May 26, 2015, 10:50 A.M. ET Venezuela Running ‘On Fumes’ As Bolivar Weakens By Dimitra DeFotis
Even though Venezuela tapped the International Monetary Fund in recent weeks to keep itself afloat, shoring up its currency is another matter.
The low price of oil has crushed the energy exporter’s budget. Russ Dallen, who contributes to a newsletter for investors, and writes about Latin America, writes today that “Venezuela’s situation continues to unravel at increasing speed as the bolivar tumbled 30% over just the last week, while the country’s international reserves simultaneously hit a new 12-year low, closing at $17.5 billion.” He says the weak currency and decline in reserves means the country is “essentially running on fumes.” He writes:
“Venezuela’s reserves have now fallen 21% since the beginning of the year, but more importantly $6.7 billion from their high just 2 months ago – a high that not only included $2.8 billion from mortgaging Citgo, $1.9 billion from the selling of $4 billion of oil receivables from the Dominican Republic, and the transfer of previously unreported China Fonden funds into the reserves.”
By tapping roughly $385 million in “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) from the International Monetary Fund in recent weeks, for the first time in years, Venezuela has more financial liquidity and may have reduced its 2015 debt default risk. See our recent post on the subject: ”Venezuela Default Still Possible Despite IMF Money, Moody’s Says.”
Dallen et al explain SDRs in their weekly newsletter.
“The IMF created SDRs as an international reserve asset in 1969 to supplement all members’ reserves. Members are allowed to count the SDRs as part of their reserves and Venezuela is able to borrow those assets at an extremely favorable rate of interest (currently 0.05%, which frankly is much better than the over 30% that Venezuela is paying on some of its bonds). In 2009 as countries around the world were reeling from the worldwide economic crisis, the IMF decided to provide member nations a total of $250 billion in SDRs to shore up international liquidity. At that time, the IMF gave Venezuela 2.543 billion SDRs, which works out to about $3.578 billion in U.S. dollars (The SDR value floats against a basket of the U.S. dollar, the yen, the euro, and the pound, with one U.S. dollar currently worth 0.710769 SDR). Thus, the 276.6 million in SDR chips that Venezuela borrowed last month is worth approximately $385 million.”
Also see our September 2014 post, “Will Venezuela Default? Ask Hedge Funds” and this recent post: “Cheap Oil & Emerging Markets: India, Turkey Win; Venezuela Most At Risk.“
The iShares Latin America 40 ETF (ILF) is down 1.6% today. The leveraged Direxion Daily Latin America Bull 3X Shares ETF (LBJ) is down 4.3%. The iShares JPMorgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF (EMB) is down nearly 0.3%, while the Western Asset Emerging Markets Debt Fund (ESD), a closed-end fund, was down 0.1% in recent trading.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, is among those being investigated by the United States on drug trafficking allegations. See the WSJ story, “Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub.”
The first thing to know is how and why Maduro came to power. My background as a management consultant helped me figure out local power structures. Often owners trust certain people more than they trust checks and balances which results in trusted but not necessarily competent people in key posts. I saw it often in business.
Maduro was the most harmless lackey Chavez could find to fill the post of vice president. When Chavez died Maduro took his place. For the next election there was a lot of strange maneuvering, probably some of it illegal, to make Maduro the official candidate. During the campaign I heard loyal Chavistas declare that Maduro would be a total failure. Maduro is imitating Chavez but he does not have his organizing skills. In any case, it is hard to know where power really sits, most likely in Havana. But while Cuba is opening up the the US, Maduro is sticking with anti-imperialism as his political motif.
The other thing to consider is that drug running is big business which does not benefit the country but it sure enriches the drug barons. These are the people running the country. The US would be a big help in defusing the world's problems if they abandoned the totally useless, worse, counterproductive, war on drugs.
The next election coming up is for the National Assembly and it's supposed to be this year but the dates have not been announced. The consensus is for the opposition to win a majority but my prediction is the opposite, not based on the vote count but on fraud. In any case, amazing as it may seem, Chavismo still has a lot of popular support because the official propaganda has been able to pin the failure on capitalist greed. If economists don't understand economics, what can you expect of ordinary people?
When exchange controls were introduced holding dollars or trading in dollars were made illegal, a move as stupid as banning drugs or alcohol in the USA. It does not work! Not even the Bank of England could protect the pound sterling against market forces, instead it made George Soros rich. Prohibition made the Mafia and Canadian distillers rich. The War on Drugs is making drug cartels, including Venezuelan officials, rich.
Because it did not work, the government set up bond trading schemes that effectively bypassed the bans. Until recently inflation/devaluation was held to around 30 to 35% annually but with the falling oil prices, rising dollar and Maduro's falling popularity (not that he ever was popular even with Chavistas), the bolivar has crumbled and there is nothing that the government can do about it.
I have long held that Venezuela's salvation was bankruptcy, the inability of government to buy votes. That is now coming to pass. The danger is that the uprising can be cruelly violent as was the case of the French Revolution.
Businesses quietly switch to dollar in socialist Venezuela Associated Press By HANNAH DREIER 18 hours ago
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — It's still possible to buy a gleaming Ford truck in Venezuela, rent a chic apartment in Caracas, and snag an American Airlines flight to Miami. Just not in the country's official currency.
As the South American nation spirals into economic chaos, an increasing number of products are not only figuratively out of the reach of average consumers, but literally cannot be purchased in Venezuelan bolivars, which fell into a tailspin on the black market last week.
Businesses and individuals are turning to dollars even as the anti-American rhetoric of the socialist administration grows more strident. It's a shift that's allowing parts of the economy to limp along despite a cash crunch and the world's highest inflation. But it could put some goods further out of reach of the working class, whose well-being has been the focal point of the country's 16-year-old socialist revolution.
The latest sign of an emerging dual-currency system came earlier this month when Ford Motor Co. union officials announced the company had reached a deal with officials to sell trucks and sports utility vehicles in dollars only.
A few weeks earlier, American Airlines said it had stopped accepting bolivars for any of its 19 weekly flights out of Venezuela. Customers must now use a foreign credit card to buy the tickets online. Virtually all other foreign carriers have made the same switch with the government's consent, according to the Venezuela Airlines Association.
Driving the shift is the crumbling value of the bolivar, which has lost more than half its value this year, plunging to 400 per dollar on the free market as Venezuelans scramble to convert their savings into a more stable currency. Desperate, people are selling bolivars for a rate 60 times weaker than the strongest of country's three official exchange rates.
It's a politically uncomfortable situation for President Nicolas Maduro, who regularly leads chants of "gringo go home" and says currency speculation is one of the main tools used by enemies to try to sow chaos and force him from power.
It's not just businesses chasing greenbacks. Real estate contracts are still drafted in bolivars to satisfy a requirement imposed by late President Hugo Chavez, but in upscale neighborhoods most owners operate outside the law and sell and rent in dollars only. A group of realtors in tony eastern Caracas has established a password-protected website for listings in dollar prices.
Analysts say the administration likely sees a limited dollarization as the only way to prevent multinationals from leaving the county altogether, as Clorox did last year, citing problems brought about by decade-old currency controls, supply shortages and inflation that hit 68 percent last year, and economists believe is now well into the triple digits.
Production at Ford has fallen by 90 percent as the company struggles to gain access to dollars needed to import parts. Customers will now transfer Ford dollars in advance to pay for the import of the parts needed to assemble the cars in Venezuela, according to union officials.
Foreign airlines made their switch to dollars after the government refused to let them convert and repatriate $4 billion in ticket sales held in the country.
Meanwhile, inflation is racing so fast that ATMs have failed to keep pace. Many deliver a maximum of just $1.50 worth of bolivars per transaction. Some shoppers stay away from cash altogether, according to reports in local media, leaning more heavily on credit cards so they can pay for purchases later, when they'll cost less in dollar terms thanks to inflation.
Decade-old price controls make staple items ridiculously cheap for all Venezuelans. A bottle of vegetable oil costs 20 cents at the black market rate, a package of rice costs half that, and a sack of sugar costs even less.
Still, many working-class Venezuelans are looking for ways to accumulate their own stockpile of the U.S. currency by offering services to wealthy or foreign clients.
"It's the only way we can try to stay ahead," said one gym teacher who supplements his $25 a month salary by offering personal training to clients who can pay in dollars. The teacher, who asked that his name not be used to protect his safety, keeps his bills hidden around his home until a friend or obliging client can deposit them in his Miami bank account.
The move toward currency substitution doesn't sit well with hardcore government supporters, many of whom cut their political teeth listening to Chavez's tirades against the "dictatorship of the dollar."
"How is it possible that in the face of the U.S. effort to sabotage the revolution, we are allowing transnational companies to conduct business with the imperialist dollar in our country?" wrote Omar Hernandez, an engineer who works for Chavista community programs, on the influential pro-government website Aporrea.
But outside economists say Maduro would be wise to embrace the dollar outright.
Steve Hanke, a Johns Hopkins University economist who has long advised governments facing currency crises, says replacing the bolivar with the dollar would nip Venezuela's inflation problem almost overnight and become an anchor of economic stability, though it could also force austerity measures. He points to the example of Maduro ally Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who has railed against the U.S. during his eight years in office but has so far shown no desire to bring back the old national currency, which the country did away with in favor of the dollar.
At the Ford factory, workers are optimistic that the new deal will save their jobs, according to union leader Gerardo Troya. In fact, they have an idea for more dollarization: They'd like to be paid in U.S. currency now too, starting at $8 a day.
¿Por qué sube el dólar paralelo cada 4 horas? Luis Vicente León lo explica en este análisis DolarToday / May 22, 2015 @ 8:30 am
“No reconocen errores. No anuncian ajustes racionales. Se deteriora la confianza. No hay divisas. ¿Qué esperabas que pasara en el paralelo?”, publica Panorama
Con esta exclamación comenzó su análisis el presidente de Datanálisis, Luis Vicente León, este viernes a través de su cuenta en twitter @luisvicenteleon a propósito del comportamiento experimentado por el dólar paralelo que la tarde de este jueves 21 de mayo sobrepasó los 400 bolívares por dólar.
“El precio del dólar paralelo es simplemente el que los compradores estén dispuestos a pagar y los vendedores a vender. Lo demás es paja”, afirmó tajante.
“Es cierto que en un mercado ilegal sin referentes formales hay espacios a la manipulación. Pero ese es el condimento no el plato principal (…) Si hubiera un mercado estable, con oferta suficiente y confianza, nadie pudiera manipular los precios por internet. Pero ese no es el caso (…) El problema no es la información, sino la distorsión cambiaría y la desconfianza causada por controles, falta de ajuste y caída de divisas”, subrayó.
“Nadie puede fijar un precio loco y que la gente lo siga a menos que ellos también estén enloquecidos por la situación de riesgo que perciben (…) Obvio que el mercado está manipulable, pero plantear que el problema son las páginas web y no el desastre económico falta respeto a la inteligencia”, recalcó León.
Aseguró que: “Sube el mercado negro porque no hay confianza en las autoridades monetarias y por ende en el bolívar como reserva de valor (…) Sube el paralelo porque las asignaciones oficiales cayeron dramáticamente y los tenedores de bolívares buscan cambiarlos a cualquier precio”.
También sube el dólar paralelo, agregó León, “porque el mercado percibe que el gobierno está perdido en relación a las medidas necesarias para rescatar equilibrios, porque los vendedores no quieren vender hoy pensando que subirá más mañana, porque los rumores de medidas económicas son aún peores que las actuales en términos de control”.
Dijo además que “los precios en Bolívares son incontenibles y pulverizan el valor de la moneda”, haciendo que se dispare el mercado paralelo.
“Sube el dólar negro porque cuando la gente no consigue lo que busca se pone nerviosa y está dispuesta a pagar lo que sea (…) Esta vaina no se resuelve hablando paja ni cerrando páginas web, ni metiendo gente presa. Se resuelve rescatando la racionalidad perdida”, insistió.
“No hay ninguna sorpresa con lo que esta pasando. Controlas, amenazas, no ajustas y se te cae el ingreso. ¿Qué esperabas que ocurriera?”, afirmó el presidente de Datanálisis en alusión al Gobierno.
“El enloquecimiento del mercado negro es ¿debido a una manipulación o al modelo económico primitivo? Ambas”, dijo “ y a la caída de ingresos petroleros, pero para los ‘linealpensantes’ de ambos lados un fenómeno multifactorial es demasiado”.
El especialista remató su análisis afirmando que “si el gobierno no toma medidas urgentes de ajuste cambiario racional, el país va como una locomotora a cuatro dígitos de inflación en 2016”.
El dólar en el mercado negro en Venezuela se disparó 66% en los últimos 8 días y superó este jueves la marca de los 400 bolívares, equivalente a casi 64 veces la tasa oficial más baja dentro del control de cambio, indicó una reseña de AFP.
La divisa estadounidense se cotizaba ayer 21 de mayo a 402 bolívares, contra 301,93 el 13 de mayo: un alza de 66%.
