My purpose in posting these articles here is to enable us to have a better understanding of what's happening in Venezuela today. While I've had no particular desire to politicize these pages, I believe that we also need to recognize the fact that many of our fathers worked hard in the oilfields and corporate oil company offices of Venezuela - they worked hard not only to provide for their families, but they also worked hard to help improve the Venezuelan petroleum infrastructure for the Venezuelan people. Much of that infrastructure, along with the legacy of so many of our fathers, is now being systematically destroyed. So I strongly believe that we have an obligation and responsibility to educate ourselves and to keep ourselves informed about the tragedy that's unfolding in Venezuela today.

Some of these articles are somewhat lengthy, but they're also extremely sobering. READ THEM! Remember that KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Refer others who lived and worked in Venezuela to this page, or to other pages that inform the reader about the tragedy that's unfolding there today. Inform and educate yourself first, then inform and educate others. The people of Venezuela deserve far better than what they're now getting under the oppressive Chávez regime. If they choose to walk away from Venezuela as so many Cubans had to do when they were forced to leave Cuba under Castro, then Chávez will not only be even more of a disaster for Venezuela than he already has been, but he will also prove to be a cancer for all democratic countries throughout the region and the world for many years to come.

It's my sincerest hope that Venezuela and her people will be able to rise to the historic challenge that's now facing them and that they may triumphantly overcome this profound tragedy.

As new items become available, I'll post them here.

“Christmas Wish”

Posted Saturday, January 7, 2006

Bridge Shutdown -- Closes Caracas Road, Spurs Criticism

Shutdown of a deteriorating bridge (Viaducto N° 1) has closed the main road from the capital Caracas to the coast and the city’s airport, spurring criticism of President Hugo Chávez for failing to maintain the country’s infrastructure. “This is a disaster for me,” said Juan José Hidalgo, whose 25-minute commute to work at a cleaning company has become a three-hour ordeal over a potholed mountain road.

Hidalgo is among tens of thousands who relied on the bridge, part of a four-lane highway linking Caracas to the Caribbean coast, to get to work in the city.

With no exits in between, the bridge closure in effect shut the entire 17-kilometer (11-mile) highway. Signs of imminent collapse forced the government Thursday to shut the 50-year-old span.

The closure may also be a public relations disaster for Chávez as he kicks off his re-election campaign. Political opponents criticize Chávez for neglecting infrastructure spending as he uses the country’s oil riches to provide aid to Cuba, Bolivia and even low-income residents in some U.S. cities.

“Other countries are getting Venezuelan money while we’re having to shut this bridge,” Julio Borges, the presidential candidate of the First Justice party, said in a statement.

“Venezuelans are paying the consequences of the government’s irresponsibility.”  2

Recent Venezuelan Government Expenses by Hugo Chavez

   •        US$1,200 Million  anually to Fidel Castro;

   •        US$1,000 Million  in bonds at preferential market rates to Kirchner's Argentine government;

   •        US$700 Million  promise of subsidized oil to the Caribbean countries;

   •        US$700 Million  promise for an oil refinery to Paraguay;

   •        US$30 Million  “gift” to new leftist government of Evo Morales of Bolivia with no controls as to how it should be                                                 spent;

   •        US$40 Million  petroleum subsidy to the "poor" of Boston, New York, & Chicago;

   •        US$70 Million  for the purchase of a new plane;

   •        US$6,000 Million  in new arms purchases;

   •        US$300 Million  promise to Jamaica for the construction of a new road.

Engineers last year reported that the bridge was buckling. This week, one end of the span moved sideways about 25 centimeters, cracking the road surface.

Engineering Marvel

“Rains have been eroding the earth at the base,” Infrastructure Minister Ramón Carrizales said in an interview on Jan. 3. “We are trying to save the bridge until we can build another one.”

The highway was inaugurated in 1954, reducing the trip between the coast and capital to about 30 minutes from more than an hour. The four-lane highway, used by 50,000 vehicles a day, includes two tunnels and three bridges.

The 309-meter bridge, designed by French engineer Eugene Freyssinet, was an engineering marvel when it was completed.

Built of pre-stressed concrete in an arc, it was called the most challenging engineering feat in Latin America since the Panama Canal.

Carrizales said a new bridge would take at least a year to be constructed.

The government has spent about Bs.30 billion ($14 million) trying to save the existing structure.
Engineers tried to build new support pillars, while cutting free the old damaged ones, hoping to push the bridge back into place. The week’s rains weakened the new support pillars.

Highway concession
The bridge has a history of neglect. Venezuela a decade ago granted a 30-year concession to a Mexican-Spanish-Venezuelan group, Autopistas Concesionadas de Venezuela, to operate and maintain the highway, which was then a toll road.

The company tried to raise tolls 10-fold in 1996 to finance highway repairs and build a new bridge in a $214 million investment program. Protests led to the fare increase being revoked by the government of then-President Rafael Caldera, leading the company to stop investing.

Chávez subsequently canceled the concession in 2000, charging that the operator had failed to fulfill the contract.

“The government didn’t live up to its side of the agreement,” said Robert Bottome, an analyst with research company Veneconomy in Caracas. “And since 2000, the government has not done anything to improve the bridge or highway.”

Economic Repercussions

The shutdown threatens to disrupt the national economy, in addition to inconveniencing the 5 million residents of the Caracas region and every visitor who passes through the international airport.

“This closure will add to transportation costs on goods,” Bottome said. “Goods will have to be sent to other seaports. Airlines will likely have to direct their flights to other airports.”

The La Guaira port in Vargas state handles about 40 percent of Venezuela’s ocean-going freight, Bottome said. The country’s largest port, Puerto Cabello, is about two hours by road from Caracas and is already close to capacity after a surge in imports.“They don’t want to understand that Vargas depends on transportation, on the airport and on the seaport,” Emilio Polumbo, president of the transportation association in Vargas state, said in an interview on Unión Radio.

The old two-lane highway adds hours to the commute and passes through some of the capital’s worst slums where robberies are common.

Taxis more than tripled their fares to Bs.150,000 ($70) from Bs.40,000 to take passengers to the airport from the city center.

“The old highway is just too dangerous,” said Angel Acosta, a taxi driver. “Thieves are smart, and we’re like sitting ducks there if we’re behind a truck and forced to stop.”


More information about the deterioration & lack of maintenance on Viaducto N° 1 can be found at this excellent websitee:


Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005

TV2 Norway Is Not Fooled By The Demagoguery of Chavez

These are 3 interesting videos from channel TV2 of Norway, which is the most-watched station in Norway. Click on each image to see the video:

•  Video 1: Where is the petroleum money going? This video shows the corruption that exists under Chavez today and the fact that the money certainly isn't improving medical services for the poor as Chavez so righteously claims & despite the massive influx of Castro's doctors (23 OCT 2005) - 6.8 Mb;

•  Video 2: Despite Venezuela's oil wealth, unemployment, chaos, & misery have increased under Chavez (28 OCT 2005) - 8.6 Mb:

  •  Video 3: This video shows Chavez's extreme paranoia and how he uses his imagined "threat of assasination" to his advantage as a political tool with the uninformed masses (FEB 20, 2005) - 8.5 Mb:

Posted Thursday, November 3, 2005

Jesse Jackson and Danny Glover Promote Racial Conflict In Venezuela

Gustavo Coronel

October 8, 2005

As a happy adolescent in the small town of Los Teques (20 miles west of Caracas) two of my best friends were Federico Escobar and José Landaeta. Escobar was known as El Negro Federico, because he was ebony black. Landaeta was called El Chino Landaeta because he had strong Chinese features. They are long dead now but I still remember both with great love. All my life in Venezuela I have freely interacted with people of all shades of color without ever giving too much thought to the racial issue. After all, Venezuelans are almost all brown; very few are pitch black or snow white. My first conscious encounter with race came when I was traveling from New York to Tulsa in a Greyhound bus to enter university, in 1951. My traveling companion was a black soldier and we had been talking non-stop when, at a point in time, he stood up and moved to the back. I thought I had said something to offend him but the reason was different: we had crossed the border into Missouri and blacks could no longer ride in the forward section. Many years later, while living in Lafayette, Louisiana, I was asked to fill out a form for the school of my children, stating their racial composition. I wrote: "white 27%, black 18%, Indian 50%, other 5%." The day after, I was asked to go and talk to the Principal. She wanted to meet the person who had written such an unorthodox description.

Back in Venezuela, in the oil industry, I worked side by side with blacks, browns, whites and considered most of them friends and even family. Those I did not get along with had ideas or attitudes I did not share but not a color I did not accept. As a typical member of the Venezuelan middle-class and living in a country that for many decades, from the 1940's to the 1990's, was a wonderful example of social mobility and fluidity, race played no role in my life. Negrito, mi negra, were and are words of endearment in our Venezuelan social dictionary. We are used to attach descriptive nicknames to people without a pejorative meaning. El flaco means the thin one. El gordo means the fat one. El camello, the camel, refers to someone slightly stooped. El gato, the cat, is usually someone light on his feet or with yellow eyes. We never mean to say that those so called are brutes or animals.

In mentioning this, I just wanted to illustrate the atmosphere that prevailed in Venezuela for many decades . . . until Hugo Chávez took over in 1999. Then, things changed.

In a very long and sugary article by Nicolas Kozloff for CounterPunch ("Hugo Chávez and the Politics of Race") Chávez is described as a "pardo . . . someone of mixed racial roots." The article adds: "Chávez's features are a dark-copper color and as thick as clay; he has protruding, sensuous lips. . . . His hair is black and kinky. . . . With a long, hatchet-shaped nose and a massive chin and jaw." When he arrived at the military academy Chávez had an Afro. He was poor and he married a poor woman. His education was not good, his economic situation not so bright. Chávez had limited possibilities to move up in the Venezuelan social scale, not because he looked the way he looked but because he did not have the required skills. People like him, of modest origins, but who attended the university and graduated as medical doctors, lawyers or geologists made it up the social end economic ladder in a much more fluid manner. As he could not do this, Chávez became resentful. He blamed the social system or his looks for his lack of success. This started him on the way to become a traitor to his oath as a soldier, on the way to use the guns given to him to defend the constitution and democracy to try to overthrow the democratic government of Carlos Andrés Pérez. He failed in his attempt, although he caused hundreds of innocent deaths, due to his military ineptness and his personal lack of courage. However, the desire of Venezuelans for political change brought him to power, through elections, six years later.

