Friday, August 29, 2008

Reasons to like the US of A

After over a decade an a half living in the US I have learned to appreciate some of the good aspects of its political process. One of my favorite parts, for all the posturing and corniness that some times happen there, is the political conventions. So this week I have been following the Democratic Convention, the one that usually spoke to my Liberal tendencies. Had I been a US citizen I would have probably always voted Democrat except perhaps at Clinton 2, where for some strange reason I found Bob Dole compelling enough (not to mention that I never liked Clinton, conformed by his messing up of the health care reform to his wimpy and undignified back down at the "Don't ask, don't tell" fiasco).

This year I was particularity interested as I have failed to warm up to Obama. I suppose that after ten years back in Venezuela, and 10 years of the cheapest and most vulgar populism, anything that looks too good to be true lights up all my warning lights. I am not sure I would vote for Obama yet, but tonight he went a long way to convince me that he might be more than what I thought him to be. Still, my issues are not quite resolved as I do not like Biden, even though I must admit he makes a sensible ticket. This is good in a way because it will allow me to follow the Republican convention. The only times I followed both conventions were in 1980 and 1988. In 1980 because I was fresh and learning (though I had no TV then) and in 1988 because I lived in Boston then and I watched in horror Dukakis making all the mistakes that cost him his bid. In 1996 I only watched the Republican one, the other years watching the Democratic ones (though of course I never ignored completely the other side).

But my political views are not the point here, I just brought them up to establish how fascinated I was always by this brilliant exercise in democracy, so unique to the States, in spite of the fact that all mystery is usually removed before the convention starts. And that is what makes this exercise so fabulous, the work of reconciliation, the desire to build a real common political platform out of the bitter rivalries of the primary. This convention was no exception and contained some of the best speeches I ever heard in any US convention. Hillary, my favorite, rose to the occasion. For the first time I liked a Bill Clinton speech. Biden was acceptable to compelling and Obama did a great job, seeking blood, in the purest partisan but ever so democratic form. Democratic conventions are always much more fun to watch, there is no way around, there is no way the GOP can ever create such a party atmosphere. As far as I am concerned, from this week, I think that Obama has this thing wrapped up.

But of course there is much more than meet the eye here, because such a great and sometimes gratuitous exercise is only possible in a country with a great tradition of open debate, the McCarthy and Patriot Acts notwithstanding. Conventions are the summary. What I saw this week is difficult to think of it in Europe. Only recently France seems to be approaching this as the Socialists dared launch a true primary last time (the Right is much more reluctant, but it does put up a decent TV show at least). But in general European politics are much more ideological than the US ones, much too parliamentarian and sectarian to dare hold such a venting off arena. People keep forgetting one thing: for all the attempts at an ideological US body politics, from the Daily Kos crowd to the Bible thumping right, the GOP and the Dems still remain a coalition of interests much more than an ideological construct. A few weeks before general elections they must settle their issues and reach a basic compromise, otherwise they are doomed (McGovern anyone? or Bush Senior 2, if you prefer?). Sometimes I am sure that this is the success of US democracy who in spite of being a presidential system has managed to survive terrible catastrophes over more than two centuries.

The best line of this convention was from Bill Clinton, no doubt. I do not know whether he really penned it but it goes down in political history as the right thing to say at the right time, an amazing sense of what must be done.
"People have always been more impressed by the power of our example, than by the example of our power."
I, for one, do subscribe to that fully. If you doubt it look at Europe today, rebuilt under the Marshall Plan with a full belief in democratic values that came with the marines, no matter how many might hate that idea. What about Japan? Even a baseball power now! Or what about FDR managing to avoid extremism in spite of one of the worst recession of modern times? True, the power of the US in its century has been awesome but it would have been of little effect if it was not accompanied by example. And perhaps if Iraq is not the success that some hoped for is simply due because the US forgot to lead by example, from torturing prisoners to behaving like a colonial power. True, it is unfair to simplify the Iraq problem to a simple value question as I just did: it is too much of a complex issue, starting from the failure of Bush Senior to remove Saddam when no one would have cried for him. Was not the first Gulf War the perfect moment to break with common opinion and lead by example even if the UN did not allow for it?

But since this is a Venezuelan blog, that Clinton quote allows me to tie this post to the topic that occupies so much of our time.

Tonight as I was waiting for the convention coverage to start in earnest, I was watching Alo Ciudadano when a cadena came up. The reason was to receive a few Argentina businessmen, true leaches to come around to see what they can grab in Venezuela while the going is still good for them. Don't they know how their colleagues got robbed with SIDOR? Just there I know that this cadena was just yet another excuse for feeble propaganda; and we got it, but in real bad taste. Even though it was totally off topic as the cadena was supposed to be a "conversatorio" between Chavez and these Argentinean businessmen, it was mostly a Chavez monologue as any Argentine who was allowed a microphone knew better than talk for more than a couple of minutes: there is only one mic star here, and it is Hugo.

And what did El Surpremo spoke about? He wasted our time hallucinating about Bolivar and San Martin meeting at Guayaquil, rewriting history further. He launched yet another long tirade against the 2002 "coup", modifying again his own version of events. He insulted those who do not agree with him, using his current favorite word, "pitiyanki" (Yankee lover?) and other assorted choice words. Indeed, I suppose that after what I wrote above I certainly can be accused of pitiyankismo....

But then as I listened to the DNC I returned in mind to that cadena. How small is Chavez compared to all of these great politicians, who make flawless speeches sating their point forcefully without needing to insult their opponent (the Biden speech for example, where he stressed his personal friendship with McCain). And how powerful is their ability to compromise even as they cannot offer a genuine reconciliation. Chavez is simply unable to listen, to compromise, to forgive, to reconcile. It is beyond his understanding, and the few glimpses we might seem to find in him of such virtues are always tainted by secret agendas and incomplete pardons, almost as if he were to forgive some just as to be allowed to be even harsher on most.

It is not that I have any faith in US politicians, I know better. But tonight I was painfully shown the gap in between our democratic cultures. For all its fault the US system is able to produce politicians we are willing to listen to, who are actually saying something, who are able to let us know how stupid we are not to follow them without us feeling stupid as we hear their words. With Venezuelan politicians, chavistas in particular, we always know that we are scum. And with some opposition pols we are also scum, even thought it is not as blatant. In fact, some of the chavista officials reserve some of their worst insults to their own followers, a truly amazing phenomenon, almost as if leadership was acquired there through a nefarious pecking order from hell.

We are so primitive, so vulgar, and we seem to cultivate such characteristics. Perhaps after all we do deserve the fate that has befallen on us.

Meanwhile I am left to observe with sheer envy the US once again coming together at a time of crisis, producing history for us. Tonight for the first time an African American, and a first generation one at that, has been nominated to become the next president of the Country. And if it was not him, it would have been the first woman, equally historical a moment. Tonight we all sensed what is at stake, we all sensed that even if Obama does not make it next November, he has set the agenda of the country and McCain would not be able to escape it. The only real prospect is how fast the page will turn. Obama was not redundant in talking of integration, he talked of gay rights instead. The social revolution that started in the 60ies might not be complete yet, but with him it is advanced enough that is time to start a new one. The US will never cease to amaze us with its regeneration power. Meanwhile under Chavez we have fallen back prey to the worst ghosts of our past. Chavez dares to blame someone else, the US preferably, for his obscurantism and his true reactionary nature. And we have been following for ten years already, with no regeneration perspective in sight. We are so far from greatness.

-The end-

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chavez Olympic failure (bis repetita non placent)

Last Monday I posted on the dismal role of Venezuela at the Olympics. Not the athletes, mind you, 109 of them managed to qualify and did, at least most of them, their very best. No, the failure as usual is the Venezuelan state, a system aggravated under chavismo where sports have become a political flag, something that never happened before, or at least nowhere close to the obscene propaganda we were subjected to before Beijing. But some readers did not like my post and thus in an unusual step I am posting a complement to that previous post, not a fun one as the title of this post indicate. It will take the single graph below and a few extra lines.