En mayo de 2014 el precio del dólar paralelo era de 71 bolívares, lo que implica un salto de 466%. Frente a esta distorsión el gobierno del presidente venezolano, Nicolás Maduro, creó en febrero pasado un nuevo esquema cambiario denominado Sistema Marginal de Divisas (Simadi), que afirmaba “derrotaría” al mercado negro.
No obstante el Simadi, que cerró este jueves en un precio de 199,73 bolívares por dólar, ha sido cuestionado, pues según consultoras privadas entrega muy pocas divisas, lo que no ha permitido resolver las deudas comerciales de miles de millones de dólares que acumula Venezuela desde 2012 con proveedores internacionales.
The rate at which the bolivar is falling is unprecedented. Today the parallel market is quoted at Bs 423.39 to the dollar is down in just a week from 285 or so. That's a 33% drop in a week or ten days. This is getting really scary!
Currency tumbles as Venezuelans look to offload bolivars Associated Press By HANNAH DREIER 3 hours ago
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A staggering plunge in the free market value of Venezuelan currency sent people scrambling to sell off their depreciating bolivars Friday.
The widely followed website DolarToday, which tracks exchanges along the Colombian border, reported that the South American country's currency lost a quarter of its value over the last eight days.
The site's app has become so ubiquitous that everyone in smartphone-obsessed Caracas seemed to find out about the crash through 400 to the dollar at the same instant, as DolarToday sent out a series of alerts announcing the new numbers under the headline "hyperinflation!"
Venezuelan currency was trading at 415 bolivars per dollar Friday, according to the site. That's down from 300 bolivars per dollar on May 14. It stood at 173 when the year started.
While many black market dealers paused transactions until the rate stabilizes, some Venezuelans said they had changed money at the 400 bolivar rate Friday.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the sudden drop, though a Barclay Capital Inc. report issued Friday described the underlying cause as government expansion of the money supply.
"We do not see any signal of change from the authorities but these risks should make them reconsider their policies," it said.
Barclays projected the Bolivar could dip as low as 600 to the dollar this year.
The administration of President Nicolas Maduro keeps tight control over the legal exchange of bolivars, using a byzantine three-tier system. It is meant to subsidize crucial imports, but has led to widespread corruption and speculation.
The strongest rate is 6.3 bolivars per dollar. The weakest official rate, which was billed as an alternative to the black market when it was rolled out earlier their year, has inched up to 200 bolivars per dollar. The fact many are willing to pay double that price for black-market dollars indicates the supply is limited.
The Maduro administration has been hoarding dollars as it grapples with falling oil prices. That has contributed to shortages and other economic distortions.
DolarToday is openly hostile to the socialist government and carries news stories attacking it. But the site insists its exchange rate reports are based on actual trades at exchange houses on the Colombian side of the border and are not manipulated to undercut the government.
In April, Maduro repeated his assertion that the site's shadowy managers, whose identities are not public, are collaborating with the speculators and opposition leaders he blames for the country's problems. He accused them of purposely sowing chaos and promised to have them arrested.
"We're going to put those people at DolarToday who are waging an economic war against Venezuela behind bars, sooner rather than later" he said.
The site, which is sometimes blocked within Venezuela, responded with a cheeky video documenting its popularity set to the club hit "Turn Down for What."
Defying U.S., Cuba stands by Venezuela on eve of regional summit Reuters By Nelson Acosta 38 minutes ago
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Wednesday it would remain steadfast by Venezuela even as it seeks to improve ties with the United States, criticizing Washington's Venezuela policy before a summit meeting where the U.S. and Cuban leaders will meet face-to-face.
Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel chastised Washington over its decision last month to declare Venezuela a national security threat and order sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials.
"Nobody could think that in a process of re-establishing relations, which we're trying to move forward on with the United States, Cuban support for Venezuela could be made conditional," Diaz-Canel, the heir apparent to Cuban President Raul Castro, told reporters in Havana.
"If they attack Venezuela, they're attacking Cuba. And Cuba will always be on Venezuela's side above all things," he said.
Under late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, Venezuela became Cuba's closest ally and its most important benefactor.
When Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced in December that the longtime enemies would restore full diplomatic relations and seek to improve trade, the move was widely applauded by Latin American governments.
But the praise of Obama's policy shift was tempered when the United States imposed the Venezuela sanctions on May 9, and the controversy now hangs over the Summit of the Americas in Panama this week.
Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. government has tried to persuade Latin American leaders that declaring Venezuela a security threat was a prerequisite for the sanctions, not a signal of U.S. aggression.
"The wording ... is completely pro forma," Ben Rhodes, a national security advisor to Obama, told reporters on Tuesday. "This is a language that we use in executive orders around the world. So the United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security."
Thomas Shannon, a top aide to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was in Caracas on Wednesday to meet with senior Venezuelan leaders in an effort to ease tensions.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray)
A diferencia de los líderes de oposición anteriores, Leopoldo Lopez no huyó cuando iba a ser detenido, se entregó voluntariamente. En la calle la gente de todas las clases sociales sienten el descontento pero no ven la salida. Recuerden que los cubanos tienen mas de 50 años de estar presos en el socialismo Castro-comunista. No es fácil salir de una tiranía armada.
[EN VIVO] Leopoldo Lopez en entrevista telefónica con Fernando del Rincon por CNN
Nicolás Maduro fue humillado en Rusia al ser recibido por un funcionario de tercer rango de la administración de Putin, el vicecanciller de la Federación Rusa, Sergey Alexeevich Ryabkov.
A pesar de la humillación recibida, Maduro expresó “su solidaridad al gobierno del Presidente Putin ante pretensión desestabilizadora de EEUU”, refirió la ministra.
La ministra para la Comunicación y la Información, Jacqueline Faría, informó que esta visita del jefe de Estado venezolano a Rusia constituye un destino previo a una gira internacional de trabajo que lo llevará a China y a naciones de la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (Opep).
“Parada técnica en Moscú en el Inicio de esta gira presidencial por China, Arabia Saudita, Irán y Argelia”, escribió en su cuenta @JacquelinePSUV, en la que además publicó fotos del encuentro, en las que se aprecia que participan en la reunión el ministro para Economía, Finanzas y Banca Pública, Rodolfo Marco Torres, y la canciller Delcy Rodríguez.
Maduro inició este domingo su viaje hacia la República Popular China, para afianzar las relaciones bilaterales de cooperación de carácter diplomático, económico y comercial con esta nación.
Durante su visita al país asiático, Maduro sostendrá una reunión con el presidente Xi Jinping y además participará en el primer foro ministerial China-Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Celac) que sesionará el 8 y 9 de enero, en Beijing.
Posteriormente, realizará una gira por países que integran la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (Opep), con el propósito de abordar el tema de la baja de precios del crudo.
African saying: When elephants fight the grass gets trampled. At the OPEC meeting Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies carried the day.
Nicholas Maduro is a bus driver and you can expect bus driver wisdom from him.
Oil prices are set at the margin but that is not the price at which the bulk of oil is sold. Spot is the speculators' price. Most real buyers and sellers have hedged their trades. Notice that the Fox article correctly talks about average selling price.
The Daily Caller article is a political commentator doing his job, speculating on worst case scenarios.
The power play: The purpose of cartels is to exert control, in the case of OPEC to control oil prices. The power to do so comes from the capacity to flood the market. For decades the Saudi's had that power specially with full OPEC backing. Iran is an OPEC member but Russia is not. For all practical purposes, while an important player, Russia is not and has not been a key player. That role belonged to OPEC and within OPEC to Saudi Arabia. I use the past tense because fracking upset the equilibrium.
On a side note: I have been advocating American energy independence for years and when fracking came online I predicted both the recovery of the American economy and a lessening of the power of the oil exporters (without predicting any details). When everyone was predicting the demise of the US dollar, my position was that if the dollar failed the whole world would plunge into chaos (for a while). I also commented that trying to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency would have dire consequences. Saddam Hussein wanted to sell oil in euros, he ended, soon after, hung. Coincidence? Maybe.
The current situation, as I see it, is that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni OPEC allies are trying to give US frackers a "good sweating" to use a Rockefeller phrase. It is important to note that while the Arab oil producers are monarchies the US producers operate in a free market where collusion is illegal. It's not equal combat, the Arabs stand as a block, the Americans as a swarm. the outcome will be interesting! In any case, Russia and Venezuela are bit players of little consequence despite their large output. Should the Arabs win, the situation goes back to the previous state. Should the Arab "good sweating" fail, it will be the US frackers, turn to give the Arabs a "good sweating." That could break OPEC's power. I'm not making any predictions except to say that in price wars the "arms suppliers" and the consumers are the beneficiaries. Economists will worry about deflation but it is good deflation.
The question was about Venezuela.
First, during Chavismo Venezuela has not received the full price for its oil. The discounts and special deals with Cuba and PetroCaribe to buy international votes is well known. What special concessions the Chinese got is less well known. Chavismo has a slogan: "Venezuela es de todos" referring to the oligarchy. In truth now "Venezuela es de los nica, de los cubanos y de todos los amigos del chavismo."
Second, at the current black market exchange rate it costs 3 US cents to fill the tank of my Toyota Corolla, tip included. Some Chavista factions wanted to raise the price of gas as part of the crisis management. Maduro nixed it. He is a bus driver, not an economist.
Third, from Black Friday, February 18, 1983, to Maduro, the bolivar/dollar exchange rate increase by 30 to 35% annually. Over the past 5 or 6 months it doubled! Inflation is presumably running at 70%.
A Short Note On My Hyperinflated Arepa Index
Two weeks ago, as I left Caracas on Nov. 22nd. to be precise, I wrote about the cost of a breakfast which I found expensive for Venezuelans, which included cheese arepas. As I returned to Caracas two short weeks later, I went to have a single cheese arepa at the same place. Imagine my surprise when I found that the Bs. 120 cheese arepa of fifteen days ago, now costs Bs. 156.
That is a 30% increase in two weeks. A year ago I would eat two for Bs. 120.
Thus, I will keep reporting on the hyperinflated arepa in the future.
Fourth, in Chavista ideology, small farmers are good while industrialists (capitalists) are bad. This has consequences. Fresh fruit and farm produce including fresh eggs are abundantly available but packaged good are not, specially price controlled ones. While rice is price controlled and nowhere to be seen but you can buy parboiled or flavored varieties at several times the controlled price. Pasta you can generally find both price controlled and market priced varieties. Price controlled cleaning products are scarce and there are no "fancy" ones. But you can buy them from scalpers (black market) at four times the controlled price.
All sorts of things appear and disappear: toilette paper, car batteries, roasted coffee, medicines, spare parts as price controls and dollar availability cause scarcity and crisis management by Maduro temporarily solves the problems.
Fifth, The above is what you can see on the street. What happens inside Chavismo and the balance of powers in government I'm not privy to. But you get some glances: A drug dealer is named ambassador or something to Aruba, the US tries to get him but the Dutch let him go home.
Netherlands Says Venezuelan Detained in Aruba Has Immunity
Since then Carvajal has dropped out of the news. On to the next crisis.
Cuba and North Korea are just two example that show that economic collapse does not mean the government must fall, that depends on the ruthlessness of the government. I have often said that Venezuela is a democracy by the consent of the military. The military is entrenched in Venezuela and they are given free rain to run drugs or any other money making scheme or scam. That was partly the basis of Hugo's hold on power.
Venezuela has a serious cash flow problem which will be made worse by the falling oil prices. Maduro's envoy to China begging for more loans was sent packing. In fact, the Chinese are pissed off that Venezuela is giving other loans preference over the Chinese debt. Venezuela started selling PetroCaribe bonds to Goldman Sachs at half par value. But with a bus driver in charge, who can tell what foolishness will follow?
Anoche estuve pensando en el escrito de Paulina Gamus, como dicen, lo consulté con la almohada. Es conveniente conocer algo sobre Paulina. Ella fue parlamentaria por Acción Democrática (AD), uno de los dos partidos que gobernó del 58 al 98. AD es un partido de centro izquierda generalmente conocidos como "social demócratas." El otro partido, COPEI, es o era "social cristiano." Francamente, hay poca diferencia ideológica entre los dos. El hecho es que Paulina necesariamente ve a los socialistas como redentores como quizá lo fueron en su inicio.
Si conozco la historia, los anarquistas fueron los precursores de los socialistas. Como cosa curiosa, en sus inicios, aunque Ud. no lo crea, tenían ideas algo similares a las de Ayn Rand. El individualismo anarquista no sobrevivió y dio paso al colectivismo (el principio del fin de una buena ideología). Luego el colectivismo voluntario dio paso al colectivismo obligado en buena parte impulsado por Karl Marx. De allí a la dictadura de partido y al totalitarismo fueron pasos sencillos. Lo que sucedió con el socialismo es que demostró que no sirve para gobernar. La transformación china comenzada por Deng Xiaoping es admisión franca del fracaso que es el socialismo.
