Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Chavez and Maria Corina Machado

Today Weil in Tal cual had the following cartoon.

Weil has started drawing Chavez with a suit but with a head like a military boot. The allusion is, of course, one that more and more Venezuelan share: we are under a military regime that uses a civilian drag. Any serious observer in Venezuela would notice the amount of soldiers in positions of importance in the public administration. Wherever there are important decisions to be made, there is a military gatekeeper. The military of Veenzuela have reached power again without needing to make a coup. And they are now acting as under a military regime: their word cannot be challenged.

Today's cartoon was in allusion to the speeches of recent days where Chavez started attacking anyone that opposes him as either a coup monger or a lackey of the Empire, forgetting conveniently that his own coup of 1992 was infinitely worse than the one that lasted for a full day in April 2002. Deaths and damage to the country included.

But this cartoon goes further, it shows that Chavez through 2006 will crush anyone that will stand on his way to reelection, and without legal excuses if needed.

Well, Weil could not have guessed that this very same day his cartoon would be vindicated.

The general prosecutor office has announced today that it will seek a 16 year jail term for Maria Corina Machado and her associates in SUMATE; she is the formal head of SUMATE (in English here). What is worse, the prosecutor wants Machado and her associates to be in jail during their trial. This is in open contempt of a High Court ruling of last year which unambiguously stated that they should be tried in liberty. Apparently the prosecution office has received the order to put the directors of SUMATE in jail A.S.A.P. and might be defying the high court. We anticipate the high court to go along and pretend not be be challenged.

The consequent reader of this blog knows very well what this really mean: as the ground is shifting under Chavez, this one does not want to risk anything. If the opposition must abstain, so be it, but SUMATE must be shut down as it is the organization that will expose all the misery, perversity and illegality of the Venezuelan Electoral System.

This will be followed closely in the blog dedicated to SUMATE which I have set up long ago and which can be easily reactivated now. This blog by the way will include several valuable co-bloggers to keep a close watch on the events.

But I want to leave with an important reflection, I think. Chavismo believes that by jailing SUMATE it might silence this one and the opposition. This is silly. This reflects their own mind set where they all depend from Chavez, the bringer of all life. In their totalitarian-proto-fascist ways they assume that Machado is some unique leader of the opposition, Chavez like since she is received by Bush, for example. They are in for a rude awakening as jailing Machado will be the first major mistake of Chavez reelection bid. There is no better way to propel new leaders to fight Chavez than jail Maria Corina. Remember: you read it here first.

What to do with Venezuela: part 5-B

Deciding upon a unique presidential candidate

Once the common program for a transition period is established it should be easier to proceed to select a viable presidential candidate. Considering that the opposition would be united for a three year program, many of the more ambitious, and usually younger ones, that are in for the full term might decide to step aside and wait, letting someone with more experience and willingness go to sacrifice for the common good. Before discussing the potential candidates let’s first discuss how this one would be elected.

Election of a candidate

Considering that there might be CNE dead lines to meet, anyone that wishes to run for president should just register with the CNE. It does not matter when the final choice of the opposition is done as long as it is done three full months before the election day. After all, one of the decisions that might have to be taken would be to withdraw from the race if the CNE does not offer acceptable conditions for a reasonably fair elections. Again, the Venezuelan people are now quite aware of what is going on and 2/3 at least of the electorate will vote either for Chavez or against it no matter what the opposition candidate. The Venezuelan democratic system in a way has regressed to the Yellow Dog system.

Which would be the conditions to run in the primary election? Very simple, at least 4 people out of the 25 from the commission that designed the program should publicly support the pre-candidate (or some similar requirement). This will have the advantage of limiting distracting runs either by cryptic chavistas or plain weirdoes since at most 8 people could run.

To simplify the process and try to avoid a time consuming second run, the winner would be required to have at least 40% of the votes and more than 5% advance on the next in the run if s/he does not reach the 50% on the first round. If not, well, too bad, we will need a second round between the two top candidates.

All of this can be completed by early August at the latest. And then for the three months campaign of September through November, the opposition will have a clear program and a unique candidate.

The final candidate should be the one running the campaign. No more Coordinadora Democratica, no more supra structure: all must rally behind a single candidate and support him or her heartily. After all, that person if Chavez is defeated, will stay in office for no more than 3 years, 4 at most if the constitution is changed to limit presidential terms. Besides, one judges a candidate as to how well a campaign is run. If you doubt it, you may watch "The West Wing".

The candidates

This part is a little off topic, but I decided to include it anyway as the personality of the candidates with a real shot influenced this proposal redaction. The first thing for the reader that is still here is to forget the polls. Since no one is really running openly yet, these polls are meaningless. When you see that in a certain poll Salas Romer still has higher numbers than Teodoro Petkoff you know that something is wrong with the methodology. Not that Salas is a bad candidate (this blogger voted for him in 1998) but times have changed and this poll reflect more the passivity of the electorate and the subsequent sole importance of name recognition than any real political tendency expressed.

In the opinion of this blogger there are only three candidates worth considering, barred some miracle when the program commission is elected (indeed, that is an advantage of electing such a committee, to promote a possible new candidate from the civilian sector). These three candidates are Julio Borges, Teodoro Petkoff and Manuel Rosales.

Julio Borges of Primero Justicia

Advantages. He is not bound to the past. He projects a certain image of efficiency (after all, PJ rules the three areas which are the best administered in the country, Chacao, Baruta and Los Salias, where all chavista officials try to move in). PJ could be a winner in the election of the program committee, thus ensuring that Borges and that committee work well together. It is too late for PJ to change him. PJ has now a significant electoral machinery in the main states.

Weakness. Even as considerable efforts have made to reach the masses, with some success actually, PJ is still too linked to the middle class. And Borges by himself is a good candidate but lacks charisma. It might be a good contrast to over excited Chavez in a country that might start to seek some rest, but it could also backfire. In small states he will have problems to be accepted, and will rely on AD leftover machinery which will grudgingly work for him.

Manuel Rosales, Zulia governor

Advantages. He will carry, largely, Zulia state. In fact, he might even carry the neighboring states that are prey to lousy governors reelected strictly on Chavez referendum coattails and because of the failure of the opposition to make a real challenge in 2004. Of all candidates he is the most protected from electoral fraud, at least in Zulia where nobody would believe that he would not get at least 50%. He is not from the Caracas establishment, to which now chavistas are considered to belong (even if as a parallel establishment to the old one). Proven administrative experience. Would get at least 25% in a primary thus starting strongly any bid and getting some “unifying” power. Would probably be second only to PJ in the seat distribution of the program committee.

Weakness. He is an ex AD, but that might be OK today. He signed on April 12 2002, but if Chavez has not jailed them yet he might not dare to do it anymore. After all he was brilliantly reelected in 2004 in site of all sorts of accusations and that “cleansed” him from that April mistake, just as 1998 “cleansed” Chavez of 1992. He might be too provincial for some tastes. He has electoral machinery only in Zulia and would rely too much on AD outside. Outside of Zulia and Caracas he is still not well known, in particular in the Eastern part of the country. He is also the most hated by Chavez as his inability to carry Zulia is a personal affront and also the only thing that could justify his PDVSA take over for his own personal objectives since lacking the Zulia oil state popular approval is a constant reminder of the arbitrary actions of Chavez then.

Teodoro Petkoff

Advantages. Name recognition? The only one that Chavez fears. As an ex guerilla he cannot be labeled as a right winger, anti people. The only one that can go one on one with Chavez, even getting into the gutter to wrestle Chavez without dirtying himself (Chavez loves to get dirty in the gutter and that can backfire on him). Proven administrative experience as the minister who straightened up the Caldera administration mess. Through his paper Tal Cual has demonstrated to have clear ideas as to where the country should go. Certainly the darling of the “independent” and "intellectual" minded set. He can benefit from the remains of the MAS electoral machinery and has already run elections. He is old enough that all would believe that he is in only for 3-4 years maximum.

