Sunday, October 30, 2005

Again, at a cross roads in Venezuela

The judicial decision of Thursday legalizing an electoral fraud, bringing also a new constitutional violation by the constitutional court itself, forces us to consider once again our options. Not that we have that many. Let's first look at some facts.

1)The obvious chumminess of the "independent" powers during the Thursday hearing, showing how lonely the plaintiff was, how all the state powers were in perfect unison against anyone even dreaming of questioning them, should give pause. We all knew it was like that. What is disturbing is that they do it so openly now.

2)But what about the plaintiff, AD? Besides being ridiculed, it got the kiss of death when the infamous Vice Prez Rangel congratulated AD as being like its good old days when it favored institutionalism. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry at these words of the Vice P. What happened Thursday seemed more an MVR as the caricature of the AD of Carlos Andres Perez who controlled quite a lot of power and was quite corrupt instead of the AD of Leoni who had to make compromises with a significant opposition. Was the Vice being ironic? Was the Vice recognizing that AD had caved in to chavismo, lending itself to that judicial farce and that its reward would be the title of "official" opposition? Or, was it the real role of AD within the opposition?

3)A simple observation to all this is that chavismo will not stop at anything to make sure that Chavez and his party, the MVR, will have all in favor to win an election. This should be a sobering thought now that it is all in the open, no more pretense. Violence if needed cannot be far behind.

4)A simple extrapolation is that the electoral system of Venezuela is now hopelessly rigged to favor chavismo, from the CNE to the electoral court of appeals. If we add to it gerrymandering, double voting and the like, even if Chavez would be willing to concede an electoral defeat, something that this blogger thinks will happen when hell freezes over, the opposition would have to win by at least 10% to squeak to a bare majority.

So what is there left to do?

The opposition options

They are few and all require that they act united and with resolve.

Option A: they decide to go to election

This implies that in the space of one month the opposition has to come up with a simple and strict electoral offering for the 2006 session period. Post 2006 is of the presidential election. The other thing that the opposition needs to do is establish a system to defend its vote. That implies at the very least to get about 30% of ballots actually counted with a coordination of activities such as at EVERY polling station the opposition manages to place its witness who will stand up to the chavista mob rule under the protection of a only too often complacent army.

There are also many other issues that have been detailed in the past in this blog, but this late in the game opposition would be lucky to be barely able to put these two above together. Chavismo has succeeded by using the "morochas" issue to distract the opposition and the public opinion on what really matters, organization a successful electoral bid.

Option B: they decide not to go to election

This very valid option will only work if all of the opposition agrees and I am pretty sure we cannot count on AD for that, at least not after the sorry show of Thursday. But it also requires that the opposition does more than just stay home. On Election Day all candidates from the opposition must have been withdrawn with a clear explanation as to why they did it: a new CNE is a must. And on Election Day everybody must be in the street protesting. Not necessarily blocking the streets but waving flags at every corner, for at least a couple of hours, while the TV cameras film polling stations empty, and the international observers observe the streets rather than the polling stations.

Any abstention strategy that does not reach this is doomed to defeat, to ignominious defeat as chavismo will simply laugh its way out to the bank. Abstention has never booted a government unless it is a militant one. Those who prone abstention in Venezuela without offering a real organization for it are as much serving Chavez as AD by going to court and running for office anyway after losing the ruling.

It is a good point to mention the words of Rosalio Cardinal Castillo Lara about a week ago. In a rather strong statement he called for using, in a pacific way, the famous article 350 of the constitution which supposedly allows for civil rebellion when the constitution is violated. This stupid article, placed in the constitution to exculpate retroactively the 1992 Chavez coup d'etat, is of almost impossible application unless you have a Lech Walesa leading the people. And certainly an octogenarian Cardinal is not going to be the one leading that fight. So, why did the Cardinal say such words when he should have known better? And not mentioning the fast distancing of the Vatican representative from the Cardinal position when we all know that he is a close friend of the new Pope?

I personally think that the Cardinal has put the opposition in front of its moral choices. He told the opposition as a whole that if they want Chavez out they will have to take risks, to sacrifice personal comfort and security. That next time they take a large scale action it cannot be like the general strike where they all hoped that the oil guys were going to do the job for them while most were only too happy to have the banks and food stores open a few hours a day, while going back and forth to the marches through the comfort of the subway.

Chavismo Pyrrhic victory

But for all its smiles on Thursday, as all the thugs of the regime were congratulating themselves about a risk-free victory, the Vice knew better. There is also another reason why Rangel congratulated AD: he knows that an election where no one comes is worthless. By congratulating AD he might also be trying to motivate Chavez supporters to go to vote as if AD were reviving, even if chavismo must resort to AD resuscitation. The thing that chavismo fears the most is an abstention of 70% or more. There is no way to hide such a disaster at a time where "participatory democracy" is cantankerously proclaimed everywhere by Chavez, a few months after Chavez set the goal of 10 million votes in 12/2006. Thursday celebration party managed to gather a rather meager attendance in front of the TSJ building. Clearly, the "morochas" issue was barely a blip for chavistas who know that no matter what they will win any election. Chavismo seems rather far from that 10 million, even quite far from the alleged 6 million of August 2004, victim of its own treachery with its own people.

All of this does not bode well for Venezuela.

PS very important

I think it is very appropriate to include this absolutely fantastic Washington Post editorial as a foot note of this post, in particular right after the concluding sentence. If Human Rights are alredy so threatened as Chavez "supposedly" is riding high in the polls and is stably installed in Miraflores, imagine what will be happening when he has not such confidence anymore.


There is also the question as to why such a drive to stamp out the opposition out of parliamentarian existence. Even as the "morochas" issue was discussed and there was a possibility that they would be trashed, chavismo was already announcing that it had an alternative: they would be promoting all its single district candidates as if they were running on their own initiative, as "independents". I kid you not! Somehow as they elected the constitutional assembly of 1999 where using an electoral trick (el kino) they got 97% of the seats for barely 60% of the vote (and then they wonder how come so many people are so unwilling to accept that 1999 constitution...)

When I was studying philosophy in high school I was taught that fanatics are actually unfortunate people, people who have a deep seated doubt about their ideas and beliefs. That is why they are so intent in erasing any evidence that people disagree with their positions. This knowledge served me well when I lived in the US of A. I used to be amazed by the fanatics of the religious right that harassed me in the many civil rights marches I joined. Now, I see the same when fundamentalist pseudo leftist chavistas destroy all in their wake. Thursday they were acting more like a fascistic court of justice and its vulgar accomplices, than any modern and self assured social democratic movement. Thugs always end up as Fascists. Or Stalinists. Your pick.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Venezuelan electoral fraud as an official policy

The news today was not surprising. Actually, as far as I am concerned, it was oddly reassuring. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, the news (in English here).

