February 14, 2004

Megafraude Chronicles...

My friend Juana emails me with this pearl...

For my part, my signature and my mom's will be eliminated because my mom asked me to fill out her information to make sure she didn't make any mistakes, and she put down her signature and her fingerprint. Well, it turns out that for the "impartial" CNE that's a "plana" - meaning someone falsified both the signatures, since both sets of information have my handwriting.

Que tal?


Chavez is an open book...

I don't often link to Gustavo Coronel, mostly because we have very different ideologies. But I will link to this sensational essay on Chavez's "accountability speech" to the National Assembly, which Gustavo apparently soldiered through taking notes. Great stuff...

What's interesting about the essay is that it demolishes the standard government response to any opposition argument - which for over a year has been to scream back: "coupsters! you sabotaged the oil industry and destroyed the economy with the paro!"

It's been a brutally effective, if antidemocratic, rhetorical tool. The only problem is that president Chavez used the Public Accountability speech - the equivalent of the State of the Nation address - to admit openly that the line is, at best, a very, very partial truth - and more likely an outright sham.

Gustavo's headline, of course, says it all: Chavez publicly admits he consciously sought out both of the 2002 PDVSA crises. He openly and earnestly owns up that he didn't understand the first thing about the oil industry and didn't trust anyone who seemed to know more than he did. He boasts that he therefore decided to get rid of anyone who would tell him anything he couldn't understand, or anyone who wouldn't take a direct order from him. And that's precisely what he achieved.

You can download the (stultifyingly long) full transcript of the speech, in Spanish, as a PDF file here. Strictly for masochists. To cite the most incriminating bits (admittedly out of context, the full context is on Gustavo's site) from Chavez's speech:

"Crisis in Chinese means danger and opportunity. Sometimes the crisis has to be generated, and kept measured, of course. What we did in PDVSA was necessary...and we generated the crisis. When I blew the referee's whistle in 'Alo Presidente' and started to fire people, I was provoking the crisis. When I named Gaston Parra President of PDVSA and the new board, we were provoking the crisis. They responded and the conflict appeared. And this is where we are today."

With heart-rending earnestness, Chavez admits he put together a plan (Plan Colina), along with a task force, (Grupo Colina) to instigate the crisis and provoke the opposition into drastic action. Both in the run-up of April 11th (the Gaston Parra crisis) and in December, Chavez openly admits what opposition pundits have always suspected - that he took us for suckers, and we fell for it.

The beauty of it is that chavistas everywhere are hereby banned from ever again using the coup-attempt or the strike as an argument against the opposition!

The entire rationale worked out in the government's propaganda - "you can't trust them, they don't care about you or democracy, they launch coups and insurrectional strikes" - is unmasked as a sham.

All those vitriolic attacks against the heartless oligarchs who took away Christmas and people's livelihoods? Crocodile tears! All the talk about how the opposition really doesn't care about the people, but Chavez really does? Just bullshit. All the ethical high ground carefully carved out in ten million 30-second spots on state TV and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and VEA and every single Chavista rant you've heard about how it's all the opposition's fault because they launched a coup and they started the strike? Pure, unadulterated cynicism.

All of that is out the window now. We have the gold-standard of counterarguments: a public admission by the other side. It's a "check-mate" kind of moment.

Surely the opposition made mistakes in falling for the provocations, but this open admission clearly shifts a substantial portion of responsibility for the paro squarely onto Chavez's shoulders. Chavez, once again, unwittingly demonstrates the abysmal ethical bankruptcy at the heart of his government to an audience of adoring fans. Priceless.

The worrying thing, of course, is that he shows every sign of doing it again over the referendum. Each time JVR warns that the opposition is planning a new strike, he telegraphs the government's intentions. My guess is that the first world lefties reading this have never seriously entertained what it might be like to be led by a president who openly admits to being a provocateur, of fostering extreme, destructive confrontations for political benefit.

Bush's handlers, for instance, are far too smart for that.

But for Venezuelans, it's our bread and butter - both literally and figuratively. The resulting climate of permanent destabilization and "cold civil war" is deeply traumatizing to the population as a whole. It is a climate of constant potential danger, of open intimidation by the powerful and, at times, of openly courting civil war. Let me assure you, you would not want to have close family members having to live through it day to day, as all the Venezuelans who read this blog do.

