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To The Washington Post: Please... Get serious... And start reporting facts, not spin...

By Pedro Camargo

August 29, 2005 | One of the world’s greatest newspapers, The Washington Post, recently ran two pieces, one by Marcela Sanchez and the other by the Inter American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter on Venezuela. Both failed to grasp current facts, utilize actual data, and both failed to distinguish that august newspaper whose own Jackson Diehl has shown exemplary journalistic skills although his pen appears to be silent of late on Latin issues.

What are we to make of these recent tomes by well heeled writers? We conclude a flat rejection of both for varying reasons. The Sanchez piece of 8-25-05 practically performs the irresponsible in its gushing, fawning haste to gloss over Hugo Chavez’s well known singular acts of depravity in his role as leader of a large and once-wealthy nation. She seems to harken back to her roots as a neo-Marxist in extolling the virtues of robbing for some higher purpose. While the character of Robin Hood resonates as a champion of the down trodden and taxation without representation (which is really what that myth is all about), Sanchez fails to grasp the real picture that Hugo Chavez is neither the champion of the poor nor a saintly Robin Hood of yore.

Michael Shifter on 8-28-05 comes closer to the mark in detailing the horrors that beset Venezuela today but then incredulously backs off and creates a systemic maelstrom in the reader’s mind…. confusing the reader with contradictory opinion, as is his style.

Both Shifter and Sanchez, well-known leftists and supporters of John Kerry’s agenda (whatever that was), are indeed entitled to their opinion and are blessed with America’s mandate for free speech. But all of us are entitled to the facts also. And the facts regarding Chavez have been poorly disbursed, not only by America’s media but also by Latin America’s media.

Three key arenas supposedly support the Shifter-Sanchez pro-Chavez enabling story: beneficial healthcare, benign socialism and legal oil delivery systems. Each issue contains a dark and dangerous reality if one simply scratches the surface. There is no beneficial healthcare in Venezuela today. There is no benign socialism in Venezuela today. There is no legally functional oil delivery system in Venezuela today.

Ostensibly, Hugo Chavez has bought the silence of the lambs- the ignorant and poor of Venezuela- by delivering targeted vote-getting “special gifts” plus dollops of socialized medicine in a doctors-for-oil-swap with Castro. The myth is that these “doctors” are real doctors. While one cannot ignore state mandated abortions in Cuba under Castro, one also simply cannot ignore that the denizens of Castro’s Cuba simply do not look `healthy' for their entire vaunted healthcare. A random few do look reasonably well. But most appear poorly fed, miserably unhappy with their on-average under $200 a year state controlled income; loss of household power 4 out of 7 days a week and an utter denial of basic human freedoms. No, Cubans, unless part of Castro’s elites, look unhealthy. Their vaunted doctors are poorly trained and badly prepared although it is reported that some small percentage are actually well prepared. Most serve with little less than one year of training. These are in no way medical doctors: they are more like glorified triage nursing assistants. None would be licensed inside the USA or most nations. And more to the point: we urge Sanchez in her tacit deification of these Cuban doctors inside Venezuela, to voluntarily submit to either cancer care- with their lives on the line- or emergency appendectomies, considered routine in all countries. If this forced Cuban health system is so wonderful, why then the aversion to these poorly trained political lobbyists-for-communism, masquerading as doctors? Indeed, why would Sanchez extol the so called socialist healthcare in Venezuela while major medical societies in Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Venezuela noticeably reject these band aid efforts by the Cubans?

With over 66,000 unlicensed Cuban - uncertified by any standard medical society- doctors, we are positive that among them remain some skilled medical doctors. We are also convinced that no one has actually checked the data on the so called Cuban doctor corps. Indeed, Castro has a long history of puffery and well paid disinformation campaigns. Why indeed would one place one’s life in his hands when he has such a hefty career of disinformation? A reality check is necessary today by every American journalist covering Chavez. A side by side of actual skills and training of these so-called Cuban doctors is requisite before any extolling of their virtues is attempted. Fact checking is lacking in the rush to calm the globe about the glories of the neo-communism taking over the Andes.

