Posted Monday, June 14, 2004

Postcards From Venezuela
By Gustavo Coronel

Gustavo Coronel became President of MENEVEN ((Mene Grande/Gulf Oil Corporation) after the nationalization of 1976.

First Postcard

I am back in my country and I have to report that a portion of it, in the hands of Chávez, is rapidly shrinking. Not in physical size but in social and spiritual terms. Venezuela today is a country ruled by a relatively small group of very ignorant people possessing an authoritarian and violent nature. Let me give some examples: today 12 dissident political leaders in the State of Tachira, bordering with Colombia, will be one year in prison without trial, something specifically forbidden in Venezuelan laws. 15 political dissidents, including the mayor of Baruta, a residential suburb of Caracas and several high ranking military officers are in prison without being properly charged of any crime and without being allowed legitimate legal defense. The managers of Súmate, an NGO that has the objective of improving transparency in electoral events, which was given $53,000 by the National Endowment for Democracy, based in Washington, DC, have been indicted as conspirators against the Venezuelan government, in spite of the fact that nothing they have done has been hidden or illegal. Journalists like Ibeyise Pacheco and Patricia Poleo are being harassed by the not so secret police. The monies from the sale of oil in the international markets is being diverted directly to the government instead of being delivered to the Venezuelan Central Bank, as the law dictates. Over one billion dollars have already been given to the Chávez government by the Venezuelan oil company, without transparency or accountability, in open violation of all legal and ethical rules. The money is being handled by Nelson Merentes, the head of the Venezuelan "Development Bank," who is also one of the coordinators of the recently sworn in Chávez's electoral campaign team. Can any civilized person understand how the person in charge of managing the funds of the nation is also in charge of managing the funds of Chávez's political campaign? This is a classic example of conflict of interests. In addition, the monies from PDVSA, the national oil company, are being diverted to finance directly the costs of the 11,150 Cuban "patriots" present in the country, as recently and publicly admitted by Juana Contreras, a Director of the Ministry of Health (Descifrado, June 7h, 2004). Oscar Bataglinni, one of the Chávez followers in the Board of the National Electoral Council has let it be known that he will "oppose the presence of international observers in the referendum and the independent audit of the referendum process." This would be in open violation of all internationally accepted norms. To add insult to injury, the company providing the machinery for this event is a company in which the Chávez government has substantial share ownership and one that has never, I repeat, never has done work in any election since it was formed, rather mysteriously, a few months ago. Does this sound transparent? Should the Venezuelan opposition to the current government make an act of faith and hope that the setup, as described above, will transmit faithfully the will of the Venezuelan people? This would be very naïve of the opposition, in the light of the low moral qualities of the people currently in government. There cannot be trust in these adventurers. As I write this, Venevisión, a TV station opposed to the government is being raided by the secret and not so secret police, the 30th such raid conducted systematically on private television and newspaper organizations in an effort to plant incriminating evidence. During the recent signature collection event, Chávez shouted fraud, as is his habit, and his claim this time was that many Venezuelan citizens had used false, cloned identity cards. This was so ridiculous a claim that not one of his followers dared to pursue it.

The Chávez government is characterized by improvisation and waste. All factual data point to a dramatic deterioration of the Venezuelan society: a drop of 25 places in the United Nations Human Development Index (measures quality of life) from 1998 to 2003; a record increase of unemployment during the last five years, the highest in Latin America; the highest rate of inflation in Latin America; the highest drop in economic growth during 2003; a horrible situation of more than 200,000 abandoned Venezuelan children in the streets.

I arrived back in Venezuela three days ago. The airport is a national scandal: few things work, the parking lots are in ruins, no lights. The road up to Caracas is totally destroyed, no lights, no
maintenance, potholes, tunnels in ruins, nothing left from the proud highway that a more progressive dictator inaugurated 60 years ago. Caracas looks like a dirty, toothless, old beggar. For those old enough (like me) to know how beautiful Caracas was, this horrendous accumulation of filth, bad smells and misery that Chavez now calls his Caracas is an unacceptable insult. I have lived and have visited some horrible spots in this earth and always felt relieved to know that I could always go back to my beautiful Caracas. But now Caracas is more horrible a sight and a smell than the worst of those places I have ever visited. And I say, political language does not mean a thing if the people cannot live decently. The rhetoric about revolution does not mean a thing if people grow hungry and in squalor. Words are ineffectual against poverty unless good and transparent management of national wealth accompanies them.

What we have today in Venezuela is ruins and empty, fanatical words. People walk the streets with hunger and despair in their eyes while in Canada, in England, in France and in the US, in all existing Chávez government centers for paid propaganda, mercenaries get paid tangible amounts of money to disseminate their lies about a "revolution." The names of these mercenaries will be made public in time. They have sold their souls for a few coins but will not alter the course of events, which will result in the re-establishment of true democracy in Venezuela.

As a Venezuelan who loves all what Venezuela is lovable for, I say: Chávez, get out from our country! Stop sowing hate and resentment among our people!

Out, if you have any decency left.

© 2004 Gustavo Coronel

Second Postcard

I am back in Venezuela, after some four months of being abroad. In most ordinary circumstances, a four months absence should not make so much of a difference in the perception of the country by the returning traveler. However, we are not living in a country undergoing ordinary circumstances. Venezuela is experiencing a highly accelerated process of national destruction, under the reins of a group of fanatics, which promote values and attitudes totally contrary to those the majority of Venezuelans cherish. So rapid is this process of national destruction going on in the country that only four months are enough to perceive change.

In my previous post card I mentioned the dramatic deterioration of the Caracas International Airport and of the once extraordinary highway leading from the airport to downtown Caracas, now more properly belonging to a lower category third world country. I also mentioned the dismal statistics of International and Venezuelan agencies related to the economic and social situation of the country. They do not need to be repeated here. I also mentioned the filth and neglect which characterizes the once beautiful city of Caracas, now predominantly under the pathetic mismanagement of the Chávez municipal government. These horrors are for all to see, so that there is no burden of the proof. Just come here and take a look!

Now I want to report on the situation inland, away from Caracas, into the province. As my taxi drives out of the city I see, in the clear light of day, the broken statue of Maria Lionza. For fifty years this statue had been one of the icons of the city. It had been there for all of us to see. It was not a matter of Venezuelans believing or not in witchcraft but just a matter of us becoming used to see this beautiful, challenging figure of a powerful and naked woman riding a mythical cow and looking, defiantly, ahead. A few days ago this statue came crumbling down and now Maria Lionza is on her back, looking at the sky, offering us the sad sight of a once proud, now defeated woman. The tragedy of Maria Lionza is a typical problem of lack of maintenance, one that prevails over much of Chávez's country. In a spiritual sense, it represents the same problem afflicting thousands of Venezuelans who used to be proud and full of self-esteem and is now reduced to hopelessness due to the accelerated deterioration of the country. The collapse of the statue of Maria Lionza has been taken, by thousands of Venezuelans, as an omen, which signals the collapse of the current ruler.

We were forced to take an alternate route to Valencia, since landslides blocked the main road. Although the landslides should be expected since we are already in the rainy season, these road
blockages can last many hours since there is no equipment ready to work in the clearing process. As we climb on the road to Los Teques, the town where I spent my childhood and adolescence, I am appalled to see the change the landscape has suffered. Certainly this has not taken place in the last four months but it has mainly been the product of the years under the Chávez government. The hills surrounding Caracas are full of thousands of squatters, full of houses made of carton. What used to be a green forest, a marvelous country, is now a denudated mountainside, a collection of thousands of deplorable shacks. However, thousands of TV antennas accompany the shacks and cars by the hundreds are parked at the bottom of the hills, a crazy conflict in priorities. The shacks have no running water, no sewages. The people living there were mostly living in the province before, but they were lured by the populist promises of Chávez, to come and live into the outskirts of the capital city, where they now contribute to make up a huge belt of misery and unemployment.

The division between the municipality controlled by mayor Bernal, a Chávez follower and the mayor who belongs to the opposition is almost like a geological fault boundary. Whereas the Bernal territory is dominated by neglect and degradation of the urban landscape, the territory entrusted to the opposition mayor is well kept and "middle class" looking, even if the neighborhoods are not economically middle class. This goes to show that progress is not so much a matter of money as it is a matter of attitudes.

Going into the central states, Aragua and Carabobo, the rainy season has helped to give the landscape great beauty. This is Venezuela at her best. For a while, driving through these magical valleys make me forget the political tragedy we are facing. This is the Venezuela I have always known and cherished: it is the time of the mango, of the flaming red acacia, of the avocado. Nature overcomes political imperfections.

Once I get to my house in Sabana del Medio, however, I find that the underlying problems have worsened. Electricity supply is increasingly unreliable and more expensive. At this time I am paying the equivalent of $110 per month for electricity in an empty house, since I do not live there. The icebox and the freezer are connected and I have lights on the outside of the house that come on automatically at night. But this is about the same amount I pay in Tyson's Corner, where I live and use air conditioning or heating all the time. And, of course, $110 in Venezuela represents about five times more hard work to earn than in the US.

Arriving to my home, I have nothing in the house, so I go to the market. In four months, I perceive that the market supply has dwindled significantly: there are few vegetables, few grains, almost no meat, unless very expensive. Milk is scarce. Even more worrying than quantity is the problem of quality. A typical revolutionary lettuce is darkish; the leaves look like half dead. While much of the Venezuelan soil can produce, thousands of Venezuelans are crowding in the cities, selling condoms or vandalizing public telephones to force people to use makeshift mobile telephone stations in street corners, protected by the current political regime.

I visit my neighbors. They are very happy and bullish at the turn of the recent political events. They now feel strongly that the current regime is on its way out. They know that the key action they have to take is to participate fully in the coming referendum. Their math is simple: there are some 12.4 million voters. If 60% of voters vote and only 50% of those voters are for the revoking of the president, he is out. Abstaining this time around should not go over 35-40% and all polls indicate that some 60% of voters will be for the revoking of Chávez presidency. This suggests that the Chávez will be out, unless abstaining goes over 50% or unless there is a fraud.

Talking about fraud, my neighbors say, has any one ever heard of a fraud by the opposition? Fraud is traditionally attempted or executed by the government.

Another point of major interest mentioned by my neighbors had to do with the increasing corruption detected among Chávez followers. They gave me some information, which I will be glad to pass on to my readers in my third post card.

I can advance to my readers, however, that corruption under the Chávez's regime far surpasses all corruption previously known in modern Venezuelan history.

I will let you know in the next post card.

© 2004 Gustavo Coronel

Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Special for The Miami Herald
By Diego E. Arria
Visiting Scholar Institute of Latin American Studies
School of International and Public Affairs
Columbia University

May 18, 2004, 08:30

(Diego Arria was Caracas' (Distrito Federal) governor during the late sixties/early seventies.)

The best way to hasten democracy in Cuba is not by increasing ineffective economic sanctions. It's by helping Venezuela to regain its own democracy, which is being stolen bit by bit by Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's increasingly dictatorial president.

Today, Chavez provides his ally and mentor Fidel Castro with about 100,000 barrels per day of essentially free oil. It's difficult to see how Mr. Castro could deal with a sudden cut-off of that oil flow. The depth of the relationship between the old dictator and his Venezuelan admirer is the reason that both will go to any length to keep Mr. Chavez in power. That includes quashing the present attempt to get rid of Mr. Chavez by holding a recall referendum. The Sandinista experience in Nicaragua of holding - and losing -- elections is a lesson that hasn't been lost on the Caribbean duo. Both know that a free election in Venezuela could kill two birds with one stone.

Who could have imagined that the Castro regime would end up in control of Venezuela and its wealth without firing a single shot almost fifty years after the democratic government of Rómulo Betancourt defeated a Cuban backed insurgency by Venezuelan Communists?

For sure not Castro. Not even in his wildest dreams could he have expected such a turn of events. Now, in the final years of his life, Venezuela’s oil wealth is Castro’s for the taking. Twenty thousand Cuban military and intelligence officers are garrisoned in Venezuela, directing the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Meanwhile, thousands of young Venezuelan are been indoctrinated in Cuba. Castro’s ambassador in Caracas is more influential than Chavez’s own ministers; and none other than Chavez ‘ brother is Venezuela’s ambassador to Cuba, while Chavez consults Mr. Castro daily. Thanks to Chavez Cuba, is no longer a solitary island in the Caribbean. Its revolution is now anchored in the continent.

Should not the United States and democratic Latin American countries be concerned with the emergence of the Castro –Chavez alliance? The wily, and time-tested Cuban political strategist, and his pupil are armed
today with the huge resources of Venezuelan oil. This new “special relationship” which replaces the old Soviet-Cuba one, has been forged when there is an enormous potential for unrest in Latin America. Indeed, Chavez has opened wide Venezuela’s doors to every type of subversion coming from Cuba or terrorist controlled areas of Colombia. With Chavez, the Caribbean has become a sinister Bermuda Triangle of
security where an unholy alliance of Cuba, Venezuela and that part of Colombia controlled by terrorists financed by oil and drugs, will represent a major threat to international peace and security. Think of
Afghanistan with oil, but in the Americas.

Maybe some day the Organization of American States (OAS) will address Venezuela’s subversion of peace and trampling of the principles of the Democratic Charter of the Americas. The Charter approved in September 2001 reaffirms members' commitment to democracy and charges the OAS with the obligation to assist, and in some cases to intervene where democracy is threatened. But I fear the OAS will take no action against the Chavez regime. For a long time now, many of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors have been living in denial, watching indifferently as Venezuela sheds its democracy and turns into an authoritarian state. Meanwhile Chavez has successfully used Venezuela’s oil to buy the support of a large voting block within the organization.

