“Bolivarian Computers” in Venezuela

LinuxFrom Venezuelanalysis.com:

The Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez announced the launch of their “Bolivarian Computers” last week, consisting of four different models produced in Venezuela with Chinese technology.

The new computers will run the open-source Linux operating system and will first be used inside the government “missions” and state companies and institutions but eventually are expected to be sold across Venezuela and Latin America.

John Pilger’s film War on Democracy about Latin America reviewed: here.

Oil in Venezuela: here.

3 thoughts on ““Bolivarian Computers” in Venezuela

  1. Mark Weisbrot

    (from: International Business Times / CEPR)

    A New Assertiveness for Latin American Governments

    The relationships between governments and investors – especially transnational corporations -are changing rapidly, and this is especially true in Latin America today. Last month, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua surprised many international observers by announcing that they would withdraw from the World Bank’s international arbitration body, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The ICSID is a place where – under prior arrangement – foreign investors who have a dispute with a host government can submit their case to binding arbitration.

    Bolivia’s position is that ICSID is not an impartial arbitrator, and cannot be expected to act as one, so long as it is part of the World Bank. As was highlighted by the recent controversy that led to the resignation of World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz, the Bank may have 185 member countries, but it is really dominated by Washington. The saga continues as the Bush Administration once again has chosen a close neo-conservative associate of President Bush – former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick – to run the institution. The World Bank has long used its power – not only from its own lending of $23 billion annually, but also as part of a “creditor’s cartel” led by the International Monetary Fund – to pressure governments to adopt policies favored by transnational corporations. These include privatizations and removing restrictions on foreign ownership, trade, and investment flows.

    The Bolivian government also argues that there are other conflicts of interest involved in having the World Bank’s arbitration panel rule on disputes between governments and foreign investors. Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s Special Ambassador for Trade and Integration, cited the case of Aguas de Illimani, a subsidiary of the French international water giant Suez. It turned out that the International Finance Corporation, a part of the World Bank Group, was a shareholder in Aguas de Illimani. It is clear that the same institution should not be both arbitrator and a party to the dispute.

    The ICSID process, like other such international arbitration panels, does not have the transparency, checks and balances, or openness of a real judicial system – like ours in the U.S., for example. It is shrouded in secrecy. And the World Bank’s influence in selecting arbitrators makes it anything but neutral.

    Bolivia maintains that their government, which was elected with a majority that was tired of seeing the country’s natural resources drained to make foreign companies rich while their country remained the poorest in South America, needs to change the rules so that they are at less of a disadvantage relative to giant corporations. They have a good case. Since the government raised its royalty rates on hydrocarbons – with the government’s share of the biggest gas fields going from 18 to 82 percent – it has increased its revenue by nearly 7 percent of GDP. This is a huge increase in revenue.

    The IMF wrote in their country papers on Bolivia that the country would be hurting itself by raising the royalty rates. They were wrong, as were most of the experts in Washington and the US business press. In these circles it is taken as given that anything which pleases foreign investors is good for the host country, as it will attract foreign investment. Likewise, anything that foreign investors don’t like is generally portrayed as a potential disaster.

    In recent years it has not worked out that way, especially in Latin America. At the end of 2001 Argentina engaged in the largest sovereign debt default in history, and most economists and journalists predicted they would suffer terrible consequences for many years to come. But in fact the economy declined for only three months, and then went on to average nearly Chinese levels of growth for the last five years: 8.6 percent annually. Venezuela raised the royalties on foreign investors in the Orinoco basin from 1 percent to 30 percent, and on May first claimed a majority stake in all joint ventures with foreign companies. The big oil companies – Chevron, Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, and others accepted these changes and are still there, making plenty of money.

    In fact, what is happening now in Latin America and other developing countries is an attempt to correct for the extremism that characterized economic policy changes in the 1980s and 90s. Aside from the macroeconomic failures that resulted from these changes, one result was to seriously shift the balance of power to favor foreign investors over governments. The advent and increasing use of “investor-to-state dispute resolution,” with investors able to sue governments directly for actions that infringe upon their profits, is a recent development. About two-thirds of these lawsuits have come about in just the last five years. Similarly, there has been a proliferation of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITS), now more than 2500, many of them containing provisions for ICSID to arbitrate disputes.

