March 6, 2004

Something you don't see often...

...a pro-opposition story leads the main BBC news site...

Large and emotional

The opposition march today was large, peaceful and very emotional. Torture and mistreatment victims spoke to hundreds of thousands over loudspeakers, sandwiched in between the politicians. There was a large security presence just beyond the boundries set out by the military for the marchers: neither side provoked the other, for once.

Perhaps Chavez has finally realized that the best way to discredit the opposition leadership is to let them give speeches. By and large, they are amateurs of the harangue, minor leaguers compared to his Sammy Sosa status. They're just not even close.

Antonio Ledezma and Henrique Salas Römer

The speeches of Antonio Ledezma and Henrique Salas Römer, in particular, raised some alarm bells for me. "Speech" is the wrong word for them really, they were more like strings of antichavista strung one after the other and shouted into a microphone at the top of their lungs. The adeco style shout-fests had no real logical ordering that could pass as an argument; it really looked like an anachronism. It was a sad spectacle, and a sad comment on the opposition. I'm sorry for any PV readers here, but man, y'all need a better candidate than that.

Pompeyo Márquez

Pompeyo Marquez, the venerable 83 year old ex-communist leader and voice of the left's conscience reportedly gave a decent and sensible speech. He was the one come-flor voice in an afternoon dominated by talibanes. Pompeyo retains a certain moral authority that's hard even for opponents to overlook.

Felipe Mujica

Meanwhile, Felipe Mujica of MAS had a tough task ahead of him. He wanted to keep the Coordinadora's options open, but couldn't let anyone else out-antichavez him. With a politician's practiced skill for strategic circumlocution, he at least tried to leave a window open for possibly going to reparos. But he obviously felt obliged, given the emotional tone of the crowd, to crouch this argument in the most aggressive antichavista terms he could think of. The crowd would have stood for nothing else.

Enrique Mendoza

Miranda Governor Enrique Mendoza, our president in waiting, looked frankly the worst of bunch, even though he had the best speech. Mendoza can talk about social issues with some authority, because in Miranda he has a real track record to defend. And to his credit, he did talk about this political struggle as a fight for the 2.8 million unemployed and the 4 million in most critical poverty who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

It was a good effort, and it might even have been effective, had it not been shouted in a baritone shriek into the microphone. Once he'd gotten going, Mendoza literally panted into the microphone with each breath, gasping loudly for air and looking like nothing so much as a grandfather who has worked himself up into such a fury that he's about to give himself a heart attack. Two words: not presidential.

So there was little joy in watching the speeches for me, or at least for my inner come-flor. At times the speechifying drove me to the very edge of Ni-Ni territory, a frightening idea. If the opposition is turning off people like me with their cabeza caliente rhetoric, what chance do they have with the waverers, with the real ni-nis?

The thing about polarization is that each side ceases to believe the other side exists. If they'd let me anywhere near that microphone I would've gotten up and said something like.

"You know, there are eight million chavistas in this country right now who don't believe this event is happening because it's not being shown on State TV? And you know what else, they're Venezuelan, just like you and me. They eat the same arepas with the same diablitos, they drink the same polar, they go crazy over the same baseball teams, they have kids and uncles and cousins just like you who they love and cherish. Really, they're just like you. It's senseless to make them the enemy, because even today the majority of them are decent people, earnest in their beliefs. But also because in 25 years they will still be living in this country, just like you'll still be living here. The goal here is not the referendum. The referendum is a means to an end. National reconciliation is the end."

Not of course that the Coordinadora would let me anywhere near a microphone, and perhaps for good reason.

Venezuela: 25 Attacks on Media Workers in One Week

The following is a press release from Los del Medio an independent, non-partisan media NGO made up of reporters, photo-journalists, producers and other media professionals concerned to raise the professional standards of Venezuelan journalism, both public and private, and to protect the human rights of media professionals in Venezuela. Full disclosure: I am a member of Los del Medio.

Caracas, March 4th, 2004
The media professionals' NGO, Los Del Medio, condemns the aggressions against at least 25 journalists, photographers and cameramen and their assistants as they performed their jobs between Friday 27 of February and Wednesday March the 3rd, 2004. The number of attacks in this short period of just six days approaches that tallied by this organization over 18 months: 34 formal complaints between November 2002 and May 2003.

This time around, workers have not merely been attacked due to being present in the line of fire. The majority of the victims have been subjected to abuse from the forces of public order, especially the National Guard, and others have been assaulted by sympathizers of the government and the opposition. Similarly, three journalists have been arrested without due process guarantees.

The following is a summary of most of the aggressions, according to complaints gathered by Los Del Medio together with the National Union of Press workers:

1. Berenice Gómez Velásquez.
Journalist for the Ultimas Noticias afternoon tabloid. On Friday the 27th in the afternoon she was on Avenida Andres Bello, (Central Caracas) on a motorcycle with a driver from Cadena Capriles. A group of people who identified themselves as followers of the government intercepted them, beat the driver, took the motorcycle and their bullet proof vests, their wallets, a necklace and Gomez's tape recorder. They beat him, then shot into the air. At 8 pm they returned the motorcycle only and told the driver: "This is what you get for going around with Berenice Gomez."

2. Carlos Montenegro.
Televen camaraman. On Friday, February 27th, he received a bullet wound to his left leg, shot by a uniformed officer when, on Libertador Avenue around Mariperez, he covered the end of the opposition march that led to skirmishes between the National Guard and the protesters.

3. Luis Vladimir Gallardo.
Photographer in Caracas for the newspaper El Impulso, of Barquisimeto, Lara State. On Friday, the 27th, he was wounded after receiving a blast of shotgun rubber pellets shot at close range to his face by a National Guardsman. He was also nearly asphyxiated by tear gas.

4. Juan Carlos Mena.
From the Mexican news agency Notimex. Was wounded by rubber pellets shot by the National guard.

5. Edixon Gonzalez and Marlon Guzman.
Reporters for El Tiempo, in Anzoategui State. On Friday the 27th of february they were attacked at the doors of the municipal police headquarters at El Tigre, Anzoategui state, in the Northeast of Venezuela, by people who identified themselves as followers of the government.

