Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In Venezuela, It's Either the PSUV Way, or NO Way!

from Reuters
CARACAS (Reuters) - Opposition politician Ricardo Hernandez was elected mayor of Tariba, a small Venezuelan city near the border with Colombia, by a landslide.

But he didn't have long to bask in his victory.

In the days after December 8 municipal elections in which the opposition won 75 mayoralties, Hernandez discovered that the company that collects trash had stopped working - apparently on orders of his predecessor, a member of the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV).

And, the new mayor says, the state government of Tachira, which is controlled by the PSUV, ordered the police in Tariba to hand over its firearms and vehicles to a state force.

Hernandez' case is far from unique.

Across the OPEC nation, new office holders in the 49 mayoralties that passed to the opposition from the PSUV complain about what they say are efforts by President Nicolas Maduro's central government to strip their powers.

The moves have included taking away responsibilities - including the management of parks, theaters and other cultural centers - and removing assets from local authorities.

In some cases, they have prompted critics to accuse ruling party officials of trying to undermine and bypass opposition mayors and governors by setting up "parallel governments."

Hernandez, who won with 62 percent of the votes in Tariba, sees it as punishment for having defeated a PSUV candidate.

"It affects the population and the communities which are using those services," the 37-year-old lawyer said this week during a rare meeting between Maduro and opposition politicians, appealing for an end to interference in his work.

But Jose Vielma, the governor of Tachira state and a PSUV stalwart, denied there was any ill intent.

He said the temporary return of some equipment used by Tariba's police, which had been provided by its owners, the state police force, was arranged with Hernandez's predecessor.

"The weapons, bulletproof vests, patrol vehicles and motorcycles were returned by the (previous) mayor ... so that we can do maintenance and check them," Vielma told local media.

The central government denies it is setting up "parallel" administrations, and says it only steps in when local governments are not addressing urgent needs.

Maduro, 51, narrowly won the election in April to succeed his mentor, Hugo Chavez, who died from cancer the month before. At the municipal polls this month, the PSUV won 242 - or 76 percent - of the country's 337 mayoralties.

Overall, the PSUV and its allies took 10 percentage points more votes than opposition parties, showing the strength of "Chavismo" in rural areas where more mayoral races were up for grabs.

Still, the opposition won 75 mayoralties, which was a big increase on the 51 they held before and included wins in the largest cities, including the capital Caracas and second city Maracaibo.

After the polls, Maduro called opposition mayors and governors to meet him. But many remained skeptical, noting that Chavez had often seemed to offer an olive branch to rivals, then quickly reverting to his usual combative style.

"With this behavior, the government is showing it feels wounded by losing lots of mayoralties," the opposition coalition said in a statement, referring to Maduro's apparent outreach.

ONE CITY, TWO MAYORS?

Five years ago, during Chavez's rule, his candidate lost the mayoralty of metropolitan Caracas to a veteran opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma.

Just months later, Chavez created the new job of head of the government of the Capital District - essentially circumventing the mayor and assuming many of his duties - and he appointed a close ally, Jacqueline Farias, to the position.

Farias took over the office Ledezma had been using, and many of his responsibilities. Schools, firefighters, civil protection and other key functions were all then handled by her.

Just days after Ledezma was re-elected as mayor this month - beating PSUV candidate and former information minister Ernesto Villegas - Maduro's government named Villegas in a different role: Minister for the Transformation of Caracas.

"Give the mayor back his responsibilities and his funding," Ledezma appealed during the meeting with Maduro this week. "This is nothing to do with kindness, it's a question of justice."

The government denies anyone has been usurped. Maduro says Chavez set up state-run organizations in the past that benefited people and were never intended to be "parallel governments" that interfered with the work of elected officials.

Jorge Rodriguez, PSUV mayor of Libertador, one of the five municipalities that comprise the metropolitan district of Caracas, said Ledezma should examine his own performance before criticizing the president.

"If Ledezma focused his time in office on exercising his responsibilities, instead of traveling abroad and bad-mouthing the government, the results in Caracas would not depend solely on the central government," Rodriguez said.

Opposition members say one clear case of what they call a "parallel government" is in Miranda state, which includes large parts of Caracas and where the opposition coalition's two-time presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, is governor.

Shortly after Capriles was re-elected to that office last year, the central government awarded the PSUV candidate he defeated, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, a grandiose new title, "The Protector of Miranda."

Jaua was also put in charge of CorpoMiranda, a new state-run organization that runs development projects in the state.

Jaua says the founding of CorpoMiranda was needed, alleging that Capriles is "absent" and neglects his duties as governor by prioritizing his work as national opposition leader.

There is a similar situation in the remote southern state of Amazonas, bordering Brazil, where opposition politician Liborio Guarulla has been governor for 12 years.

First, Guarulla says, his responsibility for operating the local airport was taken away. Next, the state police was removed from his control, and then a radio station and an hotel.

The central government also created a new development body, CorpoAmazonas, and named his defeated election rival to run it.

"It's a miserable battle," Guarulla told Reuters in Amazonas. "They can't stop us (the opposition) from building, so now they are expropriating us, they're robbing us."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

...then PROVE it, Mr. President!

from Reuters
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday he had proof that a massive power outage was caused by saboteurs aiming to throw the country into chaos before municipal elections this weekend.

The blackout on Monday night was the second major power outage the year, plunging much of the country into darkness and prompting accusations of government incompetence from the opposition.

Speaking on state TV alongside Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon and other officials, Maduro briefly showed a photo of what appeared to be a cut conductor cable lying on the floor.

"What motive could there be for leaving a whole country without electricity?" he said, adding that Chacon had brought him the evidence and more details would be unveiled on Wednesday.

"We always face these attacks by the right-wing fascists ... they wanted to make me, as president of the republic, decree a state of emergency and suspend the elections."

Critics of the government say lack of maintenance was likely to blame for the outage.

Maduro said power had been restored in record time and praised the workers involved.

"Whoever made this criminal attack wanted to leave our Venezuela without electricity for 24 to 48 hours ... thinking that would convince people not to continue with the revolution."

Maduro's combative rhetoric echoed his allegations in September, when he also accused the opposition of sabotaging the national grid to discredit him after a blackout that was one of the worst in the OPEC nation's history.

Venezuela has experienced periodic power cuts since 2009, although the capital, Caracas, had been spared the worst of the outages, but it was hit by Monday night's blackout, which cut electricity across about half the country.

Nationwide municipal elections on Sunday are seen as a test of Maduro's political strength after he narrowly won the presidency in April to replace his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Since coming to power, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting to assassinate him, and more recently of trying to undermine his government and wreck the economy through price-gouging and the hoarding of consumer goods.

Critics say the electricity problems symbolize the failure of 15 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, a country of 29 million people with the biggest oil reserves in the world.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

REMEMBER, It's Never the Government's Fault...

from Reuters
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's second massive power outage of the year plunged much of the nation into darkness on Monday night, prompting renewed talk of sabotage from President Nicolas Maduro's government and cries of incompetence from its foes.

Power went off in Caracas and other cities around the country soon after 8 p.m. local time (0030 GMT), to the intense annoyance of residents and commuters.

"I feel so frustrated, angry and impotent," said sales adviser Aneudys Acosta, 29, trudging through the rain along a street in the capital after having to leave the disrupted underground transport system.

"I live far away and here I am stuck under the rain. Something's going wrong that they're not sorting out. The government needs a Plan B. This is just not normal."

Monday's outage appeared similar to a massive September 5 blackout that was one of the worst in the South American OPEC member's history.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who narrowly won a presidential election this year after the death of his mentor and former leader Hugo Chavez, accused the opposition then of deliberately sabotaging the power grid to discredit him.

His powerful ally and National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, repeated the same accusation after Monday's blackout that affected more than half of Venezuela.

"I have no doubt that today's electricity sabotage is part of the right-wing's plan," Cabello said on Twitter.

PROTESTS

In some wealthier parts of Caracas, where opposition to the socialist government is strongest, people began banging pots and pans out of their windows in a traditional form of protest.

Some shouted, "Maduro, resign!"

Venezuela has been suffering periodic electricity cuts around the country since 2009, although the capital has been spared the worst outages.

Critics say the power problems symbolize the failure of the government and its 15 years of socialist policies in resource-rich Venezuela. The country has the world's largest crude oil reserves and big rivers that feed hydroelectric facilities generating two-thirds of its power.

