Friday, September 30, 2005

Sep 30/05 - Sobre la relación de la "Involución" con los EEUU: "te quiero, pero necesito tu odio"


PMBComentario: como podrán leer en las – muy buenas - notas de prensa anexas, las relaciones entre el monstruo del norte (los EEUU) y el enajenado del sur (¿quién será?) se deterioran a diario y por diseño. Una “revolución” que más bien debería tildarse “involución” ya no haya que hacer para simultáneamente llamar la atención internacionalmente y distraer la atención domésticamente. Las constantes amenazas de revisión de la relación con los EEUU culminaran – en mi opinión - en un rompimiento unilateral y formal mas pronto que tarde pues para el ‘chavismo” es apremiante perfilar el enemigo externo que justificaría el desastre interno que ya comienza a tener visos de protesta social.

Mientras tanto, la Embajada de Venezuela en Washington –esa que Chávez amenaza con cerrar – invita a miembros del Congreso de los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica – el enemigo - a un almuerzo, el lunes 3 de octubre del presente, para explicar con lujo de detalles todo lo que la Bolivariana hizo por los EEUU a raíz Katrina y Rita. La invitación distribuida por fax por Collier & Shannon – lobbystas sin miramientos de PDVSA en los EEUU - comienza anunciando que la presentación cubrirá “la respuesta humanitaria del Gobierno de Venezuela a la destrucción causada por los Huracanes (ó las Huracanas, según la usanza Bolivariana), Katrina y Rita; las acciones específicas tomadas por Venezuela para aliviar la escasez energética y la dislocación producto de los Huracanes; y los planes de Venezuela para los siete años hasta el 2012 en materia de petróleo y gas”. Concluye la invitación prometiendo que “esta será una excelente oportunidad de conocer a PDVSA, un ente global en los mercados de petróleo y gas, y además podremos intercambiar opiniones sobre el rol de Venezuela como una de las fuentes primarias de crudo y productos importados por los EEUU, además de su rol como inversor importante en el sector energético de los EEUU a través de CITGO Petroleum Corp, que es uno de los cinco principales refinadores en los EEUU”.

Curioso esta perdida de tiempo y dinero cuando el Jefe de Estado anuncia “revisión de relaciones” y agrega – de nuevo - que "habría que cambiar la sede de la ONU, porque está rodeada por el territorio de un país que irrespeta los derechos humanos, que protege a terroristas, como Posada Carriles". Yo me pregunto, ¿para que se le vende petróleo a esta gente tan vil? ¿No seria mejor asignar los 1.5 millones de barriles diarios que vienen a los EEUU a Cuba para que los “traders” de Fidel y Adán Chávez, que ya se forran revendiendo 50,000 barriles diarios, logren mejores economías de escala? PMB

Nota: creo que la verdadera razón para el discordante almuerzo es contrarrestar e influenciar el estudio exhaustivo que el GAO (General Accountability Office, la contraloría del Congreso Norteamericano) esta a punto de concluir sobre las vulnerabilidades del suministro petrolero Venezolano en tiempos de ese Huracán perenne llamado Hugo Chávez, que ya destruyó a Venezuela y todos los días amenaza a los EEUU

El Universal

Presidente dijo que Estados Unidos "está decidido a amparar terroristas" como Posada

Gobierno se plantea revisar relaciones con Washington

30 de septiembre de 2005

A su arribo a Brasil para asistir a la I Cumbre de la Comunidad Suramericana de Naciones (CSN), el presidente Hugo Chávez insistió en que la decisión de la Justicia estadounidense de no extraditar a Caracas al cubano-venezolano Luis Posada Carriles "demuestra que Washington está decidido a amparar terroristas". Mientras en Caracas su vicepresidente José Vicente Rangel se limitó a responder: "Estamos estudiando eso", ante la insistencia de los periodistas sobre el cumplimiento o no de la amenaza presidencial de "poner en revisión las relaciones diplomáticas" si no procedía la extradición. Chávez dijo que el fallo que aplazó la deportación de Posada Carriles basado en que podría ser torturado en Venezuela "no hace más que fortalecer la realidad: EEUU protege al terrorismo", reseñó EFE. Calificó la decisión de "cínica" y "farsante" y considera que la misma expuso "ante el mundo los colmillos del Drácula que encarna el gobierno de Estados Unidos".

Ante la decisión de Washington, Chávez retomó la idea de mudar la sede de la Organización de Naciones Unidas, pero esta vez propuso que sea trasladada a la capital brasileña. Afirmó que se le ocurrió esa idea viendo la llanura brasileña desde el avión. "Habría que cambiar la sede de la ONU, porque está rodeada por el territorio de un país que irrespeta los derechos humanos, que protege a terroristas, como Posada Carriles". El pasado 22 de mayo, en la edición 223 de Aló Presidente, Chávez advirtió que "habría que revisar si vale la pena tener una embajada allí (en EEUU) gastando plata y ellos aquí, ¡para qué!", si el Gobierno estadounidense "escupe" al mundo al no extraditar al anticastrista pese a las evidencias presentadas por Venezuela.

En contraste con aquel verbo encendido del jefe de Estado, el vicepresidente Rangel opta por la cautela al informar que los pasos a seguir los estudian "nuestro embajador en Washington (Bernardo Alvarez) junto con los abogados".

_¿Revisarán las relaciones como había amenazado el presidente Chávez?_Estamos estudiando eso.

_Pero el Presidente fue enérgico cuando anunció que revisaría las relaciones. _Somos enérgicos en eso. Estamos estudiándolo con mucha energía. "¿Tú qué piensas?, ¿están de acuerdo con eso?", repreguntó Rangel a los periodistas ante la pregunta sobre una eventual ruptura en las relaciones con EEUU.

CAN y Mercosur fracasados

Asimismo, a su arribo a Brasilia el jefe de Estado aseguró que los modelos de integración de Suramérica, incluidos el Mercosur y la Comunidad Andina fracasaron. A su juicio "el modelo de Naciones Unidas fracasó", pero también "hay que decir que los modelos de integración de Suramérica que nos trataron de imponer también fracasaron, colapsaron". Según el Presidente, que criticó el sentido comercial de los bloques regionales, afirmó que "hay que trascender de allí. De allí nació la idea de la Comunidad Suramericana de Naciones, porque el modelo Mercosur ya llegó a su límite, por esa vía del libre comercio, del neoliberalismo". "La CAN también, esos modelos colapsaron, ya no sirven. De allí surgió la idea de la CSN, a la que yo prefiero llamar Conasur o Unasur, Unión de Naciones Suramericanas. Eso sería bonito, pero ni siquiera allí nos hemos puesto de acuerdo", afirmó.