In fact, Venezuela was well on its way to providing broader healthcare for its poor when Chavez took the reins and rapidly began installing his Castro-inspired revolution. Venezuela had a highly trained medical corps, unlike the Cuban `doctors.’ Chavez terminated scores of state-backed clinics for the poor and instead installed random Cuban neighborhood visitors, little better that triage nurses, whose very lack of actual medical training makes the cruelty strike harder for the poor. And before one gets too romantic about the glories of the Cuban medical system, actuarial data must be examined and actual death-by-bad-medicine, poor practices must be revealed. But to simply claim that socialized medicine actually exists in Venezuela is to deny fact checking and deny the horror of the Chavez medical system. Put another way: even with massive price breaks/reduced fee for service -indeed even at no cost- by Cuban doctors today, no one of sound mind, given a choice in the matter, goes to Cuba or seeks Cuban doctors for care. In fact Venezuelans pay dearly for these poorly trained medical corps by dint of the oil depletion plan with Cuba by Chavez. So let us dispense with the fabulous marvels of the Cuban community under Castro.

As with his mentor Castro, Chavez has robbed all social strata in Venezuela. Quality of life has deteriorated to a breaking point. If Chavez is a modern day Robin Hood, as claimed by Sanchez, it is time to stop hoodwinking the public. Under Chavez, Venezuela, by any analysis, is now a failed state. Indeed, it is not a nation state at all. Its politics and its governance are dictated by Castro, a murky circle of oil traders and speculators upon whom Chavez depends for oil movement, and Castro's merry band of former KGB agents-for-hire. Chavez has removed all tenants of democracy and legal systems, crafted the Chavez court packing plan, has installed his agents in every instance where he can, and has turned his country in to an open wallet for his domestic and global political purchasing power.

There is no democracy in Venezuela and there has been no democracy in Venezuela for over three years. Why is this so terribly hard for the media to report?

The real story on Venezuela is that Chavez has denied all perfunctory data reporting. Once installed in Venezuela, no one is permitted to test the Cuban “doctors” in a standard medical exam; Chavez has refused any forensic auditing of his personal pocketbook: PdVSA and CITGO, and he has denied full analysis of his democracy-shuttered government. Just as with the August, 2004 vote, all usable data is denied for any real time analysis.

Hugo Chavez was never legally confirmed in the recall vote of August 2004. His is not a legitimate democracy. Every acceptable norm for election monitoring was ignored with only a small fraction of election monitoring permitted under the Chavez rules. There were no official statistical analyses made and the ones performed independently were mocked about; furthermore the officialdom did not accept for these to be peer-reviewed and cross examined even though its findings were damning enough to cast doubts over the fairness and transparency of the vote. There were no normative evaluations of voting machines or polling stations delivered. In short, the people of Venezuela are owed an apology for the gross abuse of standard election procedures and the phony proclamation that Chavez was honestly reconfirmed. There was no honesty in August of 2004 in Caracas.

Sanchez incorrectly claims that freedom of the press exists in Venezuela today. This is a false statement. A small few remain independent in their media, a small band from a once excellent large group of journalists. Venezuela had well trained journalists. Today, only a small fraction act with journalistic independence of Chavez and they are quite aware that their very lives carry a price tag. To deny this reality exhibits, again, a lack of fact checking inside Venezuela. There is no question that freedom loving citizens are scared, frightened and at a loss today. Perhaps a more proper question would be to query just how free Venezuelans today feel about themselves.