Once in power Chávez decided to get even. He started to promote social and racial hate, attacking the "Oligarchs" (the white and rich minorities) and incorporating racial components into his arsenal of hate words. In doing this Chávez has become the top racist in Venezuela. His presidency has become a war against the rich, the educated, and the ones who are high in the social ladder. To claim, as he does, that racism and social exclusion are only exercised against blacks and Indians is stupid. In fact, they are being exercised in Venezuela, today, against the light skinned and the upper and middle-classes.

In following this strategy of racial hate Chávez has found several willing partners in the U.S., people who are either looking for money from him or share the social resentment and psychological deformations that Chávez has brought to the Venezuelan political and social scene. Two of the most prominent Chávez allies, according to the article by Kozloff, are Jesse Jackson and Danny Glover?. What Kozloff fails to add are the motivations behind this alliance. I think that what mostly moves Jackson is money and what mostly moves Glover is resentment. Jackson has a long record of using racial conflict as a means to extort money from large U.S. corporations and now figures that the Venezuelan scene could be a new gold mine for him and his Rainbow/PUSH coalition. Glover is a bitter man who wears his blackness as a cross, in spite of his success as a Hollywood actor and his buoyant economic status.

This alliance of Chávez, Jackson, and Glover should not be underestimated. They seem to have agreed on a rather perverse and hypocritical plan, already in motion at this moment in time and promising to bring great confusion to U.S. society and more poverty to Venezuelan society. The plan has two main components: one, handing out to U.S. poor citizens and racial minorities, cheap oil, as a means to "prove" that Venezuela is generous and Chávez is good and, of course, that the U.S. is mean and Bush is a monster ("Venezuela promises cheap oil to poor Chicagoans," The Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2005 and "Rainbow/PUSH event draws actor Glover, Venezuelan ambassador," Chicago Defender, October 14, 2005). The other, to intensify the racial hate in Venezuela, to convert the revolution into an all-out fight between the colored and the whites. Let us consider these two components:

1. Venezuela giving cheap oil and free medical attention to poor U.S. citizens, members of the black and Indian communities, might sound like a wonderful idea to those who might benefit from this plan and to those who hate the U.S. and love any initiative that promises to antagonize their favorite enemy. But the actions by Chávez are not only self serving, a strategy to gain sympathy among the U.S. poor but also criminal since, whatever help is given by Venezuela to foreign citizens, has to be done at the expense of the tragedy of the 85% of poor Venezuelans who are worse off today under Chávez than before he arrived in power. You see, Venezuelans today are dying for lack of proper medical attention and medicines in State hospitals, they are not being educated to become self starting citizens, they are being subjected to a policy of handouts which has already converted them into a parasitic society. Venezuelan streets are full of garbage, crime is rampant, and corruption is at an all time high. Venezuelan society is in ruins. Is it logical to believe that Chávez would be bringing relief to the U.S. poor as an altruistic initiative? No one should be fooled into believing that this is an altruistic initiative. This is fraudulent political propaganda, one that will only benefit Chávez and whoever assumes the role of "distributing" the oil among the poor. We suspect that Jesse Jackson would play a big role in this "distribution," due to his strength in the Chicago area, although TransAfrica Forum, the organization where Glover is Chairman, also wants to participate.

2. Promoting racial strife and hate into Venezuela. Bill Fletcher, the president of TransAfrica Forum, said to Kozloff: "I feel that black issues need to be injected into [Venezuelan] politics." Fletcher has been in Venezuela only once, for a few days, invited by Chávez all expenses paid. During his brief visit to my country, Harvard educated Fletcher, hardly a New Orleans evacuee, did not lose anytime to compare Chávez with Martin Luther King (when, in fact, he is closer to the dark side of Malcolm X). I have to ask Bill Fletcher, who is a very civilized person: Why do you feel that racial issues have to be injected in a society that never had the type of racial tensions that you might have experienced in the U.S.? Why do you have to export to my country your bitterness, your hates, your frustrations, and your inferiority complexes? I have to warn Bill Fletcher and his colleagues that, by intervening in Venezuela with their imported racial hang ups, they might be doing the equivalent of what European travelers did, bringing small pox into the New World. With one difference: Fletcher and his friends will be doing it consciously.

I am seriously worried about the degree of criminal intervention that foreigners are practicing in my country: Cuban mercenaries, Nicaraguan rapists, Bolivian cocaleros, U.S. social and racial profiteers, European and Latin American ideologues and fanatics, fascist relics, communist fossils, Muslim extremists and radical Islamics, Colombian narco-terrorists. All the intellectual refuse of the globe seems to be descending on my country, invited by a grotesque, semi-illiterate dictator, with their travel expenses paid with the money that is not Chavez's but ours.

I say to Jackson, Glover and all the rest: hands-off my country. Have the decency to leave us Venezuelans sort out our own problems. Do not try to make a buck at the expense of our tragedies. Concentrate on the problems that you think you have at home.

Posted Sunday, October 9, 2005

The Oil Bubble

October 8, 2005

We keep hearing the word “bubble” to describe industries with rapid and unsustainable rising prices. Hence, the Internet bubble, the telecom bubble, stock market bubble, and now, some analysts believe, a housing bubble. Yet for some mysterious reason no one speaks of the oil bubble -- though prices have tripled in two years to as high as $70 a barrel.

Reviewing the history of oil-market boom and bust confirms that we are in the midst of a classic oil bubble and that prices will eventually fall, perhaps dramatically. Despite apocalyptic warnings, the world is not running out of oil and the pumps are not going to run dry in our lifetimes -- or ever. What's more, the mechanism that will surely prevent any long-term catastrophic shortages in energy is precisely the free-market incentive to make profits that many politicians in Washington seem to regard as an evil pursuit and wish to short circuit.

The best evidence for an oil bubble comes from the lessons of America's last six energy crises dating back to the late 19th century, when there was a great scare about the industrial age grinding to a halt because of impending shortages of coal. (Today coal is superabundant, with about 500 years of supply.) Each one of these crises has run almost an identical course.

First, the crisis begins with a spike in energy prices as a result of a short-term supply shock. Next, higher prices bring doomsday claims of energy shortages, which in turn prompts government to intervene ineffectually into the marketplace. In the end, the advent of new technologies and new energy discoveries -- all inspired by the profit motive -- brings the crisis to an abrupt end, enabling oil and electricity markets to resume their virtuous longterm downward price trend.

The limits-to-growth crowd has predicted the end of oil since the days when this black gold was first discovered as an energy source in the mid-19th century. In the 1860s the U.S. Geological Survey forecast that there was "little or no chance" that oil would be found in Texas or California. In 1914 the Interior Department forecast that there was only a 10-year supply of oil left; in 1939 it calculated there was only a 13-year supply left, and in 1951 Interior warned that by the mid-1960s the oil wells would certainly run dry. In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter somberly told the nation that "we could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade."

We can ridicule these doom and gloom predictions today, but at the time they were taken seriously by scholars and politicians, just as the energy alarmists are gaining intellectual traction today. But as the late economist Julian Simon taught, by any meaningful measure oil (and all natural resources) has gotten steadily cheaper and far more bountiful in supply over time, despite periodic and even wild fluctuations in the market.

* * *
If gasoline cost today what it cost a family in 1900 (relative to income), we would be paying not $3 but $10 a gallon at the pump. Or consider that in 1860 oil sold for $4 a barrel, or the equivalent of about $400 a barrel in today's wage-adjusted prices. The first of a continuous series of innovations, in this case the invention of modern drilling techniques in 1869, cut the price by more than 90% -- to 35 cents a barrel.

Fifty years ago people would have laughed out loud at the idea of drilling for oil at the bottom of the ocean or getting fuel from sand, both of which were technologically infeasible. The first deep-sea oil rig went on line in 1965 and drilled 500 feet down. Now these rigs drill two miles into the ground -- and miraculously, the price of extracting oil from 10,000 feet deep in the sea bed today is approaching the cost of drilling 100 feet down from the richest fields in Texas or Saudi Arabia 40 years ago.

This spectacular pace of technological progress explains why over time the amount of recoverable reserves of oil has increased, not fallen. Between 1980 and 2002 the amount of known global oil reserves increased by 300 billion barrels, according to a survey by British Petroleum. Rather than the oil fields running dry, just the opposite has been happening. In 1970 Saudi Arabia had 88 billion barrels of known oil. Thirty-five years later, nearly 100 billion barrels have been extracted and yet the latest forecast is that there are still 264 billion barrels left -- although the Saudis have never allowed independent auditors to verify these numbers.

In this industry, alas, bad news tends to crowd out the good. When Shell announced earlier this year that its oil and gas reserves were down by 30%, there was a global outcry. But when Canada announced in 2004 that it has more recoverable oil from tar sands than there is oil in Saudi Arabia, the world yawned. There is estimated to be about as much oil recoverable from the shale rocks in Colorado and other western states as in all the oil fields of OPEC nations. Yes, the cost of getting that oil is still prohibitively expensive, but the combination of today's high fuel prices and improved extraction techniques means that the break-even point for exploiting it is getting ever closer.

The energy Malthusians counter that China, India and other nations will satisfy their growing appetite for oil by driving demand and prices ever higher. In the short term, yes. But over the longer term, as the Chinese become more prosperous through free markets, China will become vastly more fuel efficient and also help discover new sources of energy.

America produces twice as much output per unit of energy consumed as it did 50 years ago. Liberals who say we need government to intervene in the energy markets, to patch the alleged failings of the free market, fail to comprehend that the command-and-control economies of the last 50 years have been far and away the biggest wasters of energy (and the biggest polluters). South Korea produces about three times as much output per kilowatt of electricity as North Korea does.

