October 23, 2012

VENEZUELA'S LOSS IS AMERICAN'S GAIN: Venezuelan exodus to Florida expected to increase after Chávez's election victory

By David Paulin

Hugo Chávez's reelection victory and subsequent pledge to deepen "21st Century" socialism in Venezuela has produced a predictable result -- yet another exodus of Venezuelans is expected to head to Florida. Like early waves of Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s communism, these Venezuelans are members of their country’s business, professional, and entrepreneurial class. They could, to be sure, have been part of the solution to Venezuela’s poverty and dysfunction. But Chávez saw them as part of the problem as he created class divisions; nationalized large swaths of the economy; and implemented currency exchange and price controls that strangled the economy and even produced food shortages.
The ongoing exodus of Venezuela’s best and brightest – and the increase that's expected after Chávez’s reelection -- is the subject of an article in the Miami Herald describing how South Florida immigration lawyers and real estate agents are gearing up for visits from Venezuelans who have decided it’s time to get out. They're looking to buy real estate and start businesses in South Florida, with the hope of gaining residency and starting new lives. After suffering 14 years of Hugo Chávez – and facing six more to come – they decided to join the estimated 200,000 or more Venezuelans already in the U.S. – 57 percent of whom live in South Florida. 

 “Nothing surpasses fear as a cause for capital flight,” Enrique García, a Key Biscayne council member and real estate agent, told The Herald. Citing immigration statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, The Herald noted that the “total number of Venezuelans who have received permanent residence has been growing year after year — from a little more than 5,000 in 2002 to more than 9,000 in 2011.” 

 During the era of soaring oil prices in the 1970s, oil-rich Venezuela earned a nickname: “Saudi Venezuela.” But easy petro-dollars not only contributed to corruption, they fostered a culture of populism and paternalism -- what Venezuela’s poor majority expects today, and what Chavez has promised to deliver.

On the other hand, the Venezuelans settling in the U.S. are educated and can make their own way. They need no lessons in democracy, as underscored by the thousands of Venezuelans who on election day rode in bus caravans to New Orleans, where they stood in long lines at Venezuela’s consulate to vote for opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.

They couldn't vote in Miami because Chavez had closed the consulate there earlier this year, following a spate with Washington over the State Department's expulsion of Venezuela’s consul general in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera. It concerned recordings of her allegedly discussing an Iranian plot to carry out a cyber-attack against the U.S.        

That created a problem for 20,000 Venezuelan voters in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who'd registered to vote at the Miami consulate. Accordingly, 8,500 of them cast their ballots at Venezuela’s consulate in New Orleans -- virtually taking over the city as they waited in long lines to vote, and passing the time by singing their country's lovely national anthem.
This YouTube clip provides a look at some of the Venezuelans whom Chavez has demonized and intimidated in his quest for “social justice” and “21st Century” socialism.

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

October 19, 2012

Why did Hugo Chavez endorse President Obama for a second term?

By David Paulin

The answer to that is easy -- anti-Americanism. Hugo Chavez, after all, has made anti-Americanism a cornerstone of his leftist policies. And this can’t be ignored when explaining why Chavez endorsed President Obama for a second term.

"I hope this doesn't harm Obama, but if I was from the United States, I'd vote for Obama," Venezuela's socialist and firebrand president declared during a television interview. Calling Obama “a good guy,” Chavez also opined that if Obama were a Venezuelan, he would vote for him too.

All in all, it was a remarkable endorsement given that soon after Chavez took office 14 years ago – during Bill Clinton’s second term – he started to rail against Yankee imperialism; cozied up to Cuba's Fidel Castro and various Middle Eastern strongmen; and praised Venezuelan-born terrorist Carlos the Jackal as a "worthy heir of the greatest [leftist] struggles."

So how come Chavez considers himself a kindred spirit with Obama? It no doubt has much to do with the similar world views both share. Chavez, for example, believes that America is responsible for all the world’s ills – and so in his mind this justifies his efforts to build anti-American and anti-Western alliances. It would not be enough for him to merely concentrate on Venezuela’s soaring poverty, crime and endemic corruption – for all these things are for him related to the poisonous world order for which America is the No. 1 villain. One of Chavez’s favorite books is the paranoid anti-American and anti-European screed “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” – a book he presented to Obama at a Summit of Americas conference in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Obama, for his part, has tacitly embraced significant aspects of Chavez’s anti-American world view – reflected in his deep bows to foreign leaders; his demonization of Wall Street and financially successful Americans (the “1 percenters”); and in his Middle East apology tour. Above all, Obama seems to believe America is a declining power and must maintain a lower-profile in the world; this for him is the best way to avoid international conflicts and create a peaceful world.

