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The entertaining but tragic Venezuelan social and political circus

By Gustavo Coronel

January 8, 2005 | The Venezuelan day to day is a huge soap opera, never a dull moment. The antics of the revolutionary regime offer abundant opportunities for entertainment although much of what is happening is also very tragic. Take, for example, the passing of, still, a new law that will penalize with substantial prison time anyone who publicly or privately "offends" the President or his immediate collaborators. The law is preposterous for several reasons, including (a), who will establish what an offense is? And (b) why only the President and his collaborators should be protected from "offenses" and not all citizens? In combination with the Gag Law recently passed in Venezuela to "regulate" the Media, this new set of restrictions in fact kills freedom of expression. What happens if I write that Chávez is authoritarian and inept? Is this an opinion or an insult? What happens if I say that the levels of bureaucratic corruption in Venezuela are extremely high? Would I go to prison for saying this? I suspect I would. I believe that the "laws" recently passed will be used by the regime to send dissenters to prison. Will I ever feel safe again in my home country? No way. Up to now I was afraid of criminals who roam the streets of Venezuelan communities in total impunity but now I will also be afraid of repression by the regime.

Consider also the case of the "Foreign Minister" of the Colombian guerrillas, FARC, the terrorist organization. This is a person having several names and nationalities (the trademark of criminals), recently captured in Cucuta (or in Caracas) by the Colombian (or the Venezuelan police), after being invited by the Venezuelan regime (or being in the country incognito), attending a meeting of Latin American revolutionaries promoted by the regime. This gentleman, known as Rodrigo Granda Escobar, also known as Ricardo Gonzalez, is the international representative of the FARC. He came to Venezuela (or was already living in Venezuela) invited by the organizers of the Bolivarian Popular Congress, held in Caracas in December 2004. He is now in the hands of the Colombian authorities. While in this Congress, he met with Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, with the also Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and with former Nicaraguan guerrilla fighter and President Daniel Ortega, a frequent visitor to Venezuela. Apparently this person was captured by the police or, some say, by bounty hunters and delivered to the Colombian authorities. The case becomes more intricate, as a former President of the Venezuelan Congress has come forward to say that this terrorist was given Venezuelan citizenship last year, one day before the presidential referendum, without being eligible, given that he would needed to be a Venezuelan resident for five years. The dilemma of the Venezuelan regime is monumental: will they protest the capture of this man in Venezuelan territory, given that he seems to be a Venezuelan citizen? Will they approve of the capture and incur in the wrath of the FARC and of the fellow travelers who attended the Caracas meeting? In fact, both the FARC and the fellow travelers have already expressed their indignation against the Venezuelan regime in communications published in the alternative media website The protest of the fellow travelers is signed, among others, by James Petras and Noam Chomsky. In connection with this case, the regime says one thing today and a different one tomorrow.

Or, please consider the tragic death of prosecutor Danilo Anderson, blown up in his car by still unknown persons. All high-level members of the regime, who glorified him as a symbol of the revolution, attended his funeral. A medal in his honor has been created. Now, it seems, the persons he was prosecuting (bankers) were being subjected to extortion by a group close to him, or so claims one of them. A close friend of Anderson, named Carlos Herrera, has denounced that USD $500,000 in cash (in Venezuelan Bolivar's) Anderson had in his apartment had disappeared and has involved the son of Vice-president Rangel, currently Mayor of Petare, a suburb of Caracas, in the case. The case has started to backfire on the regime, as it now appears as if the prosecutor was not as pure and idealistic as originally claimed.

