Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Halloween agreement in Honduras

The agreement signed in Honduras yesterday is conveniently close to Halloween, a weird omen about its effectiveness and who might win the battle in the end. It is not just a matter of disguise as a Venetian Carnival would have been. In Honduras the threat of further violence and terror exists behind the continuous masquerade where all know what is at stake but where few dare to say it aloud. Freddy would have a field day playing the different inner terror of these people.

We have several pieces that try to explain what the agreement is. The Wall Street Journal titles Honduras 1, Hillary 0. Besides the note that it givers us our third capital H for the day it would seem that the WSJ is betting on the Micheletti combo to carry the day. They do have a point: the Us indeed wants this masquerade out and is indirectly acknowledging that for 4 months the Micheletti administration has been paying the bills and pushing forward the election. The Zelaya camp besides its clownesque discredit has been sabotaging elections instead of trying to take an active role in them and building for the future, which must be reminded is less than 3-4 years from now, less than the duration of a presidential term.

I am not so sure. Zelaya, or Roldos, or another will have the financial backing of Chavez, the implicit support of Brazil if Lula manages to decide who succeeds him, the complacency of the US, the intrigues of Insulza, etc, etc.... In other words, Honduras is far from having escaped the Chavez communism curse (Chavez himself in a lapsus brutis used the term communism to qualify his pseudo socialism of the XXI century).

The Washington Post has a more complete article and a more skeptical one as to who is in the winning seat. It would be all fine if they had charged the beginning of the crisis at Zelaya's attempt at unconstitutionally changing the constitution rather than the fact of the military putting him in pajamas in an airplane. But certain patterns of guilt attribution seem hard to break no matter how much evidence is brought forth.

Curiously in its editorial the Washington Post is way more sanguine than its article. For them, it is OK to sub-title "How the Obama administration outmaneuvered Hugo Chavez". True, on paper Zelaya gets to return, maybe, to his old job but in a much weakened position, a true lame duck presidency while free and recognized elections can now be held. If the turnout is above 60% this would guarantee final proof that Honduras never supported Zelaya's plan to create his own version of presidency for life. The flaw here is that it all depends on how much the US is willing to bend its muscle to enforce the deal. We might expect in the US favor that Lula, having understood the image damage he did by accepting on his own Zelaya in Brazil's embassy, might consider now that supporting the US here and telling Chavez to back off would be in fact a nice touch for Lula to end his presidency with more of a statesman image. That would explain why Chavez is using his trade mark "por ahora" about Zelaya, understanding that for the time being he cannot do anything further in Honduras. "For the time being", it must be underlined.

The New York Times looks more at the strong arms tactics need by the US to reach an agreement. If the WSJ journal took this allegedly forceful attitude as a way out for the US, the Times is somewhat more positive. though there is a slight pro Zelaya aroma that comes out of the article. The NYT, it must be noted, did not worry as much about the hand of Chavez in the continuous whole story, almost contenting itself in making the Honduras crisis a classical banana republic tale. Today we must note this sentence "But hundreds of millions of dollars in American humanitarian assistance continued to flow" making one wonder whether the NYT journalists would have liked to see more misery in the streets of Honduras... Makes you wonder if they ever called Caracas correspondent Simon Romero to check about the bounties of XXI century socialo/communism...

I am not too sure what to think of this agreement. First, for the Micheletti side to sign, no matter how much pressure Hillary put on them, it must mean that they have a fair sense that they can prevail in the end. After all hurricane season is nearly over an Honduras was spared this year, giving less opportunity for chaos which would have favored the Zelaya side. Second, they got what they wanted, elections at the end of the month with Zelaya out long enough to cease being a major destructive influence on the democratic process. Third, having removed Zelaya for so long allowed the transition government to purge or neutralize the local administration of the worse pro Chavez agents: Zelaya will have a hard time putting them back in charge, in particular if the president elect gets a good share of the electorate and if the runner up recognizes the victory without ambiguity.

Indeed, Zelaya might be so weakened now, equally from the corset about to be set up on him as well as his ridiculous handling of the situation, that the Micheletti camp might feel it worth to take the risk of bringing him back in office, to politically finish him up once and for all. There is also the possibility that Zelaya knows his days are over and he will accept to play the game so as to bring back into Honduras people like Patricia Rodas and pass the baton to them. By coming back even as a figurehead, even for only three months, Zelaya ensure his presidential pension, his retirement on his Honduras land and maybe not a too awful position in Honduras history books.

But in such an aleatory situation one never knows what surprises are in store. So let's wait to see first whether the Honduras congress will vote the agreement, the first mine field to cross. It will take at least a week or two, but no more because they need international observers for the elections. That is the final goal after all for the Micheletti people: reach a recognized election result.

-The end-

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Chavez never did

I have long ago stopped economic posts because, well, Miguel and Quico take care of this much better than what I could do. But that I took upon other tasks such as electoral analysis does not stop me from on occasion point out to the essential.

The New York Times carries today an article on how Michelle Bachelet was able to turn around a presidency that started very shakily into a 70% favorable popularity opinion a few months before she leaves office. Why? How?

Very simple: when copper prices were high during the commodities boom that lasted until the mid of last year, she set aside a large portion of the income for rainy days.

What is notable is that her administration managed to place in sovereign funds 20 billion USD. If to this you add that Chile is an export driven economy fueled by agriculture added value products (wine comes to mind and summer fruits in the US during its winter) you can understand that when the crisis came Chile indeed suffered, but not as much as other countries. Today Chile is hoping to get back next year into the 5% growth range, which is enough to finish to pull it off third world status very soon, and certainly earlier than any South American country. Some people might argue that Chile is already out of this category but it is not as its technological sector is not quit there yet, as well as its per capita GNP. Also Chile is still vulnerable to political adventurers such as the growth in polls of Enriquez-Ominami whose changing positions and media based program makes me nickname him Origami as a more appropriate name for an all show, no substance politician.

In short, Bachelet did all that Chavez did not want to do and as such she is high in polls just as Chavez is finally starting his long overdue slide into polling inferno.

Think about for a second: just out of copper Chile managed to save 20 billion, a commodity that does not compare whatsoever with oil. Had Chavez been a little bit more careful, imagine how much he could have actually placed in sovereign bonds without much trouble. 40? 60? 100? billions and with less effort than what surely had to do so create this piggy bank. Even more telling is that Chile today is a net creditor just as Venezuela is issuing yet another set of questionable bond issues, increasing dangerously its debt burden.

But what is even less forgivable when we look at Chavez balance is that he has damaged so much the Venezuelan productive apparatus, in particular agriculture, that now 95% of our exports are oil, and we import at least half of our food. It bears to recall that in Venezuela agriculture should be easier than in Chile since with adequate irrigation it could provide for year round production of some items. Nobody, in an oil producing country , is expecting that we export more food than what we import, but we could at least demand that we do not eat our oil, literally. You know where the oil money spent on food ends, do you?

The final irony here is that as we, an energy rich country, are facing major power blackouts for the next few years, Chile, an energy poor country, announces that its electricity output went up by 2% over the last 12 months.

-The end-

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nicaragua-Honduras: when blogs go fast

A WSJ editorial FINALLY writes what I wrote almost a week ago, that the judicial coup in Nicaragua was a vindication of what the Micheletti group did in Honduras three months ago. It is not really that I might be smarter than the WSJ, or that blogging is faster, it is simply a matter of logic: all gang up on Honduras and yet Ortega did the same shit, at least on a legal point of view, and nobody at the OAS has said anything.

Each day the OAS keeps sinking in deeper opprobrium. And the US plays along, not always but way, way too often.

-The end-

My little bit to help Honduras

Over there they are interested is seeing what they might have escaped from. Please, visit la Gringa and thank her for having forced me to work extra this week end.

-The end-

Presidential budget in Venezuela

I was meaning to write about it but in France Center left paper Le Monde beat me to it.

In next year budget, the Miraflores Palace budget increases by, hold yourself tight, 638%!

Meanwhile the education budget goes down, but the weapon purchase budget seems to make it out OK.

Economic crisis Chavez style. Close to delirium as they stop any pretense.....

Meanwhile the word, astounded, observes the Mugabization of Venezuela.

UPDATE: some of you complain that I am forcing you to read French. Fear not, El Pais of Madrid also notices the immoral budget increase for Chavez own needs. In Spanish. The author, Maye Primera, takes an exquisite pleasure at contrasting the "3 minute shower" speech of Chavez with the reality of his budget asking 84,000 USD of toiletries. I suppose that amount will include "dry shampoo"?

-The end-

Monday, October 26, 2009

They all knew about electrical woes for at least 7 years

I am not going to translate it, no time today but below you can read in Spanish the Tal Cual article that explains how the government knew about the coming electrical crisis since at least 2002, and even before had they been paying attention. There is ONLY one guilty party for the current energy mess and it is Hugo Chavez.


