Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Venezuelan mirage (part 1)

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies…

This could well be what Giordani, the Minister for economic coordination, Planning Ministry, would have us hum along when we go to work.

Today El Universal carries some stunning declarations (made on State TV, without any cross questioning, of course). There Giordani released a few pearls of which two are worth discussing:

The Venezuelan growing economy

We do not have a pretension to reach a yearly growth rate of nine percent or 10 percent during 10 years, but we do envisage sustained growth at five, six or seven percent. At those levels, (Gross Domestic) Product may double in almost 10 years. Therefore, the size of the cake increases twofold.
Of course, the first thing I did was to grab my little Excel sheet and plot a 6% average growth (quite good already) together with a 2.5% population increase and the ratio to get the per capita increase. Indeed in ten years the economy would have grown by 79% (still rather far for a conditional “may double”) the population by a 28% (even if birth rate decreases there would be immigration as such a growth rate will attract immigrants) and the end result is ONLY 1.4 fold increase is far from being a doubling of the cake share for the people.

That would be all fine and dandy except that if there is someone totally discredited in economical matters in the Chavez administration is Giordani. For those whose memory is short Giordani is the one of the nincompoop projects such as the “eje Orinoco Apure” where Chavez would be settling millions of Venezuelans who have refused to live there, and for good reasons, since our history began. But much more damming, Giordani was the guy in charge of Venezuelan economy through 1999, 2000, 2001, three full years which ended in the February 2002 devaluation which was arguably the flash point of all the political events of 2002. Under Giordani, the Venezuelan currency has gone from 600 Bs per USD to the current street value of 2 800 Bs. per USD. You may draw your own conclusions, but for me, Giordani is a used car salesman.

The investment question


“If some firms do not invest, others will come to invest," Giordani said confidently. "If Venezuelan entrepreneurs do not take action, they are going to lag behind.”
This comes from a man who presides to the regular irregular (forgive the tautology) seizure of land and industries from the private sector without adequate compensation. And he expects that people whose business are at risk from such arbitrary seizures to keep investing? The sectors affected by the current land and industrial actions represent roughly half of the private sector of Venezuela. We are not talking here of some marginal segments of the economy, we are talking about all of the agribusiness, most of the textiles and small mechanical industries, in short, all that is related with direct supply to the lowest economical sectors that compose the supposedly natural Chavez faction. In fact, Giordani even alluded to that in an implied contradiction to his own words. He spoke in glowing terms of Mercal which is a state system of food distribution:

“Mercal is doing great efforts in this particular area. Mercal has extended its scope. It supplies food not only at controlled prices, but also below regulated prices. This allows us to stop inflation. Mercal is growing up, thus letting us to prevent prices from continuing to soar, which is our major concern."

This is in fact the acknowledgment that the state is going to go head-on against the private sector in the food and distribution sectors, with an unfair advantage as Mercal is exempt of many of the regulations, taxes and duties that drain the private sector. Does Giordani realizes that within his own interview he contradicts himself blatantly? Who will dare to invest in the private gribusiness sector if s/he risks to face off with Mercal at some point? And for the ones that sell, say, blenders, how do they know that Mercal will decide to say blenders and wreck earnings, if not down right dumping of imported products?

That is why you need cross examination and private medias where public officials must go on occasion, to be able to unmask the phonies. Giordani is either stupid, naïve or a dysfunctional liar. And since he is the most sheltered of all of Chavez ministers, the one that never gives a press conference (something unthinkable in a functioning democracy for the guy who presides the economic destinies of the country), it is even more important to confront him to know what is really going on.

In fact, it was all a set up

But these ridiculous words of Giordani, words that not even we could qualify charitably of wishful thinking, seem to have been in fact the first punch of a charm offensive. Soon enough we heard the president of the Central Bank announce the fabulous results of 2005, forgetting of course some of the control numbers that would put a caveat on his optimism. At least he had the honesty to admit that the 9% growth of 2005 is spending driven as the outlays in direct grants to the population allowed for a spending boom. No words about how that boom benefited the creation of NEW jobs, as all serious observers estimate that the growth was based on recovery of some idle capacity, without job creations (the official decrease on the jobless rate has been shown to be a shameful cooking of the statistics where the government has shamelessly failed to consider the people that have stopped to look for a job!) This declaration deserves a post by itself, suffice to say for now that in fact Gaston Parra unwillingly confirmed that we depend more on oil than ever!

Feeling the sting of growing doubts about the benefits of Venezuela into getting in the MercoSur bed, the commerce minister chimed in. Gustavo Marquez asked (or almost demanded) that the private sector invest more, that Venezuela would benefit from the MercoSur as our new “internal market”. Thinking that Venezuelan companies without export tradition will be able in five years from now to export to the Mato Grosso strains credulity. I have been to Rio de Janeiro where there is money and taste. For the life of me, I do not know what we could sell there except for gas and crafts. Oh sure, eventually we will fond stuff to sell to Brazil, but it is not useless to recall the reader that even our oil based chemical industry is unable to supply the Venezuelan market.

What was funny was that Mr. Marquez pointed out that he had received “a lot of inquiries” from European companies wishing to establish facilities in Venezuela to enter the MercoSur through Venezuela. Besides the fact that in Europe there are many organizations whose job is to make “inquiries” everywhere, I wonder if he realized the implications of his words. Could it be that the Brazilian worker is already more skilled and better paid than the Brazilian and Argentinean worker? Are European companies that make such inquiries aware of the labor laws here, judicial insecurity, political intervention in the economy? In fact, does Mr. Marquez realizes that if in the oil sector and infrastructure projects foreign investment keep apace, in other sectors the tendency is to downsize or even to leave Venezuela?

No, what we are seeing these days is the crass opportunity to occupy the center field of the news preparing yet another populist electoral campaign for 2006. The lies to get the 10 million votes have started. Journalists and opposition are on leave until January, but a scared government is in place and is working double shift to recover the lost political ground of 2005. Fortunately for the opposition it is an incompetent government. And this blogger was watching.

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PS: This is part 1. Part 2 will come some day as holydays allow me to write. Then I will not only try to bring a reality check on what is going on in Venezuela, but even explain the economy "boom" of this year. Note by the way that for next year all predict growth but at much lower levels than now. Interesting, no?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 2005 Venezuela News Awards

OK, so it is this time of the year and if it seems that anyone can give awards, why not this blog? Of course there is absolutely no objectivity form the owner of this page, sole juror in the decision making process. Any complaint can be addressed to Chavez himself as all awards revolve around how these winners behaved vis-à-vis of El Supremo. However I trust that some might agree with my decisions.

Man of the year

Hugo Chavez Frias of course. Were Chavez to have left office, this blog would have ceased as its raison d’être is to narrate what a budding tyrant Chavez is. He is already a tyrant for his own people, and day by day the ones differing with him feel more and more the brunt of his ire.

Chavista of the year

This award is for the chavista that has done more to ensure the power of his overlord, in as destructive a manner as possible. If the contest was tough, the winner emerged triumphantly on December 4th, when at least 75% of the country announced its repudiation to the way things were run, if not of their repudiation of Chavez himself. The winner thus could be no one else but Jorge Rodriguez, the electoral board CNE head.

Mr. Rodriguez has indeed accumulated many merits. If the CNE cannot be accused of outright electoral fraud, now even international observers are keen on the way this one favors the chavista side, in particular by turning a consistent blind eye to the presidential politics and interferences in the election campaign, from cadenas to indiscriminate use of public funds to support its candidates.

Along the way Rodriguez has become the hero of a sector of chavismo who think it is right to cheat to have their leader on top. Reception of Rodriguez at any chavista meeting is nearly an apotheosis. Rodriguez only receives opposition leaders behind closed doors, briefly, rarely, and always ends up criticizing them. It is difficult to imagine a more partial umpire as Rodriguez, who adding insult to injury, presides the public position which requires the most impartial person of the country, even more perhaps than the High Court. No wonder the CNE is now routinely termed “the electoral ministry” as it receives its orders straight from the boss, and obeys them better than any other ministry in the chavista administration.

Sleazy bureaucrat of the year (female)

This was a surprise late minute winner. She is Delcy Rodriguez, sister of the chavista of the year award winner. Her role is vice minister for European affairs. Her performance has been lackluster at best. She is rumored to have been more preoccupied in purging staff at the foreign ministry and promoting “Bolivarian” activities in Europe than getting better ties and investments from European countries. She outraced on the final sprint any other bureaucrat when she went out of her way to criticize the EU and OAS preliminary reports, a function that to begin with was not for her to do, and which was carried in a rather inadmissible fashion anyway for the diplomatic world. Thus she proved that she united in herself all the qualities that make a perfect chavista bureaucrat: fidelity against all reason to her boss; general incompetence and lack of imagination; desire of revenge at all costs from true or imaginary offenses (she is the daughter of an assassinated political leader who probably was more democratic than his brood and might not have approved of the way they have been betraying Venezuelan democracy).

