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January 2007 Archives

January 2, 2007

And You Thought Fox News Was Nuts

Big media outlets are up in arms over the Venezuelan government’s decision not to renew the license for TV network Radio Television Caracas (RCTV). The reports have seriously watered down the charges against the station. The New York Times describes the situation as a political beef with the station’s “editorial policies,” while the Independent calls it retaliation against RCTV “for being critical” of Chavez. Sort of like Timothy McVeigh was “critical” of the U.S. government.

Here’s a rundown how the station spent its spring break a few years back:

> In April 2002, coup organizers plan an anti-government march in downtown Caracas, attracting thousands of demonstrators. RCTV and other private stations encourage Venezuelans to participate. At the last minute, the route of the march is redirected toward the presidential palace, and mercenaries begin firing on the crowd, killing 18.

> Amidst the bloody chaos, rebel military leaders kidnap President Chavez and transport him to a Caribbean island. RCTV and other private stations broadcast a statement that Chavez had…um… resigned.

> Interim President Pedro Carmona (Pedro the Brief) promptly suspends the Venezuelan Constitution, dissolves Congress and the Supreme Court, and basically appoints himself emperor. RCTV president Marcel Granier is there for the fun .

> Coup leaders appear on television and explain how it all went down. They single out RCTV, thanking the network for its assistance.

> RCTV calls on Venezuelans to rat out friends and neighbors who had been associated with the Chavez administration and turn them in for arrest.

> When word gets out to the public, via international reports, that this had been a coup, not a resignation, RCTV bans its reporters from covering the story.

> 24 hours later, after widespread popular protests surround the presidential palace and the military captures coup leaders, RCTV suspends its news programming in favor of an emergency cartoon marathon.

If this happened in the U.S., station officials would be in jail or at Guantanamo. Suspending their license seems like a sane, if merciful, step.

Village Wins Prestigious Duplicitousness Award for Bungled Chavez Dis

Among the 62 lucky winners of this year's coveted Alaska Daily News Soapy Smith award was the government of King Salmon, AK. Back in September, tribal president, patriot and kiss-ass Ralph Angasan Sr. wrote a letter to Gov. Frank Murkowski pledging not to accept the Venezuelan government’s offer of low-cost heating oil to Alaska tribes, in protest of President Chavez’s criticism of Bush before the United Nations. Mr. Angasan wrote, "We stand firmly with our President, especially in times when so many bad people are out to get us."

In turn, Murkowski praised the leader’s willingness to put politics before the health and safety of his community. But funnily enough, the Daily News reports that “the community was never included in Chavez’s offer.” Oopsie

Still, the gaffe was enough to win the entire village the paper’s annual jackass award, named after the “American con artist and gangster who had a major hand in the organized criminal affairs and operations of Denver, Colorado, Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska from 1879 to 1898.”

January 3, 2007

BoRev USA Watch

The BoRev turns up in the darndest places. Today the Chicago Sun Times writes on an ad campaign from Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, which has featured photos of Oaxacan protesters, Coretta Scott King, and yes, Hugo Chavez, “his hand in the air, proclaiming: "Long live the Venezuelan people! Long live the socialist revolution!”

Manager Marcos Rivera says he’s proud to put a spotlight on leaders “trying to make a change to better their people.” Graphic designer Fausto Lopez acknowledges they’ve had some complaints, but he’s happy to get culturally illiterate Americans thinking about Latin America beyond “their eighth grade history book.” All that and Tecate on tap!

What’s Our Oil Doing in Cuban Waters?

The Philadelphia Trumpet’s latest ish features an in-depth look at the latest sign of the Apocalypse: Cubans with oil. The mid-Atlantic’s go-to source of prophecy-based news laments that “Vessels hailing from” enemy nations like “China, Spain and Canada already dot the swells surrounding rigs that are busy setting up to operate in the Gulf.”

Notwithstanding that the oil deposits are “surrounding the island nation of Cuba,” the article notes that ancient prophecy establishes the oil as America’s “birthright.”

I’m sure if we just explain that nicely to the Cubans…

Rupert Murdoch’s Psychic Predicts Venezuelan Civil War

On the upside, she also forecasts wedding bells for Shakira.

Optimism & the Venezuelan Economy

For the third year in a row, Venezuela’s economy has grown by more than 10%. No wonder Venezuelans are so optimistic.

Latinobarometro breaks it down:

> Venezuelans are far more likely than any other Latinos to rank their country’s economy as “good” or “very good;”

> They top the list when asked if the country’s economy is better today than one year ago;

> They also top the list when asked whether their personal finances
are better today than last year;

> Venezuelans are more optimistic about the economic outlook in the year ahead than any other country in the region;

> They are less likely than most Latinos to worry about unemployment, and are far less likely than other country in the region to blame unemployment on “inadequate government policies;”

...Big thanks to the Independent Institute for turning me on to these amazing survey results!

Note: the associated charts are mine. For the raw numbers, read the full report.

And Some Somewhat Surprising Results…

…from Latinobarometro again.

> Venezuelans generally consider themselves to be center-right,

> And believe less in big government than about half of the region.

I guess this shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. While the U.S. press tends to portray Venezuela’s education and health missions as a government handout, the people don’t see it that way. The missions, particularly those dealing with literacy, rely on volunteers. In the barrios, many Venezuelans see themselves as taking ownership of these missions. They are not giveaways as much as community-based initiatives.

January 4, 2007

Condoleezza Deputizes Dr. Death Squad

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After several top choices refused to take the position, Condoleezza Rice has recruited John Negroponte to be our next Deputy Secretary of State. God help us all.

A quick rundown on Mr. Negroponte’s tenure in Central America:

> Ambassador to Honduras 1981-85, during the height of atrocities carried out by his good buddy, General Gustavo Alvarez. During this period hundreds of Hondurans were kidnapped, tortured and killed, including 30 Salvadoran nuns and churchwomen who were “savagely tortured” and thrown alive out of helicopters;

> Famously ordered his staff to remove all references to torture, disappearances and executions from its human rights reports.

> Supervised the creation of the El Aguacate air base, which was used as a training ground for Nicaraguan Contras as well as a secret detention and torture center throughout the ‘80s. In 2001, excavations at the base uncovered 185 corpses, including those of two Americans.

> As late as a 2004 Senate hearing, Negroponte denied the existence of death squads in Honduras, even though by that time Costa Rican President Oscar Arias had won a goddamn Nobel Peace Prize for his work to stop them. Just days before the Negroponte hearing, Immigration finally got around to deporting the one death squad leader who could have testified to his knowledge.

Frighteningly, but unsurprisingly, the Washington Post reports today “Even with a Democratic-controlled Senate, Negroponte should have little trouble winning confirmation.”

This must be that new era of oversight everyone voted for.

Where Do All These Friggin Think Tanks Come From?

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (ever heard of ‘em?) published a new paper today. Although the Foundation claims to be “dedicated exclusively to promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that drive terrorism,” they decided instead to focus on the internal politics of Venezuela’s political parties.

The paper, titled “A Long Goodbye to Democracy,” criticizes the Venezuelan left’s decision to merge a bunch of pro-Chavez political parties into one. Apparently, with this move, “Venezuela is staring into the abyss of fascism.”

By taking a CNN report out of context, the paper seems to claim that opposition parties are a part of this merger, as if they were being forced to join a pro-Chavez coalition, which sort of grotesquely misses the point. They also take pains to misrepresent the whole RCTV controversy.

Channeling Henry Kissinger, the Foundation defends the 2002 coup against Chavez: “America,” it turns out, “was slow to recognize that democracy in Venezuela could no longer be restored by elections.” You see, “It was through elections that democracy had been destroyed.” Oh, I get it. No. Wait…huh?

So who are these guys? According to their website, they are a “non-partisan institute.” Their funding comes from a “diverse group of individual philanthropists and foundations.” Oh! And the State Department. Now it makes sense.

January 5, 2007

Miami Herald Lectures on the Role of Press & the State

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In an editorial today, the Miami Herald predictably misrepresents the RCTV controversy, labeling it as retaliation against broadcasters “who don't agree with [Chavez’s] ‘revolutionary' vision,” without clarifying the role the station played in an attempt to violently overthrow the state. Small dif.