6. Felipe Izquierdo.
Cameraman for Univision, the US spanish language broadcaster. On Friday he was wounded with a bullet to the leg. He told Inter-Press Service that the shot emanated from the opposition march in Mariperez, Caracas.

7. Juan Barreto.
Photographer for Agence France Press. Was shot in the hand and thorax during the February 27th march. "A young man who was in the opposition march shot me with a 9 mm. handgun. Fortunately, I was saved by the bullet-proof vest I wear," said Barreto to Inter Press.

8. Bernabe Rodriguez Ruiz.
Photographer in Caracas for El Tiempo, the Puerto La Cruz newspaper. On Sunday, February 29th a tear gas canister was shot at his face. It was shot by a National Guardsman during a protest in Barcelona.

9.Tito Diaz.
Photographer for the newspaper Avance, of Los Teques, Miranda State. On Sunday the 29th in the evening he was wounded with rubber pellets during coverage of the clashes between opposition neighbors and the National Guard in San Antonio de los Altos.

The report goes on to describe a total of 25 attacks against journalists and two illegal arrests. Fifteen of the attacks were perpetrated by government supporters or the Armed Forces, eight by groups supporting the opposition, and two could not be immediately attributed.

Los del Medio calls on press workers to lodge formal complaints against the attacks through our email:

We also call on the Citizen Branch - the prosecution service and the people's ombudsman - and the Judicial Branch to defend the human rights of the victims and launch impartial and fair investigations into these attacks, following due process. We also call on the forces of public order and the parts to the conflict not to obstruct the work of media workers. We call on the State to guarantee journalists' security.

Equally, we invite both the private and public media, and especially reporters and those who conduct news and opinion programs, to carry out a balanced coverage of the events taking place and their consequences.

Only a fair reflection of the events, produced to high standards of professional ethics, can contribute to slow the violence on the streets and the excessive repression of State forces and thereby help find a positive outcome for the country.

March 5, 2004

¿Quién es más talibán que Jefferson?

"...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...

...To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them...

...He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within...

...He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries...

...He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power...

...For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury...

...For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

...In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends."

From the US Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Thank you, Erica!

Like a ton of bricks...

Coup by technicality
Washington Post Editorial.
Friday, March 5, 2004; Page A22

LATE LAST YEAR 3,448,747 of Venezuela's 24 million citizens turned out in just four days to sign petitions calling for a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez. This extraordinary civic exercise, monitored by observers from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, offered a democratic solution to years of political conflict in that important oil-producing nation -- trouble that threatened to push Venezuela into dictatorship or civil war. Now Mr. Chavez, whose crackpot populism and authoritarian methods provoked the crisis, blatantly seeks to stop the vote, in violation of his commitment to both the OAS and his own constitution. His actions have already prompted a new wave of unrest across the country, including demonstrations in which at least seven people have been killed. Unless he can be restrained, Mr. Chavez may complete his destruction of one of Latin America's most enduring democracies.

Though the constitution, drawn up under Mr. Chavez's own administration, requires 20 percent of all voters to back a referendum, opposition groups collected 1 million signatures more than should have been needed for the recall vote. These signatures were rigorously audited by a nonpartisan civic group before being forwarded to the electoral commission. Yet, after delaying its response for weeks, the commission, dominated by Mr. Chavez's supporters, rejected 1.6 million of them, or nearly half the total. To do so, it invented requirements that didn't previously exist. Most notably, it threw out 876,000 signatures, each accompanied by a thumbprint, because someone other than the voter had entered registration details on the petition.

Mr. Chavez's functionaries subsequently announced that they would give about a million of those stricken from the list a chance to restore their names -- but only if they appear in a limited number of registration centers during one two-day period. In practice, that poses a next-to-impossible logistical challenge to the opposition, even if there were no harassment from Mr. Chavez's police and civilian goon squads. But attempts by the foreign mediators to reverse this Kafkaesque coup have so far been unsuccessful.

Mr. Chavez, who has built a strong alliance with Cuba's Fidel Castro and imported thousands of Cuban personnel, appears eager for a domestic and international confrontation. Last weekend he called President Bush an "illegitimate" president, referred to him with a vulgar epithet and threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States. Opposition leaders say that more than 300 people have been arrested in recent days, and that some have been tortured. Given the Bush administration's weak position in the region, hope for a peaceful or democratic solution rests mostly with Venezuela's Latin American neighbors, starting with Brazil. If Mr. Chavez continues to deny his people a democratic vote, leaders from those nations must be prepared to invoke the Democracy Charter of the OAS and threaten him with the isolation reserved for autocrats.

Suddenly, it's hip to publish statements on Venezuela

The European Union - via the Irish presidency - hangs tight to the OAS message. Though the language is, well, diplomatic: the meaning is clear. Everybody knows there are about 3 million valid signatures. OAS knows it, the Carter Center knows it, the European Union knows it, every diplomat in Caracas knows it. It's an open secret.

AFP: Venezuela opposition leader shot dead


Posted Fri, 05 Mar 2004: Venezuela's opposition negotiated with the government on Thursday over the official refusal to hold a referendum to recall President Hugo Chavez, and a local opposition leader was shot dead during fresh protests.

Venezuela's UN ambassador Milos Alcalay quit his job in protest against the Chavez government's handling of the crisis, damaging the president's international standing.

The new crisis erupted after the National Electoral Council said only 1.8 million of the 3.1 million signatures collected by the opposition to demand a recall referendum were valid. Some 2.4 million valid names were needed for a referendum to be called.


It's incredible, there are newspaper readers in Africa now hearing about us and probably shaking their heads...


I've been getting a lot of photos in my inbox of badly bruised bodies and other signs of torture. Devil's Excrement is publishing some of them.

I'm holding off because I have no way to substantiate that the pictures are of what they say they are, and in these cases it's crucial to be extra sure.

If you or someone you know has been tortured, it's important to document everything about the case. Times, dates, witness statements, photos, results of clinical examinations, the works. Start a file, and fill it carefully.

The government will not investigate these crimes. We have to do it ourselves.

