Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Corruption in Venezuela II

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Corruption in Venezuela in which I used the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International to show the different trends, and I commented that I was waiting for this year's numbers to see the 'progress' of the Chavez regime. Well, as Daniel and Alek, have already reported, the 2005 indices are out (I have been a bit busy and doing some traveling lately, pardon my tardiness). So, here is an updated graph that includes the 2005 indices.

Let me start with the punch-line: Venezuela's index did not change, it's still 2.3 for this year. So let me put this in context. From my previous choice of countries Zimbabwe and Colombia improved to 2.6 and 4.0 respectively, while Brazil worsened to 3.7, which is not surprising given the recent corruption scandals around the governing party (remember that this is a perception index). That is, our 'model country,' Zimbabwe, improved by 0.3 while we stayed in the same level, which leaves Venezuela slightly above Iraq (2.2), and just above Paraguay (2.1) and Haiti (1.8) in the whole of the Americas. The next American countries in the list are: Guyana, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia all with an index of 2.5. So, I have to say that to me the biggest surprise in the index is the improvement of Zimbabwe.

Of course, the CPM™, has already tried to discredit Transparency International using words like "obscure methods" and the like, which are only obscure if you don't even try to read their web site, and pointing to previous ties to the "opposition," which is not only ad-hominem but ties into what I have said about the government use of the opposition tag before. As if an internationally recognized institute with more than 14 years of history had nothing better to do than to risk its reputation by attacking a petty dictator.

But there is a couple of points in TI's methodology that are worth mentioning. The Venezuela study used 10 different corruption studies (of a total of 16 different studies from 10 independent organizations that conduct these studies around the world) putting it in the high bracket for the number of studies used in any country. In the 2005 time period, the range of the studies' results has reduced to 0.2 (from 0.3 the previous year). That is, of all those 10 studies the 2.3 value assigned to the index is more solid this year than it was last year (and even more relevant, to the index assigned in the 1998 electoral year when the range was of 0.8). It is half the range of Brazil, and very small when compared to the 0.9 of Zimbabwe. Put in other words, discrediting Transparency international on this, is also discrediting the 10 different independent organizations that serve as the basis for the report.

So if I were to characterize this with a one-liner: No matter how you measure it, Venezuela is now more solidly corrupt under Chavez.

"Venezuela ahora es de Choros" means "Venezuela now belongs to thieves and thugs" which as reported in Daniel's article is the signature of one of Noticiero Digital's contributors, but the image has been around the e-mail circles for some time.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, the pioneer of the American Civil Rights movement died yesterday at 92.

Though the story is a relatively well known one for Americans, her very simple act of defiance in that December of 1955 that sparked a whole movement with MLK at its head, and in particular brought the bus company to its knees and made the supreme court declare the segregation laws unconstitutional, is relatively little known outside of the U.S. After all she just refused to stand from her seat in a bus because her feet hurt, right?. That's one of the misconceptions that surrounds this figure, and it's probably a reflection of the propaganda of the day. She was barely 42 at the time and she was really tired of the segregation, not of simply of her work.

Rosa Parks was an active member of the underground pacifist movement that existed back then, she was more than aware of passive resistance. In 1943 she had become a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she served as its secretary until 1956. She not only knew about what passive resistance meant, she had been trained in it for several years before that bus incident brought her to jail. And even then, as she would admit, she never thought that her little act of resistance would trigger such a movement. One of the beauties of passive resistance.

Venezuelans should study Mrs. Parks, as she is a very clear example of what passive resistance is about. She died peacefully, humbly, and with a very clean conscience, what better reward for such a great hero?.

The only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest
-Rosa Parks

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chavez and Mugabe the new dream team

So this is what it has come to?. Oppression, political assassinations, election 'adjustments', even the grant of poiltical asylum to low key Chavez opposers, none of that matters, as long as they criticize Bush and Blair?, as the irish press reports.

There is nothing new in Hugo Chavez giving a friendly embrace to Mugabe after all, as the relationship that he has had with prominent figures like Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il among others is nothing new. Though it seems that Chavez is closely following Mugabe's footsteps in his way to making another Cuba out of Venezuela (or just make both countries one as he has promised multiple times).

