Saturday, February 18, 2006

Venezuela: EFE's chief Emilio Arrojo in bed with Chavez's revolution

London 18.02.06 | There's been much talk of late about the alleged popularity of Hugo Chavez. Desperately trying to build up confidence towards the presidential race on December this year, Hugo Chavez has resorted to the most basic political trick: i.e. he's fabricating poll results. For that purpose Chavez counts with the services of one North American Opinion Research Inc., a company first quoted as being based in Delaware (turned out to be a lie), then in Pennsylvania (equally false). The Florida register of companies though, does contain information about a North American Opinion Research Inc. (NAOR) and there is where things get truly interesting.

As it turns out NAOR was registered on 03/02/2004 by Alirio Valbuena (FEI Number 201163145). Kaysa Makarem appears to be NAOR's secretary, the company operates from address 1549 NE 123 ST, NORTH MIAMI FL 33161. Kaysa Makarem, presumably with his brother Julio Makaren (note different ending in last names), are the registered officers of PETROTULSA R.L. CORP., which operates from the very same address 1549 NE 123 ST, NORTH MIAMI FL 33161.

Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections has an entry dated 28-01-02 entitled "Petrotulsa plans oil refinery"

28-01-02 Petrotulsa, a Venezuela private oil company with Swiss-based engineering company ABB, is planning to build a $ 2 bn oil refinery capable of processing 130,000 bpd. Petrotulsa's president Ricardo Valbuena said that the Swiss-based engineering company ABB has signed a letter of intent to that effect.

Interestingly the company was formed, according to the Florida register, on 11/18/2003. Further the name Ricardo Valbuena is not mentioned in the company's entry, as far as the Florida register is concerned.

The aforementioned leads back to Caracas

Not only do NAOR and Petrotulsa share offices in Florida. In Caracas they share telephone lines, and obviously offices too. Ergo it does not surprise that a company -Petrotulsa- planning to construct a $2 billion oil refinery, and whose officials share responsibilities in its sister polling company NAOR, predicted 'successfully' the recall referendum results, and are now suggesting that 6 out of 10 Venezuelans will vote for Hugo Chavez in the next election, as reported by EFE. We're talking about $2 billion ladies and gents.

EFE's bureau chief in Caracas, Emilio Arrojo, has rebuked criticism as to the validity of results provided by this fraudulent pollster and veracity of EFE's commentary. Stating that the results he had been furnished with were real and, equally, NAOR officials, whom he purportedly interviewed, indeed exist, Arrojo based his release on the opinions provided by Ricardo Valbuena (Petrotulsa president), Carlos Sanchez (NAOR's representative in Venezuela) and Faraon Viera. The contact details of Ricardo Valbuena, acting as representative of NAOR in the alleged interview with Arrojo, are the same as the numbers provided in this Petrotulsa website. It is therefore only logic to assume that NAOR's office in Caracas is located at Petrotulsa's address: Urb. Campo Alegre, 2da. Avenida, Torre Credival, Local C -1.

Venezuelan journalists believe that Emilio Arrojo, EFE's bureau chief in Caracas, is more chavista than Hugo Chavez. Although every person is entitled to its own political opinions / tendencies, journalists, such as Emilio Arrojo, have a duty of care and responsibility. Due diligence must be exercised, especially when dealing with disreputable information and sources, such as the ones cited above. Could Mr. Arrojo convincingly argue that he was unaware of the rather evident conflict of interests at play? Further, is it not clear that his penchant to toe Chavez's line and publish politically charged articles, instead of informing, are exposing him as a propagandist? Or are we to believe that EFE's staff is so utterly incompetent that they can not join the dots, as done here?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Re Pat Robertson's assassination calls, part II

