Monday, September 27, 2004

SUNDAY MORNING PRESS REVIEW IN VENEZUELA
Electoral fraud, abstention and corruption in the glorious bolivarian revolution (+ a last minute Chavez flare-up)

To abstain or not to abstain, this seems to be the question. Indeed, when one observes that all the cheating at the CNE goes unabated, when one sees that the opposition is unable to find a fighting strategy to defend its local seats, it is no wonder that the ghost of abstention is floating around. Yet, the opposition does have merits at the local level. It is generally recognized that opposition governors have performed better than chavista governors, some of them hotly contested within chavismo. This is not a big mystery as many of the candidates put up in 2000 had no experience and decided early in their term to hide within Chavez skirts. Besides the governors of Falcon and Aragua, it is hard to find a chavista governor that had managed to create its own persona.

A quick press review will illustrate the general mood.

El Universal

Two articles ponder the merits f abstention. Argelia Rios bemoans, rather obscurely, the inevitability of abstention. Pretty much she says that Chavez has won the game and that fraud has a total discouraging effect that will allow him to win by forfeit, without necessary cheating this time.

Agustin Blanco, right below, is more direct than the inevitability and wimpy surrender of Argelia Rios. He predicts that the convulsion is around the corner and that we might as well get ready for it. Unless we are willing to accept the US model imposed on us since Juan Vicente Gomez, "keep the natives quiet" (my interpretation!). Where he is more incisive is the role of Accion Democratica, AD, which he blames for the present situation. He reminds us that AD was never a firm defender of the Recall Election, much preferring to deal directly with the local elections. Actually their plan was to bet (allow ?) a narrow Chavez victory and thus be in a better position to harvest a few governor mansions and town halls. In their calculations, an Enrique Mendoza as president would have made things more difficult for AD! Unfortunately for AD the victory of Chavez has been much stronger than expected and all of AD calculations have come to naught. The evidence of AD's complicity would have been the long silence after August 15, just to come back and say "Let's go to the regional elections!" as if nothing. But that long silence has created such a pro abstention feel in the country that AD is at risk of losing to Chavez its present holdings!

Manuel Caballero is much more energetic and uses his grasp of Venezuelan history to remind folks that the Velazquez amendment for the unlimited reelection of Chavez is not the first case of adulation and political manipulation in Venezuela's history. The pretense of a self effacing Chavez chastising Velazquez for an untimely proposal did already happen in our history. In 1929 Juan Vicente Gomez "pretended" to refuse the presidency again and instead "accepted" to remain the commander general of the Army. Allowing thus placing a puppet president in Caracas. Caballero reminds us that Chavez talk of "until 2021" is more than hot air. And he ends by stating that if we want to allow that the best way is to abstain from political participation.

And to top it off Roberto Giusti interviews Dr. Rigobon from the MIT, one of the Hausman-Rigobon duet that uncovered the first serious evidence of fraud on August 15. For him the fraud was rather simple. No tops or nothing of the sort. Just in a certain percentage of tables a shaving of, say, 10% of the votes that go from SI to NO. This was detected simply by comparing predicted electoral behavior, and not even including exit polls which he is a detractor as they are usually garbage. How was the fraud uncovered? My translation:
RG: How do you determine the perpetration of fraud? [in the audited sample]RR: With an audit in which I chose the safe precincts. [that is, managing to chose for the audit the districts that will vote as the general result, without including districts that have been tampered, the main criticism to the Carter Center that has not been able to certify that the program used by the CNE to select the audit was safe!]

RG: That is an approximation or, at any rate, a deduction

RR: You discover the fraud because the sample that you have, with the results of past elections, becomes the great predictor of future elections. The difference is that in the sample object of the fraud there is a group of tables where if you were [from the opposition] you became [chavista]. That is, the change in opinion in the non-audited tables is much larger than in the audited sample. That is exactly what we found out.

Quite simple really: the changes in the audited sample were less drastic than the ones in the country at large. In my very humble opinion this seals the case for electoral fraud, Rodriguez snitching withstanding.

But what was more chilling was the prediction that more electoral fraud is on the way. According to Rigobon, to commit this type of fraud is very easy: you just need to push a key to change the results in 20 seconds country wide. This blogger would add that few people are involved and calculations were done well in advance. For example, the Army is not a direct accomplice, it is only obeying orders not to let people count the ballots in the boxes. Just like camp guards that were "following orders".

There is also, on a different topic, a complete report of the traffic of influences of the "Tascon clan" in Tachira state. Luis Tascon came to fame as the National Assembly representative who opened a web page with the name and ID number of all who signed against Chavez, a list widely used to sanction these people. This fascist attitude should not surprise us when we read all the thuggery that he and his relatives seem to manage in Tachira state. With the help of the "Valera clan". It is interesting to observe that Tachira was one of the weakest NO states. Maybe an idea for the opposition to harp a little bit more on the corruption and privileges publicly enjoyed now by a few chavista officials?

El Nacional

El Nacional had also interesting articles but unfortunately it is by subscription. I will still comment on one interview to Rafael Sanchez, a Venezuelan anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam (really, yet another one that chose to work away!). Apparently the man is about to publish "Dancing with the Jacobins: a genealogy of Latin American Populism" with the University press at Stanford. Needless to say that Chavez extreme populism is a subject of his studies. I will take three quotes from the interview:
Venezuelan society lives a heartbreaking/devastating [desgarradora] tension between the principle of liberty and the principle of equality.

And then later referring to Paez, our first president, a sort of symbol of individual liberty in Venezuela by the fact that he broke lose from the Gran Colombia (and hated by Chavez when politically expedient) and to Bolivar as the representative of a more direct democracy willing to sacrifice the individual he says:
Chavez's populism, which pretends to consolidate the principle of Bolivar over the principle of Paez, implies a terrible violation of certain forms of civil liberties.

And later:
Until we do not manage to translate both principles in such a way as liberty and equality feed from each other we will be condemned to repeat the battle between one vision and the other.

Words worth of an ample debate and reflection for both sides.

PS: Note added in proof.

Today I stayed away from TV. Too many worthy articles to read. However as I was finishing this post I read on line that Chavez has been attacking El Universal for its coverage of Tulio Alvarez and the CNE feeble and vindictive response of Rodriguez.

The editorial of EL Universal (in English) simply addressed the concern of the country that the electoral arbiter is not, well, a good arbiter. This must have hurt somewhere deep the ranks of the glorious revolution who must start feeling the heat from the street. Questioning of the cleanliness of the elections does not seem to be anymore an opposition concern only, otherwise how would one explain Chavez outburst? So we got insults to editor of El Universal and a tongue trashing cum defense of Jorge Rodriguez (who is rumored to be groomed for the vice presidency, someday).

And, by the way, if EL Universal got such a presidential trashing imagine if Chavez were to read what I wrote of his protege shrink :-)

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