Friday, August 31, 2007

Weil and the Constitutional "reform"

What I like with cartoonist Weil is that when I am too busy to write he has some cartoon worth the thousand of words I could come up with.

The legend is a pun of sort between "probar" taste and "aprobar" approve. The translation: you cannot taste (approve) one portion, you have to taste it as a whole.

Though I do disagree with the cartoon: the size of the turd should be, in my modest opinion, infinitely larger than the roasted fowl.

-The end-

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A follow up to Rory Caroll in Alo Presidente

Late Sunday I wrote on that day's Alo Presidente and how it announced the unfolding of Chavez campaign for the next weeks at least. But I also noted how Chavez treated the few attending press who thought that, well, maybe Chavez attended to press questions. Namely I am talking of Rory Carroll who today gave his report on last Sunday in the Guardian. Chavez did not make a friend. Read the article, no additional comment needed from yours truly, except from some self patting on my back.

-The end-

A few simple ideas for the political opposition in Venezuela

I am watching with increasing preoccupation the stumbles of the Venezuelan political opposition barely two weeks after Chavez officially announced his constitutional plans. In fact, considering that preliminary polls seem to indicate that the majority of the country would be rejecting the referendum as presented now, in spite of the candy included such as a 30 hours work week for most in Venezuela (1), I am not seeing the opposition moving assertively to capitalize on such an initial advantage.

I mean, some things are taking place but I see no coordination of effort, and some wild declarations that could come back later biting in the rear those who uttered them. For example Rosales speaks, recklessly, of 130 000 units to be activated to argue around the country against the said referendum. 130 000? Who is he kidding? I would laugh my head off if the PSUV would state such a bold claim: with Rosales I feel like weeping when I read such braggadocio.

Meanwhile the usual suspects are already claiming that we should stay at home massively on referendum day. They are of course not telling us what to do to actually stop Chavez, nor are they volunteering to lead a new march to Miraflores to remove Chavez from office. What gives? How long are we going to allow them to pretend that they lead us?

Finally the softer opposition thinks that one way or the other they will force Chavez to accept the 344. I mean, it is right to ask for it to show that Chavez is not a democrat, but it seems that actually PJ and the MAS might be believing that Chavez will see the light and suddenly will allow to split the proposal in 3 voting blocks. When will Julio Borges get it? We are not in democracy anymore and unless you are willing to take personal chances to force for the 344 to be applied, then you should abstain to speak on that.

The other day I wrote extensively on the things that the opposition should be considering doing. I am not expecting the political opposition to even read my ideas but anyway I will try to give them some suggestions again. They will not read them I am sure but at least it will be written somewhere so on December 10, when disaster befalls on us I will be able to wash my hands from the whole mess. Note: this post does not concern the dissident students and NGO such as Radar de los Barrios as their strategy is of course different from the one of the political opposition.

In no particular order:

- Create some coordinating commission of acceptable intellectuals. Put them in charge to publish every couple of days a rebuttal item per item from every single proposal of Chavez. One single item, two days of full exposure by all. But the political opposition itself should not descend much into the debate, just hammering on “NO to Chavez forever, 2012 is enough” ("Chavez hasta el 2012"?) and taking up what the commission says, according to every political group flavor. That way you do counter the proposal but you do not risk to be ensnared by the chavista trap. The commission? A couple of well known human rights lawyers, Teodoro Petkoff, a couple of reputable journalists, a prominent ex-chavista as the spokes person, no more than a dozen folks in total. And they should travel to announce their comments so that all of the country is visited, told, each main city taking turns to debate one of the proposals.

- Meet. Create a summit where all the non-abstention folks get together and decide to split strategies. If PJ wants to do the 344, and COPEI wants to go door to door, fine, but make it appear as if you had decided to share the tasks.

- Announce clearly that abstention is an option and that the bad CNE will be sole responsible for it. But also say that the debate will be done on a possible abstention strategy late October at the earliest. Invite the chronic abstentionists to either join the campaign until late October or shut up at least until then, or offer right now a post election strategy. Be clear and forceful on that: demand that they tell you what will they do after the vote, no matter what the results are.

- Create an electoral commission. Let it alone deal with the CNE. Say to the the CNE that that commission, that should include SUMATE (I will in another post why), is your representative. Let that commission deal with the CNE and IGNORE THE CNE YOURSELVES. It will be always time to go late October and wage war on the CNE. The CNE is not the issue right now. That commission should be a small group of respected lawyers, plus someone from SUMATE and someone from Ojo Electoral, to force them to take position. If they refuse, then they will have demonstrated their pro Chavez bent and we will not need to worry about them anymore.

- Advertise overseas. Look at chavismo: it is already preparing an international propaganda blitz. Prepare a half dozen teams of trained people willing to travel on short notice to attend important forums, visit important newspapers and politicians overseas. And do not send the tired old guard of Timoteo Zambrano or Asdrubal Aguiar. Their time is gone thought they should be asked to work hard at organizing the meetings. You need to show that there is a grassroots movement against the constitutional coup d’etat and you will only create this through new faces, of all ages, all races, both sexes, all social conditions. Each traveling group should be accompanied by a seasoned expert who makes the contacts but those who speak should be workers, students, churchmen, bloggers, journalists, home makers, business people, whatever. Groups formed according to the country visited, no more that 5 people are necessary per group. Remember, their work will be crucial for the after December 9 vote, in preparing a favorable opinion overseas to support democracy if Chavez starts cheating of becomes rough if the polls are not good to him. These people should be picked and trained through September and should travel through October mostly.

- And also create a local welcome group of grassroots origins so that visiting journalists do not fall into the same "escualido" traps as before. You can learn from chavismo there. Take this journalists to visit clear examples of autocracy, of refusal to account for actions, show them that what Chavez wants is more power so that he can hide his failures better.

- Tell the media to be wise and inform. As the proposals get better understood many chavistas will have second thoughts. Convince the media that the debate is against Chavez remaining after 2012, not just against Chavez.

- And please, please, no pretty posturing. The republic’s fate is at stake. If Chavez wins convincingly YOU WILL BE ALL OUT OF A JOB; IF NOT IN JAIL SOON. So, for once, share, cooperate, and do not dish each other. Otherwise we will all stay home no matter what you say. In fact, you might become so irrelevant that we
will do what the students and Radar de los Barrios tells us to do (do not miss Miguel translation here).

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

1) the proposal if for 36 hours a week, no more than 6 a day. Since a majority of Venezuelan business and public administration work only five days and people WILL NOT go back to work on Saturdays, the work week will effectively be reduced to 30 hours, same paycheck. The reader can imagine the consequences for the country of 25% less production suddenly. Of course, the rank and file chavista that Chavez seeks to mobilize has no clue.

-The end-

Monday, August 27, 2007

Il Gattopardo

Tonight I watched the classic "Il Gattopardo". I had never seen it before, and I cannot believe it. It is of course a superb epic. But too close to home for comfort.

During the film I could not help myself to be drawn back to the current Venezuelan situation, Il Gattopardo would explain much better than anything else why the old line Venezuelan opposition is failing so miserably in countering Chavez. Many of them are simply trying to take advantage of the situation. Look at Cisneros: could there be a better Tancredi in Venezuela today? And you know that Cisneros are arrivists from 50 years ago who married in the old oligarchy and are now the new oligarchy trying to pull out some survival scheme.

Maybe we are all a country of Tancredi. Maybe with Chavez we must all say "Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga come è, bisogna che tutto cambi". If we want that all remains the same we need to change all. When we see the 800 000 flying bag or the privileges grossly flaunted by the new bolibourgeois social class we must wonder whether di Lampedusa is alive and well in Venezuela

-The end-

The campaign Chavez will run

Today we got a serious hint as to how Chavez will run the referendum campaign: a referendum/election that is once more set on him, his persona, his character. Love it or leave it, literally. The opposition will be well advised to realize this ASAP.

This morning I woke up with a migraine. So, after 800mg of Ibuprofen I went back to bed until I could emerge in a daze around 11AM (no, no hard partying last night, I just suffer of recurrent migraines). I suppose that the Ibuprofen having left me numb, as I surfed TV at low volume I saw the beginning of today's Alo Presidente. I admit that I never watch it though on occasion I will watch a cadena. But Chavez was in an Oriente beach, a region that I particularly know and care for. So, the dumbness helping I decided to veg out in front of the TV. I was not disappointed: soon he was removing his shoes and waded into the water to met some children that were enthusiastically waiting for the chance. All with that arranged spontaneity" that characterizes so well the regime made for TV shows.....

I will pass on the lame comments on how he wished that he could go and take a dive in the water but he was "enslaved" to his job. The thing is that right then and there I understood what would the campaign of Chavez be: trust me, I love you, I love your kids, vote for these "reforms" and you will be the better for it. There will be no debate, nothing, just the same love me, hate the non-rojo-rojito folks of last year.

