Friday, February 07, 2003

February 7, 2003

The New York Times published today a very disturbing article by Juan Forero. What is disturbing are not the information that he chooses to display, but the information that he chooses to withhold, and of course some of his interpretations. Some of his inconsistencies will be addressed next.

[>How Venezuelan Outlasted His Foes]

There is already a problem with the word “outlasted”. One would expect a description of the price that Chavez has been willing to pay to maintain his rule, but when the article is read, one does not find much criticism on that…

[But through the two-month strike that strangled oil exports and generated the deepest recession in years, Mr. Chávez never wavered.]

True and the opposition underestimated his disregard for the consequences of his actions. That Chavez did not hesitate to bring the country to the ruin instead of negotiating is a matter of reflection as to his real commitment to the welfare of his people.

[The military stayed by his side, ignoring calls to revolt. The state oil company, though nearly shuttered by thousands of striking workers, made enough of a comeback to keep the country afloat.]

Here, as in other articles, Mr. Forero always forgets to mention that since military control has been installed there has been no way to have an independent observation of the real situation inside the refineries and oil fields. One has yet to see a report of Mr. Forero on ecological considerations, safety regulations observed, scalawags hired to substitute striking workers, etc… He also never mentions the rampant corruption that Chavez has brought in the ruling military officers, the abuses committed by them in the service of Chavez, the fact that gasoline distribution is pretty much into their hands and that the judicial does not allow people to complain about these abuses. What gives Mr. Forero?

[Mr. Chávez insisted, even in his darkest hours, that the only settlement would be a referendum on his rule later this year, a proposal his adversaries rejected.]

See later.

[Now, the strike is over, the opposition is splintered, and Mr. Chávez is savoring victory over enemies whose tactics to unseat him have failed.]

Well, I do not think Mr. Forero watches much Venezuelan TV. Chavez is not savoring at all, he is actually attacking as hard as he can, which sorts of contradicts the meaning of “savoring” which would presuppose a president finally at peace.

[The president is not in a forgiving mood. He has opened investigations into the actions of the country's antigovernment television stations.]

That is all the comment. Where does Mr. Forero analyze the reasons why the private networks have become an active opposition to Chavez? Where does he mention the dozens of TV reporters, cameramen, etc. that have been attacked and hurt by chavistas? Where does he speak of the TV cars that have been bombed, burned, highjacked and vandalized? Where does he mention the abuse that Chavez makes commandeering the private networks emissions to send his useless political rants propaganda that can last for hours? Where is his criticism to the Venezuelan public TV which has become a silly propaganda instrument for the regime? But worse, Mr. Forero indirectly implies that is OK to threaten freedom of speech since the TV stations are “antigovernment”. It is important that Mr. Forero realizes that there is a wide body of international injunctions against Mr. Chavez actions against trade unions, press, media, etc…

[Today, his government imposed foreign-exchange controls intended to stabilize the currency, the bolívar, which has lost 30 percent of its value since the strike. But Mr. Chávez warned that the controls could be wielded as a weapon to cut access to dollars for opposition businessmen. "Not one dollar for coup-mongers," he said in a televised speech.]

Mr. Forero is reporting the news so I suppose that he cannot comment on this. However he could recall that in February 2002 the currency was around 700-800 bolivares to the dollar and that capital flight had started long ago, much longer ago than the April events. The pre-strike rate was already in the 1400 rate, that is a 100 % devaluation since January. The late strike rate before currency control was around 1900. Now the new ‘fixed’ rate is 1610 bolivares to the dollar, and it is to become a direct subsidy to people that favor his rule. The way Mr. Forero reports would lead one to think that the run on the bolivar started only with the strike and that Mr. Chavez is in his perfect right, or duty, to impose exchange control.

[Opposition leaders spent time characterizing Mr. Chávez as an unbalanced dictator while playing down his support as marginal compared to the throngs of Venezuelans who attended anti-government demonstrations. Meanwhile, the anti-Chávez news media, which forms a radical wing of the opposition, presented commentator after commentator who predicted he would be forced out by the sheer magnitude of anti-government sentiment.]

Again, Mr. Forero does not describe these “throngs”, or the big petition drive of last Sunday. He also does not seem to realize that few chavistas accept invitations to the private networks, and that they have plenty of access to it while opposition access to Chavez TV station is pretty much limited to an occasional second fiddler guest in the morning show “En Confianza”. Mr. Forero should really sit down and watch a little bit more of Venezuelan TV before making such statements.

[The government instead hunkered down and, with each passing week, the strike weakened while the opposition appeared increasingly wobbly.]

The opposition is democratic and since it unites a wide spectrum from the leftist Bandera Roja to the center right Proyecto Venezuela it is to be expected to seem “wobbly” when compared tot he monolithic chavistas support who dabbles very much into personality cult to the great leader.

