Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The way we were: Caracas was, Kiev is

A faithful reader sent me this post from another blog, Power Line.

Basically the writer of this blog reflects on the elation of the crowds in Kiev, thinking that they might overthrow what has become an odious system to them. The reader who sent me that link writes: "I recognize it only because I have read your blog, Daniel." Well, I am not sure my blog was that eloquent but I chose to reply in public because the reader raised, without knowing perhaps, an excellent question: whatever happened to those elated crowds that were seen in Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo and even Barquisimeto?

Indeed two years ago we thought that we would get rid of the regime that is morally corrupting our country to a level that we could not imagine. And we had already quite a lot of moral corruption going on! But the difference between Ukraine and Venezuela is that in Venezuela we had a ruthless thug in office sitting on a pot of gold. Two years of maneuvering, of cheating, of vote buying, eventually paid off. And the happy crowds are gone, with a disparities country where on the eve of December first there is very little Christmas cheer in the air. My building used to be all decked up by December first. This is going the third year in a row where little or no Christmas decoration will be set up. The amazing thing is that the supporters of the morally corrupt leadership are not very cheerful themselves. They "won" everything but one would not know from their faces. Victory while cheating does not taste as good, just as on occasion the doped athletes can be detected just by the face they make when they win their race.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Hebraica raid after shocks

Well, according to the president of the Hebrew community in Caracas nothing was found inside the Hebraica club/school.

Now we are waiting to know the reasons for the raid. Meanwhile the political fallout from that raid is not pretty. Besides the expected complaints from the Hebrew community, sure to bring international attention, we saw a rather decomposed Diosdado Cabello, now governor of Miranda, declaring as the MVR chief after some reunion they had today where it seems that they felt the heat of criticism from the heavy handed ways used in the investigation of Danilo Anderson death, investigations which have yielded so far a few more deaths (two more today) and arrests and what not, but no clear explanation about anything.

Chavez's vacations, other people's nightmares

Let's try to follow the journey.

In Spain Chavez leaves a governmental crisis that will require the Prime Minister to postpone his trip to Russia in order to attend a crucial questions and answers session in parliament to defend his Foreign Minister. I wonder if Rodriguez Zapatero will be asked how come he received Chavez while his tour included Russia, Libya, and Iran. What does this say about Spanish diplomacy? Is this a reflection on Spain’s democratic values?

That same Prime Minister would have followed Chavez in Russia. While there Chavez rekindled the arms race in South America by buying weapons that are more likely to be turned against the Venezuelan people than the Colombian border. This did not stop him to meddle in Ukrainian internal affairs by declaring that the elections were clean. Chavez would have never accepted any foreign leader express in such terms on Venezuelan elections. But of course, El Supremo can. He does not even need to send his own observers. He knows.

Then he trotted on to Iran, another model theocracy, err.. democracy. While hanging there, in one of the most anti Israel countries, Chavez's police raids the Colegio Hebraica, the Jewish private school in Caracas. At 6:30 AM 25 security cops got into the school just a children started to arrive for the day. What? The Mossad is hiding in a Jewish social club/school of Caracas to plan the assassination of Danilo Anderson?

Which is the next country in Chavez agenda? Somebody should warn them and their neighbors.

Kiev! Caracas! Même combat!

The title of this post (Kiev, Caracas, same struggle) refers to one of the best known French rally cries. Equivalent in vibrant intensity to the Spanish "Fulanito! El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido!"

Because the more I look at Ukraine the more I think about Venezuela. Putin and Chavez are the same type of rascals, presiding over the same type of political system. If you have any doubts you can read this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal.

The analogy is not lost on Venezuelan cartoonist. Rayma brilliantly ties up the seasons greetings with the parallel into the cold and warm despots.



While one kid wants a sophisticated violent toy (an allusion to the violence that is creeping within our society?) the other one wants Santa to bring an "Ukrainian opposition" to Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Regional Elections of 2004: The Summary

Over the past month I have been looking in detail at some of the results of the Venezuelan regional elections and tried to make sense of them, to see how they could help explain the coming political developments and perhaps to perceive a little bit what the future has in stock for Venezuela. Now, with the Merida results posted I think that I have covered all that I wanted to cover. It is time to tie all together and reach a conclusion on these electoral episodes. There are other things worth writing about.

In the following post I will summarize the several texts I wrote. The links of the specific result analysis will be included. To this blogger knowledge this rather long assay and the posts it refers too are the most complete analysis that can be found around. I mean, soon there will be books written on this stuff by people that really know what they are talking about, but for the time being I hope that this effort will help the English language folks get a better understanding of where does Venezuela stands. To simplify reading I have split and tagged this text so people can read only the sections that interest them if they wish. As usual, I have written all of this stuff to the best of my knowledge and I am willing to edit it if significant new information is brought for.



The Results and the factors affecting them, a quick overview


Abstention

Chavez support

Good and bad candidates

The AD divisive factor

The electoral system


The immediate consequences


The end of decentralization


The recomposition of political parties


The future?


Chavismo prospects

The opposition prospects


Conclusion



The Results and the Factors affecting them, an overview

As could have been predicted from the loss of August 15 in the referendum, a divided and dispirited opposition lost much more ground in Ocotober than what it should have lost. If there are real reasons to think that electoral fraud was committed on August 15 for the Recall Election on Chavez, the collapse of the opposition and the unprecedented use of public monies in an electoral campaign have created a favorable situation for a chavista victory on October 31. Only in Carabobo it seems that irregularities were committed, but the lock on the judicial and electoral systems by the partisans of Chavez ensures that no objective investigation will take place.

