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."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chavez in the Big Apple

Demonstrations against the Fascist-communist regimes of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro

SAVE-VENEZUELA, International Venezuelan Council for Democracy, and Recivex-USA, invite the Venezuelan and Cuban community in the Tri-state area to the demonstrations against the fascist-communist regimes of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, and in favor of democracy and respect for human rights in Venezuela and Cuba. These protest acts will take place in New York city alongside the 2005 International Summit organized by the United Nations.

First demonstration
United Nations building
Dag Hammarskjöld square, 47th St. and 2nd Av., Manhattan, NY
Thursday September 15th 2005. 2:30pm to 7:00pm

Second demonstration
Americas Council
680 park Avenue, Corner of 68th St. and Park Av., Manhattan, NY
Friday September 16th 2005. 10:00am to 12:00 noon

Let's show with our presence, our voices and our enthusiasm, that we are not willing to be robbed of our country. Note: Permits for both demonstrations have been given by the respective police precincts on September 9th 2005.

And if you get a chance, please feel free to give him a piece of your mind, human development, industrial decline, or illegal expropriations could all be good starting points:
His Excellency Hugo Chavez
President of Venezuela
Friday, September 16, 2005
Registration: 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Presentation and discussion: 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Council of the Americas
680 Park Avenue
New York City

Update 10:35 PM: Perhaps he will not go after all, Chávez claims that delegation visas have been denied.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina update

The more I learn about the situations surrounding the Katrina Hurricane, the more convinced I am about my initial assessment. The largest portion of blame falls squarely on the hands of the the Federal Government. Despite all the spin words and the avoidance of the blame game by Washington officials (which really translates to 'let's blame the local authorities', and if that doesn't work, let's blame the New Orleans' inhabitants), multiple facts and testimonies have surfaced, which point in that direction.
  • The timeline of the events. NPR's report is specially damning
  • The attempts to silence the media by pre-censoring access to New Orleans
  • FEMA personnel decrying the response as the worst in 22 years in the institution (listen to the audio, the blaming of local authorities would not withstand that test).
  • The state national guard resources have been strained due to the Iraq war
  • The testimonials coming out from evacuees, wether true of feigned, equally damning.
  • The use of private 'mercenary' forces to be able to handle the situation (against its own declarations).
  • The loss of support from known personalities. Even some of Fox News 'entertainers' are leaning that way.
  • The media not taking the Washington Evasive any longer (this is a mild example, some of the things I heard from Fox reporters were equally tempered).
Add to that all the stupid things that federal government officials have said around this disaster and other dispatches from the 'front lines' and Bush's position seems tenuous at best. His approval ratings are sliding even further (not that these were very high as of late). Polls are already showing the polarization of Americans in this issue. And even today he fails to see that the lack of immediate action (i.e. deservedly making the head of FEMA an scapegoat by firing him) are only going to make it worse. Specially when people have other comparison points of what it could have been. The Republicans that want to get any chance of re-election in the future are starting to realize all this. I now can only see three possible outcomes:
  • The continuation of a lame duck presidency, in which the complete lack of support by all parties would mean that absolutely nothing would get done in the next 3 to 4 years.
  • The 'I' word. The Republicans tried to impeach Clinton for a much lesser crime than anything that is now in Bush's hand, not surprisingly this is now one of the top search terms in all of the internet.
  • A miracle. I will never underestimate Bush's entourage (and Rove's), they might actually pull a rabbit out of their collective arse

What does this mean for Venezuelans?

Unfortunately nowadays the U.S. seems to be the only regional force capable of counteracting Chavez's influence. Too bad Bush and Chavez seem to me like two sides of the same coin. U.S. is the only force that could lead the region in the right direction to force Chavez towards a true democracy, in which he could be legally ousted. A weak Bush presidency, does not fare well in this scenario. I am convinced that if Gore or Kerry would have made it into the White House, the amount of power that Chavez has gained in the region would not be there. Heck, he might not have been in power by now!. From this perspective, I can only hope for the 'I' word or a miracle. Venezuelans, we are on our own for now.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Katrina blame thrower

I got carried away a few days ago, mostly out of frustration, by laying most of the blame for 's lack of response directly on Bush's hands. A large number of Bush's apologist today are placing the blame squarely on New Orleans' mayor, or Louisiana's Governor. Today I have a somewhat better picture of the whole complexity of the issue, so let me qualify, to my current understanding, the different instances were blame should be assigned.

