Friday, June 24, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
from the WSJ
CARACAS—Venezuela's voluble and ubiquitous President Hugo Chávez hasn't returned to the public eye after a surgery in Cuba that has friends and foes alike speculating about the state of his health and the future of his rule.
Mr. Chávez has been in Cuba since June 8, when he was felled by a pelvic abscess for which he underwent an operation two days later. Soon after, Venezuelan officials said the flamboyant leader was in good health but would recuperate in Havana for a "few days."
Those few days have stretched to 11, punctuated by false alarms over the date of his return. On Monday, a ruling party lawmaker said Mr. Chávez was hours from touching down in Caracas and urged his supporters to prepare a "tremendous" welcome for him. The claim was quickly refuted on the Twitter account of Venezuela's Communications Minister Andres Izarra.
On Tuesday, Mr. Chávez made another virtual appearance. In a statement posted on Mr. Izarra's Twitter account, he lamented the death of another Venezuelan official who had sought medical treatment in Cuba.
"We don't know very much about [Chávez's] health, there is no official news, only partial reports," said Chávez critic Teodoro Petkoff, a former presidential candidate and current editor of the opposition newspaper Tal Cual.
Mr. Chávez raised concerns when he said, during a call to a Venezuelan television station two days after his operation, that there were no "malignant" signs found, a former top Venezuelan health official said.
The former official, who asked not to be named, pointed out that a pelvic abscess—a pus-filled cavity that can result from injury or infection—is a reaction to a condition. "His choice of words was a red flag," the official said.
The former official also said there was a possibility that Mr. Chávez would be hospitalized when he returned to Venezuela, another potential sign of the severity of his ailment. If it was a matter of simply treating an abscess, Mr. Chávez would likely not need a hospital at that point, the official said.
Once a slender tank commander and would-be major-league baseball pitcher, Mr. Chávez has cultivated an image as a health-conscious sportsman. But 12 years in power have taken their toll.
Mr. Chávez, 56 years old, has gained a lot of weight since his days on the mound, works long hours and is known for drinking quarts of coffee daily. Nevertheless, he seemed poised to resume a full schedule in early June after a knee injury had sidelined him, when he left Venezuela for visits to Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba.
In Cuba, he suffered acute pain during a meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and was rushed into surgery.
Since then, Mr. Chávez has been nearly invisible, except for a phone call into a Venezuelan television station on June 12, two days after his operation, and photographs of Mr. Chávez wearing a tracksuit in the colors of the Venezuelan flag as he is flanked by Fidel and Raul Castro, published in the state newspaper Granma on June 18.
In a three-paragraph note, Granma assured its readers that Mr. Chávez was in close communication with top Venezuelan officials and was "on top of the principal issues of his country."
The mystery surrounding Mr. Chávez's health is a throwback to the Cold War secrecy which persists in Cuba, one of the last Communist governments left standing.
In Cuba, the health of Mr. Castro and other important figures is treated as a state secret. Five years after Mr. Castro was forced to step down from power after undergoing an emergency operation, the exact nature of his illness has never been divulged by the Cuban state.
During normal times, Mr. Chávez dominates Venezuela's airwaves and public space. He is prone to break into television broadcasts of baseball games and Venezuelans' favorite soap operas to opine at length about matters such as local news events and the latest manifestation of U.S. imperialism.
Perhaps following Mr. Castro's advice to get some rest, Mr. Chávez has been noticeably silent about the week's events in Venezuela, where 5,000 troops are fighting to squelch a prison rebellion that so far has taken some 40 lives.
Romer Guevara, a 41-year-old court bailiff, said he didn't have any problem with Chávez governing from Cuba while recuperating. Mr. Guevara, who said he was politically neutral, added there was one thing he is sure he hasn't missed during Chávez's absence. "We don't like those long speeches," Mr. Guevara said. "We get tired of all that talking. He interrupts our shows all the time. He cuts in all the time when I'm watching baseball or a basketball game."
But Mr. Chávez has continued to enact major legislation from Havana, over the complaints of opposition lawmakers who unsuccessfully insisted he cede presidential duties during the extended and unplanned absence from Venezuela.
A long absence from Caracas would raise political uncertainty as the nation prepares for presidential elections next year. Mr. Chávez has no heir apparent, and a long absence due to health reasons could touch off a succession struggle between prominent Chavistas who belong to different and competing factions.
"It's revealing how Venezuela depends on one man rule," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. "There is nobody else. He makes all the decisions. There's a real risk the government won't work if he's out for a long time."
Mr. Chávez is the most prominent existing example of a common Latin American phenomenon—the caudillo—rulers who base their legitimacy not on any sort of allegiance to institutions, but rather on developing a strong and emotional bond with Latin America's masses, especially the poor. During his decade-long rule, Mr. Chávez, who combines many of the qualities of a television evangelist with the authoritarian values of a soldier, has weakened many of Venezuela's already feeble institutions.
