El Sur
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South American Politics and Government

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
VENEZUELA
Oil: Government officials now say they expect Venezuela's oil production to return to normal by the end of January. Last week they were saying mid-January. Will the government succeed, or will this turn out to be like Argentina's new IMF loan deal, always about a month and a half in the future?

Even if the government is able to restart the petroleum industry using force and foreign workers, the twin problems of providing security and obtaining insurance for non-Venezuelan tankers remains, reports
Bloomberg.com.
More than 40 oil tankers are lying off ports and are refusing to dock to load crude oil, citing safety concerns. That has contributed to a shutdown in crude production as storage plants have been filled, Energy and Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez said at a news conference.

"The tanker issue is our gravest problem," Ramirez said. "We can't move our products abroad."
According to the services, the strike has forced Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company, to operate docks and tugs with reduced staff, which strikers claim is unsafe.
"Our ports are safe," said Ramirez. "All the ports are under our control." The government is taking steps to persuade oil companies to send in their tankers, Ramirez said.


posted by Richard 8:39 AM
. . .
Friday, December 27, 2002
VENEZUELA
Government says refineries operating: Venezuela's oil minister says the country's three main oil refineries are in process of returning to full production, reports
Bloomberg.com.
Petroleos de Venezuela SA's Puerto La Cruz refinery is operating at 80 percent capacity, while the El Palito refinery will restart in a ``few days'' to be followed by the Paraguana refinery, Energy & Mines Minister Rafael Ramirez said in a nationally televised address last night. The three plants have daily capacity of more than 1.2 million barrels.

``Our engineers are working day and night to restart these refineries,'' said Ramirez, without saying how many employees had gone back to work. He said Puerto La Cruz, with capacity of 203,000 barrels a day, is already producing 30,000 barrels of gasoline.
The president of Petroleos de Venezuela President, Ali Rodriguez said current output is 700,000 barrels a day (double a week ago), and will reach two million barrels a day next week, Bloomberg reported, citing Globovision television reported.

As a measure of the work stoppage's effect on Petroleos de Venezuela, PDVSA plans to sell "unprofitable" overseas businesses, according to a Christmas Eve report from Bloomberg.com. The company has lost $1.3 billion so far, due to the nationwide job action.

posted by Richard 8:27 AM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Limits of force: Whether he wins or loses in the end, President Hugo Chávez is learning one very important lesson from Venezuela's nationwide work stoppage. That is: it is difficult, if not impossible, to run a modern industry (let alone a country) by force. Chávez has fired oil workers and ordered the military to take over struck facilities owned by state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA). So far, nothing's worked. Oil production remains at a fraction of normal levels. An item from
AFX News (UK) shows how limited brute force is in this kind of situation:
Oil tankers in Venezuela may be refused all cover by insurance companies on damage claims arising from the current unrest in Venezuela, according to the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko).

Insurance companies have informed Intertanko "that they will not recognise any damages caused by vessels or caused to the vessel under unsecured situations like no certified docking pilots, tugs with improper and uncertified crew and uncertified personnel performing loading or unloading operations at the terminals," Intertanko said in a statement.

The document published on its Internet site was referring to attempts made since the end of last week by the Venezuelan army and navy to take back control of tankers and oil installations from strikers.

Intertanko said: "We understand that no advice or notice have been issued by insurers so far but that they are monitoring the situation closely."

Multinational oil companies ordered captains of 14 oil tankers berthed off eastern Venezuela not to load oil, Ramon Martinez, the governor of the eastern state of Sucre and the energy ministry's representative in the region, said Thursday as the general strike went into a 25th day.


posted by Richard 8:17 AM
. . .
Thursday, December 26, 2002
VENEZUELA
Update: Venezuela's nationwide work stoppage appears to have resolved itself into a strike against the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA). Opponents and supporters of President Hugo Chávez have demonstrated daily through the Christmas holiday. It is now obvious, however, that the demonstrations are secondary, in that they are neither going to remove Chávez from office, nor keep him there. Reports are that the voluntary closure of the country's commerical and industrial sector is also mostly over, though businesses have reopened out of necessity and exhaustion, not new found support for Chávez. On the other hand, the country's widespread fuel shortage has forced a great many industries to reduce operations or close alltogether. Increasingly, it is apparent that the conflict will turn on the job action against the oil company. PDVSA's workers remain committed to the stoppage; the government is working feverishly and forcefully to get operations running.

Bloomberg.com reports that the state oil company succeeded in loading and dispatching the seventh oil tanker since the strike began December 2. The government has vowed to get the company up to full production by mid-January. Independent observers are not so sure:
"Even if they started tomorrow, it would be difficult to get all the fields and refineries operating by March," said Antonio Szabo, president of Houston-based energy research company Stone Bond Corp. "There are very specific procedures to starting up an oil field or refinery. There are safety and equipment considerations. There are very complex processes."
PDVSA workers reiterated their support for the work stoppage at an assembly of the company's employees, according to El Universal.

A second report in El Universal describes the current condition of the business. PDVSA is producing at about 10 per cent of its normal level, the paper says, having delivered about 200,000 barrels of crude per day since December 2, versus 2.7 million barrels per day in November.

The government is also attempting to import gasoline to alleviate a serious domestic shortage that has produced long gas lines and a black market. Helping out is the new leftist government in Brazil, which has just sent a tanker filled with gasoline to Venezuela.

posted by Richard 12:50 PM
. . .
Thursday, December 19, 2002
VENEZUELA
Carlos Ortega: The
Miami Herald has a profile of Carlos Ortega, leader of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation union (CTV), and leader of the nationwide work stoppage.
Ortega is burly, blunt-spoken, and so jowly that he is often caricatured as a bulldog. He turned what started as a one-day strike to demand a referendum on Chávez's rule into a do-or-die push for his immediate resignation or early elections that has dragged on for 17 days.

At each day's end, Ortega holds a news conference to savage Chávez, extend the strike for another day and turn up the heat -- first a stay-at-home walkout, then street protests and now street barricades to paralyze traffic.

His biggest success was persuading many of the 40,000 workers in the oil industry, which accounts for 70 percent of the government's income and 13 percent of U.S. oil imports, to join the strike -- a move Chávez branded "a petroleum coup."
In today's press conference, Ortega said the work action has reached a "critical phase" ("fase crítica"), according to El Universal.
"The country will enter in the next hours a critical state with respect to the provision and supply of all kinds of fuels, including domestic gas," in addition to the shortage of supplies.
"El país entra en las próximas horas en estado crítico en lo que respecta al abastecimiento y suministro de toda clase de combustible, incluido gas doméstico", además del déficit de víveres.
And,
In his usual part of the working day, Ortega claimed the success of the second day of the street demonstrations. Along this line, he had words of praise for the "street game" of soccer between government and opposition partisans: "Venezuela Won. It was a worthy lesson for all," he said Wednesday.

"The people stayed in the street, strong and determined to remove the dictator Chávez," in this way he reiterated the continuation of the stoppage and the active presence in the streets of the entire country, as a gesture of rejection.
En su acostumbrado parte de la jornada, Ortega reivindicó el éxito del segundo trancazo. En esa línea, tuvo palabras de elogio para la 'caimanera' de futbolito entre oficialistas y opositores: 'Ganó Venezuela. Fue una digna lección para todos', expresó este miércoles.

'El pueblo seguirá en la calle, firme y decidido a salir del dictador Chávez', de esa manera reiteró la prolongación de la paralización y la presencia activa en la calles de todo el país, como gesto de rechazo.
(Yahoo! News has a photo of that soccer game, here.)

As to what the Miami Herald calls Ortega's "biggest success"--shutting down the oil industry--Bloomberg.com reports that no tankers have left Venezuela in the last day, leaving the total that have left since the work action began December 2 at three.

posted by Richard 1:10 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Strike against PDVSA ordered ended: Yesterday the Venezuelan supreme court dealt a blow to President Hugo Chávez, ordering return of control of the Metropolitan Police to the metropolitan Caracas government. Today, reports
El Universal, the court dealt an even heavier blow to the opposition, when it ordered an end to the strike against Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company. The order is temporary, while the court considers a government request to declare the strike illegal. El Nacional adds:
The deputy Gerardo Blyde, of Justice First, declared that it is contrary to the constitutional order because it does not take into account the contemplated right to strike and the right of the citizenry to declare themselves in disobedience.
El diputado Gerardo Blyde, de Primero Justicia, declaró es contraria al orden constitucional porque no toma en cuenta el derecho a la huelga contemplado y el derecho de la ciudadanía a declararse en desobediencia.


posted by Richard 11:59 AM
. . .
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
ARGENTINA
Newspaper owner arrested: Ernestina Herrera de Noble, owner of one of Argentine's leading dalies, Clarin, was arrested today on suspicion that she adopted children taken from imprisoned dissidents during the "dirty war" of the late 1970s and early 1980s, reports
Yahoo! News - AP. Her attorney, Eduardo Padilla, denied the allegations and accused the judge of abuse.
Argentina's largest press advocacy group, ADEPA, expressed "grave concern" over the detention and noted that similar accusations had been raised and rejected by the courts in recent years.

