Monday, June 28, 2004

A quick note

Capriles Radonsky is still detained on made up charges and is becoming the poster boy of political prisoners in Chavez's Venezuela, no matter what the diverse apologists of the regime say (you know who you are).

Caracas Chronicles and Miguel, back from his trip, post with comments a Wall Street Journal article on Baruta's mayor. I cannot comment on it as I will be on the road for the next couple of days but I wanted to make sure that it was not missed. Besides there is little I could add, anyway.

PS: if anyone wants to offer me a WSJ subscription for faster comments, feel free :-) Contrary to other outlets, recently in the news for being funded with Venezuelan government money, this blog cannot afford the WSJ subscription. I just feel that people should know, so they will not need to investigate me. The only subscritpion I have is to Tal Cual and Teodoro did not sent it complementary in spite of all the translations I made :-)
A strange Electoral Campaign in Venezuela

The early electoral strategy of each side, and a few numbers

Sunday 27, June 2004

Soon we will be half way in the time interval between the Recall Election on Chavez rule (August 15), and its announcement. Yet, the outside observer would be forgiven if she wondered about what kind of election we are running. Certainly this is going to be quite an atypical event, in particular in South America were strong leaders remain in office no matter, or are booted out unceremoniously. An atavism that resurfaces often, at least in the pro Chavez camp.

The pro Chavez camp

Once all the talk of "megafraud" was over, as begrudgingly Chavez admitted that there were indeed enough signatures, the first question for chavismo was to make people forget such a distasteful campaign and its ignominious failure, not to mention the lies. Thus Chavez launched the "campaña de Santa Ines" and a "Maisanta commando", digging into some mythological Venezuelan past to create an atmosphere of last battle and mobilize his troops the better. The idea of course was not to let his troops linger enough and wonder about one year of electoral tricks that failed.

Now the chavista verbal effort is littered with war terms, the organization includes "commandos" and "patrols". No quarters will be given to the opposition which is blithely associated with a plan from the US to invade Venezuela as soon as it can pull its troops out of Iraq. Or even earlier through Colombia. Amazingly some people are buying it.

But it makes sense at some level. Chavez, an incomplete soldier, yearns from the final battle that will eradicate his opposition. Democracy for him means that the other side waits until he is done with whatever it is he wants to do. More pragmatically, he knows that the numbers are not with him and he needs a rabble-rousing campaign if he is to have a chance at turning the tide. That strategy could indeed work out, or could backfire badly. But if it works out the opposition will be annulled for a few years, enough for him to set a system that could be broken with great difficulty. And foreign opinion will welcome him, and his oil, back as a democrat. That is, if he wins the referendum fair and square.

The anti Chavez camp

The Venezuelan opposition after having invested so much in the recall
election drive reached the desired goal a little bit tired. So far its campaign is not going full steam and that has started worrying a few analysts. But is this a matter of concern? After all the opposition does not have the financial back up that Chavez has, after he has grabbed 2 billion dollars to share around for vote buying. Its effort must be carefully targeted, with outmost efficiency as this is the last chance to remove Chavez in a peaceful way. Thus, before throwing the book at Chavez, a careful preparation is good strategy. Also, as a hodgepodge, the opposition needs time to assuage internal dissention until it can become fully efficient as it demonstrated in November and May when all was patched for the common goal.

In fact the opposition does not need to portray Chavez, we all know who he is. Its campaign must be centered in exposing Chavez voter buying actions, and in offering a more efficient and honest administration to replace Chavez. In this respect, the numbers do help the opposition. The opposition has the electoral capital, it only needs to make sure it is not dilapidated.

A speculation as to how is the Venezuelan electorate divided

Let's imagine a group of 100 Venezuelan electors whose behavior I will speculate about in the table below. From that table, it should become clear that the first priority of the opposition is to keep its voters motivated. It also should be clear that the uphill road is for Chavez, which explains in large part his early start (not forgetting that he loves to campaign and that is the only thing he seems to know how to do).

To understand the following table it is important to realize that signing up one's name with ID number is a very powerful act and it indicates a voter that is highly motivated. After all Chavez has now in his hand a list of all his declared opponents, and he has not been reluctant at using it. Considering all the pressures that people, or their relatives, have suffered in the public administration or elsewhere not to sign, or even to withdraw their signature, it is a safe bet to assume that a large chunk of the population did not sign for the Recall Election but will be very motivated to vote against Chavez. This is the big, big advantage of the opposition, no matter what polls say, as this kind of determination only plays for Chavez if these opponents stay home as it is very unlikely they will return to Chavez. The numbers (percentages) are rounded up to the highest or lowest digit as long as it favors Chavez.

Number of voters that will not vote no matter what, based on past patterns and even accounting for more motivated electorate than usual (recent abstention almost reached 50%). This is the chronic abstention. The other type of abstention is calculated at a 20% potential, as an ADDITIONAL abstention. This one is due to a possible lack of motivation of the likely voters as the campaign unfolds; but these voters are unlikely to switch sides.
Number of votes that the opposition needs to unseat Chavez (3.7 millions out of the current electoral roll)
Number of people whose signature was recognized, people that arguably will not change their mind until August 15 (2.4 million out of the current electoral roll)
Number of voters whose signature was not recognized but who did sign (actually that number is 1 or 2 point higher depending on the data versions)
Number of people that could not sign but who likely would go and vote against Chavez (1 for every 2 who signed, conservatively, 25/2)
Opposition potential, hard core voters
Votes that the opposition will get if there is no more than a 20% abstention within its ranks. (37 – 8).
Number of likely voters outside of traditional abstention and opposition core support (100 – 25 – 37; not 29 as opposition abstention would not go to Chavez)
Hard Core Chavez electoral support according to the average polls in the last year (my average, and I probably should put no more than 25). Even recent surveys, although closing the gap, show a 10% difference in favor of the opposition and I am only putting a 7% difference
Number of votes that constitute Chavez hard core supporters, if no more than 20% abstain (30 – 6)
Number of voters left to fight for (38 – 30). These are the ones that need to be convinced either way, the famous NiNi (Neither Nor), if they indeed exist
Number of voters that Chavez needs to have assuming that the opposition fails to gain any voter during its campaign (as much as 3.7 million and at least one more than what the opposition gets)
Numbers of votes that Chavez needs to add from this 8 NiNi to his hardcore base if the opposition does not manage to gain any (30 – 24)
Voters left, up for grab, where Chavez needs to gain at least as many as the opposition might gain (8 – 6). That is, Chavez needs at least 1 of these 2
What the opposition needs to gain to feel secure enough to beat Chavez no matter what (2 / 2). This would give the opposition 29 + 1 = 30
What Chavez needs to gain to feel secure enough to beat the opposition no matter what (6 + 1). This would give Chavez 24 + 7 = 31, ensuring his victory even if the opposition gets the 3.7 million votes.

Of course, this is only a scenario, even if it is a conservative one. Clearly all rests on whose side is more able to motivate its supporters, that is, what will be the final abstention figures, national or among supporters. However it should be clear that no matter what scenario one comes up with, Chavez needs to work more than the opposition. If that explains the early and combative start of his campaign it does not exempt the opposition to take its own campaign seriously. And it does.

From the numbers above the first objective of the opposition is to keep its voters motivated. The more of that 37% opposition potential goes to vote the more difficult it will be for Chavez to survive, even if he motivates his troops equally well. Unfortunately, for him he can only motivate them with more money, more social programs, just as the recently established "misiones" are showing their strain. Whomever he was going to tun into an unconditional supporter has been turned into one long ago.

As to the desired margin of victory, well, that is another story for a future post. It will depend on the respective campaigns and the legal tricks used by chavismo to "modify" the electoral results.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

A quick note

Read the eyewitness account of Alexandra Beech at the US Senate hearings on Venezuela this week. And do not forget to read again the Aleksander Boyd reports on how the Chavez money goes to fund his overseas supporters. Then for homework you can meditate on the effectiveness of it all.

Added 24 hours later: Gustavo Coronel has also come out with his own eye witness version. I should also point out that venezuelanalysis has his own version. However the site has next to it an article considering VEA a serious newspaper... Really! But I suppose that now that Ultimas Noticias is once again found disgrace in the eyes of El Supremo, VEA must be promoted. Funnily that interview with a director of VEA points out that he was a TASS correspondent for years. Enough said!