Yesterday's Weil from TalCual - "a caricature of you."

Ultimately, Chavez is an open book.

The funny thing is that for all his faults, he has the hardest time lying. He basically tells you what's on his mind: he tries to be secretive, but he's sloppy, he talks too much, things slip out when you gab for 4 hours in front of a camera every week. And just by looking at what he's actually said, you can largely substantiate much of the opposition's charge of autocratic tendencies and vicious intolerance, along with an insatiable apetite for mischief making.

Venezuelans have heard too much from Chavez himself to let their minds be made up by the media, or anyone else. They know the man, they've listened to him for hundreds of hourse, he has no surprises left in store for them. They know his rule means perpetual instability and the risk of war - those who prefer that policy support him, those of us who don't, don't. But we've all understood full well that the country will never be stable under Chavez, because he's not vicious enough to truly crack down, but he's not sane enough to work out compromises. The only alternative is the open-ended social mobilization against perceived enemies so many Chavistas seem to be so keen on.

As a revolutionary fantasy, it's not so bad, but as a government plan it stinks.

My feeling is that the foreigners who read this site really need to sit down and think through what the people of Venezuela are actually experiencing before passing judgment - this climate of agitation and barely-contained aggression is just as destructive to chavistas as it is to the other side.

February 13, 2004

Authoritanianism of the Left = Authoritarianism of the Right

I usually resist the urge to draw the obvious and often striking parallels between Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush, but just this once I'll give in. This is a repost of a Paul Krugman op-ed about Bush from the New York Times. Many Venezuelan readers will spot the similarities on the first read. [Gringos may need brackets.] Sure, Bush's handlers are sneakier and more sophisticated, but the underlying tactics (the abuse of state institutions for political purposes and the whole agree-with-me-or-get-called-an-enemy-of-the-people shtick) are the same.

The Real Man
To understand why questions about George Bush's time in the National Guard are legitimate, all you have to do is look at the federal budget published last week. No, not the lies, damned lies and statistics - the pictures.

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River.

[Venezuelans can only wish this sort of shenanigans were limited to technocratic documents nobody reads: our cult of personality is played out on Venezuela's publicly financed broadcaster every day of the year.]

It was not ever thus. Bill Clinton's budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential.

[We used to have tables and charts - hell, we've got some here!]

The issue here goes beyond using the Government Printing Office to publish campaign brochures. In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.

[the language reads stunningly like an El Nacional article circa 1999 - when our cult of personality was starting.]

Operation Flight Suit was only slightly more over the top than other Bush photo-ops, like the carefully staged picture that placed Mr. Bush's head in line with the stone faces on Mount Rushmore. The goal is to suggest that it's unpatriotic to criticize the president, and to use his heroic image to block any substantive discussion of his policies.

[To Venezuelans, "insinuations of unpatriotism" seem rather mild - we're more used to ranting denunciations, ironically, of being Bush puppets...]

In fact, those 27 photos grace one of the four most dishonest budgets in the nation's history - the other three are the budgets released in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Just to give you a taste: remember how last year's budget contained no money for postwar Iraq - and how administration officials waited until after the tax cut had been passed to mention the small matter of $87 billion in extra costs? Well, they've done it again: earlier this week the Army's chief of staff testified that the Iraq funds in the budget would cover expenses only through September.

[Krugman would weep reading a Venezuelan budget.]

But when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets - or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence - their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president's character. How dare you question Mr. Bush's honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity? And that leaves critics with no choice: they must point out that the man inside the flight suit bears little resemblance to the official image.

[How dare you impede the leader of the revolution? is our version, but again, the chilling effect on public discourse is the same.]

There is, as far as I can tell, no positive evidence that Mr. Bush is a man of exceptional uprightness. When has he even accepted responsibility for something that went wrong? On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that he is willing to cut corners when it's to his personal advantage. His business career was full of questionable deals, and whatever the full truth about his National Guard service, it was certainly not glorious.

[Our guy was just a coup-plotter for 7 years - but again, their military pasts hunt both Chavez and Bush]

Old history, you may say, and irrelevant to the present. And perhaps that would be true if Mr. Bush was prepared to come clean about his past. Instead, he remains evasive. On "Meet the Press" he promised to release all his records - and promptly broke that promise.

