May 29, 2004

Donde ronca Carter no hay chavista con reumatismo

From a certain point of view, the opposition should be thrilled: needing to mobilize just 45% of the reparable signators (540,000 out of over 1.2 million) to convene a recall - their task is like shooting a fish in the proverbial barrel. Its supporters are nothing if not committed, and the 1.2 million signature universe must be heavily weighted to committed antichavista - people, at any rate, willing to go out and put their name on the line to support the RR last November.

With unofficial descifrado-obtained estimates suggesting 30% of the reparables turned up before noon on the first day, the oppo should be sitting pretty just now. Since CNE has banned premature results, Mendoza must be seen to be talking in code when he calls today's operation an "Operación Ñapa" - or "Operation Safety-Margin", in the very clunky English translation. Without violence, and with only scattered impediments to repairing, it shouldn't even be controversial that the opposition can mobilize 540,000 antichavistas in a situation like this - it should be a tiro al suelo...

So this should be a time of real opposition optimism. And in a way it is. My unscientific little poll here shows that at least my readers are feeling quietly hopeful. The 540,000 figure will not be a major problem.

As the comeflor inteligentsia has argued for months, we now have the chavistas just where we want them: backed into an impossible corner. To win, they have to cheat, and to cheat, they have to cheat big, cheat bold, cheat openly and blatantly under the noses of the international community and the media.

Yet much of the opposition remains ambivalent. The reason, to my mind, is the repeated government appeals for opposition leaders to declare right now that they will accept any decision the National Electoral Council reaches.

Once bitten, twice shy, the saying goes, and the opposition feels it's been bitten more than once by this CNE. With experience fresh of the council's dadaist freestyle interpretations of the constitution's article 72 and of its own regulations' articles 28, 29 and (especially) 31, the opposition is in no mood to be writing CNE blank checks at this point. Understandably so, I hasten to add...

The government senses the tactical advantage on this point and has decided to press it. In his WashPost opinion piece, Chavez made much of the oppo's reluctance to make the CNE pledge. With characteristic discipline, his underlings hammer away at it each time they get near a microphone.

The harder they press, though, the more the opposition becomes convinced that the fix must be in: the government wouldn't dream of pursuing such a high-risk strategy unless they were quite sure that CNE would eventually rule against the referendum.

As a result, the antichavistas, who have the most to gain from a fully transparent process, continus to squirm away from affirming faith in the only organization that can hand us victory.

This odd situation is typical of our hyperpolarized age, where seemingly unquestionable propositions like "we will abide by CNE reults" get aggressively politicized, problematized, stuffed through the revolutionary looking glass until they come out the other side entirely transmogrified. What should be a common sense position comes to look like an a priori endorsement of a planned fraud.

And yet, if the opposition does manage to top, say, the 700,000 repaired signature threshold - which seems entirely plausible - even a CNE as creative and resourceful as this one will have a very hard time falsifying the results. And, certainly, an impossible time doing so credibly.

Which brings us around to the other reason the government's line on the opposition's refusal to pledge to accept CNE-results rings hollow. The demand usually comes side-by-side with bold government attacks on the Carter Center/OAS Observation mission. Often, these attacks are couched in shrill language about mission heads Fernando Jaramillo (OAS) and Francisco Diez (CC) being paid opposition supporters.

In a sense, it's not surprising: twice now the Carter Center/OAS mission has publicly expressed its dissent with CNE decisions, explaining that CNE has applied criteria that fall foul of international standards. Chavistas interpret these criticisms as "proof" that the observers favor the opposition, never stopping to consider the much more straightforward possibility that the statments show that CNE decisions have not always been consistent with international standards. The telenovela surrounding Article 31 on the reparos is the obvious instance of this dynamic.