In Venezuela, we are not chained to the TV
It is the TV that is chained to Chavez

Friday 25, June 2004

Today's front page of Tal Cual is priceless.

As I wrote yesterday, most people in Venezuela could not see the Portugal/England football match. The reason was that Chavez decided that we should watch the military parade for 5 hours, perhaps in some sort of atonement to the military for not having protected them from Human Rights abuse inquirers. These pesky justice seeking peaceniks! I do tell you! The nerve of questioning our glorious Venezuelan Army! One could imagine him thinking. Not realizing perhaps that in the US trials have already started on the Iraq prison abuses while in Venezuela we ARE STILL WAITING FOR A SERIOUS INQUIRY ON ALL SORTS OF MILITARY ABUSES SINCE FEBRUARY 27. But I digress.

The fact is that "cadena" means chain. And to put the networks in "cadena" is to chain them to the official message. No doubt that it is Chavez's secret wish, to finally once and for all chain all the networks to his glorification. Hence the chains on the front page picture of the glorious moment when the Portuguese goalie, Ricardo, nailed once and for all the coffin of England's hopes.

Nobody in Venezuela that did not have access to cable could see a single live minute of that great game. Even chavistas talked about that today, surprised themselves by such a relentless "cadena". With the never ending cycle of "cadenas" there is no wonder that the impoverished country still manages to have a third of its TVs receiving some form of cable, legally or illegally.

But Chavez cadenas will not make us forget about the Fort Mara soldiers who died of a painful death. Nor the one that was drowned on purpose. Nor the Nazi-onal Guards that tortured Zambrano to death while raping his girl in front of him. Nor the prisoners vilely murdered in Puerto Ordaz. Nor the clouds of toxic gas released over Caracas after February 27 2004.

No, we will not forget that the ones really betraying the fatherland are those that are unable or unwilling to prove that they are not corrupt military officers such as Lopez Hidalgo, Cruz Weffer, Garcia Carneiro, Ivan Rincon and countless other selling their souls and Venezuela for a few perks and some stars on their shoulders. Chavez can throw any military parade at them, we will not forget.

And in today Venezuela, by writing these words I could be charged of treason to the father land, I'll have my gentle readers know. No more have done the Sumate people, Henrique Capriles, Carvajal, and countless other that are now in jail or waiting for jail any time soon.


PS: the picture caption, "no me fodas", is a rather strong pun that I rather not translate in this family oriented blog :-)

Friday, June 25, 2004

The electoral campaign started, on Carabobo day
A fitting day for a military electoral campaign

Thursday 24, June 2004

Today is Carabobo day, the anniversary of the major and almost final battle of our independence wars. And it seems that it will be the unofficial start of the Recall Election campaign, depicted by Chavez in military terms for quite a while already.

Though the official start for the Electoral Campaign for the Recall Election of August 15 is July 15, at least according to the rules set by the Electoral Board, CNE, the omens of the last 2-3 days are not good for our peace of mind: life might become unbearable as we near August 15.

Today, to commemorate the Carabobo anniversary, we got treated to a 5 hours "cadena" of the military parade live from the Carabobo fields. A "cadena", for those that are late comers to Venezuelan blogs, is the much abused privilege of the executive to tie ALL the broadcast media, radio and TV, to play simultaneously live or not some message that the government deems important for the Nation to hear. For example, today Chavez decided that we should watch for about 5 hours the military cheap parade. Well, I did not watch it. I have cable TV and I decided to watch the Portugal England football game from Fox Sports network from its Argentina team. Argentineans are good when commenting on European football. Incidentally the fact that many Venezuelan Portuguese could not watch their small country beat England live will probably have cost once and for all the Portuguese vote to Chavez. But I digress.

But why is Chavez doing such an unusually long "cadena" with a military parade? After all his troubles after February 27 and the burnt soldiers debacle he has been bending backwards to assuage the military moods. Such things as increased budgets or expensive parades are the means. Clearly he needs to be as secure as possible of military support before August 15, or at least sure enough that they would not do something against him.

But perhaps we thought that the military "cadena" would be enough. No such luck. Around 8 PM there was yet another "cadena". This time Chavez using his presence in Carabobo state took the opportunity to swear in the local electoral campaign commando.

Now I have a question for all of the chavista supporters in the foreign media, in particular people like those writings in pseudo intellectual leftist papers, or web sites, and who have made a career in accusing the Venezuelan media of bias (it is biased indeed, but with some reasons that these supporters fail to mention). The question is: why is it important to the nation that Chavez force broadcast us the swearing in ceremony of his troops? Is it because the theater was filled up with red shirts? That sure looked nice.

The fact is that Chavez has shown today his campaign colors, truly. He will not be paying for TV advertisement. He will just run all sorts "cadenas" whenever he will feel like. And ask if the opposition will be able to run advertisement on the state TV and radio… You might be disappointed by the answer. Though if you are a Chavez supporter you might be pleased.

I will venture that this strategy might backfire. The Venezuelan people is not that stupid.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

First direct hard blow at judicial independence in Venezuela
Which happens to follow many indirect blows and a new highly criticized law

Tuesday 22, June 2004

I have written on the impending dismissal of the judicial independence in Venezuela (not that it ever was that great anyway) through the new law passed illegally in the National Assembly. Then a few days ago the Human Rights Watch, HRW, came out with a report demonstrating that no one overseas was fooled by the legal pretensions of the chavista regime in trying to pack the Venezuelan High Court. Of course chavismo screamed bloody murder but did not address the issues proposed by the HRW report, resorting to the easy way out of branding HRW a lackey of the United States Empire.

There was a curious bit from Greg Wilpert, in the Internet world which is of interest for the readers of this blog. Wilpert disserted lengthily in Venezuelanalysis trying to validate the chavismo claim of HRW submission. He should have known better and dodge the issue as his English is good enough to be able to detect on the home page of HRW three reports on the US abuses. But I suppose that ignoring such things is valid in the war of words that we are living. I did not plan to even read that article completely until today. For example vcrisis has been calling up on the credibility of many of these pro Chavez sites. Or Alex Beech has been writing on the judicial topic. But considering Alek and Alex reports and what happened today in Venezuela I went back and read the whole thing of Wilpert. But before I go into the judicial "surprise" of today, let me comment on Wilpert's report, not that I single him out, just because he is a main defensor of chavismo, in English.

To begin with, I could easily demolish many of his arguments. But I much prefer to quote some of his words:
So, instead of criticizing the government for endangering the independence of state powers, HRW should be congratulating Venezuela for having just about the only constitution in the world where the public prosecutor’s office is a wholly independent position.

Certainly claiming that Isaias Rodriguez is a "wholly independent prosecutor" is either a lie or a revelation of Wilpert lack of understanding of the Venezuelan situation. This is the prosecutor that has yet to pursue efficiently a single important case of corruption in Venezuela, or to shed some real light on April 2002 events. But this is not all.
While it is quite justifiable that an appointment should be “nullified” if it was obtained under false pretenses—this is nothing unusual in the world of labor law—it is much less plausible for the other two cases, where an actual trial ought to be held. No matter which way one looks at this issue, this section of the law does indeed undermine the court’s independence. It makes the court dependent upon a simple majority in the National Assembly. For the sake of preserving judicial independence it would make more sense if such cases were dealt with via an impeachment procedure, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to be successful.

This rather "naïve" text (?) is quite telling. The whole point, that the National Assembly can modify at will the composition of the Venezuelan Supreme court is placed late and somehow diminished by this position. But Wilpert's subconscious betrays him. He knows that this is the crux of the matter. But he quickly recovers to end right there with this gem, the one always used by chavismo to justify all of its improprieties since April 2002:
For example, during the 2002 coup attempt HRW issued a statement on April 12, the day that “transition president” Pedro Carmona issued his decree in which he dissolved the constitution, the legislature, the courts, and just about all other state entities and named himself president. That day HRW merely appealed to the “transition authorities” to behave themselves, but did nothing to condemn the wholesale dissolution of all constitutional guarantees; nor did they demand from the international community to apply the OAS Democratic Charter to isolate Venezuela diplomatically.

The decree that dissolved all the constitutional set up of Venezuela was read around 5 PM. I heard it live on April 12. What time was the HRW statement issued Mr. Wilpert? Before or after 5 PM?

