Thursday, November 30, 2006

A spectacular article by Milagros Socorro

On this election eve Milagros Socorro again show us the moral compass that is so lacking in our society. I do not know if I will have the time to translate this article but it is a must read for all of us, in particular the foreign press and the foreign leaders that have abandoned Venezuela to the hands of the vulgarly petty autocrat that Chavez has become. Venezuela now is nothing but an experimental laboratory where they can observe their fantasies without having to pay any price for them. And sometime benefit from them. While forgetting all that they owe to Venezuela when it was a haven to so many political refugees who are not only to happy to ignore Venezuela plight. Isn't that right my Chilean friends? To name only the latest scandalous declarations of Insulza in Spain, or the "hesitations" of Bachelet at the UN.
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Lo vamos a escribir

Milagros Socorro, El Nacional, Thursday 30, November

Por hábito, casi por poner mi cabeza en otra cosa que no sea este nudo en el pecho, me pregunto qué pensarán los observadores internacionales y la prensa extranjera cuando oyen a Chávez vociferar en plaza pública que los resultados del 3 de diciembre ya están escritos.


Me entrego a este ejercicio porque la ira es más llevadera que la sensación de que nuestro destino pende de un hilo, del resultado de dos candidaturas que no sólo expresan maneras opuestas de encaminar al país, sino que a esta hora se perciben muy parejas en su oportunidad de hacerse con el poder... o retenerlo, para desgracia de la República. Vuelvo a leer la reseña del discurso de Chávez en la avenida Bolívar y me esfuerzo en adivinar qué interpretación hacen los distinguidos visitantes de una declaración que tan cabalmente retrata a quien la profiere y que tan a las claras muestra su determinación de deshilachar el ritual electoral, de terminar de abatir la escasa confianza de los electores en el CNE y de reforzar su reputación de autócrata ganado para la manipulación del sufragio.

Estos años nos han enseñado mucho. Hemos aprendido, por ejemplo, que el oficio de observador consiste en practicar sólo la mitad de las acepciones del verbo observar; es decir, la de "Examinar atentamente", como dice el Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, que agrega: "Observar los síntomas de una enfermedad. Mirar con atención y recato, atisbar". Pero se guardan muy bien de atenerse a la otra mitad del significado de esa palabra, que apunta a: "Guardar y cumplir exactamente lo que se manda y ordena. Advertir, reparar". En dos platos, ellos ven, cómo no, pero callan. Y se hacen cómplices.

EN CUANTO A LA PRENSA EXTRANJERA, TAMBIÉN HEMOS APRENDIDO QUE EN BUENA MEDIDA SE COMPONE DE EXPEDICIONARIOS tras la ruta de la chivera de las ilusiones en que se ha convertido Venezuela. Muchos de los periodistas que vienen de otros países lo hacen con la intención previa de constatar en este pobre desguazadero de las utopías que todavía quedan en el mundo héroes a medio camino entre el folklore universal y la insania revolucionaria. Y no les importa nada con tal de llevarse un souvenir de la memoria, una crónica con su firma en la que quede dibujado un último dinosaurio, una cabeza disecada para el museo del tercermundismo. Si no han tenido sensibilidad e incluso piedad para ver y nombrar la tragedia de Cuba, qué puede quedar para nosotros que tenemos en la renta petrolera un taparrabos que impedirá que exhibamos las vergüenzas de la miseria y la esclavitud, como sí ocurre en la isla.

Cuando fuimos arrojados a este zanjón de la historia tuve muchas expectativas frente al sentido de la responsabilidad internacional y, mucho más, en la sensatez de la prensa extranjera, y lo que di por sentado que sería su descreimiento ante un teniente coronel que evidentemente pretendía crear la ilusión de una revolución en marcha para encubrir un régimen militar, autoritario y tan ineficiente que tendríamos que inventar otra palabra para aludir a sus destructivas chapuzas.

No tardaría en percatarme de la gran soledad de Venezuela. Muy pronto comprobaría que la frivolidad es la fuerza que mueve al mundo y que una parte de éste está muy contenta con una película de acción donde los muertos, el atraso y la demolición de los valores democráticos los pongan otros, preferiblemente los pendejos del subdesarrollo.

NO ES QUE NO DUELA. DUELE, DESESPERA Y ENCOLERIZA VER LA FALTA DE RECIPROCIDAD HACIA VENEZUELA, el país democrático que tantos muertos evitó en Centroamérica, que tanto contribuyó a la transición democrática en España, que tantos exiliados del Cono sur guareció y empleó, y, en fin, que tantos inmigrantes recibió para sumarlos, como hijos que para nuestro privilegio llegaron a ser, a la aspiración democrática que casi desde su fundación ha albergado la República. Ese regalo que dimos al mundo –y del que estamos siempre orgullosos– no ha sido correspondido en la misma medida, lo que degrada a quienes lo recibieron y ahora miran hacia otra parte para no ver los terribles asedios que aletean sobre nosotros.

Si ayer se llevaron su botín de paz y convivencia democrática, ahora se hacen los desentendidos para no quedarse sin su porción de los contratos sin licitación o donativos en dólares que el autócrata reparte con la expresa voluntad de intercambiarlos por conciencias, por silencio, por connivencia para sus crímenes, cuando no por aplausos y por insultos para la oposición y la prensa libre de Venezuela. Porque hasta eso hemos tenido que tragarnos: la altanera irrupción de políticos e intelectuales de tres al cuarto que vienen a nuestra casa a llamarnos golpistas (categoría que le cuadra al sátrapa del 92) y a enjuiciar al periodismo venezolano que ha opuesto palabras contra armas, ideas contra un poder omnímodo, reporteros contra militares; y cuyos excesos, que no niego ni atiborran el salón de mis blasones, han obedecido siempre a la determinación de plantársele a un gobierno nefasto, autoritario y ladrón, pero nunca a la meliflua intención de adularlo ni de pergeñar versiones para justificar sus desmanes y sus actos abiertamente delictivos.

LA ESCANDALOSA VISIÓN DE CHÁVEZ ANUNCIANDO QUE YA LOS RESULTADOS DEL 3D ESTÁN ESCRITOS NO DIRÁN NADA A NUESTROS ILUSTRES HUÉSPEDES, como cabe prever que tampoco lo hará la devastadora imagen de una mujer clavada a un árbol como una especie de Cristo en la era de Bill Gates, que llega al martirio arrastrada por una promesa de vivienda que no se le ha cumplido y a ver si con eso sube la apuesta del clamor en un país donde la palabra ha sido objeto de una hiperinflación y ya no vale nada. Sólo el cuerpo doliente logra balbucear algún contenido. Pero a nosotros sí tiene que decirnos mucho. Todo. Porque cualquier venezolano, por joven que sea, tiene detrás la suficiente tradición ciudadana para saber que un demócrata jamás se expresaría de esa manera. Una manera que tiene en la panza la promesa del fanfarrón que nos amenaza con arreglar unos resultados electorales a su antojo y conveniencia.

Nosotros no podemos hacernos de la vista gorda ante el anuncio de Chávez de que si gana las elecciones, aquí no habrá cabida para ningún otro proyecto que no sea la revolución bolivariana, lo que equivale a avisar que tampoco habrá espacio ni Patria para los millones de venezolanos que estamos radicalmente opuestos a ese proyecto. ¿Qué va a hacer con nosotros? ¿Nos va a sacar a rastras de nuestras casas? ¿Nos va a recluir en campos de concentración? ¿Nos va a matar? Será la única manera de reducirnos, porque debe saber Chávez que los demócratas venezolanos somos imbatibles. No hay amenaza ni peligro para nuestra integridad y vidas que nos haga dar un paso atrás en nuestro compromiso de impedir el desmantelamiento de la nación y la confiscación de nuestras libertades.

Nosotros sabemos –y el que no lo sepa todavía que se avispe– que el 3D lo va a escribir el pueblo democrático, el que no se arredra ante las fanfarronerías de un fracasado que teme a todo menos al ridículo. Y esa caligrafía del 3D será monumental porque cada voto opositor se hará por el bien de Venezuela y, de paso, por la libertad de Cuba, que se acercará más a la democracia en la medida en que su régimen pierda el apoyo del dictador legal de nuestro patio; así como por el reforzamiento de la democracia mexicana y la paz de Bolivia, Ecuador y Nicaragua.

Ante eso no puede haber miedo sino un coraje febril, loco, desbocado, que sorprenda al felón y lo desarme con el gesto irrebatible, estruendoso, liberador y refundador del civismo venezolano.


Corruption in Venezuela

The Miami Herald publishes a study from Gustavo Coronel that is worth reading and passing around. One wonders how come corruption is not more in the agenda or Rosales. Perhaps it would be too vindictive and scare away the more modestly corrupt chavista public "servant" that might steal because, well, it is so easy to do... But it seems to be paying off: his language has contrasted so nicely with the violence and hatred of Chavez speech that it is in part the reason why Rosales has been climbing steadily. And after all, there will be always time to address corruption if Rosales reaches office.