The Chavez regime represents a far more insidious occurrence today. By falsely claiming to abide by international norms, claiming so-called normative behaviors to remain inside the international community, alas the perversion is just under the surface; Chavez and his ilk deserve no international regard for their very acts and must be denounced. This of course will never happen as long as the left-leaning media remains complicit in its failure to report actual facts:

  • Venezuela historically had a functioning medical and healthcare system. Today it does not.
  • Venezuela had free press and excellent journalists. Today it does not. Today, 2/3 are cowed, bribed and forced to retreat by Chavez. Journalists are paid to extol the glories of the FARC. This, then, is propaganda: not free press. Chavez permits just a random few media outlets to exist so as to not garner the international community’s ire. But even the few remaining are under tremendous stresses, if any cared to dig for the facts.
  • Venezuela once had a non belligerent army. Today it does not. Venezuela has actually moved in to the classic definition of a fascist militaristic state. It is conceivable that Chavez’s military will act extra-territorially on behalf of Castro’s regime, with weaponry and military stratagems.
  • Venezuela once had no need for a two million person paramilitary squad. Today, although unconstitutional, Chavez has crafted a proposed two million man goon squad (actual numbers today remain well under 50.000) which reports only to Chavez’s command and control. This is his private military.
  • Venezuela once had an operational constitution, an operational election system, and, albeit weak, a court system, a banking system, a tax office, federal laws and a functional law enforcement system. Worth remembering that former President Carlos Andres Perez was impeached and removed from office for misusing 250 million Bolivares. Today it does not: all are engineered for Chavez-enhancing political purposes. Today Venezuela has kangaroo courts, rigged elections and a financial system run by unnamed oil speculators and hedge fund operatives. Venezuela, again, has ceased to exist as a legitimate nation state.
  • Venezuela has become a major drugs transshipment nation. Venezuela has broken with the USA on its refusal to participate in counternarcotics activities of any meaningful semblance. Venezuela has also crafted its own demise as a member of the United Nations by flatly refusing to adhere to the Counter Narcotics Conventions, mandatory for any member in good standing in the UN. Chavez has ripped up his membership agreements with the UN. He has propelled his nation to an isolated “rogue status.” Only failed nations act with such desperation. Only failed nations resort to narcotrafficking to bolster or augment corrupt budgets and corrupt militaries, establishing an elite comprised of officially sanctioned illegal drug runners. This is no way to run a country.
  • Venezuela indeed has suffered massive job loss and unemployment. It is reported that the so called employment rates are cooked. No one visiting Venezuela today cannot but be struck by the massive preponderance of homeless, beggars and hawkers on the streets. The presence of indigenous mothers begging in street corners with their children is a Kafkaesque spectacle. Their off the books `informal' job sector is massive and incorrectly called "jobs." These are not real jobs but subsistence level efforts because Venezuela today offers no real jobs in main, only bribes and pay backs.
  • Venezuela today has outspent its fiscal capacity. Morally bankrupt, it should come as no surprise that it is financially bankrupt for all that it is swimming in oil. Contracts mean nothing to Chavez. Rule of law means nothing to Chavez. Democracy holds only contempt by Chavez. Morality and spirituality are held in contempt by Chavez and his cronies. Foul language, rude behaviors and crass public displays of disrespect for women, the clergy and educators are daily occurrences. There is no diplomacy in Venezuela: only crude behaviors and state funded propaganda. Respect for Venezuela’s heritage means nothing to Chavez as he hastily installs false histories and revisionist patrimony. There is nothing of integrity and nothing redeemable in this regime. There is nothing to recommend this group of on the take thugs.
  • In fact, Venezuela is not a nation any longer but a thugocrazy. Besides the fact that there is no meaningful nation building in Venezuela for several years, its routine, state -mandated infrastructure has crumbled by neglect. It is deceptively one giant speculative morass hiding under the banner of neo-communism. Venezuela has de facto morphed in to the worst ENRON conceivable. It is not a legitimate nation. It is not a government. It is a system of bribes for profit and bribes for power and let the highest bidder or closest crony win. Each Chavez oil deal sucks more and more “cuts” of the deal. Because Chavez is irresponsible, at times whimsical, and untrustworthy, there are no legitimate actors willing to “make deals” with Chavez, leaving only the shady, unscrupulous to run his books, run his oil an profit from price fixing.