The blackouts, some due to planned power rationing and at other times to utility failures, have not affected the oil refineries, which are powered by separate generator plants.

State oil company PDVSA said its installations were all working normally on Monday night, with fuel supplies guaranteed.

Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon said the same major transmission line that went down in September - and carries about 60 percent of national supply - had again been affected.

Power began returning to most parts of Caracas within an hour or two, though remoter parts of the nation of 29 million people were still in the dark late into the evening.

"We ask Venezuelans for patience," Chacon said.

PRESIDENT CUT OFF LIVE ON TV

Maduro was giving a live address on state TV when he was abruptly cut off. He later Tweeted that he was continuing to work in the presidential palace despite the "strange" blackout, and appeared live on state TV surrounded by school children.

"Be strong against this electrical war that yesterday's fascists have declared against our people," Maduro said in another address to the nation at about 11 p.m. local time.

Security services were on alert, while the oil industry had been "put on emergency", the president said.

Since winning office in April, Maduro has accused political opponents of conniving with wealthy businessmen and their allies in the United States to undermine his government.

As well as accusing them of sabotaging the power grid, he has alleged plots to assassinate him and to destroy the economy through price-gouging and the hoarding of products.

Venezuelans are suffering from a 54 percent annual inflation rate, as well as scarcities of basic products from flour to toilet paper. Nationwide local municipal elections on Sunday are seen as a major test of Maduro's standing.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said government officials' bellicose statements were "pathetic" at a time of national disquiet. "For once in your lives, be responsible," he Tweeted.

Capriles and others say the reasons for the power failures are obvious and simple: lack of investment, incompetence and corruption within the state-run power company Corpoelec since Chavez's 2007 nationalization of the sector.

Venezuela has a maximum generation capacity of about 28,000 megawatts and normal demand of about 18,000.

The government constantly chides Venezuelans, however, for wasteful habits in a nation where the average household consumes an average of 5,878 kilowatt hours per year, about double the average in Latin America.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Government Avenger

Because everyone needs to take vengeance against their neighbors!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Right Wins Election, Left Cries "Fraud"

from the Washington Post
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras careened toward a new political crisis Monday, a day after voters in the country turned out in record numbers to elect a new president and Congress.

At a midday news conference, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, the leftist president toppled in a 2009 coup and the husband of presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, told a hotel ballroom full of feverish supporters that their Free Party had rejected the electoral process and would “take to the streets if necessary” to force a ballot-­by-ballot recount.

“To the streets!” his red-clad, boisterous followers screamed. “To the streets!”

Zelaya’s wife, who trails the top vote-getter by five percentage points with two-thirds of the ballots counted, was nowhere to be seen.

Her conservative rival, Juan Orlando Hernández, declared himself the country’s new president and promised followers that he would begin working to bring “peace and tranquility.” Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate, a weak economy and pervasive corruption, all of which have fueled waves of illegal migration to the United States.

As of late Monday, Hernández maintained a lead over a field of eight candidates with 34 percent of the vote and said he had received calls from Latin American presidents offering congratulations, including one from Sandinista leftist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

“This win isn’t up for negotiation,” Hernández said.

The vote-tallying proceeded at a sluggish pace, with the percentage of ballots counted increasing from 54 percent to only 67 percent over the course of the day. Honduran election officials remained behind closed doors until late in the evening, when the election supervisor, David Matamoros, appeared briefly on national television and said the tallying would continue Tuesday. Some ballots had yet to arrive from rural areas, and others were en route from the United States.

But even Matamoros seemed to endorse a Hernández win, despite saying the previous day that no winner would be declared until all ballots had been counted.

“These results reflect an irreversible tendency,” said Matamoros, a former member of Hernández’s conservative National Party. “They are not going to vary."

Porfirio Lobo, the outgoing president and a close Hernández ally, also hailed him as the country’s “president-elect” and urged other candidates to accept defeat.

The balloting in this crime-plagued country appeared to proceed largely without incident Sunday, and international observers — including from the United States and the Organization of American States — said they did not detect irregularities.

U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske told Honduran television reporters that the process had been transparent and that legal mechanisms were in place for candidates to peacefully challenge the results.

“The will of the voters must be respected,” she said. “What we want is a process that works.”

But calls to refrain from declarations of victory fell on deaf ears, with the leftist Castro the first to declare herself a winner, only to reject the results outright as the official count put Hernández ahead. Most polls had her slightly ahead or tied with Hernández.

Honduras remains sharply split along class lines, particularly after the 2009 coup that removed Zelaya from office and banished him from the country for two years. Castro rose to prominence leading street protests in defense of her husband.

Now she and her husband must decide whether they’ll return to the streets once more, risking an escalation. Castro’s campaign rhetoric was moderate, but Zelaya was less restrained Monday, denouncing their opponents as a “fascist oligarchy” and working his supporters into a frenzy.

The U.S. State Department called for a peaceful resolution to any dispute. “Honduran and international observers, including those from the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, reported that the process was generally transparent, with strong voter turnout and broad participation by political parties,” department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “The United States calls on Hondurans to await the completion of the counting of official results and to resolve election disputes peacefully through established legal processes.”
Leftist Candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya Claiming VICTORY

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Which Way Will Honduras Go?

from Yahoo news
Tegucigalpa (AFP) - Hondurans went to the polls amid tight security Sunday to pick a new president for their Central American nation, the world's deadliest and among the region's poorest.

The election pits Xiomara Castro, leftist wife of ousted former leader Manuel Zelaya, against conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Some 5,400 polling stations opened at 1300 GMT with a ceremony at a school in the capital Tegucigalpa, where electoral tribunal chief David Matamoros expressed hope the vote would "heal the wounds" of the 2009 coup d'etat that toppled Zelaya.

He also urged the 5.4 million voters to carry out their electoral duty with "faith, dignity and civility."

The candidates are vying to succeed President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected after the coup in a controversial election boycotted by Zelaya's leftist allies.

The heavily guarded polling stations, to which some 800 foreign election monitors have been dispatched, close at 2200 GMT. Initial projections are expected at about 0100 GMT.

Castro, with the Libre Party, could become the first female president of Honduras, the poorest country in the Americas after Haiti. An estimated 71 percent of the population lives in poverty.

In a tweet, the 54-year-old heralded the end of the current political regime. She told AFP she was seeking "peace and tranquility" in Honduras.

Her main rival, National Congress President Hernandez, is a supporter of the 2009 coup and a law-and-order conservative who has vowed to bring order by flooding the streets with soldiers.

The message from the ruling National Party candidate has resonance in this country of 8.5 million that records 20 murders a day -- the highest in the world, according to UN figures.

"I am happy, joyful that the Honduran people are voting peacefully... united to take our country forward," said Hernandez, 45.

He spoke surrounded by supporters, after voting in Gracias, some 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the capital.

Government institutions are so weak and the police so corrupt that Honduras is on the brink of becoming a failed state.

Gangs run whole neighborhoods, extorting businesses as large as factories and as small as tortilla stands, while drug cartels use Honduras as a transfer point for shipping illegal drugs, especially cocaine, from South America to the United States.

"We want more work and less crime," said Sandy Rivera, 31, who sells used clothes in the San Miguel neighborhood.

That sentiment was echoed by Pedro Garay, a 72-year-old retired economist, as he left a polling station.

"The main problem is violence caused by unemployment," he said.

Hernandez has promised to end violence by deploying 5,000 military police officers. Castro, in turn, has proposed a community police force to fight local crime, and deploying soldiers to the borders to halt drug trafficking.

Castro, who proposes "Honduran-style democratic socialism," wants to rewrite the constitution and "re-found" the country -- a move similar to the one that led to the coup that ousted her husband in 2009.

Hernandez claims that he can create more than 100,000 jobs by supporting Hong Kong-style "model cities" in Honduras.

Many Hondurans are ambivalent about his proposal to use soldiers to fight crime, because abuses attributed to the military during the coup period are still fresh in voter's minds.

A pre-election Cid-Gallup survey showed Hernandez with 28 percent support against 27 percent for Castro -- a statistical tie -- in a pack of eight candidates. There is no runoff, so whoever wins does so with a plurality of the vote.

Since 1902, the Liberal Party and the National Party, both politically conservative, have traded the presidency with military dictators. Zelaya was elected in 2005.