If the causes of the opposition major set back are clear, they did not played everywhere as one would have expected. Regional factors as usual in this type of elections exerted quite a role. [top]

Abstention

The two main national issues for the opposition electorate were abstention and division within its ranks. These played mostly in Caracas, affecting the results of Metro Area and Miranda state by ricochet.

Interestingly the pro Chavez electors were as heavily abstentionist, if not more, than the opposition electors all over the country. Remarkable considering the performance of August 15, and raising a few questions as to their real motivation if indeed the numbers of August 15 are to be trusted.

One general observation in the provinces is that abstention tended to affect as much each side. Thus the hope that one could have had to verify the possibility of fraud in August through the results of October has been dashed. Only in Zulia one can detect a real anomaly in the voter allotment between August and October. [top]

Chavez support

In two states, Yaracuy and Cojedes, abstention was comparable to the abstention in the recall election. In Yaracuy in particular the sitting governor, Eduardo Lapi, recouped a significant amount of the votes apparently lost in August. This will stand as the testimony that a strong local leadership with hard work to its account could have withheld the red tide if the opposition had its act together. Yaracuy is one of the sorriest losses for the opposition and an undeserved one. As such it does demonstrate more than anywhere else that local chavista candidates often won because Chavez supported them rather than by any merit that they might have had themselves.

That Chavez support was a key factor in winning is clear not only in Yaracuy, but at least in Carabobo, Trujillo, Tachira, Lara, and Bolivar, either for the victory of the new governor or for the fat margin that had nothing to do with the sitting governor merits. Of the local preexisting leaders supporting Chavez, only a few can boast that their reelection is due more to their work than to Chavez who only inflated their victory margin: Aragua, Guarico, and Cojedes. There is one notable exception and it is Miranda where Diosdado Cabello hard work during the campaign was at least as important as any Chavez support to unseat Mendoza. In one case, Anzoategui, it seems that all the negative factors of the opposition and the positives of Chavez played to seat Tarek Williams Saab as the new governor. [top]

Good and bad candidates

As usual the candidates running for office explain quite a lot the result. The opposition not only quite often did not present the best possible candidate, often preferring the old cronies of the past in order to ensure unity, but its division in some areas did not help at all. Merida was a striking example of a state where the opposition went divided with two bad candidates. The result was a disaster. But other states also had bad nominations: Falcon, Guarico, Sucre, Anzoategui, and even Bolivar and Tachira could be considered as states where different options might have been desirable.

However chavismo did name candidates that were rather deficient in merits, such as in Yaracuy, Nueva Esparta, Vargas, Trujillo, and most spectacularly Zulia. In this state all the might of Chavez, all the electoral pressures, all the monies spread right and left were not enough. The sitting governor Manuel Rosales was able keep his seat and reverse the Recall Election result. [top]

The AD division factor

There is one factor that appears to have played a major role all along, even if rather unheralded, in particular by chavismo whose secret aim might be to make AD the "official opposition". Old Accion Democratica on the week of August 16 decided to drop the fraud claim that its leader made on the early hours of the 16. At some point, in a decision that would be heavy in implications, AD decided to try its luck at the regional elections. Most, if not all of the divisions within the opposition were due to the intractability of AD. This stubbornness has been an essential factor, if not the essential factors in the losses of Yaracuy, Caracas, Merida, Apure, Trujillo, Lara and Anzoategui, and countless cities and districts such as in Caracas Libertador. It is to be noted that most of the "coalitions" that AD entered were with Copei and/or the MAS, but rarely with regional parties or new and coming movements. [top]

The Electoral system

Finally there is one item that should not be forgotten.

The present electoral system favors greatly the winner, in a paradoxically unjust way as it is supposed to allow "representation of the minorities". Venezuela used to have a semi proportional system to distribute legislative votes and a winner take all single round balloting for the executive posts. But the modifications added in the 90ies, enshrined and exaggerated in the 1999 constitution, make that now with around 20% of the actual electorate, chavismo gets 20 out of 22 states plus the Caracas Metropolitan area.

To this, one can add many of the irregularities committed by the CNE, one notable one being the update of the electoral registry of voters. No serious auditing of the new voters were made in spite of continuous opposition claims. It is difficult to asses the complete effect of such irregularities but it seems that evidence of these can be seen in the results of Zulia, Yaracuy and Carabobo for example, not to mention many town halls that could change hands by an astute gerrymandering of the electoral registry, as probably AD knows by now. [top]

The Immediate Consequences

The end of decentralization

The first victim of these elections and the desire of people to submit themselves to Chavez is the predictable end of decentralization. All important decisions now will be taken from Caracas. If anyone doubts this, it is enough to see that Chavez gathered all his governors behind closed doors at Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas. Organizing a reunion so soon in a military base is quite a symbol: Chavez is the one giving all their marching orders. And it could not be otherwise: except for Didalco Bolivar from Aragua all of them owe their job to Chavez. [top]

The recomposition of political parties

AD is the first victim of the electoral defeat. It played its hand recklessly and lost all but a handful of cities. The only gain it can show is the governorship of Nueva Esparta where the victor does not even control the state legislature.

The regional factors did well, but not well enough. With a central power such as it will be set up from Caracas regional parties face a bleak future. It remains to be seen what a handful of town halls can do for their recovery and an eventual return to office. The death of decentralization will have a major effect on regional groups, even if Chavez were to leave office by choice in 2006. Decentralization is a long process, recentralization can be quite fast if the new governors become accomplices.

