Friday, December 14, 2007

In pictures: Chavez referendum defeat

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Four foreign nationals arrested as illegal agents of foreign government

Southern District of Florida Public Affairs
Office: Alicia Valle Special
Counsel to the U.S. Attorney (305) 961-9153
Yovanny Lopez Public Affairs Specialist (305) 961-9316
Public Affairs Fax (305) 530-7055
Press Release
December 12, 2007
Three Venezuelans and an Uruguayan national were arrested last night and appeared in federal court in Miami today on charges of acting and conspiring to act as agents of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela within the United States, without prior notification to the Attorney General of the United States, as required by law, announced Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Department's National Security Division, R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office.
Charged in the complaint were defendants Moises Maionica, 36, Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, 37, Rodolfo Edgardo Wanseele Paciello, 40, Franklin Duran, 40, and Carlos Kauffmann, 35. All have been arrested, except for defendant Antonio Jose Canchica Gomez, who remains at large.
If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of ten (10) years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
According to the complaint filed in federal court, the defendants coordinated and participated in a series of meetings, beginning in August 2007, in South Florida with Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson to procure Antonini's help in concealing the source of an intended $800,000 cash contribution to the political campaign of a candidate in the recent Argentine presidential election of Oct. 28, 2007.
The last meeting took place on Dec. 11, 2007, when defendants Maionica, Duran, and another individual met with Antonini to discuss the creation of false documents in furtherance of the cover-up.
The events culminating in today's criminal charges began on Aug. 4, 2007, when Antonini flew by Cessna Citation, bearing registration number N5113S, from Venezuela to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The privately chartered aircraft had previously departed from Caracas Maiquetía International Airport in Venezuela, carrying eight passengers on board, including, among others, Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson. Upon arrival at Buenos Aires, Argentine Customs Service inspected the luggage offloaded from the Cessna Citation, and found approximately $800,000 in United States currency in luggage being carried by Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson.
The Argentine authorities seized the money and Antonini returned to his South Florida home. The complaint alleges that beginning in mid-August, 2007 and continuing through Dec. 11, 2007, the defendants and other participants in the conspiracy, acting as agents of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, sought to obtain the assistance of Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson, a U.S. citizen who travels under both United States and Venezuelan passports, in concealing from the people of Argentina and others, the source and destination and the role of the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the attempted delivery of the approximately $800,000.
During these meetings, the defendants told Antonini that various high-ranking Venezuelan government officials, including the Office of the Vice President of the Republic, members of the DISIP (Intelligence and Preventive Services Directorate), and a high-ranking official from the Justice Ministry of Venezuela, were aware of this matter.
The defendants told Antonini that these funds had been destined for the campaign of a candidate in the Argentine presidential election of Oct. 28, 2007. "The complaint filed today outlines an alleged plot by agents of the Venezuelan government to manipulate an American citizen in Miami in an effort to keep the lid on a burgeoning international scandal.
These arrests should serve as a warning to other agents who operate illegally in America on behalf of foreign powers," said Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta stated, "Today's complaint alleges an effort by the agents of Venezuela to travel to the United States for the purpose coercing our citizens to help conceal the true nature of a growing international scandal.
This is not the first time in recent years that we have charged individuals with operating illegally in South Florida as agents of foreign powers, and likely will not be the last. The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to make prosecution of these cases one of our highest priorities."
"The FBI is committed to working with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to pursue those who act illegally as agents of foreign governments while in our country," said Acting Assistant Director Daniel L. Cloyd, FBI Counterintelligence Division.FBI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Solomon stated, "South Florida takes pride in the diversity of the people that have chosen to live here and we will always embrace those that come here to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that are available to us all.
When unregistered foreign agents believe that they can operate on our soil with impunity and disregard for U.S. laws, it undermines the national security of our country and the safety of our citizens.
This case demonstrates our resolve in ensuring that activities conducted in the United States are free from nefarious foreign influence."Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its work in this investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Mulvihill and Senior Trial Attorney Clifford I. Rones, of the Counterespionage Section at the Justice Department's National Security Division.
A copy of this press release may be found on the Justice Department's website at, or on the website of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at
or on

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Venezuela Glance 2008

Venezuela Glance 2008

Check the following link. Chavez is going down.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The day after: Analyzing the results and the political future of Venezuela

Monday, December 03, 2007
The day after: Analyzing the results and the political future of Venezuela
by Miguel Octavio

A Chavez blow up doll lies on the victory platform that was never used in downtown Caracas