"Today we call for an urgent resolution," to Herrera de Noble's case said a statement by the group.


posted by Richard 5:52 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Situation report: Stratfor, the private intelligence firm, has a situation report on Venezuela, available through
FreeRepublic.com.

Among the items noted by Stratfor: 1) Chávez and his vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, are publicly suggesting that plans are afoot to assassinate Chávez. 2)The petroleum industry situation is mixed, with, on the one hand, tanker owners and insurers still unwilling to enter Venezuelan ports because of safety concerns, while, on the other, gas pipeline pressure in the Anaco region of eastern Venezuela is up, which may make it possible to re-start state-owned steel and aluminum operations at Puerto Ordaz.

Yahoo! News has a photo of the tanker Pilin Leon (here) at anchor in Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, where the oil industry is centered. This was the first tanker to strike. Three weeks later it remains unmoving, despite the government's best efforts.

posted by Richard 3:47 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Police control returned to city: According to
El Nacional,
Direction of the Metropolitan Police was returned to the hands of the metropolitan mayor, Alfredo Peña, after a decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice this Wednesday afternoon.
La dirección de la Policía Metropolitana volvió a manos del alcalde Metropolitano, Alfredo Peña, luego de la decisión de la Sala Constitucional del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia la tarde de este miércoles.
Peña is an outspoken Chávez opponent.

This is a hugely important decision. In the first instance, it places a legitimate, armed force beyond Chávez's control. (In fact, there is a real question whether Chávez's appointed MP chief ever had effective control over the force.) More importantly, it forces Chávez to face up to his own advice of last weekend. During his Saturday radio program, Chávez told military leaders and other officials to ignore judicial orders that contradicted his. The Supreme Court has just delivered a very big order contradicting one of his orders. How will he respond?

Yahoo! News - AP has a report on the decision and other events in Venezuela today.

posted by Richard 1:38 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Dissident general responds: On Monday, the commandant of the army, Julio José García Montoya heled a press conference in which he called the opposition's strike against the oil industry "sabotage" and an "agression agains the survival of the state" (see
El Sur. Today, reports El Universal, General Enrique Medina Gómez, leader of the military dissidents who have been encamped in the Plaza Francia de Altamire for 55 days, responded, accusing Garcia Montoya of putting the army "in the margin of the law" ("al margen de la ley").
"'García Montoya tries to make use of the abilities of the army to obstruct, according to him, a social and economic collapse. This is an absurdity without precedents in our history," he said.

He reminded that the collapse to which he refers "exists as a consequence of the mistaken policies of the government and these are some of the causes that have generated the great national discontent.
"García Montoya pretende hacer uso de las capacidades del Ejército para impedir, según él, un colapso económico y social. Ese es un desvarío sin precedentes en nuestra historia", dijo.

Le recordó que el colapso al que hace referencia "existe como consecuencia de las equivocadas políticas del Gobierno y que son algunas de las razones que han generado el gran descontento nacional."


posted by Richard 7:17 AM
. . .
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
VENEZUELA
Oil II:
Yahoo! News - AP has an update on today's events in Venezuela, focused on oil.
The strike has reduced Venezuela's oil output of nearly 3 million barrels a day to less than 400,000 barrels per day, state oil officials said Tuesday, sending crude prices above $30 a barrel. Venezuela's strike coincides with speculation that possible U.S. action against Iraq might take Iraqi oil off the market.

One of the world's largest oil refineries halted production because of the strike. Curacao's Refineria Isla was running out of storage capacity as international clients sought alternate supplies, said Norbert Chaclin, the refinery's technical manager.

The refinery, operated by Venezuela's oil company, stopped producing gasoline, lubricants, jet fuel, propane and other products for the United States and the Caribbean, Chaclin said. Its last delivery was Sunday.

Two of Venezuela's largest refineries, including one producing gasoline for Venezuela and the United States, have shut down. State oil executives have vowed to cap wells until Chavez resigns or calls early elections.

Venezuela's 13-tanker shipping fleet lies at anchor, its striking crews refusing to deliver their cargos. Foreign shippers refuse to operate in Venezuela, citing unsafe conditions. Insurers refuse to cover transport to and from Venezuela, the No. 4 oil exporter to the United States, supplying 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Chavez was dealt another blow Tuesday when officials at the giant Hovensa refinery in the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix announced no gasoline shipment was headed to Venezuela.

Venezuela has a majority stake in the refinery, which also supplies the U.S. East Coast and is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Its 400,000-barrel-per-day production has been cut in half.
Yahoo! News also has photos of today's demonstrations in Caracas, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

posted by Richard 6:49 PM
. . .
CUBA
European Union gives dissident human rights award: The
Miami Herald reports that the European Union has awarded Oswaldo Paya the Sakharov Award, its highest human rights award, for his efforts to bring democracy to Cuba. Payo organized the Varela Project, which gathered 11,000 signatures for a referendum on basic human rights. In response, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gathered more than a million on a petition asking Cuba's national assembly to permanently embed socialism in the country's constitution, which it did.

El Sur noted Paya's efforts and the Varela project in several posts at the time, including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

posted by Richard 6:40 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Current balance: Stratfor, the private intelligence firm, has a new analysis out entitled "The Current Balance," available via
FreeRepublic.com. Balance is exactly what Stratfor's analysts see today.

Chavez's problems are several, Stratfor says. The economy is mostly shut down. The oil industry is producing little. The oil-rich country is running out of fuel. Government efforts to restart the industry have generally failed and damaged equipment in the bargain. The government is using scarce foreign exchange to import food and other necessities. In Chávez's favor, is a divided opposition, without generally accepted leadership. Also divided, says Stratfor, is the military, with Chávez opponents among mid-level officers unwilling to move against the government absent a bloody provocation. Chávez also has an ace in the hole, Stratfor says, in the form of Cuban and Colombian paramilitaries. Thus, "the current balance":
This week appears to be critical. If the gasoline and cooking gas supplies run out and food shortages continue to deepen, an opposition march later this week could draw massive support. It also could spark a confrontation, if the march is directed at the presidential palace as planned. At that point, everyone shows their cards. Divisions in the military will be clarified, as will the resolve of Chavez, his supporters and his foes.

On the other hand, if the government is able to coordinate relief efforts, carefully directing the delivery of food staples, public opinion could swing against the strikers. Or if Chavez continues to exercise the same restraint he has demonstrated over the past two weeks, banking on the opposition's aversion to decisive action, the march could lap at the gates of the presidential palace and ebb away to no effect.

Watch the gas pumps. Then watch the march. If Chavez survives the weekend, he may well have weathered yet another storm.
Chávez's main advantage is that he is the elected president, legally entitled to hold office until 2006, unless ousted in a recall referendum during or after August 2003. There will have to be a very good reason for any other outcome--except a truly voluntary resignation (and who expects that?).

posted by Richard 6:05 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Social basis of struggle: There is always a tendency among Americans to look at a crisis in a foreign country as primarily an instance in a larger struggle, and the contending parties (or at least one of them) as puppets in a U.S.-centered world drama. Two articles from separate U.S. news sources demonstrate that Venezuela's political conflict is primarily indigenous. The first, a report from today's
Boston Globe looks at the fierce loyalty Chávez has engendered in his core following, and the virulent local opposition he has generated. The second, from Yahoo! News - Dow Jones describes a minor skirmish in the fight for control of Venezuela's petroleum industry. What's striking, is that none of the skirmishers were professionals--police, army or national guard. All are civilians:
About 60 busloads of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's supporters may be headed toward the Anaco natural gas facility Tuesday to attempt a takeover of the complex, a company official said, adding that he fears a confrontation may result in serious damage and a possible explosion.
Monday, residents of Cantaura blocked highway access to the facility when 14 busloads of Chavez's supporters tried to take over the gas plant, Vidal said.