London 24.08.05 | Just watched an interview of Pat Robertson to Thor Halvorssen. The media frenzy generated by Robertson's assassination calls has brought to the fora the issue of Hugo Chavez and it's still early days to analyse in its full dimension the political repercussions that such remarks will have. A quick review of yesterday's news suggests that, indeed, Venezuela, for the first time in a very long period, made it to the headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Assassination calls make an attention junkie, read Hugo Chavez, reach climax and certainly Robertson's views will play into the former's hands, that by now has nearly 7 years accusing the US of plotting to kill him. Lack of evidence notwithstanding, Robertson's faux pas will become the pillar upon which the chavista assassination conspiracy theories will be built (expect another bestseller by Eva Golinger to hit Amazon soon). Did Chavez's failed attempt to assassinate a democratically elected president, and his family, back in 1.992 created such a fuss? Nah...

Thor Halvorssen views are to the point, accurate and compelling enough to alert a broader audience about the perils that the Castro-Chavez duo represent for the hemispheric stability. We, Venezuelan citizens, have been denouncing the impending danger for quite some time now only to be treated with utmost contempt by the international democratic community. Of course there are billions to be made by cozying up with banana republic's strongmen (isn't that right Zapatero?), alas only when the latter are bold and stupid enough to take on the world can one expect some sort of reaction by the former. Hugo Chavez is an issue that has transcended the limits of our country. His continental expansion plans, should these succeed, shall impact very negatively across a region that has already lost a couple of decades in democratic, social and economic evolution terms.

Unfortunately the chances of putting an end, democratic and peacefully, to the militaristic Cuban project in Venezuela are rather slim. We built our forces and we gained momentum only to be sacrificed by the OAS's and Carter Center's coup de grâce last August. The validity of the recall referendum results remain questionable to this very day and the many abnormal and illegal procedures that took place prior, during and post election day remain unaddressed by those contracted and paid to safeguard the transparency of the process. The observers' imprimatur unrein, irresponsibly, a gullible and utterly ignorant galloping megalomaniac who shall propagate misery and despair amongst the citizens of La Gran Colombia.

The least the international community can do now is help us get rid of the neo-communist plague. Assassination calls or attempts are not the way to deal with the growing menace. As Halvorssen rightly pointed out, democratic and law abiding citizens categorically reject Robertson's stance, for what Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro deserve is the treatment given to criminals like Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Milosevic et al. They must be held accountable for their many crimes and they should be judged, sentenced and sent to solitary confinement for the rest of their lives in an ADMAX prison.

PS: BTW Venezuela's Ambassador to the US remarks in the clip are, as customary, utterly ludicrous for the US' administration duty of care and security remains within the confines of their country and citizenship. Besides the task of protecting the physical integrity of the failed coupster figures in the job description of the Cuban G2s signposted in Miraflores.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Smartmatic: all things connected

London 14.0.05 | The Florida register of companies contains details of the board of directors of Smartmatic Corporation, which is formed by Antonio Mugica, Alfredo Anzola, Antonio Mugica Rivero, Roger Piñate, Antonio Mugica Sesma and Luis Feliu [1]. Its principal place of business is 1001 Broken Sound Parkway, NW, STE D, Boca Raton, FL 33487. The company's history in Venezuela dates back to seven years ago when the venture was "the Research and Development Unit of Panagroup in Venezuela" (sic) and in "2000 we realized the true impact of our technology in the growing device-networking market, and we emerged as an independent company" (sic) [2]. The Miami Herald reported on Friday May 28, 2004 [ F2 EDITION]:

"A large and powerful investor in the software company that will design electronic ballots and record votes for Venezuela's new and much criticized election system is the Venezuelan government itself... Venezuela's investment in Bizta Corp., the ballot software firm, gives the government 28 percent ownership of the company it will use to help deliver voting results in future elections, including the possible recall referendum against President Hugo Chavez, according to records obtained by The Herald... Until a year ago, the Bizta Corp. was a struggling Venezuelan software company with barely a sales deal to its name, records show. Then, the Venezuelan government -- through a venture capital fund -- invested about $200,000 and bought 28 percent of it" (sic).

