April 3, 2004

Gringo escualido pollsters speak

GQR is the gold standard of polling in Venezuela, and their last results are encouraging. However, it is a bit disquieting to think these are the people who got Al Gore most of the votes in the last election, but couldn't get him into office!

New GQR Poll Shows Effort to Block Referendum Produces Decline in Chavez’s Stan

According to a new national survey, the widespread public perception that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is blocking a recall vote on his presidency has helped produce a dramatic decline in his level of support.

A strong majority (59 percent) of Venezuelan voters believes that Chavez is trying to prevent the recall referendum from taking place, even though nearly two-thirds (64 percent) favor holding a referendum. Two-thirds (67 percent) of the electorate also believes the president will do anything to hold on to power, and the same share disapproves of Chavez’s performance on human rights.

The sense that Chavez is trying to defy the popular will on the referendum has helped lift support for revoking his mandate by 10 points since November to 62 percent, according to the survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a polling firm based in Washington, D.C.

The survey, which involved face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, was conducted from March 12 to 22 for RCTV, a Venezuelan television and radio network.  

The survey indicates that Chavez’s standing among his lower-class base has eroded, as a strong majority (58 percent) of the poorest half of the country’s voters now favor revoking his mandate.

The Venezuelan Constitution allows for a recall vote after the mid-point of elected officials’ terms.  Venezuela’s electoral council has ruled that only 1.8 million of the 3.4 million signatures collected by the opposition in support of the referendum are valid.  2.4 valid million signatures are required.

The electoral council’s stance has done serious damage to its credibility, the survey shows.  Only 40 percent of voters approve of the council’s performance, a 23-point decline since November, and 64 percent believe that the council’s decision on the signatures was driven by political, rather than technical, grounds.

The Venezuelan public is genuinely fearful that if the referendum does not take place, the country will face intensified unrest.  About two-thirds (64 percent) of voters believe that if the referendum is not held, there will be greater political instability and violence.  In focus groups held this month by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, numerous participants expressed concern about a potential civil war.

Although most Venezuelan voters remain hopeful that the referendum will be held, they are also looking to the international community to actively support the referendum process.  About three-quarters of the electorate supports the role that the OAS and Carter Center have played as observers and mediators thus far, and a comparable share of opposition supporters say they would support OAS diplomatic or economic sanctions in the event the referendum does not take place.

You know who you are...

I am reposting this as a reminder to those of you who volunteered to please turn in those substantiation forms. Notice that I've changed the wording to differentiate lies from abuses of state power, willful deception, human rights violations and salvaguardia (corruption) cases. I think the list makes much more sense this way.

100 Instances of Deception as State Policy in Chavez's Venezuela.

One of the most difficult points to put across to foreign readers, especially those who may be inclined to sympathize with a leftwing regime in a poor country, is the consistently, systematically, unabashedly deceptive nature of the Chavez regime. It's not that regime leaders lie now and then about this or that, or that they bend the rules beyond breaking point now or then, it's that foul-play is their default mode, standard operating procedure, on most issues most of the time. This list contains just 100 particularly public and blatant lies, deceptions, dirty tricks and abuses of power - but comes very far from exhausting the possibilities. In a proper democracy, any one of these lies would have set off a major scandal, and any two or three of them together might set off a constitutional crisis. In Venezuela, they're so common, they barely make the headlines anymore.

[This is a collaborative effort. Items marked "TAKEN" have already found volunteers to substantiate them. You can join in! Please download this Foul Play Substantiation Form and get started.]

    Since 1998, the Hugo Chavez and his cronies have:

  1. TAKEN: M. Madrigal. Broken the law on campaign funding in 1998: President Chavez took $1.5 million in illegal campaign contributions from Spain's Banco Bilbao Viscaya and lied about it. The contributions were only discovered due to a judicial investigation by judge Baltazar Garzon in Spain. No investigation was carried out in Venezuela before, during, or after the Spanish inquiry.

  2. TAKEN: Lin. Deceived about Bolivar's teachings: President Chavez has consistently portrayed Bolivar - Venezuela's 19th century national - as a proto-Marxist. Scholars agree that Bolivar was no such thing - he was a 19th century style liberal.

  3. TAKEN: BN. Subverted the constitution in ramming through the June 1999 referendum: President Chavez claimed to have the legal authority to convene a referendum on whether to call a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. The legal framework in force at the time contained no such provision.

  4. TAKEN: Lin. Lied and broke anti-corruption laws about the missing payments to FIEM: The government has lied systematically over a period of years over the funding of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund - FIEM - designed to even out oil revenues between high oil price years and low oil price years. In 2001, payments worth $2 billion dollars earmarked for the fund simply disappeared. Delito de salvaguarda is the expression in Spanish.

  5. Covered corruption in Plan Bolivar: The regime has consistently dismissed allegations of corruption at the military social-cooperation plan, despite bank security camera photos that show soldiers depositing Plan Bolivar checks into personal accounts. Such evidence incriminates, among many others, General Jorge Garcia Carneiro, who instead of being charged and tried was promoted to "three-sun General" (equivalent to 5-stars in the US) and appointed Defense Minister.

