Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Corruption, Revolutions within Revolutions

Venezuela officially rejected the Peruvian government’s decision to grant amnesty to Manuel Rosales yesterday by recalling its ambassador to Lima and “reconsidering its relationship” with the government of Alan García. Rosales, governor of Maracaibo and longtime fixture of the Venezuelan opposition, fled his post earlier this month when he was indicted on charges of corruption.

Last Friday, Maracaibo’s city council named its president, Daniel Ponne (also a member of Rosales’ A New Era party) as temporary mayor given the ‘permanent absence’ of the mayor. Rosales has long been a fixture in the politics of Zulia. He served in the Legislative Assembly from 1983-1994, Mayor of Maracaibo from 1996-2000, and Governor of the state of Zulia for two terms (2000-2008). During the short lived April 2002 coup, Rosales signed the so-called ‘Carmona Decrees’ which named then head of the National Chamber of Commerce president of Venezuela and subsequently abrogated the constitution of 1999. In 2006, Rosales was the first figure of the opposition to recognize Chávez’s democratic credentials, when he conceded defeat in the presidential election. When term limits prevented him from extending his tenure as governor, Rosales hand-picked his successor, Pablo Perez, and ran for the lesser office of city mayor of Maracaibo (again), but this time on a campaign that hailed him as “the leader of Zulia.”

Zulia is Venezuela’s richest state, and the site of a nascent separatist movment.

Peru has been one of the few allies of the United States in the region, and Rosales joins Carlos Ortega (union boss behind the 2002 coup and the lock-out bosses strike of the oil industry in 2002-3), the ex-governor of Yaracuy, Eduardo Lapi (who broke out of prison while being held on charges of embezzlement and corruption – widely believed with the help of state officials – in 2007), as well as two participants in the 2002 mock insurrection/occupation of Plaza Altamira (in Eastern Caracas) by officers in the Venezuela National Armed Force. There are also rumors that Nixon Moreno, long a resident of the Vatican embassy in Caracas, wanted on (among others) sexual assault charges, has resided in Lima since his disappearance last year.

While the Venezuelan opposition (as well as the international media, and it would seem the Peruvian government) claims that the charges against Rosales are political in nature, that Rosales is being persecuted for publicly opposing the government of Hugo Chávez, there is scant mention of other high-profile corruption cases currently underway. Eduardo Manuitt, former Chavista governor of the state of Guarico (and former member of the PSUV) is being investigated for financial irregularities during his tenure, as is Juan Barreto, Chavista stalwart and former Mayor of the Municipality of Caracas (Barreto’s tenure was so lackluster that he was explicitly instructed by the PSUV directorate not to run for reelection in 2008. It is widely held that his poor performance was the direct cause of Caracas falling to Antonio Ledezma in the regional and local elections of that year). Final, Raul Baduel, Chávez’s former minister of defense is being investigated by the military over the disappearance of at least $14 million dollars from the defense budget during his time at the helm. Baduel, a long time supporter of Chávez, was associated with the ‘internal rightwing’ of Chavismo, an accusation bore out when he very publicly broke with the government in the lead up to the 2007 constitutional reform.


The most often levied criticisms of the Bolivarian government have to do with corruption and violent crime. Indeed, most people I have interviewed view corruption as a (regrettable) fact of life. I’ve often heard the refrain “they’re corrupt just like everyone, but we get good things accomplished in spite of them.”

A supervisor skims money from the top of a budget for a nice bottle of whiskey here, hires an underqualified relative there, attempts to turn his or her agency into a private fiefdom… What is more, Zulia is seen by many as the epicenter of the most egregious examples of corruption; Casinos along Maracaibo’s Malecón; kidnappings; the porous border with Colombia (and the lurking paramilitaries); the center of PDVSA, that ‘state within a state.’ Holding officials – elected or appointed – is long overdue, and needs to be accelerated. That is to say, according to radical strains within Chavismo, these sorts of investigations (and prosecutions) need to take place when officials are still in power, the long promised ‘revolution within the revolution’ cannot be put off any longer.