More than ever, Venezuela’s oil has become its curse. Chavez grants to a few U.S. oil companies exceptionally advantageous terms to do business in Venezuela. They in turn, have reciprocated his largesse by lobbying strongly in Washington in Chavez favor. The result: the authoritarian Chavez enjoys enormous latitude regardless of his well-known hostility towards the U.S. and his alliance with Castro. Indeed, the U.S. has allowed Chavez to blissfully undermine the Colombian government’s attempt to defeat the drug-financed terrorists, which have held that country hostage for more than four decades. Venezuela, says the State Department, provides “safe heaven to narco terrorists groups and weapons and ammunitions-some from official Venezuelan stocks.” (Patterns of Global Terrorism-State Department Annual Report 2003)

Forty-one years ago, Blas Roca, the Cuban Communist party leader, eerily foretold the importance of Venezuela for the Cuban regime. “When the people of Venezuela are victorious, when they get their total
independence from imperialism, then all of America will be aflame, all of America will push forward, all of America will be liberated once and for all from the ominous yoke of American imperialism,” said Mr. Roca at a meeting of Latin American Communists Parties in Havana in January 24th, 1963.’ Their fight helps us today, and their victory will mean a tremendous boost for us. We no longer will be a solitary island of the
Caribbean facing the Yankee imperialists, for we will have land support on the continent.”

Diego E. Arria
New York May 15th, 2004

Posted Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Michael Rowan Column - Venezuela: Where is the Opposition?
May 18, 2004, 08:30

By Michael Rowan in El Universal

Venezuela is starting to resemble Italy or Germany in the 1930s. As an elected leader with charismatic force and a radical worldview rose like a Phoenix to dominate the country, thoughts about how to put Venezuela back on a track of inclusion virtually disappeared.

Consumed or appalled by the power and glory of the new leader's insane hatreds, every conversation turned on questions about him: Could he last, how can he be stopped, can he be recalled, how can I get away from this madness? This is exactly as the tyrant wants it.

Chavez has a very simple political message that seems to appeal to the opposition. His view is that Venezuelans are good or bad, poor or rich, revolutionaries or oligarchs, patriots or traitors, loyalists or conspirators, people of God or people of Satan. The opposition basically accepts the proposition but reverses him on every count. Long lost in a trail of disappointing leaders who were not able to cope with national failure, Venezuelans have caved into this either/or paradigm, as did the people of Italy and Germany 70 years ago, without realizing the national consequences.

The only way to stop a despot from doing whatever he has in mind - if that's the right word - is to provide another vision before the despot starts a war. Hitler could not be stopped by an opponent who said, "I am not Hitler, vote for me," and the same can be said about Mussolini, Fujimori, Pinochet and the rest. What is needed - what has always been needed - is a vision of how to put Venezuela together on an inclusive track toward liberty and democracy.

In the Democratic Coordinator the overwhelming view is that 'We must do first things first, and that means getting rid of Chavez.' The strikes and protests, the violence and death, and the recall, were aimed at getting rid of Chavez. Of these, the only tactic that is truly democratic is the recall, and Chavez, after winning a handful of elections, is not likely to let that happen. Meanwhile, Chavez has poured money into the barrios to buy votes, very effectively, while the opposition has been silent about a democratic, inclusive vision for the nation, which has reduced its credibility greatly. Venezuelans are not stupid. They are not going to vote in the blind just to get rid of someone they don't like - they did that with CAP and it didn't work. They need to know what is going to happen next.

Here's what's next with Chavez. After he suppresses the opposition, he will work to influence or rule Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia - realizing Bolivar's dream. Panama he will get by working with China to take over the expansion of the canal, and by shipping oil thru it to China. In Brazil, Mexico and Central America, he will foment revolution by the poor and indigenous. Worldwide, he will become the supreme leader against one superpower, aided by China and the Group of 77. The OAS he will attempt to suborn with oil deals. The only obstacle left standing will be the U.S., which is indifferent to Latin America, and which won't wake up in time before he conquers the world's minds with his New Moral Economic Order, demolishing globalization in a stroke of genius. Those who don't believe this is possible have not read history. Those who don't believe Chavez will try it have not read Chavez. Virtually everything he has done in the last six years were known in 1997, and everything he plans to do between now and 2021, when he may leave office, are right there to see.

Here's what's next for the civil society. They need a declaration of grievances and redress voted democratically in meetings big and small all over the country - many Chavistas will agree with them. They need democratic primaries open to any voter or candidate, run by and for civil society with international support, which they can get if they go about it democratically. They need a run-off election to select one candidate endorsed by all or most of the others, centered around a government program that is inclusive, and is not the same old neo-liberal notion that is failing the poor everywhere else.

"Preposterous," some opposition politicians say, "He'll never let us do that." Exactly, is the response. He will not. But this time, civil society could be sitting side-by-side with the Organization of American States, the European Union, the United Nations, institutions that may just come of age to help while there's still time. Better, polls show that half the Chavistas appear ready to abandon Chavez for an inclusive, constructive, and civil solution that is no longer about winners and losers, but where everyone has a fair chance. In the choice between civilization and militarization, the poor of Venezuela today, like the victims of German inflation or Italian inferiority in the 1930's, can make the right choice, if they are given it.


Posted Sunday, May 16, 2004

Chávez Administers the Last Rites to the Rule of Law
The Economist

Viernes, 14 de mayo de 2004

A DASTARDLY opposition plot to use Colombian paramilitaries to overthrow the president? Or a government show, designed to discredit a shaky opposition and distract attention from its own manoeuvring to quash a recall referendum? Whatever the truth behind the arrest this week of 90-odd uniformed but unarmed men alleged to be right-wing terrorists at a ranch on the outskirts of Caracas, it spells more trouble for the opposition to Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez.

Mr Chávez, a populist former army officer, stands on the brink of winning absolute power in his country. The opposition's attempt to invoke the constitution and subject the president to a recall referendum looks doomed. Worse still, a new law enables the president to seize control of the supreme court. And the “paramilitary” incident is the perfect excuse for a crackdown.

“This is a country in which the last vestige of the rule of law has vanished,” said Rafael Marín, an opposition legislator, after an attempted raid this week on his house, ordered by a military judge. That is hyperbole—but only just.

After a long filibuster by the opposition was defeated, the National Assembly on April 30th approved a law that adds 12 new justices to the 20-member supreme court. Hitherto, judicial appointments and dismissals have needed approval by a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, which Mr Chávez lacks. Under the new law, likely to take effect this month, only a simple majority is needed. So the president can now both pack and purge the court. Since the supreme court controls the rest of the judiciary, every judge in the land will have to apply the law the way the government wants—or risk losing his or her job.

That is probably the final blow to the referendum. Six months ago, the opposition gathered over 3m signatures for this, well above the 2.4m required by the constitution. But the government-dominated electoral authority disqualified 1.2m of them—requiring those concerned individually to confirm their signature in a laborious exercise due later this month. Even if enough do, the matter is likely to go to the supreme court. Time is running out. If a referendum is held after August 19th (the mid-point of his term) and Mr Chávez loses, the upshot would not be an election but his vice-president taking over.

The opposition fears that the new law heralds the curtailing of the political liberties that have hitherto prevailed in Mr Chávez's Venezuela. “Those who dare to dissent from the regime will be punished,” says Gerardo Blyde, a constitutional lawyer and opposition congressman. This week, a mayor from his party was jailed on what the opposition says are trumped-up charges. Venezuelans who signed the referendum petition are finding that they may be denied everything from passports to bank loans, government contracts or jobs, and dollars at the cheap official rate.

Mr Chávez retains the support of at least a third of voters. He also controls the armed forces and the all-important oil industry. And with Venezuelan oil at over $30 a barrel, his government is awash with cash. Since Mr Chávez was first elected in 1998, income per head in Venezuela has fallen by 27% (partly because of a two-month general strike in 2002-03). But this year, the economy has started to recover.

So the president looks as if he will easily survive until the end of his term in January 2007, and perhaps longer. The opposition, a mosaic of parties and civic groups, faces an unappetising future. It is held together only by a desire to get rid of Mr Chávez. Absent a referendum, its rickety coalition may fall apart. Moderates may reach an accommodation with the government that allows them to survive—and Mr Chávez to present a façade of democracy. Radical elements, including some former military officers, may try rebellion, armed or otherwise. But the “paramilitary” affair has given the government a pretext to pre-empt any such efforts with a wave of arrests.

Like his mentor, Cuba's Fidel Castro, Mr Chávez thrives on enemies: he sees them not just at home, but in Colombia and the United States. His “microphone diplomacy” has the potential to strain Venezuela's relations with both countries.

A few years ago, the United States might have been expected to make a much more vigorous attempt to stop democracy from being extinguished in a large South American country. But the Bush administration has shown no sign of wanting to do anything that might disrupt the flow of Venezuelan oil ahead of November's election in the United States. So it is likely to confine itself to rhetorical tut-tutting.

Venezuela's relations with Colombia are more complicated. Security along the disputed border is a constant headache; both guerrillas and paramilitaries operate on the Colombian side, and have spilled over. President Álvaro Uribe's government in Bogotá has complained of lack of co-operation from Mr Chávez in dealing with the guerrillas. Venezuela's vice-president this week accused the head of Colombia's army, General Martin Carreño, of involvement with the Caracas “paramilitaries”. General Carreño denied this.

Mr Uribe has held peace talks with the paramilitaries, but these are close to breaking down. It is not wholly implausible that Colombia's paramilitary leaders—and even its army—might make an alliance of convenience with hardline opponents of Mr Chávez. True or not, the president is making it plain that the only role for a democratic opposition in Venezuela is impotence. One day, he may reap the whirlwind he is now sowing.


Posted Monday, March 12, 2004

By Paul Crespo
March 6, 2004

Paul Crespo is a former Marine Corps Officer and military attache at the US embassy in Caracas. An adjunct faculty member in the Political Science Department at the University of Miami, he is also a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC. This article first appeared in

There is no doubt that Chávez - with Fidel Castro's help -- is creating a Cuban-style socialist state in Venezuela. Scholar Maxwell Cameron calls it the world's first "slow-motion constitutional coup." In the process, Chávez also is breathing new life into Fidel Castro's dying and decrepit dictatorship. But what's even more worrisome is the fact that the mercurial Chávez is turning the large, oil rich country into a base for international terrorism.
Sadly, not many people recognize this threat. In my July 2003 American Legion Magazine article, The Other "Axis of Evil", I described the dangerous and growing alliance between Latin America's two major anti-American rogue states and international terror groups operating throughout the hemisphere.
Focusing on the close and burgeoning partnership between Castro and Chávez, I explored the links both Castro and his new Caracas-based clone have with Latin American communist guerillas, drug dealers and Islamic terrorists. Referring to Castro as an anti-American godfather, "increasingly advising his new alter-ego in Venezuela..." I wrote that Chávez, "with Castro's direction and support - may be turning Venezuela into a new anti-American terrorism hub."
Noting Castro's long history of subversion, espionage and terrorism -- including the October 2001 arrest in Washington, DC of Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, the former senior Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) -- my article highlighted Castro's continuing threat to the US. Cuba remains on the US State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Chávez and Castro are intimately linked, meeting and talking regularly. Chávez has said Cuba and Venezuela are, in effect, "one team."
The partnership is so close that Venezuela's intelligence and security service, known as DISIP, reportedly has come under control of the Cuban intelligence service, the DGI. Because of this, US intelligence agencies have ended their longstanding liaison relationships with their Venezuelan counterparts. Hundreds of Cuban advisors, coordinated by Cuba's military attaché in Caracas, are also in charge of the elite presidential guard who defend Chávez against potential coups or military unrest.
Meanwhile, Chávez has purged and is reorganizing the Venezuelan military, making it personally loyal to him. Thousands of Cuban "teachers, doctors and sports trainers" also have flooded Venezuela. Their real job is to indoctrinate and train fanatically pro-Chávez paramilitary groups known as "Bolivarian Circles" that are part of a new 100,000-person People's Reserve militia recruited from Venezuela's poorest classes. These groups provide alternative armed cadres outside regular military channels loyal to Chávez.
While most of the mainstream media have ignored this growing menace, one major news magazine, US News and World Report, followed my piece with an in-depth investigative report in October 2003, Terror Close to Home: In Venezuela, a volatile leader befriends Mideast, Colombia and Cuba, confirming my exposition and clearly detailing the danger of Chávez's links to Castro and terrorism.
The weekly newsmagazine said that its two-month review, "including interviews with dozens of US and Latin American sources, confirms the terrorist activity," adding that "the oil-rich but politically unstable nation of Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists."
Most prominent in Venezuela's list of friendly terror groups are the communist FARC guerillas (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) who have terrorized Colombia for over 30 years and have killed thousands of people. Gen. Gary Speer, former acting chief of America's Southern Command, said during a Senate Armed Services committee hearing in March 2002 that "we are very concerned about President Chávez .. the FARC operates at will across the border into Venezuela."
"There are arms shipments originating in Venezuela that get to the FARC and the ELN [National Liberation Army]," he added. "We have been unable to firmly establish a link to the Chávez government, but it certainly causes us suspicions. The company that Chávez keeps around the world, although under the guise of OPEC, certainly causes additional concerns as well" The US News piece details the exact location of FARC camps inside Venezuela where Venezuelan military advisors reportedly train FARC guerillas.
Sadly, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry stated in a February speech in Boston that the murderous FARC guerillas had "legitimate complaints" despite the fact that they have the support of less than three percent of Colombia's citizenry.
Chávez's links to Middle East terrorists may be more indirect but US officials note that Venezuela is providing support--including identity documents--that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups. U.S. News noted that Chávez's government has issued thousands of "cedulas," the equivalent of national ID cards, to people from Cuba, Colombia, and Middle Eastern `countries of interest' like Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Lebanon that host foreign terrorist organizations.
According to US News, some of these cedulas were subsequently used to obtain Venezuelan passports and even American visas, "which could allow the holder to elude immigration checks and enter the United States." Chávez also was the only western leader to travel to Iraq to visit Saddam Hussein prior to his ouster by the US.
This article provoked an outcry from Chávez and his henchmen. The Venezuelan ambassador to the US, Alvarez Herrera, wrote an angry letter to the editor of US News deriding the article's accusations as "false" and "outrageous."
The ambassador then tried to counter the magazine's first-hand evidence by stating unconvincingly that "the government of Venezuela has ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism...and has signed multiple UN conventions on terrorism." Yet, the signature of this anti-democratic leftist demagogue on any international treaty hadly confirms his peaceful and lawful intent.
An indignant Chávez also told foreign reporters "I challenge the staff of US News and World Report or its owners to come here and look for one single shred of evidence, to show the world one single shred of proof." Chávez added that, "It is a strategy, to launch an offensive by concocting anything -- an assassination, a coup, an invasion." As a diversion from his terror links, Chávez has begun claiming loudly, and without any substantiation, that the CIA is trying kill him.
Much of the problem with our reaction to Chávez began with former US Ambassador to Venezuela, John Maisto who I briefly served as a military attaché at the US embassy in Caracas. His soft approach to the leftist demagogue was clearly flawed. Early on in Chávez's administration, the U.S. ambassador downplayed the Chávez threat, stating that it was Chávez's actions, not words that really mattered.
Other Clinton administration officials echoed that sentiment and said that we should ignore Chávez's rhetoric. That approach became informally known as the "Maisto doctrine." Yet, Chávez's actions inexorably have matched his rhetoric.
Despite his failure to appreciate the menace of a Chávez-Castro alliance, Maisto was inexplicably picked by the Bush administration to head - until recently -- the Western Hemisphere Affairs section at the National Security Council. He is still influencing Latin America policy as US Ambassador to the Organization of American States.
Fortunately, other members of Bush's National Security team such as Presidential Envoy to Latin America, Otto Reich and Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noriega do seem to understand the threat posed by the Chávez-Castro terror nexus.
Given the mischief Castro and Chávez are pursuing, Uncle Sam has his hands full dealing with the two dangers on either end of the Caribbean.