Sleazy bureaucrat of the year (male)

Isaias Rodriguez, the general prosecutor. It is hard to imagine anyone more servile, lackluster, manipulator, liar, betrayer, etc, etc… In the annals of chavismo he will shine in his own light such as people like Goebbels or Beria or Pedro Estrada are still mentioned as human rejects.

Fascist of the year (female)

Again, the winner in an extremely contested field comes at the last minute. Iris Varela, announcing on December 4 that public servants that did not go to vote should be fired on the 5th, has demonstrated how fascist the regime is. With this award she can be the pin up girl of the fascist chavista wing. She will have a great future organizing the personnel to monitor the concentration camps that she would be building as we speak if she were allowed to. But that is OK Iris, soon they might start listening to you.

Fascist of the year (male)

This award has been well earned through an impeccable track record through the year, even if in December the winner has added several brownie points to consolidate what was already an insurmountable lead. The winner has managed in a single year to muzzle the organization he presided, to transform it in a rubber stamp parliament starting January 2006. He has insulted any person that ever dared to oppose chavismo in terms that even Chavez would paused before using. Outright lies, manipulations are his routine tools of the trade. The winner is of course Nicolas Maduro, who in addition had the nerve to travel to India in the middle of the electoral campaign, demonstrating that the CNE was making sure he would be reelected no matter what, and demonstrating at the same time that Maduro was already operating as if Venezuela were already a fascist state where elections did not matter.

Leech of the year

For the six year in a row, Fidel Castro. Though this year Argentina’s Kirchner gave him a good run.

Survivor of the year

Ramos Allup has managed to come from leading an agonizing party to come back to the forefront of the opposition political scene by jumping first off the electoral ship. This dazzling maneuver allowed him to lead the abstentions party while never proposing abstention, allowed him to send its leading rival Primero Justicia in a tail spin where this one might start a series of divisions just as AD has been doing for decades, and has allowed him to become again a valid partner for chavismo if this one decides to create an “official opposition”.

Loser of the year

Julio Borges. For failing to see where the wind blew from, he jeopardized his hard work at trying to promote his candidacy and might have provoked a division of his party, Primero Justicia.

Street walker of the year

Roberto Smith who walked for nothing from Tachira to Caracas. The little bit of notoriety he might have obtained only allowed observers to see what a wishy-washy character he is, pretending at this moment not to be in the opposition or with chavismo instead coming across as a used car salesman.

Opposition leader of the year

This award actually had only one contestant who nevertheless managed to deserve his award. Teodoro Petkoff has managed to avoid the pitfalls of a fragmented opposition, then even though he opposed the abstention movement that lead to December 4, was able to understand it and to try to make the best of its consequences without crass manipulation and posturing. Even if the polls do not favor him right now, he seems definitely as the only valid option in 2006 as his potential opponents have done their best to sabotage themselves, including Chavez.

Newspaper of the year (tie)

For Tal Cual for having raised the political debate and for El Universal for its consistency in opposition since 1998 and for still being the only one with a free access English section.

Rag of the year

VEA, the chavista newspaper who cannot raise above its condition of propaganda and directions relay to the hard core chavista base. A true rag if any in Venezuela, who cannot get even some inspiration from Ultimas Noticias or Panorama.

TV station of the year

Globovision for insisting bravely in reporting the news in spite of Chavez threats and for receiving now an astounding numbers of chavistas callers complaining against the poor performance of public servants, complaints from people who often claimed that they are not allowed access to chavista media (in spite of the creation of ANTV, VIVE TV, TeleSur and some regional variations: apparently the more chavista TV we get, the less the spontaneity in people airing their claims).

Media show of the year

The Danilo Anderson investigation. Hollywood would be hard pressed to write such a B category screen play.

Conspiracy theory of the year

The CIA who seems even to be behind the lousy trash collection in Caracas streets. Who would have thought that the CIA arm reached that far?

Most perceptive political analyst of the year

One woman in Boston (Linda Kelly?) who said receiving cheap oil from Citgo that Venezuelan oil belonged to Chavez and he could do as he pleased with it.

Media personality of the year

Leopoldo Castillo of Globovision’s Alo Ciudadano who seems to have become the darling of the downtrodden masses, be they chavista or opposition. Rumored to be the one Chavez hates the most, not a small feat considering all the hatred emanating from that side.

Blogs of the year (multi tie)

Many opposition blogs who have accumulated notice, from newspaper citation to radio interviews and awards. OK, so I am including myself in the list, otherwise what is the point of writing such a list? :-)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Venezuelan Justice: the corpse worth

A few days ago the verdict came for the "Guevara brothers" accused of having carried the murder of Danilo Anderson. One got the maximum sentence, 30 years, and two other got 27 + years, which is as good as the maximum penalty. The trial was plagued with many problems, in particular very questionable witnesses, upon which the sentencing seems to be based. As for the "intellectual" authors, the evidence has been so questionable that the court had to release them to be tried in liberty. There are things that even a pro Chavez judge cannot quite do.

On a much more discrete trial the result was quite different. Maritza Ron on the morning of August 16 2004 took her flag and when to protest the Recall Election result. Promptly a few thugs appeared on Altamira square, killed her and injured a few other. Dozens of reliable witness, including the injured ones, and even pictures of the murderers shooting. No doubt as to the identity of the assassins and their motives. How many years? 11 years only.

So we know now that the life of a prosecutor that dabbled in extortion is worth the life of three civilian protesters and scores of injured.

Then again we also know since December 4 elections that Venezuela belongs to only 15% of its citizens. The ratio is right I suppose.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Christmas post: Santa out, ethnic Jesus in

Holydays are upon us and it is time I go to my family for a well deserved rest. This blogger has worked really hard for the last few weeks and deserves a break. That does not mean I will stop writing, I have a series of posts in mind to answer some of the questions I raised a few days ago. But I will deliberately not cover the news unless something really major hits us. I doubt it will happen as chavistas as well as anti chavistas are exhausted. I trust all will look for some egg nogg drunken stupor, or 18 year old Scotch.

Thus, hallacas and good wine helping I should put my thoughts in order and post something every 2 to 3 days only. I hope that you will be all too busy to read this blog anyway. But if not, I hope that the posts will be good enough to elicit more of the great commenting that we have had this last couple of month. Good comments are the best source of inspiration.

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To leave you in the spirit of the season, I will describe a new aspect of the cultural war that Chavismo is trying to pull out.

After the Halloween condemnation as an imported holyday to terrorize children, Chavez has somehow alluded to Santa as been too much of a yanqi symbol. Or something like that, I cannot be bothered looking for links to such nonsense. But of course his sycophants have moved to remove all sorts of “imported” Christmas symbols and promote the local ones. This is of course ridiculous as Christmas by itself is an imported feast. Not mentioning that Venezuela has very strong Christmas traditions that are far, very far from being threatened: season foods cannot be beaten, Venezuelan Christmas music is just superb, the “nascimientos” are always seen next to Christmas tree, and often much more lavishly arranged. One wonders if secretly, after banning Colombus and the conquistadores from our pantheon, Chavez would not mind banning Christmas and religion, in spite of his cyclical mea culpa and pro Jesus statements.

Yaracuy governor, Carlos Gimenez, would not be far behind. Mercifully all references to Santa have not been banned, and old lights have been used to decorate the state house, one of them a rather incongruous reindeer. The novelty this year is cheap theater decorations sprouting in a few places. They represent a nativity with “ethnic” Venezuelan people.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. After all many fundamentalist in the USA love to paint Jesus as a very Aryan blonde blue eye GQ type. I suppose that it befits groups of people to relate to their God pictorially and a case could even be made that the real Jesus looked more Venezuelan than Aryian. But I digress.

Below you can see a picture of one of those nativity scenes that are now gracing some of San Felipe streets or Yaracuy roads. Syncretism, with baby Jesus pointing to the orchid and turpial. Some wits have pointed out that the model for baby Jesus that appears on many of such compositions looks suspiciously as what the governor would have looked as a baby.


Then when we go to San Felipe Bolivar square we are treated to a plastic Christmas tree, no Santa in the decoration. However on the side, there is a life size nativity scene and old habits die hard, the angel on high is blonde.