While these accountability measures are no doubt welcome to many, they are nonetheless tempered by the expulsion from the PSUV of Vilma Vivas, a Tachirense union director and tireless anti-corruption campaigner. In a statement released by Marea Socialista (MS) – a radical tendency within the PSUV – last week, the arbitrary expulsion of Vivas is described as a dangerous precedent and a roadblock to the formation of the PSUV as a democratic organ of revolutionary transformation. Given the lack of evidence or due process in her case – she was booted by Freddy Bernal almost out of nowhere – MS is forced to conclude that Vivas had become irksome to the directorate of the party.

Of course, these sorts of battles are evidence that the revolution remains alive, if indeterminate. The current context of global financial crisis and a more smiling-faced foreign policy in Washington do not bode well the Bolivarian project. In the near future, I will be posting a few thoughts on the emerging economic policy. While sober (certainly more so than those seen thus far in the US), the trajectory of the plans is ultimately conservative, shoring up the ample social gains the Bolivarian government has made in the past 10 years. In times like these, the ‘forces of right and order’ – the derecha endogena – find their hands strengthened, as are those of the corrupt. It will of course be the task of radicals like Vivas and MS to push through this potentially fatal contradiction on the path to 21st century socialism.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Declaration of Cumaná


Cumaná, Venezuela

We, the Heads of State and Government of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, member countries of ALBA, consider that the Draft Declaration of the 5th Summit of the Americas is insufficient and unacceptable for the following reasons:

- The Declaration does not provide answers to the Global Economic Crisis, even though this crisis constitutes the greatest challenge faced by humanity in the last decades and is the most serious threat of the current times to the welfare of our peoples.

- The Declaration unfairly excludes Cuba, without mentioning the consensus in the region condemning the blockade and isolation to which the people and the government of Cuba have incessantly been exposed in a criminal manner.

For this reason, we, the member countries of ALBA believe that there is no consensus for the adoption of this draft declaration because of the reasons above stated, and accordingly, we propose to hold a thorough debate on the following topics:

1. Capitalism is leading humanity and the planet to extinction. What we are experiencing is a global economic crisis of a systemic and structural nature, not another cyclic crisis. Those who think that with a taxpayer money injection and some regulatory measures this crisis will end are wrong. The financial system is in crisis because it trades bonds with six times the real value of the assets and services produced and rendered in the world, this is not a “system regulation failure”, but a integrating part of the capitalist system that speculates with all assets and values with a view to obtain the maximum profit possible. Until now, the economic crisis has generated over 100 million additional hungry persons and has slashed over 50 million jobs, and these figures show an upward trend.

2. Capitalism has caused the environmental crisis, by submitting the necessary conditions for life in the planet, to the predominance of market and profit. Each year we consume one third more of what the planet is able to regenerate. With this squandering binge of the capitalist system, we are going to need two planets Earth by the year 2030.

3. The global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis and the energy crisis are the result of the decay of capitalism, which threatens to end life and the planet. To avert this outcome, it is necessary to develop and model an alternative to the capitalist system. A system based on:

- solidarity and complementarity, not competition;
- a system in harmony with our mother earth and not plundering of human resources;
- a system of cultural diversity and not cultural destruction and imposition of cultural values and lifestyles alien to the realities of our countries;
- a system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist policies and wars;
- in summary, a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and does not reduce them to mere consumers or merchandise.

4. As a concrete expression of the new reality of the continent, we, Caribbean and Latin American countries, have commenced to build our own institutionalization, an institutionalization that is based on a common history dating back to our independence revolution and constitutes a concrete tool for deepening the social, economic and cultural transformation processes that will consolidate our full sovereignty. ALBA-TCP, Petrocaribe or UNASUR, mentioning merely the most recently created, are solidarity-based mechanisms of unity created in the midst of such transformations with the obvious intention of boosting the efforts of our peoples to attain their own freedom. To face the serious effects of the global economic crisis, we, the ALBA-TCP countries, have adopted innovative and transforming measures that seek real alternatives to the inadequate international economic order, not to boost their failed institutions. Thus, we have implemented a Regional Clearance Unitary System, the SUCRE, which includes a Common Unit of Account, a Clearance Chamber and a Single Reserve System. Similarly, we have encouraged the constitution of grand-national companies to satisfy the essential needs of our peoples and establish fair and complementary trade mechanisms that leave behind the absurd logic of unbridled competition.

