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.