Sunday, December 28, 2014
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Let us take the moment of President Obama’s betrayal of Free Cuba to step back a bit — back to say, May 19, 1895. That’s when the tribune of Cuba Libre, Jose Marti, was killed in combat against the Spanish Royalists at the Battle of Dos Rios. His body was barely in the ground when he was mocked by the New York Times as the “so-called President of the Cuban Republic.” It called him a “commonplace poet and writer, a prolix orator of diffuse style...”
The separatists, the Times sneered, “lacking a chief having any prestige at all,” gave Jose Marti their money. It said he must be “severely judged.” Why? “To put into turbulence a country which asked for nothing but peace and work, to expose it to a ferocious race, thinking always of revenge against the whites, to light the fires of civil war, pillage under the pretext of ‘Cuba libre,’ and put obstacles in the way of reforms which had been demanded for years, are not acts that claim indulgence.”
Those were but some of the libels against Jose Marti issued at his death by the newspaper that is now extolling — that has spent years plumping for — the normalization of relations that Mr. Obama promises with the Cuban communist regime. For Marti to sustain his revolution against the Spanish, the Times said, “he had recourse to all sorts of means: lies, false news, calumny.” Yet that is what the Times has used against the anti-communist forces in its long fight to vindicate Castro.
If we seem sensitive on the point, it is because the newspaper whose flag the Sun flies was on the other side of that fight. It was unambiguously on the side of Cuba Libre. When Jose Marti was in exile in America, he maintained his office inside the newsroom of the New York Sun. The Sun hung the flag of Free Cuba from its windows over lower Broadway. IT was from those offices that Marti left for his return to the Cuba on whose soil he finally fell.
We’ve told this story before in these columns but it’s rarely seemed more relevant than today, when the long campaign of solidarity with the anti-communist Cubans and with the Americans whose property was stolen by the communists in Cuba has been betrayed in a political calculation by a lame duck administration. Even such a principled skeptic of the embargo as the Wall Street Journal — which is covered with glory in the anti-communist cause — is appalled at the nature of the deal just announced.
This is a moment to remember that Congress is part of this struggle. It passed as recently as 1992 a law called the Cuban Democracy Act. It was sponsored by a Democrat, Les Aspin, then in the House, and signed by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush. It allows the president to relax certain restrictions only if he “determines and reports to Congress” that the government of Cuba has, among other things, met a string of conditions.
That is, the president has to be prepared to assert in good faith that Cuba has, as the law puts it, “held free and fair elections conducted under internationally recognized observers,” “permitted opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign for such elections,” and allowed “full access to the media to all candidates in the elections.” Which one of those conditions can the Democrats today say that Cuba has met?
The good news is that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio are vowing to take up the cause of free Cuba in the Congress. Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen is quoted in the Bloomberg as warning that the president may be in violation of the Cuban Democracy Act and several other laws. In tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rubio writes that in the months ahead he will work with members of both parties to do “prevent President Obama’s dangerous policies from becoming reality.”
“Our people cannot realize their full promise if the world becomes more dangerous because America retreats from its role in the world,” Mr. Rubio writes. He adds that “the Cuban people have the same rights that God bestowed on every other man, woman and child that has ever lived. All of those who are oppressed around the world look to America to stand up for their rights and to raise its voice when tyrants like the Castros are trying to crush their spirits.” We don’t have the slightest doubt that the spirit Jose Marti is right there with him.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
The website of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional was packed one recent day with stories about the shortages plaguing the economically stricken country. One covered a lack of medicine for diabetes patients. A second reported on multiplying lines at gasoline stations in Caracas and other cities. A third recounted the government’s failure to supply international airlines with the $3.6 billion in hard currency they are owed, which has caused a reduction in flights to Venezuela.
Unmentioned on this day was the case of El Nacional itself: Because of the government’s refusal to allow the paper to import newsprint, one of the last independent sources of news in the country may soon exist only in cyberspace. “To get newsprint in Venezuela, you need an authorization,” the paper’s publisher, Miguel Henrique Otero, told us during a recent visit to Washington. “For one and a half years we have not gotten the paper. We can’t inform the public because we don’t have the paper.”