5. We question the G20 for having tripled the resources of the International Monetary Fund when the real need is to establish a new world economic order that includes the full transformation of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, entities that have contributed to this global economic crisis with their neoliberal policies.

6. The solutions to the global economic crisis and the definition of a new international financial scheme should be adopted with the participation of the 192 countries that will meet in the United Nations Conference on the International Financial Crisis to be held on June 1-3 to propose the creation of a new international economic order.

7. As for climate change, developed countries are in an environmental debt to the world because they are responsible for 70% of historical carbon emissions into the atmosphere since 1750. Developed countries should pay off their debt to humankind and the planet; they should provide significant resources to a fund so that developing countries can embark upon a growth model which does not repeat the serious impacts of the capitalist industrialization.

8. Solutions to the energy, food and climate change crises should be comprehensive and interdependent. We cannot solve a problem by creating new ones in fundamental areas for life. For instance, the widespread use of agricultural fuels has an adverse effect on food prices and the use of essential resources, such as water, land and forests.

9. We condemn the discrimination against migrants in any of its forms. Migration is a human right, not a crime. Therefore, we request the United States government an urgent reform of its migration policies in order to stop deportations and massive raids and allow for reunion of families. We further demand the removal of the wall that separates and divides us, instead of uniting us. In this regard, we petition for the abrogation of the Law of Cuban Adjustment and removal of the discriminatory, selective Dry Feet, Wet Feet policy that has claimed human losses. Bankers who stole the money and resources from our countries are the true responsible, not migrant workers. Human rights should come first, particularly human rights of the underprivileged, downtrodden sectors in our society, that is, migrants without identity papers. Free movement of people and human rights for everybody, regardless of their migration status, are a must for integration. Brain drain is a way of plundering skilled human resources exercised by rich countries.

10. Basic education, health, water, energy and telecommunications services should be declared human rights and cannot be subject to private deal or marketed by the World Trade Organization. These services are and should be essentially public utilities of universal access.

11. We wish a world where all, big and small, countries have the same rights and where there is no empire. We advocate non-intervention. There is the need to strengthen, as the only legitimate means for discussion and assessment of bilateral and multilateral agendas in the hemisphere, the foundations for mutual respect between states and governments, based on the principle of non-interference of a state in the internal affairs of another state, and inviolability of sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples. We request the new Government of the United States, the arrival of which has given rise to some expectations in the hemisphere and the world, to finish the longstanding and dire tradition of interventionism and aggression that has characterized the actions of the US governments throughout history, and particularly intensified during the Administration of President George W. Bush. By the same token, we request the new Government of the United States to abandon interventionist practices, such as cover-up operations, parallel diplomacy, media wars aimed at disturbing states and governments, and funding of destabilizing groups. Building on a world where varied economic, political, social and cultural approaches are acknowledged and respected is of the essence.

12. With regard to the US blockade against Cuba and the exclusion of the latter from the Summit of the Americas, we, the member states of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, reassert the Declaration adopted by all Latin American and Caribbean countries last December 16, 2008, on the need to end the economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the Government of the United States of America on Cuba, including the implementation of the so-called Helms-Burton Act. The declaration sets forth in its fundamental paragraphs the following:

“CONSIDERING the resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly on the need to finish the economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba, and the statements on such blockade, which have been approved in numerous international meetings.

“WE AFFIRM that the application of unilateral, coercive measures affecting the wellbeing of peoples and hindering integration processes is unacceptable when defending free exchange and the transparent practice of international trade.

