Jogging suit photo-ops continue

While paying lip service to the environment Hugo’s doing his best to enlarge his carbon footprint, and the jogging suit photo-ops continue:

Chavez pays ‘surprise’ Cuba visit

Mr Chavez has visited his friend and ally several times since his illness
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made a surprise visit to Cuba at the invitation of its convalescing leader, Fidel Castro, Cuban state TV reports.
He was greeted at the airport by Vice-President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Mr Chavez is expected to meet Mr Castro and his younger brother Raul, who has been acting president since he underwent intestinal surgery in July.

The visit is Mr Chavez’s sixth since Fidel Castro fell ill.

The 80-year-old Cuban leader has been recovering at an undisclosed location.

Of course he is.

He and Hugo even discussed energy issues and a regional trade pact during an emotional visit. Anita Snow says so.

Anita’s today’s winner of the “No Sh*t, Sherlock” Award for Obvious Journalist Statements:
Castro a Key Influence for Chavez

Here we have the only two self-declared Communist rulers in Latin America, Hugo’s been Fidel’s Mini-Me for years now, and it’s taken her this long to realize it.

But then, she has to pimp pump up the pair so Hugo will grant her exclusive interviews:

Chavez, 52, spoke fondly of his friend during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Saturday. He brought up memories of their many conversations, recalled greeting crowds of supporters together in Venezuela and also talked about Castro while condemning as unjust the execution of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

As is customary with her, here comes the excellent Cuban healthcare system obligatory soundbitetm

“In Cuba there is no child that isn’t in school, no sick person who isn’t tended to,” Chavez said.

Unless the child’s pulled away from school doing mandatory service in el campo, while the sick are tended in the customary way:

All the same, Hugo took her for a ride:

During the four-hour drive, Chavez abruptly broke away from his motorcade at one point, saying he wanted a glimpse of the Apure River swollen by rains – “a magic river,” he called it.

That’s the kind of reporting Associated Press Deficit Disorder gets you.



The article on Cuba you must read:

Via Albert, A Cuban death rehearsal

With Fidel Castro apparently on the verge of death, I returned to Cuba to visit old friends. Little has changed over recent years and life for most Cubans remains harsh. Yet western visitors continue to romanticise the place

Bella Thomas is intimately familiar with Cuba:

Between 1996 and 1999, I lived periodically in Havana with a gay Spanish diplomat, a close friend who had once, maybe not entirely jokingly, suggested that we marry but maintain our separate ménages. I was too square for that, but when he was posted to Cuba I went to stay with him. Cuba was reputedly not an easy place for homosexuals. I was interested in the country, and I could write about it.

And so for a while I became a pretend prometida of the Spanish cultural attaché. Eventually, many of those we knew—and didn’t know—in Havana, seeing my friend’s rather open homosexuality, began to suspect that I was a spy, that I was from the CIA (which Cubans pronounce “seer”), or MI5.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, the Castro regime has a history of persecuting gays, hence her need to pose as a “beard”.

During the late 1990s there much talk about regime change, which came to nothing,

What observers at this time most underestimated was the power of the regime’s nationalist rhetoric and Castro’s strategic skill. Unlike in eastern Europe, where nationalism helped to erode communism, Cuban nationalism has shored up the regime. Castro was always a nationalist in communist clothing, and, throughout the 1990s, the communist references in his speeches were gradually replaced by nationalist ones.

The continuing hostilities with the US have played into Castro’s hands. It was as an embattled nationalist leader of a small island, standing up to an aggressive, neighbouring superpower, that Castro preserved his revolutionary credentials most effectively.

The UN crowd is still buying into that.

The shortcomings of life under his regime were, he argued, attributable mainly to the US embargo. Many swallowed the argument.

Many still do.

He knew, too, how to capitalise on the latent anti-Americanism in Latin America, Europe and Canada to give his struggle more universal appeal.

In fact, the regime seems to act with zeal to ensure that the embargo continues. When it looks as if the US government might consider ending it, some heavy-handed Cuban act ensues that the status quo prevails. In 1996, when Clinton was keen to initiate rapprochement, the regime shot down two US planes manned by members of a Cuban exile group rescuing those escaping the island on rafts. When, in 2003, an influential cross-party lobby in the US seemed set to dismantle the embargo, the Cuban government promptly incarcerated 75 prisoners of conscience and executed three men who hijacked a tugboat with a view to getting to Miami.

Castro created the textbook for Latin American tyrant wanna-bees.

This is a most insightful article, and a must-read to all who are interested in learning about Cuba. I highly recommend it.


Venezuela on the front page, again

I must admit that I haven’t been posting much about Venezuela because of personal reasons.

I blog because I greatly enjoy blogging. I enjoy not only posting at this blog, but also receiving emails, corresponding with readers and bloggers from all over the world, talking to other bloggers over Skype, and meeting with bloggers in person. When my family is out of town I go to New York and meet with other bloggers.

Through blogging I am also able to allow my visitors to participate in my thought process, something this guy realized way before I realized it myself (which is probably why he writes with the name of three dead shrinks. But I digress). And he’s correct: a lot of times I figure out my own position on an issue as I write the post.

Obviously I’m not the most insightful of bloggers, but my research is solid and current, and I always welcome more information. As I said, I really enjoy what I’m doing. But some news do get me down.