I have a case of electoral hangover. It was tense last night, but the tiredness can’t be justified by the short hours of sleep, it is more associated with the tension and expectations of last night. I feel tired, but there is also certain exhilaration with the victory. Thus, it is time to take stock and look at the meaning of what happened yesterday and what may mean to the future of Venezuela:

The Results: It is my understanding that the No lead is wider than what was reported by the CNE, between 4 to 5% points. Curiously, there have been no more reports from the Electoral Board since the first one last night, once again proving what a joke the best electoral system in the world has become. A full 24 hours after the polls closed and we do not know officially even what abstention was like, other than unofficial numbers. Thus, it would seem premature to say anything about the numbers in detail. When they are available I will do that.
However, at first glance it would seem from the polls that the NO should have won by more than what was reported if abstention was truly around 44-45%. I am hearing that this was in fact the case and that as part of the agreement with the military and Chávez, the first report was supposed to show a small difference, which will widen as the remainder 10% of the vote is counted.

Behind the Scenes: Multiple reliable sources are saying that having Chávez accept the results was no easy task. In fact, a good source told me that at some point the CNE President almost announced a Si victory by a slim margin, which was stopped only because General Baduel threatened to come on stage and call the fraud if she did this. In the end the military and Baduel prevailed in defending institutionality. Baduel and the military reportedly played a key role in forcing Chavez to accept his defeat or otherwise the military will call it a coup.

Chavez in some sense acknowledge this last night, when he refereed to his “dilemma” and the fact that he no longer had one. Chavez tacitly admitted that he had known the results for three hours and that the results created a dilemma for him and that even if he tried to refer to the Electoral Board as an independent institution, in the end it was his decision. He went as far as mentioning that he even had long consultations with his Ministers and the Cabinet.

In a country with true independent institutions, whether or when to announce a result should have nothing to do with the Executive branch. The Electoral Board may have the courtesy of informing the winners and losers right before the announcement, but Chávez clearly proved why there are no independent powers in Venezuela and why institutionality is so weak: he fails to recognize where he should stop meddling and interfering with independent branches of power. It was not his dilemma, he was interfering with institutions.

It also shows why our democracy is weak.

If the military has to act at each tough junction in our democratic life in order to restore institutionality, it means that our politicians do not yet understand what a functional democracy should be and act like.
This lack of institutionality extends to the CNE which acted in a very partisan way during the campaign and which last night did little to restore complete trust in its functions by unnecessarily delaying the release of the results and barring the way of the totalization room to the witnesses of the No vote. This was totally undemocratic and in violation of the law. Moreover, the long times to report suggest either they are not doing their job or the automation system is useless. In a country with true institutionality, everyone should be asking for their resignation. They performed poorly and by doing so, continued raising suspicions about their biased role in the process.

Chavez’ Speech:

Not gracious at all. First of all, he should not have extended himself so much. He should have said he recognized the victory of the No and not go into more details, least of all when after one hour he said that he would keep it short. Those abroad should remember that while Chavez was speaking, all TV and radio stations were forced to carry his speech. The supporters of the NO, the winners in this race, were egoistically denied watching their own side celebrate.
Chávez also tried to turn the loss into a victory, which is valid, but certainly not very believable for a man used to winning elections handily. The voters said they did not like his proposal, the voters rejected his socialism, the voters rejected his indefinite reelection, but Chavez still said that he would not remove one comma from his proposal and there will be other times for that fight. Thus, Chavez was showing how he likes to impose his will without discussion, rather than use the tools of democracy: negotiation, discussion and concession in order to reach a consensus. He cannot accept an opinion different than his; he cannot admit different ways of accomplishing things. Despite the evidence of the No victory, he plans to continue to push his project intact, which may be his demise.

It was good of Chávez to accept his defeat. I confess I never believed he would. In fact, I still think he may surprise us in the days ahead. Recall how the days after the April 2002 events Chavez was contrite after coming back. He apologized to everyone, he spoke of a consensus, he asked for forgiveness, only to come back with vengeance to stop any investigation of what happened those days, to destroy PDVSA and its workers and return back to his Cabinet the same political operators that were with him during the days leading up to the tragedy of April 2002.

Thus, as Baduel suggested last night, Chávez is likely to push the whole agenda of Constitutional reform using other means. In fact, as was discussed numerous times, most of the things in the Constitutional reform proposal did not need to be there. Many were somewhat irrelevant except to have Chavez have more control of the institutions, but economically and socially he still has an Enabling Bill to pass many of the proposals rejected by the voters via decrees, which require no approval or even being known by the people.
Clearly, Chavez did not see last night’s votes as a rejection of what he proposes but a temporary setback for his plans. That is bad news, as he will certainly will try to press it forward again in the future.

