November 23, 2004

If only Enrique Mendoza was more like Viktor Yuschenko

Creatively stolen from The Independent

Venezuelans throng streets to protest against election 'fix'
By Askold Krushelnycky in Caracas

23 November 2004

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans thronged the streets of the country's capital, Caracas, and other major cities yesterday to denounce alleged fraud in the presidential recall.

Venezuela was perilously close to civil conflict last night after the democratic opposition refused to recognise the regime as the victor in a referendum that will determine whether the country deepens its fragile democracy and tilts towards the West, or heads down the autocratic route.

Anger greeted the Venezuelan Elections Commission's announcement that the president's No, was ahead of the opposition Yes, opposition leader Enrique Mendoza told supporters to stage a civil disobedience campaign. The cities of Caracas and Barquisimeto obliged. They refused to recognise Mr Chavez's victory.

The EU has called on Venezuela to review Sunday's election. The opposition and western election monitors accused the government of dirty tricks before the poll to tip the victory to Mr Chavez by 20 per cent. In many polling stations where Mr Chavez gained most votes, more than 100 per cent of voters apparently turned out.

As night fell in Caracas, demonstrators jammed the city's main avenue for several blocks. Busloads of special forces have also been brought into the city. Some demonstrators waved Georgian flags, echoing the protests a year ago that drove Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia's ex-president, from office after a fraudulent parliamentary election. But three other cities announced they would recognise the opposition as the winner.

With more than 99 per cent of precincts counted, the government had a lead. Yet several exit polls had found the opposition was the winner, one by a margin of 11 per cent.

"The abuse of state resources in favour of the president has continued," Bruce George, the observer mission leader, said.

Alas, I knew Victor Yuschenko, I worked with Viktor Yuschenko, and you, sir, are no Viktor Yuschenko...

November 8, 2004

Our August, Their November

Couldn't resist coming back to post just this one bit, which strikes me as bizarrely reminiscent. Feel the burn, baby, feel the burn...

It's okay to use the "F" word
Black Box Voting has taken the position that fraud took place in the 2004 election through electronic voting machines. We base this on hard evidence, documents obtained in public records requests, inside information, and other data indicative of manipulation of electronic voting systems. What we do not know is the specific scope of the fraud. We are working now to compile the proof, based not on soft evidence -- red flags, exit polls -- but core documents obtained by Black Box Voting in the most massive Freedom of Information action in history.


October 4, 2004

Five Hundred Posts of Solitude

It's a historic day. Of sorts. Blogger informs me that this is post number 500 on Caracas Chronicles - a tidy number, in just 25 months!

It's funny: I've wanted to write a book since I was 10 years old, and in a weird kind of way, I have! Sure, it would take a massive editing effort to whip up these 500 rants into some sort of publishable book - it would also, more relevantly, require an actual publisher, one suicidal enough to take a risk on a cantankerous expat's denunciations of Latin America's most popular, glamourous and groovy-lefty, realistically, it's not likely you'll be seeing Caracas Chronicles in book form any time soon. But still, 500 posts! I've never printed the whole thing, but it can't be less than 800 pages or so...there's definitely a book hiding in there somewhere...

So, for me, it's a time to look back. To tell the truth, I'm pretty happy with the blog. I like the idea that bright, curious, time-rich but clueless northerners who develop an interest in Venezuela are bound to stumble on it sooner or later. I'm pretty sure they'll find a vision of the country's crisis that, well, I don't think they'll find anywhere else.

There's no doubt they'll be reading a partial and opinionated view of the crisis, but then that's what I love about the format: nobody reads a blog expecting anything other than a partial and opinionated view. At the very least, I hope all but lefty ideological hardliners will come to realize you don't have to be a crazy reactionary to oppose Chavez. With any luck, they'll come to see that the story of Venezuela in the Chavez era is vastly more complex and nuanced than the 800-word stories in their morning newspapers might lead them to believe.

Of course, I didn't get everything right. For the bulk of these 25 months I took it as a given that the government would lose any vote the opposition might force - and through fair means or foul, the government managed to win the August recall.

Still, as I think about it, it's pretty clear to me that even if the government really did get 59% of the vote in August, it's not the end of the world for the kind of analysis I've tried to develop here. Just because most people like Chavez's brand of sectarian autocracy enough to vote against recall doesn't mean the government isn't sectarian and autocratic - it just means that most Venezuelans don't mind sectarian autocracy. As a matter of fact, a lot of them seem to like it. That, in itself, presents a whole set of new and troubling questions about the country's political culture - but it sure doesn't make sectarian autocracy okay.

I think the strongest criticism of the blog, though, is that it's often been just plain naïve. Too often, I've fallen prey to the alluring (but nonsensical) notion that the opposition always plays fair. Deep down, I know perfectly well this isn't the case. I've also, though less often, let the government off the hook on some incredible howlers. I'm quite aware of the criticism, and I've tried to fight the tendency, but it's hard for me: thinking the worst of people just doesn't come naturally to me.

[In fact, that's one of the reasons I decided to leave journalism: a sort of ingrained cynicism seems to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of really great journos, and I just don't have it.]

For the moment, I think post 500 is as good a time as any to take an extended break from blogging. It may have dawned on some of you that I really enjoy blogging - but others will also have guessed that it takes up way too much of my time...time I need to start devoting to my poor, neglected dissertation.

To be honest, though, that's not the only reason to stop now. The reality is that Venezuela after the RR is a fundamentally different place than Venezuela before the RR - and frankly, I don't really think it's possible to write about it meaningfully from several thousand kilometers away. What readers need now is reporting, much more than analysis. And there's really no way I can do that from here.

So, this is a goodbye, and a thank-you to all the readers who've taken the time to write in, to argue it out in the forum, to participate. Your feedback, your involvement really made the site. Venezuela has a lot of problems, but so long as it also has people willing to engage one another, to talk things through, to work through the issues that face the country, surely there's hope.

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September 29, 2004

The Paper Trail as Entelechy

Last night, I listened to the BBC World Service's report on Jimmy Carter's concerns on voting in Florida. Lyse Doucet, the legendary BBC journo, laid into the Florida official she was interviewing like only she can,

"It seems quite remarkable, then, that Florida's elections are set to go forward using electronic voting without a verifiable paper trail...after all, in the recent referendum in Venezuela the Carter Center made it quite clear that a paper trail was the one safeguard that positively had to be in place to go forward..."


The Venezuelan referendum has become a byword for "well-run election" in the international media. It's despiriting, both because it's clear that Ms. Doucet doesn't really understand what happened in Venezuela and because it underlines, yet again, how effective CNE was in selling its version of events.

The paper trail has acquired a strange status in Venezuela. On the one hand, it's presented as the key safeguard vouching for the correctness of the election. On the other hand, we're not allowed to look at it. Well, not at 99% of it anyway. Apparently, we're supposed to be reassured by its existence rather than by its content. When we ask to look through it more thoroughly, CNE honcho Jorge Rodriguez accuses us of blackmail!

Paper ballots (papeletas) from 1% of the voting centers were audited on the August 18th cold audit - a cold audit that, as readers will know, has been questioned as un-random. CNE steadfastly refused to open any boxes beyond that 1% - both before and after the initial cold audit.

As mathematicians and physicists studying the referendum results zero in on a subset of tables that appear to show anomalous results, CNE affirms once more that CNE and CNE alone gets to decide which parts of the paper trail get looked at, and repeats that no further boxes will be opened. If we complain and say that that isn't a very transparent way to run an election, the answer writes itself: "Whaddayamean it wasn't transparent!? There was even a printed paper trail, that's how transparent it was!"

Follow me so far?

The paper trail has become a perfect entelechy, a kind of metaphysical imponderable. If a tree falls in the woods but no one is around, does it make a sound? If a voting safeguard is instituted, but no one is allowed to see it, does it actually safeguard anything?

Amidst all the strange comings and goings, the amazing transmogriphying REP, the illegal shifts in people's assigned voting centers, the last minute voting center personel transfers, the bidirectional communications of the voting machines, the aborted hot-audits, the anomalous exit poll results, the dodgy "randomness" of the cold-audit, the non-binomial distribution of the vote in some states, the Benford Law anomalies, etc. CNE has a soothing retort to any question we could throw at it: "trust us, the vote had to be fair. After all, there was a paper trail...everybody knows that's the most important safeguard, even Lyse Doucet knows that..."

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September 27, 2004

Carter nos saca la lengua

I suppose Jimmy Carter didn't stop to consider how his opinion piece in today's Washinton Post might strike an opposition-minded Venezuelans - why should he? - but from our point of view, it's hard to shake the feeling he's mocking us. The very least one can say is that his standard for what is ok in Tallahasee is not precisely his standard for what is ok in Plaza Caracas. But what's really remarkable about this deeply upsetting bit of gringocentric punditry is how similar his complaints are, in content and tone, to what the Coordinadora Democrática has been saying about CNE for over a year now...

Still Seeking a Fair Florida Vote
By Jimmy Carter
Monday, September 27, 2004; Page A19

After the debacle in Florida four years ago, former president Gerald Ford and I were asked to lead a blue-ribbon commission to recommend changes in the American electoral process. After months of concerted effort by a dedicated and bipartisan group of experts, we presented unanimous recommendations to the president and Congress. The government responded with the Help America Vote Act of October 2002. Unfortunately, however, many of the act's key provisions have not been implemented because of inadequate funding or political disputes.

The Carter Center has monitored more than 50 elections, all of them held under contentious, troubled or dangerous conditions. When I describe these activities, either in the United States or in foreign forums, the almost inevitable questions are: "Why don't you observe the election in Florida?" and "How do you explain the serious problems with elections there?"

