Sunday, March 21, 2004

Sunday at the Polo game, while candidate John Kerry takes a stand on Venezuela

Sunday, March 21 2004

I needed a break today and a friend suggested attending a polo game. I had never attended a polo game, you know the one that Prince Charles is supposed to be good at, that game where men run after a small ball trying to hit it with a long stick while riding a horse at break neck speed. Not that I could ever even afford to play polo, but I was intrigued. It was a different experience all right.

The game was in a mountainous wealthy rural area which has now been totally surrounded by the Caracas Metropolitan area. Indeed, it is quite a luxury to hold such a flat field of probably incredible real estate value. Although anyone could get in, clearly the attendance was upper-upper class, with even a couple of "nannies" taken along to take care of young kids. We had lunch at the club house terrace overlooking the field and the game started while our entrees arrived. It would have been hard to have a more gentrified Sunday lunch. It was really quite something to watch the polo players, and their beautiful horses in action.

It was certainly a throwback to more "gentile" times. White rich folks playing polo while not so white folks were serving lunch. But as usual in Venezuela, there is more than what meets the eye. To begin with, anyone could go to the club house and sit down for lunch. No membership required, though you need to be able to afford a rather pricey lunch. What caught my attention is that since it is polo season, the small crowd seemed to be regulars and most in jeans, very casual. Many seemed to know the waiters and were in friendly terms with them, reminding me that in spite of class differences Venezuelans can always communicate at the basic level, something that is not true in other countries. The installations were a little bit run down in areas, showing that even rich people do not have the resources that they once did. In other words, even that world is changing, and I guess that the change started before Chavez. Quite an interesting glimpse of a vanishing? changing? Venezuela. And curiously a strange sense of being subversive just by being there enjoying the moment.

Coming back at home, no big news, except for a John Kerry declaration on Venezuela. Chavez lately had started playing the Kerry card just by attacking Bush and wishing that he loses the November election. But Chavez was probably under the delusion of favorable liberal views towards "his revolution" propagated by the New York Times who claims to be the Liberal beacon. Readers of this blog, liberals or not, know better than trusting the New York Times. Just a portion of Kerry's statment:

The referendum has given the people of Venezuela the opportunity to express their views on his presidency through constitutionally legitimate means. The international community cannot allow President Chavez to subvert this process, as he has attempted to do thus far. He must be pressured to comply with the agreements he made with the OAS and the Carter Center to allow the referendum to proceed, respect the exercise of free expression, and release political prisoners.

It seems that Kerry is very well informed. If Chavez has no friend left in the outgoing administration, he should not think for a moment that he will get friends in November.

By the way, I bet that more Republicans play polo than Democrats, but they all seem to agree on Chavez.
In Venezuela only: Chavista oath is more important than Hippocratic oath
Purges in the Public Administration

Saturday 20, March 2004

Today was another day of marches in Caracas. It was against the usual themes but with a new urgency considering all the repression tales are coming through louder and louder, against the holding of political prisoners.

I did not go to the march, not feeling well enough for the few hours march under the sun. It seems to have been an interesting march, daring to cross some sections of downtown that are supposed to be pro Chavez. Well, if they are it is not a fervent support. I did not hear of any incident.

There is only one significant piece of information that is worthwhile sharing tonight, and it will earn the Health minister the award Vile Person of the Day, and while we are it, the Vile Moment of the Day. Since I am on my third edition in three days of this award, I should perhaps establish certain rules to make sure people do not think I am doing that out of a mean anti Chavez streak. These awards will be given to people that have made particularly vile statement going against basic reason or human decency. The statements need not to be important or have definite implications. What matters is that they reflect the moral corruption of the regime. And opposition members could deserve such award too in case they lower themselves to levels of the pseudo public servant that we seem to have, though I think that chavismo is on a roll.

The Minister of Health, Roger Capella, has confirmed today that his department would be firing all the doctors and personnel that have signed for the referendum against Chavez. Questioned twice by a Globovision reporter he stated twice that to sign was to conspire against Chavez and that in any country that is what they do to conspirators. And he meant it, the tone was right.

Gone was the Hippocratic oath. Gone were the years of service for low pay. Gone were the equality before the law. Gone was the duty of the state towards curing the people above any consideration.

But if this was the brashest declarations on that matter, it was coming from only one of the many departments that started such witch hunting. This is observed in the workers of the Caracas subway system. Or even in PDVSA where workers that did not join the strike and were hailed as heroes are now fired for having exercised their constitutional right to ask for a referendum.

Fascism, quite simply.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE, gets ready for a major international break up
Probably at the bequest of Chavez looking for an excuse to do so

Friday 19, March 2004

Today it was Yaracuy’s holiday, Saint Joseph. We were closed at work so I left at noon for Caracas and I have not been worrying too much about the news, instead listening to opera for most of the 3 hours drive. There is a march planned tomorrow, not a major one but a meaningful one and I will likely go, if I can find my usual march companions.

Tonight the news is in the natural prolongation of the preceding one, and now reaching the first symptoms of breaking point. Indeed, the biggest pressure that the Chavez administration is experiencing right now is from the International Forum. The only way to escape is to break up with the outside world and it seems that Venezuela is heading that way.

Let’s start with Battaglini who deserves the Vile Moment of the Day award. This 5th rector of the Electoral Board, CNE, is the silent one. Actually it was the first time that I heard him talk! And now I know why they do not send him out too often. He limited himself to repeat what has become the official line, namely that they are waiting for the Constitutional Court to save their butts, but what was particularly interesting was the contempt that could be sensed in his voice. One could hear all the sourness accumulated over the years against real or imaginary woes. Truly a small, vengeful man.

Carrasquero gets again the Vile Person of the Day award. No contest. Again, as the house is burning, as he is supposed to prepare to obey rulings he refuses to acknowledge, he goes to Maracaibo for some University event, packed with chavismo and faculty looking for chavismo grants, where he will be the guest speaker. I suppose he needed an ego boost. At some point he declared to the press that the debate is not an electoral debate because signatures are not votes. Ergo, it is to the Constitutional Court to deal with the matter. And this guy was a law teacher!

Back in Caracas, we learn that he started yet another lawsuit in the name of the CNE without consulting the other rectors. Zamora actually called for a meeting tomorrow to examine all thes emajor decisions taken without his knowledge. We will see what excuse Carrasquero will come up with in order not to face his colleagues who he has been stabbing in the back for the past 48 hours.

But if his words were a repeat performance he did not look very confident, and avoided direct eye contact with the camera. Interesting. Perhaps at that moment he was already aware of the bomb that the OAS was going to drop on him. Taking Carrasquero at his word when he accused the OAS of partiality against Chavez, the OAS representative in Caracas, Fernando Jaramillo writes in a letter sent to EVERY rector of the CNE:

"In your declarations, you assert that you have proofs of your affirmations. Considering the gravity of such allegations, with all due respect I request through this note, as the head of the OAS mission, that you let them know to me, or that you make them public in order to avoid creating confusion among the citizens."

My emphasis.

What Mr. Jaramillo says is that in Venezuela Carrasquero and Chavez can get away unjustly accusing people as there is no way to force such people to justify or take back their words. But the OAS is an international organization and it cannot let such things go by. And Carrasquero cannot fail to put up, or retract and apologize. There will be consequences if he ignores this letter.

Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center was declaring along those lines too in CNN tonight.

And Venezuela's position is weakening every day as reports of Human Rights abuses keep piling up, in addition to his electoral fraud. Chavez needs a way out of international pressure.

No wonder Mr. Carrasquero did not look too good today. A small man, dragged into something that is just too big for him.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

A summary of the news from Venezuela
Carrasquero and CNE fraud, back taxes on the networks, the case of the missing constitutional case, and a Human Rights report

Thursday 18, March 2004

Things keep moving. The coup keeps tightening. Tonight's targets are the private TV networks, fined for giving free air time to opposition advertisement during the 2002/2003 strike. Let's forget about some peculiar tax code interpretation that might justify that a company that loses revenue on purpose should be fined. What about the CADENAS to which we were subjected those days, dozens of hours a week? Is Chavez going to pay for all the revenue that the networks lost while he was transmitting his propaganda at the same time on all radio and TV? In a moment of particular cynicism, the SENIAT director (IRS equivalent) Vielma Mora said that the state TV, VTV was also investigated. Yeah, right... I would like to see the amount of that fine... Oh, and that declaration was given on VTV only! But little did they know that this blogger monitors VTV.