¿Los socialistas de hoy, serán de verdad idealistas o solamente ávidos del poder? Si Venezuela es una muestra, los allegados idealistas de Chávez lo fueron abandonando uno tras otro. Lo que quedó con él fue la lacra y la única ideología que Chávez jamás tuvo fue morir en "la silla," cosa que logró.
Paulina debe estarse comparando con los anarquistas idealistas y no con los "socialistas" reales como son.
Las derechas suelen ser más fáciles de reconocer al menos en Europa, donde no existe la actitud vergonzante de ciertos partidos políticos en América Latina PAULINA GAMUS 4 AGO 2014 - 04:35 CEST24
Los españoles utilizan el plural para referirse a las posturas políticas de izquierda y derecha, lo que viene al pelo para esta nota. Antes la gente era de una u otra corriente, ahora hay que hablar de izquierdas para poder englobar a un heterodoxo conjunto de así autodenominados, quienes asumen las más asombrosas identificaciones y solidaridades. Las derechas suelen ser más fáciles de reconocer al menos en Europa. Allá no existe la actitud vergonzante de ciertos partidos políticos en América Latina que se defienden con pasión cuando los acusan de ser derechistas. Ninguno, aunque lo parezca, quiere serlo. Y si lo es no quiere parecerlo.
Hace unos días un amigo me envió por correo electrónico el célebre Yo Acuso de Emile Zola. Releí no solo los alegatos que el escritor escribió y publicó en defensa del Capitán Alfred Dreyfus, un oficial judío acusado de traición a su patria francesa, sino también la historia de la tormenta política que vivió Francia a raíz del juicio amañado y la injusta condena al joven militar. Fue un hecho que conmocionó a la sociedad francesa durante doce años, desde 1894 a 1906. Aparece entonces la expresión despectiva “los intelectuales”(izquierdistas) que emplearon los antidreyfusards (Barrès, Drumont, León Daudet, Pierre Loti, Jules Verne...) contra los dreyfusards (Emile Zolá, Gide, Proust, Péguy, Mirbeau, Anatole France, Jarry, Claude Monet...).
Los antidreyfus eran de extrema derecha sin que les temblara el pulso y los defensores de la inocencia del capitán eran definitivamente socialistas y de izquierda aún con riesgo de sus vidas. La extrema derecha de entonces era ultranacionalista y chauvinista, con el antisemitismo como la fobia más protuberante. La izquierda, incluida la extrema, defendía con vehemencia los principios básicos de la democracia y los tan vapuleados postulados de la revolución francesa: libertad, igualdad y fraternidad.
Las definiciones continuaron muy claras con la aparición en escena del fascismo de Benito Mussolini y del nazismo de Adolfo Hitler. Los militantes de izquierda confrontaron ambos regímenes con sus ideologías y luchas. Muchos -no todos- abrazaron el comunismo soviético que parecía la contrapartida al nazifascismo. Pero cuando cayó la máscara siniestra del estalinismo, la mayoría de partidos y personas de izquierda se decidieron por el socialismo democrático y por la defensa genuina de los derechos humanos.
¿Es esto lo que ocurre hoy? ¿Qué significa en estos días ser de izquierdas? Comencemos por algo aberrante: Hugo Chávez Frías. Desde los inicios de su gobierno se autocalificó como izquierdista, se identificó con la revolución cubana y se convirtió en hijo putativo de Fidel Castro. Pero al mismo tiempo tuvo como asesor a Norberto Ceresole, un fascista argentino que le metió en la cabeza la trilogía caudillo, ejército, pueblo por la que padecemos hasta el día de hoy. Aunque el pueblo siempre estuvo ausente y ahora también el caudillo.
En el año 2000 Chávez visitó a Sadam Hussein, una especie de leproso en el contexto internacional. Le entregó la espada del Libertador a los sangrientos tiranos Robert Mugabe de Zimbabue y Muamar Gadafi de Libia y se hizo afectísimo de Alexander Lukashenko, el eterno dictador de Bielorrusia. Pero la tapa del frasco fue su fraterna relación con Mahmud Ahmadinejad, el fundamentalista iraní, quien venía cada dos por tres a visitar a su “hermano” Chávez y viceversa. Esas relaciones contra natura no fueron óbice para que partidos y figuras de Izquierdas en distintos países, consideraran a Chávez un camarada, un líder o mejor aún, un héroe.
¿Cuál fue el imán que atrajo tantas admiraciones hacia el dictador militar de Venezuela? Su antinorteamericanismo. Anti imperialismo no sería lo adecuado porque nos entregó en manos del imperialismo ultracapitalista chino al que Venezuela le debe hasta el modo de andar. Y es que en eso se han convertido las izquierdas, lo único que las define y las une es el odio hacia los Estados Unidos de Norte América. De esa manera se puede ser de izquierdas y ser aliado y admirador de las FARC, de un Stalin posmo como Vladimir Putin, del dictador sirio Bashar al-Asad, quien por el empeño de mantenerse en el poder ha provocado más de 200 mil muertes en su país, y de cualquier déspota genocida o fanático religioso que se proclame antinorteamericano.
Tratándose de Chávez cualquier desatino o exabrupto era natural y hasta lógico, pero uno esperaba que otros mandatarios de Sur América, hasta ahora respetuosos de la democracia, tuviesen una conducta coherente con sus orígenes. Por ejemplo ante conflictos internacionales como el que actualmente se desarrolla entre el ejército de Israel y el movimiento terrorista Hamás. No son el estado judío y Estados Unidos los únicos que califican a Hamás como terrorista, lo han hecho la Unión Europea, Canadá y Australia. Human Rights Watch y Amnistía Internacional han acusado a Hamás de crímenes contra la humanidad. Pero más allá de esos señalamientos, se sabe que Hamás tiene en su carta fundacional la destrucción de Israel y es además un movimiento fundamentalista islámico que discrimina y oprime a las mujeres, envenena con odio la mente de los niños y persigue la obligatoriedad universal de abrazar el Islam como religión. ¿Puede entenderse que tres presidentas mujeres como Cristina Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff y Michelle Bachelet condenen a Israel en su lucha contra el fanatismo terrorista de Hamás? ¿Tiene sentido que un socialista genuino como José Mujica, presidente de Uruguay, embista contra Israel -la única, democracia del Medio Oriente- para apoyar a un grupo fanático y violador de los derechos humanos como es Hamás? De Evo Morales mejor ni hablar pero ¿Ollanta Humala tenía también que plegarse a la moda de lo que ahora parece políticamente correcto que es condenar a Israel?
Por suerte para los venezolanos, cuyo gobierno ha promovido marchas y manifestaciones anti israelíes y cuyos medios de comunicación han desatado una campaña abiertamente antijudía, la población se ha mantenido ajena a esas incitaciones al odio. Las demostraciones públicas se han alimentado de la burocracia, ni la comunidad árabe que es numerosa, se ha dado por aludida. Y es que la hipocresía de Maduro y compañía hiere la vista de todos. Están acongojados por la muerte de niños y civiles palestinos cuando en Venezuela solo en los primeros siete meses de 2014, han sido asesinados más de 50 niños. En las protestas estudiantiles que comenzaron el 12 de febrero de este año fueron asesinados por los cuerpos de seguridad, 48 civiles y la delincuencia común, apenas en el mes de julio que acaba de terminar, segó la vida de 378 personas. En 2013, 123.000 venezolanos murieron de manera violenta y Venezuela no es un país en guerra. La compasión selectiva no es exclusividad del gobierno de Maduro, es una moda izquierdosa. Pero mirar la paja en el ojo ajeno si es una manera de esquivar la viga en el propio. Es el reino del revés.
Aruba releases Venezuelan diplomat sought by US Associated Press By JOSHUA GOODMAN and DAVID McFADDEN 22 minutes ago
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A former Venezuelan general detained in Aruba on U.S. drug charges was released by the Dutch Caribbean island and sent home Sunday night, authorities said.
Venezuela's government said Hugo Carvajal was flying to Caracas with Deputy Foreign Minister Calixto Ortega.
Earlier in the day, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua read parts of what he said was a letter from the Netherlands' ambassador in Caracas agreeing with Venezuela's position that Carvajal's detention violated international law because he had been sent to Aruba as Venezuela's consul and was carrying a diplomatic passport.
Authorities in Aruba had argued previously that Carvajal didn't have immunity from arrest because he had yet to be accredited by the Netherlands, which manages the foreign affairs of its former colony that sits off the coast of Venezuela.
But at a hastily called news conference in Aruba's capital, the island's justice minister said Carvajal was being let go under a decision Sunday by the Dutch government. Dowers said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans had decided Carvajal did have immunity but also declared him "persona non grata" — a term used by governments to remove foreign diplomats.
"The fact is that Mr. Carvajal was granted diplomatic immunity, but he is also considered persona non grata. He has to abandon our territory as soon as possible," Dowers told reporters at a news conference in Oranjestad that was streamed live on the Internet.
Aruba's justice minister and Chief Prosecutor Peter Blanken stressed that Carvajal had no accreditation to serve as a diplomat locally on the island so officials had decided to comply with the detention request from Washington based on an international treaty between the U.S. and the Dutch Kingdom.
"But that information changed today based on what Minister Timmermans of the Netherlands said. And Aruba has to follow instructions," Dowers said.
He said U.S. officials were "very disappointed" with the decision to free Carvajal.
Carvajal served for five years until 2009 as the late President Hugo Chavez's head of military intelligence. The two met in the early 1980s at the military academy in Caracas and later took up arms together in a failed 1992 coup that catapulted Chavez to fame and set the stage for his eventual rise to power.
His arrest Wednesday and possible extradition to the United States had threatened to further damage already fractious relations with Washington.
Carvajal was the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever arrested on a U.S. warrant. In 2008, he was one of three senior Venezuelan military officers blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly providing weapons and safe haven to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are classified a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. U.S. prosecutors have indicted all of the movement's top leadership, including senior commanders with whom Carvajal purportedly conspired, on charges of smuggling large amounts of cocaine.
Carvajal has denied any wrongdoing on those counts as well as charges unsealed this week in southern Florida that he was an associate of Wilber Varela, a major Colombian drug trafficker who was murdered in Venezuela in 2008.
The U.S. warrant has rallied supporters of Maduro's socialist government, who regularly accuse the United States of conspiring against it.
Maduro this week condemned Carvajal's arrest as a "kidnapping" orchestrated by the U.S., while Jaua on Sunday said the former general's only crime "is having defended the life of ex-president Chavez during 15 years."
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman reported this story in Bogota, Colombia, and David McFadden reported from Kingston, Jamaica.
Venezuela official seeks immunity in Aruba ruling Associated Press By DILMA ARENDS GEERMAN and JOSHUA GOODMAN 14 hours ago
ORANJESTAD, Aruba (AP) — A judge in Aruba was expected to rule Friday on whether the highest-ranking Venezuelan official ever arrested on a U.S. warrant will remain behind bars pending an extradition request on drug charges.
Hugo Carvajal, a former head of Venezuelan military intelligence and close confidant of the late president Hugo Chavez, was arrested Wednesday upon arriving at Aruba's airport. U.S. authorities allege he's one of several high-ranking Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials who provided a haven to major drug traffickers from neighboring Colombia and helped them export large quantities of U.S.-bound cocaine through Venezuela.
Carvajal's surprise arrest is casting a spotlight on what's known in Venezuela as the "Cartel of the Suns," a reference to rogue, high-ranking military officers believed to have grown rich from drug-running. Top Venezuelan officers wear sun insignia on their uniforms.
Together with the unsealing Thursday of a drug indictment against two other Venezuelan officials, Carvajal's arrest is likely to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela's socialist government, which frequently accuses Washington of conspiring against it and using the drug war to exert pressure on Latin America.
"Carvajal's only option to avoid going to jail for a long, long time is going to be to cooperate, and that is going to be devastating for a lot of senior Venezuelan officials," said Frank Holder, a Miami-based expert on narcotics trafficking who is chairman for Latin America of FTI Consulting, a business advisory firm.
President Nicolas Maduro has already threatened to retaliate against Aruba, just 15 miles off Venezuela's coast, unless Carvajal is freed. The president likened Carvajal's arrest to an "ambush" and "kidnapping" that violates international law because he had been appointed the country's consul to the Caribbean island. Prosecutors in Aruba say that while Carvajal was carrying a diplomatic passport he isn't entitled to immunity because he was not yet accredited by the Netherlands, which runs foreign affairs for its former colony.
"We won't let our honor or that of any Venezuelan be sullied by campaigns orchestrated from the empire," Maduro said in a speech Thursday night.
On Friday afternoon, judge Yvonne van Wersch emerged from the hearing to announce that she would take several hours to decide whether Carvajal had immunity.
"I want to make my own decision," she said.
Carvajal, who earned Chavez's trust as a military cadet in the early 1980s, has long been a target of U.S. law enforcement.
