Monday, February 14, 2005


Rains and the Quest for Absolute Power: Chronicle of a Criminal Negligence

[Originally published in Venezuela News and Views]

The most tragic event that has happened in recent years in Venezuela was the death of tens of thousand of people due to the rains and mudslides that took place in December 1999.

Since he was elected, in 1998, president Hugo Chavez referred to the old Venezuelan Constitution issued in 1961 as the “moribunda” (“the dying”). Even when he took power on February 2, 1999, he said that he swore on the “moribunda” constitution that he would make whatever necessary for Venezuela to have a brand new constitution. The question is why? What was so wrong about the old democratic 1961 Constitution? There was nothing wrong. Nothing that could not have been fixed with a normal constitutional amendment. There were, however, two important roadblocks to prevent Chavez’ quest for absolute power:
1.-the old Constitution stated that the presidential mandate lasted 5 years and was non-renewable. A former president could be re-elected but only after ten years of having finished his mandate. He needed more time to carry out his “revolution”. His idea was to have a presidential term of 6 years renewable to be able to stay at least 12 years in power.

2.-The maximum judicial figure in the country was the CSJ (Supreme Court). The judges had been nominated in previous presidential mandates. Chavez understood that to have total control of the country he needed a brand new Court and that was only possible if a new type of court was created in a new Constitution.

At that time, Chavez did not have the majority in Congress, which was needed to pass any Constitutional amendment. He then lost no time to pass a law for a referendum on the creation of a Constitutional Assembly. The Constitutional Assembly, without having any solid legal grounds, decided to dissolve the Congress and, in a record time, produced a brand new Constitution that contained all Chavez’ wishes. That new Constitution had to be approved by referendum. This takes us to the fatidic date of December 15, 1999. In what follows, I go through the news that appeared the days before and a few days after the Constitutional Referendum of December 15, 1999 to revisit the tragedy and the political climate that Venezuelans were living.

On December 4, 1999 there was already a major emergency in the Litoral, the strip of land that borders the sea north of Caracas. There were already people death, 20 collapsed houses, two major collapsed streets and the flights from and to Maiquetia airport had been re-routed

On December 7, 1999 people that lost their houses asked for help and claimed that the government aid was marginal. The authorities alerted that there will be new rains. They were right.

On December 9, 1999 new houses collapsed. The Civil Defense indicated that some regions should be evacuated. There had been mudslides in all Vargas state. The Cupira River overflowed and towns of the Miranda state were also inundated. On December10, 1999 the civil defense informed of the emergency that was being lived in the whole country. Two collapsing bridges were also reported in Miranda.

On December 12, 1999 it is reported that many houses were destroyed by the rain in the Metropolitan Area of Caracas and in Miranda. The situation in Vargas worsened.

On December 13, 1999 the rains were affecting 17000 new people. The civil defense reported having met the CNE to see how it could be possible to take affected people to go to vote on December 15, 1999.

On December 14, 1999 Miranda Governor Enrique Mendoza declared the state of emergency in his state. Meanwhile, that very same day, the president of the CNE declared that everything was “on wheels” referring to the preparations for the Constitutional Referendum.

On December 15, 1999 the referendum process started despite the heavy rains. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared on TV and asked the Venezuelan people to go massively to vote and to vote early. He said that nobody should be prevented to go to vote because of the rains. He reminded Venezuelans of the old sentence by Simon Bolivar “If Nature is against us; we will fight against her and make her obey”. Many centers could not open and many table witnesses could not be present because of the rain situation. Problems were reported in several states. Members of the church with the CNE directory prayed to God for the climate to improve. Evacuations started in the state of Falcon.

On December 16, 1999 the country realized the magnitude of the disaster. Vargas state was completely cut from the rest of the country. Some Constitutional Assembly members celebrated the referendum win but others, like Isturiz, asked for restraint.

On December 17, 1999 Chavez addressed the nation and said that he was “touched” by the tragedy. Some survivors reported their ordeal (see these two links).

