Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Closing for the day

Just a few observations to tie up some loose ends.

It seems that all my fellow bloggers, the ones blogging in English anyway, have got on Carter's case. It seems, very sadly, that his reputation is done and over in Venezuela. When 4 bloggers coincide so fast, then there is something really wrong going on. I suspect that his recent opinion in Florida will blow fast on his face as soon as people there start pulling out the Venezuelan controversy. I must confess that I am saddened by it all. Until June I thought the world of Carter and his foundation. But as the days went, I guess that I should have expected the August 16 noon show. The Carter Center just implode in Venezuela, unable to prevent abuse, unable to present a moral light to the country, muddling around trying to pretend to be more than what it was, instead of taking a principled stand and leaving the country. But Chavez seduced them, and probably on the cheap. I bet you Kerry chances in Florida will be hurt more than helped by Carter muddling there.

Union Radio publishes the declarations of Carolina Jaime where she states unambiguously that Kornblith should replace Zamora if all the appointment process of August 2003 has any legal validity, or rather morality. In other words, it remains to the High Court to demonstrate that in Venezuela there is still some shred of legality, precedent, morality, fairness, well, those things that make a democracy a democracy. Fat chance I suppose...

An interesting declaration from an historian, Blanco Munoz. According to him, the August debacle and the present CNE crisis are in part due to AD and Copei trying to keep a quota of power, even at the expense of democracy. AD and Copei not believing in true democracy anymore than chavismo. Chavismo being as any party in Venezuela's history, a multi-class party, rife with internal divisions and struggle for internal parcels of power. And Chavez will have more and more of a hard time to satisfy this greed. I like it when I see part of my thoughts corroborated by others with more exposure than this very humble blog. People tend to forget that most of chavismo is composed of ex-AD and ex-Copei, only the leadership coming from the Army with a few from the marginal left. Plus cela change, plus c'est la meme chose.

I will be very busy and on the road for the next couple of days. But I wrote enough these past two days, in particular the press review of Sunday that I hope will not be missed by readers. Unwillingly some of it helps explain what is happening since I posted it! I will try to find some time to write, but I have a job to hold to... and today I took too much time away of it!
The fall out of a CNE resignation.

As it is often the case, a big shake down brings the best and worse in people. Perfect time to see what are people really up to.

At noon, of course, all cameras were on Sobella Mejias, as a likely one to step down. But this is not going to happen any time soon. Her first TV appearance was in Globovision at noon and being at home for lunch I was able to hear her saying that "Los espacios no se ceden" ([political] spaces cannot be given up). She will stay, and in addition criticized Rodriguez performance late last week. Confirming to us that it was a solo performance and that Mejias and Zamora are/were completely out of the loop (one would think, in a normal country, that if a public official threatens to sue half of the country his colleagues at least have been warned). Translation of her words: the "space" refers to the fact that for as insignificant a toe hold one has it must be kept. Maybe. But we also should remember that Mejias is an AD supporter and AD has been rumored for too long that it is dealing in the shadows to keep political "space". More than ever Mejias looks like the AD agent to make sure AD keeps a few townhalls. Nothing that would be new for readers of this blog. And as a good Adeca, well, a pay check is a pay check.

This issue dealt with, the cameras focused on would substitute Zamora. Normally it should be the first under script, Miriam Kornblith. When the CNE was appointed by the High Court (beware! Not elected by the National Assembly as it should have been) each of the five rectors was accompanied with two substitutes. Normally any absence by the rector, or resignation, would mean that the first substitute steps in automatically. Unfortunately for Ms. Kornblith, chavismo loathes her. She is cool, composed, rational, totally unemotional and most of the time totally right and well informed. She would not have the discretion of Zamora.

Well, that apparently will not be a problem for chavismo. Flouting the laws written by themselves, the main lawyer of the CNE has just announced that anyone could be named to replace Zamora. First question? Why have substitutes if anyway someone else will be named? Translation: We chavistas are going to solve the problem of 3 to 2. We are going to make it a 4 to 1, presto!

Now, inasmuch as I like Ms. Kornblith who is probably one of the 5 top people in Venezuela as far as being able to organize elections, if she were to be named, which I doubt very much, it would not change anything except for more interesting news watching. The CNE is already all set up to favor chavismo, blatantly now, and whoever replaces Zamora is going to be a simple "potiche", to use the French word for wallflower.

Of course, I could not forget to mention the pro Chavez opinion. It writes itself in the annals of conspiracy theories, the poor defenseless government that needs everything to defend itself from the naughty cheating opposition. The Interior Minister, Jesse Chacon of 1992 bloody fame, declared , as translated by El Universal,
"We know that Ezequiel Zamora is a chessman of (opposition leader) Enrique Mendoza and the best choice to avoid the regional elections is to torpedo the CNE."
Adequately echoed by representative Lara, claiming once again that the opposition tries to delay elections when we all know that if it had been for us the Recall Election would have been held in August 2003!

And to conclude. The list of people that Rodriguez will have to have arrested is growing fast. Sumate director Plaz has declared that Rodriguez is not qualified to discuss the Hausman-Rigobon report. There is one thing that really is lucky for some chavistas: ridicule does not kill. Rodriguez would surely be dead by now. And Chacon and Lara too, now that I think of it.

PS: as I finish this up, Carolina Jaimes was talking on Globovision. She is the third in line after Kornblith. She has stated that she will refuse to go above Miriam Kornblith. At last! Some body with class! Translation: if it is not Ms. Kornblith then it will not be her and someone else will be against the legal set up. I suggest my chavista readers to prepare some nice explanations for when Kornblith is snuffed out of the race and we get a 4 to 1 CNE. And please, try to do so with a straight face.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Carter keeps piling it up

From the BBC: Carter fears Florida vote trouble.

Let's see.

Mr Carter, a veteran observer of polls worldwide, also accused Florida's top election official of "bias".

He accused Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, a Republican, of trying to get the name of independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader included on the state ballot, knowing he might divert Democrat votes.

And it ends with this beauty:

Mr Carter said Florida Governor Jeb Bush - brother of the president - had "taken no steps to correct these departures from principles of fair and equal treatment or to prevent them in the future".

"It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation," he added.

"With reforms unlikely at this late stage of the election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida."

Let's see if I got this right Mr. Carter. What is good for Venezuela is not good for Florida? And I am not talking of the Venezuelan result of August 15, but of all the irregularities ALREADY presented before August 15. Tu use your own words: fraudulent or biased electoral practices. But I guess we are still "indios".

President Carter, you would be well advised to do yourself a favor: forget about Venezuela. Do not visit us anymore. Stick to Florida from now on. And make sure that the word Venezuela never comes up in conversation if you want people to listen to you there.
Shake up at the CNE in Venezuela
Almost live blogging!

Ezequiel Zamora, vice president of the CNE, has just tended his resignation. In his declarations he points out that the CNE cannot keep in its futile 3 to 2 battle serving only one side. He hopes that the other rectors of the CNE will be brought to reflect on the situation and take the appropriate measures.

As I have been writing last week, this was about to come. Tulio Alvarez said it quite clearly: staying inside the CNE in a never changing 3/2 vote, with access denied to many areas of the CNE was eventually making Zamora and Mejias unwilling accomplices. Zamora got the message and decided not to be anymore the "tonto util" (useful fool, hard to translate with its full flavor). It is only too easy to compare the hysterics of Rodriguez and the responsibility and seriousness of Zamora. The passionate defense of Rodriguez yesterday by Chavez only illustrates the old dictum: "the lady does protest too much".

Thank you rector Zamora. Now I know that if you had not been there things would have probably been much worse than they were.
Electoral fraud, abstention and corruption in the glorious bolivarian revolution (+ a last minute Chavez flare-up)

To abstain or not to abstain, this seems to be the question. Indeed, when one observes that all the cheating at the CNE goes unabated, when one sees that the opposition is unable to find a fighting strategy to defend its local seats, it is no wonder that the ghost of abstention is floating around. Yet, the opposition does have merits at the local level. It is generally recognized that opposition governors have performed better than chavista governors, some of them hotly contested within chavismo. This is not a big mystery as many of the candidates put up in 2000 had no experience and decided early in their term to hide within Chavez skirts. Besides the governors of Falcon and Aragua, it is hard to find a chavista governor that had managed to create its own persona.

A quick press review will illustrate the general mood.

El Universal

Two articles ponder the merits f abstention. Argelia Rios bemoans, rather obscurely, the inevitability of abstention. Pretty much she says that Chavez has won the game and that fraud has a total discouraging effect that will allow him to win by forfeit, without necessary cheating this time.

