Saturday, October 20, 2007

Friday night round up: democracy death watch in Venezuela

Yours truly has been exceedingly busy this week, from personal problems, to work problems, to the death of Cardinal Castillo. Stuck in Caracas, its nightmarish traffic, its lack of milk (I have not been able to find any milk since I arrived last Saturday except for a few cans of evaporated stuff that tastes like, well, you know), I can hardly wait until I can go back to San Felipe. If truth be told, I have even missed reading the papers, not only for lack of time, but because for three full days, the "quiosco" down the street where I stay in Caracas has been receiving half of its usual allotment of newspapers and by the time I use to stop there, coming back form work or errands in late afternoon, well, there is only the 5 copies of VEA left, the same ones that arrived in the morning.

Not that it was not a newsy week. Last Saturday I went to Primero Justicia bash. Quickly followed by the sadness of Cardinal Castillo death. I did go Wednesday to the Don Bosco church "capilla ardiente" to pay my respects. The line was long, it lasted quite a while for me to make my way to the altar and to spend a few three seconds in front of one of the greatest Venezuelans of the XX century, something that even as a lapsed catholic I have no qualm acknowledging. What was rather shameful was the total ignorance by the government of Cardinal Castillo death, who was buried today in Güiripa . But that is not surprising: the National Assembly was busy adding articles to the constitutional reform, 3 more today for a total that now has climbed to 61 from the 33 original Chavez proposal. The only question in people's mind is whether the AN will bring the total to 66, a close approximation of the Devil's number....

Discussing the articles added by the National Assembly is pretty much useless. At some point I will write a general informative review for the sake of it. What is telling, on the other hand, is that the modifications introduced by the N.A. are designed to limit even more our liberties and freedoms, and improving the welfare of "our" representatives: one of the new additions is to allow representatives that have been named into some executive position to return to the NA once their job is over (or Chavez fire them, something that happens very easily). Most serious democracies have abolished decades ago that automatic return to parliament, something prone to huge conflict of interests (and corruption?)

What is even more telling is that the N.A. has even stopped any pretense of discussion with the added articles. We get the lame excuse that the changes were "suggested" by the "wisdom of the people" during the previous round of discussion and thus further discussion is unecessary. That there is no evidence of that, that parliament never made it to a discussion day to Yaracuy is of course something that Cilia Flores, the chair of the N.A. is not close from admitting. The staged pseudo discussions held in some cities of Venezuela will not even do this time. A Teresa Carreño theater meting early this week was chavista only and when a few dissenting students tried to go and discuss the changes, well, they were thrown out as soon as they disagreed with a given article. Details of the moment are again irrelevant, what matters here is that chavismo has decided to force the issue now, that there is not even a pretense of discussion as poor PODEMOS is regularly humiliated in the N.A, by such "raclure de bidet" as Mario Isea (no, I will not translate the French term I used).

But PODEMOS is getting a taste of what it has been turning a blind eye for all these past 4 years. This blog has reported quite often how when opposition calls for marches in Caracas how the Nazional Guard stops buses on their way to Caracas. While of course Caracas fills up with buses carrying red shirted chavistas from Tucusiapón. Well, today PODEMOS wanted to bring a document to the high court asking them to force a delay in the new constitution referendum arguing very justly that the government is bulldozing more than 60 articles in barely 60 days. For notice, real democracies take up to 2 years to change a single constitutional article. Well, guess what? Buses carrying PODEMOS supporters are now the ones that are stopped at Nazional Guard controls. Ramon Martinez, Sucre governor, and certainly not my favorite person, was receiving a taste of his own medicine when the alleged 15 K supporter he gathered were also stopped. He even, gasp!, accused Chavez, made him accountable for his followers fate in front of the Nazional Guard! After years of sucking up to Chavez.....

In a way it is all very amusing. This time I have yet to see the first outdoor activity of chavismo to support the referendum. Only some limited ones, with close up on the V.P. Rodriguez screaming near obscenities, are shown on VTV. Activities with Chavez are ALWAYS indoors, ALWAYS in "controlled" conditions. Imagine that...... In other words, from the lack of public rallies by chavismo, from their obstruction to the meager anti "reforma" rallies, to the now total disregard to debate by the N.A. in its gamble in force feeding us an indigestible document, we know that polls must be bad at Miraflores. But if elections
this time around seem difficult to win in a honest way, there is always the CNE to rely on to smooth the path to approbation.

The Venezuelan electoral board, CNE, long decried as sold out to chavismo, is stepping in to supply the lack in chavismo campaigning. Besides refusing to correct the flaws of the electoral system duly reported by the European Union observers, it basks in self sufficiency, in the deep knowledge that they cannot do wrong in the eyes of Chavez as long as this one keeps getting the majority he likes. One should not be surprised. As the magazine Zeta felicitously told us today, 4 are now open supporters of chavismo through their acts, and the fifth member is so incompetent, so wishy washy, that he might as well join chavismo and make the CNE a 5 to 0 majority instead of the 4 to 0 majority we have now. Zeta also published a picture where the 4 chavistas were sitting together in some activity (the fifth member is rarely seen with them, apparently an embarrassment for both sides)). When you look at the picture (a scan from Zeta) you are reminded about that thing about body language, how it might reveal the biased people chosen to do the dirty job that is required.