Weakness. As an ex guerilla too many people are not willing to forgive him. Thus his problem in the primary is to reach a second round ballot which would be easier for him to win than reaching that second round! He might be a little too “white” for some folks that are too young to remember the guerilla days, and Chavez might be tempted to use that racial card. Could backfire but that strategy might work for Chavez. He also would be very reluctant to back the winner of the opposition primary if this one is too far from his ideas (think Alvarez Paz or Roberto Smith if they were able to win, which I doubt). He might have little influence in the program committe.

My choice?

This blogger thinks that Teodoro is the man. He is Liberal (US sense), a Social Democrat (EU sense), someone that after the guerilla years has realized and understood the values of pragmatism and the progressive approach, some one that understands that real jobs are the best social program that exists, the only social program that can bring Venezuela out of a near 4th world mentality. He is someone that would be able to befriend fast all the South American left leaders, better than Chavez does based only on his wallet: Teodoro can do it on his words alone.

This being said, if Borges or Rosales win, I would have no problem fully backing them either. I identify very well with the efficiency aspirations of PJ, or the decentralization objectives of Rosales. Both are democrats (even if Rosales might be a little bit too old school, Tamany Hall kind of boss). But anyone of them is infinitely better than Chavez.

In fact I am delighted that the opposition has at least these three options whereas in contrast chavismo has only Chavez as the rest are mediocre flatterers unable to create their own leadership, even if Chavez were to allow it.


Monday, February 06, 2006

And the 2006 electoral campaign has started!

Last Thursday Chavez made a big “celebratory” event to commemorate his seven years in office. I suppose that those that cashed in where happy. The attendance lot seemed quite prosperous, far from that starved look of revolutionaries they harbored 7 years ago. They have learned how to wear the classic suit.

The speech through the unavoidable cadena lasted for hours. Apparently all the high feats needed to be recounted. And all the decibels, vulgarity, threats and bad jokes that accompany Chavez speech where there as this brilliant cartoon of Weil illustrates.

And while he was at it, Chavez launched his reelection campaign, several month before the official date. I would like to point out that next door Uribe has not really launched his own campaign. Actually, they have saddled him with all sorts of restrictions, something that Chavez in spite of the electoral law seems immune of. We know as of February 2 that any electoral restriction that will try to create a fair field for a presidential campaign will be broken through and through by Chavez. Why? Because the head of the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE, Jorge Rodriguez was in the attendance for all the speech and applauded as much as he could the pseudo achievements of Chavez.

You mean to say that the umpire of the electoral process was cheering the Chavez program and his new electoral bid? The umpire was witnessing all of these electoral violations and did not stand up and leave? An umpire? What umpire?

Today’s editorial of Teodoro Petkoff does not mince words. Spanish version here. I will only translate choice parts.

This was an act of clear electoral goals, where all speakers from Rangel [the V.P.] to anyone below did nothing else but to suck up to Chavez and where the key word of the festival (“Seven Years… For the time being”) obviously alluded to the reelection intention. Again: What was the president of the CNE doing in an event that was starting the Chavez campaign?

The president of the CNE _ just as from any public service _ not only must be honest but he must seem honest. It is clear that the participation of Jorge Rodriguez in this event and the posterior silence of the CNE in front of all the electoral violations of the Electoral Law that has perpetrated the Great Continuator [Teodoro knows how to coin expressions], does not go along in inspiring confidence to the electors as to the impartiality and honesty of the organization in charge of our elections. To the contrary, a CNE so visible partial is not even good for the government.

It is not that we are worried by the early start of Chavez campaign. It is evident that he is violating the law because he feels the ground shifting under himself and that the popular support is fraying. To ask from Chavez, this perpetual transgressor, to respect the law would be an exercise in naïveté. But the one we should demand to respect itself and the laws and the electoral calendar is the institution in charge of the elections.

This road can only increase the mistrust of the population. They are wrong those in the government who believe that only the opposition will abstain in front of an electoral process so perverse. The pedestrian chavismo will not want to win cheating. This chavismo also wishes for a clean game.

What to do with Venezuela: part 5

Part 5: How could the opposition capitalize on its recent success?

What could the opposition do considering the present circumstances? The good news is that there are options. The bad news is that political will and steady pulse are required.

One must be aware at all times that Chavez disposes of the colossal financial, legal and illegal support of the state for all of his misdeeds, electoral or not. It will be a rough campaign. However I do believe that the Venezuelan people have largely made up their mind, in particular the opposition: there is little that Chavez can do at this point to dent the 40% that has always been voting against him until August 2004. That capital is there and haunts Chavez at night. It haunts him even more since people have learned very well not express their real thoughts and hopes to pollsters, thus confusing all. The only consistency detectable in polls is a tendency for Chavez numbers to drop, without even having a clear discourse facing him. It must certainly be enervating.

I do believe that the opposition can mount a reasonable challenge with only a fraction of the money that Chavez will spend and still achieve a significant gain. Even a result of 4 million for Chavez to 3 million for the opposition would be a great success. And even if the opposition decides at the last minute not to run again, anything below 5 million votes for Chavez will be a disaster as Chavez inconceivably keeps invoking the 10 million mark!

I also think that if the opposition gets its act together by August 1, it can actually beat Chavez in December. How?

There are two issues that have been dodging the opposition and making Chavez task easier at berating the opposition: the lack of a program and the lack of a candidate. There is a way to deal with that. And a way that actually would weaken any partisan CNE that chavismo might throw in the ring to thwart opposition chances.

Creating a program of government

Criticizing the opposition for its lack of program is unfair. However it is fair to say that whatever program or message the opposition has had, this one was drowned in the background noise of multiple promises to please all and enthusiasm none. The first goal is thus to settle for a simple common opposition program that can be understood by all, with clear and limited objectives: namely the restoration of institutionalism and investor confidence to generate job and personal security as jobs take away the idle from the streets. It might not even hurt to be simplistic instead of the complex book offered a bare few weeks before the Recall Election.

Offering a transition government program

This election is different. The institutions of the country have been destroyed by the personal hunger for power of Chavez. When you see the Supreme Court judges chanting pro Chavez slogans you do realize that conciliation and promises of better roads pavement are not going to carry the day. What Venezuela needs is to rebuild institutions first before a real electoral campaign on matters of social and economical projects can be undertaken. After the collapse of the La Güaira bridge and 6 years of Vargas neglect people might start understanding that their job and hunger problems are not going to get solved by Chavez hot air. Some serious administrative job must be undertaken. Globovision is getting tiresome in showing chavistas complaining against chavista incompetent “public” servants. That is enough evidernce.

I think that it would be good to offer the country a three year plan, a transition period where the only promise is to make the state institutions work again as independent entities devoted only to the locals. A program where the new president will engage in divesting his power and returning it to the people and people only. After three years, new elections will be held to vote in a new more complete project.

This does carry some additional advantages:
  1. It allows forcing that the common presidential candidate to be there only for a three year period. When the main measures will have been taken, he or she will step down and allow for the election of a new president with a real long term program.
  2. A transition president, that promises not to run for reelection, might actually give that person the energy to tackle some necessary measures that a long term president with eyes on poll might not want to touch with 10 feet pole. This would be the secret of a transition government.
  3. It will allow for a reassuring of the chavistas that genuinely believe in Chavez that they will not be “eradicated” and that in three years they will be already able to come back, albeit with someone else than Chavez. With such a transition program only so much witch hunting can be done in three years.
  4. In brief, it could allow for the postponement of a major confrontation until people cool off their temper. Three years might be enough to bring back enough civility to run a real campaign.
What would that program be?

In no particular order:

1) Rebuilding the institutions of the country. This will probably require a constitution modification. This should be significant but limited. It should include a reduction of the presidential and legislative terms to 5 or 4 years (I’ll go for 4); putting back the army under civilian control; it should eliminate reelection no matter what; it should render justice independent once and for all; it should strengthen decentralization. Half a dozen amendments voted in a referendum would be enough. And certainly cheaper and faster than a constitutional assembly. Besides Chavez has been violating so many of the constitutional articles that the only ones that matter are those mentioned. The new government can keep violating the other constitutional articles as Chavez has been doing. Civic education is a long process and it must start by the core principles.

