Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dino Bouterse arrested, old friends free

Dino Bouterse, son of the president of Suriname, was arrested today in Panama to be deported to the US on allegations of drug smuggling.

Moving up in the world, I see. This was him in 2010 with a couple guys who look vaguely familiar.



(Update a week later — seems Dino was pals with lots more interesting characters in Venezuela.)

Thanks and welcome and results

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 2.21.01 AMWelcome new readers, much obliged for all the attention to the reputation management story. An honour to be “Boinged” for the first time. Yesterday was this site’s highest readership in its three-year history. I guess taking 8 months to put together a blog post can pay off sometimes.

I need to just make a couple little clarifications. First of all, about the headline. The fact is, I don’t really care who protects the reputation of the Bolibourgeoisie. If it’s not one person, it will be another.

The point here is that the forces of opacity are winning in Venezuela. Now that the story is out (and so far no response from those mentioned), it’s worth mentioning that this story was turned down by a couple Venezuelan and a couple US media outlets. The US ones I am more sympathetic toward — it’s a weird foreign story and sadly, most people in SF or NY don’t know or care much about South America. But in Venezuela, I suspect it was rejected out of fear. This, for example: the government can cut off your supply of newsprint, sue you, and generally make your life miserable if you print the wrong thing. That makes news reporting difficult.

If news people around the Americas want to offer a bit of solidarity to their beleaguered colleagues in Venezuela, one way would be to support reporting on that country. Not just quoting Michael Shifter and Otto Reich again and again, but actually learning about what’s happening in Venezuela and reporting new, different stories. Ideally, hiring some of our skilled local colleagues and not counting on fools like me who haven’t even stepped foot in the country in over a year. Venezuela is the land of low-hanging scandal fruit. After seeing a news item in Business News Americas, I was able to show that PDVSA’s new insurance broker was shady. It took about an hour of actual work, maybe less. Yes, an insurance trade mag had the story first. But behind a very high paywall. I don’t claim to have scooped it, just that it’s a story anyone could have had.

This reputation story may have had a few minor effects. I see that all these sites are now offline:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, the world’s most-used search engine, appears to have blacklisted all sites related to this whole reputation management effort. For example, Alek Boyd points out that the site Capsula Informativa is live, but a Google search for derwick returns no results.

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Searches on Bing still bring up results at the fakey sites.

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I guess that’s why Google is the world’s most-used search engine.

More subtly, I see that Google has quite changed the search results for “Ramiro Helmeyer”. His personal pages are now lower down, while the stories about his role in the 1990s terror campaign in Caracas take up most of the first screen of hits.

And I see that Rafael Núñez brought back his Twitter feed, but blocked me. I don’t take it personally.

Who protects reputation for the Bolibourgeoisie?

Update: This post had some effect in the world, including the disappearance of a bunch of websites. Sorry for dead links. More follow-up here.

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 2.23.22 PMDerwick Associates is a Bahamas Bermuda*-based electricity contractor that has had great success selling power plants to Venezuelan state-owned enterprises. Those efforts have attracted attention from the press and, most recently, from former US ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich, who sued two principals of Derwick for alleged interference with business and racketeering, also accusing them of bribery in Venezuela.

Derwick is the beneficiary of an aggressive on-line reputation management campaign. If you search the internet for terms associated with the company, such as the names of the two principals Reich accused, “Pedro Trebbau Lopez” and “Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez,” you will find very few news articles about them. Some search engines, including Bing and DuckDuckGo, give an entire first page of spurious results (see image in upper left). Most of the results are for pages obviously designed to obfuscate, throwing banal dust into the eyes of the search engine and leaving a casual searcher with the incorrect impression that there’s nothing to see here. On Google, the first six results are such fluff. Ironically, one of the first serious articles to appear in these searches is an exposé by blogger Alek Boyd about Derwick’s reputation management.

Everyone has a right to protect reputation online. And I don’t much care if someone wants to spend time and money filling websites with celebrity gossip, sex advice or technology news interspersed with the names of Derwick’s newsmakers. Sure, I could join in the existential pondering about the future of knowledge and the internet itself (and that is a very good article!), but the 3,000 words in this post need no padding. Instead, I invite you to follow me down a maze of on-line clues that for the first time connect a host of Venezuela corruption scandals and hint at the possibility that a highly regarded Venezuelan security consultant may be connected to an online defamation campaign and even to a pair of denial-of-service attacks on blogs. Continue reading

Another 1-minute search, another Venezuela scandal

You folks love these, so don’t mind me if I keep throwing them out there. A pal in Venezuela points out that you need a lot of 50-bolivar notes, now worth about US$1.50, just to get by, and that the 100-bolivar note remains the largest in circulation, five years after the disappearance of three zeroes from the currency so as to “strengthen it.” That’s all old hat, but it drives me to this monthly table from Venezuela’s central bank. Click it, you love Excel tables.