As reported, Anaco workers have joined a nationwide strike against Chavez's leadership, and the resulting drop in natural gas supplies has virtually shut most heavy industries in western Venezuela's Guayana region.


posted by Richard 2:06 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Oil:
Bloomberg.com says that Venezuela's oil exports remain shut down, despite government efforts and threats. Only three tankers have loaded since the strike began December 2; normally 12 to 14 a day load.
Insurance agents have warned tankers that docks in Venezuela may be unsafe because the strike reduced manpower and experience at the ports. More than 40 tankers are waiting off the coast to load oil from the world's fifth largest exporter.
There is a sense in which the current phase of the Venezuelan conflict boils down to a contest of staying power between Hugo Chávez's refusal to accept early elections and the opposition's ability to keep the oil industry shut down. Whoever holds out longest wins. Over the long run, however, Chávez's position is much weaker than the opposition's. His positioin is defensive, theirs offensive. They can fail to overthrow him a dozen times, without losing; if he fails to hold on even once, he's history.

posted by Richard 1:29 PM
. . .
Monday, December 16, 2002
VENEZUELA
Update

1. Is the oil industry paralyzed or not? The state of the oil industry is the best predictor of the likely outcome of the two-week old work stoppage in Venezuela. The government insists production is increasing. Government forces yesterday forceably took control of a striking tanker and replaced its crew. According to
Bloomberg.com:
Venezuela sent its first shipment of oil from the western port of Maracaibo since last week. The tanker Kiowa Spirit, carrying 480,000 barrels of oil, left Maracaibo for Houston, said Captain Jose Fernandez, who overseas port operations.

"It loaded and left without any problems whatsoever," Fernandez said in a telephone interview. The Kiowa Spirit was the first tanker to leave Maracaibo since Dec. 12.

Shipments from the eastern ports of Puerto La Cruz and Jose remain halted, said Antonio Valladares, who oversees Petroleos de Venezuela's Puerto La Cruz loading terminal.

"We have the cargo ready," Valladares said in an interview. "The problem is that insurers are advising the tankers not to dock."

Chavez said yesterday that four tankers carrying 2 million barrels had left Venezuela. Strikers at Petroleos de Venezuela disputed the president's claim.
2. The commandant of the army, Julio José García Montoya, held a press conference late this afternoon at which he "classified the oil industry work stoppage as 'sabotage' that constitutes an 'agression against the survival of the state'" ("calificando la huelga petrolera como un 'sabotaje' y constituye una 'agresión contra la supervivencia del Estado'"). According to El Nacional's report, the general said workers have "kidnapped" the country's oil installations.
In his discourse to the nation the commander of the army directed himself to the "immense majority" (a term used in the promotions of Venezuelan state television to refer to the partisans of Chavism) and said that "this attack against vital interests has been sold with the camoflage of a legally valid civic protest...a campaign that wants to see as legitimate a situation that exposes Venezuelans to suffering the rigores of anarchy," affirmed Montoya.
En este discurso a la nación el Comandante del Ejército se dirigió a esa "inmensa mayoría" (término usado en las promociones de VTV para referirse a los partidarios del chavismo) y dijo que "este ataque contra intereses vitales ha sido vendido con el camuflaje de la protesta cívica legalmente válida (...) una campaña que quiere ver como legítimo una situación que expone a sufrir a los venezolanos los rigores de la anarquía", reiteró Montoya.
Yahoo! News has a photo of Montoya, here.

3. Another high official in the Chávez government broke with the President, at least in one particular. According to El Nacional, Attorney General (Fiscalía General) Isaías Rodríguez called on public authorities to obey judicial orders. On television Sunday, President Hugo Chávez told military leaders and others to ignore judicial orders that contradicted his. Rodríguez also warned the opposition that the tougher tactics they have called for will be met with the full force of law.

4. For the first time, opposition protesters began clashing with police on the streets of Caracas. The clashes came, according to Yahoo! News - AP, after police began attempting to open streets and highways that were being blockaided by demonstrators.
Using the slogan "Block your block," the frustrated opposition launched its "takeover of Caracas" after a two-week strike devastated the economy but only strengthened Chavez's resolve.
"You can't throw rocks at police!" one officer pleaded with residents of a central neighborhood.

Above him, opposition supporters leaned out of windows banging pots and pans in protest. Officers fired rubber bullets at the buildings, breaking windows and sending residents scurrying for cover. The sting of tear gas filled the air.
Yahoo! News has photos of some of the protests here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

5. Finally, Yahoo! News - AP has a report on the state of the opposition that indicates they are united only by their dislike of Hugo Chávez. Once he is gone, there will be open warfare between these erstwhile allies.

posted by Richard 5:09 PM
. . .
Sunday, December 15, 2002
VENEZUELA
Oil:

1. Two successive reports on the same subject from the same source show the limitations of coercion when it comes to keeping a complex industrial system functioning and the experts and trained workers go out on strike. The first, from
Bloomberg.com on Friday reports on the departure of the oil tanker Josefa Camejo carrying the first shipment of oil since December 3 from Puerto La Cruz and the second shipment from the country. In the second, Bloomberg.com reports (quoting El Universal) that the Josefa Camejo may be recalled because it left without proper documentation, which could keep it from being unloaded legaly in the U.S.

2. After days of brave talk about retaking control of the oil industry, reports El Universal
The president of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Alí Rodríguez admitted that the petroleum industry "in good measure is paralized," according to what he said on Unión Radio.

Despite sending the military to the petroleum installations and the discharge of four leaders of striking workers, the government has not succeeded in warding off the conflict throughout PDVSA.
El presidente de Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa), Alí Rodríguez, reconoció que la industria petrolera 'en buena medida está paralizada', según reportó Unión Radio.

A pesar del envío de los militares a las instalaciones petroleras y el despido de cuatro líderes de los trabajadores en huelga, el Gobierno no ha logrado conjurar el conflicto dentro de Pdvsa.
3. The work stoppage is creating gasoline shortages throughout the country, even in the state of Zulia, which surrounds Lake Maracaibo where the oil industry is centered (see ma linked right). According to El Universal:
What most has affected Zulianos has been the shortage of gasoline in the service stations, that has provoked an unstoppable compulsive wave among users, who continue to besiege the places of sale, generating enormous lines of vehicles, and of people with cans seeking to fill them.

Although representatives of the MEM in Zulia have employed a contingency plan to extend reserves of gasoline, the situation does not give indications of change and the climate of unease has become the feeling that most affects the collectivity. The dramatic situation has provoded anarchy in public transport...
Lo que más ha afectado a los zulianos ha sido la escasez de gasolina en las estaciones de servicio, que ha provocado una indetenible ola compulsiva en los usuarios, quienes mantienen asediados los centros de expendio, generando enormes colas de vehículos, y de personas que con bidones buscan abastecerse.

Aunque los representantes del MEM en Zulia han empleado un plan de contingencia para extender las reservas de combustible, la situación no parece dar indicios de cambios y el clima de desconcierto ha pasado a ser el sentimiento que más afecta a la colectividad. La dramática situación ha provocado anarquía en el transporte público...
4. The captain of a strking PDVSA fuel tanker was freed by a Venezuelan court, reports Yahoo! News - Dow Jones. The judge said the captain, Atilio Bermudez, had committed no crime when he stopped the tanker, Yavire, which was on its way to deliver a natural gas shipment, according to the report, which originated with Globovision television in Venezuela. Among other things, this is an example of the continuing reluctance of the courts (as, to lesser extent, the military) to use their independent power to tip the decision in the larger struggle to one side by responding to its demands. Cowardice? Perhaps. But it gives room for the political struggle to play itself out.

posted by Richard 6:03 AM
. . .
Friday, December 13, 2002
VENEZUELA
Analysis: The Center for Strategic and International Studies published an analysis of the Venezuelan situation by Diaz its webside,
CSIS.org on Tuesday.

posted by Richard 1:29 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Opposition general speaks: Enrique Medina Gómez, the leader of the dissident military officers who created an encampment in the Plaza Francia de Altamira in October and have maintained it since, gave an interview to
El Universal. Here it is:
Photos were taken hugs shared and autographs signed in the plaza, under the attentive watch of their escorts. Later, he asked for a coffee and began the conversation lamenting that the national armed forces (FAN) are so politicized and ideologized that when the hour to restructure them comes, there will have to be a "very dramatic" reduction in the number of their members, to eradicate the "Chavista germ" and to incorporate the entire society into the process of reinstitutionalization.

For the General of Division (Army) Enrique Medina Gómez, the component to which he belongs is the most affected by the military crisis and is it specifically that keeps Chávez hanging on to the presidency, "because he only listens to the political commissars of the national armed forces who blackmail, threaten and buy consciences."