While the anti-Venezuela vitriol comes as no surprise from the Herald, its strong stand in favor independent media certainly does. Remember it was only four short months ago that three of the Herald’s own Latin America reporters were exposed to be on the payroll of the Bush administration, paid to write anti-Cuba propaganda.

At the time, Herald publisher Jesus Diaz took the responsible step and fired the three, but under pressure from the crazy Miami Cubans, Diaz himself was subsequently forced to resign, and the journalists were rehired.

January 6, 2007

Uncovering the Evil Behind the Banal

As Chavez begins his new term, the English language Venezuela bloggers are breathlessly typing away to expose the sinister plots behind routine administrative changes. This perennial exercise follows two primary rules:

1) Incoming officials are evidence that the still-democratic Venezuela is surely now on the path to despotic Cubo-fascist autocratic totalitarianism, and

2) Outgoing officials, who were previously bringing Venezuela to the brink of tyrannical kleptocratic Stalo-authoritarian caudillismo, have been mercilessly cast aside because they were, in fact, moderates.

Here’s the word on the Vice Presidential transition, as brought to you by the wingnut brigade, Zagat-style.

Out: Jose Vicente Rangel, the “Prince of Darkness” with the “smug glare brimming with contempt and boredom and schadenfreude all rolled up into one,” and his “barely concealed delight at the way power allowed him to piss all over the truth.” Folks are ecstatic to see the last days of this “Macchiavellian” “evil genius”, who was probably shoved aside out “for opposing the move to shut down RCTV.”

In: Even before his swearing in session, incoming Vice President Jorge Rodriguez is already among “the top five as far as toxic regime personalities go.” A “a failed shrink, a failed public servant,” this “lackey” brings to the job “his intolerance, his vileness, his complete lack of ethical or moral values.” “A psychiatrist in the same sense Mengele was a doctor,” Rodriguez “will not bat an eye to fulfill any of the desires of his master, no matter how reprehensible those might be.” Clearly, this is all “another sign that the revolution is about to deepen and will be more radical.”

Whew. I’d like to see these guys’ take on the Bush Administration’s appointment of Dr. Death Squad to be Condi’s #2.

Jackass Award, Revisited

The Washington Times today lavished its praise on “Alaskan villagers, who refused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's offer of cheap oil” this winter. Apparently, this is a reference to the shivering populace of King Salmon, who received earlier kudos from Governor Murkowski after a local leader wrote a letter pledging to "stand firmly with our President, especially in times when so many bad people are out to get us."

But the town had already received another distinction for this brave act. Last week, the Alaska Daily News awarded the village it's Soapy Smith Award for jackassery, seeing as how “the community was never included in Chavez’s offer."

On the upside, thousands of other Alaskans are keeping warm this winter, having embraced the Citgo deals.

January 7, 2007

My Friends Call Me Jackal

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Simon Romero runs a cutie-pootie article on the Venezuelan penchant for funny names in Sunday’s New York Times. Famous names (Stalin! Nefertitis! Elvis Presley!) Backwards names (Susej! Aleuzenev!) Hybrid names (Nelmar, from parents Nelson and Marta!) It’s all in good fun. Then comes this non sequitur paragraph:

Even today, a name or a political philosophy that might result in being ostracized elsewhere is no obstacle to a warm reception in Caracas. Mr. Chávez’s government has said, for instance, that it did not view Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan-born assassin also known as Carlos the Jackal, as a terrorist. Mr. Chávez addressed Mr. Ramírez as “Dear Compatriot” in letters they exchanged.

Hey NYT, this doesn’t have much to do with funny names, does it? It reads more like a little jab at Chavez and his possible (decontextualized, unexplored, randomly mentioned) acquaintance with a terrorist/assassin.

But then we’re right back to funny names. (Rosaherbalaif! Ha ha.)

What. Does. It. All. Mean?

Press Outlets All Distort OAS Statement in the Same Way

It’s as if they all meet over brunch.

So Friday, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza weighed in on Venezuela’s decision not to renew RCTV’s broadcast license with a carefully worded statement. Insulza recognized the “serious political accusations against the broadcasting station, ranging from its support of the frustrated military coup of 2002 to a systematic policy against the democratic process,” but warned that the administrative move “gives the appearance of a form of censorship against freedom of expression.” Insulza emphasized that his comments are not related to the “any legal considerations related to this type of measure,” but rather the “political repercussions that such a measure could bring about.” His statement concludes with the request that Venezuela’s news media “exercise its role to inform in a truthful, free and objective manner that serves all citizens.”

So it’s not the decision that is problematic, it’s the process. A measured statement of a complex situation, no? So how was it covered? Um…with slightly less nuance.

Continue reading "Press Outlets All Distort OAS Statement in the Same Way" »

RCTV & The Independence of the OAS

As a follow up to the post below, it's quite likely that Insulza weighed in on the RCTV controversy at all under pressure from the U.S. You may remember that when he was running for the seat, the U.S. only agreed to support him at the last minute if he promised to release a statement threatening to bird-dog Venezuela’s government.

In an internal e-mail leaked to the press at the time, then-Assistant Secretary of State and right wing nut job Roger Noriega gushed that "Insulza accepted without hesitation our exhortation that he met [sic] a public statement alluding to the Chávez threat."

Optimism and its Discontents

Apparently everything is terrific in Venezuela, but Newsweek won’t allow the government even the thinnest slice of credit for it. A new Zogby poll, “published exclusively by Newsweek,” is this week’s cover story for the international edition. Unfortunately, the exclusive deal means that we don’t get to look at the hard numbers ourselves; instead we have to rely on Newsweek’s somewhat slanted interpretation of the data.

The survey is significant because it only polls the Latin American elite, or, as Newsweek puts it, six-hundred-and-three “leading politicians, government officials, academics and journalists” from eight countries in the region. In just 1,600 words, Newsweek manages to demonstrate how something as numerically straightforward as opinion polling can be massaged to reflect the biases of its reporters.

Continue reading "Optimism and its Discontents" »

January 8, 2007

Hugo Chavez, Sean Penn Inducted into Fox News Axis of Evil

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Well it had to happen. Sean Hannity’s new teevee show includes his official enemy’s list. The inaugural inductees include Hugo Chavez, Sean Penn, Fidel Castro, Barbra Streisand, Kim Jong Il, Michael Moore, and what appears to be Martin Sheen.

Thanks to Newshounds (“We Watch Fox News So You Don’t Have To”) for the screenshot (above) and a partial transcript. I like how his graphics department Photoshopped them all into black suits! Classy touch.

UPDATE: Newshounds is saying that Enemy #7 is actually a chubby Alec Baldwin. Let's hope Hannity's storm troopers don't make the same mistake we did!

“I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”

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The Associated Press has righted a historic wrong. A while back, President Chavez called President Bush a “pendejo.” Now, depending on what country you live in, that word takes on a variety of meanings. In some countries, like Mexico, it’s pretty harsh. You could translate it to, say, “asshole.” In other countries, like Venezuela, it is much softer. It’s still not a compliment, but the translation is closer to “fool,” or “jerk,” or “idiot.”

At the time, the press was all atwitter after Reuters reported that Chavez had called the President of the United States an asshole. On the wires, the story was headed by the warning:

“Please note that paragraph 7 contains language that may be offensive to some readers."

I mean, really.

But Venezuelans, who take great pride in their language, were sort of ticked that the translation was so unfair. They pled with Reuters, and the reporters who followed up on the original story, to get it right.

Eighteen months later, Chavez took the opportunity to set the record straight by using the word once more. Referring to OAS President Jose Miguel Insulza (pictured above), AP reports that the president “used a vulgar word roughly meaning “idiot’.”

Our long linguistic nightmare is over. Anybody got a peanut?

What Newsweek Left out of the Zogby Story: Part I

I got my hands on the raw results of the Zogby Latin America “elites” poll. You’ll be shocked to learn that Newsweek totally missed the story here.