Posted Monday, March 8, 2004

To continue with this non-biased and thought-provoking, well-written article that gives an excellent explanation of how Venezuela got into the predicament it now finds itself in, click here.


Venezuela - The "Useless Revolution"

Posted Saturday, March 6, 2004

An excellent, interesting video message from Orlando Urdaneta which describes, with some detail, the disaster and futility of the Chávez presidency. It's an important message that shouldn't be missed.

The above link is in English, but you can also view it in Spanish, French, or Italian by clicking on the appropriate link below:





The Cornered Narcissist

Posted Thursday, March 4, 2004

If you're looking for insight into Venezuela’s seemingly neverending political crisis, section 301.81 of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual would be an excellent place to start. The entry reads eerily like a brief character sketch of Venezuela's embattled president, Hugo Chávez: "Has a grandiose sense of self-importance; is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance; requires excessive admiration; has unreasonable expectations of automatic compliance with his expectations; shows arrogant behaviors or attitudes, etc." Actually, it's the DSM-IV's diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD.)

Venezuelan psychiatrists long ago pegged Chávez as a textbook example of NPD. According to the DSM-IV, a patient has NPD if he meets five of the nine diagnostic criteria. But Dr. Alvaro Requena, a respected Venezuelan psychiatrist, says Chávez "meets all nine of the diagnostic criteria." Dr. Arturo Rodriguez Milliet, a colleague, finds "a striking consensus on that diagnosis" among Caracas psychiatrists. Not that it really takes an expert: you only need to watch Chávez's constant cadena broadcasts, where the president blusters, badgers, sings, reports, lectures, recalls and issues orders live on every TV channel and every radio station in the country, carrying presidential speeches that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 4 hours – one never knows ahead of time.

Of course, lots of politicians have some narcissistic traits - Washington, D.C. is notorious for the size of its egos. NPD, however, is what happens when those traits run amok, impairing sufferer’s ability to interact with the world in a normal way. People with NPD are so intimately convinced of the crushing weight of their historical significance that they lose the ability to interact with the world in anything like a way that most people would recognize as normal.

Narcissism and political power make an explosive combination. As Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, puts it, "the narcissist's grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are exacerbated by real life authority." President Chávez has amassed more real life authority than anyone in Venezuela's contemporary history. When his considerable charisma and oratory ability are added to this mix, the already volatile cocktail described above becomes positively explosive.

Because in the mind of a pathological narcissist, grandiose self-delusion often masking deep insecurities and a fragile sense of ultimate self-worth. The two tendencies co-exist in a sort of uneasy truce. As Dr. Vaknin writes, "the narcissist's personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement."

In Venezuela, over the last five years, Chávez’s narcissism has led to a systematic winnowing of the his pool of truly trusted advisors and confidants (other than Fidel Castro, the one voice Chávez does seem to listen to.) People with views that differ even slightly from the comandante’s fall out of favor quickly, often brutally.

At worst, those who come to disagree openly with the president are openly demonized, humiliated and threatened in cadenas in full view of the whole country. Coming from a man with several paramilitary groups at his command, these must be taken as serious threats.

Total loyalty to the cult of personality is demanded, and total loyalty to the cult of personality is obtained. More than evidently, only rank sycophants and yes-men can survive in an inner circle where such dynamics are at work. Also, clearly, no real policy debate can take place: politicies will not be the result of a process of genuine give and take. Instead, they will consist in a series of military style orders that are mutually incoherent, and very often wildly impracticable.

Thus, at different times, we’ve been promised at least three mutually inconsistent futures for the "camastron" (the 70s era Boeing 737 Chávez inherited and promptly, man of the people that he is, replaced with a much larger $86 million dollar airbus.) According to which side of the bed the president woke up on this morning, the plane will either ferry poor Venezuelans so they can visit the natural wonders of the Canaima flat-top mountains, or it will be the first in a fleet of planes for a future Vene-Caribean airline that will eventually penetrate foreign markets, or it will be used to ferry Venezuelan patients to Cuba for various operations, or none of these, or all of these at the same time. None of these plans appears financially viable for a state that is broke, but in combination, they present a kind of burlesque of presidential narcissism at work.

What’s most perverse about Chávez’s narcissism is that some people close to him have clearly learned to manipulate it for their personal purposes. Once you’ve caught on that feeding the president’s narcissism is the way to get ahead in palace politics, what’s the reasonable response? Feeding the president’s narcissism, of course.

Over a period of years, this dynamic has left Chávez worryingly isolated. It’s probably been months or years now since the president has been brought face to face with ideas different than his own, with versions of reality that don’t conform to his own sense of grandeur, (except for when he is conversing with foreign leaders, of course.)

Under those circumstances, anyone’s sense of reality would suffer. But if you’ve started out with narcissistic tendencies, that level of isolation is liable to push you over the edge altogether. With no critical thinkers around anymore, no one willing to sit him down and tell him the awful truth, there are no checks left on his pathological relationship with reality.

To a pathological narcissist, reality is little more than a hindrance. This is the heart of the chavista mania for calling what is real virtual and what is virtual real. As Dr. Rodriguez Milliet points out, "Chávez’s discourse might be dissonant with reality, but internally it’s scrupulously coherent." Chávez's only concern is to preserve his romantic vision of himself as a fearless leader of the downtrodden in their fight against an evil oligarchy. If the facts don't happen to fit that narrative structure, then that's too bad for the facts.

So it’s not that Chávez lies, per se. It’s that he’s locked up within a small, tight circle of confidants that feed an aberrant relationship with reality. To lie is to knowingly deceive. Chávez doesn’t lie.

He invents the truth.

Obviously, there are more than a few inconveniences to having a pathological narcissist as president. For instance, it’s almost impossible for narcissists to admit to past mistakes and make amends. The narcissist’s chief, overriding psychological goal is to preserve his grandiose self-image, his sense of being a larger-than-life world historical force for good and justice. Honestly admitting any mistake, no matter how banal, requires a level of self-awareness and a sense for one’s own limitations that runs directly counter to the forces that drive a narcissist’s personality. Chávez cannot, never has, and never will sincerely accept his own fallibility. It’s just beyond him. And it's impossible for the movement he's created to question him.

Once you have a basic understanding of how their pathological personality structures drive the behavior of people with NPD, Hugo Chávez is an open book. Lots of little puzzles about the way the president behaves are suddenly cleared up.

For instance, you start to understand why Chávez sees no adversaries around him, only enemies. It makes sense: the more he becomes preoccupied with“fantasies of unlimited success, power and brilliance” the harder it is for him to accept that anyone might have an honest disagreement with him. Chávez is a man in rebellion against his own fallibility. "As far as he can see," explains Dr. Requena, "if anyone disagrees with him, that can only be because they are wrong, and maliciously wrong."

People with NPD are strongly sensitive to what psychiatrists call “narcissist injury” – the psychic discombobulation that comes from any input that undermines or negates the fantasies that dominate their mindscape. Chávez clearly experiences disagreement and dissent as narcissist injury, and as any psychiatrist can tell you, an injured narcissist is liable to lash out with virulent rage.

This pattern fits Chávez to a frightening "T", if only on the rhetorical level. 95% of his political reasoning is made up of ad hominem attacks on those who dare question, along with the paranoid preocupation with plots all around him, a kind of conspiracy mentality the fringier parts of the first world left eat up with relish.

So I wonder. If only. If only those first world sympathizers could sit own and hear him talk, and hear him, and hear him like we Venezuelans have heard him, and heard him, and heard him for hundreds of hours of cadenas spanning back 5 years. If they could know the character like we know the character, after hundreds of hours of forced intimacy through the cadena system. Often, his slurs and insults are almost comically overstated. He insists on describing Venezuela's huge, diverse, and mostly democratic opposition movement as a "conspiracy" led by a tiny cabal of "coup-plotters, saboteurs and terrorists." These attacks not only demonstrate the tragic extent of his disconnect with reality, they have also thoroughly poisoned the political atmosphere in Caracas, creating what's been described as a "cold civil war."

If only they could hear him the way we've heard many of them would earnestly consider someone like Chávez fit to rule their own countries? 3%? More? How many pro-autocracy lefties are there left in Europe?

But we, we have heard him. We've been forced to hear him, we've been obligated to participate in the cult of personality through our state funded TV station and those hundreds of hours of Cadenas. So yes, in Venezuela we know the character well by now.

This is precisely his problem: too many of us know too much about him, about the way he thinks and the way he leads to accept his brand of leadership silently.

Chávez's brand of intellectual intolerance has turned the Venezuelan state into the most autocratic in the Americas short of the one led by his hero, Fidel Castro. It's no coincidence. In Dr. Milliet's view, "narcissism leads directly to an autocratic approach to power." Access to state jobs - a key source of livelihood for millions of Venezuelans - is now openly dependent on civil servant's acceptance of political blackmail. The regime no longer even hides it. Anything is fair when it comes to protecting the narcissist-in-chief's self-image.

The other facts are well known, but they are worth re-hashing one-more time for readers who don't follow all the ins and outs of the democratic process here like we do.

President Chávez has systematically placed diehard loyalists in key posts throughout the state apparatus. When you come to understand his behavior in terms of NPD, that’s not at all surprising: someone who understands the world as a struggle between people who agree with everything he says and does vs. evil will obviously do everything in his power to place unconditional allies in every position of power.

The case of the Attorney General is especially worrying. With nothing like a special counsel statute and no state criminal jurisdiction, the A.G. must approve every single criminal investigation and prosecution in Venezuela. Control this post, and you have total veto power over the entire penal system. For this reason, the A.G. is not a cabinet position in Venezuela like it is in the US. Because of its key role in fighting corruption and keeping watch over the legality of the government’s actions, the A.G. is set up as a fully independent, apolitical office in the Venezuelan constitution. But that clearly wouldn’t do for Chávez. For this most sensitive of offices, Chávez tapped perhaps his most unconditional ally, a doggedly loyal chavista fresh from a stint as vicepresident of the republic. It's like having Karl Rove as attorney general, and no independent council statute!

Not surprisingly, not a single pro-Chávez official has been convicted of anything, ever, despite numerous and well-documented allegations of serious corruption, and a mountain of evidence to suggest the government has organized its civilian supporters into armed militias. The bargain is simple: in return for unrestricted political support, the government remunerates the corrupt and the criminal with total immunity from criminal prosecution. It's quite that simple. The only real requisite for admission into the protection afforded by their control of the state is total submission to the leader's cult of personality. Not surprisingly, many take the bargain.

This dynamic can rise to almost incredible heights. Recently, a former student activist with a murky criminal history and credibly linked with no other than Iraq's Ba'ath Party, for God's sake, was recently named to head an important office at the National Identification Directorate! Can you imagine that? If this is the "model of democracy" Chávez has in mind, he will doubtlessly win the referendum with 100% of the vote and 100% turnout!

And indeed, today, every nominally independent watchdog institution in the state, from the Supreme Court to the Auditor General's office, is run by a presidential crony. With the National Assembly operating like a branch office of the presidential palace, the formal checks-and-balances written into the constitution have become a farce.

Only CNE retains a measure of independent credibility from both sides. Nothing will be possible unless both sides solemnly pledge to accept CNEs eventual decision. They should do this right now.

The reality is that CNE has become a beacon of hope in Venezuelan society. On the verge of the presidential recall, CNE stands as the sole exception, the sole entity of the state that Hugo Chávez cannot control at his pleasure, and my feeling is that, despite, must we recall, it's roughly 3-2 nominal chavista majority, a genuinely independent CNE is the biggest problem in Hugo Chávez's immediate future. All five members of CNE must be uniformly lauded for putting legality ahead of party loyalty so far - a precedent that could serve as the seed for a true democratic awakening in the post-Chávez period.

Some may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one...

The goal of a new, more dynamic, more participative and much, much more inclusive Venezuela is now within striking distance. The country need not be dominated by a pathological narcissist much longer.


Posted Sunday, February 29, 2004

Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chávez: God Creates Them And They Get Together

By Gustavo Coronel

February 28, 2004 - Arriving in Venezuela after a long plane trip from Harare, Zimbabwe's despot Robert Mugabe rapidly proceeded to fall asleep while Chávez was giving a speech and went on to drop the replica of Bolívar's sword presented to him by Chávez. Robert Mugabe, said the beaming Chávez, "is a true warrior of freedom."