Brownfield explicó que no está descartado que el anticastrista sea juzgado en Venezuela

EEUU decidirá "de acuerdo con sus reglas" extradición de anticastrista

30 de septiembre de 2005

La posibilidad de que el anticastrista Luis Posada Carriles sea juzgado y sancionado en Venezuela por su responsabilidad penal en el caso de la voladura del avión cubano, ocurrida en 1976, no está totalmente descartada. El embajador de Estados Unidos, William Brownfield, explicó que luego de que Posada Carriles fue detenido en territorio estadounidense se han generado tres procesos legales: 1) la solicitud de asilo político, de la cual se desistió; 2) el juicio por presunta violación de las normas de inmigración, respecto del cual el pasado 27 de septiembre un juez de El Paso (Texas) negó la deportación a Venezuela o a Cuba; y 3) el requerimiento de extradición formalizado por el Gobierno venezolano, que aún está pendiente de resolución.

"Un tribunal de Estados Unidos va a decidir ese asunto _la extradición_ de acuerdo con las leyes y reglas de Estados Unidos, así como con nuestras obligaciones internacionales. Eso ocurrirá en el momento que el tribunal decida. Son los tribunales de Estados Unidos los que deciden los asuntos legales de Estados Unidos, aunque puede haber personas en Venezuela o en cualquier parte del mundo que no coincidan con esa decisión", insistió Brownfield. La decision del juez de El Paso generó el rechazo del presidente Hugo Chávez y de altos funcionarios gubernamentales, entre ellos el vicepresidente José Vicente Rangel, quien dijo que en Estados Unidos "también" se manipula la Justicia. Al respecto, el embajador se limitó a decir: "El vicepresidente tiene derecho a dar su opinión, pero no coincido con esa opinión".

Nada de invasiones

Brownfield hizo sus señalamientos en la parte alta del barrio La Morán, específicamente en las instalaciones del preescolar de la Asociación Civil Madre Sallés, a cuyas autoridades entregó un donativo de 22 mil dólares para refaccionar dicho centro educativo. A propósito de que durante su más reciente visita a Nueva York Hugo Chávez repitió que Estados Unidos tiene un plan, denominado Balboa, para invadir a Venezuela, Brownfield puntualizó: "Después de más de un año en Venezuela, les puedo decir que he hecho varias investigaciones en este caso. No existe ningún Plan Balboa. Hace más de cuatro años, específicamente en mayo de 2001, en la Escuela Superior de Guerra de las Fuerzas Armadas de España, se hizo un ejercicio escrito, que se llamó el Ejercicio Balboa. En ese ejercicio participaban oficiales militares de varios países, incluyendo a Venezuela. No participaba ni Estados Unidos ni ningún país miembro de la OTAN. El ejercicio se basaba en una situación hipotética. Usaban un mapa que tenía en varios lugares la imagen de Venezuela, Austria y de algunos otros países de las Américas. Yo no sé si algún país del mundo tiene un plan de invasión a Venezuela, pero les puedo asegurar que Estados Unidos ni tenía ni tiene ningún plan de invasión". En cuanto a las negociaciones para redefinir los términos de las actuaciones de la DEA en el país, el embajador dijo que el proyecto de acuerdo bilateral presentado por el Gobierno venezolano hace dos semanas debe ser analizado por muchos organismos en Caracas y en Washington: "No es un asunto de dos personas coincidiendo en un texto. Esperamos iniciar un diálogo tan pronto como sea posible y llegar a un acuerdo. Si no colaboramos en este tema, los únicos que ganan son los narcotraficantes. En todo caso, las reglas del combate a la drogas en territorio venezolano las decide el Gobierno venezolano". Brownfield comentó que "lógicamente" el discurso antiestadounidense de los representantes del alto Gobierno venezolano tiene un impacto en las relaciones comerciales entre ambos países y que el trabajo diplomático persigue que sea el menos dañino posible.


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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sep 29/05 - On U.S. State Department's new and improved approach to the Western Hemisphere: an indication of things to come?

PMBComment: below you will find the excellent testimony given by Amb. Charles Shapiro at yesterday’s hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. There has been press coverage on a few of the things said about the bête noire of the region – our own Hugo Chávez, but I think a full read of this testimony is indeed advisable to get a glimpse of the more substantive, and sensible, spin on the Western Hemisphere that we are beginning to inhale in Washington as the folks at State prepare for the formal start of the Shannon-era. PMB

Note: the underlines are mine…

Testimony of Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro

Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Committee on International Relations, U. S. House of Representatives

September 28, 2005

“Keeping Democracy on Track: Hot Spots in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

It has been fashionable of late to cite recent polls that suggest that the people of the Western Hemisphere have lost faith in democracy as an ideal. I believe that while such concerns are real, they need to be tempered by historical context.

The struggle for democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean that characterized the 1980s is thankfully now a mutual effort to deliver the benefits of freedom to every individual in every country. The vast majority of Latin Americans and their Caribbean neighbors live under leaders of their own choosing. Today, free elections and peaceful transfers of power are the norm and former adversaries compete not on the battlefield, but in the democratic arena of electoral politics.

Political progress in the region has gone hand in hand with economic reform. Many of the old demons are gone: inflation is largely tamed; countries are increasingly open to foreign trade and investment; economic setbacks still occur, but no longer do they lead inevitably to crises affecting the entire Hemisphere.

Most of the region’s leaders recognize that democracy and the free market must be part of any sustainable plan for development. The paradigm that has been so successful in guiding the expansion of freedom and economic growth in Latin America over the past twenty years remains firmly in place. Indeed, most recently elected leaders, even those characterized by some as “populist,” are in fact governing their nations responsibly within that framework.

Underscoring this transformation, last June a key multilateral event took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when the United States hosted the OAS General Assembly. That gathering advanced our agenda of delivering the benefits of democracy to ordinary citizens, urging governments to be more effective, transparent, and accountable. The “Declaration of Florida,” approved at the General Assembly, strengthens the Secretary General’s ability to raise with the OAS Permanent Council situations that might lead to action under the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It also provides him with a mandate to develop timely and effective proposals for promoting and defending democracy. The Declaration also affirms that adherence to the Democratic Charter is the standard for member states’ full participation in the Inter-American process.

There is little doubt, however, that many individuals in the hemisphere are frustrated by the perceived inability of democracies to deliver benefits to all citizens in equal measure. Some, in their frustration, are turning in increasing numbers to politicians who promise populist solutions to the region’s persistent problems or else entertain thoughts of a return to authoritarianism.

That is to say, we continue to confront challenges in the workings of democracy in the region.

What the polls show is that Latin Americans by and large don’t trust their governments and their institutions. The survey numbers suggest that overwhelming majorities in virtually all countries of the region have “little” or “no” confidence in their executive, judiciary, legislature, political parties, armed forces or police.

I believe this can be attributed to the fact that, in many cases, political elites in the region often are perceived to exhibit an aloofness from the people they are supposed to represent and serve. That gulf is often reinforced by legal immunity granted legislators and the de facto impunity afforded many other governmental and political actors.

The resultant mutual mistrust between voters and the government encourages corruption, as citizens resort to one of the few ways available to persuade government officials to actually work on their behalf — pay them directly.

Many formal democratic institutions in Latin America are weak and overly politicized. In some countries there is not one single body — not a Supreme Court, not an Electoral Commission, not a Regulatory Board —that can be relied upon routinely to make impartial, apolitical decisions in accordance with the law.