Now his illness could weaken his movement as it prepares to face a determined opposition in elections.
"Its a classic case of caudillos where there is no heir apparent," said Eric Olson, a Latin American expert at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center. "His emphasis has been on building up the caudillo and on tearing down institutions."
Mr. Chávez' health is no doubt a major concern in Cuba. Any instability in Venezuela would have a major impact on the economically distressed island, which depends on cut-rate Venezuelan oil and on the personal connection struck with Mr. Chávez, for its economic survival.
Some analysts believe Mr. Chávez' long absence could be a sign his government is entering a crisis, especially if his health deteriorates. "There's nobody that one can see that can take his place," said Claudio Loser, president of Centennial Group Latin America advisory firm and former head of Western Hemisphere affairs for the International Monetary Fund. "As strong as his movement is...it is very much caudillo-oriented, very much linked to the leader in power."
But others believe a healthy Mr. Chávez will soon be back giving orders from Venezuela's presidential palace. The down time in Cuba will not be long enough to disrupt Chávez's legislative agenda or his 2012 reelection bid, says Boris Segura, senior Latin American economist at Nomura Securities.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Is the Palestinian Problem the Result of Arab Prejudice and Consequently Wholly an Arab (not Israeli) Problem?
When the Arabs declared war on Israel in the days following Israel's birth, Palestinian refugees of the war were herded into refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and former Egyptian territories and prevented from permanently resettling in neighboring Arab countries. European and Americans responded with U.N. relief and founded an organization (UNWRA) to sustain the Palestinians in these new PERMANENT refugee camps (similiar to the concentration camps of WWI and II). Meanwhile, millions of Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian, Lebanese and other North African Jewish citizens of these countries were forced to emigrate to Israel, and were welcomed and quickly resettled in the new Jewish homeland of Israel. This gave birth to "the Palestinian problem"... but no one ever saw a corresponding Jewish refugee problem. Why is this? It's because the neighboring countries didn't see the Palestinians as "refugees", they saw them as defeated and worthless scum.
from the Jerusalem Post
from the Jerusalem Post
Sheikh Qabbani tells visiting Palestinian delegation for refugees, “We’ve hosted you and no longer want you... You will never be victorious."
The mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, was quoted this week as saying that Palestinians are no longer welcome in his country.
He also condemned Palestinians as “trash” and said that he’s not afraid of their weapons.
Sheikh Qabbani’s remarks were made during a meeting he held in his office in Beirut with a Palestinian delegation representing refugees and various Palestinian factions in Lebanon.
The furious mufti later kicked the Palestinian representatives out of his office.
More than 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, most of them in extremely harsh conditions in refugee camps.
The meeting was called to discuss Palestinian “assaults” on state-owned and Islamic Wakf lands in Lebanon.
“We’ve hosted you and no longer want you,” the mufti told stunned members of the Palestinian delegation.
Accusing Palestinians of “usurping” Wakf lands to build houses, Sheikh Qabbani told his visitors: “I will defend Wakf lands even if that costs me all what I have.”
Attempts by the Palestinian representatives to clam the mufti further enraged the top religious official, who at one point shouted at them: “You are trash. You [Palestinians] will never be victorious. Nor will your cause. I’m no longer afraid of your weapons.”
The Palestinian delegates said they were extremely shocked by the mufti’s abusive language and threats.
“He called us trash,” one of them said. “He didn’t even give us time to respond to his allegations.”
Samir Abu Afash, Secretary-General of the PLO in Beirut, said he sent a report to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the mufti’s remarks.
Abbas instructed the Palestinian representatives to refrain from a confrontation with Sheikh Qabbani out of fear that such a move would escalate tensions between the two sides.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora later phoned Fathi Abu al-Aradat to apologize on behalf of the mufti.
The mufti lost his temper following complaints that Palestinians living in refuge camps in Lebanon had illegally seized lands belonging to the state and the Islamic Wakf Trust.
Sheikh tayseer Tamimi, former head of the PA religious courts, strongly condemned the mufti of Lebanon, saying that his statements were unsuitable for a man of his status.
He said that Sheikh Qabbani had a long history of instigating sectarian strife between various communities in Lebanon and demanded that he apologize to all Palestinians.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
"The best president that Columbia has ever had is Hugo Chavez," states a refined Venezuelan lady of the Caracas elite who decided to move to Bogota. "Thanks to him, the best prepared Venezuelans with money to invest are here today."
And it's true. The presence of Venezuelans in Columbia, and Bogata in particular, have ceased being a simple curiosity and have transformed themselves into a veritable phenomenum. And although many Columbians could not have predicted it, what is happening is interesting because this is one of the rare cases of high impact immigration into Columbia in her two centuries of republican history.