In this graph you have three lines. First, the blue line is the size of the Venezuelan team since 1948 when a single athlete was dispatched. As you can see, the amount of Venezuelan athletes that manage to qualify has been rather consistent since 1952 (when the latest dictator in search of popularity managed to rise the delegation from 1 to 38 athlete, a feat that Chavez could only hope to do one day; but then dictators were efficient whereas today, well, you know...) We thus go from a low of 16 in Tokyo 1964 to a maximum of 51 in Sidney in 2000. It is interesting to note at this point that this 2000 result is the last one that can be attributed to past administrations, the positive trend that Chavez inherited when he came to power on February 1999. It is also worth noting that in 2004, the first year Chavez policies can take some credit (they certainly will never accept the blame), that number dropped slightly to 48 athletes.

The second line in red, chavi-reality, is the one that chavista propaganda has tried to present us before Beijing. It is deeply flawed for one main reason: it curiously omits 2000 and 2004 from its announced years as you can still see on the Quick Time video at the Propaganda Ministry. If it is true that we jumped above 100 athletes it is also true that for the first time we qualified three teams. If you remove these athletes and their backbenchers, well, we would fall back to our usual 40-50. No word of that on any chavista page anywhere. So yes, let's be, as Venezuelans, happy that we now can have teams qualifying, even if they did almost dead last at Beijing: at least they will have gained experience and in four years they should do better (well, not Softball who will be out).

The rest is just the marker medal, with a maximum of three medals at Los Angeles in 1984. Truly, there is nothing worth writing home after ten years of chavista bureaucracy directing sorts: we are equally good or equally mediocre depending on your half glass of life philosophy.

The orange circle is just to stress the two missing years in the "official" story. But chavismo is already erasing people from pictures, public places and so, in the good commie tradition. I leave you with yet another example of the pre-Beijing propaganda. It comes from the day Chavez gave the flag to the team: look at it for a while, it is a shor 2 minutest, observe that the 109 athletes were not at hand (some knew better?) and how he wastes their time for his glory. Nothing new, really, the same tasteless to vulgar abuse of power we have been used to for the last 10 years with the lack of constructive results attached to such type of messy rule.

-The end-

The money bag trial in Miami

Miguel informs us that the trial over the 800 000 USD bag that was caught in Buenos Aires last year is abotu to start. Corruption in Venezuela is about to be clearly exposed. Since Miguel has been following that up close and since he knows much better than anyone how to explain the different financial contraptions used to rob the country, I will advise you to follow the case at his blog. As for the rest of events, keep reading here, Miguel knows no-nothing (ooops! running fast for cover!)

-The end-

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What can Venezuela do to counter Chavez autocratic wishes?

Last December we did stop Chavez latest bid to ensure power for a generation. And yet we are confronted to the need of stopping him once again. In recent months Chavez and his acolytes, afraid as their fortunes start fading, have decided to break down their last restraints and let us see what they are really about. Measures are diverse, from the banning of politicians favored at polls to a set of two dozen decree laws that will allow among many things Chavez to establish rationing cards for all in Venezuela, rule the army as if this was his own militia, seize the property of whomever he does not like, centralize all from his office even if it paralyzes the country. Already new measures are in the works, such as a communication law that will allow Chavez to close this blog as he sees fit, China style, or the nationalization of transport industry to control deliveries of every food staple in Venezuela, favoring of course the districts that vote for him, effectively making elections totally meaningless.

The only amazing thing here is the lack of reaction in general from the populace, too busy in its own survival to pay much attention to the subtleties of complex laws which real objective is control, and only that. Amazingly some people that should have known better waited until a week ago to confess that they are finally getting worried. Obviously they did not read the right blogs who have been predicting our bleak future long ago. But if those people can be excused by distance or naiveté, the political class in Venezuela cannot. After all, as we see on TV or read on papers, the people who most talk against the decree laws are again NGO and civil sectors such as students. Only some politicians, to their great credit, are finally starting to shift the election away from excessive pothole fixing. Julio Borges for one, is giving a much less "blandengue" image than what he used to, at long last.

Yet, can we condemn politicians wholesale? What can they really do? The fact of the matter is whether we like it or not, whether we like our opposition politicians or not, whether chavismo wants us to riot in the streets or stay home cowed by the crime rate terror, all solutions pass through winning as many states as we can win next November. Let's see why.

Article 350

These days this famous article that constitutionally allows for civil disobedience in case of governmental constitutional violation is into many mouths. And truly, for the first time it is worth discussing it even if some luminaries like Teodoro Petkoff ridicule that option because it comes without a manual. Allow me to give you an application example.

Imagine that on November 23 the opposition wins 10 states, including Zulia, Carabobo, Aragua and Miranda. Namely, more than half of the Venezuelan population will be under opposition governor rule. Their possible success would play a determining rile not only for 2011 elections where one of them will be the most likely candidate, but also as a barrage against further Chavez encroachment. But their success will depend on how able they will be to rule, which means to roll back the recent law decrees of Chavez. That is where the 350 appeal comes into play.

Let's say that within a few weeks at least 8 of these governors go to the High Court to post a legal challenge. Let's say that they also go to the CNE to put up a referendum petition to revoke the bills. Let say now that after 2-3 months nothing happens, that under technicalities their petition is blocked. Then they simply can declare upon a notarized document that since they are called to one day exert higher functions, they are declaring now that any agreement made by the Venezuelan state through the 26 decree laws with any Venezuelan or foreign national, or with any foreign country will not be recognized as violating the present constitution. Immediately the Venezuelan credit overseas collapses as nobody will loan money to Chavez unless they can do so completely outside the 26 decrees law because they could face in the future a legal and constitutional default. In short, Venezuela would become too much of an unreliable business partner.

Of course, the legal battle would be hard and international courts would in the end probably rule against Venezuela anyway since no serious country carries anything equivalent to article 350 (1). But the psychological impact would speed up Chavez deterioration or force him to withdraw the laws or accept the challenge of a referendum to vote down the law. He might or might not win it, but odds are that with 10 governors campaigning actively and providing resources to a vigorous campaign Chavez might not win, the more so that the governors at no point are questioning the right of Chavez to remain in office until 2011. But that Chavez will be pushed closer to some form of resignation procedure is clear for all, in particular for the chavistas that are starting to get tired of him.

High stakes game but almost brilliant, no? But it has a catch! You need still to win 10 governorships.

Constitutional Assembly, assorted referendums and National Assembly recall elections

These are three other ways to counter the effect of the enabling law decrees and the laws about to be enacted, based in part on these awful totalitarian intended decrees (note: that their application is difficult if not impossible is not really relevant, the part of it that can be actually applied is for a totalitarian like control of at least some group of people within the country).

In short.

A Constitutional Assembly requires a large amount of signatures, a previous referendum, an election of the said assembly, a new constitution and its approval. It can take a year or two to take effect and thus it allows for two years of application of controls that might make any new constitution a moot point. Not to mention that there is always the possibility that chavismo might win it and even though they will back down on many points they might get what they want the most, two more elections for Chavez.... It woudl be a cumbersome procedure, of result not guaranteed. It would be best to apply after Chavez as a way to clean up the judicial mess left by him. But right now the problem is Chavez and against him alone it is not really that effective.

The different referendums are also an attractive option but with control of TSJ and CNE, the way the questions are put on the ballot can diminish the impact of any vote, not to mention that the TSJ might declare unconstitutional to vote against certain laws or demand instead a series of referendums spaced in time. It will be a protracted war with the ballot in chavista CNE hands and thus far from certain positive outcome.

Recall Election of the National Assembly if for me the best approach as I am sure that at least a third of the sitting deputies can be kicked out no matter how many obstacles the CNE puts in front. That by itself would be enough to disequilibrate chavismo power and break his current majority. The more so that the new wave of deputies will be highly motivated and dig and dig where chavismo wants it the least. By December 2009 we might get a brand new National Assembly with lots and lots of headaches for Chavez.

The catch for all of these options? You need again to win at least 10 governorships. The more so that you will require people to sign on many petitions that will become newer Tascon Lists. You will get that only if you have ten governors taking the front battle and willing to risk their necks if you risk at least your name on a list.

What to do?

Well, we must start by the beginning, win as many governorships and mayor's office as we can. This requires a unified campaign that is able to modulate according to the districts its message. If in Caracas it is OK to stress constitutional violation and Chavez autocracy, to motivate traditional opposition to drop once and for all its abstentionist attitude, elsewhere it might require much more promises of potholes fixing than anti Chavez rhetoric. Not too difficult if you ask me since in most states the chavista officials that got elected 4 years ago have a reputation of absentee landlords. If opposition candidates project the image that they will be there to protect constituent interests, if anything because Chavez will not give them an helicopter to travel around like he gave to folks like Diosdado Cabello who has not been trapped in traffic jams since he is governor, well, it might just be enough to get these ten states needed.

