Sunday, December 31, 2006

What Venezuelans voted for: the end of freedom of expression

After a few days in the country side where not even cel phones could reach me, I come back today to Caracas to learn that Chavez has announced, in yet another ignoble and undignified speech (then Chavez never had much of self dignity in his speeches which look more like pre-brawl utterings rather than a chief of state policy setting announcement), that the oldest TV network will be closed. The excuse? The government will not renew an allegedly soon to expire license.

Now, I will not go into the legalities (or illegalities) of the matter: we all know what this is all about, revenge and control. Revenge against RCTV which has had an unflinching opposition attitude since Chavez reached office in 1998. Let’s revisit the history and the inconsistencies about this repressive measure (yes, let’s not be afraid of words and let’s call this Chavez announcement a repressive measure, yet a bid for more control).

What is wrong with your remote control?

The first thing that a foreign observer should know is that today the government has 4, FOUR, TV networks which are financed at tax payer expense and which almost exclusively broadcast propaganda of dubious quality (I know, it is almost an oxymoron) in favor of Chavez and his government. The opposition has very little voice there, as rarely a governmental talk show invites an opposition figure in a way that it can truly express.

In front of this barrage of propaganda today there are only two TV stations that can be qualified as opposition networks. Though it is a misnomer since government officials appear there more often, much more often in fact, than opposition figures in state TV. And to this one must add that the “gag law” mandates several minutes a day of free state propaganda from all private networks. Plus of course the MANDATORY SIMULTANEOUS broadcast at any time, of any length, that Chavez does when he sees it fit (the infamous “cadenas”). In other words: the government message goes abundantly through the so called “opposition” media, whereas the opposition message is 99% absent of the state media even though WE ALL PAY FOR IT.

The problem as far as chavismo is concerned is that in spite of all the propaganda, all the TV “cadenas”, all the accusations hurled at private media, people still tune to private media in much larger numbers than towards state media, in spite of a 63% electoral victory for Chavez. Is it a sabotage of people’s remote TV controls that render them unable to tune to the state media? No. Simply put chavista networks are boring, ill designed, simple minded, and only find a limited audience in the hard core chavismo. Soap operas and game shows unite both chavista and anti chavista alike, but in the non governmetal networks such as Venevision or RCTV. Is it the fault of the private media that in spite of all the money lavished on state media this one is simply UNABLE to produce anything interesting for the masses? Not even a decent game show? In fact a wit would point out that the only state media show with some rating is “alo presidente” where for hours Chavez entertains the crowds as Johnny Carson would have done if he had been president, except that he would have done it with more class and interesting guests, something that Chavez cannot bring himself to do as he like to hog the TV cameras and the rare guest is often a minister about to be publicly berated for his/her failures (which rarely cost her/his job anyway...but Chavez looks good while the fools applaud).

RCTV, the “golpista” network

I do not know whether RCTV is involved in conspiracy against Chavez. Or if RCTV was a main conspirator in April 2002. But if indeed RCTV was the hotbed of coup mongering in 2002, why wait for so long to close it? Why not have sent already to jail its owners and directors? The hypocrisy of the government argument is exposed cruelly in this unacountable delay.

Since Chavez is himself a “coup monger” who has killed much more people in 1992 than what RCTV has killed in 2002 (or ever for that matter) let’s try to remember the real reasons why Chavez hates so much RCTV.

First, of course, is that RCTV has been particularly skilled at exposing relentlessly the intellectual misery of those who hold power since 1998. It has done that very simply: with morning talk shows and with the late night news where the bulk of the news are the little people complaining of the governmental less than stellar response to their real needs. Chavismo quickly got tired to be shown every night that it was a mediocre to lousy administration.

But chavismo holds also a big grudge from that April 2002. One RCTV journalist, Andres Izarra, decided to declare that during the April events he was muzzled, he was not allowed to declare what was really going in the streets. Besides questioning whether Izarra actually knew of the reality of these days, which he has not been able to establish as far as this blogger knows, there were many other reasons for RCTV to black out news then. Valid or not, this is not the place to discuss these reasons. What is interesting is that Izarra, who was having a decent career at RCTV in spite of having chavista sympathies and of not being a bright star, decided to go publicly against his boss and got the rewards from the government. First a plum job at the Washington embassy. Then the ministry of communication. Unfortunately he revealed that one reason while he was let go by RCTV was that he was not a great professional: Chavez fired him quickly, though allowing him to direct Telesur, yet another vehicle for Chavez glorification. Izarra has amply demonstrated his grudge against RCTV and surely passed some of it to his boss, Chavez, who is always looking for excuses to trash private media.

The garbage at RCTV? Or its flashes of brilliance?

Then, there were other moments. One was the hearings early this year where Marcel Granier, one of the best minds in Venezuela, was convoked to defend himself at the National Assembly. Chavismo, then already a 100% affair at the Nation’s Capitol, was hoping to ridicule Granier to pave the way for an eventual RCTV suspension. Instead, the “best minds” of the Assembly sent to interrogate Granier demonstrated how mediocre they were, how ill equipped they were to dictate the laws of the country. It was one of the saddest experiences that chavismo had to withstand, a complete humiliation.

There is also Miguel Angel Rodriguez at his morning talk show sensation, La Entrevista. He has become the most hated journalist in chavismo, having whole hours of La Hojilla, the late night garbage of VTV, devoted on attacking him. And yet it was impossible to label Miguel Angel as a complete opposition journalist as he was always open to ANY chavista who dared to face his close and appropriate questioning who made many an opposition figure grimace when he ALSO exposed a few phonies in that camp. But see, chavismo cannot ever be exposed for the phonies they are. And of course, do not expect La Hojilla to have opposition guests. Besides it would be demeaning for anyone to set foot on that stage.

So the government tried other tacks, such as calling RCTV schedule garbage. Venezuelan television has generally been garbage, but a garbage that the masses follow. That is the first thing to note. Venevision, the other big private network is as much if not worse garbage as RCTV. But see, Cisneros, its owner, made a pact with Chavez and withdrew its talk shows and neutered the nightly news. The garbage of Venevision is now deemed to be kosher. But if we go onto garbage TV, what is shown on VTV has nothing to be envied by other networks, and if bad programming was a reason enough to close a network, there would be a strong case to close VTV first.

The real reason behind closing RCTV

RSF had it quite clear when earlier this month it tried to prevent this new madeness of Chavez:

In a press release, RSF said: "If RCTV's license is withdrawn because it is an opposition network, then it is clearly a violation of editorial diversity."

RCTV represents all that Chavez hates: intellect, old money, savoir faire, inquisitive journalism, sense for what rings true, at least some principles, democracy by allowing all to express even with some inequality in the amount of time granted in talk shows and news. RCTV might have a few defects too, but not any more than any other Venezuelan network. It is thus only a personal vendetta of Chavez against RCTV, just as he has against El Universal who like RCTV NEVER bought a line of chavismo, never considered Chavez an honest politician, only a power hungry uncouth soldier. And we know that Chavez is not forgiving.

But there is of course more to it. There is a faint, if trumped, case to be made against RCTV as a political opponent. After all RCTV was only too willing to promote the 2002-2003 strike. By trying to pin that political label on RCTV, wholly unjustified as VTV makes any other network pale by its obscene political engagement, Chavez is trying to find an excuse to start limiting first, and outright supressing later, freedom of expression in Venezuela. Because let no one be fooled, let no one think that this will stop there. After RCTV is closed there will come in roughly this order:

- the closing of Globovision.
- Attacks on the printed media which could start, for example, by blocking access to imported paper until eventually some trumped up trial with a complacent judicial system will allow for the closing of at least one newspaper, or its forced sale to financial pro Chavez group, cowing the other papers into "moderation".
- And since this will not stop opposition chavismo will have to look into ways to control cable TV, by putting at least cadenas across Discovery Channel shows.
- And editorial houses in Venezuela will be controlled at some point, as well as imported books and magazines (adding obscene taxes on imported print is an easy way while avoiding an outright censorship).
- And then there will be Internet. Until when for blogs such as this one to be closed, or their writers threatened and even arrested? A year? Three years?

It does not mater when and how the list above unfolds: if RCTV goes, then the others will follow sooner than later. It is in the dynamic of such regimes. They cannot help it, they cannot accept that others think differently. They cannot tolerate criticism of any kind. Read the previous post and you will see how this RCTV affair is related to the way the propaganda of chavismo is conducted.

For Chavez it is about controlling the last thing he has yet to control: the media, the thinking of those who still think in Venezuela.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The new Venezuela: Chavez or else (ideology in the making?)