The discrimination against the 71-year-old newspaper is part of a broader campaign by the government of Nicolas Maduro to eliminate the last independent media in the country. Since 2013 two other big newspapers and a television network have been sold by longtime owners to investors linked to the regime or to shell companies whose principals are unknown. The result has been the shutdown of critical coverage of the Maduro government even as it presides over an economic collapse and mounting political repression, including the arrest or prosecution of top opposition leaders.
Otero told us his newspaper was also offered a buyout but refused it. The denial of paper soon followed. El Nacional has been forced to reduce its print run, which was once 220,000 papers on Sunday, by more than half, and to cut its daily edition to 16 pages, compared with 60 to 70 pages several years ago. Other independent newspapers around the country have also been affected; a dozen have been forced to stop printing. But El Nacional’s case is particularly important because it is the last large national paper to fairly cover the political opposition and report aggressively on problems like the mounting shortages.
That it is still appearing at all is due to an extraordinary campaign of solidarity by other Latin American newspapers, which have been shipping their own newsprint to Venezuela to supply El Nacional. Among those participating are publishers in Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Puerto Rico.
The backing is particularly impressive considering that governments in the region have abandoned any effort to intervene against the Maduro regime’s repression, despite a 2001 treaty that commits them to act when democracy is threatened.
The Obama administration, too, has mostly steered clear of the Venezuelan crisis.
Last week Congress passed legislation mandating sanctions against senior Venezuelan officials involved in human rights violations; after resisting the measure for most of this year, the White House now says it supports it. Pulling the visas and freezing U.S. assets of the Maduro regime’s enforcers is a worthwhile step, but it won’t save Venezuela — or El Nacional. “How long can we last? I don’t know,” Otero said. “How long can Maduro last?”
Monday, December 15, 2014
Citizens attending any hospital in Venezuela may come across signs listing medical specialties lacking staff. This prevents medical care from being provided and violates the right to health set forth in the Constitution.
Shortage of staff is attributed to the gargantuan flight of professionals in the health sector.
Intensive care, neonatology, pediatrics, anesthesiology, endocrinology, and hand surgery are just some of the specialties left without professionals in both the public and private sectors.
Figures from health associations show that as many as 14,700 physicians have left the country seeking new horizons.
Insecurity at medical facilities, lack of medical supplies, low wages, poor offer of postgraduate studies, and the privilege given by the government to health program Misión Barrio Adentro medical care in low-income areas are some of the driving forces behind the flight of professionals.
from Yahoo News
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Locked up and denounced by Venezuela's government as a terrorist, Leopoldo Lopez may be out of sight, but he is not out of mind.
Building-sized posters of the charismatic opposition leader shouting, with his fist pumped into the air, dot wealthy Caracas neighborhoods. The same image can be found stenciled on the walls in the pro-government slums, but below the word "Murderer."
President Nicolas Maduro raises the specter of his foe nearly every night, using his televised addresses to denounce the 43-year-old Harvard graduate who, despite having been jailed since February, has become Venezuela's most popular politician as well as a human-rights icon drawing international pressure on the government.
Accused of inciting violent protests in early 2014, and the threat of a 13-year prison term hanging over him, Lopez is again exhibiting the defiance he used to call opponents of the South American country's socialist government into the streets, but now in a windowless courtroom secured behind four military checkpoints. During his most recent appearance in the ongoing trial, the square-jawed Lopez delivered a rollicking, hour-long speech fit for a political rally.
"I have to tell you, when we get out, we will be even more determined," he told Judge Susana Barreiros.
The proceedings have been almost completely closed to the public. In November, The Associated Press had a rare opportunity to witness the trial as a guest of Lopez's family. Cameras were barred, as was any note-taking.
The tall, former triathlete was surprisingly gaunt and a thick beard covered his familiar clean-shaven face. But his powerful voice still filled the fluorescent-lit room, where his wife grew teary-eyed among some two dozen observers in wooden pews.
Lopez denounced the young judge as lacking courage and compared her to a hired assassin. He waved copies of the constitution drafted by the late President Hugo Chavez, and held up a book of the writings of Venezuela's beloved revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, a distant great uncle of Lopez.
His blue blood political heritage and old-money roots make him a natural champion of the Venezuelan elite. Ivy League-educated and accompanied by his equally photogenic wife, a former TV hostess and champion kite-surfer, Lopez comes off as a Venezuelan version of a Kennedy — albeit a stridently conservative one.