On December 24, 1999 the judges of the new Supreme Court, baptized “Tribunal Supremo de Justicia” (TSJ) were swore in. They were hand-picked by the so-called “Congresillo”, a subset of the Constitutional Assembly that had taken the role of the dissolved Congress. In the turmoil that followed the disaster, very few eyes were paying attention to this very important nomination. The smooth transition that was supposed to take place from the old to the new Constitutional rule did not take place given the state of emergency.

So, by the end of December 1999, Venezuela had a brand new Constitution and a brand new Supreme Court. Chavez had won the first round for the absolute control of the country. There were however tens of thousands deaths, a major economic disaster and entire areas of the country to be rebuilt. If the government had declared the State of emergency sooner, stopped the referendum and evacuated as quick as possible the affected areas thousands of lives could have been saved. They did not do it because they put their political agenda before the well being of the Venezuelan people.

To me, that is criminal negligence.

History will be the judge.

Jorge Arena

A personal note to the readers: this is my last post as a ghost blogger. I would like to thank you for your support. I loved the experience but I must confess that it was quite a challenge. In fact,I know how much you appreciate Daniel style and how good he is at what he does. Therefore, I knew it was not going to be easy to replace him.

I would also like to thank A.M. Mora for being such a good team mate. Many thanks too to my fellow bloggers Miguel and Alek that were always ready to answer my questions and give a helping hand.

Daniel has asked me to contribute from time to time, which I will do if I have something interesting to write. I would like to publicly thank Daniel for his confidence.

My final thought goes to President Hugo Chavez and the MINCI guys. They provided me with so much material that I sometimes had the embarrassment of choice, making this neophyte blogger's job quite easy. In normal conditions this would be a somehow humorous statement but it has become a sour note given the recent events and the sad state of affairs in Venezuela.

Jorge Arena

Thursday, February 10, 2005


A new Venezuelan Game: Where is Chavez?

Originally published here

One of the unsolved mysteries in these days of emergency in Venezuela is where the President is. I called my family yesterday and asked if anybody had seen him on TV and nobody has. A close friend, who has very definite opinions, commented: “he will do as usual, he disappears and, in a few days, he will be shown dressed in a military outfit saving people from the floods”.

To me, Chavez absence is a real mystery. In fact, the first time around, when the Constitutional Referendum took place, there was at least a plausible reason for his disappearance. First he had asked the Venezuelan people to keep on voting despite the bad weather and the warnings of the civil defense. He could not just appear right there and say “I should have stopped the whole thing, please forgive me, I am in charge”. Second, after the win, he reportedly was in La Orchila celebrating and giving orders on how to take advantage of the newly voted Constitution to grab as much power as possible and as soon as possible. He needed that time away from the public eye to take some strategic and illegal decisions that could have been much more difficult to take in normal times. Chavez being one of the luckiest men alive, he had the incredible luck that a major tragic event took place just at the moment when he needed public attention to be deflected. After a few days, when the magnitude of the disaster was clear and people did not even remember that there had been a referendum, Chavez re-appeared as described by my friend: dressed in a military uniform and saving people.

Now, this time around, where can he possibly be that he could not even send an e-mail message? This is similar to the “where is Waldo?” game, in which we have to find Chavez in very different scenarios. Here are my candidates:

1.-Chavez is in Colombia. He decided to secretly visit Uribe, to make some deals off-camera.

2.-Chavez is in Colombia, but visiting the FARC rather the Colombian government.

3. - Chavez is in some place far away, like Korea (why not?) contacting people that should not be contacted

4. - Chavez is actually in the US, reassuring the Americans that they’ll keep on having their oil barrels despite what he says in Alo President.

5. - Chavez decided to take advantage of the Carnival holidays to have some plastic surgery and he is all wrapped up in bandages and cannot appear on-camera.