But what makes the "first world leftists," that you can find in any of my fellow bloggers comment sections, go gaga for these leaders?. I have to ask, because some leftists would at least admit to the damage their idols have done in their own countries, as a witty blogger reported about a Stalin t-shirt wearing youth in Venezuela a month or so ago: yeah, yeah, he killed a bunch of people, we can all agree that's terrible. But why does no one ever talk about all the good things he did?.

Ask Hugo Chavez

As Alek reported here, Daniel here, and Miguel here, the BBC has opened a form in their web site to allow for questions to be directed to Hugo Chavez as he will be interviewed in their 'talking points' section this week. Since BBC's position is very clear in the matter we don't have much hope of real questions getting through, but Alek promised to publish all the (decent) ones he gets, being pro, against or neutral to Chavez.

Here is my basic starting set which I am adding to their site right now:
  1. Why do you choose to ignore all the signs of corruption inside your government and even punish those inside your revolution like Walter Martinez that criticize it instead of acting against it as you promised during your campaign, do you realize that now Venezuela is more corrupt that ever?.
  2. Why do you insist in dividing your country with artificial divisions, like race, education, and experience. Why did Miquelena, your political mentor, leave you?
  3. Why do you insist in calling traitors those that seem to have the Venezuelan democracy in mind, while at the same time giving our territory away, giving citizenship to anyone that would vote for you, and allowing the infiltration of the country by foreign nationals that might sympathize with your cause
  4. Why are you spending so much money buying consciences around the world, while your own hospitals are falling apart?.
  5. Why don't you trust Venezuelans to be your security detail and bodyguards, choosing to use Cuban nationals, to which you have extended Venezuelan passports, instead?.

Let's let the BBC know what real people think about their position, should we?.

Follow-up: surprisingly to me a couple of good questions were asked, but Chavez just lied all he wanted without having a real confrontation with the facts. I guess one of the beauties of being interviewed by someone that did not do their homework. I don't have time to do a full post on it, but the whole interview was posted by Alek here and Daniel did a quick couple of articles on it, here and here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The frog in the boiler

I have wondered for a while, how can people let themselves fall into totalitarian regimes. How did Stalin become Stalin?, how did Mussolini become Mussolini?, how did Franco become Franco?, how did Hitler become Hitler?, how did Castro become Castro?.

Before, in royalty times, it was the thing to do, it was what was expected, so it's understandable that it took a thought revolution (and the quest for power of some of the displaced) to get from under the King's rule. But these modern regimes start from relatively little, sometimes with a military involvement sometimes democratically, but in many cases these regimes start by being popular and very gradually change their tune to become totalitarian.

It is amazing to me to see the apathy that Venezuelans have towards our current regime, quite a few have seen the regime change over time, and quite a few have seen where it's headed. But even then I have spent countless hours on the phone and countless e-mails to try to make my friends and family understand this, and I very seldom get past a "do you think so?, noooo, I know he is bad but no way it can get _that_ bad!." Of course some of those that see it clearly, have already left the country, or are making plans to do so. Many others, that also see it clearly, are desperate to get their neighbors understand this, as they cannot conceive the possibility of leaving their country. But the great majority of Venezuelans choose to ignore the signs, and go on with their lives, while the regime becomes more and more totalitarian. Partially because they feel themselves powerless to fight against it, partially because they prefer to ignore it to be able to justify their own inaction.

Chávez has made an art form out of dividing Venezuelans into 'us' vs. 'them,' this permeates all strata of society. The "opposition" (which as I have mentioned before includes everyone that does not agree with anything from the Chavez regime) is even divided by this, all the opposition political parties are now part of the "them," it does not matter how many good things they have done before, it does not matter how many good intentions, it does not matter how democratic they are, it does not even matter that some are recently formed parties to fight against Chavez regime. They are not "us" and as such, cannot be trusted to do anything good. But then, at the same time huge segments of the "opposition" is waiting for a leader to get them out of the bind Venezuela is in!. Am I the only one that sees a problem with this logic?.

I understand the sources of the apathy, and it all goes back to the Revocatory Referendum. The Venezuelan society was very organized back then following basic precepts of non-violent struggle, and it was this organization that allowed the RR process to go that far. But opposition party leaders made huge mistakes by negotiating with the regime (and they still don't seem to have learned that lesson), and failed their own people by not reacting fast enough to the multiple tricks pushed forward by the regime. After that, all the power that was in the hands of the Venezuelan people dissipated, and it even looks as if it had never existed.