Tonight I feel tempted to start a new section: Vile Person of the day. The clear winner is CNE president Carrasquero. He piled it up high. He accused the OAS and the Carter Center to be partial against Chavez. He told them that they could leave or stay but that Venezuela was a sovereign country and would do as it please. I am sure that this declaration will go down real well. But that was not all. He said he had proof!!!!! We are anxious to see the evidence!!!! And he went on to say that there might be recall elections in spite of the opposition. It is all the opposition leaders fault now that the people that signed are missing the referendum. Or maybe I have stopped understanding Spanish...

But these declarations were accompanied by declarations from the two minority members of the CNE. Yesterday the CNE had announced that they were to obey the ruling of the Electoral Court. But this morning Carrasquero took upon himself to have the CNE sue for autonomy of power. This legal maneuvering that will cost money to the CNE was not decided in reunion! The two minority directors of course voiced the possible legal implications of Carrasquero acting on his own. Let's see how many lies, distortions and plain punishable misdeeds we can count on Mr. Carrasquero actions since early this week.

As a side comment. A couple of days ago I was commenting on the puffed face of CNE director Rodriguez. Well, he was hospitalized today for hypertension. Once again this blogger shows himself to be a keen observer of the big and little news. This probably explains why Carrasquero did not dare to convoke a meeting today since he would not have been able to have the lawsuit initiative approved.

Another piece of news was the revelation that the famous ruling of the Constitutional Court that started this whole chaos, the supposedly illegal but then legal ruling, well, it does not exist in the dossier of the case! It has not been registered! Gerardo Blyde, a notorious representative from Primero Justicia, a doggedly good lawyer apparently, was able to force his way as a plaintiff to the constitutional case and found out that there is no ruling on paper against the Electoral Court, and thus there is no case. At least on paper. Is there deliberate misdeed in the Constitutional Court?

The Electoral Court, probably still waiting for that ruling decided that it would not surrender its electoral dossier to the constitutional Court, stating a now open and verbal defiance to the Constitutional Court. That Court, probably knowing that it screwed the case, is probably behind a silly move from the National Assembly to disrobe the Electoral Court justices. Yet anothe case of "shoot the messenger"!

But for candidate of Vile Moment of the day we do have the National Assembly which, as Caracas is burning, decided to discuss a law to allow casinos to operate in Military Bases. We know of course who is really ruling the country now: the notorious Portuguese Casino Mafia and the generals that will offer them protection. An obscure fist fight between two representatives lightened up the lofty discussions.

To close, the report of CIDH came out, in English. It is for the year 2003. I can hardly imagine how will be the 2004 report! The Inter American Commission on Human Rights, a section of the OAS, is rather damming, in spite of their condemnation of the 2002 Carmona adventure. Here is paragraph 523 for a sample. While you read it think of the Vice President or of Chavez daring people to bring evidence for Human Rights Violations.

537. The Commission has observed, as noted throughout this report, that between March 2002 and first quarter of this year more than 40 people were killed and some 750 injured as the result of street protests. The extreme political polarization and the resulting acts of violence that erupt periodically between demonstrators of different persuasions illustrate the growing political intolerance in the country. Among the signs of institutional weakness are the failure to enforce the new constitution, the perceived lack of independence of the branches of government, the growing concentration of power in the national executive, the impunity with which armed civilian groups and death squads conduct their activities, the tendency to confrontation and to denigrate the traditional political opposition on the part of the government, the constant attacks on journalists and the news media, the tendency to militarization of public administration through the increasingly prominent role of the armed forces, the growing radicalization of political stances in the context of widespread public discontent with the failure to meet social demands, controversies over the exercise of trade union rights, and the climate of harsh political intolerance and, in relation to the inter-American system, the repeated and persistent failure of the State to comply with precautionary measures granted by the IACHR and the provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court, all of which has been documented in this report and will be presented in summary fashion below.

Torture in Venezuela
Wednesday March 18, 2004

Last night I did not have the stomach, literally, to try to translate the coroner's report on the death of Juan Carlos Zambrano. Francisco Toro did so and I invite you to go there and read today's post. As far from diner time as possible.

I must make a mea culpanow. I have not addressed as much as I should have all the cases of Human Rights Violations.

For some reason it is hard for me. Any form of violence, even verbal one is hard for me. Perhaps it is because I am so afraid to lose my own composure as I know only too well how difficult it is to recover it. Perhaps I just cannot believe what is going on, refuse to accept the Venezuela that I see today. Perhaps my fellow bloggers linked on the right side are doing such a great job on it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Perhaps the vile chavista counter propaganda is succeeding in shutting me up. How can one reply to the ignoble discourse of Jose Vicente Rangel yesterday? It is soiling to just listen to him. If a famed journalist like him has fallen so low, surely it is contagious.

But I am watching, I am hearing, I have heard stories and when the time is right I will write. Right now I can only do what best I can do, try to make some sense of it all. Try to explain things to myself. And everyday it is more difficult.
The judicial coup in Venezuela keeps forging ahead
Thursday 18, March 2004

The news is just unbelievable.

A cocky Carrasquero, the president of the Electoral Board, almost defiant, and certainly vindictive, stated that he was going to wait for the ruling of the Constitutional court, while "obeying" the ruling of the Electoral Court. Which of course meant that he was not going to do anything until the other ruling came in. And, he went on saying that "had we done it our way we would now be almost done with the reparation process". His cocky smile said volumes: this is not about the rights of people anymore, just a battle between lawyers. Carrasquero now does not even pretend anymore. He is part of the coup, officially now.

However he should not be gloating too much as he could get a surprise from the 20 justices gather. I think that the has done enough already to deserve destitution if the ruling of the Electoral Court is eventually held up. As usual, I am dreaming.

Nothing else new this afternoon from the court except for a crass maneuver to try to pretend that last week ruling from the Constitutional Court was legitimate. Laughable, but they might prevail. The Constitutional Court is twisting the facts, "back writing" decisions and justifying the unjustifiable. The judicial coup keeps advancing.

I forgot to mention that yesterday the vice president said that there had been NO HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. He defied human rights organization to come up with proof. As dozens and dozens of videos, interviews, witness are coming through. A clear defiant attitude of "see if I care". A now unrestrained executive power mocking international opinion. Interestingly this was done on front of a group of diplomats, "invited", and as far as I can tell in a format that did not allow for questions. Which they would not do anyway, but the vice likes to be safe.

And the latest blow, the arrest order for the mayor of one of Caracas districts, Baruta. Capriles Radonsky has been attacked regularly by chavismo since his not exactly clear role when the Cuban Embassy was besieged by a mob on April 12, 2002. In these contentious days, Capriles had to run there, called by the Cuban ambassador himself, to face a mob ready to go inside of the embassy and sack it. Apparently he was not efficient enough to stop the mob, came in late, etc... Which is of course very easy to say when one was not there at the time. Regardless of the truth, in these crazy days nobody is quite clear about what they really did, starting with Chavez himself. But let us accept the argument that Capriles was indeed delighted by the mobs in front of the embassy. Why wait for 23 months to arrest him? Why arrest him because he supposedly refused to declare, once again? Why not show to the defense lawyers the arrest warrant? Of course Capriles Radonsky has said that he would surrender to avoid any bloodshed as his constituents are ready to go and riot in the street. But understandably he wants to see the arrest warrant first. Since we are in an evolving coup d’etat, I doubt he will be granted that request, and he is resigned to become the first elected official to go to jail as a political prisoner.

But other political prisoners are already in jail. Carlos Melo a popular activist in the Western part of Caracas was arrested after February 27 and weapons "were found" in his car. Since he was kidnapped at a gas station, it is easy to imagine how the weapons arrived in the car. From the pictures I even wondered if the weapons were fitting in his small car. But that is irrelevant, the only thing that mattered was to put Melo in jail as he was rumored to be the a likely candidate to run against Chavez bad boy, the one controlling the Bolivarian assault sections of Caracas, Mayor Freddy Bernal, ex cop, ex jail bird.

Other elected officials are already in the judicial line of fire. The comptroller, silent for eons resurfaced with old charges against all the opposition leaders that are stratospherically high in the polls. This is of course the best way to run electoral campaign, make sure you only have weak candidates in front of you. In particular my own governor, Eduardo Lapi who was particularly vociferous after February 27 and who is rumored to ride a comfortable 50% lead over any possible chavista candidate in Yaracuy. He has the distinction of having been threatened directly by Chavez.

It seems that the plan has been set a while ago and now we have reached the execution phase. All is not lost yet, but there will be a price to pay. Street gangs do not give up their blocks without a few casualties.

Meanwhile, yet another injured man from February 27 died as a consequence of his wounds, bringing the total deaths to 15, I believe. The horrenduous tale of Juan
Carlos Zambrano
is just coming to light. The autopsy is a text book case of torture. his wife was raped in front of him according to survivors. Still, no pretection measure for witness , no serious investigative action. Then again he is part of the fired PDVSA contingent and justice for these people means revenge.