I've saved them in 3 pdf files: here, here, and here

Here are some of the findings I thought were interesting:

First: Demographics. The respondents are the super-elites of Latin America. More than half of the sample (53.2%) hold a masters degree, and an additional 7.5% have a PhD. A third (33.5%) have a bachelor’s degree, while only 5.0% are mere high school graduates. Only four of the respondents (0.7%) did not graduate from high school. So the results should in no way be taken as representative of the region (Newsweek mentions this at the outset, but then sort of fails to underscore the point). They are about evenly divided (hovering around 25% each) between the governmental, media, business and academic sectors. Tellingly, the sample is more than three-fourths male.

Overall Regional Results:

> By a large margin, respondents say it is more important for their country’s economies to be linked to other Latin American economies than to the United States (58.4% – 33.0%)

> With a smaller spread, they predict a “seamless transition” of power in Cuba to Raul Castro rather than “political instability” after the death of Fidel (49.4% - 44.6%).

> Only a quarter (25.7%) believe that Chavez’s regional influence is declining, compared with “remains unchanged” (38.1%) and “increasing” (34%).

> Overall, Latin American elites they tend to distrust/fear/hate Chavez. While just over a third (36.3%) would call him “a genuine populist driven by humanitarian impulses,” almost half (47.9%) think he’s closer to “a power hungry dictator.”

> But! Among Venezuelan elites, a full 58.8% go with “humanitarian” over 25.0% “dictator.” Also Venezuelan elites are much more likely to say he “has had a positive influence on Latin America” (forty-five percent!) than negative (just thirty-eight). Esqualidos heart Chavez. Who knew? And! Newsweek doesn’t mention that it’s the Peruvians who are skewing the numbers. Ten-to-one, they call Chavez a dictator. But, like, they voted for Fujimori.

January 9, 2007

What Newsweek Left Out of the Zogby Story: Part II

The economic questions are fascinating. (See the previous post for links to the raw numbers)

Economic Optimism
> The question of whether a country’s economy is expected to sink or swim is broken down into a 5-point scale. Newsweek reports that the Peruvians were the most optimistic, which is true, if you add the “improve greatly” and “improve somewhat.” They score a remarkable 95.1%, followed by Brazilians (89.0%) and Venezuelans (85.0%) Hell, even those stoic Chileans gave it a go with 75.6%. Mexico trailed with 69.4%

> But if you are looking for super-optimists, you’ve got to go with the Venezuelans. Their “improve greatly” numbers kicked butt at 60.0%. Distant runners up here were the Peruvians (33.8%) and the Colombians (23.6%). Mexico drew up the rear with 11.2%

Taxes, the Courts & Foreign Investment
> When asked to rate their country’s performance in tax reform targeted to encouraging foreign investment, Venezuelan elites are way more pleased than their neighbors. A full 43.8% Venezuelan view tax reforms as “good” or “very good,” far ahead of runners-up Peru (31.3%) and Colombia (28.8%). Brazil and, predictably, Mexico, trailed with 22.0% scores. Keep in mind, recent tax reforms mean the elites are actually paying their taxes for a change in Venezuela

>
When asked to rate government performance on “reforming taxes to facilitate distribution/marketing foreign goods,” the escualidos again lead the happy-pack. Almost half (47%) say “good” or “very good,” while everyone else hovers around a quarter, ranging from 28.0% among Chileans down to 21.3% with Colombians.

>
With the question of “reforming the legal system to facilitate foreign investment,” It’s Venezuela on top again, with 41.4% approval, followed by Colombia (37.5%) and Argentina at the end (27.1%)

The good times are rolling in the Venezuelan import/export biz. Brought to you by those who know.

Pendejo Watch

Break out your translation dictionaries. Yesterday we reported that the Associated Press finally put an end to an 18-month controversy over the correct translation of the Spanish word “pendejo.” In the summer of 2004, a Reuters story started a rumor that Chavez had employed profanity in a public speech, saying he’d used a word that translates to “asshole” when referring to President Bush. Venezuelans were puzzled, since the term is fairly soft, more accurately translating to “fool,” or “idiot". In a story that hit the wires last night, Chavez again used the word, but this time AP translated it to “idiot,” and the gods of semantics were pleased.

The rest of the major press outlets seem to be in agreement. Covering the same speech, the New York Times and the BBC employed the AP translation.

But writing for Reuters, reporters Brian Ellsworth & Christian Oliver refuse to let Pendejogate die. Today they write, “Chavez called Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, an ‘asshole.’”

While we worry about a pair of writers who don’t seem to know their arse from their elbows, we concede that in reference to Bush, either translation is acceptable.

Tony Snow Feels Your Pain, Thinks You’re Stupid

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Bush frontman Tony Snow reached out to Venezuelans today. With his unique blend of false empathy and oozing condescension, Snow explained to the stupid Venezuelans how their plan to assert state control over their own telecommunications sector is misguided. You see, this type of management “has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world.” But he hasn’t totally given up on them. “We support the Venezuelan people and think this is an unhappy day for them." Thanks, Tony!

So what brought on this outpouring of solidarity from a guy who probably has other things to worry about? A proposal in the Venezuelan assembly would give the state a larger role in certain strategic sectors of the economy, including telecommunications and electricity. The proposal would roll the clock all the way back to . . .1991, when all of this was under state control to begin with. That’s the year that the US-backed Venezuelan regime sold off a bunch of the state’s assets to American firms. Today, the private Telecom firm CANTV is owned by Verizon, and Caracas’s electrical power is controlled by the Arlington-based AES corporation.

But we’re confident Tony is only looking out for the interests of Venezuelans.

Chichirviche, Falcon State, Venezuela

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January 10, 2007

Here's a Quarter

The editorial pages of Washington Post and the New York Times waxed neurotic today about Venezuela’s plans to buy back telecom and electrical companies sold to the United States in 1991. Of course, they don’t put it in such reasonable terms. “Nationalization!” they cry. “State hegemony!” A giant step toward “diminishing freedom” and “national impoverishment,” yadda yadda yadda.

As we pointed out yesterday, their primary concern is that US companies own huge shares of these Venezuelan industries. Much as the Post and the Times try to frame their arguments as genuine concern for, like, Venezuelans, they only seem to get their knickers in a knot this big when big U.S. biz is involved.

The Times warns: “Whatever Mr. Chávez is planning, he needs to fairly compensate shareholders,” and wonders: “Exactly what form these nationalizations will take”?

Well pick up a phone and ask, guys. Bloomberg did. In a move sure to make his J-school professor proud, reporter Guillermo Parra-Bernal got beyond the frantic speculation by “asking questions.” In an interview with the Venezuelan National Assembly’s Finance Committee Chairman, one Mr. Ricardo Sanguino, it turns out that this is a buyout, not an expropriation. As Sanguino noted, “Confiscation, expropriation are banned words in our dictionary.”

It would nice to see an apology from the editors, but I’m afraid we’re more likely to see a rant about dictionary censorship.

He Only Nags Because He Loves You

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Joining the recent cavalcade of benevolent Venezuela-huggers like Tony Snow and the New York Times editorial board, Brand new (but real old) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave some unsolicited paternal advice to the silly-goose Venezuelans yesterday. According to El Universal, he told President Chavez “not to travel so much and to pay attention to the Venezuelan economy.” And to sit up straight.

Grampa Reid needn’t have worried, though. While some Venezuelan stocks did decline yesterday, they bounced right back up again when it turned out that market fears were simply based on crappy reporting.

Remember all those rumors about illegal government confiscation of property a few hours back? Total BS, as it turns out. In fact, AP notes this evening that the upcoming moves in the telecom and electrical sectors “may not be a bad deal,” for business owners, seeing as how the government “has paid well” for other such property in the past.

That’s called “eminent domain,” for US Constitution buffs.

This Just In: Pat Roberson’s Network Opposes Venezuelan Administration

Probably not worth pointing out, but the Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by prophet/ mercenary/snake oil salesman Pat Robertson has no business dissing Chavez’s religious beliefs.

But they do. So here we are.

They call Chavez out on three major points:

> Kicking out a missionary group from Venezuela. Yes, the New Tribes “missionaries” were expelled from Venezuela, praise Jesus. As human rights groups have reported, this creepy organization has “used criminal tactics in their zeal to convert indigenous populations, including armed manhunts, kidnappings, selling them into forced labour, imprisonment in Mission camps, and even genocide.” Also, the Venezuelan Constitution protects the rights of indigenous groups to practice their religion and culture free of forced conversion, and that’s a good thing.