  6. Lied about the effectiveness and sustainability of the exchange rate bands: The regime said repeatedly the 1996-2002 exchange bands would stamp out inflation. Every independent economist in town knew it would merely store it up for later, and said so. The regime accused its critics of being unpatriotic. In 2002, the exchange bands collapsed and inflation shot up to the highest mark in Latin America today, precisely as critics had said.

  7. Lied about the reasons behind capital flight: Ministers have questioned the patriotism of those shielding their savings in dollars instead of accepting the economic rationality that drove them (correctly) to do so. In 1998, a dollar was worth 500 bolivars. By the end of 2003, it was closer to 3000.

  8. TAKEN: Cesar. Deceived the country on official perks: President Chavez initially made a major populist show, selling off PDVSA's corporate jet fleet in its entirety. Soon, though, he turned around and bought an $85 million luxury Airbus A319 for presidential use, among many other examples.

  9. TAKEN: Juantxo. Lied and broke the constitution and anti-corruption laws in the Oil-to-Cuba affair: President Chavez approved an oil supply deal for Fidel Castro's regime on concessionary terms. Despite the advantageous terms, the Cubans have fallen behind on their payments, but the government has refused to cut off supplies, as it would do to any other customer who didn't pay up. Another salvaguarda violation. The government also denied it needed congressional approval for the treaty, which contravenes the Venezuelan constitution.

  10. Lied about the sustainability of the domestic debt: The government presented its strategy to borrow money only in local currency as a coup for economic nationalism. Critics who called the strategy unsustainable were derided or ignored. This year, drowning in red ink, the government unveiled a plan to switch its bolivar debts for dollar-denominated bonds - without ever accepting responsibility for the original, catastrophically costly policy. Failed to investigate bond operations in the Finance Ministry seen as openly fraudulent by independent analysts in a massive violation of anti-corruption laws.

  11. TAKEN: Andrés. Lied about the Orinoco-Apure Axis: Chavez pledged repeatedly to revitalize the south of the country and move millions of northern urban dwellers to the savannahs. The messianic plan was highly impracticable and was never implemented.

  12. Lied about the CTV election results: The president refused to accept the results of the CNE-supervised elections in 2000 that left CTV in the hands of the opposition.

  13. SUBSTANTIATED: Miguel. Lied about Montesinos: Insisting that the ex-Fujimori Spy Chief was not in Venezuela in 2001 only for him to be eventually found in Caracas in very strange circumstances,

  14. SUBSTANTIATED: Miguel. Lied about Ballestas: Denying they had helped this Colombian guerrilla airliner hijacker only to have him turn up in Venezuela as well, and under odd circumstances.

  15. TAKEN: Tuti. Lied about Decree 1011: Denying the extreme discretionary authority granted to Itinerant school inspectors by the infamous education ministry decree that launched the civilian opposition movement.

  16. Lied about the 49 decree-laws: The government claimed to have carried out consultations that never occurred before redrawing the entire juridical map of Venezuela singlehandedly with a package of 49 decrees handed down unilaterally on November 13th, 2001.

  17. Lied about the size of the opposition: Government spokesmen systematically dismiss the opposition as "four cats" even when hundreds of thousands took to the streets.

  18. Broke human rights standards and the constitution by ordering the implementation of Plan Avila: On April 11, 2002, ordered the use of military style weaponry to face down a street protest, in clear violation of the 1999 constitution and the Treaty of Rome. A very serious human rights violation.

  19. Lied about and obstructed the investigation into the violence on April 11th, 2002: Pinning 100% of the blame on the opposition despite overwhelming, repeatedly confirmed evidence that government activists handed out arms to civilian supporters on the day and many of those civilians used the guns. Failed to investigate the deaths of 9 people on Avenida Baralt south of Puente Llaguno.

  20. Lied about Lucas Rincon's request for a presidential resignation "la cual acepto:" At around 1:00 am on April 12th, the highest ranking member of the armed forces went on every TV channel and radio station in the country to announce to the nation that President Chavez had resigned. The government would later claim, incongruously, that the opposition simply made up the story of a resignation.

  21. Lied about the US role on April 12th: The government fabricated ties between the CIA and the short-lived Carmona regime. They ignored evidence that US Ambassador Charles Shapiro leaned on Carmona to recompose the national assembly late on the 12th.

  22. Lied about the numbers on the street on April 13th: Talking to foreign reporters, President Chavez once claimed that SEVEN MILLION of his supporters took to the streets demanding his return to power on April 13th, when eye-witnesses (including yours truly) saw only a few thousand protesters outside Fuerte Tiuna that day, and a BBC documentary reported seeing no more than three or four blocks full of Chavez supporters outside Miraflores on his return.

  23. Lied about governing inclusevely on April 14th: Promised to "rectify" and listen to all points of view, but quickly reverted to authoritarian mode.

