Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Radio Open Source

Oh well, I guess I did not make the cut, but I hope I contributed to the background. And it would have been too much to be in the same forum with Miguel and Daniel!!!. This Opposition electoral strike has been better than I thought, a whole hour dedicated to Venezuela's situation, and in a program that can reach quite a bit of the American left.

You can find their own blog here and they will put up the audio file at some point. But if you want to catch the audio streams, it will be retransmitted today at 12PM EST by KOUW in Seattle (stream) and it will be re-transmitted tomorrow (thursday) by WUML in Lowell MA. at 9PM EST (stream)

But my opinion is that the message is definitively not getting through, the fight is democracy against a non-democracy (whatever that is). I don't get how in an hour-long program, after such an election, and the reports generated by all international observers, did not mention either report at all!!.

BTW: I did not know Daniel had a french accent when he spoke english!!

Mmmmph... I got the time wrong, the listings where in local times, I have now corrected them (I think)
Update: The stream is now online you can reach it in openradio's website (direct quicktime mp3 stream here)

Preliminary OAS and EU reports are out

I have to admit that I did not expect the OAS and the EU observers preliminary reports to be so clearly against Chávez's regime [1]. Both reports criticize, in no uncertain terms, the mistrust of the population towards the electoral body, and the need to create a new electoral body that would eliminate this mistrust. But don't take my word for it, you can read both of them in Bureli's blog (sorry the OAS one is in spanish, but Daniel has analyzed some of it here).

I didn't expect that they would go into so much detail criticizing the Maisanta software, thus state repression, the 'Morochas' specifically saying that these clearly go against the spirit of the constitution, thus criticizing the Supreme Court in the process, and the use of state funds for political propaganda, thus denouncing government corruption. Not to mention saying, in no uncertain terms, that keeping the voting stations open after 4PM was plainly illegal, and coincided with an intensification of the, campaign to move people to the polling stations (with some illegal components to that too).

Of course, they have criticized some of the Opposition's actions, and have praised some of the CNE ones, and I am sure that the CPM™ talking points have been actualized to spin those any way they can (and you will see those ad infinitum soon in blog's comment sections), but the totality of the reports leave no doubt in how much of a mess is Venezuela's political system right now.

So, in short, the OAS and the EU have acknowledged most of what the Venezuelan opposition [2] has said about the CNE since the days of the RR, impressive indeed. No matter what is the outcome of all this, and there is clearly a long road ahead, but I have to say that this has been a great day for the Venezuelan opposition.

  1. Just in case, the electoral council or CNE is just one more of Chavez's institutions, thus criticizing them is to criticize the government.
  2. I keep the convention started by Quico's blog of capitalizing Opposition to denote Opposition parties, and using lower-case to denote the generalized group of people that oppose Chávez's regime in any way.

Update, here are the original reports: OAS, EU (PDF)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Abstention as a weapon

From Miguel's Blog, (the Press was not allowed to take such photographs)

So we had 'perfectly normal' elections in Venezuela, as the CPM™ loves to say. It does not matter that the main opposition parties removed their candidates, it's quite normal after all. It does not matter that 100% of the legislative body is now pro-Chavez, democracies work that way. It does not matter that media sources were not allowed to photograph or show the lack of participation in the voting centers, freedom of expression is like that. It is irrelevant that the CNE was caught red handed lying in front of all international observers merely days before the election, voting arbiters side that way. It does not matter that 75% (the official number so far) to 90% (the initial estimates) of voters decided to abstain. And of those that voted, it does not matter that 20% decided to nullify their vote. It is irrelevant that government officials ordered all public employees to vote, or they would loose their jobs (more than 15% of voters). It does not even matter that 30% of the vote happened after 4PM time at which the poll stations should have closed in accordance to the Venezuelan law and to the agreement letter that the CNE signed with the international observers. So it must be a democracy after all.

But let me concentrate in that last detail for a second, the one that made me extra suspicious: 30% of voters cast their vote after the legal closing of polling stations. That single detail made me realize exactly how the government has managed to manipulate the vote since the RR. A recently reported study indicated the impossibility of 1.5 to 2 million extra votes in the last hours of the RR (which would on its own reduce the 18% victory of Chávez in the RR to a 5% defeat), based mostly on analysis of the data flow from the voting machines. The last election, also showed a long illegal delay in the closing of the voting centers, and showed abstention numbers smaller than most estimates. In this one the best source (Súmate) reports an 82.3% abstention to the government's 75% (a number that is sure to change in the near future, as I think that they have not figured out the actual numbers for the previous elections yet). So a full million extra votes (7.3% of voters) could have appeared in the oh-so-secure voting machines in that time. Add to this all the steps that the government used to obtain a large abstention figure in the RR, and reports of people that appeared to have already voted when they had not, and that explains it all.

I hypothesize that the misfeasance goes like this:
  1. The voting process proceeds normally during the alloted time, with the normal number of non-voters (and of course the normal number of illegal voters sanctioned by the CNE).
  2. The CNE extends the voting time, to avoid the electoral centers from closing and printing out the final result from the machines
  3. The CNE sends new votes to the machines (which explains all the extra traffic seen during the RR)
  4. The voting process finally closes, with a brand new vote tally

This would explain why the 'finger-print catching machines' were necessary in the RR. They needed to: a)increase the number of abstentions in a process that has had the most participation in any Venezuelan election (by making the process slower and more complicated), so that this trick could work, and b)know exactly who had voted so that they would not exceed any machine total (as machines where assigned by ID card ending). Knowing who voted for whom is a nice little extra. Though this is quite inefficient (for anyone that knows about computers), it has the advantage that none of the voting software needs to be altered, only the data entry front-end, which can be made part of the operating system itself, and being that these are just simple Windows machines... need I say more?

So, going back to Sunday's plebiscite, I am inclined to believe Súmate's abstention numbers more than the CNE's, so let me re-do a graph that Miguel put up in his blog, but with Súmate's numbers for the last two elections in it (it's the most I can find), notice the 'phase transition' after the Referendum.:

Now, what was won with this abstention?: international attention to the lack of Democracy in Venezuela and a bit of confidence towards the Opposition parties. But let's wait and see what the international observers have to say about all this, after all the CNE violated their 'rules of the game' among other things by: delaying the closing of the polls and connecting a large number of machines before the closing of the polls (for such scheme to work, but it remains to be proven),

What is left for Venezuelans?. If we are very lucky this election will be nullified, and a fair election, without morochas, and without the current CNE will be organized. If we are not, the civil structures have to get organized and fast before the new National Assembly removes the only constitutional articles that would allow for a pacific end to the internal conflict. If we are very unlucky Chávez will just get rid of what is left of his Democratic façade and declare his dictatorship openly for all to see.

For further reading:
  1. High Abstention and Information Black-out in Venezuela Elections. Global Voices Online
  2. Bloggers get the scoop on Venezuela's disputed election. Robert Mayer
  3. RIP Venezuela's democracy. Aleksander Boyd
  4. A victory for Chávez?... Miguel Octavio
  5. The electoral analysis. Daniel Duquenal
  6. Euphoria Unhinged. Francisco Toro
  7. Venezuelans 'lost faith in polls'. BBC News
  8. Boycott of elections was right. U.S. Senator Bill Frist

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cracks in the Democracy Façade

As most of you might know, today is an election day in Venezuela, the national assembly (single chamber of the legislative power) is being elected. Or rather, was being elected, as the huge majority of important Opposition candidates have removed their names from consideration (as I hoped, and mentioned in my last post before the hiatus). However, since the Chavista spin machine is in full gear trying to get out of this one, let me present some of the facts:

  1. There are a LOT of political parties in Venezuela, though in any region only two tend to matter, and these would be either Chavistas or Opposing Chavez.
  2. So though there are only 167 slots, there were 5.516 candidates, of which 556, the strongest opposition candidates, have boycotted the election (though I prefer to use the phrase: "have declared themselves in strike for better electoral conditions" which would be more descriptive of the situation)
  3. Electoral conditions are totally non-democratic in Venezuela.
  4. Just read any of my posts with "Democracy" in their title, and you would see that the arbiter for the elections, the CNE, is one of the most partial and anti-democratic institutions in the country. If you followed any of my fellow bloggers accounts you would have seen that the CNE was caught red-handed cheating and lying in front of international observers and the press. And that this had direct implications for all elections since the RR.
  5. Opposition parties are following the call of the people by boycotting the election.
  6. No matter how the CPM™ tries to spin it, the huge majority of Venezuelans (including Chavistas) don't trust the CNE, and the abstention for this elections (whose results would have been 'fixed' anyway) was predicted to be 75% or more. By removing their candidates, they are just doing what the majority of Venezuelans is going to do anyway, and thus siding with the 'winners.'
  7. There will be a large number of coerced votes.
  8. The government has made very clear (explicitly and implicitly) that whoever does not go to vote will loose jobs, or be otherwise "disciplined." In a regime where there is already quite some history of this happening, this is not an empty threat.