More are still missing. Meanwhile Justice is busy trying to exculpate the Chavez administration and making safe any future election.

I am leaving you with a pic of Capriles. Why, when there are so many people that should have their pictures up as protest about the gathering repression? Well, he would be my mayor if I were not registered to vote in Yaracuy. Baruta in Caracas is where I stay, and from where come the pictures of the street barricades that I posted two weeks ago. He is about to become the major political prisoner and he is not hiding or leaving the country as other have done. But I will make a comitment now, as I find or receive small pics of other prisoners I will be putting them up. So far I have not found any of Melo but if anyone can send me one I will put it up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Judicial coup in Venezuela
Breaking news!

As expected, but hoped it would not happen, the Constitutional Court has moved to strike the Electoral Court out of its constitutional functions.

The excuse? Since the Constitutional Court named the Electoral Board, then it should supervise all of its decisions. That is, the Electoral Court has no business supervising the Electoral Board, CNE. In a nutshell, the Constitutional Court has taken over the court at large:from now on it will have the jurisprudence to revoke any decision from any court, as it feels like... They have gone against their own jurisprudence (in particular an April 2003 decision). They have dared.

Venezuela is now under a de facto system.

The next step? It is for the Electoral Court to call the court at large, the 20 justices, and have them decide if they will support the Constitutional Court (and their implied subordination to this one from then on) or if they will remind them that the Constitutional Court is one among the 6 courts and that there is something called separation of powers and jurisprudence and laws.

The Chavez Mafia dice are rolling.
Venezuela at a cross roads.
Wednesday 16, March 2004

This is an attempt at evaluating what is really going on. It is probably going to be a futile exercise as things keep changing at a breathtaking pace.

First, the driving force.

Chavez cannot, will not go to a Recall Election. If he loses it, his international career is over. He might still have some future in Venezuela but he can forget about becoming Castro's heir.

His people cannot let him go to an election that he might lose, because without Chavez they are nothing. After 5 years, perhaps the most amazing thing in chavismo is that it has produced no one with a shred of leadership, except, wits will say, for Lina Ron.

We are not talking politics here, and even less ideology or sense of mission. We are talking about a group of people that made off with power, and privilege, and as any good Mafia or street gang, they are not going to let go.

It is really quite simple. Everything else are mere words of justification.

Second, the governmental trap.

Once they realized that they could not stop the development of a Recall Election process, all of chavismo energies were spent in finding ways to slow it down, to bog it down, to kill it.

They tried all sorts of things but to no avail, a signature collection had to take place. I think that they came up with the final trap rather late. It was going to be the "assisted" signatures form. That was the only way to annul massive amounts of signatures, namely 800 thousand (plus a few more on other technicalities). Then they invented a system of signature "repair" or "verification" too cumbersome to have any chance of success. That would have proved the famous charge of megafraud hurled by Chavez even before all of the signatures were inked. After all, besides a handful of unconvincing pseudo forgeries, that would have been expected in any third world electoral system, they had nothing to show after months of "verification".

The expected result was that the opposition would cave in, try to amend at least 80 % of the signatures in an impossible short span of time. If by any chance they made it, Chavez would have countered with lawsuits and at the very least he would have gotten the referendum AFTER the fateful date of August 20. Then, if worse came to worse, he would have resigned before the recall, let his vice president run the show for two years and try to come back in 2006. We would have had to wait until 2006 to measure his real popularity. And two years are a life time in politics, all can change and does.

This, and it must be stressed, was the worst case scenario for Chavez.

Third, the trap unravels

Chavismo is not very competent or efficient, due to its own nature as all must be referred to high above. The Electoral Board set up quickly showed its true nature, its partiality to delay all for Chavez sake. This was so obvious that by the time they decided to put 800 thousand signatures under "observation" and annul outright a few more hundred thousand, international observers had had enough and said so. Ever so diplomatically of course, but it was clear to all.

I think that that was the first error of Chavez. After repeating for months that he was the sole victim of the April 2002 events, I think he and his people started to really believe it, and believe that the whole world was going to buy that forever. But suddenly they realized that a fraud from their part on that scale was going to have consequences.

Quickly they moved on a plan B of sorts which was nothing less that create a state terrorism of sorts. We had the brutal repression of February 27 and following days. And a series of constant provocation such as unnecessary National Guard attacks, to more cadenas, to judicial abuse and even threats to the banking system. The subliminal message was that removing Chavez from office would create chaos in the country. The immedaite objective was that while the opposition went around screaming, chavismo would win time to come up with additional moves, legal ones if only in appearance.

February 27 was a key moment as the regime officially unmasked itself in front of the whole world, and that was the second mistake. Nothing would be the same after February 27. The regime had officially stepped on the slippery slope of open violence, and legal disregard.

But such a display of force was obviously a sign of deep weakness and insecurity. After all, the 1.8 million signatures collected, at the price of surrendering the right of voter secrecy and becoming listed as an adversary of the regime, was a hefty 15% of the voting population. In a country with 40 to 50% abstention, this was a lot!

But things got worse quickly. When the Electoral Board started showing their survey results it became clear that they had done a sloppy job, a job that was wide open to law suits. Facing a public humiliation of "their" Electoral Board, chavismo political players started to move within the High Court to block any adverse decision. Something went really wrong. Perhaps it was on purpose to set yet a new unknown trap. Perhaps it was sheer incompetence. Perhaps it was actually some justices way to say that they were leaving a sinking HMS Chavez. Some day we will know. But the fact of the matter is that they played their hand without keeping some of their cards close to the chest. Within a single week end, duly warned, three justices from the Electoral High Court section surprised the Constitutional Court and sent crashing down the trap set up since August 2003!

Picking up the pieces? Or heading into uncharted territory?

Right now it has been 48 hours and the government and his supporters in the high court have made no move. There is talk of appeals, a mushrooming of insults, and all that goes along such an situations. How come? In such an important matter, in a few hours a well crafted appeal should have been published. Is this a way of recognizing that the Electoral High Court decision is indeed final? Or do they just need more time to play their last card? Because that is where we are now, the last card from both sides.

Indeed the situation is very grave. Playing the judicial card of one High Court section against another high court section implies a constitutional crisis of major proportion. The Venezuelan High Court system is formed of six courts with specific attributes, and only in some cases the 20 justices sit down together. Hearing chavista lawyers this morning on television was listening to arguments as to why the 5 Constitutional Court members could actually rule over the 20 justices. That is, they would have the Constitutional Court take over the Venezuelan judicial system. I have read the constitutional articles tonight, and though not a lawyer I could clearly sense that objective and the irreversible bending of the constitution.

Any support that any of the other branches of the government would bring to such a scheme would make them partners in constitutional violation, and aggravate the crisis.

I think that we are reaching the end of the rope. The Chavez administration is engaged in a constitutional violation path. Whether it will get away with it is another matter, but the consequences for both sides are tremendous. They could range from the establishment of a "legal" authoritarian regime Peru's Fujimori style, to pure and simple dictatorship. If Chavez prevails. And if Chavez fails, the resulting crisis could go from voiding of the constitution requiring again another lengthy constitutional process to just plain civil war.

Chavez has demonstrated time and again that a few violations of the constitution did not take from his sleep. This is the big one he has been preparing himself for, since late 2001 when he decided politically that he had to liquidate any vestige of the old political order, regardless of its faults or virtues. I am convinced that he is ready and willing. He is a soldier. Whoever opposes him is an enemy.

The only question left for him is how many people are going to accompany him.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Venezuelan institutional chaos? Venezuela loss of morality?

Tuesday 16, March 2004

The readers of this blog by now must have a pretty good idea of the answers to the questions in the title. And today's even give pretty good examples on how low institutions have fallen, or are about to fall. Since It has been a busy day for me, I will only give you now a few links and comments and try to write an explanation summary at home tonight.

Now, not really in chronological order.

The Electoral Board, CNE, speaks in two voices. The two directors that more regularly speak to the press were out today. The chavista Rodriguez, with a rather puffed face (medication? bad night?) came out saying "innocently" that he was no lawyer but that surely the ruling of yesterday could be appealed. And the CNE would do so. Later on the opposition representative (they should all be impartial but that has been lost long time ago), Zamora, particularly gaunt, came out to state that the ruling could not be appealed. He also took the opportunity to say that Rodriguez has "not stated the truth" about some of his declarations towards himself. They have a board meeting this afternoon. Would be nice to be the fly on the wall.


From El Universal in English this snippet:
Vice President José Vicente Rangel said Tuesday that the sentence of the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) validating the objected signatures that support a presidential recall was typical of a "mafia."

"Electoral matters only have to do with the National Electoral Council and the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ," Rangel said. "It is like Don Corleone making justice."