In 2008, he was blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury along with two other senior military officials for allegedly providing weapons and fake Venezuelan identity papers to Marxist rebels in Colombia so they could travel easily across the border. The U.S. has classified the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as a terrorist organization and has indicted its top leadership on narcotics charges.
While Chavez always denied that officials in his government were aiding the FARC, material retrieved from a computer belonging to a senior rebel commander and seized by Colombian forces in a 2008 air raid seemed to place Carvajal front and center in what appears to have been a fluid relationship between the rebels and Venezuela's military.
In one communication from January 2007, the rebel leader known by his alias Ivan Marquez recounts for fellow commanders how he met with Carvajal and another army general and was promised delivery of 20 "very powerful bazookas."
The indictment against Carvajal doesn't discuss ties to the FARC. Instead, it focuses on payments he and other senior military officials allegedly received from Wilber Varela, one of Colombia's biggest kingpins before his 2008 murder in Venezuela.
Carvajal's attorney Chris Lejuez told The Associated Press on Friday that his client denies all charges against him and will seek diplomatic immunity from extradition. Even if freed, a final ruling on the U.S. extradition request could take several days.
Carvajal was being held in the central town of Santa Cruz in Aruba. Heavily armed officers were posted outside the police station where Friday's hearing will take place, due to security concerns. A reporter noted what appeared to be a sniper on the roof.
Carvajal's arrest follows the unsealing in southern Florida this week of an indictment against two other Venezuelan officials for allegedly working to protect another Colombian drug trafficker.
According to a criminal complaint, police officer Rodolfo McTurk was serving as the director of Interpol in Venezuela when he confronted an unnamed trafficker arrested in February 2009. After negotiations, the trafficker allegedly agreed to pay McTurk $400,000 in cash immediately and $75,000 a month to be released and allowed to continue his activities.
Three traffickers told a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that the operations could not have continued without McTurk's help.
Each month, McTurk allegedly went to the home of the trafficker and received $75,000 in cash, once demanding payment in the form of armor-plated SUVs.
The Colombian trafficker was later arrested again and extradited to the U.S.
McTurk is believed to be residing in Venezuela. But his co-defendant, Benny Palmeri-Bacchi, was arrested last week trying to enter the U.S. with his wife and 5-year-old son for a two-week vacation at Disney World, his attorney, Edward Abramson, told The Associated Press. A former judge and attorney, Palmeri-Bacchi pleaded not guilty at a Thursday hearing. His attorney declined further comment on the allegations against his client.
A spokeswoman for the Miami U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman reported this story from Bogota, Colombia, and Dilma Arends Geerman from Oranjestad, Aruba. AP writers Christine Armario in Miami, Hannah Dreier in Caracas and Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.
Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has just finished speaking. She made it clear that Argentina wants to pay their debts - pointing out their settlements with Repsol and the Paris Club -- but that they will not give in to the "extortion" of the holdouts (She used the word "extortion" many times, which may set it up for a good drinking game going forward).
Fernandez de Kirchner says Argentina will make the $900 million debt payment on June 30, which leaves those funds open for NML, Elliot and Singer and the holdouts to enforce Federal District Judge Thomas Griesa's pari passu payment orders and sieze the money causing a default once the stay is lifted (which is imminent). Fernandez de Kirchner did not say what Argentina would do if those funds are frozen or siezed.
She repeated Argentina's stance that the holdouts should accept the exchange and accused them of "extortion", trying to make 1,608% returns on the bonds they bought in 2008, that holdout claims would reach $15 billion if Argentina complied, representing more than 50% of Argentina's reserves.
In short, Argentina's plan seems to be to let a default occur blaming it on the holdouts enforcing their order and then deal with the fallout afterwards. Possibly by setting up the domestic payment program as elicited in the Cleary Gottleib recommendations I sent you earlier.
This Hilarious Slide Perfectly Demonstrates Corporate America's Venezuela Strategy SAM RO MAY 1, 2014, 10:36 AM 1,815 2
Emerging market economies offer fantastic growth opportunities for multinational corporation.
But conducting business in these markets comes with all sorts of risk. They tend to experience high inflation rates and volatile currency swings.
In February, Venezuela undertook a massive currency devaluation that instantly wreaked havoc for companies doing business in the country. In Q1, Coca-Cola took a $247 million charge because of Venezuela's bolivar.
Most of the companies that dodged this were probably quietly celebrating.
The executives at Church & Dwight — the owner Arm & Hammer, OxiClean and Trojan — celebrated quite vocally during the CAGNY Conference earlier this year.
"I wanna talk about our entry strategy into Venezuela," teased Matt Farrell, Church & Dwight's CFO. "Come on! We're not doing it! What're you stupid?!"
"I'm writing a letter to the president of Venezuela to thank him for all of the pain and suffering and distraction he's causing all of my major competitors," he said.
Farrell said that Church & Dwight would not be going into Venezuela in his lifetime.
Here's the blunt slide Farrell used to communicate his sentiment.
x20z @x20z 1h RT @ReporteYa: #30A 6:50 pm #nohaygasolina 0 Cafetal 0 Los Samanes #Baruta reporta @lavoluntaria ----------------------------------------------------- Ermes Ortiz @ermesortiz 1h #NoHayGasolina ni en la texaco mercedes ni en ninguna de las dos frente de San San Ignacio #caracas ----------------------------------------------------- Ron Vnzlano - Mex @perniarj 1h @Perolation 5 min Bomba de la Andrés Bello. Una hora para llenar el tanque gracias al modelo exitoso de la revolución #NoHayGasolina ----------------------------------------------------- Ron Vnzlano - Mex @perniarj 1h #NoHayGasolina @oacga Esta es la cola para echar gasolina en #Guasdualito estado Apure pic.twitter.com/0uzq8KE28U” http://fb.me/29t0rLJqk
----------------------------------------------------- Ron Vnzlano - Mex @perniarj 1h Pero hay burda de patria. “@SIGUEMEPRIMERO: ¡¡ATENCIÓN!! CHOFERES DE BUSES SE PARALIZAN #NoHayGasolina en Barinas... http://fb.me/7jGmvi0E7 ----------------------------------------------------- leonardo cruz marcos @210188Cruz 1h 30A 6:40 pm Caurimare PDV #nohaygasolina PDV Rio de janeiro larga cola vía @RaulRguedez ----------------------------------------------------- RESISTIR Y VIVIR! @Amebetin 1h @ReporteYa Tampoco hay gasolina en los Altos Mirandinos, larga cola en LOs Nuevos Teques! #NoHayGasolina y somos una POTENCIA PETROLERA ----------------------------------------------------- RAFAEL PADRON @padronrafael 1h #NoHayGasolina Valle Coche y Charallave largas colas para hechar gasolina pregunto #TROPA eso lo habían visto antes o eso son los Paracos? ----------------------------------------------------- Mema Machado @memamachado 1h @ReporteYa #Nohaygasolina en un país con tanto petróleo! Recorrí 5 estaciones de gasolina en CCS. INSOLITO! @RRamirezPDVSA ----------------------------------------------------- Pray for Venezuela @vzlapray 1h #30A #nohaygasolina en Colinas de Bello Monte, no hay gasolina reporta @jcarrera3 ----------------------------------------------------- Maria Alejandra @malefaria 1h #30A #NoHayGasolina #Baruta #LasMercedes #Concresa #ElHatillo ----------------------------------------------------- MARIALE OROPEZA @MARIALEOROPEZA 1h “@MaryCVieira: Demasiados carros, movimiento, negocios, gente produciendo, tu sabes ... país potencia, agotaron la gasolina. #nohaygasolina” ----------------------------------------------------- Mary Carmen Vieira @MaryCVieira 1h Rafael Ramírez en Planta Metalúrgica El Juncal. No podrá explicar por qué NO hay gasolina ?No ?La cadena hay que aprovecharla.#nohaygasolina ----------------------------------------------------- Profesexual @trinysex 1h En todas las bombas en #Caracas habia muchisima cola ..#NoHayGasolina ----------------------------------------------------- William Rojas @willroj 1h 7:20 pm #NoHayGasolina en Los Valles del Tuy asi reportan también @trafficMIRANDA @RADIO_CHEVERE ----------------------------------------------------- ricardo prugnoli @rpcvie 1h #NOHAYGASOLINA EN NINGUN LADOOO!!!! OTRO EXITAZO ----------------------------------------------------- venezolana @irigoyenadriana 1h Trinidad, Hatillo, Peñón SIN ==>“@SaloGuardione: A ver mis niñitos, cuenteme... Donde no han conseguido gasolina hoy? #NoHayGasolina en...” ----------------------------------------------------- Carolina Zuloaga @carolinazuloaga 1h @ReporteYa #NoHayGasolina bomba la auxiliadora recta de las minas san antonio de los altos ----------------------------------------------------- Pray for Venezuela @vzlapray 1h #30A 7:20 pm #NoHayGasolina en Los Valles del Tuy reporta @TEQUESFRIO ----------------------------------------------------- Giselle De Freitas @Giselledfreitas 1h Vivimos en un país petrolero en donde la escasez llegó hasta en la gasolina... #NoHayGasolina ----------------------------------------------------- Turadionet2 ™ @TURADIONET2 1h #NoHayGasolina "La frase del día" #30A #SanCristobal #Caracas #Barquisimeto #PtoOrdaz y sigue..... tomé ticket... pic.twitter.com/S9WDNRiglc""
Venezuela currency woes hit Herbalife and other US consumer brands
Venezuela's convoluted currency exchange system – which has one 'official' rate for the government and another for importers of non-essential goods – has hurt foreign companies. Christian Science Monitor By Stephen Kurczy 8 hours ago
The actions of the Venezuelan government are undermining earnings for foreign companies and the positions of US investors.
The latest example came Monday evening when the nutritional-supplements maker Herbalife reported that first-quarter profit fell 37 percent due to a foreign-exchange loss tied to the devaluation of Venezuela’s bolívar. The loss was a hit to Herbalife’s 17 percent owner Carl Icahn, the activist investor who has in recent months taken to defending Herbalife from accusations that it’s a pyramid scheme.
Herbalife’s first quarter earnings, however, suggest that Mr. Icahn might have been wise to watch Venezuela more closely.
“I don’t think US Investors are exactly itching to get involved,” says our correspondent in Caracas. “What I’m taking away from all this is that US companies that are still here are in it for the long run. They’re willing to incur these losses as they weather out the storm that is ‘21st Century Socialism’ as they likely posses a huge market share.”
Herbalife, which competes with Weight Watchers International, Nutrisystem, and Medifast, has benefited from a focus on emerging markets such as Venezuela and its well-known “Miss” culture, says our correspondent in Caracas, referring to beauty pageants, such as Miss Venezuela and Miss Universe.
“Herbalife is very popular down here,” our correspondent says.
But Venezuela’s convoluted currency exchange system has hurt foreign companies, which was forewarned last year by US hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management LP’s William Ackman.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Global Outlook.
The shortage problem is not universal as the following picture shows:
That truck is full of locally grown produce, generally of good quality, that farmers are free to sell with no price regulation. Prices swing wildly, last December a kilo of white onions was selling at close to BsF. 100 and earlier this year it had dropped to BsF. 35. The shortages exist in regulated wares such as coffee. But the coffee shortage was easily solved by rebranding the coffee "Gourmet" (it's the exact same coffee) which sells for BsF. 87 for a half kilo vs. the non existent regulated coffee at BsF. 26 for half a kilo. Regulated plain white rice is nowhere to be found but you can get plenty of parboiled and flavored varieties at prices well above the regulated stuff. Most of what is scarce are industrialized products like milk, flour, vegetable oil, and toilette paper because often the regulated price is below cost or because it is made or imported by the government. There are also shortages of imported goods for which the government is not willing to sell regulated dollars.
I've lost track, I think we have three oficial exchange rates plus the black market. To figure out the black market price you look at a Colombian website which shows their rates for dollars, euros and bolivars. There is a new exchange but it is so complicated and the government wants so much information that many people are quite willing to pay 20% more in the black market.
Some examples: There used to be a good local brand of canned tuna which was taken over by Chavistas. I bought a can of it made under the new management and it was a kind of paste, not "chunky" which is what you expect. For a while there was a Cuban brand of rice but it cooked into such an ugly mush that not even the poorest people were willing to buy it. There is no wheat flour but there is plenty of bread and pasta -- figure that one out! After 15 years of Chavismo I have finally run out of powdered milk and now I make home made soybean milk. Oh well.
Some good news, razor blades are back!
I just got this email today. Water shortages in the East where my marina is:
Interesante a ver que el problema del agua esta afectando a todos
LECHERÍA 29 DE ABRIL DE 2014 CONVOCATORIA
Se convoca a los propietarios y residentes del Parque Residencial Villamar Lecheria Barcelona a Reunión Extraordinaria que tendrá lugar el Sábado 3 de Mayo de 2014.
