Tag Archives: Venezuela

Connecting corruption and traffic lights

I really like it when experts (and journalists) take a complicated issue and connect it to something John and Jane Doe on Main Street can understand.

And Alejandro Salas, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, has done just that: CPI 2013: TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS – LIFESAVERS OR URBAN DECORATIONS?

Salas notes that in Latin America there are some pretty tough traffic laws and really draconian laws against corrupt practices. And yet in most of Latin America a red light is a suggestion to stop rather than a command. Likewise, business and government officials see the need to engage in corrupt practices because, “it is the way to get things done” thus making the anti-corruption laws suggestions rather than anything that should be enforced.

If you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, you can see a correlation between corruption and traffic deaths, granted not a perfect 1:1 but enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Country TI Ranking Deaths per 100,000
Canada 9 6.8
United States 19 11.4
Uruguay 19 21.5
Costa Rica 49 12.7
Brazil 72 22.5
Peru 83 15.9
El Salvador 83 21.9
Ecuador 102 27.0
Argentina 106 12.6
Dominican Republic 123 41.7
Honduras 140 18.8
Venezuela                160 37.2

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Filed under Connections, Corruption

Why it matters when a country is heading for collapse

Fareed Zakaria did a great piece today (Sunday, Nov. 17) on how the Venezuelan government is doing everything on the “how to destroy an economy” check list.

Five ways to ruin an economy

Here is the conclusion. (Read or view the whole piece. It is excellent analysis.)

Venezuela is on a fast-track to total ruin. The world saw this coming under Chavez. We hoped for change, but in his dying days Chavez handpicked a “mini-me” to stay the course. The sad truth is that Venezuela is wasting the world’s largest oil reserves. It could have been as wealthy as Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It could have outstripped Mexico or Brazil. Instead, it is beginning to resemble North Korea, simply by following the most ruinous set of policies in the world.

Click here to see full video.

But why should Americans care — other than for humanitarian concerns for human rights?

The bottom line is trade/jobs and regional stability.

On trade,

  • Venezuela was the United States’ 26th largest goods export market in 2011.
  • The top export categories in 2011 were: Machinery ($3.0 billion), Electrical Machinery ($1.7 billion), Organic Chemicals ($1.3 billion), Optic and Medical Instruments ($810 million), and Vehicles ($682 million).
  • The five largest import categories in 2011 were: Mineral Fuel and Oil (crude) ($42.0 billion), Organic Chemicals ($309 million), Iron and Steel ($263 million), Aluminum ($169 million), and Fertilizers ($152 million).

Looking at this shows that Venezuela buys American finished products while  the US buys natural resources. Finished products — machinery, vehicles, etc — mean high-paying quality jobs.

The top five U.S. states that export to Venezuela include the ones you might think, Texas, Florida and Louisiana (Numbers 1-3.) But Number 4 is Michigan and Number 5 is California. A collapse of the Venezuelan economy could mean more joblessness across the USA.

On regional stability, let’s face it, fighting the transportation of illegal drugs is a key component. And Venezuela is the major source for the shipping of drugs to North America and Europe. (Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms)

There are also humanitarian and business issues.

With jobs across the United States at risk and humanitarian concerns growing, more and proper coverage of Venezuela is needed.

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Filed under International News Coverage, South America, Story Ideas, Trade

Really Mr. Snowden, Venezuela?

It seems odd that the only places that are being so vocal about supporting NSA data thief Edward Snowden and offering him sanctuary are countries with some of the worst records on freedom of speech/expression and press.

Thanks to Boing Boing, we get to hear a first-person account of what it is like living in Venezuela.

Snowden and Venezuela: My bizarre experience in the surveillance state

Highlights:

  • On Monday, Sept. 14, 2009 a private phone call between my mother and me was broadcast on two talk shows on the Venezuelan government TV station.
  • We can be heard talking about the international anti-Chavez demonstrations, and how we thought they hadn’t been successful. I compared them to the much larger ones for democracy in Iran that I attended in DC.
  • My mother, Maruja Tarre, was an outspoken critic of the Chavez government and she is often on television commenting on Venezuelan foreign policy. She is a columnist for the country’s oldest newspaper, El Universal, and is followed by thousands on Twitter.
  • Our private conversation aired again on the late night show, La Hojilla, hosted by Mario Silva. He plays clips from news shows edited to ridicule opposition politicians. The government has used “evidence” gathered by reporters on this show to accuse opposition leaders.
  • This was an eye-opening incident. Like most Venezuelans, I have long been aware, on an intellectual level, that many calls are recorded and that my mother’s landline was most likely tapped.
  • That was four years ago. Since then, the Venezuelan government has grown even more aggressive in its use of private conversations to intimidate opposition activists, and even their own supporters.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, South America

Venezuela releases U.S. filmmaker

Venezuela released and expelled U.S. filmmaker  Tim Tracy.

Tracy was arrested April 24 on charges of undermining the Venezuelan government and “acting like a spy.”

At the time Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said they had evidence Tracy was promoting dissent and unrest in Venezuela. The “proof” was in “the way Tracy acted.” Rodriguez said it was clear Tracey was a spy because “he knows how to infiltrate, how to recruit sources.”

Oh yeah, recruit sources. Just like any journalist or documentary filmmaker would do

Tracy was in Venezuela to do a documentary about the political divide following the death of Hugo Chavez and the questionable election of Nicolas Maduro. Tracy filmed government supporters in a Caracas slum and student demonstrators opposed to the government. The government saw his session with the students as subversive rather than just some one investigating a story.

