Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Batalla de Santa Inés II.- Chavez's battle for 10 million votes

For the celebration of his 7 years in office, Chavez asked his followers to start a campaign to get 10 million votes in the presidential elections of December 2006. BTW, CNE President Jorge Rodríguez was among those that attended the gathering. The story appeared in El Nacional (you can access the information here).

Since the remarkable level of abstention obtained in the National Assembly elections of December 2005, the 10 million votes have been a motif of Chavez’s speeches. The Venezuelan President knows that, given the disorganized opposition, he has a high probability of winning the presidential election. However, he is not happy with just winning. He wants to show to the world that he has the overwhelming support of the Venezuelan people, which he has not.

The 10 million figure is absolutely laughable if one reviews historic data, recent polls and the Referendum and National Assembly election results (unless there is some creative counting from the CNE). Nevertheless, Chavez likes battling and he already defined the reelection campaign as the battle for 10 million votes. He called the campaign “Batalla de Santa Inés II”.

The name gives shivers to those that are aware of the consequences of the first Batalla de Santa Inés and its relationship with the fascist discriminatory list.

A few days ago, Daniel discussed a film about the list in this post and Bruni, a devoted reader, mentioned her short story about her experience with the Batalla de Santa Inés program. I asked her to translate the story to include it in my post, which she graciously did. Her essay mixes her storytelling abilities with the harsh political reality created by the program. It explains the relationship between the Batalla de Santa Inés with the Maisanta campaign and the Tascón list and it shows why the whole thing is a clear violation of the Venezuelan Constitution. The original Spanish version is here. Hope you like it. I did!

Jorge Arena.
Favorite ghost editor.

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The Battle of Santa Inés. (*)

by Brunilde Sansò.

Article 60. Every person has the right to the protection of her honor, private life, intimacy, image, confidentiality and reputation.

The law will limit the use of informatics to guarantee the honor and the personal and family intimacy of its citizens and the full enjoyment of their rights.

Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

This story is dedicated to millions of Venezuelans of all origins and political tendencies that are enclosed in thousands of unknown computers and whose privacy has been forever violated.

After several years of protests and a sturdy opposition, a signature collection was carried out to call for a Referendum to revoke the mandate of President Hugo Chavez Frias. The Referendum took place on August 2004. The “No”camp, that supported the President, created a command called “Maisanta” in honor of a gomecist general that became an anti-Gomez guerrilla, called Pedro Perez Delgado, nicknamed “Maisanta”, that happened to be the great grandfather of President Chavez Frias.

It is said that the President has a supersticious predilection for his rebellious ancestor and that he thinks that Maisanta brings him luck [1]. Wether true or not, the Maisanta Command had the objective of doing whatever was necessary to avoid that President Chavez Frias be revoked. This political crusade was baptized by the government as the “Batalla de Santa Inés”. It is within that frame that a computer search program coupled with the personal data of all Venezuelan voters, also called “Batalla de Santa Inés”, was created. The name recalls the Santa Inés Battle won by the “llanero” Ezequiel Zamora. The two caudillos, Zamora and Maisanta are also related since Maisanta was the son of a Zamora’s colonel. Moreover, both are fetish figures for the President. Thus, it is not by chance that the two characters are associated with one of the most important battles that Chavez would have to fight.

In order to create the Batalla de Santa Inés program, the database containing the information of all Venezuelan voters must have been extracted from the database of the CNE (National Electoral Council), that is the entity in charge of Venezuelan elections. If such was indeed the case, then it would be a flagrant violation of the Venezuelan Constitution that guarantees the right to privacy and that explicitly limits the use of informatics (see article 60 above).

In the following months, the program was used to catalog Venezuelan citizens and, in some cases, to prevent them access to jobs and civil documents [3,4]. I was told that the program with the database could be bought freely in the streets of Caracas.

Wanting to verify by myself the length of the violation of the privacy of millions of Venezuelans and in order to understand the program functionality, I installed one copy in my computer and searched for my name, curious to know what information would appear. Later, I started playing with my Venezuelan ID number. Two, three, four, five numbers below, two, three, four, ten numbers ahead…

There they were: Renato, Salvatore, Silvana and Rosetta, those that had been lost in a hidden place of my memory and now, thanks to this powerful program, came back to my recollection of a nine year old girl that is getting her ID card for the first time.

It was a special day. We were transported by bus to the roofed yard of a large school or ID center. I think that it was located in Los Ruices or Los Dos Caminos. We were then seated on long banks, side by side, waiting for our turn. One of our school teachers, Miss Camacho, tried in vain to get us to be quiet. I wanted to seat next to Renato, but Rosetta was between us. That is why his ID number does not follow mine. Renato was in love with Rosetta and all the other girls from the Venezuelan-Italian school I attended were in love with Renato.

It was not the first time that Rosetta got between Renato and me. One or two years before, I should have entered the church with Renato the day of our First Communion. But, because of my or Rosetta’s dress, it did not happen that way.

I wore a white empire dress with a long bridal veil, and Renato was very handsome in a blue suit. He was holding a cream color candle, a silver rosary, a mother-of-pearl missal and white velvety gloves. Rosetta, on the other hand, was wearing an ugly cream color nun’s gown with a wood rosary attached to her waist. That was the gown proposed by the school that I had categorically refused to wear. Then, probably because of the gown, the same professor Bianchi that had always preferred me, decided to put this time Renato with Rosetta as the first couple and left me, with my magnificent bride dress made by my grandma and Salvatore, wearing his brother’s brown suit that was too tight for him, as the last couple to enter the church. That is why in my First Communion picture I am with Salvatore whereas Rosetta was with Renato.

But life is really something. Even though I learned later that Rosetta and Renato had been engaged, they did not end up being together. At least, that is what was indicated by the program. Renato now lives in Colinas de la Trinidad whereas Rosetta still lives in La Carlota. Rosetta must have married a Mr. Añez because the program changes, in the American way, the second family name by the husband’s family name. I also noticed that the program must have been made by people that do not know the letter “ñ” because Añez was written with the numeral symbol, A#ez.

After studying more deeply the program, I got to the conclusion that the union between Renato and Rosetta was not to be, it was impossible, at least politically speaking. They seemed to be real Capuletos and Montescos from Venezuela. In fact, the program classifies Renato as a “Patriot” and there is a red field that appears on the side of his name, the political tendency field. From what I learned “Patriots” are those that not only did not sign against the President but even signed to revoke the opposition National Assembly members. It seems that after the signature collection to revoke the Presidential mandate, there was a counter-offensive prepared by the goverment to revoke opposition deputies. Interesting, the petition did not seem to target particular deputies but to target them all at large, there are in fact “Patriots” in all the voting districts.

Thus, although Renato is a Patriot, Rosetta is not. She actually signed against the President because when I access her name, a blue light appears indicating just that.

I wonder when was that Renato and Rosetta started moving away from each other. The program does not explain it but it is very clear that they do not live together.

On the other hand, Salvatore, my First Communion companion ,ended up being a very particular type of Patriot because despite being classified as so, there is a warning sign that pops up when I access his name. It indicates that he also signed against the President. I guess that those that wrote the program must consider that Salvatore is not politically trustworthy, that must be the reason for the pop-up. I am not sure I agree with that statement: Salvatore used to not change his mind at all when we played as kids during class breaks. Quite the opposite, he was of a stellar stubbornness.

I started shuffling possibilities. Maybe Salvatore thought that the best way to finish with political instability was to sign to ask for referendums. Then, he must have signed for the first one, to revoke the President, but since he was favorable to the government, decided later to sign the second one as well. However, it is difficult for me to imagine my friend Salvatore using his civil right in such a strategic manner. Maybe he signed first but then he was forced to sign the second petition. The program created doubts in my mind, maybe, maybe, maybe.