"The Honduran two-party system is now the oldest in Latin America," said sociologist Matias Funes. "There has never been such a real chance (of breaking it) until now."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fourbum Imperator!

from The Telegraph
Venezuelan MPs have granted President Nicolas Maduro yearlong decree powers that he says are essential to regulate the economy and stamp out corruption but adversaries view as a thinly veiled power grab.

Hundreds of supporters of the ruling Socialist Party cheered outside the National Assembly as the so-called Enabling Law was passed, while a recording of Mr Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, singing Venezuela's anthem rang out inside the hall.

Though winning the decree powers hands Mr Maduro a political victory in the runup to Dec. 8 municipal elections, he still faces a severely distorted economy with embarrassing product shortages and inflation surging to nearly 55 percent.

"With this Enabling Law we are following an order by President Chavez," said Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and a staunch supporter of Mr Maduro.

"He told us to pass all the laws necessary to wring the necks of the speculators and the money launderers."

The result of Tuesday's vote on decree powers had been widely expected after Maduro garnered votes he needed during a preliminary debate last week.

Mr Maduro, 50, who is staking his rule on preserving the late Chavez's socialist legacy, says he has already planned the first two laws he would decree - maybe as soon as Wednesday.

One is intended to limit businesses' profit margins to 15 per cent to 30 per cent as part of a state "economic offensive" against price-gouging. Another would create a new state body to oversee dollar sales by Venezuela's currency control regime.

Mr Maduro's original justification for the decree powers was to widen a crackdown on corruption, drawing skepticism from critics who say he zealously targets opposition officials while turning a blind eye to the worst of state-linked graft.

"Why don't you punish people who have not complied with the (existing) laws? You want the Enabling Law to concentrate power," one opposition leader, Julio Borges, accused "Chavista" lawmakers during a charged debate ahead of the vote.

"The reality is that the origin of this economic crisis is named Nicolas Maduro."

High-profile targets of the president's "war on corruption" have included an opposition advisor accused of running a transvestite prostitution ring and an opposition legislator stripped of parliamentary immunity for allegedly mismanaging a state-owned stadium.

But the crusade also toppled a high-profile Socialist Party mayor, executives from a China-financed state investment fund and the former head of a state-run iron mining firm.

Opponents say Mr Maduro should be chasing military generals and other senior officials they blame for turning Venezuela into a major supply route for Colombian drugs. The government denies that, saying narcotics seizures are on the rise.

Critics also note Venezuela has for years refused to publish details of how it spends money held in state-run funds created in the Chavez era even though required to by the country's main anti-corruption law, calling into question why he would need special anti-graft powers.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Government by Looting

from Investor's Business dailY
Venezuelan troops storm a local electronics retailer in the name of enforcing "fair prices," brazenly blaming the private sector for state policies. Sounds familiar — and not just because it's a communist takeover.

With municipal elections just around the corner on Dec. 8, it's no surprise to see Venezuela's failing socialist government turning to pork-barrel handouts to lure voters — as it always has.

Shovel the goodies to the red-shirted low-information voters and gain just enough votes in upcoming elections to claim a dictatorship is really a democracy.

Not coincidentally, President Nicolas Maduro declared that Venezuela would celebrate the beginning of Christmas in October — to distribute goodies.

But there's a new twist here: Venezuela is out of money to shovel pork. Its foreign reserves have fallen to $21.4 billion as oil prices slump. Instead of using its vast oil earnings to buy votes, as in the past, Venezuela's Marxist government is now making do by stealing from Venezuela's battered private sector.

Which is what brought the bizarre spectacle of the Venezuelan military occupation of Daka — the country's five-store equivalent of Best Buy, loaded with the flat-screen TVs, computers and smartphones favored by looters everywhere.

As troops stood by, crowds looted one Daka store, stripping its shelves bare. Call it government by looting.

Or in reality, call it communism. Because such destruction of private property in the name of redistribution has been a feature of every communist takeover from Russia to China, to Vietnam, to Cuba.

Defending his government-of-looters, Maduro officially blamed the store for charging "unfair prices," a preposterous statement since Daka's prices weren't inconsistent with the official inflation rate of 56% in an economy that must pay for 90% of its goods imports, including consumer electronics, with dollars.

There is even some speculation, by bloggers such as Miguel Octavio of the Devil's Excrement, that the viciousness of the government action could be due to the company engaging in high-profit arbitrage on the country's two-tier exchange rates.

There's also no doubt the government was sending a message to other retailers not to raise prices by making an example of one of them. Message received.

But the bottom line is, horrendous government policies forced retailers to do what they have. It wasn't Daka that created price controls or a corrupt two-tier exchange system that made the resulting inflation.

The black market currency rate is now 10 times higher than the official rate, meaning they're on the verge of hyperinflation due to a government that can't stop spending. This explains why imported basic commodities, such as chicken, milk and toilet paper, are now scarce, just as in the old Soviet Union, or in today's Cuba.

Were Venezuela a true democracy, such a destructive economic record would bring down the ruling party.

But this is Venezuela. It has benefited not just from having the U.S. as its top oil customer and consumer goods supplier, but also from a lot of White House love — from President Obama's and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's embrace of late strongman Hugo Chavez at a 2009 summit, to ex-President Jimmy Carter's dishonest endorsement of Venezuela's fraudulent 2004 recall, which the Bush White House meekly accepted.

And now the results: Venezuelan troops occupy electronics retailers while yelling about "fairness."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Socialism = Paying Peter by Taking from Paul

from USA Today
CARACAS — Thousands of Venezuelans lined up outside the country's equivalent of Best Buy, a chain of electronics stores known as Daka, hoping for a bargain after the socialist government forced the company to charge customers "fair" prices.

President Nicolás Maduro ordered a military "occupation" of the company's five stores as he continues the government's crackdown on an "economic war" it says is being waged against the country, with the help of Washington.

Members of Venezuela's National Guard, some of whom carried assault rifles, kept order at the stores as bargain hunters rushed to get inside.

"I want a Sony plasma television for the house," said Amanda Lisboa, 34, a business administrator, who had waited seven hours already outside one Caracas store. "It's going to be so cheap!"

Televisions were the most in-demand item in the line outside one Caracas store, though people waited more than eight hours for fridges, washing machines, sewing machines and other imported appliances.

Water and snacks were being sold outside the store by savvy Venezuelans keen to profit from the commotion. Happy customers weaved giant television screens and other items back to their cars through the crowds.

Images circulating online as well as reports by local media appeared to show one Daka store in the country's central city of Valencia being looted.

"I have no love for this government," said Gabriela Campo, 33, a businesswoman, hoping to take home a cut-price television and fridge. "They're doing this for nothing but political reasons, in time for December's elections."

Maduro faces municipal elections on Dec. 8. His popularity has dropped significantly in recent months, with shortages of basic items such as chicken, milk and toilet paper as well as soaring inflation, at 54.3% over the past 12 months.

Economists are expecting a devaluation soon after the election, likely leading to even higher inflation.

The opposition, which has long struggled to gain ground against the country's socialist government, is hoping that the elections will be seen as a referendum against Maduro.

The president, who took over from Hugo Chávez in April 2013, appeared on state television Friday calling for the "occupation" of the chain, which employs some 500 staff.

"This is for the good of the nation," Maduro said. "Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses … Let nothing remain in stock!"

The president was accompanied on television by images of officials checking prices of 32-inch plasma televisions.

Daka's store managers, according to Maduro, have been arrested and are being held by the country's security services. Neither Daka nor the government responded to requests for comment.

Maduro has long blamed the opposition for waging an economic war on the country though critics are adamant that government price controls, enacted by Chávez a decade ago, are the real cause for the dire state of the economy.

With such a shortage of hard currency for importers and regular citizens, dollars sell on the black market for nine times their official, government-set value. Prices, at shops such as Daka, are set according to this black market, hence the government's crackdown.

Chávez often theatrically expropriated or seized assets from more than 1,000 companies during his 14-year tenure. This, among other difficulties for foreign firms, led to a severe lack of foreign investment in the country which, according to OPEC, has the world's largest oil reserves.

"This is more like government-sanctioned looting," said 42-year-old Caracas-based engineer Carlos Rivero. "What stops them going into pharmacies, supermarkets and shopping malls?"