Agustin Blanco, right below, is more direct than the inevitability and wimpy surrender of Argelia Rios. He predicts that the convulsion is around the corner and that we might as well get ready for it. Unless we are willing to accept the US model imposed on us since Juan Vicente Gomez, "keep the natives quiet" (my interpretation!). Where he is more incisive is the role of Accion Democratica, AD, which he blames for the present situation. He reminds us that AD was never a firm defender of the Recall Election, much preferring to deal directly with the local elections. Actually their plan was to bet (allow ?) a narrow Chavez victory and thus be in a better position to harvest a few governor mansions and town halls. In their calculations, an Enrique Mendoza as president would have made things more difficult for AD! Unfortunately for AD the victory of Chavez has been much stronger than expected and all of AD calculations have come to naught. The evidence of AD's complicity would have been the long silence after August 15, just to come back and say "Let's go to the regional elections!" as if nothing. But that long silence has created such a pro abstention feel in the country that AD is at risk of losing to Chavez its present holdings!

Manuel Caballero is much more energetic and uses his grasp of Venezuelan history to remind folks that the Velazquez amendment for the unlimited reelection of Chavez is not the first case of adulation and political manipulation in Venezuela's history. The pretense of a self effacing Chavez chastising Velazquez for an untimely proposal did already happen in our history. In 1929 Juan Vicente Gomez "pretended" to refuse the presidency again and instead "accepted" to remain the commander general of the Army. Allowing thus placing a puppet president in Caracas. Caballero reminds us that Chavez talk of "until 2021" is more than hot air. And he ends by stating that if we want to allow that the best way is to abstain from political participation.

And to top it off Roberto Giusti interviews Dr. Rigobon from the MIT, one of the Hausman-Rigobon duet that uncovered the first serious evidence of fraud on August 15. For him the fraud was rather simple. No tops or nothing of the sort. Just in a certain percentage of tables a shaving of, say, 10% of the votes that go from SI to NO. This was detected simply by comparing predicted electoral behavior, and not even including exit polls which he is a detractor as they are usually garbage. How was the fraud uncovered? My translation:
RG: How do you determine the perpetration of fraud? [in the audited sample]RR: With an audit in which I chose the safe precincts. [that is, managing to chose for the audit the districts that will vote as the general result, without including districts that have been tampered, the main criticism to the Carter Center that has not been able to certify that the program used by the CNE to select the audit was safe!]

RG: That is an approximation or, at any rate, a deduction

RR: You discover the fraud because the sample that you have, with the results of past elections, becomes the great predictor of future elections. The difference is that in the sample object of the fraud there is a group of tables where if you were [from the opposition] you became [chavista]. That is, the change in opinion in the non-audited tables is much larger than in the audited sample. That is exactly what we found out.

Quite simple really: the changes in the audited sample were less drastic than the ones in the country at large. In my very humble opinion this seals the case for electoral fraud, Rodriguez snitching withstanding.

But what was more chilling was the prediction that more electoral fraud is on the way. According to Rigobon, to commit this type of fraud is very easy: you just need to push a key to change the results in 20 seconds country wide. This blogger would add that few people are involved and calculations were done well in advance. For example, the Army is not a direct accomplice, it is only obeying orders not to let people count the ballots in the boxes. Just like camp guards that were "following orders".

There is also, on a different topic, a complete report of the traffic of influences of the "Tascon clan" in Tachira state. Luis Tascon came to fame as the National Assembly representative who opened a web page with the name and ID number of all who signed against Chavez, a list widely used to sanction these people. This fascist attitude should not surprise us when we read all the thuggery that he and his relatives seem to manage in Tachira state. With the help of the "Valera clan". It is interesting to observe that Tachira was one of the weakest NO states. Maybe an idea for the opposition to harp a little bit more on the corruption and privileges publicly enjoyed now by a few chavista officials?

El Nacional

El Nacional had also interesting articles but unfortunately it is by subscription. I will still comment on one interview to Rafael Sanchez, a Venezuelan anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam (really, yet another one that chose to work away!). Apparently the man is about to publish "Dancing with the Jacobins: a genealogy of Latin American Populism" with the University press at Stanford. Needless to say that Chavez extreme populism is a subject of his studies. I will take three quotes from the interview:
Venezuelan society lives a heartbreaking/devastating [desgarradora] tension between the principle of liberty and the principle of equality.

And then later referring to Paez, our first president, a sort of symbol of individual liberty in Venezuela by the fact that he broke lose from the Gran Colombia (and hated by Chavez when politically expedient) and to Bolivar as the representative of a more direct democracy willing to sacrifice the individual he says:
Chavez's populism, which pretends to consolidate the principle of Bolivar over the principle of Paez, implies a terrible violation of certain forms of civil liberties.

And later:
Until we do not manage to translate both principles in such a way as liberty and equality feed from each other we will be condemned to repeat the battle between one vision and the other.

Words worth of an ample debate and reflection for both sides.

PS: Note added in proof.

Today I stayed away from TV. Too many worthy articles to read. However as I was finishing this post I read on line that Chavez has been attacking El Universal for its coverage of Tulio Alvarez and the CNE feeble and vindictive response of Rodriguez.

The editorial of EL Universal (in English) simply addressed the concern of the country that the electoral arbiter is not, well, a good arbiter. This must have hurt somewhere deep the ranks of the glorious revolution who must start feeling the heat from the street. Questioning of the cleanliness of the elections does not seem to be anymore an opposition concern only, otherwise how would one explain Chavez outburst? So we got insults to editor of El Universal and a tongue trashing cum defense of Jorge Rodriguez (who is rumored to be groomed for the vice presidency, someday).

And, by the way, if EL Universal got such a presidential trashing imagine if Chavez were to read what I wrote of his protege shrink :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2004

(or a lawyer, as the case might be)

The Venezuelan fraud issue is certainly not going to go away like that, wishful thinking and all. The Electoral Board, CNE, seems to get a little bit tired of these talks. Well, one of them anyway.

Let's revisit quickly the CNE composition. Two, Zamora and Mejias, are in the "opposition", meaning that they consistently vote in the 2 to 3 partiality. Their opposition is simply not accepting the unacceptable, amply documented by the OAS as recently as yesterday, again, by the Brazilian ambassador that was supposed to defend Chavez a few days ago. In his report Pecly Moreira points out that it would have been better for the CNE to collaborate a little bit more. In "diplomatese" this barb is for the majority of 3. Ah! And supreme insult, he suggested that the electoral system should be brought "up to date". This is not going to go down well for the defenders of the "best" constitution in the world and the "best and most honest" electoral system in Venezuelan history.

On the 3 side of the 3 to 2 chasm, we have one that is a confessed chavista hack. Battaglini has no qualms presenting the most outrageous ideas and opinions, and wastes no time defending them. He also does not pretend to be more than what he is, an apparatchick. The supposed president, Carrasquero, looks more and more like the little provincial lawyer that made good and who is waiting for his award, a 12 year sinecure in the High Court. Little people both.

Which bring to the real head of the CNE, and thus the one really responsible for all that the CNE has done, legally or illegally. Rodriguez is a psychiatrist whose father was a political victim a few decades ago. Thus he has always been opposed to whoever was in office before Chavez. This rather not promising qualification to become a fair electoral arbiter is not helped by the lust for the limelight that Rodriguez seems to have acquired since his nomination one year ago. Quite often he has come to the cameras only to dig his hole deeper, such as when he was furious at Carter sneaking at night in the CNE while Rodriguez minions were up to no good. This attitude (should we call it a narcissistic?) is not improving.

It seems that poor Rodriguez could not take it anymore and, very unprofessionally, went to TV yesterday, no less than as a "cadena", to a strange mix of complaint, defense and attack. As a school marm he lectured the country that there was no fraud and that if talk of that persisted he would sue those who dared. Of course, he did not bother responding clearly to the very serious allegations of the report submitted to the CNE and promptly rejected without serious review (a few hours could not be enough to evaluate seriously pages and pages, but when has the CNE bothered with hard data and dire reality!).

The least one can say after such a TV presentation is to wonder what kind of shrink Rodriguez was and how his patients left his office... But one thing that we need not to bother with is Rodriguez legal mind: a lawyer he ain't!

A few minutes ago Tulio Alvarez gave Rodriguez his due. Not only Alvarez quickly and precisely deconstructed all the braggadocio of Rodriguez, reducing it to hot air, but he went further. First, how could Rodriguez try to debunk the legal complexities of the Alvarez report when he not only rejected it out right but apparently did not even read it (Rodriguez addressed stuff that was not even in the report but somewhere else!). Further Alvarez warned that the 2 CNE directors that are always in the minority should reconsider their stay in the board: their constant opposition actually is validating all the shenanigans going inside the CNE. I have to agree with Alvarez there, Zamora and Mejias should have realized by now that they are the excuse behind which all the fraudulent actions take place. I even wonder what kind of access they have to what is going on. Apparently the CNE board meetings are rarer and rarer, letting all sorts of subcomissions doing the work and the reunions are quick meetings where the 3/2 majority decides stuff without debate. Indeed, what do Zamora and Mejias bring?

