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Five vignettes of Venezuela's "revolution"

By Gustavo Coronel

June 20, 2005 | The pendulum of the Venezuelan "revolution" swings widely between the tragic and the ridiculous. However, Venezuelans currently suffering under this process rarely feel like laughing. Life under Mussolini, Stalin, Mao or Hitler surely had many ridiculous moments but the tragic components were so overpowering that laughter was little practiced. Rather inoffensive clowns like Bucaram, in Ecuador, attracted more laughs than tears.

Many of the antics of Hugo Chávez and his team belong under the Bucaram category but, more and more, tragedy is taking over. Every day that goes by Venezuela, under the boot of Chávez, looks more like Cuba or Zimbabwe than like a viable society. I enclose some recent examples of the farce the Chávez regime has become:

Vignette one: The Supreme Tribunal of Justice dismisses accusation against Hugo Chávez.

A concerned Venezuelan citizen, Enrique Ochoa Antich, introduced before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice an accusation against Hugo Chávez for the illegal diversion of national funds, about US$1.1 billion, from the Economic Stabilization Fund to pay Christmas bonuses to public employees and for other politically motivated uses. This diversion did not have to be proven since it was publicly admitted by the man in charge of the operation, Nelson Merentes (currently Minister of Finance) and by Chávez himself. The accusation remained in suspense for long months. Now the Tribunal has just rejected it in a decision that illustrates the disdain for justice that prevails in my country. The decision, authored by Carlos Oberto, a magistrate of the Court, claims that "the harm derived from the actions of the government does not affect Mr. Ochoa directly. This would be the essential requisite for the accusation to become valid. In any case, the harmed party would be the Nation and the legitimate plaintiffs would be those designated by the Constitution to represent the State, which possess titles over the national monies." ("Tribunal Supremo de Justicia rechaza acusacion contra Hugo Chávez," Notitarde, June 17, 2005). According to this decision Mr. Ochoa, as a citizen, cannot claim to be a victim of the thievery and abuses of the Chávez revolution since the "owner" of the money is not the Venezuelan society (Mr. Ochoa and the rest of Venezuelans) but the State. The only ones who could accuse Chávez, therefore, would be the officers of the State. It so happens, however, that the officers of the State are all in Chávez's pockets and that the main credential required to be in the public payroll is to be loyal to the "revolution." The persons in charge of controlling the excesses of the executive power are all paid by the violator of the law! Clearly, the Venezuelan citizens are defenseless against these abuses and live in a country without the rule of law. They will have to find other means to reassert their civic rights.

Vignette two: 75% of Venezuelan cities affected by electricity shortages (Noticiero Digital, June 17, 2005 and "La Verdad," same date).

75% of Venezuelan cities are currently affected by recurrent shortages of electricity. Since Venezuela has immense hydroelectric and hydrocarbon resources, the problem is not in the generation of electricity but in its distribution. The distribution systems, managed by Cadafe, a state-owned company, are in ruins and in desperate need of new investments. These investments, however, will not be forthcoming for two reasons: the lack of technical and managerial capabilities of the company and the use of national monies in political propaganda but not in the required improvement of infrastructure. Cadafe is bankrupt because it does not receive money from the government and is incapable to collect money from clients. The main clients of Cadafe are other state-owned companies, especially the corrupt aluminum producing companies or institutions such as the armed forces. These companies and institutions owe Cadafe millions of dollars that will never be paid. In addition, the largely poor Venezuelan population mostly obtains the fluid through illegal connections. All in all, the electrical distribution system is in total collapse due to inefficiency and populism.

Vignette three: The Energy and Petroleum Minister has two jobs at the same time, in express violation of the Constitution.

Rafael Dario Ramírez Carreńo has been holding two government jobs for months: Energy and Petroleum Minister, and President and CEO of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-owned company. This duality has been the coup-de-grace for the company, robbing it of its remnants of managerial autonomy and self-financing. Although this is the major crime, there is another. According to Article 148 of the current Venezuelan Constitution, "no one can occupy two public jobs simultaneously and the acceptance of a second job implies the immediate resignation from the other." The day Ramirez became president of the oil company he legally ceased to be Minister. ("El Ministro renuncio," Carlos Vecchio, El Universal, June 11, 2005) Therefore, all he has done as Minister since he got the other job should be void and null. This is a cardinal rule of Venezuelan constitutional law. Yet, Ramirez continues to conduct business in both capacities, including the recent controversial changes in the contracts of the foreign oil companies acting as contractors in Venezuela.