The TSJ, High Court, of Venezuela has declared that the electoral manipulation colloquially called "Morochas", are the law of the land. The so ill called "twins" were invented by governor Lapi of Yaracuy for the 2000 elections. Briefly, it means that one political party uses a loophole in the Venezuelan Electoral system that allows it to run under two names and thus make its votes count twice if no other party uses that stratagem. Or in really short: with 40% of the votes you can rake in 80% of the seats at stake. End of minority representation. Period.

The regulars readers of this blog have been fortunate enough to have access to this information, which today is top news in Venezuela, since July 5 2005 when I posted a complete review on the way the electoral system was gutted of its representativeness. In that post I argued that in addition of the electoral treachery already amply denounced as coming from the unacceptable partiality of the Electoral Board CNE towards chavismo, there was also gerrymandering to a large scale and the "morochas". The tables made for that post are still the best ones to be found around to illustrate how unfair the Venezuelan system has become as to the rights of the minority, to an extent never seen in our democratic history.

Thus today decision by the TSJ is not surprising, and expected by this blogger who considers that no matter what decision would be taken it would be done to favor the governmental side. Simply, VERY SIMPLY, it shows once again that the Chavez controlled powers of the state, from the executive to any small judge, will do all of his biding, be ready to swallow any snake oil, in order to make sure he remains in office until kingdom comes.

The question of course is what will the opposition do, but that is the subject for another post. Instead tonight, now that I have finished to publish the main news, or outrage of the day as you might prefer, I will indulge in a long second post (two posts in one!) of "historical" nature where I will try to demonstrate how today decision of the TSJ is a refusal of our history, of our constant search for more democracy until we finally surrendered to an egomaniacal liar called Chavez, a gifted but deeply flawed man whose only ambition is to perpetuate himself in office for ever and ever.

And thus why I am strangely relieved: we have reached the electoral dead end. Now it is time for new things.

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A Venezuelan short history of its electoral system

Speaking of fair elections in Venezuela before 1958 is not realistic. Yes, there had been some elections which had a modicum of fairness; and the 1946 constitutional assembly election which were the first real one ever with one man one vote system. But the passions of the time make these elections interesting but not necessarily constructive. In fact they ended up fast into the 1948 coup that brought the last (?) dictatorship in Venezuela which lasted until 1958.

Electoral systems

It certainly is besides the scope to lecture on electoral systems. Let's just summarize the two basic ones.

In the "winner take all" system, we have in general single district voting and the winner, no matter how many votes, is elected. This system which risks polarizing very much the electorate is tempered from extremes either by a two round balloting which forces the creation of coalitions (France), by tradition and a strong judicial system (England) or by strong federalism (USA). The main advantage of this system is that it creates a strong bond between representative and elector, diminishing the rule of political parties, though it is not always the case.

The proportional representation system has long been thought to be fairer as all get a representation. Unfortunately it has an inherent weakness in that it favors atomization of political organizations which can eventually reach fatal political deadlock as no stable coalition can form. This is how Weimar Germany fell into the hands of Hitler, how Italy and Israel became such unstable parliamentary systems until they had to change the electoral system to create a more stable executive power. Germany has tried to combine the best advantages of both systems. Germans elect half of their representatives on a proportional list among all parties which reach at least 5% of the vote. The other half is elected on single district "winner take all", on the condition that they do make that 5% nationally.

That German system was in the mind of the Venezuelan legislators in the early days of Venezuelan democracy but its eventual attempt at implementation could not bring itself at demanding that minimum 5% national wide vote, and was thus twisted out of all meaning yielding the system that will give chavismo more than a "winner take all" prize with barely 40% of the vote, as it happened already in the local elections of August 2005.

The Venezuelan system

The elections of 1958, 1963, 1968 and 1973 were very simple. You were given a multicolored sets of large pieces of paper and a smaller ones. With the large one you elected the president and with the small one you elected town hall councils, state legislatures, and the two chambers of Congress. Needless to say that you had no idea who you were voting for in general and that political parties were ruling it all. This system bears a large responsibility in the rise of mediocre governments and corruption.

At least in this system minority representation was respected. Not to mention that illiterates could vote for the color of their choice.

One voted by state which of course set the minimal percentage of votes to obtain rather high, 100/[number of seats per state]. For example a state that elects 5 representatives forces a political party to ensure at least 15-20% of the vote to have its voice heard. However once the vote was held, an extra amount of representatives were allocated according to the national results and the average number of votes per representative. Thus any party that did manage a couple of points nationally but no state seat would manage at least one at large seat, and thus one voice, if feeble, in Congress.

In 1978 some changes did happen. The city municipal councils were elected in a separate event in 1979. And instead of getting a set of colored papers, a large unwieldy cardboard with the colors of all parties and candidates had to be stamped by the voter: "el tarjeton", which to this day is the main feature of Venezuelan voting.

But it was not enough. The never ending crisis that started in the early 80ies eventually forced a new change: now governors and mayors would be elected for the first time, in separate elections together with their legislative bodies, every three years.

The results were overall quite positive as for the first time people got a real voice into who was collecting garbage and fixing potholes. Unfortunately this late start at reform has been squelched by the more than renewed centralism that is at the heart of Chavez project where all eventually depend on him or on the people he appoints (their incidental election becoming a mere formality).

The present system

The system who rules Venezuelan election started in fact with the elections of 1998 which for the first time separated congress from president and completed the development to the long sought aim of a direct link between the elector and his representative by electing now more than half the representatives through uninominal districts. Unfortunately for this system, while it showed the increasing democratic and responsible nature of Venezuelan politics, it elected the man that would end all of this: Hugo Chavez.

The system also brought a new way to organize elections and hold them. In 1998 for the first time elections were made automatic by having the "tarjeton" go through a scanner. But more important the Electoral Board was completely revamped and became the CNE. It is a paradox that the freest elections in Venezuela history, the one less susceptible of fraud actually resulted in the election of an authoritarian system which has not stopped into his designs to control electoral results ever since! The 1998 results have not been criticized, unlike almost all results prior 1998 (in particular 1968 and 1993) and certainly not as much as the referendum of 2004 or even the 2000 flawed elections.

In his 1999 constitutional changes for some reason Chavez maintained the electoral system. It was a small price to pay for public opinion to accept that the presidential term went from 5 to 6, PLUS immediate reelection! But in 2000 Governor Lapi found the flaw in the electoral system: the now infamous "morochas" or the ability to be counted double by the side which applies it. This has been a divine surprise for chavismo who now has managed to enshrine it and add this to the battery of other election manipulation it already disposes of: fake electoral registry, refusal to count ballots, no control on state financing the chavista campaigns, no control of official propaganda during campaigns, partiality of all electoral personnel, and so many more. But all has been documented in the SUMATE reports (visit Sumate Files for this) or in the post mentioned which paints in simple tables the effects of the "morochas" and electoral gerrymandering of Venezuelan districts.

