Odds and Sods


The Telegraph reports something that Venezuela specialists have been pointing out for a long time now: While oil revenue is way up—as one would expect, with prices ten times what they were when Hugo Chavez was first elected—Venezuelan oil production is way down. In 1998, the country produced 3.2 million barrels a day. Today, OPEC says the nationalized oil industry (remember, Chavez fired 19,000 strking PDVSA employees in 2002, replacing them with party loyalists like Gaston Luis Parra Luzardo, the Marxist economist who took over the company) is producing 2.4 million barrels. And as The Telegraph points out, it is only the United States that is paying full price for Venezuelan crude, with most of Chavez's allies receiving oil shipments at a deep discount. Also worrying Venezuelan economists—and almost certainly worrying the Miraflores gang—is the possibility of oil prices falling even further. According to this report in the Caracas daily El Universal, the government would need the price of oil to remain at around $90 a barrel to sustain its current rate of spending.

– Citing an investigative piece in El Nuevo Herald, UPI reports that "The Venezuelan government is operating a secret paramilitary training camp with the help of Cuban military advisers and leftist Colombian guerrillas." A paranoid, Claire Sterling-like conspiracy theory? Hardly. As UPI notes, the government has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, "but local officials have acknowledged its existence and the presence of Cubans."

– A jarring helmet-cam video obtained by Salon suggests that a 2006 insurgent attack that killed two American soldiers in Ramadi was, in fact, a friendly-fire incident. One cannot help be moved by both the awful tragedy on display and the professionalism of the soldiers responding. That is until, at the very end of the video, when the squad leader orders his soldiers to report that they were hit by enemy mortars and not a U.S. Army tank shell.

– According to the state-funded Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague, Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, ratted out an anti-communist spy working against the Soviet-backed government in Czechoslovakia. As the New York Times reports, the agent was arrested, "narrowly escaped the death penalty, a common punishment for espionage, and eventually served a 14-year sentence, including hard labor in a uranium mine."Kundera denied the charges. (Perhaps, in light of these charges, it is worth revisiting Kundera's 1969 debate with Vaclav Havel, in which he accuses the playwrite and dissident of "moral exhibitionism.")

– One final commie related story—and one largely ignored by our horse race-obsessed comrades in the D.C. media. A player from the Cuban national soccer team, Reinier Alcantara, on a visit to our nation's capital, waits for his minders to be distracted by the brilliant capitalist gifts on display at the Doubletree giftshop—mini-spoons with a picture of Lincoln glued to the top, a half-sleeve of barabcue Pringles, US Weekly instead of Juventud Rebelde—and bolts out of a hotel service door. The Miami Herald has details:

"The phone lines in the players' rooms at the Doubletree Hotel were disconnected, their passports and visas were collected by a team official upon arrival in the nation's capital, and coaches watched their every move."


He ran, and ran, and ran. Six to eight blocks. At full speed, looking over his shoulder the whole way, worried that someone would snag him and deliver him back to the Cuban delegation. Finally, when he realized nobody was chasing him, Alcantara stopped at a corner, caught his breath, and flagged down a taxi.

He speaks very little English, but he used what he knew when he got into the taxi cab. "Drive me far," he told the driver, motioning with his hand. "Go far, far, far." They drove for nearly half an hour and Alcantara, a 26-year-old forward, got off at a McDonald's. He asked the cabbie if he could borrow his cellphone to make a call. He called a friend in New Jersey, told him where he was, and the friend drove down to meet him.

Welcome to America, Mr. Alcantara.