Daily Archives: December 2, 2007

Chavez bent on “an absolute concentration of power” says ex-wife

 
Ex-wife damns Hugo Chavez ‘coup’

Sunday Times | Dec 2, 2007

by Jose Orozco, Caracas

PRESIDENT Hugo Chavez of Venezuela routinely blames foreign conspirators for any opposition to his plans to turn his country into a socialist paradise. Yet his latest attempt to rewrite the constitution to allow him to remain in office indefinitely has brought the opposition closer to home: his critics now include his ex-wife.

Marisabel Rodriguez, the mother of Chavez’s nine-year-old daughter Rosines, has startled Venezuelans by plunging into a fierce battle over today’s constitutional referendum with a warning that her ex-husband is bent on “an absolute concentration of power”.

In an interview last week, Rodriguez accused Chavez of attempting to “hypnotise the people” and added: “I can’t support this zeal for perpetuating time in power.”

Rodriguez, who married Chavez in 1998 and left him four years later, is one of a growing number of people who have dared to criticise the Venezuelan leader’s plans, at a time when his personal popularity has appeared unassailable among the beneficiaries of his oil-financed welfare programmes.

Yet growing unease at what one senior general has described as “a constitutional coup d’état” has sparked revolt on the streets of Caracas and outspoken criticism from former Chavez allies such as Rodriguez. She said she became disillusioned with her husband’s politics at an early stage and divorced him rather than become “a wife of convenience, a wife of appearance”.

Riding the wave of an energy boom, Chavez is promising to transform Venezuela into a people’s republic where a strong president can ensure that buoyant oil revenues are spent primarily on the poor. “Capitalist Venezuela is entering its grave,” he said earlier this month.

Yet proposed reforms abolishing presidential term limits, weakening private property rights and centralising administrative powers have provoked unexpectedly fierce opposition. Tens of thousands of people protested at the proposals in marches through Caracas last week.

Opinion polls suggest the race may be closer than the president had expected, but it would still be a shock if Chavez, who controls all the levers of government, failed to produce a “yes” vote by the end of today.

For the western governments gloomily monitoring Chavez’s antics, no early respite seems likely from the loud-mouthed populist who variously refers to President George W Bush as a devil, a donkey, a coward, a murderer and, in one particularly colourful outburst, as “more dangerous than a monkey with a razor blade”.

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Chavez Threatens to Seize Banks, Media as Vote Nears

 

Bloomberg | Dec 1, 2007

By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Steven Bodzin

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, facing a close vote in a referendum tomorrow to change the constitution, stepped up attacks against the U.S., Spanish banks and the media in an offensive aimed at winning over voters.

Chavez told tens of thousands of supporters in Caracas he is prepared to stay in power until 2050 if voters pass his proposal, which includes eliminating presidential term limits. He vowed to seize Spanish banks and expel journalists from the country to defend his goal of turning Venezuela into a socialist state.

“I swear to God and to my mother that if I have to take up an assault rifle to defend my country, I will again,” Chavez, 53, said to a cheering crowd at the referendum campaign’s final rally last night. “Our victory this Sunday is a defeat to our enemy, the North American empire.”

By portraying Venezuela’s economic independence and his so- called socialist revolution as being under siege, Chavez is seeking to motivate undecided supporters to approve the referendum, said David Scott Palmer, a professor of political science and international relations at Boston University.

“Chavez sees a tightening electoral situation for Sunday and this explains the invective and the increase in conspiracy theories involving various foreign actors,” Palmer said in a telephone interview.

Today, Chavez said he would shut down oil exports to the U.S. if it interferes in tomorrow’s vote. That would send the price of oil to $200 a barrel, he told foreign journalists at a Caracas press conference.

Venezuelans at `Crossroads’

Chavez’s rhetoric may tone down with a victory on Sunday, while a defeat may provoke him to make good on pledges to nationalize banks controlled by Spanish lenders, said Miguel Octavio Vegas, executive director of Caracas-based brokerage Bbo Servicios Financieros.

Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, says modifications to the constitution are needed to further his socialist revolution, which he says will transfer power to citizens and help redistribute income from soaring oil prices. The proposed changes include cutting the workday to six hours from eight, nationalizing the gas and coal industries, and ending central bank independence.

The proposal has divided Venezuelans, and some pollsters say the outcome of the referendum is too close to call a year after Chavez won re-election with 63 percent support.

U.S. Plots

About 100,000 opponents of the referendum rallied in Caracas on Nov. 29, according to estimates by opposition leaders including the First Justice political party. Estimates of the turnout by Chavez’s supporters last night weren’t immediately available.

