Sunday, February 29, 2004

Sunday late

I was away for most of the day attending to some important family obligations. We thought about canceling everything but the chatterers had been hired already, it was a small affair and we thought that today would quiet down some. We also decided that we could not let Chavez change our lives more than necessary and it was some kind of statement to refuse letting events change our schedule. They almost did.

At one PM two elderly relatives called us to tell us that they were to scared to come, as the street were starting to burn up again as the chavista march was doing all sorts of provocations. I did not think twice and I jumped into my car to go and get them. It was an eerie crossing from El Cafetal to El Bosque, trying to find streets open. Many were closed, traffic diverted without any logic (of course) and all along the way remains of the troubles from yesterday and Friday: small barricades, garbage, burnt objects...

Arriving at El Bosque I bumped into a bike motorcade of chavistas, off course their marching route. Again a U-turn. The return actually coincided when the opposition intensified its actions in Altamira and new detours had to be found.

The afternoon I could not pay much attention. At some point one of us did turn on a TV to see one of the worst Chavez cadenas blaming Bush and the US for all the ills of Venezuela. Nationalism again as the last refuge of you know what. After having insulted Powell, Rice and all sorts of officials of the US administration, the next step was obvious, he finally insuted Bush directly calling him an "asshole". The word in Spanish is pendejo. Well, there might be some arguments to agree with such an assessment but that was not the time, place or person to say such a thing. But apparently Chavez was pissed by the final ouster of Aristide. Through a looking glass Hugo!

In all fairness the comment came when he claimed that Bush believed that he had been sacked on April 11. Curious moment for such an historical revision and now pretending that there was not a coup. But Chavez seems to be losing it.

The march was probably big enough for the great leader since he even made his speech daylight. And there is not even the excuse of the sun playing a trick on his head as the speech was late afternoon of a cloudy day.

What was the portion of the cloudy day that came from tear gas is for all to guess. During all afternoon Avenida Luis Roche, the connector between Plaza Altamira and the main thoroughfare of Caracas was the set for a pitched battle between National Guards and the opposition trying to go down to close the highway. The National Guard had to stop that move since all the bus that ferried people to Chavez march had to go back home.

And that was not the only spot in Caracas, with many focal points of unrest keep up this late at night. Nor is only Caracas affected. I checked out with my friends in Barquisimeto and Valencia. Both cities have been very perturbed and several arrests have been made in Barqusimeto, including apparently the ex mayor of Barquisimeto. But I need to verify that. Zulia was also hard hit this morning with many clashes against the National Guard.

But the scariest thing is that from my garden in Caracas at 9 PM we could hear gun shots, heavy sometimes coming from Petare/El Llanito, and from Los Ruices. Sometimes even deep sounds like some small bombs. TV cannot show everything so I do not know what this mean. What I know is that the noises are not like those from Christmas fireworks.

And the CNE demured again, allowing for yet another day of chaos tomorrow!

Tonight there is little I can do this late, and my own area is quiet except for an occasional firework. But tomorrow will find me in the streets if needed, and with my camera.
Another day full of action?

Sunday 29, February 2004

Action 1: Chavismo is calling for its two sets of marches. One is leaving from Parque del Este (without official permit but chavismo refuses to ask permit from city halls that are not in their hands, which tells you right there the extent of their respect for democracy and law). The other one leaving from their "stronghold" of El Valle. They will meet at Jardin Botanico, which is interesting. Indeed after having pretended that there were only a handful of people on February 14 they want in turn to go there to measure up. Another case of imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

Chavez has postponed his Sunday peroration Alo, Presidente for tonight, so we do not know exactly what is going on, whether he will cancel it if attendance is good and prefers to show up at the podium for another 2-3 hours speech, or if he is saving the excuse of Alo Presidente to bail out of a low attendance rally. No matter what, the open air speech will be at night which helps inflate attendance.

It was funny this morning to hear Celia Flores (one of the two pasionaras of the regime) calling all to march in the defense of Venezuelan sovereignty against interference of the USA. In pure castrist style, culpabilizing those that do not share such a noble purpose as are ready to sell their fatherland to imperialism. Just like Chavez did in Guyana a few days ago? It did sting Celia, no?

Action 2: the Electoral Board (CNE) is supposed to gather this morning and emit some communication. Today was supposedly the self appointed deadline from the CNE to give the final result, a final result that should have legally been given in January 19. But the CNE has stopped any pretense at trying to play by the rules that they set themselves, when the trio is not changing the rules of the game as they go.

The best we can hope there is an agreement as to have a real and realistic way to "correct" the "faulty signatures". The opposition does not seem to be amused and the OAS and Carter Center will need to pull out a miracle from their trick hat.

Incidentally dear CNE. If you had announced that the electoral calendar would not be affected by your sloppy work the opposition would be quieter. But the fact that you are refusing to consider to make any amend might be what is altering people so much. Why not announce a referendum on May 15 even if the official date of announcement is only mid March? Who is stopping you to prepare for an election even if this one will not take place? You would have at least acted in good faith, or projected that image.

Action 3: which brings us to the opposition. Today there might be some activity going on still. But what we are waiting is for an official announcement that would follow immediately a new failure of the CNE to come up with something acceptable. It could be a declaration of war or a last ditch effort to play by the rules. The CNE knows now what can happen in the streets. It is not a mater anymore of having a referendum or not, it is a matter if we can trust the CNE for elections, any election, even Miss Podunk election.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Before going to bed, I was forgetting!

Miguel is back and has posted his own experience, pictures and all. No comments needed. Riveting.

My next door Caracas neighbour, a 68 year old lady, happened to be close from the "front" line. She was mercilessly gassed and had to hide inside a building for quite a while until she could leave and go home. She threw up all night!

And so did my friend that I worried so much about yesterday. Sick all night. Tear gas only? My foot! She promised me a full report and as soon as I have it I will post it. My first guest poster! I had a long talk today with her and she seems recovered now, though shaken and angry.
Video amateur and amateur theatrics
Saturday 28. February 2004

Rested, I can face TV and the news again.

The hour of video amateurs has come. During the day, Globovision (and other media I am sure) has been passing video received from people that were using their high rise apartments as recording studios. Quite interesting images, documenting from diverse angles the brutality of the National Guard. This brutality breaking, of course, the constitutional provision of Article 68 that I posted yesterday. Really there is no words needed when these videos are shown.

To this you can add the amateur theatrics, although when you reach the level of the Vice President, the term professional actor might be a more indicated term. He showed images that supposedly support the argument that the National Guard was unfairly attacked by nasty opposition members holding an unmentionable agenda. Being the Vice president he had to entertain some questions from the media, besides Discovery Chavez that is. When certain questions mentioned concrete facts his response was "I am not aware, I am not informed". Helpfully, Globovision transmitted images that are missing from the repertoire of the Vice. Those that illustrate real violence and real gun power.

An the true amateur theatrics of Jorge Rodriguez (the CNE rector) complaining of harassment where followed by other theatrics that are not so amateur anymore since they have been practicing for two years now what to say in front of the camera. Juan Fernandez of the fired oil workers organization, and Rafael Alfonso of the last year negotiating effort replied to Rodriguez. They reminded Rodriguez politely but firmly that their own lives have been constant harassment for the last two years. They also reminded Rodriguez that his unlawful actions would call for more harassment that they could not control. That his decisions affected more than his own family, they affected all of Venezuelans families. And that he should stop his lies, in his earlier presentation, as the opposition has not accepted any of the things that he implied had been accepted by this one. In other words, if he wants people to see him as independent, then he should start acting as being independent. Clearer answer to Rodriguez could not have sent!

The tone of the opposition is hard and direct. The tone of the government is shifty and "conciliatory". Where are the real theatrics?

Tomorrow is looming quite pregnant.

In Caracas

Travel normal. Although arriving in Caracas there was some traffic on the highway: the connection to the Jardin Botanico was closed as chavismo organized a "spontaneous" Carnival late celebration (La Octavita). That is, to make sure that nobody would come close to the end of the G-15, they blocked miles of highway by the "peope" celebrating. A real masquerade if you ask me...

I did see some remains of yesterday's tire burning, but in the opposition neighborhoods. Not very useful to block the streets of areas that have been long against Chavez. I suppose that the level of impotence probably makes people feel good to at least be able to block their own street. Perhaps it will down into them that the streets that really need to be blockaded are the ones downtown. As long as chavismo can move freely in the areas of power in Caracas, it will not feel very threatened.

Tonight there are reports from several areas where groups of people are blocking main avenues and thoroughfares, but mostly in anti-chavez areas.

The little bit of TV I saw was a strange communication by Rodriguez, the "real" CNE president. Apparently there has been some movement there today and the Carter Center is reported make some mediation. But no results yet, perhaps tomorrow. At least the 5 are sitting together again.