Now, don't confuse this non-participation in the elections by the Opposition parties as staying away from the game, this is really a very good move inside the game. By giving a very clear message to the voter, there is no more division in the "evil" options, which were either to legitimate a clearly crooked process, or to loose what little breathing space was being left by Chavismo. The Opposition now has removed the second option from the table. Now is all up to Chávez to rally his own people to vote (and note that I say Chávez, not Chavista candidates, as these are mostly irrelevant completely interchangeable individuals).

But what I don't get, is why most of my fellow bloggers seem to agree that this is some kind of turning point for Venezuela's Democracy?, and even more, most lament the fact that the opposition decided not to run, even though the CNE made the one and only concession of removing one of the 'cheating' pieces of electoral machinery for this election (and this election only). Venezuela stopped being a democracy when the "democratic institutions" blatantly stopped following the law, when Venezuelans where left without any resource against the government. We Venezuelans in the opposition agree that Chavez and his ilk does not represent our country anymore, the problem is removing him from power, and we knew that these elections, under the current CNE and its rules, would not be a step in that direction, no matter what.

From my perspective, this is the best card the opposition [1] had in its hand (I would actually say the only card at this point), however it's far from being the 'check-mate' that PMB suggests. My electoral prediction for today is simple: there will be a huge true abstention (bordering 80% and maybe more). But what does that mean for the regime?, the spin is already out there: "Only 10% of the candidates joined the boycott, abstention is normal for this kind of elections, and the Opposition is using violence." Not to mention that only one of the cheat mechanisms have been removed, they can inject as many votes as they want into any part of the system they want (i.e. places that are not being audited), so abstention can be "reduced" without much problem (as it probably happened in the previous election). The main thing this does is to restitute some of the lost ground back to the Opposition parties in Venezuelan's hearts, now, by following, they can start to lead.

That would be the only point gained if it where not for the call that Súmate made to go to mass to pray for Venezuela's Democracy this Sunday morning. That not so innocent call is another good play, but it's a wild card at that. I interpret it as a show of force, to show the international media the empty voter lines and contrast them with the huge church gatherings. But if you have large masses of people in the streets, meeting in groups in a way that bypasses the special laws against public gatherings that apply on election Days in Venezuela, there is a recipe for trouble, or for truly democratic change if it is managed correctly.

Today, the future of Democracy in Venezuela is more linked to what happens around those churches than to anything that could happen in the ballot boxes. I, for no other reason than solidarity, am planning to go to church today with the faint hope that my fellow Venezuelans face no more danger than the one that I will face being in a U.S. church.

  1. I have decided to follow the convention that Quico started in his blog of capitalizing "Opposition" when referring to the Opposition parties, and using it in lower-caps to denote the more generalized concept of "people that do not agree with Chavez."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I'm Back

Has it really been that long?, more than a month since I last published something!

I feel that I owe my followers an apology, and I have definitively violated Blogging 101's main rule: "post often," but then this is something I started because I needed to do something about Venezuela, and after a few more startups in that direction I became very disappointed and unmotivated with the general Venezuelan attitude. Then I had to catch-up with work, multiple urgencies, life in general. In short, there seemed to be no time to post for posting sake, specially when Daniel and Miguel do such a good job with the day-to day and are actually on-the-ground, instead of observing from afar as I am. But then I feel that I should have said something, even a "down for a while" post, but I just don't seem to think that way. And for that, I apologize.

My apathy got to the point that I stopped following much of the News (and the Blogs), and I did not know about the Candidates retiring from tomorrow's Venezuelan elections until 3 days after it happened (and it was Ivan that brought it to my attention), I'll sure have to write a post on that, since I feel that it's time for a pre wrap-up before what happens tomorrow happens (as Daniel did here).

Can I promise that I will not disappear again?. No I cannot, but I hope I will keep you updated when that happens.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On the faltering state of democracy in Venezuela

As Alek informs us the NGO Súmate has produced the most comprehensive report about the state of democracy in Venezuela (or rather utter lack thereof), "only the facts". As Burelli says a MANDATORY [and very complete] Reference Document for Policy-makers, Journalists, Academics and all concerned with the faltering state of Venezuelan democracy (you can find it in spanish here).

This report is a factual description of how, in what dates, and with what actions, Venezuela slowly degenerated from the imperfect democracy it once was (is there any other kind?), before Chávez took power, into the budding dictatorship it now is (my words, Súmate is too even handed to put it in those terms). It is in a way an organized comedy of manipulations and errors, that in hindsight seems very well directed to produce the current outcome. This should help you understand why even the Catholic Church has denounced Chávez's dictatorial ways.

In December legislative 'elections' will occur, though I hesitate to call them that way. Someone should come up with a word to denote the act of voting by the people when in reality the only one electing is the government itself, or as the oh-so-democratic Joseph Stalin once said: The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. As Miguel and Daniel reported, the Venezuelan 'supreme court' (we also need a different name here), has broken the very last legal straw regarding this election (not that this blogger expected a different outcome). It has, without apologies and very literally schmoozing (see Daniel's pictures) to the rest of Chavez's regime, violated the constitution, again, by giving their blessing to the "morochas" electoral scheme. This scheme can allow a party to gain twice the number of seats as the votes would suggest, thus summarily violating the 'proportional representation of minorities' that has always been part of Venezuelan constitutions (in case you where wondering, the last one too). Of course, the 'opposition leadership' walked directly into this one (I really have no concept of why), and as Daniel reports they have been rightfully ridiculed by the Venezuelan press.

Let's hope that the current opposition candidates stay true to their word (though I doubt it), and just walk away en-masse from these elections, any insignificant quota of power, that they could pry away from Chávez's hands for their participation, is not worth giving such a sorry undemocratic process their support.

It's been time for a different kind of political activism for a while, let Rosa Parks lead the way

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Corruption in Venezuela II

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on Corruption in Venezuela in which I used the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International to show the different trends, and I commented that I was waiting for this year's numbers to see the 'progress' of the Chavez regime. Well, as Daniel and Alek, have already reported, the 2005 indices are out (I have been a bit busy and doing some traveling lately, pardon my tardiness). So, here is an updated graph that includes the 2005 indices.

Let me start with the punch-line: Venezuela's index did not change, it's still 2.3 for this year. So let me put this in context. From my previous choice of countries Zimbabwe and Colombia improved to 2.6 and 4.0 respectively, while Brazil worsened to 3.7, which is not surprising given the recent corruption scandals around the governing party (remember that this is a perception index). That is, our 'model country,' Zimbabwe, improved by 0.3 while we stayed in the same level, which leaves Venezuela slightly above Iraq (2.2), and just above Paraguay (2.1) and Haiti (1.8) in the whole of the Americas. The next American countries in the list are: Guyana, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia all with an index of 2.5. So, I have to say that to me the biggest surprise in the index is the improvement of Zimbabwe.

Of course, the CPM™, has already tried to discredit Transparency International using words like "obscure methods" and the like, which are only obscure if you don't even try to read their web site, and pointing to previous ties to the "opposition," which is not only ad-hominem but ties into what I have said about the government use of the opposition tag before. As if an internationally recognized institute with more than 14 years of history had nothing better to do than to risk its reputation by attacking a petty dictator.

But there is a couple of points in TI's methodology that are worth mentioning. The Venezuela study used 10 different corruption studies (of a total of 16 different studies from 10 independent organizations that conduct these studies around the world) putting it in the high bracket for the number of studies used in any country. In the 2005 time period, the range of the studies' results has reduced to 0.2 (from 0.3 the previous year). That is, of all those 10 studies the 2.3 value assigned to the index is more solid this year than it was last year (and even more relevant, to the index assigned in the 1998 electoral year when the range was of 0.8). It is half the range of Brazil, and very small when compared to the 0.9 of Zimbabwe. Put in other words, discrediting Transparency international on this, is also discrediting the 10 different independent organizations that serve as the basis for the report.

So if I were to characterize this with a one-liner: No matter how you measure it, Venezuela is now more solidly corrupt under Chavez.

"Venezuela ahora es de Choros" means "Venezuela now belongs to thieves and thugs" which as reported in Daniel's article is the signature of one of Noticiero Digital's contributors, but the image has been around the e-mail circles for some time.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, the pioneer of the American Civil Rights movement died yesterday at 92.

Though the story is a relatively well known one for Americans, her very simple act of defiance in that December of 1955 that sparked a whole movement with MLK at its head, and in particular brought the bus company to its knees and made the supreme court declare the segregation laws unconstitutional, is relatively little known outside of the U.S. After all she just refused to stand from her seat in a bus because her feet hurt, right?. That's one of the misconceptions that surrounds this figure, and it's probably a reflection of the propaganda of the day. She was barely 42 at the time and she was really tired of the segregation, not of simply of her work.

