'This is just a scene from hell'

24 November 2005 |

If Bush was planning to bomb Al Jazeera - which is based in friendly Qatar, please take a look at this... It happened in April 2003!


John Simpson
The bomb landed just feet away from John Simpson
The BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson was accompanying a convoy of US special forces and Kurdish fighters when it come under attack from an American warplane.

At least 10 people were killed, including a Kurdish translator working with the BBC team, Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed.

Moments after the 'friendly fire' attack, in which he was wounded, John Simpson broadcast live by satellite telephone on the BBC news channel, News 24.

This is a really bad own goal by the Americans
John Simpson
"Well it's a bit of a disaster... I was in a convoy of eight or 10 cars in northern Iraq coming up to a place that has just recently been captured. American special forces in a truck - two trucks I think - beside them, plus a very senior figure ..."[brother of Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party]

Simpson to US soldier: "Shut up. I'm broadcasting! Oh yes, I'm fine - am I bleeding?"

US soldier: "Yes, you've got a cut."

Simpson: "I thought you were going to stop me. I think I've just got a bit of shrapnel in the leg, that's all. OK, I will - thanks a lot.

"That was one of the American special forces medics - I thought he was going to try to stop me reporting. I've counted 10 or 12 bodies around us. So there are Americans dead. It was an American plane that dropped the bomb right beside us - I saw it land about 10 feet, 12 feet away I think.

Wrecked vehicle after apparent US air attack on coalition forces

"This is just a scene from hell here. All the vehicles on fire. There are bodies burning around me, there are bodies lying around, there are bits of bodies on the ground. This is a really bad own goal by the Americans.

"We don't really know how many Americans are dead. There is ammunition exploding in fact from some of these cars. A very senior member of the Kurdish Republic's government who also may have been injured."

TV presenter Maxine Mawhinney: "John, just to recap for the viewers, an American plane dropped a bomb on your convoy of American special forces - many dead, many injured?"

Simpson: "I am sorry to be so excitable. I am bleeding through the ear and everything but that is absolutely the case. I saw this American convoy, and they bombed it.

They hit their own people - they may have hit this Kurdish figure - very senior, and they've killed a lot of ordinary characters, and I am just looking at the bodies now and it is not a very pretty sight."

Later, John Simpson filed this report on how the attack unfolded

The officer in charge of the American special forces saw an Iraqi tank in the plain about a mile away from us, and it was I think firing in our direction - and he called in an air strike to deal with the tank.

I saw two F15 American planes circling quite low overhead and I had a bad feeling about it, because they seemed to be closer to us than they were to the tank.

As I was looking at them - this must sound extraordinary but I assure you it is true, I saw the bomb coming out of one of the planes - and I saw it as it came down beside me.

It was painted white and red. It crashed into the ground about 10 or 12 metres from where I was standing.

It took the lower legs off Kamaran, our translator, I got shrapnel in parts of my body. I would have got a chunk of shrapnel in my spine had I not been wearing a flak jacket, and it was buried deep in the Kevlar when I checked it.

Our producer had a piece of shrapnel an inch long taken out of his foot. But apart from that and ruptured eardrums which is painful but not serious, and a few punctures from shrapnel, the rest of us were all right.

But our translator was killed and he was a fine man.

I think what probably happened was that there was a burned out Iraqi tank at the crossroads and I suspect that either the pilots got the navigational details wrong, which is possible, but I think it is probably more likely one of them saw the burned out Iraqi tank, assumed that was what was to be hit - and dropped the bomb.

The planes circled round I shouted out at the American special forces "Tell them to go away - tell them it's us - don't let them drop another bomb."

It was a mistake. They were so apologetic afterwards, as you can imagine.

The medics did what they could for all of us. And they kept on saying "I am really sorry about this" as though it was their fault. But these things happen if you are fighting a war. Mistakes happen.

Targeting Al Jazeera

On Tuesday, Britain's Daily Mirror published an explosive story riddled with implications concerning the character and intent of the US president when pursuing his so-called 'war on terror', and perhaps, shedding light on the bombing of Al Jazeera's offices in both Kabul and Baghdad.

Twenty-four later, the Mirror and all other British papers had been subjected to a "gag order" under Section 5 the Official Secrets Act at pain of prosecution.

"The Daily Mirror was yesterday told not to publish further details from a memo marked 'Top Secret', which revealed that President Bush wanted to bomb an Arab TV station," wrote Kevin Maguire in Tuesday's edition of the paper.

