Monday, May 19, 2008

Blog Review:  Las Armas de Coronel

  

Gustavo Coronel

   
I am finally going to sit down and write my first blog review, which I always have intended to be one of the special offerings of this freedom blog.  So may I take pleasure in introducing all of you who are following the causes of freedom and democracy in this world across the numerous blogging and news information sites on the internet -- I have a small list of some of these on the sidebar -- to one of my favorites; Las Armas de Coronel, the blog site of Gustavo Coronel, who is a man I consider fascinating for both his personal biography and unique blogging style.  His blog's subject matter is largely targeted towards Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, leftist politics, and public corruption in Latin America.  Blog entries are presented in either Spanish or English and my unscientific estimation is that about two thirds of these are in his native Spanish.

Some Biographical Notes

Gustavo Coronel is a Venezuelan Petroleum Geologist now living in Virginia who worked in the Venezuelan petroleum industry for decades; eventually serving as a Director of Petróleos de Venezuela, also known by its acronym PDVSA, from 1976 to 1979.  He served as the Venezuelan representative to Transparency International, a civic organization dedicated to fighting corruption in both public and private sectors worldwide, from 1996 to 2000.  He is a recognized expert on both the Venezuelan oil industry and civic watchfulness of public sector corruption.  In 1983 he published the authoritative study of Venezuelan oil history, The Nationalization of the Venezuelan Oil Industry, he has served as an associate editor and advisor for Petroleum World magazine, and he has continued as an important commentator on the Venezuelan petroleum industry writing for everyone from the The Washington Post to the Oil and Gas Journal.  His affiliation with Venezuelan oil is especially significant for his development as a Chavez critic because, as anyone who has learned the history of Chavez's rise to near absolute domination of Venezuelan political life between 1999-2006 will tell you, it was Chavez's decision to politicize PDVSA in 2002 that produced the mass demonstrations that led to the horrible events of April 11 of that year and which marked a key turning point in Chavez's administration.

Coronel's civic work as an observer and commentator on public and private transparency in Latin America has been an ongoing endeavor that dates at least from the beginning of his association with Transparency International and has continued right up to the present day.  In 1996 he collaborated as part of the editorial group that produced the regional sourcebook for the organization, La hora de la Transparencia en América Latina (The Time of Transparency in Latin America); a little less than three years before Hugo Chavez came to power.  He has continued to apply himself to what he describes as his "personal crusade against the Populism of Hugo Chavez," not only writing for various publications but also touring Latin America to speak as an activist for the modernization of governmental and business transparency; that quiet revolution that has made great strides in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia in recent years, a story that has been largely untold in the U.S.  He has worked with the Cato Institute, another organization with whom he is affiliated, and he frequently speaks at forums and conferences they organize to disseminate information on public and business ethics reform, using the example of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela as offering lessons of wrongful thinking in the development of effective ethical practice and disclosure.  In recent years Coronel has become well-known in the region having visited Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, and elsewhere; disseminating the gospel of ethical practice in modern business and government.

Coronel's Analysis of Corruption in the Chavez Regime

Even though many fans of the Las Armas de Coronel blog delight in feasting upon the individual slices of the Chavez corruption pie that are served up regularly, Coronel is in fact among the very few analysts of the regime who has prepared a thorough and systematic study of the broad range of its corrupt practices which not only identifies them typologically, but also provides historical perspective on their origins, separating what may fall under the heading of tradition from what is new to the Chavez presidency.  Coronel traces the history of public corruption in Venezuela over at least the last half century as being largely determined by two timely factors which always must be understood to grasp its contemporary context; the nature of the current regime and the status of the Venezuelan oil industry with respect to both production levels and prices.  But though he does see continuity in public corruption in Venezuela as arising in part out of tradition, his perspective with respect to its breadth and scale under Chavez is that the regime sets new standards that are tragic for the country and its people.

