From the Pens of Bradbury, Čapek, Hurtado and Chavianoa

Loving Planet

Among the most precious possessions of my childhood was a collection of science fiction books. Those pages filled long hours of my life, allowing me to know other worlds and to escape — at will — the flat reality. My sister liked the tales of far off planets, space ships and extraterrestrial civilizations. I preferred the possible fantasies, that left me with the feeling that at any moment something could happen: Time travel, genetics-manipulating scientists and creatures rescued from yesterday were my favorites.

From the pens of Karel Čapek, Isaac Asimov, Daína Chaviano, Stanislaw Lem and Oscar Hurtado, my adolescence was a time enlivened with robots, humanoids, fairies, flying saucers, and remote galaxies. Several compilations of the genre had been published in those years, in editions with yellowed pages and cramped typography. On our bookshelf there was a place of honor for The Martian Chronicles, Quick Freeze and The Call of Cthulhu, the great stories of Ray Bradbury and the novel The Space Merchants. Those books for us were like doors to another dimension.

The 23rd Havana International Book Fair has brought a selection of science fiction authors. On the Cuban side José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss) stands out, while the foreign author of greatest note is the Russian Serguei Lukianenko. Absent, however, are the great titles of the last decade in a genre that keeps evolving and attracting readers. The reason for such a failure is the lack of many local publishers’ economic capacity to buy the copyrights from foreign writers. There is also a certain underestimation of the genre, which has failed to find a place in the annual plans of what is printed and promoted.

116 thoughts on “From the Pens of Bradbury, Čapek, Hurtado and Chavianoa

  1. FACTS ABOUT CUBA’S DEBT SITUATION (2013)
    AS YOU CAN SEE CUBA’S ADMINISTRATION IS IMPROVING THE DEBT SITUATION. THIS IS WHY MARIEL WAS POSSIBLE, EXPANSION OF FOREIGN INVESTMENTS, REFINANCING POSSIBLE WITH SOME COUNTRIES.
    Cuba’s External Debt Problem: Daunting Yet Surmountable
    by Luis R. Luis

    Cuba has been in default of the bulk of its external financial obligations for over 50 years without negotiations towards a comprehensive restructuring. Even the facts of the case are difficult to ascertain. According to the most current official Cuban information published by Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, the external debt stood at $12.3 billion at the end of 2009. But according to the Club of Paris of 19 major creditor governments (including Russia and Brazil but excluding China) the claims on Cuba by this group alone at the end of 2011 were $30.5 billion.[i] Adding claims by private and other official creditors yields total external obligations of $43.1 billion. However, this number does not include capitalized interest due private and some official creditors. In addition, the estimate does not include debt to Venezuela arising from the bilateral agreement between the two countries through which Cuba receives crude oil and derivates. There is no precise information on this potential debt, although in recent years reported Cuban exports of health and other services to Venezuela exceed the value of its oil imports.
    CUBA: EXTERNAL DEBT BY CREDITOR – US$BILLIONS

    actual projected
    end 2011 end 2014

    BIS banks 1.7 1.2
    Paris Club/a 30.5 10.4
    Other Official Debt/b 2.0 2.6
    Suppliers/c 4.6 5.0
    Defaulted Bonds and loans/d 4.3 4.3

    Total 43.1 23.5

    debt ratios (on 2011 GDP and trade data)

    Debt as % of GDP 62.5 34.0

    Debt as % of Exports + Tourism 504 275

    Debt as % of Convertible Exports + Tourism 839 458

    Debt as % of Exports of Goods and Services 262 143

    Sources: BIS, Quarterly Review ( June 2012 and September 2013), Paris Club (Annual Reports
    2011 and 2012), Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Exotix and author’s estimates.
    a/ official debt to major creditors except Brazil, China and Venezuela
    b/ Brazil, China and other official debt not in Paris Club estimated from project data
    c/ estimate based on data from ONE for end 2009
    d/ defaulted bonds and commercial loans carried at face value and includes $1.25 billion from London Club

    The table shows external claims on Cuba. The bulk of this data is reported by creditors, either official or private, or estimated from project finance figures. Only the debt to suppliers is derived from the Cuban government. A sizable part of the discrepancy with Cuban statistics stems from the long-standing rejection by Cuba of principal and interest owed to the former Soviet Union and claimed by Russia. Nonetheless the Club of Paris this year revised upwards by $4.6 billion its claims to $35.1 billion as of the end of 2012, of which some 40% are new claims by Russia of principal and past due interest.[ii] Subsequently Russia announced a preliminary agreement for the writing off and refinancing of $32 billion of Soviet era debt.[iii] The actual agreement was signed in October 2013 and reportedly will write-off 90% of the debt with $3.2 billion to be repaid over 10 years.[iv] Some of this will be offset by new credits from Russia for the leasing of airplanes and purchases of other equipment. Implementation is expected to take place by the end of 2014 as the Russian Duma needs to grant approval.

    There have been other important recent debt negotiations. In 2012 an agreement was completed to write-off a substantial amount of Japanese commercial debt and rescheduling the reminder for 30 years. It is not known if this agreement involved official debt, while there has been no confirmation from the Paris Club. In September 2013 Mexico announced a restructuring of official claims on Cuba.[v] Mexico is writing off 70% of a $487 million debt owed BANCOMEXT, the Mexican foreign trade bank. The table incorporates these restructuring agreements into a forecast for the debt at the end of 2014.