One thing that makes chavismo interesting is that it is a never ending source of observation of what is evil in human nature. The past election of December 3, 2006 is no exception. In normal countries, with normal democratic leaders, an electoral victory is usually a matter of celebration, perhaps subdued, but genuine. In Venezuela, there was not much of a celebration, even more as we consider that it was a third term victory with an unquestionable 63%. Even Tony Blair reasonable but strangely frail third term victory about a year ago was more joyful than what we could observe in Venezuela. This has been bugging me quite a lot: why aren’t chavistas, and Chavez, happier with their victory? On my way to Caracas I found part of the explanation, and it starts from this poster in Morón.

Morón, or the need to be chavista

This poster is worthy of a deep psychological analysis. Too long a treatise for this blog but I will try to be brief. First, let’s discuss the obvious: all Red. It is the Red of “rojo, rojito”, the infamous slogan turned electoral manipulation that turned the tide, stopped Rosales growth and gave Chavez that rather surprising 63%.

But that poster works at more levels. I will pass on the fact that Pequiven is paying for that poster to heap lauds on the great beloved leader. After all, for all practical purposes, Pequiven now belongs to Chavez, the ultimate privatization. Now, what is interesting are the posted excruciating details on the victory. The exact numbers of votes are given (even if the CNE has not finished tallying all of the voted yet at this typing). Then the blue shadow is of Rosales as he appeared in his posters, and it is X-ed. That is right, it is not enough to praise Chavez, the poster makes sure to remind folks who has been trashed, humiliated, whatever. And we finish with the local result of 82% for the town of Morón.

A word about Morón. Historically Morón has been a wretched place. At the intersection of the roads that go to Valencia, Coro and Barquisimeto, it has always been a passage town, the only place in the area where for years you could get gas and water (and alcohol and sex). When oil came under the form of the El Palito refinery and Pequiven chemical complex, Morón became also a blue collar town, but remained as wretched as ever as the directors of the plants either lived in special housing inside the installations (with private beach) or commuted to Puerto Cabello or Valencia or Tucacas resort. In fact, many people nickname Morón “Mojón” (turd) because in spite of all the traffic that goes through and all the money that manages its way to its inhabitants, it is totally unable to improve its look, its image, its cleanliness as more modest and pauper towns do manage. The pitiful Christmas wreath speaks volume on the top of the poster.

Morón had its rough times in 2002-2003 during the PDVSA strike. Of course, as the management of El Palito and Pequiven was fired, along all the middle management and many of the qualified worker, the government had to replace many of these positions among the workers of Morón, many of them perhaps competent in their field but certainly not of the level of the people they replaced. In fact El Palito has been plagued with technical problems ever since. The creativity of El Palito/Pequiven personel can be appreciated with the decoration "de rigueur" in these rojo, rojito halcyon days.

Many of the fired workers had to leave the area and try to find jobs elsewhere. New workers came, all chavistas of course. And Morón became even more chavista than it was, to reach that 82% where I would have given it a 75% before the vote. Interestingly I happen to think that this 7% difference is the actual “fear factor” of chavismo, the amount of people who are too afraid to lose their job and even if they hate Chavez they will still vote for him, just as conservatives vote conservative because they want no change, because they are afraid of any social change. If I take out 7% to the 63% of Chavez three weeks ago I get the 56% that would have been a more normal victory, close to what reasonable folks were predicting, not the “bought election” result that surprised us.

But I digress. When we go back to the poster one cannot help but wonder why the need to stress all that is written there, the trashing of Rosales, the exact results, that insisting on Morón being even more chavista than the rest of Venezuela. The only explanation is that the victory is actually considered as insufficient by chavistas. 63% is not enough in Venezuela. 82% is not enough in Morón. They will only be happy when they get election results in the 99% range like any good semi totalitarian regime. That poster betrays this basic insecurity of the chavista die hard voter, the chavista that cannot trust anyone, that feels threatened no matter how much power it controls.

In other words, we come back to the truism that fanatics are insecure people and will convince themselves of their rightness when all think as they do. Anyone who has battled fundamentalist Christians in the US, communists in Europe, as I have done, will understand exactly what I mean. And in godforsaken places such as Moron, it becomes pathetic.

Chavismo as the all encompassing creed

Another facet of that Morón drive to uniformity can be read in the words of Varela and Tascon of the infamous list name. They represent Tachira, and Tachira was almost lost by Chavez. Of course, probably prodded by the fear that Chavez might call them on this “failure”, the two vocal representatives have been lashing at their underlings in the state. They were just passing the buck, failing to realize that they are themselves a very poor representation of a state full of hardworking folks that are getting tired of chavismo.

But while these scum run for cover, chavismo was thinking about a more joyful Christmas (something that writing today, a December 26, I can vouch has failed). That new take on Christmas is rather interesting and illustrates well how things work in the chavista insecure mind. But first let’s admire a couple of campaign posters.

In this first poster we can see Chavez with the main slogan that has been the motto since the Recall Election. One must wonder about a political movement that can produce only a “Uh Ah, Chavez no se va!” since it reached office in 1998. Though perhaps we can add now the “Rojo, rojito” but it has other connotations, not merely electoral. Thus we were stuck on this primitive slogan (Uh Ah, Chavez is not leaving) turned primitive electoral adds.

But some one must have realized that Chavez has something in common with Venezuela: the V (in red in the apposed pictures). And thus we got this new set of posters of which I found this particularly inane one. But still, inasmuch as educated minds are offended by such mediocrity this poster does serve a purposes: it tries to instill in the brain of folks that we are all going the Chavez way, that the people in its immense wisdom is realizing that Chavez is the way, he is the leader, there is nothing else, and the sooner we unite around him and do as he wishes, the sooner we will start feeling better about ourselves.

Thus a Victory for ChaVez was transmuted into a Victory for Venezuela.

But the election intellectual offenses would not end on December 3. A few weeks ago there was a strange rumor (which happened in diverse forms in recent pre-Christmas seasons) that Venezuelan should celebrate Christmas in the Venezuelan way. That is, off with Santa, the tree and a few other items, even if they are the rage from Sapporo to Cape Town. Elections at hand, they quickly decided to squelch these rumors to avoid scaring the good people about to vote for Chavez. But these were not so unfounded rumors as the picture below clearly tells us.

And thus we see now that chavismo is trying to make its move even on Christmas. Never mind that this might be the saddest Christmas since 2002...

Why chavismo is unhappy

And thus we see that chavismo is showing all the classical symptoms of these regimes that inexorably must evolve into uniformity. The reasons are many, but one is basic: uniformity of thought is the best tool to secure power for a tiny elite ruling through the "beloved" leader. Chavismo, if not yet an open dictatorship, if still quite far from totalitarianism, has already people diligently working at intervening all aspects of the Venezuelan life. The 63% that have been in large part cowed into voting for Chavez must be secured once and for all, must be made felt as if they belong tot he "right" tribe, the true Venezuela. And of course, folks such as this blogger will be pointed out by fingers until the powers that are decide to do something about them. It is just a question of time.

But before that time comes we can understand better that insatisfaction observed among the victors. We can comprehend why Chavez was scowling at his post election press conference instead of beaming as he should have been (what? Only 63%?). We also see why he had so much trouble getting people to attend his electoral rallies ("we are already all chavistas, they control us, why bother going to the rally?") We also know why any celebration was an organized thing on Monday evening (streets were empty on Monday 4th in the morning, and even if Yaracuy voted for Chavez, the only chavista celebrating formed caravans on Monday evening, rather odd in a state were very few chavistas have cars to begin with).

Simply put, the cult of uniformity kills natural joy. If I need to explain to you why, then you are probably a chavista yourself (or watch a lot of shopping TV channels late at night).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Christmas post

Merry Christmas to all the readers of Venezuela News and Views. May the new year bring us better news than what we have been subjected to for the last 4 years.

And a heartfelt thanks for all of those who wrote so many letters of support this month of December. It is the readers who make it all worth it. At least we know that we will not be alone in this long journey ahead of us.

-The end-

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More Venezuelan political prisoners refuse pseudo "amnesty law"

There is an interesting development these days in Venezuela. The government is realizing that it has a hot potato in the trumped charges that it has managed to bring forth to shut up a few of the opposition voices. The most notable of these abuses was the jailing of GENERAL USON FOR THE MERE FACT OF EXPRESSING AN OPINION in a talk show. Uson thus became the poster boy of political prisoners in Venezuela. A few days ago he refused a possible "pardon" from Chavez stating that he had nothing to ask forgiveness for. In fact, Uson knows that his case his making his way into international tribunals and thus soon enough he will be vindicated. And Chavez, knowing that, is trying to avoid this international embarrassment by pardoning Uson.

