Monthly Archives: May 2011

Grip gripe (updated)

Is it tight yet?

Chavez tightens grip in PDVSA shake up, removes CFO
Editorial: Chavez tightens grip on power
Venezuela’s Chavez Tightens Grip On Judiciary : NPR
Chavez tightens grip on media
Chavez tightens grip on economy
Venezuela’s Chávez tightens grip
Chávez tightens grip on Venezuela economy
Chavez tightens grip on energy resources
Chavez tightens his grip on power
Venezuela’s leftists in turmoil as Chavez tightens grip
Chavez tightens grip on foreign oil
Chávez tightens grip on petrochemicals sector
Venezuela’s Chavez tightens grip on power
Worrying Trends In Venezuela As Chavez Tightens Grip
Hugo Chavez Tightens Grip on Venezuela’s Oil

“Chavez tightens grip” gets 19,000 Google hits
“China tightens grip” gets almost 300,000
“Obama tightens grip” gets 647
“Bush tightens grip” gets 276
That is fewer than “Stalin tightens grip”, at 398.

PS, ok, I’ll go there. “Hitler tightens grip” gets 2 hits.

UPDATE: Take a look at what real grip-tightening looks like. And take it from me, this doesn’t happen in Venezuela. Here’s what happens if you dare to dance in Washington, DC:

CFO leaves PDVSA board – is this PDVSA Pension Ponzi-related? (updated)

This is getting downright interesting. Eudomario Carruyo has left the board of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. The guy is old and weak, and may just be retiring. But it is interesting, as El Universal notes, that his name has come up in the PDVSA Pension Ponzi case. He was apparently in charge of putting a (perhaps fictitious) half-billion dollars of pension money into a Ponzi scheme in Connecticut. Continue reading

What Misión really matters? Misión Cheap Gas

While everyone is busy talking and worrying about these intentionally symbolic US sanctions against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, there is a real news story happening in Venezuela that is getting little play. The Caracas Metro is tripling its fares, from 0.50 bolivars to 1 bolivar in June and 1.50 in December. Meanwhile, a friend who takes language classes at a Bolivarian University, President Hugo Chavez’s new public university system, tells me that the university abruptly announced it would start charging tuition. Retroactively.

Now, I neither have a strong opinion about these fee hikes, nor do I feel I have much of a right to an opinion — this is the definition of an internal matter. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that the biggest Venezuelan public subsidy is to motor fuel. It’s hard to quantify exactly, but if you take PDVSA at their word that they sell 442,000 barrels a day of gasoline and diesel to the internal market for an average of about $7.21 a barrel, that’s currently an effective subsidy of about $110 a barrel, or $48 million a day, or $18 billion a year. Each year, that money could buy about a dozen new entire Metro lines (at least if they were the economical kind, rather than the gold-plated stuff pushed by gringo export-pushers in the 1970s). And language tutors for all.

Brazil forest campaigner killed – is it connected to law debate?

So remember how yesterday morning Quasecarioca told us about Brazil’s new forestry law, and how people are cutting trees like mad in hopes that the law will contain an amnesty provision? Well now, someone has killed a couple in Brazil and removed an ear from each corpse. It happens to be that one of the members of the couple was a prominent forest activist. Could this relate to the debate? It’s hard to rule it out.

Al Jazeerah English has the story:

Anti-logging activist murdered in Amazon
Brazilian police say Jose Ribeiro was likely killed in retaliation for speaking out against illegal forest loggers.

An Amazon environmental activist and his wife were killed late on Monday and the crime is being investigated as a possible assassination to silence the outspoken forest defender, according to police.

José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, also known by his nickname of “Ze Claudio,” was shot and killed along with his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, in Nova Ipixuna, a rural town of 15,000 people in the northeast Brazilian Amazon state of Para, about 40km from the nearest city, Maraba.

Exact details and circumstances of the death are not yet clear. However, Felicio Pontes a federal prosecutor in Para state, as well as Marcos Augusto Cruz, the local civil police investigator, told Al Jazeera by phone late on Tuesday that the killings have all the signs of a cold-blooded murder for hire.

“We are working on a hypothesis that this was an execution because the shooters cut off one ear of each of the victims,” Cruz told Al Jazeera.

“Usually this is done as proof to give back to whoever ordered the killings,” Cruz told Al Jazeera, before adding that is was likely he was killed in retaliation for speaking out against illegal loggers.

Ribeiro was a community leader of a rural Amazon sustainable reserve that produces nuts and natural oils native to the forest.

PDVSA response to sanctions: Hold me back, man, I don’t want to hurt you

In Venezuela, the oil minister and foreign minister are on live TV on all broadcast and domestic cable channels talking about the US’s sanctions against PDVSA. They are “rejecting” the measures as “illegal” and calling for workers to “mobilize in defense of our oil industry.” But when pressed by reporters for information about the specifics of what they’ll do in response, they are holding back. They say they are going to study the effects of the sanctions. Ramirez declined to comment on whether Venezuela actually sent fuel to Iran. He said Venezuela is committed to maintaining oil shipments to Citgo. He said PDVSA would consider cutting sales to Hovensa (a big refinery in the Virgin Islands, jointly owned with Hess) and other US customers that weren’t part of PDVSA.

The short of it is this. I think most people in the Venezuelan government know that these sanctions are just theater, and that they are more about shutting up Connie Mack than about shutting down PDVSA. But they can’t look weak before their public in an issue of national sovereignty, so they are going to huff and puff until they can find an excuse to move on to the next thing and forget all about this. They are responding to hot-air sanctions with a hot-air press conference. If only life could always be so simple. Continue reading

And the sanctions are… ( (Updated)

The US Secretary of State decided to impose the following sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in response to shipments of fuel to Iran, according to a US government official briefed on the matter. These are the mandatory sanctions required by the US law that imposed sanctions on Iran in an effort to get Iran to halt any possible nuclear weapons program. The sanctions imposed on PDVSA (not on Venezuela’s government, mind you) are:

– A prohibition on US government procurement contracts (just PDVSA, not subsidiaries such as Citgo)

– A ban on new export licenses (existing licenses will be respected)

– A ban on Export Import (Exim) Bank financing (not very important, as Exim Bank stopped lending to Venezuela before the PDVSA strike and lockout in 2003)

Basically, weak sanctions. But still, US sanctions on Venezuela. Expect fireworks.

UPDATE: The Associated Press version.