But a year has gone by, and the basis of the fight should still be fresh in their minds. There are many people pointing out what needs to be done, but even in forums of people that think this same way, they choose to complain and whine, instead of choosing to fight, to get organized, to do what even the Venezuelan Catholic Church has said that must be done. It amazed me that I seem to have a better understanding of the consequences of article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution than many people that are actually lawyers and don't see a way out!. At least Súmate seems to have a clear idea by starting to organize a parallel government, so that the "ignoring a totalitarian regime" put forth by article 350 can be implemented. Let's hope that "they" succeed before even that article gets removed from our constitution, but to do that, it has to stop being "they" and start becoming "us."

So, unlike a frog, that contrary to popular belief would actually jump out if the water gets hot enough, people seem to just prefer the status quo, hoping that it will not get worse, without realizing day to day that it already has. And I can assure you that this does not apply _only_ to Venezuelans.


"All politics are based on the indifference of the majority."
-James Reston

"Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen."
-Dwight Eisenhower

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-Albert Einstein

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."
-Dale Carnegie

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-Edmund Burke

"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
-Albert Einstein

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
--Margaret Mead

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.
-- Dante Alighieri

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Born Again Agnostic

A friend of mine pointed out today that all agnostics are born-again, that becoming agnostic would normally come from a strong introspection on our belief system, and on what it means to be part of a religion just because our parents were part of that religion. So this kind of introspection is the revelation that makes us agnostic and can even be said that we are reborn through it. In my case it came when I was 15 and got exposed to the religions of the Mayans through the Popol Vuh, then I had a very different comparison point for the need of an explanation of our existence.

True agnostics could have much stronger sets of morals than a large number of the members of established religions, and in some cases (myself included) became agnostic precisely because we find many of the religious practices amoral and denigrating of the human condition, and of the same principles they claim to represent.

However being agnostic also means that our "religion" is kept in the inside, is very private and only revealed to the closest of our friends, and it coexists, without conflicts, with reason and understanding. We don't try to impose it on anyone, though it guides our everyday actions.

It is because of this being private that our views are characterized by many of the so called religious people as amoral, as we don't follow their religious precepts. Because we see the clear disconnect between their words and their actions. I privately howl every time that I hear the name of Jesus Christ being used by the same people to justify actions that Jesus himself would have rebelled against.

After all, back in his time, Jesus himself became the best known Born Again Agnostic. But in his case, he decided to spread his own religion.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Rule of Ilegality in Venezuela

I have had in mind writing an article about the difference between the Venezuelan Courts and the U.S. courts when it comes to actually applying 'the law', but law being very far from my interests I have not found the motivation to do the research about the details. Thankfully Miguel has found, and analyzed, an excellent document by a Venezuelan ex-supreme court justice (it's in spanish, but you can find it in Miguel's post) regarding the undemocratic, biased, and unconstitutional character of the new and improved revolutionary supreme court of Venezuela.

This is another point that seems impossible to get through to citizens of 'first world' countries. From the perspective of a working, albeit imperfect, legal system, it seems extremely hard to comprehend that when we say that we have 'partisan judges,' we mean judges that work for a party, not even bothering to give any veneer of justification for their partisan actions, and that would actually be on the public record as staunch supporters of the Chavez regime. When we say that the court is 'biased' we don't mean that the justices are left or right-leaning, we mean that _everything_ that the regime says must be right, unless your case is so outrageously strong that the international community might actually be outraged if they ruled the other way, and most times even that is not enough.

From the perspective of having a centuries old and extremely brief constitution, it seems hard to understand that when we say that a decision by the supreme court is 'unconstitutional,' we actually mean that there is an article of our constitution that explicitly says that what they did is illegal, not to mention that most of the constitutional assembly members are still alive though not so well, so we have plenty of people to point it out.

From Miguel's article:

...the "new" (and improved?) Court resolved the unconstitutionality of its own existence, as well as the requirements needed to be part of it, going as far as saying that the prerequisite of being a Full Professor of Law, does not mean you need to have an academic career, but simply that you are a Professor at any university, even at lower ranks.

The Court itself also approved and ratified that the National Assembly can approve, by simple majority, the New Supreme Court Bill, extending the number of Justices from 20 to 32, as well as the ability of the Assembly to remove or sanction Justices by a simple majority. This was accomplished in part, by the Court itself ratifying the validity of the new regulations of the National Assembly, also approved by simple majority. Talk about conflict of interest!

