Sunday, November 30, 2003

Finishing the third day

Sunday 30, 11:55 PM

OK, so I did not post at 5 PM and instead went out for movie and pizza. It is Sunday after all and I was not needed in the couple of offers to help I made. I suppose that my job is blogging 'til I drop! We all have our task. Some collect signatures, some let people overseas know what's cooking!

Collection of signatures went well. Of course it was slower than Friday and Saturday but that was to be expected. However the info I have is that we have crossed the 3.5 million mark. Also this morning at 9 it was confirmed that Saturday we had closed at 2.4 million.

What is more interesting is why it was slower today: many centers had run out of forms and a "trick" was uncovered. A recent decision from the Electoral Board said that ALL centers should have the SAME NUMBER OF FORMS. Sure enough the big anti Chavez areas run out of forms and people there have, if they want to sign, go to less friendlier areas. Many do but many are scared to do so, in particular these days when the government has increased its threats and vulgarity. The "trick" is that forms from one center cannot be transferred to another center!!!!! Score one for Chavez, but too little I am afraid.

During the day the government did go a little bit more aggressive, going as far as closing two nearby airports without a serious explanation. Plain intimidation, creation of an anguished opinion. The Carter Center and OAS quickly went there to ask what was going on and that was that. Score one for the opposition. But the border with Colombia remains closed. Supposedly Colombians were going to come to vote in Venezuela!!! When for the past two years the oppostion has been screaming that the administration was giving Venezuelan citizenship to a whole bunch of illigal aliens (for money? for votes? no serious inquiry was made but what else is new?)

Pettiness by the military continued. It seems that the administration is willing to do anything to avoid collecting 100 forms less here and there, as a placebo of sorts I imagine. So the Army keeps finding any excuse to slow down the process. The verdict is already in, anyway, and the only thing I can think of is that they do not want to allow a defeat to become a disaster.

Some funny accusations came up. Two favorites:

"It is illegal to carry people from a center without forms to another center with forms!"
Well, military trucks were seen carrying people last week to chavistas collection center. At least the opposition pays for the rented buses...

"They have more money than we do! They are buying signatures"
This is presumably a reference to the looting of the country before Chavez. That would be fine if one did not realize that all the oil money in Venezuela has become fast cash for Chavez since the strike last year, and even more, the governor of Lara, a Chavez crony, was videotaped giving bikes and stuff to people last week end... Please...
A quiet Sunday

Sunday 30, 2:20 PM

I am little bit behind schedule but in truth there is nothing new to report. Things seem going well, though at a slower rate of course. Rain has returned as a drizzle over Caracas so this is not helping. Some of my relatives and friends went to sign up this morning and I hope that tonight all the non chavistas that I know will have signed.

But all is working and the numbers keep adding up.

See you at 5 PM.

A sunny third day for the recall election drive in Venezuela

Sunday 30, 9:10 AM

Gathering centers are reopening slowly and later than the previous days. Well, it is Sunday and folks are getting a little bit tired.

The big news is that many centers are not re-opening because they run out of their allotted amount of forms. That is, by Saturday 6 PM they had filled up even their Monday quota. Even a site in Avenida El Panteon, almost “Ground Zero” for chavistas, had run out of forms!!! This is a little bit like downtown San Francisco running out of forms to recall ex-governor Davis of California, just to give my US friends and idea.

The faces of the state TV spokespersons are an epic poem. At least at VTV they seem to have recovered a little bit from the shock of the last two days and are into some form of misinformation campaign. Over with what little objectivity they might have had the previous days! At 7:30 ish AM they were reporting from La Pastora, another erstwhile Chavez stronghold. The journalist paned all the historical square and effectively at that time nobody was standing in line. That nobody was even walking around did not seem to have caught her attention to the fact that it was rather early in Sunday morning to have lots of loitering. Well, in a single long breath she had no qualms in saying “this lack of people signing up demonstrates that the people of La Pastora have remained faithful to their president, president Chavez! The opposition has failed in La Pastora!”. I am going to nominate her for an objectivity prize in journalism.

Right then the cameras shifted to Avenida Bolivar were by “coincidence” the Army is holding a subsidized sale of chicken and groceries. Of course the journalist mentioned that contrary to the empty polling stations people are flocking there to do their groceries. Followed all sorts of people thanking Chavez for such a great shopping opportunity. Nobody of course wonders why do we need the army doing this sale or how come that chicken that is missing elsewhere mysteriously appears in the trucks of the Army.

Another VTV talk show starting at 8 PM took great care to publish a hot line number so that chavistas could report “all the abuses, frauds, committed by the opposition which process is so much worse than the exemplary process that we all witnessed last week-end”. One was almost surprised not to ear the words “Traidores de la Patria” betrayers of the fatherland.

Well, VTV folks probably know that if Chavez leave they will be out of a job. One cannot blame them from defending their chicken share.

Otherwise things are starting slowly but surely. Globovision shows many centers that will not reopen today but that are organizing car pooling to drive people to centers where there are still forms to sign up. The opposition was given an official 66% of the electoral universe in forms to sign. 20% are needed. If I were chavista I would start worrying that so many centers ran out of forms on Saturday! Will we reach a 40%? I do not think so but if we were to reach 30% that would be terrible news for Chavez and his clique. And it seems that by tonight we have a chance to make it close to 30%.

I will leave soon for a little city survey to give you another update around noon.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

The second day
Getting nearer from the magical number to revoke Chavez

Saturday 29, 10:30 PM

The road to Caracas was long due to the constant drizzling to pouring rain. It took me sometime to gather info for the day after I came in and this is the update.

Yaracuy

Leaving at 12:30, lunch time and drizzly all over San Felipe I did tour the collection centers anyway. All were open though of course no lines. Still there were people signing up at all tables. Rain and lunch and two more days to sign up and still some brae souls were out.

Carabobo

I stopped to visit a friend that had signed earlier in the morning. She confirmed that Friday the lines were so long that she had opted for Saturday morning after checking out sites with less lines (one has to keep in mind that it takes longer to sign up than to vote). The one she eventually stopped at had an incident while she was there. The soldiers guarding the site decided to remove the stand of SUMATE [1] that was further than the prescribed 25 yards. A commotion took place as the people in line started yelling at the soldiers and confronting them, with even a past middle age women almost hysterically aggressive. This is what happens when clumsy soldiers deal with people frustrated by two years of political fighting.

Caracas

When I arrived at 6 PM I drove in front of one of the Caracas collection site in Chuao. It looked like a big party was going on there.

On the road

With the rain and traffic I did listen to the radio a lot. All sorts of incidents in the country, more or less solved. Two things of note.

The Army has been the main disturbing factor. Even though the Electoral Board repeated and repeated that besides security they had nothing else to do with the signature collection. A curios incident was the closing of the border with Colombia “for security reasons”. This did not happen last week end when chavistas collected their signatures, nor even yesterday. Rumor has that one chavista assemblyman from Tachira whose seat is at stake asked for the border closing in order to block in Colombia about 3 thousand Venezuelans that work there on week days. Of course this means that Assemblyman Tascon suspects that these Venezuelans forced to work in Colombia because of the economic crisis are more than likely going to sign for his recall… Ah! Where is Freud when you need him!?

The other noteworthy event is that many centers have exhausted their supply of signing forms for the 4 days! In particular in many areas of Eastern Caracas. People are asked to go and sign elsewhere!

Overseas

Venezuelan overseas were not allowed to sign, though they can vote in embassies. Regardless spontaneously Venezuelan overseas organized a “parallel” sign up. CNN reported interesting images of crowds that am sure did not please our foreign minister…

Tonight

I realized that of all the people that I know, including myself I knew of only three that did sign up yesterday. Today, in spite of the rain and incidents I have 2 relatives in Caracas signing, 4 in Lara and 1 friend in Carabobo. And I know that tomorrow my parents that came back from Margarita tonight will go to sign up and some more relatives will do so. And I know of some co-workers that will do so on Monday in Lara and Yaracuy! If this pattern repeats in other social groups, lines at signing tables are not over!

This also explain the news I received from somebody with links to the opposition head quarters, a friend that is actually ferrying around international observers. Apparently tonight the magical number of 2.4 million might have been reached! Which would mean that whatever is collected Sunday and Monday is free bonus to cover up any signatures that might be annulled for any reason! From another independent source I learned that last night the tally was around 1.3 million. Considering the generally bad weather in Venezuela today that certainly slowed down lines, this will make believable that today we would have collected 1.1 million signatures, 200 thousand less than yesterday.

I really do not think the pace can be kept at this level, but do not be surprised if tomorrow and extra 500 fall into the opposition bag. Could we reach the 3.5 million by Monday night? That is the magic number to boot Chavez out of office. Indeed, one can assume that several hundred thousand that are opposed to Chavez could not sign: travelling, sick, public employees, blackmailed businesspeople, etc… It is reasonable to think that the 3.5 that are signing will go and vote. Certainly the ones that could not sign up will more than make up for those that for some reason did sign up but could not vote on referendum day. Could this be why chavistas are strangely silent tonight? Even Chavez seems to be missing the opening ceremonies of the National Games tonight… No cadena tonight?

=== === === === === === ===

[1] SUMATE is the very controversial group, for chavistas, that does all the statistical and electoral work for the opposition. The government has been trying everything it can to have SUMATE banned. Probably because themselves with all the might of the state are unable to organize something half as good as SUMATE.
Off to Caracas

Saturday 29, 10:30 AM

I will be leaving shortly so no more updates until sometime 4-5 PM my time.

So far things look good except that the military had to be reprimanded by the electoral board CNE for taking some attributions that do not correspond to them. One cannot but worry if the generals that did some improper actions were not testing on purpose the waters....

Otherwise polling places re-opened, people are coming, signatures keep piling up. It will not be as good a day perhaps because it is drizzling everywhere and people might just want to wait for fair weather tomorrow.