The answer to the first question is that we can monitor only about five elections each year, and meeting crucial needs in other nations is our top priority. (Our most recent ones were in Venezuela and Indonesia, and the next will be in Mozambique.) A partial answer to the other question is that some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida.

The most significant of these requirements are:

- A nonpartisan electoral commission or a trusted and nonpartisan official who will be responsible for organizing and conducting the electoral process before, during and after the actual voting takes place. Although rarely perfect in their objectivity, such top administrators are at least subject to public scrutiny and responsible for the integrity of their decisions. Florida voting officials have proved to be highly partisan, brazenly violating a basic need for an unbiased and universally trusted authority to manage all elements of the electoral process.

Read the rest of the Opinion piece...

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September 24, 2004

The law, damn it, the law!

This photo shows a crime being committed.

It may seem minor, but it's an issue of serious symbolic imporance in Venezuela. Retired military officers are barred from wearing their uniforms except in a highly circumscribed set of circumstances - weddings, funerals, military events and the like. It is against the law for retired military officers like Hugo Chavez to wear the uniform outside those circumstances. The picture you see above, therefore, is evidence of a crime.

Hugo Chavez couldn't care less.

After April 11th, and until yesterday, he had restrained from this particularly blatant bit of flagrancy, from openly breaking his oath of office, from pissing all over the laws, rubbing our faces in it in this most open and public of ways. Yesterday, on the border, he once again showed that at the center of his ideology is the notion that he is above the law.

Talking about this sort of thing with Calvin on the forum, he wrote something that, well, I can't really argue with: "Victors don't hold post mortems, and their supporters don't demand them. That's the loser's job."

Politically, this is true. But Calvin, I have to ask you, does an electoral majority entitle Chavez to flout the law? Does it give him permission to just run roughshod over the legislation he solemnly swore to uphold when he was sworn in? Is he a president or an emperor? Does the law apply to everyone equally, or to some more equally than others? What purpose could imaginably be served by wearing his uniform illegally other than rubbing our faces in it? Showing he can do it, nobody can stop him, and if you don't like it then tough?

With this symbolically loaded stunt Chavez demonstrates, in the most public way possible, a deep contempt for the law, for the notion that everyone is equal before the law. No electoral majority on earth can change that. Chavez insists on making a show, an arrogant display of the fact that he is above the law, that he owns all the institutions in charge of enforcing the law and he is therefore untouchable. He can get away with anything he likes. He can go out and have journalists take pictures of him breaking the law and then splash that evidence all over the front pages of a newspaper and nothing happens!

Message: It's my country and I'll do whatever I damn well please in it.

It reminds me all over again of what is so unacceptable about Chavez - an unacceptability that is not mitigated by his popularity, because it's based on contempt for the most basic institutions of democratic, republican governance. If you don't believe that the law applies to everyone equally - you included - you're simply not a democrat, no matter how many people vote for you.

Those who wish to side with Chavez really owe it to themselves and to the country to face up to the symbolic weight of Chavez's insistence on using his military uniform illegally. Either you believe in the rule of law, in the supremacy of the law and its applicability to everyone, or you don't. If you believe in the rule of law, you need to face up to Chavez's contempt for it. If you don't, you should come straight out and say it. Defend your position! Explain to us why the rule of law is an outmoded or unnecessary or retrograde force in society. What you cannot continue to do, if you have any desire to be taken seriously, is keep waving the little blue book around while your leader makes a mockery of it.

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September 23, 2004

Snippet of Hausmann and Rigobon's Answer to the Carter Center

This appears to be Hausmann and Rigobon's reply to Dan's Really Obvious Objection. Personally, I find it hard to follow.

How does the Carter Center answer our claim? They make three propositions:

1. They check whether the mean of the votes in the two samples are similar


With respect to the first point, the question that the Carte Center asks is whether the unconditional means of the two samples are similar. By unconditional we mean that they do not control for the fact that precincts are different in the four dimensions we include in our equation or in any other dimension.

To see the importance of conditioning, let us imagine that there is fraud and let us suppose that the fraud is carried out in a large number of precincts but not in all of them. The question is: is it possible to choose an audit sample of non-tampered centers that has the same mean as the universe of tampered and un-tampered precincts? The answer is obviously yes. Let us give an example using a population with a varying level of income, say from US$ 4,000 per year to several million. Assume that half of them have been taxed 20 percent of their income while the other half has not. Is it possible to construct an audit sample of non-taxed individuals whose average income is similar to that of those that have been taxed? Obviously the answer is yes. However, if one controls for the level of education, the years of work experience and the positions they hold in the companies they work in, it should be possible to find that the audited individuals actually a higher net income than the non-audited group. That is the essence of what we do.

Now, lets go back to the case in point. Precincts vary from those where the Yes got more than 90 percent of the vote and those where it got less than 10 percent. This is a very large variation relative to the potential size of the fraud, say 10 or 20 percent. It is perfectly feasible to choose a sample that has the same mean as the rest of the universe.

However, the non-random nature of the sample would be revealed if we compare the means but controlling for the fact that each precinct is different. That is what we do and this is the randomness test that the audited sample failed.

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September 22, 2004

Unified Field Theory of Non-Fraud

or...Who exactly is Jorge Rodríguez?

I. Suspending disbelief
I want to address, first, my many readers who are sure there was fraud in the recall referendum last month. And I want to ask you to do something hard: I want you to consider, just for a moment, the possibility that there was no fraud. How could that be? What story can we tell ourselves, what narrative do we need to weave, to make sense of the no-fraud hypothesis?

I think it's possible to construct such a story, and even to find some quite strong evidence to back it, but only if we first unlearn much of what we thought we knew about the National Electoral Council - CNE - and especially, about its key member: Jorge Rodríguez.

II. Rethinking the CNE Board Appointments
First, we need to go back to September 2003 and the appointment of the current CNE board members. As Venezuelans will remember, the current members were named under a constitutionally exceptional situation. In normal circumstances, the National Assembly is supposed to select the five members of the board via a two-thirds vote. But since the Assembly is split 85-80, neither side could muster the 110 votes needed. Not surprisingly, compromise proved impossible and the selection process deadlocked.

The impasse was cleared by the Constitutional Chamber Supreme Tribunal - TSJ - on the basis of Article 336, paragraph 7 of the 1999 constitution, which empowers the Constitutional Chamber to declare unconstitutional an omission on the part of the National Assembly, and to "determine the guidelines for its correction." In this case, the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ ruled that by omitting the decision on a new CNE board the Assembly had violated a constitutional mandate.

Instead of determining the guidelines to correct this omission, however, the Constitutional Chamber just went ahead and appointed a new CNE board unilaterally. And here is where the problems started.

The call at the time, both from the opposition and the dictates of common sense, had been to try to appoint a balanced CNE - in practice, one with two pro-government members, two pro-opposition members and a neutral or apolitical chairman. If the National Assembly had deadlocked it was precisely because the government insisted on retaining a 3-2 majority.

In the event, throwing the matter to the TSJ's Consitutional Chamber did not seem like much of an advance to the opposition. The five-member Constitutional Chamber itself has a built-in 3-2 chavista majority, and a long and sorry history of highly questionable or "juridically creative" rulings in favor of the government. Chief Magistrate Iván Rincón together with Magistrates Jesús Eduardo Cabrera and José Delgado Ocando have always been reliable chavistas - and for me, the biggest problem with believing the Unified Field Theory of Non-Fraud is that it requires you to believe that these people selected a CNE board that would not cheat.

Why is this so hard to swallow?

III. A short digression

Sectarianism has long been a distinguishing characteristic of the chavista experiment. Some weeks ago, TalCual ran a chilling piece on the purge of Venezuela's foremost (in fact, only) expert on the preservation of rare historic books. He was fired from his long-held job as head of the National Library's rare books division for, surprise surprise, signing in favor of the presidential recall referendum. A similar fate befell the Biblioteca Nacional's longtime head of historic cartography. Both were replaced by reliable chavistas with no specialist training for the highly specialized jobs they were asked to perform.

Now, that's only one story out of a very long list to show that Chavistas systematically demand diehard loyalty from every one of their appointees, even when quite minor positions are at stake. But if they will not trust a non-loyalist even to look after the nation's collection of historic books, or maps, what sense could it possibly make that they would appoint a genuine non-loyalist to a post as sensitive as the key position within the one agency that could eject Chavez from power? Personally, I cannot make sense of that - and it remains the single biggest obstacle to my belief in the theory I'm about to put forward.

IV. Not as advertised
The CNE board appointed by Rincon, Cabrera and Delgado Ocando was a peculiar one. The way it was presented to the public was straightforward: the government would get two members (Jorge Rodríguez and Oscar Battaglini) the opposition would get two members (Ezequiel Zamora and Solbella Mejias), while the head of the council, Francisco Carrasquero, would remain neutral. Very quickly, though, it became apparent that Carrasquero was in no sense neutral - his statements and votes systematically sided with the government. The natural reaction in the opposition was to assume we'd been screwed, and had ended up with a 3-2 pro-Chavez council. Certainly, most key votes were decided along those lines, with Carrasquero, Rodríguez and Battaglini voting as a block, and always in favor of the government.

However, CNE watchers also started to notice another reality - while Carrasquero was the nominal head of the council, it was clear that day-to-day decision-making was not in his hands. Instead, it was Jorge Rodríguez who was calling the shots from his perch as head of the Junta National Electoral - the National Electoral Board - which could be described as the executive arm in charge of the day-to-day management of CNE.