Further the Herald also shed light upon shareholders and registered addresses of both Smartmatic and Bizta thusly:

Three companies will build and execute Venezuela's new touch-screen voting system. Two are incorporated in Florida, though neither does most of its business here.

* Smartmatic Corp., which will build the machines, incorporated in Florida in 2000 and lists its world headquarters at 6400 Congress Ave. in Boca Raton. Its president is Antonio Mugica Rivero, 30, and its vice president is Alfredo Anzola, 30.

* Bizta Corp.,which will provide software for the new machines, incorporated in Florida in 2001, and lists its address as 19591 Dinner Key Dr., Boca Raton, a residential property owned by Mugica's father. Mugica is listed as president, and Anzola is vice president, according to Florida records. Venezuelan records, however, indicate Anzola is president. In Caracas, Bizta shares its office with Smartmatic.

* CANTV, Venezuela's publicly held phone company, will provide phone lines to connect the system and election day technical support. It would have been part of any voting system selected for the elections contract.

Venezuelan journalist Orlando Ochoa Teran investigated the claims published by the Miami Herald and discovered that Venezuelan officials were behind the incorporation of Smartmatic. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel and Venezuelan Ambassador to the USA Bernardo Alvarez Herrera are intimately related, either through long time friendship or consanguinity relationship, to the directors of Smartmatic. According to registry documents, that went missing after the Herald blew the whistle, the names associated to the company are Alfredo Anzola, Antonio Mugica and families Gabaldon-Anzola and Herrera-Oropeza [3]. The incorporation of Smartmatic took place in the Fifth Mercantile Registry, located in the ground floor of tower B in “Cubo Negro” building in Chuao Caracas. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel's daughter -lawyer Gisela Rangel Avalos de D'Armas was, at the time, the head of the said registry.

Since March 2004 the CNE has disbursed at least $131 million to Smartmatic [4].

Who controls Smartmatic?

The findings of Orlando Ochoa did not end in a Caracas registry though. Recently he wrote for Quinto Dia another article, carrying the title of this paragraph, in which he commented upon the recent acquisition of Sequoia Voting Systems for an undisclosed amount. "With the combination of Sequoia and Smartmatic, both proven innovators with accomplished track records in either the U.S. or abroad, we are creating the first truly global leader in providing voter-verified electronic voting solutions," said Jack Blaine, President, Smartmatic [5]. Furthermore, after analyzing the minutes of a meeting held in Chicago between Cook County and Chicago's city officials with the board of Sequoia, that remained in charge after the take over, and that of Smartmatic [6], Ochoa noted that unknown Venezuelan investors, operating via proxy European ventures, could indeed be the controlling power behind Smartmatic.

Sequoia Voting Systems was the e-voting branch of De La Rue PLC, the "world 's largest commercial security printer and papermaker" (sic) [7]. De La Rue's 2005 preliminary statement reports the sale to Smartmatic thusly:

"following the strategic review in December 2004, we announced our intention to exit the business (added: of voting systems) by the year end and this was done through the sale of the business to Smartmatic Corporation, a US based device networking and election systems company. The business had revenues of £23.1m (2003/2004 : £44.2m) and made an operating loss of £0.2m in the year (2003/2004 : £(1.9)m)" [8, page 8].

Interestingly page 5 cites "During the second half, we also successfully completed the sale of the Sequoia Voting Systems business for a consideration of £8.7m (US$16m) resulting in an exceptional gain of £6.0m" (sic).

Following Ochoa's lead I searched the registry of the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, which contains details of a venture trading under the name Smartmatic International Holding B.V., incorporated, under a different name, on March 18th 1.985. Its registered address is Naritaweg 165 Telestone 8, 1043BW Amsterdam. The company activities are described as "to purchase, develop and manage property and goods" [9]. The sole shareholder of the holding is Amola Investments N.V., which in turn was incorporated in the registry of the Chamber of Commerce of Curaçao, under number 91615. A search for Amola Investments N.V. in the register of Curaçao's Chamber of Commerce returns no results. However the incorporation number does exist in the register, containing not information related to Amola Investments N.V. but to another company by the name of Smartmatic International Group N.V. [10]. Curaçao Corporation Company N.V. [11], Netherlands Antilles Corporation Company N.V. [12] and Roger Alejandro Piñate Martinez -Vice President, Special Operations of Smartmatic Corporation [13]- are the three listed statutory and managing directors of the group.

