November 30, 2002

Anglophone escuálido bloggers of the world, unite! have only your crappy low hit-counts to lose...

My friend Tony Guzmán Blanco brought two new sources for news and views on the telenovela that is life under Chávez to my attention recently. They seem pretty good. Better yet, they're in English. is a pretty thorough, though openly partisan (who isn't, these days?) website run by some folks in the UK, I think. Good collection of stories pulled from reputable English-language news outlets, from The Economist to CNN and the pictures of Chávez sucking up to Saddam Hussein.

The Devil's Excrement is a blog written, it looks like, by a Venezuelan expat in the US. It's more focused on news and latest events, but seems like a pretty good source for that.

I'm adding them both to my list of English links on the page-template, so you can always find them.

Did I mention they're both in English?

November 29, 2002

We’re all radicals now

Yeah, yeah, so four days ago I wrote a long, rambling blog entry explaining why the general strike was going to fail. But, cripes, it’s Venezuela! Four days are an eternity here. In the meantime, the National Electoral Council called a referendum for Feb. 2nd that the government described as an electoral coup, and the very next day the Supreme Tribunal turned around and quashed the referendum on a technicality. It’s the mother of all provocations.

The Washington Post ran a dire editorial today pleading with Washington, Bogotá and Brasilia to help defuse the crisis. I wish I could say it was exaggerated, but it isn’t. We’re reaching a point of no-return here.

My boss quips that it seems like the government was concerned that the strike wouldn’t be successful enough, that they’re acting like they’ve decided to galvanize the opposition, uniting it into pro-strike monolith. It’s true: if the Supreme Tribunal had just held off on that ruling for a week or so, that would’ve been enough to split the opposition. There were plenty of people in the opposition who were either lukewarm or, like me, against the strike. It didn’t make any sense to us to launch such an extreme measure while our referendum request was still in the cards.

But now that the Tribunal has gone ahead and killed it, now that they’ve spited the spirit of democratic idealism and the thousands of hours of work it took us to gather and systematize over 2 million signatures, now that the government has made it clear they’re more than willing to shit all over our movement, to mock us openly, that they’ve made such a public show of contempt for the constitution they themselves drafted, well, there’s not much room for division anymore, is there? The government is willing to do anything to stay in power, it’s just a lie that they’ll ever accept a vote they’re not sure they can win. The clipboard and roses path seems hopelessly naïve, hopelessly out-of-touch, in the face of their brand of authoritarianism.

Yesterday’s ruling erases the divisions between opposition moderates and radicals. That tension, which could’ve hobbled or killed a strike, is now gone. We’re all radicals now, the government has made us all into radicals. For months they’ve pushed and prodded, provoked and mocked, until they got their wish: they made moderation moot. For a long time I’ve feared violence is inevitable. For the first time, I’ve started to consider the notion that it might be necessary. Chávez is just not going to go down without a fight.

November 28, 2002

Electoral coup

There’s nonsense, there’s hard-core nonsense, and then there’s chavista nonsense. The government’s public statements over the last few days have reached such amazing levels of internal contradiction it’s hard to know what to even say about them anymore. The ultimate outrage – the worst I can remember – is their reaction to the National Electoral Council’s decision to call a non-binding referendum on whether Chávez should resign for February 2nd, 2003. Faced with the decision, J.V. Rangel railed furiously against the decision, calling it an “electoral coup.”

Now, stop to think about that last phrase for a second.

Electoral coup.

Swirl it around your head a few times. What, exactly, does it mean? Rangel is really starting to sound like a parody of himself – his P.R. strategy of labeling anything and everything the opposition does as a coupsterie coup-plotting coupetie coup coup coup has driven him right up to a reductio ad absurdum cliff-edge, and he's just kept on driving, Thelma & Louise style, into the logical chasm.

Electoral coup.

Isn’t the whole point of a coup that it’s an end-run around democratic decision-making, supplanting a given group’s political views for the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box? Isn’t an election the specific polar opposite of a coup? Can anyone think of a more perverse, a more intellectual bankrupt two-word combination than “electoral coup”?

My sister thought it the ultimate oxymoron, but it seems to me an altogether deeper, more pernicious specimen than that. The phrase is a final surrender to the forces of nonsense, of propagandistic gobbledygook. It’s a declaration of war against common sense, a unilateral surrender to contradiction, contradiction no longer merely as a P.R. tactic, but as a code of ethics, a life principle.

Electoral coup.

It reminds me of the fascist slogans during the Spanish Civil War. Long live death! Death to intelligence! Electoral coup!

It is, and I don’t make this statement lightly, the single stupidest phrase anybody in the Chávez administration has uttered in the last four years.