I am hearing Globovision reporting of some other disturbing incidents but I want to keep my optimism going up, it is after all acts out of desperation that prove the success of the opposition operation. Observers are still in the country so overall things should be OK no matter what.

One interesting detail is that Chavez did not do his nightly cadena yesterday. Oh well...
The second day of the recall election drive against Chavez
Supporters of Chavez are pale

Saturday 29, 10:20 AM

As I am finishing my cup of tea I wanted to let you know that my morning cup of tea tastes particularly good this morning. I suspect that the breakfast of pro-Chavez supporters did not taste that good.

Let's start with international observer from Argentina, Alicia Castro, a congresswoman. Interviewed on state TV this morning, the only thing that she was able to observe where two incidents, one rather nasty (though the way De La Rua was ousted, and how Piqueteros act should have inured her some, one would think). That was all. No comment on the civism in hundred of sites, no comments on the aggression to Juan Fernandez. But quickly she went on to talk against globalization and other stuff, visibly tense in spite of her spectacular outfit and overall dashing appearance. Indeed, she was this week in Caracas to attend one of these forums that Chavez sponsors right and left and which are excellent platforms for politicians like her. She has something at stake and dutifully repeated all the chavista lines while ignoring reality, but with an Argentinean accent. It was cute.

The second sad case was Assemblyman Tascon, fighting the recall effort against himself in Tachira. I will not extend on the numerous reports of Tascon pressure on people to sign up for Chavez last week, which already should make him take a low profile these days, but low profile is another word missing from the chavista lexicon.

Well, Mr. Tascon from the press podium of the vice-presidency declared, I kid you not, that although he was not allowed to give numbers, his own partial numbers pointed out to a failure by the opposition on Friday. The argument went like this: the chavista effort was not national and the maximum to be collected for them was 7 + millions. The opposition potential is nation wide and thus 12 + millions. According to him, since the opposition has failed to collect twice as many signatures as chavistas on their first day Friday 21, then it was a bust. “And they know it!” he screamed, but less than proudly. Actually, it was very sad to see his body language say something totally different from his vocal and confused presentation. This by itself spoke volumes of their discomfiture.

Meanwhile Globovision was showing long lines again this morning.
The second day starts

Saturday 29, 9:50 AM

While I am packing up stuff before leaving for Caracas I will try to give a couple of updates.

This one is to thank Miguel Octavio for putting some pictures from San Felipe that I sent him. Blogger does not allow me to post them for the time being so I asked Miguel who very kindly obliged and even wrote nice words on my updates from inside Venezuela. (blushing!)

The pictures are not as spectacular as the lines in Caracas, we are a small town after all, but when do you have a chance to see pictures of San Felipe? :-) By the way Miguel has a lot of other pictures that you might want to peruse.

Thanks Miguel!

Friday, November 28, 2003

A last update for tonight
The Chavez recall election drive is going strong and some of his supporters are losing their nerves

Friday 28, 11 PM

Results keep pouring in and they are generally good. I have some friends that work at a collection table in El Junquito and apparently they have collected about 40% of what they were supposed to collect in 4 days. My parents still in Margarita report long lines, whereas last Monday the chavista signing booths were empty. My relatives from Lara say that things were going smoothly over there and better than expected. My friends and relatives in Caracas and Carabobo report the humongous lines that I saw earlier on TV. Unfortunately I have no contact in Zulia but TV was good there.

Tonight news reported the ugly incidents of the day. The one that worried me this morning was when Juan Fernandez, the head to the fired oil workers and a "presidentiable" dared to go and sign in the Carapita district of Caracas, pretty much the den of the lion. Of course a group of furious chavistas got wind and an ugly incident followed where among other things they tried to steal TV cables, threw objects, etc. Juan Fernandez held his ground although they had to run and take cover to preserve the forms already collected. Eventually the army restored some order and Fernandez did sign.

The other ugly incident was an act of plain stupidity by Eliecer Oteyza, a Chavez protege who was send to run for the Carabobo governorship next year. He is not liked at all, even among many chavistas as an imposition on the local leadership. Well, the guy decided to take authorities in his own hands and to "investigate" personally one of the signing tables at Prebo, a district of Valencia. He even brought along a few goons for protection, all big beefy guys wearing a red T-shirt that said in front "Battle of Carabobo" and on the back "I am chavista". Talk of provocation. Sure enough the people standing in line quickly rioted and the beefy guys in red t-shirts seemed quite pitiful protecting the ex stripper wanna-be governor, Chavez factotum. Almost risible if it were not so sad and so telling of the desperation of Chavez followers.

That is that for today. I have decided to go to Caracas tomorrow to check things first hand since there is no action to be expected in Yaracuy where Lapi ensures enough safety for people to sign up and where Chavez will be trounced. After all in 2000 Lapi got more votes than Chavez in Yaracuy and chavistas did not even dare to ask for a recall election on any of the pro-Lapi officials! After an AM update, my next news will be from Caracas starting at around 4 PM. I will stop for a while in Valencia on the way and check things there.
An momentous journey to the recall election on Chavez!

Friday 28, 9:10 PM

News are really positive. Many centers ran out of forms to sign, and some centers in anti-Chavez areas even ran out of the extra forms that were brought to them! One opposition leader went on record saying that if the pace continues they will collect 60% more than the 2.4 million necessary! Out of a possible 7+ million. We will see. I just hope that we get 2.4 million + 1 to make sure we vote on Chavez in March.

Chavistas did look somewhat pitiful. They have even been unable to provide the electoral board with all the signatures they supposedly collected. Tonight they made a show of bringing a few more boxes of forms to the electoral board. I have done a fair amount of moving in my student days and these boxes did look kind of light to me... One cannot help but wonder why they are so reluctant to bring the forms, or why they are putting up such a show of dropwise boxes. A rumor is running: apparently they have detected a large numbers of errors, so many actually that that would explain why they are asking the electoral board to lower their standard as to what is a valid signature! Another rumor says that since so many public employees were forced to sign they made mistakes on purpose!

Of course all sorts of accusations fly as of supposed fraud from the opposition. But nothing seems to stick and a few seconds of today film footage would convince anyone that there will be no need for fraud. On the other hand what is more worrying is that a couple of generals in the interior of the country seemed ot have abused their authority to at least slow down the collection process. We will know more on that tomorrow.

But tonight the opposition is all smiles. With the very real prospective to have all wrapped up by Sunday with a full day left just to nail down the coffin, one can understand their glee. Of course there is always some crazy action possible but I strangely feel confident. The evidence for the opposition success is too strong and I suspect that many chavistas are more worried tonight about their political future than Chavez's one.
A picture Gallery
Friday 28, 5-ish PM

El Universal.com has published a picture gallery of "El Reafirmazo" in Caracas. You can see the lines, the different steps required to sign up, etc, and most important, the people's determination and excitment.

"El Reafirmazo" is of course the name given by the oppostion to the collection of signatures to revoke Chavez mandate. I cannot believe that I had not mentionned that earlier! It is a word play that I cannot translate but it sorts of mean "the big reassertion of signatures" for the signatures that were stolen from us on February 2.
Towards the Recall Election of Chavez
So far, so good

Friday 28, 4 PM

Apparently the incidents this morning must have been solved well. I did not see anything on the news at lunch time. The day seems to be going without any problem except for delays and such.

After lunch I stopped by Higueron, a popular neighborhood of San Felipe. The sign up tables were inside a court yard, National guards and policemen in rather large numbers outside guarding access. But people were coming in and out without trouble. Señora Altagracia told me that this morning when she left home a lot of people were lining up to sign, in the erstwhile chavista stronghold of San Felipe.

In Monagas state they have already run out of forms to fill. The electoral board only gives a determined numbers of forms each day and Monagas is the first state to report running out of forms. As far as I know during the chavista effort of last week no state reported a shortage of forms. Zulia governor also has announced that in large sectors of the state they will run out of forms before 6 PM. Zulia is our largest electoral state.

Even the state TV, a.k.a. Discovery Chavez, was in a subdued mood today, though their advertisements were rather harsh to scare people away from signing up. Does not seem to work so far.
Towards the Recall Election of Chavez
The Yaracuy scene

Friday 28, 11:45 AM

I did sign up at 10:15 at Plaza de Las Banderas which is the flag square of our Olympic Village. I have some pictures and I will see how I can manage to post them.

The atmosphere was nice, semi festive even. I had to wait a couple of minutes and the form was easy to fill up, including my thumb stamp, ID number, etc... Chavez will have no problem tracking me down.

When I left I was told that they had already gathered close to 500 signatures! This is huge because:
1) The site is not on a major pedestrian area so people that sign up there come either by bus or car (though there is a community college nearby so that might account for the high number this early).
2) Each Yaracuy center is expected to collect between 2 and 3 thousand signatures so my center was already 1/4 of the way in numbers with still 3 days and 3/4 of collection time!!!!!!!!!!

I did drive around and the collection site at Avenida Cartagena was animated, the one at La Galeria was crowded (normal as it is in the ground zero area of anti Chavez folks) and I stopped for pictures at Plaza Teofilo Dominguez. There I asked the National Guard in charge permission for pictures and very kindly he allowed me to do so. While I was taking pictures I overheard an organizer on a cell phone saying that they had already filled up 60 forms for a total of 569 valid signatures! At 11 AM!

With two centers, in the first three hours of the 4 days period allotted they had collected more than 1000 signatures of the 100 to 150 thousand that Yaracuy is expected to gather. Impressive! If I extrapolate to other centers, Yaracuy must be already 10% in target. On a working day with three more days to go. If the rhythm keeps up by Saturday afternoon Yaracuy will be done.

But I heard bad news from Caracas that I need to check, about some serious disturbances. See you later.

Signature time

Friday 28, 9:30 AM

For the next few days this blog is going to become a news center following my own observations of the signature collection. I will try to post a few times a day.