6.- Chavez is in Miraflores but does not want to face the responsability of not having done the right thing the first time around (see the article in Union Radio where a geologist states that the current situation is due to goverment negligency)

Minister Izarra has done an excellent job covering up for Chavez. He appears in all tribunes and looks like the man in control. A picture that says a thousand words is the one supposedly taken yesterday during the ministers’ council in which the focus is on Izarra , and one can appreciate a line of Ministers but no president in view. BTW, the MINCI guys keep changing the date of old news. If you get to the aforementioned link, you'll find it as today's news, whereas it was published yesterday.

Well, the good news is that we may never know where Chavez is but we now know where Daniel is:

In Yaracuy!

Welcome back Daniel!

Saturday, February 05, 2005


Former president Carlos Andres Perez answers to Chavez

[Originally posted in Venezuela News and Views]

In response to the infamous official celebrations for the failed Coup Attempt of February 4, 1992, former president Carlos Andres Perez wrote yesterday the following letter.

Carlos Andres Perez answers to Hugo Chavez

Chavez should be ashamed of using the Military Museum of La Planicie where he cowardly hid on February 4, 1992. From there, the only thing he did was to give instructions to assassinate my family that was at the time in the Presidential residence, La Casona, of which he almost succeeded.

To celebrate as a day of joy and dignity the murder of Venezuelans by other Venezuelans provides the exact measure of the respect that the Chavista regime has for Venezuelan lives.

That Chavez and his comrades declare that “the blood spilled on February 4, 1992 was worth it” was a vile declaration. The spilled blood was Venezuelan blood of men that were serving in our Armed Forces. Chavez was the big responsible of the blood criminally spilled, precisely by his armed companions. To the family of the victims I reiterate my deepest condolences.

The propaganda and the erosion will never hide the misery and profound inequality in which Venezuela is currently sunk.

Miami, February 4, 2005.


Minister Izarra writes to CNN

[Originally posted in Venezuela News and Views]

Scanning the official sites, I came up with this interesting news that refer to a letter that Minister Andres Izarra addressed to CNN.

Minister Andres Izarra asks CNN not to disappoint his ethic contract with the audience.

Andres Izarra, minister of information of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in a letter addressed to Chris Commett, news director of the Chain of News for CNN en Español, underlines the clear disequilibrium in the coverage of Venezuelan news. He makes specifically reference to the case of Rodrigo Granda and other themes such as the Latin America integration or the expropriation of VENEPAL. He then points out that: “that bias is applicable to other Venezuelan themes, precisely those in which the audience needs objective criteria such as those in which the law defends children television rights or that of the land normalization.”

I was first wondering about the type of report Izarra would like to be portrayed in CNN…”the defense of children TV rights”? When we were kids, we thought that we had the right to watch TV whenever we liked it, no matter what my parents said. Is that what he is talking about? That Venezuelan kids should be able to watch TV whenever they want? If so, this is definitely the government for kids, first they change the way to calculate the mean so that everybody is above the mean (see Chavez’s Mathematics) and next they take the time to write to CNN in defense of the right of the kids to watch TV as they wish.. Hmm, I guess Izarra must not be referring to that, but rather to the “Muzzle Law”, don’t you think? So perfect! I more than agree with Minister Izarra, let us all ask CNN to do a thorough piece on the Muzzle Law so that the entire world can know about it.

His second comment refers to the land “normalization”. What exactly is “land normalization”? I was quite puzzled with the meaning of the term “normalization”, but then Chavistas always invent a new terminology and, by the way, they are actually quite good at that, so this must be one of those times. First I thought that Minister Izarra could be referring to the process of finding out the mean of a normal distribution. I know that they are quite good in finding a mean that is always lower than any of the sample values, but I truly cannot understand how they can make that fit a normal distribution. So I guess that he must be referring to something else, like the act of seizing the lands regardless of the law that they themselves passed. Once again, I could not agree more with Minister Izarra. It would be great if CNN could do a piece on the application of the land law, on the Mathematics behind it and also on the seizure of Hato El Piñero.