Will the political class rise to the occasion? Nothing less certain but at least it gives meek hints of moving the right way.

But there is one thing that readers of this blog who vote in Venezuela can do: to go and vote and push anyone around them to vote.

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1) Article 350 of the constitution reads in Spanish:

"Artículo 350. El pueblo de Venezuela, fiel a su tradición republicana, a su lucha por la independencia, la paz y la libertad, desconocerá cualquier régimen, legislación o autoridad quecontraríe los valores, principios y garantías democráticos o menoscabe los derechos humanos." Article 350. The Venezuelan people, faithful to its republican tradition, to its fight for independence, to peace and liberty, will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that will go against the values, principles and democratic guarantees or diminish human rights.

Which is exactly what Chavez has been doing this year.

-The end-

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chavez Olympic failure

The Olympics are over and awarded one cardboard medal to Chavez. He has started trying to pass the buck around, but from an editorial today in Tal Cual to the justified claims of some returning athletes who dared to speak against the ways sports are dealt with in Venezuela we know he has once again messed up big time. Should we be surprised? Did we not know that the chavista administration is improvisation everywhere, as we saw it clearly in the organization of the soccer event of last year with stadiums that are yet to be completed as I type.

In all fairness the Venezuela medal industry has always been deficient. See, organizing sporting venues and offering a decade long commitment to promising athletes is just beyond the grasp of the multiple populist governments that have ruled us since the 70ies. Sports where considered as something that you throw a lot of money at one year to expect results the next. Unfortunately it does not work like that: behind successful athletes all around the world there is much more than the athletes, there is the family, the facilities, the coaches, the public support, the government help as far as possible. There is a country behind any successful athlete, as Milagros Socorro reminded us in El Nacional ten days ago. In Venezuela athletes have been most of the times left on their own, the most successful ones usually finding ways to train overseas. Morochito Rodriguez winning our lone gold medal ever, in Mexico games, is also the rare example of an athlete home grown, in boxing, where there is some money.

Organizing any type of sustained activity in Venezuela is quite difficult and I experienced it myself. When I moved back form the States I tried to join the local Masters swim team. I was coming from 3 to 4 times a week training where all in all I was doing up to 10 Km a week. Well, for three years I battled all, dirty pools, lack of coaching, unfair schedules, general apathy, endless meetings that lead nowhere. But the most vexing part was that the pool had always priority for all sort of "events" of dubious value except for its social and or political component. Still, I could have dealt with it had I been properly warned. But no: how often did I make it to the pool, all ready to jump, to be told that no, no more training for so many days. And this happens, I'll bet anything, to much larger scale, for Olympic athletes, with worse consequences. Does anyone remember when Acosta Carles was sworn in governor of Carabobo 4 years ago and took away the about to the inaugurated special center for sports training and health to turn it over to the "people needs"? Just like that, as if youth and athletes were not also people with needs?

We would have expected that Chavez, after ten years in office, with the help of so many Cuban trainers that are sent to us as a meager payment of all the oil we give them nearly for free, would have managed, even if just for propaganda purposes, to create some sport program that would deliver half a dozen medals. No? No!

And yet Chavez had high hopes. We had been submitted to incessant propaganda abotu "oro a la revolucion deportiva" (gold to the sports revolution). Sports authorities boldly predicted our largest harvest ever in Beijing. And we had to settle for a Tae Kwon Do girl, getting almost by luck the bronze medal. I say by luck, not to diminish her abilities at all, but to underline that she was not one of the favorites. As far as I know, this Olympics delegation, at least as far as officials were concerned, was tourism at tax payer expenses. We even saw the governor of Guarico accompanying the Guarico delegation, I kid you not, as if Guarico was a delegation distinct from the Venezuelan one. Was the governor of, say, Nebraska at Beijing, at tax payer expenses?

Under Chavez, even if the need of propaganda is taken into account, we have had yet another huge failure, where Olympics is just an excuse for the multi layered bureaucracy to get a junket trip around the globe. Revolution? Where? Corruption and lies? Everywhere!

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

I was curious to see if I could calculate in any way the failure of chavismo. I came up with the following table. In this table I took into account the winnings of the countries in this area of the world, that is South of the Rio Grande, including the Caribbean.

The first column is the number of medals won (gold, silver and bronze together), the second the population of the country (all data next is form the CIA world book, friends and foes alike), the third column the GDP per capita, and jumping two columns, the number of athletes included int eh delegation (that is, those who had enough merits to qualify to an Olympics game). With these numbers I tried to create some "parameters" in order to evaluate how efficient a country is in training athletes and getting medals, according to its relative size in the world.

The fifth column is the easy one, medals per million people. Of course the winner is Jamaica and Mexico the last one, but Venezuela next to last (the order of the countries, from most efficient to least efficient comes from the last column).

The sixth column calculates the number of medals per billion GDP. That is, an attempt to see whether the GDP of a third world country (all are third world) affect the repartition of medals. surprisingly the order is not really altered though the spread is much more restrained. Clearly, the wealth of a third world country is not a definite indicator as to the potential of that country to win medals. Yet, Venezuela is dead last!

Then I calculated the number of medals per athlete that was sent to see if the size of the group had any bearing on the final medal count. Clearly the spread that we observe in the column before last indicates that that the number of medals won has nothing to do with the size of the delegation. Venezuela, by the way, is dead last again, clearly establishing that the 101 athletes did not deserve all their tickets (I look at the general score and they are far from impressive in general).

And then I came up with a general efficacy index. For this I added up columns 6 and 8 (medals per billion and medals per athlete) and multiplied this by the number in column 5 (medals per million people). For example for Jamaica it would be 3.92*(0,51 + 0,44) = 3,725 (note: my Venezuelan excel gives coma for point, sorry). Now, of course, I have no idea of the validity of such a measure, but as a first approximation of efficacy we do get a coefficient that will ponder the value of medals per athlete.

The result is quite clear, Venezuela is dead last, with the Caribbean Basin countries, Anglo or Hispanic, the only countries worth mentioning. At least, for Chavez discharge, our neighbors south of us did barely better as we see that the 15 medals of Brazil really are not that impressive, at least according to thsi index. Does any one care to calculate the Chinese and the US sports efficacy index?

-The end-

Friday, August 22, 2008

The abysmal awfulness of Venezuelan state TV anchors

[Updated] There is a video I had heard of, about how bad the coverage of Michael Phelps 8th medal was on Tves, the network Chavez started in June 2007 to replace private RCTV, forcefully kicked out of the air waves. I did report about how bad the covering was but for some reason I missed that particular part. Either I was still rushing from my desk to watch the race or this video comes from a posterior replay of Tves or in the emotion I did not pay attention to the anchor words, having already blocked him from the previous half an hour listening to his absurdities. The video carries the translation though it is not very good. Still, amuse yourself at how incredibly ignorant is that Tves anchor: in short, he confuses Phelps with Spitz, puts them in the Munich Olympics presided by Hitler who refused in the end to give Phelps his medal.

And if you are surprised, new to Venezuela, you need to know that Chavez controls now 5 of the 9 networks that exist with more than local overage. All of his networks are equally badly staffed as any journalist, anchor or commentator with any pride in his or her job refuses to work there, a place where all news and programs must contain a promotion of Chavez or his lackeys. One of the things I heard during my very brief Olympic watch was an anchor slavishly thanking personally the CANTV head for the job she allowed him to get. A little bit as if NBC anchor would thank Bill Gates instead of Microsoft for sponsoring, implying that Bill Gates got him the job.

But not only they have no knowledge of world history but they are incoherent. Observe that he starts by saying no living athlete got ever 8 medals to say right after that Phelps did such a feat in Munich. I am in awe!

Update: This is so bad that today I have not been able to shake the thought that it might all be a set up. After all, I wrote this late at night so my judging functions might have been somewhat impaired. But so far there is no evidence that the sound track is fake.

