Monday, May 31, 2004

The day after: the tidal wave of the Recall Election passed through
And a couple of additional comments on this week end

Monday 31, May 2004

There is a movie hitting the cineplexes of the world about some monstrous storm due to weather changes. On the adds, one can see a frozen Miss Liberty pointing out to a snow buried Manhattan. Well, I do sense some of that this morning as the political players are strangely frozen, as seen on TV morning talk shows.

First, the fact that it is forbidden to announce results before the Electoral Board, CNE, has done so threw a cooling effect on the joy of the opposition leaders doing the TV rounds. Not to mention that even if they could boast of the numbers, it is still a long way until the Chavez administration recognizes that fact. In other words we seem to be frozen until perhaps Friday, the supposed self imposed deadline of the CNE to publish the results, a deadline by the way “promised” to Jimmy Cater by the CNE. Promises, promises…

Meanwhile, guests were trying to make complex verbal contortions to announce without announcing it that results were positive for the opposition.

From the chavista angle, only one dared to brave the opposition media, the master of all lies and the prince of snitchers, Luis Tascon. This representative from Tachira State has made quite a name for himself by setting up a web page where one could find the ID numbers of all people that ever signed against Chavez, since the dismissed October 2002 consultative referendum. This web site has been used extensively, from putting pressure on public employees to refusing to issue passports and ID cards. Newspapers are littered with such abuses and yet the Ombudsman, whose job would be to denounce such administrative misdeeds has remained dead silent.

Well, Luis Tascon was also frozen in his own way. Repeating the same arguments to claim that the opposition did not collect the signatures, and trying to prove that the few hundred of fake ID found were the work of Accion Democratica (the ever useful boogie man of chavismo). As if 1000 fake ID would be enough to counter 700 000 signatures. But this communisto-fascist argumentation has been perennial: if you can find fault with one single argument, no matter how insignificant that one is, then you can claim that all is faulty in your opponent argumentation.

Other frozen fossils were on the State TV, VTV. There, people were once again talking of the 2002 Carmona coup. As if this event by itself justified the permanence for ever and ever of Chavez. In other words since democracy was denied him once, then in turn Chavez had all the right to deny democracy for ever.

Truly, some chavistas are trying to freeze freedom, just as their brain is frozen.

Other notes from this week end
Among the many curiosities of yesterday. Chavismo convoked a “:celebration” party downtown. As if they had managed to have enough “withdrawals” to cancel the 700 K + signatures re-validated. A friend of mine that lives near Plaza Caracas told me that there was a racket there quite late, perhaps stimulated by some free booze. This morning when interrogated on that, Tascon stated that it was a celebration of democracy, celebrating that the opposition finally behaved. And he did not even blush.

In San Felipe. During the week end, chavistas went around the neighborhoods offering money for people willing to withdraw signatures. One of my employees told me that they offered to pay him some bills. Apparently some people accepted the offer, he did not.

In El Junquito. I have a friend that was a witness in one of the collection tables there in November. Still, my friend had to revalidate the signature! At any rate, from that table the count on Saturday was of 70 people showing up, with 13 to withdraw their signature. ALL OF THE 13 belonged to one of the many "misiones", the near charity programs that the Chavez administration has undertaken. ALL OF THEM were told to withdraw or else. In a depressed are, the decision was easy to predict.
A summary of these last three days.

Well, it is Sunday evening and I am rather tired. Actually I want to veg out in front of Cable and watch out anything semi fun that will come up. So I will do a quick summary before I close shop for the night (unless, of course...).

All seems to have gone reasonably well, considering what was at stake for both sides. Incidents could not been avoided considering the tensions, but I think that they have been less than what I expected. The worst were some attacks on journalists. Not surprisingly. Surely the presence of Gaviria and Carter had something to do with the very "relative" calm.

Unfortunately the very targeted nature of the incidents makes one fear that yet again there is a "script" somewhere preparing the country for yet another "thing" that will cancel, delay, postpone, diminish, whatever.

The opposition has claimed victory. Fireworks have been released. My "sources" seem to be confident. Yet apparently the "colchon" (safety mattress for landing?) might be only 15% more than what was needed. Due to a higher than expected withdrawal of names, Chavismo pressure on public employees and relatives having had quite an effect. And an abstention of at least 20% of those that signed. Challenges are more than certain and I wonder if we are going to be able to withstand them successfully enough to avoid a postponement of the Recall Election for after August 19. I am not reassured. San Felipe did start having celebratory caravans after Mendoza announcement but my uneasiness and the rain have retained me from going out. The rain mostly as it precludes a good phot op for the blog. I am becoming so picky, and I do not want to wet my brand new camera. If someone want to offer me the under water case for my camera, feel free to contact me :-)

More importantly I am afraid of an administration that is pushed against the wall and has started jailing, suing, intimidating, and violating human rights more and more, with an amazing contempt, just as if they new it was just a warming up theme.

The coming days are going to be tense. Get ready.

Good night, and let us hope.
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Third day, third report, a claim of victory.

As I am typing, Enrique Mendoza is announcing that the opposition has managed to validate enough signatures to force a call for the Recall Election. He also announced that so far 26 illegal searches have been taking place today, with the state police trying to seed the information centers with fake ID and what not. To be continued.

Before I post this, Rodriguez just came out to threaten people that will dare to give earlier results. He seems rather upset. Because his side lost? Because their cover up is blown away? Because rules were broken? By whom?

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Third day, second report

Well, it seems that the nervousness of the chavista camp is getting out of hand and strong evidence of some treachery is surfacing. In addition to the deliberate slow down in some centers, the inappropriate behavior of some militaries on occasion, and the intervention of the state security polices, now we have the "scandal" of fake Identity Cards. Sit while you read this, the governmet sole responsible of emitting ID cards in Venezuela is accusing the opposition to emit scores and scores of fake ID cards and they are searching many opposition information centers under the pretense of uncovering the scam.

Now, what is wrong with this silly scheme? To begin with it would be very difficult to pull such a scam. Yes, maybe a few hundred people might get away with using fake ID and repairing a few signatures against Chavez from the roster. But surely this would be noted really, really fast by the very chavista witness. Second, the scheme to have any effectiveness would have to be carried for at least 50 K signatures. Obviously such a fraud in a system where the electoral board, CNE, controls all the critical steps such as the records and the signature centers is just impossible to achieve. But most important: the only side that would benefit from a massive ID fraud is the Chavez administration! They are the ones that want people to withdraw "en masse" their names from the Recall Election petition. And they are (is it needed to remind the reader of that?) the ones that have controled the ID system for the past 5 years! The only ones that have the means to effectuate such a fraud!!!!

Yet, Carrasquero the official president of the CNE made a surprise apparition, alone, after days of silence. As it is becoming usual, his lone apparitions indicate "moves" from the government. The opposition promptly denounced the maneuver. And suprise, the opposition denounced that one of the search parties, acting WITHOUT a search warrant, was trying to place fake ID in an information center of the opposition. As if the hyper efficient Sumate would store fake ID a few hours before the closing time of the process.

What it all means, really? Well, they are looking for an excuse, ANY excuse to create a delay in announcing the final result and thus postpone the Recall Election for AFTER August 19, and thus ensuring the presence of a pro-Chavez vice president until July 2006. It is all quite simple. Carrasquero whose reputation has long sipped down the drain has not much to lose by making today show. All rest in whether Rodriguez, the "real" president of the CNE will do. He is the only one of the Chavez trio that seems to be slightly concerned by his reputation. He has done all what he could to help his camp. Will he go all the way?

Note added in proof: The state TV, VTV, has a "special" this afternoon, as speaker after speaker are denouncing the opposition evil intentions. Imagine that!? One woman going as far as saying that for the last five years the obscurantist opposition has been troubling the people's mind. I have a question for her: if this is true, what has the government being doing for tha last 5 years? But they have no sense of ridicule...
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Third day, First Report

Sunday 30, May 2004

Nothing really. All opened up seemingly on time. The army that here and there created some trouble seems quiet now. Chavistas are at home, no harassment report yet. As Francisco points out, few chavistas are willing to stir trouble in spite of the marching orders. The question remaining of course if this is due to the fading of Chavez appeal or to the presence of Gaviria and Carter. Whichever it is, I'll take it.
Some Results

From a good source. Apparently at noon today, around 60% of the required signatures were already collected, even considering the folks whom chavismo is managing to have them "change their minds". And this "withdrawing" was seen for only one in ten of the attendees.
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
A Special Report from Guama

Saturday 29, May 2004

Guama is a small village West of San Felipe. If during our XIX century civil wars it had a rather violent past with the battle of Guama on September 21 1870, it has become a sleepy and pleasant village of a few thousand people, playing a rather artistic role in Yaracuy with its famous Saman towering and providing shade to one of its square, a favorite target of many a painter. Certainly one of the most handsome villages of Yaracuy, at the foot or the Sierra de Aroa.