But it really does not matter much. Today's events blew up any intellectual pretense of Mr. Wilpert and all apologists of the new Judicial Power Law of Venezuela.

Justice Arrieche was dismissed today by the Constitutional Court of the Venezuelan High Court. The official reason is that supposedly he lied when he submitted his credentials to reach the exalted position, in the nomination process of 2000-2001. The real reason is that he was the leader in the High Court ruling of August 2002 that stated that there had not been a "coup" in April 2002, at least not in the way that Chavez would like the world to believe. Since then Arrieche has been the target number 1 in the High Court, vilified by chavismo as few figures have been.

Which are the real facts? Well, one day we might know the absolute truth but right now I can venture my own version. Likely, Arrieche and many of the present 20 justices, including the actual Chairman Ivan Rincon, did not make it to the court in 2000 in a clear and transparent way. Indeed, it was a set up already loudly denounced by the opposition then, in particular by Primero Justicia. I would agree that ALL justices should go again through a constitutional procedure to justify their present tenure as all of them had their initial nomination tainted. Unfortunately in those halcyon days when Chavez held a 2/3 majority it was easy to make "deals" and pack the court in a way that then was deemed favorable to the future of chavismo. But times have changed. Now we have a cornered administration, who in addition wonders what would happen to them when corruption will again be investigated in Venezuela. An absolutely safe High Court is essential.

Meanwhile Justice Arrieche has not faded and went boldly to claim article 350 of the constitution that justifies civil disobedience in front of arbitrary and unconstitutional actions (in English). He says that he will not leave his office. Thus a new constitutional crisis has erupted today. What will the other 19 Justices do? Will they padlock Arrieche's office? Will they gather together and fight it out? Will they annul the new High Court Law (doubtful as with this unfortunate decision the Constitutional Court has demonstrated its complacency with chavismo final aims)?

Of course today's problem is the way Justice Arrieche is booted, not whether he deserves to be booted. The first, and some would say the final observation, is that the new Judicial Power law is APPLIED RETROACTIVELY in a punitive way, going against all precedents, and likely against the wishes of the 1999 constitution. Not to mention international canons where laws are retroactive only when they INCREASE benefits! In a future change of regime it would be very easy to destitute the Justices of the Constitutional Court as they seem to clearly violate the constitution that supposedly they are defending. Who that lives by the sword…

Meanwhile, there goes the separation of powers in Venezuela. The most surprised must be the HRW guys by the speed at which the facts have validated their report.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Corruption in Venezuela

Sunday 18, June 2004

Today I will discuss what other colleagues of the web sphere wrote. Let' s start with Gustavo Coronel new post card from Venezuela. Gustavo seems to have some experience with corruption, from fighting it to witnessing it in the former "4th Republic". Like anyone of us in Venezuela, so used to sudden ostentatious display of wealth, we have been able to detect rather early that the Chavez administration was going the same way as the previous administrations. The only surprise that was in store for us was that a government almost specifically elected to fight corruption was going to turn out into the most corrupt government of our modern history!

But should have that been a surprise?

Gustavo notes:
The big tragedy of this "revolution" was to have been attempted by a morally, intellectually and educationally ill equipped group, which could not keep their faith, which could not stay uncontaminated under the intense existing temptations. It was impossible for Chávez and his followers to stay pure under the avalanche of petrodollars raining on them for five years, without controls and without accountability. This surely is what Lord Acton meant when he said that "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

We agree, and readers of this blog might remember how many times I gripped abut the intellectual poverty of chavismo, its chronic incompetence. Most people occupying high positions today in Venezuela are people that could not make it before due to their low merits: they owe it all to Chavez. The only thing they share with previous officeholders is the ability to steal without leaving any traces, but they do not share the ability to make trains run only one hour late.

But is this undetectable?

Gustavo notes the work of Roland Carreno, the famed "gossip columnist" of El Nacional. As it turns out I do have a relative that knew him in high school, in a well known military institution. Mr. Carreno might have gone from military travails to society gossip columnist, but he is as serious about his work as he was as a military student. Now he knows as much about weapon and military strategy as he knows of the price of the luxury items that chavismo is displaying carelessly. Mr. Carreno might not know where the money comes from, but he knows the price of what people are wearing.

Apparently all of Chavez clothes come from outside of Venezuela, currency control exchange notwithstanding. I have personal indirect evidence of that. For some physiological reasons, I cannot find dress up shirts that fit me well in Venezuela and I must require the services of a professional "chemisier" in Caracas. His shirts are about twice the price paid off the rack but they fit me well and comfortably, which is very important when one only wears a tie only 1 to 2 times a month. With one custom made shirt every couple of years I fulfill the slight business requirement of dressing up fancy. Well, as it happens I was ordering a shirt a few weeks ago and while making small talk I asked my chemisier if his business was good, considering that I heard all sorts of tales of chavistas buying shirts by the truck load. Well, my "chemisier" who used to attend quite a many people from all previous administrations does not do so anymore. Nor do his colleagues! There are about half a dozen good chemisiers in Caracas and they all know each other. The word is that chavistas buy all their clothes outside Venezuela.

Through my clients I have heard of many cases of corruption and how ingenious officials are at hiding the overprice and commissions charged. Direct evidences are hard to get as too many people cave in wanting to at least keep their business up while the public officials awarding contracts get the benefits. Not to mention that cash seems to be the preferred way. As a result, as far as I know none of my clients now do business with the state and I can vouch of the business rift in Venezuela: there are those that do business with the government and those that do not, and they do not by choice, something not heard of.

So when I read all the series of recent "revelations" of Alek Boyd in Venezuela crisis about possible payments to all the chavista apologists in the web, I can only but believe that too well. Whatever monies that chavismo is paying overseas for lobbying is just peanuts compared to what chavistas are harvesting for their own pockets in Venezuela. Perhaps these writers are paid by chavismo with genuine contracts covering expenses and travels to conferences to defend the regime. Maybe even a stipend, why not? I actually have no problem with that as long as it is duly reported. The real problem is when they are defending an absolutely corrupted regime and that can only absolutely corrupt them. Even if corruption is in the name of the people.

To close, certainly I am in agreement with Gustavo. We both are tired of saying that one of the main reason, if not the main reason, for chavismo to cling to office so desperately is the knowledge that whenever justice returns to Venezuela they will go to jail either from stealing or from killing people or both. The ones writing overseas will just find some other cause to leech off, be it mighty Ramonet or the scribbles in pro Chavez sites.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


The "legal" set up is unmasked, but, undaunted the judicial players forge ahead on their road to abjection

Saturday 19, June 2004

The Human Rights Watch report, HRW, surely has had its effect as the chavista political class is running for cover and making up unbelievable explanations that surely they do not believe themselves. While the opposition seats on the sideline and watches, finally vindicated.

If the Vice has not come out with further declarations (somebody must have told him to stop sliding further into ridicule) the Foreign Minister did step out. In his declaration Jesus Perez linked HRW to the Venezuelan opposition which one supposes is a more credible argument than calling Vivanco a lackey of Bush. The foreign ministry went into some length to explain (justify?) the actual legal procedures to name judges, daring even to say that in Venezuela things are better than elsewhere. Let's examine this.

In the US, indeed, the president names the Supreme Court judges but they must be ratified by the Senate. Senators being state representatives and elected for 6 years (to the presidential 4 years term) tend to be reasonably independent of Executive pressure, unless perhaps running for reelection before the president does. Thus the system "in general" forces the president to name a competent judge even if that judge is a political associate. The judge named for life can be, from the start, free from further political pressure if his moral character dictates so.

In Venezuela the National Assembly names the High Court Justices by a 2/3 votes. After several rounds if the 2/3 is not reached, then a simple majority vote is enough. In other words political appointees can be named since it is just a matter of waiting a few weeks to reach the simple majority round. There is no way to block the appointment of a political judge if half + one member of the assembly chose to do so. The only possible filter would be the nominating team controlled by the Assembly anyway. In addition, the new justice has a 12 years term and thus will not have the same independence of a US Justice. And last, and gravest, it is relatively easy to remove the Venezuelan Justice by a 2/3 vote, or to inactivate its action "pending" removal which is a direct way to neutralize a justice even if the 2/3 cannot be reached.

Jesus Perez either thinks that we are stupid, or he is stupid or he is lying. What is your pick Jesus?