It is to be noted that what could have been qualified as "regional" pro Chavez groups such as PODEMOS or the PPT have been incorporated in the chavista machinery and there is no way to judge their actual significance. Thus one cannot even count on them as a regional voice in Caracas as they know that their tenure is at Chavez sufferance. Even the notable exception, Didalco Bolivar, is barred from running again in 2008 and PODEMOS will probably disappear from Aragua absorbed by the central MVR who, within Bolivar's coalition, already outvoted 3 to 1 PODEMOS! [top]

The Future?

Chavismo prospects

Venezuela is returning to the 60ies and even earlier when the president named the governors at will. They might have been elected this time but 20 out 22 governors know perfectly well that they cannot go against Chavez will. They certainly do agree with him, of course, but who knows what they will do when the interests of the region enter in conflict with the interests of chavismo in Caracas. Will they act as elected governors or appointed ones?

As it always happened through history when a political movement gains too much power, it starts making mistakes and, if necessary, a new opposition eventually will generate from its own ranks. Chavismo in 2002 was plagued with dissentions as it lost its comfortable 2/3 majority in the National Assembly. It also lost two governors, Bolivar and Anzoategui, before recovering them last month. There is no telling what can happen there as internal competition for the booty of the high oil price comes to play among too many interests. [top]

The opposition prospects

The lack of regional resources and trained public administrators is certainly going to affect the recovery of the opposition as a credible alternative in the future. The new opposition leadership will now emerge from strict political background rather than from tested administrators. It is difficult to see how good governors such as Salas and Lapi could become national leaders able to
challenge Chavez. This will even be more dramatic for AD who was lacking a credible presidential candidate for 2006 or 2012. AD was probably counting on training a couple of governors or big cities mayors for these dates; the one from Nueva Esparta will not do.

Still the road ahead for the opposition is quite clear. If one gathers the results of Lapi, Salas and Primero Justicia one gets a significant group of electors, several potential leaders, experience, and crucial coverage in 2 out of the 5 industrial states plus Caracas. Also there is significant potential in enough states to build a credible challenge sooner than expected.

The key for the opposition is in Zulia where his reelected governor, Manuel Rosales, is the de facto leader of the opposition. AD could try to bring him back to the fold as Rosales used to belong to AD until 1999. But the bet is that this one would only do so if AD surrenders to him. Highly improbable even if AD needs him more than what he needs them. On the other hand if Rosales could find a way to make at least an electoral alliance with the other groups of the opposition he could even run in 2006 and hope for at the very least 40% of the vote, better than Salas Römer in 1998 and Arias in 2000. After all, a 2006 campaign against Chavez cannot possibly be any worse than what he just went through.

As for the rest. We have seen AD collapse. The MAS also collapsed as did Copei though it did manage somehow to hold to some small town halls here and there. The MAS and other social democrat groups issued from chavismo dissidence would be well advised to fuse and try to salvage something at the legislative elections of 2005. Perhaps even with AD in an electoral alliance. A 25% is not impossible in a fair election. Copei faces the dilemma to go to AD or go to the regional parties described earlier, who are in a way issued from Copei when it failed to become a modern center-right party such as those of Europe, instead choosing a slightly modified version of AD populism to reach office. But Copei has espoused all the defaults of AD and seems as unable as this one to proceed to the necessary aggiornamento, something that will doom it to a final extinction. [top]

Conclusions

With the regional elections chavismo and Chavez have completed a political cycle. Debating whether the recall election of August 15 was a honest election has become an useless exercise. No matter what, Chavez has won the battle and the opposition must lick its wounds and see what it can do with itself. Certainly pressing claims of fraud can be useful for many reasons, the main one of them being to try to obtain in the future clean elections, something which today is simply impossible in the view of the scandalous partiality of the Electoral Board, CNE, towards Chavez. Not to mention the even more scandalous partiality of the judicial system.

The sad fact for the opposition leadership is that in mid 2003 it would have won any election against Chavez. But the actions undertaken by the Chavez administration with great energy since the strike of December 2002 have granted him a near miracle considering his poor management of the country in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Eventually his outrageous populism and demagoguery have paid of. Not to mention his reckless contempt for the law, a law used only for cosmetic purposes, pure formalisms as the administration uses any resource available to ensure its perpetuation in office.

The task of the opposition will be made even more difficult. The apparent choice for repression instead of dialogue made by the regime ensures that it will be extremely difficult for the opposition to be able to offer a credible challenge. Like George Bush in the US, Chavez is sure to use nationalism, defense against "terrorism", to pass any law it sees fit, but in Chavez's case, to ensure his power hold for as long as he can away with it. The "gag" law and the new judicial law are only the first steps. The recent events will allow for the passage of even more stringent laws. Not to mention the reversal of important High Court decisions already announced.

Now the recent polls show that Chavez indeed recovered his lead. Maybe it is because Venezuelans like to bet on winners even if if they are distasteful. Maybe Venezuelans are tired of such confrontation and have decided to surrender to authoritarianism and populism once again. It remains that the opposition leadership has failed. It has failed to convey its message and actually made things worse by not being prepared for a possible loss in August. It has failed to offer resistance when it claimed fraud. It has failed to unite when it was more critical. It has lost all the tenuous protections that it still offered its followers in some states and towns. Now the country belongs to Chavez.

It is time that those that are the most responsible for such debacle leave the front scene and let a younger generation, often critical of their deeds along the way, to take over and see if it can come up with something new and more effective. It should not be too daunting, chavismo is full of seeds for its own demise for those who know how to grow them. [top]


Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Venezuelan Regional elections of 2004: AD’s collapse in Merida

If in Zulia chavismo lost due a very poor electoral strategy and a completely inadequate candidate, the opposition sometimes committed a few bungles of its own when picking its candidates. Merida is such an example.