    Lacking comprehensive negotiations Cuba is making progress on restructuring important components of its foreign obligations. On a practical level these agreements can open the door to some bilateral trade and project finance, though they are insufficient to propel Cuba towards access to international financial markets. For this, restoration of relations with international financial institutions, crucially the IMF and World Bank, are needed followed by agrements with the Paris Club and later, a settlement with bondholders and other long-ago defaulted private creditors. These agreement are required for Cuba to achieve a comprehensive restructuring of its debt and gain market perception of creditworthiness.

    How burdensome is Cuba’s external debt? To help answer this question I have calculated debt ratios shown on the table. These ratios relate the debt to the capacity to service it. Complementary ratios showing the burden of debt servicing are not calculated as there is scant public data regarding Cuba’s principal repayment schedules, interest rates and bond and loan covenants directing the treatment of past due interest and principal.

    The ratio of debt to GDP at the end of 2001 was 62.5%, nearly matching the 61.2% average of transition economies in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.[vi] This ratio is surely understated by the accounting of Cuban national accounts at a notional value of CUP 1 = US$1. A more realistic exchange rate means a substantially higher value for this indicator. Following the restructuring operations with Russia and Mexico, the debt to GDP ratio will be lowered to around 34% by end 2014. For the sake of argument, assuming the Cuban peso is overvalued by 40%, the ratio would be 57%.

    A problem, however, is that the Cuban economy is relatively closed to international trade and nearly completely closed to international financial and capital markets. So that even if the debt is not very large relative to the size of the economy, it would still require a great effort to achieve the capacity to service the debt without great stress on its external accounts, and on consumption and investment.

    Looking at the debt in an alternative way, the ratio of projected 2014 debt to exports of goods and services at 143% would place Cuba among a number of countries with investment grade credit ratings. Nonetheless, a majority of current account receipts are part of barter trade with Venezuela and other countries such as Brazil, China and Russia which provide a small amount of free cash flow. Another measure, the ratio of debt to convertible exports and tourism receipts which are paid in cash, places the ratio at over 450%, an unsustainable level that implies a high probability of default.

    These numbers depict a situation where debt levels even after some restructuring are still daunting, and where the solution lies in opening up the economy to trade and investment as well as a decisive push to engage in a wider set of external financial negotiations. These will require a contribution by Cuba to make partial restitution payments on defaulted obligations. All of this will be arduous as political considerations in Cuba and abroad stand in the way of progress.

  2. Neutral Observer: just because you don’t agree with the Socialists does not mean that everything that is bad is a Leftist conspiracy and only the views of the Right are morally correct, sanctioned by the Pope and the utopia vision for the World. The Right has been the problem in Latin America for more than 150 years…if you don’t believe it, simply find yourself a good library and read literature from the seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twentieth century….so many good writers can’t be all wrong…..

  3. Omar,
    Congratulations on breaking the record for the longest comment on this forum.
    And there is absolutely no point in suggesting to Hank that it may be a good idea to weigh up both sides of the argument…
    I have suggested this to Hank on countless occasions.
    He appears to be genetically programmed to see only the one side of the argument,
    even regarding places he has never once even been to.
    One of the biggest hindrances in the way of finding solutions to the problems of this world is the woeful, backward looking, recalcitrant viewpoint of certain individuals.
    It is a great shame.
    The arduous process of finding solutions to problems is inevitably slowed down by these types of individuals.

    But in its own slow fashion, the world turns….
    reasonable people prevail,
    and then common ground and peaceful solutions are found more often than not.

    The recalcitrant people on the extremes of the original argument just get left behind.

    Anyone who still supports the embargo on Cuba is an example of these people on the extremes who will get left behind.

    Maybe one day such people will learn to be ashamed and embarrassed by the extremist and naïve, minority viewpoints that they once held.

  4. Omar,

    Of course it’s all a right-wing CIA conspiracy. Like the Moon hoax. And the Swine Flue epidemic that Nick uncovered in Cuba.

    Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans were never murdered by Chavez gangs. They were all murdered by the CIA.

    A few CIA operatives use Photoshop and lies to deceive the mainstream public.

    Venezuela is really very safe.

    The reason it’s illegal to report murders in Venezuela is because nobody gets murdered there. At least not by Maduro. He’s a swell guy.

    You should read the Collected Works of Oliver Stone for more truth about the Alien Shadow World Conspiracy.

    The Truth is out there!

  5. Hank: you have to report all sides of the story so that you can find the truth…..I can tell you that the Right in Venezuela is wrong. They have not won an election since 1998 in Venezuela and are terrified about redistribution of wealth and how it is going to impact them. Instead of participating in the Democratic Process and respecting the one man one vote principle, they simply want to bring down the government so they can place in its place a puppet government that allow them to keep their fortunes. This is the problem with private individuals accumulating great fortunes and power that undermines government of the People by the People.