Of course, seeing Chavez ruining his tailor made pants by wading in the water for show was too much for me, I shut the TV and went for a cold shower. But tonight as I checked out the headlines of the day, that impression I had was widely confirmed.

The tidbits were juicy and point out to Chavez circling the wagons and preparing once again his "it is us against them". Perhaps the worst offense was for CNN female journalists that made fun of his wish to change Venezuela's time zone. On that account he should also insult me who excoriated his ridiculous decision much worse that the Colombian born anchors of CNN. In fact Chavez went ahead and said that it was a shame that "latinas" would make fun of Chavez. It was not a lapsus bruti, it was a deliberate attack on CNN: he repeated at least three times that it was a shame that "latinas" would make fun of him. While of course giving the usual anti media cum imperium speech. If you doubt me you can listen Chavez own words, nicely offered in a short clip by RNV, the state propaganda radio system. They actually think that Chavez did good, unbelievable!

You can hear here Chavez as his most vulgar, machista, manipulator self; but also at his most offended. Because that he had to go against CNN that strongly only verifies what I wrote about: he made his own that time zone proposal and he is personally offended when people point out how ridiculous and out of touch with the real needs of the country Chavez has become, even if he carries kids in his arms while ruining his tailor made slacks paid by the tax payer. By the way, Chavez could not advance anything but banalities as to the change of official hour, just "studies" that we would love to see. But peer review is probably not inside chavista lexicon.

But RNV also carries another victim of chavismo anger: European public opinion who is very perturbed about Chavez
wishes for life presidency. And in this case we even have another journalist, from the Guardian nothing less, who did not get insulted like the CNN ones, but was certainly not praised much. In fact I wonder what Rory Carroll thought about the "special" research report that was done by the constitutional commission (named by Chavez alone, let's not forget). That commission wasted precious tax payer money for something that this blogger would have gladly have done for free: to find out that there are no term limits in many European countries. But I am sure that this report did not carry the considerable restraints that exist in Europe that make it possible that parliamentarian systems have no term limits, or that kings and queens do not need to be submitted to recall election, as Chavez grossly joked about. It is always amazing when willful ignorance is presented as virtue and I suppose that in a regime of mediocrity ignorance must look as a virtue. Note: I wonder if it would take me as long to trash that report as it took me to expose how ignorant of the French political system Chavez is.

But anyway, these plus the announcement that 5% of the budget will be for direct transfer to the comunas the tone was set, in my opinion, for the coming campaign. People of course will forget that the 25% due to the states was never fulfilled thinking that perhaps a meager 5% might actually percolate to them. My opinion on that is that the 5% will go ONLY to chavista communities, and will be skimmed largely for political purposes before something truly trickles down. But I am such a cynic....

The tone will be clearly US AGAINST THEM. The campaign again will be aggressive. Debate and discussion will be absent. Chavez will never be questioned and if a journalist manages to sneak in a question like today, he will be put in his or her place (another Chinese journalist was nicely trying to get a more precise meaning for XXI century socialism and will return home not much wiser). And if you doubt me for a second look at the more than fascist declarations of corrupt Miranda governor Diosdado Cabello saying that those who do not like Chavez or the reform are welcome to leave, that there is enough people around Chavez and that we are not neded.

So, what is the opposition to do? I will not change yet what I wrote about it a couple of days ago, but I would like to add something: saying NO just tot he reelection could end up become counter productive because it will help Chavez make this contest a referendum on him and not his proposals. And that, my friends, he has a very good chance to win without cheating! He has learned long ago how to manipulate an ignorant base that could not care less whether there are terms limits in Estonia or whether the Central Bank is autonomous. For them the only question that matters is "what is in it for me?".

If we make this campaign an us against Chavez then stupid proposals such as the 36 hours will be seen by some as a guarantee to get more money for less work, EVEN if they are currently unemployed. That is the wonder when you deal with an electorate whose largest chunk has been kept in ignorance since well before Chavez. He certainly has not tried to change that. Did you know that the SAT this year in Venezuela gave 70% of high school graduates with not enough skills to attempt college? (1)

So it is going a little bit more tricky than expected to campaign. Saying NO to reelection and sticking to it could backfire dramatically. And even trying to stick to corruption alone, to bags full of cash alone might not be enough. Time for the leadership of the opposition to rise to the challenge. So far I see very little of it, which might explain why Chavez is already going to the "me or them" thing: to knock off the opposition effort from the very start!

A ruined pair of slacks is a very small price to pay for yet another victory.

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

1) Confidential report from a friend working in one of the education ministries. This predicted result is certainly why Chavez wants to suppress the Venezuelan SAT equivalent so as to force the universities to accept more students even if these have no chance to succeed. I am waiting by the way for the comparison between private school and public school SAT result.

-The end-

Saturday, August 25, 2007

It is 8 or 8:30 AM at Reina del Guaraira Repano

I have been resiting very hard to fall into the nincompoopness that a discussion on the time change in Venezuela would invariably lead. But I did find an angle, and you can read it in the title of this brief post: it is all about Chavez megalomania. The poor guy is so tired of not being able to solve such problems as housing, milk distribution, meat production, unemployment, crime and yet more crime, kidnapping and yet more kidnapping that he must resort to the only visible things that might give to a few misguided souls the impression that Chavez is actually solving pressing problems of the Nation.

So in the new constitution he includes the change in name of Caracas. Now the area or the city, I did not quite understand, will be called Cuna de Bolivar and Reina del Guaraira Repano (Birth Place of Bolivar and Queen of the Guararaira Repano, the mountain range that borders the Northern edge of Caracas in what is supposedly the old native tongue of the locals, though many disagree on the reality of that as that tongue has long disappeared). Fortunately even though it will be a mouthful to pronounce we already know how will be called the inhabitants of this new territorial unity: Dumbasschavistas. In fact, whenever Chavez feels epochal, such at election times, he changes some republican symbol. He changed the flag of Venezuela in 2006. He changed the name of Venezuela in 1999. He changed the name of October 12 in 2005. And so on. Amazingly the sycophants around him applaud as if their souls were about to experience some Pentecostalist speaking in tongues revival by chanting endlessly "Reina del Guaraira Repano!".

The change of time zone is to be understood exactly under that guise: it has nothing to do with what benefit the people, no scientific study has been performed, no large scale consultation has been done that I know of, that has been published. It has all to do with yet another expression of the reactionary Chavez, the one who wants to go back to an imaginary past, to bring back Venezuela to its obscurantist past where strong men ruled and the grateful people followed. When president Leoni's administration decided to advance the clocks by half an hour it was actually considered that Venezuela was advancing to modernity, that it was leaving its provincial and backwater ways to become a modern country fitting its rhythms to the rest of the world. Now, going back to Caracas solar time we will be again the laughing stock of the world.

The "brain" behind this stupid idea is Hector Navarro, the science minister, certainly not a brilliant scientist himself. When he was minister of higher education a few years ago he was distinguished by being one of the small circle of ministers that was seen more often at a Chavez rally than behind its desk. Today Chavez rotates better his ministers at his meeting, having probably sensed that seeing the same faces around all the time started looking weird even to his followers. At any rate, Navarro speaks of a "hormonal peak" that would be related with daylight and thus by retrograding the time by half an hour we are going to fool the hormonal balance of Venezuelan school kids. The imbecility of it is troubling. Does the minister ignore that the main problems for the health of these kids that he tries to protect is the exceedingly long commute in Caracas when they go to school, that that is why they must get up so early to begin with? Does he not know that the insalubrious conditions of the barrios is much more likely to affect these kids than a failed hormonal growth peak? How out of touch have become chavista servants?

So Navarro, unable to come up with any great scientific research project for Venezuela (all the good scientists are leaving anyway), dusted off his earlier proposal for a more humane time zone. Humane for whom? For Maracaibo folks? For Caracas folks? For Puerto Ordaz folks? Does it not know that whatever time
zone a large country is, solar time will be accurate for only a few? That the only countries that have even day time sun time are North-South countries such as Chile or the UK? Fortunately we did not need to wait for that to discover that Navarro was a silly man, blinded by his puppy love for Chavez. And Chavez of course could not resit a proposal that would show to the world that he does whatever he wants in Venezuela, that will piss off all international airlines that fly to Venezuela, that will piss off all the international cable operators, Internet, stocks exchanges, etc, etc... costing who knows what to Venezuela in expensive software update.

