Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deterioration in Venezuela

Gustavo Coronel: Venezuela :hot spot in the Caribbean

The process of deterioration in Venezuela has accelerated significantly during the last six months. Venezuelans have shown great patience, often bordering on apathy, but conditions in the country are fast approaching significant turmoil and possible violence. This is happening before the eyes of our hemispheric political leaders.
Although significantly authoritarian from the beginning of his presidency, the performance of President Hugo Chavez during the last months has become one of a dictator: no checks and balances, decisions concentrated in his hands, dissenters persecuted, national assets utilized without accountability and his pretensions of turning Venezuela into another Cuba no longer disguised. He has become a political bulldozer, running over all dissent. Items:
• General Raul Baduel, one of his former Ministers of Defense and now a political dissenter, has been imprisoned on charges of corruption;
• Twelve Caracas police officers accused by the government of shooting against Caracas marchers in April 11, 2002, were given sentences of up to 30 years in prison when, in fact, the shooting was done by snipers under the orders of the Chavez regime, none of whom have ever been charged;
• Mr. Manuel Rosales, Mayor of the city of Maracaibo and one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition, is now in exile in Peru after served an order of arrest on charges of corruption;
• Prominent members of the opposition such as former Mayor of the Chacao District of Caracas, Leopoldo Lopez, have been prevented from running for public office, on vague accusations of corruption;
• Globovision, the last truly independent TV station left in the country after the confiscation of assets and the closing down of Radio Caracas TV, has been served with a notice of suspension. The reason? Informing the Venezuelan public about the earthquake that took place some days ago before the government “officially” aired the information.
• The Mayors and Governors of the opposition, who won their offices through elections, are being openly harassed and their work being made extremely difficult. Mr. Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Greater Caracas, was expelled from his headquarters, which were immediately occupied by a puppet “governor” directly named by Chavez. The money that should be sent to these states and mayoralties by the central government is being cut-off. This represents an open violation of the constitution and of the will of the people and has recently been the object of condemnation by the European Parliament.
• The Ateneo de Caracas, one of the oldest cultural centers of the country and a center of perceived opposition to Chavez, has been ordered by the government to evacuate peremptorily the premises they have occupied for long decades. As they have no other place to go this probably means their disappearance.
• The Caracas home of former president and novelist Romulo Gallegos, where the beloved novelist lived for many years, is now partly used as a government food market. A bust of Gallegos has been removed from the presidential palace and replaced with one of mediocre, early XX century dictator Cipriano Castro. Gallego's books have been burned by the thousands by the regime, in a barbaric action copied from Bradbury's “Fahrenheit 451”.
• Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned company, has stopped paying many of its contractors. The size of the debt to Tulsa's Williams Companies, Tulsa's Helmerich and Payne, Schlumberger, Halliburton and other companies already amounts to $8-12 billion. While these debts keep mounting, the Chavez regime has simply taken over the assets of some of these companies. Such a move will add about 8,000 new workers to the already adipose payroll of Petroleos de Venezuela, the state- owned Petroleum Company,while leaving about 22,000 others without jobs.
• The May 1st Caracas march against the government was met with tear gas and strong repression by the Chavez-controlled armed forces. In a cynical display Chavez went on TV to accuse the unarmed citizens of “an act of aggression against our armed forces”.
• A new law is now being passed by the Chavez-controlled National Assembly that will make it illegitimate for NGO's to receive foreign financing. Most of these not-for-profit organizations, especially those in the field of human rights, receive help from USA or Europe. The law is clearly targeted against this type of organizations, as Chavez feels that they are strong centers of political opposition.
• In his obsession to break away from all things made in America Chavez bought 53 Russian, Mi, helicopters but forgot that pilots have to be trained before they can fly them. During the last year four have crashed, causing 18 deaths.
The armed forces, an institution that should be the guarantor of democracy seems is under Chavez's political control due to the lavish monetary handouts and privileges received by the military elite. They now salute in Cuban style: “Fatherland, Socialism or Death”.
Chavez's message has become disdainful of legality. Drunk with power he currently leads an offensive against democracy in several of his socialist satellites, mostly Bolivia. He is threatening with leaving the Organization of American States, OAS, although this organization, led by weak-kneed Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, has been criminally tolerant of his undemocratic transgressions.
In shaking his hand U.S. President Obama allowed Chavez to use this gesture to convince his followers that Obama is “his friend” and will let him do as he pleases. The democrats of Venezuela and all Latin America are frustrated by the apparent U.S. lack of will to live up to its democratic values.

Gustavo Coronel is a 28 years oil industry veteran, a member of the first board of directors (1975-1979) of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), author of several books. At the present Coronel is Petroleumworld associate editor and advisor on the opinion and editorial content of the site.

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