Q. The President insists that he maintains control of the FAN.

A. Chávez has always lived in a magical realism. Always he has deceived himself the same. He does not have support. What is happening now in the FAN is that he only hears the political commissars that have his confidence and that feel that they are controlling an important part of the institution, which is not certain. These political commissars act through deception, pressure, the purchase of consciences, blackmail and of course they threaten others. This is not to say that this is control.

Q. What has to happen for the institutional FAN to pass on Chávez?

A. Here one must not push anyone. They must take their decision and like Venezuelans react, reflect, and locate themselves at the side of those who are the base of a FAN that is society. When they understand this, surely they will give the response that we are all hoping for. Meanwhile, one must remain ready to fight, with the active strike, the people in the street and the Altamira fighting.

Q. What is the degree of decomposition within the army?

A. Without doubt it has been the component most affected by the politicization and ideological penetration that Chávez has originated. He initiated the previous conspiricy in '92. Chávez has dedicated major attention to it and it is where there are many partisans of Chavismo. We will have to direct a much greater effort to reinstitutionalize it. Also the National Guard, whose recent actions not only surprise civil society, but military men, because they are a demonstration of the use of force of a form so grotesque and so repressive as never has been seen.

Q. What actions would be essential for the reunification of the FAN?

A. In a first stage, a dramatic reduction in its size, to create absolute professionalism, 100 per cent, to redefine some objectives to frame its conceptual definition and to discuss important aspects of this reunification with all society. Those who don't share this, they would have to leave, because they cannot continue causing damage to the FAN. Moreover, the society as a whole has to discuss what this new role will be, and how it is going to be organized, in order to avoid the risk that in the future some other person will want to try to take ownership of it in order to put it to his personal service or of a political project.

Q. Are you satisfied with the results of the work action?

A. From the point of view of political strategy, it was logical that we arrived at the strike. It has been a forceful action, over all because it is an eminently political strike: it is not sectoral, not commercial, not union oriented. Its results are evident because beyond the fact that some open commerce exists, what has been demonstrated is that the state is in chaos and although there is a important paralysis of economic activity, the government has tried to deny this reality, this is not virtual, but truthful. Also we have seen that there is misrule and this is a victory.

Q. The objectives appear to be different than those obtained.

A. Many people went on strike and adopted it raising different objectives: one was to achieve the resignation of the president, another, that the government agree to holding a referendum, another that early general elections be called, but all seeking the departure of Chávez. What is important is that it has consolidated the center of public opinion that the only possible end , at this time, is resignation.

Q. From officer to officer, do you believe that Chávez will resign?

A. He already did it April 11. He will do it. It is not possible to keep a country economically paralyzed like it is at this time. The transcendence of this strike goes beyond its daily expressions in the street. One has to look at the paralyzation of the leading national industry. Soon there will be important international pressure as consequence of the errors that the government is commiting and due to the importance that our economy has in the Latin American and world context.

Q. What are you planning for a transition?

A. There are divergent forces. We have to give the country a demonstration of what the Venezuela is that we are going to transition to after Chávez, in terms of governability, an economic platform, unemployment, the health crisis, the absence of investment, marginality and insecurity. We are faced with an opposition that has not been able to achieve concrete proposals in order to relate to the country and the international community how we are going to articulate them in order to confront these problems. We believe that the Mesa de Negociación y Acuerdos (OAS Secretary Gaviria's meetings) should start to work, still to negotiate departure of Chávez, and to articulate this transition. We propose moreover that the group of six opposition negotiators add a representative of the Venezuelan woman, because she has been the point of the lance in this fight to recover the lost regime of liberty.

Q. But at this time the Mesa is discussing an electoral end.

A. We have found criteria respecting where we intend to tak ourselves. The referendum of rejection we have already had, it is in the streets. Here there no longer are going to be elections. There is no need to go to the ballot box, what is needed is the exit of Chávez. What is fundamental and transcendent at this juncture is that in addition to the departure of the president is that he exit in a political way...

Q. Considering that the government representative at the Mesa does not agree to negotiate resignation, they will continue speaking of amendment, election and referendum.

A. These are government snares. This critical situation implies an immediate end to the crisis. Where we have to go is to the resignation of Chávez, (then) after a transition that permits the articulation and recomposition of the institutions, to generate a trustworthy framework over which elections can be put up and to open new spaces for participation. What is essential is time. We are not able to stay trapped in that the solution is electoral in three months, when we have a current reality that the risk is of violence. Every day that passes increases the intention of the government to arrive at a final confrontation. This is the reality. Some opposition actors play the government's game because they continue trapped in this solution. Some are political autistics. The people don't feel like being interpreted by third parties but by themselves, and this is why they remain mobilized in the street.

A. You sound radical.

Q. No, I am a realist. This word has been muddled. He who tells the truth, they brand him as a radical and to him who is adorns things with personal purposes, they call him moderate. All this is a trap. One has to be realistic.

Q. Do you have confidence in Gaviria?

A. While Gaviria maintains his intention to promote elections for the coming year as a solution to the crisis, we are not able to have trust, because he is giving indications that he is out of phase with the reality of the country. He has had a game in that he has gone delaying the solution of the problem. Including we have information that Gaviria tried to brake the strike. Nevertheless, we believe that as a figure who represents an international organization he can guarantee the transparency of the agreements that are arrived at. We want Gaviria to validate the result of the negotiation that carries us to the departure of Chávez. We cannot have international support as long as we don't know where we are going.

Q. The military men of Altamira have place in this transaction?

A. We only want to return to the barracks because there we have an immense work. We do not have political aspirations and those who have confused Altamira with a publicity stunt still have not uderstood this. Here we are discussing seriously the problems of the country.
Se tomó fotos, repartió abrazos y firmó autógrafos en la plaza, bajo la mirada atenta de sus escoltas. Luego, pidió un café e inició la conversación lamentando que la Fuerza Armada Nacional (FAN) esté tan politizada e ideologizada que cuando sea la hora de reestructurarla, habrá que hacer una reducción 'muy dramática' del número de sus miembros, erradicar el 'germen chavista' e incorporar a toda la sociedad al proceso de reinstitucionalización.

Para el general de división (Ej) Enrique Medina Gómez, el componente al que pertenece es el más afectado por la crisis militar y es precisamente el que mantiene a Chávez aferrado a la Presidencia 'porque él sólo escucha a los comisarios políticos de la FAN que chantajean, amedrentan y compran conciencias'.

_El Presidente asegura que mantiene el control de la FAN.

_Chávez siempre ha vivido en un realismo mágico. Siempre se ha engañado a sí mismo. No tiene apoyo. Lo que sucede en este momento dentro de la FAN es que él sólo oye a los comisarios políticos que tiene en cargos de confianza y que sienten que están controlando una porción importante de la institución, lo cual no es cierto. Esos comisarios políticos actúan a través del engaño, de la presión, de la compra de conciencias, del chantaje y por supuesto amedrentan a otros. Eso no quiere decir que tiene el control.

_¿Qué tiene que suceder para que la FAN institucional se pronuncie sobre Chávez?

_Aquí no hay que empujar a nadie. Ellos tienen que tomar su decisión y como venezolanos reaccionar, recapacitar y colocarse al lado de quienes son la base de una FAN que es la sociedad. Cuando ellos entiendan eso, seguramente darán la respuesta que todos estamos esperando. Mientras tanto, hay que seguir en pie de lucha, con el paro activo, la gente en la calle y Altamira luchando.

_¿Cuál es el grado de descomposición del Ejército?

_Sin duda ha sido el componente más afectado por la politización y la penetración ideológica que ha originado Chávez. Allí fue donde se inició la conspiración previa en el 92, Chávez le ha dedicado mayor atención y es donde hay más partidarios del chavismo. Allí tendremos que orientar muchos más esfuerzos para reintitucionalizarlo. También en la Guardia Nacional, cuyas últimas actuaciones no sólo sorprenden a la sociedad civil, sino a los militares, porque son una demostración del uso de la fuerza de una forma tan grotesca y tan avasallante como nunca se había visto.

_¿Qué acciones serían imprescindibles para una reunificación de la FAN?

_En una primera etapa, una reducción dramática de su tamaño, dirigir una profesionalización absoluta, en 100%, redefinir algunos objetivos para enmarcar su definición conceptual y discutir los aspectos importantes de esa reunificación con toda la sociedad. Quienes no compartan esto, tendrán que salir, porque no pueden seguir causando daño a la FAN. Además, la sociedad como un todo tiene que discutir cuál es ese nuevo rol, y cómo se va a organizar, para evitar el riesgo de que en el futuro cualquier otra persona quiera pretender adueñarse de ella para colocarla a su servicio personal o de un proyecto político.

_¿Está satisfecho con los resultados del paro?