And to end with a flourish Alvarez told Rodriguez that he was going to have to put a lot of people in jail as the fraud talk was not going to go away, even with his more than unbecoming verbal violence.

Indeed, there are few people as discredited as Rodriguez in Venezuela. Even chavistas will not go and defend him, or will do so the way they would defend a well paid mercenary. His carving for the limelight has made Rodriguez the lighting rod of the fraud accusations and the country places on him the burden of the fraud if there was fraud, whichever side there are.

This blogger thinks, by the way, that Rodriguez is the big artifice of all this mess. EVEN IF there was no fraud on August 15, Rodriguez has done all what he could possibly do to favor the chavista side and thus compromise the result. Even if we remove the possible fraud on August 15 there are enough elements to put Rodriguez under investigation, that is, in a normal country. These elements come from the day where he called people that signed for the referendum crooks (only to be proven wrong in May 2004) to deciding on his own to buy all sorts of electoral devices without fair bidding or technical studies in which all parts would be witnesses.

Rodriguez is wrong, it is not the opposition that claims fraud that should be sued, it is himself that should get sued for not doing his job properly, from blocking justice, from abusing his power, and a few more things. The crimes are committed by those who can commit them, and certainly Rodriguez was in much better position than the opposition to commit electoral crimes.

And with these lines, this blogger puts himself on the list of people to get sued. That is OK, I am sure that I will have very intellectually stimulating discussions in jail with Tulio Alvarez and the team investigating fraud. Anything but the couch of Rodriguez!

Friday, September 24, 2004

News from Africa
A mirror to our Venezuelan future?

There are some perks with being a blogger. One is when readers write to say that we make a difference, that we do something right, that we explain things in a way they can understand. You know who you are and I thank you again. That people write to criticize or even complain is also rewarding: as a blogger we touch something in them that stimulates exchange. Those who insult and bail out, well, that is one chance we must take when we blog.

And there are those who bring material to discuss that a blogger has no time, unfortunately, to seek. Guillermo sends this article about Zimbabwe published in the International Herald Tribune. People that have been with this blog for a while will remember that Mugabe is for me one of the villains of the globe, alongside Castro, the Myanmar junta, and a few other pick choices. But Mugabe holds a special place of contempt because he started so well and ended up such a petty tyrant. Any similarity to our present situation in Venezuela? The reader may be the judge.

The article is titled "Mugabe's cruelty". Let's see. This tribal dictator has made an agrarian reform which was made under the sole criteria of "getting back" at whites. This could have been, maybe, justified at the time of independence but instead it was done a very few years ago and the land was in large part redistributed to Mugabe's cronies. Haphazardly would be a kind word. Even the National Geographic made an article on how lousy was the whole operation.

Today, while reports abound of an alimentary crisis in Zimbabwe, we see that:

Why would Mugabe block the United Nations World Food Program from
delivering food to hungry Zimbabweans? Last year, about half the country's 12
million people were getting such assistance. No longer. Mugabe says the country
is having a bumper harvest and relief is no longer needed, but it is hard to
determine whether this is true. Mugabe has shut down the country's main
independent newspaper, The Daily News. The World Food Program has been
denied permission to assess crops. Other sources of independent information
have also been muzzled.
Does that ring a bell? Does any one remember when Chavez refused US help during the Vargas disaster of 1999? How a ship with tractors and miscellaneous digging equipment made a U-turn at sea, back to the East Coast? But Chavez was already ahead of Mugabe: he had learned to ignore most of press criticism thus he can let it open to scream as it pleases.

I do not think that we are near any immediate Zimbabwization of Venezuela. To begin with Venezuela has long ceased to be a granary of any type. And with oil steady above 40$ Chavez has all the spare change he needs to buy his way out of starvation. No, the point I am making is the similarity in characters between Mugabe and Chavez. Their glory matters more than their people.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

And the electoral fraud in Venezuela?
Fine! Thank you very much!

After three days in Caracas I am able to sense a shift which was at least partially confirmed by today events as I was driving back to San Felipe. In brief.

The fraud investigation is now mired in a technical battle where no actor is really doing great. Though it is safe to state that the one getting the worst beating is the Carter Center. It would be fair to say that the Carter Center is incurring into the same mistake, unless done on purpose, than the CNE. The CNE refused to open the ballot boxes, the Carter Center refuses to name an international and independent panel to investigate the statistical discrepancies in the Venezuelan results. Both of them are bound to lose any shred of credibility as they hide behind "their" experts. Whether there was a fraud becoming of course a moot point.

But this constant talk of fraud is undermining Chavez, who, by the way, is the only one to blame for this tension. He could have asked for a ballot counting on August 16 and shut up any criticism. Instead, since his people are unable to do anything but disqualifying the critics (Alvarez was a "copeyano", Hausman was an "adeco", as seen on the front pages of VEA, this unique rag that is gracing our newsstands) chavismo is relying on its leftists friends outside to do the deed. They certainly are willing to publish all sorts of things. As usual they try to focus on one detail hoping that by extension it will disqualify all of the valid research that came along. Typical strategy from these people, while by all means they will avoid discussing all the other abuses committed before or on August 15. That these abuses, such as an irregular voter roll, to name one, by themselves should already question the election regardless of the outcome, as pointed out by the final report of Gaviria.

This report by the way, which has already grated Chavez considerably, has forced him to maneuver to try to get the OAS Brazilian ambassador to produce yet a new report to try to limit the damage of the Gaviria report. Indeed, Lula has decided to accept lots of contracts from Chavez and why should he not defend him? Money has no odor even for an ex trade union man! Besides he must start thinking about his reelection and a few thousand jobs created on Venezuelan contracts are certainly not something to disregard. Unfortunately that initiative would only help with the media as the Gaviria report will not be replaced. But Chavez knows very much the power of the media and he does not criticize it when he can use it to his advantage...

While Chavez tries to manipulate the OAS he is having lots of troubles in his borders. It is every day more evident that an army used to distribute frozen chicken in popular markets and try to find juicy bonus b doing Chavez politics, is not able to control the Venezuelan borders where the Colombian FARC seems to go and come. This probably was one of the main reason why Chavez did not go to New York and instead donned military fatigues and went to Apure tonight to try to make amends with the troops. Accusing Colombia as he just did will not help him much at the OAS.

But that should not be his main worry. The Coordinadora Democratica, CD, as expected is giving up the ghost fast. Today a group of governors and mayors have organized themselves to coordinate all of the electoral activities for the regional elections. This leaves presumably the CD the task to demonstrate that indeed there was fraud committed and thus redeem its poor acting. This promises a more committed and militant activism as the governors and mayors are defending their job. This usually motivates politicians quite a lot. Look at Chavez in July if you do not think so!

But it gets better. Already Primero Justicia and Alfredo Peña, Caracas Mayor at large, have indicated that they will abide by primaries of sorts to ensure unity in anti Chavez candidates. And guess who is the head of that newborn commission? Eduardo Lapi, my very own governor. After weeks and months in the limbo of the CD he comes back to a stellar position as Enrique Mendoza looks rather discomfit. Lapi can be accused of many things, but not of being a wimp and I am sure that the CNE and chavismo are not very happy with that choice. Proyecto Venezuela even chimed in the determination of part of the opposition to confront an unfair CNE.

As I was expecting this reorganization of the opposition is finally happening. There will be several groups issuing from the CD, but the one that matters, the one that can organize civil resistance, the one that can bring out people to vote on October 31, the one that can create a Public Relation nightmare for the CNE is the group composed by our elected opposition leaders. This is where the future of the opposition resides. The more than likely candidate of the opposition against Chavez in 2006 will be a sitting governor or mayor. Remember, you read it here first!

And the fraud? Well, we will see about it someday. Fascinatingly, it might be becoming a non issue. For what is a rogue government, proving the fraud will not unseat it, that much is clear. But blocking future fraud and beating him at the local level would weaken Chavez much more than uncovering the fraud. Heady days ahead as Chavez and his CNE will need to find ways to trump civil disobedience on election day, and what not. Logic would indicate that with 60% on August 15 chavismo should be going to election with a big smile on its face. Instead, we are witnessing the CNE stalling any reform. Interestingly contradictory, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The last hours of the CD?

I am for a few days in Caracas, giving me a good opportunity to "feel the political atmosphere".

Sunday and Monday El Nacional published an interview with Accion Democratica chief (AD), Ramos Allup, and an article from Armando Duran.