Now, why do I bother discussing this, casting doubt on my very own post, without having been proven wrong yet? Because I think it is interesting to see how slowly but surely we, in Venezuela, are becoming everyday more Pavlovian. See, we are all so used to such bad TV reporting from the state networks (not that the private are much better, but at least they are better) that the first reaction to this video is to accept it at face value. Man, it rings so, so true if you ever watched Tves Olympic coverage! A half an hour of watching it was enough for me to accept this video at face value (and I still do accept its veracity until proven wrong).

So, even if it turned out to be a parody it would not matter because the parody would be better than reality, something possible only in Venezuela! Or as the Italians say: se non e vero, e ben trovato.

-The end-

Are we under a legal military regime in Venezuela?

The question is somewhat specious: judging from the number of military occupying high government positions, judging how the armed forces behave, judging how they feel superior than anyone else and judging by how Chavez keeps seducing them with more and more goodies, this blogger has long ago made up his ming that this is a military regime, the ultimate one in that the army reached power without the need of a coup. But apparently with the enabling law decrees, we are now an official military regime.

Veneconomia editorial today reports the results of a seminary where one of the speakers was general Uson, famed political prisoner, now released under the condition that he never discusses his case and abstain of any press declaration. But in this symposium he did talk and explained to us that form now on, no matter who becomes president after Chavez, Chavez will still remain for all practical purposes the army chief. Of course, if the opposition were to elect a president soon Chavez would be stripped of any army role he might want to keep. But if Chavez cannot run for office and must settle for a Putin like arrangement, well, he could indeed retain full control of the army.

True, from the hypothesis to the reality there is quite a distance, but at the very least we an see that these decree laws were much more calculated and carefully worded than what some naive writers thought at first.

To simplify your life, the editorial in full below (link on the right side on the "daily reads" section).

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

In any other country where independence of the branches of government exists, there is respect for the constitution, and the rule of law prevails, the highest court of the land would have already annulled any laws such as the 26 enacted in Venezuela via special presidential powers. But, as everyone knows, Venezuela with Chávez at the helm does not enjoy those bounties.

It is common knowledge that Hugo Chávez used the package of laws enacted under his special powers to get around the people’s rejection of his proposed communist constitution on December 2, 2007.

A first reading of the 26 decree laws so enacted reveals that Chávez has, to all intents and purposes, eliminated private property, truncated an endless number of civil freedoms and rights, wiped out decentralization, and created his own private army by giving legal status to the militia as the fifth component of the now “Bolivarian” National Armed Force, to name just a few of the many unconstitutional changes he has introduced.

However, if one does a more detailed analysis, as General Francisco Usón did at a VenEconomy seminar, it also becomes clear that, if these laws are not abolished by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Chávez will rise up as the country’s lifelong master. And don’t think that this is an exaggeration.

Article 6 of the new Organic Law of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB after its initials in Spanish) is a new stratagem that grants the President of the Republic the military rank of “Commander-in-Chief,” with five stars included, and makes him the de facto “maximum hierarchical authority” not only of the FANB but of the entire country as well.

This article confers on him the authority to direct “the general development of operations, define and activate the area of conflict, theaters of operations, and strategic overall defense regions.”

What is more, Article 64 announces that “the character acquired with a rank or hierarchy is permanent” and that said rank or hierarchy “will only be lost by a firm sentence that carries with it the additional punishment of downgrading or expulsion from the FANB handed down by a court marshal.”

In case that is not clear enough, it means that Hugo Chávez will be able to continue as Commander-in-Chief for as long as he lives. And what is even worse, not even the election of a new president will relieve him of his powers, because, as anyone familiar with military lore knows, the first person to assume a rank will always have supremacy over those who come after him. In other words, the new president will be subordinate to Hugo Chávez in military matters.

In addition, Article 23 of this law grants the Commander-in-Chief the power to establish “strategic overall defense regions,” which will have their own Chief and Joint General Staff, both answerable to the Commander-in-Chief, and broad functions in matters of strategy, planning, and management and control of the nation’s defense.
To top it all, the civil authorities are now subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief when it comes to control over means and resources and their use in states of emergency or whenever such control is deemed necessary “in the interests of the defense of the nation.”

In a nutshell: with this decree-law, ushered in under his special powers, Hugo Chávez has made his dream of becoming lifelong president come true.

-The end-

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chavez deus ex machina

With the flurry of recent events one is in need of reviewing which Chavez’s real intentions are. Well, readers of this blog have known long ago what this is all about, to install Hugo I. But maybe it is time to evaluate the last couple of months, a check point of sorts, to see where we are going. First, we need a summary of what must be comprehended if you want to make sense of current events.

Principles of chavista grammar

I know, I know, this is going to be repetitive for many of you but I think on occasion it is worth listing again what are the moving forces behind what we see unfolding.

Chavez wants to remain in office for ever. This is clear, and it is the main driving force of all that happens, from the people that think they will benefit from Chavez hold on office from the mistakes of many in the opposition who amazingly seem not to have quite gotten that, not forgetting those who have already accepted that as a fact of life and pretend that all is fine as they dodge bullets daily, you know, like a Panglossian silence.

Chavismo cannot leave office peacefully. After ten years of larceny and corruption and outright looting, too many within chavismo know that without Chavez in power they will not be able to enjoy the loot they have accumulated. At least not inside Venezuela. Since many of them are resentidos sociales they do want to enjoy their new wealth inside Venezuela, not in Miami. Otherwise many of them would have already left, having by now ensured their financial future. No, most chavista want to be rich IN Venezuela to rub it off the faces of the many folks they hate.

The people that rule are thugs. I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, believe it or not. No, I mean this in a psychological sense. Chavez and his entourage are ruling Venezuela exactly as if this one were the gang in charge of some bad neighborhood. They also feel their turf under constant threat from other street gangs. What this means is that they are unable to see people that disagree with them as just that, a disagreement that needs to be discussed in public so that people can decide which is the way they want to do things. They are unable to see anyone that disagrees with them as anything else but a personal threat. In a way, so far, this has been our salvation from totalitarianism: these people are not ideological enough to have such a driving goal, what they want is control and loot. As long as you are not perceived as threatening them, or do not provoke their envy, you are fine. Por ahora.

Chavistas are competently incompetent. Forgive the purposeful oxymoron. The general lack of education or experience in things of the world for most if not all chavista officials are for all to see. After 10 years they are still learning on the job. Unfortunately learning is difficult for them because, well, they do not have the proper education tools, the ones that taught you how to learn and how to evaluate ideas. However they do have the cunning, and they have raised cunning to value status, erasing most other values such as honesty, hard work, openness and transparency. The mystery here is how come a government was able to survive mostly on cunning: no real creativity, no follow up, no nothing, only cunning and day to day improvisation, with the only long term goal being retaining Chavez on top. Look for example at the misiones, the only semi creative thing chavismo ever did. These days Chavez is satisfying himself with renaming them. Chavismo has survived because the political opposition goes from mistake to mistake and because of generous oil prices. Chavistas have proven themselves exceedingly competent on their cunning maneuvers, in order to bend and twist all that stands in their way. For the rest? Forget it!

Chavez’s problem

As far as he is concerned, Chavez has a single problem in life: he lost the 2007 referendum and according to the constitution he must go February 2013. Any constitutional change to remove that expiration date can only be done through further constitutional violation. Of course, that does not bother him a bit, but you know, you still need to make that change believable enough to force people to accept it. Thus all his measures aim at:
Psychological war to make folks believe he will not go, that he is indispensable.

Controlling everything in society in such a way that if he violates the constitution there will be no way for a political challenge to rise and block his takeover. This has a side benefit: if he manages to control society but for any reason he fails to retain power in 2013 he would at least be able to put someone in place to rule by proxy, à la Putin.
Application of the chavista grammar rules

Now that we have reviewed how chavismo is motivated and how it perceives its challenges let’s look at some examples on how he tries to solve intractable problems, the chavista deus ex machina.

Inhabilitaciones. Barring popular leaders form running for office is the latest trend. And yet chavismo is not creative there as it is a method already in wide use among some of Chavez friends. But in this case the peculiar competence of chavismo is clearly in example: they do not even need to jail or put their opponents on trial. A simple administrative decision by what is nothing more than a bureaucrat is enough to stop the run of, say, Leopoldo Lopez for Caracas Mayor. Now, his 20 to 30 points lead is of no use for the opposition as Leopoldo is more worried about benefiting of his victim status rather than solve the candidature problem he left in his wake. We could even say that chavismo made Leopoldo act more like a self serving thug than a responsible long term politician, validating their outlook on life.