This disdain for the Constitution, for ethics and elegance in the exercise of public duties are characteristic of the group now ruling my country. They could not care less. They are above the law and, as such, they have become illegitimate and will have to answer for these violations when a legitimate government takes over.

Vignette four: The shameless hyper-corruption in Citgo and Petróleos de Venezuela. (El Universal, Mariana Parraga, June 17, 2005).

A group of members of the National Assembly seems to be breaking away from rigid Chávez control to investigate the increasing signs of hyper-corruption in Citgo. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating Citgo's dealings. A recent disclosure refers to a huge contract to transport asphalt, given directly and without bidding, to a company owned by a favorite of the regime, a Mr. Wilmer Ruperti. The Comptroller of Citgo has admitted that such a contract was given directly to the company "Sea Pioneer Shipping." by order of Luis Marin, former president of Citgo and co-signed by Freddy Caraballo, a vice-president of the company. According to the report by Parraga, the company that received the contract had not even been included in the list of companies that should have been called for bidding. The company was included and rewarded directly "after a telephone call was received from the headquarters of Petróleos de Venezuela," according to the comptroller of Citgo, Mr. Vladimir Noriega. In addition to this case of corruption, investigations have started related to the move of Citgo's offices to Houston and to the re-acquisition of the debt of Citgo that took place last year. In a minor scale, but equally corrupt, Venezuelan managers of Citgo have already admitted that they approved spending money for pro-Chávez members of the Venezuelan National assembly while on a trip to New York.

Former executives Rivero and Marin, just dismissed from Citgo, had recently acquired $800-900,000 houses in Houston and Rivero's remuneration was reported to be some $390,000 per year. Not bad for someone who had no particular managerial or petroleum industry experience!

Vignette five: When Education becomes Indoctrination.

The final assault on the Venezuelan mind being prepared by Chávez will be fought in the educational sector. A new Law of Education is being presented to the National Assembly, which means that it will be passed as Chávez wishes. This law is extremely long (about 75 articles), overflowing with verbosity, errors of syntaxes and bad intentions. In essence it will tend to produce "revolutionary" robots for a future Venezuela, made to the image of Castro's Cuba. Private education will come to be rigidly controlled by the State. Spies will be introduced in every school, so that the "doctrine" is properly taught. In the future, teachers will require, as only credentials, to "be identified with, and committed to, the Bolivarian Revolution." (Document signed by Cuban and Venezuelan "teachers," meeting in a recent Cuban-Venezuelan Conference). This battle will be hard fought since the Venezuelan family feels more intimately threatened by this attempt at stealing the minds of their children, than by the move of one or two billion dollars of oil income to China, Switzerland or Cuba, by means of complex transactions that would be the envy of Enron's top financial officers.

There are many more illustrations of the Venezuelan tragedy, as well as many more examples of the absurd and the ridiculous that make us laugh between tears.

* The traffic signs in Valencia have been painted vivid red by the chavista governor, in violation of all international conventions, sonly because red is the color of the revolution.

* Remember Rodrigo Granda, the Colombian terrorist and kidnapper who was given protection by Chávez and who voted for him, after being given a Venezuelan identity card? Well, he is still registered as "Venezuelan" and could vote again for Chávez, if he was not in a Colombian prison.

* The nurses in the Valencia government hospital are being dressed in red, like flamingoes, probably triggering new cases of high blood pressure among previously healthy visitors.

* The former president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice signed his own letter of retirement, assigning himself a monthly remuneration for life of US$10,000. At the same time he is being sent by Chávez to be his Ambassador to the Vatican, of all places.

* The new president of Alcasa, a state-owned aluminum company has dismissed all the company managers, since he says he only needs unskilled labor to do the job. He is a former convicted kidnapper and had been in prison years ago for armed robbery and assault.

* A leader of a Colombian drug cartel, in prison in Venezuela awaiting extradition to the U.S. simply walked out of jail and is nowhere to be found. As a result, the Chávez regime has decided to fire one thousand members of the secret police, many of whom had apparently become "employees" of the drug baron, replacing them with members of the armed forces.

* The military parade of June 24th, which celebrates the anniversary of the decisive Battle of Carabobo against the Spanish army, has been cancelled because the president "is afraid to be assassinated."

Circus and bread is Chŕvez's motto, more circus than bread.

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