Rosa Parks was an active member of the underground pacifist movement that existed back then, she was more than aware of passive resistance. In 1943 she had become a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she served as its secretary until 1956. She not only knew about what passive resistance meant, she had been trained in it for several years before that bus incident brought her to jail. And even then, as she would admit, she never thought that her little act of resistance would trigger such a movement. One of the beauties of passive resistance.

Venezuelans should study Mrs. Parks, as she is a very clear example of what passive resistance is about. She died peacefully, humbly, and with a very clean conscience, what better reward for such a great hero?.

The only thing that bothered me was that we waited so long to make this protest
-Rosa Parks

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chavez and Mugabe the new dream team

So this is what it has come to?. Oppression, political assassinations, election 'adjustments', even the grant of poiltical asylum to low key Chavez opposers, none of that matters, as long as they criticize Bush and Blair?, as the irish press reports.

There is nothing new in Hugo Chavez giving a friendly embrace to Mugabe after all, as the relationship that he has had with prominent figures like Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il among others is nothing new. Though it seems that Chavez is closely following Mugabe's footsteps in his way to making another Cuba out of Venezuela (or just make both countries one as he has promised multiple times).

But what makes the "first world leftists," that you can find in any of my fellow bloggers comment sections, go gaga for these leaders?. I have to ask, because some leftists would at least admit to the damage their idols have done in their own countries, as a witty blogger reported about a Stalin t-shirt wearing youth in Venezuela a month or so ago: yeah, yeah, he killed a bunch of people, we can all agree that's terrible. But why does no one ever talk about all the good things he did?.

Ask Hugo Chavez

As Alek reported here, Daniel here, and Miguel here, the BBC has opened a form in their web site to allow for questions to be directed to Hugo Chavez as he will be interviewed in their 'talking points' section this week. Since BBC's position is very clear in the matter we don't have much hope of real questions getting through, but Alek promised to publish all the (decent) ones he gets, being pro, against or neutral to Chavez.

Here is my basic starting set which I am adding to their site right now:
  1. Why do you choose to ignore all the signs of corruption inside your government and even punish those inside your revolution like Walter Martinez that criticize it instead of acting against it as you promised during your campaign, do you realize that now Venezuela is more corrupt that ever?.
  2. Why do you insist in dividing your country with artificial divisions, like race, education, and experience. Why did Miquelena, your political mentor, leave you?
  3. Why do you insist in calling traitors those that seem to have the Venezuelan democracy in mind, while at the same time giving our territory away, giving citizenship to anyone that would vote for you, and allowing the infiltration of the country by foreign nationals that might sympathize with your cause
  4. Why are you spending so much money buying consciences around the world, while your own hospitals are falling apart?.
  5. Why don't you trust Venezuelans to be your security detail and bodyguards, choosing to use Cuban nationals, to which you have extended Venezuelan passports, instead?.

Let's let the BBC know what real people think about their position, should we?.

Follow-up: surprisingly to me a couple of good questions were asked, but Chavez just lied all he wanted without having a real confrontation with the facts. I guess one of the beauties of being interviewed by someone that did not do their homework. I don't have time to do a full post on it, but the whole interview was posted by Alek here and Daniel did a quick couple of articles on it, here and here.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The frog in the boiler

I have wondered for a while, how can people let themselves fall into totalitarian regimes. How did Stalin become Stalin?, how did Mussolini become Mussolini?, how did Franco become Franco?, how did Hitler become Hitler?, how did Castro become Castro?.

Before, in royalty times, it was the thing to do, it was what was expected, so it's understandable that it took a thought revolution (and the quest for power of some of the displaced) to get from under the King's rule. But these modern regimes start from relatively little, sometimes with a military involvement sometimes democratically, but in many cases these regimes start by being popular and very gradually change their tune to become totalitarian.

It is amazing to me to see the apathy that Venezuelans have towards our current regime, quite a few have seen the regime change over time, and quite a few have seen where it's headed. But even then I have spent countless hours on the phone and countless e-mails to try to make my friends and family understand this, and I very seldom get past a "do you think so?, noooo, I know he is bad but no way it can get _that_ bad!." Of course some of those that see it clearly, have already left the country, or are making plans to do so. Many others, that also see it clearly, are desperate to get their neighbors understand this, as they cannot conceive the possibility of leaving their country. But the great majority of Venezuelans choose to ignore the signs, and go on with their lives, while the regime becomes more and more totalitarian. Partially because they feel themselves powerless to fight against it, partially because they prefer to ignore it to be able to justify their own inaction.

Chávez has made an art form out of dividing Venezuelans into 'us' vs. 'them,' this permeates all strata of society. The "opposition" (which as I have mentioned before includes everyone that does not agree with anything from the Chavez regime) is even divided by this, all the opposition political parties are now part of the "them," it does not matter how many good things they have done before, it does not matter how many good intentions, it does not matter how democratic they are, it does not even matter that some are recently formed parties to fight against Chavez regime. They are not "us" and as such, cannot be trusted to do anything good. But then, at the same time huge segments of the "opposition" is waiting for a leader to get them out of the bind Venezuela is in!. Am I the only one that sees a problem with this logic?.

I understand the sources of the apathy, and it all goes back to the Revocatory Referendum. The Venezuelan society was very organized back then following basic precepts of non-violent struggle, and it was this organization that allowed the RR process to go that far. But opposition party leaders made huge mistakes by negotiating with the regime (and they still don't seem to have learned that lesson), and failed their own people by not reacting fast enough to the multiple tricks pushed forward by the regime. After that, all the power that was in the hands of the Venezuelan people dissipated, and it even looks as if it had never existed.

But a year has gone by, and the basis of the fight should still be fresh in their minds. There are many people pointing out what needs to be done, but even in forums of people that think this same way, they choose to complain and whine, instead of choosing to fight, to get organized, to do what even the Venezuelan Catholic Church has said that must be done. It amazed me that I seem to have a better understanding of the consequences of article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution than many people that are actually lawyers and don't see a way out!. At least Súmate seems to have a clear idea by starting to organize a parallel government, so that the "ignoring a totalitarian regime" put forth by article 350 can be implemented. Let's hope that "they" succeed before even that article gets removed from our constitution, but to do that, it has to stop being "they" and start becoming "us."

So, unlike a frog, that contrary to popular belief would actually jump out if the water gets hot enough, people seem to just prefer the status quo, hoping that it will not get worse, without realizing day to day that it already has. And I can assure you that this does not apply _only_ to Venezuelans.


"All politics are based on the indifference of the majority."
-James Reston

"Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen."
-Dwight Eisenhower

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
-Albert Einstein

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."
-Dale Carnegie

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-Edmund Burke

"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
-Albert Einstein

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
--Margaret Mead

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.
-- Dante Alighieri

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Born Again Agnostic

A friend of mine pointed out today that all agnostics are born-again, that becoming agnostic would normally come from a strong introspection on our belief system, and on what it means to be part of a religion just because our parents were part of that religion. So this kind of introspection is the revelation that makes us agnostic and can even be said that we are reborn through it. In my case it came when I was 15 and got exposed to the religions of the Mayans through the Popol Vuh, then I had a very different comparison point for the need of an explanation of our existence.

True agnostics could have much stronger sets of morals than a large number of the members of established religions, and in some cases (myself included) became agnostic precisely because we find many of the religious practices amoral and denigrating of the human condition, and of the same principles they claim to represent.

However being agnostic also means that our "religion" is kept in the inside, is very private and only revealed to the closest of our friends, and it coexists, without conflicts, with reason and understanding. We don't try to impose it on anyone, though it guides our everyday actions.

It is because of this being private that our views are characterized by many of the so called religious people as amoral, as we don't follow their religious precepts. Because we see the clear disconnect between their words and their actions. I privately howl every time that I hear the name of Jesus Christ being used by the same people to justify actions that Jesus himself would have rebelled against.

After all, back in his time, Jesus himself became the best known Born Again Agnostic. But in his case, he decided to spread his own religion.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Rule of Ilegality in Venezuela

I have had in mind writing an article about the difference between the Venezuelan Courts and the U.S. courts when it comes to actually applying 'the law', but law being very far from my interests I have not found the motivation to do the research about the details. Thankfully Miguel has found, and analyzed, an excellent document by a Venezuelan ex-supreme court justice (it's in spanish, but you can find it in Miguel's post) regarding the undemocratic, biased, and unconstitutional character of the new and improved revolutionary supreme court of Venezuela.

This is another point that seems impossible to get through to citizens of 'first world' countries. From the perspective of a working, albeit imperfect, legal system, it seems extremely hard to comprehend that when we say that we have 'partisan judges,' we mean judges that work for a party, not even bothering to give any veneer of justification for their partisan actions, and that would actually be on the public record as staunch supporters of the Chavez regime. When we say that the court is 'biased' we don't mean that the justices are left or right-leaning, we mean that _everything_ that the regime says must be right, unless your case is so outrageously strong that the international community might actually be outraged if they ruled the other way, and most times even that is not enough.