Frances Robles on NPR

Miami Herald Bogota Bureau Chief Frances Robles gave NPR 5 minutes on Venezuela (RealOne link.)

The Mugabization of the Chavista State

One day, when the time comes to write the history of this last week, hard questions are going to be asked.

People who have spent a lifetime criticizing puntofijismo, attacking the old regime for its human rights abuses, will have a hell of a time explaining why those human rights abuses were an outrage when they were in opposition but have become "gallant" now that they are in power. Vicepresident Jose Vicente Rangel continues to deny that there are ANY cases of torture and blames absolutely anyone at all - from the protesters themselves to their mayors - except the people commiting the actual abuses.

Tarek William Saab, clearly having forgotten his brief experience as a political prisoner in 2002, sees no problem with the National Guard abuses, and says it's the guards whose rights are being abused. (Poshitos)

Over the last week, Venezuela has seen multiple, consistent reports of torture (including beatings, electric shocks, the use of harsh skin irritants during interrogations, the use of tear-gas canisters in enclosed spaces) as well as random shootings by state security forces into residential buildings and, at the last count, nine extra-judicial killings in a week.

When brought to task, government spokesmen brazenly blame the victims, explaining they have a plan to destabilize the country and praising the "gallantry" of the armed forces in suppressing them. The victims, needless to say, can rest absolutely assured that their attackers will not be punished for what they've done. That's the chavista way...

I have been sporadically criticized for comparing Chavez with Robert Mugabe. People tell me I'm exagerating. I wish they were right. But for a week now, directly after Mugabe's G15 visit - when Chavez went out of his way to praise him personally - we've seen Chavez borrow heavily from Zimbabwe's repertoire of repression tactics. The government's new M.O. - arrest, torture, release - has been a staple of political life in Harare for years. The single-minded, single-track attack on the opposition as "foreign puppets" is also lifted straight from the Mugabe (and Castro) playbook.

It's true that Mugabe's Zanu-PF supporters have been less shy about mass-scale murder than Chavistas in Venezuela. However, it's worth pointing out that 4 or 5 years ago, when the political crisis started in earnest in Zimbabwe, their level of violence was not so different from what we see now in Venezuela. They're just further along down the same road.

Certainly, once the country's legal and investigative institutions, from CICPC (judicial police) to the prosecutors to the courts, have all been hollowed out and packed with revolutionaries, there are no procedural guarantees worth a damn to opposition supporters anymore.

Even today this process of purging and packing continues, like it did in Zimbabwe in the late 90s, with independent-minded judges being unceremoniously fired to be replaced with advocates of revolutionary justice. A total breakdown in the rule of law, from the ground up. Rather than protecting citizens, we can look forward to courts being turned into yet another instrument of repression. In due time, Mugabe picked out the opposition's leader, Morgan Tsvangarai, and had him tried for treason. Their past, our future?

Meanwhile, many who should know better continue to provide propaganda cover for a regime that's plainly past deserving it. With every passing day they undermine their own credibility. In the fullness of time, people like Larry Birns, Greg Palast, and many others will be called to account. Questions will be asked of them. They will have to answer, they'll have to explain what, personally, they did to stop the human rights abuses they knew were taking place all around them. And they'll have to accept that they a-sided with the abusers and b-did nothing to stop the violence.

Things to keep in mind, down the road, when you hear them report in anguished tones of high moral righteousness about the terrible excess of the Carmona dictatorship, say, or what happens at Guantanamo Bay.

March 4, 2004

Quico's Believe It or Not

It's astonishing, but Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez had the balls to appoint none other than Danilo Anderson to "investigate" the death of Yormi Suárez Rivero, who was shot dead while he protested on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. at Plaza La India in El Paraiso, in the west side of Caracas.

"Environmental" "prosecutor" Danilo Anderson

As for Danilo Anderson, well, where to even start? For those of you not privileged to have heard of him, his official title is "fourth environmental crimes prosecutor." He has no expertise whatsoever in criminal law, much less in muder investigations. Yet he has been appointed by the Chavez-puppet of an Attorney General we have to head up the investigation of almost every violent attack against the opposition.

Anderson, a known chavista, has never once gotten anyone convicted for shooting and killing an opposition activist, including in several cases where there was videotaped evidence linking chavista subjects to shootings. His appointment to the case is a slap in the face of Yormi's family as they grieve. It should shock and outrage anyone concerned with human rights in Venezuela, and confirms again the state of total impunity and increasing lawlessness that grips the country at this time.

Yormi was 23. His sister said he was very upset by footage of the National Guard beating up Elinor Montes, a despicable image many times magnified by endless repetition on the opposition media. While the government more than evidently bares the brunt of the blame in this sad affair, Globovision should think about the impact of tactics like repeating again and again emotionally charged images like the beating of Elinor Montes. The private media needs to be mindful of the human costs of the incitement it broadcasts.

O.A.S. Seeks Peaceful Solution to Tense Venezuelan Impasse

by Juan Forero, reprinted from The New York Times (registration required.)

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 3 — The Organization of American States met Wednesday with electoral officials and opposition leaders in a last-ditch effort to find a peaceful solution to Venezuela's political turmoil, while opponents of President Hugo Chávez called for a major protest march on Thursday.

The situation here has remained tense since the National Electoral Council announced on Tuesday the disqualification of hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to allow a recall referendum on Mr. Chávez.

The president's foes charged that the leftist government pressured electoral authorities to disqualify the signatures in order to derail a referendum, since a successful recall would end Mr. Chávez's tumultuous five-year rule. The opposition leaders contended they had collected more than enough signatures to permit a recall on Mr. Chávez, whom they have fought to oust over the last two years through legal maneuvers, a failed coup, strikes and protests.

But though Western diplomats monitoring the recall effort agreed that the opposition had the required valid signatures, the Electoral Council ruled Tuesday that the effort had fallen 600,000 short of the 2.4 million needed.

Electoral officials have proposed a two-day "repair period" in which about 1.1 million voters could confirm the validity of signatures sidelined by the council. The opposition argues that the two-day time limit is intended expressly to sink the referendum.

