Venezuela’s Destruction of the Amazon

The Venezuelan environmental disaster is the worst in all of Latin America, says Miguel Henrique Otero. (Wilmer González)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid, December 3, 2019 — The Venezuelan chapter of the destruction of the Amazon is, probably, the most brutal and savage of all. While on an international scale the fires happening in Brazil or the advance of deforestation in countries like Peru and Colombia never stop being reported, the southern region of Venezuela only makes news when there are enormous massacres, like the one that just happened in Ikabaru, a small mining town only 6 kilometers from Brazil. On November 22, six people were murdered and an undetermined number wounded as, with their bodies the target of bullets, they crossed the border in an attempt to save their lives.

The first thing that must be said is that this is not an exceptional incident. Since 2000, there has been an intensification in violence around mining. A superficial review of the news archives turns up a surprising number: at least 43 cases where the number of deceased is greater than 2 people.

I speak here of publicized incidents. Because, according to the testimonies of the region’s inhabitants, there have been other massacres which have not been recorded in the media. There are testimonies of entire families who have disappeared, who were living in very remote areas, whose fates are unknown. Social leaders from the region suspect that they were kidnapped, brought to other places, and executed. It is part of the practices established in the region: you either eliminate competitors or devastate an entire community, to clear territory and create the conditions to begin mining exploitation. continue reading

The entire southern region of Venezuela, especially the Great Savannah, which has National Park status meaning that it should be especially protected, and the Venezuelan Amazon — which extends more than 450,000 square kilometers and is distributed throughout the territories of the Bolivar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro states — is a kind of invisible and opaque area for a wide majority of Venezuelan society. The main reason for this, among many other reasons, is the fact that it is a precarious region in many senses: its highway administration is irregular and risky, its infrastructure fledgling and ruinous, its public services nonexistent, sporadic, or simply terrible.

The main thing is that it is one of the most dangerous areas in the world, spread out in fragments. The most peripheral strip is in the care of military officials, whose primary function is to impede free circulation, preventing photojournalists, television teams, journalists, special investigators, academics, parliamentarians, NGO members, and others from entering. Their task consists of guaranteeing that the area is an unlimited field of mineral extraction, under the most brutal techniques, without taking notice of the consequences of that activity that advances without any controls.

Operating in this territory, as has already been reported, are groups of narcoterrorists from the National Liberation Army (ELN) from Colombia; gangs who practice illegal mining, supported by armed groups who operate with an arsenal of extraordinary power; and mafias composed of civilians and soldiers, who control the distribution of food, fuel, medicine, and other basic goods.

Brazilian journalists working in the media in the north of that country, who have managed to travel to some of these settlements, refer to the “overpopulation” of weapons, drug trade, brothels, illegal alcohol sales, gambling houses, and other presences, which show how violence and the groups who exercise it in a systematic way have control over almost the entire territory.

The destruction surpasses the worst expectations. Satellite images show devastated land and lakes contaminated with mercury. The arrival of the rains is a disastrous factor: it drives contaminated water toward the rivers and small sown fields. As a result of all this, traditional fishing and vegetable harvesting leads to the consumption of contaminated foods.

The river basins are being deforested, with the impact that has on the climate and the water cycle. Experts have warned that the quantity of sediment that is being deposited in the rivers will continue to cause increasingly lethal floods. The systematic destruction of the Caroni river basin will end up affecting the entire country, because its capacity to feed the Guri Dam is in decline.

The Venezuelan environmental disaster, which will not occupy the place it deserves in the agenda of the Climate Summit beginning on December 2 in Madrid, is the gravest of all Latin America, almost comparable to those of China and Russia: infected drinking water systems; accumulation of toxic waste in all the oil and mining operations of the country; unmanageable quantities of trash in the State companies; collapsed systems of waste collection; cities, towns, and small settlements eaten away by black water, rodents, and bad odors.

Of the multimillionaire operation of Arco Minero one can only say that its results are on display: the social and economic conditions of the region’s inhabitants have n improved, nor has the promise of “ecological mining” (a false statement in itself) been kept, nor has any good been generated for the Venezuelan economy. Arco Minero is the purest and most extreme expression of the savage, murderous, violent, and impoverishing extraction that is the hallmark of the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.

Editors’ note: Miguel Henrique Otero is director of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The Waltz of Lopez Obrador and Chavez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid, November 11, 2019 — Months before his electoral triumph was realized, analysts inside and outside of Mexico began to wonder what kind of government they could expect from Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

López Obrador appeared as a marker: his ascension was putting an end to two decades of alternating power between the National Action Party (PAN), which ruled for two consecutive periods, from 2000 to 2012, and the mythical Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which returned to rule between 2012 and 2018. Now a new phase was beginning, one whose contents were not clearly outlined.

