February 7, 2009

How To Argue Like an International Chavista

Quico says: After my epic, 200 post comments-thread-cum-PSF-free-for-all over on the Guardian's Comment is Free site, I think I've learned some valuable lessons about the subtle art of arguing like an English trotskyite. It was a trip: most of the time it felt like I was up against the entire membership of Hands Off Venezuela. I walked off bruised, but wiser for it nonetheless.

So in the spirit of improving the debate, I thought I'd share my new insights with you, my PSF readers, by providing a handy How-To guide for the aspiring young international net-bound Bolivarian groupie.

There are a number of debating tactics you'll need to master to argue like a genuine First World Chavista, but before we get to specifics, we need to get clear on the basics.

Basic Principles
1. Only the government tells the truth about Venezuela. This is the big one; your Golden Rule. Always treat evidence that does not come from chavista sources as self-evidently false, wrong, forged, or all three at the same time.

2. Every criticism has an ulterior motive. Never accept an adversary's own characterization of his motivations. Always impute unambiguously evil motives onto him, and be sure to link every criticism he makes to said evil motive.

3. Links are dangerous. In online debates, never click through any link an adversary provides to document his argument. You risk lasting trauma arising from the terrible scourge of EFIPIC (Exposure to Facts Irreconcilable with Pre-existing Ideological Certainties) Syndrome. Each year, dozens of International Chavistas ignore this rule and end up suffering this painful condition, whose symptons include listlessness, depression, and the sudden, irresistible urge to go eat at McDonald's. Protect yourself: never click through.
Keep those three principles in mind, and you should have no trouble applying:

The Ten Do's and One Don't of Raging PSFery
First off, relax. Arguing like a real International Chavista is easy. It requires little knowledge and absolutely no imagination. In a way, the less you know the better: facts can be so confusing.

Luckily, all you have to do is follow these handy, ready-made templates, making sure never to stray from them:

1. The Bush Distraction
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "George W. Bush punched loads of people in the face, way, way harder than that, too!"

2. The Classic Race/Class Bait
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "Under the old regime, poor/dark skinned people used to get punched in the face all the time; you're only complaining because you've lost your privileges!"

3. The Unrelated Social Claim
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "UNICEF has declared Venezuela free of illiteracy, isn't that what you're really mad about?" [For best form, make sure your social claim is unambiguously wrong.]

4. The Cold War Era CIA Slam

Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "The CIA has a long history of neo-colonial meddling in Latin America: they put you up to making these unfounded allegations, didn't they?!"

5. The Matriz de Opinion Gambit
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "Well, I think it's clear you are trying to establish a matriz de opinion to the effect that I punched you in the face."

6. The Recitation of Constitutional Principles Maneuver
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "That's impossible! The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution enshrines some of the strongest, most progressive safeguards against face-punching of any constitution in the world."

7. The Dastardly MSM Riposte
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "You're just parroting the same old tired propaganda we get from the corporate mainstream media all the time!"

8. The Election Evasion
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "If the revolution is so horrid that it goes around randomly punching people in the face, how do you explain the fact that Chávez has won 10 elections?!"
[Latinobarómetro Variant:"If the revolution is so horrid that it goes around punching people in the face, how do you explain the latest Latinobarómetro poll, which shows Venezuelans overwhelmingly approve of the current state of fist-face relations."]

9. The Random Declaration of Non Evidence
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "I think it's clear that you've failed to show any evidence that I punched you in the face." [advanced practitioners might try a variant such as the Declaration of Non Evidence for Arguments That Were Never Actually Made, (e.g., "I think it's clear that you've failed to show any evidence that I kicked you in the stomach") or the Unilateral Declaration of Victory (e.g., "I think anyone can see your argument doesn't make any sense at all.") ]

10. The 11 de Abril Ruse
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "Where do you get off? You supported a coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela!" [For best form, couch your attack in terms that could be applied directly to 4F.]

Those will be the main tools in your arsenal. Remember, practice makes perfect!

If you're serious about becoming a real International Chavista debating champ, you need to grasp this: knowing what not to say is just as important as knowing what to say.