"The gag by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith" the same attorney general who changed his pre-Iraq War legal opinion after being badgered by US government lawyers to do so "came nearly 24 hours after the Mirror informed Downing Street of its intention to reveal how Tony Blair talked Bush out of attacking satellite station Al Jazeera's HQ in friendly Qatar" in the spring of 2004.

The White House has characterized the Mirror's reporting as "outlandish", but if that's the case, one wonders why Downing Street has gone into crisis mode not only prosecuting two of its own civil servants David Keogh and Leo O'Connor under the Official Secrets Act but also threatening editors of British newspapers with prosecution an historical first according to Richard Taylor-Norton of the Guardian.

So while Bush is attempting to brush off the incident, the British government is appearing more as though it has its hand in the cookie jar with damage control its first priority.

When asked to comment on the memo Downing Street refused to do so saying it doesn't commented on leaked documents. Be that as it may - and provided the Mirror story is false - then, surely, an absolute denial by the Prime Minister would put the story to bed and quash the rumors.

But gag order or not this story doesn't look like it's going to disappear into the ether like so many others.

Peter Kilfoyle, Blair's former Minister of Defense, has challenged Downing Street to publish the transcript. "I believe that Downing Street ought to publish this memo in the interests of transparency," he said.

"If it was the case that President Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera in what is after all a friendly country, it speaks volumes and it raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press that wasn't embedded with coalition forces".

For instance, Al Jazeera owned by the ruler of Qatar - is motivated to keep the story alive, since if it is true, the network along with its editors, anchors, reporters and technicians, could have been wiped off the map in the event Tony Blair hadn't succeeded in putting a damper on Bush's alleged ambitions.

Tuesday's Al Jazeera programming was red hot on the subject with experts, politicians and callers, demanding that the British government publish the memo's contents in full, which, quite honestly, hardly seems unreasonable.

And let's be clear, the White House may want us to believe the contents of the leaked memo fanciful but, unfortunately, there are precedents for believing otherwise.

When during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan Al Jazeera's Kabul office was bombed by an American 'smart bomb', Matt Wells of the Guardian asked "did the US mean to hit the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera TV? Some journalists are convinced it was targeted for being on the 'wrong side'.

And in April 2003 when the Iraq was in full flush, Al Jazeera's Baghdad office was hit by a US missile, killing cameraman Tariq Ayoubi and wounding Zuhair Al-Iraqi.

Then, the network's chief editor said: "Witnesses in the area saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location."

Indeed, after the Kabul incident, Al Jazeera had made certain to pass on the coordinates of its Iraqi HQ. Moreover, on that same day the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi television was also hit.

It's also interesting to note that prior to the invasion of Iraq former BBC war correspondent Kate Adie one of the most respected journalists in her field - told Irish Radio that the Pentagon had threatened to fire on the satellite uplink positions of independent journalists in Iraq.

Adie also said that when she questioned a Senior Pentagon office concerning the consequences of this action, he replied, 'Who caresThey've been warned".

Moreover, the former CEO of CNN Eason Jordan was forced to resign his post early this year for telling a panel at the Davos Economic Forum that he knew of 12 journalists who had been killed by coalition forces in Iraq".

Like his CNN colleagues April Oliver and Peter Arnett, as well as CBC's former producer Mary Mapes, Jordan had crossed the line by seemingly criticizing the US military, and had to go.

But does the Bush administration have a motive for wishing Al Jazeera off the planet? Take a look at some of the comments made by senior government and military officials and be the judge.

In June this year, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Al Jazeera of pounding the United States' image "day after day".

In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush referred to Al Jazeera and other Arab networks as "hateful propaganda coming out of the Arab world".

Concerning the US 'pacification' of Fallujah when Al Jazeera reported US marines had killed hundreds of civilians which according to the leaked British memo triggered Bush's desire to finish off al Jazeera Rumsfeld said: "I can definitely say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

In March 2003, Gen. John Abizaid lashed out at an Al Jazeera reporter during a press conference because marines captured by the Iraqi military were aired sitting around drinking tea. Abizaid called the coverage "totally unacceptable" and "disgusting" prompting an American reporter to ask the general whether Al Jazeera should be classed as "hostile media".

