Friday, June 29, 2007

How democracy works: the US immigration bill bites the dust

Now, before anyone gets excited I have to say that I have no major knowledge of the immigration bill that went down today in the US Senate. In fact I cannot even express an opinion about it. Though at least I am aware at how big an issue this has been in the US for that last year.

However I cannot but be stricken by the vote result. The bill lost 53 to 46. So what? you may say... The fascinating thing is that the vote was bipartisan on each side, that more Democrats supported the Republican President Bush than Republicans did.

33 Dems and 12 Gops votes Yes. And among the GOP voting Yes we find Trent Lott and Richard Lugar voting next to Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy.

15 Dems and 37 Gops voted No. And among the Dems voting No you had Tom Harking looking eye to eye with Sam Brownback.

Can you imagine something like that happening in Venezuela today? I am not talking about the 100% monochromatic National Assembly which of course makes such a scene impossible. But even if 20% of the Assembly were opposition, can you imagine enough chavistas crossing over, voting their conscience, to block an appointment that requires a 2/3 majority?

Meanwhile in Venezuela you get this. A journalist refusing a prize because he considers threatened freedom of expression. And right on his heels you see chavistas such a Desiree Santos Amaral (quite the biting bitter chihuahua these days, no?) excoriating him instead of wondering how come such prize is refused. Did she ever heard of these people that refused even the Nobel Prize for their principles? How far is chavismo gone away from principles?

With all its faults, the US again showed us today what great democracies do. Venezuela showed us today how democracy is killed.

Ps: As I watched the late news I saw the gesticulating Helena Salcedo trying to chase William Echeverria from the award ceremony. Her gesticulations speak volume about one of the rising stars of chavistofascism.

-The end-

Two countries

As expected Chavez could not resist to make the Copa America his. From "ahora es de todos" the Soccer tournament went to "ahora es de Chavez". How come the Conmebol allowed 1) the silly and stupid speech of Chavez, something which was never allowed in previous editions of the Copa? and 2) this picture below (from EFE through Tal Cual)?

But meanwhile there is another country who bravely walked through the street of Caracas to defend its freedom of information and expression. And you know what? For the first time in years the opposition walked through a downtown area by reaching the Baralt avenue. A high view from Tal Cual and a color view from a faithful reader (YB), (click to enlarge).

There are two countries, a mendacious one willing to spoil and international event for their beloved leader, and another country who marches bravely to defend its right not to be paid to host placards at the glory of EL Supremo.

-The end-

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chavez's somber June

Today, as the journalists and students march in large numbers in the streets of Caracas, Chavez on his trip to Russia will be able to meditate on how his presidency got entangled in the biggest crisis since he came to office. Even more than the one of April 2002 where at least things were somewhat clearer: a group of people tried to remove you from office forcibly, you prevailed. Simpler, no?

Losing the battle of ideas

It will be a month this week since Chavez decided to make good his promise of closing RCTV. And he has shown no repentance no matter what the mounting political cost at home and overseas has been. Not only that, but there is no negotiation going on as to the transmission equipments that were seized from RCTV. We are talking millions of dollars in assets that were just taken from RCTV. If at least the government were offering a compensation or a rental fee, but no. The TSJ ruling appears today like a clear duplicitous act from the government and the judicial power combined to steal from RCTV all of its equipment. Legalized robbery, pure and simple, with all the implications that this might carry as to the future of private property and investments in Venezuela.

But this official descent into thuggery by the Venezuelan state was the least of Chavez concern. For the past month the student protest have not ebbed one bit and in fact it seems that they are reaching deeper withing other areas of the society. In particular the appeal of Chavez to have the barrios come down from their hills to challenge the students have felt in deaf hears.

However the barrios were willing to move, but to go to Chavez to ask him what the f**k is going on with many of his promises, why there are so many Barrio Adentro clinics closed or understaffed and under provided, why its it so difficult to find milk or cooking oil.

The result of these recent weeks is to expose the scarcity of ideas within chavismo, its inability to go outside of its congealed dialectic to reach new grounds of discussion. The same vocabulary possesses the mouths of chavista sycophancy. As a visible consequence we see a country stalled.

Gone are the talks of increasing gasoline prices, a huge burden for the state who could use that money to solve some of these barrios claims.

No more constitutional talk except for a quaint defense against leaked documents, pretending to pass them as only one of the dozens drafts circulated secretly in the committee. But the document is, we are told, a 400 pages draft. Some leak, some forgery, some dozens of other documents! that must have pass. But publishing a real draft by the government itself has not happened which has for effect to confirm that the leak is actually the real thing.

Gone are the mass meetings as Chavez runs away from a bridge inauguration or locks himself up in private military bases ceremonies where the people are not invited.

The best example of that new, shivering ?, Chavez could be seen last night inaugurating the Copa America (even though Peru and Uruguay had done a first match early that afternoon). Chavez postponed his trip to Russia to inaugurate the Venezuelan game in San Cristobal. Even if the renovated stadium looked beautiful and world class, the heart was not there. Chavez and Evo Morales sat like "simple spectators", like the "people", on the highest rows but their backs against a wall. Maybe it was better security but it did not look too good. The opening show was chavista culture. I mean, Reina Lucero in an ill fitting tacky yellow dress belting out her contrapunteo? Even the song who was the opposition anthem in 2003 was clumsily recovered by folks who were unable to sing it (1). Where are Aldemaro Romero and Joaquin Rivera when you need them? And all of that in Cadena. Exactly as if the US president decided that the opening ceremonies of the, say, Atlanta Olympics had to be transmitted simultaneously on all TV and radio stations. Can you imagine that?

Thus as it is usual with Chavez, when the going gets rough, the rough start traveling overseas. First a trip to Russia to see if the submarines, 9 of them, will be bought or not. A wit has qualified these absolutely unnecessary submarines for Venezuela as just gadget to go and rescue people that will be taken by the frequent floods of our starting raining season. Even there ridicule pursues Chavez.

And then he will move on to Tehran.

The Iranian resourcing

There is also a stop planned for Tehran where Chavez will meet his pal Ahmadinejerk. These days the Iranian president has been very busy purging universities from folks that do not toe the fundamentalist line he comes from, you know, his Pasdaram days. His government has also been diligent cracking down on dress codes, when not having his police "create" adequate fashion. If this was not enough he decided to increase gas prices which are beat in ridicule only by Venezuelan gas prices. This has started a series of disturbances that he is trying to control with great trouble. Surely Chavez will learn a lot about these controls when he will be forced to increase gas price in Venezuela. But no matter what, Chavez like Ahmadinejerk will have to face brain drain has he keeps his foolish policies.

What is Chavez doing in Iran again, when Iran is now openly involved with the Hamas takeover of Gaza, when the Iran backed Syrian interference in Lebanon is vox popili, when Ahmadinejerk is cracking down on any dissent as he faces for a tough nuclear situation? Chavez has nothing to do there, of course, since even the Iranian model of repression would not apply much in Venezuela. But he is so bereft of ideas that he cannot pass an opportunity to go to a country where at least one street will be lined with flag waving supportive people.

And now, openly questioning Chavez sanity

To end this note there are increasing reports questioning the sanity or psychology of Chavez. something quite visible to the naked ye, you know. But when even journalists like Debusmann write extensive articles on it you start wondering.

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1) the Lyrics of the song here and a lousy rendition with Spanish accent here, until I find something better on Youtube. That song was passing on TV and at any opposition march through 2002-2003. Chavismo has been trying to bring it over its side since then, after a dispirited opposition stopped chanting anything.

DB sent me this better interpretation but it is not what I am looking for. Oh well...

-The end-

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Some Venezuelans are more equal than others

The pernicious side of things such as Chavez saying all the time that if you are not with me, unconditionally, then you are against me is that it leads directly to monstrosities like the political apartheid making Tascon list (see references on the right side column about this list used for political discrimination in Venezuela since 2004). And when the perpetrators of such fascist instruments go unpunished and are allowed to remain in the National Assembly you can easily guess that the public administration in Venezuela stops seen anything wrong with granting itself unacceptable privileges. Tal Cual has got its hands on two internal memos which clearly show to which extent privilege reaches only revolutionary "elites" while the common man is left to fend for itself.