Nationalization of the cement industry (and others to come along that line). No sane government has any need to nationalize the cement industry of the country. There are many ways to control prices, and supply, and priorities. For example the government could decree that for its own needs it gets in priority so many tons of concrete a year. Thus the private producers will need on their own to increase their production to satisfy their own customers which can only be served after the state has been served. And they can charge them more if needed as the government can negotiate a “special” price. So, why take over cement industry?

Well, here we have at play the incompetence in chavismo in building housing and major public works. The need to blame another is in part solved by pretending that the government is nationalizing the cement industry because we are led to think Cemex, Lafarge and Holcim where not following this well established capitalist principle of selling the rope to the guy about to hang you.

But we also have the fear of losing power. See, in 4 years Chavez will have to support a successor election, in case he has not found a way to change the constitution and run again himself. As such the nationalization of the cement industry is an admission that the coming local November election will mark a defeat for chavismo, and give 4 years exposure to an eventual successor at some state house. The new crop of local authorities will have four years to prove their worth, for example building the housing that the central government is unable to do (see, by the way, the case of Acosta Carles who is the only chavista governor with a significant public housing track record and who is now able to challenge chavismo in Carabobo!). The solution is thus simple: from now on chavismo will control who will get what cement and at what price. I bet you anything that the new governors will get near nothing, and at high price. You want bridges, houses, hospitals and schools? Vote Chavez! The ultimate blackmail.

This scenario is applied to the nationalization of the steel industry, on the nationalization of the main refrigeration complex in Venezuela, on other food concern nationalization to come who will send their production to PDVAL and MERCAL in priority, and thus to chavista mayors and governors and officials. You are hungry? You want a Mercal near you with full shelves? Vote Chavez! The ultimate populism!

Last minute enabling law decrees. No, the government was not that incompetent to issue on the last day of its 18 months period the 26 decrees it emitted a couple of weeks ago. No, the government was not deliberately violating constitutional principles as a provocation: the constitution has lost its virginity as early as late December 1999 and for thugs repeated rape does not count. No, the real reason for the late publication is that the government needed to tailor them as useful as possible considering polls. It was good to also void any discussion that could have forced a withdrawal of some of the decrees, an event that could have taken place easily if there was a public uproar before the enabling law expired. Now, only painfully long process can change these laws and thus chavismo can apply them for a while at least, long enough to give a few blows.

The enabling law decrees. It is very simple: passing many of the social and economic controls that Chavez wished for in December 2007. He did not get them, people rejected them, so he did the thug way: I am the strong guy here, my way of the highway. That is how Chavez solves the problem he got on December 2: a distinct possibility of weakening about to become much worse November 23. Now, the result of the elections in November 2008 will not mean that much as chavismo will retain the main power tools in all states and cities no matter who is elected there, opposition or chavista as many of them seem to desert Chavez after 4 years.

These laws carry a whole lot of goodies for chavismo, the kind of goodies that populist of the past had wet dreams about. Just to give an example: now Chavez can expropriate whomever he wants. It is not in the constitution but it is in the law. Chavistas come, take your business away with the lamest of excuses BUT you will be paid something, someday. Promised!

Chavez now can decide to lower your prices because “the people” need your goods. He can lower that well below costs if needed if he can prove you were hoarding. Since it is chavistas bureaucrats who decide, not even judges, who is hoarding, well, you are screwed. And if you stop production because you cannot afford it, then you are expropriated.

If by any chance you considered starting a protest or something then you will have the militia getting in your place of work, because see, now Chavez is again a military by law and as such he has the right to go above any general or any officer to force any militia or troop to enter and loot your store, or protect chavista looters. Until then he could only declare wars or guarantee public order. Now he can loot. Be happy that you are not sent to jail because you could end there easily, for more years than if you had killed your spouse.

And I let you imagine what will happen to your business if you are caught financing some opposition politician. May the good Lord take you in his mercy!

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

I can keep going on with more examples from the decrees, or how some of these things are used as decoys to distract people from taking about the very real problems of the country such as the murder rate and the murderous inflation rate. But I trust that the reader got the point.

-The end-

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Phelps gets his 8th gold

So I had to interrupt briefly my Olympics boycott to watch Phelps get his 8th gold, in what is perhaps my favorite event, the 400 medley (I did race it a couple of times in my years as a Masters swimmer in the US, I think I have somewhere a ribbon for a fifth place finish in some local event, I did the breaststroke).

I was initially upset because I had to watch it on Tves, the Chavez failed upstart and the only open signal allowed the dollars of CADIVI to pay for the retransmission. I was hoping that Meridiano would transmit it but they were on some stupid car racing show, so I had to hope that Tves would play the race. They did. I mean, even they could not pass on that. But when the medal ceremony arrived they switched quickly to some other dumb activity. Fortunately by then Meridiano (our local ESPN like network, mostly on cable) had connected so I could watch the ceremony. Tves would not be caught dead playing the US anthem and show US boys get emotional. Unbelievable, the possible greatest moment of these Olympics and Tves could just not go all the way with it!!!

But you know what was even more offensive? The extraordinarily poor quality of the Tves anchors! The amount of mistakes they made during the few minutes I watched was just astounding. I mean, sometimes I even wondered whether they were watching the same signal I was, or even if they knew how to swim. Their knowledge in geography and world sports was dismal. You should have heard them at the 1500 m award ceremony when the Tunisian athlete won the gold. And for bad luck the Tunisian uniform was like the Canadian third place: red all over. As far as Tves is concerned Canada won gold and bronze, until eventually one noted that the three flags were different. Forget about commenting the transcendence that a Tunisian won a medal on an event that usually belongs to the US and Australia..... If Tves has the exclusive, well, it makes my resuming of the boycott much easier.

[UPDATE] The perfect corny tribute to Phelps on Yahoo. Corny but it works. And it is a little bit voyeuristic too, but so are all sports requiring skimpy tight suits of diverse lengths.

And I forgot to add how thrilled I was by the race last night and how much in awe of Phelps I am. But so are we all, are we not?

-The end-

More More

Apparently I am not the only one that is having Thomas More on his mind. I am not sure whether El Nacional columnist Karl Krispin is also watching the Tudor series on TV but today he publishes an article titled "Thomas More and the enabling law" (In Spanish here since El Nacional is by subscription). One thing is certain is that I did not inspire him since by the time I posted my version his was already set to print. It does not matter, what is interesting is that we are many in search of politicians with a little bit of "backboned" principles, a.k.a ethics.

-The end-

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Let's not forget: the company they keep

On occasion still some PSF dare to thread these waters. Thus I know they keep reading this blog in the vain hope of finding one day a chink in the armor. So far, so bad.

So, for you all PSF that on occasion glance through these pages, this interview of Armando Valladares by Maria Anastasia O'Grady. You can say all what you want, that she is a paid agent of Bush, that Valladares sold out, that Raul is a nice guy, but the facts are the facts, no matter when in time they happened. As long as you do not at least acknowledge some of these facts, any of your pro Chavez arguments, usually nothing more than a cryptic anti US posturing, will have a woeful lack of credibility. Or, if you prefer, since according to you O'Grady and her subject today are guilty by association, so is Chavez, you must agree.

Deal with it.

-The end-

Friday, August 15, 2008

Do we need more Thomas More?

Since I am not watching the Olympics I got to watch the second season of the very fantasist series the Tudors. Tonight they beheaded Thomas More.

I have had some qualms about the reconstruction of Tudor England: much too clean; a king Henry the VIII well too thin (but sexy) and a Spanish queen whose Spanish is just terrible. Did they have to make her speak Spanish to the fake Spanish ambassador? But still, it is quite dramatic, quite entertaining, quite visual, and best, it is an excuse to revisit an exciting historical period, which I was musing resembles curiously many aspects of our contemporary problems, from justification of light totalitarianism, to free will in an age of political correctness.