But other cases will also meet the fate of Uson's one. Thus, trying to avoid future embarrassment, Cilia Flores, better known as Silly Flowers to the opposition blogging community, has proposed that all these prisoners present apologies, declare that they are sorry and they will benefit form an expedite new amnesty law from the National Assembly. She presides that assembly just because she happens to sleep with Nicolas Maduro, former chair and now foreign minister. A perverse family business of sorts, if you will.

Well, the prisoners rejected the offer.

This is such a great Christmas tale, the bravery and integrity of these people so unjustly jailed just because they opposed the mediocrity of chavismo. While 63% of Venezuelan folks preferred to close their eyes on such cowardice as long as they kept receiving some "benefit" from Chavez. I am impressed.

-The end-

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blogger's folly

One editor of the WSJ takes a hard and harsh look at the blogging phenomenon. Joseph Rago reminds us that famous quote of Joseph Conrad's judgment of newspapering--"written by fools to be read by imbeciles". Ah!! The dangers of taking one self too seriously, something that bloggers must fight everyday if they want to retain any little bit of credibility :)

Anyway, I feel comforted in my words of the other day. Only "niche" blogs who only intend to supplement newspaper information (implied from their editorial lines) can bring something and are interesting to read. Unfortunately we seem to find that in more non-US blogs, whereas the US blogs tend to be a tad too navel centered, in particular the conservative ones (though many Liberal blogs are equally unreadable, think Lieberman campaign!)

Anyway, this piece should be mandatory reading for anyone writing a political blog! And for many who posts comments that think are even more important than the blog post or the news alluded to by the post (I have a few PSF in mind on this matter).

-The end-

Tags: ,

A prescient Op-Ed on Venezuela in November 30

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER of the Miami Herald had a very prescient OpEd on November 30th. We would have been better off, some of us anyway, had we read it then.

-The end-

Volunteer or else! Venezuela's "socialist slavery for the XXI century"?

A few days ago in first reading the National Assembly approved a rather confused law for which all details are far from clear: now every citizen between 18 and 60 will be required to do some volunteer work. I have not posted about it yet because simply I am waiting for the "rule book" (reglamento) to be published. In Venezuela legal system, many laws must be accompanied by a "rules book" before they are applied. That is, in a strong presidential system (only made much, much more stronger by Chavez) the executive can decide exactly when and how can the law be applied. Thus giving the executive a slight edge over the legislative.

Well, this new law is confusing enough that you can find many different versions according to what the journalists understand. Even though I have not found the law published yet, from what I can see it seems that it will be a new form of slavery, or at the very least a governmental tool to control more activities in the barrios. But a reader of this blog did also come up with the same idea and wrote a great piece in her blog. I asked Bruni to translate it and publish it here.

For those of us who have practiced volunteering for a significant amount of time we know that volunteer work cannot be forced, it has to come from inside. If you force it, it is not volunteer anymore: it becomes forced labor, slavery or feudalism Tsarist Russian style, as you have it. Let's hope that the final version of the law will be a frame work to help people do volunteer work and not another excuse for the government to knock at your door to fine you.

note added later: Publius Pundit takes already a good swipe at this nincompoopery. Cuba experience on the matter is recalled. Looks like mini-me keeps finding all his inspiration in Cuban failures. Ah! humans are the only animals that stumble twice on the same stone.

Miguel was bolder than me and already gave his evalaution of a bill not formally approved.

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Mandatory Volunteering
By Bruni

There are just two kinds of honest jobs in a free society: those paid with a salary to earn one’s life and voluntary jobs that are done just for the sake of helping others or getting involved in just causes.

Within that framework, each one of us chooses the cause in which to volunteer: sports, medicine, helping the illiterate, professional organizations, etc. The basic idea is to use one’s free time in causes that would provide personal satisfaction while helping the community.

Personally, I am a volunteer to help breast cancer patients. Nobody ever forced me to do it and even though I am in the list of volunteers of a hospital organization, nobody has ever counted my number of hours. I am involved out of personal conviction, not because any government has passed a law mandating that I should participate in Social Services.

Thus, the Social Service law recently passed by the National Assembly totally distorts the nature of volunteering. In a society where everything is valued in monetary terms and where everything is legislated, volunteering provides an implication that is solely based on human solidarity. However, when the government regulates volunteer work within a rigid and controlling framework, imposes the areas of interest and makes it a legal duty, it is destroying the very essence of the human and social solidarity that the law is supposed to promote.

What is even worse is that the social work becomes then a mandatory work without remuneration.

There is a word in the dictionary to define that type of situation. It is a word that nobody wants to pronounce in these modern times and that we firmly reject when we know that it still exists in some extremist places of the planet.

Mandatory work without remuneration is called Slavery.

That Slavery would be put in place in the name of social justice, that it would be state sponsored and legalized or that it would be the product of the greed of inmoral merchants, it is still Slavery.

As I said at the beginning, there are only two types of work in a modern society: the one that is remunerated and the one that is done voluntarily, by conviction, with no strings attached and in full enjoyment of personal freedoms.

The non-remunerated and highly regulated work that the National Assembly is now imposing to the Venezuelan people, does not has a place in a free and democratic society.

I finish this post with the saying of a magnet that is proudly displayed on the door of my refrigerator.

It says:

"Volunteers are not paid not because they are worthless,
but because they are priceless"

It refers, of course, to real volunteers.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What Venezuelans voted for: enabling fascism in Bolivia

By granting 6 years to Chavez to do as he pleases, Venezuelans also decided that his foreign policy could become Venezuela's state foreign policy. A first surely in Latin American history that a people vote for their government to be openly out interfering into other people's business. Heck, even in the US you need a Senate vote to declare war. In Venezuela you only need an ambassador to say that Venezuelan troops could come if necessary.

But the effects of the Venezuelan intervention in Bolivia are clearly felt by the population and are amply reported, at least in Bolivian media. Below there is an article published this Sunday in El Nacional, from a Bolivian writer who was on hunger strike for a couple of weeks to protest the abuses committed by the Bolivian MAS at the constitutional assembly at Sucre. In other words, how he had to run for his life, even protected by a chruch, when MAS followers attacked the church. Impressive, and even more impressive was the collusion of the government which refused to send in the police to set public order. Bolivian cops seem to be learning fast from Venezuelan Nazional Guard.

Just a little note: while you read this act of courage and danger by Lechin and his colleagues, think a little bit about the Venezuelan opposition. Will it show half the courage of Lechin to protest in case Venezuela is foolish enough to send troops to Bolivia?

PS: the emphasis in the article below are mine, as reminding us of what is going in Venezuela. And in blue a paragraph which might indicate that Bolivia is already worse off than Venezuela!

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El fascismo del Presidente

Juan Claudio Lechín W.

A las 3:15 de la tarde tocaron la puerta de la casa parroquial de la iglesia de San Francisco donde llevábamos a cabo una huelga de hambre contra el autoritarismo del Gobierno en la Asamblea Constituyente. La voz, desde afuera dijo traer dulces, y en lo que se entreabrió la puerta metieron un cachorro de dinamita encendido. Ya el día anterior había venido una turba a intentar desalojarnos de la huelga, y en la noche, la protección policial previno que consumaran sus propósitos. Pero, sorpresivamente, al día siguiente, la ministra del Interior, declaró que retiraba las fuerzas policiales de los piquetes de huelga porque la policía tenía cosas más importantes que hacer. Todo resultó estar bien coordinado. A los pocos minutos que la policía abandonó el resguardo se presentó una turba de 200 personas portando cachiporras, látigos y cartuchos de dinamita, un pedazo de la cuál lograron introducir a través de la rendija.

Por precaución la mayoría de los huelguista nos habíamos retirado a un cuarto posterior para prevenir cualquier contingencia. Allí escuchamos los gritos de alarma de los compañeros alertándonos del inminente ingreso del grupo de choque organizado por el gobierno del MAS, por el tan alabado gobierno de Evo Morales.

Esperando que la dinamita estallara, la turba no irrumpió de inmediato, eso nos dio preciosos segundos para escapar por los laberintos y pasillos del enorme complejo de la iglesia de San Francisco, por sus parques internos, por las zonas de retiro hasta terminar dentro del museo detrás de unos tinajones centenarios. Para entonces, los atacantes ya habían destruido la puerta de ingreso, había roto todos los muebles parroquiales, una televisión propiedad de la iglesia y habían robado nuestras pertenencias.

Los hermanos franciscanos consiguieron frenar el desborde de la persecución alegando que ya habíamos salido del predio. Afuera el grupo de choque quemaba nuestros colchones y levantaba sus armas, amenazadoramente frente a las cámaras de televisión.

Los querían matar, esa era la orden, me confesó un agente del Ministerio del Interior que es mi amigo.

Por una puerta lateral logró entrar la prensa y salimos de nuestros escondites para poner en conocimiento público lo sucedido.