I will start by the TV round up this morning before coming to work. By 8 AM lines were seen pretty much everywhere. There were definitely more people and more enthusiasm than a week ago when chavistas collected their own signatures to revoke the mandate of a few opposition assembly people.

A talk show from Televen took great care to retracing a recent speak from Chavez where he said that people that signed will have their name recorded for future generations as those that asked for a return to the past. And I suppose that that scorn will start in the present. I cannot imitate the menacing tone of Chavez, but apparently so far his fascist tactics do not seem to be very effective.

In a little bit I will leave work and drive around San Felipe to see how lines are working there. And of course sign up to revoke Chavez tenure. That way he will be able to track me and punish me for treason to something.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Why I will be signing tomorrow to remove Hugo Chavez through a recall election.
Thursday 27 November 2003

It will be no surprise for anyone kind enough to read my words on occasion that tomorrow I will go to my Yaracuy voting station and sign up to ask for a recall election on the mandate of Hugo Chavez Frias, president of Venezuela since February 2 1999.

There is no need to restate the reasons why I am doing so. I have written enough on all the abuses, misrules, incompetence, corruption and what not of the Chavez administration. I have commented often of my fear that he is leading us toward some form of authoritarian regime, a regime that we have escaped so far, in my opinion, because Chavez did not close the media when he could have done so. Indeed today, the only institution left to protect us from an authoritarian regime is the press and the media. All the other institutions have been subverted and only the incompetence of their directors have saved us from further damage to our democracy.

I did write a series of summary articles the last two weeks. I could write more of such articles on education, trade unions, utilities, etc… but I trust that my point has come out loud and clear.

But the real reason that I want Chavez out is that he is an incompetent ruler. Perhaps a visionary, but a terrible, terrible manager. The only reason why he has gone so far is that he inherited a state that had lost faith in itself. Wherever he wants to lead us he will do so badly, blinded by the resentment he carries with him.

But in all fairness I must add the things that tomorrow I will not sign up for. I will not sign up for a return to the past, as such a return will only secure the return of a new Chavez. I will not sign up to restitute to the old elite their lost power. They lost it because they were incompetent and had no qualms using corruption to achieve their goals. I will not forgive them the tragedy of April 11, and the disaster of April 12, 2002. When their moment to shine came, they bestowed a half backed conspiracy on an unfit Carmona Estanga who had nothing better to offer than the stalest form of political coup that our continent has been so prolific with. And they all went to Miraflores to applaud as Carmona Estanga read a decree that made him an even worse autocrat than Chavez, dreamed to be. That blunder brought Chavez back for another two years of misery and ruin for our country. When justice will come I hope that the court benches will be shared equally between corrupt chavistas and unreconstructed anti-chavistas.

I will not be signing to see Accion Democratica, or any other ghost become again an electoral option. I will not sign for a country that still thinks that our oil is the solution to all of our problems. I will not sign to see electoral candidates lie to us promising what they full well know they will NEVER be able to provide. I do not want to go back to a past that has seen its worst avatar with the Chavez years.

In April 1999 I voted NO to the referendum asking for a constitutional assembly. Only 10% of cast votes were NO votes. The old opposition, in a fitting show of stupidity, called for abstention as if Chavez would care. I voted NO then because I knew that a country should not seek a new constitution because a leader says so, and wants to write it down himself. It never works, and this time was no exception. And I had been advocating for constitutional reform for years!

The 10% NO were perhaps no more than 4% of the electorate of the country. Never in my voting life was I in such a minority. Things have changed and that 4% was proven right.

I was in the very first manifestation that was called against Chavez, in Caracas, Chacaito square. A small gathering of perhaps up to 10 000 people that protested the planned intervention of private education by Chavez’s education ministry. I remember that night when Chavez ridiculed, scorned this first serious rally against his rule, a time when he could still call out at the drop of a hat hundred of thousands of faithful.

In October 2002 I marched with a million people to Avenida Bolivar, in the largest march to date in Latin American History. This change in two years, thanks to Chavez incompetence and in spite of the opposition ineptitude.

It has been a long road. We are a brave people and we have done it all on our own, misunderstood by most of the world except for Spain and Colombia, our mother country and our sister country.

Tomorrow we will stamp our name on a document that will forfeit our right to secrecy when voting. If we do not collect enough signatures, or if we lose the recall election, or if Chavez manages to void the referendum, then he will have the database to block us who signed, to deny us as many a civilian right he will be able to deny us. Yet I will go and sign with a light heart because I know, I truly know in my heart that if Chavez remains in office he will steal whatever future I have left.

THE RACIAL CARD
Or how the saurian left tries to help Chavez beat the Recall Election in Venezuela

Thursday November 27, 2003

I have come across a rather disturbing development: Chavez has found a few guys to promote overseas the racial card to defend his Bolivarian Revolution. That is, some columnist from left wing publications are willing to buy the idea that in Venezuela the problem is basically rich-white versus black-poor.

Now, in the height of the 2002 unrest, many did buy that cliché but those that have bothered to observe Venezuela in depth have come to realize that things are not as clear cut[1]. Indeed, way more “dark-skinned” people tend to be poorer than “light-skinned” people. However, chavista rallies have a significant sprinkling of “white” folks and since late 2002, opposition rallies have become quite a multicolored crowd. And I am not referring to the profusion of flags.

Since the end of the strike in February 2003, the opposition has slowly been scoring points internationally to the extent that these days it is seen as more democratic than the Chavez administration who benefited for quite a while of the afterglow as a victim ofthe April 12 coup. As the referendum on Chavez rule seems to creep closer to Miraflores Palace, the administration is getting desperate to shore up its foreign support, and has probably decided to stir up the vocal minority that shows up regularly at anti globalization summits and other nihilist activities. Nothing easier than to play a racial card among these groups.

I will give you two examples on how that maneuvering is unfolding.

Greg Palast is a journalist (free lancer?) for the Observer in the UK. Apparently he is on a job in Caracas for Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone checking out Venezuelan politics? Never mind. From his blog come all sorts of un-chewed thoughts on Venezuela assorted with the usual lack of information. But never mind again. Let’s instead focus on the first picture he uses in his blog, a blog that apparently will become a newspaper articles somewhere.

These are the words Mr. Palast uses to “explain” the picture.

The matronly blonde in the stylish leaopard-patterned blouse doesn't like the President of this Latin state.
Her polite interlocutor -- red t-shirt, brown skin, eyes impatiently averted
And that's what it's all about. Race and class. Whatever else you hear about Venezuela, this is the story in a single frame. Like apartheid-riven South Africa, the whites, 20% of the population, have the nation's wealth under lock and key. The Rich Fifth have command of the oil wealth, the best jobs, the English-language lessons, the imported clothes, the vacations in Miami, the plantations.
Now the brown people, like community activist Lara -- and President Chavez himself -- have a piece of the action. "Negro y indio," Chavez calls himself. Black and Indian. And the blondes don't like it.


Woah! How many clichés can one use in a single blog page!?

Let’s start with the “blonde”. A careful examination of the facial features and hair of the woman in the picture reveals that she is no blonde at all. In fact, she is a past 50 mestizo woman (native American and European origin) that suffers from a bad dye job on her graying hair. Not to mention that her “leaopard” [sic] is synthetic fabric that is found usually in the famous “lower” classes that Chavez defends.
Let’s keep going on with the “polite brown skin” (Uncle Tom anyone?). Nothing in the picture betrays impatience between the two parts. People that have to sit for 4 days under the sun one to collect and one to watch, will not look rested. But the “blond” is drinking a yellow liquid in a small cup. It does not look like she is about to throw the cup content at the polite brown.
And let’s end with South Africa. Perhaps Mr. Palast would be well advised to compare Mr. Mandela with Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mr. Chavez. Nelson Mandela will pass in history second only to Gandhi. The Constitution that he left even includes protections for homosexuals. And Mr. Mandela made a career in reconciling two sides while the other two characters are making a career making both sides jump at each other throats. Mr. Palast is a democrat from the left? Really…

The other item is a lengthy interview granted by Chavez to Mark Weisbrot. Just from the look of it one can see that it is a piece of shoddy journalism. The questions are brief, and often leading Chavez to the “right” answer. The replies are endless, and never challenged. Thus the interview is a simple vehicle for Chavez to give his usual ranting, even if only for an Internet site. Of course the ignorance of Weisbrot is apparent in many places, but what is important for today’s topic is the question before last:

[Weisbrot]: Another topic: it is hard not to notice the difference between the color of the people on the two sides here. The opposition crowds are noticeably lighter and more European looking than those who support the government. Do you think there is a racial dimension to this struggle?

[Chavez]: Yes, there is racism here—it used to be more hidden and now it is more open. But it is not the main factor. And this is part of the picture in other countries, too—look who supported Lula, or Evo Morales [in Bolivia].


Notice first the contradiction within Weisbrot words: he recognizes first that colorations vary in each side but right there he tries to find a predictable explanation. Second, notice that Chavez confess that racism is stronger now, but himself, for all his rhetoric refuses to make a big deal out of it in spite of been given the opportunity by Weisbrot. However the interview was in May and only this week did the pro Chavez site Venezuelanalysis picked it up. A rather interesting coincidence and one would wonder what would Chavez say today.

Now, as it just happens, newspapers in Venezuela came out with the research results of Dr. Dinorah Castro from the IVIC, Venezuela’s most important research center. Dr. Castro is an anthropologist and has studied the genetic composition of Venezuelan people. I do not have the details of the study, but she claims that the individual racial contributions to the Venezuelan make up is: “The proportions are as follow: European genes 59%, Native American genes 29 % and African genes12%”. She also adds that the nature of Venezuelan colonization makes the contribution of Native and African genes to come rather from the women’s side and that of the European stock rather from the men’s side (a whole bunch of horny conquistadors would do that). Currently research is undertaken on mitochondrial DNA to confirm this[3].