This is no call for complacency or inaction in the face of very high energy prices; it's a call for realism. Higher prices for gas and fuel for home heating have cost the average U.S. family about $1,500 to $2,000 a year. (Thankfully the Bush tax cuts have given back about precisely that amount in lower tax payments to the IRS.) The tax on the American economy from higher oil prices has reached $300 million a day and has chopped nearly a percentage point off GDP growth.

* * *
Our point is that the constraints on our ability to find and extract new oil are not geologic or scientific. The real constraints on oil production are barriers created by government. Myron Ebell, an environmental analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, notes that roughly 90% of the oil on the planet rests under government-owned land and these resources are abysmally managed.

In the U.S., environmentalists have erected myriad barriers to drilling for new sources of oil. The American Petroleum Institute estimates that there are at least 100 billion barrels that are fairly easily recoverable in Alaska and offshore that oil companies are not permitted to exploit. Once, we could afford the luxury of not drilling there. Now, thanks to a witch's brew of unforeseen circumstances -- political turmoil in the oil producing countries, China's surge in demand, and hurricanes that have knocked out Gulf refineries -- it's an economic and national security imperative that we do.

Here's one simple idea to increase the domestic supply of oil: Have Uncle Sam share its oil-drilling royalties with the California government. If Californians realized they could go a long way to solving their deficit and overtaxation problems by raising billions of these petro-dollars, the aversion on the left coast toward offshore drilling might well begin to subside.

We will assess at another time the many dreadful ideas -- price controls and "windfall profit" taxes -- that Congress is considering to deal with the energy crisis. But for today it is sufficient to note that the free market will deliver oil, electricity and other forms of energy at declining prices in the future, if only the government will let the market's benign and productive forces work their magic.

Posted Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Chávez's Bold Move: Politicizing The Armed Forces

Jul. 14, 2005


The most lasting impact of Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez's self-proclaimed revolution may not be his incendiary speeches against U.S. “'imperialism” nor his daily praise for the Cuban dictatorship, but something that has drawn much less attention -- the politicization of Venezuela's armed forces.

On Tuesday, at the swearing-in ceremony of his new defense minister, Orlando Maniglia, Chávez proclaimed that Venezuela's armed forces are “anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist”, and thus opposed to U.S. policies in the region. “The Venezuelan armed forces are at the heart of the revolution -- alongside the people”, he added.

At another ceremony days earlier, in which he decorated 96 Cuban “internationalist” teachers, Chávez stated that “The Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions are already one and only”, and will defend one another against a potential U.S. invasion, the daily El Universal and the Reuters news agency reported Saturday.

U.S. officials deny any plans to attack Venezuela, and say the idea exists only in Chávez's mind. While Chávez's increasingly belligerent rhetoric is nothing new -- in fact, his revolutionary fervor seems to be directly proportional to the price of oil, which has risen from $9 per barrel when he took office in 1999 to $61 today -- he is taking dramatic steps to restructure the Venezuelan armed forces, which may haunt what is left of Venezuela's democracy for decades to come.

'“People don't take him seriously, but he has been doing everything he said he would do”, says Alberto Garrido, a Venezuelan writer specializing in military affairs. “Chávez has tried to give this process a folkloric connotation, but it isn't folkloric at all.”


Consider the most recent developments:

• On July 5, on Venezuela's Independence Day, Chávez announced creation of a “Territorial Guard”, a force that will be made up of armed civilians fighting clandestinely who will report directly to the president. Pro-Chávez legislator Néstor Leon Heredia was quoted by the Venezuelan press as saying that the new force is modeled after the Iraqi resistance.

• Last month, Chávez announced expansion of the military reserve, currently up to 100,000 civilians, to 500,000 civilians in the short run and eventually to 2 million people. The military reserve reports directly to Chávez. Armed forces commander Armando Laguna has said the Navy conducted its first military exercise with civilians June 15.

• Chávez has resumed wearing a military uniform after nearly three years. He had ended the practice at the request of his former high command, who had asked him to don civilian clothes after a 2002 aborted coup. Those generals have since been retired.

• Chávez has recently changed the armed forces' traditional camouflaged uniform to adopt a Chinese-style one-color garment. He has incorporated the red beret -- the trademark of a 1992 coup attempt he led -- in elite units.

• Simultaneously, Chávez has purchased 15 Russian Mi-17 attack helicopters, more than 100,000 Russian AK-103 rifles, 10 troop transport aircraft and eight navy patrol boats from Spain, and 24 Super Tucano light attack planes from Brazil. Venezuela is also reportedly negotiating the purchase of up to 50 Russian-made MiG-29 planes.

Garrido says Venezuela is embarked on a continental revolutionary project, shared with Cuba. “Under this new military doctrine, the traditional armed forces no longer have the monopoly of the right to wear weapons. Instead, that monopoly is shared by three different levels: the traditional armed forces, the civilian reserve and the armed citizens' Territorial Guard”, he said.

While Garrido thinks Chávez may have reasons to believe that a U.S. attack may be coming, most Venezuelan and U.S. critics of Chavez say his motives are totally different: creating a police state.


“The Territorial Guard is being created as a death squad, a terrorist and killing apparatus, covered up by the impunity it would get from its direct dependence from the head of state”, said Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, one of the few remaining opposition state governors.

My conclusion: If Chávez means to do half of what he says, his transformation of Venezuela's armed forces -- and distribution of weapons to civilians -- will haunt Venezuela for decades to come, no matter how long he stays in power or who succeeds him.

Posted Friday, May 20, 2005

Oil Wells Refuse to Obey Chavez Commands

May 20, 2005

“We have a little problem,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reportedly told Venezuelans on May 3, “and we are fixing it.”

The “problem” is the drop in output by the Venezuelan state-owned oil company known as PdVSA. The Chavez fixes, thus far, have entailed sending military troops to the oil-rich west of Venezuela to investigate "management errors" and allegations of sabotage, while in Caracas the government is threatening foreign oil companies with contract cancellations and tax hikes.

For most chavistas this may suggest that the whole stink about Venezuela's oil industry's underperformance is about to be resolved. Yet it is likely that the magnitude of the drop in petroleum output is a lot bigger than what Chavez has described. It is equally probable that a military invasion of PdVSA and property confiscations in the private sector won't fix it. Statist economic policies have a sorry productivity record and in this case that record is highly unlikely to be improved.

The big trouble is that Chavez has put Venezuela on a centrally planned economic path not much different from the failed experiments of the 20th century. Indeed, last year he declared that Venezuela was preparing for "the great leap," a seeming reference to Maoist China's 1950s agricultural policies that spread famine. Maybe his books about Chairman Mao never mentioned that disaster.

Closer to home, Chavez emulates Fidel Castro, who once commanded that a 10-million-ton sugar harvest spring from the soil. Fidel also promised to clone a prolific wonder-cow called "Ubre Blanca," so that Cuba would promptly rival Switzerland in cheese yields. Almost 50 years into the revolution, Cuba still isn't Switzerland and milk is a luxury. Venezuela is on the same trajectory.

Chavez has at least one thing right: Tight control of the country's political agenda requires tight control of the country's economy. In Venezuela , that means controlling PdVSA.

PdVSA was born in 1976. Until the Chavez government came to power in 1999, the company made some effort to be politically nonpartisan. Getting a job at PdVSA required business, engineering or technical know-how, not political connections.

That has changed. Not content with just the golden eggs, Chavez wanted the goose. As he began to consolidate his power, he began politicizing both the management and labor arms of the company. That prompted a 66-day strike by employees on Dec. 2, 2002, which brought production levels as low as 150,000 barrels per day (b/d). When the strike ended on Feb. 4, 2003, 18,000 workers were let go, taking the skills and knowledge necessary to run the company with them. PdVSA has never fully recovered.

Today Chavez claims that production is down by a mere 200,000 b/d for a daily output of 3.1 million barrels. Industry experts dispute this and this month critics grew more vocal.

On May 4, Alberto Ramos, an analyst for Goldman Sachs' Emerging Markets Economic Research, noted that since the strike local and international oil analysts have consistently put PdVSA production some 500,000 to 600,000 b/d below government claims. “Such level of production is also corroborated by production statistics published by OPEC and other international energy agencies.”

Venezuela's El Nacional (a daily newspaper) Web site issued a similar report on May 15 -- according to a translation by BBC Monitoring Americas: “An extensive survey of oil industry engineers, geologists, geophysicists and experts indicates that corrective measures have not been taken and the decline in Venezuelan oil production is nearing 1,000,000 b/d. This drop, coupled with a shortfall of associated natural gas, creates an alarming situation with the foreseeable consequence of diminishing crude oil extraction.”

In his report, Mr. Ramos also noted that “several oil analysts” attribute the company's inability to return to pre-strike levels of production to “corruption, mismanagement, inadequate investment levels, sloppy maintenance, and lack of qualified technical personnel.”

Maintenance, management and qualified personnel can be traced to the strike and the layoffs. It is also possible that disgruntled employees are not toiling as they did when they felt they were measured by their work, not their politics. Yet human capital is but one factor of production. Investment is also scarce and likely to grow scarcer as Chavez puts the squeeze on foreign oil companies.

Since being named president of PdVSA, Chavez ally Rafael Ramirez has been working to expand the company's control of the entire industry. On May 6, the research firm Oxford Analytica reported the government is arm-twisting to force the conversion of 32 foreign company contracts into joint ventures that will give the government 51% ownership. The newsletter also said that the government wants -- as prescribed by Chavez -- to raise income taxes on foreign oil companies to 50% from 34%. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Venezuelan tax authorities "held a second round of talks with seven foreign oil companies, including units of Chevron and Shell" on the matter. The government has also said it will no longer pay foreign oil firms in dollars.

Added to the drain on human and financial capital, are serious internal problems that this power grab is producing at PdVSA. Oxford Analytica writes that Mr. Ramirez fired 30 “Chavista managers” on corruption grounds soon after he took over his post -- although he did not present proof.