But this bucolic image hides a rather perturbed present.

I did contact an opposition member helping in the coordination of the validation effort in the area, and off I went to visit. It was worth the trip to see how the struggle for the Recall Election plays everywhere, from Caracas to rather remote areas, with the same will. I was told of the local mayor, Ramon "Monche" Liscano, a Chavez supporter exerting outmost pressure on public employees and their relatives to have them withdraw their name. The pressure has been rather effective and Guama reports so far the highest percentage of people withdrawing their name from the Recall Election petition. The mayor gets away with it since Guama has a limited source of jobs, a few in the agricultural and commerce sectors, more jobs commuting to San Felipe, leaving town hall as the largest employer. In a depressed area, no matter how bucolic, a minimal wage is hard to give up.

This is actually tearing apart the community. As a long established village, pretty much anyone in Guama is the godson of the cousin from the aunt of the sister in law of the youngest brother of so and so. It looks like Guama has resented very much the division introduced by the pro-Chavez mayor and this one has a near zero chance of reelection next September. I did confirm this, by the way, from next door San Pablo people I do know. From San Pablo I was also told that Guama is a rather religious community and certainly Chavez attacks on the Catholic Church have not helped the Mayor.

The opposition thus set up shop. This first image is the "meeting room", tabulating results. A simple adobe like structure, ventilation through open blocks instead of windows. You can see the kitchen table meeting, on a plastified table cloth, old metal chairs, a couple of cellular phones, under a RR poster, (Referendum Revocatorio or recall election). This is what has Chavez so scared, for all his armies, dollars and tricks. The people, humble people, organizing themselves, with pen and paper to collect signatures against his rule.

This next picture was another meeting in a hallway, people looking through the lists to try to figure out who lives where, has not validated yet, and to contact them to offer help to go and validate their signature.

While I was there I was introduced to the representatives of three different political parties that were bringing in reports. One of them announced a threat by some soldiers of house search against someone in Guama that happened to have a computer and Internet at home!!! A computer seems a threat in Guama!!! A volunteer lawyer was promptly dispatched. It was quite something to see people from all local walks of life so united and determined.

But the best story was the young man next showing "chinches" or four spiked nails that had been collected in front of one of the validation centers! Apparently at night local chavistas had been dispersing such nails in front of opposition headquarters, validation centers, etc... I was of course rather concerned about my tires, as I was parked in front of the house and one of the cars of the guys inside had had a flat tire last night.

All in all a rather inspiring moment. An emotional hard struggle for these people. Perhaps they have been spared, so far, direct violence as in big cities, but it was very sad to see that their quiet world had changed in the last 3 years. I saw a determination that I did not know existed in Yaracuy, and I was very proud of having met them and having gained enough of their trust to be told the tale, and allowed to take the pictures.

And of course this way I fulfill my promise to show the readers of this blog something that will never make it to CNN :-)

Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Second day, second report

I was out most of the day. I did stop in an opposition center in Guama and I will have this report later on this evening.

I had a few errands to do in Barquisimeto. Everything seemed normal there except that they had even more soldiers in front of the validation centers.

Back and after a quick survey of the new one can say that the processes kept moving on in spite of some rather serious incidents. In particular two teams of Globovision were attacked by pro-Chavez folks. Some other press agents were also attacked. Live coverage and everything. One wonders what would be happening if Gaviria and Carter had not showed up to monitor the processes!

One of the attacks was in the Western part of Caracas (see "El Petarazo" posts a few months back). Yet the Petare mayor, the son of ineffable Vice President Rangel claimed that he "doubted" that the aggressors were chavistas and that it was more likely that it was a set up to tarnish his good name. I have a novel idea for you smart ass mayor of Petare: Globovision has all the footage, go and send your cops capture the aggressors and prove to the country that you are indeed a true mayor, true to his word and not your daddy's creature.

Meanwhile the leader of the armed forces "plan republica" to guarantee the safety of the process was happily talking on state TV to say that it was wrong to ask for a Recall Election. Promptly getting sever criticism from the opposition for his partiality. So let me get this straight: the OAS cannot make any appreciation on the situation but the public officer in charge of the whole security system can show his blatant partiality? Who can understand chavistas?

Meanwhile in the background I am listening to TV reporting this late in the day a difficult situation on the Avenida Andres Bello of Caracas as a group of chavistas are trying to force the closing of a validation center. The army is trying to close the place to avoid further trouble. Live reporting again, folks!

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Salvaging the Recall Election
Second day, report 1

Saturday 29, May 2004

The day at least will not be as rainy as yesterday. In Yaracuy we could call it "sparsely cloudy", and it is hoped that this will affect positively the attendance. One detail I gathered watching the morning news is that centers in more "upscale" areas were not affected by the rain as people drove, regardless. But areas where people must take a bus or something have had less attendance (due to the rain?). Yet these centers still report (which they should not have said so on camera according to the CNE rules) that they have met the expected quota! It will be interesting to observe how the attendance varies today there.

Collection centers for signature revalidation seem to be opening as expected though many delays are observed. Incidents keep happening, mostly due to members of the chavista side trying to find any excuse to block, contest, cancel. As if the opposition were in any position to commit fraud!!!!! This is Venezuela, the only country in the world where the government controls the executive, legislative, judicial and electoral institutions and still screams bloody murder that the opposition is committing a "megafraud"! Apparently its followers have been brain-washed enough that they are believing it.... I suppose it is better to take this claims on faith instead of accepting the rational explanation: any fraud that the opposition might commit is the reflection of the deep incompetence of the administration.

Otherwise nothing new. I will make the rounds again and try today to get a picture. But if nothing happens I might not be back on line until late this afternoon. For once no news should be good news.
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Fourth (and last for the day) report

The day ended up peacefully if wet. In particular in Yaracuy. The opposition Coordinadora Democratica seems rather happy. My "sources" think that 50% of the people that must go to repair their signature might have done so already today. If this is true, and discounting the numbers of people that go to withdraw their signature due to governmental pressure, the required signature number might already be in. But we still need to wait until at least Tuesday for "official" results.

The Kerry declaration keeps stirring the political pot. El Universal published an English summary:
U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry issued a communique stating that president Hugo Chavez "lost an opportunity to demonstrate the popular support he claims to enjoy," when the referendum process "presented a legitimate challenge to his leadership."

The Venezuelan president, instead, showed "a troubling disregard for the rule of law," said Kerry, who added that Chavez "must understand that the international community will be watching closely" the process to ratify the signatures backing the presidential recall referendum.

"After being democratically elected and promising reform, president Chavez has treated opponents as enemies rather than seeking to heal the divisions that have plagued Venezuela. He has undermined the constitution and used his Bolivarian Circles to repress peaceful dissent as his government systematically moved to expand its powers," the document says.

Kerry also expressed his concern for the recent reports on violation of human rights in the country. "Over the past weeks, president Chavez has used questionable pretexts to justify further arming of militias and intimidation of the press and the referendum's supporters."

"The disturbing trend towards establishment of an authoritarian regime must be reversed now," Kerry added.

Meanwhile in Mexico for an European Latino American summit Chavez is not having too much of a good time. The president of the main campus of Guadalajara preferred to travel to Canada for a commencement instead of receiving Chavez. Well, at least it looked like that. But more damming, according to El Universal:
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declined insistent invitations by his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez to hold a private meeting during the Guadalajara Summit, reported on Friday Brazilian news agency Estado as quoted by DPA.

The agency said an "official Brazilian source" at the Third Latin American, Caribbean, and European Union Summit said that "there would be time for a hug, but not for a private meeting."

According to the source, the Brazilian government, leader of the Group of Friends of Venezuela, is aware of the "uneasy calm" the country is going through because of Chavez's efforts to bloc a recall vote on his mandate.

The Brazilian agency quoted other unidentified sources in Brasilia who said that Lula "is fed up with Chavez."

Looks like Chavez is having less and less friends.

Still, we can be satisfied for the day, in spite of near 300 "incidents" collected by the CD workers, mostly to "over zealous" military. Probably testing the grounds for further mischief? Other folks reproted to me that everywhere the military seemed nervous. Not that they are preparing a coup, mind you, but since February 27 the Army leaders seem to have been keen on isolating the troops. Or simply the troops reflect the mood of their officers that know that the time of reckoning is at hand.

Let's wait for tomorrow events and see.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela

Third Report

The breaking news is that the phone bank of Primero Justicia, possibly the best organized political movement in Venezuela these days, has been "allanada", intervened, seized, by the political police. And without a search warrant. The reason is quite simple actually: they want to block access to phone lines where people can find information as to how repair their signature. Expect further action against Sumate.

