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? 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.