_Desde el punto de vista de estrategia política, era lógico que llegáramos al paro. Ha sido una acción contundente, sobre todo porque es un paro eminentemente político: no es gremial, empresarial, ni sindical. Sus resultados son evidentes porque más allá de que pueda existir algún comercio abierto, lo que ha quedado demostrado es que el Estado está en caos y aunque hay una paralización importante de la actividad económica, el Gobierno ha tratado de desconocer esa realidad, que no es virtual, sino verdadera. También hemos visto que hay un desgobierno y esa es una victoria.

_Los objetivos parecían ser diferentes a los obtenidos.

_Mucha gente fue al paro y lo asumió planteándose objetivos distintos: uno era lograr la renuncia del Presidente, otro, que el Gobierno accediera a la convocatoria al referendo, otro que se convocara a elecciones generales adelantadas, pero todos buscando la salida de Chávez. Lo importante es que se ha consolidado la matriz de opinión de que la única salida posible, en este momento, es la renuncia.

_De militar a militar, ¿usted cree que Chávez renuncie?

_Ya lo hizo el 11 de abril. Lo hará. No es posible mantener a un país económicmente paralizado como está en este momento. La trascendencia de este paro va más alla de las expresiones cotidianas que se ven en la calle. Tiene que ver con la paralización de la primera industria nacional. Pronto habrá una presión internacional importante como consecuencia de los errores que el Gobierno está cometiendo y por la importancia que nuestra economía tiene en el contexto latinoamericano y mundial.

_¿Qué están planteando ustedes para una transición?

_Se están haciendo esfuerzos divergentes. Tenemos que darles muestra al país de cuál es la Venezuela que vamos a transitar después de Chávez en materia de gobernabilidad, plataforma económica, desempleo, crisis de salud, falta de inversión, marginalidad e inseguridad. Estamos ante una oposición que no ha logrado plantear propuestas concretas para decirle al país y a la comunidad internacional cómo vamos a articularnos para afrontar esos problemas. Creemos que la Mesa de Negociación y Acuerdos debe empezar a trabajar ya en negociar la salida de Chávez y en articular esa transición. Proponemos además que al grupo de los seis negociadores de la oposición se sume una representación de la mujer venezolana, porque ha sido la punta de lanza en esta lucha por la recuperación del régimen de libertades perdidas.

_Pero en este momento la Mesa está discutiendo una salida electoral.

_Tenemos criterios encontrados respecto hacia dónde nos dirigimos. El referendo de rechazo ya se hizo, está en las calles. Aquí ya no hay que ir a elecciones. No hay que ir a las urnas, lo que hay que buscar es la salida de Chávez. Lo fundamental y lo trascendente de esta coyuntura es que además de salir del Presidente hay que salir de una manera de hacer política...

_Considerando que el oficialismo representado en la Mesa no acepte negociar la renuncia, seguirán hablando de enmienda, elección y referendo.

_Esas son trampas del Gobierno. Esta situación coyuntural implica una salida inmediata a la crisis. Lo que debemos ir es a la renuncia de Chávez, después a una transición que permita articular y recomponer las instituciones, generar un marco confiable sobre el cual se monten unas elecciones y abrir nuevos espacios de participación. Lo esencial son los tiempos. No podemos seguir entrampados en que la solución es electoral para dentro de tres meses, cuando tenemos una realidad actual que el riesgo de la violencia. Cada día que pasa aumenta la intención del Gobierno de llegar a una confrontación final. Esa es la realidad. Algunos actores de la oposición le hacen el juego al Gobierno porque continúan entrampados en esa solución. Son unos autistas políticos. La gente no se siente interpretada por terceros sino por ellos mismos, y por eso es que se mantiene movilizada en la calle.

_Usted suena radical.

_No, soy realista. Se ha confundido esa palabra. A quien dice la verdad, lo tildan de radical y a quien adorna las cosas con intenciones personales, le dicen moderados. Todo eso es una trampa. Hay que ser realista.

_¿Confía en Gaviria?

_Mientras Gaviria mantenga su intención de promover elecciones para el año que viene como salida a la crisis, no le podemos tener confianza, porque está dando indicativos de que está desfasado de la realidad del país. El ha hecho un juego en que ha ido retrasando la solución del problema. Incluso tenemos la información de que Gaviria trató de frenar el paro. Sin embargo, creemos que como figura que representa a una organización internacional puede garantizar la transparencia de los acuerdos a los cuales se llegue. Queremos que Gaviria valide el resultado de la negociación que nos lleve a la salida de Chávez. No puede haber apoyo internacional mientras no se vea hacia dónde nos dirigimos.

_¿Los militares de Altamira tienen cabida en esa transición?

_Sólo queremos regresar a los cuarteles porque allí tenemos un trabajo inmenso. No tenemos aspiraciones políticas y eso todavía no lo han entendido quienes han confundido a Altamira con un show publicitario. Aquí estamos discutiendo seriamente la problemática del país.



posted by Richard 1:24 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
Beginnings of disintegration?
Bloomberg.com reports that desertions from the illegal armies of the left have quadrupled this year. Could Colombia's 40-year civil war end with disintegration of the guerilla armies, instead of a peace settlement or military defeat? Both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia , or FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, or ELN) are losing members to desertion.
"The fact that desertions are increasing reflects a declining morale within the ranks of these groups," said Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for International Policy who has met with the guerrillas and people close to the paramilitaries. "But while there remains this huge reservoir of poor people, there will be replacements."

Reforms in the armed forces that have boosted their effectiveness also have contributed to growing disillusionment in the illegal groups.


posted by Richard 1:06 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Stratfor report: Stratfor has another excellent situation report out, available via
FreeRepublic.com. The news is good and bad: The oil industry remains effectively shuttered. Chávez is busily arming civilian loyalists. For what?

posted by Richard 12:53 PM
. . .
Thursday, December 12, 2002
VENEZUELA
Stratfor report: The private intelligence firm Stratfor has an excellent summary of today's events, available via
FreeRepublic.com. Most important: Stratfor's sources support opposition claims that the oil industry is not funcitioning at anything close to normal, despite official claims to the contrary. A new factor, raised by Stratfor's analyst, is the possibility that the state-owned oil company may not be able to insure ships with replacement crews:
19:50 GMT - International shipping sources say that Lloyd's of London and the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) are separately evaluating safety conditions at Venezuela's oil terminals, amid a strike by Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) workers that has disrupted oil production, refining and export operations. Both organizations could announce a quarantine of Venezuela's oil terminals due to unsafe conditions. Such a decision would make it impossible for tanker owners to export even a single barrel of oil, since they would be unable to obtain insurance for their cargoes or ships, the sources said.

However, sources with international marine insurers told Stratfor on Dec. 12 that insurers already are holding back further approval of tanker nominations to Venezuelan oil terminals due to confusion and deteriorating safety conditions. Independent tanker chartering sources also said at least 37 tankers are now idle at Venezuelan oil terminals, awaiting cargoes.


posted by Richard 7:25 AM
. . .
CHILE
Good news: The U.S. and Chile have signed a free trade agreement. The
Chicago Tribune, VOA and the New York Times all have reports. The agreement must be approved by the U.S. Senate.

posted by Richard 7:09 AM
. . .
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
VENEZUELA
Tanker retaken: A navy commando group has boarded and taken over the striking state oil company tanker Yavire and arrested its captain, reports
El Mundo.
Although the executive (Chávez) has threatened for several days to retake control of the PDVSA fleet, this is the first boarding in which a ship has been recovered. It is expected that other ships will be boarded by Navy personnel in the soon.
Aunque el Ejecutivo amenaza desde hace varios días con retomar el control de la flota de Pdvsa, esta es la primera embarcación que logran recuperar. Se espera que otros buques sean abordados por efectivos de la Armada en las próximas horas.


posted by Richard 8:43 AM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Media viewed: The
Chicago Tribune, which has been generally pro-Chávez, has an item describing the polarized state of Venezuela's media.

posted by Richard 7:53 AM
. . .
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
VENEZUELA
Talks going poorly: Yesterday, César Gaviaria, secretary general of the Organization of American States (Organización de Estados Americanos) said the Chávez government agreed to work toward a schedule for elections in the first quarter of next year. After meetings today, he is discouraged, reports
El Nacional.
After the marked optimism with which the secretary general of the OAS, César Gaviria, faced his meeting with the communications media in the hotel Meliá Monday night and communicaed that the government had shown its willingness to speak of elections, he has deflated this conviction and has branded the meeting this Tuesday as "little productive and without major achievement."
Luego del marcado optimismo con el que el secretario general de la OEA, César Gaviria, enfrentara su encuentro con los medios de comunicación en el hotel Meliá la noche del lunes y comunicara que el gobierno había mostrado su disposición a hablar de elecciones, ha visto desinflar su convencimiento y ha tildado la reunión de este martes de "poco productiva y sin mayores logros".
The country's vice president, José Vicente Rangel, spoke more positively, according to another story in El Nacional, perhaps because delay, deadlock and dashed hopes is the government's plan for the talks.


posted by Richard 6:07 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
New attacks on TV station: Chavista thugs have returned tonight to attack the headquarters of Globovisión, in La Florida, reports
El Nacional.

posted by Richard 5:52 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Analysis:
Bloomberg.com has a report and analysis. Bloomberg continues to be the English-language news sources most skeptical of Chávez's chances. Today's analysis is no exception:
The government said it is willing to discuss a timetable for a vote in talks brokered by the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, OAS secretary general, said at a news conference. With opposition leaders demanding Chavez resign or call elections in the first three months of next year, the negotiations are likely to break down, analysts said.