Mugabe has been in power for 24 years. A few days ago, during the celebrations of his 80th birthday, he announced to the silent population of Zimbabwe that he would rule for five more years, putting him in a league with Fidel Castro, although a very distant second. During these 24 years Mugabe has managed to convert Zimbabwe into one of the most backward countries in the world, ranked 145 among 174 nations according the United Nations, a drop of 15 places in the last 5 years. His regime has been increasingly descending into aggressive totalitarianism and racism. Only last year, in June 2003, a coalition of African American organizations denounced him as the leader of an "increasingly intolerant, repressive and violent" government. One of the persons signing this letter to Mugabe was Bill Fletcher, the president of TransAfrica Forum, the same person who just visited Venezuela and compared Chávez with Martin Luther King. This goes to show that Mr. Fletcher still has not seen the glaring similarities between Mugabe and Chávez and, just in case, I am not talking color or mannerisms but all important political ideology and attitudes.

They are not identical twins, of course. Mugabe seems to have been well educated. He has a Master's degree in Economics from the University of London. He was a teacher for some years until he became a full time politician. Chávez has had a very spotty education and his theatrical attempts at teaching have usually ended in embarrassment, as he has misspelled words in front of the children. But their political evolution is becoming more and more similar as time goes by. Of course, the world already knows that Mugabe is a despot but it is only starting to suspect that Chávez is also one. Similarities include:

"Both surround themselves with a cabinet stacked up with cronies. Chávez with Giordani, Isturiz and Rangel. Mugabe with Moyo, Made and Chinamasa. These men are supposed to solve the problems that they, themselves, have created!

* Both have presided over the economic and social collapse of their countries, Venezuela dropping 24 places in the Human Development Index, Zimbabwe 15 places, both during the last five years.

* Both rely in the military brass, which they control through the giving of special privileges and absurd non-meritocratic promotions.

* Both are presidents of the country and presidents of their own political parties, and do not think much of such a dual role representing one of the many varieties of political corruption.

* Both have started "land reforms" which are leading their countries into agricultural collapse, as the few existing efficient production units are arbitrarily taken over and given to those who do not have the knowledge and the technical assistance to make them productive.

* Both have created paramilitary bands of armed thugs. In the case of Mugabe, his thugs are accused of systematic raping of women. In the case of Chávez the thugs are paid to harass political dissidents, up to the extreme of stoning the coffin of our last Cardinal and spitting on religious images.

* Both exhibit the same menacing attitude against private business. Being in power longer, being more advanced than Chávez in the path of totalitarianism, Mugabe has actually confiscated numerous private companies: sugar corporations, lands, and South African interests. Chávez, so far, has only threatened with doing so, since he does not yet feel strong enough to really do it.

* Both have blood on their hands. Mugabe has been accused of murdering and torturing many of his opponents. Chávez has not done so yet but his failed military coup of 1992 and the massacre his followers engineered in Caracas, in April 2002, left well over a hundred Venezuelans dead.

* Both exhibit total disdain for international civilized co-existence. Mugabe has broken Zimbabwe's ties with the Commonwealth and forced the European community into sanctioning his government. Chávez is doing all he can to create a political crisis with the US and is leading Venezuela into a tragic situation of international isolation. His government is fast becoming a rogue and pariah government while Zimbabwe's already is.

* Both think of themselves as being above the Law. When Mugabe says: "I will be in power five more years" he is not being modest. After all, he has already been there for 24 years. Chávez says: "I will be in power until 2021" because he has to catch up with Mugabe. Chávez, in saying this, reveals his totalitarian nature, as he cannot possibly rule until 2021 within constitutional means. He clearly pretends to become a dictator.

* Both have big mouths, not in the physical sense, but in the sense of talking too much. They are boastful and love the sound of their own voices.

* Both are insensitive to social and economic issues and totally oriented to political survival. They would not care less if their countries went bankrupt, as long as they survive in power.

* Both are signing an agreement for "economic" cooperation, a pathetic case of the blind leading the blind.

Chávez has already given ample signs of his preferences for allies: the Colombian guerrillas, the Cuban dictator, the coca grower, the flamboyant Libyan Colonel, the former dictator Hussein and, now, Robert Mugabe. In Venezuela we say: "Por la maleta se saca al pasajero." Roughly translated: You can know all about a traveler by looking at his suitcase.


Reprinted from

Why the Left Fears Condoleezza Rice
Lowell Ponte
Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004

Posted Monday, February 16, 2004


Condoleezza Rice is a "true illiterate," said a patronizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

This Marxist thug added that he had asked his comrade Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to mail America’s National Security Advisor samples of Cuban books now being used to teach Venezuelan children literacy to “see if she learns to respect the dignity of the people and learns a bit about us."

Apparently President Chávez is both a racist and a puny macho sexist to make such stupid remarks. His stunted manhood is threatened by criticism from this powerful woman.

Condoleezza Rice, who recently called on Chávez to accept the democratic vote of Venezuelans in a legitimate election to recall him, is, as many have noted, "the most powerful woman in the world."

Dr. Rice understands collectivist terrorist murderers like Chávez better than do most Americans, and not only because she is a highly regarded expert on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Most of us awakened to the threat of terrorism only on September 11, 2001. Rice as a 9-year-old African-American girl in Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963 felt the ground shake from a racist’s dynamite bomb going off in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church only blocks away from the church where her father, John, was pastor.

Among the four black girls murdered in that hate crime that shocked our nation’s conscience was Rice’s 11-year-old friend and schoolmate Denise McNair. She remembers their funeral and how small their coffins were.

“If you’ve been through homegrown terrorism,” said Dr. Rice, “you recognize there isn’t any cause that can be served by it. ... Because what it’s meant to do is end the conversation.”

Racism is a collectivist idea that denies human dignity by defining individuals as members of mythical collective racial groups. Socialism and Marxism are collectivist ideas that deny human dignity by judging individuals only as members of mythical class groups and by declaring all human beings to be slaves whose lives and labors belong to the collectivist state, as in Castro’s Cuba and increasingly in Chávez’s Venezuela. The indoctrination of this dehumanizing idea, as we shall see, is what Chávez means by Marxist education.

But first, let’s look more closely at the “illiterate” Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Leftists such as Hugo Chávez have tried to silence or discredit this “uppity” powerful black woman with insults. The Leftist media inside the U.S. have tried either to ignore her or to diminish her with the most vicious, loathsome and toxic kinds of racist satire, mockery, denigration, insults and ridicule.

Jamaican singer-limboist Harry Belafonte, an outspoken supporter of Fidel Castro and the Democratic Party, called Rice a “Jew” and a “slave who lived in the house” and “served the master.”

Leftists engage in such verbal terrorism against Bush administration National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell out of fear, wrote distinguished African-American journalist and liberal Clarence Page.

The Democratic Party depends on blacks for 18 percent of its votes. Its survival depends on keeping those voters as a solid, owned bloc of slaves, chained by dependency and fear, down on the plantation of the Democratic Party.

A powerful, successful Republican role model such as Condoleezza Rice could show young blacks an alternative to dependency on Democrats.

What if African-Americans notice that Democrats (the party of the slave owners, the Klan, Jim Crow and Bull Connor) talk about helping them but hold them down? And at the same time, the Republicans (party of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, who freed their ancestors from Democrat slave owners) have advanced blacks to the highest echelon of actual power in the Bush administration.

To prevent African-Americans from opening their hypnotized eyes to this self-evident truth and reconsidering why they vote for a party that chains and exploits them, Dr. Rice has been targeted for every kind of insult and attack possible. She must be politically assassinated.

This is why Leftists have been using character assassination against Dr. Rice to “end the conversation” about how little the Democratic Party has done for blacks ... and about how much the Republican Party is now doing.

(And the same Marxist tactics are being used against Latino Republican candidates, one of whom days ago was smeared by a desperate, racist Democratic National Committee official and Howard Dean operative as a “house Mexican for the Republicans.” This is yet more evidence of Dean’s implicit racism.)

So, who is Condoleezza Rice, this bright black woman whose mere presence strikes terror into the hearts of Leftists?

Condi, as friends call her, was born November 14, 1954, in what his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would call “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.” During the Civil Rights struggle it came also to be called “Bombingham,” with racist explosives killing not only Rice’s friend and three other girls but also shattering the home of black civil rights lawyer Arthur Shores and terrifying the African-American community.

“Rice’s father went to police headquarters to demand an investigation,” wrote Dale Russakoff in the Washington Post Magazine. “They didn’t investigate,” Condoleezza Rice has said. “They never investigated.”

The police commissioner in Birmingham who would not investigate was Bull Connor, a Democrat who perfectly embodies everything that political party has always stood for. When civil rights protesters arrived, Connor unleashed his dogs and fire hoses on them.

“John Rice,” writes Russakoff, “then did what black fathers all over Birmingham were doing – what Alma Powell remembers her own father doing then, when she happened to be home with her babies during her husband’s [Colin Powell’s] tour in Vietnam: They got out their shotguns and formed nightly patrols, guarding the streets themselves.”

One of the many dirty secrets of the Democratic Party is that its passion for gun control began, and continues to be, from a desire to disarm African-Americans and thereby make them powerless and dependent. Russian expert Michael McFaul, writes Russakoff, “remembers [Condoleezza] Rice telling him she opposed gun control and even gun registration because Bull Connor could have used it to disarm her father and others” in 1963.

Condi Rice remembers many lessons of how her mother and father stood up to segregationists, refusing again and again to accept the inferior place into which the white Democratic bosses of Birmingham tried to push blacks. She remembers learning from her grandfather that “You have control, you’re proud, you have integrity, nobody can take those things away from you.”

Her grandfather’s aunts were among the first nursing graduates of Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington. By hard work he would put his children through college, and they would marry into other African-American families with passionate faith in the power of education.

“My family is third-generation college-educated,” says Dr. Condoleezza Rice, winner of the NAACP Image Award. “I should’ve gotten to where I am.”

Both her father, the Rev. John W. Rice Jr., then pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church and dean of historically black Stillman College, and mother Angelena, a science and music teacher at a local black high school, were committed to providing the best education possible for their daughter. Her name, Condoleezza, comes from the Italian musical notation “con dulce” or “con dolcezza,” meaning to play “with sweetness.”

Condi began piano lessons at age 3 and by age 4 was accompanying the choir at her father’s church. She learned to read music before she, by age 5, could fluently read English. When the local superintendent of Negro schools decided that Condi was too young to attend first grade, Angelena took a year off from work to teach her daughter at home. Condi was soon mastering figure skating, French, ballet, Latin and a host of other advanced skills.

Playing Bach and Beethoven even before her feet could reach the piano’s pedals, Condoleezza pursued becoming a concert pianist. At age 13 her family moved to Colorado, where her father became a University of Denver assistant dean. She enrolled there at age 15, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, at age 19 when most other youngsters are just beginning college.

But by then she recognized that she lacked the skill to become one of a handful of pianists able to reach the top of that profession and would probably end up “teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven for a living.”

One day she found herself in a classroom fascinated by Josef Korbel, former Marxist Czech diplomat, as he expounded on the Byzantine nature of Soviet politics and Stalin. “There was so much intrigue,” Rice says. “I decided I wanted to study the Soviet Union.”

“It was like falling in love,” she told Essence Magazine. “I just suddenly knew that’s what I wanted to do. ... Soviet politics, Soviet everything.”

Korbel, who became Rice’s mentor and career booster, is the father of Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Condoleezza went on to earn a master's degree in international relations at Notre Dame, then a Ph.D. at the University of Denver. The year she completed her doctorate, 1981, she was offered a teaching job at Stanford University. She is author or co-author of several scholarly books, including "Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army: 1948-1983," "The Gorbachev Era" and "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft."

Her expertise on the Soviet Union soon earned Rice an advisory position with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1986 and, with the recommendation of Brent Scowcroft, a place on President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council in 1989.

She returned to Stanford in 1991, becoming provost of that great university in 1993, with oversight of its $1.5 billion budget. She has also served on the boards of Notre Dame University, the San Francisco Symphony, the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, San Francisco PBS affiliate KQED, and other institutions. She co-founded the Center for a New Generation to help educate gifted minority students, as she was and is.

When they first talked, she and George W. Bush, both big sports fans and devout Christians, hit it off immediately. “America will find that she is a wise person,” the president-elect said when announcing her as his pick to become National Security Advisor in December 2000. “I trust her judgment.”

Rice is part of a tiny Bush inner circle of brilliant advisers – including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State George Schultz and Pentagon analyst Paul Wolfowitz – nicknamed for their superior intellects as “The Vulcans,” in the spirit of Mr. Spock and other Vulcans in “Star Trek.”

Now, at age 49, Condi Rice has already become what Business Week magazine called probably the most influential National Security Advisor since Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. When she, as one of two top foreign policy advisers to the president of the United States, criticizes or challenges Hugo Chávez, it is no wonder that this nasty little Marxist tyrant shakes with fear and rage.

Chávez knows perfectly well that Dr. Rice is not illiterate. In fact, she is an expert on Marxism, the Soviet Union and the kind of tactics Chávez and his ally Fidel Castro are now using to subvert Venezuela as well as several other Latin American nations. Her expertise is helping shape the hard line that President Bush has taken against Fidel Castro at this week’s summit of Western Hemispheric democracies in Monterrey, Mexico.

The difference between the Marxist indoctrination of Chávez and Castro and the kind of education that lifted Condoleezza Rice and her family is clear. An enlightenment Western education of the kind that informed America’s Founders is one that respects and empowers individuals.

One of the only three things Thomas Jefferson wanted inscribed on his tombstone and wished to be remembered for was the founding of the University of Virginia – and what it represented: universal education to empower every American with the basic tools of literacy.