He added that the sentence is "basically immoral," and compared it to that of August 14, 2002, when the April 11, 2002 coup leaders were declared innocent, he added.

Asked about the recent declarations of organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Press Society about the violations of human rights in Venezuela, he said those statements are "bureaucratic and have a price."


Rangel, the vice president has sunk so low that now in any of his declarations he doesnoto care about what he says. It has become a propaganda war and he knows it (you can read my series on El Petarazo to have examples on how the man operates). Of course one could ask him why is there anelectorall Court if all eelctroral matters should go to the Constitutional court or the CNE? But we know the answer: matters of importance only go to the courts that are on the government side.

But theoppositionn was not staying put. Previewing a windfall of law suits, it already asked three justices of the Constitutional court to inhibit themselves from ruling on these matters as they have shown their partiality. In the Venezuelan system judges and assembly men have a "second" that steps in when the principal cannot be there, a clever ploy to increase bureaucracy. As chavismo is also inhibiting whomever they can. I wonder if there is going to be ANY judge left to hear the cases...

And at a press conference the opposition spokes people had a hard face and the sternest tone. Harder and harsher than usual, appropriate for the crucial hours that we are living.

Very "helpfully" chavismo had its own rally in front of the High Court. If the rally was not too well attended, it was full ofincendiaryy words, with an assemblyman, Dario Vivas, accusing the judges to have accepted bribes. As usual no proofs whatsoever were offered. I suppose that since they are buying whomever they need to buy they assume that the other side operates the same way. Cada ladrón juzga por su condición we say in Venezuela, "Thieves judge people according the their own values".

Finally the third justice in the Electoral Court criticized vehemently his colleagues. Apparently he was at work but they claim he was not, which would explain why he was not there and why they used his substitute. Maybe be true, but if he was not so busy talking and plotting with Chavez agents he might have caught on. However the story does not say whether he put an official complaint. Talk is cheap in chavismo.

---------------

PS: an English summary of yesterday's ruling and events is here.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A judicial ping pong game in Venezuela: has the electoral fraud blown up Chavez 's nose?
More on today's events

As I try to make sense of the events of these past days I have been reminded of a famous day in French history, during the minority of one of the King Louis. There was a series of court intrigues to obtain the regency using judicial procedures that resulted one day into everybody thinking that they had won the game, when in fact they had lost it: La Journée des Dupes, the day of the fooled ones. Indeed last Friday one judicial branch went off on week end thinking that it had blocked the other one. Only to find today that the blocked branch swung back and smashed the previous attempt. Actually the smash today was so convincing that I wonder if the other branch did not on purpose sabotage its action, to try to pretend to please Chavez while sinking him. That or they are incompetent and overplayed their hand. All is possible in Venezuela.

The judicial system as of 1999 has a supreme court, TSJ, composed of 20 members divided in equal chambers. One chamber is formed by 5 judges and takes on constitutional matters. Its ruling must be taken AT LEAST 3 to 1. In other words 4 judges must attend the seance. Last Friday only three judges emitted a ruling that forbade the chamber dealing on electoral matters to rule on appeals deposed in front of it. That Electoral Chamber is formed by three judges and its decisions must be taken 2 to 1. The Electoral Chamber today decided to rule anyway declaring that what the Constitutional Chamber sent them last week was illegal. And rule they did. They canceled many of the provisions taken by the Electoral Board CNE, making in fact the Recall Election all but certain. All the petty measures painfully taken by the CNE to diminish the total signatures collected, all the post-act modifications of the rules to that effect, all the sloppy work, all the delays and treacheries were declared void and the CNE was told to move on with the Recall Election process. It remains that chavismo has to find a way to cancel at least 700 000 signatures out of 1 300 000 contested signatures by the end of March to legally stop the Recall Election. Any other way will be illegal. That is the extent of the alleged "megafraud" that Chavez had been trumpeting all along. Now he has to prove it or desist.

Here are the appropriate links for you to check details, a I have simplified the tale and rounded numbers.

The story, in English, in El Universal

The ruling by the Electoral Chamber

The story in Spanish

The two Chambers telling each other that they lied

The satisfaction of the opposition with the ruling

The suspension of tomorrow's march of the opposition, as requested by the Carter Center and the OAS to avoid unnecessary provocation

But in case you still think that Chavez was playing fair play. We were greeted today with two piece of news that show the coercion used by the administration. This while the Constitutional Chamber was trying to knock out the Electoral Chamber. The comptroller General, long silent, the guys supposed to pursue all corruption cases suddenly woke up. For what? To find fault with potential popular opposition candidates and try to stop them from running in the local elections planned for later this year. Of course all pro Chavez candidates are models of honesty. Story in English by the way.

In addition a couple of hundred of workers from Caracas subway are threatened with being fired because they signed for the Recall Election, something seen in other state industries and offices! Meaning of course that the government is going to try to have them recant their signatures.

I would not be ready to dismiss Chavez's chances to stop the recall election, yet. Certainly he seems to have received a very hard knock today, but he surely has a few judicial tricks. I use the word "tricks" as I am rather convinced that the next moves of Chavez are now outside the legal path. They might apparent legality but they will be taken in the frame of a confrontation of powers, and he has the guns and the money, two natural factors that make their holders think that they can get away with it. Not to mention that one thing he does not have, scruples.

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PS: keep in mind the lengthy table of advantages and disadvantages from each side of the conflict. I posted it yesterday and you might need to return to it in the coming days to understand the new developments.


A surprise announcement on the recall election against Chavez in Venezuela
Breaking news!

Monday 15, March 2004

In a very unsettling move for the Chavez camp that thought it had the upper hand in the Venezuelan High Court, TSJ, one of its sections, the Sala Electoral, decided to invalidate some of the very contested decisions taken by the Electoral Board, CNE.

Indeed, the TSJ is composed of 20 members divided into several sections, one is the Sala Electoral, and another one is the Sala Constitucional which, as its name indicate, deals with constitutional rights. When one of the sections ruling is appealed on solid grounds, the 20 judges decide as a last resort.

The Sala Constitucional is formed by 5 judges, 3 of them devoted to the Chavez cause. In the last few days they have tried to hijack the decision on appeals presented by the opposition from the Sala Electoral by means of a rather dubious legality. But today the Sala Electoral, probably not amused by the coarse usurpation attempts, ruled that the trashing of 500 000 signatures was not right and these people should be allowed to "correct" or "ratify" their signatures.

But even more damming, taking up the arguments advanced by the Carter Center and the OAS, they decided that the good intention should prevail in the 800 000 signatures put under observation. This means that instead of forcing 800 000 people to go and ratify, the 800 000 ID numbers should be published and those that do not agree being in that list should be the ones going and denounce the fraud to which their name was subjected. As it should be.

If this decision stands, and that remains to be seen as it is certain that the Sala Constitucional is going to try to make some move, it almost guarantees that the 20% signatures requirement has been met, or will be met. It is very unlikely that the chavista camp will be able to demonstrate that several hundred thousand of people in the 800 K lot did not sign. And even if they manage to get a few thousand to "change their minds", the opposition should get enough of the 500 K lot to compensate.

The math is quite simple

2.4 million needed.
1.8 already in
0.8 almost in
0.5 can still be made to go in

Chavismo needs to annul 0.7 out of the (0.8 + 0.5) = 1.3. A daunting task at the very least. Unless of course Chavez was right in the "megafraude", for which we are still waiting for the hard evidence. Now there is his golden chance to prove that he was right all along as hundred of thousand of people will clog the streets to have their name removed and finally uncover the fraudulent opposition.

Yeah, right....

Now, on to Chavez next move, and it will probably not be a pretty one....

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Note added later: El Universal is out with the news too. Nothing in English yet. I will write more tonight as I learn all the details and figure out whether I understood correctly all the legalese involved earlier on. One thing is certain, Bernal the spokesperson of chavismo today (they seem to take turns), was almost foaming at the mouth. It must have hurt.

Note added even later: Ismael Garcia, quite unhinged, is calling for chavistas to go tomorrow to the High Court to ask for the removal of the "bastard" judges that betrayed the people, going even as far as accusing them to get money for that decision. More tonight.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

A summary table on the Venezuelan political situation

Sunday 14, March 2004

I have been postponing for a few days an analysis of the situation. Indeed the speed at which events move forward, in particular the breathtaking judicial cheating taking place in the high court makes any analysis run the risk of becoming outdated by the time it is posted. I decided instead to create a table where I list the advantages and disadvantages of each camp at this time. These of course can and will change too, but they will remain basically true for the weeks to come. Any movement made by the political antagonists is based on what they have in their cards.

