Tag Archives: politics

Citgo was biggest client for top DC lobby firms in 2014 (Updated)

CITGOLogoBWCitgo Petroleum, the US refining subsidiary of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, had a big year on the lobbying front in 2014. According to current records at OpenSecrets.org, the company spent $2.16 million on DC lobbying, a five-fold increase over 2013. It was the 9th-biggest among the 100+ clients of  Cornerstone Government Affairs and fourth-biggest at Brownstein Hyatt. But it really shone by becoming the biggest client of the year at both Dutko Grayling and Squire Patton Boggs.

Patton Boggs client ranking per records at OpenSecrets.org. Current as of Jan 25 2015.

Patton Boggs client ranking per records at OpenSecrets.org. Current as of Jan 25 2015.

Yes, that Patton Boggs. From Ken Silverstein’s article on the lobby house from last week:

And no one is, or was, more symptomatic or responsible for this pathetic state of dysfunction than Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., who died last September… Boggs was a richly-paid lobbyist who ran his firm like a brothel, once saying, “We pick our clients by taking the first one who comes in the door.” With that as his guiding principle, Boggs and his firm compiled a client list that included America’s biggest, most criminally minded corporations and the world’s worst dictators.

Really a worthwhile read, so go click over there. It takes a lot of work to be the #1 client of Patton Boggs. The company had 179 paid clients last year. Following well behind PDVSA you find companies with massive regulatory worries. (Note that all figures were current at time of writing. Future disclosures may change the ranking.) So what was all that money spent on? Continue reading

What’s at stake in Venezuela’s local elections

Yes, FT, that’s the same headline as yours. Because you didn’t write what’s at stake. I don’t know if anyone really cares exactly how many votes one side or the other gets; certainly the idea that this is a “plebiscite” is totally overplayed and evidence-free. What’s at stake is how many mayoral offices are controlled by the pro-central-government PSUV, and how many are controlled by other parties, broadly called “the opposition.” There are two things at stake here.

First, at the local level, in Caracas, an opposition sweep* would allow the city to become governable. The PSUV mayor of Libertador borough, the governor of the Federal Region, and central government have boycotted all cooperation with the opposition mayors of Caracas’ four eastern boroughs, Sucre, Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo. As a result, you get absurd situations such as nice new, broad sidewalks in Chacao that end abruptly at the River Guaire, where pedestrians are forced into the busy street in order to cross the only bridge for a kilometer in either direction. Or worse, the lack of coordination between planning of streets, buses, cable cars and subway. Or competing police jurisdictions. And most of all, the sad sight of poorer opposition areas, especially Sucre, being left without the money to collect trash or permission to raise trash rates, while Libertador gets all the money it can spend to beautify plazas and historic buildings. So for Caracas itself, there is the chance to stop being the worst capital in South America, and to start living up to its potential — it could be a marvelous city.

Second, much more important, having more mayoral offices would make it much easier for the opposition to mount a recall campaign at the midpoint of President Nicolas Maduro’s term. The constitution allows for recalls, but as the opposition has seen in repeated elections since 2006, all politics are local. And winning a national race requires local organizing. Who carries voters to the polls in special buses? Who has the money to cover the city in campaign propaganda for one side or the other? Mayors matter at election time.

Other than that, as you say, not much to see here. The PSUV has treated the campaign as a bit of a joke, while the opposition has preferred to spend money fighting over a tiny number of votes in El Hatillo while there are almost no posters, grafittis or any other public displays of support for the regional mayor candidate or the candidate for Libertador, Ismael Garcia. Here in Caracas, I see no window signs, almost no soaped-up car windscreens favoring one side or the other (I’ve seen two pro-PSUV camioneticas in three weeks, not quite a campaign), no catchy campaign jingles, few billboards, no clever little marketing campaigns like the last Chávez election, when they gave out PSUV jewelry and silkscreens. None of that. I predict low turnout.

*UPDATE: Just to be clear, this is extremely unlikely, as Libertador is reasonably rojo-rojito, and more importantly, the government really, really doesn’t want to lose it. Even less likely would be a PSUV sweep, as Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo are all extremely pro-opposition territories.