  6. RIGHT WING CONGRESSMEN WANT THE PRESIDENT TO PLACE SANCTIONS ON VENEZUELA

    113TH CONGRESS
    2D SESSION S. RES. ll
    Deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela, calling
    for full accountability for human rights violations taking place in
    Venezuela, and supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to the
    free and peaceful exercise of representative democracy.
    IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
    llllllllll
    Mr. MENENDEZ (for himself and Mr. RUBIO) submitted the following
    resolution; which was referred to the Committee on llllllllll
    RESOLUTION
    Deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators
    in Venezuela, calling for full accountability for human
    rights violations taking place in Venezuela, and supporting
    the right of the Venezuelan people to the free
    and peaceful exercise of representative democracy.
    Whereas the Government of Venezuela’s chronic mismanagement
    of its economy has produced inflation that exceeds
    50 percent annually, currency shortages, economic distortions,
    and the routine absence of basic goods and foodstuffs;
    Whereas the Government of Venezuela’s failure to guarantee
    minimal standards of public security for its citizens has
    led the country to become one of the most violent in the
    2
    DAV14160 S.L.C.
    world, with the per capita homicide rate in the city of Caracas
    exceeding 115 per 100,000 people;
    Whereas the Government of Venezuela has taken continued
    steps to remove checks and balances on the executive, politicize
    the judiciary, undermine the independence of the
    legislature through use of executive decree powers, persecute
    and prosecute its political opponents, curtail freedom
    of the press, and limit the free expression of its citizens;
    Whereas, on January 23, 2014, National Representative
    Maria Corina Machado and Mr. Leopoldo Lo´pez, leader
    of the political party ‘‘Popular Will’’, among others,
    called on the Venezuelan people to gather in street assemblies
    and debate a popular, democratic and constitutional
    ‘‘way out’’ of Venezuela’s crisis of governability;
    Whereas, since February 4, 2014, the people of Venezuela—
    responding to ongoing economic hardship, high levels of
    crime and violence, and the lack of basic political rights
    and individual freedoms—have turned out in demonstrations
    in Caracas and throughout the country to protest
    the Government of Venezuela’s inability to ensure the political
    and economic well-being of its citizens;
    Whereas the government of Nicolas Maduro responded to the
    mass demonstrations by ordering the arrest without evidence
    of senior opposition leaders, including Mr.
    Leopoldo Lopez, Carlos Vecchio, and Antonio Rivero, and
    by violently repressing peaceful demonstrators with the
    help of the Venezuelan National Guard and groups of
    armed, government-affiliated civilians, known as ‘‘collectives’’;
    3
    DAV14160 S.L.C.
    Whereas, on February 18, 2014, opposition leader Leopoldo
    Lopez turned himself in to authorities in Venezuela, was
    arrested, and charged unjustly with criminal incitement,
    conspiracy, arson, and intent to damage property;
    Whereas the Maduro government has sought to censor information
    about the demonstrations and the government’s
    violent crackdown by blocking online images and threatening
    the few remaining uncensored domestic media outlets;
    Whereas President Maduro threatened to expel the United
    States news network CNN from Venezuela and has taken
    off the air the Colombian news channel NTN 24, which
    transmits in Venezuela, after news outlets reported on
    the nation-wide protests;
    Whereas the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
    released a statement on February 14, 2014, which ‘‘expresses
    its concern over the serious incidents of violence
    that have taken place in the context of protest demonstrations
    in Venezuela, as well as other complaints concerning
    acts of censorship against media outlets, attacks
    on organizations that defend human rights, and acts of
    alleged political persecution’’; and
    Whereas, as of February 27, 2014, there have been 13 people
    killed, over 100 injured, and dozens have been unjustly
    detained due to pro-democracy demonstrations throughout
    Venezuela: Now, therefore, be it
    1 Resolved, That the Senate—
    2 (1) reaffirms United States support for the peo3
    ple of Venezuela in their pursuit of the free exercise
    4 of representative democracy as guaranteed by the
    4
    DAV14160 S.L.C.
    1 Venezuelan constitution and defined under the Inter-
    2 American Democratic Charter of the Organization of
    3 American States;
    4 (2) deplores the use of excessive and unlawful
    5 force against peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela
    6 and the inexcusable use of violence and politically7
    motivated criminal charges to intimidate the coun8
    try’s political opposition;
    9 (3) calls on the Government of Venezuela to
    10 disarm and dismantle the system of ‘‘colectivos’’ or
    11 ‘‘collectives’’ and any other government-affiliated or
    12 supported militias or vigilante groups;
    13 (4) calls on the Government of Venezuela to
    14 allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the
    15 excessive and unlawful force against peaceful dem16
    onstrations on multiple occasions since February
    17 4th, 2014;
    18 (5) urges the President to immediately impose
    19 targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset
    20 freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or
    21 perpetrating gross human rights violations against
    22 peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other mem23
    bers of civil society in Venezuela; and
    24 (6) calls for the United States Government to
    25 work with other countries in the hemisphere to ac5
    DAV14160 S.L.C.
    1 tively encourage a process of dialogue between the
    2 Government of Venezuela and the political opposi3
    tion through the good offices of the Organization of
    4 American States so that the voices of all Ven5
    ezuelans can be taken into account through their
    6 country’s constitutional institutions as well as free
    7 and fair elections.

  7. 23% de los venezolanos apoya la salida ya
    YEP • feb 24, 2014 – 3:37 pm
    2 de cada 10 ciudadanos están de acuerdo con quienes plantean la “salida ya” del Presidente Maduro, mientras que 7 de cada 10 consideran que la decisión debe ser electoral, unos a través del referendo revocatorio y otros al final del período constitucional. Así lo certificó el informe Nº4 de Monitor País de Hinterlaces que reflejó que la población del país está en contra de las salidas violentas e inconstitucionales y a favor de salidas electorales, constitucionales y pacíficas.

    ¿Qué plantean otros venezolanos? El informe también refleja que el 42% de los venezolanos opina que el Presidente Nicolás Maduro debe cumplir con todo su período constitucional, mientras que 71% respalda las salidas electorales, unos por referéndum revocatorio y otros por nuevas elecciones presidenciales.
    Soluciones a problemas económicos. Este mismo informe del 08 al 14 de febrero de 2014 señala que los venezolanos perciben las protestas violentas y la salida del Jefe de Estado como eventos que empeoran la economía. El estudio arrojó que el 35% de los encuestados cree que el Gobierno Nacional debe poner “mano dura” contra los especuladores y acaparadores, mientras que el 29% opinó que se debe establecer una alianza con el sector privado. Sólo 2 de cada 10 venezolanos (22%) apoya la “salida ya” del primer mandatario nacional como una solución a los problemas económicos del país.