“There’s a lot at stake in this election for citizens and for the government,” said Marjorie Hernandez, a Latin America economist for HSBC Holdings Plc. in New York. “It’s no surprise to anyone that Venezuelans are at crossroads over this ballot.”

Chavez said the U.S. had written a plan to destabilize the country during and after this weekend’s referendum. He didn’t give details. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said earlier this week he may kick out a U.S. embassy worker over the document.

“We reject and are disappointed by the allegations from the Venezuelan government that we are involved in any kind of conspiracy to affect the outcome of the referendum on Sunday,” said Jennifer Rahimi, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Caracas. “We reject that there’s any kind of conspiracy.”

Threats to Media

Chavez said he’ll shut down local news channel Globovision and expel foreign journalists if they “break rules” in their coverage of the referendum.

Spanish King Juan Carlos can prevent Chavez from moving against Spanish investments in Venezuela by apologizing for remarks made last month, Chavez said. The king told Chavez to “shut up” during the Ibero-American summit in Santiago on Nov. 10.

After his threat to nationalize private banks last night, Chavez went to an event where he used money from public-sector banks to offer low-interest loans and mortgages to business owners and renters.

Venezuelans were alienated by sales of state assets to foreign companies in the 1990s and may be won over by Chavez’s pro-nationalization speech, HSBC’s Hernandez said. In January, Chavez nationalized the oil and electricity industries and the country’s biggest phone company.

`Gauging My Options’

“I am gauging my options,” Chavez said in the rally, referring to the lenders controlled by Spanish financial groups. “It wouldn’t cost me a penny taking them over again and putting them at the service of my people.”

Cesar Aristimuno, a Caracas-based banking analyst, said a seizure of the units of Banco Santander SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain’s two biggest banks, might fulfill Chavez’s goal of using credit to spread his socialist revolution more rapidly in low-income urban and rural communities.

BBVA’s Banco Provincial SA and Santander’s Banco de Venezuela SA make up for a third of the system’s profits and 20 percent of outstanding loans, according to government data.

“For many Venezuelans, nationalism equals nationalizations regardless of the efficiency,” Aristimuno, president of Aristimuno Herrera & Asociados, said in an interview. “A decision depends of course on the result of this referendum.”

In a Nov. 29 report, Moody’s Investors Service said Chavez’s constitutional plans may pave the way for a nationalization of the industry, which has posted record profits in the three of the past four years.

Madrid-based spokesmen for Santander and BBVA declined to comment on Chavez’s remarks.

. . .

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South America sliding into dictatorship

 

Say no: Protesters in Venezuela fear dictatorship rising

Telegraph | Dec 2, 2007

By Daniel Hannan

An entire continent is sliding unremarked into dictatorship. That continent is South America, traditionally treated by the British press as a byword for dullness. In a famous competition among sub-editors at The Times to find the most boring headline, the winner, by a comfortable margin, was “Small earthquake in Chile: not many dead”.

Well, a tremor is now pulsing through the entire region, throwing down parliament after parliament. Please, before your eye skips on to the next article, pause to consider how swiftly, and with what enthusiasm, constitutional government can be overturned.

Ten years ago, every country in South America, with the arguable exception of my native Peru, was a liberal democracy. Not any more.

Venezuelans are voting today on whether to grant their strongman, Hugo Chavez, untrammelled powers. Whatever the result, the fact that such a Caligulan notion can be put to a referendum is telling.

Nor is Venezuela alone. Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have, like Chavez, sacked their supreme courts, dissolved their legislatures and summoned constituent assemblies to “refound” their republics on socialist principles.

With the exception of Colombia, every country in the region is now in the hands of the authoritarian Left.

Not all South America’s socialists are autocrats, of course. Some – Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet – are comparative moderates. But the moderates have more in common with the caudillos than is often supposed.

Continues…

Smoking ban poses new climate threat

“It would seem that men and women need a common motivation, namely a common adversary, to organize and act together in the vacuum such as motivation seemed to have ceased to exist or have yet to be found. The need for enemies seems to be a common historical factor…

Bring the divided nation together to face an outside enemy, either a real one or else one INVENTED for the purpose…

Democracy will be made to seem responsible for the lagging economy, the scarcity and uncertainties. The very concept of democracy could then be brought into question and allow for the seizure of power.

In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. The real enemy [of the elites and their minions] then is humanity itself.”

– “The First Global Revolution” (1991) published by the Club of Rome. Members of the Club of Rome include: Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Bill Gates, George Soros and author of the Kyoto Protocols Maurice Strong.