Edelca advirtió la crisis

El presidente Hugo Chávez y sus ministros de economía conocieron todos y cada uno de los informes sobre una inminente crisis eléctrica en el país

Damián Prat, Guayana

L eer y analizar los informes de los ingenieros de Edelca ­que nos muestra el ex gobernador Andrés Velásquez- hechos en 2002 advirtiendo lo que ocurriría "entre 2009 y 2010" de no tomarse las medidas adecuadas junto con hacer un plan de inversiones que ellos detallaron, es comprender la causa de la actual crisis de energía eléctrica.

Mas claro si se consultan dos informes de los ingenieros de Cadafe. Uno de 1997 y otro de 1999 ya con Chávez en el gobierno.

Sin ser la empresa especialista hay un cuarto informe, de un equipo profesional de Bauxilum, también de 2002 y 2003, que ofrece parecidos análisis y conclusiones semejantes.

Todo estaba dicho. Nada quedó sin analizarse. Casa cosa estaba prevista sin tratarse de predicciones de brujo, sino análisis con la experticia profesional y usando los datos y estudios de años.

La Venezuela que comenzaba a ser gobernada por Chávez usaba la colosal inversión en hidroelectricidad, transmisión y distribución de energía hecha en continuidad administrativa por ocho gobiernos anteriores junto con la de empresas privadas como La Electricidad de Caracas.

Y disponía de siete años para continuar la línea de desarrollo en inversiones a fin de no romper el equilibrio entre la oferta de energía de origen hidroeléctrica y la térmica, así como para evitar que los requerimientos de energía no tuvieran respuesta en la disponibilidad de la misma con el margen suficiente hasta para cubrir "años malos" por sequías.

El presidente Hugo Chávez conoció todos y cada uno de esos informes. Todos llegaron a sus manos y a las de los de sus ministros de la economía, los presidentes de CVG, Pdvsa, los de Edelca y mas recientemente al de Corpoelec.

Es mas, ocasionalmente, Chávez se refería a algunos de esos proyectos cuando hacía promesas dominicales, lanzando discursos gradielocuentes o colocaba "piedras fundacionales". Lo que estaba era relatando los proyectos de aquellas listas, pero aderezándolos con su verbo, como si fuesen "ideas nuevas".

La recuperación de Planta Centro, las nuevas de EDC y de Oriente, las dos hidroeléctricas de Los Andes y Centro Occidente, la ampliación completa de Enelven en Zulia, entre otras.

Chávez y los jerarcas de su gobierno siempre supieron -durante los últimos siete años- que ese plan de inversiones en plantas termoeléctricas, unas para recuperarlas y otras para sumarlas a las existentes era indispensable o habría crisis "entre 2009 y 2010".

Y que el sistema de líneas de 800 y 400 kv que llevan la energía desde Guayana a toda Venezuela debía seguir creciendo ­nunca paralizarse como ocurrió en este septenio- para adaptarse al crecimiento.

SIEMPRE LO SUPO TODO
Dinero jamás le faltó pues justamente ese período fue el de la mayor bonanza de ingresos petroleros de nuestra historia. Poder político e institucional tampoco era problema. Todos los poderes e instituciones han estado en sus manos obedientemente.

Y sin embargo, al día de hoy, transcurridos esos siete años, estamos en la más profunda crisis de energía eléctrica de nuestra historia moderna.

Muy poco de aquel plan de inversiones se ejecutó. Casi nada.

Lo más relevante fue que no "inventó" con Edelca en los primeros años y las obras de Caruachi continuaron y su gobierno las concluyó.

Muchos proyectos ni siquiera se iniciaron. Ni en las termoeléctricas destinadas a ser recuperadas ni en las nuevas. De Planta Centro apenas funciona a medias uno de cinco generadores. Tampoco en los sistemas de transmisión. Peor aún, se le metió "plomo en el ala" a la otrora eficiente Edelca al partidizarla y luego al quitarle toda su autonomía, tras centralizar en la burocrática Corpoelec.

Por eso está Guri, por vez primera en su historia, con seis de sus 20 unidades generadoras paralizadas.

Por eso anda Planta Centro más "en el suelo" que nunca, con una sola unidad funcionando a medias y las otras cuatro paradas.

Estatizada EDC, se paralizaron las inversiones en la nueva termoeléctrica de esa empresa que debía sumarse a Tacoa.

Por eso ahora Chávez hace discursos y "cadenas" tratando de "inventar un enemigo" y desviar las culpas hacia "el Sambil y los Malls" (que en realidad gastan apenas el 0.3% del déficit actual) o hacia "el derroche de los venezolanos". Para tratar de ocultar sus propias culpas.

Por eso estamos "de apagón en alumbrón" en medio país y el gobierno imponiendo un plan de reducción de la demanda, que incluye arruinar más a Sidor recortando las horas de uso de sus hornos eléctricos y manteniendo en la ruina a las destartaladas empresas del aluminio dejando sin reparar sus más de 300 celdas de reducción de aluminio dañadas para que no consuman.

"Chávez no puede pretender hacerle creer al país que el problema es el despilfarro en lugar de confesar la verdad: el problema está en la desinversión de su gobierno en la generación de energía", remata Andrés Velásquez.

"El tiene que responder por los serios daños colaterales a la calidad de vida de las personas por el racionamiento residencial y al comercio. Los serios daños a la industria estatal y a la privada. En nuestras cuentas se han regalado unos 47 mil millones de dólares en el exterior. Con menos de un tercio de eso se habrían hecho todas las inversiones eléctricas y mas", señala mostrando los informes.

Y finaliza: "incluso el proyecto Tocoma ­con todo y ser financiado por el BID- tiene retraso de al menos dos años".

-The end-

Chavez busy solving the electricty problem

It seems that chavista pollsters must be reading the numbers right and that is sending Chavez into a flurry of activity so as to appear to do something about it, trying desperately to dispel the reality that in ten years he has done near zilch to plan the energetic future of the country. Along the way his true egotistical self shows plenty opportunities to show off, while he accumulates dangerous lapsus brutis.

It all started into his now customary cabinet meeting live on TV, and sometimes even on cadena. You need to understand first that a live cabinet meeting is not a working reunion: ministers spend several hours listening to Chavez rants, leavened occasionally by the scolding to one of their lot. The scolded idiot nods with his or her head, sure that he will handsomely rewarded for allowing the beloved leader humiliate him in public.

The cabinet reunion as usual was extremely useful for the well being of the country: Chavez explained to us that we needed to take only three minutes showers, that we had no need for hot water, and that he was creating a new ministry for electricity. You can see it for yourself in several Youtube videos, in particular this one below. As a bonus you get the lapsus bruti of an unhinged Chavez admitting that that his socialism of the XXI century is nothing else than disguised communism.



But apparently this was not enough. TV luminaries interpreted this scene justly as a mockery of the people, so Chavez had to change his discourse and find someone to blame for the power outages. Today in his Alo Presidente it was the Sambil Malls that consume too much electricity. They have been ordered to install their own electricity generation system because Chavez was going to cut their electricity supply.

What?

First of all, why blame the Sambil who actually offers a useful social function as being the only entertainment center for the masses, where rich and poor can go to walk around in a safe and cool AC space and eat some cheap junk food instead of daring the contaminated streets, where they can risk reckless drivers and out of control criminals! Why not close instead some of the government agency that produce nothing but hot air?

Second the biggest Sambil of them all is the one in Caracas. It was inaugurated, if memory does not fail me, in 1998. And certainly until at least 3 years ago there was no electrical outages that could be blamed on the mall.....

But you have to admire the bravado of Chavez, pointing at the Sambil windmills! He could not take down Colombia, he will take down the Sambils! Our hero!!!!!

Meanwhile, he, the socialist president of the masses is attacking the trade unions of the electrical sector who are claiming their due. He pretends that since we are in crisis they should put on hold their grievances. Eh? Is it their fault that Chavez has not invested in the electric sector? Are they to be blamed in the same breath as the Sambil? Oh, Lord! Give me strength!

But of course Chavez has never been a manager and he certainly cannot understand what the private sector knows very well: without motivated workers, you are not going to accomplish much.

If he is not a manager, that does not seem to have reached his mind and he also decided that he will be the national diet director. In addition of taking now the right to decide who can buy electricity and who cannot, Chavez also told us that we are getting fat, that now 14% of the people are obese. I suppose that for once, knowing that soon he will not be able to buy all the food he needs to buy he needs to have more folks eat less. Wise man, ain't he? Also, the less people eat the less use for a refrigerator and so more Watts saved!!!! Brilliant!

But there were other gems today. One was that the Colombian defense minister was accused of being a "retardado", that is, vulgarly, a retard. Except that in Venezuelan Spanish it should be "retrasado" instead of "retardado", a word that does not exist here but is used in Cuba. Decide by yourself whether this is yet another lapsus brutus.