Of the two factions opposing Venezuela's unsteady administration, Lopez represents the more radical extreme. While others such as opposition heavyweight Henrique Capriles were advocating gradual electoral change, Lopez called hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets to demand that Maduro resign only months into his six-year term.
Violence stemming from the protests left more than 40 people dead, including both Maduro supporters and opponents.
The government's view is that Lopez pretended to rally ordinary people fed up with crime, inflation and widespread shortages but was actually conniving with students and the United States to overthrow the government.
The unrest fizzled after Lopez was jailed, and chronic infighting between his faction and more moderate leaders has prevented the opposition from taking advantage of growing discontent with the administration over Venezuela's economic free fall.
With ample time for reflection, Lopez doesn't appear to have become any more eager for compromise. Unity isn't a goal in and of itself, he told AP in an interview outside the courtroom doors.
And his political martyrdom has had an upside. Lopez's personal brand is booming. For years, the former mayor of Chacao, a wealthy Caracas suburb, was seen as arrogant and overly-ambitious, if effective. He now consistently polls among the most popular politicians in the country, with his favorability approaching 50 percent, while Maduro's has slid below 30 percent, according to surveys released in recent months by a leading national pollster, Datanalisis.
Previously unknown beyond Venezuela, human rights groups now consider Lopez Latin America's most prominent political prisoner. U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have called for his release. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the 100 most important global thinkers this year, and the Harvard Kennedy School awarded him its alumni achievement award in absentia.
When Lopez will leave his cell remains a question. The defense considers the federal trial to be a circus, with Maduro bent on keeping Lopez behind bars. Judge Barreiros has denied all but one of the defense's 63 proposed witnesses, while allowing the prosecution to call more than 100.
So why put on such a strenuous show for a judge whose hands may be tied?
"This is our only opening, limited as it is," Lopez told the AP.
Defense attorney Juan Carlos Gutierrez said they hope the trial will keep international attention on Lopez and bring pressure on the administration. "We know Lopez's liberty depends on Maduro, and not a judge," he said.
The chief prosecutor's office did not respond to requests for comment.
The court has met only a handful of times in six months, often convening as night falls. Before each hearing, soldiers with riot shields and submachine guns close the streets around the courthouse. Only family members and, sometimes, international observers and others on their guest lists are allowed through. AP is the first international news outlet to have made it into the courtroom.
As the restrictions tighten around Lopez, he is rattling his cage more fervently. He's begun staging a daily protest, banging on his prison bars at dusk. Lopez has refused to end the defiance, even though it's meant his visitors are restricted to only his two young children and the noise is heard only within the prison walls.
His wife, Lilian Tintori, said that when he surrendered to authorities in February, the family thought his detention would be brief. She told their 5-year-old daughter that Lopez was just on a business trip. Asked why they didn't flee when the charges were levied against her husband, Tintori pointed to one word tattooed on her wrist: Venezuela.
Her husband has a matching one on his ankle, she said. "Someone has to stay and fight."
On a recent visit to the prison, Tintori caught sight of her husband from a distance, making out his long figure waving from his prison bars. He was keeping his balance by clinging to the window bars, giving him the appearance of a man just hanging on. "Hello, beautiful!" he called out.
A piercing police siren made any additional words impossible. Lopez gave a final fist pump through his bars before vanishing from view.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
When Angel Fernandez, a former production engineer with Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, relocated to Canada’s oil-sands region, it wasn’t for the weather. The draw was a paycheck that he said can stretch as much as 100 times further.
“It’s been very difficult adjusting to temperatures” that typically max out at -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), Fernandez said in an interview. “But for the opportunity, it’s worth it.”
Fernandez, 33, is part of a growing exodus of skilled oilfield workers from Venezuela, where real wages for engineers have fallen to the equivalent of less than $400 a month, about 9 percent of the global average. The world’s worst inflation, swelling crime rates and a plunging currency are prompting others to move abroad, dragging down oil production at a time when slumping crude prices threaten the country’s export revenue.
While Venezuela’s foreign affairs ministry has declined to provide emigration data, job websites show surging interest. The number of Venezuelans with active resumes on Rigzone.com, a Houston-based oil and gas research company with an employment database, jumped 22 percent this year through October, and is up 68 percent over 2011. Daily page views on MeQuieroIr.com, which helps Venezuelans looking to emigrate, reached 180,000 to 200,000 in September and October, compared with an average of 60,000 for the past four years.
