Meanwhile, Venezuela continues bursting at the seams

Its citizens appear to be killing each other in open, class warfare. But let's put that in perspective. To wit:

Wiki (21 Mar 2014): "Venezuela is among the most violent places on Earth. In Venezuela, a person is murdered every 21 minutes. Crimes have been so prevalent in Venezuela that the government no longer produces crime data." How long has this criminal free-for-all been going on? What's the idea behind allowing it?

After all, that is what started the student uprising, unchecked violence on campus. And those protesting the lack of police protection were met with police violence.

The middle class joined the protests because the economy is a disaster.

Venezuelan money, the bolivar, is sick. Beyond the 56% inflation, few want to exchange real money, like dollars, for the stuff. Officially the exchange rate is fixed at 6.3 bolivares/$, but the government wasn't selling its dollars. On the black market a dollar cost 85 bolivars a week ago. Now it's 57 bolivars. Why? Venezuela introduce a new free-floating foreign exchange system yesterday. A dollar could be bought for 52 bolivars. Goldman Sachs praised the move. Henrique Capriles, Maduro's opponent, called it a mega-devaluation, a harsh blow to all Venezuelans.

It's complicated, a three tiered exchange system, that seems like an economist's nightmare. See,

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Cuba in Venezuela

There's a fairly balanced treatment of this topic - what is suspected, what is known, and what more may be at play - in today's NY Times.

It is not surprising that

It is not surprising that Venezuelans would want to resist Cuban imperialism just as much as they would Yankee imperialism.

Great Article!

Is it just me, or do others sense the NYT is moving more to the center? I love the reporting, their resources are unparalleled, but sometimes the bias was blatant. This seems to be changing.

Will we see a repeat of Venezuela in Nicaragua when Ortega is eventually challenged? Will he fall back on Cuban mercenaries to prop up his regime?

Had Cuba NOT been contained by the US, what a mess CA and LA might be today!! Whatever Nicaragua's problems might be (or perceived to be), it's not the police state that Cuba continues to be. There's freedom of the press, private property, workplace mobility, freedom of travel, in Nicaragua. All these things are missing in the socialist paradise of Cuba. The press is censored with a heavy hand, internet is not generally available, the state owns all property, and assigns you a house and a job based on your value to the Communist Party.

We should count our blessings in Nicaragua.

Um, according to what I've read from several sources

Cuba privatized housing recently, and more people could leave for the US if the US was willing to have them arrive.

Cuba is, per the CIA World Fact Book, better off economically than Nicaragua at this point. Most of the rest of the world treat Cuba as just another country, and the US never stopped trading with Cuba when it was in the US's best interest to get them some of that strategic mineral.

If the US had been contained, Mexico would be prosperous today even more than it is, and the US would have probably never had a Civil War because we'd have moved into abolition to match our civilized neighbors far more quickly, and both Mexico and Canada would have been our allies.

Rebecca Brown

Private Property Is

much more than housing, and even though you can now "own" a house,, those who get part of the $2+ billion in remittances from family in Miami are the only ones who can participate in this market. Most Cubans still live in housing assigned by the CP. Cuba IS moving in the right direction, towards an economy directed by market forces. They have to.

Imagine the state telling you what you were going to do with the rest of your life. Raisa, you're going to become a doctor; Jorge, you will be working in a chicken packing plant (real people I met while I was there).

The ability to leave at will is recent too, and there are a myriad of restrictions on who gets to go. Interestingly, one way to get an exit visa quickly is to claim that you're gay.

The US trades more than just strategic minerals. We sell them shiploads of grain and beef, direct from New Orleans to Havana. Because of the economic system in place, Cuba does not produce nearly enough to feed itself. The country could, but there's little incentive. Theft from the state is rampant, and is "tolerated" as long as one keeps it to some reasonable level, and doesn't get caught. A couple of puros slipped into a pocket, a crate of chickens once a month

When I was there, the one thing that wasn't tolerated was competing with the state. No private enterprise was permitted, and anyone who did want to offer meals in their home, take in guests, partnered with the state to do it. Using your car to make a buck ferrying tourists around was a serious crime.

