Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bloggers in jail, today Egypt, tomorrow?

Hosni Mubarak has been seen as one of the most palatable dictators of the Middle East, which is not saying much. Well, in his old age, and perhaps with some senility creeping, his regime has sent a blogger to jail. The reason, according to the Washington Post Editorial is that he reported on some stuff as an eye witness. Stuff such as directed rioting by Islamist extremist against the Christian Copt community of Alexandria.

What is even more remarkable is that the Post editors use material form another noted Egyptian blogger (who knows of this blog by the way). Sandmonkey has been writing a few entries about his colleague now in jail, Abdel Kareem Nabil Soliman. You can read his extensive article at PJM, or some of his entries here, here or here.

Now, all is there, from the anguish to see a fellow blogger jailed for reporting what the censored media does not report to whether stay in Egypt and risk one's life. The parallel with Venezuela is starting. Right now Venezuelan opposition bloggers have little more to worry but pesky chavista supporters visiting, insulting and even sometime threatening (the worst come from e-mail letters...). But imagine if RCTV is shut up, if Globovision starts self censorship, if the TalCual fine becomes a mere precedent, if newspapers are tamed... Bloggers would be next and this is not necessarily that far in the future. One year? Two? It does not matter, what is crucial is that bloggers must start watching their back, in particular if they cover some events live as this blogger or Miguel have done in the past when luck made us cross path with news.

Today there is nothing comparable to anti Coptic riots in Alexandria, but the culture of violence and hatred preached now everyday from El Supremo can only lead someday to some nasty outbreak. We have already seem too many journalists attacked by chavista followers, we are living with the daily consequences of the Tascon list (list of links on the right side), now probably expanded to those who sent money to Tal Cual as these people will probably be labelled as "very dangerous enemies". If you do not express vocally your support of Chavez you may be barred from many a public service, including jobs, and more, much more discrimination, subtle or not, that keep creeping, creating second class citizens, and not forgetting even that old scourge of anti semitism. It seems that it is not a matter of IF, but more and more of WHEN a blogger will put to the index. Do not forget that there was already a first salvo with the infamous paid advertisement against the "anglo american conspiracy". Chavez needs targets and too many lackeys are willing to oblige him.

-The end-

Jesus is not chavista

Chavez has been saying a lot of nonsense lately. Well, he says a lot of nonsense all the time but since last December he has reached new heights... Among these was that Jesus is a socialist and that he would probably be chavista today. OR something to that effect who would make the ignorant masses conclude this inanity. Unfortunately Chavez ain't no Jesus, and he certainly does not hold Jesus courage, at least as we can see from the failure of the 1992 coup to hiding behind the laws he invented to eliminate political adversaries such as RCTV or Tal Cual. In fact, Chavez is a rather cowardly character, best observed in his only too rare press conferences where he loves to pounce on defenseless journalists. You may read the preceding two posts to familiarize yourself with Chavez courage or, rather, lack thereof.

Well, Weil of Tal Cual has this fabulous cartoon in the Monday edition, a cartoon that captures so well the hollowness of Chavez that it is breathtaking. The legend reads "If Jesus were a XXI century socialist" and the caption above Jesus says "I am the only one capable of directing this revolution... Peter, I think it would best for you to go to that cross". Indeed, if Jesus had chosen to send Peter to the cross, history of the world would be quite different.... Brilliant! Exactly what Chavez do with his followers, use them for dubious objectives or hide behind them.

-The end-

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chavez, the autocrat, at a press conference

In Venezuela we have a saying “cada ladrón juzga por su condición”, which translates freely as “each thief judges according to his values”. In other words, a thief will think that all think as a thief does.

This saying is interesting because in the next two videos we can see and hear how Chavez minds operate, how he thinks that everyone thinks as the thug he is thinks (apologies for the word repetition).

The scene is a press conference. There the O’Globo journalist asks a very simple question as to how come the fine levied on Tal Cual seems rather excessive.
Instead of replying to the simple question you can observe many things in the speech of Chavez (the reply, to give it a name, lasts 12 minutes!) that betrays what an autocrat he has become, and even betrays that he knows he is not doing the right thing. We have another saying in French “Qui se sent morveux, se mouche” (he who feels his nose dripping blows it). What Chavez does is a pseudo preventive measure because, well, his subconscious betrays him in that Chavez knows he has a lot to answer for. And of course his “sobredimensionada” reply betrays his general nervousness and resentment and weakness of character. You may remind the famous scene of a few weeks ago when Chavez attacked Uribe of Colombia with the same “sobredimensionada”. But Uribe is not some defenseless journalist that can be forcibly escorted to the next fly for Sao Paulo. Chavez backed down quickly in front of Uribe, showing the coward that Chavez really is, only looking strong when the people in front of him cannot defend themselves. The classical bully

There are two videos and in an unusual step I will try to point to some of the important moments. Sorry, they are in Spanish and I really cannot translate them but if anything the face of Chavez lying outrageously is just great to watch!

Video 1

Chavez starts with what he thinks is an ironic repetition of “O’Globo”. It falls flat but it announces what will come next. Then he asks for coffee. The journalist, not speaking very good Spanish, narrates how he was invited to the protest rally in support of Tal Cual and Laureano Marquez. Then he goes on RCTV (read previous post). Chavez interrupts the journalists saying that he is welcome but not O’Globo. And Chavez adds, unbelievably, “finish your question, we are not going to dialogue” (1:13) Truer words were never spoken!!!

Then Chavez makes time to think about a reply by talking soccer. But then he goes on for the kill by saying that the owners of O’Globo are from the most antique extreme right. Classic shoot the messenger, except that he has had to recur to such strategy so often that he has to increase the level of insulting to make it more “acceptable” (2:20). Insults to O’Globo continue and he takes on the journalist expressing his hope that he is not anti Latin American. How crass can you fall? But he does go further. He starts accusing O’Globo of attacks on Lula (3:20) which are of course totally irrelevant on Chavez attacks on freedom of expression in Venezuela. At 4:40 we are discussing Joao Goulart where even Chavez admits that the journalist was not born then…. At 5:45 he tells the journalist that this one surely knows the mentality of his O’Globo boss, daring him to write something that will displease his boss. The video 1 ends, at 6:29 and Chavez has not started addressing the question of the journalist. Amazing!

Video 2

Finally! Chavez says that he has nothing to do with the Tal Cual fine (0:23). Well, true, if we look at the direct logic. Untrue since it is about Chavez daughter name on a front page and since it is the only of such cases that has been brought to court even though chavismo has been using children abundantly for political purposes. But of course Chavez can try to get away with it because he is not “dialoguing” and neither the O’Globo journalist, nor another will be allowed to ask a follow up question (the press conference ends after this second video with Chavez all but escaping). I could also get into the detail of Chavez having named all the judges but that would be tedious for the readers of this blog well aware of the situation.

At 1:12 Chavez decides that the journalist question is in fact an opinion, that he journalist does not know about Venezuela and that he has decided to be judge of what goes on in Venezuela. Oh dear! Where should I start? That Chavez spent most of the previous 7 minutes giving his opinions on Brazil internal matters, being a most severe JUDGE on what goes on in Brazil? On the fact that in addition to the condescending familiar “Tu” he uses against the journalist he is now moving close to character assassination?

At 1:28 Chavez finishes that part saying that it is an internal Venezuelan matter about the powers and that he has nothing to say on that! Priceless!!!!

But Chavez goes on! And it turns this into a personal thing! At 3:04 he is rambling on all the insults he has received (note, not criticisms, insults, a priceless lapsus from his part as nothing is a criticism on him, all is an insult). At 3:24 the Tal Cual fine is nothing more than a driving ticket… The facials of Chavez become more and more interesting as he is making all personal now! And then back to attacking O’Globo (total rambling, betraying the rambler!) 3:46 O’Globo enemies of LatAm Integration; 3:52 Puppy dogs of US imperialism; 4:20 “the truth is known by the large majority” after daring O’Globo to publish that Chavez himself fined Tal Cual (Uhh?)

4:37. Now we go onto RCTV, as a right for a government to give a concession to whomever it wishes. Note that in the words of Chavez it is the government who has the right of that, not the public opinion or civil society (in that if truth be told Chavez is not alone among world governments, even from democratic countries…). 4:39 “no hay que explicarlo”, Chavez says that he does not need to give an explanation!!!! He is above accountability!!! He confesses it!!!.

But the best was for the end. At 5:00 Chavez says that the right to give broadcast concession for a country is the same as the right to name whatever ambassador it wishes, and to refuse any ambassador named by the other countries. I mean, how twisted and how far from reality and proportion is the mind of Chavez? I have rarely seen such a preposterous counter example. Is Chavez on crack? Or is he challenging us about even more outrageous actions in the future? Is he going to close El Universal because he has the right to name the minister of communication he wants? Has the usage of absolute power already corrupted him so absolutely? And at 5:38 Chavez says that it is all like the little signs that pop out in some establishments as to who is welcome or not… The implication of course is that Chavez announces that he will admit whomever he pleases in the future.