From the perspective of having a centuries old and extremely brief constitution, it seems hard to understand that when we say that a decision by the supreme court is 'unconstitutional,' we actually mean that there is an article of our constitution that explicitly says that what they did is illegal, not to mention that most of the constitutional assembly members are still alive though not so well, so we have plenty of people to point it out.

From Miguel's article:

...the "new" (and improved?) Court resolved the unconstitutionality of its own existence, as well as the requirements needed to be part of it, going as far as saying that the prerequisite of being a Full Professor of Law, does not mean you need to have an academic career, but simply that you are a Professor at any university, even at lower ranks.

The Court itself also approved and ratified that the National Assembly can approve, by simple majority, the New Supreme Court Bill, extending the number of Justices from 20 to 32, as well as the ability of the Assembly to remove or sanction Justices by a simple majority. This was accomplished in part, by the Court itself ratifying the validity of the new regulations of the National Assembly, also approved by simple majority. Talk about conflict of interest!

Yet another problem with bias and labels and if you have read my 'tenets' you already know that. But would you please stop using the label 'democracy' when you refer to such an outrageous government system?.

Now, would you also please consider this perspective when you think about Harriet Myers as a supreme Court nominee?. Or as Alfred E Newman would say, 'who, me worry?'

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Unbelievable apathy

It has always surprised me how people can be so apathetic to things that affect them directly without realizing that it requires relatively little action on their part to correct them. I am thinking about the Venezuelan society in particular, but I can see many equally disconcerting examples in the U.S.

Recently some friends of mine started fighting 'the man' in their school, because of a large number of inequalities in the treatment of Fellowship vs. non-Fellowship students (to make a long story short, fellowship recipients have less rights, and more problems than 'normal' research supported students), this inequality became more evident when comparing it to how other schools treat the same cases. After researching the issue, they found out that the whole problem can be traced to the difference in definition of a single word!!, "employee," because after all if you are a 'student' you cannot be an 'employee.' This very basic problem, actually affects a myriad things around campus, it generates inequalities in retirement funds, tax treatment, insurance premiums, and to a huge number of people (fellowship recipients and non-recipients alike). I hope you now you see why I have so many problems with labels.

Surely enough, today they are taking 'the man' with very good chances of success. And this is just a couple of grad students, armed with the right tools--reason and facts--that generated the right plan of action and did not accept no for an answer. And it only took them two weeks to get to the people than can exert the changes. But it strikes me as odd, that after hearing the myriad complaints from multiple people all across the school, for many years, such a simple problem had not been addressed before. And the answer is the failure to make the problem yours, to expect that someone else has to fix the problem, instead of forcing them to do it.

It is in this context that I see America today, I see the multitude of problems cropping up, I see electoral fraud (scary facts if you research them [1]), I see cronyism, the complete deterioration of the media, the increase in corporation power, I see the fast deterioration of democratic institutions all over. But I don't see the action, save for a small number of individuals that have made it their job to keep people informed, but people is not reacting

The only thing that you have to do is act, create your own plan of action, don't wait for someone else to do it for you. Choose a problem, dedicate half an hour a day to research it and join efforts with similar minded people to analyze what can be done (see the example of Otpor!, it really works). If Americans don't start paying more attention to their own country, in a few years, this beloved democracy will be no more.

Me?, I have Venezuela to worry about.

  1. Evidence of Electoral Fraud in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election: A Reading List, and please get over the bias label, you know what I think about that one.

Update: My friends had their first important meeting today (two rungs down from the school president), extremely well armed with facts and figures, and a recent read of my 'bias' article. They described to me how hard was to get through that one, but by the end she was surprised, concerned, and supportive. Most people don't realize that such injustices are just due to the administration not 'knowing' the effect of their practices, if someone had just taken the time to inform them before, these would not be there. Of course, an administrative practice of many years, around which a whole structure has been created, is hard and expensive to change, so now the real work starts.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Cronie, who?

I cannot believe this, exactly what is the Bush Administration thinking?. I really don't care much about who this Harriet Myers is. But to nominate her to the supreme court?. Is this some kind of distraction, a smoke screen?. A big resounding no, no, so that the next one can slide through looking great in comparison?.

Bush has clearly shown with superhero Brownie and all the others that have been indicted or forced to resign, that he likes to appoint cronies to important positions in his administration. Look how much good it has done with FEMA. And Harriet Myers clearly fits at least the 'buddy' definition by the book. When the best the media could do, is say that "she is very loyal, and worked for Bush!!!," and that is some sort of an endorsement!!!.

So, with such a track record in mind, there is only one main consideration for me in this case. It has to be someone that has a transparent public carrier, that is an elected official, a judge, a renowned personality, anyone!!, but his/her record has to be verifiable in some way. Not to figure out if she is partisan or not, but to see if she is able to make unbiased decisions at all!. Harriet Myers is as opaque as you can find in this regard, and she is unique as a supreme court nominee in not having any public record

So to me this innocent until proven guilty thing should not apply to Supreme Court nominees. This a lifetime election, a King or Queen election!!, higher standards have to apply. Congress should just say: "we refuse to even meet with her, we consider this insulting, try again," and not even waste their time. Anything else is a tacit approval to cronyism.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Open letter to Venezuelans

La versión en español es ésta

To Súmate, to the opposition parties, to all those that oppose Chávez, to the ni-nis. What is wrong with you?. Can't you see the trap that is looming for the December elections?. Isn't three times enough?. Can't you see that the CNE cannot be trusted?. Are you willing to have as an only resource the international observers?, again?. You know the saying, "fool me once, it's your fault, fool me twice, it's mine." But fool me four times?. I have been wondering what can be done, but clearly walking, yet again, towards the slaughter house that is the CNE, staying at home and abstaining, or voting null is not it.

This election is it, what started with the RR will be consolidated here, after this there will be no turning back, at least not in a very long time. Some sectors inside the Chavista masses are starting to rise, but I would not trust that to exert any change, Chavez might end up buying them, suppressing them, or just ignoring them without any consequence. And who knows if this is yet another distraction technique to keep attention away from the elections themselves.

I have always noticed how a large portion of Venezuelans just want a messiah (specially you ni-nis), an opposition candidate that will give you 'hope.' Can't you see that if Chavez is not stopped, there will be no one to do this?. Can't you see that we have to create strong democratic institutions?, that is not the job of one man, that is the job of all Venezuelans. You have to force institutions to be strong, and blindly following an individual, no matter which one, is not the way to do it.

Chavistas, you have put your trust in having found that messiah, well I hope that you like the conversion of Venezuela in another Cuba, the abolition of private property, the sliding away from the civilized world, and the dilapidation of the immense oil income directly to sustain the international image of your idol. Look towards Cuba, that is your future. While you keep believing that Chavez is being fooled start thinking how can someone be so blind to what is happening around him?. How can you be so blind?

Opposition parties, I feel sorry for you, I know that many of your members feel that you don't deserve the way that Venezuelans are treating you, but that is the price you pay for being in the forefront, for making the many mistakes that your members have made. The debacle of the RR is as much your fault as it is Chávez's. Be honorable in this juncture, think what is the best for Venezuela. Create a clear message, be responsible with your message. Show the numbers, show the effect that Chavez is having, make people understand all the money that is being wasted, all the corruption taking place, and the destruction of private property, and all the consequences of staying the path. Relearn how to lead again, but more importantly, learn how to be led by the Venezuelan civil society. Some humility would do you good. If you can't do that, just move away and be forgotten.

Venezuelan civil society, Súmate, neighbor assemblies, you are the hope of Venezuela. Regain that strength that drove you towards the RR, but focus your objectives. It is clear that any protest will be heavily repressed, but you don't need to take the streets to show force. There have been many examples of the power of continuous pacific protests. Fliers, stickers, graffiti, obstruction, inaction, education. Some basic ground rules is all that is needed, follow the examples of what works and discard what doesn't. Learn that Chavistas are not the enemy, Chávez and his close cronies are. Make Chavistas, and the remaining honorable military understand that. But more importantly, act as a single unit, don't waste time on minor divisions, mold a clear objective and pursue it. Chavez's strength is in dividing the Venezuelan society, your strength is in uniting it again.

Quoting Gene Sharp (a must read for anyone willing to resist the regime):
Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal power distribution in the home country. The population and society are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands. Although dictatorships may benefit from or be somewhat weakened by international actions, their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors.

What to do about the elections?