“WE STRONGLY REPEL the enforcement of laws and measures contrary to International Law, such as the Helms-Burton Act, and we urge the Government of the United States of America to finish such enforcement.

“WE REQUEST the Government of the United States of America to comply with the provisions set forth in 17 successive resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly and put an end to the economic, trade and financial blockade on Cuba.”

Additionally, we consider that the attempts at imposing the isolation of Cuba have failed, as nowadays Cuba forms an integral part of the Latin American and Caribbean region; it is a member of the Rio Group and other hemispheric organizations and mechanisms, which develops a policy of cooperation, in solidarity with the countries in the hemisphere; which promotes full integration of Latin American and Caribbean peoples. Therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to justify its exclusion from the mechanism of the Summit of the Americas.

13. Developed countries have spent at least USD 8 billion to rescue a collapsing financial structure. They are the same that fail to allocate the small sums of money to attain the Millennium Goals or 0.7% of the GDP for the Official Development Assistance. Never before the hypocrisy of the wording of rich countries had been so apparent. Cooperation should be established without conditions and fit in the agendas of recipient countries by making arrangements easier; providing access to the resources, and prioritizing social inclusion issues.

14. The legitimate struggle against drug trafficking and organized crime, and any other form of the so-called “new threats” must not be used as an excuse to undertake actions of interference and intervention against our countries.

15. We are firmly convinced that the change, where everybody repose hope, can come only from organization, mobilization and unity of our peoples.

As the Liberator wisely said:

Unity of our peoples is not a mere illusion of men, but an inexorable decree of destiny. — Simón Bolívar

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Floorplan of disaster

This, in a nutshell, is why your retirement plan just disappeared. The arrows and numbers represent the degree and quantity to which these financial services companies are into each other, and how they're linked to 'normal' banks (how, precisely, not so sure...but don't you love the way it looks like a mushroom cloud?)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rosales Located...in Lima

Opposition leader and mayor of Maracaibo Manuel Rosales, who has been absent from his post for the past few weeks after being indicted on charges of corruption dating to his time as governor of Zulia state, has been found in Lima, Peru.

On Tuesday, the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio cited annonymous diplomatic sources that Rosales "has been in Lima since this past Sunday." The daily, a long-standing critic of the Venezuelan government under Chávez, claimed that the Rosales was in Peru in order to flee repression in Venezuela. Peruvian authorities, however, have been clear that no request for political asylum has either been made or approved.

Along with Mexico and Colombia, Peru is one of the few governments left in Latin America that openly consorts itself with the US and its hemispheric policies.

Rosales is under investigation for misappropriating funds from the state lottery and for multiple property ventures in the United States. His departure from the mayor's office comes amidst heightened tensions between the central government of Caracas and several municipal and state level opposition officials. Earlier this month, the opposition-dominated legislature of Zulia state and its governor Pablo Perez -- Rosales' hand-picked successor -- declared itself 'in rebellion' to the Bolivarian government, and several other mayors including Antonio Ledezma of the Distrito Capital in Caracas, have sought to impede government attempts to reorganize and redistribute power throughout the country.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pigs fly in Port of Spain?

Just before proceedings began at today's summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, monkeys flew out of my butt.

Apparently Obama and Chávez approached one another, and this happened:

Whether or not this will translate into a thaw in US-Venezuelan affective relations, of course, remains to be seen.

The ties of oil have always lurked just beneath the war of words between Bush and Chávez of the last 8 years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, "Venezuela supplies about 1.5 million barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum products to the U.S. market every day, according to the EIA. Venezuelan oil comprises about 11 percent of U.S. crude oil imports, which amounts to 60 percent of Venezuela’s total exports. PDVSA also wholly owns five refineries in the United States and partly owns four refineries, either through partnerships with U.S. companies or through PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary, CITGO." The possibility of a US military intervention aimed at ensuring the flow of oil (especially during the nadir of the Iraq occupation and resistance for the empire) has always been a source of anxiety for Bolivarian policymakers and activists alike.