Coronel identifies three main categories of public corruption in Venezuela, under which he categorizes individual examples.  Grand Corruption refers to Chavez's personally corrupt behavior in seeking foreign financial assistance to enable his rise to power, deliberately flouting constitutional law as it existed in Venezuela to write a new constitution illegally, and buying political support abroad with state funds through direct disbursements or arms purchases.  Bureaucratic Corruption is that in which public resources are used for private gain and is certainly in line with Venezuelan tradition, but which now occurs on an unprecedented scale under Chavez.  It involves government contracting, military administration of social programs, the acquisition of a presidential airplane outside of budgetary restrictions, misuse of funds at a governmental agricultural complex, corruption at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice involving illegal commissions for judges and the purchase of protection for narcotics traffickers, an oil supply agreement with Cuba that returns an annual loss to the Venezuelan state of hundreds of millions of dollars that is not enforced by the bureaucracy for political reasons, and the deeply-rooted corruption at the National Electoral Council that is so severe millions of Venezuelans have refused to vote.  But especially important here is the intrusion of the regime into Petróleos de Venezuela, which has been completely and illegally politicized under Chavez, who has effectively destroyed its pre-existing professional organizational model.  Finally, there is Systemic Corruption, which Coronel defines as "The Interface between Government and the Private Sector," and which includes the "the liaison between government officials and private buccaneers to do business at the expense of the public good" and covers everything from bribes and extortion to the management of public programs in the interest of private individuals and companies.

The examples Coronel provides to explain all three types of corruption are numerous and documented.  It is a solid case.  And I should add that he also makes clear that underlying the expansion of corrupt practices in every one of the above-mentioned categories is the ease with which Chavez has been able to proceed given the increase in state revenues that has accompanied the recent rise in the price of oil.

The Las Armas de Coronel Blog

Obviously Gustavo Coronel's personal history and advocacy for the development of greater transparency in public and business practices in Latin America have much to do with the subject matter of his blog.  But while these factors may help to explain what Coronel writes about, they do very little to describe how he writes.  I must confess that I know of no other blog anywhere that delivers its message in such stunning fashion as Las Armas de Coronel.  If I were to reach into the toolbox of literary criticism and pull out the necessary implements to make my point, then I would have to say that it is replete with satirical commentary, sarcastic wit, measured invective, and incisive observation often presented in an earthy fashion.  But that still does not do justice to his unique writing style.

Though most of Coronel's blog entries are in Spanish, English language readers will still find much into which they can sink their teeth.  I would recommend his Dilemma of the Starving Monkey on the inherent problems of state-run oil companies in Latin America as a good start for providing a good combination of factual data that will inform his readers of the context of a problem, along with snippets of the incomparable Coronel wit.  Using the analogy of the monkey who cannot extract the kernel from the nut to feed himself because his hands do not fit, Coronel makes the following observation about Latin American popular attitudes to state run vs. privatized oil production:

". . . In the case of the oil industry, for example, many feel that the only way the oil can be "ours" is through state ownership of the companies exploiting the resource.  The massive evidence that has proven this wrong does not make a dent in the unmovable belief of the people.  As the industries deteriorate, as the state-owned companies show clear signs of corruption, inefficiency and under-investment, the cry continues to be:  "The oil is ours!"  It is almost the same cry of the starving monkey:  "This kernel is mine!" . . ."

By way of observation, it appears that Coronel usually seems to choose English for a blog entry whenever he feels he either needs to inform American readers on a topic with which they may not be familiar, as in the case above, or when he directly targets individuals and/or issues known in the English-speaking world, such as his visceral examination of English Chavez apologist Roy Carson, to whom Coronel awards a "Ph.D. in Bootlicking," or the incisive observation that the so-called "experts" here in the U.S. who pre-emptively attempted to debunk the Interpol report on the laptops of FARC leader Raul Reyes not only had no expertise in computer forensics but were in fact Chavez enthusiasts with a record of politically supporting the Venezuelan ruler for some time.

Though Coronel's English blogs are valuable both for their content and sampling of his unique style, they do not create the full impact of his Spanish language entries; some of which are absolute gems.  It is impossible to convey their impact adequately in English, since his use of colloquial euphemisms known to his readers does not always translate easily.  These are perhaps the most hard-hitting blogs anywhere on the internet and that alone makes them a significant contribution.  If you visit the Las Armas de Coronel site and observe the comments posted, you will see that there are more than a few Chavistas who show up from time to time to levy insults in return, and it is my personal opinion that Coronel probably is encouraged to know that his message is not circulating exclusively among Chavez's opponents.

