December 25, 2005

Massachusetts, please show some dignity!

Sent to Boston Globe and Boston Herald, December 2005, destiny unknown

Late in 1998, the price of a barrel of oil fell under 7 US$, but we never heard anyone volunteering to help out Venezuela’s poor. In December 1999, Venezuela suffered some horrendous mudslides, but, when the US sent some well-equipped engineer corps to help out, Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, refused them. Massachusetts has a yearly per capita income of US$ 41,801, while Venezuela has slightly less than a tenth of that, US$ 4.020

The ad in which Citgo, the oil company in the United States owned by PDVSA, the Venezuelan state owned oil company, announces the program shows a picture of a large, two-story, typical Massachusetts detached house, with a small garden and a big tree in front, beautifully decorated with what looks like Christmas ornaments, and a completely lit up porch. Please compare that house with our shanty towns in Venezuela. Of course it is a wrongly chosen photo, and your Massachusetts poor do live in bad conditions, but, in fact, that they were not even able to choose the right picture just adds salt to our national injury.

The same ad, spelling out the partnership between PDVSA and the government of Hugo Chávez, ends with the statement: “The fuel assistance program isn’t about politics. It’s about offering humanitarian aid to those who need it. What could be more American than that?” The radical leftist Noam Chomsky recently described this as “one of the more ironic gestures ever in the North-South dialogue,” but I, as a Venezuelan, can only classify it as a gesture of utmost cynical insolence.

Many Venezuelans are upset with Chávez giving away money all over the world, while our own country has so many very much poorer people but, currently at least, there is very little we can do about it and much less so after the elections for congress held on December 4, 2005. Although everyone knows that Venezuela is a country where opinions are highly divided, the result was that 167 representatives who favor the government of Hugo Chávez were elected, and none, zero, zilch, of who differ with him. There are many explanations for these results, but, at the end of the day, they are all irrelevant since a 167-to-0 ratio is plainly not acceptable. Just as Democrats would not stand for a United States Congress made up 100% of Republicans, and just as Republicans would not stand for a Congress made up of 100% Democrats, this principle is just as true in Venezuela.

In these circumstances, I wonder, would it be too much to ask for some dignity in Massachusetts? Do you really take any gifts from anyone? Where is the limit?

December 18, 2005

What is the financial world to do with a Venezuela?

Sir, In Venezuela, as in most other countries, Congress is supposed to exercise control over the executive branch and its Constitution establishes that ‘No contract in the municipal, state or national public interest s determined shall be entered into with foreign states or official entities, or with companies not domiciled in Venezuela, or transferred to any of the same, without the approval of the National Assembly.’

Now, even though Venezuela is currently known as a very polarized nation, after the elections of December 4, 2005, its Congress includes 167 members who are in favor of and obedient to him who wishes to be called ‘Commander’, and none, zero, zilch, of those many who are not in the least in agreement with Chávez´s confused vision of a twenty-first-century socialism. This should pose some serious questions about the Congress legitimacy and therefore serious challenges for those who issue those opinions needed by the financial sector.

For instance, what are legal counselors or credit-rating agencies to do after they might receive a letter from a Venezuelan citizen (or perhaps even read this letter in FT) informing them that sooner or later the debts now contracted by Venezuela might be questioned as ‘odious debt’, as they are not duly approved by a legitimate congress (167-0), nor are they needed, as can be evidenced by the many donations Venezuela, with its own so many very poor, has recently made, among them, to the somewhat poor of Massachusetts.

Sir, if a company like Nike has to worry about the labor conditions in the factories to which they outsource their production, why should the financial world be allowed to ignore civil representation issues in those countries it helps to finance?

Sent to FT, December 18 and December 28, 2005

December 07, 2005

Fuel advertisement rubs salt into Venezuelans' wounds

Published in FT, December 7, 2005

Sir, Andy Webb-Vidal got it absolutely right when he pointed out the incongruence of Venezuela, with its abounding extreme poverty, distributing subsidies through cheap heating oil to the less well-off in a Massachusetts, US, that has more than 10 times its per capita income.

But as Mr. Webb-Vidal most probably did not see the advertisement that ran last week in some US newspapers, he left out some details about what really rubs salt in the Venezuelans' wounds.

First, the picture in the ad, which is the one to be compared with the shanty towns in Venezuela, depicts a large, two storey, typical Massachusetts self-standing house, with a small garden and a big tree in front, beautifully decorated with what looks to be Christmas ornaments, and completely lit up, porch included.

Second, the ad ends with the statement: "The fuel assistance program isn't about politics. It's about offering humanitarian aid to those who need it. What could be more American than that?"