Silvana used to live somehow close to my house. But, according to the program, she moved so close that if I lived now in Venezuela, we would be voting in the same center. When I clicked the center button, I could get the list of every person voting in my center. There was not only Silvana, but also several other known names. There was Maritza, the neighbour from the corner house. I was able to learn her real age, that she had always hidden from us. Then I tried to search for Alberto, her husband, but could not find him in the center. But since his family name was quite unusual, it was easily found using the general name searching feature. To my surprise, I learned that Alberto is much younger than Maritza and that he is a “Patriot” even though Maritza signed against the President. My Capuleto theory does not hold any longer. A Patriot and a revoker living together? What type of fights would they have? Or maybe, maybe it was made on purpose so that all the eggs were not put in the same basket. After all, as they used to say, the vote was secret but the signature was not…maybe, maybe, maybe.

Thus, if I had wanted it, I could have reviewed all my memories, all my friends, all my neighbours, all the members of my family. I could have learned their ID numbers, their age, their personal address, their voting center, and their political tendencies. I could have guessed their fears and presupposed their hesitations.

More than fourteen million fears and hesitations!

There are fourteen million people that are now everywhere and that will never be able to recover the tranquility of their anonymity. A collective and permanent violation!

Then, overwhelmed by feelings of astonishment, disgust, displeasure, revulsion, I deleted the program. I tried to get back to the old idea that Rosetta was with Renato and that Maritza was indeed the age she looks. But, it did not work. It was like unlearning how to read after having read.

Then I decided to fired up my computer again and started typing.

And I am still here fighting, in my way, my own Battle of Santa Inés.

In the story above, I have changed the names and sequence of the ID numbers of all my memories. I have also exagerated my curiosity in the search for personal details. I just wanted to demonstrate the potential for meddling in private lives that the program has created. Some of those having ID numbers close to mine happen to be old classmates, but they are not the characters of this story. However, the program is such that it could have been used to search for all my friends’ personal details, had I wanted to.

In fact, and unfortunately for those of us that are listed inside, all the described features of the program are absolutely real.

References:

[1] Marcano, C. and Barrera, A. “Chávez sin Uniforme.-Una Historia Personal”. Colección Actualidad. Random House Mondadori, 2004.
[2] Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela. Artícle 60. http://comunidad.vlex.com/pantin/constve.html
[3] Octavio, M. « Tascón Fascist List ». The Devil’s Excrement blog. http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/categories/tasconSFascistList

[4] Duquenal, D. “La Lista.-The Story of Venezuela McCarhtyism.”
Venezuela News and Views blog.
http://daniel-venezuela.blogspot.com/2006/02/la-lista-story-of-venezuela.html.

(*) This short story originally appeared in Spanish in Cuentos Intrascendentes


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chavismo tricky numbers: unemployment, now you see it, now you don't!

If there is an area that has experimented rapid growth in Venezuela is the area of creative accounting, be it from the private sector to escape the repressive SENIAT tax avenger, to the government trying to hide the monies stolen through corruption, or lost through its sheer inefficiency.

A new bright example of this sophisticated trend that has even allowed PDVSA to skip a SEC reckoning (though the pressure must be so high that they have decided to bail out of the SEC) came with yesterday’s unemployment numbers.

The INE admits that from December 2005 to January 2006 unemployment has grown by a stupendous 4 %. So what do they do, they decided to admit the effect on this number is due to the “buhonero” effect, that is seasonal employment which soars at holiday time before sending all of them back to the streets in January.

This is true, of course. But it is hypocritical for the INE to use now the “underemployment figures” as an excuse for bad numbers in January when 2 months ago the INE head dodged any question on the real employment numbers just when underemployment was used as a makeup to drop dramatically the “employment rate” of Venezuela. That is, anyone that has an “activity”, even a two hours street corner vendor of empanadas at lunch time, is considered as “employed”. Never mind that this person does not even get minimal wage and even less social security. May the Misiones provide! Which they do as those in any educational plan, in particular the “mision vuelvan caras”, are taken of the rolls of unemployment even as they receive a meager stipend for doing almost nothing of their involuntary free time.

However this time there is a new twist: the INE, desperate to hide the chavismo bad numbers, specially after the INE head, Eljuri, promised to drop below 10% by December 2005 (he did) and thus justly concerned that Chavez might lash back at him (shoot the messenger, a favorite in those grounds), has decided to highlight these January numbers by comparing them to last January. Benefiting for an undeniable, if clay footed, growth, we thus finally get a glimpse of the real jobless rate drop for 2005: 2.6 % in one year (if we can trust it, but why not?) So let’s us see, we get supposedly a 9+ % GDP growth for only a 2+% jobless drop? I refuse to do the math as to how long it will take us to bring 50% of the country to the “quince y último”, that is, to regular pay check and social security enrollment.

And get this! To try not to look too much as backpedaling on previous declarations, Eljuri calls this January to January comparison as reflecting “quality improvement of the type of jobs” meaning that from going to street corner vendor of empanadas to janitor in that same street corner would be a “quality improvement”. Well, it probably is if you put the vendor on the payroll and get Social Security registration, but that is not often the case. I would rather call this a sub-conscious lapse where Eljuri, slipping in the bureaucrat mold of proto-totalitarian regimes, Orwell style, starts believing that it is just fine to equate street vendor jobs as almost equal in “quality” to his underling bureaucratic jobs under AC at the INE office. I suggest for Eljuri to manage a “buhonero” stand for a couple of days and stop talking shit. It seems that even this opposition blogger has a higher regard to buhoneros and other street vendors than Eljuri who is so obsequiously worried about his and his master glory.

But this is nothing new for the dedicated readers of this blog who have got an eyeful here, here and here of what these INE numbers really mean.

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On other topics.

This blogger is leaving for a few days of a well deserved break. He has hired brilliantissime Jorge Arena to try to put a post but he heard that Jorge is also moonlighting at the Miguel sweat shop. We’ll see.

Meanwhile as a parting post card, and since it is Carnival, I would like to post this pic of the Bolivar figure built at PDVSA expense by the Samba school Vila Isabel to preside their parade. Rumor has that PDVSA will also foot the bill for an expensive lodge at the Sambodrome where Chavez might or might not show up. I wonder what the street vendors of Vargas might think of that as their meager income will be cut shorter by the collapsed bridge and dearth of tourists in Vargas during Carnival. Now, about this pic, am I the only to think that it seems like a strange cross between a pic of Chavez and the iconography of Bolivar (which, at any rate, does not look like this silly and expensive puppet)?

Meanwhile I will be for a few days at least one hour from the closest slowest, internet dial-up thing. A good break by itself. If you decide to post comments any way, be patient, they might take a day or two to come up.

Friday, February 24, 2006

La Lista, the story of Venezuela McCarthyism

Last Saturday the documentary La Lista was premiered in Caracas, at the “Sala de Conciertos del Ateneo”.(1)
Writing a full review of it is not necessary, besides, Miguel, who I met there, already has reported on the video per se. I would just want to share with the readers the emotions that I experienced during the screening, and try to discuss which are some of the very main points that the video so beautifully and convincingly addresses.

La Lista as a heroic tale, and an indictment of the Chavez regime

The most important contribution of the video is to show that the Tascon List was not an isolated event, a crazy idea that came up with the now infamous deputy Tascon. No. It is clear that Chavez knew all along that the infamous list was created, what it was designed for, how it was used, and when its main purpose was duly served. And it is fair to say that to this day the list is still in use and that Chavez knows about it and that he lets it happen.