Pero ese ingreso de la prensa alertó al grupo de choque quien arremetió nuevamente y rompió, esta vez, la puerta lateral obligándonos a huir por las ventanas, y nuevamente internarnos por los parques, los pasillos y las azoteas de la iglesia. A las 10:00 de la noche aún no había llegado la policía y parte de la turba seguía en las inmediaciones. Gracias al hermano Carmelo pudimos abandonar el recinto en un taxi y dirigirnos a otra iglesia, donde reinstalamos la huelga que duró 14 días.

A partir de estos sucesos, llego a la inevitable conclusión que el gobierno de Evo Morales, financiado por el presidente Hugo Chávez (cuyo embajador en La Paz ha declarado que el Ejército venezolano acudirá a defender a Morales) es un proyecto típicamente fascista.

En primer lugar porque al igual que los arios, se reclaman una raza pura, segundo porque encuentran un enemigo causante de todos sus males, ya no los judíos, sino los mestizos y las clases medias, tercero utilizan grupos de civiles, o sea paramilitares, para agredir a los ciudadanos que disienten, y por supuesto otra característica es la megalomanía del líder, las pancartas de 40 metros de alto con el rostro de Morales que recuerdan al culto a la personalidad de Kim Il Sung o a las estatuas ecuestres de Mussolini. El inmenso aparato propagandístico, manejado y financiado por venezolanos y cubanos, dando mensajes falsos y dirigidos a desconcertar a la opinión pública es otra de las características fascistas, así como el descalificar a cualquiera que no sea servil a su proyecto con calumnias o agresiones físicas.

La huelga emprendida es porque el gobierno no quiere respetar la constitución política del Estado que manda que dos tercios de la Asamblea Constituyente apruebe los artículos constitucionales.

Morales quiere imponer su 51% como mecanismo de redacción de la Carta Magna. Obligados por la sordera, la soberbia y el desdén autoritario del Gobierno, el viernes, cuatro departamentos del país, que representan 73% del territorio, han realizado cabildos y han declarado su autonomía de facto, una forma parecida al federalismo venezolano. Ello se dio, a pesar de la movilización violenta que hizo el MAS con turbas de campesinos pagados y alcoholizados que, hasta el momento de terminar esta nota, dejaron más de 50 heridos y dos muertos.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Venezuela News and Views has hit the 4 years mark

Unnoticed with the current events, this blog has reached its four year anniversary (and 1424 posts with this one).

I started writing in December 2002 to tell my US friends and acquaintances about the extraordinary civil movement that brought the longest strike/lockout in our history, not to mention the first time these two activities went together. A true middle class rebellion about a regime that has proven ever since that we were absolutely right then in trying to force it to back down on its hegemonic course. Since then Venezuela has become a plebiscitary regime where a true majority rules undemocratically by increasingly refusing its basic rights to the minority. That much is clear since December 3.

I did not know then what a blog was. I had to be told: “more people should read your e-mails”. It had to be set for me. Early January the first post appeared; but these first posts were some of the letters that I had written through December 2002. Thus, if the technical date is January 2003, the writing started in December 2002. And that is the right date because this blog has been the description on how Venezuela ceased to be a fully functioning democracy. Today we are now in a very imperfect democracy, to say it nicely, or an already semi authoritarian state to be blunter, which shows all signs of an evolution towards a permanent legal dictatorship.

In this regard the job of this blog is done. What could I write now to criticize Chavez, to expose the moral misery of his regime, which I have not already written? And written in many forms sometimes… I cannot go on for 6 more years rewriting the same stuff, where the only changes will be new ministers or an increased level of verbal violence. I need a change of pace and objectives.

Never was that blog destined to gain votes against Chavez. To begin, it is written in English, a learned language for me, as opposed to my native French and Spanish. Because the way this blog started, as letters to friends, a format that I kept for several months this blog had to remain until today an eyewitness account on what is going on in Venezuela. The focus on Venezuela was deliberate and rarely did I stray out of the traced path even if quite often I itched to do so, to discuss, for example, US politics which I know quite well for the years I lived in the US.

Now the record is complete, the tale has been told, a new story is starting, that of the recovery of democracy in its full sense. The only thing left is to build a large index so the documents that I quoted, the things that I saw, the ideas and comments I expressed, can be set in the Internet archive for anyone to read and weep.

Contrary to what some seemed to perceive in my Sunday 3 late night depression, the blog will not close. It just needs a change. First, I have discovered to my great surprise the power of blogging and how much help you can bring to people away form Venezuela who have links to the country still and find solace in the modest posts I wrote. A blog has a personal touch that exiles cannot get from on line version of newspapers. Over 4 years I have realized what a huge responsibility an established and serious blog can be. Not for the number of readers: this has been for the start a niche blog and could never aspire to the thousands or even ten of thousands of daily readers that some blogs do get. The best I ever got was this year where November 2006 was the all time record, a record that I anticipate might never be broken. Yet, the records breaking November is not enough to explain that since 2003 the average unique daily visitor is 458! That today Technorati puts me in the top 20,000 of the world millions of blogs, and that a few months ago for some strange reason I even made it to the top 14,000. For a niche blog, a very specialized blog in a world of CNN platitudes, these are pretty good numbers.

Personal satisfaction, I must admit as modestly as possible, comes that many publications and media thought my opinion on any given issues, the latest big coup being to be published in the BBC as one of the only two opposition positions invited to express in that feature. I do not know how I made it, as I never consciously sought it. But I suspect that consistency over time, a refusal to go down to the gutter of cheap insults against an abhorrent political system, has provided a steady approach which over time attracted some interest. My enemy was always Chavez and his nefarious persona, not the people that have been cheated by him into submission. They are victims, even if sometimes too willing, too content to make a fast buck.

Thus the question becomes what to do. Over the years there have been regulars, many of them, even if they did not post comments. Over the last two weeks I have received about a hundred mails of support, truly astonishing, mails that still today I am trying to reply to every each one. Unwillingly together the readers and this blogger have created a small net community. Together, because the only real influence on the blog has been the input of the readers over the year, even from pro Chavez readers who have forced me to be sharper in my criticism and forced to get better at trashing chavismo, while I must say with some satisfaction, they have not improved a bit in their defense of chavismo: “idées reçues” and pre-chewed notions allow them only so much creativity.

This post is the end of an era, the all against Chavez period of this blog. In the coming months, as long as I can keep writing, I will bring progressively changes in focus, in themes to be discussed. I have long learned that the only way to write convincingly about something for so long is to write about something you know. I know about Venezuela, I know a little bit about Europe and the Americas, I know very little about the rest of the world. I know nothing of Rap, but Opera holds little secrets for me. In short, there are many things I would like to discuss with readers that certainly have the talent to write a blog but prefer to read other folks words. I will be happy to oblige, free of charge, as some weird type of public service. I see the blog becoming a center for discussion where I bring the material on occasion, where I will invite more and more people to post, where I have some other projects that I will see if I can complete. Venezuela will still be at the center but we will discuss more than politics, and we will foray elsewhere. It will be a place where we can wait for the fatidic denouement that will come sooner or later in Venezuela, waiting because there is little we can do now as Chavez holds everything. We will wait for Chavez to commit all the mistakes that he will commit and see what happens.

I will also keep this blog chavista free. For 4 years I have had to endure too many insults, too many tendentious and useless posted comments whose sole objective was to distract from the central issue of a given post. No more. Now chavistas are allegedly 63% in the streets and they are enough to entertain themselves alone. Surely, how could we be perceived in this blog as a threat today? It is not that I will ban a Chavez admirer just because s/he is a Chavez admirer. But I will demand standards, the same as I apply to myself if they want to see their ideas considered here. I want to have fun now, I want readers to have fun, to discuss varied things, to enjoy the little bit of Venezuela that Chavez will allow us to enjoy in the coming years. Maybe after all I am finally doing what chavismo wants me to do, to quarantine myself, to go to an internal exile. So be it. What can I possibly discuss with the 63% who voted for Chavez? The weather? Even discussing the price of avocadoes might become a hazardous topic. They do not want me and I feel under no obligation to them anymore. They can go to Chavez for their needs, I will take care of mine.

And this perhaps is the true reason of why I have been able to keep blogging non stop for 4 years, to reach a daily post rhythm since sometime 2005. Each time I sit down to write a post I am forced to settle, to calm down, to put in perspective all the banalities and horrors that I have heard or witnessed that day. Only when some order and some understanding comes can I start typing. Truly, a blog can become a daily self therapy session, the catharsis of the day. And if one is consistent at it, and sincere in his words, then the readers also can experience some of the needed catharsis that Venezuelan need so badly. I understand now all the diarist, the Samuel Pepys of history: that daily exercise in four years has become my mental nightly beauty routine, the time when writing on chavismo misery allows me to rise above it, to escape it. That, with the faithful readers, is the best reward.