The exodus made it's first pronounced imapct in 2005, when petroleum experts who had been laid off from PDVSA in mass began to arrive. But in reality, the peak was in 2011, when every day 46 entry visas are approved for Venezuelans to live in Columbia.
In spite of becoming a diaspora in less than five years, we have to say that they have left a significult hole in the infrastructure of that country. And it remains to be related is how a bunch of fired employees from PDVSA have presided over a veritable petroleum boom in Columbia over these past few years.
But the Venezuelans haven't only inserted themselves in the midst of the heart of the economy. Last week opened two new super film productions of Caracol and RCN, and in both Venezuelans without papers appeared: in "the witch", Gledys Ibarra is "la negra" and in "El Joe", Andres Suarez is Francisco Vergara, to cite two recent examples.
But in whatever sector you look, you'll see a Venezuelan. From the more exclusive art galleries, to other more popular venues like in the spectacular musicals and comedies. "The La Cometa gallery is featuring for the next few months the Venezuelan Carlos Cruz Diez, one of the masters of optical art in the world who has sold 41 works so far at prices reaching 120,000 Euros. About half of the works were purchased by Venezuelans. Today I'm happy with them," said Steven Jaramillo, gallery owner.
Venezuelans have also entwined in the daily life of Columbians. Like the Health Store retailers Locatel and Farmatodo, whose owners brought them with them. Or restaurants and cafes like "Picollo Venezia", and "Ciboulette", and "Positano", "Budares", and "The Venezuelan Areparia", and "Sueko Bread", and "Andrea's", to mention a few recently established by Venezuelans. A magazine, "The Librarian" was launched in Columbia by the recognized journalist Sergio Dabhar, ex-director of the daily "El Nacional de Caracas". And even a member of the Academy of Language from the neighboring country, Rafael Arraiz Lucca, who today is now a university professor in Columbia.
The 1st Wave: The P Factor
This new migration is so interesting because after only a few years a few Venezuelans, not to mention any individually, decided to fix their eyes upon Columbia. On the contrary, there had been evident antagonism. "The Venezuelan did not see Columbia as an option for tourism or investment. In Venezuela arrived the worst of the poor: undocumented Columbians, without skills and looking for work", explained the Venezuelan.
What was it then that lead to a change of opinion? From the beginning, above all classes, middle and high that fled Chavez, most sought refuge in Miami. But around 2005, the oilmen started to open their door.
It all began towards the end of 2002 when workers from PDVSA united to ask for the resignation of president Hugo Chavez. It was one of the most critical episodes of the now long legacy of Chavez climb to power. The companies losses that year were calculated to be more than $10 million and the president, without a second thought, in a huff laid off some 18,000 employees, including those who had made the oil company the third largest in the world.
All those minds, filled with experience, now looked for other markets. And that is how they came to Columbia, first Luis Giusti (preident of PDVSA from 1994-1999), later Ronald Patin (the 2nd from the oil company since 2000) and Humberto Calderon Berti (who had been president of PDVSA, chancellor of Venezuela and president of OPEC) arrived. They created the three firms who have shaken the world of hydrocarbons in Columbia, Pacific Rubiales, Alange and Vectra.
Between the three are produced a large portion of the crude oil in the country. But the most important thing that they were the front line protagonists is the increase of the petroleum industry in Columbia which according to government sources this week, is now close to a millions barrels of oil a day.
The three oil men consulted by SEMANA agree that when they arrived in Columbia as a result of changes in the oil production model created by the National Hydrocarbon Agency which created a favorable climate for investment. With them arrived a litter full of engineers, geophysicists, and all kinds of other well qualified scientists. In the immigration records one can note the first great leap in 2004, when Venezuelans created the first company, in this case Pacific Stratus. "According to information given, there could be as many as 1,300 Venezuelan oil workers," said Luis Giusti to this reporter.
Three years later, they bought Petro Rubiales, and in 2008 fused the two companies and there was born "Pacific Rubiales". To give you the idea of dynamism which the neighboring Venezuelans imprinted upon the petroleum business one needs to listen to what Pantin says, president of Pacific Rubiales: "When we came here in 2007, the company produced 24,000 barrels and by the end of the year we were producing 275,000 barrels. Columbia then produced 560,000 barrels per day and today produces close to a 900,000."
And Humberto Calderon, president of Vetra, added: "Columbia was delayed many years due to a lack of human capital, which has now arrived. To make a good petroleum engineer takes 15-20 years, and those that arrived in Venezuela were persons with 30 or more years of experience."
Without a doubt, thanks to these oil workers, the word of mouth spread to Caracas that Columbia was a great port.
The 2nd Wave: To Save their Money!