All of Venezuela’s GDP is basically one commodity: the Chavez controlled petroleum sector. PdVSA is now fully Chavez’s personal pocketbook. CITGO, wholly owned by PdVSA, is ostensibly Venezuela’s public-private oil entity and entrée to the world’s capital markets, is profoundly corrupt under the new “Chavez rules of ownership of PdVSA” and has ceased to exist in any meaningful corporate fashion. CITGO and PdVSA have, as sister organizations, refuse any independent forensic audits of both organizations. There is no meaningful analysis of PdVSA or CITGO without full due diligence. PdVSA, with much to hide, has failed to report to the U.S. SEC for many years in any meaningful way, with only unnamed so-called Venezuelan reports that all is well in their mysterious maze of cooked books.. Criminal fines and sanctions by the U.S. SEC could be pending.

As to Michael Shifter, never one to be afraid to bite the U.S tax dollar and donors' hands that feed him in his on-going addiction to criticizing anything that does not have the DNC stamp of approval, correctly notes that Chavez is a lucky man. Indeed he is. With friends like lobbyist-for hire Tommy Boggs, Congressman Delahunt, Bush-hating speculators like George Soros, Senator Chris Dodd, Marc Rich and every lazy policy analyst who refuses to write or dig for the facts, Chavez remains their favorite bad boy toy for the Left, or worse yet: foolishly malleable. Always cheerful to denounce the Bush administration for every fault that exists, Shifter accurately claims that complacency is not the answer. While honestly pointing out that Chavez is shredding democracy under the guise of populism, Shifter fails to point out that democracy has been shredded in Venezuela for many years now and that Chavez is no populist: he is a neo-fascist calling himself a neo-socialist while fully under the definitional sway of communism a la Castro.

To remind Shifter: Chavez is no populist: populists often permit open markets, enable free courts, free media and fair elections plus performance-driven market economies. Chavez-Castro do not. Shifter wails that Latin America is less receptive to U.S. responses. Indeed. But we ponder: how else to respond when the Shifters of the world, claiming that the Chavez problem is the sole fault of Bush, fail to present the facts of Chavez- at once dire and quite obvious? How else to respond but with confusion when our own are presenting confusing stories?

What is quite clear is this: the days of enabling and covering over the Chavez game plan are over. It is no longer cocktail-party acceptable to defend Chavez, as has been the case for too many years. The welter of leftists Chavez and Soros-backed so called `ngos’ that do their propaganda bidding are at last well known, albeit still badly misinformed. Even so, the agitators do deliver what they are paid to do: jump, bark, and squeal to exhibit a false turmoil, which to the untrained media appears as if it is population engendered when in fact many protests are staged for the show to engineer yet one more financial reward to speculators who profiteer from turmoil and the instability of nations. Smart journalists have begun to ask the right questions: who are these paid agitators and who is financially benefiting from global turmoil?

Ethical policy makers would do well to respond with the facts. Clever, meaningless quips such as `watch what a leader does and not what he says' remain an embarrassing chapter in U.S foreign policy and are today outmoded, as well they should be. The State Department and the OAS might have enjoyed their indefensible presentation of the notion that the 1940's Vichy government of France was an excellent geo-political solution to the evils of fascism, communism and Nazism, but history begs a different analysis. The Vichy government cost the lives of a whole generation. We would not be so judged. Enabling corruption and blaming Bush is no solution.

Although Shifter urges the USA to upgrade its relations with Brazil, among other suggestions, we are reminded that he forgets to detail that Brazil today under LuLa is mired in the most profound ethical scandal ever. What therefore is there to upgrade, more corruption? This is the problem with Shifter’s analysis: vague, insensitive, and like all good limousine liberals, ignorant of today’s facts on the ground in his haste to blame Bush and Rumsfeld.