Not all were for the bargain hunting. One taxi driver screamed at the waiting crowds as he went past a Caracas branch of Daka, accusing them of "abusing" the system.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Anybody Seen My Cuban Doctor?

from the AP
MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) -- Evelina Gonzalez was supposed to undergo cancer surgery in July following chemotherapy but wound up shuttling from hospital to hospital in search of an available operating table. On the crest of her left breast, a mocha-colored tumor doubled in size and now bulges through her white spandex tank top.

Gonzalez is on a list of 31 breast cancer patients waiting to have tumors removed at one of Venezuela's biggest medical facilities, Maracay's Central Hospital. But like legions of the sick across the country, she's been neglected by a health care system doctors say is collapsing after years of deterioration.

Doctors at the hospital sent home 300 cancer patients last month when supply shortages and overtaxed equipment made it impossible for them to perform non-emergency surgeries.

Driving the crisis in health care are the same forces that have left Venezuelans scrambling to find toilet paper, milk and automobile parts. Economists blame government mismanagement and currency controls set by the late President Hugo Chavez for inflation pushing 50 percent annually. The government controls the dollars needed to buy medical supplies and has simply not made enough available.

"I feel like I've been abandoned," Gonzalez, 37, tells a bright-eyed hospital psychologist trying to boost her morale. Her right eye is swollen by glaucoma diagnosed two years ago but left untreated when she had trouble getting an appointment.

Doctors not allied with the government say many patients began dying from easily treatable illnesses when Venezuela's downward economic slide accelerated after Chavez's death from cancer in March. Doctors say it's impossible to know how many have died, and the government doesn't keep such numbers, just as it hasn't published health statistics since 2010.

Almost everything needed to mend and heal is in critically short supply: needles, syringes and paraffin used in biopsies to diagnose cancer; drugs to treat it; operating room equipment; X-ray film and imaging paper; blood and the reagents needed so it can be used for transfusions.

Last month, the government suspended organ donations and transplants. At least 70 percent of radiotherapy machines, precisely what Gonzalez will need once her tumor is removed, are now inoperable in a country with 19,000 cancer patients - meaning fewer than 5,000 can be treated, said Dr. Douglas Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation.

"Two months ago we asked the government to declare an emergency," said Natera, whose doctors group is the country's largest. "We got no response."

The Associated Press sought comment from Health Minister Isabel Iturria but her press office did not respond to repeated interview requests.

Last week, a deputy health minister, Nimeny Gutierrez, denied on state TV that the system is in crisis, saying supplies are arriving regularly from Cuba, Uruguay, Colombia and Portugal, and additional purchases "will let us be moderately relaxed until the end of the year."

The interviewer read a viewer's question about Central Hospital patients being forced to buy their own supplies. "It's a hospital that received permanent stocks from us," Gutierrez said, promising to investigate.

The country's 1999 constitution guarantees free universal health care to Venezuelans, who sit on the world's largest proven oil reserves. President Nicolas Maduro's government insists it's complying. Yet of the country's 100 fully functioning public hospitals, nine in 10 have just 7 percent of the supplies they need, Natera said.

The other nearly 200 public hospitals that existed when Chavez took office were largely replaced by a system of walk-in clinics run by Cuban doctors that have won praise for delivering preventative care to the neediest but do not treat serious illnesses.

The woes are not restricted to the public system.

Venezuela's 400 private hospitals and clinics are overburdened and strapped for supplies, 95 percent of which must be imported, said Dr. Carlos Rosales, president of the association that represents them.

The private system has just 8,000 of the country's more than 50,000 hospital beds but treats 53 percent of the country's patients, including the 10 million public employees with health insurance. Rosales said insurers, many state-owned, are four to six months behind in payments and it is nearly impossible to meet payrolls and pay suppliers.

Worse, government price caps set in July for common procedures are impossible to meet, Rosales said. For example, dialysis treatment was set at 200 bolivars ($30 at the official exchange rate and less than $4 on the black market) for a procedure that costs 5,000 bolivars to administer.

"The health care crisis is an economic crisis. It is not a medical crisis," said Dr. Jose Luis Lopez, who oversees labs at the Municipal Blood Bank of Caracas.

Dr. Jose Manuel Olivares, a 28-year-old medical resident in Caracas, recounted having to tell a father who brought his son in with a broken ankle that the man would have to spend more than half his monthly wages on bandages, plaster and antibiotics.

At Maracay's 433-bed Central Hospital, mattresses are missing, broken windows go unrepaired and the cafeteria has been closed for a year. Paint peels off walls and rusty pipes lie exposed. In the halls, patients on intravenous drips lie recovering on gurneys.

"We have some antibiotics but they aren't usually appropriate for what you are specifically treating," said Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, the surgeon caring for Gonzalez. There is no anesthesia for elective surgery.

Medical students quietly showed AP journalists around to avoid alerting government supporters, who bar reporters from recording images in public hospitals. Broken anesthesia machines and battered stainless-steel instrument tables, some held together with tape, filled one of five idled operating rooms. Foul odors and water from leaky pipes continue to seep into the rooms, doctors said.

In August, cancer patients protested at the eight-month mark since the hospital's two radiotherapy machines broke down. The machines remain out of order.

Half the public health system's doctors quit under Chavez, and half of those moved abroad, Natera said.

Now, support staff is leaving, too, victim of a wage crunch as wages across the economy fail to keep up with inflation.

At the Caracas blood bank, Lopez said 62 nurses have quit so far this year along with half the lab staff. It now can take donations only on weekday mornings.

The last pre-Chavez health minister, Dr. Jose Felix Oletta, said that while the public health care system had its problems, the Cuban-run program of 1,200 clinics is a politically motivated waste of billions.

It doesn't vaccinate or do PAP smears for uterine cancer, while the Chavista system reversed important gains against tropical diseases including malaria, Oletta said. Dengue fever, he said, is making a worrisome comeback. The number of women dying in childbirth has also risen, to 69 per 100,000 in 2010 from 51 in 1998.

Under Chavez, Venezuela began buying most medical equipment through Cuba, China and Argentina. That has led to considerable waste, because it is cheaper to buy direct from the manufacturer, critics say.

The Health Ministry's oncology chief, Dr. Morella Rebolledo, said it is negotiating with Argentina maintenance contracts for the idled radiotherapy machines that had lapsed.

Back home in San Mateo, a 90-minute bus ride away in a neighborhood where even the dogs look hungry, Evelina Gonzalez sits outside the tin-roofed, plywood-walled two-room shack she shares with her family of five. Because her last chemotherapy was in June, she needs more sessions before surgery, but the drugs are not available and the cancer has reached lymph nodes beneath her armpit.

Gonzalez says she adored Chavez for his anti-poverty programs, always voted for him and constantly applied for government benefits, though she never received any.

She has a good chance of survival if she gets the right care, Gutierrez said.

But that's not happening.

"I've got nowhere else to turn," Gonzalez says.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Undercurrents Felt in Caracas

CARACAS, Oct 16 (BERNAMA-NNN-MERCOPRESS) -- A group of 45 Venezuelan retired top officers among which a dozen generals and admirals and a former defence minister have published an open statement in which they accuse the government of President Nicolas Maduro of having broken the country's "constitutional thread" and thus support a military action which, they say "would not be a coup d'etat'.

The officers accuse the government of Maduro and former president Hugo Chavez of having handed the country over to Cuba and claim that the current leader who took office last April is exercising the Executive office in an 'illegitimate way'.

"We consider it is convenient to expose to national and international public opinion that a military action directed to recover the constitutional thread, a return to the democratic system of government and defending sovereignty is not a coup d'etat and is in conformity to what is established in our constitution, in articles 333 and 350, and in exercise of the functions established in the article 328 of the same constitutional text", says the text followed by the signatures of the retired military brass.

They insist that according to article 350 "the people of Venezuela, faithful to its republican tradition, to its struggle for independence, peace and freedom, will ignore any regime, legislation or authority which contradicts the democratic values, principles and guarantees or attempts to lessen human rights.

The declaration states that the release is in the framework of "a great national debate" on the legitimacy of a possible intervention of the National Armed Forces to solve the political and social crisis facing the country. They insist that 'chavism' is exercising power in an "arbitrary and authoritarian" way and violating the basic principles of any democratic government.

The current government under the influence of Cuba pretends to impose on Venezuelans "conditions of blind obedience and submission so that they can aspire to a minimum sustenance to survive".