Chavez nos tiene locos, pero el maniqueismo tiene loco a los chavistas. When you only recognize two possibilities - you're a chavista or you're a coupster - it becomes impossible to accept any criticisms coming from foreign observers (or, indeed, anyone at all.) Disagreement with the chavista party line is taken as prima facie evidence of coupsterism. I find it worrying that this attitude now extends not just to Venezuelans, but also of Fernando Jaramillo and Francisco Diez.

Government supporters seem not to realize that with their ad hominem attacks on Diez and Jaramillo, they confirm to the observation mission what the opposition has been saying all along: that they are ideologically rigid, minded to equate disagreement with treason and fundamentally intolerant of opposing or diverging viewpoints. You're either with us or against us, is the underlying chavista sentiment. We are on the side of justice, truth, and history; which side are you on? Within such absolutist belief system, disagreement can only be interpreted as evidence of conspiracy, or terrorism, or coupsterism - pick your favorite term of abuse.

When you start from the assumption that your side is both righteous and infallible, you inevitably end up mired in such intolerant and autocratic thought.

Such discourse has no sense of its own boundries. It does not limit itself to keep from holding ridiculous or laughable opinions. It is, if nothing else, consistent. If Kerry is an antichavista, vote for Nader! If Francisco Diez says something that falls outside the chavista cannon, he's a conspirator. Simple.

There's just one glitch: the international observation mission, and particularly the Carter Center, and most particularly Jimmy Carter himself, have way too much credibility to simply dismiss. In fact, Carter may be the only human being alive who is almost universally respected by both chavistas and opositores.

For this reason, President Carter's visit to Caracas this weekend will be crucial to the unfolding of the crisis. CNE can be sure that the observation mission will not stand by silently in the face of fraud. And they must worry when they realize that when the observation mission's statement on the reparos process goes on TV, it will not be McCoy or Jaramillo or Diez they'll have to contend with, it'll be Cesar Gaviria sitting next to Jimmy Carter.

So what can we conclude from all of this?

  • That the much maligned opposition's negotiators with CNE, Felipe Mujica and Alberto Quiroz Corradi, cut us a much better deal on the reparos than they're usually given credit for.
  • That the even more universally derided long-term, pisa-pasito, softly-softly approach of the Carter Center and the OAS was far-sighted.
  • That the government is now in a very uncomfortable position - hemmed in on all side the the sheer numbers of opposition signators, by the Carter Center/OAS mission, and by its own constitutional norms. If the reparos continue to go well, Chavez's options will be reduced to two: kick the gameboard or face the voters.

A final thought. Everybody loves to hate the CNE board members. This is understandable, given their penchant for applying the Incredible Metamorphosing Legal Standard. But anger is one thing, considered analysis another.

Up until this point, CNE has been friendly to the government, but it hasn't been a complete tool. Jorge Rodriguez is not German Mundarain, Carrasquero is not Willian Lara. So far, CNE has shown a clear reluctance to kick the playing board. As Kico Bautista once put it, Carrasquero's message to Chavez has always been "yes, I'm on your side, yes, I want to help, but no, I'm not going to stage an outright coup on your behalf."

Of course, right this second Carrasquero and his colleagues are almost certainly under a level of political pressure few of us are likely ever to face, and fewer of us still could really imagine. It's an extreme situation, that's for sure. What might come out of it remains a matter of total speculation.

May 28, 2004

Ecco Rubicon

We're on it, folks. It's a long crossing, it'll take five days to get to the other bank, at least. But this is it.

Another detail CNE forgot to disclose...

From Today's Miami Herald

Venezuela Has Stake In Ballots

The Venezuelan government has a 28 percent ownership of the company it will use to help deliver voting results in future elections.


CARACAS -- A large and powerful investor in the software company that will design electronic ballots and record votes for Venezuela's new and much criticized election system is the Venezuelan government itself, The Herald has learned.

Venezuela's investment in Bizta Corp., the ballot software firm, gives the government 28 percent ownership of the company it will use to help deliver voting results in future elections, including the possible recall referendum against President Hugo Chávez, according to records obtained by The Herald.