LUGAR: Oficina de Administración
PUNTOS A TRATAR:
1. Problemas con el suministro de agua por parte de Hidrocaribe 2. Vigilancia
Hora: 10:30 A.M:
Junta de Condominio
Queues, shortages hit Venezuela's homeless and hungry Reuters By Carlos Rawlins April 29, 2014 7:32 AM
A voluntary worker gives a bowl of soup to a man at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating center in Caracas .
CARACAS (Reuters) - Huge queues at supermarkets and shortages of basic products have become the norm in Venezuela over the last year - and the most needy are increasingly at the sharp edge.
Workers at soup kitchens for the homeless and hungry face an ever-more difficult task to find rice, lentils, flour and other staples to provide a free daily hot meal.
"I queue for hours every day because you can only get one thing one day, another the next," said Fernanda Bolivar, 54, who has worked for 11 years at the church-supported "Mother Teresa" soup kitchen in a back-street of downtown Caracas.
"The situation's got terrible in the last year," she said, in a dingy kitchen at the center named for the Roman Catholic nun who helped the poor and dying in India.
Inspired to help because of her own experience of going hungry a decade ago, Bolivar cooks lunch every day for the 50 or so people who sit on long concrete tables inside the dimly-lit refuge that often gets flooded during the rainy season.
To get the ingredients, like many other Venezuelan shoppers, she rises at 4 a.m. to start queuing - normally for several hours - at a supermarket nearby with hundreds of others. A number marking her place in the queues is scrawled on her hand.
Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro's government say the queues are a national embarrassment and symbol of failed socialist economics similar to the old Soviet Union.
But officials say businessmen are deliberately hoarding products as part of an "economic war" against him. They point to popular social welfare programs, and a halving of poverty levels since Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, as evidence that Venezuela's poor are better cared for than ever.
The government this month began an ID system that tracks shoppers' purchases at subsidized prices in state-run supermarkets. Officials say that will thwart hoarders and guarantee an equitable distribution of cheap food to those who need it, but critics are decrying it as a Cuban-style ration card that illustrates the shocking state of the economy.
Venezuela's government runs a network of shelters and feeding centers known as the Negra Hipolita mission, which operate alongside church institutions like the Mother Teresa center under a bridge in the San Martin district of Caracas.
There on a recent day, some of those eating a free lentil soup grumbled that there was no meat - but still gratefully wolfed down several bowls of food each.
"I've been coming every day for years, I'm one of the family here," said jobless Vladimir Garcia, 56, taking his time over a large bowl of soup.
Garcia has been helping organizer Bolivar to queue for the center's food. "Maybe socialism has done a lot for Venezuela, but we never had these huge long lines for everything before. Nor this scarcity of food products," he said.
"It's madness for such a rich nation."
(Writing and additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Kieran Murray)
Governments are the same the world over, inefficient because the people who work there have no incentives to be frugal, quite the contrary. Take American public education, where did all the loan money go? To teachers? No, to school administrators. Yesterday I read about Japan, same thing. It's all about the Tragedy of the Commons.
Things That Make You Go Hmmm... by Grant Williams
“Everything makes sense once you realize Japan is a communist country.”
Aki Wakabayashi’s book Komuin no Ijona Sekai (The Bizarre World Of The Public Servant) sprang from her 10 years working at a Labour Ministry research institute and lifted the lid on some of the peccadilloes of Japan’s civil service.
Wakabayashi told of being scolded for saving her department ¥200 million, as her effort put that amount in jeopardy for the following year’s budget allocation; of senior managers taking female subordinates on first-class, round-the-world trips to “study labour conditions in other countries”; and of the mad dash by all departments to spend unused budget before year-end — the collective result of which saw monthly total expenditures by government agencies jump from ¥3 trillion in February to ¥18 trillion in March.
The facts unearthed by Wakabayashi are remarkable:
(Japan Times): The national average annual income of a local government employee was ¥7 million in 2006, compared to the ¥4.35 million national average for all company employees and the ¥6.16 million averaged by workers at large companies. Their generosity to even their lowest-level employees may explain why so many local governments are effectively insolvent: Drivers for the Kobe municipal bus system are paid an average of almost ¥9 million (taxi drivers, by comparison, earn about ¥3.9 million).
School crossing guards in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward earned ¥8 million in 2006. (Such generosity to comparatively low-skilled workers may explain why in the summer of 2007 it was discovered that almost 1,000 Osaka city government employees had lied about having college, i.e., they had, but did not put it on their resumes because it might have disqualified them from such jobs!) Furthermore, unlike private sector companies, public employees get their bonuses whether the economy is good or bad or, in the case of the Social Insurance Agency, even after they lose the pension records of 50 million people (2008 year-end bonuses for most public employees were about the same as 2007, global economic crisis notwithstanding).
In addition to their generous salary and bonuses, public servants get a wealth of extra allowances and benefits. Mothers working for the government can take up to three years’ maternity leave (compared to up to one year in the private sector, if you are lucky). Some government workers may also get bonuses when their children reach the age of majority, extra pay for staying single or not getting promoted, or “travel” allowances just for going across town. Perhaps the most shocking example Wakabayashi offers is the extra pay given to the workers at Hello Work (Japan’s unemployment agency) to compensate them for the stress of dealing with the unemployed.
I don't understand why we don't have contracts that limit the amount available and the entity that accepts the contract must meet those limits.
You would wind up with a lot of unfinished projects and bankrupt contractors. The solution is to go back to basics, get government out of where it does not belong. As Ayn Rand suggested, the proper roles for government are limited to security, defense and the arbitration of disputes.
Hay que tener bolas para ir en busca del progreso a un país fracasado, Bielorrusia.
Abandonada la comuna agroindustrial “William Lara” (foto) abril 28, 2014 2:53 pm
Filas de viviendas sin terminar la comuna agroindustrial “William Lara” en Guárico / Foto Meridith Kohut / Bloomberg
La comuna agroindustrial “William Lara”, que contribuiría “con el fortalecimiento de la seguridad y soberanía alimentaria del país” presenta hoy un estado de abandono, según reseña la agencia Bloomberg en su trabajo de investigación periodística “Chavez’s Farming Utopia Withers as Pet Projects Abandoned” (en inglés). ”El presidente muerió y el proyecto murió con él“, dijo a Bloomberg Eumir Pérez , ex coordinador de la comuna William Lara. “El gobierno está demasiado ocupado en mantenerse en el poder, luchando contra la guerra económica de los capitalistas. Ahora nadie sueña grande“. Un año después de su muerte , los últimos 30 trabajadores de la comuna se dedican a la remoción de los equipos.
La comuna de 300 millones de dólares es uno de los muchos proyectos en los que el gobierno ha despilfarrado los 50 mil millones de dólaes que Venezuela recibe cada año a partir de las exportaciones de petróleo , dijo Anabella Abadi , analista de la consultora política pública ODH Grupo Consultor . El informe anual 2013 de la Contraloría General de la República dice que hay 4.381 proyectos de infraestructura pública en Venezuela sin terminar, un cuarto de ellos iniciados antes de 2006.
El contrato de desarrollo de la comuna se le adjudicó sin licitación a la constructora biolorrusa Belzarubezhstroy, conocida como BZS. Comenzó los trabajos de la comuna William Lara en el año 2011 y estaba programado para terminar el proyecto a finales del año 2012 , según el informe anual del Ministerio de Agricultura de ese año. El plan preveía la construcción de 500 casas , una escuela, silos de grano , campos de deportes , tiendas, una subestación eléctrica , una fábrica de leche y un matadero.
Reseñaba que durante un Consejo de Ministros, efectuado este jueves en el Palacio de Miraflores, en Caracas, el presidente Hugo Chávez manifestó que esta unidad forma parte de las cinco comunas agrícolas altamente especializadas que fueron planificadas el año pasado en un proyecto conjunto con el gobierno bielorruso.
Chávez informó que la Comuna Agroindustrial Socialista Willian Lara dispondrá de 300 millones de dólares, recursos que aportará el Fondo de Desarrollo Nacional (Fonden).
La comuna está ubicada en la ribera sur del río Guárico, en un área en forma de triángulo e integrada por zonas de San Juan de Los Morros-El Sombrero y Calabozo. Se trata de 7.817 hectáreas “que hace un año eran un latifundio abandonado y ahí están, una de las mejores tierras no sólo del Guárico sino de Venezuela”, expresó el Mandatario.
Chavez's Farming Utopia Withers as Pet Projects Abandoned By Anatoly Kurmanaev Apr 28, 2014 11:11 AM GMT-0430
Photographer: Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg Rows of new farm equipment, imported from Belarus, sit unused at the "William Lara" agro-industrial commune in the... Read More
The harvesters imported to overcome food shortages are gathering cobwebs near a burnt corn field in central Venezuela. A short distance away is the shell of a fertilizer plant and rows of empty red-roofed bungalows.
This is the William Lara agricultural commune, the first of five such projects that former President Hugo Chavez said were going to reverse a 11-year rise in food imports and put products back on the nation's shelves. One year after his death, the last 30 workers on the site are removing equipment, surrounded by 4,300 soccer fields-worth of cleared land baking in the savanna heat.
"The president dies and the project dies with him," Eumir Perez, William Lara's former coordinator, said in an interview in Calabozo, a town in Guarico state 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the project. "The government is too busy staying in power, fighting against the capitalists' economic war. No one dreams big anymore."
The $300 million commune is one of the many projects on which the government has squandered the $50 billion Venezuela receives each year from oil exports, said Anabella Abadi, an analyst at public policy consultancy ODH Grupo Consultor. The national comptroller office's 2013 annual report says there are 4,381 unfinished public infrastructure projects in Venezuela, a quarter of them started before 2006.
The projects include 100 kilometers of an elevated train line from Valencia, Venezuela's third biggest city, to Cagua that was halted in 2010, and Steel City -- a town with houses, shops and steel plants in Bolivar state, which remains flatland.
Work on William Lara, the rural version of the Steel City, stopped last year after about $120 million was spent on clearing the land and building the first 176 houses.
The construction will resume after the government figures out a way of bringing water to the site 125 miles south of Caracas, Agriculture Minister Yvan Gil said.
"This is a technical problem, that our specialists are working to resolve," Gil, 41, said in an interview in his Caracas office on April 10. "The project is advancing."
Perez said construction began without checking water availability and now a dam would have to be dug to make the project viable.
Spokesmen for Maduro's office and the Information Ministry declined to comment on project delays in Venezuela.
Chavez set up off-budget funds that are not subject to parliamentary oversight to finance infrastructure projects. The funds have spent $112 billion since 2005, including the resources for the William Lara project, according to the Finance Ministry's annual report.
"These are part of this government's unfulfilled promises," Abadi said in an interview in Caracas.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies at new housing blocks and playgrounds helped Chavez's hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro win election in April 2013, while failing to revive industry, said Abadi. Non-oil exports fell to 4 percent of the total in the first nine months of 2013 from 19 percent 10 years earlier, according to central bank.
The decline of local industry and dollar shortages pushed inflation to 59 percent in March and emptied shelves of basic goods such as milk and soap, fueling two months of protests that have left at least 41 people dead.
Venezuela's dollar bonds trade at the highest risk premium in the world, with investors demanding 10.41 extra percentage points to own the country's notes instead of U.S. Treasuries. The country's bolivar slumped 88 percent against the dollar when the government opened a new currency market last month to ease trading restrictions.
Chavez's plans for agricultural communes began with a visit to Belarus in 2007, when his counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko took him on a tour of projects dating from the Soviet Union's 1930s collectivization, said Perez, who now advises the president of Venezuela's state agriculture fund.
Belarus shares similar economic problems with Venezuela. The country, which former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the "last dictatorship in Europe," has seen its currency weaken 70 percent against the dollar since 2011 and has the world's third fastest inflation after Venezuela and Iran, according to its central bank.
Belorussian construction company BelZarubezhStroy, known as BZS, began work on William Lara in 2011 and was scheduled to complete the project by the end of 2012, according to the Agriculture Ministry's annual report for that year. The plan envisaged 500 houses, a school, grain silos, sports grounds, shops, a power substation, a milk factory and a slaughterhouse. The project is named after a Guarico governor and Chavez ally who died in 2010 when he drove his car into a river.
Setting an Example
The commune would "set the example for the development of agro-industry of Venezuela," Chavez said in July 2012 after meeting a Belorussian delegation.
Farmers from the nearby towns of Calabozo and El Sombrero never came to the project amid the water and funding shortages. Meter-high dry grass now covers acres of fields cleared of stones and spindly dwarf trees, as new gravel roads snake across the featureless terrain. Some corn fields were burnt to chase away rodents because local workers weren't sure how to use the Belorussian machines to harvest the crop.
Agriculture and food supply were at the heart of Chavez's poverty reduction campaign during his 14 years in power, including land redistribution, farm credits and investment in rural infrastructure, Agriculture Minister Gil said.