"Under these fraudulent conditions, it is impossible to go to the repair period," Timothy Zambrano, an opposition leader, said in an interview.

The Electoral Council announced Tuesday that 876,017 signatures displayed signs of similar handwriting, and that an additional 233,000 were disqualified for other reasons. Independent observers said that, in many cases, volunteer workers had filled out petition forms but that citizens had signed them.

The Organization of American States and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, observers at the December signature gathering, called the signature collection fair and urged that "excessive technicalities" not get in the way of the will of the people.

Still, diplomats monitoring the work of electoral authorities said that unless the opposition went along with the repair period, Venezuela could be plunged into a period of violence. "There is still a path leading to a recall," one diplomat said.

American officials, despite voicing "real concerns" about the Electoral Council's decision, have recommended that the opposition negotiate a workable, logistically sound agreement that will permit signatures to be quickly confirmed.

Fernando Jaramillo, chief of mission for the O.A.S., said his organization was not pressing the opposition to accept the council's conditions. But he said that if the verification of signatures takes place, the organization will try to ensure that 100 international observers are in place.

The opposition has proposed that the Electoral Council simply publish the names of all signers and allow those whose names may have been falsely included to scratch themselves from the list. The council, though, is unlikely to go along.

The opposition has threatened to pick up the pace of protests, but faces a formidable opponent in a president who has consolidated his power. Polls show that more than 40 percent of Venezuelans support Mr. Chávez, and his government is enjoying an economic rebound after two disastrous years.

March 3, 2004

OAS-Carter Center Statement


March 2, 2004
Caracas-Today, the National Electoral Council (CNE) made public the preliminary official results of the process of verification of signatures for the petition to recall the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The presence of the Organization of American States (OAS) and The Carter Center throughout all stages has been continuous, thorough and comprehensive. During the petition drive some 50 international observers covered more than 50 percent of the signature collection centers in 20 States throughout the country, witnessing first hand the democratic and civic spirit demonstrated by all Venezuelans. In the ongoing process of verification of the signatures, the OAS has accompanied the CNE in each technical stage, working three shifts 24 hours per day, observing these activities in detail. The Carter Center carried out an analysis of the process based on a statistically representative sample to determine whether the verification criteria used by the CNE were applied correctly. We would like to extend our appreciation to the European Union and to the countries of the hemisphere which have supported our efforts with resources and public recognition of our work.

As international observers, our objectives are to assure that the process is transparent, complying with the laws and regulations of the country; that it respects the will of the citizens; and that the citizens and the actors have confidence in the process and the results. We have expressed privately and publicly the international criteria for general principles that guide this type of process. These principles include transparency and controls to prevent fraud, as well as the promotion of the participation of the citizens.

In this process, in particular, we find sufficient controls , including security paper for the petitions, full identification of the citizen with signature and thumbprint, summary forms (actas) listing the petition (planillas) serial numbers during the collection process, party witnesses, personnel trained and designated by the CNE, verification of each petition form and cross-check with the summary forms , cross-check of the names with the voters list, and a mechanism for appeal and correction.

We have had some discrepancies with the CNE over the verification criteria. In the case of the petition forms in which the basic data of several signers, but not the signatures themselves appear to have been filled in by one person, we do not share the criterion of the CNE to separate these signatures, sending them to the appeals process in order to be rectified by the citizens. These occur such large numbers that they could have an impact on the outcome of the process.

We recognize that in any such process there can be attempts to manipulate the will of the citizens, but it is necessary to evaluate the magnitude of the impact that these attempts could have on the total universe. We understand the concerns of the CNE, but the evaluation should start from the presumption of the good faith of the citizen as a universal principle. During the signature collection process, we observed that some collection agent assisted signers in good faith by filling in their basic data.

Those citizens who are erroneously or fraudulently included on the list (planillas) should be given the opportunity to remove their names during the appeals and correction period. In addition, the signatures themselves that appear to have a similar handwriting, which have also been found, should be carefully reviewed in order to reject those that are not genuine.


Revolutionary lexicography

Some have written to ask about the meaning of "come-flor" - part of the lexicon of Venezuela in revolutionary times.

The Venezuelan opposition is broadly divided in two bands, the talibanes (opposition hard-men) who think Chavez is Castro and can only be defeated on the streets, and the come-flores - flower eaters - who believe in peace, love and understanding and think some kind of accomodation with state institutions within the framework of the law is possible.

Many in the Venezuelan opposition - including, admittedly, yours truly - waver between the two positions.

As to the term itself, the image comes from the old children's story: Ferdinand, the bull who refused to fight.

The image is particularly apropos given my last name...

Judicial purges: Venezuela's latest human rights outrage

Translated and reprinted from

Judges who freed opposition protesters defrocked
Two Caracas area judges have been defrocked, after freeing a number of protesters from various political organizations belonging to the opposition.

The decisions were taken by the head of the Supreme Tribunal, Ivan Rincon, who sent them a statement notifying them that their appointments had been left without effect, "due to observations made to them."

The letter was sent as head of the Judicial Commission of the Supreme Tribunal, charged with designating and removing provisory judges. (Note: 85% of judges are officially "provisory.")

The first judge to lose her job was the 41st Criminal Control judge, Maria Trastoy, who had freed six Primero Justicia activists stopped during the protests that took place on Friday, against closing the door on the recall referendum.

The second judge was 3rd Control Judge, Petra Jimenez, who was a substitute judge and liberated Lorenzo Carrieri, a protester.

Better luck went to 32nd Criminal Control Judge, Maria Perez de Motaban, who is is said kept her job because she kept three other activists in jail.

The comeflor line...

Resist and repair

by Luis Salamanca

We must repair and resist. If our resistance pushes them to correct the "planas" matter, perfect. If it doesn't, we must repair, and turn the reparo process into a reparazo, a big social and political movement. Not doing it would be to abandon the spaces of power, which chavismo will be delighted to take over. Even if they cheat, we must repair so that the material and political evidence may be established. We must exhaust the democratic and legal route, what little is left of it, that is our way of acting. At the same time, if we managed 3.4 million signatures in four days, we can reaffirm our signatures because there are fewer.