“This is the highest and most prolonged traffic spike we have experienced since we launched in 2001,” MeQuieroIr.com Director Esther Bermudez said in an e-mailed response to questions. Bermudez worked for seven years in Petroleos de Venezuela SA’s public affairs department in Caracas, before emigrating to Montreal in 2001.
PDVSA is pumping about 8,000 barrels per employee per day, compared to about 26,000 barrels in 2004, according to the trade group Gente del Petroleo. While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has pledged to double output, few in the industry are confident this goal can be reached.
“It’s clear they don’t have the human capacity to lift output,” said Eddie Ramirez, the group’s director and a former PDVSA employee who has long criticized the government. Production peaked in 2008 at 3.2 million barrels a day, and last year slid by 11,000 barrels to 2.9 million a day. PDVSA declined to comment on turnover rates.
Real wages for engineers in Venezuela with five to six years of experience are less than $400 a month, based on guidelines published by Venezuela’s Engineering College. That’s about 9 percent of the global average of $4,333 a month, according to Hays 2013 Oil & Gas Global Salary Guide. Three years ago, Venezuela’s engineers took home about about 80 percent of the global average.
The currency has lost 85 percent on the black market since Maduro took office in April 2013. The inflation rate, at 63 percent, is “destroying wages,” said Jose Bodas, general secretary of the Federal Union of Venezuelan Oil Workers or FUTPV, which represents about 100,000 workers at PDVSA.
“There’s no oil worker in the world that makes as little as you do in Venezuela,” he said.
In neighboring Colombia, engineers make more than four times more, about $1,650 a month. That’s drawing Venezuela’s oil workers across the border. The country issued 4,234 temporary identity cards to Venezuelans in the first half of this year. That’s 6.9 percent more than all of last year and more than double 2012 levels, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Those figures don’t identify specific occupations.
Colombia’s oil engineering council CPIP and its union USO both say the number of Venezuelans entering the industry is increasing, accounting for 70 percent of professional licenses handed out to foreigners.
Fernandez, the former PDVSA engineer, moved last year to Grande Prairie, Alberta, where the temperature in January typically ranges from -10 to -20.9 degrees Celsius. He earns more than $100,000 a year working for Encana Corp. (ECA)
When he left PDVSA, his paycheck was worth about $1,000 a month; that’s at official exchange rates, which almost nobody gets. The real rate, the unofficial, black market exchange rate available to everyday folk, would give him about $38 now.
“The major driver was economic,” he said.
Venezuela’s bolivar fell to a record low of 166 bolivars per dollar on the black market today compared to official rates that range from 6.3 to 50, according to dolartoday.com, a website that tracks the rate on the Colombian border.
For Jesus Castro, 38, crime was another reason to leave behind family and friends in Barquisimeto, western Venezuela, where he worked as a PDVSA electrical maintenance supervisor.
“I didn’t want my children to grow up like caged birds,” he said by telephone from Calgary, where he works as a project manager for utility EnMax Corp. In the past four years, he said he’s seen an influx of Venezuelans. “Friends, family, sometimes people I don’t even know personally call me asking how to fill in forms, get a visa or help to find a job.”
The wave of emigration has accelerated this year after Maduro devalued the currency in May, said Ivan Freites, a union official with FUTPV.
“We’ve seen an uptick in departures due to the additional financial pressures on workers created with devaluation,” Freites said in an interview in Caracas. An earlier exodus followed a general strike in 2002 and 2003, and about three-fourths of the estimated 20,000 people who left PDVSA then are now working in countries including Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, or in the Middle East, he said.
Datanalisis polls shows 10 percent of the population is thinking about emigrating in the near future, more than double levels of two years ago, said Luis Vicente Leon, president of the Caracas-based research company.
Departures aren’t reflected in PDVSA’s headcount, which rose 6 percent last year to 140,626, according to its 2013 annual report. That’s because people who leave are usually replaced, though often by lesser trained and less experienced people, Freites said.