The question of Jorge Rodríguez's integrity soon became the burning issue in opposition circles, though it was not much disputed, to be sure. Almost everyone in the opposition just assumed he was a doctrinaire chavista paying lip-service to his independent status just to cover appearances. However, well placed sources close to the CNE (who would assassinate me if I named them) never bought this. Instead, they put forward an alternative interpretation of the CNE appointments that radically recast what the TSJ's Constitutional Chamber had been up to.

V. The Padgett Hypothesis
The most complete retelling of this view in print came in this Time Magazine article by Tim Padgett. Tim is a tough reporter, skeptical and careful, and with enough distance from the Venezuelan situation to look at it with more objectivity than most of us can muster. His views, and those of the unnamed diplomats he cites, are so far removed to opposition Conventional Wisdom, that our immediate impulse is to assume he just doesn't know what he's talking about. I want to encourage my antichavista readers, though, to make the effort to suspend their disbelief - at least provisionally - to understand the implications of this interpretation. After all, we don't own the truth - no one does.

According to the Padgett Hypothesis, CNE really was a 2-1-2 council. The reason most of us failed to see this is that the independent in the middle was not Carrasquero, as advertised, but instead Rodríguez. In this interpretation, Rodríguez was perhaps closer to the old IVth Republic model of an "independiente pro" - that is, someone with broad ideological sympathy for one side, but not actively controlled by it. Moreover, given that day-to-day managerial control of CNE was in the hands of the JNE, it made far more sense to have the one independent member as head of JNE rather than as chairman of CNE.

This, again, puts a different spin on the preponderance of 3-2 decisions in the council. From this new point of view, Rodríguez had enough ascendancy over Battaglini and Carrasquero to bring them on board on most decisions. But if Battaglini and Carrasquero were merely going along with decisions cooked up by a non-chavista JNE, then one starts to understand why the characterization of CNE as a fully-owned subsidiary of Miraflores might not hold water.

VI. Rethinking the Reparos
I'm sure my antichavista readers are banging their heads against their desks at this point, but there's at least some evidence to lead us to believe that this interpretation could be the right one. Consider the decision to send about 1 million signatures to "reparos" all the way back in February.

At the time, the opposition saw this as a clear case of a pro-Chavez CNE conniving to stop the referendum. However, Padgett's piece makes it clear that the "reparos" were not the chavistas' preferred alternative. Instead, Battaglini and Carrasquero wanted to invalidate outright the 1,000,000 signatures they'd pegged as "planas" - which would have stopped the referendum process cold.

The reparos, which caused such unmitigated outrage in the opposition, seem to have been a compromise, hatched by Jorge Rodríguez, to keep the referendum process moving forward but with added checks. This is Padgett's view, and sources inside CNE back it.

If the idea of Rincon/Cabrera/Delgado Ocando picking a true independent is the non-fraud theory's single weakest point, then this is its strongest point: if, as claimed, CNE was merely an appendage of Miraflores, the referendum process would not have gotten past February - it simply would have died as the planas were declared invalid. The fact that CNE not only moved forward at that point but eventually agreed to a viable reparos process shows quite convincingly that Rodríguez was not simply devoted to derailing the referendum, as the opposition claimed. Instead, in a strange and roundabout way, CNE seemed to be doing what the opposition had always hoped it would - balancing the demands of both sides thanks to the leadership of someone that was controlled by neither.

In fact, it seems the closer people got to Rodríguez, the harder it was for them to dismiss him as a chavista stooge. While diplomats like Cesar Gaviria criticized the pattern of 3-2 decisions at CNE, after a year of close and difficult interactions with him they do not subscribe to a vision of Jorge Rodríguez as a cheat - as evidenced by their unambiguous acceptance of CNE's results. Even Alberto Quirós Corradi, one of the CD's two negotiators with CNE, accepted that Rodríguez had created conditions for tough but respectful negotiations, conditions he hints would not have been possible without him.

VII. Closer to Teo than to Marta
Quirós Corradi still sees Rodríguez as biased towards the government, but in a different way than Carrasquero and Battaglini. In this view, Jorge Rodríguez occupied a moderate position in the pro-government camp roughly analogous to Teodoro Petkoff's in the opposition, while Battaglini and Carrasquero were closer to Marta Colomina's extreme and uncompromising stance.

This is important because the decision on voting systems for the referendum was made more or less unilaterally by Jorge Rodríguez. As is well known, there was no public bidding process, and the SBC consortium was put together by JNE on its own. In the opposition's standard frame of mind, where Rodríguez was just as much of a chavista extremist as Carrasquero and Battaglini, his decision on the voting system looks rotten indeed. But if Tim Padgett's narrative is mostly right, Rodríguez's choice of voting software can be seen in a quite different light: as a play to adopt a technology that makes fraud essentially impossible, in an environment were attempts to commit fraud seemed likely and claims of fraud would be almost inevitable from the losing side.

The debate over Jorge Rodríguez's probity is important because if there was fraud, there can be little doubt that it had to have been orchestrated by Jorge Rodríguez himself. Similarly, if there was no fraud, it had to have been prevented by him. What you think about fraud will be determined largely by how you judge him.

If you think Rodríguez was just an undercover diehard chavista who committed a massive electronic fraud, you need to explain why it was that Rodríguez didn't just stop the recall process back in February, when he clearly had the chance to, and, moreover, was under pressure from the government to do so. Conversely, if you think there was no fraud, then you have to explain how it is that the TSJ Constitutional Chamber's diehard chavista majority suddenly, on this most sensitive of decisions, took a break from its systematic partisanship and appointed a real independent to be the de facto head of CNE.

There's much that's left out of this brief sketch. But it seems to me this kind of re-thinking of what happened over the last year will be necessary to make sense of the recall saga. The theory would have to be extended to cover the last-minute shifts in the electoral registry and the voting center staffing (who knows? perhaps there's a perfectly innocent explanation for all that) as well as quite a number of other such puzzling episodes, from the failure of the hot audit to the refusal to open up contested ballot boxes. But experience has taught me that decisions that seem incomprehensible from one point of view can turn out to have quite straightforward explanations when looked at from another - so it's very hard to be sure.

VIII. Final possibility
There is one final possibility, which I think is worth considering seriously: Jorge Rodríguez could be a psychopath, specifically a compensated psychopath. Perhaps the man is, like many with a psychopathic personality structure, just particularly shrewd, extraordinarily adept at lying, shorn of a normal sense of morality or a conscience, and possessed of a kind of special charisma that elicits uncommon loyalty. Compensated psychopaths can take almost anyone in - and those closest to them more than any others. At times, watching his press conferences, I had the distinct sense that I was listening to a psychopath. Unfortunately, I'm not a psychiatrist (he is!) so I'm in no position to judge this.

Yet, even as I write that, it's hard for me to quite believe it. To this litany of extraordinary character traits, we'd have to add one more: Rodríguez would have to be superhumanly competent. One month out, and after every statistician in the country has poured over the data, the opposition has still been unable to prove fraud decisively. If there was fraud, it was as close to a Perfect Fraud as one could imagine. And pulling off a Perfect Fraud,'s not impossible...but close.

Me? I can't really believe that you can steal an election in a way that's impossible to demonstrate - so I have to swallow hard and accept, try to accept, that the Constitutional Chamber appointed a JNE head they could not control, and that the opposition has been wrong about him since the word go. It's not a story that makes much sense to me, but for a long time attempts to come to an understanding of what happened on August 15th have come down to a judgement between the unlikely and the unlikelier. A perfect fraud seems like the least likely possibility out there. Sadly, a perfect fraud is what the opposition alleges.

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September 21, 2004

Carter Center, CEPR, and Dan's Really Obvious Objection

The striking thing about the Carter Center's "reply" to Hausmann and Rigobon's original and much ballyhooed claims is that, well, it's not really a reply at all - it's just a reassertion of what they'd said before. The CC's report made no effort to engage with the substance of Hausmann and Rigobon's argument, leaving the back-and-forth to look very much like a dialogue of the deaf.

This is particularly vexing given that Carter Center could have leaned on a massive, gaping hole in Hausmann and Rigobon's argument - call it Dan's Really Obvious Objection. Kudos have to go to Dan Burnett who spotted this almost two weeks ago and wrote about it in the discussion board here: if, as Hausmann and Rigobon argue, the Cold Audit was carried out on a random sample of a random sample of untampered with voting centers, how can its overall results possibly match CNE's supposedly fraudulent results?

Now CEPR - a propagandistic philochavista "think tank" in Washington DC - picks up this argument and uses it as a bludgeon to hammer at the Hausmann and Rigobon paper. Personally, I can't hide my extreme distate for a pseudo-independent outfit like CEPR - which hides an extremist ideological agenda and a clearly partisan stance behind the guise of a properly sanitized DC research center.

But one thing I can tell you: the sky doesn't stop being blue just because an extremist nut says the sky is blue.

In this particular case, Hausmann and Rigobon appear to have pitched CEPR such a juicy bombita that it's hardly surprising they've hit it hard. If the cold audit was carried out on a random sample of "clean" voting centers, CEPR calculates, the chances of the audit yielding results in line with CNE's overall results if the real result was in line with Sumate's exit poll comes out to 1 in 28 billion trillion.

This is just a mathematically retelling of Dan's Really Obvious Objection. What vexes me most is that I know that Rigobon personally had this argument put to him - and rather than giving any kind of reasoned response, flailed his arms a lot saying one could not extrapolate from the audit sample to the entire population. But they knew, they had to know, that Dan's Really Obvious Objection was coming. They don't seem to have had a response for it. If they did, they should've put it in the public domain long ago, before CEPR made the point. If they didn't, then they shouldn't have published their paper at all.

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September 17, 2004

¿Y entonces?