Whatever you do, never, ever say something like:
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.
Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"
You: "Well, I understand it hurts right now, and I certainly don't expect you to be happy about it, but I've come to the conclusion that the prohibition on face-punching is a bourgeois conceit that creates insuperable obstacles to empowering poor people and helping them live better, safer, more dignified lives, so I decided that punching you in the face is justified under the circumstances, y'know, for the sake of the greater good."
See, if you do that, you end up inhabiting the same world of facts as your opponent, potentially laying the groundwork for a fruitful dialogue in the future. If you're not careful, you might even find yourself engaging with him in deliberation oriented towards crafting a shared understanding. Your job is to avoid such an outcome at any cost. We are better than them. Inhabiting the same world of facts as them can only sully us.

Advanced Application
Now that you know the Basic Principles and the Dos and the Don'ts of arguing like a fully paid up member of the International Chavista Brigade, the final step is learning how to combine them into a seamless, maximally obnoxious debating style.

With practice, you should be able to manage something like:
Walk up to a guy and punch him in the face.

Guy: "Heeeeyyy! You punched me in the face!"

You: "George W. Bush illegally invaded Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians...funny how we never seem to hear you complain about that!"

Guy: "God, my face really hurts now, why'd you have to punch me?!"

You: "What are you, the Miami Herald? You're just parroting the tired old propaganda lies of the corporate mainstream media elite!"

Guy: "What the hell are you talking about? There are like 50 people here who just saw you..."

You: "It's clear that you've failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that I kicked you in the groin."

Guy: "Groin? Who said anything about any groin? Look, see how my eye is swelling up and going all black and blue now?"

You: "Well, you're obviously trying to establish a matriz de opinion that says I just punched you in the face."

Guy: "Well...yeah!...cuz you just punched me in the face!"

You: "If we chavistas are going around punching people in the face willy-nilly, how come in the latest Latinbarómetro poll Venezuelans overwhelmingly approve of the current state of fist-face relations? Huh? HUH?!"

Guy: "Erm...well...jeez I guess it's a good thing that many Venezuelans aren't getting punched in the face, but I don't really see how that excuses your punching me in the face just now."

You: "Admit it! You're only sore because Chávez created a free public health care system that never existed before...it sickens you to think that poor children are now able to see a doctor, doesn't it? Isn't that what this is really about?"

Guy: "Wait a minute, what the heck does that have to do with anything? You still punched me in the face!"

You: "That's impossible! The 1999 Bolivarian Constitution contains some of the strongest, most progressive safeguards of any constitution in the world against face-punching."

Guy: "I know! It sure would be nice if those safeguards were followed...I never said the constitution allows you to punch me in the face, I just said you punched me in the face!"

You: "Again with these wild-eyed allegations! Y'know, this constant barrage of unproven claims is very suspicious: just months before the Arbenz regime was overthrown in Guatemala in 1954, the CIA started spreading false rumors that people were randomly getting punched in the face..."

Guy: "Erm, I'd love to have a debate on Guatemalan history with you at some point, but in this context it's hard to see what that has to do with..."

You: "Before Chávez, Afro-descended Venezuelans used to get punched in the face all the time; you're only complaining because you've lost your privileges!"

Guy: "Ummmm...ooooo-kayyyyy..."

You: "How dare you even talk about face-punching after you supported a bloody coup against the elected government of Venezuela! What kind of blood-soaked fascist ogre pig could possibly support people who actually tried to violently overthrow an elected government?!! Huh?! ANSWER ME!!!"

Guy: whimpers off in despair
And that, comrades, is how you win an argument the International Chavista Way!

February 6, 2009

Are you there, Stalin? It's me, Hugo

Juan Cristobal says: - Something very strange happened today. As far as we know, for the first time in five years, Chavez spoke with a member of the opposition.

Apparently, UNT leader Stalin Gonzalez was in a meeting with Primero Justicia's Juan Carlos Caldera and Interior Minister Tareck Al Aissami, when Chavez called. The president spoke to Gonzalez briefly regarding tomorrow's scheduled march.