The traditional tendency since 1958 was to increase the link between the elected official and its voter and at the same time find ways to represent significant minorities. Maybe the success was uneven but Venezuela had a model electoral system by the area standards for many decades. Now we are back to a single leader deciding who is candidate or not, when elections are held and how they are held. We are back to almost Gomez times for this matter, but of course a modern era Gomez, in the mass media age. It is not a bold statement to write that the December 2005 elections will be the least democratic elections in Venezuela since 1958, an election which is likely going to give 80% of seats to no more than 15% of the electors if recent polls about increasing abstention from both sides of the political divide. There will be a price to pay for that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chavez is a liar, part 2

I did write my last post as the transcript of the Chavez BBC interview was not available. Now it is. I paste below the question to Chavez as to the Tascon list a question the reader can read, the brief outright lie and the following unrelated nonsense to try to distract the attention and make people forget about the question, which was about political segregation as a Venezuelan state policy. Further comments are useless.

Presenter (Robin Lustig):
There was a referendum in Venezuela last year, your political opponents gathered many thousands of signatures to force a referendum which was designed to force you from office. They lost, you won, you are still in office. Now it is said that people whose names are on those lists, calling for the referendum, can’t get government jobs, are sometimes disqualified from social welfare programmes, and find themselves discriminated against?
President Hugo Chavez:
That’s totally false. Those who say that are the very people who were trying to demonise my government. We have a fully democratic country, I went to Brazil recently and Lula, a good friend of mine, said in a speech, Venezuela does not only have a democracy, but perhaps there is an excess of democracy in Venezuela. That’s what he said. In Venezuela you can say whatever you want. There are a group of people who lost the referendum, if you go to Venezuela they will say that we had a fraud, we won six million against four million, and those elections were observed by the Organisation of American States, the United Nations, the (?) organisations and international observers from all over the world. And they said, these are fair elections, except those who lost, they said it was a fraud and they have never admitted that they failed. They said that those who signed have no rights but that is totally false, that’s part of a campaign going around the world, they are trying to present me as a tyrant, present my government as one that protects terrorists and violates freedom. I invite you, as I said before, to come to Venezuela and spend the time you wish, and talk to whoever you want, so you see the reality. Recently the Spanish President Zapatero went to Venezuela and went to the palace and said to me, Chavez, I’ve been told that recently you have had some restraints of freedom of speech, but I have just watched TV for an hour and I have realised that this is totally untrue.
El que tenga ojos, que lea.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chavez is a liar

So the BBC interview "talking point" took place. I meant to watch it completely but as usual I cannot stand Chavez insults to my intelligence. Even dubbed, I could not go through it all. I tried. But first the technicalities.

Alek has it all at a good band on his site, faster and better than the actuall BBC link, at least from Venezuela! the mysteries of Internet which I confess cannot comprehend all.

The interview lasts, at least according to the counter that apperad on my Real Audio, 52 minutes. I watched the first few minutes and of course they started with what interests the most Europeans: Chavez and oil and the US. A suave and semi polished Chavez started with all sorts of platitudes, even including when he was helping Clinton stabilize oil prices (one would assume they were golf course pals discussing Oil Policies on the tees of Hilton Head). I am not too sure if the point that Chavez was proping up was that Bush is the one who screwed up oil price stability but I would not be surprised, China and India oil consumption notwithstanding.

But by then I had already enough and I sped up to minute 30 something.

Surprised, I reached when the BBC journalist was asking Chavez, very clearly and obviously very informed, about the voters that are on the black list (1). He did not use the words "Tascon list" as the BBC audience likely would not have understood what was that matter. But it was quite clear that the journalist was implying that indeed there were now second class citizens in Venezuela and what was Chavez going to do about it.

Spectacularly Chavez lied. He denied it point blank and IMMEDIATELY stated that it was the people that lost the election of August 2004 that were upset and this immedaitley was followed by a long tirade on such a brilliant election, monitored by so many people including the Carter Center, and blah, blah, blah... In other words he did not address the question, the specific question, an issue which in Venezuela is now vox populi as WE ALL KNOW at least one person that was affected in its work, career, or social benefits because s/he signed the Recall Election petition.

Chavez lied. Chavez is a liar. At this point probably a pathological liar.

In a normal country this video would be enough to start a judicial inquiry. Clinton was impeached for much, much less.

Just in case the message is not clear for those that might not read English well enough:

Chavez, eres un mentiroso. Mentistes frente al mundo entero y lo sabes. Eres un cara dura.

And if Chavez does not like it I would be delighted to go to any international court with the BBC video in hand and all the dossier on the Tascon list that has been gathered by Tal Cual and so many other people. Humble blogger Miguel has already an impressive section on the Tascon list. So imagine what the courts could hear if we had courts of justice in Venezuela.

Needless to say that after that outrage I tuned off the interview. What could be of possible interest in it, except for the few sycophants that follow such a flawed leader?

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1) Thus we can find solace in the fact that the BBC became aware among the avalanche of questions it received (the journalsits cites more than 3000!) that many were not favorable and at least it asked on one of the most important charges against the morally corrupt Chavez administration.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mysteries uncovered?

While I was busy writing yet another overlong post, my fellow Venezuelan bloggers were unearthing a few interesting things. Besides the incredible amount of people with the same last name, born on the same day in Zulia and some of them actually voting twice, we find out that the new Information minister has a past. Or rather, does not have a past. But let's go by order.

Fraud in the electoral registry. This has alredy been reproted so often that I will not even try to look for the linsk from any of the Venezuelan blogs that often hard on this issue. Let's just mention the last one, which I forgot to include in yesterday post: 476 800 voters cannot be verified, that is about 5% of the registry! Enough to skew a few elections here and there! And let's not go into double and triple voting incidents found. Truly, Venezuela is ready to redo completely its electoral registry, the one in use has become totally useless.

Miguel's curiosty. Looking at that article on registration irregularities Miguel had the good idea to check on the persistent rumor that the new Information Minister, Yuri Pimentel, had a very strange ID number. It is important to note that in Venezuela the ID numbers started in the 40ies, with President Medina Angarita being 1. Today few people can be found with only 5 digits, and I suspect even less with less digits. But youngsters are in the mid to late 10 million. Lo' and behold the new minister is number 21.759.900 (a nice round number by the way!). So either he is less than 15 year old or he became Venezuelan citizen barely before he became minisiter. What is your past Mr. Pimentel?

But blog readers had the good idea to start looking around and there is at least one Yuri Pimentel in a missing person list in London sicne 2002. Fascinating! And the search goes on, keep reading the comments on Miguel's post for further dicoveries. Even from Norway Stig is able to unearth interesting information. How come the local opposition cannot call on such things? For all what I know Mr. Pimentel might have perfectly good reasons for having such a strange ID number, but we do have a right to know.

Meanwhile in a long interview Maria Corina Machado states, proof in hand, that the electoral system is not improving at all and that elections are thus meaningless. Gee, what a surprise! What incentive is for chavismo to clean up its electoral act that brings it such great dividends?