Grains and corn production has doubled in the past 15 years as a result, he said. "Very few countries in the world can say this."
Higher grains volumes have failed to make up for the stagnant production of more expensive products such as milk and beef, said Alejandro Gutierrez, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of the Andes in Merida. Venezuela imports 70 percent of its food today, compared with about 50 percent in the late 1990s, according to the National Agriculture Industry Association, known as Fedeagro.
"Production hasn't kept up with demand, pushing the country's food security to critical levels," Gutierrez said by telephone on April 21.
A decade of price controls on basic goods has exacerbated the situation. A kilogram of meat costs 8 bolivars (12 U.S. cents at the black market rate) and rice is 3 bolivars a kilogram in the Mercal state supermarket chain, fueling hoarding and smuggling to neighboring Colombia and leaving shelves bare.
More than one in four basic goods was out of stock in Latin America's fourth-largest economy in January, the most since records began, according to the central bank. The bank stopped publishing up-to-date scarcity data last month.
"The legacy of this government is a very low rate of execution," Jose Guerra, economics professor at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, said by phone April 21. "They have tried to do too many things at the same time, causing inefficiency and waste."
Habla el hermano del ex capitán de la GNB torturado abril 23, 2014 10:16 pm Publicado en: Actualidad, Regionales
La esposa y el hermano del capitán retirado de la GNB Juan Carlos Nieto, conversaron esta noche en CNN, donde expusieron al mundo la detención/secuestro sufrido por Nieto a principios del mes de abril.
Recordemos que el capitán retirado, fue fue detenido por funcionarios de la Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar en el centro comercial Plaza Las Américas, una detención que posteriormente se convirtió en secuestro. Nieto fue torturado por sus captores, quienes lo malograron colocándole electricidad en testículos y tetillas.
El hermano de la víctima, Javier Nieto, denunció al Gobierno por las torturas que recibió Juan Carlos. “El Estado se desnuda en su talante terrorista y criminal. Esto es un secuestro gubernamental, el Estado hace uso de su aparato jurídico para disponer de toda su maquinaria para detener a alguien que piensa distinto”.
“A los culpables hay que llamarlos por su nombre para que sepan que algún día responderán ante la justicia. El General Rivero Marcano, el Ministro de Interior y Justicia Rodríguez Torres y la cabeza del régimen, Nicolás Maduro, deberán responder ante la justicia”, apuntó.
Nieto aseguró que la persecución que tienen contra los oficiales se debe a pensar distinto. “La persecución a nosotros y al resto de oficiales es debido a que hemos expuestos con firmeza nuestro desacuerdo a un Estado que utiliza los recursos de la nación para armar bandas, llamados los colectivos, para asesinar”.
Además añadió “Tampoco nos aceptan que mostremos, según la Constitución, un desacuerdo contra la injerencia cubana en la Fanb”.
“Nunca creímos en proyectos, aceptamos la democracia y respetamos a presidente elegido democráticamente. Pero cuando un general nos dice que tenemos que ser amigos de la Farc y el ELN por cuestiones ideológicas, no lo aceptamos. Hemos sido objetos de persecución por eso”, finalizó.
El racionamiento es admisión involuntaria del fracaso económico del chavismo y es un fracaso ideológico. Durante las elecciones presidenciales del año 1997, la última elección libre de fraude, tuve oportunidad de observar los candidatos comunistas por la tele.
El candidato Henrique Salas Römer, ex-gobernador del estado Carabobo, proponía la necesidad de mejoras en la administración de los bienes del estado. Un reportero entrevistando a un candidato comunista cuyo nombre no recuerdo le preguntó sobre esta propuesta de campaña. El comunista informó que el gobierno no se trataba de administración sino de política. Esos son los que hoy manejan es país, no con administración sino con ideología política.
La escasez se debe al control de precios. Con la escasez viene el acaparamiento cada uno tratando de prevenir la falta de tal o cual producto en el futuro imediato. Una tarjeta de racionamiento, que el mercado negro va a ignorar, es mas burocracia para entorpecer aun mas lo poco que queda del libre mercado.
Ayer no encontré ni uno solo de los seis artículos que traté de comprar en la farmacia. Ni siquiera aspirina. Varios de los medicamento son prescripciones de por vida y la solución para la escasez es comprar para varios meses cuando hay. Este es acaparamiento que el gobierno pretende evitar pero se olvidan que la escasez la causaron ellos mismos.
Señores chavistas, la política no se come, ni alimenta ni cura.
Lomas de Niquel as apparently not fared well under its new management. An investigation last year by former planning minister Teodoro Petkoff's newspaper Tal Cual found that, after one year of government management, Lomas de Niquel's furnaces were "operating at minimum capacity for lack of electrode paste, an important input to produce nickel," that they were unable to sell the nickel abroad "because it does not meet international standards," that "heavy equipment stood idle due to lack of oil and filters," and that "the purchase of supplies, spare parts and raw materials is paralyzed by lack of money."
Anglo American Files Suit Against Venezuela at ICSID Venezuela now has 28 cases pending against it – the most of any nation in the world. Argentina, which had previously held the number one spot, now has only 24 cases listed as pending.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Global mining company Anglo American PLC has become the latest corporation to file suit against Venezuela over its treatment of investors.
The World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has accepted a request for arbitration against Venezuela filed by Anglo American’s lawyers, powerhouse law firms Baker & McKenzie and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
According to the ICSID docket, Venezuela now has 28 cases pending against it – the most of any nation in the world -- after a rash of expropriations and nationalizations by Venezuela's late firebrand President Hugo Chavez. Argentina, which had previously held the number one spot after defaulting on $100 billion in debt, now has only 24 cases listed as pending.
Anglo American, one of the world’s largest diversified miners, had held a 91.4% share in the Loma de Niquel mine in Venezuela until 2012 when the Chavez government cancelled 13 concessions and refused to renew 3 others. “Despite attempts to enable a continuation of operations, our last application for renewal was refused and the concessions and permits granted by the government expired on 10 November 2012,” the company explains. “As of 10 November 2012, therefore, Anglo American’s mining and production activities at Loma de Niquel ceased permanently.”
Loma de Niguel had accounted for 13,400 metric tons of Anglo’s 29,100 tons of nickel production in 2011. The mine’s proved and probable ore reserves totaled 4.6 million metric tons at the end of 2011, Anglo American said in 2011's annual report, adding that it took an $84 million charge “mainly arising” from the Venezuelan concessions.
“The accelerated depreciation charge at Loma de Níquel has arisen due to ongoing uncertainty over the renewal of three concessions that expire in 2012 and over the restoration of 13 concessions that have been cancelled,” the company said at the time.
Anglo American, which had revenue of $33.063 billion last year, had been the largest investor in Venezuelan mining. In 2010, Anglo sold its 25.5% ownership in Carbones del Guasare S.A. which operates the Paso Diablo Mine to Peabody Energy. Paso Diablo is a surface operation in northwestern Venezuela that produced thermal coal for export primarily to the U.S. and Europe.
Lomas de Niquel as apparently not fared well under its new management. An investigation last year by former planning minister Teodoro Petkoff's newspaper Tal Cual found that, after one year of government management, Lomas de Niquel's furnaces were "operating at minimum capacity for lack of electrode paste, an important input to produce nickel," that they were unable to sell the nickel abroad "because it does not meet international standards," that "heavy equipment stood idle due to lack of oil and filters," and that "the purchase of supplies, spare parts and raw materials is paralyzed by lack of money."
Venezuela had been a member of ICSID since 1993, but Chavez formally removed the country from ICSID jurisdiction in January of 2012, saying he would not accept any further rulings from the arbitration court. However, clauses in bilateral investment treaties and individual contracts continue to give ICSID jurisdiction to hear cases against Venezuela.
Other companies with pending ICSID arbitrations against Venezuela include Gold Reserve Inc., Rusoro Mining Ltd., Tidewater Inc., Williams Cos. Inc., Koch Industries Inc., Owens-Illinois Inc., Tenaris SA, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.
ICSID is an autonomous international institution established in 1965 under the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (the ICSID or the Washington Convention) with over one hundred and forty member States. The Convention sets forth ICSID's mandate, organization and core functions. The primary purpose of ICSID is to provide facilities for conciliation and arbitration of international investment disputes.
New Age World Government is about the Elite (a self selected group of people) lording it over the rest of us for our own good. It is not only the Socialists who think this way. To a lesser extent, the Founding Fathers didn't trust the electorate and created the Electoral College to make sure no "mistakes" were made. And, of course, they didn't thrust women, poor people and other substandard specimens of Man to vote at all.
Sowell presents a devastating critique of the mind-set behind the failed social policies of the past thirty years. Sowell sees what has happened during that time not as a series of isolated mistakes but as a logical consequence of a tainted vision whose defects have led to crises in education, crime, and family dynamics, and to other social pathologies. In this book, he describes how elites—the anointed—have replaced facts and rational thinking with rhetorical assertions, thereby altering the course of our social policy.
Democracy has its limits and its dangers but for all that I would not replace it by a tyranny of the Elite. Yet some people welcome such tyrannies. Some are so stupid as to become suicide killers or martyrs for some celestial spaghetti monster. Or they go to their death like the ones did with "revered" Jones in Guyana. It does have a plus side, stupid dead genes don't reproduce.
"the tyranny in Venezuela has global roots, global backers"
Besides Sean Penn who are these global roots and backs?
In LatinAmerica the socialist governments of Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua at a minimum. In Africa, Mugabe. Putin loves to replace America in arms sales. China loves to buy our oil. Belarus is erecting the "dignified housing" projects in Caracas (their workers are transported in luxury air conditioned busses). Iran set up car and bicycle factories that so far have produced nothing but it is rumored that they are buying our uranium, there is a lot of traffic between our two countries. The countries that are getting cheap Venezuelan oil. And just about any nation that loves tweaking America's nose. Many American Democrats have recanted their support for the Venezuelan regime but Jimmy Carter is not one of them.
Socialism, as opposed to nationalism, is an international movement. There is very much of that "new age" idea of world government of world order. In Europe you see it in the huge powers Brussels has collected for itself. The guys in Brussels mostly are not elected but appointed (like the most powerful person in America the Fed chair[wo]man). Just imagine what the UN would to the the USA if it were not for the veto power. Countries can put criminals in jail but the UN won't sanction most criminal nations. How do you put North Korea in jail?
Dismembering frogs to find out what makes them tick is scientific.
Yesterday I almost found myself in a protest being dispersed by government assassins using tear gas and other means of violence. The protest had started out peacefully enough, the violence was started by the government assassins sadly misnamed Bolivarian National Guard and Bolivarian National Police. Clearly Bolivarian means wicked.
On the way home I passed a group of some six open trucks of Bolivarian National Guards waiting for their turn to crack skulls. They were smiling and apparently having a good time. If you take the time to have a good look you see that their vehicles are brand new as are their uniforms and weapons. There is no lack of dollars to buy protection for the illegitimate state but not enough to buy food for the people they swore to serve.
Machiavelli states that an unpopular Prince will tumble. Not if he has enough violence on his side which clearly the illegitimate Venezuelan state has. Some ten or twelve years ago several soldiers were killed with flame throwers during "exercises." It was claimed to be an unfortunate accident and the killers were never tried. In my opinion it was part of an indoctrination campaign to scare the soldiers into unquestioning obedience under threat of torture and death. At higher levels officials are allowed to commit crimes but these are zealously recorded. Should in time an officer refuse to follow orders the evidence against him is used for blackmail. Just recently a judge confessed to her childhood friend that she ordered Leopoldo Lopez jailed under order to do so and under threat to lose her job if she didn't.
One has to question where such well oiled machinery of repression came from. Did the local Chavistas dream it up or was it imported from Russia, Cuba and China? Again a bit of history is illuminating. In his early years as president a globe trotting Chavez visited every long lived tyrant he could find including Mugabe, Gadaffi, Saddam Hussein not to mention his dearly beloved Castro brothers. What was Chavez looking for? What had these failed states to offer? One must be naive to think anything besides how to stay in power come hell or high water.
A regime based solely on the ideology of staying in power cannot be removed with flower power and peaceful marches. Socialism in Venezuela is a red herring but there is not enough time and space here for a full discussion. As martial arts practitioners you must realize that the time comes to counter force with force. Against well armed military and police that means bloodshed, bloodshed that does not guarantee success, only suffering. A dozen years ago I didn't want foreign help but the realization that the tyranny in Venezuela has global roots, global backers, has made me change my mind. A little bit of help from our friends would be appreciated. Not that it's likely to come from the OAS or the UN which are dominated by petty tyrants.