In March 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney said the network ran the risk of being labeled "Osama's outlet to the world"

So the motive is there, there are historical precedents of physical attacks on Al Jazeera by the US military, and the British government is currently engaged in a massive cover-up, yet we are still expected to believe that the contents of the leaked memo are a mere fabrication. Do you?

If the allegations contain any veracity, then the implications are enormous.

Imagine that the free world's top dog ostensibly out to promote democracy, freedom and 'our way of life' - whatever that is - wants to bomb an independent television station on the soil of one of its closest allies, owned by the ruler of that allied country.

Not only that the British lap dog of the top dog, who loves nothing more than to wag his fingers at "evil ideologies" is actively engaged in dowsing the story with help from erstwhile legal mandarins.

What are the implications for journalists that refuse to toe the coalition line? What about free speech and freedom of the press issues?

But the most worrying question is this: If the alleged bombing of Al Jazeera had gone ahead, with consequent deaths and injuries, wouldn't this equate the US administration with the terrorism it purports to hate?

Excuse the repetition but I would like to stress that Al Jazeera is owned by an ally of the US and staffed with respected editors and journalists from around the world, including many who formerly worked for the BBC.

These people are not terrorists or insurgents; they are not uniformed military or intelligence personnel. They are simply people trying to tell it like it is in an environment plagued by censorship, and judging by Al Jazeera's 50 million regular viewers and the ire they provoke from regional governments, they are doing something right.

I'll leave you with a hypothetical question based on Bush's alleged plan having been given the green light to proceed. Would the US have confessed to its role in the aftermath or would the mythical Abu Musab Al Zarqawi have been set up to take the fall? Think about it.

And, finally, if the Qatari government doesn't react strongly to this memo and demand answers, won't this put an indisputable stamp on the de facto US occupation of the Gulf?

The White Death

13 November 2005 |

By Chris Floyd
Published: November 11, 2005

This week, the broadcast of a shattering new documentary provided fresh confirmation of a gruesome war crime covered by this column nine months ago: the use of chemical weapons by U.S. forces during the frenzied destruction of Fallujah in November 2004.

Using filmed and photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts and the direct testimony of U.S. soldiers who took part in the attacks, the documentary -- "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" -- catalogs the American use of white phosphorus shells and a new, "improved" form of napalm that turned human beings into "caramelized" fossils, with their skin dissolved and turned to leather on their bones. The film was produced by RAI, the Italian state network run by a government that backed the war.

Vivid images show civilians, including women and children, who had been burned alive in their homes, even in their beds. This illegal use of chemical weapons -- at the order of the Bushist brass -- and the killing of civilians are confirmed by former U.S. soldiers interviewed on camera. "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah," said one soldier, quoted in The Independent. "In military jargon, it's known as Willy Pete. Phosphorus burns bodies; in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."

The broadcast is an important event: shameful, damning, convincing. But it shouldn't be news. Earlier this year, as reported here on March 18, a medical team sent to Fallujah by the Bush-backed Iraqi interim government issued its findings at a news conference in Baghdad. The briefing, by Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, was attended by more than 20 major U.S. and international news outlets. Not a single one of these bastions of a free and vigorous press reported on the event. Only a few small venues -- such as the International Labor Communications Association -- brought word of the extraordinary revelations to English-speaking audiences.

Yet this highly credible, pro-American official of a pro-occupation government confirmed, through medical examinations and the eyewitness testimony of survivors -- including many civilians who had opposed the heavy-handed insurgent presence in the town -- that "burning chemicals" had been used in the attack, in direct violation of international and U.S. law. "All forms of nature were wiped out" by the substances unleashed in the assault, including animals that had been killed by gas or chemical fire, said ash-Shaykhli. But apparently this kind of thing is not considered news anymore by the corporate gatekeepers of media "truth."

As we noted here in March, ash-Shaykhli's findings were buttressed by direct testimony from U.S. Marines filing "after-action reports" on web sites for military enthusiasts back home. There, fresh from the battle, soldiers talked openly of the routine use of Willy Pete, propane bombs and "jellied gasoline" (napalm) in tactical assaults in Fallujah. As it says in the scriptures: By their war porn ye shall know them.