The CD should discuss this, because the decision not to go to repairs, as a strategy of handing off all institutions entirely to chavismo, would be a great mistake. We have to put them in the situation of having to announce to the world that the repairs are also invalid. I want to see the faces of Carrasquero, Rodriguez and Battaglini telling people they've flunked. From that moment on, the situation will be entirely clear: a government that can only stay in power through electoral fraud and force, the two Fs.

March 2, 2004

Speaking for the opposition coalition...

Julio Borges said the opposition will not accept a "repair process" under the terms CNE announced earlier. Borges urged the Carter Center/OAS mission to help broker a compromise with CNE that restores the principle of the presumption of good faith on the part of signatories. The presumption of good faith - a cornerstone of administrative law - is now the center of the opposition's argument, and Carter Center/OAS have made it clear they agree with the opposition on this key point.

The opposition calculates the bar is set too high. If CNE accepts only 1,832,493 million signatures as prima facie valid valid, the opposition would need to mobilize 603,590 supporters - many old or illiterate - to the reparo centers over two days in order to reach the 2,436,083 signatures needed to call a referendum.

The opposition's central point is that it should be up to the people wrongly included in the petition to come forward to ask to have their names struck off the list. Under the current rules, government supporters who believe their names were included in the petition fraudulently would not have to do anything at all to have their signatures disqualified. Legitimate signatories, on the other hand, would need to turn out again to confirm what they've already signed.

The opposition and the Carter Center/OAS mission agree that, by imposing additional requirements on signatories, CNE inverts the burden of proof. They take the signatures to be fraudulent as the "default setting" and place the burden of disproving that presumption on citizens who have already fulfilled all the requirements set out in the law to request a Recall Referendum. This procedure is illegal, unconstitutional, divorced from common sense, and wrong.

The Wisdom of Jaramillo and McCoy

The Carter Center/OAS observation mission made its long awaited report tonight, and with characteristic good sense. In a carefully worded statement, Jaramillo said the opposition was unambiguously right in its argumentation against the "reparo" mechanisms proposed by CNE. For about five minutes, Jaramillo sounded like an escualido activist, vindicating one by one each of the points the opposition has been making.

But then, and again showing good sense, they called on the opposition to return to the process despite these misgivings, as the only possible peaceful road out of the impasse.

I think this is a sensible position.

As usual...

...CNE public relations are a shambles. Chairman Carrasquero, after tubeating himself earlier in the day, announced finally, final (we mean it this time), official CNE numbers on the petition for a recall vote on Chavez. The breakdown:

1,832,493 signatures are valid
876,017 signatures will need to be "confirmed" (through reparos) because they come from forms with the same handwriting in all the data fields.
688,000 (estimate, no precise number given) signatures disqualified for various reasons (signed twice, signed in forms not recognized in the actas, signed without being registered to vote, etc.

2,700 "repairs centers" would be set up and but there would be no "itinerant repairs" to visit the sick and elderly and confirm their signatures. The process would last 48 hours.

That all seems clear enough, but minutes after the official CNE broadcast, Jorge Rodriguez took questions from reporters where he said there would be more signatures going to "reparo" than that. "Around a million," is as specific as he would be.

The CNE decision is final. Will the opposition play ball? Should they? What will Carter Center/OAS say? Keep reading...

Compare and contrast

In 1999, President Chavez called a referendum to determine if the Venezuelan people wanted a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. President Chavez did not have the constitutional or legal authority to call a referendum under the 1961 constitution, which was in force at the time. However, he argued that the sovereignty resides in the people, and therefore the act of voting at the referendum retroactively legitimates the legality of calling a referendum, even if no such legal authority technically exists at the time the referendum is actually called. It is on the basis of this radical pro-referendum, people-power centered vision of political life that the chavista political process was initially launched.

Fast forward five years. A constituent assembly has been called and a new constitution has been approved by referendum. A new article in that new constitution expressly allows recall referenda against all elected officials, provided sufficient signatures are gathered. The opposition, under a set of highly restrictive rules and elaborate security procedures imposed by the elections' authorities gather their signatures. 90% of election observers who witness say the process functioned well, 10% say reasonably well. The opposition then turn in these signatures, with hundreds of thousands to spare. What does CNE do? On the basis of rules that had not been made clear during the process, it decides to disqualify or question over a million of the signatures, further delaying a referendum that ought to take place no later than May 16th, and most likely stopping it altogether.

What happened to all that sovereignty-belongs-to-the-people rhetoric, all the beautiful people-power promises Chavez made that got him elected? How can the elections' authority now deny, on a burlesque of technicalities, the right of the holders of sovereignty to make their voices heard in accordance to the constitution? What kind of sick game is this?

It pains me to write it, but today is the day Francisco Toro ceased being a comeflor.

In an unexpected BBC interview...

National Electoral Council head Francisco Carrasquero has announced the figures CNE will officialize later today as the results of the signature gathering process to request a recall referendum against president Hugo Chavez.

Carrasquero said that only between 1.7 and 1.8 million opposition-collected signatures are valid, well short of the 2.4 million required for a recall referendum. Far worse, he suggested some 700,000 signatures would need to go to "repairs" - meaning the opposition would have to mobilize virtually ALL of those people to CNE "repair" centers to confirm that they did what they said they did. Worse again was the announcement that CNE plans to invalidate outright a shocking one-million signatures.

If these turn out to be the numbers CNE announces, this effectively closes the referendum as a real possibility. It would be virtually impossible to track down near all of the assisted signers, many of whom are illeterate or old and would be particularly hard to reach under any circumstances. Carrasquero knows this, this announcement constitutes only the latest in the chavista campaign of escalation, a campaign willfully designed to push the country into open conflict.

Carrasquero's announcement pushes the country in the direction of unpredictable, open-ended conflict. In a moment of deep national crisis, it will only add fuel to the fire. He has badly undermined the position of the already beleaguered moderate anti-chavistas who might have considered the reparo road viable.

This is the end of the line, folks. From here on out, it's the twilight zone.