New Orleans mayor Nagin

The mayor made quite a few judgement errors by not forcing people to evacuate during an scenario that had been predicted for many years. He decided to let personal rights trump common sense, and until today he chooses to allow it (I find it hard to blame him for that because freedom to die because of our stupidity is still a right that many would applaud). He did not fully foresee the consequences of leaving people, without resources to evacuate the city, inside their homes, and to evacuate some of them into the Superdome. In his defense, he is the mayor of New Orleans, his jurisdiction is restricted to the city, he depends on the Governor and the Federal government for the larger picture. And in foresight it's easy to see all the faults with the implementation of the evacuation plan (or lack thereof). But to blame him for what happened after the storm, is just a low blow, he made a mistake, but he is now a mayor without a city, his forces where the only people on the ground during the first few days after the disaster. His obvious desperation to get some relief on the situation is what prompted me to write that particular article. I hope that he raises to the stage to accept his portion of blame however big or small it might be. That would shut-up quite a few 'media types' and would allow for adequate coverage of the bigger instances of blame.

Louisiana Governor Blanco

The biggest portion of blame falls on her hands. My Louisiana friends call her the most inept governor in a long history of inept and corrupt state governments. From my perspective her career would now be over. She failed to activate the state's disaster plan, to declare a national disaster on time, to order the mayor to evacuate the city, for the rupture of communication at many levels, for not requesting or allowing federal support at the earliest possible time, for not mobilizing the national guard early enough (though the jury is still out on that one), for lack of coordination with NO's mayor and federal agencies. For giving orders in the media without giving orders through the proper channels. For trying to play politics while people were dying. In short for absolute and utter mismanagement of a looming and ongoing crisis. Correction 10:13 AM: Ivan correctly pointed out that there was an state of emergency in place 2 days before the hurricane hit as acknowledged by Washington. Also when I take some time to review the detailed timeline I might further change my perception of the events (I have no problem with flip-floping when I find further information). It seems that the Federal government's share of blame keeps going up.

Federal Instances: Congress

Congress has failed for many years to pass the necessary budgetary laws to improve New Orlean's levee system and to improve its crisis management infrastructure. A spending that many have seen as just pork barrel for Louisiana. Also they confirmed Michael Brown as FEMA's director back in 2003. Let's hope that they don't further compound the problem by covering up the responsible for the chaos that ensued. Maybe you should start contacting your representatives to let them know how you feel.

Federal instances: Homeland Security/

Homeland security and FEMA's director are to blame, for the several days of delay that they introduced in the bureaucracy of crisis management, for not 'forcing' Louisiana's governor to acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis, for trusting the incomplete information they received through internal channels, instead of the dire images that everyone could see on TV. I could not believe the declarations of FEMA's director when he said "nobody knew the levees would break" (which Bush also said at some point), a problem that has been considered and studied for many decades under this particular scenario. He will deservedly become a scape-goat for this whole mismanagement of a crisis. I just heard in the news that a FEMA rescue plane ended up flying to a different state yesterday!!, what is going on inside that institution?!!. Homeland security should be able to handle this kind of emergencies faster, mayor or no mayor, Governor or no Governor. Such a breakdown in communications, in an announced tragedy like this, is completely unacceptable. Just check the Homeland Security mandate, they have done a miserable job of implementing it the way I see it:
NIMS establishes standardized incident management processes, protocols, and procedures that all responders -- Federal, state, tribal, and local -- will use to coordinate and conduct response actions. With responders using the same standardized procedures, they will all share a common focus, and will be able to place full emphasis on incident management when a homeland security incident occurs -- whether terrorism or natural disaster. In addition, national preparedness and readiness in responding to and recovering from an incident is enhanced since all of the Nation's emergency teams and authorities are using a common language and set of procedures.
And from my perspective the incompetency of the Homeland Security and FEMA directors, and the inadequacy of its structure, falls directly onto The White House's hands.