The fair question is who will benefit form this time change in a tropical country such as Venezuela where the daytime length varies by barely an hour between Winter and Summer. Nobody really. Tourists on Margarita who will have slightly longer afternoons to hit the beach? More than half the school kids in Venezuela will still wake up at full dark hours and if they are lucky will reach school when day breaks. Workers living in the barrios will actually be hurt by the measure: sometimes walking up the barrios path at dusk can be a matter of life and death as thugs make a point to rob the returning workers, particularly on Friday's night. For these unfortunate people, help is not half an hour of daylight anyway, it is better and faster public transport systems and more cops, much more cops in the barrios. But see, it is so much more easier to decree a change of half an hour rather than spend lots of time and money to train all the honest cops that Venezuela so badly needs.

That is why I love so much this change of daytime hour: nothing illustrates as well
the megalomaniac pathological condition that Chavez has reached than such stupid, unnecessary, useless measures. And how unscrupulous, how sycophantic his greedy entourage has become. Here you have it all, the utter lack of seriousness with which the country is run: a new time zone, a new name for Caracas, but as many crimes, as much poverty, as many street people, as much garbage lying around.

That is why in the constitutional reform proposals the real problem is Chavez forever at the helm; his proposals are irrelevant since he will do as he pleases when he pleases anyway. There is nothing to check him, and least of all the opinion of the people who voluntarily enslave themselves to his silliest biddings.

-The end-

A distant mirror?

This morning the Wall Street Journal regales us with an update on Georgia, three years after Mikheil Saakashvili became president of Georgia, following the Rose Revolution who ousted the old soviet dinosaur Shevardnadze. At first this one held some promise as a "moderate2 from the old soviet apparatus, but eventually he proved himself to be unable to think out of the sand box and sunk miserably in corruption, secession, permanent economic crisis, Russian pressures. A failed state.

But according to this review it looks that if Georgian problems are far from being solved at least Mr. Saakashvili has stirred things up and Georgia, in spite of a Russian economic blockade is thriving and has a real GDP growth that could be the envy of most countries in the world. And corruption went down!

Will Venezuela find its Saakashvili? While we dream on such a day I woudl like to underline some of the lines of that WSJ piece that simply hit too close to home for comfort:
I point down to the terrain beneath us and comment that if the well-regulated squares of green fields down below are any indication, Georgia's agriculture is doing well. "In Soviet times," he says, "all this was a chaotic mess. In contrast, you'd fly over Western Europe and see miles of perfectly cultivated land. . . . Now Georgia is the same. It's beautiful to look at. That's the aesthetic look of the free market."

I hope that reading this you thought about all the food items that are missing from Venezuelan shelves and how the productive lands of Venezuela are slowly transformed into semi productive lands but, oh1, in the hands of cooperatives that do not even hold a title to that land.
A day or two later, at a dinner for Georgian businessmen, the president delivers a speech hammering home his well-honed message of self-help. "The government is going to help you in the best way possible, by doing nothing for you, by getting out of your way. Well, I exaggerate but you understand. Of course we will provide you with infrastructure, and help by getting rid of corruption, but you have all succeeded by your own initiative and enterprise, so you should congratulate yourselves."

I hope that reading this you thought about all the Chavez speeches were greed is bad, where all must be done for the society and how the state will provide cooperativist entrepreneurs all that they need, including corruption I suppose.

And a little bit about the Russian system that Chavez admires so much. Any similarities with Venezuela are purely coincidental. My emphasis.
I ask him if the Russians are making a big push now with maximum pressure while they can, realizing that before long, consumer countries will develop alternate supply routes to avoid Russian strategic pressure. "No, I don't think the Russians are calculating logically or strategically," he says. "I think it's an emotional and volatile process for them. Logically, they should realize that stable relations all around will pay off for them more in the long run. Instead they're driving countries to find alternative partners . . ."

He also speaks about Russia's domestic anti-Georgian campaign. "It wasn't working very effectively until they actually went to all the schools and asked for a list of all the children with Georgian names. Suddenly, the parents realized this was serious. That and the endless corruption of the Russian system became unbearable for them--so now we have tens of thousands of qualified Georgians . . . coming back and repatriating their money to Georgia."

And the question that many of us ask ourselves in Venezuela (see for example preceding post over Insulza)
As night falls, back in the sky, we fly close enough to the Abkhazia border to see the contrast between well-lit Georgia and Russian darkness over the secessionist zone. From up above, and on the ground, the symbolism is clear enough.

But to Mr. Saakashvili, the more important issue might be: Is this distinction clear to his friends in the West--and how far will they go to stop the darkness from spilling over into Georgia?

-The end-

Insulza and the New York Times

Today we got an abject lesson on how credibility is done and undone.

Long time readers of this blog are aware of my love-hate relationship with the New York Times. At some point, seeing how the New York times seemed to have fallen under the sway of Juan Forero, how ignorant on the real intentions of Chavez it was, and how bad the reporting on Venezuela was, I had even canceled the daily E-mail I was receiving from them. For me it was hard. During my many years of living in the US the New York Times had been my constant companion, the newspaper that accompanied at home everyday when I lived in the North East coast, and the required Sunday reading when the South did not allow me the option of home delivery. From the Crossword (I have done on my own every single day except Sunday, I am not native speaker after all) to the Opera section going through the science page and the different "journals", I can say that my whole outlook on the US was strongly shaped by the NYT.

I am not reconciled with the NYT yet: it has done too much damage to Venezuelan democracy. However today I am forced to recognize that the departure of Juan Forero for the Washington Post (where surprisingly he has grown into a critic of Chavez) has allowed for a shift in the NYT view, a shift apparently greatly helped by much better and balanced reporting of their new correspondent, Simon Romero. But if I am still far from being happy (after all love-hate relationships are hard to overcome) I am nevertheless forced to accept that this progressive turn around of the NYT implies that there are reserves of self criticism within the newspaper. I am not expecting ever the NYT to apologize for being soft on Chavez for half a decade but the fact that a progressive U-turn took place is what ensures in the long term credibility, be it for a newspaper of for a politician.

Thus it is with utter amusement that I read the reaction of William Lara, the goebbelian minister of communication of Chavez when, based on the latest Times editorial, he stated that the New York Times was working for Bush. I am sure that even the beleaguered White House staff must have had a smile reading that today, not to mention the predictable hilarity at the NYT offices. I just hope for his sake that Lara is not going to kick out Romero: then he and his master will finally learn what the NYT power is (1).

If the New York Times seems to be taking a good measure of Chavez after its divine characterization of chavismo democracy as "It’s participatory democracy in which only Mr. Chavez and his friends get to participate" such good news cannot be said for the OAS secretary Insulza.

Mr. Insulza, called affectionately "the Panzer" in Chile has turned out to be the perfect wimp. Apparently he has taken so seriously his election to the OAS seat due to Chavez that he cannot bring himself to reply directly to Chavez even when this one insults him publicly. If we could forgive Insulza that his job requires him to be not as objective as the New York Times, we could still expect him to be a defender of democracy in the Americas. Unfortunately in now too numerous examples to bother repeating here he has paved the way out for Chavez abuses, the latest one when he all but ignored the closing of the main private media in Venezuela, RCTV. (2)

At any rate, Insulza wishy-washyness is coming home to root. Today the fire came from Jorge Quiroga, ex Bolivian president and the valiant leader to the autocratic tendencies of Evo Morales in Bolivia.

In Bolivia, since last Chavez visit, tensions have increased dramatically. Now Evo Morales people are trying to pack the high court of the country as the last tool they can rely on to take the absolute control of the stalled constituent assembly in Sucre. Dramatic fist fights are now common place among legislators in La Paz or constituent assembly folks in Sucre. Not to mention that about half of Bolivia seems every day more and more willing to declare its independence from the Altiplano. A high risk situation if any in all of South America.

The reaction of one of the main leaders of Bolivia's opposition to the adventures of Morales, duly inspired by the anti democratic bent of chavismo which is now proven to spread money around there to buy as many consciences as possible (it looks like bags of Venezuelan money are also going to Bolivia to buy consciences in Santa Cruz), was to be expected. What was not expected is that Quiroga would take upon Insulza directly and make him one of the responsible folks for the decay of democratic values in Latin America. Quiroga went as far as saying that OAS was an embarrassment for not having taken a position when RCTV was closed and that Insulza would be well advised to defend democracy instead of submitting himself to Chavez to whom he owes his position. In short, Quiroga has insulted Insulza as much as Chavez did except that he did that in diplomatic terms as opposed to the "pendejo" of Chavez (3). We wonder if Insulza will dare to reply something. At least I have the satisfaction not to be the only one that thinks that the OAS should in fact been chased away from any country where there are problems.

Thus we see Insulza now dragging down the OAS with his own incompetence, and lack of backbone and self respect. The only problem is that as Insulza and the OAS lose any credibility ("a calculated plan by Chavez" according to Quiroga) democracy in Latin America will suffer. Woe to Ecuador as Insulza is visiting Quito and patting Correa's back. simply stunning that someone who had a great reputation before he got the job is now becoming the laughing stock of all in LatAm, including Chavez. Can Insulza recover credibility someday? I am afraid he might be much more arrogant than the NYT.....