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Practical Considerations:

This means that as of today my writing will be on purpose more erratic. After posting my conclusion on the Venezuelan election yesterday my debt to Venezuela is paid. As the holydays are upon us I will write much less and use the vacation time to start building the heavy and needed index. I will write on occasion though. If you post a comment do not be surprised if it takes a day or two before it appears.

I also have the great pleasure to announce that apparently Alex Beech will stay for a while as a co blogger. This is really great. Thus we might still have at least a couple of entries a week until sometime in the middle of January the “new” Venezuela News starts taking shape, after that needed time of reflection.

One new feature will start already. I will post on occasion a series of articles titled “What Venezuela voted for: XYZ”. These will be original articles in Spanish or English that will illustrate the consequences of given all power to a single man and that will be accompanied by a short comment (do not expect the lengthy articles of these last 4 years, I will be much briefer from now on). Something that surely the bulk of the alleged 63% did not think of when they went to vote two Sundays ago. Overtime the collection of these articles surely will be eloquent by itself. Other new features are under work as to how their feasibility and interest.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Straight from Chavez

by Alex Beech

On the creation of the Venezuelan Unitary Socialist Party, a new party which will “unify” all parties which support the government under one umbrella, including the president’s Fifth Republic Movement, Homeland for All, We Can, Electoral Movement of the People, the Communist Party, and several other regional and national organizations:

“Those parties which are established and that don’t want to join the Only Party [partido “unico”], I give them the freedom to follow their own path. Of course, they would have to leave the government…I’ve seen some go around saying that their party garnered such and such votes. Don’t fall into lies. Those votes went to Chavez, to the people. Let’s not divide the people. Let’s unify them more every day. One of the great dramas of Bolivar was division, which ended up killing him. For this new era, we need a new structure at the service of – not partisanship or sectors – but of the people and their path towards socialism…there’s no time to lose…We need all the currents of the Venezuelan left to join from below. From the start, we should be very strict regarding the moral theme and that depends on you [party leadership] because you know people. There can’t be thieves, corrupt people, irresponsable people, or drunks. The bad boys are out…The party must be born not with electoral ends, even though it will be a in condition to partake in electoral battles. It must transcend the electoral, and that’s why it’s good that it is born now. The socialist battalions… the socialist squads, must battle with ideas, with the socialist project, and for that, all of us must study a lot, read a lot, discuss, organize round tables…real leaders will be elected from the base. Enough with [being selected] with a finger. The finger is almost always mine.”

Concerning the Constitution:

“There’s absolutely no point in speaking about a Constituent Assembly. What must be imposed are some changes through reforms, which will serve to make deep modifications. A Constituent [Assembly] would only bring political instability.”

Chavez said he asked his cabinet members, including Vice President José Vicente Rangel and his brother Adan Chavez, to “give him the freedom to effect all the adjustments that he deems necessary to achieve major effeciency.”

Source: El Universal

-The End-

What Venezuelans voted for: Iran anti Semitism

I know that it is a little bit rough to write such a title. After all, of the 63% who voted for Chavez two weeks ago there is at least half of it who have no idea where Israel and Palestine and Israel are really located, and even less have a clear notion of the implications of anti Semitism. But they have certainly voted to allow Chavez to pursue his love affair with Ahmadinejerk.

Thus the Iranian president has decided to continue his anti Israel, anti Jewish crusade and push the ante to a level that no one would have expected it to happen from any elected government in the world until about 5 years ago. Now the Islamic republic of Iran has hosted a conference to prove that the holocaust never did happened, or certainly not as historians in the world have long established.

I was a little bit under the weather this week, buried in Venezuelan electoral analysis, to worry much about that most scandalous event. But I was looking forward this week end to cover this most outrageous reunion in Teheran. Procrastination pays on occasion: this morning I was served with a great editorial piece of the Wall Street Journal that exposes how come too many weak minded intellectuals in the West are, unwillingly perhaps, the "alcahuetes" (enablers?) of such a conference in Iran. It deserves full quote below. Observe how it starts with "Polite society", I love it!

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The Road to Tehran
Polite society helped pave the way for Iran's Holocaust conference.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Not acceptable," says Ban Ki Moon, new Secretary-General of the United Nations. "Repulsive," say the editors of Britain's Guardian newspaper. "An insult . . . to the memory of millions of Jews," says Hillary Rodham Clinton. Global polite society is in an uproar over the Holocaust conference organized this week in Tehran under the auspices of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Moral denunciation is what reasonable people do--what they must do--when a regime that avows the future extermination of six million Jews in Israel denies the past extermination of six million Jews in Europe. But let's be frank: Global polite society has been blazing its own merry trail toward this occasion for decades.

The Australian Financial Review is not the Journal of Historical Review, the Holocaust-denying "scholarly" vehicle of some of the Tehran conferees. But in 2002 the AFR thought it fit to print the following by Joseph Wakim, at one point the country's multicultural affairs commissioner: "Sharon's war is not a war," he wrote. "Genocide would be a more accurate description." In Ireland Tom McGurk, a columnist in the very mainstream Sunday Business Post, noted that "the scenes at Jenin last week looked uncannily like the attack on the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1944." Jose Saramago, Portugal's Nobel Laureate in Literature, observed after a visit to Ramallah that the Israeli incursion into the city "is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz."

Never mind that the total number of Jews "dealt with" in the Warsaw ghetto, according to Nazi commandant Jürgen Stroop, was 56,065, whereas the number of Palestinians killed in Jenin was no more than 60. Never mind that at the time Mr. Saramago visited Ramallah a total of about 1,500 Palestinians had been killed in the Intifada, whereas Jews were murdered at Auschwitz at a rate of about 2,000 a day. Let's concede that, for the sake of moral truth, strained comparisons may still serve useful rhetorical purposes. (Jews and Israelis also often make inapt Holocaust and Nazi comparisons.) Let's concede, too, that the comments cited above amount to criticisms of Israeli policy, nothing more.

Yet once a country's policies are deemed Nazi-like, it necessarily follows that its leaders are Nazi-like and--if it's a popularly elected government--so are at least a plurality of its people. "As the dogma of intolerant, belligerent, self-righteous, God-fearing irridentists . . . [Zionism] is well adapted to its locality," wrote Tony Judt, head of New York University's Remarque Institute, in the New York Review of Books. Ian Buruma of Bard College derided Israel's "right-wing government supported by poor Oriental Jews and hard-nosed Russians." And from British MP Gerald Kaufman, this: "If the United States is keen to invade countries that disrupt international standards of order, should not Israel, for example, be considered as a candidate?"

As it happens, Messrs. Judt, Buruma and Kaufman are all Jewish. So let's also concede that it is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism. After all, among the Tehran conferees were rabbis from the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta movement, who, like Mr. Ahmadinejad, actively call for the elimination of the state of Israel.

Yet simply because opposition to Zionism ideologically or Israel politically isn't necessarily anti-Semitic, it doesn't therefore follow that being anti-Zionist or anti-Israel are morally acceptable positions. There are more than six million Israelis who presumably wish to live in a sovereign country called Israel. Are their wishes irrelevant? Are their national rights conditional on their behavior--or rather, perceptions of their behavior--and if so, should such conditionality apply to all countries? It also should be obvious that simply because opposition to Zionism does not automatically make one guilty of anti-Semitism, neither does it automatically acquit one of it.

Such nuances, however, seem to go unnoticed by some of Israel's more elevated critics. Michel Rocard said in 2004 that the creation of the Jewish state was a historic mistake, and that Israel was "an entity that continues to pose a threat to its neighbors until today." Mr. Rocard is the former Prime Minister of France, an "entity" that itself posed a threat to its neighbors for the better part of its history.

Alternatively, Professors Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, whose paper on "The Israel Lobby" is now being turned into a book, have complained that "anyone who criticises Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy . . . stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-semite." Maybe. But earlier this week, former Klansman David Duke took the opportunity to tell CNN that he does not hate Jews but merely opposes Israel and Israel's influence in U.S. politics. He even cited Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer in his defense. Would they exonerate him of being an anti-Semite?

In fact, anti-Zionism has become for many anti-Semites a cloak of political convenience. But anti-Zionism has also become an ideological vehicle for an anti-Semitism that increasingly feels no need for disguise. In January 2002, the New Statesman magazine had a cover story on "The Kosher Conspiracy." For art, they had a gold Star of David pointed like a blade at the Union Jack. This wasn't anti-Zionism. It was anti-Zionism matured into unflinching anti-Semitism. And it was featured on the cover of Britain's premiere magazine of "progressive" thought.