This week, as in March, the Pentagon said it only used white phosphorus shells in Fallujah for "illumination purposes." But the documentary's evidence belies them. Although there are indeed many white bombs bursting in air to bathe the city in unnatural light, the film clearly shows other phosphorus shells raining all the way to the ground, where they explode in fury throughout residential areas and spread their caramelizing clouds. As Fallujah biologist Mohamed Tareq says in the film: "A rain of fire fell on the city, the people struck by this multicolored substance started to burn, we found people dead with strange wounds, the bodies burned but the clothes intact."

The slaughter in Fallujah was a microcosm of the entire misbegotten enterprise launched by those two eminent Christian statesmen, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair: a brutal act of collective punishment for defying the imperial will, a high-tech turkey shoot that mowed down the just and unjust alike, an idiotic strategic blunder that has exacerbated the violence and hatred it was meant to quell. The vicious overkill of the Fallujah attack -- where an estimated 1,200 civilians died while almost all of the targeted insurgents slipped away beforehand -- alienated large swaths of previously neutral Iraqis and spurred many to join the resistance. It further entangled the United States and Britain in a putrid swamp of war crime, state terrorism and atrocity, dragging them deeper into a moral equivalency with the murderous extremists whom the Christian leaders so loudly condemn.

Let's give the last word to Jeff Engelhardt, one of the ex-servicemen featured in the documentary, who recently issued this plea to his fellow U.S. soldiers on Fight to Survive, a new dissident web site run by Iraqi War vets:

"I hope someday you find solace for the orders you have had to execute, for the carnage you helped take part in, and for the pride you wear supporting this bloodbath. Until then, you can only hope for an epiphany, something that stands out as completely immoral, that convinces you of the inhumanity of this war. I don't know how much more proof you need. The criminal outrage of Abu Ghraib, the absolute massacre of Fallujah, the stray .50 caliber bullets or 40mm grenades or tank rounds fired in highly packed urban areas, 500-pound bombs dropped on innocent homes, the use of 25mm depleted uranium rounds, the inhumane use of white phosphorus, the hate and the blood and the misunderstandings ... this is the war and the system that you support."

RealVoice says:
There is no way Bush, Dick or any of them can be tried in the International Criminal Court - as the US is not a signatory to the ICC anymore.

The United States of America was one of only 7 nations (joining China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel) to vote against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998.

he Bush administration's hostility to the ICC has increased dramatically in 2002. The crux of the U.S. concern relates to the prospect that the ICC may exercise its jurisdiction to conduct politically motivated investigations and prosecutions of U.S. military and political officials and personnel. The U.S. opposition to the ICC is in stark contrast to the strong support for the Court by most of America's closest allies.

In an unprecedented diplomatic maneuver on 6 May, the Bush administration effectively withdrew the U.S. signature on the treaty. At the time, the Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper stated that the administration was "not going to war" with the Court. This has proved false; the renunciation of the treaty has paved the way for a comprehensive U.S. campaign to undermine the ICC.

First, the Bush administration negotiated a Security Council resolution to provide an exemption for U.S. personnel operating in U.N. peacekeeping operations. The administration failed in May to obtain an exemption for peacekeepers in East Timor. In June the Bush administration vetoed an extension of the UN peacekeeping mission for Bosnia-Herzegovina unless the Security Council granted a complete exemption. Ultimately, the U.S. failed in its bid for an iron-clad exemption, although the Security Council approved a limited, one year exemption for U.S. personnel participating in UN peacekeeping missions or UN authorized operations. The Security Council has expressed its intention to renew this exemption on 30 June next year.

Second, the Bush administration is requesting states around the world to approve bilateral agreements requiring them not to surrender American nationals to the ICC. The goal of these agreements ("impunity agreements" or so-called "Article 98 agreements") is to exempt U.S. nationals from ICC jurisdiction. They also lead to a two-tiered rule of law for the most serious international crimes: one that applies to U.S. nationals; another that applies to the rest of the world's citizens. Human Rights Watch urges states not to sign impunity agreements with the United States.

Thirdly, the U.S Congress has assisted the Bush administration's effort to obtain bilateral impunity agreements. The Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), which was signed into law by President Bush on 3 August. The major anti-ICC provisions in ASPA are:

  • a prohibition on U.S. cooperation with the ICC;
  • an "invasion of the Hague" provision: authorizing the President to "use all means necessary and appropriate" to free U.S. personnel (and certain allied personnel) detained or imprisoned by the ICC;
  • punishment for States that join the ICC treaty: refusing military aid to States' Parties to the treaty (except major U.S. allies);
  • a prohibition on U.S. participation in peacekeeping activities unless immunity from the ICC is guaranteed for U.S. personnel.