I hope that from reading both tables, it will be clear that no side has really the upper hand. Not Chavez in spite of his heavy display of force since February 27. Nor the opposition that can only benefit from the good will of the international observers and that could be helped as well as harmed if for example the OAS decided to apply sanctions.

It is a very complicated and dangerous game.

CHAVEZ SITUATION
ADVANTAGES
DISADVANTAGES
 On the political front
Uncontested leader. This allows him to control tightly his followers, no dissension within the ranks. Last dissenters have left early 2002.Has few genuine feedback, mostly from people interested in keeping their jobs, or cashing in their positions while the going is good. Implies relying on corruption to buy fidelity.
His will applies.A lot of subservient people implement whatever is needed until Chavez forgets about it and then the program sinks into oblivion. This causes a rudderless administration, only worried about day to day survival.
Controls the Nation's institutions. National Assembly reduced to a rubber stamp body, with an intractable opposition. Justice rulings tend to favor the administration. Investigative bodies unwilling to deal with corruption.No serious counterweight besides the press. This has become obvious as the function of the state machinery has become the defense of the "Bolivarian project", costing international support.
In particular the control over the electoral board and the judicial system is now for all to see, casting serious doubts about the possibility of any real and fair election in the future.
The preoccupation of the judicial with the preservation of the regime causes an impressive backlog in other areas of people's security. Crime keeps on the increase, fueled by the economical recession and the careless judiciary and penal system.
On the armed forces front
Neutralized the Army.If he is sure that the Army will not rise against him, he is still not sure it will accompany him all the way in the road of repression.
Controls the National Guard, allowing him the recent and effective repression.Major tarnish to his international image as the defender of Human Rights has been transformed into your average repressor. Might have doomed the National Guard in a post Chavez administration, or at least the serving personnel.
On the economical front
Control of the State Oil company, PDVSA, which acts directly as the petty cash of the Bolivarian project.The financial needs of the company are neglected. Necessary investments in oil well recuperation and new exploration are not met. The national production has shrunk and a pre 2002 strike level cannot be reached unless massive private investment is allowed. This will result in a slow but sure privatization of the oil production.
Free spending policies, unchecked by the national assembly, the Central Bank or the Office of the Comptroller.Bed seed of corruption, never prosecuted in spite of mounting visible evidence.
Runaway spending, increasing debt, fiscal fragility, currency depreciation, a time bomb, probably short term.
Ability to launch all sorts of popular and populists programs, little bit more than a give-away to shore up the electoral base.If the effects are positive in the polls, their very unsustainable nature and the continuous shrinking of available resources makes these programs less and less effective and more and more difficult to launch. Eventually people will realize the fraud as no matter how many programs are launched few, if any, benefits reach them.



THE OPPOSITION SITUATION
 ADVANTAGES
DISADVANTAGES
In general
By accepting in February 2003 to play the recall election card the opposition has effectively cornered Chavez in an election that he cannot afford to lose.Losing a recall election is the worst possible case scenario for Chavez. A politician can recover from losing a presidential election, a politician cannot recover from a recall election that is a direct sanction on the actions of the politician. Having hastily promoted the recall election in January 2003 to put an end to the strike, Chavez is now trapped and must resort to extreme measures to avoid the referendum. This is what we are seeing now, from judicial treachery, to repression. All great dangers for the country, and the opposition.
 On the national scene
The opposition has strong local leadership.Increases the centralization of the government which deliberately starves of resources the local communities that do not support its project. The effect on a future fair election is open to question.
It has a fervent following that really think that with Chavez the democratic values of the country have no future. This fills the streets that Chavez cannot fill as easily and at great expense.Sometimes the crowds, becoming more and more exacerbated with the inability to make any headway in removing Chavez from office, are difficult to control. This creates delicate situations such as the long stay of the dissident military on Plaza Altamira or the spontaneous recent street rioting.
The opposition is an eclectic group, vital in ideas and democratic aspirations. It rallies solidly the largest part of the population that want real solutions and not the will of a single man.The lack of a clear front runner, or a coherent organization able to propose real post Chavez programs is seen by some sectors as a weakness that pushes some of these sectors to indifference or back into the arms of Chavez.
On the economical front
No advantage besides the press. Most muscle power has been lost during the general strike of 2002/2003. Must husband its resources carefully as Chavez has free access tot he treasury.The sensitivity of most the media to the authoritarian temptation of the power makes the media give as much support as possible to the opposition, opening both to charges of unfairness by those that do not understand the real workings of the Chavez project.
Stimulates a constant war of cadenas. Costing money to the media, and more money to counteract the free TV exposure of Chavez.
Fervent following. Offers uncounted numbers of volunteers for all the logistics required to mount an effective political challenge.Makes the power nervous. Stimulates all sorts of accusations such as US funding, SUMATE conspiracy, eta... While the government dips freely into PDVSA funds.
On the electoral scene
Consistently strong lead. Consistently hard core support for Chavez. Dialogue is difficult if not impossible.
Chavez has not been able to sustain the charges of signature collection megafraud. Radicalizes the Chavez position and thus increases the dangers of further adventures from this one, adventures that the opposition might not be able to withstand.
On the international scene
It has regained the sympathy of the West and of most of Latin America, what really counts around here.The political adventures of 2002 are still in the memory. Doubts still remain in some international observers.
Allows Chavez to attack the opposition as a servant of "powerful foreign interest" in a cheap nationalistic defense.
The Carter Center and the OAS have all but declared fraud by the Electoral Commission, CNE.Still, there is little that the opposition can do once the international observers declare fraud and leave the country.
Also opens the opposition to cheap nationalistic, even jingoistic attacks from the Chavez camp.
It is now clearly the victim of excessive repression from the government.A government that has crossed the threshold of repression, torture and political prisoners has set foot on a never ending spiral of more and more repression.


Friday, March 12, 2004

 Spain, tonight again


It is hard not to be moved by millions of Spaniards walking under the rain. It is hard keep dry eyes when you read the slogan "The sky is also crying" El cielo tambien llora.

Chavez is treating us to another cadena, the launching of his latest pet project, Mision Vuelvan Caras. Tonight is not the night to address that. The week en is coming and I am stuck alone in San Felipe where I will be able to catch up with all the legalese of the week. But from that cadena I can get two things appropriate to the subject of Spain.

Chavez comes to an old sea side resort, with a bright red shirt, hanging out, hiding is bullet proof jacket. Very appropriate beach wear. At least his labor minister was in t-shirt. He did start trying to look a tad solemn by saying that for his first public outing since last Sunday he wanted to send his condolences to the Spanish people. With a red shirt, a t-shirt dressed minister by the beach, before what will be a lengthy cadena. This is what I said when I wrote that these people have no class.

So I switched to DW, the German cable news who happened to have a show in Spanish with a Colombian journalist among its guest, to discuss of course the events. DW has shows in Spanish and English in addition to their German fare. The Colombian journalist was aptly mentioning that 200 killed in Spain were a big thing now because Spain had tied its fate to Europe. Even if Spain is a second tier power in Europe, it does benefit from its association to the biggies there. In Colombia, far and alone in South America, 200 death in a FARC attack would stir little trouble in Europe. It was very chilling to hear her say that. It was extremely chilling to realize that our chavista apologists know that and are taking this factor into their calculations.

Mucho llorará nuestro cielo.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

 Spain, tonight


This morning I did not get the magnitude of the disaster that struck Madrid in the morning rush hour. I must pay penance tonight as I realize the horror of almost 200 people killed in a series of dastardly explosions that rocked into oblivion the sleepy heads of the morning commuters.

This blog deliberately does not talk about other matters than Venezuela. Not that the rest of the world is uninteresting, but simply because there is not enough time to try to bring a minimum of dedication to more topics than Venezuela. But tonight we are talking of "La Madre Patria", the motherland, the land we are reminded of when we look at our flag where the blue band symbolizes the ocean that separates us from our forbearers, even for those of us that came from elsewhere, or were already here. We all inherited for better or worse the culture and the language that gave us El Quixote or One Hundred Years of Solitude. We all have some soft spot somewhere for turron, paella or a gypsy romance.

Tonight I saw Mexico's Fox on CNN sending his sentiment to the Spanish people, Mexico a country that for yeas had no diplomatic relations with Spain. But there was also Colombia's Uribe or Chile's Lagos. Chavez just sent his foreign minister.

Indeed.

It is regimes with divisive discourses, unkept promises, and with constant mockery of its citizens that create conditions where terrorism can flourish. Once terrorism is there, it is near impossible to eradicate. It does not matter if terrorist are ETA or Al Qaeda, IRA or
FARC. It does not matter. Ask Colombia. Ask Spain.
Reporting on Venezuela news and headlines
Two papers, two views

Thursday 11, March 2004

Today the bevy of articles on Venezuela since troubles began allows me for an interesting comparison between the Washington Post and the New York Times styles. I will give you the result right now: the Post wins, largely.