The first one defended his actions of Monday 16 August. His 4 AM announcement denouncing the fraud was good, but his explanations on why no one called for protest not as good. Certainly a useless risk of violence should have been considered and rightly Ramos indicates that a few hot heads that called for a protest that Monday on Plaza Altamira where not present when people got shot and one woman died. But this is disingenuous and Ramos is shielding behind this statement in avoidance of taking any precise position in regard to the fraud, past or future.

But Ramos Allup might have a few problems. The rumors, and I cannot detect anything that contradict them so far, is that the Coordinadora Democratica, CD, is imploding as a result of its lousy responses on August 16 and thereafter. Its leader Enrique Mendoza is already out under the excuse of needing to defend his Miranda state, suddenly more vulnerable than expected. Pompeyo Marquez (1) nomination seems every day more like a last political gift to the old leader, using his experience to avoid the debacle of the CD. Today I heard that Primero Justicia is about to leave the CD, which would be quite a blow, and the starting of a stampede which immeasurable consequences.

Governors and mayors are becoming restless and do not want the CD to determine the campaign strategies. In general they do not want to preach abstention but a more militant action if they cannot get from the CNE corrections to a now totally discredited electoral system. One implication of this "rebellion" might be a failure to reach unity in a few key states and thus risking to handle them on a silver platter to chavismo. On the other hand they could be creating a new strategy more efficient, if more violence prone, to avoid further fraud. My own state governor, Eduardo Lapi (2), very disliked by the CD to the point of having been refused the nomination (because he has quite often publicly disagreed with them) is the first governor to have started actively elaborating "alternative plans", not disclosed yet.

In other words it seems that the CD is unraveling fast before it even had a chance to prepare an orderly succession to some new structure. I suppose that this is the price to pay to have been too overconfident, too heterogeneous, and thus quickly abandoned even by those who directed it and do not want to be pointed as the guilty parties. But people will know and the piper will have to be paid.

The article of Armando Duran buried the CD neatly. As I wrote long ago, with or without fraud, the result of August 15 is the same due to the ineptness of the CD. The unwilling consequence is the rapid realignment of the establishment in Venezuela. The political leadership of the opposition having been so defeated, certain sectors have decided to swallow their repugnance at dealing with a corrupt administration and seek some form of cohabitation. This is exactly what Chavez was seeking to further his legitimacy, making thus the question of legitimacy irrelevant.

From a good source, bloggers do have sources too, it seems that Chavez has given the order to forget and forgive the names of those who signed against him. Although I doubt that we will be forgotten as a CD-ROM with the name lsit can always come back if needed, it does show a certain pragmatism. And a surprising acknowledgment of the strength of the opposition! That is, Chavez recognizes that indeed at the very least 40% of the people are totally opposed to him and he just cannot rule a country where so many people wish him ill. As I pointed out earlier, that also means that perhaps as much as 80% of the professional class will refuse to cooperate with his administration. There is only so many top notch managers that Chavez can hire from overseas for the oil industry, and even less of other economical aspects. He must thus try to convince a few in Venezuela to relent. Money? Forgiveness? We'll see what works.

But perhaps Chavez has learned his lesson. He would need to kill the opposition and we are just too many. Now that he seems well on his way to stay until 2012, he perhaps wants less stormy seas, at least until he can find a way to convince them or subject them once and for all. Perhaps Duran is right in his assessment that perhaps suddenly Chavez is having second thoughts about his "revolution" and what matters most for him is staying power. As has happened all through our history.

However my source seems to believe that if Chavez is forgiving the signatures against him, he is indeed decided to pursue those who signed the April 12, 2002, and the general strike leaders. The Carmona decree could force into exile or lead to jail a few dozen folks. And I will tell you what: too bad for them. Whether this was a coup, one thing is certain, they failed. If I oppose Chavez mainly for his managerial incompetence, I am certainly not going to defend a group of people whose errors and political incompetence have resulted in an opposition today in such disarray and a Chavez with so much power. They gambled, they lost, they should assume their responsibilities, just as they would have liked Chavez to assume his. Such are politics.

Meanwhile Chavez is having new problems that can only incite him further along this pragmatic line. An obscure massacre in the Apure border state was a little too fast attributed to Colombian paramilitaries. Well, today the truth cannot be hidden much longer and the FARC seems indeed the guilty party, supposedly because it got miffed at some obstacles put on his lucrative kidnapping and extortion business in Venezuela (3). This is too bad as Chavez publicly on his Sunday show said that the FARC had nothing to do with the massacre in Apure (4). Whether this was the reason or a mechanical problem in his fine airplane, Chavez decided to suddenly skip the UN annual gathering where he was supposed to be a star. Though idle tongues murmur that Lula was going to steal the show.

So this is the excitement in Caracas: the CD is in its last gasps, a new opposition system is about to be born and Chavez seems to have suddenly changed strategy, not to mention perhaps being forced to change allies!


(1) Pompeyo Marquez is an old ex guerilla who eventually discovered the merit of dialogue and democracy. He even reached a ministerial positions in the 90ies. Since 1998 has been an opponent to Chavez, part of that left that from the very beginning decried the authoritarian nature of Chavez.

(2) Eduardo Lapi was the representative of governors to the negotiation table of 2003. In May 2003 he did not want to sign the agreement and was "convinced" to do so. As recent events seem to prove him right, this might be the reason why AD in particular is so opposed at supporting him in Yaracuy. Even though all local polls give him a commanding lead.

(3) The feared Colombian FARC has been rumored for years to have special deals with Chavez and to benefit from a blind eye from the Venezuelan military. If Chavez has tried to dismiss these ties, in spite of constant accumulation of evidence, the FARC is on record as supporting Chavez.

(4) Sorry, no time to look for links, but all the news reported have been heard at least two times from at least two different sources. I am too busy when I am in Caracas. I can only keep a good blogging pace in San Felipe, benefiting from its delightful provinciality, even as Governor Lapi threatens to make us the front line of civil disobedience!

PS: two articles to read

Michael Rowan summarizes quite well the lows that the CNE has reached, and the incipient destruction of Venezuelan democracy. Not to mention exposing the illogical position of the Carter Center into his descent into ridicule.

Alexandra Beech muses on the failed New York trip of Chavez. And adds a few additional musings on how decrepit a certain US left is, prisoner of its cliches and political agendas, explaining a lot how come Kerry is going to lose the US election, just a surely the Venezuelan CD failed to win its own challenge.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

With apologies to the Wizard of Oz

The news yesterday was that "finally" the government was going to move against the coup mongers of April 2002. Let's revisit that day and examine the ridicule of the situation and speculate on the true intentions behind that show.


After a week of protest, a giant march went (was detoured?) to Miraflores Palace. The president asked for Plan Avila, to put down the march. The Army, sensing the potential for a blood bath that this security operation implied, refused. A few confusing hours followed that left a few dozen casualties in downtown Caracas. In the middle of the night came to TV the Army Chief of Staff, General Lucas Rincon, announcing that Chavez had resigned. (1)

Based on the resignation TV announcement a group of people decided to let Pedro Carmona Estanga form a government. While Carmona accumulated a series of political errors, a group within the Army decided to bring back Chavez. Carmona was so briefly in office that his nomination could not even be registered and published in Gazeta Oficial, the act that makes any law or decree legal in Venezuela. Technically the "Carmona administration" never existed in spite of the famous swearing him decree that abolished democracy to save it.

The returning Chavez tried to have the military that refused to follow his orders jailed for coup attempt. But in August the High Court of Venezuela ruled that the military could not be judged for sedition: there was no military coup but a power vacuum that led to naming Carmona president. Chavez was not amused.

Through 2002 and 2003 chavismo maneuvered to recover full control of the judiciary system by finally passing a new law allowing packing of the high court. Finally in 2004 took place the removal of the judge that did write the August 2002 ruling, a case of shooting the messenger if any. Other judges have been forced into retirement since and now the High Court is probably poised to revisit the issue, this time in favor of Chavez. This of course will be helped with the "victory" at the polls in August which can be used if necessary as a claim of the people for "justice". Let me explain


Yesterday Danilo Anderson, the prosecutor in charge of the glamour political cases (Capriles, Puente Llaguno, etc,…) has been charged by the General Prosecutor to "investigate" all the people that were at the Carmona swearing in ceremony. Not only the few that signed the decree, but all those that just happened to be there, or that even had the bad taste to declare to the media in favor of Carmona or agaisnt Chavez actions (even if they did so before the reading of the now infamous decree?). We are talking of several hundred people here, most of them having no further involvement that an "atta boy!" towards Carmona. I saw on TV Mr. Anderson say that these people would be investigated to see into which category the "suspects" will fall. In the long list of categories, I did not hear "innocent bystander", leading me to think that they are all already somewhat guilty before trial.