What was interesting was a complaint from Rodriguez of "pressures" received by himself and Battaglini. From e-mails, to unfavorable newspaper articles. Weird! This litany included that some FM stations were broadcasting the home address of these directors. Supposedly to have them watched by "liberty lovers". As if Rodriguez realized suddenly the price to be paid for public notoriety, in particular when your actions can affect important percentages of the people. A psichiatrist should know of such phenomenons no matter how unfair they might be.
Off to Caracas

I am leaving now and will not be back on line until late this afternoon. There is still discrepancies in the actual toll, government of course minimizing everything. Instead it is calling for a Sunday march that will show the world what peaceful folks they are. I bet it will be a more peaceful march. The theme? Against the US interference.

Anyway, for those that come late there is enough material to digest from the last week. And Miguel should at some point bring interesting comments.
Human Rights in Venezuela

Saturday 28, February 2004

This morning I had my tea watching a talk show where one of the two interviewed people was Tarek Williams Saab. A little background first. Mr. Saab made a career before Chavez by defending human rights. And as a poet too though I cannot evaluate the quality of his work. Now that he has joined Chavez's crusade he has become an assemblyman and for some reason has landed the foreign policy committee chair. He is not in the inner circle of Chavez but he has, I understand, access. To the point that he has been pointed by the sacred finger as governor candidate for his home state, Anzoategui. No primaries, no nothing.

I have a hard time to be fair evaluating Mr. Saab as he has become one of the biggest defender of the regime, not afraid of saying inanities that one would not expect to hear in the mouth of somebody that did indeed was a defender of human rights in the pre-Chavez area. But now it seems that, to paraphrase Orwell, some Human Rights are more equal than some Human Rights.

This morning presentation was no different. His job was to ridicule the opposition march yesterday and to try to transform it in yet another coup attempt against Chavez.

He pointed out that indeed some "weapons" were found and that two cops from the Baruta district were arrested. Supposedly, for those that do not know Venezuelan law, Baruta cops, one of the districts of Caracas, cannot go out of their district with their regulation weapons. Apparently they were arrested outside of their districts, shooting. 2 cops against curtains of National Guards? Regardless, the mayor of Baruta was already on record saying that these two cops were his body guards that accompany him everywhere as all knew (body guards are a status symbol and I can assure you that chavista figures have way more than a couple of cops behind them at all time!).

As for the other weapons found, well, they were child's game and if the opposition was pretending to overthrow Chavez with that, he is going to stay in office past 2021, his self appointed retirement date.

He also pointed out that some chavismo buildings were attacked and that the media did not show that. To which the Globovision interviewer, Nathaly Salas Guaithero promptly pointed that Globovision did indeed showed all of that. Non plussed Mr. Saab argued back that the "other commercial" networks did not do so, with appropriate despective note on "commercial".

Not a word of concern for the right to protest and the brutal repression. Where is your past Mr. Saab?

Last night before going to bed I watched my favorite TV talk show, "30 minutos" with Cesar Miguel Rondon. His guest was Liliana Ortega . The president of COFAVIC, Ms. Ortega is one of the most fascinating leaders to have emerged in Venezuela to the point of getting mention in many foreign forums for her hard work in the Human Rights deprived Venezuela. Her English biography will tell you all until Chavez came to office, 1999.

Ms. Ortega became noticed as the defender of the victims of El Caracazo, the February 27 1989 spontaneous rioting that was the first violent shock that Venezuela experienced since 1958. Her dogged defense of the Human Rights violated by the army abuses eventually made her win several international court decisions and settlements.

When Chavez came to office she was initially willing to collaborate with the proclaimed good intentions of the new constitution. Unfortunately for chavismo, she quickly realized that they were mere good intentions. And chavismo also realized that she was a dedicated Human Rights defender and that she could not be co-opted. Some of the settlements on the Caracazo case came actually during the current administration which has dragged its feet to execute the payments required, even thought it justified its popular origin to that 1989 day!

The disgraceful situation of Venezuelan prisons and the inability, or unwillingness from the current administration to seriously address the problem has also been one of COFAVIC interests and source of criticisms.

After April 11 she was one of the main voices claiming for the establishment of a truth comission, which was sabotaged by the chavista majority of the National Assembly.

In other words, Ms. Ortega is now another one of the enemies of the regime. Just because she is an independent thinker and unbowed by any of the powers that be?

But I ask: who of Mr. Saab or Ms. Ortega is the real Human Rights defender?

Friday, February 27, 2004

Conclusion

I am exhausted with the tension. I can hardly imagine how people that were there feel.

My friend from the earlier message finally made it home safe. I talked with her for 1 minute only as her voice was just broken. We will talk more tomorrow.

The images on TV, now selected reruns, are horrendous. VTV tries to minimize everything and lamely accuse the opposition of sabotaging the glorious summit which had as a highlight a despicable speech by a rotten African leader and an even more despicable speech by a South American leader ignoring what was going on in his own streets. When that leader walked into the hall a group of youth dressed in red shouted "Comande!" or something like that, something I'd rather forget. Sieg heil! Seig Heil! comes to mind.

I wonder what some of the more genuine leaders attending thought of that.

Still here and there small groups across the country occupy a few street corners, a few avenues, banging pans, protesting, often under the gaze of a small battalion of National Guards. This one has truly disgraced itself today, almost as much as it did on February 27 1989.

I leave you for tonight, you can scan back my posts of the day. And you can also go to my Tuesday post and look at two beautiful pictures so you will remember that Venezuela is more than what you saw today.

Good night.
One good news, at least

Miguel is back home and although beat up he managed to post some of his very own pictures. Some are even worse than the ones I just posted from El Universal.

Photos

EL Universal has already a photo gallery.

I have selected some but I will start with the one of the cover story of Tal Cual.



Another view of the Guards



Gloria al Bravo Pueblo!



Even elderly folks! Gloria al Bravo Pueblo!



And to finish, the "attackers" and the "attacked".

From the Venezuelan constitution

Article 68: Citizens have the right to demonstrate, peacefully and without weapons, subject only to such requirements as may be established by law. The use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations is prohibited. The activity of police and security corps in maintaining public order shall be regulated by law.

Judging from today's event the Chavez's administration has violated the consitution over and over. And from what we can see so far, the opposition had no firearms and we are waiting for the first casualty report from the repressive side.

Consitutions are only as good as the people that apply it.
It has been more than 7 hours...

... since the first tear bomb gas has been launched. Still, at this late hour TV is showing small groups of people still protesting in front of the National Guard, and this one still throwing tear gas bombs. Unbelievable! The Venezuelan people has demonstrated today that it is fed up with Chavez! I fear for the days ahead!
Barbarism

I am back home, having closed shop early and sent home everybody one hour earlier.

The cadena was finally over when I arrived and networks were showing what took place during the cadena. But something was already awful enough that I must write about it.

A woman, upset about the whole thing, drop the stick of her flag on the floor and bravely (or foolishly) tried to go and talk to the leader of the National guard squad barring the route. She was not even close enough for direct contact with the beetle armed National Guard that one of them popped out, grab her and threw her on the floor. Then the companions tried to shield the scene from the cameras filming while the woman was kicked on the floor and eventually pushed away.

What was so horrid about it, and so novel in Venezuela?

The National Guard were in a drag that I had not seen before! They looked like some of these Manga characters, more like machines than human beings.

The one that came from behind to grab the protester was a woman!!!! It was for all to see that under her helmet you could see a lock of long hair. The woman brutalized after says that there were perhaps more than one woman brutalizing her.

I have never seen or heard of women used in Venezuela in such a situation. Actually I even have hard time not knowing that women were trained for such things in Venezuela. I mean, there are women cops etc, but never to that extent in riot control units, women that specifically come FROM behind the line to deal specifically with women protesters!!!!!

A while ago there were rumors of "special personnel" sent from Cuba. I wonder what we would learn if we could see who that person was. TV has already reported that:
1- women in the Venezuelan armed forces are not allowed such long hair, and
2- the women in the National Guard, who were allowed in recently, should not have reached their grade and should not be there. Who are these women?

Fascism has officially announced its arrival today.
And Miguel has not posted since yesterday. I hope he is OK.
Message from T-motion, a web system to send e-mails from everywhere

A friend whose cell phone has stopped sending messages still managed to send me this e-mail. The translation (without the abundant misspellings due to the situation):

I am literally a refugee in the entrance of a building where the guardian has let us in.

Suffocated by gas, with a cough that is ripping my throat and my eyes on fire.

I am stuck between the Libertador Avenue and Plaza Venezuela [scenes of mayor mayhem], I think on Bogota street. Chavistas are throwing bombs from the Plaza and from up there [I assumed from the skyscrapers that surround the area where some ministries have their offices, and ammunitions perhaps]. The National Guard is throwing bombs from the Libertador [which up high at that level]

From the window I have just seen an elderly gentleman falling under my eyes struck by a bullet...

We must keep clear from windows afraid of receiving bullets...

I am with my daughter with no news from my husband...

Phones are not working...

We are hearing bombs and gunshots.

There, my report sitting in the stairs of a basement.