1) if the NYT editorial is not available on line anymore, you can read it here.

2) this blog has mentioned Insulza dismal failure as OAS secretary only too often even if at first there was some glimmer of hope from someone who supposedly should have known all the signs of an incipient strong ma regime in Venezuela. Unless he hopes that Chavez will finance his expected campaign run in Chile in two years?

3) there is also a strong anti Chavez interview of Quiroga where he accuses Evo of been submissive to Chavez and letting Chavez direct the general outline of the gas policies of Bolivia. In a Chilean journal at that!

-The end-

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Constitutional thoughts: things are evolving faster than expected or how 344 becomes 666

Two thoughts for tonight

I have reread in detail the constitutional proposal and thought about the different items. I could find only one minor item that could actually be good. All the rest is worse than what I thought at first. And I mean really, really bad. When you look into the finer details you can fin all sorts of things that are very dangerous because they open the modified constitution to future changes that will transform Venezuela into a commie country like Cuba. I doubt the success of the ultimate goal of Chavez for one very simple reason: as long as he cannot seal the border with Colombia, people will vote with their feet, contraband will exist, ideas will circulate and eventually anti Chavez guerrilla and terror groups will appear and flourish.

But that Chavez will finally fail is no consolation: the damage he will do to Venezuela will be comparable to what the Soviet Union did to Eastern Europe. And we will not even have the excuse to blame it on the Soviet invasion... thus I think that it is also necessary to discuss openly the constitutional proposal to show people that the presidency for life is not necessarily, in some aspects, the worst proposal, believe it or not!!!! Thus in spite of my initial reluctance I will have to write more on these proposals in future posts. Stay tuned.

The second thought is article 344. In my long post about what to do against the constitutional referendum I mentioned it as one possible anti Chavez weapon. Now I am thinking that it might be the main one. A 24 hours conversion you would say? Well, maybe. Yesterday and today indecent haste by the National Assembly to marshal through the referendum proposal discussion for a vote on December 9 at the latest is of course hiding something major. In normal countries, any constitutional reform is a discussion that takes the best of a year, when the changes are consensual and urgent. Here they are neither consensual nor urgent (at least not for the country, only for Chavez). In no particular order:

- Initial polls are not good for chavismo. Let's not forget that it is not just a matter of winning, the proposal is so grotesque that it needs a strong victory.

- The enabling law is running out of time. The delays in presenting the proposal, due we now know to its heretical nature towards freedom, have cut a lot into the lifetime of the enabling law of early this year and once the reform it approved Chavez will not even have 6 months to enact the dozens of laws he needs to enact to seal our fate once and for all. Even if legal, it is a coup d'etat that we are seeing and as this it must be conducted as fast as possible.

- Of course more economic bad news could happen. That is why we already see all sorts of distracting measures such as changing the Venezuelan time zone, a silly proposal if any! And who knows what the next corruption scandal might be! A trunk full of money in some bolivarian yatch?

And thus the sudden increased importance of the 344. Chavismo knew about the 344 but it did not think that Primero Justicia would take it up so fast. It also did not preview the unanimous rejection of the proposals by not only the opposition but by many ex chavistas silent until this week. Suddenly it seems that a 344 challenge is possible!!!! Heck, even that NYT editorial today must have come as a cold shower, not because it was unexpected, but because the speed at which it came.

The perversion, for chavismo, in the 344 is that the 33 proposals would have to be divided in at least three parts, either equal in number of items or equal in importance (who decides on that is of course a mystery, but it must be decided). Thus, while the 5% signatures are collected, while they are validated, while the discussion drags on, the risk increases every day that a bad electoral result for Chavez could happen, at least on one of the item, the one of the indefinite reelection!!! The more sensible peopel will have a chance to read what Chavez wants, the less they will like it.

But it can even get worse. Imagine that the 5% is reached and that chavismo is not only forced to accept a split in three of the vote, but that the vote is delayed until early 2008. The moral boost for the opposition of such a success would be gigantic, it could give it wings to organize an effective resistance, an effective manning of the polling station to lower the risks of cheating, an effective and convincing grassroots campaign.

Expect a negation to 344 from chavismo, all the legal trickeries will be attempted as the Constitutional Court of Venezuela has already repeatedly violated the constitution. What is the problem about raping it once more as it is about to die anyway?

This is suddenly, by chavismo own body language these past two days, the opposition secret weapon. From the undemocratic and hastily way that the constitutional debate has started to the possibly illegal way in which the National Assembly is already demanding the CNE to organize and schedule the vote for December 9, all points out to a sudden chavismo nervousness. Expect the worst.

-The end-

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The New York Times sees the Chavez power grab in Venezuela

The New York Times serves us today the clearest editorial on Chavez it has ever written. In fact, by its precision, its depth, I think it has to be one the very strongest pieces ever written in exposing all the falsehood behind Chavez pseudo ideology, the simple minded justification for what is nothing but a naked power grab. The king is naked, at least in New York.

Since there is a time limit for the NYT pieces on Internet I am posting it below, with my emphasis. Sin desperdicio.

August 22, 2007
Mr. Chávez’s Power Grab

Newspeak is alive and well in Venezuela. Last week, President Hugo Chávez portrayed planned constitutional amendments that would allow him to be re-elected indefinitely as a step toward “participatory democracy.”

Mr. Chávez’s plan is just another step in the march to increase his government’s control over Venezuela’s politics and economy. Behind the Orwellian rhetorical tactics, his efforts to amass power and cling to it for as long as he can are undermining Venezuela’s democracy.

Mr. Chávez remains, at least technically, a democrat. He has repeatedly beaten Venezuela’s dysfunctional opposition in elections deemed fair by international observers. He won a landslide victory last December, extending his mandate until 2012. His proposed constitutional reforms must be submitted to a vote in the National Assembly and to a referendum.

But his government’s veneer of democratic respectability is wearing thin. Every member of the National Assembly is an ally of Mr. Chávez. His allies also run the Supreme Court, all but two state governments and Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company.

And his government has not been shy about using the apparatus of the state to boost Mr. Chávez’s vast popularity among Venezuela’s poor. After the government revoked the license of RCTV, an aggressive opposition television network, the government used it to create another pro-government mouthpiece. Buoyed by a public spending spree financed by high oil prices, Mr. Chávez has used his enormous popularity to extend his government’s power over big chunks of the economy, including the telephone and electricity companies.

His reform proposals would tighten the grip, nationalizing coal and gas, stripping the central bank of its independence and allowing the government to carry out expropriations of private property without obtaining judicial authority first.

Mr. Chávez’s claim that he is increasing “participatory democracy” by giving voice to Venezuela’s disenfranchised poor rests on gestures like the proposal to create grass-roots governing councils with executive authority over a range of issues. In fact, they would further erode democratic checks and balances by stripping power from state and local governments, where opposition parties retain some vestigial power, and giving it to entities dependent on the central government.

Indeed, Mr. Chávez’s plan to allow himself to run for re-election as many times as he wants — to achieve his stated goal of governing until the 200th anniversary of Venezuelan independence in 2021 — could lock Venezuela in the grip of an all-powerful strongman for years to come. It’s participatory democracy in which only Mr. Chávez and his friends get to participate.

-The end-

Constitutionally up yours: part 6, how to counter Chavez constitutional coup?

In the previous 5 posts of this series I have tried to write up a perhaps crude but to the point vision of what is at stake. In short: Chavez is pushing forward a constitutional “reform” whose sole objective is to give him the means to rule over Venezuela as long as he wishes, blocking any possibility for a valid opposition to rise and challenge him at some point. In other words, a return to the XIX century past, perhaps even worse. It is reactionary movement, nothing more.

The saddest part of the current situation is that in fact Chavez has already reached most of his goals and what he seeks is to make them legal while lifting the term limit restriction. Thus, since Chavez controls already everything the task to stop his last reach to absolutism is going to be very difficult.

However the Venezuelan opposition is not as helpless as it might look in spite of its inherent weakness due to its inner division and its lack of imagination. Curiously Chavez has made enough mistakes these past few months that this opposition might actually have its best chance since 2003 to stop Chavez hegemonic drive. So let’s start describing the opposition to Chavez today before we look at what it can do.

There are now two oppositions

Until May 2007 there was really a single opposition formed out of the agonizing old political parties, and the new parties unable to find a new language to counter Chavez. The highlight of that group, when there were still leaders willing to take some personal risks such as Enrique Mendoza, was the signature collection drive against Chavez in 2003-2004. At least it showed then that when you dare to stand up to Chavez, he backs down. A lesson that we would be well advised to remember, even more when we know it has happened more than once as Chavez is basically a coward hiding behind others. In February 1992 he was even reported to have shat in his pants. And in 2002 he was crying in the arms of Cardinal Velasco.