Jefferson wanted all to be educated, not to teach conformity but so that every citizen could read the revolutionary pamphlets of future Tom Paines. Jefferson understood that revolution is a never-ending process, that each new generation must rise up and rein in the tendency of government to take more and more power from the people.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,” wrote Jefferson, “it expects what never was and never will be.”

Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a living symbol of the liberating power of education, determination and self-respect.

Hugo Chávez is also to some degree educated. He reportedly in 1975 earned master's degrees in military sciences and engineering from the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. He also studied for a master's degree in political sciences at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas but reportedly never graduated.

Like so many on the political Left, Chávez has the education of a technocrat and the soul of a machine. His is a mind without beauty, without love, without any depth of human compassion or comprehension, without respect for the unique talent of each individual. No wonder one wife divorced him and a second left. No wonder he has imported more than 10,000 Cuban operatives and tons of Cuban textbooks to indoctrinate the children of Venezuela with Marxist racist-like ideas of class hatred and class war.

To understand the Left, here and in Cuba, ponder the documentary “90 Miles” by Juan Carlos Zaldivar, aired on the PBS show “POV” on July 29, 2003.

“In 1980, I was a thirteen-year-old communist living in Cuba,” Zaldivar’s personal story begins. “The Revolution was the biggest thing in my life. Bigger than religion, or anything else.”

This documentary follows his reluctant move with his family to the United States via the Mariel boatlift and his comparison of Cuba and the U.S.

As you would expect from the Public Broadcasters of Socialism, this documentary is not entirely positive toward America. It shows Juan’s father “bitter,” disappointed with his inability to become rich in the U.S. and “defeated by the American dream for which he sacrificed everything in 1980.” It takes viewers back to Cuba and depicts people there as relatively happy.

And Zaldivar identifies himself as part of a politically correct minority, gays – while never mentioning Fidel Castro’s monstrous history of imprisoning, torturing and killing people simply because they are homosexuals.

But in this documentary we find that in Communist Cuba “instead of going to school, my class would join demonstrations that publicly humiliated the people who were deserting [leaving]. They were called ‘acts of hate.’ We’d build bond fires [sic]. ... And we’d make dummies out of uniforms that people left behind. We would stuff them with their pillows and then we would burn them. ... One afternoon, I saw a mob of my school friends chasing a student and her mother. The mother was caught sneaking her daughter out of school to take her out of the country.”

In addition to such lynch-mob “acts of hate,” Zaldivar says: In Cuba we had to wear uniforms to school. In Miami, we could wear whatever we wanted. I didn’t like that. It created this atmosphere that there was nobody to answer to. ...”

“I remembered how safe one feels in a crowd,” he says of the Orwellian groupthink in Cuba.

“During the first two years [in Miami], I was very outspoken,” says Zaldivar. “I was still spouting out communist slogans.”

His father explains to him how Fidel and the Marxists too control over who got what in Cuba. “You had to apply and they gave you a house,” the father says. “When they came to check me out, they saw pictures of saints on the walls. So they never gave me a house.”

His father had supported Castro’s revolution, and continued to be a block leader for it prior to deciding to leave for the United States. He was a man insufficiently loyal to either system, viewers are left to conclude, and fell between the two stools.

This columnist has also seen Castro’s educational system firsthand, albeit briefly. As a journalist in Cuba to do a piece for the Los Angeles Times, I visited a Potemkin Village school shown off to foreign visitors. Oddly, the pride of this school was its adjoining factory, into which young students were marched to work half of each day, burning their hands with acid as they manufactured batteries.

If such a thing happened in the U.S., it would be denounced as brutal exploitation of child labor. Visiting Leftists to Fidel’s factory-school, of course, make no such criticisms of Cuba whatsoever.

And, needless to say, we were not shown how those who fail to conform and succeed as Communists in Cuba’s schools are required to live out their short lives in the hot sun cutting sugarcane for 10 Cuban pesos a month – much the way slaves lived in Cuba centuries ago.

This school had a black principal – the only instance in Cuba where I saw a black person in a position of power. As Cuban-American author Humberto Fontova (whose current best-seller is "The Hellpig Hunt") explained to me, Leftist Hollywood movies about Cuba typically depict Castro’s revolutionaries overthrowing a blond, blue-eyed dictator Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar. Batista, however, in real life was a dark-skinned mulatto of black ancestry from a poor farming family.

It is Castro who embodies the white Spaniard colonial ruling class and whose father was a crime boss in Cuba ... just as Fidel is a crime boss today. And under Batista, Cuba had the third-highest standard of living in the Western Hemisphere, while today this Marxist prison colony is near or at the bottom. This, notes Fontova, is typical of the lies America’s Leftist media use to brainwash Americans.

This is also typical of the lies in Cuban textbooks now being used by Hugo Chávez to enslave the children of Venezuela – and of the Left-slanted faculties that former Marxist intellectual David Horowitz has been fighting to diversify at the University of Denver and other institutions of higher learning.

Call it Red-ucation in the enslaving spirit of Karl Marx, not education in the empowering spirit of Thomas Jefferson and Condoleezza Rice.

Here’s one lesson to remember: A major 1986 textbook dealing with Marxist education lists 15 significant nations that were then Communist. Today, 18 years later, more than half of those nations are no longer Communist. Guess who is winning the global battle for hearts and minds.

A second lesson: As Condoleezza Rice so admirably teaches by example, we must never permit the collectivist thugs, here or abroad, to stifle or end the conversation.


Mr. Ponte hosts a national radio talk show Saturdays 6-9 p.m. Eastern Time (3-6 p.m. Pacific Time) and Sundays 9 p.m.-midnight Eastern Time (6-9 p.m. Pacific Time) on the Liberty Broadcasting network (formerly TalkAmerica). Internet Audio worldwide is at The show’s live call-in number is (888) 822-8255. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader’s Digest.

Who Is Protecting Hugo Chávez?

By Christopher Whalen
Insight Magazine | November 13, 2003

Last year a popular but disorganized opposition movement in Venezuela threatened the government of Hugo Chávez, the self-styled populist who has taken that nation's battered political economy on a strange journey into social chaos after gaining power in 1999. In March of last year, Insight <> predicted the ouster of Chávez and he was forced out of office. But a bizarre combination of factors returned this protégé of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to power.

More than a year later, experts on Latin America tell this magazine that Washington's soft line on Chávez in Venezuela adversely is affecting U.S. security and the stability of the entire region. This hands-off policy toward Chávez seems to originate from the highest levels of the Bush administration, these foreign-policy specialists say, and has evolved to the point of negligence of a crisis that already constitutes the greatest threat to regional stability since Castro took power in Cuba in 1959. Indeed, even as Congress has been intent upon removing travel restrictions to Castro's island prison, say these regional specialists, the Cuban leader is working with Chávez to destabilize governments in the region.

A senior U.S. official who worked in Venezuela during the rise of Chávez speaks with grudging admiration of the Venezuelan leader's classic Marxist-Leninist approach to expanding power: two steps forward, one step back. "Chávez is constantly underestimated by people who do not understand his patient, methodical approach to recruiting and strategy," says this retired Army officer. "Chávez never provokes the U.S. or other nations, but instead works obliquely to erode the position of his enemies."

As an example of Chávez's successful approach, the official cites U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) John Maisto, a former ambassador to Venezuela and Nicaragua. He reports that Maisto was the chief exponent of what the source calls the absurd argument that Chávez is a democrat at heart and that the United States should not "push" Chávez into the arms of Castro. "Maisto did the same thing in Nicaragua," says the official, "until Washington lit a fire under him." In fact, this observer says, Chávez has been a radical all his life, influenced by Marxist and authoritarian political theorists, and has been expanding his influence in the region using his links to Cuba and terrorist groups in the Middle East [see "Fidel May Be Part of Terror Campaign," Dec. 3, 2001, and "Fidel's Successor in Latin America," April 30, 2001].

On Oct. 6, U.S. News & World Report published a scathing exposé by Linda Robinson on Venezuela's links to terrorism, including the fact that the Chávez regime "is giving out thousands of Venezuelan identity documents that are being distributed to foreigners from Middle Eastern nations, including Syria, Pakistan, Egypt and Lebanon." And Robinson confirms earlier Insight reports that Chávez has provided training facilities for known terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamiyya al Gammat, which operate from Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela. She cites Gen. James Hill of the U.S. Southern Command, who said in a speech last month: "These groups generate funds through money laundering, drug trafficking or arms deals and make millions of dollars every year via their multiple illicit activities. These logistic cells reach back to the Middle East."

Robinson also quotes Roger Noriega, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, as saying: "Any actions that undermine democratic order or threaten the security and well-being of the region are of legitimate concern to all of Venezuela's neighbors." Noriega told the House International Relations Committee on Oct. 21 that "the government of Venezuela has a special responsibility to ensure that all Venezuelans are able to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of association and expression."

But readers of Insight should not take his comments as any indication of a coherent U.S. policy toward Venezuela, real or imagined. No amount of effort by Noriega and his like-minded peers can make up for the fact that the Bush administration has failed to confront the growing threat in Venezuela. Indeed, when it suits his tactical situation, Chávez attacks Washington with impunity to energize his political supporters. Most recently, Chávez claimed that the CIA is plotting to overthrow the Venezuelan government and assassinate him. Secretary of State Colin Powell called such accusations "absurd," but insists that "it's up to the Venezuelan people to determine who their president will be, not up to the United States of America."

Though it went unnoticed in the major media, Robinson's article landed like a bomb in the hear-no-evil atmosphere from which Washington has ignored Chávez. According to well-placed sources in Caracas, shortly after the article appeared on newsstands, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro met with Chávez and assured him that the State Department is not in the least hostile to him. But an outraged administration source tells Insight that the Robinson article "just scratched the surface" and there is a great deal of activity in Venezuela that requires U.S. attention. Irate military sources say Shapiro, a career Foreign Service officer with extensive experience in Cuba and other Latin America posts, effectively has shut down intelligence gathering by the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

In September, Martin Arostégui of UPI reported Chávez had dismantled U.S.-trained intelligence units that tracked terrorist connections among the half-million members of the Venezuelan Arab community and instead had brought in Cuban and Libyan advisers to run his security services, according to U.S., British and other European diplomatic officials in Caracas. He also reported that Caracas refuses to cooperate with the FBI and other U.S. agencies trying to track the whereabouts of Venezuelan nationals of Arab descent with links to the 9/11 terrorists who flew an American Airlines jet into the Pentagon.

The lack of concern shown by Washington toward mounting evidence of a national-security threat emanating from Venezuela can be explained on a number of levels, say Washington insiders. First and foremost, says one, is the legacy of James Baker III, the former secretary of state and of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and today a key member of George W. Bush's inner circle. This well-placed source charges that Team Bush is so focused on Europe and Asia that it has tended to ignore Latin America. He says this appears to have resulted in the United States having no policy on the region generally, or even toward problematic venues such as Cuba and Venezuela.

For example, while members of the U.S. military and policy communities talk freely about the growing terrorist threat in Venezuela, some Bush officials deny any problem exists. After the appearance of the Robinson article, Brig. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, director of operations at the Pentagon's Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, was following the official line when he told the Miami Herald that Southern Command has no information about Venezuela supporting terrorists. Yet the daily El Mundo in Caracas says that the article in U.S. New & World Report "tells us nothing that we have not known for a long time."

Is it possible senior U.S. officials responsible for regional security don't know what is known even to Venezuela's tabloids? No, sources say, the information is widely known, but the White House has not had a sufficient sense of urgency to forge a consistent policy on what to do about Chávez. Another reason suggested for the hands-off policy is that Chávez has welcomed U.S. oil-services companies even as he has built a forward-operations base for terrorists that potentially could be used to strike the U.S. mainland. Companies such as Halliburton, ConocoPhillips and other U.S. giants have taken the lion's share of Venezuela's oil-contract business, say senior officials in Washington, leaving little reason for these corporations to complain about Venezuela's left-wing government.

Indeed, Washington insiders say part of the reason the White House has not taken a strong position in dealing with Chávez is that the Marxist leader has several very effective advocates. First and foremost is U.S. Ambassador to the OAS Maisto. The inside account goes that Maisto was diverted from retirement, first to take the Western Hemisphere post on the National Security Council (NSC) and now the OAS post because Vice President Dick Cheney valued his expertise in the region and also because he wanted to thank Maisto for sorting out a difficult legal problem in Venezuela for Halliburton when Cheney was the company's chief executive officer and Maisto was serving under Clinton during his tenure as ambassador.

Maisto served as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and to Nicaragua and as special assistant to President Bush and senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the NSC. Several Latin specialists in Washington say Maisto has been among the chief proponents of ignoring the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, arguing that Chávez's bark is worse than his bite. With an inside track to Cheney because of his former tenure in Venezuela and his work on "Plan Colombia" when he was assigned to Southern Command in Miami, Maisto reportedly has been one of Chávez's most effective protectors. Gonzalo Gallegos, public-affairs adviser at the State Department, refused to comment about Maisto's views on Chávez, but confirmed that U.S. officials recently have had discussions with the Chávez government "at the highest levels" about the need to be vigilant against terrorism.

Maisto is described as a pragmatist within the Bush inner circle, but there also are prominent Republicans reportedly working for Chávez behind the scenes, among them former New York congressman and GOP vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Kemp developed a friendship with the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, former oil executive Bernardo Álvarez, and accompanied him on public-relations missions, including an editorial-board meeting at the Journal. Kemp's office at Empower America did not return repeated calls by Insight seeking to ask if the former congressman has been acting as an unregistered agent of Venezuela.

Kemp reportedly is trying to sell crude oil to the U.S. Strategic Reserve on behalf of a company formed by the Venezuelan government to sell royalty oil. The newsletter Petroleum World reports that the company, Free Market Petroleum LLC, has links to international fugitive Marc Rich, who received a last-minute pardon from outgoing president Bill Clinton. According to Petroleum World: "Jack Kemp ... is using his unquestionable influence in the U.S. political scene to try to swing a deal of over $1.2 billion in Venezuelan oil, serving on the side as a public-relations adviser to Bernardo Álvarez and the Chávez government. The 'normal' commissions on such a deal would be of the order of $50 million. Not bad."