But Chavez manages to outdo himself at the end. He accuses the journalist of total lack of objectivity, of being sent to fulfill a mission and he dare shim to go and ask about Puente Llaguno as to the reality of Venezuela. And then he runs away before anyone can ask a follow up question such as “Have the 2002 events of Puente Llaguno ever being investigated by an impartial and objective commission?”. I wonder what Chavez would have replied to that… No matter he chose to run away as he seems to be doing more and more often…

Meanwhile I am sure that O’Globo could not dream of better material to criticize even more Lula…

Friday, February 23, 2007

The RCTV paradigm: old story, new Venezuelan wrappings

Next May, the oldest broadcasting TV in Venezuela, RCTV, is scheduled to close. Chavez has decided so, and although a legal battle is under way, it is difficult to imagine that the Venezuelan judicial system will go against its master on such an important issue.

Now that a few weeks have passed since the different announcements it is time to visit this issue in a more constructive approach. That is, let’s try to understand what this is all about. The gist of the matter is simply Chavez trying to curtail freedom of expression. We have seen this happening under all sorts of autocrats. The latest Latin American episode has been barely a decade ago under Peru’s Fujimori. Before? Too many to recall. We could even call this the press control paradigm. The only difference this time is that Chavez is doing it in the era of Internet and with a lot of money to back him up.

More than a generalized discussion over this issue let’s look at some of the items advanced to defend something which cannot be defended. Many arguments have been proposed by chavismo and his defenders. They have all, without a fault, been proven hogwash, mere lame excuses to justify the real desire of the regime: no broadcast criticism of the regime.

Quality programming and the implied ratings

One of the regular canards aired is that RCTV is lousy programming. If this were a real reason to close a TV station, then VTV, the state outlet, should have been closed long ago. Anyone that has watched the vituperative, grossly vulgar and insulting “La Hojilla” should wonder how such garbage is aired. That it is aired would not be so bad if those who are routinely insulted by La Hojilla could come and reply. But there is no reply right in VTV which is 24/24 Chavez propaganda where any opposition idea or personality is ridiculed as much as possible.

Compared to that the mix of tasteless games and questionable soap operas broadcasted by RCTV this one does not look so bad. At the very least they are entertaining for the masses whereas VTV is more of a manhunt reality show without entertainment value except for the hardcore chavista who needs to be up to date on the latest political one liner to be thrown against the opposition. There is not a single VTV show worth watching, not even the Villegas one in the morning. The ratings do not lie: RCTV hovers between 30 and 35% whereas VTV never seems to reach even a meager 10% audience share, stuck, we are told at a paltry 3-6%. You know this is true because private advertisers that used to be rare in VTV 2-3 years ago have completely disappeared.

The low ratings are really the most irksome aspect of the whole business for the government. In spite of lots of money thrown at VTV to spruce up its image and try to bring some levity to it, the only show that manages to have a rating worth talking off is Alo Presidente, the Sunday Chavez talk show (now prime time Thursdays). The ratings of this show are not made publicly available. Chavismo claims 80%. Experts give considerably less numbers. All indicates that only in time of crisis does Chavez threatens the ratings of the other TV stations.

Now. Let’s look at that 30% rating of RCTV and let’s look at the 62% who allegedly voted for Chavez last December. Does anyone believe that no chavista ever watches RCTV? The 37% who voted against Chavez are all of them watching RCTV and Globovision? Indeed, the hoi poloi, chavista and anti chavista alike do watch RCTV. Could there be anything more galling to Chavez after years spent attacking RCTV?

RCTV is a “golpista” network

The real reason it seems why Chavez hates so much RCTV is because one of its owner, renowned interviewer Marcel Granier, refers to Chavez as “teniente coronel” (lieutenant colonel). There is no denying that the tone used by some RCTV people (and also many non RCTV folks) is pejorative against Chavez who should always be referred to as “Presidente”. But since Chavez himself has no qualms whatsoever in destroying the presidential dignity by calling names his opponents, he has only himself to blame. Besides, “teniente coronel” is perfectly right and accurate as it is the grade Chavez held when his military career ended after the 1992 coup. So, it is fun to hear Chavez accuse RCTV of being a coup monger channel (“golpista”) when he is himself the director of the February 1992 coup, and the inspiration of the November 1992 attempt.

So, which are the arguments of Chavez to consider RCTV as more of a coupster than he his? It all comes from April 13 2002. This day RCTV had a black out on the news as the Carmona ill fated stupid and silly adventure was floundering fast. In the chavista legend throngs of people descended to the streets to have Chavez back. In all truth, the video evidence presented so far speaks of a few thousand at most, and in very circumscribed areas of Caracas. Nevertheless RCTV (and the other networks who also shut up on the day but who today are not a direct target as RCTV is) did have a black out of news on that Saturday until it became news itself as chavista groups, led by Bernal, started threatening RCTV and other network offices.

But in this argumentation falls easily, after February 1989 networks have been weary of showing street rioting else they be accused of promoting such rioting. But this is not really an argument one way or another. See, if one must be fair one should compare the black out of April 13 to the Chavez cadena of April 11 when he was trying to cover up the Avila Plan he had called for and while the April 11 march was been shot at. When the march was approaching Miraflores Chavez decided to put up a cadena, on of this universal simultaneous enforced broadcasts of all TV and radio. Meanwhile the Avila Plan call, a repressive plan for the Armed Forces to quell any rebellion, was met by refusal from the officers in charge of applying it. While "someone" was shooting the marchers, nobody could figure out anything because Chavez was talking on TV. Eventually private networks, RCTV ahead perhaps, decided to split the screen. On one side you had Chavez and his soundtrack live, on the other side, silent but telling of the inferno street scenes taking places in Miraflores. That precipitated the brief fall of Chavez.

Certainly if RCTV does deserve a trial for the April 13 blackout, Chavez deserves one even more for his own brand of black out on April 11.

RCTV does not follow broadcasting norms

I feel like mentioning this possibility since I just mentioned that Chavez deserves a trial from April 11. One accusation that is thrown at RCTV is that it is violating the new legal code on broadcasting. Unfortunately there is no proceeding against RCTV worth discussing and even less of a sanction in any tribunal. Thus, if RCTV were such a violator we would not be having such a post today as RCTV would have been proven guilty, fined and shut down after recidivating. Since this has not happened, then RCTV is not being closed for being a lousy law breaking network (or at least not any lousier than the other ones, including particularly VTV). It is shut down for another reason, but not for legal and verifiable ones.

Fairness in reporting

To conclude this already long enough post we can look at the most amusing charges of all: RCTV is not fair in its reporting on governmental actions. This is highly amusing to me because 1) RCTV spends not even 10% of its broadcasting time in news or announcements and in those one quite often we can see government officials visit. How often has Lina Ron or Iris Valera been on “La Entrevista” early morning talk show? Just to mention some repeat visitors. The news at night are much more focused, it is true, on the suffering of the people, morbidly so even. But after all people do tend to go to RCTV to air their complains as the doors of VTV are notoriously tightly closed if you want to complain against any governmental abuse or inefficiency.

I do not know if an accurate measurement exists on who goes where but form my own experience, I am ready to stick my hand on fire that RCTV is much more open to chavista visitors than VTV to opposition ones on news per minute basis. That is, if we consider that VTV spends about half its time in pro Chavez talk shows whereas RCTV has only one in the morning, RCTV might come out way more open to other voices than VTV.

Let me give you a little reference point to give you an idea on how difficult it is for an opposition figure to make it to VTV: which are the chances of this blogger making it to RCTV? Which are the chances of this blogger making it to VTV? Yet, this blogger has hit oversea media more than once…

Let’s be frank: there is nothing as unfair in Venezuelan TV as VTV. I dare anyone to prove me wrong. Accusing RCTV of unfairness is probably true also, but then again the government should start by cleaning up its own house.


RCTV might or might not close. It has ceased being the point. The point here is that Chavez for personal reason, and for the need to control the media, has decided to close RCTV. That is all.

If RCTV is being closed it is not because it is a bad network or a criminal one. It is because chavismo wants to take the choice away from you. TV is very powerful in that anything that does not catch the attention of the viewer is immediately sanctioned when the viewer switches channel. People, 1 in 3 of us, switch regularly to RCTV instead of switching to VTV and Chavez ideology and bad taste shows. Such a choice is not permissible in an autocracy.

If RCTV is closed and there is not outcry, no international sanction, then it will be a precedent and any broadcasting media in Venezuela will be closed whenever convenient for the chavista dictatorship (after closing RCTV we will be able to call chavismo a dictatorship, by the way, as it will have moved past the autocracy label).