Mexico and Canada are our allies, Mexico more so than many realize. Anyone who has traveled through Mexico recently has to be amazed at the prosperity. The NBC article about the long commute for the Mexicans working along the border was ironic: The $300 /week they make packing lettuce in boxes is more than a Nicaraguan teacher or transito makes in a month. The major thrust of their complaint, the long commute, will be solved when the new and improved border check point is opened.

Interesting, I had a taste of that walk across experience when I went to Tijuana to get my truck painted. Crossing back on foot I was confronted by this incredibly long line. But, there was a special line for buses and vans dropping off people. So what you did, was pay $5 for a half mile van ride to the head of the line, and entered the line especially set aside for mass transit. You still had to disembark and cross on foot, much as you do at Peñas Blancas. But, the mass transit line ran much faster for some reason, and of course, you entered right at the head of the line.

I met a few guys working in San Diego, and living in Tijuana inexpensively, most with Mexican wives or GF's. They pointed out that it's an easy commute if you're willing to pay the $5 for the van ride, much easier than trying to go back and forth by car.

Perceptions of Mexico in the US are much like perceptions of Nicaragua held by Usanos: Not accurate and out of date. With the right political leadership Mexico, Canada and the US could enjoy the benefits of each others country, something like the Euro Zone.

Back To Venezuela; Back To

the thread:

" . . .With Venezuela, Russia has succeeded in forging a robust military partnership, exploiting the radical ideology and expansionist tendencies of the Chavez regime in Caracas. Between 2001 and 2013, Venezuela is estimated to have purchased more than three-quarters of the >>>> $14.5 billion in arms sales carried out by Russia in the region . . "

No wonder there's no TP in Caracas . . .maybe they can cut up squares of camo netting.

More from that Wash Times article ...

about Nicaragua - Berman posits:

"More recently, the Kremlin also has made concerted efforts to strengthen its relations with the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Since Mr. Ortega’s return to power in 2007, Russia has emerged as a major investor in Nicaragua’s military modernization, erecting a new military training facility in Managua and a munitions-disposal plant outside of the Nicaraguan capital."

"Russia has also thrown open its warfare schools to the Ortega regime, with 25 Nicaraguan officers now reportedly being trained annually in Moscow."

"Russia appears eager to position itself to exploit new economic opportunities, such as those that would result from the Nicaraguan government’s ambitious plans to host a counterpart to the Panama Canal."

If we must

I read the article from the Moonies early today and commented elsewhere but decided it wasn't worth mentioning here. But, as you brought it up, here is what I said:

[This] sounds like the typical "scare tactics". The article is adapted from testimony by Ilan Berman before the House Foreign Affairs committee. There is nothing particularly wrong with what he says but it totally ignores the rest of the pictures.

For example, he talks about Russia expanding its foreign presence, particularly in Latin America. Well, they don't have any. On the other hand, the US has lots of them pretty much surrounding Russia. While I think both are unnecessary, the article doesn't paint a balanced picture.

A couple of missing facts:

  • It was well documented that Chávez had pointed out that military equipment in Venezuela was very out of date and with the increasing threat from the Bush administration (I forget the year but it really is well-documented in the press), Venezuela was going to make a massive upgrade.
  • Chávez tried to purchase some military aircraft from Spain but the US government convinced Spain not to sell them to him. Then, when he bought from Russia instead is was explained that Chávez had decided to buy from the commies.
  • 3/4 of $14.5 billion over 12 years isn't that much when you consider that the US military budget is over $600 billion per year. See

Missing stuff

What (I know) is missing is all the high-level meetings that are going on in Venezuela. The Foreign Minister of Ecuador has been talking about them and they were also being covered on UNISUR.

I think this is so important because the US press seems to paint a picture that it is Venezuela, controlled by Cuba, that is running the Maduro dictatorship. While there is no resolution, there is no dictatorship (Maduro was elected a year ago) and Maduro has been reaching out to (or at least cooperating with) other countries in the region to try to resolve the conflict.

While assorted NL members seem to like to insult Maduro/question his intelligence/experience I was impressed with what he had to say as Foreign Minister in OAS meetings and yesterday he was articulating the issues well on UNISUR.