Oxford Analytica said that the move was “interpreted inside the Chavista movement as Ramirez settling old scores with high-ranking executives of the previous PDVSA administration.” This has provoked an increase in job insecurity among chavistas who thought their politics gave them security. Analytica says that, “crossed accusations of corruption based on leaked internal documents have increased among different Chavista factions.”

Mr. Ramos notes that “aggressive” policies toward the private sector and weak investment in PdVSA “raise serious risks of a further gradual decline in oil production,” making Venezuela all the more vulnerable to a drop in world oil prices. It's quite possible that Chavez will have no more luck commanding oil out of the ground than Fidel had getting cows to give more milk. The “great leap” is looking more and more like a great flop.


Posted Saturday, April 9, 2005

Arms Deals, Big and Small

April 6, 2005

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the planned expansion of his Bolivarian military reserve force from its current level of 80,000 members to nearly 2.3 million armed volunteers. Reportedly, he also hosted a quiet visit by a delegation from North Korea the week of March 27 to April 2. As Chavez weighs the costs of arming and equipping his military reserves, he could be thinking about buying fewer MiGs in favor of adding a North Korean missile deterrent to Venezuela's national armed forces.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said April 3 on his nationally televised weekly program, "Hello President," that he plans to expand the military reserve he created less than a year ago from its current total of 80,000 members to as many as 2.3 million volunteers, or 10 percent of the Venezuelan population. Chavez said this reserve would be trained and equipped militarily. Separately, sources close to the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said April 1 that a North Korean delegation visited Caracas quietly last week for meetings with senior Chavez government and military officials.

Chavez already is committed to buying more than $2 billion worth of infantry, naval and air force weapons, radar systems and transports from Brazil, China, Russia and Spain. Arming a military reserve force of 2.3 million members with assault rifles at a price of approximately $500 per rifle would cost the Chavez government approximately $1.15 billion -- about 20 percent of the reported $5 billion cost of purchasing 50 Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters. As a result, Stratfor believes that Venezuela's government is rethinking plans to buy the 50 MiG-29s and is instead considering the possibility of purchasing missiles from North Korea to create a strategic deterrent against external aggression from Colombia and the United States. The Chavez government could use the savings achieved by purchasing cheaper North Korean missiles instead of MiG-29s to arm and equip its Bolivarian military reserve.

The MiG-29s theoretically would give the Chavez government air superiority over neighboring countries such as Colombia. However, in an armed confrontation with the United States -- which Venezuela's new national security doctrine portrays as the Chavez government's greatest enemy -- most of Venezuela's MiGs likely would be destroyed on the ground by U.S. cruise missiles, which would strike without warning. The handful of MiGs that might get into the sky likely would be shot down by U.S. fighters before the Venezuelan pilots could locate and engage U.S. targets.

The Chavez government knows this because it has studied U.S. strategies and tactics in the Iraq war with the help of its expanding military links with China, Cuba and Russia. Venezuelan military strategists know their radar, communications and air force assets would be the first targets of a U.S. military strike. In fact, Eliecer Otaiza, president of the National Land Institute and a key figure in the Chavez government's militia defense networks, said April 1 that the government knows the national armed forces (FAN) would be obliterated "in two days" if the U.S. military ever invaded Venezuela.

However, the purchase of a few dozen North Korean missiles with the capability to strike targets hundreds of miles away would give the Chavez government a strong strategic deterrent against attack by the U.S. or Colombian armies. Moreover, North Korean missiles would be easier to conceal and more difficult to destroy.

Pyongyang would not sell nuclear weapons to the Chavez government. However, Stratfor believes North Korea would happily sell Scud missiles to Caracas for profit, or to gain political leverage in its confrontation with the United States. Pyongyang might even consider selling a few Nodong-1s to the Chavez government, which would give the FAN the ability to launch missiles armed with large conventional explosives warheads at targets deep in Colombian territory, including Bogotá.

The North Korean government has both practical and strategic reasons for negotiating the sale of missiles and other weapons systems, such as minisubmarines and armored vehicles, to Venezuela. Besides the hard-currency earnings from selling arms to Caracas, Pyongyang could be seeking some political leverage in the stalled six-nation talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program. If North Korea is just looking for a fast profit, it likely will try to keep the deals quiet for as long as it possibly can. However, if Pyongyang wants to pressure the Bush administration, it will intentionally leak any deal it reaches with Caracas.

If Venezuela's government decides to go for missiles instead of MiG-29s, Pyongyang has a menu of options that likely would meet Chavez's political and strategic requirements. The likeliest options include the Scud-B, which has a range of about 200 miles; and the Hwasong-6/Scud-C, with a range of about 300 miles. However, Pyongyang also produces the Nodong-1, with a range of about 800 miles, and the Nodong-B missile, with a range between about 1,700 miles and about 2,500 miles.

Pyongyang's price list for these systems is highly classified. However, in July 2000 during missile talks between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang offered to suspend its export of missile technology in exchange for $1 billion a year to compensate for the loss of export revenues; the United States reportedly counter offered with indirect food and humanitarian aid.

The acquisition of North Korean missiles would significantly increase Venezuela's political leverage regionally. During his March trip to France, India, Qatar and Uruguay, Chavez said -- in one of many speeches accusing the U.S. government of aggression -- that his enemies would soon be claiming that Chavez is expanding ties with North Korea. In fact, political ties between Caracas and Pyongyang are already being strengthened, and the impetus for closer relations is coming mainly from the Chavez government, a source in the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry reports.

For a force of 2.3 million volunteer reservists, meanwhile, the small-arms and other infantry equipment requirements would be immense. Russian arms suppliers would be first in line to sell more weapons to Venezuela since they already have sold 100,000 AK-103 and AK-104 assault rifles and 40 helicopters to the government. However, the Chavez government also probably will purchase small-arms and infantry equipment from South Africa in coming months.

South Africa is an important strategic ally among the multipolar relationships that Chavez seeks to build. South Africa also has a large and diversified arms export industry that is hungry for new markets abroad, and a government that is desperate to grow the country's economy more robustly. With arms suppliers in Russia, Spain, Brazil and China rushing to close deals with Caracas, South Africa's arms exporters will jump into the action as soon as they get a chance.

The Chavez government's actions belie its claims that it is not entangled in a regional arms race. As originally envisioned, the military reserve under the president's direct command was to have totaled 100,000 volunteers deployed mainly in poor neighborhoods, or barrios. A force of that size clearly had two objectives. One was to serve as an instrument of internal repression if the government's oil wealth vanished and popular support turned to angry rejection. The other purpose was to defend the government if the FAN ever revolted against Chavez.

However, a greatly expanded military reserve of 2.3 million members is not a force for internal repression. Strategically, it could be conceived by the Chavez government as the foundation of a people's guerrilla war against invading conventional U.S. forces, but a force of even 600,000 armed reservists could be utilized for offensive purposes. This would seriously destabilize the balance of military power in South America, where the largest army until now has been Brazil's with a total force of 189,000 personnel. Moreover, it would flood Venezuela with hundreds of thousands of new infantry weapons, some of which likely would leak to militant groups in neighboring countries given the high level of corruption in the FAN.

The only things potentially standing in Chavez's way are money constraints and possible internal resistance to major arms buys within the Chavez government. Military and civilian leaders are locked in a power struggle over who will have the greatest political influence -- and thus the greatest access to the fiscal resources flooding into the Bolivarian revolution's treasury. External pressures, on the other hand -- like U.S. disapproval -- will not deter Chavez.

That said, the Chavez government's small-arms and conventional-weapons purchases probably will advance more rapidly in coming years than its acquisitions of more sophisticated weapons like Russian MiGs and North Korean missiles. Transactions involving small arms, armored vehicles, helicopters and similar items involve many contracts with many foreign suppliers. These contracts are subject to little public scrutiny. However, the purchase of larger and costlier weapons systems like advanced fighter aircraft and missiles invite more public scrutiny, bring greater international pressure, and take longer to negotiate because of the complex technological issues and large sums of money involved.


Posted Saturday, March 26, 2005

Emma Brossard: Selling off Venezuela´s Jewels

March 17, 2005

Recent articles on Hugo Chavez’s proposed sale of Citgo ignore the growth in its value since PDVSA acquired Louisiana’s second largest refinery. The Citgo of the 21st Century is a creation of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). When PDVSA bought half of Citgo Petroleum Corp. in September 1985, from the Thompson brothers of Southland Corp., they paid $290 million for half of the Lake Charles 300,000 b/d refinery. PDVSA agreed to provide 130,000 to 200,000 barrels per day (b/d) of crude and feedstock for the Lake Charles refinery for 20 years. Included in the sale were a percentage of two important pipelines, Colonial and Explorer; a lube plant; and over 30 terminals; and an established gasoline market of branded outlets (then 6,900, now 13,800 franchised).

By the time PDVSA announced in November 1989, that it would buy the other half of Citgo for $675 million, crude runs in the refinery were averaging 284,000 b/d, and because of many mothballed refineries after the U.S. decontrol of oil, it was now a buyer’s market for refineries. The Citgo refinery had been upgraded between 1982 and 1984 (by Cities Service and then Southland) at a cost of $500 million, making it one of the most advanced in the industry. And PDVSA continued to upgrade Citgo to process Venezuela’s heavy crudes into cleaner burning gasoline. Citgo announced in 1992, that it would spend $1.7 billion over the next five years to comply with the Clean Air Amendments for the new reformulated gasoline requirements passed by Congress in 1991.

Citgo continued to grow in size. Champlin Petroleum Company with its 160,000 b/d Corpus Christi refinery, including a petrochemical facility, and distribution system was added to Citgo, in September 1990. Citgo also acquired Seaview Petroleum Co., an asphalt refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey, refining 84,000 b/d of Venezuela’s heavy crude; and a fourth refinery was added in Savannah, Georgia.

Until 2001, PDVSA sold its oil to Citgo at an arms length price, and for tax reasons, Citgo did not pay dividends to PDVSA. Thus, PDVSA reinvested most of Citgo’s profits in U.S.-based operations and acquired other U.S. refineries. Under a treaty in 1999, Citgo’s U.S. tax burden dropped from 30% to 5%, and in 2001 PDVSA received $213.75 million in dividends from Citgo, from its 2000 earnings. Chavez continues to receive annual Citgo dividends.