> Calling the Pope a “potato.” In Spanish, the word for pope is “papa.” The word for potato is “papa.” Every living Venezuelan who has ever said the word “pope” has called him a potato.

> Comparing the works of Jesus to the works of Marx. There are many similarities, and this is probably worth a larger discussion in a more philosophical venue. All I can say is that there are other political/spiritual ventures that worry me much, much more.

January 11, 2007

Serial Monolougey

DC Talk show host Kojo Nnamdi dedicated a segment of his show yesterday to the changes in Venezuela’s electrical and telecom sector. Sounds riveting, no? Actually, it kind of was. And you can listen to it here with Real Player or here with Windows Media.

The guests were two local think tankers, Dr. Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Michael Shifter from the Inter American Dialogue. In DC, the IAD is often called the “Monologue” because of their penchant for only inviting Latin American spokespeople of a certain class (upper) to participate in their discussions. They didn’t do much to dispel that rep on the show, as Shifter was invited into the plush warm studio, and Weisbrot was relegated to a phone-in ghetto. Maybe it was a scheduling issue, who the hell knows? But the upshot was that there was time at the beginning to hear one picture of Venezuela, and then a much longer rebuttal.

Note to Shifter: that’s not what “dialogue” means.

January 12, 2007

Can't Wait for the Lou Dobbs Special on This Dude

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It was a Minuteman bedtime story come true: A swarthy mass murdering terrorist snuck on to ‘merican soil to destroy our way of life. The cold-blooded bomb-making Mexican-talking illegal alien foreigner thumbed his nose at our lax border security, our heritage and our values by holding a mocking press conference, in Spanish, daring our brave men at the Department of Homeland Security to find him. Eventually, they did, but because of our left wing ACLU-card holding America-hating liberal court system, run in no small part by feminist gay-marrying activist judges, he was quickly released, allowed to walk among us as a free man, cleverly disguised as teevee's "Matlock." He was probably even living across the street from your innocent blonde 5 year-old daughter. Until today.

Luis Posada Carriles has been nabbed, and he ain’t getting away so easy this time. He’s been charged with “lying.” And if there’s one thing Americans can’t stand, it’s a liar.

Among the things we apparently can stand:

· Blowing up an airplane filled with Olympic athletes, killing all 73 onboard (He won’t be charged with any of that).

· Violating international law and ignoring our treaties with another country by refusing to extradite (It’s Venezuela, so it sort of doesn’t really count).

· Shamelessly pretending to give a crap about the rights of an alleged terrorist in order to violate our extradition agreement (See Padilla, Jose).

· Announcing to the world on September freaking eleventh that he was about to become a free man (We wish we'd just made that part up, but nope).

But today, America has come to its collective senses. We can forgive mass murder, but there is never an excuse for being an illegal.


How To Be a Reporter Without Really Trying

Two days ago, you may remember, every major newspaper, wire service and editorial board in the country seemed to be going apesh*t crazy over Venezuela’s alleged plan to confiscate property from U.S. investors.

This evening, AP reports:


But it later emerged that the Venezuelan president – whose “21st-century socialism” has managed to co-exist with a vibrant private sector – is disposed to pay fair market prices for the two utilities. That would make these “nationalizations” much less radical than initially feared and not all that unusual for Latin America.

It later emerged? Nice job fellas.

January 14, 2007

Dubious Sources

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So if you were looking for an objective source to clarify the complexities of Venezuela’s plans to re-nationalize its electrical and telecom networks, would you chose a guy who:

* Sat in the cabinet of the past Venezuelan administration and nurses a public grudge?

* Was personally in charge of privatizing these sectors in the first place?

* Runs a magazine that recently dedicated a special issue to bashing Chavez, including a cover story titled "Hugo Boss: How Chavez is refashioning dictatorship for a democratic age"?

* Brags that his views are backed by “an elite list of dignitaries, from the former president of Colombia to a former director of the CIA”?

* Calls contemporary Venezuela a “nightmare for its people and a threat not just to its neighbors but to the United States and even Europe”?

‘cause NPR did.

Moises Naim is a smart guy. He'd be a fine choice for an op-ed or a debate. But an objective analyst? That's just pathetic.

The Legacy Thing

As we celebrate the life & legacy of Dr. King this weekend, let’s not forget that in the 50’s and 60’s (hell, even today judging by some creepy corners of the internet), there were well documented and widespread movements within the intelligence agencies, the White House and some segments of the press to thoroughly trash his reputation. King was dismissed as a power-mad communist under the control of a foreign state, an amoral, anti-Semitic demagogue working to foster social division and accumulate personal wealth, and generally a threat to the U.S. and the world.

Thank god that sort of disinfo campaign would be impossible today…


Note: I’d originally written the above with links to each accusation, but most of those websites are severely deranged. Feel free to use Google.

January 15, 2007

You Gotta Accentuate the Negative

Here’s a fun little time killer on your day off: go to Google News and type in the headline “Chavez says he voiced hope for US thaw,” then click on one of the stories. The headline magically changes to some variation of “Venezuela and Iran Plan to Destroy the World Together” or some such nonsense.

It seems that some AP editor got ahold of Natalie Obiko Pearson’s story and decided it just wasn’t splashy enough. The details of the story haven’t been changed, per se, but the order of importance has. A friendly, newsworthy exchange between President Chavez and a US State Department official has been shoved down to the bottom, while a social fund set up between Venezuela and fellow-OPEC member Iran is now featured (in as sinister terms as possible) at the top.

The Thousand Pound Guerilla in the Room

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We could wait forever before we saw a major media outlet explore the complexities of US-Venezuelan relations. And between you and me, sometimes the alternative press can be a little less than rigorous in their own loveable way. So I guess that leaves…the energy trade rags? Believe it or not, this month’s issue of Energy Tribune runs a nice little exploration of why Chavez pushes back so hard against the House of Bush.

The conclusion? Turns out its got something to do with the fact that the Bushies “provided training and other support to groups that were involved in the coup attempt against Chávez.” Oh right, that little kidnapping and violent overthrow of the state thing. Seems obvious, but I think I can count on one hand the number of times this has been noted as a possible exacerbating influence on relations between the nations.

PS: Admittedly the cover headline and artwork are slightly Cold-War Fabulous, but still…

Welcome to Our Huffington Post Readers

Welcome! Come in. Make yourself at home. Can I fix you a drink?

To the non-Huffingtonians: please check out the always-excellent column by Mark Weisbrot & Robert Naiman that posted this evening. They were generous in linking to our site, and we are grateful.

Geezers, Putschistas & Other LA Stories

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In the olden days, the purpose of op-eds was to sit opposite the editorial page and presumably present an alternative view of world affairs than you’d get from that same bunch of geezers who spout the conventional wisdom week in and week out.

The Los Angeles Times seems to be following the lead of crap-tastic opinion pages like the Washington Post with a new take on the old concept: fresh faces that pretty much back the geezers up. Sort of a win-win for those directly involved. The kids get some ink and the geezers look all wise and incontrovertible.

Today, the Times serves up Alexandra Starr, a freelance writer and “former Organization of American States fellow.” Her thesis is that Chavez is only in it for the power (just like, she writes, basically every other president in Venezuelan history), that Venezuelan voters are only in it for the handouts (they, she knows, will turn on him just like all other Venezuelan electorates). Starr is basically saying what 96% of LA Times opinion pieces have said in the last eight years. (We’re not making that number up—there was a study.)

Continue reading "Geezers, Putschistas & Other LA Stories" »

January 16, 2007

Moises Naim Yearns for the Olde Timey Days

Everyone romanticizes the past a bit: snowfalls, street fights and breasts all seem a little bigger in the hazy daze of nostalgia. But economists are supposed to be hard-nosed sticklers for numbers and data, not quite so susceptible to sentimentality, right?

So, re-reading the 3-year -old NYT opinion piece that we linked to the other day, I was sort of surprised to see that the alleged economist (and super-objective NPR analyst) Moises Naim not only gets misty-eyed reminiscing on the golden age of Venezuela’s obscurity, but he seems to have bullshat some important data to make his point.