The scholar Gregory Stanton has observed that genocides happen in eight stages, beginning with classification, symbolization and dehumanization, and ending in extermination and denial. What has happened in Tehran--denial--may seem to have turned that order on its head. It hasn't. The road to Tehran is a well-traveled one, and among those who denounce it now are some who have already walked some part of it.

Babalu wins

Babalu, managed by my good friend Valentin Prieto, has won the Wiz bang award. Well deserved and without even campaigning for it. In the past two years he was the unhappy second place finisher to my blog and then to Miguel, but both of us, NOTE, did withdraw in favor of Babalu when voting started a week ago. In fact, I withdrew as soon as I learned that I was in the 10 running, since winning once is more than enough and honorable for me (last year I was also nominated but managed in time to have my name taken out of the list). However in the past two contests part of the fun was the campaigning that we all did to get votes whereas this year there was no such actions, no endorsement sought, no campaigning over the voters, etc... Still, the past amiable fight with Babalu allowed us to meet him, become friends for the good cause and made us root for him this time without a second thought. Not to mention that I am allowed to post in Babalu as the Venezuelan correspondent.

Oh! and in spite of withdrawing in the first hours of contest Venezuela News still managed not to finish last. Thanks to those who voted!

-The end-

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Venezuelan election of 2006: epilogue

After finishing last night's post I could not help but feel that I have missed something. Then I recalled the picture that I am re-posting above.

This picture was taken during the last Rosales rally in Caracas, where some say we reached near 1 million people in the streets but where I gave a more conservative estimate of half a million. It seems, if the results are indeed accurate, that whomever was going to vote for Rosales must have been in that highway that day. But I digress. What is important is that this picture, as I sensed then when I wrote about it, was premonitory.

In the streets we have all the middle class of Venezuela, technified, educated, professional, self reliant. They are protesting against the guy on the poster, pompous, primitive, starting his own personality cult, whose silly uttering are now glorified as deep truths for all times. And we have the Banesco sign who reminds us what is really going on, how the big oil piñata is shared around, but not how it should be shared around.

This picture summarizes so well the Venezuela that was born last Sunday 3 that I should have limited myself in posting it from the start as the best possible election result analysis. How will Chavez develop the country without the help of those people chanting against him? Who can he rely on them for the task ahead if wherever these people reside in Venezuela they voted massively against him? How will Chavez resist the cult of personality now that he has 63% of the vote?

And what about that Banesco sign? This bank, the largest one in Venezuela, has benefited obscenely from the fiscal policies of the government. So much in fact that its president, Escotet, declared to a Milagros Socorro in a recent interview that he was not afraid of socialism. When a banker stops disliking socialism you now something is not right. I have no reasons to suspect any wrong doing from Mr. Escotet, but his reply is the confirmation on how many people are getting immensely rich from the financial manipulations of the regime (Argentinian bonds anyone?). In fact, the salary gap in Venezuela seems to be at an all time high for the last 50 years. For the first time in contemporary history private sectors pay check cannot compete with public sectors paychecks, and certainly not when we look at the work demanded from public employees. Never have seen so many luxury cars in Caracas streets since the last couple of years. And the folks buying are not from the opposition.

And thus this picture, the perfect summary to it all.

The Venezuelan election of 2006: a final summary

Over the past two weeks I have been writing an analysis of the election results of December 3. I am not sure how accurate my views might be, but at least they do somewhat make sense, and, best of all, were a cathartic moment after the big disappointment of that day. There is only a general conclusion/summary left. This one comes after the table of links below, each link taking the reader to the corresponding article for more details.

The results scrutiny

Did chavismo win the jackpot?
The mysterious chavista voter
Chavez plans?
The opposition limited but real success
The new Venezuelan opposition
How to reach the opposition voter?
A road map for the opposition?

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The final summary

On December 12, with 98,29% of votes counted, Chavez was winning with 62,87% to 36,88% for Rosales. The result is clear. No matter how much cheating was done by the CNE, the army and assorted free agents, it cannot account for the margin. Even if an astounding 1 million were to be added thanks to the increasingly questioned electronic gizmos, that would still leave Chavez leading Rosales by 2 million votes. There is no escaping it, Chavez has convinced a majority of Venezuelans to trust him with the country for the next 6 years and do as he pleases with it. There are very few cases in history where a free people have been so willing to gamble their democracy on a single man. We surely will pay the price.

There is also no escaping that this has been the most polarized election in our history. There was no third candidate. An irresponsibly lax legislation allowed for the inscription of non credible candidates who have cost dearly to the nation in useless paperwork. At the end of the day they got a ridiculous amount of vote. The last one, Isbelia Leon, did not even get 800 votes. The third one, after Rosales, got less than 5000 to Rosales 4 million+. That the CNE allowed such silliness speaks volumes in which contempt democracy today is looked upon in Venezuela by the ones in charge.

But the CNE has more to account for than letting any jerk run for president. There were too many irregularities, too much favoritism toward the office holder candidacy, too many questions left by the Sunday 3 exercise. Trust is far from recovered in Venezuelan elections. It is not enough that tomorrow a poll gives 51% of favorable opinion to the electoral umpire: anything less than 98% is a dismal failure. In this respect Tibisay Lucena, as predicted, has shown herself to be just an agent of chavismo, put in charge of the CNE to try to let her boss scandalously be reelected but in as palatable a way as possible.

But the polarization hides in fact a political complexity that Chavez is trying really hard to smother. In Venezuela any political group can support any candidate it wishes. Scandalously again the CNE has allowed insignificant and distracting groups to support either Rosales or Chavez. The ballot had 86 stickers to pick from. Very few groups reached the 0.5% mark. The graph below tries to illustrate the approximate grouping that these multiple groups could look if a parliament had been elected and if only parties with more than 0.5% got seats.

One thing that becomes obvious with this is that one third of Venezuelans have no representation in the National Assembly, and only can count on two state houses, a handful of town halls, and near zero influence in the judicial, public administration and institutions. The only institution which still escapes chavismo is the independent universities (which should not last much) and the press (which is already under siege).

The responsibility for Chavez is immense. Now he cannot blame anyone for his mistakes, his errors, and his mismanagement of the country. After 8 years in office he finds himself with more power than anyone in Venezuelan history except for Gomez. Be it by fear, blackmail or genuine liking 63% of Venezuelans have decided that they are OK with that. They do not mind excessive centralization. They do not mind gift giving around. They do not mind crumbling infrastructure. They do not mind deficient services. They do not mind corruption. They only mind that no one takes their public job away, they only mind that their mision benefit keeps coming, they only mind that Chavez keeps entertaining them with his tales of revenge.

Unfortunately for Chavez the bulk of the educated and professional class have not followed him; 8 years have made little dent in the middle class and qualified workers of Venezuela. Chavez wins everywhere were the poor live, where the country is at its worst, where the only improvement has been a second rate primary medicine facility held by Cubans and a few goodies spread around. Paradoxical perhaps, but that is the result, a result that also reflects more than ever on the crude legacy of social failure that Chavez feeds on. Wherever local governments manage to create reasonable existing conditions, where some services appear, where cultural activities are possible without you getting shot at, there the opposition wins. Can Chavez really hope to build the country fast if he decides to ignore that 36% which represent the most trained sectors of the country?

The opposition finds success in surviving, in showing that no matter what Chavez does, no matter what threats or abuses, it is still holding the heart and mind of more than one in three Venezuelan. But today they also realize that the road to recovery will be very long and that many sacrifices will have to be made. What is more troubling is that never before have two visions of a country been at such logger heads. The polarization is intense. We only know that a sizeable chunk of Chavez electorate could swing if it felt safer in voting, if it felt that it would do better outside of Chavez. The big challenge for the opposition is to create an alternative and to measure if this blurry support for Chavez is large enough to make the opposition grow enough to unseat Chavez someday.

If it is not too late.

Because the real issue as of today is how Chavez will read these results. He can either see them as a conservative vote, a not rock the boat vote, a vote for continuous misiones and progressive changes without changing the basics of Venezuelan culture and traditions. Or he could decide that it is a clear mandate to do as he pleases, to keep on his adventuresome track, and to speed up the march to a new social order that he hopes will be irreversible in Venezuela. In his ignorance and hubris, that no one will dare to question in his entourage, he will fail because no social order was ever irreversible, and even less eternal.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Venezuelans did vote for: trade isolation

I could not resist to post the latest Veneconomy editorial about the foreign policy of Chavez. Well, perhaps I should correct this. Until December 3 I liked to say that there was not a Venezuelan foreign policy, that what we had in fact was a Chavez foreign policy. But apparently the hoi poloi in its infinite wisdom (stupidity?) has ratified that the a foreign policy that only brings delays, waste and lost opportunities is a good one. So I must swallow crow that is not mine and speak from Venezuela foreign policy again.