Hugo Chavez not only became President of Venezuela in February 1999, but also took over PDVSA, changing its president and board at a whim, and finally in January 2005 naming the Minister of Energy also President of “Petroleos de Chavez” The former PDVSA is effectively Chavez’s own company, and he can sell any part of it! Well, maybe not.

Chavez’s PDVSA, in December 2003, announced that they would sell its 50% stake in Ruhr Oel (four refineries in Germany) to Russia’s Alfa Group. In 1983, the Ruhr Oil joint venture with Veba Oel was the beginning of PDVSA’s “internationalization.” Twenty years later, Ruhr Oel was also the beginning of Chavez’s efforts to sell PDVSA’s overseas refineries. However, in June 2004, the sale to the Alfa Group was suddenly dropped. Why? There was no explanation. Chavez had planned to buy 50 Russian MiGs (with the sale of Ruhr Oel?); and Russia through the Ruhr purchase would have gained a 2,000 distribution system in Europe. Perhaps it was BP (British Petroleum) that had purchased Veba Oel, and therefore now owned the other half of Ruhr Oel, that quashed the PDVSA sale?

Chavez has a problem trying to sell Venezuela’s foreign refineries because most of them are run as joint ventures -- and their partners in these ventures, who initially sold half of their refinery to PDVSA, have a say in what company they will accept as a new partner. Since PDVSA owns all of the four Citgo refineries, and Citgo is their largest overseas affiliate, and is in the largest market, Citgo would be expected to fetch the largest amount of cash and procure a buyer.

However, if there is a sale of Citgo, only with the U.S. Government’s permission, it could be a fire sale. Chavez does not seek to realize Citgo’s $5 billion plus worth in today’s market. He wants to stop sending Venezuelan oil to the U.S. (to Citgo), and he wants to prevent the possibility of the U.S. freezing Citgo’s assets (after some foolhardy action on his part.) It appears that Hugo Chavez is considering the sale of Citgo to foreign buyers, i.e., the Russians (Lukoil), Brazilians (Petrobras), or Arabs, with the Chinese now excluded by the U.S. Homeland Security Department. Presently, there appear to be two U.S. independent refiners, Valero Energy (CEO Bill Greehey), and Premcor Inc. (formerly Clark USA) that are interested in one or two of Citgo’s refineries.

Chavez’s hatred of the United States and President Bush, and his need for funds for his corrupt regime, is the driving force behind his wish to sell Venezuela’s foreign crown jewel. Citgo is a corporation that was carefully constructed by Venezuelan oilmen under the Brigido Natera presidency, to conquer the United States downstream market where Venezuela has traditionally sold half of its oil production.

The real value of all the nine PDVSA refineries in the United States is represented by the opportunity of marketing Venezuela’s medium/heavy crude oils through PDV America (which includes refinery ownership of Citgo; Citgo-Lyondell (41%); Hovensa, St. Croix joint venture; Chalmette, Louisiana, 50% participation; Sweeney, Texas joint venture; and Lemont, Illinois now 100%). PDVSA also markets Venezuelan refined oil products through PDV America. In 1999, Hugo Chavez’s first year in power, PDV America amounted to nearly half of all PDVSA’s market, selling over 1.5 million b/d of product. However, with the decline of 500,000 b/d in Venezuelan crude production (now 2.5 million b/d or less); and around 100,000 b/d of oil exports to Cuba, and other exports to new markets, like China and Argentina, PDVSA has to purchase increasing amounts of oil on the open market, in order to supply their foreign refineries. The Chavez solution: sell the Crown Jewels!

Emma Brossard grew up and worked in the oil industry in Venezuela. Her first book, Petroleum Politics and Power was published in 1983; followed in 1993 by Petroleum Research and Venezuela's INTEVEP. For 18 years, Prof Brossard taught political philosophy, Latin American politics, and energy politics, in several Midwestern and Southern univerisities. She has a BA from the Univ. of Wisconsin, MA and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University. An energy consultant for many years. Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.

Editor's Note: Petroleumworld encourages persons to reproduce, reprint, or broadcast Petroleumworld Editorial articles provided that any such reproduction identify the original source, and it is done within the fair use as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

Internet web links to are appreciated.
Petroleumworld News 03 17 05

Copyright © Emma Brossard 2005, All rights reserved


Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Chavez Casts Himself as the Anti-Bush

By Kevin Sullivan

March 14, 2005

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez has recently accused President Bush of plotting to assassinate him, made suggestive comments about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visited Fidel Castro in Cuba, bashed the United States on the al-Jazeera television network and traveled to Libya to receive an award from Moammar Gaddafi.

Such bluster and anti-American showmanship are nothing new from the fiery former paratrooper. But concern in Washington has been rising as Chavez has worked feverishly in recent months to match his words with deeds.

Since threatening to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which buys 1.5 million barrels a day from Venezuela, Chavez has been traveling the globe looking for new markets and allies to unite against "the imperialist power." He recently signed energy deals with France, India and China, which is searching for new sources of oil to power its industrial expansion. Chavez also has made a series of arms purchases, including one for military helicopters from Russia.

And on Friday, Chavez hosted President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, a nation that has a secretive nuclear program and has been labeled by Bush as part of an "axis of evil."

"Iran has every right . . . to develop atomic energy and to continue its research in that area," Chavez said at a joint appearance with Khatami. "All over the world, there is a clamor for equality . . . and profound rejection of the imperialist desires of the U.S. government. Faced with the threat of the U.S. government against our brother people in Iran, count on us for all our support."

Gerver Torres, a former Venezuelan government minister who now runs a private development agency, said such statements illustrate one of Chavez's key goals. "His main motivation now is to do everything he possibly can to negatively affect the United States, Bush in particular," Torres said. "He is trying to bring together all the enemies of the United States. He believes the United States is the devil."

While U.S. analysts said they doubt Chavez could afford to severely cut shipments to the United States, which buys 60 percent of Venezuela's oil exports, they are still paying careful attention to his statements. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) has asked the Government Accountability Office to study how a sharp decrease in Venezuelan oil imports might affect the U.S. economy.

Although Chavez has suggested he would "use oil" to fight American power, other Venezuelan officials have expressed a far more businesslike view of the relationship. In an interview, Andres Izarra, Chavez's information minister, said Venezuela had no plans to stop selling oil to the United States, which he called "our natural energy market."

The government says it produces 3.1 million barrels a day of oil, but independent analysts put the figure closer to 2.6 million. Izarra said the country aimed to boost its oil production to about 5 million barrels a day in the next five years, so there would be plenty of oil to serve both the United States and new customers, such as China and India.

Still, Chavez's comments and actions, including the purchase of a substantial amount of foreign arms, have drawn sharp criticism from U.S. officials. In her Senate confirmation hearings in January, Rice called Chavez a "negative force in the region."

Chavez's arms purchases from Russia, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, have also drawn protests from the State Department. He has bought military aircraft from Brazil and announced plans to buy radar equipment from China.

In a recent televised speech, Chavez described the arms purchases and a plan to increase army reserve troops as "an honorable answer to President Bush's intention of being the master of the world."

Chavez is the most vocal and visible symbol of a rising tide of anti-American sentiment in Latin America. Leaders in the region are increasingly disillusioned because a decade or more of the Washington prescription -- democracy and free-market economics -- has failed to alleviate poverty and economic inequality.

Six Latin American nations, most recently Uruguay, now have presidents whose views clash, in varying degrees, with Washington's. Another politician with sharp anti-Washington views, Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is the early favorite in next year's presidential election, which could bring the trend to the banks of the Rio Grande.

After soundly defeating his domestic opposition in a recall referendum last August, and flush with soaring profits from record-high global oil prices, Chavez has increasingly been making deals with countries in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, positioning himself as something of an anti-Bush.

In a recent interview on al-Jazeera, Chavez called for developing nations to unite against U.S. political and economic policies. "What can we do regarding the imperialist power of the United States? We have no choice but to unite," he said. Venezuela's energy alliances with nations such as Cuba, which receives cheap oil, are an example of how "we use oil in our war against neoliberalism," he said.

Or, as he put it on another occasion, "We have invaded the United States, but with our oil."

Izarra, in the interview, accused the United States of "systematic attacks and aggressions" against Chavez, repeating allegations that the United States was involved in a failed 2002 coup against Chavez and a crippling 2002-03 oil strike. Rice and other U.S. officials have repeatedly denied those allegations.

Chavez has saved some of his most biting sarcasm for Rice, whom he refers to as "Condolencia," which means "condolence." In speeches, he has called her "pathetic" and illiterate and made oblique sexual references to her. "I cannot marry Condolencia, because I am much too busy," he said in a recent speech. "I have been told that she dreams about me," he said on another occasion.

Chavez asserted on television last month that Castro had warned him that Bush was planning an assassination attempt. U.S. officials called this ridiculous. But Chavez said that if he were killed, the United States "can forget Venezuelan oil," threatening to cut off the fourth-largest source of U.S. oil imports. Chavez's government has begun exploring the sale of parts of Citgo, the Venezuela-owned retailer in the United States.

Many here say they believe Chavez dreams of the day he can cut off the United States and sell to countries he considers more friendly. Chavez visited Beijing in December and signed trade deals for oil and gas exploration, farm support and construction. He even reached agreement with Chinese leaders to launch a telecommunications satellite.

When Chavez visited India last week, the two countries signed an energy cooperation agreement and Chavez said Venezuela wanted to become a "secure, long-term" petroleum supplier to India. On his way home, Chavez stopped in Paris and reached agreement with President Jacques Chirac for more French investment in the Venezuelan oil industry.

Some of the gasoline that Venezuela ships to the United States comes from El Palito, a refinery about 200 miles west of Caracas. People who live next to the refinery in a little cluster of brightly colored beachfront homes said they did not believe Chavez would ever cut off exports to the United States. But in a country bitterly divided over Chavez's rule, they agreed on little else.