Many in the opposition were wishing Chavismo would disappear with the death of Chavez. They may get their wish. Chavez was a smooth and charismatic operator, something which Maduro most certainly is not. Last year while riding on the subway I heard a Chavista lady saying that Maduro would be disaster because he was not like Chavez, whom she adored. Her words are turning out prescient. Many of us figured that the succession wars inside Chavismo would weaken the regime. I don't recall anyone predicting the violent protests that are taking place. I don't recall ever seeing urban warfare in Venezuela with Molotov cocktails. Never before had a judge admitted being pressured to jail a political opponent (it went viral on Twitter). While I would not bet on "The death of ‘Chavismo’" the odds are growing.
The death of ‘Chavismo’ in Venezuela
Under Nicolas Maduro, student protests against the late Chávez’s policies have boiled over into violent street battles
by David Agren
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Caracas-based bond trader Russ Dallen looks for small signals with which to gauge Venezuela and its economy. He found one last year when he ran out of toilet paper and searched for it unsuccessfully in three stores. “I found this great Argentine wine,” he recalls, but no toilet paper. The government subsequently ordered 50 million rolls of the stuff, including some from Costco, which, according to Dallen, it bought retail in the U.S. and imported—all of which sold out in short order.
Such shortages are common in Venezuela, and spark discontent in the long lines that form at supermarkets running low on everything from paper products to corn flour to cooking oil. Inflation, meanwhile, registered at 56 per cent last year, among the highest rates in the world, although the unofficial tallies reach the triple digits.
For the past five weeks, anger has boiled over into deadly street protests, with 25 lives lost and the government cracking down hard. In one instance this month, a group of armed men on motorcycles fired into a crowd of protesters, killing three.
The backlash started with a protest over an attempted rape on a college campus in the city of San Cristóbal. Police forcibly broke up the protest and jailed a handful of students in faraway prisons, which provoked even more protests throughout the country. The situation quickly spiralled beyond outrage over a sexual assault and into a fight for the future of Venezuela and the consequences of 15 years of “Chavismo,” the political and economic policies of the late president, Hugo Chávez.
Students see limited opportunities in a country with a state-controlled economy and increased insecurity. “It’s about students realizing that for them it’s a very difficult path after university,” says Carlos Cárdenas, deputy head of Latin America forecasting with IHS in London. Protesting law student Agnly Veliz recently told Reuters, “What’s the point of graduating while the country is in chaos?”
President Nicolás Maduro, who won a tight 2013 election and claims Chávez has appeared to him in prayer as a “little bird,” has dismissed the protests as an attempt to overthrow his government and called the students “Nazi fascists.” But he sees a growing threat in the student protests to the “chavista” system and he has used the unrest as an excuse to censor the media. He pulled the plug on Colombian cable news channel NTN. Many Venezuelans took to Twitter, only have the Internet cut and the site allegedly blocked.
The regime Maduro inherited from Chávez, who succumbed to cancer last year, appears to be teetering after years of mismanagement. Chávez promoted “21st-century socialism” and showered money on the poor from what was treated as a bottomless barrel of petrobucks. He also gave oil to allies in the region—allowing them repay with beans, if they bothered to repay at all. “Chavismo is durable because it tapped into a deep history of economic divide in Venezuela,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice-president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. “But the model is financially unsustainable.”
State oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA’s output is down by nearly a million barrels per day since Chávez took office in 1999. Venezuela sells fewer barrels to the United States, which pays more than other customers but has needed less oil from Venezuela due the growth in North American production. Venezuela has borrowed some $40 billion from China since 2008, says Dallen—with some of the money going toward providing poor households with Chinese-made appliances on the eve of elections. Venezuela now sends the country 650,000 barrels per day as repayment—half of which are sold at steep discounts. “Venezuela borrowed beyond its ability to pay,” Dallen says, adding that enormous amount of reﬁned petroleum products are consumed domestically, with gasoline selling for just pennies a litre.
Maduro’s response to the protests has reinforced the former bus driver and union boss’s reputation as a brute—unlike Chávez, who maintained his own popularity (to the point there are St. Hugo shrines) while keeping the opposition off balance. “There were things that kept Chávez from being so overly authoritarian and openly violent: his rhetorical prowess and money,” says Francisco Toro, a Montreal-based author of the Caracas Chronicles blog. But with Venezuela’s troubles worsening fast, “it’s obvious that Maduro isn’t going to have either.”
The political opposition is split between hardliners supporting the students and those encouraging dialogue. Chávez could manipulate the opposition: “He knew how to push our buttons,” Toro says. But with Maduro, the crackdown may be a sign of what’s to come. “The point of increasing the pressure, from the government’s point of view, has been to create a new normal,” Toro says. “If you go out and protest, you will be repressed and thrown in jail.”
Published on Feb 28, 2014 A esta hora vecinos reportan que el General [R] Angel Vivas, ex preso político y crítico del Gobierno Bolivariano se encuentra fusil en mano, con chaleco antibalas, en su hogar resistiendo un inminente allanamiento.
Hasta ahora no se ha conocido si se cuenta con una orden judicial.
Vivas, denunció en su cuenta de Twitter que esbirros venezolanos atacan mi casa". Vecinos aseguraron que "no se quiere entregar y tiene una ametralladora".
Testigos del hecho indicaron que un grupo de funcionarios militares, con vehículos y motos llegaron a la casa de Vivas para arrestarlo luego de que Nicolás Maduro lo acusara de estar involucrado en el "entrenamiento" de personas que han puesto guayas en varios puntos de la ciudad.
También reportaron que la GNB trancó la Avenida El Paseo cerca de la embajada de la República Popular China y ellos respondieron con barricadas frente a los funcionarios con vehículos y basura.
El General Vivas denunció en el pasado la penetración de militares Cubanos en las Fuerzas Armadas de Venezuela,
Note: This photo was not taken in a slum, it's the old colonial center of the town of Petare. It was restored a very long time ago and is quite pleasant. I know the place because a friend lives nearby. In the greater Petare area there are big slums. The last mason to work in our building lives there.
Note: This is part of a slum in greater Petare area. We call the houses "ranchos." The only government in over 50 years that managed to reduce their number was General Marcos Pérez Jimenez, the "dictator" who was overthrown by the so called democratic parties in 1958.
PETARE, Venezuela (AP) — The two students venture into one of Latin America's biggest slums for the first time, feeling scared and somewhat awkward. Their mission: to broaden support for their anti-government protest movement in the low-income barrios whose working poor the late President Hugo Chavez championed.
"Our families didn't want us to come up here," says Fernando Viscuna, a 21-year-old international commerce major at the Instituto Universitario de Nuevas Profesiones. "But if you want a better country, it's got to be done."
He and Jhony Pulido, a curly-haired 22-year-old economics student at Andres Bello University, are earnest foot soldiers in an incipient bridge-building effort by students whose five-week-old protest movement has badly convulsed the country and triggered a firm government crackdown.
The students have no illusions. If anything is to change, they need allies in the very districts that Chavez converted into bulwarks of support by investing tens of billions of dollars in oil income in generous social welfare programs.
In two hours of knocking on doors and canvassing shop owners in the hilltop barrio of El Morro, accompanied by a local auto mechanics teacher allied with the opposition, the students get a polite but mostly cool reception.
Most people barely engage them. Some, like 79-year-old retired plumber Valentin Castillo, openly dismiss them.
"You're killing a lot of people, torching cars. You're against us, against everyone," Castillo says, raising his voice.
"Exactly. We agree with you. We're against the blockades, too," says Viscuna, trying to get in a word.
But Castillo doesn't buy it.
He mentions the slaying of National Guardsmen, the government's shock troops against protesters, by unknown gunmen — four have now been killed — and a motorcyclist who authorities say was killed by a steel cable stretched across a street by protesters.
"What are they looking for with this fight?" Castillo demands, doubting Viscuna's claim not to endorse violence or seek the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.
Some people the students meet say they, too, are fed up enough with worsening food shortages, crippling inflation and unchecked violent crime — the very maladies that precipitated the unrest — and would take to the streets, too, but for their fear of pistol-packing pro-government posses known as "colectivos" that have violently suppressed dissent. The colectivos have been implicated in at least six protest-related killings, only one in metropolitan Caracas.
Katherin Castillo, a 35-year-old single mother of five, and her neighbors are exhausted by the roulette that food shopping has become, of spending hours in queues outside state-run supermarkets in hopes that flour, milk, cooking oil will show up at subsidized prices.
On this morning, chicken is all Castillo has on offer at the storefront canteen where she serves cheap breakfasts.
"I would go out and protest. But I'm afraid," Castillo says after the students leave. "The colectivos are abusing their power, and a mother can't take risks."
The auto mechanics teacher who accompanies the students, Jorge Idrogo, says colectivos threw him to the street when he tried to protest at a busy Petare intersection on Feb. 17, his banner torn away while national police stood by idly. Such stories about colectivos abound.
Earlier this month, colectivos twice prevented students from entering Petare to explain themselves in assemblies with residents in two districts, says Idrogo, 35.
"It's the only way around the government media blackout," he says. State-run media portray student protesters as violent troublemakers bent on destroying the gains of 15 years of socialist-inspired advances.
Student leader Alfredo Graffe of Simon Bolivar University said the movement has held more than a dozen informational meetings in working-class districts since late February, but says it is only safe for students to visit by daylight.
In the lower middle-class district of Caricuao in Caracas' mostly pro-government west, colectivos have broken up all five student-organized protests since mid-February. In other parts of the proletarian west, students have dared not even try.
Which is why the handbill that Idrogo presses into people's hands as he works his neighborhood with the students, his wife and two young children, stresses the shared problems of all Venezuelans in simple language spoken by stick figures in comic book-like balloons.
"I've been robbed."
"I don't know when the water will come back on."
"They didn't get the guy who killed him."
"Two months without obtaining milk."
The handbills that the students distribute use fancier words and list demands: The government must acknowledge that its economic policies are bankrupting the country. It must halt censorship, reverse violent crime that has made Venezuela a world leader in murder.
But Venezuela's poor are, on the whole, more worried about losing the pensions, subsidies, education and basic health services gained under Chavez if the opposition were to come to power.
That's what University of Georgia sociology graduate student Rebecca Hanson says people tell her in the sprawling working-class district of Catia in Caracas' west, where she has been living on-and-off since 2009. "I think people are widely interpreting the protests as seeking to get Maduro out of office and nothing else."
On top of that, the students have not clearly articulated an agenda, says Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Venezuelan Datanalisis polling firm. And they're divided among moderates and radicals just like the main opposition parties.
"I'd say the majority are moderates, but they've been tainted by the radical battle at the barricades, and get blamed for it," says Leon. In all, at least 26 people have been killed in the unrest, by government count.
Ironically, many of the protesters who have battled riot police regularly in Caracas' upper class Chacao district in recent weeks hail from poorer barrios, where they say they don't dare protest publicly.
Those who have tried to organize peaceful marches in their home districts say the repressive response from armed, government-allied groups has been swift.
When colectivos broke up a Feb. 17 protest in the southwestern district of Caricuao, firing tear gas and blocking marchers with motorcycles as National Guardsmen stood by idly, a local colectivo leader approached the father of Jefres Henriquez, a 23-year-old student activist who lives there.
The leader knew both father and son because Henriquez had once worked at a children's summer camp that the colectivo runs.
"He showed my father a photo of me and said, 'We need to take action against your son,' said Henriquez.
So he fled, and didn't return for a week.
"When I got back, I got calls from colectivo members who said they wanted to meet with me," said Henriquez.
Fearful, he declined.
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.
BTW Denny, I want you to know, and I think I speak for the collective effort here, that your posts are greatly appreciated. I would chalk up the rather small number of rejoinders to the fact that we do not have much to add-- but note that the read to post ratio on the Venezuelan threads (about 150/1 on this one) is quite strong.
When one is not in the trenches or in the command post there is not much one can say beyond reporting what one perceives as the facts specially if the news are about a distant land. I'm not expecting replies to my posts, I'm quite happy that in a small way I'm able to overcome the tyrant's censorship. If the members of this forum were to rebroadcast these news to other forums and social networks, that would be highly appreciated.
Didn't you used to post on the infamous Gilder Tech Board yrs ago?
I most certainly did!
Do you ever feel in danger in Venezuela?
No more than elsewhere if you know how to stay out of unnecessary trouble. But on occasion one does feel a terrible pressure of not being in control. You have to remember that good news is not news and sells no papers. The lost Malaysian plane is getting hundreds of headlines but the thousands of flights that arrive safely get none at all.
Narrated in Spanish but the images need no translation. In America a video such as this would have a warning label.
I'm amazed that it has taken some people fifteen years to realize that peaceful elections is not the practical solution to dictatorship any more than prayers are the cure for cancer. Cancer is fought with deadly force, surgery and chemotherapy. Dictatorship is a social cancer that needs to be destroyed with deadly force.
To Those That Think Maduro Is Not A Dictator: ¿Qué Pasa en Venezuela? by Foro Penal Venezolano March 14, 2014
I am still amazed by the number of people that are still saying we should wait for elections, bla, bla bla. The video above proves beyond any doubt that Nicolas Maduro has become the Dictator of Venezuela. He has to go. Period.