If RCTV is closed expect to see more and more of Chavez in private media as it will be the only way to avoid the wrath of El Supremo.

If RCTV and Globovision are closed, expect to have no freedom of expression in TV or Radio. It is important to note, by the way, that RCTV is THE ONLY network of the opposition to have a nation wide reach; Globovision is barred in many open signal markets and can only reach all corners of the country through cable, cable being accessible by only 30% of Venezuelan homes. In other words, once RCTV is closed, the only non chavista nightly news that exist will have ended and all the open air signal will be neutral or pro Chavez except for Globovision wherever this one is allowed.

If RCTV is closed then we will witness the renewal of the censorship paradigm that all autocrats seek. This time lack of international response will be inexcusable: this is all about naked censorship. The only suitable response would be boycott of Venezuelan media, including the neutral one of Venevision and Televen who so far have remained dangerously silent on this matter.

Freedom of expression, one cannot compromise on that.

-The End-

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The New York Times on the Chavez royal familiy

An article "sin desperdicio" from Simon Romero. How the Chavez "improved" their living standards in the past 8 years in Barinas.

-The end-

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Low life Chavez enablers: Diaz Rangel, Ken Livingstone, Holanda Dam and Mariela Viloria

Back from a short holiday, I have had no time to unpack when the news assaulted me. Instead of posting some stuff I wrote during the holiday I cannot resist but describing the enablers of Chavez, old and new. It is just too good to pass on it, and it illustrates so well what the regime is best at: creating people who are willing to abide by the lowest standards of morality and ethics, if any, to support or excuse the beloved great leader.

The Tal Cual affair

This one has been going on. Now we learn that the prosecutor of the case, some woman called Mariela Viloria, has decided to appeal the fine levied against Tal Cual as being too light. The reason she advances is that neither Teodoro Petkoff nor Laureano Marquez have even tried to apologize for the alleged crime Holanda Dam has condemned them.

Well, Teodoro raises up to the challenge, quotes her and adds that she seems to have gotten her law degree from a laundry detergent box (these boxes in Venezuela used to carry small prizes and became synonymous with cheap or shoddy goods, degrees, prizes).

We are breathlessly expecting to see if enabler Viloria will dare to push further and sue Teodoro for being put down on the front page of Tal Cual today. As Teodoro points out in his editorial the woman actually dares to challenge him to publish her words, obviously feeling that the judicial system will side with her to strangle freedom of expression. Teodoro well aware of what is at stake, has no problem in picking her glove and see if they will dare silence him. Can you say "international courts in the near future?" At any rate, judge Dam and prosecutor Viloria join a lengthening list of people that one day will have to pay for their crimes.

Petkoff breaks with Eleazar Diaz Rangel

Today Tal Cual also carries the official break between old friends Eleazar Diaz Rangel and Petkoff. For some obscure reason, Teodoro Petkoff had been one of the last ones to still defend Diaz Rangel as an objective journalist. Most serious journalists in Venezuela have long ceased to consider Diaz Rangel objective, and probably not even serious anymore. I personally watched in awe how during a VTV talk show "Contra Golpe" Vanessa Davies was managing to extract an indirect support of Diaz Rangel as to the closing of RCTV. A professional journalist supporting the censorship on another journalist. Priceless!

See, this is important because Diaz Rangel is the editor of Ultimas Noticias and chavismo has been hell bent in trying to establish that Ultimas Noticias is an objective newspaper (though in the past it was criticized on occasion by Chavez, though not by very far subject to the criticism that he has hurled at El Nacional or El Universal). Ultimas Noticias is widely read among the lower middle class and lower economical classes because it is a tabloid format, it is written more simply than the major papers written more for the "elites", it carries a large adds section, and it carries all the cheaper advertisement that neighborhood stores and cheap outlets can afford. In all truth, Ultimas Noticias also tends to carry a lot of articles about lousy public services and has one of the best red pages, admittedly a more riveting material than the Central Bank numbers or the constitutional critique from specialists.

But, and this is a big BUT, Ultimas Noticias is also held by a branch of the Capriles family who managed control of the paper through judicial fiat courtesy of a chavista court (as far as I could understand the details of that sordid inheritance trial a few years ago). Also, if it criticizes public administration inefficiency it has been rather very delicate in its criticizing of Chavez himself. Someone must have realized that in Miraflores Palace and soon enough Ultimas Noticias was an OK paper again and started being flooded with governmental propaganda and advertisements, enriching the owners of the paper, and presumably also the editor though he keeps dressing with he lousiest outfits one can imagine (which could arguably be on purpose to keep a "people" image).

But Diaz Rangel luck has run out. Petkoff calls on his silence as to the Tal Cual fine by Dam and Viloria. The great reluctance of Diaz Rangel in discussing yet another naked censorship case can only mean acquiescence. An acquiescence that has already been criticized by many folks such as Milagros Socorro when she called on him a couple of years ago when he refused to mention the brutal expulsions of "Los Semerucos". With today Tal Cual Diaz Rangel cannot hide anymore and Ultimas Noticias comes out as what folks like this blogger have thought for a long time, a chavista newspaper where some opposition pens are allowed to write. For the record: El Universal and El Nacional have always allowed many chavista to publish weekly column and that has never stopped pro Chavez folks from accusing these papers from being anti Chavez. Well, at least these papers were honest about their positions whereas Ultimas Noticias was always an hypocrite rag.

But I am not holding my breath for Diaz Rangel to come out in the defense of freedom of expression: as all enablers he will keep dodging the issue and pretend he is above such niceties. His loss.

Cheap gas in London

And the day could not have been closed any better but by this grandest of all enablers, Ken Livingstone finally getting his discounted gas for London Public Transport.

I just cannot comprehend how a guy leading one of the biggest and the wealthiest city in the world can accept a gas subsidy for public transport from a small time wanna-be dictator from a bolibanana republic which cannot give decent public transportation at any price to his subjects. But then again Ken Livingston is a man who has long ago forgotten all about morality. But read the Alek Boyd take on it, better than any newspaper clip you could come across with. (Note: this story has ben unfolding for quite a while, even involving an interwiew for yours truly a few months ago; it sems that finally Ken got his comission)


These few morality epigraphs show how corrupting are people like Chavez. One would have expected that people who claim themselves to be educated would not succumb once again to this type of petty tyrant. But they do for some personal benefit. That is the worse legacy of such regimes, to crudely expose the rot at the core of Human Nature. But we are fixed on the true nature and intellectual misery of the Diaz Rangel of this world, the vile purchasable character of Viloria and Dam or the utter amorality of Livingstone. At least, every day, those who oppose Chavez get more and more reasons to feel better about themselves. I do, don't you?

--- --- --- --- ---

Added later: NON-enablers. Read a surprising piece by Juan Forero in the Washington Post on the fate of the Cuban medics who dare to escape Cuba AND Venezuela. I loved this part:

In Tachira state, on the border with Colombia, he [the defector] lived in a house with seven other Cubans, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. "I felt like merchandise, to be exchanged for petroleum," he said. "It's a situation where you're not valued as a professional, you don't get a dignified salary."

Ciero said his life was suffocatingly routine. Politics, and his view of Cuba's government, were off-limits in his daily dealings with Venezuelans. "You cannot talk about the Cuban reality with anyone," he said.

See, some people do have conscience and self esteem!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Short Break

For three days I will be away from Internet connection. Have fun. Any comment you post might not come on line until Wednesday unless a kind ghost blogger shows up. Meanwhile you can read again the 4 post series about how autocracy is being installed in Venezuela and ponder the imponderable..... At least Chavez has removed his mask before Carnival break.

-The end-

The unraveling of Joe Kennedy

OK, so I am exaggerating, Joe Kennedy has stopped been any significant political player long ago. See, Joe Kennedy is the kind of Liberal that gives Liberals a bad name. His uncle, Ted Kennedy, for all his faults has always stayed clear on message, always kept to his constituency. Even if he is a Liberal’s Liberal, he still cavorts around, drinks, gambles with his life and eats red meat. Blue collars can relate. Even in the best Republican Years Ted is reelected with huge majorities. I like Ted even if he pushes the envelope a little bit too far on occasion. But Joe, well, he is history. I always disliked him, too much of a fake. He may have had the pedigree to be governor of Massachusetts. Now he is not even a Representative anymore. Why? Well, lack of core values, like of focus, like of consistency.

Look at his latest Citgo snafu and you will understand while the Kennedys seem to be waiting for a new generation to come back strong in politics.