Telegraph | Nov 2, 2007

By Richard Gray

Pubs are likely to pump hundreds of thousands of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a result of the smoking ban.

Policy advisers predict that emissions from patio heaters in pubs and restaurants will increase from 22,200 tons of greenhouse gases a year to up to 282,000 tons – the equivalent of flying a jumbo jet 171 times around the Earth.

Heaters will be used for more than 237 days a year, when outdoor temperatures are lower than 15C, says the report, from Market Transformation. A further 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide will be produced next year by patio heaters in private gardens, according to an earlier study by the Energy Saving Trust.

Environmentalists say the heaters must now be banned if Britain is to meet carbon dioxide emission targets.

Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The impacts of the smoking ban are positive, but this should not cause more problems for the environment. Either smokers will have to give up smoking or simply put on a jumper.”

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Global Warming: A Convenient Lie
In Gore’s movie, he presented evidence that was found in the research done on ice core samples from Antarctica, which he claimed is proof for the theory of CO2 being the cause of rising temperatures. However, this group of scientists state that “warmer periods of the Earth’s history came around 800 years before rises in carbon dioxide levels”, meaning that a rise in Carbon Dioxide follows a rise in temperature, rather than increasing temperature following rising CO2 emissions. And not only that, but it follows behind the rise in temperature by about 800 years. The group also mentions that, “after the Second World War, there was a huge surge in carbon dioxide emissions, yet global temperatures fell for four decades after 1940.”

Torture is Robert Mugabe’s election weapon

Telegraph | Dec 1, 2007

By Stephen Bevan

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has stepped up the use of torture against political opponents, civil rights protesters and students in an attempt to clamp down on dissent ahead of next year’s elections.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation has revealed how torture methods that were once used only by the feared Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe’s internal security agency, are now routinely employed by uniformed police officers. Victims report that electric shock torture is being used simply to spread indiscriminate terror.

They have given vivid testimony of life behind the barbed-wire fences of Fairbridge camp, a sprawling police detention centre in dusty bushland 15 miles outside Zimbabwe’s second biggest city, Bulawayo. It backs up claims by Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that the government has stepped up its campaign of intimidation despite the continuing talks between the two sides mediated by South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki.

The revelations from former camp inmates also raise further concerns about the decision by Portugal, which holds the presidency of the European Union, to invite Mr Mugabe to next weekend’s EU Africa summit in Lisbon. The invitation has prompted the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to boycott the event, saying he will not share a table with a man guilty of “oppression and repression”.

Fairbridge, which houses a feared police unit known as the “Black Boots”, acts as a regional interrogation centre for students and protest leaders arrested in southern Zimbabwe, where support for the MDC is strongest. Its bloodstained cells have been full in recent months as Mr Mugabe seeks to quell protests over the country’s 8,000 per cent inflation rate and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Accountancy student Velathi Ncube, 25, was among 30 taken there after taking part in a protest over a 400 per cent increase in fees at Bulawayo’s National University of Science & Technology. “They put us all in one room and told us to lie on the floor on our stomachs, then they started beating us randomly,” he said.

“They said ‘we’ll teach you not to rebel against the authorities, we’ll show you who has power now’. They took us one by one to another room for questioning.

“When my turn came I was told to remove my clothes. I sat on a stool facing one of the policemen who asked me: ‘Who organised the demonstration? Who is sponsoring you?’. There were two other policemen standing behind me with pliers. Whenever I gave them an answer they didn’t like, they grabbed me with the pliers on my neck and shoulders. I cannot describe the pain.”

The next day, he and the other students were dumped in the bush 45 miles away.

Another victim, 33-year-old Mandla Nyathi, a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions activist, told how he and five other union members were taken to Fairbridge after being arrested during a demonstration. “When we arrived we were taken into a room whose walls were covered with blood, and the floor was strewn with broken bottles and odd shoes,” he said.

“The police demanded to know the whereabouts of our leadership, and when we did not give them the information the torture began.”

When he still refused to give them any information, police officers took out whips and started lashing him.

“When that failed they electrocuted me through the genitals,” he added. “As I passed out I could hear my colleagues screaming in pain as well.”

Some of the worst alleged abuses by police have been carried out upon members of the civil protest group Woman of Zimbabwe Arise, most of whom are ordinary mothers. Of 397 members interviewed in a recent survey, 40 per cent said they had been tortured by police, and 26 per cent needed medical treatment for their injuries.

One activist, Angela Nkomo, revealed how she was taken to Fairbridge after taking part in a demonstration in Bulawayo early this year.