    But there does not appear to be any relation between adopting these “investor-friendly” reforms and even the amount of foreign direct investment that a country receives, as even the World Bank’s own research has concluded. For many years China has led all developing countries as a recipient of foreign direct investment. But the main option for foreign companies that have a dispute with the government has been local arbitration through the country’s own China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).

    The new assertiveness of Latin American governments toward foreign investors has proven remarkably successful so far, winning them billions of dollars of new revenues and allowing some of the new democratic governments to deliver on their promises to help alleviate poverty. The conventional wisdom is that these changes are just a temporary result of high prices for oil and other minerals and commodities, and unusually low interest rates – all of which have given developing countries more alternatives and bargaining power. But it is much more likely that these changes are institutional and permanent.

    Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. His expertise includes Economic growth, trade, Social Security, Latin America, international financial institutions, and development.


  2. “Venezuela concerns the future of all of us”
    Interview of Vanessa Stojilkovic about her new film “Brussels – Caracas”

    Why was it important to make a movie about Venezuela?
    Vanessa: Because extraordinary things are taking place there. All those visiting this country are thrilled to bits. In Europe, by contrast, we are confronted by pessimism and fatalism in the vein of “We cannot change anything”. We see poverty gaining ground. Few victories.
    And in Venezuela, we have people who are setting out to change the situation in their country, who are achieving so many things. And our Western media say hardly anything, broadcasting instead the distorted image of some kind of dictatorship. Might they have an interest in hiding from us what is happening there, and even in demonizing it?
    One must remember that although Venezuela is, since 80 years, one of the leading oil exporters, 60% of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. This is huge. For once that a people reestablishes its right to avail itself of its natural resources, it is worth the while to take a close-up look.

    Might Venezuela be perceived as a thorn in the side?
    Vanessa. Of course, because of the oil. Here we have a country where natural resources serve the people, and no longer multinational companies. For some, this is the world upside down! As a matter of fact, there, as one student said to me: “Now, the pyramid has been inverted so that everyone would have rights.”

    How exactly did the idea behind this film dawn on you?
    Vanessa. By accident. I had heard a lot about Venezuela, and I had the opportunity to travel there. Well, I didn’t want to arrive empty-handed. It so happened that in Brussels, I had just directed a few brief videos of mini street polls to find out what people thought of Bush, Iraq, Europe….So, I told myself: “I am going to bring them a small contribution: What do the people here think of Venezuela, what information have they received, what questions do they ask themselves?” I told myself that it would be useful for them to know how Venezuela is perceived here…

    How did the Belgians view Venezuela?
    Vanessa. Like for all Europeans, I reckon, it turned out that a segment of the people was quite manipulated by what they had heard in the media. Having said that, almost everyone was very open and full of curiosity. However, pessimistic as well. They did not believe this. The notion that a people can have its own say, have a different relation with its government, with politics, such an idea here seems impossible, utopian!

    And over there?
    Vanessa. Once I arrived in Venezuela, I encountered a revolution. It is a country where people are enthusiastic; they believe in it, they are accomplishing a lot of things; they are taking charge of things. This takes you by surprise, having just previously heard all of the European pessimism. And yet, it was still ten years ago that the Venezuelans also did not believe in politics anymore, thinking that nothing will ever change, that everyone was too individualistic to club together and change things.
    I was able to take note of the Venezuelans’ high level of consciousness…Whether it be about the media, the social system, politics in general, the role of the superpowers…What is necessary, if a people wants to get rid of poverty, is to begin by understanding where it is coming from. And they figured it out! Well, when we hear them, we want that here too, we could benefit from their experiences! So, I went to Caracas and got the Venezuelans to talk. So that they would answer the questions that the Belgians were asking themselves – and all the Europeans, I believe – concerning Venezuela.

    In short, a sort of ping pong between the people…
    Vanessa. Yes, and I believe that we would understand one another much better if there was even more direct communication between the different peoples. However, not all of us can go there; so, I did the inverse: I brought back Venezuelan remarks, real-life experiences, emotions, hope, concerns…A bit of the Bolivarian Revolution, in fact. To come out of the stereotypes and biases dictated by our mass media.