Many political parties in the region are not doing their job well — they are often bereft of new ideas, too focused on patronage, and too dependent on the skills of one charismatic leader.

This spoils mentality is too often reinforced by electoral systems that favor legislative candidacy via party slate and over-represent rural areas — politicians owe too much allegiance to the party structure and not enough to constituents; entrenched anti-reform opponents are granted too large a voice in policymaking.

Poverty and the inequality of income and wealth which characterize much of the region make it difficult for democracy to thrive. Under-funded states lack the resources to apply the rules of the game fairly — even if leaders have the political will to try.

That unfairness is sharpened by some governments’ tendency to overlook minority rights — the rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women, children, and the disabled.

High crime levels, present in many nations of the hemisphere, dampen voters’ enthusiasm for democratic rule.

These challenges to democracy are daunting — but I am convinced they can be overcome by strong leadership, a willingness to make tough decisions, the forging of a national consensus, and the active implementation of a reform agenda.

The Hemisphere’s democratic agenda cannot be advanced solely by the poetry of verbal commitment to its principles, it must be advanced by the daily toil of governments.

Sustainable economic growth and political stability are only possible if governments consciously extend political power and economic opportunity to everyone, especially the poor.

Taken together — trust, transparency, effectiveness, inclusiveness, public safety, political consensus on the need to have decision-making framed by the national welfare, and cooperative civil-military relations — are what enable vibrant democracies to withstand political and economic shocks to the system.

They are the cornerstones of viable states.

The Hemisphere’s most successful democratic leaders understand what is needed to make democracy work.

They reach out to the opposition, civil society, and minority groups. Dialogue builds trust, and trust is the key element in encouraging real political participation and keeping the political pot from boiling over.

They understand that public relations matter. Citizens need to know when their government is effective — when new schools are inaugurated or inoculation programs are undertaken.

Good leaders recognize the importance of working with and cultivating responsible media.

Good governments in the region are vigorously prosecuting corruption cases and institutionalizing procedures that promote public transparency — including electronic procurement, freedom of information legislation, and the establishment of ombudsman offices to monitor allegations of corruption.

Successful leaders are promoting legal or constitutional reforms that link elected officials to their constituents better. Politicians will never behave if they cannot be held accountable easily by the voters from a defined district or are officially shielded from prosecution.

Successful democracies are closing the gap between politicians and voters by decentralizing political power and revenue collection — granting municipal governments both real responsibility and revenue can tamp down corruption and give people a greater sense of direct participation in the political system.

Responsible leaders are spearheading legal or constitutional reforms that foster impartial, professional, and apolitical judiciaries. Some countries in the region have enjoyed great success in judicial reform by streamlining civil code procedures; introducing computerized case tracking systems; staggering the appointment of Supreme Court justices; and naming judicial councils that oversee hiring, firing, and disciplining judicial employees.

Successful leaders understand the link between democracy and individual economic opportunity. The path to prosperity is built upon affording individuals the chance to pull their own weight and create personal wealth — by reducing the red tape of business registration, encouraging the broader provision of bank credit, harnessing remittances for productive purposes, providing wider access to education, and accelerating property titling.

Good governments must have good police forces. Not only is public safety a crucial function of government, but police officers are often the most visible personification for most citizens of the power of any administration — so they must act with efficiency and respect.

Successful leaders in the region also value multilateral engagement as a tool to shore up the Hemisphere’s democratic institutions. The work of the Bolivia Donor Support Group, OAS election observation in Venezuela, and regional contributions to MINUSTAH in Haiti are but three recent examples of how multilateral engagement can help speed the progress of democracy.

Our assistance programs are also lending a hand. We are providing democracy building support in the Hemisphere ranging from legal code reform and judicial training, to anti-corruption projects and conflict resolution.

But our assistance, in and of itself, cannot guarantee the deepening of the Hemisphere’s democratic roots.

There is simply no substitute for strong local leadership willing to make tough decisions and embrace civil society as a key contributor to policy debates.

We support the Rodriguez administration in Bolivia and its efforts to advance that nation’s interests at the same time that it prepares for presidential and legislative elections later this year, and a constituent assembly election for constitutional reform scheduled for next year. But on a day-to-day basis it is the Bolivian people and Bolivian democratic institutions who must reach a consensus on key domestic issues such as how to exploit the country’s vast natural gas resources in a way that best supports the common good; on how to include the aspirations of indigenous people within the country’s democratic framework; or on how to address regional calls for autonomy.

We support the presidency of Enrique Bolaños in Nicaragua and are pleased that his government has made the effort to combat corruption — to the point that Nicaragua and the Millennium Challenge Corporation concluded a compact on July 14, opening the way for that country to receive $175 million in much needed assistance. Challenges remain, especially the dramatic politicization of that country’s judiciary and the damage done to both the presidency and the National Assembly by the tug of war between two political caudillos (strongmen) — one of whom remains enamored with the obsolete politics of the 1940s and another with a bankrupt leftist ideology from the 1970s. The USG remains committed to strengthening democratic institutions in Nicaragua and to supporting free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections, scheduled for November 2006. At the same time, we want to ensure that undemocratic forces do not prevent President Bolaños from completing his legitimate term. The USG has supported OAS efforts to resolve the political crisis. These include resolutions supporting democratic order and sending a special envoy to facilitate a national dialogue to reach agreement among the political parties that will maintain the governability of the country.

In Cuba, the President’s message to democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile is clear: When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” We are implementing the recommendations of the President’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba designed to hasten a democratic transition, and the regime is being pressured as never before. We will continue to prepare to support a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy. And, we will assist Cuba’s democratic opposition and civil society as it seeks to organize itself for the coming transition.

Supporting Haiti’s slow ascent from a decade as a predatory state is an enormous challenge, but we are determined to stay the course as long as the Haitians themselves remain engaged in fashioning the truly democratic government they so deserve.

In Ecuador, we have been vocal in our support for constitutional democracy and its institutions. We have good relations with the Palacio administration on issues ranging from protecting the environment, to fighting global terror, to making progress towards an FTA. But it is the Ecuadorians who must work to strengthen and safeguard their fragile democracy against political self-interest that threatens to weaken and fracture it and paralyze any attempt at much needed reforms.

Peru looks ahead to a future that is brighter than it has been in recent memory. After the turmoil of the 1980s and 90s, Peru’s market economy reforms have turned things around. Under President Toledo’s watch, the country has developed at unprecedented levels, finally beginning to reduce poverty and improve the life of ordinary Peruvians.

Venezuela, frankly, does not present a promising picture. We have no quarrel with the Venezuelan people, but despite the United States’ efforts to establish a normal working relationship with his government, Hugo Chavez continues to define himself in opposition to us.

The United States works with leaders from across the political spectrum in a respectful and mutually beneficial way to strengthen our democratic institutions, build stronger economies, and promote more equitable and just societies. Our neighbors know that we are good partners in fighting poverty and defending democracy. We do more than respect each others sovereignty: we work together to defend it by promoting democratic ideals and by fighting terrorism, drugs and corruption.

But President Chavez has chosen a different course, and he has a six-year track record that tells us a thing or two about him. His efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern.