The silence of the geeks

bit.ly not found

A common sight these days

Bit.ly, a link-shortening service frequently used on Twitter, has been blocked by Venezuelan internet service providers for more than two weeks. Today, Associated Press crack reporter Josh Goodman picks up the story to explain:

Cyber-activists say the crackdown goes to absurd lengths, even targeting Bitly, the popular site for shortening Web addresses to make it easier to send them as links via Twitter and other social media. For more than two weeks, access to the service has been partially censored by several Internet service providers in Venezuela, apparently because Bitly was being used to evade blocks put on currency-tracking websites.

The New York company says such restrictions have only previously been seen in China, which has one of the worst records for Internet freedom, and even then not for such an extended period. Opponents of Venezuela’s socialist government say the restrictions are designed to obscure reporting of the nation’s mounting economic woes.

You read that right, the providers must block all links to Bit.ly, one of the most heavily used tools on Twitter and one of the 4,000 websites most used on the entire Internet, according to Alexa.com.

The measure has drawn almost no public protest or concern, either within Venezuela or outside. The only complaints I’ve seen have been from dolartoday.com, which is the ostensible target of the censorship (and which immediately switched to goo.gl short links) and from the little-known geek website alt1040.com.

Most people I talk to say the Bitly situation is just incompetence or bad programming, most likely at state ISP Cantv. I hope so, but I worry that it’s not. Cantv is full of intel types. Cantv blocked all international web access during a brief political panic, after the 2008 referendum, while other ISPs still had access to the outside sites. Cantv may be practicing to set up some sort of great firewall and testing the waters, to see if they can gradually increase the temperature without scaring the frog.

Continue reading

The most misunderstood man in Puerto Rico (PDVSA, Enfusa)

Click for PDF of letter

Click for PDF of letter

Messages supposedly sent to Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s legislature, were disclosed over the weekend on various websites opposed to the Venezuelan government. The hack appears real: the documents attached there would be tough to forge, such as the full report of an opinion poll or internal campaign documents. So far, Cabello himself hasn’t commented publicly on the situation, and he didn’t reply to my e-mail for comment.

The messages are mostly boring. Among my few surprises: some Chavistas write to one another in the ALL CAPS that one finds on less-respectable message boards. And IVAD, a Chavista opinion pollster, uses the insulting term “marginal” for people of lower economic class (see page 6 of linked document)*.

The document that most grabbed my attention was a note from a company called Enfusa, in Puerto Rico. The mails show that CEO Manuel Santos first wrote to offer President Chávez and all his closest deputies access to some doctor who has the secret cure for cancer. Then, March 6, another note, with the subject “Vice president Maduro let President Chávez die” — maybe not the most politically correct thing to say about the country’s new acting president.

But the good one was sent March 12 (my translation): Continue reading

No, no connection at all (CVX)

Update I hear from the El Universal reporter, Ernesto Tovar, that the interview actually took place before Maduro spoke. That just shows that Chevron wasn’t responding to Maduro, nor Maduro to Chevron. The differences in their discourses is enlightening.

March 1:

Nicolás Maduro: La agresión de Chevron a Ecuador es también contra Venezuela

(Nicolas Maduro, de facto president of Venezuela, says Chevron Corp. is attacking Venezuela by, I guess, defending itself against what’s likely the biggest environmental law verdict ever. His phrasing was reminiscent of the NATO treaty, which declares that an attack on one is an attack on all.)

March 4:

Estamos abiertos a ampliar el financiamiento a Petropiar

(Ali Moshiri, president of the Chevron Corp. division responsible for oil production in Africa and Latin America, gives a rare lengthy interview in the Venezuelan press and says “The collaboration between Chevron and PDVSA is one of the best.”)

As is so often the case, strong words from the Bolivarian government against a multinational oil company coincide with the government’s opening to increased investment from a multinational oil company. Continue reading

Why does anyone care about Keystone XL? Ride a bike.

Some Canadians who get the real issue.

Some Canadians get it.

I honestly don’t get US environmentalists’ decision to make their Line In The Sand against climate change at the Keystone XL pipeline. In an era of $100 a barrel oil, Canada’s oil resources are not going to be left idle, and other countries with dirty but accessible oil aren’t going to sit and wait for cleaner resources to come on stream.

