Thursday, March 18, 2010

Solidarity with Cuban Political Prisoners ... NOW!


This is one of the easiest calls I will ever have to make as a Freedom Blogger.

Val Prieto at Babalú has challenged every blogger who wishes to demonstrate that he or she truly cares about human freedom and the just rights which should be accorded to all human beings to post this image on their sites to make a statement expressing their support for these rights and to call for solidarity with Cuba's political prisoners.  So what am I to do?

As I said it is a no-brainer.

I also want to post a video that Val has included in his post which drives home the reality of the current struggle for human rights in Cuba as waged by the Cubans themselves.  It is powerful, especially in the aftermath of the recent death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who we should all honor as one of the truest heroes of freedom ever to breath air on planet earth.  Orlando died from a hunger strike was killed by the Castro regime for his insistence upon an uncompromising stance on human freedom as defined by, well, freedom itself.  This gets most closely to true freedom of expression.  You will also see former Cuban political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who is well into his own hunger strike as he follows Orlando Zapata Tamayo, interviewed in the video clip below, which is narrated in English and contains subtitles where appropriate.

I will post an update to this blog entry tomorrow, when I return with a summary of some recent activity in the blogosphere on the issue of Cuba's political prisoners, which will contain some useful links to help those of you who may not have been paying close attention to catch up quickly.



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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Psychology of Fear in Chavez's Venezuela


Venezuelan Psychologist Dr. Luis José Uzcátegui

On numerous occasions over the past few years I have either written into my original blog entries or, perhaps more frequently, included within comments I enter on other blogging sites, my observations on the personal psychological implications of Hugo Chavez's behavior or the larger social psychological context within which he has operated.  Practicing armchair psychoanalysis is a sometimes risky endeavor in which most of us engage at one time or another and I have done it so many times when addressing Chavez's aberrant conduct that I actually worry about my own objectivity.  The man is a true head case if ever there was one but; well, there I go again, leaning on my armchair.

Today I am going to address my lack of psychological training and do what the situation obviously requires; bring a qualified professional to do the job for me.  And I am very pleased to say that I have definitely found the man for the task at hand.

Dr. Luis Jose Uzcategui is a Venezuelan Psychiatrist and Anthropologist with a distinguished personal biography.  He has studied at the Universities of Pittsburgh and Washington here in the United States, did his early work in Clinical Psychiatry, and went on to specialize in Emotional Models in Venezuela.  He has published numerous professional articles, as well as two books, one of which is a psychological study of Hugo Chavez entitled, by way of translation, Chavez.  Wizard of Emotions.  Psychosocial Analysis of a Political Phenomenon.  Among many other professional credits on his résumé, Dr. Uzcategui is a member of the World Psychiatric Association and Director of Venezuela's Francisco Herrera Luque Foundation.

What follows this brief introduction is a translation of an article published originally in Venezuela's Revista Zeta magazine, but which you can now find on the web in its original Spanish on the site of  It contains an interview conducted by Venezuelan journalist Aida Gutierrez with Dr. Uzcategui on the occasion of a recent discourse he gave on the subject of fear in Venezuela.

By way of abstracting Dr. Uzcategui's presentation, he offers a comprehensive model that encompasses the social, historical, political, and even physical aspects of emotional fear as it used in Venezuela today, with special reference to Hugo Chavez's individual manipulation of Venezuelan society both through his own understanding of how to use fear to his political advantage as well as those aspects of his personal psychological profile which define the reasons for his behavior.  Dr. Uzcategui uses a term of professional art to qualify Venezuela today as a "Fearocracy," (my translation of the Spanish Miedocracia) which defines the all encompassing nature of the use and abuse of fear in Venezuela today.  It is exactly the type of systematic thinking presented by someone with the professional training and experience we need.

"A Country Overwhelmed by Mental Instability"
By Aida Gutierrez
Interview with Luis José Uzcategui
Revista Zeta (Venezuela)
February 12, 2010, No. 1743
February 15, 2010
Published by Citizen News Agency
Aida Gutierrez
02/15/2010 – Venezuela

Psychiatrist Jose Luis Uzcategui, a specialist in emotional psychology, concludes that in today's circumstances no one in Venezuela may be mentally stable. He actually defines the current government as a form of "Fearocracy."

"This is a country where no one can be mentally stable. This is a country that is totally overwhelmed by catastrophic dimensions of fear. This is a society that is experiencing the worst epidemic of fear that it has known in its contemporary history," thus assured Luis Jose Uzcategui, a psychiatrist specializing in emotional and anthropological psychology.

Uzcategui is a member of the World Psychiatric Association and Director of the Francisco Herrera Luque Foundation, where he spoke to a conference on the subject of "Fearocracy." At this opportunity Zeta exclusively interviews the scholar and expert on fear in Venezuela.

"This country is the most significant form of Fearocracy there is in the world today. Venezuela is a 100% Fearocracy."

According to Dr. Uzcategui, in a Fearocracy one individual uses fear to assault society.

"Fear,” he explains, "is the first emotion of developed man; it is an instinctive expression, necessary for his survival. Well-utilized fear is wonderfully useful because it allows us to be more careful and more cautious."