And today we beheaded Thomas More. As the movie glosses lightly over the large moral questions that Thomas Moore faced and that led him to the scaffold, one could not help but wonder why was he made a saint. After all, he had no problem sending Lutherans to the pyre, he was not alien to censorship and his most famous work, Utopia, is considered as a commie book by some. No wonder his historical berth made him the patron saint of all politicians, who are certainly in need of role models.

Is thus Thomas More relevant today when he himself was far from blameless? I think he is because of all his qualities constancy and duty to the greater good ranked higher, and led him to the scaffold, a scaffold he could have easily avoided had he wanted to. True, under Henry VIII, a sexually obsessed totalitarian who had no problem destroying the shrine of yet another saint Thomas that run into trouble with a King, maybe More knew he was doomed and he might have decided to get it over with and become a martyr. The Zeitgeist then was about martyrdom and deep public shows of faith. Today Thomas More might accept an easier exit.

As I was watching Thomas More on TV I thought briefly of Leopoldo Lopez. I mean, there is nothing in the imagery of the movie nor in the discourse of the people and even less in the looks of the actors that could possibly remind me of Leopoldo. Why I thought about him is that even though he might be one of the most principled politicians of Venezuela today, he falls way short of the standards of a Thomas More. Never mind the rest of our local pols....

In Venezuela we do have today our own Henry VIII version. He might not be marrying around but he is equally single minded in pursuing his own self interest and pleasures. In an age of mass media we have invented new pleasures and who is to know what good king Henry would have done. After all, with in vitro techniques and antibiotics the succession problem would have been solved with less chopped heads.

Our King Hugo in a way effects the same mood on Venezuela as Henry did on England. You think I am kidding? Venezuela, a country that was deeply attached to the US and its way of life is breaking away in as painful a process, and lasting as long, as the break up of England with Rome. King Hugo suffers as much from his rejection by the US presidents than King Henry suffered from Rome's refusal to oblige him. And the people under them suffer equally form having to take sides. It took two centuries for England to finally settle its religious problems. In this respect it did not do them any good to have Thomas More and watch him beheaded. Henry VIII moved along and the Tudors lasted for over half a century more. Poor Thomas had to wait 4 centuries to become a saint. Justice arrives, but it has no timetable.

Do we have at least the hope of a Thomas More in Venezuela? I am afraid that the days are not favorable to Thomas Mores anywhere, at the Beijing Olympics, in Georgia, flying over Khartoum, negotiating in Harare or visiting Arab country summits. Upright attitudes are actually frown upon today: on TV such people look arrogant, insensitive to "different" cultures and people whose "peculiarities" are too often allowed to rank above basic ethical principles (only the Taliban seem to have missed such defense in the West, not because of what they killed but because of the burkha, a tad too much even for the most P.C. airheads of the world).

In Venezuela in front of our most psychotic president in recent history we have had the bad luck to be totally devoid of a principled great leader, if not political at least moral or cultural. I mean, we do have a whole bunch of luminaries that we should not be ashamed of, such as Padre Ugalde or journalists like Milagros Soccorro who daily stick their necks for us. Even among politicians there are some principled ones such as Teodoro Petkoff. They are all good but I am not sure what it would take for them to walk steadily to the scaffold when the time comes. Not that King Hugo can do a literal scaffold, at least not yet: he contents himself with executions from Alo Presidente.

Should we blame them? Certainly not. After all we saw what we did to the failed leaders of 2002 and 2004. Who talks or cares today about Juan Fernandez, one of the most palatable of the lot? Who is risking his or her career to defend Venezuelan political prisoners? Most are too worried about getting elected mayor of Tucusiapon. True, we should also get elected there, I am all in for that, we need every nook and cranny to build strength against Chavez, but there is something missing somewhere and that is someone who is willing to compromise it all for a political cause that we all know is right, even if many will not agree with it. On this respect the Venezuela people do resemble a lot the English of the XVI century. They all knew in London that it was wrong to behead Thomas More but they all watched and moved on.

Perhaps the most pathetic example today of what I am saying is Leopoldo Lopez. He refused to prepare a Plan B for when he would be barred form running for Caracas mayor. Once he was barred then he decided that he would not support anyone (a me or else moment?). Now he comes up with a second run, an opposition primary to replace him, which we assume that he will manage, and which will also ensure an exit for his protegé in Chacao town hall. I cannot tell you how underwhelmed by Leopoldo Lopez I am now. I cannot think of a faster switch from wanna-be martyr to cheap survivor! One week!

Curiously in the same week we got a new candidate for the Thomas More award. Oh, he is certainly not close to win it but at least he is the one politician that is taking steps towards a productive martyrdom: Ismael Garcia. Yes, that is right. He might have accompanied King Hugo to depths that are unjustifiable, but so did Thomas with Henry for a while. And just like Thomas, when all fell to the King's feet something made him pull back. Ismael showed that in the deepest of him there was still something worth fighting for. Now, alone and still shunned by most folks he does his work, not recoiling in front of anything, going as far as marching in the streets next to Leopoldo Lopez just before this one blew his chance. And guess what? Ismael did not sign up to become Caracas mayor even though many thought he should do it. Maybe that "omission" is part of the strategy, but it was also a dignified gamble.

-The end-

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Georgia in our minds and yet more hypocrisy of Chavez

There is this, where the real motives of Russia and planned "opportunity" against Georgia are becoming more apparent.

And there is this, with all the double standards of pseudo lefties like Chavez. Simon Boccanegra concludes rightly, that such people have no authority. Moral or otherwise.

-The end-

I am boycotting the Beijing Olympics

Money talks.

I have been in a depressed funk these past few days. I am still in awe at how the Chinese managed to hold their Olympics while repressing Tibetans and other assorted minorities (Uighurs anyone?). Nothing mattered in the end, the worker's exploitation, the pollution over Beijing which of course drifts over the rest of the world over time, the ugly people resettled, the people being killed whenever they look at a Chinese official in a weird way, the censorship on Internet, the regular confiscations of foreign reporters material, etc, etc...

Nothing mattered, the Olympic committee caved in, nobody had to resign, and apparently a Spanish female biker doping herself was much more of a scandal than people beaten up in Beijing streets.

Nothing mattered. After initial posturing, Bush and Sarkozy eventually showed up for the inauguration. In fact, we could almost sense relief when Russia banged on Georgia, as an excuse not to talk about China nth violation of Human Rights, a China probably delighted by the Georgia affair as it can crank up at notch its repressive machine right now as you read this.

Nothing mattered. The Dalai Lama tried to be conciliatory, tried to cool down the mood in Tibet, probably sensing that the arrogant Chinese will massacre folks even more if their Olympics were questioned. For all recompense of his moderation he was received through the back door at the French Senate, and was allowed to carry his recent bad news about Tibet in an office, not even in some meeting room. No French official received him while Sarkozy was playing state man somewhere over the Caucasus.

Nothing mattered. Count Jacques Rogge, IOC head, was seen in Beijing at a cocktail party speaking in French and stressing the importance of retaining French as the major Olympic game. The French folks attending loved it and that was the end of French complaints about Chinese actions. Maybe French language gained something at Beijing, but French prestige went down yet another notch. Then again Rogge did not care, he speaks 5 languages and he had no problem in accommodating NBC financial pressure. As a Belgian he has learned long ago the art of sucking to pass between cracks.

Of course I could not announce my boycott before the start of the game because it is unfair to blame the athletes for the shenanigans and the love for money of the IOC. Money talks, we just did not know that it talked so loud, even in Yuan.

I have been punishing myself. I wanted to watch the inauguration ceremony, but I could not bring myself to do it. I never miss the swimming contests, my favorites. And I am missing ALL of them. I know what time they are on TV but I just cannot bring myself to watch them. I know, it is stupid, I am only punishing myself, but I cannot help it. How could I watch Phelps team trashing the French relay team and not watch the bombing over Georgia? Thus I watch neither and limit myself to some summaries on Yahoo Sports or the TV news who mercifully only highlight the rather poor performance of Venezuelan athletes and teams, probably cursed from accepting a Chavez send off and the benefit he tries to get form their work. A Chavez who by the way had his foreign minster send some support messages to Putin against this imperialist Georgians.... this form people who have no f*****g idea of where the Caucasus is and whatever happened there. Putin can kill and main Chechens or Georgians, he is a chavista hero. How sick it can get?