However, all of these provisions are off-set by waiver provisions that allow the president to override the effects of ASPA when "in the national interest". The waiver provisions effectively render ASPA meaningless.


It is quite interesting that the US, China, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel are the ones who do not recognise International Criminal Court's jurisdiction.

Obviously all these seven governments (not necessarily the people) have too many criminals in high offices. What are they scared of?

Now that there is evidence of the use of Chemical Weapons in Iraq by the US armed forces, it is about time to try Bush and the whole gang at the Hague.

They are criminals, international war criminals too.

As a starter, let us try Tony Blair at the Hague.

There is a War Criminal in power in European Union. Shame on Europe!

The Darwin Conspiracy

09 November 2005 |

Galley Girl Catches Up with John Darnton
Andrea Sachs talks evolution with the author of "The Darwin Conspiracy"

Charles Darwin may have published "The Origin of the Species" back in 1859, but the controversy over his theory of evolution is red-hot right now. Should intelligent design—the belief that an intelligent agent, i.e. God, designed the earth—be taught side by side in the classroom with Darwinism? Even the President waded into the debate recently, saying that it should. In his imaginative new novel, The Darwin Conspiracy (Knopf), author John Darnton, a Pulitzer-prize-winning, 39-year veteran of the New York Times, blends facts and fiction while exploring Darwin's life and legacy. We met with Darnton for a cup of coffee in the bustling New York Times cafeteria:

Galley Girl: Charles Darwin is front page news now because of the intelligent design debate. Was he very controversial in his own time?

John Darnton: Yes. I think that's the secret of why he delayed so long in putting his theory before the public. And I think it's also partly the secret of why he always got a horrible stomachache every time the theory was to be debated, so he never showed up, wherever that was happening. He knew the implications of what he was doing. He knew he was challenging accepted Christian dogma. Maybe even his body rebelled against it. His wife Emma was, in fact, very devout, and wrote him a letter expressing sorrow at the thought that she would be living in heaven for all eternity, and he'd be somewhere else. He was going to be a man of the cloth himself, don't forget. He was going to be a country vicar, after he decided not to be a doctor, because he couldn't stand the sight of blood. But the key thing is, these arguments that we hear today about Intelligent Design were raised in his lifetime.

GG: Did Darwin at the end of his life have any religious beliefs himself?

JD: No. He became progressively a nonbeliever, and that's part of what I admire about him. I think he just followed his intellect wherever it pointed. He was such a scientist to the marrow of his bones that he insisted on evidence and proof of more or less everything. When he was an old man, people used to write him letters from around the world, and sometimes traipse out to his village to meet him. Often would come the question, Are you a believer? By that point, over the age of 60, Darwin would say, No, I've seen no evidence of God. He even wrote somewhere that the religious impulse was just an instinct, like a monkey's fear of snakes. So he didn't mind really expressing his opinion forcefully.

GG: When did you get interested in Darwin?

JD: In 1996 when I was London bureau chief, I decided to do a story on Down House, which is 17 miles outside of London, in Kent. That's Darwin's country home, where he lived most of his life, and did all of his writing. I went to look at it. The place was just falling apart. The roof was leaking, there were mold stains on the bedroom ceilings, the greenhouse where he had done experiments with orchids was collapsing. They wanted a story done, primarily to bring in contributions. I was happy to oblige them. I got a wonderful tour; I was allowed to sit in Darwin's chair... Later, I thought, I didn't know any of these things about Darwin—his endless maladies, his problems with his stomach, the fact that he then never traveled again. I started thinking, what could have been behind all of this? Why did he have these odd symptoms. Most of all, why did he wait 22 years after he is thought to have conceived of the theory before he could actually write it? There have been so many biographies; we have a pretty good sense of what was going on. But I thought, wouldn't it be fun to invent something that could explain it if what you invent puts a new interpretation on everything?

GG: What are the rules when you're adding to actual facts? How free do you feel to invent?