Our policy is very clear: We want to strengthen our ties to the Venezuelan people. We will support democratic elements in Venezuela so they can fill the political space to which they are entitled. We want to maintain economic relations on a positive footing. And we want Venezuela to pull its weight to protect regional security against drug and terrorist groups.

We also want Venezuela’s neighbors and others in the region to understand the stakes involved and the implications of President Chavez’s professed desire to spread his “Bolivarian” revolution.

Many of them are fragile states without the oil wealth of Venezuela to paper over their problems. They are striving hard to strengthen their democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity for all.

Should the United States and Venezuela’s neighbors ignore President Chavez’s questionable affinity for democratic principles we could soon wind up with a poorer, less free, and hopeless Venezuela that seeks to export its failed model to other countries in the region.

Mr. Chairman, before concluding, I want to address one other point that has somehow become part of the conventional wisdom: that the United States is “ignoring” the Western Hemisphere.

I think that what people have to understand is that the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades, and U.S. policy has changed with it.

During the Cold War, strategic considerations dominated our policy and U.S.-Soviet tensions turned the region into a giant chessboard whereby forestalling the creep of totalitarianism necessarily trumped all other considerations. That approach was not always appreciated. In those days, we were not accused of ignoring the hemisphere, but were accused of being too heavy-handed, further enforcing the historic perception of a “paternalistic” United States approach to the region.

Today, that has changed.

History has proven to be a most reliable guide as to how nations can best expand prosperity and better lives for their citizens. Open economies and political systems, outward looking trade regimes, and respect for human rights are the indisputable requirements for a 21st century nation-state.

So those who would inveigh against U.S. “paternalism” in the Western Hemisphere have lost their essential talking point, because we seek to impose this model on no one. For those countries seeking to follow the same path, we are committed to helping, but for those countries that will not open their economies and political systems there is little we can do to help them, and no amount of assistance or moral support can stop them from failing.

This is the basis of President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account, his historic new assistance program that rewards countries making the tough decisions to help themselves.

To be eligible for MCA funds — amounting to $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005 — nations must govern justly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, open their markets, remove barriers to entrepreneurship, and invest in their people.

Three countries from our own hemisphere were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA assistance: Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua—and Honduras and Nicaragua have already signed compacts with the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Two additional countries were recently selected as “MCA threshold countries” for FY05 — Guyana and Paraguay. These countries will receive assistance aimed at helping them achieve full eligibility.

By placing a premium on good governance and effective social investment, the MCA approach should help countries attract investment, compete for trade opportunities, and maximize the benefits of economic assistance funds.

But let us recognize, again, that no amount of external aid will substitute for governments making the tough decisions for themselves to open up their economies, to make their governments more effective and accountable, to make themselves more competitive in a global economy, and to extend the most basic services and opportunities equitably.

To their immense credit, most of the leaders of this region recognize these obligations and are working hard to fulfill them. And as they do so, they have found in the Bush Administration a creative partner, reinforcing the forces of reform.

The good news is that this Hemisphere has many leaders with ambitious social agendas who are adopting sound economic policies and seeking mutually beneficial relations with their neighbors, including the United States. There is a solid consensus in favor of representative democracy and respect for human rights in this Hemisphere.

To conclude, this administration believes strongly that hemispheric progress requires continues American engagement in trade, in security, in support for democracy, and across the board we are deeply involved in expanding peace, prosperity, and freedom in this hemisphere. Democracy is indeed an essential element of our foreign policy agenda.

Thank you very much and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.


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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sept 28/05 – On a historical obsession finally realized: Fidel Castro milks PDVSA

PMBComment: one of the most interesting debates raging in Venezuela today is if Cuba has colonized Venezuela, or on the contrary, the island has become an annex of Venezuela. The matter is relevant because it is more than obvious that the main beneficiary of the Bolivarian Revolution is the repugnant nomenklatura of the island-prison. They have seen their political fortunes resurrect with the price of oil and as a direct result of Chávez’s growing dependence on their recognized survival and despotic skills. A de-facto Confederation has arisen between Cuba and Venezuela, and not surprisingly the bankers at that other Confederation: Switzerland, are all smiles.

The attached internal Board document from PDVSA shows one more dimension of this intimate relationship. A company that was once chastised - by Hugo Chávez - for investing in social infrastructure in the areas surrounding its operations in Venezuela - a “state within a state” was the favored epithet – today approves millions of dollars for investments in endogenous social development (sic, and an oxymoron) in Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

Tapping Venezuela’s oil wealth was always an obsession of Fidel Castro who in the early 1960’s trained and financed guerillas to undermine the country’s nascent democracy. The resolve of a nation and the fidelity of its Armed Forces put an end to the absurd pretensions. For the next three decades, but particularly after the nationalization of oil in Venezuela in 1976, Castro attempted to draw PDVSA into Cuba. He offered us the “opportunity” to invest in his decrepit US-expropriated and Soviet-retooled oil infrastructure and also tried to entice PDVSA to explore for oil in offshore blocks. Time and time again, PDVSA's Board passed on theses “opportunities”. Fidel could never understand why a state-owned enterprise could refuse to follow the lead of what he opted to believe were sincere expressions of interest from Venezuelan ministers that visited the island out of curiosity more than real commercial interest.

The control of PDVSA became a must for the Cubans after the April 2002 fiasco. A few weeks before these unmemorable events, oil shipments to Cuba had been suspended due to lack of payment. Even after Chávez returned to power and Ali Rodriguez – Cuban trained guerilla leader of the 60’s (a.k.a Comandante Fausto) – was installed as CEO of PDVSA, the negotiations to refinance what at the time was a measly $146 million dollar account payable for CUPET went nowhere. At the time, PDVSA continued to be run under strict commercial rules, and management was not about to risk legal sanctions for succumbing to political pressure in this case. The Cubans were outraged and frustrated that junior officials at the company could disregard Rodriguez’s orders. That all was solved after Chavez lured dissenting managers into a strike (he relishes telling the story of how he was the mastermind behind the disastrous two-month-long “paro petrolero”) and proceeded to first lock-out striking workers, and then fire them and anyone else they felt had failed to understand that the revolution was here to stay. With 19,000 workers conveniently out of the way, the company’s ability to function evaporated instantaneously, but Cuba’s ability to milk it was significantly enhanced.

According to some estimate the unpaid bill for PDVSA’s crude and oil products shipments to Cuba stands at US$4.3 billion. Since no formal audited accounts are published by PDVSA it is hard to know for sure this, or any others hard facts about the once powerful, competent and transparent company.. Every so often the amount is apparently “amortized” by assigning some ludicrous deemed value to Cuban doctors, trainers (for sports and asymmetric warfare) and all sorts of “experts” who act as if the country is indeed theirs. The going rate for this “technical assistance” would shame Harvard educated surgeons, German Olympic coaches, Sandhurst’s toughest and McKinsey’s golden boys and girls.

What matters is not who rules over whom, but the fact that Chávez has been willing to mortgage our nation's future by destroying PDVSA to satisfy the evil whim of Fidel Castro and in doing so engorged the accounts of their combined band of sycophants, facilitators and apologists. This, my dear friends, is perfidy PMB


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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sep 27/05 - From Veneconomy to the dreamers out there: dream on!