  24. Manipulated official poverty statistics for political purposes: Redefining "poverty" in official INE statistics to exclude any measure of income, thereby giving the false impression of a dramatic fall in poverty,

  25. TAKEN: Tuti. Lied about Fe y Alegria: Attacking the Jesuit school charity that has educated hundreds of thousands of poor Venezuelans as an elitist anachronism.

  26. TAKEN: Tuti. Lied about educating 20,000 University students at the Helicoide: As part of an illusory bolivarian university, lied in saying the DISIP headquarters could imaginably accomodate that many students.

  27. Abused his power and broke the constitution by using military facilities and equipment for political purposes: Denying the well known use of military barracks to house, overnight, chavista supporters bussed in from the interior to attend pro-government rallies, among a number of other abuses. A clear violation of existing anti-corruption laws.

  28. Abused his access to state funds to pay supporters to turn up at pro-government rallies: Continues to deny stories of "viaticos" for marchers from the provinces despite mountains of corroboration. Another salvaguarda violation.

  29. Deceived the country on the housing crisis: Continues to tout the 30-40,000 houses per year it is building as the solution to the housing crisis despite the demographic need for new housing standing at over 100,000 new units per year.

  30. Abused his power and access to state resources to arm and train civilian militias: Denies the existence of paramilitary training camps for civilian supporters despite evidence to the contrary.

  31. Lied and obstructed the investigation into paramilitary-style police death squads: The government continues to do nothing about the proliferation of police death squads in the country and still accepts "shootout with the police" as a normal cause for death on police reports. This despite growing evidence that this tag is used by death squads after murdering "undesirables." Another human rights violation.

  32. Lied about helping street children: Pledged to put the needs of homeless children at the top of the agenda and proceeded to ignore them for five years. "I will give up my name if within one year there are still street children in Venezuela," said Chavez way back in 1999.

  33. Lied about prison conditions: The government cynically takes credit about the fall in prison crowding, despite the fact that this fall was due to the adoption of COPP, the new criminal procedure law, approved in 1998 by the previous administration. Also, the government continues to dismiss serious human rights abuses pointed out by independent NGOs like the Observatorio de Prisiones. A human rights violation.

  34. Broke the constitution by refusing to distribute the situado constitutional to the states equitably: Denied partisanship in handing out the constitutionally mandated financial transfers to state governments, despite evident bias that has caused major financial distress in most opposition-led states and led to late payments to state government employed teachers, nurses, etc. A violation of anti-corruption laws.

  35. Lied about the viability of urban farming: Sold "urban hydroponic farming" as a viable solution to urban hunger.

  36. Lied about plots to kill the president: Presented crudely fabricated "evidence" of a series of plots to kill Chavez, including an incongruous plot to shoot down a flying airplane using an anti-tank rocket.

  37. SUBSTANTIATED: meLied about the Autopista Regional del Centro shootings: Failed to take action against people shooting on opposition protesters traveling to a march in Caracas on October 10th, 2002, despite having a National Guard Post less than a kilometer down the road. Failed to prosecute the perpetrators.

  38. SUBSTANTIATED: me Lied about the Charallave shootings: Failed to punish the culprits of the shooting into an opposition march that left one dead and 21 injured in Charallave on January 21, 2003. No one was convicted despite the existence of video evidence of the crime.

  39. Obstructed fair and effective police investigations into these and other crimes. Took reprisals against CICPC investigators who showed excessive zeal in investigating the misdeeds of Chavez-sympathizers, redeploying offending investigators to hardship posts in the hinterlands of Apure and Amazonas. Systematically worked to ensure the impunity of the guilty.

  40. Lied about the Paro Nacional: Blamed the opposition for the strike despite, by Chavez's own admission, having worked consciously through a so-called Plan Colina to push the opposition into a paro.

  41. Lied about what happened in the old PDVSA: Claiming inefficiencies not borne out by the facts and based on systematic misrepresentation of the evidence.

  42. Lied about what happens in the new PDVSA: Glossing over the fragmentation, technical discombobulation and rising per-barrel costs at the corporation.

  43. Lied about its oil production figures: Consistently claiming more exports than it was shipping.

  44. TAKEN: EricaLied about the impartiality of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC): Accusing the IAHRC of siding with the opposition for doing its job. Smeared IAHRC's rapporteur Santiago Canton.

  45. Lied about the sources of pollution in Lake Maracaibo: Blaming it all on the old-PDVSA instead of doing something to improve Maracaibo's ecocidal sewage system.

  46. Slandered Intesa: Claiming PDVSA's IT subsidiary had CIA ties but offering no evidence.

  47. Lied about Intevep: Idiotically denying PDVSA's R&D department added to the corporation's profitability.

  48. TAKEN: Lin.Lied about Citgo: Misrepresenting PDVSA's US subsidiary's role in distributing Venezuelan oil abroad.

  49. Lied about selling Ruhr Oel/Alpha Group: Working to sell PDVSA's German subsidiary in secret, without parliamentary debate, to a Russian company with well-known roots in organized crime.