2) It should have the courage to say that some Misiones are good and list the ones that are bad and why. It should promise to deliver control of the good Misiones to the local governments, to place them under control of the consumer. That is one way to demonstrate that power will go to the people: states are perfectly able to run Barrio Adentro which is just a reprise of old primary schemes practiced in the 60ies. Mercal could be announced as designed only to help the poor, the real poor so as to benefit them even more by extending subsidies. There are antecedents for Mercal, from PROAL to the “bolsas de comida”. Mision Sucre should be crossed out as a waste but Rivas should be maintained and coupled with a technical program for people to get a real, if short, education for the only real jobs available out there: technical and maintenance jobs. We have enough university degrees holding "buhonero" stands. People know and can understand that. REAL JOBS, with complete social benefits, should be the core offering.

3) It should proclaim a “Venezuela first” policy, renouncing FTAA and Mercosur as well. Venezuela does not need either one for the time being. If we stop giving money away we might just have enough for us. And of course a clear pledge to not only stop giving money away but to try to get back as much as what was given away. Using international tribunals if necessary. It would not hurt to pledge that any recovered money will be distributed directly to the states. That way we could easily counter any nationalistic card that Chavez might want to play, constantly reminding folks on how he uses “their” money as if it were “his” money.

4) It should bluntly plead for a removal of the members of the “Poder Moral” accusing them of the biggest enablers of corruption. The institution should be preserved but it should call for a referendum on their tenure if they refuse to step down. Placing people of integrity there is the only way to start controlling the sick corruption that is destroying our society. In other words, Isaias, Clodosvaldo and German should be made electoral issues. They would be a great target to make sure that the election is not against Chavez only but against a perverse system that is there only to favor Chavez and his minions. Besides, the three of them are so politically engaged that nobody would be shocked by such an action.

5) PDVSA should be professionalized again. There should be a pledge of evaluation by an independent committee of the people who replaced the strikers: the ones who performed their job well should remain. Not all the ones that were fired should get a free return. It is unfortunately the price to pay for national reconciliation by demonstrating that there will be no witch hunting. And it is the only way to try to take PDVSA out of politics again. Perhaps the coexistence of the two camps within PDVSA might be better for the country on the long run. Besides many of the experimented ex PDVSA employees have already found jobs or could be hired by the private sector as Venezuela production should be raised by an extra million barrels a day, something that the present PDVSA seems unable to do, stuck below the pre 2002 level.

That would be enough and can be achieved in three years with a few more sweeteners for the bitter pill that awaits all of us Venezuelans after the mess of these last 7 years. Real efforts to achieve such goals would be enough to bring back investors confidence. With the oil money that will keep coming no matter what, Venezuela economy will experience a real productive growth instead of a distributive scheme of growth that is doomed even if oil prices were to remain high in a foreseeable future.

How to generate such a program?

There is nothing really original in the program offered above. It is just what a logical mind would think to return the country from the nincompoop socialism of the XXI century into a workable Social Democracy. The originality would be in how this program will be agreed upon. There should be an election of a commission that would decide the details of the program. A little bit like the now infamous Coordinadora Democratica, but with a real representation. That commission will be elected through the services of SUMATE and would welcome only groups that accept to abide by the final outcome of the commission no matter what that result is. Since the aim would be for a transition period government, that might not be too difficult to achieve.

An electoral system for the opposition

It would be important to elect an opposition commission that is not too large for several reasons:
  1. To make sure that it cannot act as a parallel parliament and thus pass in the eye of public opinion as a willful disturbance factor. Half of the country at least agrees that the monochromatic parliament we have now is useless, a rubber stamp body with Mickey Mouse ears. But half of the country is not willing to go into an extra parliamentary adventure.
  2. There should be good and pragmatic minds elected to it. The less of them the easier to reach an agreement and a short program of government.
  3. Political parties might be less tempted to send in their prima donne and instead opt for their real technicians to take seats.
  4. It would allow for any presidential candidate to get to know every one of the commissioners, making sure that no platform plank would bar outright a candidate to run in the primaries
But the best way to induce participation in that election is to make sure that no party or group can control such an assembly. I propose that the group is limited to, say, 25 folks and that no single group can get more than 1/3 of the seats available. That way, for example, if PJ were to get 60% of the votes it would still get only 8 seats. In such a scheme parties would be less afraid to count themselves as they will perceive that a bad result will not silence them and will give them a chance to adapt and regain ground for better results in the future. Civil society small groups would have a real chance to get at least one seat. And we will know which of these groups do really carry weight, promoting a necessary weeding without crushing them. They are the seed of future political parties.

In addition I would propose that only the ones who signed against Chavez for the Recall election vote. Or open the vote to all but announce that the secrecy of the names of those who vote cannot be guaranteed. That would scare away any hard core chavista sabotage by infiltrating perturbing factors. The so called “chavismo light” or the mythical Ni-Ni could thus be brought in to influence in a positive way and help restart a real dialogue in society. After all, only groups that pledge respect for the outcome of the commission and that have had a long tradition of opposing Chavez could run, protecting us from too much chavismo infiltration. Even if chavismo were to put an all out effort by openly supporting a given option it could still not get more than 1/3 of the seats. But I think that chavismo will not go and vote in an intra opposition election. In fact they will try to minimize the vote count as much as possible. Open voting is thus a risk probably worth taking.

Finally to make the system more responsible I would vote for open lists. That is, if you chose to vote for, say, the MAS list, you put a cross in front of the name in the list you like the most. That way the people can have an influence on who will be the leaders of the future, without imposition from party machinery. We could start getting rid of political dead wood and promote the rejuvenation of political parties even if they refuse to get internal elections. It would also help the civil society to go along as they could create unified lists to improve their chances to get certain names in.

Another implicit advantage would be the humiliation of the CNE demonstrating that a representative assembly can be elected fast, with pen and paper, without a complex and fraudulent apparatus.

Election could be held as early as mid March. Debate and final vote could be done as early as mid May. Then we could worry about the opposition presidential candidate.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Support Denmark

I usually try to avoid non Venezuelan topics, but this was just too much. We cannot tolerate fundamentalists burning embassies and happily pronouncing fatwas. Sometimes we must take stands. I did find this banner which I thought was appropriate to post in support.

I also wish to state that I am perfectly aware that the jerks behind these gross acts of intolerance do not represent, by far, by very far, the majority of educated Muslims in the world who probably feel taken hostage by such barbarian acts. In fact, I sympathize very much with them as Chavez is taking me hostage in his equally fundamentalist anti US crusade which includes larval anti Semitism, nuclear nexus with Iran and other unsavory things sure to surface some day.

Note added later.

It has been pointed that the newspaper that published the "offensive" cartoons of Muhammad was a right wing tabloid in Denmark. Besides rising the question of what right wing might mean in one of the most socially advanced societies of the world, it is irrelevant. Freedom of expression is freedom of expression. People making such exceptions are probably ready to accept Chavez future limitations of freedom of expression (already taking place through the "gag law" and the interdiction to publish important and relevant material on the Anderson case).

This type of evasive argument seems to take place in France where indeed the large Muslim community is feared. Center Right newspaper, Le Figaro which has now a significant English section, echoes some of that debate.

There is first a rather wimpy editorial offering an explanaition as to why the Figaro will not publish the caricatures. That they are a lousy and dubious humor is true. That none should published, even one in support or to demonstrate how lousy they were is indefensible.

In another article at least the Figaro reports the widespread condemnation of fanatic threats across all the political spectrum of French Politics. Looks like French politicians have more backbone than Le Figaro or France Soir. A welcome change.

What to do with Venezuela: part 4

Part 4: Chavez electoral strategy

Before analyzing the opposition options it is useful to try to guess what will be Chavez strategy for December 2006.

Chavez realizes full well that releasing control of the CNE is too risky for him as his avowed aim is ten million votes. That aim is much more pretentious, and preposterous in a true democracy, than winning an outright majority. He will need all the help he can get. As he is already violating the constitution and the electoral law for his December bid, the urge of a complaint CNE is a sine qua non. Hoping thus that an eventual new CNE might be a little bit better than the Jorge Rodriguez combo is a complete delusion that all players should overcome fast.