Veneconomy
No more doubts!


Yesterday, Monday, September 26, President Chávez and his father, the governor of Barinas, issued the death sentence on private property and the rule of law in Venezuela. The decree for the compulsory acquisition of the Barinas I plant belonging to Empresas Polar dispels any doubts about the true intentions of the revolutionary government as regards the coexistence of the private sector and “the socialism of the 21st century” that is gaining ground in the country.


There is no legal or moral justification for the governor of Barinas state, apparently on the instructions of his son, the President, to sign the expropriation of the Promabasa Plant. At the end of last week, everything seemed to have returned to the legal path and to seeking a constructive solution for all concerned.


Empresas Polar had exhausted all recourses allowed it under the law and had kept a low profile, showing no belligerence whatsoever. They even demonstrated that the silos were fully operational, as though that were an indispensable requirement, when the right to private property includes the right to have assets that are not in use. It falls to the government to create incentives so that these assets are put to use. Worse still is that the fact that the plant was operational was acknowledged by the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, by the Special Committee appointed by the National Assembly to look into the case, and even by the State Government of Barinas.


The message given by the sudden expropriation this Monday of the entire plant, with silos, shed, warehouses, yards, and everything else included, could not be clearer. In Hugo Chávez’ revolutionary Venezuela there is no respect for private property, a person’s word, or the law, and much less for the letter of the Constitution, which is not worth the paper it is written on.


If Chávez and his government can attack the main and biggest private company in the country with impunity, what can the rest of us expect? Who will stop them from applying “the acid and sword of the law” to CANTV if it doesn’t pay some $279 million that it does not owe its pensioners and their families? How do you negotiate or resist when you are under siege by the army, as is happening to the owners of the ranches La Marqueseña and La Vaca, to mention just two cases?


From now on, there is no company, plot of land, country estate, ranch, school, house, apartment, or shack of which it can be said a Venezuelan is the owner. According to the President, the only owner of the country’s land, water, and air is the State. The State, the law, and the Constitution converge and are concentrated in the person of Hugo Chávez, and there is no institution or opposition prepared to stop him.


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Sep 27/05 - On the shedding of a democratic disguise: the revolution is now exposed.


PMBComment: on September 2, I wrote that the Bolivarian “revolution” had to accelerate its pace or else risk being crushed by its own lawlessness and incompetence (“drugs, guns and graft”). Over the last two weeks, developments have confirmed that Chávez and cohorts seem to be trapped, like Dr. Frankenstein, in a grand mess of their own creation.

To cover up crimes - and treason – and to deflect growing criticism at home and abroad, they have opted to use a sledgehammer to break off the shackles of a Bolivarian Constitution that no longer seems to please its capricious creators. Doing away with the rule of law, i.e. grabbing by force what is not theirs, is a coherent next move for an unhinged President who has excelled at demonizing the past, done a fabulous job of bulldozing the fundamental institutions of the State, perfected the art of intimidating all who dare question his whim, enriched his kin and military buddies, but failed wretchedly at improving the prospects for 24 millions Venezuelans.

So where do we go from here? It would seem that Venezuelans of all walks of life have been forced by recent events to recognize – maybe a tad too late - that democracy, freedom and private property are precepts that can no longer be taken for granted in the land of Simon Bolivar. Now that the “revolution” has opted to shed its democratic garb, my guess is that it will not take too long for repression to replace cash as the preferred method to buy the acquiescence of the hungry and disenchanted masses. But sooner rather than later, the streets of every city and every town will be filled with democrats doing what they do best when they are left with no other option. Hugo Chávez would do well to watch a few reruns from Warsaw, Prague, Manila, Bucharest or Belgrade…or better still an 8mm reel of Caracas on January 24th, 1958. PMB

Note: if you have been out of touch with recent events Andy Webb’s piece from the FT will surely bring you up to date….

Financial Times

Venezuela speeds up state takeover of industries
By Andy Webb-Vidal in Caracas
Published: September 27 2005 17:59 | Last updated: September 27 2005 23:38

Venezuela's government is accelerating plans to expropriate local agribusinesses and extend state control over foreign oil and mining industries, fulfilling President Hugo Chávez's “revolutionary” economic agenda.

Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, the governor of the province of Barinas and the president's father, issued a decree on Monday expropriating a flour milling plant belonging to Polar, Venezuela's largest food company and the country's biggest private-sector employer.

The announced expropriation of some of Polar's assets, apparently without the prospect of financial compensation, heralds a new, more integrated phase in the government's land redistribution programme.

In recent weeks dozens of rural estates have been “intervened” in by officials from the national land institute, often accompanied by the military.

It is not clear whether the Polar plant, if confiscated, will be handed over to a workers' co-operative, as has been the case with other land expropriations, or whether the assets will be transferred to new business groups.

Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Polar, said last night: “We consider this decision to be unjust, disconcerting and unconstitutional.”

President Chávez says he will eliminate large landholdings as part of a drive to introduce what he terms “socialism of the 21st century”. But the move against agribusiness parallels a policy of extending government control over heavy industry. Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, said this week that the government might take over oil fields operated by multinationals if the companies failed to comply with a new legal operating framework by the end of the year.

Oil companies are required to sign transitory operating contracts ahead of converting them into joint ventures with Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company, in which the state will hold a majority stake.

Patrick Esteruelas, a Latin America analyst at Eurasia Group, said that while local agribusinesses such as Polar were likely to see expropriation, foreign oil and mining companies faced a different challenge.

“More strategic companies are likely to face tighter terms but are not likely to see their assets expropriated,” said Mr Esteruelas.

The likelihood of greater state control is also surfacing in the mining sector. Mr Chávez said last week that a gold mining region known as Las Cristinas “belonged to the state”. His comments prompted a sharp decline in the share price of Crystallex, a Canadian mining company planning to build what would be Venezuela's largest gold mining venture


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Monday, September 26, 2005

Sept 26/05 – Unmasking a purely capitalist ploy: Hugo Chavez’s purchases support in the region the old fashion way – cash!

One happy client being taken for a ride.


PMBComment: Jackson Diehl, editorialist for the Washington Post, has distinguished himself over the years for his pristine perspective of what is being scorched in Caracas by the so called “Bolivarian revolution”. In his Op-Ed today, he unmasks Chávez’s colleagues in the region who are either too frightened to go public with their real views of the danger posed by the former democrat who has accelerated his power (and land) grab in Venezuela, or are lining up - hands stretched out - begging for support from this inexhaustible, and somewhat vindictive, patron.

There is a story making the rounds in the region that the Argentine Foreign Ministry has formally ordered its diplomats around the world to refrain from making ANY comment that might be construed as critical of Mr. Chávez or his kleptocracy. The reason given by Foreign Minister Bielsa, is not ideological compatibility with the Bolivarian revolution, but a no-nonsense one: the Argentine state is bankrupt, we have no access to the capital markets and we need to continue milking Venezuela…therefore please keep your personal opinions to yourself till further notice….