At the end of the letter, Minister Izarra writes:

It is easy to understand that CNN favors the interests of the American Government but not to the point to disappoint his ethic contract with its principal client, its audience. We ask again that CNN balances more its Venezuela coverage; we ask that they revise the ethical and political positions of its contractors in this country and the quality of the work that is carried out by its writing heads.

I have mixed feelings about this last paragraph. First I think that Izarra is right again. CNN should definitely listen to its audience. Unfortunately, the last sentence is written in such a cryptic way that it was difficult for me to seize its meaning. It may be just because of the convoluted Chavista writing style or else, because it contains a subtle veil of warning for CNN.

In any case, I do agree that CNN should pay attention to its audience. So let us all write to Chris Commett and tell him that we do indeed support the idea that CNN does a piece on the Muzzle law and another one on the land seizures.

After all, we are the audience, aren’t we?

Friday, February 04, 2005


The Venezuelan Government Commemorates a Coup Attempt

[Originally Published in Venezuela News and Views]

February 4, 1992
is a special date in recent Venezuelan history. It was the day the democratic Pandora box was opened and lieutenant colonel Hugo Chavez was implicated in the coup to remove the democratically elected president Carlos Andres Perez. It is a special date because it was the first event that destabilized the democratic pattern that the country had been followed since 1958. Chavez was incarcerated and, later on, after doubtful political maneuvering, was pardoned by President Rafael Caldera.

I have always thought that in order to get a pardon, one has to repent. This does not seem to be Chavez’s case. Not only he makes no excuses about the 1992 coup attempt, but his government has even given the day a special name “Dignity Day” and proudly announces the marches that will take place today in Caracas in commemoration with that despicable act, where tens of young soldiers died, in the first page of the Ministry of Information web page.

This is the same government that calls any dissenting person a “golpista” (a putchist)!

I will now make a quick translation of the article published by the Ministry of Information..

March to commemorate Dignity Day

One of the two popular marches will start from Plaza Sucre in Catia and lead towards the Military History Museum, in the 23 de Enero. The second one will take place from Plaza Bolivar where members of parliament of Bloque de Cambio and some of the military that participated in the events of February 4, 1992, will pay its respects to Bolivar.

This Friday several events will take place all over the country to commemorate the Military Rebellion of February 4, 1992. In Caracas the central act will take place in the Military History Museum in the Urbanization 23 de Enero, a popular place in the West of Caracas.

This was informed by deputy Dario Vivas who indicated that among the commemorative events that will take place, there will be paying respect to the Libertador in Plaza Bolivar, at 11 o’clock, where there will be present Parliament members of Bloque de Cambio and some of the military that participated in that heroic gesture, which was a determinant event that marked the new political, social and economical reality of the country.

He indicated that the march will start in Plaza Sucre and will head towards the Military History Museum where the central act will take place for this historical date that allowed a new national situation. He underlined that as a consequence of that new situation a new National Constitution was approved “nowadays we can count with a National Assembly, linked and working as a function of the people”.


Venezuela Separation of Powers is Dead. Is this the end of democracy?

[Originally posted in Venezuela News and Views]

I grew up in a young democracy called Venezuela. I remember how proud I was at the time that ours was the most democratic country in Latin America. I was proud that refugees from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay came to Venezuela in search of a good, democratic place to live. I remember their telling the awful stories of Pinochet and Videla, and I thought at the time, with a bit of arrogance, that that could never happen in Venezuela.

It has not happened, yet. Despite my dislike of President Hugo Chavez, I consider it irresponsible to equate him to one of those brutal dictators that flourished in the seventies in Latin America or to the eternal Fidel Castro in Cuba. To say that Chavez’s regime is comparable to the aforementioned cases is equivalent to belittling the suffering of the people of those countries. However, I used the word “yet” (in Spanish: por ahora), that brings special memories to Venezuelans... That was the word used by lieutenant colonel Chavez when he was captured after his failed coup attempt to imply that he would come back. That is the word that we all have in our minds when assessing the current state of our democracy.