After December 4, Chavez realizes that if he does not allow for an impartial CNE, abstention is his real enemy. In fact, it is such a powerful enemy that he might not even be able to get his Recall Election number (that would already require doubling the 12/05 result, no mean feat by itself). And we can suspect that Chavez is smart enough to realize that he will not be able to create a Frankenstein opposition candidate that will manage on his own to get at least 1 million votes: Chavez would need to send chavistas to vote for that guy (or rig the voting machines).

Apparently the strategy of Chavez will be in adding to the obvious (look at the list of presents from last February 2, already increased after Sunday 5 Alo Presidente, [5]) the US Venezuela 'conflict'. Argelia Rios publishes a good summary on that strategy in the Sunday edition of El Universal. Suffice to say that Chavez will try to link abstention as an US plot to sabotage his regime and use such an excuse to obtain legitimacy from his neighbors and associates, voiding the abstention effect as a necessary evil to secure National Independence.

Of course intelligent people will not buy such a crass plot, but these are not the intended targets of chavismo. His targets are those who get lavish cash flows from the Venezuelan state, so as to give them an excuse to remain silent and keep receiving fat checks to buy back their bad debt. After all, who thinks that Kirchner is worried about Venezuelan democracy? People like him just need an excuse as they have decided to apply some of the chavista strategies of power control at home.

It also prepares the country for an eventual repressive system if Chavez does not even get his Recall Election numbers. The new arms purchase that Chavez announced Saturday 4 are not to defend Venezuela against the US, they are to arm his militia to repress the opposition, a step he will have to take sooner than later. Or does anyone think that organizing “neighborhood squads” to seek voters and arm a 1 million militia with Kalashnikovs is to protect the republic against US missiles?

No, Chavez cannot get 10 million votes on his record alone. In fact, as the effects of mismanagement become more and more apparent through the electoral year, he might even grow weaker as months and scandals drag along. Thus the need to look for a strong issue to distract from his own failures and we all know since Samuel Johnson that cheap “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”.

The opposition has its work cut out.

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5) As a side note. On his Alo Presidente of February 5 Chavez announced that Cuba will “help” Venezuela in buying the 400 + million dollars it needs to “renovate” some hospitals. Now, I am sure that Cuba has experience buying stuff on the cheap going around embargoes, but the point here is that 3 days after commemorating 7 years in office, SEVEN YEARS, the bolibanana revolution apparently HAS NO TEAM able to do governmental purchases on the cheap. It is inconceivable that a president would acknowledge such incompetence from his staff. It is even more inconceivable that he puts up with such incompetence. And it is truly awesome to hear such a lapsus, such a confession of administrative failure.


What to do with Venezuela: part 3

Part 3: An opposition balance sheet

The problems

The opposition problems are thus manifold. How to resolve the contradiction and rivalry between AD and PJ? For better or for worse they are the only parties with a semblance of electoral machinery left. How to include the different democratic left members? They might not be many votes but they do offer the moral caution for a serious bid against Chavez. How to convince the “civil society” to participate, to take up the political challenge? They are a nebulous conglomerate of independent groups with a significant following but a confused political vision except a knee jerk attitude to favor abstention. How to generate a governmental program that can be not only convincing but understood by at least 51% of the electorate? It would be a mean feat to be able to stitch together a quilt that pleases all the components of the opposition. And, last but not least, how to find a leader to take a stand against the vulgarity and abuse of Chavez?

The strengths

Fortunately, and suddenly, the opposition has considerable strengths.

December 4th 2005 showed that Chavez could be beaten. Indeed many of the “abstentionists” are disaffected chavista voters that will likely either remain in abstention or return to Chavez before voting for an opposition candidate. People do not shift that easily, but at least it was clear that Chavez strength is not as impressive as once thought. Polls are highly contradictory, but the vote, or rather non-vote of 12/2005 was clear cut.

Evo Morales Bolivian victory brought some holiday cheer to chavismo. But the collapse of the most important bridge in Venezuela promptly wiped any smile on chavismo faces. Cruelly exposed was chavismo incompetence, once and for all. And it might drag on and on as more evidence of incompetence and lack of long term planning keeps adding up. People can see that after 7 years in office there are no excuses for not having been prepared for a long foretold disaster. Period.

And chavismo seems embarked in a long line of mistakes due to Chavez hubris and the sycophancy of his followers. Look at the mess of the Social Forum and the irrepressible growth of the personality cult. Look at the continued assault to private property which all polls identify as a losing issue for chavismo. Look at the astounding partiality of the High Court of Justice chanting “Uh, Ah, Chavez no se va”. Look at Isaias Rodriguez restricting freedom of speech and declaring, as if he were on drugs, that “justice cannot be blind” (4). If such partisan words and postures might stir the fundamentalists in chavismo, it can only stir the indifferent into taking a position once and for all: they have no excuse to pretend that Chavez is “just another government”. The opposition should be the logical beneficiary of a “time to chose”.

To that changed dynamic, the opposition also keeps its winning card with SUMATE. It can use this card to settle all of its difference. It has the most competent group in Venezuelan political establishment to help put its act together if it only were to show some backbone to do so. Chavismo would be so lucky to have something half as good as SUMATE to sort its problem instead of having to constantly recur to Chavez.

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4) The now obvious to all lack of independence of the judicial system in Venezuela is affecting all aspects of life, from the organization of legitimate political activity to the freedom of expression and even private investment. Any action undertaken in Venezuela has to consider that confronting any abuse from the executive is almost a certain loss in court. Not to mention that the new chavista court has decided to review the rare cases where the post 2000 court had already ruled against the executive. One does not need to wonder what an independent observer can think when s/he sees the Justices of the high court chant a political slogan. This is the gravest of Venezuelan problems and the one that the opposition can do little about for the time being.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

What to do with Venezuela: part 2

Part 2: The opposition turmoil

The opposition got a much needed shot in the arm on December 4. But we are now on February 4 and so far it does not look that it is taking much advantage of the situation. Indeed, one could argue that the opposition does not need to do much. After all, from the pathetic virulence of Chavez to the literally collapsing country one would be allowed to think that it is enough to sit down and watch chavismo consume itself in petty rivalries and chronic ineptitude.

But that is not what the opposition is doing. It is as mired in its own ineptitudes and seems to have no idea as to what to do next. There is some talk for some primaries. There is some talk of building pressure in the streets again; after all the January 22 march was more successful than expected and there is a real discontent brewing up as people start to realize that many of chavismo promises were just that, empty promises, just as the first consequences of years of mismanagement start to show up.

But that is pretty much all. Why is it so difficult for the opposition to get its act together? It comes from the very nature of December 4 victory.

The “abstention movement”, to give is a name, started rather spontaneously after the Recall Election because the opposition parties lost the political battle for that election. They were unable to defend what had been sold to us as an easy victory. Along the way lost the trust of their voters. The lack of response then has come back over and over again to bite the opposition leadership in the rear. When the voting machines, a few days before the December 4 election, were shown to break the secret of vote, in front of the international observers, some got the idea that the abstention would now be colossal. Unfortunately the one that got it first was AD, which for all its decrepitude has not lost all of the savvy it used to have. Boldly AD stepped out of the electoral ring and all serious contenders had to follow under threat of passing for chavismo accomplices. Indeed, those who remained in the ring are today not even a blimp in the opposition radar (3).

It is too bad that AD took that first step. The media “resurrection” of its boss, Ramos Allup, probably got AD thinking that again it was the leader of the opposition. It tried to forget that the abstention movement could not be controlled by its bureau. It is finding soon that it is not so. But two precious months have been wasted for AD to perhaps start seeing the limits of its “victory”.

The only other serious opposition movement, Primero Justicia or PJ, fell into a vortex of its own. Wanting to run in December 4 it failed to grasp the revulsion of the people at playing once again the sick game of the CNE. To avoid an immediate split in its ranks, it had to announce a withdrawing, even if its presidential candidate decided to go and vote null anyway. Since them PJ is facing an internal battle. We could draw the basic problem as AD having lost all of its credit but still retaining the pulse of the country whereas PJ credibility is rendered useless by its lack of connection with large sectors of the country. Both of them will have to find a way to work things out, or it will be done above their heads.