Federal Instances: Washington and

Washington also blocked Louisiana's infrastructure improvements from federal budgets multiple times ('W' as well as previous presidents). And, though it now seems to me that this might be a non-existing problem, it still early to ascertain the influence that the diminishing of national guard troops and resources, now committed to Iraq, had on this disaster. But there is an effect that has been felt (from Wikipedia):
On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."
Also Washington tried any photo-op, media interviews, and press conference opportunities to raise the falling president's image, delaying rescue efforts while people were dying. A president that hesitated in leaving his vacation to ascertain the magnitude of the disaster, while a military support vessel was stationed off the coast of Louisiana for days waiting for his direct orders for goodness sake!. A pet peeve of mine: every time I hear declarations of: "I have heard none of the victims complain when we rescue them," I have to shout: "what did you expect?, have you heard of Stockholm syndrome?". Kidnapping victims would normally face more humane conditions. But to me the main blame to place in Bush's hands is his complete ignorance and disregard of anything that science has to say, and in this particular case, of the many scenarios that had been predicted and that came to pass with Katrina. To surround himself with advisors that obviously have no idea of anything coming out of the scientific community, and probably of anyone critical of his actions. The same attitude that he takes towards global warming, Iraq, or plain critical thinking. In short, his utter lack of good judgement, and in my view, a sign of a lack of true leadership skills. In the words of Daily Show's John Stewart:
This is inarguably a failure of leadership from the top of the federal government.... Hurricane Katrina is Bush's Monica Lewinsky, the only difference being that tens of thousands of people were not stranded in Monica Lewinsky's vagina.

The media

For the first time in a long time the media seems to be doing their job. After the exploitation of humanity that this tragedy became they have started asking the right questions and using their power for the right reasons, avoiding the spin, and the White House talking points, thus forcing action from the different government instances. Who knew that there was still a spine somewhere in there?. Let's hope that this is not just a 'phase' that they are going through.

Rescue personnel

All this said, the people on the ground have done a wonderful job, the police officers, the military, the rescue personnel, the random volunteers, and most of New Orleans' citizens. All this in spite of the mismanagement, the lack of resources, the lack of a working management structure, the breaks in communication, and the lack of basic necessities. The fact that they managed to function under these circumstances is a testament to the spirit of the true leaders inside the community, and of what a human being should really be.

The Venezuela analogy

I cannot let this opportunity pass without talking about these instances of power in Venezuela. The fact that so many instances of government can share blame, even in a leadership crisis like this, is because there are many instances of decision. The democratic structures of the U.S. are mostly intact. In Venezuela Chavez has ruled by removing anyone from power that disagreed in any way with him, or that was just too honest to stay around. Now the whole government is just under his control, though he claims that he does not want it to be this way. Anyone under him (including all the courts, electoral instances, and 'congress') is too scared to contradict him and subsequently to be removed from their sources of income (if you catch my drift) or to have the Chavez thuggery thrown at them. This has created a lawless government structure in which nothing is done unless he implies it, suggests it, authorizes it, condones it, or has shown his willingness to ignore it. So in Venezuela there is only one instance to blame for the total ineptitude and corruption of the state, the pillage of democracy, and the destruction of Venezuelan values and infrastructure: 'El Supremo' himself.
For further reading:
  2. Opinion: No time for turf wars
  3. Outraged Americans clamour for Katrina scapegoat; FEMA head may fit the bill
  4. Exposed by Katrina, FEMA's flaws were years in making
  5. Dean Blasts Hurricane Katrina Response
  6. Left Behind part of the population cannot be counted on to leave their homes.
  7. Long term housing a staggering process
  8. Constitutional Topic: Martial Law
  9. Bush sees hurricane damage from air, vows to rebuild 3 days later, that is.
  10. Magic Marker Strategy
  11. Hair-rising first hand account
  12. Dispatches surrounding Katrina
  13. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hurricane Relief Support and Levee Repair (pdf)

Update 7:37PM: The more I read about this, the more I am seeing the magnitude of the looming scandal, and the amount of blame on the multiple instances of the government, this post and this post will show you what I mean.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Corruption in Venezuela

Corruption was Chavez's call to power, his main political platform became the removal of the corrupt elite (1) from power. A large portion of the venezuelan middle class, and even a non negligible number of higher class citizens voted for him, exclusively because of that. He portrayed himself as the Anti-Corruption Messiah, and the great majority of clueless Venezuelans followed him like lemmings. So it requires some analysis, specially because newcomers to the Venezuelan problem know very little to nothing about its history, and thus are very easily manipulated by The Chavez Propaganda Machine™ (2). So let me expound on a couple of fallacies that surround this keystone of Chavez appeal.