In the last fifteen years, they add in the document which was first released in Facebook as 'Operation Freedom Venezuela', "we have been witnesses of the most absolute and unimaginable impunity, abuses, lies and larceny"

"Currently in Venezuela and for months, we are being conducted to a cliff by an individual who exercises power in an illegitimate way, both in origin and performance, above whom hang justified suspicions that he has double nationality (Colombia) and that he is not Venezuelan by birth".

This is in reference to the insistent claims from the opposition that Maduro was born in Colombia.

However this same week the Venezuelan Electoral Court showed Maduro's Venezuelan birth certificate.

According to the retired officers the current president "has allowed the invasion from the Castro-communist region to continue"; "has handed over the wealth of the country to foreign powers in exchange for him remaining in office"; " has plunged Venezuela in the worst social, economic and political crisis of its republican history"; "has allowed the country to become in a bridge and deposit are for the narcotics trade and one of the most corrupt countries on earth".

Finally they claim that the government is trying to finish with the National Armed Forces through massive promotions and the naming of hundreds of generals and admirals "as a way to compensate unconditional support and servility", without having any command posts and even unprepared for such responsibilities, plus the presence of Cuban officers in the barracks.

The document carries the signature of former Defence minister and General Vicente Luis Narvaez Churion; former Defence Secretary and Rear Admiral Efraim Diaz Tarazon; former Commander of the Army and General Carlos Julio Penaloza as well as former Navy chief, Rear Admiral Jesus Rafael Bertorelli Moreno.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Puppet Master Reveals the Pretense, Which is His Faux Democracy

from the Financial Times
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president, is seeking special power to rule by decree in order to wage “economic war”, as he battles a litany of problems with a loosening grip on power.

Currency market distortions have fuelled worsening shortages of food and basic goods from milk to toilet paper alongside high and rising inflation, posing a threat to the late Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution. Price controls as well as endless fiddling with strict but ineffective exchange restrictions have generated a scarcity of foreign currency on which the import-dependent economy relies.

Mr Maduro, who served as Mr Chávez’s foreign minister and vice-president, has asked for “special powers” for 12 months from the country’s national assembly, to “fight against corruption and the economic war declared by the bourgeoisie against the people”. The president claims members of the “fascist” opposition, with support from the US, are “sabotaging” the economy in order to bring down the government.

In a recent tit-for-tat exchange, Washington expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in retaliation for Mr Maduro’s expulsion of three US diplomats days earlier.

“Venezuela’s economy is at a critical juncture. The productive apparatus is being acutely hit by a series of distortions such as speculation, hoarding, contraband, and the impact of the illegal currency exchange market,” Mr Maduro told legislators on Tuesday afternoon as he submitted the proposal, adopting a more conciliatory tone than in recent speeches.

To be granted decree powers, the former bus driver and trade unionist needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly. Mr Maduro’s ruling United Socialist party of Venezuela, or PSUV, holds 98 seats, meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.

In the past four decades a number of Venezuelan leaders have asked for fast-track-enabling powers. Mr Chávez, the president’s charismatic mentor, governed several times using decree powers. However, Mr Maduro appears to be struggling with policy paralysis caused by battles within his own party.

On Tuesday, the government announced that Nelson Merentes, its pragmatic finance minister, will be replaced as vice-president responsible for the economy by the more ideologically stalwart oil minister, Rafael Ramírez.

“There is a lot of discontent within the government at all levels, among people who think he does not have the power and vision to make the Chávez project work,” said David Smilde, a Caracas-based Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Some observers believe Mr Maduro’s bid to bypass the legislature is an effort to solidify his weak grip on power. “Having an enabling law would increase his power within the government,” Mr Smilde added.

Oil-rich Venezuela is gearing up for municipal elections in December that many see as a referendum on Mr Maduro’s mandate and his ability to manage the economy.

At the weekend, thousands of workers, members of the armed forces and militias marched in support of the president, chanting slogans promising to assist the government in fighting corruption.

But opposition leader Henrique Capriles blasted Mr Maduro in a Sunday newspaper column, accusing him of creating “smokescreens” and labelling the government’s “economic war” an “invention”.

“You cannot hide the fact you have bankrupted one of the richest nations in the region, and during an oil bonanza,” wrote Mr Capriles, who narrowly lost the presidential vote in April and still challenges the result. “Every sector of the country is witness to your incompetence.”

Opposition legislator Antonio Barreto Sira said: “The only war that exists in the country is the one that consumers have to wage to get a pack of maize flour or toilet paper.”

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sound Familiar?

...it was George Bush's fault!
from the Financial Times
What to do if your country’s economy is on the ropes, inflation is soaring, shortages are rampant, political support is fragile and violence is flaring? For critics of Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, the answer is that you wrap yourself in the national flag and blame somebody else, anybody else, even Spider-Man. Since becoming president five months ago, Mr Maduro has routinely cited vague international conspiracies by capitalist plotters, or even cartoon superheroes, for Venezuela’s mounting problems that range from a lack of toilet paper and national electricity blackouts to one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Most recently, he has set up a hotline 0-800-SABOTAGE, for Venezuelans to file reports on illegal economic activity, part of new measures aimed at countering economic “sabotage”; said he would sue Airbus with “the help of an international law firm” after his presidential aircraft suffered a fault; and identified what he calls US “factories of anti-values” such as Hollywood. “Take a 14-year-old youngster who has a 9mm pistol in his hand and is carrying in his head thousands of hours of violent programming,” mused the 50-year-old president this month, after watching Spider-Man 3 with his wife. “Stimulated by such consumerism and violence, no wonder he goes out and kills.”

Late on Monday Mr Maduro expelled three US diplomats and accused them of backing plots to sabotage the Venezuelan economy. The US embassy said it had not yet received notification and called the accusations unfounded. Mr Maduro made the announcement during a live TV appearance and said they had 48 hours to leave the country. “Get out of Venezuela! Yankee go home!” the president shouted. Deflecting blame for domestic problems on external forces is a time-honoured tradition in Venezuela’s so-called 21st century socialist revolution that routinely thumbs its nose at the US.

But that is especially so now that Mr Maduro has made little headway in correcting the economic distortions bequeathed by Hugo Chávez, his charismatic predecessor, a failure that has also left many wondering how much longer the situation can go on. “The breaking point in Venezuela is very moveable because the country always has oil revenues,” says Luis Vicente León, a pollster and economist at Datanálisis in Caracas. “Whatever a government misspent yesterday, huge cash flows come again tomorrow.” Still, although the Opec nation receives about $100bn in oil revenues every year, mismanagement and policy incoherence mean its economic problems, such as an annual inflation rate of above 45 per cent, continue to mount – especially when it comes to the exchange rate.

Fixed at 6.3 bolívars to the dollar at the official rate, and trading on the black market at seven times that, the distortion has cut the supply of dollars to Venezuelan importers, thereby exacerbating shortages of basic goods but providing quick winnings for anyone who can access dollars at the overvalued official rate. One widespread scam called el raspao, or the swipe, allows Venezuelans with a valid flight ticket to swipe their credit card and get up to $3,000 at the official rate, thanks to special currency provisions for travellers. The result has been international flights booked-out for months, even if many travellers never turn up for the journey. “The macroeconomic distortions that currently plague Venezuela result from foreign exchange mispricing,” wrote Francisco Rodríguez, economist at Bank of America, in a recent note, called “Fear of floating”. But “delays in the announcement of a . . . new forex system appear to reflect internal disagreements within the administration”.

Indeed, the currency market goes to the heart of Mr Maduro’s economic problems. Devaluing would correct the mispricing but also boost inflation and cut Venezuelans’ purchasing power, thereby hurting Mr Maduro’s already tenuous popularity ahead of December’s municipal elections, widely seen as a plebiscite on his rule. “Maduro is not only conscious, but also absolutely informed of the economic difficulties he has to face,” says Nicmer Evans, a political scientist at a left-leaning think-tank in Caracas, the Miranda International Centre. He adds that “Maduro is still sorting out the dilemma between a technocratic and political solution to the crisis”.