Mr. Anderson, whose official title is prosecutor for environmental crimes (pollution, ecological devastation), has now been officially declared the Fouquier-Tinville of our glorious bolivarian revolution (2). It is to be noted, as I understand, that even OpEd writers that declared that the fall of Chavez was justified could be prosecuted. And from there to prosecute the media themselves, any excuse would do.


The first fact that should stimulate the reader's intelligence is: if the April 2002 support of Carmona was such a heinous crime against the Venezuelan state, and Chavez, why did we have to wait until September 2004, more than 2 years later, for their investigation?

Questions follow. How come this investigation was not already done by the independent and non partisan commission that was supposed to be set after the agreements of May 2003 between the opposition and the government? Where is that commission that should investigate the responsibilities of BOTH sides? How can the judicial system account for such an unacceptable delay when all sorts of videos and documents exist that should have been able to be used against these alleged criminal long ago? And many more questions that the reader can easily guess.

But the answers are easier to come up with than the reader might imagine.

The objective, now more than ever, is to quell down the opposition as soon as possible.
  • First, it is yet a controversial move that should make people talk of something else but the electoral fraud.
  • Second, it certainly is intimidation, in particular against Zulia governor who did sign the Carmona decree and who rides high in the Zulia polls.
  • Third, Chavez knows that the international opinion is distracted away from Venezuela so it is a golden opportunity to make a few unsavory moves before they start having second thoughts again on his regime.
  • Fourth, Chavez knows well that an opposition that has survived worst disasters than August 15 (April 2002, the general strike) could bounce back sooner than expected. He must decapitate once and for all the opposition leadership, and surely a few could finally bite the dust with this, oh, so delayed move.
  • Fifth, any trial that starts following Anderson's "investigation" will be a good opportunity for the High Court to reverse itself, and thus the Great Beloved Leader will be proven right.
  • And last but not least, Chavez is a vengeful character. Without even mentioning the opposition, chavismo is littered with people that have met Chavez disgust. These people, if anything, have been crucified with even more scorn than the one used against the opposition. This is the nature of the man, humiliate, strike back through convenient lackeys. Reconciliation is not in his vocabulary, or as a synonym to submission. That is why no election, no matter how cleanly won it might be, will ever satisfy him. He will always need to crush his enemies, or buy them, or create new ones if he succeeds in the first two tasks.
And of course with this script this blogger will probably have his name added to the lists of Danilo Anderson.


(1) For those who are interested in an objective account of these days, as possible as that can be, I recommend the book "El Acertijo de Abril", unfortunately in Spanish, but worth the effort if you can read some Spanish.

(2) Fouquier-Tinville was the general prosecutor during the "Terror" period of the French Revolution. Thus he has become the archetype of a distinguished series of prosecutors that have packed all sort of courts with political opponents from Stalin to Hittler and from Castro to Pinochet, not forgetting the Cultural Revolution in China. He ended up under the guillotine where he sent so many "citoyens".

Friday, September 17, 2004

Open Letter to Jennifer McCoy, from the Carter Center

Dear Ms. McCoy

I remember all your frequent visits to Venezuela, when your dashing presence meant for us that the world cared to try to avoid a tragedy in Venezuela. Often I wondered about how you were able to deal with the vulgarity of our political establishment, in particular those holding office. Not that the other side is all classy, mind you, we know better. But you were like a breath of All American fresh air in our sewery atmosphere.

You did a good job, at least until Chavez was forced to accept the signatures. And then the Carter Center crumbled. What happened?

I am not even talking about the quick announcement on Monday 16. In the preceeding months you had accepted unacceptable conditions that made the European Community balk at visiting Venezuela for the referendum. But we should have seen it coming, the signs were already there early this year when you protest about the invalidation of 2 good million signatures was not as purposeful as it should have been.

I can still get over the early announcement of your boss (to whom I wrote a couple of weeks ago through this same page, I trust he read the letter). What I cannot get over is how easily you got conned the day of the audit. And even lied, apparently. Indeed, you allowed the CNE to use its own program to select the "random" audit which right now is questioned. How could you fall into such a political trap? Had you not spend enough time around us to know that you were surrounded by crooks, and from both sides?

Let me help you here. Even if you were absolutely 110% certain that the "random number" generating program of the CNE was safe, you should have insisted in using yours. This was a major political blunder from your part, aggravated when considering that the opposition did not accept that audit from the start and thus was not going to accept your verdict. It was for you to set stringent enough audit that the opposition would have had a hard time discarding it. Or even better, not go to the audit yourself. As we say in Venezuela "La esposa del Cesar no solamente tiene que ser honrada, tiene que aparentarlo". (*)

The consequence was that you were forced you to write a rather weak explanation letter in the Economist. I suppose that you and your boss split chores: he does the Wall Street Journal and you do the foreign press. Both were equally weak. But I digress. What was most remarkable in your letter was the following:

The third puzzle was places with fewer Yes voters than signers of the recall petition. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people who were expected to vote Yes in fact voted No. Overall, more people (almost 4m) voted to recall the president than signed the petition last November (3.4m). But some of the signers might have supported a recall as a democratic right, while themselves not wanting to remove the president. Some may have changed their minds since November. And some may have decided that Chavismo in government was more likely to preserve the peace than Chavismo in opposition.

I have to confess that I thought you were politically savvier. "Anecdotal evidence"? You, of all people, have witnessed all the intimidation, the pressure, the menaces during the signature collection process. You of all people should have known much better than writing this. Perhaps you even subscribe to the new thesis of unlimited reelection for Chavez? That surely would preserve the peace!

But let me help you again. Do you think that people who know that their signature pretty much makes them an enemy of the "revolution" forever, will just casually switch to NO because, for example, they think that Chavez will preserve the peace? Who are you kidding? Why are you so minimizing the signature collection process? Is it because you feel so guilty about your role then that you try to sweep it under the rug?

I am sorry Jennifer, but your explanations just do not cut it out, at least not with us in the opposition that know better. It is a very sad mission ending for such an institution to come across as not only failing at bringing peace to us, but perhaps aggravating the situation altogether. Indeed, as I look back to the trip of President Carter in January 2003 this one allowed Chavez to extricate himself with a semi victorious perception from the strike. That visit indeed gave him a full year an a half to throw millions in public spending and buy an electorate back. In your article you actually naively acknowledged the boost your boss gave to Chavez:
delays in the collection and verification of signatures gave time for the economy to recover from the previous year's devastating strike. Mr. Chavez campaigned tirelessly and spent large sums from record oil revenues on social programmes [sic] for the poor. The government also naturalised [sic] long-waiting immigrants and registered up to 2m new voters. In contrast, the opposition ran a lacklustre [sic] campaign, did not present a clear alternative leader, and could not compete with the government's resources.

I am really sorry that you ended up writing such a lame defense and losing any credit that you had in Venezuela. Although I am a nobody allow me to give you a suggestion: declare that you are done with Venezuela and that you are not coming back anymore. Before the opposition gives you the ultimate humiliation by rejecting your bons offices. These seem to have limited themselves in helping Chavez ensure that he will have the upper hand when we come to blows. We will look elsewhere for help, thank you very much for nothing.

Daniel Duquenal

(*) The wife of Cesar not only has to be honorable, she has to appear honorable.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


The "how to" manual

Now that allegedly Chavez has 60% of the Venezuelan people behind him, he is doing what any self respecting autocrat does: ensure that he will stay there for ever and ever. One can only admire the process and methodology behind it.

It all started during Chavez coronation a few days after the August 15 plebiscite. In one of his speeches that day he said that after 5 years it might be time to review the constitution.

Promptly two of the most notorious lackeys of Chavez in the National Assembly, NA, our local version of "power Couple", Cilia Flores and Nicolas Maduro (who does not even dare to list his curriculum in the National Assembly roster) chimed that indeed Chavez should be allowed more than one reelection. Flattery was pushed further when Maduro said that the referendum results should grant three more years for Chavez in office, just like that, because of all the time that the opposition made him waste.

This morning Gerardo Blyde comes on TV to show the booklet of 21 (that is right, twenty one!) constitutional modifications that Luis Velazquez proposed to the NA yesterday (1). To be fair I should point that he did not benefit of the universal approbation of his own brethren at the assembly. Whether that "dissent" was posturing or sincere is irrelevant, we all know that Chavez will soon bring order into the chicken coop.

Of course, the first irony is that changes to "the most perfect constitution in the world" are asked (demanded?) by the one that kept vaunting its glories urbi et orbi (quoted words from El Supremo himself in countless opportunities, as one could be forgiven to wonder if he carries the ubiquitous little blue book even to the toilet).

