Saturday, February 24, 2007

Feb 23/07 | Súmate Concluye que las Elecciones del 3D no Fueron Limpias: Por si Alguien Tenia Dudas

Chávez tiene aun quien lo observe

En su informe sobre el 3D Súmate concluye que las elecciones no fueron limpias

"Más que el derecho a elecciones limpias la que está amenazada es nuestra Democracia"

  • Más de la mitad de los venezolanos no votaron por el Presidente. No tiene el derecho de aniquilar las instituciones democráticas.
  • La historia está llena de casos de ciudadanos que han logrado detener y hacer retroceder a las dictaduras más férreas.

Una serie de obstáculos enfrentaron los venezolanos para ejercer su derecho al voto el pasado 3 de diciembre, entre los que destacan el origen inconstitucional del actual CNE, el desbalance de la campaña electoral a favor del Candidato Presidente, la amenaza a la disidencia como política de Estado, el Registro Electoral diseñado para el ventajismo político, el uso de captahuellas, el incumplimiento del cronograma electoral y las fallas en la elaboración del Reglamento Electoral. Así lo dio a conocer Súmate este viernes 23 de febrero, al presentar su Informe de las Elecciones Presidenciales.

Los voceros de Súmate María Corina Machado y Ricardo Estévez mencionaron que estos obstáculos son pruebas de que no tuvimos elecciones limpias, ni libres ni transparentes. Para Machado, más que nuestro derecho a elecciones limpias la que está siendo amenazada es nuestra libertad.

La Democracia en Venezuela vive su peor momento

De acuerdo a la vocera de Súmate más de la mitad de los electores, según cifras oficiales del CNE, no votaron por el Presidente de la República y menos aún por su política de aniquilar las instituciones democráticas. Aclaró que cualquiera que hubiese sido el resultado, no tiene la potestad de rehacer nuestras leyes y nuestra Constitución desconociendo el Estado de Derecho. Ante esta posibilidad, precisó que la historia está llena de casos de hombres y mujeres que han logrado detener y hacer retroceder a las dictaduras más férreas, destacando que el pueblo de Venezuela en el pasado le ha demostrado al mundo lo que es capaz de hacer por la defensa de su libertad.

Ante la reforma constitucional y la aprobación de la Ley Habilitante, Machado dijo que en Venezuela están amenazados los Derechos Humanos: el derecho a la vida, a la libertad de expresión, a la propiedad privada, a la educación, entre otros. "El Presidente quiere imponer un régimen autoritario militarista, antidemocrático y contrario a nuestra Constitución, prueba de ello es la Ley Habilitante que le permite concentrar el poder para controlar a todo el país, y la Reforma Constitucional que es un fraude a la misma Carta Magna".

Aunque considera que la democracia vive su momento más difícil y su prueba más dura, es optimista porque está convencida de que el pueblo de Venezuela tiene una reserva democrática inmensa, la cual ha demostrado en el pasado. Machado hizo un llamado a todos los venezolanos de buena voluntad a activarse para defender sus derechos, tarea que no pueden delegar ni postergar. "Desde sus asociaciones de vecinos, sociedades de padres y representantes, sindicatos, ONG, gremios, cámaras y, por supuesto, los convocamos a participar con nosotros desde Súmate".

Informe 3D recoge irregularidades y violaciones a la ley

Súmate documenta en su Informe 3D las múltiples irregularidades y violaciones a la Constitución y leyes de la República detectadas en su observación del proceso electoral. Ricardo Estévez aclaró que no es posible precisar el impacto en número de votos de cada una de las irregularidades detectadas sobre los resultados electorales. Sin embargo, explicó los obstáculos que cada elector tuvo que enfrentar para registrar su voto en la máquina de votación y cómo en consecuencia los resultados oficiales no reflejan la verdadera voluntad de los electores venezolanos.

El primer obstáculo fue participar en unas elecciones con un administrador electoral no imparcial, como resultado de la inconstitucionalidad en la designación de la actual directiva del CNE; lo cual está documentado en el Informe 3D.

La violación a la igualdad en la campaña de los candidatos demostrada en el gigantesco desbalance a favor del Candidato Presidente, fue un segundo obstáculo que enfrentaron los electores. Para ello mostró el resultado del monitoreo de Súmate a la publicidad electoral en los medios de comunicación en la que el Candidato Presidente triplicó al candidato opositor en la prensa nacional y regional, y en televisión esta relación fue de 16 veces a uno. Además, según Estévez, el Presidente Candidato utilizó a su antojo los recursos del Estado, lo cual viola el principio de igualdad necesario para que una campaña pueda ser considerada parte de un proceso electoral realmente democrático. Al respecto Estévez citó el Informe de la MOE-UE en su página 3: "En el desarrollo de la campaña electoral, la MOE-UE ha identificado problemas relevantes en tres áreas: la existencia de una fuerte publicidad institucional, el desequilibrio informativo de los medios de comunicación y la participación de funcionarios públicos en la campaña, ya sea por voluntad propia o debido a presiones de terceros, Tales problemas se podrían paliar si el CNE ejerciese los poderes sancionatorios con los que está facultado por ley".