This is very much in line with all sorts of petty violations that are slowing today's process, from refusing certain type of ID, to conduct the verification process at exceedingly slow pace in order to discourage people from showing up.

For those of you interested in the multiplicty of "tricks" used by the Chavez administration, Alexandra Beech has a rather complete list in her site, the Sixth Republic. 18 tricks so far, and I am sure that today will add a few more to the list.

I have also heard on TV for lunch that John Kerry again criticized the Chavez administration for the hurdles set against the Recall Election, joining the chorus of Noriega and Powell formed this week. I have not been able to find a link so far to confirm this, so it might just have come out from some exclusive wire service.

Otherwise the rain has been non stop in San Felipe. I did made a quick tour after lunch but the soldiers on guard and a few caught signers were sheltered inside buildings.

I have a report from the Universidad Catolica. A lot of students had signed up there in December and they have been put to repair their signatures nearby in a "red area". The University had to organize a system of buses to take them to the local repair center as pro-Chavez demonstrators were jeering and intimidating hoping to block access!
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
Second report

Apparently the Army is already harrassing the folks going to repair their signatures. Two of the CNE directors had to come out again and state that
the Army HAD NO BUSINESS checking people's ID!!! And, as I mentioned earlier, rejecting the ones that did not say Bolivarian Republic ov Venezuela. Now, why the heck is the Army doing such scare tactics? Yep! You guessed right!

And I am afraid that this is just the start. Meanwhile the Carter Center reports that all is fine so far....
Salvaging the Recall Election in Venezuela
First report

Friday 28, May 2004

The day started very rainy, from Caracas to Barquisimeto at least. San Felipe had downpours until 9 AM, thus I stayed home waiting for clearer weather to try go and catch the ambiance at the collection centers.

Today about 1 million Venezuelans will either confirm that they indeed signed to ask for a Recall Election (burying once and for all the tall tale of "Megafraud") or to claim that their name was unjustly used and withdraw it (most likely under government pressure if they are public employees or contractors for the administration). A very messy and tense atmosphere all in all.

My goal was to take a picture of at least one center and post it here. Unfortunately this time the process is completely controlled by the Electoral Board, CNE, and the Army, that is supposedly protecting it and ensuring order, is rather aggressive and I could not get close enough to take any significant picture. Since I need not fix my signature I could not even use that excuse to get inside (though I will go on Sunday to make sure that nobody went and removed my name, something that persistent rumors indicate is more than a mere possibility).

In the two centers that I tried to approach I could detect a short line of people waiting. Considering that it was raining and that it is a working day, the mere fact that about ten people were standing in line is rather significant. There is still Saturday and Sunday to get the 37 K people from Yaracuy to confirm their signature.

At this point it is difficult to be optimist or pessimist, considering that the rains have started again. But I suspect that the people's determination is strong. One evidence of this was for all to see on TV this morning. Rodriguez, the "real" CNE president had to come out on TV to announce that ID cards that still bear the name Republic ov Venezuela were valid to repair. Indeed, in some centers some lackeys of Chavez were refusing to repair the signatures from people that did not have an ID stating Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela!!!!! Apparently as for the new 1999 constitution we have up to 5 years to change everything to the new name of the country. That delay expires in December 2004 (I did not know that by the way!). But it seems that some chavistas jumped the gun and used that argument to send people away! Evidently, if they were sure that the process would fail by itself they would not feel compelled to use such silly and unfair tactics. Or would they? The fact is that chavistas are scared enough of the true will of the people to resort to any possibel trick to shave a signature here and there.

More later.
A Faustian Bargain: Recall Elections

Tomorrow Venezuela is going through yet one more motion to try to unseat the Chavez administration through the process of a Recall Election. Considering the political unrest, the divisiveness that this process has brought to Venezuela since late 2002, I am not afraid to state that the Venezuelan constitution would be better of without that provision.

What was the origin of the Recall Election in the 1999 constitution?

Chavez for all practical purpose did write the important articles of the 1999 constitution. He wanted an instrument that would ensure him control of the main Venezuelan institutions. He wanted to ensure his permanence in power for as long as legally possible. Thus one of the things he had to achieve was to make palatable the possibility of immediate presidential reelection, an idea frowned upon by the Venezuelan political culture since our days of "president for life" 60 years ago. Not to mention a wished for presidential term extended from 5 to 6 years, ensuring 12 years at the very least.

Perhaps under the advice of political hacks such as the now defunct Ceresole, he came up with the idea of the recall election feature (referendum revocatorio) at the mid term of any elected public official. Banking on his sky high popularity and a difficult mechanism Chavez and his advisors probably thought that it would never happen to him (20% of the electorate must petition for it to take place and the yeah votes must be more numerous than the votes that elected the official).

But his misrule has done him in. And the unthinkable, for all parties, might just happen this week end. Perhaps 20% of the Venezuelan electorate will manage to have their signatures recognized. In the process they will have bravely surrendered their right to a secret vote. If Chavez decides to remove his democratic mask he will have the list of all his political enemies to strike back at. If Chavez loses, the ones that signed to have him removed will demand a payback from having been obliged to reach such humiliating extremes, from having had to take such risks. Those that did not sign risk the wrath of those who signed.

Chavez made a Faustian bargain to obtain eternal political youth. Now the country is severely rent. It was not worth it.

If Chavez goes in August as a consequence of a recall election, the new leaders will be well advised to remove the recall election feature, which has demonstrated to be very divisive, in Venezuela, in California last year, in San Francisco under Mayor Feinstein. A constitutional amendment should be promptly submitted for approbation establishing a 4 year presidential term, a single and immediate reelection and no recall election, at least not for the president. If we make a mistake electing a president we will know that he will last 4 years, top. Chavez has already been in office for 5 years and a half, and we are getting closer and closer to a civil war.

Tidbits 2: Chavez visits the Washington post pages

Thursday 27, May 2004

This Bolivarian Revolution has some strange moments indeed. Yesterday the Washington Post published a letter from Chavez, with his usual tearful complaints as to how everyone is ganging up on him, and face it with an editorial where the reader detects clearly that the Post is having none of it.

An astounding press event if you ask me!

Reading the Chavez letter requires one to suspend rational thought, in particular when one reads:
and millions of Venezuelans took to the streets

To be frank, I hope that my opponents have gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum, because I relish the opportunity to once again win the people's mandate.

At most a few tens of thousands hit the streets in the Western part of Caracas, not bad admittedly. And Chavez has done his outmost to block, via the enslaved Electoral Board, CNE, the Recall Election process. Nothing that the readers of this blog do not know already.

The editorial of the Post is quite clear sighted. In particular when it reads:
Sadly, the odds are that Mr. Chavez will carry out this coup-by-technicality and thwart a democratic resolution to Venezuela's long-running political crisis. The president points out that some of his opponents previously supported a coup against him (Mr. Chavez doesn't mention that he also once led a military rebellion against a democratic government); but now that the opposition has committed itself to an electoral solution, Mr. Chavez refuses to allow it. About the only hope for a fair outcome is the presence of observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center who could call attention to acts of overt fraud and intimidation; Mr. Chavez tried to exclude them from the verification process but was obliged to give in late last week.

Indeed, Venezuelan authorities have been doing their outmost to discredit the OAS and Carter Center observers for the last two weeks, reaching today for a direct attack on the US (though Noriega's declarations this week might not have been the smartest move). But OAS head, Cesar Gaviria, is not taking the bait.

Indeed the whole show seems to point out to an administration nervous enough to consider diplomatic isolation if that is what it takes to remain in office. The answer comes early next week, if not earlier.

PS: on this subject Francisco has written an interesting "translation" as to the real words of Chavez, Hugo Chavez in Translation. Saves me all sorts of additional comments I could have added, while giving the reader a forced smile, "un rire jaune" as the French say.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Tidbits 1: Aporrea is a cultural institution

Thursday 27, May 2004

I figured out that to catch up with the last week and a half, I would post a few comments on some information tidbits as I come across them. I will start with Aporrea.

Aporrea (beat up, bruise), a site upon which I have already commented, is a bulletin board of sorts where a permanent staff supposedly filters and posts all sorts of news and comments that reach Aporrea. If it seems to be an unruly hack job of a site, not afraid to throw all sorts of accusations without accountability, it still does serve a great purpose: it is an open window into the chavista mind set.

Well, the latest development is that the cultural agency of the Venezuelan admisnitration, CONAC, has given Aporrea a grant for 30 million VEB ( 15,384 USD). That sum is not that much, really. What is much more interesting is that it was given, according to Tal Cual in its Tuesday edition, for programs to develop radio broadcast. Tal Cual pointed out that in the web page of Aporrea there is no link to any radio program that they might be developing at the present time. When I checked a little while ago I could not find anything but there was now at least a "post" from a certain Billy Rojas as to the need to create a educational radio, whatever that might mean.

Consulted on how come a web site gets a broadcasting grant, CONAC lamely claimed an "umbrella" grant.

What is more interesting is that Aporrea has a little note on its left side thanking people that have been contributing and thus allowing it to stay on line. With 15 K they certainly can afford a good server site!!!!!

Ethics aside, this is all fine and dandy. Except that I wonder what would the CONAC do if Miguel, Francisco and myself (the three "blog only" sites specialized on Venezuela politics) submitted a proposal to create a "cultural" English language radio broadcast from Venezuela. Me thinks that our chances to get even 1 K are zero, even if we were to promise to include for 51% of the broadcast time.

Then again CONAC has ceased long ago to promote real cultural values, becoming an agency to promote chavista culture.


PS: added in proof. Just in case, considering the local nervous tension. This post cannot be constructed as an "attack" on aporrea. If there is any "attack" it is against CONAC.

Back at work in San Felipe

Thursday 27, May 2004

Well, after 10 days of travel I am finally back in San Felipe. A little bit tired as the Mexican adventure was for work reasons, in spite of all the recreational Tequila. Or is it perhaps because of the Tequila?

I have been remiss during this time, not having read ANY Venezuelan news for a total of 7 days!!!! But I am all refreshed and ready to go for the major event starting tomorrow: the repair process for the Recall Election. I will try to post later today a summary of events as I can figure them. And tomorrow, a new start!

Ah! One piece of good news! I got myself a new digital camera at the Panama airport to replace the one stolen in Brazil one month ago. Thus I will be able to post pics again. I am sure that pictures from the Yaracuy signature repair process will not appear in CNN, one more reason to stay tuned to this most exciting blog :-)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Catching up? Or being under attack?

Well, as I am trying to catch up with a week of news I find out that I am actually part of the news! The tiniest part that is, but a part nevertheless. But some background first.

I have written a few weeks ago about the ridiculous charges levied against Sumate from having received an NED grant. As if the 50 K dollars Sumate received could overthrow the Venezuelan government, a government awash in dollars that it is distributing freely, and without any accounting, to foster its political goals.

I have had also private e-mail exchange with Ms. Golinger who did not like my comments on a recent Venezuelanalysis article of hers. This would not be particularly important except that she has referred to them in an exchange with Francisco Toro of Caracas Chronicles.

That exchange on Francisco's site came up because Ms. Golinger has been found out to be receiving money for reasons that are very, very comparable to those that are pinned on Sumate by her and her chavista friends. Ms. Golinger falls within FARA, Foreign Agent Registration Act.

The point is not to discuss the monies received by the different sides agents although one could find the amounts spend by Chavez 's administration on the Patton Boggs lobbying agents rather obscene. The point is that Ms. Golinger has received money for the very same act she condemns. She pretends to make us see Sumate as an agency focused on overthrowing Chavez, while she avoids discussing that she defends a government trying to overthrow Venezuelan democracy, the newly approved law to control the Judiciary Power as a the most recent evidence. The readers of this blog can compare the ethics of Sumate and its accuser.

However from the exchange between Ms. Golinger and Francisco I can quote this from her:
One of your colleagues [me] pointed out something critical to me regarding your "blogs" - he made clear that what you all write is just merely opinion, with no legal weight and no evidentiary burden. You can freely be reckless and irresponsible in your essays with no legal repercussion because you are bound by no editorial policy or legal rules that obligate you to base your writings in fact.
I happen to be more ethical and responsible than that, Mr. Toro. I base my accusations in hard evidence and fact. But then again, I am a lawyer bound to professional responsibility regulations and you and your colleagues are just blogging away in cyberspace with no one to answer to.

This is what I wrote to her then:
First I think it is important that you differentiate what is a blog and what is a web site such as the sites where you write. A blog is a site where one can write anything that one fancies. A web site such as is a site where there is a certain editorial policy that must be followed, the editorial policy being as strict as the owners wish it to be. Thus my words in my blog are mine only. [snip].

If people find my "attacks" to you debased, they will just stop reading my blog. [snip]

I do not make any claim to objectivity though I try to avoid vitriolic statements and try to let facts speak by themselves. Like you, I have a political goal and I work for it.

I wonder from where did Ms. Golinger got her impression. I tried to explain to her what a blog is or can be, AND THEN I explained what my blog was. Yet she freely accuses us of "reckless", and, the lawyer in her taking over, she is not afraid to add "evidentiary burden". Obviously at this point Ms. Golinger still does not know what blogs are.

I call on Ms. Golinger for using my words, twisted in their meaning, to attack Francisco. I do not lower myself in my blog to such things, as I wrote to her then "my words are mine only". Otherwise I will let the readers of Francisco blog and mine decide on the ethics of Ms. Golinger.

But I will have a question for my readers: please compare the "facts" that I report in this site (links from abundant sources that are serious for the most part) with the "facts" that Ms. Golinger claims to hold as indisputable. I am afraid that her facts are not any better than those reported by Francisco. The big difference is that Francisco is able to acknowledge doubt on occasion (as I do), and even his dissensions with other bloggers, something not heard in the pro Chavez English language world.

To close this low moment I will like to quote yet something else from my letter to Ms. Golinger:
You can also find on the right side of my blog links to Aporrea and Venezuelanalysis. You might not be aware of that but in the first half of 2003 my blog was the only opposition site, so to speak, to link to the other side!!! Now at least Francisco Toro has joined me in this. I still have to see a pro Chavez site do so.

Funny that I am still waiting for a comment on that.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Mexico and Venezuela
Back and the mess is still there...

Sometimes one leaves a place of trouble for a while in the very vain hope once back to find a change that one is unable to effect.

Sure enough, I spent a full week in Mexico, not reading a newspaper, not once trying to find a tidbit of news on Venezuela. If the rest was necessary, it did not help when I talked to the taxi driver and saw that nothing had changed. I was expecting something, some news, good or bad. But no, the very same standstill, and probably grand standing, as I try to catch up with a week of intrigue around how to repair signatures for the Recall Election.

Meanwhile I remain on my Mexican memories. Visiting Mexico for business, and even having to ride buses in between towns for reasons of ill matching flights, give one a different perspective on the country (even if Tequila was very present on some nights).

I was in Mexico 3 years ago. This time period observation in the fate of the two countries was impressive. It is painful to see how fast Venezuela is sinking. I am not sure if Mexico is advancing, but I can vouch for the increasing gap between the two countries. Even Mexico City looked cleaner than usual, and definitely cleaner that the West part of Caracas under the direction of the deficient Bernal. Amazingly I felt safer in Mexico's subway than in Caracas. Though on a Saturday Mexico subway looks more packed that a week day in Caracas.

Business people that I met were complaining of all sorts of problems, yet all are planning, building, trying to grow, forging ahead. Sometimes it seems that Venezuelan business's leaders are the deer in the headlight of Chavez train to the night.

I could go on, with such items as great food cheaper that an equivalent meal at the street price of the dollar in Venezuela, but I guess I prefer to savor that after taste of tequila.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Between workshops and shots of tequila
and still, I hear of military violence

This blogger is travelling for business in Mexico and, blissfully, since Monday morning does not know anything of the recent shenanigans of the Chavez administration. Though he does not doubt for a second that things are not improving. He also trusts Miguel, to give the news from Venezuela direct, and other bloggers who ae linked on the right around the world to keep this blog’s readers well informed for a few days.

But tequila is not clouding my mind enough. While getting ready for yet a nother workshop I was distractedly listening to CNN. The matter was the US Senate hearings on the Iraq torture scandal. It is certainly not the objective of this blog to consider what is going on in Iraq, however I could not fail to be impressed at the relative speed at which the United States did set up such hearings and how three top generals of the US were being questioned by rather veteran senators, senators of the type that are not so easily fooled.

Backtracking a little bit the readers of this blog are surely familiar with the death of two Venezuelan soldiers burnt in a “mysterious” ad rather unlikely “accident”. Or about Zambrano, tortured to death in some military center, while his lady companion was raped in front of him. Or so many other cases from February 27 and following days, where many protesters were arrested by the National Guard, beaten, tortured and what not.

Instead of a serious inquiry into military violence in Venezuela sponsored by the National Assembly we have a Chavez giving medals to the soldiers that did some of this violent and despicable acts. And the few Assemblypeople trying to do some serious inquiry unable to even reach some of the reports from events that are in public knowledge and for which the generals in command should at least submit some explanation. Not to mention that their work is obstructed and scorned by the chavista tenous majority.

Well, perhaps the US Senate hearings are just a show, but at least the US public is respected enough by the powers that be to get a show. In Venezuela Chavez despises his people enough that he does not even pretend to be shocked by brutality.

Does anyone still think that Venezuela is a democratic state? How much immorality will we have to witness until all are clear as to what is going on behind the doors of Miraflores Palace?