Corruption levels in Venezuelan government have always been high, Chavez government is no worse than previous ones

This, which I would hardly qualify as a defense of Chavez's government, given his platform and that he has been in power for more than 6 years already, is one of those half truths that Propaganda Machines like so much. By personal experience this is not true, Corruption is now worse than ever, just a simple sample was recently reported by Miguel, and his account of the electoral history of Venezuela gives a glimpse of the evolution of government corruption, but personal experience does not a solid argument make, so let me go to the most scientific source I can find on this, the corruption perception index from transparency international and the university of Passau, these institutions compile corruption perception indexes for most countries in the world, using an average of several (up to 18) different statistic studies. Which, even if each one of them is biased, being independent studies by different institutions, the overall result should have very little variability and bias. One of the purposes of the index is that businesses know what to expect if they are setting shop in any of those countries. A lower index means more corruption. The following plot shows the Indexes for Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and Zimbabwe during the period of interest (as a reference, the U.S. index averages 7.6 in the graph period). Even the CPM™ has used the index in the past to erroneously show that it had improved since Chavez took power, to discredit them, or to blame AD and COPEI for the corruption. However we have to keep in mind that it is a perception index. To use it as 'absolute corruption in 1998' is as fallacious as using W's popularity index during his electoral campaign to indicate support for his presidency 9 months later. If we look at the index during the previous governments, we see a dip in 1998, coinciding precisely with Chavez's campaign, the "perception" of corruption was higher during an electoral year in which corruption was precisely the leitmotiv of the campaign, what a shocker. If we go back to the year before the campaign (1997), and the year after (1999), we can see that the index is very similar. Which is to be expected, as the level of corruption should not change overnight as the electoral year data would suggest. So from then on we can see the declining trend across Chavez's presidency. Need I say more? That is the progress that they boast about, that is the work of the Chavez government, I am just waiting for this year's numbers to continue to appreciate the Supremo's miracles, we now might have to start looking up to Mugabe for inspiration.

PDVSA was a corrupt organization before Chavez, the oligarchs (3) are not in control of it anymore

The different companies that now comprise PDVSA were all descendants of the international oil industry nationalized in 1976, the company culture, and its management was pretty much a model of what the top private oil industries in the world were like at the time. Needless to say, personal merits, and high moral standards guided the functioning of the different companies. Industry directors were all ascended from inside the company's ranks. The central government had very little interference in the industry, besides setting global country policies, taxes, tariffs, or basic industry direction planning, the day to day was handled by the different managers. Each one of the companies had a somewhat different culture, so I will talk about the one I know the most of: Lagoven. In Lagoven, efficiency was key, and any kind of corruption was heavily prosecuted. It had its internal 'police' department, and though corruption cases did exist and these were seldom publicized, we would normally learn from them through hall-rumors, when someone was forced to leave their office by the arm of a police officer to get charged on their felony. I only remember one case that made it to the media, and it was an industrial espionage case that involved some higher level management personnel. Needless to say, it was a tight ship. At the same time, Lagoven had its own internal social programs, it had scholarships for its workers and their kids, and aid campaigns, a very motivated and intelligent daily laborer that I knew made use of these programs to become an engineer in a private university, I hope he still has a job there, but I doubt it. At the time PDVSA was one of the most efficient oil industries in the world, with numbers that astounded me, like 100 times more efficient than PeMex (Mexican petroleum company). Though it was state owned, it was left alone to produce riches for the country. Of all the Venezuelan state companies (and there are many) PDVSA was the most efficient. Now, Chavista propaganda likes to portray this, as a 'state within a state,' because the central government had relatively little to say about the day to day of how things were run. We, Venezuelans, liked it that way, because we saw the amount of corruption in the rest of the government institutions, and it was refreshing to have our main source of income isolated from all this, we called it our 'golden goose'. PDVSA and all its affiliates never missed a yearly report, never missed informing the nation of all its dealings, it had cultural programs, and facts in all of the media, it conducted itself with the transparency that a company of its magnitude has to have towards its owners, the Venezuelan people. Chavez changed all that, after merging all the companies into PDVSA (which before was just the 'umbrella' company, but it was something that had been in the general plans anyway), he started by assigning industry directors from anywhere he wanted (mostly the military), changing them every time they disagreed with what he wanted. A famous episode that exemplifies this was when one of this directors gets a call by Chavez in the middle of an address to the nation, after which he retracted what he was saying before. Needless to say, he also resigned. The large purge of PDVSA (18000 employees according to some counts) that Chavez did after the industry strike in 2002 got rid of all the meritocratic systems in place, and put government cronies in all industry posts. I don't doubt that there is some honest people inside it (I know some of them, and they just stay because they have to make a living, it has become another government cesspool). Now, it's almost impossible to know any of PDVSAs dealings and accounts, and transparency has been thrown overboard. PDVSA is now no different from the rest of the government, as an example, one of my family members, a professional and a Chavista called to work for 'the revolution', got fired because of not wanting to take part in the corruption ring at the PDVSA office!!, quite a change of culture, no doubt.
And in case someone wants to talk about what Chavez has said about corruption, that is irrelevant, because the fact remains that he has done nothing but make it worse than it has ever been, as a sample, just take a quick scan of the blogs: Miguel's: Non-existing fight against corruption Coronel's: Document the illegitimacy of Chávez and denounce him Miguel's: PDVSA cannot be audited Miguel's: PDVSA, serious inconsistencies at the company Miguel's: A trully revolutionary swindle Miguel's: Seven stories El Universal: Citgo faces piteous situation Daniel's: A Cadena, the universal Chavez remedy
  1. Elite here should be interpreted as the ones in power before Chavez. If you are wondering, why I am explaining the obvious, read about my problem with labels. it might be obvious to you, but to me the new 'elite' are the Chavistas, they have absolute control of the state.
  2. I am starting to like this label, this is a topic that has been covered ad infinitum. Chavez spends millions of dollars a year in maintaining a propaganda machine with the sole purpose of distracting international attention from his dictatorship, and recruiting clueless left-wingers, specially reporters, with this cause in mind. This is handled through embassies around the world, and it seems mostly concentrated in the Venezuelan Information Office (VIO).
  3. This is fallacy on it's own, as oligarchy means "Governed by a Few persons," and now the number of deciding instances is PDVSA is lower than ever, just 1, Chavez himself.