The Merida situation prior August 15

Outside of Caracas and Zulia the city of Merida, the capital of the same name state, was a hot bed of the anti-Chavez movement. During the first semester of 2004 Merida witnessed large riots. The University of Los Andes, hence a progressive university gave chavismo a major set back when the internal elections yielded a new Rector from the opposition, with a very large vote. All seemed to point out that Merida state was a more than likely pick for the opposition.

But chavismo did campaign hard in the small villages hidden in the mountains, and too neglected for too long. The contrast between the modern and vibrant city of Merida and its quaint and touristy hinterland came to view when the SI lost in Merida, although by a not too severe 176 thousand NO to a150 thousand for the SI.

The gubernatorial campaign

In the 2000 elections the AD candidate William Davila lost barely to the Chavez candidate Porras. That election was denounced as a fraudulent but the case never was settled and amazingly Porras went through his term with that albatross on him. Davila was in a way the poster boy of the possible electoral fraud. However that did not stop AD and him to feud to the point of AD expelling him! As a result AD decided to go solo in Merida while Davila as an intractable “victim” set its own electoral effort.

I do remember in a visit that I did about a year ago to Merida talking to a few people. The impression I gathered was that Porras was not liked, should loose the election, but Davila was not too liked himself. It seemed to me that Davila could beat Porras but it could be easier if there was another candidate. No one thought that AD should run on its own. Well, this is what happened, AD decided to run its own candidate and to forget about a unique front.

The resuts

Sure enough it turned out to be a disaster for the opposition. I am not too sure what happened in Merida, nor how the campaign was conducted, but from afar it seems that the election was more of a feud between AD and its most known dissident. Both bit the dust badly.


Merida

Vote Governor

AD coalition 35
AD only 23
Ex AD gov. 48 Vote List
Total Opposition 87
69.7
SI vote 150 80%
Vote loss 42%
MVR coalition 136
121
NO vote 176 89%
Vote loss 22.7%


What is most noteworthy to observe is that Porras through his MVR coalition got 136 K votes, only 22.7% below the NO vote of August. A much better record than for example the Zulia result. On the other hand the opposition together lost 42% of the SI vote!!! Here the abstention is most certainly due to a disgust for the offered choices than to any Caracas driven abstention movement.

In another detail, within the AD coalition AD only gets 2/3 of the votes, 23K. And the coalition is beaten badly 48 to 35K by the dissident Davila! Belandria’s AD got ONLY 10.4% through AD and only 15.5% of the total votes cast for his coalition (note: abstention was 48.5%). This is really a major defeat for AD in a state where it thought it could win. The miscalculation of AD seems just unbelievable!

The division within AD must have been so unpalatable to the electorate, and must created such a havoc within the electoral machinery of the opposition that even in the vote list for the state legislature one can observe that the MVR coalition gathered 89% of the votes it got for governor, which is quite good. The opposition total was only 80%, with the normal consequences as to the composition of the state legislature: Porras will have NO opposition legislators!


A picture is worth a thousand words

I could not resist making this picture montage. One from El Nacional, one from Tal Cual via Globovision and the last one from Union Radio.

The picture on the front page of El Nacional raises quite a few questions. On that picture you can see as Otoniel Guevara, just arrested as a suspect in the many facets of the Anderson affair, is taken into custody.




Two days earlier the parents of Lopez Castillo were taken into custody themselves. Two elderly people, handcuffed to each other. A very visible security threat. Even though the old lady is allowed to keep her hand bag (where a small grenade could well be hidden) and the elderly gentleman is carrying a bottle (that could well be a Molotov coktail).

Now, why such a different treatment? These two people had just lost their only child a few hours before (note that they still manage to wear dark clothing). The above one used to be a "colleague" in the security forces of Venezuela.

So Jesse? Any logical explanation?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Supreme Hypocrite on Ukraine

El Supremo strikes again. Leaving Russia he declared that in Ukraine there are interferences from the West. In other words, Chavez is doing EXACTLY what he is complaining about, intervening in other people's business.

Where were the Venezuelan observers in Ukraine?
What does he need to speak about that while IN Russia? Why does he need to speak about that HIMSELF for that matter?

Again, Chavez has that unique knack to justify his critics ASAP. Indeed, he went to give a hand to his good old friend Putin to ensure his domination over the remains of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps Chavez is wrong, he does not need to get inside the Internationale Socialiste as it was indicated while in Spain. What he needs is to create the Internationale Autocrate. He got his first member during this trip.

Saturday roundup: news and Venezuelan Christmas music

I was somewhat too tired to post anything for the last two days, except for the Turkey Day best wishes. But news of course never rest. Fortunately in the blogosphere there are always people to pickup the slack.

Chavez in Russia, with Ukraine in my mind

Nothing really much to comment there. The same anti US speech, ant neo-liberalism, anti-whatever-as-long-as-it-makes–me-popular-while-I-keep-doing-exactly–the-contrary-at-home. In Russia this is nice as there are enough left over of the Ancien Regime to fill up auditoriums. Except that this time there is a twist.

South of the border Ukraine is a real mess as the opposition has refused to recognize the election results. Well, even the EU and the US refuse to recognize it. I have not bothered to check what was the position of the Carter Center. Some would like us to think that the Putin press conference with Chavez had for only objective a “you accepted his electoral fraud in August, so now you are going to accept my electoral fraud in Ukraine”. Other muse about what chronicle would have been written if Mendoza (and AD I must add since they sabotaged the whole thing) would have taken to the streets on August 16. And another wonder how the Venezuelan crisis would have occured had there been more Ukrainian immigration in Venezuela.