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3) The democratic left had been diligently trying to create a unified front, gathering together chavismo dissatisfied, the MAS and others. Pompeyo Marquez was probably the main motor behind this maneuver, which intention was probably to facilitate an eventual Petkoff candidacy. When the MAS and LCR decided to run anyway they might have well sunk the chances of Petkoff though a strategic retreat on this one, a couple of days before the election, still keep him as an option, but now as an independent.

Interestingly Copei, Proyecto Venezuela and Convergencia (who by the way had announced that it would not run months ago) do not seem to have benefited at all from their stepping out of the electoral ring. Seems like PJ and AD are the only two players left!


Satruday morning activities

I was supposed to share some activities with a friend today. He works in the public administration. Well, he cancelled. He has to go to the "celebratory" march to commemorate the failed coup of Chavez on February 4th 1992. His boss was quite clear: all employees were to meet at a given site to march together in support of Chavez. Non attendance was not an option unless your grandmother died or you were in a hospital.

And so goes democracy in a pseudo electoral year. the democracy that some fools saw in a bloody February 4th over a decade ago.

Good, I will have more time today to work on my multi part report, and more motivation if possible.

What to do with Venezuela: part 1

Chavismo in turmoil

Denying that December 4 has had no effect on chavismo is simply ridiculous. For the last two months what we have seen is a vengeful Chavez, berating his ministers, attacking further the opposition, looking for any possible catfight with the US, and what not. This is not the hallmark, by any standards, of a government that can claim a legitimate electoral victory due to his great administrative success.

Because the facts are there: at most 15% of Venezuelans bothered to vote for the “official” candidates. A meager 2 to 3% did vote for some obscure “opposition” candidates: not a single one of them making it, not even getting a reasonable vote count. Another few % points did vote null, rather surprising in an automated system, higher than in any previous election, and a sure sign that many of these null votes were intentional, likely from public servants and military personnel forced to vote by their boss as they had to show up their tainted fingers on Monday 5.

All in all, according to the now totally discredited Electoral Board, CNE, 75% of the people did not vote in an all important national wide poll. Opposition figures put that number at 83%. The truth is definitely above 75% and the international observers of the OAS and EU seem to agree with that as they coincide with observing many irregularities going form the infamous Tascon list (1) to the unimaginably unfair partisan advantages benefited by official candidates, who in many cases did not even bother to campaign. Not to mention the unaccountable prolongation of voting hours that gave voting numbers a suspicious out of norm boost.

But why was this abstention, even if we accept the dubious 75% figure, perturbs so much Chavez and his acolytes? (many chavistas are on record stating that a 60% abstention would already be a major set back for their project)

The first thing to keep in mind is that Chavez does not care whether the opposition votes or not. What he cares about is that he was told that the polls gave him a hard core between 30 and 40% and AT LEAST half of his hard core turned out not to be so hard core. This is what is bothering Chavez, and nothing else. Half of HIS electorate cannot be bothered anymore.

All the Misiones, all the cadenas (2), all the propaganda, all the first class patriot citizens versus betraying escualidos, all the vulgarity that should appeal to the people, all the pictures taken with Fidel, Qadaffy, Saddam, Evo, Lula, Kirchner and more had no effect. All the incredible sums of money spent in corruption to buy votes and consciences, for nothing.

Anyone would be dead worried, and justifiably upset with such yields. But what does Chavez do? He pushes forward. More gifts to Evo. More “social” spending. More international shows all Venezuelan paid. More and more threats. More of the same CNE. Thursday February 2, in yet another cadena, he removed some taxes, decreed an ex-tempore 15% minimum wage increase, and a few other social measures, 10 full months before an eventual vote. What else is in store? We have all been served notice: Chavez will have no problem bankrupting the country if necessary to get from the not even 3 million votes two months ago to 10 million votes by the first Sunday of December. You better take legal risks and start buying black market dollars if you want to protect your already meager retirement fund.

This is not judicious campaign planning, this is desperation.

The saddest part is that with a reasonable campaign and allowing for a free CNE (and opposition division) Chavez could win anyway. But he wants to win with all. Hubris!

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1) The Tascon list is the infamous list where all the citizens who signed against Chavez in 2003 are blacklisted. It has been expanded to the Maisanta program used currently to deny state services to this second class group of citizens. The international observers have decried this list. Chavez in public has asked for the list to be thrown away, thus recognizing its perverse existence. But no sanctions have been taken again the perpetrators of this unconstitutional and fascist attacks on Venezuelan civil rights. Tascon has been allowed to return to parliament.

2) cadena is the perverse mechanism when Chavez can get at will a linked anf forced broadcast of any of his speeches for as long as he wants on ALL airborne media. That is all TV and radio stations must carry on demand such speech or activities, without any compensation for lost advertisement revenue. The listener has two choices, turn off the TV or Radio or get Cable TV as the government cannot force them to transmit its propaganda as the signal transmitted belong to other countries. You can observe these days many Direct TV dishes in Caracas downtrodden neighborhoods! Thus demonstrating in yet another way that the alleged "core" support of Chavez is weakening.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cindy Sheehan does Caracas

While I was away Chavez held the Social Forum, Caracas version. Needless to cover this old news, covered enough elsewhere. I just need to add two comments.

First, the general impression was rather unfavorable. An already seriously dilapidated Caracas was not pleased with the hordes that went down to destroy the Vinicio Adames or Los Caobos park. I use the term hordes, because if many of them were genuine lefties searching for better ways to manage our damaged planet, too many were in only for a good time. Even as far as Carabobo, Charito Rojas observes dryly in Notitarde that Venezuelan poor have better personal hygiene than many of the visitors.
acompañados por un concierto de violín que ni nuestra gente más pobre está acostumbrada a oler.

[the attendees came] accompanied by a violin concerto that even the poorest of our people are not used to smell. (in Venezuela when some is said to play a violin means that the date of the last shower resides in a very distant past).

Perhaps a superficial comment but unfortunately rather accurate, and duly backed by this Yahoo news picture of an activity where no self respecting Venezuelan women would be caught dead doing in public.

But outside of this rather folkloric comment the fact of the matter is that Chavez did indeed tried to hijack to his own personal benefit the meeting, in spite of the “non political” character that the Social Forum organizers want to imprint. Sensing that, many of the luminaries that were supposed to come, including Lula of Brazil, decided to skip it. The result was a rather lackluster, dirty, messy meeting which managed to raise complaints from some participants at the obvious ways in which chavismo was trying to handle matters to the glory of El Supremo.

But some people did come. And the second part of my note is dedicated to Cindy Sheehan.

Before I must criticize this woman, I must state clearly that I feel sorry for her loss. It is always a terrible thing to lose one’s child. Ms. Sheehan’s grief is no less that any of the mothers who lost a son to Iraq. But what she is doing with that grief can be submitted to review (1).

Ms. Sheehan came to Caracas to embrace unambiguously Chavez. As many lefties termed PSF in these pages (2), Ms. Sheehan will embrace anyone that goes against George Bush, no matter what crimes they might have committed on their own.

So, in case Ms. Sheehan has not been well informed, and to help her realize her mistake and get free from the interest groups that have cornered her since her original initiative at Crawford, here is a small list of crimes committed under Chavez tenure for which answers remain to be found. Cindy, feel free to do the adequate comparison with your own situation.

• The Venezuelan army has become the source of power and decision in Venezuela. You can go to any public administration and you will see that key posts are occupied by uniformed officers.
• The Venezuelan army has become a bloated organization where no one knows what goes where.
• The Venezuelan army has killed a few of its own soldiers in circumstances that TO THIS DATE have not been clearly explained and lightly punished, if at all. The death of these soldiers was often in atrocious conditions: burnt to death, drowning during training by abuse of the commanding officers. Cindy, you could look today at the front page of El Nacional to see the plight of Carmen Martinez.
• And you could also ask about the student youth regularly killed by the security apparatus of the regime.
• And, while you are at it, you could watch some videos on how the Venezuelan Nazional Guard represses anti Chavez marchers in ways that would give great ideas to the cops guarding a certain ranch in Texas, if they were allowed to do as they pleased.
• And it certainly would not hurt you to try to visit the abject prisons of Venezuela where the death penalty constitutional ban is in fact common practice for those that spend there a few too many years. Sometimes even without a trial.