  50. Lied about the Plataforma Deltana Gas Fields: Claiming they would raise $1 billion dollars by tendering its offshore Natural Gas fields, only raising some $30 million, then calling the entire exercise a smashing revolutionary success.

  51. Lied about Yucal-Placer Gas Field: Attempting to auction off 11 exploration blocks for land-based natural gas, but attracting bids for only six and seeing only one - Yucal Placer - briefly go into production only to be shut down by PPT-led labor disruptions, and then calling the entire exercise a smashing revolutionary success.

  52. Lied and broke the hydrocarbons law about the Free Market Petroleum deal: Attempting to sell oil in contravention of the Hydrocarbons' Law to a shady, unheard of US oil company with rumored ties to the Russian mafia and documented ties to right wing US politician Jack Kemp.

  53. Lied about the Las Cristinas gold mine: Promising local people dozens of jobs that never materialized after illegally expropriating one Canadian mining company to favor another Canadian mining company in the complex saga of Venezuela's largest gold mine, in Bolivar State.

  54. TAKEN: Tuti Lied about school-enrollment figures: Claiming a million new students enrolled when the Education Ministry's own figures show just shy of 300,000 entrants per year - somewhat, but not much, above the rate of growth of the school-age population.

  55. SUBSTANTIATED: MeLied about enrolling in 500,000 additional students in the Universidad Bolivariana in one year through "Mision Sucre": Incongruously pledging to raise overall university enrollment by about 75% in a single year, despite having no staff, classroom space, organizational ability or capacity to implement the program.

  56. Lied about imitating Vicente Emparan: Chavez pledged to emulate Venezuela's Colonial-era governor recognized by stepping down from power when asked to do so by the people. Instead, he has hung to power through arbitrary and illegal means.

  57. Repeatedly made impossible promises on jobs: About once a year, the president promises, with great fanfare, to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs within months through a new "employment plan." No such jobs have ever materialized. The experience of past employment plans never seems to figure into the design of new ones.

  58. TAKEN: Cesar. Contradicted himself about the future of "El Camastron:" Pledging his old 70s Boeing 737 (known as "El Camastron") to a variety of noble causes from a people's tourism company to a Caribbean integration airline.

  59. Lied about La Casona: Pledging to turn the presidential residence into an abandoned children's home but never delivering.

  60. TAKEN: Tuti Lied about Miraflores: Pledging to turn the presidential palace into a new university but, again, doing nothing.

  61. SUBSTANTIATED: Miguel Lied about La Carlota: Promising to turn the East Side Caracas military air base into an urban park designed by Fruto Vivas, never doing it.

  62. SUBSTANTIATED: Miguel Lied about La Guzmania: Pledging to turn over the presidential retreat into a project for disadvantage children, but - you guessed it - doing nothing.

  63. Lied to the judges of the recent Romulo Gallegos Literary Prize at the Celarg: When Fernando Vallejo won last year, several of the judges, including Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Mata, made public statements complaining about not being paid the amount of money they were supposed to receive. The chavistas delayed and reduced the payments to the judges for this prize.

  64. Abused its power over public resources to turn VTV, the state TV broadcaster, into a propaganda arm: Its motto is "The Channel of All Venezuelans" but the content is 100% chavista and highly propagandistic. The situation is made alarming because cadets, soldiers and even officers are banned from watching any other media. Another salvaguarda violation.

  65. Lied about who drinks the expensive whiskey in Venezuela: This is a fun one. The government constantly slammed the opposition for kicking back with expensive whiskey in fancy restaurants despite the unprecedented hike in sales of 18-year-old, super-expensive Johnny Walker Blue Label in Venezuela, mostly - according to distributors - for consumption by Chavez's military cronies. Considering the salary of an active duty general, salvaguarda violations are likely.

  66. Lied to the OAS, the Carter Center, the US, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Portugal, and Spain: In igning an agreement pledging to find a legal, constitutional and electoral solution to the crisis, then working singlemindedly to block that agreement.

  67. Lied about the firmazo: Claiming a massive fraud without offering any coherent proof.

  68. Lied about the reafirmazo: Again claiming a massive fraud without offering any coherent proof.

  69. Slandered Sumate: Accusing them of orchestrating a massive fraud without offering any coherent proof.

  70. Lied about the integrity of Cesar Gaviria: Chavez questioned the honor of the head of OAS, Cesar Gaviria - one of the best respected diplomats in the hemisphere - because "he's been spending a lot of time with opposition activists."

  71. Lied about the reconstruction of Vargas State: Pledging a huge reconstruction effort in this region devastated by mudslides in 1999, a pledge that is now years behind schedule.

  72. Lied about the links with FARC/ELN: Continually denying links that have been documented by any number of journalists.

  73. Broke the constitution in asking for a billion dollars in Central Bank Reserves to spend: Which is specifically and explicitly prohibited by the constitution. Arguably also a salvaguarda violation.