But what is Venezuela getting out of this bigheartedness? As a country cero, but Hugo Chávez seems to be getting the kind of instant gratification a client gets from forking out money to a whore. Last week, he got a loud round of applause at the UN General Assembly, but then he did not get support from any country (Cuba never counts) in his bid to boycott the signing of the Assembly’s consensus document which he blasted as “fraudulent”. On the election for a new IADB President, Venezuela’s own candidate barely marshaled Venezuela’s vote. The “ungrateful” nations of the Caribbean all voted for the winner, Luis Alberto Moreno, strongly backed by Chavez archenemies Uribe and Bush.

Where money seems to go a long way is in the OAS, which is risking losing its whole purpose if it does not sit down soon with the Democratic Charter in hand and take a vote on its applicability to the Venezuelan case. This, by the way, is the vote Chávez hopes to have bought with the largesse so well described by Diehl. PMB

washingtonpost.com

Buying Support in Latin America

By Jackson Diehl
Monday, September 26, 2005; A23

Thanks to the United Nations General Assembly, the presidents of three big South American countries visited the United States simultaneously this month. Two are close U.S. allies who, through the diligent pursuit of free-market policies, have overseen impressive economic growth and a reduction of poverty in their nations. The other is a self-declared enemy of Washington who, despite enjoying an extraordinary bonanza of oil revenue, has managed to increase the poor population in his country by a quarter.

Chances are you heard about only one of these guys. Hugo Chavez, the "revolutionary" president of Venezuela, cut a flamboyant swath through New York, touring Harlem and the Bronx, chatting with Ted Koppel, basking in the applause of the General Assembly for his hyperbolic denunciations of American "imperialism" and capitalism.

By contrast, Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Alejandro Toledo of Peru passed through New York and Washington with barely a ripple. Not only that, they didn't really want to be noticed. True, both agreed to meet with editors and reporters of The Post. But neither one was willing to speak publicly about the biggest development in Latin America in years. That is, of course, the increasingly conspicuous emergence of Chavez as the political and ideological successor to Fidel Castro, and his aggressive attempt to succeed where Castro failed in constructing an anti-American alliance.

It's not that Uribe and Toledo, like the left-wing leaders of Brazil and Argentina, secretly sympathize with Chavez: They don't. Toledo, once a victim of Alberto Fujimori's Peruvian dictatorship-in-the-shape-of-democracy, can hardly admire Chavez's similar destruction of Venezuela's political freedom. Uribe fights a leftist guerrilla movement created with Castro's help decades ago and now backed by Chavez, who granted asylum and even citizenship to one of its top leaders.

Still, Uribe refused to say anything for publication about Chavez. Toledo doggedly limited himself to the new formula of the Organization of American States: "It's not enough to be elected democratically; it's also indispensable to govern democratically." He also let slip: "If I had as much money from oil as President Chavez, the story would be different."

What's striking about all this is not Chavez's New York antics -- which were copied almost exactly from U.N. appearances by Castro -- but the silence and seeming demoralization of those Latin leaders who have stuck with the "Washington consensus" of free markets and democratic politics. By any reasonable measure, both Uribe and Toledo have succeeded: Their economies are growing rapidly, exports and foreign investment are way up, and extreme poverty is down.

In Peru and Colombia, the number of people living on less than $2 a day under Toledo and Uribe stands at 54 and 52 percent, respectively. In Chavez's Venezuela, the rate has risen from 43 percent in 1999, the year he took office, to 53 percent last year, according to government statistics. During this same period Venezuelan oil revenue, which makes up most of the government's income, roughly doubled. Yet Chavez's claim to be the champion of Latin America's dispossessed goes unchallenged by his peers.

How could this be? Partly, of course, Chavez successfully mines the populism and anti-Americanism that is a perpetual undercurrent in Latin American politics and that is largely blind to results. He's a better politician than the sober, stern Uribe, and certainly more so than Toledo, whose chronically unpresidential (if harmless) behavior has given him the lowest popularity rating of any Latin leader.

But Toledo's muttered aside also points to a critical difference: Chavez is literally buying the support of his neighbors. With each uptick in oil prices, his giveaways -- once limited to Cuba -- increase. He provides subsidized oil for 13 Caribbean countries and promises Brazil a new refinery; he bought $538 million of Argentina's crushing foreign debt. He filled in for Ecuador, a fellow oil producer, when it was unable to export for a few days. A samba school in Rio de Janeiro won his patronage. In short, anyone in Latin America seeking a handout these days looks to Caracas.

That's why when Uribe and Toledo did speak about Venezuela, to their contacts in Congress and the Bush administration, the message was a simple one: Stop talking about Chavez, and start competing with him. Chavez-bashing, whether by Pat Robertson or Donald Rumsfeld, only sends his poll numbers soaring; meanwhile, say the Latin presidents, hard-pressed leaders are wondering if Washington has anything that matches Chavez's largesse. The opportunities to compete are readily available. There is, for example, an Andean free-trade agreement with the United States that the two presidents would like to wrap up by the end of October.

Their pitch would be more convincing if they were willing to stand up against Chavez's breach of democratic norms and interference in other countries, both violations of regional charters. But they also have a point: The Bush administration would have a lot more impact if it behaved as if the United States, rather than Venezuela, was the hemisphere's economic leader.


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Sept 26/05 – On achieving insignificance: Venezuela exits the true World stage

THE CHAVEZ FORMULA: Jumping off a cliff with a nation in tow

PMBComments: the buzz in Washington these days is that Venezuela did not bother to send a delegation to the Annual IMF/World Bank Meetings. This would seem a predictable and suitable cost saving stance for a country that has voluntarily opted to jump off a cliff sans parachute. There is no longer anything in common between Venezuela and the rest of the self respecting nations of the world – the latter group obviously excludes Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

The rest of the world seeks prosperity one way or another, while this defiant six pack seems intent on pursuing a trodden path towards certain, and certainly sustainable, under-development. With its nonattendance, Venezuela trumpets its incorporation into what could be well be called the “G-losers Group”, ardent promoters of state sponsored poverty and champions all of what we could well define as reverse globalization.

Ironically, one of the big topics of discussion in this year’s meetings has been the impact of sustained high oil prices on the world economy. Six months ago the problem was seen as manageable, today at record nominal levels and with little sign of abatement; the issue has acquired a different sort of urgency. The G-7 meeting and communiqué (see below) zoomed in on the matter and made some pointed recommendations. The Saudis were called into this meeting and they committed to do everything they could to both expand production and rein in the price hawks within OPEC. First among the latter is Venezuela, a high price addict, which has gone as far as to destroy it production potential through all sorts of quasi-criminal schemes in order to contribute to the real, or perceived, demand-supply imbalance that has speculatively added – at least - $10 to $15 dollars to world oil prices.

Keep in mind that as part of its autarchic bent (they call it endogenous), Hugo Chavez has turned Petróleos de Venezuela into an unreliable oil eunuch, the reverse of its former self. Under the 1995-2005 plan – scuttled from day one in the Chavez reign - PDVSA should be producing 5.2 million barrels daily; exactly double the 2.6 million barrels/day that it produces today. What a difference those barrels would make in today’s tight market. PMB

Note: below, from the G-7 communiqué, you can read the precise references/recommendation about oil/energy that makes Venezuela’s absence from this type of meeting even more perplexing.