So, what was a simple commentary in barely three weeks became a nicely printed large pastel blue booklet, keeping of course in tone with the other book. All very spontaneous, I am certain.

I have not been able to find the latest best seller form the NA print on line, but I did find a newspaper summary. Here a few highlights with my very own interpretation:

The NA will now be able to approve constitutional laws with a simple majority if after three votes it fails to get the constitutional consensus of 2/3. That 2/3 number was required to name justices, CNE, special enabling laws, and some other basic laws that usually are the frame of reference for the day to day laws (for example how to organize the judicial power should be voted by 2/3 but the crimes judged can be voted by simple majority). This is very clever because it gives the appearance of democracy and consultation when in fact all is decided in advance and it takes only an extra month of pseudo debate to approve what the executive wants. With a rigged electoral system it should not be a problem to always have a one seat majority in the NA, to do as one pleases and to show the world the 49% of the opposition screaming ineffectively as minority rights, the bases of ANY democratic system, happily trampled by El Supremo.

The provision of only one reelection for the president will be suppressed (what about mayors and governor indefinite reelection?). Now we know why Chavez has been speaking to say until 2021. Well, we always knew he would pull that trick at some point. Now it is official.

The NA would now be elected for 6 years, instead of 5, and at the same time as the president. Clearly, we will now "elect" our dictator for 6 years. Not to mention that it might be a way to lure some in the opposition by promising them reelection for a 6 year sinecure.

Now we will need to gather 30% of the signatures to call for a Recall Election, instead of the 20%. Obviously once elected for a new 6 year term, Chavez does not want any more surprises. With an artificially fattened electoral roll, and adequate pressures, and a CNE invalidating half of the signatures under any pretense, the opposition would need, what?, 60% of the people to sign up?

I can hardly wait for the other proposed modifications. Unless this is all a cheap provocation to distract from the electoral fraud debate (2). But somehow, I suspect that indeed they mean it even as they do not think they can get away with it. Yet.

I have simple questions: what kind of democracy is this scaffolding? Where is the protection of minorities against one man rule? Is this the blue print for XXI century autocratic regimes? Who is next?


1- representative Velazquez has made a career within chavismo to explain the unexplainable and sponsor the unsponsorable. His latest hit was writing single handedly the new Judicial Power law that has given control of the judiciary to the executive and legislative, that is, Chavez himself. With this new initiative that he is careful to sign with his name alone, as seen on the book cover, he should ingratiate himself a little bit more with El Supremo.

2- Representative Velazquez, incidentally, wants a seat in the High Court but apparently he does not benefit from the support he wishes for. That could also be a way to indicate to El Supremo that all his rulings would be predictable. Sycophancy has become now a well established tradition in chavismo.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Open letter to the Coordinadora Democratica Leadership

Dear folks

I feel a certain urgency in writing this post. I am adressing you through this blog as I know some of your helpers might read it, investigating what "dice la calle" (is said in the streets).

Let me start by reminding you that often these pages have been defending you, even though sometimes I had serious doubts about your leadership, or even when wondering if you knew what was really going on within the CNE. I did support your call for unity, your conciliating style, even your lack of program until it was too late to communicate it to the masses. Indeed, like you I thought that Chavez and chavismo had demonstrated well enough how incompetent and corrupt they were so that a simple negative campaign would suffice to ensure the Referendum Revocatorio victory for our side.

But we have failed. Or rather you have failed, because I did write a lot of pages in your behalf, I did argue with people around me a lot to defend some of your inconsistencies believing that you had a complete strategy that could not be revealed just “right now”, I went to as many marches as I could, here and in Caracas, I even did amateur investigative journalism to uncover undue chavista pressure, and I did stand for 4 and half hours to vote (I was one of the lucky ones). I did what I could.

Now, that the presumption of electoral fraud seems here to stay, I think your leadership is even less effective than before. We had to wait for Tulio Alvarez to finally get at least an articulate voice for the opposition, a voice not only that explained us how the fraud took place, but a voice who last night with Cesar Miguel Rondon was gently but firmly warning you to watch out for the Regional Election, stopping short of major words of criticism for some of you.

Instead, what do I see? I see AD celebrating yet another anniversary behind closed doors, while Claudio Fermin continues its divisive campaign for the Alcaldia Mayor, pretending that August 15 was just fine and that we should be confident that the Caracas vote will be fine. I get Juan Jose Caldera sending me a limp letter in the mail asking me to join Convergencia in Yaracuy as if that would be enough to protect Lapi from electoral fraud. I see a silly article in El Nacional taking at face value the results of August 15 as a predictor of the states that could go to Chavez or away of him (not to mention the faulty historical knowledge of the journalist who wrote that garbage). These and more while the CNE throws a self congratulatory bash with "madrina" election included.

Are we in the same country? Did you smell the coffee? Are you aware of what people are talking in the street?

Let me tell you what I am going to do. If you do not come up with a more energetic plan to force the CNE to clear up the election system, I am staying home. Even better, if there are no lines I might even go and vote for the Chavez candidate to finally force you to wake up. I know, I know, it is like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. But this is what I am feeling right now, and trust me, most people I talk to seem to be on the same wave length. We have not done all of that effort for you so that you can just bargain with chavismo a miserable handful of town halls and state houses. If this is all that you are able to do, then let Chavez take it all and purge this country once and for all of its populist streak, with ultimate populism until people starve. Because they will starve and they will learn the hard way. And you guys, the present leadership, will not get the benefit of newly irked voters because they will blame you to have left them sink into such an opprobrious state. You will never come back if you do not react now.

Yes, if the CNE refuses to budge but you offer us a plan to pressure them, I will be there. If we have to take the streets on election day to create mayhem, I will be there. If we have to make a parallel election I will vote there. If we have to surround our state house and shield our governor, I will be there. Heck, if we have to sign to call a referendum to force manual balloting through the country, I will be there. By the way, that would be quite a wrench in the CNE gears, if in three days 30% of the people sign up for that,don't you think so? "democracia participativa" for real! Be creative and do not wait for Tulio, Asdrubal and Timoteo to do the job for you!

But if you are not standing next to me, or ahead of me at the march, I will not be there next or behind you. If you do not fight nails and claws against the CNE, I will stay home and watch cable TV.

If people do not sense a good support for Tulio Alvarez, a dynamic electoral campaign entrusted to the local guys, a hint of new blood in the fossilized Caracas apparatchiks, and I am not talking of Pompeyo, a transfer of more responsibilities to us in the provinces who know better what is going on in the country than a Prados del Este garden party, we will stay home on voting day. And this page will become one of your fiercest critics.

You have been warned. I am small fish, but there is a lot of us in our ocean of discontent, with or without a blog.

Sincerely and hoping for the best

Daniel Duquenal

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 7: a summary of where we stand and what might happen

During the past three weeks I have been trying to cover what the results of the recall Election mean for the country, chavismo, and the opposition. This was done, of course, based on the assumption that the results presented on August 16 at 4 AM are the real ones, which seems less likely as the days pass. Yet this does not change much of what I wrote: chavismo and the opposition do have their own internal problems that will remain there no matter what the outcome of the election was. Thus, for the sake of simplification I am writing below a quick summary on the situation of every political actor that I have addressed previously.

Chavez and chavismo

The effects of a good victory have been spoiled by the spell cast by the suspicion of fraud. As far as I can recall, no election since 1958 has been as challenged, including the previous 7 where Chavez won. In the mind of most Venezuelan people, this election is now tainted, even in the mind of some who agree with the result. The only true question is: did Chavez win in spite of a possible manipulation? For Venezuelans the opinion of international observers is pretty much besides the point. These verdicts by the Carter Center et al. are used only when political points are to be scored: as a country we know. And we know that the corruption of the chavista regime is apparent enough that we are sure they would not mind cheating on an election if that ensures them impunity, and more cash. After all, it is the pattern in our history and chavismo is only our latest, and worse, avatar.

What should Chavez have done?

Well, if the results are as good as he claims them to be, himself should have asked the CNE to open the ballot boxes and clear the air once and for all, scoring yet a major political point.

Second, he should have invited, no questions or conditions set, any institution or opposition group to come to Miraflores to discuss an agenda of points worth discussing in the future. After all, a president that has won with 60% is immune to any condition and posturing from the defeated parties. Besides, negotiating an agenda does not mean that the agenda itself will later be discussed. A simple “I understand your concerns, write them down and bring them yourself to my office” would have sufficed and shut down most people.