So, Venezuela as South Africa? Please…

That Venezuela is probably the most racially mixed society in South America does not seem to stop some lefties to find quick fixes to explain complex problems. Racism is as good as any. Surely soon enough they will come up on rampant homosexuality in the opposition files, according to many chavistas. How long until Gay White Pride Marches of the opposition?

Reminds me of an old saying, you end up so far on the left that you wake up one day on the right of all. Hey! It did happen to Mussolini!


=== === === === === === ===

[1] the cliché approach of rich/poor, white/black, has been rejected by serous newspapers such as Le Monde in France or the Washington Post in the US.

[2] Mark Weisbrot is a free lancer for “progressive causes”.

[3] Mithochondrial DNA is inherited only through the mother
The fall out from the chavista recall election effort
A weakened chavista movement?

Wednesday November 26, 2003

The least that one can say is that the performance is less than stellar. With barely 24 hours form landing, I think I know enough to have a pretty good idea that chavistas have had all the trouble in the world to gather enough signatures to remove some assembly people that have incurred the wrath of Darth Chavez. A few tidbits to amuse you.

Evidence of vote buying are surfacing from many quarters. This is not a novelty in Venezuela of course. What is rather surprising is the rather brazen way that chavistas got around to implement this feature. Strategies range wide. One was pseudo hiring agency where a few thousand folks got some cash payment against a promise not to sign for the opposition (and presumably for the government). This scam was reported by the Daily Journal of Caracas. Other scams included lottery drawings of bicycles and TVs in my neighbor state of Lara. I think that if you went and signed against an opposition deputy you got a ticket for the lottery.

Other forms of pressure are more, shall we say, "subtle". For example anyone that has some business to do with the state, be it public employee or be it a business trying to get legitimately access to US dollars has been threatened or cajoled as the case required. I know personally two people that have been fired for signing up on February 2!!! I know of several others linked to co workers or relatives. And I know of people waiting for dollars that have been told to "behave". Incidentally the trickle of dollars emanating from CADIVI, our ineffable currency control agency, has almost dropped to zero in the last three weeks. What a coincidence that this happens when the government is making large payments to buy people right and left...

Meanwhile a big "accusation" of censorship against private media could backfire badly for chavistas. It turns out that a prepared TV chavista campaign was refused by TV networks on the grounds that the bills should be made to the State Oil company PDVSA. A little bit as if the French President would have his political adds paid for by the French National Railway System. It will be interesting to see if the investigation ever reaches a conclusion, or if chavistas will persist on that particular line of attack.

And the numbers are as chaotic as they were yesterday. The opposition claims that chavistas gathered at best 1 million supporters to bother signing. Chavistas are all over, from 2 to nearly 8 millions. Amazingly they cannot manage a real spokesperson.

But the best was Tuesday night "cadena"! The Chavez we saw, almost hysterical, dripping hate and contempt, excoriating the media, the opposition, the neoliberals, this and that, was not at all the image of a confident leader that won big on the popular expression a few days ago. He knows the real numbers and he could not hide his discomfiture and his anger. Chavez can always be relied upon to know what is really going on within his troops.

Ah! Long gone are the days when Chavez could fill up an avenue for a rally without even bringing free booze!

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

CHAVEZ AND CRONIES TRY TO PULL A FAST ONE ON THE RECALL ELECTION.
Chavistas recall efforts in Venezuela and Margarita Island

Tuesday 25, November 2003

I did spend 4 lovely days in Margarita Island, swimming, avoiding the sun and de-stressing through long Cocoloco induced naps by the shore. I did not read the papers, except for a cursory perusing on Sunday. No Internet either. But a little bit of television at the hotel room, and the radio on my way back from Barquisimeto airport to San Felipe tonight.

I was right, it was a good timing for a break as the Pro-Chavez signature gathering was newsworthy for its lack of news.

OBSERVATIONS IN MARGARITA.

During a road drive through Margarita Island on Monday afternoon I passed by several of the stands set up there to gather signatures to revoke a local opposition assemblyman. The stands were usually nattily dressed in red, Chavez’s colors. A few National Guards were setting vigils, but at least in one case more worried about the pretty girls walking by. As far as I could tell nobody was standing in line to sign. Folks on vigil waiting for electors were chit-chatting amiably. All seemed good natured, as it should be.

I am not going to speculate as to the obvious absence of voters. After all it was Monday afternoon, the 4th and last day of the signatures gathering for the Chavez side. And Margarita is after all a state with a small population. But if they needed only 20% of voters to sign up and that they were still open Monday afternoon this may suggest that they were not sure of having gathered the necessary signatures.

What was actually way more interesting to observe were the very numerous road advertisement for the local governor, Alexis Navarro. I do live in a state whose Governor is from the opposition and is reputed to be a little bit arrogant, but right now as I type this I cannot remember clearly the last time I saw such type of advertisement for Mr. Lapi. Mind you, he is not adverse on occasion to post a large billboards to promote his “works”, but what I saw in Margarita was downright ridiculous.

The roads of Margaritas seem to display every couple of miles a billboard depicting Mr. Navarro, more often than not accompanied by Chavez. The background is usually red. The pose usually “inspired”, with a look in the distance (the future?), quite often a raised straight hand (blessing us? Or saluting us fascist style?), the text of course alluding to all the millions spent on Margarita. Well, I have not seen any visible improvement for tourists since my last visit one and a half year ago, and the people do not look any more content than they used to be. There are still as many holes in the streets, and visibly the currency control exchange has hurt badly the tax free port status of Margarita, probably increasing the jobless numbers a lot. These numbers are not reported on the billboards. Imagine that! However, what is also noteworthy is that much more often than not the billboards to the glory of Mr. Navarro are defaced.

Questions come easy. Why does Mr. Navarro need so many billboards? Why so often with Chavez? Can he stand alone in a free electoral context? After three years in office, does he still need Chavez that bad? And, by the way, where do the monies for these expensive billboards come from?

You got to love local “leaders” personality cult.

CHAVISTAS GATHERING SIGNATURES

What is there to say? I mean, really. Apparently there are all sorts of questions as to whether chavistas gathered the 20% needed to recall up to 38 opposition assembly men. But when I arrived in Margarita I read that chavistas had already conceded in Zulia on some seats, our largest state. Yaracuy, my home state, even with 4 out of 5 seats in the hands of the opposition was not a target of the pro Chavez effort! And Lapi does not litter the country side with billboards to his glory (OK, so he uses TV spots but I am sure that Margarita’s governor does that on his local TV shows).

Does it matter really? Well, in a way I hope that they did collect their signatures. If they had to falsify a few as claimed by some that means that they know that they are in trouble for real. That could drive them to something crazy this weekend when the opposition takes its turn at gathering signatures against Chavez. My bet will be that they failed in several districts to gather the 20% of registered voters which is necessary to force a recall election but they also did manage the 20% fair and square in some districts. After all polls give a solid 30% of hard core support across the board for Chavez. If Yaracuy and Zulia are below the 30% that must make a few other states close to 40%. [1]

One thing is certain, the declarations I saw on TV were less than convincing. Our ineffable vice-president of course declared that everybody and their brother did sign up. The even more ineffable BBC news seems to have bought that inanity, though the numbers advanced by the VP were easy to check agaisnt the electoral roster. But then again BBC bought the glorified version of the video “The Revolution will not be televised”. The BBC needs to talk to local Brits, if you ask me.

Meanwhile I watched the amazing scene of Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the editor of the pro Chavez daily Ultimas Noticias, on TV saying that the Vice-President got it wrong![2] Diaz Rangel declared that it was around 2 million signatures collected, candidly conceding that it was more than he expected. What all of them seem to have forgotten was that in some districts one could sign for more than one recall election and thus even these 2 millions do not represent 2 million people, perhaps one and a half at best. Even if you add the states that were left behind, and you assume that the signatures were clean, the total gathered does not reach much more than 2 million folks out of around 12 million registered voters, barely 20% at best!

It is indeed quite amusing to observe how the chavistas do not even manage to agree on the same bloated numbers. They are trying to pull a good one on the opposition but the opposition needs not to do much to reveal the truth as chavistas contradict themselves.

It will still be a few days before we know how successful, or failed, was the chavista collection against the representatives from the opposition. But from what I could gather in the last few hours, and my accidental observations in Margarita, Chavez is still far from sleeping soundly at night.

=== === === === ===

[1] The last two months have seen a real electoral campaign by Chavez even though no official election is on sight before June 2004. Of course the campaign is aimed at making people desist from signing up for a recall election. This heavy campaigning, with assorted goodies handed right and left has born fruit. The hard core support of Chavez remains stuck at 15 % but it seems that the total support raised from 30 to 40%. This pattern has been the same for the last two years, as Chavez numbers are consistently shifting between 30 and 40%, regardless of the disastrous administration he provides the country with.

[2] State TV, VTV, show, Contra Golpe, Monday 24.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Out of town

I will be away for a few days to Margarita Island, a chance vacation that I could not pass. These last days I have been concentrating on analysis (5!) rather than news. News go too fast lately and writing some of the reasons to ask for the recall election seemed more important for me, to remind us why is it that we are going to affix our name at the bottom of a document and thus forfeit our right to secrecy at voting time, with all the consequences that this could bring to our lives if our cause does not overcome. We are a brave people.

Chavistas are gathering signatures until Monday, and all seems OK so far. Anti-chavistas will do so Friday, and I will have come back by then to start giving news. Meanwhile I am sure that Miguel Octavio's blog will keep you updated until Wednesday. Fun, good fun I hope, will start on Wednesday anyway. Though if Internet is close at hand I will check in. Last time there was no Internet.
Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
V-The break up of society
Friday 21, November 2003

Perhaps the very worst consequences of the Chavez administration was the reawakening of many of the old devils of our collective soul. For political purposes and to try to shore up his political base Chavez has not been above using the worn out racial and social code words that were supposedly a thing of the past.