I must add that my friend is an intellectual that even in times trying like this keeps her cool and her professionalism as a person working in media related fields.

And the cadena still runs with Mugabe speaking right now.
CADENA! CADENA!

Just as the leader of AD in the street was mentioning that the National Guard was reaching for the real guns, the cadena started! With some stupid ceremony of the G-15. Note the time of this post, it might be the one that will indicate the first deaths! Or Ramos Allup knew that the cadena was about to start and he dramatized the moment. I hope that this is the real explanation... I am an incorrigible optimist.
Lula leaves
and still no cadena!

El Nacional just reported that Brazil's president Lula has decided to leave today instead of tomorrow as originally planned. The excuse is some health problem to his vice president. The real reason is apparently that the Brazilian foreign office has come to the conclusion that the Venezuelan gathering of the G-15 was used by Chavez for its own profit instead for the reason it should be normally used. In other words, Lula does not want his presence in Caracas to be seen as supporting what Chavez is doing.

Meanwhile, the great news perhaps is that no cadena has come to cover up the mess in Caracas's streets. Except for a brief cadena this morning, nothing else has come to TV screens. Is the governmet trying to intimidate people? Is it avoiding a cadena to hide this media manipulation tool in front of foreign dignitaries that would nto dream of such an abuse in their own countries? Well, Mugabe might like the cadena system and probably practices it himself in Harare.
You can get "pirated" live broadcast from Globovision. Only for today considering the events.

Breaking News: Live TV Signal from Venezuela - www.vcrisis.com
The cadena earlier today coincided when the National Guard fired its first shots. Did you say April 11?

The real mystery is how come the cadena has not been imposed ever since?!
Two reportings:

From the normal media: smoke, injuries, National Guard attacks.

From the State TV, VTV: all sorts of pro Chavez victims, opposisiton mean attacks, but no image, nothing. As usual, the wildest accusation and not even the faintest evidence.

I managed to hook up an old TV at work, only one local TV broadcast makes it here. Well, the images are not pretty (they come from Globovision). The Francisco Fajardo is littered with debris, heavy burning tire smoke seen far in the background. People are still there, refusing to leave.
Still no way I can put up pictures.

The main thoroughfare of Caracas is now blocked both senses. I suppose by both the marchers retreating from Plaza Venezuela and the goons of the National Guard. I still cannot reach any of my friends or relatives in the march as cell phone signals is overcharged and communications just cannot connect!

First reports of injuries.
Noon update
27/02/2004

Things are bad. Tear gas bombing, blocked streets. I cannot reach my friends stuck in the march. No more details as I am at work and I have no TV, and stupid local radios give no detailed news. San Felipe radio sucks big time, provincial in its worse sense.

Apparently when tear gas clear, marchers try to step forward again. The National Guard refuses even to receive emissaries, attacking on the spot. True repression.

I tried to post pics but for some reason blogger ha a problem.

Later.
The morning of a tense Friday
Friday 27, February 2004

I woke up with the beginnings of a migraine headache, and I did not even drink a drop of alcohol in two days. Must be al that tension that is finally getting back to me. So I am goofing off from work and while I wait for a few pills to make effect I can now do a quick round up.

First, let's stars with other blogs on this day.

Francisco seems to dislike Mugabe as much as I do. He took the pain to publish a whole series of links to describe that very unsavory character that Chavez received like the hero he might have been. But Chavez needs all the friends he can and after all Mugabe has still a worse track record than he does himself.

Miguel is into translation of Petkoff's editorials. He likes Petkoff, I like Socorro so you can get the best of Venezuela op-ed columns within our two blogs. Blogs are the future :-)

Speaking of Socorro, Guillermo promises us the complete translation of the article that I translated in part last night.

Now for the harder stuff.

Miriam Kornblith, a back up in the CNE had a rather scathing evaluation of the trio that took control. No word yet as if the other two will sow up today. Maybe their pay check will be cut off.

Napoleon prepared his whole morning talk show as an "open letter" to the guest of the G-15 summit that starts today. This "open video" traces the story of Chavez's tenure and it is a little bit chilling to watch all the messes and abuses of this last 5 years in barely an hour. Let's hope that some of them do watch local TV while they get ready in their hotel room.

The march seems to be going on. Confrontation seems likely to happen. On the other hand Chavez might decide to let the march pass and score a big publicity hit demonstrating that Venezuela is a real democracy. Will he be smart enough for that or will he be stupid enough to take the opportunity to decide to cross the violence line against the opposition?

Maybe that migraine might be a good thing if it gets worse and I pass out instead of worrying all day.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Pre war drum roll?
And a brilliant article from Milagros Socorro

Thursday evening, 26/02/2004

Tonight TV is not too good.

Some opposition leaders are persisting that they will go on their march tomorrow until the site of the G-15 meeting (a G6 by now, and Uribe of Colombia will only be here for a very few hours). This in spite of an announcement of the ineffable Lucas Rincon, the interior minister of April 11 fame, that the march could not reach the "security perimeter". Tonight the Coordinadora Democratica is meeting and there is a strong sense in the air that the time of words is about to pass. The government hides behind international law to forbid access to Plaza Morelos. The real objective is to avoid TV to show Brazil’s Lula too close from a mass rally against Chavez. Pious patriotic excuses are advanced as the duty of the opposition not to tarnish the image of Venezuela. Well, it seems that it is too late.

Mugabe of Zimbabwe was indeed offered an amazing welcome. Fitting from one crook to another. I’ll bet he would cherish an opportunity to criticize the Venezuelan opposition given a chance on VTV. Will they dare to give him that opportunity?

Jorge Rodriguez, the "real" president of the CNE gave his nightly communiqué. The two "dissident" rectors did not show up again and the trio went ahead nevertheless. But an interesting detail: they decided on mundane matters only. The real decision, the one about how to fix the forms "under observation" was not taken. Rodriguez did not seem a happy camper for someone that supposedly has now real control of the CNE. How come? Is he realizing that the 2 dissident rectors want him to assume his full responsibility now that he did the dirty deed for his master? It would be indeed too easy to do the dirty job and then let the other guys help him pick up the pieces and get the glory for himself.

But at least something came to cheer me up, another brilliant opinion piece from Milagros Socorro. She refers to how Chavez has been breaking our morale by continuous insults and humiliations. And how this has affected our capacity of response and how we are playing in his hands starting to wish for violence to reach some conclusion one way or the other.

But the more interesting part I translate below. Something that I have long thought and never dared to write bluntly in my very own blog.

Many of those who voted for Hugo Chavez in 1998 and, later, in 2000, did so for him to install in Venezuela a dictatorship. This is the truth. Do not come now with tiquismiquis
{slang for petty excuses}. Many saw in the primitive lieutenant, ignorant and rancorous, the strong arm that would bend the other [side], that would dominate the other, that would remove the liberties of the other and would reduce it. Many voted for Chavez because they saw in him the rabid dog that would attack the neighbor, that would get pay back from the parties that he did and to which he did not invite me, that would wreck the neck to the rich cousins that at year end pass on to me their used stuff, that would settle all accounts... Those that move in politics because of resentment tend to think that the arbitrary actions of the felon will reach the other one, those from over there; that the dead bodies will come from the other side; that the wasted farms will belong to the other. They did not calculate what eventually came to pass: the dog escaped their hands and bit their throats.

Strong words indeed. And so true unfortunately. I have met these people, heard them on the media. They really were seeking some revenge for true or imaginary deeds against them. One cousin of mine, belonging to this group told me finally after a long discussion that he knew Chavez was incompetent, that he was stealing from the coffers of the nation. But he did not care as long as he was screwing up the Adecos [from Accion Democratica, the main party in the 1947-1998 period]. He meant it. That was over a year ago and since them we have not discussed politics again. Actually we have barely talked to each other although we did not fight, the exchange had been rather civilized. Simply put, we have nothing to say to each other anymore.

Milagros Soccoro ends up saying that no matter what we cannot fall, yet, in the realm of violence. If we hold strong, eventually Chavez and chavismo will be unmasked for good and that day their card house will collapse. May she be right!

The march is programmed for tomorrow at 10 AM. And at this hour it seems that the opposition will push through the forbidden area. No cadena yet to dissuade us, strange.

The PM updates

25/02/2004

Quickly.

The Electoral Board (CNE) has announced that even if there are only 3 out of 5 of them they will continue their sessions and take decisions. This in response to the two that did not attend yesterday as a protest against what is more more seen as an illegal decision of Tuesday. But readers here know that legality in Venezuela is an ethereal concept. The trio of the CNE seems determined to forge ahead. Their reputation probably in shambles why should they care about niceties now? The only thing that matters is the masters approval.

A similar move in the National Assembly where ludicrously the chavista president has suspended pay checks to opposition assemblymen. The reason: they come in, sign the attendance sheet and leave to break up the quorum and stop voting. As if the opposition these days were more worried about a pay check than about stopping the approval of restrictive laws. Please! If I bother mentioning this non-event, it is because it demonstrates once again the almost childish attitude of chavismo at times. Not to mention that it illustrates quite well where their own priorities are: cashing their pay checks and possible pay offs.