This is enough for one day to try him and to send him to jail as no sitting president of a democratic country should EVER allow the creation of an instrument whose sole aim is to create an apartheid based on political differences.

For the reader that comes in late, the Tascon list was elaborated on the basis of the Venezuelan constitutional right that we can request a petition or law submitted to referendum, or call for a Recall Election for any elected public servant. This is achived by gathering a certain amount of signatures equal to a specific percentage of the electoral rolls of Venezuela, that percentage varying according to the type of referendum requested.






...........Safe keeping?.......








Normally, once those signatures are gathered they should be held in strict confidentiality, scrutinized according to recognized statistical methods as to their validity and then destroyed so that no record remains. Not only this did not happen in the Recall Referendum process against Chavez, but ALL the names of the signatories, even those whose signatures were not recognized as valid, found their way into the infamous Tascon list which was then used to put undue pressure on all public servants, and their relatives EVEN IF THEY DID NOT SIGN FOR THE REFERENDUM. It also created all sorts of legal hardships from denial of loans to refusal to emit passports for those civilians that had nothing to do with government business but still found that government mandatory services were denied to them because they signed.

The severity of the application, from mere denials and stigmatization, to outright firing, depended on the public servant in charge and his desire to please in upper echelons. Some ministries and institutions were much more touched than others. One of the worst offenders has been PDVSA where if any or your close relatives signed against Chavez you are banned from job application, or subcontracting. Entering into PDVSA this day is a long screening and once inside you are subject to dismisal if suddenly you are found associated with "undesirable activities" or something like that. A problem in Venezuela as PDVSA is one of the main employers and a big contracting agency (contractors and their personnel are also subjected to such abuses). I know personally of three cases. The movie will acquaint you with many other such cases, from PDVSA, FOGADE and more. You will see and hear all of these people tell you their story, from the lucid ones who have decided to follow the paths of justice come what may, to those who have become almost wrecks of their former selves. Quite a contrast with the clips from public "servants" and their lies. An abject lesson for all of us.

La Lista does a good job, an excellent job, to remind us of all of these high moments during the signature collection process. It also does a particularly fantastic job in finding the quotes in from the different videos of Chavez himself. There he gives diverse announcements showing his knowledge of the existence and of the use of the segregation list. Put together, the evidence cannot be denied and any democrat must shiver at the idea of what else would this president do in the future if he allowed such a horror to hold onto power at any cost.

And one cannot fail to add that to the threat of the Tascon List, outright violence was offered by supporters of Chavez such as Lina Ron below. They knew who you were and where you lived, and that was scary alright at the time to decide to go and sign anyway.

Lina Ron, by the way, was one of the main organizers of the violence that was present at the very first time the opposition tried to submit a consultative referendum, promptly annuled by the high court. Below the arrival of these boxes with tear gas clad carriers. Those images were carried in all minds one year later when we had to go and stamp our signatures.


The most famous violations of the elemental discourse of political responsibility came in December 2003, when after having agreed on 5 rules under which a signature could be rejected, the CNE came up with 34 new rules, bringing the total to 39 (according to La Lista) and thus managed to annul enough signatures to force yet a 4th gathering of signatures, called “El Reparo”. But that was not all. When the famous Reparo came, we assisted at the first large scale application of the Tascon list. We also saw an additional vexation as people were forced to go back and confirm their original signature while those whose signatures were valid were allowed to withdraw their names. BUT NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO ADD his or her name. All was deliberately designed to coerce people into not signing again, into being scared of losing their job if they did not withdraw their signature. Yet the only thing that chavismo achieved was to highlight the heroism of the opposition who against all of the state apparatus managed to get MORE than the 20% required.

The rogues gallery

Below the pictures of a few of the people who tried to either justify the use of the list or tried to pretend it was not a big deal.




The consequences of the Tascon list

The social ones

The Tascon list was transmuted into the Maisanta program which now lists ALL of Venezuelan electors. Now the government through Maisanta can decide, according to the voting pattern, who is a “real” patriot and who is a traitor. We are now past the apartheid stage of the Tascon list (though this novel apartheid will never go away as some who did not go to Reparo under pressure still got problems at work). Now all Venezuelans are listed and all Venezuelans are under scrutiny whenever they seek to exert any of their constitutional rights or demand the services expected from the state. The Maisanta list tunes up the voting pattern by listing any pro-Chavez social program that a given elector is enrolled in.

Chavez can mock us by asking/announcing that the Tascon list "be buried". But no one has been punished for its use. And the Maisanta is rolling freely around. Yet another one of Chavez lies.

The Maisanta list is so abject that it was even mentioned clearly in the European Union observation mission for the December election, as one of the causes for the high abstention, provoking the ire of Chavez who was caught pants down.

The political ones

Many will result, but the first result, unintended by the government, was the natural loss of confidence by the electors that their vote was still secret. Since the Tascon list appeared, abstention rates have been climbing fast: after all it is the CNE that released to Tascon the names of those who signed against Chavez.

Another graver result is that now all the constitutional articles on the so vaunted “participatory democracy” are now void. Who will now initiate a referendum process if they think that their signature might get used against them if their side does not win the contest? This great advance of the 1999 constitution, the only one that this writer admired from the start, has been shot down as soon as Chavez realized that it was a two edged sword for him. He is safe now in the knowledge that no one will ever try again a referendum against him or any of his legal programs.

An even more graver result is that the ongoing, and now maybe never-ending Venezuelan political crisis, can only be solved two ways: either a new constitutional assembly (and this must be called through a referendum, thus limiting the odds in the present set up) or the demise of Chavez, be it from its natural death or more likely through violent means, probably coming from his own followers as the list turns against some of them, as it will undoubtedly do some day. This is the dynamic of the such regimes through history: they remain on top through constant purges to scare into submission their own followers.

The emotions raised by the documentary

Well, the only thing I can say is that to watch summarized in not even one hour all the ordeals that as a citizen I had to go through from 2002 to 2004 was an intense experience. How could we put up, as a people, with such shit? All that tenacity, dedication, hope, risk and daring, heroism, for nothing? It was indeed an emotional moment for me, and I venture to say for all in the attendance.

Another sad constatation was that we started to forget all of it. There were so many moments when I realized that "I forgot that one!" And the further realization that this is exactly what the regime does, push away a scandal with a new one.

After the projection, one was left with more questions than answers, but also with the resolve to help in any possible way that such a horror stops, and never occurs again in Venezuela.

Apartheid, McCarthy, Tascon, are synonyms in Venezuela.

Details

The documentary La Lista, Un pueblo bajo sospecha (The List, a people under close watch) can be obtained through the page Web of Ciudadania Activa, the NGO sponsoring it. Their web page is: www.ciudadaniaactiva.org. If you have trouble getting it you can write me and I might be able to help up to a point. It costs only 20 000 Bs., about 8 dollars at the street rate (I doubt that CADIVI will give you dollars for that video). I assume that you must also pay for shipping.

Translations into English and French are ongoing (whith yours truly involved). Translations in other languages are under work too.

I strongly recommend that you get one copy and diffuse it as much as possible.

And next time you find an asshole who still thinks that “The revolution will not be televised” ask them to watch that video. Actually offer that person to watch both videos together and see what happens.