Yet another problem with bias and labels and if you have read my 'tenets' you already know that. But would you please stop using the label 'democracy' when you refer to such an outrageous government system?.

Now, would you also please consider this perspective when you think about Harriet Myers as a supreme Court nominee?. Or as Alfred E Newman would say, 'who, me worry?'

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Unbelievable apathy

It has always surprised me how people can be so apathetic to things that affect them directly without realizing that it requires relatively little action on their part to correct them. I am thinking about the Venezuelan society in particular, but I can see many equally disconcerting examples in the U.S.

Recently some friends of mine started fighting 'the man' in their school, because of a large number of inequalities in the treatment of Fellowship vs. non-Fellowship students (to make a long story short, fellowship recipients have less rights, and more problems than 'normal' research supported students), this inequality became more evident when comparing it to how other schools treat the same cases. After researching the issue, they found out that the whole problem can be traced to the difference in definition of a single word!!, "employee," because after all if you are a 'student' you cannot be an 'employee.' This very basic problem, actually affects a myriad things around campus, it generates inequalities in retirement funds, tax treatment, insurance premiums, and to a huge number of people (fellowship recipients and non-recipients alike). I hope you now you see why I have so many problems with labels.

Surely enough, today they are taking 'the man' with very good chances of success. And this is just a couple of grad students, armed with the right tools--reason and facts--that generated the right plan of action and did not accept no for an answer. And it only took them two weeks to get to the people than can exert the changes. But it strikes me as odd, that after hearing the myriad complaints from multiple people all across the school, for many years, such a simple problem had not been addressed before. And the answer is the failure to make the problem yours, to expect that someone else has to fix the problem, instead of forcing them to do it.

It is in this context that I see America today, I see the multitude of problems cropping up, I see electoral fraud (scary facts if you research them [1]), I see cronyism, the complete deterioration of the media, the increase in corporation power, I see the fast deterioration of democratic institutions all over. But I don't see the action, save for a small number of individuals that have made it their job to keep people informed, but people is not reacting

The only thing that you have to do is act, create your own plan of action, don't wait for someone else to do it for you. Choose a problem, dedicate half an hour a day to research it and join efforts with similar minded people to analyze what can be done (see the example of Otpor!, it really works). If Americans don't start paying more attention to their own country, in a few years, this beloved democracy will be no more.

Me?, I have Venezuela to worry about.

  1. Evidence of Electoral Fraud in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election: A Reading List, and please get over the bias label, you know what I think about that one.

Update: My friends had their first important meeting today (two rungs down from the school president), extremely well armed with facts and figures, and a recent read of my 'bias' article. They described to me how hard was to get through that one, but by the end she was surprised, concerned, and supportive. Most people don't realize that such injustices are just due to the administration not 'knowing' the effect of their practices, if someone had just taken the time to inform them before, these would not be there. Of course, an administrative practice of many years, around which a whole structure has been created, is hard and expensive to change, so now the real work starts.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Cronie, who?

I cannot believe this, exactly what is the Bush Administration thinking?. I really don't care much about who this Harriet Myers is. But to nominate her to the supreme court?. Is this some kind of distraction, a smoke screen?. A big resounding no, no, so that the next one can slide through looking great in comparison?.

Bush has clearly shown with superhero Brownie and all the others that have been indicted or forced to resign, that he likes to appoint cronies to important positions in his administration. Look how much good it has done with FEMA. And Harriet Myers clearly fits at least the 'buddy' definition by the book. When the best the media could do, is say that "she is very loyal, and worked for Bush!!!," and that is some sort of an endorsement!!!.

So, with such a track record in mind, there is only one main consideration for me in this case. It has to be someone that has a transparent public carrier, that is an elected official, a judge, a renowned personality, anyone!!, but his/her record has to be verifiable in some way. Not to figure out if she is partisan or not, but to see if she is able to make unbiased decisions at all!. Harriet Myers is as opaque as you can find in this regard, and she is unique as a supreme court nominee in not having any public record

So to me this innocent until proven guilty thing should not apply to Supreme Court nominees. This a lifetime election, a King or Queen election!!, higher standards have to apply. Congress should just say: "we refuse to even meet with her, we consider this insulting, try again," and not even waste their time. Anything else is a tacit approval to cronyism.