The deal to scrap the country's 6-year-old machines -- for a $91 million system to be built by two fledgling companies that have never been used in an election before -- was already controversial among Chávez opponents who claimed it was a maneuver to manipulate votes amid growing political turmoil.

Chávez opponents told The Herald on Thursday they were stunned to learn the government has a proprietary stake in a company critical to the election process.

''The Venezuelan state? Are you kidding?,'' said Jesús Torrealba, an official in the Democratic Coordinator opposition group. ``It impugns the credibility of the process. That is shocking.''

Government officials insist the investment is an effort to help support private enterprise and its interest in a ballot software company is merely coincidental, one of a dozen such investments made to help struggling companies.

''The whole process led to a decision that was best for Venezuela,'' said Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington.

But Venezuela is a nation bitterly polarized by Chávez's leftist populist rule. Nearly every move by the government is scrutinized by opponents who accuse Chávez of trying to impose an authoritarian regime.


Until a year ago, the Bizta Corp. was a struggling Venezuelan software company with barely a sales deal to its name, records show. Then, the Venezuelan government -- through a venture capital fund -- invested about $200,000 and bought 28 percent of it.

The government's investment in Bizta made Venezuela Bizta's largest single shareholder and, ultimately, its most important client.

The decision to replace the $120 million system built by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software was made Feb. 16 under unusual circumstances. Two of the five National Electoral Council members sympathetic to the opposition complained that they had been largely shut out of the process.

''The selection process was secret and it didn't allow us to get any information about the bidders and their products,'' board member Sobella Mejías said after the decision.

Other members knew about the government's investment, according to one member who asked not to be identified.

The new system is to be built by the Smartmatic Corp., which is incorporated in Florida, and programmed by Bizta, which also is registered in Florida and Venezuela.

Pro-Chávez government officials and company executives interviewed by The Herald say the Smartmatic-Bizta machines are among the most secure in the world, and that the government's investment in Bizta was unrelated to Bizta's bid for the voting machine contract.

''The companies that were chosen have the highest technical capacity,'' said Alvarez, the ambassador. ``In Venezuela there have been many fair elections and there will be many more fair elections.''

But the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which has observed every major Venezuelan electoral process since Chávez's election in 1998, said the disclosure of the government's role in Bizta reinforces the need for independent election audits.

''What we look at in any electoral process is whether each of the components is transparent and auditable. In this case, we would include these new machines,'' said Jennifer McCoy, who is leading the Carter Center's mission in Venezuela. She said she was unaware of the government's investment in Bizta.

Even without the political implications, the use of electronic voting machines has been widely debated since the United States' 2000 presidential election. Stanford University Professor David Dill, who has studied voting machines but is not specifically knowledgeable about the new Venezuelan system, said almost any programmed electronic machine is subject to possible manipulation.

'People just don't understand how easily these machines could fail to record votes accurately -- even by being `fixed,' '' he said.


Smartmatic does produce a paper trail of votes as well, but Venezuelan government critics claim it will be useless since an election recount would be supervised by the Electoral Council, perceived as pro-Chávez.

The National Electoral Council members have hailed Bizta's software-writing role as contributing to Venezuelan ''sovereignty'' over their voting system, which replaces American-designed machines. Chávez, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy, is viewed as leftist and anti-American.

According to Bizta's 2002 financial statement, the most recent one filed by the company in Venezuela, it was then a dormant firm that had no sales and was slowly losing money.

In June 2003, however, a venture capital company called Sociedad de Capital de Riesgo (SCR) invested about $200,000 in Bizta. The SCR is owned by the Venezuelan government's Industrial Credit Fund.

In January, a top official in Venezuela's science ministry, Omar Montilla, joined Bizta's board of directors to represent the government's three million shares, records show.

Montilla, who is one of five directors, canceled a meeting with The Herald and did not reply to repeated Herald queries.