PS: I have corrected the AOI post. Including the missing graph. It seems a good time to point to AIO post as the failures of Chavez are probably as much coming from his incompetence as well as from his unwillingness to tackle corruption as he uses it to secure his power.

-The end-

Campaign closings in Venezuela: we are all Maracuchos

Today was the real last full day of campaign in Venezuela. As tensions mount we see even more intense rallies than past days. However Rosales keeps ahead. To read the rest of this post I suggest that you play in the background this link. This will give you the gaitas played tonight at the Maracaibo colossal rally. Well, it is not what was played during the firework display, they had a live performance of the gaita in a different version from the second half of this link, but you can get an idea. And tonight this Caraqueño, turned out Yaracuyano, must confess that he felt Maracucho too . Yes, I know, I am turning corny but who could resist the final apotheosis of the Rosales campaign in Marcaibo, something that Chavez has never done in Maracaibo, and perhaps not even in Caracas. It was truly a magical moment and "se me nublo la mente".

Rosales finishes on a high note




Last night in Puerto La Cruz, they tried to stop Rosales: his plane was not allowed to land in Barcelona and he had to go to San Tome and speed ride to Puerto La Cruz. Poeple waited for Rosales. It rained. They kept waiting. Rosales arrived and he got the biggest rally of the campaign in that area of the country. And the government looked meaner and pettier than ever.

Tonight it was Maracaibo, his home state, where Maracuchos feeling the wind turning gave him a rousing send off. I think that with just what was in the Avenida 5 de Julio Rosales had enough to win in Zulia (picture courtesy of Vcrisis, look how far the crowd goes!). And it came with fireworks included with the most emotional Gaita perhaps as a background. I wonder if international observers had a clue as to the magic of this moment, but even blasé little me was taken by it all.

Chavez does Yaracuy

As I was driving home today after a week in Caracas, the surprise over the cel phone was a last minute trip of Chavez to Yaracuy. Chavez in Yaracuy this late in the campaign? Since when the boonies are key destinations in the last days of a campaign? The first thing I thought is that numbers must be pretty bad for Chavez if he tries to come to get an extra few thousand votes in San Felipe.

Before that he was in Trujillo, another small state, where he got a rather decent turnout in Valera, confirming my prediction that Trujillo is the weak link in the Andes for Rosales take. But the good feeling that Chavez might have gotten in Trujillo was soon spoiled with the near disaster of Yaracuy. To begin with the last minute plan did not work out very well. I know, I had a doctor's appointment two blocks from the grand stand and I could find parking space, and even reach the spot: the Cartagena was still empty, red shirts just starting to arrive.

Chavez came and went: he did not spend more than half an hour and by the time I left my appointment I could only see a few laggards huddled in front of "licorerias" swinging a few brews, waiting for the sudden rain to go away. Tonight TV showed the magnitude of the disaster: the sound system failed, chavistas complained to Chavez that the local PODEMOS governor Gimenez sucked bug time and that Chavez should get rid of him. Podemos folks were rather absent as the quarrel between chavista allies aggravates more and more in Yaracuy. There was even a "fee Lapi" banner held by a group of chavistas which was promptly destroyed by another group of chavista. When some chavistas support the ex anti Chavez governor you know that something is really wrong in the state.

The electoral result of Yaracuy is anyone's guess..... but Chavez troubles are becoming more and more apparent. Even if he wins, it will not be a bed of roses for him.

My endorsement

And while we are at it I must come out and say that I heartily endorse Rosales. That is, I had no problem to support him before, from the days we were planning for a primary. Teodoro was my favorite then but I did write that anyone of Teodoro, Rosales or Borges would be OK with me.

Now I must recognize that Rosales has made a fantastic campaign and has achieved more than anyone could have expected the opposition to do 6 months ago. He has risen to the occasion on a spectacular, if surprising way. But I should not have been surprised. I suspected it but I had some doubts. I always sensed the strength he could have as running as an anti Caracas politician, a pol strictly from the provinces. And he played it beautifully, he cornered Chavez all the time, he made Chavez the conservative candidate, he kept the initiative all the time and the crowds kept growing, every time.

But he also made a believer out of me. I can see through his populist agenda, something he is obliged to do if he wants to unseat Chavez. At least he will make populism work better than Chavez: he has shown signs to run populist programs on a criteria of cost/effectiveness. But more than anything else, Mi Negra outrageous populism is actually a threat to populism. If Mi Negra is carried well, it will diminish the weight of bureaucracy and it will teach people to prefer direct handout that they can use to assume their own choices. Chavez offers only more misiones, more dependency from Caracas bureaucrats. In fact, a Rosales administration could turn out to be a true revolutionary administration in Venezuela.

See, Maracuchos are self reliant people because they have not benefited from the oil under their feet. Tonight Maracaibo told the country that it was sick of Chavez taking Zulia's money to give it away. Great things might be about to happen in Venezuela as Zulianos might be about to send us one of them to decide over our future. I will look forward to it Manuel.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pirates in Venezuela

There are such events that are so explicit as to what is in store for us if Chavez is reelected ...

Last Sunday, as chavista "marchers" were coming back from Caracas to Margarita Island, there was an act of piracy on the Venezuelan ferry that was going to Margarita. A group of chavistas forced through violent threats the captain of the ship to go back to shore and pick up some laggards.

Now, probably half drunk and under the excitement of a large political march, one can understand a moment of exaltation. However one cannot understand how come the pirates are not under preventive detention at this writing. Only "an investigation is under way".

This is not enough. Are we to understand that the red shirts of Chavez are the equals of the brown shirts of the Nazis?

There is no excuse: these modern day cheap pirates endangered the ship, the lives of the other passengers, threatened the captain and his officers. This cannot go unpunished. Is this the future that awaits us, where any red shirted chavista asshole can barge wherever s/he wants, your bus, you metro, your home, just because they think they are entitled to?

-The end-

How Does Chavez Measure Up?

AIO, an interested observer, is a log time reader of this blog who on occasion did even post as a guest. He sends me this item which is rather interesting about where Venezuela really does rank. Let us just say that all that shines ain't necessarily gold. Quite a piece of work, by the way. And quite appropriate for the folks that are visiting Venezuela these days.

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After analyzing where poverty rates were going under Chavez (and determining that they were not going in the right direction), I decided to look into the opinions of others, more credible than I, as to the “rumbo” of Venezuela in other ways. To answer the question, “Are things getting better?” I turned to several international observers (people like me? J) for their answers. I found organizations which use various ranking systems. Following is a list of those organizations, a brief description of them, and their numbers for Venezuela. All with links, of course!

But first, here is the trend since 1998:



This isn’t the most technical depiction, but it gives a pretty accurate sense of the progression. I took the average score for each organization, then compared each year’s result to that average, in terms of percent above or below.I averaged all of the averages for each year to obtain an annual result. Not the most scientific method, but I’m comparing apples to apples, so to speak, since I’m using the same rankings. As you can see, it’s been steadily going down for some time. The equation on the chart is for the trend line, and shows that the average percentage score of my calculation has been dropping 4.8% per year since 1998.

First, let’s start with a big one: the World Bank. The WB doesn’t create their own rankings, but compiles a ranking from several sources (being careful to statistically control for correlation between sources, for example – see here). Here are the WB scores (these are percentile marks – the number represents what percentage of countries rank worse than Venezuela. In other words, high numbers are good, low numbers bad.):


World Bank, governance listing 1996 1998 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005
Voice and Accountability 51.0 54.6 41.1 35.3 35.3 35.4 31.9
Political Stability----- 17.9 29.2 25.5 13.7 12.7 13.6 11.8
Government Effectiveness 20.5 16.3 17.7 11.5 12.4 15.9 23.0
Regulatory Quality------ 37.3 46.3 23.2 31.0 12.3 9.9 12.4
Rule of Law-------- 28.7 29.8 19.2 13.0 10.6 12.6 9.2
Control of Corruption--- 24.9 17.6 28.4 15.2 9.3 14.3 16.7

Next, Transparency International, a well-known NGO. They have rankings on transparency, which rate “more than 150 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys” (TI’s words). Venezuela’s rankings (which show Venezuela’s position out of the total number of countries) and scores (high scores are good):

2006, tied for 138 of 163 (2.3)

2005, tied for 130 of 159 (2.3)

2004, tied for 114 of 145 (2.3)

2003, tied for 100 of 133 (2.4)

2002, tied for 81 of 102 (2.5)

2001, tied for 69 of 91 (2.8)

2000, tied for 71 of 90 (2.7)

1999, tied for 75 of 99 (2.6)

1998, tied for 77 of 85 (2.3)

1997, 44 of 52 (2.77)

1996, 48 of 54 (2.50)

1995, 38 of 41, (2.66)

Note that scores improved under Chavez for a few years, before turning around after 2001.