In the lead up to the conference, Chávez and several other Latin American leaders argued that the true test of the Obama administration vis-a-vis its standing among them would be how quickly it moved to end its blockade of Cuba. Apparently, this is also in the offing -- though the extent to this normalization (and whether or not it will be tied to new, less overt and militaristic attempts to take down the Cuban Revolution) has yet to be put into any sort of detail.

Indeed, this question of 'what is to come' in the event of normalization has long been an issue of concern with Cubans. While the island is most certainly divided on the question, legacy and future of the revolution (and what society isn't, revolutionary or no?), there is something of a consensus against the transfer of social power to a repatriated Cuban exile community in Miami.

All this aside, I remain a bit shocked. Both Obama and Chávez are master political craftsmen, but this first series of gestures was by no means inevitable (recall Obama's Venezuela-baiting during the presidential debates). The biggest danger here is that a cooling down of the rhetorical clash between Washington and Caracas might translate into a further consolidation of the power of conservatives in the Bolivarian movement, especially in this time of economic crisis.

Obama is of course doing a lot of repair work here. Eight years of Bush not only alienated most of Latin America from the US in terms of foreign policy (through arrogance, belligerence and outright negligence as the whole of Washington became obsessed with its 'war on terror') it also allowed for China to make significant inroads in the region. Just in the past few months, China has signed several joint development agreements with countries in the region. Russia too has signed military agreements with Venezuela and Bolivia, in no small part spurred on by the recommissioning of the US fourth fleet in the Caribbean and its increased use of Curaçao (only a few miles off the coast of Venezuela).

In this geostrategic and economic light, Obama's gesture today should be seen less as some sort of beneficent act and more one of desperation. The US's major allies in the region (Mexico, Colombia, Peru) are in the grips of civil wars, economic collapse, and serious deficiencies in terms of democratic legitimacy. The rest of the region is (to vastly varying degrees, to be sure) is pursuing a pluripolar world, building South-South ties rather than begging for bigger crumbs at the WTO. Brazil is emerging as a new regional superpower, filling the void left by the US in the past 8 years. Chávez continues to enjoy massive popular support at home and abroad (as far abroad as Palestine.

In other words, Obama should be seen as a savior here only insofar as he is trying to slow down the accelerating slide of US hegemony.

BUT THEN AGAIN: Chávez also reiterated that these sorts of international events, and the US-founded groupings which spawn them, are ultimately oriented towards 'free trade' and the continuation of US economic dominance in the region and the world. ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) has been holding concurrent meetings in Venezuela while the OAS sponsored Summit of the Americas was held in Trinidad. Cuba is a member of ALBA, it has not been a member of the OAS since 1962.

In this regard, and vis-a-vis the most recent Summit in Port of Spain, Chávez emphasized that the choice of governments like Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba to resist OAS 'declarations,' which continue to ostracize Cuba and continue to push for the longevity and extension of US-dominated 'free trade' agreements, is a 'sovereign' one. Perhaps the most important thing to watch for in the days following the summit will be the extent to which the Obama administration accepts this right of sovereign states. We know it doesn't want to, the question is whether it thinks it still can.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Every 11th has its 13th

Seven years ago today, a coalition of the Venezuelan military high command, the privately-owned media and the national chamber of commerce forced Hugo Chávez from power after precipitating a series of crisis that ended in the Puente Llaguno massacre. Elements of the Metropolitan Police force involved in the shootings were recently sentenced for up to 30 years, the first and only prosecutions that have taken place since the media-orchestrated coup.

When Chávez was elected in 1998, the Venezuelan political scene was in complete disarray. The traditional political parties which had run the country since 1958 (and excluded all competition) were completely discredited, and while they persist to this day, they are but emaciated echoes of their former selves. Without an effective or organized opposition, the privately run media and many US-funded NGOs stepped in, decrying the country's march towards 'socialism' long before socialism was on the agenda. (Indeed, many commentators describe the Bolivarian Revolution as a situation of 'counter revolution and radicalization,' where overzealous opposition tactics have pushed the government aligned forces leftward.