Why the No won:

There were numerous factors.

First, the proposal was not only clearly illegal but became more and more complex and questionable as time went on. Voters had rejected the indefinite reelection from day one, but other parts of their proposal were attractive to some sectors because of their populist content. However, the administration always seemed to be in a rush and as more components were added, the sense that Chavez and the Assembly wanted to push it through without discussion became dominant. To many, the proposal was long, complex, and unnecessary and in the end raised more doubts than it created answers.
The students played a key role in the process. The student movement got involved at levels orders of magnitude above what they had done in the last nine years on concerns over the future of their autonomous universities and the cancellation of the concession for RCTV. The students were well organized, had a wide reach and had a message of conciliation, which was truly important. Even more importantly, they have families and Chavez did nothing but insult their kids.
The state of the economy also played a key role. There have been shortages since June, which have only accentuated in the last few months. Despite claims by the Government that milk supplies will be normalized shortly, to this date it has simply not happened. Add to that the periodic disappearance of various items; some of them permanently, other sporadically and there is a widespread belief that something is not right with the Government.
Inflation has also played an important role. While Government ministers continued to say the new financial transaction tax would have no effect on inflation, the CPI reached a whopping 4.4% level for the month prior to the election, with food inflation topping 7% for the month of November alone! Chavez should fire the genius that came up with the idea of this tax immediately before the referendum. So should be those in the economic team that have managed to screw things up so badly.
In the end Chávez has two problems in terms of managing the economy: Management and Ideology.

Management because his team is always picked on the basis of absolute loyalty to the revolution and not ability or even knowledge.

Ideology, because his infinite belief in an incompetent and corrupt public sector, combined with scaring away investment while trying to increase the supply of goods are simply incompatible. Thus, the Government continues direct assistance programs, which create demand, but supply can only be satisfied via imports. The day oil drops, even by a small margin, the whole system will simply collapse.

The opposition political parties played a significant role only in that once they felt the tide created by the students, they fell in step with them, letting them take the lead and joining them. In the end, only Escarrá did not publicly call to go out and vote, about all other political groups calling for people to go vote NO, creating more momentum than expected for the No.

Podemos, Baduel and Chavez’ former wife also played a significant role, particularly in giving credibility and validity to voting against Chavez even if you were Chavista. Baduel seems to have player a larger role within the military, Podemos in driving out the vote and Mrs. Rodriguez playing the role of victim In the end going forward, it is Baduel who clearly seems to have the larger role. He played it right and won.

The implications of the victory:

First of all it was a great victory, this can never be minimized, no matter how rough things may be going forward. There are many edges to the victory. First, it was a victory for institutionality even if it was rocky at some points. This is the main victory achieved yesterday, as the loss will impose a limit in what Chavez can and not do going forward, even if he tries.
Second, there is an important victory in knowing that it is possible to defeat Chavez. That is very important, as up to now Chavez has had an image of invincibility whether by honest vote or not, that has now been destroyed with the victory of the NO. Chávez tried to turn the referendum on the reform into plebiscite on his rule, he lost it. This is very significant. With 44% abstention, 28% of the population voted for the SI, 28% of the population voted for Chavez, that is precisely the number of hardcore Chavismo in polls. 72% of Venezuelans did not support Chavez or his reform.
The implications of this are very significant. For the opposition, it will mean that abstention and participation will be much more important in the future. People will no longer say they are not participating because Chavez will cheat or it is hopeless. This will become a significant difference in the future (Even if there was cheating in the end!)
For Chavismo the victory of the NO is also very significant. To begin with, it is no longer taboo to go against Chavez. You may go do it and if the Government does not create a new Tascon/Chavez list, it may encourage others in the future to go and vote against the President.
But more importantly, to those that hold important positions within Chavismo, there is also an important message implied: Chavez is not there forever and if one day Chavismo has to leave Government they may be called to account for themselves and their actions and decisions in power (As well as their wealth!)
But even more significantly, Chavez has been weakened by the loss. It is my belief that in the upcoming days Chavez will continue to press his agenda forward as he stated it yesterday. Some of his supporters at high level will follow him, other will not. This may create a deep division within Chavismo, as those that have their own personal ambitions and understand that Chavez lost with his proposal, will decide to split from his side and start their own movements. In the end, the balance of how many are left on his side will decide how strong he is in the end.
Chavez could only gain strength by doing exactly what I don’t expect him to do: Reach out to all Venezuelans to establish a common agenda. That is not his style, as he has proven over and over and proved once again last night saying that his proposal had not been approved “For now”, trying to relive events and a phrase relevant in a different context, which happened long ago and which, while relevant to him personally, are not considered by most Venezuelans to be part of their history, least of all to the students protesting in the streets who were still young kids when Chavez staged his bloody coup in 1992.
To these students, it is the reality of what is happening today that matters and as Baduel said in his Op-Ed Saturday:
“Venezuelan society faces a broad array of problems that have not been addressed in the eight years Mr. Chávez has been in office, even though the present Constitution offers ample room for any decent, honest government to do so. Inflation, threats to personal safety, a scarcity of basic supplies, a housing shortage and dismal education and health care are problems that will not be resolved by approving this so-called reform.”
That is reality also for the students and their families and not a now irrelevant fight between Chavez and Carlos Andres Perez or Accion Democrática.
Baduel is calling for a Constituent Assembly in the belief that the results of the referendum require a new National Assembly in which all parts are represented. Others believe this is unnecessary and that Chavez can be recalled under the 1999 Constitution in 2009. Chavez will likely try to press his socialist agenda, very similar to the proposed reform, but via the enabling Bill as he can’t introduce another Constitutional reform. The latter will in the end determine how the future of Venezuelan politics develops. Given the deterioration of the economy, Chavez may be playing a losers game, as dissatisfaction by the voters will only grow in the upcoming months and his popular support as well as that of those that surround him, may vanish, leaving him almost alone, holding a losing hand.