  8. 9 Things You Need to Know about Venezuela and the Recent Violence

    NINE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT VENUZULA

    By Pablo Vivanco- Basics News, March 1st 2014

    2014 opposition violence

    1. The students marches are from the right-wing of the student movement

    Unlike in places like Chile, there is no single or united student movement in Venezuela. Not only are students groups highly decentralized, but they are also divided along political lines.

    Another unique feature of the student groups identifying with the opposition is that they do not organize around accessible or free education (since education has been made accessible to the sector of society that was previously excluded, resulting in an increase of 1,809,432 post-secondary students from 1999 to 2014).

    The most recent opposition student demonstrations began in the western city of Tachira near the Colombian border. On the third day of student demonstrations about insecurity on the campus, the State Governor’s house was attacked and four people were subsequently arrested (two of whom weren’t students). These arrests led to student demonstrations in other cities – all of these demonstrations were not shut down by police – which led to the February 12th demonstration, where three people died.

    On February 12, however, its important to know that there were thousands of Bolivarian students and youth marching for ‘El Dia de la Juventud’ (Youth Day), on the other side of Caracas. When speaking about the ‘student movement’ the logical question that has to follow is ‘which one’?

    2. Most have died due to violence and sabotage of far right ‘protesters’

    Number games with deaths of people is unpleasant. However, given how much of the coverage around the violence has been presented – as direct state violence against peaceful protests – an account of how the violence has played out is necessary.

    Of the now 13 deaths directly resulting from the protests, at least five of the deaths have occurred at the barricades erected by the protesters at different sites, including motorcyclists who have been decapitated by barbed-wire booby-traps set up.

    Protestors following the instructions of General Vivas to set the wired booby traps at intersections that have claimed two lives by decapitation. (via albaciudad.org)

    Other deaths include the murder of Juan Montoya, a leader of the leftist Tupamaros and the assassination of Arturo Alexis Martinez, the brother of a socialist National Assembly member who was shot from a balcony sniper as he cleared debris from the blockades.

    Three opposition protesters have been killed, including former beauty contestant Genesis Carmona who other protesters and ballistics reports indicate was shot from behind – that is, from other protesters. Jimmy Vargas, age 34, died when he accidentally fell from his building as confirmed in a video from CNN. His mother blames the government and Maduro. Bassil Dacosta, another student opposition protester was shot on February 12.

    A total of nine members of the Venezuelan security forces are under arrest, including three officials from the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN) under investigation in relation to the deaths of Dacosta and Montoya. Three other arrested police officers, two from Chacao and one from Merida (with each city claiming 1 of the dead), are members of police forces under the command of opposition Mayors.

    The head of the SEBIN was sacked after February 12 for failing to comply with the specific order from President Maduro to not send SEBIN into the streets on that day.

    Some 30 others have died from not receiving adequate medical attention due to the blockades.

    All of these deaths are tragic. But even these deaths need to be put into perspective. The vast majority of the deaths are not attributable to agents of Bolivarian government and there is no impunity for those who may be responsible for the deaths or abuse of people.

    3. There has been massive media manipulation

    When the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, Catholic Church, Military High Command and trade union centre organized their coup back in 2002, there was no Facebook or Twitter. The media in Venezuela at this point, was completely in private hands except for the state-owned VTV (which the opposition stormed during the coup and whose signal they closed down). To justify the coup, the private media manipulated images and footage of street demonstrations to suggest that the government and its supporters had killed unarmed protesters (sound familiar?). It was through informal networks and word of mouth – what people in Venezuela call radio bemba – that people found out about the coup and organized against it.

    Today, with the advances in democratizing media (through the hundreds of community-run TV and radio stations) and holding private media accountable, the traditional media does not have a monopoly over information. New and social media however, has demonstrated its power to influence the perspectives of what is happening in Venezuela, especially outside of Venezuela. More than this, it has shown the extent to which events and realities can be distorted.

    A recent article by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) highlights this issue. The article calls into question the accuracy and credibility of an article written by Francisco Toro, editor of opposition web site Caracas Chronicles, where the article titled “The Game Changed Last Night” was published. The article claims that there were paramilitary style incursions into wealthy neighbourhoods of Caracas with motorcyclists “shooting at anyone who seemed like he might be protesting.” This article was shared half a million times, including among many leftists and progressives despite the dubious authorship and questionable information. Toro’s defense for publishing unverified rumours: “I am NOT a reporter”.

    This is but one of the countless exaggerated, manipulated and uncorroborated tweets, YouTube videos and other postings – even showing images of police brutality in other countries – that are circulating in order to demonize the government and its supporters. This is not a coincidence, but rather version 2.0 of the 2002 media coup.

    The propaganda campaign has been relentless, and unfortunately effective.

    4. There has been an active campaign to sabotage the Venezuelan economy

    Much has been made and said about the causes of these demonstrations and the real challenges Venezuelans face.

    There is no doubt that there are real and legitimate grievances and issues concerning crime and access to goods. However, what has been missing from this narrative are the initiatives from the government and social movements to address these and, perhaps more importantly, the contributions of Venezuela’s opposition to creating and exacerbating these problems.