Shifting polls in Venezuela: update on the general situation

For the last two years polls in Venezuela have been notoriously unsatisfying. If they all tend to put Chavez higher up, the reasons of it and the trends are all over the board. There might be several reasons for it. For example, since the Tascon list many might have decided to say that they are neutral or even support Chavez. After all confidentiality seems inexistent in Venezuela. Others simply see no possible change in the horizon and stick with Chavez for lack of option or primal conservatism.

However since the general outlook on Venezuela I wrote in July, a few things seem to have altered the board game. Oh, nothing totally dramatic, Chavez is still leading everywhere, but significant enough changes that a partial update of that post is a must. Thus I will discuss first how polls seem to be shifting lately and then how this is affecting the electoral strategy of chavismo, as seen in the latest battle over whether Las Morochas are valid or not.

New polling data shows Chavez losing support

An adequate subtitle would be: and nobody is gaining from it. This trend has been observed for the last two months. I will just look at the latest results published from one pollster that I respect, Keller and associates, and another from Seijas who I find more "commercial" (I ignored Datanalisis of last week because I think personally that Datanalisis polling is made with the intention of directing the discourse of the opposition with the agenda of the pollsters; I might be wrong but this is my blog and that data can be found in other blogs).

The Keller Poll

The first striking result is that the Electoral Board, CNE, is everyday more discredited. Even a large segment of Chavismo now thinks that the board should be replaced and that ballots should be counted, as the only way to bring back general trust in the Venezuelan electoral system. An open question that seems to allow to poll people with some accuracy was to ask chavistas and antichavistas alike "What would increase trust in the CNE". 51% of chavistas think that changing the CNE and opening the ballot boxes would help. Anti chavistas add up to 74% for the same question. It is quite clear what needs to be done to please the voter.

The other alarming prediction is that the abstention for the December legislative election points to an historical 80%!!! That is, neither chavistas nor anti chavista are planning to move their butt to go and vote. I am not too sure about the methodology there, but one thing is certain: when the umpire is so discredited, there is little incentive to go and vote and any poll with a reasonable methodology will reflect that. Period. It would seem that chavismo high handed methods to silence its internal minorities are starting to have their effect. Keller reports that an astounding 32% of chavistas distrust the electoral system. Note: Keller predicted a 68% abstention in last August vote, quite close from the result obtained.

The Instituto Venezolano de Analisis de Datos poll

This is also confirmed in the new Seijas poll who says that 60% of the people have no or little trust in the CNE! However, in what is know the norm in Venezuelan polling contradiction, the voter participation would be in the 50% range, nevertheless demonstrating that abstention crosses sprightly party lines.

But that poll is more interesting to read as it try to prey into the reasons why the support of Chavez is eroding. For example we can find the following things:
  • 33.4% want Chavez to end in 2006 and 17.2% to end in 2012. Only 40.7% want the now all but official 2021 deadline. Are people starting to think that enough of Chavez is enough?
  • 82.4% are in favor of private property of car and home (yes, the debate is that simplistic). But 43.4% are opposed to the land grabs made by the government lately. This is more already than the opposition "results" of last August.
  • But we do have a bourgeois country even if poor: 67.3% are for the private property of more than one house and more than one car, contradicting upfront Chavez unfortunate words on "why do we need cars?"
  • 55.2% of the polled folks state that they have received NO benefit from any of the Misiones. Which means that many have received little benefit. Hence the lowering of Chavez numbers?
The poll tries to go further into the ideological make up of the country. The results are interesting though rather contradictory among themselves:
  • 95.9% think it is good that "Venezuelans own property", which goes smack against Chavez declarations that to be rich is bad (while he himself lives in Oriental Satrapies Splendor)
  • A military regime is totally decried by 67.7% of the polled, just demonstrating a growing uneasiness with the amount of military that we see everywhere in the government. This should be perturbing for any democrat.
  • However more intriguing is that if 39.6% do not know where they stand in politics, 33.5% qualify themselves as on the right while only 17.7% see themselves on the left. Center left and center right respectively count 3.8% and 5.5%. It seems that indeed a minority of hard core chavismo in the 20% is trying to force the country into a mold it does not like. That it is succeeding for the time being is another story, what matters now is that if we were to base ourselves on the self defined people, the right should be in office. Uribe style?
The poll goes into a lot of other questions but these fall into the category of beauty pageant and I will pass except for one: if elections were held today Chavez would get 51.6%. A clear win still, but down more than ten points in barely 3 months!

The first consequences of these recent polls

The first impression that one gets is that maybe chavismo is now not in such a hurry to hold parliamentary elections in December. Indeed, realizing that the speeding up to the left of the "XXI Century Socialism" that started in earnest in August is already weakening the government. They suddenly realize that if victory is still a given in December, the so intensely desired 2/3 majority might now be out of reach. The aggravating factor was that the opposition, discredited and all, still managed to put its own Morochas and thus might be dampening the effect of this electoral fraud. I have described how the Morochas are a major flaw in the present Venezuelan system. Practically, if one side runs under two political parties created for convenience but in fact the same thing, instead of only one as the proportional system historically in place in Venezuela required, well, then their votes count twice for all practical purpose. Incidentally, I allow myself some patting on the back as to date you will not find as good an explanation on how the Morochas work in Venezuela as the one I posted in July(end of self congratulation).

Chavismo obviously bet that the opposition would not decide to cheat with Morochas the way chavismo did in October 2004 and August 2005. But they did. As the polls go down, and even worse, abstention seems to keep going up, worry settles in chavismo. Chavez has been craftily working hard at shoring up his international image. An election to have Venezuela become "XXI century socialist" where nobody voted would be a major set back for his international image at a time where he is shamelessly trying to become Castro's heir.

So the surprise this week came when apparently the Chavez appointed high court decided to evaluate whether the Morochas are legal or not. Some like Blyde of Primero Justicia (El Nacional interview today, no link) think it is only a masquerade. Others think that actually the government has decided to strike down the Morochas. Thus it would get a convenient excuse to postpone the elections and perhaps even unite them with the presidential elections where the parliament would ride on Chavez coattails. Constitutionally this seems difficult as these elections must be separated; however putting them close enough would allow for Chavez to combine both campaigns.

Thus it seems that suddenly new important factors have changed the application of what should have been originally a fool proof strategy had Chavez waited for his XXI century socialism for after the December 2005 elections.

The mish mash of political parties in Venezuela

Yet another factor might be playing in the background: the solidity of the political parties, even including the pro Chavez MVR. Yes, even the MVR who ranks well below Chavez in polls and owes its apparent strength only to Chavez (who regularly reminds the non entities that comprise the MVR leadership that they owe their job to Chavez).