Meanwhile, Miriam Kornblith, a noted electoral specialist in Venezuela and the back up of Ezequiel Zamora has just stated that with the present CNE there is no hope for any Recall Election. Not that we did not suspect it, but that she says it with such a matter of fact tone indicates how far the degradation of the CNE atmosphere has come and how far from ANY CLEAN election we are today.
Who can understand the New York Times?
Another installment in the shoddy editorial series
26/02/2004

The New York Times has a silly editorial today, even contradicting in a way one it had on Venezuela a year ago (Vengeance in Venezuela, Feb 21/2003).
One part in particular deserves mention:

Not long ago, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was ousted as president of Bolivia after widespread protests stemming from a natural gas deal. In 2001, President Fernando de la Rua of Argentina resigned halfway through his term after protests about the economy. Today, in addition to efforts to depose Mr. Aristide, large groups of citizens or foreign governments are calling for the resignation of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Alejandro Toledo in Peru.

Such demands seek to short-circuit the democratic process. Usually occurring in the most unfortunate countries, they degrade institutions, polarize politics and impede the continuity necessary for growth. Even when constitutions provide for referendums and other mechanisms to remove a president early, they should be invoked only in extreme circumstances.

Well, I’ll be darned! What a grab bag and lack of sophistication from the NYT, putting together 5 totally unrelated situations in one of the biggest generalizations that I have seen in a long time!!!!!! And they forgot Mahuad of Ecuador who started the whole recent cycle.

And the editorial ends:

Sacking a president usually makes things worse. Politicians will not make unpopular decisions — or decisions that offend powerful groups — if they must face the political guillotine every day. While many protesters want to destroy everything and start from zero, Latin America needs more continuity, not less. Also, with the presidency in constant play, opposition leaders will not make constructive compromises, instead manipulating every issue to try to win power.

It would be very, very easy for me to criticize and demolish that editorial, which, by the way, contradicts other earlier editorials where the NYT saw with better eyes the ouster of a few people. Instead I will agree with part of the unintentional message: the recall election process sucks and it should be stroke from the Venezuela constitution, or any constitution for that matter. Witnessing the national trauma that we have been experiencing since October 2002, I can confidently state that a recall election system is a tool of destabilization, one of the best ways invented to divide a country, no matter who is in office. My solution? Enforced separation of powers and shorter terms, neither of which exist in Venezuela and something that the New York Time editorialist gloss over (or ignores like many other facts on Latin America?) in its hurry to make a sweeping statement.

It is simply inexcusable for the New York Times to write such an ill informed editorial. It is actually arrogant and demeaning for Latin America.

A quick AM update

Thursday 26, February

On the morning talk shows the same succession of folks calling Jorge Rodriguez a liar. Whether he might be one, he surely does not know how to articulate his case. His legal ignorance shines through, and I even wonder how good a psychiatrist he was. But professional background has long ceased to be a consideration when making appointments in the Chavez administration, or should I say apparatus...

All sorts of discussion on the CNE fraud and what is the opposition to do. A grim determination percolates from most of the leaders, the defining moment seems to have been reached.

Meanwhile chavistas are protesting in front of the US embassy. This is a beauty!

1-The excuse is to protest against the US interference in other countries affairs. First time that the Chavez administration has organized such a stunt, in spite of Iraq, April 2002 events, etc... About time Hugo, no?

2-They selected oil industry unions to scream in front, a nice flash back from when the US controlled the oil industry and strikes were easily broken (and forgetting to mention that the latest main strike for workers right has been the oil industry strike of 2000 which triggered the Trade Union referendum of 2000 and brought Ortega to fame).

3-No other network can go there to film the extent of the protest, only the TV cameras of VTV are there. Only close ups that give the impression of lots of people. Large numbers of carefully prepared signs and slogans, for a not very spontaneous look. Only a series of "leaders" reading, that is right, reading, all sorts of recriminations. But my critical eye was prompt in detecting the tree line in the background and assessing that protest as a well orchestrated smallish group. 500 hundred perhaps? We will never know anyway although I am sure that the embassy personnel counted them, but diplomatically will reserve its findings. Or some video amateur might film that from one of the nearby condos.

Isn't that interesting? When things get tough, when the backlash of the Guyana escapade comes home, chavismo suddenly waves the anti-American flag (while many of chavismo leadership have bought many a nice house in Miami and are constantly reported in junkets to the US where they do find time to stop at a few malls).

More later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Final update for today
02/25/2004

The Carter center declaration of today. Full text.

Ugly TV tonight. Grado 33 (on Globovision) showed an interview to Carrasquero ("official" president of the Electoral Board, CNE) when he was sworn in last fall. And all the contradictions to his early statements as time went. Basically calling him a liar. Strong stuff and one wonders were true journalism and character assassination meet. Unfortunately I had already decided that Carrasquero was more likely to have hidden his partiality to chavismo, so I must confess that the Grado 33 reproach seems rather well deserved even though it should not be done on TV. But Globovision does have reasons to be upset at Chavez who recently has expressed his desire to shut it down all together. I suppose that it is a case of going down guns in hand.

In another Grado 33 interview, Hernan Escarra was mentioning with outmost calm and seriousness the different steps to plan a complete civil disobedience. Hernan Escarra was elected to the constitutional assembly and was one of the only moderate and responsible voices of chavismo then. Times do change, dont'they Hernan? Still, realizing that people are now considering to confront head on the Chavez administration gives one pause.

The news on Globovision were hardly better. The declarations of Jorge Rodriguez (CNE "real" president) were contrasted with the rules accorded by the CNE last fall. Either Mr. Rodriguez is a liar or he does not know what he is doing. What was clear is that he knows very little about statistical methods (but then again this seem a problem with 99% of Venezuelans). Mr. Rodriguez showed three (3) "planillas" with obvious defects. Out of 170 + thousand forms... He pretends us to accept that 170 + forms should be revised because he found three defective ones.

Mr. Rodriguez should be pretty upset with that special feature. A little close to character assassination for comfort but since I do not hear even a word of excuse from the CNE about the inconvenience that this might cause to the good folks that indeed signed.....

Because this is what is all about. Most people that signed are accused to be cheats unless proven otherwise. The CNE assumes that people that are in the planillas planas did not really sign or committed fraud and it is up to them to demonstrate that they are honest citizens. In other words, this goes against all presumptions of justice, that one is assumed innocent unless proven guilty. But that is what the Venezuelan state has become: you are only right if you agree with the beloved leader. The arrogance of the state, in all of its horror!

But if you think that I am partial... I did bear with VTV for a few minutes only to see an NGO (an oxymoronic pro Chavez NGO) protest to defend the rights of people that did not sign. And a few military officers complaining from the vice presidency pulpit that their names were found in the "planillas planas". I have a question for all of these people and VTV: where did they find the list with their names? The CNE has not published the names of the signatory folks yet and as far as I know the information is confidential until the CNE officially publishes it. But law, dear law, wherever are thou?
Electoral Fraud update
Details and one hopeful thought on today's earlier posts
02/25/2004

I had to make an emergency delivery trip to Valencia to help a customer, our company driver being already on another delivery. In a way it was good since it forced me to three hours of peaceful reflection in the van. The first conclusion is that the opposition can still prevail.

The eternal optimist in me made me ponder one hypothesis (though I tend to come across as a pessimist, but this is the price that realistic and pragmatic people must pay). Perhaps the CNE directors had to give Chavez a way out since he has not been able to produce hard evidence of a "megafraud" to this day. Yes, zip, nada, except a few little things that might invalidate a few thousand signatures out of the few hundred of thousand he needs to have killed outright. This way, by "suspending" 1.4 million the CNE might hope to agree with God and The Devil. Indeed, it all but annulled the 1.4 million that Chavez wanted to annul, but it also give one more chance to the opposition if they manage to motivate 500 000 of their supporters to reach again the 2.4 + mark needed to mandate a Recall Election.

This little sliver of hope and decency will depend of course on the new rules that were supposed to be published today. But on TV a few minutes ago I learned that the CNE Vice President, Ezequiel Zamora, did not attend today's meeting and when interviewed did not rule outright his resignation. This would be of course catastrophic. Zamora would be replaced by somebody as favorable to the opposition as he might be himself, but it would mean that the CNE has become an unmanageable entity wrecked by political interests.

Anyway, a few updates.


El Universal English section has published an account elaborating the details of what I posted earlier on today. Note the size and weight of the "electoral phone book" that the CNE will be obliged to publish next week!!! My name will appear in the press. Goody!

The USA have emitted a communique supporting the efforts and recent proposal of the OAS and Carter Center (and other international factors such as the European Union). The speed of this announcements certainly indicates the preoccupation overseas.