But that opposition failed miserably in 2004. And again in 2005 and again in 2006. In 2005 because it was unable to capitalize on the unexpected huge victory of the abstention. And in 2006 because its inexcusable delays in building a single candidacy against Chavez left it with not enough tine to organize a credible campaign. Yet, from that 2006 failure there was an important lesson to gain: when the opposition manages to unite behind a purposeful task, then it can obtain quite a lot. In May 2006 nobody gave the opposition much more than a 25-30%, split between 3-4 candidates. After barely two months o forceful campaign Rosales managed an official 37% which represented at least the recovery of morale.

But in 2007 Chavez started committing mistake after mistake. It started with his angry and threatening December followed by actual execution of this threats closing RCTV. A lot of economical problems such as scarcity of many food items did not help and these started bringing his numbers somewhat down. But the worse, the trigger was the RCTV closing, an event from which the Chavez administration is reeling continuously.

The consequence of that was the surge of a new opposition, totally unlinked to the past and even to the present opposition. In fact, the old opposition seems at times to be as annoyed about the large dissenting student movement that has hit the streets since the first week of June, with no sign of early demise even though we are on the summer vacation lull. To this we can add the beginning of a renewal of activity from NGOs, which if not yet as strong as the student movement seems to find its renewed strength from surging in part from within chavismo as the problems of personal security or the failure to provide hosing are finally starting to scratch the populist Teflon of Chavez.

I did write a post titled "the day the Bolivarian revolution died" and so far I have the pleasure to see it confirmed on a daily basis. On one side we have a now sclerotic and reactionary movement that cannot think of anything else but the indefinite Chavez reelection to preserve its new acquired privileges. On the other side we feel winds of a libertarian revolution starting to blow from the population itself, a movement careful to free itself from any great beloved messianic leader.

Now, what can do this opposition to counter the hegemonic goal of Chavez?

The conditions for any successful opposition résistance

Unfortunately before I narrate for the eager readers what I think could help in bringing a dent into Chavez megalomaniacal ambitions, I must dampen any enthusiasm by stating what is required from the opposition: unity and political will; steel political will at that and selfless unity to boot. These qualities are generally absent in the opposition camp except for some civilian groups such as the dissident students. In clear, the message for the traditional opposition leadership such as Rosales or Borges is that if they are not willing to open their shirt and risk to be shot, then they should consider stepping out, or at the very least stay out of the way. This time we are playing the last dice roll on the future of the Republic and it is not the time to posture. Going to jail during the next weeks is a real risk, and death is another one. But if risks are not taken now, jails will be even fuller in the future and much blood will be spilled. Time for action guys, not reckless action but conscious one knowing full well the risks ahead. Trying to compromise with Chavez will only alienate from you any little support you might have, and will give you at best a small stool in the far backbenches of power, and not for long.

What to do?

There are many things to do, all on the pacific nature but all in ways that can become rougher if needed. In case people are not aware, pacific sit-ins can turn very violent went the repressive state intervenes. But the cameras of the world will be filming: the end of the revolution will be televised.

The constitutional tools

Article 344 of the constitution is very clear: 5% of the people can sign up to demand that at least part of the Chavez proposal is split up and voted individually. That is, Chavez cannot force all of his goodies voted together with his ad infinitum reelection.

5% of the signatures are not that much: it is less than 1 million folks and there are enough people, including within chavismo, willing to sign up. Even the Tascon list threat would not play much there because there are enough folks like me who are already in deep trouble with chavismo that will have no problem in signing up again. What worse fate than a president for life could happen to us anyway?

This move has a major risk: if granted it would force the opposition to go and campaign and vote (unless the voting is made meaningless by the CNE depending how the split up of the vote is decided). But even then, it would be more difficult for chavismo to cheat on the vote counting since if cheating were to appear in the for-life ballot, it would be easily detected when the results of the other votes are too different. I am not personally very optimistic on this strategy but it is one that must be attempted anyway as it generates a movement whose result are unpredictable for both sides.

But there is another constitutional tool for which time might have finally come: article 350 of the 1999 constitution. That article allows people to stop recognizing the institutions or the government when it takes measures that attempt against the constitution. This article if of course of very confusing and difficult application but a case can be made that the Chavez proposal violates the constitution and thus civil resistance is required. This could for example be applied, with much courage and determination, to force the CNE to postpone any vote until the constitutionality of the proposal are duly reviewed and not just by Luisa Morales who already has emitted a personal opinion on the subject and thus must shut up her big mouth.

That 350, in this case, can also be used for a really effective boycott of the election if we must, a boycott that would imply people to protest in all streets of Venezuela on election day and force any observer to observe that there are more people protesting in the streets than at the voting stations.

The strategy

But if constitutional tools are good, they still require a global strategy. As such it is of outmost importance that the opposition fixes its gaze on the unlimited reelection. All the goodies that Chavez is using to sugar coat his proposals with should be dismissed outright. It is NO and NO and NO to reelection (though on punctual and regional basis some of the other proposals can be used to counter Chavez). If the campaign threatens to go NO it would force Chavez to some compromise so as to have his other items discussed. For example a determined NO to reelection coupled with an equally determined “I do not care about the rest” could be enough to force the government to accept a safer vote counting and a partition of the proposals.

But mark my words, if any one in the opposition accepts to discuss the individual items on the same parity as reelection item, then we are doomed.

The details

Once unity of message is obtained, once unity of action is decided, then we might start looking at other actions that could help a lot for the campaign. They are in fact mere details, important of course but not as important as the need for the strong message hammered over and over again. The objective in the next paragraphs is to blend electoral goals and image.

The electoral question

The CNE is a cheat box. Negotiations with the CNE are useless. After seeing how tenderly Ramirez was treated by the CNE for its 2006 electoral frauds and abuses (plural intended) it should be clear to anyone that any discussion with the CNE is a waste of time. It is my opinion that the CNE should be given a clear and simple ultimatum. If the ultimatum is not respected then the opposition withdraws from the election and takes to the streets using the 350. Assuming of course that during this time it has built enough credibility to convince the world on the why of the action, as we will see further down.

What should that ultimatum be? The CNE has been negligent at correcting all the vices inherent in the electoral rolls and others. Asking the CNE to solve this by December will be unrealistic, a waste of time and an illusion. Instead I propose that the opposition demands the following

50% of the ballots to be counted by hand BEFORE any result is announced. It was already granted in 2006 and there is no reason why it should be denied this time.

The opposition should be allowed to pick 25% of the electoral districts it wants and monitor them before and during election under the protection of the Armed Forces no matter what the sold out new Defense minister says (he has linked the Chavez proposals to a order threat the army must follow!!!). All sort of auditing tools should be allowed, including testing the indelible ink, the registration rolls, etc… Chavismo can chose of course the 25% it wants, but who cares? The objective in this action is that the opposition could marshal its meager resources safely for its observers in 25% of the districts, no matter how chavista these are. Preferably somber chavistas units where fraud has been alleged should be picked. This can even include the famed “23 de enero”. If the election is fair in the other 75% of the country there should be a similar trend.

And the CNE should be constantly challenged each and every time the government does something improper during the campaign: the opposition should do exactly the same if it can even if it goes against the CNE rules. Let see, for example, if the CNE will dare closing Globovision or El Universal during the campaign. After all we should all keep in mind that as soon as Chavez wins he will close Globovision, so why not go down fighting? The campaign will be terrible and it must be assumed as such by the opposition. This is war for survival now and playing nice will led us nowhere this time. It does not matter how much the law is broken during the campaign, the government WILL BREAK IT EVEN MORE. Or does anyone think that VTV will host a debate among Daniel Duquenal and any other chavista blogger?

The image question

The opposition in the past has been trying to take care of its democratic image, trying to atone constantly for the Carmona adventure even if 90% of us never approved it. We have been taken hostage by chavismo on that. Enough! A president for life system is WORSE than whatever Carmona intended and we should be bold enough to say it so aloud, constantly. “Chavez se volvió un Carmona cualquiera” could even be a nice slogan. Great good did us to play mister nice guy while even international observers saw live the campaign abuses of chavismo. So, what to do?

Forget some international observers. Say clearly why we do not want the Carter Center to visit. Demand that they account for their scandalous neglect of not making the 2003 agreement respected. Demand them to obtain the freedom of governor Lapi. Say bluntly that the Carter Center are a bunch of enablers and that from now one we will not meet with them no matter what. And make a constant noise out of it, even if they claim they were not interested in coming to begin with. This will bring us lots of good publicity on some parts of the world, trust me on that one. Besides we cannot allow them to once again validate a fraudulent Chavez victory while piously offering recommendations that they have no guts to demand and even less to enforce. During a campaign of the nature that the one that comes, sitting down with any Carter Center envoy is just a waste of time.