I will try to check in every couple of days for the next week or so

Monday, May 17, 2004

It would have been a slow Sunday if it were not for Chavez

Sunday 16, May 2004

Today chavismo called for a march and rally on Avenida Bolivar. The Great Leader, el Comandante Chavez did drive through the flock in a well filmed sequence courtesy of the state TV cameramen. When he spoke, cadena! And when the cadena was over quickly the Globovision cameramen did the counter take showing the real numbers in attendance. Nothing out of usual, really.

However the speech was not quite usual. Chavez using the "incident" of the paramilitary invasion (we learned that some were not even 18!) has decided to revamp the security system of Venezuela. Bigger army, create a theater of operation in the heartland of the country (bypassing thus on some matters the civilian authorities from the opposition, voila!) and create a neighborhood militia. That was the US will have a hard time invading Venezuela.

Actually the biggest phrase of the speech was:
"The Bolivarian Revolution after 5 years has entered the anti-imperialist stage, this is an anti-imperialist revolution and that fills it with a special meaning that forces us to clear thinking and to action, not only in Venezuela but in the whole world.
"An anti-imperialist revolution demands, we are obliged, for example, to end latifundia [big landownership]".

I personally fail to see the connections, in a country less than 20% rural, but then again I have failed to understand much of that jargon. What I am sure is that it means trouble ahead, at least an authoritarian regime if it comes to pass.

El Universal did carry an interesting article today from Manuel Caballero making a loose and not so humorous comparison between the Reichstag burning to the ground and Hitler arresting communists and social democrats, and Chavez with his pseudo paramilitary. Were the paramilitary excuse what Chavez was looking for? One might be tempted to believe so as one observes so many foreign media outlets unable to cast a questioning eye on last Sunday cheap show. Curiously one of the best pieces comes from Liberation, a leftist newspaper in France. Of all the papers around, Liberation does seem to appreciate best the real authoritarian underlining of the Chavez regime. Certainly better than the New York Times that should know better (and who by the way run again in trouble in Brazil).

Well, Sieg Heil! for tonight!

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Wet petards in Venezuela

Saturday 15, May 2004

Back in Caracas today. I have been welcomed with some "interesting news".

The Foreign minister in an interview to Radio Caracol from Colombia stated, amazingly, that Venezuela might have "exaggerated" the real purposes of the famous paramilitary. Imagine that!

Alo presidente! Chavez Sunday talk show will not be aired. He has "ceded" the space for broadcasting the "huge popular" march tomorrow, where people will march against "terrorism, foreign intervention, popular sovereignty and the Constitution".

Ismael Garcia keeps saying that he has the proof that the OAS is being bought by Cisneros, the wealthy Venezuelan businessman. Apparently some low key bureaucrats were treated to a week end in Los Roques by Venevision. We are waiting for the stubs to appear. Meanwhile he is less adamant about the OAS and the Carter Center to leave the country. Looks like more backpedaling if you ask me.

Expect soon a new scandal, about the only thing that could help forget completely the "Bahia de Cachitos" affair (1).

(1) The pun circulating around Caracas is that the paramilitary affair was intended to be the Chavez equivalent of Bahia de Cochinos, Bay of Pigs in English, the failed landing of 1960 against Castro. But since the clean cut and unarmed paramilitary found were eating fancy croissants "cachitos", the pun was quickly created...

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A few vulgar details in Venezuela: chavismo reveals its class, yet again

Friday 14, May 2004

It is in such moments that the true colors of people are revealed, when decisions must be taken rather fast and based on heartfelt principles, without forgetting a minimum of clear headed cogitation. I have already translated articles of Milagros Socorro (1) who has made a specialty at demonstrating the lack of principles and values of people that are still surrounding Comandante Chavez (though not necessarily lack of value, singular, depending on the price one is willing to pay for).

I have gathered a few little things, some rather small news, but elements that will describe the mettle and moral corruption of many a chavista follower.

Iris Varela. One of the loudest Assemblywoman in chavismo's bare majority, has managed amazingly to have the National Assembly vote a petition to tribunals to strip of their Venezuelan citizenship a few notorious journalist that happen to have been born outside of Venezuela (and disagree with Chavez). As if this neo-fascist approach to obtain "truth" in journalism were not enough, this morning on a TV talk show, she admitted her sympathies for the Colombian guerillas (FARC and ELN). At least one good thing came out of this disgraceful moment, it turned out that about half a dozen chavista assemblyfolks left the room instead of having to vote on such an outrage.

Ismael Garcia. This other Chavez supporter is the campaign head of the various chavista electoral efforts. The leader of a quasi fringe group he has gained quite a notoriety by saying the most outrageous things, not bothering to present a minimum of credible evidence to support them. Today, not to be left behind of the Chavez/CNE offensive against the outside world he accused the Carter Center and the OAS to have received funding from the opposition. But Mr. Garcia does not realize that in other countries standards are a little bit more elevated than in the glorious Bolivarian Revolution. Swiftly, and briefly, the OAS replied that it was not true. Period. Leaving Ismael to either bring real proof or wipe the egg from his face.

Isaias Rodriguez. The General Prosecutor, a supposedly independent position within one of the "5 powers" of the Bolivarian Constitution (2), has served notice to Justice Martini Urdaneta that he was under investigation. The reason? Improper procedures followed when he ruled on the validity of the signatures objected by the CNE. Now, Isaias Rodriguez has no business to rule in that matter, certainly none until the High Court rules on the conflict of between the Constitutional and Electoral Courts. That is, not until somebody entitled to put a claim against one of the Justices. The diligence of the prosecutor in this case where chavismo interests are directly at stake is to be contrasted with the unbelievable delays that his office has put on matters such as of the April 2002 deaths investigation. Few people are as discredited as Mr. Rodriguez in Venezuela.

Fidolo Salcedo, the Capriles Radosnki judge. This judge, a provisional judge, has been warming up a few benches for three years, not deserving enough under chavismo eyes. On Alo Ciudadano tonight, Gerardo Blyde a Primero Justicia Assemblyman and one of the best legal minds of the country, regaled us with quite a story. Apparently, for having accepted to break the law to put Capriles in jail (3), the judge finally got yesterday his long awaited promotion. And it turns out that he is a dentist turned judge 5 years ago. Blyde was wondering if he still is collecting his paycheck from teaching at dental school.

President Chavez. We could not leave without the latest from the ring leader. After having accused Colombia and the US of being behind the paramilitary episode of Sunday, today when the Colombian Foreign Minister, Carolina Barco, came to town to discuss serious matters we observed quite a backpedaling on the issue. This afternoon at a press conference only for foreign correspondents (Chavez does not give press conferences to Venezuelan media) he said that the Colombian government had nothing to do with the affair! What? In 48 hours Colombia goes from the invader to a bystander? But he still could not resist to comment that although he had no proof of US implication in this sordid invasion, he still believed they were behind it. And Chavez is surprised when people do not take him seriously! Maybe one day he will realize that silence is golden.

Yes folks, this are the people that are the "decision makers" in Venezuela. No wonder we are in so much trouble.


(1) The op-ed of Ms. Socorro yesterday was another little gem of simplicity and of important questions.

(2) The "citizens power" is comprised by three people, the General prosecutor, the Ombudsman and the General comptroller. Their basic function is to instruct prosecution cases for judicial trials, monitor public servants and check out the Nation's accounting, respectively. Together the three of them can "investigate" in specific circumstances members of the other powers.

(3) There is a strong rumor going around that the arrest of Capriles Radonski, which has no leg to stand on the evidence presented, is a personal request of Fidel Castro. Apparently he thinks that in Venezuela putting political enemies in jail is as easy as in Cuba. Well, it is not, but it is getting there.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

News everywhere!
Venezuela invaded? The Carter Center and OAS booted out of Venezuela?

Thrusday 13, May 2004

Morning TV was abuzz with yesterday major news of Chavez declaring Venezuela invaded. But the pace kept going on this morning as the Electoral Board, CNE, demanded an apology from the OAS and Carter Center or else. Let’s go by parts.

Chavez installs the National Defense Council.

As incredulity keeps receiving the Sunday adventure, chavismo realizes that sending the usual revolutionary spokes people might not be enough. Not afraid of ridicule, the Great Leader convoked the National Defense Council because “Venezuela has been invaded”. This was of course a perfect opportunity for yet another cadena. No opportunity was wasted to criticize Colombia and the US, going as far as saying such things as "I have no proof but I am sure that". Well, a blogger might get away with such a statement but not the president of a country. And the Coordinadora Democratica wasted no time in condemning Chavez international gambling.

It is scary to see that Chavez seems only too ready to take the relations between Colombia and Venezuela to the brink. How desperate are these people? A possible answer next.

The Carter Center and the OAS run afoul of the CNE.