In fact, stopping the pipeline may cause increased carbon emissions. An oil pipeline is about the most energy-efficient transportation method among all commodities. Yes, it’s made to transport dirty Canadian tar sands oil. But if Keystone XL isn’t built, that same filthy oil is most likely going to get shipped to Asia instead, using even more carbon on the way. And the US will buy oil from elsewhere, some of it being the carbon-intensive heavy oil of Venezuela and Colombia. (And every complaint raised here about the tar sands is true in the lawless llanos of South America: carbon-intensive processing; huge water production and little control over water disposal; disputes with indigenous people and other local cultures; pipeline spills.) The US will get that fuel by ship, using more carbon per barrel to import it than if it were carried by pipeline.

The problem isn’t the transportation method of the oil. The problem is the oil. Cars kill everything: they run over people, birds, dogs, butterflies, you name it. Single-occupant cars obstruct social life and increase stress. Cars make mass transit less efficient and get in the way of bicycles. Meanwhile, they devour the bulk of the world’s liquid fuels and convert these long-buried plant molecules into carbon dioxide and smog. The problem, at heart, is cars. (Planes suck too, especially per passenger. My biggest contributions to the greenhouse effect are from my occasional plane trips.)

The story is in the news these days because environmentalists are counting on US President Barack Obama to stop the pipeline, while some are expecting him to let the pipe get built. Personally, I say he stops it. It’s become a cause celebre, and the main beneficiary is a Canadian company. It’s easier to stand up to those supposedly dirty Canucks than to stop the real climate villains in suburbia, those who fire up a one-occupant car every morning to commute to work.

What’s most frustrating about watching this fight from afar is that it is so similar to the drug war. Just as slowing the flow of cocaine from Colombia’s Caribbean coast has done nothing to reduce US drug addiction (the shipments moved to the Pacific, to Venezuela, and to Brazil), slowing the flow of oil from Alberta to Louisiana will do nothing to reduce US car addiction. And just as with the drug war, it’s easier to rant and rave about some foreign threat than to face the fact that the harms are ultimately caused by one’s own friends, clients, neighbors, family members, and self.

If you don’t want a hotter planet, stop driving cars, especially inefficient cars and those with just one or two occupants. Stop building parking lots. Don’t take plane trips, either. Convince the people you know to do the same. And don’t go start with some “we need structural change first.” Structures, such as new transit lines, get built to meet demand. You need to be that demand, rather than blocking the intersection and slowing down the few US bus lines that still exist.

On the other hand, if you want to feel good about yourself without making such a change, go ahead and worry about one pipeline or another. But don’t try and convince yourself you are stopping climate change.

PS: If you have either already made what personal changes you can, or you just prefer to stick to structures rather than personal choices, the infrastructure projects that are most important to halt are parking garages, regional malls, exurban office parks, and regional sprawl more generally. They are what induce driving. (Low-density suburban residential development can also make the list, but as I’ve seen here in Latin America, such development can coexist with good mass transit and a low-carbon lifestyle as long as there are little shops scattered through, neighborhood schools and nearby transit stops. Such things are verboten in the USA.)

Just how well does Venezuela get on with Chevron? Very.

A couple days ago, Raúl Gallegos published a decent little column about how Chevron is, if not betting on a Hugo Chávez reelection, at least setting itself up for a long, happy relationship with the Bolivarian Republic.

Chevron has no illusions about how Venezuela works. It first set up shop there in the 1920s, when strongmen showed heavier hands than Chavez. Scores of populist governments and two oil-industry nationalizations later Chevron is still pumping crude. And when PDVSA asked for a couple of billion to invest in Boscan, a jointly-run field Chevron first came across in the 1940s, the oil major obliged. The 13-year loan is costing PDVSA Libor plus 4.5 percent, far less than the 11 percent that its 2027 bonds pay.

I quibble with a bit of the column, but basically, he’s right. Chevron in Venezuela is now too big to nationalize.

I had thought Repsol fell into the same category. But maybe not. Check out this article from last night.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez warned Repsol SA (REP) to “think carefully” about taking action against Argentina after it nationalized its YPF SA (YPFD) unit, indicating the Spanish company may face ramifications in Venezuela.

“They have a lot of investment here in Venezuela,” Chavez said on state television after holding a meeting with Argentine Planning Minister Julio De Vido in Caracas. “What happens there in Argentina affects what happens here.”

What jumps out here is that Chávez has never made any similar threats against Chevron over its $18 billion debt to ostensible ally Ecuador. If you haven’t followed that whole story, here’s an article, the plaintiff’s version and the company’s version, but long story short, Chevron was sued in the US for polluting Ecuador. It got the case moved to Ecuador, apparently thinking courts there would be friendlier. Courts there ruled against the company and ordered a huge amount of compensation. Chevron insists that the rulings were flawed by corruption, though I think it’s fair to ask, if they were worried about corruption, why did they get the case moved to Ecuador? The whole thing is a mess.