Third, a simple statement as to the complexity of the election. This would have included an offer from the central government to help financially to resolve the bottle necks experienced on August 15. That would have gone a long way to restore confidence in voting and allowed the government to keep its campaign full speed for the regional elections. Probably the opposition would have been weakened even further and lost some of its strongholds. In other words, a victorious and confident and moneyed administration should not be afraid of elections, no?

What Chavez did.

None of the above. The government, through its servile CNE, has been stonewalling any serious complaint from the opposition, even those aimed at trying to have at least the October 31 election more transparent. This gives the impression that chavismo will try to apply yet more fraud.

Any dialogue attempt was quickly trumped by the aggressive government tone. Some economical sectors do hold discreet meetings with the government in crucial areas such as those related to feeding the country, and these keep going referendum or not. But nothing new to improve seriously communication has been attempted.

The recall election has not solved any of the issues. Chavez ability to govern has not improved and as days go by the use of force is more and more a distinct possibility. Actually, some recent dissensions as to who gets the loot have been surfacing within chavismo, not simplifying Chavez task and probably forcing him to purge his own ranks even before he can trash the opposition once and for all.

The opposition Hamletian dilemma.

The opposition is confronted with a big problem: its leadership failed to insure a victory in the Recall Election. That fraud might have taken place is irrelevant: it was unable to prevent it, and slow at dealing with it, more to be blamed for.

What the opposition should have done.

The first thing would have been a prompt response a few minutes, hours at most, after the CNE announcement, claiming fraud energetically. You either trust your exit polls or you do not. When the difference between results and your numbers is so big, there should not be any hesitation. At the very least, the opposition should have called for a press conference before the international observers did.

This moment of assertiveness done, another even more assertive moment should have followed. The leadership of the CD should have realized that they had been conned and that they did not see it coming. Immediately it should have submitted its resignation, while holding the fort until new leaders were named. A full fledged commission to investigate the fraud should have been established, separately, and the rest of the energies should have been invested in preparing the local elections and forcing the CNE to change the rules in order to avoid future fraud. In this last aspect, a vigorous and unabashed counter offensive could have even brought the interest of the foreign observers and emboldened them to make a few suggestions. There were enough irregularities in the pre August 15 days to justify such a tactic. And those irregularities should have been well documented before August 15 and submitted then.

What the opposition did.

It fell into shock. No plan B existed. And any leadership that was there crumbled fast. We had to wait a few days until second rank and file folks did mount a serious challenge, and only September 7 the leader of the Recall Campaign finally spoke. He did a good job but it might have been too late.

Worse, the lack of strong response allowed the international observers to say all sorts of stupid things, which they probably will resent when proven wrong. The opposition bases got demoralized to the point of seeing some nonsensical leaders calling for abstention at the Regional Election. As if that ever stopped election fraud and thugs to cling to office. Some people never learn!

What might happen

It would be foolish for anyone to hope that even with a smoking gun Chavez will be unseated. The judicial system is in his hand and he will be able to stall anything until the 2006 election. This has to be clear for all, we have a thug that placed his pals where it mattered. Only force will remove him from office now, even if the OAS and the US reverse their approval of the election. We do not have a Fujimori here that can run away to Japan.

In a best case scenario the fraud accusation will be supported enough that Chavez might cave in, a little bit at least. We could have changes in the CNE and a cleaner electoral system for the regional election. Then if the opposition can keep its states and add a couple such as Nueva Esparta, Tachira or Merida, it would show clearly that the results of August 15 were not those claimed. From such basis it could build a credible challenge and produce a consensus leader. The next round would be the legislative election in 2005 and then 2006 to unseat Chavez. With his fraud a suddenly weakened Chavez would have won only 2 years to prove that he can indeed run the country, an ability for which there is no evidence yet.

But I doubt that this will happen. As a good Peron-like autocrat Chavez will never accept anything that might cast a doubt over his “popular support”. People like Peron, Chavez or Castro never take chances with elections. More likely we will see a new polarization of the situation, more confrontation, more crisis until finally either the opposition collapses or Chavez is forced to become an outright repressive caudillo.

The battle is for democracy, and negotiation is justified only on the way to reach it, not on reaching it.

A rocky start for Andres Izarra

It is September 11, three years after the Twin Towers were hit in one of the most cowardly acts of terrorism ever done. In this day, three years after the horrible images that we all remember too well, days that lead to incredible violence since, one would have thought that a day of reflection for all would be welcome. But for one person, the reflection was yet another blunder in a fresh but already shaky career.

Andres Izarra was a RCTV journalist that resigned (?) after April 2002 apparently disagreeing with the policies of its TV employer. Maybe, but his next job showed his independence: the Venezuelan Embassy in DC where he was coordinating all the propaganda effort for Chavez.

Now, after having done a significant amount of work lobbying (successful?) he has been rewarded with the Ministry of Communication that his predecessor left to head the Interior Ministry (which is the second most powerful position in Venezuela after the presidency).

His inaugural "Alo Presidente" of last Sunday was supposedly a technological disaster. Other folks claim that there was such a loud "cacerolazo" against Chavez in the Petare neighborhood that, not been able to cover the sound of pots banging, they decided to suspend Chavez weekly talk show. Izarra bravely assumed all the technical problems (to divert attention?). But other rumors circulated that Jesse Chacon, his predecessor has forced him to accept the staff he left behind, thus indirectly controlling the communication ministry.

Well, if that was not bad enough for poor Andres, his declarations to the press today were rather untimely. Apparently the US has decided to block some forms of help to Venezuela because it does not deal effectively with human trade, namely traffic of women and children (I mean, Venezuela cannot even deal with normal crime, what did the US expect?).

Well, what did Izarra do? After having spent quite a time in the US lobbying one would think that he would know better than slapping the US face on September 11. But no such luck... The US is decried as "not helpful " in improving ties with Venezuela in spite of "advances" made by Chavez. As if a recall election based on constant attacks on the US could be wiped out in a couple of weeks and a declaration that the US knows only too well as fake. Then again the US is doing brisk oil business lately. Hummm.....

But it gets better. Now Sumate (who just published all the fraud evidence) is accused of receiving 10 million bucks from the US! When we all know that Chavez spent hundred-S of million-S of buck-S for his campaign (how much was the cost of the fraud by the way? Will it be reported in the financial campaign report?).

And here I was naively thinking that Izarra would be at the very least a more presentable and credible spokesperson, or at least more professional. In barely one week I already wonder how long he is going to stay in office... That is OK for him anyway. He will be probably thanked in a couple of months and be given some embassy somewhere as his prize for taking the heat for his boss. After all, he seems quite uncomfortable on occasion (too much hard swallowing?)

PS: I wonder if in his efforts at propaganda and counter propaganda Izarra read the Venezuelan blogs. After all the people that he sponsored did read us.

Friday, September 10, 2004

And for your reading pleasure tonight

I have been working on my last installment of my series on the consequences of the recall election. But I have had to alter it twice considering the recent developments. As I am doing my research I have found a few articles that will allow me an easy post at the expenses of my fellow bloggers and Internet writers. I apologize but you all know that I mean well.

Let's start with Miguel Octavio at the Devil's Excrement. His attempt at bringing statistics down to the level of a 12 year old seem to bear fruit. In this particularly successful piece, the graphs of the distribution of Yes/No results in Miranda state look like two different clouds whereas the abstention result is a normal and unique statistical cloud. Really, it does not get any better at visually implying fraud. The CNE has a lot of things to explain! By the way, any relation with the clouds of fraud gathering over the referendum results? Naaah...

But the revelations on possible fraud (I still must use "possible", of course) are going to good speed. Today the Coordinadora Democratica sent a commission to the OAS where Gaviria received them directly. The dossier is now there for the OAS perusal, and the first headache for the incoming new OAS secretary. El Universal has an article in English with some of these fraud allegations summarized.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the CD announced that tomorrow will take place the official legal deposition to contest the August 15 results. In the same press conference, Pompeyo Marquez remarked that some of the Misiones seem to be already fading. Really? Imagine that!

But the recent fraud allegations are starting to have some effect on a media and world opinion that might have been too happy to finally forget about Venezuela. Internet columns appear such as in American Thinker, which of course represent, besides the political point of view of the writer, a justified concern on electronic voting and who should monitor it. But newspapers also get into the fray and the Wall Street Journal makes yet another swat at Carter. I think that the Carter Center and its founder have been a little too much in the news lately, and forced to defend themselves not too convincing, a letter by Carter himself in the WSJ, and an article by Jennifer in the Economist. Still I think that they are far from being protected from more accusation of their botched job in Venezuela. The opposition would send them into complete ridicule when it requires that they DO NOT come anymore to Venezuela.