Also very intriguing is TI’s Global Corruption Barometer. See page 21, where 59% of people polled think corruption has increased “a lot” over the last three years, as opposed to 12% who think it has decreased (and only 1% say decreased “a lot”). Also, 62% expect corruption to continue to increase over the next three years (up from 44% in 2004; see page 10). Then there is the WB’s report on “Doing Business” in various countries, where Venezuela ranked 120 of 155 in the last report published, with very low scores in “Paying Taxes,” “Protecting Investors,” “Enforcing Contracts” and “Closing a Business.”

Now a couple organizations that measure civil liberties, starting with Reporters Without Borders, “an association officially recognized as serving the public interest” and “Defending press freedom...every day.” Their freedom of the press position and scores (low score better):

2006: 115 of 168 (29.00)

2005: tied for 90 of 167 (23.00)

2004: 90 of 167 (24.63)

2003: 96 of 166 (27.83)

2002: 77 of 139 (25.00)

Not much change, really, but Freedom House ratings tell a different story. Freedom House is “an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.” Their “About Us” statement is a very good read. Their scores (low is good) and rankings for press freedom show a large change since 2003. (Does anyone recall what was momentous for the press that year? Yep, la Ley Resorte.)

2006: 72 tied for 158 of 194

2005: 72 tied for 159 of 194

2004: 68 tied for 150 of 193

2003: 68 tied for 147 of 193

2002: 44 tied for 95 of 186

2001: 34 tied for 77 of 187

2000: 34 tied for 75 of 186

1999: 33 tied for 72 of 186

1998: 33 tied for 73 of 186

1997: 32 tied for 68 of 187

1996: 31 tied for 65 of 187

1995: 49 tied for 91 of 185

1994: 30 tied for 57 of 183

Freedom House also rates “Political Rights and Civil Liberties” (again, low score is good, from 1-7), where things headed in the wrong direction beginning in 1999:

2006: PR 4, CL 4

2005: PR 3, CL 4

2004: PR 3, CL 4

2002: PR 3, CL 4

2001: PR 3, CL 5

2000: PR 3, CL 5

1999: PR 4, CL 4

1998: PR 2, CL 3

1997: PR 2, CL 3

1996: PR 2, CL 3

The Fund for Peace has an unusual category: states at-risk for failure (low score, higher risk of failure). In 2005, Venezuela was 21 out of 76 (#1 was Cote d’Ivoire, the most likely to fail); in 2006, 64 of 146. In 2005, Venezuela was tied for worst in “Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines,” tied for 4th in “Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State,” tied for 7th in “Widespread Violation of Human Rights,” and only 74th in “Rise of Factionalized Elites.” (If I had a dollar for each time I had seen that blamed as the root of Venezuela’s problems, even just here on this blog, I might be able to retire.) On the good side, most scores improved from 2005 to 2006, which raised the ranking, and improved the score on my chart considerably.

The next several rankings are all economic in focus, starting with the World Economic Forum’s Growth Competitiveness Index. Venezuela’s percentile ranking is actually climbing under this index. However, it is partly because previously unranked nations are entering at the bottom (nine of them in 2005, eight in 2006), pushing Venezuela upward (and making the overall score in the chart I made look better). Venezuela earned its own paragraph in the latest report (page 12), having the worst score in the world in government institutions, and being singled for poor education and infant mortality results.

2006: 88 of 125

2005: 89 of 117

2004: 85 of 104

2003: 82 of 101

2002: 68 of 80

On to the Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation. I know this is a very conservative organization (so I’m glad they only focus on economics in their rankings), but read a bit of their methodology to see that rankings on this list are anything but arbitrary. Venezuela has been moving quickly downward since its best score in 2000, reaching in the last three years the dubious achievement of economically “repressed.”

Economic freedom, Heritage Foundation (low score better)

2006: tied (with Libya) 152 of 157 4.16

2005: tied (with Haiti) 146 of 155 4.09

2004: 147 of 155 4.23

2003: 133 of 156 3.76

2002: 136 of 155 3.93

2001: tied for 123 of 155 3.78

2000: tied for 96 of 161 3.38

1999: 99 of 161 3.43

1998: 99 of 156 3.48

1997: tied for 99 of 150 3.53

The Kurtzman Group “is a consulting and advisory firm dedicated to helping companies improve their performance and visibility in the marketplace” and “specializes in thought leadership that creates value and sustainable growth.” They rank opacity, i.e. business and investment risk, and also provide an “opacity premium” – the higher prospective return required to conduct business in Venezuela rather than the U.S. or Australia. Venezuela’s premium is 6.56% (Colombia’s, for comparison, is 4.81%). (2001 report here.) Venezuela got the worst score in the list in effective legal system in 2004, the most recent report.

2004: 46 of 48

2001: 22 of 35

Moving on to the IMD International BusinessSchool> (in Switzerland), which publishes annual (I couldn’t find a couple years online) competitiveness rankings. Ironically, while Venezuela is consistently at the bottom in this ranking, it improves their score in the graph I made, since each score is very close to the average on this scale!

2006: 61 of 61

2005: 60 of 60

2004: 60 of 60

2001: 49 of 49

2000: 46 of 47 (ahead of only Russia)

1999: 47 of 47

1998: 46 of 46

1997: 44 of 46

Last in strict economics is the Fraser Institute, which has created the “Economic Freedom of the World report.” Some highlights: Venezuela gets lumped with only Zimbabwe, Myanmar, and the Republic of Congo in the intro as “nations that have registered losses in economic freedom since 1980”; and “Integrity of Legal System” and “Impartial Courts” went from 6.7 and 3.7 in 2000 all the way to 1.7 and 0.7 in 2003. This index goes further back than any of the others, and I include some old scores for reference.

Score rank (high score better)

2004: 4.4 126 of 130

2003: 4.3 tied with Vietnam for 124 of 127

2002: 4.5 118 of 123

2001: 5.6 98 of 123

2000: 5.8 93 of 123

1995: 4.5 115 of 123 (drop due to exchange controls and high inflation/negative interest rates)

1990: 5.8 52 of 113

1985: 6.5 25 of 109

1980: 7.0 14 of 102

Finally, I end with the United Nations’ Human Development Index. According to the UN, “The human development index (HDI) focuses on three measurable dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. Thus it combines measures of life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income to allow a broader view of a country’s development than does income alone.” Sounds a lot like the Venezuelan government’s explanations of things, doesn’t it? If that’s true, Venezuela ought to be doing quite well by this standard, especially since the UN doesn’t collect its own information but gets it mainly from the World Bank, World Economic Forum and the IMF…which gets its data from member countries. In other words, this information is based largely on what is provided by the government of Venezuela! So how do they rate? Let’s see:

Year score (high good) rank

2003 .772 75 of 177

2002 .778 68 of 177

2001 .775 69 of 175

2000 .770 69 of 173

1996 .767


So, in the area where the government of Venezuela claims it’s doing the best, the score is rising, but notice something: even as the score rises, the ranking falls. In other words, while the government is focusing on the aspects covered by this measure, the country is falling behind its peers. The score is improving, but not as quickly as in other countries which, at least in rhetoric, do not focus nearly as much on these issues.

And consider also the warning provided by the UN: ”Although the HDI is a useful starting point, it is important to remember that the concept of human development is much broader and more complex than any summary measure can capture, even when supplemented by other indices. The HDI is not a comprehensive measure. It does not include important aspects of human development, notably the ability to participate in the decisions that affect one’s life and to enjoy the respect of others in the community.”

So while Venezuela is improving slowly in some ways (but slower than other countries), other “important aspects of human development” and other areas are rapidly getting worse, at least according to a whole host of independent international observers. Venezuela is falling behind the rest of the world in many ways, and even in the areas which one would think are the highest priorities of the current President.

An Interested Observer

aninterestedobserver at yahoo.com



note: the excel tables where the data is summarized. You need to click on the black box to see the table.






Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Kennedy I never liked: Joe does Chavez

When I lived in the US I was considered by my friends a Liberal. For me the NYT, or the Globe for the year I lived in Boston. In fact that year in Massachusetts was special as it was the year of Tien an Men and I was in academia and I always have liked Ted. See, Ted, is a human politician, with frailties and mistakes, but principled in his politics. He has been always the poster boy that anyone could reach the Senate (with the help of a good bank account) and make a career out of it if you stick to your convictions, no matter which ones they are. Ask the Republicans who just lost Congress about the value of values. Even during the Republican Revolution Ted Kennedy had no problem been reelected in Massachusetts, even as Republicans did manage to get at least the Governor's mansion there...

But Joe Kennedy I never liked. In fact I always saw him as a scumbag, being a Liberal just to reach office. Until eventually he retired while his uncle kept going on strong. Says it all. I would vote for any Massachusetts Republican before I were to vote for Joe Kennedy. That is of course if I could vote in the US.

Thus I could only but be delighted as the Wall Street Journal publishes an editorial today savaging Joe Kennedy. The issue is of course the dirty Citgo deal, where two amoral characters, Joe and Hugo, met for their mutual benefit. If you ask me, they were too soft on Joe.