Ochoa indicated that an entry in the minutes of the meeting aforementioned describes Cook County's Commissioner Peter Silvestri [14] asking to representatives of Sequoia/Smartmatic "who owns Sequoia?" (sic). The answer came from Honorable David Orr [15]: "Smartmatic International, which is owned by a Dutch company, owns Sequoia Voting Systems. Some key investors of the said Dutch company are Venezuelans" (sic). On May 26th 2005 Cook County's Election Department informed that Sequoia was the winner of the bidding process for electronic voting equipment [16].

The Amsterdam registry shows that Smartmatic International Holding B.V.'s managing director is Trust International Management (T.I.M.) B.V.. Both companies operate from the same address. According to the register the website of T.I.M. B.V is [17]. Citco Group is quoted in Hedge Funds World as "the world's largest hedge fund administrator" (sic) [18], that until very recently was controlled by Switzerland's Sandoz Foundation [19]. However Citco has informed that "an investor group including the Smeets Family Trust, Citco managers, and friends of the firm has acquired a controlling interest in Citco from the Sandoz Family Foundation" (sic) [20].

The USAID, IFES, Carter Center, CNE and Smartmatic connection

In June 1998, the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela contracted the International Foundation for Election Systems IFES to renew and make recommendations regarding proposals for an automated voting system in Venezuela [21, page 29 ]. IFES has been awarded (award number AEP-I-00-00-00007-00) an "indefinite quantity contract" (IQC) by USAID with the following purpose: "To support the transition to, and consolidation of, democratic governments through which citizens choose their leaders and participate in all levels of political decision-making, particularly in transition and sustainable development countries" [22, page 30 ]. According to Carter Center's America's Programme director Jennifer McCoy "President Carter had traveled several times to Venezuela, including monitoring the 1998 and 2000 elections, and he and President Chavez built a very good personal relationship" [23]. Such warm relationship may have come about due to the fact that the Carter Center is the sole subcontractor of IFES for the aforementioned purpose.

CNE's director Jorge Rodriguez traveled to Smartmatic's 'factory' in Italy, early in 2004, to check the progress of the production of the electronic voting machines. These were purchased to Tecnost Sistemi Olivetti for $57.968.040. However Italian news agency ANSA posted on the economy section on April 15, 2004 that the total amount of the contract was over $24 million:

"Olivetti Tecnost, la Business Unit "Office & System Solutions" del Gruppo Telecom Italia, si e aggiudicata una commessa del valore di oltre 24 milioni di dollari, per la fornitura complessiva di 20.000 terminali di voto elettronico in Venezuela, che saranno utilizzati per la prima volta nelle elezioni del prossimo agosto". (bold added)

20.000 AES300 machines were bought to Olivetti, however the Italian firm does not have such a model in its catalog of products but one called MAEL 205, which was designed to play lottery. Ochoa noted that the said machines produced by Olivetti were sold to Peru, India and Tunisia not for electoral purposes [24]. Smartmatic did not fulfill the CNE's criteria in terms of experience in organization and conduction of electoral processes of companies that participated in the bidding process. The obstacle was circumvented by hiring Jorge Tirado, former contractor of IFES and director of Caribbean Government Consultants (CGC):

Jorge Tirado, president of CGC, has been consultant for the State Electoral Commission of Puerto Rico since1975. He has participated in more than 63 electoral processes as consultant or as head of CGC, leading technological initiatives and process lines to ensure transparent elections. [25].