The opposition has called for a massive rally on Friday, just during the sessions of the G-15, which by the way have dropped to a G-6 since yet another one "excused" his presence. But Mugabe is still coming. I can hardly wait for the effusive welcome that Chavez will offer. We might even get a cadena. Chavismo on his side will call "1 million or more" people in Caracas streets this coming Sunday.

I am sick and tired of this thing, but if something worthwhile and new comes up, I will log on once more tonight.
Electoral Fraud
The one from the government, that is!

02/25/2004

Before I start let me remind you what the signature process was like, as of the rule of the Electoral Board, CNE, approved BEFORE the signature collection drive.

A form consisted of 10 lines. The form included information about the ID of the petitioner, and the last two items were the signature and thumbprint.

15% of the forms were for “itinerant” collectors that traveled to hospitals, schools, housewives, etc… people that had trouble going during working hours to the signature collection centers. The itinerant collector was accompanied by a witness from the other side. And the itinerant supposedly would be filling a lot of the data, letting the person sign and print its thumb. A service.

My direct personal experience:

I did collect one of these itinerants and the chavista witness to visit a relative that could not sign. The itinerant filled up the form, had my relative sign and print, showed everything to the chavista witness and I took both of them back in my car to the gathering center. All of us smiling and happy. NO FRAUD.

My parents, 78 and 70, went to sign on Sunday 11/30/2003. As elderly people needing glasses they were offered to have somebody fill up the form for them. They gave their ID, watched as the form was filled up and read that everything was right. Then they signed and printed their thumb. NO FRAUD.

Well, according to the new rules, approved 3 to 2 yesterday, these three signatures are invalid now and they will have to go to a CNE office to state that they indeed signed and give again they finger print and ID. In other words it is not for the state to prove that they committed fraud, it is for them to defend their good name!!!!!!!!!!!

But it gets worse

If a form has more than one series of data filled up with the same handwriting, ALL THE PEOPLE IN THAT FORM MUST GO TO THE CNE! That is, myself, if more than one person asked their data to be filled up, might have to go to the CNE EVEN IF I filled up all my data myself. Though this is still not official and will be decided sometime this week.

However what has been announced is that all the signatures will be published in the papers! This special edition will be like a phone book and EVERYONE will know who sign for each one. The end, once and for all of the right to secret vote!!!!! A sure way to end democracy as now Chavez will have on his desk a list of all his perceived “enemies” and will eb able to do whatever he wants to punish them.

This is really terrible and the OAS and Carter Center in last ditch effort have offered yet again a new way of testing for these questioned forms, by methods that have been proven to be fair in other countries. But chavismo thinks that it has re-invented the wheel and I doubt that the OAS and the Carter Center will do much headway there. After all this is not about fairness, it is more about revenge, and it is not silly state it so. Carrasquero and Rodriguez, in spite of his declarations this morning, have revealed themselves mere agents of Chavez. The third crook in the CNE, Battaglini, never pretended to be anything else but a agent of Chavez in the CNE. At least he is honest in his own way.

Besides the obvious this is even worse than just a new forced verification.

1- How will the verifications be handled? Will citizens be allowed safety when going to have their signatures verified? This is no idle commentary as Lina Ron hordes and all sorts of unsavory chavista groups will surely try to camp in front of whatever CNE verification center. They have been doing so in front of the main center, even to the point of almost trashing the car of the OAS representative. Does anyone believe that they will be behaved now when more than ever they need to scare people away?

2- What is the prospect of a clean election in the future with a now bitterly divided CNE that obviously will not stop at anything to give a maximum advantage to the Chavez camp? Florida will look like a children’s game!!!!!

3- Not to mention the possibilities of fraud that come with the new voting system approved by the CNE 10 days ago where there are at least 3 ways to commit fraud! (more on this in another post).

I think that democracy in Venezuela is in greater danger than ever. If not dead already and just waiting for the certificate to be written.
An electoral "coup"
Wednesday 25, February 2004

Last night, as I was watching an history channel broadcast about the Medicis (talk of coincidences in political style) the Electoral board did was is little bit less than an electoral coup to try to annul the recall election process. The news waited for me this morning when I turned on TV for my morning coffee.

I do not know all the details yet but it seems that 1.4 million signatures will have to be repeated, under the vigilance of the Electoral Board. So, first question, why did they not collect themselves the signatures to begin with since they will end up collecting 40% of them anyway? The second question being how do they dare to change the rules that they set themselves in October!?!?!?!?!

The first conclusions this early in the morning:

1- the 3/2 vote in the electoral board puts an end to the "impartiality" of the CNE. The three chavista representatives are now pout in the open and have reneged their own promises and assurances. The exclusive interview of Carrasquero last week to the state TV, VTV, was indeed a direct hint of what was to come. There is a reason why Carrasquero sleeps at Fuerte Tiuna, the military head quarters of Caracas, when in Caracas (he is from Maracaibo)

2- We can be assured that the 3/2 majority will impose as drastic conditions as possible to the "verification" allowing chavismo to use all sorts of tactics to stop people from going to have their signature verified.

3- Chavez has gained AT LEAST one more month and is getting closer to an eventual post August 19 referendum, in case there is a referendum.

More later as I get the details. But one question cannot be avoided anymore: Is democracy over in Venezuela?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Carnival Holiday
Tuesday "Mardi Gras" 24, February 2004

Nothing really much to report. I stayed clear of the news except for a little bit of TV and one newspaper today. Still enough to stress me some.

The Guyana/Essequibo thing continue, the opposition only to happy to nail a nationalist president with a nationalist issue. Forgetting themselves that in 50 years they have not been able to do much on that front themselves. Though today El Nacional carries a complete report on the Guyana spoiliation history with the pen of Olavarria. Clearly, Chavez mismanaged the issue, whatever his goals were.

The European Union emitted a communique stating its worries about the shenanigans to stop the recall election, a communique that in a rush and puff chavismo went out of its way to minimize. Not Chavez himself who nobody knows where he is since Guyana. Probably visiting Fidel for Carnival in Havana.

The Electoral Board is still mute on what they are going to do about the contested signatures. Looks like the Sunday 29 deadline will not be met.

Meanwhile the G-15 is gathering in Caracas from tomorrow until Friday. The G-15 is a group of countries that try to promote the South-South exchanges. Although it includes important countries like Brazil it also includes rogue governments like Zimbabwe's Mugabe, who by the way is one in only 7 leaders to attend the summit. That is right, 8 will be content in sending only their foreign minister or something. And the next country to preside the G-15 after Venezuela will be Algeria, certainly not another democratic shining example. But Lula and Kirchner will be attending and it will be interesting to observe Chavez behavior with them after the recent warning of Lula.

The opposition of course is planning some actions during the summit which have triggered some outcries of treason from some chavismo notables. Truly, chavismo human rights defenders should be the first one to protest the visit of Mugabe who is banned in too many countries. But chavismo human rights have ceased to be all encompassing long ago.

So, I prefer to leave you with two pictures from my drives through the country side during this days of rest.

The first one is on the road close to Aguirre in Carabobo state, a small town next to Bejuma. It is the dry season and most trees by now have lost their leaves. But some have started blooming, like this bucare on the road side, with a small purple bougainvillia for an odd touch.



The next picture is from today, near San Felipe at the Mision Botanical Garden, a jewel. There is still some water running in one area and you can appreciate all the difference it makes, though that section is still less luxuriant than during the rainy season.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Back in San Felipe
and reading of land "redistribution" schemes in Guyana and Yaracuy...
Sunday 22, February 2004

I am back to rest for the next two days of the Carnival holiday in Venezuela. But will I be able to rest?

To begin with, this morning we had a yet unexplained power outage of 6 hours. The longest I can remember since I moved to San Felipe a few years ago. I did drive around town to look for some supplies and it was an all encompassing black out. These curiously are not becoming more frequent, but they are becoming longer and longer over the last three years. Of course when one has guests over and a fridge full of food this is not what one is looking for. I was caught mumbling something as to the Chavez's administration teaching us to live more and more Cuban style.

Back with the papers I do not get any rest. After all with no electricity there is nothing else but to read the papers with details. But the details today are worrisome. I will do the round up of EL Universal which is on line so I can refer to it.

EL Universal at least is merciful with his headline on Chavez's travel to Guyana two days ago. Guyana holds a piece of land which is more than half of its size and that Venezuela claims. Indeed, the British and the US made an "agreement" for some disputed land to which reunions Venezuelans were not even invited. This was late XIX century and the British empire did not deal with little brown men then. But there was also the Monroe doctrine, and the US of A stepped in the dispute to give the land to Britain, but it was the US giving it by arbitration, not the British taking it away. A nuance I suppose.