And this is what is really sad in this silly attempt at making Christmas more PC: they are not original. Already Andres Eloy Blanco, one of our greatest poets, did write about the need of little black angels, in some of the most beautiful verses of the Spanish language:
Pintor nacido en mi tierra,
con el pincel extranjero;
pintor que sigues el rumbo
de tantos pintores viejos,
aunque la vírgen sea blanca,
píntame angelitos negros.
I could even mention the Venezuelan Christmas Jingle, “Si la Virgen fuese andina y san Jose de Los Llanos, el niño Jesus seria un niño Venezolano” (If Mary were from the Andes and Joseph from the Llanos, Baby Jesus woudl be a Venezuelan baby). I do not know about you, but these went well beyond syncretism, PC, or self esteem cheap boost. This was art. Poor is the culture that can come up only with cheesy billboards of a “native” scene.

And while I am listening to Garth Brooks Christmas album “beyond the Season”, I wish you a good holiday.

PS: the Christmas theme for the legends of the picture did not come out right. It is too late and I have no time to fix it, sorry. But if you click on the pic, you can see it larger and you can read the legends. I'll try to fix it up later.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The new Venezuelan National Assembly Promise


When you listen to the declarations of Maduro today, attacking the Venezuelan judicial system just because some ruling did not suit him, you might even wonder how prescient Weil was two days ago when he drew this cartoon.

Chavismo is on top of our Capitol dome, holding justice hostage while abstention (the one of December 4) is driving the beast crazy. Indeed, it seems that chavismo cannot find its bearings after that set back and instead is looking for ways to exact revenge from all of these people that dared not to vote for the beloved leader (who by the way is mad at the chavismo "leadership", blaming them for the failure to rouse the voters, never thinking, not even for an instant, and certainly not seriously if he does, that he might share some of the guilt).

Note the scream of King Kong, starting just as the chavista rallying scream... Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va! The only silly jingle that the revolution has been able to produce in 7 years. Even there the 4th Republic was more creative, having a couple of memorable new jingles every five years.

But indeed the attitude of Nicolas Maduro this paste few days is really worrisome. One cannot but wonder whether he feels he has to be more chavistas than Chavez or whether he is really the leader of the "extremist" wing of chavismo, wanting to push the "revolution" to its final consequences. Or if simply he feels he is losing it and it is now or never. Indeed, his mediocrity is well known and he has been able to show some efficacy only in the last year of parliament as its head, when all the rules had been changed and debate was all but inexistent. As the picture next shows, Descifrado has him well pegged, like some of those magistrates in some former totalitarian state that shall remain nameless. Servile, obedient, uncreative unless it is a matter of looking good in front of the boss.

Those are the type of people we have been cursed with. I just hope that Descifrado is not as prescient when it writes "The beginning..."

Monday, December 19, 2005

And now Bolivia

Rarely do I write on something outside of Venezuela but I have already heard so much nonsense on the Bolivian results that I feel compelled to add my kernel.

To begin with the only surprise was the margin of victory for Evo Morales, not that he won. But in fact, was even that margin a surprise? I am not so sure. We should have all seen it coming, and not even thanks to Chavez, no matter what amount of money for Morales campaign he might have managed to smuggle in. Not that there is anything particularly wrong, I am sure that Quiroga did receive a few fat checks too, it is just the hypocrisy of Chavez trying to jail Sumate leaders for a few thousand NED dollars while he has probably spend much more for Morales. Or does anyone seriously think that Morales recent trip to Argentina was from his savings account? Since there is no Freedom of Information act in Venezuela, what can we do? But I digress.

I think I will address a few key points. I would not dare to make a comprehensive article about Bolivia.

Who lost Bolivia? The US blame of a game

To say that the US policies on Boliva in this last couple of decades have been a failure, a general sequence of blunders is being charitable. Going against a millennial culture of coca leaves chewers just because the US is unwilling to punish the real users of cocaine (read: movie stars, big time lawyers, show biz miscellaneous, petit bourgeois that can afford it, etc…) has always been a misplaced target. When I was living in the US I was sick and tired of hearing all the time “those nasty Colombians sending us their filth”. I mean, doesn’t the US know of supply and demand? As long as there will be a demand for dope in NYC, there will Aymara peasant growing coca and Colombian traffickers. You can replace Aymara by Peruvian, Quechua, Colombian, and soon Venezuelan if you wish. You can replace Colombian by Puerto Rican, Mexican, Chinese, Venezuela and even US-american. The market will be always provided.

The only thing that resulted from the crop eradication program was a deeply alienated native population that ambitious leaders such as Evo Morales could use to raise to the top. One of the failures was of course not really helping enough the substitution crops programs. But then again the US has a long series of failures on this regard, such as abortion. Wanting to ban abortion with the pious excuse of adoption without covering by the sate all the expenses of education, and health care of the mother and unwanted child is just not going to work. It is the same principle. Either you pay for it all, or you forget about it. Halfway measures will only bring expensive failures. Pardon my un-PCness

But to add insult to injury, Evo Morales got an unexpected boost in his career when in the previous elections a few days before the vote the US ambassador complained bitterly about a possible Morales victory when he was fighting hard to be in second. That of course not only made sure Morales would get the second post, but he became even competitive for the top billing!

Bolivian racial and class division

But if the US did aggravate Bolivian problems and helped in creating a new problem for themselves, Evo Morales cannot be blamed from benefiting of the conditions reigning in Bolivia.

This is the country of the Patiño, those tin barons that enslaved the natives to extract tin and spent the earnings in European splendors. And the Patiños have not been the only ones, it started in Inca times, as people seem to forget that the Aymaras were conquered people. It kept breathtakingly apace under colonial Spanish domination and the silver mines of Potosi. It was not solved by Bolivar who limited himself in creating from “el alto Peru” a country that no one was quite sure what to make of it. To make sure that exploitation kept going, instead of trying to establish a semi serious government where some election could have given a voice to the natives, Bolivians upper classes decided to go from coup to coup until they got the record for all of Latin America in governmental instability. Along the way they managed to lose the access to the Pacific Ocean, El Acre to Brazil and half of El Chaco. Bolivia shares with Mexico the dubious title of having been nearly halved since independence.

Lo and behold! The arrival (not return, arrival) of democracy about 20 years ago was bound to awake a large mass of natives that had mixed very little with the Incas, the Spaniards, the British or whatever came along. A mass of people who kept colorful customs and even their precious language which I read somewhere years ago that it would be a great language to use in computing. Or something of the sort.

It was a mass of people that had lived for centuries in grinding poverty. Little by little they flexed their muscles. They were poor but many managed to get radios, and a few even TV.

The rest you have seen it. If we have not many images of the ferocious miner strikes, we did see the gritted determination of El Alto and the fall of two presidents in 3 years.

No one should be surprised that one day a Bolivian native would reach the presidency, and form a strong protest platform.

Miners and coca growers: Evo Morales rise to the top

Bolivia has been rich in social movements and protest. Hard edged trade unions, dogged peasant fighting not for land but for life as even the land they owned was quite often a miser in its gifts. Evo Morales bio reads well as what would be a success story in such an environment. Poor upbringing from the Altiplano, moving to warmer climes in Yungas of Cochabamba. Eventually he started managing some of the local chapters of the coca growers union and eventually made it to the top, now virtual president elect.

But who is this Evo Morales. That he is, and should be, from the left is not the question. But is he a democrat? Is he seeking revenge for the past? Is he really a big anti US, anti Chile, anti whatever has at one time or another exploited the Bolivian lower classes. Too early to say, but he has definitely built his leadership around those perceptions and he will have to deliver something. Rough times ahead for former Bolivian trading partners and associates.

But here I beg to stake a difference. Morales did reach the top because, well, he was able to swim within shark infested waters. If you think for a second that anyone can make it to leader of the Coca leaves grower, you are in for a big disappointment. And if you think that managing to get together all Bolivian trade unions, social groups and agrarian poor communities is easier, well… Evo Morales has a lot of enemies and to make it to the top he has to have learned the art of compromise, the art of dealing. Is this positive and even enough to run a country? We will see. But one thing I sense is that Morales is not Chavez. He is certainly more skilled than Chavez who was never able to negotiate anything, preferring to shoot first whenever possible. On the other hand not only will Morales have a real opposition with Quiroga and the local leaders, but inside his camp there is no love lost with, for example, Felipe Quispe who might soon enough send El Alto to block La Paz streets if necessary.

Chavez, el tonto util (the useful fool)

This brings us to discuss what role did Chavez had in Morales rise to the top. The frequent trips of Morales to Havana and Caracas are certainly in part to seek funds. But the fact is that Castro failed in stirring the so called nexus of Latin America. The Che found a well deserved and ignominious death in Bolivia. My bet is that Morales will not start by building a memorial at the place even if Chavez presses for one.