And if you still have doubts, read Gustavo Coronel’s article “Approaching the Unthinkable” about Venezuela importing oil and you will realize that indeed, under Chavismo, all that oil underground will always stay there.
World Bank's ICSID Rejects Venezuela "Appeal" over ConocoPhillips
CARACAS -- In a 2-1 decision, the World Bank's arbitration panel, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), has rejected Venezuela's request for "reconsideration" of ICSID's September 2013 finding that it had jurisdiction and that Venezuela was liable for the expropriation of ConocoPhillips' investments in the Latin American nation.
ConocoPhillips originally brought the biggest case to date against Venezuela in December of 2007, seeking $30 billion in compensation for stakes in two Orinoco projects - Petrozuata and Hamaca - and two joint venture exploration agreements in the Gulf of Paria, all of which Venezuela expropriated in 2007.
After years of briefs and hearings -- including an attempt by Venezuela to disqualify one of the 3 arbitrating judges and the death and replacement of another -- on September 3, 2013, ICSID ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the claim and that Venezuela had indeed breached its obligations under the Netherland's Bilateral Investment Treaty "to negotiate in good faith" to compensate ConocoPhillips for the expropriation and was therefor liable to pay damages for the expropriation.
In an unusual move that the majority of the panel ruled was not allowed, Venezuela sought to have the panel "re-consider" the jurisdiction and liability decision, after writing a letter 5 days after the decision, on September 8, 2013 (below), and claiming that new evidence had come to light via a U.S. Embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks that Venezuela had not stopped negotiating.
After examining the ICSID treaty and past rulings, "the majority of the Tribunal concludes that it does not have the power to reconsider the Decision of 3 September 2013," the majority made up of Judge Kenneth Keith, President, and L. Yves Fortier, CC, QC, wrote. "Section 3 of Part IV of the ICSID Convention sets out the Powers and Functions of the Tribunal, with nothing among its provisions even hinting at such a power."
The judge appointed by Venezuela, Egyptian Professor Georges Abi-Saab, dissented.
Abi-Saab, who replaced English barrister Sir Ian Brownlie after Brownlie died in 2009, has a law degree from Cairo University, an MA in Economics from the University of Paris, an MA in Economics from the University of Michigan, a Masters of Law (LLM) and SJD from Harvard Law School, and Doctor of Political Science from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, according to his biography.
"A strong case can be made for the existence of a general power of reconsideration by an ICSID tribunal of its interlocutory decisions (within certain limits or under certain conditions all the same) in a case still pending before it," wrote Abi-Saab in his lone dissent, that contained many typographical and grammatical errors. "However, if the answer to the question whether such a power exists or not were to be in the negative, there remains the possibility ... that the Tribunal possess a specific power for dealing with requests based on a particular or certain particular legal grounds."
The ICSID panel then ordered Venezuela and ConocoPhillips to move on to arguing over how much the award should be. ConocoPhillips, which says it invested over $4.6 billion in the oil ventures starting in the 1990s, is now reportedly seeking $6.5 billion for the siezed assets. Venezuela has offered $2.3 billion.
ConocoPhillips is to file their damages brief ("Memorial on Quantum") by May 19, with Venezuela's damages brief due 10 weeks later. After that, both sides will have another 8 weeks in which each will file Reply Briefs, with ICSID fixing a hearing for oral arguments after that.
Another U.S. oil giant, Exxon Mobil Corp, has been seeking up to $10 billion at ICSID also for the expropriation in 2007 of a large heavy crude project in the Orinoco region. In February of 2012, Venezuela was ordered to pay ExxonMobil about $908 million in compensation by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in lost contractual earnings because of the expropriations (decision below).
"The ICSID decision on the actual losses suffered by ExxonMobil from Venezuela's expropriation is expected soon," says Russ Dallen, an international lawyer and banker who follows the cases and studied under ICSID judge Sir Ian Brownlie at Oxford University. "Venezuela and ExxonMobil filed their final post-hearing briefs almost 2 years ago in May of 2012."
In the ConocoPhillips case, Venezuela may keep stalling for time, says Dallen. "Apparently, Venezuela now intends to try to disqualify the 2 judges that ruled against them on the panel -- even after they had already challenged one and lost."
In October of 2011, Venezuela filed a challenge to Canadian Judge L. Yves Fortier, QC, who had been appointed by ConocoPhillips. A tribunal heard the challenge and ruled against Venezuela 4 months later in February of 2012.
For the record, this is not yet the time for talks - Denny Schlesinger.
Protests and talks widen rifts in Venezuela opposition By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS (Reuters) - As violent protests in Venezuela alienate moderates in the opposition and show no signs of toppling President Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader's call for talks is deepening divisions between his rivals.
The country's worst civil unrest in a decade has killed at least 20 people, including supporters of both sides and members of the security forces, since early last month.
Day after day, thousands of opposition supporters march peacefully in cities around the nation, demanding political change and an end to high inflation, shortages of basic foods in stores, and one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Then every night, hooded opposition militants emerge around a square in eastern Caracas brandishing rocks and Molotov cocktails, clashing with riot police and turning one of the capital's most affluent neighborhoods into a battlefield.
The violence is fueling tensions inside the opposition, with moderates scared it could spin further out of control and tarnish the cause of peaceful political change in the future.
Maduro appears to have weathered the worst of the demonstrations on the streets for now and is repeatedly offering talks, creating a new dilemma for opposition leaders.
So far, they have put tough conditions on any discussions, saying they refuse to be part of a "photo opportunity" and that they fear the government has no intention of addressing issues such as corruption, impunity and political prisoners.
The Democratic Unity opposition coalition said on Friday it would only sit down for dialogue with Maduro if the meeting were mediated by someone "of good faith" - and broadcast live.
"We're sick of violence. Everyone is being attacked," it said in a statement. "We're showing our hand to the public ... (We want) true dialogue, a clear agenda, and equal conditions."
But with pleas for talks coming from as far afield as the White House, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis, the refusal to attend any discussions to date has drawn criticism, including from within the coalition's ranks.
Opposition lawmaker Hiram Gaviria quit his party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time) and the coalition on Friday over its ban on attending talks at the Miraflores presidential palace.
Gaviria blamed the unrest on the government, which he said had imposed a broken social and economic model and used 15 years of "hate speech" to undermine its opponents.
But he said he would meet anyone, anywhere, to try to avoid more violence, even if dialogue stood little chance of success.
"How many more deaths must there be before we talk and find understanding?" asked the legislator from central Aragua state. "There has to be dialogue."
The opposition was deeply divided for years until it showed remarkable cohesion ahead of the 2012 presidential election and again last year when a new vote was called to succeed socialist leader Hugo Chavez after his death from cancer.
The current protests, however, have reopened old rifts between those who advocate street action to force the president from power, and others with a slow-boil strategy of building support in the cities and states they govern while letting the dysfunctional economy weaken the government.
Maduro's critics, some of whom have vowed to stay in the streets until he resigns, are demanding the release of political prisoners, justice for victims of what they call repression, and the disbandment of armed pro-government militant groups that are accused of attacking opposition protesters.
Another opposition lawmaker, Ismael Garcia, said the majority of Democratic Unity were in favor of serious talks.
"Nobody has rejected dialogue, but there have to be very clear rules to the game, and we must work together," he said.
But it is not clear how opposition leaders want to handle the demonstrations. Though Maduro's opponents condemn the violence by a small but vocal minority, they continue to support street mobilizations that often lead to such clashes.
Plaza Altamira, site of the nightly battles with riot police, once enjoyed its reputation as one of the capital's nicest spaces. Now the street corners are piled with burnt trash and charred wires, broken bricks and shattered glass.
The barricading of roads by demonstrators has led to fist-fights, fatal shootings, more teargas, and incensed cries of "repression" from more shrill voices in the opposition.
While they understand the frustration, others disagree.
"Rejecting the barricades doesn't mean one supports the government," said local political analyst Luis Vicente Leon.
Maduro appears to have survived the short-term challenge to his rule. Coinciding with the emotional anniversary of Chavez's death, the protests have even given him a chance to unite the ruling Socialist Party against a common threat.
At an event to mark International Women's Day on Saturday, Maduro consoled the sobbing wife of a pro-government actor who described how they were screamed at in a Caracas restaurant by dozens of opposition supporters who walked in banging pots and pans and yelling that her husband was a murderer.
Maduro offered again to sit down with the opposition.
"If you want, we'll do a closed-door session first and tell each other everything we need to say, and then we'll speak to the country together," he said in a nationally televised speech.
He was worried, he said, that the opposition's leadership was crumbling and creating an unpredictable power vacuum.
"I don't say this as a joke ... it's very dangerous. Anyone could take over who has violent plans, and that would be worse."
In a sign of increasing confidence, an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that many in the opposition had hoped would prove to be a disaster for Maduro, pleased the president so much that state TV has re-run it in its entirety two nights running.
The answer which most outraged his foes in the opposition: when Amanpour asked Maduro what kept him awake at night, and he replied that he slept "peacefully, like a child."
"It was a very good interview, forgive my immodesty," he told Saturday's rally. "But any of you, if you sat with Amanpour, would answer as well or better than me, because it's the truth of the people, the true story of Venezuela."
(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Kieran Murray and Eric Walsh)
Biden says Venezuela 'concocting' bogus stories By FRANK BAJAK 23 minutes ago
Demonstrators lie on the ground holding statistics about the people murdered in the 14 years of Chavista government, at a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 7, 2014. Venezuela is coming under increasing international scrutiny amid violence that most recently killed a National Guardsman and a civilian. United Nations human rights experts demanded answers Thursday from Venezuela's government about the use of violence and imprisonment in a crackdown on widespread demonstrations. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden calls Venezuela's situation alarming in remarks published Sunday, suggesting its government is using "armed vigilantes" against peaceful protesters and accusing it of "concocting false and outlandish conspiracy theories" about the United States.
Biden's remarks, issued in writing to a Chilean newspaper in response to questions, drew an angry rebuke from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
"We reject their aggression," President Maduro told supporters at a rally the socialist-led government held at the presidential palace. "They were defeated in the OAS and now they want revenge."
The U.S. had strongly objected to a declaration of solidarity for Venezuela issued by the Organization of American States on Friday night.
Washington said the declaration contradicted the OAS charter, in part, by stressing non-intervention in Venezuela over guaranteeing that human rights and free speech are respected there. Twenty-nine states voted in favor of Friday night's declaration with only the United States, Canada and Panama objecting.
"The situation in Venezuela reminds me of previous eras, when strongmen governed through violence and oppression; and human rights, hyperinflation, scarcity, and grinding poverty wrought havoc on the people of the hemisphere," Biden told El Mercurio.
"The situation in Venezuela is alarming," he wrote. "Confronting peaceful protesters with force and in some cases with armed vigilantes; limiting the freedoms of press and assembly necessary for legitimate political debate; demonizing and arresting political opponents; and dramatically tightening restrictions on the media" is not what Washington expects from a signatory to international human rights treaties.
Rather than engaging the opposition in a "genuine dialogue," Biden added, "Maduro has thus far tried to distract his people from the profound issues at stake in Venezuela by concocting totally false and outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States."
Maduro claims student-led protests that ignited Feb. 12, mostly peaceful but including almost daily street clashes with security forces, are an attempt by the extreme right to overthrow him.
The demonstrations have been joined mostly by middle-class Venezuelans fed up with inflation that reached 56 percent last year, chronic shortages of some food staples, and one of the world's highest murder rates. But some poorer Venezuelans, students in particular, are taking part. The government says 21 people have died.
On Sunday afternoon in eastern Caracas, about 100 demonstrators threw rocks at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. Some protesters tore a bus kiosk from the sidewalk and set it ablaze, providing authorities with an opportunity to repeat on state media its accusation that anti-government activists are vandals.
Despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary, Maduro on Sunday denied that armed paramilitary supporters of the government have employed violence against protesters.
"The only violent armed groups in the street are those of the right," he told the crowd.
In a statement issued by the presidency, Maduro also accused the opposition was "receiving financing from the United States" to undermine "a solid democracy that has had the popular backing in 18 elections over 15 years." He offered no evidence.
The statement said Venezuela was nevertheless interested in renewing" full diplomatic relations with the United States based on "mutual respect" and "non-intervention."
The two nations have been without ambassadors since 2010 and Venezuela has expelled eight U.S. diplomats in the past 13 months for alleged meddling.
Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, later met at the presidential palace with actor-activist Sean Penn and Haiti's prime minister. Penn is an ambassador-at-large for Haiti, where he runs a nonprofit aid group. He was shown on state television and made no public comments.
Biden and Maduro are both scheduled to attend Tuesday's swearing-in of Michelle Bachelet as Chile's president.
Bachelet, who was also Chile's president in 2006-10, recently said her administration will support Maduro's government and the Venezuelan people so they can "search for the democratic means to social peace."
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Josh Lederman in Washington and Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.