Un tercer obstáculo fue la amenaza a la disidencia como Política de Estado, incluyendo la coerción ejercida por funcionarios públicos para que sus subalternos votaran a favor del Presidente Candidato. Esto fue igualmente destacado por la MOE-UE en la página 42 de su informe. A esto se suma la actuación ilegítima del Plan República y los Coordinadores de Centro de Votación del CNE, según denuncias registradas por Súmate en su "Operativo Impunidad Cero" el 3D.

El elector que logró enfrentar todos los obstáculos anteriores, pudo encontrar en su Centro de Votación que era parte del millón y medio de migrados, caso el cual no pudo votar. Sin embargo, para Estévez el impacto mayor de las irregularidades del Registro en los resultados electorales fue que los cambios no auditados al RE pudieron ser expresamente diseñados para el ventajismo político, permitiéndose incluso votaciones múltiples de una misma persona, dado que como se demostró el propio día de las elecciones la tinta supuestamente indeleble usada para marcar a los votantes se podía remover fácilmente.

Además de los obstáculos anteriores, el elector pudo encontrar en su Centro de Votación las captahuellas, las que -aunque se demostró su inutilidad para garantizar el principio de "un elector un voto"- el CNE inexplicablemente se negó a retirar.

Estévez concluyó que si hubiese imperado la Constitución y las leyes aplicables, con sus principios de igualdad, imparcialidad y transparencia, las proporciones de votos entre ambos contendores seguramente habrían sido distintas. Agregó que el problema de Venezuela en estos momentos va mucho más allá de lo electoral pues, por la naturaleza del gobierno que tenemos, está en riesgo todo nuestro sistema democrático. En este sentido, dijo que Súmate seguirá luchando por condiciones para elecciones limpias y por la defensa y construcción de nuestra democracia.

Lea el informe completo


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feb 22/07 | So You Still Think Chávez Won the 2004 Referendum? READ ON

Yes Jimmy, your were fooled...
but that is not really the point is it?
The point is why have you stayed so quiet
about a mess that has your fingerprints all over it?

Study shows how Hugo Chavez rigged elections in Venezuela

By Alek Boyd | Editor | vcrisis.com

London 22.02.07 | A statistical study done by two Venezuelan scientists, Maria M. Febres Cordero and Bernardo Marquez, has determined that Hugo Chavez alleged victory in the recall referendum of 2004 was unlikely. The reports concludes by saying "the Venezuelan opposition has statistical evidence to reject the official results given by the CNE. The irregularities detected were observed consistently in numerous voting centers and the magnitude of the irregularities imply that the official results do not reflect the intention of voters with statistical confidence."

The report, which has been peer reviewed by the International Statistical Institute (ISI) and the International Statistical Review, has been published in the ISI's website, where a summary can be read. However given the importance of making such a report available to a wider audience I have decided to publish the entire report.

A statistical approach to assess referendum results: The Venezuelan recall referendum 2004

http://vcrisis.com/index.php?content=letters/200702221623


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Feb 22/07 | On a Report from the International Crisis Group: Venezuela = Crisis Indeed!

For some it is more of a crisis than for others: Viva La Robolución!

PMBComments: This extensive report is worth reading. The very well regarded International Crisis Group does well to focus careful attention on the brewing crisis in Venezuela because it is all too obvious that it no longer has a "constitutional, democratic, electoral and peaceful" solution (if it ever did once the electorate fell for a coupster's "charm" or largess).

Mr. Chávez - the man - has long rendered that type of happy outcome a pipe dream. This does not mean it would not be desirable to have a rosy ending, only that sticking to blind hope in the face of crude reality might well fall under the category of criminal naiveté and make the wishful thinkers accessories to the crime underway. PMB

The link to the full report - which is downloadable in PDF format - is here

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT

Venezuela: Hugo Chávez's Revolution

Bogotá/Brussels, 22 February 2007: Venezuela is at risk of serious internal conflict if President Hugo Chávez continues to polarise society and dismantle the checks and balances of representative democracy after his recent landslide re-election.