Carter Center Report on an Analysis of the Representativeness of the Second Audit Sample, and the Correlation between Petition Signers and the Yes Vote in the Aug. 15, 2004 Presidential Recall Referendum in Venezuela

This study was conducted by The Carter Center and confirmed by the OAS in response to a written request from Sumate presented to The Carter Center Sept. 7, 2004. Sumate asked that The Carter Center evaluate a study performed by Professors Ricardo Hausmann and Roberto Rigobon.

The Hausmann/Rigobon study states the second audit conducted Aug. 18-20 and observed by The Carter Center and the OAS was based on a sample that was not random and representative of the universe of all voting centers using voting machines in the Aug. 15, 2004, recall referendum. 1 The study further indicates that the correlation coefficient (elasticity) for the correlation between the signers and the YES votes for the sample was 10 percent higher than that for the universe. The Hausmann/Rigobon study came to these conclusions through an analysis of the exit poll data, petition signers data, and electoral results data provided by Sumate.

1 Objectives of the Carter Center Study
1. Determine the correlation between the number of signers of the presidential recall petition and the electoral results of the Aug. 15 recall referendum.
2. Compare the characteristics of the universe of voting machine results with those of the sample for the 2nd audit performed Aug. 18.
3. Determine the universe from which the sample generation program used Aug. 18 was drawn.


5 Conclusions

The sample drawing program used Aug. 18 to generate the 2nd audit sample generated a random sample from the universe of all mesas (voting stations) with automated voting machines. The sample was not drawn from a group of pre-selected mesas. This sample accurately represents different properties of the universe, including the accuracy of the machines, the total YES and NO votes and the correlation between the YES votes and signer turnout.

There is a high correlation between the number of YES votes per voting center and the number of signers of the presidential recall request per voting center; the places where more signatures were collected also are the places where more YES votes were cast. There is no anomaly in the characteristics of the YES votes when compared to the presumed intention of the signers to recall the president.

The second audit showed a high accuracy of the voting machines with discrepancies of less than 0.1 percent. The sample was analyzed, and it does not have different properties than the universe. The sample generation program was analyzed as part of the 2nd audit process and again in this study. Both studies showed that the sample does not operate on a subset of the universe, thus hiding or masquerading some of the properties of the universe. Consequently the results of the 2nd audit accurately confirm the electoral results of Aug. 15.

Download a PDF of the full report

September 14, 2004

Things that make you go "hmmmm"...

From today's Por Mi Madre, the daily political gossip page in TalCual,

Final poll
The final tracking poll for Consultores 21, carried out on August 13th in the nine largest cities in the country [but which could not be published due to CNE restrictions on late poll announcements -ft], showed the NO side leading the SI by 52.9% to 47.1% - a lead of 5.8 points. Official CNE returns for those same nine cities show NO leading by 53.1% vs. 46.9% for the SI. The official NO lead of 6.2% is very close to the Consultores 21 measure, and corroborates how closely matched the sides are in urban centers.

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Magna Carta and the Subtle Art of Chavista Budgeting

In Spanish the phrase "Carta Magna" is just a synonym for "constitution," so most Venezuelans probably don't know that if you dig a bit into the etymology of the term, you find that it comes from Magna Carta, which was a specific historical document, a kind of XIII century "Pacto de Punto Fijo" between King John and the English aristocracy.

Magna Carta for the first time limited the rights of the monarch, established trial by jury, the beginnings of habeas corpus, and the principle of parliamentary control over state spending - the power of the purse-strings. 600 years ahead of the pack, the brits started to move away from the principle of absolute monarchy, and towards a system where the executive power was accountable to a body other than itself.

Probably the most radical departure in Magna Carta was this idea - revolutionary for medieval Europe - that the King needed to get permission from another body in order to levy taxes and spend state money. By starting the long process it took to shift the "power of the purse strings" from monarch to parliament, Magna Carta radically altered the notion of state power. Kings could no longer spend autonomously - spenditure had to be justified, argued over, haggled over and agreed with an assembly the King could not always control. It was this reform, arguably more than any other, that started the long process of declawing the British monarchy. You can't have absolutism if you don't control your checkbook.

Slowly but surely the principle of parliamentary control over state spending spread throughout the world, first establishing itself in the U.S. constitution, and from there, to the rest of the world. Today, every democracy in the world works on the basis of a State Budget Law, approved like any other law by the legislative branch. The haggling process it takes to approve budget laws is a key check against the accumulation of undue power in a single set of hands.

Alas, 800 years of British common sense and the worldwide trend in its direction are just two of the victims of the chavista revolution. In Venezuela, parliamentary control over state spending is a dead letter - just another of the many articles written into the constitution and swiftly forgotten - and exhibit A in the case for those who argue Chavez is an autocrat.

The political takeover of PDVSA ought to be seen in this light. Under the old system, PDVSA would sell oil, take the earnings and transfer them over to the state through royalties, taxes and dividends. Once that money had come into state coffers, the government would spend them through its usual budgeting procedures - which would allow the formal parliamentary control of state spending. The new system, on the other hand, does an end run around normal budgeting procedures. In fact, standard procedure now is for PDVSA to sell oil, take its earnings and spend it directly, in accordance with the president's instructions, without ever going through state coffers or normal budgeting procedures. There is no chance for the people's elected representatives in the National Assembly to question the discretionary use of these monies. Behind the lofty rhetoric about the revolution's liberation of the oil company hides an assault against one of the most basic principles of democratic coexistence.

As Pompeyo described in the article I posted yesterday, this trend reaches its most grotesque extremes on "Alo Presidente", where Chavez tosses around state money like it's going out of style, without even a pretense, a fig-leaf of parliamentary control. It bears noting that this is openly illegal and unconstitutional - Article 162 of Chavez's beloved little blue book clearly establishes Parliamentary control over spending. Like many other similar, blatant violations of the constitution, this one does not prevent Chavez from using the little blue book propagandistically, as the rhetorical cornerstone of his entire governing project. It's pretty rhetoric, but it's also an unambiguous, bold-faced, zero-shame lie, with a cherry on top.

But do we hear any sign of dissent from the president's fans on this matter? Not a peep!

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September 13, 2004

Reminiscences of things present

Reposted from El Informador de Barquisimeto

A Militarist Vision
by Pompeyo Marquez, Sept. 3, 2004
Translated by FT

I have argued that we are facing an authoritarian and militarist autocracy. A chavista friend has told me that it's an exageration, so I want to expose my reasons.

First, the meaning of autocracy is all power concentrated in one man. If we examine the way the state works today, there is no denying the way Chavez interferes with every part of it, at times publicly and harshly. This fact is underlined by the virtual liquidation of the judicial branch with the approval of the amendments to the Framework Law of the Supreme Tribunal which, a chavista leader told me, doesn't worry them at all, since the Nominations' Committee will be headed by [chavista die-hard] Pedro Carreño, meaning that ultimately it'll be Chavez who chooses all 32 TSJ magistrates.

When I say the president's actions are "authoritarian", it's enough to watch his TV-show "Alo presidente" to find the most varied evidence of the way he leads the country in every field. He doesn't coordinate a team, he has underlings. A former minister tells me that, when he was in office, he could not control his own schedule, because the president could call him to Miraflores at any time and he might have to wait two or three hours for an audience, or he might call him at 5 a.m. to go on a trip that day, which would wreck his work plan. It's worth pointing out that he has no notion of laws such as the Budget, the Salvaguarda [anti-corruption] or Comptrollership laws. In a recent meeting broadcast nationally [cadena] with a group of entrepreneurs, you saw him turn to Merentes: "how much money do you have?" He replies, " Bs.1.3 billion." "Well, lets take 600 and give them to these people." Chavez really does act as though he owned the country and the national treasury.

On militarism, everyone can see the people he has chosen to stand for state governorship - 14 officers - leaving aside the civilian leadership in the government camp. All this does is generate anger in those states. I'll take two examples of the sorts of provocations these communities have been subjected to: in Carabobo, he has chosen "General Burp", Acosta Carles, and in Zulia, General Gutierrez, who barely knows the main avenues in Maracaibo. And lets not mention the numerous civilian posts held today by Armed Forces officers. Not even during the Perez Jimenez dictatorship had there been so many military men holding public office. And the latest stunt just tops it all off: the government has ordered the army to make a register of idle lands, since apparently the National Lands Institute and the Agriculture Ministry are entirely useless.

In 1956, I was in Russia when Kruschev published his report condemning Stalin's crimes and his cult of personality. Then and there, I swore that I would never participate in the cult of a strongman, which remains the explanation I give to chavistas for my position today. At the same time, I remind you that in 1998 I said electing Chavez was a jump in the dark.

Me? I learned to participate in democratic give-and-take, to understand pluralism and to oppose all enforced thought [pensamiento unico], all monolithic thinking, like the one Chavez wants to establish. I learned the value of tolerance, of respect for your adversaries and for divergent opinions, as I show daily. I learned that Venezuela needs its institutions to function democratically, and that democracy must have a social content for the majority.

And that's the struggle I'm in now, as more than half the country is victim of electoral fraud, of the insolent use of the resources of power in order to maintain that power. The struggle is ongoing until the objectives are met, and it should be carried out in every sphere, whether parliamentary, electoral, political, social or labor-related. We must not give up on any of the positions we've held to, quite the opposite: we must strengthen and broaden them. This is the course that experience recommends.

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September 10, 2004

The Elasticity of the Vote for Dummies

Hausmann and Rigobon's argument about the non-randomness of the CNE cold-audit sample is based on something they've called the "elasticity of the vote." The concept is borrowed from economics, where price elasticity is a bedrock conceptual tool. This is my academic turf, so I'll have a stab at explaining it to non-economists.

According to a standard economics textbook, price elasticity of demand is "a measure of the responsiveness of the quantity demanded of a good to changes in price." (Stiglitz and Boadway, 1994).