One month after Montilla joined the board, the National Electoral Council awarded Bizta and partners Smartmatic and CANTV the $91 million contract to develop new voting machines. Bizta was hired to write the electronic code that configured the names and parties of candidates on the touch screens. Smartmatic would build and design the machines. CANTV, the publicly held phone company, would provide the phone lines for the system and election-day technical support.

The venture is largely the work of two little-known Venezuelan engineers: Antonio Mugica Rivero and Alfredo Anzola Jaumotte, childhood friends and recent engineering school graduates.

Mugica, 30, is the president of Smartmatic and a founder of Bizta. Anzola, 30, is the president of Bizta and the vice president of Smartmatic, corporate records from Venezuela show.


Both executives say they have no political allegiances. Neither signed a petition drive seeking Chávez's recall.

Anzola initially told The Herald that one of the reasons the electoral council selected the group was that it had no connection to either the government or the opposition.

When told in a subsequent interview in Caracas that Bizta papers showed the government had an investment in his company through SCR, Anzola and Mugica said they viewed the investment as a loan.

''We really don't want to be involved in politics,'' said Wladimir Serrano, head of the governments venture capital fund. ``Our role is strictly financial and technical.''

Bizta ''remains a private company, with some government shares but without any say on our part on its day to day activities or its strategic programs and policies,'' Serrano said.


But Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan official who also has worked as the chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank, said any investor holding a 28 percent stake in a company would likely have substantial power to make decisions.

''For example, Verizon is the largest shareholder in CANTV, holding 28 percent, and it has control of the company's management,'' said Hausmann, who sits on the CANTV board. With Bizta, ``The government's influence will depend on the arrangement between the government and other shareholders.''

SCR's stock purchase in Bizta was part of a broader effort to help start-up companies that could bring Venezuela international prestige in a wide range of industries, Serrano said.

He provided a list of a dozen other companies in which SCR has invested.

Most of the 20,000 Smartmatic-Bizta machines will be delivered over the summer from the factory in Italy, officials say.

Reparos roundup

BBC: Chavez bristles amid fresh attack

Agence France Presse: Venezuela's political impasse nears an end

State Dept: US Urges Chavez to Support 'Fair' Process in Resolving Venezuela Recall Dispute

Reuters: Chavez Blasts U.S. for Venezuela Referendum Pressure

AP: As Venezuela heads into recall vote count, Chavez seeks ``dark-skinned utopia'' in Mexico

May 27, 2004


A considered fisking of VIO's rebuttal...

...of the WashPost's rebuttal of Chavez's rebuttal of their Editorial from a few weeks back - so a rebuttal of a rebuttal of a rebuttal of a rebuttal...zowee, bless the internet age!

VIO sez:

"The Post's editorial expresses concern about " intimidation by government goon squads" during the signature confirmation period this weekend. In fact, there has been no systematic intimidation of voters or petition signers since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999."

My considered reply:


...oh man! Good one! Heee! How do you guys come up with stuff like this?!

Oh man, much of our tax money is funding the near-lobotomized idiocy these guys are peddling?! How much of our public money are we spending to stroke Chavez's ego with disinformation so aggressively detatched from reality that only if you know absolutely nothing about Venezuela or if you're clinically insane could you believe it!? 600,000 bucks, did they say?! To hire lobbyists who subscribe to the four-year-olds-at-the-playground school of denial?

Think about it, that's exactly what this is: a four year old at a playground gets caught hitting another kid. You confront him. What does he say? "I didn't do it." Lamely. Every time. Never fails.

It doesn't matter to him that you were sitting ten feet away, that you saw him sock the other little kid in the mouth, that you have all the evidence you need and more. "I didn't do it," that's what he's always gonna say.

OK, it's pathetic yes, but normally the 4-year-old in question isn't getting paid half a million dollars to come up with it!