Joe had the very bad idea to make a commercial for Citgo. Whatever possessed him would be very interesting to know. I mean, the guy got his cheap oil for his Massachusetts poor. He got to cavort with a few “notables” of the regime. But from there to do a Citgo commercial? I mean, does Joe read newspapers? Does he know what is going on in Venezuela? Has he not realized that Chavez is toxic for his image in the US?

Maybe he does not know that, but surely he should have known that Chavez would be manipulating him for the free oil he got. See, Chavez has that reverse Midas touch: he turns into crap anything he touches. When Joe accepted to be touched by Chavez, accepted plenty of money from him, accepted all sorts of endorsement, he should have known that Chavez would cash his chips eventually. Today I bet Joe is sorry he went to Maracaibo to pose sillyly on a Maracaibo oil rig. But Chavez does not care, he got his PR hit and he can now throw Joe to the dust bin where he throws all the people he has used through life, and trust me on that one, that garbage can is getting quite full.

Connie Mack, a Florida representative, a Republican “no iba a pelar ese boche” (was not going to miss such an opportunity). He saw the add and he questioned publicly Joe Kennedy. The whole story with the different letters they exchanged is here (I know, it is FOX, but at least all the links are in a single page). Se, Connie Mack has a few Venezuelan exiles in his constitutency, he must be more informed than Joe who probably thinks Ambassador Alvarez says the truth.

It is kind of fun to see two scions of old political families playing show politics, checking out which one of them will be the most hypocritical (after all Connie, is the Saud family any more palatable than Chavez?). But it is cute to read the ramblings of Joe Kennedy, even dodging an offer of political debate by Connie Mack. Says it all, says which one of them has the right political instincts and why one of them decided to leave politics before he made a fool of himself completely. Well, he did anyway: there is no way you can defend that Chavez deprives his poors to help Joe's poors. Or in other words, I would prefer to be a Joe Kennedy poor than a Hugo Chavez poor. Joe should have done better his homework.

The morality of this play is that whoever associates himself with Chavez will pay a high price for such an association. Chavez might sound like a blustering fool to people like Joe, but Chavez is way ahead of them on the game. See, Chavez has the street smart thuggery. Joe is too white bread. No competition there. The only immune ones are those who are as corrupt and as devoid of morals as Chavez. For example Fidel

I love it when Chavez pulls overseas the trash he pulls on us everyday. Serves them well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Venezuelan Autocracy: building it up -the summary-

Since December 4 2006 Hugo Chavez has been diligently setting up the frame work for an authoritarian regime that will ensure his stay in power as long as he wishes, which means a for life thing à la Castro.

The only surprise is the speed at which he has decided to finish setting up his personal autocracy. He has at least 6 full years ahead to implement the changes he wants, so why the rush, why the aggression (today he even threatens to nationalize grocery stores). Why? Inheritance crisis brewing in Havana? The fear that oil prices might not hold high enough to allow him to keep buying votes and allies? Fear of Venezuelan inner demons, the apparitions of rivals from within his movement that must be checked before they have time to create their own personal base? Afraid that the teflon might wear out faster than expected? Whatever the reason is, Chavez has been speeding up his socialist take over which is little else than gathering into his hands all the real power in the country in a way that it could never be taken away by peaceful means. Along the way an army of adulators, sycophants and enablers is only too willing to favor such a return to a barbaric past.

In the last 4 posts I have been covering the basic aspects of this process. There are more points that I could have added but the reading of these posts should be enough to make any democrat in the world worry about the future of Venezuela, and by extension, Latin America. It should be clear to all that any system that is built for one man’s ambition at the expense of the minority rights cannot have a bright future, no matter what pious social excuse is advanced. The historical precedents are too numerous, temporary insanity will not cut it as a defense.

I have covered first the political set up in which the new changes will be taking place. Then I have covered the institutional, cultural and ideological plans of the regime. I have discussed how the control of the economy will develop. I included in the economy control management of corruption, not its elimination, as corruption will play a big part in taming Venezuela, serving Chavez well. And I finished by discussing the constitutional changes which are simply the excuse to make it all legal. Ethical and moral it will not be, but legal it certainly will, allowing the world to make Venezuela what we have seen from the Sudeten to the Darfur.

What is more worrying about this whole unedifying story is that so many people seem so willing to go along. The success of Chavez in getting people to trust him even as he delivers very little else but some social cash payments is undeniable. He has mesmerized an amazing part of the country who decided that their only future is as a dependency of the state. Democracy, human rights, stable jobs, savings are all empty words when you live in a barrio, where your life has lost any value there, when you have not been able to find a job in months and must resort to sell contraband in the streets to survive. In some type of perverse Stockholm syndrome, the people have decided to trust the aggressor in making their lives better someday. When you reach such levels of discourse, discourse becomes useless. Chavez feeds on lack of discourse, on perpetuating misery as people will only become even more dependent of him. In 6 years for now, it will have been 14 years of chavismo and brain washing. Half of the country will not remember what it was like to have a real 9 to 5 job. Half of the country will not even have a notion of what it was to have a productive job, to strike it on one’s own in life.

We are back to the days of "fellow travelers", at home or abroad, and we know which will be the consequences for the future of Venezuela and also for the future of this continent. There is violence at the end of the road and Chavez knows it. But then again he is violent, he likes violence and he has shown in the past that as a coward he has no problem in having other people's blood run down the street.

It is the same awful story of autocracy replaying itself and people falling for it once again. The few cool heads that read this blog can only sit down and watch this bad movie rerun and try to see how they can save their chips from the debacle. The only question is how long it will take the regime moving into some form of totalitarianism. These recent weeks have shown the path, it is just a matter of schedule and opportunities.

-The end-

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You wanted to hit Chavez? Now it is your opportunity!

Have you been feeling blue about fascism growing in Venezuela?

Do you worry about communism taking away everything you or your friends have?

Are you sick and tired of Chavez never ending vulgarity and aggression?

Well, there is your chance to do something that will show how upset you are and how unfair you think Chavez is.

Yesterday I was reporting that Tal Cual, the Petkoff courageous small paper, was fined by a sold judge whose name will go down in infamy, Holanda Dam, for a humor article published in 2005. The fine was for a written violation while Chavez HIMSELF is guilty of the same crime at a much higher degree since he does it regularly live, on TV. But of course Holanda Dam is an employee of Chavez and she needs her paycheck (plus probably other goodies she might have or will receive). She is now our poster gal that justice is inexistent in Venezuela, that only the interests of Chavez prevail. Period.

So this is what you can do. Petkoff need 16 000 dollars to pay his fine and he is asking all of us to contribute. Note, I am sure he could find a few donors and dispatch the whole nasty business but he is making an open collect so that the government will see how much support Tal Cual has. It is important that Teodoro receives as much as possible small donations until not only he gets the needed 16 000 dollar, but more, much more, to help keep his paper alive. Remember in a time of self censorship in the press Tal Cual is about as independent as we can still get. Details of the story here.

Please, make your deposit at one of these two accounts (you can make international transfers but if you wish to contact me privately I might be able to help some, an offer reserved only to those who have written to me in the past, for obvious security reasons). And in Venezuela if you deposit in cash you might even be able to deposit under a false name! In case you are afraid that Tascon may start a Tal Cual list, that is. Yes, I am aware that depositing money under a false name might be a crime but then again Holanda and Hugo are criminals too… Not to mention that for small amounts the cashier might not even look at you (and you can always claim that you forgot your cedula! Ooops! Lo siento, regreso mas tarde!)

Make your check or deposit under the name "Editorial la Mosca Analfabeta, C.A." to either of these accounts

Banco Mercantil 0105-0021-47-1021517364

Banesco 0134-0184-59-1843042771

-The end-

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (final: a constitutional conclusion?)

Amazingly Hugo Chavez has decided that an extensive constitutional reform is just what the doctor prescribed for Venezuela. All the different implications of the 1999 constitution are far from being established yet and some have not even been touched. The complete chapter V, for example, has been totally ignored so far. Then again convocation of a "Consejo Federal de Gobierno" could have only rested power to Chavez, not to mention competing for the public's attention, a no-no for that showman who wants to be alone on stage. But that does not matter, the constitution, we are told, needs a major overhaul.

What we have been seeing in the previous 3 posts will be at the core of what the proposed constitutional changes will be. In fact, the scope of the promised changes is so extensive that we can even use the term new constitution even as Chavez pretends to pass it as “reform”. But when the reforms to a constitution reach perhaps more than half the articles, can we recognize the old constitution? Would it not be more productive, more decent, to just call for a new constitutional assembly and have everyone’s say in the matter? Instead we will have Chavez proposals discussed in “petit comité”. So much for “participatory democracy”.