That is our Chavez, in a single day battling all fronts, Sambil overconsumption, obesity, rice production in Apure, drug trafficking, murders on the border, Colombia, restless trade unions, and what not!!!! All of course with equal resounding success! I feel soooo safe!

-The end-

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday way off topic trivia

As some of you might remember I also hold a French passport. Thus I was drawn to this New York Times piece: Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt. Apparently the mythic feat so eloquently put in verse by The Bard , and splashed on a great movie by Kevin Branagh, was not so mythic. True, Henry V forces were outnumbered but by not such a wide gap. It seems that diligent post victory propaganda made sure that the feat was grander for the numbers gap than the French incoherence.

Interestingly in my French school days that huge number gap was kept, which I suppose is a consequence of being in the losing side where you have other more pressing business to attend than figuring whether the French outnumbered 1 to 2 or 1 to 5. Besides, even if Azincourt (the French spelling) is looked at badly as a humiliating day, it is always put into the context of the civil war starting then between "Armagnacs et Bourguignons". That civil war dynastic consequences would drag all the way until Louis XIV. Also in the French psyche of the 100 Years War that I was taught, the battles of Crecy won by Edward III and Poitiers won by the Black Prince 50 years earlier are considered more fateful and more humiliating than Azincourt. This because in each one of the them the king was involved while Agincourt is looked more upon as a mad dash of unruly aristocrats as king Charles VI was sinking into folly and thus absent from command. A true disaster for sure, but an additional one to Civil War and the Mad King.

The power of myth is indeed powerful and crosses cultural barriers, influencing even the defeated. Fidel Castro understands this very well, and it is certainly part of the reason why chavismo is so busy rewriting history: after a while people will think that chavista manuals are indeed historical.... Venezuelans will start beleiving crap like "dia de la resistencia indigena" and black Bolivar just as the French bought the propaganda so nicely put up by Shakespeare. Hey, I am French but the Henry V harangue is stirring no matter what!

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day

-The end-

Uruguay votes

I have kept a semi regular correspondence with a reader from Uruguay who kept me informed of what was going on there. So, who better to ask for a guest post on Uruguay?
-----------------------

Letter from Montevideo: What’s at stake this Sunday…


Montevideo – 23/10/09 - It’s Friday night and meteorology announces a red alert. As I write this, it rains hard and the wind blows heavily; I see thunder and lighting in the horizon. Somehow, it’s a perfect setting or symbolism for what we have been living these past months: a red alert, blackness and thunder, lots of thunder; lots of fireworks too, and no substance.

This Sunday Uruguay will vote for President, Vice-President, the General Assembly (30 senators and 99 National Representatives) and members of the 19 Electoral Juntas (one for each department) composed of 5 members each. Two plebiscites will also be voted: one to allow Uruguayan citizens abroad to vote by mail and another to annul the Amnesty Law to the Human Rights violators – the Armed Forces that perpetuated the Dictatorship in Uruguay from 1972 to 1985. Voting in Uruguay is compulsory.

There are five Presidential candidates and two favorites: José “Pepe” Mujica, the 74-year-old Senator from the Broad Front and fielded by the party in power, a Tupamaro guerilla in the 60’s.
The second favorite is Luis Alberto Lacalle of the Nationalistic White Party who was President of Uruguay from 1990-1995. Both candidates emerged from the internal elections carried out in June, when the people elected their favorite within each political party. In both cases, the extremes won. The moderate candidates, Danilo Astori, Minister of Economy of the present government and Jorge Larrañaga lost their chance in that election. Both are the vice-presidential candidates of Mujica and Lacalle respectively.

“Everyone thought then, that the clash between those two strong personalities, with sharp political profiles, experienced, and with a clear vision of the country they wanted was going to be a tough and controversial process”,
writes Tomas Linn in this week’s Búsqueda, a prestigious Uruguayan weekly newspaper. “However, it was not so”, he goes on. “The two candidates committed errors, had setbacks and deliberately blurred those visions. Mujica’s errors were bigger and more important. But Lacalle paid a higher price. And that can be explained: Mujica’s electorate tried to excuse his stumbles, while Lacalle’s could not conceal their distaste. This shows how different both electorates are”.

Those that do not belong to the undivided division that the Broad Front represents, don’t quite understand how the latest opinion polls do not reflect a downslide of Mujica’s numbers. A month ago the country was shocked with two “pieces” by this candidate. An interview with the Argentinean newspaper La Nación in which he declares “to be against government intervention in the economy, argues that ‘justice is vengeance’ and what matters are the human rights of the living, praises Brazil’s Lula da Silva negotiating skills, admits not understanding the political ideology of the Kirchner couple, loathes bureaucracy and apologizes for having condemned Uruguay to live under a military dictatorship” (a summary of sorts here).

The irony is that among the Uruguayan youth, the Tupamaros
have created the myth that they fought against a dictatorship, not a government elected democratically. He says in Argentina that he is against government intervention in the economy, but here he says that he wants the workers to manage the factories, but not to become Capitalists”. He also says that the State should own all land, but denies having said it the next time. And last but not least, he wants a Constitutional Assembly for has never explained why and what for.

The second gaffe was a book called “Pepe Colloquies” published by Alfredo Garcia, Editor of a weekly newspaper called “Voices” (used to be called Voices of the Front, but shortened about a year ago). Garcia describes how for four months, every Monday morn
ing for two hours, they chatted – seated on upside-down yellow buckets, in the candidates farm in the outskirts of Montevideo, about the future of Uruguay and his utopian dreams. “It was so difficult to systematize the turmoil of ideas and thoughts that poured from Mujica”, wrote Garcia, “that I gave up and decided to publish the conversations we had literally”. Among other things, he states that “The Kirchners are lefties, but what a left, mamma mia, what a gang!” and Argentina is a country “of hysteric, mad, paranoiac reactions”. In this book he criticizes God, the devil and President Vázquez himself, which brought an immediate reaction: “He talks pontifically and says a lot of stupidities”.

[Three parties together in the same Montevideo 'rambla costanera',
amiably campaigning for their man. Such a scene,
familiar in Venezuela until the 90ies,
is absolutely unthinkable today! ]

It took more than a month for Vázquez to accept taking a picture with the candidate of his party and says he will vote for him for disciplinary reasons. Mujica’s campaign team has ordered him to literally shut up, and he canceled several interviews with local political shows that he had previously agreed to. The undecided have grown, according to pollsters, and are a record number. Mujica called them “morons” and that if they were afraid of voting for him, they should throw their votes to the sea or issue a blank vote. With all that, polls still say he will be the probable next president of Uruguay. I don’t believe the polls, but that may be wishful thinking.

The country is divided in two halves. Which side will win on Sunday is still a mystery. There are several open options. 1) Mujica wins 50% + 1 of the votes with a Congress majority tomorrow; 2) the Broad Front wins the majority in Congress but there’s a run-off or ballotage with Lacalle and he wins the presidency in November; 3) neither party has a majority in Congress and Lacalle wins in a ballotage.

The Colorado Party, who had 9% of the votes in the past election, a “p
unishment” vote to Jorge Battle of this party who governed from 2000-2005, is the third runner up and is now presenting according to polls a 13-15% vote intent. Pedro Bordaberry, son of the man responsible for the Uruguayan coup d’état, has made a 2.0 modern-looking campaign and is still dreaming of having a surprise win over Lacalle, thus being the rival of Mujica in the ballotage. No way will this happen, but it may be one of the reasons for the #3 above to take place.

The fourth party is the social democratic Independent Party led by lawyer and sociologist Pablo Mieres. The party has only one Representative in Congress, vice presidential candidate Iván Posada. Their aim is to elect Mieres to the Senate and increase their number in the House of Representatives to 4 or 5. In the last polls they have a steady and increasing number of supporters that went from 2 to 4% and may also surprise tomorrow. [On the right Mieres, who I suppose is the choice of our guest blogger]

The fifth candidate is Raul Rodriguez of the newly created Popular Assembly, a scission of the Broad Front, who believes the later have betrayed the leftist ideals. They want to impose Cuba’s and Venezuela’s socialism in Uruguay. They may elect one member of Congress.

As to the Plebiscites, pollsters say that neither will obtain the necessary votes (50%) but this is also a mystery and another long story.

The dish is served. The dice have been thrown. In this election there are many things in play: the rule of law, democratic values and styles of coexistence in a society that has changed, and not for the better. Previously called the “Switzerland of the America”, the destiny of this small South American country is in the hands of a bunch of fanatics and a silent minority that hopes and prays for better days.

I’ll be supervising elections tomorrow, and the one reason I still hope, is that Uruguay has one of the most trustworthy electoral systems in the world. At least we are sure that whatever the results, it was what people really voted.

M.C.McC.