"When fear evolved it became mental constructs such as respect, consideration, esteem, appreciation, justice, the application of laws, which is what we do not have here, that is the positive side of fear."

"The Venezuelan reality is very chaotic; they have implemented a system here in which, inclusive of our institutions, we are conditioned to fear generated by a single power: the executive. Do what he says or he will use fear ruthlessly to dismiss you quickly."

"Institutions are overcome through fear, it takes over society, the economy, organizations; it overtakes absolutely everything that is molded as a social organization, even religions are overtaken."

The psychological specialist recognizes other reasons why a Fearocracy has settled in place in Venezuela. "This is a society that had created many forms of dependency from the cultural point of view, thanks to oil. We became thinking beings totally linked to a unitarian model of production and, in turn, to a unitarian model of ideas."

"We find that type of behavior of the individual we consider 'So Awesome!' who is basically dependent, foolish, dull, who does not know why he is that way; he is also that dependent type of ‘shameless’ rogue, who only takes advantage of circumstances; he is the dependent type who questions everything, irritable, it is among those showing these characteristics that we find the majority of the ni-nis."

"Also,” he goes on, "there is another dependent type, very dangerous, who is almost mentally retarded, who does not know why he exists and how he exists and who lives adrift of opportunity."

According to the psychiatrist, the consequences of Fearocracy are obvious. "I told you that this was a country where there is anxiety, depression, sadness, never before has mental health been beaten to the ground like this. What we have here is an emotional survival; we must see that this is a country that has lived 11 years under media torture, that is living a shipwreck.

"Doctor, Venezuelans also fear crime and it looks as though the government is not bothered by it as it does nothing to prevent it."

“Remember that in a Fearocracy like the Venezuelan model, the existence of a complete social disequilibrium is in the regime's interest.”

“If you are defining this as a totalitarian system, I understand that in such regimes there is no crime, as in Cuba for example.”

“Cuba is on the model of the 50s. Ramiro Valdes, who just arrived, is called the ‘Pool of Blood.’ We in Venezuela have another type of totalitarianism, which is the ‘Pool of Lies.’ There in Cuba it was a valid name, because there was such barbarism, physical death. Here we are given to another cruel barbarism, which is the destruction of Venezuelan mental health. Over there they liquidate people physically, here they liquidate them emotionally.”

Doctor Uzcategui made reference to other models of Fearocracy such as the Pinochet dictatorship and that of Perez Jimenez.

“These are models of Fearocracy,” he explains, “in which the agent of fear is well circumscribed by a single condition: so long as you do not go beyond a certain limit, you can live in a country with some dimensions of stability, for example: the economy and public safety that were known under these right-wing governments, as we call them.”

“But in the form we have, it is so much chaos that it is prudent for this model to have agents existing as fomenters of Fearocracy everywhere. And what is more pertinent than knowing we can die, when death is the most symbolic means of gene expression that humanity has had in its history, we fear nothing more than death.”

Do we have a government that is afraid?

"In order to be a generator of fear, whether it be as a group, a collective, a community, there is an indispensable precondition, it is necessary for the individual to feel very afraid."

"I cannot produce fear in others if I am not afraid, if I am even tempered, if I am courageous and safe. Only those who fear most can produce fear," he maintains.

“Hitler played a shamanist game, he believed in many imaginative and illusory dimensions, and there came a moment when it fell apart, but it had the potential to support many of his atrocities. In our reality, the government's great horror is that it will be thrown out of the show, out of sight.”

“He needs the show because he has a psychological structure that is histrionic, which needs to call attention to itself, to be in the spectacle, to be the central attraction. At the moment when he is not occupying that position he feels very bad, he suffers, he has great pains, he is depressed.”

“And the way to be in the show is taking control of the communications media, so that no one imposes limits upon you, so that institutions do not control you and the public is submissive. And therefore, the only way to impose the spectacle that is the show is through fear.”

Is the arrival of Ramiro Valdes to instill more fear?

“Here there are two things evident in the presence of this individual, to give support for the great fear which the president has because he feels that he needs a very "powerful" agent to generate great fear. And the other dimension is that he is looking to create a cruel situation that does not permit the coming elections in September to proceed.”

The students use creative fear

“But how nice it is,” Uzcategui says, “to see what is happening today in Venezuela, the students who have not fallen into the trap carrying the banner. And they have been abused, they have been killed but nevertheless--what are these boys doing?--they are questioning and responding--thinking.”

“Spurred on by creative fear, generating strategies, fomenting resolute anger, while on the government's side there is an anarchy of thought.”

“The students are capable, in that most difficult dimension which man has in adversity, of producing intelligent responses. That is the great lesson for all the country, for all the leaders, for all society, this is the horizon, this is the way.”

"What arises in the heart of every Venezuelan when he sees these boys?," Doctor Uzcategui asks. "’God wants nothing to happen to them’ this is a productive fear.“ Doctor Uzcategui warns that with Ramiro Valdes here what is coming is worse, catastrophic fear is on the rise but, intelligent fear is also rising.

“Students have always been the emerging part of society. And what we are seeing here is the tip of the iceberg, which tells us ‘all is not lost.’"

“This is a president who thinks upside down and anyone who is under this influence cannot produce anything that stimulates the logical faculties, all he can do is buy people. Reason is a very elaborate sequence of thought, when it is turned upside down it produces phenomena such as we have in Venezuela.”