What is certain is that Putin has been doing pretty much what Chavez is doing in Venezuela (though more efficiently it seems) and that the world is not too upset about this. After all, when was real democracy ever present in Russia? Might as well keep going unless some nut head gets a finger on the missile launch button. What is amazing is that Chavez apparently has convinced folks that he is some liberator of an opprobrious regime whose main fault is having been democratic enough to let him reach power. We’ll see if anyone reaches power pacifically and democratically under Chavez…

The Danilo Anderson case

Things are so confusing, people shot at right and left, weird connection appearing, people found in garbage dumps all alive and tied up and what not. The more I look at this the more I think that the whole mess has nothing to do with terrorism but with an accounting episode between gangs. The only problem is that some of the gangs in this mafia-like bad movie have access to the fire power of the public administration and complacent prosecutors and judges. Miguel, fresh from his Thanksgiving vacation dares to have a look at the work of the Devil in the whole thing.


Christmas Music

And all of this is typed as I am listening to the most exquisite Venezuelan Christmas Music CD ever issued, in my very humble opinion. “El Cuarteto en Noche Buena” is an adaptation of traditional Venezuelan seasonal music (though it includes “What Child is this?”, now Humanity Patrimony I suppose).

El Cuarteto is a quartet for Bass, Flute, Guitar and Cuatro, instruments uniquely important in Venezuelan popular music (well, the Harp is missing but we cannot have it all, can we?). El Cuarteto has made a brilliant career in refreshing all the traditional Venezuelan Music, and when it hit the Christmas repertoire, well, it was jackpot. Whether you are Christian or Jew or Whatever including Agnostic like yours truly, if you have any link with Venezuela you will not be able to resist the charm of this CD. All the light of Christmas, and I mean it beyond the decorations lights as December and January have the most limpid and soft skies of the year, all the Venezuelan spirit of the season could not be better encapsulated. If your heart does not swell when you listen their rendition of Navidad Nuestra, or Simon Diaz singing El Niño del Avila, or the Niño Lindo version ending the CD, then there is something wrong with you.

El Cuarteto en Noche Buena
Manufactured by Corporación Optilaser.
FD2522001867
el_cuarteto@cantv.net
fax: +58 212762 12 69

Possible international merchants:
Flute World
Apio Music
MP3 and stuff

The Google search


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Radio announcement

In theory, tomorrow, Friday, at 11 AM during a half hour radio program on 100.7 FM this blog will be mentioned in a discussion over the blog phenomenon.

The show is not about politics, just about how blogs are becoming a media phenomenon. I am one of the persons talking so readers can get to hear my voice. That is, if you are in Caracas. That radio station is not on Internet, nor does it goes outside of Caracas. It is a pre-recorded show, no callers, sorry.

PS: and the moderator is Milagros Socorro.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I realized this morning that my last night post is actually dated on Thursday. I would have preferred it would not as I meant to start the day by wishing a happy turkey day to the US readers of this blog (the US is more than 50% of the readership!).

I wish I could eat turkey today instead of reading real turkey stories on the front pages of Venezuelan newspapers. Oh well...

And for those who follow ALL traditions, good luck at the malls tomorrow :-)



An agitated newsy day in Venezuela

Quite a lot of activity today. And not much time to discuss them in detail. So there I go, in no particular order of importance.

The human touch

The killed lawyer yesterday, Mr. Lopez, happened to be the son of a long ago prominent politician in Venezuela, Haydee Castillo, the first woman finance minister, and a senator for Copei. This was in the 1968-1973 period of Caldera. Well, as the body of her son laid in an ardent chapel, she was taken with her husband for declarations about some explosives found in her house (her son was a known weapon supporter, NRA style it seems). I am not sure if the old couple that was walking in grief the stairs to the tribunal was playing Arsenic and Old Lace, but Public Relation wise I hope for the government that they are indeed guilty of complicity with their son weapon manipulations . Because the spectacle of an elderly couple kept away from their son's coffin will remain in the minds of many, as quite an abuse of power. Incidentally, there are already questions about how the search was done, without a prosecutor present, no witness for quite along time, enough to seed the joint. We'll see.

The Anderson's assassination investigation and other after shocks

A lot of stuff going on. I will write on that again at a later date once I have processed some of the information. Suffice to say that it is quite a circus as far as I can tell.

The gag law approved

Well, that is, the "gag law" has finally been approved with the nay vote of all the opposition. On the good side it will not be approved immediately since it requires a rule book to be voted by the National Assembly within 6 months. Conceivably the opposition could gather a few % signatures to ask for a referendum to overturn the law before it is actually applied. After the bitter experience of a totally biased CNE last year one wonders who will have the stomach to face the scorn and abuse of Jorge Rodriguez (who by the way in the VTV TV show of Vanessa Davies this week gave an ample demonstration of what a jerk he is as even Vanessa sort of wondered aloud about his excesses, which he promptly dismissed. I never cease to be amazed at Rodriguez ability to dig an ever deeper hole for himself).

But there is a tiny little bit of a shadow today on the celebrations by chavismo. Human Rights Watch issued a communiqué to condemn that new "gag law". It does not appear on the web site of HRW yet, but the declarations of Vivanco ensure that something will come out soon, along the declarations on the Darfur violence, homophobia in Jamaica, or a petition to Caterpillar to stop selling tractors to Israel.

Chavez in Libya

And the vacation trip continues (because as it goes it looks more and more like a summer holiday field trip than any serious business).