Estimados VIOistas, please! Earn your six figure budgets! Dear Nathan, we know about the government's intimidation campaign because nearly all of us have a cousin, or a friend, or a son, or an old schoolmate who has been put under pressure by the government. Stories of signators trying to obtain a National ID card or a passport and being refused merely because they signed are a dime a dozen in Caracas these days. The intimidation is not subtle, it's open, and thousands of people have experienced it in person. So please don't insult us, or clutter up the historical record, with positions that are blatantly false and can easily be demonstrated to be patently false.

It may be hard for you, Nathan, sitting in a nice DC office, to picture yourself in the shoes of a Venezuelan public employee earning $200/month and needing to feed a family on that. It may be hard for you to quite fathom the terror of having that income threatened in a country with 20% unemployment and where, out of those working, more than half having only "informal employment" - odd jobs for cash. I suspect it will be very, very hard for you, Nathan, to empathize with the prospect of being dumped out of work in a job market like that with no unemployment insurance, no proper medical insurance, no welfare, no foodstamps, nothing to stave off complete penury, simply as a consequence of having expressed dissidence openly. And so you will not know, Nathan, what Roger Capella's words meant, how they impacted Venezuela's opposition-minded public employees.

And how could you? Such intimidation is simply not a part of your normal experience...but it sure is part of the day-to-day lives of God only knows how many Venezuelan public employees who chose to register their disgust with the autocratic regime that pays your salary.

May 26, 2004

The Washington Post minus the gloves

El Washington Post puede que coma flores, pero no mierda...

Mr. Chavez's Claim

Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page A26

IN A COLUMN on the opposite page Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez makes the remarkable assertion that he hopes his opponents will succeed in triggering a recall referendum that could cut short his term in office. Remarkable, because polls consistently show that Mr. Chavez would lose the referendum -- less than 40 percent of the population supports his eccentric, quasi-authoritarian populism. Contrary to his claims, he has impoverished as well as polarized his country: Venezuela's per capita income has declined by a quarter in the six years he has been in office, and the poor are worse off than ever.

More to the point, the president's words conflict with his actions. He has spent the past year doing everything in his power to prevent a democratic vote on his tenure -- and has repeatedly vowed that no referendum will take place.

So why would Mr. Chavez claim otherwise? Because the latest propaganda strategy of this would-be "Bolivarian revolutionary" is to portray a complicated petition verification process scheduled for this weekend as an impartial procedure whose outcome should be accepted as a fair resolution of the country's political conflict. In fact, the procedure should not be taking place at all: It is the result of an attempt by Mr. Chavez's appointees to invalidate on bogus technicalities 1.6 million out of 3.4 million signatures the opposition collected to trigger the recall election. By all rights, the election should have occurred months ago, because the opposition gathered 1 million more signatures than required by the constitution and has now collected more than enough signatures for a recall vote on two occasions. Instead, after protracted wrangling, authorities have set aside two days in which hundreds of thousands of would-be voters must return to confirm their signatures. Unless at least 600,000 manage to do so despite numerous procedural obstacles and intimidation by government goon squads, Mr. Chavez and his cronies will declare the recall a failure.

Sadly, the odds are that Mr. Chavez will carry out this coup-by-technicality and thwart a democratic resolution to Venezuela's long-running political crisis. The president points out that some of his opponents previously supported a coup against him (Mr. Chavez doesn't mention that he also once led a military rebellion against a democratic government); but now that the opposition has committed itself to an electoral solution, Mr. Chavez refuses to allow it. About the only hope for a fair outcome is the presence of observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center who could call attention to acts of overt fraud and intimidation; Mr. Chavez tried to exclude them from the verification process but was obliged to give in late last week.

Mr. Chavez swallowed the observers for the same reason he penned his op-ed: He hopes not only to block the referendum but also to head off any subsequent decision by the OAS to invoke its democracy charter, which calls for sanctions against governments that interrupt the rule of law. Even if it decided to act, the OAS probably wouldn't be able to stop Mr. Chavez from destroying what remains of democracy in Venezuela. Already, the president's only real friend in the outside world is Cuba's Fidel Castro. But if he proceeds to deny his country a democratic vote, Mr. Chavez should, at least, be denied the pretense that his actions are legal, or acceptable to the region's democracies.