"He's destroying the country," said Carlos Rodriguez, a shopkeeper. "Oil prices are higher than ever, but there's more poverty and more crime. Then he flies off to other countries and offers them things he doesn't offer to us."

But a few yards away on the beach, Jaime Mendez, a fisherman, said: "We are all with Chavez because he helps the humble people. He doesn't want problems with the United States. He is just trying to do things, but they won't let him work."

Posted Tuesday, February 8, 2005


Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Dow Jones Newswires

HOUSTON - When Pedro Pereira-Almao flew to Calgary, Alberta, to visit his daughter in December 2002, he didn't realize he had already begun his transition to a new life.

A manager with Venezuelan National Petroleum Company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA, Mr. Pereira-Almao timed the holiday to coincide with an oilfield strike that was intended to force the resignation of President Hugo Chavez. But when the 50-year-old petrochemist returned to Venezuela that January, Mr. Chavez was still president - and Mr. Pereira-Almao was out of a job.

One of 18,000 workers ousted in a PdVSA purge of Chavez critics, Mr. Pereira-Almao quickly landed in Calgary, where he has become part of a growing contingent of former colleagues who are adapting their expertise to Canada's oil sands.

The miniexodus is helping to lift Canada's oil-field hopes, as the industry pumps in $32 billion to double heavy crude production by the end of the decade to two million barrels of oil per day.

Leading Canadian oil producers have been actively recruiting from Venezuela's idle pool of talent. Calgary-based Suncor Energy Inc. recently hired 24 Venezuelans for its oil-sands upgrading facility near Fort McMurray, a Suncor spokeswoman said. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s new vice president of upgrading also was sacked by PdVSA after the strike. And the Academy of Learning, an Edmonton, Alberta, vocational college, is getting up a recruitment and training program in Caracas, Venezuela, over the next couple of months to instruct prospects in English language skills.

In, Canada, "there's a great need for the upgrading expertise we developed in Venezuela in the 1990s, " said Mr. Pereira-Almao, who helped manage PdVSA's research division.

Made to Order

The Venezuelans are a good fit because of the similarity between the heavy-oil projects of the Orinoco Belt in southeastern Venezuela and the Canadian oil sands, which contain a comparable low-grade brand of crude. Unlike conventional crude, which is sent directly to refineries,heavy oil must first go to an upgrading plant, where the tar-like goop is processed into a lighter synthetic that is then refined into gasoline at a conventional petroleum refinery.

Canadian oil-industry officials see the need for more than 8,600 new oil-sands jobs over the next decade, with as many as 2,000 needed this summer. The Venezuelans' experience makes them exceptional candidates, said Chris Culshaw, the Academy of Learning's director of international programs, who figures Canada's labor crunch would be much worse if Venezuela's political environment was less turbulent.

"Venezuela has similar characteristics to Alberta in all respects except for the weather," Mr. Culshaw said. "So if the workers might tolerate working at minus 30 degrees, there's a fit."





Persona non Grata

A chemist who trained in France and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., where he did postdoctoral work, Mr. Pereira-Almao joined PdVSA in 1990 as a researcher, rising to lead the company's petroleum upgrading research in 2001.

Mr. Pereira-Almao's banishment from PdVSA is surprising in that he considers himself a child of Venezuelan democracy. His father was a night watchman and his mother a school-cafeteria supervisor. For a while the family lived in a shack in a western Caracas working class neighborhood, but later moved into an apartment when the last Venezuelan dictator, Marcos Perez Jimenez, was overthrown in 1958.

"I was always critical of some what I thought were elitist attitudes in the company," Mr. Pereira-Almao said.

But he never agreed with Chavez supporters within PdVSA, considering them professionally mediocre and intolerant. "I sympathized with some of those people's ideas, but I'd never be able to work with them," he said.

When the strike came, Mr. Pereira-Almao was too busy presenting upgrading projects to PdVSA's foreign partners to join. But he was spotted on TV while at one of the opposition's public meetings. "The 'chavistas' told me that was the reason I was sacked," he said.

Mr. Pereira-Almao wasn't entirely surprised. Expecting a confrontation, he had already expatriated his savings and contacted friends abroad. He left Caracas in March 2003; six months later, he got the grant to start the upgrading-research center at the University of Calgary, which received $1.2 million in grants from the Alberta Ingenuity Fund.

Mr. Pereira-Almao has since brought in eight former PdVSA colleagues who are working to boost efficiency in the processing of oil sands, a capital-intensive process that now consumes huge amounts of natural gas. The group is working on developing catalysts to help separate bitumen from solid minerals while it sits in the subsoil.

The Second Wave

As more Venezuelans join Mr. Pereira-Almao in Calgary, there are increasing signs of a critical mass, said Venezuelans active in Canada's oil industry.

Carlos Sosa, spokesman for the Venezuelan-Canadian Association of Calgary, reports a consistent flow of inquiries from Venezuelans about jobs there and at Fort McMurray, an isolated town 800 kilometers north of Calgary, where most of the oil sands production takes place.


"I tell them to come first without their families, as the winter is very harsh here," Mr. Sosa said. "And I tell everybody to improve their English at whatever the cost. That's key to landing a good job."

The association has begun posting information about jobs, in addition to serving as a liaison for Canadian companies interested in recruiting abroad and for Venezuelan companies seeking contracts in Calgary. The group's membership has swelled to 400 from 60 at the start of 2003.

Postgraduate students, who in previous eras would have gone back to a cushy job back home, are now considering staying in Canada.

"Alberta is a paradise for engineers of all kinds," said Eli Viloria, one of eight Venezuelan Ph.D. students at the chemical engineering department of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "Ideally, I'd like to help in the transfer of technology between Alberta and Venezuela. Use the fact that I'm Venezuelan and I know the language and the culture there, to look for some sort of synergy."

While the long-term impact of Venezuela's outflow of skilled workers on that country's production can't be quantified, most independent experts consider the brain drain to be an impediment, at least in the short run.

Venezuela produces about 2.6 million barrels a day, down from 3.4 million barrels a day just six years ago. Although PdVSA's leadership has outlined plans to double production by 2010, many energy insiders are skeptical that will happen.

PdVSA workers "were the real asset of the Venezuelan oil industry," said former PdVSA chief Luis Giusti, who left the company in February 1999 when Mr. Chavez took office.

The growing community of Venezuelan professionals in Calgary eases the transition for newcomers, said Mr. Viloria. They socialize, help each other and form political organizations to state their opposition to Mr. Chavez from far away.

From his northern refuge, Mr. Pereira-Almao hopes that the brain exodus will somehow make its way back to Venezuela. But it will be difficult for him to return, especially since his three adult children also live abroad. He still logs on to Venezuelan newspapers on the Internet, but less and less.

"It's what happens when a regime tries to, impose its point of view by force," said Mr. Pereira-Almao.




Posted Thursday, February 2, 2005

FOX NEWS Exposé on the Chavez Administration

It was refreshing to finally see American media pay some attention to the threat the Chavez administration poses to the Americas. FOX NEWS presented three news shorts on the Chavez administration, and they were by no means flattering. If you missed them, these videos can be seen here:

Tuesday, February 1, 1995

Wednesday, February 2, 1995

Thursday, February 3, 1995


Posted Friday, October 1, 2004

Jimmy Carter, Observed

By A. M. Mora y Leon, The American Thinker

September 30th, 2004 - Jimmy Carter has been acting like a grumpy old man this week, casting somewhat shocking aspersions on the fairness and legitimacy of the forthcoming Presidential election in Florida. Maybe his nasty streak has something to do with a quiet but very significant affront dealt him by the United States Department of State, an insult which has completely escaped the notice of the legacy media, but which is loudly reverberating in the clubby universe of high level diplomacy and elite NGOs.

The Man from Plains, who has so assiduously cultivated a good-guy image, has taken to disparaging the possibility of a fair democratic process in his own country, in a fit of pique.

Carter's been making a nice little side business out of observing foreign elections for years, through the vehicle of his nonprofit Carter Center. In the same op-ed article that he used to disparage in advance Florida's election, he touted his role in the Aug. 15 Venezuelan recall referendum as proof of his success. The only problem is that evidence is mounting of massive electoral fraud in Venezuela in the counting of votes, in the machines themselves, in the post-referendum statistical studies showing improbable results, in the voter rolls, and in the auditing. And that s just for starters.

Thus, the United States Department of State has suspended its plan to endorse former President James Earl Carter's final report on the Venezuelan election. Carter's report was to have been the basis for further diplomacy with a certifiably legitimate government there. Instead, State has only acknowledged the preliminary findings, leaving Carter's status as a recognized authoritative certifier of elections hanging out to dry.

This may not sound like much to you, but it effectively disconnects Jimmy Carter's claim to be a momentous election-certifier from its power source: the ability to get the United States Government to accept the word of its 39th President as dispositive. Carter has been quietly but publicly dissed, and he is dissing back. As they might put it in Carter's rural South, we ve got us a dissing match!

This morning, Carter posted a 14-page executive summary of his election certification of Venezuela on the Carter Center website. It is a piece of work.

In the short summary, Carter bureaucratically repeats his claim that he matched paper ballots from 150 or 200 voting stations to a few sheets of transmission data, as if that were the only way to commit fraud in a place like Venezuela. Carter continues to muddle the issue of whether there was a problem with the choice of audit boxes picked by the five-member election commission, that even he admitted was stacked for Chavez.

In an earlier report on his Aug. 26 second audit, he admitted disregarding auditing any boxes that had been obviously tampered with. That s certainly one way to simplify the process and get right to the business of approving the results.

Carter also ignores the problem of server communications with the electronic voting machines before transmitting final tallies, and dismisses post-referendum statistical studies by scientists from MIT and elsewhere, showing highly improbable coincidences. On that, Carter's simple rebuttal reads: these patterns were not found a basis to assert fraud.