-The end-

Monday, November 27, 2006

You are Free to Express Yourself, As Long As...

by Alex Beech

During these unusual times, any measure threatening the freedom of expression in Venezuela induces a yawn. When journalists were assaulted by military officers outside of the presidential palace a few days ago, no one really clamored for justice. In a government dominated by one man, bruises are part of the game.

Every time anyone questions press freedom in Venezuela, including very reputable organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, someone stands up and points at the opposition pundits who cackle all day long on television and radio. “There’s never been more freedom of expression in Venezuela,” they cry. Look at the private channels!

But is there really freedom of expression in Venezuela?

Are journalists free to express themselves when reporters and their crews are attacked while covering events, often after Chavez has threatened their networks?

Are journalists free to express themselves when Chavez says during a campaign rally, “don’t be surprised when the private media’s concessions aren’t renewed”?

Are journalists free to express themselves when Chavez interrupts their regular programming and forces them to broadcast one of his inaugurations or speeches?

Are journalists free to express themselves when they must attend workshops to understand how criticizing the president violates the law?

Are journalists free to express themselves when their coverage could be deemed, “inciteful violence,” which would violate the law and bring repercussions?

Are journalists free to express themselves when government officials belittle them during press conferences, often ignoring them or answering them with disdain?

Are journalists free to express themselves when they are not allowed the same access to an event as journalists who work for state-controlled media?

Are journalists free to express themselves when many of their colleagues have been shot and killed while covering political events?

During the next week, freedom of expression will be a critical element of democracy in Venezuela. If Chavez is a democratic president, as he claims, he must allow the private media to cover the presidential elections with no interruptions or censorship. International observers, staying in hotels throughout Caracas, must monitor and report whether the private media is allowed access to voting centers and the National Elections Council. How the elections are covered before and after the elections will have an enormous impact on the future of Venezuela. Venezuelans have a fundamental right to information, and journalists have a right to provide it, without the threat of bruises, and even death.


Mine is bigger than yours: Rosales gets Caracas

There is something irresistible about playing this little child's game, specially when a given match goes your way.

A reader (hat tip FC) brings to attention a Union Radio bit where the numbers of the Saturday and Sunday marches are compared. This blogger did the same yesterday and reached the same conclusion though he would have had given higher numbers to Chavez than the Grupo Cronica: 935 Rosales to 225 Chavez (which was an improvement for Chavez who lately could not get much more than 50).

In short: Rosales march was bigger than the April 11 2002 one (I called it Saturday already). Rosales march was at least double of Chavez one, sans les autobus. In fact Cronica counted 2150 buses which would have been a line of 19Km (about 14 miles!). According to Cronica that would have accounted for 83 thousand people from outside Caracas.

However this blogger got one wrong: the October 10 2002 march remains the biggest one ever with 1,09 million while Saturday Rosales event only made it to 0,935 million. Darn!

Thus Chavez loses one. And if any chavista can send me an image of Sunday more impressive than any of mine, or of Alek at Vcrisis on Saturday, I WILL PUBLISH IT HERE. But I am quite certain that I have already published the very best of the ABN.

By the way, some journalists are lost at sea, and the reputation of some such as Elizabeth Nunez of the AP is taking a nose dive. One wonders if Ms. Nuñez is a liar or just a lousy journalist. Heck, she has been caught already three times misreporting!!!!

-The end-

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A not too bad day for Chavez

Yesterday must have smarted quite a while on Chavez face. After 8 years of populism, threats, abuses, vote buying, Chavez realized that not only as many people as ever disliked him deeply, but that the relative calm that had installed itself in Venezuela after stealing the Recall Election was disrupting fast. Indeed, after years of the use of such devices as Tascon list, police and military brutality Chavez had all the right in the world to expect a more timorate campaign against him. But as the weeks went by he suddenly found himself with an unexpected challenge. Fortunately for him today he did get a break of sorts.

Chavez closes his campaign in Caracas

After Rosales rally yesterday it was Chavez turn to fill up the streets. It was not too bad though it was certainly not more than what Rosales got.

To begin with Chavez got lot of help. Hundreds and hundreds of buses streamed to Caracas filled with people in red shirts. For them, even the toll booth stopped cashing the tolls. Buses were everywhere downtown Caracas. At some point I had to go to La Campina and at 2:30 PM, after the vent was done with, I still counted 41 buses parked around the PDVSA main building. My brother had to go to the Libertador avenue and told me there were too many to bother counting. I would like to see any picture of buses lining up like those yesterday. I did see two of them though, from a group of marchers from "El Placer". They were nicely parked at the CCCT. But I saw none in El Rosal and was told none were to be seen hidden somewhere in Las Mercedes.

Also public employees were forced to go. A relative of sorts working at the SENIAT told us that she had to be at the meeting point at 9 AM and that attendance would be taken. She also was told that attendance would be taken again, two hours later. So no escape for her. Note: at work they know she is not chavista but she must attend events if she wants to keep her job. I have more tales like that if you please.

Thus any picture of Chavez rally today must be seen as including a significant component of non-Caracas folks. Nothing bad with that. But it would have been nice to let the opposition drive to Caracas in its few buses, and not to sabotage the Caracas subway again with unaccountable delays and partial closings. Let's play fair, should we not? That way we can compare what can be compared. With this caveat let's look at the pictures coming from the ABN, the official propaganda news agency of the government. Surely they will post the best possible ones.

The first one is an aerial view. Is it not nice to have such a distance picture from chavistas marches while the opposition is not allow to fly an helicopter above its marches? So, it looks good from above, and we can see that the Lecuna and the Universidad have also quite a lot of red people. The buses on the Lecuna seem to be parked in an area where we cannot see them from this take. Then the ABN gives us a close up, and if you look carefully at the end of the Bolivar (on the left side) you can see that already it is a little bit clearer than in front. Though with the people arriving it would be full.

But the ABN gives us yet another picture this time of the Bolivar itself. And it looks packed. However, it happens to be taken exactly from where the clearing started in the picture on the right. It also seems to have been taken a little bit later, as for the lighting but I might be wrong on that. At any rate, let's not begrudge Chavez: he did fill up the Bolivar for the first time in a long time. But there were still less people than in any of the pictures I showed, or Alek showed. By the way, there is something just wrong with all that red, you know....

More fire and brimstone


The VTV coverage that I saw did confirm my impression of the ABN pics: Llaguno (of infamous symbolism) and Bolivar filled up. But that was that. Where Chavez did not disappoint was in a discourse worse than ever, with such violence that his face was distorted in abominable rictus of hatred and violence. Otherwise nothing new, all the same anti US B.S. With just an added item to confirm that if Chavez is reelected there will be even less democracy: he announced that the Bolivarian Revolution was the only option. Period. I suppose that I can already start signing up for my choice of reeducation/concentration camp, surely to the great glee of the numerous detractors that read this blog when no one is watching.

Correa wins in Ecuador

The Bolivar rally after all was a meager consolation for Chavez. He could not outdo Rosales, and meanwhile this one was having full house in Valencia. However Chavez got a nice score when Correa won in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian election was for Noboa to lose, and he did it. He did not even manage to get the support of the moderate right, and attacked so much Correa on Chavez that it eventually backfired on him. I am not surprised. And I am not too sorry as Noboa as proven himself in this second round vote to be hardly any better than Bucaram. After all Ecuador is unruly and Correa has no congressional support. Will he last a year? Two perhaps?

No point in writing the obituary in Ecuador. After all Correa is not an uncouth barrack soldier like Chavez. Who knows, he might even be what Ecuador needs. But I detect some messianic traits in him and this more than ever conforms me in that presidential systems are bad for LAtAm. Period.

Meanwhile, let's allow Chavez enjoy this cheap point. At least Ecuador should not be as expensive for us as Cuba.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Avalancha Tricolor: the photo report of Venezuela's biggest meeting ever

Today started with the scandalous announcement that basically all the access roads to Caracas were semi blocked. That is, after years of neglect, suddenly the government decided to clean up the highways. Even someone at the CNE felt compelled to express disapproval. But of course no one is holding his/her breath waiting for sanctions. In the end it did not matter at all, many made it albeit late, but Caracas by itself was enough to fill up the streets, and boy, did it do so. Preliminary reports claim that up to 1.4 million did participate. I do not know about that, but I have been to enough marches in my life and that one was the biggest one EVER!!!! Bigger that the NOW marches on Washington Mall that I attended and where I saw people which then was rated at near a million (2 decades ago or something). Bigger than the one in October 10 2002 which was the first time that 1 million people were documented in the streets and probably the record holder of Venezuela until today. Today was the largest march/rally ever, and probably the last one. If Chavez loses on December 3, there will not be as much incentive. If Chavez win, he will make sure that such a slap never happens to him again.

Now, my own story of the day. There is a total of 14 pictures that range from panoramic to a street scene such as the people waiting sleeping on card boards in front of the ministry of habitat, in the vain hope to get a home before December 3. Click to enlarge. Enjoy!