Chávez himself isn't far behind. His rhetoric has reached a kind of fevered pitch of rampant self-contradiction unhindered by any kind of reflection. During his speech on Wednesday – which he broadcast, like in the old days, on a cadena nacional, hijacking the signals of every TV and radio station to ramble for a few hours – he switched blithely within a few minutes from a stirring homage to the “redemptors of the republic” who staged an actual, shoot-shoot-bang-bang coup-attempt on November 27th, 1992 (precisely 10 years earlier), to a furious denunciation of today’s clipboard-and-ballot-box electoral coupsters.

The contradiction was so blatant it makes any kind of reasoned rebuke seem superfluous. The guys 10 years ago are heroes, even though they used tanks and F-16s to try to bomb the presidential palace, even though they left dozens of innocent bystanders dead as they stormed, guns blazing, into the Channel 8 studios, in a bid to oust a democratically elected government. Why? Because they were chavistas. But the people going around these days gathering signatures to ask for a referendum so every citizen can have a say on the nation's future are fascists; terrorists staging an “electoral coup.” Why? Because they’re antichavistas. It’s a simple, straightforward calculus, based on a belief-system armored-plated against critical reasoning, where chavistas are good no matter what they do, simply because they’re chavistas, and antichavistas are bad no matter what they do, because they dare to question him.

Simple, huh?

Like Elizabeth Fuentes said last week, “it’s shit like this that makes my capacity for tolerance follow the nation’s economic statistics, i.e., into a nose-dive.”

November 25, 2002

This strike doesn’t have a chance…

The big news these days is that, last week, the coordinadora democrática (the big umbrella group that speaks for maybe 95% of the opposition) called a General Strike for next Monday, December 2nd. It’s all anyone talks about around here, especially since they didn’t specify how long the strike will go on for – and they’ve let it be known it could drag on indefinitely. Now, I think up until now the coordinadora has done a pretty good job of representing the opposition responsibly and within the spirit of democracy. But this time, I really think they’ve gone off the deep end.

Why? Well, first and foremost because the strike will fail. It’s totally nuts to call an indefinite strike in the middle of the holiday shopping season: too many retailers and industrialists rely on December sales to balance their books for the year – especially after a disaster of a year like 2002 has been. Asking them to give up a week’s worth of holiday sales seems totally crazy to me: they won’t go along, couldn’t go along, will go bankrupt if they go along…it’s asking them to jump into some sort of sacrificial pyre for the sake for very uncertain results.

The strike’s only hope for success is if the opposition can shut down the oil-industry. And while many executives and managers at PDVSA seem ripe for protest, it’s very doubtful whether the blue-collar workforce, fresh from signing a very lucrative collective bargaining agreement, will go along. Can you run a giant oil company for a week without any managers? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I bet the it’s something along the lines of “not very well, but kind of.”

The coordinadora leaders claim they’re just following their followers: to hear them tell it, the grass-roots pressure for some kind of radical move against Chávez is just too strong to ignore. I hear that and I just have to shake my head: I have no doubt that among a very small, highly radicalized, militantly antichavista slice of the business class, there are probably some very loud voices calling for a strike. And credible polls do show that most people support a strike in the abstract. But from that to saying that there’s a deafening national roar for a strike there’s a big gap, and I suspect what’s really going on here is that most coordinadora members only talk to other coordinadora members, setting up a little resonance chamber where radical antichavismo is taken as the only sane way of thinking. Locked up inside this circle, the coordinadora’s leadership has managed to convince itself that its views are a reflection of a huge popular groundswell. I don’t buy it.

Of course many many Venezuelans are very very angry at Chávez. But 9 out of 10 Venezuelan households live on less than the $750/month it takes to purchase the Basic Consumption Basket – the government’s estimates of the basic goods and services you need for an adequate middle-class life. With that many people struggling that hard to make ends meet, and so many who just don’t earn enough to even feed themselves and their families properly, an open ended general strike seems like lunacy. For the upper class and upper-middle class people who lead the coordinadora , calling a strike will not mean going hungry, but for millions of the people they claim to lead it does. And it’s precisely that tone-deafness towards the needs and conditions of the poor that made the poor angry enough at them to elect Chávez in the first place. I dunno, I just think that by calling a strike the coordinadora shows just how out of touch it is with the material conditions that most Venezuelans live under, and does nothing at all to reassure the poor that a coordinadora-led government would be even a little bit concerned about their needs.

Still, the strike need not happen. The coordinadora has made it quite clear that if the Elections Authorities call a national referendum on Chávez’s rule before Monday, they’ll call off the strike. I’m praying CNE plays along, thus saving the coordinadora from itself. At that point, the strike can be kept in reserve, as a threat against the government should it even think to do anything to block a vote. If the government did block a vote, a strike – while still far more socially painful than the coordinadora leaders seem to realize – would at least be somewhat more defensible. And while it’s easy to sympathize with the seething anger people feel when they see Chávez openly mock the two-million+ signatures gathered to back up the request for a consultative referendum, I don’t see how the way to confront that is applying a tactic that condemns millions of people to real hardship…instead, it seems like a sure-fire strategy for alienating the people we should be trying to win over.