It is amusing to remember that the 1999 charter was seen by their supporters as the “best constitution ever, an example for all to follow”. Now, these same people who barely 7 years ago swore by that document are now the ones promoting a major revamp, if not an outright rewriting just because the big chief has decided to change the country to a socialist bolivarian popular republic with all the ominous implications that this carries (should I call it from now on the Sobolibanana Republic? With a stress on the “so” obviously). At no point these folks think, ponder, consider, that these required changes must be done because the constitution of 1999 was, to begin with, an ill drafted instrument. It never occurs to them that it is also because Chavez has been so busy bringing down institutions while been careful not to build new ones, that the charter of 1999 has become a hindrance to himself.

We can muse upon this truth that constitutions are only as good as the people who apply them. In the opinion of this blogger the 1999 blue book was unworkable even before it was subjected to vote. In Venezuela not only we got a rather deficient piece of paper, but we have flawed people applying it. No wonder it requires changes even if we all know very well that the same flawed people will pretend to apply whatever is voted sometime later this year. Eventually they will turn it into yet another useless document. Is it idle to remind the reader that the US constitution has barely a couple of dozens amendments, and has been lasting now for over 200 years helping the creation of the most prosperous society in human history? Or that England has no constitution? Or that France who has had truly 5 republics changed its constitution only two times the last century while Chavez did it twice in seven years?

Because this is the core of the problem, these constitutional changes are useless. They are done because, again and again it must be repeated, Chavez needs to demonstrate permanently that he is the boss. He cannot deliver roads, decent housing, real medical care, autosufficiency in food production, stable currency, political stability, real jobs with real wages. So he brings out a new constitution in the hope that for a while people will rather discuss that than the empty shelves at MERCAL.

Along the way he will manage to introduce indefinite reelection, for life reelection, he will get even more control over different state appointments by removing many elected offices, he will reduce any opposition to just what he needs to pretend Venezuela is a democracy, he will enshrine all sorts of regulations to limit the freedom of expression, he will control the economy in a way that not even Gomez managed. In other words we will reach 2008 with Chavez controlling everything, in a way that no dictator ever controlled. Perhaps all legal, but all without any legitimacy as his own supporters will not have been consulted, as 40% of the country will not have been allowed to even present its case.

That new constitution manipulation is a farce, a farce in very bad taste. It will be drawn in an ocean of corruption. The nationalizations that it will justify will result in handing to the chavista mafia profitable companies that will be ransacked, made useless, scavenged for any bit of money that corruption can get out of them. Already the directions of AES and CANTV are packing their desks and workers are wearing red shirts to try to save their jobs. There was a time where the worker of these companies would have gone on strike to defend their works as Tascon is about to sweep in. But these days they do not care, ready to sell their soul to keep their job. And one expect these people to even have an opinion on what would an appropriate constitutional change be? The paradox here, and the measure of Chavez great success in killing the democratic spirit of Venezuela, is that a constitutional debate which should be the great feast of a democracy is nothing more than a monologue from the autocrat with nobody really caring about what is said.

Eventually we will get a totally dysfunctional state where nothing works. Eventually Chavez will be ousted or killed or dead and then globalized transnationals will be called in to buy for cheap whatever is left. They will be associated with the surviving mafia that will claim innocence of the past while inheriting it. We will be a new Russia, because we will not be a new China. These people who today serve Chavez lackadaisically, without an ounce of shame will turn on him when necessary, will save their chips and will once again sell the country to whomever pays them the most. With yet another constitution if necessary.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Give us our daily "Alo Presidente"!

We interrupt a series of very critical posts to inform the distinguished readership of this blog to let you know that Alo Presidente, the presidential talk show will now be shown everyday for 1:5 hours, between 8 PM and 9:30 PM. On Thursdays it will be on TV and radio, the rest of the week only on National Radio. We expect of course a regular "cadena" here and there. The Sunday show will be no more.

We can congratulate president Chavez for his final victory , reaching his life long goal: he has now his own daily talk show and he can force it on any broadcasting station as he pleases. Some guys at CNN or the BBC would kill for such an opportunity.

No word as to who will run the country while president Chavez is busy preparing his daily broadcasts. Some wits say that this new communicational strategy is due to all the problems looming in Venezuela, from a gas price hike to accentuated scarcity of some foodstuff. We reply to them that Chavez is only starting delivering the circus before he gets around to deliver the bread.

In Spanish here and English here.

Oh, and by the way, Tal Cual got fined 18 000 US dollars for putting Rosinés name on its front page in a very good and humoristic piece where Rosinés would have written a letter to her dad, Chavez. The judge who handed down this sentence has yet to rule, or even to receive a case against Chavez himself who uses his family for all sort of political activities including changing the country coat of arms because Rosinés told him so. Also no words on all those kids used at chavista political rallies screaming revolutionary consigns and obviously totally brain washed.

How low can a judge fall? Judge Holanda Dam has set a new low in Venezuelan judicial history. Expect good promotions for her as she tramples any norms of decency, ethics and morality to trample the freedom of expression to please Chavez. Tal Cual actually sorts of exculpate her by saying that Chavez is forcing his employees to do such biddings. Well, I am not so lenient, she could have recused herself or shown some dignity and create a scandal by refusing to submit. True, she would have lost her job but preserved her dignity. In today Venezuela dignity has no value it seems abnd peopel like judge Dam will be the one opening concentration camps soon enough.

And with this note, confirming already what this blog has been writing about for the past three days, we return to our normal posts, expecting at any time Holanda to send us summons instead of tulips.

-The end-

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (part 3: the purse strings)

It is certainly normal that any government interferes at some point in the economy. It is simply impossible not to do so since modern governments are expected to emit, say, health regulations which represent an economical cost that needs to be assimilated somewhere. We cannot be like some US Libertarians who still have to recover from the end of the Gold Standard. However there is an implied effect in accepting that a government interferes in an economy: with the wrong folks in office the temptation is just too strong not to try to control the economy for their political goals. This is exactly what Chavez will be doing from now on.

Attempts at controlling the economy are recurrent in Venezuela. All previous government used all sorts of controls, from currency exchange regulations to price controls and all sorts of labor rules. The only difference with Chavez and the previous governments is that Chavez is going further. But the Chavez administration is equal to previous ones in the failure to successfully regulate the economy.

That is perhaps why Chavez has decided to establish more controls than ever before, to control all in such away that he might ignore the negative results. This will doom him to an even greater failure sooner than later but right now he could not care less as he is reinventing the wheel. Though one could argue that on the short run, while the regime consolidates its hold on the people, altering the economical parameters could have the putative benefit of linking any accidental prosperity to the great provider, El Supremo.

The private sector of the economy is also a tool that the opposition can use to mount a challenge to the government of Chavez: the entrepreneur mentality is viscerally allergic to the autocratic expression of the state. The government must make sure that the majority of the resources are controlled by the state. Not necessarily owned but definitely controlled in such a way as they cannot be used to promote adverse political ideas. In other words, through tools like the tax system the state can make sure that major funding for opposition party will not come from private business while the state dip with impunity into the state coffers to finance chavismo political activities. Never will the opposition have a fair shot at campaign financing.

We must remember that Chavez cannot forget and even less forgive the fact that after 8 years of glorious revolution the private sector remains overwhelmingly against him. Be it the general strike of 2002-2003, be it the knowledge that those who come hat in hand to ask for contract of help pretend to be chavista as long as the money flow reaches them in one way or the other. The electoral map of December 3 is quite clear: the more private sector workers in a given electoral district, the lower the Chavez score. Etched on stone almost.

So Chavez has decided to eliminate the private sector of the economy, but since he knows that in the XXI century this cannot be done quite completely (Chavez is well aware of what happened to Cuba) then he will at least limit it as much as possible. This is done through many ways but let’s focus on only a few.

Control of the financial system

This is already done. The majority of the deposits in the major banks are state bonds and deposits. The mere threat of withdrawing the funds of a given bank could send this one in a fatal downspin. They will behave. Main banks are covertly nationalized.

To this you can add other controls such as the currency exchange system of CADIVI. With such a tool the government controls how much people are spending when they travel, who can import goods and which goods, etc… Very cleaver as there is always some permit that can be required to block any recalcitrant sector of the economy from accessing dollars. These days it is sort of working but there are already signs of deterioration (and corruption inside) just as it happened with the earlier RECADI of cursed memory. An authoritarian regime eventually will not be able to resist using such a biased tool for its unethical benefit.

Now we are promised through the enabling law to have significant changes brought to the rules that set trading and business exchanges, "codigo de comercio". It is to be guessed that the modifications will be done in order to favor state owned enterprises over the private sector. Such things as how property rights are set, how public notaries function, how the stock market is regulated, how compensations can be claimed will be changed, likely to allow more governmental control.

New forms of property

Another weird project is the insistence to include in the constitution “new forms of property”.

Property is simple: you own something or you do not.