A further complication stems from ideological divisions within his cabinet. Ideological stalwarts, such as Jorge Giordani, the state planning minister, applaud Mr Maduro’s efforts to maintain popular social programmes and bear down on private businesses, so deepening the revolution. But they also dislike the even timid reforms proposed by pragmatists, such as Nelson Merentes, the finance minister. “Maduro has to pay attention to the radicals,” says Mr León. “If they suggest that Maduro is betraying Chávez’s legacy in the midst of a crisis, people will think the crisis was sparked by him, even it is due to problems inherited from not taking actions in the past.”

Amid such policy paralysis, it is no wonder then that Mr Maduro has sought to deflect the blame on to others. How much longer this tactic can work is another matter, especially given repeated verbal gaffes such as when he exhorted Venezuelan workers to produce more, “and multiply, just like Christ multiplied the penises” (penes in Spanish, instead of peces, or fish.) “There are powerful people within the official party and the National Assembly that cannot stand Maduro and his proposals, that’s clear,” says Ramón Muchacho, an opposition politician. “His own ‘friends’ are playing him behind his back. The only thing left is to blame the opposition, and Spider-Man, for everything.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Don't Cry for Me Ms. Cristina

from the Financial Times
In the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, it is hard to walk more than 20 paces without being accosted by hawkers buying and selling dollars. Interested customers will be led into an inconspicuous office in a nearby building.

“They’re called ‘caves’, because they’re supposed to be secret. Of course everyone knows they’re there,” said a hawker who called himself Raul. “Illegal? Of course they are! But don’t worry, the police are paid off, nothing will happen to you.”

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The thriving currency black market on postcard Florida Street in the commercial centre of Argentina’s capital is a result of strict foreign exchange controls introduced in 2011 to stem capital flight. In the “caves”, dollars can be sold for close to double the official rate of 5.7 pesos.

Argentina’s artificially overvalued currency is one of an array of economic problems facing Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president. Others include stubbornly high inflation, state subsidies that are sapping resources, and an abysmal business climate that has seen investment all but dry up.

“We have an economy that has become dysfunctional,” said Miguel Kiguel, an economist and former government official, who identifies the overvalued currency as one of the roots of the problem, undermining the economy’s competitiveness.

During Ms Fernández’s second term as president, surpluses in the current and capital accounts have shrivelled into twin deficits. This is especially bad for a country that has outlaw status on the international capital markets and cannot seek financing abroad.

That problem will only deepen if Argentina slips into a technical default, which some observers believe is all but inevitable after a US appeals court last month ruled in favour of the holdouts demanding that Ms Fernández’s government pay the $1.3bn it owes them in full, in the latest chapter in a long-running saga that began when Argentina defaulted on almost $100bn in debt in 2001.

The likelihood that Argentina will default for a second time in little more than a decade only increased when Ms Fernández subsequently proposed a new debt exchange, which congress approved last week, since if the plans are implemented in full observers say they would put Argentina in contempt of court.

The government is doing its utmost to stave off the moment of reckoning, when the US Supreme Court issues a definitive ruling on the case – something it may not do until next year – but some question how much another default will really change what is already a bad situation.

“It will just be one more stripe on the tiger,” added Mr Kiguel, who observes that Argentina is already paying default-level interest rates on its debt.

Serious economic problems are among the main reasons why the ruling Peronist movement fared so poorly in primary elections last month, making it almost impossible for the president to secure the two-thirds majority she would need in midterm legislative elections on October 27 to amend the constitution and enable her to run for a third consecutive term in office in 2015 presidential elections.

With less than two years of Ms Fernández’s presidency remaining, the battle for succession is well under way, sending local politics into flux.

Carlos Germano, a political analyst, said: “We are about to see a fierce dispute for the change of leadership of the Peronist party, as well as a realignment of forces in the opposition.

“The great unknown is how the president will react to all of this.”

Ms Fernández is losing the support of the trade unions and low-wage workers – bedrocks of the Peronist movement. Some fear that her waning power could have grave repercussions.

“Why has Argentina had these macroeconomic problems for such a long time without a crisis? Because we have had a strong government,” according to Luis Secco, an economist. “When political power weakens and there are macroeconomic problems, the possibility of a crisis increases greatly,” he said, pointing to the premature collapse of the Alfonsín and de la Rúa governments in 1989 and 2001 respectively.

Sergio Berensztein, a pollster, said: “The president’s power has weakened extraordinarily, thanks to a series of terrible decisions. She has done everything wrong.”

He added that Ms Fernández’s victory in 2011 presidential elections, with an unprecedented 54 per cent of the vote, led her to believe that she had carte blanche. “She went for everything, but she ended up with nothing.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Santaria en Venezuela

Santeria idols sit at a shrine near Mariposa reservoir outside of Caracas.

from Bloomberg
The carcass of a dead dog floats on the lake that supplies tap water to 750,000 Venezuelans. Witch doctor Francisco Sanchez has just dumped the previous night’s sacrifice from a cliff, contaminating the resource that has become more scarce than gasoline in Caracas.

The water from Lake Mariposa, polluted by sacrifices and garbage from a local cult, is pumped to a 60-year-old treatment plant that lacks the technology to make it safe for drinking, said Fernando Morales, an environmental chemistry professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas who has visited the site.

Eight kilometers (five miles) away from the lake, in Caracas, sales of bottled water are booming, with families paying the equivalent of $4.80 for a five-gallon jug, twice the price of gasoline.

“The treatment process has not adapted to the steady degradation of the water source,” Morales said in an interview at the university campus Aug. 22. “I wouldn’t use this water at home.”

The socialist revolution implemented by late President Hugo Chavez redirected funds from state-owned companies to reduce poverty and widen access to education, health-care and housing. It built 422,340 homes in the past two years, while neglecting the basic services in a country that has the world’s largest oil deposits and eight times more fresh water per capita than France. Blackouts and water cuts have become weekly events in Caracas, and when water does flow, few dare to drink.
Blackout

The water crisis is the latest hardship affecting Venezuelans. When a main pipe burst last month, 60 percent of the capital was without water for two days. Yesterday, more than half of Venezuela was in the dark for several hours when a transmission line accounting for 60 percent of the country’s supply failed.

Shortages of imported goods ranging from sugar to beef are stoking the world’s second highest inflation after Iran. Real wages fell 9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to the central bank. The public-sector deficit will finish the year at 11 percent of gross domestic product, according to Bank of America Corp.

The deficit wasn’t used to finance investment in the water industry. The budget of the Caracas water monopoly Hidrocapital fell 49 percent to 25 million bolivars ($9.7 million) in 2010, the last year the Environment Ministry published a detailed report on spending plans.

The yield on benchmark sovereign bonds due 2027 rose 0.11 percentage point to 12.36 percent on Sept. 3. On average, Venezuelan sovereign debt yields 12.48 percent, almost double the average in emerging markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Bigger Budget

A year before Chavez came to power, in 1998, state-owned Hidrocapital had an annual budget of $250 million, according to the company’s former vice president Norberto Bausson.

Environment Ministry spokesman Alejandro Franco and Information Ministry spokesman, who asked not to be named citing internal policy, declined to comment on the supply of tap water in Caracas. A spokesman for President Nicolas Maduro, who can’t be named because of internal policy, also declined to comment.

Greater Caracas’ population grew by 800,000 residents to about 5.5 million since the last reservoir or processing plant was built near the city in 1997, said Bausson, who now directs water policy at the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Table.

“Not a drop of water has been added to Caracas’ supply system in 15 years,” he said from his office last month. “The network is falling apart.”
Water Jugs

Caracas residents pay 30 bolivars ($4.80) for five gallons of filtered water delivered in jugs by trucks once a week. The same volume of gasoline costs 14 bolivars, making it the cheapest fuel in the world, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In the meantime, witch doctor Sanchez, is left free to practice his water-polluting rituals.

“No one is bothering me here at all,” Sanchez, 42, said as he prepared a chicken for sacrifice later in the day. “I moved here two years ago because I wanted to get deeper into witchcraft. People come to worship every evening from the city.”

The reservoir was last cleaned four years ago, unearthing dozens of animal carcasses, said Inmer Parra, a councilor at the Los Salias municipality, home to the lake.

Ten years ago, Mariposa was a sunbathing and sailing destination. Today it is a haven for followers of Santeria, a mix of Christian and West African beliefs, which includes worship of Guaicaipuro, a 16th century local American Indian chief.
1,000 Valves

Caracas has to pump its water an average of 800 meters (2,620 feet) upwards from the six reservoirs supplying the city. An outmoded system of 86 pumping stations is operated by manually turning about 1,000 valves, said Bausson. A breakdown in any part causes supply cuts affecting at least one Caracas borough every day.