However El Universal reported that Tirado had indeed participated in 63 electoral processes not in the condition of organizer but as an observer contracted by IFES [26], organization with which he has an old relationship [27].


It is extremely worrying indeed that a company with connections to the Hugo Chavez regime has been selected to run elections in a county of Chicago and given carte blanche to operate in the USA and other countries. Equally preoccupying is the fact that leading players of the global financial market are related to Smartmatic and to some extent to Fidel Castro's heir.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Venezuela's Revolutionary Judiciary v Sumate: XXI century political prosecution

London 22.06.05 ¦ Article 72 of Hugo Chavez's custom made constitution reads "All magistrates and other offices filled by popular vote are subject to revocation." With such revolutionary prevision as background let me expand into the most notorious case of political prosecution in today's Venezuela. Since there are no precedents of a systematic attempt at silencing and imprisoning members of a civil group in the country's history one should start by giving a rough chronological account of events. Hugo Chavez won the presidency of Venezuela in 1.998, his little plan to take power by force, via coup d'etat in 1.992, turned out to be unsuccessful so he saw fit to run for office the democratic way. Once in power Chavez started a series of reforms for, in his view, his project of refounding the State could not be accomplished with the old system. By 2.000 all constituted powers of the State were dissolved by way of illegal mechanisms. Utilizing his charisma he duped everyone into this idea of reconstructing it all; none of the institutions from the past survived his reforms. The fundamental pillar of it all was to be the constitution, which as in any civil law system, resides at the top of the legislation edifice [see diagram below]. To justify past misdeeds and anti-democratic actions he ordered his minions at the National Constituent Assembly to include in the new constitution the article aforementioned and also others (333, 347, 348 and 350) with far reaching consequences. As a matter of fact article 350, basically, guarantees, constitutionally, the right to rebellion for it reads "Loyal to peace, freedom, its struggle for independence and its Republican tradition, the people of Venezuela shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that encroaches values, principles, democratic guarantees or violates human rights." It is precisely this article, and the exercise of the constitutional right established in article 72 that, in my view, invalidates any and all actions that Venezuela's judiciary may wish to pursue against Sumate, or anyone for that matter, that wants to disown this farce of a government and the legislation it has passed up until the present. Bear with me.

The initial accusations against Sumate had to do with its, allegedly illegal, acceptance of foreign funds provided by USAID and NED. However there is no explicit prohibition in Venezuela's body of laws that criminalizes the accepting of said funds. It is perfectly legal for NGOs to accept foreign contributions. There exist however explicit prohibition (article 25 s. 4 of the Law of Political Parties, Public Meetings and Rallies) for the acceptance of donations given to political parties by either foreign nations, foreign political parties or companies whose headquarters are not located in Venezuelan soil. An example of how this law was utterly violated was the $1.5 million donation that the Spanish bank BBVA gave to Hugo Chavez and his political party MVR back in 1.999.

A highly disreputable chavista got hold of a pile of documents that contain evidence of the funneling of American funds to Venezuelan political parties and NGOs. Thus the first accusation pinned on Sumate specifically, in spite of the fact that other NGOs and political parties including those supporting the current administration have also benefited from US tax payer's money, was that the said acceptance of funds was illegal. Having failed to build a case with such preposterous allegations that had no basis in Venezuela's legislation the regime moved over to more subjective terrain, and now accuses the board of Sumate of treason and conspiracy. Article 132 of the Penal Code has been picked by the prosecution to issue legal proceedings and imprison those who stand accused, namely Maria Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz. The aforementioned article reads "anyone who, inside or outside the national territory, conspires to destroy the republican political system that governs the nation will be punished with military prison of eight to sixteen years. The Venezuelan who asks for foreign intervention in subjects of the inner policy of Venezuela, or requests his aid to upset the peace of the Republic or that before his civil employees, or by publications posted in the foreign press, urges to civil war in the Republic or defames the President or offends the diplomatic representative or the consular civil employees of Venezuela, due to its functions in the country where the fact is committed, shall be punished with the same penalty." Needless to say that enforcing this very article could send Fidel's apprentice to jail. However, in the case of Sumate, the prospects are bit obscure, even though what they did was to help organize a recall referendum, which, again, is established in the constitution. The articles of the constitution, being the first and foremost legislation of Venezuela, can not be overruled or encroached by inferior laws as seen in the diagram below: a code, albeit penal, has no preference nor relevance over constitutional precepts.