Or consider the decrees appearing all over the country, signed by regional governors, "confiscating" private lands "which are not being fully utilized or are not legally owned by the occupants," the terms utilization and ownership being defined, of course, by the regime. As I write this, a ranch owned by an English company in the State of Cojedes, is being taken over and given over to Venezuelan families. Squatters already mostly invade the ranch anyway and the head of cattle have rapidly dwindled from 5,000 to scarcely over 1,000. A rabid leftist, Domingo Alberto Rangel, writes about these decrees and calls them "a farce." He says (, January 6, 2005): "Venezuela does not have a land problem because no one lives in the rural environment. Venezuela has no agriculture except around the Lake of Maracaibo or the Andes . . . the manufacturing industry has disappeared. The factories left to Colombia and Brazil. While the agriculture slowly disappeared, the industry collapsed abruptly…. In Venezuela all people engaged in agriculture are Colombian nationals. . . . The people invading the Cojedes private land was brought in buses from the big cities . . . behind the take over are some military officers. We cannot forget that the military are land grabbers." And Domingo Alberto Rangel adds: "There are two industries in Venezuela: petroleum and corruption." Thus speaks a man considered by the regime as being highly sympathetic to the "revolution." The truth of this farce, as Rangel calls it, is that the Venezuelan government is the biggest landholder in the country. Why won’t they start their highly publicized but totally ineffective Land Reform by distributing the idle land THEY own? Ministers of Agriculture come and go (the last one was sacked by Chávez a few hours ago) but the food Venezuelans eat every day is imported. The imported food is put into bags with printed revolutionary slogans and is distributed by the regime, at subsidized prices, expanding on a policy of State handouts that is reducing the Venezuelan citizens to chronic beggary. Will I be sent to prison for saying this?

Or, consider the situation of the Venezuelan Central Bank, probably the last remnant of institutional autonomy in the country, soon to disappear since the whole Board will be removed by the regime. For months Chávez has been asking the Bank, over TV (but never formally in writing claims the current President of the Bank), to fork over an immense amount of money defined as exchange profits. The current Board has resisted this demand claiming that it is based on false assumptions made by the former Finance Minister, Tobias Nóbrega, recently sacked by Chávez (another one that bit the dust). The President of the Bank, Diego Castellanos, also claims ( Forum, January 6t, 2005) that the President is not asking but demanding the money and threatening the Board members if they do not agree to his demands. On national TV, December 20th, says Castellanos "President Chávez made pejorative references to my father, which hurt me and my family." This is an absurd situation. The president of a country using compulsory TV time (cadena) to tell the watchers that the father of the Venezuelan Central Bank is this or the other. The fact that the Venezuelan Central Bank is the holder of Venezuelan International reserves but is undergoing immense government pressure to fork over the money will not promote confidence in the regime among international investors.

Or, consider the recent agreement signed by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, on the basis of which Venezuela will transfer to Cuba "Venezuelan owned technology in the Energy sector," among many other deliverables. This agreement is between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, not between the peoples of Cuba and Venezuela since it was presented to both peoples as "fait accompli." This is OK in Cuba where there is a 45-year-old dictatorship but not in Venezuela, where there is a democratic façade, a National Assembly that should ratify treaties after open discussion and a Moral Power that is intended to speak for citizens against any abuse of power by the Executive. Through this agreement, in fact, Venezuela and Cuba become almost ONE single State. The implications of such an agreement signed by two persons, without the concurrence of their peoples, are enormous.

Or, consider the fact that Venezuela is now ranked below Haiti in the Index of Economic Freedom prepared every year by the Heritage Foundation. (Released by the Heritage Foundation, January 4, 2005. Contact Mr. Jim Weidman, 202-675-1761 for additional information). Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti are three of the most repressed economies in Latin America. Venezuela not only suffers under chronic political turbulence but also has increased the fiscal burden of the State while monetary policy; banking and finance and black market activities have all deteriorated.