Hugo Chavez in translation

From the Washington Post...

Ready for a Recall Vote

By Hugo Chavez

Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page A27

CARACAS, Venezuela -- For the first 24 hours of the coup d'etat that briefly overthrew my government on April 11, 2002, I expected to be executed at any moment.

The coup leaders told Venezuela and the world that I hadn't been overthrown but rather had resigned. I expected that my captors would soon shoot me in the head and call it a suicide.

Translation*: For the first 24 hours after the uprising that briefly overthrew my government on April 11, 2002, my paranoia reached unheard of heights.

General Lucas Rincon, my most trusted officer in the armed forces and my current Interior Minister, told Venezuela and the world that I hadn't been overthrown but rather had resigned. I expected that my captors would soon shoot me in the head and call it a suicide.

Instead, something extraordinary happened. The truth about the coup got out, and millions of Venezuelans took to the streets. Their protests emboldened the pro-democracy forces in the military to put down the brief dictatorship, led by Venezuelan business leader Pedro Carmona.

Instead, something extraordinary happened. The coup plotters blundered, refused my offer to fly to Cuba, and soon tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets, with some rioting. Their protest emboldened the pro-Chavez forces in the military who, together with the officers who first rebelled against me, ended the brief dictatorship, led by Venezuelan business leader Pedro Carmona.

The truth saved my life, and with it Venezuela's democracy. This near-death experience changed me. I wish I could say it changed my country.

Having swept under the rug all of the uncomfortable bits from that story, I find it comforting to use it to bolster my position. But it's true, the near-death experience changed me. I decided politics was a fight to the death, and that only the elimination of my opponents could ensure my stay in power.

The political divisions in Venezuela didn't start with my election in 1998. My country has been socially and economically divided throughout its history. Venezuela is one of the largest oil exporting countries in the world -- the fourth-largest supplier to the United States -- and yet the majority of Venezuelans remain mired in poverty.

The political divisions in Venezuela didn't start with my election in 1998. My country has been socially and economically divided throughout its history. Venezuela is one of the largest oil exporing countries in the world - the fourth largest supplier to the United States -- and yet while poverty shrank dramatically from 1930 to 1979, since then living standards have fallen by half, with the period of fastest impoverishment coinciding with my administration.

What has enraged my opponents, most of whom are from the upper classes, is not Venezuela's persistent misery and inequality but rather my efforts to dedicate a portion of our oil wealth to improving the lives of the poor. In the past six years we have doubled spending on health care and tripled the education budget. Infant mortality has fallen; life expectancy and literacy have increased.

I rationalize my authoritarian excess is by telling myself that what has enraged my opponents, (about a third of whom come from the middle and upper class, but whom I choose to mischaracterize in public as uniformly rich) is not Venezuela's persistent misery and inequality, but rather my efforts to dedicate a portion of our oil wealth to improving their lives. In the past four years we have vastly expanded the scale of existent of government services. Infant mortality has continued to fall; life expectancy has continued to increase.

Having failed to force me from office through the 2002 coup, my opponents shut down the government oil company last year. Now they are trying to collect enough signatures to force a recall referendum on my presidency. Venezuela's constitution -- redrafted and approved by a majority of voters in 1999 -- is the only constitution in the Western Hemisphere that allows for a president to be recalled.