  74. TAKEN: David. Lied about the role of Cubans in the country: Failing to acknowledge that nearly all of the 10,000 Cubans sent to Venezuela over the last few years are communist party members and mocking the concerns of those who see an indoctrination plan behind the mass influx.

  75. Slandered the Episcopal Conference: The president accused Venezuela's catholic bishops of having "devils under their vestments", outraging the catholic majority in the country. Faced with church protests over his escalating authoritarianism, he said the bishops only reject his government for selfish reasons.

  76. Obstructed investigations of corruption at Fondur, FUS, MEM and others: Failing to investigate numerous and well-documented allegations of corruption at the Urban Development Fund, the Unified Social Fund and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (among others.) Dozens of salvaguarda violations come under this item.

  77. TAKEN: Tuti Lied about the number of Bolivarian schools it built: Claiming to have "created" over 3,000 Bolivarian schools when the vast majority are not newly built, but are simply existing schools turned "bolivarian by decree."

  78. Lied about the sexual orientation of opposition leaders: Exploiting Venezuelans' homophobia to slur heterosexual opposition leaders who I won't name for obvious reasons. Also attacked the one openly gay National Assembly opposition member for his sexual orientation.

  79. Obstructed investigations into the killings of Jovany Sosa and thousands of others killed by police death squads: Sticking by highly dubious police versions of events despite mountains of evidence pointing to a different story and failing to investigate credibly.

  80. Lied about Venezuela's involvement in the coup against Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia: Despite harshly accusing the US for meddling in Venezuelan events, turned right around and financed the Bolivian uprising that overthrew president Sanchez de Lozada.

  81. Violated a Supreme Tribunal order to return the weapons it took from the Caracas Metropolitan Police: Failed to comply with a clear, final decision from the tribunal. Systematically accused the opposition-led PM of starting incidents of urban violence in Caracas without ever offering specific evidence.

  82. Armed and protected left-wing urban guerrillas like the Tupamaros and the Carapaicas: Signed an agreement with the opposition, the OAS and the Carter Center pledging to disarm the civilian population, but made no attempt to implement it with regards to the most dangerous urban guerrilla groups in the country. With the Tupa and Carapaica death tolls mounting, this must be seen as a human rights violation.

  83. Used race as a wedge issue to divide the country: Slurred its opponents as racist and sought to mobilize its supporters around racial categories despite the celebrated fluidity of race relations in Venezuela.

  84. Lied about the impact of the "missions": Invented numbers about the effectiveness of its Cuban-led literacy drive. Violated anti-corruption laws in implementing them.

  85. Lied about the reliability of professional journalists: Mocked the reliability of reports written by professional journalists working for the private media reporting as eye-witnesses from the scene. Assured them that they had not seen what they had just seen. Specific examples of this brand of lie could fill up a book.

  86. Lied about Carrasquero's impartiality: Congratulated CNE-head Francisco Carrasquero's decisions as admirable even as CNE openly violated article 72 of the constitution.

  87. Lied about the planillas planas: Called signature-gathering forms with similar handwriting a "material error" of the administration, even though the bulk of both government and opposition witnesses at the reafirmazo had been left under the impression assisted signing was perfectly ok.

  88. Broke the constitution and the law by taking reprisals against those who signed the recall referendum petition: Threatened public employees with dismissal unless they retract their signatures. Called the act of signing the petition "a terrorist act."

  89. Subverted the constitution by appointing a sycophant Prosecutor General: Appointed an "independent, non-partisan prosecutor general" who was just stepping down as Vicepresident of the Republic and is unquestionably, openly, notoriously a hard-core chavista partisan. Lied systematically, in fact routinely, about the Fiscal's willingness to conduct investigations that may prove awkward for the government. Subverted citizens' equal access to the legal system. A massive violation of basic constitutional rights.

  90. Subverted the constitution by appointing a sycophant Human Rights Ombudsman: Continued to praise by a Human Rights Ombudsman who has never, once, produced a serious investigation a single accusation of human rights abuses by the government. Politicized the Ombudsman's office until it became an arm of the executive.

  91. Subverted the constitution by appointing a sycophant as Comptroller General: Stood-by a Comptroller General who has never, ever uncovered a single serious case of government corruption despite literally hundreds of well-documented cases. Rendered anti-corruption moot, and insured impunity for corrupt cronies.

  92. Subverted the constitution by purging the courts of non-chavista judges: Continued to pretend the courts are independent even as independent judges were fired summarily by the head of the chavista head of the Supreme Tribunal for making decisions the government doesn't like. Lied about the reasons for their dismissals.

  93. SUBSTANTIATED: me. Lied about Robert Mugabe's record: On February 26th, 2004, he singled out Zimbabwe's notorious dictator for praise, calling Mugabe a "freedom fighter" and presenting him with the most symbolically charged gift possible in Venezuela, a replica of Bolivar's sword.

  94. SUBSTANTIATED: me. Lied about being committed to human rights: On March 14, 2004, Chavez loudly protested that there have been no human rights abuses in Venezuela, even as Human Rights Watch says there is no doubt there have been abuses.