The objective sought by the government is that by “describing” new forms of property inside the constitution will results in a relative notion of what private property is, a right depending on political expediency and needs of chavismo. For example the government wants to describe cooperatives or co-gestion enterprise as a “different” form of property. It also wants to create social values company. Needless to say that how the government defines what is a social value property can change just as the wind changes. Again, an enterprise belongs to the boss, the workers or both. But it belongs to someone. It is to be feared that the whole system being set up would amount to little more but a way to enact as many indirect nationalizations as the government will need to do.

State monopolies

In a good mercantilist and socialo-commie fashion the Venezuelan state wants to recover control of what it defines as “strategic” companies. If a case can be made for the oil industry to be under state control, the latest round of nationalization make absolutely no sense on the economical level. Besides when one remembers how was the phone service under state owned CANTV, or how is today service in the state owned utilities one shivers thinking at what the future has in store for us.

So what is behind this recent fever? Two things: to look socialist, and to expand patronage. After all chavismo has thousands and thousands of people to find work for and efficient private companies will not do the trick. Only state monopolies not required to be efficient can solve unemployment for chavista supporters for a short while. Besides nationalizations are a wonderful tool to punish the opposition: do you think that all the management of ELECAR, CANTV or some of the oil joint ventures will remain in place when it is found out how many of them appear in the Tascon list? Chavez wants to ruin whoever voted against him. Period.

Social laws

There is always the manipulation of social laws as an efficient tool to control the economy and even more to control the private sector (control being meant as control per se, independent of the economical result). Chavismo has been very productive on this front. In the past 5 years it is fair to say that the amount of paper work that any private business must do has at least doubled. New laws about environmental regulations, working conditions, social responsibility, and many more, have brought new expensive and incredibly time consuming penalties. Now, many of these laws are in current use in developed countries and Venezuela is merely catching up. The problem here is that these new laws tend to give an inordinate discretionary power to public servants to impose fines and regulations. The processus to appeal unfair decisions will be cumbersome and in the hands of a judicial system that will rarely dare to rule against the state.

In other words these laws if necessary are also actively conceived as additional control tools that can be used against any private business that happens to displease the central government. It is to be noted also that the main violators of many of these rules are the public administration or state companies. To the point that PDVSA is actually exempted from some of these regulations because, well, you know, they have their own regulations and they cannot be scrutinized by external sectors.


Inclusion of corruption as a state policy or an administrative tool to control might seem odd. But after 8 years of chavista rule who can possibly deny that corruption has served well the regime in establishing its power? The rules might not be set in the law but do find a private company owner that has not bribed any public servant, a cop, a National Guard in the last few years. This has in fact become such an established way of business that it is a wonder there is no a budget item officially dedicated at greasing any paw that might cross your way. From scotch bottles given at Christmas to outright payments, it has become the norm for business now, and I am not talking about the huge commission who have allowed many a regime servant to reach luxurious living standards. Actually one could say that corruption is indeed set in the law. The new laws of social control for example are a breeding ground of corruption. When the public employee that surpevises your business has all the power to set the fine, and finds somethign wrong with your business, guess what will happen? Some bargaining where you will pay the supervisor instead of paying the fine.

Corruption is a must in an autocratic regime. Because an autocratic regime is morally and ethically bankrupt it requires to have a majority of the country to be morally and ethically bankrupt to justify the system. Do not expect corruption to subsidize in the next years. What the regime will do instead is to minimize the perception of corruption. Censorship? Tightening the inside control to force corrupt chavista to enjoy they larceny overseas instead of at home? Some way will be found but corruption as a tool to control the country, and the private sector of the economy is a given. After all the beauty of corruption is that both parts must remain silent about it: when it unravels no one knows who will end up in jail.

Now the question is, under such administrative burdens, under their ever expanding reach, under a regime which has stopped for many years to offer a stable judicial system to investors, who will come to invest in Venezuela? The answer is probably that the government does not wish to have capitalist investors if it can help it. And if the economic prosperity of the country must suffer on the long term, well, it does not matter as long as the new Bolivarian man comes into existence. That man might be poor, wretched, without ethics or morals, but he will be chavista or will at least understand that there is nothing outside of Chavez sphere.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (part 2: a brave new Venezuela)

Once the new leaders and new speech are starting to come forward, it is also time to create the new country and educate its people as to the new thought standard. This must be done on several fronts. Rewriting the past makes the present look less of a perversion. Changing the power structure of the country makes it more disperse and more dependent of the central power. Educating the young with revolutionary precepts should ensure the long term stability of the ideological regime. It has all been tried before, it has failed everywhere, but it will be tried again by people unable to understand history and the human nature that shapes it.

The new country

This is rather easy to explain: a revolution must bring changes and what could be easier to do to convey the impression of change but to change the internal borders. This artifact has been employed from the extreme right to the extreme left with some success, at least at first.

One of the questions that were left unresolved from the 1999 constitutional assembly was the geographical repartition of Venezuela. For example there was the major administrative problem of Caracas: with a third of the population of the country the city sprawls over two states and a federal district. That was not settled, the constitution leaving an ersatz called “cabildo metropolitano” who far from solving problems in fact allowed for a further atomization of Caracas administration. There were also some significant imprecision in the borders between states that could have been settled once and for all. Unfortunately the new constitution did not bother about settling those disputes and did not even tried to create a mechanism to do so. There was also the rather chaotic municipal distribution where some states (Tachira) have a plethora of small and inefficient municipal councils when compared to monstrosities such as the Irribaren district of Barquisimeto or the Libertador of Caracas.

There were two reasons for the less than august constitutional assembly to ignore such important matters. The first set of explanations is that its objective was to ensure immediate presidential reelection, extension to a 6 years term and control on the judiciary. The second reality that made the assembly desist of territorial redrawing at the time was the existence of strong local feeling (Caracas and Zulia in particular). Considering that then the distribution of popular support for chavismo was far from established, it was advisable to postpone any intervention in redefining regions.

But now that the basic political objectives of Chavez have been reached and that Zulia was able to mount a strong offensive against Chavez last year, it is time to disrupt this network of local loyalties which is what makes the cultural wealth of a nation. Cultural wealth is of course anathema to socialism as it is understood in Cuba or the Soviet Union where all men are equal in language and culture and where remains of original local traditions are only dusted for show to the outside world when not banned outward as a form of capitalist exploitation. When all are equal and think equally, what use is it to have regional variations?

The official project has not been introduced yet but it is quite explicit in the “five motors of the socialist revolution” that supposedly started December 4 2006. There is open talk of redrawing border districts and even getting rid of governors and possibly mayors. Now the basic popular district will deal directly with Caracas. Chavismo without any sense of ridicule, without any shame, ignoring all of human history, pretends to present this as the ultimate decentralization of power when we all know that it is the ultimate form of centralization: all connected to the great leader, and thus all dependent on him!

At any rate, the final project might take years to clearly apply but in the very near future expect that the first districts to be redrawn and gerrymandered will be those where the opposition still has some strength. These mini bastions will be diluted as needed and local leadership clearly erased as its power base will be disrupted in any possible way.

The new power structure

The tool to redraw the map of Venezuela has been set: popular participation through communal councils. All is vague but what is not vague is the atomization sought through them. How will this operate? Well, let say that San Felipe is redrawn. Thus the city which has an electoral population of roughly 35 000 will be divided in “consejos comunales” that will have from 1000 to 5000 participants (I am assuming such numbers as there is notable lack of precision, the only thing we are certain is that these new councils will rule).

Roughly these councils would gather to decide such things as which school will be renovated first, or which street needs to be batched. The inter neighborhood decisions concerning such matters as local hospitals or campuses will still be left to some town hall or state system, but the objective is that eventually all decision power will be shared between the local councils and the central government who will allocate money to feasible projects. The people supposedly will decide which contractors will be hired and will supervise the correct pursuit of contracts.

All very obviously confusing since from the start it is very difficult to see who will decide when there is a conflict between a certain district and the central administration. But still, one could conceive of systems to solve such situations: maybe the leaders of individual councils could gather in special assemblies? Referendums could become a frequent occurrence?

But that is not at all the objective sought by the government: these councils will in fact be controlled tightly by chavista agents, and when that cannot be obtained, the recalcitrant councils will be easily quarantined. How will this happen?

To begin with there is the participation problem. Chavismo has been the great beneficiary of abstention, no matter what some sectors of the opposition might claim. The less the people participate the more chavismo will control the situation. In a country where life conditions are everyday more and more difficult from the high crime rate to deficient public services, folks will simply do not have time to attend the constant flow of meetings that the new system will require. If you have no town hall, then the people are the ones who must debate since you cannot even hire someone to do the job for you. Only those in the public administration will have the time, and the duty, to be regulars to these meetings and slowly but surely will impose their ways.