Editor's note: I understand that the author will be quite busy tomorrow during the election, due to her own political involvement. So she might not be able to reply to any question you might have until late in the day. But that should not stop you from asking anything you wish to know about that election that seems to have been financed by Venezuela. Imagine that! Chavez financing a Tupamaro!

-The end-

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Electric peace nobel?

This recent cartoon of Weil escaped me. But it is perfect to illustrate why we are having so many power outages: there seems to be always money to give around to client states, but never the cash and the will to fix pressing problems at home. Chavez plane should get the peace prize because it keeps flying to La Paz, The Peace, all the time. Except that La Paz is of course Bolivia where petro dollars finance the political activities of Evo Morales, the bought president of Bolivia. Great pun!

By the way, Teodoro has another killer editorial on electric outage today! Maybe if I have time later...


-The end-

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maques del Toro is degraded to Conde

The risks of blogging.

The new history manual distributed around Venezuelan schools are apparently, according to an article in El Nacional today (subscription only), plagued with errors. However one of the list made me wonder: The Marques del Toro, close friend of Bolivar who in those years was less bolivarian than what Chavez would have us believe, is not reported as Conde, count, which I believe in Spanish heraldry is a demotion (I think in England Earl beats Marquess, but what do I know).

Whatever, I am sure that a very famous opposition blog has been the cause of such title change, since its editor is a distant relative of said aristocrat.

-The end-

The Chavez equation

The Petkoff editorial of Tal Cual today was simply irresistible and I had to translate it. It was also accompanied with an image that illustrates more than anything else the administrative failure of the worst government in Venezuelan history. The only question for us, for amusement, you know, is to hear the excuses of the PSF, more and more silent these days as they shift to Honduras their attention, a more palatable cause in their book I suppose.

THE THREE PLAGUES
Teodoro Petkoff

Over the country three major crises are converging simultaneously. The public security crisis, the crisis of the electrical system and the crisis of public health system. They are not the plagues of Egypt, they are the plagues of Chavez.


Not that Venezuela was a wonderland
before Chacumbele [Chavez] , but what we had in those three areas then could withstand the worst eleven years of public administration this country has ever experienced. The oil boom, of course, disguised incompetence. But now the service structure that the government manages can no longer stand. Of course, these three crises are not unique.

Public education also is severely damaged and on the horizon rears the ugly head of the water crisis. Not to mention the economy. But, is the crisis of insecurity, health and electricity which at present fall with greater weight on the back of everyone in the country, particularly on the poor.

The poor cannot close up their streets, as do the inhabitants of the residential areas of middle class or the rich, nor can they afford private security; and police patrols do not circulate along the routes in the townships. The poor then are absolutely defenseless and unprotected and the public security crisis hits them with a particular harshness. For the poor there is no police and most of the crimes that overwhelm them go unpunished . 99% of homicides occur in the townships and a similar percentage of them are not even investigated. There are no courts of justice for the poor but what they have is prisons, the worst and most violent in the continent.

The poor can not go to private clinics and for them there is no HMC. Hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed and the relief that Barrio Adentro meant was short-lived. The Social Security system already has eleven years of delay. The Great Charlatan, without the slightest sense of the ridiculous, is "inviting" the gringo president "se venga pa’l socialismo" [slang: come over socialism]but Obama, in just nine months, is about to get Congress to approve his universal Social Security, while for the "revolutionary" and "socialist" Chacumbele almost eleven years have not been enough to settle this debt with the people.

In terms of electricity we have started to plunge into the "mar de la felicidad" ["sea of happiness" in which supposedly according to Chavez Cuba and Venezuela float]. Who would believe that this country, energy rich by definition, would know long hours of electricity rationing. Who could believe that Venezuela was going to live "alumbrón" in alumbrón "- as the Cubans say, to mark the end of the blackouts - [apagón=outage and the pun is that alumbrón would be the occasional non outage]. Of course, the poor are most affected by power failure, but this calamity indeed does not make for class distinctions.

Rich and poor alike suffer the consequences of these destructive plagues that has fallen over the country. [untranslatable expression closes the text: ¿Será verdad que todavía la sarna con gusto no pica?]



-The end-

A good day for Honduras? Nicaragua makes its own coup!

The provisional government of Honduras received a big boost yesterday, courtesy of nothing else than Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega, the thug, accused of rape and all sorts of other dubious moral acts, has managed to have a portion of the High Court to gather in a very questionable legality to suppress a constitutional article banning immediate reelection. That is, he goes one further than Zelaya, he uses an opaque ruling, not bothering with parliamentarian debate, or referendum, no nothing.

While we wait how this "legal" constitutional coup plays (I mean, a sudden convocation at 1 PM to decide in a rush the reelection of a president? gimme a break!) we can turn toward Honduras who feels cornered today but who must feel quite an ego boost, quite a validation after the cavalier way into which Ortega, its local nemesis, managed his right to reelection.

At this point Honduras would be well justified in breaking relationships with Brazil, turn off the embassy electricity (in solidarity with the Venezuelan people?), send the OAS packing and release a note stating that when the OAS worries at least half as much about Nicaragua than Honduras then they will be more than willing to reopen talks. I, for one, would support such a stand. After all, there is barely a month left for the vote and even if creeps like dictator loving foreign minister Moratinos of Spain announces that Spain will not recognize the result I can assure Micheletti that drop wise countries will come around after November 29.

The farce is reaching new heights of ridicule. The OAS is now totally discredited. After having bombastically condemned the Micheletti legal regime it had to accept to come to Tegucigalpa to negotiate to try to stop the blood shed that irresponsibly the OAS promoted with its knee jerk reaction to Chavez interests in the name of a moral that Chavez is the first one of the lot to ignore. I mean, the disregard of Chavez for the OAS is such that he had no qualms in promoting a judicial coup in Managua just as the OAS is negotiating another coup not even an hour away by plane. You will observe that the way the coup was conducted in Nicaragua is an imitation of the few judicial coups already experienced in Venezuela under Chavez.

Note: the coup was held courtesy of the lousy Latino American custom of having "substitutes" that can act whenever the main holder of the office is absent. In civilized country there is no such a figure, only too prone to abuses. When a US Supreme Court is sick or dies, his seat is vacant until a new Justice is named. When a Congress member becomes secretary or dies, the seat is vacant, period. And the Vice President, the only substitute contemplated in the constitution, has no power except presiding the Senate. Even in France where representatives are elected with a substitute, this last one has no duties until the seat if officially vacated for good because the holder has become a minister, resigned or croaked. Once the substitute enters the Palais Bourbon, he becomes the holder for good.

But in our culture where political rewards are the norm, they invented the substitute practice that allows constant interchangeability. That way more people could get if not a fully paid job (they get in general compensation when they replace the main holder even for only a day) they get at least a "honor". This is what happened in Nicaragua where the Liberal holders of the Court seats were convoked too late, or were away, and the substitutes, Sandinistas (?!?!?!?!), stepped in a jiffy to vote a major constitutional interpretation.

That pernicious custom, as well as reelections, are to be banned from our political system if we want to have some day serious governments. And that goes for you too, Alvaro Uribe, NO REELECTION and if we must have it, two consecutive SHORT terms, period.

-The end-

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chavismo is shorting big time over lack of juice

Still immersed in electoral calculations I need to comment on that fascinating episode of chavismo history, the month when the electric crisis came back to zap them in the ass. The press is all full of technical reports about how that problem arose and whose guilt is. There is much less consensus about finding a solution since any will be, well, painful. Or we can look at the whole episode as yet another morality tale.

The cold naked facts first

Chavez has been in office for soon 11 years. That is, he has been already in office for more than TWICE the rule of any of his democratically elected predecessors. No one remembers his predecessors for constant power outages and damages TV, refrigerators, and other appliances....

Part of the distribution grid and of the production system where privately owned, though the state was the main player. Chavez decided to nationalize it all, flush of his 2006 victory.

With ups and downs, the Venezuelan economy did not grow that much in production, even retreating in many items, but it clearly grew a lot in import, distribution and expensive A.C. malls for shopping.

Experts seem to agree that electrical consumption grew by about 25% over the last decade while production only grew by about 10%. Give or take a couple of points it does not matter, there is a big deficit, period. And nothing was ever done to solve it.

The government has known for at least 5 years that massive investments in electricity distribution were necessary, that oil/gas burning had to increase significantly, and that we were too much at the mercy of an El Niño cycle to dry out the Guri system water reserve of which maybe 70% of our juice depends.

What has the government done? It finished the Caruachi dam, which was started BEFORE Chavez came to power. Chavez himself promised 29 generating plants a few years ago. Work has started on 5, only two of them producing so far, but at a partial rate.

That is all. Only today we learned that in a rush the IBD had approved a credit for a new dam, that should work in a couple of years. Yeah, right.....

Why the fiasco?