The Cuban vacation

This ad above promotes vacations in Cuba, social tourism they call it. On June 27 the first contingent of happy tourists, exclusively for employees of the finance ministry, will leave for Cuba where they will spend a few nights in Varadero and Havana. So far you might say that there is really nothing intrinsically wrong with that: so many institutions sponsor such group trips. But the Devil, and it is a big Devil, trust me, is in the details.

See, the first thing is that an incredibly cumbersome paperwork which is demanded to Venezuelan citizens is taken in charge by the government with internal connections that are just totally unfair, if not grotesque. To help you understand better, imagine that Daniel Duquenal wanted to go to Cuba on his own.

First he needs to get a passport. Trough 2006 he could NEVER access the web site of the ONIDEX, the prerequisite to obtain a new passport as his old one was about to expire. In sheer desperation he had to pay 40USD (a bargain!!! as most "intermediates" charge around 100USD) to access a passport appointment. What was more galling is that this precise week Daniel failed again to obtain an appointment for Yaracuy State. Appointment are allocated according to geographical areas, and are given to Yaracuy from Monday to Wednesday. Well, after Daniel failed on a given Wednesday he finally relented and paid. Imagine that! The contact got him his precious appointment that VERY SAME THURSDAY!!!!

Second Daniel needs to obtain a permit to buy foreign currency, namely USD or Euros. Fortunately he had that permit log ago but to get it today he would have to battle for days the CADIVI web page. CADIVI is the only organization allowed to permit you to get access to foreign currency in Venezuela. Apparently once you access CADIVI you usually get your permit in 48 hours, but accessing the darned page can take days and days.

Third, Daniel needs to buy his vacation USD. For this he needs to buy a plane ticket, fully paid, and then go to his bank PERSONALLY, show all the paper work from CADIVI, his original ID and passport, his plane ticket. Then the bank processes it, and the result comes a few days later. IF Daniel wants cash he can get it but with additional paperwork and only 500 USD a year (it used to be 400).

There might be extra steps, such as for example being allowed to travel to Cuba. Or finding an adequate package for the trip. Or wanting to use another airline than Cubana de Aviacion. Or be denied CADIVI dollars and lose weeks in appeals. Etc, etc...

Well, if you work for the government they will take care of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING!

They will negotiate for you with CADIVI. They will get you your passport. And a Credit card. They will finance your trip thus as to pay it in 36 months (Daniel pays cash or with 18% interest rate, more if he puts it on his credit card). They will get you the cash you need. They will plan the tour and make all the necessary reservations (through Cubana de Aviacion, of course). This is social tourism!!! The socialist credit cards and financing and short cuts. But it goes without saying that you better wear a red t-shirt with the "Patria , Socialismo o Muerte" when you go and sign up for the trip..........

The Copa America ticket sales

But there is another event that has people running around like crazy: the Copa America. Unfortunately people run around as the ticket sales have been a mess though black market resellers abound. It is now quite clear that the government has made sure that a large portions of the available tickets go to good revolutionaries. You doubt it? Read the ad below, also from the SENIAT, this noble and fair agency, our IRS like, which has only the best interests of the country in its mind.

In this ad you can read that the tickets will be given FOR FREE, without even needing to stand in line somewhere, to the noble personnel of the SENIAT to recompense them for their revolutionary task. I am not making this up, it reads literally: "who contribute [...] to construction of the fundamental base of XXI Century Socialism [their emphasis] promoted by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias [complete wording!]"

So there you are, as I reported earlier, the COPA NO ES DE TODOS, ES DE LOS CHAVISTAS. That is, the Copa America is officially a pro Chavez promoting event. It will be interesting to observe how far chavismo will go.

PS: the other day I had to renew my fiscal registry (mandatory in Venezuela, as apparently the ID card is not enough for the SENIAT). While I had to wait my turn in the waiting room I was forced to watch over and over a propaganda DVD about the SENIAT activities. Every ten words had to be one of this short list: revolucion, socialismo, chavez, bolivariano. It was pathetic.

-The end-

Monday, June 25, 2007

The cadena of fear: Carabobo in Caracas

Yesterday was yet another anniversary of the battle of Carabobo, our Yorktown (our Austerlitz?, our Waterloo?), that battle that made the independence of Venezuela irreversible.

Usually at that date the armed forces hold a nice rally on the Carabobo field, in all regalia. The background is not bad, graced with the famous Carabobo arch, with lots of space for crowds to attend the festivities, a large tribune for officials, speeches and what not.

Well, under Chavez things have started to change. First the governor of Carabobo was barred to attend the festivities, a little bit as if there were an official event at Yorktown and the governors of Virginia and Maryland were asked not to attend because they were of a different political party than the US president. But soon that arrogance was not enough. Even though the military parade was accompanied now with some bizarre floats of popular inspiration, Chavez found out that more and more of the people who attended did not pay attention to El Supremo speech, having quite a party trying to get their hands on free food or drinks, if not outright screaming to try to get to Chavez and ask him for a house or what not.

This year, Chavez is hurt by the student dissenting protest, a general animosity as per the closing of RCTV, and duly scalded by the failure of the intended pump and circumstances of the bridge reopening when crowds of neighboring shantytowns crashed the party. Thus Chavez did not take chances: Carabobo now was held in Caracas, as a private ceremony between Chavez and HIS army, the one he will use to stop the invasion of the Empire.

On the left side below you have a picture of the cadena (you know, that compulsory simultaneous broadcast over ALL airborne media of Venezuela).

Let me list how many thing were wrong with that picture and why I think they were intended as such.

  • The Carababo arch replica. In perhaps one of the lowest moment of an under kitsch revolution, since Chavez could not go to Carabobo, Carabobo went to him, even if it was as a papier mâché monstrosity. For a Venezuelan like me, there is nothing as ridiculous, and yet as insulting, than reproducing the Carabobo arch on a Caracas sunset background. The cheapening of Carabobo significance is beyond contempt.

  • And let's talk about a sunset celebration. Why did Chavez chose to hold it so late in the day? Is it because he did not want the nearby barrios come down to watch the parade as they are fond to do? After all, when you live in the barrios you must go home by sunset if you can otherwise you increase dramatically your risks of not returning safe at home.

  • And speaking of attendees. How come the "people" were not invited? Only the government officials and a select representation of the armed forces were attending. There were no onlookers anywhere that I could find. Is Chavez that afraid of any booing, or of any pseudo-assassination attempt, or of any unwelcome solicitation that he must limit the people that come close to him? Or is he afraid that if the gates were open nobody would show up? Can he not fill up paid buses to cheer him on Sunday nights?

  • And speaking of the selected military. We saw a lot of weapons but few soldiers. Only some cadets and some elite corps. The troupe was not there, only selected elements (the most faithful? the most indoctrinated?) were in attendance. That by itself was too weird in a day where the Venezuelan army celebrates itself. The party was for only a few this year who were blessed with the words of El Supremo.

  • And speaking of the words of El Supremo. What about calling the US the worst, most cruel or what not Empire that has ever existed? Genghis Khan anyone? Hitler is now forgotten? And this while the US soccer team is visiting? I will pass on the rest of the speech which did not improve much on that.
I could keep going on with this analysis but the reader already detects the point: a victorious government, a government which has the initiative, which holds the high ground, which incarnates the high moral values of the country does not need to hold such a pitiful show. It does not need to be as vulgar or as arrogant. Chavez yesterday as shown to us that he has lost the initiative. All points out to a last minute arrangement, made it more palatable to the army by announcing a 30% pay increase for them.

There was a little incident that says a lot not only about Chavez bloated ego and his sense that all belongs to him, but about his lousy management style. At one point he wanted to show a Kalashnikov. So he screamed for a soldier to rush up to him and bring a weapon (empty of any bullets, I am sure). Some young guy beat the other ones and Chavez said "ten days leave for him". That is right, because the kid was the first one with the gun at Chavez feet he will get ten days off from his military duties. A little bit as if I were screamign from my office "coffee" and the staff would fight over each other to be the first one to bring me the coffee in the hope I will say "one day bonus". If business were run like that they would soon be totally bankrupt. But I suppose a revolution has to be run as such, on high sycophancy levels.