López Obrador’s victory, with 53% of the votes, was interpreted as a deep political and symbolic stab at the PRI, the party founded in 1929 by Plutarco Elías Calles, whose gravitational force in the political life of Mexico, for nine long decades, was simply crushing. continue reading

One of the theses on display was that López Obrador would have a relatively narrow margin to set a style of government, because there was a series of problems of a large scope that would obligate him to that prudence that complex realities impose.

On the list of matters that were mentioned, standing out was the turn of the foreign policy of the United States under Donald Trump, who was pressuring for urgent solutions to stop the progress of migrants coming from the Northern Triangle of Central America.

It was written that López Obrador’s most important task would be to assure the flow of economic exchanges between the two countries — and also with Canada — and he was called to put into movement an appropriate and even aggressive policy of commercial expansion toward the markets of Europe and Asia, and one of greater penetration in Latin America, which would grant him more autonomy with respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

To this first current of optimism were added two others. One of them rose from López Obrador’s own trajectory as a public official.

In the years in which he was the head of government of the Federal District, between 2000 and 2005, he was a moderate administrator, judicious in spending, austere in making decisions.

Thus, what could be expected is that, once installed in the National Palace, he would dedicate himself to meticulous administration, to the fight against corruption, and, urgently, to the question every day more grave of drug trafficking and the uncontrollable spreading of criminal violence.

I’m interested in stopping at that laughable statement made by that left that defines itself as democratic, which then firmly maintained that López Obrador’s references to Fidel Castro, that his reiterated leftist and nationalist exaltations, were no more than rhetorical uses for a purely electoral purpose, and that, once installed in power, pragmatic management would prevail.

In the January 2019 edition (number 208) of the magazine Letras Libres, Enrique Krauze published an extraordinary essay in which he spelled out the books that López Obrador has dedicated to Mexican history. It’s called The historian president. It is especially revealing reading because it exposes, with meticulous argumentation, how, distorting facts, López Obrador uses history for political means. In the words of Krauze himself: “politicizes history.”

Although he was never the author of any book — fortunately — one of the most persistent efforts of Hugo Chávez was that of distorting the history of Venezuela, of Latin America, and of other countries, so that it would serve his purposes and fit with his objective of perpetuating himself in power.

To the mania for Castroism and the deliberate manipulation of history, a third and profound megalomania unites Chávez and López Obrador: that of presenting themselves as milestone figures in a grand history.

While Chávez proclaimed himself as the direct continuer of the liberating work initiated by Simón Bolívar — Bolívar himself would have handed him the baton — López Obrador declares himself the genius of “the fourth revolution” inthe history of Mexico.

According to that narrative, the history of the great Spanish-speaking country of the world gathers around four moments: Independence, the liberal reforms of the 19th century, the Mexican Revolution, and the arrival of López Obrador to power.

These three coincidences are not cosmetic: they shape a like-mindedness, a common messianism that defines their modes of governing. Like Chávez in his time, López Obrador has put into circulation a discourse and practices of tolerance toward drug trafficking and the armed mafias, with the argument that the criminals are victims of capitalism.

Like Chávez, he is working to attain complete control of the electoral institution, and thus have use of a structure that allows him to remain in power for an indefinite time. Like Chávez — under direct tutorial of Cubans — he is politicizing the armed forces, proclaiming people-army unity, while he creates privileges for certain of its sectors. Like Chávez, he has taken the first steps toward establishing a communications hegemony. Like Chávez, he has centered the function of the government in a television program — in López Obrador’s case, daily.

Like Chávez, he has been gathering together around him the most extremist sectors of his party — Morena. Like Chávez, he is moving forward in the paralyzation of the economy. Like Chávez, he makes pugnacious, absurd, and provocative declarations, like, for example, the demand that he made to the king of Spain, Felipe VI, to ask forgiveness for the events of the conquest of Mexico.

Like Chávez, his declarations are full of that ambivalence between truth and lie, certain and uncertain, possible and impossible. Like Chávez, his hostility toward the independent media and the professional practice of autonomous journalism is more evident every day.

Is it perhaps still possible to doubt that Chávez and López Obrador are dancers of the same waltz?