    Inflation is often cited as a problem in Venezuela, reaching 56% this January. However, inflation is not a new feature in this oil-exporting country. The inflation rate in Venezuela has averaged 26.78% between 1973 and 2014, reaching an all time high of 115.18% in September of 1996. Inflation was lower than 18% as recently as December of 2012, so inflation is not the cause of scarcity or economic grievances that have been cited.

    Indeed, there is scarcity in certain parts of Venezuela. And by scarcity, this means that things are hard to come by in stores. Why is this? The answer is that this scarcity is a deliberate campaign by producers, transporters and vendors to hoard and withhold goods, in collusion with speculators, price gougers and others shipping things to sell for dollars across the Colombian border. Proof? In the first half of 2013, at least 40,000 tons of food has been found hidden in various locations. Later in that year, several large chains such as Daka were fined and ordered to lower their prices for marking up prices by as much as 1,200% on goods and electronics.

    The Venezuelan government has looked to tackle this problem, but there has been resistance to their measures. The Institute for the Defence of People in Access to Goods and Services (INDEPABIS) has responded to the thousands of tips and complaints about hoarding and price-gouging, heading up massive investigations of merchants resulting in arrests, fines, price-redressing as well as the recovery of hoarded goods. However, the political opposition has opposed the government measures including price controls and actions to go after this type of abuse and economic sabotage, calling it a plan for ‘anarchy.’ In addition, two people armed with grenades tried to assassinate INDEPABIS President Eduardo Saman.

    On the streets, these protests also coincided with the implementation of a new national law for controlling prices. Not to mention that in various places, such as Carabobo and Zulia, protesters have burned trucks stacked with food (produced from the state operated PDVAL) headed for subsidized markets in working class neighbourhoods.

    This form of economic sabotage mirrors the campaign against Salvador Allende’s government in Chile, where hoarding was rampant and transportation of goods hampered by a strike and violent attacks from the organized fascist outfit, Patria y Libertad. Goods remained scarce until the day after the coup on September 11, 1973.

    5. Crime is a regional problem and the opposition doesn’t pose solutions

    So this brings us to crime. It is true that insecurity, especially in working-class neighbourhoods, is an issue of concern to Venezuelans. Crime and especially gun crime have been historic problems in Venezuela. But what accounts for the rise in crime, especially gun crime?

    The proliferation of heavy artillery and guns in Venezuela, accompanying the drug trade, is massive. Despite concentrated government efforts to combat drug cartels moving cocaine through the country (ranking 4th in the world in seizures), most accounts recognize that drug trafficking is still prolific. Connected with this are unregistered firearms, with estimates ranging from 1,100,000 to 2,700,000, although this is likely much higher. This is of course a regional problem, with identical problems in similar statistics in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. In Venezuela however, there is an added political motive to at least one important player in the crime and insecurity – paramilitaries from the Colombian conflict.

    There are an estimated 4.5 million Colombians residing in Venezuela. The vast majority of these people have immigrated beginning in the 1990s and especially in the early 2000s, escaping the violence of the Colombian conflict and looking for ‘cheaper’ living conditions. The Venezuelan government began a regularization program in 2004.

    During this same period, Colombia was ‘demobilizing’ paramilitaries linked to mass murders and drug trafficking. Some of these paramilitaries have gone into Venezuela within the wave of Colombians, to continue their previous activities. Paramilitary groups have been caught in Venezuela on numerous occasions and have assassinated pro-government activists in rural areas as well as in urban centres.

    The problem of crime is not a national problem, but a complex regional problem that is inextricably related to drug trafficking.

    So what is the opposition asking for to deal with crime? Opposition Mayors and Governors have in certain cases, such as in the rich municipality of Chacao, where much of the rioting in Caracas is taking place, have refused to fold their historically corrupt and brutal police forces and accept the centralized, Policia Nacional Bolivariana (who are provided with extensive training including in sociology and dealing with and relating to the community and peoples they service). So they are not asking for more police.

    Instead, the only discernable call is for the disarmament of the ‘colectivos’ – armed, independent political organizations from militant, working-class neighbourhoods. Despite being characterized by the opposition as government sponsored paramilitaries, they pre-date the Chavez government and are known to sharply guard their autonomy from it. Moreover from that, these self-financed organizations are predominantly political in nature, running community programs, media and even beautification projects. Not only are these groups the first line of defense against a coup (as they were in 2002) but they are also on the front lines against crime. In the 23 de Enero neighbourhood for example, these groups came to an agreement with the municipal government to have police removed and operate their own neighbourhood watch. Crime in this neighbourhood is handled effectively, if somewhat severely.

    The opposition’s lack of a clear vision for tackling crime betrays their disingenuousness.

    6. The claims of ‘state repression’ and ‘media censorship’ are at best, exaggerated

    Beyond the fact that the majority of those hurt or killed from the recent violence are victims of the protests, the issue of state repression is something people invariably question when they see an opposition leader jailed, or military deployed.

    Leopoldo Lopez, the wealthy, Harvard-educated former Mayor of Chacao, was arrested following his promoting the escalation of street demonstrations against the government to generate ‘La Salida’ (The Exit). This led to three deaths on February 12 and at least seven since. Lopez, who during his time in office was sanctioned for influence-peddling and embezzlement of funds, as well as illegal fund transfers, took active part in the 2002 coup and led mobs searching for and assaulting Chavista ministers. Prior to his arrest, government officials revealed to Lopez’s family that there was a plan afoot to assassinate him, and acted to prevent this from happening (a fact that Lopez’ wife confirmed on CNN).