Another interesting Internet column comes from Gustavo Coronel. He attended the an Inter American dialogue reunion in Washington. Unfortunately he cannot describe to us the off the record discussions of the meeting (as I understand), though his article certainly bases some of its conclusions on what happened there. No such qualms from the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, who uses the pro Chavez venezuelanalsysis site to imply things about that reunion while other participants respect the rules. Then again Alvarez is paid to do all the propaganda he can and he has a full job of it. I wonder if he ever gets enough time to do what is supposed to be his real job, improves economic, social and cultural ties between the two countries. Incidentally venezuelanalysis posts next to that article on Alvarez a "delightful" article by an Venezuelan professor where now the opposition is described as "the liberal/colonial (and racist) thinking of part of the Venezuelan opposition, including many of its intellectuals". Later in the text the parenthesis are dropped, as Mr. Lander seems to make up his mind... Way to promote the dialogue that your El Supremo wants, Mr. Lander!

Meanwhile hurricane Ivan left the Venezuelan shores. Our Southern position usually leaves out of reach of hurricanes except once every dozen years or so when the tail end of one brushes our shores. This time some flooding and four people killed only, thankfully for a country where so many people live in precarious housing (pictures). If Ivan left us, hurricane Hugo is till around to create mischief.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Electoral fraud anyone?
The Venezuelan electronic electoral fraud plot thickens

Today the preliminary report from the commission studying the fraud on behalf of the Coordinadora Democratica has been released. The recommendation is quite obvious: the referendum should be brought to the courts to be voided as there seem to be enough evidence pointing to a possible electoral fraud.

But there is more. The electoral registry should be questioned, if not redone. Smartmatic, the smart assed machine seller, and associates should be brought to court in the US (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). The Venezuelan ID card system should be overhauled as too many people seem to have fake ID cards.

I cannot yet at this point decide on the validity of all of these points though intuitively it is confirming a lot of the stuff I have been writing about recently. And still, this would not mean that Chavez lost the vote, only that Chavez fattened his lead, substantially. Is that enough to jail him? One would think so, but then again the Florida fiasco has yet to land anyone in jail as far as I know.

I will not go into details, I prefer to wait for more information until I decide which are the damming elements, in my opinion. One thing I liked though, is that the electronic fraud patterns have been varied and that this was a well thought fraud scheme. The disparity between SI and NO distribution was only a minor element! Real statisticians have found much more stuff and right now some are willing to put their academic career on the line by stating that the possibility that the distribution of the electoral results is LESS than 1% probable if there is no fraud involved. Translation: it looks like there is indeed fraud and this deserves further studies (the Haussman/Rigobon report). Meanwhile as Ibsen Martinez writes in his El Nacional column, Venezuela has become the land of mathematicians!

For the sake of entertainment I would like to report on two cute fraud mechanisms.

Apparently someone tried to make a quick buck by selling to a recycling facility some of the ballot boxes of the CNE. It seems that it is OK to sell old material but it seems that some of the boxes were from August 15... Far from me to think evil, rather I think that the CNE security is definitely lax and if some guy can sell ballots for recycling, imagine what the military guards have been able to do to the boxes. Definitely, counting ballots is now useless.

Another much more interesting thing is the number of voters in some circuits. For example, in Santos Michelena there are 41.941 inhabitants according to the 2004 census. Well, would you believe that there are 63.518 registered voters? That is, 153% of the people living there can vote. I suppose this gives a new meaning to dead people voting... You might say that this was a fluke. Unfortunately this happens in several other locales, and apparently up to 800 000 of the newly registered voters, in that scandalous last minute voting drive registration, did not report an address and thus we cannot check if they are legitimate.

I do not know about you, but this reminds me of the distinguished Louisiana voting history where even alligators voted.

PS: Written later. Listening to the TV this morning it seems that I misunderstood something yesterday. In the cases like Santos Michelena, there are actually more voters than the population or registered voters in those districts. If anything, it makes it worse :-)
I will wait eagerly for the publication of these numbers and perhaps put a little one of my tables.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Back in San Felipe and events are speeding up

I am just back, trying to arrive before the rain of Hurricane Ivan caught up with me. As I type there is a thunder storm that should not be related to Ivan but then again it might be as the Eastern area of Venezuela is hit by significant rain.

I was rather tired after driving for a couple of hours under the rain, and when I arrived I was too busy unpacking and fixing some diner to listen to all of the announcement of Enrique Mendoza. He was pointing several ways the electoral fraud was committed and promised the country that over the next few days more announcements would be coming. The few I did catch were rather telling and Battaglini might have to swallow his words sooner than expected. This most blunt chavista of the CNE directors must have tried to pre-empt Mendoza announcement by declaring yesterday that the fraud was not the CNE business anymore. Yeah, right... Zamora today promptly contradicted him, showing again that the CNE has become an empty shell now that the referendum has been undertaken.

Again, considering the late hour and how tired I am I will refer the readers of this blog to the excellent article by Alexandra Beech as some recent developments on the fraud claims. I am rather glad to observe that I am not the only one that is starting to find the acts of Jennifer McCoy quite strange. Is she defending her boss? Is she digging her political grave? Is she telling the truth? Is she well informed? What has she learned in one year of Venezuelan politics? Is she naive? Is she up to no good? Yet again one of the Carter Center "experts" flip-flopped his position and this time some people are claiming loudly that McCoy is exerting undue pressure. I cannot tell of course, but as I have pointed out earlier the Carter Center is acting very strangely and by now probably has lost any respect from all the political players the Venezuelan arena.

As of tomorrow I will be able to get again into the thick of the news as they promise to become quite interesting. I will leave you with a side comment, funny if it were not so sad. The judge that was caught red handed accepting a bribe a couple of days ago declared today that he was a victim. Well, maybe, but listening to his declaration on TV the real question I have is: how did Leon Villanueva ever made it as a judge? No wonder justice in Venezuela is so bankrupt!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

My Mayor is free
(and the fraud charges seem to be gathering a second wind)

Well, he is not really my mayor (1) and he is not really free, but who is counting? The fact is that Capriles Radonski, Baruta's mayor, held in jail WITHOUT trial for now 4 months, has surprisingly been freed yesterday, at least until the trial begins. The interpretation is quite simple: the whole thing has been a political set up which has no bearing to any actual crime or misdeed. And at any rate, if there were some illegal action, the actions of the government had been way out of proportion.

So why suddenly this release?

Politics again. The Chavez administration needs desperately to move the agenda away from the Recall Election and the fraud claims. It needs to force the country to gain some interest in the Regional Election where it hopes to drive the final nails in the opposition coffin. But Capriles has become such a symbol for the opposition, such a surprising leader constantly enhanced by his term in jail, that they finally decided to do the only sensible thing: free him. The government has tried everything against Capriles, even anti semitism, all to naught. Only the rabid dogs at aporrea still use terms as Ratonski, whose dubious taste in pun can even come across in English.

So, trying to cut its losses, and knowing that the servile justice will be willing to put Capriles back in jail at a more favorable time, chavismo has released Capriles.

The timing is also particularly good. With a judge involved at some point in the Capriles case caught red handed with a bribe, with an alleged "cacerolazo" last Sunday that might have caused the suspension of an "alo presidente" on technical "problems", with new announcements on the possible fraud on August 15, freeing Capriles might be seen as changing the news headlines and perhasp even tending an olive branch to the opposition. How this would fool the opposition escapes me! The only thing that the opposition wants is to ensure that future elections will be fair. However, a hugely popular Capriles on the campaign circuit could actually benefit Chavez in that AD might be tempted to work with him to block the rise of Primero Justicia at the local level. All is possible in this "Tierra de Gracia".

On other things. I am on the road so researching for writing is rather difficult. In particular I would like to have more time to understand the new developments on the August 15 possible fraud. Sumate has announced that the statisitical studies on the referendum results are looking fishier by the day (in English here). Even the Carter Center "experts" do not seem so certain lately. Fortunately Miguel has been able to follow the story.

I do not know what will eventually result form that. Since statistics will never bring the neat proof that people like, such as a ballot box found in the trash, I doubt that the delinquents presiding in the CNE will be that easily dislodged. This type of studies take weeks and months until eventually enough people are definitively convinced (and I am not talking of Carter whose stubborness is legendary and cost him his office in 1980). But what is really important now is that "reasonable doubts" have been cast on the results and that will never go away, the more when one remembers all the shenanigans that preceeeded the Recall Election.

Last night Maria Corina Machado was in 30 Minutos. She was quite explicit, and pragmatic. Her point was that all these investigations should at the very least result in cleaner elections next month. One wonders if the government will accept that as the price to pay to have Chavez in office until at least 2006. One thing is certain, these recent days the government has started giving some signs of a softening of some of its positions. Yet another trap or the real thing?

(1) I used to be registered in Baruta for voting until I moved to San Felipe