But let’s assume that indeed many do show up. Then there is the second secret weapon for chavismo: open air democracy. See, the debates will be carried supposedly among neighbors and supposedly for the sake of convenience voting with raised hands will be a frequent occurrence, when not the norm. When there is a chavista governmental representative attending and suggesting (implying?) that the government would like a given project to include or exclude this and that who will dare to vote against? See, after the Tascon List this type of situation is one that most Venezuelans are weary of. At these assemblies it will be incredibly easy for the government to label friends and foes. In districts were chavismo is a weak majority or even a strong minority, the exercise of this “popular” democracy will ensure that chavismo will become quickly a strong majority.

Certainly if the CNE were to do its duty and if any communal vote had to be through secret ballots maybe the debate might not affect the community since the leaders of each side should present their arguments as in any normal democracy, people deciding then according to their interests and conscience in the privacy of the poll both. But the CNE has neither the man power nor the will to control all garbage collection votes of the country. Soon the tendency will be toward raised hand voting and democracy will be gone.

As for the opposition districts? Well, a few will remain, those where the opposition represents at the very least 60% of the voters. These districts will certainly not account for the 37% who voted against Chavez, but more likely will represent at the very most 20% of the population of Venezuela. They will be limited in the resources received as a major pressure tool from the central autocracy. And they will be the last remaining fig leave to show that Venezuela is still a democracy. But the best part for chavismo is that these districts will be too weakened to be able to generate an opposition leadership that could one day successfully challenge the establishment. Or so they will hope anyway.

The new history of Venezuela: passing the message

Last but not least there is an element that could either be included into the creation of the new Venezuelan man, or in the new power and territorial distribution: it is rewriting history and rewriting the educational system. This is a much more nebulous area than the ones described above. But the evidence is already there. It is fit to include it here since it is a tool under creation for future usage. Also, there is the necessary corollary, the need to control better the freedom of expression left so that no counter message may reach the lower classes upon which the glorious revolution is based.

Rewriting history

This can be seen everyday; it is obvious to any semi informed observer. Hugo Chavez is diligent in reinterpreting what Bolivar did and meant. Now this oligarchy scion of the Venezuelan colonial elite, this son of the enlightenment is fast becoming some “mestizo” who was socialist before Marx and Engels. I will not offend the leader intelligence discussing the intellectual implications of such “desproposito” (Out of subject? Incoherence?).

But this is not enough. For eight years Chavez has been trying to inject to the Bolivarian heritage, made revolution, all sorts of anachronistic ideas. The indigestible hodgepodge he is creating is starting to affect the country psyche, and even Chavez’s one. So he has decided to push forwards and settle on his own what is true of false, a new Trofim Lysenko of the historical academy this time. Thus he determined on his own the Venezuelan flag, changed the coat or arms, revisited Zamora impact, pondered Miranda role, meditated which are the real borders of the country (meaning that he keeps dreaming of a new Gran Colombia), decided who are the heroes and villains at any historical moment, etc… And this is about to be enshrined in the new Bolivarian education.

The new school curriculum

It is obvious that to make all these untrue asseverations and opinions of the new Conducator, Chavez needs to rewrite Venezuelan education, in a way that slowly but surely the volk will agree with its Supremo. But this not as easy as it might seem: parents might be very willing to vote for Chavez to keep their governmental job or privileges, but when brain washing starts at school it might become another story. The government has realized this quite well, to the point that the only big item that was left out of the enabling law was the never ending discussion of the new education law.

But it is a priority of the government. Taking over private education and independent public universities is a must for the regime. Private education is an obvious target for any autocracy as private schools might be forced to follow the official curriculum but can interpret the ideology as they please to dampen the effect of the official garbage, and even add additional course to undo any brain damage.

The attack on higher education is more visible. Right now several measures have already been taken such as creation of deficient new higher education organizations who are nothing more than political education centers that will grant deficient degrees that will not be marketable on the private sector market and thus will doom its graduates to keep bloating the new bureaucratic caste in Venezuela. Such a caste will depend more than ever on Chavez for its relevance.

But perhaps independent universities are even more of a target for chavismo. It remains a fact that in internal elections within these few privileged campus chavismo candidates or propositions have always failed, and most of the time miserably. It is a fact of life in Venezuela that the intellectual elite of the country, as meager as this one might be, has become overwhelmingly anti Chavez, and will remain even more so as autocracy rears its ugly head. The autonomy of these universities is threatened and it is just a matter of time until the old campuses of Venezuela will be taken over. Within a year or two it is quite possible that the only independent universities remaining will be the Jesuit colleges (UCAB) or the Metropolitana in Caracas. All the other campuses will have rectors imposed by the regime with the consequences that we can all foresee clearly.

Unless of course people awaken to the threat.

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PS: Controlling the media

I am adding this as foot note because that process had already started before 2006. With the infamous Ley RESORTE the government has already obtained a very significant self censorship in the broadcast media. Major opposition journalists have been evicted from their talk show on Televen and Venevision who have become "neutral" TV stations. Provincial radio, heavily dependent on governemtal advertisement are all but neutralized or gone to the dark side. Only the press is still free and lively (though not as vigourous as it used to be as they exert some discrete self imposed restraint).

But now the government has announced that it will push up the ante. To begin with there will be massive investment in media. CMT, a local Caracas TV station was bought by a chavista business group. Purchase of local radio stations will keep apace. New TV stations are promised, all run by the governemt or local allies. Andres Izarra of Telesur was verty explicit when he declared that the message of the government must be intense and reach everywhere, overwhelming any counter message that might appear (stopping short of shutting the anti message?).

The new intensification of the media wars was the announcement that RCTV, the venerable TV station that survived all sorts of political abuses in the past will be shut. The reasons are strictly political, strictly because Chavez said so as there is no legal basis to even start a punitive action! But it is also a test to see how the international community reacts. If we only see weak complaints you can be certain that Globovision will be next in line.

And then we will have only newspapers left. However self censorhip is easy to establish there: you can fine journalists for all sorts of minor faults, you can send the SENIAT on a regular basis, you can limit acces to controlled dollars to buy printing paper, etc... Chavismo has never lacked creativity when it needs to harass whomever disagrees...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Venezuelan autocracy: building it up (part 1: rulers and ruling methods)

It has come to the attention of some international observers that Chavez is starting to act less and less democratically. Apparently they have been surprised by some recent measures since he got reelected; surprised that Chavez is not acting like, say, a reelected European Social Democratic Prime Minister. Of course, had they been reading blogs they might have known better for a long time. But I do not mean to be sarcastic; in fact this new awareness about the dark side of chavismo is also a reflection on how the regime speeding up the transformation of Venezuelan society towards something dark and unpleasant affects its image, finally. It is now obvious enough that even the recalcitrant Panglossian crowd is starting to raise an eyebrow.

But is there anything really knew? After all since 1999 Chavez has been diligently subverting the established order, but more than constructing a new one he has made sure that no new order could raise against himself. Ergo the crux of the matter: before discussing what has been going on this past couple of month it is important to realize that the only objective of Chavez is to remain in office for life. That he uses a leftist rhetoric, that he might pretend to care about the people, that he has been trying to blame all the evils of the world on the US are only accessories, only tools to reach his real goal: Hugo the Great, king of Venezuela and the surrounding lands.

Now, once the reader has internalized this mere statement of fact about the motivation of Chavez, we can start look at some of the items that have been taken place since December 3, 2006. What has been taken place before can be quickly summarized: absolute control on the judiciary branch of government; control and manipulation of the electoral system; control on the immense majority of local executive offices; control of the legislative; control on the financing sources of the government; removal of any check and balances; removal of any financial scrutiny. All of these were necessary to achieve before starting the next wave described next.

The enabling law

This was the first great perversion of Venezuelan traditions that Chavez grabbed on his way to his autocracy. In the past, incoming *NEW* administrations (emphasis on purpose), could be granted a special enabling law that would allow them to publish decrees with the force of laws on some specified subject matters. The frame was usually restricted to some financial and social areas, limited in time to at most 6 months, justified by some social or economical problems debated during the electoral campaign, with of course the parliament reserving its right to review anything it wished to reviewed after the fact. The government would at least benefit from a few month of application of the law before the parliament could go around such revision. There was also the possibility that a decree would be found unconstitutional by the courts and blocked. Whether these controls had been exerted in the pre-1999 years is irrelevant: they could have happened at least between 1958 and 1999. Today, what is relevant, is that such control mechanisms, as weak as they were, have completely stopped existing.

So we have assisted, speechless, to the spectacle of the Venezuelan Parliament, bending over backward to grant an enabling law to Chavez, a law that will last an amazing 18 months, a law that will cover almost all fields, a law that will even cover structural affairs normally reserved to parliament where they must be voted by 2/3 majority. Not that this last one condition mattered, Chavez disposes of 100% of the parliament good will.