Very good, but what the hell does it mean?

A caffeinated illustration
Say a cup of coffee in your town costs $1. At that price, you buy 100 cups of coffee a year. Now say coffee prices go down to 75 cents a cup. At that price, how many cups of coffee will you buy per year? Logically, more than 100. But how many more?

Well, maybe you're very sensitive to price changes, and you'll buy 200 cups of coffee a year: your demand is relatively elastic - since a 25% drop in price led to a 100% rise in consumption. Or maybe you're not so concerned about price changes and you'll buy just 105 cups a year - then your demand is relatively inelastic.

Of course, economists don't care how much coffee you personally drink, they care how much coffee a whole bunch of people drink. So the question is not how your demand for coffee will react to a change in price, but how overall demand for coffee will react to a change in price.

Say you do a study and you find that when the cost of coffee goes down 25 cents, on average people will buy 20 cups of coffee more per year than before. The ratio of the coffees-people-used-to-drink to coffees-people-drink-now now is 100:120.

Now, say you take a random sample from that population. How many more cups of coffee per year would you expect the sample to buy?

Well, if the sample is truly random, you would expect it to react in the same way as the overall population - the sample ratio should be 100:120 as well.

But say your sample doesn't behave that way. Say the people in your sample are now buying 130, or 140 cups of coffee a year. What can you conclude then?

Well, at the very least you can say the coffee drinkers in your sample behave differently from the overall population of coffee drinkers. Your sample acts as though they are more sensitive to coffee price changes than the people in the overall population - in economist-talk, their demand is relatively more elastic than the demand of the rest of the population.

So something screwy is going the very least, you have reason to suspect that your sample was not really randomly selected from the total population of coffee drinkers.

The key thing to remember is that statistical methods allow you to estimate the exact probability that your sample, which seems at first glance to be non-random, actually is random - but just happened to give you a screwy-seeming result by chance.

Applying this idea to the cold-audit data
Now, Hausmann and Rigobon's study of the cold audit relies on an adaptation of the same train of thought. They have three data-sets: one on the November 2003 signature gathering drive, one with CNE's total referendum results, and one on the referendum results in the sample selected for the cold audit.

All they're doing is comparing two ratios: the ratio of 2003 signatures to Si-votes in the overall CNE results, and the ratio of 2003 signatures to Si-votes in the audited sample. If the audit sample truly was random, the two ratios should be reasonably close to one another.

They're not.

Say you determine that, for the overall population of voters, every 100 signatures obtained in November 2003 yielded 120 Si-votes. The ratio for the entire population is 100:120. Now cold-audit day comes around, and CNE chooses a supposedly random sample of voting centers. But when you compare the signatures-to-Si-votes ratio in the audited voting centers, you realize that it's different from the signatures-to-Si-votes ratio in the overall population: say 100:140 instead of 100:120.

[Note: these are not the actual numbers - H&R's analysis was rather more sophisticated, including a correction term to account for the growth of the voting population and a log scale transformation - so the numbers I'm using are just meant to illustrate the point.]

What can you conclude from that difference in the ratios?

The exact same thing you could conclude in the case of the coffee drinkers...and for the exact same reason!

The relationship between willingness-to-sign-in-2003 and willingness-to-vote-Si-in-2004 should be the same for a random sample than for the overall population. Yet, for some not-yet-explained reason, each Nov. 2003 signature yields more Si-votes in the audited center than in the non-audited ones.

The question, then, is what are the chances that a gap that big between the two ratios is the product of pure chance? Luckily, as we've seen, statistical methods allow you to estimate this probability quite precisely. In this case, Hausmann and Rigobon peg the chances of these results happening by coincidence at less than 1%.

That means that if you pick a sample at random, more than 99 times out of 100 you'll end up with a ratio less odd than the one CNE happened to get.

Ergo, there's it's more than 99% likely that the audit sample wasn't really random.

Does that make sense?

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The Zenith of the Egghead Brigade

Thanks to Miguel Octavio for linking to this astonishing New York Times article on Benford's law.

Dr. Theodore P. Hill asks his mathematics students at the Georgia Institute of Technology to go home and either flip a coin 200 times and record the results, or merely pretend to flip a coin and fake 200 results. The following day he runs his eye over the homework data, and to the students' amazement, he easily fingers nearly all those who faked their tosses.

"The truth is," he said in an interview, "most people don't know the real odds of such an exercise, so they can't fake data convincingly."


Seems to me like Miguel is really enjoying this moment of maximum relevance and exposure for the Egghead Brigade. Good! There's a kind of poetic rightness to it - the fraud hypothesis will be made or sunk, in the end, not by some rambling CD fourth republic dinosaur, but by a scientist, by some mild mannered academic who's spent the last 30 years working quietly, diligently behind a computer screen. Chavez is powerful. Science, much more so.

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September 8, 2004

Pre-emptive Strike: Anticipating the Counterarguments to Hausmann and Rigobon

I've been reading and re-reading Hausmann and Rigobon's piece to try to find holes in it. I'm finding it hard. The most obvious counterargument doesn't seem to work...and the conspiracy theories needed to explain them seem particularly far-fetched.

Obvious Counterargument 1: JIJO - Junk In, Junk Out.
Chavistas have held that the opposition run exit polls were very badly conducted, and that it's a mistake to take them seriously. The first part of the Hausmann/Rigobon analysis is based partly on exit-poll results. But as everyone knows, if you start with junk data, you end up with junk results. JIJO.

You have to work through the logic of Hausmann and Rigobon's argument to see off this challenge. What their paper argues is empathically not that the exit poll results do not match the election results, but rather that the error given by the exit polls is positively correlated with the error given by the Nov. 2003 signature collection drive. As these two estimators are independent of one another - their sources of error are unrelated - the only way to account for positive correlation in their errors is fraud.

What the hell does all of that mean?

Well, start with the Nov. 2003 Signature count. In some sense, the signatures are predictors of the number of SI votes in a subsequent election. If, for instance, you collected 1000 signatures in a signing center in November, you would expect a similar number of Si votes in that voting center this year. The correlation will not be perfect, but it's something. You would not expect to get 200 SI votes in such a center, and neither would you expect 2000.

Then take the exit-polls. Again, you would expect them to be correlated - imperfectly - with the ultimate election results. There will be error, as there always is with any estimator, but the poll gives you an idea of voting intentions.

Now, what Hausmann and Rigobon have done is take these two estimators and analyze them together. And what they find is quite interesting: in some voting centers, the two estimators work quite well. But in other centers, the estimators are wrong - they predict more SI votes than CNE eventually reported. What's more, in a given center, when one estimator is wrong, the other one also tends to get that center wrong - and both in the same direction, of overestimating the number of SI votes.

Or, in their words, "in those places where the signatures are proportionally more wrong in predicting more Si votes than those obtained, the exit polls do the same."

So, say CNE reports only 800 SI votes in our hypothetical voting center that had 1000 signatures back in November. Well, ok, that might be possible - maybe 200 voters there decided to become chavistas. But imagine that the Sumate or PJ exit poll also estimates 1000 votes for that center - or 950, or 1100. Well, then you have a strange situation: it's not immediately clear why both estimators would make the same mistake in the same direction. "Because both measures are independent," they explain "what they have in common is the fraud. "

Of course, if this had happened in just one or two voting centers, you could put it down as a fluke. But Hausmann and Rigobon find it happening systematically across a whole swathe of voting centers.

They peg the chances of this pattern stemming from a random coincidence at less than 1%.

Now, what this means is that if the Sumate and PJ exit polls are wrong, they're wrong in a really funny and strange way. They're more wrong for some voting centers than for others. You could say that Sumate and PJ just happened to have some competent exit pollsters and some incompetent ones, so it makes sense that some got the results more wrong than others. But what you can't explain with that argument is why those Incompetent Pollsters ended up getting sent specifically to the voting centers where the number of Si votes also happened to be lower than one would expect from an analysis of the November 2003 signature patterns.

I can't see any easy way for CNE to explain this situation - other than asserting a wildly implausible conspiracy stretching all the way back to November 2003 where the opposition would seek to selectively manipulate both the number of signatures and the exit poll results for some voting centers, but not others, so that many months later two fancy US-based professors could keep the reasonable doubt hypothesis going. Now THAT'S UFO stuff!

So I can't see how JIJO applies to this analysis: what's at stake here is neither whether the Nov. 2003 signature collection was clean and valid nor whether the exit polls were well conducted. The mystery in need of explanation is why both of these estimators would be more wrong in some voting centers than in others, why both should coincidentally be more wrong in the same set of voting centers, and why they should both be wrong in the same direction - of undercounting the number of SI votes.

Hausmann and Rigobon can think of one neat, parsimonious little hypothesis to explain all of these questions: fraud.

If you can come up with a better one, do let us know...

Note: As statistics is not my forte, it's perfectly possible I've screwed something up in this post. Don't be shy to let me know if I did, so I can correct it:

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September 7, 2004

Hausmann and Rigobon: The incomprehensible, the evident and the damning

Hausmann and Rigobon's paper on the evidence of fraud in the Recall Referendum makes three basic arguments. Instant reaction.

1.The Incomprehensible.
Hausmann and Rigobon claim that a sophisticated statistical method comparing exit poll data and Nov. 2003 signature totals with CNE results generates evidence of fraud.