[In this we are different: Venezuelans can only wish for "evasiveness" from our guy. Instead of evading his military past, our guy basks in his, holding huge military parades to celebrate his exploits in trying to violently overthrow an elected government. But then, our guy is far nuttier (and probably smarter) than yours.]

I don't know what he's hiding. But I do think he has forfeited any right to cite his character to turn away charges that his administration is lying about its policies. And that is the point: Mr. Bush may not be a particularly bad man, but he isn't the paragon his handlers portray.

Some of his critics hope that the AWOL issue will demolish the Bush myth, all at once. They're probably too optimistic - if it were that easy, the tale of Harken Energy would have already done the trick.

The sad truth is that people who have been taken in by a cult of personality - a group that in this case includes a good fraction of the American people, and a considerably higher fraction of the punditocracy - are very reluctant to give up their illusions. If nothing else, that would mean admitting that they had been played for fools.

[That paragraph, I will suspect, will have elicited the most nods from Venezuelans.]

Still, we may be on our way to an election in which Mr. Bush is judged on his record, not his legend. And that, of course, is what the White House fears.

[so, so resonant.]

In Carter Center I trust...

Let's get real here: the level of (arguably justified) mutual mistrust between government and opposition is so great that the ONLY way a CNE decision will have any credibility is if it's vouched for by the Carter Center. We are fortunate to have observers of the caliber, experience, expertise and impartiality of the Carter Center mission - these people are unspinable. Ask Fujimori if they can be spun.

That's really all there is to say about this topic. CNE will either give the same results as the Carter Center verifiers, in which case we'll ALL have to accept its decision, or CNE will give a different set of results, in which case all bets are off.

February 12, 2004

Madness to the method

Y'know, my obsessive interest in Venezuelanalysis.com stems only partially driven by the fact that I'm jealous of their slick web design. Most of it is just befuddlement at the strange mix of truly incicive writing and just intolerable dribble they publish.

This last piece really made me laugh - some poll by some no-name polling firm cited by Venpres showing Chavez at 51% in the polls. OK, fair enough, just because the firm is new doesn't necessarily mean that it's lousy.

But then look at the question they asked:

"If the recall referendum were to take place tomorrow, would you confirm President Chavez in office? Yes or No"

Now, unless you've recently emerged from a persistent vegetative state, you know that for months the opposition has been waving little "Si!" signs, urging people to vote "Yes" to recalling Chavez. What the geniuses at Indaga have done is switched the question around so that "Yes" favors Chavez - and surprise surprise, yes gets 51%!

Now, yes, Greg, I know you're not the main person in charge over there, but you're the interlocutor I have. Try to think yourself back into that academic mindset, into the way of thinking you had to embrace to get that Fullbright. Now, think about it: would you have been able to get research design this dumb past any kind of peer review? You, Wilpert, who for years criticized polls that favored the opposition on methodological grounds...e tu, Greg?

But maybe I shouldn't even pick you up on this point...you think you have 51%? Great! Lets vote!

February 11, 2004

NED, Sumate and the silly season

Yeah, ok, so you could argue that the US shouldn't fund civil society groups abroad at all - and there's something to that argument, for sure. The National Endowment for Democracy has a long and strange history of snafus and a well-documented knack for shooting itself on the foot.

Still, it's very silly to pass off news that NED funded several Venezuelan NGOs as some kind of smoking gun for US involvement in the April, 2002 coup. First of all, THIS IS NOT NEWS. You didn't need to put in some fancy Freedom of Information Act request to find out: you just needed to pick up a phone, call Sumate, and ask them. It's been a matter of public record for years.

And christ! If you could topple Chavez with $53,400, Gustavo Cisneros would have toppled him several times over already!

February 9, 2004

Enough technocratic gobbledygook for a while...

...today, my curiosity is blowing in a different direction.

Venezuelanalysis.com is an editorially independent website produced by individuals who are dedicated to disseminating news and analysis about Venezuela. It is financially dependent upon donations and advertising.

Hmmm. I wonder what that means exactly. Who are these donors? Who are these advertisers? are there any advertisers? How much does a Google sponsored link cost anyway? Who pays?

And how come an "editorially independent website" has a links section with seven pro-Chavez links and not a single voice on the other side?

Here, I even made a button for y'all: