December 31, 2006

The Year in Review

Katy and Quico says:

January

The first post of the year was about Chávez's decision to name Jorge Rodríguez Vice-president, shunting legendary evil genius José Vicente Rangel to the side. At the time, I mused,
It may be that, in time, we'll come to see JVR's rampant cynicism with something akin to nostalgia, that we'll come to remember him as a moderating figure once no such figures are left in Chávez's entourage.
Emboldened by his decisive victory in the previous month's presidential election, Chávez was at the height of his power and ambition, unchained:
With power centralized absolutely, with no more institutional restraints in place, without even a looming election to impose a modicum of caution, we finally get to see chavismo the way Chávez wanted it all along: free to implement all of his utopian fantasies with utter, gleeful abandon.
Straight away, Chávez pledged to nationalize the power and telephone companies, though, as I noted at the time, he never really told us why that was a good idea. He asked the National Assembly the power to rule by decree on pretty much all major aspects of national life. And, of course, to suspend RCTV's broadcasting license.

Towards the end of the month, Katy flipped out over a badly misjudged BBC photo essay.

February
Greater Caracas Mayor kicked things off with one of the crazier attempts to suck up to Chávez we'd seen all year.

Continuing with the surrealist theme, Central Bank director Domingo Maza Zavala told us he had no idea how much money the state was spending.

Quico then started boring readers with the first
of several philosophically minded posts on the role of deliberations in democratic decisionmaking. Zzzzzzzz...

It was around that time that TalCual was fined for publishing a front page editorial that alledgedly violated Rosinés Chávez's childhood privacy, and Quico urged readers to send in their donations to hLinkelp cover the fine.

The next day, Al Qaeda said the way to fight the US empire was to attack facilities supplying oil to the US, wherever they may be found. Chavismo called it - wait for it - a CIA conspiracy.

The following week, Katy passionately defended Primero Justicia after a set of high profile defections to Un Nuevo Tiempo.

On February 28th, 18 years after the sadly famous Caracazo, Katy noted that too many of the military men responsible for the massacres are now in the upper echelons of chavista power.

December 11, 2006

Leaving the light on

Katy says: Christmas is upon us once again. Most people in Venezuela have left politics behind for a few weeks and have thrown themselves into their annual rituals of shopping, putting up the lights and preparing hallacas, ham bread and hen salad. So in that spirit, we announce that this will be our last post until January.

The past year has been a busy one. The opposition gained in a loss, while the revolution plowed through yet another election. President Chávez became a tropical version of Santa Claus, while crowds at home and abroad enjoyed the seemingly limitless bounty flowing from both his wallet and his tongue.

Latin America saw a string of elections, leaving us wondering whether the people had finally stood up or rather they had sowed the seeds of their own downfall. Our CNE finally gained a bit of credibility, while PDVSA and the Viaducto sunk to new lows. We fought over polls, candidates, comedians and communication strategies, and we scolded some of our readers, even censoring a few of their comments. All in all, we hope it's been as fun for you as it was for us.

No one knows what the future holds for our country. During the past few days, many have decided to throw in the towel, making plans to embark on that lonely journey called exile. For them, a simple message: Venezuela is a mess, but it's our mess, and once you don't have that, you miss it badly. So whatever reasons you may have for packing your stuff and venturing out into the real world, make sure they are potent and be prepared to suffer serious nostalgia. And be ready to start paying for gas.

"Last one to leave turn off the light," goes the saying. On behalf of Quico, JayDee and myself, a pledge that we will keep the light on and that, starting the first week of January, we will be back with our batteries charged, ready to continue fighting the good fight.

Quico adds: Before signing off for the year, I want to thank Katy profusely for her help over this last year. Patient where I'm headstrong, alert to stories I would've just missed, unremittingly clear headed and allergic to BS, she has made an enormous contribution to Caracas Chronicles. Thanks! I have no idea how I once managed without you.

December 10, 2006

Santiago Chronicles

Katy says: Santiago on a Sunday is an unusually subdued place, boring even. One of my first shocks upon moving here was hopping over to the Restaurant district of El Bosque Norte on a Sunday for lunch and finding restaurants empty or, in some cases, closed. The contrast to the hustle and bustle of Las Mercedes on a Sunday was startling.

This being a long weekend, the city was even more subdued, until the news came out: former dictator Augusto Pinochet had died. I decided to step out to the places where each side was gathering, to mingle with Chileans and try to grasp what this meant for a divided country.

In a city of six million people, the man's death left no one indifferent.

My first stop: Plaza Italia, meeting place of those celebrating the dictator's death.


The place was brimming with cops, and the mood was festive. A huge banner advertising Andres Bello University made me feel a little less out of place, even though I was the only one there carrying an eighteen-month old toddler.

Several banners made sure I knew not everyone there felt happy about the man's death. The first reads "Death defeats justice", while the second pair claims for divine justice and says that "El tata", as his supporters used to call him, is now playing poker with Hitler in hell.


A woman curiously resembling Pres. Michelle Bachelet was so happy that she took her top off and started dancing in the streets in jubilation. Well, at least her bra was black.


As I inmersed myself into the crowd, the signs got more rustic and more raw.


I was not surprised to find among the many flags being waved, my own Venezuelan tri-color, or at least what used to be my flag with the seven stars. We have definitely become part of the landscape of the Latin American left.


I had never witnessed street celebrations for a person's death. And while the mood was contagious, the common presence of Ché Guevara T-shirts and hammer-and-sickle flags made me question the commitment to human rights of many in the crowd.




I took this parting shot of the crowd, with the San Cristóbal mountain's statue of the Virgin Mary in the background, as if imploring "Can't we all just get along?"


I drove a few miles to the East to the Military Hospital, where the General had died a few hours earlier. The crowd there was equally numerous and equally enthusiastic, chanting military songs mixed with anti-communist and anti-Bachelet cheers.



The women in the crowd showed a special fondness for the General, coming out in droves with military headgear and pictures of Pinochet accompanied by small children. It reminded me of other pictures of military strongmen appearing alongside children to soften their image.


As I drove home, I glanced at the modern office buildings in the El Golf neighborhood, with the Ritz Carlton hotel in the foreground.


These gleaming monuments to Chile's dynamic economy stood in sharp contrast to the reminders of Chile's painful past that I had witnessed just a few kilometers down the road.


One city, torn apart by the actions of politicians and men in uniform. The wounds are still open in this divided country, and the passing of one man will do little to heal them.

During the course of the afternoon, my baby girl drew coos of admiration from rabid Pinochet supporters and from communist pasionarias. And even though she experienced the smell of marijuana for the first time in the anti-Pinochet rally, I'm glad I brought her along. Her bright-eyed innocence made me wish for a world without military strongmen, without divisiveness. My hope is that when she is older, both Venezuela and Chile - her native countries - will each be able to stand as a single nation.

December 8, 2006

Why did more people vote for Chavez than for Rosales?

Quico says: Just to pick up on Alek's lucid postmortem, I'll add some thoughts of my own.

I think the best way to go about dissecting Rosales's loss is to divide it up between things he might have done differently, and factors entirely outside his control.

Factors outside Rosales' control
  1. The Oil Boom: Far and away the biggest reason Chavez won was the government's control over a nearly limitless revenue-stream. The oil boom allowed Chavez to make his key constituency noticeably better off in the two years before the election. It directly - and illegally - financed Chavez's campaign, as the EU Monitoring Mission has noted (note: PDF file.) And it allowed the government to stimulate aggregate demand just in time to coincide with the electoral cycle, creating an economic boomlet and the kind of diffuse feel-good factor that keeps incumbents in office. The oil boom structured the campaign in Chavez's favor, and there was nothing we could've done about it.
  2. The Eloquence Gap: It sucks that this matters, but it does. Hugo Chavez is in love with his microphone. Manuel Rosales is locked in a kind of blood feud with his. Insofar as campaigning is all about persuasion, this was a major problem for him.
  3. The Opposition's Image Problem: After four years of missteps and relentless chavista provocations and attacks, much of the mud slung our way stuck in voters' minds. To be the opposition's standard bearer was, as far as many swing voters were concerned, to carry water for a callous, coup-mongering elite. Years of well-financed, repetitive attacks along these lines paid off for the government. Though Rosales might have gone further in distancing himself from the damaged oppo brand, he was basically stuck to it.
To my mind, it's clear that these three factors - but especially the first one - account for most of Chavez's lead. These structural facts would have made it difficult for any challenger to beat Chavez. Still, the race could've been closer than it turned out to be, if Rosales's message had been better thought out to appeal to the electoral center.

Things Rosales could've done better
  1. Misplaced focus: As Katy points out, Rosales made a quizzical decision to focus overwhelmingly on his opponent's strongest issue - Social Policy - rather than on Chavez's major weak points - foreign spending, divisiveness, crime and unemployment. Focus groups showed again and again that swing voters didn't really understand Mi Negra very well. Once it was explained to them, they tended to like the idea, but also to believe it was unlikely to be implemented. Mi Negra never really neutralized Chavez's advantage on Social Policy themes - but it did take the spotlight away from issues where Chavez was far more vulnerable.
  2. Too little time: It seems like an eternity now, but it was just three months ago that the opposition was mired in a barren debate about how to choose a single anti-Chavez candidate. That may not have been such a problem if Julio Borges - who is already well-known nationwide - had been chosen. But Rosales, who was mostly unknown outside his home state, just didn't have enough time to get voters acquainted with him. With less than a month to go, many Focus Group participants outside of Zulia still had only the haziest notions about the guy, what he stood for, who he was. And with only three months to campaign, there wasn't really enough time to design and test a message that would really work.
  3. NiNi-unfriendly framing: I touched on this one on Monday, and throughout the last year. To win an election you need to control voter's perceptions of what the choice they are making is about. Rosales tended to tow the standard opposition perception that the election was a choice between Castro-Communism and Democracy. I happen to agree with him, and it's likely you do as well. But that doesn't matter, because this framing doesn't really resonate beyond the oppo's core middle class vote. The discontented poor voters Rosales needed to convince to make the election close just didn't respond to this kind of message.
  4. Atrévete: For similar reasons, "dare to" was arguably a counterpreductive slogan. For the same reason you can't read "don't think of an elephant" without thinking of an elephant, you can't read "atrévete" without getting the vague sense that voting against Chávez is risky. This may well have backfired with NiNis, who must have wondered what kind of craziness and instability might follow if Chavez lost. The government seems to have grasped this dynamic much better than Rosales did, and exploited it by holding out the prospect of mayhem if Chavez lost. "Only Chavez can guarantee stability," remember?
  5. "Mercal used to be called Proal, Mision Robinson used to be Acude." Rosales's always cringeworthy line about how misiones are just 4th republic social program re-treads may have been factually accurate, but it was a clear campaign own goal. The line - repeated from his campaign launch straight through to the end - strengthened his symbolic association with the old political system, which was something he needed to go to some lengths to avoid. The choice to staff his campaign with figures from the old Coordinadora Democratica was another needless own-goal in this regard.
It may well be that Chavez just couldn't be defeated with oil prices where they are these days. The basic dynamic of the petrostate system hasn't changed since the 1920s: the key to controlling the state is controlling the oil money. The more abundant oil revenue is, the easier it is to keep control of the state. I've long argued that this is the central fact of Venezuelan political economy, which is why I was never very hopeful that Chavez could be defeated.

Nevertheless, the race might have been made much tighter, and the reality is that Rosales' showing was poor. Energetic though his campaign was, Rosales's subtly misdirected message meant the guy never really broadened his appeal beyond the demographic that was always likely to vote for the opposition, regardless of the candidate. He just didn't win over anyone, and ended up losing by a margin that makes another recall referendum basically unthinkable.

Hopefully, he will do much better as opposition leader than as opposition candidate. Personally, I think he will.

December 6, 2006

Podcast: "This is a political triumph amidst an electoral setback"

Quico says: Well, Manuel Rosales kicked a huge amount of ass at his press conference yesterday (download part of the audio here.) The guy will never quite be eloquent, but yesterday he came across as clear-headed, mature, forward-looking, sincere and even warm.

I think JayDee nailed it when he said the peculiar thing about the campaign was that we'd only find out if Rosales was for real after the election. Well, now it's clear: his is the kind of feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground leadership the opposition has been in desperate need of since 1999.

It was a remarkable performance: stamping his authority on the opposition movement, squelching the all-too-predictable calls for a "plan b" response to Sunday's result, and distancing himself emphatically from the immediatist wing, Rosales paradoxically had his "Sister Souljah moment" after the vote.

For the first time in the anti-Chavez movement's history, an opposition leader emerges from an electoral defeat stronger and more credible than he was going in. For the first time, opposition votes have a clear owner with a clear commitment to carry on with the fight. And that's a very good thing indeed, because everything suggests to me that Rosales is a much more talented back-room politician than he is a campaigner.

So when the guy says that "this is a political triumph amidst an electoral setback," I, for one, buy it.

Uruguayan Spoof

Quico says: This one's too good not to post. Sorry to say it's not really translatable.

December 5, 2006

Alek's reaction...

Quico says: Don't miss Alek Boyd's brief day-after statement.

Ojo Electoral's Preliminary Observations

Quico says: Ojo Electoral, a Venezuelan elections monitoring NGO, posted observers at 337 randomly chosen voting tables (mesas de votación) spread out over 22 out of Venezuela's 24 states.

Check out their preliminary monitoring report in Spanish.

Key points:
  1. Ojo Electoral's quick-count of automated tally-sheets (actas de escrutinio) had Chávez at 61% and Rosales at 37%.
  2. The mandated procedure to randomly select which mesas would be audited on the spot was followed in 97% of relevant polling stations.
  3. The on the spot audits Ojo observed showed Chávez at 61% and Rosales at 38%.
  4. There were pro-Chávez witnesses at 95% of the audits and pro-Rosales witnesses at 92% of them. Witnesses for both candidates attended 90% of the audits, and members of the general public saw 62% of the audits Ojo monitored.
  5. There was no discrepancy between the automated tally and the audited tally in 64% of the mesas they observed.
  6. In the other 36%, discrepancies were small and tended to cancel each other out rather than benefiting one candidate systematically.
  7. Formal objections (impugnaciónes) over the audit results were lodged in just seven out of the 337 mesas Ojo observed. Three of those complaints were raised by pro-Chavez representatives while the other four were raised by opposition representatives.
The report closes with a pledge to release a more detailed final report soon.

December 4, 2006

Tibisay Lucena's Election

Quico says: One refreshing thing about last night's election is that, for the first time in years, the National Electoral Council itself was far from the center of the debate. As in futbol, the best referees are the ones you don't much notice. CNE chairwoman Tibisay Lucena's self-effacing style paid off.

What's more, the aggressive audit of the e-voting machines' paper trails left little scope for unsubstantiated fraud allegations. As Teodoro Petkoff points out, the accumulation of evidence from two separate exit polls, one quick count, and real-time reports from 33,000 witnesses watching over 17,000 hot audits all over the country armed Rosales with far better information than the Coordinadora Democratica had in August 2004.

Overall, transparency was substantially improved last night, and that's to Lucena's credit. The opposition should take last night's level of transparency as a derecho adquirido. No backsliding on this can be accepted in future elections.

Let the analyzing begin...

Katy says: First off, the CNE website is already publishing detailed results by voting center. This is a welcome change, and we are finally seeing the result of all the money that was spent on these high-tech machines.

Here are some interesting things I am picking up at 1:40 pm Monday, Venezuela time:

- Chávez appears to be winning in every state. States where Chavez's margin of victory is closest: Zulia (Chávez by less than a percentage point), Táchira (1,5 percentage points), Mérida (3 percentage points). One surprise for Chavez was Nueva Esparta, a place where the opposition still holds a governorship but that went to Chavez by 17 percentage points.

- Large states where Rosales did particularly poorly: Aragua (71-28), Lara (64-35), Bolívar (66-32), Monagas (70-29).

- Rosales trounced Chavez in opposition strongholds Baruta (75-23), Chacao (76-23), Los Salias (69-30) and El Hatillo (79-20).

- Sucre, a big Caracas municipality, went to Chavez by a hair, 51-47.

- Municipio Libertador went to Chavez by roughly the same margin as the rest of the country, according to current results: 61-38. Carabobo state went to Chavez, 60-39.

- Surprisingly, the most chavista state in the union is Portuguesa, where Chávez won by a whopping 74.87%. Close runners-up are more expected: Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Sucre.

- Venezuela's political parties, according to the percentage of the popular vote they got in this election:

1. MVR (Chavez) - 40.93% of the vote
2. Un Nuevo Tiempo (Oppo) - 13.48%
3. Primero Justicia (Oppo) - 12.24%
4. Podemos (Chavez) - 6.3%
5. PPT (Chavez) - 4.76%
6. PCV (Chavez) - 2.93%
7. COPEI (Oppo) - 2.21%

Bitter Medicine

Quico says: Last night, the Recall Referendum season was finally closed. Rosales' concession marked the end of the long, barren, surreal period in the wake of the recall debacle when the opposition single-mindedly repeated to itself that only chavista foul play stood between us and power. The passing of that illusion made for a bitter moment for many of us...but, hard though it is to accept, I'm confident in time we'll come to realize last night was good for us.

For the last two and a half years too much of the opposition has seen too little reason to change its message, to rethink what we said or how we said it in order to court support from a broader set of people. After all, the thinking went, we were already the majority! The real task - the only truly relevant task - was to figure out a way to pressure the government into recognizing that basic, over-riding fact.

Last night, as Manuel Rosales conceded the election, that entire mode of thinking became unsustainable. Two and a half years after the Recall Referendum, the collective penny finally dropped: yes the government plays appallingly dirty, but the measure of the trouble we're in is that that's not even our biggest problem. We have to build a majority first - only then does it make sense to worry about defending it.

This is a painful realization for a lot of us; one we've been postponing for too long. Really it's a debate we needed to have in the second half of 2004. If we had, the headlines this morning might read a lot different.

But it's better we learn this lesson late than never: our movement can't generate a serious challenge to Chavez until we accept that we cannot build a majority simply by repeating our own deeply held beliefs to poorer Venezuelans who have heard them a million times and never quite bought into them.

Because, when it comes down to it, for all the barrio marches and Mi Negra spots, Rosales's discourse wasn't really about resonating with poorer voters. Too often, Rosales simply took rhetoric that resonates with middle class people and repeated it in a barrio setting. This, it seems to me, is too often what passed for appealing to the poor.

On the eve of the election, for instance, Rosales was still framing the choice voters would face as one between democracy and "Castro-Communism" - a differentiation that, whatever its merits, public opinion researchers long ago realized riles up middle class antichavistas only and leaves barrio audiences pretty much cold.

Even a slogan like "Atrevete" - with its implication that only fear would prevent you from voting for Rosales - reflected a set of distinctly middle class concerns and anxieties. Because when it comes down to it, it's the TasconListed middle class that fears Chavez. Politically uncommitted poorer voters - the key to any opposition candidate's chances - consistently express distaste for the divisiveness of Chavez's discourse and anger at his willingness to spend oil money abroad; very rarely do they express fear of him. As any number of focus groups, barrio interviews and just plain common sense shows, the predominant feeling towards Chavez among the poor is not fear but a heady mix of admiration and gratitude. Atrevete? Dare to chuck out the guy giving you cheap groceries and free doctors? What sense does that make?

The long shadow of the Recall Referendum prevented Rosales and much of the opposition movement from quite grasping these realities. Believing we were already a majority, we saw little reason to change and broaden our discourse in order to build bridges to other constituencies.

But there is a silver lining. If we learn the right lessons from them, last night's results could become a kind of road map to power for us. We need to think outside the mental ghetto Globovision has built for us, understand the need to create a broad alliance of the middle class and the disaffected poor in order to counter Chavez. And we need to grasp clearly that we can't build that alliance by force-feeding middle class concerns down disaffected poor throats.

It's become almost a cliché, but it's true: Venezuela does not end today. Quite the contrary: if we learn the lessons of last night, the opposition's long march to power begins now.

December 3, 2006

Rosales concedes, I think

Katy says: Manuel Rosales has just given the weirdest speech. It started out being very non-comittal one way or another, then he said he is going to hit the streets, which made people applaud widely, but then he said he conceded defeat. He said he doesn't believe the margin is actually as wide as the CNE is saying, but he says nonetheless he recognizes they were defeated today.

Is it just me, or was his speech confusing? In fact, confusion may have been the only way out of this tight situation.

The Rosales camp does message control

Katy says: In light of today's events, where people linked to the campaign were echo to rumours giving victory to Rosales and declaring massive fraud with no evidence, the Rosales campaign announced an hour and a half ago what it should have announced months ago: that only Rosales will speak for the Rosales campaign.

First Official Report: Chavez 61%, Rosales 38%

Quico says:

With 78.3% of actas tallied...

Chavez: 61.4% (5,936,000 votes)
Rosales: 38.4% (3,716,000 votes)

A fucking debacle...

Real vote update: Chavez 61% - Rosales 39%

Quico says: That's with well over half the actas tallied. Expect a first CNE bulletin soon.

Real votes: Chavez ahead by 20 to 24 points

Quico says: Sources with access to CNE's tallying room say Chávez is ahead by at least 20 points, perhaps 24 points. This is not an exit poll. This is on the basis of real vote tallies, with over half the machines reporting.

Evans/McDonough Exit Poll: Chavez 58% - Rosales 40%

Quico says: Or that's what Reuter's has, anyway.

teleSUR says Chavez 67%, Rosales 33% - Rosales campaign denies it

Quico says: After months of government threats to shut down TV stations that publish elections results before http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifCNE announces official results, turns out it's a government TV station that breaks the rule.
“If some media begins with their destabilization plan, any type of media…if they begin to emit exit poll results. If they do it, it is because they are in the midst of a plan to destabilize the country, they must assume the consequences.”
-Hugo Chavez, December 1st, 2006

Teodoro says...

Quico says: Teodoro Petkoff, speaking for Rosales, says the day's voting went well, but there have been some problems after the end of voting. He adds it's a waste of time to try to re-open a polling station after it has been closed, because the machines won't record any more votes once they have been shut down.

Money quote: "Those who believe you can add extra votes to a machine after it has been closed are pissing out of the pot" (están pelando bola.)

He stressed that Rosales has witnesses in every single polling station in the country. He asked for patience from everyone, and promised that Rosales will speak to the nation once results are clear and the audits are complete - which will take some time.

Glorified chisme: Chavez wins

Quico says: Is it still gossip if Reuters is carrying it?
Consultores 30.11 coordinated an exit poll with Evans/McDonough Co., a U.S. pollster paid by the Venezuelan state oil company.

Their two pre-election opinion surveys published last month showed a lead for Chavez of around 20 points.

"The trend confirms the electoral scenarios presented by the two (pre-election) surveys done by the consultancy Evans/McDonough," Campos said of the preliminary exit poll data.

Yes, PDVSA pays the bills, but Evans/McDonough is a serious pollster.

Yowza: Serious Allegations from the Rosales Camp

Quico says: Rosales campaign representatives are on TV right now saying that Plan Republica (military) officers have forced poll workers to re-open polling stations that had already been closed, while buses come around with "extra" voters. They say they have been complaining privately about this to CNE board members and the head of Plan Republica, but received little satisfaction.

May cooler heads prevail...

The nerviest hour...

Quico says: Yes, it's hair-pulling time. CNE's ban on publishing exit poll results has stuck better than anyone could've expected. As soon as I have something I can confirm I'll post it.

Probably, though, when the leaks start they'll start all at once.

CNE Says...

Quico says: The "blank votes" problem is coming about because people are using the voting machines wrong. You have to press the oval next to the candidate's name, not on the candidate's photo or the party label.

Rosales says...

Quico says: Manuel Rosales has just told the press that they've noted cases where people who vote for him get blank paper receipts. He urged people to check their paper receipt carefully before depositing it.

He reported unusual delays due to problems with the voting machines in 36% of polling stations that have traditionally favored the opposition, 20% of polling stations that have traditionally split roughly evenly and 5% of polling stations that have traditionally favored the government

Provocation? Fraud? Fluke? A bit of each?

Today

Quico says: Well, the big day is here. The tense wait, the hours and hours of increasingly nervy wondering...it's an election day tradition.

I'm actually fairly jittery. One part of me desperately wants to believe a last minute upset is possible. Of course, the more rational part of me know the odds against this are very long. But the prospect of six more years...hell, el talibancito que llevamos todos por dentro knows full well what that means.

I'll be working hard to get you nice chismes as soon as they're available today. (And don't be niggardly with stuff you hear - you know my email.) In particular, I'll be keeping an eye on Descifrado, which is promising to leverage its awesome gossip-mongering powers from 2 p.m.

CNE says we can expect a first official bulletin 3 hours after the last polling stations close, which could mean anything between 7 p.m. and 4 or 5 a.m. tomorrow.

Veremos.

December 2, 2006

An update from pollsters

Katy says: Inside sources confirm that the latest private DATOS poll puts Chavez's margin at 11 percentage points, down from 22 or so. Seijas also puts Chavez's margin at somewhere between 9 and 13 points. Both pollsters are more optimistic about Rosales's chances.

The dreaded predictions thread

Quico says: For reasons I can't understand, the formatting goes all out of whack when I post a web poll. Please scroll down to register your predictions for tomorrow.






















Predictions: CNE's results will show...


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CNE results will...






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Chavismo as Eschatology

JayDee says: I've seen Chavez speak in person twice in the last few weeks. Both times, he had his audiences eating out of his hand, weak-kneed in the thrall of his charisma. What's disconcerting, though, is that the first time, he was dealing with revolutionary students - the second, with foreign journalists.

The first speech was a few weeks back at the Teresa Careño - Caracas' flagship theater. Arriving there I saw hundreds of students clad in red, chanting in unison, waiting for El Presidente. There was something creepy about the energy in that hall. The scariest thing was the chants, though. My favorite? El que no salta es un yanqui! He who is not screaming is a yankee! Shudder.

This went on and on and on unabated, with boundless enthusiasm, for the full hour and a half we waited for the event to start.

The scene reeked of group think. You saw men and women turned into cogs of an ideological machine, chanting repetitive, empty, meaningless slogans again and again and again. To think these are the folks celebrating higher education!

Suddenly Chavez turns up, dressed in loafers, casual slacks, and, of course, a red shirt. The crowd goes batshit insane when it sees him. I lean over to a fellow journo and ask if he thinks the man will open with "Satisfaction" or save it for the final encore.

He gets to talking:
We are here to fight against imperialism, to defend el pueblo, that is why we celebrate education.

One day Bolivar, having seen his dream of a unified America shattered, said: Our hour hasn't arrived. Well, today it has. This is the hour of el Pueblo, of Simon Bolivar, Socialism, Christianity, the Bolivarian Republic.

The imperialist corporations are trying to steal our wealth. So, we have to study, to know our history better, to know how to defend ourselves.

There are two worlds. One of capitalism, of man for man, of exclusion. And ours, where humanity and Christianity rule. We are here to celebrate your training for carrying forward 21st century socialism. Today, we celebrate a new generation of students more aware, more conscious, students prepared to break the neo-liberal model. That is our collective path. We will never again go down the path of savage capitalism.

The neo-liberal plan was the 'final plan'. 1989 was the resulting revolt, but El Caracazo wasn't enough. It was just the beginning of our movement. Children, Men, Women shed there blood for a better world. And the coup of '92 was next.

And now we are posed on the verge of another historic epoch. We have consolidated the revolution in these last seven years, and the next era will stretch forward to the year of 2021, realising Simon Bolivar's dream, forever rejecting a role as a colony of the North.
It was the first time I quite grasped the way Chavez's reinterprets history, crafts it into a narrative that puts him at the center, even when he's talking about events that have nothing to do with him. El Caracazo - the outbreak of mass urban looting that took place for four days in 1989, happened three years before the man's shadow darkened the national consciousness, but you'd never guess that it listening to him: it's now been assimilated entirely into the revolutionary redemption story. As far as he's concerned, history moves in a definite direction. And the trajectory is clear: from light, to darkness, to light again.

Simon Bolivar -> Imperialism -> Caracazo -> the 1992 coup -> Chavez!

It is Francis Fukuyama turned on it's head, a sort of End of History where all the forces of history conspire (perhaps following Christ's divine will) to produce their crowning achivement: the Bolivarian revolution, the saving grace of humanity. Chavismo is the purpose of history.

The second time I saw him, Chavez waltzed into a Press Conference in Miraflores, the presidential palace, in a finely tailored dark suite and bright red tie. About 150 international and domestic journos applaud as he works his way into the room. Is that normal?

Instead of heading for his desk, Chavez takes a sharp turn and wades into the crowd of journalists. Everyone goes apeshit, crashing in on him, scratching and clawing, pushing to get in close, while photographers and cameramen scream from the back and sides, "SIT DOWN."

Security looks on nervously.

Journalists totally lose their cool around the guy, pushing and shoving each other like children.The grown, educated, professional, impartial men and women of the supposedly hard-bitten international press just about swoon around the guy.

The foreign correspondent next to me leans over and says, "I have never seen anything like this"

And people wonder about his cult like effect on the poor!

Chavez sits down in front of a portrait of Bolivar. Half his cabinet sits behind him and to his right, the other half in front and to his right. How bored must they be?!

Then his speech:
This has been a happy, jubilant, positive campaign.

Venezuela ended the 20th century as a lost Republic, a nation that had lost it's morals, it's righteous economic and social ways, lost its direction.
The audience is vastly different, but it's the same theme: Chavez as saviour.
"The country was shattered, mired in poverty and only functioning for the elite. With the exception of CUBA, Lat Am was under the boot of neo-liberalism.

Have we made mistakes errors? Yes. Have started things and not finished them? Yes. But we have brought democracy to a land where there wasn't any.
Somebody gets up and asks, "The people believe in you, but not your ministers. They say they are corrupt. Will you sack any of them?"

"In the 70's, Venezuela was like Soddom and Gomorrah." The crowd titters. "This palace was a pleasure dome, a place for business and parties."

He lectures on Carlos Andres Perez for a good 20 minutes.

Finally...

One of the things we will have to assume with greater responsibility in this era is the fight against corruption. Corruption is a product of capitalism, or the desire to be rich, this is the birth of the cancer that is corruption
Next question.

He moves on, not having answered the question. Come to think of it, he never answers the question he's asked. The questioning rules are strict, and time is limited. There's no chance for a follow-up. There will be only 8 questions, and, following his intro and first answer, we are already 90 minutes into this shit.

Suddenly, I realized the game we were playing. This wasn't really a press conferences at all. Amidst this cult of personality, there's no such thing as a real press conference. Journos here are no different from the students at the Teresa Carreño. In his presence, we're reduced to being just another audience.

December 1, 2006

Podcast: Leopoldo Lopez with eyes wide open...

Quico says: Check out the the audio of parts of Leopoldo Lopez's press conference in Caracas yesterday. It's heartening to see that he's fully conscious that the government is out to provoke them, and explicitly labels the rumors going around as such.

Money quote:
The thing I find astonishing is that this is the only government that says its opposition will commit fraud. Who could believe the government? They control the CNE, they control the Supreme Tribunal, they say the Armed Forces are red, very red though we don't believe that, we think they are tricolor, they control PDVSA, they control all the ministries, the state governments and municipal governments and they go around saying that the opposition is going to steal the election!

Opposition Election Monitoring Plan

Quico says: Check out the opposition's fascist destabilization plan's instruction manual...damn coup-mongers.


November 30, 2006

Hot Audit Details

Quico says: Clearly, a large part of the opposition is still seriously concerned that the government will commit numerical fraud. Unlike in past elections, though, the audit procedure proposed seems highly robust.

Venezuela uses a controversial electronic touch-screen system. The contraption does, at least, generate a paper trail. And that paper trail will be intensively audited on the night of the election. The Elections Authorities have published an elaborate handbook for poll workers, detailing the procedure.

Keep in mind that Venezuelan polling stations ("Centros de Votacion") often include more than one voting table. The plan is to hand-count the votes from the machines in 54% of the voting tables. At least one table will be audited in each polling station, with more tables audited in larger polling stations. And how will they select which tables within a polling station? Following this procedure, which I've translated from the the Table Worker's Manual produced by CNE:
Procedure for the Audit
1) The chairs of the various voting tables shall meet at the place where table No. 1 operated, in the presence of the witnesses and of international and Venezuelan observers, if any are present, and they will proceed to select by draw the voting tables where the audit of the automated voting system will take place.

2)
They shall write in identical pieces of paper the numbers of the voting tables that were used in that polling station, in ordinal sequence starting with the number 1.

3)
They shall place the pieces of paper inside an envelope and shake it.

4)
They shall extract and announce the number of the voting tables to be audited, in accordance with this table:


The key thing to note here is that if the numbers in an envelope procedure is followed, any fraud committed will be very very evident.

The opposition's job now is to make sure these rules are followed. Rosales has been very clear about this. And really there's no excuse if they still don't have people for all the key places.

Alarmingly, though, an opposition NGO is warning that the opposition has few or no witnesses at 732 voting centers in heavily chavista areas where 437,460 people vote, and also has a watchlist of about "high risk" polling stations where 1,833,033 people vote.

We're talking places like the Colegio Jose De Jesus Arocha, on the Redoma De Petare, and the Grupo Escolar Rafael Napoleon Baute at the Calle Real Del Barrio Jose Felix Rivas - both in Petare, Caracas' biggest shantytown. In the Caracas area, there are many such polling stations in poorer areas like Catia, Santa Rosalia, El Valle, Antimano, 23 de Enero, Carallaca, Guarenas and Guatire. But they are all over the country.

Hmmmm...

Podcast: Rosales as Bartlett

Quico says: Well, here's the seriously disturbing audio of part of that Rosales town hall meeting.

Rosales is, um, not a natural speaker. But it's Globo's comically inept attempt to make him seem less boring by setting his speech to some shlocky Hollywood track that really grabs your attention.

There's something really cringe-worthy about this kind of ham-fisted propagandizing. Whoever set this thing to the music must have watched a couple too many episodes of the West Wing and figured, "hell, that music will make anybody sound inspiring." Set over Rosales, it's only ludicrous.

Rosales himself is a cypher. When you read what he has to say you can see he's a bright guy. But when you hear him? Well...

The provocation begins...

Quico says: To understand the next few days, you need to understand one key fact: it's in the government's interest to bait the opposition into over-reaching.

Provocation is the name of the game. And Plan Colina the Nth is underway: Rosales's Caracas coordinator's offices are being raided by the police as I type this.

Primer on Sunday's election...

Quico says: Well, as usual, my hit-count is going berserk as Sunday's election draws near. Hello new people!

Caracas Chronicles has been around for over 4 years now, and usually caters to a hearty breed of hardcore English-speaking Venezuelan politics junkies. We'll be trying to write for a broader audience for the next few days, just for you. And yes, we'll be blogging up a storm this week, so do keep checking back.

If you need to catch up quickly but thoroughly, have a look at this excellent, scrupulously impartial primer on what's so peculiar about the presidential campaign we've seen (note: largish PDF file.)


It's a speech delivered by Pedro Nikken, on behalf of Ojo Electoral (Electoral Eye - a home-grown elections monitoring NGO) to the Washington Office on Latin America. In a highly polarized atmosphere, Nikken makes a titanic effort to rise above the fray and provide an account of what's at stake in this election that both sides can recognize.

A taste:
Why do the Venezuelan elections attract so much international attention? The technical problems are manageable and the political problems I have mentioned are present in other elections, but do not raise the same degree of concern. Venezuela is going through a process of change that sparks international curiosity when the results are positive and a certain level of alarm when they are seen as contrary to universal norms.

In particular, signs that indicate a troubling lack of respect for democratic values in the management of the state are often highlighted. The government and opposition discredit each other’s commitment to democracy. Accusations against the government flow from the opposition, which characterize it is a dictatorship or totalitarian regime, while the government generally tags the opposition as a gang of coup-mongers. The intent of each side seems not to be to defeat the other in a democratic contest, but rather to remove it entirely from the competition. Without offering my own opinion, I will mention a few of the allegations – not without some foundation – that have been made by each side to cast doubt on the opponent’s commitment to democracy...
It's longish, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Of course, you could also look at my Archives...hours and hours of good clean fun to be had there.

Final Survey Chart

Quico says: Well, here's the final survey slide, with the latest Evans McDonough poll added:

Click to enlarge

As you can see, I've split the Surveys into two groups. Standard methodology surveys - the ones based on in-home, face-to-face interviews - and surveys using alternative methodologies.

The standard methodology surveys all give Chavez a big lead. Plenty of people in the opposition are certain that these results reflect intimidation: people can't be sure that the person polling them is who s/he claims to be. According to the argument, the government has a history of discriminating against dissidents in parceling out state benefits, and many people fear giving the wrong answer to a "pollster" which could undermine their access to state social programs, jobs, etc.

Three surveys have been carried out using three alternative methodologies meant to control for this so-called Fear Factor. Rather than a voting intentions survey, Keller does a political segmentation analysis to determine whether voters broadly agree with one side's rhetoric or the other. PS&B use a "secret ballot" methodology where survey respondents deposit their opinion in a box, without having to "come out" to the pollster, while the Observatorio Hannah Arendt (which, caveat lector, is not a recognized pollster but rather a group of academics and activists with apparent ties to the Rosales campaign) replicated the methodology used in this famous study of the 1990 Nicaraguan Election.

Personally, I think that even if the alternative methodologies are closer to the mark in terms of underlying preferences, there is no reason to believe the Fear Factor won't follow people right into the voting booth. In particular, public employees are badly exposed - how many will really "dare" when crunch time comes?

In any case, these are the polls that are out there. Do with this chart what you will.

November 29, 2006

Manuel Rosales, up close and personal

Katy says: Last night, Globovisión held a town-hall meeting with opposition candidate Manuel Rosales. It was an interesting broadcast since it allowed the candidate to get all sorts of questions from an audience that was clearly comprised of chavistas and opposition folk alike. It really should have been a debate, but Pres. Chávez refuses to debate the issues, as has been customary during his entire political career. Here are translated excerpts of what transpired:

First segment

Question 1: What happens to Mi Negra when the price of oil falls?

A: We should be positive. What is being given away to foreign countries is going to Mi Negra. 1 million Bs. would be the Mi Negra handout under the current conditions of the price of oil, Mi Negra would go down to 600 thousand if the price of oil were to fall. Nevertheless, I think the price of oil is going to remain high for quite some time.

Question 2: Why did you sign the Carmona decree?

A: This was confusing to all. The President resigned, I acted in good faith. I was not even in Caracas. I am a democrat by conviction, I have proven that by winning and losing many elections.

Question 3: What is your proposal regarding personal safety?

A: As President, this will be a priority for me and I will be held responsible, I will not ellude my responsability like the current President does, blaming his subordinates. We have to put personal safety and the protection of life as a top priority. We must re-engineer our police forces, make them professional and weed out the rotten cops. We also need 150 thousand more police officers. We will work with universities and other institutions to help form them. We will also form a National Police Corps to coordinate the fight against organized crime.

Question 4: Why do you say you will keep the Missions when you said people in Misiones were "parasites"?

A: I did not say that, I respect people and my comments were taken out of context by my opponents. Misiones are not new, they used to exist under different names: Mercal used to be Proal. Misión Robinson used to be Acude. The problem is that now they are used as tools to blackmail people. In my government, social programs will be for everyone. But also, the Venezuelan people want jobs, they want stability, they don’t want any more “burusas”, social programs should help the poorest Venezuelans but we need to create stable jobs. The other candidate, the candidate of the “trocha mocha” says that poverty is good, that it’s all good if you believe in Socialism. I don’t believe in that. People deserve a better life, they deserve the tools to take off and improve their lives.

Second segment

Question 5: What are you going to do about the jails in Venezuela?

A: There is no justice in Venezuela, and we have no jails, they are simply places where we store people. There are prisoners who have not been sentenced for years. I know of people who have been in prison for years and later are told they are innocent. I believe in the descentralization of the jail system, and I believe jails should provide training and reinsertion into society.

Question 6: What are your proposals toward the children on the streets and those that are on drugs.

A: The problem lies in the deterioration of the family. There has not been any serious attempt in Venezuela to help street children. It’s awful to see how the number of boys and girls on the street keeps growing. This is a serious issue that requires serious solutions. But the key is education, quality of life, and putting citizens before the needs of the State.

Question 7: What do you think of the fear that public employees feel with the fingerprint scanning machines being used to determine how they voted?

A: I respect public workers, and I want to give them decent salaries, both current workers and those that are retired. Our retired public employees only receive crumbs. I want to give retired public workers their Cestaticket benefits. The fingerprint machines are no good, they don’t work. They simply have to justify the money they spent on them by using them. They do not discover your vote, people can vote with their heart and their conscience knowing that nobody will ever know who they voted for. They should vote for the future, for the future of our children.

Third segment

Question 8: What guarantees do we have that mi Negra is not simply electoral “paja”?

A: We’ve been getting “paja” for a century. With Mi Negra we are going to give the Venezuelan people the money that is being given away. We want to give people the funds so that they can open their own businesses. We’ve done that in Zulia at a very small scale. Venezuelans own their wealth, and nobody gave the government permission to give that money away. It’s about social justice.

Question 9: I want to look you in the eyes. I voted for Chavez, for a change. He has changed Venezuela, taking it to a quasi-communism. How will we “charge” the votes? How do we know that when you win, you won’t feel like a “king” and that you will keep your promises?

A: I understand that many good-hearted Venezuelans voted for Chavez, for a change. I hope that people who believe they were lied to, come to us. I will govern from the street, and as President I will not lock myself up in Miraflores in air conditioning, nor will I simply travel around the world enjoying the perks of the job.

Question 10: You have not spoken clearly about what to do about corruption. What do you propose to do about that?

A: Corruption is a consequence of the example the leaders set to the people. If leaders don’t believe in justice, nothing works. The government rewards the corrupt, and shuns those that are honest. It’s pure “viveza criolla”. The message people are getting is that you have to be a “vivo”. That’s why I propose that decency will be a priority for the government from day one.

Question 11: Is the Electoral Registry OK? Will my vote count?

A: The Registry is very much improved. It is good enough for us to participate, as long as we guard the process. I have told this to the CNE many times: we will not accept a change in the rules the day of the elections, nor a change in the laws, nor any non-compliance of the law. If the audit is not done randomly, we will not accept that. If it is done before the vote count, we will not accept that. We will not accept any changes in electoral conditions.

Question 12: Why don’t you ever laugh? (public laughs, Rosales laughs)

A: Oh, I laugh. (applause for breaking the ice, says the moderator) I laugh. Candidates are told “you have to laugh this way, you have to stand this way,” and they end up disguising the candidate. When I have to talk about crime, about children in the street, about hunger, about poverty, about the possibility of having elections stolen, I can’t laugh when I discuss these things, these are serious topics. But if you ask me that, then I have to laugh.

Question 13: What would you do or say if President Chavez walked into this studio right now?

A: I would greet him, welcome him (applause), ask him to sit down and take questions. It is a right of the Venezuelan people to ask him about the results of his eight years in the government. The people need to know what he plans to do to mend his ways and mend this disaster.

Question 14: I don’t care about "red, very red", I care about education and health care. What are your guarantees about that?

A: I guarantee we will give you the tools. We have recently graduated, thanks to Zulia governorship scholarships, thousands of electricians. After a century of oil exploitation, we are not doing well. Why do our kids have to think about leaving the country? How can we exploit tourism if there are few sewers, if we pollute our beaches with sewer water?

Fourth segment

Question 15: This government has failed in terms of health care. What would you do about that?

A: The Zulia health care system is completely different. We rely on small enterprises and cooperatives. We have hospitals there with first-class technology. We have to increase funding for our hospitals. Anyone who says that health care is going to be free but does not provide the resources for that is lying. But we also have to improve our small scale neighborhood health care facilities. Cuban doctors help, but people with problems generally have to go to hospitals, and hospitals are not working.

Question 16: What do you think of the barter system that Chavez is proposing?

A: That it is backwards, we’re discussing very primitive activities here. That is how mankind began. I’m here to talk about good wages, justice, education, health care, progress. The other candidate is saying that your salary is going to be paid with coupons, goods, chickens and things like that. It really shows contempt for the intelligence of the Venezuelan voter, and it’s why people are turned off by politicians. So I hope some day you don’t pay me with a chicken and I have to pay you back with a sack of plaintains. (laughs)

Question 17: Moderator asks question: What do you say to Venezuelans who are tired of politics, those that don’t like the Fourth or the Fifth, the ni-nis?

A: That I respect them. That they are right in many ways. It’s been too many lies, too many frustrations, we’ve gone from failure to failure. But I would tell them the choice is not between candidates, but it’s the future of Venezuela itself. They have to choose between backwardness or modernity, between the future and the past for our children. It’s a proposal to get out of the dumps, so that Venezuela can be a great, beautiful country that rises from the problems it is mired in.

Moderator thanks the crowd. Applause.

Candidate's final comment: My greetings, with affection, with love, to all Venezuelans. No matter who you are going to vote for, I ask you to participate in the reconciliation of our country, so that we can build a more just, modern country, where we can redistribute our oil wealth, a country where we can all handle our differences. I want a great, modern Venezuela, where the future of our children, of our young people, who are the great reserve our country has, can be assured.

Poll Wars Chronicles

Quico says: Check out this impressive overview of the Poll Wars by Phil Gunson in the Miami Herald.
Polls offer vastly different predictions for Venezuela's presidential election Sunday.

CARACAS - With less than a week to go before Venezuela's presidential election, supporters of both President Hugo Chávez and his main rival, Manuel Rosales, are confident of victory -- thanks in part to an opinion-poll war in which the truth appears to have been the first casualty.

''I've worked a lot in elections, in different countries,'' said Carolina Bescansa, a political science professor from the Complutense University in Madrid. ``But I've never seen anything like this.''

There are polls to suit all tastes and political tendencies, ranging from those that project a Chávez victory by more than 30 points in the Sunday balloting to a dubious few that give a clear margin to Rosales, the candidate of a broad opposition coalition.

With both the pro-government and pro-opposition media stressing polls that show their favorites ahead and dismissing other surveys as lies and manipulations, neutral voters have been confused and committed voters have become convinced that only fraud can deprive their man of victory.
Read the whole thing...

Election tree update

Quico says: Actually, there are eight logical possibilities:

Care to hazard a guess how this will go?
















Which scenario do you think is most likely?














View Results
Free poll from Free Website Polls

Puzzling through the Dec. 4th Scenarios

Quico says: The way I see it, the history of the next few years depends on what happens on Dec. 4th. Basically, there are 4 ways this could go:



Now, just for the sake of argument, let's look at the left side first: what happens if Chavez wins?

Well, there's clearly an irreducible core of extreme opposition supporters who are convinced the only way this can happen is fraud. The CEPS survey - for what it's worth - figures they're 7% of the electorate. That's not a huge number, but it's certainly a highly mobilized, committed and influential group.

We're talking the Poleo wing here. Their minds are made up. Whatever CNE says, whatever international observers say, whatever the hot audit says, they are sure Chavez can only win by cheating. As far as they're concerned, to concede is to collaborate.

Now, at times of heightened political tension, this segment of the opposition grows in profile and power - largely because it tends to get a lot of space in the media. Moderating voices are always put in the defensive when the Poleo branch is ascendant.

The rub, of course, is that, though loud and mobilized, they're really quite a small minority in the country as a whole. Mainstream Venezuelans are scared of them, don't see them as committed to democracy, and infer an authoritarian edge to their radicalism that's not that different from extreme chavistas'.

The government long ago figured out that when this wing of the opposition is ascendant, the opposition as a whole loses touch with mainstream opinion - both at home and abroad. When the hotheads call the shots, the opposition isolates itself in a little Globovision-centered mental ghetto brimming with frustrechera and suffused with bitter conspiracy theorizing. It makes chavismo look almost good by comparison.

So the more Machiavellian minds within chavismo (here's lookin' at ya, José Vicente) long ago realized that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from empowering this chunk of the opposition, and long ago perfected a mechanism for doing so: provocation.

That's why, two days into the paro general in December 2002, when it looked like the protest might be running out of steam, the National Guard was sent out to bash some oppo bones in front of the cameras outside PDVSA Chuao. It was easy to foresee that this would embolden the more radical sections of the opposition, extend the strike, and aid the government's longer term goal of discrediting the overall anti-Chavez movement while purging PDVSA. Simple, clean and effective.

It's a playbook the government has run again and again. Think April 7th, 2002 - when Chavez theatrically fired those PDVSA managers, think Jorge Rodriguez demanding reparos in February 2004. Again and again, when the government calculates that the opposition might be about to over-reach, it thinks up some kind of provocation meant to propel oppo hotheads into the movement's driver's seat. Again and again, we fall into the little "Chavez los tiene locos" game.

The government's interest is to see the opposition either split or run by fanatics. So we should expect some serious casquillo in the next few days. It's easy for me to imagine situation where there are just enough electoral irregularities to send the NDroots up a wall but not quite enough to get international observers to condemn the whole exercise. If not that, it'll be some other Poleo-baiting trick.

Chavismo's goal will be to make it as politically awkward as possible for Rosales to concede.

At the very least, they'll try to engineer a situation where, if he does concede, he can't go on to lead a coherent opposition because half of his voters are sure the guy sold out. It's a very tricky situation he will face.

As JayDee put it, one of the ironies of this campaign is that we're only going to find out if Rosales is for real after the vote. It's then that we'll find out if he has the political touch it will take to stamp his authority over the anti-Chavez movement, disown the extremists, dispel the ongoing doubts among NiNis at home and people abroad about anti-Chavismo's commitment to democracy, and keep the opposition united, coherent and "governable" enough to present some kind of counterbalance to Chavez.

It's a tall order. And the governnment will work hard to raise the temperature in the hope of empowering oppo hotheads. We have to keep sight of the fact that the government's goal is to engineer a situation where, if Rosales does concede, he loses credibility with a key segment of his constituency and potentially splits the movement down the middle. Will Rosales be cunning enough to sidestep this trap?

Scenario No. 2: Rosales goes AMLO

Katy says: I'm going to follow up on Quico's post and work through the second of the four scenarios: the possibility that opposition candidate Manuel Rosales does not concede victory, and declares massive fraud.


The credibility of a move like this will depend on four main factors, as I see it. They are:
  1. The size of Chavez's lead
  2. The evidence of fraud brought forward
  3. The attitude of the CNE and the TSJ
  4. The attitude of international observers
As should be obvious, a move like this can go wrong in many different ways (ask Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or closer to home, Enrique Mendoza). Nobody likes a sore loser, so if you're going to declare the election null and demand radical action, you better have the goods to back it. That means, roughly put, that Rosales has to have the votes, the chads, the crooks and the musiús aligned.

The only way this scenario can become anything but a total disaster for the opposition is if:

  1. The CNE declares Chavez the winner by a margin of 5% or less;
  2. The Rosales camp quickly brings forth substantial and convincing evidence of fraud, hopefully stemming from the audits of the machines (government abuse prior to the election doesn't really count, since by participating in the election you are implicitly conceding that point, as much as we hate it);
  3. The CNE and the TSJ act in a blatantly partisan way and shut the door on any possibility of admission that the process was flawed; and
  4. International observers side with your concerns.
Even if these conditions are met, going AMLO is still a risky proposition. But if you don't have your ducks lined up in a row, it would be a disaster.

November 28, 2006

Compare and Contrast: Blue Venezuela vs. Red Venezuela

Quico says: Yesterday I posted on the underlying issue at stake in this election: a tricolor Venezuela, or a monochrome red one? Two different futures.

While red Venezuela has found its perfect voice in Chavez, yellow Venezuela, the one that demands spoils now and measures its status by spoils obtained, eats away away at the revolution, and blue Venezuela barely hangs on. The tragic thing is that only blue Venezuela can ultimately offer real solutions to the very serious problems our country has.

I think these are themes that come through nicely in this remarkable piece in Slate.
Crime and Class in Caracas
By Sacha Feinman

CARACAS, Venezuela—It's Friday night, and Detective Bultron Angel of the Chacao police is playing God. With 22 cameras placed in strategic locations throughout his district, Angel is capable of monitoring the human traffic of some of Venezuela's wealthiest neighborhoods. Any emergency call to PoliChacao must first pass through his dispatch center, where one of six police officers immediately traces the incoming phone number, running it through a computerized map of the district detailed enough to contain the names of every apartment building and every apartment owner.

On the other side of the city, Inspector José Bonaldi of the Libertador Police sits behind his desk in the barely furnished Office of Citizen Security. According to the United Nations, Venezuela recently passed Brazil to claim the dubious honor of having the highest rate of gun-related violence in the world among nations not at war. Much of that crime takes place in the steep and densely packed barrios that decorate the city's rolling hills, more than a few of which fall under Bonaldi's jurisdiction.

To maintain the security of his municipality, Bonaldi has a single computer, and it's currently being used by an off-duty police officer to watch a Jessica Simpson music video. Instead of a map of his district, the chipped plaster walls of Bonaldi's office are decorated by a lonely profile of Jesus Christ wearing his crown of thorns, blood dripping from his hairline, eyes turned upward in divine expectation. "He who does not love," quotes the poster, "hasn't known God; because God is love."

Lost in the media coverage of Venezuelan oil and Hugo Chávez's colorful antics is the fact that over the last decade, Caracas has become a very dangerous place to live. Colombia might have the history, and Brazil might make splashier headlines, but Venezuela has quietly eclipsed both its neighbors in levels of violent street crime. Unlike Colombia's narco-guerrillas or the heavily armed gangs in the favelas of Rio and São Paulo, crime in Caracas is indiscriminate; it has more to do with anarchy and the failure of infrastructure than it does organized, armed groups challenging the government's monopoly on the use of force.
Read the whole thing. Which set of cops would you rather have patrol your neighborhood?