    Are people’s lives really improving?
    Vanessa. Yes, they are changing, there is a lot of movement! Chavez has therefore restored the country’s control over these resources (which previously went into the coffers of multinational corporations and a few privileged persons, the country receiving almost nothing). This measure enabled the realization of what they call “misiones”. Reforms: education, food, health, work, housing. Which are already improving and will still improve the lives of people. Picture, in Latin America, extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods and shantytowns in which there are now “soup kitchens” serving free meals, “working-class clinics” with healthcare that is free of charge and of excellent quality, cooperatives that are creating jobs without bosses, for example in construction.

    And yet, a coup d’etat (unsuccessful) took place. Not everyone is happy?
    Vanessa. The majority is content: the poor. A minority is absolutely furious and tries by all possible means to overthrow Chavez. The private media rail at him.
    Nevertheless, in every election, Chavez wins by even more votes. Even people who, at the beginning, did not vote for him, have changed their mind. He has given once again meaning to the people – State relationship. The people have reinserted themselves into a political activity, having seen that things can change.
    We find the discontented ones mainly in the rich neighborhoods. Their discourse is hollow. For them, “There is less democracy than before”, “He’s a dictator”, “Yes, maybe Chavez will feed them and provide them with doctors…” But apparently, this is not what the Latin American expect from a president!

    Might it be that our media here convey solely the viewpoint of Venezuela’s rich elite?
    Vanessa. Absolutely! They skip over the majority.

    Here, the media usually portray Chavez as a populist and authoritarian leader. Is Venezuela democratic?
    Vanessa. Actually, some of the Brussels residents I interviewed told me that they considered Chavez to be a populist dictator. In Venezuela, I heard the two versions. “Authoritarian dictatorship”, the minority told me. “Super-democracy, at last, whereas before, it was a dictatorship disguised as a democracy”, the majority told me. Finally, in Venezuela, it’s plain to see that the opinion one has on this issue certainly depends on the social class to which one belongs.
    When you are there, you hear that in fact, the majority of the population considers that it enjoys the best-quality democracy. What they call a “participatory democracy”.

    What does that mean?
    Vanessa. In a participatory democracy, the people take part in the decisions that affect them. If the country’s wealth is to belong to the people, it must also be up to them to decide, every day, how it is to be utilized. The government places at the people’s disposal the means to carry out concrete projects within the communities. And it is people from the rank and file, not the government, that have to take control of things and decide on the practical choices, on the priorities, on how to build awareness, and all of this with the help of the PDVSA, the public oil company.

    “Representative”, “participatory”: Is the distinction important?
    Vanessa. Yes, very much so. In the movie, several witnesses explain well how it was before in Venezuela, under a representative democracy. And basically, it was the same as here in Europe: We vote every four or five years, and then, the elected representatives do not consult the people, and they pass laws which they had never talked about and of which no one wants: Bolkestein, first-hire contract (CPE)…We have seen plenty of examples in recent years. We only know too well this type of “representative” and elitist democracy.

    Precisely, how are the elected officials kept in check?
    Vanessa. To start with, they passed a very straightforward measure: The Constitution provides the electorate with the possibility of requesting a revocatory referendum at mid-term for any elected representative. Even the president. This already represents an excellent control.

    During a private showing, in a sneak preview, someone said: “This film is beautiful because it shows the hope of people, their life changing. And it gives more hope to us as well: we can continue to fight and obtain something!” The Venezuelans’ enthusiasm seems infectious…
    Vanessa. Yes, I believe so. It’s a lovely compliment.