El Universal publishes an Expediente where the basis is an older poll of August by Liderazgo y Vision. There is no point to go into the details except to observe that the opposition parties are in dire need of an aggiornamento, and that the MVR itself needs some more grounding. Just some of interest:
  • 38% would like the creation of a political party on the right. What has always lacked in Venezuela since 1958 and which has probably has caused many of the social democrats to evolve somewhat to the right in their conversion to populism.
  • 68% think that primaries should be the rule when selecting candidates for election.
  • Stupendously, 38.4% consider themselves to be right wing, 28% at the middle and only 11.8% on the left!
  • Even among those who professed to belong or sympathize with the MVR, 29.3% thought of themselves as being on the right! To the 35% on the left and the rest not taking a position.
When one looks at this last poll result, one wonder if the methods should be questioned or whether the Venezuelan voter has become that dysfunctional.

All in all, we suddenly find enough reasons for political parties to be weary of elections. This is going to be interesting to follow.

PS: this post can also be read as a supplement to Quico's post of Sunday.

In Norway, they do not buy it

It is refreshing to see that in some places the bolibanana B.S. of Chavez does not pass. Maybe because Norway does not need Chavez? Maybe because Norway DID manage to benefit from its North Sea Oil? The fact is that this precious clip should not be missed, courtesy of my favorite Norwegian blogger, Stig.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

More bad numbers for Venezuela

Statistically wise it has been a terrible week for Venezuela.

The week started with the predicted aberration that as far as corruption is perceived Venezuela ranks 130 out of 158. Today, to give a bright shinny example of how common the corruption thing has gone, Tal Cual used its socialite commentator, Roland Carreño, to let us know that the transfer of bonds of the Venezuelan reserve from US banks to Europe has generated a commission of 250 million dollars. That is right, 250 million of greenbacks, apparently into the hands of a young and ambitious broker (1) for an operation that the Venezuelan government could have carried for much cheaper over a period of a mere semester. It seems that Chavez was upset to learn about it. That Tal cual uses its socialite writer to gives this gossip shows us how far has corruption gone in the main stream that Tal Cual downgrades it to casual comment, a smart way to stress it if you ask me. A suggestion to Chavez and his Vice who was so outraged by the TI ranking: get that young broker and make an example out of it, that way next year Venezuela will jump from at least 130 to 100. That will work better than inventing fake charges that fool nobody.

Then the news moved on to the International Labor Organization where Venezuela is only second to Civil War racked Colombia by its jobless rate, not to mention that Venezuela is plagued by more than 50% of its population in the informal market, a population that pays no taxes, has access to no social services and quite often lives of whatever it manages to peddle at street corners. Thus the persistent poverty in Venezuela was revealed once again, no matter how many social programs Chavez is throwing at the poor, no matter what lies he utters in his overseas trips. But the only thing he does not throw at them is real jobs, and, as we have seen in the infamous French reception this week, who cares in the world as long as Chavez peddles his oil (I write HIS oil on purpose as he seems to be giving it away as if it were his). In France Chavez was received by the right wing Prime Minister, De Villepin who went as far as praising Chavez concern for third world countries as if Chavez were leading a first world country (who does De Villepin memos?) Then Chavez was whisked to the town hall of one of the unreconstructed lefties in France, George Sarre, where he gave a fake press conference where we could see on the front seats the crème de la crème of the saurian left of France, starting with Ramonet, probably looking for another installment for the new seat of Le Monde Diplomatique. French, equal to themselves from the left or the right, do not care about what Chavez does to Venezuelans as long as he does it with French know-how.

Now to top it all Reporters without Borders publishes its press freedom report and Venezuela once again hits the skid marks. 90 this year. I have picked a single paragraph from the Venezuela section:
Chávez continued to tighten laws concerning the media and a measure on the social responsibility of the media came into force on 7 December, providing for punishment of those who "advocate undermining public order." Parliament amended the criminal code on 9 December to increase prison terms for press offences despite general calls by international bodies for these to be decriminalized. The government thus has wide powers to force self-censorship and punish those who fail to comply.
In 2004...

- 5 journalists were arrested
- 57 physically attacked
- 6 threatened
- 6 summoned
- and 13 media premises attacked or ransacked
I am pretty sure that anytime soon we will see Rangel or someone like him coming out and state that Reporters without Borders is infiltrated by the CIA and what not. However a quick look at the RWB statistics since 2002 show that Venezuela position has varied, showing thus that at least there is some criteria in deciding who is fair with its media (not to mention that the list is in general pretty coherent with the perception one has of the different countries). Thus in 2002 Venezuela was 77; in 2003 it had dropped to 96, not surprising in the year of willful repression after the strike. The 90 ranking is reached in 2004 and kept in 2005. And what about the US of A dismal rank for 2005: 44 to Bolivia 45, racked by political trouble but who managed in spite of the fall of a president to maintain as much press freedom as the US… Yep, Rangel better get ready to trash RWB real good, with outrages even bigger than what he used for the other negative number givers.

Let's face it, Chavez might have the smart talk in general but as I think Lincoln said: you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The truth in Venezuela is percolating outside, slowly but surely. The August 2004 "victory" seems every day more and more a distant memory, not enough anymore to sustain a web of lies about the real Venezuela situation.

Now the only thing left is the "shoot the messenger" strategy.

(1) Carreño did not go as far as printing the name of the broker but gave enough evidence as to its connection within the government to make it easy to identify if so wished for. After all, if totally unethical to play with the money of the republic for personal gain it might not be outside of the law. These chavistas are clever. Chavez gives the order to transfer funds, but does not "benefit" personally in a direct way. The kid, well, you know, he is doing his job and it is not his fault that there is a comission inherently attached to it. Chavez gets "mad". The kid "comes to sense" and returns part of the money (he does keep a few millons anyway as the fall guy). And the returning money goes? Charity? SENIAT? That I am sure we will never know...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Venezuela Labor: when a job is not a job

To follow the index on corruption published earlier this week and where Venezuela is ranked at the bottom tier of the class, a fact which greatly irritated the Vice P. Rangel, the International Labor Organization published its statistics on work conditions for Latin America. Not good, again, for Venezuela. Since the IOL is a UN dependency it will be more difficult for Rangel to try to trash them as he did try to trash early this week Transparency International. But I am sure that some nonsensical answer is in preparation.

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate on the IOL page these results. As it often happens, there might be a delay between their press release and their posting on the web, unless it is in a pay per view section. Thus I will limit my commentary on what El Universal reports (short English, longer Spanish).

In a nutshell, in spite of 7 glorious years of bolibananarian revolution and 3 of high to extremely high oil prices, we still are the country with the second highest unemployment rate in Latin America, 13.2 %. Only Colombia with a 15% jobless rate beats us, and at least they have the excuse of decades of civil war. But there was some good news: the oil driven easy money pseudo recovery of the last two years did manage to reduce the Venezuelan jobless rate. Or did it really?

The first troubling fact is that the ILO reports 52.3% for the informal economy sector. This is simply catastrophic. These people are outside the main circuits of welfare and work benefits: no health coverage, no retirement, no jobless benefits, no nothing. Not to mention that they do not contribute with their taxes to the general welfare of the country, in the positive sense of the term welfare. In addition barely half of people with a real job get any real social security and health care protection. How could that be?