Correction: 4:46PM, fixed the oil industry nationalization year.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The more things change...

I decided to do some changes around here, I got some complaints that the contrast of the text to the background made it hard to read (1), so I tried to make it softer on the eyes. Also, the color is closer to my title-pun so I thought it was more appropriate. I will be eternally grateful to the unix command utilities (specially diff and patch), which allowed me to make this change in a matter of a couple of minutes. I also re-organized the links in a more logical fashion (to me at least), in which I added a 'reference' section, to those articles that I consider should be easy to access when someone is trying to find information about Venezuela. I added the 'Oilwars' blog to the link section, as I believe that the other side of the story should be heard, though I consider them too biased in the direction of Chavez propaganda. It comes to join the Aporrea link, which though it's very pro-Chavez, and you can actually find some of the not-so good things of the Chavez regime in it (which you will never see in the propaganda sites), it is in spanish, so it would not fit my target audience. I purposefully avoided links to what I consider pure Chavez propaganda sites, as I very seldom read them, and it's mostly through links put forth by fellow bloggers anyway. It's been barely more than a week that I started this blog, and by giving me an outlet to fight for my birth country, I now feel that it's changing my life. I have to wonder, what was i waiting for!!.
  1. Fine, I confess, it was only one 'complaint,' but they asked nicely.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

50 years of Venezuelan electoral politics

Venezuela had been the longest standing Democracy of all Spanish speaking countries (yes, even longer than Spain), we used to send observers around the world, and practically organized a big part of the first Nicaraguan elections in recent history. Miguel Octavio has aptly managed to express most of modern electoral history of Venezuela in this post:
Somehow foreign readers come around to tell us that Chavez is different, because he “cares” about the poor, wants to “redistribute” wealth, is not part of the “elites” that have governed our country, because he is very “popular”, he wants to eliminate corruption and is a “break” from the past. I wonder how much this people know about Venezuela’s forty years of political history prior to Chavez
An excellent read. With an excellent comment thread. The only comment I will add to it, is that in the Caldera II election, a sizable segment of the population saw much better candidates in any of the other 3:
  • Claudio Fermín ("El Negro Fermín"). Soft-spoken sociologist, representing AD.
  • Álvarez Paz, the governor of the main oil production state in Venezuela
  • Andrés Velasquez, with deep daily laborer roots, himself part of a labor movement ("Radical Cause" ) that democratically took several Venezuelan Regions by storm.
  • I personally would have voted for any of them, all of them were sensible options, running a truthful campaign with different perspectives, but we had to chose one, so me and most of my friends, just relied on polling data and media hype to go for the one with the most perceived support (I can't even remember which one I chose!!!, but I remember kicking myself for not voting for Claudio Fermín in that election). These three candidates split the vote evenly. I recall the numbers being much closer than in Miguel's article, with a Caldera advantage of barely 1-2%, but then I'm just relying on memory. That is one of the "advantages" of a simple majority vote. The addition of an "anyone else but Caldera" option would have put the country on a completely different path. The same way that an "anyone but Chavez" option would do it in the 2006 elections.