First, don't put all the eggs in one basket. You cannot trust the CNE to do the right thing, they have not done it so far, what will make this time special?. Build a parallel organization, there are more than enough volunteers to man it, invite some of the displaced Chavistas, a significant percentage of them don't trust the CNE, they might be willing to sidestep it as long as the effort is about the CNE, not about Chavez. A parallel election does not have to cost much, as long as it is carried away across a few days, on a few centers. Súmate has made this before, it can be done again. It is not legally binding, but Chávez owns the laws, so does it really matter?. Make it an exit election, make it a secret poll, add some relevant voluntary questions. Are you willing to give away your private property?. Is it ok to have imported 50000 cubans into Venezuela?. Do you trust the CNE?. Did the Carter Center do their job in the RR?. Make it a massive poll, make it open, make it easily verifiable, negotiate its contents with the Chavistas that are willing to participate, make people swear that they voted the same way as in the CNE, if they did at all. A simple database search would show the CNE fraud. If 1/3 of Venezuelans participate in it, it would overshadow the CNE election, and remember that you can be much more efficient. Talk to the international observers, even invite the disagreeable Carter Center to this, you might have some fun with them trying to save face.

Second, get organized. Your strength is in the numbers, make a true educational campaign, distribute the information through any means possible. Tell the people why are the institutions important, force them to think. Keep the messages short and to the point, not long winding essays (I know, I am not giving a good example here). You don't have to print a million copies of anything, just let each Venezuelan print 10, that would cover the whole country several times over, minimize the individual risks. Let the lowest level of organization, the individual, decide how to best distribute the information and minimize their risk. But make sure that the message is clear, choose a powerful symbol and a powerful message. Remember, the 'opposition' has to be that strong organization, not the personalities in it. Let the opposition parties follow your message, but not take over it. Stick to institutions, not personalities.

Third, keep yourself pure, and be open about your intentions and actions. If an opposition leader detracts from your message, point it out, attack the message not the messenger. Let the international media notice you, but don't make them the object of your campaign, Venezuelans are your main objective. Don't lower yourself to any personal attacks of any personality on one side or the other, make this a very clear difference to Chávez. Remember, it is about the institutions, attack the actions, not the actors.

Fourth, be alert. Mold the message to the circumstances. Chávez disinformation goons will try to subvert your message, make sure to point it out, but keep the style pure so that there is no confusion of where is the message coming from and don't waste your time discrediting them multiple times, or fighting about the little details, allow for intelligence to work, remember that the goons are not your objective, the general public is. Make everyone aware of what is the acceptable style, only distribute information if it follows the right style and the topic is verifiable. Create trust circles around such messages, and don't forget that it is democracy that you are seeking, be democratic about this too. Chavez will have a very hard time trying to get through this 'media'.

Would any of this work?. I don't know, though it has worked many times before. It will increase the level of society's participation and it is definitively more rewarding than just doing nothing.

  1. From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation by Gene Sharp
  2. Otpor!Working quietly, a group of student activists target the very foundation of Milosevic's power - the ordinary people who until now have been afraid to oppose him. (PBS)
  3. Otpor: the youths who booted Milosevic
  4. Otpor! Resistance!
  5. Kmara
  6. Pora! It's time!
  7. Human Rights Watch blasts Chávez's government, is anyone listening?
  8. Electoral disarray in Venezuela
  9. Chavismo internal problems The multiple cases of Chavistas trampled by their own party.
  10. The Chávez praying mantis effect is alive and well.
  11. Hugo sows fear by Teodoro Petkoff
  12. Savage Socialism by Teodoro Petkoff
  13. Polar does not back down Lorenzo Mendoza gave a lesson on how to stay on topic.
  14. Carter Baker report on elections generates anger and laughter in Caracas
  15. The words of a fascist president

Carta abierta a los Venezolanos

The english version is here

A Súmate, a los partidos opositores, a todos aquellos que se oponen a Chávez, a los ni-nis. Que les pasa?. No se dan cuenta de la trampa que se avecina en las elecciones de diciembre?. No han sido suficiente las últimas tres elecciones?. No se dan cuenta que el CNE no es de confianza?. Están dispuestos a colocar como única alternativa a los observadores internacionales?, de nuevo?. No conocen el dicho: "engáñame una vez es tu culpa, engáñame dos y la culpa es mía". Pero dejarse engañar cuatro veces?. Me he estado preguntando que acción se puede tomar pero claramente el caminar, una vez más, hacia el matadero del CNE, el quedarse en la casa absteniendose de votar, o el votar nulo no es la solución.

Ésta es la elección, lo que comenzó con el RR se va a consolidar aquí, después de esta elección no va a haber vuelta atrás, al menos no en mucho tiempo. Algunos sectores dentro de las masas chavistas se han comenzado a levantar, pero yo no confiaría en que eso ejercerá cambio alguno. Chávez puede terminar comprándolos, suprimiéndolos o sencillamente ignorándolos sin consecuencia alguna. Y quien sabe si ésta es otra más de las técnicas de distracción para mantener nuestra mente alejada de las elecciones que se avecinan.

Siempre me he percatado de como un gran número de Venezolanos sólo quieren un Mesías (especialmente dentro de los ni-nis), un candidato de oposición que les de 'esperanzas'. No se dan cuenta que si Chavez no es detenido, no quedará nadie para cumplir este rol?. No se dan cuenta que tenemos que crear instituciones fuertes y democráticas?. Ese no es el trabajo de un solo individuo, debe ser el trabajo de todos los Venezolanos. Se debe obligar a las instituciones a asumir su fortaleza, y el seguir ciegamente a un individuo, sin importar quien, no es la manera de hacerlo.

Chavistas, ya han colocado su confianza en un Mesías, espero que les guste que Venezuela se convierta en otra Cuba, la abolición de la propiedad privada, el alejarse cada dia más del mundo civilizado, y la dilapidación de la inmensa fortuna petrolera usada para sostener la imagen internacional de vuestro ídolo. Miren hacia Cuba, ese es su futuro. Todo esto mientras siguen creyendo que a Chávez lo tienen engañado, pero como puede ser alguien tan ciego a lo que pasa a su alrededor?. Como pueden ustedes ser tan ciegos?.

Partidos de oposición, siento pena por ustedes, sé que muchos de sus miembros sienten que no merecen la manera en que los Venezolanos los tratan, pero ese es el precio que tienen que pagar por permanecer al frente, por haber cometido los muchos errores que han cometido. La debacle del RR fue tanto culpa de ustedes como de Chávez. Es hora de tener honor, piensen que es lo que mas le conviene a Venezuela. Creen un mensaje transparente, sean responsables con su mensaje. Muestren los números, muestren el efecto que Chávez ha tenido, hagan que la gente entienda todo el dinero que se está malbaratando, toda la corrupción y la destrucción de la propiedad privada, y las consecuencias de permanecer en ese camino. Aprendan de nuevo como ser líderes, pero aún más importante, aprendan como ser dirigidos por la sociedad civil venezolana. Un poco de humildad les caería bien. Si no pueden hacer eso, apártense y sean olvidados.

Sociedad civil Venezolana, Súmate, asambleas de vecinos, ustedes son la esperanza de Venezuela. Recuperen la fuerza que los llevó al RR, pero enfoquen sus objetivos. Esta claro que cualquier propuesta será reprimida con enorme fuerza, pero no necesitan tomar las calles para mostrar fuerza. Han habido muchos ejemplos del poder de protestas continuas y pacíficas. Volantes, calcomanías, grafitti, obstrucción, paralización, educación. Algunas reglas básicas es todo lo que necesitan, sigan el ejemplo de lo que funciona y desechen lo que no funciona. Aprendan que los Chavistas no son el enemigo, Chávez y sus rateros son el enemigo. Hagan que los Chavistas y los pocos militares con honor que han de quedar entiendan eso. Pero aún más importante, actuen como una sola unidad, no pierdan su tiempo con problemas irrelevantes, moldeen un objetivo claro y síganlo. La fuerza de Chávez está en dividir a la sociedad Venezolana, nuestra fuerza está en volver a unirla.

Como dice Gene Sharp (un libro que debe leer todo aquel que desee ofrecer resistencia al régimen):
Las dictaduras existen principalmente debido a la distribución interna de poder en su país. La población y la sociedad son demasiado débiles para causarle problemas serios a una dictadura, la riqueza y el poder están concentrados en muy pocas manos. A pesar de que las dictaduras se pueden beneficiar de las débiles acciones internacionales, su continuación depende principalmente de factores internos.

Que hacer respecto a las elecciones?