And its no small point. He writes that Venezuela “enjoyed the world's highest growth rate from 1950 to 1980.” Really? The highest in the world? You’d think someone would have written about that before 2003.

It’s news to the University of Pennsylvania, whose Penn World Tables keeps track of that kind of thing. They place Venezuela’s per-capita growth at 86% during those 30 years, higher than, say, Nicaragua or Ethiopia, but quite a bit lower than Egypt or Costa Rica.

In the same time frame, Venezuela’s per-capita growth was nearly doubled by Mexico’s (168%), tripled by Brazil’s (276%), and sextupled by Japan’s, which clocked in at 610%. Check it out in chart form, and it looks like Venezuela was a lot closer to the bottom than the top in these decades.

So Dr. Naim got it way wrong. Big deal. But the op-ed page of the New York Times? Don’t they have fact-checkers/standards/a reputation to worry about? A search of the Time's archives turns up no correction, clairification or retraction of the piece.

Confused?

In less than 1400 words, Venezuelan-American turned Venezuelan-again writer Eva Golinger clarifies all your questions about recent controversies.

The Man Wants to Keep Your Portfolio Under-Performing

So the State Department wants you to take your investment dollars out of Venezuela, what with all their socialism and stuff. They actually say that Venezuela is “hindering progress.” You almost need an English to 50’s translation dictionary.

But actual investors live in a post-McCarthy world. Online investment rag Motley Fool ranks Venezuela in its “10 Best Places to Invest” survey. At number 2, the Bolivarian Republic gives you a 156% return rate on yo’ dollar.

Lefty, Squinty & Sexy

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The Axis of Evo just got a whole lot foxier.

January 17, 2007

But How Long Will He Last?

Yesterday the Caracas Stock Exchange Index took a dive after a major Venezuelan newspaper reported that the government would soon begin to “regulate” bank profits. Today Banking Superintendent Trino Alcides Diaz was forced to give a press conference explaining that the Venezuelan government has no such plan and that El Nacional is full of crap. Actually, he was way more generous than I would have been, saying that the opposition-aligned newspaper must have “misunderstood” him.

Once again, Bloomberg’s Guillermo Parra-Bernal broke the story. Exactly one week ago today Mr. Parra-Bernal pretty much single-handedly saved Venezuelan stock prices in the US market when broke a similar story about the New York Times and Washington Post being full of their own respective crap. This could turn into an actual beat.

Slouching Toward Hyperbole

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Remember when Venezuela was Latin America’s model democracy? Back when much of South America was ruled by military juntas and gold-digging opportunistic showgirls, Venezuela was widely applauded for its commitment to democratic values. Which is to say that it didn’t do much to piss off the US.

Well in those golden days, Venezuela had a state owned electrical company and a state-run telecommunications sector. It wasn’t perfect but it worked, and it went hand in hand with being a stand-up democracy.

You may have read that Venezuela is kicking around the idea of going back to that model. Tried the privatization thing, didn’t like it, changing our minds. No problem, right? Well to read CNN’s “analysis” of the situation, that’s just commie talk. Seriously. They say:


The decisions announced by Chavez are very similar to those taken in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.

And:

Given the announcements made last week. . .we can say that Venezuela is heading towards the old communism of the last century, and more in the Cuban or North Korean style than the Chinese.

Dramatic no? And:

...like Cuba, Venezuela will remain an economic island.

Yeah, the fastest growing economic island in Latin America. And don’t forget: still the world’s number #2 investment opportunity. Don’t cry for us, CNN.

January 18, 2007

Bush Administration Opposes Executive Powers. For Others.

These are the kinds of stories that Voice of America lives for. For those unfamiliar, VOA is the how the U.S. shows the world how journalism is done. Mostly by beaming the views of the administration to other countries, and paying off journalists to act as the Voice of America. Quasi-psuedo-officially-like.

Today, VOA is hot on the Chavez trail. The story opens with the lede “Venezuela's National Assembly has given its initial approval to a measure that would grant President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months.”

Wow. Stunning. Chavez is going to be the sole arbiter of Venezuelan law for the next year and a half? The rest of the story doesn’t go into any specifics, but we’re left with an impression. The truth, of course, is rather more complex. In fact:

> The Venezuelan Assembly has actually only opened up hearings on the proposed law.

> If approved, the president would be limited in what it could “decree.” Basically overseeing the functions of executive branch agencies. Pretty much the rights that U.S. presidents have always had.

> These powers are already granted by the Venezuelan constitution. And

> This ain’t the first time they’ve been exercised. In fact, the last president of Venezuela activated these powers too.

But I suppose all that sissy “context” is just un-American.

Context Is For Sissies

As we noted below, complexity is for antiamericanterroristfagboys.

And so: AP, UPI , and the ever-crazy NewMax.

January 19, 2007

Concessions of a Bipolar Columnist

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Motherhood agrees with Washington Post columnist Marcela Sanchez. We haven’t seen her this...reasonable for a long while. After taking a breeding break for a few months, the Latin America watchdog is back and surprisingly mello-yello about Venezuela. We had to read it twice to see if she was being ironic.

Sanchez, who once brought in a pop psychiatrist to diagnose Chavez’s “mental deformations,” comparing him with her psychotic streaker uncle, today gives a different analysis. As socialists go, Chavez is “rather polite.”

Ok, lady, we’re listening.

The president, she says, is choosing a socialist path “because he is convinced that the alternative capitalist model has made it ‘impossible to overcome the problems of poverty, misery and inequality.’” True dat, sister.

More: the president encourages cooperation with big business and employs “generous and courteous” compensation for nationalized companies. Wow.

While we welcome the columnist’s newfound tranquilidad, we’re sort of worried about what comes next. After all, bipolar nudism does run in the family.

BoRev Fever: Congress Catches It!

Remember what a huge Step Toward Communism it was when Venezuela decided to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies and, like, actually make them pay taxes to compensate for the wealth they were taking and the environment they were destroying? Remember how it was a Violation of Property Rights and a sure sign that Chavez was Tightening His Grip and how it would Scare Off Foreign Investment? Well it’s totally ok and capitalist and democratic to do it now!! At least here at home, for God-fearing (North) Americans.

Yesterday, the last vote of the House’s First Hundred Hours passed the legislation cribbed straight from the Venezuelan playbook, by a whopping 264-163. Alaska Rep. Don Young even expressed his BoRev fever by wearing a bright “communist red” T-shirt. Uh! Ah!

War of the Executives

I’ve got a story in this month’s Energy Tribune. It’s about the sabotage of Venezuela’s state oil company back in ’02 and ’03. It starts off like this:

Four years ago, Venezuela’s state petroleum company was in chaos. Managers and executives had locked the doors to company offices, forcing thousands of workers into unemployment. Strike leaders vowed to bring down Venezuela’s economy unless President Hugo Chávez resigned. When it became clear that Chávez would not step down, and strike leaders would be fired, rogue officials began to systematically sabotage the company, shredding records, erasing databases, and destroying equipment . . . Some PDVSA saboteurs fled Venezuela to escape prosecution, using press contacts and financial resources to paint a wildly inaccurate picture of the company in the international media.

Ironically, the issue runs another story, by Mr. Gustavo Coronel, all about how terrible the company is. It ends with this:

Gustavo Coronel, a petroleum geologist, was a member of PDVSA’s first board of directors.

Brian Williams is an Illegal Venezuwehlan!

Bill O’Reilly tries to make a funny on the Colbert Report, but he won’t condescend to pronounce the country right. Four syllables, dude, not five. Clap it out.

The comment is at about the 4-minute mark, but the whole segment is pretty freaking funny.

Breaking News: John Birch Society Blog Disapproves of Bolivarian Revolution

You read that right. The John Birch Society has a blog. At least I think they do. The “photograph” of the “editor” appears to be an oil painting superimposed on an actual human body.

Even creepier, his bio says that he “has served at 45 summer youth camps, mostly as speaker or Director.”

Want some candy, little boy?

January 20, 2007

Feel Safer?

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This week the leaders of our vast “intelligence” apparatus testified before the House of Representatives. Among the lowlights:

> John Negroponte is “concerned” about Venezuela. Yikes. The last time Dr. Death got all worked up about a Latin American nation, they ended up digging mass graves to hide the bodies.