The reason for the looming disaster upon us is, I am afraid, more than ever, that those who rule over us, starting with economy minister Giordani in office for about 9 years already, have no fucking idea how a modern economy is run. They have their head simply filled with ideological nonsense and think that with power in hand they will force things to work the way they think they should work. It is that simple. Reality for them is a distraction.

If you prefer a more pragmatical explanation I could advance the overreach of populism, where the need to promise new things all the time, to give free stuff all the time simply eliminates investments in all that is not visible, immediate, quick fixes. Fixing electrical system is not glamorous, people do not see it and in chavismo sick mind the hoi polloi will not be thankful for a good electrical service anyway.

Though of course these explanations, far from being exclusive, work well together.

Electrical shorts not only at home but in the brains of chavismo

The consequences are becoming dramatic. At work we lose now at least a day of work a month, and Yaracuy is one of the less hit areas, so far. But elsewhere reports of daily outages lasting up to 12 hours are now routine. You can decide for yourself how the quality of life is affected, in particular for the poor without AC, and a small cheap refrigerator that cannot hold the cold for that long.

What is much more interesting is to listen to the reactions of chavismo, showing that they are very annoyed by this trivial matter for them. In their words there is really no much concern for the people, just a wish to talk about something else, the revolution, the hated US and whatever. That people want to have cold drinks and TV to watch their soaps does not seem to enter in their minds. A few examples below.

Giordani, the economy minister, the guy who has presided over two major devaluations of the Venezuelan currency, who has never been fired due to some mystical hold he must have on Chavez had no other explanation but to blame the "preceding administration". This is simply stunning since himself represents a length of time in office almost equal to two of these preceding administrations. HE IS his own preceding administration! What has he been doing all of these years? No, in his attitude what you read is the second rate academic, trained in Italian universities at the time where communism was seen as the answer to all, a guy of such arrogance that he thinks his longevity in office is actually his ultimate validation and that he has no accounting to give to anyone. Read his recent interview where he clearly has no idea as to why the Venezuelan economy is slowing down, anyone's fault but his policies.

Henrique Maestre, the governor of Sucre. This individual is one of the scummiest characters offered by chavismo. He comes across as the barrio thug, and has been acting like that all of his so called political life. He is an animal and in his excuses for the electricity outages he comes across as such, totally ignorant of economics, even of its simplest elements. See, he justified the electric outages because Chavez had to chose between financing Barrio Adentro or electricity for the country. First, he is comparing apples and oranges. But much, much worse, he confesses that the social programs of chavismo were established WITHOUT ANY CONSIDERATION AS TO THEIR LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY. I am not even discussing if the people and the means existed, I am here observing coldly that chavismo set up Barrio Adentro as an electoral propaganda ploy never worrying about its long time chances or effectiveness. No wonder more than 2000 of the Barrio Adentro modules have closed! And note: they closed before the electrical situation became catastrophic so in a way the excuse of Maestre is not even a good tall tale of Chavez generosity!!! By the way, what good is a Barrio Adentro module if it is out of juice?

There are other examples but let's finish this post with El Supremo himself. Clearly the man never believed that the electric crisis would come. He sounds totally surprised and is bereft of any idea how to face it. He has had at least 4 years to start doing stuff to prevent it or at least attenuate the effect. But he has not done so because he had to win elections, he had to give away food and aspirin, he had to give away refrigerators and washing machines in barrios lacking running water or stable electricity, he had to build the ALBA against the US of A, he had to finance Cuba with more money than even the Soviets gave in their heyday. A man of his stature could not be bothered with such mundaneness. But he never had the wisdom to name someone to fix the problem and let him or her work at it, even on a budget.

So, as is expected in such situation where bureaucrats are trapped by their own inefficacy and lack of prevision, he comes up with silly measures that make little sense ad that are not going to solve the problem whatsoever.

First he ordered a campaign to educate people in saving energy. If we judge on the results of previous campaigns launched by Chavez we know the fate of this new one. Can any one name for me a successful educational campaign involving health or social services launched by Chavez? Must I remind you of the street kids fiasco? Must I remind you that he NEVER launched a campaign or judicial measures against fathers abandoning wife and kids? None of his initiatives to make sure people do not throw trash in the street has worked, not even a single fucking day! The only one that I can think of with a very limited success is to limit road alcohol consumption on certain holidays. And he pretends now to educate us as how to save electricity? Even his light bulb changing campaign has gone nowhere because when the energy efficient bulbs eventually burn down people go back to the old incandescent bulbs, much cheaper than the ones that were originally given by the government for free.

Then he decides that the rich should pay more for their electric bill, because they have all those A.C at home and two refrigerators and wide screen TV and whatever nonsense crosses his neurones at such moments. First, he can double my electric bill and it will not affect me because electricity is dirt cheap in Venezuela. I have an electric kitchen! And a water heater! And yet I rarely pay more than 50Bs. for a month service! Less than what I paid years ago in the US in Spring where I used neither AC nor heat! Trust me on that one, he can double electric fare for the rich, the savings will be minimum. Amen of the fact that the people that are heavy consumers at home are no more than a very few percentage points (maybe 5?).

But Chavez will never take the measures that are really needed because they would go against all the cheap populism he has established in 11 years. For example, by minister Ramirez own admission, he can start by forcing the government to pay the huge electrical bill it owes!!!! Yes, that is right, the utilities biggest dead beats in Venezuela is the government because no electric company can cut service if they do not pay! The less now that they all belong to the state... Of course that would mean that ministries and other offices would have to cut down on such things as campaign support, red t-shirt distributions and other such things to pay for their juice!

Another area where true saving could happen is to force the immense barrios of Venezuela to stop stealing electricity. They should be forced to pay at least a cheap flat rate. Why? Because if you travel anywhere in Venezuela you will be astounded at the intricacy of the electrical cables floating above your heads. That is, it is estimated that anywhere between 20 to 40% of electricity in Venezuela is simply stolen. And that robbery is highly inefficient of course. By simply offering a cheap but monitored service Chavez could reduce more the waste than increasing the electricity bill of the rich. However forcing people to pay for electricity would have the same political cost for the government as doubling the ridiculous price of gas which has not changed in 11 years in spite of an accumulated inflation that floats around 600%.

On the other hand the measures Chavez might take will eventually be a rationing of electricity, on a "provisional" excuse due to El Niño failing to water adequately this year the Caroni water head. This would become permanent sooner than later, at a tremendous cost for the development of the country. I mean, how can you build an economy, socialist or not, if you have electrical rationing and the lousy service wrecks regularly your electrical motors? Amen of increasing the electric bill of companies already burdened with the highest working costs of Latin America.

In other words, prepare for next year electricity induced recession. And if Chavez indeed opens a dozen electrical plants next year (one can always dream) he will be exporting less oil, adding to the recession. Go and buy a home generator if you can afford it. The electrical problem is going to last as long as Chavez is president. He is unable to solve it.

By the way, what good it is for the defense of Venezuela to buy all those second rate Russian weaponry if we have no electricity? Has any of the fat and corrupt generals surrounding Chavez pointed out to him that a couple of cruise missiles at a couple of electric distribution centers are enough to stop Venezuela? Remember, 70% of our electricity comes from a single area... Stopping buying weapons and instead buy 30 generating plants would increase Venezuela security way more than a half dozen semi obsolete Sukhois.

-The end-

Monday, October 19, 2009

The 2010 Venezuelan votes: how to assign the district seats

And now, after a series of 6 posts we come to the most difficult issue to address: how to design the unity candidates to the nominal districts for the National Assembly election of 2010, over 100 of them.

In a series of posts
we have discussed the problems with the new electoral law of Venezuela, how the government has modified the electoral system to try to obtain again a crushing majority at the Assembly, how gerrymandering is now a reality. We also tried to guess what is the message that the opposition should hold to counter the massive electoral machinery of chavismo, and we observed how necessary was the unity of the opposition in an electoral alliance if it wanted to have a chance at winning a bare majority.

Thus we came to the posts on how to elaborate that electoral alliance. First I discussed the system to establish the electoral alliance in what I called the "list seats", the seats who were supposed to allow for minority representation in parliament but who, with the new electoral mechanic, have now become a bonus point to enlarge the winner's majority. I proposed that these seats, not even a third of all the contested seats, should be decided through a political party negotiation with the input of some sector of civil society. The objective was to use these seats as safe seats and offer them to important political personalities that ARE ABLE AND WILLING TO CAMPAIGN STATE WIDE AND NATION WIDE. In other words, something as a supra campaign team marshaling its multiparty composition everywhere to demonstrate the purpose of unity of the opposition.

There are about two dozen of "safe seats" and thus no political party should get more than 3 of these seats, to make sure that their motivation to campaign for the less safe district remains. The nominees should include about half a dozen of local or national figures not linked directly to any political party. They should all be nominated as soon as possible so they can start campaigning while the names of the other 100 or so seats are decided. And this is the subject of this post.

How to chose a candidate?