This first picture is taken from the bridge that connects Chacao to Prados del Este. It is the back stage, about TWO hours before Rosales was to arrive. The blue arrows indicate from left to right the people waiting densely over the Rio de Janeiro to the contact bridge and how far on the upper floor of the highway people were already packing.



This next picture is the back stage and you can already appreciate how packed the highway already was. I was still one hour away on foot! I was going to try to join the crowd after the darkest building were the folks coming from Easter Caracas could join in. The people from the West areas arrived directly through the highway from Plaza Venezuela. I was told that at the climax the people reached as far as Plaza Venezuela, but I would like to see those pictures.



This is on the way. We walked taking over half of the main street of El Rosal.



At some point we walked in front of the folks that are camping out in front of the Habitat Ministry. You an observe clearly the cardboards they sleep on, the way they hold their stuff on the tree, waiting patiently TO BE THE FIRST IN LINE NEXT MONDAY!!!! Interestingly some were holding pro Chavez posters as we walked by. Maybe they still believe in Chavez in spite of spending a weekend on the open. Maybe they wanted to show their allegiance in front of the Nazional Guard on the other side of the street, to score brownie points. Perhaps I should have tried to talk with them but my party was advancing and I just felt too bad for them, at how humiliated they must have felt in their predicament.



Under this bridge was the arrival of the march from Prados del Este and Bello Monte. Look at the density of the people coming up, while the highway is already packed solid!



And we arrived, but of course we could not any further. You can see the two levels of the highway full of people.



Picture towards the Plaza Venezuela. About a couple hundred yards from the picture that I took in 2003 and that is still on the right side of this blog! You can appreciate how far the crowd was going on the upper level!!!



Finally sneaking inside the huddled massed I tried to take a picture toward the center stage. From where we were we could not see it and we just could not try to advance much more unless we were willing to fight our way through.



We left and I took this picture as we were leaving when for some reason all were waving the flag. Impressive.



On the way back we reached again the intersection shown earlier, now with less people. So I could try to get a closer look and I caught this great picture which combines an advertisement on Chavez as some great thinker while the words printed are utter inanity! Who comes up with such lousy promotions? But the picture works in so many levels. First there is already the huge crowd under his eyes that shows that after 8 years they still do not buy it, do not believe anything from him. And there is the Banesco sign, one of the banks that has obscenely benefited from all the financial manipulations of the regime. Fabulous!



Eventually with sheer luck we managed to get inside a building that was under renovation (we followed one of the inhabitants after he opened the door and we managed to climb to the roof). This is also where I did the video shown in the previous post. Here you can observe the highway toward the West of Caracas. Where you are unable to see details was exactly where I was about 45 minutes ago in the pictures above. So you can see that THIS IS ONLY a portion of the rally, not to mention all the Rio de Janeiro full, all the El Rosal and Chacaito side roads full!




A close up. You can see the people packing the roads across the river.



And now towards center stage. How many people in these three pictures above? 100 K? 200K? More? How much including what we cannot see? How much if we factor in those that might still be coming and those that left long ago?



Finally, as I was coming back Rosales was finishing his speech and by chance we were walking by a side street with a view to the center stage. The blue arrow shows where Rosales was!! The second time I see the man live!



At least, in spite of the ridiculous polls published lately, it seems that this event has shocked a few of the international media. Here a few links in no particular order.

Globovision already notes the responses. Reuters in Spanish notes hundreds of thousands of people! It would be interesting to see how Reuters reconciles this event with unfavorable polls they reported. BBC in English also speaks of hundreds of thousands and gives a nice aerial view of the upper deck as people were arriving. It would get packed later. Unaccountably BBC in Spanish reports only tens of thousands. But at least it reports on the obstacles put on the way.

INFOBAE from Argentina reports the inaccurate and very tendencious EFE report who takes great care to point out that all meeting points were "en areas pudientes" implying that only rich people showed up. EFE has discredited itself log ago as being an almost all out supporter of Chavez but its stupidity this time deserves to be reported. If they are remotely right then there is a huge amount of rich people in Venezuela and they all oppose Chavez. Jerks!

FoxNews at least does consider the contradiction between the losing and depressed candidate that the AP-IPSOS poll would suggest with what it saw today in the streets. Something is not ringing true for some folks at least. The Washington Post does pick up the Reuters issue but in English. They do get the translation right and speak of hundreds of thousands. The Post also wonders about the polls.

Finally the Herald Tribune gets the AP report. They also mention the AP-IPSOS infamous poll but do mentuion the hundred of thousands too. Visibly, newswires will be doubled checked now by serious newspapers.

OTHER PICTURES

Alek did climb on top of an advertisment post that seems to have been a rather dangeorus undertaking. But he got great pictures. And his post, of course.

There you can find the pics of someone who did manage to get under the stage and saw Rosales speech.

I will gladly publish links to other people who have their pictures on the net.


Apotheosis in Caracas: Rosales draws the biggest rally in Venezuela's History

I am just back from an event that even in my wildest dreams I could not believe it would ever happen. The march or Rosales today and his rally was something that was never seen, something that nobody could have expected. Let's just say that there were so many people that at first I could not even see the main stand. That is, when I joined the crowds on the highway I was so far away that I was behind a curb of the and the crowds did not allow me to go further. Only later, climbing over a building under refaction, could I get a full panorama. Thus the video next, my first YouTube experience as poster!



Note: at the begining you can see a lot of people across the river, in particular on an overpass, who could not get onto the highway. You can also see that around second 26 the people packed on the Rio de Janeiro. These ones could not even get close to the connection to the highway and chose to remain on the Rio Avenue.

This short video next is a better take of the center stage. While the crowds scream ¡Atrévete! Our man is becoming quite the Rock Star!



I took plenty of pictures but I still need to process them. The video was already trouble enough. Also forgive the slight shakiness: it is a video taken with my small faithfull Canon pocket one. Thus come back in about an hour for the pictures and the full story.




Avalancha Tricolor: Rosales closes his campaign in Caracas

Today is a beautiful day in Caracas, blue skies will accompany the last campaign act of Rosales in here. In a couple of hours from now the major Caracas highway could see perhaps as many as half a million people, or more, cheering. It promises to be breathtaking, a spine shivering experience :)

Yours truly will not be covering it live because for once he will join in the fun. Hopefully late this afternoon I will be posting my own pictures instead of relying on other folks to send them to me for posting.

The Avalancha Tricolor is the rally for the colors of Venezuela, not the infamous, and now infamously sectarian, divisive, fascistic, "rojo, rojito" of Chavez. People are asked to bring preferably a Venezuelan flag. Meanwhile what does chavismo do? It is blocking the main highway of Venezuela, the ARC (Regional del Centro) so that people from Valencia and Maracay cannot join on the fun and bulk up further the Caracas rally. That is right, the party who claims 30% point advantage in polls against Rosales is resorting to infantile, low brow maneuvers to try to diminish some the disastrous visual impact of the Rosales rally. Disastrous for chavismo , that is. Note: that is not the first time that chavismo blocks the ARC. One famous time was in October 10, 2002, at the Cabrera tunnel where they even killed people in the shooting while the Nazional Guard sat and watched. Once a fascist, always a fascist.

By the way, my S.O., a public servant, has been told that they ALL have to go Sunday to the chavista march. And all have to wear a red shirt. Or else. And my sister in law sister has also been told so. All Caracas public employees that are not Sunday in downtown Caracas are under threat. I am of a mind to accompany my beloved to that event, but I refuse to buy a red shirt: chavismo will have to give me one.

Well, I better stop and post. Gotta get ready before the Rosales goons come to my door and force me to go to the Distribuidor Veracruz! Oh, wait! I got that wrong! It is the chavista goons that force people to go, or not to go, as needed.

UPDATE: They are also closing the Guarenas highway. That is, in both cases, Guarenas and ARC, they are claiming to be doing "clean up" and "safety measures". Except that these were overdue for months and they are, coincidentally, undertaken today AND ONLY in the TO Caracas direction. The from Caracas direction is clear. I was wondering, if they were ONLY 20% ahead in polls, would they force Caracas people to leave the city to make sure they do not attend the Rosales rally?

-The end-

Friday, November 24, 2006

El Catatumbo in Caracas: preparing Rosales rally

I was aimlessly doing some late Internet when a large firework started. Soon, all along the Cota Mil, from diverse positions big fireworks were released. Curious I tuned on TV to learn that it was El Catatumbo in Caracas.

There is an interesting climate phenomenon to the South of the Zulia lake where the conjunction of hot air from the lake, cool air from the Andes and shifting humidity creates some spectacular lightning effects without the need of much clouds or rain. This is called "El Relampago del Catatumbo", for the main river in that area.

So, since Rosales, a man of Zulia, and of Southern Zulia at that, is coming tomorrow to close his campaign in Caracas, the natives are welcoming him with the largest firework we have seen in a long time. Fun! And gorgeous as the Cota Mil separates the lights of the city from the dark of the National Park.