    Aside from Lopez who was particularly brazen in his calls for the streets to take down the government, some 50 others are being held directly in connection with violence causing serious injury, such as the SEBIN officers in question around the murders of Bassil Dacosta and Juan Montoya, as well as a driver who ran someone over trying to avoid a protester barricade.

    Importantly, it must be acknowledged that in Tachira and other places, students blocked roads and protested without any government or police interference and it was not until the official residence of Governor of Tachira was attacked that the any arrests were made. These arrests were the apparent catalysts that set off student demonstrations which escalated violence in Tachira and other cities.

    Tweet from former Venezuelan General: “To neutralize the criminal hoardes on motorcycles, you should place nylon or GALVANIZED (Barbed) WIRE at 1.20 m in height across the mouth of an intersection”. Two people have been decapitated by this method so far (via Twitter @Gral_Vivas_P)

    So then what about the control and clampdown of media? Despite claims to the contrary, the total broadcasters of the state have a tremendously low share of the market – only 5%. Opposition newspapers and websites operate without restriction, and as evidenced by the extent of falsified posts circulating over social media, these continue to operate freely. A morbid testament to this reality is a tweet sent by former General Vivas, instructing people to set up “nylon rope or galvanized wire at 1.20 meters height in the streets” in order to “neutralize the hordes”. At least two have died from such traps.

    This violence also occurs less than a year after the violence following the 2013 presidential elections. Having narrowly lost the elections, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called for people to go out and “discharge their rage,” leading to the deaths of seven pro-government activists and another 61 injured. In addition, violent opposition demonstrators burned several of the Barrio Adentro medical clinics, offices of the national telephone company, subsidized super markets, social housing as well as other social property. When we talk about context, there needs to be an acknowledgement that this, the assassinations and attempts on leaders (not just Chavez), the oil strike, the 2002 coup and the countless massacres and mass repressions under the previous regime, is the context.

    Put into context, the Venezuelan government’s response to this level of reactionary street violence has been quite restrained and balanced by any standard, and would certainly not be tolerated in any part of North America by governments like Canada, the U.S., or Mexico. But the Bolivarian government understands that the opposition and its international backers are looking for just such a pretext to step-up their campaigns.

    7. Overall, the opposition has demonstrated itself to be uninterested in democracy, dialogue and has never conceded the government

    Over the last 15 years, 19 electoral events have taken place in Venezuela, 18 of which have been won by Chavismo. There are close to 40,000 communal councils, democratic and participatory citizen-initiated and run bodies, that can basically administer their neighbourhood. If Venezuelans think an elected official – any elected official, from bottom to the very top – is failing at their job, they can initiate a recall refendum vote. This was most spectacularly carried out against Hugo Chavez in 2004 (who won the referendum handily with 58% of votes in his favour). So how can Venezuela’s democratic credentials be questioned? Why are the characterization of the government as ‘autocratic’ and ‘totalitarian’ still so common?

    Because the opposition says so.

    The political opposition, which has not been able to win a presidential election since 1998, has cried ‘fraud’ after virtually every election in spite of testimony of international monitors to the contrary, and they have held all kinds of other posts through the same elections they decry. Capriles, for example, is still Governor of Miranda even while refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Venezuela’s electoral system.

    This is the same opposition whose leading members organized and carried out the massacres that paved the way for their short-lived 2002 coup. This is the same opposition that took part in the coup which abolished the constitution, the national assembly, the judiciary, the ombuds, etc. At the time, Capriles was the Mayor of Baruta in Caracas and Lopez the Mayor of Chacao in Caracas. They both took active parts in the coup, including leading roving mobs looking for Chavista ministers and also participating in aggressions against the Cuban Embassy. Maria Corina Machado, a leader of the opposition, was a signatory to the Carmona decree which abolished the rule of law under the junta created by the 2002 coup.

    This is also the same opposition that was government for 40 years prior to the election of Chavez – governments that were responsible for countless human rights violations and massacres. Under the Punto Fijo Pact, three parties agreed to a corporatist ‘power-sharing’ agreement. Many of the opposition players descend from these three parties. Antonio Ledezma for example, another major opposition leader and Mayor of the Greater Caracas area, was a Deputy of the National Assembly during the Caracazo massacre of 1989 that claimed 3,000 lives, and was also Governor of Caracas in 1992 when police were sent in to kill 200 prisoners in the Retén de Catia jail to quell a prison riot. These are the ‘democrats’ in Venezuela. These are the defenders of ‘human rights’ we are being presented with in the media here in North America.

    This is an opposition that openly receives at least US$40 million per year from the United States to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution.

    This is the also the opposition that has refused talks with Maduro.

    This is an opposition that has never conceded that they are, in fact, the opposition. This is an opposition has simply refused to acknowledge that the majority of Venezuelans have opted to not have them in power. This is an opposition that has never let go of their entitlement, their privilege, their scorn for the poorer, darker majority that they saw reflected in Chavez, and now Maduro – a former bus driver.

    8. Fascism and imperialism are very present threats to Venezuela

    As much as it would be great to characterize the current situation as a small group of privileged extremists against a 99%, that is not the situation. While the opposition is undoubtedly under right-wing leadership and there is no – this bears repeating – no left or revolutionary tendency within the political opposition, there is a mass of people that have been won over to the political opposition.

    More importantly, there is a section of the masses within the opposition that has demonstrated its willingness to use lethal violence to achieve its political ends.