I am truly pissed, at the provocation of
Saakashvili that should have known better to how brutal and disproportionate was the Russian reaction and how meek was the West response at first. Summer vacation, Olympics, Obama versus McCain, who cares. Certainly not the IOC who could have kicked out of the Olympics the Russian and the Georgian teams.

But I am left with a small but big consolation: Phelps is the hero of the games and there is nothing the Chinese can do to take it away from him, no matter Chinese theater illusions they might come up with.

I am sorry Mike, I would have loved to accompany you through your feat, one I was looking forward to watch. But it was not meant to be, maybe on some video someday. Still, this last picture of you when you arrived in Beijing will be for me the best one of the whole games, how you brightened up the silly red. Thank you for giving us the hero we waited for since Mark Spitz.

-The end-

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why Chavez killed justice

Last December we told Chavez NO to his personal ambitions. But Chavez will not take NO for an answer and courtesy of an accomplice Constitutional Court he has found a way to get a lot of the stuff that we, as a people, rejected last December in a referendum. By the way, we are still waiting for the final count of that referendum and this accomplice silence of the CNE also explains a lot on why Chavez dares to violate the Constitution.

This cartoon of Weil is almost sublime and makes me want to cry.

-The end-

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 5 -second predictions-

This week will see the completion of candidate nominations. Thus it is time to make my second chart of predictions where I try to take into account the effect of the divisive internal fights in each camp. Unfortunately for us, polls are not published as they are the internal weapons of argument and we only get here and there snippets that we may or may not believe. For example according to chavismo this one will win everything except perhaps Margarita Island, but they will fight for it ‘til the end. I mean, even the Baruta candidate who would achieve a brilliant success if he were to cross the 15% mark speaks confidently that he will finally make an administration for all Barutans. It would be funny if it were not so sad a representation of the growing disconnection between Chavez and the country.

The table below is made at the best of my knowledge and thus should be considered with caution. Better predictions could come as early as late September. I will discuss the different situations as they are listed in the table that you might want to right click into a new window to follow better. I am focusing only on states right now as the town hall situation is still confused enough that there is no point wasting your time in analysis that could be invalidated within a couple of weeks.

Caracas. Miranda made its unity behind a dynamic candidate, Capriles Radonsky, even though the natural one should have been Mendoza, but he is bared. The candidate of chavismo, sitting governor Diosdado Cabello, has such a bad record that he claims now that he could not do anything in his first term but that now, yes, he can. Unfortunately for him under his watch Miranda crime has beaten all records while the general infrastructure is collapsing all around as the Barrio Adentro modules keep closing. The only question left here is how well will Mendoza and Capriles merge to campaign hard in Caracas so as to ensure the Caracas Metropolitan district and Miranda State.

Vargas which was supposed to be a sure thing for chavismo is now a toss up: Garcia Carneiro is a lousy candidate that can only buy an election whereas the opposition has united behind a reinvigorated Rodolfo Smith.

The real problem for the opposition is the Mayor at Large office now that Leopoldo Lopez is out of the running. Chavismo files Aristobulo Isturiz, one of the very few credible candidates that it has whereas the opposition now is in a scramble to find a unity candidate since Leopoldo rather irresponsibly never wanted to discuss a "plan B". Spoilers such as Fermin are trying to sneak in whereas the opposition still discusses whereas to launch a big name. Considering that Baruta, Chacao AND Sucre are likely to vote massively against chavismo, Metropolitan Caracas should still go oppo, but for the time being I prefer to downgrade it to "leaning" instead of “sure thing”. I will wait for a special post on Caracas alone to discuss this further.

Industrial Center. Good news for the opposition there. Carabobo is consolidating behind ex governor Salas Feo while chavismo unity collapsed when Acosta Carles decided to run anyway while Mario Silva infamous bid seems to be floundering badly, and not surprisingly. Unfortunately at the level of mayors the unity does not work out as well and it is too early to see how this will affect the margin of victory for Salas Feo. In Aragua the primary worked out fine and even though Aragua is arguably the most pro Chavez state, the political machinery of Didalco Bolivar is strong enough to resist the challenge of chavismo who is not filing a very good candidate there, Isea, a lackluster uncharismatic, wooden, ex military, ex finance minister. Thus I put now Aragua as leaning to the oppo.

Llanos. Not much change there. I leave Portuguesa in the pro Chavez camp in spite of a divided chavismo ticket because the opposition has no heavy weight there and because I suspect that chavismo will resolve its candidature later. The PPT candidate should send the PSUV candidate packing real soon as she is a true local. The only change really is Guarico where the candidature of Lara is not credible and where Manuitt is running by proxi. Still, in the end chavismo should prevail but now Guarico with Barinas have become the only possible picks for the opposition, assuming an excellent campaign and a continuing chavista division.

Oriente. The opposition keeps steady progress there. In Sucre the machinery or Ramon Martinez will operate as the one of Didalco Bolivar in Aragua and an early unity behind an "independent" could bring Sucre for the opposition. Anzoategui finally achieved its unity behind the PJ nominee once the AD one was barred from running. If campaign unity is finally achieved, not a sure thing as AD is bitter to have lost one of its top candidates, Anzoategui could go from leaning to a sure thing. No change in the other states as the chavista division in Monagas does not seem to prosper.

Guayana. No change there. The division between the opposition ranks maintain the weak chances of the sitting chavista governor of Bolivar whose administration was catastrophic. But a late unification within the opposition could quickly change the result in November.

Andes. In that region the opposition has weakened due to its inability to reach unity in either Merida or Tachira. The last minute agreement in Merida is probably not enough since the beneficiary, William Davila, is a worn out figure from the past and some one chavismo can attack easily with a "no volveran". In Tachira, well, it is a mess now that the front runner was barred form running. Thus both states are now downgraded to leaning just because there is a real dissatisfaction with chavismo there, not because of any brilliant opposition strategy.

Centro Occidente. No change there. The chavismo candidate is strong in Lara. Yaracuy is divided in both camps so all is possible and Falcon I have no idea what is going on there, I admit.

Zulia. The heavy handed ways of Rosales, the dissident run of Saadi Bijani and the heavy Chavez support for Di Martino makes me downgrade Zulia to a leaning for instead of a sure thing. I still think that after a few weeks of campaign Bijani will drop out and Zulia should return to “sure thing” status.

Conclusion. The opposition went down in three months form 7 sure states to 3 sure, due to the barring from running to some of its most prominent candidates and the squabbles for unity. However now there are 7 states leaning opposition which gives an overall improvement of 8 to 10 “sure/leaning”. Chavismo did not lose as much "sure states": from 9 to 8, but the problem for chavismo is that it is more difficult for it to recoup any lost ground due to its generally weak candidates and its growing internal divisions which will promote significant abstention. Chavez is relying much more on the 26 decree laws, the purchase of Banco Venezuela and other effectist measures, but it is still unclear if these will by November favor him or hurt him. If inflation does not fall below 1% in October it might have been all for naught.

I have indulged in an extra "pastel" column for a more dreamy result, I suppose. That column represents now the best possible scenario for the opposition. There are 13 pale blue states. But again I must remind folk that reaching such a result requires a lot of sacrifice and organization for the opposition, namely: unity of candidatures everywhere, manning the poll stations on election day, ALL poll stations, a campaign that combines adroitly pothole fixing to attract enough chavista votes but also addressing national issues to make sure the opposition base gets motivated to vote.

-The end-

Monday, August 11, 2008

Of the uselesness of recall elections: Venezuela 2004, Bolivia 2008

Today Bolivia wasted precious time and resources in an electoral campaign that has solved nothing. All those that mattered won, no one punched down the other side and the country is in fact more divided than ever. Just as in Venezuela the Recall Election of 2004 solved nothing, allowing Chavez to retain office and unleash on the country the most corrupt and inefficient government of our democratic history. That is, assuming that Chavez is a democratic government which is something that has been questionable for quite a while. In both cases I squarely put the blame on the system of recall elections which after the example of Bolivia today is proven a useless system for our Latin cultural approach to politics. But first each result.

Bolivia 2008

The results are pretty much as expected. Evo Morales and his vice retain power with an increased percentage from 2005. But with a country more divided than ever. Indigenous people of the Altiplano voted massively for their man, no matter what, but the mixed races low land, at the heart of Bolivia economy voted against Morales. In fact, tensions were so bad that Morales at the end could not campaign there (not that the low-lands governor could campaign in the Altiplano for that matter...). So Morales seems to have gained over 60% of the votes but today he cannot travel in half of the country.