The Spanish affair is leaving more aftershocks behind. Spanish papers are taken sides and usually against the chavista adventure as Zapatero takes a beating. Other observers commented that nobody did quite notice that Chavez was after all given the very minimum treatment possible, in particular compared to previous Venezuelan presidents visit: no king visit, the shortest possible meeting with Zapatero, a detour to all sorts of side activities to distract him. In other words, Zapatero government gave him the lowest possible care avoiding rudeness. Humm...

Today Chavez was in Libya receiving the Gaddafi human rights awards. Yes, I kid you not. Even Mandela received it but he had reasons as Libya did help him quite a lot when he was jailed by apartheid. Really, there is nothing much to say about that trip that borders the ridicule. But it does make for a good cadena to the glories of El Supremo. Not to mention that he will go there a few months after Blair went and a few hours before Chirac shows up. Gaddafi is hot again, the rewards of finally negotiating with the Empire. Maybe he will Chavez know about the ways to do that.

And I leave you with a picture that does not need caption, courtesy of Yahoo.



Wednesday, November 24, 2004

PDVSA belongs to Chavez



I came back last night to San Felipe after 4 days on the road. It seems that I have to travel a lot when there are national emergencies...

Catching up I run into the Tal Cual editorial of yesterday from which front page I got the picture above (PDVSA now belongs to Chavez, as an imitation of the cheap electoral sloganeering).

PDVSA, the state oil concern, has lost its president who has become the new foreign minister, illustrating once again the extraordinary ability of Chavez to recycle his personnel. Or is inability to attract new blood.

At any rate, with this latest move Petkoff deducts a few things with which I agree

1- Now PDVSA is really, really into the hands of Chavez, not the nation, Chavez. L'État c'est moi all over again. I quote the words of Petkoff

Pdvsa ha sido literalmente privatizada; es de Chávez, quien la maneja con una discrecionalidad que ningún empresario privado tiene sobre su empresa. [PDVSA has literally been privatized, it belongs to Chavez, who manages it with freedom that no private business owner disposes of in his/her own business]

2- It seems that a rearrangement is happening within Chavismo and PPT is losing its overextended power quota. About time. Except that it is not the MVR that will benefit from that, the military are the ones that will get to dip further into the public monies. Oops! Did I write that? I meant the military will be the ones managing in a truly democratic way the oil revenue for the betterment of the people. Now, that is better Daniel, good boy, sit now, remember the gag law that eventually will make its way to the Internet, get used to it...

The article in Spanish can be read here (Tal Cual is by subscription only).

More catch up later tonight, in a rather newsfull week. And we are only Wednesday AM!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Chavez's Spanish most excellent adventure!

Or the kind of thing that you will be allowed to see on Venezuelan TV once the gag law passes.

President Chavez by now must have ended his state visit in Spain. I am not too sure how good that visit was for Spain as it left quite a wake there. But I am sure that the inner trouble maker in Chavez must feel quite satisfied. All in all, at least on political grounds, Chavez had scored a few points, on domestic or foreign matters. At what price? Too early to say.

The big news was the political scandal that erupted in Spain. Foreign minister Moratinos declared on a TV show that former premier Aznar actively supported the 2002 April coup. This alleged intervention is far from being proved, but Chavez knows an opportunity when he sees one and he could not resist marking a few points at the expense of the Spanish political establishment. Getting out of some meeting he declared that the involvement of Aznar government was indeed true, but he added, very magnanimously, that it was a turned page now. Yeah, right...

Which aggravated the political problem within Spain. The PP former ruling party until March of this year demanded that Moratinos either put up or shut up (meaning resigns). Indeed Mariano Rajoy the PP leader demanded that the government clarified the declarations of Moratinos in the strongest term (while using the term "coronel Chavez" to address a Chavez who was in a state visit and blithely intervened in Spanish internal affairs). As usual Chavez can meddle but no one can meddle in Venezuela. An autocrat is an autocrat, everywhere.

Meanwhile Madrid has announced that Moratinos himself will go to the Cortes to account for his declarations. That will be quite interesting... Let's see:
  • Aznar government lost its credibility when it tried desperately to pin down on ETA the March 11 bombing. That cost it the election.

  • Rodriguez Zapatero himself has a rather weak foreign minister that has been pushing Spain to go against a European decision to block Cuba for its multiple violations of human rights. Of course what is going on in here is Chavez trying to push a wedge between Spain and Europe to help himself and his mentor in the famed prison island. In other words Zapatero is "el tonto util" of Chavez (Chavez's fool).

But why would Zapatero bend backward to accommodate Chavez? Because he offered him to create a Revolutionary Internationale to replace the Socialist Internationale of the social democrats? Because Chavez is so media savvy and full of life compared to the rather lifeless Zapatero? Because of the contracts held carrot like in front of Spain business?

That business section of the trip by the way brought a few cheap points for Chavez. He was received by the Cortes, the Senate, and a session was previewed where Chavez was going to be asked on the coming "gag law". But imagine that, the session was suspended at the last minute! Could have that anything to do with the promise of ordering a few boats to Spain? Postponing for a while the highly inefficient shipyards closure that is a big problem for Zapatero. After all, Chavez can afford a few overpriced ships if it helps his friend Castro back in Europe.

