Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Venezuela: Stay Hungry,

Hunger and Hummers - Plenty of Both

A top UN official gave a progress report, on Latin American countries committed to the 1996 Global Food Summit goals on reducing hunger by half by the year 2015. Buried in the EFE article, is news that the petro-kleptocracy in power in Venezuela, is lagging the furthest behind in meeting the goals among Latin Americans, joining Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay.

The UN agency (FAO)reported 11 percent of Venezuelans were suffering from malnourishment in 90-92, a number that went up by the late 90's and was at 18% in 2001 and 17% in 2002, already several years into Chavez rule. Since then, and with big fanfare, the Chavista government has enacted and financed all sorts of anti-poverty/anti-hunger schemes. On paper, it looks like the Petro-state, flush with oil revenue, has directed significant resources to try and tackle the problem. The Venezuelan supremo boasts about how much his government has helped the poor the past 9 years, a sentiment echoed by lemmings everywhere who loudly claim that socialism ala Venezuelais the alternative to "evil neo-liberalism." In places like Bolivia this is actually taken seriously.

But according to the regimes own publications, as of November of 06, the number of people suffering malnutrition was still hovering at 19 percent. So it looks like the present government has barely managed to catch up with the population growth, much less do anything to resolve such a basic problem.  Chavez is supposed to be an agent of change. Despite much lower oil prices, dealing with food riots, and coup-happy Teniente Coroneles, less Venezuelans went hungry under Chavez nemesis Carlos Andres Perez.

You can argue about the percentages and population increases, but you can't argue with oil prices: a barrel of oil was $25 dollars in 03, and it is nearing $100 now. The governments revenues wildly exceed its own forecasts, and it has more power over it than previous governments. It should have something to show for it. Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru - besides the usual chaos - at least have somewhat of an excuse, since they took a huge pounding with the Argentina/Brazil crisis, and are slowly recovering.

In a bizarre twist, Venezuelan writer, Marianella Salazar points out in this blog, Chavez petro-dollars somehow enabled miserable, broken, Cuba to meet its goals. Truth is, when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, two slices of bread a day counts as an improvement over one. But still is ironic, considering how backward the place is, that it still tops the country that bankrolls it.

It may be gifted with a once-in-a-lifetime oil bonanza, but disfunction, delusion, and plain waste sums up Chavez' Venezuela. A government that combines the efficiency, incentives, and rationality of central planned economies with the transparency and honesty of crony capitalism. A leader who boasts about being a large donor to eliminate hunger in Africa, but can't do it at home. Where price controls mean the poor do not find milk in stores, but imported cheese and whiskey are available with cash. Where subsidized oil means the rich fill up their Hummer(s) with gas for under a dime a gallon. Don't expect much to change, Chavez new constitution will simply enshrine his way of doing business permanently.

Venezuela: The Hummer Revolution

No this is not an offshoot of the 1960's Free Love Movement. It rather has to do with GM's large SUV, and a quote by Hugo Chavez picked up by the NYT...

“What kind of a revolution is this?” the president said on his television show this month, after a report here that General Motors was planning to import 3,000 Hummers to meet a rising demand. “One of Hummers?”

This is hilarious.....In the disfunctional "Boliviarian 21st Century Socialist" Republic there are enough people scamming the Venezuelan governments coffers directly or indirectly - or selling stuff to the first two groups, to be able to import these monsters, which they then fill up with subsidized gas at 7 cents a gallon.

This is typical of the lunacy of the Chavista "robber-lution". On the one hand oil rent is purposefully filtered to the rich in order to keep them happy with the Coup-plotter in chief. On the other hand, many of Chavez' "anti-neo-liberal" policies of centralizing power over finances and oil production and expanding the state, have enabled crazy levels of corruption to go unchecked. More bling for the new and old rich alike.

The poor on the other hand, get good old fashioned socialism: they have to wait a long time for buses.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chavez Threatens Bolivian Opposition

Looking for proof Chavez has his claws into Bolivia, and that Evo Morales seems almost a puppet of the Venezuelan strongman? Yesterday Chavez directly threatened the Bolivian opposition on his weekly show, broadcast from Cuba of all places. Saying that Venezuelans "will not sit still" if Evo is overthrown or killed by the Bolivian "oligarchy", and that it would be a "Vietnam of machine guns" they would face. He also helpfully indicated that "compromise" with "oligarchs" was impossible.