I will list the different methods briefly with their advantages and disadvantages. The objective is for the reader to understand that there is no good method with the current political situation of Venezuela and that as such all methods should be considered and applied according to the different states. One thing is certain: a healthy dose of primaries must be implemented as it is the only way that the general nomination process will be validated in public opinion. For that it would be desirable that no less than 50 seats, half of the total nominations remaining, should go through a primary system.

The smoked room negotiations

Advantages: the cheapest method, and up to a point the fastest. If well managed, with generosity and transparency, it could even be the fairest.

Disadvantages: the parties that do not get the nod could accuse the "winners" of all sort of manipulations. This could damage unity enough that it might push some parties to launch their candidates anyway, the more so if "secret" chavista money comes to finance them.

Applications: yet, in some cases can we really afford a primary or even an opinion poll to decide the nominees? Think about some nearly hopeless states like Trujillo or Cojedes, why bother spending time and money in financing some sort of popular nomination process in states that will most likely go to Chavez? Not the favorite method by any means but one that applied with enough transparency could serve in some small red states, 4 to 6 of them.

The opinion poll selection

Advantages: it is a method that served well in 2008 to select some governors and mayors candidates, for example Ledezma who went on to win Caracas. It is cheaper than organizing a primary. It also allows to ignore the problem that comes when you decide what voter base should be allowed to vote in a primary.

Disadvantages: it still costs some money since at least 2 different pollsters must be commissioned in every district. And experience shows that when polls results are close then a third pollster is called to the rescue. When polls are close the "losing" side is very, very reluctant to concede. In addition individual districts represent at best 10% of the voter share (we will discuss that later), so minority parties risk not to be high enough to get a candidate and thus lose any motivation to campaign. Remember, we need everyone's effort and any political organization that has a blip on the radar should be offered at least one "spokes person" seat in the next assembly (luckily we are talking here of at most half a dozen of such seats, for Bandera Roja, ABP, MAS, and 2 or 3 more ). There is a complication with that method: do we put the names or political parties in the polls to be made? Using several candidate names could risk muddling the results and not give clear winners.

Applications: this method applies best to the top half states in population, where polling methods are well established and where there are many seats to provide thus allowing for a reasonable fair participation of all, leaving room for some negotiation so every side is reasonably happy. Also, if gerrymandering indeed takes place and is announced too late for effective primaries to be organized, it will be the only way to sort out the names in the new districts. Furthermore, if primaries are held but suddenly the CNE changes the districts, polls are the way to go to "reorganize" the primary results.

A primary system

Advantages: there is clear popular expression and the losers will have a hard time not recognizing the results. If they try to sabotage the final result by running anyway, public opinion will sanction them, at least the way public opinion stands today. It is also the most democratic way to do a nomination process, an excellent propaganda tool against the PSUV primaries that will be murky at best. And SUMATE is willing and ready to organize primaries if enough funds are provided.

Disadvantages: unfortunately this system has many problems. Who runs the primary (not all like SUMATE)? Where do we find the funds for a rather expensive process? When do we hold the primary since the CNE will reveal the new districts as late as possible? How do we ensure that even the losers get at least some representation if they got a significant number of votes overall? But most importantly WHO WILL VOTE? Political party militants? everyone?

The major problem with a primary system is really to decide who can vote. Opening the vote to all might sound good but by allowing militant chavista to participate in a truly polarized society could result in all PODEMOS and chavista dissident to lose as chavista will be directed to vote for the candidates chavismo think it can defeat best. Only in opposition strongholds (Miranda, Zulia, Nueva Esparta, Tachira and maybe Merida, Carabobo and Caracas) can we consider an open roll based on the CNE electoral registry. But in a state like Aragua, Bolivar, Monagas or Lara, expect chavismo to try to influence the result.

The primary electoral roll

From the above you can deduct that the the two main problems of all of these selection methods reside in the primary system: which states will hold primaries and who can vote in these contests. I will leave the first problem for the next post and will discuss only the electoral base to close this text.

The proposals next are reflecting my personal opinion more than what the reality should be. I, for one, do not agree that primaries should be open to all. After all the PSUV will not open its eventual primaries to all so we have no lessons to get from that quarter. But then again, who can vote?

SUMATE has in its database the folks who signed for the recall election of Chavez in 2004. This is roughly 3 million potential voters who can already be told that they have the right to vote. In addition, political parties have data base of their militants that can be crossed easily with the 2004 list to supplement this one. Finally, SUMATE and political parties could open registration drives for a week or two, and add easily up to half a million more voters coming mostly from PODEMOS and disaffected chavista and NiNi. In other words, in a couple of weeks SUMATE can provide the opposition with a voter base of maybe 4 million voters.

The objection is of course that "many people are afraid to put their names on any opposition list". Well, too bad. It is time that folks take a stand, that NiNi stop being the profiteers they really are. We all know that the state is organizing a political apartheid since 2003 and sticking your head in the sand once more will not protect you from becoming a second class citizen.

However there is a counter argument that can be made to open voting to all. After all, if you vote in a primary you will need to vote at least in your home state and there will be a record of that. The new list generated will not differentiate whether you voted because you support the opposition, you are a disaffected chavista or you were told to vote for a given candidate to make sure s/he does not win the primary. That is, the fear of people to appear in an anti Chavez list works both ways, for the chavista and non chavista Venezuelan. In other words, it is possible to scare away the chavista vote so that its effect will be small on the final outcome.

In the end it is a political decision that must be made by the political parties, SUMATE and significant representatives of the civil society, without minimizing the potential consequences. One thing is certain, even if opposition primaries are held in only a few states but that a large participation is observed, this would be a very bad omen for chavismo and motivation for the opposition.

Further notes on Primary vote


There is an additional problem with primaries, the need to decide who wins. A two round ballot? Too expensive and time consuming for the present strength of the opposition. Should we just allow for the winner to be nominated outright if s/he gets at least 35%? OR should we allow the political parties to decide the winner from the top two vote getters? See, primaries are not the sure solution.

Could we just assume multi seat districts and candidates distributed on a proportional way? I would go for the open list per party that is, every party names a list and you mark your vote for a single name, the seats being allocated first on party vote strength and second on votes obtained. This would make useless a second round balloting except in single seat districts. In addition in case the CNE redraws late the districts the results could still be more or less used in most districts.

My final proposal?


I think primary could be held in the states that are held by the opposition since some logistical support could be found there (chavismo supposedly could not complain too much since their abuses is ALREADY well documented). In particular for Tachira, Carabobo and Miranda (Zulia could be done with a poll since we all know that UNT would be first and PJ second). If anything the state police and some state facilities could offer the safety required for holding the contests. Of the states held by chavismo the only ones where primaries would be justified would be Bolivar, Merida, Anzoategui and perhaps Lara. Of the small states Yaracuy and Barinas are the only ones where I see a primary being of any use, if anything because a primary would be a first step for the opposition to start rebuilding there.

Polls should be used for Caracas, Aragua, Lara, and Anzoategui and maybe Falcon and Monagas.

The following states would be better served by a negotiated arrangement: Trujillo, Portuguesa, Guarico, Cojedes, Amazonas, Delta Amacuro, Sucre and Vargas (though Vargas can be included in the Caracas poll).

If no more than a 8 states go to primaries we can risk a open to all vote. But if we decide to make primaries in half the states or more we might consider using SUMATE data to which we add the political parties data.

Primaries should be held on a regional basis by necessity, to marshal the opposition scarce resources effectively. 3 or 4 primary regional dates should be fixed over a maximum of two months, to be completed no later than May of next year.

The vote should be open list by parties, people marking one cross in front of one name of one list only. In districts with 3 or more seats, no party can run a complete slot. That is, 4 seats, only 3 names, 3 seats, only 2 names. That is perhaps the less painful way to ensure that minority parties reach a seat somewhere. Candidatures would be distributed by party result, the top getter name of the list receiving the nomination. The substitute name of a nominated guy from a different party (Venezuela elects the main guy and its substitute, which I totally disagree with). That way all will get something, if anything the substitute seat for when the main representative travels or something.

In next post I will start posting some tables to illustrate the complexity of the primary process in some states.


-The end-

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The 2010 Venezuelan votes: the "list" voting

I need to start this post with an erratum of sorts. I must confess that when I wrote the preceding posts I had not read in full the new electoral law. The reason is that I had read enough tidbits about it to have a fairly good idea of what was its purpose, and also because as far as I know the law is not officially approved yet. That is, it only appears in the SUMATE page and it does not appear in either the CNE page or the Nazional Assembly one. Curious no? Perhaps they will heed the advice of people like Ojo Electoral, who have been accused on occasion to be too lax with the CNE or chavismo, and who still go out of their way to explain how chavismo could, with that law, get 84% of the seats with only 45% of the votes, thus violating the basic principle of the constitution that demands a proportional representation.

But now I have read the whole thing and allow me to say that my calculations of preceding posts was actually bland: the realty is worse than what I assumed it to be. In particular is the realization that the famous "list vote", which is the one supposed to guarantee proportional representation has been tampered. Now, in every state there will be ONLY 2 or 3 list seats, according to the population. This mean, no way around it, that a "minority party" will need at the very least 25% of the vote to have a chance at a seat!!! And some find the 5% German rule too tough.....

Thus in this post we are going to start looking at the "list vote" as it stands currently on the new law, hoping against all hope that the CNE will not dare to go as far as it was proposed. But I am not holding my breath because as you can see from the first graph, chavismo benefits too much of this advantage to give it up.

The "list vote cheating"

In this first table I have compared the list vote seats of 2005 with the putative ones for 2010 (as usual, right click to enlarge in a different window). I have divided the states according to the traditional regional divisions I have used in the past, for the long time readers. The left side of the table is a simple summary of how the seats were allocated in 2005 (and 2000 and 1998 for that matter). The right side of the table would be the 2010 configuration.

I have also put in light blue the states where the opposition did its best scores in the 2008 regional elections, NOT where it won, but where it did its best score.

In 2010 all states will have 2 or 3 list vote seats. Thus on the "loss from 2005" column I indicate the numbers of seat lists lost in each state (curiously with that system Amazonas actually gains one list vote, which might be a chance for the opposition to grab a seat in what is considered a 100% chavista bastion). Finally in the last columns you will see the supposedly new increased numbers of district seats per state, a topic that I will reserve for a coming post.


What is the first observation we can see? Most of the states affected are the states where the opposition stands a good chance to make a good score next year. In fact, Lara and Anzoategui can even be added to that list (yellow highlight) because in Lara governor's Falcon success is due to the opposition crossing over to vote for him and Anzoategui chavismo success was a fluke due to a lousy opposition campaign and the barring for election of the natural candidates, almost shoo-in for the state house.

The cheating here is two fold:

- All the states that get at least one more district seat will suffer extensive redrawing of districts, in particular opposition strongholds of Zulia and Miranda.

- And as indicated earlier on, the reduction of list seat is a sure way to penalize a divided opposition and to force minor pro Chavez party (PPT and PCV) to accept the PSUV terms. With a divided opposition the list seats would go mostly to chavismo.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the intention of the regime in changing the electoral law....

The opposition and the list vote

So, what can the opposition do?

The good news is that "list seats" are the only "safe" seats for the opposition if it decides to unify its electoral lists. The next table indicates which are those that I consider to be "safe seats" based on past results, on trends, etc... That is those states where the opposition is certain to win or to get close to 40% which will make difficult for chavismo to get the all of the seats according to the calculation method in the new electoral law. Still the column of safe seats is only 21 our of 52 (though I do not give chavismo more than 25 safe seats which leaves really 6 contested seats at best).

My proposal is simple: name the "list seats" candidates according to personalities, a little bit like the "top" of the ticket, using these folks to campaign all across the state helping the other guys that will have it harder to win in the district seats as I have explained in previous post of this series.

The people named at the top should be charismatic politicians, the ones that will carry the national message of the opposition leaving the local messages to the district seats candidates. These folks, I argue, should not be selected according to a primary system because the scarcity of seats available to run makes sure that in a primary contest almost all seats would be gained by PJ, UNT and AD, shunting out the minor ones. I think thus it is better to leave those seats to the "bigger guys" from the start, but including some "personalities" and local folks to leaven it up some. A compensation mechanism can be designed when district seats are subjected to primaries; for example all the political parties beneficiaries of the safe seats choices would accept not to run in the primaries of a certain number of districts to make sure the small fry, such as ABP, get a chance to prove themselves and earn a couple of nominations.

There is also another advantage: once the big ones place their top 2-3 names on safe seats, they will be more willing to allow primaries everywhere else.

The table below reflects, based on previous results, how should the "safe seats" nominations be allocated, keeping in mind that "safe" is an adjective that can be used ONLY if there is a good electoral alliance.



I will discuss it by region.

Central states

In the central region Podemos should get the safe seat from Aragua. It is quite possible that with the competition between Proyecto Venezuela and Primero Justica there (PV and PJ) PODEMOS could lose! And I explained before we need Ismael Garcia in the next parliament. We also know that Ismael, if given a safe seat, will kill himself campaigning in other districts and states.

Carabobo of course has one for PV. I did not put Carabobo as two safe seats as I did for Miranda and Zulia because the arrogance of PV in 2008 has allowed for chavismo to gain in strength and take Valencia mayor's office. However a unified ticket could allow for an extra seat. That one should be given to a local personality and not to any party in particular. Maybe a journalist or a campus dean, but to a personality, something that the voter of Carabobo could be sensitive too compared to he imposed names sure to come from Caracas for the PSUV candidates.

Caracas is the same problem as Carabobo because of the extreme polarization and because the obvious strategy of the government to favor the popular districts of Caracas and punish those of Miranda who voted against Chavez. However there is a possibility of a second seat to be gained there and it should be either given to ABP, Ledezma's group, or to a personality like the rector of the UCV (if she lives in Caracas). The top of the ticket is given to UNT to satisfy their need to expand outside of Zulia and because they do have feisty candidates there such a William Ojeda.

Miranda is an easy case: PJ and Copei. AD should be talked out of Caracas metro area and compensated with seats elsewhere. Though maybe Copei and AD should be left to sort their allocation between themselves alone. We also get here a top seat for Julio Borges who needs a safe seat to campaign elsewhere in Venezuela.

Finally Vargas, where the opposition has little chance. Maybe a local personality could be found to try to wrestle the second position of the list.

Zulia

No problem here. The UNT stronghold has a good chance to carry 2 seats. Here UNT should understand that it must allow PJ to enter Zulia, one of the reasons I give UNT the Caracas safe seat. A UNT PJ ticket is a sure winner in Zulia, in particular if 2 or 3 districts are given to other folks besides UNT or PJ. It would be a test of UNT commitment to plurality.

The South

Amazonas has an off chance to give a seat to AD. Delta Amacuro could give one to the opposition if the candidate is enough on the left of the coalition; thus it would be a good place to give the MAS its small token seat. Bolivar is the problem as Causa R will demand a seat. But it should be punished along PJ and PODEMOS for their division in 2008 which cost the governor's office. All should run in primaries there for the district seats.

On the other hand there is that chavista who is increasingly opposition, Pastora Medina, ex-PPT, who could be given that safe seat and thus drag along a not insignificant section of the chavista vote and create a bad surprise for chavismo in Bolivar. Or Juan Jose Molina of PODEMOS, though I think on his own he should be able to win his primary for a district. Either one should be the safe seat because either one can be used to campaign elsewhere in the country to appeal to the wavering chavista.

The west central region

Pickings are slimmer for the opposition there although in Falcon they are starting to get tired of the Montilla dynasty and Lara is really an anything goes now that Falcon is more and more a free agent. Thus I suggest a Lara personality, preferably a journalists to run there. In Falcon the proximity of Zulia makes the UNT the natural choice and in Yaracuy Convergencia should be given the safe seat for one single reason: the opposition has so destroyed itself in 2008 in my home state that the only cold embers to be found are in Convergencia. They are the only ones that have an idea on how a campaign should be run in the state. But if there is a state where a primary vote could revive the opposition it is Yaracuy!

The Andes

Tachira is easy enough: Copei has the governor. The Merida safe seat should not be given to any political party because all of them made their utmost to sabotage the 2008 result in a state that was almost a shoo in for the opposition. I propose that a representative from the student movement gets the safe seat there. Or a primary, perhaps the only case where a primary for a list seat would be justified.

Trujillo is almost a sure loss. I can only see some untainted local personality having a shot at the second finish in the list vote.

Oriente

This region is a little bit more complex because over time each state has pulled considerably apart from the historical regional trend. Because there is a need to compensate AD from giving up seats in Caracas and Zulia, it should be given a chance to recover its old stomping grounds where it still has a few semi interesting politicians left. Thus Monagas and Anzoategui seats should go to AD.

Podemos controlled Sucre for many years and we need them to beat Chavez. Sucre should be given to the ex mayor of Carupano or to whomever Podemos decides.

Finally Margarita. There is a chance there that all the seats go to the opposition but there is also a governor that is quite stubborn. Lets convince him to allow primaries for the districts by giving him the list safe seat, and even the second position if he wants.

The llanos

We finish with the region where chavismo has the most chance to pick up everything except a couple of list seats. Thus the obvious choice in Barinas is to give the nod to the dissident chavista who has a personal feud with the Chavez famiglia. He might be a mafiosi himself but it takes one to beat one.....

In Apure AD has a chance, though I am skeptic. In Guarico the judicial pursuits against the Manuitt famiglia leaves the opposition, very weak there, with little choice but to name some local personality.