Unexpectedly Chavez got a second bonus. Lorenzo Mendoza, the young looking president of Polar, perhaps the main private concern of Venezuela, and a known opponent of Chavez, was in Spain. Well, it seems that times have changed and now Mr. Mendoza is very happily in Spain doing business traveling along with Chavez. And he declared so on Venevision, the first network to have preempted the "gag law" by installing self censorship in its studios. Venevision, property of Gustavo Cisneros who came for a private visit to Chavez on the hand of Carter before the Recall Election, has removed all politically contentious material from its programming. And went a step further by showing the declarations of Mr. Mendoza, while in the background one could see a broadly smiling, if not mocking, Minister Izarra, certainly appreciating the moment. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

The Spanish adventure certainly was a godsend to distract from the worrying news that hit us. A shooting took place today, some lawyer got killed, some searches made, a car seized and all supposedly to clarify the Anderson assassination. But already many questions are been raised on what is really happening. From the new found efficiency in investigation and prosecution when so many other violent death are still not "clarified" to whether today shooting was not a mistake.

All of this is more fodder for the governrment to speed up the approval of the "gag law" and initiate discussion of an anti terrorist law that will make the US Patriot Rules child's play. I recommend reading (in English) Mike Rowan article today to see what is heading toward our most unfortunate country while suckers like Zapatero debate how much dictatorial practices Europe should accept.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Chavez in Spain and Daniel in downtown Caracas

Crisscrossing themes through a day

Well Chavez went for a state visit to Spain. Tonight as I type I am listening to a cadena which is the forerunner of the glorification of the great leader, as a natural consequences of the electoral “victories”.

Among a few things I hear the narrator describe the “magisterial [sic] conference on history” that Chavez dictated at the Complutense University of Madrid where they awarded him their highest award. So we got then a view of the conference with selected highlights.

These included mistranslating the Condi Rice words on the now famous Pittsburgh interview, which Chavez is apparently not digesting. He even used the pejorative Venezuelan term “la Condoleezza Rice”. Very pejorative, even vulgar, and very stupid as no matter what he says or does she is more than likely to get confirmed. It does look that Chavez realizes that there is no way he will get his meeting with George Bush so he might as well become the trouble maker that he so relishes to be.

In another flourish of glory, with a totally unnecessary grandiloquent tone he said that “Venezuela would not negotiate with the IMF”. Well, I would hope not!!! That would be quite something if with the Venezuelan barrel nearing the 40 USD we still needed to go to the IMF! But the audience, carefully zoomed at a specific location by the loving camera seemed to buy it and applauded furiously (well, not all of them, even the camera could not hide that). I wonder what do they know about economics and the Venezuelan economy awash in oil dollars. If that audience represents the Complutense, then I am not impressed.

There were a few more pearls through the cadena montage. The revolutionary hero was talking about his meeting with the royalty (he had lunch with the heir and his new wife, probably Queen Sofia was “busy” elsewhere). He was bemoaning the “chemistry” between the Socialist premier of Spain and the bolivarian revolution (Rodriguez Zapatero knows that Spain has too many vested interests in Venezuela and if Queen Sofia refuses to kiss Chavez, well, he has to).

I have to admit that for once I did enjoy a cadena!

While Chavez was having fun in Spain, I was downtown Caracas today. Well, it is worse than ever as every nook and cranny has been taken over by informal street vendors. Which hide quite conveniently many stores that had to close as access to them was literally barred by the street vendors. The devastation to the downtown neighborhoods by now 6 years of a regime that has done nothing to address their plight or limit their excesses is truly impressive. A few weeks ago Milagros Socorro used the term “paisaje posnuclear de Caracas”, the post nuclear landscape of Caracas. She is barely exaggerating!

I had lunch with a friend in an excellent middle-eastern eatery with a view over a solidly parasol covered street. No, not cafes, street vendors. It had a medina feel which went quite well with my kibbe, one of the best ones I ever had, by the way. After buying, in a store, an interesting imitation brand linen shirt, probably contraband, I accompanied my friend to visit his work place. He does happen to work in a ministry. For lay people like me, entering in a ministry has become quite an experience. Chavez posters welcome you, to which Danilo Anderson posters have already been appended. Sometimes the revolution can be quite efficient. I had to wait twice for a few minutes in two reception areas. Each one, like any public administration waiting area I had to visit recently, had a TV on, showing the state channel VTV, with Chavez talking from Spain. So I guessed that we were going to have a summary cadena tonight and I was right.

I took the subway back to my parking place and the rain forced me to go from Bellas Arte to the Teresa Carreño parking via Parque Central. Thus I could get a good look at the burnt tower. Of course close access to it is barred but the passage way along side is open and one can get quite an eyeful of the tower. Post nuclear Caracas panoramic, indeed.

And to end a day quite high in color I am listening now (the cadena is long gone) David Nuñez visiting Cesar Miguel Rondon night show. Mr. Rondon had a long talk with William Brownfield previous the art section which is his third portion of the show. The new US ambassador and was of course duly asked about Condi Rice now that Chavez is putting his foot further down his throat. But I digress. Mr. Nuñez has apparently made quite a career in Europe with his violin. Although not a the product of the extremely successful music education program launched way before Chavez and which is now trying to survive with great difficulty, Mr. Nuñez is one of the many successful Venezuelan who are making great musical career overseas. The state which the Teresa Carreño is now probably does not augur for a prompt return of our musicians. As it turns out in between two partitas Mr. Nuñez told us that he would be playing his exquisite craft for the Queen of Spain in a few days. The readers are allowed to make any unsubstantiated connection they wish.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Venezuelan Regional elections of 2004: Chavez is undone in Zulia

The Zulia chavista disaster

As expected Zulia was the big failure of Chavez. The only surprise was that the candidate that he appointed himself, General Gutierrez, did manage to get 44% of the vote. Serious observers thought he would barely get a third! But there is probably nothing that a little bit of Electoral Registry tampering and Yellow Dog chavismo cannot solve. Still, with the dramatic personal effort of Chavez in Zulia, the vote buying, the unbelievable partiality of the CNE towards Chavez, the fraud, the insults and threats to sitting Governor Rosales, this one managed a 54%. But before trying to understand what happened in Zulia let’s look first at the results, assuming as usual that the CNE results do bear resemblance with reality. The number of votes is expressed in rounded units of thousands. The total REP on the lower right with the abstention numbers. Zulia was above average in voting but not great.