Morales had no problem in having his picture taken with Chavez. What other South America leader looks like a native of sorts? Morales has been working very hard at uniting Aymara and Quechua, a coalition required for a native to reach the top office. And if Chavez was also giving handouts to help, even better. But I suspect that Morales will never be the toy of Chavez or Castro: he has suffered much more than Castro or Chavez and I cannot see him donning fancy suits and Cartier watches. It will never play at El Alto, the natives do not seem to be the fools that Chavez has found so easily to adulate his mediocre career which was surprisingly boosted by a one minute TV announcement some 1992 evening where he showed that he was rather a coward and a failed coup monger. Morales had to work hard at it, and if grateful for the help received, I do not see him becoming the willing pawn. Something that the US and other would be well advised to consider before putting Chavez and Morales in the same bag as ignorant media seems only too willign to do.

What next for Bolivia?

It will have to go through a “revolution” that it has been postponing for now three centuries. Hopefully the presence of gas and a good deal with Brazil energy guzzler should allow Morales to deliver some. He has to overcome the regional divisions of a country near break up, the tri-racial division, the poor education of the country and the great expectations as his surprising margin implies. He can choose adventure like Chavez and be assured of a speedy failure (he does not have the bottomless pockets of Chavez to buy his way out of trouble) or he can be a new Lula even if more to the left than Lula. Morales is a civilian, a tested leader, my bet is that he will look from El Alto to Planalto.

But I might be dead wrong.

Notes on Bolivian elections

The Bolivian CNE web page works much better and is much more informative than the Venezuelan CNE. Obviously the Bolivian CNE is not hiding as much as the Venezuelan CNE.

Considering that Bolivia is much bigger than Venezuela with not even half its population and a road network not even comparable, the local CNE is doing a great job at getting results. Today EL Nacional announces that there are still dozens of voting tables unaccounted for in Venezuela from last elections, with the “most modern voting system in the world” or some similar B.S.

People voted “en masse” in Bolivia, just like in Chile or in Iraq. No empty lines there!

Exit polls are wacky, just like in Venezuela. They indicate that Morales won by more than 50% something which does not seem to appear in the CNE page where a more modest 48% is seen. I doubt that pollsters were able, or even willing, to go deep in El Alto and probably overestimated for safety. Just as Venezuelan pollsters give Chavez 70% of preferences just to see 15% go and vote. Imagine that! That does not mean that the non voting people would vote for the opposition but it sure means that Venezuelan pollsters are not adjusting their instrument to a post Tascon list atmosphere.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The day Chavez staggered: December 4 2005

Any casual but regular observer of Venezuela would have noticed that in the past two weeks things have changed in Venezuela. The result of the December 4 election has triggered something that is still too early to evaluate. And even more difficult to predict its consequences.

Before evaluating the meaning of what happened that day (a nice activity for the vacation days coming ahead for this blogger as news will slow down considerably in Venezuela) it is important, as a reference point, to describe briefly but completely the momentous events that led to December 4, 2005.

September and October 2005

The difficulties of the political situation and the problems with the electoral system were detailed by this blogger in July (in a post that by now must be the most self quoted of my posts!).

The dismal results of the municipal elections of August 2005 showed clearly that the public was starting to lose faith in the voting system.

Chavez through the last quarter of the year kept pushing his agenda on a “Socialism for the XXI Century” which included: more property confiscation, more free giving overseas, more incendiary rhetoric, more pro Castro, more anti US (even if disguised as anti Bush) and many more confrontational elements. In other words Chavez decided not to wait for his own reelection in December 2006 to make it a referendum on a new Venezuelan economical and social structure, but instead decided to get right now an assembly that would start implementing the changes as early as January 2006. Sweeping changes in the still brand new 1999 constitution were even discussed!

Yet, for such an important election, the Electoral board, CNE, refused to open up the electoral system to scrutiny and instead threatened to use in every voting station the now infamous finger print scanners and electronic voter rolls. Difficult negotiations only led to an enlarged but not improved audit system. The only positive action was the semi successful negotiation to bring in European Union observers and bring back a new team of OAS observers. Yet, their tardy arrival did mine any hope to improve the electoral conditions in Venezuela, in particular the obscene use of public funding for the pro Chavez candidates.

November 2005

With the observers in place and the chavista campaign in full swing, and full excesses, it was made even easier to observe the meager opposition effort due to its even meager means and profound doubts as to whether go to election or quit altogether. Polls kept consistently saying that the abstention for such major elections was going to be comparable to the most minor of elections, such as those of August 2005! A Hinterlaces poll of mid November projected a 71% abstention. If the opposition seemed duly depressed, signs of wear could be detected in chavismo as a high abstention would make the sought goal of 10 million votes for Chavez in 2006 a very difficult goal to achieve.

The CNE started setting up the voting apparatus and auditing some aspects as agreed with the observers and political parties.

Late November things began to unravel fast. In an audit at the Fila de Mariches facility it was demonstrated that a conjunction of the voting machine and the finger print scanner could render null the secret voting right of the people. This happened in front of the international observers who were using the voting machines and were surprised to see that a technician representing the opposition was able to tell each one of them who did they vote for. If this was a real major problem, its solution was not too difficult: it was enough to turn off the finger print scanners. The CNE eventually relented, but it was too little, too late.

After an initial hesitation, to everyone’s surprise, old AD decided to withdraw from the elections on Tuesday 29 November. By December first in the evening all the major opposition players had left, leaving chavismo alone to battle the election in front of very minor participants that would be unable to even get a single seat on December 4.

What had happened is that the Fila de Mariches incident, and the relative ease in which the CNE eventually gave up the scanning devices, in fact demonstrated that the electoral system was rigged, and that there was certainly more problems that now should definitely be investigated. One of these problems was the electoral registry which was condemned since August 2004, and which after Mariches was unanimously objected by all non chavista actors as being an even greater source of electoral fraud than the scanning devices. Far from being reassuring, the CNE managed to blunder its way to even more distrust from the electorate. Sensing this, AD could only take the lead in deserting the voting act, least it would suffer an humiliating defeat as now very few opposition electors would follow their parties on December 4. The result of that Sunday proved that AD was right in guessing the mood of the country.

The last days before the election

Faced by a massive defection that chavismo could not decide whether it liked, the government entered into a rather hysterical spiral.

Zulia’s governor Manuel Rosales was the last major player to withdraw, from the only state where no matter what manipulation the CNE did chavismo was almost certain of defeat. Rosales was the only actor from both sides able to rally the largest crowds of the electoral campaign. This made the withdrawing of the opposition now a really important matter, while at the same time making Rosales one of the real heavy weights of the opposition.

From fake praise to induce Rosales to remain in the race, Chavez personally initiated the round of insults against Rosales. There was no turning back in that mad race: the government decided to gamble it all and turn the election into a plebiscite over Chavez rule, making the abstention number equivalent to a NO vote. This impression came from either the intemperate words of the vice Rangel, or chavismo blithely "hoping" to get again the 5.9 millions it supposedly got in August 2004.

Nothing was spared, from promises of benefits and handouts to promise of punishment if public workers did not go out to vote on election day (easily verifiable since the ink stained pinky finger would show as late as two days after voting). Insults were hurled diligently by the vice president, making visible for all international observers the extraordinary involvement of the executive power in the campaign; something highly frowned upon in established democracies. What was worse is that the unforgiving campaign lasted all through election day with a long political speech by Chavez himself when he went to vote and with Iris Varela from Tachira state demanding publicly that public employees that did not go out and vote be fired next day. The only result was tying up even more the abstaining voter to a NO vote, the Chavez administration digging its own hole to fall in, in plain view of an astounded country.

Election day

There was no way to hide the empty polling centers, no matter what prohibition on news reporting were issued by the CNE to the media. Not even could the chavista media dare to break the interdiction since simply put they could not find a voting station full enough, except for the one where Chavez voted, easily packed with his traveling court. If opposition strongholds were staying away, pro Chavez area could only muster light voting at best. By noon all knew that abstention would be the big winner.

Unaccountably in spite of obvious abstention the CNE extended voting hours by a full hour alleging heavy rains in some areas of the country even though ¾ of the country had fine weather. International observers would notice that voting suddenly increased at that hour.

In spite of closing voting centers as late as two hours after the normal schedule, in spite of an all automated voting system we had to wait for 4 hours for an initial bulletin. One week later, with an all manual pen and paper system, and a high voter participation, the Chilean electoral system would emit its first bulletin in less time than it took Jorge Rodriguez to finally face the cameras.