Needless to say that Venezuela never accepted the arbitration and all presidents since 1958 were keen on maintaining the claim alive to the point that Britain decided to give Guyana its independence instead of dealing with it. Thus now making Venezuela look bad as the big bully trying to get half a country's land. But Guyana is member of OAS and CARICOM and thus a vote there. Chavez needs ALL the help he can get as he is about to steal democracy away from the Venezuelan people. He went to Guyana and announced (which I do not know if he is indeed allowed to do so, but this is the Bolivarian Republic where anything goes) that Venezuela will not interfere in development projects in the Western side of Guyana. This is basically recognizing that Venezuela will never recover the Essequibo region since all previous governments instead of saber rattling preferred to announce that they would not recognize any investment made in Guyana. Maybe Chavez indeed made a normal courtesy visit to one of its neighbors, but opinions in Venezuela seem to think that it was a give away for a future favorable vote in the OAS. From Guyana which is not a paragon of democracy, by the way. Meanwhile, if such agreements with Guyana have indeed been signed, or will be signed, they would be good additional evidence to put Chavez behind bars once justice returns to Venezuela.

This give away was front page of El Nacional but El Universal prefers to preoccupy itself with the electoral situation. In one interview to Marisol Plaza, the "procuradora general" which is sort of the government's attorney, El Universal reader can see that she has no qualms in qualifying SUMATE of a political party and that it should be judged for betrayal to the fatherland. Really, a few kids with a whole bunch of computers... I must admit that the more chavistas attack SUMATE the more I think that SUMATE is doing something right. Incidentally, that interview is another example on how our public officials are spending our tax dollar attacking and doing character assassination of any sector that does not agree with them. If justice comes back to Venezuela, in my very modest opinion, these declarations, and many other of Ms. Plaza should be enough in any court to put her behind bars. No wonder she is like a rabid dog making sure justice will never come back.

Meanwhile the Electoral Board is doing its Hamletian debate: to annul signatures or not to annul. Though one of the non-chavista members of the board confirmed this morning that a decision will be announced next Sunday! Good luck, buddy!

And since I started with Yaracuy I might as well finish with it. The land seizure problem at Central Matilde that I discussed a few months back is about to erupt again. In spite of all the legal wrangling going on that subject, and even deaths, the government has decided to "invade" yet a few more hectares of the property. Central Matilde and not other major landowners of the area, by the way. The vendetta continues. Because it seems to be a vendetta, just in case that any of my readers would be naive enough to think that it was a justified land redistribution scheme to improve the lives of people. The only people that will be benefited there are lawyers and politicians.

And this only from one newspaper...

Thursday, February 19, 2004

The multicolored post
getting close to Carnival

Thursday 19, February 2004

I am on the road again, until Saturday and then I will be resting for the Carnival break. Posting should be less intense than it has been the last two weeks. Bloggers do get tired but do not get off completely, in particular if the Electoral Board (CNE) takes the opportunity of the Carnival holiday to pass some controversial measure.

For tonight a quick survey of the diverse barbarisms, aphorisms and other nonsenses for the day. All showing of course how desperate is chavismo becoming and how close they are to finally do something foolish to cancel the referendum and may the devil take care. I am putting each paragraph in a different color because I need the relaxation as I write.

Let's start with what is perhaps the biggest news today. The head of the CNE, Carrasquero gave this morning an exclusive interview to "La lampara de Diogenes", a talk show on VTV. Diogenes, as partial a chavista on VTV as they come, was certainly very happy with the scoop he got and it sure did brighten his lamp. It also sent shivers through the opposition files as the head of the CNE all but announced that he was going to screw the opposition collection drive when musing "people should have written down everything themselves". Tal Cual editorial today was quite clear on that: "The CNE board cannot approve a set of rules on errors because in addition of being illogical, it incorporates to Article 29 something that it never stated. It changes radically the rules of the game in the middle of the game. That would be foul play". Tal Cual's Petkoff of course refers to the efforts by the chavismo wing of the CNE that tries to invalidate any signature that has not been totally transcribed by the petitioner, something that was NEVER contemplated before and that could even dismiss their own petition drive. But we all know that the only referendum that really matters is the one on Chavez. Meanwhile lamely Carrasquero complains about the head line of El Universal of today, without even bothering to specify why this one did bother him. The lady does protest too much!

My thin faith in the CNE is raching breaking point, even though I know they are subjected to tremenduous pressure from Chavez and must give him a few bones such as one does to a snarling dog (sorry for the coarse image but these past days Chavez looks more like a mad dog than a statesman). I think that the CNE is going to approve the fraudulent rules. May the Almighty help us! Or as we say here, "que Dios nos agarre confesados!"may God catch us confessed (you know, we are a catholic country).

Still, undaunted the CNE was forging ahead by changing the voting system, and hiring the highest priced bidder for the proposed changes. CNE rectors have been trading insults as to dubious contracts, which probably reflects the mood inside their deliberation room. The 3/2 voting pattern is likely to remain and the non chavista members seem to be ready to spend their time denouncing irregularities while the Carrasquero combo trashes things around.

Meanwhile the terror tactics continue. Two items in a single day. Globovision relay station is attacked by about 10 men with head covered and assault weapon on hand. National Guard is called but "arrives" a few hours later when the assailant have departed taking away with them one of the radios. Nothing much but plain intimidation. Graver this afternoon at the Labor ministry. Some Union representatives from the opposition tried to reach Minister Iglesias (ex-Accion Democratica, now extreme chavista, times change I guess). The Cristina Iglesias was seen calling a street mob to attack them INSIDE the ministry. The mob arrived, and attacked as prompted, the National Guard again silent, and even one of the victims of the attack was stolen his wallet on camera. Yes, Globovision was filming everything while being attacked itself. Cristina Iglesias, of Spanish ancestors, must have accepted some of the stuff from Franco's Fascism in spite of all of her supposed lefty pretense. It boggles the mind to know that she will get away with that in her own building.

Of course during all of these diversions, masquerades and mask dropping, so pre-Carnival, we were reminded by the Central Bank of the final numbers as to how much the economy contracted these past two years: 18%. Since the population increased then the purchasing power drop per capita is higher than 18%. Mine is, anyway. At least the Central Bank did put part of the blame squarely on CADIVI. CADIVI does not even bother replying. On a curious note, in spite of a 20% devaluation (from 1600 to 1920 to the USD) the street rate did not improve and seems stuck at 3200.

I am just getting tired writing about all of these actions, nasty ones at that if you ask me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The USA is guilty of the April 11 2002 massacre
Dedicated to my US friends

Wednesday 18, February 2004

OK, so now that I have caught your attention.

Background

There has been rumors since April 2002 that the US was to some extent involved. The dislike of the US for the regime of Chavez, shared by many Venezuelans and other countries by the way, has never been questioned. From there to decide that the US directed all of the April events is a long stretch. Nobody can bring hundred of thousand of people in the streets if there are no local conditions that do motivate these people. Simply said, there are not enough dollars to bring half a million folks to the door of Miraflores Palace, not enough TV propaganda. After all, Chavez TV has been making so much propaganda that by now we should all be chavistas. People do have a mind of their own you know...

At any rate, rumors have remained rumors and UNTIL TODAY no hard proof of US direct intervention in the April 2002 events has been offered. And an ambassador visit to Carmona does not qualify as proof, incidentally.

Chavez breaks with the US

Note: I say Chavez breaks with the US, not Venezuela breaks with the US. No matter what I will write below, keep in mind that probably a couple of oil tankers will be leaving Venezuelan harbors to satisfy the gas guzzling SUV if North America.

Chavez used an unrelated event yesterday to accuse George Bush of all but being himself at Puente Llaguno on April 11. Going into the details of the speech is useless. This could have been uttered from anywhere. For example last Sunday Chavez was disqualifying from his Sunday prorating stand NGO of impeccable credentials that are now denouncing abuses of his administration. I mean, disqualifying COFAVIC is crazy, even in front of chavistas! COFAVIC, to name one of them, has made a career denouncing abuses of the "abject" regimes that preceded Chavez and probably indirectly contributed a lot to Chavez arrival to power. But Chavez is not known for his gratitude.

Translation

Very simple, Chavez feels the waters of the Recall Election rising. The signatures are in, the international opinion knows that. And the international representatives, namely the OAS, know very well that Chavez is trying to commit any fraud he can get away with it to cancel the election.

There is only one thing for Chavez to do: if the opposition does not want to engage in a frontal battle with him, as he hoped the opposition would do last Saturday, he will find the battle he is itching for elsewhere. Using speeches that include words such a "treason to the fatherland" is the last refuge of scoundrels.

The French had an expression for this kind of politics of desperation "La fuite en avant", the flight straight ahead, no matter what the consequences. Roberto Giusti does describe it quite well in today El Universal:

All of these episodes [meaning from the violence in Merida and Carabobo, to Lina Ron camping with her hosts in front of the CNE or the attack on Bush] concatenated in a sequence that lasted less than two weeks, account for the radicalization of the regime, of the final transformation of the Army and the National Guard into the praetorian guard of the Caribbean emperor, or at the very least into a militia at the service of one sect and one ideology.