Signs that the government is softening up? Perhaps the government thinks that its tough stance is not working? Is Stalin a closet communist? Or is simply the unfortunate result of a llamada ligada?

You be the judge.

The Translation-bot Revolution

Quico says: Following on from yesterday's ground breaking revelations, I see this in the INCES website:

Now that is a classic! Sadly, the banner seems to have been taken down now, to be replaced with one that's big into "impelling the union among the towns." (Confused? Check the comments section.)

The site itself goes on to inform us that,
"The front of workers for the yes that make academic life in the Center of Socialist Agricultural Formation 'José Laurencio Silva' of the National Institute of Qualification regional Educational Socialist (Inces) Cojedes, installed today in San Carlos' streets, red points of information in favor of the constitutional amendment."
Mmmmmm...moving on:
"Starting from the present month the National Institute of Qualification and Socialist Education (INCES) and the Producer and Distribuidora of Foods (PDVAL), unify efforts to take more and better feeding to the mediating population an agreement that allows at last o'clock, to carry out distribution of their products in the facilities of the socialist formation (CFS) diverse centers of Inces in the state Lara."
Good thing that's cleared up then!

I've said it before and I've said it again: for the amount of money chavismo spends, the standard of propaganda they buy themselves is truly appalling.

Seriously, shouldn't Clodosbaldo Russián be investigating this? However much they're paying the guy who convinced them INCES needed a website in English, that's a salvaguarda case right there!

[H/T: W.T.]

February 5, 2009

All Your CIA Fax Are Belong To Us!

Quico says: Folks, I'm afraid the gig is up. They found us out. Somehow, our secret plot with the gringos over the referendum got leaked to Aporrea. They have everything. Every detail on Plan Angostura, y'know, the one we hatched together with the CIA in Puerto Rico.They have the secret memo the CIA sent to Teodoro, they even know he bounced it on to Súmate.

This is awful, they have us by the balls!

They know that "this week we ended a series of meetings with elements of the opposite party, following our diplomatic delegation departure/removal." They know that we only adopted the "No is No" slogan because "in the perception that these approaches are accepted it will be convenient to show them as a no partisan vision."

They have the scoop on our "campaigning axles", so they know that it's the gringos who put us up to complaining about "the shortness of time for the audits and fraud threats", and spreading the corruption accusations, "particularly the cases related with the familial environment," as well as telling us to "point toward the food shortages as the best testimony of the fail down of the administration."

Sorry folks, it was good while it lasted, but the gig is up: we're busted.

Read the gory details here.

Too Hot for TV: The Ads CNE Won't Let You Watch

Quico says: How level is the electoral playing field in Venezuela these days? So level that the chavista-run National Elections Council actually gets to pick-and-choose which TV ads can be shown on behalf of the "No" campaign, at what times, and on which channels.

Right now, a go-slow operation at CNE is effectively keeping these four ads off the air:

1.This spot starts with a famous quote by Simón Bolívar, from his 1819 speech to the Angostura Congress: "Nothing is so dangerous as allowing a single citizen to remain in power for a long time. The people get used to obeying him, and he gets used to commanding them, whence come usurpation and tyranny." Announcer: "Whether another Venezuelan enters this hall is up to you." CNE is, in effect, censoring Simón Bolívar!

2. This second spot is built around a series of quotes by Chávez's left wing allies in South America speaking out against abolishing term limits.

3. Announcer: "It's out in the open: this is about presidency for life. Don't count me in for more of the same."

4.Man with a heavy Cuban accent: "Some fifty years ago, we all felt it was for the best. They hold elections every five years, but nothing changes. The government doesn't solve the country's problems. We're stuck in time. The worst part is that, right now, even if we wanted to, we feel that there is no way to change." Announcer: "In Venezuela, we still have time: it's up to you."

CNE denies that its new regulations, which bar the campaigns from buying their own Ad-time directly from TV channels and forces them to go through the CNE instead, amount to prior restraint. But with just days to go before the vote, unexplained delays amount to censorship, puro y duro.

February 4, 2009

Chavismo's Amazing Self-Refuting Referendum Argument

Quico says: So we've all heard it again and again and then again some more: getting rid of term limits is not the same thing as "indefinite reelection" because, ultimately, Chávez will still have to face the voters. Don't let them manipulate you: voting "Sí" doesn't mean voting for a single man to stay in power forever. Every single Venezuelan will have a fair chance to challenge him for the presidency every six years.

That's their story, and they're sticking to it. Relentlessly. On 11 state owned TV channels and hundreds upon hundreds of radio stations, round the clock, you're bombarded with it: "Vote Sí, because elections will still be fair!" Plastered on every ministry, every PSUV controlled state or local office, the signs are all around you: "Vote Sí, because the people have a right to choose!" Hundreds of thousands of public servants from PDVSA and Ipostel to the Armed Forces and every last recondite little corner of the bureaucracy, all fully mobilized (when not openly coerced) to participate in rallies designed to drum in one simple message: "Vote the way you're told, because there's no ventajismo here!" They'll even pipe it into the Metro during your morning commute, just to make sure you don't miss it.

I heard a tiny-but-telling story the other day. Apparently, these days, if you have any business to do at PDVSA and you park your car in one of its parking lots, when you come out you find "Sí"s scribbled in big letters with white markers on your car windows. Nobody asks your permission to do this: whether you like it or not, you drive out of there turned into a big rolling ad that screams out "Vote Sí, because this government wouldn't dream of abusing its control of petrostate resources to try to swing an election!"

The government's argument doesn't need people like me to refute it. It refutes itself.

Do you have an anecdote on the use of state resources to aid the Sí campaign? An observation, or possibly a photo? I'm collecting these for future use. If you've got one, please do share it through the comments section or via email to caracaschronicles at fastmail dot fm. Thank you!

Update: Within minutes of writing that plea for materials, a reader in Zulia sent this flyer in, picked up off a desk inside PDVSA.

(Highlighting added by me.)

February 3, 2009

Pico y Bonkers

Quico says: I've been trying to think up the right words to describe the Opera Buffa surrounding Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles's decision to trial the "Pico y Placa" anti-congestion plan on the Panamerican Highway. As the voluntary pilot got going this week, the entire controversy shot through multiple layers of absurdity to attain heights of sheer dada nonsense to make any Buendía proud.

Lets start at the beginning. Traffic in Caracas is bad. I mean really bad. I don't mean annoying-but-whatchoo-gonna-do bad. I mean imperiling-people's-livelihood-strategies bad. People living in outlying suburbs like Los Teques and Guarenas can easily spend 4 or 5 hours a day stuck in traffic. The reasons aren't hard to fathom: gas is way too cheap, there are more and more cars, no new roads, and the new mass transit systems just aren't keeping up with demand.

Enter "Pico y Placa" - roughly translatable as "Rush Hour Plates". It's a simple, low-tech system to get traffic moving again during the hellish commuting peak times. If your licence plate ends in 0 or 1, you're asked to car-pool or use public transport on Mondays, or else to commute earlier or later than usual. If your plates end in 2 or 3, it's Tuesdays. Etc.

Thanks to its success in Bogotá, the plan attracted the attention of some opposition mayors in Caracas, who saw it as the kind of common-sense solution to an acute quality-of-life problem they'd been elected to enact. So they trialed it. And, to an extent, it worked...so far so sane.

Enter chavismo. As soon as they caught wind that oppo mayors were doing something small-scale, practical and successful, chavistas flipped out.

Suddenly, the right to drive your car whenever you feel like it became a matter of High Constitutional Principle, a cornerstone value Bolivarian Socialism. Carpooling started being denounced as the thin-end of the fascist wedge.

Injunctions started flying, which were of course accepted by the chavista judges who now preside over just about every court in the country. In time Supreme Tribunal eventually handed out a genuinely bizarre ruling declaring Pico y Placa unconstitutional. Because, apparently, cars have a constitutional right to free transit in Venezuela.

Score one for the noble bolivarian ideal of...erm...um....spending a lot of time stuck in traffic and...ummmm...standing up for the fundamental rights of oppressed cars everywhere. Right!

So the mayor's offices involved had to stop collecting the fines they'd used to enforce the plan, and you thought that was the end of that.

Except it wasn't, because the traffic problem in Caracas remained just as bad as it had been. So newly elected Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles decided to try to run Pico y Placa on a voluntary basis, with no fines. In this form, the plan was little more than an exhortation from the governor for people to coordinate their commuting so the hellish drive on the Panamerican Highway (really just a 2 lane road) from Los Teques would be a little bit nicer for all involved.

Now, this is where the story gets weird...

Yesterday, on the first day of Capriles's volunteer trial, Miranda State authorities documented a notable decrease in car volume...which would've eased congestion on La Panamericana considerably, if it hadn't been because the government concluded that this had to be some kind of car-pooling based CIA destabilization plan and sent a fleet of military-style Armored Personnel Carriers to watch over the road.

Of course, now that the plan is fully voluntary and no Miranda cops were out writing tickets, it's not exactly clear what all those National Guardsmen's role was...were they supposed to, um, arrest people for not driving their cars at rush hour? Or, now that Bolivarian jurisprudence has given machinery legal standing, maybe they should've just arrested any car found in flagrante delito in the act of not being driven at rush hour...

Of course, that wasn't the point. They were there to ensure the plan didn't work by mucking up traffic with a bunch of slow moving Armored Personnel Carriers...with the added bonus of freaking the hell out of some drivers, who saw all the military hubbub and figured a coup was in the works!

The government's attempt to sabotage Capriles's administration is so obvious, so transparent, so small-minded, it's hard to even know where to start. In a city that sees 10 murders on a typical week day, we have dozens - if not hundreds - of security personnel tasked with...creating traffic jams!

Simply mad.

Quico vs. Maisantabot

Quico says: Check out my Battle Royale with VIC (Britain's VIO equivalent) chavista extraordinaire Redmond O'Neill on The Guardian's Comment is Free section.

The back-and-forth was...um, an odd experience. Most of the time, I had the distinct impression that I was dabating a Chavista Propaganda Text Generator rather than, y'know, an actual sentient being. I mean, Jesus, the guy's name starts with Red...maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised.

Still, it made me stop and think: for all the millions upon millions Chávez spends on PR abroad, he really buys himself an appalling standard of propaganda. Just shoddy, shoddy stuff.

4,000 No Show Jobs Under Juan Barreto

Quico says: It's too bad this stunning article by Phil Gunson for the Miami Herald got buried in the week between Christmas and New Year. For one thing, it had escaped my awareness altogether, which is just a travesty.

The piece deals with the literally thousands of Metropolitan Caracas contract workers who just stopped showing up for work after the opposition's upset win over Juan Barreto in last November's election, detailing some of the more colorful extra-curriculars they were getting up to,

A close associate of Barreto, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said around 50 were employed by a ''community development coordination body'' set up in October 2005, and based in the Phelps Building.

Their role, the associate said, was political enforcement, ''intelligence work'' and carrying out attacks on the opposition. ''This was also the group that attacked the ambassador,'' he said, referring to an incident in April 2006 in which former U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield (now ambassador to Colombia) was followed by a gang of motorcyclists who pelted his motorcade with vegetables.

This group was composed of Tupamaros, according to the Barreto associate. But several other 23 de Enero-based groups have also been mentioned in news reports as supplying ''enforcers'' to City Hall during Barreto's term.

Definitely read the whole thing.

[H/T: Santiago G.]

February 2, 2009

Venezuela's Lost Decade

Quico says:
As of today, Hugo Chávez has been president of Venezuela for exactly as long as Rafael Caldera was.

Believe it, baby.

February 1, 2009

Hot Dato

Quico says: An impeccable source writes in to say that Datos is not planning to make its polling public this cycle. They are polling, however, and the results they're getting are not substantially different from the latest Datanalisis poll.

I'm not any happier about that than you are, but it is what it is...