While the lemmings who are quick to chime in about all sorts of abuses of soveirgnity by the US, World Bank, and IMF, they ignore the Chavista petro-kleptocracy's heavy handed diplomacy. And heavy handed it is. Petro-dollars and bad advice are spread around to ideological allies. And the Boliviarian Supremo then takes a paternal interest in seeing his schemes go through. Take the case of Bolivia's Constituent Assembly - which Chavez brought up in his tirade. The MAS "proposal" is almost a cliff notes version of Chavez own "revisions" to Venezuelas Constitution. That Evo Morales has to contend with an effective opposition, which knows what lies in store if the document is approved, must drive Chavez nuts.

Morales selectively appeals to Bolivian's strong nationalism only when convenient. It is clear he will put his ideological preferences over sovereignity, as when he shamefully celebrated Che and the Cuban communist invaders of 1967 over the protests of his own Army. A U.S. Ambassador making comments about Bolivian politics is a sin, but allowing Evo's ideological mentor and paymaster to bully his opponents is perfectly ok within this context. One word for that: hypocrisy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"Suitcase-Gate" Venezuelan Government Now Wants Crony Extradited To Argentina

Remember Guido Antonini Wilson? He is the Key Biscayne, Florida, Venezuelan-American caught in Buenos Aires with 800k in cash in a private plane full of top Venezuelan and Argentinian functiona ries. The Chavez government, through Venezuelan attorney General weighs in on

They are asking the US to extradite Antonini to Argentina where he is sought in charges of money laundering. The official, Isais Rodriguez, claims they want to "clear up why he did not declare that money, establish why he brought it, for what it was [meant] for....whether he was there to "launder money or launder consciences".

In Argentina this is a major scandal; if came right after multinational execs, and a Kirchner cabinet member in separate events were caught with large sums of cash. Argentina wants Antonini extradited to the US.

While Chavez has avoided much of a scandal at home, it has been an international embarrasment, followed up by a report by Transparency International naming Venezuela as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. It also raised the issue of Chavez involving himself in political campaigns, and financing of hard-left groups. But up to now they have managed to contain the damage, by distancing themselves from Antonini. They have also claimed not having jurisidiction over Antonini, a US Citizen and residing in Florida.

Why Venezuela suddenly changed course is unclear. What is clear is that Antonini did business with a circle of companies and individuals close to the Chavista leadership, who got large contracts with the oil-rich state. The businessman obviously beneffited; he went from a modest distributor of tractor parts, to owning millions of dollars worth of condos in luxurious Key Biscayne in a couple of years.

Had this money been on route to Miami or the Caymans, you could chalk it up to money laundering. But it was going to Argentina on a plane full or Venezuelan and Argentinian officials. Some theorized it was a campaign contribution to Mrs. Kirchner, payments to radical mass movements allied of Chavez, or to pay some sort of business deal. Antonini told customs in Argentina that right before this trip, he had been at a luncheon with Chavez and was then and there told to go to Argentina, not even having time to bring a coat along. Antonini - by many accounts an affable fellow - had some level of confidence with top government officials in Venezuela, since he had made several trips to Uruguay and Argentina - accompanied by top Venezuelan officials.

This is a messy picture, it is hard to tell Chavista Official from pro-Chavez businessman, sanctioned or un-sanctioned business, official foreign policy from covert foreign policy, international trade or bribery.

It all boils down to what Antonini knows, and to who he says it to. At the moment the FBI (and one imagines the CIA) are talking to him - and Venezuela's government has a lot of reasons to be concerned. There is an unconfirmed report in South Florida's Venezuelan (anti-Chavez)press, that Antonini has already told them that he was not the "bagman", but was the designated fall guy when it became clear the passengers were going to be searched. That would directly place Argentine or Venezuelan officials with the 800K in cash.
These same reports in Miami also say that Antonini has already given up quite a bit to the Feds: not only Chavista corruption, but also payoffs to foreign governments and leaders. Venezuela's government has million$ of ways to convince him, and something might be worked out with Argentina. You never know, but the guy knows enough to have both governments worried.