Neither Kemp nor his firm are registered with the U.S. Justice Department as foreign agents for Venezuela.

Also helping to keep Chávez in power has been the attention of Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), at the time of the brief coup the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, and his chief foreign-policy aide, Janice O'Connell. Columnist Robert Novak wrote in April that Dodd and particularly O'Connell hold a grudge against Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, a conservative and anticommunist. This antagonism to Reich in particular, and conservatives generally, fuels Dodd's aggressive stance on U.S. policy in Latin America.

Novak reported and Insight sources confirm that, with the Democrats in control of the Senate, O'Connell made it clear to career officials in the State Department that it was she who was calling the shots on U.S. policy in Latin America. As a result, career State Department officials were unwilling to take risks by supporting the democratic opposition in Venezuela for fear of retribution by O'Connell. Foreign policy insiders say that during the 48-hour period when Chávez was removed from the presidency, Dodd's office was very active - and successful - at guaranteeing that Washington did nothing to assure Chávez's permanent ouster. "Dodd clearly called the shots on Latin America policy," said one State Department official. "There is no conservative counterbalance to Janice O'Connell in the Senate now that Jesse Helms is gone." O'Connell did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this article.

A year ago this magazine reported that House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-IL, sent Bush a powerfully phrased letter warning that the triumvirate of political extremists leading economic powerhouse Brazil, oil giant Venezuela and the terrorist-sponsoring regime of Cuba had become an emerging Axis of Evil that the United States must stop. Nonetheless, the Bush administration studiously has ignored the deteriorating political situation in Caracas and, indeed, has gone out of its way to comfort and reassure the Chávez government even as he uses thuggish tactics to obliterate what remains of Venezuela's political opposition.

One of the more egregious examples of Washington's conflicting signals regarding Venezuela came when the State Department stripped the U.S. visa of Venezuelan Gen. Enrique Medina after he participated in a public protest against the Chávez government. In a May 21 letter from the U.S. Embassy obtained by Insight, general counsel Sandra J. Salmon informed Medina that his tourist and consular visas had been revoked because of "involvement in terrorism." The real crime committed by the former military attaché for Venezuela in Washington and division commander was that he was seeking political redress from Venezuela's anti-American regime.

One military officer who has known Medina for decades says that he is a true friend of the United States and that the withdrawal of his visa by the State Department for resisting Chávez illustrates the policy muddle that now prevails in Washington. Medina wrote in the Caracas daily El Universal on Oct. 8 that while Chávez may believe he has "neutralized the armed forces in Venezuela with acts of open repression and less obvious attacks on political liberties," the day is approaching when the military will not tolerate further political outrages.

Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst for Latin America Stephen Johnson argues that ignoring Chávez no longer is the best way to deal with him, if it ever was, and that the White House needs to articulate a clear policy toward this Castroite demagogue. Indeed, some U.S. officials believe that because of the growing presence of Middle East terrorists operating freely in the country, the Bush administration soon may be faced with a Caracas-based threat - or an actual attack on the U.S. homeland from radical Islamists operating from a training base in that country.

A senior U.S. military officer intimately familiar with the situation confirms that the all-important Venezuelan army has been "cleansed" of independent elements and now is under the control of pro-Chávez activists and the growing ranks of Cuban advisers. "A lot of former officers in the Venezuelan army rue the day that Chávez was allowed to return to power," the U.S. expert on Venezuela laments. "They believe that last year's abortive coup may have been the last chance to save their country."


Friday, October 17, 2003

Venezuela's Reign of Terror

Americas - By Mary Anastasia O'Grady

'At 4:45 on the morning of September 25, 90 well-armed military men burst into Los Semerucos, a PdVSA workers' camp in the [Venezuelan] state of Falcón attacking some 300 residents with tear-gas bombs and rubber bullets, with the objective of evicting them from their homes."

So says Gente del Petróleo, a nongovernmental organization that represents former workers of the state-owned oil company (PdVSA), who Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez fired earlier this year because they went on strike. The workers were protesting what they say is the politicization by Mr. Chávez of a company long known for its merit-based promotions and management.

The group claims that since the strike, the unemployed oil workers have become targets of a government-sponsored campaign of violence and harassment designed to teach other would-be critics a lesson.

"The brutal action," Gente del Petróleo writes in an open letter of testimony, "in which men, women and children were savagely beaten and humiliated and in which 26 locals were arrested, marked the beginning of a more repressive phase of the political persecution that 20,000 Venezuelan families have been subjected to during all of this year, for their dissent from the government regime."

This is classic Chávez politics. In the Bolivarian Revolution, opponents are fair game in every sense. Indeed, enemies must be terrorized and destroyed, not only to remove a particular resistance but also to signal society that dissent is a dead end. The oil workers, who were middle-class and heavily dependent on the company, are just the right group to make an example of. For five years Mr. Chávez has preached hate, fomented odious class conflict and instructed his civilian supporters in the ways of Cuba's 11 acts of





repudiation" against counterrevolutionaries. The assaults on the oil workers were entirely predictable

What is more surprising is the response from Washington, or more accurately, the lack thereof. In recent years, certain members of Congress have been seemingly overcome with preoccupation and sympathy for Latin American workers. Just this spring Michigan Democrat Sandy Levin traveled to Guatemala to insist that International Labor Organization standards be incorporated in trade agreements. Yet according to the labor syndicate that the fired Venezuelan workers have formed, Unapetrol, the U.S. Congress has not provided a lick of support for their cause. Mr. Levin explained to me yesterday that "no one in Congress or the administration has viewed this as a separate issue of labor rights but rather as part of a political struggle. To the extent that Chávez has violated core ILO standards it should be as much of a concern as it would be anywhere else."

A more cynical view might conclude that notwithstanding the rhetoric from the likes of Mr. Levin, Washington's real concern when it comes to Latin labor is ensuring that the cost of output from the developing world is sufficiently high to protect its labor constituency in the U.S.

Whether Congress recognizes it or not, the treatment of the fired PdVSA
employees is nothing short of criminal. The crimes go well beyond the fact that the workers have been fired in a manner thoroughly inconsistent with Venezuelan law. One may argue that the government had a right to remove them because the strike paralyzed One may argue that the government had a right to remove them because the strike paralyzed PdVSA. Yet no private sector company can remove striking employees in this way, and certainly not without paying a hefty severance.




A Venezuelan court has ruled against PdVSA in the matter and the company has appealed to the Supreme Court. In the meantime it has ignored the lower court ruling.

There are also the housing evictions, nearly impossible under Venezuelan law and never with such terrifying force. Moreover, the court order that supposedly allowed the action was issued eight hours after troops moved in. Still, for Mr. Chávez, taking

It also says that the case has been hampered by the fact that the government has not allowed the ILO into the country. Still, Unapetrol is hoping for an ILO ruling in its favor in November.

On Tuesday, a Venezuelan NGO - Force for Integration - will use the case of the Los Semerucos evictions as part of its proof in oral arguments to a Spanish court that Mr. Chávez, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, Attorney General Isaias Medina and some 22 members of Mr. Chávez's tactical committee for the national revolution are committing crimes against humanity and acts of terrorism.

The director of Force for Integration told me that the case includes evidence and testimony that proves Venezuelan assistance to Colombian guerrillas and Cuban ties to the Chávez regime. But equally importantly the case will show the regime's atrocities against its own people. Indeed, the most alarming thing about this government is the legitimacy it claims as a democratically elected power on the one hand and the systematic suppression and eradication of the opposition on the other. Exhibit A to prove the government's bad faith is the organized vengeance - military, paramilitary and financial - unleashed against Mr. Chávez's opponents in the oil company.















The Chávez regime's brutal treatment of oil workers is nothing short of criminal.

the workers' jobs and homes away was not enough. He has also confiscated their savings and pensions. To finish the job of destroying them he has decreed to all contractors and suppliers of PdVSA that, under penalty of contract termination, they may not hire the former oil workers.

On Sept. 26, the Interr-American Regional Association of Workers, part of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, condemned the government's "attacks perpetrated against the workers and their defenseless families including women and very young children. " It demanded that Venezuela "cease the inhuman harassment, persecution and repression against the PdVSA workers and their families and permit them access to their savings, which All have been illegally confiscated by the company and the government."

The AFL/CIO is a member of the Inter/American group but hasn't intervened directly.

Unapetrol has also appealed to the International Labor Organization for support. Unapetrol says "that process has been slow and bureaucratic, owing to the ILO's methods of analysis, which require a response from the government. "



October 14, 2003

Batman vs. Chávez

What would happen if the "Caped Crusader" and his trusty sidekick Robin were available to get involved in Venezuela's political dilemma? (Note that this clip is in Spanish - and it's good!)

(File size: 688kB)

September 25, 2003

"Desventuras Comunistas Subamericanos"

Click above for an interesting, humourous, "underground" anti-Chávez website dedicated to Venezuelan political reform. This site is in Spanish, but it contains a fine anti-Chávez "Flash" intro (click here to get the "Flash" player), some great graphics, witty posters and icons, plus some cleverly-designed anti-Chávez games that require no translations!

(Does enabling this link here qualify me as an official "esquálido" ??)


September 16, 2003

Don't Believe Chávez's Lie
By Phil Parkerson - (Former counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela until his recent retirement.)


The Venezuelan government is engaged in a propaganda campaign to project a positive image of a regime that has repressed the basic human rights of the large majority of Venezuelans who oppose it.

One recent bit of spin-doctoring was an article in these pages by Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, who extolled the ''progress'' brought about by Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution but left much unsaid.

Regarding the land reform program, for example, he left the false impression that acreage distributed to landless people belongs to the state. In Venezuela, land redistribution generally results from invasions of private property by squatters backed by the regime.

Businesses Shut Down

By imposing foreign exchange controls on the heels of the general strike that took place earlier this year, Chávez blocked businesses from obtaining dollars, forcing many to shut down. The government's own statistics show the economy has shrunk by 18 percent this year, and unemployment has climbed to more than 18 percent as a result.

Do ''complete freedom of press, speech, assembly and association'' exist in Venezuela? I doubt it. Six months after his inauguration, the thin-skinned Chávez began picking a fight with the Venezuelan media, which largely had supported him, over their criticism of his decree closing down the Venezuelan Congress and the Supreme Court prior to the adoption of his new constitution in December 1999.

Avoiding outright censorship, Chávez instigated a campaign of intimidation. Media installations have been bombed and vandalized; journalists have been assaulted and shot, and at least one has been killed. Chávez has never disavowed an act of violence carried out by his followers against the media.

To their credit, the Venezuelan media have fought back. Chávez, in turn, has cried foul, complaining that they have abandoned journalistic ethics and objectivity to assume the role of a political opposition.

Regrettably, many U.S. and foreign journalists and some U.S. officials have echoed his complaints while forgetting the history of government harassment of the media.

An Authoritarian Order

With the old political system in disarray, Chávez systematically seeks to impose an authoritarian order that resembles that of Fidel Castro, whom he so admires. He does this while hiding behind a facade of legitimacy, but he makes a mockery of separation of powers and the rule of law.

At this point, Venezuela is not really a democratic government facing challenge, but a democratic majority resisting the imposition of an authoritarian, anti-American revolution.

The United States should be more skeptical of a hostile regimes propaganda and be more willing to listen to the majority of Venezuelans while they are still our friends.

August 2003


This link is a particularly good, inspiring Macromedia Flash movie short showing how many, if not most, Venezuelans really feel about Chávez. Sent to me as a link by Vicki Perez, it's called "No Olvidaremos 2".

You'll need Macromedia's Flash Player to view it. If you need to download the Macromedia Flash player first (which I recommend if you haven't already done so as it's an excellent add-on to have), click here first. Then click on the picture:




Venezuela's Fired Oilmen Fight Eviction
Tuesday, July 22, 2004 1:42 AM ET

From left to right, National Guadsmen Carlos Monzon, Jaeker Baldallo, and Pramo Diaz, check passing vehicles for weapons at the entrance to the Lagunillas oil loading docks, located roughly 450 kilometers west of Caracas, Venezuela, July 9, 2003. In December 2002, PDVSA workers joined a strike called to force President Hugo Chávez from power. Chávez retaliated by firing half the company's 36,000-strong work force who is fighting eviction from their homes. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)


By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER, Associated Press Writer

TIA JUANA, Venezuela - Outside the housing complex where they have long enjoyed a pampered life, an angry crowd of oilmen was spoiling for a fight.

One of them brandished a baseball bat, and, borrowing a metaphor from the U.S. baseball scene that is passionately followed here, shouted: "Do you want it with or without cork?"

The troubles that bedevil President Hugo Chávez's grand scheme to remake Venezuela from the ground up have reached the country's cash cow: the oil industry and the people who keep it pumping.

As an oil rig mechanic employed by the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, Rafael Montero, 41, earned $500, nearly four times the minimum wage. Montero had a pension and savings fund and lived with his wife and four children in a comfortable, company-owned residential complex in Tia Juana, an oil-refining town on Lake Maracaibo.

Life was good.

But Montero and thousands of co-workers at PDVSA were fired in December when they joined a general strike that failed to oust Chávez.

Not only are they fighting what seems to be a losing battle for their jobs. At Tia Juana and other huge western refineries such as Cardon and Amuay, they are fighting eviction from their homes at the hands of the National Guard and Chávez activists. Their children could be yanked out of company schools.

Romulo Carreno, a PDVSA drilling engineer who didn't strike, wants people like Montero out.

"What right do they have to live there? They have to face the consequences of their actions," Carreno said at a recent rally at Tia Juana's loading docks.

Hundreds of "Chavistas," as the president's supporters are called, shouted epithets and waved rocks and steel rods at a group of fired workers standing 400 yards away.