He announced, or rather admitted, a 75% abstention result, a number contested from the very same moment it was announced (1). Anything more than 70% would have been considered a major chavista set back. A contested 75% was definitely not good news for a plainly despondent chavismo who in spite of winning 100% of the seats showed funeral faces on state TV instead of joyful ones (not a single one for the opposition even though some minor candidates remained in the race). The country knew. The time of easy lies was over (2).

The post mortem of December 4



The week that followed the election was not managed well by chavismo. To begin with the CNE did not help. It was totally unable to give coherent results as numbers of voters varied through its web pages (3). Massaging numbers to make abstention look more palatable was what all thought the CNE was doing. No one really cared since it was so obvious. In fact, it became quickly an “at least” 75%, which stuck. (4)

But it got worse.

A rather unusual null vote pattern appeared. This together with the meager votes of the opposition candidates that did not withdraw, made people realize that even with an unaccountable CNE sold out to chavismo, this one did not even manage to convince 20% of the Venezuelan electors to go out and ratify its political preeminence. Today a 15% number for chavista hard core voters seem to stick in the minds of all (as seen now as a constant reminder on the left side of this web page). The dismal 3 million votes was a far cry to the vaunted 10 million hoped for. And to add insult to injury the result was lower than for the municipal elections of August 2005. There was nowhere to hide.

And it got even worse.

The preliminary reports of the international observers came out. In spite of all diplomatic language required as matter of tact, and the obvious role of observers to only observe, it was clear from their text that they were not fooled. If duly they chastised the opposition from not having tried harder to participate in the election, they were rather direct in describing the CNE as the main culprit of the debacle from failing to create the necessary trust for an election to take place. The EU report went even further in pointing out the undue pressure of the government in trying to force people to go and vote. That report even mentioned the infamous Tascon list and the Maisanta program, modern McCarthysm, a political apartheid now suffered by the Venezuelan opposition.

A now totally perturbed chavismo started to attack international observers, to announce that the constitution would be changed to allow Chavez to stay in office until 2030, to announce that it will only recognize as opposition the minor candidates that stayed, that the traditional parties would have to renew their legal status, be punished for the expense of a useless election (!), ludicrous CIA driven plots, and etc

Chavismo could not hide how it was hurting, not because it had won 100% of the seats without a legitimate contest, but because it was now the main, if not only, responsible for the end of democracy in Venezuela.

As a suitable concluding and ironic moment, Jorge Rodriguez was asked to be the key note speaker for the commemoration of the December 15 1999 referendum on the new constitution. Only chavista representatives attended, few from the executive branch, and they gave him a standing ovation to his partisan speech, establishing for the international observers still in town that the CNE was in fact nothing more than the Electoral Ministry of the regime. And casting even more doubts on all elections since 2004! From blunder to blunder......

Questions

Analyzing what and why December 4 happened will require many posts, articles and perhaps even books by many people. A nice vacation occupation for many, including this blogger. The only thing we are all sure is that democracy, as we knew it, is over. The only real question is will Chavez complete the installation of an autocracy or will he back down at the edge of abyss and realize that he needs to recover the legitimacy he lost two Sundays ago. That one question he is the only one who can answer, though personally I think that he will chose the road to autocracy, or worse.

Meanwhile, we will be able to discuss the following items. Why chavista support has become so volatile? Will the opposition be able to cash in the abstention result and make it a victory (all parties have lost on the 4th, the one that will manage to lose the least might pas as a winner of sorts)? What will happen in Venezuela next year? Where are we as a country? What will this blogger do?

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1)That abstention of 75% was only overcome by the abstention for the municipal elections of December 2000, at 76%. This speaks volumes of the failure to engage the elector by Venezuelan politicians since 1998, in spite of the polarization of the country.

2) Sumate reports that according to them only 18% of people went to vote. It also reported that 30% of voting participation did take place during the extended voting hour! If these numbers are damning, it does not matter whether they are true and verifiable: the very numbers admitted by the CNE are bad enough already.

3)Today I checked out the CNE page and THERE ARE STILL discrepancies. For example for the election for the Latin Parliament we see a number of 13.933.494 registered voters whereas for the Andean Parliament we can read 13.928.900, a difference of 4594 voters when that “district” is THE SAME! Incidentally in this nation wide district, chavismo gets 20% of electors only.

4)The CNE has not published yet the national result for the National Assembly, only results by states. Well, if we look at Miranda state today we can see the following for registered voters: Andean Parliament 1.501.610; Latin Parliament 1.501.757 and Representative at large for the state 1.500.928. THREE numbers of registered voters for the same district!!!!! How can the CNE claim respectability!?!?! Not to mention that in May 2005 the official number was 1.514.943

The inconsistencies through 2005 have been notable. For example for the municipal elections of August the national voter registry read 14.404.799 and now it is either 13.933.494 or 13.928.900. Almost 500 000 voters gone in three months? If we use that 14 million number the abstention would be in fact 76%. How can we be sure of the numbers given by the CNE? Does'nt that 75% sound suddenly like a nice psychological number?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Defeated by trash

This week has been very hectic for me as I am trying to tighten all loose ends before vacation time. Unfortunately I do not get to chose my break time and like many Venezuelans I am subject to what the business decides. Many just close for up to 4 weeks in mid December as the country basically shuts up, much worse than some European countries in Summer.

Fortunately I did get some help such as following Miguel adventures at WizBang, or Weil copying my ideas :)

Today Milagros Socorro, who has been absent for too long from this page, has a stupendous article. Actually, I have been so impressed by its first reading that I think I have lost my objectivity in trying to talk about it. Maybe it is a trash article after all.

At any rate, Milagros Socorro uses the trash metaphor to trash, literally, the trashy ideology of chavismo. Her articles was inspired on some of Chavez declarations a few days ago when he bemoaned the amount of trash seen everywhere in Venezuela, worse than ever, after now 7 years in office.
… the president must admit that the trash that threatens to defeat him and his government is the ideological trash: the rhetoric over which float corruption, inefficiency, wasting of our resources and the exclusion of a large section of Venezuelans.

Let's remember that 85% of Venezuelans 10 days ago could not vote for Chavez, or could not be bothered supporting him again. Indeed, trash drowns people will.
Now Chavez orders the environment minister to look for the best technology in the World for street dirt, within realizing that the electoral power [CNE] disposes, allegedly, of the most modern gadgets on voting matters; and yet, nevertheless, this shinny hardware- bought expensive retail- has not been able to confer to the voting act the blood that gives it life, which is transparency and trust. Again the ideological trash and its twin, the need to remain in office at all cost, demoted the arrogance of technology in becoming the solution of a vital matter. It is thus clear that as long as a country is driven from ideological trash, there will be no technology, no excessive spending or good periodical intentions that will graze the lowering of its problems

Ms. Socorro muses at how other countries citizens that generate so much more garbage than Venezuelans can have clean cities. A municipal problem in all countries. And she muses at how Bernal was sat back in office last year when Chavez already bitterly complained about how dirty Caracas had become under Bernal. Did he really expect that Bernal would finally have learned how to pick up trash?
Each time that trashes reaches his neck Chavez entangles himself in his discursive detritus. On this occasion at Tia Juana [locale of that particular Chavez speech] he invited the populace to give the example and collaborate. But he passes the buck, as if he had nothing to do with the mega problem.

“When I leave in a car with my caravan – he said, by the way, with the tone of Pu Yi leaving the Forbidden City – I see people in the street throwing cigarette butts, cans and wrappers, and even in front of children. That cannot be”. And it is true that it cannot be. But he says nothing of the mayors who, in spite of spending enormous sums on misplaced emergency plans, virtual operations and illusory propaganda on a “clean city”, fail the citizenry and force it to wade in excrement!

This can thrown by the citizen because there is no reason for it to not do so –since there is no educational policy nor repression that would induce him to refrain from pigging the streets – is the demonstration, multiplied, as we know, to nausea, that we are adrift, invaded by ideological junk; and that, certainly, trash can end up drowning those who, far from suppressing it, lavish it.

It is difficult to make justice to this article in translation. I did not try it. But I trust that the metaphor used by Ms. Socorro is clear for all. Garbage in, garbage out. Last Sunday, and more and more everyday, 80% of Venezuelans do not want anymore of ideological trash.

Meanwhile, today Chavez was spreading some more trash in Brazil. While been awarded some shinny junk hardware. He has enough trash for all around.

And we have a winner

I am elated to announce that Miguel did win the WizBang beauty contest. And Alek made it to second position, thus ensuring a clean sweep for Venezuelan English written blogs. No small feat, if you ask me. Plus, of course yours truly on top last year. It seems that Venezuela is drawing more and more attention as Chavez tramples us more and more.