“I have to get up at 4 a.m. to load the washing machine with clothes,” said Bilenis Gonzalez, a 24 year-old babysitter from Catia neighborhood in western Caracas. “Water stopped coming to my house during the day-time over a year ago.”

President of Hidrocapital, Ernesto Paiva, and Water Vice Minister Manuel Regino declined to be interviewed. Regino is Venezuela’s fourth Water Vice Minister in 11 months.

“We can guarantee that the water which reaches your home is 100 percent potable,” Hidrocapital says on its website.
Living Viruses

The utility’s water treatment is inadequate for the level of contamination, said chemistry professor Morales. The chlorine they use kills the organic bacteria, while leaving the viruses in the water source unharmed, he said. Getting rid of potential viruses would require molecular sieves and modern biological monitoring systems, which don’t exist in Venezuela, Morales said.

Hidrocapital stopped publishing results of sanitary tests last year, according to Bausson, even as the law says the information must be available publicly.

The company’s information center doesn’t have water quality records, said press officer Mayyuly Castellanos. The water quality department’s manager Linda Manzanero didn’t respond to a phone message and e-mail seeking comment.

The majority of Caracas’ water comes from River Tuy, born in the hills of Aragua state about 50 kilometers west of the capital. Until the 1980s, the valleys through which Tuy runs were an agricultural zone. Today, it’s an extension of the Caracas urban sprawl, collecting the waste of 690,000 residents, according to the 2011 Census.
New Dam

Instead of trying to clean Tuy, the government is building a dam on River Cuira, which flows through a sparsely populated national park and remains clean, to increase water supply to Caracas, according to Morales. The work, which began in May 2011, has yet to finish, a year after it was scheduled to end.

Diverting water from Cuira won’t guarantee the water quality, as much of the contamination occurs after the processing plant, while water sits in old tanks and then travels through rotting secondary pipelines to people’s homes, Bausson said.

The water is provided by private plants from wells and mountain streams in Los Teques area near Mariposa. Household consumption of bottled water in Caracas grew 39 percent since 2010 to reach an average 125 liters a year in June, said Rosibel Chacin, account manager at market research company Kantar Worldpanel.
Price Controls

Price controls and dollar shortages are making the water business increasingly difficult, said Kiara Santucci, owner of Zenda, the only Los Teques water company to sell five-gallon jugs that are certified by the government.

Two weeks before the presidential elections on April 14, the government forced Zenda to lower the price of the jug by 26 percent to 20 bolivars, as it tried to slow inflation that has since quickened to 42.6 percent. A can of Coca Cola costs 15 bolivars in Caracas.

To stay afloat amid price controls companies are “cutting corners” on filtering, Santucci said by telephone from Los Teques Aug. 23. The government doesn’t test bottled water for quality, Santucci said.

“I don’t trust the water, including the bottled variety,” said Nancy Santa Fe from the Julian Blanco shantytown in eastern Caracas, who was spending her 14th day without running water on Aug. 23. “Even people in the slums are investing in in-house filters to be on the safe side.”

Incompetence? ...or SABOTAGE!

from the BBC
A power cut has left 70% of Venezuela without electricity, including parts of the capital Caracas.

The blackout disabled traffic lights in the city, causing traffic chaos. It also partially disrupted the underground transport system.

Thousands of workers were sent home. Power was slowly being restored in different areas after the cuts.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed the opposition for "sabotage" to power transmission lines.

"Everything seems to indicate that the extreme right has resumed its plan for an electrical strike against the country," he said in a tweet.

In a live address on state television, the president also said the cuts were "part of a low-level war" against the country, a "folly by twisted and desperate minds".

'Poor upkeep'

President Maduro did not give any evidence of the "sabotage" but said he had instructed the military "to protect the entire country".

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the government was trying to divert public attention from the country's problems by concocting the conspiracy theory.

Deputy Electrical Energy Minister Franco Silva said a fault had occurred in one of the national grid's main transmission lines at 12:30 local time (17:00GMT).

The cut affected large parts of the country for about three hours, after which time power was gradually restored.

The oil industry was not affected as Venezuela's oil refineries are powered by separate generator plants.

Government officials have in the past said that high energy consumption at peak times and poor maintenance of transmission lines have led to a high incidence of cuts.

In 2010 the late President Hugo Chavez signed a decree declaring an "electricity emergency" to help his government tackle power shortages.

The opposition says the government of Mr Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, may have spent billions of dollars on programmes to garner votes from the poor but has failed to invest in the upkeep and expansion of the electrical grid to meet growing demand.

Although Venezuela has big oil reserves, it is dependent on hydro-electricity for some 70% of its power.

Power cuts are common in Venezuela, especially in the country's interior states, but rarely affect the capital, Caracas.
Just more evidence that all Leftists are paranoiacs.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Maduro Appeals to Homophobia in Slandering Enrique Capriles

from Yahoo Finance
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venomous political attacks have become the norm in Venezuela, and now a governing party legislator has unleashed a tirade in the country's legislature using gay slurs in trying to discredit the opposition.

The lawmaker displayed photos in the National Assembly on Tuesday showing a top aide to opposition leader Henrique Capriles dressed, along with other men, in women's clothing, apparently at a party. He suggested, without elaboration, that the photos proved the aide's involvement with drug traffickers and male and female prostitution.

Legislator Pedro Carreno, a member of the movement built by the late President Hugo Chavez, didn't say where he got the photos, although the aide's apartment was searched last week by military agents.

The aide, Oscar Lopez, is in hiding. The government said it was investigating him on unspecified corruption charges, which the opposition calls part of a new wave of political repression.

Carreno, a former military officer, is angry with Capriles for accusing him of being forced out of the armed forces for corruption and has challenged him to provide proof or resign as Miranda governor.

"Respond, you homosexual," Carreno said during Tuesday's legislative session. "Accept the challenge, you faggot."

Carreno then claimed there is a police report saying Capriles was caught having oral sex in public in 2000.

President Nicolas Maduro hurled more invective Wednesday, alluding during a public event to lascivious material that he insinuated was seized from Lopez.

"Just 1 percent what was discovered was shown" in the National Assembly, Maduro said. "The videos and photos of orgies are not publishable."

Maduro also accused Capriles of using his office as governor of the central state of Miranda to "prostitute youths." Lopez is Capriles' chief of staff there.

A leader of the opposition's pro-tolerance movement, Tamara Adrian of Pro Inclusion, called the behavior despicable.

"Venezuela is the only country in Latin America where the National Assembly has never discussed such issues as same-sex marriage. And if anyone asks why, the answer was clear yesterday," she said Wednesday in talking about Carreno's outburst.

Capriles said Wednesday he was "honored" to be attacked by a government that he says is going to be brought down by its own corruption and what he says was the theft of the April 14 presidential election.

"If I was a homosexual I would acknowledge it with pride to the four winds," Capriles said.

Analyst Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Datanalisis polling firm, called the increasingly personalized attacks by government officials a sign of Maduro's weakening position in the face of worsening inflation, rampant violent crime and foreign currency, food and medicine shortages.

Maduro won the presidency by a 1.5-point margin after squandering a double-digit lead after becoming the hand-picked successor of Chavez, who died of cancer March 5 after 14 years in power.

Carreno backpedaled some Wednesday, offering an apology in a TV interview if he offended anyone with his remarks about homosexuals.

"The problem isn't the sexual inclination (of his adversaries), but that they have a hidden life," he said.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vuelva te al Sur

I am returning to the South,
the way love always returns,
I am returning to you,
with my own wish, with my own fear.

I carry the South,
like a destiny of the heart,
I am the South,
like the airs of the bandoneon (instrument).

I dream the South,
immense moon, heaven on earth,
I am searching for the South,
the open time, and everything after.

I love the South,
its good people, its dignity,
I feel the South,
like your body during intimate moments.

I love South,
South, I love you.

I am returning to the South,
the way love always returns,
I am returning to you,
with my own wish, with my own fear.

I love the South,
its good people, its dignity,
I feel the South,
like your body during intimate moments.
I am returning to the South,
I carry the South,
I love the South,
I love the South...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Revolt without Revolution

In this context, the manifesto of the Spanish indignados, issued after their demonstrations in May, is revealing. The first thing that meets the eye is the pointedly apolitical tone: 'Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic and social outlook that we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.'