Editors’ note: The author is director of the Venezuelan daily El Nacional.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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After Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua

“We have no idea of the extent and depth of the way Venezuelan assets and resources have been squandered.” Photo: Nicolas Maduro holding a gold bar. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid, 24 August 2019 — I agree with those analysts who argue that the end of the Maduro regime will have numerous consequences at the international level, which could be analyzed in several chapters.

For Bolivia governed by Evo Morales; for Argentina on the verge of returning to the corruption networks of the Kirchners; for Brazil’s Lula da Silva, imprisoned for corrupted; for the Ecuadorian fugitive Rafael Correa; for the populist exhibitionism o Mexico’s López Obrador; for narco guerrilla groups such as the ELN and the regrouped FARC; for different drug cartels from Colombia and Peru; for the partners of the circuits dedicated to the smuggling of fuels, wood, minerals, food and medicines, which operate across the borders with Brazil and Colombia; for the unscrupulous who enrich themselves at the cost of the famine of Venezuelan families; for beneficiaries like Venezuelan ex-guerilla Gustavo Petro; for the bunch of scoundrels who traveled to Caracas from different parts of the continent, to participate in the large banquets, spree and drunkenness of the Sao Paulo Forum, during the last days of July; for gangs that scam, steal, kidnap, exploit and subdue those fleeing Venezuelan territory, often without a coin in their pocket; for all these, things will be very different, because the coffers of Venezuela and the Venezuelans themselves will cease to be a source of loot that is distributed daily. continue reading

Not only on the continent, but also in other parts of the world there will be questions to review, reorder, investigate, eliminate, adjust, challenge or denounce. Hundreds of agreements, negotiated, exchanges or deals without legal support, contrary to national interest, violating the Constitution and the respective laws, which were made with governments or companies of China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Vietnam, India and some others.

Since 1999, agreements have been announced, trips by delegations, commissions, exchanges, signing of contracts, various works, creation of companies and infrastructure projects, which were not undertaken, which were abandoned shortly after, which were interrupted or that collapsed

Might we even have a brief idea of how much the trips of Chavez, Maduro, hundreds of ministers, thousands of officials, advisors, relatives, loved ones, assistants, friends, bodyguards, nannies, doctors, nurses, cooks and more have cost?

Do we have the right to know the amount of expenses incurred for the constant travel of Venezuelan officials to Cuba? Or those of Padrino López to Russia? Or, conversely, will it be possible to investigate and know how much the visits of Marta Harnecker, Juan Carlos Monedero, Maradona, Danny Glover, Ramonet, Hebe de Bonafini, Eva Golinger, and several other hundreds of communist parasites, usufructuaries of the Venezuelan oil industry have cost the Venezuelan nation?

I venture this: we really do not have an idea of the extent and depth of the way in which Venezuelan goods and resources have been squandered. Scholarships, donations, per diems, aid, air tickets, hotels, restaurants, advice, contributions for the most diverse purposes; all these total an amount unique in the world: billions of dollars. The destruction of national heritage is not limited to the great acts of corruption: there has also been a constant bleeding through these bureaucratic and frequent practices that, on another scale, are also corrupt and abusive.

As soon as the end of the dictatorship takes place, not only the less visible facts of the gigantic robbery operation that is and has been Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” will come to the surface: the acceleration of the collapse of the other two communist dictatorships remaining in Central America will also take place: that of the Castro brothers in Cuba — now under the care of one of their most servile officials, Miguel Díaz Canel — and the one headed by Rosario Murillo, Daniel Ortega and the rest of the members of the Ortega-Murillo cartel in Nicaragua.

Chavismo-Madurismo’s relationship with Cuba will constitute the most abundant chapter of corruption in these twenty years. There is probably no such case in the history of the world: that the governing power of a country has as its main economic policy to transfer, through all kinds of mechanisms, some of them openly illegal, the greatest amount of financial resources possible to another country.

Because it’s not just about the gift of crude and fuel oils. That is one part, the most scenographic operation of all, that prevents us from seeing the others. Chavez and Maduro have given Castroism control over key issues related to national security, business operations, imports, huge resources in exchange for services or advice that did not exist, financing the repair or reconstruction and even the construction of infrastructure, which disguised themselves as part of non-existent maintenance projects for highways, roads, schools and hospitals in Venezuela.

To a lesser extent, but using similar techniques, the regime, again with national monies, in an unqualified, illegal and secret manner, has financed the dictatorship of Murillo and Ortega, and has sent squadrons to repress and shoot their citizens. It has created mechanisms to launder money from corruption, and has been the driving force of similar policies to destroy the media and liquidate the citizen’s right to be informed.