But you did not check on these things Cindy. In fact the press throws interesting things today, nothing less than, imagine that, a juxtaposition of a piece of news from FOX and one from Cuba’s Granma. We learn thus that you are thinking about a run to California’s Senate against Diane Feinstein, just what the Republicans need to pick up yet another senate seat. We also learn from Granma that you could go 12 months to jail fro trying your State of the Union speech stunt (which will not happen of course, you know that, don't you?). Well, Cindy, I can assure you that Carmen Martinez would not even received an invitation by an opposition deputy to Chavez own State speech since Chavez has got rid of any legal opposition. Something you might want to think about too.

This reminds me of Jane Fonda a few decades ago. She was hated for what she did in Vietnam. Hanoi Jane they called her. Yet she also managed to garner a reluctant admiration. See Cindy, Jane was really brave. She put at stake her reputation, her career and even her life by going to Vietnam. It was a time, in a country at war, where an “oooops!” would have been much more credible than what it would be credible today.

It took some guts to go to Vietnam to protest US intervention. It takes only some stupidity to go to Caracas to protest US intervention.

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1) For the new reader, or the ones generous enough to return to this blog, I have often stated my deep anti military feelings. Deep seated negative feelings against anythign wearing military drag. My judgement on Ms. Sheehan has nothing to do on her pro or anti Iraq position, but about what she does with it.

2) PSF = Pendejos Sin Fronteras, (Fools Without Borders) term coined by Teodoro Petkoff (I believe) and which stands for any idealist that goes outside of his/her country to support things that they would not dream of putting up with at home.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Back from The Empire

And thus ended my visit to the modern day Evil Empire, which I found to be still the land of plenty, compared to the land of scarcity that Venezuela is fast becoming. But more on a later date.

If in last post I was impressed by the comparison between a Publix and an Exelsior Gama, the finest of Venezuelan grocery stores, I was struck, for this post, once again by the difference between book prices. One airport I love to make connections is Atlanta: plenty of bookstores to browse through while you wait for your next plane. Oh! They are not Barnes and Noble, nor one of those great independent bookstores where I used to spend more than one rainy winter evening, but still, for the hurried traveler that cannot afford the luxury of a lengthy visit to a good bookstore, the Atlanta complex is a reasonable succedanea. The vast variety of good soft cover books (I hate paper backs and I cannot afford hard cover) is truly great. No matter what your interests are or your political leanings lead, you can always find something between 15 and 30 USD.

Now this is truly wonderful. In Venezuela you can go to what is perhaps the best retail bookstore chain, Libros Tecnicos Tamanaco, and you will not find the choice nor the price. In fact any recent or noteworthy book will set you off at the very least 40 000 bolivares, or 20 USD at the official rate. Plus 14% tax of course. In fact I my average bill is 60 000, 30 USD per book, and books that I must read more than wanting to read. The problem in fact is that the Venezuelan per capita income is in the 5000 whereas the US per capita is several folds higher. In Venezuela, let’s face it, reading is a luxury. The poor will have to settle for books “generously” given by the revolution and which are little more than pamphlets, except Don Quichotte, an unreadable Spanish for most in Venezuela, but a massive propaganda undertaking that did work overseas. Nobody of course has inquired as to how many of the given copies were actually read (the ones distributed were with the Saramago prologue as Vargas Llosa official anniversary edition was not acceptable to the Revolution).

But I digress. What I wanted to share with the devoted readers of this blog was my mundane choice of books. I did get 5 books, but will only name three. I did get the last Camille Paglia, my favorite iconoclast and un-PC writer, who had the great idea to publish the text comment class on poetry that she teaches. “Burn, Blow, Break” is a whole bunch of great poems with a no more than 4 page commentary each as to their cultural value and meanings and symbols and you name it. I highly recommend it as it is a perfect travel companion that you can read stop and go.

The next book on the list will be Fouad Ajami “The Dream Palace of the Arabs”. I suppose that seeing how Iran is falling deeper and deeper into obscurantism and faster and faster into alienating the rest of the world while ignoramus Chavez tags along, I should refresh my knowledge of Islamic matters. Something that I am sure Chavez is doing diligently, though perhaps not with the right books, rather with the right pamphlets like those he emits in Venezuela for his own brand of fundamentalism.

Finally, something which I am sure to savor immensely is Joseph Ellis “Founding Fathers”. This is a portrait of some of the men who made the US and set the foundation for the most successful democracy to date, whether people like it or not being irrelevant. For all of its flaws, their work allowed the US to survive Independence, Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and it will survive Bush and Iraq as it survived Clinton and Monica. By the way, some of these critics are delighted to remain in the US and would not dream for a second to move to Venezuela or Cuba or Zimbabwe or Iran or Iraq pre-Saddam. As I read this book I will keep in mind the faces of those who would love to see themselves as founding fathers of the bolibananarian republiquette. Let’s see for fun: Franklin = Miquilena? Washington = Chavez? Madison = Maduro? Burr = Varela? Hamilton = Diosdado? Bwahahahahahah! Not a single one of these bolibananarians can even understand the “We the People”, and boy, they do gargles with the P word!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Follow-up on Chavez’s anti-semitic remarks: A letter from Mario Vargas Llosa

Amazing how busy the government has been after the publication of a letter signed by Venezuelan intellectuals and professors appeared in El Nacional! As this distinguished ghost blogger has reported, the government was not amused! They published an insulting letter in their official web page and, just by chance, decided to erase the name of Sofia Imber, one of the signatories, from the MACSSI (see here my “Sofia” post in The Devil's).

Today we learned that Mario Vargas Llosa sent a letter to President Hugo Chávez that appeared in El Nacional.

Here is the translation :

Mr D. Hugo Chávez
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Caracas, January 26, 2006

Mr President:

The International Foundation for Liberty has seen with consternation your recent anti-semitic manifestations. For this reason, we think that the recent letter signed by a group of Venezuelan intellectuals worried about such an abominable manifestation of racism was totally justified.

Among the signatories of the document was journalist Sofia Imber, and we have just learned that in retaliation for having added her voice to other democratic Venezuelans, the government has taken the decision to eliminate her name from the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas Sofia Imber, of which she was the founder and that she led to be one of the most important and respected cultural institutions of Latin America.

We protest with all our energy for that mean way to punish an honorable Venezuelan for expressing her opinion. Such an unjust action, that we ask you to revoke immediately, will increase the discredit of your government but will not diminish at all the prestige of Sofia Imber.

Mario Vargas Llosa.

Reporting from cyberspace,
Jorge Arena
Distinguished ghost blogger

Friday, January 27, 2006

More observations from The Empire

I am still traveling through the Empire. Observations cannot be avoided.

Bush gives a press conference

Yesterday president Bush gave a short press conference. I was not impressed by his demeanor (it was, believe it or not, the first time I watched him in such a setting for longer than what the nightly news give us in Venezuela). However I observed that he did receive some rather tough question and if he dodged most of them he did try at least to reply to them. For the life of me I cannot when was the last time that Chavez had a real press conference with the Venezuelan press. From my hotel room, Iraq and all, Bush seemed to have much more accountability than Chavez. Perhaps those attendees to the Social Forum that decided to idolize Chavez while hating Bush could drop their double standard for once and demand the same type of press treatment for both “leaders”. No se, digo yo….