In what manner can fear sicken an individual?

“The damage is tremendous, from the psychological point of view, all the disorders of anxiety and panic. Free floating anxiety which is walking about irritably nervous, apprehensive, not knowing what is going to happen. We have thousands of people committed with this disorder. Also fears which foment sadness, depression, the sensation of failure, pessimism; that is the depressive dimension.”

“Afterwards,” he continues, “there are those fears that stimulate psychosomatic illness in all its expressions; cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems.”

“Fear is also an agent of conflict in social relations, in relations between couples, within families. The terror of economic chaos. Fear has become the principal pathogenic agent that Venezuela could possibly have at this moment, worse than Aids.”

“In contrast with other epidemics in which the number of cases can be known, with fear it is impossible to have control when monitoring them, there is no epidemiological instrument that can say much about morbidity or mortality.”

“Fear kills!,” the psychiatrist warns, “How many people have died because their immunological systems were altered, of cancer, of degenerative diseases as a consequence of undergoing the kind of media torture such as we have!”

“The most unassuming man feels ashamed when facing mockery. This is a totally shamed and congested society. Many sexual dysfunctions are also consequences of fear. Who can have sex comfortably when knowing they are in a precarious circumstance from the social point of view, under the circumstances we are living?”

What can one do to catalyze this fear?

“We can say resolutely or therapeutically that we know that dimensions of creative fear and resolute anger exist. These emotions are not wasted. To put it best, if I am afraid, how can I form a more intelligent response? Starting to utilize the tools of intelligence to give creative value to fear, introspection, reflection, beginning within ourselves and afterwards locating the fear of outsiders, locating the fear and the agents who generate fear.”

“There is also the need to stimulate anger, there are people who do not feel anger and if they must do it, they do feel it. Anger can be the best instrument for producing intelligent thinking. Just watch the students and copy them.”

“In a healthy society fear is intelligently transformed into social norms, into institutions, into social organizations, and into respect. We must create a society with the ability to maintain its balance on the basis of which fear becomes a productive fact,” Uzcategui recommends.

The pillars of Venezuelan Fearocracy

“The first pillar,” Dr. Uzcategui points out, “is a person who utilizes the most negative type of fear and in our country that is the ruler. He becomes an individual who claims to have rights over society, its past, its present and its future.”

“When there is someone in society who controls my temporal space it is atrocious. Qualifying or disqualifying my past as being good or bad; but not only that, also without giving me freedom in my present, putting me in scenes that are not mine to play, this is catastrophic.”

“Another pillar of creating fear of the current ruler is under a very morbid form of show, I say morbid,” he clarifies, “because it is very sick, using the communications media to send a very distorted message. For example; he makes fun of murder, he makes fun of crime, he jokes that there is no water, he jokes that there is no electricity, he jokes about social instability, he jokes that people are afraid. Under this style of mockery, cynicism, joking, rough demeanment, humiliation, he stamps on those who are thinking at all levels.”

“The third pillar of creating fear is through the purchase of the conscience, through the crumb, the blackmail of the human condition.”

“So,” he specifies, “these three aspects of fear have terrified the country, they specifically form a presentation of a messianic ruler, who can do what he pleases with the fates of men, a form of communicating terror and totally morbid fear.”

The psychiatrist relates that the other way of communicating fear is very obvious; it is rudeness, aggression, insult, demeanment, threatening with weapons, and also the clothing that is worn.

“It should be clarified,” Uzcategui said, “that in Venezuela the ruler does the most to feed fear. He approaches in sick and morbid illusion, which is a total distortion of the opportunities that all society deserves. You are going to have such and such if you follow me, you can achieve this if you follow me. It is a most dangerous strategy, because he has not done anything in particular.”


I would also like to extend a message of personal thanks to Aida Gutierrez, who also conducted the interview with Victor Poleo I translated for an earlier blog entry on Venezuela's electrical crisis.  Aida was kind enough to contact me following that post and she introduced me to this article as well, for which I am grateful.



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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Zapatero al rescate!  Preserving the Castro-Chavez-Evo Axis


Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

Zapatero Comes to the Rescue of Chavez and Castro

On Saturday Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero came to the rescue of Hugo Chavez, not only saving the Venezuelan president from being called to answer for his regime's collaboration with the Basque terrorist ETA and the Colombian FARC, but also pulling the rug out from underneath his country's own Audiencia Nacional (National Court), which issued an indictment for six ETA and seven FARC members earlier this week.  What did he do?  Well, in the ultimate act of spin control, he qualified the recent indictment as a mere "hypothesis" of Venezuela's relationship with the ETA and the FARC and, after changing the demand for an "explanation" to a simple request for "information," the Spanish government joined with that of Chavez to issue a joint statement "reaffirming their fight against the ETA," effectively setting the matter aside for Chavez.  It is an absolutely perfidious development which, had we paid closer attention, should have been expected all along, as there were definitely signs of Zapatero's moral degradation and insensitivity to democratic and human rights long before this ultimate act of policy pursued on behalf of tyranny, not to mention the abject betrayal of his country's own legal system.