Venezuela: Hugo Chávez's Revolution,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines what that overwhelming victory in December and Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution" mean for one of the world's major oil producing countries. After eight years in power and despite his repeated electoral successes, Chávez faces serious challenges: there is growing frustration with spiralling crime, government inefficiency, excessive spending and corruption, and polarisation in the body politic has reached historic proportions. There are also concerns in the region that the ex-colonel is willing to sacrifice democratic principles to advance his agenda. Under the guise of "direct" or "participatory" democracy, Chávez has progressively weakened the checks and balances of the political system.

"Chávez has created a regime that is not yet a dictatorship but is developing strong autocratic tendencies, has suborned the military, taken control of the judiciary and the electoral commission and passed laws that can be used to intimidate and muzzle the press", says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group's Colombia/Andes Project Director. "All the levers of power can be operated by his hand and his hand alone".

Chávez has been reconstructing Venezuela since his first election in 1998. He pushed through a new constitution that dismantled the system by which the traditional parties had dominated the country for most of two generations. The two-chamber Congress became a unicameral National Assembly, which has had only pro-Chávez members since the badly fragmented opposition unwisely boycotted the December 2005 elections. On 31 January 2007 it passed a new enabling law granting the president far-reaching legislative power for eighteen months.

Three scenarios could trouble Chávez. The likeliest is that problems will arise if oil prices drop to a point where the president cannot sustain current social spending. "If a recession imperils government funding, this could lead to more unemployment, undermining faith in the revolution and provoking an angry backlash", says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Jeremy McDermott. It is also possible that the political opposition could eventually regain its footing, take control of the National Assembly and provide a serious alternative. This scenario could prompt diehard Chavistas to resort to violence to defend the regime. There is also a possibility that Chávez could be challenged from within his movement, as there are some disagreements over where the president is leading the country.

"If Chávez continues to build personal power at the expense of other institutions and militarise the government and political life, there will be serious risks of internal conflict, especially if the oil boom that cushions the economy falters", says Alain Deletroz, Crisis Group's Latin America Program Director. "Whether the social polarisation and accumulating tensions turn violent depends primarily on whether, at a moment of triumph, Chávez acts with restraint".

*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Feb 21/07 | El zorro cuidando a las gallinas: Venezuela al frente de la OEA

"Confia en mi"

PMBComentario: A continuación un excelente análisis del corresponsal de La Nación en Washington. Evidentemente a Venezuela – y a su inefable representante Jorge Valero - no se le puede negar la rotativa Presidencia del Consejo Permanente de la OEA pues no existe dentro de ese órgano político la más mínima queja sobre el país, ó sobre la conducta cada día más anti-democrática de su desequilibrado gobernante. La única resolución de ese desvergonzado órgano fue una de "jubilo" por la re-elección del guapetón de barrio. Apuntalado por esa insólita e inédita resolución - y confiado pues en la impunidad continental – Hugo Rafael Chávez se deshizo sin temor alguno de los últimos harapos de su disfraz de demócrata y además convirtió en fecha patria el aniversario del fallido golpe militar que liderizó en 1992 (por cierto, la OEA de entonces si repudió ese acto). Aun con su autoritarismo al aire, nada ha ocurrido - ni ocurrirá - en un organismo que padece de irrelevancia crónica y agoniza sin pena ni gloria.

Por lo tanto, Venezuela, violador habitual de casi todas las cláusulas de la Carta Democrática, pasa a partir del primer día de abril – April Fool's Day para los norteamericanos - a definir, por tres largos e importantes meses, el orden y la naturaleza del debate hemisférico. Es el caso fiel del zorro cuidando a las gallinas. Y a gallinas asustadizas me refiero, pues como un embajador me dijo: "es evidente que somos 34 cobardes sentados alrededor de una mesa, pero no creas que hay 34 ignorantes ahí. Casi todos sabemos lo que ocurre en tu país pero tenemos instrucciones de nuestras cancillerías de evitar problemas (¿?)".

Con toda seguridad el cierre de la televisora RCTV - anunciado para mayo, y los incrementales atropellos a los derechos y libertades de los Venezolanos que definen como ninguna otra cosa la acción gubernamental de los dizque-Bolivarianos, seguirán pasando bajo la mesa de una Organización que goza - en el sentido festivo de la palabra - de un respetable presupuesto, pero ya no del respeto de tantos en el hemisferio. PMB

Nota: el próximo comentario obligatoriamente será sobre la insólita visita a Venezuela - y las aun más insólitas declaraciones - del Pingüino Kirchner.


La Nación, Martes 20 de febrero 2007

La OEA, nuevo frente de batalla entre EE.UU. y Venezuela

Caracas asumirá la presidencia en abril

WASHINGTON.- La Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA) afronta otro año complicado. Venezuela asumirá la presidencia de su principal órgano, el Consejo Permanente, entre abril y junio, período en el que tendrá las facultades de controlar, potenciar o reducir los debates más calientes de América latina, y criticar desde esta misma capital al presidente George W. Bush.