Maria Anastasia does Evo

Today a WSJ withering article from Maria Anastasia O’Grady on Evo Morales. Considering that she pegged Chavez as a wanna-be dictator one can start worrying sick about Bolivia’s future. Some excerpts.
There was a time when Evo Morales deserved a chance to show his democratic bonafides as Bolivia's new head of state. But 96 hours into the presidency, time's up. Anyone still wondering what Evo has in mind for his country qualifies for permanent disability -- or a job at the Organization of American States -- on grounds of terminal naiveté.
I was among those that were moderately cautious on an Evo presidency. Well, I agree with Anastasia and I am even embarrassed that I was moderately optimistic on Morales.
After six years of Chávez, Venezuelans, once ecstatic about their Bolivarian Revolution, are sinking deeper into poverty. Fidel's largely Afro-Cuban population is destitute after almost 50 years of El Máximo Lider.
No comments needed there.
One reason this has been slow to dawn is that observers have been assigning far too much importance to the question of whether foreign investors will be allowed into Bolivia's rich natural gas industry, or if, instead, Bolivia will go forward with full blown nationalization. The answer is probably the former, but so what? As both Venezuela and Cuba illustrate, such a policy does nothing to ensure development and reveals very little about whether democracy and liberty will survive.
No comments needed either.
Yet the presence of foreign business interests in a dictatorship does little for the locals. Both Castro and Chávez host foreign investors, recognizing them as perfect business partners because they are politically indifferent as long as they get their cut. The key to a dictator's control is ensuring that local interests do not have economic power to challenge the political status quo.
This is something that always befuddled me. All those attendees at the Social Forum, or those that regularly come to this page to complain about my opposition to Chavez have absolutely no problem to see big multinational globalized free marketer oil giants which they profoundly dislike make deals with Chavez (and soon Evo?). What gives? The companies that they oppose at home can come to third world countries as long as the local potentate screams “death to Amerika!”? Who gets you guys?
It would not be surprising to see the angry Bolivian nationalist make a deal with Chile so he could reach the coast and tap into the rich market for liquefied natural gas up north.
Remember, Maria Anastasia wrote it first.
A constituent assembly later this year will rewrite the constitution and if Venezuela is any guide, the concept of limited government will not be included in the document.
Déjà vu all over again.
Finally, there is the matter of the military, an institution near and dear to the heart of an "elected" president who has no intention of leaving office when his term is up. Again, Chávez's Venezuela provides the template. To this day, a number of Venezuelan experts believe that the so-called "coup" of April 11, 2002 was a staged event, designed expressly for the purpose of identifying high-ranking Chávez opponents in uniform so they could be relieved of duty and replaced by less-qualified, loyal soldiers.
On Tuesday, Evo fired 28 Bolivian generals -- essentially the entire high command -- [snip] He then reportedly passed over the next generation of officers to replace the generals with a young group of soldiers. There can be little doubt that these new generals understand well that the president deserves credit for their accelerated career success.
The Chavez script is followed.

Daniel shops at a Publix grocery store

I went to shop for a few items that are now impossible to find in Venezuela, courtesy of currency control exchange and other mismanagement measures of our beloved revolutionary leaders. Such things as a small bottle of real Maple Syrup, Thai cooking species or cheap migraine medicine.

I was impressed. I wish that Exelsior Gamma in Caracas were to be half as furnished as the Publix I visited. And guess what? MORE THAN HALF of the shoppers were African American. So perhaps an obvious question to the Forum attendees: how come Venezuelan stores get impoverished and still few African-Venezuelans can shop there? And I will skip on the obvious comments about the Cuban long lines, Chavez giving oil to poor (by Venezuelan standard?) white trash, while political and aristocratic trash watched, etc…

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tidbits from The Empire

A small break in my activities allowed me to spend a few minutes with Venezuelan news. I was not disappointed. In fact, I am even wondering whether the attendees of the World Social Forum in Venezuela are reading the papers and realizing where the heck they have landed. For sure some have no clue as they are more than willing to accept that Chavez highjack the event for his personal glory (or is that profit?). Thus goes this note dedicated to the attendees that think that Chavez is hot stuff, a paragon of liberty. Here a few items picked up in the headlines.

The culture wars

Sofia Imber is an elderly woman with a very distinguished career. disliked by every government in the past she has managed to create the most significant museum in Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Sofia Imber. Her hard work certainly deserved her name on the front plate. One of the first things that the Chavez administration did when it reached office was to remove her from the direction of the museum. But of course, that was not enough. As she remained one of the critical voice of the cultural misdeeds perpetrated by Faruco Sesto the adulating minister of Kultural affairs, and as she signed the letter of protest for Chavez anti semitic remarks she was promptly sacked from the museum marquee. But she was upbeat, limiting herself to say that as long the museum was allowed to do its cultural work she did not mind, that her name was associated in the mind of people to the museum and that Faruco could not do anything against (1)

The anti semitic spat does not die down

And it must have hurt enough Chavez that he agreed to a closed door meeting with the Hebrew leadership of Venezuela. Where there is smoke...

The Anderson murder goes underground

Meanwhile, the government of Chavez has decided to put the lid on the information on the Anderson case investigation. Why? Because of the botched investigation due to the incompetence of the general prosecutor Isaias Rodriguez. Because of the open, all out open, partisanship of the justice official WHO SHOULD BE THE MOST IMPARTIAL ONE IN THE COUNTRY. Since his sycophancy and lies cannot be hidden anymore, so he shuts up the press. Note that for writing this, this blogger could actually get prosecuted.

The consequences? Well, to begin with Reporters without Borders accuse this measure of state organized censorship. The Freedom House keeps downgrading Venezuela's status putting it almost to par with Haiti and Cuba (the last one repression not being a concern of many of you, quite a double standard that you might want to revise if you pretend to speak in the name of all of us).

And more but I have no time right now to peruse further. However I will advise you to leave early, really early to catch your plane back home. All the Caracas exits were blocked for hours yesterday due to accidents in the two escape routes. 5 hours standing in line for some, a few missed planes. See, many of you are here to demand that Bush does not bomb Venezuela. Well, he does not need to, Chavez is doing a good job in destroying the country infrastructure on his very own. Make sure to watch carefully where you walk in Caracas, you could break an ankle in any of the too numerous potholes that dot the city.

And of course, as you wait patiently on your way back to the airport, it would not hurt to meditate if you would put up with this type of situations back home.

1) yours truly also signed, gaining a few insults from chavista pages, of the "betrayer to the fatherland type". Goes to tell you how freedom of expression advances in Venezuela.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Censorship in Venezuela: it is official

The latest news from the general prosecutor is truly frightening. Basically he wants the government to control any information on the Danilo Anderson case. The problem is of course that the free press has unmasked the witness upon which rests all the case, or so it seems. Is it the fault of the media that Isaias Rodriguez has decided to base his case to arrest score of people on a single dubious and now discredited, and more than likely a pathological liar? Where is the other evidence Isaias?

Tal Cual of coruse was not going to let this go and at the end of his editorial Teodoro even throws the guantlet to Isaias and the government at large. I translate the end (full editorial here).

But this goes further than the Anderson case.

This must be faced down with all resolve because this event looks too much like a general trial on censorship over freedom of speech.

Over the last two years the government has managed to create a certain level of self censorship through the "gag law" on the airborne media. But it seems that it is not enough. And with this "excuse" it is trying to silence further the air waves media, and or the first time to hit directly the written press.

The escalade continues. It seems that fake statistics and bombastic speeches are not enough to hide the reality of the country.

Note to the attendees of the Social Forum: you might want to follow this affair closely as to get a good idea of what is really going on in Venezuela.

The first march of the year

While I was trekking to the airport (see previous post), the opposition was holding its first real rally in a long time. In fact, by far it seems, the biggest rally since the pre recall election days. I did get this photo in the mail which seems convincing enough.

We are not in the half a million mark yet, but without buses, no means and quite a lot of fear from a now unfriendly Metropolitana, it is quite a turnout.

An anecdote. On the way to the airport (no, we could not make it to the march as we were escaping Caracas through the mountains) we were listenening to Alo Ciudadano. Some caller, a guy who gave his name as Moreno was bemoaning that he went to the march, that it was a fiasco, that perhaps as an opposition "we should draw the conclusion that the time to oppose Chavez had passed and that we should wait for a while" or some such nonsense. El Ciudadano let the guy finish his call as he always do as long as no insults are uttered. A few minutes alter another caller, mentioning that he lived in Cuba in the early 60ies. And then added that it was exactly what Castro used to do early in his regime when there was still some sembant of opposition: he would infiltrate agents to bring in self doubt. Classical.