But what is most astounding is that at the same time as the foreign minister emitted his opinion, the "Poder Ciudadano" was contradicting him and proving the world that when Mr. Vivanco read the HRW report he was quite to the point.

The citizens power or "Poder Ciudadano" is a weird creation of the 1999 constitution. Part of what is normally associated with the judicial power was set up as an independent power. Well, the least that can be said about this new power is that it has shown a servile subservience to the executive power since its creation. The role of this new power is to protect citizens from public administration abuses (Ombudsman or "defensor del pueblo"), to control public finances and avoid corruption (General Comptroller or "controlador") and to effectuate all the general prosecution actions of the state (General Prosecutor or "Fiscal de la Republica"). Since the year 2000 not a single major human right abuse has been properly documented and sued, not a single important corruption case has been investigated and has reached some court sanction. On the other hand all sorts of cases have been brought against the opposition for charges far less important that the ones brought against the corrupt Venezuelan administration by all sorts of people. The three guys in charge of these "poder" are consistently rating at the bottom of opinion polls and are the subject to ridicule, not able to go in public as they generate spontaneous protest against them. Their only public apparitions are limited to official functions safely surrounded by chavistas. Even chavistas, though supporting their rather abject posture, do not hold them in high esteem, seen them for what they are, errand boys.

Well, yesterday they struck back, very untimely I would add. In a surprising decision, they used their power to blame High Court Justices for abuse of constitutional power. According to the "Consejo Moral Republicano", CMR, the Moral Republican Council (I am not making this up!), the three justices from the Electoral Court should not have overruled the Electoral Board, CNE, when it decided to "suspend" a million plus signatures of the Recall Election petition drive. The CMR on May 11 told the justices to present their defense. The Electoral Court argued that judicially they were above the CMR on that matter and that only the complete High Court could decide on that matter. Obviously this has not stopped the CMR to rule, and thus create its very own conflict of powers by grossly, and abjectly again, intervene to prepare the dismissal of the Justices that have displeased the Chavez regime. It is striking that when one reads some of the pertinent details of the CMR ruling that some of the procedural faults that they use to substantiate their case have been done, in even more striking fashion by the Constitutional Court. That court actions have not bothered the least the CMR.

Truly, Human Rights Watch could not expect to have its conclusions be proven so right so fast while Mr. Vivanco is still inside Venezuela.

But why is the government so strident about HRW? Why forge ahead and keep dismantling the judicial system? In particular kill the Electoral Court? Well, August 15 is coming closer and closer and polls are not improving. Besides there is more and more evidence of problems within chavismo as a consequence of the Recall Election drive defeat when chavismo was unable to stop 25% of people to sign up in spite of all sorts of political pressures, corruption and legal maneuvers to annul scores of signatures. While the Vice left the foreign minister deal with HRW, he was making yet a new pathetic appeal for unity within chavismo, while the big electoral piñata is starting to run, with a total disregard for the financial consequences. The director of PDVSA tried to assuage opinion, and markets, by saying that the PDVSA monies will be handled with accountability, but at this point, who is he fooling?

It is EXTREMELY URGENT for Chavez to secure control of the judiciary if he wants to block the Recall Election or fudge its results.

Quite simple, really.

Friday, June 18, 2004

A very bad day for Chavez in Venezuela
Authoritarianism exposed, judicial system intervention exposed by Human Rights Watch

Thursday 17, June 2004

It was not a good day for chavismo. Not only a few of their covers were blown away but their reactions to these events was really not the best way to counter such a public relations debacle.

The news were centered around the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the Judicial system in Venezuela, report strong enough that it lead the HRW to call for application of the democratic chart of the Americas to Venezuela. The rest, well, it was the ill tempered reactions of Venezuelan officials that thought they would never be denounced so publicly, so "gotcha!". And it did not help that other news gave very appropriately further examples of the lack of restraint from the chavista administration.

The HRW report

Really nothing new for the readers of this blog: the new law on the judicial power basically delivers it into the hands of the legislative which is the same to say as in the hands of the executive, removing any pretense as to the separation of powers. The reasons are varied but the main ones is that it has become very easy for the legislative to remove any High Court Justice that meets its displeasure. This added to the fact that a simple majority vote of the National Assembly (NA) is enough to sit a new judge. And more.

The HRW report is very complete and very informed (in Spanish). It must be remembered that HRW has been following the Venezuelan government for quite a while, thus this is not a "sudden" interest of HRW. The summary of the report even goes to the extent of acknowledging again the abuses of the Carmona fleeting coup. I quote:
"In the 2002 coup, Venezuela’s democratic order was attacked by some of Chavez’s opponents,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "But today the biggest threat to the country’s rule of law comes from the government itself.”

and even more to the point
The Organization of American States (OAS) should closely monitor the situation of the Venezuelan judiciary. Unless concrete steps are taken immediately to reverse these threats to judicial independence, the secretary general of the OAS should use his authority under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to address the issue. Article 18 authorizes the secretary general to take actions, with the prior consent of the government concerned, to analyze threats to a country’s "democratic political institutional process,” and seek a collective response from the OAS.
During Venezuela’s 2002 coup, the Charter was crucial in mobilizing member states to join the chorus of condemnation that helped restore President Chavez to office. "The Charter helped save Venezuelan democracy from Chavez's foes during the 2002 coup,” said Vivanco. "Now it could help protect Venezuela from this new threat.”.

Reactions from the chavista side

As expected with the sorts that are ruling the country, the reactions were basically vehement and tried to turn international attention elsewhere. The most curious declaration came from the absentee president of the NA, Francisco Ameliach, who probably missed 90% of the sessions where the questioned law was discussed and voted. Our ineffable Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangel was not as delicate: he accused Vivancos of being a mercenary of imperialism.

"un mercenario al servicio de los poderes imperiales"

The Vice should be well advised to check out the web pages of HRW where he could notice that HRW has also written rather damaging reports on the US activities (the Empire) on such points as abuses of the US forces in Afghanistan, or urging the US Congress to restore some liberties clearly undercut since September 11, not to forget abuses in Iraq. My guess is that Vivancos has more influence, more recognition, more trust outside Venezuela than the Vice whose screaming might help him with some of the local crowds but can only undermine him further overseas.

CNN among others reported on such a momentous announcements and the reactions.

It should be noted that Jose Vivanco came to Venezuela himself to make the announcement, showing a certain courage by not hiding behind some safe desk. And his recommendations are not that outrageous: the High Court should annul the law and send it for re-discussion by the NA to make it a little bit more presentable to the International Body. In an interview to Union Radio he declared that he was sorry by the reaction of the Vice, seeing them for what they were: a show of immaturity by the government to try to dodge the issue instead of addressing them (his words more or less). While of course the NA is called to vote a "persona non grata" status in order to expel Vivanco (who probably will fly out of the country before the inefficient NA manages such a vote).

Vivancos in a press interview also noted that HRW is observing several ongoing issues in Venezuela, such as the pseudo trial on Sumate, also reminding that invoking the American Charter on democracy was not a bad thing since it previewed intercontinental remedial action before any sanction could be taken (article 18).

On other news, more examples were feeding the HRW water mill

The judicial front today was rather active with a few more indictments and weird inter courts maneuvers. On one hand Juan Fernandez was cited and accused of conspiracy and all sorts of things with a dossier requiring 32 volumes. Yet his lawyers think the case does not stand. Why? Well, to begin with Mr. Fernandez as a leader of the failed PDVSA strike in December 2002 has been very careful of giving all the installations to the government with a notary act. Second, how come that if he is accused of such crimes, the indictment comes more than one and a half years later? But so is "opportunistic" justice in Venezuela.

In a more mundane but graver perhaps development, Elinor Montes, the woman that was savagely beaten by a female National Guard in images that went around the world was cited to tribunal as a "witness". Rumor has that the female guard, who has been awarded a medal for her "heroism" in February 27, might have been convinced to sue Ms. Montes of attacking her, or such nonsense. The existence of a video TOTALLY exculpating Ms. Montes and strong enough to land the female guard in jail is no problem for the corrupt judicial system. After all the Baruta mayor has been rotting in jail even though a TOTALLY exculpating video exists for his case too.

However some interesting news came up as the High Court requested the dossier on Sumate from the Military prosecutor. A sign that maybe, just maybe something my be shifting somewhere.