JD: Very good question. Are there boundaries? If there are, I think I've crossed them. (Laughs.) Well, it is a work of fiction. So in theory, there are no rules. It's not a traditional historical novel, though. We often think of the term as an attempt to fill in small blank spaces, but otherwise remain totally true to the known facts. I changed it, in that I presented many, many historical facts. I estimate that about 90% of what's in the book is totally true, is accurate. All of the historical characters are real, in the sense that they lived. They by and large did most of the actions they're depicted as doing. Even some of the quotes are lifted from journals and biographies. But I took significant liberties in [a few] key areas knowingly and with malice of forethought that totally changed everything. The idea I had was, how interesting it is if you view a series of events and you turn the knob 10 degrees to one side, and you come out with a totally different interpretation that in some ways explains even better than so-called real history might be the case. So it's not an historical novel the way Antonia Fraser writes them, where you take all of the facts, and that's your spine and your skeleton and then you just add the flesh of imagined conversation. This is a very different thing.

Blame it on Chavez!

08 November 2005 |

This is an article that was published by the Financial Times... It goes on to say how Hugo Chavez is throwing away the Oil windfall, when he should have been painting the streets of Caracas in gold. Chavez is being accused of spending all the cash on popular public spending.... Well how good can a president be when he wastes the good fortune on the poor people of his country? Maybe he should have been sharing the unprecedented oil wealth with the rich and powerful of this world. That is what the FT article tries to do.

Venezuela is living on oil – but precariously

For much of Venezuela's modern history, its economic fortunes have closely followed the ups and downs of oil. Happily for president Hugo Chávez, his nearly seven years in office have coincided with a steady rise in the price of crude. This year oil export income is expected to reach an all-time high of $34bn, one-third more than the $26bn of last year.

This boom has allowed Mr Chávez to step up public spending – according to the central bank, the government's operational spending in August rose 45 per cent in nominal terms, year-on-year, or about 30 per cent in real terms. It has allowed him to underpin his popularity by diverting billions of dollars into programmes, called misiones, that deliver everything from free healthcare in the barrios to literacy classes for grandmothers.

Mr Chávez says the country is on the cusp of a new golden age, as officials of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state oil company, hire consultants and geologists to recalculate the size of the reserves.

Venezuela has the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the Americas. But if its extra-heavy oil deposits are properly measured and included, the government insists, Venezuela would be sitting on the world's largest oil reserves, in theory allowing it to negotiate a larger output quota with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Such a calculation would mask some fundamental problems. Roger Tissot, Latin America analyst at PFC Energy, a consultancy based in Washington, says Venezuela is far from being able to supply more oil, regardless of the true size of its reserves. "In reality it doesn't matter if Venezuela says it has the biggest reserves in the world,'' says Mr Tissot. "It's irrelevant because they are already working at capacity.''

Government officials claim that the country is producing 3.4m barrels per day, but experts – and Opec itself – put the figure at around 2.6m b/d. The victim of political battles and mismanagement, oil output from PDVSA has sunk in the past three years. As punishment for a strike in late 2002, Mr Chávez fired almost 20,000 employees, with an average 15 years' experience. Their replacements have been unable adequately to manage the oil wells and facilities.

Rarely a month goes by without news of a production shutdown at a refinery due to an accident or fire. "You can't ditch overnight an accumulated 300,000 years of experience and replace it with personnel, many appointed for political reasons, without encountering problems,'' says José Toro Hardy, an industry consultant and former PDVSA director.

But, remarkably, budgetary constraints are adding to the production problems. Through the use of opaque ad hoc funds, Mr Chávez is diverting money that would otherwise be used for maintenance to fund the misiones. PDVSA funnelled $4.4bn into "social spending'' last year – more than the $3bn it invested in maintaining wells and other assets, according to its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Critics say it ought to be investing much more in its oil wells in order to prevent declines in their productivity.

In addition, despite the price boom, the tax revenue generated by PDVSA seems to be declining as a percentage of the total. In next year's budget it is expected that the much weaker non-oil sector will generate the majority of fiscal proceeds.

The problem is that much of PDVSA's surplus is controlled by the president himself. The next budget is based on a price of just $26 a barrel for Venezuela's basket of heavy oils. Although it trades at about $10 below West Texas Intermediate reference crude, economists say the estimate is low for one main reason: the greater the underestimation of the price, the wider the margin that remains for discretional spending. Toby Bottome, editor of the Veneconomy newsletter, says: "The budget figures bear no relationship to reality.''

While PDVSA's own output is declining, the volume produced by foreign private oil companies is increasing. However, that may be in danger. As the oil price has risen, the government has sought a greater share of the revenue. In the past year Mr Chávez has decreed increases in royalty and tax rates applicable to foreign oil operations. Now, the government is going a stage further.