When Obama was elected, Chavez briefly toned down his anti-American broadsides and insults, saying: “I am ready to negotiate with the black man in the White House.” (It sounds a lot funnier when said in Spanish.) Since then, however, Chavez has tossed occasional barbs at Obama -- though he  hasn’t demonized him to the extent he did Bush.

Ultimately, though, it would be a mistake to take Chavez at his word when he sings Obama’s praises. He may believe what he’s saying on a certain level. But ultimately, Chavez and his leftist soul-mates hate the United States for what it is – not for what it does.

But don't expect Obama to understand that. He'll see Chavez's endorsement as evidence that he's doing something right -- rather than reflecting an embarrassing truism: "Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are." 

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

Cuba's new travel law a cynical ‘survival tactic’

By David Paulin

Cuba’s new travel law, announced on Tuesday in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, is being spun by the Associated Press and others as a historic first by the communist regime – a long-overdue reform giving Cubans the freedom to travel abroad for the first time in more than 50 years.
In reality, the new law is a survival tactic by the Castro regime.
It's part of the same cynicism that was behind the Mariel boatlift in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans sailed to South Florida aboard private boats -- including criminals and mental patients whom Fidel Castro had set loose. It's part of the same cynicism that Castro demonstrated during the summer of 1984 -- when he looked the other way as tens of thousands of Cubans built rafts to escape their tropical prison.
So says a clear-eyed analysis of the new travel law by Fabiola Santiago in today’s Miami Herald, “New travel law just another survival tactic for Castro.”
As Santiago writes:
And now comes Raúl Castro, re-inventing his brother’s sure-footed strategy to send the enemy into exile — and relieve the pressure on the government to undertake meaningful reforms — by making it easier for the disenchanted masses to leave while retaining control of who travels.
While this may seem a blessing to a people without hope, when Cuba talks “immigration reform” and “new travel measures,” only one thing is certain: There will be major — and unfavorable — implications for the United States, particularly for South Florida.
Clues to Cuba’s intentions are in the details of the new rules.
They exempt medical professionals, scientists, and other desirable skilled would-be emigrants, and the military. They sweeten the offer to the Revolution-bred masses by assuring them that they would be welcomed back to Cuba and could retain their resident benefits as long as they return every two years.
In other words, travel to the mythical Miami, city with streets paved in exile gold; become a resident after a year under the Cuban Adjustment Act and be eligible for U.S. benefits; send thousands of dollars and goods to Cuba; come vacation in Varadero — and even collect a few pesos (those $20-a-month Cuban pensions), rent or sell your home and keep your old Lada.
“This is a way to get rid of Cuba’s population because they cannot meet the economic needs of the people,” says Andy S. Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “They do it with bad intentions. They know that the young people of Cuba are looking for any opportunity to leave the country…. As a young woman told me in Santiago de Cuba, ‘Anywhere but here.’”
It’s also no accident that the new travel rules are timed to go into effect on Jan. 13, days from the U.S. presidential inauguration.
No matter who wins the election, Cuban officials will be able to peddle their brand of truth to the Cuban people — particularly the disenchanted youth — that it’s not their government prohibiting travel, but the imperialist monster to the North. Another ploy to force their way into the American agenda.
And so, then, forget about the positive spin being put forth about the new travel rules. The devil is in the details. 
Originally published at The American Thinker

October 4, 2012

Hugo Chavez: 'I am not a socialist!'

By David Paulin

Yes, Hugo Chavez really said it: "I am not a socialist!" Not recently, to be sure, but 14 years ago when Chavez - as a cashiered Army paratrooper who'd led a failed military coup in February 1992 -- was making a run for Venezuela's presidency.

"I am not a socialist!" he said during a television interview, wearing a suit and speaking in reasonable tones. This was when he was trying hard to convince voters - especially middle-class and well-off Venezuelans who were leery of him -- that he'd definitely cast aside the bullet for the ballot. Chavez, at the time, claimed he was an idealistic moderate who would pursue a "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism. He pledged to reverse wide-spread poverty, clean up endemic corruption, and restore the oil-rich but impoverished South American nation's national pride - a nation that, during the era of high oil prices, was a beacon of democracy in the region and, many Venezuelans believed, was poised to attain first-world status. Back then, the country was dubbed "Saudi Venezuela."