In addition to his rallying to the aid of Chavez, there is also the matter of Zapatero's current role within the activism of the European Left, who have successfully protected the Castro regime against European Union sanction for overt human rights violations, which the recent death of Cuban dissident and political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo has brought to the forefront of discussion.  Zapatero is now playing an absolutely sinister role in European and world politics, that of Defender of the Socialist Faithful, regardless of the tragic consequences for democratic and human rights abroad, as well as the undermining of both the legal institutions of his own country and the safety of the Spanish people from ETA terrorism.

Zapatero's Political Profile:  A Deceitful Ideologue Bent on Cultural Warfare

Regardless of one's opinion of Zapatero, and I will make clear that I hold him in very low esteem, his personal history is a cloudy one which, when told, always excites reaction from either his supporters or opponents, as the case may be, who insist that their alternative is the proper version.  But I think it would be accurate to say that throughout his political career, he has appeared much more ideologically oriented as an activist among Spanish and European Socialists than when presenting himself politically to the Spanish people.  He has even been accused by the opposing Partido Popular (Spanish People's Party or PP) of stealing some of their ideas, such as the Anti-Terrorist Freedom Pact of December, 2000, which was largely aimed at isolating Basque terrorists.  By supporting it as one of the earliest initiatives of his tenure as leader of Spain's Socialist Party (PSOE), Zapatero cast himself before the Spanish public as a moderate; a man who wished to develop a less confrontational and threatening profile for Spanish Socialists.  He even referred to his personal style as Oposición Tranquila (Calm Opposition), which gave him a public image that placed him within what most would consider the political mainstream.

Zapatero's opponents in the PP never viewed him as a mainstream politician, but as the issues around which they contested his policy initiatives during his tenure as Prime Minister demonstrate, their focus was clearly directed more to confrontations on cultural values than upon economic, fiscal, and foreign policy issues; which did not serve the PP well because Zapatero's fiscal and economic policies have been a disaster for Spain.  Currently the country faces double digit unemployment, a budget deficit of 11.4% of GDP, and has been ordered by the EU to implement an austerity plan that must bring its deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2013.  Zapatero remarkably claims that these targets will be met even though social spending, research and development funding, sustainable economy funds, and development aid all will remain unaffected by impending budget cuts.

When one considers that Spain is only one notch above Greece in the EU's mandated austerity program, it becomes difficult to understand how Zapatero and the PSOE have remained in power these past six years.  The answer is that the PP and other opposition groups in Spain spent their collective effort at resisting Zapatero and the PSOE on cultural issues.  During Zapatero's Prime Ministry the left successfully passed initiatives recognizing same sex marriage, expanded adoption rights for gay couples, legal recognition of transsexual identity, and expanded access to abortion services; all of which angered the traditional Catholic right within Spain and provoked no small amount of outrage within their political activism.  And at the same time, Spain has emerged as the center for the cultural left within Europe, which only aggravated Zapatero's opponents further.  But a coherent and cohesive critique of his fiscal and economic policies has never emerged within Spanish politics, much to the discredit of the PP.

Finally; it must be mentioned that Zapatero also negotiated--you can forget any political spin which suggests otherwise--with the Basque ETA terrorist organization, which early into his administration appeared to some to suggest the promise of peace.  In March, 2006 the ETA supposedly declared a ceasefire that was rendered meaningless the following year with a bomb attack at Madrid's main airport.  Zapatero's ETA policy is boldly two-faced.  He consistently presents a public front of pursuing a hard line against the Basque terrorists, while again and again news surfaces of direct contacts with the organization maintained between his government, the PSOE, and other supporters.  It has been one of the most dangerous policy initiatives of his administration, because it does have the potential to unite the Spanish people against him.  Yet somehow Zapatero has always managed to defuse the critique of his ETA associations by appearing credible in his public pronouncements of getting tough with the organization, however much at odds with his policies this stance has been in fact.

In short, Zapatero is a successful politician who understands how to say publicly what people want to hear while pursuing policy initiatives that produce the opposite of what he promises.  He nonetheless succeeds politically by uniting his supporters around an agenda that is ideologically oriented towards advancing cultural conflict within Spain on values issues, which also gives him credibility and additional support from within the international left, while simultaneously rendering his opposition ineffective as they exhaust themselves in cultural warfare, always failing to hold him accountable for his mismanagement of the country's economy and government.  Saying one thing, doing another, and avoiding the consequences through his manipulation of his opponents and his obeisance to the ideological whims of his supporters, that is the Zapatero style.  You know--a liar.

Zapatero and the Latin American Left

As Prime Minister Zapatero has a record of supporting Latin American leftist regimes.  His attitudes towards their repeated violations of human rights and democratic freedoms do not match well with those of most of the developed world in either the western hemisphere or within the European Union.  But again, he has managed to mute criticism of his policies by effectively paying lip service to ideals which he either does not espouse or defines in terms quite differently than others.