Shifter denies Rumsfeld’s recent comments on the Chavez paid activities in Bolivia as ringing hollow. In point of fact, such paid events in Bolivia are so widely known and accepted as fact with pure evidence that no one but the left even questions the Morales-FARC-Chavez funded alliance; certainly not Bolivians. Rumsfeld’s comments seem to us to have been more like an obvious weather report to claim it is raining when in fact it is indeed raining.

Shifter urges the USA to restore trust and seek an end to divisiveness. Mayhap Shifter should start with his own cronies. Although he cannot help himself in his abhorrence for President Bush, he should never demur from his own role in the ongoing propaganda effort that remains the struggle for the heart and soul of Latin America. Indeed, Shifter’s claim that Bush should have denounced Robertson is silly. Bush and Robertson are not connected in anyway nor should Bush stoop to Chavez's or Robertson’s level with any comments.

While Chavez may call Robertson and Bush the `American oligarchy,’ real Americans know better. There is no oligarchy in the USA except….the well heeled, well funded left. American oligarchy died with the Robber Barons of old. While the USA has some very well heeled persons, there remains nothing of any semblance of any societal sway by any WASPs of old. They simply do not exist any longer.

Shifter, who has spent a lifetime trying to convert any and all to his brand of left leaning thinking, serving us as our own private Guide Michelin to the left, forgets that the USA does indeed have a foreign policy for Latin America. The National Security Council has spelled this out succinctly. But at its heart, lie the U.S. constitution, Congressional legislation, requirements by regulations and of course international treaties and norms. Shifter may not like U.S. laws and regulations but such remain the core of U.S. foreign policy. While the last half of the 1990s seemed to ignore U.S. laws and treaties in favor of leftist activist rhetoric, aka ` policy,’ the U.S. has more than enough policy: it is called existing mandates, laws, and international treaties. U.S. policy itself calls for application of U.S. laws and norms with no political interference.

Today scores are sincerely advising that the U.N. ignore the fact that Chavez has broken Venezuela’s treaties with the U.N. Others advise the USA to ignore the fact that Venezuela must be de-certified by the U.S. Department of State because this would be unpopular. Still others advise that to actually review and apply the `Democracy Charter’ of the OAS to Venezuela’s non-democracy would be even more unpopular. To all this we ask: since when is law and order a popularity contest?

There is no doubt that even a precursory application of the OAS’s `Democracy Charter’ renders one with the important conclusion that Venezuela is no longer a democracy, even by the loose OAS terms. To combat the growing awareness that a denouncement and `rogue nation’ status is pending, Chavez is staging a new OAS circus-style effort on August 29, 2005 in Caracas to craft a new Societal Charter to water down the Democracy Charter.

Chavez faces a clear rejection by the global community. Chavez faces the end result of his own gamesmanship with legitimate oil companies. The Chavez regime will either derive much of its funds from the spot oil market or black market, with more and more middlemen taking deeper and deeper cuts, or his oil regime will morph into a fulsome supplier to China, where it is well known that wages, process, and quality of life, as in Cuba, is most often set by the communist government… at paltry levels.

Any who attend the August 29, 2005 Caracas-OAS circus maximus know very well why they attend. This is the Fora de Sao Paulo for erstwhile adults at the OAS. This is Chavez’s blatant grab at the political arena to pledge unattainable give-aways, like his oil for political bribes, to induce Latins to enjoin his neo-communist paradise. Although Chavez is himself a neo-communist by dint of his total power sharing with the communist dictator Castro, he prefers to call himself a socialist. This is a misnomer. Chavez is no longer simply a neo-communist but has become a militaristic fascist by his own acts.

As it is, it is incumbent upon the OAS to first insure compliance with its own Democracy Charter before spinning out of control by the seductive powers of the oil largesse give-aways promised by Chavez in his proposed Social Charter. We are confounded why the OAS would even think about elevating such socialist dribble without attending to first things first: stable democracies with enforceable laws and norms. Should the OAS cede its primary purpose for existence to such neo-socialistic dribble, the U.S. Congress will no doubt review its financial pledge. The OAS was physically bankrupted under Cesar Gaviria’s leadership. It remains to observe if the OAS will morally, as well as physically, bankrupt itself under the new Chavez give-away plan in the coming days.