Meanwhile, Carter skips over discrepancies in areas showing that the number of votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters. And his statement on the auditing process in particular is a beauty: Carter said everything was observed free and clear, except for what went on in the central totalization room, and concluded that, except for that minor matter, all was free and fair. It would be like an Olympic judge declaring a last-place finisher a winner - with the exception of what went on at the finish line. For good measure, Carter's executive summary blames Venezuela s free press for voter disillusion and recommends more government oversight on it, as well as more public funding for campaigns of this kind. No wonder the Bush Administration has decided to not touch it. The State Department had trusted Carter to give an honest, or let's say competent, assessment of that mess that has real potential to blow into a crisis for the U.S. Make no mistake about the depth of anger of the Venezuelan people and what they are likely to do. Venezuela s crucial role as a major oil-supplier role for the U.S. makes anything happening there to destabilize the country and its economy and matter of major immediate concern.

It s not really an election, so we haven't said anything more than that and we re not going to say any more, a State Department official admitted. Since then, the Bush Administration s position has hardened. Carter's claims of free and fair elections in Venezuela are being shunted aside as a failure. That has denied Chavez the recognition he had been expecting from Carter, which he had hoped would extend into the White House. Bush is much too savvy for that and Chavez's plan failed. U.S. officials have pointedly refused to congratulate Chavez on his victory, and haven t bothered to invite him to the White House or a key United Nations reception as Chavez had hoped, prompting him to cancel his U.S. trip earlier this month. And the result for Carter? No kudos are coming his way after his rush to declare the recall referendum free and fair. That s why he must toot his own horn now, if he wants credit, in attack editorials denigrating Bush s brother running Florida. His vindictive streak is by now well-known. He can only try to tear down others, now that no one is listening to his observations after the Venezuela fiasco. And Chavez has been denied the imprimatur of international legitimacy he desperately craves since the reality is, he isn t going to get it at home. Score another point for President Bush's good judgment on affairs abroad.

Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Worst Ex-President in History

Commentary on the News
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Jack Kinsella - Omega Letter Editor

During his four years in the White House, he presided over the worst economic downturn since World War II, allowed a bunch of thugs to seize our embassy and our citizens, and supported Philippine dictator Fernando Marcos, Pakistani General Zia al Huq, Saudi King Faud and many other dictators. But Jimmy Carter was a much better president than he is an ex-president.

In fact, Jimmy Carter holds the hands-down record for being the worst ex-president the United States has ever known. His post-presidential meddling in foreign affairs has cost America dearly, both in terms of international credibility and international prestige.

He defied US law by visiting Cuba, even addressing the Cuban public and handing Castro a huge propaganda victory. He oversaw the elections in Haiti, against the expressed wishes of the Clinton administration. A coup followed.

Carter once described Yugoslav strongman Marshal Josef Tito as "a man who believes in human rights." Regarding North Korea's dearly departed Kim Il-Sung, Carter found him "vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well-informed about the technical issues, and in charge of the decisions about this country," adding "I don't see that [North Koreans] are an outlaw nation."

He was similarly generous regarding Manuel Noriega, Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceaucescu and, of course, Yasser Arafat. He said of Ceausescu and himself, "Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics . . . We believe in enhancing human rights."

Virtually all of the humanitarian activities of the Carter Foundation abroad have been in direct opposition to US foreign policy. Carter called Bush's description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" was "overly simplistic and counterproductive."

Added the man who was once attacked by a rabbit, "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement."

His most recent adventure may be partly behind the predicted $3.00 per gallon analysts say we'll be paying for gas by year's end. Jimmy Carter went to Venezuela to 'monitor' that country's effort to recall President Hugo Chavez.

In 1992, a band of army officers led by Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez Frías attempted to overthrow President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Although court-martialed and jailed, Chávez emerged a hero.

In 1998, he was elected president on promises to clean out corruption and reduce poverty. Once in office, Chávez promoted a new consitution to consolidate his powers and began to constrain the business community, civil society, and rival politicians.

As a presidential candidate, Hugo Chávez campaigned against the "savage capitalism" of the United States. On August 10, 2000, he became the first foreign leader to visit Saddam Hussein since the Gulf War, and he allegedly aided Afghanistan's Taliban government following the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States.

At the same time, Chávez said that Cuba and Venezuela were "called upon to be a spearhead and summon other nations and governments" to fight free market capitalism.

Venezuela is also one of the countries upon which the United States is dependent for oil, and has been since the US first began relying on imported oil supplies back in 1948.

Besides supplying the United States with 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, Venezuela provides most of the petroleum consumed by U.S. allies in the Caribbean and Central America.

Regional leaders know that opposing Chávez in any significant fashion could result in less favorable sales terms or cuts in deliveries.

In September 2003, President Chávez accused the Dominican Republic of harboring Venezuelans--like former President Carlos Andrés Pérez--who allegedly might conspire against his government. Chavez then stopped oil deliveries, prompting a temporary energy crisis while Dominican officials scrambled for new suppliers.

>From the perspective of American economic interests, not to mention homeland security issues, Hugo Chavez is a very bad man to have in the neighborhood. And, thanks to Jimmy Carter, Chavez isn't going away anytime soon.

Venezuela's opposition party finally forced a recall election, with opinion polls showing that voters favored his recall by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

When there were questions about possible vote tampering by the Chavez side, the opposition called for election monitors. Chavez agreed to let Jimmy Carter oversee the election, and the Carter Center headed for Caracas.

Under Jimmy Carter's watchful eye, Hugo Chavez defeated the recall attempt by a wide margin -- reflecting almost a mirror-image of the opinion polls.

While two out of three Venzuelans polled before the election wanted Chavez out, when the ballots were counted, Chavez was declared the winner by an almost exact opposite margin. "About 58 percent said 'no' to a recall, while 42 percent said 'yes,'" wrote the Washington Post.

Carter ignored a press release from the polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Assoc. that reported, "Exit Poll Results Show Major Defeat for Chavez." The release, dated 7:30 p.m. on election day, said, "With Venezuela's voting set to end at 8 p.m. EST according to election officials, final exit poll results from Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, an independent New York-based polling firm, show a major victory for the 'Yes' movement, defeating Chavez in the Venezuela presidential recall referendum."

One of the most effective ways to monitor the fairness of an election is to employ the use of exit polls. In a nutshell, here's how exit polls work. After somebody has finished voting, a pollster will ask them how they voted. In emerging democracies, about 90% of voters participate.

By contrast, in America, where exit polls are widely used to call elections before the votes are all counted, less than 40% of voters participate.

Statistically, exit polls should mirror the actual vote, within a relatively thin margin of error.

The margin of error between Carter's certified fair-and-square ballots and the independent exit poll results constituted a swing of almost forty points -- a statistical impossibility. Chavez counted on Carter leaning his way -- Carter's history of promoting anti-American dictators is no secret.

As Stephen Hayward noted in a column at Front Page, "among his complex motivations is his determination to override American foreign policy when it suits him."

Indeed, Carter's penchant for interfering in US foreign policy is so well known it won him a Nobel Prize. Jimmy Carter will go down in history as the first US ex-president ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize for the sole purpose of conveying an insult to his country from the Nobel committee.

Gunnar Berge, chairman of the five-member committee, told reporters that giving the Peace Prize to Carter "must also be seen as criticism of the line the current U.S. administration has taken on Iraq ... It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."

("How can we REALLY show how much we hate the Americans? I know! Let's give a Nobel Prize to Jimmy Carter!")

Once Chavez had stolen the election and Jimmy Carter certified the results, certain American critics (pretty much anybody with a brain) started questioning whether or not Jimmy Carter had just sold American interests down the river -- again.

Carter hit back in a Wall Street Journal Opinion piece, writing;

"We are familiar with potential fraudulent techniques and how to obtain a close approximation to the actual results to assure accuracy."

Having established that Jimmy Carter is far too savvy to be conned by a mere thug like Chavez, Carter then dismissed the results of the exit polls, writing;

"During the voting day, opposition leaders claimed to have exit-poll data showing the government losing by 20 percentage points, and this erroneous information was distributed widely."

Well, that's that! The New York pollsters 'widely distributed erroneous information' -- Hugo Chavez won fair and square. Jimmy Carter says so.

Penn Schoen evidently must have cheated, although it is a reputable New York polling firm with a 20 year track record, including working for Bill Clinton in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2001, Michael Bloomberg in 2001 and many other national political campaigns.

Why would it risk its hard-won professional reputation over an election in Venezuela? Carter doesn't explain.

Hugo Chavez is bad news from the perspective of US national security. He is bad news from the perspective of homeland security. He is bad news from the perspective of US dependence of foreign oil. And he is bad news for America's economic security.

Which makes Hugo Chavez good news from the perspective of the worst ex-president in US history.

Excerpted from the Omega Letter Daily Intelligence Digest, Volume:35: Issue 26

Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Analysis: Venezuela Eyes Russian MiGs
UPI International