Since first entering office in 2004 Zapatero has worked consistently to foster a leadership role for Spain among the Spanish and Portugese speaking nations of "Ibero-America."  Remaining true to his Socialist political affiliation, he has especially sought to make himself into a bridge assisting the integration of Castroite Cuba and other marginalized left-leaning governments, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, into the international community.  The principal foreign policy framework he has utilized to manage these associations has been the Ibero-American Summit.  Traditionally this has been a largely cultural and economic gathering of Latin American nations with Spain and Portugal that never amounted to much.  But it has given Zapatero an organizational mechanism for economic outreach to the left in Latin America through its proposals for debt forgiveness and restructuring via the Ibero-American Inter-Development Bank, always a friend to economically-challenged leftist regimes.  In their own turn, they have returned the favors in kind through the negotiation of commercial arrangements with Spanish business enterprise.

Rehabilitating the image of Castroite Cuba--as opposed to effecting real change within the country--was one of the first goals of Zapatero's Latin American policy.  He was unsuccessful in his attempt to arrange Fidel Castro's attendance at the 2005 Ibero-American Summit, perhaps because the gathering spent a great deal of its effort on promoting the right of free migration, which is not a topic that would appeal to Fidel.  But in 2008 Zapatero was successful in lobbying the European Union to repeal the 2003 sanctions it imposed on Cuba following one of Castro's many crackdowns on dissidents.  And he followed up that success just this week when, using his influence as temporary President of the EU parliament, he prevented the imposition of new sanctions as a response to the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in a Cuban jail, limiting the action to a near useless declaration of indignation.

So what are we to think of Zapatero's support for Castro and his Cuban regime?  Well, it certainly is not economically motivated.  Though exact figures are not easily available, Spain agreed to forgive a good portion of Cuba's multi-hundred million dollar debt in 2008 and Cuba has not been a productive trading partner with Spain, or anyone else for that matter

The Relationship with Venezuela:  Selling the Spanish Soul

Though it is difficult to qualify and rank Zapatero's recent outrages, his rescue of Hugo Chavez from the indictment of the Spanish National Court would appear to be the most serious, given his obligations as Prime Minister to uphold Spanish law and support the country's institutions, not to mention Spain's stature within the international community, which can only have been damaged by the conflicting signals now being sent abroad.  The most important immediate consequence of the new "cooperative" (this sticks in my throat) approach to dealing with the ETA and the FARC that has been jointly announced in Caracas and Madrid is that there will be no arrests, nor any prosecution of the individuals named in Judge Velasco's auto.  There are obviously domestic political consequences within Spanish politics, but these may not be so negative as one might at first assume, since Zapatero has proven himself quite deft at angering the PP and then letting them become their own worst enemies as they splinter into fragments and fail to coalesce around a unified opposition stance.  All we are really left to ask ourselves is whether Zapatero's primary motivation for saving Chavez was ideological and political, as is clearly the case with Cuba, or economic, which is a new factor to consider with respect to Spain's relationship with Venezuela.

The economic ties Zapatero has helped forge with Venezuela are particularly important to Spain and especially so over the past couple of years.  Spanish investment in Venezuela has been huge, counting such enterprises as Telefónica Venezuela (over $2 Billion U.S.), Spanish oil developer Repsol YPF's stake in developing the Orinoco oil fields in Carabobo, which give the company proven reserves of 75 billion barrels of heavy crude, the Banco Bibao Vizcaya Argentario of Madrid's 55% share in Venezuela's Banco Provincial, and Spanish energy conglomerates Iberdrola and Elecnor's $2 Billion (U.S.) contract to build combined cycle electrical power plants in Venezuela's Sucre state.  There have also been weapons sales to Venezuela and more preceding these recent arrangements.

It can be argued that economics trumps politics and ideology, but in this instance the point is moot.  From Zapatero's perspective there is no conflict, all the aforementioned factors influence his actions in the same direction; saving Chavez and protecting Spanish investments and jobs all go hand in hand.

One might suggest that there is a moral conflict for Zapatero, in that undermining his country's system of justice and even placing the Spanish people at greater risk from Basque terrorism would mitigate against his pro-Chavez policy in this instance, but I would counter that this moral conflict does not exist. 

Moral conflicts are only for virtuous men.  That excludes José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.



Update:  March 18, 2010, 4:10 p.m.  I have removed a quote and a paragraph from my original entry regarding a "letter" published in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on April 10, 2007, supposedly sent from Zapatero to Fidel Castro.  While I cannot present any information which says that the letter is not genuine, nor has any been presented to me, and even though the author of the article in which it was published, Luis Maria Anson, has never stated that it was anything but genuine, I am taking the advice of Tea and Politics blogger Claudia Al, that I should not treat the letter as an historical document.  Whether the letter is genuine or not, I am certain that Claudia would not act to deceive me, much less protect Zapatero.  StJ

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Blog Link:  A Projection on the Guri Dam Level at The Devil's Excrement


January, 2009December, 2009
Comparison of Water Levels at Guri I Dam between January and December, 2009
Red Arrow on December Image Indicates January's Water Level

Miguel Octavio at The Devil's Excrement has an excellent post up today in which he brings an articulate use of quantitative analysis based upon the historical data of Guri's water levels matched against current trends in an attempt to determine whether the level of water in the Guri Dam reservoir, and it is Guri I he is examining here, will drop below the critical 240 meters level.  Miguel's conclusion is that the level will not be reached and that Guri will not have to be shut down.