Well, when the Caldera adminsitration left office in 1998 there was a new social security plan voted and ready for application, worked on a reasonable consensus between trade unions, government and private employers. That plan application was suspended because "the new constitution made it obsolete", never minding the contradiction that the old one was already unworkable and obsolete and that anything was better than the old one. Amazingly in a the5 years legislature reaching its end now the government never found a way to vote a new system ,even though it was designed in its large aspects as early as 2001. The reasons? Many I am sure, but two really:
  1. it is simply unaffordable with such a large informal sector to have a generous plan as the constitution mandates (not that it might be affordable if all worked at real jobs! some of the constitutional provisions of 1999 for welfare are not even found in the most advanced welfare states of Europe).
  2. quickly it became obvious that all programs had to be projected as coming from his magnificence, El Supremo, and not from a constitutional right. So a comprehensive and organized social security and health care plan was substituted by Misiones which served the political purpose to keep Chavez populist and popular.
But it is not all. The government still had to produce statistics as to show that the Misiones were working and the economic policies (?) were generating prosperity. Unable to demonstrate that, the director of the National Institute for statistics, Elias Eljuri, previously chastised in public by Chavez, decided to change the way poverty in Venezuela was measured. And voilà! a 14% decrease in the poverty rate in barely a year. Potemkin would be proud! To top it off you can also add an official unemployment rate of 11.8%!

But even when they cheat, they cannot do it right. The graph published in Saturday print edition of El Universal showed a dramatic drop in the past quarter, just when the calculation method was changed. A drop even higher than the poverty increase caused by the oil strike if we are to believe chavismo propaganda on that subject. The change in the poverty index calculation, by the way, stresses more on the artificially inflated NGP of Venezuela, courtesy of the sky high oil prices. Geez! How creative!

And to ingratiate himself more to his boss, hard pressed for results that are not coming, Eljuri added that the "other" numbers were meaningless, that only the government knew what it was talking about when poverty was the talk. Dismissing thus all sorts of organizations, including the UN, who have been reporting results quite contradictory to the rosy figures of the government.

But let's look at the truth behind all of that. Numbers have long ceased to be meaningful in Venezuela as nothing that the government does can be audited by independent observers. This applies as well to PDVSA, crime rate, budget accounting, or Chavez Airbus. Fortunately we know enough hard evidence to realize that the Chavez administration is caught in a lie as to poverty and unemployment.

The number of street kids and indigents not only in Caracas but in the country side keeps increasing, as this blogger can report. Even in his own small home town he can observe the deep misery increasing as the government obviously only cares to solve the problems of the people that might be induced to vote for them. Yes, why is it that I have never seen as much poverty in the streets as I am seeing now?

But other things are even more shameful. To decrease the unemployment figure, many of the Misiones recipients are considered as gainfully employed. Some Misiones pay ONLY a fraction of the minimal wage for people to receive some sort of training, or just go to political rallies. That meager stipend of course does not come with the normal benefits required by Venezuelan labor laws such as vacation, social security, some form of health care, etc... Only if you keep bouncing back from Mision to Mision you will get some of these benefits, and only if you constantly restate your support for the Chavez regime.

The truth that the government refuses to see is that only strong jobs creation will solve poverty on the long run. Right now, with all the social and judicial insecurity observed the only job creation comes from state investments and the private partners it drags with it. Independent private sector investment is low, limited in its scope to maintainance. The best investment still is to take your money out in US dollars since Venezuelan inflation is still well above 10% and a devaluation will come eventually, as certain as death and taxes do.

Eljuri can try all what he can to make his boss look good, a Mision job will never be as good as a stable minimal wage assorted with all benefits, as meager as those might be.

PDVSA finally files the SEC

After two years of postponing their report to the SEC (an obligation if you wish to work with US capital), PDVSA finally filed its 2003 report. Gustavo Coronel already reviewed it and his conclusion is that the degradation of PDVSA for the service of Chavez capricious moods keeps apace. The consequences are masked, for the time being, by the high price of oil. But the Chavez adminsitration inability to control spending and and corruption, and unable to stimulate private capital investment will create a situation that will be equivalent to a decrease in the price of oil. This day the chickens will come back home to roost.

I have not followed PDVSA lately, too busy with too many issues. But it is nice to see that Gustavo coronel does follow. And he must be right as the regime has started to attack him, clumsily trying to link him with the Transparency International report denouncing corruption never ending situation in Venezuela. When they start shooting the messenger, you know the message is good!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Corruption in Venezuela: the Lady does protest too much

Transparency International publishes a yearly index where it ranks the different countries according to their perceived global corruption. This measure is by definition always subjective since after all some of the countries ranked might consider some practices normal that would be looked in horror in some other countries. However there is a certain methodology (surveys, actual measurement, interviews, etc…) in the measuring of subjectivity to give some confidence to the result and usually it seems to work well. Countries which seems to function reasonably well, with a reasonably independent judicial system seem to always rank on top. And countries which are in a permanent messy state, and who usually rely on some strong leader to solve their problem tend to rank at the bottom. Thus no reader of this blog should be surprised that Venezuela ranks in the bottom positions of the survey.

Now, the only person that does not seem to agree with this year result, which placed Venezuela in a dismal 130 out of 158 measured countries, is the vice president Jose Vicente Rangel, who in a fit declared that actually Transparency International was BOUGHT! Imagine that!!! He should know about buying since according to T.I. Venezuela is buying a lot of people. But let’s look, for the sake of it, at a few results. Rather than give you all the details of the T.I. report, I have drawn a simple summary table to my taste. There I do divide the results according to what I think are acceptable levels of corruption (being rather a cynic I have long accepted that corruption is a fact of life and that the goal is to make sure it does not get out of control: after all, there must be a way to finance political campaigns, no?)

Corruption levels
Result and rank
"Acceptable" levels of corruption (between 9 and 7.5)
Iceland (on top)
9.7, FIRST
9.2, 5th
8.8, 9th
Canada (best in the Americas)
8.4, 14th
The US of A (chavismo favorite whipping boy)
7.6, 17th
7.5, 18th
Corruption perceptible to bothersome, but countries probably trying to do something about it (between 7.4 and 5)
7.4, 19th
Chile (top of the class in Latin America)
7.3, 21st
Japan (just to say that Chile is as good as Japan!)
7.3, 21st
6.3, 28th
Oman (just to prove that Islam even under an authoritarian regimes can manage some decency)
6.3, 28th
Botswana (top of Africa)
5.9, 32nd
Italy (well, what can I say)
5, 40th
Corruption a real problem (between 4.9 and 2.5)
4.0, 43rd
4.3, 47th
4.3, 47th
Colombia (imagine that!)
4, 55th
Cuba (No sweat!)
3.8, 59th
Saudi Arabia (fundamentalism and autocracy at work)
3.4, 70th
Argentina (Oh well…)
2.8, 97th
Zimbabwe (Chavez good friend)
2.6, 107th
Better stay clear of these countries if you want to hold onto your money(less than 2.5)
2.4, 126th
2.3, 130th
Republic of Congo
2.3, 130th
Venezuela (after 7 years of purifying revolution)
2.3, 130th
2.1, 144th
1.7, 158th
No wonder why the Vice President (accidental pun intended) is so upset. After years of glorious bolibanana revolution, firing justices right and left, screaming and shouting against the corrupt past, we are right where we started. Indeed, El Universal article is is accompanied by a little chart on the IPC index over the recent years and I have taken the liberty to upload it.