Anyway, the posted text below needs no further comment.

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This week brought good tidings for those who are interested in and feel that international trade is important for Venezuela. The U.S. Congress approved an extension of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for the Andean countries, including Venezuela, until 2008. This system benefits Venezuela’s non-oil exporting sector by granting a zero import tariff for more than 192 products entering the United States in sectors such as chemicals, petrochemicals, steel, foodstuffs, plastics, farming, textiles and footwear, among others.

Unfortunately, however, the good news ends there. As for the rest, no matter where you look, the news is bad.

The impact of withdrawal from the G-3 and the Andean Community (CAN) is already being felt in the country’s international negotiations in terms of lost markets and higher prices for imports from the region.

Withdrawal from the Group of Three (G-3) eliminated the zero tariff facility with Mexico. This is affecting Venezuelan imports and has raised prices for local consumers. For example, not only have the prices of major appliances and sound and video equipment gone up by at least 30%, there is now a shortage of these items.
In the case of the CAN withdrawal, at least Venezuela is negotiating to continue some of the agreements that have so greatly benefited all the members of the Andean group. Unfortunately, however, negotiations with the country’s former partners have not gone smoothly and no agreement has yet been reached, in part because of the unrealistic terms Venezuela is seeking to impose. The situation is such that many analysts believe that the Venezuelan government is not interested in keeping up existing commercial ties with the Andean nations, especially with Colombia.

Then again, it would seem that the government is not telling the whole truth when it says that the withdrawal from the G-3 and the CAN is more than offset by membership in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). First of all, because it is not at all clear whether Venezuela is actually a full member of Mercosur, a trade bloc in which it held observer status, because up to now only two of the four member countries (Argentina and Uruguay) have ratified its membership. In the second place, because the industrial and agricultural profile of the Mercosur countries is such that there is little that Venezuela needs from that market. Thirdly, internally Mercosur is beset by serious conflicts among its members and is noted for the lack of compliance with agreements. The CAN, on the other hand, can count among its strong points the great cohesion among its members and full compliance with the rules of origin, plant health standards, customs classifications, taxation and other rules governing international trade.

There can be doubt that, insofar as Venezuela is concerned, withdrawal from the Andean Group and the uncertainty surrounding its membership in Mercosur, will have serious consequences for the country’s economic development in coming years and offers nothing but lost opportunities.

The Venezuelan election of 2006: a road map for the opposition?

So here we are after an election that looks like a catastrophic 25% margin advantage for Chavez. Or an election which is luckily no more than a 25% margin advantage? What are we to believe and what can the opposition do with this? Perhaps we should start first looking at the reality in front.

The naked political reality of Venezuela

The reality for the opposition is stark. In front of them they have a ruthless state that will use any of the sate resources, any legal tricks to make sure that the opposition has as little a chance as possible to win an election. In addition it is a ruthless adversary that has demonstrated since February 2004 that it will use force if necessary to stop the opposition from making any progress. And if observers doubt about this, they just need to reflect at the current state apparatus that is so morally and economically corrupt, where so many people would have to account for so much, that well, thinking that they will surrender power as if nothing is just a delusion.

But that does not mean the opposition should stop fighting. Gandhi fought against greater odds. Toledo fought against greater odds. Aung San Suu Kyi has been fighting against much, much greater odds for already 11 years. So it would be unconscious to lower the fight, to let Chavez get away with murder. Even if we know that under Chavez conditions will become worse before they get better. That is the way such regimes, systems, evolve, be it the Raj, Fujimori or a leftist military regime as in Burma.

But what is even more discouraging for the opposition is that in two years Chavez has been very successful at increasing the fear. Public servants fear so much to lose their job that they do not care much (the private sector is not hiring). Misiones have increased very cunningly the fear in the poor by giving them just enough to keep them alive and telling them effectively that if Chavez loses, they will lose their meager mision benefit.

This is not a small feat. Venezuelan family structure is rather nucleated in large and shifting groups, due in part to a very large amount of out wedlock children, compounded with many elderly who have no access to social security. In the lower classes of society this can become quite dramatic as dozens can depend on a couple of bread winners, lowly paid at that. Thus it is easy to imagine that with Barrio Adentro for primary medical care and a couple of “becados” from any of the work/study programs, you can help considerably a large family group. That is, by spending on 2-3 folks, you can tie as many as 20 votes, even if some in those 20 do not like Chavez at all. It is not that expensive to buy votes when you think of it. In front of this blackmailing power, what can the opposition offer besides “Mi Negra”? As long as oil money keeps flowing in, Chavez will have bought/blackmailed enough people, who added with his hard core semi religious following, will give him for quite a while a 51% majority, even without overt cheating. Two years have passed since the Recall Election. Only today does the opposition realize the price it is paying for its failures then.

Still, it is also a reality that the opposition in spite of all the build in advantage for Chavez of the electoral system, in spite of the significant irregularities observed by the EU or the folk on foot, still managed to get 37% of the vote and if it decreased its percentile number from 2004 it managed to increase its real numbers. Damaged? The opposition is. Dead? Far from it. In fact now are washed away the coup monger accusations of 2002: Chavez cannot anymore accuse the opposition of being anti democratic now that it has recognized its victory. Even if the price to pay for that is to legitimize retroactively the two years of illegal rule since the scandalous frauds of 2003 and 2004.

Still, there are several things that the opposition can do.

Clearing up the air

The first and urgent task of the opposition is to address convincingly all the irregularities that have occurred on December 3. As the days pass not only it is becoming obvious that too many strange things happened that could have inflated the electoral result, but it is also clear that the opposition leadership is not too willing to pay much attention to it. True, even if we add up all of the possible double voting, military intromission, etc, etc, it is still hard to think that the total of “stolen” votes would be much more than a few hundred of thousand. The audits were clean this time, true, but what about double voting? What about centers without opposition witnesses where the voting clerk could have pushed the button as often as needed? What about a certain strange abstention similarity?

I was rather surprised that for the first time in my Venezuelan voting life the “indelible” ink was all but gone by the early evening. That is right, always the color and even the smell of the ink would accompany us for up to three days after voting. This time there was no smell and had I wanted to, I am sure that by 3 PM a little bit of Clorox would have allowed me to vote again.

Now, and again, that is not enough to change the result of the vote, but it sure could explain that convenient result (just above Uribe!), that surprising victory in Zulia where Chavez never dared to do an all open rally. I for one think that chavismo added to its credit some votes. Maybe not a million, that would be too obvious, too difficult to hide, but just enough in punctual areas where they new that no one could audit well. I understand that, and I am not bothered much by it in that I knew it would happen and that the objective was to hold the fort and get as much as possible. The problem resides elsewhere. Those guys who one month ago still were saying that they would not vote because of their distrust of the CNE, if once again they feel that their vote was not properly counted, well, forget about them ever coming back to the ballot box. It is an emotional issue, they do not care whether Chavez stole one or one million votes. What they care is that the opposition leadership does something about it.

The opposition needs to confront the CNE as of today if next time it wants voters to show up, and better voting, and it can do so without even screaming fraud. For example it could demand punition for the army abuses, it could demand an explanation why apparently in poor areas voting went much faster than in riche areas, it could start fighting against the finger printing machines who definitely worked psychologically to convince many not to risk a vote against Chavez. And much, much more.

And that would also have an advantage. Part of those screaming fraud are usually from old opposition leadership trying to find a way to retain a tiny parcel of influence as the new opposition surges with PJ and UNT. Dealing effectively with the issue will bury once and for all these dinosaurs. This observation, by the way, comes from a private discussion with a reader who also has posted here, Bruni.

No taxation without representation

In his infamous press conference of last week Chavez stated that the opposition should forget to go back to the National assembly for another 4 years. According to Chavez, political errors must be paid. And of course he is the one who fixes the sentence.

But he forgot that he committed a political error himself by claiming that he would reach the 10 million votes. He missed it by 30% and he must pay for that one. Not to mention that the conditions of his reelection make the strength of that 7 million very doubtful. Thus it is imperative for the opposition to press that issue, that they deserve representation. The graph blow illustrates the problem. To do it I have assumed that the totals shown by the CNE would be the ones for a legislative election, and that proportional representation would be kept. Thus any political party that got 0.5% of the vote is entitled to a seat (plus expected rounding up as usual where such counting systems are used).

This graph illustrates quite well the monstrosity that the MVR has become, swallowing most of chavismo with PODEMOS and PPT as rather meager allies about to be taken in. On the right (I kept to conventions proudly) there is UNT and PJ which are the only noticeable minorities. I think that UNT is on the left of PJ but I am not sure. If PJ divides this will be all made more complex.