El ascenso de la delegación chavista despierta cautela entre algunos diplomáticos consultados por LA NACION. Otros son, en cambio, pesimistas. "Este es el año en que quizá muera Fidel Castro y la OEA podría quedar otra vez a un lado y ser tan intrascendente como lo fue durante la crisis de Ecuador", comentó un diplomático en esta capital.

La transición cubana figura en la primera línea de la agenda del continente. Algunos gobiernos alientan una movida regional para abogar por el levantamiento del embargo que impone Estados Unidos a la isla desde hace décadas. Otros buscan tender puentes con el régimen para promover una apertura democrática.

El secretario general de la organización, José Miguel Insulza, integra la segunda corriente, aunque marcó límites a las presiones contrapuestas que Venezuela y Estados Unidos buscan ejercer sobre el régimen de La Habana.

"Encuentro absurdo que, en la OEA, la mayoría de los países mantengan relaciones diplomáticas con el gobierno de Cuba y, sin embargo, la organización como tal no discuta ni hable de ese país", planteó.

Pero marcó límites. Los cambios deben definirse "dentro de Cuba", explicó durante una entrevista reciente a un medio peruano. "Que nadie se meta si no es para ayudar", afirmó. El presidente Hugo Chávez piensa distinto, sin embargo, y se anticipan contrapuntos.

El jefe de la representación venezolana ante la OEA, Jorge Valero, es también el vicecanciller chavista para América del Norte y Asuntos Multilaterales. Pero en vez de retornar a Caracas para coordinar el área, el diplomático podría permanecer en esta capital, precisamente, para potenciar la repercusión de las ideas bolivarianas.

Poca relevancia

En el extremo opuesto, la misión norteamericana ante la OEA actúa sin su representante desde hace semanas. La administración de Bush aún debe definir quién reemplazará a su embajador John Maisto, quien se retiró a fines de año. Hasta que eso ocurra, la delegación quedará a cargo de Robert Manzanares.

"Uno de los problemas es que incluso si designan ahora al nuevo embajador, su proceso de confirmación puede tomar meses, por lo que podría llegarse a la asamblea general sin que haya un embajador norteamericano. Quizás eso sea un mensaje", especuló ante LA NACION un diplomático del Mercosur.

La Asamblea General de la OEA se celebrará este año entre el 3 y 5 de junio, en Panamá, dentro del trimestre en que Venezuela encabezará el Consejo. Luego, entre junio y septiembre, será el turno de Antigua y Barbuda y, después, hasta fines de año, la Argentina asumirá la presidencia, según surge del Estatuto del Consejo.

Dos fuentes diplomáticas norteamericanas negaron, sin embargo, que la vacante que dejó Maisto sea un "mensaje" sobre la escasa relevancia de la OEA. También relativizaron el impacto que puede tener Venezuela desde la presidencia del Consejo Permanente.

"No es mucho lo que podrá hacer si no cuenta con el apoyo de la mayoría de los países", planteó uno de ellos a LA NACION. Uno de los privilegios de encabezar el Consejo es, no obstante, que su presidente se erige si lo desea en uno de los dos máximos voceros de la OEA junto a Insulza, a quien podría contradecirlo al abordar, por ejemplo, la transición cubana.

La relación entre Chávez y el ex ministro del Interior chileno es, cuando menos, "compleja" o "complicada", como la definieron dos diplomáticos ante LA NACION.

Chávez lo calificó de "pendejo" y "virrey del imperio" en enero último, cuando pidió su renuncia a la OEA después que Insulza criticó su ofensiva contra el canal privado Radio Caracas Televisión.

Luego dijo que su comentario fue "más allá de lo prudente", pero no se retractó. Insulza, quien mantiene su proyecto de pelear por la presidencia de Chile cuando concluya el mandato de Michelle Bachelet, evitó entrar en los contrapuntos verbales.

Pero días después, en el último Foro Económico Mundial, marcó sus límites. "¿Quieres que responda si pienso que el presidente Chávez será el heredero de Castro? No voy a explayarme; pero no, no lo creo", retrucó.

Escenarios complicados

Además de la transición en Cuba, la OEA podría afrontar otros escenarios calientes mientras Venezuela presida el Consejo Permanente. Además de la propia situación venezolana, problemas en Haití, Bolivia, Ecuador y Nicaragua.

Por ahora, sin embargo, el primer eje de interés para Venezuela es el diseño de la Carta Social Interamericana, documento que debería comprometer a los países del continente en la lucha contra la pobreza y alentar la inclusión social. Para financiarlo, Valero entregó una donación de US$ 40.000 a la OEA.

Por Hugo Alconada Mon
Corresponsal en EE.UU.