Meanwhile mercifully the CNE is banning polls as of Sunday (this page will remain open to poll publication as Blogger is hosted in the US and the CNE cannot do anything against me! And this includes exit polls if someone cares to send them to me). Thus we will be able to obsess about something more constructive, such as making sure that we count all the votes.

Thus Caracas is getting ready for what might be the biggest march rally in our history by closing the central highway as of Midnight. Meanwhile a fretful government has decided to ban public gatherings of more than a few people on December 2 and 3. Yeah, right....

PS: added a few minutes alter. El Universal comes up with the fireworks explanation.

-The end-

That feeling in the air: Chavez in trouble?

I do not want to sound too positive but for the first time I am allowing myself to think that perhaps Rosales might win. Why? Well, the extraordinary release of the AP-IPSOS poll giving a ridiculous advantage to Chavez in the midst of a context that makes this poll totally incongruous.


The AP poll

Readers of this blog know that I pay little attention to political polls in Venezuela. At best they serve to indicate a trend, and in today's troubled times of vote buying and Tascon threats, well, they are mostly useless even for trends. Anyway, I certainly do not obsess over polls, in particular when they go against all that I can observe. And that AP poll, o boy, does it contradicts everything that has been going on lately.

To give the reader some perspective, let's start by asking how familiar Ipsos is with Venezuela polling (I could not access the methodology page so I cannot tell much there). However what I can report is the consistent underwhelming and undercounting reports from the AP who seems everyday more and more to take its news directly from ABN.

So let's not be picky, even as pro Chavez pollster are trying to "improve" Rosales numbers, blithely comes AP-Ipsos to give us a difference of 32 points. 32 points! I mean, how clueless can people be? But it gets much better when you read the AP article. One paragraph deserves full quote:
The poll showed 57 percent of respondents were at least somewhat concerned that people could face reprisals for how they vote - 79 percent of Rosales supporters and 46 percent of Chavez supporters. Such a fear factor is a potential source of survey error, meaning for instance that some respondents might feel afraid to tell an interviewer they support Rosales.
This is not only ill written, but it is an admission (subconscious speaking?) that the survey sucks. Enough said!

Back to the streets and TV screens

Meanwhile the Rosales campaign keeps charging on.

Ladrandole en la cueva

This colorful Spanish expression means barking inside the lair. That is, your dog is bold enough, self assured enough, that it enters in the lair of the beast and bark to dare it to come out and fight. Well, this is exactly what Rosales did yesterday in Chavez home state of Barinas. And Rosales filled up the streets in a more than surprising way. This while Chavez went to reinaugurate the corruption laden Central Azucarero Ezequiel Zamora of Barinas, the very same day. The investigation for corruption seems to have found the dusty drawer where all corruption cases of chavismo land. I assume that the stunt was Chavez way to pretend to distract from corruption. Maybe, but the attendance was a bust and I could not find any good picture of Chavez event while Globovision and the Rosales site showed spectacular night views of Barinas crowds cheering Rosales.

That is still not enough. Chavez did manage to have a decent rally in Tachira, in fact the only one you can find on ABN that shows panoramic views of Chavez campaign acts. All the other are close-up views so you do not know whether 1,000 or 1,000,000 attended. We guess it was 1,000. But Rosales repeated even bigger than in a previous visit to Valera, showing that perhaps the Andes will all go to Rosales in a week. Even tiny Carora went blue a day earlier.

VTV and VIVE on the photoshop chase

This morning I was watching in utter fascination VTV and VIVE efforts to minimize the Rosales recent surge (CECA, while we are speaking of polls just came out with a 6 points lead FOR Rosales, but I will not even bother comment on that one). Inspiration has completely left them. Now we have the minister of universities, ineffably exquisite Samuel Moncada come with a pic of Rosales backing Carmona, supposedly, on April 13. So, what else is new Samuel? Kind of late for this. How come you did not get that picture earlier? Don't you think that by now we know full well who Rosales and Chavez are?

On VIVE there was some guy very seriously saying that the opposition was preparing a fraud on tomorrow's Caracas event, by using old footage of the 2002 marches "when they still had some people with them". One does not know whether to cry or laugh at such stupidity.

Of course, no discussion whatsoever on Chavez proposals, only negative campaigning. Exactly what a losing campaign does.

Chavez closing campaign event

Since Rosales stole the thunder of chavismo by saying that the Bolivar avenue was too small and they would go on the main Caracas highway tomorrow to close the Caracas campaign, poor chavistas were at a lost on how to counter this. If Chavez were indeed 32% ahead it would be so easy for him to get the Caracas highway and more than match the allegedly meager Rosales crowds. But no.

Finally someone had an idea: a street festival. That way if people do not come to watch Chavez, at least they will come for the street fair activities that include a dozen or so music stands. They will be spread around Caracas downtown, include some shopping areas, and take over the Bolivar avenue plus the Lecuna and other stuff. And, imagine that, Chavez might or might not appear, and nobody knows at which street corner.

Translation: if the turn out is decent, Chavez will hold an impromptu rally on the Bolivar, or the Lecuna if fuller, and justify his lower attendance to the surprise effect. And it will be hard to compare exactly a scattered event on several main drags to a compact one on Saturday. We'll see if chavismo can get away with it, but I doubt it very much.

Conclusion?

Oh yeah!!! Chavismo shows all the signs of a losing campaign. That does not mean at all they will lose on December 3, but in the last two days I have seen enough to start beleiving that an upset is actually possible. And thus I went ahead and did a new update BEFORE tomorrow rally. I am just putting the color graph. I will post again the excel data later next week as I give my final prediction. But right now I am giving Chavez still with 500 000 advance (52 to 47). Reminder: my excel sheet is biased in favor of Chavez thus I could indulge and announce a technical tie in the Venezuela News and Views poll :)


I have downgraded Chavez in Barinas and Sucre (due to Barinas showing for Rosales and a little bird from Sucre). Trujillo is now weak leaning for Rosales but the good rally of Chavez in San Cristobal forces me to lower the expectations of Rosales in Tachira although I am sure he will carry that state. Miranda and Caracas? We will have to wait for this week end events. They will either stay as is, or go deeper blue. There is no sense of Chavez victory in Caracas where I am these days, the best he can hope is to avoid further degradation there.


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

ELECTIONWATCH

By Alex Beech

One of the unfortunate realities of the current political climate in Venezuela is that political violence is not only tolerated, but encouraged. In recent weeks, President Chavez has threatened opposition figures with jail, and the media with closure. The government’s grassroots leader, Lina Ron, has reminded the country that the revolution is “armed.” The president of the country’s oil company, Rafael Ramirez, has threatened state workers with a loss of job if their vote doesn’t favor Chavez. As always, the government’s bark has been so loud that everyone assumes that it lacks a bite. But incidents during the past few days indicate that Chavez’s sharp teeth are starting to show.

As elections near, politically related violence is on the rise. On Wednesday, as opposition candidate Manuel Rosales arrived at the San Carlos airport in Cojedes State, hordes of government supporters wearing pro-Chavez red t-shirts attacked Rosales. Surrounded by his security detail, Rosales exited the airport amid screams, as shouting protestors hurled debris at him. Pro-government protestors chased the opposition convoy on motorcycles.

The effort looked well-organized, signs that the Chavez campaign team may be panicking about the rise in popularity that Rosales has achieved in the past few weeks. Moments later, as Rosales addressed his supporters in the same city, pro-government supporters cut a cable, shutting off his audio. The silence lasted moments, but reminded everyone that in Venezuela especially, everything is fair in love, war, and small town campaigns.

The incident was the latest in a series of obstacles the opposition candidate has faced; in Valencia State, airport authorities prevented Rosales’s plane from landing at the airport, delaying his planned appearance at a rally by two hours.

Journalists Attacked by Presidential Guard

4:45 pm, est - On Wednesday, a Globovision news team was attacked by the Presidential Guard as it covered a protest outside the presidential palace. A female reporter and a news team had responded to a call by protesters demanding housing. As the reporter began to report the story on-camera, the team was approached by three soldiers who attacked the news team. The reporter’s assistant, Edwin Moreno, was beaten. Cameraman Jose Luis Ochoa’s back shows marks and bruises. The news team is being treated at Clinica Mendez Gimon.

-The end-

Gas prices in Venezuela: Forero and Duquenal agree!

Juan Forero is a journalist that used to write at the NYT and went on to write at the Washington Post. Somehow his tone has changed some since then and this blogger, a strong critic of Forero textual manipulations has been forced to concede that there was an improvement. But nothing like today where in a nearly flawless article he describes the consequences of cheap gas, in fact gas that is way cheaper than bottled water.

Two paragraphs deserve quoting:
"As an oil country, the state has the responsibility to guarantee energy and preserve the price of gasoline as it is," said Gabriela Ramirez, a pro-Chavez lawmaker in the National Assembly. "You raise the price one bolivar and you affect the economy because the price of bus tickets goes up, everything becomes more expensive."
And later,
One downside to the cheap gas, though, is that it eats up about $1 billion in subsidies and another $5 billion that Venezuela fails to earn by not selling the oil on the world market, where a barrel reached a high of $78 this year. It generates the horrendous traffic jams that mark this city, where 2 million cars snake along at an average speed of 9 mph. It also has made the sale of contraband gasoline to neighboring Colombia a major criminal enterprise.