  95. Slandered Pompeyo Marquez: Called the now venerable leftwing leader Pompeyo Marquez a "tonto util" (useful fool) and charged him for standing by the killers of Alberto Lovera, both shameful slurs against one of the most universally respected progressive leaders of the last 50 years.

  96. SUBSTANTIATED: me. Lied about Emiliano Chavez's existence: On March 7th, 2004, speaking to the assembled diplomatic corps, Chavez swore the signature under the name of "Emiliano Chavez" was fake because no such person existed. According to the Associated Press, Emiliano Chavez stepped forward the following day and showed his cedula to reporters, which coincided with the ID number President Chavez had announced.

  97. Subverted the constitutions by placing three cronies on the Supreme Tribunal's Constitutional Chamber: Subverted the bedrock constitutional principle of the separation of powers.

  98. Lied about Chavez's ultimate political goals: Continued to proclaim themselves democratic even as they clearly moved towards autocracy.

  99. Attacked the integrity and intentions of all who question the supremo: Slurring them as escualidos, fascists, carmoniacos, oligarchs, reactionaries, puntofijistas, "stupidists", and a long list of accepting them as the legitimate representatives of the political views of millions and millions of Venezuelans. As a rule, never engage with the substance of criticisms.

  100. Subverted the democratic kernel of the constitution by keeping voters away from the ballot box illegally: After launching a political movement based on a radical, people-power ideology, they illegally thwarted the people's sovereign right to convoke a recall referendum by collecting the signatures of 20% of the voters as stated clearly in article 72 of the Constitution.

It's often difficult for foreign observers to understand the depth of our anger towards what is happening in our country, and the way the Chavez government has led our society. A large part of this is due to the sense of impotence and anger we feel as we see our government lie to us and violate our laws, more or less openly, in front of everyone's eyes, and continues to get away with it due to an atmosphere of total lawlessness. With all key institutions seeded with numerous sycophants, it's not just the president we worry about, it's an entire regime that seems to have taken non-sense and deception as its standard procedure.

Like his idols Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez seems to have realized that once you have enough power, truth-telling becomes superfluous, unnecessary, and just plain unhelpful. So please, as you read the news, remember a simple rule of thumb born out by five years' experience: if the Chavez government said it, it's a good bet it's not true.

April 2, 2004

Venezuela denounces lack of US Opprobium

I love the headline on this Xinhua Story. Too funny.

Venezuela demands "more forceful" answer from US

CARACAS, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Venezuela hopes the United States will give a "more forceful" answer to Venezuela's allegation that Washington was conspiring against its democracy and interfering with its internal affairs, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jesus Perez said Thursday.

"The US government has disrespected and underestimated our accusations. It has to take into account the seriousness of the issues presented. A responsible government must answer with proof," Perez told reporters.

Venezuela's permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Jorge Valero, alleged in a speech authorized by President Hugo Chavez at the OAS Permanent Council that Washington "backed" the thwarted coup d'etat in April 2002 against Chavez and urged "an end of foreign intervention."


I'll admit that, while I'm no fan of Bush, I think simply ignoring the propagandistic temper tantrums coming from the Chavez regime has been a smart move. This may be the one policy area where lack of curiosity and disinterest lead to more or less the right policy. More forceful engagement would only be playing into the Chavez-Castro victimization trap.

How I became an antichavista...

Believe it or not, I was not always against Chavez. In 1999 I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a government backed by 80% of the people.

This changed in early 2000, when I was given one of my first VenEconomy assignment, looking into the finances of FIEM - the Investment Fund for Macroeconomic Stabilization. Before you fall into an of irretrievable boredom-induced coma, hear me out. FIEM may seem like a recondite topic at first, but many of the economic problems Venezuela has had since the late 70s might never have happened if a mechanism like FIEM had been in place all along.

Between 1978 and 1998, per capita GDP fell by about 25%. The problem was not income - as an oil producer, Venezuela had plenty of money. In fact, given the avalanche of Petrodollars, the dismal underperformance of the Venezuelan economy was something of a puzzle to economists. How could a country as resource rich as Venezuela see such a disastrous decline in living standards?

Several hypothesis were floated, but by the late 90s, something like a consensus had emerged among academic economists. The problem, they proposed, was not so much the amount of income but its regularity. The oil market, they noted, is notoriously unstable - huge price oil booms associated with conflict in the middle east in 1973, 1979, and 1991 had been followed by prolonged price slumps. This volatile, cyclical nature of the oil market makes oil income not just variable but unpredictable in some fundamental sense.

This volatility was exacerbated by lousy government economic management. In good times, governments would spend all the income and more in wild sprees of populism. When the oil market went south, credit markets would clam up, leaving the government without the income and without the access to credit. This would force massive cutbacks in public spending, which would wreak havoc with the wider economy. These procyclical policies made the entire cycle even more disruptive to the economy than the oil market swings themselves.