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Feb 16/07 | Breaking News: Guess who is coming for the weekend? President Lula at Camp David

¿Socialismo? ¿del Siglo cual?


PMBComment
: For those who did not believe that 2007 was going to be Bush's year of engagement with Latin America, the breaking news that President Lula will spend the last weekend of March in Camp David must come as a real shocker. But surely no one will be more shocked than Hugo Chavez,who is again indirectly reaping the sour fruits of his crassness, unpredictability and utter inability to play by the unwritten rules of sane politics and prudent governance.

Lula, an opportunist if there ever was one, tried to shelter Chavez from himself while milking Venezuela with both hands and reckless abandon, but at the end it must have become clear to him that the interests and the destiny of Brazil lie with the real world and not with the fictional version that Hugo has been trying to build with our unprecedented and grossly mismanaged oil windfall. The note from Lula to the "elected" autocrat in Caracas might well read something like this: "Hugo it was profitable while it lasted, but I can no longer afford to put up with your antics and mood swings. Marco Aurelio will continue to return your letters and calls, but please don't call me as I will be with George, the other guys from the G-7 and you know Hu.
Prazer em conhecê-la! Adeus, vá em paz, Lula".

President Bush starts his 2007 Latin tour in early March in Sao Paulo and ends the month summing it all up at his mountain retreat with the labor union leader who almost squandered his country's long held ambition to lead the region into prosperity and relevance. While some might say GWB is a lame duck, or the mother of all lame ducks, Lula would be utterly irresponsible to lose the next two years in which to advance on multiple fronts of Brazil's extensive bilateral relationship. Having hanged on for longer than he probably wanted to his now fetid friend in Caracas he has clearly opted to end that affair in the most dramatic and potentially productive of ways.

Having criticized Lula for a long time, I cannot but take my hat off to the courage that underlies his acceptance of this smart invitation. In my blog I have over the years repeatedly recommended this personal approach to rebuilding or repositioning the common agenda of the US and the responsible countries in the region.

Now all we have to wait and hope for is white smoke from the
Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. PMB

Note: Link to one of many posts on this subject ...interesting to see what a difference a few years make!


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Feb 15/07 | More on a Kennedy scion with a 1-800 number and zero shame

1-800-Shame-U

PMBComment: The controversy surrounding Joe Kennedy's pathetic efforts to justify Hugo Chavez's blatant effort to hoodwink America's poor and misinformed continues to grow. It has just come to my attention that a Letter to the Editor that I shot-off right after reading Joe's January 22nd shameless OpEd in the Boston Herald (read at the bottom part of this email) was indeed published by that paper on January 31st. You will find my letter below and in the days to come you will see Joe, or actually those who do all his writing, continue to use sophomoric and indefensible argumentation to revert a tide that has definitely turned. "His" most recent exchange of letters with Rep. Connie Mack left no doubt that shame and history are not standing in the way of former Rep. Kennedy and his disingenuous ploy to enrich himself and resurrect his long-ago squandered political inheritance. Way before this controversy hit the mass media, I posted about it here. This link will take you to the original Nov. 2005 post. BTW, the post was extensively linked by many other bloggers in the US including the folks at Real Clear Politics. PMB

Boston Herald

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR







Joe K running on empty
By Pedro M. Burelli/ Letter
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It might be futile to try to explain to Joe Kennedy the true meaning of democracy if he fails to understand the difference between selfless charity and strident manipulation ("Tapping Venezuela's oil without guilt," Jan. 22).

Kennedy at least acknowledges that his public role as poster boy and apologist for the authoritarian regime in Caracas has generated criticism. But a man who pays himself hundreds of thousands of dollars from his nonprofit activities should not be filling his mouth with tired anti-wealth slogans. Furthermore, his proclamation of Hugo Chavez as a democrat proves that he knows or cares little for the manner in which Venezuela's institutions have been co-opted and dismantled by a man that I assume he would not dare compare to the late Robert F. Kennedy.

While poor Americans deserve energy assistance commensurate to both their needs and the means of the federal and state governments, it is not "the good folks from Venezuela" who have opted to fill the void, but an autocrat who has found an unremorseful ally for his all-too-blatant attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the needy of a country he has repeatedly promised to bury.

- Pedro M. Burelli,

Caracas, Venezuela


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Friday, February 09, 2007

Feb 9/07 | On a Walletless Charm Offensive: Or "Don't Mess With My ATM"

"Oye pibe how many more billions do you think he is worth?"

PMBComment: Competent emissaries, good intentions and sensible rhetoric. The problem is that the Lulas and Kirchners of the region are not moderates at all, they are amoral "show me the money" opportunists, and they will continue to pimp for Hugo Chávez as long as the cash flow is there. They will turn on him the very minute (or second) the cash dries up and not one minute (or second) earlier. The U.S. will try everything to charm them, but the fact is that Bush & Co. had their wallets picked in Iraq and there is not much but platonic love on the table. So Argentines, Brazilians and others might very well take the cheap love but continue to treasure and shelter their Caribbean ATM Machine.