There are additional good news. This year total votes for Miguel was almost as big as the TOTAL vote of last year. That indicates a growing interests for blogs about what goes on South of the Border (or across the ocean depending from which anglo speaking country you look at us). Cuba through my friend Val came in second both times, which, if you think of it, is pretty good as it has no oil, not as many people as Venezuela, only a senile dictator that somehow still manages to make some lefty loonies salivate. The conclusion of course is that people are aware that Castro is a dictator, that Chavez is his Mini.Me and that critics are stronger than apologists. A footnote: in Africa nad Middle East category, This is Zimbabwe made it third, only to Iraqi blogs in the middle of the storm. And the readers of this blog know how much sympathy I have for the Mugabe opressed folks, an evil opression if any after Castro, with Chavez a good "friend" of Mugabe to our never ending shame.

Finally, this year we beat the UK, Europe, Australia and Canada categories, only behind Asia and Middle East Africa.

Congratulations Miguel and Alek.

Now I have to move to a less prominent position my last year tag....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Does Weil read Venezuela News?

Look what I got in the mail! [Venezuela, now it belongs to 15%]

From Tal Cual, Tuesday 13, December 2005

I do not know whether Weil reads Venezuela News or not, but that is OK, I did not ask for copyrights anyway :-)

It sure is nice to see that either I was not the only one with that rather obvious conclusion, or that my electoral conclusion was found interesting and is spreading around. Anything that ridicules this stupid and manipulative bolibananarian logo is good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Global Voices on line wins the B.O.B.

Global Voices is a multi hand blog that surveys other blogs around the world, to pick up interesting and relevant information. I am pleased to see that they won this year hotly contested Deutsche Welle award for "Best of Blogs" BEST JOURNALISTIC BLOG ENGLISH award. This is no small potatoes! And I am even more delighted as this blog is frequently referred to by Global Voices.

Way to go guys!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Vote! Vote!

Vote! These are not Venezuelan elections. You vote counts! And your vote can put a Venezuelan written blog over the top. Please go there and vote for either the Devil's Excrement or Vcrisis and bring attention on Venezuela. We cannot let these Cubans beat us up! Wait, those are good Cubans! Sorry Val, sometimes I think it is just a rugby match....

At least this year the Latin and South American Blog contest will get a nice place under the sun, with way more votes than last year. And lo'and behold, noted anti Castro Babalu and Real Cuba, with anti Chavez Devil and Vcrisis are holding all the attention.

So please, go and vote. You can do it three more times until the last day, December 15.

Ps: I am allowing myself to make some other endorsments. A little bit late but...

For blog design I like "Coming Anarchy". Does look a bit like Sumate Files, no? Besides they do graphs and maps, and well, I am a sucker for that.

For gay and lesbian blog there is one lesbian blog I liked. Their comment on Brokeback Mountain came from the reaction of an ex-gay talk show host. Priceless.

For best African blog, This is Zimbabwe, of course. Where Venezuela is headed.

For best European blog I have to go with No Pasaran because, well, no one escapes their scrutiny for ridicule and they are French.

For best culture/gossip blog I have a tie. I like my gossip to be sharp but not too mean and Perez Hilton or Go Fug Yourself are kind of fitting the bill for a good laugh.

Best liberal blog has to be Wonkette, though she could be running in the above category.

For the best comic blog, no contest. This cartoon of Cox and Forkum on Chavez paranoia is simply superb and gets my vote in a very, very contested field.

For best group blog, our friends at Publius Pundit covering all sorts of democratic revolutions. Chavez can be comapred to all sorts of authoritarian thugs amply discussed.

For best new blog I have a problem, too many choices. From the right with Atlas Shrugged to leftier blogs such a Glenn Greenwald passing trhough All Things Beautiful, I will not tell you which to endorse but will advise you to visit all and vote. There are a few promising starts there.

And for best blog I was tempted to chose none as all are too US centered, be they liberal or conservative. However Instapundit has shown a consistent interest in Venezuela so my vote goes for him. I hope the other guys will become more aware that there is more to the world than the US and Iraq to fire intra US political fights.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Votes, abstention and lies in Venezuela

It is time to do a brief overlook at the last Sunday election. As I already wrote, the only interesting result is the abstention vote. Whoever has been elected is irrelevant: they all belong to the government (not even an opposition representative, only 4-5 “dissidents” that will vote 98% of the times with Chavez laws, at the very least, just to show the “plurality” of the assembly). The only thing worth watching inside the new assembly is the infighting for access to contracts and goodies. After all, there are more representatives to feed, so to speak.

I did look at the CNE page. I do not believe their results, I do not believe their audit, I do not believe anything that comes from the CNE as a matter of fact (something that is shared by a majority of Venezuelans as even international observers picked up). However I took these numbers because, well, even with the CNE numbers the results are bad, really bad for chavismo.

I did look at the following things: some big states, the state that “suffered” from foul weather, and at the results from 2004 in those states. Why?

The rain effect: even in the "open source" show professor Hellinger run the canard that the high abstention was due to heavy rains in many areas of Venezuela. This was false as rain only affected Vargas, Miranda, Sucre and Nueva Esparta. The rest of the country had fine weather or at most a quick shower, such as Yaracuy who got a slight drizzle gone by 7 AM when the sun broke out for the rest of the day. Thus I rated these states as going from no rain to significant rain and the abstention for these states. The reader will see in Table 1 below that rain had at most a minor effect in the abstention rate, and in small states at that, Miranda state being the only big state where some heavy rains fell. We can pout to rest this excuse.

The null vote: I also looked at that because it was said that many people forced to vote managed to vote null with a system that is supposedly designed to limit null votes. We can see a general increase in the null vote amounts from Table 2 to Table 1, but nothing really to draw major conclusions.

The abstention: to have comparable results I looked at the abstention in the 2004 regional elections where a governor was running, thus stimulating people to vote more than for the municipal elections of last August. In most countries I can think of, national legislative elections are second only to presidential election if those are held. In parliamentary system, legislative elections are of course the top vote getter. In Venezuela, the main vote getter should be in that order: presidential, referendum, legislatives, regional and municipal election. This time legislative WERE BELOW municipal election results. This simply cannot be dismissed away. It is a clear cut fact. But to give some advantage to chavismo I compare the abstention between the regional and legislative. If I were using the recall election results chavismo would be in much worse shape that these tables indicate.

The chavista real share: the only thing left to measure is the real share of the electorate that belongs to chavismo, what we could call, with some reserve, the chavismo hard core vote. For this I took the percentage of people who actually voted, I subtracted the percentage of null votes and I multiplied by the percentage of people voting in the At Large list for the Assembly (Table 1). In Table 2 I did the same thing with the governor election. The reader will recall that these vote share decreased a lot, from the Recall Election 2.5 months earlier! Well, table 2 shows in light beige the difference between the columns in light blue. The loss of chavista vote in one year is definitely considerable, and even more so if I were to use the Recall Election numbers.

In red, Chavez states in 2004. In green opposition states in 2004. Today only Zulia would be green.



There is even the election result that confirms the rule! If you look at Yaracuy, the asbtention increase is much less significant than in other states, comparable to what one would expect going from legislative to state, and NOT the other way around as we see now. But let's call this a detail. Even though I did report empty voting stations, participation was higher elsewhere in Yaracuy than in San Felipe it seems. But Yaracuy is an exception because 1) it had a low abstention in October 2004 compared to other states due to a vigourous campaign by Lapi and 2) this time around there was a deep split between chavista files resulting in 1 dissident elected, Capella. The elections were thus interesting enough for chavista Yaracuy voters. Yet, the increase in abstention is huge! And validates the observed voting pattern elsewhere. Probably Yaracuy reflects best the real hardcore chavista vote number, when the chavista voter is interested in the issues at least.

Conclusion: it does not matter how chavismo massages the numbers, twist them, invent excuses and explanations, it cannot hide that it basically lost half of its voters. And this is considerably aggravated when one looks at all the pressure exerted by chavismo to have people vote, going as far as forcing government providers pay for transport for voters, making public transportation free in many places (Caracas subway), threatening people with job and contract loss, etc, etc… The task for next December is to recover at least all the lost voters, no easy feat by itself, and impossible with that CNE. Chavez can forget about the 10 million. Oh sure, he will win, but with what? 10%? Where is the “participatory democracy” if nobody participates?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Venezuela trashy entrance in the Mercosur

Today Venezuela was admitted in the Mercosur. Or was it? In fact it is admitted as a deliberating member, but not a voting one, and will be shortly presented with a list of all what it needs to do to become a full fledged member. My bet is that a transparent economy with free flowing capital will not be to Chavez liking. A trade block is a trade block, even if not a FTAA. But that story is yet to be written. Let's just concentrate today on how Chavez entered, or so he would have us believe, into the Mercosur as if they were waiting for him all these years to tell them what to do.