To finish this post I will leave you with one of those artistic and "meaningful" fade outs that the cadena treated us with. You can see the bloated, military dressed and ridiculously sashed Chavez, with in the background the pitiful show he put up last night. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words.

PS: all pictures taken from my TV

-The end-

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Flag wars in Venezuela

I am not sure what will be the end result of the RCTV closing and of the student protests that followed, but one thing is certain, during these past 4 weeks we have seen how uncreative, reactionary even, the Chavez administration has been while all the initiative, all the ideas and all the creativity was in the street protests of Venezuela. Nothing better than to watch a few videos to illustrate this point. Let’s start with the flag issue which is the latest life saving jacket that chavismo ideological wankers have grabbed. For good measure at the end I will point to a couple of other meaningful videos from high ranking chavistas.

The flag issue

Scoundrels usually take refuge in cheap nationalism and chavismo will be no exception. Lately the government has been promoting a crusade to "defend the flag" stating that turning it upside down as many dissident students do in their marches is an attempt to Venezuela's sovereignty and other miscellaneous nonsense. In that they meet the US right wing nuts who have been fighting for years to get that flag burning amendment where no US citizen could desecrate the US flag under no circumstances. Ah! The coincidences of history!!! But do chavistas even realize how stupid they are with that issue? How close to their enemies they are becoming? How reactionary their "revolution" has become?

To illustrate this we have some videos. The first one is an ad. By law, the infamous "gag law", the government forces private networks to pass its “messages” at no cost for ten (10) minutes a day. Globovision protested this particular ad because it said, and I agree, that it was a mere political propaganda and as such it violated the "ley RESORTE" a.k.a. "gag law" which states that the free ads must serve educational or informative purposes only. The government replied that "tough, but you have to pass it anyway", showing the little joys of the autocratic state when you are top dog. The text is short so I am taking the trouble to translate it.

Who turns upside down his flag
Is not a good Venezuelan
He behaves like any villain
And does not love Venezuela
My flag is yellow
Blue and beautiful red [sic: rojo bonito]
My flag must be respected
And must wave upright
Whoever puts it upside down
Offends the whole country
I want to claim it back
For our blessed fatherland

Now, how simplistic, chauvinist, close minded and vile can you get in so few words? No comments are needed.

Note that they use a "gaita" rhythm, probably trying to associate this with Zulia's governor, Rosales. Or to try to make it more "popular", more genuine? Whatever it is I do not think it will work much outside of the creepiest chavismo strata. But sine this the target, to keep the ground troops motivated against the dissident students, I suppose that chavismo will call it a success.

There are also other attacks of a well orchestrated nature, but of equal vile content. For example if you can stomach it you can watch an excerpt of the "La Hojilla" were the flag issue is addressed, as well as cheap criticism of a Miami group which has very little influence in Venezuela. But they do love to link anything they can to a US led conspiracy. Watching the first minute is plenty enough anyway. By the way, Globovision was prompt in reminding folks that "La Hojilla" has been using the upside down flag on its blade, as you can see in this 30' clip. Double standards, the hallmark of chavismo (and fascism if memory serves me well).

Let’s move on to two other examples. One is one of the Desiree Santos Amaral speeches. Not a particular meaningful one per se, but in my opinion a very characteristic one of how hapless and bereft of ideas chavismo has been exposed this day. Something by the way I was announcing as early as May 31. The other example will be no one else but the TSJ president, Luisa Morales.

Desiree Santos Amaral

This former journalist activist, human rights freedom fighter has turned out in quite your conservative character. Now she is the vice president of the National Assembly, a position she won by helping to write, and defending outrageously the first law to restrain journalism freedom in Venezuela, the infamous "gag law". That is, she got her job by trying to silence her former colleagues.

So, when the students stated to protest and to claim for their freedom of information and expression she had no better argument to offer but to ask Venezuelan mothers to keep their child at home. Her "arguments" are worthy of any radical conservative Christian right fundamentalism, showing that extremes do manage to touch eventually. Hear it at 40' of this video (do not bother after minute 2, it becomes an Orvex editorial of arguable value, though it shows that Orvex bothers chavismo as Santos mentions them, as well as La Hojilla. Funny!).

Luisa Morales

I have already discussed the pathetic criticism that the head of the Venezuelan high court, TSJ, gave to Baltasar Garzon speech. No need to come back on that, but you can watch a few seconds of this video to have a pretty good idea about the quality judges we have in Venezuela. Listen at 15 seconds the "colonial" comment she gave. How can the highest judge of a country lower herself to such level? Can you say "banana" republic?

The response

Now that you have seen these displays of chavismo in counterattack, let’s look at the single reply of the opposition to all of these criticism. No other reply was needed.

Using the talent of “El Puma” a famous Venezuelan Pop signer of years past, who by the way was an early supporter of Chavez until he saw the light, a homage to the dissident students was issued. The video is below. You do not need to have it translated to appreciate the vigor, the freshness of it all, and to sense the failure of ideological chavismo.

-The end-

Voting systems: "what if" in France recent elections

Warning: totally useless vote discussing voting methods follow. If you are into Venezuelan gore and blood, wait for future installments.


The French election results have raised a certain controversy: how come that the Socialists who almost won the second round ballot did not get more seats? The eternal question is thus raised, which is the voting system that allows for the best and fairest representation of the political tendencies of a country. But in the French case it is rather unfair to raise the question. Is it fair to penalize the right because the left preferred much more to stay home rather than voting two Sundays ago? Should the right be penalized because scared left voters came back last Sunday to make a difference?

Of course not, and Le Monde, of socialists sympathies, did not hesitate to publish an interesting work where it says that no matter what excuses the socialists seek, and no matter what the voting system were, they lost. Even more, the same nature of the French voting system had actually a built in correction factor that allowed for the socialists to get more seats than what they deserved considering their feeble first round voting performance! Thus avoiding a crushing majority to the right.

So what Le Monde did was to get the results of the first round voting of two Sundays ago and use other voting systems to see what the results in seats would have been. It is important to note that in these systems, voting takes place only once, not in two rounds like French tradition, a tradition found, by the way, in some areas of the US like Louisiana.

The winner take all system

Let's look first at the system known by most readers of this blog, the electoral system inherited by many countries of British origin: in a given district, whoever gets the more votes wins, even ifs he gets, say 20% of the votes, as long as she is the top vote getter, she carries the seat. The nature of this system is perhaps the most unfair of all, forces a country to limit itself to no more than 3 political parties as people must vote in an useful way, not necessary for what they would have liked to vote. In the US there are only two parties. In Canada and Britain there parties and some very minor ones, but the power is decided always between two parties who on occasion must fish for the minor parties for a more stable coalition. Third parties are usually regional expressions that make it to the national parliament.

The advantage of course is that it tends to promote political stability as in general everyone knows who is the winner, and thus deals with it. We see that if it had been applied to France, the UMP would have got a great majority of more than 2/3!!! Enough to make even constitutional changes at will!

The proportional system

At the other end of the British system there is the proportional representation. In the case shown here it is not absolute representation country wide (such as Israel) but according to the French territorial Department division. This tends to favor bigger parties some as the goal of the system is to allow everyone to get at least a voice, but still create a governmental majority. The system was used in France in 1986 (and some variations of it are used in other countries of Europe).

You can see that the results are significantly different from the "winner take all" system above, but the UMP still wins handsomely. Again, this is because such a repartition takes place after the first round ballot and the UMP cannot be blamed for too many Socialists staying home. The detail here is that the importance of electoral alliances is lost in such a system. The "Nouveau Centre", an electoral ally of the UMP, is now laminated whereas in the "winner take all" it got twice the seats it is getting now, courtesy of UMP votes. On the other hand, Bayrou's Modem that refuses any alliances this time gets a significant chunk of seats.

The German system

In this system half the seats are distributed on a proportional system and the other half is a winner take all system. But there is a catch: the Germans weary of the strict proportional system under the Wiemar republic which allowed for the rise of the Nazi party, have decided that unless you do not get 5% nation wide, you do not get seats in the Reichstag.