One would be a fool to try top pretend that before Chavez we were just a happy-go-lucky people. We were not, and in the late 80ies, poverty painted itself in darker shades of skin. We also had to wait for Chavez to get the first Miss Venezuela that could arguably pass for African American, though certainly many of her predecessors were not lilywhite.

However, no matter what, if you had a lot of money, you could buy a house wherever you pleased and religious, social origin or race would not be a significant factor. Your check book potential was. Except for Rafael Caldera all of our democratic era presidents were some form of mestizo, albeit a diluted one. Claudio Fermin in 1993 was the first African Venezuelan to almost make it to the presidency with a more than respectable 25%. Not to mention that Chavez himself, definitely the darker of our presidents that was elected with a comfortable 56%, many of these votes coming form a rather whitish middle class.

In trying to shore up his support at home, and even more overseas, Chavez has played the racial card as early as 1999. This has acquired a degree of ridiculousness unthinkable in Venezuela. We called the October 12 holiday “Dia de la Raza” or “day of the race” as an allusion to our ethnical make up from three races that did mix up to such a degree that today 60% or more of the population is a mix of one sort or the other. Yet, last year the name was changed to “Day of indigenous resistance”. It is not rare to hear declarations such as “this is the first government in 500 years that defends the people”, which of course goes against any factual historical record of Venezuela. Even Chavez sort of hinted that it was OK to question the presence in Venezuela of anyone not of Native American stock. One wonders what are his plans for the African Americans that were carried against their will to these shores. But in depth thinking is not necessarily a characteristic of the revolutionary heroes.

If one combines inflammatory racial discourse with the consequences of an ever growing economic disaster and its widening circle of poverty, it is easy to see that we are heading for trouble. Chavez seems to like the idea. Or at least does not try in the very least to mitigate the growing social chasm. The discourse these days is “if you are not with me, then you are my enemy”, assorted with all sorts of insults. This goes even a step further than a racial and social speech which oddly seem now the intellectual baggage to sustain the violent discourse, ever more fascist in tone, particularly among some of his noted underlings.

Even if Chavez were to leave office tomorrow it is doubtful that the natural conviviality of all of Venezuelan social classes will be reestablished any time soon. A social fracture has taken place and it seems that Chavez power can only feed from maintaining the fracture. Divide and conquer is his motto. If we want to avoid the worst, we must remove him from office. It might not be enough to repair our social fabric but we must start somewhere.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
IV- The end of personal security
Thursday 20, November 2003

Before the reader gets the wrong impression from the title, it is important to stress that personal security was not great before Chavez came into office. In fact, that under Chavez personal security did worsen is not even my point today. One could argue that an economic crisis, perhaps in part imposed on him, made him lose options to ensure the safety of the citizens. No, the problem with Mr. Chavez is that we lost hope that things will ever get better at our personal level.

What defines personal safety for an individual?

Obviously, the first item is to ensure that you could go back and forth between work, home and grocery shopping without being afraid to get robbed and shot during the act.

But it also goes further than that. If you get shot, when you reach the public hospital will there be supplies to treat you? To preserve your life?

Then if you manage to get alive out of the hospital, will there be someway to pay for you care? Your re-education if needed? Will you have unemployment coverage in a timely fashion?

When you are back home, will there be a home to go back to? Will looters have visited you while you were at the hospital?

If everything is still fine, will you have a job to go back to?

And if you got a good settlement from a law suit against whoever was negligent in security where you were shot, will you be able to invest your money to start your own venture? Will the risks be normal? Will the robbers come back to haunt you as they have been untimely released? Will you be protected from judicial abuse from the robbers lawyers trying to get some sort of revenge on you from having lost their case earlier? Will you be able to protect your investment from envious eyes?

The answers to all of these questions, and more, seems to be no, even if you are a partisan of the regime. Today, even if you are a sturdy supporter of the Bolivarian adventure, you know that your good fortune depends on the whims of your “superiors”.

Let’s take two opposite examples to illustrate how this personal insecurity has effected all of us.

In February 2003 an important ranch in Barinas State was seized by the new land institute of Venezuela, INTI, in charge to recover idle but potentially productive land to redistribute it to landless peasants. The farm in Barinas was productive, cattle, agriculture, many installations. The “invasion” or land grab was performed by the local INTI representatives, a few truckloads of people with red berets and a significant contingent of the National Guard. The owners risked their lives just trying to protest as the TV images showed the violence of the National Guard. No compensation, which should have come by law, has arrived.

Amazingly the High Court accepted the look at the claims of the owners and have ruled that the proceedings of land redistribution had been carried irregularly. The owners should get everything back. It has been already two weeks and not only nothing has come of it but the public officials show every sign to challenge the final running of the highest court in the land.

And you want foreign investment to come to Venezuela?

The second example is on the other side of the social scale and it is concerned with the weekly toll in the poorer areas of cities, in particular Caracas. These areas that we call “ranchos” climb and cling to the hills surrounding Caracas and look exactly like the Brazilian “favelhas”. Living in these areas is indeed hard. It will require of its inhabitants to walk at least 15 minutes average to reach some form of public transportation to go to a job, if they have one. When they come back at night, usually after night fall as daylight ends at 7 PM in the tropics, they try to gather in small groups at the bottom of the hill to attempt to walk back to their humble homes. There is some security in numbers and they might be coming back with groceries or the daily wage, a big temptation in these areas. To this you can add the ever increasing drug problem and gang wars.

Of course the process is pretty much the same if they try to go shopping or to a public hospital, or several hospitals since they never know whether the hospital they will reach will have supplies that day.

People in “ranchos” have been suffering a toll of lives only comparable to the numbers we see from diverse war fronts. The reports of people killed in the slum areas passes the 30 000 since Chavez has been elected in 1998. Good numbers do not exist as local authorities tend to try these embarrassing numbers and many murders are not reported as such to avoid further reprisals, but it seems that we might be reaching twice the murder rate that we had in the middle 90ies. Fear reigns in the “ranchos”.

All indicators of personal security, be there life or property, have been deteriorating since Chavez has been elected. The only answer offered was to try to control all the local Polices directly from Caracas, to try to militarize some of the major streets, to make speeches. The only way to reduce such a degradation is to try to restore some rule of law, to promote local police that know the neighborhood, and to promote economic growth to palliate poverty and hopelessness, the major causative of crime. None of this is happening. None of this seems to be happening any time soon. And Mr. Chavez has had almost 5 years at the helm. What gives?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mr. Dirceu "goes" to Caracas
Or, is Brazil throwing its weight around?
Tuesday 18, November 2003

An interesting op-ed in EL Universal, from Alberto Garrido brings back the spot light to the declarations a few days ago from the chief of Staff of Brazil’s president Lula da Silva. The least that we can say is that the declarations of Mr. Jose Dirceu are disingenuous.

Mr. Garrido reports the declarations from an AP cable of November 10, in particular:

1) “If the US occupies Colombia, it will occupy the Amazon. Besides, it would never leave Colombia”

2) “2007 is not that far. The [Venezuelan] opposition should wait.”

The refresh the readers mind, Mr. Dirceu, as a very close collaborator of president Lula, can only come from a background of mild leftist anti US ideas, at the very least. But this is par for the course. However, as a new leader of the most powerful nations in South America, by far, he is certainly not immune to the sweet imperialist siren’s calls.

Mr. Garrido makes a precise analysis of the role of Chavez within the presumed Brazilian plans.
“Brazil has set itself to confront the USA on the political, diplomatic and economical terrain so as to extend its hegemonic power in Southern America and climb up steps in the main world power ranks.

In this scheme, Venezuela and Brazil are these days in an alliance where the national reformism of Lula walks in front holding the hand of Venezuela’s anti US revolutionary project of Chavez. [this would explain the recent attitude of both countries at the recent Bolivian summit]. When Brazil and the US will establish their sphere of influence there will be other definitions. Meanwhile, Lula, the head of the “group of friends” [in charge of supervising dialogue between the opposing Venezuelan parties] stamps his signature against the recall election” [my notes or summary].

Let’s forget about the stupid idea of the US invading Colombia. Such an adventure would make Iraq look like at picnic at the beach. Colombia is not a very good trampoline to conquer South America, even less when countries like Chile and Peru are already knocking at the door of NAFTA. Dirceu must be saying those silly lines for the peanut gallery on his left.

The fact is that Brazil has an imperial tendency, just like the US has/had, or Russia had/has. Big countries seem to show such signs. Brazil is already half of South America and just like Germany within the EU, it is the natural leader of South America. Except that Germany is far less than half of the EU and has plenty of competition on the leadership front.

Chavez is the useful buffoon. For the Brazilian elite worried about securing its future power in the world, accepting Lula and some of his program is a small price to pay. Lula, certainly understanding the role of Brazil, and the historical chance he has been given, does not want to rock the Brazilian boat more than necessary. Chavez is the ideal surrogate to be used by Lula when he needs to be seen as more leftist than he really is, or can be. Who cares in Brazil whether Venezuela is held by a banana republic dictator? One cold almost hear behind closed doors in Brasilia “They elected him, it is their problem. Meanwhile let’s use Chavez to scare the IMF, the OAS, the EU, etc, to illustrate how well behaved Brazil is.” This is how we must interpret the second comment of Dirceu: he probably meant to say “We need Chavez at least a couple of years more while we build up our defense lines against the US. Then if necessary we will remove him ourselves”. All indications point out that Lula has not been very impressed by Chavez. But Chavez is far away and he can useful. Mr. Garrido is quite right when he sates that Lula is not a disinterested party on Venezuela, even though he chairs the “group of friends” that is supposed to help ease tensions in Venezuela. The opposition seems to understand that very well: they did not protest the Dirceu declaration.

