Photo: PSUV El Hatillo
In the February 15 referendum, with 54.88% votes in favor, the possibility for Chávez to run for president as many times as he wanted was approved, despite the problems in water and power supplies, the pandemic dengue and AH1N1 virus (the vaccines wouldn’t arrive until 2010), lands and homes invasions and scarcity. Chávez won with the entire apparatus of the State at his service, even the National Assembly suspended regular sessions to campaign for him and the remaining public institutions became PSUV´s headquarters, opportunism was obscene, but the CNE didn’t intervene. The TSJ issued a ruling stating that eternal reelection didn’t affect alternability, because it provided progressiveness to people’s voting rights. Additionally, they ruled that the rejected reform could be introduced as an amendment because they were different things. Add this to the changes in the Decentralization Law to revert the transference of power to regions, which chavistas defined as “progress in the construction of the legal architecture of the new State.”
When I say “everything,” I mean “everything”
Chávez started 2009 with the intervention and military takeover of rice-producing companies, with Alimentos Polar being the most affected. Later, he ordered the expropriation of Cargill’s rice-processing plants and the intervention of 1,500 hectares that belonged to Smurfit Kappa “to sow black beans, corn, sorghum, cassava, yam.” He also ordered the military takeover of the ports of Maracaibo and Puerto Cabello. It was announced that Aeropostal airlines would become social property. 60 companies dedicated to complementary oil activities in Maracaibo were seized; 10,000 hectares of large estates were expropriated for “food production”; the “temporary occupation” of Cargill’s pasta processing plant began and Chávez nationalized four metallurgic companies: Matesi, Comsigua, Orinoco Iron, Venprecar, and another factory of steel beams. Chávez led the takeover of PIGAP II Gas Compression Plant, expropriated from Williams Companies Inc; he formally purchased Banco de Venezuela; he decreed the “forceful acquisition” of the Margarita Hilton Hotel Complex, as well as the coffee-producing company Fama de América and the coffee-roasting company Cafea. With this measure, the State took control of 70% of the national production of coffee. Closing the year, two sugar plants were intervened, the previous stage of expropriation.
Venezuela became a country free from trawl fishing, while the Framework Law on Education was imposed by the government without consultation, unleashing marches and protests. This was the year of the assault against the Maripérez Synagogue, the year in which Chávez ordered his security forces to repel any attempt of sabotage with “gas del bueno.” Vice President Ramón Carrizales suggested that the government would take control of imports to guarantee supply. He would later be appointed defense minister. Ombudswoman Gabriela Ramírez demanded that the Prosecutor’s Office investigate the members of colectivo La Piedrita, which Chávez labeled as terrorists, claiming that they had connections with the CIA. While Chávez changes the names of several ministries, scraps others and transfers faculties at will, Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello is appointed head of Conatel and started announcing a war against “radioelectric large estates.”
Against the media
While the Venezuelan State denounced at the OAS the permanent practice of “media terrorism,” Chávez ordered Cabello, Luisa Ortega Díaz (Prosecutor’s Office) and Luisa Estela Morales (TSJ) to take actions against the media and made it clear that they didn’t care what the world said about these actions. Ortega Díaz proposed a law against the media to create fear and panic, because they couldn’t evade punishment. The National Union of Press Workers condemned the prosecutor’s proposal; and she also presented a special law to punish media crimes that the AN never discussed.
The railway that never arrived
In propaganda and with access to incredible resources, the national railway plan was “in progress,” especially the Puerto Cabello-La Encrucijada stretch and the connection with Cúa, as well as the rehabilitation of the existing Puerto Cabello-Barquisimeto railway promised for 2011 along with the Acarigua-Turén stretch and the San Juan de los Morros-San Fernando de Apure section that would allegedly be finished in 2012. Who knows where those funds ended up?
The commissioners and officer of the Metropolitan Police were sentenced: the former to the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, and the latter with 15 years while only two were acquitted. The Metropolitan Mayor’s Office was stripped of its headquarters and budget with the Law of Organization of the Capital District. Ortega Díaz ratified the right to protest, but within boundaries, thus justifying police and military repression. The opposition requested before the TSJ a preliminary hearing on merits against her. There was also notable pressure against human rights defenders, denounced by Foro por la Vida because the government disregarded international obligations enshrined in agreements signed by the nation. The Ombudsman’s Office didn’t even notice. University students started several hunger strikes demanding a visit of the IACHR to verify the conditions of political prisoners.
OAS chief José Miguel Insulza admitted the request but the State didn’t approve the visit. By the way, Venezuelan lawyer Luz Patricia Mejía was elected to head the IACHR.
Visits and suspensions
Cristina Fernández signed 21 cooperation agreements with Chávez. Lula Da Silva had already signed 12 for agro-industrial development, promising to transfer Brazilian technology for supermarkets, fruit-processing plants and fertilizer plants. In compensation, Venezuela supplied oil, natural gas and aircraft fuel. There was an agreement with Colombia to create a fund with a contribution of $100 million from each country to finance common projects. The Moroccan embassy was closed and transferred to the Dominican Republic because of Chávez’ interests, because they were contrary to those of Morocco. The U.S. condemned Venezuela in its annual report on human rights for general corruption, the harassment against the press and the opposition, the politicization of the judicial system and the inaction against drug trafficking. Lech Walesa suspended his visit to the country, because he was warned that he’d be under surveillance. Chávez didn’t attend the inauguration of president Mauricio Funes in El Salvador because there was allegedly a plan to kill him. Yes, another!
Nelson Merentes was appointed head of the BCV. The government started using the earnings of nationalized companies to pay for common spending. In order to compensate for the drop in oil revenues, the IVA increased (from 9% to 12%) and the Republic’s indebtment limit was also increased, but additionally, with the partial reform of the Law of the BCV, the Administration started making the institution’s decisions on project financing, aside from Fonden. Cadivi broadened the group of goods whose import required the Certificate of Non-National Production. The minimum wage increased by 20% and with the drop in the production of goods and services, the GDP contracted by 2.9% while inflation reached 25.1%, the highest in Latin America for the fourth year in a row! The bolívar fuerte lost a fourth of its purchasing power. In January, the black market dollar’s price was Bs. 5.85 and in December, Bs. 5,97.