Application of this system in France yields very different results. If the UMP is still the winner with a majority large enough for a stable government, there are only two other parties left: the Modem and the Socialists. All the other parties are out. Probably if France were to chose this system it would end up like Germany where two large parties need one of the two small parties to make a majority. In France the 4th party could eventually come from a "Grünen" like formation of a coalition of trotskiste, greens and dissident communists.

The French system

And thus we get back to the French voting system who after having been compared to the other systems does not look too bad, no matter what some Monday morning political quarter backs would like us to believe. Not only it had that "inner corrective" measure that allowed for socialist voters to go back to the ballot the second Sunday (while many of the UMP supporters thought that it was all won after the first Sunday so that they were not needed at the polls anymore, their loss).

What is paradoxical in the result is that they end up being quite close from the proportional vote shown above. The difference is really the Modem result, a Modem bereft of alliances by choice and whose voters eventually allowed the Socialist to make a mini come back of sorts once the Modem candidates did not reach the second round ballot. If we conceive the first round of a French election as the "political will" of the country, thus we can see that this will is still represented in the final result. The negative outcome would have been an overwhelming victory of the right, a distortion also built in in this system which makes it resemble the "winner take all" in some cases (such as the 1993 result which laminated the socialists).

And what about Venezuela system?

The representativity of the Venezuelan people will has long ago been trumped by the CNE complicity with Chavez. Not only the "morochas" system kills the constitutional spirit of proportional representation of "minorities" but the cheating ways of Chavez and the CNE promote abstention so that the current parliament is 100% pro Chavez while 37% voted against him in 2006 (official results, questionable of course). The circumstances of 2005 are no excuse for chavismo who if it were a truly democratic movement would have found a way to repeat elections or avoided the opposition to abstain in 2005.

But let's not revisit this issue and instead wonder what would be a good electoral system. Obviously with the current strength of chavista parties and the divisions of the opposition, a "winner take all" system would create a distortion that would kill representativity. This was sen during the constitutional assembly of 1999 when with less than 60% of the vote chavismo got 97% of the seats. Even in 2005, when polls gave at most 40% of the votes for the opposition, the twisted "morochas" would have given less than 20% of the seats to the opposition, perhaps as low as 10 %.

A strict proportional system as in Israel would not be good either: with a Chavez who decides who runs and who does not run, parliament would be more than ever dominated by the executive, just as it happens now, even if the opposition had, say, 30% of the seats. That is, when you know that you owe your seat to Chavez and not to your constituents, you lose any incentive to act as a legislator.

Perhaps an adaptation of the German System would be best. I would have 100 seats elected in single uninominal districts ("winner take all"). That would already kill the "morochas" and force coalition build up. The remaining 60 plus seats would be divided in groups of 10 to 15 seats that would be distributed regionally by grouping the necessary number of states to reach at least 10 seats based on population. For example an Andes region with 3 states. Small Yaracuy would be added to Lara and Falcon for example. This would still imply a near 10% vote to enter parliament in some regions but if a region has 15 seats (Miranda-Aragua-Carabobo for example) with less than 7% you can still make it tot he National Assembly, no matter what a steam roller chavismo could be at a given point.

And as personal favorite of mine, something that could be made easy with the voting machines, the elector gets to chose within the list offered which is his favorite. That way political parties cannot offer sure seats to candidates by placing them on top of a list: the voter can chose the list but the bottom candidates if they please. now, what can be more democratic than that?

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But of course, I am pretty sure that the only thing that keeps the CNE awake at night is ways to please Chavez and to make sure that the opposition never reaches any significant quota of power.

-The end-

Saturday morning with Vargas Llosa

The Wall Street Journal gives an interview with Mario Vargas Llosa. There is no need to present the man, of course. But by any means, if you have some time today sit down with a cup of something and enjoy. Some teasers:

"We have a big problem with Chávez. He's a demagogue and a 19th century socialist. He is a destabilizing force for democracy in Latin America, but what he thought would be so easy hasn't been so easy. There has been a lot of resistance.

[RCTV] For me, most important was that the protests in Venezuela were very strong, in particular the sectors that were once very sympathetic to him, for example the students in the Central University of Venezuela, not only the students in the private universities."

This all sounds true enough, but in a dictatorship, wouldn't literature be censored as well? "In undeveloped countries, censorship doesn't reach that point of subtlety, as it did in Spain for example," Mr. Vargas Llosa explains. "Because in undeveloped countries, the dictators are, well, functioning illiterates that don't think that literature can be dangerous."

See, I knew you would enjoy it.

-The end-

Friday, June 22, 2007

Delightful gossip of the day: US delegation in trouble at customs

Nelson Boccaranda, gossip extraordinaire of EL Universal, and only too often shown that he is not a gossip after all, tells us that some stoooopid custom officials in Maiquetia stopped some security members of the US delegation coming for the Copa America. Apparently following the inspiration of EL Supremo they were not going to allow a US invasion of Venezuela, even if it comes from two security guards of the US team, duly approved before hand by the Venezuelan foreign office.

In another event, the San Cristobal stadium had a flag of all participating teams except the one form the US. The Copa international officials had to personally ensure that the US flag was also hoisted.....

So the glorious Bolibananarian Revolution will have a new glorious date: the battle of Maiquetia where an invasion of two US security guards was delayed by three hours, and the siege of San Cristobal where for a few days the US flag could not float!!!!!

You know something, such a gossip is too good to be invented. I bet you that Boccaranda is not gossiping this time. Next, the gossip as I received it in Spanish (sorry no time to translate right now)

Incidente con la Delegacion Estadounidense para la Copa América

A pesar de haber acordado con la cancillería venezolana el poder contar con dos guardaespaldas armados para la seguridad del equipo estadounidense, ayer a su llegada a maiquetia los 2 gurdaespaldas fueron retenidos un par de horas en medio de un incidente que pudo haberse tornado mas grave y hasta haber provocado el retiro del grupo americano.

Elfuncionario Edgar Alvarado -jefe de control del Seniat en Maiquetía- y Fernando Viloria -Jefe de la División de Inteligencia de la Fuerza Aérea venezolana en Maiquetía (?)-
provocaron y maltrataron no solo a los guardias sino a los deportistas y a losdiplomaticos de la embajada americana que fueron a recibirlos al aeropuerto.

Los esfuerzos de la cancilleria para liberar a los detenidos dieron sus frutos tres horas despues.

Los dos funcionarios del seniat y la FAV desconocieron los acuerdos entre la cancilleria y el gobierno de estados unidos pues "nosotros no vamos a permitir que dos gringos miembros del imperio de bush entren armados pues eso seguro es parte de un plan invasorio"

Esa obsesión anti imperialista es similar al no izamiento de la bandera de EE.UU. en el estadio de San Cristóbal, hecho reparado dos dias despues...por las autoridades de la Copa

-The end-

We got a new bridge

The viaduct that fell in January 2006 has been rebuilt. Chavez, his usual cynical self, refusing to take the blame for 6 years of neglect that brought down the bridge, wanted to mark the event as if it were a great victory of his socialist revolution. Well, it did not work out as planned. Even though all measures had been taken to make a great propaganda show, such as blocking the highway for "security reasons" for 8 hours (too bad for those that needed to take an airplane), they did not counted one one key element "el pueblo". That pueblo who lives hanging from the steep slopes surrounding the highway, who have yet to see the promises made to them 2 years ago when the bridge was closed before it collapsed, wore their red shirts and crashed the party to see Chavez and ask him directly why the delays. In a rush Chavez inaugurated the bridge and left. No speech, NO CADENA except for the half an hour that covered the documentary film and the arrival of Chavez.

Some divine justice still exists: Chavez trick to gain glory at the expense of his mistakes failed in the best possible way, by those who he tricks all the time showing up. Priceless.

PS: I was told that most of the bridge has been built by private contractor who were juicily paid to finish the bridge on time. Thus, there are surely significant added costs just to satisfy the political needs of Chavez. Needless to say that the contractors are keeping a low profile as to their achievements letting the government claim credit for "Venezuelan high technology" in the hope that people will associate this building as a government made job. Some time the private sector does not stink that much to Chavez when he needs something fast.