If Chávez were ideological, you’d think that the anti-Chevron campaigners would find open ears in Venezuela, and would even now be auctioning off the Boscan oilfield to pay the Ecuador debts. Instead, I don’t think Chávez has ever mentioned the case. And Chevron is piling in ever more billions of dollars.

Those of you who think politics has anything to do with ideas might be surprised by this. Please learn.

Coming late to the indignation party: Chile

Monday and Tuesday, Chile charged eight emergency response bureaucrats with negligent homicide for calling off a tsunami warning after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake of 27 February 2010.

That quake sloshed the Pacific ocean so hard that it generated a tsunami wave so high that it soaked land as much as 20 meters above sea level and hundreds of meters inland. The wave killed 156 people and left 25 missing. But even as the wave was hitting towns and villages, emergency response agencies were saying there was no tsunami. This week, some people in charge of the agencies were charged with negligent homicide in a trial that is drawing national attention. Some Santiago newspapers are blogging the trial live; here is La Segunda’s version.

Among other tidbits already to emerge from the trial, according to La Segunda (translation mine): Continue reading

Chile copper reserves exposed to Bolivian marauders as land mines removed

Here’s a big issue for you copper investors out there: Chile, the single biggest copper-producing country, is backing down from its vigilant protection of this vital industrial metal by getting rid of the 181,814 land mines it placed on the country’s borders in the 1970s.

No, seriously — 181,814 land mines. Today, Chile’s defense minister was out declaring some mine fields “cleared” in the Antofagasta Region, near the town of Ollagüe. Roughly here.

So far, 50,000 have been destroyed. That would mean there are still more than 131,000 land mines in this country. Good thing, too, cause otherwise who knows what would happen to all that copper.

A few notes on arrival in Chile

I arrived in Santiago de Chile a few days ago. So far I’m not quite sure what to write about, which is in itself remarkable. As someone raised in Canada and the USA, Santiago is so utterly normal to me that I forget I’m in South America. Most streets on the east (relatively richer) side of town could just as easily be in Winnipeg, while the downtown area might as well be Ottawa or Toronto. I don’t mean any of this as a compliment or an insult, just a description. I feel like I’m surrounded by 20-year-olds who are delighting in their own capacity for apathy. I see a vague hipsterism that hasn’t entirely come into its own; most of the street art and cultural signs I see could fit in well in any hip young city. There is grafitti and bikes and vegetarian food, there’s wifi in the coffee shops and gay men in fancy eyeglasses talking about galleries. I hear people speaking English without shame or fear. It’s more or less a European or North American city, an outpost in South America.

Amid it all, there’s the Museum of Memory, a frosted blue glass box in the part of town called Quinta Normal, where locals spend much of their time on the weekend. It’s this little spike in space-time, holding onto a bit of 1973 and 1983 and dragging them into the present and revealing the subtext to the general face of calm and normalcy in the city.

Memory museum exterior

A box of pain

I happened to be in Santiago for the building’s inauguration in January, and I took these pictures in its first week open.

Truth and Reconciliation exhibit

Opening exhibit: the spotty history of truth and reconciliation commissions

Electric torture device

Electricity torture: A possible cause of apathy

Faces of the disappeared

Faces of the disappeared

Pro-freedom poster art from the 1970s

1970s poster art, a reminder of passions past

You look at this history and it gives a new cast to the apathetic status-consciousness of the youths on the street. It’s an apathy their parents couldn’t afford, and young people always thrill in exploring the latest — it may be the same as my love for industrial music in the 1980s. That’s one theory. Another is that the dictatorship trained most Chileans to shut up if they want to succeed, at the possible expense of a few months in a torture cell or a one-way helicopter trip to the grey Pacific. This lesson has been transmitted to the young. Who knows; it’s probably some combination of the two.

What’s clear is that the museum, and doubtless a few other sites in the city, maintain the living memory of the recent past, and ensure that Santiago doesn’t become, at least not deeply and permanently, Toronto.


Women watch a video showing scenes from the 1973 coup and its aftermath

Young people watch video at Museum of Memory

Transmission of living memory to those too young to recall