2006: The Smell of Sulfur

Your Yearly Briefing for 2006. Translated by Javier Liendo.

Photo: El Universo

Although the triumph of Leones del Caracas in the Caribbean Series was widely celebrated, it didn’t get as much press as the coverage for the 6th World Social Forum in Caracas, with the Caracas-La Guaira freeway collapsing long before “la trocha” was opened.

Photo: El Universal

Early on, Chávez announced a 15% wage hike and asked for ideas to improve what he believed to be an “unfair standard” in public administration; he also reduced the number of contributions needed for pensioners, promised pensions of 80% the minimum wage for poor housewives and scrapped the Banking Debit Tax. After these generous decrees, Chávez started boasting that he’d win presidential elections in December with ten million votes, and proposed a referendum to approve the President’s indefinite reelection, without a constitutional reform.


2006 was sadly memorable for the cruel sequence of violent incidents that started with the kidnapping and murder of businessman Filippo Sindoni. It would be followed by the kidnapping of the Faddoul brothers and their driver, which kept us on the edge of our seats for over a month and a half, when they were finally found dead. While covering a protest against the murder of the Faddoul brothers, photojournalist Jorge Aguirre was killed, he managed to take a picture before he was wounded. Anti-crime protests revealed a wound that was already festering: increasingly often, policemen and soldiers were accused of robberies, kidnappings, murders and extrajudicial executions, as well as collaborating with criminals. Then, the massacre at La Paragua mine happened, with full military responsibility.

Official thieves

A scandal of corruption blew open in the Ezequiel Zamora agroindustrial complex in Sabaneta, Barinas, one of Chávez’ personal dreams, where Bs. 2.6 billion were embezzled. It would take two years before officials Franklin Castillo and Orlando Herrera were sentenced for embezzlement. In a different sphere of power, Luis Velázquez Alvaray was forced to resign from the Judiciary’s Executive Directorate, and launched a campaign against then Interior Minister Jesse Chacón, accusing him of corruption, which accelerated his dismissal, taking full blame for the corruption at Ciudad Lebrún. Don’t worry, he did pretty well in Costa Rica.

Red Parliament

At Chávez’ behest, the National Assembly approved legislation to add a star to the national flag “in honor of Guayana” and the horse on the national coat of arms was modified to look the other way, disregarding the historical, constitutional and financial implications. They chose new CNE authorities: Janeth Hernández, Sandra Oblitas, Germán Yépez and Vicente Díaz, ratifying Tibisay Lucena and killing any hope for a team that could recover the electoral institution’s credibility and independence. Controversial laws were discussed: Education; International Cooperation (against foreign financing of NGOs) and the Law on Joint Ventures. Since the U.S. didn’t allow Spain to sell military aircrafts to Venezuela, arguing that it would break equilibrium in the region, Chávez announced during his European tour that he’d buy them from Russia, eventually acquiring 24 Sukhoi aircrafts and 53 helicopters for three billion dollars. The Finance Committee approved an additional credit of Bs. 43.5 billion to purchase this equipment.


Chávez needed the spotlight, so he fueled regional tensions with oil dollars as his passport. He faced down Ecuador for the FTAA and freely spoke about other nations such as Mexico, Nicaragua and Colombia; he supported Ollanta Humala’s candidacy, even vowing to sever ties with Peru if the other candidate won, as his interference was reviewed by the OAS. Fidel Castro and Chávez were Evo Morales’ advisors for the nationalization of Bolivia’s hydrocarbons industry, hurting the industry’s main investors: Brazil, Spain and Argentina; that’s how Chávez damaged his relations with Lula Da Silva and Ernesto Kirschner, as he fed his triad with Fidel and Evo, which was later called “The axis of evil.” On July 5th, Evo and Kirschner were decorated with the Orden Libertador. Chávez kept buying support with oil revenues, albeit with great reluctance. Nicolás left Parliament to become foreign minister and Raúl Isaías Baduel was appointed defense minister.

I smell sulfur

On September 20th, Chávez climbs to the UN podium, a day after George Bush did the same. “The devil was in here,” he said as he crossed himself, and later proclaimed the U.S. as the greatest threat for the world. He spent more time talking about anti-imperialism and the impertinence of dictatorships (rubbing salt on the wound) than about his proposals, but he did ask for support to enter the Security Council. His speech got a lengthy ovation and became a part of that short list of memorable speeches at the UN.

Atrévete te te…

The opposition’s leaders slowly organized to choose a single candidate. The initial offers boiled down to three: Zulia governor Manuel Rosales; former lawmaker Julio Borges and former minister and former senator Teodoro Petkoff. The latter dropped from the race to make primary elections easier, with Rosales coming out on top, he had to leave office. Meanwhile, Carlos Ortega and three soldiers escaped Ramo Verde military prison and Bejamín Rausseo – er Conde del Guácharo –, became the outsider, representing “ni-nis” (people who didn’t identify with either the government or the opposition). His slogan: Vota Piedra. Every poll gave Chávez a broad advantage and he said that all his years in office had been a rehearsal. “10 millones por el buche” was his first slogan, which would later change to “¡Uh, ah! ¡Chávez no se va!”, while he shamelessly exhibited his own embezzling skills. The best example of political proselytism was Rafael Ramírez’s “roja rojita” chants in PDVSA.

And he didn’t leave

He didn’t get the ten million votes he’d promised, but Chávez got 7,309,080 (62.84%) of votes. From the balcón del pueblo in Miraflores, he spoke to his militants and dedicated the triumph to Fidel Castro and the country’s martyrs. Rosales acknowledged the defeat, pointing out that the real difference was much narrower, but emphasizing that there was no fraud. That was the first time I ever abstained from voting.


Early in the year, Chávez requested four billion dollars from the BCV and announced plans to slash three zeros off bolívares, as if it was just a matter of erasing them. It was a wasteful year and the second year in a row in which the GDP grew (10.3%), and imports of goods and services also grew. Inflation closed at 17%, the policy of price controls remained in place and the Mercado de Alimentos C.A. (Mercal) was created to distribute food and essential products. The dollar at the start of the year was at Bs. 2,695 and closed at Bs. 3,305.

I laughed so hard while doing this summary, because of the perfect timing of the most recent statements by Luis Velázquez Alvaray against Rafael Ramírez.

Naky Soto

Naky gets called Naibet at home and at the bank. She coordinates training programs for an NGO. She collects moments and turns them into words. She has more stories than freckles.