-The end-

Milk also missing in Argentina

The Post brings us a tale of food shortages in Argentina. Gas shortages too , and winter is starting. And all due, as in Venezuela, to unreasonable price controls which are kept up for political reasons. Price control, the eternal soft drug of populist regimes.... and with always the same consequences: higher inflation than the neighboring countries.

PS: I was lucky yesterday in Caracas. As I was doing some shopping for stuff I cannot find in San Felipe I found WHITE SUGAR!!! TWO kilos!!!! They had just received some. Very little in fact since they did not even put it up on the shelf: they just put in a shopping cart the bags with the individual sugar packages and people tore them up and helped themselves. Two kilos per capita only. Had I arrived 15 minutes alter I woudl have never known that white sugar had arrived.... I also got one liter of canola cooking oil. So finally I will be able to make tostones.

-The end-

The constitutional changes draft has been leaked: the path to an eternal Chavez dictatorship

Today we were treated to the leaked draft on the constitutional changes planned by Chavez. It is a blue print on how to create an authoritarian state by creating a social system from where no opposition could ever have the possibility to rise someday to challenge Chavez. All the changes are engineered to effect this goal.

No more private property besides your personal belongings. That is, there will be some private sector allowed with business of reasonable size but the sate will have the right to expropriate or confiscate at will if it thinks it is necessary to its interests (NOTE: even if it is all made in the name of the "people", since it is the state that translates the "real will" of the people, well, you know which are the interests truly served).

The air borne media will have rights to emit only if they serve educative purpose. The state decides which are the educative goals.

The autonomy of Universities is done with. The state will be deciding which careers should be offered and which is the right curriculum to follow. You can decide on your own how creativity and free thought in a controlled university will prosper.

Decentralization will be done with. Governors and Mayors will be subordinated to special vice presidents. Mayors can be removed almost at will by the National Assembly. And anyway, elected Governors and Mayors will be gutted of most meaningful power they might have. That is, they will be left with picking up the garbage and be blamed for anything else that doe snot work.

And more, including of course unlimited reelection. There are even some gems from the folks discussing the changes, gems showing their fascist frame of mind. For example one of them writes that dual citizenship should be eliminated because, well, these duals tend to be against Chavez anyway.

So, even if this is only a draft, leaked, which is not on the net yet as far as I know, you can see clearly the blueprint of things to come. The state will control anything that could someday create a challenge to Chavez. There is no socialism involved here, no democracy, no nothing: just a group of people who are tightly behind Chavez and are trying to create a system from where no one will remove them through peaceful ways.

When I get my hands on that draft I will give more details.

Added later: meanwhile I got a copy of the International Bar Association report on Venezuela, but in Spanish only (some one can get me the English link?). The report is dire and certainly does not allay the fears raised by the constitutional changes (which the report also addresses, in particular the scandalous secretive nature of the discussion!). When I have more time I will post on this report that documents clearly how Venezuelan liberties have been consistently maimed by the current regime.

-The end-

Yesterday Garzon, today Lech Walesa

All of those heroes of our recent past, the ones that have done real good in fighting for human rights and redress seem to be increasingly ganging up on Chavez. Imagine that!!!

Baltasar Garzon, the guy that almost got Pinochet and changed the retirement plans of any future dictator/tyrant, did a generic speech on how justice should be viewed in this modern world only to get blasted by the last representatives of primitive caudillo like justice.

The scum that attacked yesterday true blue socialist Garzon could hear today Lech Walesa say in Peru that Chavez has it coming. Priceless!

-The end-

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chavismo goes bonkers over Spain, and judge Garzon

This week we got delicious moments of chavismo ridicule, and of all reasons, a fight against Spain and Spaniards. It seems that the days of love and ideological lust of the early days of the Zapatero government are a thing of the past.

It all started with some concern expressed over the RCTV closing by Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister who has presided over a recent warming up of Spain's icy cold relations with the US (most links in English, for a change). Chavez totally miffed said that he was taking distance from Spain even if "it hurt". Ah! The pain!

The link in Spanish has juiciest words. Chavez is either delusional or has lost all sense of ridicule: he complains that Moratinos expresses undue opinions on Venezuela. But Chavez himself does much worse than Moratinos all the time. The last 4 paragraphs of that link are a must read. But Chavez is not about to get a rest as Moratinos also said today that Spain was watching over the agrarian interests of their citizens in Venezuela. To be continued....

But this was just foreplay for today main insulting ecstasy.

It turns out that famous judge Baltasar Garzon was visiting Caracas for an event he was hired for a speech. Now, for those who ignore who judge Garzon is, he is the guy that blocked Pinochet in London for months and months, the guy that almost got Pinochet to put him on trial, and all sorts of other notable civil rights cases. Garzon is also a Spanish Socialist. His left of center credentials are impeccable. This did not stop a few chavistas today to hurl insult after insult on him.

What was Garzon's fault? Point out the obvious, that too much power in a single hand always lead to trouble, to corrupt systems, and to all sorts of vices. That independent judicial is essential for democracy. Geeeee, I wonder why so many chavista high placed officials felt alluded!!!!!

The vice president, Jorge Rodriguez, called Garzon a clown. El Universal note does not reflect the passion in which Rodriguez expressed himself. But then again Rodriguez is a real professional clown, ready to utter the most ridiculous things to support his boss.

The foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said that Garzon was a coward. He stated that Garzon came paid by the "oligarchy" and that he did not have the courage to name the names he was paid for to name. I wonder how Maduro gets this kind of "intention" information. Maybe from taps on the CANTV lines? Link in Spanish here, but if the video of his declaration comes up, do not miss it, rarely has Maduro been so pathetic. I suppose that now he thinks he has Condi Rice on the run he probably does not control himself anymore, not that he did much control before.... One thing is certain, Maduro confirmed to us today that he has no f****ing idea what diplomacy is.

But the best were the words of Luisa Morales, the TSJ head. So we have Luisa Morales, a third rate judge of questionable abilities and even more questionable resume, a judge who has never shone from any intellectual achievement of any sort, a judge that made it to the TSJ top because of her devotion to Chavez and her willingness to emit any ruling he needs, such as plain robbery against RCTV to mention the latest one, is saying that Garzon is a mercenary, that he lacks "ethics and morals". She also added that 500 years of colonization were enough, echoing the delusion of her boss that Venezuela independence has finally be brought by him. I am not making this up, you can read the Spanish link if you please.

Of course, Luisa Morales just demonstrates that she lacks ethics and morals herself. She also demonstrates that she has no culture, no education and that she is a mercenary herself. But that is the effect that brilliant people like Garzon have on utter mediocrities like Luisa Morales. Because make no mistake, a judge like Morales, who dictate decisions to improve her income, who sponsors robbery by the executive branch, who has no qualm watching her country being plundered by Cuba, is perhaps not even a mercenary, she is a paralegal who stole the official seals and who is printing illegal sentences. Luisa Morales has come down today lower than any judge has ever gone in Venezuela, and that is already saying a lot.

But the curious reader might wonder how come three very high officials have had to come out today to swing against Garzon, who after all holds no political position, who was in as a private visit. Well, it hurt because Garzon is an icon of the left in the world and when such an icon goes against you then you know that you have lost it. See, when the French socialist party condemned the RCTV thing it was still OK. After all, it was in France so who cared, really. But when Garzon comes at home and says it in Spanish, well, you get the message, the message that you are unclean, that you are not respectable, that the people that you would expect support and even admiration from think instead that you are only a bunch of thugs, and vulgar ones at that.

What Garzon told chavismo is that they would never be respectable, that true democrats would never support their rule, their actions, that they had crossed the line between civilization and barbary. And that Chavez and a few chavistas were deserving of some international trial someday.

How else could you even explain the hate in the words, the three of them sticking to the line that Garzon is a paid mercenary "tarifado". But what else is Ramonet of the Monde Diplomatique, if I may dare ask? And most of those "intellectuals" that come regularly to "advise" or "study" the bolivarian revolution? Does anyone think that these people do it for free, out of goodness of their hearts, on their free time? Gimme a break!!! At least Garzon did not hide from who he was invited by!