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1) I apologize for the not so great lay out as it has already been pointed out to me. But blogger does not allow me to do the lay out I wanted and I had to settle for this not too great combination. Suggestions as as to how improve this blogger set up are welcome.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The workings of the chavista propaganda machine

The Internet wars are tough. But the pen and paper, or e-mail wars are not any less tougher. Chavismo has been funding many things to fight back what they term anti Chavez propaganda on line (such as yours truly who has been accused of all but receiving a fat check directly from Condi Rice). Unfortunately to date the only agencies in these information wars that have been proven to receive some official help are from the Chavez camp, whereas no one from this side of the divide has been nailed as a paid agent of the CIA, and gosh, has the CIA “been proven” to fund anything, ANYTHING, in Venezuela that damages Chavez glory: falling bridges, bad crops, bad weather or cab strikes, you name it, the CIA is behind it. At any rate, we, opposition bloggers or other web sites, are either brilliant at covering our traces, or we are stupid at refusing outside help; the gentle reader will decide :)

This morning I got the latest offensive, this time against a recently published article by Vinod Sreeharsha, a US citizen covering some issues in Latin America for the Christian Science Monitor, among other. I was “interviewed” by Vinod long time ago. He seemed to be the fair type of journalist that tries to cover all bases and tries to find a good thing to write for each side. Well, he is meeting the harsh Venezuelan reality. Imagine that! It seems that his latest entry did not please at all the Venezuelan Information Office, one of the may lobbying groups paid by Chavez in the US.

Below I post their “action alert” which by the way I was told by my correspondent that it might not be legal since it did not add at the end that the VIO is funded by Venezuela. But since when legalities have been of concern for the glorious revolution? In brackets my comments inserted where necessary.

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Subject: Two Negative Media Stories on Venezuela--Your Help is Needed

TWO STORIES REQUIRE YOUR RESPOSNE Earlier this week, two major newspapers ran separate stories extraordinarily critical of the current political scene in Venezuela. While bad coverage of Venezuela in the mainstream media is nothing new, both of these articles are significant for their level of imbalance and the extreme nature of their views. Your help is needed to correct the record. Please take the time to write a quick letter to the editor.

"Venezuela's Unrealized Revolution" Christian Science Monitor Monday, February 20, 2006

Christian Science Monitor correspondent Vinod Sreeharsha interviews three disaffected Venezuelans who originally voted for President Hugo Chavez and now are dissatisfied with the administration. The interviewees present a laundry-list of "infrastructure" problems and imply that life for Venezuela's poor has declined, rather than improved over the last six years. [there is much more than “infrastructure problems” problems in the Vinod article, but this fixation show how hurt chavismo is by the collapsed bridge, to the point that all is now a counter campaign on “infrastructure”. Highly amusing if you ask me.]

The article notes that Chavez's support has been "slipping", but does not mention that approval ratings merely dipped from 70% to 65%. [Again, unfounded poll wars, a favorite of chavismo. For the record, I have written that polling in a post-Tascon-list country is highly unreliable as many people simply will B.S. any pollster that crosses their path, even more if the said pollster might be perceived as been sent by the government]. By leaving the numbers out, the article implies that the President does not maintain majority support, and that the four Venezuelans interviewed make up majority opinion. [this is a willful misreading, a distortion, of Vinod’s words that bear posting: “maintains a high domestic approval rating and has no viable challenger in the presidential election scheduled for Dec. 3. But polls show his support slipping slightly in recent months”. So, either VIO is distorting or they do not know how to read. Vinod clearly implies that no matter what the polls say his perception is that Chavez is STILL well above 50%. Why the VIO fuss? To close for comfort?]

Neither does the story note the role of the undemocratic forces within the Venezuelan opposition in any "infrastructure" problems the country may have. Remember in the past 4 years alone, the Chavez administration has faced an attempted coup d'etat, a nationwide "strike" of oil executives that crippled the economy, and a recall referendum. [and here we go back to the old canard that seems to serve as the SOLE excuse left for chavismo arsenal of excuses. For the record, Chavez has been in office for 7 years and the “troubles" lasted from April 2002 until August 2004, that is 2 years and 4 months out of 7 years.No wonder the polls on Chavez are dipping: when you live in Venezuela you know how to do simple political arithmetic, something the VIO hopes its readers and activists in the US do not do]

The opposition likes to argue that the Chavez administration has not stayed on top of things like bridge maintanence [sic] or pothole fixing, yet they haven't given the administration an opportunity to govern without interference. [This one was my favorite!!! Whoever wrote this precious line is either deliberately lying or totally ignorant of Venezuela history. S/he would have us believe that Chavez is the ONLY president who suffered a strong opposition, forgetting that Romulo Betancourt had to face guerilla, two coup d’etat attempts, an assassination attempt which left him badly injured; that Carlos Andres Perez was actually impeached and removed from office; that Caldera ruled twice a minority government and still managed to accomplish more “infrastructure work” than Chavez. The nerve!]

Letters may be sent to the Christian Science Monitor using this form. For tips on writing an effective letter to the editor, please visit [this page]

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You know what? I suggest that some of the readers of this blog send a quiet and relaxed letter using these same links just given to congratulate Vinod’s article and to show that without money we can challenge the VIO sabotage and distortion all the same. Links courtesy of VIO, by the way.

PS: there was also an action alert against the Financial Time. Since it is a pay site I cannot make a rebuttal the way I did above. However from the VIO note I retain this gem:
Like the Christian Science Monitor article, this story in the Financial Times does not quote a single pro-Chavez source.
I could only laugh my head off!!!! Anyone that reads the pro Chavez papers such as VEA or the governmental outlets such as RNV or VTV would be hard pressed to find significant quoting of anti-Chavez sources. Yes, that is right, the VIO DEMANDS outside of Venezuela what is not happening at all inside the official media of Venezuela. Ah! The Hypocrisy of it all! Capital H intended.

You know, sometimes this blogging job is really fun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The ad infinitum reelection thing

There is an item that I was refusing to discuss but that I am dragged into writing about.

Last Sunday Chavez announced (or was that threatened?) us with launching a referendum campaign to allow him to run for reelection as long as he damn well pleases. Fine with that, anyone with half a brain in Venezuela knows full well that the excuse for the constitutional assembly of 1999 in Venezuela was to establish immediate reelection and more than one chavista sycophant (or is that psychophant?) has been suggesting (begging?) that the brand new constitution be already modified. The objective is for Chavez to stay in office as long as Castro, but somehow elected to it. I suppose that some would call this progress.

As usual in the bolibana revolution, the timing is more important than the substance. Why did Chavez announced “officially” what we all knew? Because he is so scared to be alone running in December that he is thinking about tying up a referendum to force people to come and vote at least for the referendum. Any electoral trap that he might set then would look much more palatable if there are voting lines, an item sorely missing on December 4 and from which the chavista smarting seems never-ending.

Of course the bluff was promptly called by Teodoro Petkoff.

I thought that this would be it, that Miguel’s translation of Tal Cual editorial would be enough, but no such luck. On Monday, Isaias Rodriguez, the Nations’ General Prosecutor, the head of one of the five powers, was defending Chavez words qualifying them, in utter banality, as mere exaggerations because “you know, he like myself is a Llanero and our Andalucia origins make us exaggerate things”. Or something like that.

Now, the reason I write about this is not to comment on the news, not news per se, but on something striking about them. Three observations:

I did watch when Chavez made his “exaggerated” announcement. As he was announcing and repeating himself and gorging himself with words, the attending crowd (or was that a claque?) was screaming in total ecstatic delirium. I confess that I am unable to understand why someone would be delighted to have the same person ruling over them during most of their useful lifetime. I just cannot get it. Then again I have left organized religion since I was 16 so perhaps what I am watching is the Chavez cult in all its horror and I just cannot get it.

Why was the General Prosecutor of the nation defending Chavez words the following day? Why oh why? Is he a Chavez employee or is he an independent power that should NEVER utter a political word as the person that is required to be the most impartial in the country? Does he still think he is Chavez vice president? Is he so distraught by his failed cover up of the Anderson case that all the pills he is taking make him lose any perspective?