The real reason behind Rangel outburst is that corruption is AGAIN seen in Venezuelan public opinion as one of the major problems. And Rangel knows very well that this is a sure regime killer. Thus his best defense, an attack on the messenger, a specialty of ALL corrupt and morally bankrupt regimes.

But the saddest part of it all is that Jose Vicente Rangel, with a decent past as an inquisitive journalist has lowered himself to accusations that he would not have been caught dead uttering no so long ago. I do not know how corrupt financially he might himself be now, but one thing is certain, through this blog his moral corruption has been well documented, not to mention a bevy of prestigious journalists that have written aloud in the papers what ever happened to the once moral fighter that Rangel was.

Now instead we have a political hack, clinging to the privileges of his office, complaining about Transparency International when he should be watching what happens in his own dispatch offices. He even threatened T.I. to send them the Venezuelan comptroller to investigate them. Indeed, if Clodosvaldo Russian is as effective to investigate T.I. as he has been investigating Venezuelan corruption, T.I. may sleep soundly.


PS: I found this logo quite appropriate for the end of this post. It is the signature of Marcos1204, a participant of the Noticiero digital forum. There is no e-mail address so I could not ask for permission. If anyone knows, or if he reads it, my deepest acknowledgements. Incidentally the link I give for the forum is to a thread who gives dramatic pictures as to the cost of corruption for Venezuela. Please, go and visit, and then weep.
"Choros" means petty thief to outright bandit, according to context, and it is a pun on the omnipropagandapresent logo of "Venezuela es de todos" Venezuela belongs to all, which is what chavismo would like us to believe. Quite creative!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chavez in Rome, the FAO speech

Just heard on the news.

Chavez was speaking on world hunger at the FAO, Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (as Venezuela has increased its food imports since he reached offcie, just a reminder).

"The first Capitalist was Judas, because we all know he sold Jesus for some coins"

"Jesus was the first socialist"

Once you overcome so many worn out cliches in just a single speech, you are left to wonder which was the economical system before Judas. You can also wonder if in fact socialism did not precede capitalism since Jesus taught all of his teachings before Judas sold him. And here, all these years, I thought that socialism was a remedy to capitalism invented by Karl Marx.

But if you look at the news page of the FAO there is no mention of Chavez speech today. If you dig further you can find an audio section. Well, there is an MP3 clip from Chavez' speech (640 KB, 1 min 21 sec) and another one from Lula's speech (1043 KB, 2 min 10 sec). If you look at these numbers on length and audio quality as an indication of speech importance, it seems that at the FAO someone has a clue...

Good grief...

Homework for the readers of this blog

The BBC has a rather unfortunate initiative: to set upo a forum where "supposedly" Chavez will reply to questions sent to him. The LINK.

This is what I sent:

A few questions for you.

What about separation of power as the basis for democracy?

Why is it that in Venezuela 99% of public officials in the courts and elswhere, but more notably in the courts, swear allegiance to you?

Why has it been years since you have not given a real press conference to ALL of the Venezuelan media to account for your actions? I mean a real press conference where you MUST answer the questions, not one with only sycophantic journalists to interview you.

Why is it that your administration is blocking REAL investigation to a whole list of political murders, including to people that were following your leadership such as Danilo Anderson?

Why is it that we cannot have a real auditable tax return from any of your ministers?

Why have you not launched a serious investigation on this modern apartheid/fascism that is the Tascon list who segregates 3 million of Venezuelans to a second class citizen status just because they disagree with you?

Last but not least, how long do you think you will be able to keep fooling the people that support you overseas without knowing what is really going on inside Venezuela? In other words, what are you going to do to hide the mess you are creating in Venezuela once Bush and Iraq are not around anymore to serve as convenient whipping boys?

And I have more embarassing questions for you to reply if you wish it so.

So your job is to send your own questions, briefly stated and to the point. What I did is already too long, I encourage you to write less, if anything to contrast with all the flatterers of Chavez who have been very busy gloryfying their hero, without even asking questions for many of them, which goes a long way to illustrate the minds behind the words.......

Please, do not criticize Chavez too much, just ask the hard questions with a minimum of objective documentation. No recrimination please, we want all the questions to be approved by the BBC. The simple fact that the hard questions will be put on screen by BBC, and maybe even reach Chavez, should be enough satisfaction for us as the BBC does not erase what it publishes. Do not make it a personal moment to scream at Chavez, you have the comment section fo this blog for this :)

Now, to your keyboards!

Monday, October 17, 2005

In the mail box of Venezuela News

Since it is Sunday and I have no inspiration, or rather, too much as the news are abundant, I am avoiding duty by choosing to write on some mail and comments I keep getting.

The first item is on an article of sorts by Justin Delacour that was sent to me by a reader. Justin has already made a name by associating himself tightly with the bolibananarian revolution. If memory serves me well he was even named by Chavez once. And he reached consecration when he engaged directly in a discussion with El Universal. This article is rather dismal though I felt that maybe some reply was needed, just to criticize the lack of intellectual input in it. But I remembered that Francisco Toro used to have Justin as a regular visitor. So, as a way to try to bring Quico out of retirement I did ask him to write a response and publish it in my blog. He refused but his reply to me was so long that at the end he realized that he had replied and just authorized me to post his letter. Thus it goes below. Note 1: The correspondence with Quico can be either in Spanish or English, so do not think it weird that he replies to me in Spanish. Besides, his computer probably has no accents and it is a pain to put them one by one… Note 2: the title of Quico letter was Justin Delolast which I am sure some of you will get as I prefer not translate it.


Yeah, I read Justin Delacour's article, or, well, as much of it as I
could stomach. I think it's pretty much a waste of time to try to refute
it point-by-point: only people who know exceedingly little about
Venezuela could be taken in by his brand of rose-tinted disinformation.
And lets face it: people who know exceedingly little about Venezuela
don't read your blog, or VCrisis.

I do think Justin is savvy to latch on to the charge of censorship as a
central part of his argument, because what we've seen so far in
Venezuela is a particularly subtle kind of pressure on the press that
translates into lots of self-censorship, rather than any kind of
open-ended, mass scale suppression of dissident voices, let alone formal
censorship. From an outsiders' point of view - and notice that Justin
was originally writing for a purely gringo academic audience - it must
be a pretty hard dynamic to appreciate, so it's a promising issue for
someone bent on muddying the waters.