> New CIA director Michael Hayden announced the adoption of new technologies, which involve analyzing “a host of publicly available sources worldwide.” Apparently they’ve discovered Google. Ironically, his testimony is laid out in a document that hasn’t been scanned properly. Remember when spies used to lead the technological curve?

> In the middle of the War on Terror and War on Iraq and War on Afghanistan and War on Obesity, Negroponte still has time to worry about “individuals who are critical of free market economics.”

Focus, people!

The Heartland Speaks

Perhaps the only Buffalonian to visit Venezuela gets it:

Proponents of the authoritarian thesis also point to the government's refusal to renew the license of a Caracas-based TV station because of its critical stance toward the president. This proposition, quite honestly, is laughable.

The vast majority of media outlets in Venezuela deride the president and his administration daily. The reality is that the station in question was implicated in the planning and execution of a coup attempt against the government in April 2002 that left 19 innocent civilians dead.

Many people do not agree with the policies of the Venezuelan government because they understand them to be economically unsound. Such positions are worthy of debate. But to raise allegations of authoritarianism based on bias and paranoia is simply incorrect.


January 21, 2007

Jeb Whips Out His Big Venezuelan Secret

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Interesting. The Post today ran a casual little aside that caught my eye. Turns out that Jeb Bush “lived in Venezuela for two years as a young bank officer.” I didn’t know that He’s always been kind of crazed in his anti-Chavez rhetoric, but I’d chalked it up to holding political office in Florida and having to represent the whack-job über-Cubans.

But it’s way seedier than that, at least if you believe everything you read on the internets. Here we go, in descending order of verifiability. I’m not saying it’s definitive, I’m saying it’s interesting. If you’ve got more, by all means, send ‘em to BoRevNet at Gmail dot Com

-According to the Financial Times, Jeb was more than a mere bank officer. He was Texas Commercial Bank’s pointman in Caracas, charged with setting up their Venezuela operation. This is where Jeb made his first, or second, fortune.

-Wikipedia says: “Bush attracted a lot of new business to the bank as a result of his effective networking in Venezuela”

-Networking with people like Venezuelan media barron Gustavo Cisneros Latin America’s richest man, and the financier of a huge chunk of the anti-Chavez crowd. Lots of ties between Cisneros and Jeb Bush’s Florida administration.

-During the first Bush presidency, Jeb secured the release of terrorist Orlando Bosch, wanted in Venezuela for blowing up a jet-plane filled with 73 Cubans, among other things.

-In 2000, the Atlanta-based ChoicePoint Company sold voting data to Jeb’s Florida administration to help him disenfranchise black people and make his brother president. A few years later, Jeb hooked the company up with his brother’s Justice Department to purchase Venezuela’s voting rolls in the leadup to the 2004 recall referendum.

-And then there’s this:

“At the same time their planes were flying back and forth from Venezuela with illegal cargo Hilliard's charter service was also, unbelievably, being utilized at virtually no cost––despite the fact that rentals for Lear jets can run as high as $1,800 an hour––by Florida Governor Jeb Bush.”

What does it mean? The mind boggles. Actually, I’ve re-read that paragraph a few times and I still don’t quite get it. But it's interesting.

Say It Loud!

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today explores race relations in Venezuela with Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez.

Headline Roundup: Covering Castro

You may have heard that Fidel Castro is ill.

Maybe you read something about it in one of the 14 million stories that have run in the last week. It’s all pretty much the same story, because the only new news has involved comments by 1) President Chavez and 2) a Spanish doctor. But every outlet wants to break the latest on the happenings in Havana. How do the various media outlets say “we don’t know anything,” and make it seem fresh each time?

Here’s one way: on Saturday morning, All Headline News ran with the headline, “Chavez Says Fidel Castro Is 'Struggling For His Life',” and then followed up later that afternoon with a separate report under the title: “Castro Reportedly 'Fighting for His Life'”.

After the jump, we look at how 20 media outlets have met the macabre challenge, and figure out what the different headlines say about the various publications.

Continue reading "Headline Roundup: Covering Castro" »

January 22, 2007

Edwards Was Right: The Other America Isn’t Much Like Us At All

Fox News has a new push poll out! Citing the return of “Alo Presidente” to TV, they want to know whether Venezuela “will now become a threat to American democracy?”

Screw al-Quaeda! Terrorism is so ’02. Telling off Bush is the new threat to our way of life, notwithstanding that about 2/3 of our own countrymen agree with Chavez on this one. Oddly, this is what Fox includes as it list of reasons to fear Venezuela:

“...nationalizing the main telecommunications company and the electricity and natural gas sectors, raising domestic gasoline prices, and approving a new tax on luxury goods.”

Scared yet? You can participate here.

Taxation Without Consternation

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It’s always been there between Boardwalk and Park Place. It sucked to land on it and pay up the 75 bones, but it was a fact of life. Even in the game that taught us it that wasn’t enough just to win, but that we had to force our friends to sell every last goddamn thing in the world they owned and file for bankruptcy and die penniless and alone with tuberculosis or something, the luxury tax was an annoying, but necessary, inconvenience. These are American values, for godsakes.

But we’re talking about Venezuela, and editors apparently allow endless column inches for the latest Venezuelan scandale de jour. And so today we read about the glaring communist plot behind the country’s planned imposition of …the luxury tax. Sorry Sudan, you’re just not “mediagenic.”

And it’s not just the Fox News poll. The Associated Press interviews some pissed off dandy with an SUV and a distraught art dealer “in Caracas' upscale Altamira district.”

The revolution has come, and for Rich Uncle Pennybags, it looks like a roll on the Monopoly board. You make some money, you give some back to everybody else. But the great thing about this particular board, is that Go is just around the corner, and it kicks ass. So griping is just class warfare.

January 23, 2007

Great Press Connections Help

So this kind of exaggerated “rule by decree” meme isn’t exactly whipping up the opposition in Venezuela, but that hasn’t stopped Associated Press from posting a major international story out of the, sweartogod, “400 to 500 protesters ,” standing “in a Caracas plaza” today. For real, guys?

Say what you will about the Venezuelan opposition, those guys can organize a massive street presence for the issues that matter to them. This demo, in contrast, is about the size of a pro-terrorist rally staged by the crazy Cubo-Venezuelan community in Miami the other day.

UPDATE: The AP story went wide Wednesday, under even more exxagerated headline, "Throngs in Venezuela Protest Chavez Plan." Throngs!

January 24, 2007

A Dig Too Far

The New York Times tests the boundaries of rational discourse today, with a little piece called “In Venezuela, Chavismo Is Dissected by Fans and Foes.”

It starts out stupidly enough, referring to a collection of egalitarian peaceniks as a “baffling array of influences” on the Venezuelan president. Baffling, perhaps, for someone without access to a library, (a “baffling array” of knowledge bound in paper volumes) or Wikipedia (a “baffling collection” of ones and zeros).

But then the article just gets weird. Totally ignoring his own headline, reporter Simon Romero goes on to profile only Chavez critics, who refer to the president’s ideas in a progressively baffling-er array of twisted metaphors:

One man calls chavismo “a bowl of minestrone soup… a series of arbitrary improvisations.” Whatev, hungry guy.

Another says it’s a “largely cosmetic” yet “pragmatic” manifestation of “socialist talk.” Ok, cynic.

And then:


“Some of Mr. Chávez’s critics compare the project to Pol Pot’s emptying of Phnom Penh in his bloody effort to remake Cambodian society in the 1970s”

Compares? to Pol Pot’s campaign of genocide? Favorably, I assume, what without all that “internecion.” Jesus.

But it doesn’t stop there. The article concludes with this:


“But there are those who see Mr. Chávez’s socialist ramblings more darkly.”

My italics. I mean for godsake, more darkly than Pol Pot?


“After hearing him resuscitate Che Guevara’s idea to forge socialism through the creation of a “new man,” the historian Manuel Caballero caused a stir recently by saying that a large part of the electorate voted for Mr. Chávez ‘because it wanted a dictatorship.’”

We’re starting to wonder whether the Times employs a baffling array of arrogant, historically challenged hacks.