In order to try to convey to English language readers some of what you may be missing, I have decided to translate a recent blog post that reveals some of Coronel's singular style.  Before you read it, I must advise you that its content is not for the weak-hearted and I encourage you to continue to the notes on the text I will post afterwards.

The following is my translation of Coronel's May 16 blog (title translated):

"Now We Will See the 'Who is Who' of World Terrorism":

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Now We Will See the "Who is Who" of Terrorism

Already we can see the "Who's Who" of world terrorism.

Among the 609 gigabytes of documents contained in the computers of Raul Reyes, which are original and non-manipulated, according to the report from Interpol, are listed 7989 e-mail addresses.  This list has to be a "Who's Who" of world terrorism. It is likely that these addresses are neither all those there are nor all who are there, but the list is going to provide us a good cross section of this gloom-filled world that thrives on kidnapping, money laundering, death and drugs.  There we will see:

hugorex@mecagoenbush.com,
malcriadoserrano@mueranebot.ecu,
superchofer@mre.ven,
hiperbolsaltiplanico@bolsa.bol
ramonelquepicha@patibulario.mri.ven

It would not be strange to see in the list addresses such as: 
ahmadinejad@mahdi.com, clage@vudú.org, pancho@onu.nyc, gordabella@alcaldia.rosa, eructo1@gob.car.ven, tobias@yahooju.bonos, diosdado.adan@cayman.muna, danny@damemas.haiti.film and gorilauno@obeso.tiuna .

Some eight thousand names! I did not imagine that Raul Reyes could have had so many acquaintances. Who would have thought that criminals who confessed and are even proud of their crimes might have friends and active accomplices among thousands who aspire to live in the normal world, in the civilized world?

Whoever calls for and observes a minute of silence for the "hero" killed by the evil forces of Colombian democracy, as Hugo Chavez did publicly, would probably not hesitate to give financial and even military support to the criminals of the FARC. Hence protests by Chavez on the Interpol report are clearly hypocritical. It is not easy to understand the attitude of the Venezuelan dictator. He often displays himself publicly as a supporter of the FARC, but protests indignantly when a report by international experts advances the process of clarifying the relationship between terrorists and his regime. It would appear that he thinks that if he says something it is okay, but he considers it an insult that someone else might say it. In the town where I grew up, Los Teques, there was a crazy man who ate turds but did not tolerate the boys who called him shit eater. History repeats itself.

Gustavo Coronel

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You can certainly get an idea of the bite in the Coronel style from what is translated, but even the text does not go far enough.  I could go into the nuances of his style in Spanish, using hasta (up to, as far as) in combination with dependent clauses which I have translated as "even" in the above text which, when all are taken together, gives a Spanish language reader a sense of the breadth or scope of the perfidy revealed in Chavez's conduct that does not come across in English.  But what is especially important here is that unique cultural communication anti-Chavistas get to share among themselves, in a rare moment of unbridled free expression, which is denied them in Venezuela.  "hugorex@mecagoenbush.com" can be translated as (sorry, but) "hugorex@ishitonbush.com"; "hiperbolsaltiplanico@bolsa.bol" is a reference to Chavez fellow-traveler and Cocalero Evo Morales in Bolivia and the translation puts new meaning -- a hiperbolsa could be a vegetable wholesaler -- into to the little sack chewers of treated coca leaves on the Bolivian altiplano carry; "hiper" being the Spanish equivalent of "hyper."  And there are more, but the point is there is something very special shared between Coronel and Venezuelans here, that gives his biting style purpose.

I heartily recommend this one-of-a-kind blog to everyone.  I do think of it as a "Freedom Blog."  It may be an acquired taste, but its impact is something unique.  I am convinced that even the Chavistas who show up to throw jabs back at Gustavo Coronel know they are reading the truth.  For that reason I think I can close with ...

¡El Coronel no Tiene Quien Le Duda!

StJacques
  

1 comment:

Martha Colmenares said...

Muy buen artículo del compatriota venezolano.
Un abrazo, Martha