Two days ago the Carter Center issued a communiqué which diplomatically stated their concerns as to the course that was taking the signature repair process. It seems that this was not pleasant for the chavista members of the CNE. From El Universal English section:

The president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Francisco Carrasquero, urged the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center to publicly apologize with the agency for their comments on the CNE's willingness to accept signature invalidation from "repentant" signers of the presidential recall petition.

Carrasquero warned that if the two organizations do not take their words back, the electoral authority will "reconsider" their performances during the referendum process.

Jorge Rodriguez said Thursday morning that he will "never again" attend any meeting with Francisco Diez of the Centro Carter and Marcelo Duarte of the OAS because of their "disloyalty."

The Carter Center and the OAS issued on Wednesday a joint declaration saying that "repentance" as a reason to withdraw a signature from a recall request is not among the international standards on the matter.

Well, as it happens that has been the latest trick tried out by the CNE, of which I spoke a few days ago discussing the many questions that must be addressed if a clean Repair Process is to be achieved. There is a little item in that declaration which can be seen as the "writing on the wall" for the CNE shenanigans, and probably explains why they decided to move to the offensive against the observers:

Both the OAS and The Carter Center are deeply concerned by reports of intimidation of signers. We reiterate that each individual signer should be able to freely exercise his/her right to reparo, without harassment or coercion, whether it is exercised directly, or indirectly through the deprivation of rights or benefits to which all should have equal access.

But how bad is the electoral situation for Chavez?

At the Central University of Venezuela, UCV, the internal elections ended up with the trashing of the chavista candidate by the anti Chavez candidate by a 4 to 1 count. The traditionally left leaning UCV has abandoned the ship.

Recent polls are more and more scary as they show a stalemate, Chavez being unable to make any headway no matter how much money he throws out to buy votes. The GQR poll for example show that Chavez would be losing the Recall Election and that around 90% of those that have to repair their signature will more than likely do so. But regional polls are hadly any more reassuring. The Chavez "Bete Noire" in Zulia, governor Rosales, is riding a very comfortable advance over his chavista opponent, 69% to 21% according to Consultores21. Even worse, the favorable opinion question gave a 28% for Chavez but a 60% for Rosales, establishing clearly that part of the Rosales vote is an anti Chavez vote.

The best strategy for chavismo seems to be shooting the messenger, a sure sign that their own unpublished polls are probably confirming all these numbers. Again let’s look at the English section of El Universal:

María Corina Machado, spokeswoman of the civil organization Sumate, appeared Wednesday before a national attorney [prosecutor] to testify in connection with the investigation about the alleged funding Sumate has received from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Sumate, the organization that has processed the opposition's signatures to request a presidential recall, is not being investigated for electoral felonies but for treason, a crime that the Venezuelan law punishes with 20 to 30 years of prison.

Probably they will indict Ms. Machado from carrying fancy pastries to the paramilitary in Daktari farm.

Ah! Realismo Magico!

Operation Red Dawn in Venezuela
One version of what really happened last Sunday

Wednesday 12, May 2004

I had no idea that I would have to break my oath earlier today that fast. But this is new worthy material.

Marianella Salazar is a journalist with a long distinguished, if controversial, career. She writes for El Nacional and has made through the Chavez years a virtue of frivolity as a weapon of resistance to the vulgarity that besieges us everyday. She is actually rather well informed, in particular on military matters having scored a few hits such as the FARC traffic through the Colombo-Venezuelan border. Her column today offers a fascinating interpretation of the events of last Sunday. Whether it is true, it makes required reading. And it also will make more of a target for a chavismo going berserk.

Operation Red Dawn

Jose Vicente Rangel broke his legendary poise and showed himself decomposed in front of the cameras, -a theater of operations that he usually handles well- when Operation Red Dawn, mounted with months of anticipation in the Situational Room was exposed before the national and international public opinion like a piece of buffoonery, a weird police-military operation with many loose ends. For a long time the government has been unsuccessfully making up coups and riots that would allow it to appear like a victim before the international community, to persecute decidedly the opposition, to end the Recall Election and to complete the purge initiated within the Armed Forces.

The alleged paramilitary that arrived to assault a military barrack and to attempt against the president of Venezuela are a badly told story. Not even at the time of the war against the Castro-Communist guerrilla of the Sixties, the Armed Forces had the opportunity to face an enemy with the power and quality of the opponent arrested this past May 9. Never was there a organization, an assembly and a strength in an enemy so abundant, preceded of so ferocious a battle experience, as the United Self Defense of Colombia (AUC).

Then, why the absence of the Army since it is the component most suitable of the National Armed Forces (FAN)to fight terrorists, and instead, the responsibility of that operation was unloaded on the CICPC (FBI like), commandos of the Disip (National Police) and Detachment 51 of the National Guard (GN), who by the way, was quartered this Saturday waiting for a military action at dawn.

The innocents

The Colombian citizens, disarmed, uniformed with "camouflage fatigues" of the Venezuelan Army and stopped by the Metropolitan Police and the one of El Hatillo, are humble and innocent farmers recruited in Cucuta, who under promise of payment and an ID card came with the illusion of improving their lot in life. Our military sources indicate as the people likely in charge military double agents -identified in my column of 02/11/04 as infiltrated agents who encouraged within the FAN a coup d'etat for that Friday 13 of February- who in complicity with the national security corps, brought the farmers on false pretense and provided them uniforms to attend, dressed like reservists, a supposed act of masses in which president Chavez would participate.

Under that deceit they would take them to get a Venezuelan ID to Detachment 51 of El Paraiso. But the scheme underwent an unexpected change from the operational people in charge - the minister of the Defense, the commander of the GN and the director of the Disip- when the driver of one of the buses hired (not highjacked) called by a cell phone his wife, to alert the her that he feared a kidnapping. She was the one who called the Metropolitan Police, who, jointly with the police of El Hatillo intercepted them and gave them to the Disip. That explains that the tame paramilitary, with scared faces, did not react with violence or rebelled. According to the sources, the Colombian citizens were saved of being massacred in Detachment 51 of the GN, where "Red Dawn" was programmed.

Governmental Charade

The incoherence in the paramilitary plot is striking successive and evident blows to logic. The entrance of the alleged militias to Venezuelan territory is a filigree operation, difficult to hide from the organisms of security of the state, without the provision of internal complicity. Then there is the transfer to the final locale (Hacienda Daktari, in the municipality of El Hatillo), that judging by the information of the day was made as an afterthought and without security previsions.

With this Opera Buffa the case of Fort Mara dead soldiers, the planting of private Barroso, the drowned soldier of Socuavo, the Zambrano case, the human rights violations, the elections in the Central University of Venezuela, the Rematazo, the Recall Election, the North American diplomatic offensive, the military judgments to the journalists, the political persecution against mayors and governors, and the generalized repression drop to a discreet background. But, luckily, the truth, that cannot be avoided usually prevails over the camouflages. And it will pop out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Where are we standing right now in Venezuela?

The short answer: we really have no clue.

The long answer is of course a little bit more complicated. Since I want to close this chapter of the alleged captured paramilitary, I will write a brief estimation now and move on to other more interesting topics. At least until real answers come forward.

One fact is now certain: a hundred or so Colombians have found their way to Caracas. This by itself is quite important as it might reflect the vulnerability of the Venezuelan state to all sorts of foreign attacks. Who, and how, brought in these Colombians must be duly investigated. Even if it was a show for political purpose, the fact is that somebody was able to plan such a dangerous show.

This is pretty much all.

Which are the pressing questions that must be answered in the next few days?

Who are these Colombians?

Apparently a couple of dozens of them did serve in the Colombian Army. Only one of them has a criminal track record. The other are just the local variation of Joe Sixpack. According to Colombia. But it should be pointed out that Colombia responded to a list sent by Venezuela and that no actual Colombian security personnel has been brought, yet. In all fairness this question cannot be answered without a shade of doubt as long as Colombian security is not allowed to examine the suspects. Otherwise for all that we know they could be some Venezuelan recruits with a fake list courtesy of the Colombian underworld organizations.

Who brought them to Venezuela?

The government has made a few arrests and has pointed a few fingers at the dissident military, certainly prime suspects. A Venezuelan of Cuban origin is also pointed out because the farm where the arrests were made belonged to him, and because he has an active web presence promoting forms of civil disobedience. Unfortunately there are a few contradictions as some of the military sought might have been in the Chavez camp at some point, such as the one hoarding bulletproof vests. Not to mention that the government might take advantage of the situation to arrest its political enemies for at least a short while. Without forgetting that these arrests warrants do not rule out other military inside the Chavez camp that could be double agents. A lot of work until a real answer comes here

How did they make it to Caracas?

Coming all the way to Caracas from the Colombian border without proper documentation is rather difficult. It seems that to bring in 130 or more Colombian paramilitary would be impossible without some collaboration from the Venezuelan Army. How could the dissident military pull out that feat without some help from their friends inside the regular Army? Did they come one by one? How easy it is to organize such a drop wise travel without having a “ferocious” paramilitary be caught somewhere?