Having a personal background in quantitative analysis as I do, I find Miguel's presentation to be fascinating.  I recall other occasions over the past few years when he has applied some very sound number crunching to other issues, especially pertaining to economic analysis, and I have a high degree of faith in both his skill and honesty.  I encourage everyone to read his "An attempt to answer the question of whether the critical level of the Guri dam will be reached" post, which he published today; Saturday, March 6.

By way of reference to my own coverage of the electrical power crisis in Venezuela, I will post the two links to my previous blog entries below:

The Coming Electrical Power Disaster in Venezuela

Venezuelan Electrical Power Crisis, Part II:  The Costs of Deprofessionalization and Corruption Under Chavez

And for the benefit of my readers, I am pleased to announce that my "Coming Electrical Power Disaster" blog entry was published at the Petroleum World website, which has generated some interesting commentary via my e-mail.  At least someone is reading.


Update, March 8, 12:07 P.M. - After a very lively and interesting discussion, Miguel has published a followup post to his original, "Some clarifications on the post of when the Guri dam will reach the critical level."  Miguel has slightly revised his earlier projection and is admittedly "a little less optimistic" than he was at first.  This second post may be more important than the first for its attention to new information he has received.  StJ


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Friday, March 5, 2010

The "Spanish Indictment" and More:  Hugo Chavez's Ties to Basque Terrorists, the FARC, Narcotics Smuggling, etc.


Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco, left

I want to begin by posting an acknowledgement to Venezuelan blogger Pedro Burelli, who has brought together seven "exhibits" that are all currently in the news regarding Hugo Chavez and his numerous connections to international terrorist and narcotics smuggling operations in a post published Tuesday in both English and Spanish, Exposing Hugo Chavez.  Pedro's compilation of these issues presents a remarkably compelling accumulation of seven related controversial news items now at hand, three of which were developed in an indictment issued by Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) Judge Eloy Velasco of six ETA (Basque Terrorist) and seven Colombian FARC members for a variety of offenses, including the planning of two separate attempts to assassinate two Colombian presidents, a third plot to assassinate Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar, weapons and bomb-making support for terrorist attacks, and large scale drug smuggling operations.  The indictment also specifically cited Hugo Chavez's government for facilitating much of this nefarious activity and the Spanish government has requested an explanation from Venezuela.  And even beyond all this there is also a developing international effort in which the U.S. government is now involved to bring Venezuela into the limelight for human rights violations following the recent release of the OAS's joint Inter-American Committee on Human Rights (IACHR) Report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela.

There is a lot to cover here, but since so much of it derives from the Spanish court's actions, I want to provide some additional commentary on the legal proceeding from the American perspective, because I think the court case brings together several matters which deserve rather close examination.

Background to the Indictment:  The Veracity of the Documents from the Reyes Laptops

It has now been two years since the Colombian Army's raid on the FARC encampment just across the Ecuadoran border which netted one of the great intelligence finds of recent years, the laptops of FARC leader Raul Reyes, whose authenticity was verified by an Interpol investigation.  The Interpol examination of the contents of the laptops that immediately followed was, in and of itself, the topic of some rather muddled, and at times inane, attacks from leftist apologists and propagandists who sought to discount their validity as evidence, perhaps guessing correctly that the international ties to Hugo Chavez and the terror and narcotics trafficking of the FARC would not serve the Bolivarian leader very well.  Indeed!  Just ask the Spanish National Court what they think of Hugo.

But let us set aside the noise surrounding the Reyes laptops for the moment, the fact of the matter is that the National Court of Spain has reviewed Interpol's work and understands that the facticity of the Reyes documents has been proved, and that there is now substantial reason to move on and address the meaning of their content within legal proceedings.  This leaves those of us in the western hemisphere to hang our heads in shame as we realize that it took a Spanish court to bring the terrifying implications of Hugo Chavez's misconduct into the light of day.  And for anyone who was as angry as me that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza refused to investigate the documentary content of those laptops; well, just read Eloy Velasco's decision and you will understand.  If only George Bush had a pair, we would have pressed an issue that truly would have made the War on Terror something more than a largely cultural conflict played out in the Middle and Near East.  Sigh!

Velasco's Case:  An Opportunity to Demonstrate the Fair Use of the Rome Treaty?

From the American perspective, there is one additional thing to grasp about the Spanish National Court's actions; they have met the test of "Legal Standing" (Locus Standi) as defined within American jurisprudence that is, in the view of most American critics, absent from the Rome Treaty's provisions for taking a case to the international criminal court, and which forms the basis for the greater part of U.S. objections to its ratification.  No matter what may come of the legal proceeding Judge Velasco's court has proferred, its foundation in law is rooted in the fact that, not only are many of the ETA suspects Spanish citizens, but several of the crimes mentioned in the indictment occurred on Spanish soil.  Others, while planned or plotted in South America, were nonetheless intended for execution in Spain.  These crimes include the unrealized plot of 2003 to assassinate then Colombian President Andres Pastrana and Colombia's Ambassador to Spain Noemi Sanin on Spanish territory, a 2004 plot to assassinate then Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar with surface to air missiles, and more.  In both of the aforementioned plots the ETA had the cooperation of FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Ivan Marquez; the latter has resided openly in Venezuela for several years and has enjoyed the company of Hugo Chavez himself publicly.