Enter FIEM. The idea behind the fund was simple enough for a squirrel to understand: the idea was simply to take the "extra" revenue generated in high oil-price years and save it in the fund. Then, when oil prices dipped back down, the money that has been saved up could be used to make up some of the shortfall. The threshold set was a five year moving average of previous oil prices. When prices rose above the 5-year average, the excedent had to be saved up. When it dropped below that average, the gap could be made up from past savings.

It was a simple, elegant, well-thought out solution to a very difficult problem. The FIEM law was finally approved in 1998, months before Chavez was elected. Oil prices were so low then, that no money was accumulated at first.

As soon as oil prices went up, though, the new Chavez government found out there was some pesky law preventing them from spending all the money. This did not go down well, and Chavez immediately went about using his crushing majority in the Constituent Assembly to re-write it. This he did unilaterally, replacing the simple, straightforward floating average rule with a new, far more complicated rule that seemed to have nothing to do with the goal of smoothing out fiscal income.

Now, I found this troubling but not alarming. After all, I thought, at least they went through the motions of changing the law, even if the new law is fairly stupid.

But the moment I started to realize something was very odd indeed inside the government is when I started going through PDVSA's fiscal contribution numbers, comparing them to the rules, and realized right away that the government had started to violate its own FIEM Law reforms the second it approved them!

I looked all over for someone inside government to explain it to me, to help me work out the seeming contradiction, but I never did. The issue was far from the headlines at that point, not really making much news. So long as it flew below the radar screen, the government knew it could get away easily with violating such technical laws, even if they had written those laws themselves.

I wrote a series of articles about this for VenEconomy but never got a comprehensible response. Slowly at first, but later on like a ton of bricks, I realized what dyed in the wool antichavistas had been telling me all along: that it's not this or that law that the government is willing to break. It's the principle of submitting to laws as such that they can't stomach. If Hugo Chavez wanted to spend the extra oil income that started coming in in 2000, he was damn well going to. No random piece of sealed paper was going to stop him from doing that!

April 1, 2004

Comparative politics

Until this morning, Beverley Hughes was the Minister for Immigration in Tony Blair's government. Today, amid a scandal, Hughes was forced to resign as junior minister - equivalent to undersecretary in the US or a vice-ministro criollo.

Since the relative probity of British and Venezuelan institutions has become a somewhat ludicrous topic in my comments forum, I thought I should write something about Beverley Hughes

Hughes came down after a scandal over fake visa-applications from Romania and Bulgaria that were being waived by Hughes' department without the legal checks. Oh, you think, she got caught bending the rules, so she had to resign! Not quite.

Beverley Hughes had not been informed that her department was waving these checks. The decision was made by a mid-ranking official: Hughes heard about it when everyone else did, by reading it in the newspaper.

The reason Hughes is resigning is that, two nights ago, she gave an interview to a BBC program where she claimed she had never heard of the problems in Bulgaria and Romania until they came out in the press.

The following day, an internal document check revealed that Hughes had in fact received a report about the problems one year earlier, and had replied in writing. Though, in her resignation statement, she insisted that she had not intended to deceive the British public, Hughes was forced to accept that her statement on TV had not been truthful. Under such circumstances, she felt she had no choice but to "take responsibility" and resign her ministerial post.

I read this story with stupor, with a sense of bafflement and longing. Maybe I'm crazy for thinking that one day Venezuelans will demand this level of probity from our elected leaders. But who knows?

Strange experience

I had a chat yesterday with Sandra La Fuente, the woman who co-wrote El Acertijo de Abril, the book on the events of April 11-14th. I asked her to fact check The April Crisis Revisited - I'll include her corrections this weekend. As she went through the description of the shootings on April 11th (her specialist area) she suddenly got peeved:

"No, no, no, the shooting started a good few minutes before the cadena."

I knew that couldn't be so.

"But that's impossible," I said, "I was on Avenida Baralt just before the Cadena, and I didn't see any wounded."

"You don't understand," she replied, "at the start, with all the sounds of firecrackers and rubber pellets, people weren't immediately aware that live bullets were being fired. There wasn't mass panic right away - many people who were shot thought at first they'd been hit by pellets, or by a rock. I have a dozen witnesses who say it is so."

I was stunned.

"But, but, but...but that means Megan and I were in the line of fire and didn't even realize it."

"You wouldn't be the only ones..."

Man...I can't believe it took me 2 years to figure this out...

March 31, 2004

Eight disconnected thoughts about Venezuela

  1. The amazing thing about the unquestioned "The US did it" consensus on the April coup is that it is always assumed or hinted at, never specifically described. CIA involvement is an article of faith.

  2. Today's Seijas poll in TalCual spells trouble for the opposition. Only 48% of Caracas area respondents say they would vote to recall Chavez, vs. 40% who would vote to keep him. Plainly not good enough for the coordinadora. 56% see Chavez's performance in government as neutral or good. (Though, on the upside, in a hypothetical presidential election 50% say they would vote for an opposition candidate, only 36% for Chavez.) If these numbers hold, then the ultimate of ironies is at play: the opposition is fighting like hell to get to a referendum they will lose, while the government goes all out to block a referendum it stands to win.