And finally, what about the communiqué of the Communications ministry? Not for the rebuttal of a caricature-like editorial of El Nacional that the humorless chavistas failed to get. Not for addressing the legitimate concerns of El Nacional at the CNE ONCE AGAIN failing to fulfill its own declared commitments (after it was Sumate, not El Nacional, which pointed out that the CNE is late by several weeks on its pre December 4 promises). But look at how the communiqué from the ministry ends (in bold characters at that!):

Pero el Presidente y el espíritu de nuestra Constitución lo dicen:

¡NO VOLVERAN!

Translated:
But the President and the spirit of the constitution say it:

THEY WILL NOT COME BACK!

Now we are finally fixed: the constitution of 1999 was set in place so as to Chavez to stay in office until he dies.

It is all so clear. Democracy anyone?

Monday, February 20, 2006

UB313 as a metaphor for Eurochavismo

Ibsen Martinez in his Monday column of El Nacional has it with the "eurochavistas" defined loosely as leftist "en mal d'idole" that have reached such a level of boredom that to entertain themselves they are willing to tolerate populism, militarism, and all sorts of other related abuse just to "give a chance to the experiment", an experiment that they visit as tourists, return ticket safely in pocket.

The original Spanish is here.

And as a reminder, Ibsen has always defined him somewhere between center left and left. Kind of a Liberal left, US center.

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Some choice passages.

First an introduction to “eurochavismo”.

What in another context would be named “eurochavismo”, this infantilism of a globophobic first World.
Then on to the motion of Labour backbenchers to support Chavez.
The style of the Labor resolution reminds us of these advertisements that our government transmits regularly in “cadena”, with obvious inclusions of slang from Granma in the trance of exalting the achievements of the “process”.

Of course, the attitude of this impressive contingent of the socialists backbenchers in the Commons, might or might not be part of the anti-US tsunami that is today sweeping the planet, but I feel compelled to point out that the labor communiqué mirrors the naïf idea of Chavez and Venezuela that leftists politicians of European parliaments have.

[snip]

The British parliamentarians are very careful to search the body for questions on human and political rights in Venezuela or the electoral fair play [sic] or the rule of law [sic, again] entrusted to a judicial system independent from the executive, a notion dear to the political civilization of the Anglo Americans.

They much prefer to herald improbable accomplishments in the fields of social justice and human development. And they can interject Blair, demonstrate sympathy and understanding for an “authoritarian statesman” motivated by philanthropy and concern for the poor, being certain that Chavez Hill never reside at 10, Downing street.
A little tour through Italy.
A digression becomes a must, to be just with the Italian left of today. The people from the Democratici de Sinistra, the largest group of the institutional and democratic left, does not swallow the Chavez bait: Italian XXth century has seen to much militaristic messianism to buy the Bolivarian ironmongery.
And to finish a rather bemused observation.
Does the reader recalls when the left a-bo-minated Latin-American populisms because they were corrupt reformist insufficiencies and, to add insult to injury, messianic, caudillo prone and philofascist?

Well, not anymore. In its lack of ideas, the “post modern” left, without nothing strong to offer besides changing the word “proletariat” by “subaltern”, or say “exclusion” where “poverty” would do, it has been seen in the trance to balkanize its sympathies for a swarm of just causes but often unhinged [untranslatable pun]

Oh, and Ub313 is a meteorite big enough to be a small planet and thus an utopia of sorts.

Patting myself in the back: Blair, Chavez and me

Blogging is a strange phenomenon. Its consequences on the media as a whole are far from being established but already some of its effects can be seen. Now bloggers can be seen reporting from the floor of US Gop or Dem conventions, to Venezuelan bloggers asked on the radio in the US or England.

In Venezuela the phenomenon is a little bit slower but it is also coming. If some people like Milagros Socorro have sensed it early enough and have helped El Nacional to be the first major paper to acknowledge blogging as a social phenomenon and to report on it on occasion, it is still a marginal activity as far as media interest in blogs. It should remain so as blogging will never replace the investigative capacities of newspapers, but eventually blogging will occupy a solid niche in the information flow of serious news and analysis (Noticiero Digital was on Alo Ciudadano a week ago!).

Last Thursday, Veneconomia was another major main stream media that took a risk with blogging. This internet publication, widely read by financial circles and government in Venezuela (if anything to check the street value of the American Dollar) writes some of the most biting and clear headed editorials around here, in Spanish first and translated within a few hours in English. I have or used often through the years. This time it was them using my blog for their editorial! But fair is fair I suppose. Below the editorial of Veneconomia/VenEconomy of last Thursday:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair does nothing without a reason. That is why when he instructed President Chávez last week to respect and abide by international standards, it wasn’t by chance or unintentional.

In his blog, the well-known analyst Daniel Duquenal took an in-depth look at the reasons that could be behind Prime Minister Blair’s pondered but direct statements.

Duquenal starts from the premise that Tony Blair did not speak before the British Parliament as an Englishman but as a European and, therefore, his words were clearly intended as a warning on behalf of the European Community to the autocratic government commanded by Hugo Chávez, in particular with regard to its ties with outlaw regimes.

Duquenal comments that the reports by the observers from the European Union and the European Parliament on the Venezuelan parliamentary elections of December 4 have given rise to alarm. These reports have made many Europeans aware of the outrages and violations committed against citizens’ rights by the Hugo Chávez administration, in particular the segregationist Tascón/Maisanta List.

Duquenal also maintains that there is concern in the old continent over Venezuela’s alliances with Iran, a country that poses a serious threat to peace in Europe and the rest of the world.

Duquenal thinks that the French and the Spaniards are annoyed and concerned at the turn things are taking in Venezuela. The former are worried over the problems that companies are having with the Chávez administration, among them Total Oil. The latter are fearful for their fellow Spaniards living in Venezuela, many of whom have been victims of invasions of their property by persons who support the Bolivarian process, and the illegal confiscations of private property and companies by the government. Then there was the U.S. veto of the sale of aircraft using U.S. technology that also alerted them to the fact that the intentions behind Venezuela’s rearmament plans are far from saintly.

That being the case, then the position adopted by Blair before Parliament is hardly surprising.

That is why Hugo Chávez’ discordant response in telling Blair to “go to hell” and calling him “swine” and “pawn of imperialism” was totally out of place and the subsequent appointment of Jenny Figueredo as Venezuela’s representative in Europe, after having been expelled from the United States by the Bush administration, could be taken as a slap in the face. The President is putting the country dangerously outside the concert of civilized countries.

This editorial was inspired from a post I made 10 days ago. I am extremely flattered of course. [End of self congratulatory mood, apologies to those offended by it :) ]

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What to do with Venezuela

Conclusion

Procrastination has a strange way to make things happen or become outdated. When a couple of weeks ago I started this series of posts, I had a conclusion in mind. But I had to go to Caracas for a few days and postponed writing it up. Now I realize that I have no pertinent conclusion. This break in Caracas allowed me to talk a lot, top perceive a lot and to realize that the situation I described in the previous post is shifting fast enough that soon I will be able to add to it a lot.

The review of the situation I gave is still valid, of course, as we are still living in the shadow of December 4 75% abstention. But the recent developments, from Chavez early and indecent electoral start to the opposition apparent inability to cash on the December sort of victory are making at this date any logical strategy a moot point. Thus, while I sort out recent information, I will write in lieu of a conclusion a summary of the proposal I wrote. The reader should be advised that at no point I pretended or even hoped that it would have an effect. The proposal summarized below depends on logic and political will. These are in very short supply in Venezuela.