They set out to "develop a statistical technique to identify whether there are signs of fraud in the data." This is how they describe the method they used:

"We depart from all previous work on the subject which was based on finding patterns in the voting numbers. Instead, we look for two independent variables that are imperfect correlates of the intention of voters. Fraud is nothing other than a deviation between the voters' intention and the actual count. Since each variable used is correlated with the intention, but not with the fraud we can develop a test as to whether fraud is present. In other words, each of our two independent measures of the intention to vote predicts the actual number of votes imperfectly. If there is no fraud, the errors these two measures generate would not be correlated, as they each would make mistakes for different reasons. However, if there is fraud, the variables would make larger mistakes where the fraud was bigger and hence the errors would be positively correlated. The paper shows that these errors are highly correlated and that the probability that this is pure chance is again less than 1 percent."

The statistical methods employed to come to this conclusion are sophisticated beyond my ability to analyze. I imagine it would be possible to argue that Sumate and Primero Justicia's exit polls were so flawed, that what we have here is a classic case of JIJO: Junk In, Junk Out. But since I couldn't understand the analysis, I can't really judge it - I have to take Hausmann and Rigobon at their word.

2-The Evident
The analysis discards the Si-cap hypothesis.

This had always seemed to me as a weak argument, partly because the evidence was ambiguous, but mostly because it made no sense to me that CNE would plan out a big, complex, sophisticated fraud operation and then institute a mechanism that would leave such an obvious footprint in the data. I never thought it added up, and neither do Hausmann and Rigobon.

3-The Damning
The study provides statistical evidence that the sample chosen by CNE for the cold-audit was demonstrably not random.

This is the most eye-catching conclusion to the study, and of special concern to me, since I'd consistently held the view that the cold-audit was the strongest card in CNE's hand. If the audit sample was not randomly selected, and the non-randomness fits in neatly with the rest of the fraud hypothesis, then it's the first solid evidence of fraud I've seen yet.

Let me quote again from Hausmann and Rigabon's summary of their argument:

"First of all, the Carter audit, conducted on August 18, was based on a sample of about 1 percent of the ballot boxes. According to the Carter Center, the audit went flawlessly, except for the fact that the Head of the Electoral Council was not willing to use the random number generator suggested by the Carter Center but use instead its own program run on its own computer. At the time, this seemed odd, given that the objective of the audit was to dispel doubts.

"The paper finds that the sample used for the audit was not randomly chosen. In that sample, the relationship between the votes obtained by the opposition on August 15 and the signatures gathered requesting the Referendum in November 2003 was 10 percent higher than in the rest of the boxes. We calculate the probability of this taking place by pure chance at less than 1 percent. In fact, they create 1000 samples of non-audited centers to prove this.

"This result opens the possibility that the fraud was committed only in a subset of the 4580 automated centers, say 3000, and that the audit was successful because it directed the search to the 1580 unaltered centers. That is why it was so important not to use the Carter Center number generator. If this was the case, Carter could never have figured it out."

If this is right - and I have no reason to doubt it, at this point - this would dismantle the main reason to think there was no fraud: namely, that there was no way for CNE to tamper with the paper-ballots after the sample-selection but before international observers got there. There was no way to do it, as I'd thought...but there was also no need to do it: they already knew that the boxes audited would come from "clean" tables!

I've always taken the view here that I don't know if there was fraud or not, cuz I'm not omniscient. What's hard, as a commited antichavista, is to try to come to a judgment on this matter based on evidence rather than ideology or wishful thinking. The Haussman and Rigobon paper is significant precisely because it gives us the first bit of evidence that something was not right with the cold-audit. Having taken the cold-audit as the primary reason to think the election was fair, the paper obviously requires that I go back and reconsider.

One last consideration: if Hausmann and Rigobon are right, then there was no reason for CNE to go back and alter the paper ballots. If CNE did not tamper with the paper ballots, then it follows logically that even now a recount of paper ballots could detect fraud. For many reasons (the security codes printed on each paper ballot by the smartmatic machines, the fact that thermal paper fades over time, the daunting logistics involved, etc.) it would be very hard for CNE to go back now and tamper with the ballots. So even at this late date, it strikes me that the truth is certainly out there: sitting in those ballot boxes, slowly decaying into unreadability.

As a final note: as always, I'm eager to hear a reasoned explanation of how and why it is that Hausmann and Rigobon's analysis is wrong. I am much less eager, however, to hear ad hominem attacks against them, or blithe dismissals of anyone who would spend time inquiring into the fraud hypothesis.

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Puro cuarto bate

Ricardo Hausmann and Roberto Rigobon must be the two most respected and accomplished Venezuelan academics out there. You don't get teaching posts at Harvard and MIT for tirar piedras. Yesterday, I got my hands on their study of the fraud hypothesis and, as you'd expect, it makes the most comprehensive and serious case yet for the fraud hypothesis.

I'm not through with the report, and I don't want to comment at length until I've read it all, but one thing I can tell you for sure: there's no dismissing it as "UFO stuff." There are serious charges in here, and they demand serious answers from CNE and CC/OAS. In particular, their assertion that there is statistical evidence that the sample taken by CNE for the cold-audit was not random raises very troubling questions for the authorities.

I recommend reading it carefully.

You can download the paper (pdf format, 1.1 mb) by Hausmann and Rigobon here.

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September 6, 2004

Alemo, serious planning, and where the hell do you get $60 billion?

One of the most interesting articles I got to write when I lived in Venezuela grew from a meeting I had with five privileged white men who had held positions of some prestige under the old regime. They harshly condemned Chavez's performance in office and called for policy to take a radical new direction. They threw their hands up in frustration as they considered the government's folly, shook their heads gravely as they described their exclusion from the spheres of power, and generally despaired over their powerlessness to influence policy in the slightest.

The group's name is Alemo. It was founded in the early 1980s as a think-tank on Venezuela's urban housing crisis. Staffed by professional architects and urban planners - many are professors at the Universidad Central de Venezuela - the group had spent two decades in in-depth study of the urban planning challenge posed by Venezuela's mushrooming shantytowns, or barrios. With a bureaucrat's fastidiousness for detail, they had documented the scale of the problem, thought through the policy alternatives available to the state to respond to it, costed the various possibilities, and published the lot. In their estimation, the rock-bottom, lowest-imaginable price-tag for bringing all of Venezuela's urban dwellers to a basic standard of safety and comfort would come to...wait for it...$60 billion.

The price-tag is astronomical, ludicrous. It's over 60% of GDP, over twice the government's global yearly spending. Even if, as Alemo urges, the cost is spread over 10 years, a $6 billion/year price tag would require quadrupling the country's housing budget - well in excess of the state's ability to pay.

It's hardly a surprise, since Alemo's study points to a desastrous housing shortage and the need for a major project of infrastructure building to redress it. Just to give you a sense of how dire the housing crisis is, consider this: one-third of the country's housing stock consists of ranchos - shanties. However, fully half of all Venezuelans live in ranchos. Thousands of ranchos need to be bulldozed and replaced - they sit on geologically unstable ground, and could give way at the next rainstorm - while hundreds of thousands require investment to bring them up to minimal standards of safety and crowding. Moreover, hundreds of barrios need major investments to bring in basic urban amenities - from electricity and sanitation to schools, infermeries, playing fields and roads good enough for buses to use.

How did Alemo come to this $60 billion figure? The process was long and involved, but the innitial question was simple enough: what would it take to build a Venezuela where everyone who lives in a city has access to basic urban services, nobody lives at very high-risk areas for flooding or mudslides, nobody lives in extremely crowded or dangerously deteriorated housing, and the housing stock grows quickly enough to absorb the new families looking for places of their own as they hit their 20s?

To keep costs more or less reasonable, Alemo applied deep cost-cutting measures in their calculation, including a radical plan for the state to construct "proto-houses" (with all services, but minimal construction area) that residents would subsequently expand and complete, as well as financing mechanisms that would split costs between the state and beneficiary families. So the $6 billion/year tag is a rock-bottom figure, the very least the state could spend and still hope to meet its goals. Spend much less than that, and the problem deepens rather than receding.

"Normally," I remember them telling me, "you'd need to build at least 100,000 new low-income housing units a year - not to reduce current levels of crowding, but just to keep up with population growth - just to stay even. To start to make some headway against the trully appalling level of crowding in some barrios, you'd be talking about 120,000 houses a year, at least. Since the start of the Chavez era, we've never seen more than 60,000/year. So, in effect, we're going backwards: every house that you come up short from that 100,000 target means another family forced to choose between striking out on their own by squatting on an empty plot of land and building a rancho with their hands, or staying put and living in increasingly intolerable crowding with their relatives."

Serious Planning
Of course, this is just one area of concern: expert NGOs could (and have) come up with similar analyses for hospitals, schools, social security, the fire-fighters, the police, essentially any part of Venezuela's huge, overbloated but underfunded state. As a policy-wonk myself, it warms my heart to see the people of Alemo taking a long, hard, careful, uncompromising look at a policy problem like this and then propose specific, costed solutions. There is something reassuring about the mixture of genuine social concern and hard-headed planning in their work - their conviction that the more urgent a human problem is, the more down-to-earth and meticulous should be the planning for a solution. Alemo's proposals represent a hard-bitten marriage of idealism and pragmatism that eschews magical solutions and urges the state to tackle these matters with eyes wide open. It's a message, an attitude, that I can get 100% behind.

Now, how has the Chavez administration responded to Alemo's calls? The answer goes a long ways towards explaining my despair about the next two (or eight, or fourteen) years. First, the government purged Alemo members from Conavi, Fondur, Inavi, and every other state institute dealing with urban housing - putting the state's housing bureaucracy in the hands of doctrinaire chavistas that would neither produce independent estimates or raise troubling questions. Then, it set out to confuse the issue, making oversized claims for its decidedly undersized achievements.