    Undoubtedly there are sincere elements within the ranks of the opposition and students who may be frustrated, disillusioned or simply duped by the haranguing about ‘cubanization.’ But there also also those who have been burning primary schools, supply trucks, public transportation, public institutions, blocking ambulances and setting up booby traps to kill and maim.

    These are reactionary activities with reactionary ends. Fascism doesn’t simply involve a state oppressing people, but has historically implicated mobilization of a mass of people and using a section of that mass as a violent shock troop. This was true of Germany, as in Italy, as in Spain. In closer proximity to Venezuela, it was also true of Chile. The Colombian paramilitaries, who have been actively killing trade unionists, campesino organizers and anything ‘communist’ since the 1980s, are also an example of this and a player in this conflict.

    It is simply not tenable to allow this activity and these groups to operate, to terrorize a population. Given the numerous avenues and channels for Venezuelans to organize themselves, replace politicians, run their spaces and communities outside of bourgeois institutions, violence against institutions of the people are unacceptable.

    This is where imperialism fits in. Violence is being fomented in order to illicit a disproportionate and violent response from government or its supporters – a response that would justify a possible intervention of some sort. So far that has not happened.

    However as events in Syria and Libya show, coupled with revelations yesterday of a captured, foreign mercenary in Aragua with plans to set off car bombs, the threat that cries of state ‘violence’ will be used to justify foreign intervention is real.

    9. The majority of people still support the Bolivarian process and government – and we should side with them

    Forget about whether Venezuela’s economy is still capitalist, or whether its government is socialist or communist. The fact is that the majority of Venezuelan people still support it and the institutions of government.

    Just this past December 2013, the Socialist Party and its allies won 76% of mayoralties. Just this week, the private consultancy firm Hinterlaces confirmed that 71% of the country feels that Venezuela’s political future should be decided through the constitutional electoral process. Only 29% support the government’s forced “exit” through street actions.

    Perhaps more importantly, it is still evident on the streets and communities of Venezuela, where hundreds of thousands of oil workers, women, pensioners, youth, motorcyclists, community activists, peasants and other sectors have taken to the streets in separate marches across the country demanding peace and respect for their will.

    “Peace Rally” by motorcyclists opposed to the opposition-led violence (via Reuters).

  9. Wrong again, Nick.

    If I were a U.S. imperialist, I would be advocating for the invasion of Cuba and Venezuela right away. I would argue for the annexation of Cuba as the 51st state, and then we would go after Venezuela as the 52nd to get all that oil.

    Then, what the hell, why not Puerto Rico?

    But no one is doing that, Nick. No one. Your imperialistic fantasy conspiracy theories are figments of your imagination.

    Nobody wants this. Get it? Understand? Capisce?

    Just because I happen to live in the U.S. and I support the opposition movements in Cuba and Venezuela does not mean I am an imperialist. Far from it.

    I support peaceful opposition and human rights for my fellow human beings.

    I support a democratic transition in Cuba so the people in Cuba can decide for themselves what form of government they want.

    Ordinary Cuban citizens haven’t been able to do that for half a century because the Castro criminals think they should be allowed to run things without being accountable to anyone.

    How many people do you think the Castros have murdered in this illicit enterprise of their’s? My guess is in the tens of thousands.

    The state of affairs in Cuba under the iron fist of the Castro dictatorship seems wrong to me, Nick.

    You support the dictatorship, and I don’t. That’s where we disagree.

  10. Hank ,
    You can say that you are pro this or against that.
    And you can allege that I am pro this or anti that.
    The crucial issue here is that you are quite obviously and quite blatantly
    pro U.S. imperialism.
    I am firmly against this.
    And I am not anti USA or its people,
    but I am 100% against U.S. imperialism because it is very wrong.
    That’s the bottom line Hank.

  11. YOU WANT TO HELP THE VENEZUELAN PROTESTERS? QUIEREN AYUDAR A LOS VENEZOLANOS? USEN ESTA INFORMACION EN TWITTER! USE THIS INFORMATION ON TWITTER!
    TWITTER CAMPAING! CAMPANA EN TWITTER! USAR ESTAS HASTAGS! USE THESE HASHTAGS!
    #OscarsforVenezuela #SOSVenezuela#Oscarsdefendhumanrights #Oscars #Hollywood #DallasBuyersClub #AmericanHustle #WolfofWallStreet #AcademyAwards
    Y ESTAS CUENTAS DE TWITTER DE ACTORES! AND THESE TWITTER ACCOUNTS OF STARS!
    MENSAJES
    @__________ This Sunday, please help us taking a stand against repression in Venezuela #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars2014
    @__________ your Oscar speech can help save lives in Venezuela. Speak up! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars2014
    @______________ This Sunday, thank the academy. Help Venezuela. Speak up! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars2014
    @______________ The Oscars in Venezuela are televised. The repression is not. Speak up! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars2014
    @__________ Venezuela’s bloodshed and repression need to stop. This Sunday you can make a difference #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela
    @__________ Do you know anyone from Venezuela? Help them to stop the repression. Speak up!#SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars2014
    @___________ when thanking the Academy this Sunday, please take a stand against violence in Venezuela! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela
    @____________ A billion people will be watching you on Sunday. The world needs to know about Venezuela #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela

    12 YEARS AS A SLAVE CAST

    @______________ your film was about oppression. Help Venezuela! Take a stand this Sunday! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars

    @_______________ Oppression comes in many forms. Venezuela is suffering from it now. Help us! #SOSVenezuela #OscarsForVenezuela #Oscars