In the Venezuela I knew, they taught us that one of the fundamental bases of our young democracy was the Separation of Powers. We learned that we had the President and his ministers, the Congress and the Courts and that all those elements of power had to be separated, independent, for a real democracy to flourish. At that time, the elections for President and for Congress were held at the same time and people would vote with two cards: the big one for the President and the small one for Congress. Each party had a different color. Instinctively many Venezuelans mixed the colors, so that too much power was not concentrated.

Recently, the Venezuelan National Assembly increased the number of Supreme Court Judges and nominated them using a single majority instead of the usual 2/3 of the vote, despite the protest of the opposition that constitutes a very large minority in the Assembly. We all knew that that was a dangerous move towards totalitarism and even international organizations like Human Rights Watch voiced their concern.

Today, after reading the declarations of the newly elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Omar Mora Diaz, I realized that what we feared has become a reality. This judge, of which writer Manuel Caballero exposed the “excellent credentials” (see also The Devil’s citation), was elected almost unanimously, with 30 votes, by the newly designated Court. This, per se, is a bad sign. It indicates vote collusion rather than independence of spirit.

The new Chief declared in the press conference that he agreed with the view of revising the Supreme Court sentence that stated that what happened on April 11, 2002 was a “power vacuum” and not a coup attempt. This is a controversial political issue that if accepted by the Court would create the precedent that no decision is ever final in Venezuela. If revoked, the decision would give the government the green light to charge many political enemies .To me, it is quite surprising that a judge would voice beforehand his opinions on what he knows may be a coming issue to be decided. Two possibilities come to my mind: either he is doing it on purpose to inhibit himself later and clean his hands of the responsibility of deciding over a political hot potato or he just does not care about justice independence.

He also gave opinions about the judges that were responsible for liberating the military personnel involved in the events of April 11, 2002. Today he stated that those judges had been suspended.

Justice Mora made another surprising announcement. He confirmed that from now on the directive of the Supreme Court will have regular meetings with the Parliament, representatives of the Citizens’ Power, the Minister of the Interior as well as the Minister of Justice and the president Hugo Chavez. Therefore, that cherished independence of powers that is so important in modern democracies and that I learned by heart when I was growing up in young democratic Venezuela has now been totally discarded by someone that is supposed to be the guardian of those principles.

Some readers may argue that this is not “yet” the end of democracy. To them, I would answer that Chavez has been strategically placing his pieces for six years and, after this latest move, we are rapidly closing the gap towards a full bloom totalitarian regime.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Chavez's Mathematics

[Originally posted in Venezuela News and Views]

Today I was browsing again through the MINCI “positive notes” and I found a piece of news that was really interesting:

A Million and a half lands will be recuperated this year

Arriving to Porto Alegre International Airport Salgado Filho, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias said that 1.5 million Venezuelan lands will be recuperated from the “latifundio” this year. The President stated that with the application of the Land Law in 2001, “we took back the offensive and were able to assign in 2003 and 2004, through agrarian papers, 2 million hectares all over the country”.

He said that this year 2 more millions hectares will be assigned through agrarian papers of which 1.5 million will be recuperated in the war against “latifundio”.

This is indeed good news, Chavez has defied mathematical laws! If 1.5 million “lands” are going to be recuperated and that equates to 2 million hectares, this gives us a mean of 1.33 hectares per land. Now, the law says that in order for a land to be defined as a “latifundio”, it must have at least 100 hectares for lands of the first class and 5000 hectares for those of the sixth or seventh class (see article 74 of the land decree). How on earth can one get a mean of 1.33 hectares when all the land lots should be more than 100 hectares?

This is a student’s dream coming true: all marks are above the mean! Next time your kid comes home with bad grades, ask the school to use instead some Chavez mathematics to assess the class means and standard deviations.

There is of course a darker interpretation to this mathematical flop. That the government is not respecting its own law and that small lots of land are being or will be illegally seized. Thank goodness that president Chavez provides us with all the details! He can be accused of many things, but never, ever, accuse him of not telling what is on his mind.

Let him talk.

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