Let's start with "From Chavez, Divisive Rhetoric (washingtonpost.com)", an article from Jon Jeter in the Post. This article actually comes off as rather sympathetic for Chavez. But it is so because it underscores the strength of Chavez, instead of trying to justify the unjustifiable.
Example:
After returning from a state visit abroad, for example, Chavez has spoken on television using a map and pointer. "He will say this is where I was and it takes X number of hours to travel there by plane from Caracas," Arvelaiz said. "For the rich and the middle class, this is all quite boring because of course they know where Spain is on the map. They think it is stupid. But poor people love this. No one has ever taken the time to explain this to them."

Or later, a simple and fair assessment of the situation:
Monitors from the Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center said they did not see widespread fraud in the referendum process. But the National Electoral Council ruled that many of the forms were improperly completed and that signatures did not match identification numbers. Chavez said many names were of dead people.

Or we can go to the columns of Marcela Sanchez, a rather opinionated writer in the Post. Either her Venezuelans get sacrificed in the blame game or her Hemispheric Inaction Breeds 'Coup de Streets' can be put as examples of expressing a opinion without twisting the facts.

Now let's look at Juan Forero from the New York Times who has been very active these days. I have already criticized the man here quite a lot, and in all truth he is not improving. Perhaps he does not read my blog (nor other blogs as critical of his way of twisting information).

Let's start with Chavez Says U.S. Is Fueling His Enemies. In this article Mr. Forero, who should know better, retakes a canard that I have discussed long ago in this blog. My readers are, it seems, better informed than Mr. Forero himself. You can read:
Endowment aid had fallen to $257,000 in 2000, as political parties and other beneficiaries in Venezuela were left crippled after Mr. Chavez's sweeping victories in elections. Assistance more than tripled to $877,000 in 2001 as political parties reorganized to counter the president. In 2002, aid rose again, to $1.1 million.
and a little bit later:
The documents, obtained by a freelance reporter, Jeremy Bigwood, and posted on the Web site of the Venezuela Solidarity Committee, show that much of the aid benefits political parties and groups leading the recall effort. Those benefiting from assistance include Sumate, a group that has staged signature gatherings for a referendum. It received $53,400 last September.

The question is of course: is the incredible effort made by Sumate attributable to that meager 53,400?

Does Mr. Forero genuinely thinks that with that amount of money one can mount a credible electoral challenge effort in a country of 25 million people. Even with 1.1 million, while we are at it. No. Really, one has to wonder if Mr. Forero is naive and ill informed or if he is trying to give credence to the multiple Chavez campaigns to discredit at any cost whomever opposes him.

But it gets better:
"The government believes it is unacceptable for the United States to be involved in the affairs of Venezuela," said Andres Izarra, a spokesman for the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington.

Somebody that pretends to be as informed as Juan Forero should know better than to quote Mr. Izarra on what is obviously a "standard" reply. Does Mr. Forero know that one of the main complaints of the Venezuelan opposition is the constant intervention of Cuba in Venezuelan affairs, be it from security personel or the Cuban ambassador in many offical events where he is the ONLY ambassador attending?

Eventually at the end Mr. Forero acknowledges that these grants can actually go to pro-Chavez groups that would present proposals promoting political development. But the damage is already done.

Pirate Radio as Public Radio, in the President's Corner is yet another exercise by Mr. Forero where he admires the support given by the Chavez administration to "neighborhood" radio stations, at tax payer money of course. While ignoring again the attacks to the private media, the journalists on the beat, the refusal of Chavez to attend press conferences where he would be questioned over his policies, etc... things that would be totally unacceptable in the US, just to mention the country for which Mr. Forero writes.
Here, 4 key paragraphs of that article:
The message, beamed from a 13-kilowatt station in what was once the storeroom of a housing project, reaches at most a few hundred homes. But Radio Perola is part of a mushrooming chain of small government-supported radio and television stations that are central to Mr. Chavez's efforts to counter the four big private television networks, which paint him as an unstable dictator.

With Venezuela on edge, stations like Radio Perola are poised to play an even bigger role in this oil-rich nation's political battle.

Instead of shutting down his news media tormenters, Mr. Chavez's tactic appears to be to ignore them as much as possible while relying on former ham radio operators and low-budget television stations to get the government's message across.

Although the stations say they are independent and autonomous, Mr. Chavez has announced that $2.6 million would be funneled to them this year. They also will receive technical assistance and advertising from state-owned companies.


Really, Chavez can give 2.4 million to his political allies but the opposition cannot receive 1.1 million from a US foundation open to all, including Pro Chavez groups if they bothered to apply? Where is your sense of proportion Juan?

Mr. Forero, in case you do not know, if I wanted to open a small private community radio station in San Felipe I would be shut up real quick. My equipments would be immediately seized. But if the local chavista bolivarian circle wanted to do so, I bet it would succeed. And get a grant at that.

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Since these links will expire soon, the articles have been posted on my "documents on Venezuela" section.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

More on the internal propaganda campaign in Venezuela
Tuesday 9, March 2004

I was not planning to write today, too tired, too busy. But the mini cadena of Communication's minister Jesse Chacon woke me up. Not for its brilliance, mind you! But for its ridiculousness, if perhaps efficient in some population strata.

Tonight we were treated to another 10 minutes of "real" information. It started with a list of the different forms of violence, a list that I could instantly picture applying to Chavez in ANY of his rabble rousing meetings. The rest was downhill, if possible. It ranged from the psychological damage to children to the "I did not do anything" position of the government these last few days. Apparently it is a much, much worse crime against humanity to burn tires than the crimes that the opposition attributes so unjustly to the National Guard.

But the best was yet to come.

First we had a clip from Globovision (copyright checked out?) where a caller was complaining to a talk show host that Chavez particularly dislike. Whether she was right to complain about her neighbors burning trash to block the street is irrelevant. What was amazing to me was to think that such a criticism call of governmental activities to the state TV VTV is simply impossible!!!!!

Second and better was the recognition that 30 people were under arrest, for "normal crimes, not political crimes". Maybe, but what about the 300+ that were arrested, even if released by know? What about their statements? What about their injuries? What about the 12 that have been killed, and that the government has the audacity to attribute to the opposition itself without even a single shard of hard evidence? What about the 8 that are reported missing?

I hope that somebody is collecting the declarations of Jesse Chacon. These deliberate lies will someday be punished. And perhaps people will realize some day that when a low rank military makes a bloody assault to a TV station, he should not be pardoned, just in case he becomes someday the Communication Minister of the country, in charge of spreading misinformation and find ways to bankrupt private TV to close them.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Chavez propaganda machine rolls in and out of Venezuela
and it hits a few bumps along the way.

The Chavez propaganda machine rolls inexorably, or so it seems. I already pointed out that Aporrea had access to picture taking not available to us bloggers. But apparently Aporrea has also access to pictures of autopsies, just like the TV series CSI. I wonder if that is legal, incidentally, though aware that some people in Venezuela are more legal than others.

Well, Aporrea has a story where one of the victims of the repression was actually shot with a marble. Supposedly the marble would have been shot THROUGH his body by a home made gun. And by an opponent. OK, so what is wrong with this story? And I will spare you the gruesome pics and the link, you can find Aporrea in my table next if you feel like vomiting. What is wrong is that it strains belief that a marble can go through the body of a chubby man, It strains belief that the opposition, accused by Chavez of hoarding who knows what, cannot buy real guns in a country where all is up for sale.

And last, it strains morality that Aporrea specifies that the shot man, Mr. Jose Vila, to hold a Spanish passport . But I should not be surprised, Aporrea is following the stalino-fascist approach of the Defense Minister that I mentioned a couple of days ago (Is Venezuela still my country?).

Meanwhile a clean faced Mr. Izarra was trying to minimize the diplomatic defection from the UN seat held by Milos Alcalay. Mr. Izarra is the son of one of the initial Chavez supporters, who fell into disgrace and now desperately tries to find a job in the administration. The younger Izarra was declaring to CNN as the spokesperson of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. I was not impressed even if he tried to look as cute as possible. For one, his speech was not as fluid and polished as one would wish for such a position (heck! Washington IS THE EMBASSY for any Venezuelan on the diplomatic corps and one would expect the very best there!!!!). But what was worse is that his resentment, his profound dislike of the opposition was shining through his words. Not very diplomatic for a CNN declaration when you are supposed to try to look good.

I heard on Globovision that the Chavez personnel in Spain was trying to make a presentation to the Spanish press, so they would get the "real story". Unfortunately someone else from Venezuela showed up bringing the house down. I do not know really how true is that incident, but it resemble a lot previous such events so I will succomb to the tentation of taking it at face value and not even bother look for references.