    ACTORS & CELEBRITIES:
    Cate Blanchett – @CateBlanchett
    Bruce Dern – @BruceDern
    Leonardo DiCaprio – @LeoDiCaprio
    Judy Dench – @Judy_Dench
    Maryl Streep – @officialIMStreep
    Barkhad Abdi – @RealBarkhad
    Jonah Hill – @JonahHill
    Jared Lero @JaretLeto
    Jennifer Lawrence – @itsjenIawrence
    Lupita Nyong’o – @Lupita_Nyongo
    Julia Roberts – @JuliaRoberts
    June Squibb – @junesquibb
    Amy Adams- @Amy23Adams
    Kristen Bell- @IMKristenBell
    Jessica Biel- @JessicaBiel
    Jim Carrey- @JimCarrey
    Glenn Close- @GlennCloseNews
    Bradley Cooper- @Thebradcoop
    Penélope Cruz- @penelopecruz1
    Benedict Cumberbatch- @BenedictCumb
    Daniel Day-Lewis- @daniel_daylewis
    Robert De Niro – @Robert_de_Niro
    Zac Efron- @ZacEfron
    Jamie Foxx- @iamjamiefoxx
    Andrew Garfield- @AndrewGarfeild
    Jennifer Garner- @JennAffleck
    Whoopi Goldberg- @WhoopiGoldberg
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt- @hitRECordJoe
    Anne Hathaway- @itsAnneHathaway
    Goldie Hawn- @goldiehawn
    Chris Hemsworth- @RealChrisHem
    Samuel L. Jackson- @SamuelLJackson
    Angelina Jolie- @AJolieV
    Michael B. Jordan- @michaelb4jordan
    Anna Kendrick- @AnnaKendrick47
    Matthew McConaughey- @McConaughey
    Ewan McGregor- @mcgregor_ewan
    Kim Novak- @kim_novak
    Tyler Perry- @tylerperry
    Gabourey Sidibe- @GabbySidibe
    Kevin Spacey- @KevinSpacey
    Jason Sudeikis- @jasonsudeikis
    Channing Tatum- @channingtatum
    Charlize Theron- @CharlizeAfrica
    John Travolta- @johntravoltahot
    Christoph Waltz- @chris_waltz
    Kerry Washington- @kerrywashington
    Emma Watson- @EmWatson
    Naomi Watts- @thenaomiwatts

  12. Another great news post, Humberto. Thank you. Please keep them coming.

    I hope the protesters in Venezuela are successful.

    By that I mean, I hope they are able to rid themselves of the farce that is the Maduro regime. I hope the Venezuelan people can avoid becoming the disastrous basket case that Cuba is. It may be too late for them because the Castros are going to do anything they can to prevent that.

    Everyone knows the Castros have infiltrated the military and intelligence services in Venezuela. That much alone should be enough to enrage any Venezuelan military officer and citizen with an ounce of respect for the sovereignty of his own country.

    If the Venezuelan protesters are successful, it would be wonderful to see the end of free oil to Cuba. I’d love to see that oil spigot closed and watch the dictatorship in Cuba choke.

    Poster Nick implies that I am against the Cuban people because he doesn’t like the things I say. Nick’s comprehension of the written word is impaired by his anti-capitalist, anti-democracy, pro-authoritarian world view. Nick also likes to twist things people say here. That’s what he does.

    To be clear, I support the Cuban people. I do not support the Cuban dictatorship. This is a distinction the rational posters here have made countless times. For the likes of people like Nick, the distinction falls on deaf ears.

    Regarding the embargo, such as it exists, I’ve been on both sides of issue. I understand now that lifting the embargo, such as it exists, would only breathe life into the moribund Cuban dictatorship. The Cuban dictatorship is the Cuban military, which owns all of the tourism industry, and all other profitable business in Cuba. They are a capitalist elite operating within a sham government that has been imposed upon the people of Cuba without their consent. A legitimate government only exists by virtue of the consent of the governed. That doesn’t exist in Cuba.

    Now is definitely not the time to lift the embargo. On the contrary, it should be vigorously enforced. The only obstacle to change in Cuba is the Castro dictatorship. They’ve made that abundantly clear. There will be no democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, free elections, or free press in Cuba until the dictator class in Cuba is gone.

  13. THE HILL: Gov. Scott: Impose sanctions on Venezuela – by Rebecca Shabad

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is urging President Obama to impose sanctions against the government of Venezuela.

    In a letter on Friday, Scott asked Obama to consider using sanctions against Maduro’s regime. Florida is home to one of the largest Venezuelan immigrant populations in the United States.
    “With ongoing reports of violence and repression of free speech, this issue demands your immediate attention. That’s why I am again respectfully requesting that we stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela who are struggling for democracy with swift U.S. action. We must target regime officials with sanctions, such as freezing the bank accounts of Maduro and his gang and revoking the U.S. visas of anyone involved in attacking peaceful demonstrators,” the letter states.

    In a letter on Friday, Scott asked Obama to consider using sanctions against Maduro’s regime. Florida is home to one of the largest Venezuelan immigrant populations in the United States.
    Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on Friday cleared a bipartisan resolution that condemns the violence in Venezuela and calls on the U.S. to back pro-democracy protestors.

    Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) introduced the resolution with 15 other House members.

    Scott’s request comes just a week after the Obama administration threatened to use sanctions against Ukraine’s government for its crackdown on protestors there. President Viktor Yanukovych has since been ousted, and opposition leaders have begun forming a new government.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/global-affairs/americas/199554-florida-governor-to-obama-impose-sanctions-against-venezuela

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