This has not, however, translated into something of a purge of these elements. Rather, the leftward shift has taken the form of ramping up the process of creating socialism for the 21st century. (Much to the chagrin of the most radical elements of Chavismo, who often remark that the deepest weakness of the revolution is its tolerance of an intolerant and foreign-backed opposition).

On the 13th, the poor of Caracas, along with a regiment of paratroopers who had refused to follow the orders of the mutinous high command, swarmed the city center and demanded the return of Chávez. The coalition behind the coup disintegrated as the business elites at its head overplayed their hands and alienated the military support they so desperately needed. In the end, they slinked away to the city's eastern districts or Miami, decrying the 'dictatorship' to this day.

Since then, the opposition's flimsy justifications have been thoroughly debunked and recognized as fraudulent by all but the Bush administration and the oppos in Venezuela. The explosion of popular power that was the 13th has since defined the imaginary of the Bolivarian Revolution. (Indeed, the revolution's official historiography is one marked by such eruptions: 1989's Caracazo, the 2002 countercoup, the rolling back of the 2003 lockout).

I would tentatively suggest on this anniversary that the revolt of the 13th undermines any 'hard' rendering of the 'counter-revolution and revolt' thesis. While the opposition's political suicide put an end to Chávez's early
coalition politics, it was the force of Venezuela's poor who have pushed the government down the revolutionary road. The government needs to keep this in mind, always. always. always.
If you have an hour and a half, this is an incredible documentary (in english) on the 2002 coup, the role of the media, and the insurrection that brought Chávez back to power.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Rosales in Hiding to Avoid Corruption Charges

Any longtime readers of the blog will be familiar with Manuel Rosales, who was for a time the ostensible figurehead of the Venezuelan opposition. Representatives in the National Assembly have been pressing for investigations into alleged corruption during his tenure as the governor the Zulia, Venezuela's richest and westernmost state. He has recently fallen off the face of the earth, seemingly to avoid facing court proceedings that would look into the sources of his foreign holdings (including property investments in the United States).

Here's the full article from Venezuelanalysis.com (and feel free to mine the archives of this blog if you want more dirt on Rosales):

Mérida, April 1st 2009 (James Suggett, Venezuelanalysis.com) -- In Venezuela, a controversy has arisen over the unknown whereabouts of a prominent opposition leader and mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, who faces corruption charges and is suspected to have fled the country.

National Assembly Legislator Carlos Escarrá, who is also a vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said in an interview on the state television station on Monday that Rosales secretly fled the country to Panama and may soon re-locate to Miami.

“This person has in a cowardly way fled the country to avoid trial. This attitude is unforgiveable, from my point of view,” said Escarrá, without specifying the source of the information.

Rosales participated in the April 2002 coup d’état against President Hugo Chávez, then ran against Chávez in the 2006 presidential election, which Chávez won in a landslide. Rosales is also the former governor of Zulia state, which produces approximately a third of Venezuela’s daily oil exports and borders Colombia.

Last December, national anti-corruption investigators from the Attorney General’s Office presented evidence that Rosales had illicitly used public funds to accumulate private land and fill offshore bank accounts, and offered and accepted bribes related to public contracts.

The investigation had been prompted by President Chávez’s public declaration that Rosales should be convicted and put in jail for corruption and aiding the infiltration of Colombian paramilitary soldiers in Venezuela.

Based on the investigations, Venezuelan prosecutor Katuiska Plaza filed corruption charges against Rosales two weeks ago in a Zulia state court, and requested an arrest warrant for Rosales. A hearing has been scheduled for April 20th during which the court will decide whether to issue the warrant.

The president of Rosales’s political party A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo), Omar Barboza, said it is “totally false that Rosales has fled the country,” and that instead Rosales has gone into hiding in “a safe place in Zulia” to avoid what Barboza called political persecution. “The UNT is taking all necessary actions to protect and assure the physical and personal safety of Manuel Rosales,” Barboza added.