This time National Guardsmen separated the mobs. But these nearly daily standoffs are getting more violent, with dozens hurt in recent clashes among strikers, non-strikers and replacement workers.

Former workers have a defense plan for their Los Semerucos housing complex, which adjoins the Amuay Refinery near Punto Fijo, 220 miles west of Caracas.

Whenever Chávez supporters or National Guardsmen come to evict them, residents light fireworks and use portable radios to alert their neighbors. They set up barricades of burning tires.

"We are not the violent ones. They are. But we are prepared to protect our families," said Victor Estrada, a 46-year-old computer technician fired in February.

Chávez axed 18,000 PDVSA employees during the strike, including 7,000, from executives to mechanics, in western Venezuela's oil towns.

Most hang on in company housing. But PDVSA has asked the courts to evict them, and non-strikers are growing restless.

Unapetrol, a union formed by strikers, has asked the courts to reinstate fired workers. It claims they didn't get severance pay and that new PDVSA managers have frozen their pension and savings accounts.

Unapetrol attorney Aquiles Blanco says PDVSA owes the former workers $337 million.

"Union leaders try to cheer us up. But, truthfully, I don't know what will happen," said Victor Estrada.

Montero says the oil company has distributed a blacklist to its many contractors, making his search for a new job impossible.

"My father was an oil worker. I followed his example," Montero said.

"Grease, oil rigs and drilling is all I know. And now I can't find a job anywhere."



The Destruction of PDVSA©

(Article 1 of 2)

By Emma Brossard, Ph.D.
February 15, 2003

The destruction of the 2nd largest petroleum company in the world, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., has been a work in progress ever since Hugo Chávez became President of Venezuela, in February 1999. This great company, known as PDVSA (an acronym that became a proper noun), was the result of the hard work of a first class group of Venezuelan oilmen. After nationalization of the foreign oil companies, by the Carlos Andres Perez government, in January 1976, these well-trained Venezuelans (by their former foreign employers) melded together 11 former foreign companies, developed an allegiance ("mistica") and rebuilt the Venezuelan petroleum industry.

The Great One

By 1995, according to Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, PDVSA was the 2nd largest petroleum company, based on a combination of sales, reserves and refining activities. The three operating companies (Lagoven, Corpoven and Maraven) of PDVSA had raised Venezuela's oil reserves of 18 billion barrels in 1976, to 72.6 billion in 1996 (and up to 76.8 billion barrels by 1999), the largest oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere. And the monetary value of PDVSA was between $50 billion and $100 billion. Of particular interest to the U.S., Venezuela was the most reliable supplier of imported crude oil and oil products to the United States.

Why would a President of Venezuela want to destroy such a well-managed company that supplies over 35 percent of the Venezuelan Government's Budget? Actually, it is higher than 40 percent when income tax, royalties and dividends are added (not to mention that oil employees were among the few who paid their income taxes). And, there are substantial higher contributions: $200 million/year for the communities where PDVSA operated; and some $300 million/year in gasoline subsidies, since the government forced PDVSA to sell gasoline in the domestic market below production costs.

To protect its foreign market for its crude production, PDVSA purchased overseas refineries, including Citgo, in 1986. And in order to export higher quality oil products and be able to satisfy a growing domestic population with gasoline and other light products, PDVSA invested billions of dollars in major upgrading of its four large Venezuelan refineries. Amuay refinery's upgrading and deep conversion, alone, cost $1.5 billion. Even with all its careful strategic investments, PDVSA between 1976 and 1997, was able to supply $240 billion in oil taxation to the Venezuelan government.

Furthermore, PDVSA in the 1990s under the "Apertura" (Opening of mature fields; followed by profit sharing exploration contracts) attracted the return of foreign oil companies (34 companies), companies that agreed to invest over $16 billion in Venezuela, including more than $2.4 billion in cash bonuses. The largest foreign investments went to the four Strategic Associations in the Orinoco Oil Belt, which contains 1.2 trillion barrels of oil-in-place, with possible recovery of 270 billion barrels.

But PDVSA could never supply enough revenue for a proliferate government, that kept demanding new dividends, at the same time it demanded PDVSA adhere to OPEC quotas. Taxes on PDVSA that amounted to 90% were never enough for one corrupt government after another. PDVSA was forced to go to the international market and borrow, and by 1999 was indebted by $7.6 billion. In August 2003, its PDV America, Inc. has to pay off $500 million in maturing notes, which means Petroleos de Chávez will have to borrow, and borrow at higher rates, because PDVSA/Citgo's former investment grade has been downgraded to a speculative grade, by Standard & Poor's and by Moody's Investors Service.

Citgo - For Sale

PDVSA's collateral in the U. S. is their wholly owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. with 730,000 barrels per day (b/d) of refining capacity in its four refineries; plus two refinery joint ventures, which combined, these assets represented $7.5 billion. In 1999, Citgo had 8% of the U.S. gasoline market. Citgo in 1999 was PDVSA's largest subsidiary abroad, and accounted for half of PDVSA's market. With overseas refineries, Venezuela was able to increase it's crude exports over its product exports, which were limited by Venezuela's own upgraded refining capacity of only 1.2 million b/d (from which it had to supply Venezuela's own needs of 450,000 b/d). However, PDVSA does not have enough crude production to supply Citgo's needs, or its other overseas refineries. Venezuela's OPEC production quota forced PDVSA to buy large quantities of crude on the open market for their foreign refineries.

Over 70% of Venezuela's oil production is heavy and extra heavy crude, which is far more expensive to refine than lighter crude. PDVSA invested billions upgrading Citgo's refineries to refine these heavy Venezuelan crudes, of which Venezuela has huge reserves.

Hugo Chávez is once more secretly trying to sell Citgo. However, he has two problems. 1) Citgo has great value to Venezuela, but not to another refiner, because Citgo without Venezuela's heavy crude supply has limited value. 2) There are no apparent foreign buyers with enough capital to buy Citgo. Only a very large corporation would have the financial ability. However, without available crude supply for the Citgo refineries, a company would only be interested if it was a fire sale deal. How desperate is Chávez for cash? And would any buyer risk making a deal, when Chávez's days in office may be numbered, and a new Venezuelan government would want to recover this valuable foreign asset -- for its heavy crude production?

If Chávez were able to sell Citgo to a foreign competitor, he would not need to export crude or products to the United States, and then he could default on his foreign debt ($35 billion). Chávez would get the revenues he so desperately needs to stay in power from the Citgo sale, and Citgo would be out of reach when he defaults on Venezuela's foreign debt. Furthermore, Citgo would no longer be essential to the operations of the much smaller Petroleos de Chávez.

Reduced Production

Venezuelan oil production at this writing in mid-February 2003 is down from 3.1 million b/d (2.7 million b/d, plus 400,000 b/d from the Oil Belt) to a mere 1.3 million b/d. But an even more important problem for the Venezuelan oil industry, and for the U.S. market that has depended on Venezuelan oil imports for 74 years, is the following:

+ Of the current 1.3 million b/d production, 500,000 b/d comes from the operating contracts (foreign companies).

+ The four Strategic Association projects in the Oil Belt are shut-in, for they need natural gas, which is not available because of the oil production strike.

+ Worse, Petroleos de Chávez in trying to restore oil production, with production in the newer free flowing fields, and they are over producing, i.e., wells that are supposed to produce 1,000 b/d are forced to produce 2,000 b/d. This implies a higher rate of natural decline in these fields. Venezuela has an oil field natural decline rate of 25%/year, requiring large investments in maintenance, which Chávez cut back when he came in to office, in order to squeeze more revenues out of PDVSA.

+ What they are producing is not coordinated with what they can export, therefore, millions of barrels are going into storage.

+ Finally, there was a permanent loss of 400,000 b/d in production capacity, resulting from some of the shut-in wells.

Therefore, when you hear Chávez, or Ali Rodriguez, or Rafael Ramirez, Minister of Energy, inform the public how they have increased exports and oil production to 2 million b/d, or more, it simply is not true.

All of this is of little concern when you intend to create a Cuba style government. In 1998, Chávez campaigned against PDVSA and its president, Luis Giusti, as a "state within a state." He vowed to subordinate PDVSA to the Venezuelan state. His first action after becoming President in February 1999 was to further cut oil production and comply with OPEC quotas. Some 6,000 oil workers lost their jobs because of the production cuts, and many service companies went out of business. PDVSA was also forced to cutback maintenance on the shut-in wells, and they lost production capacity of 500,000 barrels/day. The one area Venezuela was increasing production was in the Orinoco Oil Belt, under the four big joint ventures with foreign oil companies.

Paro -- "Ni un paso atras" (Not one step back)

With this slogan 80% of the 33,000 full time employees of PDVSA joined the Opposition calling for early elections and an end to the Cuban style government of Hugo Chávez. What Chávez did not anticipate was the strength of the PDVSA people, whose principles would not let them abandon the brave Venezuelans in the Opposition who started the National Civic Stoppage (Paro) on December 2, 2002. PDVSA's enormous cash flow to the Chávez government was the make or break of the Opposition. By going on strike, PDVSA lost $40 million per day, or 70% of Venezuela's export earnings. Furthermore, the Chávez government had to turn around and spend millions importing foreign gasoline. But after nearly three months of the Paro, Chávez still refused to resign, or even agree to elections.

The Tanker Captains

The People of Petroleum (la Gente de Petroleo), led by Juan Fernandez, have shown immense courage in risking their careers and their lives to get Hugo Chávez to resign. There are many heroes, but a few stand out. The first is Captain Daniel Alfaro of the tanker Pilin Leon, who took a courageous stand and in doing so united a slow starting Paro. On Wednesday, December 4, 2002, he and his crew dropped anchor in Lake Maracaibo, refusing to go into port and unload their cargo of gasoline. Seeing Captain Alfaro's courage, the other 12 PDV Marina captains and their crews followed suit, and the captains and crews of the Venezuelan Merchant Marine followed them. (By the way, PDV Marina tankers are named after the "Miss Venezuela's.") Chávez ordered the military to board the tankers, but they were unsuccessful in getting them underway. Then the Chávez government imported unqualified foreigners, Hindus from India, Arabs and Cubans. The tankers did not move!

Captain Jose Luis Blandin, president of the Merchant Marine union, stated on December 16, "even if they bring in Martians or people from Jupiter those anchored tankers in Venezuelan waters cannot be moved." Where will Petroleos de Chávez get qualified captains and crews, now that 276 of the PDV Marina captains, crews, and personnel have been fired (January 30), Under Venezuelan law, to operate a Venezuelan flagship, the captain and at least 50% of his crew must be Venezuelan. It appears that Chávez (through PDVSA Board member Aires Barreto) was trying to hire crews from India, Libya and Iraq.

PDVSA was forced to declare "force majeure." Foreign tankers were notified by insurers that docking in Venezuelan waters was unsafe, and their ships and cargoes would not be insured. This is still the case. Most foreign tankers that moved PDVSA's oil before the strike are staying away. Some crude is moving in smaller Venezuelan tankers, e.g. for January: 50,000 b/d to Cuba; 270,000 b/d to Citgo in the United States; and 85,000 b/d to Hovensa in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before Venezuela can boost its oil production, it must solve not only its shipping, but its refinery problems as well. Both operations have been militarized and are unsafe. And Venezuela will undoubtedly be defending itself in foreign Courts, as a result of its force majeure notices to its clients. When a company is forced to do this by events beyond its control, it must prorate its supply to its clients. Venezuela has been sending oil to Cuba (without payment?), to Citgo, and to their joint refinery with Hess in the Virgin Islands. Their other clients are not in the mix. Therefore, Venezuela is open to future lawsuits from former clients to whom they declared force majeure.

The Refineries

Venezuela, because of the planning and investments by PDVSA since nationalization, has the largest and one of the most complex refineries in the world. The Paraguana Refining Center, comprised of Amuay and Cardon refineries, has 940,000 b/d capacity and since December 2002 is shut down by the strike. The Puerto la Cruz refinery has 200,000 b/d capacity and is the only Venezuelan refinery now producing any gasoline (75,000 b/d). It is doing so at great risk because it is overdue for its annual maintenance turnaround. The El Palito refinery with 130,000 b/d capacity is also shut down since December. The chavistas have caused considerable damage to these refineries, by trying to restart them with incompetent, often foreign, workers.

Prior to the strike, Venezuela produced 250,000 b/d of gasoline for the domestic market, now they are producing only 75,000 b/d. Venezuela has 1811 gasoline service stations (owned by PDV, Shell, Texaco, and BP) but only around 370 are receiving any gasoline, which is mainly being delivered by the National Guard, and sold without receipts by the chavistas at highjack prices. Service stations in Opposition areas receive few deliveries. The Chávez government imported 11 cargoes of gasoline (2,820,000 barrels) in January and paid around $110 million for these imports. Venezuelans are forced to line up for hours, and days, to get gasoline (in Maracaibo it takes up to 3 days in line to get gasoline). These lines are in a country that invested millions in their refineries so they could export unleaded and later reformulated gasoline to the U.S. market. Before the Paro, Venezuela was the largest source of U.S. gasoline imports.

Petroleos de Chávez (PDC)

Now the finale to the extinction of PDVSA. Chávez has done two things to "clean out PDVSA":

1) He has fired over 12,400 (as of 2/15/03) top executives, middle management, secretaries, accountants, engineers and technical people, along with 881 of the Ph.D.s, researchers, and technical people at Intevep. And on Sunday, February 9, 2003, Chávez announced he would send the 80% of striking oil workers to prison! There will be no amnesty for the "petro-terrorists." Chávez's hatred for the people of PDVSA is all consuming. And as the incompetent chavistas now trying to operate the petroleum industry have one serious accident after another, ruining expensive equipment and despoiling the environment, Chávez accuses the striking PDVSA employees of being "saboteurs." Chávez did not forget the retired pensioners who had worked all their lives for the Venezuelan oil industry--he terminated their benefits.