"I don't see any signs that the government and opposition are near an agreement," said Benito Berber, an analyst with research company IDEAglobal in New York. "Meanwhile, great damage is being done to the economy."
And,
"He can resign--the country is coming to a complete halt," said Anibal Romero, a political science professor at Venezuela's Simon Bolivar University. "Or he can go for broke and call a state of emergency. But if he does that, no one will go back to work, neither at the oil company or elsewhere."
And,
"We have gone far beyond talks about a referendum or elections," Romero said. "The opposition is no longer talking about a referendum or elections. They want Chavez to resign."
The item notes that Venezuelan oil exports have been halted (creating gas shortages in country and leaving the government short of cash with which to pay employees), non-striking industrial operations face closure due to shortages, (Ford's Valencia assembly plant has already closed), airlines have cancelled flights, banks have reduced hours, and the subway system may close down.

Today's report in the Financial Times reflects the deepening awareness outside Venezuela that Hugo Chávez is really in trouble and may fall.
Normal economic life in oil-rich Venezuela was giving way on Monday to scenes of a country on the verge of collapse, as petrol pumps dispensed their final drops of fuel and fears began to grow at the prospect of food shortages and transport constraints.

A week-old but strengthening national strike, led by business groups, labour unions and political opponents, aimed at pressing President Hugo Chávez into holding early elections, was bringing Venezuela to a virtual standstill.
The report concludes:
Although the strike was beginning to affect daily life more seriously, and workers in more sectors appeared set to join the action, there was still no sign on Monday that the government was willing to bow to pressure and concede to early elections.
Today's New York Times concludes as follows:
But Mr. Chávez faces what political analysts have called a nearly impossible situation. He does not have the workers with know-how to staff oil installations, and an increasing number of people are announcing that they are joining the strike. The economy is already in a tailspin, with American economists predicting it could contract by more than 6 percent by the end of this year.

"This is a waiting game," said Ricardo Hausmann, an economist at Harvard and former planning minister in Venezuela. "It is expensive to hold out, but it is not clear that Chávez can hold out either. This happens in all wars. If you knew you were going to lose, you would not get into it."
Stratfor, the Texas-based private intelligence firm that projected a summer coup but lately has been empressed with Chávez's survival skills, says, in a report available via FreeRepublic.com that Chávez is looking for ways to declare a "state of exception," which would allow the military take-over of the country.

Stratfor's report begins with an overview of the obviously coordinated attacks on Venezuelan TV stations and newspapers. Then:
In response to the ruckus created by pro-regime groups, numerous middle-class neighborhoods throughout Caracas have activated self-defense plans, including blocking access roads into the neighborhoods and the deployment of armed homeowners to defend against attacks by civilian militia.

Meanwhile, military intelligence sources told Stratfor that on the evening of Dec. 9 they intercepted radio transmissions ordering armed civilian militias called the Tupamaros to launch "actions" in defense of the revolution.

Although it is not clear what those actions might entail, the sources speculated that the regime may be planning to order its elite civilian militias to fire on groups of the president's own unarmed supporters. This would create a situation in which the government could declare a state of exception and suspend constitutional liberties.


posted by Richard 8:13 AM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Chavistas resort to mob action: Pro-Chávez demonstrators attacked television stations and newspapers in several Venezuelan cities last night, reports
El Nacional.
The headquarters of RCTV , Globovisión , El Aragüeño and TVS in Maracay, Meridiano Televisión and Venevisión were targets of pro-government demonstrators, who yesterday concentrated themselves at the doors the these communications media to protest "media terrorism" and the "lack of truthful information."
Las sedes de RCTV, Globovisión, El Aragüeño y TVS en Maracay, Meridiano Televisión y Venevisión fueron blanco de los manifestantes oficialistas, quienes ayer se concentraron a las puertas de estos medios de comunicación para protestar por “el terrorismo mediático” y la “falta de información veraz”.
Globovisión's facilities in Zulia (see map linked at right) were taken over by the mob; a mob attempted to take over Promar TV facilities in Barquisimeto (Lara, again, see map), which were successfully defended by the national guard.

Yahoo News! - AP has a story and photos, here, here, and here.

Manuel Cova, secretary general of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), the national union that is one of the leaders of Venezuela's work stoppage, says that the union has received information that pro-Chávez mobs are planning "a wave of acts of vandalism and terror" ("oleada de actos vandálicos y de terror") against the union's offices throughout the country. Cova told El Nacional:
"Yesterday it was the media and today the CTV will be touched," he warned making President Hugo Chávez responsible for everything that could happen to the installations and leaders of the union organization.

He condemned the protests that government partisans conducted last night in front of the the communications media in order to intimidate journalists.
"Ayer fueron los medios y hoy le tocará a la CTV”, advirtió al hacer responsable al presidente Hugo Chávez de todo lo que pueda pasar a las instalaciones y directivos del organismo sindical.

Condenó las protestas que partidarios del Gobierno realizaron anoche frente a los medios de comunicación para intimidar a periodistas.
Pro-government groups and "commandos" working for the mayor of Coro, Rafael Pineda, are attempting to take over the oil refinery at Amuay, reports El Nacional. The groups left from Maracay, Valencia, Maracaibo and Caracas in buses paid for by the national government, the paper says. Once taken, the plan is to have the refinery run by engineering and technical students.

Over the weekend, Chávez called his supporters out into the streets to defend the revolution. Apparently they are responding.

posted by Richard 7:39 AM
. . .
CUBA
Castro's island prison: A Cuban dissident, freed from prison in October, was arrested before a meeting of a human rights group,
Yahoo! News - AP reported Sunday, quoting the man's wife. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was detained with 12 others. According to Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon,
"There was going to be a meeting over topics of human rights" with people who had come from the nearby province of Matanzas, she said Saturday. But officials "did not let them enter the house where it was going to be."


She said the people who showed up lay down in the street in protest and police took them away.


Morejon said she had received no word from her husband or information from officials. "I still don't know where he is," she said.


posted by Richard 7:26 AM
. . .
Monday, December 09, 2002
VENEZUELA
Elections accepted?
El Nacional reports that the secretary general of the Organization of American States (Organización de Estados Americanos), César Gaviaria, has announced that the Chávez government has agreed to work toward a schedule for elections in the first quarter of next year. Until now, President Hugo Chávez has refused to consider any date before August 2003, which is the first date, according to his reckoning, when a recall referendum can be held under the constitution. One important condition--government negotiators demand the "return of tranquility to the country" ("retorno de la tranquilidad del país"), that is an end to the work stoppage.

posted by Richard 6:51 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Oil and force: Today began with U.S. papers and broadcast news reports empasizing that President Hugo Chávez had authorized the military (and civilians) to force service stations to open and to confiscate fuel transport, most likely breaking the strike. This hope--the U.S. media naturally favors the anti-American, pro-Castro Chávez--arose from a failure of observation and imagination. The U.S. media appears not to have noticed what is obvious from the Venezuelan press, which is that the military has generally maintained neutrality neutrality between the government and opposition. Oh, they obey orders; units go out and guard public facilities. But, there has been no coordinated, nationwide, even Caracas-wide, crackdown on the opposition. Nor have the armed forces re-taken control of industrial facilities, notably the oil industry. Rebelious crews appear to remain in control of the state-owned oil company's tankers, rebelious workers in charge of refineries and oil fields. And the military appears to be making no attempt to run--or force workers to run--oil facilities, just to guard them against sabotage. Instead, military units have typically attempted to prevent opposing crowds from mixing it up in the streets. There are exceptions, which get reported, but as a rule the armed forces seem to be acting more like a referee than a combatant. The U.S. media seems not to have noticed because it is incapable of imagining that the Venezuelan military officers can operate in any way other than government enforcer or anti-government coup-plotter, especially imagining that the armed forces might see themselves as guardians of the country's constitution and institutions. At seven months remove, a re-reading of the April events suggests that this was the military's motive even then. High officers refused Chávez's orders to activate Plan Avila, the contingency plan to protect government buildings, and asked his resignation because it would have required them to fight civilians. Then, when the negative consequences of that decision became clear, many of these same officers brought him back. Since then the military has conspicuously refused to use its power to give victory to either side. So incidentally, have the courts, which have generally refused to force the Attorney General to prosecute Chavistas, even when they should be prosecuted, and refused to let the Attorney General prosecute four generals for military rebellion over their roles in the April events.