    What hopes do you have for your film?
    Vanessa. Above all, I hope that it will become for everyone an instrument that they can broadcast as much as possible around them. First, one has to realize that Venezuela is substantially menaced by Bush. We know that Chile and Nicaragua saw their hopes brutally shattered by the United States. We must absolutely protect Venezuela against aggression. Because this country is an important experience to resolve the problems of poverty in the third world. There are many rich countries whose population is poor…

    In this Latin America which is changing so much, is Chavez the exception or a beacon?
    Vanessa. A beacon, yes. All of Latin America is looking his way. If they could vote for him in other countries, I think he would have the majority. Besides, if we want to understand the problems faced by Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and all of Latin America, we would be well-advised to understand Venezuela.
    In fact, the problem of Latin America exists everywhere. It is a world record gap between rich and poor. The consequence of colonial plundering, then of pillage by the multinational corporations. There, the “Chavez Solution” concerns the entire continent!
    But when I speak of poverty in the world, I also think of the oil-rich Arab countries, as well as of the African nations: they too are victims of looting of their wealth. I think of Mali, I think of the Congo…Could it be that it is precisely because of this that Bush attacks Venezuela? And it is a great pity that our media do not explain the root of this problem.

    To defend Venezuela is to defend the right to an alternative?
    Vanessa. Yes, I really believe that it is also protecting our own future and not only that of the third world. What Venezuela proposes is applicable everywhere. It is not just an oil issue. The main question is: “At whose service do you want to run a country’s economy?”
    Yes, it concerns all of us. There, in fact, they are experimenting, experiencing a solution which we are going to need. It might be necessary perhaps to await the day that poor people make up 60% of Europe, I don’t know, but in any case, it is imperative that we champion their experience, learn from them, think of our own future.

    How do we inform others of this experience?
    Vanessa. In widely broadcasting “Brussels – Caracas”. A movie is an ideal tool for widely stimulating the debate. Many individuals at a time see it; it promotes discussion and the opportunity of creating joint initiatives. On the one hand, we are organizing showings-debates in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Holland. Other countries will follow because the movie will be translated in six or seven languages (French, Spanish, Dutch, English, Arabic we hope, etc.) We are also working with Internet, to spread information, articles… since people are asking many questions on Chavez, the U.S., Latin America…It is in being widely broadcasted that this movie will prove to be useful. Which will also enable us to have a budget for broadcasting it in the third world.

    And directing other movies?
    Vanessa. Yes, there are plans. And everything will be possible if we too, like the Venezuelans, succeed in getting organized.

    Thank you and wishing you every success for this film!

    Nota bene : If you ordered this DVD before, sorry,
    we lost your order, due to a computer crash, please send it again.



  3. Stephen Lendman

    (from: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com)

    Big Oil and Big Media vs. Venezuela

    On June 27, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal vied for attention with feature stories on oil giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips “walking away from their multi-billion-dollar investments in Venezuela” as the Journal put it or standing “Defiant in Venezuela” as the Times headlined.

    Both papers can barely contain their displeasure over Hugo Chavez wanting Venezuela to have majority ownership of its own assets and no longer let Big (foreign) Oil investors plunder them. Those days are over. State oil company PDVSA is now majority shareholder with a 78% interest in four Orinoco joint ventures. That’s up from previous stakes of from 30 to 49.9%. That’s how it should be, but it can’t stop the Journal and Times from whining about it.

    What ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips reject, oil giants Chevron, BP PLC, Total SA and Statoil ASA agreed to. They’re willing to accept less of a huge profit they’ll get by staying instead of none at all by pouting and walking away as their US counterparts did. Or did they? The Wall Street Journal reports “Conoco isn’t throwing in the towel in Venezuela yet. By not signing a deal, the Houston company kept open the option of pursuing compensation through arbitration.” Exxon, however, is mum on that option for now. Responding to Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez saying the two oil giants will lose their stakes in the Orinoco oil fields altogether, a company spokesperson expressed “disappoint(ment) that we have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms for migration to a mixed enterprise structure (but will) continue discussions with the Venezuelan government on a way forward.”

    So what’s likely ahead as most Big Oil giants agree to Venezuela’s terms while two outliers haven’t yet but may in the end do so. The country’s oil reserves are too lucrative to walk away from, especially with Russia now pressuring foreign investors the same way. It also wants majority stakes in its own resources with its giant oil and gas company Gazprom in control. It has a monopoly over the country’s Sakhalin gas field exports and has taken over two of the largest energy projects in eastern Russia.