Hugo Chavez's judiciary have no case against Sumate and they know it. Their preliminary audience before the 41st Tribunal of Caracas' Judicial and Penal Control Circuit, presided by Norma Sandoval, has been postponed 5 times for no valid reasons. Today we have learned that the prosecution is seeking preventive detention for Machado and Plaz owing to their well off status that would permit them to flee Venezuela. Will the regime push the envelope and imprison Machado and Plaz? If so, on what grounds other than fabricated accusations? Is it not true that both opposition presidential wannabes and the regime will benefit from the forced disappearance of Machado and Plaz from public and political life? Cui Bono?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Why Hugo Chávez is an illegitimate President

By Gustavo Coronel

June 10, 2005 | Many world governments, even democratic ones, still consider the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez to be legitimate. Although they are increasingly aware of the authoritarian and repressive nature of the regime, they justify their diplomatic accommodation by claiming that Chávez came into power through elections. For too many years now, the definition of political legitimacy has rested exclusively on the manner in which political power was obtained. Transparent elections seem to be all that was needed for a government to be classified as legitimate. Political scientists now tell us that such a definition is highly inadequate. Legitimacy requires much more than elections. A document published by the United Nations Development Program ( Democracy in Latin America, UNDP, 2004) argues that countries need to progress from electoral democracy to a citizen’s democracy. The true democratic nature of a government and its degree of legitimacy have to be tested against a set of criteria, such as the ones listed by the United Nations Commission of Human Rights in 1999, which include:

* Freedom of opinion, of expression and of association
* The rule of law, equal for all citizens
* Universal and equal suffrage
* Political participation, with equal opportunity for all
* Transparent and accountable government institutions
* Equal access to public services.

I have no doubt in my mind that the regime of Hugo Chávez fails this test for legitimacy and should be classified as illegitimate by international organizations such as the U.N. and the O.A.S.

This belief is based on my analysis of the Venezuelan situation during the years under Chávez rule. It is, of course, a subjective analysis, but is largely backed by facts. Let us take a look:

Sources of political legitimacy

1. Free and Fair Elections.

The Chávez regime came to power through free and reasonable transparent elections. After his clear initial victory, Chávez went on to control the electoral system, by placing his followers (Carrasquero, Jorge Rodriguez) in the top positions of the National Electoral Council. The cases of government intervention and manipulation have been amply documented. The call for the presidential recall referendum in 2004 generated a process characterized by open abuse of power by this council. The results of the recall referendum itself have been denounced as fraudulent and, as a result, an important portion of the population has lost credibility in the electoral system. This lack of trust will result in progressively higher levels of absenteeism in future electoral events, weakening the legitimacy of the regime. In spite of these irregularities, the electoral origin of the Chávez regime remains as its main and practically sole claim to political legitimacy.

2. Accountability.

A legitimate government has to be accountable to the people for their actions and for the manner in which they utilize national assets and resources. This is definitely not the case with the Chávez regime. Citizens are largely kept in the dark regarding the utilization of those assets and resources. There are no controls to the way Chávez decides to use them. Three examples: (1) 90,000 barrels per day of oil are going to Cuba at highly subsidized prices, partly bartered in exchange for obsolete technologies and medical services of questionable quality. Chávez went ahead with this agreement without proper institutional approval and against the desires of the Venezuelan people. Cuba already owes Venezuela over US$2 billion but the mandatory steps to interrupt this unpaid supply have not been taken by the negligent Venezuelan authorities. (2) The oil income, all of which should go to the Venezuelan Central Bank is being illegally diverted from the national treasury, to be used directly by Chávez without any transparency or accountability. At this moment there are over US$3 billion unaccounted for, a gigantic crime that the majority of the people remain unaware of, due to its rather complex technical nature, and (3) The attempt at handing over to China the patents to manufacture Orimulsion, a Venezuelan technology to mix extra heavy oils with water and emulsifiers (a transaction that was being done in secret, without the knowledge of Venezuelans and without proper public disclosure).