  3. The central lie in the marketing of the revolution is the claim that the revolution is for the poor and against the rich. Nothing could be further from the truth. The revolution is for those willing to take orders from Chavez without question, and against everyone else.

  4. The question of whether the poor are for chavez depends on your definition of poor. If you take income as the marker of poverty, then 90% of Venezuelans are poor, including any number who had an unprecedented tertiary education and can't get proper jobs now. From a social point of view, these people are middle-class. Due to the opportunities they had under the old regime, they affiliate with the values people acquire through education. Venezuela has a whole cohort of children of campesinos and children of factory workers who had the chance to go to university and improve their lives. They are middle class by culture, poor by economic status, and antichavista by democratic conviction. That impoverished middle class remains the last best hope of a country that's already lived through too much.

  5. The only fundamental ideological commitment the government has is to nonsense. Nonsense is non-negotiable. Systematic nonsense, carefully crafted, radically divorced from reality nonsense applied as part of a broader strategy of mayhem and confusion. The absurd is systematically presented as self-evident. Systematic deception is spread with a kind of malicious pleasure. The breakdown of civilizational standards this forces is the point of the exercise. A Supreme Tribunal can rule that temporary documents, although temporary, are final, and nobody bats an eyelash. It's the principles of aristotelian logic that are under siege here.

  6. Asking a philochavista first world leftie to picture himself in a situation of total impunity, absolute breakdown in the rule of law, political sequestering of all institutions and a revolutionary rhetoric used to justify and celebrate the violation of the rights of a large portion of the population is like asking a fish to imagine what it would be to live on dry land. The questions they ask are exactly like the questions the fish would ask - how does one swim there? is it very deep? They can't seem to quite picture it, because they can't imagine such a thing happening to them. The tendency therefore is to exoticise the nonsense inflicted on Venezuelans. They would have a massive, simultaneous coniption/constitutional crisis if their own governments tried to get away with 1% of the shit Chavez gets away with, but can't see those who march in Caracas as anything more than bored oligarchs.

  7. Hugo Chavez is the single biggest calamity ever to befall the cause of social justice in Venezuela. Not only has his mismanagement and maximalism deeply impoverished millions, but his discourse has discredited left-wing messages to such an extent that, in future, all progressive arguments will be vaguely discredited by an association with the Chavez era. The divisions Chavez has exacerbated will haunt the country long after he's gone.

  8. One day, if I'm lucky enough to have grandchildren, I will gather them around and bore them stiff with stories about this time. When they ask me what I did about it, I said "well, they had these things called blogs back then..."

Best Wacky Chavez Story

I'll never forget it. It was a normal weekday in early 2003 when the familiar music comes on the TV...esta es una transmisión conjunta de la red de radio y...Cadena.

The image then takes us to a dark tunnel while the announcer explains that President Chavez has travelled to the Valles del Tuy to personally oversee the completion of the final tunnel in the new railway being built out there. Sigh, propaganda ploy.

But in the Chavez era, nothing is so simple or predictable. President Chavez isn't there for some wussy ribbon cutting. Instead, he jumps right into the giant earth digger doing the work, and after exchanging some words with the operator, he starts working the machine, drilling through the mountain personally. Charming.

Now, I assumed they'd worked out the photo op so Chavez would work the machine for the last minute or two. Or five. Well, either they worked it out wrong or Chavez is a damn lousy tunnel maker: it took at least forty minutes for him to drill through to the other side. For forty minutes, on every single TV channel and every radio station, all you could see was Chavez on top of a big machine drilling a hole.

The announcer tried to keep some semblance of a discourse on the air throughout this process, "Here, from Valles del Tuy, the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela participates actively in the construction of the new republic. The final tunnel in the highway completes a long term project to...zzzz..." but after 25 minutes, even he had run entirely out of banalities.

So for the next half hour or so, if you turned on a television in Venezuela - any channel - what you would see was the president of the republic operating heavy machinery over the loudest noise you can imagine. I presume no one in Channel 8 quite dared to cut away from a cadena without presidential approval. They just kept that camera on him.

Now, if the TV images were pathetic, the situation on the radio verged on the alarming. Listeners who tuned in at just that time - especially car drivers - heard an inexplicable, loud whining noise of machinery on every radio station that just went on and on...with no explanation, they were left to run with their imaginations.

Some people just panicked. I got a weak kneed call from a colleague, "chamo, all the radio stations are down, this is really weird...is there a coup underway?!"

Too funny...

March 30, 2004

The mural Andrés saw

Guardians of the Fatherland: Trained Bodyguards

March 29, 2004

Interactive experiment on the April Crisis

This post is an invitation: please use the comments forum to write-in about your personal memories of April 11th-14th. Foreign readers: tell us what you remember of media coverage of the coup. Venezuelans, tell us what you rememer most vividly about that weekend. Use Spanish if it's easier. I'll choose some to post to the main page.