2) Chávez through Ali Rodriguez, his President of Petroleos de Chávez, has eliminated many of the subsidiaries (Interven, Cied, Palmaven, Bariven, Proesca, CVP, and PDVSA Trading), and downsized Pequiven, Intevep and Deltaven; and split the remaining industry into two companies: Operator of the East, and Operator of the West. PDVSA people do not have a company to return to. Their jobs have been eliminated and their offices in most buildings have been turned over to government employees, the military, or chavistas. Since 1997, when Luis Giusti was PDVSA President, 11,500 employees left, many taking early retirement because of Giusti's policies, and many doing the same or forced out under 5 consecutive presidents named by Chávez. These departures greatly reduced the qualified personnel in the oil and gas industry. PDVSA has now been decimated with the firing of the remaining qualified personnel, along with the elimination of subsidiaries and positions in those companies.

Incomprehensible has been the firing of the 881 Ph.D.s and technical researchers at the crown jewel of PDVSA -- the very prestigious Intevep research center. To throw these highly qualified researchers out in the street boggles the mind. PDVSA spent millions sending these bright men and women to the best universities in the U. S. and in Europe to get their advanced degrees. They have successfully acquired hundreds of patents for their research at Intevep. In 1993, I had my book on Intevep published by PennWell, so I personally know these exceptional people. Furthermore, I know how great a loss this center and its people will be to Venezuela, when Petroleos de Chávez is forced to pay top dollar to foreign companies for needed technology, technology that Intevep could have provided. The new dictatorship indirectly has promoted privatization of the only well run and efficient state industry in Venezuela. The Chávez government has destroyed PDVSA and now is forced to bring in foreigners to restart its major resource. Another irony is that the Chávez Constitution forbids the privatization of PDVSA, and requires it to hold a majority stake in oil sector projects with foreign energy firms. But never mind, Chávez writes constitutions and carries his around in his pocket, but does not follow any constitution Having fired over 700 of PDVSA's top executives and most of its middle managers, PDVSA is a company without a brain. With the upper level management removed, PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, in La Campina, has been taken over by the Minister of Energy and Mines, now in place to execute government orders. The new Petroleos de Chávez will try to raise production using foreign companies, whose workers do not strike! Which foreign companies are willing to come into Venezuela, under the new currency and price controls, unattractive royalties and tax regime, and a country full of potholes and beggars? Will these companies be from the United States, Europe, China, Nigeria or Russia? The Chávez government is rumored to be preparing an attractive offer to present to foreign companies to come in and restart Venezuela's oil and gas production-using foreign companies' financial strength and technology.

Gustavo Coronel, former PDVSA Board member, wrote the following in a January 28, 2003 article: "With the collapse of PDVSA, we are witnessing the collapse of the country . . . when the time comes, if I am still around, I hope to be a witness for the prosecution. Why? Because when I was building pipelines for a better PDVSA, Ali Rodriguez, the current President of the "revolutionary" PDVSA, was blowing them up, as the main dynamite expert of the Cuban-supported guerrillas which failed in Venezuela during the 1960s." ( It is Ali Rodriguez who now has complete control of PDVSA: financially and contractually. Ali Rodriguez Araque not only fires and hires, moves PDVSA funds around, but also can sign contracts like the one with (Herb Goodman, CEO) to take over PDVSA's oil trading. There is no longer any transparency. Those who work for PDVSA now work for Petroleos de Chávez, the fully credentialed People of Petroleum having been replaced by the mediocre, and now led by an "Oil Commander-in-Chief" (Chávez), with no auditing, or transparency.

Venezuelans are living in a war economy -- in an internal war -- a civil war, which could last a long time. Over 12,000 commercial establishments have closed, and 5,000 businesses are bankrupted. The Chávez government is now using currency controls and price controls to attack the only remaining productive sector remaining. The Opposition, led by Carlos Ortega, the brave President of the CTV (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers), is going to continue to march, by the hundreds of thousands of families, demanding that Chávez resign. But he will not resign. These millions of brave Venezuelans refuse to live under a corrupt, Cuban dictatorship, and refuse to give up their country to a man who intentionally is destroying Venezuela. Venezuela had no national debt in the 1950s when Perez Jimenez was in the government. It paid cash for what it purchased -- in 1957, Venezuela's purchases of goods and services from the United States alone exceeded $1 billion. There were more than 1,500 U.S. companies that sold products and services to Venezuelans at that time. The U.S. relied on Venezuelan oil imports, not imports from the Persian Gulf or Africa. Until the early 1970s, Venezuela was the largest source of U.S. oil imports (and became so again in 1986), of both crude oil and oil products. In recent years, Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. ranged around 1.5 million b/d. No longer! Venezuela, the country some of us have loved since childhood, no longer exists.

Therefore, citizens of the United States, no longer will rely on Venezuelan crude oil and oil products imports. This country that since 1928 was a long time ally and reliable supplier of petroleum, helping the Allies fuel and win World War II, now has a very unfriendly government with greatly reduced oil production.

(Dr. Brossard's book Power and Petroleum: Venezuela, Cuba and Colombia, A Troika?© was published in late 2001, and her book on Intevep, The Clash of the Giants©, in 1993. Between 1985 and1994, she was an adviser to the Presidency of PDVSA and its affiliates.)


From Venezuela, A Counterplot©

(Article 2 of 2)

Posted February 19, 2003

By Martin Arostegui
Media Credit: Juan Barreto/AFP

If plans for an oil embargo fail, Chávez may look to repay Venezuela´s more-radical "allies" by assisting terrorists.

As Washington prepares a high-stakes military venture in the Persian Gulf, a growing physical threat is being posed by Iraq, Libya and Iran to the soft underbelly of the United States. Hundreds and possibly thousands of agents from rogue Arab nations are working hard to help President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela take control of South America's largest oil industry and create al-Qaeda-friendly terrorist bases just two hours' flying time from Miami.

Arab advisers now are reinforcing a sizable contingent of Cubans in efforts to reorganize Venezuela's security services, assimilate its industries based on totalitarian models and repress a popular opposition movement. "What happens in Venezuela may affect how you fight a war in Iraq," Gen. James Hill of U.S. Southern Command is reported recently to have told his colleague at U.S. Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks.

"Chávez is planning to coordinate an anti-American strategy with terrorist states," says Venezuela's former ambassador to Libya, Julio Cesar Pineda, who reveals correspondence between the Venezuelan president and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi about the need to "solidify" ties between liberation movements in the Middle East and Latin America and use oil as an economic weapon.

Exhorting his countrymen to return to their "Arab roots," Chávez has paid state visits to Libya, Iraq and Iran and signed a series of mutual-cooperation treaties with the rogue governments whose operatives now are flooding into Venezuela. There they can blend into an ethnic Arab community estimated at half-a-million.

Last Jan. 10, 18 Libyan technicians flying in from Tripoli via Frankfurt, Germany, were received at the Caracas airport by Ali Ahmed, head of Libya's "Commission" in Venezuela. He was accompanied by the parliamentary whip of the ruling Venezuelan Revolutionary Movement (MVR), Cilia Flores. Nicolas Maduro and Juan Baruto, two other bosses of the MVR party militias (the Circulos Bolivarianos) who had paid an extended visit to Tripoli in 2000, also were on hand to smooth the way for the Libyans coming off Lufthansa Flight 534.

The Libyan agents were identified as: Alsudik Alghariy, Elmabruk Najjar, Koaled Adun, Zeguera Adel, Sherif Nagib, Abubaker Benelfgh, Nabiel Bentahir, Abdulfat Enbia, Waldi Majrab, Amhamed Elkum, Abdulgha Nashnush, Mohamed Romia, Abdurao Shwich, Abdulnass Elghanud, Ezzedin Barhmi, Abdulssa Seleni, Hassan Gwile and Mhemmed Besha.

The high level of security provided for the Libyans' arrival was intended to avoid the havoc of previous days when the entry of Iraqi and Iranian groups touched off a riot. As word of the landing of 20 Iranians had spread through Simón Bolívar International Airport on Jan. 8, crowds of infuriated travelers banged counters and cigarette urns and chanted "Get out! Get out!" to protest what many Venezuelans perceive as foreign interference in their country's affairs.

The uproar became such that one delegation had to be ushered through the presidential ramp to avoid immigration or customs checks, sources in Venezuela's military-intelligence department, DIM, tell Insight. Some of the Iranians, now holed up at a Caracas hotel, are reported to be hesitant about conducting their mission of reactivating installations of Venezuela's recently nationalized oil company, PDVSA.

Meanwhile, Iraqi VIPs, moving under the protection of Chávez's secret police -- the Department of Intelligence Security and Prevention (DISIP) -- came to the attention of Venezuela's regular military when government agents tried to use air-force planes to fly five of Saddam Hussein's agents into the interior of the country. Military pilots requested special clearances before allowing the Iraqis onto the C-130s.

Military sources also report that the recently arrived group of Libyans is billeted at the Macuto Sheraton Hotel in La Guaira, which they share with Cuban commandos who have been conducting strike-breaking operations around the nation's oil ports. Local units of the National Guard, the branch of the Venezuelan armed forces responsible for internal security, were reported to be refusing government orders to repress strikers.

According to Capt. Jose Ballabes of the merchant-marine union, the Cubans improvised floating concentration camps on board oil tankers, threatening officers and crews to get them to move the paralyzed vessels. When the Venezuelans still resisted, "such methods as sleep deprivation, often used against political dissidents in Cuba, are being systematically employed against our people," says Ballabes.

Sources in Venezuela's merchant navy name two of the Cuban agents on the tankers as Arturo Escobar and Carlos Valdez, who were presented as "presidential advisers" operating with DISIP. Venezuela's internal-security organization now is reported to be controlled by a command cell of undercover officers from Fidel Castro's military-intelligence service. Venezuelan sources say the Cuban operatives also run a computerized war room inside Chávez's presidential palace, Miraflores. It is in this war room that the repressive policies now afflicting the country have been planned, according to serving officers in the Venezuelan army, navy and national guard consulted by Insight.

The Libyans, like the Cubans, are specialists in military intelligence and security, but are described as computer specialists brought in to operate and reprogram crashed systems at the oil refineries, according to industry sources.

"The West must expect deepening relations between Venezuela and Islamic states," says professor Elie Habalian, a specialist in petroleum economics and a consultant to PDVSA President Ali Rodriguez Araque, who is identified by Venezuelan military sources as a one-time communist guerrilla chief. Aided by Cuban intelligence and Islamic workers, the government has managed to get oil production back up to 34 percent, a level sufficient to supply basic domestic needs. "It's a war between two models," continues Habalian, "one seeking total control over oil policy and the liberal international policy represented by PDVSA's previous management" effectively eliminated by the government, which has ordered the mass dismissal of 7,000 oil-company employees.

Interfacing of Venezuela's oil industry with the radical state systems also facilitates plans for a possible oil embargo against the United States in the event the military assault on Iraq is prolonged. While international oil experts consider such a scenario unlikely due to Venezuela's desperate need for export earnings, Venezuelan opposition leaders fear that Chávez could take advantage of a conflagration in the gulf to consolidate his dictatorship with the support of Cuban and Arab agents already in place.

"Chávez has violated the constitution on 34 counts and is moving to nationalize banking," says a leading member of Venezuela's business community. "He has packed the high courts with his judges, neutralized the army and turned the national assembly into a rubber-stamp parliament. All that's left to do is shut down the independent media and decapitate the opposition." According to this source, Chávez is most likely to move when world attention is fixed on Iraq.

If the strike temporarily has undercut Venezuela's capacity to use the oil weapon, Chávez can pay back his radical Arab allies by supporting terrorist attacks against the United States. In the wake of claims by former presidential pilot Maj. Juan Diaz Castillo that Chávez contributed $1 million to al-Qaeda, police sources in Caracas tell Insight that a highly fanatical cell of Islamic activists already is operating from a sports complex in the old downtown section of the capital protected by armed units of the Circulos Bolivarianos.

Undercover police officers report that the group has ties to a Hezbollah financial network operating from the Caribbean island of Margarita under Mohammed al Din, an important Chávez backer and a close friend of hard-line MVR deputy Adel el Zabayar Samara, a key link between Islam and Latin America's radical left.

The Caracas cell is involved in recruiting Venezuelan Arabs for terrorist indoctrination and military training at isolated camps in the country's interior and on islands off the coast, according to intelligence officers who claim that members of al-Qaeda are hiding out in Margarita. They say these members include Diab Fattah, who was deported from the United States for his possible connections with the Sept. 11 hijackers. Four Venezuelan officers investigating terrorist activities on the resort island were killed in 2001 when Chávez moved to dissolve DISIP Section 11, which had targeted radical Arabs.

A 40-hectare estate on the sparsely populated peninsula of La Guajira near the border with Colombia is another suspected training base for Islamic terrorists. Equipped with highly modern communications systems, including satellite dishes and parabolic antennae, the complex belongs to an Arab-owned company called Jihad, which is registered as a home-appliance dealership.

Chávez's international plans may have suffered a diplomatic setback recently when he failed in an effort to include any of his rogue allies in a "Group of Friends of Venezuela." He wanted Cuba, Algeria and China to form part of the U.S.-backed watchdog committee of governments designed to support efforts by the Organization of American States to guarantee democratic liberties and future elections. But as war in the gulf absorbs U.S. attention, the group may come under the decisive influence of its other senior partner, Brazil. While that country's elected president, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, appears to have put himself in the center-left and to be aligning his policies with the West, some of his key advisers object.

Chief among them is Marco Aurelio Garcia, a hard-line Marxist with close ties to Cuba and Colombian narco-guerrilla organizations, who is slotted for a top job in the foreign ministry. He already has used his influence to secure delivery of more than 500,000 barrels of oil to Venezuela to help Chávez get through the most critical moments of the strike. One of Aurelio Garcia's closest contacts is Mohammed Latifi, a powerful figure in Tehran's ruling circles who proposes an international oil boycott of the United States and is connected with terrorist networks.

Martin Arostegui is a free-lance writer for Insight® magazine.