A good policy alternative would be to increase the "shame you" cost of milking Venezuela's poor (or turning a blind eye to the wanton destruction of its democracy) by releasing together with the likes of Spain, Colombia and Mexico, information of how drugs, and the laundering of its proceeds, have augmented the phenomenal mismanaged oil boom that emboldens Chavez domestically and keeps him so "popular and democratic" in the region and beyond.

For example, it would be nice for Ms. Bachelet, Chile's bland President, to arrive in Caracas on her planned (can you believe it?) April visit and be welcomed not only by officials that are joyfully bringing down democracy, but also by those who provide cover and Diplomatic Passports for "displaced" Colombian drug lords. Maybe just the thought of such encounters will help define, once and for all, her elusive political stance vis-à-vis the military dictatorship that has bought the consciences, or scared the living daylights, of so many purportedly democratic leaders in Latin America. PMB

Associated Press

U.S. tries to win over Latin America's moderate left

By Kevin Gray 20 minutes ago

Worried about the growing influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Bush administration is trying to make friends with more moderate leftist leaders in Latin America, where anti-U.S. sentiment runs high.

UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns met Argentine President Nestor Kirchner on Friday and touted trade opportunities following a three-day visit to Brazil.

"We tend to focus on ... our friends in the region, and not focus too much on President Chavez," Burns said during a speech in Buenos Aires on Friday.

It is the latest in a string of high-level visits to Latin America, and President George W. Bush will go on a five-nation tour of the region next month.

The attention appears to signal that Washington is adjusting to political changes in a region where 12 elections last year saw a broad range of leftists come to power, including some who openly challenged U.S. policies.

"They're attempting to make up for a long stretch of neglect and Chavez has a lot do with that," said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue.

Polls show Bush is widely unpopular in the region, hurt by the Iraq war and his economic and trade policies.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Kirchner, have not always seen eye-to-eye with Bush and have repeatedly challenged U.S. trade policies on free trade.

But Burns said the two men are influential leaders that the United States wants to work with.

"I think both Argentina and Brazil are prepared to meet us half way and they'll be dealing with an American government that truly wants to listen and wants to get their ideas and advice," he told reporters earlier this week.

The U.S. has regional allies in Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay while Chavez, along with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are fierce critics of Washington.

Brazil, Argentina and Chile sit between the pro-U.S. and staunchly anti-U.S. blocs.

In another sign of changing tactics, Washington also appears to be courting Morales, a close ally of Chavez who like the Venezuelan leader frequently decries U.S. "imperialism."

"The U.S. is trying to be a good friend to Bolivia," Burns said on Friday.

Bush will travel to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico on his March 8-14 Latin America tour.

But analysts say he may struggle to boost his administration's influence in Latin America given that he is now in the final two years of his presidency.

"There's not a lot they can do to restore trust and good will," Shifter said. "But they can maybe minimize the damage and close the big gap between what Washington cares about and what Latin America cares about."

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Feb 8/07 | On a Clear and Troublesome Trend

Nero: the role model


THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT
More 'elected dictators' are likely coming soon

The most troubling thing about Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's takeover of absolute powers last week is not that he has become a narcissist-Leninist elected dictator, but that his example is taking hold in a growing number of Latin American countries.

Just two decades after democracy took hold in the region, we're seeing a rapidly growing trend to expand presidential powers in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia and Argentina. Some of them are also creating ''people's organizations'' to intimidate and silence opponents, much like Benito Mussolini did in Italy or Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Consider the most recent developments:

In Venezuela, the entirely pro-Chávez National Assembly on Jan. 31 passed a law that gives the president special powers to rule by decree for 18 months. Under the new rule, Chávez will be able to sign sweeping economic and political laws, including one allowing for his indefinite reelection.

''The president has received imperial powers,'' Teodoro Petkoff, an ex-Marxist guerrilla and former planning minister who now runs the daily Tal Cual, told me in a telephone interview from Caracas. ``Chávez already controlled all powers, but the legislative procedures were cumbersome and bothered him. Now, he can rule without legislative delays.''

What's more, Article 2 of the new law allows Chávez to create government-backed people's organizations ``to allow the direct exercise of the people's sovereignty.''