At no point since 1999 has Venezuela come anywhere near to building the 100,000 low income housing units per year that it would take to keep up with population growth, let alone make headway into the housing crisis. Yet the government, conscious that very few people know this, continues to tout its house-building totals - just 25,000 units last year - as major revolutionary triumphs! Stop and think about what this means: last year alone, 75,000 poor Venezuelan families were forced to either build themselves an illegal shanty or stay on in impossibly cramped quarters...and the revolutionary people's government brags about this as a success!

(For next year, the government and the banks have reached an agreement where the government will pitch in $1.4 billion to build 50,000 low-income homes - watch for the headlines next year about the stunning, 100% growth in revolutionary housebuilding!)

What's the purpose of this detour into the minutiae of the Venezuelan low-income housing crisis?

Chavistas (and, more relevantly, most of the philochavistas who comment on my writing) start from the assumption that the only reason anyone opposes Chavez is class self-interest. This is undoubtedly true for some antichavistas. For many others, however, what's most irksome about Chavez is the magical strain in his government's thinking, its blanket rejection of any kind of independent advice, criticism, or debate. This dogmatism, this deep suspition about the motives of critics, locks the government into stances that not only cannot solve the problems at hand, but, even worse, close down the spaces for genuine debate about those problems.

The results is a politics of social inclusion that remains, largely, confined to the rhetorical realm - Chavez's discourse certainly makes his constituents feel included - while deepening the country's social problems. Point out that Chavez's housing policy will force 50,000 families to squat and build shanties next year and you're condemned as a counter-revolutionary element, an escualido fifth column that needs to be purged from the state. If you know the truth and you have a state job, you learn to keep quiet in order to protect yourself. Debate on a matter as seemingly apolitical as housing policy becomes deeply politicized, and those who criticize the government's policy are dismissed as wreckers or coup-plotters long before their criticisms have been seriously considered.

Put differently, in chavismo politics always takes precedence over policy. Uncomfortable facts are swept under the carpet and those who seek to bring attention to them are portrayed as traitors. So long as they're infused with reverence for the leader, pleasing fictions are always preferable to uncomfortable facts.

So long as criticism is seen as apostasy, so long as critics' voices are ignored as a matter of principle, so long as the worst of motives are automatically abscribed to all who dissent, the government will continue to make policy inside an ideological bubble where loyalty counts for far more than serious planning. Instead of hard-knuckled social policy development, instead of costed estimates and long-term projects, instead of serious plans aimed at grasping and then solving the underlying problem, we'll continue to get what we've been getting: ad hoc measures aimed at short-term political advantaged and divorced from any kind of serious analysis of what needs to be done in the long term.

Or, to say it in a single word, populism.

Where to the hell do you get $60 billion?
What Alemo's study makes clear, first of all, is that real solutions to the country's most pressing social problems will require public spending far in excess of the state's present capacity to pay. Venezuela's government is just too small and underfunded to make a serious stab at solving the housing crisis. And what's true of housing is true of any number of other social problems.

The solution, then, is clear: the public sector will need to grow very considerably to put itself in a position to face up to these expenditures. But after six years of rampant statism, heavy borrowing, and increased taxes, the chavista state has run up against the limits of its ability to extract resources from the economy. The housing crisis cannot be met by expanding the state's share of GDP - because the problem, precisely, is that GDP is too small at the moment to cover the country's basic necessities.

So, taken broadly enough, the lesson behind the Alemo proposal is that only rapid GDP growth, coupled with serious planning on how to use the extra resources that GDP growth makes available to the state, have any possibility of making real headway against the housing shortfall. On its current revenues, the state just cannot afford the expenditure needed, and given its current state, the economy cannot bankroll a state larger than the one we have now. Only a substantitally bigger economy can bankroll a substantially bigger state, and only a substantially bigger state can bankroll the investment needed to face up to the housing crisis.

This is an important point, because regime supporters tend to equate any mention of the need for rapid GDP growth with coded neoliberal speak for a policy of social abandonment. The truth, in fact, is quite the opposite: it's economic stagnation that has put the solution to the country's social problems beyond the reach of the state.

The problem, again, is that the cultural and ideological barriers that prevent chavismo from accepting an analysis like Alemo's also prevent it from accepting the kinds of policy reforms it would take to launch the economy into sustained rapid growth. The same lack of serious, techhnical planning, the same blanket mistrust of opponents, the same disdain for capitalist development, and the same belief in magical solutions have led to a brand of economic management that can produce, at best, ongoing stagnation.

Meanwhile, the revolution continues to build less than half of the homes it would need to build to stay even. Every ten minutes another Venezuelan family is forced to squat and build themselves a rancho just to find a place to live. Facing up to this situation is too difficult, too painful for chavistas. It requires too broad a reconsideration of el comandante's style of leadership. It's far easier, far more comforting, to propagandize about the revolution's great strides in house-building than to have an honest discussion about what's going wrong and how we might fix it.

For all its faults, the opposition is full of organizations like Alemo that are full of people eager to hold such serious debates - and not just on housing, on just about every topic of national relevance. The government, meanwhile, is forced by its ideology to run away from such debates - overstate its accomplishments, slur its opponents and obscure the nature of the challenges it faces. Personally, I can't for the life of me figure out what's "progressive" about this style of governance.

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September 3, 2004

Taking stock of the CD's collapse in international standing

I'm not about to tell the CD to give up its fraud claims until they're satisfied they know what happened on August 15th. But as they go forward with this line, they do so with eyes wide open...they need to understand the scale of the international public relations catastrophe they create by sticking by this line. This New Republic piece gives you a taste for the sort of coverage the opposition can expect if it sticks to its claim. Brutal stuff.


Caracas, Venezeula
Late Monday night, 19 hours after the results in this week's referendum on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez were reported, opposition leader Carlos Hermoso was furiously spinning a conspiracy theory. Despite results endorsed by international observers that showed Chávez winning by a landslide 16 percentage points, Hermoso said that "massive fraud" had been committed by both the election observers and the electronic voting machines used here for the first time. In a complicated yarn, Hermoso claimed that touch-screen voting machines in which people could vote "Yes" to oust Chávez or "No" to keep him were expertly "manipulated" by the government. Though there had also been a paper trail recording each voter's choice, Hermoso said the papers had been kidnapped and are now under military custody in a building called the "White Rabbit." But Hermoso warned that hard evidence of such fraud will be "very difficult" to find. As for the stamp of approval offered by election observers like Jimmy Carter, Hermoso argued that such observers were "compromised" by oil companies and the U.S. State Department, which wanted to keep Chávez in power.

Never mind that the populist Venezuelan commander-in-chief spent much of the recall campaign bashing the U.S., or that Washington openly welcomed a short-lived coup against Chávez earlier in his term. Like many others in the Democratic Coordinator (CD), the loose grouping of 27 political parties and 40 civil society organizations that united against Chávez, Hermoso suddenly found himself on the defensive following Chávez's big victory on Sunday, and simply refused to believe he had lost. The New York Times reported that on Monday two opposition leaders became so angry that "their faces turned white." Indeed, many other opposition leaders demanded a manual recount. "We want to know the truth," said Julio Borges, another top Coordinator official. "We will keep fighting until all our hair falls out." Some called for more anti-Chávez protests like the ones that have disrupted Venezuelan life for more than two years. Seven people were wounded in a small protest on Monday.

Indeed, it seems that the opposition leaders simply believed their own hype, while not realizing how ineffective the anti-Chávez movement had been. Riven by internal divisions, the CD waged a weak campaign that failed to take into account the president's enormous popularity in the poor barrios that make up the majority of Venezuela. The CD started on a bad note. In December 2003, the group mounted a devastating two month strike in which almost all Venezuelan business came to a halt and the state oil company nearly ceased operations. The strike ended in February 2004, but the economic damage was severe and the public, say some analysts, largely blamed the CD. "The strike was a failure," said Gregory Wilpert, head of a website called Venezuela Analysis.

Already behind, the CD never created a coherent political agenda to gain the 3.75 million votes it needed to oust Chávez. Its leader, Enrique Mendoza, was an uninspired speaker who brought little to the campaign. Then, the agenda the CD did release at the end of July largely copied Chávez's programs to end poverty and unemployment, without his searing--and popular--populist rhetoric. "The problem with the opposition is that they live in their own world," said Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at Washington's Inter-American Dialogue, an organization focused on Latin America. "Having an anti-Chávez agenda wasn't enough." Indeed, on Election Day the opposition's internal exit polls showed it beating Chávez by 20 percentage points, though most mainstream polls, at the time, showed Chávez had a slight lead.

Meanwhile, Chávez, though known as a loose cannon, ran a strong and disciplined campaign. "We shouldn't be asking what the Coordinator lacked, but what Chávez had in abundance," said one opposition consultant who believes the Coordinator underestimated Chávez's charismatic leadership. "The truth is that the president is an excellent campaigner." Chávez's social programs, funded by oil money from the state-run oil monopoly--which has benefited from skyrocketing oil prices--were part of this campaign. Chávez invested up to $1.7 billion from Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, in building "missions" in poor barrios that offer free health care and teach people how to read. He also spent state money on primary education and new housing for the poor, all of which was advertised as being a direct result of Chávez policies. And after the oil strike, Chávez got the state oil company back up and running--partly by hiring Algerian experts to come in and train new Venezuelan workers--and kept the country's 3 million barrels of oil exports a day flowing. Venezuela is the world's number five oil exporter, and Chávez has vowed to expand oil production even further in the coming months.

In fact, the hard truth is that Venezuela is more stable today than it would have been if the opposition had won, at least in the short term. If the president was defeated or even if the vote had been close, mass chaos likely would have ensued with fanatics on both sides taking to the streets. A new election probably would have been held in 30 days, creating another opportunity for protest and even violence.