Set conditions to the OAS. The OAS is hardly any better than the Carter Center. Dominated now by countries who are on Chavez payroll (CARICOM, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua) and led by the ultimate wimp and coward that Insulza has shown himself to be, what can we possibly expect from the OAS? Be serious!!!!! If the OAS comes the delegation should be approved by the opposition otherwise out with the bums. It should be made clear that we consider people like Kirchner or Lula are considered as pimps of Chavez. The other ones we do not need to worry about as all know who they are.

Ask NOW for the EU to come. The European Union has been the only fair observer of Venezuelan elections, even when lead by an Italian leftist directing the delegation. Europeans are now all democrats and they do not buy anymore tall tales. The risk of course is that the CNE might not invite them. But then we will not recognize the observers they will invite and they do need observers to validate the monstrosity they want us to vote on. We do have leverage, more than what you think. The only problem is that the EU must be invited before September first.

Get new voices. Forget about Asdrubal Aguiar, about Timoteo Zanbrano and all the old school that have been representing the opposition for these past years without much success to their credit. Now the people who should talk to foreign observers, to visiting journalists should be new faces, moral journalists such as Milagros Socorro, brilliant students such as we have aplenty, bloggers, NGO directors, etc… All will tell exactly what is at stake, what somber dictatorship is about to fall on us.

Select the press you talk to. Play the international press. Deficient journalists such as the ones from the AP in 2006 should simply be ignored, boycotted by any campaign direction that might surge during this campaign. Create your reverse Tascon list about the journalists you can talk to and those you will not give the time of day. Let them understand in their own flesh what the Tascon list means, what humiliations Venezuelans journalists must suffer when they try to do their job with the Venezuelan government. Only then will they stat learning to report more accurately on Venezuela.

A few miscellaneous items for the people too afraid to participate, to concerned about their own interests to see how threatened they are now.

Keep a simple message to the Venezuelan people. NO to indefinite reelection. Stress that all the goodies ALREADY exist in the 1999 document but that Chavez never applied them. Thus he already lied to you and he is lying to you again.

Help the students as much as you can. Be involved, give time and money. If you are too afraid to go to the barrios to spread the message make an effort to support those who are willing to take the chance: pay them body guards, pay them armored cars, pay them bullet proffer vest, but CONTRIBUTE!!!!!

Start attending any activity called by the students. Start attending any activity called by the opposition groups that decided to unite to counter Chavez. You have the right to demand that Julio Borges walks ahead of the march and get the first bullet, but you must start realizing that the second bullet will be for you, sooner than later.

Talk to people everywhere, no matter what their social condition is. Tell them that Chavez president for life is a dictatorship, but tell them also that they have a right to misiones, that you have seen the light, that you apologize for the delay in recognizing the need. Bargain with them, tell them that if they vote against the proposal of the referendum you will become a moderate opposition to Chavez until 2012. But also tell them that after the referendum not everybody will have access to the misiones, only the PSUV folks.

If the opposition leadership and the students decide to go and vote, GO AND VOTE. Do not waste you time in sterile debates. Equally, if they decide not to vote, STAY AT HOME that day, or hit the streets in protest if it is demanded from you. Do not go to the beach or shopping that day and argue with anyone who might one to do it. Be militant for once in your life if you ever want to have the chance to be militant again.

And finally, for the political parties and their luminaries

No more Globovision, no more talk shows. Street, street and more street. Organize large groups and go to the barrios. Stand up to chavistas, be heroic. If you do not stand up to them now, even if on occasion they bet you up, you will never stand to them once they get their new Russian weapons.

For Marcel Granier. Get a bullet proof vest and go the barrios too. You are a political leader now and it is your duty to take this opportunity to start articulating a democratic right political party that is needed in Venezuela. You must also make the apathetic middle class go and vote

For Manuel Rosales. Forget about National Leadership: you blew it when you were not in Venezuela in December 2006 to reply to Chavez the day he decided he would close RCTV. Want to regain leadership? Make darn sure that the referendum fails in Zulia, Trujillo, Merida and Tachira. Even if in the rest of the country it passes, if it fails in these 4 states it will be a useless victory for Chavez. That much you can do.

To Ramon Martinez and Didalco Bolivar and PODEMOS. Your fate is sealed. You have to either do the Arias Cardenas flip-flop and become the laughing stock of all, in particular chavistas, or join the opposition against this constitutional abuse. Even if you were to try to be constructive you, of all people, know what Chavez will do with you come January first and he has become president for life. So grow up and smell the coffee and try to make sure that the referendum loses in Aragua and Sucre. That much the fatherland will thank you forever.

To Primero Justicia. Stop being the prima donna. You blew it when you were not able to avoid internal division. Now the two halves are limping miserably. Now it is time to promote unity even if you cannot lead it. Show by example. And make sure that the referendum loses everywhere in Caracas and in Carabobo and Miranda.

To AD. Shut up.

To all. Maletagate. President for life. Corruption. President for life. Who gets the cars? President for life. Corruption. President for life. Where is the milk, the beef, the black beans? President for life. Corruption. President for life. Until when you are going to keep giving to the Kirchners? How the president for life will solve crime? How the president for life will give us housing? How the president for life will give us job? Are we going to remain as we are for life?

-The end-

Blog addiction

Not as bad as I thought it would be, and definitely less addicted than Miguel.

61%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?
-The end-

Monday, August 20, 2007

Maletagate keeps apace

The Argentina Media report that Antonini traveled in that plane under orders of Chavez with whom he had diner the night before. Apparently there was not enough places in the presidential Boeing to the Buenos Aires junket.

What does Chavez reply? "I have nothing to say on that". And so we know know that all Venezuelan public institutions have orders to cover up as much as they can the 800K bag. George Bush must be green with envy!

-The end-

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Constitutionally up yours: part 5, what is facing the Venezuelan opposition

Considering that all is pretty well played out still does not excuse the opposition to Chavez from not doing something about it. After all it must develop a strategy to survive the dark night of chavismo until better days come and the country can be recovered from the hands of the thugs that rule it today. Any action must be carefully thought of and based on the knowledge and understanding of what Chavez really wants and what he does have in hand to achieve it, but also on what the opposition has and what does it want to achieve. No matter what, the opposition must first decide whether it has the will to fight back. Otherwise no plan will help and we might as well stay home and forget about the whole thing until someone comes to our Sleeping Beauty Castle to awake us. Unfortunately Shreck is more likely to land in Caracas to deliver us before Uribe or the Empire do.

Let’s go by parts to understand better what can be done. In the rest of this post let’s see first in a practical and pragmatic way what is facing the opposition, and in a final post I will suggest the few things the opposition could do.

What Chavez wants

As explained in previous posts on this topic, Chavez wants to be president for life. He also wants to rule as he wishes and to make sure no one can mount a real challenge against him. For this he has already occupied almost every nook and cranny of the country. At this point only a portion of the media escapes him, and some thinking institutions such as some university campus, the church and the intellectuals. The last remains of opposition political strongholds will be dissolved in no more than a couple of years either by attrition (some of the oppo figures will not be able to run again in any election) or simply by splitting up these strongholds so that they will become powerless.

The media and campus will be dealt with much ease once the referendum passes since Chavez will claim again a new mandate. This hollow claim will allow him to erase these last outposts even though the referendum was about a completely different matter. Campus will lose their autonomy and pro Chavez faculty will reach the top administrative positions to pervert the educational mission of these places. Globovision will be closed or at least sent into cable only mode. Newspapers will be forced to a certain amount of self censorship by further toughening of the penal code such as forcing the publication of any news sources for example. Investigative journalism will be all but impossible and with that the regime can still pretend that there is freedom of expression as only temperate Op-Ed pieces will survive.

The intellectuals? Well, deprived of the media to expose their message and under threat, many will start taking the roads of exile or to remain silent, dedicating themselves to literature in a country that does not read.

Within no more than two years the grip of Chavez will be complete and no opposition movement will be able to gather strength. It is that simple.

What Chavez needs

Unfortunately for Chavez, he also wants in his narcissist megalomania to be the leader of at least Latin America against the Empire. He needs to refurbish his image badly tarnished since last December and for that he needs that the referendum not only passes, but passes with a margin wide enough and with large enough participation. The kind of thing he is asking Venezuelans to vote for can only be stomached by foreign countries if he gets at the very least a 40% of the total population to vote for it. We must note that a 40% of the people when abstention is counted him will give him MORE than what he got in December. There is certain logic within chavismo: from election to election Chavez has insisted on increasing his share of the vote (greatly helped for sure by the mistakes of the opposition and the treachery of the CNE). The referendum result cannot be a mere 51%, not even 63% as in December. It has to be 64% or more.