And other news did not help

Baduel, the Army commander and supposedly a Chavez faithful declared to Reuters that the Army will respect the result of the recall election if Chavez loses. That Baduel felt compelled to declare that was rather strange. A trap? A sing of internal dissentions in chavismo? This was coupled with declarations from the Brazilian foreign minister ratifying the importance of International Observers in Venezuela on August 15. Now we start understanding better why Chavez canceled his Sao Paulo trip this week end.

But my favorite one of the day for it revelations of what is going on within Chavismo was the defenestration of deputy Roger Rondon from his chair of the NA's Energy Committee. The censure motion on the corresponding minister was of course denied. Rondon replied that he has information that could sink the government but that in spite of all that was done to him his fidelity to the Revolution was not into question. Rondon had denounced irregularities in oil sales through state oil company PDVSA and the dismantling of Bitor SA -a PDVSA subsidiary. Really Mr. Rondon?

An epilogue of sorts

All what is happening was illustrated very well by a comment from President Carter when he reported to his Center after coming down to monitor the Signature Process. In a very elegant way he penned how Chavez controls, or at least tries to control EVERYTHING in Venezuela, on how everything depends on Chavez's will.
CNE President Carrasquero and Jorge Rodriguez called to tell us we had violated our role and that we would be disqualified from further duties as observers. I made a brief televised statement explaining the reason for our visit [as a consequence of Carter inspecting reports of irregularities].

When Dr. McCoy, Dr. Diez, and I met with President Chavez for supper, we described the situation to him, he called Carrasquero, and a meeting was scheduled for the following morning.

Indeed. A simple phone call from El Supremo...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Our daily outrage in Venezuela
An electoral campaign starts to unfold

It is kind of difficult to remain blasé in Venezuela, even though the news should be a little bit tamer now that we are heading toward the so wished for Recall Election. But such an election comes with a campaign and electoral campaigns, well, you know… Still, the real important news are not too numerous and, it seems that I can keep it down to a post a day, easier on me and on this blog's readers. Let's do today's digest.

The Internet item of the day has to be Venezuela going in the list of countries trafficking with people. Alexandra Beech writes on the children that not only Chavez has failed to protect, but whose fate is even worse after 5 years of chavismo.

Still, this did not stop the High Constitutional Court to rule that if Chavez is Recalled on August 15, he will be able to run in 2006 again. One would like to think that the ruling came as a favor to Chavez to allow people to forget about his misrule of the past 5.5 years. But nothing of the sorts as the ruling does not address the real question: will Chavez be able to run for the presidential election to fill up the last two years of his term if he is recalled. Apparently in this shameless political system that Chavez has saddled us with, some people think that a Recall Election is nothing more than a memo to the boss. To be continued.

Thus Chavez keeps rolling out his campaign. The latest initiative is a radio show to be transmitted at 10:30 PM. The title? "Patrolling with Chavez". This is no joke. Chavez is "personally" going to tell his followers every night what they should do the next day. The transmission vehicle is organizing them in "patrols" of a dozen or so people that will go door to door making sure people are registered to vote, and vote Chavez. Incidentally, though it has not been reported in the foreign press who probably would think of it as bad joke, the government in Venezuela has stopped working. Effectively since the "Mision Santa Ines" has been called and the "Comando Maisanta" sworn in to lead the mission, we have learned that most cabinet members will be in the fields for the next two month working for the Recall Election defense of Chavez term. Of course during that time tax payer money will continue providing for their paychecks. They will be helped in their non sectarian labor for the benefit of ALL Venezuelan people by the monies of PDVSA directly detoured for their usage without any of the normal budgetary controls such as the Central Bank or the General Comptroller office. The effects on inflation and corruption might be felt by August 15th......

Amazingly one of Chavez supporters in the National Assembly, perhaps sensing a shift in the political winds, has dared cite the Oil Minister to account for this illegal transfer of funds. Representative Rondon has dared propose a vote a no-confidence to Rafael Ramirez, citing a very long list of possible misdeeds and unexplained facts. This has created quite as stir within chavismo seats with some representatives bending backwards to praise Ramirez and trying to simply eject Rondon from the commission he presides. Dissenting in chavismo is the highest crime, whereas more mundane sins such as corruption are easily overlooked.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Electoral Board, CNE, has finally written the "QUESTION". The Recall Election being a referendum, it needed a question. Well, they managed to avoid using the word "revoke" in the question, instead using a "end" the mandate. It is just a silly face saving maneuver but it tells a lot about the mood of chavismo, trying desperately to grab any twig to stay afloat. The controversy about the automated process keeps apace, no compromise on sight, no reassuring events for the public. Right now, it seems that all the doubts that I expressed a few weeks ago as to the reliability of the system are still unanswered.

However the CNE seems to be losing the battle of the International Observers. In a clear sign that the International Community is quite up to the tricks that Battaglini and his posse are intending to develop as an electoral fraud, the European Community has offered its services for international observers. The Battaglini claque, since he woke up, was to ban the "partial" OAS and Carter Center since they basically forced them to accept the signatures. Now it would be very difficult to accept Europe and refuse America, or to refuse all of them. In other words, delicately the offer of money and people for the August contest is a very delicate and diplomatic way for Europe to say to chavismo that elections not duly monitored will not be recognized. It is interesting to see that the Battaglini started the whole affair but now Rodriguez is trying to mend fences. One wonders, one wonders…

And of course I could not leave you with yet another aerial display at the Euro Cup, with France's Zidane shooting the ball above the Flying Britishers.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Savoring France's Victory, the European Elections
and uncovering bizarre funding?

Monday 14, June 2004

Well, Britain played very well, but they did commit a couple of mistakes at the very end. Their 1-0 lead evaporated unbelievably in 3 minutes of prolongation time to a 1-2 loss. Zidane entering for good into immortality scored two balls in the same area of the net, with the same strength that gave the fleeting impression of a football encrusted in the net, before falling on the ground. Tough for Britain, but they should still feel OK, they played very well, and their mistake was against France. Not the kind of team one can make mistakes....

I still think that France and Britain will make it to the 4 last teams. Considering the other games played far it should not be too difficult.

Meanwhile Europe finished its vote. The point of this blog is not to discuss European politics unless Venezuela is involved. However I could not fail to observe that manual voting was the rule on TV, from France's Chirac having trouble closing his envelope to Germany's Schoeder folding a very large ballot. Pictures of tables in different countries covered with large ballots were for all to see. Yet by midnight European time all the results were in and I have not seen reports of fraud, yet.

Contrast this with the current electoral debate in Venezuela where chavismo wants to impose automation, no control, no external observers, etc... And I can bet anything that come August 15, by midnight we will still not have the results and both sides will be screaming fraud. Though we know which is the side most likely to commit fraud, the one that has access to all elements of power, all elements that allow it to commit elaborate fraud schemes. Could we just pay Estonia to run our elections?

On another front, Vcrisis seems to have obtained new information on how is spent some of the money that Chavez gives overseas to improve his image, outside of the famous Patton Boggs lobbying firm. A first installment comes in: The 'impartial' advocates of Venezuela?$ Hugo Chavez. I cannot wait for the rebuttal of the people named as recipients of "grants" and what not. Gee, I wonder if someone from the opposition is willing to fund me. I am tired of writing everyday and not being paid for... And I write at least as well and certainly more objectively than some of the people named. Sour grapes? Me?

Meanwhile we will be looking for further installements from Vcrisis.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sunday Morning in San Felipe
Termites and Latin American integration

Sunday 13, June 2004

The start of the rainy season has brought to Yaracuy almost non stop cloudy weather, and almost wice daily rain for the last month and a half. In fact, the temperature has been cooler than normal. The humidity has reached levels that I do not recall, fungus growing even on my stored shoes! This morning I had a bad surprise. When I grabbed my CD of Beethoven 9th, I found INSIDE the CD, a growing termite nest!!! The CD was stored in its normal pile inside a wooden crate; I had not touched it for at least a couple of month! Now I am going to have to go through all my wooden furniture and track termite nests!!!! This is happening on the third floor of a concrete building...

The reason why I wanted to listen to the 9th is because today Europe finishes its electoral process to elect a new assembly considering the increase in membershipm, and the 9th is the European anthem. I am definitely pro European, and I cannot help to contrast the two process, the effective trade oriented and now people oriented European integration with the failed Latino American Integration where leaders want it to be "leader" oriented instead of people oriented. Only Mercosur is making any headway there, and this because they decided to create common "material" interest before moving on further integration.