How could they hide for 40 days?

The area neighborhood has reported nothing suspicious. What did these paramilitary do for 40 days? Did they “train” without guns? Where is the evidence of what they were doing for 6 weeks in a place that does not even have running water? And how could they hide so close to the big city where any one of them could have sneaked in and disappear, in particular after a few claustrophobic weeks? Remember that we are talking young and vigorous men here.

All the other questions are just “details”: the alleged targets, who found them, how come only the state News happened to be there, the semi decapitated body found and more.

It is absolutely pointless to ask more questions until some of these are answered. I will come back on this subject only when interesting data appears. Meanwhile I much prefer to talk about the Recall Election and dead soldiers killed at the hand of real Venezuelan Military.

Let me remind the gentle reader of one thing: who cares what the paramilitary will do to the Venezuelan civilian population when the Venezuelan Army is already hurting that very same population that it is supposed to protect? You may read the latest Amnesty International Report if interested.

In the Venezuelan war of words how to get to the truth?

Even more important how to reach a dialogue?

During these recent events one thing that strikes the casual observer of the Venezuelan scene is the vehemence from both sides. The government for example demands that all of the opposition backs unflinchingly its action against the alleged paramilitary invasion. The opposition on the other hand has a few voices that would not even consider that there might just be a kernel of truth in the whole business. So perhaps it might be interesting to scrutinize the language that each side uses to see if by any chance one can find clues as to why the information does not circulate as it should, masked by the personal feelings that people have toward the central figure of Chavez.

It is not for me to judge the opposition language since after all I am part of the opposition. No matter what I wrote I would be questioned. But I would welcome a guest poster in this blog if someone would bother to write in English such comments. Today as an example I will limit myself to scrutinize a recent article by

Venezuelanalysis is a web site in English dedicated at promoting the goodness of the Bolivarian Revolution led by Hugo Chavez Frias, Venezuela’s president. Nothing wrong with that of course. After all, this blog itself is dedicated to quite the contrary. The example I chose to look at is Mr. Sanchez article of May 11. Before Mr. Sanchez gets on my case (which would be fair) I want to state clearly that I am going to examine the form of the article rather than the factual contents, assuming that indeed the 100 + paramilitary are what the government says they are.

Let’s look first at some word choices:

Six hundred bulletproof vests were found inside the house of National Guard Capitan Douglas Perez Perez in the wealthy eastern Caracas neighborhood of Prados del Este.

The house [of former president Carlos Andres Perez] located in the wealthy neighborhood of Oripoto

the fact that the neighbors of the upper-class sections where the raids were conducted

Not bad for a one page article!!! What is the purpose of insisting so heavily on something that after all has little relevance? I will let the reader speculate at will.

The other interesting thing is how Mr. Sanchez glosses over significant inconsistencies.

The director of Venezuela's investigative police DISIP, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, announced yesterday that authorities have conducted a number of raids leading to some arrests, but refused to give details on some of the raids in order to avoid putting other suspects on alert.

Is there any “suspect” unaware at this stage of the game?

According to Rodriguez, the vests are part of a lot that was supposed to be incinerated. Authorities will investigate why Capitan Perez was storing the vests in his house. Perez was under house arrest since May of 2003 after he was found guilty of smuggling Chinese immigrants into the country. Rodriguez said the vests were to be used by the paramilitaries.

How could this testimony be given any credibility? To which side does belong Perez?

Now let's move on to the media comments.

Said ex-president Perez in an interview from Miami with the opposition-aligned Union Radio network. [and, two lines below] Perez declared to several media outlets that the capture of the paramilitaries was a hoax

So, what are we supposed to assume? That all Miami media are “opposition aligned”? That Perez declares only to opposition outlets?

Radio Nacional de Venezuela, a state owned radio network, informed that nine other paramilitaries were captured yesterday morning.

All radios informed that, RNV might have informed it first because the government only talks to it. Again, how are we supposed to interpret this type of detail?

"We have struck a blow to the kidney of coup-plotters, destabilizers, and terrorists," Chavez said.

I know I am a little bit picky, but it was the liver, not the kidney.

Again, I am limiting myself to the form, I am not commenting on the contents of the message. Unfortunately when one reads such things it is difficult to conceive how constructive dialogue could be undertaken between both sides of the chasm that now rends the Venezuelan body. The effect of Mr. Sanchez, no matter what his best informative intentions were, is to try to have the reader side with him by emotion, not by facts even if those were irrefutable.

Arrest warrants, a political prisoner again, but still a Recall Election push
The tortured cellist Carlos Izcaray plays on TV while Venezuela is entering the active phase of its march toward dictatorship

Wednesday 12, May 2004

As expected the government today continued the charade started last Sunday. And still nothing that really would justify all the brouhaha. Yes, there are some hints that perhaps, maybe, there might be something fuzzy. But already the name list offered to Colombia only delivered one name with any criminal track record. And of course no plan so far of the Colombian government representative to come and check up the arrested guys.

This of course has not stopped the Chavez administration to issue 10 arrest warrants. The defense minister came to the airwaves to criticize again the media saying that not uniting in front of such an issue was a treason to the fatherland. He went as far as saying that hired guns were targeting people from both sides of the political conflict. He spoke of "serious documents" but none was shown. All in all the interior minister advanced a number of 89 people subjected to legal pursuits.

In spite of all these words, no words for real and needed explanations. For example the exact events of Saturday/Sunday night. Now it is clear from the videos that the whole process of paramilitary arrest, if true, was initiated by chance by El Hatillo police! This detail is quite cute indeed. One wonders why the reluctance of the government to give due credit to El Hatillo and Metropolitan Police. That by itself would give so much more credit to their paramilitary story!!!!! Instead right now one would think that the Hatillo Police walked into the set up accidentally and perhaps forced the show to move faster than expected, thus explaining some of the glaring errors seen on the Sunday morning show. Why isn't there anyone with show biz brains in the Chavez administration?

And let's not forget the communication minister who pushed along the attack line to the private media and alleged some meeting in Colombia, promptly put into the proper perspective by the Colombian general that chaired it as normal to help maintain some order in the extremely porous border. Colombia is not biting the bait so far.

It looks more and more that the Sunday event whether genuine or not will be used to put a maximum pressure on the media or the opposition. To drive the point home, on the same trumped up charges of last time that were declared questionable by the High Court, prosecutor Danilo Anderson managed to finally arrest Capriles Radonski. The super prosecutor has been the one in all the "special" cases that the Chavez regime has needed to prosecute. And now he is not afraid to go against the High Court ruling as the law will soon change and whatever he does would eventually be validated. Thus this morning Capriles Radonski left for jail, as the newest political prisoner. That is his status, as he is "judged" for his intervention in the Cuban embassy in April 2002, even though as the videos from a thankful Cuban ambassador exist (and are profusely displayed in advertisement from Primero Justicia, Capriles group). The catch is of course that ambassadors are hard to bring as witness, and even less Cuban ambassadors to the Bolivarian Republic. But if Chavez was happy to jail the mayor, the mayor's charges were showing profusely their support for their mayor in the streets.

But Capriles need not worry, soon a few folks will be joining him.

However, the other issues that took a back seat for a couple of days are returning to the front scene as the opposition refuses to play the Chavez tune. If the case of the burnt soldiers is not back yet, the Recall Election, what really keeps Chavez awake at night is showing signs of revival. Already on Monday Sumate, the electoral logistic support of the opposition, was reminding of some of the pressing issues to resolve to finally be able to go to the repair process late this month. More daring was the move by Queremos Elegir, an NGO whose aim is to secure fair elections, submitted to the Constitutional Court a petition to respect the constitutional right of the people who did sign and whose signature was rejected without a real reason and thus unable even to go to the repair process. Indeed around 375 000 people whose signatures have been dutifully submitted have been rejected for procedural forms in the gathering process, not because of any mistake of their part such as the alleged mistake of the "similar script forms". Some prominent opposition leaders are in that group and it is just inconceivable to reject their signature as it was often filmed for TV at the time.

In other words the Constitutional Court must give a ruling before May 28. If it say that these people should be allowed to repair then the Recall Election will have the signatures it needs, even if Chavez finds a way to block (for example using the paramilitary excuse for calling a state of siege). If the Constitutional Court rules against, then it will have suspended a constitutional right and unmasked itself in front of the whole world as the Chavez agent. This is crucial as the other pending issue, the conflict between the Electoral Court and the Constitutional Court, could be "dismissed" as lawyerly talk if the Constitutional Court won the day, even wrecking the constitution. At least for some foreign eyes.

