International

A Mother’s Worry

I really haven’t worried much about Gamma on her European exchange for the last three weeks; I know that the family she is staying with is taking good care of her.  She and her exchange partner became close friends back in April, when Anne stayed with us for several weeks.

This week though, Gamma’s e-mail evoked some concern:

The [soccer] game between Germany and Turkey is this Wednesday and there are so many Turkish living in this area and stupid German youth, that none of the GAPP [exchange program] students are allowed to go into the city that night because all of the parents say it will be too dangerous…they are afraid that the losing team will riot and honestly…i am scared of the Turkish. There was a ten-year-old Turkish kid that came up to us American students and told us he was going to blow up the U.S.

A ten-year old?

He certainly didn’t think that up on his own, and that’s the part that makes me uneasy.  Somewhere in the same village where my daughter is visiting, there’s a family where some of the older members — parents or siblings — are teaching the young ones some very disturbing things.

Fortunately, Gamma and her two American friends decided to just leave the area.

I haven’t lost any sleep over it, but must admit that this was not something I anticipated.   I confess that I didn’t realize that Turks make up a quarter of all registered foreigners in Germany, but really wouldn’t have given that a lot of thought, even if I’d known.  After all, if they moved from Turkey to Germany, wouldn’t they likely be a bit more westernized to begin with?

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I’ve been made aware by someone more worldly than myself that tensions run high after a big athletic event… baseball, soccer, major-league football, even hockey.  The closest thing I’ve seen to a riot after a game was watching people carry the goalpost down Cumberland Avenue after UT beat Alabama back in 1984 (I think).  And that wasn’t really a riot — just excessive celebration confined to a few-blocks area near the stadium.  But… this wasn’t about the soccer rivalry between Germany and Turkey — this was a specific threat from a pint-sized Turkish kid towards three teenage American girls.

Victory for Democracy!

Venezuela has rejected Chavez’ proposed constitutional reforms that would have made the country a socialist state, and Chavez a dictator for life.

El Universal is a Caracas newspaper with an English-language mirror, and they have good photo coverage of yesterday’s events.  I tried valiantly to read as many different sources as I could yesterday, including many that are written only in Spanish, but I’m not as fluent as I once was and my translation was slow and uncertain.

Venezuela faces more struggles, but buoyed by this victory, they can continue working toward what they want to be.  I fully realize that most of my readers here in the US think in terms of oil and global politics, but remember if you can that I’m thinking of it in terms of Anneliese Diaz and her family, with whom I lived for a summer.  No, they were not among the poor and disenfranchised, by any means, but neither did they survive by living off the backs of the poor.  Mr. Diaz was an engineer (not in the petroleum industry); the family lived a similar existence to my own family here in Oak Ridge.

I’ve lost touch with them over the years, but I worry about them.  Pollyanna-ish, perhaps… but yes, I’ve watched the goings on in Venezuela in terms of real people, not pawns in a global power play.  How might the world be different if we all viewed it that way?

Fingers Crossed

Daniel has voted, and is posting periodically through the day as to what’s going on in Caracas, on the day that the country votes in a constitutional referendum.  If approved, it would essentially give Hugo Chavez unlimited power for the rest of his life.

I understand Joel’s point (see comments from the previous post) about the US’ history of sometimes propping up less than favorable regimes, but to me, this has nothing to do with Bush.  This is about a country and people that I still have great fondness for, in hopes that the anti-socialist forces will overwhelmingly prevail.  By most accounts, it will take an overwhelming denial to yield even a marginal victory for the NO votes.

El Excremento del Diablo has a great photo essay on the day’s activities.  Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece by RAÚL ISAÍAS BADUEL, Chavez’ former Defense Minister, on why he parted ways with Chavez.  Obviously, many Venezuelans feel that he’s far from blameless — actually, that he’s posturing to position himself as a transition leader in the event that Chavez’ reforms are rejected.  Still, it’s worth reading.

Yet another good source of timely insight is PMBComments; a couple of days ago, he did a point-by-point commentary on Reuters News’ "Five Facts about Venezuela."  He’s dead on, and his remarks are worth considering.  Number 3 corrects some significant misconceptions held by those of us watching from afar through the eyes of the media (Reuters in bold):

“Chavez has won the backing of the poor majority with massive social spending that has expanded health and education programs. He has also cultivated support by openly confronting the …”

This is a dangerous “truth”. Chavez has not engaged in structural health and education programs. He has spent billions of dollars in massive handouts, not to be confused with plans to attack the structural roots of poverty, illness and ignorance. He distributes fish but does not teach the people to fish. As a result poor Venezuelans are more dependent than ever on the paternalistic, populist and vindictive leader. The entire health, educational and commerce infrastructure has been decimated due to incompetence and corruption. The state of the most major hospitals is deplorable and thousands of patients are flown every year to be operated in Venezuelan funded hospitals in . Chavez’ support domestically has not been increased by his attacks on the In fact, most Venezuelans reject those attacks, as shown by all credible polls.

Polls closed 15 minutes ago, at 4 p.m. in Venezuela (they’re an hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time).  We should know by tonight, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tomorrow’s Vote

Tomorrow, Venezuelans will vote on sweeping constitutional changes that would essentially convert the country to a Cuba-style dictatorship. From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

The proposed changes would eliminate the central bank’s independence, sharply limit the role and definition of private property and emasculate the powers of governors and mayors, allowing Mr. Chávez to literally redraw the political map of Venezuela. Under the new charter, Mr. Chávez could unilaterally set and dispose of the nation’s foreign-currency reserves. He would be able to appoint or dismiss vice presidents who would rule over the country’s 24 states, which he intends to group into six to eight regions. Perhaps, most important for Mr. Chávez, the changes would allow for his unlimited re-election.

 

"He becomes a king," said Rafael Simón Jiménez, a former political ally of the president and a past vice president of the country’s congress. "What Chávez wants to do is rule the country until the day he dies."

Another WSJ piece closely mirrors a front-page story in El Nacional, where Chavez threatens to expel a US diplomat because he thinks that the US is planning to sabotage tomorrow’s referendum. El Nacional gets a little more specific, alleging (help me if my translation’s off, because my Spanish is very rusty):

Según Chávez, Washington está detrás de una supuesta "Operación Tenaza", que busca desconocer los resultados a favor del Sí.
According to Chavez, Washington is behind the so-called "operation pliers" that seeks to not recognize a yes vote

 

HWTFM opined this morning that the election will be close (polls are putting the "no" vote at 2%-5% ahead), and because Chávez controls the ballot boxes, if he thinks he’s losing, he’ll simply steal it. And if that happens, there’s a very real possibility that the people will revolt.

The question then becomes, who will the military side with?

I lived in Venezuela as an exchange student in the summer of my 14th year; it is a beautiful country, and the people there are (were) very much like us. Teenagers in particular were not very different from teens here — they liked playing soccer and tennis, swimming, having parties, dancing, and hanging out at the mall. They liked listening to George Carlin and Genesis. My fear, however, is that it’s very likely that most of the people who could leave have probably done so already. That leaves a greater concentration of the lesser-educated, less able citizens to vote in a referendum that could forever change that equatorial paradise into something far less appealing.

Think Cuba.