Primero, no coloquen todos los huevos en la misma cesta. No pueden confiar en que el CNE haga lo correcto, no lo han hecho hasta ahora, que va a hacer que esta vez sea tan especial?. Creen una organización paralela, hay más que suficientes voluntarios para manejarla, inviten a algunos de los Chavistas desplazados, un porcentaje significativo de ellos no tienen confianza en el CNE, han de estar dispuestos a dejarlo atrás mientras que el esfuerzo se dirija contra el CNE, no en contra de Chávez. Una elección paralela no tiene que ser muy costosa, mientras se lleve a cabo en unos pocos dias, en unos pocos centros de votación. Súmate ha hecho esto con anterioridad, pueden hacerlo de nuevo. No tiene peso legal, pero Chávez es el dueño y señor de todas las leyes, así que eso no tiene importancia. Háganla una elección a la salida de los centros de votación, haganla una elección secreta, añadan algunas preguntas voluntarias. Está dispuesto a abdicar a la propiedad privada?. Está bien el haber importado 50000 cubanos en Venezuela?. Confía en el CNE?. Hizo el Centro Carter su trabajo en el RR?. Háganlo una encuesta masiva, háganla abierta, háganla fácil de verificar, negocien su contenido con los Chavistas que estén dispuestos a participar, hagan que las personas juren que votaron de la misma forma que lo hicieron ante el CNE, si es que votaron. Una simple búsqeda de la base de datos mostraría el fraude del CNE. Si 1/3 de los Venezolanos participan, la elección del CNE se vería muy disminuida, y recuerden que pueden ser mucho más eficientes. hablen con los observadores internacionales, inviten hasta al desagradable Centro Carter, puede que les sirva de entretenimiento.

Segundo, organícense. Su fuerza está en sus números, hagan una verdadera campaña educativa, distribuyan la información a travez de cualquier medio posible. Instruyan a la gente acerca de la importancia de las instituciones, fuércenlos a pensar. Mantengan el mensaje corto y vayan al grano, no creen largos y tediosos escritos (lo sé, no estoy dando un buen ejemplo). No tienen que imprimir millones de copias de nada, sólo dejen que cada venezolano imprima 10, eso cubriría todo el país varias veces, reduzcan los riesgos individuales. Permitan que el nivel más bajo de la organización, el individuo, decida como distribuir la información y minimizar su riesgo. Pero asegúrense de que el mensaje sea claro, escojan un símbolo claro y un mensaje profundo. Recuerden que la 'oposición' tiene que ser la organización que muestre fortaleza, no las personalidades dentro de la oposición. Dejen que los partidos de oposición sigan su mensaje, pero no los dejen usurparlo. Mantengan el foco en las instituciones, no en las personalidades.

Tercero, manténganse puros, y manténganse abiertos acerca de sus intenciones y acciones. Si un dirigente de la oposición se aleja de su mensaje, indíquenlo, ataquen al mensaje, no al mensajero. Permitan que los medios internacionales se den cuenta de su existencia, pero no los hagan el objetivo de su campaña, los Venezolanos son el objetivo principal. No se rebajen a hacer ataques personales de cualquier personalidad de un lado u otro, hagan de ésta la diferencia principal con el mensaje de Chávez. Recuerden, el mensaje es acerca de las instituciones, ataquen las acciones, no los actores.

Cuarto, permanezcan alerta. Adecuen el mensaje a las circunstancias. Los chulos de desinformación de Chávez intentarán modificar vuestro mensaje, asegúrense de indicarlo, pero mantengan el estilo puro de manera que no haya confusión de acerca de donde viene el mensaje y no pierdan el tiempo desacreditandolo en múltiples ocasiones o peleando por detalles menores, permitan que la inteligencia funcione, recuerden que los chulos no son el objetivo, el público en general es el objetivo. Hagan que todos reconozcan cual es el estilo aceptado, sólo distribuyan información si sigue el estilo correcto y el tópico puede ser verificado. Creen grupos de confianza alrededor de dichos mensajes, y no se olviden que lo que buscan es democracia, sean democráticos acerca de esto. A Chávez le sería muy difícil penetrar este medio de comunicación.

Funcionaría semejante plan?. No puedo saberlo, a pesar de que planes similares han funcionado anteriormente. Aumentaría el nivel de participación de la sociedad y es definitivamente mucho más satisfactorio que no hacer nada.

  1. De la Dictadura a la Democracia Un Sistema Conceptual para la Liberación por Gene Sharp (PDF)
  2. Otpor: la juventud contra Milosevic
  3. Encuestadora revela descenso en apoyo a las misiones sociales
  4. Tierra de gracia Venezolanos rechazan la sociedad sin clases, Hinterlaces y Keller
  5. Estudio Cuantitativo y Cualitativo de Tendencias y Coyuntura VII MONITOR SOCIO-POLITICO HINTERLACES Marzo 2005 Powerpoint (ppt)
  6. ¿Por qué tanta prisa?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rita beforemath

I have always noticed that Americans tend to over-react in many situations with the implementation of simplistic solutions that do not work in the long run (Venezuelans tend to have the opposite problem, suffering from inaction while trying to find the perfect solution). Among many other places I saw that happen after September 11, with all the security measures that got implemented immediately that not only where not really secure and were mostly giving a false sense of security, but were just inconveniencing the public at large.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the reaction to the hurricane that is about to hit U.S. coasts. Houston Mayor Bill White called for immediate mandatory evacuation, probably thinking himself safe of Blanco's and Nagin's faults. But the obvious consequences of such action completely escaped him (1). An infernal gridlock (2) that has already claimed the life of 26 souls (3), and has put quite a few people in a much greater danger than what they were if they had just stayed put or found local shelters (4).

They thought that the planning was being taken care of, but failed to see such an obvious consequence that anyone that has given any thought to road infrastructure could have pointed out. Lousiana Governor Blanco, seems wiser by comparison, as in her evacuation speech for this hurricane she called for everyone to "...get a map and take side-roads headed north, every mile north is a mile that you will be safer, keep in mind that the highways will be extremely congested, head north..." (5)

We will have to wait for the aftermath of the hurricane to figure out how effective this reaction to Rita was. But what will now happen when those same Texans, that were trapped for 15 hours or more in a gridlock, are asked to evacuate next time an even nastier hurricane hits?. Any guesses?

  1. race against rita 160km jams, 2.5 million on the road, officials panic as hurricane approaches
  2. The Evacuation: 'It Was Like the End of the World,' One Texan Says
  3. Rita rains chaos on coast; Houston may escape the worst
  4. Texans Rush to Shelters as Hurricane Rita Approaches
  5. Blanco urges evacuation; FEMA, Guard prepare Governor's request for additional troops yet to be answered

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is Súmate an opposition party?

What exactly does 'opposition' mean?
  1. The action of opposing something that you disapprove or disagree with
  2. the relation between opposed entities
  3. the act of opposing groups confronting each other
  4. a contestant that you are matched against
  5. a body of people united in opposing something
  6. a direction opposite to another
  7. an armed adversary (especially a member of an opposing military force)
  8. a political party opposed to the party in power and prepared to replace it if elected

Yet another pesky label. Chavez uses this label every time he speaks. "The Opposition" is his enemy. For most people the word 'opposition' conveys the 'political party opposed to the party in power' meaning, the 'Democrats' are opposition to the 'Republicans.' Even if a Republican opposes what Bush says, that is not 'the opposition' that is the 'party of the president,' if a Democrat agrees with what Bush says, he/she is still part of 'the opposition.' Funny how words work.

However in Chavez's world, everyone that opposes him in any way, is opposition. Anyone that opposes any of his actions, is opposition. It does not matter if there is a party or not, it does not matter if it is an individual, or even if it is a 'Chavista' (which of course, automatically stops being a 'Chavista' to become 'opposition'). Thus the media is opposition, the Catholic church, the unions, federations, bureaus of commerce, companies, universities, are opposition. Most of my fellow Venezuelan bloggers are clearly opposition. His previous mentor Luis Miquilena (besides Castro of course), the one that took him to Venezuela's presidency, is now his opposition. A large portion of the 'forcefully retired' military are clearly opposition. The disillusioned, but loyal, 'Chavistas' are calling to the 'opposition' media because they cannot vent in the 'Chavista' media, thus they enter the gray area of 'escualidos' in the 'opposition.'

Now combine this with the use of the label for the ones on the 'coup' which are obviously opposition. Or with the very diminished, deservedly or not, true 'opposition parties.' And add re-interpretations of the label like 'election campaign groups' or 'political party' and you have a nice tool to denigrate anyone that does not agree with you. "He is from the opposition" is that powerful tool that serves to disqualify anyone, and anyone's opinion. Why are ad-hominem arguments so prevalent when there is no argument to make?.

Of course, strictly speaking, yes, we are opposition, we oppose his destruction of Venezuela, of our democracy, of our courts, of our election system, of our oil industry, of our private industry, of private property, of basic freedoms. We oppose his corruption, and his corruptive influence. We oppose his giving money away while our Venezuelan poor are becoming poorer. We oppose the presence of a Cuban invasion force in Venezuela and his giving our territory away to Castro. We oppose his delusion of grandeur with which he is meddling with the democracies of the whole hemisphere. We oppose his manipulation of the media, his propaganda machine, his discriminative policies (partially through the Tascon list). So yes, we definitively oppose him and his policies, however the great majority of us are not part of an 'opposition party,' we are just concerned Venezuelans.