“We were forced to strip naked and lie on our stomachs before dozens of Black Boots beat us with baton sticks and leather belts,” she said. “After that we were interviewed individually in a room full of male policemen while we were naked.” Another member, Clarah Makoni, 19, broke down in tears as she recalled how she was forced to run through what she described as an obstacle course of electric wires. “The torture continued for hours,” she said. “I was whipped while lying on my stomach. They then put me in a room full of ice.”

According to the latest monthly report on political violence produced by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, during the first nine months of this year there were 776 cases of assault and 526 cases of torture – almost twice as many as over the same period last year.

Tendai Chabvuta, head of the forum’s research unit, linked the increase in torture to the forthcoming congress of Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party next month. It is expected to ratify Mr Mugabe as its presidential candidate for elections due in March.

“It’s quite clear that 2007 is the worst year for human rights in terms of politically motivated violence against opposition forces and human rights activists,” said Mr Chabvuta.

Russia planned to kill Litvinenko, says former FSB agent

 

Behind bars: Mr Trepashkin accused the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, of being involved in a series of bombings that killed nearly 300 people in 1999.

Telegraph | Dec 1, 2007

A former Russian secret service official claims to have evidence pointing to Moscow’s involvement in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

Mikhail Trepashkin, who used to be in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), said a colleague told him in 2002 that a group was being set up to “take out” Mr Litvinenko, the former Russian agent who died of radioactive poisoning a year ago.

An associate of Boris Berezovsky, the exiled oligarch who is a vocal critic of president Vladimir Putin, Mr Litvinenko died after ingesting polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope, at a hotel in Mayfair, London.

“I had a meeting with an FSB officer in August, 2002, who said there had been a very serious group formed that would wipe out all those linked with Berezovsky and Litvinenko and take them out too,” said Mr Trepashkin, who once wrote to Mr Litvinenko warning him that his life was in danger.

“It is clear that this group was made up of employees and agents of the FSB. The FSB are people who only work on the orders of those higher up,” he said.

Mr Trepashkin was speaking hours after being released from a prison in the Ural mountains, where he had been held since 2004 after being convicted by a military court of disclosing classified information.

He was accused of passing secrets to MI5 through Mr Litvinenko and Mr Berezovsky. But he claims the evidence against him was fabricated as revenge for his whistle-blowing.

Mr Litvinenko and Mr Trepashkin were among a group of FSB officers, some wearing ski masks to conceal their identity, who told a news conference in Moscow in 1998 they had been given an order to kill Mr Berezovsky.

Mr Trepashkin later accused the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, of being involved in a series of bombings that killed nearly 300 people in 1999. Officials blamed Chechen militants for the attacks.

“I have a feeling of euphoria. Finally I have been able to pull myself out of that hell,” he said.

“I consider myself completely innocent. They fabricated my case in the most criminal and atrocious way. Part of it was revenge, part of it was to prevent me from digging down to the real people behind the bombings.”

An FSB spokesman declined to comment on the allegations. Moscow has previously said that claims of its involvement in Mr Litvinenko’s death are being used by its enemies in order to discredit it.

In a letter which Mr Litvinenko’s associates claim he wrote as he lay dying in a London hospital, he accused Mr Putin of being responsible for his death.

30,000 former KGB officials to monitor elections in Russia

The Hindu | Dec 1, 2007

Moscow (PTI): Thiry thousand former KGB officials and retired employees of the Soviet era law enforcement bodies have been mobilised by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) to thwart possible rigging of ballots during tomorrow’s poll to the State Duma.

They will monitor the polls to the lower house to thwart rigging of ballots in favour of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, which has been widely using its administrative resources during the campaign that ended midnight on Friday night, KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov said.

According various opinion surveys, KPRF, the only potent opposition to the pro-Kremlin party, is poised to get at least 10 per cent votes threshold for its proportional representation in the 450-strong State Duma.

Zyuganov said his observers will monitor counting of ballots in at least 30,000 polling stations spread over 11 time zones and their reports would be used for projecting a true picture of the polling.

Kremlin insiders said, a decisive win for United Russia can give Putin, who will step down in March 2008, a mandate to pull the strings of power, even without holding any government post.

According to Chairman of Election Commission Vladimir Churov, political parties would send an estimated 1.5-2 million observers to some 96,000 polling stations across the country and in all about 350 international observers will be monitoring the elections.

For the Russians living abroad, 360 polling stations would be set up in the Russian diplomatic missions in foreign countries, including in India.

Over 350,000 police officers and para-military forces have been deployed to avert terror strikes, local media reported.