So despite Hermoso's cries of fraud, the long journey to remove Chávez through a recall is over. Opposition leaders should accept their loss if they are to have any chance of toppling him in the next presidential election in 2006. And they had better get cracking--Chávez's supporters are already talking about keeping him in office until 2021.

Rachel Van Dongen covers Latin America for The Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, and other publications.

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September 2, 2004

The epistemology of fraud

Say you witness an electoral event...your side loses, you're mad, you think there was fraud. What does it take to demonstrate that there actually was fraud?

Well, it depends what side you're on. If you're a chavista, the president's word is enough. Back in November 2003, when the opposition gathered the signatures to demand an RR, president Chávez cried fraud before the signature collection process had even finished! On what basis, you might ask, did he make these allegations? It's a good question...he never told us.

I spent weeks on this blog asking a chavista, any chavista, to spell out for me clearly and specifically how it is that the alleged fraud was supposed to have happened. I wanted to understand what, exactly, they had in mind.

But I never got a satisfactory answer. By that I don't mean that I never got an answer I agreed with. I mean I never got an answer that made any sense, that made an actual, good faith attempt to describe coherently what the government thought had happened.

The closest we got was a farcical news conference where Chavez alleged that a guy named Emiliano Chavez Rosales had signed against him, despite being dead. The next day Emiliano Chavez Rosales came forward to disabuse the president of this notion.

Now, later events showed fairly clearly that the chavista claim of "megafraud" was a sham - but have you seen a single chavista question the president's leadership for the string of lies that was the megafraud claim? Within the cult of personality, Chavez is above reproach - even when everyone can see that he's lying.

Now, I don't find the opposition's fraud claims persuasive. But I can see that their claims are structured qualitatively different from Chavez's. The opposition has a battery of professionals, mathematicians and lawyers working on documenting its allegations right now. My inbox, for the last few weeks, has been peppered with emails that look like this,

where serious statisticians make a good faith effort to try to come up with an objective analysis of the numerical patterns in the CNE data. The search for answers is conducted, at least, with an eye to producing a demonstrable, coherent explanation that tries to make sense of all the facts and all the data. Miguel Octavio's blog reports the results of several such studies here, here and here.

Me? I'm open minded...maybe the opposition will eventually produce an argument, backed by a coherent analysis, that convinces me there was fraud. I doubt it, but who knows? One way or another, my conclusion will not based on unquestioning adherence to the opinions of any one leader: it'll be based on an a serious effort to try to understand what happened on the basis of the available evidence.

All of which chavistas ought to keep in mind before they berate the opposition for its skepticism and for making an effort to piece together the August 15th jigsaw puzzle. Me? I'll never attack people who ask questions simply for asking questions. And when I see chavistas doing so, I have to wonder...well, where exactly were they when President Chavez asserted a megafraud on the basis of no evidence, no plausible explanation of what he thought had happened, not even a a halfway decent conspiracy theory?

Cuz sure - up until this point the opposition's claims are just a conspiracy theory...but at least they are that! They're a hypothesis, an attempt to fit in every known part of the story into a narrative that makes some sense. From Chavez, we didn't even get that - we got an impossible assertion that we were expected to believe blindly, on faith alone.

Again, I don't actually believe the opposition can make its case. I'll be surprised if they do. If they don't, I think the CD leadership ought to resign - because making a false fraud allegation is really a despicable, irresponsible way to do politics. What I don't see, however, is chavistas taking the president to task for making wild fraud allegations that have a-already been disproven, and b-were made without even a cursory attempt to provide a coherent hypothesis about what had happened, much less credible evidence, to back them.

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September 1, 2004

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Just to clarify my last few posts: am I sure there was no fraud on August 15th? No, of course not! How could I be?

I am sure that there is no evidence of fraud on August 15th. At best, the CD can string together a pretty compelling conspiracy theory. But without corroborating evidence, it must be seen as just that: a conspiracy theory.

However, to paraphrase the old aphorism, absence of evidence of fraud is not the same thing as evidence of an absence of fraud.

Lots of questions remain unanswered.

If the government and CNE really wanted to dispel all doubts, and if they have nothing to hide, they would just fling open all the ballot boxes. So far, they've refused to do that.

What can we conclude from that? Either they don't really want to dispel all doubts, or they have something to hide.

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August 31, 2004

Will somebody please give Enrique Mendoza a piano?

I. Where's our William Hague? Where are our pianos?
There's no particular reason for most Venezuelans to know who William Hague is. Briefly the leader of the UK Conservative Party, Hague was destroyed by Tony Blair in the 2002 British elections. The next day, he gave a speech to the party and nation congratulating the prime minister and promptly set off to learn the piano. Hague had never played a note in his life, but he'd understood that life after front-line politics would include much, much more free time, and he'd promised one of his constituents that, if he lost (as all opinion polls suggested) he'd dedicate himself to learning how to play. Reportedly, he's progressed to the point of learning the Moonlight Sonata.

The British have mechanisms - formal and informal - for renewing their political leaders once they've tried and failed. This is normal, as it should be. Nobody had to denounce Hague as a coupster fascist to persuade him to take up the piano. He understood that one gets one chance to lead a major British party to an election, and if yoiu fail, you resign. Simple.

Where are our William Hagues? Where are our pianos?

II. "Es que el fraude se nos fue de las manos..."
There is, to my mind, a strong whiff in the air right now of January 2003. You have to think back, to remember the panicked faces on CD leaders towards the end of that fateful month when they started to realize that the National Strike was a strategy without a plan, certain to fail. Stuck to positions too vociferously stated, the CD leaders realized only too late that they had blocked all their own exits. Extricating themselves from the giant mess they'd plunged the country and the movement into took the better part of a month. And why? Because not one of them was willing to stand up and say clearly what, nevertheless, the country could see: that they'd screwed up, put themselves into a political deadend, that they'd taken as divine truth positions that turned out to be just wrong. How many people had to lose their jobs just to protect their egos?

It was in January 2003 that that lovely phrase, in some sense true but obviously designed to pass the buck, was coined: es que el paro se nos fue de las manos - the paro ran away from us. Little by little, you can see the CD leaders sliding to the same kind of argument this que el fraude se nos fue de las manos. Certainly it it was predictable it would from the moment they decided to turn the "fraude" into an article of faith rather than a hypothesis to be either confirmed or denied on the basis of the availabe evidence. (And no, an accumulation of suspicions is not the same thing as evidence.)

III. The invisible movement
Perhaps the most telling part of the opposition's reaction to Chavez's victory is, precisely, the fact that so many don't seem to believe evidence is even necessary to demonstrate fraud. For a good many escualidos, Chavez must have lost, axiomatically. Articles like Ricardo Mitre's "Teodoro is Wrong" show clearly an opposition that takes the notion of a clean chavista win as a simple impossibility "after five years of wear and tear." Fraud is assumed but not stated - hardly in need of stating, since, after all, everyone knows that 60% of venezuelans hate Chavez.

Mitre, like so many of us, can't believe in the 6 million chavista votes because he never saw the movement that mobilized them. That's hardly surprising, since the opposition media never showed it to him, and he certainly assumes that everything on Channel 8 is a lie.

The Patrulleros de Florentino were more or less ignored in the opposition media, but the reality is that in the days before the referendum, the country's barrios were comprehensibly canvassed, organized and mobilized by a small army of highly motivated chavista volunteers. In other words, while the opposition wasn't looking, Chavismo did what it had been promising to do for years but had never quite managed to pull off: it became a genuine, organized mass movement.

Faced with the real possibility of seeing Chavez replaced in power by the opposition, millions of his supporters worked their hearts out for him. Some of my contacts in Caracas warned me of this in the days before the vote, "the opposition has no idea what's happening in the barrios. It's amazing! Normal people in the barrios are taking this fight and making it their own. Comando Maisanta is just as clueless as they've always been, but you should see it, it's the people, the patrulleros on the street that are doing it. They have maps, they have voter rolls, they're doing it all on their own. The opposition is going to lose and they're not going to know what hit them."

Mitre can't see that movement. It was hidden from him. He can't understand a world where more people vote for Chavez now than were voting for him four years ago. It seems non-sensical to him. But he can't see it because he inhabits just one of Venezuela's two realities and has lost any contact with, any insight into the other. So he takes it as a matter of dogma that chavismo cannot have grown since 2000. And nothing could be worse for the opposition's future prospects than accepting as dogma ideas that are just plain wrong.

IV: Opposition Big Bang Now!
Sooner or later we'll have to put our wide-ranging, amply justified outrage at Chavez to one side and question the shortcomings on our side that brought us to this sad juncture. It is not Chavez's fault that we've acquiesced to being led by an organization like the CD - slow, unimaginative, bureaucratically clumsy, riven by hidden power struggles, rudderless, unable to plan, unable to take responsibility for mistakes, unable to lead, fundamentally ineffective. It is not Chavez's fault that we've allowed a constellation of IVth Republic dinosaurs to appoint themselves "opposition leaders", and we've gone along with it. It's not Chavez's fault that nobody in the CD leadership can make a speech without sounding like an AD secretary general circa 1985. (They may not be AD party members today, but culturally, they're adecos.) It is not Chavez's fault that our leaders don't know how to talk to normal Venezuelans.

My feeling is that for once in the history of humanity, the government is actually giving us good advice right now - and stubborn bastards we are, we're refusing to take it precisely because it's the government issuing it. But MariPili is right: it's time for the rank-and-file members of the opposition to work up some anger at the way our leaders have behaved and demand that they go get better acquainted with their pianos. To stay wedded to the current CD leadership and the current CD organizational structure is to guarantee a long, painful string of failures into the future.

We deserve better leadership than we're getting, folks. And unless we demand it, there's no chance we'll get it.

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