Zulia GovernorZulia list
MAS80.9%MAS coalition233.4%
MPJ192.2%MPJ213,1%
Copei313.5%Copei294.2%
AD586.5%AD557.4%
UNTC30433.9%UNTC24836%
Total Coalition48454%Total opposition37653%
SI vote53146.6%% governor vote78%
Vote drop8,9%
MVR21023.5%MVR coalition22232.2%
Podemos505.5%% governor vote55,8%
PCV404.5%
Total Coalition39844.4%
NO vote60553%Total REP1 772
Vote drop34,2%Abstention47.7%


The Rosales vote

I have detailed the composition of the coalition that supported Rosales, from Primero Justicia that did not do as expected in Zulia to UNTC which is Rosales own political party, which he founded after leaving a sclerotic AD in 1999. Note that AD did support Rosales in Zulia though its 6.5% is rather paltry. Copei who used to be quite strong in Zulia is barely above MPJ. MAS, one in the socialist tradition of Zulia, has been nearly wiped out.

What is more notable about the Rosales vote is that in spite of everything, he manages to recover almost all of the SI vote of August 15, one of the very few areas where this is observed. He only loses 8.9 % of the SI votes (Vote drop compared to the Recall Election in purple).

The Gutierrez vote

There is also a coalition supporting him. What is most notable is that MVR is rather weak not even reaching 25%, probably one of the lowest if not the lowest MVR score in the country! PODEMOS seems to have gathered the ex-MAS vote but still, is weak. And as a curiosity I point out the communist party vote which in Zulia managed a 4.5 % result.

The vote loss as to the August Recall Election is spectacular: one in three NO voters stayed home! This in spite of all of Chavez visits, and his atrocious campaign pressure and vote buying! Backfiring?

The legislative vote

On the individual district votes Rosales did a strong clean sweep and will have a decent majority to rule Zulia for four years. I only detail the list results because the different parties supporting Rosales went solo with their own list, showing in a way that their support for Rosales was due to the fact that they knew he would win more than by any love they might have for him. And also because we can evaluate better their relative strength.

AD and Copei lose votes though curiously MPJ gains some! The MAS coalition fares better but it included La Causa R, once very strong in Zulia but now all gone to MVR. As routine in these type results Rosales party does loses some voters from its governor votes but still manages a better percentage overall, one thing that was also observed in Yaracuy and elsewhere. A probable indication of a decent local machinery operating on election day and real identification of the people with the local leadership.

The MVR did also go as a coalition, probably sensing weakness. Still, its result is dismal! It does not even get 56% of the governor votes while the divided opposition list total still manage a 78% of Rosales vote! Apparently chavismo has trouble setting its electoral machinery in some states.

What happened in Zulia?

The explanation is actually quite simple: Chavez hubris did him in.

Zulianos have always been feeling that they are taken for granted by the rest of Venezuela. Indeed for a few decades until the oil fields of the East became important, Zulia was the cash cow of Venezuela, financing the political system at Zulia’s expense. At least past administrations were always careful to court Zulianos while robbing them. But this stopped under Chavez. His populist style, his man of the people approach does not work in Zulia. Already at the height of his popularity in 2000 he barely carried Zulia! His lack of understanding of the Zulia spirit is well documented as he has accumulated gaffe after faux pas in his all too numerous visits to the area. In other words Chavez wants his revolution to roll over Zulia, the most regionalist state in Venezuela. And it is not working. People there simply resent that Chavez is using all of their money for his own promotion, and the corruption of his friends. It is all quite simple, really.

Already during the Recall Election campaign Rosales was drawing gigantic rallies while Chavez was limiting himself to close spaces appearances, avoiding the streets of Zulia. Zulia, Yaracuy and Miranda were the only 3 states where the SI was supposed to win without a problem, Zulia in particular. When the NO won in Zulia it raised quite a few eyebrows. Talk of massive August fraud in Zulia run rampant. It seems that the Gutierrez results indeed prove that if there is one state where there was fraud it was Zulia.

But Chavez did manage to add more errors to his strategy. He imposed General Gutierrez who is a nincompoop. That imposed nomination upset quite a few local chavista leaders and it seems that only the Yellow Dog chavistas did go and vote, many “normal chavistas” preferring to stay home. Even at the level of local districts chavismo did not fare well, barely retaining Maracaibo. Its mayor, Di Martino, was the first choice for Chavez but he declined in spite of all the pressure from Chavez who seems to have threatened him of refusing even the Maracaibo nomination. But Di Martino is from Zulia and Chavez is not, Di Martino listens to the locals, Chavez does not (not that he listens to anyone for that matter, but that is another topic). Di Martino knew better than facing Rosales and must be quite relived to have retained his city! Not to mention that he got 30 000 more votes than Gutierrez in Maracaibo proving to Chavez that he got it all wrong.

The lesson is simple: the Chavez style has its limits and when faced properly he can be defeated. Eventually his arrogance will become more and more tiring to his followers. And Rosales is not even a charismatic leader! But Zulianos are not crazy folks in spite of their folksy ways, perhaps the state with the biggest entrepreneur spirit in Venezuela. And Rosales does understand that and knows how to show respect to his people. Something that Chavez is simply unable to do.


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