The Soap Box

Before we go Down The Rabbit Hole here’s a few items from my trusty news feed.The Taipei Times, you know..the ‘other China’, reported on the struggle by journalists in Venezuela to continue the free flow of news and information. They gave a shout out to “El Bus TV” as we did here last week. Remember,the guys with the cardboard cut-out of a TV reading the news to bus passengers? They went on to say that there are also people giving out free newspapers at bus stops. Then they mentioned what I refer to as “The Soap Box”, the common phrase referring to the old practice of a speaker in a public square climbing up on a soap box to speak to gatherers for better visibility. This “Soap Box” style journalism is being carried out by brave journalists doing public news reading in neighborhoods around Venezuela to gatherings and people listening from their windows.It’s as old school as it gets, bringing the news to those not on social media. Hats off to “The Soap Box” journalists!! This is especially important in light of the report by Espacio Publico that 11 of 23 states in Venezuela have no regional newspapers. Oh, and award winning newspaper,La Nacion, previously a 30 page daily publication is now down to 15 pages published four times weekly. I’m surprised it’s that much.

 And what are Maduro’s allies,the Russians, up to? Neftegaz RU (Russia) reports that the state owned entity that bought all the tech from Rosneft when they pulled out of their spectacularly unsuccessful joint ventures with Chavismo (PDVSA) will provide support and technology to Venezuela state owned utility CORPOLEC through a 10 year plan. Remember CORPOLEC from our “Just The Basics” Down The Rabbit Hole segment? They’re the ones with no experienced personnel left and basically no infrastructure. Good luck with that 10 year plan.

 PR Newswire published an interview with my favorite member of the opposition in Venezuela, Maria Corina Machado. She is about the only one that has maintained a staunch anti-Chavismo stance pretty much from day one. The main takeaway from the piece was Ms. Machado’s opinion that Latin American conservatives have suffered from bad messaging and that (my words,not hers) gullible populations are susceptible to the lies being told them. Hmmm… she could have been talking about Republican’s bad messaging in the US and our own gullible population. Just a thought….

 This just in from Sputnik (Russia). Maduro says the contacts with the opposition are going well in Mexico. Gee…what a surprise. More happy talk from Chavismo. It’s all good…until it falls apart…and we all know where the blame will be placed, don’t we?

 The Wilson Center had an article by Abraham Lowenthal who seems to be very knowledgeable and the piece appeared well researched. His five point plan for a transition in Venezuela  from authoritarianism to democracy (I know, Chavismo says democracy is alive and well in Venezuela) is well thought out and makes a lot of sense. My issue with the plan is the same old sticking point we always seem to get back to with Maduro.One of the five pillars,if you will, of the plan is the requirement of free,fair,credible,and internationally monitored elections. As is playing out in Mexico right now, those requirements will never be met by the Chavistas whether they pay lip service to them or not. Am I the only one that remembers Maduro saying he won’t agree to any of those conditions without sanctions relief? We’ve seen this movie before.

 Now, Down The Rabbit Hole we go…..

 …..A chaotic scenario like this was the perfect opportunity for Chavismo to get their hands on some badly needed revenue as well as to exert their control on another segment of the population(ie;the country). In February,2016 Maduro announced the launching of a new project,”The Mining Arc”. The initiative was supposed to drive development of the vast resources of gold,coltan,diamonds,uranium,etc. in a responsible and eco-friendly manner for the 112,000 square kilometer area. And, of course,the military was put in charge of the project.

 At the time of the announcement there were supposedly 150 companies from 35 countries interested in projects in “The Mining Arc”.( Does this sound reminiscent of the launch of “el Petro”?) This interest has produced nothing substantial to date. The primary reason for this is the required partnering with CAMIMPEG,the military controlled mining,oil,and gas company or Minerven,the government run mining company.Another contributing factor to the lack of international investment and to the violence in the region is the military itself.

 You might think that giving the military control over the region would stabilize things and stem the lawlessness. The effect has been exactly the opposite.The pecking order goes something like this.The military is the top dog with the syndicates ranking second.Then you have the ELN, the FARC dissidents,and the Pran-related gangs still exerting strong influence.All these groups cooperate with or compete with the military in illegal enterprises. Violent clashes are the order of the day and include group to individual,group to group, and group to military confrontations. There are also narco-trafficking routes in the region which adds to the instability and lawless nature of the area. It also doesn’t help that the Venezuelan government doesn’t cooperate with it’s neighbors in anti-drug, anti-crime, anti-insurgent, or anti-terrorism activities. They prefer to allow these activities and receive compensation for their complicity. The military even arms some of these groups in return for both profit in gold and control.A good example of this attitude was in 2005 when a national guard lieutenant colonel was jailed for capturing a FARC leader and the ELN is allowed to operate in 13 of 23 Venezuelan states.

 Caught in the middle of all this are the Pemon indigenous people who have lived in the region since long before the Spanish colonization of the 1500’s. Numerous proclamations by Chavez,and subsequently Maduro, regarding the need to preserve indigenous cultures have meant nothing. The Venezuelan government’s Indigenous Ministry and the Advocacy Office for Indigenous Peoples have failed to protect their interests. The protected ancestral Pemon lands have received the same treatment the Sioux got from the US government when they were told “all land north of the Powder River is considered sacred”. Things like that go by the wayside when gold enters the equation and so it is for the Pemon. They are preyed upon from all sides.

 From the announcement of “The Mining Arc” in 2016 ’til 2019 local media reported a dozen massacres perpetrated on the Pemon with 107 killed and many more wounded. There have been more in the last couple of years. Due to the remote location and fear of reprisals if people that go missing are reported most people believe the actual numbers are higher and continue to climb.

 The Pemon fare no better when they travel to the towns to sell whatever gold they are able to mine or trade it for basic goods. The municipalities in “The Mining Arc” have homicide rates now that far eclipse the rate in Caracas,considered the world’s most violent major city.

 To be continued…..

©Copyright 2021 all right reserved.