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    You get what you vote for

    Ivan sent me this post that got me thinking. Let me quote:
    And this question also hangs: [The Katrina disaster] is just like 9-11, isn't it? Warnings unheeded, a late, strangely toothless military response, an absent President -- then later, denials and eqivocations, and aid promised but dilatorily sent. If you'd like to be startled, hunt out the clip of Bush's first appearance after 9-11, a short prepared speech done as a touch-and-go on the way to an undisclosed location. He looks dissociated and terrified. The 'strong leader' PR began later. That was the face of George Bush in a crisis.
    On a previous article, I mentioned my point of view on the illogical selection that the American people did on the last election, just because of their 'gut,' 'fluffy,' feelings, and how the same people now started realizing what a bad decision they made. Now, during the Katrina aftermath, a large number of American Citizens, on American Soil are paying a high price for not having true leadership in the White House, for having a White House that cannot react fast enough in times of crisis. The first days and hours after a disaster of this magnitude happens are the most critical. Hundreds, if not thousands of lifes are being lost just for not reacting fast enough. Just listen to the audio link (on the second paragraph) of New Orleans Major's (Ray Nagin) call to CNN, if that is not a speech that could bring down a government, I do not know what could. And this was what the "American's being safer" campaign was all about?. I tremble to think what would happen on a real terrorist threat. Of course, now the spin machines will start, after all Nagin could just be doing it to position himself as a National leader. So that clearly becomes an attack point. By now the PR machinery could be working at full speed, diverting needed White house resources, to prop up the President's image. But the truth has been laid bare for all to see, the truth of the worsening Katrina aftermath is not something any truly Democratic leader should play with.
    Added 10:48 PM: I wanted to make this only about the U.S. but I just read an article that describes Chavez's reaction under a natural tragedy, any similarity is purely coincidental. If you don't really care about your people you are not a true democratic leader. Due to their actions, you will recognize them. Added Sat 3:20 PM: 'Seriously Random' has an in-depth piece that gives some perspective on the whole issue, and what the reaction is escalating.

    Democracy and you

    Democracy n. government by the people; especially : rule of the majority.
    Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote! -Benjamin Franklin Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters. -Abraham Lincoln Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. -Abraham Lincoln Freedom is when the people can speak, democracy is when the government listens. -Alastair Farrugia
    To me, the ideal system of government is a democratic system in which people take educated and intelligent decisions, but between a 'benign' open dictatorship, and a mob rule democracy, the dictatorship would have the upper hand. The objective is to distribute the most well-being to the most people, during the most time, let's not put the cart in front of the horse. This statement can be construed to suggest that I want an elitist democracy, but education means much more than just going to school, to me, education can better be described through the words of Aristotle.
    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -Aristotle
    Going to school might only increase the possibility of getting an education, but it does not guarantee it. The same way that being illiterate reduces the possibility of being educated, but it does not curtail it. All people can make intelligent decisions, but to have that possibility people have to be educated enough to be able to be intelligent about those decisions, gut feelings are a poor excuse for a decision that affects your whole country. On the last U.S. election I watched with amazement how the voters where being manipulated, how amoral propaganda took over information, how gut feelings trumped any rational decisions. Now, you can see the approval ratings for this government, the lowest such ratings have ever been, does that sound like an intelligent decision to you? Venezuela's decision to elect Chavez was a poor one, but it was their Democratic decision to do, it was their mistake. But to take that to mean that Venezuela must be pillaged and burned because of such decision, that Venezuelans must be subjected to raising levels of crime, corruption, poverty, and disease, lower levels of freedom and democracy, and its infrastructure and institutions being destroyed, just because, he was 'democratically elected' is to me the most hypocritical and amoral of the excuses that could come out of the mouth (or hands) of a true democrat.
    Morals and education are the most basic of our necessities. -Simón Bolívar

    A quick sampler of current articles from the blogosphere:
    1. Six thousand executed, by Teodoro Petkoff
    2. Democracy in the Venezuelan pretty revolution marches on
    3. A nice corruption racket with official deposits in the Venezuelan banking system
    4. Bloggers have their radio programs censored by the revolution.
    5. Great moments in populism
    6. Death by asphyxia in Venezuela