"I am not a socialist!" Chavez's words now figure prominently into a powerful YouTube video - "Yo no soy socialista" - that juxtaposes Chavez's original campaign pledges against his leftist rhetoric that started soon after he took office in 1999. The video comes as Chavez, 58, is in a close election race against 40-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles.

You don't need to understand Spanish to understand the video in which El Presidente -- who now speaks of creating a paradise of "21st Century Socialism" -- extols the virtues of "fatherland, socialism, or death" ("patria, socialismo o muerte) to an audience. At another point, he declares: "I am a true revolutionary!"

 In the mainstream media's Venezuela coverage, an important piece of context is often omitted regarding Chavez's rise to power - it's erroneously suggested that only Venezuela's poor voted for Chavez, who won the second-largest popular vote ever, 58.4%, in 1998. In fact, many middle-class and well-off Venezuelans voted for Chavez. They didn't see him as a messiah as did Venezuela's poor, to be sure. But they did regard him as a sincere reformer -- a political outsider not associated with Venezuela's traditional parties, a man who would be an antidote for Venezuela's decline.

But as the YouTube video dramatically shows, Chavez carried out a monstrous bait-and-switch after becoming president. Declaring himself a revolutionary socialist and adopting an anti-American foreign policy, despite Venezuela's historically close ties with the U.S., Chavez consolidated his power by rewriting the constitution and packing the Supreme Court and other institutions with his supporters. He demonized anybody who disagreed with him. It happened because of Venezuela's weak checks and balances and the popular wave of support on which Chavez was riding.

As a Caracas-based journalist at the time, I was impressed at the way some prescient Venezuelans, a minority to be sure, avoided group think. They saw Chavez as a wolf-in-sheep's clothing from the start. Even before Chavez's landslide election victory, for instance, many upper-level executives in state oil company PDVSA were resigning -- making plans for early retirement abroad, with Miami being a popular spot to weather the storm. Many were among Venezuela's best and brightest. They had wanted to be part of the solution to Venezuela's problems. But Chavez, a class warrior instead of a uniter, saw them as part of Venezuela's problems.

Ultimately, Chavez took three bad ideas from Venezuela's past - statism, authoritarianism, and bread-and-circus populism - and took them to new heights. He stoked anti-Americanism like never before, traveling frequently abroad as he made alliances with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Middle Eastern strongmen. He even praised Venezuelan-born terrorist Carlos the Jackal as a "worthy heir of the greatest [leftist] struggles."

As for PDVSA, it used to be one of the world's most respected state oil companies, a vital source of income. Under Chavez, it has become rife with political cronyism. Oil production has declined significantly, according to many observers. It's thought the Chavez administration's mismanagement was responsible for a huge refinery explosion last month - whose flames, as shown in the "I-am-not-a-socialist" video, look like scenes from hell. It's an apt metaphor for what "21st Century socialism" has brought to Venezuela.

In his reelection campaign, Chavez has had a clear advantage. He controls the levers of power and has no qualms about using state resources to aid his campaign, as was underscored on Tuesday with a report from television news channel Globovision: It showed PDVSA vehicles driving around with Chavez campaign stickers.
Capriles is good looking compared to the puffy-faced Chavez who claims to be in remission from cancer; and in Venezuela -- home to many beauty queens -- looks matter. Capriles has connected with audiences by hammering away at Venezuela's epic levels of corruption, mismanagement, and Chavez's willingness to use Venezuela's oil to support leftist political goals abroad -- all while Venezuela has suffered regular electricity outages, food shortages, and one of the world's highest murder rates.

What will happen when Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday? It may be ugly. Chavez, after all, sees himself as being on a divine mission, a veritable reincarnation of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, his hero. He believes the ends justify the means. Most ominously, Chavez and his senior advisers have asserted that Venezuela will suffer violence and political instability if he's not reelected. All of which raises fears that the country is poised for a social explosion, with Chavez's most fanatical supporters and government forces taking to the streets. This would be in response to a Capriles victory - or perhaps in response to a Chavez victory that's regarded by enraged Capriles' supporters as being rigged.

"A number of multinational companies with operations in Venezuela (including oil companies) are updating contingency plans to pull their expatriate staff out of the country quickly if there's a sudden eruption of social and political conflict," writes blogger Caracas Gringo, a prescient American expat who writes anonymously from Venezuela.
Whoever wins, Venezuela's sad decline will not be reversed anytime soon. 

Originally published at The American Thinker blog and FrontPage Magazine