He signed anything that was put in front of him, in particular all sorts of new donations to Uruguay, a country that has a very significantly higher per capita income than Venezuela. Just as at home the most important highway of Venezuela is about to collapse and hospitals are as abandoned as they were a few weeks ago when a Norwegian TV crew visited. But Uruguay will get 17 million USD for one of its hospitals.

Then, Chavez brought his own personal problem in a very unseemly blackmail to his new colleagues. He must be smarting badly from the negative reports of the OAS and the EU, hurting to the point of accusing them of filing false reports and of being composed of people mostly from the "right wing". Just as most pro Chavez folks criticize this blogger when trying one form or another of character assassination. I wonder what the other countries attendees thought hearing such an unceremonious, vindictive and completely out of place speech. Consider that some of them perhaps did staff and pay for that OAS mission...

Of course Insulza replied promptly. He chose the institutional scene and reminded Chavez that he was the one asking for these observers. Me thinks that the rumored pre-pre-preliminary report was much harsher than what we saw and Chavez is simply attacking, trying to scare Insulza and the OAS before they dare go further in exposing all the irregularities that they saw, and, need I remind readers, are still seeing as they are in Venezuela all through this week and next. Basically the Chavez outburst was a reflection of his desire to see them out A.S.A.P. before they uncover even more chavista cheating.

The European commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, was more direct and bluntly stated that the government could have done more to ensure a better election. Chavez knows where the wind is blowing and is starting to do damage control. The Mercosur outburst is in fact for home consumption, for some careful edited cadena soon to show the troops that Chavez is not scared (you got to love when people need to demonstrate that they are not scared J ). Chavez probably does not care what the Mercosur guys think of his misplaced histrionics, as he probably thinks he will be able to buy them out anyway. Thus thugs think .

This was the first day of Chavez as the gorilla in the porcelain shop. Or was that the elephant in a crystal one?

Brazil is smiling.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Chavismo unhinged?

Today Venezuela looked like a bad chapter of a Garcia Marquez book. Realismo magico gone awry. (and with most links in English!)

While the extremely grave matter of the La Guaira bridge collapsing took the front pages, the government representatives started playing some obscure and hysterical game that made no sense. Actually, suspicious minds like this blogger might think that the Carreño show was a way to distract from the imminent collapse of the most strategic road of Venezuela, a disaster foretold since even before Chavez came too office but who this last one allowed to get worse and worse (negligence? inability to share contracts? corruption? not a vote gaining project?).

Miguel has done a spectacular article on the vital importance of that bridge. Thus I can concentrate on the tasteless show help today at the National Assembly. This show was about the uncovering of a conspiracy that was supposed to include the abstention of voting day, to destabilize the regime, all financed by the US president George BUSSSS (pejorative Spanish pronunciation registered by Chavez in his incessant litanies). Apparently with some bazooka, a few guys and some guns they were going to take over three barracks and provoke some general disorder while the opposition leadership would be boycotting the election.

Well, maybe Bush has nothing else to do but to lose sleep over Venezuela but the way it was presented, well, it is all B.S. big time. Why? Well this plain blogger detected, quite fast, several problems with the show.
  • Why was it announced by some parliamentarian instead of the state security apparatus?
  • Why was it the same bazooka that appears anytime there is some “evidence” shown on an attack against Chavez? Are those bazookas that easily available? Where can I get to shot the noisy parties of my neighbors that refuse to tone down after midnight?
  • Why was the bazooka at the National Assembly free to handle for the august state representatives? Was there not some need for protection of the evidence, undue finger prints, etc? Do these people ever watch C.S.I.?
  • Why was Pedro Carreño, the least credible person in Venezuela, promoting that bad show? Yes, the Pedro Carreño that said Direct TV had placed cameras in the decoders to spy people at home. The Pedro Carreño who said he knew that Montesinos had been shot in Peru while he was in fact hiding in Venezuela.
Any psychologist that would have watched the shifty eyes of Carreño and the cracking voice of Cilia Flores (more Silly Flores than ever, as nicknamed by long time reader Calypso) would have guessed that these people were lying deliberately.

So why such an impossible show? The accused opposition leadership wasted no time in daring Silly and Carroña to put up with names and real evidence or shut up. No reply of course. And there will be no reply. This is all a show but such a bad show that one is perplex at trying to understand what could motivate them to do such a show in front of International Observers. Do they think that these ones are going to buy that crap? That they are going to change their minds about the real causes of abstention? That millions of Venezuelans were into such an unlikely coup d’etat? Or did they knew the La Guaira bridge was about to collapse so they distracted attention by sacrificing any rest or reputation they might have had?

Since when a winning coalition behaves in such a way? Or it is really a winning coalition? Or perhaps is it due that SUMATE announced that it liked the OAS and EU preliminary reports?

I am sure that the EU and OAS must be in an urge to leave Venezuela, if anything before the bridge collapses and the trek to the airport goes from one hour to 5 hours…

Meanwhile, to top it off, the US ambassador was booed in Margarita, the tourist island where some local low life mayor decided to try to score some brownie points with the Silly Carroñas of this world.

Garcia Marquez could not come up with a day like today.

The European Observers Union Report

I owed this since last Tuesday but some other radio matters distracted me. Since then it has been covered elsewhere and I will just limit myself to two key points, the key ones in my opinion.

It is difficult for a report to start in a less ambiguous way. After the formal introduction stating how the observation was made, the opening paragraph is the following one.

Wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have trust in the electoral process and in the independence of the electoral authority.


There is no need for any comment. It joins the OAS report in staying that the CNE is deeply flawed and no serious elections can be held in Venezuela as long as the corrupt Mickey Mouse court of Jorge Rodriguez remains in place.

And then it moves on to stress the real crux of the matter, the point that has disgusted European observers and more and more people as Venezuelan apartheid is slowly uncovered by the outside world.

The disclosure of a computerized list of citizens indicating their political preference in the signature recollection process for the Presidential Recall Referendum (so-called “Maisanta Program”) generates fear that the secrecy of the vote could be violated.

Last night on the air I was asked about the Tascon list. People are getting the message and as the weeks pass chavistas supporters outside Venezuela will have a harder and harder tome to defend what is indefensible. Or they can put their conscience to rest, which probably means that they did not have much of one to start with.

Chavismo can use any trick of the game, any possible spin, it cannot hide the Tascon list unless it punishes Tascon and those who used his list. Word is spreading out and any future electoral observer will ask how that question was solved before even considering validating a Venezuelan election. I do not need to elaborate further on the EU report, the smart reader already got the point. The complete report is here anyway.

Teodoro Petkoff, in case somebody does not get it yet, gives some additional explanations. That is that, no trustworthy CNE, no election. Both government and opposition must understand that the future, and only hope for Venezuela democracy, is to form a new CNE and repair the badly damaged Venezuelan voting system. If the government refuses to consider it, then it will show its undemocratic mettle with all the consequences that this will imply. If it is not for the opposition to make concessions, it is still responsible of organizing itself in a serious movement capable of providing serious and consistent support to the voting process, from voting stations personnel, to a program that motivates people to go and vote.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Venezuelan Blogger exposure

I am quite pleased to list a few achievements that Venezuelan bloggers have reached lately. Perhaps courtesy of Chavez electoral treachery, but at least such crass manipulations by chavismo are bringing attention to what is going in Venezuela and so far the verdict is not very favorable to chavismo. Or why else would the CNE be paying full adds in Venezuelan papers to illustrate only the "good" part of the OAS report? A bad part? Nahhh! All peaches and cream in Venezuela!

It is the awards season

Wizbang is at it again with its best of blogs contest. This blogger won a hard fought duel against Babalu last year where Val even offered to shave his legs if he were to win the election. Since then he has become quite a force in the anti Castro movement and has added many writers to his roster, got paper interviews, etc... He is probably going to win as he is has become the darling of the enlightened right. Not to mention been banned in Cuba, the highest honor one blogger can get!

I would have probably endorsed him as a worthy adversary and a witty writer but there are two Venezuelan bloggers nominated this year and my heart must go to them; an action made easy since both have a distinguished blogging career, showing all of us, including me, how it is done. Thus Miguel and Alek are running and I am urging you to vote for your favorite to make sure that at least one of them makes it to second position. And who knows, maybe a stunning upset since I doubt very many want to see Val's shaven legs. Please go there every day as you can vote once a day, make it a book mark for this week as not only we vote for a South American blog, but we also need to score a few votes against the other categories who will get thousand of votes! This endorsement does not detract from the other worthy blogs in South America, and this year the list is much more open on the South than last year. I urge you to visit all the blogs listed in the contest page, but do vote for your favorite Venezuelan blogger. And no, I am not going to say for which want I will be voting.