Ivan Marquez of the FARC with Hugo Chavez

If supporters of the Rome Treaty who are critical of the U.S. for its failure to ratify it wanted a test case to demonstrate the utility of the pact while also adhering to the American standard of legal standing, this would be it.  But unfortunately, in my opinion, those supporters are not likely to rally to this particular judicial proceeding because they are much more interested in its polemical use in matters such as the Guantanamo Bay prisoners controversy.  The Velasco case presents a unique opportunity to establish the basis for amending the Rome Treaty to accommodate American reservations, using the example of sound jurisprudential practice as instructive of a proper use of international criminal proceedings, but which will likely go unsupported.  And that is a pure shame, because I believe that if the governments of Europe, who are common signatories to the Rome Treaty, were to support the Spanish Indictment diplomatically, the basis for a common understanding between the U.S. and the international community could be developed to amend the pact and bring in the Americans.  But I personally doubt that the governments of Europe and Latin America have the stomach for meaningful action here or elsewhere.

The Spanish Indictment

There are three relevant items that stem from the Spanish court's decision, as Pedro Burelli listed them, and which are worth repeating here:

  • Colombia's Request for an Explanation from Chavez Regarding Separate Assassination Plots Against Two Colombian Presidents

  • Taken from the Bogota newspaper El Tiempo, in which former President Andres Pastrana declares that Chavez owes the explanation, while sitting President Alvaro Uribe counsels "prudence," though the Spanish Ambassador to Colombia has been called in for a "followup" to the affair.

  • Cooperation of Venezuelan Government in Facilitating ETA and FARC Collaboration is Evident

  • From the Spanish newspaper El Pais, we have Judge Velasco's own words in the decision, there was "Venezuelan governmental cooperation in the illicit collaboration between the ETA and the FARC."  (Underline emphasis mine).

  • Statement of the Government of Spain Requesting an Explanation from Venezuela

  • Confirmation of the official request came from Spanish Prime Minister Jorge Luis Zapatero in Germany, as reported in Spain's El Mundo newspaper.  "We are awaiting clarification from Venezuela and, according to that explanation, so will the government of Spain act."

    The above three items, which include the expressed statements of two national governments in matters of foreign affairs and the conclusion of the Spanish National Court, all directly implicate Hugo Chavez's government as both a facilitator and sponsor of terrorist conspiracies against two other nations.

    But returning to Pedro Burelli's post, there has been other news from the U.S. government over the past nine months which supports the Spanish Indictment, some of which is now worth reviewing.

    Relevant U.S. Government Complaints About Chavez's Misconduct:  July, 2009 - March, 2010

    American government complaints center upon narcotics, support for terrorism, and human rights abuses.

  • U.S. Department of State Links Venezuelan Security Forces to Support of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs)

  • The State Department's International Narcotics Strategy Control, Vol I publication of March 1 states that "There is strong evidence that some elements of Venezuela’s security forces directly assist these FTOs (foreign terrorist organizations)." (p. 16).

  • U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report of July, 2009 on Venezuelan Provision of Safe Haven and Support for Armed Colombian Groups Engaged in Narcotics Smuggling Raised Again

  • The GAO Report to the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations states that "Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups by providing significant support and safe haven along the border. As a result, these groups, which traffic in illicit drugs, remain viable threats to Colombian security. A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military, and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment, according to U.S. officials." (p. 2)  These conclusions from last year are given new weight by the Spanish Indictment.

  • Senators Richard Lugar and Christopher Dodd Request the OAS to Take Up the IACHR Report on Democracy and Human Rights Violations in Venezuela in Open Session; March 1, 2010

  • In a joint bi-partisan statement Senators Lugar and Dodd asked the U.S. Mission at the OAS to have the report openly discussed at its Permanent Council stating they (Lugar and Dodd) were "deeply disturbed by some of the [IACHR] report’s observations" especially with respect to its findings on the erosion of an independent judiciary, which has led to "the use of the State’s punitive power in Venezuela to criminalize human rights defenders, judicialize peaceful social protest, and persecute political dissidents through the criminal system."

    To wrap up the remainder of Pedro Burelli's post, he also mentions the IACHR report itself, cited in paragraph one above, and the Annual Report of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board for 2009, which notes that cocaine seized in Africa has in many cases been smuggled through Brazil and Venezuela.

    As to what will come of all this, my guess is not very much in the short term, because Chavez can still count upon the international support of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador to protect him.  Over the past several years this has also included Jose Miguel Insulza, but his stock appears to be falling currently in light of his pursuit of re-election to the OAS Secretary General's job and, thankfully in my opinion, it now appears that he probably will not succeed in this regard, owing primarily to the opposition of the U.S., for numerous reasons which are now evident.  But the international calculus in the region is clearly against Chavez, who is becoming a true pariah more and more with each day.  That is a process which is likely to continue unabated, since Hugo does not appear likely to reform his conduct anytime soon.

    Of perhaps greater import is how this is all playing within Venezuela itself.  All the indicators are that its people are turning against Chavez, including many of his former supporters.  This news must certainly hasten that trend.  The big test for this year will be the parliamentary elections and, if the Venezuelan people show enough activism in opposition to Chavez's hand-picked candidates, Venezuela's internal political climate may begin to experience a sea change that reverses the deterioration of democratic freedoms and human rights abuses of the last eleven years. 