[“If only the strike had focused solely on an electoral solution,” lamented Felipe Mujica, president of an opposition party, Movement Toward Socialism. “The opposition thought that it would lead to Chavez’s resignation and that was a mistake.”]

This is a good point. But unfortunately not complete. One of the reasons to go on strike was the plan by Chavez people, postponed in April, to reorganize the state oil company to Chavez liking which is not necessarily to the best interests of Venezuela. The oil workers were keenly aware of the political motives behind Chavez attempt at intervention of the oil industry and opposed it. The government offered no national debate and thus the oil management found receptive ears in the Venezuelan people. The strike was aimed at removing Chavez from office because there is a need to get rid of him before he takes control of the country once and for all. It is always easy in hindsight to lament things when one forgot all of the reasons at the time.

[Carlos Fernández, president of the country's most influential business association, said: "I did not think the president would be so callous. I thought he would be a democrat and sit down at the table to resolve the problem."]

This is as close as Mr. Forero gets in showing Chavez character flaws.

[The opposition is still trying to apply pressure, as its leaders push for a constitutional amendment to shorten Mr. Chávez's term. The government, though, has rejected the proposal, and political analysts say it is becoming more likely that the president's foes will end up settling for the referendum in August that Mr. Chávez had offered weeks ago.]

Mr. Forero either does not understand the constitutional mechanisms or just ignores them. By constitutional rights the validated petition drive should yield to referendum on constitutional amendments. Chavez refuses to provide the monies or the security for any electoral process that can damage his cause even if the constitution mandates him to do so. It is time that Mr. Forero does an analysis of the constitutional violations that Chavez routinely does these days. There is some help for him next.

The reason why Chavez is only willing to accept the recall election that legally can take place after August 2003 is that it is the one that he can manipulate the easiest and delay the longest. By accepting this issue he buys some credibility overseas while gaining time inside. For example his minions are already on record as saying that signatures for the recall elections could only be gathered after August 19. Thus the petition drives of February 2 is cancelled. Chavez is on record as saying that signatures should only be gathered officially in front of two witnesses. Besides the time it would take to collect 2 million signatures, one can imagine the pressure that this does on political liberty. Think electoral system under segregation, apartheid, etc…

But it gets better. Chavez wants to hold until August 2004, and thus any delay is good, and likely to be granted by a more and more compliant High Court. Why? If he loses the recall election after August 19, there would be less than two years left to his term. Then the vice president (appointed by the president and not elected) would complete the term and no new elections would be held until 2006. That is, he could still run the country from behind a puppet vice president. Of course by 2006 with a ruined country, an opposition standing in line to get bread, an army totally revamped to suit its need, him the only source of money, it is easier to imagine that elections could be easily manipulated to engineer a “come back”.

[Still, he is not out of danger, since polls suggest that 70 percent of the population opposes him. Those polls show that while he would win the highest number of votes against a field of candidates, he could easily lose, too, because opposition voters could coalesce around one candidate, as has happened in previous elections. ]

Which is the reason that he refuses to consider an amendment that would put a second round balloting. Actually this was already torpedoed during the constitutional assembly of 1999, in prevision of bad days. Mr. Chavez has risen to power benefiting of the divisions within the country. His rule has been at directed at strengthening such divisions which is the main reason why Venezuela has reached such a state. He miscalculated in that the division has become mostly him against them, but still the potential of opposition division is strong.

[Although support for Mr. Chávez remains strong in the poor neighborhoods where most Venezuelans live, analysts and community leaders say residents in those districts could grow restless if he fails to deliver on his pledges. Already, the president will find it difficult to provide much assistance this year, since the economy is expected to shrink by 14 percent and oil earnings will plummet.]

First, this seems to contradict Mr. Forero assessment of “keeping the country afloat” he made earlier. But let’s not be picky. The point is that Mr. Forero has not observed the long lines in many popular neighborhoods last Sunday during the petition drive El Firmazo. Mr. Chavez was at 30 %, perhaps, before the strike. Since then no serious poll could be taken. But the street poll of Sunday confirmed the worst fears of Chavez: he has lost the majority of the people by far. Why should he risk an election? Any election? Ever? Mr. Forero should do well to ponder this sobering observation as to the democratic future of Venezuela.

["We have not received what has been promised," said Juan Blanco, a pro-Chávez community leader. "The assistance we get is very small; we do not even feel it. I ask, what is the goal of the revolution — where are we headed?" ]

How is one to interpret this concluding observation? Could this be a hint for Mr. Forero to investigate where the monies that Chavez has received during his term have gone? Could this be a hint that something deeply wrong is occurring within Chavez administration?

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