Today ended with the failure of Chávez's effort to use the military to force the Venezuelan oil industry back in to production, according to
Bloomberg.com:
Venezuela's oil exports are "paralyzed" and refining and production by the world's fifth- largest exporter of crude may soon be halted, the state oil company's president said.

The fallout of a nationwide strike now in its second week may also lead Petroleos de Venezuela SA's creditors to demand payment of $6 billion of debt should the walkout continue, the company's President Ali Rodriguez said. Moody's Investors Service, citing the political crisis and shutdown of some of Petroleos Venezuela's operations, said today it may lower the state oil company's Ba1 credit rating.

"Oil exports are paralyzed and oil refining and production are being paralyzed,'' Rodriguez said in a televised speech. "We face a real national disaster."
Eleven of Venezuela's 21 oil tankers are idle, one of six refineries is shut (others are at-risk), production is down two-thirds. Domestic supply, which what Chávez's confiscation order was all about, are failiing too:
The strike, aimed at forcing President Hugo Chavez to resign, has caused gasoline shortages that may fuel an economic collapse and threatens to leave the government short of cash to pay workers and suppliers, Rodriguez said. The capital Caracas received 6 million liters of gasoline today, he said.

"There will be no gasoline to transport food, take children to school or take the sick to the hospital," Rodriguez said.
Despite what the U.S. press says, Chávez is losing.

posted by Richard 6:08 PM
. . .
Sunday, December 08, 2002
VENEZUELA
Quoted in full: The following brief report appears in
El Nacional:
The First Lady of the Republic, Marisabel Rodríguez Oropeza de Chávez, asked the national chief executive, Hugo Chávez, that "he respond and listen to the clamor of the people." In this way, she urged the government and the directors of the opposition that they seek a rapid and democratic end to the difficult situation that--according to her--exists in Venezuela.

The First Lady of the Republic, explained that she maintained with the way in which they were carrying some matters in "the course headed by the government." Moreover, in the name of her daughter Rosinés Chávez, she asked the President and the National Executive that he respond and begin to take measures with respect to the recent violent events occurring in different parts of the country.

"President, in the name of your daughter, of your family and of the country I ask you that you listen to the people. Ministers listen to the people. Opposition, seek sisdom. Secretary general of the Organization of American States, help in what you can serve as mediator, Venezuela asks shouting that this be your aim," she added to be interviewed for Promar television, from her house in Barquisimeto.

At the same time, she called on the pople of Venezuela that they have faith that the country is going to advance before "it costs us our own security." "This could be the last time that I speak to Venezuela in thise conditions, so, I hope that everyone that is in power respond. We don't want to continue living in a country where intolerance is our everyday bread."
La primera dama de la República, Marisabel Rodríguez Oropeza de Chávez, pidió al primer mandatario nacional, Hugo Chávez, que "reaccione y escuche el clamor del pueblo". De esta manera, instó al Gobierno y a los dirigentes de oposición a que busquen una salida rápida y democrática a la difícil situación que--según ella--vive Venezuela.

La primera dama de la República, explicó que mantenía diferencias con la manera en que se estaban llevando algunos asuntos en el "proceso encabezado por el Gobierno". Además, en nombre de su hija Rosinés Chávez, pidió al Presidente y al Ejecutivo Nacional que reaccione y empiece a tomar medidas con respecto a los últimos acontecimientos violentos ocurridos en diferentes regiones del país.

"Presidente, en nombre de su hija, de su familia y del país le pido que oiga al pueblo. Ministros oigan al pueblo. Oposición, busquen la prudencia. Secretario general de la OEA, ayude en lo que pueda y sirva de mediador, Venezuela pide a gritos que sea objetivo", agregó al ser entrevistada por Promar televisión, desde su casa en Barquisimeto.

Asimismo, llamó al pueblo de Venezuela a que tenga fe en que el país va a salir adelante antes de que "nos cueste nuestra propia seguridad". "Esta pudiera ser la última vez que le hable a Venezuela en estas condiciones, por eso, espero que todas las personas que están en el poder reaccionen. No queremos seguir viviendo en un país en donde la intolerancia es el pan nuestro de cada día."
Astonishing.


posted by Richard 6:52 PM
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VENEZUELA
Situation report: Stratfor, the private intelligence firm has a new situation report out, available via
FreeRepublic.com. The report notes several developments, including the issuance of a resolution authorizing "military and civilian personnel to seize control of tanker trucks used to transport gasoline from tank farms to retail gasoline outlets." "Civilian personnel" could include members of the infamous Bolivarian Circles. The report also notes that 26 tankers are now stranded on the Orinoco River (see map linked at right), through which Venezuela's iron, steel and aluminum exports pass and that international airlines have cut flights to the minimum. And about the oil idustry:
23:49 GMT - Sources in Caracas tell Stratfor that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decided not to appoint a new board of directors at Petroleos de Venezuela for the time being, seeking instead to concentrate all decision-making power in the hands of PDVSA President Ali Rodriguez. Chavez appears to have two objectives. First, he needs to contain the rapidly escalating political crisis within PDVSA by not appointing board members that striking managers already have said they would not accept. The second objective apparently is to neutralize Rodriguez politically, given his viability as a potential successor to Chavez, one source said.

23:45 GMT - The Venezuelan Petroleum Chamber, whose members include all private local and foreign companies that provide services to Petroleos de Venezuela, voted Dec. 8 to join the national strike against President Hugo Chavez after a heated six-hour meeting in which the chamber's president, Luis Rodriguez, attempted to water down endorsement of the strike or criticism of Chavez. According to Stratfor sources with first-hand knowledge of the meeting, Rodriguez is "extremely close" to PDVSA President Ali Rodriguez -- although they are not related -- and has been accused of obtaining sweetheart geophysics contracts from PDVSA and the Energy and Mines Ministry in return for supporting the Chavez regime.


posted by Richard 6:15 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Shooter Chavista:A confessed Plaza Altamira shooter named Joao De Gouveia has been linked with Freddy Bernal, mayor of the Liberador municipality and ardent Chavista, via a video tape showing the two together during a demonstration at the headquarters of the state oil company, PDVSA. In response, reports
El Nacional, President Hugo Chávez is threatenting to take action against the country's independent television stations.
He classified the tape as a montage, alleging that "this man" entered the country on the fifth of December, three hours after the moment when the images were captured , and shows documents from the immigration service that support this information.

The president also doubted that the Mayor Bernal is who appears in the tape, although he admitted that the official called him to communicate to him that he would appear at the the place "worried with security in Caracas" and for the people that defended the headquarters of PDVSA in La Campiña.
Calificó la cinta como un montaje, alegando que "ese señor" entró al país el 5 de diciembre, trece horas después del momento cuando se captaron las imágenes, y mostró documentos del servicio migratorio que respaldan esta información.

El presidente también dudó de que el alcalde Bernal sea quien aparece en la cinta, aunque reconoció que el funcionario lo llamó para comunicarle que asistiría al lugar "preocupado con la seguridad en Caracas" y por el pueblo que defendía la sede de Pdvsa en La Campiña.
El Nacional reports that Venezuelan banks will not open tomorrow, giving as reason national mourning--declared by the opposition--for the deaths at Altamira.

posted by Richard 2:59 PM
. . .
Saturday, December 07, 2002
VENEZUELA
Eyewitness account:
FreeReputlic.com has an excellent first person account of events in Venezuela, including the shootings at the Plaza Francia de Altamira.

posted by Richard 4:29 PM
. . .
Friday, December 06, 2002
VENEZUELA
Martyrs:
El Universal reports that four attackers killed three anti-Chávez demonstrators and injured about 28 others in the Plaza Francia de Altamira. The Plaza Altamira is the site of an six-week-old encampment by military dissidents.

Quoting the chief of the Policía de Chacao (the locality in which Plaza Altamira is located), Leonardo Díaz Paruta, the paper says one of the four alleged shooters has been detained.