In other words the vote result needs to be a minimum of 64% YES for an abstention no bigger than 37%. Do the math. He needs that number not to gain the admiration of the Western Democracies (he has lost it for good) but he needs it to silence them for a while as he removes his last internal obstacles such as the press and independent campuses. And if there lays the chance of the opposition to do some damage, there also lays the tricks that Chavez might use in the next three months as he needs to lure at least part of the opposition to go and vote NO.

You think I am divagating? Well, Chavez has already hinted at that! In his speech of last week at the National Assembly he has alluded to that one as lacking legitimacy because it was elected with less than 25% of the electoral vote! It took Chavez almost two years to recognize this damning fact, but he did recognize it. And why you may ask? Very simple: during the campaign, depending how things go, he could offer to dissolve the National Assembly and elect a new one with the democratic forces that participate in the referendum. He could afford to do that because even if the opposition managed to get 40% of the votes in a parliamentarian election the way the voting system works now it would get a most 20% of the seats. With the increased powers that Chavez is about to get, he could not care less if 20% of the National Assembly belong to the opposition. In fact, it would work at his advantage!

You can imagine that if Chavez were to do such an offer as dissolving the National Assembly, many opposition groups would fall in to the trap gladly, hoping for some small bench in the Assembly and the TV exposure that comes with it. Enough at any rate for Chavez to get the result he needs. Chavez will then be able to scream that Venezuela is a democracy because there are opposition members in parliament. And if some in the opposition are willing to enjoy a Sepoy status, why would Western Democracies do anything about it? Venezuela got what it deserved, they would think.

What Chavez already has

In addition of clever tricks such as dissolving the National Assembly let’s not forget that Chavez dispose of many other cards that have been detailed in previous posts. Just to refresh the memory of the patient reader. Chavez has unlimited funds to buy votes. He has extensive means to threaten people to vote for him or else they risk losing their job, their mision stipend, etc… He has a corrupted electoral system where in about half of the country we do not know who really votes. He has an electoral board that will forgive him any trespassing to any electoral code of conduct, amen to basic moral and ethical violations he will make along the campaign. He has an army who every day is looking more like a praetorian guard. He has plenty of Cuban advisers and revenge seeking folks willing to do all sorts of underhanded maneuvers to screw the opposition considering it a legitimate revenge (you can start with the vice President himself, Jorge Rodriguez, a “resentido social” if there ever was only one). He has a legal system that will not lift a finger to defend interests that go against those of Chavez. And more. I mean, how could Chavez lose an election?

Truly, quite a daunting task for the opposition. But still, as I will try to show in the next post, still some room to maneuver tightly under certain conditions.

-The end-


Chavismo has a way to attract the strangest fauna around for its service. Tonight I am in the mood to report on such people as one would report on bird sightseeing.

More on Chavez work study programs

Definitely the students that defended the revolution on that famously infamous National Assembly show are having a good life. In fact, some are already making salaries with figures that they could only expect after years of professional career from their graduation. But the bolivarian revolution offers some surprising riches to the ones willing to swallow hard and laud El Supremo.

Tal Cual reports this delightful gossip that I doubt very much will silenced. The guy on the picture on the right is Hector Rodriguez, one of the pro Chavez "students" that came to fame last June. Well, since then not only it was reveled that these students were almost all already in some Chavez payroll, but apparently some of them have increased their income significantly. Apparently he has become a consulting agent for the National Assembly and he might be receiving a general monthly remuneration package in the 8 numbers. That means 10.000.001 VEB at least which at the official exchange rate is 4650 USD per month. In Venezuela this is A BIG monthly pay check, executive level pay.

Tal Cual note also points out that such jobs do not require to check the clock, are not too heavy, allow for other miscellaneous activities and are frequent among people "in transition". Tal Cual even cites Elias Jaua as one of the past beneficiaries from these "grants" until he became a minister again.

Chavez small time harlot (yes, I am biblical tonight)

I did mention Eva Golinger the other day. Well, apparently she made up the robbery she claims she was a victim from. Her neighbors have simply stated that there was no evidence of the larceny. But that should not surprise us as Ms. Golinger has made up a lot of things about her past life as Alek Boyd has had so much fun unearthing. so, since her idea of creating a "Golinger list" to hang journalists that do not support chavismo is frowned upon even by some high ranking chavistas, she probably decided to victimize herself, again..... Anything for a laugh.

Chavez big time harlot (and she happens to be, or was, a Bilble thumper at that!)

This one is Luisa Estela Morales Lamuño, the chief justice of Venezuela. Well, in a hurry she has already announced that:

1) the National Assembly will not be allowed to modify substantially the Chavez constitutional proposals. They are his and the N.A. has no business meddling in such things. Huh? Is she not interfering in the separation of powers herself by sating that? Is she not submitting herself to Chavez will by stating that? Has she lost all sense of "keeping up the appearances"? Not that the N.A. would modify anything anyway, so why such statement?

2) the High Court can only rule on the constitutionality of Chavez proposals ONLY after they are passed. Yeah, right, after the referendum she will start interpreting what Chavez really meant...

3) if the referendum passes (what, there is a possibility that Chavez will not get his way?) the new rules will apply on the spot and Chavez current term will be extended by one year.

I do not about you, but this woman mutterings should be enough to have her disbarred on the spot. Oh, wait! she was removed once!! but she was put back and now she is the top justice!!! Seriously now, who will dare to tell me that the judicial power in Venezuela is independent?

I have a idea for Hugo: add another proposal to allow you to name the justices directly. It will not change a thing in the way the country is managed and it will save us time and money on the judge "search" procedures.

PS: Luisa also said another major stupidity, strictly designed to ingratiate herself to her boss (at least I hope so because if she agrees with what she said then she is stupid AND ignorant, a deadly combination). She simply said that the "conuco" is the perfect form of agricultural production. I could write a whole long post to trash the woman but Miguel already caught on her so I need just to refer him. Let's just say that I think Miguel was too soft on Luisa.

-The end-

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Constitutionally up yours: part 4, can anything be done?

Not much.

Assuming that the constitutional change were worth discussing, with the current electoral system there is no way that fair debate will be held, that appropriate information will be disseminated, that the people will have a chance to understand what is really at stake. Just as it was the case for the presidential election of last year, the might of the state will be used obscenely to crush any feeble counter campaign that the opposition might want to do.

That is, with a huge majority of the media in the hands of Chavez, with the numerous cadenas to crush the minority opposition media, with provincial newspapers mostly neutral to pro Chavez these days (just to be able to survive), with all the public offices draped in red and public employees wearing red outfits, with the permanent blackmail that forces you to espouse Chavez least the meager stipend your life depends is lost, the YES vote is almost guaranteed without recurring to direct electoral fraud. For those late in this game, electoral fraud in Venezuela now starts well before the first ballot is cast.

But why people would vote anything else than what Chavez wants them to vote? It is fair to say that a third of Venezuela, if they vote, would vote for Chavez no matter what. Their reasons are varied. They might still want to vote for Chavez just to “punish” the other side. They might be believers. They just got used to Chavez. They are scared of change. There is nothing at stake for them anyway.

This last one deserves some more details. People whop live in the slums, what do they care about the geographical redistribution of the country? People that are out of a job, what do they care if the work week is 44 hours, 40 or 36? People who live in crime infested neighborhoods, what do they care whether Chavez wants to change the army in a militia? People who have never seen the benefits of democracy, people who actually might have never even voted for Chavez, why would they go out to vote against a constitutional proposal that holds no meaning to them?

The only question here is when will the vote held and what will be the victory margin, a margin that we know will be arranged by the CNE according to the political needs of Chavez at the moment.

For those who think that I exaggerate let me remind a few FACTS:

The CNE is controlled by a 4 to 0 pro Chavez majority. The lone dissenter has no weight, and forces no issue. Not 4 to 1, it is 4 to 0.

The CNE is sold out to chavismo, as its directors have no qualms in voicing support for some of chavismo political positions, such as Janeth Hernandez saying that the sanction against Ramirez was unfair. That is, when Ramirez was shown red handed violating all sorts of constitutional and electoral directives, one of the CNE directors finds nothing wrong with it. Is anyone expecting that this CNE will make sure a fair electoral campaign will be held from here until December? Of course not. A dirty campaign will spare the CNE the need to rig elections. A rigging that they might do anyway because simply Chavez NEEDS more votes than last December. He always needs to get more votes than the last time, it is essential to his image, to his projection as a continental leader. It is essential to his narcissistic pathology.

The data transmission will be completely controlled by the government now that the Chavez administration has nationalized CANTV. In other words there will be no way to figure out if electronic voting fraud is being held since not only observers will be probably barred from observing CANTV workings, but now that they have control of the business there is nothing to stop chavismo to create a parallel transmission system without anyone being the wiser for it.