The premises

The proposal was based on two shortcomings of the opposition used by chavista propaganda: no program and no candidate. My thesis is that abstention or not, it is a duty, a requirement for credibility for the opposition to come up with a program and a candidate for December 2006. Only a leader, followed by an opposition alliance could mount a meaningful challenge and use effectively the abstention weapon as Toledo did it in Peru. Otherwise it is only hot air, a vacuous position used by people that are very ware that their leadership is skimpy and only promoting abstention without a plan B can allow them to look more significant than what they really are.

The program

To elaborate a common program I thought that an internal opposition election, limited perhaps to those who signed for the Recall Election, could be organized by Sumate in a couple of weeks. A brief campaign would be enough as the “electoral system would ensure that all the groups that have some following will be granted one of the 20 to 40 seats maximum.

The task would be simple: write a program fit for a transition government of no more than 3 years. The objective would be to restore some order and control in the monies and institutions of the state. Only them it would be meaningful to proceed for a real election. I even thought that the opposition should promise to keep some of the Chavez programs as a way to demonstrate that no wholesale purge of chavistas would take place.

The commission to draft a program could be elected by mid March at the latest and its work would be concluded by May 31. Even if Chavez campaigns heavily, the country attention would be focused on such a commission, gaining lots of free promotion.

The candidate

A primary election would then be held. Only the candidates that get some support from within the commission would be allowed to run. A second round ballot would be held if necessary but to avoid a potentially bruising second round a victory could be obtained earlier with a single 40% vote as long as that person is ahead enough fop the other candidates.

The primary election campaign could take place through June and on July 5th the election held. The symbolism would be of course of great use for the opposition. An eventual second run could be held no later than July 15. And voilá, by August 1 the opposition has a candidate, a program and an electoral structure.

It is my belief that the country is divided enough and that people, no matter what opinion polls say, know where they stand. The campaign from both sides consists in convincing people to go and vote, not for whom to vote. 2-3 months of campaign are enough, and would even look good after months of Chavez constant campaigning.

It is really not that difficult and does not require as much money as Chavez will require. It allows for the opposition to forget about the CNE, leaving it to Sumate to deal with its treachery. And then the candidate can take over and make his personal case to the country and to the world as to how Chavez and his minions cheat. We know how that ended in Peru. And after 2002, we know that we could also pull an effective orange revolution.

But we also know that it requires political will, that it requires for political parties such as AD to rise about selfish interests. And this does not seem to be taking place. It seems that AD is prey to its belief that they know lead the “abstention movement”. It seems that PJ is more worried about its internecine warfare than the good of the country. It seems that the other guys are not even a cackle anymore, and yet some still pretend to roost high.

And also it seems that Chavez campaign will be dirtier and more cynical than what anyone had imagined.

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Details appear in several posts that can be tracked from the “Introduction” post here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

How the West was lost

When I saw this picture below, I am sorry to say, that was the first title that came to mind for this post. Carrefour, the giant French retailer, decided to boycott (?) Danish products in Muslim countries where it has stores. You can tell that because the sign is first in Arabic, and then in English with misspellings. You can look at it further be it on the German Spiegel commenting on Nestle insisting that Swiss is not Danish or the NYT which ambiguously report that the Danes feel economically victimized as they measure the true extent of European solidarity. Meanwhile the French retailer tries to dodge the bullet in a not very convincing way



Now, I can appreciate that Western stores are under some form of pressure in many Islamic countries. But, would it not be enough to just pull out from the shelves Danish products (which probably would not be sold anyway)? Would it not be enough to just leave the empty shelves? Regular customers would get the message really quick and that could be that.

I think that sign was indecent. I think Carrefour caved in to the worst possible “counter” prejudice.

There was a rather strong article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. The basic argument was that it is a must for global civilization to find ways to sponsor, prop up, help the moderate Muslims as this type of hysteria against Denmark is only favoring petty tyrants that use such tactics to regain the support that they cannot preserve just based on their rule.

I can understand that argumente since it is exactly what Chavez is doing, to try to distract the hoi polloi by inventing imaginary threats and cavorting with the outmost undesirable people, when not committing ethnic lapsus. Chavez is starting on that dangerous road and when he sees that it sorts of work for a while there will be no stopping him in his invented US hatred, alliance with Iranian nukes and all forms of machismo, homophobia, anti Semitism and what not. So what will Carrefour or Nestle do then, when Chavez starts a mass hysteria on some trumped up charge? Pull from the shelves its US / Israeli / Gay-designer /Colombian / Jewish-sounding / UK / Mexican/etc artifacts?

It will take more than the banned Lego blocks to rebuild trust lost after such shameless manipulations.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cuban elections (guest post from Val Prieto)

Today I am taking the unusual step of posting a comment left by someone who calls himself "leftside". I thought for a while about not posting it as I considered it to be a troll. But I thought better of it as it would give me a great opportunity to post against Castro here, in Venezuela News, and to have Val from Babalu do it as a guest post, something that I have been wanting to do for a long time. Indeed, who better than the extensive work of Babalú to counter the nonsense read too often on Cuba as to the alleged freedom and prosperity enjoyed by its people. So I sent the comment of leftside to Val who graciously agreed. Below the comment of leftside, followed by the great reply of Val and a mini comment of yours truly. Thanks Val! ¡Un abrazo!

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The first part of leftside comment, "as is". (the rest is in the corresponding thread)

Daniel, there are elections every 5 years in Cuba - for national and municipal candidates, where the Communist Party has no role. There have been plenty of non-Party members elected... including priests. 95% of people voted and 5% of the ballots were spoiled or left blank, if you want to guage opposition.

Then there was the national referendum on the Verela Project, which affrirmed the socialist character of Cuba forever - something that passed with 99% by 90% of the voters. And no, no one lost their job or was murdered or put in prison because they did not vote or voted against socialism. But I am sure you will tell me this does not reflect the people's true will and that as soon as there is a free election they will vote away their constitution and vote for american-style capitalist democracy.

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The reply from Val

In Cuba, on election day, members of the local CDR - Committee for the Defense of the Revolution - come to your home and rouse you from bed and force you to vote. The elections consist of "candidates" hand picked by the state. Failure to vote gets you noted by your CDR agent which in turn leads to future harassment through loss of job, loss of rationing books, relocation of home and family, fines for just about anything the state wants to fine you on. So, while some type of election does take place, per se, they are neither democratic nor do they represent the choices and opinions of the people as the elections are rigged to prevent members of any opposition parties from running by having only state approved "candidates." Cubans will "vote" for those they have been told they are supposed to vote for.

It's rather disingenuous to cite numbers from a government that runs such a closed society and it most certainly does not represent the true will of the Cuban people. Ask any Cuban living in exile and they will tell you all about how "elections" are run in Cuba.

There's a very simple truth to be seen on this issue for those who wish to see it: just about every single aspect of Cuban society has deteriorated. Cuba is now a third world country with a two tier social structure: The government and tourists, who enjoy just about any western luxury available, to the average Cuban, who lives in deplorable conditions and spend his entire day in search of food for their families. Doesn’t it stand to reason after 47 years of being led by one man and living under such dire conditions, that - for the sake of argument - at least some Cubans, given a choice for change, would not make that choice if they were so able? Of course they would. You are only lying to yourself if you think otherwise.

Of course, there is always the Occam's Razor response to the Cuba issue:

The rafts only go one way.

Val

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My only note is that in their desperate search for arguments supporters of Chavez or Castro usually handle us the rope to deal with them. I wonder if leftside is able to realize that his comment in fact justifies action against Chavez since this one ONLY got 15% of the Venezuelan electorate to go and vote for his lists. If we have to accept leftside argument on Castro support then he cannot refuse to recognize that an “official” 75% abstention last December clearly demonstrates that Chavez should be sent packing. Preferably to Cuba on a raft. It is indeed fun to watch how the arguments of this supposedly left wing always end up mired in insurmountable contradictions.