According to Barboza, Rosales has been followed by unidentified armed civilians and national investigators, and several of his private airplane landing strips have been occupied by government security forces. “It is not possible for Manuel Rosales to exercise his right to defense in Venezuela,” said Barboza. “He will not turn himself in to the pack of hounds that is pursuing him until it is possible for him to defend himself.”

On Wednesday, Venezuela’s top public defense attorney, Gabriela Ramírez, assured that all of Rosales’s civil rights including due process have been and will continue to be respected.

The controversy around Rosales comes amidst a broader political clash between the Chávez administration and a group of opposition governors and mayors who were elected last November.

In Zulia, the opposition-dominated state legislature, with the support of Governor Pablo Pérez, declared itself in “rebellion” against the national government recently in reaction to the transfer of the administration of strategic transportation hubs to the national government.

Following this, Rosales’s case was transferred to a Caracas court on the grounds that the political unrest in Zulia would impede a fair trial.

On Wednesday, the president of the National Assembly, Cilia Flores, said the judicial process established in Venezuela’s Constitution and laws should proceed as usual with regard to Rosales. “The judicial process should continue. Security forces should implement a search plan to determine where he is,” said Flores.

Flores added that if Rosales is absent from his post as mayor of Maracaibo for more than 90 days, he will be considered to have abandoned the office, and the people of Maracaibo may elect a new mayor in a popular vote.

A referendum on the future of Globovisión?

Today a representative in the National Assembly, Ricardo Capella (Yaracuy) proposed to the national commission of science, technology and social means of communication that a consultative referendum be held in order to “determine the fate” of Globovisión, a Venezuelan 24 hour news network.

If something like this goes through, we can expect the usual melodrama from Washington and its NGO lackeys. However, it is important to note, and will be important to reiterate ad nauseum, that Globovisión is not your average TV channel.

Indeed, in making the proposal, Capello suggested that the broadcaster had definitively jumped from being a member of the media to being a political actor when its director traveled with opposition politicians to Puerto Rico to coordinate their actions and receive State Department funds in the lead up to February’s constitutional referendum.

The general director of the channel, Alberto Federico Ravell was caught on camera in the international airport by a community journalist when he reentered Venezuela alongside the directors of Venezuela’s main opposition parties. Ravell flipped out, cussing out the reporter and threatening him. Here’s the vid, worth watching even for the non-Spanish speakers:

(My favorite moment comes around minute 1:50, when the reporter asks Julio Borges, leader of Primero Justicia, a party all but founded by the US, if he was away ‘fighting for Puerto Rican independence.’)

The media in Venezuela was for a long time the stand-in for a domestic opposition. Chávez was initially elected after the complete disintegration of the political structure of the country, meaning there was little in the way of an organized challenge to his mandate. The media quickly filled this gap, most notoriously in the brief coup of April 2002.

This situation has been changing over the past 2 years, perhaps most significantly with the end of RCTV’s concession over channel 2 in spring of 2007. Since then, Globovisión has effectively been the last remaining television oppo-soapbox, though the print media is still by and large anti-Bolivarian.

If this proposal goes through, this would be quite an interesting step in the democratization of the airwaves, though it will no doubt be decried as further support for the argument that Chávez is leading an attack on freedom of speech that Globovisión and the State department have been repeating for quite some time now. Of course, such an almost offensively absurd position only holds if one considers the previous state of things, in which access to the media was determined by one’s financial rotundity.

Instead, today in Venezuela, there has been a concerted effort by the government to develop ‘social’ means of mass communication. One way in which this commitment has taken shape in community programs spearheaded by the Nucleos de Desarollo Endógeno (NUDES, yes, I know…) that train barrio kids in video and television production and the opening of the airwaves to these projects.

While the social communications projects of the governments do not yet (by any means) compete with the 'traditional' media's normal course of telenovelas, car chases and overdubbed US movies in terms of their popularity, they do represent a radical rethinking of what 'freedom of speech' actually entails.