The Súmate case

Súmate (spanish for "add yourself up") is an organization that got formed from this 'generalized opposition' because of the failures of our electoral system. The National Electoral Council (or CNE for its initials in spanish), the supposedly impartial electoral organization, is just another of Venezuela's new class of fake democratic organizations, you just have to carefully read the Carter Center report to realize it. A recent poll, the same one that gave Chávez a 70% approval rating, showed that 47% of Venezuelans consider the CNE the _most_ untrustworthy of Venezuela's organizations, combine that with the last election results in which there was at least a 68% abstention (non-CNE sources estimates it at 80%) and a 17% null vote (second only to Chavez's own party), and we have to conclude that even a considerable number of Chavez supporters don't trust the CNE.

Súmate from the beginning has been trying, to clean up the CNE's act (to no avail), and to compensate for its many failures. Through volunteer work they managed to put together the resources, the databases, the systems, and the mechanisms, that made it possible to satisfy the Constitutional requirements of the Revocatory Referendum. Despite all the obstacles, and hurdles put in the way by Chavez's government, the courts, and the CNE, their level of organization made it possible. They were very careful in their target, they have avoided dealing directly with Chavez, they avoided campaigning against him or in his favor, they have avoided becoming a party, they have no 'candidates.' So clearly Súmate is not an 'opposition party,' anymore than a worker union or a bureau of commerce is an 'opposition party.' Of course since Chávez is molding a dictatorship while Súmate stands for democracy, it clearly stands in the way of Chávez objectives.

Now, it is this 'opposition' label (understood as 'opposition party') that many uninformed people use to decry the use of U.S. NGO money to support Súmate's efforts. While at the same time conveniently ignoring that Chavez, which nobody can deny is a true political party himself, accepted $1.5 million in campaign contributions from a foreign institution (BBVA), something that according to our Constitution _is_ illegal, while a contribution to a NGO is not.

Of course, Chavez has tried to convict them of something, he wants them out of the way, but since there is really nothing in the Venezuelan laws that makes it illegal (for now at least), he went for that good old populist stalwart: treason.

So, next time you see the label 'opposition' would you please think twice about its real meaning?.

  1. Dissenting with Chavez Daniel's take on our "so called opposition"
  2. Has Human Rights Watch Joined Venezuela’s Opposition? Part II Aleksander
  3. Who you gonna call? Chavistas calling 'oppostion' media.
  4. The case against Chávez Some history and Miquelena's transition
  5. Venezuela's new Electoral Board (CNE) Daniel (Jan 21, 2005). Even more Chavista than before.
  6. Statement of the CIV concerning the situation in Venezuela Questioning the legality of the CNE and the referendum
  7. Why I Didn’t See Chavez in New York (Or, a Tale of Two Presidents) Comparing president's attitudes in N.Y.
  8. Chavez's milestones Describes when many of us became 'active' opposition
  9. Tascon list Yes, the actual list, with all its information, can be found in Alek's article
  10. Rebuttal to the Venezuela Information Office Regarding the referendum process, and Súmate's role.
  11. Long and positive day at the Remate (final push) Miguel's first hand account as a Súmate volunteer
  12. Sumate: the guardian of Venezuela's democracy Aleksander
  13. Hugo Chávez moves ahead with elected dictatorship Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald
  14. Sumate: Fighting for Fair Elections Christina Leadlay. Embassy Newspaper.
  15. Delenda Súmate Jorge
  16. Venezuela in July 2005: a political portrait Súmate's role in later elections
  17. SUMATE calls it: no clean elections on August 7 Daniel.
  18. Carter Center report (PDF)
  19. Justin Delacour comes to rescue his Venezuelan idol The constitutional articles related to funding of parties.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Global Summit

I just watched "A Global Summit w/ Bill Clinton" which was a special show in CNN based around the summit that President Clinton organized around the same dates as the U.N. meeting (what is that one for BTW?). I only wished that he had not sat beside Queen Rania of Jordan, as every time she was talking, the wide shot of his looking at her would distract me a bit.

From the other side of N.Y., amid the frustration of the White House, the biggest news seem to be that Bush 'asked for permission' for a bathroom break. Which if you stop to think about for a bit makes a lot of sense. If the president of a superpower stands up, and walks away, in the middle of some other president's address, a war could start you know, and at this point one is already too many.

For the first time in a long time I hear things that make sense, on practical means of reducing poverty, dealing with global warming, reducing and eliminating corruption, using education as a weapon against terrorism, and using aid effectively. And at the same time designing the way to do it, keeping western governments somewhat on the sidelines, though pressuring them into taking the right actions (and it was a one hour program!!). Clinton even talked about how much cheaper, and reliable, was for his organization to deal directly with problems that would have been unthinkable for him as a President. It was impressive to see a few true world leaders talking for a while (even Bono had intelligent things to say, what's up with that?). And they mean action, the plan is that if you do not keep your promises, you are kicked out. And action is a much more solid foundation for a world organization than any rhetoric would be. This is starting to sound to me like the seed for a substitute to the decrepit U.N.

A thought just came to me, what would all this mean, combined with the Katrina debacle, in terms of the 2008 presidential elections?. But then, it is the actions that matter, right?.

Yeah, I was not planning to post anything more today, but I did say I had an addiction, didn't I?

A blogger's language

I feel like procrastinating for a bit (if you can call 'procrastinating' doing what I am paid to do and I have neglected because of my blogging 'habit', of course), but I did not want to leave you guys wondering when my next post is going to be. I am mostly finished with a new one, but I don't want it to be as reference-light as my last one (to which I also plan to add a few more references after some more searching). So let me just talk about my motivations.

For those that have been around since the beginning (less than a month ago) you know that I created this partially because I was tired of fighting Pyrrhic battles in my fellow bloggers comment sections. But now that I have created this, I now find myself fighting the same battles in other blogger's comment sections!!!. I need to stop what is becoming a stronger addiction. Anybody knows of a good 'bloggers anonymous' organization?.

I feel that I have a somewhat different view of the world (aren't we all special?). While I see people wanting to fight the particular color of a particular leaf in a particular tree. I see myself pointing out that not only it is plastic tree, but that there are all those forest fires around them that they should be paying attention to. So I tend to focus on what I would call meta-discussions, and that's why I pay so much attention to language (and labels).

Many of the 'arguments' I face tend to be purely Ad Hominem and given the way I see language, this is a non argument. Sometimes it becomes very hard to make someone entrenched in their views to understand that I don't care about what they are saying, because to me they are not really saying anything. At that point the battle becomes about the 'existence of a leaf.' And if the other battles are not that satisfying, these are plainly boring. So if you checked my 'rules' you now see why this is a big no-no in my blog.

Most of the real arguments I see, and the ones that I really become a part of, tend at the end to be related to particulars of language, many times I end up realizing this, and pointing it out. And many times I wish that someone had figured it out before I did, as some times it can make some tempers boil (including my own). I know about word definitions, I have recently wasted a good part of two man-years of effort, and have a project delayed by three months, just because of the difference in definitions of a couple of words in between two different scientific disciplines. So those are errors I try to avoid at all costs. If you follow some of my own comment sections, keeping this in mind, you will clearly see what I mean.

So the next time you get into a heated discussion, try to stand back and see the other person's point of view, remove everything that is irrelevant, try to understand why that other person thinks the way they do (and avoid going Ad Hominem yourself of course), and try to figure out what word definitions could be modified to make sense of their point of view. You might start seeing the world differently, or at the very least you might conclude that you are just wasting your time, and move on. After all, it all depends on what your definition of 'is' is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is Venezuela a Democracy?

Some people like to think that 'free elections' is enough to define a democracy, but then what does 'free' means?. Is it to be able to cast a vote?, or is it that the vote is actually counted?. Is it to be able to have an election?, or to be able to oppose that election in a court of law?. Is it to let judges decide on the elections?, or is it that those judges actually follow the letter of the law?. A few days ago I talked about my ideal of a government system, and there is a particular quote that is worth repeating:

Freedom is when the people can speak, democracy is when the government listens. -Alastair Farrugia

Democracies have cycles, democracies go through dark periods in which reason is thrown by the window, but democracies tend to correct for its mistakes, democracies tend to perfect themselves or they would just stop being democracies for a while. People can make stupid decisions some times, but as long as the democratic institutions remain in place, the democratic forces will bring the system in check. Those stupid decisions are the jolts that the democratic systems require to perfect themselves.