Friday, February 10, 2006

What to do with Venezuela

What to do with Venezuela (complete, for the time being that is)
* Introduction
* Part 1: Chavismo in turmoil (posted)
* Part 2: The opposition turmoil (posted)
* Part 3: An opposition balance sheet (posted)
* Part 4: Chavez electoral strategy (posted)
* Part 5: How could the opposition capitalize on its recent success?
* Part 6: The CNE problem (posted)
* Conclusion (posted)
Note: this scheme might change some as I keep writing and posting.

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Introduction

Often enough this blogger has been challenged to offer his solutions to deal with the crisis in Venezuela. I have never felt that it was my role, there are politicians for that and as a blogger my role was to point out the flaws and inherent contradictions within the different proposals. This was considered weak by some, strange by others. But it does have certain advantages: I can pretend to some objectivity as I avoid any self-serving project, the only one holding dear to my heart being the removal of Chavez from office by democratic means. But times have changed, and so this blog and its aims must also change.

During the next few days I will write a quick review of the present political situation which has dramatically changed after December 4, 2005. And then I will offer what could be a possible plan for the opposition to mount a credible challenge for December 2006. Of course I have no illusions that such a plan might even be read by the powers that be, but at least at some point through 2006 I will be able to write "I told you so!". Meager consolation perhaps, but these days one must take what can be reached.

The real reason behind the Tony Blair Chavez spat

This past two days have been full of the insults sent to Tony Blair by Chavez after this one suggested that Venezuela might want to play by international rules. There are two ways to look at these news: the Chavez circus or the real reasons why Tony Blair took such a step. The circus might be more fun but does not interest me. Yet I must briefly describe the set up before going into the really interesting part.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK, had certainly no need to tell Venezuela to start playing by international rules. Besides, some even question whether the US and the UK could even utter such things after happily invading Iraq. But this is for a totally different blog. Here I’ll only bother reporting the government reaction. First Chavez insulted Blair by sending him to a place with sexual connotations: el z/c/sipote. Naively translated as “Hell” by El Universal. Today he went one step further demanding that the UK restitutes the Falklands to Argentina (making historical mistakes, but heck, he knows nothing). One could shut him up fast by reminding him that he might want to see into ways to recover our Guyana portion that he gave up, for all practical purposes; but since he is an ignorant preaching to ignorants anything goes.

To show further how ignorant and incompetent is the new revolutionary personal at the Venezuelan foreign office, the rebuttal emitted today by the vice minister, Pavel Rondon, is an exercise in irrelevance and basic ignorance on how other countries operate.

The over reacting of Chavez being discussed enough, the burning question is why would Tony Blair expose himself to the vulgarity of Chavez? Because you can be sure of one thing, this was no mere mistake at Question Time in Westminster. You do not get to be a three terms Prime Minister in the UK if you do not know exactly what and why you say anything at any time. You need to go to Thatcher or Wilson to find as good or better than Blair.

This was a warning by the European Union that Chavez is starting to bother them. And this was done in spite of the significant interests of Paris and Madrid in Venezuela. What Tony Blair expressed is what is discussed behind closed doors in Brussels among ALL members; and more than likely represent a consensus opinion. I would go even as far as saying that Blair volunteered to utter this very first warning to Chavez since he is already in cahoots with Bush and has less to risk than others with Chavez.

And why is Europe starting to get upset with Chavez?

Well, to start with there is that electoral report of last December. European observers seem to have been particularly incensed about the Tascon/Maisanta list. This list which rates citizens according to their political leanings is used widely to decide who gets what from the government, creating in practice second class citizens. In a continent that fought savage world wars, genocides and totalitarianisms of all stripes, this type of initiative is a NO-NO.

A now perhaps even more pressing issue is the Iran nuclear energy question that is too close to home for comfort, literally. Iran can soon do simple nuclear missiles that could reach Europe before they are able to reach the US. And the avowed wish to erase Israel of the map by the Mullahs and their new underling president is something that Europeans simply cannot stand for. Endorsing Teheran so readily was a major mistake for Chavez. There are even rumors that the problems with expulsion of missionaries of the Amazon or the new mining laws are a way to control better the area and hide Uranium prospecting activities (it does not help that the Iran Venezuela joint ventures are busts but are settled in Guyana).

Furthermore even the European countries with heavy interests in Venezuela are starting to hurt. The French are upset that their contracts are harder and harder to renew in spite of all the graces and smiles of their embassy to chavismo (a subject already addressed in this blog with utter disgust at the French complacency with Chavez). When Total started paying twice as many taxes as expected and when Chavez started blackmailing Chirac into pretending to be his good pal so as to sign new contracts he might have gone a tad too far.

But even Spain might start having second thoughts. The planes sale to Venezuela not only got stuck when the US refused to allow US technology to be used, but the pro Chavez socialists Spaniards started to realize that their Venezuelan interests might not be anymore protected than those of the complacent French. Furthermore, this US Spain difficulty could compromise the wished for US trade. Let’s face it; the US is a much bigger market for Spain than Venezuela. And to top it off, the abuses committed against some Spanish nationals whose property was illegally seized in Yaracuy (among other places) has forced Chavez lover Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, to announce that it will defend his citizens interests in Venezuela. A first for ill advised Zapaterismo who might finally be getting the idea on what Chavez is really about.

So, when you follow the dots, is it that surprising that Blair did say what he said? I think not. I also think that chavismo might have missed the boat completely. Unless it got the point really well and has decided to send Europe and the rest of the world to el zipote. After all if you are contemplating illegal and illegitimate elections to stay into office until 2030, why bother with foreign nosy observers? We’ll see.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Enabling smiles from Tal Cual

Today Tal Cual has three interesting items.

Band of Brothers

The first one is an editorial comparing the electoral game of Bush and Chavez. The editorial title is “Brothers” since the point it to show that Bush and Chavez use EXACTLY the same language to win elections: if you are not with me you are betraying the interests of the fatherland, you are anti-_____(fill in blank according to your country of citizenship) and you are _____ (blank filled with an insult, reserved for Venezuelans routinely insulted by their president, and I am not talking insult to one’s intelligence now routine).

But if Tal Caul publishes this, it is to remind the reader that Teodoro, now a potential presidential candidate, has been criticizing Bush BEFORE Chavez did.

Enablers

This picture is priceless. Chavez and Maradona as best pals. Apparently Chavez who has sponsored a Samba school has rented a lodge at the Sambodrome to watch his investment. This all, of course, at tax payer expenses (or is it that PDVSA is now legally his property?) And Chavez is rumored to have invited along Maradona. To caution his Rio spending trip?

Now considering the drug past of Maradona, and considering that Chavez spends Venezuelan money as if he were on drugs I could not but make the rapprochement that both are enablers of each other. In psychological terms, and drug rehab too, an enabler is the person that knows the other one is doing wrong but still goes along and even facilitates, enables, the “diseased” one. Often the enabler will plead total ignorance when confronted, and even go long ways to defend the other party. It is usually a psychological mystery how so many enablers can put up with the other side ruining both lives.

Maradona turn to politics, and the left, helps him some redeem his rather tarnished image. Of course Chavez cavorting with the druggie, but an o so popular one, refurbishes his man-of-the-people image just as he will be sipping expensive scotch in Rio with Maradona and pals, watching sexy sambettes. Meanwhile still many Venezuelans cannot afford a TV, and even less cable, to watch the event.

Ah! The ironies of life!