Thus we can illustrate the irresponsibility of local lawmakers that not only do not detect/understand the real impact of gas prices (if we have already 15% inflation, a rationalization of gas prices would not aggravate much inflation while liberating huge revenue for EVEN MORE SOCIAL PROGRAMS THAT CHAVISTAS LOVE SO MUCH TO WASTE MONEY IN (or was that steal from? Sometimes I get confused...)

No, the cheap gas is becoming a problem for the country and Chavez personally in 1999 has ruled out any price increase in gas. Since then the Venezuelan currency went up from 800 to the USD to 3000. Anyone with half a brain should understand that at the very least gas price should keep up with inflation. Instead Chavez has created the biggest give away program, a Mision Gasolina from hell, which dwarves in perversion anything else he has done. Heck, we are even having problems with gas deliveries, as now it is not infrequent to find a gas station closed for a few hours or even a couple of days "delivery did not arrive yet" they blandly tell you. Perhaps the truck is locked in a monster traffic jam?

Or so this blogger thinks. By the way, this cheap gas policy is turning out to ALSO be an ecological problem: not only we waste, WASTE, a non renewable resource when the rest of the world is trying desperatly to reduce gas consumption, but we are constantly aggravating urban contamination as cars are basically spending half of their running time parked in a traffic jam, even in tiny San Felipe where on occasion I now find 5 minutes traffic gridlock! But the environmental record of Chavez might even be worse than his economic record.

And what about "the flaw" in Forero's article? The "most polls" comment. Well, at least he is willing to concede that polls do not agree.

Happy Thanksgiving to all US readers

It is Thanksgiving today in the Us. "turkey day" for those who are not too clear on the concept. Since 55.97% of the hits I get come from the US (according to my counter today) I expect a drop in visitors for the day, as they heavily lurch from the dinner table to TV or conversation about the future of Venezuela. Thus US readers deserve a special note for the day.

Some Venezuelans, which are the second group of readers with 12.85%, will be celebrating Turkey day too. Though here it is more difficult: it is a working day and unless you and your guests take the day off, the earliest you can sit down for diner is after 7 PM, when Caracas traffic releases you. Not necessarily a good idea if you have to go to work next Friday..... Still, yours truly, even though Venezuelan and French will celebrate Thanksgiving tonight. I am totally global!

-The end-

The Democracy Index: Venezuela fails the grade

The Economist has published its “democracy Index” for 2007. That is, using a rather complete set up it divided 192 countries into four groups: “full democracies” a rather low 28; “flawed democracies” 54; “hybrid regimes” 30 and 55 are “authoritarian”. Venezuela is ranked 93, and as a “hybrid regime” which means that it has on many aspects ceased to be a democracy. Quite a sobering thought when we are supposedly facing an election to settle our immediate future.

Before interpreting this a little bit further, let’s look at some of the questions that the Economist asked every country to fulfill (with different possible replies setting different scores) [with my comments in blue when appropriate]



2. Are elections for the national legislature and head of government fair? [are they?]
5. Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies? [what about the Tascon list?]
6. Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities? [anyone can observe the obscene advantage of the government as Rosales is not running against Chavez, he is running against the state]
7. Is the process of financing political parties transparent and generally accepted? [parties are not financed but chavismo uses state resources as if they were theirs]
10. Do opposition parties have a realistic prospect of achieving government?
11. Is potential access to public office open to all citizens?
14. Is the legislature the supreme political body, with a clear supremacy over other branches of government? [The legislature has become a rubber stamp for Chavez]
15. Is there an effective system of checks and balances on the exercise of government authority? [NO!!!]
16. Government is free of undue influence by the military or the security services. [The military is a pervasive presence at all levels of public administration]
19. Are sufficient mechanisms and institutions in place for assuring government accountability to the electorate in between elections? [NO!]
21. Is the functioning of government open and transparent, with sufficient public access to information? [NO!]
22. How pervasive is corruption? [do I have to comment there?]
23. Is the civil service willing and capable of implementing government policy? [NO!]
25. Public confidence in government.
26. Public confidence in political parties.
27. Voter participation/turnout for national elections [low and tendency to lower]
36. Is there a sufficient degree of societal consensus and cohesion to underpin a stable, functioning democracy?
37. Perceptions of leadership; proportion of the population that desires a strong leader who bypasses parliament and elections.
38. Perceptions of military rule; proportion of the population that would prefer military.
52. The degree to which the judiciary is independent of government influence. Consider the views of international legal and judicial watchdogs. Have the courts ever issued an important judgment against the government, or a senior government official? [NO!]
54. The degree to which citizens are treated equally under the law. Consider whether favoured members of groups are spared prosecution under the law. [The Tascon list, Maisanta come to mind]
55. Do citizens enjoy basic security? Crime is so pervasive as to endanger security for large segments [crime is at an all time high]
56. Extent to which private property rights protected and private business is free from undue government influence.
59. There is no significant discrimination on the basis of people’s race, colour or creed.
60. Extent to which the government invokes new risks and threats as an excuse for curbing civil liberties. [listen to recent speech of Chavez and wonder]

The smart reader by now has figured it out why Venezuela is so low in its democratic ranking. In fact in Lat Am only Cuba and Haiti are below Venezuela (although Ecuador is almost as bad).

“How come?” would ask the naïve newcomer to Venezuela situation? “Is not Chavez promoting extensive democracy, constant voting, forcing popular participation?” Well, the answer could be a yes, but when elections lead to personal power, concentration of all power into one single political line, elections lose any meaning, becoming little bit more than a vulgar plebiscite. People in Venezuela are aware of it as voting participation is diving dangerously (barely 20% in December 2005). Let’s quote the Economist:
A high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system. Contrary to widespread belief, there is in fact a close correlation between turnout and overall measures of democracy—ie, developed, consolidated democracies have, with very few exceptions, higher turnout (generally above 70%) than less established democracies.
We are not, we are in fact far from being a “consolidated” democracy.

After 8 years of Bolivarian revolution the only thing we are achieving is the concentration of all power in one man’s hand, Chavez, who gives and take power as he wishes from a short list of sycophants. The numbers are there: Venezuela, the only democracy in Lat Am at times, a land where so many political exiles used to flee the stern dictatorships elsewhere, is about to become a non democratic country if the Chavez drive is not stopped. And do not believe me, just listen to the electoral offering of Chavez: unlimited reelection, new constitutional changes, one party state even, centralization, bypass of all controls and local politics. It is all there, for those who want to see.

PS: reading the full report is interesting besides the results for Venezuela. One can read that Italy flunks, that the US and the UK could do much better and are losing some ground, and that only Uruguay and Costa Rica deserve the title of full democracies in Lat Am. Some of the details and numbers are fascinating.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Eight years of Chavez: a quick but complete balance sheet

This morning I was watching VTV, En Confianza. This is about the only talk show of VTV that pretends to be slightly objective, where even on rare occasions opposition figures can come. But this morning, a few days before the election, Villegas preferred to interview one of the oil tankers captains that did not go on strike in December 2002, preferring obviously to discuss the strike than the record of Chavez administration, or even its promises for a better future. I thought that as international observers are arriving in Venezuela and naively are searching for the truth in state TV, usually a reasonable source of information at home, they might carry quite an erroneous message from VTV. Thus to help them, in case some decide to check local blogs, it might be useful to focus on the Chavez legacy, to give it a name. Movies coming always on handy for such purposes, I will divide my summary of 8 years of chavismo into: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

Chavista fans that haunt this blog have often criticized me of lack of objectivity and finding only negative things to say about Chavez. They are right on one thing, I have only negative things to say about Chavez. However some of the things that Chavez has done, willingly or not, have not been necessarily negative even though the positive effects might be decades away.

One thing is the political awakening of long suffering sectors of the country. Sometimes I suspect that chavismo is quite sorry about that since now 90% of the protests of Venezuelan come from these long suffering sectors, poor people of course, who now demand government officials to fulfill the promises made to them by Chavez. Any foreign observer would be well advised to go to one of these hot spots of constant protests such as CONAVI in Las Mercedes. There they will see people protesting continuously as to ho they are cheated of promised housing. These tales are also accompanied of extensive tales of woe and human misery. They can also try public hospitals if they have the heart for it.

Another good thing from chavismo is that it destroyed the old party structure. Maybe in fact the destruction was a little bit too fast as the lack of opposition explains certainly why chavismo has been so inefficient in managing the country. But at least it is important to recognize that the Chavez effect is forcing a general aggiornamento of the Venezuelan political class. One only wishes that Chavez were to allow his followers to organize a little bit better and generate the leaders of the future, but his drive for power will make his party a collection of non-entities that will eventually end up as AD who was completely repressed by the dinosaurs of the 50ies and 60ies that blocked any nascent political renewal within AD.