In Cojedes and Portuguesa chavismo should get the 4 seats and only an AD in Cojedes or a MAS celebrity in Portuguesa have a weak chance to get the second list seat.

Conclusion

The cheating is absolutely clear and thus it is absolutely clear that the opposition needs unity and internal generosity to get seats. In the list seats it really cannot expect more than 26 seats even with more than 50% nationwide vote. This is due to the fact that in some small states chavismo can pick up all the list seats without too much trouble (Portuguesa, Cojedes, Guarico, Apure, Amazonas, Trujillo, Monagas and Delta Amacuro).

In other words the eventual victory of the opposition will come from the district vote of the Urban States: Caracas, Miranda, Aragua, Carabobo, Zulia and the Andes as Oriente might be a toss up tending toward chavismo. Thus there is no point in wasting much "nominating energy" on the list seats nomination. They should be used to place the leader of the campaign, to get safe seats for them and spend time campaigning across all of their states to help the district candidates.

In addition, considering that we do not know when the final gerrymandering of districts will come, the sooner the list seats are nominated the sooner they can start the campaign. The longer the field is left open to chavismo, the more difficult it will be to gain back the wasted time, no matter how badly the economy might tank, electricity outages get worse, etc, etc...

-The end-

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The 2010 votes: the unavoidable opposition unity

In previous installments of this series we have discussed the following electoral problems the Venezuelan political opposition faces and in which are ways they can be dealt with:

The message: simple and short, no outrageous promises, the main point being to exert control over Chavez projects so those become more efficient; control somewhat rampant corruption and reverse some unpopular measures such as the radio closures, something that can be done with a law to reform CONATEL, just to give an example.

The electoral system: it is stacked in favor of Chavez but we must still run the gauntlet. After all the other option is uprising and as long as that uprising does not start from Catia and23 de Enero neighborhoods it will not succeed. True, it might just be a question of time but do we really want that bloodbath in addition to the weekly crime toll passing the Iraq numbers? The only thing we can do is to present good candidates and fill up the polling stations, ALL of them, with as many eyewitnesses we can get away with it.

And thus the third part of this series, how to file good candidates, and unique ones at that!

The obligation for unity

Although it is becoming tiring to repeat this, it must be done: the lack of unity among the opposition cost it the following last November (directly or indirectly, it does not matter)

- Bolivar state governor, one of the major states and a crucial one considering all the trade union battles taking place today there

- The mayors of at least three major cities: Valencia, Maracay, and Cumana

- Several other cities including the state capital of San Felipe

- The legislative assembly of the states of Carabobo and to a lesser extent Tachira and Bolivar

- The passing of some states to near or absolute chavista control, in particular Yaracuy where not a single town-hall could be saved.

The question I submit to you is: would have Chavez cruised so easily through his February referendum and all the totalitarian laws passed this year if all of these entities were today in the hands of the opposition?

We are ONLY starting to pay the price today for this lack of unity due to personal ambition and local vendettas, with two main culprits in my book, Primero Justicia and Proyecto Venezuela, though AD and UNT deserve quite a few stones too.

But it is not the time to allocate blame, not even to ask for apologies: all, from PODEMOS to minor groups on the right must pull together and find a way to avoid these internal battles. UNITY IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN HAVE A CHANCE AT TAKING BACK THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND START REVERSING SOME OF THE DAMAGE TO THE COUNTRY MADE BY CHAVISMO. If anyone within the opposition does not understand that then s/he is stupid or sold out to Chavez. No way around.

How to manage the unity of the opposition?

I have already written extensively around that but as Rafael Poleo if found of quoting Gide, everything has already been said but since no one pays attention it needs to be repeated over and over.

The obstacles

They are many, ideological ones, past dalliances that come to haunt the different political actors, personal ambitions and what not. In normal times these are impossible to solve, but these are not normal time and for once it is fair to ask the prima donne to lower their ego at least for one single election.

The reality at ground zero

Political parties are a necessary evil. They are the only ones that can really organize the witness at the voting stations and who can sort of manage to campaign in chavista strongholds. If you are not member or sympathizer of a political party please share with us the last time you were campaigning in La Baldosera of Yaracuy or when you stayed until 3 AM waiting for the last vote to be counted in some polling center at Gramoven?

True, civil society can bring a substantial help but in all fairness we cannot expect the Student Movement and Sumate to solve all of our electoral problems. They working together with political parties and assorted ONG and civic group are the answer and all should drop their ego for a few months. There will always be plenty of time to settle accounts after the election.

Thus any system that does not ensure that all will be heard and that all will be granted at least a side chair will fail. That is why I think a wholesale primary is a sure way to sink the project: the sore losers will lose any motivation to help the winners. We are not in the US where the primary loser of yesterday has an excellent chance to become the primary winner of tomorrow. See McCain as the most recent example..... That is why primaries work in the US but why they are in-existent most places where the best we can hope is fair internal election for those who run the smoke filled room. Even in Venezuela where primaries have been tried on different guises we can observe a very mixed result at best. And the recent case of Aragua last year show us clearly that a primary, no matter how well Sumate organized it, is far from guaranteeing the necessary popular enthusiasm required to win the final vote.

But on the other hand we certainly cannot go back to a secret nomination horse trading process: the civil society is not willing anymore to accept it. Heck, even the PSUV where we know that no one gets the nod unless Chavez approves it still manages to make a farce of primary elections with the occasional surprise as the victory of Falcon in Lara in 2008. The "primary feeling" is strong among too many Venezuelans, even chavistas. We are going that way but we are not there yet, wishful thinking is just not going to cut it.

How can we thus tie these loose ends of reality and make it work?

PODEMOS as an example of the problem

I think we can illustrate the general problem examining the case of PODEMOS, stern ally of Chavez until RCTV was taken over. Then slowly but surely PODEMOS started leaving chavismo until finding themselves as a new opposition in December 2007.

Many people, including this blogger, have had a very hard time to accept PODEMOS, to stomach Ismael Garcia, one of the most repulsive Chavez supporters. And yet we must all recognize that singlehandedly he has done a lot to counter Chavez (with a couple of his colleagues and other tranfuges of chavismo). His atonement and his willingness to put up with abuse at the Nazional Assembly will be told some day a political epic. Can we do without Ismael in the next National Assembly? Can we do without his intimate knowledge of the adversary weaknesses that can be well exploited the day Chavez loses the majority?

It is not that Ismael is essential, but together with Molina and Pastora they are among the few people able to campaign in the barrios where they have a chance to be heard. Any nomination process that does not ensure that these three do not return for the National Assembly will increase the opposition handicap.

A solution?

There are 167 representatives, at least 3 per state. Thus the majority the opposition needs to get to be able to do anything is technically 84 seats. Let's take the 86 number to feel more comfortable about any potential of the new assembly. Thus we have 86 seats to spread around, seats that can be won with a normal turnout, a good campaign and the continuous degradation of the regime unable to solve any problem for quite a while (if ever, but that is another story). Any seat won above 86 is an added bonus, a lucky gain. We cannot worry about the nomination of these seats. The way candidates for these seats are nominated is of little importance. Let's put them on a primary system.

My proposal is that of these 86, a number between 23 to 30 should be "assigned" by a general agreement between political parties and the civil society main players (students? university deans? civil rights groups?). Those who receive the nod for those safe seats would be a mix of major political tenors and a few noted figures of the civil society, figures whose expertise and stamina is required in the next assembly. Why that 23 number? There are 23 states plus Caracas, thus 24 "electoral lists" with at least one safe seat on it except in some chavista stronghold like Amazonas or Cojedes.

What are the advantages of this list? First, they do not have to waste time, resources and energy to run for a primary. Second, they can be nominated as early as December. Third they can start running while the opposition keeps hammering the nomination process for the second list of seats, raising funds, working on a plank, whatever. The thing is that there would be two dozen official voices of the opposition replying to Chavez regularly as he is already campaigning hard and needs some one in front A.S.A.P.

There is an additional problem with organizing a long primary system: the CNE is yet to be confirmed as two of its 5 members board are currently being replaced. Any gerrymandering announcement will have to wait for whenever the CNE decides it. The opposition is paralyzed while Chavez campaign since all of his candidates will depend on him anyway, no matter how late the CNE redraws the political districts.

Thus the more benefit to nominate quickly a list of chosen folks while making clear that all the other candidates (about 130) will be named through some form of primary of poll. This way the opposition discussion table could focus and what needs to be decided by December, no matter what:

1) a methodology to establish primaries, a method easily adaptable to any gerrymandering the CNE does.

2) register as soon as possible eventual primary candidates so a preliminary campaign might allow to wean some the field

3) work with Sumate and ESDATA and such folks to decide which are the states where primaries are realistic and where primaries are an unnecessary luxury

You get the drift, it is really not that difficult.

In a next post I will provide examples on how these problems can be solved.

-The end-

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