“My salary, benefits and professional development opportunities are depressing when compared to other Latin America markets,” Gonzalo Guinand, an engineer at one of Venezuela’s largest engineering and construction contractors, whose biggest client is PDVSA, said by telephone from Caracas. “I don’t see a promising future here if the economic and political situations don’t change for the better.”
Monday, December 1, 2014
For Saudi Arabia, its decision last week not to cut oil production seems to have been an attempt to protect market share. But for Venezuela, that decision may mean "game over" for the economy.
Oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela's export earnings,and combined with gas, it's 25 percent of the country's gross domestic product. As the price of oil hits a four-year low at $70 per barrel, the OPEC nation's oil-dependent economy is set to implode, experts say, bringing deeper political instability and chaos to the world's 10th-largest oil exporter.
Anti-government protests flared earlier this year as Venezuelans started to feel the effects of the economy's staggering 60 percent inflation and currency controls that have generated scarcity of basic needs such as toilet paper and toothpaste.
The country's heavily government-subsidized economy is expected to contract by 1 percent in 2015, according to IMF projections.
"Scarcity is getting worse in Venezuela. Basic products are so hard to get," said Josseline Viera, a doctor in Venezuela. "It used to be that certain products were scarce, now it's basically everything."
Viera says shortages have made it impossible for hospitals to find essential medical products such as gauze and acetaminophen.
"I basically have to send patients to other hospitals," she said. "But patients have to go to a lot of clinics and hospitals before they find the medical supplies they need for their care. I feel very sorry for my country."
Experts predict the situation in Venezuela will worsen as early as the first half of 2015.
"It will be a year of extreme scarcity," Venezuelan economist Angel Garcia Banchs said. "What's coming to Venezuela is chaos that will probably lead to barbarity and people looting. "
The state of the Venezuelan economy is the result of years of economic mismanagement that the government, for years, was able to cover up by pumping oil revenues to support its populist policies. But this was when oil was at more than $100 per barrel, and despite declining oil production in Venezuela, revenues were enough to keep people happy.
But since this summer, Brent fell from above $115 per barrel to $70, thanks in part to North America's shale boom, and oil analysts predict oil prices will keep declining below $70 for Brent and even more for crude.
One analyst at Nomura recently estimated that Venezuela may need oil prices to hit $200 a barrel to balance its budget. (The precise figure is difficult to determine, because Venezuela doesn't disclose as much economic data as other countries do.)
As oil prices keep falling and Venezuela is left empty-handed, its government will have no other option but to increase taxes, impose price controls and potentially eliminate gasoline subsidies for Venezuelans, something that will create unrest in the South American country, according to Diego Moya-Ocampos, a senior political risk analyst at IHS.
"This scenario increases the threat of a new wave of strong anti-government protests in Caracas and key urban centers," Moya-Ocampos said. "Demonstrations can escalate into road blocks and confrontations between security forces and protesters."
Moya-Ocampos also said that anti-government protests could escalate as in the 1989 "Caracazo" or "Caracas disaster," in which fuel price increases unleashed bloody riots: "This could lead to direct or indirect military intervention to guarantee political stability and bring about a change in the direction of economic policy," he said.
A day after OPEC's announcement that it would not make the production cuts that Venezuela had pleaded for, President Nicolas Maduro tried to reassure Venezuelans that declining oil prices won't affect social programs.
"If we had to cut anything back on our budget, we would cut extravagances, we would cut our own salaries as high officials, but we will never cut one Bolivar of the money that goes to education, food, housing, the missions of our nation," Maduro said Friday during a televised address that was translated from the Spanish by CNBC.
Recent polls show Maduro's popularity has dropped to a record low.
"The economy will overcome politics," said the economist Garcia Banchs, who noted that typically in Venezuela, economic realism has taken a back seat to political priorities. That's about to change. "The economy will be on top, and political changes will have to happen."
Venezuela's oil revenue could face another threat aside from declining prices: approval of Keystone XL pipeline bill, which congressional Republicans have vowed to bring back for another vote after they return to Capitol Hill in January. If passed, the pipeline could mean that heavy crude from Canada would replace the crude Venezuela exports to the United States.
"If Venezuela were not willing to more heavily discount its crude compared to Mexico's crude, then there's no point of getting it (from Venezuela) if we can get it from Canada or Mexico," said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. "It will clearly affect Venezuela because of the three countries, it's the most unreliable."