But even his own victory in the Altiplano has already the seeds of his future problems: the Oruro Prefect (kind of governor) also on the ballot apparently lost. And yet he was a man of Morales, who carried Oruro without problems. Thus we can already see the same pattern than in Venezuela, the pro-Morales vote is an emotional one whose coattails do not seem to work very well. In fact, interestingly, all could be happy as even those who lost got MORE votes than in 2005.

Even his own improvement in the Altiplano, revoking the Prefect of La Paz, is not necessarily a good long term prospect. To begin with Paredes was elected with a minority vote, and became an accidental opponent. Clearly, as soon as the Recall Election was called for he knew he was doomed, that his chances were null. Yet he did get close to 40% of the votes and now, freed of governing duties, and a victim in public opinion, he could soon become a much more dangerous opponent to Morales than what he would be had he retained his seat.

The regional opposition also can claim victory, though in all fairness the 60%+ of Morales, coattails or not, clouds prospects some. But the "media luna" Prefects all seem to have won with more than 50% of the vote, in particular the more radical one of the biggest province of Santa Cruz who got more than 70%. So now, considering that the loss of La Paz is meaningless since there was little Paredes could do against Morales in the capital, we have 4 ratified prefects, 1 for the opposition that was not required to stand the recall election as freshly elected (Chuquisaca), 3 for Morales and one, Cochabamba where the losing prefect announced long ago that he did not recognize the election (and who did not lose by that much anyway). If we consider that the loss of La Paz was pre-compensated by the election of an indigenous woman opposing Morales in Chuquisaca, the opposition is actually better off as geographically they all now hold together territorially, with the second capital, Sucre, in their hands, sort of anyway.

What next for Bolivia?

Think the US circa 1859-60. That is your reference point. And if you think that Morales with 60% of the vote will be able to force the army to retake Santa Cruz, you will be seriously disappointed. If the "media luna" were to break away, the Bolivian army would break apart, just as Robert E. Lee left the US army to lead the Southern one, after Virginia decided to bolt. Morales is the winner of a country more divided than ever, with the discomforting thought that many of those who voted for him ALSO did vote for an opposition Prefect and thus he cannot rely on his 60%+ to force acceptation the fraudulent constitution he has not been able to bring up to a vote. Nor can he rely on the La Paz inhabitants who voted for him to also get guns and go down to submit Santa Cruz. Bolivia simply squandered yet another opportunity where the only one who can claim to have gained a very little, and I am being generous, is Morales who at least has been able to maintain indigenous unity.

Now, they all have only one option, to climb down from their mutual arrogant positions, no matter how valid those ones are, and renegotiate the constitution project to send it to referendum. If this does not happen then the most probable outcome will be the break up of Bolivia. Venezuela will not be able to help as I am 99% sure that public opinion here will not accept it and that would be the end of Chavez (nor will Colombia, Peru or Brazil accept more involvement of Venezuela than what they are seeing today).

Venezuela 2004

The Recall Election process of Venezuela in 2004 did not solve any of the problems of Venezuela, just as today´s vote solved nothing in Bolivia as it did not address the underlying problems of the country: it was just an act to see who is the "Cacique". In fact we can today say that it aggravated the political problem even if the first result was for Chavez to win 22 out 24 states three months later.

First, the country became irremediably divided in tow irreconcilable camps with a "do not care" floating group who showed little spine as long as government benefits reached them. The 3 million+ of the Tascon list will never forgive becoming second class citizens. But what was worse than that, the Chavez victory and the Tascon list allowed him to transform progressively his followers into his subjects. They are starting to resent that. If to this we add that since then Chavez has felt free to violate the constitution and to apply
at will unacceptable pressures to improve his electoral chances, and to buy any person he needed to buy, you can see that the neglect in their duties of the Carter Center and the OAS in 2004 only served to postpone the denouement of the crisis toward a new outcome that will be in all likelihood violent.

All proportions and local considerations observed, today Boliva started its transit towards a more violent outcome than what it could have achieved if it did not waste its time in an useless Recall Election.

The intellectual fraud behind Recall Election systems

After the result in Bolivia and Venezuela I am ready to toss out this system once and for all, at least for all of Latin America. Its first two applications did not work in that they only they exacerbated the crisis. True, the local good results of the opposition in Bolivia make this conclusion perhaps premature, but I am afraid that I will be proven right.

Why can't a Recall Election work in our countries? Because it personalizes the vote, it makes it an emotional demand on the voters. They are asked to punish one guy without the convenient excuse to be able to say "Oh, but the other one promised me something that interested me more. Next time I will vote again for you, worry not!". Such a vote forces the voter to make a definite choice and thus radicalizes the political process, driving away the normal give an take that politics in a democracy should be about. Not to mention that if the elector voted in the past for the politician to be revoked, you are forcing him or her to admit that they were wrong then, something that few people enjoy.

Reelections are less taxing. To begin with you can say "well, s/he has these flaws but overall I prefer him/her to the other guy". Or you can say "Well, he screwed up on this. To teach him I will vote for her, and is she does not work out, well, I will vote again for him". Think about the psychological underlining of these statements about your own responsibility in voting and you will understand better. A Recall Election does not offer you that moral ambiguity.

If to this you add a culture of love for the strong man, with racial undertones, you can quickly see that Recall Elections can only work in reasonably homogeneous cultures such as in Japan. And I doubt that.

No, for our Latin countries what we need is shorter terms, until people over time learn that they must vote responsibly (yet Western Democracies history seem to indicate that they are still quite far from voter responsibility!). People must learn that when they vote for a jerk, they have to put up with that jerk for the full term. If the jerk is simply unbearable there are other ways to remove him or her, and in Venezuela we have shown that we could remove presidents without Recall Elections or coup d'etat. Or has the world forgotten that Carlos Andres Perez was legally removed from office one year before he completed his second term? And for an offense that was a child's game compared to Chavez offenses today. In Venezuela the next constitutional reform we should consider is to shorten the presidential term, and, as far as I am concerned, remove reelection, ever. In fact I am becoming almost an Athenian as all ex rulers should receive the Ostraka, with a very nice pension for sure.


Last night it was late enough that I forgot to include links to my Bolivian web sources. You can read more in the MAB blog and in the Blog from Bolivia, which shows what good PSF are able to do. If we were so lucky here in Venezuela....

This morning MAB carries graphs from La Razon which confirm what I was writing last night: there was a lot of crossover voters which do tarnish the victory of Morales some (I am not so sure it does tarnish the wins from opposition Prefects in the same way since all of them got MORE, way more votes some time than what they got three years ago).

The recall of Evo is confirmed in Chuquisaca. Thus his win in Cochabamba will not help him that much. And now the media luna is a more solid territorial crescent.

Rural and city vote is very split everywhere, the same phenomenon we observe in Venezuela with Chavez, as education and business drive away like garlic the vampirism of state control. this is dramatic in Potosi, the province that gave Evo its largest victory with 80.8%. The rural vote there was 94.1% FOR Evo but a much lower 68.5% in urban areas.

Crossover voting is more prevalent and important than what I thought at first. For example in La Paz the NO to Evo is 22.9% but the YES to Paredes was twice that amount, at 42.3%.

The division of the country is made clearer if we look at the average Evo Victory. In the 5 provinces he won, the average percentile SI is 70.8%. But in the four he lost the percentile average SI is 44.3%!!!! A difference of 25%!!!! It hardly gets more divided than that.

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A funny note. The coverage of the ABN, the Chavez news agency, focused on the Santa Cruz media not focusing on the Morales victory. Example here. It is amusing because it really shows not only the embarrassing partiality of the ABN, but also its ignorance of how other countries operate when not all is fixated in their capital city, like it happens in Venezuela with Caracas (y lo demas es monte y culebra). Probably the ABN never caught on that in Santa Cruz everybody knew Morales would win and they were just much more interested into what score would their man do at home. Poor ABN, they probaly think that the life of Bolivan media revolves around Morales just like the life of Venezuelan media revolves aound Chavez.

-The end-

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The ultimate conspiracy theory

With spelling mistakes and all. And these are the people that will be voting in the US next election.
Mama mia!

-The end-