Regardless, the most pronounced effect of the exodus has been made in the past few months. While in 2004 Venezuelans visas were given to about 2 people a week, by the middle of 2010 it was 163 and now in 2011 it has reached 230.
If in the first wave that arrived in Bogata were petroleum experts fired under harsh weather by Hugo Chavez, in the second wave were all the bourgeoisie that had been denounced by him and who now fled terrified. Chavez: "Stateless bourgeoisie, since economic war was declared on me. Then I declare the war económic" , it said in June of the past year. "We are going to see who can produce more: if you, bourgeois of junk, bourgeois without mother country, or us, I expect."
Excited with that battle cry, Chávez first eliminated the parallel dollar or 'exchange permitted', which much more made the access difficult of people to obtain the currencies they needed to make businesses or to move their savings out of danger, considering that was living with an inflation of the 30 percent. And later, in December, it confiscated from industralists six residential sets that were in construction and eight more then pending.
For that reason it doesn't seem strange that there was created a particular interest on behalf of the Venezuelans to make businesses in Colombia. They come openning restaurants, to install businesses, to buy property, root. What matters to them is to save whatever money that they have left.
And for that reason also, those that landed in Bogota were members of the refined Venezuelan bourgeoisie. Last names like Oteiza, Pocaterra, Priange, Machado, Mussi, Cohen, Mishaan and others that have been presidents, ministers, of the bank, of the stock-market, of the arts or are of the intellectually outstanding of that country. Although, if one notices of them, "in Colombia arrived not only the powerful ones, but also the children of "potentially powerful".
Proof of this is that in the walled city of Cartagena, for example, Venezuelans have bought five old mansions, as well as one of the best boutique hotels.
Camilo Herrera, manager of the consulting firm Raddar, said to Money Magazine that in the history of its company there had not had so many inquieries as those that have been received since October of 2010. "We have received requirements from at least 15 companies or Venezuelan investors interested in market studies and business consultions".
A similiar frenzy has been felt in the real estate sector. An alliance of the main manufacturers of Colombia, that is appropriately called Own House Colombia G-5, and the Web page mudateacolombia.com has made only this year four fairs in Venezuela. And also it was already created a binational writing desk of lawyers, Arciniegas, Briceño and Plana, that tries to help Venezuelan investors to settle down in Colombia.
The situation has reached such point that the main food company of Venezuela, Polar, in spite of having its headquarters in the neighboring country, now exports from Colombia. In addition, within the last months have arrived or announced that are going to relocate to Colombia are the Dipromuro group (concessionary of vehicles), Ovejita (a traditional mark of clothes), Proseín (multinational of remodeling) and Valmy (cosmetic), among others. All to establish production plants or retail outlets. In this way, the things are not easy for all. Some, like those of the Cotti coffee, have not resisted and have been closed.
We are without a doubt in the middle of a new phenomenon in Colombia. The exodus of people from other nationalities has not been common in our country. The great migrations were those of afro-Spaniards during la Conquista. And those of Arabs - Syria, Lebanese and Palestinian at the end of nineteenth century. The rest have been of smaller scope, which at most have gotten to become expatriot colonies that can have an impact in localities, but they do not permeate the society. That was, until the Venezuelans came.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
from Noticias 24
Bogata, 3 Jun (EFE). - The Columbian Army has brought down alias "El Abuelo" (the Grandpa), responsible for th Security of the Maximum Leader of the FARC, "Alfonso Cano", and in charge of finance, informed an official source shortly after President Juan Manuel Santos said that this Saturday he would announce a "Great Blow" against the guerrillas.
According to the source, who asked for anonymity until this information gets officially announced by President Santos, Alirio Rojas Bocanegra, alias "El Abuelo", "lead part of the forces that protected Cano," including the "finances of the FARC Central Bloque", because he was held in the confidences and was a right hand man to the rebel Maximum Leader.
This guerrilla was in charge of coordinating numerous security rings of "Alfonso Cano" and had under his control 16 FARC structures.
The Central Bloque, which managed finances, is the most important part of the guerrilla group that has been fighting for almost 50 years against the Columbian state, and is directed by Cano himself, whose real name is Guillermo Leon Saenz, and whom assumed the leadership after the death of "Manuel Marulanda Velez" alias "Tirofijo" in 2008.
By all appearance, "El Abuelo", with 23 years of service in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) and who directed the "Miller Salcedo" Company, was brought down in the Department of Tolima (central), where he was an instructor of a training center.
President Santos had previously announced that he had advanced a "Great Blow to the FARC", but the results of which would be announced this Saturday when the Minister of Defense, Rodrigo Rivera, had also called a press conference.
"We are confirming a new great blow to the FARC. Tomorrow, in and Agreement for Prosperity, we'll detail the results," communicated Santos through his Twitter profile.