A good reference though I lifted from Miguel's blog where a link to the Guardian gives you the complete story of the inexistent Emiliano Chavez that turned out to be alive and well. What is noteworthy here is that the Guardian has been supporting Chavez for quite a while... Times change it seems. And I wonder if the British ambassador reads the Guardian. I am sure the story is circulating in diplomatic circles tonight.

Curiously all of this coincided with an article of the ineffable Juan Forero reporting nicely on "independent media". I understand that the article is on these community media but Forero could not resit the temptation to stick the opposition with a needle or two, while forgetting once again to mention cadenas, for example. I am not even giving the link, it is in today's New York Time and I cannot jump everythime Forero writes. I am starting to think that Chavez has cast some spell on Forero. Who, incidentally forgot to mention the defection of a Cuban that had been assigned to help develop these community radio. If Mr. Forero had done his job right he would have talked with the mainstream media and surely would have found out about this strongest of criticism leveled at community radios financed by Chavez at tax payer money. As Scott points out in Burton Terrace.

But back to cadenas and the propaganda campaign at home. Chavez treated us to a cadena tonight in honor to "international women's day". One of the highlights was saying that today there were more and more women in Venezuela. As if his administration had something to do with it... I kid you not.

Finally the front pages of the two local Yaracuy papers as the way of reporting the news from the huge march, by Yaracuy standards, of yesterday. I have surrounded in red the news attacking Lapi, the Yaracuy governor. I have circled in blue the news of the march that in both case can only be favorable since it was for all to see. Look at the centimeter allotted and decide which is the paper that is pro Chavez and anti Lapi. Quite simplistic an approach, isn't it?

Pictures from the last march in Venezuela
Monday 8, March 2004

Lots of pictures are appearing but I still do not find one that I particulalry like. At least there is this one that illustrates waht I mentioned. The spot where that picture is taken is at least half a mile from where I stopped, not been able to push further as the Libertador avenue was tightly packed.

Yahoo news has a very complete section of pics, and of the repression this week.

Accounting is estimated at over 500 000 marchers but I think that even this number is a little low. The circuits tended to follow narrow streets and many parallel streets were taken by overflowing marchers. I did take the Libertador from the start myself and just in that mile there might have been 40 to 50 000 marchers unaccounted for in the official measuring points.

But the point is not whether there were 500 K or 700 K or the million. the point is that in spite of all the electoral cheating, menaces from Chavez, scare tactics and what not, until starting actual repression last week, this is the biggest protest march this year so far and one of the biggest ones since "trouble" started early 2002. Even if Chavez manages to pull electoral fraud he will never, never, be able to rule Venezuela in a normal way.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Through Venezuela Roads after a week of troubles
No more repression, more marches, electoral "results" and photo fraud

Sunday 7, March 2004

Well, in spite of that promising title the report is that all is quiet. Actually very quiet as week end traffic is significantly lower than expected and I made it back to San Felipe in a record time.

Nothing much to report.

The Yaracuy march today was a big success apparently.

The punition to the diplomatic corps might have backfired earlier than expected as the oppositon has started a series of presentations to groups of ambassadors where they explain the legal fraud made by the CNE, where victims of Nazi-onal Guard abuse are introduced, etc... The difference with the Chavez cadena of Friday? Ambassadors were able to ask all the questions they wanted to, were sitting at a table with water and coffee, were not held hostage. Guess who made a better impression? Considering that the ambassors came to the meeting without a comment speaks volumes.

The CNE has finally given the "results" to the oppostion so that this one can see first hand the evidence of the "observed" signatures. Curiously not all of the signatures have been given!!! The CNE is looking for them... And the CNE really, really dragged its feet on that one. I expect trouble. There are already tales circulating about the CNE defacing forms!!!! Stupid! As if they would dare to do such a thing! Or would they?

El Nacional has made available to the public its gallery of pics from the repression. Look at the first one to see a Nazi-onal Guard smiling as a female Guard beats up a protester that came in peace (there is a video of that scene making a grand world tour!).

Finally, for the humor touch. I did check the chavista site Aporrea. They have THEIR OWN pictures of the march. You can compare them with the cover of El Universal today. Even grainy it is still a winner. Or even mine for that matter!

What is wrong with the Aporrea page, or rather how does their desinformation works?

1- they have aerial pictures!!!! The opposition, nor the media of any kind is allowed to fly over Caracas whenever there is a march from either side. In other words, chavsitas get to ride the choppers of the security police and army to check out what they want. Ah! Fairness!

2- What they want is to check the march at favorable hours. So they can take pictures when people just arrive, gather or after they have left. Anytime but peak time of course.

The evidence:

The third picture (Que decepcion) is taken BEFORE noon, as deduced from the shadows!!! Of coruse "nobody" was there! The people that are there are those arriving from the first of the marches to make it there, and not the biggest one by far. The big ones arrived after 12 noon. I should know, I started from Chuao about the same time of later of when that third pic was taken. But they are so lousy at propaganda that even the "nobody" seen there is about the average size of pro-Chavez marches...

Another good one is the last picture, and never mind the luxurious condo and pool (subliminal messages anyone?). That pic, taken probably at the same time, was the laggard portion of the Santa Fe march. Indeed, as the longest march of them all, it is also the first one to start and it did so before 11 AM. That picture is very close to noon if not even later. The building has a large shadow because it is high on a cliff!!! Look under the bridge and this is more of a noon shadow!!!! Look at the tree shadows!!!

Anyway, this just to amuse you with the mysterious works of the chavista propagandist mind!
A good day in Caracas streets, as Venezuela condemns violation to Human Rights

06/03/2004, real late

Everything went fine in what I think has been one of the biggest marches ever to hit the streets of Caracas, in spite of the scare tactics of the Chavez administration. Plus at least 2-3 more marches inside Venezuela!

I left from the Chuao starting point (El Universal has a simple but cute interactive feature). The attendance was so heavy that we could only make it to the first third of the Libertador Avenue (see map in feature). There we decided to go back. We had a pleasant surprise, the adjacent streets were full of people coming back, as full as if it were a parallel march. I rate this march as perhaps as big as the one in October 2002, that is possibly reaching the million mark. No evaluation has been given yet but the images from a high rise next to the stand on the Libertador Avenue show a really impressive extension, something that chavismo has never been able to create on VTV!

Unfortunately the route did not give me a good vantage point for taking good pictures. I am just putting two, one that gives you an idea of what it is to march in a beautiful Caracas days with the view of the mountains Avila (just leaving Chuao) and another colorful one at the corner of the Solano. At that point, by the way, the march was so packed that half of it split to the Libertador avenue instead of taking the scheduled route through the Solano. Both ways were equally full of people! But to no end as the tightly packed Libertador forced us to return and face the crowdest subway ride I ever had in Caracas.





Amusing note in closing: as I am watching the news I heard the story of Emiliano Chavez. Chavez, the president, in his cadena to the diplomatic corps yesterday mentioned Emiliano has a proof of the megafraude. According to Chavez, Mr. Emiliano Chavez does not exist. TV tonight is showing a live and kicking Emiliano, a nice country man.

Really Hugo, if there is indeed such a megafraud by the opposition, can't your guys get you a more convincing and definitive proof? I know, I know, one cannot get good help these days! Tell me about that!

Meanwhile, what are you going to say to the ambassadors that you held captive for hours?

Saturday, March 06, 2004

A Saturday of marches in Caracas, Venezuela

Saturday 6, March 2004

Today Caracas is marching. This time plenty of folks are coming from other cities too, although some of them have had marches yesterday and some will do tomorrow (there is a big one in Yaracuy scheduled for tomorrow 10 AM). Today I am in Caracas. Below I have borrowed El Nacional diagram of the march. Thus people can see how things work out here on march days. You can see the different starting points, the info of time and security, the rallying point, etc... I am scheduled to leave from point C, Chuao though I might still switch to Parque Cristal, point B, depending on which group of people I end up going with. It is still too early to make a decision.



Chavismo is of course trying to minimize the impact. VTV is transmitting declarations from the female Nazi-onal Guards saying all sorts of incredible things. I hope for them that they are deliberate liars, because the other explanation is that they are brainwashed. Chavismo again organized a megamercado, that is, the usual subsidized goods market that appears at Avenida Bolivar whenever the opposition calls for a big march, transforming these marches indirectly into a big social program... The contradictions of chavismo!!! And of course in the scare tactics at Plaza Morelos, close by the Libertador rallying point, they set up an "event" in the hope of scaring people further as they might think that Lina Ron hordes might be close at hand.

