Venezuela

Wild-eyed theory of the week

This just had to be transcripted. From North Carolina Representative Sue Myrick:

Here we are with a pourous border, not really paying attention to who’s coming over, what’s happening with Iran and Hugo Chávez and Venezuela. We know that there are people going to Venezuela, learning Spanish, and then coming up through Mexico with fake documents, trying to cross the border. If they’re stopped they say, I’m Mexican. You know. Or Spanish. The point is, a border agent who really knows the difference in their language can tell that they aren’t Mexican, and so it’s very difficult if those agents aren’t really trained in linguistics to know that. And they get across.

Ah yes, the ol’ learn-Spanish-in-Venezuela-then-pretend-you’re-Mexican-or-Spanish trick. Really a shame the US public education system can’t get the next generation of border guards past the Me gusta el pollo stage.

How long, O Lord, until North Carolina sloughs off into the Atlantic?

Also posted in Human Rights, Mexico, Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Astroturf image of the week

In his latest bid to sow conflict in order to direct attention away from the country’s real problems while eroding other non-Chávez power bases, Chávez is going after the Catholic Church. Allegedly, El Pueblo is behind him:

Far be it from me to stick up for the Catholic Church for any reason, but if those signs were really drawn by the people holding them, then I’m a child-diddling archbishop.

Check out the script on that “es.” Elegant!

Of course, civil society organizations staging demonstrations hand out pre-drawn placards all the time. I believe such a practice is less common among sitting governments, with the possible historical exception of the PRI, which is maybe not the first thing an aspiring democrat would want to be compared to.

The most disappointing part is that, were those signs actually drawn up by El Pueblo, they would be way more entertaining.

Also posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Bank tweeters arrested

In an interesting development in Venezuela, the CICPC (equivalent, I think, to the FBI) has made its first arrest of Twitter users: Two people who the agency says tweeted rumors with the intent to destabilize the banking sector by causing a run on banks.

According to a press release, CICPC director Wilmer Flores said:

False rumors on social networks are clearly punished in Article 448 of the banking law. This means that anyone who spreads malevolent rumors via any means, e-mail, text messages from cellular phones, through Twitter, Facebook, or any other technological tool, with their own voice or through any other means of communication is committing a crime and must answer to the relevant authorities.

Noticias24 ran down one of the allegedly felonious tweets, from one Luis Enrique Acosta Oxford, which said, “People, so you can’t say I didn’t warn you, pull your money out of BANESCO today, there aren’t many days left.”

I know, rumors on Twitter. Can you believe it?

This tweet was from June 30, a couple weeks after the government took over (deservedly) Banco Federal, intensifying an already tense situation after the take-over of about a dozen other small and medium-sized banks late last year.

Malicious speech isn’t protected anywhere in the world, and people should learn that applies to Twitter as well. But if you need a special law to protect your banking system’s solvency from the effects of rumors, perhaps the real problem lies elsewhere.

Also posted in Economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

‘ta barrato, dame 600k toneladas

An article in El Nacional puts a nice little bow on Venezuela’s ongoing rotting food scandal, in which a government importer left about 122,000 tons of foodstuffs to spoil in containers at Puerto Cabello. From the article:

The Productora y Distribuidora Venezolana de Alimentos, Pdval, imported 597,000 tons of foodstuffs in 2008. The amount is triple its distribution capacity (191,000) and almost quadruple the sales made that year (122,000 tons) according to a management report from the company dated June 2010.

Importing three times as much perishable inventory as you have the capacity to distribute does indeed have a predictable, stinky outcome.

I’m not sure why the report examines numbers from the end of 2008, but it’s probably still a decent illustration of how the government was doing business, which is not unlike the legendary way Venezuelans have always done business when possessed of a huge pile of oil cash: ‘ta barrato. Dame dos.

I suppose I don’t need to mention that you won’t have any food rotting in any ports if you produce it locally, but there, I just did.

Also posted in Economy, Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Playtime

A somewhat hilarious AP article out today profiles Chávez’ efforts to arm and train some kind of civilian militia force. Frankly, it sounds like a rip-roaring good time: Take a few days off work (unless you weren’t doing anything anyway), play army with real guns, blow things up, etc.

I have family members who do this on weekends, and have at times participated. I can vouch for the entertainment value.

But Noticias24 has gotten its panties in a twist over the fact that the drill sergeants encourage their recruits to “kill those gringos!” This brings up an interesting question that several people have asked me in the last few weeks: Do Venezuelans hate Americans?

I’ve only traveled in Venezuela three times, so my experience is somewhat limited. But what I’ve seen is that while the president of Venezuela talks a lot of smack, Venezuelans still watch baseball and drive American cars and take shopping trips to Miami and sell most of their oil to the United States. They will not hesitate to give you a piece of their minds, but they will also buy you a wijky and invite you home to meet the family.

Probably their essential Caribbeanness has something to do with it.

But also, the thing is, to hate people from another culture, it helps to have been personally hurt by that culture in some way. All the macroeconomics, international politics, and military strategy that Chávez alludes to in his lengthy Sunday ramblings are perhaps outrageous, but abstractly so for your average Venezuelan.

In my experience, you’re much more likely to get hated on for your gringoness in Nicaragua or Mexico, where direct interaction with norteamericanos has often been distinctly unpleasant. In contrast, for many decades Venezuelans got employment, training, an improved standard of living, and some pretty decent-sized piles of oil cash from their contact with the gringos.