Pro-Terrorist Rally Shockingly Ends In Violence

A part of me pities the crazy wing of the Miami Cubans. I mean, they’re getting far too old to reproduce, and their youth recruitment efforts have resulted in disastrous standoffs with the FBI. And nobody would want to live with the bitter resentment that, like, eats away at their very souls day by day.

But then they go and do stupid things. Like holding rallies in support of one of the worst terrorists Latin America has ever produced, and I start to think that their campy militancy is a bit dangerous. And then they try and beat the crap [video] out of sensible people who think that maybe terrorists should be on trial or in jail or, at the very least, living out their fantasies of a U.S. controlled Cuba down in sunny Guantanamo Bay and. . .well, the pity reserves only go so deep.

January 25, 2007

The Huddled Masses at the Duty Free

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Bring out the National Guard. Venezuelan refugees are pouring into Miami at record rates. That’s right, while we were all preoccupied with building giant walls and keeping dirty sheik paws off our ports, we totally forgot to look up in the skies. The Venezuelans are coming. In style. Their airborne flotillas include complimentary beverage service.

But wait…how do we know there are more Venezuelans coming in today than 10 or twenty years ago? Simple: “More than 2000 Venezuelans received U.S. asylum in 2004 and 2005.” By contrast, in the year before Chavez was elected, “only nine Venezuelans received asylum in the United States.” Yes, I know that it sounds like it’s got more to do with an asylum policy that favors wealthy entrepreneurs over say, Somali sex slaves, but it was written up in the Miami Herald so it’s totally true and not government propaganda or anything.

If you’re still not convinced, just listen to their tales of persecution:

One corporate executive was mugged on the street. Her husband is certain that her assailants “were pro-Chavez.”

Another is freaked by the thousands of new public schools being built that might one day be “infused” with “socialist ideology.”

But perhaps the all-too common tale of repression is summed up best by this Miami attorney:


“Before, many of our Venezuelan clients did not want to ask for asylum because they were convinced the opposition would defeat Chávez,'' Allen said. ``The fact he won will begin the stampede to leave.''

You see? Their side lost in the last election. They have to get out. I can imagine the sympathetic conversations in the line at Homeland Security:

Applicant A: Hey election-loser, congratulations! You totally deserve asylum status.

Applicant B:
Thanks, forced-clitorectomy lady! Sorry about your case. Have a nice flight home.

Applicant C: What’s a “flight”?

Applicant D: What’s an “election”?

January 26, 2007

Let the Good Times Roll

So unemployment is down to an 8-year low, Venezuelans are buying luxury items like never before, and US businesses are loving the BoRev’s investment climate. Hell, a Hewlett Packard executive calls the Venezuelan government “a good client and a good payer.”

So much for the incompetent pinko meme.

January 27, 2007

Moonies, Neo-Nazis & Lyndon LaRouche Unite!

So the Washington Times has a column called “Embassy Row,” where they ostensibly cover the intrigue behind the scenes of Washington’s diplomatic circles, as passed on to them by whomever condescends to give a an interview to the paper, which is run by crazy people.

Today, “Embassy Row” interviews a guy described as a “leading political opponent” of President Chavez, who wants the American people to know that “there is no electoral solution to the Venezuelan crisis," and advocates bloody insurrection or something. This “opponent,” is Alejandro Peña Esclusa, who hilariously turns out to be the former leader of a Lyndon LaRouche sect in Venezuela, a guy who has long advocated for the violent overthrow of the Venezuelan government.

But wait! Even LaRouche thought this guys was nuts, kicking him out of the fold a few years ago after “his conversion to extreme religious kookery and overt association with Synarchist fascist leaders, including Spain's Franquista thug Blas Piñar.” Kookery!

Then the Times goes and promotes the website of Peña’s organization, you know, for “those interested in the situation in Venezuela.” Turns out the organization is listed by the Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv University as one of Venezuela’s primary anti-Semitic hate groups.

Way to go Washington Times!

Free People Throw Crap at Me

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The ever-quotable Pat Buchanan has a unique criticism of Bush’s state of the Union address. Apparently the administration’s focus on “free societies” acts against US interests. You see, “terrorists do not fear free societies, they flourish in them.”

And: “During 2006, free Latin peoples brought to power anti-American Leftists Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and came close to electing their comrades Ollanta Humala in Peru and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico.”

Ignoring that “terrorist” and “leftist” are lumped together, the point is that Pat Buchanan is scary, but sort of right on this one. We might want to consider leaving the world alone. Just sayin'.

Mr. Gorbachev, Rebuild this Wall!

The Washington Post editorial page cares, really cares, about Venezuela, and only wants what’s best for its stupid, ignorant population. They want Chavez out because Venezuela’s democracy is either “dead, dying or in danger,” and because this year its economy, and that of its allies, is doomed. “The people of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba,” it seems “may be headed for a miserable year.”

Wow. Does the Post know something we don’t? Because last time I checked, Venezuela had the fastest-growing economy in Latin America, two years running.

Perhaps they’ve been talking to former Secretary of State (and Halliburton Director) Lawrence Eagleburger, who may have something up his sleeve. Appearing on Fox News last night, this Bush I figure lamented that the Venezuelan economy was not crashing fast enough for his taste.

When asked by David Asman if we should “just wait for the economy to collapse or do we push it in that direction?" Eagleburger replied :

"I think we have to push...anything we can do to make their economy more difficult for them at this moment is a good thing but let's do it in ways that do not get us into direct conflict with Venezuela if we can get away with it."

Hey kids, the cold war is back! Thanks to Newshounds for catching the clip.

UPDATE: A reader informs that "Vzla's economy is fastest growing in Latin America for 3 years running." Not 2. My bad.

January 28, 2007

History Gets A Do-Over

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Remember when Francis Fukuyama’s book came out and everybody was all like oh, world events are going to stop happening because the Soviet Union is gone and nobody needs to worry about poverty and hunger and child slavery anymore and we can just buy stuff and watch Friends all day and wait for Jesus to come back? Turns out, it's not quite that easy.

Without mentioning Fukuyama by name, today’s New York Times Magazine is the latest in a long line of pubs to kick him in his cocky keester and obliterate his painfully simplistic thesis. “History teaches that any time one power predominates, a coalition forms to oppose it.” Duh. This is especially true if the “one power” doesn’t do much to address core grievances of the rest of the world: suffering/indigence/environmental devastation/etc, and doubly so if it actively contributes to these problems.

The piece comes really close to a complex analysis of Venezuela’s role in this global movement. But it fizzles in the end:


Perhaps we were kidding ourselves when we imagined that when Castro died, the yearning in many parts of the world for a figure like Castro would die as well. If Hugo Chávez proves nothing else, it is that such dreams are alive and well. [my italics]

Poor people are not idiots. It has a lot more to do with ideas and actions than with personalities. But the NYT and other US journalists will have time to figure that out, since History's still got some life in her.

Red, the New Black?

As mentioned below, today’s New York Times Magazine story on Chavez is an interesting, if not totally accurate, read. The headline, though? Bleh. It asks “A New Castro?” To which the obvious answer is: Haven’t I read this article a hundred times already?

You’d be forgiven for being confused, since last week Newsweek ran an article titled, “Chavez, the New Castro.” And over the fall, syndicated columnist Maria Elena Salinas published her groundbreaking piece “Hugo Chavez, a New Castro?” which came on the heels of August’s double whammy, when the Washington Post ran an Op-Ed called “Chavez, the Next Castro?” even as NPR hit the airwaves with, “Will Chavez be the Next Castro?”

And these are just the latecomers. Way back in 2005, George Gedda wrote an in-depth piece in the Foreign Service Journal called “Hugo Chavez: A New Castro?" while a column about Chavez in the Washington Times called itself, “A New Castro With Big Money” Points for originality, Washington Times!

Hot! Hot! Hot!

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Ecuador’s Sexiest President Ever has seen a rise in the country’s collective, um, poll. . .Whatever.

Just two weeks in office, Rafael Correa enjoys a remarkable 73% approval rating among the country’s notoriously fickle electorate. The opposition-controlled Congress, on the other hand, languishes with a 68% disapproval rating. And the Axis of Evo expands.

