of the government in the Danilo Anderson case. Anderson was a high-profile prosecutor killed in a car bomb explosion in November 2004. The government’s one-time key witness, Giovanny Vasquez, told the media that Rodriguez paid him 1,075,000 Bs.F (approximately $500,000) to present false testimony in the case. The government reportedly reopened the case following the allegations against Rodriguez.

Political Prisoners and Apartheid: There were an estimated 12 political prisoners in the country. In some cases the political prisoners were held in distinct penal facilities, including DISIP installations and the Ramo Verde military prison. The International Committee of the Red Cross was permitted access to these political prisoners. The government was complicit with others, including National Assembly deputy Luis Tascon, in maintaining the “Tascon” and “Maisanta” Lists, which were used to identify and punish persons who signed a petition to hold a recall referendum on President Chavez. Human rights NGOs noted that persons listed were often ineligible to receive government jobs or services.

Freedom of Speech and Press: The combination of laws governing libel and broadcast media content, legal harassment, and physical intimidation of both individuals and the media resulted in practical limitations on these freedoms and a climate of self-censorship. The government employed a variety of mechanisms–legal, economic, regulatory, judicial, physical, and rhetorical–to harass the private media and engender an environment of intolerance towards a critical press.

The president preempted broadcasting on the nation’s airwaves to present hours-long government programs several times a week. The law mandates that all free-to-air television and national radio networks air these programs, called “cadenas,” in real time and uninterrupted. Independent media observers criticized the state media for extreme pro-government politicization. As of August 31, 2008 there were 89 “cadenas,” which tended to average more than one hour, some lasting up to six hours. The government media was used almost exclusively to promote the Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which is headed by Chavez, and publicly harass opposition figures.

Government officials, in some instances including Chavez, used government-controlled media outlets to air unsubstantiated accusations against private media owners. On September 11, 2008 Minister of Interior and Justice Tarek El-Aissaini claimed intelligence bodies had detected a plot against Chavez and implicated “businessmen, the 2-D Movement [civil society group headed by the director of one of the country's leading newspapers], and military officials.” On September 23, 2008 a pro-government organization known as the La Piedrita Collective fired tear gas canisters at Globovision’s headquarters. Following the incident Lina Ron, leader of the Popular Unity for Venezuela Party (UPV), a small, radical, political party that supports Chavez, told the media that UPV and “La Piedrita” declared Ravell and Globovision “military objectives of the Venezuelan popular militias.” On December 1, “La Piedrita” members hurled tear gas canisters at the home of opposition radio commentator Marta Colomina.

In early November 2007 the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (CONATEL) launched an investigation against Globovision for its October 30 transmission of the show Hello Citizen, in which guest Rafael Poleo, editor of the opposition daily El Nuevo Pais, said that Chavez “would end up like Mussolini.” CONATEL filed suit against the network three days later, alleging that it was promoting the assassination of President Chavez. On November 24, 2007 CONATEL announced that it would also investigate Globovision for allegedly inciting violence by airing a speech by Carabobo state-governor elect Henrique Salas Feo during which he called on supporters to march to local election headquarters to demand the release of regional election results.

The government denied private media equal access to many official events, and in cases when private media had access to government facilities, they often did not have access to officials and information. For example, only the government radio and television stations were authorized to have reporters at the presidential palace. State-controlled television and radio stations and many foreign news reporters continued to have full access to official events.

The independent print media regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal and in order to comply with laws regulating the media. The country’s major newspapers were independently owned but heavily dependent on government advertising. In regions where local newspapers competed for the same audience and a smaller pool of advertisers, print media tended to exercise even more caution in order to secure financing from government sources. The government published one national newspaper, Diario Vea, with a relatively low circulation.

Freedom of Religion: President Chavez engaged in numerous rhetorical personal attacks on specific Catholic bishops and the Papal Nuncio. He warned Catholic bishops to refrain from commenting on political issues. On February 27, 2008 Chavez supporters temporarily occupied the Archbishop’s Residence in Caracas. They accused Catholic Church leaders of hindering the president’s political project and criticized the “counter-revolutionary” Papal Nuncio for giving refuge to student leader Nixon Moreno. Despite President Chavez’s overture to Jewish leaders, government institutions and officials and government-affiliated media outlets promoted anti-Semitism through numerous anti-Semitic comments. These actions created a spillover effect into mainstream society, which witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic vandalism, caricatures, and expressions at rallies and in newspapers. The host of The Razorblade, a progovernment talk show on state television, made frequent anti-Semitic slurs, and Diario Vea regularly published anti-Semitic comments. Incidents of spraying of graffiti, intimidation, vandalism, and other physical attacks against Jewish institutions were frequent.