Having failed to force me from office through the 2002 uprising, my opponents answered a calculated series of escalations on my part to shut down the government oil company last year. Now, with the leaders of that strike largely sidelined from the opposition leadership, a new group of more moderate leaders is trying to collect enough signatures to force a recall referendum on my presidency. Venezuela's constitution - redrafted and approved by a majority of voters in 1999 - is the only constitution in the Western Hemisphere that allows for a president to be recalled.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council -- a body as independent as the Federal Election Commission in the United States -- found that more than 375,000 recall petition signatures were faked and that an additional 800,000 had similar handwriting. Having been elected president twice by large majorities in less than six years, I find it more than a little ironic to be accused of behaving undemocratically by many of the same people who were involved in the illegal overthrow of my government.

Venezuela's National Electoral Council - a body appointed by my cronies in thhe Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Tribunal, which everybody and his cat in Venezuela knows I control but which, for more than obvious reasons, need to assert is independent -- found that more than 375,000 of the recall petition had technical problems, the nature of which they failed to specify, and that an additional 1.2 million had similar handwriting in the personal data, though not necessarily in the signatures. This, predictably, feeds into my persecution complex: I seem certain I can make political points by pointing out that the very people who rebelled in 2002 when I gave the army orders to clear the streets by force continue to accuse me of behaving undemocratically!

The National Electoral Council has invited representatives of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center to observe a signature verification process that will be conducted during the last four days of this month. That process will determine whether the opposition has gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election, which would be held this August. To be frank, I hope that my opponents have gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum, because I relish the opportunity to once again win the people's mandate.

The National Electoral Council has invited representatives of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center to observe a signature verification process that will be conducted during the last four days of this month. That process will determine whether the opposition has gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election, which would be held this August. To be frank, I'm half petrified by the prospect of having to face the voters, wallowing as I am in the mid-30s in the polls. This is why my cronies have conducted a series of raids, arrests, and acts of judicial intimidation against the organizers of the signature petition drive.

But it is not up to me. To underscore my commitment to the rule of law, my supporters and I have publicly and repeatedly pledged to abide by the results of that transparent process, whatever they may be. My political opponents have not made a similar commitment; some have even said they will accept only a ruling in favor of a recall vote.

But it is not up to me. To continue the sick charade of feigning a commitment to the rule of law, my supporters and I have publicly and repeatedly pledged to abide by the results of the process run by my other supporters, whatever they may be. My political opponents have not made similar commitment, deferring instead to the judgement of international observers who have repeatedly stated that the CNE's procedures and legal standards run counter to basic standards of electoral fairness.

The Bush administration was alone in the world when it endorsed the overthrow of my government in 2002. It is my hope that this time the Bush administration will respect our republican democracy. We are counting on the international community -- and all Venezuelans -- to make a clear and firm commitment to respect and support the outcome of the signature verification process, no matter the result.

The Bush administration was one of the few in the world when it welcomed the announcement of my resignation as delivered by my most trusted lieutenant. It is my hope that the Bush administration will be a little more circumspect this time around and continue to voice agreement with the increasingly untenable notion that my government constitutes a republican democracy. I'm counting on the international community - and all Venezuelans - to make a clear and firm commitment to respect and support the outcome of the signature verification process as announced by my cronies at the CNE, whatever international observers might opine.

The writer is president of Venezuela.

The translator doesn't buy a word of it.

*to honestese

May 25, 2004

The Guardian 1 - Patton Boggs 0

The government can spend as much as it wants on lobbying fees, but as the autocratic fangs come out more and more clearly, the foreign press will be less and less manageable for them. Even that paladin of the English metropolitan left, The Guardian, refuses to parrot the heroic-Chavez line. A capable Sibylla Brodzinsky does one of the best jobs in recent memory in trying to tell a balanced story.

On Chávez's Economic Boom

from VenEconomy

The Central Bank has released its estimates of the economy's performance during first quarter 2004. As expected, the numbers are spectacular with the economy showing growth of 29.9% compared to the first quarter 2003 (oil, up 72.5%; non-oil activities, up 18.9%.)