Then, with the miracle of subtraction, I take the number of coins or bills in circulation in June, from the second sheet of that document, and I subtract the number in June 2012, and that way I can see how many new coins and bills have been put into circulation in that 12-month period.

Continue reading

Meet PDVSA’s new insurer (updated 3x)

PDVSA, South America’s second-biggest oil company by sales, has changed insurers to an international consortium of Swiss Brokers, FAC, and a Lebanese company called Etoile Properties Assurances that belongs to a French company, Etoile Properties Assurance, Business News Americas reports.

I don’t know about Swiss Brokers or FAC, both of which are names of legit companies (though not, from what I can tell, in industrial insurance). But a moment’s googling shows Etoile Properties Assurance doesn’t exist. Continue reading

A more pragmatic PDVSA may be emerging

So, this turned out to be false. But the point remains. Ever since Hugo Chávez got terminal cancer and stopped running the day to day of Venezuela, PDVSA has been taking more pragmatic decisions. The latest ones:

Opening bid round to let service companies revive old, low-production wells. (via)

Eulogio Del Pino…met with the private sector and presented the Well Connection by Service Companies project to reactivate more than 1,000 wells in Lake Maracaibo. The bureaucrat explained that the project represents a pilot plan for a new contracting scheme, fed by a trust fund with payment guarantees and whose objective is to boost production.

Talking with Trinidad and Tobago about how to finally tap a shared gas field. (via)

the Venezuelans are moving quickly…Ramnarine described the two-day meeting as “a historic advancement,” adding that “we have moved Loran-Manatee more in two days than we have moved it in two years.”

And also, the weird silence: I haven’t heard of any face-palm-inducing ridiculous proposals out of PDVSA in quite some time. We’ll see if this keeps up.

Chile census may be binned

Remember how a few months ago I pointed out that the Chile census had some rather dubious statistics? Turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. The more important problem was that the census was under so much political pressure to be the best ever that the people running the show made up some of the numbers. They failed to reach residents in a bunch of occupied homes and also failed to survey entire housing complexes, falsely marking them as unoccupied.

According to a post-mortem out today, the conservative estimate is that about 9% of the population was missed by the census. The solution: Trash it. (Here’s the executive summary.)

That said, major congratulations to Chile for a prompt and honest evaluation of this scandal. How many governments are willing to face facts like this?

The public release of census results in August 2012 and April 2013 provided information about total population and housing at the national and subnational level. However, it didn’t reveal that the totals included both directly surveyed population and estimated population in homes where no interview could be conducted. In the opinion of this commission, the communication omits essential information and fails to fulfill the standards of transparency required of a public office. This course of action was followed by the National Statistics Institute leadership, ignoring opinions of the institution’s professional staff.

So, boo hiss and bravo. Congratulations to CIPER for breaking this story and driving the government to be so transparent about its failures.

Nervis Villalobos responds, denies corruption accusation

Nervis Villalobos, a former deputy minister of energy in Venezuela, denies having carried a message offering a bribe from electricity contractor Derwick Associates to Venezuela Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez.

The allegation against Villalobos appears in a lawsuit filed a week ago by Otto Reich against two principals of Derwick and an alleged associate of theirs. Villalobos called in response to my request for comment on the case.

“I know Derwick very well,” he said. Later, he said “they aren’t unknown to me.” He said it was possible that he had flown in a jet belonging to the company, adding that he flies at times on rented jets and that he doesn’t always know who owns them.

He said he “hasn’t had anything to do with PDVSA, the Ministry, or anything like that” since he left government in 2006. He said his government service left him unable to open a US bank account, and that his name has shown up in several news articles, but that the accusations are false. He doesn’t usually respond because “if one starts to defend oneself against every attack, one ends up going crazy.”

Villalobos said his work usually consists of feasibility studies and other consulting work in the Venezuelan electricity industry.