What is truly impressive in this whole exercise is the willingness that the Venezuelan parliament has shown to declare itself useless, not even a toy of the executive power. Not only there was no political crisis to justify such an enabling law, but the 100% majority of the parliament ensures that any law would pass as fast as assembly folks could manage to go to raise their hand at the old Congress building.

No. What Chavez wanted to demonstrate by obtaining an unnecessary and dangerous law, was to show to the world that he is the boss, that his 63% score is his and his alone and that the people voted for him for that, for such abuse, that the new Venezuela is circumscribed now to the 63% that elected him dictator, that the 37% on the other side count for nothing. A brutish show of strength.

Which leads us to the next item in the agenda

The new Venezuelan

Authoritarian regimes do need a popular base.

Sometime they are brought to power by such a base. Fujimori or Chavez, and even Peron up to a point, can claim to have been brought to power through real elections, even if they subverted electoral processes after the day.

Sometime they create it after the fact. Thus did Hitler who reached power with barely 40% of the German people but who managed quickly through an enabling law (Ermächtigungsgesetz) to occupy the field and “unite” the country as a whole where whoever was not in agreement would find its way soon to some concentration camp.

Sometime they pretend consensus existed all along and they do not ever even bother with an election, as is the case of Cuba.

But all in all such regimes tend to want to create the “new man”. For Venezuela the process has already started. Chavismo has been busy at trying to create that new Venezuelan man. That it has not yet quite succeeded is more due to the sheer administrative incompetence of chavismo in general, only able to reach political goals and little else. But the notable fact is that they are trying very hard to “reeducate” the masses to the changing values of the Bolivarian revolution, values still today not quite sharp in the collective psyche. This is due to Chavez difficulties in forging a coherent system. The fact of the matter is that we are in the XXI century and too many Venezuelans have traveled to Miami, too many receive Direct TV at home, too many hang out at cyber cafes. We are not anymore in 1933 or 1958, it is much more difficult to create a mass hysteria than before, the more so when a culture is as hedonistic as the Venezuelan is. But chavismo keeps trying and that is what should worry all of us. And some success can be seen.

You can find an example in a post a few days ago where you an observe all the holders of the principal so called powers of the republic chanting the national anthem in unison to the glory of Chavez 1992 military coup. These pseudo public servants have lost any of their self and now are willful collaborators, or should I say enablers, of the regime. You must first create a caste of lackeys before you can have them transform the volk into whatever you want them to be.

But you can also see it in the language employed by the regime: the chavismo speak is heavy and cumbersome, full of empty words. It is a deliberate strategy of people who seem to have read Orwell (but probably do not even know of the man) and applied his lessons to the letter, even if Orwell denounced that word warfare. Sometime you must listen two or three times to a public servant speech until you realize what he is talking about: but chavistas understand at the first go. It is silly people like me who think that words have a meaning and a purpose who stay behind, perplexed by the revolutionary syntax.

This even affect how news are reported these days, where provincial journalists do not have the stamina to maintain their rank as Caracas journalists still can. Chavismo feeds on mediocrity of course. Let me give you an example of today local paper, a newspaper that used to be an opposition rag in Yaracuy. Refering to a group of chavista “young leaders” the reporting goes as follow (I am not making this up):
Spokespersons of the different sectors of the revolutionary youth in Yaracuy, as they took position over the creation of a Unique Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), qualified it as an extraordinary idea that will imply the union of all the revolutionaries in a monolithic force to strengthen the process that is developing in Venezuela and make reality the bolivarian socialism. [list of names] who in this direction raise their voices to make it known to public opinion their categorical support to this proposal and their commitment to work without pause toward the conformation of the PSUV from the very basis of the Venezuelan people, guarantying the birth of new leaderships for the direction of new bolivarian process and that this one may deepen the changes required in Yaracuy. [actual quote] “we free ourselves from ties and we have recovered our legitimate space and the vanguard that was ours in this historical moment that the Republic lives, just as our precursors and makers of the fatherland did at the battle of La Victoria. Only thus we will fulfill with the authentic bolivarian socialism of the XXI century with the participation of the people”.

If you needed to catch your breath more than once, and read the stuff more than once, you were not alone.

But most of all you find that the regime is advancing in the creation of the new Venezuelan man when you see the result of the December 3 election. The Venezuelan people have voted in full knowledge for a dictator, or at the very least for a strong state that will solve their problems. Manuel Caballero had no qualms in saying it: the Venezuelan people voted for a dictator, for the guy who is perceived as the only one to eventually someday might solve some of their problems through the sate. In voting such the Venezuelans who voted for Chavez have surrendered any personal belief that their future might in part depend on their work and initiative. They do not mind a regime that has no problem in promoting exclusion of groups, be it through fascist instruments such as the Tascon list or promoting a reverse racism that has no deep roots in the Venezuelan psyche where foreigners, slaves, natives and conquistadores mixed better than anywhere else in the Spanish empire. Oh yes, it is still discrete, very Politically Correct in a tropical way, the tough words are not easily pronounced. Itt bears repeating, we are in the Internet era. But the language has been set, the targets pointed, the people have agreed. It is only a matter of time until acts are perpetrated on a large scale.

The new leadership

Through 8 years of rule Chavez, helped largely with his Cuban advisors, has had plenty of time to decant the alluvial crowd that joined him at first. Many of the 1999 luminaries are now long forgotten, or have renounced to any self project and personality. Now there is a class of executants (hired guns? Tueurs á gages?) who has emerged and who have formed last January the first truly chavista cabinet.

Should we start with the portrait of Nicolas Maduro, a lousy labor activist in Caracas subway, ill prepared, uncouth, who now directs the foreign policy of Venezuela for the only reason that he will say exactly what Chavez wants to be said in international forums?

Should we mention the first communist party member to exercise an important cabinet position where he will decide how the famous “popular power” will be activated? Should we mention that this guy did not even manage to finish his college degree in a university where you are not required to be a luminary to graduate?

Should we mention Pedro Carreño, a Chavez childhood pal and confident who has been named to preside all of the Venezuelan security apparatus? Is it necessary to remind folks that Carreño, with a straight face announced to the country that Direct TV was filming people’s home through the decoder? Who swore that Peruvian security folks told him that Montesinos was dead when he was hiding inside Venezuela not even a mile away from where Carreño worked then? All of these errors would have been in good fun if Carreño at some point had said at least” ooops! My bad!”. But he remains unrepentant.

All of these people are killers. Not necessarily real live killers, but they certainly have no moral or ethics themselves and thus have no problem in morally assassinating anyone in the country. Having no self respect, no shame, no ethics, they will go and destroy anyone’s reputation as needed. They can also destroy the livelihood of those who they dislike, and who knows, maybe one day go even further.

Actually we even have a poster boy for this new type of scum leadership that graces now the front pages of the newspapers. The new vice president is the epitome of that new chavista man. His background is quite simple: he is the son of an assassinated opponent to AD. But unlike folks who rose above personal outrage and hurt to rule for the better good of the country, Jorge Rodriguez is an unreconstructed “resentido social”. As such, his career is exclusively dedicated to revenge from an old order who if it killed his father still allowed him to get an education and allowed his boss to become elected president in the last clean elections of our history, those of 1998.

Jorge Rodriguez was plucked from obscurity (as a public servant inherited from the preceding Caldera administration). He is a psychiatrist by trade, a psychiatrist of the school of Hannibal Lecter. Since Chavez promoted him to direct the Electoral Council of Venezuela, his sole vocation has been to make sure that his boss would not lose a single election, helping along the way to the destruction of any democratic opponent, going as far as qualifying of “pillos”, bandits, those who had dared to gather Recall Election signatures. Now as a reward, he has risen from the position where the most impartiality was required to the one where the most obscene partiality is required: vice president of a regime. This blog does not use direct insults as not conducting to debate, but on occasion a strong qualifying word can be of use. There is a good US slang term that describes perfectly what Rodriguez is: sick fuck.

As a side comment, if anyone has a doubt that there was some electoral fraud in august 2004 (and the preceding months during the traumatic signature collection) that doubt should be erased. Had Jorge Rodriguez be a decent and honest man he would not have accepted the job of Vice President considering the responsibilities he used to have. An ambassadorship, even a technical cabinet position would have sufficed. But Rodriguez has also the default of the new chavista man, the hubris suffered by the people who could never get high profile on their own. When one above them brings them out of their mediocrity, they somehow think that they have something to do with that happy occurrence (sarcasm intended). Besides a resentment nourished thirst for power, Rodriguez is falling into the hubris that people might also love him. As he tries to build his own base, he will court his own destruction from the great Conducator. But then again the new chavista man is generally unable to access this gnosis.

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The cast of characters is set and their tools established. Now we must examine how these actors are modifying the country.