But what is even more galling is that Chavez can invite Nicaragua Ortega to dish the dissident students. ON NATIONAL CADENA Chavez asked a foreigner to insult some Venezuelans on Venezuelan TV during a forced simultaneous broadcast on all air wave media. And Luisa Morales, the head of the Venezuelan highest court had no words for that? But she was very prompt in condemning Garzon?

Garzon words did hit bull's eye, no doubt about it.

-The end-

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Boliburguesia as XXI socialism century barrier

Chavista agents, paid or sycophantic volunteers, have been busy lately trying to kill the reputation of any foreign correspondent that does not praise Chavez. So we have seen from O'Grady to Romero under all sorts of attacks, sometime by the Supremo himself. Well, now they can add a new name to that list: Bernd Debusmann. You can go to Pedro's blog, read his introductory comment and the whole article on how the creation of a new powerful financial class is becoming the biggest obstacle to Chavez wishes for the new bolivarian man. Hummer picture included.

-The end-

Recall Election in Venezuela: follow up

Well, it seems that the final result was even worse than expected (read preceding post).

According to El Nacional (subscription only) of the 168 petitions only one has a chance to succeed. Even if Jose Vicente Rangel tries to pin down the blame on the opposition, the numbers tell a story of outmost failure for the chavista project. Let's look at the preliminary result for Didalco Bolivar, governor of Aragua state who was a few weeks ago duly insulted by Chavez who asked that his followers petition for a recall election. Well, to force a recall election on Didalco Bolivar the petitioners must obtain 199,552 signatures (20% of the registered voters in Aragua). Guess how many might have been raised? Less than 3,000. Not even 1.5% of what was needed. Barely 0.3% of Aragua registered electors.

It is with such numbers that you truly measure the cynicism of Rangel. Was it the opposition fault that the petition drive failed so miserably in Aragua? Is the opposition supposed to make Chavez dirty work even in removing those among his followers that have ceased to please him?

In other words, chavismo tonight is trying to find desperately a scapegoat for the catastrophe of this weekend. None of them of course is even able to wonder if the Tascon list might just have had a tiny effect on the overly dismal result.

Comic Relief

Fortunately there is also the comic aspect of it, which comes rather unexpectedly from Tarek William Saab, the governor of Anzoategui, where the petition drive against him has failed equally as miserably as the one for Didalco Bolivar.

To begin with he dares to say that there should be financial sanctions of those who called for such an expensive process that yielded such pitiful results.

So far so good.

Unfortunately for Tarek his mouth kept running. The islamo-fascist creep that he has become seems to believe that since less than 0.5% of his state voters signed against him, then it must be a reflection of what an extraordinary governor he is. He claims, for example, that he has inaugurated more public works in two years than the 5 previous governors combined in all their terms, full or not. I suppose that we should perhaps define what is a "public work". Does for example refurbishing the toilets of the sate house count as one of the 1500 plus achievements he claims?

But it gets better as the picture on the right shows: Tarek was ready with a victory poster!!!!! You may click to enlarge and thus read the edifying democratic words in the poster published in El Universal. I translate part of them:

"...petition promoted by tiny group of traitors to the progress of our region, [group] lead by a well known traitor of the bolivarian revolution."

"...demonstrating that treason and corruption have failed." [sic]

And I will pass on the title that leads one to think that 99.5% of Anzoategui is for Tarek...

Now, with such a language, with such a way to describe the "tiny group" that asked for a Recall Election can you honestly think of such a petition ever to happen again in Anzoategui? at least as long as Tarek is governor? Because you got that right, if you want to hold a recall election against Tarek William Saab, you are a traitor. I suppose that now Tarek should go an prosecute (persecute?) them petitioners/traitors..............

And so gets buried once and for all the recall election process in Venezuela.

Hey, Hugo, why not cancel these constitutional articles in the constitution modification you are planning in secret? Let's not bother with this farce anymore, you are the big boss and the only one whose electoral defeat would matter. The other ones are all your peons, we know that. Let's cut the crap and call things the way they are.

-The end-

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Recall Election in Venezuela: from democracy beacon to autocratic ridicule

This weekend Venezuela, or rather the CNE, held the signature drive for next year possible Recall Elections. It was a total bust, reminding me of the words of Groucho Marx (?) "what if you threw a party and no one came?". I do not know if Groucho ever thought of these words but had he planned this weekend events to be utterly ridiculous he would not have succeeded any better than the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE.

Readers of this blog should not be surprised: in April 27 I had already predicted that the event would be a fiasco. Well, if it became noteworthy it is because it worked out so badly. As I am typing, of the hundred plus signature drives it is possible that at most a couple of them might end up in a recall election to be held in a couple of months, and they would be internal chavista affairs. Since I have already covered the mechanisms and the main reasons on why the Recall Election system in Venezuela was gutted of all meaning as a civil right, let's just review briefly what happened and the reactions of some players that seemed to be surprised by the lousy result.

The result

Pathetically empty polling places. Only in some districts were there is an internal chavista mini civil war did the recall election signature drive held any appeal. In at least 90% of the cases, be the elected position belong to chavismo or the opposition, no one bothered: the attendants were spending their weekend playing domino or gossiping. In many districts, a majority of them it seems, the people "asking for the recall election" did not even send witnesses!!!!!

Why it failed?

The Tascon list

Since the Tascon list no one wants anymore to post his or her name to a piece of paper that could be used against you someday. The system set up by the CNE in 2004 during the recall election against Chavez in fact killed the secret of vote in Venezuela. No one, chavista or not, who is not out in the open with its politics will go and sign a Recall Election drive. For those who doubted that, well, the results of this week end demonstrate pathetically, yet dramatically, how the notion of democracy in Venezuela is all but dead.

There is no looking for excuses: the Tascon list and the obscene support and later casual dismissal by Chavez of that fascist tool has done more harm to Venezuelan democracy than perhaps anything else besides the take over of the Judicial power by Chavez and his minions. Nothing short of a severe punishment to Tascon and to the people who used that list to discriminate in Venezuela on political grounds could ever bring back trust in Venezuelan elections. For those not aware of this topic and the moral devastation it brought I have several links on the right hand of this blog.

The speciousness of the recall drives

But if this was not enough, the casual and out of touch with reality
attitude that the CNE took in setting up this year election drive killed any chance of that democratic tool to be of any use.

To begin with, the CNE decided to regulate tightly what should be a spontaneous popular organization to remove elected officials that do not please their subjects. In fact the rules set up backfired badly as some pro Chavez obscure organization did set up the large majority of the recall elections. Through legal artifacts they called for them without demonstrating that there was some popular feel for such elections. Thus from the very start the recall election process of this year looked more like an internal chavista knife throwing contest than any justified popular corrective measure.

Why did the CNE fell into that trap? Well, I suppose that no one went to set up that trap really, but trap it was. The reason why the CNE so carelessly went ahead even though early signs were pointing out to a potential bust was that the CNE tried to correct for its abuses of 2004. As all chavista employees, of which the CNE is just a branch, they thought that their will was enough for any correction, and perhaps that Chavez would waste his political capital on the recall elections. But RCTV and students in the middle, Chavez had much bigger fry to deal with than some local lousy officials and the CNE angst.

The CNE board thus demonstrated that 1) it has no political savvy, 2) it is incompetent and 3) they are mere bureaucrats that work under orders: when the orders do not come, they flounder!

The CNE should be asked why it allowed such a failure, why it spent so much money on something that weeks ago was predicted to be a bust. Because it cost a lot of money: employees paid extra to work weekends; equipment rental; the finger printing machines (which by themselves are a counter incentive in Venezuela); security personnel; food; etc.... millions of dollars gone to waste.

The uselessness of it all, anyway

The Venezuelan voter is no fool after all, even if it accepts Chavez to buy his or her vote. The mechanism set by the CNE was so ridiculous that no one could get bothered. After all, if you sign today, with all the risks that are attached to it, the vote would take place only later this year, BARELY a year before that official that you so dislike must face reelection. So, why take a chance when at most you cut down the term of the said official from 4 to 3 years?