This all goes back to the issue that just because repressive governments that restrict press freedom — like Venezuela and China and Cuba — use reporters as spies, it does not mean the rest of the world follows suit.

Obviously even the rigged Venezuelan system could not make the charges stick.

According to the New York Times, government officials said on Tuesday there was insufficient evidence to charge Tracy.  (Venezuela Frees Jailed U.S. Filmmaker and Expels Him)

Immediately upon release, Tracy, was put on a flight to Miami.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, Harassment, Press Freedom, South America

Chilean president proposes legislation to ban bad-mouthing cops

The nice thing about Twitter and Tumblr is that you often find interesting things you never knew were out there. (By the way, thank you @adam_wola)

Today (June 3) a columnist in Chile discusses a new proposal by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to make it a felony to insult a police officer in the performance of his/her job.

The police respect and freedom of expression

(Translation by Google Translate)

Before the announcement of President Sebastián Piñera sent a bill to establish serious offense to insult a police officer in performance of his duties, columnists warn-with practical arguments, legal and political-of the dangers to freedom of expression.

The last public account of the President of the Republic was an announcement that should turn all alarms in a democracy respectful of freedom of expression. In explicit terms, said the government will send a bill ” establishing a new crime as serious insult to a policeman or police in performance of their duties “. The criminalization of such conduct should be criticized arguments based on practical, legal and political.

Full commentary here.

This is something the U.S. should be watching.

The gains made in Chile in terms of human and civic rights since the fall of the dictatorship are important. Chile is a major trading partner with the United States and is becoming a major economic force in the Pacific.

For the business community freedom of speech/expression/press are important to understanding the social, political and economic situation before investing money in a country. Or, knowing when either put more money in or take money out.

Data from countries where the governments control the media (overtly or by proxy) often cannot be trusted. (And I am looking at you Venezuela and Argentina.)

From a basic humanitarian view, freedom of expression is vital for any society to truly thrive.

Chile has developed a strong sense of freedom. It would be a shame to see this piece of legislation go through.

One of the best lines in the article is used as a pull-quote:

One of the central and undisputed content of freedom of expression is political criticism of public authorities.

‘Nuff said.

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Filed under Connections, South America

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup

And

Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Hey Maduro: Asking questions and building sources does not make a person a spy!

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered American film maker Timothy Tracer arrested for espionage and promoting unrest in the country. (Venezuela’s president orders arrest of American filmmaker)

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said they had evidence Tracy was promoting dissent and unrest in Venezuela. According to Rodriguez proof was in “the way he acted.” Rodriguez said it was clear Tracey was a spy because “he knows how to infiltrate, how to recruit sources.”

Well, gee, isn’t that what all journalists and documentary filmmakers are supposed to do?

Seeing how the official media from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela are indeed agents of the security (spy) agencies one can understand how dictators could have a hard time understanding this “independent journalism” thing.

When I lived in China I saw how the government acted as if Western media outlets were part of the Western intelligence services.

In the 1990′s Western media were anxious to have bureaus in Shanghai.  Beijing allocated permission for foreign correspondents to be based in Shanghai based on the media outlet’s country of origin. So that meant if the Associated Press got permission to have a bureau in Shanghai, the New York Times would have to wait until requests from news organizations from other countries were filled one by one.

A Shanghai government official explained that it was the only fair way to make sure that each country was represented by its official media. (Again, missing the point that there is no “official” media in the United States or most of Europe.)

Then, in Iran western journalists are required to be accompanied by “handlers” while also being followed by the secret police.

Do I really need to say anything about North Korea. ‘Nuff said!

And now Maduro confirms that Venezuela has joined this happy band of dictators by equating anyone who asks questions or build sources of information with spies. And they will stretch anything to make their point.

The minister then showed a video, “so the people in the country can see what we are confronting.”

But in the video, purportedly shot by Tracy, young people joke and mug for the camera in a drab room. It is unclear how the video points to a destabilization plan. Nor does it explain Tracy’s role.

I guess mugging for the camera is something that only Maduro and his Chavistas can do.

One thing about the story in the Post…

While it points out the arrest and the accusations of Maduro that the opposition parties are in league with the United States, it does little to discuss the overarching issue that the arrest of Tracy exemplifies: The repression of free media.

Too many apologists for Chavez/Maduro have pointed to private-sector media being used to undermine the government. What these apologists fail to understand — or refuse to accept — is that government control of the media only means that unrest and instability are more likely.

Without independent and competing news organizations — i.e. government-controlled media — the people have no way of getting accurate information. The people pick up on how the media are being used for propaganda purposes pretty quickly and begin to ignore or disbelieve anything in the media.

There is nothing to check corrupt and/or inept leaders. So corruption runs rampant and inept officials get a free pass to keep causing problems because there is no method to peacefully correct the situation.

The only means of transferring information, then becomes word of mouth. (I think I hear someone saying: “Let’s play telephone!”)

When word of mouth — aka – rumors — become the norm for information transfer, societies become more unstable. Unrest grows and dissatisfaction with the ruling elite grows.

You see it in China by the increasing number of people who rely on text messages to get accurate info and in the number of reporters and editors who are constantly pushing against the censors.

We see it in the unrest in Argentina where the government arrests people for publishing the actual numbers related to inflation and national debt.

And we see it in Venezuela where the leadership is so nervous about their precarious position that they arrest an independent film maker for doing what independent film makers do, develop sources, ask questions and present the situation.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Press Freedom, South America