They make their protest on behalf of the 'inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life'. Rejecting violence, they call for an ‘ethical revolution ... The indignados dismiss the entire political class, right and left, as corrupt and controlled by a lust for power ... And this is the fatal weakness of recent protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a positive programme of sociopolitical change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Shoplifters of the World, Unite!"

Friday, June 21, 2013

Brazil EXPLODES

from the Mail Online
More than a million Brazilians took to the streets of at least 80 Brazilian towns and cities in demonstrations that saw violent clashes and renewed calls for an end to government corruption and demands for better public services.

Riot police battled protesters in at least five cities, with some of the most intense clashes in Rio de Janeiro, where an estimated 300,000 demonstrators swarmed into the city's central area.

Television images showed police firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into crowds of young men, their faces wrapped in T-shirts. Other demonstrators were shown detained lying on pavements.

An 18-year-old man was killed in Sao Paolo state after a car drove through barricades.

The country's president Dilma Rousseff called off a visit to Japan to deal with the crisis.

Official estimates suggest that there were more than a million protesters out across the country in total.

In Brasilia, police struggled to keep hundreds of protesters from invading the Foreign Ministry as protesters lit a small fire outside.

Other government buildings were attacked around the capital's central esplanade, and police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets in attempts to scatter the crowds.

Clashes were also reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, in Porto Alegre in the south, in the university town Campinas, north of Sao Paulo, and in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

The protests took place a week after a violent police crackdown on a much smaller protests in Sao Paulo galvanised Brazilians to take to the streets.

The unrest is hitting the nation as it hosts the Confederations Cup football tournament with tens of thousands of foreign visitors in attendance.

It also comes a month before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the nation, and ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, raising concerns about how Brazilian officials will provide security.

In Salvador, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse a small crowd of protesters trying to break through a police barrier blocking one of the city's streets.

One woman was injured in her foot. Elsewhere in Salvador 5,000 protesters gathered in Campo Grand Square.

Despite the energy on the street, many protesters said they were unsure how the movement would win real political concessions.

People in the protests have held up signs asking for everything from education reforms to free bus fares while denouncing the billions of public pounds spent on stadiums in advance of the World Cup and the Olympics.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Anti-Capitalism Realities Hit Venezuela

from the AP:
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - In a sign Venezuela's food shortages could be worsening, restrictions on the sale of 20 basic items subject to price controls, including toilet paper and chicken, are set to begin next week in its most populous state, officials said Tuesday.

A spokesman for President Nicolas Maduro's government said it is incorrect to call the plan rationing because it is meant to fight smuggling of price-controlled food across the border into Colombia. He said there are no plans to extend the program nationally.

Details of how the system in Zulia state will work are still being worked out, said Blagdimir Labrador, the state governor's chief of staff.

But Zulia will issue computer chip cards beginning next week that will limit consumer purchases of products including rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar and powdered milk, he said. The quantities each family will be allowed to buy, on a daily or weekly basis, have not yet been determined, he said.

The system will register purchases remotely on computer servers "so the same person can't go to a different store on the same day and purchase the same product," Labrador said.

The foray appears to be Venezuela's first into food rationing. Communist-run Cuba has issued monthly ration cards for basic foodstuffs for decades, although the number of items has dwindled in recent years.

Labrador said the system will initially apply to 65 supermarkets in two cities, Maracaibo and San Francisco, in the state of 3.7 million people bordering Colombia.

The president of the state's supermarket association, Andres De Candido, said he did not believe the system, run by the state-owned CANTV telecommunications company, would be ready in all supermarkets by next week but said his group is ready to support it if it truly gets food-smuggling to Colombia under control.

Authorities said that is the sole intent.

"This is only in Zulia state and it is not rationing," said Information Ministry spokesman Raimundo Urrechaga. "It is focused only on Zulia, to control contraband."

That's fine with Angelica Silva, a 52-year-old housewife who couldn't find butter or toilet paper in a downtown Caracas market Tuesday.

"This isn't a poor country like Cuba, where we all depend on the government" she said. But Silva was still worried: "What scares me is that there will be more scarcity, and nobody will tolerate that."

To fight gasoline-smuggling to Colombia, Zulia and another border state, Tachira, have in the past two years imposed a computer-chip system that limits purchases. It does not appear to have stemmed the cross-border smuggling of heavily subsidized Venezuelan gasoline, however.

Many economists are skeptical that limiting food purchases, or rationing, can end worsening shortages of basic foodstuffs and medicine that Venezuelans generally blame on government mismanagement in this nation that gets 97 percent of its export earnings from oil.

For one, price controls for more than 100 items imposed more than a decade ago under the late President Hugo Chavez are regularly ignored in all but state-run markets. Merchants say adhering to them would be suicidal for their businesses given inflation that reached a 29.4 percent annual rate in April.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's bolivar currency fetches nearly five times the official rate on the black market.

Venezuela competes with Argentina in the Americas among major nations for the dubious distinction of most troubled economy. In both nations, currency controls and a deepening U.S. dollar shortage are widely blamed for economic turmoil.

Venezuela's government has since October been steadily reducing the amount of dollars available to businesses without explanation. That has starved companies for raw materials and imports, forcing production cutbacks and triggering shortages.

In February, their predicament worsened as a system disappeared that allowed businesses and investors to obtain dollars by purchasing government debt.

An economist at Andres Bello University, Ronald Balza, said he doesn't see how rationing certain foodstuffs can address the true cause of shortages.

"The reason for shortages (in Zulia) is the same as it is in the rest of the country: fixed prices, supply problems and the preventative purchases that consumers make every time new (higher) prices are coming."

The Venezuelan Central Bank's shortage index in April was 21.3 percent - the portion of a basket of more than 100 items sought on store shelves but unavailable. That's the highest it's been since the bank began publishing it in 2009.

At the same time, some economists say Venezuela is heading into a recession. The Central Bank said the economy grew just 0.7 percent in the first quarter.

Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said last week that he would travel to the United States and Europe to seek investment to try to shore up a deficit of dollars. He did not disclose the size of the deficit.

The bulk of Venezuela's $26 billion in international reserves as of May 10 were in gold and other monetary instruments with less than $3 billion in cash available, according to analyst estimates. Opposition economists accuse Chavez of looting the treasury in order to spread largesse and win re-election last October.

After Chavez's death from cancer in March, Maduro won a special presidential election by a margin of just 1.5 percent.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ayuda, Por Favor

Background Info
SOS Venezuela
SOS Venezuela Part 2

Venezuela Somos Todos

... y no solamente los rojos rojitas!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

You're Not the Boss of Me, Nicky!

from the AFP
Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said Washington was making a "grave mistake" in not acknowledging his victory in the controversial April 14 presidential election.

Maduro, 50, heir to the late leftist president Hugo Chavez, defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, 40, by a razor-thin margin in the snap election to complete Chavez's six-year term in office.

Capriles however has refused to concede defeat, claiming that the vote was riddled with irregularities.

In a May 3 interview with US Spanish-language network Univision, President Barack Obama refused to say whether Washington recognized Maduro as the winner of the April vote.

"I believe (the United States) is committing a grave mistake, one more in its policy towards Latin America," Maduro said in an interview with the Caracas-based Telesur network.

"It is making a tremendous mistake because Venezuela plays a leadership role in Latin America and the world," he said, highlighting the visit to Caracas on Sunday of Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao, and his own upcoming visit to Russia.

Maduro believes that Obama was "convinced" by his advisors to refuse to recognize the election results. "They promised him that I would be ousted in 24 or 48 hours, or that there would be a violent crisis in the country," he claimed.

When asked about Venezuela, Obama told Univision that the entire region "has been watching the violence, the protests, the crackdowns on the opposition" following the controversial election.

The day after the interview Maduro blasted Obama in a speech as the "grand chief of devils," and claimed that the US president had given "his blessing for the fascist right wing to attack Venezuela's democracy."

Washington and Caracas have had testy relations since Chavez -- Venezuela's president for 14 years until his death in March -- was in power, and have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

Venezuela sits atop the world's largest proven oil reserves, and Chavez had harnessed its wealth to support popular social programs and grant aid to fellow leftist leaders across the region.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union organizer, was a member of Chavez's inner circle who served as his vice president and foreign minister.