The CNE is the only one to blame for this. In 2003, to help Chavez, it dismissed the signatures taken by the opposition in early 2003. The argument then was that signatures could not be taken BEFORE the midterm, as people needed to reach a mid term to evaluate fairly the elected official, in this case Chavez. So, having to accept a ridiculous precedent, the CNE last year decided that it would not hear of any recall election petition before October 31 2006. And since the presidential election was in December, the CNE servilely decided that nothing should cloud the presidential election and thus nobody would be allowed to present a petition before sometime in 2007, AFTER the CNE finally got around to set up rules that it should have set BEFORE the 2004 Recall Election.

In fact, we can see the the CNE is more than incompetent: a case can be made that the CNE has been actively involved in gutting the civil right that petitioning for a recall election is.


The civil right that appeared in the 1999 constitution as to subject elected officials to recall elections is dead. Tascon and the CNE have effectively killed this for good. Whatever hope of recovery that some chavista had (the opposition stayed clear from it, knowing full well the implications of 2004), it was more than smashed today. We had Tibisay Lucena trying to put the blame elsewhere pretending that it was not for the CNE to promote these signatures drive. Was not her job, as CNE head, to verify that the petitions submitted were serious petitions? That real people were backing them?

But even worse, pathetic and even despicable, was Jose Vicente Rangel words today trying to put the blame on the opposition!!!!! The ex-vice president, the one that allowed application of the Tascon list in his offices in 2003, said that the opposition should have promoted these drives. Forgetting to mention that the opposition did very few petitions, the large bulk coming from chavismo itself. And forgetting even more conveniently to observe that the petitions against opposition officials were failing equally to the anti chavista petitions! Poor Jose Vicente, he will say anything for a laugh!

But the truth is that now Venezuelans know very well that the only power that truly matters is the one of Chavez and that there is no point wasting time, energy and money on underlings, elected or appointed. Same difference. By ignoring this weekend signature process, the Venezuelan people in fact acknowledges that Venezuela is not a democracy anymore!

-The end-

RCTV: debunking the bunk

some people did not like my argumentations that the closing of RCTV was just that, a censorship closing.

So, let's have you visit Alexandra Beech and tell me if you can counter her arguments.

-The end-

Monday, June 18, 2007

French Legislative elections: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

These French Electoral season has been a box full of surprises. One year ago, strong from the victory at the regional elections and the European Referendum rejection all bets were for a presidential victory for a socialist candidate. In a year Nicolas Sarkozy turned all tables and got a month ago a solid, very solid victory by French standards against the hapless socialist candidate Segolene Royal. Over the weeks that followed all polls were giving a crushing victory to the UMP right. The first round ballot results of last Sunday seemed to confirm that tendency when in a very unusual result 20% of seats were won outright, when the norm is closer to 10%.

And tonight the ones with smiles glued on their faces are the socialists even if the next parliament will be controlled by the UMP. What happened? How come the victors look like they were defeated?

As usual hubris and excessive self confidence can explain why the UMP failed to gain the 400+ seats that were expected. And thus, even as they win the election, it is a maimed victory that will jeopardize the Sarkozy agenda for the next five years. Make no mistake, the UMP will rule, but the opposition will be strong enough that whatever Sarkozy does not bag in parliament by the and of the year will never happen. With a 400+ victory Sarkozy would have gotten a full year honeymoon. Now he will have to settle for a quarter and maybe some more with luck and strong political skills.

The reason is quite simple. When the new Fillon cabinet was named a month ago it started by a program of tax incentives that, no matter how the UMP tried to hide it, favored folks who already had some money. The idea was of course to try to promote more investment in France and boost the economy growth. It did work in some countries and it certainly was worth trying in France which seemed blocked for years.

The problem is that such a loss of income must be compensated from somewhere, even more so in a welfare state of the size of France. The right had no better idea than to leak a possible increase in sales tax, and clumsily labeling it "social sales tax". And it did that this week, in between the two round vote. I suppose that Fillon and Sarkozy truly thought that they had a lock on 400 seats and they decided to gamble. Such a measure in France could only pass in time of a great crisis, not the case today, or after a major electoral victory. Not only it failed miserably as the left encountered an unexpected last minute boost, but it cost the right 56 seats from the previous parliament. That is, instead of adding seats to their majority, the right loses more than 50.

Personally I am not upset. I thought that a projected 440 seats parliament for the right was too much. Not that democracy would be threatened since in France there are institutions, not the case of Venezuela where the 100% monochromatic assembly is sponsoring democracy demise. But the right in France has no common sense and the larger its majorities, the more mistakes they make. Good right wing French governments were always when the right had a narrow lead in parliament. If history is to be repeated, the Fillon government might now have a chance to be a smash hit.

The left does not have much to crow anyway. Until last Monday, before the sales tax scandal started, it was looking at the possibility of having less than 100 seats in the parliament and be thus a token opposition. And now this surprise reprieve will in fact open the gates for thorough recomposition. The Socialist party owes its "victory" tonight to the center votes this time going all to them at the second round (more than half of them went for Sarkozy one month ago!). And that as a courtesy of a political miscalculation that will go into the annals of French political history. The socialists were unable to motivate their voters and got that boost from elsewhere than their programs or candidates.

What is in store for the socialists is a revision of heir ideology and programs, looking for a way toward the center of the political spectrum to either reach an alliance with the disappointed Bayrou voters, or absorb them. Along the way they risk breaking with the radical left. Worse, they risk breaking their own party as a large faction of the socialist party wants to tighten its bonds to the radical left (Fabius) and another faction wants to become a real social democrat party (Strauss-Kahn, Royal?). The clean up within the socialist party had started tonight already when its first secretary reelected is known not to seek a new term in the next year socialist congress, but also when he and Royal announced that they are splitting ways: it seems that Royal now with grown up children and a socialist party to conquer and rejuvenate does not need a hubby anymore.

There were other good news: the Communist party only got 18 seats. More perhaps than expected a week ago but still not enough to form a parliamentarian group which requires 20 deputies. There is a renewal in store for the commies, either become socialists once and for all, or join the radical Trotskyte left.

All in all I am satisfied with the results. Sarkozy will have the means to effect the necessary changes but his possible excesses will be reined in. The socialists will be in a better position to do a serious aggiornamento. A 100 seats representation could have browbeat them into a scared fake unity and a postponement of their internal reforms. Now there are enough of them to divide if necessary, plus three national elections to settle their internal issues before the next presidential and parliamentary vote. The Communists keep on their way down and the radical crowd is unable to place even one seat. As for the extreme right National Front, it is back to its historical low.

Other things

First, let's observe that again, with paper ballots individually counted, about a couple of hours after the last polling station was closed we had the all but exact composition of the National Assembly. Here in Venezuela, well, you know....

French cartography is good. Liberation already has the map and the total vote count of the second round. The Le Monde map is better but not quite complete yet. So Libé it is (the above one is from Le Monde by the way)

From this we can see clearly the division in France. Areas of modern industries, of European oriented economy, of services, of large immigrant population, tended to vote any shade of blue (Paris, the Parisian West, the East, the South East, Lyon). The areas voting from pink to red are the areas of a more agrarian nature, more afraid of change, of old economical tradition now in trouble (the old mining North, the South West far from European buzz, except for the resort areas all voting blue, agroindustrial Brittany).

-The end-

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chavez back from Cuba: his reply to all is MORE SOCIALISM!

Sometimes I think that the only person in Venezuela who thinks, or pretends to think that all is fine is Chavez. We could argue ad nauseam that things are more or less going good or bad, but anyone that has to drive through Venezuelan roads can see all the squatters here and there, all the industrial plants which have been now closed for more than 3 years, all the immense traffic delays due to deteriorated roads or people protesting, etc, etc... Maybe things are improving for some, but problems seem to be piling up. And I am not even talking about Venezuela having the highest inflation rate, by far, of Lat Am, or of the student unrest that does not show any sign of abatement as successful march succeeds another successful rally.

