This is causing a diplomatic incident (h/t Ace):
Maybe we ought to drop some teddies over Caracas.
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Just in time for next year’s election, Hugo Chavez increases the ranks of his Bolivarian militia:
At The Economist:
A Caribbean Tripoli?
Hugo Chávez grooms a militia
A year ago Mr Chávez assembled more than 30,000 uniformed, gun-toting militiamen and women for a parade in the centre of Caracas. Unsheathing a sword that belonged to Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s independence hero, he led them in an oath to work tirelessly to “consolidate…the socialist revolution”. Officials claim that the militias total 125,000, and that the goal is to reach 2m. Sceptics put the number trained so far at under 25,000.
Under the new law, the Bolivarian militia will now have its own officers and will be commanded directly by the president. That is something the army previously resisted. But General Carlos Mata Figueroa, the defence minister, insists that the militia is a “complementary”, not parallel, force. According to Carlos Escarrá, a chavista legislator, it is “disingenuous” of opponents to suggest that the militia “will be a sort of praetorian guard for the president”.
Mr Chávez’s own statements suggest otherwise. The president has always said that his leftist “revolution” is “peaceful, but armed”, and that violence would ensue if it were to be thwarted. In December 2012 he faces a presidential election which opinion polls suggest he might lose. But both he and his top general, Henry Rangel Silva, have said that the armed forces would resist the orders of a post-Chávez government. According to General Rangel, the high command is “wedded to the political project” of Mr Chávez.
The officer corps may not be. A recently retired military dissident says only 10% are unconditional chavistas, with 20% constitutionalists and the rest pragmatic. If so, Mr Chávez’s decision to strengthen his paramilitary force may make sense to him. But it bodes ill for peace in Venezuela.
Like Colonel Qaddafi, Mr Chávez also has foreign fighters he may be able to count on in a fix. Venezuela has an unknown number of Cuban military advisers. Some sources say the Cubans give orders and (with Russians) run the intelligence service. But tens of thousands of Cubans, all with military training, have been deployed across the country as medical staff, sports instructors and the like. Many have defected and fled abroad. But some might defend the revolution, guns in hand.
the students would be sent as builders to the regions of Venezuela where the population speaks Russian:
“In addition, there is Belzarubezhstroj, and these two organizations are organizing two tours of duty, the first one in the framework of the construction gang, and the second one in the framework of young professionals’ career assignment. Most likely there will be two Russian-speaking groups of workers. We know that it will be work with new construction technologies.”
What “new construction technologies” can the Russians be utilizing that they do not want the Venezuelas themselves to know about in their own country remains a mystery, especially when you consider that the students will be receiving free room and board, internet, and a monthly salary of $1,500 a month, five times that of the minimum salary in Venezuela. (For more on Venezuela-Belarus ties read Desarrollo Sostenible Para Venezuela).
Allow me to point out that there is enough of a Russian presence in Venezuela to require importing Russian-speaking workers. Why?
But back to the subject of the Bolivarian militia:
Will this militia act as the militia in Libya that fired against protestors? That is the fear:
Many Venezuelans fear that the militia is really aimed at Mr Chávez’s domestic opponents. The president accuses the opposition leadership, almost daily, of being a fifth column for foreign capitalists desperate to grab the country’s oil. From there, it is a short step to imagining the chavista militia, armed with Russian Dragunov sniper-rifles, taking aim at counter-revolutionaries. “It is not possible to stage an unarmed revolution against this bourgeoisie,” Mr Chávez told his militia rally last year. Mere bravado, perhaps, but many Venezuelans fear he may be serious.
Chavez’s bellicose message against “the empire” (i.e., the USA), his unsavory weapons deals with Russia (totaling $4.4 billion worth since 2005), his assault on the independent media, the many instances where members of the opposition have been mugged and beaten and peaceful protestors are met with tear gas and water cannon, and his regime’s constant urging to the workers “to unite in a concrete way to build socialism” are only markers on the road to a totalitarian dictatorship.
A totalitarian dictatorship with an armed militia ready to serve Hugo’s will.
My latest article, Hugo and Mahmoud, Best Friends Forever! is up at Real Clear World. Check out the part about Venezuela going nuclear.
So you’re a petty tyrant who fires the skilled labor in the country’s #1 industry, which accounts for 92% of your country’s export revenues, nationalize the industry, and bring down oil production to – at best – two thirds of what it used to be and have to buy oil from the Russians to meet your commitments.