So if you want to see real gut-level gringo-hating in Venezuela, I think you’ll have to wait till US Marines are camped out in Miraflores and drawing mustaches on the Bolivar portraits. Until then, it’s just a game.

Also posted in History, Politics, Travel | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Chávez tweets UPDATED

Hugo Chávez now has a Twitter account: @chavezcandanga, which roughly translates to “Chávez candanga.” That is to say, if you think you can translate candanga, please, give it a shot. As far as the Venezuelan executive’s eloquent use of Venezuelan slang in an official capacity, it’s reminiscent of the “vergatario:”


Anyway, all trips down memory lane aside, @chavezcandanga now has 14,000 followers and counting. Chávez has said he has a “team” of people working his Twitter, and to watch to see what happens as of midnight. As of before midnight, he has twitted no tweets.

UPDATE: The feed is live. Here is Chávez’ very first tweet. We will bring you more updates on this gripping  new development, like, pretty much never.

Also posted in Odd, Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Untethering

Everyone seems to agree that the economies of Latin America are experiencing a nice little recovery. The IMF, for example, just raised its forecasts for the region and is now projecting 4.1% GDP growth for the region, with 4.2% growth for Mexico and 5.5% for Brazil. Oh boy, numbers.

But here’s something interesting.

In an analysis of the region’s sovereign debt prospects (PDF), Fitch Ratings divides the region’s economies into three “camps.” One camp includes countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, whose recovery will be slower than that of the rest of the world for reasons that should surprise no one (high inflation, weak institutions, poor fiscal discipline, if you must know).

In a second camp are countries like Chile, Peru, and Brazil, whose good fiscal discipline, low political risk, and safe investment environments mean their economies will be growing like weeds this year and next.

Then we have the middle camp, which is basically countries that cast their development lot with the United States: Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador. And here’s the interesting part. Fitch projects this group will see only a moderately-paced recovery specifically because they’re tied to the US.

Meanwhile, Fitch says the Chile/Peru/Brazil group is doing particularly well partly because it does more business with China.

So I ask you: At what other point in recent history has easy access and close ties to the US economy been seen as a disadvantage?

(Original image courtesy H. Langos via Wikimedia Commons.)

Also posted in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Economy, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru | Tagged | Leave a comment

The curious case of the Ice Cream Spies


Enforcement of the law in Venezuela is highly selective these days, so when a well-publicized arrest takes place, there’s usually some reason. In the latest international tiff between Venezuela and Colombia, Venezuelan law enforcement arrested eight Colombian residents for taking pictures of power lines and transformers. The eight were owners and employees of an ice cream factory in Chávez’ home state of Barinas.

The question is, why were they really arrested?

Today, El Tiempo has published a long and generally interesting article on the Ice Cream Spies. One detail in particular stuck out:

The news of the Colombians’ arrest fell like a bomb on the village of Barinitas (about 40,000 residents, half an hour from Barinas, where the Giraldo family has lived for 11 years), and not only because they are widely recognized as working people dedicated to their ice cream factory, ‘Maky Helados.’

People were also surprised because the Giraldo family is close to the ‘revolutionary process’ and friends with Narciso, the brother of President Hugo Chávez. They helped him in promoting the candidacy of the current mayor of Barinitas, Ana Lucía de Cartier, a member of the ruling party.

Did the Colombians somehow cross the Chávez family, which rules Barinas like a fiefdom? It wouldn’t be the first time a former ally got thrown under the bus. Another more quotidian yet plausible explanation is that Chávez is using that time-honored trick of nationalist autocrats everywhere, Blame Your Problems On The Other.

Colombians are to Venezuela as the Mexicans are the United States or the Haitians are to the Dominican Republic or the Nicaraguans are to Costa Rica or the Guatemalans are to Mexico: The low immigrants on the totem pole. You can always lambaste them in public to direct attention away from your leadership failures and whip up a few extra votes.

Hence the hilarious accusations of not only espionage, but sabotage. So far, the Colombians haven’t even been charged with anything, though Venezuela’s head of state is already working to convict them in the court of public opinion.

Good luck getting a fair trial.

Also posted in Colombia, Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

More fear than greed

Miguel at The Devil’s Excrement has posted a great piece on Venezuelan bond prices and how they stack up to the rest of the developing world. During last year’s financial crisis, lots of money flooded into developing market bonds, pushing their yields down. The one exception: Venezuela. Its 5-year dollar-denominated bonds are paying around 11%, while state oil company PdVSA is paying a whopping 14%.

For the sake of comparison, Colombian 5-year debt yields 4.28%.

The truth is that PDVSA is yielding roughly ten times more (10x) than Brazil until 2015. Investors are saying they have no fear in buying Brazilian bonds at 1.2% until 2012, but they are worried (really worried!) with PDVSA bonds which yield 10.35% if you keep them for the next 16 months. Whatever their reasons, these investors are agreeing with Morgan Stanley, there may be a cash crunch in foreign currency and Chavez may decide to tell investors to bag it.

Of course, this is just what the market says, and markets often turn out to be a high-tech equivalent of 5-year-olds playing soccer. A 10.35% yield on debt from a major international oil company with exclusive access to some of the largest reserves in the world is hella good.

Miguel says he actually owns PdVSA debt. Something to think about.

Also posted in Economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Venezuela may be forced to dip into its savings or issue debt as early as this year, as falling oil output and steady crude prices mean the country is running out of cash, according to a report from Morgan Stanley. Output has fallen to 2.2 million barrels a day from 3.7 million barrels a day over the last 13 years. [link]

Also posted in Economy, Side notes | Leave a comment
  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]