He's obviously on much shakier ground on the authoritarianism stuff,
but, again, his points are obviously meant for a pretty under informed
foreign audience. Even now, and hard though it may be for us to accept,
the Chavez government has kept enough ambiguity in its approach to
governance to make the authoritarianism charge quite confusing for
outsiders to evaluate. It's true that the opposition is still allowed to
protest, and faces minor harassment rather than long prison sentences
for its efforts. The veil of legality is so thin it's not likely to fool
anyone in Venezuela - even chavistas long ago accepted that Chavez's
whims trump the law - but internationally things aren't nearly so
clear-cut. And Justin is pretty good at manipulating this confusion to
his rhetorical end. Insofar as his role in all this is that of the
propagandist hack, I'd say that's to his credit.

Living in Europe, I've come to the conclusion that the reason pap of the
sort Delacour puts out is so effective is that people who live in
countries where institutions are robust and independent have a really
hard time appreciating just how frail Venezuelan institutions are. Of
course, Venezuelan institutions have always been weak - that's one
constant in the 180 years since we booted out the Spanish. But there's
"weak" and then there's "totally ravaged", and foreigners,
understandably, find it hard to grasp.

I say "understandably" because nothing in a North American's or
European's political experience prepares him to evaluate the kind of
reality Venezuela is living. In a first world context, if an institution
is nominally independent, then it's fair to assume it really is
independent. Naturally, this kind of "political common sense" gets
transferred to their evaluation of the Venezuelan situation - a context
where it's totally unsuited.

This, to my mind, is the basic confusion Justin continuously exploits,
and quite skillfully.

For instance, you and I (and 25 million Venezuelans) can only laugh when
Justin writes that the expansion of the Supreme Tribunal was perfectly
kosher because the elected National Assembly voted it. But that's
because years of watching these clowns operate has made it abundantly
clear to us that the Asambleistas are basically a collection of utterly
spineless yes-men (erm, yes-people) who are totally in awe of Chavez.
You and I know that if, tomorrow, Chavez decreed that the sky is green
and the sun rises from the west, the next day 167 chavistas in the
National Assembly would line up to approve a resolution swearing it's
so. But that painfully obvious (to us) fact is anything but

Once - but only once - you get an outsider to grasp the fantastic
debasement of Venezuela's institutions do our charges of
authoritarianism start to make sense to him. The prosecutions against
Sumate leaders don't strike foreigners as particularly authoritarian,
until they're made aware of the way the courts and the Prosecutor's
Office have been purged of all but the hardest of hardcore chavistas.
The land expropriations will even appeal to a number of leftish minded
foreigners, until they're walked through the gaping illegalities
involved and the impossibility of using the courts for redress. None of
the standard opposition complaints really make much sense to an
outsider, unless first you equip him with a grasp of the devastation of
the country's institutional fabric.

Which is why I think that, tactically, it's important for dissident
voices to keep hammering away on the topic of Venezuela's ravaged
institutions. Human Rights Watch's statement on the demise of judicial
authority really should get wide play. So should Cofavic's statement on
the pressure human rights activists find themselves under. What
foreigners find it hardest to grasp is the extent of the onslaught
against our institutions, the sheer gutting of the CNE, of the Attorney
General's Office, of the Contraloria and the Defensoria, the Central
Bank, all the courts, really of every nominally independent part of the
state. You and I know that only hardcore chavistas remain in these
institutions, you and I know that the dynamics of chavismo are such that
they will never in a million years contradict Chavez. But they don't. So
it's important to keep reminding them.

Still, no matter how hard we work at it, people who live in
institutionally-functional countries will always find it hard to intuit
just how far the debasement of our institutions goes. It challenges
their political common sense, it goes against their experience of
politics generally, and it's impossible to reconcile with the ostensibly
non-authoritarian aspects of chavismo that Justin is so keen to point

Regrettably, only a very few non-Venezuelans have the interest or the
attention span to actually think through what it might mean to live in a
formally democratic society where, none the less, every decision from
every institution is subjected to the autocrat's discretion. So, my very
sad conclusion is that these are arguments Justin and his ilk are bound
to keep "winning" in the eyes of international public opinion, no matter
how wrong we may know they are. That may be incredibly frustrating, I
know (trust me I know!), but true none the less.

Well, I started off saying I wouldn't refute Justin's piece, and I guess
in the end that's just what I did. So, if you want to publish this
little screed on your site, go ahead.


Of course, there is nothing to add to it but my assent. It is indeed true that people who live in a semi functional country, where the government cannot get away with even moderate lies, cannot comprehend the state of outright permanent distortion and outright lies that come from official sources in Venezuela. With the aggravation that the people have no means to confront the perpetrators. The press shouts, and shouts, and only on occasion the government backs some, only to charge back a few months later.

Indeed, it is easy for the Delacour of the world to take advantage of this situation, and when eventually confrontation come, they will probably claim innocence as "they could not detect well what was really going on in Venezuela". But they will be safe at home and in Venezuela we will be screwed.

However there is some small consolation. Many of these Delacour type spend an inordinate amount of time harassing anti Chavez sites. To his credit Justin is not one of them, perhaps because he has some dignity or perhaps because he deems himself above the fray. But many keep going on and on, repeating and repeating the worn out clichés that are skillfully relayed through Venezuelan embassies and the numerous web sites working for Chavez.

And this brings me to the second item, the amazing number of pro Chavez web sites, most of them paid for it seems. Descifrado in this week print edition published a study on the Chavez media. From the air waves to the print editions going through the web. The media is covered by 4 national networks and a few local ones. The radio has RNV, the only one that will soon reach every corner of Venezuela. Plus a bunch of local ones. The print edition has progressed a lot. The list does not include the papers favorable to Chavez who predate him such as Maracaibo's Panorama and, up to a point, Ultimas Noticias. The web? Descifrado counts more than 70 sites!!!! And all is just starting as Descifrado reveals many more additions to that arsenal on the way, including forcing cable TV to drop a few of their broadcasts to accommodate for free that governmental onslaught.

The question is of course: does it pay off? Descifrado not only does not think so but predicts that it will not work as the line reported in the official media is just too different from the reality lived by the people in the street, even those supporting Chavez. This one seems to have adopted a strategy of drowning the people in news instead of only allowing for one TV, one radio and one paper, Cuba style. Awash in petro-dollars he can risk it, but I agree with Descifrado prediction. Further more two items convince me that it is already happening. For example, chavistas are going more and more to Globovision for their complaints as they are not received by the media set up by Chavez sycophants. But even at my modest blog level, the comment section of this blog is a great witness on how unsatisfactory the pro Chavez web pages as chavistas keep coming back instead of having fun in their own sites. Am I such a threat or are their sites so boring?

PS: and I take advantage of this post to welcome back Francisco Toro to his revamped blog. He seems bent on writing less and shorter articles but to write again regularly for a while. This leaves me as the only long winded English language blogger. But I suspect that before long Quico will go back to the dissertation mode?