In Ecuador, new President Rafael Correa is following Chávez's steps in calling for a Constitutional Assembly to replace the opposition-controlled Congress. On Thursday, thousands of government-backed activists, armed with clubs and rocks, stormed into the Congress demanding that lawmakers accept Correa's plan to hold a March 18 referendum to rewrite the constitution and expand presidential powers.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has held a referendum to convene a Constituent Assembly that would give him broad powers, although his plan is deadlocked over voting rules and autonomy demands by opposition governors. On Jan. 11, about 10,000 Morales-backed coca-growers marched onto the opposition-run city of Cochabamba in an effort to force the resignation of government Manfred Reyes Villa.

In an interview in Miami last week, Reyes Villa told me that the president is using ''citizen militias'' to oust recently elected opposition governors.

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega was given special powers by Congress on Jan. 21 to sign decrees over a wide range of issues, and to create ''people's councils'' that oppositionists fear will be replicas of the Sandinista Defense Committees that spied on government opponents in the 1980s.

`GROWING POWER'

Last week, Nicaragua's Civil Alliance, an umbrella group for 300 nongovernment organizations, issued a statement expressing its concerns over the ''growing concentration of power'' in Ortega's hands.

In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe got extraordinary powers from Congress in 2001 to expand his military powers in 2002 to negotiate with paramilitary groups, and in 2004 to sign decrees with the rank of laws to rule on administrative matters. Critics say Uribe is the strongest president Colombia has had in recent history.

In Argentina, President Néstor Kirchner's government got ''superpowers'' from Congress in August 2006 to allow the chief of staff to reassign funds from the national budget without asking for specific permission from Congress. Critics say this will give the Kirchner government a blank check to use funds in this year's presidential elections.

My opinion: Granted, there are differences among these countries. While Bolivia is a Venezuelan satellite, several others are not. And Latin America is not alone in this power-grabbing trend: While there is an opposition Congress in Washington, President Bush's habit of using bill-signing statements to interpret legislation in his own way goes way beyond his job description.

DANGEROUS EFFECT

But Chávez's gradual transformation into a tropical emperor has had a dangerous anesthetic effect in Latin America. People in the region are getting used to it, as if being elected would give Chávez the right to rule without accountability.

If Latin Americans react with indifference to the erosion of checks and balances in a neighboring country, they may soon react the same way at home.

There are good reasons to worry that more countries will soon follow Venezuela's steps, and switch from hybrid democracies to elected dictatorships.


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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Feb 7/07 | On Isolation as the Way to Contain a Man and Save a Region

Advice for Summit organizers: keep the bikini, remove the coupster.

PMBComment: A few weeks ago, Hugo Chávez taunted Condi Rice: "Hi Condoleezza, how are you? You've forgotten about me, my little girl," he said (see below). Today, in Capitol Hill, Dr. Rice made a rare and frank statement (see below) about Venezuela that will draw the customary ire from the provocateur in Caracas and maybe elicit the tired criticism from the shameless apologists in “leftist-anti-dictatorship” led Brasilia, BA and Santiago. The truth of the matter is that Dr. Rice is 100% correct and the future of ALL Venezuelans is dire to say the least. In the months to come, those who have the will, or the option, to leave the country will do so reluctantly, at a great cost to the country, since Venezuela was for centuries a place that attracted and nurtured people not the other way around. Those who remain, the vast majority of the poor included, will continue to suffer the consequences of a wrecking-ball government that still counts on the unforgivable complicity of many governments in the region who fill their precious time unearthing the skeletons from the past while ignoring militarism and fascism in their midst.

The bombastic insults that President-for-Life-Wannabe Chávez will hurl at Secretary Rice – so what’s new from Caracas? - will probably not intimidate her or her team - as has been the case with others in the region in the recent past, but they should prove beyond any doubt that a confrontation with the US is the end all of Venezuela’s reckless foreign policy. In this regard, the time has come for the real democrats in the world to isolate this hazard to democracy in Venezuela and nuisance to prosperity in the region.

For willingly ridding himself of all remnants of democratic legitimacy Mr. Chávez must earn the cold shoulder and lose the welcome mat of civilized leaders and countries in the world. Those who understand that democracy is a prerequisite for freedom and that freedom is a prerequisite for prosperity should not play idiotic games or sign amoral deals with this crass man and his utterly corrupt regime. For years the unrepentant coupster in Caracas has used his international access and dealings as a source of legitimacy in order to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions and practices and to corner his many opponents. ISOLATE CHAVEZ NOW or millions of Latin Americans will fall into the evil spell of policies and antics that are certain only to enshrine poverty and render representative democracy a laughing matter. Venezuelans of all walks of life provided a lifeline to countless democrats from all over the region in the dark ages of autocratic military rule; facing the same threat, we now solicit effective solidarity. PMB

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007 12:05 a.m. EST

Condoleezza Rice: Hugo Chavez 'Destroying' Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday she believed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was destroying his country economically and politically.