But In Venezuela Chavez has basically sabotaged the precarious Andean Community (From Venezuela to Bolivia). Instead he has been proposing an obscure ALBA which has been most welcome by anti globalization defenders; but turned down by any responsible leader. Sensibly as the ALBA is a vehicle for the international image of Chavez and has little to do with economic reality. On the other hand, after having trashed the Andean association Chavez has been knocking the door to Mercosur, receiving little bit more than a polite hearing. On the other hand the Andean Community seems to forge faster links with the Mercosur than impatient Venezuela. Some wits have remarked that before Venezuela creates new commercial links it should demonstrate that it honors the ones it already has. But that will not happen: "integration" Chavez way is not driven by the interests of the people but by his own political interests. That might work with Venezuela, but Argentina and Brazil leaders, inasmuch as they might be on the left political spectrum, know better.

Still, an undaunted Chavez will jump in his plane this afternoon for a Brazilian meeting on third world development sponsored by Lula. The sad fact for Chavez is that Lula is going to use him for free. In his rather successful bid to slow down North America trade hegemonical desires in Latin American, Kirchener and Lula have been using Chavez as an example of what they could do if they wanted to. By displaying Chaevz next to themselves, they do clearly demonstrate that they are very responsible leaders when they force the IMF to give a better deal to Argentina, or when they block trade talks like the Cancun round a few weeks ago.

The problem with Chavez is that he is locked into an infantile anti US policy hoping to stir support at home with depasse slogans. He might have an echo outside Venezuela, but inside we are starting to think that termites are getting inside his XIX century caudillo reactionary brain. These termites did damage my CD but still the 4th movement, Ode to Joy, did play perfectly. I take it as a good omen.

...and give us our daily Cadena.
Media abuse in Venezuela, and some other thoughts on middle class demise and Caracas as a slum.

Saturday evening

Chavez loss in the signature collection process, in spite of all the frauds committed from his side, all the millions spread, all the blackmailing, has resulted in an angry Chavez, doing the only thing he can do: campaign. So, instead of buying TV time like any political party would do, he gives a daily "cadena". By law he is allowed to tie up ALL the air borne media for announcements of National importance. But he abuses it for ours, discussing anything he pleases, almost exclusively attacks on the opposition, and lately on the Evil Empire of the North who has bought all of the leaders of the opposition. Tonight he is inaugurating a ketchup plant that has been recovered by the National Guard (!), which finances it from its savings association. Ribbon cut, up went the cadena and the ranting.

Amazingly during the whole cadena I have had time to wash my dinner dishes, take a shower and update my Internet reading. And the cadena continues, so I might as well write a post (France is playing tomorrow, I might not write :)

Two articles caught my attention tonight. The first one is an account of Gustavo Coronel visit to Caracas. He resides in the US now, but seems to come often. His tale of Caracas woes is hair rising. His tale of governmental resources misappropriation even worse. Which of course brings him to the following conclusion:
Words are ineffectual against poverty unless good and transparent management of national wealth accompanies them.

The other Internet item on the agenda was a new post from Val Dorta. He bemuses the fact that no real Middle Class has existed in Venezuela and that goes a long way to explain our current statement, our inability to shackle off our populism. He does make a few good points, in particular when he analyses the psychotic dependency that we have with oil, but I am not quite in agreement on his main premise.

A middle class exists (or has existed before Chavez?). It was composed of two elements: an entrepreneurial and a bureaucratic sections. Certainly the entrepreneurial was in part tainted by government easy contracts and corruption. But Venezuela until the 80 ies was able to create a few large private companies: Polar, Protinal, the Cisneros group and other not as big. Some perhaps did ride the tail of a favorable administration, but many of the smaller companies contrary to the black legend did obtain their riches the hard way. In fact most enterprises that were born out of governmental blessing eventually disappeared, lacking that je ne sais quoi that ensures the survival of business starting from ground zero: dedication. The ill fate of this sector was actually the irresponsibility of the government policies, the successive devaluations, the general insecurity that settled late in the 70ies.

The bureaucratic middle class had its worth also. As Venezuela developed a too large administration it also developed a significant educational and health care sector that did create a middle class of its own. Maybe it did not share the entrepreneurial values of the other middle class group, but it certainly share its love of democracy, its desire of self determination.

Both classes, both now severely diminished in the last decade, and on purpose by Chavez policies, are the one that set the democratic tone of the country. Even if now they are only 20 to 30% of the population, they have convinced enough of the remaining 70% of the other sector to follow them in the quest for a better Venezuela.

Wether we have learned the lesson of 40 years of populism is another question. What is certain is that we do have a core population in the country that considers that work and education are what frees us from dependence.

Otherwise we would have failed at collecting the signatures to force a Recall Election.

Euro Cup is doing me a world of good! I have not written something this optimist in a long time!

Saturday, June 12, 2004

AWOL for a few weeks?

Saturday 12, June 2004

The intensity of the writing these past few weeks has been a little bit draining. To the point of having to watch myself from becoming strident when I see all the provocations lightly thrown by chavismo.

Fortunately the Euro 2004 soccer/football Cup started today. For those that do not know, this is THE tournament. Perhaps not with the emotion of the World Cup, but overall a better football than the World Cup, at least for purists (which I am not, by the way). If Brazil and Argentina were in Europe, there might be no World Cup...

Through June and the first week of July my posting will be more erratic, depending on the football schedule (the word soccer will be banned from this blog until the final game). In other words when France, my team, or Spain or the Netherlands play, my other favorites, you might want to look elsewhere for Venezuelan news. Not to mention that the South American situation will keep my attention as Venezuela is doing better than ever.

Let's just say that I will be on a semi break until July when the action will get rather intense in Venezuela. For today I leave you with two pictures that suggest a rather aerial view of football, more even than basketball!

From today 1-0 Spain-Russia.

A few days ago, the German Goalie, Kahn, best 2002 World Cup player.

Venevision searched by the Venezuelan security police, DISIP

This afternoon a party of security police and National Guards searched one house rented by Venevision, NOT the main installations (they have also searched other properties of the Cisneros group to which Venevision belongs). Venevision did not even interrupt its broadcast and Globovision was the first one to send the images live.

Well, they did find something. Some old handguns in some kind of small storage room with a broken window. As seen on TV the they were old guns, many missing parts that made most of them totally useless. Venevision director did not know of these old guns but said that one of the most ancient employees remembered that this house was a private security company before the house was rented by Venevision about 20 years ago. Someone did not clean up well before moving in. Or perhaps they kept that for props in some of the TV shows organized from that house?

Of course, the search was directed to that particular house looking for "war weapons" in connection with the "paramilitary affair" (soon to become fiasco?). It is interesting that these old weapons were so conveniently found in what is a rather public place. In a room where anyone could have got inside to drop them. Paramilitary training there? Going to assault Miraflores Palace with rusted incomplete guns? Why do I smell a rat again?

Some personalities have already dismissed the event as a mere show to distract from the real question, the Recall Election. For the time being, I tend to agree.

Friday, June 11, 2004

One more political prosecution confirmed

Add to the list that I posted last night another name, Alejandro Plaz from Sumate. As for Maria Corina Machado, the charges are for conspiracy (apparently the prosecution has not been able to maintain the "betrayal to the fatherland" charges for both of them, but it can still happen).

Meanwhile the military prosecutor in the case of the officers arrested in connection with the "paramilitary affair" is requiring further extension to build his case. OK, let's see if we can get this right. One month ago a hundred or so "Colombian paramilitary" were arrested supposedly in fraganti, with brand new uniforms and boots and shaven heads. One month after and the very few military that have been arrested cannot still be indicted, while they are in jail, just in case of I suppose.

OK, let's try again, 100 + paramilitary arrests and NONE of them can recognize the military officers arrested supposedly for organizing the whole thing?

I still do not get it. 100 + paramilitary arrested and there is not a bill, a picture, a weapon, a search result that is able to support a serious case against the military officers arrested?