3. The Rule of Law.

The law is not being applied in an impartial manner. Members of the opposition do not receive the proper protection of the law or of the institutions that should protect them. In fact the Attorney General, Isaias Rodriguez and the ombudsman, German Amundarain, have become the main enemies of political dissenters: Journalists are being persecuted, political prisoners are already counted by the dozens. The Supreme tribunal of Justice is stacked with Chávez followers. Citizens can no longer trust in the impartiality of the law.

4. Social Inclusion.

Chávez has built his following among the very poor. This certainly would not be objectionable if it were not for the two following reasons; (1) that most of the promises made by Chávez to the poor remain tragically unfulfilled, to the extreme that poverty is now greater than when Chávez arrived in power, and (2) that the money being handed out to the poor in terms of subsidies and freebies does not constitute a structural solution to poverty and is being done at the expense of the impoverishment of the other half of the population: the regular workers, the middle class and the private industrial sector. What the regime understands as popular participation and inclusion is simply participation by, and the inclusion of, his followers, not over all inclusion and truly collective participation. Today half the country is excluded from participating in the issues that affect all Venezuelans. This is a fraud.

5. A Strong and Independent Media.

For some time after his electoral victory Chávez respected the freedom of the media. During the last two to three years, however, this freedom has been progressively restricted through the harassment, by diverse agencies of the regime, of TV stations and newspapers that oppose Chávez. The major blow to freedom of expression in Venezuela has been the enacting of a Law that regulates the content of media news. This law has been combined with changes in the Penal Code that make it punishable by prison, of up to six years, any "disrespect" by the media of Mr. Chávez and his relatives and inner circle, "disrespect" defined by the regime itself. Obviously this has led to major self-censorship among the media. As a result, much information that should be known by Venezuelans is not reported upon, for fear of retaliation based on the Gag Law and the revised penal code.

6. Existence of Institutional Checks and Balances.

A legitimate democracy requires checks and balances. No one should be able to dictate his or her wishes to the rest of society without the limitations imposed by the public good. Today Chávez is the law of the land in Venezuela. What he says goes, without any opposition from the institutions that should make sure that no one could become a dictator. These institutions: the Attorney General, the Comptroller General, the Ombudsman, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the National Assembly and the National Electoral Council are all in Chávez's pockets, due to the invertebrate nature of the position holders. The illegal use of public assets (airplanes and other state owned equipment) and monies (billions of dollars diverted away from the proper agencies) goes unchecked. The persecution and imprisonment of dissenters go unchecked. Decisions of foreign policy (Cuban-Venezuelan agreements, Orimulsion to the Chinese, alignment with Iran and other States to build an anti-U.S. global coalition) which are highly detrimental to our nation go unchecked and are taken without public discussion or accountability. The abuse of State Television and the imposition of TV and radio hookups to allow Chávez to give long and irrelevant speeches go unchecked. There is no restraint of power, there are no minority rights, there is no civilian control over the military, and there is no independent Central Bank. The authoritarian posture of Hugo Chávez is no longer a matter of biased perceptions by the opposition but an integral component of an arrogant and disdainful style of ruling. Chávez already considers himself to be above the law and this is the main characteristic of dictators.