Bloggers are fast

Besides the suspicion that Tal Cual read this blog on the Samba affair, it also reports that the victory of Leones de Caracas last Tuesday was not reported by VTV (this was reported first in this blog but the voice is running around as many seem to have observed that void!). In fact Tal Cual confirms that also Vive TV did not manage to make a 1 minute break to announce the Caracas win. And dryly points out that both VTV or Vive have absolutely no technical problems in connecting in a few seconds to a live coverage from Havana. You may draw your own conclusions but mine is that sycophancy runs now so deep within chavismo that poor Chavez might have actually been watching the game and rooting for Caracas and yet his paid adulators preferred to ignore it all, just in case. Maybe if he finds out he might realize that sickly sycophancy is actually not helping him. But I doubt it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What to do with Venezuela: part 6

The CNE problem

What is the CNE problem

The Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE is since 1999 a “fifth” power of the state. As such it is supposed to be independent and impartial since the fairness in naming the other 4 powers depend on how transparently the CNE acts. But the CNE has repeatedly failed to demonstrate its impartiality and fairness. This IS the reason why the December abstention total is “officially” 75% while many believe it went above the 80%.

How did the CNE become a problem

By now books could be written on how the CNE became the most riled at institution in Venezuela. Even more possibly than the presidency who at least had an honest start in 1998. The CNE never had an honest start. In fact it had to be named by the high court of Venezuela in 2003 because chavismo was unable to abide by its own constitution which demanded that the National Assembly reached a compromise to ensure a 2/3 CONSTITUTIONAL majority to name the 5 board directors of the CNE. Thus the high court, controlled already by chavismo, named the 5 directors ensuring that the key positions inside the CNE would be held by dedicated chavista servants. From then on it all went downhill.

The partiality showed by the new CNE during the Recall Election process of 2003-2004 was even denounced by the observers of the time. That election of August 15 went on only because the opposition to Chavez decided to go ahead anyway.

Since then the CNE has been changed, unconstitutionally again, and Jorge Rodriguez who was chavismo real point man inside is now the head. Listing all the disparaging comments that Rodriguez has proffered against anyone that criticizes his conduction of the CNE would be a long, very long list. Describing the cozy relationship he enjoys with chavismo would be rich in examples. To top it off last February 2 he attended a pro Chavez, political campaign act where he was certainly not the last one to applaud the “successes” of Chavez.

It is thus perfectly understandable that on December 4th 2005, at least half of the chavista electorate did not bother in going to the polls: they knew that Rodriguez would make sure Chavez would get his sought 2/3 majority. In fact the cheating and disheartening emanating from the CNE is so thick that none of the opposition candidates that remained in the run managed to get a single seat in the 167 Assembly while the null votes percentage was so abnormally high that some people suspect that that is why the CNE has yet to publish the final official tally of that election since it might reveal pockets of discontent that the regime would like us to ignore.

Why was the CNE allowed to degrade so much

There is something that must be clear for all: Chavez is not a democrat. Chavez will never put himself in a position of losing an election. Chavez will be removed from office by either violent means or by something like an orange revolution. This is why he has allowed, he has promoted the establishment of a subservient CNE.

But he needs a legal cover, and he has been more or less successful because we had to wait for the observation of the Decemebr 4th election to finally have people outside of Venezuela realizing what is really going on here. The reports of the OAS and the EU were quite clear, from the Tascon list transformed into the Maisanta program who lists all Venezuelan citizens as pro or con Chavez to the expose on the incredible use of public resources to promote chavista candidate, all can be found there. Let’s not forget that elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy: chavismo is demonstrating this truism amply, even perversely as the more it wins elections the less democratic it looks.

The only reason that it has worked and that the international community has not taken a strong position is that the cheating is not known if it made Chavez victory or if it just enhanced it. After all, polls do favor a chavista victory so even if all cheating were controlled it would not change much the equation: 100% or 51% when signing oil contracts make no difference to investors (though it makes a difference for many other).

What can the opposition do?

The CNE is not a problem easy to go around. The 100% chavista assembly will soon produce a new CNE duly voted by a 2/3 majority but more than likely illegal as it will rig the formation of the selection committee to make sure that all candidates are for Chavez camp. Oh! Certainly, they might want to put one of the 5 directors from the opposition ranks, there are always people like Sobella Mejia that are willing to pretend to impartiality as long as they keep cashing a fat paycheck. But this time the opposition parties will not recognize it, just as Sobella has become a pathetic figure. It really does not matter: there is no way, as Chavez is hitting serious bumps in his reelection effort, as he daringly seeks the 10 million votes, that he will risk a CNE that might try to weakly control his excesses.

But should that be a problem for the opposition? No. Here is why.

The opposition should go through the legal hoops of registering candidates and what not. It should dutifully record ALL of Chavez electoral violations even if no tribunal will act on them.

But at the same time the opposition should make clear the following:
  • Its candidate will reserve until the last minute his participation or not to the final contest.
  • It should demand, no discussion, that the voting is done without machines, or ONLY the voting ones if they can be inspected at random by opposition technicians JUST BEFORE THE VOTE, in presence of international observers, numerous enough and recognized by BOTH sides. After all if Chile can conduct a pen and paper election and know the results in a couple of hours why not in Venezuela?
  • It should not seat down with the CNE for discussions unless there is a witness from outside. And it should only seat down to discuss the minimum conditions for a fair vote, nothing less. Let the CNE talk to whomever wants to listen to them.
  • The minimum conditions should be: no machines, and certainly no finger printing machines; a complete revision of the electoral rolls by truly independent auditors; equal airtime for Chavez and the opposition candidate, INCLUDING cadenas; a strictly enforced voting hour system; the mandatory presence of at least two opposition witnesses at EVERY voting center; that the army stays OUTSIDE OF ANY VOTING CENTER and is limited to receive or provide duly sealed material, not intervene in any function of the voting center unless civil unrest or natural disaster were to happen
And more that I cannot think of now. But without these above conditions met, there is not way to have a fair and clean election.

Thus the line is clear for the opposition:
  • Do not worry about the CNE.
  • Document your grievances in a clear and understandable way for foreign observers.
  • Organize your campaign by getting a program and a candidate acquiring the credibility you are currently lacking (not that Chavez is credible for other eyes but at least he has his act together).
  • Set your conditions in a legal and logical frame and stick to them, even it if requires that at the last minute your candidate will withdraw and leave Chavez alone.
  • Serve the CNE notice of that possibility.
  • And wait and see if Chavez blinks or not. Do not be afraid: Chavez NEEDS an opponent.

And it would not hurt to put Sumate in the forefront, even naming them your official representative to the CNE on technical matters. Let the CNE refuse to receive them and show to all their open impartiality.

And what if everything fails?

It is very simle: you cannot do anything if you have not mobilized your followers and convinced the other side that it is better for them to play according to the rules than cheat their way to victory.

The opposition needs to put its act together first. And this brings attention to the abstention movement. Bemoaning like some do that "we should not run, not present any candidate, not do anything until a real CNE is named" is a useless and infantile position. Do you think for a second that chavismo will at this stage in the game be a nice chavismo and give you an ideal CNE?

Abstention is good ONLY if it comes with a plan and so far this blogger as yet to see a real plan. Abstention is only good if it comes as a threat, but a last minute threat just as Toledo did in Peru. But Toledo did run, Toledo did have a plan and only when Fujimori cheating was too obvious did he retire.

So to the abstention/350 party: either you come up with a better plan or at least allow the opposition to organize. Abstention worked in December BECAUSE political parties followed it, justifiedly. But if the abstentionist party does not plan to shoot its way up to Miraflores Palace it might do well to offer an alterante plan unless it risks to fall into irrelevance and nail the last nail to the opposition coffin.


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