First the dictatorship in Venezuela will end. And, once the diminished drip of resources is finished once and for all, those of Nicaragua and Cuba will follow.

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Editor’s Note: Miguel Henrique Otero is president and CEO of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional .

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The 14,000: The Venezuelan Regime’s Bureaucratic Disaster

Public sector doctors during a protest against the Venezuelan government. (EFE / Cristian Hernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid, 13 August 2019 — There are 34 ministries with their respective ministers. 144 deputy ministers. 1.540 more people occupying positions classified as sector general director. Not counting Petróleos de Venezuela, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana and Corpoelec, there are another 820 companies that are owned by the State. Read carefully: another 820 companies. Among them they have around 11,000 directors. These are approximately the positions of trust of the Chavez and Maduro regime: some 14,000 officials, members of the Central Executive Power, whose appointments have been published in the Official Gazette of Venezuela.

To these 14,000 officials is due, in the first place, the execution of the policies that have destroyed the Venezuelan public administration which, despite its chronic problems, had career professionals, technicians and experts of the first level, people trained with rigor and with a public service vocation. Most of these professionals, whose merits were evident in all institutions, were unknown, persecuted, harassed, dismissed or relegated to fulfilling tasks that waste and underestimate their abilities.

One of the most painful chapters of the destruction of Venezuelan institutions, undertaken by Chavistas and Maduristas, has been perpetrated against public officials, and this phenomenon, which has been massive and persistent over 20 years, has not been duly documented. The case of the 20,000 dismissals of Petróleos de Venezuela, which will one day have to be reversed, is just a chapter of the vile, disproportional, illegal abuse of power that has acted against Venezuelan public officials. continue reading

There are hundreds of thousands of personal stories, of Venezuelans from all regions of the country, in all the powers and levels of the vast world that we call the public administration — in that we must include governors and mayors — who were verbally veiled, their labor rights ignored, their social benefits stolen, their reputations tainted, their right to due process and defense violated time and again.

While Venezuelan public employees are, in some way, the sector of the population most exposed to power, captive of their obligations and hierarchies, they have been the first victims of the lawlessness and humiliation committed by the regime’s ’connected,’ civil or military.

Not only have they been impoverished, like the rest of Venezuelan society, but they have been forced to wear red clothing and attend marches and rallies. They have been imposed upon, under different threats, to sign communiqués, to enroll in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), to join in the policies of hatred and exclusion.

In the case of the military who were appointed in first and second level positions, the stories acquire grotesque and extreme proportions: brutes who have pretended to manage through screaming, threatening, insulting, dismissing and creating plots of terror.

But, and this is important, among those who remain — there are thousands and thousands who have the merit of having resisted and who continue to resist despite all adversities — and among those who were fired or resigned there is a potential mass of testimonies that will be fundamental for the reconstruction of Venezuela.

Public employees are the witnesses of thousands of appointments of incompetent persons to positions of high responsibility. It is they who have seen that mixture of ignorance and arrogance that is the predominant cultural sign of those put into these positions.

I insist: it is the Venezuelan public employees, active or not, who will report cases of nepotism, assault on per diem items, use of state resources for personal purposes, award of contracts to family members and frontmen, theft of the budgets, creation of chains of corruption in all areas where it has been possible.

The Chavista and Madurista bureaucracy is identifiable. It has signs that characterize it. I will list them below. It is, in the substantive, incapable. it does not know the subject for which it is responsible for making decisions. It takes office as a source of personal benefits. It excludes connoisseurs and surrounds itself with other ignorant people to have their own choir of praise. It practices impudence. It makes decisions against logic, forcing reality, and ignorant of the opinion of experts. To those who warn of or point out what it is doing, it accuses them of being conspirators, saboteurs and other insults.

The proof of what I affirm in this article is verifiable by the entire planet. There is nothing in Venezuela that has not been undermined, degraded, corrupted or partially or totally razed.

The 14,000 can be evaluated. Theft and devastation in the oil industry, in hospitals, in public services, in customs, in ports and airports, in SAIME (Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners, that is the civil registry system), in transport systems, in registers and notaries, in the education system, in cultural institutions, in prisons, in psychiatrics and centers for minors, in the 820 companies — those created by the regime and those that were expropriated — which remain as empty shells, with no other utility than being an opportunity for and an alibi for corruption.

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Editor’s Note: Miguel Henrique Otero is president and CEO of the Venezuelan newspaperEl Nacional.