Because indeed the slimy CNE obliged Chavez today, thus deserving for its president Tibisay Lucena the title of second chavismo harlot after the first place so richly earned by Luisa Morales. See, the NGO Ciudadania Activa was passing a few adds that were not properly a campaign against the "reforma" but where clearly questioning the wisdom of the said "reforma". Nothing that the polls do not project themselves. But apparently, even though these adds appear on only one open air signal through Globovision in Caracas and Valencia, they were already too much for chavismo to stomach. It is not useless to remind the reader that since the closing of RCTV, there is ONLY ONE open air signal to which opposition message has access: Globovision. And this only in Caracas and Valencia. The rest of the country has access to opposition messages only through cable. The rest of the networks are either pro Chavez or will not pass such opposition messages.

Ciudadania Activa effective campaign was too much for chavismo, even if it reached at most half of the country. So the CNE today duly launched an investigation against Globovision, demanding that they stop showing such messages. If El Universal indicates the real target, Globovision, this one publishes a more extensive article where there is a list of a series of opposition media which have been harassed this week by the state. We learned that this Friday not only Globovision was told to stop (a direct attack on freedom of expression, a clear harbinger on what is to come if the "reforma" is voted), but we also learned from the exorbitant fine levied on El Universal. But that is not all, Bolivar Films, who produced the Ciudadania Activa adds was closed by the SENIAT for 48 hours, and the 4 nightly anchors of Globovision received citations by the SENIAT.

Can you say "intimidation"? "censorship"? "end of freedom of expression"?

Should I remind the reader that the famous "rojo, rojito" speech of Ramirez did not bring the intervention of the CNE until after the reelection of Chavez, and the eventual sanction, after months of dithering, came more than 6 months after the fact?

Can any one spell "double standard"? "total CNE bias"? "Tibisay Lucena is a servant of Chavez"?

But the CNE is not going to save Chavez reputation. Voices keep rising against the constitutional change who is now so nakedly unconstitutional that it is tearing the insides of chavismo. What else are the latest amendments added suddenly but meant to control all this dissidence within chavismo which cannot be hidden anymore? That is right, the first victims of the "reforma" will not be this blogger and his friends and readers, but chavistas themselves!!!!

As from voices outside chavismo, well, condemnations keep coming. Today's biggie was the one from the Catholic church who directly called the constitutional change proposal undemocratic in that it would end pluralism in Venezuela. There, just like that. If chavismo thought that the death of Cardinal Castillo Lara would tame the church voice, its disappointment must have been great.

But this should not make us forget that all major Venezuelan academies wrote a joint communique refusing the reform. This is not small thing because chavismo presence is low in such academies (chavismo lacks intellectuals of consequence, of course, see my post on one attempt at passing for intellectuals).

And for good measure the IAPA also condemned the end of freedom of expression that the new constitution would mean, this before Tibisay acted today... All of this just for this end of week.

So there we have today late as I finish the post, a quick survey on how debate, freedom of expression, authoritarianism is already everywhere in Venezuela. Can you imagine what it will be once the 60+ articles are ratified?

For curiosity I did one of my rare visits the English language sites supporting Chavez. Venezuelanalysis, the only worth an occasional visit, was faithful to itself refusing to debate the articles of the constitution in any real depth (certainly not with the depth, and reach that you can find on this site!). Still, there was a small concession besides the constant glorification of the revolution: the troubles of PODEMOS were at least acknowledged. There was though a rather bad surprise: the reprint of an exchange between an everyday more out of touch Quico and a Katy that was trying gently to bring him back to reality. Good fodder to amuse the readers of Venzuelanalysis.

On the blog side, do not expect any serious discussion either. Borev kept its sophomoric humor and Eva Golinger blog kept its promise to be as dull as it can be. Though she nailed a Chomsky interview and her picture with Evo. She is definitely tops for self promotion within the chavista camp. And her bland style is certainly going to protect her for a while.

Oil Wars (note how all these blogs are neatly listed on the left site of Venzuelanalysis) seems at least to have some very minor misgivings about what is going on in Venezuela. Very minor. I did detect a post with the astounding amount of 787 comments, I wonder who has time to read 787 comments... Certainly not me, reassuring me on the moderation policy of this blog where already more than 20 comments tend to scare me by the implied work it means. Still, no in deep analysis of the constitution there either, not even in the lone post on the Constitution that comes up in the recent posts where one of the guest bloggers of that blog rejoiced at the inclusion of gay rights. I suppose that gay rights will compensate for all the other rights we are about to lose, such as the right to vote, the secrecy of voting, the increased bar for recall elections and petition referendum, the right to due process in time of trouble, and more, much more....

I include these observations in a way unrelated to this post, because they are in fact quite pathetic, while illustrative. These pro Chavez bloggers (there are more but those three will suffice for the point) are people who are desperately now trying to look for anything positive in Chavez while ignoring all the huge negatives accumulating. It is true that I also look only at the negative of Chavez. But the fact of the matter is that I have at least never denied the social needs of Venezuela, and always understood the appeal of Chavez, giving him always a solid 30% even in the dark days of 2003. On the other hand, these people, all foreigners, do not really care about Venezuelans. I am sure that if someday this blog is closed by chavismo and the owner confronted with the repressive agency called SENIAT, or jail, they will be secretly cheering, if not publicly attacking me as Eva has already done many times for many Venezuelan journalist. That is one conclusion of this post if you like: it is sad to see so many people, at the AN or in the anglo blogs, it does not make any difference, considering democracy as a disposable item as long as their objective is reached. But I am preparing a translation of a great article from this Friday Zeta that will illustrate this very well.

-The end-

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