I think there are several ways that the opposition could advantage of this unfair situation. For example the opposition could say that according to article 350 of the constitution it will not recognize any treaty that Venezuela signs from now on as it is not consulted with the majority of the country. What serious government will sing a treaty in such conditions? At the very least they would require a ratification referendum (or a big pay off).

A clear graph would bring to the people how unfair it is. Venezuelans are sensible to such arguments and if the hard core chavismo is gloating today, the soft core would not mind at all having a few opposition assembly folks. After all, that third that is not represented pays at least 70% of the taxes of Venezuela. This is a good issue to nag on and on, including bringing in civil disobedience and street rallies and protests and more.

Building up issues

The field is large. Now that the opposition has a leadership and two apparently solid parties, there is not only a way to establish proposals but to bring them to the people and get a fair hearing. Now that the cacophony of insignificant groups is over, even if unfair, it is time to move on and forge a project. If they want a say, the small guys can unite and form a third movement as explained previously.

Constitutional reform

Rosales hit on the nail by anticipating Chavez and bringing this topic before he did. Surely Chavez is upset about that show stolen from him so easily. Now, any amendment that chavismo will want to put to the vote, it will probably have to let an opposition amendment go to vote also. The democratic image of the regime would be badly damaged if the National Assembly ram through their proposal and blocks consideration of the opposition one. Already chavismo seems without a plan there except for Chavez unlimited reelection, surprisingly on the defensive for a group of folks that won so big. As to what the opposition should offer? That would be a long post by itself.

Building a platform

The other thing that the opposition needs is to build a political platform. That is, it needs to go beyond “Mi Negra”. We lost but we did the best we could in such short notice. Now 2007 should be dedicated to build a program of government that would give folks a reason to vote for the opposition in the regional election of 2008. There is not much time, we know that. Had the opposition put its act together early in 2006 the result of last Sunday might have been much different.

There are many issues to pick from: defense of private property, independence of trade unions, fair repartition of the state money, decentralization, politics out of barracks, etc, etc….

Human rights

The opposition should also be relentless in defending human rights, not only in Venezuela but elsewhere. It should coordinate a joint effort, volunteer lawyers, etc, to help anyone, chavista or not, that will cross the path of the regime. This not only brings positive image overseas, but a lot at home. And with the authoritarian tendency of the regime it is something that is sure to pay off. And they have the model on how to do it by looking at the Uson case: no more flashy TV appearance and glamour, only serious legal work, sustained and not for effect. This is what brought Chavez to talk of pardon before international courts stick their nose in Venezuela more than what they are already doing.

There are 6 long years ahead of us, let’s put them to good use. Or at least let’s force Chavez to install his dictatorship once and for all. At least we will know.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pedro Strikes Again!

by Alex Beech

I nearly jumped with glee when I saw that lawmaker Pedro Carreno was quoted in the media. He’s always dependable for a good laugh. In this case, he doesn’t disappoint.

First, the quote.

“For the year 2007, the year of the consolidation of the revolution, where our leader and compatriot President Chavez has informed us of a series of decisions which will be implemented, three of them necessary and useful for the normal and harmonious functioning of the State, and for the consolidation of the bolivarian revolution, in that sense the MVR [political party] made the decision to prepare a structure in such a way to hurry those events…[Those who question a constitutional reform eliminating presidential terms limits] want to manipulate and show that indefinite re-election is antidemocratic.”

Translating the revolutionary jargon is sometimes quite trying. It feels like translating Chinese under Mao. Because the Bolivarians generally lack an ideology which binds their ideas together, they end up sounding like caricatures of Karl Marx. My favorite little idea from this gem is “a series of decisions which will be implemented, three of them necessary and useful…” What about the rest?

Even though Winston Churchill was right when he said that democracy may suck, but it’s still the best system around, it seems that elections sometimes also suck. The only problem with elections is ignorance. Capitalism, for instance, works best when resources are pretty evenly distributed to begin with. It seems that elections also work best when education is evenly distributed. As Carreno always illustrates, Venezuelans have consistenly elected incompetent, if comical leaders.

If term limits are lifted, Chavez will likely remain in power as long as he can convince his supporters that prosperity is around the corner. And that’s not democracy. Democracy is a government which represents THE PEOPLE. Because no one government can’t do this entirely, new leaders are elected. If a leader is competent, he is usually able to bring about positive change in two terms. In three or more terms, the fish starts to stink. Those who don’t consider Chavez their supreme leader also deserve representation.

Venezuela in music

It seems that the new and improved Juan Forero at the Washington Post will not stop from surprising us. For the first time in fact he acknowledges that all in Venezuela before 1998 was not awful. I will not speculate on the reasons that make Juan Forero a little bit more of an objective observer on Venezuela than the cheer leader he was 2 years ago, but a good article always need to be acknowledged.

When I was a student and that the Teresa Carreño was under construction I remember how I was crawling among construction debris to fin a path toward the Jose Felix Ribas auditorium, the only one of the complex that was already running. It was a rather small auditorium, compared to the gigantic Rios Reina that would open once I had left to study in the US, but the acoustics were excellent and to this day it has retained a warmth of sound and atmosphere that I have not found elsewhere (though the AC can be bitterly cold on occasion).

Already in those years Venezuela had embarked on an audacious program to bring music to the youth, to the barrios, as an alternative to an already poor educational system and creeping misery. And by all means it has been a rousing success considering all the odds that have been placed on the road. The ones I was risking injury to go and listen where called at the time the Sinfonica Juvenil, already associated with Sucre. The atmosphere was bon enfant, that is, it was mainly composed by friends and relatives and a dusting of onlookers like me. Concert in, concert out, you would learn to pick up all the faces in the crowd. It was also the Herrera Campins administration and it was not uncommon to see a minister come to attend a representation, sans body guards, something that is unthinkable today as the importance of a minister is directly linked to how many bodyguards (goons?) follow him or her everywhere.

The system of mass musical instruction was starting and it kept growing attracting world wide acclaim, even visits from noted maestros from Europe. Now it is producing its first stars such as Dudamel who are directing or playing in Europe's hallowed centers. Of course, under chavismo and the glorious revolution concert hall music has been taking a back seat as the Rios Reina is needed for all sorts of political events. Not to mention that a kid with talent can make the overseas money in an amount he would never dream of in Venezuela. But at least chavismo has not tampered too much with the youth instruction that is still wide spread though I am not so sure if it is still growing.

Thus Juan Forero tells us about the 31 years of the program, and even regales us with a multimedia presentation. The only missing thing in his article is how difficult it has become in Venezuela to listen to classical music.

Piratry has made havoc with recording industry and record stores. The meager offerings of classical music and jazz that we used to have are all but gone as the stores cannot make enough money to sustain a classical section. When that one exists it is ususally composed of top 40 like pieces of the cheapest labels you can find overseas. Only the Esperanto chain in Caracas still manages to maintain a slight selection, way down since currency control exchange was installed in 2003. Apparently classical music CD are not obtaining preferential dollars.

The radio siutation is not much better. Before the state network, RNV, became the favored propaganda tool of Chavez, it carried a significant amount of classical and jazz, and news from the wires. Now instead you have every speech of Chavez, political talk shows, and a rare piece of music when they finally run out of crap to say. Only in Caracas you had a classical station, always in trouble, always playing top 40 symphonies and now forced to play 50% Venezuelan music. I am not even sure whether it is still on the air. Because of course, that ridiculous 50% Venezuelan music was applied to all broadcasting as if Venezuela had enough Mozart in the past to match the world production. But the revolution cannot be bothered with such cultural subtleties while it is remaking Venezuela's Kultur.

So, the best bet if you want to listen to classical music in Venezuela is to head to the barrios. Even the Felix Ribas is almost out of reach: it is strangely sold out on most concerts when before 2002 it was still easy to walk to the ticket office and get a ticket a few minutes before the performance. All sorts of rumors account to this sudden success. My favorite is the government reserving the seats for its elite so that they do not get a "cacerolazo" when they go. Apparently it did happen often in the 2002-2003 period.

Thus the extraordinary paradox barely hinted in this Forero article: classical music is more of an elite thing than ever except that now it is reserved for barrios conservatories. When the kids leave their school there is nowhere for them to buy a record, except Esperanto where they can hardly afford to enter. Even the buhoneros of pirated CD do not bother carrying Mozart. There is also no way they can afford to go and watch the great maestros unless they are invited to play for them! A year ago as I was putting gas in San Felipe some guy came to peddle his collection of pirated CD. For fun I told him that I was not interested in salsa or regaeton, only classical music. There was a puzzled look on his face. Then he had a bright smile and told me that yes, he had classical salsa from the 60ies and 70ies.... Classical music and Jazz have ways to go still in Venezuela.....