    If these actions by Venezuela and Russia succeed as is likely, they may influence other oil producing nations to follow a similar course and pursue plans for larger stakes in their own resources as well. Why not? They own them and even with less ownership interests, Big Oil will still earn huge profits from their foreign investments. They just won’t be quite as huge as they once were with one-sided deals benefiting them most. So the end of this story may not be its end according to Michael Goldbert, head of the international dispute resolution group at Baker Botts, an influential law firm representing major international oil companies. He said he didn’t think the June 26 actions were “necessarily the end of the story,” adding, “The prospects of a deal are never over until a sale is made or an arbitrator reaches a decision.”

    The investments are large, ranging from $2.5 – $4.5 billion for Conoco and $800 million for Exxon if Venezuela assumes ownership of its heavy oil projects. Conoco explained “Although the company is hopeful that the negotiations will be successful, it has preserved all legal rights, including international arbitration.” Exxon also expressed its hope an agreement could be reached permitting it to continue operating in an ownership role.

    It looks like Conoco and Exxon want one foot in and the other outside Venezuela to keep its interests in the country alive. It also looks like they’re playing games and letting the Wall Street Journal and New York Times do their moaning about what they ought to be grateful for – the right to invest and earn huge profits the way other Big Oil investors are opting to do. Despite their June 26 decisions, Exxon and Conoco may, in the end, make the same choice. If they don’t, the stakes they relinquish will shift to other producers according to James Cordier, president of Liberty Trading Group in Tampa, Florida. He said production won’t halt, and “Before everyone walks out, a deal will be struck and production there will continue.” Caracas-based petroleum economist Mazhar al-Shereidah agrees saying “Venezuela is now free to find other partners (and) this doesn’t constitute a dramatic situation.” There are plenty of capable and willing takers around.

    Conoco and Exxon may in the end accept less of a good investment, stop whining about it, and continue operating in Venezuela. Why not? The country is more open than many other oil-producing nations with much of their world’s proved reserves controlled by state monopolies barring private investment. Venezuela barred them from 1975 – 1992 when the nation’s energy sector was completely nationalized. That changed with a series of partial privatizations in the 1990s, and Chavez said he has no plans to reinstitute a complete oil industry nationalization. Private investors can thus remain in the country and continue earning huge profits doing so. Conoco and Exxon may decide after all to share in them.

    Venezuelan V. Iraqi Oil Policies – A Study in Contrasts

    High-level US officials from the administration, Congress, and Pentagon are pressuring the puppet Iraqi parliament to pass its new “Hydrocarbon Law” drafted in Washington and by Big US and UK oil companies. Its provisions are in stark contrast to Venezuela’s oil management policies under Hugo Chavez. For Chavez, his nation and peoples’ interests come first. In Iraq, however, Big Oil licensed plunder will become law if the parliament agrees to accept what its occupier and corporate interests demand. At this stage, it’s nearly certain it will clearing the way for stealing part of what a US state department spokesperson in 1945 called “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history” – the vast (mostly Saudi) Middle East oil reserves.

    In Venezuela, the nation and its people will benefit most from the country’s oil wealth. In Iraq, their resources are earmarked mostly for Big US and UK Oil. The new “Hydrocarbon Law” is a shameless act of theft on the grandest of scale. It’s a privatization blueprint for plunder giving foreign investors a bonanza of resources, leaving Iraqis a mere sliver for themselves. As now written, its complex provisions give the Iraqi National Oil Company exclusive control of just 17 of the country’s 80 known oil fields with all yet-to-be-discovered deposits set aside for foreign investors.

    Even worse, Big Oil is free to expropriate all earnings with no obligation to invest anything in Iraq’s economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire local workers, respect union rights, or share new technologies. Foreign investors will be granted long-term contracts up to 30 or more years, dispossessing Iraq and its people of their own resources in a naked scheme to steal them.

    The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and rest of the dominant US media shamelessly denounce Hugo Chavez for his courage and honor doing the right thing. In contrast, their silence, and effective complicity, on what will be one of the greatest ever corporate crimes when implemented shows their gross hypocrisy. It’ll be up to the people of Iraq to resist and reclaim what Venezuelan people already have from its social democratic leader serving their interests above all others.


    Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

    Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com


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