September 14, 2004
Venezuela plans to acquire 50 of Russia's most advanced warplanes, according to U.S., European and Latin American military intelligence officials who are concerned about regional ambitions harbored by President Hugo Chavez.
Chavez's plans to use oil revenues to upgrade his military were reported last May by CNN, which quoted Pentagon sources as saying that Venezuela would spend an estimated $5 billion to obtain sophisticated hardware.
United Press International has details of agreements being negotiated with Russian defense contractors for a large number of super jet fighters fitted with state-of-the-art weaponry. In letters addressed last year to the director general of Russian Aeronautic Corp., Nicolai F. Nikitin, the Venezuelan air force requested the "latest version" of the MiG 29 SMT equipped with high-tech weaponry, including radar-guided missiles and 2,000-pound bombs.
"The plane must have the capacity to carry no less than 4 tons of bombs," says the document signed by the Venezuelan air force commander, Maj. Gen. Regulo Anselini Espin, a copy of which has been obtained by UPI. Venezuelan generals have told European diplomatic officials that they need the MiGs to protect the Panama Canal. When asked against whom, the air chiefs wouldn't specify.
Venezuelan defense officials tell UPI that they are turning to new defense partners because of deteriorating military relations with the United States. More than half of Venezuela's 22 F-16s are currently grounded due lack of maintenance and spare parts. But Colombia and other neighboring countries fear that the new arms would enable Chavez to impose his geopolitical and ideological agenda.
The MiG purchase order asks for various types of offensive air-to-surface missiles, including anti- radar Kh-31A, Kh-31P and Kh-29T "for use against ships." Radar-guided KAB-500 KR bombs as well as RVV-AE, R-27 T1, R27 R1, R27 ER1 and R-73E air-to- air systems are also specified in the inventory, as are multifunctional Zhuk-M cockpit radars for "over the horizon" combat operations.
"The total quantity of airplanes provided is of 40 single-seat planes and 10 twin-seat planes," Venezuelan air force documents state. Defense analysts point out that two-seat MiGs are normaly used for deep, surgical bombing missions.
Ten aircraft are due to be delivered within 18 months of signing the contract, which also involves setting up a MiG 29 maintenance center in Venezuela, according to air force officials who outline plans for long-term supply and maintenance. "Future deliveries will be made with the participation of the specialists of the Venezuelan air force in the joint assembly of the planes and their test flights following their assembly on Venezuelan territory," say letters of intent with Russia.
Several MiGs already are in Venezuela, according to Colombian defense officials who have shown UPI photographs of the planes being prepared for flight testing at the Libertador air base in Maracaibo. A U.S. intelligence source also claims that MiGs have been spotted flying near the Caribbean island of Curaçao.
Members of Venezuela's military say handpicked pilots are undergoing flight training in Cuba, which has six MiG 29s. Cuba is the only country in Latin America, except Peru, to be equipped with the advanced Russian model. Fidel Castro offers various types of security assistance to Venezuela in exchange for oil.
Russian and Cuban military officials enjoy warm relations with the Venezuelan Defense ministry, according to American and EU diplomatic sources who believe that Russia is prepared to sell the full MiG package. The sources say that Russia's defense attache, air force Col. Oleg Krajotin, holds regular meetings with Venezuelan Defense Minister Garcia Carneiro.
Venezuelan contracts are also being drawn up for Russian Mi-17 heavy-lift helicopters as well as radar systems from China, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
The arms give Chavez the military muscle to project regional leadership following his presidency's reaffirmation through a national referendum held last Aug. 15. He also is strengthening ties with Iran.
"This is battle not only for Venezuela but for all of Latin America and the Third World," Chavez told a cheering crowd of followers when he kicked off his referendum campaign last July. He warned about worldwide retaliation against American interests if the United States intervened against Venezuela's " irreversible revolutionary process" and called on all Latin Americans to unite against the "empire from the north."
Domestic political opponents accuse Chavez of using fraud to win last month's referendum. The Organization of American States is investigating the allegations.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage conditioned improved American relations with Venezuela on a "toning down of anti-American rhetoric" and a "modification of policies prejudicial to U.S. interests".
Chavez has granted American oil companies important offshore oil drilling concessions. But his foreign minister was in Tehran just two weeks ago to arrange a state visit, which would be Chavez's second official trip to Iran since 2001. He also enjoyed close relations with Saddam Hussein before the Iraqi regime was toppled by a U.S. invasion.
Colombian officials fear that a Venezuelan military buildup might embolden Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas who hailed Chavez's referendum victory as "a stimulus for liberation movements in all of Latin America".

"FARC forms part of our Bolivarian Revolutionary Army," says Ileana Ibarra, a local leader of the Circulos Bolivarianos in Caracas. "We are forming the Great Colombia" she says, referring to a project for integrating both countries that was proposed in the 19th century by Venezuela's independence hero, Simon Bolivar.


Colombia has received billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance for counterinsurgency operations, including a fleet a of Blackhawk helicopters. But Colombia has nothing to match the MiG 29s, which would give Venezuela "the largest and most potent air force in Latin America," according former Colombian air force chief, Gen. Nestor Ramirez.

The Colombian government alleges that Venezuelan aircraft have flown incursions to support leftist FARC guerrilla units along border areas. Chavez, in turn, accuses Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups of conspiring with domestic opponents to destabilize his government.
Other longstanding territorial disputes have caused Bogota to raise a protest against Caracas this week. According to the news agency EFE, the Colombian government has complained that Venezuelan offshore concessions just granted to international oil companies infringe on Colombian territorial waters.
"We are heading toward a war with Colombia," said a Venezuelan military intelligence officer who claims that contingency plans are being drawn up for a potential conflict with the neighboring country.
Venezuela also is backing Bolivia's historical claims on Chilean Pacific ocean ports. At a meeting of Latin American presidents held last year, Chavez called for the return of a stretch of coastline annexed by Chile during a war in 1879. He just gave 11 armed T-34 jet trainers to the Bolivian air force and has offered to train its combat pilots.
Bolivia's main leftist opposition leader, Evo Morales, who is a close friend of Chavez, has been heading a campaign to block gas exports to Chile. U.S. intelligence sources maintain that Venezuela's ruling Revolutionary Movement channeled $15 million to Bolivian leftist organizations that toppled a pro-U.S. government last year.
© United Press International - CARACAS, Venezuela, Sep 14, 2004

Posted Sunday, September 12, 2004

China Filling U.S. Vacuum in Latin America
Phil Brennan

September 13, 2004
There's a powerful new player in Latin America and its aggressive presence south of our borders spells trouble for the U.S. in this politically sensitive region
Writing about "The Middle Kingdom in Latin America" in the September 3 Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady explained that China is "inching into the void" created by U.S. failure to pay attention to what's happening among our neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America.
"U.S.-Latin America policy is now defined by a costly drug war of doubtful effectiveness, persistent and damaging International Monetary Fund meddling, harassment of Latin militaries at the behest of left-wing NGOs, an intelligence network that counts coca plants for a living and a naïve attitude toward bullies like Venezuela's Hugo Chávez," O'Grady wrote.
"This has left Latins scratching their heads about Dubya. Of course, these are not Bush values. But they are the priorities of his State Department and other agencies and by default have become the U.S. agenda in the region."
Enter China
Into this delicate situation steps China, with money and markets to offer to an area in need of both, making the Asian powerhouse a political and economic rival of the U.S. in its own backyard.
And it's not just Latin Americans who are feeling China's presence in their midst - the islands of the Caribbean are also targeted by Beijing's growing presence and influence , O'Grady reveals, citing the deployment to Haiti of a 130-man Chinese riot-control police unit, scheduled to arrive in mid-September to join the United Nations stabilization mission as "A relatively minor but interesting example."
Noting that it is true that while the "U.N. needs peacekeepers for this thankless job in Haiti, it is at least mildly ironic that China's police, notorious for their high-handed and sometimes brutal treatment of Chinese citizens, are now charged with protecting human life in Haiti."
As reported in "Chinese Company Completes World's Largest Port in Bahamas", Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate with close ties to China's People's Liberation Army that has taken operational control of the Panama Canal was then in the process of completing construction of the largest container port in the world in Freeport, Bahamas – just 60 miles from Florida.
Turning to Cuba, she notes China's military relationship with Castro's Communist regime. She quotes a chilling staff report from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami as reporting that: "In February 1999, [China's defense minister] Chi [Haotian] visited Havana to finalize an agreement with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro to operate joint Sino-Cuban signals intelligence and electronic warfare facilities on the island, equipped (at China's expense) with the latest telecommunications hardware and fully integrated into Beijing's global satellite network. By March 1999, [Chinese Army] officers and technicians began monitoring U.S. telephone conversations and Internet data from a new cyber-warfare complex in the vicinity of Bejucal, some 20 miles south of Havana."
Second Installation
The report adds: "A second installation, capable of eavesdropping on classified U.S. military communications by intercepting satellite signals was also constructed on the eastern end of the island, near the city of Santiago de Cuba."
Rounding out the Chinese Caribbean trifecta, O'Grady notes "is Venezuela, where an anti-American demagogue, Hugo Chávez, delights in the kind of Yankee-baiting his hero, Fidel Castro, has long practiced."
O'Grady quotes Cynthia Watson, a professor of strategy at the National War College in Washington who has just spent a year studying China's influence in the region as writing that. while Latin America is still below Africa in terms of Chinese strategic interest it is getting more attention.
"China has a targeted need to find energy resources," says Watson, who emphasized that her comments are her own. "They are interested in oil contracts in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. That's why Jiang Zemin went to Caracas in 2001. They want to cultivate a relationship that would put them in a more favorable situation and they want to show Latin American nations that they will treat them as sovereigns, that they won't preach to them and they will act as partners."
The idea that China offers an alternative to dealing with the U.S. in both economic and political terms O'Grady suggests is likely to appeal to the likes of Hugo Chávez, Brazil's President Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silva and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner.
Growing Relationship
"The growing relationship between Brazil and China is viewed as two emerging powers that can benefit each other vis-à-vis the U.S," Watson adds noting that for China, "there is the possibility of utilizing Brazil's space program which is on an equatorial path. And Beijing would like to be the major market where Brazil goes when it wants to sell its agricultural products. Lula has not embraced the FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas] and may go to Beijing instead."
China's fixation with conquering Taiwan and the fact that six Central American nations have diplomatic relations with Taipei, O'Grady suggests may be why "China reportedly has made a generous offer (some say $10 billion or more) to Panama to fund an enlargement of the Panama Canal.

"The effort to shut out Taiwan also explains why China is dropping big bucks into the Caribbean, where the 14 independent English-speaking nations are always hungry for handouts. The latest Chinese victory in what policy wonks call "yuan diplomacy" came in March when Dominica dropped its recognition of Taiwan in favor of Beijing."
Summing up, O'Grady warns that China's rising influence in the region "could complicate U.S. efforts to control illegal immigration, weapons shipments, the drug trade and money laundering because China is cooperating with Latin countries that are not especially friendly toward those efforts. Some of these nations may try to use the Chinese alternative to challenge U.S. hegemony.


"Given China's view of liberty, this cannot be a positive development for the Americas. To counter it, the White House would do well to take a hard look at the crippled diplomacy the State Department has been practicing. It needs an agenda defined by American values that will foster growth, sound money and open markets. As importantly, it needs to re-examine whether the war on drugs, as currently waged, is doing more harm than good."

© 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2004

This image would make for an interesting "Under Construction" graphic for a website:


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.