The second declaration of Mr. Dirceu is actually at the heart of the problem on how the outside world is viewing Venezuela. Since the end of the general strike in early February the casual observer might have forgotten the millions marching in December. That observer might think that Chavez has regained the upper hand. Most casual observers never understood the complex nature of the Venezuelan troubles where a middle class refused to be taken for a ride and was eventually joined by significant sectors of the lower classes in the face of an inept totalitarian project. The casual observer who is limited by the old left/right/back/white cliches really never understood this. It is easy for him to suggest that we admit defeat and wait for their next electoral contest in December 2006. A casual observer as Mr. Dirceu does not realize that the way institutions are been subverted and it might be too late in December 2006 to have free and fair elections.

Is Mr. Dirceu naïve or machiavellian? One could say that he is both.

He is naïve because he appears not to understand that a government that has been so grimly opposed for two years by its people is a government unlikely to restore a minimum of consensus to get the country out of the ditch. Political miracles are hard to come by. Asking us to wait two more years on top of the two we have endured is either insensitive or stupid, or both.

He is machiavellian, though he reveals his colors: perversely Brazil needs Chavez. It cannot escape Brazil that the way Chavez is handling Venezuela, by 2007 Venezuela will be totally eliminated as a possible financial contender in South America. With a solid oil industry Venezuela could become a financial center, a possible counterweight of sorts to Sao Paulo’s might. Argentina, at least for the time being and probably for years, will be unable to offer that necessary counterweight. Even if Chavez leaves in 2007, the damage done in Venezuela might be very long term, long enough to ensure an uncontested Brazil as the sole US counterpart, as the country holding the director’s baton in South American organization and treaties. Is Mr. Dirceu rally speaking for Lula? Is Lula hoping that the recall election fails?

It is also a stern lesson for us in Venezuela. If anyone harbored illusions for an external savior, it should be clear that we are facing Chavez on our own, as it should be. Nobody is going to make sacrifices to get us out of our folly.

=== === === === === ===

On a tangentially related matter. Chavez big mouth has provoked yet again a diplomatic incident. At the Bolivian Ibero-American summit last week-end he proclaimed that Bolivia should get back its access to sea, an access that it lost fair and square to Chile a century ago. Regardless of the merits of the Bolivian cause, I wonder what Mr. Chavez would say if somebody would emit such an opinion on our own border conflicts. The Chilean ambassador has been recalled “for consultations” by the Lagos administration, a socialist from Allende’s years himself. Chile apparently is not amused by Chavez meddling.

Perhaps Mr. Dirceu should be well advised to avoid the roads to Caracas as some unpleasant declaration could come any day from Chavez on Brazilian internal matters. Caracas is a dangerous place Mr. Dirceu.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
III- No more territorial security
Monday 17, November 2003

The relationship of Chavez with the armed forces has been a complex one. A Lieutenant Colonel in 1992, his failed coup attempt ended his military career. Since then he has tried to make up for the lost time. As president, and commander in chief, he used the constituent assembly to concentrate in the hands of the president the military promotions to the ranks of Colonel and General. As a President, he started the famous social program, Plan Bolivar 2000, that he put in the hands of the Army. With that program, he learned how to distribute money to the armed forces and buy loyalties. Finally, after the failure to unseat him in 2002, Chavez was in position to effectuate a major purge in the armed forces, supposedly completing his take over. Lately, the violent ways the National Guard has been using against civilians could lead us to believe that he is a hair away to use the armed forces, if not to grab power out right, at least to block the recall election effort against him long enough until he can reverse his poll numbers.

How was this possible? What has happened to the Venezuelan armed forces?

First we have to realize that the Venezuelan Armed forces like those of many a country are some kind of social program that allows for kids from lower classes to climb a step on the social ladder. Nothing really wrong about that. For example, the US does that without admitting it and nobody would question the importance of the army there, and its loyalty to the system. But the US has also West Point, a long tradition of wars and peace, a strong civilian control. In Venezuela, the Army tradition was formed in the guerilla warfare of our troubled XIX century until Juan Vicente Gomez put an end to it in the 1920ies by creating a real army and making it a professional corp. Until Gomez, what passed as an army made and unmade presidents. Since Gomez, only the 1945-1958 decade saw the army holding political pre-eminence.

Chavez is issued from that XIX tradition, much more than the late XX century. In truth the role of the army in the last quarter of the XX century was less than stellar. Having defeated the leftist insurgency of the 60ies, a tight staff became soon a bloated bureaucracy that had no real enemies to worry about. Still, the formal structure was maintained and the superior echelons of the army were a guarantee of stability as it demonstrated in 1989 and 1992 [1]. This is probably why Chavez did not forgive the army, that the lower echelons lead a “pro people” coup in 1992 and that the higher echelons remained for institutions, corrupt and bloated perhaps, but behind representative democracy anyway.

The Venezuelan Armed forces are composed by the Aviation, the Navy, the Army and the National Guard. Under Chavez, a paratrooper from the Army, the first two components have quickly lost importance. Chavez has compelled himself to secure and bind his Alma Mater of sorts, the foot soldiers. There is not a single parade he misses, not a single foot soldier pay increase he forgets, and even earlier, not a uniform he would not wear, no matter how ridicule he looked in it.

The only possible real enemy of Venezuela is Colombia. Any other enemy has to sail the Caribbean or cross impenetrable jungles and mountains, very far from its bases. The obvious sympathies of Chavez for the Colombian guerilla movements, even if constantly denied officially, are now for all to see. The Army, supposedly in charge of border defense has become the benign supervisor of guerilla crossing back and forth into Venezuela, seeking shelter from the Colombian armies. Even the drug traffic role of the Army seems to have become just for show. Instead, the army is occupied setting field hospitals to treat lower classes, or distribute food, cheap to free, to the downtrodden. That would be OK but it has become common knowledge that the Army does that much less proficiently than the public services previously in charge of these very same programs (under other names, less pretentious than Bolivar 2000). And it does that with at least as much corruption as before.

The National Guard story is even sadder. Contrary to National Guard elsewhere this one is a real part of the Armed Forces, to be used for internal security purposes ranging from riot control to flooding rescue operations. Chavez quickly realized that the National Guard was the ticket. Now you can find the National Guard everywhere tight control is required, and trusted military needed, be it in governmental ministries, entry customs at ports and airports, or checking out items traded in many a social plan. The possibilities of graft for the National Guard have become truly awesome for the not so few officers that seemingly have had not many scruples in cashing in the Bolivarian Piñata.

But just as modern Faust, Chavez is cashing in his permissiveness. The one component of the Armed Forces that has accepted all sorts of dirty jobs is the National Guard. A couple of weeks ago Nelson Rivera has dissected in fascinating articles for El Nacional the reasons for the deeds of the National Guard, and the deeds themselves [2]. His conclusion is that the National Guard is days form shooting on the opposition marches. A few weeks ago I did translate the brilliant articles from Milagros Socorro on the Los Semerucos evictions of PDVSA workers[3]. That particularly shameful fascistic episode has gained the National Guard a new epithet appearing in the press without really anyone sensing the horror it implies: “Guardia Nazi-onal”. Too many people writing these days.

When during the December-January strike we saw a general of the National Guard Acosta Carles seize gas transport vehicles or emitting the eructation that went around the world from drinking warm soda in an illegal seizure of private property, we should have started worrying. The barbaric violence of some recent acts of the National Guard is just a logical consequence of that.

But I have experienced this myself. I have seen the defiant National Guard officers on May 1 march, surrounding the legislative palace, looking more like asking for a fight than preserving public order. I have seen in a street of San Felipe a truck with half a dozen of National Guard soldiers selling some stuff to passer by, three of them making sure that none would get too close from the truck, say, to take a picture or ask questions. This on a Saturday morning, far from any commercial area of San Felipe, and even further from a “social case” area where an army distribution would not have been out of place. I have seen the newly arrogance that they have when I was helping a colleague dealing with a minor infraction and watching myself being manipulated by an officer in order to condemn publicly my colleague. I learned that day what was the first step of the training to become concentration camp director. I also sensed that we were already in an undeclared military dictatorship.

Truly, today I think that the Armed Forces of Venezuela have ceased to be. They have been corrupted and we should just simply consider dispensing with them in a new Venezuela. The task of reconstruction is probably not worth it and it would be better to just create a small territorial force and proclaim our neutrality. But I am afraid that we do not have the guts to take the road of Costa Rica. Too many people in Venezuela used to talk of their “friends” in the armies that helped them solve “problems”. It is easy to get on drugs and the only thing that they want is probably to go back to the good old days when a “good” contact was better than a legal claim.

Whatever it is, any hope of regaining an honorable and perhaps useful army cannot be held as long as Chavez remains in office. He has reawakened the ghosts of our history by recklessly trying to make the Armed Forces the political party that he could not get or control as he wished. In his folly he probably thinks that fat and content generals might shoot without question protesting civilians. He is not aware that like a modern Frankenstein he has recreated conditions within the armed force that could lead us to a civil war, or at very least years of instability. And he had made us vulnerable to whoever will win the political settlement of Colombia, a winner that would have won a tough war while our generals were directing lettuce repartitions and cashing commissions at the banks.

Another reason for us on November 28 to brave the Army that should be guaranteeing the security of the signature collection. Are there enough good soldiers left to allow a peaceful civil population to claim back its future? Stay tuned.

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[1] In 1989 the armed forces had to be sent to the streets to control a generalized looting rampage caused by a package of tough economic measures. 1992 of course saw two military insurrections against the legal government.

[2] These articles shortly in Spanish in the document section.