Or, consider the comical new Utopian experiment designed by the regime: The creation of a "new man." This project is guaranteed to make us smile since it is relatively harmless. It is chaired by Mr. Carlos Lanz, a former kidnapper ("Grand Utopian Experiments are funded by oil money" Jose de Cordoba, The Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2004, page A1). I remember Lanz well as the man who kidnapped William Niehaus in Venezuela, in 1976. Those were the years of communist inspired urban terror in Venezuela. Now Lanz wants Venezuelans to stop drinking Pepsi Cola and start drinking Sugarcane juice (not bad but too sweet). He also, says de Cordoba, wants to stop the consumption of hamburgers in favor of "cachapas" (why should they be mutually exclusive?). This falls into the general concept of "endogenous development," roughly the south to the north of globalization. According to De Cordoba, a manager of the "new" Petroleos de Venezuela, that used to be a petroleum company but is now a social welfare agency: "This is a policy of development from within, with materials from within, by those within for those within." I am afraid that this policy from within will soon leave Venezuelans without . . . computers, U.S. made airplanes, French wines, Scotch whisky, viagra, Spanish and Italian hams, foreign books, any thing which is not from within. I could do for a while with the excellent, burgundy like Venezuelan red wine (POMAR) or with the sausages from Los Teques or a bicycle. But spending the rest of our lives reading the poems of Tarek William Saab (the poet laureate of the regime) or watching local TV programs is too much. Why should we refuse to enjoy the fruits of human creativity? Is the planet to be divided into small closed cantons, all controlled by petty caudillos? Why should a kidnapper become my spiritual and philosophical mentor? This project, which will not progress, as dozens of previous fantasies of the regime have been mercifully forgotten, is nevertheless expensive. It is diverting required re-investment funds from Petroleos de Venezuela to the ill planned fantasies of the regime. In the last three years, the plans inspired in the ideas of Chávez but later abandoned or forgotten by the government include: hydroponics farms in the cities, vertical chicken coops, "empanada" routes, the conversion of the presidential palace into a University, the conversion of the La Carlota Airport into a big City Park, the solution of the plight of Street Children (now rebaptized as Children of the Fatherland), eight anti-poverty plans, the development of the Orinoco River Axis (only the preliminary studies ran into millions of dollars), the Institute for Land Reform ( now superseded by the regional Governor's decrees), The Women's Bank, the Bank of the Military, the Bank for the Poor, the new State airline and, as Yul Brinner used to say in "The King and I": etc., etc., etc. They have all meant expenses and new bureaucracy. Once a new government organization is created, its main mission becomes to survive.

The country is going down the drain but, never a dull moment, one of the greatest shows on Earth, even better than the Peripatetic Entercationers depicted by Jack Vance in "Emphiryo" (ibooks, Inc., December 2004, New York).

I would like to close this note with a brief reference to the personal attacks made upon me by someone called Carlos Herrera, writing in Mr. Herrera refers to me and other members of the opposition to Chávez as "souls poisoned by the filthy dollars . . . traitors to their homeland." He recommends the Venezuelan Minister of Information to act against me and the other writers who oppose the regime of Hugo Chávez. Mr. Herrera accuses me of being financed "by the U.S. government" and committed to the overthrow of the Chávez government by "fair means or foul." He calls us "a group of Venezuelan traitors." He seems to be the official spokesperson of VHeadline when he says: "As an editorially independent e-publication in support of democracy. . . . VHeadline is undeniably part of that bulwark of Venezuelan national defense." Mr. Herrera is lucky that I am not a member of the revolutionary regime because this collection of insults would merit some years in a Venezuelan prison. To set the record straight, I am who I say I am. I sign my articles with my real name and stand by what I write. I do not receive payment from the U.S. government or any other institution or person for writing what I write. A traitor is someone who sells his, her pen and services to dictators and becomes a spy for a foreign government, not someone who has the decency to stand by his/her convictions. I am making Mr. "Herrera" directly responsible for whatever action the Venezuelan State police could take against me due to his libelous statements. I travel frequently in and out my country, a country to which I am entitled by birth and by a lifetime of honest civic action. I am not a foreign mercenary but a Venezuelan citizen. Disgusted by the style of ruling the country the regime has, I am currently living abroad and I have made this a matter of public record. I do not hide my place of residence. Mr. "Herrera," however, lives in hiding and in sad obscurity, surrounded by drab and gray stonewalls.

Bolívar said: "Only criminals work in the shadows."

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