UNASUR meeting

I know nothing more than this tweet from Ecuador's Foreign Minister but it sounds like there is some serious regional discussion going on:

Ricardo Patiño Aroca ‏@RicardoPatinoEC 2m

Ahora Comisión Cancilleres UNASUR se reune con Comisión Política de la
Conferencia de Paz, que participa 
en diálogo político de Venezuela

And more

Ricardo Patiño Aroca ‏@RicardoPatinoEC 1m

En la noche, Comisión Cancilleres UNASUR se reunirá con la Mesa de Unidad
Democrática (MUD), representantes de la oposición venezolana

Hard to evaluate

It is really hard to know what all this means without being on the ground in Venezuela. And even being there may not help that much.

If the main purpose of government is to make sure that everyone has access to the basics (where the definition of the basics will vary all over the place) it would seem that the only way to evaluate what is going on is to build a list of the basics and see how available they are -- both in terms of price and just existing. That is far from an easy process. It can't be done for some other location and then just applied to Venezuela.

For example, gasoline is really cheap there. (The last number I remember was $.12/gallon.) But, gasoline is pretty useless for someone without a car or living where there is no road access. Very different from, say, Los Angeles California where almost everyone has a car (generally bought on credit at the expense of other basics).

I know that access to health care has been an issue and that is being addressed. The Cuban doctors there are being bartered for with petroleum. That probably gets access to health care to a lot of people but those with money probably didn't see access to health care as a problem.

Maybe someone here knows a lot more about Venezuela than Nicaragua but I don't. What I see in Nicaragua is how the government attempts to help out on the basics (transportation, health care, energy, education, basic foods, ...) while not significantly stepping on the toes of those better off. But, again, a hard comparison when Nicaragua is a food exporter (one of the items on the basics list) and Venezuela is a food importer.

Revisionist Immediacy

We're all familiar with the revisionist history the Soviets championed (although certainly didn't invent). Now, it seems the truth of the moment is subject to revision. One person speaks about flying medical supplies form Miami to Colombia, and then driving them across the border; Mi Burro insists that there is no shortage. Two realities, judge for yourself.

This link speaks of the shortages of medical supplies in Venezuela, and hints at the reason for ALL the shortages in a wealthy country: An attempt at management of the economy contrary to market rules.

The Sandinistas attempted the same immediately after the revolution, by establishing below market prices for crop productions (and requiring the crops be sold directly to them); and above market prices for items the campesinos could not produce themselves like kerosene and sugar. These policies didn't sit well in the campo.

You'll have to scroll down to get to the story about Venezuela. I couldn't link directly to the item.

You're Right, Of Course

. . All the shortages . . . didn't articulate what I was trying to say. There could be a crop failure,, etc,, any number reasons why some single item is in short supply.

If a government competes in the market (like Nicaragua reputedly is doing right now, buying up pork and beef for shipment to Venezuela), this will create shortages and raise prices too. Like Venezuela, some people are more affected than others: PriceSmart still has plenty of IBP pork from the US available, and the prices are not unreasonable. Like Cuba and the dollar stores, though, most of Nicaragua can't shop at PriceSmart.

Venezuela controls the prices of staple items and makes them available is state stores. Cuba does the same thing, provides a list of food items at a much reduced price, a limited quantity for each individual. It used to be done with ration books, and one way the regime punished dissenters was to not give them a ration book.

So, people line up for hours in Venezuela to buy the few food items they need, but they are frequently just not available. The subsidized food gives out before the everyone in the line has their stuff. When I was in Cuba, pretty much everything was available, despite the "embargo", but most of the people could not afford to buy it. You needed convertible pesos, which are a foreign currency equivalent. The good stuff was available in "dollar stores" even though you can't spend dollars or euros in Cuba. They have to be exchanged for convertible pesos, at a 20% discount, what was referred to as "Fidel's Haircut". To be fair, there was no tax on anything.

Of the $50 the Cubans received monthly, only $12 of that was in convertible pesos. The rest was the national peso, that traded officially at 24 to the dollar. Unofficially, they were hard to spend, except for the three peso note that had Che's picture on it, and that was a hot tourist item.