January 29, 2007

'Enabling' a False Perception

So the Christian Science Monitor notes that Venezuela’s National Assembly will vote tomorrow on the so-called Enabling Law, which they say will grant Chavez “broad powers to pass laws by decree for 18 months.”

Well not exactly. It will be a fun experiment to see whether the ensuing press coverage will note that the measure is limited, Constitutional, and kind of a habit in Venezuela. Similar steps were taken in 1974, 1984, and 1993. My article on the issue, and the press around it, is available here.

"The New York Times Will Do Everything for Latin America Except Visit It"

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The voice of Stewart, the acumen of Zinn, the sardonic dig of Wilde, Larry Birns is a goddamned UNESCO World Heritage Site of analysis. You can hear him today on NPR’s On the Media on Venezuela and the RCTV controversy. The transcript is here . But take the time to click the “listen” button. It’s worth it.

Venezuela Reporting Like "What You Got Before the Iraq War"

Check out this exchange at the Financial Times. Yes, the Pink Paper is going all interactive. CEPR's Mark Weisbrot obliterates the haters. Even when the "moderator" has a clear agenda.

Chavez to Be Bestowed with Superhuman Powers

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The afternoon reports have hit the wires, and they are extreme.

Remember that enabling law, the one that was used throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and wasn’t really mentioned in the international press at the time? This time around, it’s apparently going to allow the Venezuelan government to “remake society by presidential decree.” I mean…

Our Associated Press reporter goes to a protest march to sniff out the most high-octane quotes possible. He finds a woman who “can't tolerate Chavez's admirers—even within her own family.” To her, this is the path to communism and dictatorship. Another interviewee, a “son of a Polish concentration camp survivor” (!) explains that Venezuela is now facing totalitarianism.

Yeah, AP eventually quotes fervent Chavez supporters, too. But even they are pretty darned hyperbolic in their support.

But can’t we just get a little context? Oh! Mine is here.

January 30, 2007

Bush to Rule By Decree. America Yawns

The New York Times today reports that the US prez just signed an executive order shifting power to the executive branch in the areas of “public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.”

So what’s the dif between this and what’s happening this week in Venezuela? A few big ones come to mind:

--The president granted this power to himself with an executive order. In Venezuela, certain powers stand to be shifted through a vote in the legislature.

--Venezuela’s decision included weeks of public debate and massive international press scrutiny. Oh, and the Rule of Law. Here at home, the directive was passed quietly last week, and was only reported today for the first time.

--Venezuela’s proposed law is temporary; Bush's power to Rule by Decree will stand until the president decides to overturn his own power, or when hell freezes over. Whichever comes second.

Funnily enough, the Times finds nobody to describe this as totalitarianism, communism or dictatorship. They must’ve been on a tight deadline or something. They did have time to interview a Columbia University professor, who helpfully explains it for us:

"Having lost control of Congress," Mr. Strauss said, "the president is doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch."
!!!!

Update: We should note that while the rest of the world press was mesmerized by all the raucous public discussion over Venezuela’s proposed law, it was the diligence of a smaller news outlet that actually caught our own leader getting sneaky. Last week, The New Standard broke this story, and the New York Times played catch-up many days later. Thanks, New Standard, America is grateful, in a materialistic, apathetic sort of way.

Don’t Tell Anyone You Heard This From Me, But..

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You know the Cato Institute, right? That right wing think tank that hates stupid wastes of tax dollars even more than John Stossel?

Then you know it’s particularly retarded that they condescend to give an interview to the Big Government Earmark Whore “media” group Voice of America.

But hey, sometimes you have to get your message out, no? Especially if it’s on an issue vital to your upright libertarian cause. Like stirring up a big ol’ lefty CAT FIGHT!

In a VOA article today, imaginatively titled “Will Chavez Inherit Castro's Revolutionary Mantle?” Cato’s resident hispanic, Ian Vasquez, dishes us this:

"Raul Castro, it is rumored, is not that fond of Hugo Chavez, and will be very careful not to come under his thumb. He has been under the thumb of his own brother for more than 40 years. He certainly is not going to want to be under the thumb of a new upstart trying to model himself on his brother.”

Meee-ow, Biaatch! Like, cause you have inside information on the Castro administration, right?

John, On Democracy

What sort of twisted hell do we live in that John Negroponte gets to voice his opinion on the state of Latin America Democracy?

The former death squad groupie today expresses his concern that the Venezuelan President’s “behavior is threatening to democracies in the region.” Reuters notes that Dr. Doom blames Chavez’s popularity on “frustrations caused by the inability of democracy to deliver the kinds of results people expected.” His way, we’re sure, was superior.

In a crazy “I don’t recognize my country” sort of way, the Washington Post ran a heart-tugging article yesterday on Negroponte’s home life. The web version of the story even contains a sweet little photo essay. The only reference to his brutal stint in Honduras, when he ordered his subordinates to delete all references to mass-murder from human rights reports, is here, photo number 2.

Jesus wept.

January 31, 2007

Our Brand Is Crazy-Talk

One for your Netflix queue: last year's documentary Our Brand is Crisis, which details how the U.S. PR firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner was deployed to Bolivia back in 2002 to convince the public that the country would spin into chaos if they didn’t elect the Bush-backed presidential candidate. The movie gets its name from an ominous quote from a firm operative, who helpfully explains that his job was to stir up fears of impending economic disaster among the Bolivian electorate.

So naturally, they are the go-to guys for objective and nuanced analysis of Venezuela, right? The Washington Post thinks so. In an article about today’s ‘Enabling Law’ vote, intrepid reporter Juan Forero tracks down Greenberg Vice President Mark Feierstein, who explains that all evidence to the contrary, even President Chavez’s supporters are “uncomfortable” with him. The firm’s “research,” according to Feirstein, “shows that Chávez is misinterpreting his mandate.”

The Post sort of forgets to note that the firm is getting paid bucketloads of money from the Venezuelan opposition to push this idea in the press. IMHO, it’s worth a mention.

PS: Seriously, about Netflix. It's available. Queue it. The trailer is above.

Back When Dems Were Dems

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Ah the 70s. The drugs, the hedonism, the Congressional oversight.

Here’s a blast from our groovy past. Not too too long ago, there was a democratically elected left-wing government in Latin America. The comically sinister US administration at the time engaged in a years-long propaganda war to make the local and international elites believe that in reality, the country was not democratic at all. That it meant to destroy democratic institutions, to curtail press freedom, to threaten democracy-lovers everywhere. To promote this harebrained idea, your tax dollars were used to manufactured violence, pay off reporters, and set up phony NGOs.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, but here’s the difference: Congress got pissed off about it, launched a comprehensive investigation, and exposed all the crazy inter-agency shenanigans that brought down Salvador Allende and installed that democracy hugging daisy twirler, Augusto Pinochet. Here it is, in all its glory: the Church Report. A fun/scary read that may just renew your faith in checks and balances.

So where are today’s stand-up Senate lefties on Venezuela? Well, they ain’t reserving hearing chambers, that’s for sure. Sen. Pat Leahy, a guy who wouldn’t know Maracaibo from Machu Picchu, openly frets today about leftists In Our Back Yard:

Any leader who tries to tighten his grip on power by destroying the institutions of democracy, curtailing press freedom and using his office to intimidate pro-democracy opponents is setting in motion a dangerous process with potentially ominous consequences.

Thanks, Pat. Dig deeper. Sorta makes you all sappy-nostalgic for the good old days.

Be Afraid

From the AP:

President Bush said Wednesday that he's "concerned about the Venezuelan people."

"I am concerned about the undermining of democratic institutions. And we're working to help prevent that from happening," Bush said in an interview with Fox News.

Celebrity Death Match: Bush Administration

But!

. . .the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, said the law isn't an issue for the United States.

``The enabling law isn't anything new in Venezuela. It's something valid under the constitution,'' Tom Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Colombia.

``As with any tool of democracy, it depends how it is used,'' he added. ``At the end of the day, it's not a question for the United States or for other countries, but for Venezuela.''


In an unprecedented lapse of sanity a Bush Administration official speaks truth to power in a statement that conflicts directly with that of his boss. Only one will survive.

About January 2007

This page contains all entries posted to BoRev.Net in January 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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