To me, as to many Venezuelans, Chavez was one of those jolts, the forces that nucleated against Chavez made me proud, true democracy was being instilled in all Venezuelans to a level that was not there before, a concept of country was being developed in all conversations, understanding that there is a deep inequality that formed Chavez power base was one of the learned lessons, politics had taken a second stage, democracy was front and center. The end of the cycle was the Recall Referendum, we could all see it clearly, the end of this dark phase was within reach. The level of participation can be seen in this picture taken at the closing of the RR campaign against Chavez. But then the official results came out, it sent chills across all of Venezuela, Chavistas and non-Chavistas alike. The day after the RR was a mourning day, there were no celebrations. A lone protest broke up, and one of the protesters, a lady that had left her new home in the U.S. just to vote in the RR in Venezuela, was killed. The end of the RR process marked the official end of democracy. But how can an election process indicate the end of a democracy?, you might ask. To understand this, I have to refer to the events that led to the RR (1).

First, let's keep in mind that a recall referendum is not an election per se, it is a one-party vote, either for, or against that party, so to talk about 'opposition' when it comes to a referendum is not putting it in the right context. The RR, for us in the 'opposition' (defined as those that would naturally oppose a dictatorship) was a vote for or against democracy, for or against government abuse, for or against meddling with our judicial system, for or against discrimination, for or against the destruction of our infrastructure, for or against the destruction of our culture.

Now in that context, the government institutions, including the ones that were supposed to be the impartial arbiters of the process, the National Electoral Council "CNE" (2) and the courts (3), opposed the process at every stage, impeded its progress, forced a process of signature collection whose rules were changed over and over, coercion was part of the process, if you signed you could face problems, and many did and still do (4), "fraud!" was shouted by Chavez and his subordinates, and the call of "fraud!" was all it took to force new rules, and new obstacles. But even with all those obstacles the signatures were collected, re-collected, and confirmed. A single organization, the most democratic of the new institutions was a strong shining star in this process, "Súmate," (5) the same organization that, now labeled as 'opposition' faces charges of 'treason' under Chavez's regime. The government, through CNE, had no other choice to be able to keep the thin veneer of democracy, the RR had to proceed. It took the presence of OAS and Carter Center observers even to get to this point.

The only legal resource that could fight the partisanship of the CNE is the supreme court, but these were not much different. After the restructuring that happened under the new constitution the majority of the judges were patently partisan. There were (3) a few hold-outs, and these tried through a slim majority in the 'Electoral House' of the court to bring some legality to the process. However the 'Constitutional House' overthrew the decision, a decision that has been qualified as partisan and unconstitutional in dissenting opinions by members of the supreme court itself. So now, there are no legal resources to fight the illegalities of the process. In this atmosphere, and in hindsight, the opposition made one of the most stupid decisions of the whole process, to go along with the RR trusting that the international observers would be able to validate the process.

Needless to say, the CNE went into overdrive, installing shiny new electronic voting machines, for a process that could have been done by hand in a few hours. Installing fingerprint capturing devices, thus causing unnecessary delays in the process. All this costing multiple millions to the whole nation (and putting money in the hands of companies whose background is somewhat hazy). All requests by the 'opposition' were denied by the CNE, all the checks in the process were denied, all the requests for depuration of the voter registration were denied, all the audit avenues were denied. Hundreds of thousands of 'new Venezuelans' nationalized in a hurry were added to the registers, thousands of voters were moved from one location to another. Even the non-Chavista CNE directors were denied access to critical CNE's installations. Millions of dollars were spent in new 'missions' in an obvious attempt to buy votes. But the process kept going, it was the RR or a blody outcome, the 'opposition' (and Venezuela as a whole) had its hands tied, the international observers were our only hope.

The RR finally came, the level of participation broke all records, the voting lines were eternal, some people stood in line for 12 or more hours to vote, partially due to the 'improved process' in place by the CNE. But we all saw this as a way out, there was no other choice. All the indications were there, the festivity in the lines, the opinion of the voters, the exit polls, everything indicated that the 'Sí' option (against Chavez) had won 60% to 40%. The celebration of democracy was about to start. But then, in the wee hours before dawn, the 'official' results started coming out, the 'No' had now won 60% to 40%.

A huge portion of Venezuela shouted "Fraud!" but then, it was only Venezuelans shouting, it was not Chavez, so who cares, right?. The CNE could care less about this, it grudgingly agreed to an audit, some days after the process closed, forced by the international observers. The political opposition did not take it anymore, and after being scolded by Carter himself, they finally did the only democratic thing left to them, walk away from a game in which all the cards had been stacked against them (and, through them, against us). Boxes of paper trails were found on the streets, installations with duplicate voting machines were found and documented. Data communication records showed that some voting machines had received more data than what they had transmitted. Evidence of bi-directional communications across the voting day came out. Testimonials of some of the now repented participants came out. But without a working judicial system, who cares?. It's only illegal if a judge says that it's illegal, what the law says is irrelevant.

All of us with some knowledge of statistics went into overdrive analyzing the results, the data looked suspicious, but there was nothing that could be explained in 10 words or less. A long scientific report indicating that the audit sample did not represent the total vote came out of this effort, but it was ignored by the Carter Center (whose own graphs verify this conclusion, though their written conclusion ignores it). Only Gaviria, in his intervention in the OAS, indicated the serious flaws of the process, gaining the title "traitor!" from the Chavez regime, and if Chavez says it, he must be right. At least the U.S. had a minor diplomatic victory by changing the wording of the OAS resolution from 'congratulate for your victory' to 'recognize your presidency.'

Today 47% of venezuelans consider the CNE, that impartial judge of democracy, the least trustworthy of all Venezuelan institutions, while the media, and the Church are among the most trusted (both of which continuously denounce Chavez as the dictator he is). However, we keep having elections, the CNE does not even need to give results anymore, nobody cares that they have to correct them every few days because these don't add up. The political opposition is either too stupid to realize how futile this is, or too afraid to loose whatever little power they have left.

So yes, we have election processes, but are they free?, can these be verified?. Has the government listened?. Would you consider this a democracy?. I would say that this is a sad state of affairs for what was the longest lived democracy in all of the spanish speaking world.

  1. Daniel's: The recall that matters
  2. The new CNE
  3. Court independence:Human Rights Watch report. Justice dismissed from the supreme court, Decision reversals by a packed court
  4. The Tascon List: Modern political apartheid in Venezuela
  5. The Súmate files

Added Wed Sep 21: I finally got around to adding a few more references, there are many more from where these came from. It's mostly things that popped up while I was doing some searches for a new article and, after skimming them, I considered that these represented a partial portrait of the situation at the particular time.
  1. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez: The cornered narcissist Francisco Toro (Apr 12, 2003)
  2. Venezuela: Will Recall Referendum Separate Chavez Friends From Foes? Stratfor (Dec, 2003)
  3. Archived news from march 14 2004 Daniel
  4. Venezuela: Reactions to the Supreme Court’s (TSJ) decision. Ismael Pérez Vigil (Mar 16, 2004)
  5. Venezuela and the judicial coup: the thin hair between law and lawlessness Daniel (Mar 23, 2004)
  6. Venezuela’s recall referendum explained Aleksander (Apr 21, 2004)
  7. Human Rights Watch Rigging the Rule of Law: Judicial Independence Under Siege in Venezuela (Jun 2004). None of their recommendations have been followed to this date.
  8. Has Human Rights Watch Joined Venezuela’s Opposition? Part II Aleksander (Jun 19, 2004)
  9. The Measure of Democracy: assessing Venezuela Aleksander (Jul 18, 2004). How democratic is a country?.
  10. The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela, Part I The electoral fraud has a long story. Daniel (Aug 2004)
  11. The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela, Part II Chavez Hangover. Daniel (Aug 2004). My memory seems to have failed up there, Gaviria was not lambasted as a "traitor" by Chávez just as a "liar."
  12. Statement of the CIV concerning the situation in Venezuela Questioning the legality of the Referendum (Sep 27, 2004)
  13. From The Economist: some people are not fooled Daniel (Nov 2004)
  14. An overview on the relationship of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, terrorism and its international supporters. Part II Aleksander (Dec 28, 2004)
  15. Venezuela, a military dictatorship? Daniel (Jan 4, 2005)
  16. Venezuela Separation of Powers is Dead. Is this the end of democracy Daniel (Feb 2005)
  17. Hugo Chavez’s Threat to U.S. Security and Regional Stability Frederick Stakelbeck, Jr. (Feb 20, 2005)
  18. Venezuela in July 2005: a political portrait Súmate's role in later elections (July 6, 2005)
  19. Hugo Chavez vs. America Dale Hurd, CBN News.
  20. To The Washington Post: Please... Get serious... And start reporting facts, not spin... Three years of dictatorship. Pedro Camargo (Aug 29, 2005)
  21. Venezuela featured in the "wars around the world" Strategy Page (Sep 1, 2005)
  22. And now, what is wrong with your Constitution, Mr. Chavez? Jorge (Sep 17, 2005)
  23. Carter Baker report on elections generates anger and laughter in Caracas Miguel (Sep 20, 2005)
Reports (PDF): Proveo's "A case study in electoral fraud." Carter Center's "Observing the Venezuela Presidential Recall Referendum." Súmate's "White paper on democracy and electoral rights."