I am sorry, I still do not get it! Can someone explain that to me? Someone in for example? And why you are at it please also explain why Machado and Plaz are indicted on 53,000 USD dollars while the campaign headquarters of Chavez has free access to the 2 billion dollars transferred "as is" to Bandes? Come on guys, you can do it! Eva? You already wrote me once. Greg? You were in touch with Francisco. Sanchez? You trashed a post of mine in Aporrea. Mark? Anyone?
The New York Times > International > Americas > Venezuelan Recall Is in Dispute Even Before the Vote

Friday 11, June 2004

That was the title of the latest Juan Forero installment. Now, readers of this blog know that I have been criticizing Juan Forero reporting on Venezuela for the NYT for quite a while, but for once I must admit that he has hit bull's eye! Namely, the electoral fraud that the Electoral Board, CNE, seems to be planning.

Simply put, the electronic system chosen by the CNE is far from satisfactory as to the safety requirements for a fair election. I have already commented on that in the March 28 post. And, for example, more can be read recently on the Sixth Republic by Alex or in Spanish with Carlos Garnier. In other words, Venezuelan bloggers have been quite aware of the problems for a while and we welcome foreign opinion becoming aware of the problem too.

Then again Juan Forero is not the only one signing the article, explaining perhaps the more direct critical tone.... Or perhaps he is finally opening his eyes as to the real nature of the beast?
The Political Prisoner count increases in Venezuela

Thursday 10, June 2004

Today was a rather infamous day for the chavista cause as a few people were either arrested, or maintained in jail, or indicted regardless of the judicial merit of their indictment which in some cases actually did not happen as people are being arrested for the lamest excuse such as the "he might flee the country" of Capriles Radonsky.

Let's see TODAY'S unbelievable count.

Maria Corina Machado was indicted today for "conspiracy" (as in betrayal to the father land) because she organized Sumate to remove Chavez from office. She is not arrested yet as apparently the case against her is a little bit shaky. But of course she cannot leave the country and risks final arrest at any time (I am sure as soon as the work of Sumate organizing the August 15 journey starts imporving the polls of the opposition).

Dulce Bravo and Vasco da Costa were denied their appeal against unfair arrest. Theirs is a more obscure case where apparently they claim that the "proof" was hidden in their belongings. Apparently the proof is some kind of pamphlet very far from explaining the complete scope of the conspiracy to which their name has been associated. Thus they will remain in jail while the prosecution tries to find something more convincing.

Three colonels arrested a few days ago lost an appeal and will have to remain 15 more days in jail while the prosecution tries to build a more convincing case. This was related with the "paramilitary" affair, for which NO HARD EVIDENCE has been shown to the press yet. But somehow the government will find somebody "guilty" long enough, at least until something else happens and people forget how clumsily the government directed the whole scam.

Leonardo Carvajal received a citation to the prosecutor office to account for charges of conspiracy and betrayal to the fatherland. The citation is for June 21, and according to Carvajal it is because this week end, while representing the opposition at the OAS Ecuador summit, he had strong words with the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS. Carvajal came to notoriety in 2001 when he organized the very first street protest against Chavez, a movement that last week eventually managed to activate the Recall Election process. He landed in Caracas to find the citation waiting.

The Tachira 9, a group of people arrested in Tachira state for some of the troubles that occurred in Tachira during the April 2002 events. Today they reached 1 year in jail and their release was denied. Now, maybe they are guilty of something, but after one year they should have reached trial by now. Nothing of the sort, and actually their indictment seems quite shaky to justify ONE YEAR in jail.

And to close the day with a firework, ex-general, ex security director of Chavez, Ovidio Poggioli, has been put to jail. What is absolutely amazing is that Mr. Poggioli benefits from an order to the High Court against unjust prosecution and this was disregarded by the military judge on the case. Yet again the decisions of the High Court are disregarded by some of Chavez lackeys. Mr. Poggioli and his lawyer have refused to sign the indictment because it was, they claim, illegal and because the charges are not deserving of a preventive arrest.

Not bad for one day: 1 new arrest, 14 confirmed arrests and 2 indictments, all for political reasons. And this is already too long a post to recall the ones already jailed that were not in court today. Meanwhile some "journalists" overseas are claiming that there are NO political prisoners in Venezuela. You can see it all in my preceding post. And a long list for the reader to wonder how much of democracy is left in Venezuela.

Maybe I should start planning for the day when this blogger will be accused for "conspiracy and betrayal to the father land" for saying mean things against the glorious leaders of the gloriouser bolivarian revolution. Any one can point me to a good lawyer? I might be kidding at this time, but who knows, someday Venezuelan bloggers might not be kidding anymore. Because I am not stopping, nor anyone else, just as we salute all the people that were in the news today as ALL OF THEM SAID THAT IT DID NOT MATTER, THAT WE SHOULD KEEP FOCUSED ON THE RECALL ELECTION OF AUGUST. Brave people!

Gloria al bravo Pueblo!

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Is Venezuela a democracy?
A post in progress

Thursday 10, June 2004

With the announcement of a Recall Election in Venezuela we are witnessing a certain metamorphosis in some of the pseudo opinion makers around the media. For some of them, the fact that Chavez has accepted to run in a Recall Election is a proof that he is a democrat. Never mind that he had been forced into accepting such a thing, that the road to reach such an election is paved with violence, corruption, blackmail and what not. Never mind that August 15 is still far away and that a lot of water will go under that democracy bridge, enough water to sweep it away. Still, this does not stop the publication of ludicrous articles such as Weisbrot accusing the Washington post on lying about political prisoners in Venezuela when every body here knows that a couple of dozen people are sought or held with no trial in sight just because they acted on political grounds. Is he that ill informed? Is he lying himself? Then again he would not be the only one.

Thus I have decided to make a little table where I compare what a democracy should be, what Venezuela currently is and what an authoritarian regime is. The reader will be able to decide where does Venezuela falls.

Note: this post will be an open post. If people can come up with additional aspects to compare I will include them and eventually repost the whole list. Suggestions for a better presentation are of course welcome.

  Democratic regimesVenezuelaAuthoritarian regimes
Institutional and legal aspects,
that could be easily verified by curious international observers
independent and autonomous judicial poweryesnono
impartial inquisitory proceduresusuallynono
timely administration of justiceusuallynono
clear separation between legislative and executive powerusuallynono
national budgetary accountabilityyesnono
 freedom of the pressyesyesno
civilian control over the armyyesnono
army is a political actornosomewhatyes
respect for private propertyusuallynono
general accounting of government actions at the national levelusuallyvery limitednone
general accounting for governmental actions at the international levelyessomewhatsomewhat
Practical Aspects,
real life situations from the above that might not be as obvious for the international observer but that are common knowledge among Venezuelan citizens
fair electionsyesmaybeno
pressure on public employees depending on their political opinionsrareyesyes
political blackmail for governmental favors, jobspossibleyesyes
clean electionsyesmaybeno
effectivity of the press when denouncing governmental abuseyesnonot applicable
safety for journalists doing their jobyesnono
"cadenas", inadequate use of private networks air time by the government for political benefitnoyesyes
freedom of travelyesyespartial
freedom to tradeusuallyrestrictedvariable
influence on the political opposition on the application of some public policiesfrequentnonot applicable
corruptionexists, but sanctionedrampantusual
political prisonersrarelyyesyes
equality in front of the lawgenerallysomewhatno
equal access to to public servicesusuallylimitationsno
private property protectionyes, or with compensationvery limitedno
 personal security outside of political activitya goalvery lowvariable
personal security within political activityusuallyweaknone

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Chavismo's big time truants

Wednesday 9, June 2004

Venezuela's officials under Chavez include quite a collection of people whose interests and deeds are not the healthier ones that one would wish. Far from me to accuse anyone of doing things that are improper, but unfortunately many act as if they were doing improper stuff, or too stupid to notice it. This tropical "Cour des Miracles" has one thing in common: they find an explanation for any unpalatable action that they sponsor. And they get away with accounting for their responsibility simply because the office of Comptroller General is held by a certain Clodosbaldo Russian. This character who should diligently be monitoring the allocation of all monies in the country is actually the biggest truant of them all. Rarely heard off, he surfaces on occasion to deal directly with some cases of interest for the government such as the meager funds managed by any opposition leader. While the billions of dollar of PDVSA disappear in the vortex of the public administration.

The latest scandal to reach our shores is the deliberate "rerouting" of billions of dollars from PDVSA, the state oil company and major source of money for Chavez, with the barrel at 40 USD! Gustavo Coronel in an article for Petroleum World describes quite well how all the controls are failing and how the Chavez administration is receiving 2 billion dollars outside of all legal financing routes for the public administration. One truant worth mentioning is the head of the finance committee in the National Assembly, Rodrigo Cabezas, who apparently is not losing his sleep over this money final destination. One is allowed to wonder why.