You bring your country thisclose to ruin. The Economist ranks your country’s business environment third from the bottom.
What’s a guy to do?
President Hugo Chávez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to damage his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is quietly courting Western oil companies once again.
Until recently, Chávez had pushed foreign oil companies here into a corner by nationalizing their oil fields, raiding their offices with tax authorities and imposing a series of royalties increases.
But faced with the plunge in prices and a decline in domestic production, senior officials here have begun soliciting bids from some of the largest Western oil companies in recent weeks — including Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell and Total of France — promising them access to some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, according to energy executives and industry consultants here.
The Chinese & Iranians weren’t working out as expected, particularly since Chavez reneged on deals:
In recent years, Chávez has preferred partnerships with national oil companies from countries like Iran, China and Belarus. But these ventures failed to reverse Venezuela’s declining oil output. State-controlled oil companies from other nations have also been invited to bid this time, but the large private companies are seen as having an advantage, given their expertise in building complex projects in Venezuela and elsewhere in years past.
The bidding process was first conceived last year when oil prices were higher but Petróleos de Venezuela’s production decline was getting impossible to overlook. Still, the process is moving into high gear only this month, with the authorities here expected to start reviewing the companies’ bidding plans on new areas of the Orinoco Belt, an area in southern Venezuela with an estimated 235 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Altogether, more than $20 billion in investment could be required to assemble devilishly complex projects capable of producing a combined 1.2 million barrels of oil a day.
Eating crow for more pitiyanki money, that Hugo:
Chávez’s olive branch to Western oil companies comes after he nationalized their oil fields in 2007. Two companies, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, left Venezuela and are still waging legal battles over lost projects.
The IHT article also explains some of PDVSA’s other messes:
In the past year, with higher oil prices paving the way, Chávez also vastly expanded Petróleos de Venezuela’s power, inextricably linking it to his political program. He directed the oil company to build roads, import and distribute food, build docks and shipyards and set up a light-bulb factory. He even expanded it into areas like milk production, soybean farming and the training of athletes after a weak performance at the Beijing Olympics.
One of the oil company’s ventures sells subsidized food and extols Chávez’s leadership at its stores across Venezuela. At one frenzied store in eastern Caracas, posters hung from the ceiling last Saturday showing Chávez arm in arm with children beneath the heading, “fortifying agrarian socialism.”
Petróleos de Venezuela has also carried out nationalizations in other industries, absorbing companies like Electricidad de Caracas, the utility serving this city of five million. Top executives like Eulogio del Pino, the Stanford-educated vice president of exploration and production, spent much of 2008 negotiating unfinished deals like the takeover of a cement company.
Western oil companies would have to lose their collective minds to invest in Venezuela again, because Chavez simply can’t be trusted. As one source within the Venezuelan oil ministry reminds IHT, Chavez wound up screwing his partners in China, Iran, and Belarus by changing his mind on oil projects and shutting them down after they spent millions on start-ups. No oil project in ten years has reached completion, thanks to Chavez’ caprice. Besides, Chavez still owes two Western oil companies for the nationalization of their assets in 2007, and nothing would stop Chavez from doing it all over again.
As of the writing of this post, Texas crude was trading at $35.50/barrel.
Don’t expect Chavez to leave any time soon:
Venezuela’s national assembly has approved a constitutional amendment to remove presidential term limits
The amendment, which applies to all elected officials, must be approved by a referendum within 30 days, a vote correspondents say is set to be close.
According to Daimnation,
Halliburton, probably the left’s most hated capitalist villain, has prospered in Venezuela precisely because of Hugo Chavez’s policies. There is a God, and he’s a major shareholder.
I’ll have to do some research on that
& get back to you. Simon Romero explains
Moreover, foreign oil services companies like Halliburton, which has done business in Venezuela for 70 years, have even expanded their activities in the country as Petróleos de Venezuela grew more dependent on contractors to help extract oil from aging wells.
Romero also quotes,
“An agreement on a piece of paper means nothing in Venezuela because of the way Chávez abruptly changes the rules of the game,” said a Venezuelan oil executive who has had dealings with oil companies from China, Russia and other countries.
“In 10 years, not one major oil project has been built in Venezuela,” said the oilman, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “Chávez has left his so-called strategic partners out to dry, like the Chinese, who have been given the same treatment as Exxon.”