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The Multiple Ways the Maduro Regime Kills

Sign: “Studying While Hungry Doesn’t Work.” The author argues that “induced hunger has an advantage: it kills slowly without its victims joining the statistics of violent deaths.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel Henrique Otero, Madrid, 19 January 2019 — The regime headed by Nicolás Maduro kills without a timetable. It does so throughout the national territory, during the day or at night. The process that consists in depriving Venezuelans of their lives is permanent. And for this it makes use of the most diverse methods, whose results are confirmed at distinct rates.

The method that reaches the greatest number of victims is undoubtedly induced hunger. Over two decades, Chávez first and then Maduro built an economic model, now in full swing, that operates on two premises: hunger and hyperinflation. continue reading

Simultaneously, they liquidated the value of the currency–reduced its purchasing power to nothing–and spread among millions of Venezuelan families the practice of eating less and less, progressively worse, progressively more sporadically. In the design of this perverse, gigantic operation, which has among its glorious antecedents the famines caused by Stalin and Mao, it has counted on the participation of advisors of Castroism and the political party Podemos.

From the plan to turn Venezuela into a State of Hunger, nothing has escaped: the School Food Program ended, productive farms and companies in the agroindustrial sector were expropriated to ruin them, entities have been created one after the other to make the acquisition and distribution of food impossible, the budgets that, until 1998, allowed the operation of soup kitchens and food services in hospitals, orphanages, centers for the elderly, prisons and other institutions have been devastated. A reality that is yet to be reported and photographed: the thousands of industrial kitchens that, throughout the country, are now in useless, rusty and filthy.

The most significant achievement of the “Bolivarian Revolution” in its intent of imposing a dictatorship is expressed in the politicization of the right to eat: the national identity card and the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) that, in particular, act under the most implacable logic of extortion: access to bags of food in exchange for political loyalty. The CLAP system is the most widespread method of humiliation and submission of the Venezuelan society.

Induced famine has an advantage: it kills slowly without its victims adding to the statistics of violent deaths. People — especially children and the elderly — lose weight, lose their body mass, weaken, fall ill and die. The structure of death works perfectly: when the afflicted citizen seeks the help of health services, he does not find it. Thus, the sick person becomes a kind of shipwrecked person: alone, lost, orphaned by the health care to which he is entitled.

To contribute to this politics of death, the regime first undertook one of its most impeccable operations: it destroyed the healthcare system. A perspective view of what happened, shows the multiple factors that were put into play: politicized the performance and operations of the hospitals, persecuted doctors and paramedics, who by thousands and thousands chose to flee the country; took the right measures to create situations of extreme shortage of medicines and hospital supplies; imported from Cuba, not professionals but pirates of the exercise of medicine; and stimulated the return of diseases that had been eradicated and that have acquired epidemic proportions.

They concentrated the purchasing systems in such a manner that it turned them into effective methods for corruption, acquired billion-dollar amounts of bad-quality medicines or counterfeit drugs, destroyed or stole the fleet of ambulances.

They ransacked the dispensaries of the health centers, created their own factory of incompetents under the name of community doctors, allowed the hospitals to become haunts for mafias and criminal gangs; and, if my count is correct, in two decades the so-called Ministry of Popular Power for Health has had, read closely, 17 ministers, one of the biggest posters for an executive power specializing in naming ignorants and thieves as ministers.

To double this process, insatiable and regularly sustained, of killing by hunger and disease, dozens and dozens of other methods are added, more apparent and occurring daily. They kill thousands of defenseless citizens, between 25,000 and 30,000 a year, at the hands of criminals who keep the cities and towns of the Venezuelan territory under control.

Drivers and passengers of vehicles die on highways full of potholes, without illumination nor road signs, in fatal and incapacitating accidents. Hungry people die after eating poisonous food — like bitter yucca — in their starving desperation.

Patients die in operating rooms and intensive care rooms as a result of the extensive and repeated failures of the electrical service. People die due to the lack of ambulance services and emergency care. Entire families die, dragged under by the mud and waters, on rainy days. Thousands and thousands of people die due to lack of medicines and supplies for chronic diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, HIV and others.

Venezuelan indigenous people die, struck by epidemics. Innocents who live in the neighborhoods of the country die, killed by gang fights or by police operatives or military bodies that shoot indiscriminately. Victims die by hired assassins in charge of the operations. Citizens such as Fernando Albán are killed in torture sessions. Political prisoners die who are denied medical attention. Thousands and thousands of Venezuelans die under the yoke of a regime that hates life.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Editor’s note: Miguel Henrique Otero is Editor-in-Chief of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.