Venezuela's Congress on January 31 granted Chavez powers to rule by decree for 18 months as he tries to force through nationalizations key to his self-styled leftist revolution.

"I believe there is an assault on democracy in Venezuela and I believe that there are significant human rights issues in Venezuela," Rice told lawmakers at a congressional hearing. "I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically."

Venezuela is the fourth largest oil exporter to the United States and Washington, which has been at odds with Chavez for years, has criticized his plans to nationalize his country's oil and utility assets.

The Venezuelan leader is known for his fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric and is a close ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Despite her comments Rice said she wanted to avoid getting into "a rhetorical contest" with Chavez. She said the United States has traditionally had good relations with Venezuela and would like to have them in the future.

Venezuela has vowed to strip some of the world's biggest oil companies of controlling stakes in oil projects of the country's Orinoco Belt by May 1.

The pledge, which affects firms such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Statoil and BP Plc, forms a vital part of the nationalizations at the heart of his revolution in Venezuela.

The White House said that any U.S. firms affected by nationalizations must be compensated fairly.

© Reuters 2007.

Chavez Calls Sec. Rice "My Little Girl"

Last Update: Jan 22, 2007 7:15 AM

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday called the U.S. secretary of state "my little girl" and told Washington to "go to hell" after it questioned his plan to seek special powers to legislate by decree.

Chavez, a Cuba ally re-elected by a landslide in December, this month launched a campaign to consolidate power by nationalizing key industries, seeking expanded executive powers and pushing for unlimited presidential re-election.

A State Department spokesman on Friday described Chavez's proposal to allow presidents to rule by decree as "a bit odd" in a democracy.

"That is a sacrosanct legal authority of Venezuela. Go to hell, gringos! Go home! Go home!" Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast. "We're free here, and every day we'll be more free."

Chavez also took on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has described Chavez as a "negative force" in the region.

"Hi Condoleezza, how are you? You've forgotten about me, my little girl," said Chavez, who last year called President George W. Bush "the devil" during a U.N. speech.

Venezuela's legislature this week is expected to give its final approval to the Enabling Law that would grant Chavez 18 months to decree legislation.

'CERTAINLY ... A BIT ODD'

The former soldier has said he would use the expanded powers to end the autonomy of the nation's central bank, create a national police force and boost state control over the nation's oil industry, which provides around 11 percent of U.S. oil imports.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey on Friday said the legislation by decree proposal was "a sovereign right of Venezuela but certainly ... a bit odd in terms of a democratic system."

Chavez also plans to alter the nation's constitution, rewritten in 1999 following a campaign Chavez himself led, to boost state control over the economy and remove a two-term limit for presidents.

He said he additionally plans to create new luxury taxes and raise Venezuela's rock-bottom gasoline prices -- currently around 13 cents per gallon -- and use the proceeds to finance community development groups.

Chavez in 2001 decreed a package of 40 laws that paved the way for a sweeping land reform measure and higher taxes for oil companies. The move galvanized the country's fledgling opposition, which accused Chavez of authoritarianism and staged a botched coup six months later.

The government says previous Venezuelan administrations used the Enabling Law, though opposition leaders say they reserved the law for emergency measures rather than divisive reforms.

Chavez frequently describes the United States as a decadent empire and has promised to roll back Washington's influence in Latin America.

The United States has criticized his close relationship with U.S. foes including Cuba, Iran and Syria, charging he has used the nation's oil wealth to meddle in the affairs of neighboring countries.

Photo Copyright Getty Images

Copyright 2006 Reuters.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Feb 4/07 | On an easy definition and its simple translations

Shooting down freedom

dic·ta·tor noun

all-powerful ruler who is unencumbered by the legislature, the judiciary or the laws of a land.

Example: As soon as he was elected for the third time he choose to become a dictator, he forced the National Assembly to hand over legislative power to him and he began to nationalize at will all that he alone defines as strategic. Read more

Arabic: طاغِيَه، دكتاتور

Chinese (Simplified): 独裁者

Chinese (Traditional): 獨裁者

Czech: diktátor

Danish: diktator

Dutch: dictator

Estonian: diktaator

Finnish: diktaattori

French: dictateur, *-trice

German: der Diktator

Greek: δικτάτορας

Hungarian: diktátor

Icelandic: einræðisherra

Indonesian: diktator

Italian: dittatore

Japanese: 独裁者

Korean: 독재자

Latvian: diktators

Lithuanian: diktatorius

Norwegian: diktator, enehersker

Polish: dyktator

Portuguese (Brazil): ditador

Portuguese (Portugal): ditador

Romanian: dictator

Russian: диктатор

Slovak: diktátor

Slovenian: diktator

Spanish: dictador

Swedish: diktator

Turkish: diktatör


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