On the foreign front the only positive contribution of Chavez has been to restart the oil price increase in the year 1999. His mistake here is to believe still today that he is responsible of the high oil prices, forgetting completely to factor in Iraq, and China/India economic growth. But for the world at large, high oil prices are good as we must be forced to preserve oil, a finite resource (even as Venezuela is one of the most wasteful countries energy wise).

That is it, I cannot think of anything else positive coming from Chavez in his 8 year tenure.

The 1999 constitution? A deeply flawed document that chavismo is already preparing to change extensively.

Political inclusion of the masses excluded? Fake issue. These “poor masses excluded by previous regimes” were not excluded until the late 70ies as the administrations of Betancourt, Leoni and even Caldera 1 made a great effort to improve healthcare, literacy, and education and where 90% of the electorate participated in the elections. Today's Misiones such as Robinson of Barrio Adentro or Mercal have already being tried in the past by these democratic administrations. That the 80ies and 90ies became an ignorance and avoidance of the social problems of Venezuela cannot be used to pretend that it was always such.

Improved civil rights? Most of them existed before and the few brought in are not enforced. Crime is worse than ever and the judicial system has become a joke, more inefficient and more partial than at anytime in Venezuelan democratic history. What good it is to have a constitution chockfull of “rights” if there is no obligation for the state to enforce them? On this respect I was tempted to introduce in the "good" column" a better awareness of indigenous people’s rights, but the practice of the regime since the 1999 constitution was voted makes me rule out this as a positive contribution from chavismo. Or at least for the time being. Simply look at the beggars in Caracas and observe how many of them are indigenous people.

The Bad

The Bad is the poor management of the country, in fact, the sometimes deliberate mismanagement of the country. Two reasons for that: Chavez personal ambition and the subjection of everything to his drive for increased power, and that he has been unable to attract the best and brightest to work and help him out. I suppose that the second is a consequence of the first one, but even the most totalitarian regimes did manage on occasion to attract a luminary or two. This cannot be said for Chavez, at least for the time being.

Thus the Venezuelan economy is a mess. This might not be apparent for the casual observer that sees Caracas streets plagued with brand new cars spending most of the day all but parked in all the streets of Caracas as traffic has collapsed. But the savvy observer will see that this amount of luxury cars (BMW and Porsche in Venezuela where there are more potholes than actual roads?) does not match with the indigents begging at most street lights, or the people that routinely get robbed inside their cars while stuck in traffic. What gives? It is quite simple: all the huge dollar influx from the sky high oil prices is spent in grants, not on investments. Thus import and distribution have become the only two flourishing industries of Venezuela.

Careful analysis of the macro, and micro, economic figures point out to a severe lack of private investment except in sectors with a high speculative return such as communications or oil. But the industrial parks of Venezuela are still far from working at full capacity and very few new industries are opening, and certainly not enough to compensate the ones that have closed since Chavez took office. The consequences for the future of the country can easily be guessed as the Piper must always be paid.

There are may other factors that can be added to the negative list. But when the country is ill managed, and where accounting is inexistent, these are usually consequences. However there are some elements which are deliberate state policies and that can be added in the “bad” list. For example, the reversion of decentralization in Venezuela. As a way to improve administration in Venezuela and to try to unblock the stultified political system of the late 80ies, decentralization was promoted. Governors and mayors were now elected instead of being named by the President or the city hall council. This came along with increasing accountability as public administration started slowly but surely to get closer to the people.

All of this was cancelled by chavismo who has been hell bent in bringing back decision making to Caracas, directly and indirectly. Directly by increasing the power and preponderance of the central government. Indirectly by promoting local committees of diverse nature above elected officials. That is resulting in an atomization of power, and thus a better control of governors and mayors that are not to be relied upon.

Another example of deliberate bad policies is the purposeful weakening of the judicial system. The consequence of this are obvious to anyone averagely informed about how things are supposed to work in a civilized and organized country: the more independent the judiciary, the better off a country generally is. It will be enough to explain how this subjection was achieved in Venezuela. First it was the atomization of justice by creating more controls than necessary and thus creating the reverse effect that no control could effectively be exerted. Second action was to name only faithful to the regime in all key positions of the judicial system in Venezuela. From packing the high court to naming non entities as Clodosvaldo Russian to crucial positions was enough to kill justice in Venezuela. Now justice is inefficient, highly partial, and actually obeys political lines and orders. Basically any law suit against the government is certain to fail, or to be stored for years until finally some trial date is set.

The consequences are obvious: Venezuela is now considered one of the most corrupt countries of the hemisphere and a crime wave is subjecting the country, a crime wave which of course affects most the lower classes that have no resources to protect themselves.

The Ugly

And it is Ugly by all standards of civilization.

There are three items which I will grade in increasing order, to simplify discussion for the reader patient enough to have reached these lines.

Bringing politics into the Army (and public services, and stat owned companies, etc…)

Now the armed forces of Venezuela, we are told, have weapons to serve the revolution. That is the armed forces participate in the revolution, are ideologized by the revolution, or rather the regime, to serve Chavez personal ambitions. This is extremely dangerous as the army has the weapons and if it becomes a political actor it has the upper hand as civilians are by definition a pacific set who has at most a few handguns to oppose to war quality weapons. IF this is enough to frighten the political opposition to Chavez, it should also frighten Chavez who will become more and more dependent on the good will fo the army to maintain his power. Chavez has reopened the Pandora box that we thought had been closed after Perez Jimenez fal in 1958.

Unfortunately this project of politicization of the army is now so advanced, the armed forces have received so much power and privileges since Chavez has reached office that for all practical purposes we are under a military regime, with the peculiarity that this one did not even need to make a coup d’état: all was handed to the army by Chavez. Foreign observers are urged to count how many ministers, governors, directors of ministry divisions are issued from the armed forces. In fact one could even argue that the army is the principal political party of the coalition supporting the Chavez government! In short: in Venezuela, outside of Chavez, only active or ex soldiers exert some real authority, as all civilians are placed in office at the sufferance of Chavez.

The drive for personal power

This is actually quite simple to observe for foreign visitors: the cult of the personality for Chavez can already be observed clearly in the campaign propaganda of the government. It can also be detected when we observe how Chavez speaks for hours without anyone interrupting him or asking tough questions. It can be sensed when Chavez grants few interviews or press conferences and dodges questions ridiculing whenever he can journalists accusing them to work for the Empire. It can be appreciated in the extraordinary partialization of state owned media. In short you can measure the personal power of Chavez as a direct proportion of how unaccountable are public servants in Venezuela. Here, if Chavez says so, it is the law. Need a recent example? Look at the recent announcement for a third Orinoco bridge during the visit of Lula last week. Chavez announced that it would be given to the Brazilian Obredecht, the civil engineering consortium. No bidding, no shopping, no comparison. Obredecht will get the contract at any price it deems suitable because Chavez said so.

The Apartheid of Venezuelan politics

This is an unacceptable development that is only too quickly dismissed by foreign sympathizers of the regime. Simply put, the government has elaborated a tool where it measures the degree of support of the population towards Chavez and his regime. The classification goes from fervent supporter (you belong to Misiones, you work for a Mision, you belong to the militia) to opposition (you signed against Chavez in 2004 to petition for a Recall Election). Using this list all sorts of political discrimination happen, ranging from simple denial of passport issuance, to being fired from a public job even if you fulfill your duties with satisfaction. On the right side column of this blog there are plenty of links that refer to this discrimination official list, once called the “Tascon list”, recently Maisanta program and now probably Maisanta 1.1 or something like that.

If you doubt of the intention of the government to intensify the application of this modern day apartheid you can search for the declarations of the Oil Industry head, Ramirez, caught on video threatening to fire whomever did not support enthusiastically Chavez. That is, it is not enough to support Chavez and do a good job. Now, the only thing that matters for you to keep your job is to be a fervent supporter of Chavez.

Or you can also watch the recent video of Vielma Mora, the SENIAT (IRS, tax agency) receive live, in front of the cameras, a piece of paper from one of his assistants where there were a few names as to them belonging or not to the Tascon list. That is right, at the Venezuelan tax collection agency, employees seem to handle routinely the list of tax payers that support or oppose Chavez. Do I need to explain the consequences of this?

A conclusion?

Yes, there is one. No matter what Chavez has done over the last 8 years, he has created a deep division in Venezuelan society, a division that will lead inevitably to either repression or civil disturbance, or worse. This is simply unforgivable, to deliberately create such a division to ensure one’s personal power, to eliminate deliberately any communication between the two sides of the divide, to radicalize the political discourse constantly, to welcome any radicalization of the opposition as an excuse to push up the ante. Dear foreign observers, you might want to look into this.

PS: this post comes with no links, too many will be required. Anyone interested in details can contact me, read my blog, visit Miguel or Alek blogs to find a wealth of article on this matter. OR if you handle Spanish and have the time to do some research, you can read El Universal, the only paper which archives are compeltley available on the net. All that I have said here can be verified fully, be it recent occurences or historical references.


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