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Venezuela's Lame-Duck Dictator

Venezuela's Lame-Duck Dictator
Posted Monday, December 03, 2007 4:20 PM PT Latin America:
Could Hugo Chavez's stinging defeat in Venezuela's power-grab referendum Sunday be the beginning of the end for the dictator?
Yes, but in sliding downward, Chavez is unlikely to go willingly.Like other Venezuelan votes, the outcome of this referendum didn't have much resemblance to the projected outcome.
News agencies and Chavista media had it as a slam dunk for Chavez, saying he'd won by a margin of five to 14 points. But by mid-evening, Chavista victory celebrations were being called off. A stream of leaks from the CNE electoral board overnight suggested a stunning defeat.
Chavez at his press conference Monday: Downcast for good reason.Chavez dropped his usual presidential balcony announcement, and instead slunk in, stunned, to a palace conference room near midnight and admitted the defeat.
That followed a four-hour session with advisers, including the military. The generals were important, because they let Chavez know that they wouldn't shoot protesters if it became obvious he was lying about the results.
The military's position was reflected Saturday in a New York Times op-ed in which the ousted defense minister, Gen. Raul Baduel, opposed the referendum as "contrary to human nature.
"Too many people knew the truth, and unlike other suspect Venezuelan elections, any lie couldn't be hidden.
The official count shows Chavez losing 49 to 51, but the empty poll stations around the slums of Caracas suggest a wider spread. Abstention in Chavez strongholds was as high as 44%, and an estimated 500,000 followers stayed away while the opposition, led by Venezuela's courageous students, defeated the 69-point proposal.
Small wonder.
The constitutional "reforms" that Chavez wanted would have extended his presidency indefinitely, letting him handpick local overlords, exact revenge on media critics and confiscate private property at his whim.Even the dimmest of Chavista voters could see that a successful referendum would likely mean the last time they would ever vote.
Shantytown dwellers who form Chavez's political base had repeatedly expressed fear that their hovels could be taken away.Already they could see ample evidence of tyranny. Last May, Chavez shut down their favorite TV station, RCTV, depriving them of the only entertainment they could afford and triggering the student protests that have covered the streets all year.
Meanwhile, stores are empty of basic staples and lines are long. Chavista price controls and abuse of businesses have emptied shelves of rice, pasta, chicken, salt, milk, eggs and even toilet paper.
Chavez's incompetence was one sign of weakness. Overseas, there were even more. After the king of Spain told the dictator to "shut up" last month, the world hasn't stopped laughing while global entrepreneurs rack up $100 million in ring tone and T-shirt sales. Meanwhile, the discovery of vast offshore oil reserves in Brazil ended the perception that Chavez has an energy monopoly and that oil prices will always be high.
Chavez also looked weak after a spat with another neighbor, Colombia. Chavez vowed to cut off trade after exchanging harsh words with Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, but couldn't. This reminded voters that Venezuela needs Colombia for goods.
Weakness repels voters, and now Chavez — deprived of Castro-like powers — faces new problems. For one, his economic model is unsustainable. After he crashes the economy, he will face questions about his massive state spending, his takeover of private industries, his demonizing of foreign investment and his over-dependence on oil exports.
With crude prices easing, some forecasters expect Venezuela's economy to crash by mid-2008.
Expect a witch hunt to pin blame for the referendum loss. With Chavez seen a loser, he's unlikely to attract lieutenants and his government may degenerate into backbiting. He could even lose his empire. His de facto colony, Bolivia, is engulfed in civil unrest over similar constitutional changes, and its government could be overthrown.
Ecuador, another ally, could move into a more independent orbit. Meanwhile, the opposition will have room to strengthen. It's been down for a long time, but it no longer faces a brick wall. As Daniel Duquenal, who writes the excellent Venezuela News & Views blog, summed it up for IBD: "Chavez still holds enormous state power, but now he no longer controls people."