7. Economic and Political Stability.

A legitimate government has to provide a nation with reasonable economic and political stability. This is not the case with the Chávez regime. During his six and a half years in power Chávez has received about US$130 billion from oil exports but this money is nowhere to be seen, except as in the form of handouts. He has doubled the national debt. He is attempting to grab a good portion of the international reserves, a move that would greatly increase our country risk and keep international investors away. He has imposed for years a rigid exchange control that has been used as a political tool to punish companies managed by dissenters ("not one single dollar for the enemies of the revolution," he has said). Exchange controls have forced the closing down of hundreds of businesses. While the hemisphere has been enjoying an economic mini-boom, Venezuela has remained as the almost only Latin American country with double-digit inflation (25% plus) and extremely high unemployment (17% and higher). Fiscal deficits remain enormous and it seems evident that oil income, no matter how great, will not be enough to satisfy the thirst for money Chávez has developed. Bureaucratic corruption levels are extremely high due to the lack of controls and the ineptness of the top members of the administration. Petróleos de Venezuela, the main source of hard currency, is suffering great deterioration and is being subject to partial liquidation of its assets (Orimulsion patents being turned over to China, petrochemical assets being turned over to U.S. companies, Citgo refineries on sale). Poverty is increasing although money showering, in the form of handouts, is temporarily keeping the poor reasonably hopeful that their lot will improve.

This bleak economic picture leads to an equally bleak political situation and they feed on each other. The revolution is beginning to show serious signs of internal fracturing, due to personal ambitions among the revolutionary leadership and the desire of competing groups (PPT, MVR, the military) to get their portion of the spoils. The Armed Forces and the political parties that support the regime are at increasing internal odds due to: (1) the creation by Chávez of a popular, armed militia that will eventually serve to replace the regular army, (2) the increasing alignment between Chávez and Castro's Cuba that is rapidly converting Venezuela into a Cuban political satellite and, (3) the desire by these groups to attain more political power and financial rewards. The opposition, although still in disarray, is ardently opposed to the violation of Chávez electoral mandate to conduct democratic change and to his recent and arrogant declaration of being a Socialist and leading a Socialist revolution, something that even his followers did not have in mind when voting for him. Venezuelans will not accept this attempted political rape without a determined fight.

8. Equal Access to Public Services.

Today there are many second-class Venezuelan citizens who do not receive proper attention from government agencies. They are the ones who signed the petition for the presidential recall referendum. These citizens are not given government jobs or have been dismissed from their existing jobs, are not extended passports or identity cards. These citizens are in a black list generated by a man called Luis Tascón, under orders of Hugo Chávez. This list alone would suffice to render the regime of Hugo Chávez illegitimate.


I think that these comments will show that there is a growing issue of illegitimacy surrounding the Hugo Chávez presidency. But, even if this were true, people might ask: "So what?" Who can remedy this situation? Venezuelan society appears incapable of generating an internal protest strong enough to force a change in this situation, at least in the short term. Elections are a highly doubtful alternative, as Chávez controls and manipulates electoral mechanisms. An armed rebellion, such as the one Chávez staged in 1992, would either fail due to incompetence of the leaders (as it happened with Chávez in 1992) or, worse, would result in the replacement of Chávez by an armed gorilla, someone even worse than Chávez, who would take us even farther back into the 19th century.

Ousting Chávez will require a combination of strategies, including domestic and international components. The starting point must be a rational and unselfish commitment by the opposition to work towards a unified leadership, a common political platform and a systematic campaign to open the eyes of all Venezuelans to the national disaster that Venezuela has become under the rule of Chávez. The main obstacle to the short-term success of this strategy is the illusory feeling of progress Chávez has been able to instill into the poor, due to his expedient policy of handouts. Millions of my countrymen and women live on a day-to-day survival mode. This is understandable but limits the power of any message designed to make them see that this illusion of progress is temporary, that it will end when the regime runs into economic difficulties and that the true answers to their existential problems are of a more structural nature. This limitation should not stop the putting into effect of the strategies designed to stop the Chávez crimes against the nation.

These strategies, in fact, should have started yesterday!