[3] I translated it October 5, "Reconciliation", one of the 10 best articles written this year in Venezuela, if you ask me.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
II- Justice on the verge of extinction
Sunday 16, November 2003


Perhaps the worse problem faced by Venezuelan society is the lack of judicial security. The clamor for a fair and accessible justice was in part what brought Chavez to power. Though I personally never saw in his 1998 campaign any evidence that he would be able to improve what had become a tradition of sorts, the politicization and ensuing corruption of justice. [1]

The claim that a new constitution would effect improvement in the administration of justice sounded hollow at best: institutions are no better than the people that serve them. But the new administration could not even wait and using some specious arguments the constitutional assembly decreed that the judicial system overhaul should start before the new constitution would be promulgated. Thus, during the constitutional debate the newspapers could alternate their headlines on the new constitutional provisions with listings of dismissed or suspended judges. Judicial chaos threatened soon and many of the suspended judges discretely got their seats back. However the Chavez administration had scored a coup: the numbers of judges that could oppose its policies had been “legally” reduced, even though one must recognize that a few of the most corrupted ones were booted. Booted maybe, but I cannot recall any of them going to some form of trial. Quite an omen for what was about to happen.

The new constitution voted on 15/12/1999 carried in its transitional provisions the substitution of the high court, provisionally, through a vote of the Constituent Assembly. Since Chavez held 95% of the Assembly it is easy to guess that January 2000 welcomed us with a pro-Chavez High Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, TSJ). Not only that, three offices had been granted constitutional rank: a general prosecutor (Fiscal General), a general comptroller of the nation’s accounts (Contralor) and a nation’s ombudsman to offer protection against abuses of public servants (Defensor del Pueblo). These three officials, named by the National Assembly, were made a 4th power unto themselves though they should have belonged to the judiciary. Of the three provisional appointments two of them quickly run into trouble with Chavez, just for doing their job. By the end of 2000 they had been replaced in a rather dubious legality by more reliable folks. Chavez has had no complaints.

The new “Fiscal” had been Chavez vice president for 6 months. As one could have foreseen, Isaias Rodriguez, that is his name, has revealed himself a failure. He has been unable, or rather unwilling, to be an effective prosecutor of Chavez administration officials incurring in illegal acts, even going to the extent of effectively blocking investigations of the April 2002 events, his job, supposedly.

As for the Contralor Clodosvaldo Russian, nobody is sure whether he is alive. But one thing is certain, since his appointment in 2000 not a single important case of graft, many duly reported in the press, has had a ruling. Nor has he offered evidence to jail notorious corrupt officials from previous administrations. Only minor cases have been documented and passed to the courts where they languish

The third character, German Mundarrain, “defender of the people” has become a figure of ridicule. His biased position in favor of the government is already bad enough, but in a country where so many public services work so badly he is nowhere to be seen to protect the folks requiring these public services, usually the poorer strata of the society. All is politics for him. He has no qualms attacking the opposition moves as if he were a Chavez foot soldier. Well, maybe he is but I did not read it in his job description.

This by itself is already quite bad. It would require a major overhaul with a serious National Assembly, responsible for the appointments. But the story of the definitive high court, appointed late 2000, is even more pathetic. The new constitution decided on 20 justices divided in specialized courts. One of them, the constitutional court had become the eye of the storm. The problem is that the division among chavistas in 2001 has reflected itself in the court who is reputedly divided 10/10, or rather 8/8 with perhaps 4 justices floating. It turned out that the constitutional court is 3/2 for Chavez. The constitutional court has tried to ignore as much as possible requirements to work with other justices and has tried to become the “impartial” supporter of the Chavez administration.

One result of this political TSJ split are the continued delays in naming new judges and a predilection for “temporary judges” who of course would get their permanent appointments once they exhibit a tract record of favorable decisions.

A more disastrous result for Chavez is that the TSJ is unreliable. For example, in a famous decision it ruled that April 11 2002 was not a “coup” but a power vacuum. That this power vacuum eventually allowed for Carmona power grab is another decision that one day the court might take. Meanwhile it brought down with a crash part of the elaborate propaganda edifice that tried to portray Chavez as a lily white victim of April 2002. Since then the court has received all sorts of menaces, pressures and even assaults from Chavez supporters that had to be repealed with tear gas.

But the court has also been good for Chavez. The very latest and scandalous example is the dissolution of a specialized court just under the TSJ and whose role was to pronounce itself on administrative matters. Using a flimsy excuse of a pseudo-illegal dossier transfer the three judges of that court have been dismissed by the simple expedient of dissolving that court and deciding to replace it by two new specialized courts. The real crime of that court was elsewhere: it had been taking a few decisions declaring illegal some governmental acts. One of these adverse decisions must have been particularly hard to swallow for Chavez as it forbade the exercise of medicine to the plethora of Cuban doctors that he had been importing in yet another propaganda ploy and, at the very least is an excuse to financially help his mentor, Fidel Castro. Instead of appealing to the TSJ, Chavez refused to abide by the ruling and had the TSJ dissolve the court a few weeks after before the court would try to enforce the ruling.

Apparently, the timing for the dissolution was none too soon. It seems that the court was about to emit a ruling declaring the seizure of Globovision equipment by the TV regulation agency, CONATEL, one month or so ago. Incidentally, CONATEL is in the hands of one of Chavez minions, Jesse Chacon, a military officer known for his bloody assault of the state TV during one of the 1992 coups against democracy. Truly a case of the fox guarding the chicken. Since then Globovision, the CNN like Venezuelan TV station has had problem operating fully, which is a form of press control. The beauty of the court dissolution is that it will take as long as needed to the TSJ to “reorganize” it , and a slew of potentially dangerous decisions against Chavez will be held on hold until past any electoral deadline that might come this way.

But all of these interferences in the judicial power are not enough. For the past 4 months the National Assembly has been embroiled in a never ending debate on a proposed law to “organize” the TSJ. Even some chavista assembly men seem to have trouble to stomach the proposed law and the chavista direction has been using more and more subterfuges, even illegal ones, to fend off the opposition delaying tactics. The reason? The new rules would allow the National Assembly to increase the numbers of the TSJ up to 32 form the current 20. The reasons is clear, Chavez wants to “pack” the High Court. But what is even more insulting to the intelligence is that the justices now would be named or removed by a simple congressional majority, ensuring the total politicization of the High Court.

It is important to stop all this meddling in the administration of justice in Venezuela. We will never be able to have a semi functioning judicial system as long as we have a president that has trouble accepting the rulings of a fair an independent court, trouble accepting that institutions can require accounting for his actions.

A recall election on Chavez does not guarantee an independent and fair justice for the Venezuelan people. But we have ample evidence that we will not be getting an independent and fair justice as long as Chavez is in office.

[1] There are too many links on the fate of the judicial system in Venezuela through recent years. Daily, new articles pop up in the press. One of the best sources to find information on the judicial problem in Venezuela is actually El Universal, who as the main business reference takes great care in following economical news and judicial decisions. Whether one approves of El Universal anti Chavez posture, they have amassed quite a dossier that is yet to be refuted.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
I- Venezuela compared to other countries
Monday 10, November 2003

November 28, if all goes well, Venezuelans that oppose the Chavez rule will get a chance to register their signature for a recall election on the president. In a series of posts I will try to highlight in as simple way as possible a few of the reasons that people have to sign for such an initiative. This is the first installment of what is, in fact an update of the writings through this year.

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Tal Cual [1] published some interesting numbers today where the growth rate of the 5 most important economies in Latin America is compared since 2001.

The first table replicates the Tal Cual table. One can read the economic performance of these countries.

Growth rate of the main Latin American economies (e: estimated; p: predicted)
YearArgentinaBrasilChileMexicoVenezuela
2001-4.43.13.1-0.32.8
2002-10.92.12.10.9-8.9
2003e6.60.53.21.5-11.6
2004p4.5 3.14.44.55.8


However, these numbers themselves are not as expressive as to what has happened to the pocket book of the people. I did rework them assuming a 100 base for each country in 2000. That is, imagine that you are comparing workers in the 5 countries that are earning 100 US dollars a week in 2000. If the 2004 numbers are verified then how much money will they be making in 2004? Of course in this very simplistic approach I assume that every country as the same population growth rate. To highlight the growing income gap between Venezuela and the other countries, I have subtracted the 2004 projected income of Venezuela from the income of the other countries, this made easy by the fact that Venezuela fared the worse of the lot. These numbers appear in the last row labeled PCIV: Product per Capita Increase against Venezuela.

Comparison on base 100 in 2004
(e: estimated; p: predicted; PCIV: Product per Capita Increase against Venezuela {Country2004 - Venezuela 2004})
YearArgentinaBrazil ChileMexicoVenezuela
2000100100100100100
200195.6103.1103.199.7102.8
200285.2105.3105.3100.693.7
2003e90.8105.8108.6102.182.8
2004p94.9109.1113.4106.787.6
PCIV7.321.525.819.1NA

The results are clear. The worker affected by the Argentinean crisis that has the whole world talking about is still doing better than the Venezuelan worker! The Venezuelan crisis permanent since 1999, with more or less intensity is wiping out the purchasing power of the Venezuelan worker, in spite of a recovery of sorts speculated for next year [2].

And there is of course inflation where Venezuela is the worse of them. But this is another story.

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[1] Tal Cual is a paying site and the numbers that are reported come from “Analytical Research”. I have not verified the source but Tal Cual is usually careful and at any rate the numbers are in the ball park of other numbers published elsewhere. For the point that I wanted to make today, the numbers are certainly good enough.
[2] Actually some economist are claiming that we are getting back to our 1950 levels.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

A fluff post: "Queer eye for the straight guy" hits Venezuela

Sunday 9, November 2003

El Universal announces today in an almost full page, with picture, the arrival in Venezuela, on cable, of the summer hit in the US: "Queer eye for the straight guy". In case you do not know, it is a show about 5 gay guys that try to make some US urban straight males a little bit less dowdy, more "metrosexual", with soccer star Beckham as a role model of sorts.

This is not a review about the show of course. Like everything in Venezuela these days small details can reveal more about our social evolution than long treatises.