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Venezuela: A New Player in the Mix Summary

Venezuela: A New Player in the MixSummary
The Venezuelan government lost its constitutional amendment referendum in a national vote Dec. 2, emboldening the opposition and dealing President Hugo Chavez his first electoral defeat since he took office a decade ago.
This is hardly the end of the line for Chavez, but something new is taking shape in the country: a competent and capable opposition.
Contrary to Venezuelan government predictions, a constitutional referendum that would have consolidated President Hugo Chavez's power has failed by a slim margin, reports indicate. This is the first electoral defeat for Chavez since he became president in 1997; he has survived not only elections but also recall referendums and even a coup.
What makes this vote different, however, is not that Chavez lost, but how he lost.Chavez's inability to stamp out the embers of opposition has raised hope among his detractors -- many of whom call him "the world's worst dictator" -- that he will one day make one mistake too many and be swept aside.
Stratfor does not agree with this assessment. Although he is personally unpredictable and many aspects of his rule are erratic, as a political operator, Chavez is among the savviest we have ever seen. His use of oil revenues to solidify his power base and export his ideology has proven remarkably successful, and the arming of his Chavistas with automatic weapons has hugely mitigated the chance that any "People Power" revolution can displace him. (Do not confuse these comments with an endorsement; being a competent power broker is not the same as being a competent leader.)
If one wishes to call anything in Venezuela "the world's worst," the title should go to the opposition.
For most of his term in government, Chavez has faced a well-funded opposition with robust foreign backing. Yet, the opposition is so fragmented that it repeatedly has proven unable to score even tactical victories against Chavez. Even when a constellation of forces managed to briefly oust Chavez in a 2002 coup, the opposition found itself splintering before it had even captured the presidential palace.
Things have changed. The opposition campaign against the constitutional changes that would have enshrined Chavez in power for a generation was organized, unified and even a little slick. This goes beyond the boost the opposition received from the defection of former members of Chavez's inner circle, including Joel Acosta Chirinos and Raul Isaias Baduel -- though having some of Chavez's closest allies lobby against the constitutional revisions certainly helped.
There also are reports that some of Chavez's opponents took a page from the president's own book and resorted to threats to convince some poorer Venezuelans to vote "no" in the referendum.
But none of that would have led to failure had not the opposition pulled together in a way it never has before. A reason for this newfound effectiveness is the entrance into the Venezuelan equation of a new group from the most unlikely of places: Serbia.
Roughly three months ago, a group calling itself the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) began operating in Venezuela. CANVAS' raison d'etre is simple: to teach local forces how to most effectively oppose the authoritarian regimes who rule them.
Courtesy of CANVAS, the dustbin of history boasts a few pieces of geopolitical roadkill: former Georgian President Edward Shevardnadze (Rose Revolution, 2003), former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev (Tulip Revolution, 2005), nearly President Viktor Yanukovich (Orange Revolution, 2004-05) and CANVAS' first-ever foe, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (2000).
CANVAS, originally known in Serbia as Otpor (loosely translated as "Resistance"), excels at bridging the gaps between disparate factions, mobilizing popular support, coordinating protest actions and hitting authoritarian governments where it most hurts. It shines at carrying out the sort of activities at which the Venezuelan opposition fails miserably, and it has now contributed to Chavez's first real defeat.
None of this means that the Venezuelan opposition will not again fracture and return to irrelevance.
Forces still remain hugely in Chavez's favor, and the president already has indicated that his constitutional revisions will be back, one way or another. Chavez certainly is going to take a hard look at all the levers of power to ensure that defections and the media cannot again be used against him. A purge -- a broad one -- is brewing.
Meanwhile, shock and questioning appear to be the order of the day in Caracas -- which is precisely how events started in Belgrade, Tbilisi, Bishkek and Kiev.