Trekking down from Caracas

This fearless blogger, regardless of the difficulties, has decided to travel for business to the US. One would have never thought that a missing bridge would complicate thinks so much, and so fast. Thus, while Jorge holds the fort as the distinguished ghost blogger, I will indulge in some travel diary. Who knows, it might even come handy to any of our distinguished visitor from the Social Forum visiting.

The first consideration is that now traveling to the US might take more than 24 hours, certainly if you have a morning flight. That is, the old road to the Caracas shore (Carretera Vieja or “benemerita” as Zapata called it in El Nacional, 1) opens for vehicular traffic at 5 AM. At night only trucks are allowed, one day up, next day down, thus making any delivery from La Güaira a 48 hours affair, including FedEx I suppose.

Unfortunately the road frequently does not open at 5 AM: truck accidents that are difficult to clear due to the difficulties of a 300+ bends road will take care of that. Some days it might take 2 or 3 hours to finally open and thus if your flight is, say, at 11 AM, well, too bad. Since I am traveling on business, we decided to leave the day before and sleep in some cheap hotel, which rates have doubles since two weeks ago, though we were guaranteed that it was free of bed bugs. We entered the Old Road at around 4 PM, as it closes at 6 PM to unleash trucking. Though closing time depends on traffic. It took us 1 hour and 43 minutes just to travel from the road entry to its exit in Maiquetia. Rather good in fact, probably due to the late Sunday time we picked to travel. The highway normally could be done in less than 20 minutes. To this of course you must add your inner city trips at each end.

There are two clearly different segments. Leaving Caracas the road winds through a favella, slums, ranchos or whatever you may want to call them. Let just say that you certainly would not want to have a flat tire in that area, even with all the cops and soldiers frequently seen. The neighborhood that formed along that road had had a very bad reputation and the government basically had to militarize the road to allow a modicum of security for travelers. That is, chavismo implicitly acknowledged that, well, it was dangerous. Many business prefer to travel through the alternate option of Carayaca if their trucks are small enough. They go through it usually in convoys of a few trucks to guard each other. That trip lasts for at least 3 hours, at night.

Now, I have driven through different bad neighborhoods of Venezuela and this one was not worse than other I saw. Oh, sure enough it is bad and scary alright. But in a beautiful afternoon the “tourist” that I am anywhere could not help himself from taking a few shots. That it was a permanent stop and go for the first hour of the trip did help (click for larger pictures). This is conveyed in the first picture which allows you a glimpse of the long line ahead, and a military truck on the left side that is supposed to reassure us. It did not once I passed them trying to pick up some local girls. By the way, that particular shot is probably the widest the road ever gets, and the longest straight line.

The road must have been gorgeous when brand new. Probably even until the very early 60 ies when the slums were barely touching that area. The next view gives you an idea of the mountain vistas once enjoyed and the new foreground that you can peruse in, and I mean inside the house, as your car is stopped in front of dwelling built directly on the road. Note in this picture that there is a satellite dish, Direct TV for the inquiring minds, indicated by the red arrow.

But satellite dishes were quite a frequent sight! Even if sometimes the satellite dish seemed like the sturdiest item of the shelter. This other view gives you more detail as to the construction directly on the curb, a cheap zinc roof, BUT iron bars at the windows and the door and a satellite dish. No wonder Chavez is rumored to try to find ways to control cable and satellite TV: next right is the proof that people at all social levels are not afraid to pay good money to escape cadenas! (2)

Another advantage of the old road is that you get a clear understanding on how the viaduct eventually met its end. And how Caracas has grown wildly, out of any planning. Sure enough, Chavez cannot be blamed for that chaotic construction, but he can be blamed for not having done much to stem the growth, amen of reversing it. The following pic shows a neighborhood that has collapsed above the highway. I do not know whether it has fallen naturally, or if it is already the crews that have been sent to remove people and remove the danger (it might be the famous Nueva Esparta area but I cannot check on that from here). The reader can imagine easily that such a neighborhood, without drains, has all of its sewage slowly but surely seeping into the ground, increasing its weight and its “mobility”. Put that on top of a natural fault undetected at the time, and you lose the viaduct. On the bottom left corner you can see edge of the highway, barely a few hundred yards from the bridge.

It is to be noted that this problem has been decried since I can remember, that slums allowed to grow so close of such a main highway could only bring trouble some day. Indeed, it did, and it was diagnosed already in the early 80ies! Even if earlier some Cassandra were complaining of the increasing risks that could come from people living so close, risks for the drivers as well as for the inhabitants.

Eventually after about an hour we reached “Plan de Manzano”. I believe that this used to be one of the very few flat areas on that road. It probably had always some “conuqueros” (3) living there and might have even been the seat of some small hacienda or a meeting point. Well, it has become a small town of sorts, the example on how eventually slums become glorified Kasbas. You could probably stop for a drink there in a normal day and not feel like you will be robbed silly.

After Plan de Manzano the road starts slowly winding its way down. It is very high above the finished highway which looks far away, and strangely empty of any vehicle. It is also a rather beautiful road, and that afternoon the mists from the sea were coming up, creating an unusual and bucolic freshness to the air. I am actually looking forward a trip with clear skies, though there are very few and rare spots where one could stop and admire the scenery: the road is that narrow. It is also basically empty of constructions, Plan de Manzano being as far as the city seems to reach.

As a child I had traveled that road once, my parents inquisitive and “perpetual tourist” wanted to see it again even though the new spectacular highway was available. I did not remember anything from then, except that I was quite taken with motion sickness. But perhaps it is as well. No reference point might make the heart a little bit less sadder at witnessing my country go down the drain faster, and faster even if car traffic is down to a crawl.

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1) The old road (Carretera Vieja) to La Güaira was hailed in its time as a big advance from the Colonial Times treck. That road was build under Juan Vicente Gomez, the longest serving dictator of Venezuelan history, Por Ahora. He had himself nicknamed “El Benemerito”, (the blessed one ?). In a great cartoon that Jorge might have the good idea to send me so I can post it here, Gomez complains that the road should be renamed “la Benemerita” instead of Carretera Vieja, since we are so blessed to have that as an escape route.

2)Cadenas: the power that Chavez has to comandeer ALL OF VENEZUELAN MEDIA, TV and radio, for as long as he wishes to pass his speeches or propaganda. Only cable TV escapes sicne the foreign signal cannot be cut. But at least through the "gag law" chavismo forces cable providers to pass governmental propaganda during scheduled intermissions!

3) Conuqueros: traditional slash and burn peasants.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Tale of Chavez's Anti-Semitic remarks

After Alex Beech’s post and my first inquire right after Christmas, your favorite ghost blogger has been trying to get updated about what is going on concerning this convoluted issue.

It is time to report .

First, your second-favorite blogger, Miguel, was able to find the exact reference where the remarks appeared, so that people could grasp by themselves what was exactly said by President Chavez.

Next, your second-favorite blogger, again, dig a book by known anti-semite Chavez 's mentor Norberto Ceresole. Interesting, in the preface of the book, Ceresole made anti-Semitic remarks even tough it was a book about Chavez. And he also made remarks about those responsible for Bolivar's death. Just like Chavez in his speech.

On Jan 4, The Wiesenthal Center demanded public excuses to the President.

On January 14, Chavez read a letter signed by some directors of CAIV (Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela) in which they declared that their government is not anti-semite.

On January 14, Paulina Gamus, a well known political leader and third vice-president of CAIV protested the letter signed by what she said was a minority of the directive. She also wrote an article about the state of anti-Semitism in some official media, it appeared in El Nacional (translated here).

Meanwhile, a group of Venezuelan artists, intellectual and professors signed a letter to repudiate Chavez’s remarks. The letter appeared in a page in El Nacional today (January 21st)

and, guess what?

the MINCI (or MCI), Chavez’s Ministry of Information (or should I say Misinformation?) is already insulting them! They lost no time to answer with insults! They are quite efficient for that!

Reporting from Cyberspace,

Jorge Arena
favorite ghost blogger