In fact, on a practical point of view, the way elections are held in Venezuela it is very legitimate to discuss whether it is worth voting or not. People, pro or anti Chavez in fact have a tacit agreement on this subject. If you look at the recent recall election drive failure it is obvious that people have lost all trust in the CNE, and know very well that elections do not matter anyway in an authoritarian regime. So, why bother to campaign one way or the other when you know that Chavez will do as he pleases anyway, no matter what you do?

Does this all mean that the opposition should throw the towel and stay home? No, but it will require extraordinary political will. And it will require the reader to wait for the part five of this series.

Note: this is part 4, after part 1, 2 and 3. And this entry.

-The end-

Friday, August 17, 2007

And let's not forget "maleta-gate"

Poor Chavez... He thought that putting forward his mockery of a constitutional reform he would distract us from the ongoing "Maleta-Gate" scandal. But that 800 000 bucks suitcase is very far from going off the radar screen. In fact the situation is getting worse as it is leading to new mine fields such as arms trafficking in Uruguay.

Or a searing editorial from the Washington Post, aptly titled Cash-and-Carry Rule
Venezuela's with the very pertinent subtitle of Hugo Chavez cements his autocracy with petrodollars and another push for 'reform.' Obviously nobody is buying.

That editorial did waste time on exquisite discussions: direct, to the point. My favorite lines, which do not need any explanation:
The origin and destination of this money [...] is now the hottest mystery in South America.

[...]constitutional "reforms" [...] are self-aggrandizing and threatening to what is left of democracy in Venezuela.

"popular militia" [...] Perhaps [...] the intended recipient of the 5,000 sniper rifles Mr. Chávez has just purchased from Russia.

He has forced an independent television channel off the air while plastering the public spaces of Venezuela with his own smiling portrait.

Mr. Chavez's "21st-century socialism" looks depressingly like the 20th-century version: a bloated, repressive state headed by a hectoring strongman.

[...] corrupt and corrupting, both for Venezuela and the hemisphere
Wow!!!! that will hurt somewhere in Venezuela!!! Good thing that the Post has no permanent correspondent in Venezuela, s/he could start packing as I type.

Added later (hat tip to K.Vance). Some Liberals are suddenly finding out that Chavez is not such a nice guy after all. You can read such a confession here, and a nice one worth a congratulatory reply, please.

-The end-

How a constitution becomes a mere guideline: Chavez turns the 1999 constitution into scrap paper

The most offensive thing about the ill called constitutional reform of Chavez is not its actual text, it is the way it is done, the style, the timing. As such it should be considered as a mere provocation with the objective of stunning any opponent to the reform. If the support of such people cannot be gained, at least they will be annulled in an induced denial

First, the changes were discussed in secret by a small group of Chavez unconditional appointees. Second, it was sent to Chavez who probably leaked the content out to gauge the public reaction. Then it was put on hold while they were deciding how far they could go, but more importantly what baubles they could add to the draft to convince enough people to approve it. It is interesting to note that the 6 hours maximum working day was not in the leaked documents and was probably added later as they sensed that they needed stronger stuff to sugarcoat the life presidency, the sole real goal of any reform. Finally, as the financial system is starting to suffer, as the government finds itself unable to supply milk to the people and as someone lost a strange piece of luggage in a Buenos Aires airport, it was time to push ahead. At no point was there a serious discussion to address the obvious flaws of the 1999 hastily written document, or to even decide what was best for the country. The only thing that mattered, and crassly exposed at that, was what is good for Chavez.

But let’s take the view from above. The reform is of course an obscene, intelligence insulting farce. It is a disservice to the reader to discuss it in detail. Instead let’s wonder whether what results from this reform can still be called a constitution. Let’s not forget that a constitution is the frame with which laws are enacted. It cannot be the other way around. For example a constitution cannot have economic rights as it is not in the power of any government to have at all times the capacity to fulfill such rights. Even property rights in serious constitutions are not guaranteed, though the same serious constitutions put all sorts of obstacles for state expropriations. But expropriation they do, even in the capitalist Hell of the Novel Evil Empire.

El Universal, for those who have time on their hands, has in PDF the Chavez proposal of last night ( a 4+ hour cadena that I doubt was very clear to the people that were brave enough to wade through). I will like to visit just a few items to show that the proposed changes are completing the transformation of the 1999 constitution into a mere constitutional law that can be changed at will like any new law. And I use “constitutional” in the least restrictive sense possible.

Let’s start with article 87, as a simple example. The “old” text was about guarantying the right to work in safe conditions to all workers. Nothing unusual here. But the “new” article is twice as long. It now includes the duty to the state to intervene in enforcing job measures, instead of supervising them. Also, the state will have to guarantee the same benefits to “independent” workers. Considering that in 8 years it has failed on all of its duties toward the contractual workers, one is dubious that it will be successful once it reinforces its duties and adds to its obligations the service to buhoneros, the street workers that form up to 40% of the working population in Venezuela. How will the state include and control the buhoneros revenues and other free agents to provide them with social benefits to which they have already access anyway if they wanted and could pay for them? Translation: a present to the informal worker population. They might end up voting yes and the constitution will be changed but what happens when the state cannot fulfill its obligations?

Article 90 is an even more direct appeal. That article fixed the working week. In normal constitutions, if such a measure is contemplated, it would read something like: “the sate will fix working conditions and weekly hours to work”. But in the “old” article it stipulated that the week work was 44 hours and the daily work could not be more than 8 hours. Yet, it also added that there state should try to decrease this with time. It was already strange to find such precisions in a constitution, but the “new” article goes much further: now the work week will drop to 36 hours, no more than 6 a day. In concrete, for example my business which does not open on Saturdays and works 40 hours a week, will drop suddenly to 30 hours a week. Or does anyone think that workers will gladly go back to work on Saturdays? That similar examples in much more developed countries such as France have failed and are put into sever questioning does not seem to have been considered. Here Chavez is getting ready to impose the 30 hours week (because it will be 30 for most people) without even considering a transition, a financial help form the state or anything of the sorts. But that is not all: the article explicitly forces the employer to have a role in the free time of the employee!!!!

These things have no place in any constitution: the state by law can already fix any of these parameters as needed and as the economical situation allow. But Chavez mandates it because he needs candy to make people vote for his for life presidency. Even if we all know that the state owned companies will be the main violators of such “constitutional obligations”.

There are many articles where the chimera of the communal power is elaborated. What strikes me more is that most of these modified articles could have easily been created through laws. There is no need to include them in the constitution. Again, here the idea is to create the illusion of more direct popular participation by supposedly shifting power to the neighborhoods instead of the city halls. Maybe, but communal councils are not going to design dams, highways or hospitals. The end result will be more power to the central state who of course will be the only one with the means to undertake such projects. Engraving this in the constitution is just for effect.

The Misiones are also given constitutional rank. Yet, amusingly in the modified corresponding article 141 the fluctuating nature of the Misiones are acknowledged. That is, the executive power will decide how long would a given Mision last. The question that begs to be asked is: why put that in the constitution when the current regulations allow already the state to do any Mision it wants for whatever objective for as long as it pleases? Again, the illusion of permanence of Misiones to bribe the naïve electorate to support the life presidency. Except that at least in this case the state is wise enough to keep an exit door in case the financial going gets rough. Unless it is an admission that Chavez already knows the Misiones have no future in the socialist state he will lord over?

Even in the new organization of power Chavez throw bones to his supporters, raising hopes. For example now there will be several vice-presidents. Their number and rank to be decided at will, though there will be one main vice president. But is there a need to change this article 225? No. Chavez has been creating as many ministers as he has wanted to. Why create many vice-presidents to put in between him and his ministers? Again, we see a constitutional change that could have well been a simple law creating special ministers. The objective here is to soothe the ambitious within chavismo that do not like the idea of having to wait for Chavez death to run for office. Now, thinks Chavez, they will be happy to be one of the many vice-presidents he will create.

Article 236 modification betrays this attitude. In that article Chavez adds a new duty to the president, to direct the “constitutional and constitutive” [sic] initiative. I am not too sure what this legalese gibberish truly means but I can detect the implication: Chavez will be freer to change the constitution as he had been until now. That is, an easily modifiable constitution will just be a simple law that is modified as needed.

No, what we are getting is not a modified constitution. It is just the gutting of the already feeble 1999 document, its conversion into some basic guideline that Chavez will disrespect as much as he disrespected the 1999 blue book, except that now he will have on occasion the time to change the constitution so it does not look that he is violating it. That is when basic civil rights will start to be “constitutionally” diminished.


PS: I am not going to discuss further this except for one post on the key points that show how Chavez wants to grab even more over than what he has. My predictions of have not only been confirmed but made worse. For the non Venezuelan reader, fear not, we are not that stupid. 90% of us know exactly what is going on. The problem is that too many of us pretend it is OK.

-The end-