Energy related excerpt from the G-7 Communiqué of Sept 23, 2005

…We discussed high and volatile oil prices and agreed on the key steps that need to be taken. First, we welcome the action by members of the International Energy Agency and by oil-producing countries to make available additional oil and oil products to the market and we call for a sustained increase in supply by those with spare capacity. Second, significant investment is needed in exploration, production, energy infrastructure, and refinery capacity. Third, oil producing countries should ensure a favorable investment climate, open markets with transparent business practices, and stable regulatory frameworks. We stress the importance of improving the timeliness, quality, and transparency of oil market data and increasing medium-term energy supplies and efficiency. Fourth, we will enhance and expand our dialogue with oil producers. Fifth, we affirm that subsidies and artificial price caps which constrain the price of oil and oil products have an adverse effect on the global market and should be avoided. Sixth, we are committed to fostering and deploying technology and innovation. Seventh, we support energy conservation, renewable and alternative sources of energy as long-term solutions, and encourage the World Bank to promote investment in alternative energy sources and energy efficiency in developing countries. Finally, we commit ourselves to implementing policies and practices to improve the global energy outlook.

Below the full Communiqué.

Washington, D.C.
September 23, 2005

Statement by G-7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors

The global economy, as a whole, continues to expand and the outlook is positive for further growth, supported by the containment of underlying price pressures. However, higher energy prices, growing global imbalances, and rising protectionist pressures have increased the risks to the outlook.

We discussed high and volatile oil prices and agreed on the key steps that need to be taken. First, we welcome the action by members of the International Energy Agency and by oil-producing countries to make available additional oil and oil products to the market and we call for a sustained increase in supply by those with spare capacity. Second, significant investment is needed in exploration, production, energy infrastructure, and refinery capacity. Third, oil producing countries should ensure a favorable investment climate, open markets with transparent business practices, and stable regulatory frameworks. We stress the importance of improving the timeliness, quality, and transparency of oil market data and increasing medium-term energy supplies and efficiency. Fourth, we will enhance and expand our dialogue with oil producers. Fifth, we affirm that subsidies and artificial price caps which constrain the price of oil and oil products have an adverse effect on the global market and should be avoided. Sixth, we are committed to fostering and deploying technology and innovation. Seventh, we support energy conservation, renewable and alternative sources of energy as long-term solutions, and encourage the World Bank to promote investment in alternative energy sources and energy efficiency in developing countries. Finally, we commit ourselves to implementing policies and practices to improve the global energy outlook.

The challenge of addressing global imbalances over the medium term is a shared responsibility of the international community and must be undertaken in a way that maximizes sustained growth. The G-7 countries have a critical part to play, as do others. Vigorous action is needed to address global imbalances and foster growth; further fiscal consolidation in the United States; further structural reforms in Europe; and further structural reforms, including fiscal consolidation, in Japan. The G-7 held another outreach session today with Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa. We reaffirm our support for the Agenda for Growth initiative. We agreed to meet again in December in the United Kingdom.

An ambitious outcome from the Doha Round by the end of 2006 is essential to enhancing global growth and poverty reduction. We call for a multilateral rules-based global market. We call for a strong WTO result by all members to substantially increase market access in agriculture, industrial products, and services, especially for developing countries; significantly reduce trade-distorting domestic support; eliminate all forms of export subsidies in agriculture; and make significant progress on services, including financial services, as liberalization in financial sectors is linked to increased growth.

We reaffirm that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals. Excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates are undesirable for economic growth. We continue to monitor exchange markets closely and cooperate as appropriate. We welcome the recent decision by the Chinese authorities to pursue greater flexibility in their exchange rate regime. We expect the development of this more market-oriented system to improve the functioning and stability of the global economy and the international monetary system.

We welcome the Managing Director's strategic review of the IMF and agree that maximizing the benefits while limiting the challenges of globalization should be a defining principle for the activities of the IMF. The increased integration of economies and the larger scale of private capital flows are critical to defining the priorities for the IMF. We stress the importance of modernizing the IMF's internal and external governance structure to reflect developments in the world economy. The Bank should strengthen its focus on poverty reduction through economic growth and broader access to economic opportunities, results measurement, and fighting corruption.

We reaffirmed our support for the G-8 proposal on debt relief for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, while ensuring that the financing capacity of the IFIs is not reduced. This proposal will provide additional resources for countries' efforts to reach the goals of the Millennium Declaration, foster longer-term debt sustainability, and improve balance of payments positions. We call upon all shareholders of the IDA, African Development Fund, and IMF to expeditiously complete and implement this historic and crucial initiative. We remain committed to fully financing this relief on a fair burden share basis and stand prepared to demonstrate our Gleneagles financial commitments consistent with our individual budgetary and parliamentary systems. For the IMF, the G-8 will provide approximately $150 million to the Interim PRGF. The Fund should move forward immediately to implement the shocks window in the PRGF and the Policy Support Instrument. We invite oil producing countries to contribute to the shocks window that would help poor countries respond to commodity shocks, including oil prices. We endorse the Fund's estimate of the need for a self-sustained PRGF. We are committed, on a fair burden share basis, to cover the costs of countries that may enter the HIPC process based on their end-2004 debt burdens. We will review the Enhanced HIPC Initiative in 2006, including the application of the "sunset" clause, and the appropriateness of further action based on the future financing capacity of the international financial institutions.

The tragic events in London in July remind us of the continued threat posed by terrorism. As such, we renewed our commitment to fight terrorist financing through strengthening our asset freezing systems and actions, enhancing information sharing, and considering multilateral financial tools to disrupt criminal and illicit activity. We reiterate our support for the IFIs' continuing commitment to countering terrorist financing and illicit finance, including money laundering.


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Sep 26/05 - An image of things to come?


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Friday, September 23, 2005

Sep 23/05 - On a shortsighted view of success: the spill over of Plan Colombia, or Plan Venezuela 200X?


PMBComment: the ostensible success of U.S. bankrolled Plan Colombia continues to have disastrous consequences on Venezuela. Day after day stories reach us about Colombia’s purveyors of violence simply changing their domicile, with Venezuela as their favorite destination. The problem is of such scale that we can conclude that today’s much trumpeted success in Colombia will simply herald tomorrow’s failure and chaos in Venezuela. It is time that those of us, who are seeking to rid ourselves of an undemocratic and corrupt government that is ruining our country, demand from Colombia and the U.S. more transparency in their actions before they throw us headfirst into a confrontation of indefinite scale and uncertain outcome.

While wholeheartedly behind President Uribe’s efforts to regain control –once and for all - of his beleaguered nation, pushing the problem across the border is no solution, and we should say so as loud as possible. Reports of repeated incursions into Venezuelan territory by elements of the Colombian Army can be explained – though they are hard to swallow - given Chávez’s absolute connivance with the FARC and ELN, but let’s keep in mind that Venezuela is a country that can hardly deal with its own crisis. Fatally weakened by an unrelenting institutional demolition derby nothing stands in the way of guerillas and drug traffickers, except of course 25 million Venezuelans that have the right to know what the hell is going on.