La Muerte de José Vilas

José Vilas used to work for PDVSA. Last night he went out to protest in San Antonio de los Altos, a Caracas suburb. Two pictures of him were taken. In the first, you see him retreating from military police troops. In the second, he's been shot dead. The bullet that killed him entered through the back.

Eyewitness report: Santa Rosa de Lima Uprising

The detail you don't get from a newspaper, you get from a blog. The following eye-witness report is gripping in its detailed description of the incongruous atmosphere gripping Caracas these days these crazy days.

A new word has crept into the daily vocabulary: "guarimba" - the rampart or barricade blocking off a street and sidewalks in practically all middle class neighborhoods. What would have seemed incredible a few weeks ago has now become  the norm in Caracas.

Sta Rosa de Lima is a conservative, middle class community in Caracas: it has its own small supermarket, shopping center and the famous Sta Rosa de Lima girl's academy lies at its entrance. Many of the residents are the ageing - mid 60's to 70's - original purchasers of the apartments 40 years ago that raised their families there; now many of the children there are the grandchildren of the original neighbors. These are not the sort of people that you would describe as "revolutionaries" in ordinary times, yet that is what they have become.

Yesterday, (Monday March 1, 2004) over 80 of these neighbors took over main entrance road into the neighborhood, just in front of the Colegio Sta Rosa de Lima. Mothers brought down their bags of garbage; sons and fathers dragged tree stumps, scrap metal and anything else with weight into the street. By 4PM a major roadblock had been  created through the communal efforts of these people; a Chrysler Town and Country van, complete with child seat in the back and soccer mom as driver served as a dump truck hauling newspapers, an old bathtub, metal scraps and other useable refuse to reinforce the barricade. Everyone lends an arm to carry something useful in blocking the street. 

A housewife requests funds to buy "supplies", everyone around her chips in; in 5 minutes she has over USD 15 from over a dozen people and more are placing bills in her hand. Soon she comes back from the supermarket with sugar and soap. In front of the girl's school, over a dozen housewives and grandmothers, as well as assorted children, husbands and this author, receive instructions in how to mix soap, oil, gasoline and sugar into a Molotov cocktail. "You have to be sure to tie the knot of the wick tight,"  says the bomb making instructor as he carefully shows the technique, "or else the wick will come loose when you throw it at the armored vehicles. They enthusiastically cheer the two or three people that are busy filling three beer and soda crates with these ingredients and soon over two dozen home made bombs protect the guarimba from a possible invasion.

A DISIP (state security police) helicopter flies overhead and hovers over the group. The reflection of the lens of a long distance camera is clearly visible in the passenger compartment behind the pilot. As one, everyone raises their arms to give the helicopter the traditional one fingered gesture of salute. A grey haired lady next to me ambidextrously flashes this salute accompanying it all the while with the friendly greeting "Hijo'e'puta". Soon the helicopter is gone and a general cheer of victory erupts from the crowd, which has now gathered to over 100. A bellows of white smoke erupts around 500 yds down the Prados del Este freeway, visible from our vantage point. A neighbor, owner of a butcher shop in Catia to which he only went briefly today, clicks his Motorola walkie talkie, barks out a question and from the other end comes the answer that the other guarimba had merely lit a few bags of dry leaves. I ask him whether he can talk to the other roadblock in the other direction and he replies, "Yes, we talk all the time, they'll let us know when the National Guard comes." Not NATO quality, maybe, but organization just the same.

Soon it is dark, someone walks around the group forming shifts, "Who has been here all day? Go home need to rest. The others, please stay... we need four hour come there are so many older people here? Where are the young ones?"  A father replies, "The younger people went to Caurimare" (where an active firefight was going on against an Army tanqueta), "... they found this too boring."

Report from the scene

A Caracas high school teacher writes in: I have several students living in Terrazas del Avila (far northeast Caracas.) According to them, the ones shooting into buildings last night were National Guardsmen in motorbikes (i.e. government controlled soldiers.) In fact, I have a 16 year old student who took three plastic buckshot pellets: on his upper arm, left side of his back, and on the left of his neck as well. The National Guard entered the neighborhood firing tear gas canisters, which were quickly put out by neighbors by pouring water over them with buckets. This angered the Guardsmen, who started shooting hand guns (9 mm. pistols) towards the buildings where neighbors were putting out the tear gas canisters with water.

Later that night, Circulo Bolivariano (i.e. Chavez civilian supporter groups) bikers came to the access point to the neighborhood, but they didn't go in. There are rumors I can't confirm that neighbors were shooting at the Circulo bikers.

In Caurimare (also in the middle-class-heavy east side) the National Guard showed up to remove the barricades the neighbors had thrown up, using tear gas indiscriminately, such that one of them wafted into room 108 of the Policlinica Metropolitana, forcing the evacuation of all patients on the first floor. The same thing happened Sunday at the La Floresta clinic, when a group of bikers dressed as civilians tossed four tear gas canisters into the inside of the building. They had to move 30 patients from their floor, including intensive care patients. (This last bit comes from El Nacional, who cites Dr. Wartan Kekilikian.)

Please keep sending short, factual statements to this email...I will edit and post. If you're not fully comfortable writing in English, mándamelo en español que yo lo traduzco.

Venezuelans use people power to attack Chavez

By Phil Gunson in Caracas, from The Independent (London)

Burning barricades erected by opposition protesters blocked streets and motorways in many parts of the Venezuelan capital yesterday, as chances of a peaceful, electoral solution to the country's two-year-old crisis appeared to recede.

Three months after the opposition umbrella group, the Democratic Co-ordinator (CD), gathered more than three million signatures for a referendum against the leftist President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's electoral authority was poised to reject the petition.

The only way to revive the referendum, guaranteed under Mr Chavez's 1999 constitution, would be for hundreds of thousands of signatories to reaffirm their intentions - an option that seemed certain to be rejected by the CD as impractical.


Eyewitness statements from yesterday evening
In Altamira the stakes are somewhat high: oil, broken glass and debris litter the streets on the Luis Roche avenue south of the Fco de Miranda down to Torre Britanica. A slide and fall will get you hurt with several small pieces of wreckage (broken shards mainly).