But the numbers point to little more than a statistical anomaly. The fact is that the economy was severely depressed during last year's first quarter, due to the direct and indirect impacts of the national work stoppage (paro cívico nacional) - an exogenous shock that President Chavez has admitted he consciously sought to provoke. Last year, the economy shrank an incredible 27.9% in the first quarter (oil, down 47.0%; non-oil, down 19.2%.) Thus, it should come as no surprise that the economy was statistically "up" in this year's first quarter .

The first quarter of 2002 is a better basis for comparisons. The economy was running "normally" at that time. Yet, in the first quarter 2004 GDP was 6.3% below its Jan.-Mar. 2002 level (oil, down 8.5%; non-oil, 4.0%). The sectors doing best, as compared with two years ago, are Communications (up 10.4%), Government Services (up 9.5%) and Electricity & Water (up 6.3%). The largest declines were registered in Construction (down 52.7%), Commerce (down 11.1%) and Mining (down 9.4%).

May 24, 2004

Two Stories: Darius Rejali and Julia

Story 1: In college, I was fortunate enough to learn from Darius Rejali, a brilliant Iranian-American political scientist specializing in Torture. He taught a class called Comparative Revolutions, which I took and, if I remember, got an A for. Darius is a wonderful flamboyant character with a razor intelligence. One memory stands out from that class, though:

Darius brought in an English translation of the Chinese People's Republic constitution. He started reading its procedural clauses, and, remarkably, it sounded not unlike a Western constitution: there was a legislative branch, an executive, courts, civilian control of the state, social rights, the works.

Next, as an assignment, he asked us to use the then new-fangled thing called the "internet" to look up constitutions of other authoritarian states. Somebody did North Korea, someone else did Cuba, then Vietnam, Egypt, Burma etc. And, surprise surprise, every dictatorship out there we could find had a sterling democratic-seeming constititon. What it didn't have, Darius argued, was the cultural or social institutions to sustain real democracy, or the political will to build them.

Something to keep in mind as you consider the implosion of Venezuelan Institutions

Story 2:
There's something horribly stereotypical about telling stories about caraqueños' house staff to make political points, but this once I will make an exception. One of my sisters, a Sumate volunteers, tells me the story of the psychodrama in her kitchen on the evening of February 27th, the start of the week of anti-CNE rioting in Eastern Caracas.

My sister had hired a cook, Julia, to feed her sprawling family. Julia is a chavista, my sister a Colomina listener, but also enough of a comeflor to refuse to let politics interfere in their relationship. So, they agreed simply not to talk about politics. My sister watched Globovision and Julia watched VTV and they didn't communicate about it.

This uneasy situation changed on the evening of February 27th, when the news showed that CNE had called into question 876,000 signatures from the recall petition drive. Julia, who had barely a few years' formal education, heard the TV presenter say that many of the questioned signatures were "planillas planas", i.e. forms filled out on behalf of the signer, which the signer then signed.

The TV presenter went on to say that many such signatures were gathered at hospitals, from very old or sick people who could not write easily, or from people with limited literacy, who might make mistakes filling the form.

At this she broke down crying and told my sister that that was it, she couldn't support the government anymore. Julia, who can barely write herself, was deeply offended that the government was maneouvering to stop people like her from registering their views officially. "Wasn't this what Chavez promised?"

My sister, not wanting to be overbearing at a time like this, suggested simply that she take a piece of paper and a pen and try to write down how she was feeling just then, and why she had come to change her mind like that.

In heartbreakingly misshapen handwriting, with no punctuation and no spaces between words, Julia wrote of her bitterness at the desperate and deteriorating economics of being a barrio dweller, and at how impossibly competitive the job market for people like her was. "The situation is really not right in the barrios now," she wrote.

My sister tells me she talked about the three chavistas in CNE as kinds of devils for all the mischief their decision was causing. Certainly, she had never before held a job where she had to pack sandwich lunches for the señora to eat at the barricades.

I don't think Julia will be joining my sister in any marches, but I do think the story is significant, and touching. Chavistas have eyes to see, and ears to listen...