In response, according to El Nacional,
In several neighborhoods of the city of Caracas, opposition partisans went out into the streets to protest against this action. Despite the call of the municipal authorities (to stay away), the Plaza Francia was newly filled with anti-government demonstrators.
En varias urbanizaciones de la ciudad de Caracas, partidarios opositores salieron a la calle a protestar contra esta acción. A pesar del llamado de las autoridades municipales, la plaza Francia se llenó de nuevo de manifestantes antigobierno.
Also in response,
Opposition leaders have annuonced the intensification of protest actions this weekend. They are calling for several street demonstrations tomorrow, while Carlos Ortega (head of the national union CTV) announced from the platform of the Plaza Altamire that he will propose to the elements that make up the Democratic Coordinator the definitive activation of an indefinite general strike. This suggestion has been supported by multiple representatives of the anti-Chavista elements.
Líderes opositores han anunciado la intensificación de las acciones de protesta para este fin de semana. Convocan para mañana varias manifestaciones de calle, mientras Carlos Ortega anunció desde la tarima de la Plaza Altamira que propondrá a los factores de la Coordinadora Democrática la activación definitiva de una huelga general indefinida. La propuesta ha sido respaldada por múltiples representantes de los factores antichavistas.
Yahoo! News - Reuters has a report and photos, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A BBC story reports that clashes have occurred elsewhere in the country.
Hundreds of pro-Chavez demonstrators attacked the offices of the El Siglo newspaper in the central city of Maracay, fuelling fears of growing political violence.

"They had guns and rocks. They broke all the windows up to the fourth floor and cut the electricity," managing editor Mireya de Zurita told AFP news agency.
Both the Yahoo! - Reuters and BBC reports describe Chávez opponents as the country's rich and middle class and indicate he has huge popularity among the poor. Once true, this no longer is, if recent polls (such as one noted in El Sur on November 15) are to be credited.

posted by Richard 7:23 PM
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VENEZUELA
Non-negotiation negotiations:
El Nacional now says that the government is rejecting a return to the bargaining table. Rather, says Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (whose secretary general is attempting to mediate in talks) Jorge Valero, the government is seeking to meet to explore conditions that would permit a resumption of negotiations.

Today's photos from Yahoo! News include pictures of demonstrations around struck oil tankers, here, here, here, here,here, here, and here, as well as other stoppage related events, here, here, here, here,here, here and here.

posted by Richard 12:54 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Day 5: Venezuela's nationwide work stoppage is in its fifth day and apparently is having significant negative effects on the country's oil industry. As a result, the two two sides have agreed to resume talks, mediated by the secretary general of the Organization of American States, César Gaviria. Anything can still happen. So it's still too early for either side to claim victory. However, it is increasingly clear that the opposition has upper hand and will be able to extract conditions not possible a week ago. The departure of President Hugo Chávez is not among the concessions Hugo Chávez likely to grant. There is a good chance the opposition can obtain a concession that will significantly advance its Hugo Chávez removal project--his agreement to a consultative referendum on or around February 2, asking the question, should Hugo Chávez be asked to resign.

Current reports on the Venezuelan situation include a report from
Bloomberg.com reporting that it was Chávez who sought the return to the bargaining table. Why? According to the item,
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, facing a rebellion from the nation's merchant marine, called on the Organization of American States to mediate a conflict that threatens to choke shipments from the fifth-largest oil exporter.
A later report from
Bloomberg.com, indicates that the course of events is very positive for the opposition.
"The government is returning to the negotiating table because it has no other alternative," (Manuel) Cova (of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers)said.
And,
"The country has become ungovernable," said Vitali Meschoulam, an analyst with Eurasia Group, a political risk research company in New York. "That is something Chavez has to recognize."
The effect of the job action on oil production and shipment is the reason.

In Venezuela, El Universal reports that pro-Chávez demonstrators appeared at the headquarters of Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the state oil company, protesting the blockade of oil shipments by PDVSA oil tanker crews. The paper says the protest is peaceful. However, it is taking place at the end point of a previously announced march by Coordinadora Democrática.

The government has guaranteed oil deliveries to the United States, according to El Nacional.

Government opponents are alleging--and denouncing--government efforts investigate banking transactions of government opponents, including public officials, dissident military officers and government administrators. National Assembly Deputy Liliana Hernández, of the Justice First party, released a document sent by the country's bank superintendent to banks containing the names of persons to investigate, reports El Nacional.
The measure affects the majority of the magistrates of the Supreme Court, directors of the National Electoral Council, directors of businesses and members of political parties. Outstanding among these is found the president of the top electoral organization, Alfredo Avella, the president of Fedecámaras, Carlos Fernández, and the generals Enrique Medina Gómez and Néstor González González.
La medida afecta a la mayoría de los magistrados del TSJ, los directivos del Consejo Nacional Electoral, dirigentes empresariales y miembros de los partidos políticos. Resaltó que entre ellos se encuentra el presidente del máximo órgano comicial, Alfredo Avella; el presidente de Fedecámaras, Carlos Fernández; y los generales Enrique Medina Gómez y Néstor González González.
General Enrique Medina Gómez is leader of the dissident military encampment in the Plaza Altamira. The First Justice deputy said such an investigation is an express violation of the constitution.

posted by Richard 8:57 AM
. . .
Thursday, December 05, 2002
VENEZUELA
Oil III:
Bloomberg.com has a late update on the situation in Venezuela's oil industry in the fourth day of the nationwide work stoppage.

El Universal reports that the stoppage will continue for another day.

Meanwhile, also according to El Universal, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, César Gaviria, is attempting to get the government and opposition back to the negotiating table.

Despits Gaviria's diplomacy, serious negotiations are unlikely, however, until the sides have tested each other's strength. The outcome of the job action will dictate the degree to which each side needs to compromise. If the action succeeds, Chávez almost has to agree to a referendum. If the action fails, the opposition will take months to regroup.

posted by Richard 7:25 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Oil II: Stratfor, the Texas-based private intelligence firm has two recent analyses out.

The first, released yesterday and available via
FreeRepublic.com, reports that an oil blockade is underway in Venezuela.

The second, released today and also available via FreeRepublic.com, suggests that disruption to the oil industry is spreading and the government is responding by militarizing the industry.
However, militarizing PDVSA will not necessarily end the company's growing difficulties because the troops don't know how to operate the complex networks of oil fields and pipelines, gas compression plants, refineries, tank farms and loading terminals. Chavez threatened to imprison PDV-Marina officials and crew members who idled six tankers in Lake Maracaibo, threats of arrest probably will not force oil workers to return to their jobs.
This is a major challenge for the Chávez government.
If the Chavez regime is unable to reverse PDVSA's gradual shutdown within the next two days, exports of crude oil and unleaded gasoline to the United States likely will suffer some disruptions within five days or less, driving up U.S. gasoline prices mainly in Gulf Coast and Southeast states.

Also, the political implications for Chavez if PDVSA shuts down a substantial portion of its production and refining operations could be devastating.

For instance, the national strike already has disrupted deliveries of basic food products such as beef and milk to thousands of small bakeries, butcher shops and neighborhood grocery stores where most lower-income Venezuelans buy their food.


posted by Richard 2:28 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Oil: The government is increasingly worried about the ability of the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), to continue to produce and ship oil and oil products, reports
El Universal. The paper says oil production and delivery was the subject of an extended meeting attended by President Hugo Chávez, Vice President José Vicente Rangel, and the ministers of Energy and Mines and Education, government party assembly deputies and the President of PDVSA, Alí Rodríguez Araque.

posted by Richard 5:16 AM
. . .
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
VENEZUELA
Stratfor analysis: The private intelligence analysis firm Stratfor (
Stratfor.com) says it is likely the work action will peter out by the end of the week and President Hugo Chávez will survive into 2003. Except,
if PDVSA workers were to strike en masse and shut down the production and export of the country's oil for a week or more, Chavez's political problems would balloon exponentially.
In any case, Stratfor analysts believe, the country will become increasingly difficult to govern and Chávez will be gone before the end of 2003. That will not end Venezuela's problems, however. For one thing,
a military insurrection against Chavez likely would be led by mid-level officers -- majors, captains and lieutenants -- who probably will not accept the continued leadership of their senior commanders, according to Stratfor military sources. Not only would this fit Venezuela's historical pattern, but these sources say there is also a growing sense among middle-grade officers that higher-ranking officers -- including many who have been encamped at Plaza Altamira in Caracas for the past five weeks -- are looking out first for their own political and personal interests.
Stratfor's analysis is available by subscription, here via FreeRepublic.com.

posted by Richard 6:24 PM
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