My advice to the US, which I am sure is following my blog for to get its clues, is to let it go. Do not reply to Chavez directly and if you must say something, just let the White House spokesperson say something benign and non-committal (we will look into it, we will form a special committee, we will ask our ambassador). Worry not, Chavez needs your dollars and he will keep sending you all the oil you need. Anti globalization speeches stop at his wallet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Venezuelan blogs reviewed in Spain
02/17/2004

A journalism student, Alda da Silva Sousa, was interested enough for the web zine of her school to write an article on the course of Venezuelan blogging under Chavez. I must admit that it is a tad flattering to have been included in that review along with Miguel and such important luminaries as Eli Bravo or the famous pro-Chavez Aporrea. Interestingly the contact person of Aporrea had a rather dim view of bloggers and believed more in collective efforts such as Aporrea. How come I am not surprised? Check it out even if it is in Spanish. The entry article has early in its text links to different subsections where different aspects are covered. In one section you can even see a pic of this site (and a pic of the other sites of course).

Good job Alda!
A candid confession from the director of the state TV, VTV

Or how he is there for propaganda purposes

Tuesday 17, February 2004

People that have read some of my past posts will know that I admire Milagros Socorro as a journalist and columnist (Reconciliation, 10.05.2003). Last week she undertook what was likely going to be a thankless task, to interview the newly appointed head of the Venezuelan state TV, Vladimir Villegas, who was ambassador to Brazil until last fall. The interview hit the newspaper El Nacional on Sunday, one day after the dismal and incredibly biased coverage of the opposition march of last Saturday by VTV. When you read the interview you can understand why VTV has sunk so low. I have put the Spanish complete text in my documents section for those that can read Spanish and do not have access to EL Nacional web site which is paid service. Below I will only give a translation of choice excerpts.

First, to set the tone of the interview:

MS: I was referring to the governmental propaganda which is presented as information

VV: But information is one thing and propaganda is another. We cannot confuse them.

MS: They are confused in VTV.

VV: I could say that the propaganda of the opposition is included in the programming of the private broadcasters.

Then we move on to some more direct confrontation.

MS: In my newspaper...

VV: In the newspaper where you work…

MS: There are a few journalists and columnists who are chavista. How many journalists or talk show hosts in VTV are not chavista?

VV: I do not know. I have not asked anyone as to them belonging to the government or the opposition. Some I know them and I am aware of their position but I did not come in with the idea of performing a journalistic maccarthysm or to index anyone.

MS: When the VTV journalists perform their duties, how many of them express a critical regard or independence vis a vis the government?

VV: Our journalist express themselves according to our informational policies. In El Nacional journalist know which are the parameters of information and act accordingly. In VTV journalists know where they are working and what is the informative policy.

MS: I insist, in El Nacional there are chavista journalist and columnists, not chavista but in the center, and, because they know where they are working they say as they please.

VV: I do not know these journalists that say what they want in El Nacional.

MS: No? So Maripili Hernández does not write as she pleases?

VV: She is a columnist.

MS: I told you of journalists and columnists.

VV: I do not know whether the theme of this interview is EL Nacional but we can discuss a lot of things about this newspaper such as the informational line, the headlines, the manner in which some journalists include opinion in their reports. Yourself have frequently mentioned that the line is crossed that should separate information from opinion.

MS: Yes, I said so in El Nacional and not behind closed doors. How many VTV journalists may say that they criticize what is done in their work surroundings?

The exchange becomes quickly acrimonious and is interrupted. Eventually tempers cool down and the interview is continues.

Now the pearl of the interview!

VV: I came to VTV as a politician, not a journalist. [snip] I am going to be clear with you, we are in a fight. You were asking me for the informative equilibrium of VTV because you see the company as an isolated entity and that is not correct. [snip] The opposition media in general are asking VTV an equilibrium that they are very far from exhibiting. I am besieged here, that is the truth, against the permanent lies of 5 TV stations. Do not ask me for equilibrium in information when we are in the middle of a battle. In this battle neither myself or VTV is impartial. The station took sides. That VTV belongs to the state, so what! The signal of the commercial TV also belongs to the state and those who were given a concession supported and promoted the forces that tried to unseat the government and close this station signal which is effectively from the state. [snip] It is not a matter to justify myself, Milagros, it is about acting according to one's beliefs. You are asking me to behave like a journalist and to give you a good interview. You say that I defrauded you. The one in the wrong is you: you must interview me as a politician, as the president of a political institution.

My comments now. Mr. Villegas is of course acting with bad faith from his side of the ideological divide that rifts our country. The unaware reader might indeed think that poor Mr. Villegas is besieged. But Mr. Villegas forgets a few crucial things:

1. If VTV was closed briefly in April 2002 it had already been abandoned by its staff who run away as soon as they heard that Chavez had resigned. Nobody was there to wait for the "new administration", or even to pose as martyr for the freedom of the people. They run away ASAP. And the "new administration" did not even set up guard since when Carmona showed his first signs of weakness chavismo was able to re-activate VTV fast.

2. Chavez has done several actions against the private media that justify this one to feel as besieged as VTV seems to feel. Be it the menacing throngs that were sent one night at the early days of the general strike, or be it the seizure of the short-wave communication system of Globovision.

3. The journalists that are assaulted in the streets doing their job to gather news are 99% from private media and not the expected 83.4% if indeed there were 6 broadcasting system at war in Caracas. But perhaps VTV journalists are not assaulted because they do not bother to cover opposisiton events? "Opposition journalists" do risk their lives to go and cover chavista events even when they are frequently barred from covering these events, in particular if Chavez attends.

But more importantly. Mr Villegas fails to mention the hours and hours of cadenas that the private media must endure. He fails to mention that VTV is funded at taxpayer money. He fails to mention that opposition TV always complains that chavistas are reluctant to go to their talk shows unless something big happens. Etc…

Simply put, Vladimir Villegas is a self made victim of the chavista paranoia that exists now.

And of course we know now why VTV has stepped up its offensive by character assassination such as last Saturday.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Chavez sense of responsibility
Sunday 15, February 2004

Blogs in English have been abuzz this week with the translation of the equivalent to the state of the Union speech that Chavez gave to the National Assembly a couple of weeks ago.

Chavez speeches are very hard for me to tolerate and I must confess that I have never, never, been able to withstand his oratory style for more than about 10 minutes. When I hear Chavez on the radio somehow it is a little bit more tolerable as I am spared the visuals of his pseudo amiability or his fiery impudence, according to the occasion. However, even stuck in traffic in the middle of a cadena there is a limit of what I can endure and I will eventually turn off the radio. I think that the only intervention that I was able to withstand was one cadena in February 2002 where the Bolivar was set to float freely and thus the destiny of the country. For once he made an effort for more cohesion and clarity and perhaps my intuition told me then and there that everything will be different, as it verified in the following weeks.

Perhaps there is the clue somewhere there that differentiates me from his loving supporters that listen to every single word he utters, and a lot of words those are. Or perhaps it is my scientific background that sorts of make my mind work in overdrive to try to understand what is Chavez point as his rhetoric gets lost in an endless blather mixing the trivial with the important, the vulgar with the popular, the sacred with the profane. My mind just gives up at some point.

All this preamble is just to say that as usual when the "state of Venezuela" speech came I just turned to cable TV which is exempt of cadena. Perhaps I should have listened a lot more, as Gustavo Coronel did, translating part of the speech and pointing out something that even the Venezuelan the press did not pay attention too, so anesthetized after all these years. In a portion of this speech, that found its way to the web pages of the government offices in a PDF format one can read that Chavez admit to have manufactured the confrontation with PDVSA so as to grab absolute control of it, knowing full well the cost to the country that this would provoke. Great material that could be used in a trial against Chavez if we ever manage to bring him to the courts where he should have been sent long ago.

As Francisco Toro wrote in his own page, like him I am reluctant to quote other blogs though I never fail to mention them when necessary. But this is good stuff and deserves to appear in every blog on Venezuela in English, to illustrate the thuggish mentality of the guy that we have in office, presiding the biggest looting of our history.

I am just quoting one paragraph of Gustavo’s article (his highlights and cuts):

"Crisis in Chinese means danger and opportunity. . . . Sometimes the crisis has to be generated, controlling them, of course. What we did in PDVSA was necessary . . . AND WE GENERATED THE CRISIS. . . . When I took the whistle in 'Alo Presidente' and started to fire people I was provoking the crisis. WHEN I NAMED GASTON PARRA PRESIDENT OF PDVSA AND THE NEW BOARD WE WERE PROVOKING THE CRISIS . . . THEY ANSWERED and the conflict appeared. And this is where we are today. . . ."