It is time that President Uribe talks openly – and with proof in hand - about Hugo Chávez’s duplicitous behavior. Taking unilateral action is putting all of Venezuela at even graver risk and that is certainly not a right that he has. It is understandable that President Uribe might fear unmasking Chávez in public, but it is unacceptable that he continue to pursue a reckless course behind our backs, and in our territory, just because he knows that Chávez, caught with his hands in the jar, must remain silent while he readies an adequate response. PMB

PS: a little noticed article on Colombian violence’s spill over into Venezuela appeared in the Washington Times this week. It is well worth a read, particularly the very candid assessment by the regional representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (see below).

www.washingtontimes.com

Colombian violence spills over

By Sharon Behn
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published September 20, 2005


URENA, Venezuela -- Colombian paramilitaries and Marxist guerrillas are running kidnapping, extortion and smuggling rackets as they infiltrate Urena and other communities near Venezuela's border, residents and officials say.
"There are more and more FARC in Apure and in Tachira [two western border states of Venezuela] present in the communities, and they are recruiting," said Virginia Trimarco, regional representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"That makes people inside the country, and the Venezuelans, worried about security and selective killings," she said, near the end of four years of working in Venezuela and more than 20 years in Latin America.
FARC is the acronym in Spanish of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla army founded in 1964 by the Communist Party of Colombia.
On the outskirts of this hot, dusty town several hundred yards from the border, Colombian refugees fleeing the violence take shelter in dusty shacks of paper and branches.
Mrs. Trimarco estimates there are about 1.5 million Colombian refugees now living on the Venezuelan side of the border. Government estimates are as high as 3 million, and nongovernmental organizations have put the number as low as 350,000.
Venezuelan cattle ranchers and a local state official -- who asked not to be named -- said the government of President Hugo Chavez turns a blind eye to FARC guerrillas operating in Venezuela, pushed to the border by the success of the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia, aimed at eradicating the cocaine trade in Colombia that funds the rebels.
Right-wing Colombian paramilitaries are not far behind them, running "protection" operations.
Restaurant owners, taxi drivers and even Colombian refugees are forced to pay what is locally known as a "vaccination" -- money to protect themselves from these armed groups.
The FARC's favorite fundraisers are kidnapping for ransom and cocaine trafficking. Venezuela is a major transshipment point for Colombian cocaine headed for the United States and elsewhere.
Illicit commerce rife
"There is arms trafficking, drug trafficking, people trafficking," said Mrs. Trimarco, one of the few officials ready to speak out about what many in these border towns will say only in private.
"The situation is slipping out of their control. Nobody wants confrontation or war, but the military are worried," she said.
Much of the violence is invisible. Villages of whitewashed houses with red-tiled roofs clinging to the sides of the Andean foothills appear idyllic, but cafes are guarded with shotguns at night and drivers head home after 11 p.m.
"As [Colombia's President Alvaro] Uribe pushes his war and illegal armed groups to the borders, they are moving over the borders, and moving their [cocaine] labs into neighboring countries," said Mrs. Trimarco.
"The border areas are heavy with conflict between the illegal armed groups fighting for turf," she said.
Venezuelan ranchers reportedly sometimes hire Colombian paramilitaries to protect themselves -- either from the FARC or from rural workers trying to invade their land. Even so, in towns like San Cristobal, there are daily kidnappings and assassinations; the local La Nacion newspaper even runs a daily kidnapping column.
More obvious is the daily gasoline-smuggling operation at popular border crossings like San Antonio de Tachira, which leads to the bustling shopping town of Cucuta in Colombia.
Hundreds of beat-up Dodges, Fords and Chevrolets from the 1970s -- the period of Venezuela's last oil boom -- make the crossing every day, carting as much as 100 extra gallons of gasoline in specially built tanks.
Gasoline in Venezuela costs about 18 cents per liter -- 72 cents a gallon -- but about 85 cents per liter -- $3.40 per gallon -- in Colombia. In addition to being a motor fuel, gasoline is also used in the processing of cocaine.
Moms, children hide
Colombian women who have survived the killings of their villages come straggling over the border with numerous children in tow. They settle in dusty shantytowns like El Cuji on the outskirts of Urena, and until they get Venezuelan papers, they are not allowed to travel more than 10 kilometers [about 6.2 miles] from the border.
Their shacks are not much more than mud and paper, sometimes just plastic bags and empty flour sacks glued together and held up on sticks above the dirt floor. Many of the children suffer from respiratory diseases and blisters from the unsanitary conditions.
Local government officials fill each family's drum with water, but it runs out fast, and families are forced to cope. The lucky ones, whose children or newfound husbands do underpaid work in small factories nearby, pool their money to buy extra water.
The UNHCR, along with Caritas and Jesuit Relief Services, two Roman Catholic charity groups, struggle with meager resources to integrate the asylum seekers into the Venezuelan community and process their claims. But many of the Colombians streaming across the border are too afraid to identify themselves.
"There is a great degree of insecurity, because of the high rate of murder and crime" all along the border, said Jenncy Penaranda, a UNHCR protection assistant. The husband of one woman seeking help was slain last month on the dirt track outside his home, she said.
A 34-year-old mother of seven bathed her youngest child, who stood naked in a cement wash tub, using a small plastic pail to pour water over the crying child, trying to keep her children clean to prevent the diarrhea and skin diseases that plague many people here.
"I came from Colombia four years ago because of the violence," said the mother afterward, as she balanced one of a pair of twin girls on her knee while sitting on a broken chair. She asked that her name and those of her children not be used.
"I lived in a village far from the border, but my kids were in danger," she said, light brown hair blowing around her face. "They would cut off people's ears. I was so scared I could not even sleep."
One of her young sons added from behind his mother's shoulder: "And cut their tongues out." Life for this young mother and other families nearby is measurably better, she said. But the guerrillas and paramilitaries that tortured and killed their fathers, brothers and husbands have not disappeared with their move to Venezuela.
Her husband works in a furniture factory, earning the equivalent of $10 per week, barely enough for water and food for the family of nine. A teenage son manages to bring home about $2.50 a week in bolivars for working in a motorbike maintenance shop.
'Slow procedure'
"There is no safety," said the mother. "Anyone can come here and rip the wall," she said, gesturing at the burlap bags and tin roof beside her.
"We also pay the 'vaccination' here for protection," she added when the UNHCR representatives were out of earshot. "Someone comes to pick up the money."
Government commissions have dealt with 700 asylum requests in the past two years, and only 300 applicants were considered refugees, said Mrs. Trimarco in her office in Caracas.
"It is a very slow procedure, but they are slowly getting better. At this pace, we will not meet the needs," she said.
And the needs increase every day as the guerrillas and paramilitaries penetrate deeper into the border towns, not only of Venezuela, but also of neighboring Brazil and Ecuador, said Mrs. Trimarco.


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