The GN pushed north a couple of times from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Only one attempt was made in earnest, the others were bluffs. But that push was intense in tear gas. I heard but cannot confirm that a person was wounded from a FAL shot earlier in the day when the GNs pusdhed north from Torre Britanica from Luis Roche avenue and San Juan Bosco avenue.

Most of the people are young (from teens to 30s). As the previous eyewitness reports, you could see people from different social strata in the mix. However, unlike that eyewitness, the only people I can disqualify are those that acted like hoodlums (the walls of the Cine Altamira building are being / were broken broken into pieces) - but certainly I cannot disqualify the "sifrinos" or the "giggling teens".

One of the myths that the Government is trying to perpetuate is that the opposition is monolithic. On the contrary, it is anything but. This means that the moment you call a rally anywhere, you'll get hoodlums (and maybe a couple of "infiltrados" for the conspiracy theorists), you'll get old ladies (I saw some north of Fco de Miranda), you'll get bourgeois, you'll get non-bourgeois, men, women, young, adults, that is to say, a huge mix. Given that none of them have clear orders (unlike the well-funded guys on the other side of the 'contienda'), it is almost impossible to predict or control the outcome (e.g. tumbling walls of Cine Altamira). Basically, you have to know that some crap is bound to happen when a rally is called...

That said, Altamira is not the end-all be-all of the situation. Prados del Este was blocked in toto at the Santa Fe distributor, Caurimare saw some troubles too (even affecting the Policlinico - a private hospital). Macaracuay. In other cities, I talked this morning with a client of mine in Estado Carabobo: many districts were also closed.

This is a reaction against the continued hooptedoodle the country's ruler and his cronies are trying pull. People are fed up - the sentiment is "No more BS!"

Statement: Coming home in Colinas de Bello Monte, I saw a group of maybe 40 people (all ages, all genres and, as I'm not a fashion victim, I didn't see how they were dressed; they were dressed, though: nudity is out of the question when there is fire around) lighting up a barricade. Would have liked to stay longer that the five minutes I stayed, but I'm over a hundred kilos and can't run. The people there were with the typical "merry-go-lucky" (if that is the expresion) attitude with which Venezuelan get into everything. But there was also a "come-and-get-me" attitude. Maybe they just want to be in the news. At least in that way they would be heard, which is all they want.

You know how Venezuelans act when they feel someone is trying to bully them: arrecho, arrecho y medio. That was exactly the stance these people had. I think they are making a mistake, they are playing into Chávez's hands (giving him the justification to declare the Estado de Excepción), but then I understand their feeling of powerlessness.

Keep those eye-witness statements coming. Make them snappy and factual, tell me what you saw.

March 1, 2004

118 political detainees at least and counting...

Speaking for the Coordinadora Democratica, Luis Manuel Esculpi said there are 70 political detainees in Caracas and at least 30 more in Anzoategui State. El Universal reports 18 additional detainees including Alfredo Ramos, a member of the National Assembly formally protected by parliamentary immunity. Many reports coincide that these civilians are being taken into military custody and some say they are being threatened with trials at military tribunals, in open violation of established human rights standards. Other reports suggest some detainees are being released hours after arrest.

Does Mr. Wilpert intend to maintain a complicit silence on this outrage? How about Mr. Tarek William Saab, the chavista human rights' activist whose ass was bailed out of jail by Teodoro Petkoff on April 12th? Mr. Mundarain, People's Ombudsman? No? How about MariPili Hernandez? Anyone? Anyone at all?

Next day update Alfredo Ramos, at least, is not in jail: he's in the globovision studios! Now word is that left-wing anti-Chavez activist (and inveterate rabble-rouser) Carlos Melo has "disappeared." Where is he?

Just to give a taste to foreign readers...

As to the degree of the craziness gripping Venezuela, chew on this for a bit. There are now repeated reports of DISIP (i.e. Chavez controlled State security police) officers in motorbikes going around a middle-class neighborhood (Terrazas del Avila) shooting randomly into buildings. (Just rumors?)

There are also multiple stories of army (government controlled) soldiers being suited up in (opposition controlled) Metropolitan Police uniforms and setting out with assault rifles. No way to discern truth from exageration or fiction at this point, but the stories don't strike as far-fetched, given the calculating authoritarian nature of the government.

A ton of confusion and conflicting rumors, but the barricades keep going up all over the country.

What we're experiencing now is the famous ruptura historica Alberto Garrido has been predicting for years. Garrido is certain this moment has been a part of the plan all along, and has shown evidence to back his claim. Today, it is not difficult to see him as a cassandra.

Chavez tried to force the ruptura historica (through Plan Avila) on April 11th, 2002 but he was stopped. Now, who will stop him?

Call for eye-witness statements

If you've been out in the streets of Caracas today and want to share what you saw, I encourage you to write an eye-witness statement and email it to me. I will post selections here, with or without your name.

I'm looking for short (200-500 words), factual statements with specific observations, and what you made of them.

Eyewitness report...

Author's name withheld to protect the cadid
was just in altamira. man is that a ridiculous scene. it's basically a mixed
crowd of popular class teenage hoodlums along with sifrinos and neighbors
from the area who are either watching and giggling as people burn tires and
set up crappy barricades, or have tried themselves to jump into the action,
clumsily trying to light molotov cocktails and throw rocks.

it really never ceases to amaze me how people who've spent their entire
lives in priviledged isolation have suddenly discovered how much fun it is
to break shit and burn things and block streets -- something just about
everyone else has known for years.

i just walked back to my house from plaza altamira and there are these guys
standing at the bottom of the avenida principal de santa eduviges in their
dockers and penny loafers with cardigan sweaters trying to figure out how to
pop up sewer grates so they could block the street. just outside my building
a group of lawyers and doctors smiling charmingly next to piles of burning
trash that are blocking the street i live on.

i need to go back out there, just to ask one of these guys something like
"i'm sure you're wearing that ski mask to protect yourself from the tear
gas, but why exactly are you breaking in the roof of an abandoned building?
is this part of the peaceful demonstration against the cne for blocking the

Amnesty International: Respect for human rights must be guaranteed in Venezuela

Amnesty International Press Release - March 1, 2004: The authorities must ensure protection of human rights of all citizens in the increasingly violent political climate surrounding the decision of the National Electoral Commission expected today, Amnesty International said today.