Eventually as the old saying: all roads lead to the Recall Election. Now we know really how scared is Chavez. A politician secure in the support of the people does not need to fight so hard and so unfairly. He is lowering himself to the goon level.

Two notes to end tonight's writing.

Carlos Izcaray is a young Venezuelan cellist that has already found success overseas. During the February event he was observing the trouble in Plaza Altamira and was carried away nevertheless by the Nazi-onal Guard and tortured. Actually it was feared that he might not be able to handle the bow of his cello as a consequence of his injuries. Tonight he was invited by 30 Minutos host, Cesar Miguel Rondon for a brief interview, and to play. It was nice to see him recovered even though one could not fail to miss the scar on his wrist. Was it due to the recent events? They were both discrete enough to avoid that topic. Art triumphs, and heals.

To end this with a humorous note, today's Rayma, El Universal great cartoonist. Translation of the legend of the army officer reporting: "Let the President know that the second contingent of paramilitary coup makers has arrived". Indeed it would take to accuse of political coup mongering such a group to match in ridicule the paramilitary of last Sunday.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Back in San Felipe

I was on the road today driving back from Caracas. Somewhere between Maracay and Valencia I learned that Capriles Radonsky, Baruta's mayor was arrested when he presented himself to the authorities for indictment. The prosecutor lamely alleged that he was at "high risk of fleeing the country". Which he would have done long ago if it were the mayor's intentions. The reason why the prosecutor, the do it all Danilo Anderson, said so was of course to try to link the arrest reasons to the developments of last Sunday, to try to make people think that Capriles Radonsky was covering the paramilitary and thus planning to flee the country once busted.

I will write later as I get more information.
A histrionic performance by the Venezuelan Vice President
Or did I mean hysteric?
Monday 10, May 2004

Well, the day continued as expected. A few houses were searched but with no results. Except for some house where a whole bunch of bulletproof vests was found. Again, it is important to restate that for as ridiculous as yesterday show was, this does not exclude the existence of some conspiracy. We could even go as far as saying that the government might have made a show yesterday to find an excuse and cover up while it was doing some serious national security work. Unfortunately at this late hour there is no hard evidence that the government acted for the National interest, but rather for Chavez interest. As I write I am counting 5 searches and I am sure more are to come.

Still, there is a grizzly event: one body was found with its throat sliced. Attributed to an account setting among the arrested suspect. And to deepen the mystery, a bag full of dry uniforms was found with it although it had been raining for a while. And the clothes were fresh, not sweated in. For people that had spent perhaps 40 days there?

We'll see.

The big "clue" of the day was the incredible presentation of Jose Vicente Rangel, the Vice President, that after a few minutes of a press conference could not hold it anymore and lashed right and left.

A few pearls:

First the vice president was worried about the opposition underestimating the news. Well, the opposition, like this blogger, has eyes that see the evidence. The opposition is also well aware that the government is doing its best to grab the agenda.

He said, justifiably, that the presence of 130 paramilitary in any country would be major news, a national matter. Well, it is very simple Mr. Vice president: let independent media interviews the guys and I am sure that we will all be convinced.

He said that the opposition immediately should have condemned the fact. Well, it certainly did not support it. But the Chavez administration is harvesting the seed they planted: its leniency for FARC incursions at our borders is common knowledge. Nothing really surprises us much.

He demanded that the Carter Center, the OAS, the church, the opposition, etc, etc condemn right now and in the strongest term the Venezuelan invasion. This for the vice president of a government that in 5 years has not only never condemned the FARC as terrorists (not that they should necessarily do so) but has even declared its neutrality in the Colombian conflict as soon as it made it to office (which was in a way a recognition of the FARC!). Double standards anyone? Meanwhile the OAS emitted a lukewarm reaction.

Of course, he then moved on the US. This one supposedly spends its breathing time condemning Chavez for its lackluster anti terrorist actions. So the Vice demanded that the US emits right there a supportive communiqué, publicly putting the US ambassador to task. As if 5 years of inactivity could be erased by arresting 50 guys that no foreign authority is allowed to interview to certify that they are at least wanted petty thieves. Someone should tell the Vice that diplomatic notes take at least 24 hours to be elaborated.

What was more interesting was what he did not say: the names of the people arrested. Even though Colombia has offered already all possible help to identify and bring the arrested guys to justice…

At least now we are stating to discern some of the motives of the operation. Chavismo certainly knew that the local opinion would not buy the story the way it was presented. The administration cannot be that dumb. Even Tal Cual editorial today pointed out the clear manipulation, without taking position, giving the government a few more hours to really strengthen its case, understanding how dangerous for the country it is for an administration to botch such an affair.

No, this probably was all planned for foreign consumption. For people that may not have such a clear picture of what is going on here, or would not necessarily trust the opposition in such a situation. The idea can be quite simple: pretend that the internal situation is too unstable for an election. Voila! No more Recall Election! Elementary Mr. Watson!

PS: we could certainly compare the dismal theatrical abilities of the Vice President with the fascinating and inspiring speech from Mr. Arias, the ex Costa Rican president winner of the Nobel Prize in 1988. He is in Venezuela as a guest for a promotional event. His speech was a model of intellectual and clear vision of and for Latin America. Including criticism of the globalization process and false prophets of all stripes. He was followed in the event by President Gorbachov, also a Nobel Prize winner. Unfortunately he was not so lucky as Mr. Arias, a silly cadena on mundane matters, NOT EVEN on the present situation, interrupted the speech.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Paramilitary in Caracas, burnt soldiers, witnesses that get burnt...
The politics of lies and shows in Venezuela under Chavez

Monday 10, May 2004

I have watched a little bit TV this morning and to tell the truth there is nothing much new or enlightening. The only thing that we can take for granted is that we will never know for sure what has happened in all these events, just as we are still waiting for who protected Montesinos, who shot who on April 11, where are the billions dollars missing, etc, etc............

The government is the real saboteur here. Chavez needs to occupy the headlines all the time. To do so there are two ways. One can create the tools to investigate and one can release the results, reaching wherever and whoever must be reached. Or one can keep constantly changing the topic of conversation, keep committing bolder actions. As the French say "La fuite en avant", the flight forward.

But the opposition is not totally innocent either. For one thing it has lasted quite a long time to get rid of its most unsavory elements and thus has managed to lose some of its credibility.

Thus today it does not matter what one side says, the other one will dismiss it instantly. This is no way to build a country, much less to solve the political problems that are overwhelming us.

Sometimes it is hard to keep one's head clear. I am glad that I did not jump on the soldier Barroso story. This young recruit popped out on TV for his 15 minutes of fame, claiming that he was an eye witness of the burning episode in Fort Mara. But somehow something did not match and I decided to wait for the next witness to show up. That is usually what happens, the dam breaks. Well, within 24 hours Barroso was completely discredited, by himself and others as it happened. A show all along? And who did mount that show? Today Barroso is probably all gone and we will never know whether the "lawyers" accompanying him were double agents.

But sometimes it is quite clear to see through things really fast, like yesterday pathetic show of the paramilitary arrests. A casual observer like this blogger could pick enough inconsistencies to establish without a doubt that even if there were subversive activities in Baruta, these were magnified out of all proportion, at the very least. The opposition of course decried it automatically but for once with justification. Any impartial observer in Venezuela has already detected that Chavez has become quite an adept at hiding negative events by creating a new agenda. And the burnt soldier issue plus the Saturday verification process were too important for him to let the opposition occupy center stage for so long.

Before I close this post I would like to translate the words from Chavez first defense Minister, a general that at least has some idea of what a military subversive operation should be. Salazar's words on the paramilitary:
"debi­an estar al tanto de saber que un campamento de este estilo tiene que contar con puesto de seguridad perimetrica y de profundidad. Por lo menos a un kilometro de alli debia haber un puesto de seguridad, uno ve que era una especie de muchachos reunidos, sera de campamento boy scout pero no de paramilitares"

"They should have known that a camp of this sort should have included a perimetral security observation post. At least 1 kilometer from there should have been a security post, one can see that it was some type of youngsters group gathered in a boy scout camp but not of paramilitary"

No, there is no way to buy yesterday show. The only way that Chavez could pull out this one it to let independent media interview the arrested paramilitary. He even had the nerve to claim that an "important" paramilitary leader was arrested. Colombia has already offered all the help it can and has asked for the names. Of course, nothing so far has been released. In my mind I am sure that some sectors of the opposition are looking at "ways" to oppose Chavez. But yesterday was a show.

Now the real questions is why would Chavez mount such an operation, even if there is a kernel of truth somewhere. This answer will have to wait.

The question that we can answer is why Chavez dares to mount such a show: independent and in depth investigation will never be possible as long as he controls the judiciary tools as he does. Just as we are still waiting for the promised truth comission for the April 2002 events, and the truth on Montesinos, and what is going on in military barracks, and where is the cash, and, and, and, and.....