Just a quote from that article:
Venezuela is a country controlled by a bunch of adventurers. This is our main problem. The Chavez government is not functioning within the rules of democracy and financial transparency. This government is using the resources of the nation as if they were their own, This is a crime.

But truancy can be found in non financial alleys too.

Another truant, back at work, is one of the 5 rector of the Electoral Board, CNE. While the CNE is torn in the epic discussions between Rodriguez and Zamora, with the regular support of Carrasquero and Mejias respectively, Battaglini can be out of the news scan for weeks. Not really a major problem as all know that he is THE unconditional chavista presence there. But today he reappeared, and not for good.

Battaglini was the only one yesterday to vote against the approval of the signature count, activating the Recall Election procedure. It was well known that he was the main defender of the "they did not gather them" line, following the lead of his boss since that Sunday in November when Chavez announced the "megafraud". The Megafraud been shown to be at best a minifraud, Battaglini comes back with a vengeance supporting the other line of combat "no to the partial international observers". That was the reason of his no vote yesterday because there was a clause that included the permanence of the international observers, the OAS and the Carter Center. Who would Battaglini suggest as impartial observer? Cuba?

There is one thing that all common truants share: they think that they are dealing with dumb people that do not know their right foot from left foot. But one day they will be all called into accounting.
Maria Lionza breaks her back

Tuesday 8, June 2004

The racial origins of Venezuela go a long way in explaining why we are such a superstitious country, a country so open to spiritual influences from all type. Thinly settled by native Americans that were hard to subjugate, late to be colonized by the Spaniards who were more interested by the gold found elsewhere, a rather significant input from slavery, many slaves able to escape to the Venezuelan wilderness and mix with the natives, probably allowed to the persistence of many local spiritual practices that the Church and the Spaniard master could control better elsewhere. Thus, like Brazil, Venezuela has a most vigorous santeria/voodoo/cadomble cult.

By far the main cult in Venezuela is the one of Maria Lionza, "La Reina" (a blue eyed Native princess) who forms a holy trinity with Negro Felipe (the African American element, a maroon slave) and Guaicaipuro (a famous native chief who resisted for a while in the Caracas area). Though this trinity can be quite increased in numbers according to local variations. It is basically a syncretic cult that represented the suffering of the lower social classes through Venezuelan history. Hence its success and persistence.

It is difficult to quantify its followers, a task made even more difficult since you can be a Roman Catholic on Sundays and have an altar to La Reina at home. But the proliferation of shops selling Maria Lionza paraphernalia with all sorts of potions are a sure indicator that we are talking of several millions. Whatever the numbers, even the non-believers are very familiar with Maria Lionza, if anything by her imposing statue smack in the middle of a busy Caracas highway. There in the buff she rides a danta, our local tapir variation [1]. Certainly a very natural image for the goddess that protects the water, plants and animals.

Followers brave constantly the perilous crossing of the highway to cover with floral offerings their deity, and that image is now iconic in Venezuela [2]. But if the statue of Maria Lionza has mystic appeal, it is still not of very great artistic value, IMO. And since it has been placed there in the early 50ies, it has not been taken care of, damage increasingly visible. Certainly the steel and concrete nature of the statue, subjected to the acid rain of traffic has not helped. On Sunday morning the statue, undergoing a spectacular restoration legal battle, collapsed. And on the eve of the chavista march of Caracas, 3 days after Chavez acknowledged that he must face a Recall Election.

The omen of the fall of Maria Lionza were clear to all of us, even to non believers. It has been a constant observation that chavismo includes a very large amount of Maria Lionza followers. Actually credible explanations on some actions of the regimes based on the predictions of the babalaos ("priests" of Maria Lionza) have been advanced: dates, symbol choices, choice of words... Chavez religious ambiguity has helped further these interpretations. Certainly, good indirect evidence has been the ongoing legal battle where the government is trying to move Maria Lionza to a rather unsuitable site, without any satisfying reason advanced. Suspicious minds of course assume that there is "promesa" to be paid by a high official, a vow made to La Reina (to reach office?)

Yaracuy is the accidental seat of the Maria Lionza sanctuary. It is the beautiful mountain of Sorte, not even half an hour from San Felipe. The orientation of the mountain to the trade winds makes it always receive some rain even in the middle of the dry season. Probably this almost permanence of water gave it a sacred character to the original inhabitant of the area. Even if it is not particularly high Sorte sits on a fertile plain that enhances its aspect vis-à-vis its local mountainous neighbors.

Every year during the October 12 long holiday the area swarms with people that come to practice the cult. No sanctuary or temples. People seek the streams flowing from the mountain, the pools that form naturally and under the jungle canopy perform all sorts of rituals that are best left undescribed.

But Yaracuy, to my surprise when I moved to the area, is not very fond of Maria Lionza. Actually for some it is rather an embarrassment for Yaracuy to host her cult. And the tourism it brings is not very welcome except by the local administration who sees the money it brings in. Perhaps we are aware that the danta is now extinct in our state even though the danta is our state animal and thus if Maria Lionza cannot even protect her animal in her own state...

Still, the streets were abuzz: all of Yaracuy knows that the break of Maria Lionza is a bad omen for Chavez.

And they are not the only one. Some TV talk shows do bring astrologers and other fortune tellers to give their version. A mission of babalaos is on its way to Sorte. Numerologists are having a field day since Maria Lionza broke on 6/6/2004, and 2 + 4 = 6. Some even remembered that the equestrian statue of Bolivar in Chacao broke in 1998 and a few months later the rising political career of Irene Saez, the Chacao mayor, came to an end in the hands of Chavez.

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

1- a photo gallery of Maria Lionza recent adventures.

2- Maria Lionza statue was already surrounded by a armature to allow previous restoration work until the legal battle decided of its final location (picture). Probably one late night disciple climbing recklessly to the top to put its floral offering was too much weight and it snapped. Fortunately the armature held the torso that otherwise would have hit the pavement and probably break into pieces making the statue irrecoverable. Incidentally the statue was used during a recent march of the opposition when a banner was attached to it asking La Reina to take Chavez away (picture). Have they been heard? The answer anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


Tuesday 8, June 2004

I have been silent on the implications of Thursday acknowledgement by Chavez that the opposition had indeed managed to reach the magical 20% to force a Recall Election on his mandate. The truth is that this has modified the whole panorama and many things need to be reevaluated before doing some possible predictions.

Here I will simply list all the questions that are to be answered in the next few weeks. And to simplify the list I assume that even if Chavez is Recalled, he still would be able to run for office right after (crazy, but crazier things have happened in Venezuela).

What does the Recall Election means?
Which are the possible results? And their direct consequences?
Why the date is particularly important?
How does this affect the regional elections set for September?
Why is the voting scheme so important?

How does the fact that a Recall Election is called for affect Chavez and his followers?
What will happen to the guys that failed in their task to avoid the Recall Election?
Will the indecent pressure put on the signatories to withdraw their signatures have consequences?
Is chavismo experimenting an internal crisis?
Are some in the Chavez camp betting on his departure to create a “chavismo without Chavez”?
Which scenarios are more favorable to Chavez? Which scenarios can cost him his political career?

How long will the unity hold?
Is the opposition going to be able to present itself as a credible alternative to chavismo? Or at least not as a direct threat to chavistas in case it reaches power?
If Chavez is indeed ousted, will the opposition be able to file a unique candidate? And how will this candidate be “elected”?
Will this be a “transition candidate” or will that candidate be allowed to run again in 2006?
How will the Recall Election affect plans for the Regional elections, in particular if these do happen to coincide with a presidential election?
What are the opposition plans if it manages to boot Chavez out but still needs to wait for a year until a new National Assembly is elected?

PENDING ISSUES (which cannot be solved right now but which will affect the issues described above):
Will we require a constitutional change?
What are we going to do with the violence that has settled in?
What is going to happen with the Venezuelan Army that seems rather divided?
What about the judicial system if Chavez leaves office?
What about PDVSA?

And many more questions.

The reader will understand why I am a little bit weary to get started on that. And hopefully forgive me for the delay as I keep dealing with some of these issues.