At least three people were killed and up to 50 injured, including two journalists, over the weekend in the context of clashes between National Guard and Anti and Pro government demonstrators. There have been allegations of excessive use of force, in particular by the National Guard, while policing these demonstrations, some of which were reportedly violent. Heavily armed military and civilian intelligence units also reportedly participated in policing operations. There have also reportedly been a number of detentions of opposition supporters during opposition demonstrations in different parts of the country.


Political Prisoners

On April 12th, in the midsts of a right-wing coup, the best of the Venezuelan opposition made itself known by sticking up for universal human values in extremely adverse conditions. People like Teodoro Petkoff and Ruth Capriles, strong critics of the Chavez government, spent the day of the coup interceding for the release of chavista political prisoners taken by the brief de facto government. That day, we found out who was true to their principles and who was an opportunist.

Today, Caracas is awash with stories of opposition activists who have been taken prisoner illegally and taken into military facilities in Fuerte Tiuna. In open violation of basic human rights' laws, they are being threatened with trial at military courts, despite being civilians. Today, we will see who within chavismo raises a voice against these violations of the most basic of all human rights: habeas corpus.

The taking of at least a dozen opposition activists into military custody yesterday marks another, large step in the government's advance into open dictatorship.

Crazy country!

24 minutes after CNE chairman Francisco Carrasquero said the Carter Center is withdrawing from the process, Carter Center mision head Jennifer McCoy denies it on live TV, saying she personally is leaving on a pre-planned trip, but the mission remains.

What is Carrasquero thinking?!

But Francisco Diez backs Carrasquero's statement that Solbella Mejias refused to attend the morning's negotiation session. Mejias' impetuous statement to the press scuttled the plan meeting.

What is Mejias thinking?!

The die is cast...

The Carter Center and the OAS are out. Carrasquero speaks for the Carter Center saying it's Solbella Mejias' fault.

Que dios nos agarre confesados.

Venezuela's democracy teeters on the brink

While US newspapers focus their attention entirely on Haiti, prospects for a peaceful resolution to the two-year old political crisis in Venezuela deteriorate by the day. The weekend saw riots in most large cities in the country, and an atmosphere of palpable tension grips the air. Having, for all intents and purposes, successfully aborted a recall vote on his term in office, President Chavez seems to be preparing for a future of outright dictatorship.

In the last 72 hours, Venezuelans have seen thousands of soldiers round up on a large peaceful protest firing hundreds of tear gas canisters, plastic pellets and, on occasion, live ammo - and leaving 2 dead and 30 injured. They've seen tank and troop movements through many cities, for ill-understood reasons. They've seen President Chavez praise Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as a freedom fighter and immediately turn around and implement some of his tactics. For the first time, Chavez blamed all of the country's problems on the US bogeyman. And they've seen three solid days of rioting in most of the major cities in the country, as protesters armed with nothing but flags and placards have been heavy-handedly repressed by soldiers again and again. (See article below, from the local press.)

Venezuelans are discovering, to their great dismay, that democracy does not necessarily die with a bang. In Caracas today, democracy is dying in the whimper of a tangled web of seemingly hum-drum bureaucratic decisions. Little by little, over five years, these have squeezed out the rights of ordinary citizens and left the government with control over almost every institution in the country and entirely unchecked power. Over five years, the government has pealed away at the citizens' democratic freedoms like an onion, layer by layer, until there is nothing left.

Taking a page out of the Castro/Mugabe playbook, last night Chavez called President Bush a "moron" in a speech to hundreds of thousands of supporters, and threatened to cut off oil supplies to the US. Chavez knows that international observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States will not stand by the blatant theft of a recall referendum against him before it has even been held, and moved to pre-empt their criticisms of the process even before they could be issued.

The critical technicality concerned the procedure for calling a recall vote against president Chavez. The recall process - already months behind schedule - is being run by an electoral commission appointed semi-legally by an openly pro-Chavez Supreme Tribunal. Due to a string of delays and contrary decisions, the board has completely lost the trust of the opposition, who now openly believe the elections authorities are in cahoots with the government. Certainly, a series of new rules published yesterday setting out new procedures that to verify some 700,000 signatures requesting a referendum have been seen as the last straw by most of the opposition. They now seems ready to walk out of the process altogether, and so do the international observers.

This is about much more than administrative niceties. For over two years now, the government of Venezuela has accused its large, rambunctious, and fractious opposition movement of being little more than a fascist conspiracy, a coup-plotters' private club, even as polls showed majority support for regime change. Again and again, Chavez charged that the opposition was undemocratic because it refused to follow the rules for a legal recall vote on the president as allowed by article 72 of the constitution, pushing instead for extra-constitutional "fast tracks" like coups and insurrectional general strikes, both of which failed to oust Chavez in 2002.

Now, the government shows why the opposition was right not to trust them all along. Having followed the legal requirements, having collected the signatures under the strict safety regulations imposed by the elections authorities, in front of witnesses from both sides, on numbered forms printed on bank security paper, having jumped through a million and one hoops to satisfy the requirements, they find their signatures once again brought into question and yet another bureaucratic obstacle in front of them. Most see the latest delay as an unsubtle attempt to scupper the referendum altogether.

After five years of highly divisive rhetoric, President Chavez has managed to fracture the country into two highly emotional sides, and has gone out of his way to teach his supporters to hate his opponents. Today, his explosive strategy of class resentment, calculated division and endlessly escalating provocation has left Venezuela on the edge of a civil war.

If a recall vote is aborted over and above the protestations of international observers, Chavez will have clearly violated the Venezuelan constitution he himself drafted, and he will clearly have stepped outside the bounds of even the most bare-bones definition of democracy. He appears, as of today, very close to joining his hero Fidel Castro as the hemisphere's second out-and-out dictator.
Lexicography in revolutionary times: What do you think is the best way to translate "pendejo." Reuter's has "asshole", but doesn't "moron" seem closer to the mark?