And the corresponding in Spanish:

Muy bien, ahora otro elemento que surgió el 2003 y también producto de la crisis, la crisis en el idioma chino creo que se escribe guei-hi y significa crisis o riesgo, peligro y oportunidad. Toda crisis trae eso, por eso es que las crisis muchas veces son necesarias, muchas veces son necesarias, incluso a veces hay que generarlas, midiéndolas, por supuesto. Lo de Pdvsa era necesario aun cuando nosotros, bueno, no es que no la generamos, sí la generamos, porque cuando yo agarré el pito aquel en un “Aló, Presidente” y empecé a botar gente, yo estaba provocando la crisis; cuando nombré a Gastón Parra Luzardo y aquella nueva junta directiva, pues estábamos provocando la crisis. Ellos respondieron y se presentó el conflicto y aquí estamos hoy. Era necesaria la crisis.

A curious detail: as word of the speech in English spread, the PDF document in the web disappeared. Fortunately somebody had the good idea to save it for public perusal. Coincidence? The power of blogging? Is someone beeing fired?

Another detail is that the preamble of the speech seems to be missing in the PDF format. Plain sloppiness? A trap of sorts? With Chavez all is possible…

Finally if you understand Spanish enough try to read any, and I mean any, of the long winded paragraphs of Chavez. You will be able to appreciate his messy style and how the transcription staff had trouble even putting down comas and periods.

Sunday quarterbacking on yesterday march
Sunday 15, February 2004

I can do the equivalent of the Monday quarterback, except on Sunday AM.

Briefly:

Yahoo has a nice photo gallery of the past few days in Caracas. Note in particular the pictures of the massed tanks on Avenida Bolivar and the peaceful marchers in other pics. If you are courageous enough to scan the previous picture down the page you will see interesting pics such as a Chavez supporter cultivating the Che Guevara look (he is actually probably better looking than the Che if not as dashing), of Chavez holding a little girl (all tyrants in history have been pictured with lots of little children around them) that you can contrast with his fiery poses in political rallies (dissociative, no?), and even Don King making his snafu as to Chavez leaving office (no picture of him collecting his wages though).

SUMATE reported that it gave around 300 000 certificates of signatures. These certificates indicate that you indeed signed, where and when and in which box and report your signature was brought to the Electoral Board (CNE). Now I want to add a personal comment here: of all my relatives and friends in Caracas not even a third of them went to collect their signature. So, imagine that the CNE says "screw you" and you can imagine the amount of people that will take to the streets, not counting those that could not sign for a variety of reasons such as my significant other working in a the public administration in a post that would imply immediate dismissal if a signature were to be found. Meanwhile if SUMATE indeed distributed 300 000 forms that means that at least 300 000 people did find their way to the Jardin Botanico, trashing the early estimate of 250 000 marchers.

A witty comment on TV this morning by Borges. The leader of Primero Justicia commented on the efficiency of SUMATE who has given the public a document as difficult to prepare as the national ID card. It gave 300 000 in a few hours on a Saturday. During the Chavez administration the government has almost stopped emitting passports (mine has been renewed for the third time, the first pic being now more than 20 years old and ensuring me weird looks when I go through US customs). The National ID service is wrecked by corruption and incompetence. Lina Ron shadowy organization is more effective at giving you an ID card than the state agency who apparently is only good enough at giving fake visas and fast track citizenship to Cubans, Chinese nationals and a few Middle Eastern characters that have put Venezuelan passports on the watch list of the US. The comment of Borges was of course at what wonders would SUMATE do if it were in charge of the state identification system! No wonder all of these chavistas cashing bribes for ID are so opposed to SUMATE.

Meanwhile a somber incident with the political police following the wife of one of the non-chavista rectors of the CNE. Pressure is building. And of course the worst than ever shows on state TV, VTV, trying desperately to minimize the march success yesterday with outright lies and off time videos, to the point of creating a "special program" of jokes and what not. If Chavez is at 51% as a "new" poll agency says, why is he so afraid of a few people marching in the street? Why put up such a montage on TV?

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Post march analysis
14/02/2004

I did find a better picture in El Universal site, taken by the EFE news agency so supposedly more "objective". I suppose that eventually El Universal will have its own photo gallery tonight or tomorrow. That Venezuelan flag seems to have been dreamed for colorful marches.



Numbers also appeared. Preliminary estimates by Grupo Cronica who has made a business out of counting people in the street give a quarter million at least. At least, because the structure of the march did not allow for a good estimate. Indeed, it was purely a series of marches, and no rally at the end. When arriving at the Botanical Garden people would either collect a copy of their signature, or just go back home. Many apparently joined the marches at diverse points just to go and collect so there was not the "structure" seen in other instances. Not to mention that it was a rather unusually early march on Valentine's day so probably many were in a hurry. All of this makes a lot of sense for me and sort of matches my own guess of perhaps up to half a million.

What was perhaps more interesting is the detailed count of what could be estimated. The march that was filmed insistently by the State TV was the one coming from Plaza Madariaga in El Paraiso, the least anti Chavez area of the 6 starting points: barely 12 thousand. For the record from Parque del Este a much more anti Chavez area 88 thousand hit the ground. Yet, as I observed in a previous post today it still was more people than on Avenida Bolivar, at least for an observer with a critical eye. The counting guys did try to evaluate the attendance in Avenida Bolivar. For obvious reason, difficult access and military presence not to mention that those that got some cheap produce were in a hurry to go back home and store it, the Grupo Cronica gives only 4 thousand presence at any given time. And perhaps 500 National Guard that could be seen. 10% National Guards...

It is of course not fair to compare a popular market "megamercado" with a highly motivated political march but after all it is the very own chavismo that tries desperately to diminish opposition numbers by any technical tricks, video or or CNE wise.

I think the turnout considering the fatigue, the date and other factors is not bad at all. At least the CNE knows that if and when they trash the signatures there will be more than 250 thousand folks determined and ready to march to the CNE to demand repair. This seems to have made a little effect on the CNE by the way. The gentility of earlier days seem to be fading as the two opposition rectors are less and less inclined to accept the incessant popping of new delaying tricks and tactics. The two pro Chavez rectors, joined by the cryptic pro Chavez president Carrasquero are bent on finding some more respectability to try to annul the Recall Election. Their latest trick announced earlier today is that they would "study" increasing the numbers of observers to the process of signature verification. In December they were almost adamantly opposed to let the Carter Center and the OAS enter the CNE verification areas!!!! Why that change of heart? Very simple: by putting in more "favorable" observers they would hope to cancel the Carter Center and OAS objectivity. In their naivete, or bad faith, they think that the opinion of some partial observers could count as much as the Carter Center, a veteran of tough processes such as Nicaragua and Peru, to name particularly difficult times that the Carter Center has weathered.

I have a feeling that we are not off the streets yet.
PM update
14/02/2004

Not marching does have its advantage: you get to see how desperate the government is and what cheats it does contain. After going out to do my week-end shopping and get the papers, I sat down to lunch while watching how the marches were doing. Definitely two visions: the VTV, government held vision, and the others. Let's start with the others.

Venevision and RCTV do keep on their regular programming, but every 30 minutes or less they have an update as to the unfolding of the marches, with perspective shots, interviews and news. Globovision which is our all news network of course is following the march all along but not as well, or clearly (image wise) as before since the government has seized, illegally, their microwave system of transmission. Yet through the internet and other wireless systems the news flow.

VTV is quite another story. Their screen is split into two: one side the opposition march and on the other the Megamercado on Bolivar Avenue. The "bad" side shows a semi still shot of an intersection on the Western side of Caracas from where 2 (or is it 1, I do not know as I did not get the final routing of the 6 marches) of the marches will arrive. It is important to stress that the site is well chosen as the two (one?) marches coming will be the one with the smallest contingent, coming from areas erstwhile strongly pro Chavez and that still do show significant support. Sure enough, you can see, from the far away camera, groups of people advancing but not the tight march as you can see elsewhere coming from the East.

The other side of the screen, the "good" side is a still camera smack in Avenida Bolivar. People are filmed from very close and are strangely static, as watching a big screen or listening to some speaker. In the far background there is some market activity, the megamercado.

Now, do they think that their audience is that dumb? Even if the images from one side are from far away and people look small (and fewer because small) they are marching and groups of people constantly are entering the visual field and leaving it. How can a close up of perhaps a couple of hundred of people can convey the message that the megamercado is bigger than any march the opposition is holding?

And speaking of the Megamercado on Bolivar Avenue. Venevision did show the National Guard barrage so as to stop any crazy idea that the opposition would try to go through the Avenida Bolivar megamercado to reach the CNE. You could see scores of guards armed to the teeth and at least a dozen small tanks. Plus barbed wire and other paraphernalia. And of course nobody in sight. Can you say paranoia?

Anyway, it seems that the six marches have been a great success and peaceful, no harm done (so far anyway at 2 PM our time).

Just a little pic from Globovision, the best I could find in the Internet, and of course an angle that is ignored from VTV. You can see why.



Image taken about half a mile before the point where the permanent pics of this blog were taken in January 2003. Direction towards downtown, the Botanical Garden. Thus the grainy image of the crowded bridge can be given a sense of how many people are by looking at the close ups from a previous march to your right.

PS: VTV Internet side is down today. I wonder why.

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