Organized Labor: According to union leaders, the government organized groups of parallel construction unions to attack and intimidate construction workers affiliated with the CTV to gain control of lucrative construction projects. According to PROVEA, 29 reported deaths were associated with union clashes from October 2007 through September.The 2008 ITUC Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights notes that an employee of Fetratel reported that 243 collective agreements had not been signed in the public sector and that the leader of the national center, the National Workers’ Union, stated that the framework agreement for the public administration has not been discussed for 27 months and one covering Labor Ministry employees has not been discussed for 16 years. The survey noted that the workers’ representative in the People’s Front estimated that 3,500 collective agreements were not being discussed. The teachers’ union, called the Venezuelan Teachers’ Federation, and its 27 affiliated organizations lodged a formal complaint with the ILO to request that the state restore its collective bargaining rights, which were blocked in 2006.

Written by Caracas Gringo

26/02/2009 at 20:08

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Sunrise Moonrise

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Written by Caracas Gringo

26/02/2009 at 18:35

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US debt repudiation, boiled frogs, fake smiles and taxing tokers

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Paths to US Sovereign Debt Repudiation
The United States eventually will repudiate its public debt. The means by which this happens is unclear. However, there are several paths to the same place, and it’s not necessary to choose only one method of ultimate default. All the usual methods will do, and we’ll witness most of them in the next five years. More here.

Former US Comptroller General David Walker warns that “America’s Economy Now Rests Upon a Burning Platform
… of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon.” More here.

An Impending Geopolitical Earthquake?
The financial and economic turmoil the world is currently experiencing will certainly have many serious consequences beyond those fields. Indeed, its geopolitical fallout could be far more serious than commonly acknowledged and it is an element that cannot be neglected by neither statesmen nor analysts. More here.

The Quick Road to Global Insurgency: Notes on this century’s global depression (D2), and the wars that will emerge from its onset. More here.

A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World: Ecologist Preaches ‘Natural’ Security For Homeland Defense. Link here.

“There will be Blood” - Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson predicts prolonged financial hardship, even civil war, before the ‘Great Recession’ ends. Globe and Mail.

Excerpt:This is a crisis of globalization… There will be blood, in the sense that a crisis of this magnitude is bound to increase political as well as economic [conflict]. It is bound to destabilize some countries. It will cause civil wars to break out, that have been dormant. It will topple governments that were moderate and bring in governments that are extreme.”

The Axis of Upheaval - Niall Ferguson says: “Forget Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” As economic calamity meets political and social turmoil, the world’s worst problems may come from countries like Somalia, Russia, and Mexico. And they’re just the beginning. Foreign Policy.

The Panic of 2008: How Bad Is It? Just how bad is the current economic downturn? It is frequently claimed that the crash of 2008 is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. There is plenty of reason to accept this characterization, though we clearly are not suffering the widespread hardship of the Depression era. But this Panic of 2008 is no picnic. And in some key areas, notably housing, it could be even worse than what was experienced in the Great Depression. More here.

The Inversion of Corporate and Sovereign Risk – Why has sovereign risk skyrocketed? Zero Hedge.

Europe’s economic crisis in numbers - SPIEGEL Online International partner site NRC Handelsblad has put together an interactive map that illustrates how the financial crisis is playing out in each European Union member state. Link here.

Euro Nation Default A Matter Of Time - Ex-Bundesbank President Karl Otto Poehl says a default of smaller member of the euro region is only a matter of time. Zero Hedge.

The Three Missteps in President Obama’s Economic Turnaround PlanMoney Morning.

Reflections on Obama’s Projected $1.75T Deficit – We may be reaching the upper end of estimates in our favorite parlor game, “How much more will Uncle Sammy the Beggar owe in 2009?” More here.

Bernanke’s Boiled Frog Plan to Recapitalize Banks – Bernanke has fired yet another misguided missile to stabilize the banking system. More here.

More About Lies: Why Federalism Is Dying. Ashes Ashes All Fall Down.

A global survey of stimulus plans – This survey raises real questions:
1) Is this an adequate global response to the crisis?
2) What about the poorer nations of the world?
3) Is the IMF prescribing the wrong policies? Dani Rodrik.

Russia’s Economy Falls at an 8% Annual Rate in January - Seeking Alpha.

What’s Going On with Oil? Answer Hidden in the Global Monetary Crisis. More here.

Serious Sub Collision a ‘Nuclear Nightmare’ – The collision of two strategic nuclear submarines earlier this month shows that the Cold War is still being fought every day in the Atlantic — with the world’s most powerful weapons. Spiegel.

Islamists Gain Ground in Sarajevo - Radical Muslim imams and nationalist politicians from all camps are threatening Sarajevo’s multicultural legacy. With the help of Arab benefactors, the deeply devout are acquiring new recruits. In the “Jerusalem of the Balkans,” Islamists are on the rise. More here.

The Fight for Pakistan’s Political SoulPart 1 and Part 2

Test your skill: can you detect a fake smile? Spot the Fake Smile

How to Read People: Detecting Lies – Have you ever wished that you could tell when someone is lying to you? More here.

Taxing pot could become a political toking point – Could Cannabis be a salvation for California’s fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke? More here.

Written by Caracas Gringo

26/02/2009 at 18:31

Posted in Uncategorized


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