It is demanding that multinationals convert their operating contracts, which were established in the mid-1990s, into joint ventures in which the state has a majority stake. Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, said recently that the state may assume as much as an 80 per cent stake in 32 projects that are currently operating agreements with PDVSA but must be converted into joint ventures by 2006.

The operations produce about 500,000 b/d. Companies such as ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhilips and TotalFinaElf could see their credit ratings affected if their operations are converted into joint ventures. Orlando Ochoa, an economist in Caracas, says the constantly shifting legal framework, Mr Chávez's volatile politics and administrative chaos conspire against Venezuela being able fully to exploit its energy riches. "The climate generated by Chávez's experiment in 21st-century socialism is not conducive to the level of investment you need.''


On August 16, 2004 - Greg Palast wrote in his column:

"Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.

Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.

Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.

Sixteen F*cking Percent was what Venezuela was paid by the big oil companies. Chavez made them pay 30% to Venezuela!

I can now understand why people, specifically the rich, like to hate Chavez.

I have added FT too to the list of those rich 6astards.

Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton's Band
Why Venezuela has Voted Again for Their 'Negro e Indio' President

by Greg Palast

There's so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that I may be violating some rule of US journalism by providing some facts. Let's begin with this: 77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the 'hacendados.'

I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march. Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching designer bags, screeching, "Chavez - dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar convertible.

That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned.

This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s by that Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela's dictator of the time agreed to hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title to their property.

But Chavez won't forget, because the mirror reminds him. What the affable president sees in his reflection, beyond the ribbons of office, is a "negro e indio" -- a "Black and Indian" man, dark as a cola nut, same as the landless and, until now, the hopeless. For the first time in Venezuela's history, the 80% Black-Indian population elected a man with skin darker than the man in the Jaguar.

So why, with a huge majority of the electorate behind him, twice in elections and today in a referendum, is Hugo Chavez in hot water with our democracy-promoting White House?

Maybe it's the oil. Lots of it. Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.

But Dick Cheney does not like Clinton nor Chavez nor their band. To him, the oil industry's (and Saudi Arabia's) freedom to set oil prices is as sacred as freedom of speech is to the ACLU. I got this info, by the way, from three top oil industry lobbyists.

Why should Chavez worry about what Dick thinks? Because, said one of the oil men, the Veep in his bunker, not the pretzel-chewer in the White House, "runs energy policy in the United States."

And what seems to have gotten our Veep's knickers in a twist is not the price of oil, but who keeps the loot from the current band-busting spurt in prices. Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.

Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.

And he did. "Chavez gives them bread and bricks," one Venezuelan TV reporter told me. The blonde TV newscaster, in the middle of a publicity shoot, said the words "pan y ladrillos" with disdain, making it clear that she never touched bricks and certainly never waited in a bread line.

But to feed and house the darker folk in those bread and brick lines, Chavez would need funds, and the 16% slice of the oil pie wouldn't do it. So the President of Venezuela demanded 30%, leaving Big Oil only 70%. Suddenly, Bill Clinton's ally in Caracas became Mr. Cheney's -- and therefore, Mr. Bush's -- enemy.

So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to "Floridate" the will of the Venezuela electorate. It didn't matter that Chavez had twice won election. Winning most of the votes, said a White House spokesman, did not make Chavez' government "legitimate." Hmmm. Secret contracts were awarded by our Homeland Security spooks to steal official Venezuela voter lists. Cash passed discreetly from the US taxpayer, via the so-called 'Endowment for Democracy,' to the Chavez-haters running today's "recall" election.

A brilliant campaign of placing stories about Chavez' supposed unpopularity and "dictatorial" manner seized US news and op-ed pages, ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times.

But some facts just can't be smothered in propaganda ink. While George Bush can appoint the government of Iraq and call it "sovereign," the government of Venezuela is appointed by its people. And the fact is that most people in this slum-choked land don't drive Jaguars or have their hair tinted in Miami. Most look in the mirror and see someone "negro e indio," as dark as their President Hugo.

The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation's farmers own only 1% of the land. They are the lucky ones, as more peasants owned nothing. That is, until their man Chavez took office. Even under Chavez, land redistribution remains more a promise than an accomplishment. But today, the landless and homeless voted their hopes, knowing that their man may not, against the armed axis of local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed for them. But they are convinced he will never forget them.

And that's a fact.