Since I purposely try to convey a message of cautious optimism in nearly all of my posts, I have become most reluctant to post about Venezuela.

My reluctance, however, is also matched by my desire to continue to convey accurate information on a subject about which I have posted for the past 3 years. It is a subject of national interest, particularly in view of the current seditious leadership in Congress.

The feedback I get from people who are living in Venezuela, or have travelled recently to Venezuela, is uniformly glum. Things are bad with no end in sight. The prospect of another 50-year-long regime like Cuba’s is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good prospect. Make no mistake, the road to perdition is well marked.

This morning I wasn’t planning on posting about Venezuela, but as I picked up the newspaper the headline, Farms Are Latest Target In Venezuelan Upheaval, continues to confirm that Venezuela is firmly positioning itself as Cubazuela:

Vicente Lecuna jabs a wall map of his Santa Isabel ranch so angrily that the map crashes to the floor. “I used to produce 10,000 tons of sugar cane a year,” says the 67-year-old Venezuelan cattleman. “Now it’s zero! Zero!” he shouts.

Two years ago, squatters seized about half of Mr. Lecuna’s 3,000-acre ranch, setting up a cooperative named “Re-Founding the Fatherland.” Far from being evicted, the squatters got loans and tractors from the government of President Hugo Chávez. They then uprooted the sugar cane and decided to try their hand at growing plantains.

Mind you, this is at a time where cane-sugar derived ethanol is increasingly becoming a resource for wealth creation.

By ruining the sugar industry, Chavez shot his country in the proverbial foot twice, not just because sugar-cane ethanol is now a commodity, but also because Venezuelan oil production declines as operational oil rigs are down.

But it’s all in the name of the revolucion

If the rhetoric smacks of the 1960s, it’s because Mr. Chavez dreams of transforming Venezuela just as Fidel Castro did Cuba. Mr. Chavez has already sharply cut private companies’ role in Venezuela’s lucrative oil industry, and uses the state oil company to funnel billions of dollars to his social projects. He has nationalized the leading telephone company and the main electric utility. He speaks of wanting to drive a stake through the heart of capitalism, limiting the role of money and installing a barter system.

Aside from destroying property rights, a cornerstone of democracy, one fact is ignored when dividing agricultural land into small parcels for the use of untrained people:

Agriculture is a science, and as such it needs to be managed by well-trained personnel that know what they’re doing.
I learned this at a young age: my father owned a farm; my brother is an agronomist.

Farming looks deceptively simple because so much of the work involved can be done by unskilled labor. But agriculture is a science that involves a body of knowledge and the application of tested practices that will not respond to a command economy like Chavez is trying to bring about:

The chaos in the countryside has contributed to shortages in basic items like milk and meat, a paradox in a country enjoying an economic boom traceable to high oil prices. Also spurring the shortages are price controls on certain foods that keep them priced below the cost of production. Meanwhile, 19%-plus inflation – as oil revenue foods the economy – spurs panic-buying: purchasing price-controlled and other goods the shopper might not immediately need for fear of having higher prices in the future or not finding the items at all.

The article goes on, explaining how thousands of slum-dwellers are paid a monthly stipend

to learn a hodgepodge of Marxism, “ancestral” Venezuelan farming methods, and Cuban fertilizer-making techniques

The Cuban fertilizer is known as humus de lombrices, and was highly praised in the film I watched last Friday at the PHRFF. It is nothing more than a pre-Medieval technique of growing worms in cow manure within a cement trough.

I assure you, worm humus does not sustain the large-scale farming necessary for a country such as Venezuela to feed itself.

More mismanagement had turned the Hato Paraima, a 120,000 acre cattle ranch, into fallow land.

A related article in today’s New York Times also mentions that there have been dozens of kidnappings of landowners by armed gangs in the last two years.

The bad news continues: Venezuela’s climbing GDP deemed to be unsustainable due to the lack of production and investment. Hardly surprising, considering how Nationalisation sweeps Venezuela

On 1 May, Labour Day, he took control of the last remaining private oil companies in the country.

Next are CANTV, the main telecom company; the electric company, Electricidad de Caracas; and the banks.

While nationalizing the banks, Chavez wants to branch out into international banking: apparently Chavez is going ahead with the proposed Banco del Sur, involving not only Venezuela but also Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. The countries involved, however, might not share Hugo’s goals – particularly if Venezuela wants them to pull out from the World Bank and the IMF. As the article points out,

Pulling out of the IMF would amount to a technical default on Venezuela’s bonds and would raise the cost of future borrowing. Leaving the World Bank would tear up bilateral investment treaties that Venezuela has signed with other countries (and which use the bank’s investment-dispute machinery).

While the Minister of Finance stresses that “No trouble or inconvenience is expected with regard to Venezuela’s scheduled repayment of the external debt, amortizations and interests to bond holders for an amount near USD 22 billion” if Venezuela leaves the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, it begs the question as to whose trouble and inconvenience.

The ministers involved have decided that the Banco will be just a development bank.

Development, indeed.

Update, Friday 18 May: The Wall Street Journal does Yaracuy, and The New York Times does Yaracuy. Don’t miss Daniel’s excellent essay on Land seizure in the bolivarian revolution

Update, Sunday 20 May: Hugo Chavez approaches the Mugabe level of economic mismanagement

Update, Monday 21 May: WSJ Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady predicts a gloomy outlook for Hugo Chavez’s price controls