    But the world must continue to pay attention.  Chavez must be kept in the spotlight.


    P.S. -- Good work Pedro!


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    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    The New Oligarchy in Nicaragua: The Sandinista Elite


    Roberto Rivas Reyes
    President of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua

    We know the tale of the Nicaraguan leftists as they describe themselves in their own words; revolutionaries, working-class heroes, anti-Somozistas, friends of the poor, and idealists leading their country to a more socially just future.

    Please forgive my break with decorum as I must now resort to that frank American colloquial euphemism I regard as the only appropriate commentary on the collective self-image of the Sandinistas--Bullshit!

    So what is going on here?  Well, the Nicaraguan government is now in the midst of a very terse diplomatic back-and-forth with Costa Rica because the latter has seized a Porsche belonging to the family of FSLN leader Roberto Rivas Reyes, President of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, whose brother Harold is Nicaragua's Ambassador to Costa Rica.  The controversy stems from a violation of user and, what is especially important under Costa Rican law, import tax privileges accorded to the personal vehicles of accredited diplomats, who are permitted to avoid paying excessive licensing fees normally required for private individuals who bring high-priced automobiles into the country to use while they reside there.  The catch is that Costa Rica offers the exemption to diplomats provided that the car is maintained exclusively for their own use, which leads us to the problem.  Apparently the Porsche 911 in question was for the personal use of Maurice and Laureano Ortega, sons of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who are students at a university in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose and who also, evidently, have been driving back and forth to Nicaragua using the official diplomatic vehicle.

    News of the car's seizure first broke from Costa Rica and was picked up by Nicaragua's La Prensa newspaper about two weeks ago.  How surprising is it?  I submit, not much.  Those who have followed my blog might recall how I posted Nicaraguan journalist Luciano Cuadra's complaint last November about disciplined schoolchildren waiting in line at stoplights who find themselves forced "to get up on the sidewalk when the Comandante passes by quickly in his Mercedes Benz."  And evidently the frills of power also extend to Ortega's two sons as well.  But hey!  Maurice and Laureano are college students.  They need to get the chicas!  And they required some help to gather the accoutrements of jet-set status about them.  Enter Roberto Rivas, who has such means at his disposal as would make a Las Vegas pimp jealous.

    Somehow--we can only imagine--Roberto and Harold Rivas seem to have acquired rather extensive personal wealth as evidenced by property they have in Costa Rica.  In addition to the Porsche 911 in question, the Rivas family has also brought a Mercedes Benz S 500 and a BMW M3 into the country as accredited diplomatic vehicles, the latter of which was registered to Guillermo Matus, third secretary of the Nicaraguan delegation in San Jose.  In late November of last year the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación reported the misuse of these two vehicles, which may have started this investigation by Costa Rica's Ministerio de Hacienda, i.e. Finance Ministry, since Roberto Rivas, who is not a diplomat attached to the Nicaraguan embassy, was reported driving the Mercedes and that his wife had an accident the previous July in the same vehicle.  Moreover; their son Roberto Miguel Rivas, who is also a student in San Jose, was photographed using the BMW.  And where were Roberto Rivas and his family residing while in San Jose, Costa Rica?  Well, in their luxurious private residence in the prestigious Villareal district of the capital city where, according to La Prensa, homes go for between $980,000 to $3 million (U.S.).

    There has been some back-and-forth on this controversy which, in the larger scheme of things, may not appear too significant, though the irresponsibility of the excesses of the Rivas and Ortega families and their inattention to Nicaraguan interests cannot be denied.  During December the affair seemed confined largely to a public scandal played out in the news media, but evidently it had an effect, given that the Costa Rican government eventually seized the Porsche.  Daniel Ortega's response was low-level intimidation, he ordered official police protection withdrawn from the Costa Rican embassy, which was reciprocated in kind in San Jose when Costa Rica also drew back its police guard from the Nicaraguan diplomatic compound.  Nicaragua then issued an order forbidding Costa Rican diplomatic vehicles from leaving the country.  Sandinista old-guard Comandante Tomas Borge, who you may remember as one of the facilitators of the Medellin Cartel in the 1980's, blasted Costa Rica and its President Oscar Arias from Lima, Peru, where he serves as Ambassador from Nicaragua.  The Costa Ricans obviously took offense and Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Samuel Santos sought to distance his government from Borge's remarks, after which the controversy seems to have settled down for the moment.

    But what does all this say about the FSLN leadership?  That there exists a pervasive personal corruption among them is too easy a conclusion to draw, there is more.  It is the arrogance that follows the corruption that is particularly disgusting and which marks the Sandinistas as something comparable to the old-style Central American oligarchic elites.  Forget the rhetoric, the Sandinistas represent nothing more than a new oligarchy for Nicaragua, a modern elite made rich from public thievery and criminal associations.  We can only hope that their tenure is short-lived and that Nicaragua and its people are once again given a chance for a prosperous and democratic future.



    Recommended Link (in Spanish):  Los hijos de Daniél Ortega y el "diplomático" Roberto Rivas: La corrupción sandinista by Gustavo Coronel at his Las Armas de Coronel blog.


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