A "Wealthy Country Like Venezuela " may not be an appropriate label if much of the country's wealth is being converted, and stashed in foreign bank accounts ( laundered through Ecuador, that other bastion of LA freedom):

Venezuela may not have enough money left to buy food for its people. This could very well be Venezuela's problem, not socialist economic mismanagement.

Interesting article choice

In case you missed it, the article is by "Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC, an international business consulting firm.". It is also from mid-2013. So, we have one article by someone with an agenda. As most terrorism is financed with US$20 and US$100 bills, why is possible money laundering using the SUCRE an issue?

Is that a horse?

"...the reason for ALL the shortages in a wealthy country: An attempt at management of the economy contrary to market rules."

Unless you mean driving prices up, I'm certain that your assertion is incorrect. There are plenty of instances where the supply dried up of its own free will, for whatever reason. Sometimes, it's because the market actually isn't charging *enough* for the product.

An example: When the PlayStation 4 launched in November of last year, preorders had already been sold out for months, and the stock on hand wasn't enough to meet demand even through Christmas. PS4's became substantially easier to find in February. Sure, Sony could have charged more, and maybe they should have, but it was the *market*, or at least the corporation, a player in that market, causing a supply shortage by not charging enough.

In other instances, it might simply not be possible to import something. I have a ridiculously difficult time finding green peanuts (used to make boiled peanuts, if you're curious) online. There's only one farm that sells online. If that farm has a bad crop, are you also going to blame "an attempt at management of the economy" for my green peanut shortage?

Truly, I have faith that Venezuela will get their issues sorted out eventually, either through revolution, or change in the administration, or leveraging some other resource (read: oil), or something. Whatever Venezuela is trying to do, it certainly isn't working.

causing a supply shortage by not charging enough.

Sometimes, especially around Christmas and with hot in demand items, the Manufacturer will deliberately cause a shortage and not produce enough to meet demand. This not only increases the prices, but causes a short term increase in demand for an already sought after device. It also gets free advertising as these items will often make the news as a "must buy" Christmas gift,

1st Capt. Ron

(Title by Miskito Alan)

As Rebecca said on another post...

"I think the reality on the ground is more complicated"….

A Donde en Venezuela, Tambien

One of the problems any number of places is goods are not evenly distributed. People don't have to have mirrorless cameras or DSLRs to live; they do have to have sufficient food and clean water, and it's also very useful to have free education for at least the primary grades, if not all of it through university as Denmark has. I'm all for the market providing the goods that are basically luxury items, but the market doesn't have a good track record for a number of things (and neither does private charity).

The right is as capable of revisionist history as the left ever was -- "We treated our slaves like family" and "We saved Dahomey from Ashante exploitation" (by exploiting all of what's Ghana).

My sense of Venezuela based on their international TV channel is that something is going on wrong there, but the same sense says Cuba isn't like that.

There was and perhaps still is a paranoid right wing fantasy about the communists and left regimes in general, that they do everything deliberately and with various omniscient and thought out motives and that if they get control, they'll stay in control forever, and that the whole thing is monolithic and apparent different implementations are simply a ruse for the over all plan. As one of my friends said, if communism was that efficient, we didn't have a chance, really. But it's not that efficient, not that consistent, and not always the same thing from country to country, and has human error built in.

One of the difficult balancing acts for any country that has a split between hand-labor agriculture and a highly urban population is figuring out how to keep the former on the land until the country can afford mechanized agriculture while feeding the later. The US relies on the agriculture of other countries as much as its own, but has the cash to pay for the Mexican and Latin American crops (I find it ironic that people in the US can buy Selva Negra green coffee beans, but nobody here can). Production of basic staples in the US is highly mechanized, therefore cheaper (my dad and I did that thought experiment with the acreage a combine can do during a wheat harvest season compared to what it would cost paying reapers $6 a day in the US.

Growing up in the US south, I heard revisionist right wing history far more than I heard anything left. It's rather amusing to live in a country where there's an active Communist party that leafleted door to door in Jinotega calling Ortega's faction of the FSLN fascist.

Rebecca Brown