There is a sour note. When consulted by Wizbang I suggested that no past winners should run again in order to make room for new blogs. Well, this seems to have been interpreted as me not wanting to run again (true) but in the other categories we are seeing past winners happily running again. I think it is a mistake and of course I am very disappointed. I hope that next year this will not happen again. I also allow myself to write an anti endorsement recommending NOT to vote for past winners even if they are your favorite. They had their moment under the sun and this is not a permanent contest.

Meanwhile I will enjoy my little award badge as when the new winner is announced I will have to move it to a less prominent position in the page.

[PS: I was wrong, I must have gotten early information. When the final polling form came up, most past winners were not running in their same categories. My apologies for the above comment, which stays up as I never withdraw what I post. Crow eating is crow eating, though it would have been nice that all past winners withdrew.]

Bloggers on the air

Well, the Venezuelan electoral fiasco has generated a flurry of radio programs where it seems that now consistent bloggers are invited to talk. The media is catching on!

First there was Alek in a one hour show that he saved here. One hour long. Need some anti sycophancy pills.

The yours truly was asked by the BBC Radio Five Live for a short 5 minutes interview, all through Skype, the way of the future it seems. The outline names me as Ducanard, but I find this funny since I explained to the host that the duq was pronounced like the bird, duck. Hence the probable confusion. The interview is on the first quarter of the program, about 4 minutes into the show.

And then comes tonight discussion where I shared with Miguel Octavio a one hour conversation with Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez and Political Science prof Daniel Hellinger from Webster University and also another person but I do not know who it was as I lost communication for a few minutes. At any rate, Hellinger introduced the Venezuelan situation on a rather pro Chavez way but OK. Then Alvarez had the show for him for a few minutes which is normal as ambassadors are not supposed to debate. Let's just say that he did his job as expected which means justifying his boss acts in the new foreign policy of Venezuela. Then there was Miguel for some economical talk and I came in last for some civil rights and legal discussion. Some give and take. All well prepared and presented by the host. You can hear it all there tomorrow at one affiliate from Lowell (9 AM Eastern time Thursday, click the Open Source Link on the right, I suppose) or wait a little bit until the show comes up on line in a few days. Please, try to leave a comment to encourage them to do more Latin American stuff: many dead liens are coming such as Bolivia (and who knows what else on Venezuela).

Enjoy and make fun at us.

PS: It is already on there.

Daniel and Miguel in Opensource Radio!

Connect to

http://www.radioopensource.org/the-politics-of-venezuela/

write and call. They are on right now.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A new logo for Venezuela Robolucion


Free of charge, for free use, you do not even need to thank me for this creation. Just spread the good news around.

Busted! The OAS trashes the Venezuelan elections!

The international observers, the two who matter, have emitted their preliminary report today. The least we can say is that chavismo has been busted for all its electoral treachery.

Now, before I give some of the highlights, it is important to keep in mind something: unless the violations are definitely gross, such as witnessing direct ballot stuffing, serious international agencies are not easily going to discard elections they observe. Simply put, international diplomacy cannot allow that. It does happen on occasion such as when some withdraw or threatens to their observation, such as was the case in the last Fujimori elections in Peru. But if these evenst are rather rare, these observations do have a way to write up a report that says a lot when one reads in between lines.

In Venezuela the only observers that matter are of course the Organization of the American State and the European Union. Let’s start with the OAS one.

I was actually a little bit surprised at the strength of this report. Visibly they did not like at all what they saw, and from both sides. Here are some excerpts and my “in between lines” reading.

The Mission deployed its 45 observers in 22 states of the country to observe the elections through a random sampling of polling centers.

The Mission would like to underscore the climate of calm that was evident during the elections [all went as it should have gone during the day], The day ended with a participation level of approximately 25% of all potential voters.

The mechanical part of the election, that is the actual part of voting and counting the ballots as accorded prior the election was held as accorded.

Nevertheless, based on its direct observation on election day, the Mission would like to point out that in several polling centers it was noted that a significant number of voters showed they did not understand or had difficulties with the voting process. A good number of voters asked the poll workers or political party observers present to accompany them and help them cast their votes with the electronic ballot. Such practices could damage the secrecy of the vote.

Do I need to comment on that one? Yes indeed, the process is difficult for a country where Mision Robinson for alphabetization notwithstanding many still like to know the “color” of their party before they go to vote, as in old days where all ballots were colored pieces of paper.

In the majority of polling centers observed by the OAS, the polls closed between 5 and 7 p.m., even in several cases when no voters were in line, which was not in compliance with the schedule established by law. The decision was taken by the CNE leadership for weather-related reasons in five states, and in the rest of the country on the grounds that the polling centers should remain open for 10 hours. In practice, poll workers and members of Plan República were the ones who decided the time the polls would close. These circumstances helped to create uncertainty and suspicion. It is worth noting that the extension of the voting hours coincided with an intensification of the governing party’s campaign to increase participation in the final hours.

This is extremely grave as the OAS admits implicitly that the observation of SUMATE that 30% of the cast votes happened during the last hour or so of the voting day!!! Just as this voter even hinted at from watching across the street from his house! In other words, for those who still do not get it: the government somehow knew who had voted or not by early afternoon and managed to make a big drive in mid afternoon to recruit reluctant followers to go and vote with voting hours prolonged AGAISNT the accorded closing time. Is there a more delicate way to describe electoral fraud when everyone knew that the only number that would matter would be the number of the abstention?

The Mission laments the public statements made by a high-level leader of the governing party that sought to coerce the participation of government employees. This statement was denounced by all sectors of the country.

Need I comment this also? The video of Iris Varela is in one of my past blogs already, and I put it here again. But this goes beyond: it also alludes indirectly to all the coercion done in the days before the election. It also alludes that Iris Varela should be punished if the government wants to demonstrate that it means to clean up its act. Ah! The joys of diplomatese!

In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities; between the government and the opposition; between the government and the privately owned news media; and within the opposition parties themselves. A climate of polarization and political tension was also perceived.

Duh! But what is grave here is “This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities”. The OAS saw it was not a matter of media wars or the US influencing the opposition. They observed that the Venezuelan citizenry is EFFECTIVELY divorced from the words of what should be a non partisan system. Astounding!

[stress on the opposition distrust of the CNE] Additionally, certain inconsistencies and gaps in the electoral law were observed, which reduced legal assurances and which suggest the need for a rigorous reflection on these laws.

Despite the important guarantees granted by the CNE, at the request of this significant segment of the opposition, this segment decided in the end not to participate in the elections. It is worth noting that the guarantees that were offered included the elimination of the digital fingerprint machines and of the great majority of the electronic voting notebooks, an increase in audits after the polls closed, the granting of additional space in the news media for electoral advertising, and the presence of witnesses and international observers in all phases of the electoral process.

As objective observers they of coruse need to point out to the opposition flaw. However, observe that these are milder and come after describing already many irregularities committed by the regime. My perception is that in a diplomatic way the OAS says that it did understand, if it did not approve, that the opposition decided to bail out even when the digital fingerprint machines were unplugged.

Similarly, the efforts undertaken by the CNE in fulfillment of its mandate to automate the vote are worth mentioning. Nonetheless, given its complexity, the system requires permanent audits as well as technical and human safeguards, with the effective participation of all political parties, in order to generate the necessary confidence.

No need to elaborate.

Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Although the right not to participate is recognized, it is of concern that due to the withdrawal of the opposition, an important portion of the citizenry is left without representation in the National Assembly. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process, so that it can loyally participate in the democratic system.

As we say in Venezuela: “mas claro no canta un gallo (clearer does not sing the cock).

During the election campaign, the Mission observed proselytizing activities on the part of high-level public officials, at the national as well as the state and municipal levels, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.

This is another extremely important observation: the OAS was able to observe the abuse of public monies and supplies used to favor chavista candidates.

[observations on the need for both sides to restore dialogue] The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.

In other words, the OAS recognizes that Venezuela is a mess and we should start from scratch to get real elections again!!!! Stunning! STUNNING!!!!!

No wonder Jorge Rodriguez, Chavez and the other cheer leaders were so upset today, so defiant! They have been busted like brats and play the tough game. Unfortunately for them it seems that the OAS might start treating them as spoiled brats anytime soon…..

(In another post the UE report.)

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