But at the end it will all be a show to "prove" to their followers that the opposition march will have been a failure. I am sure that right now they are filming the incipient gathering of people and show it as if taken at the peak time of noon. Just watch out for the shadows on the VTV signal and you will see...

See you tonight, hopefully with a couple of nice pictures! I trust the there will be no violence. It would be very negative for Chavez to have a single injury today! Specially after yesterday's "punition" to the diplomatic corps!

Friday, March 05, 2004

A tense Friday in Venezuela, marches in preparation and a double Chavez cadena

Friday 5, March 2004

Tough day today, at least on our patience as still no word on the what will happen to the stolen signatures.

Meanwhile the opposition prepares a big march for tomorrow and many people are coming from deep inside Venezuela. I decided to stay although there is a march in Yaracuy that I will miss on Sunday. Really, for once that Yaracuy has some real action with a Governor declaring himself in civil disobedience. But I am here in Caracas and we are marching to the Avenida Libertador, the scene of February 27 disaster. Thus tomorrow I will not be able to cover events as I will take part of them. As I guess that Miguel will also march, our readers will have to wait and hope for a quiet day. I think it will, the government will not have the stomach to attack us tomorrow.

Still, this does not stop the government from trying to scare us away from marching, with what can only be qualified as childish attitudes. Two were downright stupid, one from the security vice minister confusing declarations on possible security breaches tomorrow. The other one a last minute decree suspending all bearing arms permits for 10 days. The real reason behind that one is probably elsewhere, since putting a gun in somebody's car during arrest will be enough to have a legal way to jail them. Civil rights and justice are not paramount these days.

But the crown goes to president Hugo Chavez. Deeply stung by the recent European Union criticism, and other countries too, he summoned all ambassadors for a long, long speech that we got in cadena, not only at noon time, but also tonight as a repeat performance. The thing that lasted about two hours was a series of unfounded accusations, manipulations, complaints, etc, etc... Nothing really unusual from Chavez who already blew a fuse last Sunday. But it seemed so petty as all the ambassadors stoically sat through the ordeal. Only a very few of them applauded politely at the end, and perhaps half a dozen sincerely, including of course the Cuban cheer leader.

But the discourse to the ambassadors was not directed at them, not even to their government. It was directed at Chavez followers, to show that he could browbeat ambassadors and foreign powers at will. This is actually insulting for the Chavez followers that do not know better, that do not know that Ambassadors are trained to deal with the most unsavory regimes on earth. Cheap, very cheap retaliation which can only alienate even further other countries. And also a confession on how weak the international position of Chavez has become.

There was an interesting detail though, the show of clips from the movie (and I carefully do not use the word documentary) "the revolution will not be televised". The ambassadors know very well what that movie is all about. Again, the targeted audience is not the diplomatic corps, it is the chavista emotional core, to justify for them the violence of these days as a pay off from the April 2002 violence. It is one way to get all networks to transmit the movie again, twice in a day. For purely propaganda purposes. And some people still wonder as to why the private media is so opposed to Chavez....

Quite a way to build a country Hugo!

To finish for tonight. At least we got a very good, very clear editorial from the Washington Post that I reproduce below completely. Compare that one to the New York Times. Somebody should tell the NYT that it is getting a beating on Venezuela reporting, and not only from the Post.

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Coup by Technicality

Friday, March 5


LATE LAST YEAR 3,448,747 of Venezuela's 24 million citizens turned out in just four days to sign petitions calling for a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez. This extraordinary civic exercise, monitored by observers from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, offered a democratic solution to years of political conflict in that important oil-producing nation -- trouble that threatened to push Venezuela into dictatorship or civil war. Now Mr. Chavez, whose crackpot populism and authoritarian methods provoked the crisis, blatantly seeks to stop the vote, in violation of his commitment to both the OAS and his own constitution. His actions have already prompted a new wave of unrest across the country, including demonstrations in which at least seven people have been killed. Unless he can be restrained, Mr. Chavez may complete his destruction of one of Latin America's most enduring democracies.

Though the constitution, drawn up under Mr. Chavez's own administration, requires 20 percent of all voters to back a referendum, opposition groups collected 1 million signatures more than should have been needed for the recall vote. These signatures were rigorously audited by a nonpartisan civic group before being forwarded to the electoral commission. Yet, after delaying its response for weeks, the commission, dominated by Mr. Chavez's supporters, rejected 1.6 million of them, or nearly half the total. To do so, it invented requirements that didn't previously exist. Most notably, it threw out 876,000 signatures, each accompanied by a thumbprint, because someone other than the voter had entered registration details on the petition.

Mr. Chavez's functionaries subsequently announced that they would give about a million of those stricken from the list a chance to restore their names -- but only if they appear in a limited number of registration centers during one two-day period. In practice, that poses a next-to-impossible logistical challenge to the opposition, even if there were no harassment from Mr. Chavez's police and civilian goon squads. But attempts by the foreign mediators to reverse this Kafkaesque coup have so far been unsuccessful.

Mr. Chavez, who has built a strong alliance with Cuba's Fidel Castro and imported thousands of Cuban personnel, appears eager for a domestic and international confrontation. Last weekend he called President Bush an "illegitimate" president, referred to him with a vulgar epithet and threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States. Opposition leaders say that more than 300 people have been arrested in recent days, and that some have been tortured. Given the Bush administration's weak position in the region, hope for a peaceful or democratic solution rests mostly with Venezuela's Latin American neighbors, starting with Brazil. If Mr. Chavez continues to deny his people a democratic vote, leaders from those nations must be prepared to invoke the Democracy Charter of the OAS and threaten him with the isolation reserved for autocrats.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Is Venezuela today still my country?

I needed to take a short break in my writing as I could not digest more news or report them with a minimum of accuracy. Today as I looked around and reflected on recent events I wondered what had happened to the country I grew up in.

I was born shortly before democracy came to Venezuela. I have never known anything else in Venezuela. Sure, there were occasional abuses, sure there was corruption, sure a few people disappeared, sure justice was too often missing, but sure we never went through what went in EVERY South American country during these years. Ecuador and Bolivia were continually wrecked by coups. Peru went from a leftist dictatorship to a rightist one. Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil lived through horrendous regimes of death and torture. Colombia has been continuously wrecked by violence and larval civil war. Paraguay had a life long El Surpremo. Even thinly populated Guyana and Suriname run into civil turmoil.

But Venezuela had escaped horror in such scale, at least until February 27 1989. And even if we put together that day, the February 4 and November 29 1992 coups together with the guerilla violence of the 60ies, we were still way proportionately behind of whatever happened in any of the other sibling countries.

This is all over now. For the first time since 1958 Venezuela has experienced actual deliberate political prosecution, politically generated violence, political willful division of society. As I write these lines I learned of yet another death in Zulia, a woman shot in the back by an Army rifle. I learned of more arrests, of more truant judges replacing ?lenient judges? refusing to validate the abusive arrests. For the seventh day in a row an excessive number of powerful tear gas bombs have been launched. For the seventh day in a row people must go to the emergency rooms because they are fed up with a system that ignores their just claims. And I mean claims, plural.

Inasmuch as the score is terrible, it only states part of the story. Because the psychological rend to our social fabric is even worse. And I am not even talking to the aggravation of class division that the present government has undertaken instead of trying to mend fences, to unite us, to improve with real methods the fate of the ones that fell by the wayside.

I am talking about my neighborhood getting ready for a home made insurrection. I am talking about myself watching Venezuelan housewives, teenagers putting gasoline in empty beer bottles to throw at Venezuelan soldiers. I am talking about myself wondering whether they were right in their protest. I resent having had to try to judge my neighbors.

I am talking about the people that are tricked into coming to shot at people that are filling up these beer bottles. I am talking about these people that ride the motorbikes that were used to pay them off to do such deeds. I am talking about these public servants that somehow have been induced into violating their conscience to terminate any trace of our imperfect civility.

I resent having to think about how we are going to have to repair all this mess.

But I am talking of even worse things. I am talking about a defense minister that this morning on TV tries to downgrade a noted journalist, Marta Colomina, by reminding his captive audience that she was not born in Venezuela, that she should respect the country that has condescended to shelter her. Even though she spent all of her life in Venezuela since she arrived as a little girl, married in Venezuela, raised Venezuelan children.

I am talking about the fascist language used by a loser who became defense minister through servility. I am talking about the kind of language that arrested commies, and then Jews, and then gays, and then Poles. I am talking about a language that beats up women, and democrats, a language that will arrest foreigners, and then the children of foreigners, and then the neighbors that it does not like, and then, and then, and then.

Minister Garcia Carneiro, I am the son of foreign immigrants that have given their lives to Venezuela. What are you making of MY country? How long do I have to wait for you to come and get me?

Caracas, March 4, 2004

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