In front of mounting trouble Chavez did what he does usually: escape to Cuba for a few days. Now that Castro is healthy enough to discuss politics some, Chavez went to look for new inspiration. The results came today through a lengthy cadena, an unusual event on a Saturday and yet another sure sign of worries inside the government. So, trying to seize back the agenda held by the students, Chavez went on a new rampage of promises and threats:

* 200 socialist industries will be opened. Nobody knew that they were that many planned, if they were. But Chavez tells us that 200 will be opened and that we should not be afraid. Huh? Why would the opening of an industrial facility should be scary? Or is he subliminally trying to let us know that maybe some of these "socialist" industries will come from private sector take over? Sometime reassurances can be infinitely scarier than the initial statement! Apparently some of these industries will be in the weaponry sector as Venezuela will build its first grenades and rockets.

* No more decentralization. Time to go back to central planning at all levels. Not only projects from municipalities, states and nation must must be centralized from now on, but the administrative autonomy of state enterprises is over. Now a new centralized planning by strategic categories must preside over these state business (and the 200 new ones we assume).

* Forget about rejoining the Andean Community even if Uribe and Morales (strangely absent from the Havana conclave) asked Venzuela to do. Instead he invited them to join the ALBA, that COMECON for LatAm.

So there we have, a new sharp turn to the left is announced. Expect further drop in investments, further dollars escaping Venezuela, further inflation, further scarcities, further socialism of the good old days. No more of that bullshit of XXI century socialism, this is a sharp turn toward a more coherent communism Cuban style, the only thing that senile Castro can offer Chavez, and Chavez is stupid and ignorant enough to buy.

But this is probably doomed for the same failure as any previous plans. The only positive result of all of this for Chavez will be yet more power in his hands. We, the people, well, let's start discussing about ration cards as now the few stores who sell cooking oil, limit purchase to one liter per customer.

One who is not fooled at all is Zoellick, the nominee for the World Bank seat left vacant by Wolfowitz love life. In no uncertain terms he suggested that Chavez was welcome to leave the World Bank, that he was not needed there. Meaningless bravado? Or something deeper? In the latest Zeta Rafael Poleo suggests that actually the US is rooting for Chavez to act crazier and crazier on the economy (no link, sorry). Dark clouds are crowding over Venezuela as the fight against inflation is failing calamitously and as importations are increasing constantly while oil production remains a mystery. A bankruptcy of Venezuela would deliver Venezuelan oil to US interests without any need for invasion. Granted not this year or next, but soon enough at the very least privatization of PDVSA will be the only way for the government to bail itself out of the coming crisis.

But apparently a commie economy is not the only thing that Chavez brought back from Havana. Castro must have told him that he could not let the student movement get any more strength, that it was too dangerous at a moment where Venezuelan oil money was more necessary than ever to consolidate the nascent ALBA (or was that corpse like Cuba?). Elizabeth Burgos, fine connaiseur of the Castro dynamic duo, suggested as much in Zeta. Today announcement of Interior Minister Pedro Carroña, opps! sorry! Carreño I meant, that students should not get anymore any marching permit points out that way. All of this while hypocritically Chavez also said today that it was great to see students protest, that it was a proof of democracy. That students protest for the loss of democracy in Venezuela does not seem to have registered with Chavez...

As I have written long ago, Carreño has the psychological profile of a killer and lately we see this developing quite well. A declaration like today where he accuses the dissenting students of being fascists points out this way. It is clear that the recent actions of other killers like Bernal are showing that the government is getting increasingly impatient with a movement it cannot control and against which it is lacking any alternative strategy. Fascist simplistic ideas, even if disguised under commie economic talk, will tend to follow the course of violence. Carreño is now openly threatening the students. We will see....

-The end-

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The XXI century socialism honey moon passed: Chavez meets its 02/27

OpEd pages are fond to make comparisons between Chavez and Carlos Andres Perez, CAP, the former president who Chavez tried to unset in 1992. And eerily some of these comparisons do hold because both are ambitious loud mouthed politicos, except for one basic difference, CAP is a democrat and Chavez is not.

It seems now that the closing of RCTV will have been the equivalent for Chavez of the riots of February 1989 for CAP. Then, freshly elected with a strong mandate based on more than 50% of the popular vote, CAP decided to launch a shock therapy and apply a neo-liberal economic system to Venezuela. Whether the system was indeed neo-liberal is not the point here, the point is that the people who elected CAP for one thing, were getting another and did not like it.

CAP first term in the 70ies was when populism started in all earnest in Venezuela. This first major oil boom, followed by an oil bust under his successor Herrera, allowed CAP to have a very pro nationalist and very social services and cash payment policies. It included nationalization of the oil industry, all sorts of social programs, corruption wherever you looked at, and even gifts to foreign country such as ships to landlocked Bolivia. Nothing that Chavez did not do in the 8 years he has been sitting at Miraflores. But CAP had two achievement for which I personally will be in debt: decreto 21 which allowed Venezuela to have decent toilets outside of Caracas and FUNDAYACUCHO of which I was one recipient. Chavez has yet to boast of two successful programs such as these, programs that improved durably the quality of life for Venezuelans we must travel around the country and programs that opened the world to a new generation of Venezuelans who went to study overseas and brought home the idea that there surely should be a better way to do things than what CAP himself was proposing…. An idea which, by the way, seems finally to come home to roost even if three decades went by.

But CAP 2 was about something else. Neo-liberalism, “très en vogue” then, was applied as a shock therapy right after CAP was sworn into office. The people who voted with the memory of the populist first term of CAP never accepted it. It started with the February 27 riots. But even if the programs started to bring in some positive results by the end of CAP tenure, he never recovered from his shaky start, receiving in 1992 two coup attempts before he was finally ejected out of office by his own party on a corruption trial that would look ridiculous in the corruption investigations of this Bolivarian Republic.

With the closing of RCTV and the student protests of these past weeks we can see again eerily a repeat of our social movements for the same causes with a similar arrogance blinded leadership. Through 2006, even if there was some talk of XXI century socialism, people pretty much voted again for Chavez because they were thinking Misiones and cash grants. They were thinking populism in the now traditional Venezuelan paradigm. But what did they get? Constitutional change, hard socialism, promises of gasoline increases, nationalizations that made no sense, closing of RCTV and more. All read as hardships, even if Chavez pretended to pass them as necessary hardship on the way to an idealized socialist society. In other words, the aggressiveness of Chavez post December 3 was perceived like a shock therapy of sorts, and, well, people are not buying it.

The closing of RCTV had the same catalyzing effect that the public transport price increase of 1989 did. If we did not get riots in Venezuela this time, yet, we got a creative and pacifist student movement. And we are seeing already the first effects of this movement as some stirring is clearly detected in the barrios of Chavez. Not necessarily as solidarity with the students, but because of an understanding in the population at large that something is not working. If the students are worrying about freedom of expression, the barrios are working about empty shelves, about not being able to get in a single shopping step all of their basic food items. The marching students, the closing of RCTV are suddenly starting to give a new, dissenting voice in some popular neighborhoods who are not willing to give up on what Chavez has given to them, but who are not buying the next moves of Chavez.

You doubt that effect? Look at the government. Talk of the urgent increase in gasoline price has been ended. Constitutional change discussion has been postponed until next year. Chavez even announced that no new nationalizations were necessarily and surprisingly producers are finding the ministry doors opening again for private business to discuss ways to increase prices as the only way to generate the necessary investment to increase production. Oh, all very discrete of course, but very real even if behind Chavez back. In fact, things (polls for example) must be bad enough that Chavez had to travel to Havana without warning, even summoning Ortega of Nicaragua, to resource himself as he suddenly lost the political agenda of the country to a few thousand students marching in the streets with painted white hands as sole weapons.

There, the only thing Chavez can find to say while in Cuba is that he is discussing the opening of a cooking gas plant in Cuba when shortages of cooking gas in Venezuela are becoming a problem. Just as it happened to his nemesis CAP in 1989, Chavez is safely in power but has suddenly lost his touch. The consequences of this will not play out today, but will play out later in unexpected ways. Maybe Chavez will come from Havana ready for repression. Maybe he will eventually be ousted from office by his own people who have no desire to sink with their boss or lose their amassed riches. Just as it happened in 1993 with CAP.

One thing is certain, any political honey moon that Chavez might have had in December 2006 is now completely gone.

-The end-