Shifter is brilliantly correct to point out that Chavez’s appeals are illusory. He is also correct to note that the USA should devise policy alternatives. While policy alternatives are helpful, policy alone never did anything, much as self prescribed policy wonks would lead us to believe otherwise. Policy is hot air. Policy is blah, blah, blah. The Chavez- Castro machine cares not one whit about policy and has no intention of holding to any tenant of faith, article of agreement, treaty, law or anything binding. We must begin with this reality when evaluating Chavez and Castro: they are dishonest, disreputable actors who are surrounded by self serving criminal actors of the basest level and paid actors, literally. Policy serves high minded diplomacy. Gutter talking street thugs laugh at policy. Policy with Chavez and Castro is simply a delaying tactic and enables on going mischief. Nonetheless, we are reminded that policy does serve some purpose. But to this must be added the very structures under which the USA and all democratic nations function. This is the core of policy and no wiggle room of policy wonking should be permitted.

Far more instructive would be a baseline psychoanalysis of the bombastic, irrational, blow hard Hugo Chavez. To this we urge an honest medical diagnosis and prognosis. With rumors swirling that Chavez is under maximum doses of lithium, we cannot but question his fitness for the job. And his capacity to represent a nation seems in doubt by his over dependence on paid actors, former KGB intelligence operatives, phony voting machines and the all too obviously flawed Fidel Castro. It is one thing to suffer a steady stream of Chavez lies, but one must pause to inspect if these are truly sociopathic acts or psychotic ramblings of the paranoid and delusional. Or is this simply a highly paid unprofessional politics-as-theatre to sway an unsuspecting public? Best to start with the facts first.

Add to this the well known facts of the crass corruption of the Chavez regime and their vast money laundering, drug running, failure to comply with U.N .treaties, their failure to comply with OPEC norms, their failure to comply with transparency requirements, U.S. laws and regulations for many years and their failure to represent their own people in a wonderlust for the failed Castro dream of a communist empire. No Venezuelan I know of ever voted to see the country's financial budgets drained by the Chavez dream of global geopolitical dominance. No Venezuelan voted to see their government replaced by shadowy oil speculators whose very dominance over all that is Venezuelan has reached epic proportions, becoming the very financial hub of their nation, and no Venezuelan that we know ever voted for Chavez to install the very unspiritual and decidedly un-free Castro as their chief and political leader. Why would a nation vote to enslave itself and impound its future? They did not.

While the OAS dithers in Caracas this week, Chavez’s operatives have been hard at work in the Andes. The Ecuadorean so-called oil strike was purely a well organized neo-terrorist effort to craft financial harm to Ecuador and force the nation in to a stronger relationship with Chavez. Again: oil for political bribery. Recent reports indicate that former Chavez-booster Lucio Gutierrez was involved and that numerous Peruvian military-on-the-take have conspired with criminally-inspired Ecuadorians and Chavistas for weapons runners to the outer provinces of Ecuador to assist the Chavez-Gutierrez oil production attacks. To be sure: expensive rockets, mortars, bombs, explosives and a well trained hit squad moved with military precision to destroy billion of dollars in oil assets. We continue to ask: who funded these weapons and who trained the terrorists who were quite adept and knowing exactly where to detonate and how.

So when we speak of things Chavez and Castro, let us remember to always review the facts. Not the spin. And consistently demand full due diligence and analysis.

International norms demand fair and open due diligence. With opaque and shadowy actors running a nation, as in Venezuela, the facts will out. Policy is useless without due diligence. Leadership and democracy itself is a fraud without core conformance with acceptable domestic and international normative behaviors for reporting and governance. Venezuela today is not a nation state: it has become an illicit ENRON of the worst sort: a fascist oil hedge fund for communists.

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