El Universal dedicates 5 out of 6 columns to the coming show. El Universal is arguably the most "conservative" paper in the social values sense. Yet, it has evolved enough to deal with "minorities themes" with a certain nonchalance, past the cliche lines. It is also the paper that is more oriented towards business and perhaps has more of a sense of individuality. It is thus interesting to observe that the most conservative paper gives such a coverage for a TV show that after all will be on cable with most of its puns not translatable in Spanish.

On the other hand we have a president that tries to discredit the US ambassador casting doubts on his sexuality. If the president hints at such matters on his Sunday show, some congress people have no qualm about qualifying publicly some sectors of the opposition with any word worse than gay.

Thus the contrast in Venezuela. A middle class that has been heavily influenced by the outside world and that at least on social themes is more progressive than its forebears. A social group in tune with the changes of the world. On the other hand a supposedly progressive, leftist revolution which everyday looks more and more like a nightmarish reactionary return to a machista past were the will of the supreme leader dictates which are the acceptable social attitudes and ideas.

‘nuf said!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

A tidbit more on Yaracuy Rural Violence

Thursday 6, November 2003

Tonight I got to check El Universal on the net. EL Nacional did not carry anything on the Yaracuy events. Yaracuy is as far from Caracas as Venezuela is from the North...

EL Universal carries a short "explanation of motives" that seems to indicate that the Central Matilde workers might have been indeed the aggressors (they were sort of caught red handed, you know). It also adds that the local agrarian judge unaccountably has failed to emit a decision as to the Central petition to annul the "agrarian chart" that the peasants were given (probably by some local politico).

In other words, had the judicial system acted as a normal judicial system should have done, that is timely, the casualty of last Tuesday might still be today a citizen trying to be productive. Indeed that inaction cannot excuse the Central Matilde actions but if this one had lost the lawsuit sooner it might have been less tempted to act by force.

I am going to have to write soon on the terrible judicial system were are besotted with.
The latest on Yaracuy Rural Violence

Thursday 6, November 2003

Yaracuy al Dia, the pro-Chavez paper was sold out at my news stand (I was late). But I did get the other paper that I could not read yesterday, El Yaracuyano, more objective.

According to El Yaracuyano, my suspicion that Doña Barbara keeps haunting the Yaracuy country side might be verified. Indeed, Central Matilde might have tried to pull that stunt and it did not turn out as expected. The fact that the suspects were arrested next state, where they apparently reside, hints to hired guns to say the least.

Yet, in a related article El Yaracuyano reports yesterday a stormy session of the Yaracuy Legislative Assembly. This one decided, among other things, to call into account the different authorities that were supposed to stand between thewarringg parts and that were strangely absent, in particular the state prosecutor and the state ombudsman who as chavistas should have been there to protect the peasants claiming for land. Or at least have a deputy and be on call. They were not. This makes me wonder if my suspicion of the "necessary martyr" is too close to comfort.

No matter what, lose ends abound, and the stench of a set up poisons the atmosphere. Unfortunately like everything in Venezuela, we might never know for sure which side tried to set up the other.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

RURAL VIOLENCE IN YARACUY

Wednesday 5, November 2003

It was bound to happen. Yesterday in a clash between two rival bands for a piece of land fire erupted leaving one dead and several injured. I must confess that I do not have all the elements to inform adequately. I only could get the local pro-Chavez paper, Yaracuy al Dia, which had one full page and 4 out of 5 columns of an inside page describing victim side of the story, that is, the side of the poor peasants that are the beneficiary of an “agrarian chart” (Carta Agraria). The other side got one column. The other paper, El Yaracuyano, was sold out and unfortunately does not have a web site.

Yet, this is not going to stop me from writing. Whatever happened there, it is easy to know why it happened.

THE FACTS SO FAR.

A significant piece of land has been granted to a few landless families, carved out of the holdings of Central Matilde, one of the big sugar cane plantations and sugar manufacturing plant of the area [1]. Supposedly the property claims of Central Matilde were not strong enough and the INTI (the land distribution agency) decided to give that land to the peasants. Central Matilde appealed and for the past year or so, the area has been subjected to repetitive clashes. Yesterday in an apparent show of strength some people from Central Matilde went to work part of that land, resulting in the deadly confrontation. According to Yaracuy al Dia fire would have come first from Central Matilde folks who sent several groups of armed men while the police posted there to keep peace suddenly were not there anymore. The peasants of course accused the governor of complicity by removing the police. Arrests have been made and we will need to wait for tomorrow papers to obtain more details. Yaracuy al Dia dedicated all of its pictures to the grieving relatives and the national security police, DISIP, arresting some of the Central Matilde workers and lawyers.

THE CAUSES, LIKELY.

I am going to start by saying that I would not be surprised to learn that indeed the Central Matilde has tried that stunt. The ghost of Doña Barbara has never left the Venezuelan countryside [2]. I will also add that the need for some land redistribution is real.

But is this enough to explain what happened yesterday near Chivacoa?

Land need in Venezuela?

For all of Chavez declarations, the rural population in Venezuela is not as important as it is in other South American countries. Between 2 and 3 millions people live in Caracas shanty towns, a count probably larger than the total rural population of Venezuela. To that Caracas count one can add several millions living in other cities shantytowns (Maracaibo, Valencia, Barquisimeto mainly). The living conditions of these city dwellers are probably worse than many of the rural inhabitants. This should already set the priorities of any Venezuelan administration. That does not mean that rural folks should be neglected but Chavez has made the rural question a central piece of his policies. The reason? Chavez comes from Barinas State and certainly during his childhood he must have suffered one way or the other some of the abuses on the country side. He made Zamora one of his heroes. Zamora was one of the Venezuelan warlords of our troubled XIX century and he probably was using rural misery for his political motives rather than indeed doing land redistribution. But Chavez has an established tendency to rewrite history.

Therefore, Chavez made a priority of his administration to do a “real agrarian” reform. A new land law was decreed in 2001 and since then trouble has hit the countryside [3]. That law, for all of its possible justifications is deeply flawed. Redistributed land is actually bestowed to the needy peasants for their use but not for their property. That is, they cannot sell it, split it, etc… In addition the State reserves the right to decide what would be cultivated in the redistributed lands. The first consequence is that the beneficiaries of the law cannot offer collateral for bank loans. That would not be too bad if the government would come through with the necessary help, financial or technical. At best, the help provided is insufficient and inefficient. The agricultural output of Venezuela seems to have been decreasing although the inadequate statistics do not allow deciding if the decrease is mainly due to the law or to the current crisis.

But two other factors must be considered to explain the declining production figures.

First, in a country where there is basically no justice and where most courts will be unwilling to take side against governmental decided land seizure, nobody that owns land is going to do significant investments if they think that next day they will be “invaded”. By law to take the land the government must prove that either the owners do not hold a valid claim, or that they do not work the land adequately. Also proper notification must be given. Evidence is that the law is not followed and seizures, or “invasiones” as they are termed, depend on the whims of local rural leaders.

The second factor is that if you have ever been working in the tropics, with a simple machete under the sun, you know that you will not give 100% of your effort if the land is not really yours. It is that simple.

In other words, the best intentions to solve the agrarian problems have become a source of even more problems because cheap throw back idealism has been injected in what should have been a real national debate.

The reality of land seizures: the Yaracuy case.

Reading the papers it is easy for anyone to realize that most land seizures are politically lead, are always near major cities, by paved roads, preferably of land that is currently being worked, that no compensation for investment is offered the previous owner (or squatter as the administration would like to qualify them), that it has very good potential for added value in the future. Land further away, even if fertile, is rarely seized.

The Central Matilde “invasion” does fit several of these qualifications. The land seized has been duly prepared for sugar cane production. Thus is rather flat and easy to work. The land is very close to Sorte and Chivacoa. Sorte is the biggest voodoo center of Venezuela and thus attracts hundred of thousand of tourist every year. Chivacoa is perhaps the main industrial town of Yaracuy and thus land around it can only go up in value, either by industrial demand, by urban need or by tourism development. This is not a random land seizure. [4]

But there is also a very strong political content. To begin with, the courts are not deciding although clashes have been frequent. One would think that Central Matilde owns the land or does not. How long can this judicial determination last? More importantly, Yaracuy’s governor, Eduardo Lapi, has been a Chavez opponent from the start. In 2000, even as Chavez carried the state, Lapi retained the Statehouse with more votes than Chavez got himself. In this year negotiations Lapi was one of the 6 negotiators named by the opposition to discuss an issue for the crisis. He did gain significant national recognition for a small state governor. And until one year ago Yaracuy was perhaps the only state yet untouched by “spontaneous invasions” of land by landless peasants. Chavez has targeted Lapi and the Chivacoa disaster is just one way for him to try to sap Lapi’s authority, when local pools give Chavez below the national level and Lapi apparently out of reach for any of the local chavistas aspiring to the statehouse.

Indeed, whatever has happened in the tragic incident of Chivacoa yesterday, we can design at least one of the guilty parties: the inefficiency and moral corruption of the Chavez administration. Chavistas in Yaracuy are now probably happy to have a martyr out of a poor peasant that likely never knew that he was just a pawn.


[1] “Central X” is a common name for sugar cane complexes in Venezuela. The Central coming for the manufacturing facility, and the X for the name of a local hacienda that started the whole process.

[2] Doña Barbara is the great Venezuelan novel, written in 1929 by Romulo Gallegos. It describes the clash between the primitive rural culture of raw power into the hands of a few, incarnated by the Doña herself and a more modern vision of the country.

[3] The series of 48 “law-decrees” promulgated late 2001 was the starting point of the general confrontation that lead to the April 2002 disaster. One of these decrees was immediately contested in court and although the courts have partially ruled against the “land law” the administration in full contempt has ignored the questioned clauses.

[4] For those that read French there is an interesting page form a Belgian leftist site that has an interesting account of the Central Matilde affair before the event that holds today’s attention. Besides the fact that the Central Matilde owners are condemned without trial, the interesting point is the “Rousseau” like vision that the writers have of Venezuelan country side.

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